“Hey, has anyone heard from Sid lately?” Though it sounds like Jordan is addressing the locker room at large, by the time his words register for Geno and he looks up to think about his answer, it is clear he’s only talking to Geno. The rest of the team, milling about shower-fresh and changing after practice, isn’t paying attention, and Geno frowns slightly at Jordan’s patient, unapologetic face.
“Not his keeper,” Geno says, automatic at this point, because this is something he has had to insist for the entire time Sidney has been injured. It’s to the point where the words no longer feel all that foreign on his tongue, joining a slowly-growing handful of other English phrases (and he doesn’t like to think about how many of those phrases have to do with Sidney).
Also familiar is the disbelieving chuckle Jordan answers him with, shrugging and going back to yanking on a sweatshirt. “Whatever you say, Geno,” Jordan says, muffled in the shirt, and Geno blinks, disgruntled at the feeling of déjà vu. “Seriously, though, it’s been days since he’s called me up to complain about how shitty daytime TV is or whatever. Has he been calling you?”
Geno shrugs, because the answer is no, and he doesn’t have the will or the words to really discuss how bothered and guilty that makes him feel.
He and Sidney had had their own version of the ‘not his keeper’ conversation a little less than a week ago, and it had involved Sidney snapping about hovering and boundaries while somehow also complaining about being left out of the team loop. Geno had protested the hovering accusation, once he understood what Sidney meant by it, and that what he meant was actually back off, however indelicately. Geno is not so clueless that he can confuse friendship with hovering, though it’s obvious that Sidney is, but pointing this out was hard, especially with a Sidney that had made up his mind to be annoyed with the world that day.
Jordan’s right, though, in that Sidney’s annoyance with the world seems to have lasted a week, and Geno confirms this by checking his phone as he slides it into his pocket, not that he needs to. He knows Sidney hasn’t called him, and he could have guessed without Jordan saying so that he hasn’t called anyone. Sidney is pouting, that much is obvious, and Geno almost feels foolish for thinking that he should probably go check on him anyway.
Jordan is back to chatting with the guys, fully dressed and no longer concerned, as if he’s sure that that’s exactly what Geno will do. Geno would take offense, protest some more and repeat “not his keeper” maybe until his face goes blue and English starts to feel like his first language, but he can’t deny that he’s once again rationalizing the hovering instincts.
Sidney has never had a Russian mother; he doesn’t know that this is the tip of the hovering iceberg. Geno knows. He’s only cooked for Sidney once throughout this whole ordeal, and that had been because he knew his own mother would never allow someone to subsist solely on protein shakes and candy, and would not have raised her son to allow it, either.
So it is with a grim mix of resignation and righteousness that he bundles up and waves farewell to his teammates, who all wave back and grin when Jordan calls out, “Say hi to Sid for us!” Geno stubbornly ignores the flush he feels creeping up his neck and is grateful his scarf covers it; he is a good friend, this is the right thing to do, and his mother would be proud.
Sidney’s car is in his driveway, further confirming Geno’s pouting suspicions. He doesn’t pause to examine the fact that he can picture Sidney exactly as he probably is: lying on his couch, watching the TV tuned to an embarrassing show he’ll scramble to turn off when Geno walks in. This is why Geno forgoes ringing the bell and just lets himself in with his key, vowing that if Sidney bitches at him about boundaries again he’ll just remind him who gave him the key in the first place.
“Hello,” Geno calls, because the TV is on but Sidney hasn’t jumped up from the couch yet, scowling blearily with his hair stupidly sticking up on one side. Geno inwardly scolds himself for wanting to smile at the image and peeks over the back of couch, frowning over its emptiness.
The hallway is empty, too, and so is the bathroom, so Geno heads into the kitchen. Sidney would shut the TV off if he went upstairs to work out, and also he knows he’s not supposed to be pushing himself yet, and knows Geno won’t hesitate to rat him out to his trainers if he thinks he is.
When there’s no one in the kitchen, Geno sighs in annoyance and prepares to turn to head up to Sidney’s weight room. He stops when he hears a rustle, and notices that the freezer door is halfway open.
Geno steps around Sidney ill-used island counter and sees one of Sid’s high, backed stools pushed up against the counter next to the refrigerator. The floor is littered with melting bags of vegetables and a box of whole wheat frozen waffles, and Geno feels a curl of unease in the pit of his stomach as he steps closer, wondering what kind of thieves raid a victim’s freezer.
“Sid?” he calls out uncertainly, hating the slight tremble in his voice, and he hears another rustle. He’s close enough to be certain that it’s coming from inside the open freezer, and with a shaky hand and a deep breath, Geno reaches out and pulls the freezer door all the way open.
His breath leaves him in one sharp swoop, followed by a pained sort of chuckle, because there is a penguin in Sidney’s freezer, beak buried under his wing and sandwiched between the freezer wall and a stack of ice packs. “Sidney, you idiot,” he says, and the penguin’s head snaps up, his beady black eyes staring straight at Geno with unwavering, uncomfortable focus.
Geno waves a little, starting to sweat. He’s pretty sure it’s not legal to keep penguins anywhere but zoos, and it’s not a good idea for Sidney to keep any kind of animal in his house for any length of time, concussion or not. There is a graveyard full of dead houseplants that are a testament to that, and Geno has very pointedly shut down any wistful conversations leading to any other conclusion by offering his own pets for Sidney to visit any time he likes. “Idiot,” he repeats, in Russian this time because he really, really means it, and he watches as the penguin twitches again.
Then the penguin lets out a terrible, loud screeching noise and pretty much throws itself away from the wall of the freezer. It does a sort of slide towards the opening, still screeching in a way that sounds nearly hysterical, and Geno watches with a sick sort of horror as the penguin nearly topples over the edge of the freezer, flapping its wings and knocking an empty ice cube tray down to the floor.
Geno reaches out and grabs on instinct, swearing harshly when the flapping and screeching doesn’t stop. He gets a wing in the face a few times, and the beak comes dangerously close to nipping at his cheek, but the penguin isn’t very big or well-coordinated. Webbed feet kick uselessly away from a rounded, feathered bottom, and Geno holds the penguin far away from his body and gapes at it.
“Sorry,” he says in English, because maybe speaking in Russian had upset the bird. Maybe Sidney has been starving it, or trying to feed it protein shakes, or had forgotten about it while working out. “Is okay, I not—you hungry?”
The penguin screeches more, piercing and high and ghastly, and Geno winces and promptly gives up. He places the penguin as gently on the counter as he can and has to force down his own hysterics as he watches the penguin flap itself sideways into Sidney’s stainless steel sink.
“Sidney!” Geno yells, and the penguin flaps harder, squawking loud enough that Geno is suddenly worried about the neighbors hearing from miles away. “Stop that,” he hisses at the penguin, and another “Sidney! I know you here!”
The penguin rights itself in the sink and might actually be glaring at Geno, if such a thing is possible. Geno wants to explain that he’s not the one that left it in a freezer to possibly starve, then realizes he’s preparing to defend himself to a penguin and holds his hands up. “Okay. I find him, and get you food. Shut up, please.”
A bloodcurdling screech is his only answer, and Geno sighs and backs out of the kitchen. There is a headache pressing in from the back of his neck, and the penguin seems to have taken personal insult to Geno’s instructions to quiet down, evidenced by his long, wailing screeches. He tries to concentrate on just finding Sidney and making him explain, but the weight room is empty and so is the rest of the house, and Geno doesn’t know what to do with that.
He sweeps through empty rooms, because Sidney has been living on his own for a while now and still doesn’t know how to take up space, and he tries to keep the panic out of his voice as he keeps calling for Sidney, even though there’s no Sidney to hear it. Geno thinks that maybe he went out for a run, and resolves to wait, but when he returns to the kitchen and relays this plan to the penguin, it is received by more, somehow louder screeching.
“I don’t know what you want,” Geno says mournfully. “We wait for Sidney.”
He closes his eyes against a horrible screech, dropping his head into his hands. He looks up briefly when the screeching dies down and chokes on a laugh as he sees the penguin attempting and failing to climb out of the sink. “We wait,” he repeats, watching the penguin and meeting his tiny, accusing eyes.
