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Part One: Nova Scotia

Flower is the first face Geno recognizes at the hotel, and he does an actual double take when he sees Geno stepping out of his room, checking his pockets to make sure he has the service elevator key.

He doesn’t, but Flower’s here so it doesn’t matter, and Geno waits for Flower, Vero and Estelle to fall into step next to him. “Good! You here. Can help me sneak out like spy. Hello Vero, little Flower.” Estelle hugs his legs, as is custom, and Geno scoops her up without a second thought and feels like he weighs as little as she does when she squeals delightedly in his arms. “Where littler Flower?”

“With the grandmother,” Flower says, his eyes narrowed and his smile all blinding white teeth, shark-like. “Where did you come from, G?”

“Russia,” Geno chirps back. Vero laughs and Estelle laughs along with her mother, laughing harder when Geno tickles her where she’s settled on his hip. They start heading down the hall together, Flower still staring at him, and Geno rolls his eyes. “I tell Sid I’m coming. Tell Tanger, tell you. You don’t believe?”

“No,” Flower tells him without hesitation. “I really don’t.”

“Why?”

Flower gives him his most unimpressed look, his mouth a thin, amused line. “It’s August. You’re on the wrong side of the ocean.”

“Yes, but is wedding. Important.”

“You didn’t come to my wedding,” Flower says, and Geno sighs but Flower’s not done. “Or Jordy’s. Or Tanger’s. Or Nealer’s.”

“Important,” Geno repeats through gritted teeth. He jerks his head towards where Vero is letting them into the service elevator. The hotel had left instructions for any of the higher profile wedding guests staying here on how to sneak out the back way to avoid the lobby; Geno’s instructions had even been in Cyrillic and his heart had twinged a little when he thought of how many details Sidney had worked out, how many precautions he’s been taking. If that doesn’t prove to Flower how important this all is, Geno doesn’t know what he can say to convince him.

Still, it’s Flower, so he doesn’t drop it in the elevator, even when Estelle grows bored and tells him his suit is pretty. “I thank,” Geno says, smiling brilliantly at her. It’s his most powdery blue and his mother would be appalled at him wearing it to a wedding, probably, but she’ll never know he’s at this particular wedding. “You dress very beautiful.”

Vero thanks him for Estelle and offers to take her from him, which Estelle protests, and Geno wants to protest too when he hands her back to her mother and Flower starts up again. “You weren’t at the rehearsal dinner,” Flower says.

Geno sighs noisily. “Not invited, Flower. And just get in last night. Tired.” It still feels like it should be bedtime for him, the cheerful lighting in the elevator hazy. Estelle’s soft pink dress and her dark curls are in sharp focus, though, and he gives her a wave because she’s smiling at him, peeking over her mother’s shoulder like she has any reason to be shy. “You tired, too?”

“Shh,” Vero says sharply. “Don’t give her ideas. We have an n-a-p planned for after the ceremony, before the party. Then we have cake.”

“Yeah! Cake!” Estelle yells, waving both hands at Geno and looking ecstatic. Geno waves both hands back and smiles so hard it hurts a little.

“She sound like Sid,” he says as they all leave the elevator, and at least Vero laughs. Flower quirks a slight smile, but he lets Vero and Estelle go on ahead and nudges Geno until he slows down, rolling his head back on his shoulders and sighing once more.

“Flower, what.”

Flower just studies him for a long, long moment, searching his face. Geno stares fearlessly back, refusing to flinch, until Flower sighs and then breaks into a huge grin. “Well, I’m happy to see you,” he says, and he pulls Geno into a tight hug, laughing into his neck.

Geno cuffs him lightly on the back of the head and hugs him, too. “Me too.”

“You going right back to Russia after this?” he asks when they break, his tone more conversational as they wait for their cars in the back lot. There’s a bus boy from the hotel café smoking a bit of the way down the lot, shooting glances at them, but he doesn’t take phone pictures so Geno ignores him and shrugs.

“No, not so soon.” Geno doesn’t elaborate on the ticket to Montreal he has tucked away in his luggage upstairs. “Little bit travel, see some friends.” “Friends” is not very far off from strippers, really. Geno scratches the back of his neck and shakes off his guilt from answering a little bit left of the truth.

Flower nods and claps him on the back, his smile tight like maybe he knows more about his plans than Geno would ever let him in on. He says, “Sounds good,” and it’s soft. He is standing very close to Geno, pressed arm to arm despite the heat of the parking lot.

Geno fans himself. “Never in this country when it get this hot.” It’s not strictly true but it’s enough of a complaint for Flower to get offended, laughing brightly.

“Oh come on, you complain about the cold, you complain about the heat. Nothing makes you happy, G.”

“Wedding outside?” Geno checks, and he groans loudly when Flower beams and nods. “So hot. Gonna die.”

“It’s Nova Scotia in August,” Flower says cheerfully, waving at Vero as the two rental cars appear in front of them. “Suck it up and follow me to Sid’s pink house.” They both grin at the exact same time and Geno knows they’re both hearing Sidney argue that it’s coral, a familiar exchange.

Geno purposefully steps on the back of Flower’s shiny dress shoe as they head for the cars and gets a backwards kick in retaliation, Vero’s eyes sparkling as she grins at them. “Boys,” she says with warning and delight in her voice, and Geno bows his head in apology and opens the backseat door for her to put Estelle in her car seat.

“Ready for see Uncle Sid’s wedding?” Geno asks Estelle when Vero backs out. Estelle says, “Yes!” and high-fives him. “Good. See you there, little Flower.”

He cranks the A/C and the radio up in his own rental and grumbles that he has to slow down for Flower’s grandma speed or risk getting lost. And indeed, Sidney’s pink house seems remote enough that he would get lost if he didn’t follow Flower carefully. It’s a considerable drive up from any main roads, as far north of Halifax as you can go without driving into what Sid always called Grand Lake.

There are only a handful of cars parked in the long driveway up, and Geno’s palms sweat a little on the steering wheel. They’re early, he’s early and uncharacteristically so, and he wonders if he can get away with just sitting in his car for another hour or so, psyching himself up.

He parks behind Flower and sits there, contemplating that until Flower knocks on his window. “I don’t think you’re the one who’s supposed to get cold feet,” Flower says when Geno rolls down the window and narrows his eyes at him.

“I’m coming.”

“Come see Sid,” Flower tells him with authority, and yeah, that sounds better than sitting alone in the sun where the rest of the guests are supposed to be until the ceremony goes down. Geno turns his car off and follows Flower up the sprawling walkway, looking up at the huge house. It really is pink, and Geno notes that with a small smile.

Flower lets them in through an unlocked front door that doesn’t seem very conducive to a secret wedding. He leads them in to an enormous open kitchen that houses a few people Geno doesn’t know and decides are Charlie’s family members, and also two people he does know, Catherine and Alex.

Geno hugs them both immediately, grateful to see them, and he watches Alex and Estelle converge to split orange slices between them, but Flower looks deflated as he gives Catherine a hug, too. He says something snappish-sounding in French and Catherine tilts her head back and laughs, then looks at Geno and answers in English.

“Kris has been here since eight. We woke Sid up when we got here. He is very serious about this, you know.”

“Of course,” Flower sighs, hanging his head. He says something else in French, and this time Catherine strokes over his arm and answers in kind. “Come on,” he mutters to Geno, jerking his head towards a hallway, and Geno follows him dutifully, nodding at Catherine and Vero who already have their heads bent together.

“Tanger best best man?” Geno asks, biting down on laughter. Flower gives him a dark look.

“Fuck off. It’s not a competition. Tanger’s just a freak.” He thinks and then looks cheerful again, his smile brightening up his face and the hallway too, like always. “Sid was probably so mad when Tanger woke him up.”

“Crazy he let you two do this,” Geno says, shaking his head. When Sidney told him the wedding was going to be small, private and most importantly secret, Geno thought he was crazy. He thought he was crazier when he named Tanger and Flower his co-best men, swearing them off a bachelor party and any other nonsense. “They’re just gonna stand next to me,” Sidney told Geno, sounding like he was trying to reassure them both as Tanger and Flower radiated smugness everywhere and bickered over who was the first best man. “Tanger’s gonna hold the ring, Flower’s gonna hold the vows. That’s all.”

“Well, that’s what he gets for marrying his best friend. Stuck with us in the wedding party,” Flower says. The words best friend stick in Geno’s chest for a moment, a now familiar unease that arises whenever he’s confronted with the fairytale aspects of Sidney’s relationship, but he shakes them off and follows Flower the rest of the way to Sidney.

Sidney doesn’t look worried about it now when they find him in a den off the main hallway, sprawled on an armchair adjacent to his sister and playing a video game. He’s dressed in a tux that matches Flower’s—Geno wonders if that’s a deflection tactic, that anyone looking at any of the groomsmen wouldn’t know them from the grooms—and his hair is parted and combed impeccably. He’s biting his lip in concentration at the game, eyes bright and sharp, and he could be on the plane, could be hanging out in the locker room before Skates and Plates, like this is any other day.

He’s sipping carefully at a coffee mug too, an empty plate of food next to him on an end table, and when Geno looks closer, he has a paper napkin tucked in the collar of his shirt to protect his front. Geno laughs out loud, going warm with fondness. The warmth spreads when Sidney looks up and positively beams, pausing the game abruptly and ignoring Taylor’s sharp, “Hey! I was beating you!” to jump out of his seat.

“Geno!” he says, smiling with his whole face and crinkled eyes. “You’re here!”

Geno opens his arms and Sidney steps into them, hugging him tightly enough that the paper napkin crinkles between them. Geno hugs him back and sighs happily, ducking his head in close. “Of course I’m here,” Geno says gruffly, muffled into Sidney’s neck. “Promise I’m coming. Everyone so surprised.”

“I’m happy,” Sidney says, giving Geno a quick squeeze and then breaking away. Geno lets him, looking him up and down and letting his eyes go a little hot, a routine smirk curling his lips.

“Look so good, Sid.” He flicks the paper napkin and grins at it. “Nice.”

“Shut up. I was eating and Tanger didn’t want any spills.”

“Best best man,” Geno says, and that makes Flower squawk and shove between them.

“Hello, real best man right here,” Flower says, giving Sidney a hug that gets rudely cut into by Tanger swooping in from seemingly nowhere and snapping, “Watch his hair, Flower!”

From her armchair, Taylor laughs, obviously familiar with what must’ve been the morning’s entertainment. Geno looks at her and winks, smiling when he gets that big Crosby smile back at him.

Tanger and Flower are bickering again in another minute, and Geno tunes them out because it’s in French. Sidney seems to do the same, sitting back down in his armchair and patting one arm of it. Geno sits a little stiffly, but it’s barely a few moments of Sid picking up the video game again and trash-talking his little sister before he’s relaxed into his perch, Sid’s elbow bumping his hip whenever he moves too much.

“I hate this game,” he says when Taylor wins a round and crows triumphantly. “Shouldn’t we play something I like? It’s my wedding day.” He’s smiling as he says it, and he is warm at Geno’s side.

“That’s not like your birthday, I don’t have to be nice to you,” Taylor says, stretching in her chair and then offering her controller to Geno. She gives him that smile again, a little hesitant; they don’t know each other too well, really, and Geno can’t help feeling the weirdness of this day hit him again. This is the first time he’s ever been to Sid’s offseason home, the first time he’s really hung out with his sister, and it’s just unsettling that it’s all happening on his wedding day.

“You can play, Geno. Don’t go easy on him. I’m gonna go find Mom.” Taylor slips into her heels, stands up mostly steady, and tells him it was good to see him again. Geno echoes the sentiment and watches her go, craning his neck to look at Tanger and Flower in their own little French-Canadian best man world. He looks at Sidney, too, finishing his coffee and then smiling up at Geno.

“Do you want anything? I can send one of them to get it, they’re supposed to do everything I say.”

“That’s not how it works,” Tanger says loudly from behind them. “You do everything I say. That’s the rules.” He speaks with the authority of someone that has made up his own rules, and Sidney grins up at the ceiling. Geno doesn’t think he’s stopped smiling since he walked in, and it makes something tighten in his chest.

“You happy,” Geno says, curling his arm around Sidney’s shoulders and squeezing them. Sidney just barely blushes but otherwise looks unashamed, nodding.

“I told you. I’m really happy you came.”

“You not nervous?” He’s not really expecting Sidney to say that he is, but he’s a little surprised that he can’t tell. Sidney’s just radiating joy like he can’t help it, and he usually can’t, but he’s bad at hiding nerves, too.

As expected, Sidney shrugs, but he seems honest when he says, “Not really, no. It’s just Charlie, just you guys. I don’t know, maybe I should be. Maybe Tanger slipped something in my coffee.”

He laughs at his own joke, and Geno thinks his joy must be catching because he feels it bubbling in him, too. But Geno’s also nervous, and he doesn’t really know why. This doesn’t fundamentally change anything about the Sidney he knows, or about their friendship.

“Sure you not just run away with me?” Geno asks, picking up that smirk again. He’s relieved when Sidney snorts out another dorky laugh and shoves him, like he always does when Geno hits on him, the way he has for years.

“You’re such a jerk,” Sidney says fondly. There’s nothing different about that, nothing changed or more serious about the smile he keeps on Geno. He thinks he’s getting teased and he’s just glad to be in on the joke, and it’s as comfortable a part of their friendship as anything else is.

He thinks he expected to find something different about Sid, older or more mature, like he’s figured out something that Geno never has. But he’s sitting here in front of a video game with a paper napkin stuffed down his shirt, eyeing his plate like he can make more food appear if he stares enough. He’s still just Sidney.

And as long as Geno has known Sidney, he’s been with Charlie. There was a time when Geno knew nothing about Sidney or his sexuality or any relationships he might have, but he was with Charlie during that time, too. Geno has had years to accept this and has done so gladly, so he knows the nervousness can’t be coming from that. Sidney’s right; it’s just Charlie, a constant, inevitable destination for Sidney in all the years he’s known Geno.

He never exactly thought Sidney and Charlie would break up, though he hadn’t really imagined this, either. And maybe that’s it. Maybe this wedding is just so unimaginable for Geno that he had to see it for himself, couldn’t believe Sidney would do something so huge and so risky. With all the precautions, with all the secrecy and assurances that no one would find out—“And if they did, I wouldn’t let it hurt the team, Geno, I promise,” Sidney had told him in the same conversation in which he told him he was thinking of proposing—it’s still such a risk. It’s so much.

Geno can’t imagine marrying a man, even if the fuzzy picture he has of a future wife grows less defined every year. He thinks Sidney’s brave and also stupid, because it’s Charlie but it’s more than just marrying a long-term significant other. He thinks, and he hates himself for thinking it, that he doesn’t understand why they even have to get married at all. What’s the point of getting married when you’ve been together forever with no plans to stop?

He’ll never say that. He feels bad even thinking it while Sidney positively glows next to him. All Geno will say, all he should say is, “Really happy for you, Sid,” and bask in the happiness that shines out of the smile Sidney turns up at him again.

“I’m just so glad you came,” Sidney says. He leans into Geno’s hip and Geno squeezes the arm he has around him. He pointedly doesn’t think that Sidney shouldn’t get married.

This changes nothing. After today, Sidney will be as available as he always was, and that never kept Geno from teasing him about it.

Tanger doesn’t give them any time to actually play the game Taylor abandoned, bustling over and shoving Altoids at Sidney until he takes a few. “You don’t want to kiss your new husband with coffee breath,” Tanger says, and Sidney rolls his eyes.

“For God’s sake, it’s Charlie. He knows all about my coffee breath. You need to relax.”

“Relax, Tanger,” Geno repeats firmly, biting down on a smile when Tanger raises a challenging chin and stares him down. “Act like crazy person, mess up your hair.”

What,” Tanger says, scrambling towards the bathroom. Sidney cracks up and Flower and Geno join in when Tanger starts cursing at them from in front of the mirror. “My hair is perfect, you assholes!”

Taylor comes back with her parents then, and they greet Geno warmly before Trina points at her watch and asks Tanger, “Almost time, are you watching the clock?”

“Yes,” Tanger says politely. He makes a ta-da sort of gesture at Sidney, like he’s showing something off. “He’s all ready, look at him.”

Sidney waves and gives a shy smile. His mouth is full of mints and the paper napkin is all wrinkled up. Geno’s chest tightens again and he plucks the napkin out of Sidney’s collar. “Don’t get marry with napkin,” he says, and Sidney’s laughter is bright and loud. He tugs Geno in as close as possible and hugs him in thanks.

“You should get outside, Geno,” Flower says, his voice careful and inflectionless. Geno pulls back and stands up, startling when Sidney stands up, too. “Not you, Sid.”

“He doesn’t know where to go,” Sidney protests, stepping into his dress shoes and going down on one knee to tie the laces. Tanger swears and makes him sit down again, muttering about crease wrinkles. “Geez, it’s my house, I’m just going to show him the way.”

“I can do it!” Taylor pipes up. “You might see Charlie out there, Sid, you can’t do that.”

