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Sidney doesn't actually expect anything to happen. It's him, Flower, Max, and Pascal, and even Pascal is pretty drunk. They're goading Sidney about finally moving out of Mario's, and about how Sidney's never going to eat anything but takeout. Sidney's arguing that he's fine, that everything works fine, and is proving his point by drinking more, until he's just as shitfaced as everyone else. But they're still giving him shit about how empty his place is, and how it's kind of dirty, and how it looks like an overgrown dorm.

And somehow, they get drunk enough and do enough stupid Google searches for maid services that it just seems really smart to order a Russian bride.

So no, he's not expecting anything to happen. He's really, really not expecting a gangly, awkward guy to show up on his new doorstep with a rolling suitcase and a letter from the Russian company he placed an order with. He hadn't even noticed they'd charged his bank account.

"Uh," Sidney says. The guy's really pale and doesn't look like what Sidney imagines a mail order Russian would look like. "What?"

"Sidney?" The guy taps the letter Sidney's holding. "Here."

Sidney reads it again. It doesn't get any less weird. The letter congratulates him on his purchase and says they hope he's satisfied. This can't possibly be legal.

And the guy must not have anywhere to stay. Shit. "Um, come in, I guess," Sidney says, standing aside.

If the guy is nervous, he doesn't show it. He brushes past Sidney, stopping in the hallway. "I cook. Clean."

"And you have to stay here. Did you think you were getting a girl? Oh, God." Sidney feels kind of cold and clammy. But he's not going to panic yet. He can call them and make them take him back, probably. Even if it's illegal human trafficking. He definitely can't marry him, so they have to take him back.

As it turns out, though, they don't have to take him back at all. Sidney makes the guy sit down while he tries to call the agency, and no one answers the phone. There's no contact information on the website. Sidney's stuck with this guy.

"Okay," he says, staring at him. The guy's perched on the edge of the couch, looking nervous. "I guess I should - hi. I'm Sidney. Um, I play hockey."

"Sidney," the guy says, nodding.

Why couldn't they have given him someone who speaks English? "What's your name?"

The guy frowns a little. "My - name?"

"Yes," Sidney says, feeling a little snappish. "Your name."

"Evgeni," the guy says. "My name Evgeni."

Evgeni. Sidney turns it over in his head a few times. "Evgeni?"

Evgeni laughs and shakes his head. "Geno," he says, pointing to himself.

Sidney blinks. Evgeni - Geno - has a nice and relaxed laugh for someone who's just been human trafficked. "Geno?"

Geno smiles. "Yes."

"I - okay," Sidney says, trying his best to smile back.

He has morning skate the next morning, so he makes up the guest bedroom early, while Geno hovers anxiously and looks guilty. He's not expecting for Geno to be up the next morning, or for him to hand Sidney a protein shake as he's getting ready to leave. "You really don't have to," he says, but Geno just smiles and waves.

He doesn't really want to go home with Geno just hanging around, waiting for him, but he needs his pre-game nap. He can't break his routine.

Geno greets him at the door. "I have to nap," Sidney says. "I have a game."

"Okay, Sidney," Geno says, and goes out to the living room. He's - Sidney stares. Is he cleaning? Sidney's only lived here for two months. It's not that dirty.

Sidney needs to nap, though, so he lets it go and goes upstairs.

He's nervous as he lies there in bed. Geno's touching his stuff. What if he decides to steal it? Okay, so not speaking English means it would probably be pretty hard to sell his stuff, but maybe he could just wander around and say "Sidney" until...

It's probably a good thing that he falls asleep then. Sidney gets the feeling he's probably being a little crazy.

Geno's sitting in the living room when Sidney gets up from his nap. Sidney has no idea how long he's been sitting there or if he's done anything but sit with his hands in his lap. But as he's going to leave - early, as always - he feels a twinge of guilt. "Hey," he says.

"Hey?"

"Hi," Sidney clarifies. "You can - you can watch TV, I guess. I have a lot of channels. And video games, but they won't teach you English."

Geno's brow is furrowed, but he doesn't look like he's frowning directly at Sidney, so Sidney assumes he's talked too much and confused Geno again. "TV," he says, pointing at the remote.

Geno looks down at it and says a word Sidney doesn't know.

Sidney waits until he looks back up and then shakes his head. Geno sighs, and for a second a weird expression is on his face - kind of regretful. Sidney has to ignore how it makes him feel bad for Geno, because Sidney's the one who has to take care of Geno now. He's the wronged party here.

"Goodbye," he says clearly, and escapes before he can offer Geno a car out of guilt or something.

He's not off during the game, but that's only because if there's one thing that Sidney's trained himself to do, it's to never let what's going on in his life interfere with his game. After they beat the Thrashers three to one, though, he's even quieter than he normally is. He can't stop thinking about Geno. How's he going to put up with someone else in his space? It's not like he can do anything else. Sure, he's got the money to put Geno up in a hotel, but Geno doesn't speak English and he's stuck in the US. It's not fair to him to isolate him in a hotel.

"You okay?" Flower says, nudging him.

Sidney ruins any cool he might've had by jumping before he nods. "Yeah, I'm just - distracted." He puts his shirt on. "I'm going to head home, I think."

"You sure? We're going out."

Sidney always gets these invitations. People are still weirdly careful with him when they're not making fun of him, even though he's the Captain and people are...well, used to him, Sidney's pretty sure. "Thanks, but I'm tired. I'm going to go home." And see how my pet Russian husband is doing.

"Sure thing," Flower says, and leaves it at that.

Dread builds in the pit of Sidney's stomach as he drives home. What if Geno's not there? What if he decided to try his luck - Sidney doesn't know. Somewhere not Sidney's house? Plenty could go wrong.

He's so tense when he walks into his house that when Geno calls, "Sidney?", Sidney yelps and drops his keys.

"I'm here!" he calls, grabbing them quickly and hoping he doesn't look too embarrassed.

"Hello, Sidney," Geno says carefully, coming down the hallway. His pronunciation is awful, but it's good that he's making an effort, Sidney guesses.

"Hi," Sidney says. "Uh, I'm home from - work." Does Geno even know who he is?

He's surprised when Geno nods. "Sidney Crosby. Hockey."

All Sidney can think of to say is, "Oh."

"TV. Sidney Crosby." Geno half-frowns in a way that's already familiar. Sidney thinks he might be trying to think of the words. "I watch. Russia."

"Oh." Sidney's not embarrassed. There's nothing to be embarrassed about. He's just surprised. "Okay. Um. I'm tired, so..."

Geno just watches, face politely inquisitive. Maybe Sidney can get him English lessons or something. "Tired," Sidney says. "Um, sleep."

Awareness dawns. "I go," Geno says, coming towards him.

"No! No!" Sidney stumbles back before he can stop himself. "Not like that, we're not - I wouldn't - God, I didn't even think this thing was real, and -"

Geno's just standing there, waiting. Watching him. How bad does your life have to be before you sign up for this?

"No," Sidney says finally, more together. "Alone."

Geno looks dubious, but he nods. Sidney doesn't even know if he knows what 'alone' means, but hopefully, all the times he said no are sinking in.

He thinks over his problem as he's trying to go to sleep. He can't get Geno English lessons; he's worried people would start asking questions, and anyway, Geno doesn't drive. Sidney can't be picking him up from his English classes every day. But eventually, Geno needs to learn enough English that he can explain to Sidney why in the world he was a mail order bride. Especially since eventually, he needs to go home. Or...somewhere that's not Sidney's house.

For a minute he toys with the idea of asking Gonch to translate for him the next time he's in town, but how is Sidney going to explain? This has to stay a secret.

He feels bad for Geno, but he feels almost as bad for himself. By the time he manages to fall asleep, he doesn't have a single answer.

The next morning, he gets up early and goes to Best Buy. If he can't actually give Geno English lessons, then he can do the next best thing. Geno's up and about when he gets home, so Sidney motions him to come to the kitchen table and points to the box. "Computer."

Geno frowns. "Sidney?"

"Computer," Sidney says again. "For you."

Geno says something in Russian. He sounds frustrated. "No."

This would be easier if Sidney knew that Geno knows what he's saying no to. He picks the box up and tries to hand it to Geno.

But Geno won't take it. Okay; he knows. "For English," he tries. "Look, I have enough - it's not a big deal." It's a nice computer, but Sidney's not going to buy him some piece of shit that will break in five minutes. He needs it, and Sidney got them into this mess. It's his responsibility. "Just take it." He holds it out again.

Geno shakes his head. "No."

Damn it. "Take it," Sidney says for a third time. This time, though, he adds, "please."

It must be one of the words they taught him, because after a few minutes of looking completely exasperated, Geno takes the computer. "I thank," he says.

Sidney's a little nervous, because he doesn't want Geno to try to do something husband-y to thank him. All Geno does, though, is grab Sidney's hand and shake it.

His hands have calluses. Sidney pulls his away quickly. "You're welcome," he says. "I have to go in a little while, but let's get this set up, eh?"

It's not hard. Half an hour later it's connected to the Internet. "So...do what you want, I guess," Sidney says. He's going to get sites for learning English from Gonch today. Gonch can ask questions all he wants, but he's in Ottawa; it's not like he can storm into Sidney's house and find out that Sidney's keeping his own pet Russian.

Geno spends a few minutes poring over the computer. His shoulders relax enough that Sidney realizes they've been in a semi-permanent hunch since he got here. Sidney wonders if he even relaxes when Sidney's gone, or if he just cleans and doesn't do anything else.

Eventually he has to go to practice. He calls Gonch in the car on the way over. "Sidney. What's up?"

"I have kind of a stupid question."

"I love stupid questions. Shoot."

"Taylor has a friend who, um, is...doesn't know English very well. There are online things for that, right?"

"Taylor has a friend who doesn't speak English? Really?"

"Yeah. A, um, transfer student." Gonch never went to Shattuck-St. Mary's; it could be true.

"Weird."

Sidney starts to panic a little when he doesn't say anything else. After a second, though, he says, "I don't know. Rosetta Stone, maybe? Or one of those community sites. LiveCoffee or whatever it is."

"Thanks," Sidney says. "How's, um, everything?"

Gonch laughs. "You're in the car, Sid. We'll catch up some other time, yeah?"

"Okay." At least no one can see how embarrassed he is. "Thanks."

"Any time," Gonch says, and hangs up.

Sidney sleepwalks through practice a little. He doesn't mean to; it just kind of happens. Everyone notices that he's being weird, but luckily Sidney has a lot of latitude on how weird he can be before people think there's actually something wrong.

And there's not something wrong. Well, there is, but it's not like his mom has cancer, or something. He just made a huge mistake with the most lasting consequences of his life, that's all.

When he gets home, he's tired and ready for a nap. This morning's dishes have been done, and it looks like Geno's vacuumed again. And he meets Sidney at the door.

"You really don't have to do this," Sidney says, but he lets Geno hang up his coat, hoping it makes him feel better.

"I on computer," Geno says slowly.

"Oh. That's good! That's really good. I have some stuff, maybe, for you to check out."

Geno doesn't say anything, so Sidney brushes past him - he stands really close, and Sidney can't tell if he's trying to implicitly offer something or if he's just kind of weird - and goes out to the living room. The computer's there, with a bunch of tabs open in Russian. Sidney bypasses all of them to google Rosetta Stone.

You can buy it all online, which is good. "Um, wait here," Sidney says, and goes to get his wallet.

When he gets back, though, Geno's sitting on the couch and he's closed the tab. "Hey," Sidney says. "I was going to -" He waves his wallet.

"Money," Geno says, sounding deeply disapproving.

"I bought you a computer! I can afford English lessons."

"English?" Geno says, looking back to the computer.

"Yes."

Geno sighs. "Okay," he says, and moves out of the way.

Five minutes later, Geno has Rosetta Stone. "Okay," Sidney says. "I'm going to go take a nap now."

"Nap. Sleep?" Geno says.

"Yes," Sidney says. He has to restrain the urge to say 'good job'. Geno wouldn't appreciate it, he's pretty sure, even if he did understand.

When he comes back downstairs, there's a vaguely Italian smell emanating from the kitchen. Sidney sighs. He's not really looking forward to telling Geno he can't eat whatever he's cooking.

Geno's puttering around the kitchen, grating cheese and stirring some sauce, when Sidney comes in. "Sit," Geno says when he sees him.

Sidney's surprised enough to obey without question. "I cook," Geno says, gesturing expansively.

"I, um, I see that."

"You eat." Geno holds out a finger. "Is good. For hockey."

"It really doesn't look like it."

"Is good, Sid," Geno says.

Sidney wants to sulk or something, but he kind of can't, given that Geno won't understand anything he tries to say. He sighs. "Okay."

Geno nods and goes back to working.

Sidney's pretty sure he's been dismissed, but he'd feel weird about going out to the living room with Geno cooking in his kitchen. So he pulls out his phone and texts Colby back about the picture of his daughter he sent, and watches Geno.

Fortunately, Geno doesn't seem to mind being watched. He looks pretty competent, too. Sidney's eyes follow the movement of his hands as he lifts the cheese and puts it in a bowl, and then starts tearing lettuce apart for a salad. He's...

Okay, fine. Sidney's not going to lie to himself. He's not hot, but there's something that - Sidney gets it. Why someone might, if they were a bad person, take advantage of this.

Not that he's going to. He's not. But whoever tricked Geno into doing this, or blackmailed him, or whatever, probably saw it too.

He doesn't realize he's staring until Geno says, "Not like?" and motions to the lettuce.

"Oh. No, no, it's fine, I was just - " Staring at his hands like a creepy asshole. "Never mind."

Geno shakes his head, smiling a little, and goes back to working. Sidney determinedly switches his thinking to the game against the Flyers that's coming up. No one likes the Flyers, so it's easy to do.

After another half hour, Geno washes his hands and says, "Good." Sidney's not sure what it means in that context until Geno goes out into the living room. Feeling more like a tool than he normally does, Sidney follows.

Geno sits down with the computer, and Sidney turns on the TV. He hopes Geno's figured out that it's fine if he emails family and stuff. Sidney doesn't want him to be even more isolated than he already is.

To his surprise, though, Geno starts reading sentences out loud. "I go to the store. He goes to the store. They go to the store." He looks up at Sidney. "We go to the store."

"Um, good job?"

Geno smiles. "No, Sid. We go to the store."

Sidney tries to remember the last time he went grocery shopping. Before their last road trip, he thinks. Maybe. "Oh. Yeah, sure."

Geno goes back to his computer. This time, he doesn't say anything out loud, but when Sidney glances over, he's mouthing words, eyes intently focused on the screen.

It's nice. It means that eventually, they're going to be able to have a conversation. Sidney would really like to know how in the world he ended up being sold like he did. Or "voluntarily entering into a mutually agreed-upon partnership", which is what the website said.

When dinner's done, they eat at the kitchen table together. Sidney hardly ever eats at his kitchen table, so he spends a lot of time staring at it and wondering why he got such an ugly one. Geno seems happy to just eat. Then again, Sidney has no idea what he'd do if he wanted to do something else.

Geno clears the table and does the dishes while Sidney does his best to keep him company. Silently. He's pretty sure he does a bad job, but at least he recognizes that Geno would be freaked out if he tried to do the stuff for him. He's getting way better at dealing with people, he's pretty sure.

Which is good, since he has one living with him, and all.

"You're with us, right?" Max says the next day.

"Huh? Yeah, totally."

"Come on, man," Max says. "What's up? Girl problems?"

"Ummmm." Sidney stares at his skates. Maybe saying yes will be realistic? Possibly?

"It's not drugs, is it?"

"Hah, hah," Sidney says weakly.

"Wait, is it worse than drugs?"

Max was there when he made the order. He could tell him, and then he'd get made fun of a lot, but then someone else would know.

The problem with that is, Sidney knows they'll tell him he should go to the police and send Geno back to Russia. And it's not like Sidney knows a lot about Russia, but he really doubts the company, whoever they are, would be pleased if Geno was deported. They might hurt him. Sidney's just against people being hurt, generally.

And he has a sneaking suspicion that something has happened to Geno. His family's fallen on hard times or something. No, Sidney's not going to jeopardize things by telling someone.

"No," Sidney says. "I don't know, I think I might be coming down with something."

"Don't get sick till after the game," Max says, clapping him on the back.

So much for maybe unloading on someone else. "I'll do my best," Sidney says, and goes back to taping his stick.

They lose. Worse, Sidney doesn't get on the board at all. He's so frustrated afterwards that he's practically vibrating with it, and he's pretty sure he'll snarl at the first person who tries to say anything remotely nice to him.

So of course the first thing Geno says when Sidney gets home is, "Sorry, Sid."

"It's not your fault," Sidney snaps.

Geno looks startled. "Sid -"

"Leave me alone." He throws his stuff down and goes upstairs.

And, God, he's hiding from Geno in his room, like some kind of teenager. He can't even be mad at Geno, because it's obvious he's doing his best. He just doesn't know Sidney. And Sidney can't fault him for that. Actually, Sidney can't fault him for anything, because all of this is unambiguously Sidney's fault.

He can't even complain to anyone. He's going to tire himself out, even, with how much he's whining, and he can't shift it off onto anyone else. This sucks. This sucks so bad.

Eventually, though, it sinks in that he's been kind of a dick. He sighs and gets up, going downstairs.

"I'm sorry," he forces himself to say. He doesn't want to say it - it sucks - so it kind of comes out of him in a burst.

Geno looks up. "Sorry?"

Sidney nods.

Geno goes over to his laptop, open on the table, and types a few things. After a minute he looks up. "Is okay, Sid."

It's really not, but there's no way Sidney's not going to take the out. "Okay," he says, smiling narrowly. "So..."

"Need sleep," Geno says.

He's right, but Sidney doesn't like being mothered. "I'm going to watch some TV first," he says, narrowing his eyes at Geno.

They've got a road trip in three days, but Geno will need to eat when Sidney's gone. So after Sidney fumbles his way through an explanation, they go to the grocery store.

Sidney doesn't live that close to anyone else, so there's no reason he'd be spotted at Whole Foods. And, sure, a few people will stop him for autographs, but he can just say Geno's a friend staying with him and that will be that. If people even ask, which they probably won't.

So there's nothing to worry about. That doesn't stop him from being jumpy, right from the second they get out of the car.

"Is okay, Sid," Geno says as they walk across the parking lot. He bumps Sidney a little.

It's friendly, but Sidney panics and takes a huge step away from Geno. From the look on Geno's face, he's more amused than anything else, but Sidney's still kind of ashamed. And cranky. "Let's just go," he snaps, doubling his pace.

His plan was to let Geno do the shopping, but he doesn't realize until they get inside that Geno's going to have a little trouble with that since he doesn't speak much English. Luckily, Geno has a system. He folds a sheet of paper in half - Sidney gets a glimpse of English on the side he folds down - and reads the first item of the list. It's written down in Russian, but when he glances up, he says, "Bread."

Sidney's kind of impressed in spite of himself. He leads the way to the right aisle.

They keep going like that, and the only word Geno has to check is "spinach". Sidney doesn't know what he's planning on doing with half the food they buy, but since Geno's shockingly good at cooking for an NHL player, he's not going to ask questions. A few times, people stop him for autographs, but no one asks about the awkward guy he's shopping with.

By the time they're wheeling the full cart out to Sidney's car, Sidney's feeling more than a little cheated. It's not like he wanted some big dramatic scene, but he was prepared. What actually happened was just a letdown.

"Help," Geno orders, loading things into the car.

Sidney blinks. He's pretty sure this isn't how Russian mail-order brides are supposed to act. It's a nice change from Geno's hunched-shoulder routine he's still in most of the time, though, so Sidney does what he says.

He's had worse trips to Whole Foods, he guesses. Maybe after a few more times, Geno will be able to go alone.

He tries not to be nervous about the road trip. Being nervous isn't going to help anything, for one. And the Penguins need him. Plus, Geno's not a child, and as far as Sidney can tell, he's not stupid. He's not going to, Sidney doesn't know, burn down the house, or something.

Oh God, what if he does burn down the house?

No. That's ridiculous. Sidney's going to stop worrying. Sidney's -

"Morning skate's not till morning, man," Max says, poking his head in. "If you don't come out with us, Pascal'll do nothing but tell you stories about his brats."

"I like kids," Sidney says defensively.

"Oh, come on."

Sidney knows everyone's noticed something is up, so he says, "Fine, whatever. Give me a second."

"If you put your dress shirt back on, we're stripping you naked and leaving you in an alley," Max says, but he leaves.

Sidney hesitates for a few minutes before picking up his phone and calling his land line. He needs to get Geno a cell phone.

To his surprise, Geno picks up. "Hello?"

"Geno, hey."

"Sid."

There's an awkward moment of silence that stretches out for long enough that Sidney remembers that oh, right, Geno speaks hardly any English. "Um, I was just calling to check in?"

"Good. I good."

Sidney has no idea if Geno understood him or if he's just guessing at why Sidney called. "Good, that's - that's good."