But Sidney doesn’t come back, and the penguin never shuts up. Geno tries calling his cell and groans when he hears it ringing on the kitchen table, plugged into a wall charger. He paces around the kitchen, offers the penguin frozen waffles from the floor, and apologizes again before he realizes what he’s doing.
“I don’t know where is he,” Geno tells the penguin, and the penguin shrieks in indignation. Geno glares at it and tries to be angry for getting stuck with this; he is not Sidney’s keeper and he is certainly not this penguin’s keeper and he does not appreciate being made into one.
Being angry about it is better than the sickening worry that’s starting to creep in, worry that intensifies when he pokes around some more and notices more of Sidney’s stuff around: his wallet, all of his cold weather gear, rows of running shoes that Geno is embarrassed to be able to tell that none are missing from. His house keys are on the kitchen table near his phone. Sidney wouldn’t leave without all of this stuff, not even in his sorriest state of misery. He’s just too practical, too much of a thinker. None of this is like him, and none of it makes sense.
He returns to pacing in the kitchen, worry starting to eat at him more and more, and the penguin seems to grow more agitated the more Geno paces. He has a full-blown headache now, his hand pressed to his forehead, stomach churning as he tells himself all he can do is wait. He doesn’t want to start calling people that Sidney knows and asking after him, doesn’t want to sound the alarm with broken English and panicked, probably irrational inquiries. A Sidney Crosby without hockey is apparently crazy enough to acquire a penguin as a pet, but Geno has to tell himself he’s not crazy enough to do anything worse than that.
The penguin is still in the sink, despite concentrated and squawking efforts to climb out of it. Feeling utterly useless, Geno sighs and picks the penguin up, planning to put it back in the freezer; at least Sid had had the right idea about climate. He decides the next thing to do is turn Sidney’s thermostat as low as it will go, and he’s planning to do that when the penguin freaks out in his hold again and winds up flapping itself out of Geno’s hands.
Thankfully, it doesn’t fall very far, landing with a thud on the stool pushed against the counter as Geno swears at it in his native tongue. The penguin glares at him like he understands him perfectly, and with awkward, fumbling movements, hops off the stool to the floor.
“Where you going?” Geno asks, watching with a small twinge in his chest as the penguin starts waddling purposefully across the tiled floor. Its feet make small slapping noises and its feathers are ruffled in indignation; it gives a squawk and a look over his shoulder at Geno, head turned at a sharp angle. Geno shrugs and follows, biting his bottom lip as he watches the penguin resume its determined march.
It’s terribly cute, and this is a terrible time to think so, but Geno can’t help it. The penguin is slow and its steps are uncertain, and Geno inches along behind him so he doesn’t overtake him or kick him.
He is led to the pantry, which Geno hadn’t looked in because the pantry isn’t one of Sidney’s natural habitats in this house. His candy stash is in a safe spot hidden in the living room, where only Geno knows to judge it, and his meals at home are rare. The only reason the pantry is even stocked is because of Sidney’s mother, horrified at the sparse state of Sidney’s kitchen. Geno is fairly sure that most of the food in there has been untouched since purchased, probably because Sidney just forgot about it.
But maybe the penguin thinks there’s food in there for him. Geno leans around the open pantry door and peers into the small, shelved room and blinks to see the light on. He blinks again when he sees the penguin has come to a stop in front of a pile of clothes on the floor that looks worryingly familiar.
The penguin squawks, loud and with clear intent, and Geno’s stomach turns over as the penguin then points to the clothes with one short wing. He says, “Sid,” without actually meaning to, and when the penguin meets his eyes and makes a softer sort of trill, Geno’s knees start to wobble.
He says, “Sid,” again and drops to his knees slowly, reaching around the penguin for the clothes. The Penguins logo on the t-shirt and the Reebok tag on the sweatpants would be enough to identify them as Sid’s, but Geno can smell them, too, and his heart pounds because he can smell Sidney. The penguin trills again, still looking at Geno, and waddles closer to him, blinking up at him in a way that flashes recognition through him very painfully.
Geno says, “Sidney,” and this time, he isn’t looking at anything—anyone—but the penguin. Because the penguin is Sidney.
“How this happen?” Geno asks for the third time, and Sidney doesn’t answer him, because he is a penguin.
Well, it’s not entirely true that Sidney doesn’t answer him. He just doesn’t answer in sounds that Geno can understand (because, Geno reminds himself hysterically, he is a penguin).
Instead, he lets out another mournful, frustrated-sounding screech that also manages to sound strangely whiny, though that may just be because Geno knows who it’s coming from. Geno is back to pacing around the kitchen, running his fingers through his hair and shivering. He had turned Sidney’s thermostat as low as possible, and it’s below freezing outside, so Sidney should be fairly comfortable in his penguin form. It’s Geno who can’t stop shaking, and he knows it’s only partly from the cold.
Sidney is still screeching, flapping his wings emphatically like Geno will understand that any better. His headache is still there, throbbing through his chilled skull, and he presses his fingers against the bridge of his nose.
Sidney does not take the hint, which isn’t very surprising. Sid is bad at taking hints in human form, too; he keeps babbling in penguin-speak, even when Geno slumps over the island counter and groans piteously. His penguin voice is awful, high and so screechy, worse even than Sidney’s human voice when throwing a fit on the ice, and Geno knows there’s something truly wrong with him when he realizes that he misses that voice, with an ache that cuts him to the quick.
“Please,” Geno says. “Quiet, just for minute, Sid.”
Maybe he sounds truly pitiful, because Sidney obeys, though he doesn’t stop flapping his wings. His small chest is puffed out when Geno looks down at him, and again Geno feels ridiculous and awful for thinking it looks cute.
He wisely fights down a smile, knowing it would look alarming with his teeth near to chattering, and it would probably set Sidney off again. “You understand,” Geno says slowly, and he winces as Sidney’s beak opens up immediately, wings spreading wide.
But slowly, his beak closes again, and he looks almost speculatively up at Geno, before bobbing his long neck very slowly. It’s a clumsy, sweet motion and Geno can’t hold back his smile then, gritting his teeth together and feeling something small loosen slightly inside of him.
“Good. You nod or shake head, and I talk. Okay?” Sidney bobs again, wings settling slightly at his sides but his chest staying puffed up. Geno stands up a little straighter and screws up his resolve, mind racing and desperate for answers. “So you—you in pantry, and then you—just penguin? Just like that?”
Sidney nods, so hard he wobbles on his feet a little. Geno smothers another smile with his hand and scrubs over his face before he can trust himself with words again. “When?”
It’s a stupid question, and the look Sidney gives him—somehow, as a penguin, Sidney is still capable of looks, still his captain who can tell him off with just a flash of his eyes, and that’s maybe the most ridiculous thing about all this—tells him so. Geno groans a little and quickly amends, “Long time? Days? Week?”
That gets a small squawk and a clumsy shake of Sidney’s head, again almost upsetting his balance. Geno wonders with a clench of his gut if this is Sidney being unused to his penguin body, if penguins are just that graceless outside of water, or if this is a concussion symptom showing in Sidney as a penguin. The last option is terrible to think of and so Geno can’t voice any of them, swallowing hard and forcing out, “Today, Sid?”
Yes, today, and Sidney elaborates by waddling unsteadily over to the stool by the counter and struggling to climb up onto it with his feet on the rungs and his wings tugging his body onto the seat. He uses his beak, too, to latch on to the back of the stool and climb up those rungs, before tumbling messily on to the counter. He hops up onto the toaster on the counter and, with much more struggling and fluffed-out feathers and a clicking beak, opens the freezer door again and hauls himself inside.
“You do that, but can’t get out of sink,” Geno says to keep from breaking out in hysterical giggles that are building in his chest, half because that was maybe the cutest thing he’s ever seen an animal do, and half because it was so ridiculously Sidney that it’s absurd.
Sidney squawks in irritation, but he seems stupidly smug, too, beak up in the air as he settles back against the ice packs. Geno smothers another smile and shakes his head, breathing out shakily.