“Bad luck,” Flower says, and everyone murmurs in agreement. Sidney can’t help but concede at that, but he still walks Geno as far as the door of the den and hugs him one more time, making Geno laugh.

“Maybe Tanger really slip something,” Geno muses. He doesn’t look at Flower looking at them, just tucks his chin over Sidney’s shoulder and hugs him dutifully back. “So much cuddle. You like kitten today.”

“Maybe,” Sidney says, pulling back. “It’s just—it’s August and you’re here. It’s a good sign, I think.” His eyes go crinkled again, and Geno follows the growth of his crooked smile, unfurling across his face. “It’s gonna be a good day.”

“Of course,” Geno says. He leans in close and whispers, “Sure we not go somewhere? Be quick, have time. Make it best day,” and grins at nothing over Sidney’s shoulder when he muffles his chiding “Geno,” into Geno’s neck, shaking his head.

He curls his hand into a fist and puts it between them until Sidney looks at it and gets it, starting their handshake and going through the motions of it with a short, delighted laugh. If Geno’s hand lingers on Sidney’s chest, they’re standing close enough that nobody could see it, and his forehead touches Sidney’s very, very gently. He almost says “last chance” but he doesn’t really want to think that.

“Thanks for letting me go out last this time,” Sidney says. His voice is low and sweet.

Geno swallows hard and gives him his most wolfish, charming smile. “Just today. Wedding present.”

“You’re the best,” Sidney tells him.

“I know,” Geno says, and he follows Taylor out with Sidney’s laughter ringing in his ears.

 

 

Sidney’s house is huge, Geno knew that from looking at it from the outside. But the inside is cavernous, big open spaces that bleed into each other with barely any room division. Somehow, it still looks like it has years in it, lived-in and more of a home than Sidney’s brand new house in Pittsburgh. The pictures on the wall catch Geno’s eye and he lingers over one of the two of them with Jordy at Mario’s Cup party until Taylor pointedly slows down ahead of him, grinning her brother’s crooked grin.

“Sorry,” Geno says with a sheepish laugh. “Never be here before.”

“I can give you a tour,” Taylor offers, but Geno shakes his head and gives her a nudge forward, picking up speed again.

“No, have wedding to go. Let’s go.”

If possible, the grounds of Sidney’s house are even more expansive than the interior, stretching far and away to a dense copse of trees on one side and a wooded path to the lake on the other. There’s a gated, enormous pool off to the side and enough stretch of lawn to seat a few dozen white folding chairs, all adorned with blue ribbons and white flowers and arranged to face a large archway strewn with the same white flowers.

“Those are mayflowers,” Taylor tells him, sounding a bit like she wants to play tour guide anyway. Geno nods. “They’re the official flower of Nova Scotia.”

“Of course,” Geno says. They’re the flowers Taylor has in a corsage around her wrist, the ones pinned to the lapels of Tanger, Flower and Sid’s tuxes. To Geno, they’re rather plain and unassuming, but he knows they’re very, very Sidney. “Pretty.”

There are more guests now, some already seated and some milling about and talking to each other. Geno scans faces for people that he recognizes and spots the familiar back of Nealer’s head at the end of the fourth row of seats on the right, sitting next to Melanie and wearing another atrocious plaid suit. Geno grins, thanks Taylor for showing him the way, and heads over.

“Who invite you, Lazy?” Geno asks, and Nealer startles, turns in his seat and then lights up with a grin. He grabs Geno’s hand and pulls him in for a crushing half-hug, his obnoxious sunglasses knocking into the side of Geno’s head.

“Holy shit, you’re here!” he says loudly enough that the heads in the row ahead of them turn and look. That’s how Geno knows that Kuni, Duper and their families are here and they’re sitting with Patrice Bergeron in the middle of them. He gives Geno a friendly enough nod and then turns back around.

The Dupuis and Kunitz kids all climb on their chairs to hug him until their parents settle them down, and everyone keeps marveling at the fact that Geno’s actually here. “Why everyone think I’m skip?” Geno asks, starting to feel a little annoyed about it. “I tell Sid I’m coming of course. He ask me chicken or fish and I say steak, you know?” He stands in the aisle with his arms crossed over his chest and tries to look severe.

Duper laughs at him. “Sit down, you baby. You never come to these things.”

“Mel, switch so he can sit next to me,” Nealer says. Melanie sighs and steps neatly into the aisle, letting Nealer scoot sideways into her seat and Geno settling into the third seat in. He’s right behind Lola, who is kneeling backwards on her chair and beaming at Geno. Geno promptly loses any annoyance he feels and beams right back at her.

“Have to see this,” Geno says, stretching his legs out and kicking Lola’s chair. She giggles and rocks the chair a little bit. “Never been to wedding for two guys.”

“So all I had to do was marry Mel’s brother and you would’ve come,” Nealer asks, not bothering to hide the pouty hurt in his voice. Melanie swats him on the shoulder but he keeps staring accusingly at Geno until he shrugs.

“You get marry too early, I’m just get home and busy. Already say sorry. And don’t think you his type,” Geno says. Everyone laughs at Nealer, which is how it should be, and Geno relaxes further into his seat.

He’s very clearly sitting in the NHL section, as Kuni and Duper’s row fills with more of Sid’s hockey friends until there are no seats left and Nathan MacKinnon is hesitantly asking Geno if he can sit next to him. “Where Max?” Geno asks. “You not bring him?” He waits until MacKinnon stutters out something about a trip and Cynthia’s family before he nods and gestures to the seat. “Okay, you can sit. Good job leave him. No one want him here.”

“Amen,” Duper says, and Jordy stands up and leans across two Kunitz kids to high-five MacKinnon.

Geno searches the faces of the guests pretty shamelessly, picking out who Sidney deemed important or trustworthy enough to invite to his secret gay wedding. He waves at the Lemieuxs a few rows up ahead, and MacKinnon stiffens when Mario waves back. He snorts at Shea Weber towering over everyone in his seat, glad he’s too far away from them to talk to Nealer too much. He’s curious about snubs, too, and asks MacKinnon (“Please call me Nate!”) about Duchene. Nate shrugs and Geno tells him he’s as useless as his former landlord.

He wonders who he’d invite to his own secret gay wedding and has to hold back laughter at the thought. “What are you thinking about, G,” Nealer asks, all eager and conspiratorial, leaning in like everybody they know here hasn’t shoved their chairs back and turned around to get into their circle and talk to them.

Geno shrugs now, leaning away. But Nealer still knows him too well and says, “Thinking about your own big day someday,” and gives him a ridiculous wink and an elbow. Geno takes the opportunity to laugh freely.

“No. What big day? Who care about this, just big party. Stupid.”

“It’s romantic,” Nealer says, giving a dreamy sort of sigh. Geno shoves him. “No, really! And it’s tradition.”

“Stupid,” Geno says again. “Don’t need big party to show someone I love. Just show them. Love them.”

Half the group choruses “Aww,” at the same time, too many to glare at distinctly, so Geno glares at all of them. He glares at Bergeron a little more, just because.

“I know your whole deal, dude,” Nealer tells him, leaning back in his seat and throwing an arm around Geno’s shoulders. “You don’t need a wife to have babies, you don’t need a wedding to have a relationship, I get you. You’re a modern man. But Sid’s old-fashioned, you know that.”

“I know Sid crazy,” Geno says. That’s something everyone can agree with, at least, all nodding along, though Bergeron at least is smiling fondly. He ducks his head when Geno glares at him again, then turns around more in his seat.

“And to be fair to Geno, Penguins don’t have the best track records at weddings,” Jordy says, nodding over at Nealer. Everyone goes quiet at that, and Geno’s stomach sinks despite himself, despite time and having moved on and friendships lasting beyond the boundaries of teams. It’s never great to be reminded of trades in any context, and just as he’s getting ready to tell Jordy off for bringing it up, Jordy adds, “Not that G would know. Is this your first wedding ever?”

“Fuck you, Jordy,” Geno says, and everyone laughs while Nealer grumbles, “No one got traded at my wedding.”

“Maybe you’re the missing good luck charm,” Jordy says, ignoring Nealer. Three years later and he still looks exactly the same chirping Geno with his boyish, good-natured grin and bright eyes. “Maybe you’re the trade blocker.”

“No one get traded today,” Geno proclaims firmly. “Nothing bad happen. Wedding stupid, but Sid deserve best day.” Jordy reaches back again to shake his hand, nearly toppling his chair over.

“Definitely,” Nate says with the earnest conviction everyone seems to have when they talk about Sidney having good things. Geno gives him an approving nod and shakes his hand, too.

Soon the wedding guests fill out until it’s clearly more family than friends. There’s one cluster that Nate tells Geno is all the guys Sidney grew up with, his hockey friends, the group that Charlie comes from. They stand by their seats instead of sitting, apart from everyone else and looking kind of anxious, humming with the anxiety that Geno expected from Sidney. He wonders if they’re uncomfortable with all the professional hockey players around and wonders how they could possibly still be that way when they know Sid.

“He’s not really Sidney Crosby to them, though,” Nate tells him when Geno asks pretty snottily if he should’ve brought a pen for signing stuff. “He’s just Sid, the goof who plays goalie and sucks at it. I think they get weirded out when they remember who he is.”

“That’s dumb,” Geno says. “Not two different people. Whole thing just Sid.”

“You know that and I know that, but how are they supposed to know?” Nate says. His voice is careful and measured, like he’s trying to be aware of who he’s talking to, and Geno rolls his eyes. A 19-year-old with two full seasons under his belt should be cured of that sort of shyness, even though it makes Geno sit up a little straighter and raise an imperious eyebrow.

“What? You want autograph from me too?”

Nate laughs nervously, shaking his head. “No thanks. But they might ask you later, for their kids.”

“I sign your Calder, you sign mine, okay?” That earns him more laughter, and Nealer leans in to demand attention as if his beautiful wife isn’t sitting right next to him.

“She’s always next to me,” Nealer says when Geno points this out. “I only get you for a little while.”

“Lazy,” Geno says fondly, ruffling his hair. Nealer nearly falls out of his seat trying to get away, squawking, and Duper says, “Hey watch it, Geno, that’s my job!” and climbs over the back of his seat to get at Nealer’s hair, too. Melanie holds him down and by the time Geno and Duper are done, Nealer looks like a particularly disgruntled hedgehog and all the players and their families around them are laughing hard.

“Sick hair,” Bergeron says, giving Nealer a big thumbs up.

Sid’s friends up ahead are looking at them, and some look decidedly less star-struck now. A few look annoyed. Geno grins his sunniest, most charming grin at them and leans back in his seat, content.

One of them, the only one dressed in the same tux as Sidney and the wedding party, gets up and comes over to them. “Brody, Charlie’s brother,” Nate whispers helpfully. “The other best man. Well, other other best man.” Geno pats his knee in thanks and tries not to feel unsettled, faced with the fact that Nate knows more about most of the guests at this wedding than any of the rest of them do.

“We’re gonna get started soon,” Brody tells them, looking mulish and awkward. He shrugs and casts a judgmental eye over the mess of moved chairs and people sitting the wrong way in them. “Can you guys, ah, straighten up a bit?”

“You got it, man,” Bergeron says, standing up and shaking Brody’s hand. “I’m Patrice, it’s nice to meet you.” He oversees the straightening of all the chairs, eyeing Geno’s legs stretched out and his feet hooked onto the rungs of Lola’s chair for a minute before wisely choosing another battle and fixing Kody’s little bowtie instead.

“Thanks,” Brody says once they’re all pretty tidied up. He gives them all a stilted wave and then heads back to his group.

Nealer waits until he’s completely out of earshot to mimic, “I’m Patrice, nice to meet you,” in a high, whiny voice that sets everyone off laughing again.

It really is time, though, as a beautiful cellist that Nate identifies as “Sid’s cousin, I think,” sets up off to the side of the arch, and an officiant steps up to the center of it. Geno has no earthly idea how the procession is going to go and is pretty eager to find out, leaning forward in his chair as Brody, a woman that Nate can’t identify, Tanger and Flower all take spots on either side of the arch. Taylor joins the front row of seats on their side and stays standing, and soon everyone is standing and turning back.

The cellist starts playing—not any wedding march Geno knows, but Nealer elbows him and whispers, “I know this one!” When Geno stares at him in utter disbelief, Nealer shrugs and adds, “It’s the one from that sad movie. Ordinary People. Mel made me wa—ow! What the hell!”

“Shh,” Melanie whispers, crisply removing her heel from Nealer’s foot. “Quiet.” Duper muffles his snickers into his collar and Geno grins at the bright green lawn below them.

He waits, looking back towards the pathway leading into the rear of the house, and he’s not sure what he’s expecting. But when Sidney appears with his parents on either side of him, walking down the pathway towards the aisle, it feels simple and normal and makes Geno’s stomach feel funny.

They link arms at the start of the aisle between the seats. Troy and Trina are both teary, Sidney is still beaming, and Geno swallows hard and looks at the grass again. He barely looks up in time when Sidney passes their row, but Sidney is looking straight ahead, like there’s nothing here but the arch, his destination stretched out and inevitable before him.

Next to him, Nealer sniffles, and it’s some relief to step on his foot and make him jump. “G, quit it—”

“Please be quiet, Jimmy,” Melanie whispers furiously, and Geno focuses on their soft bickering, peeks up through his eyelashes at Sidney up ahead.

Sidney hugs both of his parents carefully, hugs Taylor, shakes the officiant’s hand, and then stands next to Tanger and Flower, his back straight and his hands clasped in front of him. He looks neat and composed, like he’s getting his picture taken and knows he has to be posed correctly. He’s also looking back at the house, the spot where he’d come from, where everyone is presumably waiting for Charlie and his parents to appear, too.

The music plays on, and the guests turn back again. Nealer wipes his nose on his sleeve. They wait, and Geno doesn’t realize it’s been quite a while until he hears Nate mutter, “Oh, geez.”

Geno looks at his watch and starts timing it, then. He stops when a few more minutes pass, as his stomach starts to sink. He wants to turn back, check on Sidney, and he peeks again, but the sight is almost unbearable: Sidney is still smiling, hands still clasped, waiting.

Geno has an awful, awful feeling, and it gets worse as it becomes apparent that the feeling is shared by everyone around him. Nealer whispers, “No fucking way,” and Melanie doesn’t even shush him this time, just puts her hand over her mouth. Geno watches the doorway, his stomach sinking, sinking as more minutes tick by and the music keeps going.

And then two older people appear, neither of them Charlie. They both look apologetic. They are barely visible in the doorway before Geno is turning around again, looking at Sidney, and he regrets it immediately because he sees Sidney’s face change. The smile drops, his face crumpling in confusion for a moment until the parents start making their way down the pathway and then swinging around the seats to approach the arch without walking down the aisle.

Fuck,” Nealer breathes out, and Nate echoes the sentiment. Geno barely hears them, barely registers anything other than Sidney’s face as Charlie’s parents approach him.

He looks crushed.

Up until now, Geno would’ve said he’d seen Sidney run the range of emotions, highs and lows, because he’d never been good at hiding any of them. Most of them had to do with hockey. He’d seen his face after they lost the Cup, quiet and burning devastation, and he’ll never forget that look because he’d felt it too, knew it was exactly the same thing he was feeling. Sidney said at the time that he didn’t think that anything could feel worse and Geno agreed with him.

He thinks that was very young of them, naïve. They’ve both learned more about life that doesn’t revolve around hockey and Geno sometimes steels himself for being proven wrong, for the moment where something so terrible happens to him that he can be angry at his younger self for being so foolish. Both Olympics came close. Tanger, Olli, Duper: it all felt like warnings that life is so much bigger and more terrifying than hockey.

This might be Sidney’s moment, Geno thinks. In fact, he suddenly knows in his gut that it is, even with Nate beside him wondering, “Maybe he’s sick. Maybe it’s not what we think.”

It is what they think. Geno knows it by the look on Sidney’s face, broken open as Charlie’s parents talk to him low and gentle enough that they can’t hear it in their rows. “He’d better be sick,” Nealer says, his voice low and growly. “If he’s not sick, I will make him sick.”

Everyone gives him a look. Melanie puts her hand on his elbow and asks, “With what?”

“With death.

Nobody manages to laugh, though Geno thinks they all want to. For a few moments, Geno wants this to be a laughing matter, for Charlie to appear out from behind a tree and laugh and hug Sidney and then everything goes on as planned. “It was Talbot’s idea,” Charlie will say. “For not inviting him to the wedding. He wants in on the next one.”

Everyone will laugh and laugh and Sidney’s laugh will burst out of him and carry over everyone’s heads.

None of that happens, though. Instead, Sidney’s sister and parents are crowding around him and talking to Charlie’s parents, too. The music stops finally, the cellist watching everything unfold just like they are. Brody has rejoined the street hockey group and they’re all pacing and looking around, as if Charlie really is hiding behind a tree.

Troy’s voice is rising, and Geno knows that if Charlie’s not sick—he’s not—that he’d better be far, far away from here, otherwise Nealer’s threat will sound more like a premonition.

