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Geno was having a bad game. Geno was having a bad month. Sidney watched the frustration in his shot, the fury in every long stride he took across the ice. She listened to him on the bench, muttering curses to himself in two languages and then out loud at anyone who dared try and get his attention – except Therrien, anyway. Mostly.

Sidney ended up crammed next to Geno after a shift on the power play. The second unit was out now, and they didn’t have the same firepower, but so far they hadn’t allowed any breakaways, either, which put them ahead as far as Sidney was concerned. Her unit had never even managed to get set up properly.

Sidney jammed the toe of her skate against the wall in frustration, and then she shouldered Geno and said, “Next time, eh?”

She got a gutteral curse and a long, blistering stream of Russian.

“Next time,” she said firmly.

“Fucking I know. Have to next time.”

That wasn’t quite what she meant, but meanwhile the other guys got a shot on goal that had the Pens scrambling for a rebound, and Sidney let the conversation die.

She found him again after the game. When the media finally cleared out and left her alone, she took a seat by Geno’s stall. He looked up, startled. She took a deep breath. This was why they gave her the C, right? So that she would have conversations like this one. Or because she already did, maybe. “I know how you feel,” she began.

Geno snorted.

“Frustrated, right? Like, stuck in your head? And everything you try just makes it worse.”

He turned a ferocious scowl on Sidney. “Everybody see, Sid. Don’t need captain tell me.”

Sidney’s face prickled hot with anger and something else – that niggling internal voice that said subs were never meant to wear the C. The voice sounded a lot like Don Cherry. Sidney ignored the voice. “It’s like a mosquito,” she told Geno. His nose wrinkled. “Bug,” she clarified. “Insect. It bites you, and then the bite itches. And it makes a buzz.” She flew her fingers around Geno’s ear while trying to approximate a mosquito’s whine.

Geno’s expression cleared and he swatted her fingers away. “I remember. Mosquito. What you talk about mosquito?”

“That’s how it is for me, when I get, you know. Stuck in my head.” Euphemisms were wonderful things. “It’s like there’s this mosquito around my head all the time, and I can hear it, but I can’t do anything, you know? So I try to skate harder, but that never works.”

“Okay,” Geno said cautiously. “So what you do?”

So much for euphemisms. “I mean.” Sidney shrugged uneasily. There was no reason to be uneasy. It wasn’t like her extracurriculars didn’t come up in the locker room all the damned time. Just, usually it was joking and filthy innuendo. It wasn’t serious. “I go see a dom, and then I feel better.”

Geno heaved an aggrieved sigh. “No help, Sid. Nice for you.” He started to get to his feet, but Sidney pulled him down again.

“No, I mean. You could, too.” Geno’s brows lifted. “You could see a dom.”

Geno’s mouth dropped open for a moment, and then he was furious. Breath hot in her face, he said, “Not. Sub.” And then he was up and off, stomping down the hallway and damn near growling at Jordy, whose misfortune it was to be standing not completely out of Geno’s way.

“Fuck him,” Sidney said, and she went off to finish putting on her clothes. Let him work it out his own fucking self.

--

But Geno didn’t work it out. He kept on taking bad shots and worse penalties. Last year some asshole could throw him off his game with a few discreet slashes across his wrists; now, Geno stepped onto the ice that way. Very occasionally he’d get a goal out of it. He wasn’t snake bit; he still had his hands. He just seemed more interested in using them to try and rough up other players.

And every time Sidney even considered opening her mouth, Geno gave her this look that said this was all her fault now.

Midway through December, Therrien scratched him. Sidney supposed some kind of conversation happened between them; she wasn’t privy. Geno didn’t talk about it that night before the game. He didn’t say anything at all. He stood in his suit and waved them all down the hallway, and he didn’t say a word. When Sidney went out – last, this time, with no Geno bring up the rear – he didn’t even look her in the eye.

Afterwards, following a messy, flawed, but ultimately triumphant Penguins effort over Atlanta and then an endless media scrum about same, Sidney got ready to go and found Geno waiting for her at the locker room door. “Hey.”

His face was set in a scowl, but it didn’t seem to be for her. At the moment he was directing it at the floor. “Talk to you?” he said.

“Yeah, sure.”

Geno glanced around the locker room. Sidney followed his gaze. Flower was deep in conversation with Max. Colby was telling Jordy some story, his arms flying to make his point. “Other place,” Geno said.

“Sure.”

They ended up in the cafeteria. Sidney huddled over a cup of tepid coffee, the last one in the pot. She ventured a sip, grimaced, and went back to warming her hands with the mug. “What’s up?”

Geno didn’t look at her. “I try.”

“Try what?”

“What you say. I try sub.”

Sidney sat up with a lurch. Coffee splashed over the side of the mug. “You did? How did it go?”

Geno flinched. “No. Not yet. You say, and I think about and I going try.”

“Yeah? Good. I really think it could help.”

He turned frightened eyes to her. “I’m not sub, Sid.”

“I didn’t say you were,” not that he’d ever paused long enough to let her clarify. “It’s not – some people are more flexible, you know.” Switches, but that was a word she knew better to suggest just now.

Geno shook his head. “Russian hockey players, they all doms.”

“I know.” She knew the media talked about it a lot, try though she might to avoid reading media. She had to answer a question every now and then, as if she knew the first thing about why Russians subs somehow never made it to the NHL. Somehow being the only female sub in the NHL made her an expert on all sorts of dynamical oddities.

“I never—” Geno swallowed. “With you, I try.”

“With me,” Sidney said blankly. “Like, at the same time?” That sounded like a recipe for disaster. Geno in the same room with her? Getting taken methodically apart the same way she was? All those professional boundaries she’d been so careful to maintain would be toast.

But Geno was scowling his familiar English-is-shit scowl as he searched for the word he wanted. Finally, he offered one. “For?” The scowl cleared a little, and he nodded to himself. “I sub for you.”

“Uh,” Sidney said.

“You do before, right? Flower.”