“Okay. Is okay, you not have to climb anymore. I am here.” He feels steadier as he says it, the panic and hysteria of the situation slowly starting to fade as a more familiar role becomes apparent. Geno doesn’t know how to fix this, as much as he wants to, as much as he’s shivering with the need to. But he knows that he can help Sidney in the meantime—will help Sidney in the meantime, because there’s really nothing else for him to do.
Sidney’s beak is still in the air, like he might be trying for defiance, but Geno just stares him down. He’s not going to have a ‘not his keeper’ argument right now, not when Sidney is a penguin and needs a keeper. He needs someone to help him hide this, too, and Geno is here. Maybe it would be Geno even if he hadn’t been the first one here, but he doesn’t have to think about that, just shakes his head quickly and locks on to Sidney’s eyes steadily.
He doesn’t say, “You need me,” even though it’s technically true, and he doesn’t defend his hovering tendencies again, doesn’t try to rationalize them. Geno just says, “I am here,” again, and he reaches carefully into the freezer to cup his hand gently over Sidney’s small head.
He rubs, with just one finger, and slowly Sidney’s beak lowers. His chest evens out, his wings relaxing further at his side, and though he is still staring at Geno with a spark of steadfast determination, he nods, very slightly. His feathers are soft under Geno’s touch, and Geno lets himself smile and nod back.
How is Sid? asks a text from Flower, and Geno frowns over at where Sidney is dubiously eyeing an opened can of sardines dug out of the pantry. He is not tall enough to sit at the table and eat, and seems wary of standing on the table and bending down to pick up food with his beak, as if Geno’s going to criticize his table manners or something. He also seems wary of the food, but Geno has a backup can of tuna ready.
“Penguins eat fish,” Geno tells him knowledgably, pocketing his phone and shelving Flower’s concern for a while. Sidney has only been a penguin for a day, as far as he can tell, and out of contact with the team but probably not with everyone he knows for only a week. That’s not long enough to start making excuses for him; he has to think up more excuses before he can do that.
Geno knows that penguins eat fish because he had gotten out Sidney’s laptop and Googled penguin behavior with fingers that are now growing numb with cold. He’d winced at the many low temperature insistences and glanced uneasily at the thermostat, knowing it’s probably still not cold enough in here for Sidney. He’s going to have to figure that out, and he adds it to the alarming list growing in his head.
Here is what he knows: Sidney is a Gentoo penguin, identified with pictures, and smaller than the Emperor penguins Geno knows by sight because of his team name. Gentoo penguins actually prefer krill to fish, but somehow Sidney doesn’t have any krill on hand, so they have to make do with the fish until Geno can find krill.
There is so much more that he doesn’t know, and he’s trying not to think about that. He doesn’t know how Sidney came to be a penguin, doesn’t know how to get Sidney to not be a penguin anymore, and Geno thinks that those are maybe the most important things to know. He feels his brows draw together and knows rationally that doing an internet search for my friend and teammate is a penguin, help would not actually bear useful results, and his fingers are too cold to type much more anyway.
Sidney is still not eating, making small trills at his food, and Geno turns to look at him more directly and refuses to back down from the defiant look he receives in return. “Eat,” he says, comforting himself with the fact that they’d probably be having the same conversation if Sidney were human.
He gets another, louder trill in return, but Sidney finally bends over and clumsily snags a piece of fish in his beak with a click. He drops it twice but manages to snap it into his mouth on the third try, angling his back towards Geno like he can hide his mistakes.
Geno ducks his gaze and smiles down at his own folded hands, watching Sidney out of the corner of his eye because he can’t actually ignore him. And maybe that’s always a little true, whatever, but he thinks he’s pretty justified right now.
With a clicking beak and lots of neck-bobbing, Sidney demolishes the can of sardines fast enough that Geno knows he’d been hungry. After, he tries to climb into the freezer again, squawking indignantly when Geno picks him up and helps, but settling down easily enough inside.
“You can’t stay here,” Geno says. “Is not going to stay cold.” Sidney gives him a very unimpressed look, beak in the air again, and Geno rolls his eyes and adds, “Good idea, though?” to keep the peace. He does not want another penguin tantrum.
Sidney hooks his beak onto the freezer door and tries to close it, and Geno grabs it and shakes his head, watching Sid tug uselessly for a minute before giving up.
“You can’t breathe, Sidney.” He looks around the room thoughtfully, keeping hold of the freezer door in case Sidney wants to be stubborn. “We find something else. I find. Stay here?”
It’s only a question out of politeness, really; Geno pulls the freezer door as far open as it will go and ignores Sidney’s squawking to look for the door to his basement, acting on a hunch. He flicks on a light and finds the much larger upright freezer he remembers Sidney’s mother stocking with meat when she’d gone after the pantry.
All of the meat is still in there, and Geno feels guilty taking it out, because now how will Sidney get through the next apocalypse without his endless supply of frozen meat? But the end result is a roomy space with a door he can prop slightly open for air and enough power to keep it very cold anyway. Pleased, Geno turns to go back upstairs and rolls his eyes at Sidney waddling over at the top of the stairs, peering down at him.
“I say to—” Geno starts, and Sidney just cuts him off with a screech and starts hopping down the stairs.
“You go in here when you get too hot,” Geno says after Sidney tumbles down the last few steps and pokes his beak at the freezer curiously. Geno is willing to bet that Sidney didn’t even remember that this freezer was here, and is glad for it; he doesn’t like the idea of Sidney up and down these steps by himself, and wonders if he can move the freezer upstairs without getting anyone else involved. Probably not, and he doesn’t know how he’d explain needing that kind of help to the guys, so he just resolves to carry Sid up and down no matter how many tantrums he throws.
Sidney has to inspect the freezer’s insides before he pokes Geno’s leg with his beak in what’s probably approval. Geno asks, “You want sleep?” and gestures inside, resolving to pull over the cot in the corner and grab a mountain of blankets and just stay down here with Sid, because of the stairs problem. Sidney answers him by waddling back towards the stairs, and he nips at Geno’s wrist when he’s picked up again, but Geno says, “Sid, don’t be dick,” and hefts him upstairs.
“I tell everyone you bite me,” Geno says, setting Sidney down again and watching him try to stalk off. Sid scowls at him over his shoulder, and Geno grins. “They think you human, weirder then. Don’t bite, Sid.”
Sidney does not answer him, turns away and just waddles around. Geno can see him trying to walk more naturally, taking more careful steps and going slower, and he leaves him to it, picking up his phone again and thinking about what he’s going to tell Flower and anyone else who asks about Sid.
He is fine Geno taps out, and then adds tell guys so he doesn’t have to field questions from the whole team all night. He sighs a bit when he gets back take care of him!! and a winking smile face, and watches Sidney trip on the living room carpet, squawking on his belly.
I try he answers, and grabs at the laptop again. He borrows a scarf and gloves from Sidney and sets himself up in the living room with the laptop, reading more about penguins and watching Sidney try to navigate carpeting.
The thing is, Geno can’t actually stay here forever, and so the comforts he tries to set up for Sid are all set up with the short term in mind. Sidney can’t stay a penguin forever, the idea is unthinkable, and so the freezer and the fish and the krill he’s trying to find online are all temporary fixes. Geno can make hot chocolate in Sidney’s kitchen and he can bundle up on Sidney’s couch and he can call his housekeeper and make sure she feeds his pets. He can watch Sidney crow in triumph when he makes it across his living room without falling over, and he can smile at that all he wants, Sidney too absorbed in his own victory to notice, but he can’t stop worrying. He can’t stop thinking about how he has to be in New York for a game in two days, and there are home games after that and practice every day, and he doesn’t know what he can do if Sid doesn’t turn back before then.
Sidney has to be just as worried, but he doesn’t show it, as far as Geno can tell. He just determinedly makes his way around the ground floor of his house as Geno watches him. He eyes the stairs to the second floor and then shoots a look at Geno before waddling back to the kitchen.
Geno finishes his hot chocolate, rubs his temples, and finds Sidney pecking and pulling at his backdoor. His feathers ruffle slightly when Geno opens it for him, but he waddles out into his yard with his head up and hops down the short stairs before Geno can grab him.