He can’t see Sidney anymore, because Tanger and Flower are huddled around him and Troy looms over them all. All of the guests are still standing, and over the low murmurs of their confusion comes Troy’s booming voice, snapping out, “Well I’ll go look, then—” It breaks off as he moves to stomp away but Trina grabs him and tugs him back.

Geno looks away from them as Troy goes quiet and then hugs Sidney tight. He looks back at Brody and his group, and notices he has a cell phone out.

He makes to move and startles when Bergeron beats him to it, muttering, “Fuck this,” and then carefully moving around Kuni and the kids seated next to him to step out of his row.

Nealer, Nate, and Geno follow him. Kody tries to go as well and Duper scoops him up and lets him stand on his chair.

“Hi, Brody,” Bergeron says when they all approach, and Brody narrows his eyes at him. He frowns at the hand Bergeron’s reached out for a shake. He has his phone at his ear. “I’m Patrice, we met before—”

“Oh for fuck’s sake, where is he,” Nealer bursts out. Brody just narrows his eyes further. He is clutching his phone very tight, knuckles white.

Nate says, “Yeah, come on,” and draws himself to his full height, crossing his arms over his chest. “Did you know something was up? There’s no way he didn’t talk to you.”

“He didn’t say anything,” Brody says. He ignores Nealer’s huff, Nate’s death glare, and flicks his eyes quickly up at Geno before settling on Patrice and speaking directly to him. “Seriously, an hour ago he was psyched as shit and excited and—and he’s not answering his fucking phone, come on Charlie!”

Brody takes his phone away from his ear, ends the call, and then immediately starts another one.

“He go home?” Geno asks, shocked to hear how rough his own voice sounds. The other guys all seem to stiffen and pull around Brody, as if threatened, but Geno just quietly adds, “Know where he go? We go find him.”

“And do what, exactly?” Brody asks, swearing and jabbing at the phone again, then putting it back to his ear. “This isn’t a hockey game, idiots. You can’t cheapshot him into marrying someone.”

That stings more than Geno could’ve anticipated, and he hates the useless, helpless feeling simmering underneath the anger he has coursing through his veins. Finding Charlie and pounding him into giving Sidney what he wants sounds satisfying and good, but he knows real life doesn’t work that way, and the reminder of it just makes him feel out of his depth.

He wants to fix this, and knows every person here wants to do that too. Even Brody. It’s what’s making him tamp down on the desire to pound Brody into giving Sidney what he wants, even though that’s also a tempting thought.

Nealer and Nate both look just as cowed by that, but Bergeron steps slowly closer and keeps his voice calm and gentle. “We would just want to talk to him, that’s all. Nothing—”

“Jesus Christ,” Brody spits out. Nate jumps, and Bergeron’s face tightens, but Brody turns away from them and Geno realizes he’s speaking furiously into phone. “Charlie, for fuck’s sake, are you okay?”

Everyone seems to lean in at Brody until he’s backing away, glaring at them all and listening to the response on the phone. “Okay, okay,” Brody says. “I’m glad, but—”

“Where is he?” Bergeron asks, no longer sounding gentle and patient. His fists are clenched, and that’s how Geno realizes that his are as well. He’s glaring at Brody’s phone, too, as if Charlie could see him.

“Where are you?” Brody asks, cutting into whatever Charlie was telling him. He makes a flailing, sharp gesture with his forearm at all the hockey players surrounding him, street and otherwise, and backs up more.

Then he sags all at once, his face drooping. He sounds very, very tired when he croaks, “Come on, man. You can’t just—everyone is here, everyone saw, you just—”

He pauses, and clenches his phone tight. “Yeah. Sid’s still here.”

Nate goes tense at Geno’s side, and he sounds both wondrous and pissed off when he mutters, “Is he serious?”

Apparently so, because next Brody winces and asks, “Over the phone? Really? Charlie, geez.”

He’s walking across the aisle anyway, heading towards Sidney’s huddle of supporters, and though Nate makes to follow, Geno grabs him and shakes his head. He feels sick. “Should sit down again,” he says, because they can’t—Sidney’s about to get dumped over the phone by the guy that just left him at the altar, and short of rugby-tackling Brody and throwing the phone in the lake, there’s nothing any of them can do to stop it.

Nealer looks like he’s contemplating just that, and Bergeron actually puts his head in his hands and says, “Oh no,” like he’s watching a tragic scene in a movie. Geno kind of feels like they are, like everyone is, and abruptly he realizes that’s the worst part. So many of Sidney’s worst moments have been seen by entirely too many people. It’s colossally unfair that this will be another one.

“Should make everyone leave, get everyone away,” Geno says, swallowing and feeling like his throat has knives in it. “Shouldn’t see this, you know?”

Thankfully, when Brody gives Sidney the phone, his parents start leading him away towards the pool area, Taylor trailing awkwardly after them with her arms held around her waist. Everyone stares after them until the cellist suddenly clears her throat awkwardly and says, “Why don’t I play something while we wait?”

Nobody tells her to do it or not to do it, so she starts playing again. Geno has no clue what they’re waiting for, since it seems obvious now that the wedding isn’t actually happening, but other guests start sitting down again and Tanger and Flower are wandering over with Brody. They all look as stricken as Geno feels, and Brody hugs the woman who’d been standing next to him, then faces the group of guys again with his jaw set and his eyes sad.

“Seriously, don’t ask me what’s going on. He just freaked out and bailed, I—he was fine.”

“Obviously he was not fine,” Tanger says, folding his arms over his chest and glaring balefully at everyone else, as if everyone should share the blame. “No one saw him leave? Why was his car not—all these other cars, he should be blocked in, right?”

Brody frowns hard, and goes a little pale. “He—he parked down by the water, he said it was good in case someone needed to run an errand.” Geno grits his teeth together and watches Tanger’s eyes darken in anger. “Fuck. I thought he was fine. Nervous, but who isn’t nervous on their wedding day?”

“Sid,” Geno spits out, and everyone looks at him. “Sid say is just Charlie. No big deal. Not nervous at all.” He wants to punch something thinking about it, his heart wrenching with the thought of how happy Sidney had been just a little while ago.

Now it seems like years ago, a completely different reality than the one they’re all awkwardly inhabiting. None of them seem to know what they’re supposed to do now, and it’s obvious that Tanger wants to just keep arguing for the sake of it. “Why didn’t you say he was nervous? We could all talk to him, let him talk to Sid. It’s better than all this happening.”

“What was I supposed to do?” Brody asks, running his fingers through his hair into it’s fluffed out of its wedding day arrangement and has revealed the thinness at the top. “Steal his car keys? Watch him every second? Lock him up in the study? I didn’t think I had to.”

“He’s your brother, you don’t know your brother—” Tanger stops when Flower throws an arm over his shoulder, speaking to him softly in French. Tanger snaps back an answer and then sighs and follows Flower over to where their wives and children are sitting in the Lemieuxs’ row, leaving Brody with his fists clenched and his nostrils flared.

“This isn’t my fault,” Brody tells all of them. His voice cracks on the last word. “I didn’t know anything was wrong. I wouldn’t let—Sid’s like my brother too, okay? I wouldn’t let this happen to him.”

It’s enough to make Geno want to get away from Brody, his guilt and sadness broken open and laid out for them when Geno still wants a target for anger. Brody doesn’t make a great one anymore. He turns and heads back to the NHL group that’s pushed the chairs into a circle again, feeling satisfied when Nealer and Nate follow him and rolling his eyes when he hears Bergeron softly saying, “I know, man. Nobody blames you.”

The cello music is louder than anybody’s voices, the sound of the guests a low, hushed hum of worry and gossip underneath the jaunty and misplaced up tempo song the cellist is playing. “What movie this from, Lazy?” Geno asks as they sit down again, huddling close.

Nealer’s arm goes around Melanie, and his shoulders droop. “I don’t know this one. Sorry.”

“Stupid,” Geno huffs, and his heart isn’t remotely in it. He lowers his head to stare at the grass below him and feels the sun on the back of his neck for the first time that day.

 

 

The guests remain in an awkward sort of a limbo for a while after that. The cellist plays on, the sun moves across the sky, and two seagulls land on the wedding arch. Brody gets up and chases them away, then kicks his chair over and leaves to go back into the house, a handful of his friends following him.

Geno looks around, but no other guests are budging, so he remains in his seat and keeps playing I, Spy with Lola. He wants to leave. He wants to find Sid and hug him so hard he squeaks, wants to go home at the same time he keeps balking at coming all this way just to watch Sidney get his heart broken. He shouldn’t have come, he thinks selfishly. He should have done what everybody expected and stayed away.

But he told Sidney he was coming, and his fists clench again at the thought of not showing up when he’d told Sidney he’d be here. It seems unimaginable now, and rationally Geno knows it’s not exactly comparable, but he just can’t fathom anyone doing that to Sidney. He can’t understand what could’ve possibly gone through Charlie’s head.

The kids are getting restless, and Nealer won’t stop fidgeting. Geno understands the feeling and gets a discomfiting rush of both relief and dread when Taylor appears from around the house, heading over to them.

She looks uncomfortable, shrinking in front of the guests all turned to her as she reaches the arch and the cellist stops again. “Hey everyone,” she says, her voice a little wobbly. “Um, thanks for waiting, I’m really sorry about the delay.”

Taylor takes a shuddering breath and hugs herself, looking back towards the pool area. Then she shakes her head and faces everyone again, her chin raised and her eyes blank. “Obviously, the ceremony’s not happening,” she says, faltering when a low, sympathetic murmur goes through the crowd. “But, um, there’s still—we have so much food, and there’s a band coming soon, so if you’d like—we’d really like it if you guys stayed for a while and enjoyed yourselves.”

That’s basically the very last thing Geno wants to do, but looking at Taylor’s young, pleading face, her back straight and her jaw strong, he knows he has to. They all have to. Up ahead, Nathalie Lemieux steps out of their row and joins Taylor in front of everyone, putting her arm around her shoulders and hugging her into her side.

“Of course we will, Taylor,” Nathalie says. Taylor’s face crumples into an expression of gratitude, leaning into Nathalie’s hold and then facing everyone again.

“Thanks. I don’t know if he—but it will mean a lot to Sid. He wants you guys to have a good time.”

Nealer groans very softly, putting his head in his hands. Geno kicks him in the side of the ankle and sighs when he barely reacts.

“There are tables set up over by the patio, if you’ll just—” Taylor gestures vaguely towards the direction she’d come from and guests start getting up to follow her and Nathalie around the house and the pool.

Sidney’s property is even bigger than Geno had realized, another stretch of land opening up on the other side of the house with tables and chairs scattered around an open patio of sorts. The area is done up as simply and beautifully as the ceremony area, blue ribbons and white mayflowers strung up and strewn all around, and it all just breaks Geno’s heart to look at.

“This sucks,” Nealer breathes out, and Geno can’t argue with him.

But Taylor asks them all to have a seat, and Nathalie reminds them to look for their table numbers and tells them where to go. There’s no sign of Sidney or his parents, but soon a band shows up, looking very confused even after Taylor hurries over and talks to them. They set up quickly enough and play quiet, nondescript music that Geno mostly ignores. It doesn’t seem that anybody’s in the mood for dancing.

It’s all really awkward. Everyone seems to be keeping an eye out for Sidney, who never shows. Geno sits at a table with hockey players, Nealer, Jordy, Weber and others, and they all awkwardly talk about non-wedding things while salads are served and wine is poured for them. Geno eats everything on his plate, drinks every glass of wine dry, and contributes minimally to the conversation until it starts to annoy him.

“I mean, I guess no one got traded,” Jordy says. Geno scowls.

“Jordy. Shut up.”

“No one got traded yet,” Nealer says, and Geno drops his fork to gesture angrily at him.

“What’s your problem?”

“What? I’m just saying, if we’re trying to figure out where this ranks on the list of shitty Penguin weddings, we have to wait until we’ve seen the whole thing through, you know? A full sample size.” Nealer frowns stubbornly down at his plate, his expression so familiar Geno thinks they could be bickering on the bench again, just like they always did.

Geno keeps scowling at him. “Not good to talk about like this. Not—how is not shittiest Penguin wedding ever? No wedding happen!”

Jordy nods thoughtfully, shoving a huge forkful of lettuce into his mouth and then talking through it to Heather’s disgust. “Good point, Geno. Maybe this can’t go on the list.”

“Stupid have a list,” Geno says. “Not nice. Talk about something else. Talk about dogs.”

Dogs are a good subject, it gets everyone going and Geno can tune them out now that they’re not offending him. He looks around, noting the same awkward hesitance to have too much fun surrounding every other table. At a table with the Lemieuxs, Taylor looks miserable and small, not eating and looking back at the house intermittently.

Geno follows her gaze and wonders where Sidney is, if he’s okay. He wants to see him and doesn’t at the same time, doesn’t know how he’d handle it.

He’s looking at the house when the salad course gets cleared, and when a server timidly asks him, “Um, are you Mr. Malkin?”

He snaps back to look at the server, seriously not in the mood for signing stuff right now, but falters when he sees that he’s holding a plate that has—

“Hey!” Nealer says, pointing between his plate and Geno’s. “Why do you get steak?”

“Yes,” Geno croaks at the server, ignoring Nealer. His throat feels weirdly tight, and he stares down at the plate that the server sets down in front of him. “Thank you.”

He keeps staring at the steak until Nealer’s complaining comes into focus again, cutting in through the rushing in his ears. “It was joke,” Geno tells the table, because nobody’s really listening to Nealer but it is something of a curiosity that Geno doesn’t have the same plate as anybody else. “He tell me if I come, can have steak. Call it—gift? Gift for get me to come?”

“A bribe,” Weber says, his lips quirked in a smile. Geno jerks his gaze up and nods, then swallows hard.

“Would come anyway,” he says. Weber nods at him, and Jordy pats him on the back.

Everyone goes quiet again, and Geno knows they’re all thinking of Sid. He can’t stop, his throat still tight with it, and now he knows he wants to see Sidney if only to shake him for being so stupidly good to people.

Nealer blows out a noisy breath and says, “This sucks,” again. He digs into his dinner, and this time everyone audibly agrees.

They all eat, and go back to talking about nothing. Geno wonders when he can get away with cutting out and swears when Sidney’s parents show up to thank them all for staying. “Sid appreciates it,” Trina says, but he never appears and they give no indication that he will. Geno doesn’t blame him one bit.

It seems as though there’s an end in sight when people start leaving their tables to talk to other people, low murmurs of goodbyes starting to hum through the slowly descending dusk. Geno shakes hands with a few people he knows, gets a round of hugs from the fast fading kids of his teammates, and then spots Taylor still at her table, sitting alone and staring into her barely-touched plate.

Geno looks around, but no one else is going over to her, and Nealer is deep in conversation about something that sounds completely inane with Austin and Rebecca, so Geno can’t make him do it. He steels himself a little and heads over, thinking it’s what Sidney would do if the roles were reversed.

“Hello, Taylor,” he says softly. Taylor looks up and her eyes widen.

“Hey, Geno. How was your steak?”

She has a small, secretive sort of smile on her face, and Geno smiles weakly back. “Was good. You tell Sid for me?” He has so much more he wants her to tell Sid for him, but he bites it all down as she just nods earnestly.

“Sure. Are you having a nice time?” Her voice breaks slightly on the last word and she clears her throat, pressing her lips together.

“Good food,” Geno musters, even though they’d already covered that. He doesn’t want to lie to her, though, not after everything, so he puts together the vague, dutiful thoughts he’d had in mind when deciding to talk to her. “You do great job, you know? Good—good thing for Sid.”

Taylor looks down quickly, but Geno sees just enough of her lower lip wobbling to make him sweat with panic. If she cries, he has no idea what he’ll do, but luckily her voice is mostly steady when she speaks, if flat with the effort. “Thanks. He wanted to come out and do it himself, you know. Explain everything. But we couldn’t let him do that, it’s so—you guys have seen enough already and he’s really—”

She breaks off, and Geno’s glad. He squeezes her shoulder in what he hopes is a comfort and says, “You best sister, do for Sid. And he—you know he’s okay. Be okay of course.” He tries to sound as confident as possible and doesn’t know how well he does.

“Of course,” Taylor says, looking up again with a tight smile. “He’s Sid. He’ll be fine.” To Geno’s horror, her eyes fill with tears as soon as the words leave her lips. He straightens up and takes a step back and looks around.

“Think people start leave now.” People are moving vaguely in that direction and he can only hope that’s what they’re doing, as Taylor sniffles and nods.

“Probably. I should see if my parents need help directing people.”

“Yes,” Geno says shortly. He pats her shoulder again, gives her his strongest smile, and then bolts in the direction people are moving, going with the crowd and saying his goodbyes as they move.

He’s in the rental when he realizes two really annoying things: he’s blocked in by basically everyone but Flower, Tanger, and people who don’t seem to be leaving, and he’ll need someone’s help at the hotel again because of the stupid service elevator. Geno sighs and sags in his seat, deciding the first problem should give him enough time to solve the second one.