"Game tomorrow. Good luck."

"Thanks," Sidney says, a little surprised in spite of himself.

"Okay, bye," Geno says, and hangs up on him.

Sidney blinks at his phone. Well, then.

Sidney really doesn't feel like going out, but he probably should, before the guys get suspicious and try to sit him down for an intervention or something. He follows Max's orders and doesn't put a dress shirt on, but he doesn't dress up or anything.

The bar they go to is the right mix of casual and upscale. Sidney can feel himself relaxing as he slides into his chair.

"Goddamn," Max says, sitting down next to him. "I hope they have nice bathrooms."

Sidney rolls his eyes. "Is sex all you think about?"

"Come on, look at her and tell me you think of something else," Max says, nodding at a girl near them.

"You're not planning on having sex in the bathroom," Benny says. "Are you?"

"Calm down, Reverend," Max says.

"It's not like you haven't been out with us before," Flower says, nudging Benny. "Anyway, tits out to there, who wouldn't want to -"

"Guys," Sidney says. It comes out way whinier and less Captain-y than he wanted.

"Guys," Jordy says, sitting down. "Guys."

"Oh, fuck off," Sidney says, but he can't help but laugh.

His team is great. They really are. They're great enough that Sidney's mind, for awhile, goes off Geno. Especially when they practically shove him at this girl named Amber, because, "she's got a mouth that's like yours, bro, come on, and that ass." She's pretty, Sidney guesses. It's not like he's never picked up in bars before. Not often, and the girl usually has to drag him back to his own room, but he's done it. He's competent. Kind of.

And she's nice. They talk about hockey, and she has some actual opinions, and laughs at him when he gets too excited. Sidney could totally take her back to the room. Pascal would clear out. And then...

"Hey," she says, leaning in. "Want to get out of here?"

"Um," Sidney says, his plans scattering in his mind. She smells really good, and her mouth is right there.

And he's married. It shouldn't matter - he's kind of pissed at himself that it does - but there it is.

"I can't," he says. "I'm sorry."

"Seriously?"

"Yeah." Sidney nods for emphasis. "Really. Sorry."

She smiles a little. "It's cool. Have a good night."

Then he's alone - at least, for as long as it takes Jordy to slide into the seat next to him. "Dude, what was that? What did you say?"

"Nothing!" Sidney says. "I just wasn't - she was really shallow, okay?" He feels like a dick the second he says it, because she actually wasn't. Not any more shallow than anyone else at the bar, at least.

"Yeah, because when I'm going to bang someone, I'm like, but how do they feel about Mozart and child hunger?" Jordy rolls his eyes. "Admit it, she didn't know enough about hockey."

It's way less embarrassing than the truth, actually, so Sidney says, "We can't all have sex with everyone who doesn't have a disease."

"Hey now," Jordy says. "Almost everyone."

"Whatever." Sidney's enjoyment in the night has completely disappeared. "I should probably go."

"Nah, come on. Get a beer, hang out. You don't have to pull if you don't want to."

"Yeah, because you guys will really leave me alone if I don't."

Jordy claps him on the back. "Simmer down, dude. We won't get on you if you don't want us to."

And, okay, maybe he is being a little whiny, but he's stressed. He sighs. "Okay, okay, fine. Sorry, I guess."

"You're such a dick," Jordy says, but Sidney's pretty sure he's forgiven.

He has a fun time the rest of the night, kind of. Well, he doesn't have a terrible time. It would actually be really great if he could stop thinking about Geno, but no such luck. He's just a little worried, is all.

It's a relief when the road trip ends - with two victories and one loss for the Penguins, too - and Sidney can go home. He's half worried that, he doesn't know, he'll find Geno's body being eaten by cats he doesn't actually have, or something. But what actually happens is he lets himself in quietly and, before he can call out that he's home, he hears Geno saying, "My favorite food is spaghetti. Hello. How are you."

It makes him smile a little. Geno's accent is terrible, but in kind of a great way. "I'm home," he calls out, setting his bag down.

"Sid?" Geno comes out into the foyer. "Hi."

"Hey." Sidney hates how he can feel himself get more and more awkward with every second that passes. "How, um, how are you?"

Geno tilts his head. He's looking at Sidney kind of weirdly, Sidney thinks. "You win games. Happy?"

"Yes," Sidney says. "You?" He's not going to let Geno just not tell him if things were terrible.

"Quiet. Learn more." Geno shrugs. "Clean."

Sidney's house wasn't this clean when it was brand new and he was moving in, he's pretty sure. "Oh. Well...good."

"Look tired," Geno says. "Go bed."

"Oh, no, I'm fine - hey!"

Geno doesn't let go of Sidney's luggage. "Follow," he says, and sets off up the stairs.

His pants are tight. Sidney looks away guiltily.

"Sleep," Geno says, setting Sidney's bag down. "Wake up tomorrow, I cook. New food."

"I eat protein shakes for breakfast."

"Protein," Geno repeats. Sidney has no idea if it's supposed to be agreement or not. Probably not, he thinks darkly. Geno likes to bully him.

"Okay," he says. "Sure, fine. Only I guess I'm going to bed now?"

Geno brushes past him, back out into the hallway. "Is good to see you, Sid," Geno says carefully.

He thinks about Geno alone, practicing talking so he could say what he probably just thinks Sidney wants to hear. Sidney's stomach twists. "It's good to see you too," he says.

Geno smiles a little and leaves.

Sidney sits down hard on the bed. He missed Geno, he realizes. And -

Geno has a nice smile.

He shakes his head. No. Geno does have a nice smile, okay, sure, but it doesn't matter. Geno's life is screwed up and it's at least partly Sidney's fault. He's not going to do anything but try to be a good friend - sponsor - person to Geno. That's what his marriage is going to be. Geno's smile and his ass don't matter.

Sidney has a better ass anyway, he thinks sullenly.

He really is tired, though, so he strips his clothes off and crawls into bed. He'll just take a little nap before he finds something to eat. Or Geno feeds him, whichever.

Geno's right, though, and he sleeps through the night. He wakes up once at around 3 AM and goes to the bathroom, and on impulse, he pokes his head out of his bedroom afterwards. He doesn't know what he's expecting to see; the hallway's dark.

Then he spots it: at the very end of the hallway, in Geno's room, there's the glow of a screen.

Sidney creeps down the hallway. He feels really bad for doing it, but what if Geno's still awake? If he's having insomnia, Sidney should know about it so Geno can go to a doctor. Or...something.

But when he gets to Geno's room and looks in, Geno's asleep. He's sprawled out awkwardly on the bed, hugging a pillow, with his legs poking out of bunched-up blankets. He's frowning a little, and one arm is thrown out across the bed.

Sidney's almost positive he doesn't make a noise. He looks over at the computer and thinks about going over to turn it off, and then when he looks back, Geno's eyes are open and he's looking at Sidney.

"Oh, sorry," Sidney whispers. "I'm just going to..."

Geno untangles himself from the blankets and stands up while Sidney stares. "Sid," he says, taking a step forward.

"No, no, it's fine," Sidney says. "I was just going to - I saw the light, and I thought you might be awake, and really, there are treatments for insomnia, you should be able to get a good night's rest - Geno!" He's too close now. Sidney takes a step back, but he's angled weirdly and he winds up with his spine against the door jamb.

"My room," Geno says.

Sidney doesn't know why it sounds like a question. Of course it's his room. "Yeah, your room. I'm sorry, I just -" Geno's not that much taller than he is, but Sidney's still looking up at him. And he's too close, and -

It really isn't surprising at all when Geno kisses him.

Sidney's breath hitches and he tries to step back, but he's still pressed against the door frame and he can't. He lifts his hands, meaning to push Geno away, but only succeeding in holding on to Geno's shoulders. Geno's kissing him like he's never wanted to do anything else, and Sidney's head is spinning a little. He's not even completely convinced he's awake.

It isn't until Geno drops to his knees that Sidney remembers that they're married, and it's Sidney's fault, and that Sidney can't take advantage of him. He pushes Geno away, kicking his knee a little in his effort to get away. "No," he says. "I thought - I'm going to go."

Geno frowns a little, but he doesn't stand up. Sidney swallows hard and looks away. "No," he says again. It feels like he never says anything else these days. "I'm sorry," he adds, and practically runs down the hall.

Three people have kissed him in his life when he was sober enough to actually be into it. One was a girl at a bar; one was a guy at a bar; one was a guy named Todd, who Sidney knew at Shattuck-St Mary's. None of them were anything close to Geno just now. Geno was - he felt desperate, Sidney thinks, and angry. And somehow it was still better than all of Sidney's old kisses combined.

Sidney's pretty sure that's not what made it better, but it doesn't matter. It's inappropriate for him to feel like this.

He forces himself to fall back asleep, because he can't afford to stay awake like this when he's just gotten back from traveling and has practice in the morning. When he wakes up at five-thirty, though, he knows he won't be able to get back to sleep.

His usual stress relief method would be going for a run, but it's cold, so he has to settle for the bike in his weight room. He locks the door after a moment's hesitation. It'll probably make Geno feel safer, he thinks bitterly. It's not Geno's fault, but it's not Sidney's, either.

Except for how it is. He sighs and gets on the bike, going faster than his trainer would probably advise. Sidney's not thinking about his trainer, though. He's thinking about Geno, and what Geno must have thought to make him kiss Sidney like that.

Sidney's not naive. He knows the tight set of Geno's shoulders and the way he watches Sidney all the time whenever Sidney's in the room are because Geno's worried that Sidney will take advantage. Sidney wishes he'd already been able to show Geno that he's not like that, but he knows that's not really fair. Geno doesn't trust him and Sidney knows it. He's known it, so really, there's no reason for him to be upset.

And he's pretty sure it's a really asshole kind of thing to be upset by. Geno was probably way more upset when he thought Sidney was coming into his room to ask for...God. Sex. Sidney would never, and he'd hoped Geno knew that. Except they've only known each other a few weeks, and for a lot of that Sidney hasn't even been around. So of course Geno doesn't know.

Sidney needs to get over it. He needs to apologize and try to forget about it. Eventually he and Geno will know enough English to be able to communicate, and he'll get to know Geno better, and then - well, then Geno will move out. But it'll get better. And most importantly, Geno won't be afraid or think he has to do things.

When he's finished on the bike and has showered, Geno is sitting out in the kitchen with his laptop. Sidney's legs ache, and practice today is going to be murder, but right then, he doesn't really care. "Geno."

Geno goes stiff. "Sid," he says cautiously.

"Listen." Sidney scratches his neck. "I, uh, I need to apologize. I need to say I'm sorry," he says, slowly and clearly. "Last night was wrong."

Geno frowns a little. And then, to Sidney's surprise, he pushes the computer across the counter to Sidney.

"Um," Sidney says.

He thinks that expression would be an eyeroll if Geno weren't kind of scared of him. Geno takes the computer back, clicks a few things, and then pushes it back at Sidney.

Oh. He has Google Translate up. Sidney feels kind of ridiculous for not thinking of it before. "Oh, right. Hang on." He types, "I'm sorry. I was wrong. I don't want that from you.", and then hits translate.

He's not expecting Geno to laugh when he reads it. "What?"

"Russian bad," Geno says.

"Yeah, well, that's why we haven't used it before," Sidney snaps.

"Thank you," Geno says. "Sorry."

"You don't need to apologize," Sidney says. "It's not your fault."

"Think wrong. Do wrong." Geno shrugs. "Sorry."

"It's okay," Sidney says awkwardly. Of course it was wrong. It was wrong. Sidney has to remember that.

"No." Geno gets up. "You run."

"Um, stationary bike."

"Before breakfast."

Sidney's never going to escape this, is he? "Just a little."

"Legs hurt?"

"No," Sidney says. Technically it's not a lie. They just feel kind of like pasta.

"Hmm," Geno says disapprovingly, and goes over to the cabinets.

Fifteen minutes later, he's shoving eggs and turkey bacon at Sidney. Sidney can eat it, but he doesn't want to. All this bossing around has made him feel contrary. "Eat, Sid," Geno says when Sidney doesn't pick his fork up.

"You don't have to cook for me, you know."

Geno tilts his head, looking at him. Sidney has to look away.

"I have to cook," Geno says, slowly and haltingly. "I sit, house. I learn. I cook. Get tired, no cook. Do none."

Sidney thinks it's a sign of how sad his life has become that he can mostly parse it. If Geno doesn't cook and clean, he'll just be bored from doing nothing. And it makes him feel so, so guilty. "Okay. Okay, I'll eat," he says, and digs in.

It's good, of course. It makes him kind of mad, how good it is. "Hey," he says afterwards. "Do you want to go for a run? Not now, but I mean...generally?" It would be hard, considering how much he's been trying not to look at Geno, not to notice that Geno's pretty fit. You don't get like that without working out. And it would give Geno something to do.

Geno looks outside, then back at Sidney. "Run?" Sidney nods. "Cold," Geno says.

"Um, treadmill? Elliptical? I have one. I have a whole room, actually. You don't understand me, do you." When Geno just blinks at him, Sidney says, "Follow me," and goes to the gym.

Geno must have been in here before - Sidney's pretty sure every inch of the house except Sidney's bedroom has been cleaned - but he steps in carefully, looking around.

"You can use this," Sidney says slowly.

"I use?"

"Yes."

"Okay." Geno smiles at him. "Thanks, Sid."

Sidney needs to find him more Russians. He just does. He'll figure out a way to do that without letting anyone know Geno's staying with him. "No problem," he says, and escapes.

 

Finding Russians is easier said than done, though. For starters, Sidney's really busy. They've got a back-to-back against the Rangers, and then another road trip. That takes up a week and a half. When he gets home, Sidney's exhausted. He knows Geno's been talking to his family using the cheap phone he brought with him, but he hasn't gotten out much at all, and Sidney's really worried about him.

So he does some research about Russian neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. Apparently there are a few. It'll be sort of weird to take Geno to a restaurant, but at least there he'll be able to speak Russian. Maybe he'll even make a friend. And...Sidney should really figure out a way for Geno to drive. He's got a fake license and everything.

Sidney didn't used to be a lawbreaker. Hell, he could probably get deported for all of this, too.

On an off day, he works out a little and then finds Geno in the rec room. "Hey. So, you've been here three weeks, and I was thinking..."

Geno looks at him expectantly. "We're going out to eat," Sidney says in a rush.

"To eat?"

"Yes. Out."

Geno does that thing where he turns the words over in his head and says, "Okay," setting the Xbox controller aside.

Sidney's fidgety driving them to the restaurant. It's just a little place on the South Side, but it might be fancy, or maybe it's actually a Russian place staffed completely by Polish people, or maybe -

"Stop worrying," Geno says.

Sidney goes still. Geno can't read him that well, he thinks sullenly.

They're seated right away, since Sidney called ahead. He thinks the waiter might recognize him, which would be a problem if he and Geno were actually doing anything couple-y. Geno's only just started relaxing around him again, though, and if Sidney's working a little hard to smile at Geno, he doubts it's really all that obvious to anyone else.

And Geno's not doing the thing where he makes Sidney laugh a lot, so they're okay on that end, too.

"Russian place," Geno says as soon as they've sat down. "Russian food." He looks around. "Russian women."

Sidney ignores the way his stomach twists. "That's the idea."

"Thank you," Geno says immediately. He nudges Sidney's foot with his own. "Now pierogies. I make you."

"They're bad for me," Sidney says. Also he doesn't speak Russian, so he doesn't even know what's good. The menu's in English, technically, but all the names of things are Russian. This is why Sidney doesn't eat out. Well, that and his dietary restrictions, which are -

"Can I get you anything to drink?" the waitress says in accented English.

Geno smiles up at her and says something in Russian. She looks surprised, but they end up talking for a couple of minutes, Geno saying a few things about Sidney that look like they might be jokes.

Sidney's not going to be weird about it, though. That would be ridiculous.

He sits patiently while they talk, but when she finally turns to him and says, "And anything for you, sir?"

Geno's giving him a weird look, so Sidney says, "Whatever he's having."

The waitress looks tolerantly amused. "Sure?"

"I'm sure," Sidney says firmly. He doesn't care what it is. He'll drink it.

It's not until the waitress leaves that Sidney says, "Um, what did you order?"

Geno's smile looks way too pleased. "Vodka."

"...oh."

He drinks. Sometimes. Well, more than sometimes.

Okay, no, not more than sometimes. He's going to tonight, though. Even if Geno spends all night drinking vodka and talking with the pretty waitress, Sidney can at least try to fit in.

He knows he's being kind of ridiculous, but he can't help it.

"How find?" Geno says, nodding at the restaurant.

"Um, I spent...awhile...looking for places." Three hours. Whatever. "You like it?"

Geno looks around. "Yes." He smiles. "Is Russian. So I like."

Sidney feels weirdly nettled. What, so he could have taken Geno to a Russian dive bar and he would have been happy? Maybe if there were Russian girls there, too.

"Hey," Geno says.

Sidney blinks at him. "What?"

"You like Russian food?" Geno says.

"Ummm," Sidney says.

"I cook you Russian food."

Sidney's pretty sure he's turning bright red. "You don't have to."

"Hockey players eat Russian. Russia give many. Ovechkin eat Russian."

"Ovechkin does a lot of things," Sidney says, frowning.

Geno roars with laughter. He's actually shaking, looking happier than Geno's ever seen him. Sidney doesn't get it. "No like Ovechkin?"

"He's okay," Sidney says. "He's good at hockey."

"Good at hockey. You like?"

Sidney's not sure they're talking about the same thing anymore. "People who are good at hockey are better than people who aren't."

Geno smiles. "Okay, Sid."

"Anyway," Sidney says. "She was nice."

He's getting used to the long pauses between what he says and Geno answering. "Nice. Yes. Parents Russian. American."

Sidney's not sure if that's a good or a bad thing. "But she speaks Russian."

"Yes," Geno says again.

Sidney's going to just have to learn to ignore Geno's smile.

"So...how's the English coming along?" Sidney says.

"Learning?"

Sidney nods.

"Slow," Geno says. "Frustrating. But I learn."

It's actually a lot more honest than Sidney was expecting. "That's, uh, that's good."

Geno nods. "Hockey?"

"We're third in the east. It could be a lot better. And our powerplay's terrible. Coach has been working on it, and I've been working on it, but I can't play the entire two minutes and we're just not connecting. Flower's having a hell of a year, though."

He guesses Geno understood maybe one word in ten. But Geno nods like he's happy with the conversation and takes another drink of vodka.

Sidney – well, no one's ever accused Sidney of being well-balanced. There's no way he's going to let himself be outdone by Geno. So he defiantly picks his vodka up and takes as long a drink as he can manage.

He doesn't sputter, but only because he clenches his jaw and breathes through his nose with his nostrils flared. He knows he looks stupid; even if Geno wasn't practically laughing at him, he'd know.

"I'm not always a walking comedy, you know," he says. "I've totally...picked girls up. I have."

"Girls?"

"They're great," Sidney says defensively. He's – he thinks he's bi, probably. Someday when he figures it out for real, he's going to sit down with Mario and have a talk about it. But in the meantime, he's happy with the few times he's slept with people, because that proves he's normal, kind of. More normal than Jordy's robot Sid jokes would indicate, anyway.

"Yes," Geno says, interrupting Sidney's thoughts. "Girls great."

It's not exactly the deepest conversation he's ever had. He plays with his napkin – his real, cloth napkin, since apparently they're classy Russians here – and then takes another long drink of vodka.

The waitress comes back to ask if everything's okay. Geno immediately starts talking to her, looking more animated than Sidney's ever seen him with Sidney himself.

It's stupid to be jealous, he reminds himself, and drinks some more.

"She go to school," Geno says when the waitress leaves. "Nice girl."

Sidney swallows hard. He's going to need to talk with Geno, he realizes. Maybe using Google Translate. About how...about how they're roommates, not married, and it's fine if he...whatever.

"So," he says. "You follow hockey?"

If Geno's annoyed by the subject change, he doesn't show it. "Hockey big in Russia," Geno says. His grin turns a little sly. "You not."

"Russia was knocked out early in the Olympics," Sidney snaps. He doesn't need to be a celebrity in Russia.

Geno laughs, sipping his vodka. He's had more than Sidney, but Sidney would bet he doesn't feel a little too warm. "Russia gonna medal. You see."

"Your faith is touching."

"I not know what that means," Geno says cheerfully. "English bad, Sid. Be better."

"You sound like this guy I know," Sidney says. "That's not a compliment."

"You know guy?" Geno raises his eyebrows. "He...great?"

Sidney doesn't need to know Geno very well to know exactly what he's asking. "No," he says, a little too loudly.

"Okay, okay," Geno says. "The kiss. Sorry."

"You already apologized for that," Sidney says. He drinks a little more. Their food needs to get here soon. "It doesn't matter."

"The...girl." Geno says a word in Russian, looking annoyed. "Bring food."

"The waitress."

"Waitress. We go to bar soon. You game at home. Drive?"