Sidney grimaced. Very occasionally, when Flower had an especially bad game on the road and couldn’t go home to let Vero fix it, he came to Sidney instead. She’d thought they’d managed to be discreet about it. She could only hope Geno hadn’t pointed it out to anyone else. “That doesn’t mean I’m good at it.”

It wasn’t real domming, after all. She’d dommed other subs at Rimouski, and even back at Shattuck a couple of times, but that was just survival. Let some teenage idiot dom do for you or your sub friend? Hell, no.

Anyway, she was supposed to have grown out of it by now, Flower notwithstanding.

Geno snorted. “Sidney Crosby good all the time.”

Sidney wasn’t sure how much of a jibe that was meant to be. In any case, “Seriously, there are lots of people that’d be better than me. What about Gonch?” As soon as she said it, she knew she’d fucked up. Geno’s expression darkened, and his shoulders pulled in more tightly. “Or Jordy. I wouldn’t let him give you a hard time.” She’d beat Jordy’s freckled white ass if he tried. “Or a professional, Geno. I have one I go to, you know. They’re really private.”

“You,” Geno said, mulish, but after a beat everything about him just kind of collapsed. To the tabletop he said, “Maybe not matter. I’m not sub, so it’s not help anyway.”

Sid had a feeling about this. She couldn’t let Geno give up without at least trying. “Fine. We’ll give it a shot.”

Geno nodded, eyes still fixed on Sidney’s neglected coffe cup. Sidney couldn’t have said he really looked relieved.

“I still have some questions, though.”

Geno immediately took on a hunted look. “Like what?”

“Like, what kind of thing do you want to do?”

“I don’t know.”

Sidney said patiently, “I mean, do you have some idea? Pain, impact, bondage?”

“No marks,” Geno said sharply.

Sidney rolled her eyes. “No fucking kidding, no marks.” She put up with whistles when she stripped in the locker room after a judicious round of caning. If Geno did the same, the response would be... different. Definitely different. “But you must have some idea, man. I mean, you’re a dom. You know what works for people.”

Geno took a breath in through his teeth. “Not—I don’t dom lots. Just girlfriend, you know?”

“So you know what gets people off, is what you’re saying.”

Geno shrugged, not quite managing to look contrite. Sidney could only shake her head at the smug gleam in her eye, even as something in her gut took an interest. She took a swallow of tepid coffee to drown the feeling. This wasn’t personal. This was about hockey.

--

Sidney went home to Mario’s, and she planned. It was going on two o’clock in the morning when she texted Geno, Come home to my place after weights. Wear sweats. Then she went to bed.

When she woke up the next morning, there was a single message her phone: ok. There were no smilies.

--

The next day dragged. First there was tape, and then there was skate, and then most everyone went and lifted for a while. Brooke spotted Jordy while trying to sell him on the merits of kale in protein shakes, to no avail. Sidney tried to tune it all out and concentrate on her form. She didn’t really succeed. It felt like she had Geno’s eyes on her the entire time, even though she’d look over every so often and see him busily doing his own thing.

Finally Sidney went to the showers, and afterward, wringing out her hair, she caught Geno’s eye and nodded. He ducked his head. Sidney drove home and made protein shakes for them both – without kale, Brooksie, gross – and waited.

It seemed to take a long time for Geno to show up at the front door. He peeked cautiously inside when Sidney opened. “Lemieux?”

“Everyone’s out. It’s just us.”

Geno came in, kicked off his shoes, and followed Sidney into the kitchen. His eyebrows rose when she handed him the glass, but taking care was a standard dom behavior. She’d planned it to help put him in the mood. Or something.

Sidney hadn’t made big glasses, just enough to keep either of them from getting distracted by their stomachs. Geno seemed to be nursing his after the first three fourths of it were gone, so Sidney finally took it out of his hand. He blinked at her some more. He was definitely off-balance; any other day, he’d have immediately started squawking.

“Come with me,” Sidney said. Geno dutifully followed her up the stairs to the third-floor game room she’d claimed as hers. It was comfy, with couches and a TV and plenty of open floor, and more importantly it wasn’t personal the way her bedroom would have been.

Geno’s eyes roamed, looking for Sidney wasn’t sure what, and then he said cautiously, “Cuffs?”

“No cuffs this time.”

“Or whip?”

“We’re not doing anything that adventurous today.” Never mind that she was pretty sure just getting on his knees would be more than enough adventure for Geno. “No pain or impact.”

Geno nodded. He didn’t look much reassured.

“Okay, so, I like colors. Do you know the color words? Red stop, green go, yellow for maybe? Right?”

“Of course I know words. You think no colors in Russia?”

Sidney didn’t actually know what they used in Russia, but fine. “Right. Now, I’m not a dom, okay? I can’t promise I’m good at this. So if there’s anything we do that you’re not—” Comfortable with, she was going to say, but looking at him, she doubted he was going to be comfortable with anything they did, and yet here he was. “—that you want to stop doing, you have to tell me, okay?”

Geno snorted. “You dom. You make me do. If you can,” he added. He looked down at her, managing in just that glance to remind her of the four inches difference between them.

Sidney folded her arms. “If you want someone to manhandle you, I can call Brooksie.” Sidney almost wanted Geno to call her bluff. Brooke would be a better choice in so many ways, and height was the least of them.

Geno said in alarm, “Not Brooksie. You.”

“Okay, then you use the colors. Do you get me? If you try and tough guy it out, I will beat your fucking ass.”

He seemed to bite down on a grin. It was the best he’d looked all day, and Sidney felt an obscure glimmer of hope. “So you ready to do this?”

Geno gave her a jerky nod.

Okay.

Sidney stalked up to him. Geno watched her stiffly, following her with his eyes without moving a single other muscle. She laid her hand on the join between his shoulder and his neck; it was rigid with tension. “I want you to kneel next to the couch,” she said. Geno turned to stare at her, wide-eyed with something edging close to panic. She gripped his shoulder until it pinched, and she said again, evenly, “Get on your knees.”

None too gracefully, Geno lowered to the floor. His right knee hit the hardwood with a thunk, and Sidney had to hide a wince. Geno turned to stare up to her, mouth gapped open, already breathing hard.