He texts Nealer to confirm he’s at the same hotel, because Flower hasn’t left yet and Duper will make fun of him for leaving the key. Nealer thinks he’s being invited to some kind of wedding after party in Geno’s room, which Geno vehemently denies over text and then, when that doesn’t stop Nealer’s excitement, he leaves his car idling and gets out to hunt Nealer’s car down and yell at him.

“Just need help get in elevator,” Geno says through gritted teeth, bending down to talk into Nealer’s window. “Stay out of room.” He wants this horrible day to be over and the only way that’ll happen is if he has peace. Nealer doesn’t know anything about peace.

“It’s fine, some of the other guys are in too,” Nealer says, looking down as his phone chimes. “It’s not even dark out, you were just gonna go to sleep?”

“Maybe. So?” Geno spits, folding his arms over his chest. Nealer snorts.

“Well, tough shit. We’re getting drunk in your room. Deal with it.”

“Just keep door locked.”

“Then you’re not getting in the elevator with my key!” Nealer says, looking very pleased with himself.

Geno huffs at him. “Just ask Flower, then.”

“Flower’s coming to the party in your room, I texted him.”

“Is no party, Nealsy!”

“Would it be weird to invite Sid?” Nealer asks, clearly wondering out loud and looking down at his phone again. Geno swears at him as creatively as he can in Russian, kicks his front tire, and heads back to his car to work on a pout.

He winds up not even using Nealer’s key in the end, riding up with Jordy and Heather because Nealer stops at a liquor store on the drive over. But an entirely unwelcome crowd led by Nealer shows up at his room anyway, and most of them have booze. Geno stares at them, thinks about how the sun is barely down and his ticket to Montreal isn’t good until tomorrow night anyway, and lets them all in with a sigh.

“This is how you deal with a botched wedding,” Nealer says as everyone—Jordy, Kuni, Duper, Flower, and Tanger, so everyone that matters, in Geno’s opinion—files into Geno’s room and grabs various spots around the modest suite. He passes around red plastic cups like they’re teenagers and passes around fancy whiskey when the cups are distributed. He waits until everyone has something to drink and then raises his own cup very solemnly. “To Sid. Who I didn’t invite because I didn’t know—I don’t know. It would be weird, right?”

“Nice speech, Nealer,” Duper says, cracking up. “Should’ve been best man.”

“I had a great best man speech,” Flower says sadly, looking down at his cup. Nobody has drunk yet, and Geno groans and shakes his head at how pathetic they all are.

“To Sid, yes. Everyone drink.” Everyone drinks. Then Geno adds, with a vicious note in his voice that clearly surprises no one, “And fuck Charlie.”

Everyone echoes that just as viciously, and they all drink again. And then they don’t really stop, falling into another circle, talking enough shit about Charlie that his last name might as well be Dubinsky.

Suddenly, Jordy knew all along that he was trouble. “Just had that vibe,” he says, and everyone lies to agree with him. A few more rounds and Tanger swears he saw him trip one of the Cooke kids at a holiday skate one year. “I thought Jackson was tripping him, but I don’t think so now. I don’t think he liked kids.”

Geno shudders and darkly says, “Think he hate dogs, too. Always tell Sid not a dog person when Sid asks bring dog to Pittsburgh and he take care.” That wasn’t quite right, though; Charlie travels a lot for whatever evil person job he has, too, nearly as much as Sidney, and he didn’t want to stop traveling to take care of Sidney’s dog. Geno’s making up the not a dog person thing, but right now it seems appropriate.

“I can’t believe Sid was ever to going to marry that jerk,” Nealer says hotly. “Sid loves dogs!”

“And kids!” Kuni adds.

“Maybe it’s good Charlie bailed, then,” Duper says, his hand tightening so hard around his cup that Geno is sure it’s about to crack. “Or else, you know, Sid would be married to a kid-tripping dog hater. That wouldn’t be good.”

“No,” Tanger agrees, but his eyes have gone dark and his face has gone grim. “Not good. But—”

“Sid really loves Charlie,” Flower says hollowly. “They were happy.”

Everyone gets quiet, then. They drink some more, and Geno kind of chugs because he’s thinking—terrible things. Things that make him feel guilty. Really, he’s wondering how happy Charlie and Sidney actually were, because if it was so happy then this couldn’t have happened. And that means he was right, that getting married was stupid and unnecessary and clearly ruined everything.

There’s something darkly satisfying about being right like that, a cruel feeling like he’s won something. Geno shoves his cup at Nealer for more booze, feeling like those terrible thoughts are gathering over him like a storm cloud.

He glances around the room: all Penguins or former Penguins, all guys he’s considered brothers at one point or another, and he doesn’t know what they’d say if they knew was thinking like this. If Sidney were here, he thinks it would be a little more complicated than that, because he loves Sidney just as much as any of them but sometimes it’s in a different way, a little darker, not quite as pure.

Sidney thinks it’s a joke, and of course it always has been because it’s had to be. They trusted each other to joke about it without crossing the line. But Geno wonders where the line is now, now that Charlie did this and everything’s going to be different.

“Never know Sid single,” Geno says slowly, his tongue feeling heavy even though there’s no way he’s had enough to drink yet. He leans back against the sofa and thinks about it. “Gonna be weird.”

“I knew Sid single,” Flower says, shrugging. “He was the same. So it won’t be so weird.” Geno wants to argue that Sidney was 17 then, over a decade ago, and basically a different person, but something tells him that’s an argument that won’t really do him any favors. He doesn’t even know the point of that argument, anyway.

“Maybe he won’t be single. Maybe they won’t break up,” Kuni says. Geno stares at him, aghast, and finds his stomach turning at the thought.

“No way,” Nealer protests before Geno can. “You saw Sid’s face. That was fucked up. No way he stays with that douchebag.”

“But it’s Charlie,” Kuni insists. Geno huffs, because he understands what Kuni’s saying and suddenly it’s a more terrible concept than anything he’d been thinking about before.

It’s Charlie: safe, dependable Charlie that was Sidney’s childhood best friend, the one who beat up his bullies and walked him home from school. Geno thinks Sidney and Brody were friends first because of hockey, that’s always how Sidney told the story, but Brody was older and told his little brother to look out for Sidney in their shared grade, and the rest was history.

Nothing Geno had ever understood or been told about Charlie before today suggested he’d do something like this to Sidney. He thinks that’s what makes him feel sick about it, the thought that Charlie wasn’t at all who they thought he was. Or maybe he was and Sidney just didn’t tell them all of it, that they don’t have nearly all of the picture.

He wonders what else they don’t know about Charlie and Sidney, and shudders to consider any of it. He really, really hopes they’re not still together.

“Sid not that stupid,” Geno says. Kuni winces, but nods with his shoulders slumped. “He’s not—he strong. Lots of pride. They not stay together.”

“I hope not,” Kuni says. He grits his teeth together and hisses, like he’s in pain. “God, I hope he’s okay. We should’ve invited him. We should’ve—we should be with him right now, he needs his team.”

“I would’ve, but I didn’t think he’d want to,” Nealer says, looking down and totally dejected. Tanger reaches all the way over Flower to pat him on the shoulder.

“It’s okay, Nealer. I’ve been texting him all night if he wants me to see him, he wants to be alone.”

Geno hates the thought of that and, driven both by concern and the sudden burning need to make sure Sidney’s not off somewhere getting back together with Charlie, he digs his phone out of his back pocket. Then he feels his eyes bulge a bit when he sees he has a text from Sidney, received twenty minutes ago.

Are you at the hotel?

He’s texting back before he can even think about it, tapping out a quick yes, you come? along with his room number, just in case. To the guys, he says, “Is Sid, he text. Tell him to come now.”

“What the fuck,” Tanger says, looking genuinely confused. “Why does he text you?”

“What did he say?” Flower demands, reaching over and just grabbing Geno’s phone out of his hand when he doesn’t get an instantaneous answer. Geno glares at him and leans across Nealer to get it back, flailing a little when Nealer just gives him a hug and sighs, “Hi G, I miss you,” into the back of his head.

“Get off me! Flower, give back!” Flower hands it back when he sees how simple the text was, snapping something at Tanger in French that makes Duper toss his head back and laugh hard.

He looks down at his phone again as the three of them keep at it in French, only looking up when he sees Tanger picking up his phone, too. “Don’t yell at him,” Geno says, giving Tanger a hard stare. “Scare him away. I want him here with us too.”

“I’m not yelling at him,” Tanger says, scowling. “I wouldn’t!”

He doesn’t get the chance to in any case, because then Sidney texts Geno back. On my way and Geno triumphantly announces this to all of them.

“Good,” Tanger says shortly, tossing his phone on the end table next to him and falling back in his seat with his arms crossed. “Fine. It’s good he’s here, no matter for who. Even if I’m his best man.”

“Co-best man,” Flower reminds him, the barest hint of a grin on his face. Tanger elbows him roughly and almost smiles, too.

Best best man,” he says, nodding at Geno.

“Do you still get to brag when he didn’t get married?” Jordy asks.

Tanger and Flower both look at him with exactly the same level of superiority and say “Yes,” at the same time. Geno laughs out loud for the first time that night.

“Maybe not around Sid, eh?” Kuni says softly, and just like that the laughter cuts off and they’re all kind of somber again. Nealer gets busy loading everyone up with another round, and the mood is heavy.

“What do we even say to Sid?” Nealer asks, looking up at the ceiling as if it holds any answers.

Geno has no clue what he’s actually going to say to Sidney when he gets here, just wants him here more than anything. And right now, this sounds right. “Fuck Charlie.”

The guys all echo that and drink to it.

Kuni is bracing as they wait for Sid, trying to coach them. “Don’t bash Charlie if Sid doesn’t want to hear that. But don’t defend Charlie if Sid’s angry. Let him vent first. And don’t ask him nosy questions, Nealer. Let him say what he wants to say.”

“This isn’t an intervention,” Nealer says hotly, obviously stung that he’s the only one who’d been called out. He’s drunk enough that he’s at the cuddly stage, curled into Geno’s side. He’s heavy and making Geno feel too warm, but Geno doesn’t make him move, because he hasn’t said it like Nealer did, but he misses him too.

“Maybe it is,” Tanger says, frowning. “If he’s staying together with Charlie, we have to do something.”

“If he’s staying together with Charlie, then we yell at him,” Geno tells them, silencing Kuni’s protest with a quelling, firm look. “Then we say whatever we want. But if he’s okay, not crazy, then we follow Kuni rules. Okay?”

Everyone seems to be able to live with that, and Geno nods in satisfaction and takes a drink. He’s a little drunk, never as far gone as Nealer but not too far behind, and he thinks he can handle this anyway. He thinks he has to, that Sidney had texted him and that means he has to be there for him.

He can do it, he’s sure of it. He nudges a refill out of Nealer, just in case. Nealer dutifully pours, emptying the bottle into Geno’s cup, and then looks around.

“I think we’re gonna need to restock a bit. Hey, what do we do if Sid cries?”

Tanger swears in French and staggers up to call room service. From the loveseat he’s been squished on with Tanger and Flower, Jordy snorts. “He’s not gonna cry. He never cries. Who here has seen Sid cry?”

“Me,” says all of Geno, Kuni, Duper and Flower. Tanger comes back, tells them more booze is on the way, and then tosses his hat in the seeing Sid cry ring, too.

Jordy looks dumbstruck. “I don’t mean like happy Cup tears. We all saw that—oh, sorry Nealer, most of us saw that. I mean like, sad crying. Real crying.”

“We watch terrible movie when we have injuries,” Geno says darkly, feeling his throat tighten to remember it. “Terrible. Never see again. Whole movie about dog who behave bad, drive whole family crazy, but is really good dog and they love him. And then for end the dog die. Me and Sid cry together because stupid terrible movie make us.”

“Of course you cried at Marley & Me,” Jordy mutters, shaking his head. “Of course you did. That’s not really what I mean though. He didn’t even really cry after we lost the Cup, you know?”

“If Sid cries, I’m going to cry,” Duper says. “That’s what happened last time. I was fine, and then I saw him trying not to cry, so I started crying, and—and we don’t have to talk about that because you know why we were crying, Jordy.” He visibly swallows and stares Jordy down, and yes, everyone knows what he’s talking about and everyone is relieved when Jordy nods and backs off.

“Okay,” Jordy says softly. “I get it. And I know I haven’t been—I’m not around anymore and I don’t know all the—”

“Oh my God,” Nealer cuts in loudly, groaning and tossing his head back to stare up at the ceiling again. “Now I want to cry. And I still have no idea what to do if Sid cries.”

“Hug him. You’re good at hugs. And don’t make fun of him for it ever,” Flower says. Room service shows up with reinforcements, then, so Geno can drink to Flower’s wise words and glare at Nealer in warning, should he ever even think of making fun of Sidney for crying in this situation.

“I wouldn’t,” Nealer says, pouting. Geno nods, because he can believe that, and he gives Nealer’s hair a ruffle in acknowledgment. Then he shoves Nealer’s head hard because he’s saying, “But Marley & Me is fair game for making fun. That’s pathetic.”

“You cry at Up! Make me watch and listen to you cry at movie for kid!” Geno yells, and Nealer shoves him back.

“That’s different! If you don’t cry at Up you’re dead inside, come on.”

They forgo the alcohol for a little while to argue about sad movies and crying. This turns out to be a good thing, because when someone knocks at the door to Geno’s room and he wrenches himself up to get it, it’s Sidney standing there, and he looks like he could really use a lot of alcohol.

“Hi Geno,” Sidney says. His voice is all fucked up, rough like he’s got gravel in his throat. He’s pale and looks somehow smaller than he did just a few hours ago, dressed in sweatpants and a white t-shirt and hugging himself in the hallway. His eyes are dark and liquid and his expression is intensely nervous, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallows compulsively.

“Hi Sid,” Geno breathes out. Sidney’s mouth opens and then closes immediately when Geno reaches out and pulls him into a crushing hug, wrapping his arms all the way around him and wishing he could do it twice. Sidney hugs him back almost instantly, reflexive, and after a moment’s hesitation he sighs and fits his face into Geno’s neck. Geno feels his eyelids flutter closed against his skin.

He’s pressed so close and feels so warm that Geno is loath to break the hug. But he wants Sidney inside his room, safe and guarded. He’d come here because he wanted to, because he’d meant to ask to, and Geno isn’t going to make him hold out for it.

“Come inside,” he whispers, and pulls back to lead Sidney in.

“Yeah,” Sidney whispers back. He steps in, takes off his shoes, and then licks his lips as he looks back up at Geno. “I wanted to—”

“G, quit hogging him!” Nealer yells, and Sidney actually jumps, his eyes going wide and frantic. Geno reaches out and Sidney flinches, staring up at him.

“Is okay, just guys here. You okay.” Geno wants to hug Sidney again, to rub his back until he stops looking so panicked, but Sidney pushes past him and heads into the sitting area of the suite before Geno can move.

“Oh,” he says flatly, and Geno comes up behind him and watches him worriedly from the side. Sidney’s surveying the room carefully and his cheeks have gone slightly pink. “You’re all here. Hey, guys.”

Mostly everyone just repeats that back to him cautiously, looking at Sidney like he’s a cornered, frightened dog. Geno sighs and puts a gentle hand at the small of Sidney’s back, cringing inwardly when it makes him jump again. “Sit down, have drink,” Geno tells him softly. “We just hang out, talk. Talk about nothing if you want.”

But Sidney doesn’t budge yet, instead staring at Tanger and awkwardly rubbing the back of his neck. “Tanger, hey,” Sidney says. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I thought—”

“Shut up, Sid, you idiot,” Tanger snaps, and Geno’s hackles rise and keep rising as Tanger gets up and crosses the room to Sidney. They lower a bit when Tanger just hugs him as roughly as Geno had, looking fierce and furious over Sidney’s shoulder. Sidney hugs back, clutching at Tanger’s shirt. “Don’t say sorry to me. You do what you need. Whatever you need. You don’t have to say sorry to anyone today.”

“You guys came all this way,” Sidney says, half-muffled by Tanger’s shirt and his gritted teeth. Geno cringes, moving to protest, but everyone else is chiming in to warn Sidney off apologizing again, forceful and earnest and drunk.

“We came all this way to be with you and have a good time with you,” Duper says. “So sit down and drink with us, come on.” Tanger releases Sidney and lets Geno lead him over to the couch, shoving Nealer aside so Sidney is in between them. He has a poured cup in a second and he looks down at it with a small, slow smile twitching onto his face. Geno feels a little lighter for seeing it there.

“Well, I guess I never did get a bachelor party,” Sidney says, taking a big drink. Everyone but Flower and Tanger cheer him; they both look aghast, their eyes wide.

“Sidney! You threatened us for weeks not to throw you a bachelor party—”

“You said you’d make Patrice your best man if we did it,” Flower snarls. “A Bruin.

“I can’t believe you bought that,” Sidney says, his smile going just a shade brighter. “If Max were here—”

“If Max were here we’d all be waking up on a party boat in the middle of the Atlantic, and we wouldn’t remember the day before,” Duper cuts in, sniggering.

