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Geno and Alex transfer to America Geno's senior year. Geno's not sure what to expect, but in the end it's really not that complicated. They both join the hockey team, obviously, and Geno's only a little incredibly nervous when they walk into the locker room the first day.

"You really blond," Alex tells a guy standing naked in his stall. "How you do that?"

The guy blinks at him. "My name's Jordy?" he says.

Geno has to look away, because he knows he's smiling stupidly and he doesn't want everyone to assume he and Alex are dating the way they did back in Russia. He's a little spaced out, though, so he doesn't notice at first that some guy is walking up to him.

Then the guy says, "Hi, I'm Sidney," and sticks his hand out.

Geno says, "Hi," automatically, and shakes Sidney's hand.

The guy is shorter than he is, with the kind of mouth that makes Geno immediately think of porn and then feel really bad about it. Geno tries to say something like 'nice to meet you', but instead he just says, "Hi," again.

They're still shaking hands. Sidney pulls his away quickly. "So, um, how do you like it here? Are you settling in okay? Are you looking forward to playing? I'm looking forward to seeing you play, I've heard great things."

"Dude, he doesn't speak much English," some guy behind Sidney says.

"Excited," Geno says, and smiles.

Sidney blinks at him a few times. "Oh. Right. Yeah. Okay." He turns and leaves, as abruptly as he showed up.

"So..." Geno says to the guy he's next to. He's got a hell of a mustache for a high schooler.

The guy grins at him. "Talbot. Max. You're Russian."

"Yes."

"Cool. You know the deal with Sidney, right?"

"He Sidney Crosby," Geno says. "Big hockey player. Gonna go first in NHL draft."

"He's a total freak, man." Geno must be making a face, because Talbot says, "No, not like that. He's not, like, a douche. He's just kind of weird."

"Huh."

"Hurry it up, guys," Sidney says from across the locker room."

"Thanks," Geno says. "Important to know."

Talbot grins at him. "Any time." They go back to getting ready.

One thing becomes obvious really early on: Sidney is really, really, really good at hockey. Geno's kind of blown away. He's quick and seems to see plays before they even happen. Geno had heard of him, of course, because even in Russia people who are into hockey have heard of Sidney Crosby; but it's different to actually see him play. He's young, too, younger than Geno.

"Crazy, right?" Talbot says, skating in next to him.

Geno jumps, embarrassed that he's been caught staring. "He good. Very good."

"Yeah," Talbot says appreciatively. "You're not bad, though. Better than most of us."

Geno can feel himself turning red. "Well, in Russia they beat you, you not good enough at hockey," he says finally.

Sidney comes up to him after practice is over, too. "I was thinking," he says, face flushed from the shower. "We're probably going to be on a line together."

Once again, Geno experiences the weird feeling of not being able to talk. "Yes."

"That's cool," Sidney says, and leaves without further comment.

Geno finds out the next day at school that everyone knows who Sidney is because he manages to be really, really good at hockey and better than okay at school, and also he still gets swirlies sometimes despite being an athlete. He's just got that kind of face. Geno finds out about that because Alex grabs him between classes and says, "You know people put Sidney's head in the toilet? We have to protect him!"

"Huh?" Geno says.

Alex practically cackles with joy. "Don't get me wrong," he says. "It's hilarious. But he's so small. He's tiny, practically."

"He's a hockey player," Geno points out. "He's got plenty of bulk."

"Maybe," Alex says, "but we still have to protect him. What about the team's honor! Okay, I have to go to history, I'll see you later."

The whole conversation is a little disconcerting, because to Geno's knowledge, Alex has spoken to Sidney twice on the ice, and both times Sidney blinked at him because Alex was too excited to make much English.

Geno's perfectly happy to humor Alex and make friends on his own time. And he does; the guys on the team are nice, and they're mostly patient with his broken English. Or at least, when they mock him, they do it good-naturedly.

It takes Geno a good three weeks to even see Sidney as anything but the guy Alex is weirdly obsessed with, who is himself very weird. But Jordy and Talbot invite them out, and so Geno winds up squished into a backseat with Alex and Sidney.

Alex is all over Sidney, of course. Geno would worry, but Alex has always been like this and probably will always be like this, and spending every second of every day worrying is just impractical. Instead he says, "Sorry. Is Russian thing, have too many feelings."

"Do you have too many feelings?" Sidney asks, scrunching his face up at Geno.

For a second Geno finds himself totally incapable of responding. Finally he says, "Have right number. Like Goldie Locks."

It's a weak joke, but Sidney laughs. Then Jordy says, "Jesus, both of you quit being lame," and they screech into the driveway where the party is.

The party's okay - kind of slow, but Geno guesses it's not these guys' fault that the drinking age is so high all they've managed to get is some awful beer. Alex is a resounding success five minutes in, which means Geno can chat up the girl from his trig class alone. It's an hour in when he sees Sidney in the room, literally cornered by some guy who's either really pissed or a hockey fan.

"Hey," Geno says, coming over. "What happening?"

"Whoa." The guy blinks at him. "Are you like, foreign or something?"

Geno frowns. "Offensive."

"Uh -"

"No, I kid. Russian. Sid not tell you he come with bodyguards?"

The guy just blinks at him. Sidney's grinning, but Geno guesses the other guy is too drunk for jokes. Or Geno's just not funny and Sidney's humoring him.

Geno's honestly not sure why he's trying to be funny to begin with.

"Anyway, I'll see you later, man," the guy says, and leaves Sidney and Geno alone.

Which is a problem, because all of a sudden Geno's tongue weighs five hundred pounds and he can't think of anything to say in English.

"I'm a little drunker than I meant to be," Sidney says, blinking hard. "Oops."

"Off this?"

"We can't all shotgun vodka at noon and then drink some more for dessert," Sidney snaps. He turns bright red. "I need to sit down."

"Upstairs?" Geno says dubiously. He's not surprised when Sidney shakes his head. "Car?"

"Um, yeah, please," Sidney says.

Geno doesn't actually offer his shoulder, but Sidney stumbles into him and grabs on anyway. His hand feels like a claw. Geno takes him out to the driveway and over to Jordy's car - unlocked, because there's nothing in there anyone wants to steal. "Here," he says, opening up the passenger's side and depositing Sidney in it.

"Thanks," Sidney says, leaning back against the seat. "You can go back inside."

Geno shrugs. Though if he did, he'd probably learn how to speak English again.

"No, seriously, go," Sidney says. "This is embarrassing. So, so, so embarrassing. So, so, so, so -"

"Get it," Geno says, and leaves.

The worst part is, he thinks as he goes back inside, Alex is going to find it completely charming and amazing that Sidney's such a horrible lightweight.

He finds out the next morning that he's right.

"Like a duckling!" Alex crows, leaning on the locker next to Geno's. "A tiny, confused, drunken little duckling!"

"This obsession of yours is worrying," Geno informs him. "Also, people are staring."

Alex waves a dismissive hand. "Let them stare. Our mother tongue is beautiful, and also, I am having a religious moment."

"Sid's your religion now?"

"Oh, Sid, is he?"

Geno flushes.

"Anyway, he's not." Alex winks at him. "Though you've seen him play hockey. Maybe he should be."

"That's the dirtiest you've ever made hockey sound."

"Who says I was talking about hockey?"

"This conversation's over," Geno says. The school obliges him by ringing the first bell.

During chemistry, Sidney approaches him with a determined look on his face. "I just wanted you to know," he says, "last night was a total mistake, and if you don't want to talk, or whatever, that's fine, I can just -"

"Johnson's absent," their teacher says, tapping Sidney on the shoulder. "You can work with Geno today."

Geno's not un-self-aware enough not to know why his stomach goes up in knots when Sidney sighs and sits down next to him. He just wishes it wasn't that. Because honestly, now he's stuck being so tongue-tied he can't even remember English for "beaker".

"We work," he says instead. "Is fine. Pass, um." He waves a hand at the beaker.

"Don't you have to know English to come here?" Sidney says, passing it over.

Geno glares. "Understand enough."

Sidney turns bright red. "Sorry."

They have to pour some liquids in the beaker and turn everything red. Geno knows it's technically science, but he's here to play hockey, not blush when Sidney accidentally touches him and try to forget about the fact that Alex will somehow know about this before the day's out. Geno needs better taste in friends.

When they're done, Sidney says, "Do you want to email about the lab report or something? You can email, right?"

Geno can barely believe his ears. "Have a Facebook, Sid."

"Oh! Right. Well." Sidney fumbles his backpack closed. "I'll see you at practice, um, I'll give you my contact stuff then," he says, and bolts.

Geno sighs and puts his stuff away. He doesn't even really like Sidney, he reminds himself, and goes to English.

Alex sidles up to him just before the final bell rings. "Geno and Sidney, sitting in a tree."

"That doesn't rhyme in Russian," Geno says.

"Are you looking forward to skating with him?"

"I'm always looking forward to skating."

"And now you'll always look forward to skating with him," Alex says cheerfully. "Now come on!"

Geno's not sure, but he thinks Sidney might be a little more intense than usual that day. It's hard to tell, since every time Geno starts over-thinking it he gets embarrassed about how he's analyzing Sidney Crosby's playing patterns and has to stop.

After practice, Sidney approaches him with a towel around his waist, and Geno squashes the desire to be somewhere else long enough to say, "Hi."

"Hey," Sidney says. He hands Geno a crumpled-up piece of paper. "My email address. And I'm going to friend you on Facebook."

He sounds so determined that there's no way Geno's going to - what? Tell him no? No one in this school who cares about hockey would tell Sidney Crosby no about most things, much less something as petty as Facebook. "Okay. Thanks."

Sidney sighs. "I was a dick. I'm sorry."

"Yes," Geno says. "Is okay. I, um." He fumbles for words, shifting from foot to foot. "I sensitive. People say, bad English, I say cry - go fuck self. See?"

"I think so?" Sidney says dubiously.

"See?" Alex whispers loudly behind Sidney. "They gonna be friends, just wait, they gonna skip through field of daisies together!"

"Sure thing, buddy," Jordy says.

There's an email from Sidney waiting for him before he even gets home. "Does this lab report make any sense to you? Because I'm ready to tear my hair out."

It's easier to remember English when Sidney's not staring at him. "Girls love hair, leave it in. Lab report is complicated. Which cares about covalent bonds?"

If Sidney's surprised at his English he doesn't say. "I'm begging my mom to help but she says she won't do it for me."

"It is due Thursday. We could work on it after practice tomorrow?"

Sidney doesn't answer for awhile and Geno's sure he's made a mistake. But finally Sidney replies, "Sure."

Which is how Geno spends half the night reading his chemistry textbook, frantically trying to figure out enough of it to have a good report for tomorrow.

He and Sidney clicked almost right away on the ice, and that's not impacted the next day, even though Geno's feeling ridiculously self-conscious of pretty much everything. Alex keeps catching his gaze and winking at him, Talbot looks ready to laugh half the time, and even Mike Green looks more smug than usual. Apparently Sidney making friends with the weird Russian kid (as opposed to the weirder Russian kid) is headline news.

After practice, Sidney and Geno head to Sidney's. Sidney's mom is nice and understanding of the fact that he stutters over the few words he can force out with both Crosbys staring at him, and then they get to go up to Sidney's room and spread out on the floor.

"Oh, shit," Sidney says when he pulls his lab report out. It's mostly complete. "You were working hard, eh?"

Geno shrugs. "Have to impress."

"Right," Sidney says. "So."

"So."

They work awkwardly on the report for an hour and a half, and Geno realizes that Sidney's actually pretty decent at chemistry. Better than Geno was until he crammed, anyway. Sidney helps him with some of his phrasing, and he helps Sidney with some of the nitpicky facts, and they're both wrapping it up when Geno's stomach rumbles.

He makes a face. "Sorry."

"No, it's cool. You can stay for dinner."

Geno absolutely should not stay for dinner, but - "Okay. Cool. Thanks."

"If Jordy was here he'd say something about how someday you'll know how to work sentences," Sidney says. He sounds oddly meditative.

He's honestly considering what other people would say as options for what he's going to say, Geno realizes. He forces a laugh. "Sure."

Dinner is nice. The Crosbys talk around him - Taylor especially - and no one expects him to say anything.

Sidney does watch him, though, and Geno doesn't know what to do about that. He eats quickly, and then goes out into the living room.

Sidney follows pretty soon after. "So."

"So."

"We could play for awhile before you go home?" Sidney says, nodding at the PlayStation.

It's easier, Geno thinks, to play video games, because he can trash talk and beat Sidney and listen to him whine. None of it requires knowing much English, and no one thinks he's weird when he doesn't look over at Sidney.

Finally Geno starts yawning kind of obviously, and he says, "I go home."

"Right, totally." Sidney scrambles to his feet. "Here, I'll walk you to the door."

It's a weird consideration, but Geno goes with it. He doesn't miss the way Sidney keeps babbling: "This was fun, right? You think this was fun? I think it was fun. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

Geno doesn't really understand people who think they have to talk twice as much to make up for his silence. "Yes."

"Right," Sidney says after another awkward pause. "So, I'm just going to - yeah." He walks away with his hands jabbed into his pockets as Geno grabs his keys and heads out.

He doesn't really know what to do with tonight. Sidney's nice, he is. Someday Geno might even manage to talk in front of him. But Geno's honestly not sure he even wants to be friends with Sidney. A guy is the last thing Geno wants to gets dumb about right now. Especially if it's Sidney, who's about as likely to let a relationship happen when hockey's going on as he is to start flying.

He'll just have to wait and see, he guesses.

Geno doesn't expect much to come from that, but after practice the next day he has an email from Sidney waiting for him: "So did you understand history at all? Because all I got was that the Cuban missile crisis was bad, and maybe something about potatoes."

Geno hesitates for a full hour. He thinks about calling Alex, then dismisses that idea for being stupid - then thinks about it longingly again. Finally he replies, "American politics are complicated. I worry more about my grade. Think she likes me?"

"Everyone likes you," arrives almost right away. It's followed five minutes later by, "I mean that in a good way."

That makes Geno smile a little. "Thanks."

"So...we could study together?"

Geno does actually remember that that would be a bad idea. "Not tonight. Have to sleep."

"Oh, you're one of THOSE guys. haha. I'll see you tomorrow."

Geno doesn't reply. It would be toolish.

Sidney approaches him in the halls the next day. "Hey," he says, smiling nervously. "So..."

"So," Geno says.

"Sid!" Alex comes barreling down the hallway, skidding to a halt in front of Sidney before throwing himself on Sidney. "You gonna win us game!"

"He just watched footage from last year," Jordy says from behind Alex. He sounds bored. "And made dolphin noises. Like, dude. Dolphin noises."

"Um." Sidney's bright red.

Geno sighs and pulls Alex off. "Calm down, you idiot," he says in Russian.

Alex just grins. "If I act like a lunatic he won't notice how weird you are."

"Ugh."

"Sidney savior!" Alex says joyously, throwing his arms out. "Okay, I go to class now, you kids have fun."

"Man, Russians are so weird," Talbot says from his spot over at his locker.

Geno sighs and shoulders his backpack. Yeah, he thinks, we really are.

The day actually goes fine, even though Geno was up late emailing Sidney and so he's pretty tired. Or at least, it goes fine until they get to chemistry.

Sidney's perched on Amy's usual lab seat, smiling nervously. "I asked her to switch. I figured it would be easier for her if her lab partner didn't have a crazy hockey schedule."

Geno manages to say, "Okay. Cool."

Sidney smiles widely. "Awesome."

So that part's good. Less good is the part where Sidney spills some kind of acid all over Geno's shirt.

"Oh god!" Sidney leaps back. "Chemicals! Burning! Quick, go to the shower!"

Geno thinks Sidney's kind of overreacting. It doesn't even hurt; it's not like he took a puck to the face. But he obeys Sidney's yelling and pushing, making his way over to the shower before the teacher even has a chance to tell him what to do.

He strips off his shirt, because he's a little worried about chemical burns even if he's not losing his shit like Sidney, and stands under the spray. Sidney tugs the chain and babbles away about how sorry he is, staring at the ceiling.

Geno looks at the sign that says he has to do this for fifteen minutes and sighs.

Sidney apologizes again when Geno gets out of the shower and again when he has to wear his hoodie like a shirt. Finally Geno says, "Is not problem. Shut up."

He's glad Sidney takes it like the reassurance it's meant to be.

The thing is, he thinks as they go over the power play for what feels like the millionth time, that even when he can't say anything in English and Sidney's babbling like an idiot, they communicate so well on the ice. Geno's sure anyone could play easily with Sidney Crosby, but he likes to think it says good things about them that Geno can keep up.

"Good job," Coach says when they're done.

"I really am sorry about your shirt," Sidney says.

"Oh, by the way," Flower says, skating over to them, "the entire school's talking about it. Did he really take you in a manly fashion on the chem table?"

"Shut up," Sidney says, turning bright red.

"That's only happening in Flower's twisted mind," Max says. "No one cares about what you jerk it to, Flower."

"Your mom cared when she turned the webcam on," Flower says, leering.

Talbot gags exaggeratedly.

"Pay attention to practice," Sidney says pointedly.

Geno still doesn't really get why the guys listen to him, but there it is.

He's surprised Alex hasn't said anything, right up until they go to Alex's together and Alex corners him and says, "What are you doing with Sidney Crosby?"

"Nothing," Geno says irritably. "He really did spill chemicals on me. It's not a big deal."

"Not a big deal, he says." Alex regards him skeptically. "Right. How badly do you want to blow him next time you see him drunk?"

Or sober. "Ugh," Geno says. "Let's stop talking about this."

"Sooner or later he's going to catch on, you know."

Geno does know. "Whatever. I bet you can't beat me three times in a row at Mario Kart."

Alex lights up. "I bet you'll regret making that bet."

It's a distraction that takes them a good hour to get bored of, and by then Alex is dragging out his backpack and making noise about doing homework. It's the last thing Geno wants to have to do, but Alex keeps making dire comments about not being able to play hockey and being deported to Russia and how there's probably not a single Sidney Crosby in Russia, and Geno gets the implicit threat that they're going to talk about Geno's feelings if he doesn't do trig.

It's not actually that late, maybe ten or so, when they stop - but just as Geno's getting ready to drive home, a storm blows in. Geno's mom is a worrier, so it's not at all surprising that she calls him right away. "I want you to stay at Alex's," she says. "You've got clothes there and everything, right?"

Every time he stays over Alex makes him sleep on Thomas the Tank Engine sheets. Geno doesn't even know where the guy got them. "Yeah," he says heavily.

"Oh, stop that. He's your closest friend."

"Thomas the -"

"Yes, yes, I know, how sad for you," his mom says dryly. "I'll see you tomorrow, Zhenya." She hangs up.

It's not like Geno hangs a sign around his neck saying he stayed over at Alex's. That would be weird, and anyway, there are enough rumors about them already. Most of the rumors Alex doesn't start have something to do with the weird Russian kids being weird and Russian together.