“Bow your head,” she said. The words came out softer than she meant, but it felt right. With all the talk of forcing, she expected more fight, but honestly spooking Geno seemed a likelier hazard than being too easy on him. “I want your hands in your lap.”

Geno hurriedly obeyed. Awkward though he was at motions that came as easily to Sidney as breathing, he was clearly trying his damndest. He started to curl his hands over one another, and Sidney whapped him lightly on the shoulder. He flinched. “Don’t fidget,” she told him.

He inhaled, sharp and audible.

“You’re doing good.” Geno’s eyes snapped up to meet hers. His face was flushed, his eyes bright and hot. “I told you to bow your head,” Sidney said. She curled her finger through his hair, and then she gripped it and bent his head downward again, just like doms had done to her time and time again. “Do you understand?”

He tried to nod, but she held on. When he stilled, and she said, “Talk to me. Do you understand?”

Another deep breath. “Yes.”

“Okay. I’m going to sit on the couch for a while, and you’re going to kneel.” Sidney sat down. It felt a little awkward, so she crossed her legs. “How do you feel?” There was a pause. Sidney poking Geno’s shoulder with her toe. Again, she said, “How do you feel?”

In a low, hesitant rumble, Geno asked, “I have to say?”

“Color,” Sidney said immediately.

There was another, longer pause. “Green,” Geno said, somewhat grudgingly. Grudging was good, Sidney thought. Grudging meant he wasn’t freaking out.

“So tell me how you feel,” Sidney said firmly.

“I don’t like it.”

“That’s okay,” Sidney said cheerfully. Geno lifted his head and shot her a look of betrayal before remembering himself and ducking again. Sidney let him stew. She kept an eye on the clock and an eye on Geno. A real dom could do this by instinct, by a thousand little signals given by the sub, but Sidney had timed it all out last night using the basic sceneing guidelines in the back of her battered copy of Your Knees, Yourself.

Twenty minutes later on the dot, she got up and said, “Don’t move.” She went next door to the bathroom and brought back a glass of water. She walked back into and took a sharp breath at the the picture Geno made: still bowed, still coiled tight with tension, as charged with potential as puck on a stick. The point here was to get him out of himself, and he clearly was nowhere close yet, but somehow it almost seemed a shame to make him anything other that he was in that moment.

That was the kind of thinking that came of not being a real dom, Sidney supposed. She stomped loudly into the room and stood at Geno’s side. “Did you move?”

“No.”

Sidney nodded to herself and crouched. “Look at me,” she said.

Geno lifted his eyes. Sidney saw doubt in them, and it reminded her of her own. She shoved it back down and said, “Drink this, so you don’t get dehydrated.” She lifted the glass to Geno’s lips, and though his expression was rich with skepticism, he took a sip. “More,” Sidney said. Eyes locked with hers, Geno took a longer drink this time. Sidney kept him taking one gulp at a time until half the water was gone, and then she rose and set the glass on the end table.

“How do you feel?”

He flashed her another look of Do I have to, but he said, “Okay.”

“Tell me what you’re thinking.”

He exhaled hard through his nose, like an irritated bull. “Seem stupid. You just make me sit. I can do in home, don’t need dom.”

It was nothing Sidney hadn’t guessed. She hadn’t been sure about this next step when she wrote up the itinerary, but now it seemed like the right thing. “Okay, so here’s what I want to do. You do much with humiliation? As a dom?”

“Some,” Geno said, deeply skeptical. “Sid, why you not spank? Or tie? Better thing for two people, you know.”

Sidney had to take a deep breath. “Geno?”

“Yeah?”

“Who’s the dom here?”

It took him a beat. “You.”

“And who’s the sub?”

“Me.” The word came quicker this time.

“What happens if you’re a brat?” Geno clearly didn’t know that word. “If you sass me, if you don’t show me respect, what am I going to do?”

Geno gave this a moment’s thought. “Spank?”

There was something almost hopeful in that question. Sidney wouldn’t have expected that. She filed the tidbit away for later. “I’m going to make you sit here longer. Is that what you want?”

“No,” he said hurriedly. He was still unconvinced, but that was fine, because Sidney was going to fucking convince him.

“So I’m going to ask you a bunch of personal stuff, and you’re going to get mad, and then I’m going to tell you exactly what you’ve been doing wrong out on the ice. How do you feel about that?”

“I don’t like,” Geno said immediately.

“Good,” Sidney said, just to see him startle. This wasn’t about what he liked.

But it could be, a traitorous voice said, a voice that sounded nothing the fuck like Don Cherry.

Sidney swallowed that down, too, and then she said, softer, “Look, Geno, I don’t want to upset you more than you can take, right? I want this to be good for you, eventually. So you have to tell me if it’s bad.”

He slumped, like she’d just popped his affronted balloon. “I know, Sid.”

They weren’t going to get in any better a place than this, not with her pulling all her cues from a manual and Geno not knowing thing one about what he wanted or needed. They were both flying blind. “Okay, so stand up.” Geno looked startled, but he pushed to his feet. “Take off your shirt. Now your sweatpants.” Off they came, and now there was Geno in his black boxer-briefs, looked more naked than he ever did freeballing it in the dressing room.

Sidney told him to fold his clothes and lay them on the arm of the couch, and when he’d done that, she came and circled him. That four inches didn’t seem so important any more. “How much do you weigh?”

He blinked. “Two hundred five,” he said.

“You fucking do not. Give me that nhl.com bullshit again and you will be sorry, do you understand?”

Geno scowled.

She got right up in his face. “Do you understand.”

“Yes,” he muttered.

“Let’s try again. How much do you weigh?”

Geno ducked his head. “Hundred ninety-two.”

“Better. And how tall are you?”

“Hundred ninety centimeters.”

Sidney nodded, like this was somehow new information. “How much can you bench?” By now Geno was giving her funny looks, but he answered. She kept on like that, what could he deadlift, how fast could he skate, what did he eat for breakfast and exactly how much, when was the last time he took a shit and how long did it take. He turned redder and angrier the deeper she pushed, and just when it looked like he might snap – which was not an outcome she felt up for without a stick in her hand – she asked, “And how many goals have you scored this month?”