Sidney ducks his gaze back down to his drink, his smile fading. “Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing,” he says. His lips purse, and Geno squeezes closer to him even though there’s not much more space for him to move. Sidney gets squished into Nealer as a result, and Nealer looks perfectly content with this, meeting Geno’s eyes over Sidney’s bowed head and filling his cup again wordlessly.

“Keep going,” Geno instructs, giving Sidney his most authoritative stare until he dutifully drinks more. “Don’t have party boat, but can make you forget.” Sidney’s eyes flick to meet his over the brim of his cup, burning dark, and it takes Geno a moment to go over what he’d said and hear the double meaning there. Any other time but now, that would be Geno hitting on Sidney, and it’s certainly tempting to smirk and raise his chin in challenge, to wait for Sidney to color and laugh high in his throat, just like always.

But things are different now, and it’s not at all the right time for that. He’s achingly curious as to what Sidney would do, but he doesn’t have the guts to find out right now, when Sidney is this raw and full of pain.

So instead, he bites his lip and gives Sidney an apologetic sort of grimace, a smooth out. Sidney keeps their eyes locked for another moment as he takes the cup away from his mouth and licks his wet lips. He looks down then and grimaces, too, tight little lines around his mouth that Geno desperately wants to chase away by any means necessary.

“Wish we had a party boat,” Nealer says sullenly from Sidney’s other side, reminding Geno of where they are and who they’re with.

“What makes it a party boat, exactly?” Sidney asks, sounding thoughtful if a bit distracted. “Just having a party on it? Because I have a boat.”

Nealer sits up in his seat, looking excited, and Geno reaches around Sidney to whack at the back of his head. “Maybe boat not great idea,” Geno says, annoyed that he has to be the voice of reason. “We all little bit drunk. You not want be sober boat driver at your party.”

“That’s true,” Sidney says, taking a grave drink from his cup. “Is this really a party? Would the boat make it a party?”

“It’s a hotel room party,” Duper says with authority. He sounds like he’s reasoning with one of his kids before an impending meltdown, cautious. Geno sees the corner of Sidney’s mouth twitching, but he otherwise doesn’t react, just stares a bit blankly into his drink.

“Hey, Sid, it’s whatever kind of party you want it to be,” Jordy tells him. “Like you said, you never got your bachelor party. So it’s your bachelor party.”

“Is it still considered a bachelor party after the wedding didn’t happen?” Sidney asks, and while everyone winces and tries to navigate answering that, he chuckles darkly and just answers himself. “Well, I guess I am a bachelor now. So it fits.”

A heavy, charged silence fills the room. Nealer slumps back in his seat. Geno can’t help feeling sharp relief, tinged with guilt as it is. Sidney’s a bachelor, which means he hadn’t gotten back together with Charlie, and Geno doesn’t have to yell at him.

He wants to know and he doesn’t want to know what exactly happened, and he’s trying to gauge how much Sidney wants to tell him without asking him straight out. Flower, though, seems to have no such qualms, and though he speaks delicately it’s still direct. “You want to tell us what happened, Sid?”

Sidney frowns, ducking his head. He might look upset to the others but this close, Geno can see that he’s honestly thinking about it. He takes a fortifying drink, nods almost to himself, and then looks up at the guys again.

“It doesn’t make for great party conversation,” Sidney starts.

Nealer shrugs. “This was a crappy party anyway, don’t worry about it.”

“Okay,” Sidney says, taking in a deep breath. “Okay, so. This is just what he told me over the phone. He didn’t want to—we still haven’t talked face-to-face.” Sidney’s mouth twists bitterly, and Geno feels his own blood simmering with hatred. Charlie’s a coward, Geno had known that from the first moment it was clear that he’d bailed, but having it confirmed by Sidney is both heartbreaking and viciously satisfying.

“I don’t know if we’re going to, at this point,” Sidney continues. His jaw is set and he looks as pissed as Geno feels, and that’s a good sign. Geno knows how to handle that a little better than abject misery.

“Good,” Geno says shortly, feeling it burst out of him. Kuni glares at him from across the room, but Sidney turns to meet his eyes. “Don’t see him, don’t talk to him. He not deserve.”

“Geno,” Kuni says, but Sidney’s nodding, swallowing hard.

“Yeah,” he says. His hands are tight around his plastic cup. “He was—he was really fucking shitty today.”

“Did he at least tell you why?” Nealer asks.

Sidney nods again, looking down at his feet now. He addresses the floor when he answers and Geno is so angry that he’s ashamed. “Yeah. So just, context—for a while now we’ve—he wanted me to come out.”

The guys collectively suck in a breath, and Geno wants to punch something. The cup in Sidney’s hands is starting to bend, and Geno can hear it cracking.

“He wanted us to be a normal couple,” Sidney says. His voice is low and shaky. “It was a fight we had sometimes, because obviously—I can’t do that, not right now. And I thought maybe getting married would be enough for now, because then it’s like we’re legitimate to everyone who matters. But I guess he never really saw it that way.”

“Sid,” Geno says, low and mournful, though he doesn’t know what else to say after that. Sidney looks at him, waiting, and then just clears his throat and soldiers on. For a moment he looks like he’s talking to the media after a loss, grimly recapping, and Geno wants to make him stop, to shut him up so he doesn’t have to relive it or draw any of the guys into it. But this isn’t a game, and Sidney has to tell them if they’re going to bear any of it with him.

“He said he—he didn’t want to be my dirty little secret forever. And I told him all the time it wouldn’t be forever, it wasn’t like that, just until I’m done, but—yeah. Charlie never liked that. And then today, he—so he said he’d been thinking about it for a while, but I was s-so happy and everything was going so well that he just couldn’t call off the wedding. And he kept saying if he just broke up with me I’d talk him out of it, because we always—it’s us, you know? We always stay together. We’ve always been together.”

Sidney’s head drops low, the plastic cup in his hands cracked so Geno can see slivers of white biting into Sidney’s fingertips. He reaches out and very gently takes the cup away, and on the other side Nealer slips his fingers around Sidney’s wrist, squeezing there and saying nothing.

“He said this was the only way he could think to do it where I couldn’t talk him out of it,” Sidney says. He gives a horrible, raspy chuckle. “He said he needed to do something so awful I wouldn’t want to fix it. And—and fuck, he fucking did it. It worked. I’m so—”

“Fuck Charlie,” Geno says viciously. He doesn’t even look at Kuni, but Kuni’s the first one to repeat it, so he knows it doesn’t matter now. It doesn’t feel as good as the thought of finding Charlie and tearing him apart, but it’s all they can do, and Sidney’s mouth twitches again.

“I can’t believe he did this,” Sidney tells them. He sounds lost, and Geno wants to pull him in and hug him, but Nealer beats him to it. Following Geno’s instructions, he leans all the way in and tucks Sidney into him, hooking his chin over the top of Sidney’s head. Sidney’s voice comes muffled when he adds, “I have no idea what I’m going to do now.”

Geno doesn’t know what to tell him other than, “Get drunk. Only thing.” He finds him a new cup, makes Nealer pour again, and wraps Sidney’s fingers around the cup for him, looking at him firmly.

“Yeah,” Sidney says. He’s holding the cup too hard again, bending it, but they have more.

They don’t ask Sidney to talk about it anymore after that, and Sidney seems grateful that everyone’s attention has turned to getting him shitfaced. It’s an honorable, necessary mission in Geno’s view and they all take to it with grim determination.

They order more room service, and this time there’s food with the booze. Sidney inhales whatever they put in front of him. Geno thinks despairingly of his steak, looks at Sidney with his heart squeezed in a vice of tenderness, and has to get up to throw water on his face.

He’s drunk, and hurting for Sid, and he stays in the bathroom for a bit, listening to the low, slurred hum of the guys talking to each other. The TV is on, Geno can hear that too, and when he comes back out they’re starting to settle in more spots spread out around the suite: Tanger and Flower stretched out in the bed, Duper curled in an armchair, Jordy lying on the loveseat with his legs hanging way over one arm and Kuni sitting on the floor in front of it.

“All have own rooms,” Geno huffs, but he just goes and heads over to where Sidney’s sitting on the floor in front of the couch where Nealer has spread out, and everybody ignores him. Maybe the food made everyone tired, or the day is catching up, but the chatter falters after a bit until there are just sleepy whispers in pockets of space, French and English.

“You let him kick you off?” Geno asks Sidney quietly, glaring at Nealer already starting to snore on the couch. Sidney smiles, still sipping at a drink. His eyes are glassy and his face is soft, and he leans heavily against the front of the couch and then Geno’s shoulder as they settle.

“He offered to share. Thought this was better.”

“Couch supposed to make bed,” Geno says, but Sidney just shrugs and shakes his head, looking unbothered.

“I’m not ready to sleep yet anyway. You can if you want, but—”

“Don’t be dumb.” Geno doesn’t drink anymore because his head is spinning a little, but he watches Sidney drink until the cup is empty. “Want talk more?”

“No,” Sidney says, pursing his lips. “I want—I want to come up with a plan.”

“What plan? I’m help.”

“A plan for what the fuck I’m supposed to do now.”

Geno blinks, and thinks about it seriously for a little while. He tries to imagine what he would do and can’t even fathom it. “What was plan before wedding? Do that, fuck Charlie, have normal summer.”

Sidney shakes his head again. “Can’t. It wasn’t going to be a normal summer. We were going to go away.”

“Honeymoon?” Geno asks, and Sidney nods. “Where?”

“Paris,” Sidney says, a grim, tight smile on his face. Geno wants to chase it with more alcohol, but reaching for more seems like it would require more coordination than he can muster right now.

“Okay, so go Paris. Paris great, one of best cities any place. You like it.” It seems very simple to Geno, then, and suddenly imperative, his drunken brain latching on to the idea and deciding it’s the best possible outcome of all this. He wants Sidney to be happy and can’t even fathom that happening here, surrounded by the muck of his past with Charlie.

From the look on his face, Sidney seems to have that same thought, though he shakes his head in another second, and Geno prepares for a predictable protest. “I mean—I like Paris. I do. But—”

“But what, Sid? What you do if you stay here? Be sad, train again like always? Let Charlie fuck you up like this?”

“He’s already fucked me up,” Sidney says, spitting it out. His jaw suddenly sets, and he meets Geno’s eyes with an intensity that makes Geno a bit dizzy. “I don’t want—yeah. I don’t want to just mope around here.”

“Good. Go Paris. Have good summer and fuck Charlie, is good.”

“You’re right.” Sidney is still looking at him with that same intensity, and Geno wants to look away but he’s not willing to be a coward right now. Maybe if he was sober, he’d fold quicker, but he stares back at Sidney and waits for whatever he wants to say.

He’s still not quite prepared when Sidney says, “Okay, I’ll go. But only if you go with me.”

Geno laughs, the sound choked in his throat at first and then dying off when Sidney simply keeps looking at him, eye contact faltering for a bit but then returning with a steely edge. “What,” Geno says, chuckling again, though this time it’s abjectly fake.

“I’m serious. I don’t want to go alone, but I don’t want—you get it, Geno. It should be you. I want to go with you.”

“Why?” Geno asks, honestly confused. Sidney shrugs at first, pursing his lips, but Geno keeps poking at it, suddenly hungry for—something. It’s a familiar feeling, like he’s been chasing whatever he wants to get out of Sidney right now for a long, long time, and at the same time he’s kind of terrified of getting it.

What is he going to do if Sidney starts talking about the way they’ve always flirted, the undefined and necessarily unexplored depth of feelings between them? Geno has no idea, but he’s desperate to know, and Sidney said it should be you. They’re as close as they’ve ever been.

“It just feels right,” Sidney says, but Geno doesn’t let him get away with that, staring him down until his shoulders go up around his ears and his jaw sets again. “Okay, no, because I—because I should’ve said yes, before.”

Geno thinks a minute, trying to coach his fuzzy drunken brain into following that train of thought, but he has to shake his head and ask, “What? Say yes what?”

“Before the wedding, before—when you said we should run away together. We should’ve done that. Fuck, we should’ve done it years ago, we should’ve—fuck Charlie.”

They’re still circling the drain, but Geno’s stomach starts to sink as the anger in Sidney’s voice registers and he understands what he means, what he’s throwing out there, and the position he’s throwing it from. He’s hurt and angry and vulnerable, and suddenly Geno realizes he needs to pull up, can’t attack this the way he really wants to, not when Sidney’s like this.

“Not mean it this morning,” Geno says lowly, trying to be as honest as possible while not showing every bit of his hand. If Sidney looks him in the eye and asks if he’s meant it all these years, though, he won’t be able to lie enough. “Just joke, Sid. Like we do.”

“I know,” Sidney says, gritting his teeth. “And—and fine, okay, it’s still a joke. Fine. I think I need a joke right now. I need to—it’s okay that you didn’t mean it. I need to do something that doesn’t mean anything.”

He leans in to Geno and looks him right in the eye, licking his lips. And Geno’s thinking about how Sidney had ignored Tanger’s texts and texted Geno, came to the hotel once he knew Geno was here.

He’s thinking about the look on his face when he saw all the guys here instead of Geno alone, and the molten look in his eyes right now, boring into Geno’s, his eyelids lowering, the shadows his eyelashes cast on his cheeks and the vibrant red of his mouth.

Geno closes his eyes, takes a breath, and pulls up, because it’s the right thing to do.

“Stop, Sid,” he mumbles, shaking his head and leaning away. He opens his eyes just in time to see the hurt that shutters Sidney’s face, and it rips through his chest so that he has to grit out his next words. “Bad idea.”

Sidney swallows hard, looking down. “Come with me,” he says quietly. “Not for—just so I don’t have to do it alone. That’s all.”

“Sid,” Geno groans, because it’s like Sidney’s pressing right on a bruise, tender and aching.

“Please,” Sidney says, which is horrible. Geno’s shaking his head again, sighing out low and defeated.

“Of course I come. Not let you go alone ever. Promise.” Sidney leans in again, and though Geno tenses and braces himself to push him back, Sidney just hugs him tight, an arm around Geno’s neck and his face buried in Geno’s hair.

“You’re the best,” Sidney says, slurred and muffled.

Geno huffs out a laugh and pats Sidney’s back. “I know. You lucky.”

“I’m so lucky,” Sidney tells him, pulling back and looking him right in the eye again. Geno chucks him on the chin and then deliberately yawns in his face, ready to end this before he promises anything else against his better judgment. “Oh, geez, we should sleep,” Sidney says, in full-on appreciation mode, shifting to his knees and starting to struggle to his feet. He stumbles and looks around the hotel room in bleary confusion, and Geno can’t help laughing at him for real now—his pursed lips and earnest brow, concerned for Geno’s sleepiness but lacking the coordination to solve it efficiently. “Somewhere. We’ll sleep somewhere.”

“Get in bed, is big,” Geno says, pointing over at where Flower and Tanger are curled up together on basically the same side, leaving plenty of room for Sidney to climb in. “I pull out couch and make Lazy share.”

“It’s your room,” Sidney says. He frowns, still looking around in confusion, snapped out of his drunken single-mindedness in getting Geno to agree to the trip and now seemingly at a loss. “You should get the bed.”

“My room, I pick Lazy kicks over Flower pointy elbows,” Geno tells him patiently, also struggling to his feet. He has no idea how Nealer sleeps, is just assuming, but he had bunked with Flower once as a rookie, when Max locked him out of their room on the road and Geno woke up the whole floor yelling at him. Flower was right across the hall, laughing at him, but he’d been the first to say, “Come in and sleep here, who wants to room with Talbo anyway?” and they shared the bed next to Jordy’s.

Sidney suddenly laughs, shocking Geno a little. “He does have pointy elbows,” Sidney says, grinning over at the bed. He looks fond and sweet and Geno gives him a little push, a pat on the hip.

“Go sleep good. I’m handle Lazy.”

“Night, G,” Sidney says softly, shuffling over to the bed and climbing in carefully under the covers, tapping a side lamp off as he goes. From here, Geno can only hear gentle murmuring in French, the soft hushed sounds of Flower shifting between Sidney and Tanger, and Sidney answering back just as soft, but they settle and fall silent soon enough. In another moment, as Geno starts pushing and poking at Nealer to get him to stand up and help him pull the couch out, Sidney’s gentle snores fill the room, and Geno feels a little lighter.

He and Nealer are both too tall for the pullout couch, their feet hanging off the edge. Nealer says, “Why d’you get to be the big spoon?” in a low, slurred mumble, and he’s already passed out again when Geno hisses, “Shut up. Sleep,” into the back of his neck.

“Good,” Geno whispers, and he sets about trying to fall asleep himself. He tries not to think about tomorrow, or Paris, or anything else but just getting to sleep and making sure at least the next few hours aren’t ridiculous and confusing because he’ll be unconscious.

He’s almost there when he feels the pullout mattress dip and then a weight at his back. Geno grunts and says, “No room,” to whoever it is, because there really isn’t room, but it’s Kuni sighing out and telling him, “Budge over, there’s room.”