But Alex, of course, doesn't bother keeping it quiet. Geno's putting his books in his locker and trying not to smile too nervously at Sidney when Alex yells, "Geno, my mom text, she say you leave socks in living room. I tell her you come by, take them with you tonight."

There aren't that many people in the hall - the juniors' lockers are all grouped together at one end of the school - but the people who are there give them weird looks. Geno shrugs, hoping to convey, "I had nothing to do with this, and also we're not sleeping together." He can't help but glance at Sidney, though. Sidney's gripping his books and staring at the floor.

Geno's stomach doesn't sink. It really doesn't.

Chemistry is a lot less excitement-filled that day. He sits down next to Sidney without Sidney having to move over to him this time, and Sidney smiles and says, "So, sleepover with Ovie, eh?"

"He snore," Geno says, then realizes what he's implied and retroactively tries to bite off his tongue.

"I know you're not sleeping with him," Sidney says, playing with his pen.

Geno blinks at him. He's bright red and not looking at Geno. "Right," Geno says. "I not."

"Yeah. I figured."

Someday, maybe, chemistry won't just be a lesson in how to be as awkward as possible. "We do work," Geno says.

"It should be pretty easy, with midterms coming up." Sidney passes him the assignment. Geno takes it - and bites his tongue and completely forgets what he was going to say when Sidney's hand brushes his.

"Yes," he says finally. But it's late enough that it just sounds awkward and misplaced. Sidney looks at him questioningly; Geno shakes his head.

"Here," Sidney says, passing him the copper wire they're using.

Geno takes it, keeps a straight face, and tries to concentrate on his work.

"You guys," Sidney says towards the end of class, after an hour of just exchanging terse words about the assignment, "you're friends, right? Good friends."

"Huh?" Geno says intelligently.

"You and Ovie."

"Oh. Yes."

"Right." Sidney bites his lower lip. He looks deep in thought. "But you're not, you know."

Geno blinks.

"You know."

"I know?"

"Having sex," Sidney hisses.

Oh, God. "Told you no. You say you know, is not true." Geno struggles both to pronounce the words and to keep anger out of his voice. Judging by the look on Sidney's face, he's not completely successful.

"But there's nothing wrong with it," Sidney says. "Like, it's fine, if people want to. Right?"

"Yes," Geno says. He wants to add: of course it's fine, it's none of my business, why do you ask? But Sidney's staring at him.

"Right," Sidney says. "Because it's fine. And normal. And people who are like that don't die never been kissed and like, crusty virgins."

It takes Geno a minute to realize that no, he didn't misunderstand, Sidney's just being weird. That's a minute too long, though; Sidney looks horrified and says, "Never mind. I have to go to English. I'll see you later."

Geno feels like a wimp, but he nods and goes in the opposite direction of Sidney, even though his class is just a few doors down from Sidney's.

"Are you okay?" his mother says that night, as he's setting the table. "I didn't believe your father when he told me you were lovesick, but you've got that kind of pathetic look."

"Hey."

She raises her eyebrows at him. Geno looks away, scowling down at the plates. "It's nothing."

His mother snorts. "Finish setting the table, Zhenya."

He's just finishing when she says, "So tell me, how's Sidney?"

That's when he gets it. "Alex talked to you, didn't he."

"He's a good friend."

"He's insane."

"I'm not going to tell you to tap that, or something." She pronounces the English words so awkwardly that it's hilarious. "But I will say I think he's a good boy."

Something in Geno snaps. "He is! Everyone loves him! And I don't want to talk about how everyone loves Sidney Crosby!"

Before she can respond, he stomps up to his room. He's never felt like more of a stereotype than when he flops down on his bed, arm over his eyes.

It's not fair. He knows that's a stereotype, but it's really not.

His mom understands that he needs to be left alone and doesn't do anything more than call up the stairs, "Dinner's ready!" Geno gives himself a few more minutes to sulk before coming back down.

The table conversation is about Russian current events, which is great because Geno can contribute without having to think about Sidney. When he goes back upstairs, though, he has an email waiting for him.

"Sorry I was so weird. I'm having a strange day."

It's abrupt and strange and so very, very Sidney. Geno's not really all that surprised; he emails back, "It's fine." After a minute's thought - why is Sidney so weird about gay people? How can Geno respond to it without also making it obvious he's gay? - he sends, "Gay people get laid too."

That's nice and neutral. Sidney's probably got a relative he's worried about or something. If he asks, Geno can claim he has a gay cousin or something.

Well, actually, he's got a gay aunt. Talking about knowing his aunt has sex is weird, though.

"I'm gay, actually."

For a second all Geno can do is stare at the email. Of course he's gay. That makes sense, and Geno has been being deliberately obtuse so that he doesn't have to think about Sidney being gay. Or more specifically, gay and not into Geno.

He finally replies with, "Cool," and then turns off the computer to go to bed. Sidney's gay and not into him. That's fine. It's the same thing as Sidney being straight and not into him, basically.

 

"Don't be ridiculous," Alex says during gym the next day. "Of course he's into you."

"I'm trying to get over it, not make it worse, you asshole," Geno says. They're jogging laps, so Geno gives himself a few strides before he says, "He's not."

"Yes, he is." Alex frowns for a second, then brightens. "I could ask him!"

Geno grabs him before he can run off or something. "No, you couldn't."

Alex sighs. "Fine, then. Just make me a promise."

"What?"

"Find a boy and bring him to Jordan's party on Saturday."

"I can't," Geno says. Both because he doesn't know anyone, and because that's a horrible idea in every way.

"Of course you can. And you will. You don't have to make out with him or anything, just...stick close to him."

Geno stares.

"If you don't, I'll be your boy." Alex grins. "And trust me, you won't like that."

Of that, Geno's sure. "You're insane."

"I'm a genius, but I know it's easy to confuse the two." Alex speeds up and then turns around to face Geno, yelling, "Faster! Russians never break!"

Geno groans and ignores the way the rest of the class laughs, pushing himself to match Alex.

Geno realizes the flaw in Alex's plan halfway through eighth period history. To bring a boy to Jordan's party - or a guy, not a boy, because saying "a boy" sounds like he's going to hire a hooker, or something.

Though actually, hiring a hooker might be easier than finding a guy who wants to go to a party with Geno.

It's not that he doesn't have friends. He definitely, definitely has friends. But Backstrom's been dating his girlfriend for forever, and Sasha's either going alone or with a secret boyfriend - Geno's not sure. Kris is taking his friend's older sister, Flower's going to go alone and make out with half the party, and Talbot wouldn't take a date anywhere if his life depended on it.

So straight, gay, or bi, none of Geno's friends or acquaintances are going to agree to be his date to a party. Especially not to make Sidney Crosby jealous.

After he goes through everyone he knows three or four times, he has to acknowledge that he's out of options. On the walk home, he pulls out his phone and texts Alex. "Find me someone?"

Alex's reply comes almost instantly. "I KNOW A PERFECT PERSON!!! hahaha"

Geno's pretty sure this is going to end badly.

Geno doesn't have to wait long: Alex shows up on his doorstep right before dinner.

"Feed me! Also I found you a date," Alex says.

"Wait, what?" Geno says, but Alex is pushing past him.

"Hi!" he says to Geno's mom. "You look lovely! Is that a new hairstyle?"

"It's the same one I've had for five years," Geno's mom says, but she looks charmed by Alex hugging her. Of course.

"So like I said, I found you a date." Alex flops down on the couch. "A friend of Sidney's."

Geno's world just kind of stutters to a stop. "Excuse me?"

"Did I suddenly start speaking Italian? A friend of Sidney's is going to be your date." Alex looks gleeful. "He's agreed to let you hump him and everything!"

"I'm not humping anyone!" Why, why, why is Geno friends with Alex? "Are you crazy? You're crazy!"

"It'll be great!" Alex says, and thrusts his hips in the air. "Like this, Zhenya! And then Sidney'll love you forever!"

"That's not how dating works." Geno can feel himself turning bright red. "Or life. Oh God, please stop."

Alex stops humping the air. "No, but seriously, you have to make him jealous."

"But not by humping."

He's kind of amazed by how crestfallen Alex looks. "Not even a little?"

"No," Geno says sternly. "Who'd you manage to talk into this?"

"You'll love him. I promise. It's good, too, because he loves Sidney, so you can talk about how great he is, and lean into each other, and maybe make out so Sidney can see."

"Won't he think it's a little weird that his friend is taking me to a party?" Geno says, ignoring the way his ears warm up when Alex talks about kissing in front of Sidney.

"If you were Sidney Crosby, would you assume your friends tell you everything?"

"Hey." Geno frowns. "Don't talk about him like that."

Alex blinks at Geno. Geno glares back. Then Alex tilts his head back and laughs and laughs.

"Right," he says, when the laughs have subsided to giggles. "Well, anyway, his name's Colby and he's picking you up at nine."

"I thought I was supposed to take him."

"You can drive. Would that make you feel manly?"

Geno tells himself he's not allowed to slump down and sulk. "Oh, whatever."

"You'll thank me when you're sucking Sidney's -"

"Dinner!" Geno's mom calls from the kitchen.

The closer they get to Saturday, the more awkward Geno feels about everything. He hangs out with the guys Wednesday and Thursday, and he pretty much doesn't say anything to Sidney either time. Well, at one point Sidney says, "Hey, do you want to split ice cream, maybe?" and looks so hopeful at the promise of chocolate that Geno's pretty much blackmailed into buying dessert while all the other guys give them shit. But aside from that, Geno doesn't have to look at Sidney, and what English he has to make is short and easy. It's nice and non-stressful.

He spends Friday night with Sasha, Alex, and a bottle of Alex's mom's vodka. As a general rule, that kind of thing always ends with someone's face being drawn on, and this time Geno's determined that it won't be him.

Alex doesn't help when he says, "Hey, when Sidney's a famous hockey player, do you think Geno will get a cardboard cutout of him?"

Sasha burps and laughs. "Hey," Geno says, "I could be famous too!"

Alex waves a hand. "Sure. And I could grow a third arm if I do this shot, which is why you should do it for me."

Geno glares, but he's practically been dared, so he does the shot. "I'm not...it's not a big deal."

"Sure it's not." Alex looks sly. "So his mouth is pretty great, don't you think?"

Sasha mimes giving a blowjob.

Geno pulls his knees up, resting his head on them and holding out his hand. Alex puts the bottle in it.

"He's not that great," Geno says, taking a swig. "It's why it sucks. I can't even talk around him."

"I could teach him Russian!" Alex says. "Dick, ass, in me? That's as much vocabulary as he needs. Maybe suck and harder, too."

"I hate both of you," Geno says, and takes another drink, shuddering. Alex's mom drinks horrible vodka.

Things get kind of blurry after that. At one point Alex convinces Sasha to make out with his own hand, and gets another bottle, and Geno winds up face-first in the carpet, explaining to it why he likes Sidney so much.

"And his mouth," he says, plucking at the carpet. "I know I told you to shut up, but really, his mouth. I just want him to blow me. Is that bad? I mean, I'd blow him too."

"He'd probably like to blow you," Alex says.

It's the third or fourth time he's told Geno that. Probably because Geno's having trouble thinking about things that aren't Sidney's mouth. "I like his face, too," he says. "I mean, generally. And his ass. His ass is nice."

"He's a hockey player, of course his ass is nice," Alex says. "Sasha. Sasha."

"He's sleeping," Geno says. He can hear Sasha snoring. "I should sleep too."

"I can talk to the TV," Alex says.

He's not really joking. Not that Geno cares. He's too drunk to care. He's -

 

He wakes up the next morning with drool against his cheek. Alex's mom is standing over him, hands on her hips. "You're cleaning that up," she says.

"Did Alex draw on my face?"

"No." She hands him a glass of water and some aspirin. "If you're going to drink, at least drink a respectable amount. Honestly."

"It was strong!" Geno says, then winces at his own voice and takes the aspirin.

"I'm sure." She nudges Alex with her foot. "Wake up. You've got vacuuming to do."

Geno almost forgets about the party. He goes home and works on homework a little, and thanks God they don't have a game, only practice at three.

His hangover's mostly gone by the time he shows up, so he thinks it's a little unfair that Sidney looks at him and says, "Oh my God, how much did you drink?"

"Not more than me!" Alex calls.

"Come on, like drinking more than you is hard," Jordy says.

"Hey! Take that back!"

"Face it, you're a lightweight."

Geno laughs. "Jordy, you did two shots and fell over once."

"Details," Jordy says dismissively.

"Not much," Geno says stupidly, and goes back to concentrating really hard on his skates.

He and Sidney are a little more on than usual that day, and like everything good in hockey, it's got Sidney smiling kind of stupidly. Geno tries not to do something dumb like smile back, because he's pretty sure right now only a few people know about his stupid crush. Luckily for him, playing really well isn't nearly good enough for Sidney, so it's not like Geno has to listen to Sidney tell him he's good, or anything. Instead he has to hear Sidney whining at him the one time he screws up a pass.

"Calm down," he says, bopping Sidney's helmet with his hand.

"Fuck off," Sidney says, and skates off before Geno can even roll his eyes at him.

Alex texts him after practice, just as Geno gets home. "don't forget about colby! i told him to dress hott!!" He even spells "hott" in English.

Geno rolls his eyes and tosses his phone on the bed. He's got a few hours to kill. He checks his email, then rolls his eyes even harder at the three emails Alex has sent him.

There's one there from Sidney too, though. "Hey," it reads. "Sorry about yelling at you during practice."

Geno snorts. "If you yelling scared me I would quit," he sends back.

Sidney's reply comes almost right away. "Okay. You're going to Jordy's party right?"

Geno winces. "Yeah."

"Alex told me you're taking Colby."

Geno has to get up and walk around. He's changed his mind; emails suck. "Alex told me to."

"You do everything he says?"

Geno stares at the email for a second, then goes over to his bed and flops down on it. Why is everything horrible?

He can't feel sorry for himself for long, though. A few minutes later he gets bored and goes back to the computer, and sure enough, there's another email from Sidney: "Sorry. That was dumb. Sorry."

"It's fine," he sends back.

"Colby's kind of a dick. But you know. If you want to have sex with him or whatever it's fine."

Geno can just stare for a second. "No. Not like that."

"I'm going to nap," Sidney sends back almost right away.

Geno makes a face at the computer. Maybe he should nap, too.

He's seriously considering it when Alex calls. "So what are you wearing?"

Geno glances down. "What I wore to school today? If you try to give me a phone sex tutorial again, I'm hanging up."

"That was one time and the only person drunker than me was you," Alex says dismissively. "I meant to the party, idiot. What are you wearing?"

"The answer's the same."

Alex groans. "No, no, no! Your ass looks awful in those jeans. Pick something else."

"You don't even like guys," Geno points out. "That much. Guys who aren't Sasha."

"I like asses, though. And yours looks better in those jeans with the hole in the knee."

"I'm not taking fashion advice from you," Geno says flatly. The picture of Alex in the feather tube top is sitting on his desk right now. There's no way.

"You don't own any clothes I'd dress you in for real," Alex says dismissively. "Wear the jeans." He hangs up.

Geno stares at his ceiling for a second. Then he gets up, goes over to his closet, and pulls out the jeans with the hole in the knee.

He really is going to nap, but he's also going to wear the jeans. And go to the party with Colby. Maybe tonight if he makes enough stupid choices, they'll all somehow magically turn into smart ones.

When he wakes up from his nap, he's got half an hour to get dressed and look decent. He's not dressing up, because that would be crazy, but he does brush his hair and teeth. Not that he's going to kiss Colby, or anything, but he likes to be prepared.

For what, he's not sure. It's not like he's saving himself for Sidney, but he hasn't really hooked up with anyone lately, because Sidney is just there, and Geno's pathetic.

Right at nine, the doorbell rings. There's a guy Geno vaguely recognizes standing there. He looks Geno up and down critically and says, "I guess you're not completely horrible."

"Ovie paying you or something?"

"Nah, he just called in a favor of the blackmail variety." Colby rolls his eyes. "Let's get going."

Geno follows. "Sidney tells me you don't really speak English," Colby says as they're driving there. They've taken Geno's car, mostly because Geno's feeling like a control freak.

"I do. Go to school, don't I?"

"Hmm," Colby says. Geno keeps his eyes on the road.

Alex shows up at Jordy's door as they're walking up to it. It's like he has a sixth sense or something. "Colby! Geno! Is good to see you!" He throws his arms out. The - actually, Geno's not sure what's in the cup he's holding, but it sloshes over the sides.

"Hey," Geno says, in English for the benefit of everyone around him. "You not driving, I hope."

"Course not," Alex says dismissively. "Go get something to drink. Jordy brought two girls back, his brothers gonna kill him, is gonna be great night."

Geno's got his doubts, but he heads on in. To his surprise, Colby follows. "You can go see Sidney," Geno says, grabbing two beers from a cooler.

"I've got strict instructions to stick with you." Colby opens the beer on the table. "Here, give me yours."

Geno passes it over, then takes a drink once Colby's opened it. "I'll drive."

"Generous," Colby says, and chugs half of his.

Geno's trying not to look for Sidney, but he's failing pretty hard. Not that it matters, because Sidney's nowhere to be seen. Jordy's in a corner with the two girls he brought, both of whom look kind of like him. Geno's pretty sure the Staals don't actually have sex with their cousins, but not sure enough not to be vaguely weirded out.

"We could play beer pong or something, I guess," Colby says. "Or I could hump your leg like Alex told me to."

Geno almost chokes. "He tell you?"

"It's not like he told me why. Relax."

But Colby's expression means Geno's going to be doing everything but relaxing. Geno can't shake the feeling that he knows. Which is ridiculous, because it's not like Alex could tell him anything. And Sidney doesn't know.

Or at least, Geno's pretty sure Sidney doesn't know.

He can't get drunk, and doesn't even really want to after last night. He ends up watching a game of beer pong and separating two guys from fighting within the space of about an hour and a half. And he's not bored, he's really not, because these guys are his friends, and Sidney's not around, so he can even talk to them without stuttering. But Alex's stupid plan isn't going to work if Sidney doesn't show.

Geno knows it's stupid, but he really wants to see Sidney.

He's negotiating the living room when he gets his wish. Sidney's leaning up against the hallway wall, looking simultaneously awkward and amused as Jordan gesticulates wildly in front of him. Geno wants to turn around and walk away, but he accidentally catches Sidney's gaze, and Sidney waves him over.

"So then I was like, dude, your face is on fire, and the guy fell into a ditch," Jordan says. "Oh, hey, Geno. I was just explaining to Sidney here the greatness of...what's it called?"

"You never actually told me," Sidney says. "But from the sound of it, something even stronger than what you've got now."

"This is why we love you," Jordan says, and punches Sidney in the arm. "Hey, I should get another."

"No!" Sidney practically yells, at the same time Geno says, "I get you something."

Jordan looks at each of them. "Nah, man, I got it," he says finally, and half-stumbles away.

Geno blinks at Sidney. He should make a joke about Jordy. He can say he'll probably be too drunk to know which girl is which by the end of the night. He's got the words ready, all lined up and in English in his head, when Sidney says, "I didn't actually mean to make things awkward with the emails. So. Sorry?"