Driving Geno to a bar for a date with a Russian girl when he's not invited along is exactly the kind of thing Sidney was hoping would happen. He blames the vodka for the fact that he says, "You don't even know her."

"Don't know you. Is point. Yes?"

There's no amount of vodka in the world that would make Sidney into a big enough dick to turn Geno down. "Fine," he snaps.

Fortunately, just then, the food arrives. Geno really did order them pierogies. They look good, if kind of plain. Sidney smiles and thanks the waitress like he's being graded on niceness and then turns to the task of cutting his food up.

He's not drunk, but he's fumbly-tipsy. Geno grins when he finally gets his food cut up. "Now eat."

Sidney obeys, because otherwise he's a little worried Geno will call him a wimp and goad him into drinking the rest of the vodka on an empty stomach. He doesn't even think Geno knows the word for wimp, but he's pretty confident Geno would find a way.

The pierogies aren't the most amazing thing Sidney's ever had, but they're pretty good. Or, well, they'd be pretty good if Sidney wasn't starving and halfway to drunk. Actually, Sidney thinks shamefacedly, they're pretty amazing, all things considered.

Geno's still quietly laughing at him. "Good?"

Sidney nods, mouth full.

The place might be relatively upscale and very Russian in every way, but they've embraced the American tradition of providing way, way too much food. Or maybe it's a Russian tradition too, Sidney doesn't know. All he knows is that he thought, when the waitress brought the food, that there was no way he'd be able to eat all of it, and somehow he's managed to clean his plate.

He's sobering up, though, so that's good.

"I make Russian food more," Geno says.

It's a pretty impressively complete sentence, even if it does take him awhile to deliver it. Sidney has to squash the urge to tell him something stupid about how proud of him Sidney is. It's not like he's really had anything else to do but learn English.

As they're finishing up, it occurs to him that Geno never really answered his question about hockey. He means to ask again, but the waitress comes by and she and Geno chat for another five minutes. She puts her number into his phone while Sidney watches and tries hard not to death glare, and then they're ready to go.

Standing up isn't something Sidney actually expects to have trouble with until he tries to get up and finds himself plopping back down into his seat. "Oops," he says, and tries again.

This time he makes it upright. He really didn't think he drank that much vodka.

"Here," Geno says, coming around the table. He offers Sidney his arm.

They're in public, so Sidney really shouldn't. Also, he really shouldn't need it. And...

He may as well be honest with himself: he doesn't really need it. He just takes it anyway.

"You not Russian," Geno says as they walk out to the car. "Eat plate full of pierogi, still drunk. I drive."

"You've been drinking too."

Geno laughs a little. "Stopped."

Oh. Well, that's embarrassing. Sidney lets Geno help him into the car, since it would be even worse if he protested that he didn't need it and then wound up on the pavement, or something. He's never seen Geno drive, but he's going to have to just trust him. That, or have every story about the Penguins in the morning be about how Sidney Crosby was seen skulking around the South Side with an unidentified man.

By the time they get back to Sidney's, Sidney is feeling way more confident in his ability to walk like a person. He gets out of the car on his own power, before Geno can make it around to the passenger's side, and they walk up the sidewalk together. Sidney planned ahead, so he's got his keys out.

There's not a moment. There's really, really not. There's just Geno following him in, and then them both taking their shoes off, and Sidney becoming aware of how he can hear Geno breathing and Geno's really close.

Then Geno says, "Goodnight, Sid," and goes upstairs.

No offering of water or aspirin. No bullying him about when to go to bed. Sure, Sidney's sobered up, but still, he's surprised Geno's just going upstairs. Maybe he's picked up on how embarrassed Sidney is.

Sidney shrugs to himself and goes out to the kitchen to drink some water. He's going to need a lot before bed.

 

Geno's in the gym the next morning. Sidney only knows because the radio he was surprised to find out he owns is tuned to some talk show, and it spills out into the hallway. Sidney's sure if he told Geno, then Geno would turn it down. He doesn't say anything, just goes downstairs to get some breakfast.

He's not hungover, but he is a little groggier than he'd like, which is why when Geno wanders in post-shower, in a stupidly tight muscle shirt that's honestly not attractive at all, Sidney stares for a second instead of looking away.

"Oh," Geno says, catching sight of him. "Morning."

Sidney hurriedly chews and swallows. "Good morning."

"I wake?"

"No, no, I was – I mean, I'm not that hungover."

Geno's wearing his not-understanding expression. Sidney's not surprised when he doesn't answer. He goes back to eating and does his best to ignore Geno's arms. And the rest of him.

"Hey, man, you're coming out with us tonight," Jordy says after practice.

"I am?" Sidney says, then winces at how stupid he sounds.

Jordy snorts. "Dude, yeah. Come on, we're playing the Islanders tomorrow. Don't give me any bullshit about how your boyfriend needs you."

Sidney freezes. "My boyfriend?"

"Or your mysterious kitten you're not telling anyone about, or whatever's going on with you." Jordy holds up a hand. "I don't want to know, dude."

"I don't have a boyfriend."

"Whatever. I don't care if you have a kitten with one nut. The point is, you're coming out with us."

"Okay," Sidney says, because he knows there's really no arguing with Jordy.

"Awesome." Jordy claps his shoulder, then hesitates. "If you do have a boyfriend, we're not going to, like...pour pig blood on him if he comes."

Sidney stares at him.

"Carrie? No?"

"I don't have a boyfriend," Sidney says again.

Technically, it's true.

"Yeah, sure, totally," Jordan says, in the same tone he used to use when Sidney would insist he was totally fine with Jordan being a touchy drunk, no, really.

"Anyway," Sidney says. "I have to run. Um. Where are we going?"

"Chimney," Jordan says, "around nine?"

"Sure," Sidney says, and escapes.

He really doesn't want to go. He hasn't really had a chance to hang out with Geno in forever, and he's kind of excited, in a way, about getting to talk with Geno now that he knows a little more English.

He just wants to know Geno. At least a little.

When he gets home, Geno's talking to someone on his phone. Sidney really needs to get him a nicer one, he thinks absently.

He goes upstairs for a nap, but he winds up just thinking about Geno. He wonders if there's a way he can bring Geno out with the guys sometime, but even if that wouldn't confirm Jordy's boyfriend theory, he still can't really say, "This is my...Geno. He lives with me." And he'd say something exactly that stupid and awkward. He knows it.

He curls up on his side and closes his eyes. He doesn't think he's going to be able to sleep, but his phone goes off what feels like seconds later, an hour after he went upstairs.

When he goes downstairs, Geno's nowhere to be found. Sidney shrugs to himself and grabs some water.

Geno comes back inside as he's drinking. "Hey," Sidney says. "I'm going out tonight."

"Me too."

"Okay, cool, so I'll try to be quiet coming in - wait, what?"

Geno holds up his phone. "Anna. From restaurant. Pick me up. Okay?"

It's really, really good that Geno trusts him enough to ask this, Sidney reminds himself. "Do you need money?"

Geno looks away. "Have some."

That's not an answer. "I'm going to get you a credit card," Sidney says, mostly to himself. "Here," he says, and pulls out the forty dollars he was going to use at the bar. He can just use his credit card.

Geno shakes his head. "Is fine."

"No," Sidney says. "Take it."

"Sid -"

"Take it," Sidney says again, as firmly as he can.

Geno sighs a little and takes it, and Sidney tries not to think about the fact that he's basically paying Geno to go on a date with someone who's not him. "Okay, great," he says. "Um, I'm going to go get ready to go."

"Me too," Geno says again, smiling faintly.

"Cool," Sidney says. He gets the feeling he's mostly failing at not being awkward. "Okay. Great." He goes upstairs.

He doesn't do much, just gels his hair a little and puts on a decent shirt. He's got time to kill before they go out, so once he's done, he goes downstairs and turns on the TV.

Geno watches a lot of the Food Network. Sidney's not particularly interested in it, but he kind of wants to have something to talk to Geno about. So he watches it, even though he really doesn't understand the point of Cupcake Wars, or why there are so many cupcake stores around.

"You want me make cupcakes?"

Sidney turns around. Geno's standing there. He's wearing a nice shirt Sidney's never seen before, and his hair is gelled kind of strangely. "I can't eat them," Sidney says. He's pretty sure he sounds kind of snotty, but Geno should know that.

"Eat candy," Geno points out with a tiny smirk.

Sidney can feel himself turning red. "That's different."

"I make you cupcakes," Geno says, sitting down.

"I won't eat them," Sidney says sullenly.

Geno laughs. "Who think win?"

They all look ridiculous to Sidney. "The girl with the big bow?"

"Two dollars."

"Huh?"

Geno twists his mouth, looking for the right word. "I bet. Two dollars. Guy with hair win."

Sidney assumes he means the guy with the blue hair. But he's already panicking about his batter, or something, so Sidney's pretty sure he's toast. "You're on."

The guy with the blue hair gets out of the first round because he made a bacon banana cupcake that Sidney thinks sounds disgusting but the judges love. He's not sure he's really okay with the way the judges stare at all the contestants while they eat the food. Sidney doesn't really like people who stare at him like that, and cupcake makers probably have way fewer people staring at them on a regular basis than Sidney does.

When he tries to explain that, though, Geno stares at him for a few minutes before breaking out into laughter.

"Think a lot," Geno says. "Too much, Sid."

"It's true," Sidney says defensively.

"Tell me brains," Geno says, pointing at the TV.

Sidney stares at him uncomprehendingly.

For a second, an expression Sidney's never seen before is on Geno's face - an uglier, more obvious frustration than what he's used to. But Geno just says, "In head. On TV. Tell me what they think."

"Oh." Sidney looks over. "Well, the guy with the blue hair is nervous. The girl with the bow is calm. The woman with the glasses is too confident. And the woman with the corset thing is clueless."

Geno laughs. "Not many words."

Sidney shrugs. "It's Cupcake Wars, not a history of World War II."

"Sure," Geno says, and turns back to the TV. "You owe me."

"I do not - hey!" The girl with the bow is being sent home. An arugula and kale-frosted cupcake sounds delicious, Sidney thinks indignantly.

Well, actually, it sounds gross. But so do all the others.

"I don't," he says again. "The guy with the hair hasn't won yet."

But then, of course, he does.

"I win," Geno says, and holds out his hand, grinning.

It would be really bad to protest that he already gave Geno money, so Sidney grumbles, but he pays up. After that, he's going to suggest they turn on the Xbox, but Geno stands up and says, "I get ready."

Oh. Right. "Later," Sidney says, as casually as he can.

He doesn't look up at Geno, but he thinks Geno buys it. Either way, he leaves.

"Whoa," Jordy says when Sidney shows up at the bar, "you actually look good. What happened?"

Sidney glares and slides into the booth. "Nothing."

"Uh huh." Jordy burps. "Want a beer? Cookie's buying."

"No, I'm not," Matt yells from down the table.

"He is," Jordy says.

Sidney shrugs. "Sure."

They usually start out in a booth and then migrate as guys go off to hit on other people. What that means is that Sidney spends a lot of time alone in the booth, or with Dupuis, who's the kind of married that means he doesn't really even talk to other girls.

Today, though, the knowledge that Geno's out too, hanging out with a pretty girl who actually speaks his language, messes with him enough that he finds himself sliding out of the booth when even Jordy's still messing around with Flower and saying, "That girl over there looks single, right?"

Jordy cranes his neck really obviously. "Are you serious?"

Sidney shrugs.

"Damn. Uh, yeah."

"Awesome," Sidney says, and goes over to her, the same determination he gets during a game curling in his stomach.

"Hi," he says when he gets over to her. "Is this seat taken?"

She raises her eyebrows. "That depends. Is that your best line?"

"Um," Sidney says.

Talbot sidles in next to Sidney. "This is Sidney Crosby, by the way," he says. "He sucks at this kind of thing. I was sent to help out. He's got an Olympic gold and a Stanley Cup. Ask him about them." He claps Sidney on the back. "Good talk, buddy," he says, and leaves.

Sidney very carefully doesn't say anything stupid.

The girl actually laughs. "Sure, why not. Take the seat."

Even though Sidney's generally wary of people who are only into him because he plays hockey, she's really pretty and nice, so he says, "At least I didn't say 'come here often'."

"True," she says, tilting her head. "I have actually heard of you, you know."

They keep talking like that for awhile. She's really flirty, and Sidney keeps telling himself he's into it. He's bi, probably. And he's only known Geno for a month. He should be easy to forget.

When the girl says, "So. My place is nearby," though, Sidney hesitates.

"Or not," she says, pulling away.

Her name's Tracy, he reminds himself, and there's nothing wrong with sleeping with her. "Yeah, sure."

They start walking to her place. She shivers after half a block, and he debates with himself for a few seconds before putting an arm around her shoulders.

She leans into it, and they keep walking like that. They don't talk at all until she lets them into her apartment. And even then she just says, "Come here," and kisses him.

It's a nice kiss, Sidney guesses. It's not like kissing Geno was, but that's because he's weird about Geno. This feels good, though. She's a good kisser, and she doesn't laugh when Sidney takes a step forward and almost trips and falls. And when they pull away, she pushes his coat off and gets her hands under his shirt without being shy about it at all.

In fact, she does most of the work. She seems happy to push him around, and kiss him, and then eventually take him to bed and ride him. And it's good, actually, in a weird way. It gets a little strange afterwards when she wants to lie around and kiss, but when he sits up and starts putting his clothes back on, she just laughs.

"Sorry," he says, pulling his shirt on. "I just, um."

"It's fine. Some people aren't into the afterglow." She's watching him appreciatively, which makes him blush. "Do I want your number?"

It's kind of weird phrasing. He thinks about Geno, and about the fact that he travels all the time, and then about Geno again. "Probably not."

She tosses a balled-up sock at him. "Yeah, didn't think so. Let me let you out."

He gets a smack on the ass and a kiss before he leaves. It's - it's not that great, he thinks, going downstairs and trying to find a taxi. But it's not traumatizing or anything. It's way less fraught than when he did this when he was a rookie and trying to prove to the world that he could be normal.

Though tomorrow will be worse than when he was a rookie, because Jordy's on the team now and will give him hell.

He's not thinking about Geno at all when he gets into the cab. He's just not. So when he gets home and the house is dark, he doesn't think anything of it. Maybe Geno's still out with the Russian girl. He's trying hard not to care, and he thinks he's mostly succeeding.

Also, he just got laid, and he's happy about that.

He hangs around in the living room for a half hour or so, but Geno doesn't come home and Sidney's tired, so eventually he goes to bed.

When he wakes up the next morning, his room smells vaguely of coffee. He goes downstairs, and Geno presses a cup of coffee into his hands.

"Good morning," Sidney says, squinting at him.

"Have nice night?"

He had sex last night, Sidney remembers. "Um, yeah," he says, hoping he's not blushing.

He honestly can't read the look on Geno's face. "Good," Geno says, going over to the fridge.

"What about you?" Sidney forces himself to ask.

"Anna nice. Have fun."

"Good," Sidney says quickly. "That's really, um, good."

Morning has made them both stupid. Sidney frowns and drinks some more of his coffee.

After a few minutes, Geno says, "It was nice."

"Yeah?"

"She talk. I talk to her," Geno says slowly. "She remind me I not alone. I make sentences. See?"

Sidney's surprised to realize he actually does get it. "Yeah."

It's too bad there's no way he can really ask if Geno slept with her.

After a while, Sidney has to get ready for morning skate. He leaves without saying much more to Geno, turning over what Geno said on his way to the rink. It's not until he gets into the locker room that he remembers that he really obviously went home with a girl last night.

"Crosby!" Max yells. "Sid the Kid! You got laid!"

"I've never seen that before," Jordy says. "Did it grease your gears? Tickle your trackpad?"

"Lame, dude," Cooke says.

"Fuck you," Jordy says.

"He did it a few times when he was a rookie. I figured he realized he's a fucking terrible lay and decided to stop inflicting it on other girls." Flower smiles broadly at him. "She kicked your ass out, eh?"

"No, I just don't spend all night with my one night stands. We're not all clingy like you," Sidney says.

For once he manages the right mix of loftiness and joking tone, and Flower just laughs and goes back to getting ready. Sidney makes it over to his stall unmolested.

Of course, that means he gets to watch Ladd smirking at him as they get ready. "What?" Sidney says snappishly.

"Nothing," Ladd says. "Only, I was wondering if there are problems in the Crosby home."

"Everything's great," Sidney says quickly. Too quickly. Damn it.

"Uh huh. Now tell the truth."

"It's nothing," Sidney says. If he was going to tell someone, it would be Colby, or Mario. "Really. Just leave it alone, okay?"

Ladd narrows his eyes, then looks around the locker room. Everyone's acting completely normal, because it doesn't really register with them anymore when Sidney's weird.

"Okay," he says finally. "But you should come out with us more. Leave whatever's going on at home."

"Yeah, totally," Sidney says quickly, and starts undressing so people stop asking him questions.

He has no idea what Ladd thinks is going on, but it's probably way less crazy than the actual truth. He really should explain to the guys who were in the room that night that he actually is married now.

Only there's no way to really make that sound even remotely normal or okay.

The good thing about games, though, is that once he gets out onto the ice, everything else falls away. It doesn't really matter that they're only playing the Islanders. Hockey is hockey even if they were playing a peewee team, and hockey is the one thing Sidney's absolutely sure he understands.

Unfortunately, the game doesn't go well. Sidney's serving up passes to Kunitz the way he always does, but Kunitz can't finish - and to his frustration, neither can Sidney. Jordy's line gets a goal, but that's it for them, and the Islanders get the empty netter to make it 3-1.

Sidney's usual post-loss mix of anger and embarrassment is weighing pretty heavily on embarrassment, because it was the Islanders. And there's a lot of guilt in there, too. He shouldn't have gone out. He should've stayed in and gone over plays. If he had, maybe they wouldn't have embarrassed themselves.

A few of the guys are going out after the game, but no one even bothers asking Sidney if he wants to. He goes home immediately, slams his car door too hard, and stalks inside, hoping against hope that Geno won't be around.

Geno's waiting for him, though, holding a mug of - Sidney squints at it suspiciously. "What's that?"

"Tea. Sit."

"I'm tired, Geno. I'm going to bed."

"Not option, Sidney. I make tea. You drink. Now sit."

Sidney's first instinct when Geno touches his shoulder is to hit Geno, but he's got this creeping suspicion that Geno could take him. So instead he stomps into the living room and flops down on the couch. "Okay. Give it to me."

"Drink slow. Is hot." Geno hands him the tea, then sits opposite Sidney.

It is hot, but it's also, to Sidney's annoyance, good. It's too hot for him to gulp down, so he sips it while he glares at Geno.

Finally Geno says, "Is bad to lose."

"What do you know about it?" Sidney snaps.

Geno quirks a smile. "I not say. Before. I play hockey."

"This is different," Sidney says scornfully. It probably sucks to lose community rec group hockey in Russia, but this is the NHL.

He regrets saying it, though, when Geno's expression becomes shuttered. "Goodnight."

"Wait," Sidney says quickly, but Geno's already leaving. He throws up a hand in a half-hearted wave on his way out.

So now Sidney's doubly annoyed with himself and he's alone. He thinks about throwing the rest of the tea away, but can't shake the suspicion that somehow, Geno would know. So instead he sips it and sits in the mostly-dark living room, wondering how he's going to apologize.

In the end he just sits down with Geno for breakfast and says, "I'm sorry."

Geno looks up at him. He looks, to Sidney's embarrassment, a little surprised. Sidney doesn't think he's that much of an asshole. Normally. "Okay," Geno says finally. "Is okay."

Sidney nods and pokes at his eggs. He feels like he hasn't done enough, though. He should say something else. Something like...

"Hey, do you want to go skating sometime?"

"Hmm?"

"Skating. With, um, with me." They can go on a day off, when no one will be around. He won't get any grief from maintenance if he says he needs to practice.

For a second Geno looks almost hopeful. Then he shakes his head. "Bad idea."

"But you played hockey."

"In Russia. Bad idea...here." Geno shakes his head again. "No English. See? Bad idea."

"Skating is universal," Sidney says, and immediately feels like a jackass.

Geno smiles. It looks genuine, and not pissed, so Sidney's got that going for him, at least. "No, Sidney. Thanks. No."

Sidney digs into his eggs then, just to give himself something to do. It doesn't matter, he tells himself. It was just an idea. If Geno doesn't want to go skating, then that's fine. Sidney certainly doesn't need more practice.

Well, he does. He always does. But he doesn't need practice with Geno, specifically.

He just has practice that day. When he goes, he tries to subtly scope things out, to see if he could bring Geno. He's not very successful, though, because as they're getting ready, Ladd says, "Planning on robbing the place?"

"Of course not," Sidney snaps.

When he's checking out the ice and wondering if he can buy Geno some skates, though, Max says, "Damn, Ladd was right. You look like you're planning on kidnapping the rink or something. I know you love hockey, but don't you think that's taking it a little far?"