There’s room if he literally plasters himself to Nealer’s back, which Kuni forces him to do. Geno kicks him, rolling his eyes and moaning, “All have own rooms, this crazy,” and Kuni just sighs again and snuggles in.

“We should be here together.”

“No,” Geno pouts, but it’s a useless argument, and probably not an honest one. There is something comforting about his room full of teammates, squished between the reminders of the best hockey he’s ever played.

It makes his heart feel very full to remember how things used to be, how much things change, and how important moments like this may be when nothing stays the same for long.

 

 

Waking up is horrible, and it’s a prolonged, ugly process that happens in stages. First, Geno is aware of Nealer falling off the pull-out mattress with a loud thump and lots of cursing. He wakes up just enough to chuckle and become aware of his splitting headache before passing back out again.

Then, Nealer wakes both him and Kuni up by attempting to crawl over them, muttering, “Melanie’s gonna kill me, our flight’s in like an hour.” At that point, Geno wakes up enough to realize that there’s more noise around the room as more guys are getting up, groaning and facing their hangovers. Geno’s own hangover is pressing in, evident in the way his stomach feels kind of sloshy, but that’s not as apparent yet as Nealer’s knee on his chest and Kuni’s high-pitched protests.

“G, Geno, come on,” Nealer says, still on top of them. Geno flails out with one arm. “Wake up and say goodbye to me.”

“Go away, Lazy.”

“I didn’t know you’d be here, I’d stay longer,” Nealer tells him. He drops down, wraps his two arms around Kuni and Geno’s necks, and squeezes them tight before clambering the rest of the way off the mattress.

“Jesus Christ,” Kuni says, rolling away from Geno as Nealer staggers off. Geno grunts his agreement and goes back to sleep, one arm flung over his eyes to block out the light quickly filling the room.

The next time he wakes up, someone is kneeling on the mattress and shaking his shoulder. “Geno,” comes the croaky voice, and it takes a minute for him to realize it’s Sidney. He struggles up as much as he can and blinks when he realizes that Kuni’s gone. “Take the bed, Geno. The guys are gone.”

Geno sits up very slowly, his head swimming and his stomach rolling. Sidney looks as distinctly awful as Geno feels, his hair matted down on one side and sticking straight up on the other and his skin tinged slightly green. He looks imploring, too, and like he needs lots more sleep, and Geno understands that.

He asks him, “What?” a few times before he realizes he’s saying it in Russian and that’s why Sidney’s just blinking at him. He manages English slowly and painfully.

“Go take the bed, G. It’s your bed. Get some more sleep, I’ll sleep here.” Sidney’s biting his bottom lip like he’s really, really concerned about this, and Geno works hard to get his brain online enough to argue.

“You sleep. I sleep. Don’t matter where.”

“The bed is comfortable,” Sidney insists, and Geno groans and drops back down, groaning louder when Sidney tugs at his arm immediately.

“So sleep in it.” He feels like he did when he’d stayed overnight in the hospital after his knee surgery, and a nurse came in and woke him up to ask him if he needed something to help him sleep.

“Geno,” Sidney says again. Geno lets him pick up his limp arm and shake it, but doesn’t move otherwise.

“Sleep. Before I knock you out.”

“The bed—”

“What time’s flight?” Geno asks, closing his eyes and snuggling into his pillow. He feels Sidney freeze and he stays quiet, so Geno clarifies, “Flight to Paris, what time?”

He can hear Sidney swallow, and then he hears, “Later, at night. There’s a lot of time.”

“Okay. Sleep now, Sid.”

Sidney’s quiet for a bit, but buzzing with too much tension to let Geno go back to sleep. He’s about to snap at him again when Sidney finally says, “Yeah, okay,” and shuffles off to the bed again. Geno listens to the rustle of bedcovers and then tries to listen for Sidney’s breath to even out, but he falls asleep again before it happens.

The final time Geno wakes up, it’s because he smells breakfast. For a few moments, he contemplates ignoring it, but his stomach won’t let him get away with that for long and he struggles up towards the smell.

Sidney is obviously trying to be very quiet as he pours coffee, pulls a plate of bacon and eggs into his lap, and starts carefully eating without allowing his fork to touch his plate too much. He still looks guilty when Geno sits all the way up and knuckles at his eyes, freezing with his mouth full.

“Good morning,” Geno says, thickly in Russian. Sidney nods, understanding just about that much, and he continues looking guilty until Geno rolls his eyes and looks pointedly at his watch. “Good afternoon, maybe better. Is time for me to wake up, stop look like you do horrible thing.”

“Sorry,” Sidney says anyway, and Geno contemplates whacking him in the back of the head on the way to the bathroom. He settles for ruffling his hair, tamed somewhat from its wild state from earlier but still curly and messy on top of his head. Geno doesn’t even want to think about what his own hair looks like, nor does he really care, but Sidney looks charming like this, and young.

Sidney goes back to eating as Geno wanders in and out of the bathroom, not as hesitantly this time but attacking his food the way he normally does. He gestures at Geno’s covered plates and Geno digs in, too, feeling much more human about halfway through, enough to feel a bit embarrassed about how drunk he’d been last night and how dramatic it made him.

If the pink tint to Sidney’s ears and cheeks is anything to go by, Sidney might be feeling a little bit of the same. And it’s not long at all before he breaks into their companionable silence to clear his throat awkwardly and say, “Hey. About last night.”

“S’okay,” Geno says, mouth full of eggs. He swallows, slurps noisily at coffee, and watches Sidney’s face remain unchanged even in the face of rudeness. He looks too nervous for this point in the day, really. “We all drunk. Shitty bachelor party for you.”

“That’s not what I mean,” Sidney says, looking down at his plate. When he looks up again, he looks very determined, and Geno tries not to roll his eyes. “I mean, about Paris.”

Geno’s stomach sinks. Even drunk, he’d thought of Paris as an awful idea, and he’s still in no condition now to think about why it’s so awful. But he also remembers Sidney’s pleading face, his plaintive, unhappy voice, and knows why he’d agreed, too. This isn’t really a decision he’s going to hold against his drunk self, because he thinks he’d have agreed sober, too. “You say flight leave tonight, right? Have to get bags?”

“G, you don’t have to,” Sidney says all in a rush. Geno lets out a noisy breath and starts shaking his head, but Sidney barrels on. “I’m serious. Like you said, we were all drunk. I was drunk. You were drunk. I’m not—”

“You change mind? Not want me go?”

Sidney pauses and then winces, and Geno knows he’s working out how not to lie to him. “I’m not holding you to it, okay? I wasn’t being fair.”

“Sid. You want me go?” Geno looks at Sidney directly enough that he knows Sidney won’t look away from. It still takes a while for Sidney to bite his lip and nod slowly, looking anxious.

“Yeah. But—”

“I promise I go,” Geno tells him, and something in Sidney’s expression crumples. “Not lie to you. Not back out. So I go.”

There are a few moments when Sidney just looks really overwhelmed, his chest visibly rising and falling with breaths. Geno gives him the moments, busying himself with the rest of his breakfast and looking away until he has to add, for his own sanity, “We go because we friends, okay? Important.”

“Yeah,” Sidney says. His voice is very rough. “Of course. We’re friends. You’re—you’re an amazing friend.”

Geno laughs at that, shaking his head again. “Yes of course, you lucky,” but he doesn’t really mean it this time. He wonders if Sidney would earnestly agree, like he truly believes he’s lucky, if he knew how Geno thought of him, how he keeps thinking of how close they’d come to something very different last night, dangerous and heady. He wonders if Sidney would think he was an amazing friend if he knew that Geno kind of wishes none of the guys had been here last night when Sidney showed up, obviously looking for something in hindsight.

Now in the sober light of day, that all seems the opposite of amazing, dark and bittersweet, and Geno hopes that reminding them both over and over again that being friends is the most important thing will chase all that away.

“I do need to get my bags,” Sidney says, frowning deeply at the thought. He shoves a forkful of eggs into his mouth as if to chase away whatever unpleasant associations he has with going home and Geno smiles grimly in sympathy. “And stash my car. And tell my family I’m going.”

“Don’t say me,” Geno says. Sidney’s eyes flicker towards him, his frown deepening. “Complicated, yes? Maybe we keep secret.”

“Why?” Sidney asks, and Geno shrugs. “I mean, who cares? I asked you to go with me, it’s not like you invited yourself or something.”

“I think maybe look bad, you know?” He can only imagine what Flower would say, and shudders inwardly to think of it.

Sidney looks like he’s gearing up to argue more, to repeat his confusion, but he draws up for a moment and then just shakes his head, setting his jaw. “I really don’t care what it looks like, Geno. You’re going on a trip with me. We’re friends. We know what it is.”

Geno sighs, ducking his head. “Okay. Tell, not my call.”

Sidney goes quiet, studying Geno’s face for a while, until his face softens and he says, “All right. We won’t tell the guys until the trip is over, if you want. Compromise.”

“Good,” Geno says, and they shake on it.

It’s a good, practical agreement, making Geno feel a bit more settled about the whole thing, even once Sidney disappears to get his logistics in order and Geno’s on his own for a while. It’s still a little surreal, a feeling like he’s going to pinch himself and everything will make sense again one way or another, but it’s only the big picture stuff that doesn’t make sense yet. The smaller stuff seems to work.

They head to the airport in Geno’s rental and Sidney apparently can’t keep himself from checking his watch and remarking, “We’re making good time. Early, for you.”

Geno snorts. “Good pack assistant.” Sidney had helped Geno pack up his bags back at the hotel, checking the room for stuff left behind way more thoroughly than Geno ever would and shoving extra socks into Geno’s suitcase from a pack he must have bought on the way over, because “you never regret extra socks.”

“Yeah, exactly. Now we don’t have to go back for anything.”

“Oh, shit,” Geno says, glancing down at his arm and making an aggrieved sound. “Have to go back, forget watch. You miss it, Sid.”

“What?” Sidney snaps, looking genuinely peeved. “Are you serious right now? How do you forget your—oh shut up,” he finishes, spotting Geno’s watch on his wrist as he starts to shake with chuckles.

“You so easy. Believe everything I say.” The best part is that Sidney’s laughing too, even as he twists in his seat to try and hide it, and Geno feels a flash of triumph. If all he does on this trip is make Sidney laugh in spite of himself, it will be well worth it, Geno thinks. And he’d meant what he’d said: Sidney’s easy. Making him laugh has always been easy.

Things go mostly smooth at the airport until they’re heading for their lounge and hear “Sid! Geno!” and turn to see Jordy’s blond head bobbing above everyone else’s near the gates.

“Ah, geez,” Sidney says softly, and he gives Geno an apologetic shrug. Geno shrugs helplessly back and then waves at Jordy, carrying both his and Heather’s bags and bright and cheerful-looking enough that you could never guess how much they’d all drunk last night.

“Go home, Jordy,” Geno says as soon Jordy and Heather reach them. “Tell your baby papa is lightweight.”

“Am not,” Jordy argues, shuffling them ahead into the lounge and then plopping down with them. “So where you guys headed? This is—huh. Sid, what’s up?” His eyes are starting to cloud a bit with confused concern, and Geno forces himself to remember that Jordy may have been treated like their little brother at times, but never truly fit that role. He personally thinks the Penguins have a bad habit of picking up perceptive, nosy busybodies and thinks that must have been a prerequisite for acquiring Suttsy, because he’s eerily similar.

Sidney looks at Geno, his eyes flashing with panic. Geno knows that Sidney would rather hurl himself into oncoming traffic than willfully back out on a compromise he made, so he sighs and takes it upon himself. “We go Paris. Get away for little while, just travel, you know?”

“Paris is lovely,” Heather pipes up as Jordy seems to let that marinate for a bit, looking between Sidney and Geno very, very curiously. Sidney nods with something like wild gratitude in his eyes, clearing his throat and shifting awkwardly in his seat.

“Yeah, we both like it, so I thought—I mean, it’s better than just staying here, don’t you think?” Everyone goes quiet for a minute, seeming to remember all at once why that’s true, and Jordy’s face goes soft.

“Yeah. I get that. G, were you going home anyway, or—”

“Was going to Montreal for little visit,” Geno says. Sidney’s gaze snaps onto him again, tilting his head and frowning. “Just for visit. But Paris is like Montreal but prettier, so is good.”

“Don’t let Flower or Tanger hear you say that,” Jordy says, laughing, and the mood breaks its tension a bit and everyone starts to relax.

Jordy and Heather are headed back to Thunder Bay via Toronto, while Sidney and Geno are going through Montreal, a little over 10 hours of traveling staring them in the face. It doesn’t really sound all that nice compared to their easier trip, but while they’re talking about it Sidney produces a large freezer bag stuffed full of squished sandwiches from his carry-on.

“I just—I thought of it when I was getting the bags and it seemed like a good idea,” he mumbles, looking kind of embarrassed until Geno snatches the bag away and takes a sandwich, grinning widely. “Hey, wait, they’re for the plane—”

“Best, Sid,” Geno says, peeling aluminum foil away from one and taking a bite. They’d eaten lunch and dinner and yes, it would probably be wise to save them for later, but Geno feels something settle in him as he eats the sandwich, because this is another detail that feels right, normal. He asks, “You have more snacks, yes?” and gives a huffy, crumb-filled laugh when Sidney purses his lips and nods. Of course he does. Sidney takes snacks very seriously.

Geno takes another bite, lets Sidney take the rest of the sandwiches back, and shoves Jordy’s head away when he makes a swipe for them. “Not for you,” Geno says, and the low, satisfied sound of Sidney’s snickers makes him feel just as settled as the sandwich. “For world travelers, for people go Paris, not farm travelers.”

“Hey!” Jordy says, half-outraged, half-amused. “Don’t knock my hometown, Siberia.” He shoves Geno back, and Sidney says, “Guys, come on,” still laughing, low and pleased. Geno feels struck by how normal all of this feels, as if it were a few years ago and they were sitting the same way in a Pittsburgh bar, together and happy.

The laughter starts to trail off and when Geno meets Jordy’s eyes, he thinks there’s recognition, some shared memory of how close they used to be. It’s bittersweet, and the feeling lingers when Jordy and Heather hug them goodbye and head for their gate. Sidney stares after him for a while, his lips turned in a very small frown.

“I miss him,” he says finally, and Geno pats his knee. “It’s weird. Sometimes I forget how much I miss him, it’s hard to think about, and then I see him again and it’s like he never left. But he did.”

“It happen,” Geno says softly. “People trade, leave. Lazy, Cookie, Jordy, you know, is hockey.”

“I know,” Sidney says, and he tilts his head back and his eyes slip closed. “Hey. Thanks for coming. Did you have big Montreal plans?”

Geno rolls his eyes and leans back in his seat, pushing Sidney’s arm off the shared armrest of the chair between them. Sidney’s arm drops into his lap and he makes no indication he’d noticed, so Geno pokes him in the elbow until he pokes back. “Not big. Small plans. Buy suit, eat sandwich, you know things we do. Like Montreal.”

“We could just stay there,” Sidney says. His face is tight and Geno’s already formulating his negative answer because he knows Sidney doesn’t really want to. “Just—just stay there instead of going all the way to Paris. I like Montreal too.”

“No,” Geno says before Sidney even gets the entire last sentence out. “We go Paris. Going all the way, is good.” It feels like the right thing, and so much of this feels right even with how utterly wrong it is. Every bit about the time and place and reason is outside of normal, but Sidney, warm and solid next to him, his fingers gently folded over Geno’s forearm on the armrest, feels exactly right.

He says, “Thanks for coming, G,” again, and that feels right too, perfectly Sidney.

 

 

Part Two: Paris

Their plane leaves them in Charles de Gaulle at what feels like the crack of dawn for them, but is actually the middle of the afternoon. It’s particularly disorienting for Geno, who hadn’t even fully adjusted to North American time by the time he was hopping back over to Europe.

This basically leads to Sidney towing him around the airport, not arguing when Geno points and makes wordless, distressed sounds of need at a McDonald’s, leading the way towards the ride he’d arranged with a hand at the small of Geno’s back.

“We’ll go to the hotel, but we shouldn’t sleep,” Sidney says, and he makes a scrunched face in response to the wounded noise of protest Geno makes on reflex. “Come on, you know better than I do. We gotta stay up.”

“So tired,” Geno says. Sidney pokes him in the middle of his back, then determinedly gathers up all their bags and hefts them towards the town car waiting for them. Geno grins watching him march along, charmed as always to see him take charge, and follows at a much more sedate pace, snickering when Sidney and the driver squabble a little over who should put the bags in the trunk.

The ride is quiet at first, Geno struggling to stay awake and Sidney looking out his window raptly, prompting Geno to grunt until words feel doable again and then ask, “You here before, yes?” just to be sure.

“Yeah,” Sidney says, not looking away. He looks kind of like a little kid from this angle, totally enraptured even though they’re passing graffiti’d suburbs and highway and haven’t yet hit the lower, more attractive arrondissements. “Twice. But never—it was just on the way to other places, for a day or two.”

Geno ponders that, frowning thoughtfully. “See Eiffel Tower?”