“Sid,” Geno says warningly, but Sidney ignores him to start pecking at snow and eating it. Geno shrugs, wrapping his arms around himself and sitting on the stairs to watch him, breath misting out in front of him. “Stairs scary, hard. You fall and hit head again and then what?”
Sidney lets out a mournful sort of trill and stops eating snow to twist his neck again, and Geno reaches out before he can stop himself, petting Sidney’s head once more. This time Sidney twists away and then falls over into the snow, and Geno laughs and refuses to feel bad about it.
Geno sleeps in the basement, despite Sidney’s many screeched protests, under a pile of every blanket in the house and full winter gear. Sidney sleeps in the freezer with his beak tucked under his wing and a spare puck keeping the door propped slightly open.
Geno sleeps fitfully, not just from the cold but also to lie awake and listen to the almost purr-like sounds of Sidney breathing. In the morning he wakes up to the freezer door banging closed and Sidney halfway to the stairs.
He looks half-asleep and keeps shaking out his wings at his sides, but he is awake enough to be annoyed with Geno picking him up again to carry him upstairs. Sidney barely misses Geno’s thumb with a slashing, sharp beak, and Geno scowls at him and pointedly Googles can penguins get concussions? while Sidney eats a tuna breakfast. Geno scowls harder when all of the results are about human Sidney’s concussion, and he closes the laptop and concentrates on his flavorless cereal.
“Have practice,” Geno says apologetically, and Sidney flaps a wing at him, either in dismissal or acceptance or annoyance, Geno doesn’t know. “I come back,” he adds firmly. “Don’t go downstairs, I lock the door. You get hot, you go in this freezer, or you go in yard. Careful, Sid.”
This flapping is definitely annoyance, because it’s accompanied by a squawk. Geno sighs and finished his cereal and worries. He worries through leaving out more fish for Sidney, packing snowballs into the kitchen freezer in case Sid doesn’t want to go outside. He worries through stopping home to change and pet his cat and hug his dog, sighing in gratitude when they just love him unconditionally and accept his love back. Cats and dogs make much easier pets than penguins, and better best friends.
Unsurprisingly, all this worrying does nothing good for him at practice. He is glad that he had changed out of yesterday’s clothes, because the guys are giving him enough shit about taking care of Sidney anyway. “God, he’s probably a nightmare right now, isn’t he?” Max says, half-sympathetic and half-amused, and Geno’s back goes straight with defensiveness for a moment before his shoulders slump because, well, yeah. Sidney kind of is a nightmare right now. He’s just a penguin nightmare instead of a human nightmare, so Geno can’t hold it against him.
That doesn’t stop him from feeling desperate to get back to Sidney’s house, even though he forces himself to take his time, to concentrate on his game. He can imagine the hissy fit Sidney would throw if he knew that he was distracting Geno from practice; somehow, the thought is comforting, and it helps a little.
He politely declines invitations to go out later, though Max is quick to tell him, “Bring Sid! He needs to get out. We’ll get a couple of beers in him and maybe find someone to turn his nightmares into some sweet dreams.” This is accompanied by a dramatic eyebrow waggle, as if it needs any more sleaze.
Geno dislikes that idea on many different levels, and Flower seems to know that immediately, because he adds, “Or he can drown his injury sadness in drinks—okay, water—and we can give him whining amnesty for the night. Just bring him, Geno.” But Geno is already shaking his head, mumbling excuses for them both that aren’t comprehensible on purpose.
He gracefully withstands the accusations of being boring and married, despite the fact that only boring makes sense in this context, but he’s sure the stress of the situation is muddling his English comprehension skills. Jordy claps him on the back and tells him he’s a good bro, which Geno already knew, because he doesn’t know of many bros that would take care of their penguin best friends without dumping them in a zoo or attempting to dress them up and take pictures. He is an excellent bro, and if Sidney tries to bite him again, Geno will remind him of that.
Geno brings his warmest clothes to Sidney’s house and finds him in the backyard. There are tiny footprints all over the latest midday snowfall, and Sidney is a black and white blur rolling around in it. Geno grins, uncontrollable and warm in the bitterly cold air, and watches. He listens to Sidney trilling, soft like it’s not on purpose, and can almost hear human Sidney humming to himself in the locker room, happy and satisfied after a good game.
If Sidney were human, Geno rationalizes, he would totally pack up a snowball as stealthily as possible and throw it at him, so it seems natural to do it to penguin Sid. He doesn’t think about how he would probably never catch human Sid playing in the snow, and just winds up and lets the snowball loose, laughing when Sidney jumps and squawks upon contact.
Snow falls in chunks from Sidney’s coat of feathers as he shakes himself all over, and Geno only feels guilty when Sidney draws himself up and stands in the snow instead of continuing to roll around. His chest puffs out and Geno holds on to his grin, shrugging a little. “I want play too.”
Sidney squawks and bends, flapping at the ground with his wings and screeching in frustration when he can’t gather anything up. Geno laughs again and heads over to him, sits down and ignores the cold seeping in through his jeans. “You right, is not fair. I have thumbs, I win.”
That’s answered by much more violent flapping and also kicking, and Geno lies down and lets Sidney try for his payback as he concentrates on making a snow angel. Sidney stomps through his left angel wing, screeching and flapping, and he pecks at Geno’s leather gloves when Geno doesn’t look properly chastised.
Geno lets him, too charmed to feel bothered about the biting thing, though he’ll make fun of Sidney for this mercilessly when he’s human again. That thought makes his stomach sink, twisting uncomfortably, because there’s still the question of when, exactly, Sidney will be human again.
Sidney seems to pick up on the mood change and stops attacking Geno’s hand to peer down at his face. Geno looks up at him, blinking against sudden soft snow flurries, and smiles genuinely, because he has to when Sidney’s looking at him like that. “Hi, Sid,” he says, and he hopes Sidney had fun today.
Back inside, he has to rethink playing in the snow when he can’t get warm again and he and Sidney have another screechy fight about stairs. Geno takes a hot shower and layers himself in warm clothes, then snuggles under a comforter mound on Sidney’s couch while Sidney watches him from the floor. Geno says, “What?” when Sidney watches him for too long, and he frowns when Sidney points at the front door with a wing and squawks. “You want go out front?”
Sidney shakes his head and squawks again, then pecks at Geno’s car keys on the coffee table. Geno chuckles. “You kicking me out?”
Yes, Sidney’s eyes clearly say, solidifying it with a fast, firm nod that nearly unbalances him. Geno slumps further down in his blanket bundle and turns on Sidney’s TV, settling. “No, I stay with you.”
He ignores the subsequent tantrum Sidney throws, turning the TV up as loud as it goes and trying to concentrate on the subtitles to drown Sidney’s screeching out. “You concerned about cold, you come up and cuddle,” Geno tells him, and he expects it to shut Sidney up but he doesn’t expect it to make him freeze, staring at Geno like he’s grown a second head (which is rich, coming from someone who has turned into a penguin).
“Kidding, Sid,” Geno says, feeling ridiculous for explaining himself to a penguin and for being so unsettled by the need to. He should know better, though, because it’s Sidney, who only ever tolerates hugs off the ice, as opposed to enjoying them. Excessive displays of affection that aren’t related to scoring goals tend to make him uncomfortable as a general rule, and Geno doesn’t know why he’d even entertained the thought that being turned into seriously adorable creature would change that.
There is no cuddling that night, though there is a dinner in front of the TV that’s lean enough to remind Geno that he has to get groceries in this house at some point. Sidney declines more fish and tries to drag a bag of M&Ms out of his candy stash; he almost has the bag open when Geno catches him and tells him he will most definitely choke. “No candy for penguins,” Geno says, and the look Sidney nearly makes him rethink sleeping in the basement with him, in case Sid decides to peck him to death in his sleep.
Another squawking argument about the stairs caps off their night, and even though Geno is shivering and too tall for this cot, he starts dozing off immediately. Maybe he’s getting hypothermia, and the thought isn’t as alarming as it probably should be, since hypothermia would theoretically get him scratched from a few games and would be pretty unfortunate in general. “Maybe tomorrow you not be a penguin,” Geno says sleepily, and Sidney’s only answer is a muffled, annoyed little squawk.