"Fuck off," Sidney says automatically, and the guys laugh.

Sidney knows it's not really realistic to think about taking Geno to the iceplex. Geno would probably get pissed at him, since playing hockey is obviously something he didn't want to talk about. Or rather, he did want to talk about it, until Sidney was an asshole to him. And now he doesn't.

Geno hasn't started cooking dinner when Sidney gets home. Sidney makes a snap decision and says, "Hey, we're going out to eat tonight."

"Out?"

"For food," Sidney says. "Us."

"Oh," Geno says after a long moment. "Okay."

Sidney nods, then goes upstairs to change before he can regret saying it.

It's not a date or anything. Sidney will just pay because Geno doesn't know enough English to get a job yet, and also is basically the housekeeper. Sidney can take him out to eat if he wants. Geno deserves a night off.

There's really no good reason for him hiding in his room until six, but that's between Sidney and his walls. He finally goes downstairs and says, "Ready?"

Geno's changed into a nicer pair of jeans and a shirt that has a bunch of shiny silver graffiti writing on it. Sidney thinks it might be culturally insensitive to insult it, so he doesn't.

"Ready," Geno says.

"Okay, awesome. Um, let's go."

It's kind of amazing how awkward Sidney feels around Geno.

Sidney likes going to nicer places because they tend to be okay with all the substitutions he requests. They go to an Italian place where people are wearing jeans, but where there are actual tablecloths and people will be less likely to approach Sidney for autographs.

Not that he minds. Just...he kind of does, with Geno.

"So," Sidney says once they've ordered their drinks.

"So," Geno agrees.

Sidney forces a smile. "I promise not to get drunk this time."

"Drunk? Is funny." Geno's smile looks genuine. "Calm, Sid."

Sidney gets the feeling that as Geno's English improves, he's just going to order Sidney around more. "Whatever," he says crankily.

Their drinks are brought then. Sidney ordered wine without really knowing what he was doing, but it's good. And Sidney won't drink it too quickly.

"So, um," he says. "Are you sure you don't want to go skating?" Geno's face gets that shuttered expression again, but Sidney presses on. "We can go when no one else is around. I just know, I mean, you miss it, right?"

"No."

"You're lying."

"This dinner. Convince me? No."

"No, I really just -" Wanted to take you out. "Thought you deserved a night off. But you should let me. You miss hockey. We should go out on the ice together."

Geno shakes his head. "Share ice with Sidney Crosby. Give to kids. Not me."

That just pisses Sidney off. "I like hockey, Geno, I don't care if you're bad."

"No."

"Geno." Sidney kicks him. He feels kind of bad about it, but it makes Geno look at him. "Come on. Just once. Please? No one will see us. It'll just be us."

Geno stares at him for a long moment. "Okay," he says finally. "One time."

Sidney flushes all over, and he can't keep from smiling. "Okay. Awesome."

"Soon."

"We have a game tomorrow, but -"

"Not tomorrow. Soon. Call rink when have time. Say Sid Crosby. They let you in."

It's completely true, and Sidney feels like he kind of owes Geno one, so he nods.

Luckily, their food comes shortly after they stop talking. Sidney digs in, watching Geno almost in spite of himself. He can't help but wonder how good Geno is. Not as good as Sidney, obviously, but...he wants Geno to be good. It's stupid, and probably says way too much about Sidney's priorities, but there it is.

After dinner, Geno says, "I take you out."

"You don't have a job," Sidney points out, then immediately feels like an asshole.

Geno just nods. "Yes. Do."

Sidney blinks. "Wait, what?"

"Anna find. Washing dishes." Geno shrugs. "I ride with Anna. Okay?"

Sidney can't say no. He feels pinned down, because he really and truly can't tell Geno that no, actually, Sidney prefers to think about him alone in Sidney's house.

And he doesn't. He wants Geno to have friends and go out. He just wishes Geno could do that without washing dishes.

"You don't need my permission," he says finally.

Geno grimaces and looks down at the table.

Sidney goes back to eating. He's good at awkward moments. If he ignores them, eventually they go away.

This one does. By the time Sidney picks up the check, at least, they're way more comfortable.

"I find you nice girl," Geno says abruptly in the car.

"Oh," Sidney says. "Um."

"You. With girl. You like her?"

"I...yeah, I mean. It was a one night thing. You know?"

"One night," Geno repeats. "Happy with one night? With girl?"

"Well..." Sidney tries to tell himself to just say yes. It's not like Geno's going to be able to tell if he lies. Probably. "It was fine."

"Not good?"

"Fine," Sidney says again. A spark of annoyance rises in him. Geno shouldn't criticize him. What does Geno know about Sidney's life?

"Easy, Sid," Geno says. "Just question."

"Yeah, well," Sidney mumbles. "When do you start working?"

"Tomorrow."

Geno doesn't waste any time, apparently. Sidney grits his teeth and very deliberately doesn't say anything stupid.

When they get back home, Sidney lets them in. Geno goes to take his shoes off, but Sidney tries to run upstairs, and they wind up knocking into each other. Sidney reaches out to the banister to settle himself just as Geno grabs his shoulders. "Careful, Sid."

"I'm fine," Sidney says crankily. Geno's standing too close.

Way too close. And he's just looking down at Sidney, brow furrowed a little, like he's not sure what he's looking at.

Sidney moves his shoulders. "Geno. I'm standing up."

Geno blinks and takes his hands off, so quickly Sidney actually does almost fall over. "Sorry."

"It's fine," Sidney says. "I'm going to bed."

"Right." Geno's not looking at him anymore. "Goodnight."

Sidney wonders, as he goes upstairs, when Geno's finally going to be comfortable with him.

 

Somehow, in spite of Geno's job, he manages to make sure there's always food for Sidney. Sidney feels kind of bad about it, but it's obvious Geno's trying to make himself useful. And it's not like Sidney's collecting rent money or anything, so he lets Geno do his thing and tries not to be weird about it.

Sidney has a day off the Tuesday after he takes Geno out to eat, so they're sitting on the couch, watching competitive cooking shows. Geno's got a look on his face that means he's taking notes, despite the fact that he usually cooks Sidney pretty simple things. Halfway through Top Chef, Sidney nudges Geno with his foot.

Geno looks over questioningly. "My money's on Laura getting kicked off."

It takes Geno a second to parse it, but then he smiles. "How much?"

"Five."

"Good," Geno says. "Guy in orange. Marcus."

"Done," Sidney says, and they go back to watching.

Only, Sidney doesn't move his foot, and Geno doesn't ask him to.

It's nice, Sidney thinks helplessly. It's really nice.

After they play the Leafs, they have another road trip. Geno's leaving almost every day now, to wash dishes, of all things. But Sidney can't be that big a dick about it, because Geno's perked up. That's the only way to put it. He smiles more, he's more relaxed. He buys athletic shoes that are brightly colored and look really stupid to Sidney. Geno likes them, though, so Sidney doesn't say anything.

It's not that he misses Geno. He's used to going on road trips, and he knows Geno can take care of himself. It's just that Christmas is coming, and he needs to get the house ready, and figure out how in the world he's going to explain to his family that a Russian who can't speak English very well is staying with him. He thinks maybe he'll just tell them Geno's a friend of Gonch's, and ignore any questions about the actual logistics of that that come up.

He does wind up calling Geno before the Flyers game, though. "Hey," he says. "How are you?"

"Busy," Geno says. "Anna invite to house. Lots of people."

Sidney's stomach twists. "Did you have fun?"

Geno pauses for a long time, and Sidney has this horrible premonition that he's going to say he's moving out or something. But of course, all Geno says is, "Had to speak English."

"Oh. Well." Sidney tries to hide his relief. "That sucks, for sure."

"Yes."

There's a long, awkward silence. Sidney wishes they were in the same room; at least then Sidney could pretend to be busy doing something else. As it is, he sits and taps his foot until Geno says, "Good games?"

"We've been winning," Sidney says. It's not actually an answer, but if he starts talking about how they've been playing he's never going to stop.

Also, he kind of wants Geno to watch the games, stupid though that is.

"Good," Geno says. "Winning good. Play hockey. Know winning good."

It's a joke, kind of. Sidney laughs way more loudly than it really warrants. "I'll talk to you later."

"Good luck, Sid."

Sidney takes a deep breath. "Yeah. Thanks."

Losing to the Flyers is never fun, but Sidney's ashamed by how much this loss is tempered by knowing he gets to go home after. He gets home at 3 in the morning, tired and annoyed, and he's more than happy that Geno's not awake.

Except, as he's taking his suitcase into his room, Geno says quietly, "Sid."

He's standing just outside his room, down the hall. Sidney swallows hard. "Hey."

"Hard game."

Sidney nods. "I was going to go to bed."

He can't do anything but stand frozen, though, as Geno walks down the hall. The surprised noise slips out of him when Geno grabs him and hugs him.

"Good to see," Geno says, backing off again.

All Sidney can do is nod again, words surprised out of him.

When he gets into his room, he strips down to his boxers and then gets into bed. He wants to - he shouldn't, and he clenches his hands to keep from doing it, but after a minute of struggling with himself, he gives up and pulls his boxers down.

He's not hard, but it's easy to get there, thinking about the smell of Geno's soap and the easy way he'd held Sidney. For a second Sidney had thought Geno might kiss him, and God, what if he had? Sidney doesn't like touching, but he liked the hug and he'd like being backed against the wall even more, Geno touching his cheek and maybe holding his wrists, kissing him like he doesn't want to be doing anything else. No surprise, no distrust, just the kissing.

And then Geno would stay. And Sidney could undress him, kiss him all over, maybe suck him off. Sidney wants to know how it would feel, Geno's dick on his tongue, pushing into his mouth. He doesn't...he doesn't, with guys, but he wants to with Geno. He wants Geno to fuck his mouth the way Sidney's only seen in porn, and he wants Geno to pin him down and make Sidney come.

He's thinking about how lanky Geno is, how he could cover Sidney and jerk him off, when he comes with a muffled moan. Geno's all the way down the hall, and there's no way he could hear, but Sidney bites the noise off anyway. When he's done, he swipes some tissue over himself to clean up, puts his boxers back on, and lies in bed, staring at the ceiling.

Welcome home, he thinks a little hysterically.

But they've got a game in the morning, and eventually, years of conditioning takes over and he falls asleep.

 

He doesn't realize he's forgotten to set an alarm until Geno's shaking him awake. "Sid. Sid, have to go to rink soon. Wake up, Sid."

Sidney groans. "Okay, I'm awake," he says. He has to move away from Geno's hand right away. It's big and warm, and when Sidney opens his eyes, it's to Geno's worried expression. "I'm fine," Sidney says. "Just tired."

"Okay," Geno says. "I make food. You eat."

Sidney nods. "Just let me get dressed." He rolls out of bed, away from Geno.

When he looks back, Geno's already turned around and leaving. Sidney stares at his feet for a second, then goes to get his clothes on. He's got a game to get ready for.

"Here," Geno says, setting a plate of scrambled eggs and turkey bacon in front of Sidney. "You go to morning skate, yes?"

Sidney nods and digs in. It's good - better, he thinks, than what Geno used to make him. Sidney guesses that makes sense. He's had a lot of time to think about it. And practice.

He's going crazy. He smiles, forced, at Geno, and keeps eating.

"Thanks," he says when he's finished.

Geno smiles uncertainly. And, God, Sidney want to touch him. He wants to back him against the counter and kiss him. But he can't, so instead he says, "I'm going to - go."

Morning skate that day is decent. It makes Sidney feel better, to be able to work like this. He skates hard and does his best, and at the end of it, Coach nods at him approvingly and says, "Good job, Sid."

Sidney really only likes it when Geno calls him Sid, and that's mostly because multiple syllables are hard for Geno. But he nods. "Thanks."

The Rangers pummel them, and Sidney stomps home furiously. "I watch," Geno says when he comes in. "Bad game. Better next time."

"At least we have a day off." Sidney sighs. "I'm...I'm going to bed."

Geno looks at him questioningly. "Skate tomorrow?"

Sidney wants to snap at him. But he was the one who insisted on skating to begin with, and Geno actually looks hopeful. So he says, "Yeah. Goodnight," and goes upstairs.

He doesn't jerk off or anything, but he does fall asleep thinking about Geno.

 

"Hi," Sidney says the next day, on the phone with a rink. "I'm Sidney Crosby, and I was wondering if I could rent out your rink for a few hours?"

Sure enough, they're more than happy to do it. He and Geno grab their things - Sidney's going to have to rent skates for Geno, which makes him think maybe he should get Geno some skates of his own for Christmas - and drive to the rink.

"Excited?" Sidney says. The sting of the loss to the Rangers is fading, and he's starting to look forward to seeing Geno play.

"Haven't skated in long time," Geno says. "Might be bad."

Sidney shakes his head. "It's like riding a bike. You'll be fine."

"Sidney Crosby skate circles around me."

Sidney fights the irrational urge to blush. "Well," he says, and speeds up a little.

It's strange to lace up his skates in an empty rink, but it's nice not to be harassed by anyone. Once they're all laced up, he grabs his stick and says, "Ready?"

They skate out together. Sidney feels like kind of a creep, but he watches Geno go as they do a lap around the ice. Geno looks completely comfortable - he's not the world's most graceful skater, but it's obvious he's skated a lot.

Sidney wants to watch him forever, but instead he says, "Heads up," and drops the puck on the ice, passing it to Geno.

Geno snags it neatly, then skates towards one end of the rink. He lets loose a neat, clean wrist shot, sending the puck into the net.

It's totally stupid, but Sidney gets a little shiver down his spine. "Good one," he calls, going to retrieve the puck.

Geno beats him to it, though. He's not smiling; he actually looks kind of weird. But he says, "Take from me."

Sidney raises his eyebrows. "I thought you didn't want to be embarrassed."

Now Geno smiles. "Take, Sid."

Sidney swallows hard, reminding himself that they're skating, not...doing other things. "Okay," he says, and skates forward.

He's expecting it to be easy, but Geno avoids him quickly. He protects the puck disturbingly well, and he stickhandles past Sidney like it's not a big deal at all. Sidney winds up gaping at him before finally actually putting some effort into it and, after a tense few minutes, stealing the puck.

"You're good," he says, stunned. "Like...you're really good."

Geno smiles. He's a little flushed, and fuck, he has a nice smile. "I practice."

Sidney laughs. It's too loud and stupid-sounding, and it means he skates away almost right away, so that he doesn't have to stand around and let Geno see him blush.

They skate for almost three hours. Sidney could spend the whole day on the ice, and Geno doesn't seem to have any problems keeping up. It makes Sidney wonder how the hell Geno got into the mail order bride business, when by all rights he should be playing hockey professionally. He's at least good enough to make it to the minors, maybe even the KHL or the NHL.

And, fuck, Sidney's into that.

"Okay," he says finally. "I could keep doing this forever, but our time is running out."

"Was fun." Geno's smiling and smiling. "Do again?"

"Totally," Sidney says. He hipchecks Geno into the boards as he skates past him.

The twinge in his neck sets in as he's driving them home. "Do you work tonight?" he asks as he gets inside, rubbing his neck and wincing.

"No," Geno says. "Neck hurt?"

"Just a twinge," Sidney says, dropping his gear and sitting down on the couch.

Geno puts his stuff away, but then he comes out to the living room. Sidney's trying and mostly failing to massage his neck. "Lean in," Geno says, resting a heavy hand on the back of Sidney's neck.

Sidney stiffens. "People don't normally touch me," he blurts out, feeling stupid.

"Is okay," Geno says. "I help. Stop hurting, yes?"

"Geno," Sidney says, but Geno wiggles his other hand in and squeezes Sidney's shoulders.

So Sidney lets Geno guide him sideways onto the couch and sit behind him, cupping his hands around Sidney's shoulders and massaging him. It feels stupidly good; Sidney's constantly stupidly tweaking something, and Geno's hands are firm and warm.

Sidney leans into Geno. Geno hums very softly, sweeping his thumbs over Sidney's shoulders and digging into his muscles. It feels so good that a particularly strong movement surprises a sound out of Sidney.

"Sorry," Sidney says quickly.

Geno laughs a little. "Is okay," he says. "Good to know I do good." He leans in a little further.

Sidney should probably be creeped out by feeling Geno's breath on his neck, but he's...definitely not.

"Thanks," he says when Geno finishes. He's not hard, but that's really only because the power of his own embarrassment is keeping things under control. He scoots away from Geno. "I could do you?"

Geno shakes his head, smiling at Sidney. "I not play hockey. Don't hurt. Plus, you don't like touch."

It's true enough, but Sidney still feels kind of bad about it. "We'll buy dinner tonight," he says finally. "On me."

Geno puts his arm up on the couch. He's gangly enough that his fingers end up close to Sidney's neck.

It's comforting. Sidney doesn't even really believe himself; how he feels is ridiculous. But that doesn't change the fact that he does feel that way. He's a little scared of it.

His family is all coming to him for Christmas, since he traveled last year. He finally calls his mom the day before Christmas Eve and says, "So, um. There's already a guest in my house."

"Oh?" his mother says.

"Yeah," Sidney says. And then, because he's terrible at lying to his parents, he stutters out, "Gonch's friend, um, needs a place to stay. So I, um, said he could stay with me?"

But his mom's completely fooled. "Oh, okay," she says. "That was nice of you."

"Yeah, well," Sidney says lamely. "Anyway. So I'll see you tomorrow?"

"Taylor's already home," she says. "We'll take a cab from the airport to your house."

"Sounds good," Sidney says.

"I love you, sweetie."

"You too," Sidney says, and hangs up.

He lets out a slow breath. That's done.

Geno gets back from work soon after the call wraps up. "I told my parents you'll be here," Sidney says.

"Sure?"

"I'm not kicking you out on Christmas," Sidney says peevishly.

"Should be with friends more," Geno points out. "I hang around neck."

"You're not my albatross." Sidney frowns at him. "Not even close. Don't say you are."

Geno shrugs.

"Stop," Sidney says firmly. "I like having you here."

"Talk about feelings, Sid?"

Sidney shrugs uncomfortably. "I don't want to, but we're...you know. Together."

Geno swallows. "Together."

"Not like that!" Sidney says, horrified. "I mean, I just, we're - we're, you know. You know. We live together. We're roommates, and everything."

"Right," Geno says. "Well, thank you."

"Cool," Sidney says. "Awesome."

"I get present," Geno says. "Nothing for family. But present for you."

"You really didn't have to."

"I want." Geno smiles at him. "TV?"

"Sure," Sidney says.

They pass yet another comfortable night together. Geno doesn't hug him or anything when he goes to bed, and Sidney has to close his eyes against wishing they could kiss goodnight.

To his parents' credit, they don't blink when Sidney says, "And this is Gonch's friend Geno."

Taylor looks up at him, though, and says, "You're tall. Do you speak English?"

"Speak a little," Geno says amiably. "Speak enough."

"Cool," Taylor says. "God, Sidney, it's like you're running a halfway house."

"Cut it out," Sidney says.

"I'm just saying." She walks past him with her bag, punching him in the arm on the way. "Good to see you, big bro."

Things do get awkward, though, when Sidney says, "So, for dinner Geno's going to cook."

His mother raises her eyebrows. "You let your house guest cook for you?"

"Um," Sidney says. "It's just, he'll be here a few weeks, and he wants to...give back?"

"Hm," his mother says.

So Sidney winds up in the kitchen, too. "Is there anything I can do?"

Geno looks amused. "Sid know how to cut?"

"I can chop things," he says, annoyed.

"No whine. Cut." Geno takes out a bag of onions. "Need onions and peppers."

"I'm not whining," Sidney grumbles, but he takes the onions and peppers.

"Wow," Taylor says from the doorway.

Sidney manages not to jump, barely. "What?"

"Does he boss you around like that all the time?"

"Sid need boss," Geno says from by the stove. "Not take care of self, not cook."

"True enough," Taylor says cheerfully. "I think you're my new best friend, Geno."

"Is honor," Geno says.

When Sidney looks over, Geno and Taylor are grinning at each other. Sidney scowls and stabs the onion.

He does hang around and keep helping Geno, though, even though Geno's bossy as hell. When they all sit down to eat, his mom says, "Thank you, Geno."

"I helped," Sidney says, affronted.

His mother looks tolerantly amused. "Thank you, Sidney."

Sidney knows he's being kind of ridiculous, but he can't help it. He did help.

He helps with dishes, too, along with Taylor. He doesn't want to make Geno do dishes on his day off. Geno hangs out in the kitchen, though, and he and Taylor trade stories about Sidney. Sidney's blushing so hard he feels like his ears are going to fall off.

That night, they all sing carols and Sidney puts all of his family's presents under the tree. It's really nice and low-key, and Sidney's enjoying the warm glow of happiness that comes with Christmas when he goes to bed.

He wakes up the next morning to Geno looming over him. "Augh," he says, cowering back into his bed.