“Of course.”

“Go to top?”

He sees Sidney make a face in the reflection of the window. “There was a lot of people. We—when we were planning, Charlie said we should take a picnic underneath, on the Champ de Mars.”

Geno’s stomach squirms with unease, and he wonders if this entire trip is going to be like this, the shadow of Charlie’s influence and abandonment hanging over everything, a constant reminder of the shoes Geno’s reluctantly filling. Sidney’s face looks tight in the reflection and Geno wants to rewind the conversation to before Charlie was mentioned, but the only way he can think to do that is to go forward.

“Should go to top,” Geno says firmly, and he watches carefully as Sidney’s shoulders slump a little. “Lots of people everywhere, Sid. Is Paris, is big city. Not recognize so much, you not that famous.”

“I know,” Sidney says, a little defensive. He’s smiling, though, a flash of white teeth in the window. On the other side of it, Paris starts to spiral more into the Paris he knows as they leave the highway, all cafes and shops and touristy foot traffic blooming across their view.

“We go to top, see whole city,” Geno says. “Once in day, once in night. Have to.” They’ll make their own plans, he thinks, and he gets excited the more of the city he sees, the feel of bumpy cobblestone beneath the tires.

Sidney’s quiet for a bit, and Geno prepares for skepticism, an argument. If Sidney wants to tick off boxes of things he’d wanted to do with Charlie, Geno’s going to have to back out a little, and he’s trying to force his sleepy brain to articulate that properly when Sidney says, “And Sacré Cœur, too?”

“What?”

“Sacred Heart,” Sidney says, laughing a little, and Geno groans because of course Sidney’s going to use his French at every possible turn. “It’s supposed to be a really cool view from the dome. We should do that, too.”

“Okay,” Geno says easily, tipping his head back and feeling relieved. “We do that. First I’m sleep, though.”

“No Geno. You can’t sleep.” Geno very deliberately closes his eyes, and grins when Sidney leans over to smack him in the arm. “Geno! No sleeping!”

Geno doesn’t sleep, though he keeps up the illusion of sleeping so Sidney keeps berating him for it, right until they’re at their hotel. Then he drags himself out of the car, drags himself through Sidney’s command of the check-in process, surfacing to brief consciousness to roll his eyes some more at Sidney’s earnest French, and then drags himself to their suite, where he snaps back into full wakefulness when he realizes there’s only one large bed.

“Shit,” Sidney says, echoing Geno’s thoughts. “I didn’t think—shit.”

He didn’t think of why there would only be one bed, but of course there is, because this is Sidney’s honeymoon, and no one gets a suite with two beds on their honeymoon. Geno feels that unease again, distinct discomfort. Apparently Sidney doesn’t even have to say Charlie’s name for that feeling to come back.

“Can switch rooms,” Geno rumbles softly, looking at Sidney who’s looking at the bed like his heart’s breaking all over again. “Not big thing.”

“Right,” Sidney says, though he doesn’t stop looking at the bed. He makes no move to actually go and talk to someone about changing rooms, and Geno hates seeing him lose his take-charge mentality, the determination that seemed to have been driving this entire journey so far. Hours in the air, a few more in airports, and Sidney looks like he’s going to collapse under the weight of a single King-sized bed. Geno can’t stand it.

“Later,” Geno says, deciding it’s okay if he takes charge for a little while. That’s always been how their partnership worked, trading off like that, and there’s no reason for it not to work that way now. “Relax now. Take off plane clothes.”

Whenever Geno gets anywhere after a long flight, the first thing he likes to do is change out of the clothes he’d flown in. He hates the smell of recycled air that clings to his clothes and always feels like a new person when he changes. He goes about doing that now, feeling stupid for considering modesty for a second before stripping and digging clothes out without looking at Sidney; it’s nothing Sidney hasn’t seen before, after all.

If he maybe keeps his back turned to Sidney, and doesn’t look at him changing too much, well, he’s only being polite.

He doesn’t know what their plans are for the next little while, knows it’s probably best if they go out and take a walk somewhere to stay awake, but he wants to get off his feet and changes into comfy clothes with that in mind. Geno knows about how you’re supposed to dress in Paris and doesn’t give any kind of shit, really, and he turns to look at what Sidney’s putting on and plans to chirp him on it, because Sidney will either swing and miss on the dress code or nail it much too earnestly.

It was a mistake not to keep an eye on Sidney while they’d changed, though, because Sidney had just taken off his shoes and pants and sat down on the bed, every part of his body slumped. Geno says, “Hey, Sid,” and then hisses out a curse when Sidney pulls the bedspread back and just sort of curls under it slowly and gingerly, like he’s recovering from a brutal check.

Sid,” Geno says, drawing it out and climbing onto the bed by Sidney’s feet, putting a cautious hand on his hip. Sidney simply rolls onto his back and swallows hard, blinking at Geno. He looks exhausted and defeated and it makes Geno feel like shit to force out, “Not supposed to sleep, remember? You say, and I know best.”

“I’m really tired,” Sidney says. “Just a little while. We’ll—we’ll figure things out later. Okay?”

Geno flounders for a bit, mustering up just enough resiliency to manage, “No, we should take walk, go to—to café and—” But Sidney’s closing his eyes, turning his face into his pillow, and fuck it. Geno’s tired too. He should never be trusted to be the strong one when he’s this sleep-deprived.

As he sighs and caves and carefully crawls in next to Sidney, keeping a respectable distance in the massive bed, Geno idly thinks that this is going to fuck them up. And he turns onto his side with his back to Sidney and snorts inwardly, because there’s probably nothing about this trip that isn’t going to fuck them up. Geno’s tired, and he’s never going to be able to hold back from the things he wants if Sidney wants them, too.

He falls into an uneasy sleep with that in mind.

 

 

When they wake up, it’s been a few hours and all either of them can think about is how hungry they both are. Well, Geno says, “So fucking hungry,” through groggy thickness in his voice, and Sidney sighs and pats him on the stomach and says, “Yeah, c’mon. Let’s go eat.”

He looks better, more like himself, and Geno knows food will help even more, so he hustles them along in getting cleaned up and dressed and getting out his laptop to pick the best quality restaurant within walking distance. Sidney approves of it, though Geno thinks he’d approve of anything with food in it right now, and then gives him a look up and down, pursing his lips.

Geno knows what’s coming, but he still huffs and gives his haughtiest “What?” drawing himself up to his full height.

“That’s what you’re wearing,” Sidney says, a little flat, a lot amused. Geno plucks at his t-shirt, then looks up and down at Sidney’s clothes just like Sidney had done to him. Sidney had probably packed five of the same polo shirt he’s wearing in different colors, and all five of them probably didn’t cost as much as the t-shirt Geno’s wearing. When Geno points this out, Sidney laughs out loud, shaking his head and looking truly delighted for the first time since they’d touched down in Paris. “All right, Mr. Moneybags. If you’re sure.”

“I’m sure,” Geno says. “I’m so hungry, let’s go Sid.”

It’s pushing nine o’clock and it’s the time of year when the sun is still out, not quite into the deep, disgusting August weather that empties the city of locals yet. So it’s a pleasant walk to the restaurant, and bright and cool enough out to sit outside, which they’re both interested in.

“It’s less weird if people take pictures of me outside,” Sidney says, very practical and earnest. Geno snorts at him anyway.

“Yes, very important famous guy here, cameras all for you.”

Hey. Shut up. You know what I’m talking about.”

“They not take pictures of you because I’m here,” Geno says, and when Sidney blinks, parsing that, Geno adds, “Why take pictures of you when most handsome guy across table?”

Sidney laughs again, shaking his head. “You got me there. I don’t know how anyone takes pictures of anything else when you’re around.”

“See, you know. So no problem pictures. Not have to hide wine.”

Wine is definitely happening, because they’d both gotten excited about the wine list and Geno thinks the only way this trip is happening in general is if there’s lots of wine. Not too much, though, he has to caution himself, as the dinner goes on and they’re on their second bottle and making their steady way through plates of steak frites and Sidney’s cheeks are going pink, his eyes pleased.

He feels like he’s cautioning himself the whole way back to the hotel, when they stop for another drink at the bar and Sidney speaks soft, careful French to the pretty bartender, who smiles kindly at him but purses her lips in a teasing smile at Geno when Sidney’s looking away. Geno rolls his eyes in acknowledgment and wishes he’d ordered club soda in secret. Sidney’s close, leaning into him from his bar stool, warm and smelling faintly of the full-bodied red he’d insisted on at dinner.

But he’s stuck a bit because neither of them are tired enough to just head upstairs and the only other thing to do is drink down here. He listens to Sidney get restaurant recommendations from the bartender, sketching out a completely illegible directional map on a napkin.

“Use my phone,” Geno says, sliding it over and clucking impatiently, and Sidney’s eyes are bright and grateful and just happy enough that Geno feels warm, too, that a small, resilient part of him feels proud and accomplished.

“We should do the catacombs tomorrow,” Sidney says, thumbing over Geno’s phone and then scribbling things down on his stupid napkin, completely beside the point. “Close to this place. We’ll go to lunch here.”

“More French fries,” Geno says, aggrieved. Sidney shrugs.

“It’s different. Mussels this time, not steak. It’ll be good, Lissette says it’ll be good. Exacte, Lissette?”

“Of course, Sidney,” Lissette says, patting his hand. “I would not lie to you.”

“See, she wouldn’t lie,” Sidney says. “It’s a good plan. I’ve never been to the catacombs.” He lets his eyes go big, like he actually thinks Geno’s going to deny him much of anything on this trip. The fact that Geno’s even here is proof to the contrary, but he still makes a big production of sighing and agreeing as if it’s a hardship.

When Geno makes noises about heading upstairs, sick of staring at his drink and trying not to be overly aware of how close to him Sidney’s sitting, Lissette tries to talk them into another round. Geno gives her a betrayed, wounded look that normally cows anyone, especially women, but she’s focused on Sidney, switching to slow and quiet French that makes the tips of Sidney’s ears go a little pink.

Geno snorts and, against his better judgement, leans in closer to Sidney. “Tired,” he lies, feeling Sidney’s back shift with his breaths against Geno’s chest.

“We should get some rest, we have to get to the catacombs early,” Sidney says, looking down at Geno’s phone again. His own phone is sitting right there on the bar, untouched throughout most of the night. “There’s usually a long wait.”

“No, you don’t have to wait,” Lissette says, waving at him. “Don’t be silly. You book a tour and it gives you an appointment and you go at that time. It’s much better this way.”

Sidney brightens up, leaning forward over the bar. “Awesome, thank you! That’s so great to know, wow. Isn’t that great, Geno?” He’s drunk and wholly genuine, and Geno at once feels exasperated and weirdly protective.

He nods stiffly but adds in a slight whine, “Tired, Sid. And I know you walk me all day tomorrow.” He’s looking forward to that, actually, because he loves when Sidney has a plan and bosses Geno around to carry out that plan, but of course he won’t tell Sidney that. He slumps against Sidney’s back, and Sidney sighs and reaches up to the pat the side of his head.

“Yeah, let’s go up. Thanks so much, Lissette. You’re great. Bonsoir.

“Goodbye,” Lissette says, sounding cheerful enough, though Geno thinks she looks slightly disappointed as they head out. “I hope you have a great time tomorrow.” Geno smiles at her because he gets it, really, because he can’t help feeling good about where Sidney touches him at the small of his back again, guiding him towards the elevator and back up to their room.

They’re inside and undressing when Geno remembers the stupid bed, and he looks nervously at Sidney, who still looks drunk and pleased with their night and tomorrow’s plans. He meets Geno’s eyes and realization dawns, and then he looks nervous too.

“It’s definitely too late to switch rooms,” Sidney says, biting his bottom lip. “Is it—just one night? Is that okay?”

“Of course okay,” Geno says, smiling with no bite, as kind as Lissette had. Sidney smiles back seemingly without thinking about it, and Geno can’t help adding, “It’s okay, you don’t kick. Only snore little bit.”

Sidney laughs, shaking his head. “I don’t snore, what are you talking about?”

“Little snores. Like cat.”

“Shut up, I do not,” Sidney says. He’s smiling with his whole face, and he passes Geno to move towards the bed and touches his arm, holding it just long enough for Geno to swallow hard and remember what a handsy, flirty drunk Sidney can be when he’s in a good mood.

He’s definitely in a good mood, and Geno’s glad for that, he really is. But it’s also worrying, because he can feel Sidney’s closeness again, can pick out the heat in his eyes, playful but pointed at the same time. Geno thinks, as he’s thought so many times over the years, just how easy it would be to kiss Sidney and make him feel good, and Sidney’s certainly never given him this many signals for it before. It’s heady and a little terrifying, and once again Geno has to make himself back off, slipping out of Sidney’s hold with a grim smile.

“I’m shower tonight, save time tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Sidney says softly. Geno can feel his eyes on his back all the way to the bathroom, can still feel the heat of his gaze when he’s stepping under the water and letting it stay a little cool.

When he gets back out of his shower, Sidney’s already asleep, on his back on his preferred side of the bed and snoring gently, exactly the way Geno had described. Geno stops to just look at him for a few moments—the slack, sweet bow of his lips and the slight flare of his nostrils and the way his hands are curled softly on either side of him. He’s as attracted to Sidney as he’s ever been, always been, but right now it feels a little different, something bigger and tender.

It aches a bit, and Geno gets into bed slowly and carefully like he’s nursing that ache. He wonders if this is what Sidney feels like about Charlie and has to suppress a shudder thinking about it; he doesn’t want to think about Charlie at all when he considers that.

He wonders if Sidney’s thinking of chasing that kind of ache when he touches Geno, looks at him the way he did, asked him to come to Paris. Geno rolls onto his side and curls up around that thought, trying to shut his brain to it.

 

 

Geno holds out for a pretty long time in the catacombs, rubbing his bare arms with his hands, pretending to listen to the tour guide, distracting himself by taking selfies and snapping sneaky pictures of Sidney in front of piles of skulls and bones and carved sculptures. He’s not holding out for pride—he doesn’t really care what Sidney thinks of his preparedness levels—but rather waiting for the perfect moment, watching the twitch of Sidney’s lips, the flick of his eyes from Geno’s arms to his phone and then away again.

He lets Sidney get good and self-righteous about it and then finally sighs out, “Sid, I’m so cold.”

“I told you to bring a jacket,” Sidney says immediately, like it had been on the tip of his tongue this entire time. Geno grins helplessly at him, watching him fight a smile of his own and trying to look severe and chiding. “It gets cold down here. I told you.”

“Is August,” Geno says dismissively, rubbing his arms again. “Not supposed to be cold. Stupid.”

“It’s not stupid. We’re underground and this is a crypt, Geno. It makes perfect sense that it’s cold. You’re just stubborn.” Sidney lifts his chin and then sets his eyes back on the tour guide, a clear dismissal. He even tugs on the sleeves of his own zippered jacket as if proving a point. Geno chuckles under his breath and then huddles in close. “Hey.”

“You warm,” Geno says, fake-shivering. “Share warm, Sid.”

“Get your own,” Sidney says, and Geno lets out a loud snort that echoes and draws some attention from the group they’re trailing behind, including the tour guide. He sees the tops of Sidney’s cheeks go red and grins as he says, “Shh, don’t be rude, come on.”

“But I’m cold.”

“You’re a baby,” Sidney tells him. “We’re almost done. Quit whining.”

Geno quiets dutifully but keeps rubbing his arms, sticking close to Sidney as the tour moves on. He really is chilly, and while the gloomy and creepy nature of the attraction had appealed to him at first, the longer they walk through the seemingly endless tunnels, the more that appeal wears off. He is ready for sunshine and moules frites now.

Sidney still seems just as captivated as he’d been when the tour started, eyes bright on every archway and dusty pathway they clear. He peeks into crumbling corners, hangs on the tour guide’s every word, and reaches out as if to touch a few skulls every once in a while, stopping just short. He comes close at the skull column, and Geno rolls his eyes and nudges him.

“Can touch. Everyone else touch.”

“I don’t know if I want to touch,” Sidney says, a little absentminded. “It’s pretty creepy. Cool though, eh?”

“Like Montreal underground better,” Geno says, and Sidney gives a short, surprised laugh.

“Of course you do. It’s all shopping underground in Montreal.”

“You like too. You like food courts.”

Sidney gives him a withering, sideways glare, like he knows he’s being mocked for something he’s generally shameless about. He shrugs a moment later and says, “Yeah, I do like food courts,” and smiles when Geno laughs, shushing him as an afterthought.

At the end of the tour, they have to climb all the way back up to the street level, and by the time they’re done Geno’s no longer cold but sweating a little. “Sacré Cœur is worse,” Sidney tells him, and Geno gives him an unimpressed look. “I’m serious, it’s a ton of stairs all the way to the top. Not as many as the Eiffel Tower, though.”

“How you know, you never go Eiffel Tower?” Geno hadn’t walked up the stairs of the Eiffel Tower, though he can already tell that Sidney’s going to insist that they do.