"Is fine," Geno says as his joke deserts him. "No big deal."

Sidney nods. "So, you and Colby?"

Geno looks around. Colby's nowhere to be seen. "Is, um." Words, he needs words. Why is he such an idiot? "Is not serious."

He hadn't actually realized it was possible for Sidney to look even more constipated. "So you're just having sex a bunch?"

"What if yes?" Geno blurts out. He can't help it; Sidney's judging makes him embarrassed, and then angry that he's embarrassed. "What then?"

"Nothing," Sidney says quickly. "Have sex. I don't care. Have tons of sex. Woo, sex, good job. Getting laid is so hard."

Geno should walk away. Sidney's been drinking, and Geno knows how he gets when he's had a few; the adult thing to do would be to just leave. But instead he says, "Easy for me. Hard for you. Sidney Crosby have sex, or just hockey?"

It's kind of ironic that he can remember plenty of English when he's mad at Sidney.

Sidney stares at him, turning red. "I've had tons of sex." Someone's turned on some loud music, and he has to raise his voice to be heard over the beat. "So fuck you, okay? You don't know - whatever it is you think you know. You don't."

Geno's trying to formulate a reply when someone slings an arm around his shoulder. "Hey, man, Colby wants you in the living room," Jordy says, leading Geno away. Behind them, Sidney makes an inarticulate noise of rage.

"What you doing?" Geno pulls away.

"Saving you from yourself. Also, dude, the hallway was blocked for like...hours."

"Was fine," Geno says.

"Uh huh, totally. Hey, Colby." Jordy pushed Geno towards Colby. "Calm him down, would you? I haven't had enough beer for this."

"Have had too much," Geno says.

Jordan squints at him. "I always seem drunk, though."

It's true, and now Geno reevaluates. So Jordy's not that drunk, and Geno really has been acting like an idiot. An idiot with anger problems, even. "Okay," he says. "Sorry."

"Come stand too close to me and we'll talk about it," Colby says. "You're doing this to make Sid jealous, right?"

Sid? "Alex doing this to make Sidney jealous. I do it because Alex say." Geno shrugs and hopes he looks casual.

"Right." Colby sounds suspicious. "And what did Sid tell you?"

"He say we can have sex, is fine with him. No offense, but we not having sex."

"Sure," Colby says easily, then glances over Geno's shoulder. "He's watching us."

Geno shrugs again. He knows he should be doing something else - protesting, maybe, or at the very least acknowledging Sidney - but he can't. This whole thing is ridiculous and way, way too fraught.

"All Alex's idea, huh," Colby says, and then pulls Geno down to kiss him.

Two guys kissing is enough to make a few people stare, but this is such an alcohol- and sex-heavy party that a few curious glances are all they get. Which means Geno's out of distractions pretty quickly; his eyes close and he falls into it, in that specific way that happens when he's drunk. Colby's not a great kisser, but he's not horrible, either, and when he tugs Geno's hair and changes the angle Geno just goes with it.

He might as well. Sidney doesn't care.

Colby pulls back after a few minutes. "Think you can make it through the night without starting a fight?"

"Yes, captain."

He means it as a joke, but Colby glances over at Sidney. "Not your captain."

"Don't," Geno says. He doesn't want to talk about Sidney and how Sidney doesn't care.

"Right," Colby says. "I'll see you around." He leaves Geno to slump on the couch, going over and talking to some people Geno doesn't know.

No one wants to be that guy at the party, but Geno pretty much is for the rest of the night. He keeps to himself, only talking when Talbot or one of the other guys comes over. The couch is comfortable, though, and after another two hours or so, he's sobered up pretty decently.

Sidney doesn't come anywhere near him, for which Geno is thankful. When it's late enough that he can leave without seeming completely weird (not that he's not being weird, but it's the principle of the thing), he leaves to find Colby.

"Zhenya! Zhenya, what's this I hear about you and Sidney having a fight in the hallway? You won't win him over like that."

Geno groans. He was hoping Alex's general love of parties would mean he left Geno alone for the night. "It was nothing."

"I heard you ripped each other's shirts off." Alex gives Geno a drunken once-over. "Obviously not true."

"Look, just - I have to find Colby."

Geno tries to shove by Alex, but it's a mistake. Alex grabs his wrist and says decisively, "I'll help you," dragging Geno out into the kitchen.

Sidney's standing there, holding a beer and talking to Flower, looking generally uncomfortable. Alex says, "Oh, look, found him," and pins Geno to the door, kissing him sloppily.

It's a million times less sexy than Colby's kiss, which was kind of clinical on its own. Geno pushes Alex away after a second, but the damage is done: Sidney's staring at them both with nothing but rage in his expression.

Geno kind of wants to run and hide. Instead he says to Alex, "I'm going home," nods at Colby, and makes a break for the front door.

Sidney doesn't chase him, which makes sense; why would he bother? Geno wishes he wasn't his own designated. At least fighting with Sidney made sense when he was kind of drunk.

He goes to bed as soon as he gets home, after dropping Colby off wordlessly. He's trying not to focus on feeling sorry for himself, but the feelings come back when he wakes up to a one-word apology from Alex.

He replies with "it's fine. don't worry about it" and goes back to sleep.

When he wakes up again, he feels a hell of a lot better. He showers and just generally makes himself feel a lot more human, then goes out to the kitchen.

His mother's left some cereal on the counter for him; they should still be at church. Geno eats and tries to ignore how stupidly depressed he feels. There's no point to being depressed. Literally none. It would be so, so stupid to obsess over Sidney to the point where he mopes.

So of course, Geno spends the morning and most of the afternoon moping. He's still mid-mope when his parents come home and tell him they're going out for brunch; he figures they've gone shopping by two, and is starting to think about doing something non-pathetic when the doorbell rings.

He answers it without thinking that it might be someone he doesn't want to see. So it sucks pretty bad that it's Sidney who's standing in the doorway, poking the welcome mat with the tip of his shoe.

Geno thinks about acting like an adult for a few minutes, then decides against it, mostly out of spite. "Go away."

"You know enough English to argue with me, so hear me out." Sidney's chin is jutted out stubbornly. "Come on, Geno."

There's pretty much nothing Geno wants less than that, actually. "Tired. Enjoying Sunday. Go away." He moves to close the door, but Sidney gets there first, jamming his foot in and throwing his weight against the door. "I came to apologize, asshole," Sidney snaps.

That gives Geno pause. "Apologize?"

"I was a dick." Sidney squashes his face against the narrow opening so he can look Geno in the eye. He looks incredibly stupid. "I was a total asshole and it wasn't fair to you at all."

"Yes," Geno says. Then his manners prompt him to add, "I was bad too." He'd say they were both drunk and should forget about it, but that's more complex than he trusts himself to manage around Sidney.

"So." The part of Sidney's face he can see is almost too squashed for expressions, but he thinks Sidney looks kind of wistful. "We could hang out?"

Geno wants to know why, of all the guys he could hang out with, he's chosen the one who barely knows English. But maybe that's an answer in itself. He gives up. "Sure," he says, opening the door and standing aside.

Sidney brushes right past him and goes down the hall like he comes over every day. Geno swallows hard and follows.

He sits down on the edge of the couch, across from the chair Sidney's settled in. He would pick a chair, Geno thinks; it keeps him logically away from Geno. "So," Sidney says. "Um."

"Yeah," Geno agrees. The cushion is digging into his ass in a weird way, but relaxing right now would just freak him out.

For a second, they stare at each other, and Geno has trouble breathing. Or thinking. Then Sidney says, "This is stupid. Mario Kart?"

It's nice, because it doesn't require Geno to talk. He just nods and gets it out. And of course Sidney treats it like it's an NHL playoff game, yelling and trash talking Geno. Geno would like to say things back, but he's concentrating on being the one who actually wins. After they do one course, he settles back into the couch a little more, relaxing marginally. After two, he manages to get up the guts to say, "Your mother has no complaints," when Sidney calls him a limp dick.

"Ugh," Sidney says, but he smiles a little.

When they've done ten rounds, Geno says, "Hands tired. Food?"

"Sure. I mean, if you want. And have stuff. I could pay for something if we ordered? My mom gave me money and I don't want to put you out or make you eat stuff you don't want to. You eat healthy, right? Coach gave me more specific guidelines."

Geno stares. Sidney shuts his mouth with an audible click.

It's not even that he was being loud, or anything, just talking with a persistent, steady tone, and looking more and more freaked out with himself. Geno probably shouldn't find it incredibly endearing, but it's a little late for that kind of self-admonishment. "Sure," Geno says. "We have food. Follow me."

They eat sandwiches sitting at the kitchen island and not really looking at each other. Sidney devours his; Geno eats more slowly, mostly because he doesn't want Sidney to think he's gross.

Not that it matters, obviously, but still.

"You know if you need to take a second to think of things to say, it's okay, right?"

Geno blinks. "What?"

Sidney's staring at him, looking deadly serious. "You can't talk around me."

"I. Yes. Yes, I can."

"I mean, you can talk," Sidney says, "but you look at me like you want to just bust out the Russian. Which would be okay, but it's not like I'd understand it."

"You talk," Geno says, stalling for time.

"I don't talk all the time."

"I'm quiet."

"Yeah, but - never mind."

Geno sighs in relief, but it's premature, because Sidney says in a rush, "You don't hate me?"

Geno stares. His incredulity must come across, because Sidney says, "Plenty of people do. I'm good at hockey, and, you know. Not people."

"You fine," Geno says finally. "I don't talk much. Hard to remember words. I say pass plate, forget word for plate. See?"

It's not a very good lie. Geno can manage full sentences with halfway decent grammar when he's not talking to Sidney. But Sidney's natural obliviousness carries them through, thank God.

When they're done eating, Sidney says, "I should probably go and do...stuff. Homework."

Geno makes a face. "Homework, and homework and homework."

"And your mom will be back soon, right?"

Geno doesn't really get why that's relevant. "Parents, yeah. Probably."

"Okay. Well." Sidney hops off the chair and goes towards the front door.

It would be rude not to follow. Geno winds up hovering awkwardly while Sidney puts his shoes on. "This was fun," Sidney says, looking up at him.

Geno has to look away. "Yes. Was fun. We should do it again."

When he looks back, Sidney's smiling. "Totally."

What a dumb thing that was to say, Geno thinks, staring stupidly at Sidney's smile.

"Okay, um, I should go," Sidney says, standing up quickly and wrenching the door open. "Bye, Geno."

"Bye, Sid."

Sidney makes a face. "You're not allowed to call me that."

"Uh huh," Geno says, and braces a hand on the small of Sidney's back, pushing him outside. He's pretty sure he's bright red when he says, "See you tomorrow, Sid," and shuts the door.

Flirting in Russian is easier. Actually, not flirting at all is easier. What is he doing? Why is he doing it? He wants to ask Alex for advice, which is an excellent sign that everything has gone horribly wrong.

Alex actually doesn't bug him that much until the next afternoon, at practice. "Good party, eh?" he says, enunciating the eh ridiculously and yanking his head over at Sidney.

Geno rolls his eyes. He doesn't want to give Alex any ammunition. But Alex says, "Geno. Geno, I'm talking to you. Geno." And throws a sock at him.

"It was fine," Geno says shortly. "We're about to have Coach skate our asses off, I'm not telling you about some party."

"Hey, now," Talbot calls, "share with the rest of the class."

"I ask Geno how party go, he says amazing, best party of his life!" Alex says.

Talbot snorts. "Yeah, right. Come on, we all know what happened."

Geno goes still. "What you talking about?"

"The fight with Sidney. What, did he steal your beer or something?"

"Was nothing," Geno says. "No big deal. Don't care. Let's play."

Sidney doesn't say anything; he's in his usual corner, avoiding eye contact. Or at least, Geno's pretty sure he's avoiding everyone; he could also just be avoiding Geno.

Practice is fine. Geno feels kind of guilty for how much he's focusing on Sidney, and how things seem to be working despite his focus. He has to let go of his guilt, though, when they all go out for an early - or first - dinner, and he winds up wedged in a booth next to Sidney.

Sidney smiles at him. Geno thinks he might look nervous. "Hey."

"Hey," Geno says stupidly. "Burger in diet?"

"Well, no, but neither are all the Tootsie Rolls I ate yesterday." Sidney's expression changes rapidly; he looks horrified with himself. "Not that I sit around and eat Tootsie Rolls by myself a lot, or anything. Um. I mean."

"Calm the fuck down and order, fuckers," Flower says, kicking Geno.

They shouldn't be eating any of the food they order, but that doesn't stop them. There's the usual amount of shit talking and kicking people under the table, and then conversation turns to the game on Saturday.

"Just stick Sid on the ice," Jordy says. "We won't have any problems. Coach knows."

"Hoping you won't have to play if he takes all your minutes, eh?" Talbot says.

"Fuck you." Jordy knocks back half his soda, then almost elbows Flower in the eye motioning for a new one. "Anyway, Sid and Geno'll shut shit down. I won't have to work at all."

"You gonna have to work, I make you," Alex says. "You right, though, Sid and Geno great team! Like mother and father!"

Everyone looks at him like he's insane.

"Or center and winger?" Alex offers, and laughs. Because he's Alex, everyone else laughs with him.

It's weird, Geno thinks, eating his burger and trying not to die of embarrassment. Plenty of people saw them at Jordy's party. Plenty of people saw him and Colby, for God's sake. But everyone's ignoring it.

Which is good for Geno's career, and everything. Geno still wishes he could, he doesn't know, grab everyone and demand to know what kind of person Sidney likes so he can turn himself into that type of guy. Pathetic, he tells himself.

Geno misses whatever it is that Sidney says that's dumb and funny, but it makes everyone laugh, including Sidney. Geno blinks at him a few times and then looks back down at the table, trying and failing not to turn red.

"You okay, man?" Talbot said.

"Fine," Geno says quickly. "Tired. Gonna go home, nap."

"Then do homework, right? You're the most boring Russian I know."

"Not everyone fun like me," Alex says quickly. "We go out tonight!"

The entire table groans. "Or we could stay in and not be hungover tomorrow. It's this idea I have," Flower says. "Pretty wacky, but I think we can manage it."

"Shut your French face," Alex says with so much glee that it's almost actually funny.

They get the check and pay before management kicks them out, and then there's nothing to do but go home. Geno's going to walk, probably - he hitched a ride with Alex, but he likes walking, and that way he doesn't have to listen to Alex detail increasingly insane plans to better Geno's love life - when Sidney says, "Hey, how are you getting home?"

"Feet," Geno says, then immediately feels like a dick. "I -" Only he can't make the words happen around Sidney. Like always. Even an apology would be good, he thinks desperately, and totally fails to make one.

"Um, right." Sidney's got the look on his face that means he knows he's being made fun of, but he's still standing there and holding his keys. "I thought I'd give you a ride?"

It's an apology of sorts. Geno wishes he could tell Sidney that an apology isn't needed. But that would require explanation, and if Geno's being honest with himself, he's not feeling all that generous right now. "Sure."

Sidney's shoulders slump in obvious relief. "Awesome. This way."

By now, half the guys have already left the parking lot. Alex hasn't, though. He looks a little ghoulish in the driver's seat, staring at the two of them intensely. It's worsened by the ridiculous grin and thumbs up he gives when Geno sees him.

Sidney drives an old Civic. It's not a bad car, but it makes Geno feel kind of clumsy getting in. He's used to his mom's SUV. The awkwardness is increased by about a million, though, when Sidney finally gets inside.

"I was mad about Colby," Sidney says abruptly. He hasn't even put the keys in the ignition.

Geno tries to think of something to say, but he has to settle on, "Sorry."

"Yeah." Sidney glances over at him, then away. Geno should probably stop watching him, but he really can't. "He didn't tell me, and I just - it seems like the kind of thing I should know. So I blamed you."

Geno nods. Sidney doesn't see it.

"Which was unfair, probably, but -" Sidney reaches out, grabbing the steering wheel, then pulls back and punches the side of it. "I don't like not knowing what's going on."

He's whining, and any other time Geno would tell him, but he knows that kind of move wouldn't be good right now. "Sorry. Alex told me, do it, he fun guy."

"He is." Sidney twists suddenly to look at him. "Do you like him?"

"...he fun guy," Geno says carefully.

"No, I mean, do you want to - you know. Have sex with him or something."

Geno's kind of amazed Sidney didn't expire from embarrassment saying that. "Ask me before. Answer same. No."

Sidney relaxes. "Oh. Okay."

Geno thinks he's in the clear, but then Sidney says, "I'm jealous of you, you know."

"What?"

"You don't even speak good English, but you have friends and went out with Colby. And I'm - " Sidney huffs a frustrated sigh. "Jordy and Colby say that if I just act normal things will be easier, and maybe some nice guy will want to - whatever. But I don't really know how to. You do, and it's not fair."

Geno kind of wants to die. Normal, right. It's so normal the way he's basically pining for Sidney. "Sorry."

"You don't have to be. It's not your fault."

"People like you," Geno says.

"People think I'm weird."

"Yes." Denying that would just be stupid. "But they like weird Sidney."

"What if I want to be normal Sidney?"

Geno shrugs. "What if I want not be Russian guy?"

"That was practically a whole sentence," Sidney says.

"Sometimes I can talk," Geno says, smiling in spite of himself.

The tips of Sidney's ears turn pink. "I should get you back home."

And just like that, Geno's tongue feels like it weighs a million pounds again. "Yeah."

Sidney drives him home in silence. It's only a five-minute drive, so it's not like the silence has much time to get really awkward. Geno still feels weird when Sidney comes to a stop outside his house, though. "So," Sidney says.

"So."

"I'll see you tomorrow."

"Lab report?"

"Oh, right. Um, I don't know. When do you want to do it?"

"You already here."

"Yes," Sidney says slowly, drawing the word out. "I guess. I mean, if your mom is okay with it."

"Mom like me having friends."

"So does mine," Sidney says. "She liked you, by the way. She said you should come back."

Now it's Geno's turn to blush. "Oh. So. Come inside."

"Right." Sidney fumbles with his seat belt.

They get inside and settled at the dining room table - it's bigger than Geno's desk, and his family usually just eats in the kitchen. They spread their stuff out, and then Sidney looks at Geno and smiles, saying, "Let's just get it done, eh?"

Geno reminds himself that he's not allowed to kiss Sidney. If for no other reason than the fact that Sidney would probably assume it was the chemistry that got him going.

The lab report is mostly straightforward, thank God. Sidney has an annoying habit of chewing on his pen, and he kicks Geno under the table a few times. Geno mostly manages to keep his awkward crush under control. He and Sidney seem to understand each other a little better now, too, which makes life a lot easier for Geno. Well, easier except for how when Sidney goes home and his mom gives him knowing looks, Geno wants to run and hide.

Alex texts him right before Geno goes to bed. "did u confess ur undying love???"

"no," Geno sends back, and goes to sleep.

The next day, Sidney flirts with Jordy, and Jordy flirts back.