Geno just laughs, though, and Taylor's also-loud laugh indicates that this wasn't Geno's idea. "I hate you guys," Sidney says, sitting up. He's hungry and tired. Christmas sucks.

Well, okay, Christmas doesn't suck, but Sidney likes to take time to wake up. "Are we going downstairs?"

"Once Sid wipe his eyes," Geno says, punching Sidney's shoulder.

Sidney's getting punched a lot lately. "Cool. So go away. I'm in my boxers."

Geno laughs again, but thankfully, he and Taylor leave then.

Sidney gets up and puts a shirt and shorts on. When he leaves, it's to see that Taylor and Geno are still waiting in the hall. "Mom and Dad are already downstairs," Taylor says.

"Cool," Sidney says. "Let's go."

It's still kind of great to creep down the stairs on Christmas morning, even if it's weird with Geno there with him. Taylor passes out presents, and Geno sits next to Sidney. He's close enough that Sidney can feel how warm he is, and it doesn't make Sidney want to press closer, or anything, but it does make him wonder how he's managing it. He's not even wearing socks.

Sidney's surprised when he gets handed an extra present. "What's this?"

"From me," Geno says.

Sidney blinks. "Oh."

"Look surprised," Geno says, with the joking tone that means he's teasing Sidney, even if Sidney doesn't really get it.

"I'm not," Sidney says defiantly. "I'm just, you know." He shuffles the presents on his lap. "Taylor, you can go first."

Taylor laughs at him, but she opens her present. They go around in a circle until it's Sidney's turn. Sidney, after a moment's hesitation, opens Geno's present.

It's a thin silver chain. "I think, what Sid missing in games? You wear."

"I..." It's really nice. Sidney doesn't know how Geno afforded it. "Thanks."

Geno clears his throat. "Now I go," he says, and opens Sidney's present.

"It's not as nice as yours," Sidney says. Geno waves a hand at him and pulls out the books Sidney bought him. "For practicing English," Sidney says. "And um, you told me you like mysteries that one time." He can't look at his family. They have to be picking up and the weird something happening between him and Geno right now.

They open the rest of their presents without incident. Sidney can't stop eyeing the chain Geno bought him, like it's going to bite him or something. He doesn't know why it weirds him out so much. He'll wear it during games, obviously, even though it's very, well, Russian. But it feels strangely heavy. He doesn't know why.

His family flies out later that night. He loves them, but he really prefers them when they're a little bit farther away. Well, not Taylor, but his parents. They hug him before he hands them off into a taxi to go to the airport.

Once they're gone, he goes back inside to see Geno cleaning up stray bits of wrapping paper and dirty dishes. Sidney starts helping silently, putting stuff into the sink and putting the wrapping paper in the kitchen trash.

He picks up his stack of presents, then, with the necklace on top, and carries them into his room. He stares at them for a second before picking the necklace up and putting it on.

He can do it, now that his parents aren't here. He doesn't think they noticed anything. Probably.

It settles onto his neck. It's a little cold, and not heavy at all. Sidney doesn't know why he expected it to be heavy. He tugs it down a little and goes back out to help Geno.

Geno stops dead when he sees him, though. All the lights in the living room are off now, except for one by the table and the Christmas tree. Sidney appreciates it, because it means Geno's respecting Sidney's desire not to waste tons of money on the power bill. But it does mean the lighting's kind of weird, and for some reason Geno's staring at him.

"What?"

"Wearing necklace." Geno takes a few steps forward. It's all Sidney can do not to back up. "Looks nice."

"I...thank you? You gave it to me to wear, I mean, that's kind of the whole point, and I was just thinking -"

He stops when Geno puts a finger on his chin. "Sid," Geno says, still staring down at him.

"I don't know what's happening," Sidney says. "Or why. Geno, what -"

Maybe he'll never finish a sentence again, he thinks crankily as Geno kisses him.

All his thoughts disappear when Geno kisses him, though. All he can do is hold onto Geno's arms and tentatively kiss back.

He's done this before with a guy, that guy in the bar and Jack in high school, but it's been a long time, and Sidney's pretty sure he's shaking a little. Geno kisses him slowly, carefully, deepening the kiss so gently Sidney feels like he's falling apart. He tightens his grip on Geno's arms, needing the anchor.

But - no. They can't do this. Sidney pulls away. "No," he says.

Geno frowns a little. "No?"

Sidney nods, then shakes his head. "I mean, I can't. I'm sorry. I don't...I just don't want to." Geno probably thinks he owes Sidney, and that thought is enough to make Sidney feel a little sick.

"Okay," Geno says. "Is okay, Sid."

"Right," Sidney says.

"Can let go now."

Sidney lets go and jumps away from Geno. "Sorry! Sorry."

"Is okay," Geno says again. "I finish picking up. You go watch TV in room, yes?"

"Right," Sidney says. He knows Geno's just giving him an excuse to escape, and it makes him pathetically grateful. He practically vaults up the stairs.

He goes to bed that night thinking about the pressure of Geno's lips on his, the way Geno had stared at him before he kissed him. He doesn't take his necklace off, and when he wakes up in the morning, he's sleeping on his side, arms folded up so his knuckles are touching the necklace. It's stupid, he thinks, getting up.

They have a game. They fly out the day-of, since yesterday was Christmas, early in the morning. He manages to escape without Geno seeing him. When they get to the hotel, Jordy catches up with Sidney and says, "You're coming out with us tomorrow."

"No, I'm not."

"Yeah, you are." Jordy claps him on the shoulder. "Come on, Sid. You can't just be boring forever."

"Yes, I can."

"Well, you can, but the rumors that are flying now about how you've been spending your time would make your hair stand on end. Come on."

"Ugh," Sidney says. "I - fine." He's going to regret this, he knows for sure.

"Awesome," Jordy says, and then - thank God - leaves him alone.

They lose to fucking Ottawa and it makes Sidney want to punch something. They fly back to Pittsburgh that night, and it's all Sidney can do not to slam his way into the house at three in the morning.

He's quiet, though, and Geno doesn't come out to greet him. Thank God. Sidney can't deal with Geno, not right now.

Maybe, a traitorous part of him thinks, not ever.

All Sidney wants out of life is to be left alone. Losses make him cranky. When he wakes up in the morning, though, Geno's making breakfast.

"Hey," Sidney says. All he can think about when he sees Geno is how Geno's hand felt against his neck, and how it might feel to be crowded up against the wall. Sidney thinks he could get used to that feeling, and that scares him, because he and Geno - it's never going to be a thing. They can't be a thing.

"Bad loss," Geno says.

Sidney scowls.

"Is okay," Geno says. "You get better. Right now, I feed. Cheer Sid up." He smiles at him.

It's so easy, like they never kissed at all. Sidney smiles back awkwardly. "Cool," he says, and sits down at the kitchen table.

He doesn't realize he's fiddling with his necklace as Geno cooks until Geno clears his throat, looking at him. Sidney pulls his hand away quickly, then says, "Are you, um. Do you work today?"

Geno nods. "Afternoon," he says. "I make dinner early, heat up when come home."

"Oh, it's not a big deal," Sidney says. "I can make dinner."

Geno looks at him skeptically.

"...okay," Sidney says. "I can order dinner."

"Maybe," Geno says. "But I cook."

Sidney quashes the disappointment that Geno's going to be gone. "Sure, yeah, okay," he says. That'll have to be good enough, he thinks.

It's only after Sidney leaves for practice that he remembers he's supposed to be going out with the guys tonight. He groans in the car. He doesn't want to. He wants things to be simple, like they used to be, not complicated with how he feels about Geno. He half doesn't want to go out because he's worried about what Geno would say.

And that's stupid, Sidney tells himself viciously. It doesn't matter what Geno would say, because they're not a thing.

"Dude," Jordy says after practice. "Come over to my place. Bring tight jeans."

Sidney blinks at him. "Seriously?"

"Seriously," Jordy says. "We're going to get you laid."

Sidney's first instinct is to tell Jordy he doesn't want to sleep with anyone. It's kind of not a lie; he doesn't want to sleep with anyone but Geno. But…

Things with him and Geno are weird, and Sidney's starting to feel like a first-class douche. Geno depends on him. Geno probably doesn't even want to sleep with him - he probably thinks he has to do it to stay with Sidney, or something. Thinking about it makes Sidney feel queasy.

So he says, "Yeah, okay."

"Awesome." Jordy claps him on the shoulder. "We'll make this shit happen."

Sidney smiles nervously and makes his escape.

He leaves Geno a note when he leaves, saying he's gone out for the night. He feels like kind of a dick, but in the long run this is a good idea. He puts on tight jeans and a loose t-shirt and a windbreaker, and drives over to Jordy's.

Jordy sighs when he sees him. "You kill me," he says, pulling Sidney into his house. "No worries, though. We're going to fix you."

"Can't wait," Sidney lies.

Jordy stuffs him into a t-shirt that Sidney's pretty sure is three or four sizes too tight. "Dude," Jordy says when Sidney tugs at it, "relax, okay? It totally fits."

Sidney makes a face. "I think you're lying."

"Uh huh," Jordy says. "Because I'd lie about what fits you. Come on, we're trying to get you laid. There are, like, rules."

Sidney looks at him.

"About dressing," Jordy says patiently. "Trust me, if you weren't a robot, you'd know."

"I don't see what wearing a too-tight shirt has to do with it." Geno likes when he dresses normally. Sidney thinks.

"That's because you're a fucking robot," Jordy says. "Trust me on this."

Sidney doesn't trust Jordy on anything, but whatever. He's willing to wait Jordy out.

"Anyway," Jordy says, "I've got to go get dressed. Don't change. You look awesome." He claps Sidney on the shoulder and leaves.

If he's being honest with himself, Sidney's not even sure why he's doing this. Mario wouldn't approve. Sidney's not sure of a lot of things, but he trusts Mario's judgment. Mario knows him really well. He knows what Sidney values, and what he's comfortable with. And Sidney's completely sure that Mario really, really wouldn't approve of what Sidney's currently wearing.

Jordy knows about girls and stuff, though. And Sidney needs to - he needs to forget about Geno. He's only married to Geno out of chance, and Geno doesn't owe him anything. So Sidney needs to stop thinking they mean something, or they are something. Because they don't, and they're not.

Yeah. Sidney needs to forget about him.

Finally, Jordy's done. Sidney privately thinks his hair would look a lot better if it wasn't so fluffy, but that's really not Sidney's business. Also, Sidney doesn't care if Jordy manages to pick up a girl. "Okay," Jordy says while Sidney's busy staring at his hair, "let's go."

Sidney follows him out. They go to some bar Sidney's never been to before that's full of loud music and bright lights. There are lots of hot girls there, which Sidney guesses is why Jordy picked it. They meet up with Max, Flower, and Cookie, and everyone stares at Sidney for a second. It makes him uncomfortable, even though he's used to everyone's opinions that he's an alien who doesn't know about people, or whatever.

"So Sid's here for a girl, eh?" Flower says.

"Pretty much," Jordy says. "Three Bud Lights," he tells the waitress.

"Three?" Sidney says.

"Two for you, one for me," Jordy says. "You're getting drunk and picking up a girl, man. I told you, we're making this shit happen."

Sidney's first instinct is to refuse to drink. But then he thinks about Geno, and about the tangled ball of stupid fucking feelings he feels in the pit of his stomach. He grits his teeth and drinks.

After five beers, he's feeling pretty loose. Jordy keeps trying to find him girls, but there's something wrong with all of them. Sidney doesn't know exactly what - there's just something not quite right.

Finally Jordy says, "Sid. Sid."

Sidney frowns. He doesn't like when anyone calls him that. Well, it's okay when Geno does; but Geno doesn't know English very well. "What?"

"I've found you, like, ten girls." Jordy throws an arm around him. "You need to pick one."

"They're all into me because I'm an athlete."

"So? Quit whining, dude. They love you. Take advantage of that."

"I'm not whining," Sidney says.

"You really, really are." Jordy gives him a sloppy kiss on the cheek. "Go get 'em, tiger."

Sidney frowns. But he can't stop thinking about Geno. "Okay."

"Awesome," Jordy says. "Be right back."

A minute later, he comes back with a cute blonde girl who looks nothing like Geno. Sidney sighs in relief. "Hey," he says, smiling at her.

"Hey," she says, smiling back.

"I'll leave you kids to it," Jordy says, and leaves.

She goes home with him. Of course she does. She actually kisses him at the bar, pushing him back into the booth, and Sidney puts his hand on her hips and goes with it. When she pulls away, he says, "Um, we can go back to my place."

"Cool," she says. "Lead the way."

They take a cab back, and yeah, she's handsy. Sidney's into it. He's totally into it. He's into it when she presses him against the door and kisses him, and she's into it when she palms him through his jeans and says, "Bed?"

He doesn't think of Geno. He doesn't think about him at all.

Sidney's head hurts when he wakes up the next morning. He groans and rolls out of bed; it's empty, and for a single, hopeful second, he thinks maybe she's just left. He really should have told her to leave the night before, but he was drunk and fell asleep. It's not like he's used to one night stands that end at his apartment.

Oh, God, what if she thinks it's not just one night? Sidney works himself up into a panic in the space of about five seconds, before forcing himself to calm down and put pants on so he can go downstairs.

He doesn't even think about the fact that Geno wakes up early until he walks into the kitchen and sees the girl - Heather? - sitting at the table while Geno makes pancakes. He's totally expressionless, and Sidney's stomach twists when he sees it.

"Um, hey."

Geno looks up. "Morning."

"Hi," Sidney says to Heather. Even he can hear how awkward he's being.

"I was going to leave," she says, "but your friend offered to make me pancakes. You didn't tell me you had a roommate!"

"He not talk about me much," Geno says.

"He's so sweet," Heather says, like Geno didn't even say anything.

Sidney frowns. He doesn't like the way Heather's looking at Geno. He's not sure if it's like he's a cute pet or like she wants to…whatever…with him, but either way, it's no good. "You should leave."

She raises her eyebrows. "Wow, okay." She gets up. "I'll go get dressed."

"That's good," Sidney says.

When she goes upstairs, Geno says, "Rude."

"She was -" Looking at you weird. Sidney swallows. "It's not a big deal. She should've left last night." He grabs his phone from his pocket. "I'm calling her a taxi."

Geno looks like he disapproves, but he doesn't say anything else. Sidney calls a taxi, and then, when Heather comes downstairs, stays as far away from her as possible.

It's not that the sex was bad. Sidney just…he feels weird about it. And he feels even weirder about Geno talking to her. That's not for Geno. He and Geno are - they're -

Sidney honestly doesn't know. But he doesn't want Geno talking to a girl he slept with, no matter how crazy that is.

They have the day off, so Sidney says goodbye to the girl and then goes out into the living room. He's surprised when Geno brings him a plate of pancakes. "I can't eat these."

"Whole wheat flour," Geno says. "No chocolate. Light syrup."

Sidney frowns. "Okay," he says, and takes them.

Geno waits until he's eating to say, "Relationship with girl now?"

Sidney almost spits the pancakes out. "No! That was Jordy's idea. I don't know why I went along with it."

"She pretty."

Sidney frowns. "Yeah, well."

Geno stands up. "I go to work today."

"Already?" Sidney says, surprised.

"Call me in. I go. Be okay?"

"Of course," Sidney says, nettled. He managed just fine before he had Geno.

"Good," Geno says, and goes upstairs, leaving Sidney alone.

Sidney tells himself sternly that he doesn't care.

He hangs out once Geno's gone, mostly just watching TV. It's dumb, and he knows it, but he can't stop thinking about Geno. He's wondering if maybe Geno's jealous, or he he's happy for Sidney that he got laid. He thinks he wants Geno to be jealous, and that's…

Sidney's not going to think about it.

He mostly manages not to think about it. Of course, then Geno's friend drops him off, and he comes in all smiling and happy, and it's way harder not to notice him then.

"Hey," Sidney says. It's seven. He's been sitting around for two hours, thinking about going to exercise.

Maybe he should go, so Geno will stop looking at him like that. "I'm leaving," he says, standing up.

"Sure? I cook."

"Um, yeah, I'm just going to go, um, do some stuff on the bike."

"I make dinner, Sidney," Geno says.

"Totally," Sidney says. "And meanwhile, I'll be on the bike."

Geno lets him escape, thank God. He practically throws himself on the bike, pedaling at a speed his trainers probably wouldn't approve of. They're not there to see, though, and Sidney - Sidney wants to not think about Geno for two seconds. He doesn't think he's overreacting to speed along on the stationary bike and do his best to run over plays mentally and not think about Geno at all.

Only, of course, Geno's got dinner waiting for him when it's done. It's chicken and quinoa, really good for him and also a food Sidney happens to really like. "Thanks," Sidney says, taking his plate into the living room.

He's hoping Geno won't follow him, and thank God, Geno doesn't. Sidney can hear him watching TV in the kitchen, which is awesome, because it means he's not in the living room with Sidney.

Their weird tension continues until Sidney takes his dishes out into the kitchen. Then Geno says abruptly, "Should date girl."

"Huh?"

"Should date girl," Geno says again. "I talk to Anna. She say, guy like you not need one night stand. Date girl."

"That's ridiculous," Sidney manages to splutter out. "I - don't be stupid. Of course I'm not going to date. I don't have time."

"Girl make time."

"No," Sidney says. "That's…no. Don't talk to me about this again."

"Sid -"

"No," Sidney says firmly.

Geno shakes his head. But he doesn't, thank God, say anything else, so Sidney can go back into the living room unmolested.

God, what's even with Geno? Sidney doesn't get him at all.

They're playing the Capitals the next day, so Sidney goes to bed at a sensible hour. Geno's still in the kitchen when he leaves, but that's Geno's business, not Sidney's.

He's completely floored when Flower tells him the next day, after morning skate, "We're coming over. And Gonch's date is Ovie."

"Huh?" he says.

Flower shakes his head at Sidney. "I don't care if you're decomposing a body in the bathtub," he says, "we're coming over. It's been forever since you had us, and you could use the company. You look like you haven't slept in weeks."

"Then I don't really need guests, do I," Sidney says, nettled.

Flower just snorts. "Sure," he says. "So, we'll all come over after the game."

"Flower -"

"It's not up for debate." Flower looks at him speculatively. "Unless you are hiding a dead body."

Sidney just shakes his head and gets his stuff together.

When he gets back to his house, he tries to let Geno know that people are coming over, so he has to make himself scarce. Geno's not there, though. Sidney writes him a note, leaves it on the kitchen counter, and goes upstairs for his nap.

Geno's still not there and the note's on the counter when he wakes up. Sidney grits his teeth, but he cleans up the apartment a little and then goes to the game.

Sidney expects problems from Ovechkin, not fucking Fehr. In a way it's good, because Fehr's not coming to Sidney's home the way Ovechkin is. But at least Ovechkin's on Sidney's level.

Sidney feels like a complete slouch, but he tries not to let it ruin his mood. Ten guys follow him home, including Ovechkin, riding along with Gonch. It's not until they get to Sidney's that Sidney remembers that Geno's shoes are there, and his stuff is all over the living room with Sidney's, and, shit. Shit.

He goes in first. The note's still on the counter; Geno hasn't been back. Sidney grabs it and throws it away, then tries to run into the foyer to get rid of Geno's shoes. He's too late, though; Colby comes in.

And because he's Colby, he stops dead and stares at the shoe rack. "Tell me your feet have grown," he says, looking up at Sidney.

"Sidney Crosby's house!" Ovechkin yells joyfully, slamming the door open.

He's completely, completely fucked.

Flower's brought beer, Ovechkin's brought vodka, and Pascal brought fancy rum. What that means is that by eleven, Ovechkin's drunkenly hanging off of him and telling Sidney how much he admires him. "Sasha, he say you overrated," Ovie says, "But I gonna tell him, no one's as great as Sidney Crosby!" Ovechkin lays a smacking kiss on the side of his head. "Nobody!"

"Get off of me, Ovechkin," Sidney says, shoving at him.

"Call him Ovie!" Flower yells from his spot on the couch.

"Call me Ovie," Ovechkin - ugh, fine, Ovie - agrees. "Hey, where'd the boxers come from? You wear boxer briefs." He reaches behind and snaps Sidney's underwear.

"Let me go!" Sidney says. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"I got lost and found your laundry room," Ovie says with a shrug, like this happens all the time. "Whose boxers are they?"

"No one's," Sidney says, looking around nervously. What if someone hears?"

"Is okay," Ovie says, patting his shoulder. "I keep your secret." He leaves before Sidney has a chance to tell him there is no secret.

In hindsight, he really should have realized that what was going to happen next was Geno coming in at eleven-thirty.

"Pizza!" Max yells.

Geno stares at the crowd in the living room.

"Or, no pizza?" Max says. "Flower, didn't you order pizza?"

"Sid," Geno says.

"Um," Sidney says. "Everyone, this is Geno. My…friend."

"I go upstairs," Geno says stiffly.

It's too late, though. Ovie yells something in Russian that makes Geno stop dead.