The next morning, Sidney is still a penguin, and is still not happy about being carried up the stairs. Geno should probably be sick of getting bitten and pecked by now, but he eyes the shallow red marks on his arms with the same kind of resignation he’d felt about the possibility of hypothermia.
His relationship with human Sid has never been this abusive, exactly, though they’ve had similar points of contention in the past. He knows that Sidney hates not being in control, knows that’s what he’s hated most about this whole concussion thing, and he gets that this must be ten times worse than that. But Geno can’t help wanting to help, and he can’t imagine not helping if he can. That goes for concussed Sid and for penguin Sid, and he doesn’t bother explaining that to him because he’s not sure that Sidney will ever get it. He doesn’t quite get it himself, which is fine, because it doesn’t change the way he feels.
“Game tomorrow,” Geno says, and Sidney bobs his head stiffly but doesn’t meet Geno’s eyes. This is different from human Sid, who had never shut up about the games he’s had to sit out, before or after. “Game day after, too. I go to New York, and I come back, but—”
Sidney squawks and heads out towards the yard without letting Geno finish. Geno doesn’t think he’s ever seen a penguin brood before, not even in captivity, but of course Sidney is the first to manage it.
He prepares Sidney as much as possible for his time away, stocking the fridge with so many opened containers of fish and the more elusive (but adored) krill that it will probably stink for weeks. He thinks seriously about trying to lug the basement freezer upstairs but sighs and concedes the point eventually, leaving the door to the stairs open and making Sidney promise to be careful as best he can.
It doesn’t make traveling to New York any easier, and Geno can barely enjoy the warmth and comfort of his hotel room. He wears gloves to bed out of habit and Max gives him a weird look and says, “How are things with Sidney?” because apparently that’s the only topic of conversation that is ever relevant anymore.
“Things fine,” Geno says, grumpily peeling off his gloves and shoving them in his overnight bag.
Max narrows his eyes at him. “You sure you haven’t killed him and buried the body in his yard? Not that I’d blame you, really, I know how he gets, but—”
“He is fine,” Geno says. His voice shakes on the final note of that, because what if he’s not fine, what if he tried to toboggan down his basement steps and gave himself another concussion? Geno wishes that penguins could answer phones, because he could call right now and check on him, except he doesn’t think even human Sid would answer that call, just out of spite.
“I’m sure he is,” Max says soothingly, and he’s rummaging through the minibar like that’s going to help this conversation at all. “I mean, except for how he’s sidelined from the thing he loves most, and he won’t talk to any of his friends, and—”
“He talk to me,” Geno snaps, and helplessly thinks also he is a penguin. Max rolls his eyes.
“Yeah, but you’re you. You’re different. I’m talking about the rest of us, the mere mortals. His friends, not his—his Geno.”
“I am his friend.”
Max snorts, offers Geno a tiny bottle of vodka, and snorts again when he shakes his head. “Okay, so you’re still sticking to that line. Cool. My point is, he’s in a funk, it’s obvious, and he’s putting you in a funk by association, and that’s not helping anybody.”
Geno wants to know what line he’s sticking to, because he feels like he’s understanding less and less of this conversation as it progresses. But suddenly he doesn’t have the energy to puzzle that all out, or the English, and so he leans back in bed and presses the palms of weirdly cold hands and says, “How we help, then?” because helping is part of the problem.
He can hear the shrug in Max’s voice, and smell the opened bottles of alcohol. “Fucked if I know. I’m not good with drama, Geno, this is more Flower’s area of expertise.”
He doesn’t know what drama Max is talking about, because to Geno there’s really no drama besides the penguin situation, and Max doesn’t know about that. There’s only Sid acting like Sid, and it’s just made worse because he’s a penguin and it’s a tough situation. As soon as Sidney’s human again, things will go back to normal, and everything will be fine. Geno’s sure of it.
Except two games later (which are thankfully two wins, and he’s looking forward to telling Sid about that, at least, penguin or human), Geno goes back to Sidney’s house and he is still a penguin.
The kitchen is a mess of open containers and stinks of seafood, and there is melting snow tracked in from the yard, but what really drives the penguin point home is the nest Geno finds in the basement: a mix of rocks from the yard that he winces to think of Sidney carrying in with his beak, and a small pile of the blankets that Geno had been using on the cot. Here is where he finds Sidney, curled in on himself with his beak tucked under his wing again, and he is still a penguin and Geno’s heart feels full and heavy to look at him.
“Sid,” he says softly, and Sidney wakes up with a small squawk and a jolt. He blinks at Geno crouched down in front of him, looks down at his nest and shuffles away from it, then keeps looking up at Geno until Geno smiles at him tentatively. “Okay?” Geno asks, wincing a little and expecting a protest, but Sidney just lets out a soft trill and shuffles closer to him.
Geno takes that as tacit permission to reach down and run his fingers lightly over Sidney’s feathered head, smiling wider when Sidney doesn’t jerk away. He goes a little stiff but trills again, and when Geno goes to pull back he pushes up just slightly, and suddenly Geno doesn’t feel any of the cold, even though the freezer door is open right next to him.
“Good,” Geno says, like Sidney had answered an important question. “You hungry?”
Sidney answers by waddling over to the stairs, and obviously he’d been navigating them fine while Geno had been gone, so Geno is prepared to ignore the twitching urge to carry him just to avoid another fight. But Sidney waits at the foot of the stairs, twists his neck and gives a little squawk, and Geno likes to think he has more pride than to scramble to his feet and over to Sidney, but maybe not.
There’s no biting when he picks Sidney up, and if Geno tucks Sidney into his side a little more securely, neither of them acknowledge it, so it’s fine.
“I miss you,” Geno says, maybe bravely, watching Sidney attack a plate of krill. And Sidney avoids looking at him in way that makes him suspect that maybe, possibly, Sidney had missed him too.
They settle into something of a routine after that, if having a penguin for a best friend can be considered anything close to normal in any universe. They spend an off-day together with next to no arguments or biting, and very little disgruntled screeching. Geno feels like he’s won three games in a row instead of two. It’s a nice feeling.
There is only a small brush-up when Geno catches Sidney trying to turn the thermostat up with his beak, poking at the buttons and making low, grumpy noises. Geno says, “You cold?” disbelievingly, and Sidney looks back at him just as disbelievingly, then looks pointedly at Geno’s trembling gloved fingers and up at his hat pulled down over his ears. Geno presses his lips together. “I am okay, Sid. You get too hot, you get sick, computer say.”
Sidney’s chest puffs out, and Geno knows he’s in for another tantrum, but this one doesn’t last as long, at least; they’re making progress. Sidney goes off in the yard and Geno huddles on his couch and they take a break from each other, and when Sidney waddles back in he even climbs onto the coffee table and uses that to jump onto the couch.
“Game,” Geno says, pointing to the TV, a peace offering. Sidney doesn’t huddle close to him or anything, just settles back against the cushions and trills a little, feet sticking out in front of him, and Geno hides a smile by staring straight ahead. Later, he checks the thermostat again to make sure Sidney hadn’t succeeded in raising the temperature, because he feels oddly warm for the rest of the night.
As things become easier with Sidney at home (at Sidney’s home, Geno corrects himself, glad that he’s not thinking this way out loud), it becomes harder to fend off questions about him from the team. Harder still is answering questions from Dan, and then Mario, and Geno will never really understand being thanked by his boss for ‘taking good care of Sid’ when he doesn’t even know that Sidney is a penguin.
“I try,” Geno says, which is what he always says, because it’s what’s true. He can only ever try to take good care of Sid, human or not. Mario seems satisfied with this, though, giving Geno a firm, approving nod, and Geno is too grateful to be able to escape from this conversation to think about it that much.
The hardest line of questioning by far, though, comes through a phone call he gets on the way to Sid’s house. He can already feel a sense of foreboding when he sees Sergei’s name come up on his phone’s display, and really, he shouldn’t answer, he’s driving, he’d be perfectly in the right to ignore Sergei’s call. But Geno sighs and answers, because as much he’d like to be, he’s never going to be the kind of person to ignore calls in good conscience.