Geno’s mouth fell open. He looked poleaxed with the reminder of why, after all, he was standing here in the first place. He shut it again, and finally he managed, “One.”

“And last month?”

In a softer, deeper rumble, he said, “Two.”

“That doesn’t really seem adequate for a number two pick. Does it seem adequate to you?”

His denial was barely audible.

“What was that?”

“I say no!”

“What about penalties. What penalties did you take in the last game you played, against the Yotes?”

His breath was shaky with betrayed outrage. “Three.”

“What was the first one?”

“For roughing.”

“Tell me.”

And Geno told her about the Yotes’ resident pest who’d made Geno mad by crosschecking him in the ribs. Should Geno have done it? Geno allowed grudgingly that perhaps he shouldn’t. Then he told her about the next penalty, the trip, a call which honestly could as easily have been called on Sidney two shifts before. It hadn’t, though; it had been called on Geno. And then he told her about his real beauty of the night, when he got so mad about the tripping call that he broke his stick on the glass on the way to the penalty box and got called for unsportsmanlike conduct – “And you’re damned lucky it wasn’t a ten-minute misconduct, Geno.”

Four minute power play for the Yotes, and you can bet they got a goal out of that. “Is that what we drafted you for? To give the other team power plays?”

“No,” Geno said, scowling.

“Makes sense we’d scratch you, doesn’t it?”

Geno’s shoulders slumped. “Yes.”

“Why should we even put you back in the lineup? We could send you to Wilkes-Barre, maybe you’d work out some of your fucking issues there. I could talk to Mario.”

“No, Sid,” Geno pleaded, like he thought she’d actually do it. Like Mario would actually listen to her, and fuck, she shouldn’t have mentioned him; the team gave her enough shit about bending Mario’s ear as it was. But Geno didn’t look like he was in any position to chirp her.

“Then what?” Sidney demanded.

Geno’s hands balled into fists. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know anything wrong with my head!”

“Do you want to tell me about it?” Sidney asked softly. She felt like she was creeping up on something important here. She also felt like she didn’t know what the fuck she was doing.

Geno shook his head. “No,” he said mournfully.

“Color?”

He glanced at her, flushing. She waited patiently. Finally he muttered, “Yellow.”

“What about in Russian? Could you talk about it in Russian?”

Geno thought about that a little while. Sidney waited some more. “Okay,” he said.

Sidney considered him. Then she went into her room and came back with a knee pillow. Geno was still standing where she’d left him, and that ought to count as a victory, although she was too preoccupied to really care. She laid the pillow by the couch and said, “Okay, so I want you to kneel on this.”

With much less hesitation than the first time, if not much more grace, Geno knelt. Sidney sat on the couch, told him to lift his head, and she held the water glass to his lips and had him drink most of the rest of it. Then she put it aside and said, “So tell me.”

“Tell what?” Geno said, a little ragged.

“Anything about your game. Tell me about what’s going on with your hockey.”

Geno nodded, eyes on the floor, and he told her. First it came haltingly, in spurts that dried up and had to be coaxed again. Slowly the trickle grew into a river of Russian, voluminous, sharp, occasionally climbing an octave or two as the frustrations poured out. Geno hardly seemed aware of Sidney anymore, too caught up in his own head.

Then Sidney heard a sniffle, and she decided enough was enough. “Hey.” She plunged her fingers into his hair and cupped his skull. “Hey, it’s okay.”

He looked up at her, eyes red, and said something in Russian.

“English now, Geno.”

She could practically see him straining to shift language gears. When he opened his mouth again, it was to say, “Maybe not okay. What if—” He shrugged tightly. “What if hockey never okay anymore?”

Sidney fought the urge to roll her eyes. “Geno, there is not a center in the league I’d rather have on my team than you.” Or Mario, came the thought with a pang, but she told herself he didn’t count. He couldn’t count; he was retired.

Geno looked like he wanted to argue, but Sidney pressed her lips together and stared him down. He ducked his head, and Sidney thought maybe they’d accomplished something, when Geno looked up to her and said, “What about wing?”

Sidney opened her mouth, brain already working on some more emphatic reassurance, and then she saw the twinkle in Geno’s eye, and she slapped his shoulder. “And on that note, I’m fucking done. You ready to end scene?”

Geno looked startled, but he shrugged.

“Great. So you put your clothes on, and I’m going to go grab us something to eat, and then cuddling.”

Geno blinked. “Cuddling?”

“You bet your ass.” No way was Sidney going through this without getting a cuddle. Besides, despite Geno’s sudden good humor, she was pretty sure he’d need it. So Sidney went and washed her face, and then she traipsed downstairs to the kitchen for sandwiches, and when she got back to the game room, Geno was sitting on the couch in his sweats, looking a little lost.

Sidney gave him a long look, and then she went for a fresh washcloth. She dampened it in her sink, and then she settled next to Geno and began to gently clean his face. He didn’t protest; he just held still, aside from the occasional sniffle.

A wave of unexpected fondness bowled her over. “You were really brave, G.” She dabbed around his doubtful, reddened eyes and said, “You did good.” For me, she didn’t add, because that seemed like it’d be weird. She never told Flower he’d done good for her.

“Thanks.” Geno slid his hand over Sidney’s knee. “Know you best.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Sidney said, which didn’t seem to cow Geno in the slightest.

When Geno’s eyes were dry and he looked a little calmer, Sidney handed him a plate, and then she sat down and scooted up next to him, hip to hip.

“Sid?”

“Eat your sandwich,” she said. She flipped on the TV and found a Friends marathon, and she settled against Geno’s shoulder and munched on her Doritos.

When they’d finished the episode and then one after it, her eyes still on the screen, Sidney said, “So how are you feeling now?”

Geno shifted against her. “Okay?”

“I wasn’t too hard on you? I know you didn’t like some of it, but—”

“I know colors, Sid. I’m fine.” Geno snorted. “You not even hit me.”