He replies, though, while everyone else stares at Sidney. After a minute, Geno comes back into the living room, this time with a glass of clear liquid Sidney's pretty sure isn't water. Sidney moves to make room for him on the couch, but Geno sits on the floor.

"You not tell me you have a Russian friend." Ovie wags his finger at Sidney. "Bad Crosby."

"Seriously, though," Max says. "Where's the pizza?"

"We're not having pizza," Sidney says, but Flower's already pulling out his phone.

Like it's a signal, people go back to hanging out. No one really talks to Geno except Ovie, and Colby's staring at Sidney like he's never seen him before, but mostly things are fine.

Or at least, they're fine until the pizza comes and Sidney goes out into the kitchen to grab another beer and a breather from everyone. Colby corners him without even trying. "What the fuck?"

"It's complicated," Sidney says.

"Everyone else may not have connected the dots, but my brain's not as rum-soaked as Max's. Tell me I'm wrong and that's not the guy you ordered off the Internet."

"Technically I didn't order a guy," Sidney says weakly.

"Jesus." Colby slumps against the counter. "I - Sid, why the fuck didn't you tell me?"

"It sounds stupid," Sidney says. "How'd you guess?"

"Aside from the accent?"

"There are a lot of excuses - reasons. For that. There could be," Sidney says defensively.

Colby shakes his head. "I saw him in the kitchen. He pulled a ring out of his pocket."

Sidney's completely stunned. "I didn't give him a ring."

Colby raises his eyebrows. "But I'm not wrong."

He could lie. Only, it's Colby, and he's not good at lying to Colby. At all. "I don't know why he has a ring," Sidney finally says.

"But you married him."

"Technically."

"And now he's living with you."

"It doesn't mean anything," Sidney says impatiently.

"Is that a fact."

Sidney frowns. "It doesn't," he says. "Trust me, Colby."

Colby doesn't look like he trusts him, though. Actually, he looks the opposite. "Sidney, having some guy living with you is a recipe for trouble."

Sidney looks at him. He's not sober; that much is obvious. Sidney says, "Okay, and we'll talk about it. Just not now. Okay?"

"You're a good kid," Colby tells him solemnly, clapping him on the shoulder.

Sidney forces himself to smile. "Thanks."

And then, thank God, Colby goes out of the kitchen. Sidney thinks he's escaped when Geno walks in.

"You and Ovie are making friends," Sidney says, trying and failing not to sound bitter about it.

Geno looks surprised. "Bad?"

"No, it's fine." Geno should have friends. And a girlfriend. Geno needs those things. "It's great. Good for you." Geno's not his. Geno never was his. All Sidney can think about is how Geno's carrying a ring around and Geno's not his.

Maybe Sidney's had a bit to drink, too. He shakes his head. "I'm going to…go," he says, and makes his way back out to the living room.

He's pretty sure he's dodged a bullet when everyone leaves. He's practically patting himself on the back for surviving when Ovie says, "Sid, Geno gonna come to stay with me for a few weeks. I get him flight when I get back to hotel. Drive him to airport, yes?"

Sidney blinks at Ovie. "I -"

"Okay, awesome!" Ovie grins broadly at them, waves, and leaves, after saying something in Russian to Geno. When Sidney turns to look at him, Geno's smiling like an idiot.

Sidney can't deal with this. "You should clean up," he says coldly, and practically stomps upstairs.

He's still awake an hour later. He's sobered up a little, but being more sober doesn't mean the blow of Geno leaving him in favor of being all Russian with Ovie has been softened. Geno's going to quit his job, probably, or at the very least take a vacation, and who knows when he'll be back?

He has every right to do it. Sidney would never argue with that. He has every right, and Sidney would be a total dick if he tried to stop him. Sidney knows that. He just wishes Geno wouldn't.

Sidney's tossing and turning when Geno knocks on his door. He sits up and pulls the covers up, saying, "Come in."

Geno opens the door slowly. "Sid?"

"Geno."

Geno looks surprised to see him in bed. "Sorry," he says. "Should have come home. Cleaned up. Need to hide better."

"That's really not necessary," Sidney says. "It's fine. No one, um. Almost no one knows."

"Ovie know."

"Yeah, well." Sidney can't say anything insulting about Ovie, since apparently now Geno and Ovie are best friends or something. "Ovie doesn't count."

He doesn't know why Geno's smiling. "Alex not important?"

"He told you to call him Alex?"

Sidney doesn't know why there's so much tension in the room. All he knows is Geno's staring at him and it's making him uncomfortable. "Yes," Geno finally says.

"Okay. Great." Sidney gets out of bed, going over to the door. "When are you leaving?"

Geno shrugs.

Sidney can't stop staring at him. He doesn't even know why; he just can't.

"Okay," he says again, feeling stupid.

And then - he doesn't know. He blinks, and somehow he's kissing Geno.

Geno groans and pushes him into his room, pressing him hard against the wall. He's got the strength and reach to hold Sidney still, fingers digging into Sidney's shoulders as he pushes against him. And Sidney goes with it, tilting his head to give Geno better access and tugging Geno's shirt away from his pajama pants so Sidney can finally touch skin.

He didn't even really realize he was waiting, but now that it's happening he knows he was. They don't even talk - not that Sidney normally talks during sex, but he kind of half expects Geno to order him around. Geno does, completely, just not with words. Instead he pulls Sidney's boxers down and pushes him back towards the bed, kissing him hard. Sidney lands on the bed with a thump, and Geno pulls his shirt off and kicks his pajama pants off, sitting next to Sidney and rolling so Sidney's pinned to the bed.

Normally Sidney hates this much contact, but right now, with Geno kissing him like he's worried Sidney will disappear, it's exactly what Sidney wants.

Geno doesn't do anything fancy. He kisses Sidney's neck and jerks him off, and it's hardly anything, but Sidney's coming in his hand almost before he knows what's happened, clinging to Geno and trying to breathe through it. Jesus, this is more embarrassing than being with Jack was. Sidney's an adult now, he's had sex, he -

Is being kissed gently by Geno while Geno thrusts against him. "Hang on," Sidney says, voice way too loud in the dark. He wiggles until he can get a hand between them.

Geno doesn't come right away. Geno lasts, and kisses Sidney and kisses him until Sidney's head is spinning with it and he's halfway to hard again. When he does come, he goes still for a second, then pulls away from Sidney.

Sidney wants to say something. "No," maybe, or "come back." Instead he sits there and watches Geno leave.

It takes him a long time to go to sleep after that. When he wakes up in the morning, it's to a printed-out itinerary to D.C. sitting on his nightstand, along with a thick, nondescript silver ring, and a note that says, in awkward handwriting, "It was for you."

 

Sidney spends the next two days…not happy.

Well, okay. He spends the next few days furious, and confused about why he's so furious. For the first time, he can't just leave it all at the rink. When he steps onto the ice, he's haunted by the stupid note Geno left, and the ring.

The ring, which Sidney's carrying around in his pocket because he doesn't know where to put it. It doesn't make much sense. If Geno thought - whatever it is he thought about Sidney - why buy him a ring? Even if he did think Sidney wanted him, or wanted some kind of relationship, why a ring? They're married, sure, but it's not real. Sidney thought they were clear on that.

And if Geno wants something, why didn't he say anything? Why did he leave it until things were awkward between them? Why did he leave?

That last thought rattles around inside Sidney's brain, haunts him even when he does drills in practice. Geno left with Ovechkin, of all people, to go to D.C. and…be Russian, Sidney guesses. Why?

Sidney hates how he feels about this. He hates feeling like this about someone at all.

And even worse, Colby's watching him like Sidney's going to explode at any minute. Which, okay, isn't the least fair thing anyone's ever thought about him. The third day after Geno leaves, Colby corners him after practice and says, "I'm coming over."

Sidney blinks. "Um, okay," he says, because it's not like he can tell Colby no.

Colby claps him on the shoulder and goes back to his stall. Sidney hurries up throwing everything into his bag, then leaves, with Colby right on his heels.

Colby knows the way to his house, obviously, and he follows Sidney closely in his own car. Sidney drums his fingers on the wheel at lights and tries not to think about the kinds of questions Colby's going to ask.

When they get to his place, Sidney unlocks the door while Colby stands behind him, not saying anything. When they're inside, though, Colby says, "So your husband left, huh?"

Sidney frowns. He doesn't like the weight Colby's putting on 'husband'. "He's not, really," Sidney says.

"Is that a fact?"

"I mean, legally he is…I think." Sidney's never actually looked into the legality of mail-order marriages. It's probably not that legal, but then again, they have pretty official-looking paper saying they're married. "But - it's not like that."

"Then tell me what it's like." Colby turns and goes out into the living room, flops down on the couch, and then fixes Sidney with a hard look. "Because I know what it looked like, even if the other guys didn't notice. The way he was looking at you, Sid, doesn't help your story."

"I - he doesn't," Sidney says, because Geno doesn't. Geno looks at him like you look at any friend. "We're just friends. Who, you know, are married." And sleep together sometimes. Sidney reaches up, almost unconsciously, and touches the necklace Geno gave him.

He realizes his mistake when Colby says, "Jesus, Sid. Did he give that to you?"

Sidney could lie, but he's pretty sure it wouldn't be convincing. "Yeah," he says heavily. "Yeah, he did."

Colby shakes his head. "Sit down."

"I'm good here," Sidney says quickly.

"Sit your ass down, Sid."

Sidney sits.

"Explain."

"I don't know," Sidney says. "He's - we - " He takes a deep breath. "It's weird. We kissed a few times, and….you know."

"Sidney -"

"Before he left," Sidney says. "But he's gone now, so it's not a big deal."

He hates how pitying Colby looks. "That's what you're telling yourself?"

Sidney crosses his arms. "That's the way it is."

"I really, really doubt that."

"Well, it's true," Sidney says as firmly as he can. "Look, can we just play Xbox or something?"

"I'm not going to stop worrying about you," Colby says, but he gets up and grabs the controllers.

And, okay, Sidney's not going to admit anything to Colby, but for the first time since Geno left, Sidney actually manages to stop thinking about him for a few minutes. Maybe talking about this kind of thing actually helps.

So, of course, that night Geno calls him. It's an unknown number, so he picks up, but he realizes his mistake when Geno says, "Sid?"

Sidney tightens his hand on his phone so hard he immediately eases off, worrying he might break it. "Yeah. This is my number."

"Ovie has home phone," Geno says. "He thinks I call with my phone, you not pick up."

"I would have," Sidney says, irritated.

"Don't lie," Geno says.

Sidney frowns. "Geno -"

"Last night in Pittsburgh…" Geno sighs. "I save ring for you. Long time. I think Sid like girls, I hide, but Sid like boys, I give. Stupid. See?"

Sidney really doesn't, but he feels the sudden desperate need to pretend like he does - to convince Geno that they're on the same page. So he says, "Right, yeah, I mean, it was nice. A nice gesture. And I mean, technically we're married, so."

"Technically."

Sidney's not sure if he knows the word or not. "Legally."

"Right," Geno says.

It sounds heavy, and Sidney has to fight both guilt and anger at himself for being guilty. There's no reason for guilt, not really. Not when Geno - when they -

"When are you coming back?" As soon as he asks, he hates himself for how whiny he sounds. But Geno just says, "Soon."

"Right," Sidney says. "We can talk then." And not kiss, or jerk each other off, or - Sidney wants so much, and he doesn't want to think about it.

"Good," Geno says. "Good, yes. Talk."

"Right," Sidney says.

And for a minute, just a minute, he misses Geno so much that it's almost a physical pain in his chest. "Bye," he says, and hangs up.

Sidney definitely doesn't sulk for the next two weeks. He's just not that into going out or anything, because he's had a long couple weeks and he needs his rest. They're going down the stretch, anyway, so Sidney needs to save his energy for the playoffs.

Colby can shut up about missing Geno. That's not it at all.

He's home, though, when someone fumbles with the lock. Sidney jumps and goes to the door, but before he opens it, Geno comes inside.

"Oh," Sidney says, taking a step back. "Hi. Um, did you have a good flight? How are you? Let me get that." He goes forward quickly and grabs Geno's bag. "Upstairs?"

Geno eyes him, looking wary. "Hi, Sid."

Sidney flushes head to toe. Looking at Geno makes him think about Geno's hands on him, the way his dick felt, his lips on Sidney's neck, and all of those are thoughts that he doesn't want to have.

"Let me get this up for you," he says lamely, going upstairs.

Geno, to his horror, follows. Sidney sets the bag down in Geno's room and then turns around. Geno's in the doorway, leaning against the doorframe.

For a second Sidney just stares at him. Geno looks back, weirdly calm.

"Are you going back to work?" Sidney says finally.

Geno nods. "Tomorrow. I make dinner tonight?"

Sidney blushes, thinking of all the takeout containers he has in the fridge. "I, um, don't have groceries."

Geno's expression doesn't change that much, but he does suddenly look disapproving. Sidney looks at the floor. "I go shopping," Geno says.

"Oh," Sidney says. "You don't have to."

"I shop," Geno says. "I cook, so Sid eat good things."

"I eat healthy," Sidney says defensively.

"You eat restaurant healthy, not real healthy," Geno says. "Go for run. I take car out."

"Right," Sidney says. Geno leaves, going downstairs. Sidney stares up at the ceiling for a minute before going to his room to get his workout clothes.

He totally didn't miss being bullied. At all. It'll just be nice to have a home-cooked meal, that's all.

Geno doesn't really talk during dinner, so Sidney doesn't either. He can't stop thinking about the time Geno spent with Ovie, though, and how Ovie probably sat too close, and maybe they slept together too, and -

As Geno's clearing the dishes, Sidney says loudly, "Did you have fun with Ovie?"

Geno goes still for a second before relaxing and saying, "Yes. He good guy. Good to speak Russian hockey again."

"Right," Sidney says, and stands up, slamming his chair.

Geno turns around to look at him. "Why angry, Sid?"

"I'm not angry," Sidney snaps. "I'm not - whatever. I don't care."

Geno takes a step forward, though, and suddenly Sidney's rooted to the spot. "I not go to find girl, Sid," Geno says. "Or boy."

"I don't care."

"Wearing necklace," Geno says, taking another step forward.

"Fuck off," Sidney says, but when Geno pulls him in and puts his hand on Sidney's hips, Sidney can't move.

Geno looks at him for a minute before sliding his hands down to Sidney's ass - which, Sidney should push him away, only then Geno's kissing him.

Sidney kisses back angrily, pushing back against Geno. But Geno's bigger than he is, and he keeps Sidney pinned, squeezing his ass and biting Sidney's lower lip.

He's acting with intent, and Sidney's not sure if it's great or terrifying.

"I take you to bed," Geno says, pulling away.

"The dishes," Sidney says weakly.

"Dishes can wait," Geno says, grabbing Sidney's wrist and pulling him towards the stairs.

That's how Sidney finds himself being pressed into the bed, Geno biting Sidney's neck and keeping Sidney's wrists pinned. Sidney's pretty sure he should be pissed about it, but Geno's kissing him hard and thrusting his hips against Sidney's, and fuck, Sidney wants to do this -

All the time. He screws his eyes shut to keep from thinking about that as Geno pulls Sidney's shirt off and kisses down Sidney's body. He plays with Sidney's nipples - he's the first person who's ever done that, and it's so good. He keeps going down, running a hand over the bulge in Sidney's jeans.

"Please," Sidney says. "I -"

"Fingers?" Geno says, looking up at him.

It takes Sidney a minute to figure out what Geno's asking, but when he realizes it, he swallows hard and nods.

Geno smiles. It's so open and happy that it feels like a physical blow to Sidney, who's still struggling with so many conflicting feelings that he's not even sure what's happening to him.

When he's naked, Geno runs a hand over his thigh, looking at him intently. Sidney swallows and spreads his legs a little more, fumbling at the nightstand for the lube and then handing it to Geno.

Geno rubs it between his fingers before he wraps his hand around Sidney's dick, slicking him up. Sidney wasn't expecting that, and it makes him swallow hard, trying to make himself relax.

"Is good," Geno says, running his fingers down over Sidney's balls, circling his hole.

Relax, Sidney tells himself, relax, relax - Almost unconsciously, he reaches up and touches the necklace Geno gave him.

Geno's breath hitches and he pushes a finger into Sidney, a little harder than Sidney thinks he planned.

"Oh," Sidney says, blinking up at the ceiling.

"Good?" Geno says, thrusting.

Sidney nods, then makes himself say, "Yeah. Yeah, totally."

Geno smiles and pushes another finger in. After that, Sidney's world narrows to how it feels and how much he wants to remember it, the simple fact that it's Geno, and that except for hockey he wants nothing as much as he wants this to keep going.

Eventually, though, his head is spinning and he's so hard he can barely think, and he's babbling, "Please, Geno, please - please," until Geno kisses his thigh and says, "Shh, Sid, is okay," and jerks Sidney off hard and fast.

Sidney's entire body falls apart. When he comes to, he see Geno lying on his back, jerking off frantically. Sidney doesn't even think - he leans forward and tugs Geno's hand away, ignoring the whimper Geno gives and closing his mouth around Geno's dick.

Geno thrusts hard, courtesy forgotten. Sidney sucks as hard as he can, playing with Geno's balls and bobbing his head until Geno comes with a moan.

As soon as he's done, Sidney wants to run away. He wipes his mouth off and sits back, unsure about what he should do. They're in his room, and he doesn't know what he wants from Geno.

He can't stop watching Geno, either. Geno's breathing hard, his hands clenched into fists on the bed. All Sidney can think is that he's so lanky and well-built, and because Sidney's Sidney he wants, more than almost anything else, to get Geno on the ice again.

"Play shinny with me," he blurts out.

Geno lifts his head and blinks at Sidney. "Hockey?"

"Kind of," Sidney says, nodding like an idiot. "Not right now, I mean - tomorrow, maybe? After practice? Please?"

"They let us?" Geno says, then shakes his head. "Of course they let us."

"Yeah, um," Sidney says.

Geno stares at him for a minute. Then, finally, he says, "Okay. I play."

"Cool," Sidney says, and smiles uncertainly at Geno.

Geno smiles back. After a minute - more than long enough for things to get seriously awkward - Geno sits up and says, "Should do dishes."

Sidney doesn't want to cuddle. He's not a cuddler, and anyway, he has stuff he wants to do before he goes to bed. He does kind of regret, though, when he says, "Sure, okay," and Geno gets out of bed, picking his stuff up and leaving.

Sidney feels tense throughout practice. He doesn't know why he's so - excited? Is he excited? - about seeing Geno skate. But he is. He wants to get a hockey stick in Geno's hand. He wants to play with him. Sidney knows it's stupid that he wants his - whatever Geno is to him, his husband technically, even though he's not for real - Geno. Sidney knows it's stupid to want to see Geno play hockey before he keeps doing this, even though he doesn't really know what "this" is. But he can't help it. He needs to see Geno, to play with him.

He brought Geno to practice - it's easier than having him take a cab or something - but Geno stays in the stands, not trying to talk to Sidney, until practice ends, when Sidney skates up and says, "Come to the locker room. We have some skates and stuff you can use."

Geno nods. He doesn't look happy, which is freaking Sidney out a little; but he does follow Sidney back to the locker room. He just puts on skates and a helmet, but he's unerring when he does so, and he just looks - Sidney looks around so he won't be looking at Geno directly. He just looks right like this.

"Ready?" Sidney says.

"Have puck?" Geno smiles. It only looks a little forced. "I make you pay for suggest."

"I have some," Sidney says, rolling his eyes.

He lays two of the three pucks by the benches, and drops the one on the ice. Geno skates out with ease, holding his stick like an extension of himself. "Heads up," Sidney says, and sends a hard pass over to him.

Geno gets it easily, then turns, skating off towards the goal. He roofs it - almost. It just barely misses the net.

Plenty of people who played hockey as a kid could do that, Sidney thinks, but those people wouldn't look so mad at missing kind of a hard shot. "Try again," Sidney calls out.

He doesn't know people. At all. But he knows hockey, and it's really, really clear to him that Geno was good.

Geno practices for long enough that Sidney gets bored and grabs a puck for himself, practicing at the other end. But then Geno skates over and shoots at Sidney's net, grinning. "We play," he says. "Take away." And as quick as a blink, he steals Sidney's puck.

"Hey!"

But Geno's already skating off, laughing. Sidney stares after him for a second, then feels himself smiling as he gives chase.

In the end, they play for two hours. They're laughing as they go back to the locker room - or rather, they are until an equipment guy passes them and then stops dead, staring at Geno.

"Malkin?" he says.

Geno jerks back like he's been hit. "Sorry," he says right away, "I not know you."

"No," the guy says. "You wouldn't. But I know you. You're Evgeni Malkin. You played for Metallurg Magnitogorsk. You're - how are you here?"

Sidney's really not used to not being the person who's stared at. Also - "Magnitogorsk?"

"Russian Superleague," the guy says, barely looking at Sidney.

"I…" Geno shakes his head. "I not him. Sorry."