“You are living in Sidney Crosby’s house,” Sergei says, and Geno groans and very seriously considers hanging up. It’s been long enough since they’ve talked, though, that Sergei’s Russian almost seems unfamiliar; Geno has grown too used to listening to English and penguin, and so maybe he needs some perspective from home.
“How do you know that?” Geno asks faintly, and he hears Sergei sigh in return, which really isn’t necessary or warranted at all. Geno thinks he should have the market cornered on heavy, long-suffering sighs; his best friend has somehow turned into a penguin.
“Your housekeeper told me that you’ve abandoned Dixi and Jeffrey, and there are very few people you would abandon your animals for. Most of them live in Russia. Why are you living with him, Zhenya? Do you like causing yourself pain?”
Obviously, he does, or he wouldn’t be having this conversation. But Geno grits his teeth together and grinds them until he comes up with an answer that sounds less pathetic and desperate than he feels. “I’m not living with him, I am just keeping him company. Max says he’s in a funk.”
“And what about you?” Sergei asks, firm but not unkind. Geno rolls his eyes.
“He can’t play hockey, so he needs someone. I’m his friend, so I’m helping him. I would do the same for you.”
And he can practically hear Sergei rolling his eyes in response to that, and Geno huffs in affront and tightens his hands around his steering wheel. He takes a left turn more recklessly than he normally would in Pittsburgh (everyone takes left turns recklessly in Pittsburgh except for Geno, it seems) and realizes with more dull resignation that spending so much time with Sidney has made him no longer fear death. That can’t be a sign of a healthy friendship; maybe Sergei has a point.
“My ass, you would do the same for me,” Sergei says, and Geno amends, “Well, if we still lived in the same city—”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it.” Sergei pauses strategically, giving Geno time to not really think about what Sergei means, because he doesn’t want to. Instead he pushes down on the gas to get to Sid’s house that much faster, and end this conversation that much sooner. “Geno.”
“Sidney is my friend,” Geno says, eyes steady on the road.
“Sidney is your world, and you’ve been acting like a kid who lost his favorite toy since he’s been injured,” Sergei says, and Geno’s stomach starts sinking and doesn’t stop when Sergei adds, “Though, to be fair, and as far as I’ve heard, Sidney’s been acting the same way. Only in his case, his favorite toy is—”
“Hockey,” Geno says sullenly, and Sergei sighs again, the worst kind of sigh: not long-suffering but sympathetic and pitying.
“I still need to help him, then,” Geno says, and it’s true. It’s not just true because Sidney is a penguin; penguin or not, Sidney still hasn’t had hockey, and that’s still a problem for him. It’s just more of a problem right now.
The thing is, he’s not sure if he needs to help Sidney because Sidney needs help, or because, well, someone took Geno’s favorite toy away, to borrow an ill-fitting phrase.
Sergei doesn’t sigh at him, like he’d been sort of expecting. Instead he just sounds like he’s shaking his head, and even more pitying. “I know.”
For a second, Geno’s chest clenches up, and Sidney’s house is coming into view, and he thinks about telling Sergei. He thinks about saying “This is way worse than you think, Sidney is a penguin,” and he wants to tell him, is the thing. He doesn’t want to do this alone anymore, doesn’t want to need to do this alone, and Sergei would help, somehow, if only by listening.
But he can’t tell him. Telling him would mean most of the Russians in the NHL finding out by dawn, and they have a game against Washington coming up; nothing good would come of Alex Ovechkin knowing about Sidney’s penguin problem. And Sidney trusts him not to tell, at least tacitly, and Geno would never, ever betray that trust.
“Zhenya?” asks Sergei, and Geno forces his chest to loosen as he rolls up Sidney’s driveway.
“I’m home, I have to go,” he says, and then he swears under his breath. “I mean, I’m at Sidney’s house. Oh fuck off, please.” Sergei is laughing at him, hard and without shame, and somehow it makes Geno feel a little better; he kind of wants to laugh at himself too.
Instead, he tips his head against the steering wheel and ends the call on Sergei’s laughter, before winding his scarf tighter around his neck and heading inside.
On his next day off, Sidney has been a penguin for over a week and Geno is trying not to stress too hard about that. That becomes impossible when, while helping Sidney gather more rocks for the nest he still seems embarrassed about but intent on perfecting, Geno hears Sidney’s front door being pounded on, and a voice echoing far too loudly through the house.
Sidney squawks and flaps around in a circle, and he has terrible timing because now Geno just wants to laugh at him, and maybe also hug him. Instead, he chokes out, “Shh, stay here,” and hurries inside, sure he can get rid of whichever teammate wants to save them from themselves today. He’s become pretty good at that.
Sidney’s house is a total mess, clothes on the floor where Geno has been hastily changing under blankets for warmth in the living room, but he refuses to feel self-conscious or defensive when he sees Jordan on the doorstep. Geno tries to block the doorway with his body and opens his mouth to start arguing him away, but Jordan just muscles past him, rubbing his hands together and frowning hard.
“Jesus Christ, it’s freezing in here, Geno. Is Sid a popsicle?”
Almost, Geno thinks helplessly, and he folds his arms around himself. “I am on my way out, Jordy.”
“Yeah? To go where?” Jordan either knows he’s full of shit or refuses to approve of wherever Geno wants to go, and Geno’s shoulders slump.
“Get coffee for me and Sid,” he says, trying for defiance. Jordan just raises an eyebrow, and Geno resists the urge to stick his tongue out at him. “Not for you.”
“Sure, Geno, whatever. Where’s Sidney?” He starts wandering into the kitchen and Geno panics, reaching out as Jordan babbles thoughtlessly. “I’m taking you both out because I need to save you from yourselves, you really, really need to get out of this igloo. We’re going to find you frozen to the couch—”
“Sid still sleeping,” Geno says, nearly grabbing Jordan and yanking him back from the kitchen, which is too close to the yard for his comfort. But Jordan freezes before he does, staring at the couch with wide eyes, and looking around the living room. Geno looks, too, and stifles a groan when he sees what Jordan must see: the clothes on the floor, and enough blankets on the couch for thirty people. “Not like that—”
“It’s okay,” Jordan says, hands going up in the air very fast, swiveling to face Geno with his eyes still wide but now slightly gleeful. “Say no more. This was totally Max’s idea, anyway; I knew we shouldn’t have disturbed you guys.”
This time, Geno doesn’t bother stifling his groan, shaking his head. “No, Jordy. Sidney sleeping alone—”
“Yes, because you’re a sweetie and you’re going to get him coffee,” Jordan says, grinning and patting Geno lightly on his cheek. “Good, Geno. I know Sidney will never admit it, but he definitely likes being pampered.”
Geno doesn’t have the words to explain how wrong that statement is, on so many different levels, so he just starts ushering Jordan back towards the front door. He despairs a little when Jordan goes easily, because “Okay, don’t worry, I’ll leave you guys to your little love nest—”
“Bye, Jordan,” Geno says loudly, and he ducks away from another cheek pat just in time. He closes the door with a loud snap and leans against it for a minute, closing his eyes and quietly wondering why the universe has it out for him, and then he jumps when he hears a high squawk from the kitchen doorway.
“He gone,” Geno says, looking down at Sid poking his head curiously around the doorway. Sidney squawks again and waddles in, looking up until Geno has to sigh and smile and lean down to pat Sidney’s head reassuringly. “He just want to take us out, think we need to get out.”
Sidney’s chest puffs out almost on reflex, and Geno laughs and pats him again, not even minding when Sidney twists slightly out of reach. He doesn’t go far, and he is radiating cold air from the yard.
Jordan has a point, though, at least for Sidney. Even as a human, Sidney never got out much, and now he’s been a virtual prisoner here as a penguin. There are only so many rocks to gather, and the snow is mostly melting by now, and the only times Geno hears Sidney making his happy trills are when he eats krill or watches games on the couch.
Geno thinks he’d feel like the most accomplished person in the world if he could get Sidney to always make those sounds, human or penguin. And that’s why an idea forms in his head, and some phone calls make it happen, because taking action is way better than examining those feelings of accomplishment.
“We go out,” he tells Sidney, and he ignores his reasonable skepticism to lift Sidney into his car and strap him into the passenger seat. “You have fun, I promise.”