Sidney refrained from pointing out that he was, after all, a hockey player; honesty was way harder than pain. Instead she asked, “Did it help, do you think?”

“I don’t know.”

Sidney sat up to look him over carefully. He looked better, she decided, if for no other reason than because he was no longer thrumming with anxious anticipation. “It was an experiment,” she reminded him. “If it didn’t do anything for you, then you don’t need to do it again.”

“Mm,” Geno said. It sounded like an easy, non-committal end to the conversation, and Sidney turned back to the TV, but at the next commercial break, Geno said, “What if it help?”

Sidney pulled far enough away to look at him. “What?”

Some of that tight anxiety was back in Geno’s face for the first time in a while. “If it help, means I—” Geno cut himself off.

“It doesn’t have to mean anything,” Sidney told him. “It’s just for hockey.” Some people would argue with that, but as far as Sidney knew, those people weren’t professional athletes, and they had no fucking idea what it meant to be one.

Geno’s expression cleared. “That’s true. Just for hockey.”

--

Sidney watched Geno in practice the next day, how relaxed he looked, how pleased with himself he was when he slammed Brooke into the boards and stole the puck from her, and Sidney hoped. Her hope was soon rewarded. The day after that the Devils came to play, and Geno danced right through their trap time and time again, eventually notching a goal for himself and an assist by way of a pretty, pretty pass to Recchi.

Afterwards, he couldn’t stop grinning. He even allowed himself to be talked into a brief media scrum. Sidney was busy with her own, but nonetheless she caught a word here and there – the same words, basically, over and over. “I feel good. I just come out to play, you know, and I feel good and I get goal.”

He didn’t talk about it with Sidney. He did however, pulled her into a celebratory hug when the last horn sounded, and when he let go, he’d tapped his helmet against hers. She took that as a thank you.

--

Sidney didn’t think about it much after that. The Pens were going places this year. She could feel it. She pushed harder. She spent more time on faceoffs after practice – she was going to get better at them, damn it.

She put Flower on his knees one night in a hotel room in Denver. A week later, she bent over for Brooke, who slapped Sidney’s ass until she cried and then held her afterward and made her drink a fortifying shake with flax seed in it. The shake was gritty.

Afterwards, Sid found herself picking apart what Brooke had said, how she’d taken Sid’s crankiness and sass and turned it back on Sidney, into a punishment that turned good. Not that there was any point in Sidney thinking about it – Flower never needed that kind of thing. And Geno was a one-time deal, obviously.

Then came a slump in Geno’s scoring. It could’ve happened to anyone – bad bounces, good chances stopped by hot goalies, several broken sticks. But this time, when it happened to Geno, penalties followed. One night the linesman broke up a fight Geno wanted very badly to have with the Bruins’ new goon, which could not possibly have gone anywhere good.

All in all, Sidney was not surprised when she woke up the next morning to a text on her phone: need do again.

They did it again.

They waited until the Lemieux house cleared out, and Geno knelt at Sidney’s feet while she watched television. When he fidgeted, she clipped clothespins to his ears and made him spell out all his flaws, starting with the fidgeting and working out to his giveaways, his roughing penalties, and his plummeting number of shots on net. She barely had to coax; all of it was already on his tongue, waiting to spill out – in English, this time. He didn’t even balk. And this time when he started to sniffle, she let him cry for a little while before she started cleaning away the tears.

Afterwards, he slumped bonelessly against her on the couch, breathing hard in her ear. Two episodes later, she asked him how he was, and he stared at his knees and said, “Better.”

--

The third time, Sidney left Geno getting undressed. When she walked back into the game room with water and pillow, Geno was already kneeling on the floor, head bowed, hands folded and carefully still in his lap. The curve of his bowed shoulders stopped Sidney cold.

She wanted to touch him. She wanted to feel him flex under her hand. She wanted to cane stripes across those shoulders. She did that for Flower sometimes, but domming Flower had never felt like this.

Shit.

She clamped down on the whole swirl of feelings in her belly, and she did the scene. Afterwards Geno grinned at her in a kind of blissed-out relief that Sidney knew very well, which raised questions that Sidney was just not going to broach right now. Sidney was started to build up a pile of those.

--

Sidney talked Brooke into a little extra one-on-one after practice with a promise of coffee bribery.

“But how does it feel?” Sidney asked later, again.

Brooke took a sip of her extra special organic free trade something or other. “Like a responsibility. A good one. When you’re across my knee, you’re mine to take care of. I want to keep you safe and take you down and bring you back up again.”

Sidney swallowed her bite of chocolate croissant. “But you just know how, right? It’s like instinct, knowing what to do.”

“Yeah,” Brooke said drily. “That’s why there’s all the dynamic ed in school, because we just need to follow our instincts.”

“Oh,” Sidney said. Oh. She was going to have to think about that some more. “And with Erin? Is it the same?”

“Well.” Smug wasn’t a look Brooke wore often on the ice. She was wearing it now. “I don’t make you eat my pussy.”

--

Flower didn’t need Sidney’s help after the Pens’ next game in Newark, but he did want TV and a cuddle, and Sidney was not going to turn down a cuddle between friends. They settled shoulder to shoulder on her bed – Brooke, Sidney’s usual roadie, no doubt out drinking organic microbrews – and turned on the Ducks-Yotes game.

When Sidney finished her post-game philly sandwich, she crumpled the paper into a ball and said, “I think I might be a switch.”

Flower nodded, eyes still on the TV. Sidney waited. Finally Flower looked over, eyebrows high. “And?”

“And what?”

“I know you’re a switch. So?”

Sidney sputtered. “What do you mean, you know? I didn’t know until last week!”

Flower squinted at her. “I’m very confused right now.”

“I always said I was a sub! I told everyone!”

“You told them a lot,” Flower agreed. “But—Sid, you dom me.”

Sidney gave Flower a hard look. He seemed to be serious. “Because you’re my friend,” she said. “Because you ask me to.”

“If I thought you hated it, I would ask someone different. There are lots of other people on the team I could go to.”