"You quit," the guys says. "You - why are you with Crosby? Are you coming back?"

"I go," Geno says, and stumbles off.

The guy moves his stare to Crosby. "What -"

"Nothing," Sidney says. "He's…visiting, that's all. We were just messing around. I have to go." He leaves, moving almost as ungracefully as Geno had.

Geno's in the locker room, sitting down and staring at the helmet Sidney grabbed for him. "Geno," Sidney says.

Geno looks up. His eyes are bloodshot, and he looks terrified. "Sid -"

"Was he…" Sidney doesn't want to say it, but he forces himself to finish. "Was he telling the truth?"

At first Geno shakes his head. Then he says, "Yes. He…yes."

Sidney blinks hard, keeping his eyes closed for a second before opening them and saying, "Okay. Right. How did I not know?"

Geno shrugs. "Stop playing two years ago. Not big deal."

"You were in the KHL!" Sidney takes a deep breath, forcing himself not to yell. "You could have - Jesus, Geno, how old were you? Were you going to be in the NHL? Why did you quit?"

Geno reaches down and starts unlacing his skates. "Should go home," he says.

"Geno -"

"I make dinner," Geno says. "I clean up."

All of a sudden all Sidney can think is that he and Geno fucked last night. They - Geno's hands were on him, and Geno was a professional hockey player and Sidney didn't know.

It should be a good thing. Only, Geno's a mail order husband now. He stopped playing hockey. There has to be a reason for that, and Sidney's pretty sure it's not a good one. Or, not one that means good things happened. Or -

"Sidney," Geno says quietly.

Sidney shakes himself and sits down, unlacing his skates. Right. They can talk about it after, totally.

"We should shower," he says. His voice sounds too loud in the room.

"Yes," Geno says, getting up.

They shower, and they drive home, and through it all Sidney's on the verge of hyperventilating. He knows he shouldn't be mad that Geno lied to him. He knows Geno had reasons, and Sidney bought him. It's not like they had an equal relationship. But all Sidney can think about is that Geno played hockey, he probably played amazing hockey, and Sidney feels -

He doesn't know how he feels, except scared. He can't handle knowing the guy he's sort of helplessly into was a hockey player. Is a hockey player, because judging by how Geno acted on the ice, he didn't stop by choice. He misses it.

When they get home - to Sidney's - Geno says, "Sid. I make dinner."

"No," Sidney says. He doesn't want to watch Geno move around in his kitchen, comfortable and familiar. "No, Geno, I think - I think I'm going to go to bed."

"I could -"

"Tell me you were going to explain," Sidney says suddenly.

Geno stops and stares at him.

"I go?" he says finally, which is more than enough of an answer.

"I'm going to bed," Sidney says again, and all but runs upstairs.

He goes to sleep feeling vaguely sick to his stomach, and he wakes up feeling even worse. It's an off day, so he doesn't have anything to do except think about how Geno -

What, exactly? Lied to him? Sidney knows it's crazy to be upset about that. But he also doesn't think Geno's going to tell him the whole truth. And all Sidney can think is that he wants to know. He…he cares about Geno, enough that it's scaring him, and he wants to know why Geno had to stop playing hockey.

Sidney really can't think of anything worse than that.

He sneaks downstairs at seven for coffee. It's brewing, but Geno's nowhere to be found. Sidney pours himself a mug and then quickly goes back upstairs.

He eyes his computer, trying to tell himself he shouldn't do what he wants to. But his self control when it comes to Geno is less than ideal, so he ends up opening up his computer and going to YouTube.

There aren't many clips of Geno, but there are some. Sidney watches him skate around defenders like they don't even matter. He's not fancy, exactly, but his plays are - they're breathtaking. In some of his highlights, he makes everyone around him look like a little kid. He's strong and fast, and his plays…

Sidney realizes what he's doing and freezes. He was rubbing his thigh, getting hard watching Geno play hockey. No. No, no, no. He can't care about Geno as a hockey player. He can't watch Geno's highlights and get off on them. For one, Geno doesn't even want him to know he played hockey. For another -

It never really occurred to Sidney before that he might wind up caring about a hockey player. He doesn't think he wants to. It's too much. Sidney cares - would care - way, way too much. He needs to lock that down, and quickly.

So he shuts his computer without looking Geno up anywhere but YouTube. He's finished his coffee, so he puts some sweatpants on and goes downstairs.

Geno's standing in the kitchen, eating eggs while leaning against the counter. "We have chairs, you know," Sidney says. It comes out meaner than he means it to.

Geno stands up straight. "Angry?"

Sidney would like to deny it, but - "You didn't tell me. I - hockey is important. And I didn't know."

"Not your problem," Geno says. "I not hockey player. I…take care of house."

Sidney winces. "Geno…"

"Not going to talk," Geno says. "I leave if want."

"Where would you go?"

Geno shrugs. "Find a place."

Sidney narrows his eyes, because - "You'd stay with Ovie, wouldn't you."

"Sid," Geno says.

"No," Sidney says. "That's fine." He turns to leave. "I'm going out. Don't wait up."

It's not like he really goes anywhere. He just goes to Mario's. He has the key to the guest house, still, so he stops by to say hi to Nathalie and Mario, and then says, "I'm just - I needed a little, I don't know, a place to hang out for awhile." And because Mario knows him really well, he just smiles sympathetically and pats Sidney on the shoulder before sending him out.

Sidney knows it's stupid and dramatic, but he sits in the dark in the guest house - his old house - living room, swallowing hard and thinking about Geno living with Ovie.

It would be okay. He could probably find a job in D.C., too, and that way he'd be away from Sidney and Sidney wouldn't be evilly seducing him or - whatever. Sidney doesn't really know what it is they've been doing. He just knows he wants to watch Geno play hockey again, and he wants Geno to stay, and he wants - Geno's hands felt really, really good. He wants more of that.

He doesn't really think about it, though. He sits in the dark until he gets bored, and then he takes a deep breath and grabs his keys, heading back for his house.

Geno's sitting in the kitchen when he gets there. Sidney wasn't really expecting that, so he stops dead, blinking at Geno.

"Hi," Geno says.

"Hey," Sidney says. "I'm going to go to bed." He says it too quickly, so that even he knows it sounds stupid.

"Sid -" Geno makes an aborted gesture with his hands. "We should talk," he says finally, the words heavy and formal.

"No," Sidney says. "Talking would, um, talking would be bad. Let's just - let's not talk, okay? About you lying, or me finding out, or hockey or - anything. Let's not. Because that would be dumb, and I don't want to."

With that, he runs up the stairs, before he starts calling something unfair or reminding himself of teenage-him any more.

He lies in bed for hours, stiff and too awake. He can hear Geno moving around downstairs, and then him coming upstairs. Sidney screws his eyes shut and tries not to think about Geno.

This can't happen. He needs to shut it down. No making out, no thinking about making out, no watching Geno play hockey. Nothing.

He doesn't realize he's gripping the necklace Geno gave him until his fingers start to hurt. When it occurs to him, he jumps a little, before he feels himself mentally hardening in resolve.

He's done. This thing, whatever it was, is over.

He takes the necklace off and shoves it into the desk drawer with the ring Geno gave him. He doesn't need either of them. He's not really married. Geno lied to him, and Geno's a hockey player, and Sidney loves hockey, not hockey players.

So what if that barely makes sense in his own head? It will eventually. Just as long as he stays strong.

The next day, he gets a call from an unknown number. Normally he wouldn't pick up, but he hits "answer" before it occurs to him that it might be stupid to do that.

"What the hell," the person on the other end says, "are you doing?"

Sidney winces and holds the phone away from his ear. "You're loud," he tells the mystery person.

"Fuck you, Sidney Crosby," the person says. Then Sidney registers the Russian accent and says, "Um -"

"Kovalchuk," the guy says. "Ilya. We've met."

"Oh, hi," Sidney says. "I don't know what you're talking about. The season's going well, I think?"

"You might be idiot, but don't play dumb," Kovalchuk says. "You marry Evgeni Malkin? He lives with you?"

"Kind of?" Sidney says weakly. "How do you even -"

"Ovechkin is a friend," Kovalchuk snaps. "And we all care about Malkin. Taking advantage -"

"I'm not," Sidney says, and then, because he's kind of terrified, he hangs up and puts his phone on silent.

He wants to just hide in his room, but he has practice, and they play the Islanders tomorrow. So he can't just stay in his room. He takes a deep breath and goes down to the kitchen.

Geno's not there, though. He's not there when Sidney gets breakfast, and he's not there when Sidney leaves for practice. Sidney hopes he has work, and that then after he has work he'll stay in his room or something. Even though that's probably a horrible thing to hope.

When he gets back from practice, though, he pulls into the driveway as Geno is entering the house - carrying skates.

"What the fuck," Sidney says flatly, standing on the sidewalk leading up to the front door.

Geno looks back at him. He looks weirdly expressionless, like Sidney's never seen him look. "Sid."

"What?" Sidney snaps.

"I skate," Geno says. "Friends help. Not…" He frowns. "Not Sidney problem."

Sidney feels like he's been hit. "Fine," he finally bites out. "That's - that's fine, that's great. Screw you too." He stomps up the steps and shoulders his way past Geno, going upstairs.

Jordy calls him that night. "Sid, my man, are you still pouting over your boyfriend?"

"What?"

"Geno, fine, whatever - fucking ow, man!"

Sidney guesses that's not for him, so he waits. Finally, Jordy says, "Max wants me to say sorry for mentioning your totally-not-a-boyfriend dude who lives with you."

"Max?" Max is a total dick.

"Yeah, he's grown feelings or something, I don't know. We're going out tonight. You should come. Bring Geno."

"If you want to stare at him, you should just ask to," Sidney snaps. "I'm not bringing him."

"Whoa, calm down," Jordy says. "I was trying to like, be nice. I don't know what to do when your teammate lives with a gay Russian, okay?"

Sidney's about to say he's not gay when his throat closes up. He doesn't know - what he is, or what Geno is, really. That's not a talk they've ever had. It's not a talk Sidney thinks he's capable of having. "Anyway," Sidney says, "we're not like that."

"Right," Jordy says. "Whatever. I don't care where you stick your dick."

It's really kind of a nice thing to say, enough that Sidney feels something inside him unwind. "Thanks," he says.

"Sure," Jordy says. "Anyway, come out with us, seriously."

"Okay," Sidney says after a minute of wishing he could just refuse to. "Sure."

"Wear something decent. We'll meet at Carson City at nine," Jordy says, and hangs up.

That gives Sidney plenty of time to think about all the ways in which he's fucking this thing with Geno up. He's pretty sure the ways are huge and that there are a ton of them. But he doesn't know how to fix it, and he doesn't know who to talk to. Mario would support him, Sidney knows he would - but Mario is out of the question, because thinking about talking about this weird sex husband thing with Mario makes him squirm. He could talk to Colby, but Colby has a really nice wife and has never accidentally married a guy who doesn't speak English. And really, there's no one else Sidney could even begin to think of talking to. Maybe Taylor, if she was older, but she's not. So that option's out.

It makes Sidney feel shitty and lonely. Then he remembers he's not the one married to someone in a country that doesn't even speak his native language, and then he feels even shittier.

Somehow, he kills enough time that he's eventually flagging down a cab to take him to Carson City. It's a shitty bar on the South Side that has way too much loud music and drunk college guys for Sidney's comfort, but it's basically Jordy's favorite bar, and Sidney knows Max and Flower will go for any place that has alcohol. Sidney shows up at 9:15 and gets a beer right away, sitting down.

"Hey," Max says, and claps him on the shoulder. Sidney doesn't even get a chance to reply, though, because Max stands up and goes to chat up some girl.

"He never quits," Flower says.

But Flower's laughing about it, so Sidney can't even be a bad sport. "Totally," he says, forcing himself to laugh.

"Ouch," Jordy says, sliding in next to Sidney. "Don't laugh too hard, man, you might break a gear or something."

"Funny," Sidney snaps. He wishes he could go with robot jokes right now. No, scratch that; he wishes he was a robot, so that he wouldn't have this conflicting ball of feelings about Geno scratching at the pit of his stomach.

"Whoa," Jordy says. "Don't, like, break your beer bottle and shank me, dude."

"I'm fine," Sidney says. "I just had a long day."

"Friend troubles?" Flower says, putting just the wrong emphasis on "friend".

Sidney groans. "I'm not - we're not -"

"We all saw," Flower says. "I think it's sweet."

He's smirking, though, which means he's just fucking with Sidney. "It's anything but," Sidney says. "Also, fuck off."

"He doesn't want to talk about it," Jordy says.

He sounds - kind of serious, Sidney realizes, blinking. And sure enough, Flower backs off, saying, "Sure," and changing the subject.

It's not a bad night. Sidney still thinks he's pretty much dying of guilt, but at least no one brings up Geno again. And it's fun to be out with the guys, to watch Jordy hit on girls and Flower get drunker and drunker. It's almost relaxing, Sidney thinks. It would be, if he wasn't so fucked-up over Geno.

Of course, then the night's over and Sidney's getting into a cab, not even half as drunk as he wishes he was. When he gets home, he goes into the kitchen and stares at his kitchen for a second, thinking about Geno cooking him breakfast, smiling at him and -

No. Sidney locks the feelings down and goes upstairs, as quietly as he can. They have a game tomorrow. That's where his head needs to be.

Only, of course, he gets to the top of the stairs and runs into Geno. Literally.

Geno doesn't reach out to steady him. He takes a step back and leaves Sidney to lurch against the wall.

"Sorry," Sidney says, because he feels like he should apologize, even though he's really not that sorry.

"Out late," Geno says. He takes another step back. "Go ahead."

"Geno," Sidney says, even though he has no idea what he's going to say next.

"Sid." Geno frowns at him.

"I -" Sidney takes a step forward. "I don't, I, you - you play, and -"

Geno shakes his head. "Stupid," he mutters, and then closes the gap between them, kissing Sidney.

It's not a nice kiss. It's too hard and angry to be nice. But it's what Sidney wants, especially when he pulls Geno so that Sidney's back is against the wall and Geno's pushing into him, kissing him hard.

It can't last, though. Sidney's guilt rears its head sooner rather than later, and he tears himself away, staring up at Geno.

Geno looks…all Sidney can think is that he looks wrecked. And suddenly Sidney thinks that, okay, Geno doesn't want him, not really. Geno wants to be around Russians, and he probably wants to play hockey. He definitely wants to play hockey. But Sidney was a dick, and he pulled Geno away from his home, so -

"I'm going to fix it," he blurts out, and runs back to his room.

He goes to sleep furiously plotting. When he wakes up in the morning, he showers and has coffee, and then goes to the rink.

Mario is in his office, thank God. "Um, hey," Sidney says.

"Sidney." Mario smiles at him. "Come in."

Sidney does, closing the door and sitting down. "How are things?" Mario says.

Sidney blushes. Right, because he was a complete freak the other day. "Better," he says.

"Good," Mario says, and then sets his hands clasped on the desk, looking at Sidney.

There's no good way to say this, so Sidney just blurts out, "Have you heard of Evgeni Malkin?"

"Malkin?" Mario raises his eyebrows. "That's a name I haven't heard in awhile. He was one of the NHL's most promising prospects. He quit, though. Broke his contract with the KHL."

"Right," Sidney says. "Um."

"Why are you asking about him, anyway? Did you get lost on YouTube again?"

"That was once," Sidney says. "And, uh, no. He's kind of, um."

There's no good way to say this.

"He's living with me," Sidney blurts out.

Mario blinks, and then blinks again. "Well," he says, sitting back.

"Not, I mean…" Sidney turns bright red, trying not to think about the sex he's had with Geno. He can't think about that in front of Mario. "It was kind of an accident?"

"An accident."

"I, um…I bought him."

Mario stares at him, then brings a hand up to his face, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "You bought him."

"I know human trafficking is wrong!" Sidney says. "It was a joke! Only then he showed up, and he did my dishes and learned English, and then I found out he plays hockey, and he's so good, and then I found out he played in the KHL, and he's mad at me, and -"

"Sidney, Sidney, slow down. It's okay," Mario says. "So…you accidentally bought the player who was shaping up to be one of the best in the world."

"It sounds stupid when you put it like that," Sidney says weakly.

"Stupid isn't the word I'd use," Mario says. "So - do you need help getting him back to Russia? Because that's really not my area of expertise."

"No," Sidney says. "I was just thinking, I mean, he's good, and…"

Mario blinks at him. "Ah."

"Just a tryout," Sidney says.

"I'll need to meet him," Mario says. "And he'll need to practice." He raises his eyebrows at Sidney. "And I hope your marriage is legitimate."

"Well…I think the Russian mob did it," Sidney says. "So."

Mario shakes his head. "I really thought you were just going to tell me you're gay."

"Oh," Sidney says. "Well. Um…well."

"You have my support," Mario says. "But let's keep the marriage part private, okay?"

"I'm not married to him," Sidney says. "I mean, I am, but I'm not married, married. I mean -"

"Sidney," Mario says gently.

Sidney slumps down in his chair. "I don't know what's going on," he says. He knows he's whining, but he can't help it. "He doesn't…he doesn't like me."

"It's good of you to help him, still," Mario says.

Sidney frowns. "I'd help him anyway. He's good. He deserves to be playing hockey."

"We'll see if we can get him NHL-ready," Mario says. "It'll take awhile, if he's out of practice."

Sidney nods. "I'll help."

"I figured," Mario says. He glances at the clock. "You should probably get going."

"Oh, right," Sidney says. "Okay. Um. We have tomorrow off. Do you think you could -"

"Absolutely," Mario says. "Ten o'clock."

"Here?"

"Why don't we meet at your place," Mario says.

Which means he's going to look around and see how much they live together, and probably Sidney will die. Also he has to explain it to Geno what's going on.

And play a game. Right. The game has priority right now. "Thanks," Sidney says, and stands up. "I…thanks."

Mario nods at him. "Things will work out," he says. "Now get a move on."

"Right," Sidney says, and goes to retrace his usual path on the way to the locker room.

Sidney throws himself into the game a little harder than usual, but they still just barely squeak out a win - Craig gets the only goal. It's still a relief to win, though, and Sidney lets himself not think about Geno for almost three whole hours.

Only then he goes home. He's hoping he can avoid telling Geno about Mario coming over until tomorrow morning, but Geno's sitting up in the living room, and when Sidney comes in and kicks his shoes off, Geno says, "Good game?"

"Not the greatest," Sidney says, wondering frantically if they're just going to pretend this is normal. "Geno -"

"Not talk about last night," Geno says. "Would be stupid."

Sidney's stomach sinks. "Right," he says. "Well - Mario's coming over tomorrow. To meet you."

Geno blinks at him. "Mario?"

"Lemieux? He owns the Penguins? Um, I lived with him? He's great, he lives down in -"

"I know who Mario, Sid. Why he meet me?"

"Right," Sidney says. "Well. We were thinking, um, if you wanted, maybe he could talk to you and - " He wishes Geno would stop looking at him. "You could try out once you're conditioned again," Sidney blurts out.

"Joke? Not funny."

"No," Sidney says. "I'm serious, actually. Because you're here, and you're going to stay here, and I know you don't want to tell me why but I feel bad because you were so good and I saw you play and you looked like I do, you looked like you love it, and the Penguins - you were the best, Geno, why wouldn't the NHL want you?"

Geno shakes his head a little. "Talk too fast."

"The Penguins want you," Sidney says. "Probably. Once you get up to speed."

"Speed?"

"Practice more," Sidney says. "When you're good. They want you."

Geno just looks at him for a minute, expression that awful closed-off one Sidney's really starting to hate. "They listen to Sidney Crosby? He says have random guy on team?"

"You're not random," Sidney snaps. "I watched your highlights, you're good." It feels like someone's squeezing his chest. "It's not a big deal. If you don't want to, whatever, tell Mario. But he's giving you a chance."

And it's the only way Sidney can make things up to him. Sidney sighs and goes to the stairs.

He's only halfway up, though, when Geno says, "Long time since I play."

Sidney looks down at him, the highlights he saw running through his mind. He wants to say all kinds of things, things that would tell Geno everything about how he feels. "It'll come back," he says finally. "And Mario will rub it in the other owners' faces. So everybody wins."

Everybody except Sidney, but that doesn't really matter.

Geno doesn't answer, so he climbs the stairs alone, ignoring the nerves he has about tomorrow morning.

Sidney's up at seven, and dressed and ready for Mario by eight. Geno comes down a nine dressed in a button-down Sidney's never seen before, with a sweater vest over it and nice khakis. His hair is gelled down. He doesn't look good, actually, but he looks so nervous that Sidney's throat closes off. He wants to go over and kiss Geno, hold onto his shoulders until Geno relaxes.

Which, Geno doesn't want that. And even if he did, it's not like Sidney's actually good at being comforting. So instead Sidney says, "Hey."

"I clean up last night," Geno says. "Mario want breakfast?"