It's not actually a big deal. Sidney's doing it as a joke, and Jordy's not even into guys. But it still makes Geno want to hit things. Jordy's not even that good, he thinks furiously, Geno's been on Sidney's wing for ages and Geno's still a better center than Jordy, and anyway, Jordy's hair is stupid.

And he's not into guys, so why they're doing that is beyond Geno.

"Careful," Alex says from behind him, in between lunch - where the flirting happened - and sixth period.

"I'm not doing anything."

"Well, sure, except trying to melt a hole in your locker." Alex leans against the locker next to Geno's. "You sure you don't want to make out or something?"

"Jordy's straight," Geno says. "I don't care."

"Sure," Alex says. "You don't care at all. This is you not caring. I know! We'll pretend you have a wasting disease!"

Geno groans. "No."

"Cancer?"

"No."

"Ah, okay, schizophrenia then."

"That doesn't even make sense!" Geno bursts out, slamming his locker shut.

Neither he nor Alex misses the weird looks that gets him. "Look, Sidney probably just asked Jordy to let him practice. It doesn't mean anything. Quit acting like someone burned your house down for eating crackers in bed."

"You're horrible at English metaphors," Geno tells him.

He can't focus on Sidney and Jordy flirting. He just can't.

"I'm just saying." Alex slings an arm around Geno's shoulder. "If you want, I will have sex with you. It'll be a real sacrifice, but I can do it."

Geno thinks about Alex naked and shudders. "No, thanks. Sidney knows we're not having sex, anyway."

"Well, if we have sex in front of him, he'll know we are!"

"And then we'll get arrested," Geno says sternly. "No."

Alex sighs. "Fine. Let's go to class."

Geno heads out as quickly as possible after the final bell, but he's not quick enough: when he goes to get his stuff from his locker, Sidney's leaning against his own locker, and Jordan's doing the douche jock lean in front of him. Sidney's looking up at him and laughing about something.

Jordy's straight, Geno reminds himself, and slams his locker closed, stomping out.

Talbot grabs him on his way out. "Hey, man, what the fuck is going on with Sid and Jordy?"

"Don't know," Geno says shortly, and shakes him off. "Have to go home. Have a lot of homework."

"Yeah, but you and Sidney are like - you're friends, right? Did Sidney turn Jordy gay?"

Punching Talbot would be counterproductive, Geno reminds himself. "Ask Jordy," he says, and starts heading down the street.

But Talbot never does his homework, which means he has time to follow Geno and harass him. "Seriously, though, first the party and now this? What the fuck is going on there?"

Geno shrugs.

"I mean, it's not like Sidney's you."

Geno stops dead. "What?"

"You know." Talbot waves a hand. "You took Colby to Jordy's party. You're into guys. But Sidney's into, like. Hockey. And Jordy's straight. It doesn't make sense."

"Why you think I know?"

Talbot looks at him like he's crazy. "I told you, you're friends with Sidney. As much as he's friends with anyone who's not Colby, anyway."

Right. It has nothing to do with what Geno might want from Sidney, because it's obvious to everyone that there's nothing going on with them. Geno's stomach twists. "Ask Sid or Jordy. Not gonna say it again," he says, and pushes past Talbot.

This time, thank God, Talbot doesn't follow him.

When he gets home, he has an email from Sidney. "Hey, do you want to come over tomorrow?"

Geno goes to answer, then shakes his head at himself and doesn't - then gives up and replies, "Depends. Will Jordy be there?"

"Oh, you noticed?"

Geno stares at the screen, then shuts down his computer and goes to read Sports Illustrated. He can't deal with this at all. At all.

But the problem with Sidney is that Geno honestly doesn't know how to just ignore him. After a few minutes he turns the computer back on and says, "He's straight."

"He told me he's flexible. Or maybe kind of slutty, not that it matters. Are we the kind of friends where I have to tell you when I'm going to flirt with someone?"

Geno rubs his temple. He doesn't have the slightest idea what Sidney means. "No."

"Okay. So. No. Jordy won't be there."

"Good. See you then," Geno sends, and logs off for real this time.

 

At practice the next day, Jordy's hit with so many gay jokes that Geno's honestly waiting for him to snap and make out with some girl before first period even starts. He doesn't, though. He takes them all with a grin and bats his eyelashes at Flower when Flower tells him he should be buddies and suck Flower's dick.

Geno knows he shouldn't feel weird about it, but he does.

"So, my place tonight, right?" Sidney says during chemistry.

Jordan glances over at them. Geno manages not to drop the beaker of vinegar he's carrying, barely. "Right."

"Oh." Sidney makes a face at him. "You're having trouble talking again, huh."

Geno would deny it if his tongue didn't feel like it was glued to the top of his mouth. "How you tell?" he manages to say, finally.

"You get a look." Sidney motions vaguely at his face, the fingertips of his glove flapping. "I don't know. Do you have the test strips?"

Geno holds them up wordlessly and tries not to have any stupid feelings about Sidney watching his expressions.

After chemistry, Sidney says, "Meet me outside the gym after school, okay?"

"Okay," Geno says, and beats a hasty retreat.

Not many people are talking about Sidney and Jordan that day. There are only so many people who care about Sidney Crosby's love life. But it's still torture to make it through the rest of his classes. It's even worse when Alex doesn't say anything to him all day, only to stop by his locker after eighth period and say, "Tell Sid hi for me," waggling his brows.

"Ugh," Geno says. "I'm not going to do anything."

"Sure you're not," Alex says. "Hey, do you think I can turn Jordy gay? Time to find out!"

He's leaving before Geno can say anything else.

"Hi," Sidney says awkwardly when Geno meets him outside the gym. "Um, my mom's excited about you coming over. She's cooking. So we pretty much have to go straight home, so she can make us a snack."

Geno stares.

"What? My mom's nice." Sidney frowns at him, like Geno's actually said something.

"Sure," Geno says. "Yes. We go?"

"Uh huh," Sidney says, eyes still narrowed. "Follow me."

Geno probably could've figured that out himself, he thinks sulkily. He follows Sidney out.

"This will be fun," Sidney says quickly. "We'll hang out and do homework and...hang out. I quit flirting with Jordy, by the way. Did you notice?"

"What?" Sidney makes Geno feel like he has whiplash. "Oh. Okay?"

They get into the car. Sidney keeps his eyes glued on the road as he pulls out. "Do you like Monopoly?"

"No."

"Oh," Sidney says again, and falls silent.

Geno should say something. Anything, really. "Mario Kart again?"

"Sure," Sidney says.

"Why you ask me over?" Geno says before he can think better of it. He needs to know.

Sidney jerks the wheel to the right, then turns bright red. "I just felt like it. We're friends, right?"

He says it so defensively that even if Geno hated him - well, okay, Geno can't actually imagine hating Sidney. "Right."

"So I invited you over."

"Right," Geno says. "Should be fun."

Sidney sighs. "I can drive you home, you know."

"What? No."

"It's no problem." Sidney sounds determined. "I can just do my homework alone or something."

"Sid. Is fine. I want -"

Sidney looks at him expectantly and Geno just...can't explain himself. He wants a lot of things from Sidney. Most of them involve some kind of kissing. "To stay," Geno says finally. "I want to stay."

"Okay," Sidney says dubiously. "If you're sure."

Geno nods. He hopes he looks sure, at least.

Apparently he looks sure enough to satisfy Sidney, because Sidney doesn't turn around. They don't talk until they get to his place, when Sidney says, "Um, like I said, my mom's really excited for you, so things might be kind of weird," as a form of warning. Geno doesn't even get a chance to ask why, or how, before he's being pulled into a hug.

"Evgeni!" she says, pronouncing it completely wrong. "How nice to see you!"

"Hello," he says, and smiles. It's more like him just baring his teeth, but she smiles back.

"Can I get you boys a snack?"

"It's okay, Mom." Sidney looks embarrassed, which is kind of funny, considering that Geno hardly ever sees him having normal, logical reactions to things.

"If you're sure." Sidney's mom ruffles his hair again and then goes back into the living room.

"We can go up to my room, if you want?"

Geno actually doesn't want, because it will give him a setting the next time he has an awful dream about dating Sidney. Or sex with him. But he nods.

"Okay," Sidney says brightly, and goes upstairs.

Geno follows. Sidney holds the door open for him, which Geno understands as soon as it swings shut behind him. "Hinges," Sidney says, and goes to sit on his floor.

Which leaves him looking up at Geno. Geno swallows and sits down, too. "Xbox?" Sidney says, holding the controller up.

"Homework," Geno points out.

Sidney makes a face. "Are you the type of person who does homework right after you get home?"

Geno's not, but now he kind of doesn't want to tell Sidney that. "Grades important. Get deported."

"...right." Sidney suddenly looks even more uncomfortable. "We can, I guess."

They spread out on the floor. Sidney sits kind of crookedly, his legs sticking out at weird angles. He concentrates on his homework in a way that makes it clear that he hates it - probably, Geno thinks, because most of it has nothing to do with hockey, even in theory.

And after a few minutes, he catches Geno staring. "What?" he says, smiling uncertainly.

"Nothing," Geno says, and goes back to trying to focus on the American Revolution. He doesn't understand why they're learning this, even.

"This is stupid," Sidney says after a few minutes, sighing and leaning back. "Why do I have to know the periodic table?"

"It sucks," Geno agrees.

Sidney glances over at him and licks his lips. "Do you think -"

"What?" Geno says quickly. He wasn't distracted by Sidney licking his lips. He was just...well, distracted, but he wasn't distracted.

"Nothing," Sidney says.

He's really close, Geno realizes. Shorter than Geno enough that Geno's looking down at him, and his legs really do look incredibly uncomfortable, and suddenly Geno's hyperaware of how warm he is.

"Hey, Sid," he says impulsively, and when Sidney looks up again, Geno kisses him.

It's not a very good kiss. Sidney freezes so completely that Geno starts to pull back almost right away, but then Sidney grabs the back of his head and holds him still. After that it's Geno's job to be uncomfortable, because Sidney's holding him too tightly and kissing him all wrong, and the only thing keeping Geno in the game is the fact that he's kissing Sidney.

So he pulls away, intending to apologize, or maybe say, "Lick me less next time," or something. But Sidney's face falls and he says, "I'm sorry, I know I'm not good at it, I can try again, I just, I want -", and so Geno has to kiss him again.

And again. And again. Until Sidney's pushing him back and climbing on top of him, and Geno's history homework is crumpling under him. He doesn't care, though, because Sidney's kisses are getting better - he's a fast learner - and Geno feels a little like he's going to explode. From happiness.

"Sid," Geno says stupidly when Sidney pulls back.

Sidney shakes his head. "Don't say anything. Please," he adds, and kisses Geno's neck.

Geno sighs and lets him do it. He's trying to keep his hands to himself, but he can't help bracing his hand on Sidney's back, then moving it up to his head and guiding him back so Geno can kiss him again. Sidney moves almost too quickly for Geno to catch up, rocking his hips against Geno's and letting Geno set the pace of the kiss.

"Might be bad idea," Geno gets out when Sidney goes for his neck again.

"What, because my mom's downstairs?" Sidney sounds dazed. "I don't know. Probably. Should I stop?"

"...no," Geno says, kissing him.

He loses track of time after that, completely absorbed in Sidney's everything - the stupid concentrating look on his face, the way his hands skate over Geno's sides before Sidney almost falls over and has to brace himself on the carpet again, the fact that his hair is so stupid and spiky. It's just Sidney, exactly how Geno imagined him. Only better.

Finally, though, they roll around enough that Geno's feet wind up under the bed, and Sidney skims a hand over the waistband of his jeans. Geno winds up kicking the box spring and then saying, "Ow, ow, fuck, ow," mostly in Russian.

"Sorry!" Sidney says. He looks horrified. "I should - we - oh. Oops."

"Oops?" Geno says, sitting up.

"Yes, oops. That was...not good. At all."

Geno's stomach sinks. "Oh."

"Right. Oh!" Sidney's eyes widen. "I didn't mean it wasn't good, I just mean it wasn't, you know. We shouldn't have, probably."

"Shouldn't have? Didn't want?"

"What does that have to do with it?"

Geno's pretty sure things are unraveling. He reaches out for Sidney and isn't surprised when he flinches away. "You want, I want. Why not?"

"I don't hook up. I just don't. Why do we have to talk about this?"

Geno's going to start placing bets with himself about how long it will take Sidney to start whining, regardless of what they're actually doing. "We just kissed. Like to do it again. Why not?"

"Because I don't want to," Sidney snaps. "That's it."

Geno's not going to press him. Sidney's not good enough at people for them to be able to communicate about it, and anyway, he's made up his mind. "Okay. Sorry." He scoots away, pulling his legs out from under the bed. "Homework, right?"

"Right."

They go back to it, working in silence. Geno doesn't actually intend to stay very long, because what's there to be done after you make out with your friend, who's apparently just not into it? And who thought it would just be a hookup anyway? If Sidney doesn't want to hook up, Geno's positive he wouldn't want to date or anything.

So he doesn't want to stay long - but somehow, he gets distracted by and absorbed in homework, and before he knows it, Sidney's mom is calling up the stairs, "Sid! Evgeni! Dinner!"

So Geno gets to have dinner with the Crosbys again. Sidney's mom is still really nice. His dad's a little gruffer than he was last time, and eyes Geno like he thinks Geno's going to damage Sidney's point production, or something. But Taylor's still really friendly, and is surprisingly okay with Geno's broken English.

"But you play center, right?" Taylor says. "I mean, that's what Sidney said, when we got the news you were transferring. It's what he wouldn't stop talking about." She rolls her eyes at him. "Like, always."

Geno tactfully doesn't look at Sidney. "Normally I center. With Sid, play wing." He shrugs. "Sid good. You know that."

"He's so good." She sounds cheerfully disgusted, the way any sibling would. "And that's working out?"

"You watch games, you tell me."

"Well, I think he sucks no matter what he's doing. Hey!"

Sidney just very obviously kicked Taylor; now she equally obviously kicks back.

"What are your plans after school, son?" Sidney's dad asks.

"College hockey," Geno says, "if they take me. NHL draft, if they take me. AHL, NHL. If they -"

"Take you, we get it." Taylor rolls her eyes. "Don't interrogate him, Dad."

"One of us runs the show here, honey, and it's not you," his dad says dryly. "What will you do if the sports don't work out?"

"You've seen him, right?" Sidney says. His face looks weird; angry, Geno thinks. Surprisingly so.

"Not everyone makes the NHL."

"Not everyone comes from Russia on scholarship to -"

"Not everyone makes the NHL," his dad repeats, "and I want to know his backup plans."

"Go back to Russia, get job. No hockey, find work in office." Geno's used to thinking about a future where he doesn't make it to the NHL. It doesn't scare him much. "Or maybe be drafted by KHL. Work way up."

"The KHL, eh? Not such a lofty goal after all."

Geno forces his annoyance down. This is Sidney's dad. Obviously he wants Sidney's friends to not distract him from his goal. "Any way to play hockey is lofty goal to me."

"Okay, you got him to say a full sentence," Sidney snaps. "Can we quit now?" He's bright red.

"It's good you have a backup plan, son," Sidney's dad says, settling back.

Geno doesn't slump in relief, but he comes close.

After dinner he helps Sidney's mom clean up the kitchen. "You're a good boy," she says, patting his shoulder.

Geno's not sure how to respond to that, so finally he just says, "Thank you."

But she's not done. "Sidney's a good boy, too."

"Yes?"

She smiles narrowly. "Yes. Now, why don't you head on home?"

So, feeling like he's missed something fairly important, Geno waves goodbye to Taylor and says, "Hey, Sid. Ride home?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah, sure." Sidney gets up from the couch. "You have - here." He flicks at Geno's cheek, and suds fly off his face. "Did my mom make you do the hand dishes?"

Geno shrugs. "Was happy to help."

"Right." Sidney's back to looking vaguely ill. "Okay. Let's go."

They drive back in silence. Geno should try to make conversation, he knows. He's not exactly new to courtesy. But he can't. It's sinking in, now that he's away from Sidney's family, that they kissed, and that Sidney doesn't want to do it again.

Which is an issue, because it's really all Geno wants to do again.

"Well," Sidney says when he's pulled into Geno's driveway, "goodnight."

Geno looks over at him. Sidney licks his lips and looks down, and for a single charged second Geno thinks maybe, just maybe -

But Sidney looks away, facing front again, and the moment's over. "Goodnight," he says again, firmly.

Geno feels like an idiot. "See later, Sid," he says, and gets out of the car. Sidney barely waits for him to shut his door before he's pulling out again.

"How was your night?" his mother says when he gets inside.

"It was okay," Geno says. He's trying for casual, but he thinks he mostly fails.

"Just okay?"

"Sidney's nice."

"Sidney's something, all right," she says dryly. "Do we need to have a talk?"

The idea completely horrifies him. "No! No, definitely not."

"If you're sure."

"Believe me, I am." The worst thing he can imagine is having the talk with his mom. Especially now when he's dealing with the knowledge that he'll probably be thirty before he gets any and it'll never be from Sidney.

"Oh, honey." She pats his shoulder. "You can run up to your room and sulk now."

Honestly, his mother knows him too well. That doesn't stop him from doing exactly that, though. He knows the thing with Sidney was a long shot, but he'd hoped - he doesn't really know. He'd hoped. And Sidney had obviously been willing, so...why?

It doesn't matter, he tells himself sternly. And then, because him finding out is probably inevitable, he calls Alex.

"I kissed Sidney," he says without preamble when Alex picks up.

"Yes! I knew it! I am a genius! A visionary! When's the wedding?"

"He doesn't want to do it again."

Dead silence. Then: "Are you high? Or drunk? Or otherwise impaired?"

"I wish," Geno says, "but no. He just doesn't want to. I couldn't tell you why."

Alex groans. "So he lied to you and you just thought, well, I didn't really want this. Why try? It's not that important."

"No, I just -"

"Just what? Because that's what it sounds like to me."

"It's not worth it. We're friends. I like just being friends."

"Oh, do you."

"Yes."

"But you had love in your hands! True love! Don't treat it like garbage!"

Geno gives that line a second to sink in before he asks, "Did you just quote The Princess Bride at me?"

"It's topical!"

"I'm not treating anything like garbage. I'm being pragmatic."

"Are you, though? It's obvious to everyone that Sidney's into you."

That makes Geno's stomach twist. "Everyone?"

"Well, okay, not everyone. Not Jordy or Flower or Talbot or Green or -"

"The only thing that's obvious to Green is that his mom should give him a Vespa."

"Right! So you're safe! Well, mostly. I think Colby might know. But he won't tell me how Sidney feels, no matter how much I ask him. Do you think if I bought him a Gretzky jersey he'd tell me?"

"You're not going to bribe Colby. Or anyone else," Geno says severely. "Look, just let it be, okay?"

Alex sighs. "You have no poetry in your soul."

"I'm practical, and you should be too," Geno says.

"So that's it? End of the line? And no telling Sid that for him, you'd walk the line? If he was yours?"

"Your cultural references make my head hurt."

"I can find some way to fix this."