Sidney stared at Flower, and Flower stared back. “Oh,” Sidney said feebly.

He laughed at her, that particular eye-crinkly chuckle that somehow sounded a little French. Or maybe Sidney just thought that because it sounded like Flower. When he’d recovered, he said, “It’s not bad, is it? Being a switch?”

“I guess not, I just—it’s different. I’m different. From what I thought I was.” She’d been so emphatic, always. The world was broken into thirds: people who thought subs couldn’t play hockey, those who thought subs shouldn’t play hockey, and those who were convinced that since she could play hockey, she must not be a sub.

She could, she should, and she was. She’d been sure of it, blood and bone. She’d made sure they knew she was sure, too.

Flower tsked. “Sidney Crosby, always so complicated. Hockey and a sub and hockey and oh, she might be a switch now, and look, more hockey.”

“Shut up.” She shoved him, and he very nearly toppled over the side of the bed.

--

Geno pulled Sidney aside after tape review. His voice low, he said, “Do again?”

It took Sidney a moment. They were still winning games. Geno was lighting it up again. Sidney was finding the back of the net just fine, too. As she turned in every night, Sidney thought very firmly about the playoffs. This was the year. This year, they’d get there.

So she wasn’t really expecting Geno to ask her for this kind of assist again anytime soon. “But you’re doing fine.”

Geno shrugged. “Itchy.” His eyes appealed to her to understand what he meant, and she did. Of course she did. She’d been there a million times.

Still Sidney hesitated. She hadn’t forgotten how Geno had looked the last time. In fact, she’d recalled it in precise, vivid detail several times since then.

“Please, Sid.”

Like Sidney had any kind of defense against those big pleading eyes. “Fine.” She skimmed her mental calendar. “Tomorrow afternoon?”

“Yes, but.” Geno’s head dropped until his mouth was practically on her ear. His breath was warm. It sent parodoxical shivers down Sidney’s back. “Maybe try different?”

“Like what?”

Geno’s shrug was a shift of fabric against Sidney’s shoulder. “Hurt? Or hit?”

“Impact is going to leave marks.”

That stilled him for a moment, and then he shrugged again. “Not show. Shower alone.”

Sidney pulled back and eyed him, because seriously, did he think he was going to hide bruises or scratches from this team’s prying, beady eyes?

But his eyes were doing the pleading thing again. “Fine,” Sid said. “Your funeral.”

--

It was for hockey, Sidney told herself. She planned out the scene, a full itinerary like she hadn’t bothered with since the first time. She stocked her game room with Gatorade and leftover pizza. She spread towels over the sofa cushions, to catch any stray bodily juices.

She got some incense ready to light, but then she took a sniff and put it away again. Incense was for real scenes. It was for her going down for a dom she liked, for getting off and feelings and shit. Incense was not for hockey.

Geno arrived promptly at three, and Sidney showed him upstairs. At the top of them, she turned and asked, “Are you sure about this?”

His mouth did something complicated. “What ‘this’?”

“Oh, well. I figured we’d start with some spanking and see how you felt about it?”

“Okay,” he said. His eyes had lit, and she’d been pretty convinced before, but now Sidney would eat her fine leather cuffs if Evgeni Malkin wasn’t a switch. Apparently it was going around.

The door closed behind her, she told him, “Take your clothes off.”

Hurriedly Geno pulled off one layer after another: t-shirt awkwardly pulled over his head, his sweatpants. He bent down and lifted one foot at a time, flamingo-like, to get his socks. It shouldn’t have given Sidney this heat in her gut; it wasn’t like Geno didn’t strip in front of her all the damn time.

Finally he straightened and looked hopefully to her for direction, and she wanted to give it to him more than anything in the world. Fuck, she was so very much a switch. How had she never figured this out before?

And it was fucking real. It wasn’t some schoolyard thing or a favor to another sub to get by. God, she wanted to take Geno apart. Gently. More or less.

Focus, Sidney. Just get through the scene. “Underwear, too,” she told him.

His eyes widened; his nostrils flared on his inhale. Then he bent and shimmied out of his boxer-briefs, and there he was in all his glory, his dick hanging mostly lax and his balls nestled behind it like fruit. Visions passed before her eyes of things she’d never felt even the slightest urge to do to Flower, had never dreamed she would ever in a million years be into.

Sidney took a short, sharp breath to get herself under control. Then she had Geno stretch himself out on the sofa, belly down with his feet hanging off the end. Goddamn, how could he only have four inches on her and be so long?

“Okay?” she asked.

He was already breathing a little faster. “Okay.”

She knelt on a pillow she’d brought out. For one bizarre instant, she was in another scene entirely – one where she would be punished or petted or held still. She could almost hear the murmur of Geno’s praise. The next moment it was gone, and there was Geno’s prodigious and lily-white ass right in front of her, just waiting to be pinked.

There was no practicing for this. Sidney wound up and smacked Geno flat across the meat of his ass.

Geno yelped something in Russian.

“Color?”

“Green,” Geno said immediately. Demandingly, even.

Sidney slapped him again. She’d never done this before; she didn’t know what non-hockey asses felt like under a person’s hand. Probably they jiggled more. Probably they had a little more give.

Five minutes in – she just barely remembered to keep time – she said again, “Color?”

“Green,” he keened, panting.

She got out her next instrument of choice. She was a sub, she didn’t keep a toybox of her own – although she was going to need to rethink that – but in the meantime the back of her wooden hairbrush would do. Anyway, there was something about hitting Geno with something kind of girly that pleased her - yet another thing she’d never have guessed.

She hit him square on the cheek. He yelped his loudest yet, and she spared a hope that all the Lemieuxs really were out for the afternoon.

She hit him all up and down each cheek, at the peak and down where ass shaded into thigh. She made him gasp until he quivered under each strike, and on until he didn’t stop. In her hand the rhythm of impact built into a kind of ecstatic inevitability that she’d never felt from this side of things and never dreamed she could.

Geno’s breaths had been wet for a while, but then he started to sob.