"Um, he'll probably have eaten," Sidney says. "You can get him water when he comes? Or I can. He's here to talk to you."

Geno, if anything, gets even more nervous-looking.

Sidney can't stop himself from saying, "Hey."

Geno blinks at him.

"Mario's a good guy. He's like a dad to me. Things will be fine."

"He like dad," Geno says. "Yes. I live with Sid Crosby, Mario come over like dad. Why nervous?"

"Geno -"

"Is okay," Geno says, and goes to make himself some toast.

Mario arrives right at ten. Sidney jumps up and goes to the door before Geno has a chance to. "Hey," he says, trying to smile when he opens the door.

Mario probably notices how nervous he looks, but he doesn't say anything. "Where's Evgeni?"

"He, um, he likes people to call him Geno," Sidney says. "He's in the living room. Want some water?"

"Sure," Mario says. Sidney stands aside, then runs into the kitchen.

When he comes into the living room with a glass of water, Mario's sitting on the loveseat across from the couch. Geno's sitting stiffly on the edge of the couch, bolt upright, biting his lip.

Sidney wants - no. He's not going to think about what he wants. "Here you go," he says, handing the water to Mario and going to sit in the armchair.

"The place looks good," Mario says.

Sidney looks around, trying to see it through Mario's eyes. There's some abstract art Geno got him to buy on the wall, and everything's really clean. There are folded blankets on the back of the couch that Geno picked up, and flowers on the table. And in the corner, under the framed jerseys Sidney has, are a ball and stick.

It looks normal to Sidney, but everywhere he looks, he can see Geno. Sidney wonders if Mario realizes.

But then he looks at Mario and, yeah, Mario knows. Sidney stares at the floor. "Thanks," he mumbles.

"It's nice to meet you," Mario says to Geno. "Everyone was on the edge of their seat to know where you'd go in the draft."

Geno swallows and looks down at the floor. "I have other problems. Have to stop."

"But now you're here," Mario says. "Sidney says you'd like a chance to try out."

Geno glances at Sidney. "Sid guess," he says finally.

Sidney frowns. "Are you seriously going to say -"

"I've got this, Sidney," Mario says. "Sidney's usually right about hockey," he tells Geno.

Geno sighs. "I try out, I rusty. Not good enough for NHL. Not good enough for…" He frowns. "Child league."

"That's what practice is for," Mario says easily. "We can send you down to the A for a year if we have to, although I think a summer of conditioning would be enough. I've done my homework on you."

Geno blushing is cute, Sidney thinks despairingly.

"And Sidney believes in you," Mario adds.

"Sid dumb," Geno says.

"Hey," Sidney snaps.

Geno shrugs. "Sid see highlights. Not see bad stuff."

"Well, I've seen both," Mario says. "I'd like to give you a chance to join the organization."

For a second Geno just stares at him. Then he takes a deep breath, and Sidney notices that his shoulders are shaking.

"I," Geno says, and swallows hard. "Mr. -"

"Call me Mario."

"Mario," Geno says, but he doesn't manage to get anything else out.

And suddenly, Sidney knows what he needs to do. "Mario," he says. "Let's go out to the kitchen."

"No," Geno says quickly, "is fine, I -"

"We're going out to the kitchen," Sidney says firmly, and stands up. Mario follows him out.

The kitchen is down the hall and through a set of doors, so Geno has plenty of privacy. Unfortunately, that means Sidney and Mario have privacy, too.

"We're going to have to talk about what you think marriage means," Mario says.

Sidney hangs his head. "It's not like that."

"I don't think it's necessarily bad for you to be living with someone, but Sidney, I've never seen you as obviously…preoccupied by someone."

Sidney feels like his face is going to catch on fire, he's blushing so hard. "It's really not like that," he says weakly.

"But you want it to be. I don't want any details," Mario says, holding up a hand, "believe me, I don't. Still, you may have to actually talk to him eventually."

"Well," Sidney says lamely.

They stand in silence for a few minutes until Geno knocks on the swinging doors and comes into the kitchen. "Thank you," Geno says to Mario. "I would like to try out."

He says it so carefully that Sidney knows he's probably been running over the sentence in his head for the last five minutes. Sidney wants to say something, but all he can do is smile like an idiot while Mario says, "That's good to hear, Geno. Why don't we have you come in in a week? That'll give you some time to practice."

What he doesn't say, but that Sidney hears clearly, is it doesn't really matter; Mario's already decided to bring him on.

"Yes," Geno says, and then he smiles. It's so wide and happy that Sidney can't help but smile back.

"My work here is done," Mario says. "And I should really get going. Make sure you get down to the rink today," he tells Geno. He claps his hand on Sidney's shoulder. "Think about what we talked about. I'll let myself out."

It was probably his plan to leave Sidney and Geno staring at each other, Geno still smiling in spite of being alone with Sidney.

"Hockey," Sidney says. "Do you need company? I could come to the rink with you?"

That dims Geno's smile a little.

"Or not," Sidney says quickly.

"No," Geno says. "Wait. Yes. Come, Sid."

"Right," Sidney says. He's pretty sure even his ears are bright red now. "So…cool, that'll be great. Great. And I'll just…yeah. I'll…"

He doesn't know what he's going to say. Geno solves the problem for him by stepping forward and grabbing both of Sidney's hands. "Thank you," Geno says, looking at him.

Sidney looks up at him and bites his lip against the feeling rushing through him. He doesn't have a name for it, but it's the same way he feels when he sees Geno studying English at the table, or laughing at him. It's his Geno feeling, and it's awful.

"No problem," Sidney says. "I mean, I want what's best for the team, so."

"Yes," Geno says, stepping back. "The team."

"Let's go to the rink after lunch," Sidney says.

"Good."

Sidney wants to kiss Geno. But he's going to have to get used to that. He bobs his head and then makes his escape out to the rec room.

Geno comes in at noon, carrying a plate with a sandwich and some baby carrots. "Lunch," he says, setting it down.

Guilt makes Sidney's stomach twist. "Geno. Are we friends?"

Geno blinks at him. "We married."

"I know," Sidney says. "But, you know. Are we, I mean. We're friends. Right?"

Geno licks his lips. Sidney very carefully doesn't look down at his mouth. "Yes," Geno says finally.

"Okay," Sidney says. "Well, you don't have to make me food and stuff. I mean, that's not your job anymore."

"Job," Geno says. "Have to quit washing dishes."

"Right," Sidney says. He doesn't think he can really accuse Geno of trying to change the subject, but he can keep pressing through. "You can call them. But seriously, Geno, I don't need someone to take care of me."

Geno raises his eyebrows. For a second he looks like he did before they screwed everything up, like he did over the holidays. "Need friend to take care," he says. "I do. Eat sandwich."

He leaves before Sidney has a chance to say anything else. Sidney sighs and looks at his sandwich. It's chicken with avocado and it looks delicious. He's going to eat it, just like he eats everything Geno makes him. He's pretty sure, even though Geno's not in here, that he'd know if Sidney refused to eat it on general principle.

Also, fine, that would be pretty childish. He picks up the sandwich and starts in on it.

When he's done, he goes out to the kitchen. Geno's not sitting at his usual spot at the table, though, so after a minute of debate, Sidney goes upstairs and knocks on Geno's bedroom door.

"Hey," he says when Geno opens it up. "Ready to go?"

Geno takes a deep breath and nods.

It occurs to Sidney that if Geno was anyone else, or almost anyone else, Sidney wouldn't be able to read them at all. He's not good at that kind of thing. But with Geno, he can tell he's nervous, so he says, "It'll be fine. Mario believes in you."

"Mario nice guy," Geno says. "Legend."

"You almost were," Sidney blurts out.

Geno blinks at him.

"I'll, um, meet you downstairs," Sidney says, and beats a fast retreat.

They get to the rink at just past one. Geno puts on his equipment with confidence this time, lacing up his skates and then saying, "You take puck away from me."

Two weeks ago Sidney would've laughed and pointed out that doing that would be too easy. Now, though - "You're on," Sidney says, and goes down the hallway.

Geno can't stickhandle as well as Sidney, but it's a close thing. It's even closer when Geno gets warmed up. He steals pucks away from Sidney like it's the easiest thing in the world, laughing at Sidney when Sidney protests. "Sid slow," he says. "Catch up to me."

All in all, it's an easy two hours they spend out on the ice. "We have to go," Sidney says finally, "or I'll be gassed."

Geno smiles at him. "We go," he says.

Sidney's got practice and games, same as always, for the next week; he goes to the rink with Geno sometimes, but mostly he's alone. Geno himself has gone into this weird headspace where he still cooks for Sidney, but other than that, he keeps to himself. Sidney's not sure if he should be annoyed or something; to him, anyway, it means that Geno's getting ready for the tryout, and since Sidney wants Geno to succeed, that's a good thing.

That's how he has to think about things: carefully, step by step, because he can't even pretend he thinks about Geno logically anymore. The day after the Penguins narrowly beat the Rangers, Geno comes into the kitchen and says, "I have tryout after morning skate."

He looks - Sidney doesn't even know how to describe how he looks. Tense, and excited, the kind of tension that really only comes before a game. It makes Sidney's stomach twist. "Cool," Sidney says. "Awesome. Well. Good luck."

"Thank you," Geno says, and leaves.

Sidney feels like he's going to puke. He frowns at himself and goes to put his dishes away.

They're playing the Islanders that night. Morning skate isn't that strenuous; Sidney tries not to let himself go completely crazy during it. But he races home once they're done, and instead of napping he goes up to Geno's room.

"Well?" he says, bursting in.

Geno's sitting at his desk, hunched over his computer. When Sidney bursts in, Geno jumps and jerks his head up. "Sid."

"Geno, come on," Sidney says. He feels like he's going to fly apart at the edges. "Don't make me wait. What did they tell you?"

Geno shrugs, but there's a smile sneaking its way onto his face. Sidney almost falls over when he says, "I gonna play again."

"That's so great!" Sidney yells. "That's - Geno -"

Geno nods. "Is good."

"Come to the game," Sidney blurts out. "I have box seats, come to the game. Watch us - you're going to be on our team, man, that's -"

"I not need to come," Geno says. "I watch on TV."

"No," Sidney says. Now that he's said it, how tonight should go is crystallizing in his mind. He's probably supposed to still be leaving Geno alone, but he can't help it, not knowing Geno's going to get hockey back, with the Penguins. "Come. Please."

Geno's face does something complicated that Sidney's not too sure of, but then he says, "Okay. I come."

Sidney can't stop himself from smiling. "Awesome," he says. "Awesome."

So that night, they're playing the Islanders and Sidney has a weird itch between his shoulder blades from knowing Geno's up there watching the team he's going to be on soon. He doesn't mean to get two goals and an assist; it just kind of happens. They end up shutting out the Islanders, which in itself isn't the world's biggest accomplishment, but that just makes Sidney feel like he's flying even more. He doesn't know why he feels like this, really, except he's excited about Geno playing for them. But he's got so much energy that even Jordy says, "Dude, did you get a new puppy or something?"

"Just a good night," Sidney says.

He told Geno to meet him in the parking lot. When he gets out to his car, Geno's leaning against the hood. He's dressed nicely, but he looks…lanky, Sidney thinks. He's going to need to bulk up a bit before he starts playing next season.

The thought makes him smile again. "Hey," he says, walking up to Geno.

Geno looks a little surprised, but he says, "Hi. You have big night."

"Well, you know," Sidney says. "I had a lot to be excited about."

The second it comes out of his mouth he's horrified. It sounds like he's flirting, which - Geno doesn't want it, and Sidney can't, because he doesn't want it either, not if it means caring. But Geno just says, "Me too," taking a step forward.

There's a single tense second when Sidney thinks, maybe - but then it's broken by Geno stepping back again and getting into the passenger's side.

Sidney drives them home in silence. He thinks that'll be the incredibly awkward end of it, but then Geno stops in the front hallway and puts his hands on Sidney's shoulders. "Sid," he says.

Sidney blinks up at him.

Geno closes his eyes and swallows hard, then opens them and says, "Where necklace? Where ring?"

"Oh," Sidney says. Now the world feels like it's spinning. Great. "I, um, I put them away. For…safekeeping?"

"Sorry," Geno says.

"What? There's nothing for you to apologize for. I should apologize, maybe, but you didn't do anything, you're fine, you -"

Geno puts a hand up over Sidney's mouth. "Sid," he says.

Sidney would answer, only Geno's covering his mouth and also Sidney feels like he's being electrocuted, only slowly. "I give," Geno says slowly, "because I care. You not. So: I…am…sorry. I am sorry. For you, Sid."

Dying right now would be fine. Sidney would be okay with that.

"No," he finally says, against Geno's hand.

Geno pulls it away, resting it on Sidney's shoulder. "No?"

"I…you.." Sidney screws his eyes shut. They're going to have this conversation, right now, while Sidney's still thrumming with adrenaline and he can't hide from the fact that Geno's too important to him no matter what Sidney does.

"I liked them," Sidney says finally. "Wearing the necklace. That was good. And the ring - "

"Ring stupid," Geno says.

There's a lot there. He sounds mad at himself, and frustrated, and Sidney doesn't want that. So he reaches out and grabs Geno's arm before he can stop himself. "No," he says. "I mean, I was wearing your necklace, and -"

He hesitates for a second, because he's not sure if they're talking about this really. But he makes himself say, "You liked it. When I wore it." The memory of the way Geno looked at him, the way he touched him, courses through Sidney, and he can't help but shiver.

Geno's staring at him like he's never seen him before. "Sid," he says, hand tightening on Sidney's shoulder. "Push away."

And then he's kissing Sidney. Of course he is.

Sidney has a moment, the kind that feels like it lasts way longer than it actually does, where he thinks that not pushing Geno away would be selfish, and horrible, because he wants it too much, and he doesn't know if Geno's saying thank you or what.

But then Geno pulls away and says, "You want?"

"Huh?" Sidney says, because it's hard to even process Geno's question when the truth is he wants everything.

"I want," Geno says. "I think marriage not so bad. Good. With you."

Sidney's pretty sure he's staring like an idiot, but he has a really good reason to: what's happening right now is crazy. "So," he says. "I mean - you're important. To me. Really important."

Geno smiles a little.

Sidney feels like his chest is going to collapse in on itself, he's so tense. "We could be married for real. Or, you know, dating. Something - with each other."

"Yes," Geno says. "No more hide and pretend."

He kisses Sidney again, pulling Sidney in hard against him, and, yeah, Sidney can't imagine wanting anyone else.

So it's really inconvenient when someone pounds on the door and Jordy says, "Someone just fucking tweeted about your boyfriend joining the Penguins. Open up, I know you guys are in there!"

Sidney jumps away from Geno, then looks up at him. "Um."

Geno closes his eyes. When he opens them, it's obvious he's trying not to laugh. He goes over and unlocks the door, opening it up. Jordy, Max, Flower, Pascal, and Colby are all crowding together on the front walk.

"Come in," he says. "We just changing out of nice clothes."

"Changing, sure." Jordy leads the way inside. "Changing sounds like what you were doing. Totally."

"Jordy -"

"Go change," Jordy says. "We brought beer." He holds up a six-pack of Bud Light. "We can wait."

Sidney practically runs upstairs, Geno on his heels. They go into their own rooms without talking, but when Sidney's gotten regular clothes on, Geno's waiting for him in the hallway.

There's light coming from the stairs, but it's not enough to really make out Geno's expression when he crowds Sidney back into the wall. It turns out Sidney doesn't need to, though, because Geno slides a hand under his shirt, resting it at his hip, and says in Sidney's ear, "We drink beer, they go. I fuck you."

Sidney doesn't get a chance to answer before Geno kisses him hard. It makes him make a stupid noise, and he's about to say fuck caution and just drag Geno into his room when Geno pulls away and says, "Now we go," leaving Sidney slumped helplessly against the hallway wall.

Like the asshole he is, Flower applauds when they make it downstairs. "Grab a Bud," Jordy says. "The Natty's Pascal's."

Sidney makes a face. "Right," he says. "You want one?" he asks Geno.

"Terrible beer," Geno says. Everyone hoots at that. "Yes, please," he adds with a smile.

Sidney's sure they talk about fun stuff. He's virtually positive that everyone doesn't hang out and talk about, he doesn't know, how electricity works, for two hours. At some points, Sidney even laughs. But all he can think about is how much he wants to drag Geno upstairs, so the two hours drag.

By the time Max is burping loudly and saying, "Okay, I have to get going," and everyone else is throwing their beer bottles away, Sidney feels like he's been waiting forever. Everyone cleans up and files out - Colby with a knowing look, which, screw him.

And then, finally, he and Geno are alone again.

Sidney's kind of mad that the first thing that happens is he starts feeling awkward again. Geno, though, just smiles at him, hooks a finger in Sidney's necklace, tugs lightly, and then says, "Come upstairs, Sidney."

Sidney follows Geno up. He goes into his bedroom after Geno, closing the door behind him.

And then it's just him and Geno, and Geno, Sidney thinks crankily, won't stop smiling, like there's nothing to be nervous about.

"Sid." Geno reaches out and catches his hand, leading Sidney over to the bed. "Is good, I happy. Sid not?"

"I am," Sidney says. "I'm just..." He should probably be honest with Geno. That seems like the point of relationships, kind of. "I don't do this. Ever. With people...I mean, I dated someone at Shattuck, but -"

"Will be fine. I show," Geno says. He cups Sidney's face in a hand and leans in, kissing him.

Sidney sways a little, moving into the kiss. He can touch Geno, he realizes suddenly, and then all he can do is touch Geno - his back, his biceps, his neck. He almost protests when Geno pulls away and takes their shirts off.

Then there's so much skin, though, that Sidney just reaches out and kisses Geno's neck, pressing them together. Geno holds Sidney's head, just a little tightly, and after a minute says, "Gonna lie down."

That leaves Sidney to lower himself down half on top of Geno. They lie together, just kissing, for awhile.

It should be awkward. It kind of is; sometimes Sidney does stupid things with his tongue, and sometimes Geno holds onto Sidney a little too tightly. But somehow, time just slips away, until after what feels like a long time, but also not long enough, Sidney's gasping and rocking against Geno's hand.

"Pants," Geno says, rolling away and getting his own off. He fumbles a little, which is flattering, because Sidney's own hands aren't remotely steady. Eventually they're both naked, though, and then...

"You said you were going to fuck me," Sidney says, because he's a little worried Geno's going to come up with some reason not to do it.

And Sidney's realizing he really, really wants to.

"I said," Geno says, grabs the lube. "Spread legs." He leans in and kisses Sidney.

This time, the fingering is just a lead-up to what's going to happen next. Sidney lets Geno see how into it he is, how it makes him move his hips frantically, the sounds he makes. The stupid faces he makes, even. Geno keeps leaning down to kiss him, and sometimes he'll bite Sidney's lip and tug the necklace, and Sidney has to fight not to come just from the tiny amount of friction his dick has right then.

Eventually, though, he's saying, "Come on, Geno, please."

When Geno presses into him, it's not gentle. He's rough, fucking Sidney hard, hands holding onto his hips hard enough that Sidney's pretty sure he'll have bruises. It feels perfect to Sidney; he tilts his hips and says, "Harder, come on," pulling Geno in so he can kiss him desperately as he gets closer and closer.

Then Geno says breathlessly, "Sid, jerk off, Sid - hand. You."

Sidney puts a hand on himself right away, and it only takes him a few desperate twists of his hand to come. When he opens his eyes, Geno's looking at him like - Sidney turns bright red. Like he meant what he said earlier. All of it.

Then Geno closes his eyes and groans, coming, leaning into Sidney. Sidney holds on, letting Geno pant against him until Geno stops shaking and pulls out.

He lies next to Sidney afterwards, not touching him. Sidney stares at the ceiling for awhile before saying, "Geno?"

"Sid."

"Do you think..." He swallows. "Do you think you could stay? Here, I mean. Um. In bed. With me. Tonight."

Geno hoists himself up so that he's hovering over Sidney. He looks worried, of all things. "Don't have to."

"Oh, I know," Sidney says. "I mean, not every night. And I don't want to cuddle. But I just thought - tonight? Maybe?" He doesn't want to be alone, and he wants to keep Geno, to make sure they figured things out for real, and he wants to fall asleep with Geno close to him just because - because he does. But he doesn't know how to say that, so instead he leans up and kisses Geno.

Geno looks a little dazed when he pulls away. "Yes," he says finally. "I stay."

Sidney heaves a sigh of relief. "Oh, good."

Geno gets a sly look on his face. "Sidney already have to wash sheets anyway."

"Oh, fuck off," Sidney says, smacking him lightly.

But when Geno laughs, it's the best sound Sidney's ever heard.

Well. Next to skates on ice, anyway.

Sidney smiles, touches his necklace, and then reaches over to turn the bedside light off. "Goodnight," he says, rolling over so his back is facing Geno.

Geno drops a kiss on Sidney's shoulder. "Goodnight," he says, settling away from Sidney.

It's the best sleep Sidney's ever had.