"You can't make Sidney want it," Geno says, "and even if you could, that's not what I'd want. Please just let it go."

"Fine, fine. We could set you up with a Russian, you know. There have to be more Russians around here somewhere."

"I don't need to be set up with anyone. You're not dating anyone, and you're fine."

"I'm unique."

"You're not that unique."

"More unique than you are."

It makes Geno smile even though he mostly feels tired. "Sure, whatever you say."

"Go to sleep, Zhenya. Maybe you'll be less crazy in the morning."

"Goodnight," Geno says, and hangs up.

He goes to sleep almost right away; it's not hard. Geno's slept off way crazier things than a makeout session that ended badly. But he has stupid dreams of Sidney, kissing him and holding him down and blowing him, which means that when he wakes up, he feels worse than when he'd gone to sleep.

It's Thursday, so afternoon practice is preparation for the game on Friday. Geno and Sidney play well, but they don't really talk. Geno doesn't think it's all that noticeable, which is probably good, but it makes him feel kind of sick all the same. He doesn't look at Sidney more than usual, though, and he jokes around in the locker room like he always does. All in all, he thinks he does a pretty decent job of acting like everything's normal.

Or at least, he thinks he does until Jordy says, "Hey, man, walk me to my car," as they're all changing.

"Bring me flowers, Geno," Flower says in a high-pitched voice.

"Okay," Geno says to Jordy, then gets Flower in a death grip. "Here you go."

"Hah," Jordy says. "No, but seriously. Let's go."

So Geno follows Jordy out. He figures it'll be something about the disastrous party, right up until Jordy says, "So, are you jerking Sidney around, or what?"

Geno blinks. "Sorry?"

"You guys are being weird about each other. It doesn't take a genius."

"Nothing happening," Geno says.

"Uh huh." Jordan crosses his arms. "So you should try telling the truth now."

"I am!"

Jordan just looks at him.

Geno's going to have to change tactics. "Ovie try to matchmake. I tell Ovie no, he do anyway. Sid mad."

"You're so bad at this, dude. Like. So bad."

Geno shrugs and doesn't answer.

"Are you two, like, boning?"

"I wish."

Jordan blinks.

"Um," Geno says.

"Well, that answers that," Jordan says. "Are you crazy?"

"Sorry?"

"Sidney," Jordan says, like it's an entire explanation.

Which, Geno thinks sadly, it kind of is. "I know."

"So you are crazy."

"I kiss him, he kiss back, he say no."

"Ew. I don't want details about your tragic love affair, man."

"What you want then?"

"I don't know." Jordan scratches his head. "Uh, good luck?"

"Not gonna try to matchmake?"

"That's Ovie's job. And anyway, Sidney's too much of a weirdo to be match...made. With."

Geno knows he's kind of pathetic, but he feels like he reaches new levels of sad when he slumps so visibly that Jordy pats his arm and says, "Hey, keep on keepin' on, right?"

"Right," Geno says, forcing himself to smile.

"God, that's pathetic." Jordy slings his bag up. "I gotta go. You could try talking to him, you know."

Geno raises his eyebrows. "With my English?"

"Ovie could translate?"

It's not the most terrible idea Geno's ever heard, but then, he's friends with Alex. That bar is set pretty low.

"Or maybe not," Jordan says when Geno doesn't answer. "But seriously, I have to run. Look, if it gets really terrible, you can talk to me, okay? If you have to. If things are really bad. Otherwise please don't, actually."

That makes Geno laugh weakly. "Okay. Thanks."

"Later, man," Jordan says, and heads out.

By a quirk of luck, most of Geno's homework is already done. He's actually working on finishing an English essay due Monday when his mom says, "Honey? Sidney's here to see you."

"Um," Geno says. He's pretty sure it's incredibly obvious how panicked he feels.

His mother's expression shifts to being stern so quickly Geno feels dizzy. "It would be rude for me to send him away. If you don't want to talk to him, tell him."

There's no good way to explain that if he does talk to Sidney, he'll immediately turn into jello and do whatever Sidney wants him to. He's going to have to be tough enough to tell Sidney no. He's pretty tough, he thinks. He can do this. "Be right down," he says, saving the essay and shutting his computer.

His mother waits in the doorway, because she's an awful person who doesn't trust him, and follows him downstairs. She goes straight into the kitchen, though, so Geno's alone when he opens the front door.

"Hi."

"Hey." Sidney stops biting his lower lip when he sees Geno. He must've been doing it awhile, though, because it's red and shiny and really, really distracting. "Can I come in?"

Geno unsticks his tongue enough to say, "Sure."

Sidney barrels in. He's hunched over from his backpack, which is so stuffed Geno's honestly surprised it hasn't burst. "I have Chem, English, History, and Trig homework," he says, not looking over his shoulder as he goes up to Geno's room. "So I thought I'd do them here. Okay?"

Geno's not sure if this is a peace offering, or Sidney trying to take control of things, or what. He does know that he's torn between the urge to laugh or cry. "Sure," he calls up the stairs.

Sidney stops at the top to nod at him, then goes into Geno's room.

It's a good thing Geno's underwear isn't out and all his porn is on his computer.

By the time Geno gets upstairs, Sidney's already spread out on the floor with a history book and a notebook, leaning against Geno's bed. Geno sits down awkwardly at his desk. It feels weird with Sidney on the floor.

"You have a laptop, you know," Sidney says, not looking up.

So now he's being ordered around his own room by the guy who doesn't want to sleep with him. Awesome. Geno rolls his eyes at himself and grabs his laptop, settling on the floor opposite Sidney.

He's pretty sure Sidney didn't do it on purpose, but that doesn't change the fact that this is weirdly reminiscent of when they ended up rolling around on the floor together. Geno clears his throat, looks away from Sidney and his ridiculous concentration face, and opens his computer back up.

It takes five minutes for Sidney to say, "What are you working on?"

"Paper for English."

Sidney's looked up from his book, and when Geno answers he doesn't stop looking, so he says, "Themes in Scarlet Letter. Boring."

"All English papers are boring. I wanted to write mine about hockey once and Ms. Landing wouldn't let me."

Geno very carefully doesn't laugh. "Mean of her."

"Yep." Sidney goes back to his book, and Geno to his paper.

It's actually kind of easy to ignore Sidney, once he gets used to it. Sidney's quiet except for the occasional page turn and the scratching of his pen, and when he's in the room, it's weirdly easy not to think about him at all. Okay, that says pretty bad things about Geno's crush management skills, but still. It works out okay. Geno finishes the essay and moves on to the last of his history homework, and Sidney trades history for Chem.

Then Sidney says, "We should go out after the game."

Geno doesn't fall over by virtue of the fact that he's already sitting on the floor. "What?"

"You know, to a diner or something."

He's not disappointed. He's not. "With guys? Okay."

Sidney makes a face Geno can't decipher. "Or, you know, without the guys."

Everything in Geno is clamoring for him to just say yes, but Geno's not that stupid or impulsive. "Why?"

"What do you mean?"

"Why we go somewhere without the guys?"

"The guys are going to go to the Staal farm for a party or whatever. And I won't want to go."

It's kind of an answer, but not really. "Why?"

"I just don't, okay?"

"So I say, no thanks, me and Sid gonna go get food?" Geno's starting to be kind of mad now. He feels like he's being jerked around.

"You can bring Alex or something if you're scared," Sidney snaps.

And, okay, that gets Geno's back up. "Not scared. Fine. We get food. Will be fun." Geno goes back to typing, though it's more mashing keys furiously than producing anything he can actually turn in later.

They work in silence for another forty-five minutes or so before Sidney says, "Um."

He sounds embarrassed. Geno sighs and looks up. "What?"

"Do you think you could maybe, uh. I'm kind of hungry?"

Geno doesn't know why that's supposed to be embarrassing. They're hockey players. They eat all the time. "Okay," he says, and stands up.

Sidney stands up too - or attempts to. He trips on his shoelace, drops his book and almost falls over. Geno grabs him before he has a chance to stomp on Geno's laptop or something. "Careful."

Sidney blinks up at him. He's close, Geno realizes, and he drops Sidney's arm, taking a quick step back.

"Let's go," he says, and practically runs down the stairs.

"You want sandwich?" he says when Sidney comes into the kitchen. "Pizza? Have leftover lasagna."

"Ooh, lasagna." Sidney perks up, but immediately makes a face. "I mean, no. It's too early to carb-load. And it's fatty."

It's a good point, but - "Can pick out noodles? We growing hockey players, Sid."

"Ugh, fine." Sidney hops up on one of the island stools. "Whatever."

He's not hiding his enthusiasm very well, though. Geno smiles a little and busies himself heating up two plates of lasagna.

He likes this, he thinks. It might be a little pathetic and it's definitely a lot weird, but he really likes being able to hang out with Sidney like this. If it was Alex, Alex would've already raided his refrigerator, and probably complained about the American cooking.

"Thanks," Sidney says when Geno hands him a plate. Geno sits down opposite him and digs in. He doesn't bother picking out his noodles; he follows a diet, more or less, but he's only 17 and there's room for flexibility. And some fatty food. Sidney picks out the first noodle, but after that gives up and just eats the whole thing.

"This is good," Sidney says after a few minutes.

He sounds a little surprised, so Geno says, "Russians know how to make more than pierogi."

"I know that," Sidney says, playfully kicking Geno. Only he hooks his foot, so he winds up with his foot caught on Geno's ankle. "Oops. Um. Sorry."

Geno stares at the counter so he doesn't react. After an awkward minute, Sidney pulls his foot away.

"Anyway, um, I'm almost done with my homework, so I should probably go."

"Not staying for dinner? Mother probably thinks yes." When she's not hiding and giving them time alone and generally humiliating Geno, at least.

"Oh. I mean, I could? If you want."

You're the one who bullied his way in and up to my room and dared me to protest spending time together, Geno doesn't say. "Sure."

Sidney relaxes. "Okay."

Geno wants to make Sidney relax all the time. Geno wants to kiss Sidney again, and hang out with him, and make him laugh and -

"You're staring," Sidney whines. "What? Do I have sauce on me?"

"No," Geno says quickly, looking away. "Is nothing."

"Okay," Sidney says dubiously, and goes back to eating.

"So," Sidney says a few minutes later, "Russia, huh?"

Geno blinks at him.

"Never mind. Oh, look, you're done. I can take that." Sidney grabs Geno's plate and hops off the chair, going over to the sink.

Geno doesn't realize until he follows that he's kind of bracketing Sidney in. Sidney turns around to say something, and then he's just inches away and looking up at Geno.

Sidney just frowns up at him. "I'm not doing the dishes or anything. Let me out."

So much for a moment. "Right," Geno says, moving away. "We play Xbox now? In living room."

For a second, Sidney's expression gets even weirder. Then he says, "Yeah, okay. In the living room. Totally."

They go out. "I'm going to kick your ass," Sidney says as they settle down.

Geno snorts. "Sure. We'll see."

Playing with Sidney is fun. He's just as hyper-competitive as Geno is, and he makes dumb faces that Geno can't help but laugh at. The downside to it is that Sidney leans into him, and laughs when Geno says something dickish, and generally makes Geno wish he could kiss him and kiss him and kiss him. And then maybe blow him.

Only then Sidney throws his controller down with disgust and says, "Fuck the Mushroom Cup, anyway," and flops back against the front of the couch. Geno laughs, and Sidney turns to look at him, undoubtedly planning on saying something snotty -

Only they're close enough together, suddenly, that Geno can feel Sidney's breath, and at that point it makes sense to kiss him.

These impulses are going to kill him. But not just yet. Right now, Sidney's kissing back, whimpering a little and pulling Geno half on top of him. It's uncomfortable on the floor like this, braced against the couch, and Geno's mom could walk in any second, but Geno doesn't really care. Not when he gets Sidney tugging his hair and Sidney's mouth falling open and - well, Sidney.

"Geno," Sidney says - quietly, which Geno's grateful for.

But Geno's pretty sure Sidney's going to say they shouldn't keep going. So he says, "Not now," and kisses Sidney again.

He's hard almost right away, obviously, because Sidney's touching him and Geno is seventeen. But it's not being hard that gets him; it's the way it feels like every inch of him is jumping when Sidney touches him. He's pretty sure he's not even kissing well, but Sidney doesn't seem to care. He keeps Geno firmly on top of him and touches Geno everywhere he can reach, making a face when Geno pulls away again and whispering, "Keep going."

So Geno does. He kisses Sidney's neck, and wiggles his hand under Sidney's shirt, ignoring the fact that everything about this is stupid in favor of touching Sidney more.

Sidney likes it, though. Geno's not sure about his technique and stuff, and if his mom comes in he's never going to live it down, but God, Sidney's enjoying this.

Geno bites Sidney's lower lip because he can, imagines Sidney blowing him and pins his wrists because he can. Because Sidney's not moving away, for some reason, and later he'll have to figure it out and deal with how he honestly feels like everything in him is exploding when he touches Sidney, but right now he can just kiss him over and over.

After another minute or so, though, Sidney lifts his head and says, "Wait, wait, hang on. Wait."

Geno's stomach sinks. "Okay?"

Sidney blinks at him, looking perplexed. "What are we doing?"

"Kissing?"

"I knew that."

"Not sure what should say, Sid."

"We're friends. I'm not - I came over because I thought if we could be friends, we could hang out like we weren't friends, and maybe things would make more sense."

Geno's pretty sure that even if he were better at English, that sentence wouldn't make much sense. "So. We not dating."

"I don't do hooking up. It's not my thing."

Sidney's not the type of guy to have a thing, but Geno's not going to point that out. "Okay?"

"Okay, so we're not going to do this anymore. Because hooking up isn't, I don't want to."

Is he missing something? He feels like he's missing something. But it's not like Geno's got a lot of experience with this kind of thing. "Okay," he says again.

"Right. So." Sidney rolls off Geno awkwardly. "I'm going to go."

"Dinner," Geno reminds him.

Sidney's face goes through another series of contortions Geno can't interpret. "Fine," he says finally, sounding sulky.

Geno's not sure if they should go back to playing or what, so after an awkward minute he says, "Gonna go get some water," and makes his escape.

Except when he gets to the kitchen, his mother is waiting for him. "What exactly do you think you're doing?"

"Getting water?"

"Don't play dumb." His mother purses her lips. "I'm starting to think I never should have taught you to talk about your relationships."

Geno's starting to get really tired of not knowing what's going on. "I'm sorry, but he's not good at people, and he doesn't want to date, so there's nothing I can do."

"I am a good parent," his mother says, "which is why you're going to get your water and go back out there, and you're going to figure this out yourself."

She doesn't look happy about it, but she kisses his cheek and then goes upstairs. Geno gets his water and drinks it, very carefully not looking out into the living room to see what Sidney's doing.

When he comes back out, Sidney's staring at the ceiling. Geno wants to say something - he knows he should say something. But he doesn't even know what he would say, much less how he'd word it, so he sits down next to Sidney and says, "Hey."

The rest of the afternoon is awkward, and so is dinner. Geno's actually rethinking his policy of not pressing his mom for information, because it's obvious she knows something he doesn't. But he makes it through dinner, and then Sidney says, "Okay, bye, I'm going to get my books, bye," and runs upstairs.

His mother has been looking at him meaningfully for at least an hour, but somehow now she looks even more meaningful. Geno sighs and follows Sidney.

"Should do this again," Geno says.

"Yeah, totally," Sidney says. He sounds distracted. Geno hangs out in the doorway and watches Sidney cram everything into his backpack, until finally Sidney's ready to go.

There's an awkward shuffle when Sidney goes to leave and Geno's still in the doorway, but he makes it downstairs without incident. And he doesn't look at Geno when he says, "Okay, bye," again, and leaves.

Geno's doing really well, he thinks, at repressing his total despair at the state of his entire life. He doesn't even mention it until the next day, when Alex says, "You'll need to patch things up before the game."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Sidney's eyeing you like you killed his mother, and you're not that much better," Alex says. "Don't think I don't notice. My eyes are everywhere."

Geno rolls his eyes. "You go on thinking that."

"What happened, though, seriously? Three minutes till first period, talk fast."

So Geno explains. Alex just looks more and more pitying until finally he pats Geno's shoulder and says, "Try not to fail any quizzes today. We'll talk."

Geno doesn't fail any quizzes, and at no point in time does he stare longingly at Sidney and cry or something like that. The fact that he kind of wants to is easy to ignore, too, since they have a game coming up. It would take a lot for him to not focus on hockey.

The game itself passes in a blur, though. He's playing with Sidney, and they win, and that's all good and Geno's really happy. Only Sidney's also really happy, and that's distracting and a little depressing.

Basically, Geno's having so many feelings that he doesn't know what to do with them, and Sidney's there all the goddamn time.

They go out after the game. Nothing major, just to grab food and celebrate the win. Jordy's inviting everyone over tomorrow, which he does, and everyone's agreeing because Jordy's magic at providing booze and getting his parents out.

And Geno's fine. He's fine. He's totally, totally fine.

Geno and Alex go back to Geno's together. It's almost five, and when they get inside, Alex says, "I texted Sidney - he's going to come over. You can be normal about it, right? You're so good at that."

"I'm going to shower," Geno says instead of answering directly.

"Have fun!" Alex calls after him.

Geno doesn't jerk off or anything. It would be really weird with Sidney coming over. When he's done showering, he towels off and looks at himself in the mirror.

He just looks like Geno. Aggressively normal, he thinks, if anything else. Nothing interesting. There's no real reason for Sidney to be into him, Geno thinks.

It's dumb to think about, though. Geno sighs and goes to brush his teeth.

Sidney shows up after a few minutes of Alex hanging around and generally being a nuisance. "Hang out together," Alex says, draping himself over Sidney, "then go to party together! Get drunk together! Who knows what gonna happen." He waggles his eyebrows.

Sidney just looks back at him, generally uncomfortable. Alex snorts after a minute and unlatches himself from Sidney. "I gonna go," he says. He brought his backpack and duffel down earlier. Now he takes them out to the car. "Ready to go, Mrs. Malkin!"

Geno's mom, being a complete betrayer, comes out of the kitchen. "Just one moment!" she calls, putting her coat on. "Hello, Sidney, dear."

Sidney nods. "Hi."

Together, they watch in silence as Alex and Geno's mother drive off. When they're gone, Sidney says, "So. You wanted to talk to me?"

Belatedly, Geno realizes he has absolutely no idea what the text Alex sent says. "Uh, yeah."

"About what?" Sidney says.

He's standing a little too close, looking up at Geno. Geno doesn't know if he's doing it on purpose or not and he doesn't really care. He takes a step back, then another. "Um."

"You don't want to talk."

It's weirdly perceptive, considering who it's coming from. "Not really," Geno admits.

"Okay," Sidney says, and turns around, heading out into the living room.

He thinks they're going to play Xbox or something, but Sidney just picks up Sports Illustrated. "Alex texted me and told me I'm not allowed to leave," he says by way of explanation.

Geno's going to kill Alex. This time for certain. "Right," he says, and grabs his PSP, sitting down opposite Sidney.