Sidney set the hairbrush aside. “Hey.” She ran her hand up his shoulder blade. “Hey, you did awesome, Geno.”

His sobs went on. Sidney stood on creaky knees, and as she did she realized with a lurch that she was sopping wet. Fuck.

Fuck, she should not have done this scene. She should have said no.

That killed a lot of the glow. She settled down at the far end of the couch, just beyond Geno’s head, and then carefully she slid her thigh under it. He kept on crying, and the leg of her sweatpant got damp. She petted his hair. It was nice hair. In her current mood of brutal honesty, she could admit she’d wanted to card his hair through her fingers for just about as long as he’d been in Pittsburgh.

When the effects of the spanking were reduced to a snotty sniffle, she reached for a Kleenex and directed him to blow into it. She draped a blanket over him. She made him sit up on his elbows so she could pour half a bottle of Gatorade down his throat. Then she pulled his head back into her lep, and she went back to petting him. “How you doing?”

“Good,” he said softly. Yeah, and she fucking loved his stupid fucking accent, too. God, she was so fucking dumb.

“Everything you dreamed of?”

“You best dom,” he said. He reached up and squeezed her knee. It kind of made Sidney want to cry, and fuck, good job her.

“I’m going for the lotion,” she said. “To keep the bruising down.” Not that Geno wouldn’t still have some serious logistical issues the next few days if he wanted to keep his activities on the down low. A warm glow threatened to kindle in her chest about that, and she snuffed it out. She didn’t get to have glowy dom feelings about this.

She scooted out from under Geno’s head, settled on her knees again, and started working her extra special lotion, unscented, rich in vitamin E, and laced with arnica, into his swollen, pinked skin.

Geno moaned and pushed his ass up into her hand. It startled Sidney into a laugh. She gave him a light whap, and he moaned again. “Okay, no,” Sidney said. “We’re finished with that part of the hour.”

Geno mumbled something – probably asshole or the Russian equivalent – but he lay quietly while Sidney finished.

She couldn’t help a last stroke of her fingers down his thigh. Then she folded her hands carefully in her lap and said, “You still okay? That was pretty intense.”

Geno hiked himself up on his elbows and twisted to look over his shoulder. “Still okay. Cuddle now.”

So Sidney got back up, and got them both pizza, and they cuddled – Geno lounging carefully on his side with his head in Sidney’s lap again – and they watched M*A*S*H reruns until it was almost time for Lemieuxs to start to get home for dinner.

As Geno crawled out from under the blanket and began to gingerly pull his sweats on, Sidney said, “Look, Geno, I can’t do this again.”

Geno’s head snapped up. “Why?” he demanded, looking betrayed, and that wasn’t fucking fair.

Sidney folded her feet under her. “Look, I did this because you asked me to, to help you with your hockey. Because you’re—” Our 2C, my teammate, the guy I want to tie up and flog and fuck and get fucked by “—my friend. Because this is about hockey for you, right?” Or maybe not, but who knew how long it might take Geno to get any farther. He might never. That’d be okay, too. It wasn’t Sidney’s business. “You do this for your hockey.”

“Yeah,” Geno said slowly.

“And it’s not anymore, for me.”

“Not what?” Geno made to sit on the couch and then clearly thought better of it. He shifted his weight from foot to foot, but his anxiety couldn’t be Sidney’s problem anymore.

“It’s not just about hockey for me.”

“Not hockey?” Geno’s brow furrowed in honest confusion.

“I like it, okay? Fuck.” Sidney rubbed at her forehead. “I like domming, it turns out, and I like it with you. Like this.” She swept the room with her gesture. “So I can’t keep domming you, like, therapeutically - that’s not fair to either of us.” She couldn’t look Geno in the eye. He looked so sad. “Look, I can hook you up with the pro I go to. His firm signs NDAs, they’re all really private and professional. Or I can talk to Brooksie for you – she doms me on the road sometimes, she’s good. And you know she’d be quiet about it.”

“But Sid, you best.”

Sidney got to her feet. She gave Geno’s shoulder a squeeze. “Your hockey will be fine. I promise.”

“Sid—”

“I can’t, Geno.” Now she was going to cry, damn it. She blinked a couple of times, hard, and then, because she reckoned they’d crossed all professional and teammate boundaries by now, she leaned up and smacked a kiss on his cheek.

When she’d seen him out the door, she went down to the Lemieux family gym and lifted until her arms shook. Then she lay on the mat and stared up at the ceiling, blinking back tears. She told herself she was Sidney fucking Crosby; she was an NHL captain and she couldn’t afford to get weepy.

It didn’t help.

--

Hockey was the same. Flower was playing out of his mind. The playoffs were looking ever more like a sure thing. Sidney focused on that, on faceoffs and point streaks, on the power play. She didn’t think about Geno at all.

Except, of course, for all the times when he was right in front of her. He kept eyeing her sadly, and she kept barking at him about his backchecking.

Somehow, possibly by magic, Geno managed to keep the team in the dark about the state of his ass. Timing seemed to be a crucial factor. Sidney knew, though. She saw how gingerly he sat down in his stall, and some irrepressible part of her basked in the knowledge of a job well done.

She didn’t meet his eyes, though. That could go nowhere good.

On a trip to Tampa Bay, Flower made the usual sign for a scene, and Brooke obligingly cleared out of her and Sid’s room, but when Flower showed up at the door, he didn’t have the twitch that meant scene. He went and sat on Sid’s bed, knotted his hands between his thighs, and said, “What’s up with you lately?”

Sidney sat on the other bed. She shrugged. “Nothing.” That probably wasn’t convincing. She should have acted confused; she should have said what do you mean?

Sidney was not known for being a particularly accomplished liar.

Flower snorted. “Not nothing. I know, Sid. You know goalies. We see everything.” He squinted comically, and Sidney couldn’t help but laugh. Flower sobered. Quietly he said, “Sid, when you said you figured out you were a switch, who was the fuckface you figured it out with?”

Sidney’s spine ran ice cold. “What?”

“I don’t think it was with me. We always do the same thing.”