Sidney slips out of his seat almost as soon as they start driving, and Geno knows it’s okay to laugh because Sidney’s glaring at him, squawking dangerously. “We do this again, we get you baby seat,” Geno says, and he beams when Sidney hops back onto the seat. “Hey, no biting when driving, we crash.”
He takes Sidney to a rink he’s rented for the day, and can tell the moment Sidney has realized it, because he sits up straight in his seat and presses against the car window to stare out. Geno can’t stop beaming, which will eventually become a problem because he looks like a crazy person, but there’s no one around. He reminds Sidney of this when he ducks down from the window with a squawk, as if afraid of getting seen.
“No one recognize you,” Geno tells him, parking and smiling like an idiot. Sidney raises his beak, like he knows he’s being made fun of. “Can’t sign autographs with flippers.” Sidney squawks loudly but doesn’t snap at him, which confirms to Geno that this was a good choice.
He has a stick and a few pucks in his trunk from times before the penguin debacle when he liked to practice late, and Sidney trills in excitement when he sees them. “Stick too big for you, but you try and steal pucks with feet?” Geno says, and Sidney squawks and trips because he’s trying to run through the parking lot, and penguins can’t run.
The cool air of the rink would be almost enough to take his breath away if Sidney’s infectious happiness wasn’t. The soft, happy trills are back even before Geno gets a puck on the ice, because Sidney is on the ice, and even though he slips and falls onto his belly right away, it’s obvious that this is where he belongs.
“Careful,” Geno says reluctantly, but Sidney is too involved in sliding around on his belly to protest. He kicks himself off from the boards and zooms across the ice like he’s skating, like it’s natural for him to do that, and Geno watches him with his crazy person smile, leaning on his stick.
Eventually, Sidney toboggans into the net and sets himself up there, eyeing Geno with clear purpose. Geno taps pucks in as gently as possible without frustrating Sidney or pissing him off, but penguin Sidney makes a much better goalie than human Sidney. He just rolls around, squawking in what’s probably penguin trash talk, batting at pucks with his wings and his feet, and Geno laughs and watches him move. He is fumbling and clumsy and still somehow good, faster than penguins Geno has seen on TV, which is ridiculous and makes Geno wish he’d put on skates so he can be fast with him.
Sidney falls down a lot but it’s like being a penguin has made him better at falling; he seems to bounce and roll, and more often than not he blocks a puck by falling over onto it with his body. “You play like a Ranger,” Geno teases, and Sidney knocks the puck back to him with his wing so hard that it stings bouncing off his sneakered foot. “No, I know. You are a Penguin, Sid.”
He thinks they would both be happy staying here for hours, and Geno is almost uncomfortable with how much he’s missed being on the ice with Sidney, even if it’s like this. But they both need food, Sidney’s probably starving by now and Geno could really use some hot chocolate, and their ice time is nearly up anyway.
Telling Sidney this goes over much better than Geno had expected; Sidney seems almost too happy to throw any tantrums, and that makes Geno feel amazing. They go home and Geno feeds Sid his beloved krill, eats his own dinner in front of the TV, and smiles when Sidney joins him on the couch unprompted.
“Good day?” Geno asks, even though he knows it had been. Sidney nods, eyeing him carefully, and then slowly shuffles over the cushions. Geno tries not to stare and pretends to concentrate mostly on the TV, but soon Sidney is closer to Geno than he’s ever been on this couch, as a penguin or a human. It’s kind of the best, and Geno nudges his blanket mound over just a little, so that he can feel Sidney’s strange, incongruous penguin warmth through the layers.
“Good day,” Geno answers himself unnecessarily, and Sidney trills.
Geno doesn’t mean to fall asleep on the couch, and he is absolutely horrified that he does, because he still makes it a point to sleep on the cot in the basement for Sid. Sidney must have fallen asleep, too, which is worse; there is still warmth at his side, more warmth than before, and that means Sidney must be getting overheated.
“Sid,” Geno mumbles, trying to jerk up and frowning when he realizes the warmth at his side is much larger than a 2 and a half foot penguin should be. He’s almost much warmer than he should be, whether Sidney is overheated or not, and the warmth is all over, seeping into skin he’d long grown used to being chilled in this house.
Geno says, “Sid,” again, this time clearer, and twists around enough to see that that warmth at his side is not, in fact, the penguin that was formerly there. Instead it is Sidney: human, 5’11” Sidney, warm and sprawled out all over him and, Geno realizes a little hysterically, stark naked.
“Sidney,” Geno says, because there’s the universe spitting on him and then there’s the universe laughing at him, and this is a twisted combination of both.
Sidney mumbles in his sleep and tries to twist his head under his own armpit, which doesn’t work because he is human. Geno hisses and wrenches his arm free from under Sidney (naked, very naked) ribcage and puts it on Sidney’s neck, because he’s going to hurt himself like that and that is not happening on Geno’s watch, while Sidney is on top of him.
It takes a few more increasingly desperate repetitions of Sidney’s name to get him to wake up and realize he’s human again. When this happens, his first physical act as a human is to topple off the couch, sprawled on the floor while Geno glares up at the ceiling and wonders what he did in a past life to deserve this. Underneath the despair of having all that warm (and Sidney’s so warm, how did Geno never know that until now?) skin just right there, closer than it had ever been in the locker room, there is also relief bubbling up again. Sidney is human. Geno can play his game against Washington without having to worry about Ovie dressing penguin Sidney up in a ridiculous outfit and taking pictures of him. This is a very, very good thing, and Sidney is still very, very naked.
“Oh my God,” Sidney says breathlessly, and Geno thinks he’d be screeching if he were a penguin, which is a stupid thing to think, because he’s not a penguin anymore, he’s a human. He’s a naked human, and his voice sounds wonderful.
Geno never, ever thought he’d regret getting to cuddle penguin Sid, but he almost does right now, if only for how much more he wants to do to naked Sid than cuddle.
“I’m sorry,” Sidney is babbling in several different ways; Geno thinks he’s lucky to get the gist of it. “So sorry, I’m—”
“Blanket,” Geno says, finally able to think, and he throws one from his collection onto Sidney, covering him up. Sidney blinks, looking a bit dazed, and Geno gently adds, “Is cold in here.”
“Right,” Sidney says. “And I’m human again, I’m—I’m human and—oh God, it’s really cold in here.”
Sidney stands up quickly, wrapping the blanket tight around him and practically sprinting to the kitchen. When he comes back, he looks sheepish and he is blushing slightly and Geno wonders if he can get away with staring up at the ceiling again, because how is he supposed to deal with blushing?
“Sorry,” Sidney says again. “You shouldn’t have—it’s still really cold in here, you shouldn’t have kept it that cold. You’re going to get sick.”
He actually sounds like he’s trying to scold, like when he goes out to eat with the team and tries to lecture everybody about using butter on their dinner rolls. Geno leans forward on the couch and just shakes his head at Sidney, helplessly watching him blush harder.
“Not sick. You get sick if you hot. I drink lots of hot chocolate, stay warm.”
“Yeah,” Sidney says, a little dismissively, and he wraps the blanket tighter around him. “I should—clothes? And maybe a shower, snow is a really bad substitute for soap, and I hope I didn’t get fleas. Do penguins get fleas?”
Geno shakes his head more. “Penguins have feathers, not fur.”
“I know, but—never mind.” Sidney’s shoulders are up by his ears, which are stupidly pink, and Geno hadn’t thought about imagining this moment but he should have known it would be this awkward. He doesn’t know how to form words, really, without blurting out how badly he wants Sidney back on the couch with him, and how bad it is that he wants that, and how maybe he’s wanted that for a while, and Christ, Sergei is going to be so smug about this.
“So,” Sidney says, at the same time Geno stands up, letting all the blankets drop.
“I clean up and go,” he says, a little stiff, and Sidney stares at him for a full minute before blinking and shaking his head.
“Oh no, you don’t have to, I can—”
“Then I go,” Geno says, and Sidney makes a face but ducks his head, clenching the ends of his blanket tight in his fists.