They sit in silence like that until Geno's squirming, he's so uncomfortable with it. He's used to talking. With Russians, it's easy; with North Americans, it's harder, but still reasonably easy to get them to do the talking. But not with Sidney. Sidney keeps darting glances at him, like he's waiting for Geno to say something. He probably is, since Alex-as-Geno said he wanted to talk.

So finally Geno bites the bullet, clearing his throat and saying, "Party tonight."

"Yeah. I guess we're going together." Sidney doesn't sound particularly enthused.

Geno feels a twinge of annoyance. "Well? What wrong? You don't want go?"

"I don't know."

"You don't want go with me?"

"I don't know," Sidney says again. He sounds annoyed. "Why can't you just let it be?"

"You in my house," Geno points out. "Reading my magazine. Have right to know."

"I liked you better when you couldn't talk," Sidney snaps.

Geno recoils - then thinks better of it, getting up and walking over to Sidney's chair. "Get out."

Sidney goes pale. "What?"

"You no hear now? Leave. Get out."

Sidney stands up and shoves Geno back. "No. Not until you tell me why I'm here."

"I don't know?"

"Well fuck you then!" Sidney yells. He shoves Geno again. "I came over thinking - thinking -"

"What?" Geno says. "Is not my idea. Is Alex. Have nothing to say, Sid."

Sidney stares at him for a second, wide-eyed and breathing too hard, before he punches Geno in the gut.

Geno reacts instinctively. He pulls himself back, and then, when Sidney comes at him again, punches Sidney in the stomach.

Sidney goes down, unsurprisingly, clutching his stomach and looking surprised. Geno gets on top of him before he has a chance to lash out again - but Sidney's quick and wiggles an arm free, punching Geno's side and yanking at his hair.

"Hair pulling?" Geno says, trying and mostly failing to effectively pin Sidney.

"I want you - you - damn it, Geno!" Sidney says, flailing around, fighting to throw Geno off.

"No. Hold still." Geno tries to grab Sidney's wrists and gets punched in the face for his efforts. "Sidney!" he yells, and punches Sidney back.

"Fuck you," Sidney spits out, and throws out an insane amount of force, rolling them over. "You sanctimonious - you haven't even told me, you didn't bother, you -"

Geno grabs his wrists this time. And just like that, Sidney goes still.

"Sid," Geno says again.

He's not really expecting Sidney to wrench his own arms back and lean down to kiss Geno.

"No, stop," Geno says after a few dizzying moments. "Wait."

Sidney stops and sits up, but he doesn't get off of Geno. "We need think," Geno says. "You not want this."

"I -" Sidney licks his lips and Geno gets distracted again. "I do, though," Sidney says. "I'm serious."

"Why change of mind?"

"I did some thinking," Sidney says.

Geno waits for an actual explanation, but Sidney just looks back at him. Like he's honestly supposed to take that explanation at face value? "No."

"But -"

"Give me reason."

"I want to," Sidney says simply.

Geno has no idea what to say to that.

He knows he should - he knows he should, but he can't make himself push Sidney away. This time, when Sidney moves down to kiss him, Geno kisses back.

When they pull apart, though, he says, "Come to party with me."

Sidney looks down at him, obviously disbelieving. "What? Why?"

Geno shrugs and hopes he looks opaque and not pathetic. Sidney's decided he's into hooking up, fine, that doesn't mean he's going to want to go places with Geno. But - "Want to spend time with you."

"But we're doing this."

"So?"

Sidney frowns. "I don't get you at all."

Geno shrugs, hoping he looks nonchalant and not pathetic and desperate.

"Okay, fine," Sidney says finally. "Whatever. Sure, why not."

Geno can't keep from smiling then.

Geno has to text Sidney to ask for his address, because he can't remember how to get there. Sidney replies with a text that's all lowercase but includes a period at the end of 'n sunrise road'. Geno rolls his eyes and gives his hair one last pat, trying and failing not to care about how he looks. He's got on a tight shirt, at least. There's nothing he can really do about his face, but he can make his clothes look nice. And attractive, hopefully.

"Oh, Zhenya, what did you do to your hair?" his mom says when he comes downstairs.

"I fixed it," Geno says. It's gelled down, like it always is when Geno tries to dress up.

She gives him an almost-death-glare and motions him over. Clucking her tongue, she grabs his hair and crunches it up, totally ruining all the work Geno put into it and making it messy. "There," she says. "You look less like you escaped from a trial now."

"I'm wearing jeans," Geno points out.

"Your hair was a bit overpowering. Now go have fun. And don't drink too much," she adds severely.

The first time Geno ever got really embarrassingly drunk was with his parents, so he's not too worried about that. "Okay, okay," he says, and ducks out.

Sidney's hovering outside when Geno comes around. "I didn't want my parents to look at you now that we're having sex and going out together, even though this isn't a date so it doesn't matter."

Geno's torn between stomach-sinking disappointment and confusion. "What?"

"Never mind." Sidney buckles his seat belt. "Let's go, eh? It's awhile out to the farm."

Geno's iPod is hooked up to the radio, and so Sidney spends awhile playing with it. He puts on pretty much the most boring, non-European club music Geno owns (Geno's iPod is equal parts things he actually likes and things Alex put on there).

"So," Sidney says when they get on the highway that will take them to the Staal farm, "um..."

"Um?" Geno says. Nerves are twisting his stomach up. He thought this was a date. He's dressed like it's a date.

"We don't have to, I mean, I know we're having sex, but we don't have to, uh, do anything."

Geno bites his lip and stares at the road. "I know. You say not date. It not date."

"Oh, okay," Sidney says, sounding relieved.

Geno stifles the disappointment as best as he can.

"Are you going to drink?"

Sidney sounds hopeful, and Geno doesn't know what he's hoping for. "No."

"I can drive if you want to."

Sidney's not going to be flirting with anyone, probably, so Geno doesn't need to drink. "Is fine. Don't need drinking, Jordy's parties okay."

"Oh. Well. I'll stick with you?"

Geno's pretty sure if he looked at Sidney right now he'd be making one of his faces. "Yes. Uh, please."

"You don't have to say please," Sidney says. "We're friends."

He sounds so determined. Geno would pay all the money he's got to know what's going on in Sidney's head. "Hey, Sid, relax," he says instead. "We gonna have fun. Is the point."

"Yeah, sure."

"Sidney." Geno reaches out blindly and jostles Sidney's arm. Carefully, he says, "Sidney, we don't have to go."

"You want to."

Geno wants to be with Sidney, damn it. "So? We tell Jordy we tired, go somewhere else. Is okay."

"No," Sidney says quickly, "no, I told Jordy, and people will think it's weird anyway. We're going."

Geno makes himself nod.

"But...we could leave early. And, I don't know. Do something, um. Together."

"Yes," Geno says quickly. "Yes, Sid."

When they get to the party, there are already people all over the place - hanging out on the steps, in the backyard, in the house. Geno wouldn't be surprised if they left after just an hour, because Sidney's already got that pinched look he gets when he doesn't want to be around people, and Geno's selfish enough that he's happy to leave and be alone with Sidney.

In a friendly context. Obviously.

"Relax a little," Geno says, putting a hand on the small of Sidney's back and steering him through the crowds in the kitchen. He snags a Diet Coke for each of them on the way.

"Ugh," Sidney says, but he does relax - back into Geno, which surprises Geno enough that he almost trips. He's getting used to the feelings rushing through him, at least, and the awful way he just wants to pin Sidney against the wall and kiss him. Especially since Jordy's doing that with a girl in the corner, so it's not like the action isn't allowed.

"Go outside?"

"Yeah," Sidney says, and leads the way to the backyard.

There are some guys messing around in the backyard rink, but they're drunk and falling over more often than not. Sidney laughs and settles on the back steps, a step below Geno. If Geno wanted to, he could reach down and put a hand on Sidney's shoulder.

He doesn't.

They sit in silence for a little while before, inevitably, Alex finds them. "Sid! Geno! Is party, why you sit around?"

"Just relaxing!" Sidney says with a fake smile.

"You not relaxed. I know relaxed." Alex glances at Geno and then waggles his eyebrows. "Maybe you relax with the sex, eh?"

"The sex?" Geno says, rolling his eyes.

"Okay, I watch too many movies with evil Russians, get ideas. But you gotta dance! Or play hockey I guess."

"We could play hockey," Sidney says, perking up.

Geno nods at the backyard rink. "Everybody drunk. You get mad, sulk."

"I do not!"

Geno's pretty sure just blinking at Sidney gets his opinion on that across pretty well.

"Oh, fine," Sidney says. "Whatever. This is fun, though." He gestures with his soda.

"Doesn't look fun." Alex glances around, then lowers his voice and says, "Seriously, get out of here. I tell people Geno sick, you take him home."

Geno watches Sidney turn as red as he's pretty sure he himself is. "No, no, it's fine, we're not - I mean, we don't," Sidney says. "You know, we're not like that."

"Oh, really?"

"Yes," Sidney says firmly.

"If you say so," Alex sings, then gets up and leaves.

It makes things pretty awkward afterwards. Geno toes at the steps and doesn't say anything until Sidney says, "We could get out of here, though. Alex is right."

Geno all of a sudden can't talk.

"If you wanted. We don't have to! But you know, if you wanted."

Geno's stomach sinks. He wants what Sidney doesn't, is the problem. But...

He can pretend, a little. "Okay. Let's go."

They go to a diner off the exit to the Staal farm. It's the kind of place truckers go to, but Geno figures Sidney's really aiming for something that's not like a date. So it's a little awkward when the waitress sticks them at one of the small tables in a dimly lit corner. The first time their knees knock together, Geno turns bright red.

"This is nice," Sidney says.

"Nice mean something different? Maybe I not know?"

He's surprised when Sidney gets that it's a joke. His laugh is loud and honking enough to get them a few weird looks. "I mean, I bet the food is good."

"Coach get mad."

"We're teenagers," Sidney says dismissively.

It's not like Sidney at all. His massive sweet tooth aside, he sticks to the diet they're supposed to follow pretty closely. Geno eyes him suspiciously, but he doesn't say anything else.

They end up getting burgers without fries, as a compromise to themselves. They eat in silence, Geno feeling increasingly wound up about - well, everything, but specifically the warmth of Sidney's knees against his, and the way he licks his lips, and his smile.

He feels really dumb. The only good thing is that Sidney keeps smiling at him, so he's pretty sure he hasn't noticed how weird Geno's being.

Once they're done eating, Sidney says, "So, um. We could - I think my parents are out tonight?"

It takes Geno a second to process the invitation. Then he says, "Oh. Yes."

"You're sure?"

Sidney looks nervous and Geno doesn't want that. He kicks Sidney's ankle gently and says, "Very sure."

"Oh. Well." Sidney grabs the check. "I can pay."

Geno lets him, because he has plenty of experience with arguing with Sidney now. Once they get back in the car, Geno says, "We do what you want."

"No, I mean - yes, obviously, but whatever you want is probably good." Sidney taps his hand on the knee closest to Geno. Geno glances down and then looks up quickly, starting the car.

"Jordy date that girl, you think?" Geno says when Sidney doesn't make conversation.

"Huh? Oh, maybe." He's fidgeting and staring out the window, turned almost away from Geno.

"Is Jordy. Maybe not."

"Yeah," Sidney says heavily. "He's not the dating type."

Geno nods, then dares to say, "Some people are."

"I guess."

"Hey." Geno reaches over and grabs Sidney's hand briefly. "Cheer up. We make out, yes? I - help you." He knows the English for "jerk you off", obviously, but he can't make himself say it.

When he glances over, Sidney's slumped down awkwardly and he's bright red. "Yes. Please."

Geno goes just a little faster.

The house is dark when they get back to Sidney's. Geno parks and walks up to the front door, waiting as patiently as he can for Sidney to unlock it. When they get inside, though, Geno can't make himself wait. He puts a hand on Sidney's waist and kisses him, tilting Sidney's head back. Sidney responds right away, kissing back and pressing against Geno. He's hard, Geno realizes with a shock, he was probably hard on the ride home, and that's -

Geno has to slide a hand up Sidney's arm, then around to his back, touching everything he can. Sidney makes a noise - a small one, barely audible, but it has Geno screwing his eyes shut and nudging a leg between Sidney's.

"God, Geno," Sidney says. "My room, we have to go to my room."

"Right," Geno says, and kisses him again.

Finally, though, Sidney pulls away and says, "If we keep going I'll - we'll - um, in my pants."

Geno stifles a ridiculously happy laugh in Sidney's neck. "Okay, okay, we go," he says, and they make it upstairs together.

Geno kicks Sidney's door shut and then kisses Sidney again. When he pulls Sidney close, Sidney almost trips, but he laughs a little and leans into Geno to compensate. Geno pulls his own shirt off, and is about to tell Sidney to do the same when he's completely struck silent by the way Sidney's looking at him.

It's not a big deal. It's nothing. It's just Sidney looking interested. But here, it seems to mean a really ridiculous amount.

"I'm glad you talk now," Sidney says, then immediately looks embarrassed.

"I talk always. You mean English?"

"To me," Sidney says. "I figured you didn't like me."

Geno can't actually say anything to that, because people who don't like Sidney make him stupidly angry.

"I mean, it's fine. Sometimes people don't like me, I told you. It's not a big deal. I have hockey, and - hockey. So it's fine."

"They stupid," Geno finally says. Then he decides to man up a little. "My English bad. Always. Worse around you." He kisses Sidney. "See why?"

"I never have trouble talking around you." Sidney frowns a little. "Thinking, I guess, yeah."

Then Geno has to get Sidney shirtless because, well, he has to. It's Sidney.

"This okay?" he asks, guiding Sidney back towards the bed.

Sidney nods so hard Geno's worried his head will fall off. "It's very okay. Very, very, very okay."

"Good," Geno says, and presses Sidney down onto the bed.

Sidney pushes up against him, kisses back hard when Geno kisses him, but he seems perfectly happy to be covered like this. And it's good, because Geno likes it too. He likes being able to watch Sidney, and touch him, and feel how hard he is.

He really likes that, actually. He runs a hand over the crotch of Sidney's jeans and watches Sidney writhe on the bed. When he talks, it's a whine, but somehow Geno finds it sexy anyway. "Geno, come on."

"Patient," Geno says, and moves his hand away.

"I'm being patient."

Geno snorts. "Not really."

"Quit arguing," Sidney says. "Just - take your pants off or something, God."

Geno leans back and obeys - or tries to, at least. He winds up fumbling with the button and then his fly, and when he looks up, Sidney's watching him with so much interest that he almost trips trying to get out of his pants.

Sidney laughs. "It's not exactly rocket science."

"You do better?" Geno says, finally getting out of them.

"Obviously," Sidney says, and slips out of his pants.

He's actually good at it. Geno figures he must get undressed lying down like that, mostly to save his own pride. He forgets about pride when Sidney's pants are off, though, because there's a lot more to look at. Including Sidney's dick tenting his boxers.

"Stop staring," Sidney says, but he doesn't sound at all certain.

It makes Geno smile. "You want stop?" he says, moving to sit on the bed. "We stop."

"No," Sidney says quickly, "definitely not, definitely, definitely -"

Geno kisses him. It's different like this, just separated by boxers. And Geno wants to get completely naked, he wants to keep going, but he has no idea if Sidney's ever done this with anyone else and doesn't want to spook him.

He wants to do this again. So many times.

Sidney's moving his hands a little too quickly, but Geno's pretty sure he's squashing Sidney, so they're even on that score. He's moved down to kissing Sidney's neck when his phone rings.

"Shit," he says, rolling away from Sidney and toppling to the floor. He grabs his phone and checks the display: it's his mom. "Shit," he says again, and then answers it. "Hello?"

"Is there a reason Alex just called and tried to trick me out of the house?"

"Um," Geno says. Oh God, he was about to have sex and he's talking to his mom. He always goes to the other person's house for a reason. "I don't know. He's crazy. He has weird ideas."

"Somehow, I think you're hiding something from me."

Geno bites his lip. "I told you I'd be out."

"And yet, it's suspiciously quiet wherever you are."

At least being hard is rapidly becoming not a problem at all. "I can come home."

On the bed, Sidney's staring at him like he thinks he's going to spontaneously start speaking Russian. He's still hard, and bright red, so it's kind of a weird image. Geno frowns back at him and waits.

"No, that's fine. Just stay safe." She pauses. "And tell Sidney I say hi," she adds, and hangs up.

Oh, God. Geno wants to die. "Mom say hi."

Sidney flops down on the bed. "Oh, God."

Geno climbs back onto the bed. "Mood killed."

"I guess," Sidney says glumly.

Geno's having to fight the urge to just run away and never try to have sex again. But then he notices that Sidney's tracing a finger over his stomach, staring at the ceiling, still a little hard.

And he doesn't want to let that go. "Hey," he says, catching hold of Sidney's hand.

Sidney goes still. "Yeah?"

Geno nods firmly. "Yeah," he says, and leans down, kissing where their hands meet.

"Oh," Sidney says, going very still.

"Yeah?" Geno says, heart thumping. If Sidney wants it, if Sidney really wants it -

Sidney's hand comes down softly on his head. "Yes. Please."

Geno feels like the pit of his stomach might fall out. He kisses Sidney's hand again and says, "Had this before?"

"Is that a joke?"

Geno doesn't laugh. Mostly. "Relax. Enjoy," he says, and tugs Sidney's boxers down.

Sidney does enjoy it, if the noises he makes are any indication. Geno's only done this a few times and he's pretty sure he's not even good at it, but it doesn't matter, because Sidney's the one shaking a little under him, and pulling his hair, and saying stupid things.

By the time Sidney comes - on Geno's hand, not in his mouth, because that still weirds him out a little - Geno's so hard he's pressing his hips into the mattress. Sidney says, sounding dazed, "Hey, Geno, are you - oh," and then tugs Geno's hair, upwards this time.

Geno goes. Sidney kisses him, so softly and sweetly it's almost chaste, before saying, "I can, um, I mean, I can, uh. I can do you too."

Geno blinks at Sidney as he slowly turns red. Then he has to stop, because otherwise Sidney's going to figure out his awkwardness turns Geno on. And he'll be too awkward to do anything about it, but Geno might come in his boxers or something.

"Oh, um, I didn't mean - I don't think I can. Uh." Sidney licks his lips. "Next time I could blow you? Just, this time..." He reaches down and clumsily runs a hand over Geno's boxers.

It's more than enough. Geno closes his eyes and leans into Sidney.

"I don't actually know what you like," Sidney says. "And you should probably, uh, take your boxers off."

Geno does, and says, "Anything. You do wrong, I tell you."

Sidney smiles a little. "At least you can still speak English."

"I speak English fine. Around you, now."

"Uh huh," Sidney says, and gets his hand on Geno's dick again.

He really is clumsy, and Geno really doesn't care. He hasn't actually had sex much, especially if you don't count all the times he and Alex fooled around because no one else took Alex's advances seriously, and Sidney's just...he's perfect. Not perfect in the way where he's good, but in the way where he's Sidney, and Geno's pretty sure even if his experience wasn't limited, Sidney would still be special.