It was true. Aside from the very occasional caning, all Flower really wanted was for her to immobilize him – rope, the comforter, he wasn’t picky - and then talk him through his game, critically and objectively, until he’d come to terms with it. And then cuddling, obviously.

“Sid.” Flower spoke so gently that Sidney’s eyes prickled.

Blinking furiously, she said, “I can’t talk about it.” Flower’s mouth opened, probably to coax. “No, seriously, I can’t. It’s private. Not just for me.”

Flower eyed her carefully, and then he nodded, like something had come clear. “You can tell me about your part, if you want.”

Sidney opened her mouth on a polite refusal, but the thing was, she did want to talk about it. The need to tell someone was like a physical ache in her chest that she’d somehow failed to notice until now. She crossed the narrow aisle between the bed to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with Flower, and her sad, one-sided story spilled out: someone asking her to dom them for general health and well-being – with some suggestions that this person was non-team, although who knew how well Flower bought that. Sid finding she liked it. Sid finding she liked them.

It all seemed so obvious in hindsight. Who didn’t love Geno? Of course sceneing with him would bring down all her carefully maintained teammate-appropriate boundaries.

“But it was just a scene for him.” Sid had given up on neutral pronouns a while back. “Like I do with you. It was just friends. So, you know, I told him we couldn’t anymore.”

Flower hummed and pulled her in for a hug. Then he fished out a slightly melted chocolate bar from somewhere on his person – it was still in the wrapper, so Sidney didn’t give a shit where it’d come from - and they turned on a House Hunters marathon and watched it until Brooke came back.

--

Geno ambushed her again, hanging around in the doorway waiting for her like he’d made a habit of. Before her brain could get far, he said very firmly, “Steak. My treat. For thank you.”

Sidney wanted to say no, but steak. And manners. And if things got awkward, she could be firm about saying no. “Yeah, okay.”

They went to the steak house the Pens always went to on team dinners, and they took a private booth at the back, safely away from prying eyes. The waitress took their order, and then Geno said, “What you mean, you say you like dom me?”

Sidney wanted to tell him that wasn’t fair, but she held it in. Geno was figuring out a lot of stuff, and she was his friend. She wasn’t going to leave him hanging. “I mean. I like domming, and I like domming you. Like, more than teammates.” Maybe the dim lighting would hide Sid’s blush, although she wasn’t holding out much hope.

“Like boyfriend, girlfriend?” Geno asked her carefully.

Friends, Sid. You’re helping him. “Yeah, if you want to put it like that.”

He nodded soberly, apparently disinclined to feel awkward about that or poke fun. “English, you know. I’m want make sure.”

“Uh huh,” Sidney said, rather than asking what exactly it was he wanted to make sure of.

“I like sub for you, too, you know,” Geno said.

“Yeah, I know you do,” she said, a little fond despite herself. That soppy grin he’d get after they finished – she wasn’t going to forget that any time soon.

“Sid.” Geno looked down at his folded hands. “Sid, I’m think maybe not just dom.”

“No?” Sid asked gently.

He shook his head ponderously, like the shaggy-headed bear Jordy kept saying he was. More softly, he added, “And not just for hockey.”

“I thought maybe.”

His smile was wry. “Easy to see, right? Like being sub. Probably not only dom.”

“Kinda, yeah.”

“Even if, if only Russian who sub.” Geno’s gaze was fixed squarely on his napkin.

Sidney didn’t know what to say. She was sorry?

Geno was already talking again. “But not just sub, Sid.” He looked earnestly into her eyes, pleading again, and this time she didn’t even know what he was asking for. “Sub for you.”

Okay, so she should have been able to guess. “Geno—”

“Like boyfriend. Girlfriend.”

Sidney blinked at him. Her brain was a whiteout. She had nothing.

“Want to sub for you always. And other stuff. Kissing, dinner. Like date? I sub for you, maybe you sub for me, sometime? If you want,” he hastened, like his skilled hands tying her in knots, literal or figurative, might be the dealbreaker. “Like you a lot, Sid.”

Sidney kept staring. As the silence drew out, Geno ducked his head. “Or no, if you don’t want,” he mumbled. “Okay if no.”

There were a dozen reasons Sidney ought to hesitate, reasons featuring phrases like professionalism and team chemistry. Besides, she’d never dommed someone she was into before, previous Geno situations notwithstanding. He’d never subbed for any of those girlfriends of his.

But there he was on the other side of the table, lanky and sweet and assholish and so fucking gorgeous on his knees. She couldn’t have dreamed up a better sub if she tried, or a boyfriend she wanted more. “Yeah, okay.”

Geno’s head snapped up. “Yes? You want?”

Wanting was not even in question. Sidney wanted so bad she was blushing with it. She reached across the table for Geno’s hands, and hope kindled in his eyes. “Yeah. Yeah, I fucking do.”

--

Sidney got held up by reporters an extra twenty minutes after practice. By the time she got to the Lemieuxs’, Geno’s car was already parked out in front. As she passed the kitchen, Nathalie gave her a knowing look and said something about video games, but they both knew Sid hadn’t hosted a video game tournament in two months, and she’d certainly never had one just with Geno.

Sidney climbed the top of the stairs. The door to the game room was shut. She eyed the door knob a little while, anticipating. She had some idea what she’d find, but Get ready and wait for me left a lot of possibilities open.

Finally she took a deep breath and twisted the knob open.

In the middle of the floor, facing away from her, knelt Geno. He was bare ass naked, his head bowed and his spine bent in a perfect knobby curve. For a split second, Sid couldn’t see anything except for that supple curve and the sharp angles of his shoulder blades. She couldn’t hear anything but her own pulse in her ears.

When she came back to herself, she hurriedly shut the door behind her. She circled him, her Crocs slapping the wooden floor. He didn’t move.

“Geno.” He looked up, cheeks flushed, eyes sparkling with anticipation. Something in her, certain and unyielding, said Mine. The word filled her chest, bright and warm and full of promise. “Geno,” she said, “get the fuck up here and kiss me.”

And Geno scrambled to obey.

[end]