“Oh,” he says, in a tone Geno can’t translate, and dammit, why was he so much better at understanding penguin Sid? Geno nods, thinks about walking over and maybe patting Sidney on the back in farewell, like he’d do after a practice, but then thinks better of it.
“Bye, Sid,” Geno says quietly, grabbing his keys and starting for the door, and Sidney says, “Bye,” and then, quickly, “Wait.”
Geno feels really, really stupid about the hope that wells up in him, because all Sidney says is, “Thanks, Geno,” softly, like it’d be a trill in penguin speak.
Geno smiles, can’t help but smile when Sidney’s looking at him like that, and he says, “No problem, Sidney,” and thinks Sergei would hit him for meaning it.
Sidney disappears for a week, which is not entirely surprising. He isn’t completely incommunicado, texting the guys a bit and Geno, too. I still have thumbs, don’t worry Geno receives, and it makes him smile like an idiot in the locker room, which is the worst place to smile like an idiot. Jordy knocks shoulders with him and also grins like an idiot, but that’s just how Jordy grins all the time, so Geno can’t tell if he’s being mocked or encouraged. He doesn’t know which is worse.
Geno assumes Sidney’s getting his life back in order, letting his family and other friends know that he’s alive, and making up excuses where Geno failed to. Geno himself settles back into his own life easily enough, spending extra time with Dixi and Jeffrey and feeling ridiculously guilty for ignoring them for so long. He doesn’t feel like he would have done anything differently, because that’s pointless since he wouldn’t have, but he does feel bad, and he spends a precious off-day just with them.
It is ridiculously difficult to not drive past his house and continue on to Sidney’s every day, but Geno mostly manages. He still itches to go over, to check on him, but he did that before Sidney was a penguin, too, so it’s not that weird. And it’s better now that Sidney’s still talking to him, though it’s mostly pointless little jokes about never eating seafood again or asking him if it’s weird that he kind of misses his basement nest.
Make bed nest, Geno advises, and that gets the image of sleepy Sid curled up among piles of blankets in his head, and it’s really not normal to be attracted to that image, and it’s not fair.
Sidney surprises them by showing up to practice, and surprises them more when he agrees to go out after. They have a game tomorrow so everyone takes it fairly easy, but that just gives them more chances to give Sid and Geno pointed, sober looks and giggle at them, because everyone who plays hockey is actually 12. Geno is sure that Jordy had told everyone about dropping in on their “morning after”, and Sidney is just clueless, has no idea why Max keeps knocking him into Geno in their booth, or why Jordy gives Flower a heavy look when he loops his arm around Sid, probably the only one at the table who can truly get away with that.
“Don’t disappear again,” Flower tells him very sternly, and Sidney nods and shoots a look at Geno, a small, secret smile that makes Geno feel warm from the inside out. Geno looks down at his first and only beer and wishes he could turn it into vodka with sheer willpower, game or no game. “You’re still a Penguin, concussion or no. Don’t forget it.”
“I won’t,” Sidney says quietly, and then louder, because sometimes he is dumb, he adds, “And Geno won’t let me, anyway.”
That gets the whole table laughing, and Sidney laughs along because he’s actually dumb more often than not, and Geno wants to slide out of their booth and into a puddle of shame on the floor. But it’s really, really good to hear Sidney laugh, too, so he sighs and drinks his beer and tries to make the tension in his shoulders roll out with good company.
It’s an early night, for which Geno is absurdly grateful, but he can’t escape fast enough to avoid Sidney calling out for him, and really he doesn’t want to avoid him. “I’m still not really supposed to drive too much, and I left my car at the rink, so can I—” and Geno says, “Yes,” very quickly, because sometimes he is dumb, too, even more often than Sidney.
“Thanks,” Sidney says, grinning quick and bright and hopping into Geno’s car.
Sidney doesn’t talk much, which Geno is both relieved and unhappy about, because he doesn’t know what to say but he doesn’t want Sidney to feel awkward around him. Geno feels awkward enough for the both of them, really. But Sidney just fiddles with his heating (“I’m always cold now,” he says peevishly, huddling in his seat, and Geno swallows hard because Sidney doesn’t feel cold; he’s radiating heat like a furnace, and Geno is as far up against his car door as he can be and still drive, and he can feel the heat like a second skin) and tells him not to bother dropping him off at his car, he’ll get it tomorrow.
“Actually,” Sidney says a few minutes later, and Geno glances over and watches him make a face, probably at himself. “Can we just go to your house? Um, mine still smells like fish, and I can’t get it warm again, and I have to get new freezers because the old ones are pretty much shot, so—”
“Of course,” Geno says, because a lack of freezers isn’t a proper justification for not wanting to be home, and Sidney doesn’t have to be defensive with him ever.
“Thanks,” Sidney says again, flashing him another smile. Geno smiles back and hopes it looks normal and not desperate, like he still feels. He has to stop being like this around Sidney, because it’s ridiculous, and at some point Sidney’s going to notice and feel bad, and Geno never wants that. It’s Geno’s problem, not Sidney’s, and it’s just another thing he has to figure out, now that he doesn’t have to solve any best friend penguin problems. This should be a piece of cake compared to that; he had solved that problem just with cuddling.
“Also,” Sidney says after another few silent minutes. “My house is really big. And empty. It’s really stupid, and I was thinking of moving back in with Mario before the whole, you know, the penguin thing, but now—”
He breaks off, ducking his head but not before Geno can catch a frown, which he doesn’t like at all. Geno takes a deep inward breath and tells himself it’s time to be a big boy and stop pouting and do what he was always meant to do with Sidney, which is be a good friend. “Now what, Sid?”
“Hot chocolate,” Sidney answers, and Geno blinks and is sure he misunderstood, but Sidney shakes his head and points through the windshield. “We should get hot chocolate, Geno.”
“Why?” Geno asks, which he thinks is a reasonable question, but Sidney just shakes his head more and grins at him.
“Because you like it. Let’s go.”
So they pull over and get hot chocolate at a 24 hour Dunkin Donuts that Geno has never stepped foot in before. They sit at a small, magenta table and their knees knock together, which is really stupid, but Sidney smiles into his cup and talks a mile a minute about their practice, too fast for Geno to understand everything but happy enough that Geno doesn’t really care.
“You should have told me,” Sidney says on the way out to the car, in a deserted, chilly parking lot where Geno’s mood has finally, finally lifted. His heart still feels too big for his chest when he looks at Sidney, and it feels doubly so now, with Sidney looking at him like that: another look he can’t interpret on human Sid, but one he knows means something important.
“Told you what?”
“That the hovering—” Geno tries and fails not to bristle at the word, but Sidney gives him a playful, small shove up against his car, like they’re on the ice and he’s being chirped. “That the hovering meant you wanted to date me.”
Geno freezes, and his car keys fall to the concrete with a clink. Sidney is looking at him carefully, biting his bottom chocolate-stained lip, but Geno can’t meet his eyes. “What?”
“Colby said it a long time ago but I didn’t believe him,” Sidney says thoughtfully. “But then you saved my ass with the penguin thing and you let me bite you and—sorry, by the way, though I don’t think I hurt you that badly, I don’t think I could hurt you too badly, even if I turned into a—a shark or a panther or a coyote, ugh—”
“Sid,” Geno says slowly. “What you saying?”
“I’m saying thank you,” Sidney says, clear and calm, like he’s been practicing in front of a mirror. “And I’m saying that I don’t like my house without you in it, even though it has a nest, whatever, and that you were amazing and I was a dick and I like you hovering because it means you—” He clams up, shaking his head and pressing his mouth together, like he’s going off script and can’t figure it out from here.
Geno, as always, steps in to help. “I not hover, I care.” It shouldn’t be the scariest thing he’s ever had to admit, but it kind of is.
And then it’s worth it because Sidney smiles, soft and happy, and says, “Good. Me too.” Geno takes that as the permission it definitely is to reach out and touch him, and Sidney leans into the touch even though they’re not on the ice and no one has scored any goals.
But when he pulls Sidney in and kisses Sidney’s chapped lips and tastes chocolate sweetness and cold and something that is weirdly, stupidly Sidney, Geno feels like he’s scored 50 goals in one night.