"Good?" Sidney says at one point, wiggling a little under Geno so he can adjust the angle.

"Don't stop," Geno manages to say. Then he has to be kissing Sidney again.

When he comes, Sidney makes a face and stretches out so he can wipe it on the bed, far away from both of them. Geno half expects Sidney to push him away, and he does a little, but their sides stay pressed together.

"I could probably just keep kissing you," Sidney says, in a tone that suggests it hadn't occurred to him that he'd want to.

Geno doesn't even try not to smile. "Can do that, Sid," he says, leaning in for a kiss.

"Maybe later." Sidney rolls over onto his back. "You know, I'd be okay with you centering the second line. I wouldn't be weird about it."

Geno shrugs. "We communicate. Line score. Is good."

"But -"

There's no way, absolutely none, that Geno's going to be stupid about hockey too. "I talk to Coach. Coach say he think same line better. So, same line better."

Also he gets to play with Sidney.

"Okay," Sidney says dubiously.

Geno nudges him. "Quit worry about hockey."

"I always worry about hockey."

"Think about hockey when I blow you?"

Sidney doesn't answer, so Geno turns to look at him. He's redder than Geno's ever seen him. "Um, no."

"Good," Geno says, and kisses him.

They kiss for awhile longer, but eventually Sidney's parents are going to come home, and so finally Geno says, "We stop," and rolls away.

It's kind of gratifying the way Sidney immediately looks disappointed. "I guess," he says. "We could play Xbox?"

Geno looks around. He's got come on his leg, and Sidney's hair is completely wrecked. And he's got a hickey on his neck.

"Maybe we clean up first."

"Obviously," Sidney says snappishly, like he wants Geno to believe he'd already thought of it.

Geno snorts and gets up, pulling his shirt on. He's going to be kind of gross, but there's probably not time for a shower. He can shower once he gets home and fields all of Alex's and his mom's questions.

"Hey," Sidney says hesitantly after he's gotten dressed.

Geno goes still. "Yeah?"

"We'll do this again, right?"

"Yes," Geno says immediately. "Soon."

"Okay," Sidney says, relaxing.

Eventually, though, Geno has to leave. He almost goes to kiss Sidney goodbye, but Sidney ducks back and looks kind of embarrassed at the last minute, so Geno settles on waving awkwardly and then making his escape.

His mother, of course, is waiting up for him when he gets home. She's knitting, which he hasn't seen her do in years, which means Geno's worrying her.

"Sorry I'm late," he says in greeting.

"I'm not worried," she says, but she doesn't put the knitting down. "I'm just processing my son growing up. I did the same thing when you graduated elementary school."

Geno blinks.

"Oh, don't look like that. Give me a day, I'll be fine with it." She stands up and hugs him. "Alex has probably filled your inbox, though."

"Probably," Geno says. "I'm going to go to bed."

"I guess it could be worse," she says as he goes up the steps. "You could be drunk."

Geno ducks his head. He can't even pretend he hasn't come home drunk sometimes.

That, at least, makes her laugh. "Go to bed, son."

So Geno goes.

He's a little nervous about the next day. Stupidly, he knows, but that doesn't make the nervousness go away. He doesn't know what Sidney will do, how he'll act. He wishes there was a smooth way to figure out if Sidney plans on just ignoring the fact that they had sex or what. At least it's a Sunday and he doesn't have to deal with school right away.

He's distracted, though, when Alex ambushes him the second he leaves his house to go for a run.

"Were you waiting in my bushes or something?"

"Or something," Alex says. "You left early! With Sidney! Let's go for a run together," he says, and takes off.

Geno sighs and goes with him. "You want to know what happened."

"Perceptive," Alex says. "But no. I want to know everything that happened."

"You don't actually get to have all the details of my sex life, you know."

"Aha! You did it!"

"Did it? Really?"

"You did it with Sidney!" Alex yells. Not for the first time, Geno's devoutly glad all of Alex's shouting happens in Russian.

"Fine, fine," Geno says. "Yes. I did."

It's kind of impressive how Alex can cackle and run at the same time. Geno lets him laugh it out before saying, "He wanted to. But he doesn't want to date."

"Don't be ridiculous, of course he wants to date."

"I'm the one who had the conversation, not you."

"Yes, but I'm the one who's not crazy about him. I'm objective."

Geno doesn't say anything, but he picks up the pace a little. What he thinks of that should be pretty obvious.

"Anyway," Alex says, "congratulations. Your babies will be ugly. What do you think our odds against the Wildcats are? Should I be prepared to work hard?"

"You should always be prepared to work hard."

"Eh," Alex says dismissively.

Geno rolls his eyes. Alex will joke about being lazy all day, but he'll work just as hard as Geno come game time. "Yes. Their defense is good. They're a little top-heavy, though."

"Pfft, the Getzlaf line. I'm not scared of them."

"Right," Geno says. "That's smart."

"I can pick up on sarcasm, you know."

They round the corner. Geno picks up the speed again. "Would you believe me if I said I'm tired of thinking about Sidney?"

"Worrying? Yes. Thinking about him? No, not even a little."

Geno's glad he's already red from the run. "Whatever."

They spend the rest of the run mostly quiet, though Geno's pretty sure every time Alex just starts laughing out of nowhere that he's laughing at Geno. When they get back to his house, Alex says, "I get first shower," and elbows him out of the way.

Geno shakes his head and goes into the kitchen to grab some water. He's not at all surprised when Alex wanders down in just a towel. "You know my mother's here, right?"

"Your mother loves me and my pecs," Alex says. "Do you have any bananas?"

Geno points at the kitchen table, where the fruit bowl is. Alex grabs one and crams half of it down his throat. There's a joke in there somewhere, Geno thinks, but he's not sure -

"Don't take this as technique advice," Alex says, winking ridiculously.

There it is. "I'll keep that in mind."

"Hello, boys," Geno's mom says. Her pen is tucked behind her ear, which means she's working from home on a Sunday. Again. "Oh, good, you found the big towels," she adds to Alex.

"I just stole Evgeni's," Alex says.

"That works too." His mom raises her eyebrows at Geno. "You might want to shower too, dear."

"I was going to," Geno says. But from the way his mom keeps looking at him, he knows he's not getting out of it, so he sighs and finishes his water before heading upstairs.

When he comes back downstairs, it's to see his door open and Alex standing in the doorway, towel still around his waist, talking to Sidney.

" - very sensitive, see, his legs skinny, he not like to talk about it."

"What you doing," Geno says flatly.

"Geno!" Alex looks over his shoulder with a crazed smile. "I left clothes in bathroom. Think I scare Sidney? He brave, but muscles might scare him. Good thing yours are like little girl's!"

"Go upstairs," Geno says.

Alex waves a hand at him, but thankfully, he also obeys. That leaves Geno standing on the first stair, with Sidney looking at him awkwardly.

"Hey," Sidney says. "I just thought I'd, um, stop by."

"Mom here too. Beware," Geno says.

Sidney cracks a smile. "Got it."

"Come in," Geno says. "Sorry. Bad manners. My room?"

"Keep the door open!" his mother calls from her office.

"Sure," Sidney says, looking pained.

They go up to Geno's room. Geno's expecting some weird not-really-a-date again, but when they're inside, Sidney looks around and then quickly steps forward, brushing a kiss over Geno's lips.

Geno responds without thinking, kissing back and then going in for another kiss when Sidney doesn't move away. By the time they're done, Sidney's flushed and they're both breathing hard.

"Hi," Geno says, stupidly happy.

"I thought we could hang out?" Sidney says. "And I wanted to make sure - I mean, tomorrow, we're going to be at school."

"Right. Have to be normal."

Sidney nods vigorously. "I thought about it, and we don't want people to know, and I mean, I have other stuff to focus on at school. So I figured we could just, um, not."

Geno stares. Is he really hearing this? "Not."

"Yeah." Sidney sighs. "That's okay, right?"

Geno's stomach feels like it's entirely made of lead. "Yes. Is fine."

"Oh, good." Sidney sits down on Geno's floor. "I brought my computer, if you just want to mess around on Facebook or whatever."

Instead of messing around any other way, because Sidney doesn't want that. Right. Geno shakes himself a little. He needs to snap out of it. Thinking Sidney had changed his mind about dating was stupid. It's not like Sidney doesn't want to be his friend, he's just been there and done that with sex and doesn't want to anymore. Geno was getting full of himself, thinking things had been good enough that Sidney would want to do it again.

He fakes being okay for a few minutes. Thankfully, he doesn't have to keep it up for very long, because Alex pokes his head in and says, "Hey, I gonna leave."

"You can open your eyes," Sidney says, sounding kind of bemused.

Alex does - and then frowns when he sees Geno. "Hey, Sid," he says, "you should come with me."

"What? Why?"

"Geno not feel good. He tell me earlier, but he gonna try to hide it from you."

"Like, sick?" Sidney shuts his computer and climbs to his feet. "I can't get sick. We have a game Friday."

"Exactly!" Alex nods his head so hard it's a wonder it doesn't fall off. "Come on. We see Geno tomorrow, yes?"

Sidney looks from Geno to Alex and then back again. He's frowning a little, which - what business does he have, looking like that? He's the one who just ended it. "Bye," he says, not bothering to fake a smile.

"Um, bye," Sidney says, and follows Alex out.

Geno flops back and covers his face with his pillow. So much for being happy.

Alex must talk Sidney's ear off, because Geno doesn't get a text for another hour. "what hpnd should i bust his a$$????"

"he doesnt want 2 date. it's not a big deal," Geno sends back. "lv it alone plz"

":(((((( :(((((((((((("

Geno rolls his eyes and tucks his phone away.

The problem with Geno's stupid crush, or guy he's way too in love with, breaking up with him is that he wants to go to sleep and probably have awful dreams about Sidney, and it's way too early. His mom won't think anything of him staying up in his room, so he does, but instead of messing around on Facebook or something, he plays Solitaire and feels sorry for himself.

At least he knows he's being ridiculous, he thinks.

His mom calls him down for dinner, and he puts on his best game face and goes. She probably knows something's wrong - hell, Alex may have told her something's wrong - but she doesn't say anything. After he does dishes, he's free to slink back up to his room and go back to feeling sorry for himself until he can fall asleep.

Waking up and getting ready for school the next day is torture. Luckily, Geno's a stereotype of a teenage boy, and the actual process is only about fifteen minutes long. Alex is waiting for him at his locker when he gets to school. "I thought about bringing you funeral flowers or a box of tissue, but I figured it would be a little conspicuous."

"I'm fine," Geno says, "I swear."

"Are you? Really? Because you look like someone shot your mother in front of you."

"I'm not crying," Geno feels bound to point out.

Alex shrugs. "Just hold it together through practice, okay?"

Geno would like to indignantly protest, but he can't even pretend to himself that he's not being kind of dramatic about this. So instead he nods.

"And try not to cry during chemistry, that could create unfortunate reactions." Alex claps him on the back and then heads off to first period.

School goes relatively smoothly until chemistry. Geno hangs out with the usual group at lunch and manages not to be too awful about Sidney being there too, and then during English he messes around with Flower and Talbot. Things are fine, mostly, until he has to work with Sidney.

Sidney smiles when Geno comes in, like things are just fine between them. Then again, Geno guesses that they are, on Sidney's end. "Hey. Feeling better?"

Geno's entire stomach flips over before he remembers the lie Alex told. He can play it cool, totally. Sidney doesn't want it to be a big deal, so it won't be a big deal. "Little bit. What we do today?"

"No lab," Sidney says, "Since it's Monday. The board says we have to balance equations." His expression tells Geno exactly what he thinks of that.

Geno looks down at the table quickly. "Great," he says, and settles into his seat.

It actually is great, because it means he barely has to talk to Sidney at all. After their lecture, Ms Johnson passes out the worksheet, forbidding them to work in groups. It's the best thing that's happened to Geno all day. He concentrates hard and blocks Sidney out completely.

Then, of course, he has to go to practice. He should know from the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that it's not going to go well, but he deludes himself into thinking it'll maybe be okay for the length of time it takes him to get on the ice. And things are okay, mostly. Coach looks at him suspiciously a few times but doesn't say anything, and it's not like he suddenly stops being able to pass to Sidney. He's just miserable, is all. More miserable than he's ever been playing hockey, which is really saying something since he's played a game with the flu before.

But, he reminds himself, this isn't going to last forever. It'll get better, probably. Hopefully soon. And even if it doesn't, well, he's got to graduate at some point.

Because his thoughts aren't bleak enough already, or something.

After practice, Geno puts his stuff away quickly and leaves, barely smiling at anyone on the way out. He almost makes it out, too, before Sidney says, "Hey, wait up," and draws even with him.

Geno just stares, because - seriously?

"Thanks," Sidney says, and smiles. "Homework, eh?"

Homework, and moping, and being boring, like all dumped teenagers. Geno wants to say no, but Sidney looks happy and totally clueless about what he did to Geno, so Geno finds himself nodding. "We go," he says.

"I could give you a ride?" Sidney holds up his keys.

Geno was going to use the walk to feel sorry for himself. "Sure," he says, following Sidney out to his car.

"So," Sidney says when he parks in Geno's driveway, "are we okay?"

Geno doesn't choke on his own tongue, but it's a near thing. "Yeah," he manages to say. "We fine."

"Good," Sidney says, and gets out of the car.

His mom is gone, which is obvious from the empty driveway. That doesn't stop Geno from being completely shocked when Sidney kisses him in the hallway.

He shoves Sidney away, way harder than necessary. "What you doing?"

Sidney has the nerve to look surprised. Or shocked, really. "I'm just - I thought, I don't know, I thought we were doing this."

"No," Geno says harshly. "No, you crazy? I not -" He's not going to let Sidney use him like this. He can't. And if Sidney keeps looking at him with that hurt expression on his face, he will. "Get out," he says, opening the front door.

Sidney's entire expression crumples. "You told me we were okay."

"I lied," Geno snaps. "Leave. Now."

"But -"

Geno grabs his arm and physically hauls him out of the house. "Go," he says again, and slams the door in Sidney's face.

He runs upstairs after that and spends some more quality time with his face in his pillow. He tells himself it doesn't matter, but that's an enormous, transparent lie. He cares way, way too much. Probably more than Sidney deserves. But he can't help it; it's Sidney. And they're done. Completely done, for real, because Geno can't handle Sidney telling him he doesn't want to date but then going for sex. Alex probably could. Someone who was better at this whole thing could. But Geno - Geno can't. Geno doesn't want to.

So he has to be alone.

He can't feel sorry for himself forever, though. Eventually he has to trudge through dinner, and homework, and then go to sleep. He doesn't dream about Sidney, at least. He dreams about dumb things that have nothing to do with his actual life. It's kind of nice, right up until he wakes up and Sidney's still broken up with him. Or he's broken up with Sidney, something like that.

School is awful. Alex doesn't even ask what else went wrong, which makes Geno wonder if he badgered it out of someone else, if Sidney's been talking about it. He can't bring himself to ask, though. He makes it through class, and then lunch, and then class again, until finally he has to show up to practice.

He spends an inordinate amount of time just kind of staring at his skates. Finally, he laces them up and gets on the ice. At least he knows what he's doing here. He might be miserable, but he can still play hockey. Miserably, but well.

Or at least, that's what he initially thinks. When he actually gets on the ice, though, everything is terrible. Sidney's not making eye contact, and he's moving more awkwardly than Geno's ever seen. Geno himself isn't much better, actually. He can't help it; he sees Sidney, and all he thinks about are things he can't think about anymore. None of their passes are connecting, they can't get past Flower - they're so bad that Geno's not surprised at all when Coach says, "Okay, that's enough of that," and switches the lines up.

He can't look at Sidney's face when he starts centering the second line. Or any other part of Sidney. This is Sidney's fault, he reminds himself. Sidney's the one who thought he could just use Geno, like Geno's feelings didn't matter at all, like Geno was just totally worthless. This is Sidney's fault.

"Whoa, man," Talbot says. "You okay?"

Geno blinks at him.

"You just totally spaced." Talbot nods out to the ice. "Coach didn't put Alex on a line with Sid for a reason, huh?"

"We not fighting," Geno manages to say.

"Sure, and my dick tastes like candy. What gives?"

Geno shrugs.

"Because if Alex murders Sidney on the ice, there are going to be problems, you know?"

"Alex won't."

"Yeah, somehow I don't believe that."

"He fine," Geno says, but he looks up, and - wow.

Alex looks mad.

But he laughed at Geno. He made stupid puns. Right now, he looks like he wants to put his stick through Sidney's eye, and then maybe kick the body.

"Enough," Coach says, interrupting Geno's thoughts. "I don't know what's wrong today, but you boys need to fix it. Unless you really want to lose this weekend. In which case, feel free to continue."

"We gonna win, Coach, no worries." Alex smiles widely at Sidney. "Sid not gonna let us lose the game, right?"

Geno doesn't know what Sidney looks like because he's not looking at him, but if it was him Alex was threatening like that, he'd be pretty scared.

"We're all going to work hard," Sidney says finally. But instead of sounding firm and determined, the way he normally does, he mostly just sounds miserable.

Geno tries and completely and totally fails not to feel guilty.

When practice is finally over, Alex slings an arm around his neck. "I thought I was okay with it," he says, "but I changed my mind. Want to steal all his hockey gear and beat him black and blue?"

"No."

"Okay, that's a little violent. Want to set his lawn on fire?"

"No," Geno says again, shoving Alex away. "I don't want to do anything, Alex."

For a second Alex just stares at him. Then he shakes his head. "What did he do to you?"

"Nothing," Geno says. "Okay? We just wanted different things."

"So now you're both miserable."

Geno shrugs.

"I'm a good friend," Alex says finally, "so I'm not going to call you an idiot. Much."

"Don't try to fix things, okay? Just leave it alone. Please."

"Yeah, sure."

"I'm serious, Alex."

"I know." Alex shrugs. "I won't hit him, and I won't make his life miserable, and I won't burn his lawn, and I won't piss on his shoes. Okay?"

Geno's pretty sure Alex has left himself with a million loopholes in that little speech, but he's not sure he cares. "Okay. Good. Thank you."

Alex ducks forward and hugs him. Geno lets himself lean into it, closing his eyes.

"It would probably be easier if we were just having sex, you know," Alex says.

"Yeah, not speaking to you for six months sophomore year was fun." Geno pulls away and punches Alex's shoulder. "Come on. I'm going home, and you should too."

"Your mother -"

"Is already worried enough without you being a complete crazy person all over the place."

"I'm not that bad!"

"You really are." Geno hitches his backpack up. "Come on. I'll get over Sidney sooner or later."

"And then you can get all the ass you want! You'll be drowning in boys throwing themselves at you!" Alex fakes a faint before starting walking again.

Geno rolls his eyes and follows.

It's not like Geno doesn't know that everything is terrible because he's seventeen and that's just kind of how it works. His mom has given him talks about that, with his dad chiming in to tell him not to listen when his mom says his emotions are no excuse for slacking at hockey. There are really reasonable explanations for how Geno feels that don't mean the world is ending.

That doesn't help how down he feels, though. Not at all.

He doesn't flunk out of chemistry, and the game isn't completely terrible. They only win by a goal, but they still win, and Sidney gets the game-winner, which Geno's fine with. There's a party afterwards that he doesn't go to. He tells Max that his mom is going through a strict phase and goes home to sulk. And after a week or so, things stop feeling so awful. They still suck, but Geno no longer wants to, say, find a cliff exclusively so he can hurl himself off of it.

They have a test in chemistry and he does fine. He and Alex go to a carnival, and it's ridiculous and fun even if they can't eat any of the junk food. Well, Geno won't; Alex has cotton candy and a hot dog, and then some funnel cake to finish it off. Geno goes to a party at Max's and ignores the fact that Sidney sticks close to Colby all night. Things are totally fine.

So when Jordy says, "Party at my place Friday, if you don't drink 'cause we've got a game I don't give a fuck, but bring beer anyway," Geno thinks nothing of it. He takes his fake down to the store and picks up some beer and goes.

"Sweet, Miller Lite," Jordy says when he answers the door. "Glad you got off your mopey ass and came out, Geno."

"Wasn't moping."

"Uh huh." Jordy swings the case up and carries it out to the kitchen. "Make yourself at home or whatever."

Geno looks around. It's eight-thirty, which is kind of early, but Jordy told him eight. Which, actually, is itself kind of early. And no one else is here.

Suspicion mounting, he says, "Jordy, where everyone?"

"Oh, they're coming," Jordy says, wandering back into the hallway. "You know, in an hour or so."

Geno groans. "No, Jordy."

"Um, I think you mean, "Yes, Jordy, thank you, Jordy, I'm such a moron it's kind of amazing, Jordy, sorry Sid's been miserable in your general direction for fucking ages, Jordy."

Geno shakes his head.

"Because seriously, man, what the fuck? One day it's la la rainbows and fucking sunshine everyone wants to puke, and the next day it's like...you know, storm clouds and shit." Jordy looks around. "Where'd I put my beer?"

"Pregame to tell me take Sid back?"

"Duh," Jordy says. "So seriously, just bang him or something. He's being weird, and I want to make it to the playoffs."

Geno shakes his head. "It not that simple."

"Yeah, it is."

"Really not."

"Oh hey, beer," someone says in the kitchen.

"Hands off, Jared!" Jordan yells. "Go to your friends' or something!"

"Fuck off," Jared says, but a door slams right after that.

"Anyway, so, about you getting Sidney back."

"Not happening."

"Like hell it's not. Do you have any idea how tragic he looks? Like, all the time?"

Geno tries not to look like he cares.

"Yeah, like that, only worse. What the fuck did you do, man?"

And okay, that touches a nerve. "Didn't do anything. Sidney's fault. Leaving." He stands up.

Jordy stands too, though. "If I have to, I will punch you. Don't think I won't. And then I'll call your mom and tell her, I don't know, something embarrassing. Remember that time you tried to hire a stripper? I'll tell her about that."

Geno sighs. "And annoy me."

"Fucking right."

"Fine," he says, and sits back down. Maybe if he just lets Jordy talk, Jordy will wind down and Geno will be able to promise to do something about it and leave. And stay home and play Xbox, alone.

"Okay, so, obviously you have to grovel."

"Didn't do anything wrong."

"I'm sorry, did I ask if you did anything wrong? That doesn't matter. When things are fucked up, you grovel."

"Maybe he should grovel. Maybe he the one who fuck up."

Jordy sits back and contorts his face. "Hey, he pushed me! Coach, they're slacking! Let go of me! Stop it! What are you doing, those are my favorite socks!"

"He a whiner, fine, should still apologize."

"And maybe he will with his dick or something. But someone has to start the apologizing. Like, this one time Eric shaved Marc's eyebrows -"

"Not my brother."

"Whatever. I don't do relationships, you know that."

Geno buries his face in his hands. "We done yet?"

"I just think, you know." Jordy sighs. "It sucks, man. So fix it."

"Can't. Sid doesn't want."

"Okay, see, that's just crazy. Obviously he does."

Geno shrugs.

"No, seriously, sometimes I look at him, and I'm like, there's the face of a guy who wants to bang Geno. Which, no offense, isn't a face I see a lot."

"Sex, fine. Not be - Not be -" Geno can't make the English happen. "Not be dating," he says finally.

"Oh my God," Jordy says. "You are so pathetic."

Geno doesn't contradict it, because it's completely true.

"You are so pathetic, holy shit. Did you ask him out?"

"Yes," Geno says immediately.

"Liar."

"I did."

Jordy raises his eyebrows and just stares.

"I...wanted to. I ask him, we do things."

"That's so specific, Geno. Wow. You're right, there's no room for error there."

"Not like that," Geno says. "You know, I not stupid. Let Sid call shots. That not bad."

"And Sidney probably obsessed over what you wanted, like a total tool, and he probably thinks you don't want to date him."

"That crazy."

"Really? Tell me five people who want to date Sidney Crosby. Like, actually want to date him, because they know him, and his personality dazzles them or whatever."

Geno's first reaction is anger, because fuck Jordy for thinking he gets to talk about Sidney like that. Plenty of people would want to date Sidney. Sidney's great. He's funny, and the best hockey player Geno's ever known, and - okay, he's not actually that funny unless you know him very well, but he's nice to be around. And he has great lips and an amazing ass if you're into that kind of thing, which Geno is, and all smart people should be. And -

And it's true, he can't really think of anyone Sidney knows well who'd want to date him.

"Fuck off," he says finally. "Sidney -"

"Is the stars to your moon, lights your lamp, I get it, but it's not like he doesn't know he's weird. Come on."

Geno knows what Jordy's talking about, and he knows it would be completely crazy, and also stupid, to deny it. So finally he sighs and says, "Fine. I fuck up. But Sid -"

"Ask him, dude. Just nut up and ask him. If he says no, fine, but if he didn't want to date you, why would he be all sad? He could probably fuck someone else if he wanted to. It's the dating."

But then Geno will have to set himself up for Sidney turning him down, and if there's a single thing that could fuck Geno up even more than the situation at hand already has, it's that. "Will think about it."

Jordy sighs. "I guess I'll settle for that."

"Get me a beer," Geno says, sitting back. He's definitely not going to stay sober for the asking.

Geno's halfway through his third beer by the time people actually start showing up. He's not drunk, but he's definitely tipsy, and he realizes when he sees Colby and Sidney hanging all over each other that if he wants to have any kind of talk with Sidney he's going to have to be a lot more sober than he is right now. Possibly completely sober.

He sighs, sets down his beer, and goes over to talk to Flower. If he just ignores Sidney for awhile, things will be fine. Probably. Provided Alex doesn't show up and say something stupid.

"Geno! Started a bit early, eh?"

"Jordy tell me wrong time. Fucker."

Flower laughs. "Someday I'm gonna get you so trashed you just talk Russian at me. That'll be a fun time."

"I'll bust your head way before that," Geno says in Russian.

Flower laughs way harder than a little Russian merits, then says, "Finish your beer, man, the night's just getting started."

Geno looks down at it. He really shouldn't. He can't talk to Sidney like this, and he has to talk to Sidney, if only so Jordy will leave him alone. So he needs to stop drinking.

But he's so nervous, because if Sidney tells him no...if Sidney tells him no, then that's the end of it for real. Geno can't deal with that. So he just keeps drinking.

He doesn't get incredibly drunk or anything. He just stays kind of drunk for two hours, and at no point in time does he go over and talk to Sidney. When eleven rolls around he goes to get some soda, because his curfew is two on weekends and his parents will kill him if he can't get home because he's been drinking too long.

But Sidney's in the kitchen, talking to some girl. Geno feels like a total tool, but he ducks behind the wall and just listens.

"...so my mom said maybe the Young Physicists group, but I really want to make sure I'm paying attention to cello."

She seems nice and smart. Geno wants to throttle her.

"Um, I play hockey," Sidney says.

"Well, I knew that."

She sounds like she's flirting. Why is she flirting? Forget Jordan, forget Sidney, Geno has to leave.

Fortunately, everyone else has been drinking too, so it's relatively easy to slip out. Geno doesn't even have to avoid Alex, since he's pulled one of his weird disappearing acts. Maybe he's off sleeping with someone who's really normal and - well, okay, not someone normal, but someone who won't dump him and then flirt with some stupid girl who has talents and probably smells good.

He's being crazy. He needs to get home. Except now that he's outside, it's occurring to him that he's not sober enough to drive and he definitely can't walk home from the Staals', so he can't go home right away.

But he can't go back inside either. He looks around, hoping to find somewhere out of the way to sit while he gets sober again. And sure enough, they have one of those stupid rope swings off to the side of the front yard. He goes over and sits down, closing his eyes and taking deep breaths.

He'll talk to Sidney tomorrow or something. If Sidney doesn't have a girlfriend by tomorrow.

When he's sobered up enough to drive, he gets home as quickly as he possibly can. It's not like he cries in the car, he just frowns a bunch, and when he gets home he burrows into his covers and tries to go to sleep.

Only it doesn't work. It doesn't work, and it doesn't work, and it doesn't work. He's still awake when he starts noticing the tapping noises against his window.

At first he thinks it's rain or something, so he ignores it. It was a nice night, though, so finally he sits up to investigate -

And a rock comes crashing through his window.

For a second all Geno can do is stare. And stare, and stare. Then he registers that someone - or something - must have thrown the rock, so he gets up and goes to the window.

Alex is standing there. That's not actually all that surprising, all things considered. What is surprising is the fact that he's holding Sidney, his hand bunched in the back of Sidney's shirt, tugging it up a little. Sidney looks uncomfortable and pissed.

Geno groans. Alex just waves and looks at him expectantly.

He knows Alex. Ignoring him until he goes away just won't work. So he puts a shirt on and goes downstairs, sneaking out the back door.

"Geno!" Alex says. "Nice of you to join us!"

"What you want," Geno says, refusing to look at Sidney.

"You being stupid," Alex says. "Really stupid. I bring you present, see?" He shakes Sidney a little.

Geno closes his eyes. When he opens them, though, Alex and Sidney are still standing there.

"Okay. Fine. I talk to him, you leave. Yes?"

"You gotta actually talk." Alex shakes Sidney again. "Both of you."

"Stop shaking me!"

"Quit whining," Geno says absently, then realizes exactly what he's said. "I - Sid -"

"I gonna go," Alex says, and practically runs out to the driveway, leaving Geno staring at Sidney as Sidney scowls at the ground.

"So," Geno says. He doesn't know what else to say. "Been awhile."

"It's been two weeks. Two weeks of you ignoring me."

Geno shrugs. But Sidney's still staring at the ground, so he doesn't see it. "What you said to do."

"No, I didn't."

He did. He really, really did. But Geno doesn't want to argue with Sidney right now. "Sure. Okay."

"What do you mean, okay?"

I mean, get out and leave me alone so I can get over you. I mean, you're whining and twisting my words and I still want to kiss you. "I -"

He expects Sidney to say something dickish, but he doesn't. He just stands there and waits.

And this is it, isn't it? Jordy made him promise to talk to Sidney, and it might be three AM but Sidney's standing there. Geno has to do this. Sidney's here: that has to mean something. Even if it doesn't, Geno needs to be an adult about this.

Or, less of a moping asshole. That would work too.

He takes a deep breath and says, "Jordy tell me you say wrong thing."

Actually, that could have come out a little better. "Wait," he says quickly. "Jordy tell me -" English, he has to use English. "Jordy say we not understand. Jordy tell me I not listen."

"Huh," Sidney says. He finally looks up and directly at Geno. "Alex told me if I didn't fix things he'd punch me. And throw me off a cliff. And kill my dog, which is funny, because I don't have a dog. And hurt me a bunch, basically."

Geno winces. "Sorry."

"He's a good friend, I guess." Sidney shrugs. "So, fine, whatever. You broke up with me and I heard it wrong. That makes sense."

"Sid," Geno says.

"Okay, okay, that was stupid, I'm sorry, I - " Sidney takes a deep breath. "I get stupider when you're around."

"You speak English," Geno points out.

"Well, okay. True."

Sidney smiles a little - Sidney smiles at him a little, and it hits Geno that actually, this is completely worth it.

"Want you," Geno says. "I want date. I want -"

"Sex?" Sidney says quickly. "Because the sex was, um. That was nice. And dating too. Because I thought we could, you know, go to the movies, and...do things? Like that?"

"Yes," Geno says. "We stupid. Obviously. Yes."

"Awesome. So." Sidney looks back down at the ground, then up at Geno again. He's bitten his lower lip so hard it's red and shiny, and -

Geno wants to kiss him, so he does.

Sidney makes a stupid, eager noise, moving close. His hands go to Geno's waist, and then his back, moving jerkily. Geno sympathizes, all things considered. He lets himself get lost, just a little, in kissing Sidney and just feeling happy, before he pulls back and says, "Wait. So, we dumb. We date, and when we have problems, we talk."

Sidney nods and nods and nods. "Anything."

Geno blinks at him.

"Yeah, no, I really mean that," Sidney says. "Okay?"

He looks embarrassed, and even more awkward. Geno leans in and kisses him again, and then again. "Yes. Anything. Okay."

"Oh, good," Sidney says, and leans into Geno.

After that, they pretty much just kiss, and it's the best thing that's ever happened to Geno. When they pull apart next, Sidney blinks at him and then bursts out laughing.

"What?" Geno says, lifting his arms to catch Sidney when he leans forward.

"Nothing," Sidney says. "I mean, everything? Most things. But nothing."

Geno's not actually surprised when he goes to take Sidney inside - they'll never have privacy again, but tonight might be worth it - and sees Alex standing on the edge of their lawn, grinning hugely, thumbs up. He shakes his head and flips him off, then follows Sidney inside.

Geno's not actually sure if the sex is good, because he's so happy that he can't tell. But Sidney smiles a lot, and Geno laughs, and they kiss a bunch and eventually they both come. It's amazing. It's even more amazing when they fall asleep together, with Sidney squishing himself against the wall so he doesn't have to touch Geno too much, and talking about the plays he wants to try once he talks Coach into putting them back on the same line.

When he wakes up, it's to his father saying, "Your mother wanted me to tell you to get dressed, both of you, or you're not allowed up in your room with him again. And I have to give you the sex talk again."

"Augh," Sidney says, sitting up.

"Okay, fine, I'll do it," Geno says to his father. When he leaves, he says, "You not understand."

"It sounded bad." Sidney scrubs a hand over his hair, squinting at Geno. "Um, good morning?"

Geno leans in and kisses him. "Good morning," he says firmly.

They get dressed and sit through an amazingly embarrassing breakfast before his mom goes to her office and his dad goes out to the grocery store. When they're alone, Geno says, "So."

"I have to go for a run."

"Call mom?"

"Oh, I did that already. I'm probably in trouble."

That makes Geno smile a little, because yeah, him too. "So, we run."

"We run," Sidney says, and holds out his hand.

Geno takes it and squeezes it.

"Only, you know, not like this," Sidney says, dropping his hand. "And not wearing this. Can I borrow some shorts?"

Geno laughs. "Yes, Sid," he says. "Yes."

Epilogue

 

Geno's not nervous. Why would he be nervous? If they win this game they go to the championship game, that's all. There's no reason to be nervous.

His phone rings and he jumps, dropping his Xbox controller. Right. Not nervous.

"Hey," he says, picking it up.

"You're nervous," Sidney says.

Geno grits his teeth. "No. Am not."

"Liar. I'm coming over."

Geno wants to tell him no, because he'd like to think he's tough enough that he doesn't need his - his boyfriend to comfort him. But he just says, "Okay," and sits there listening to the dial tone for a minute before hanging up.

Fifteen minutes later, Sidney's there. He comes upstairs before Geno has a chance to meet him downstairs, saying, "Your mom won't mind," and closing the door.

Geno swallows hard.

Sidney's got his determined face on when he kisses Geno, and it makes Geno relax; he's sure, now, that there's no way Sidney's going to let them lose. And because he's Sidney, Geno can trust in that.

Also, Sidney's crowding him back against the bed, pushing him down onto the mattress. "We're going to do it," he says. "We will."

Geno just puts his hands on Sidney's hips and kisses back.

"Wait," Sidney says a second later, pulling away. "Wait, hang on, I didn't come over for sex."

Geno blinks at him. "Mom won't mind?"

"Well." Sidney turns red. "I'm taking you out."

Geno's first instinct is to turn him down, because he doesn't want any distractions. But this is Sidney, and he trusts Sidney, so he says, "Yes."

They don't go far. There's an ice cream shop just down the street. Sidney says, "I didn't eat any candy today," and orders a single scoop. Geno doesn't have weird rules about candy, but he does the same thing, and they settle in a corner with it.

"All we have to do is win a game," Sidney says. He's using his captain voice. "That's all. If we win, that's it, we go to the championship. We've won games before. We can win this one."

Geno wants to kiss him so badly, but he can't, so instead he takes a bite of ice cream. "I not think," he says once he's swallowed it, "things be this...this."

"Intense?"

Geno nods.

Sidney offers him a narrow smile. "Yeah, well, I really wasn't expecting it with you."

Geno's stomach flips over and he can't help but smile. "You too, Sid," he says. "You too."

Sidney smiles and finishes his ice cream. Geno's not sure if the way his foot bumps Geno's ankle is on purpose or not. It's not very sexy, but then, it's Sidney.

"So," Geno says once they're done.

"Will your mom get mad if I sleep over?"

"Pointed comments."

"True." Sidney stands up. "Let's go, then."

They sneak back into the house just past nine and go straight to bed. Sidney lies a little bit away from him, as always, but when Geno's been awake for twenty minutes he rolls over and awkwardly punches Geno's shoulder. "Go to sleep. Okay?"

Geno can feel himself blushing. "Okay."

They're quiet the next morning. Sidney eats breakfast with him, and they trade showers and get ready to go together. Finally, Geno's mom drives them to the rink.

"Okay," Sidney says. "I have to make a speech or something, huh."

"Something," Geno agrees.

"Right." They go in together.

As they're all getting ready, Sidney clears his throat and says, "Um, so. Let's kick their asses."

"Dude, yes," Jordy says.

And that's that. They go out, and Geno's certain some sort of disaster will strike, but they get a goal in the first and two more in the second and Flower doesn't let in a single shot. Geno feels like his chest is constricting as the game goes on, and on, until finally the clock is winding down from twenty seconds to ten to zero and they've won in a 3-0 shutout.

Geno doesn't hesitate: he goes straight for Sid, throwing his arms around him. "To championship!" he yells, laughing as Tanger and Alex come over, and then the benches are clearing and they're celebrating because, shit, they're going to the national championships.

"This is as good as it gets!" Jordy yells.

"No, championship is," Alex says. "We gonna go to the championship! Gonna win!"

Everyone yells in agreement. Geno meets Sidney's eyes and smiles; Sidney smiles back.

Yeah, Geno thinks. They're gonna win.