“I’ve never been to either of them, I looked it up when we—when I was planning the trip. I think it’s 300 stairs.”

Geno hears Sidney stumble over the “we” and can’t help flinching, looking at Sidney’s tightened jaw. Sidney’s looking straight ahead, squinting as they break out into sunshine, and Geno bumps their shoulders together as they clear the exit, leaving the catacombs behind.

“Okay, 300 no problem. We can do easy.”

“Of course we can,” Sidney says. “It would be pretty embarrassing if we couldn’t.”

“I’m race you,” Geno says, just to get that startled laugh out of Sidney again. “Get to top faster.”

“You’re nuts. I’m not going to race you.”

“Yeah because you lose.”

Sidney guides them almost effortlessly to the restaurant, using his fucking napkin and then taking a wrong turn somewhere and standing in the middle of the sidewalk, frowning in confusion. Geno snickers and just uses his phone, ignoring Sidney’s snapped, “I got it, Geno, I’ll figure it out,” to get them the rest of the way.

“Too slow, I’m hungry.” Sidney doesn’t argue with that, because when they get to the restaurant there’s naked relief on his face, and he even quietly thanks Geno for finding their way once the waiter has taken their orders and left them with beers.

Geno stares at Sidney in disbelief. “Why you thank? I’m just do what any person with phone do. You sad old man, confused.”

“I hate getting lost,” Sidney says, still frowning from before. Geno keeps staring at him, because Sidney gets lost literally all the time. “When we were—Charlie kept saying you’re supposed to get lost in Paris. That’s how you find the good stuff.”

“Bullshit,” Geno says immediately, not pausing to let the sting of Charlie’s name land but hurrying to chase it out of Sidney’s eyes. “Stupid get lost on purpose, who do that? You go to good stuff and find it, because you smart and know good stuff. You make good plan.”

“You’re right,” Sidney tells him, though it’s not as firm as Geno would like. It gets a little better when their food comes, big tubs of mussels in three different broths, salads piled high, and heaping baskets of fries and bread. “Okay, yeah,” Sidney says when they’re a few bites in and basically groaning at each other over all of it. “This was a good plan for sure.”

“Best plan,” Geno agrees, stuffing his face with more dripping dipped bread.

He takes pictures of the decimated remains of their meal, a picture of Sidney carefully fishing a mussel out of its shell like he’s performing brain surgery, and gets another beer. “Are you posting this stuff or what?” Sidney asks, not sounding particularly bothered either way, which Geno appreciates. He hadn’t thought about what he’d post and there are some pictures he definitely just wants to keep for himself, but he likes the thought that Sidney wouldn’t mind featuring in his summer Instagram posts.

When Geno just shrugs, Sidney rolls his eyes and leans back in his seat with a sigh, patting his stomach. While Geno tries not to grin openly and stupidly at the content, lazy picture he makes, Sidney says, “I mean, you wanted to keep the trip quiet, right? At least the trip with me. That was your idea.”

Wanting that seems like it was a totally different time, a world away, and while he can understand the motivation behind it, Geno’s enjoying this trip too much so far to really harp on it. And anyway, “Jordy see us,” Geno says, shrugging again. “Never secret now. He tell Flower.”

“Flower told Tanger,” Sidney says, nodding gravely and looking at his phone for the rare moment. Geno has also been generally ignoring people’s texts, and he knows Flower and Nealer had both sent him questioning messages, but it’s been easy to ignore them from this far away. In the summer, it always is. “And Duper. And Tanger must’ve told Perry? And—”

“They just mad you in Paris, not Montreal,” Geno says. “Jealous. You betray them.”

“I did not.” Sidney huffs and shakes his head. “They knew it was going to be Paris, they knew the plan.” He ducks his head to look at his plate, sweeping crumbs up from around it on the table and gathering them in the napkin in his lap. “It was always Paris.”

His head stays ducked, and Geno takes slow, long sips of his beer until he’s finished and thought about what Sidney’s thinking about. He hates that Charlie’s here again, that the specter of their circumstances is still hovering over them, and uses that hatred as fuel to firmly ask, “What next, Sid?”

Sidney takes another moment. He clears his throat and looks up with his jaw set, his now routine response to Charlie-related pain: determination to end it. Geno likes that and wants to encourage it as much as possible. “We’re near the Louvre,” Sidney says, a tiny, crooked smile on his face. “You ever been there?”

“Of course,” Geno says, feigning insult. “You go?”

“Yeah, a little. It’s not really my kind of museum, but—”

“But underground is shop,” Geno cuts in, suddenly realizing where Sidney’s going with this. Sidney’s smile widens, and he nods.

“Like Montreal, kind of.” He taps at his phone on the table next to his plate and smiles down at it. “Not the same, really, so Tanger wouldn’t approve, but Tanger’s not here.”

“No. I’m here. Let’s go.” Geno’s already waving for the bill, and they’re already walking over when Geno thinks to ask, “This what you want to do? You like plan?”

“Yeah,” Sidney says easily. It seems honest enough, and Sidney does like malls, even though it’s clear this one appeals more to Geno. It’s a lot of expensive oddities, useless and pretty things that Geno likes to fill his world with. Sidney, he knows, trends towards more practical things, things to use, but he seems happy that Geno’s happy, and happy to judge his quirky buying choices.

He’s happy enough to cheerfully stop for pictures with fans, looking at the wrong spot for the picture but smiling radiantly. Geno makes sure he’s not smiling like a moron down at Sidney when the picture gets taken and, when the fans move on, he says, “Definitely post.”

“Yep,” Sidney says. He still has one hand in his pocket; the other had touched Geno’s behind the back of the girl between them. “Cat’s out of the bag.”

“What?”

“I don’t care what anybody knows,” Sidney tells him. He looks very serious now, standing backlit by a Starbucks with his jacket folded neatly over his arm. “The guys can ask questions, they already are, but—who cares?”

“It’s nothing weird,” Geno says, concentrating hard to keep nervous laughter out of his voice. He needs to work harder when he adds, “Just friends on trip, like you say. Normal.”

Sidney winces a bit at that, like the bullshit nature of that notion is already apparent, but it needs to not be bullshit for this trip to last even another day. So Geno bumps Sidney’s hand out of his pocket and shoves a shopping bag full of tiny decorative boxes shaped like various safari animals that are too small to hold anything of value at him. “Hold this, come on. Like that store over there.”

“Tell me again what you’re going to use these things for,” Sidney says, dutifully taking the bag and snickering at it. “At least make something up this time.”

“Give you for birthday present,” Geno says, laughing when Sidney shoves at him. “What, you don’t like?”

“You can’t make me shop with you for my own present,” Sidney tells him, his voice settling comfortably into lecture mode like he thinks he really needs to explain present etiquette to him. It’s pretty ridiculous considering he’s carrying Geno’s bags and going wherever Geno points him, but it’s charming all the same, and Geno looks straight ahead and grins as they head into the next store.

They briefly consider heading up to the museum, but the only part that Geno really likes is Napoleon’s quarters, which he’s walked through a few times, and Sidney doesn’t seem to have much interest. Neither of them are art people, and Sidney says, “If we’re going to do a museum, I want it to be the Carnavalet. Learn a bit about the city, you know?”

“Of course,” Geno says, sighing like he’s not interested as well. Sidney gives him a shifty, sideways look, hefts the bags with a huff, and hides a small smile in his shoulder.

Then they squabble over dinner because they pass the McDonald’s for the fourth time, Sidney sees Geno looking at it, and he says, “Oh, no.

“I’m always get Big Mac here,” Geno tells him, ready and willing to out-stubborn Sidney, even if he didn’t really want McDonald’s until Sidney said something. “Is rules. Tradition.”

“You’re full of shit, Geno. We’re not getting McDonald’s, we can do better.”

“You have great plan?” Geno asks. He’s chirping, but Sidney actually hesitates long enough that he almost feels bad. “What?”

“There was something—we booked something for tonight,” Sidney says, and Geno really wishes they could ban the word “we” from any and all conversations on this trip. “A dinner on a boat on the river. I got the reminder email a little while ago.”

He’s stopped again, shuffled off to the side so as not to get in the way of the heavy foot traffic heading into McDonald’s. Geno’s stopped, too, ignoring the mumbled pardon’s swarming around him as people move by.

“You want to go?” Geno asks carefully. He already knows he doesn’t, even if a dinner on a boat on the river sounds really nice. He would have liked that if it was something he’d planned with Sidney, but stepping into reservations that Charlie made is just too much for him.

But Sidney looks—Geno genuinely doesn’t know what he wants until Sidney shakes his head, his brow furrowed. He’s not sure that Sidney knows what he wants, and Sidney never quite manages to articulate it, his features slumping into that tired helplessness he’d fallen into yesterday when they’d arrived.

They’ve had a really good day, and Geno doesn’t want that to go away. He doesn’t think Sidney does, either, which is why he just nods when Geno firmly tells him, “Okay. I’m make plan, then. My turn.”

Sidney doesn’t even protest when Geno leads them into McDonald’s, though he does look confused when Geno orders everything to-go. “We still have dinner on the river,” Geno says, nodding at Sidney’s wrinkled nose. “But we have Geno dinner. And no boat, sorry.”

“Geno dinner,” Sidney repeats, and Geno nods.

“Yes. Better than Charlie dinner, you see.”

“It’s already better,” Sidney says, which makes Geno’s stomach go warm and fuzzy. That’s a stupid, misguided feeling to have, but it doesn’t exactly go away when Geno takes them to the Pont des Arts, commandeering a bench for the two of them and spreading the shopping bags around their feet.

They eat on the bridge while the river goes golden with fading sunlight, and stay until dusk is giving away to the glittery lights of nighttime in Paris. They’re surrounded by love locks clipped on the bridge, which may have been a stupid oversight on Geno’s part, but Sidney is charmed by them. “I’ve only seen these at home,” Sidney says, and then clarifies unnecessarily, “In Pittsburgh.”

“Tradition here first,” Geno says, and Sidney rolls his eyes.

“I know that, dummy. But it’s cool in Pittsburgh too.” He smiles down at the crumpled napkins in his lap. “I left a lock there once. It was kind of stupid.”

Geno is surprised enough that he doesn’t immediately feel gross asking, “With Charlie?” and he’s rewarded by a shake of Sidney’s head.

“Ha, no. Maybe I should’ve, eh? But no, it—it was just me.”

Sidney looks distinctly red in the face, and Geno stares at him. “You supposed to put—you know how it work?”

“Yeah, I know how it works, Geno! I put—I put my number and—the Penguins. Shut up.”

Sid.” Geno feels very warm and gooey inside.

“I was out,” Sidney says, his voice kind of flat as he remembers that time. “I wasn’t—it was hard, you know. So I wanted something—sure. Something definite. And people were starting to get really into leaving them, I would see more there all the time, so—”

“Is good idea,” Geno says, finding he means it wholeheartedly. Sidney glances at him from the side, like he’s suspicious about getting teased, but Geno just looks at him carefully until Sidney smiles and ducks his head.

“Yeah, I thought so. It made me feel better, anyway.”

“Should do here,” Geno tells him, the idea lighting up the inside of his mind. It feels as right as doing it in Pittsburgh, and it’s clear Sidney agrees because he brightens initially and then starts to think about it.

“Does it—is it more official here, or—”

“Yes of course, is old tradition here so last forever for sure. Should do it.” It’s getting late, but Geno knows the shopping center is still open and he knows he’d seen padlocks somewhere down there. He’s standing up to hurry over as he thinks of it, and Sidney stares up at him.

“Wait, are you serious?”

“I’m serious,” Geno says, nodding solemnly. “Stay here, guard bench. I’m come back.”

“Geno! Seriously?” But Geno’s already jogging away, listening to Sidney’s laughter float behind him.

He’s back quickly enough, and Sidney looks excited and nervous, like he hadn’t moved at all from the bench and had truly guarded it. Geno grins at him and presents him with the lock and a key and a pack of Sharpies, sitting back down on their bench.

“There are so many,” Sidney says, turning the lock over in his hands. “You sure I should? I mean, the Pittsburgh one probably has me covered, don’t you think?”

“Good to be sure,” Geno says, nodding. He takes a Sharpie out and pokes Sidney with it. “Do it, is good.”

Sidney’s quiet for a minute. And then he says, “You too,” which Geno probably should have predicted.

“Only get one lock.” Geno shrugs, and Sidney fixes him with a firm stare, his eyes sparkling. He raises his eyebrows at the lock in his hands, and Geno feels himself go warm. “Oh.”

“Yeah. Both our numbers, come on. I’ll go first.” Carefully, his tongue between his teeth and squinting in the streetlamp light, Sidney writes out his number, a plus sign, and below it Penguins. He finishes and blows on it to make the marker ink dry, then passes both over to Geno, who swallows hard as he takes them.

Anything he puts on that lock is a given, but he hadn’t been lying before—this feels official. Sidney’s watching him so carefully, his eyes dark and intense, and Geno thinks about the broken promises that got them here and knows there’s really only one choice to make.

As carefully as Sidney had, Geno writes his number next to the little plus sign. He considers drawing a heart just to break some of the heaviness of the situation, but decides against it. Together, they head to the railing of the bridge and squeeze the padlock onto the barest hint of space. It’s immediately swallowed up in the sheer, overwhelming volume of locks there, just like the key that Sidney tosses into the river.

They stand by the railing together for a few more minutes, looking down into the water. Sidney says, “Thanks,” very quietly as a brightly lit boat passes slowly beneath them, the distant sounds of music and clinking china and laughter trailing behind it.

Geno pats him on the back, keeps his hand there to rub a little, and answers, “Welcome,” just as quietly.

 

 

The days in Paris start to follow the same kind of pattern but rarely fall into a strict routine. They do something different every day. Sometimes it’s Sidney planning, picking out the things he had wanted to do and fixating on them so that Geno is left with little choice and a lot of wondering if they’d been things to do with Charlie, if Sidney’s still trying to fill that void.

He never asks, and Sidney falls out of the habit of mentioning the things that he and Charlie had planned, though Geno is sure he’s still thinking of it.

Then there are the things that Geno wants to do—things he’s done before, part of the essential Paris experience that he needs Sidney to enjoy. He takes Sidney to the crepe stand he knows in the Luxembourg Garden and they stake out coveted metal chairs in the shade to picnic, watching people play tennis. “Ever been here?” he asks Sidney, just as he asks him when they go anywhere, and he’s always pleased when Sidney says no, glad to show his favorite parts of one of his favorite cities. They take pictures with all the animal statues, with the smaller Statue of Liberty, and watch the kids play with their little boats in the fountain.

It’s another good day to add to a collection of them, days that feature shopping and eating and drinking at night. Lissette recommends an upscale champagne bar and Sidney bullies Geno into putting on nice clothes, and then they get sloppy drunk and giggle their way back to the hotel, ignoring nasty looks from Parisians in the street.

“Shh,” Sidney says when they’re in a cab. “Being a drunk jerk in the street is bad here. Nobody likes it.”

“We not in street, Sid,” Geno says, laughing into the side of Sidney’s head. “We in car. Is okay be drunk jerk.”

“Shh.” His shushing breaks down into giggles, and Sidney stays clingy and giggly enough that Geno starts to despair that they had never quite gotten around to fixing the singular bed issue.

“We have to go back there,” Sidney tells him once they’re back in the room, stripping naked and then yanking at Geno’s nice jacket when he just stands there and watches, flustered. “I love champagne. Paris is great.”

Paris is great. Sidney is great. Geno’s head is swimming and Sidney is grabby and demanding and standing much too close with no clothes on. Feeling like he’s moving through quicksand, Geno reaches out and puts his hands on Sidney’s bare, warm hips, feels Sidney’s breath hitch for a minute, and then stumbles away from him so fast he nearly falls on his ass.

“Geno,” Sidney breathes out. He looks so happy, which is all Geno wanted. And then in another second he looks determined, his eyes shining, and Geno has to stumble further away from that and hide in the bathroom.

When he returns from another cool shower, Sidney is blessedly asleep, though a quick peek under the covers proves he’s still naked. Geno sighs and overcompensates for clothes instead, turning down the thermostat and putting on pajama pants and a sweatshirt, covering up more than he ever does in bed. It’s a stupid move that his sober brain resents in the light of day, because Sidney seeks warmth in the middle of the night and spoons along Geno’s back. Geno wakes up with the beginnings of morning wood pressed into the small of his back and has to hide in the bathroom again. It’s starting to be pretty undignified.

Sidney at least has clothes on when Geno finally comes back, though he’s rubbing at his eyes and looking stupidly and attractively sleep-rumpled. Geno tells himself that hiding in the bathroom again would just be ridiculous and says, “Eiffel Tower today. Is good plan.”

He gets a rather forlorn, betrayed look at that and remembers all the stairs Sidney wants them to climb, the hangovers they’re both kind of nursing right now. He kindly amends, “Later, relax for morning,” and Sidney brightens at that.

They have exactly the kind of lazy morning they’ve stayed away from on this trip, ordering in heaps of breakfast food and just kind of lolling around for a while, channel surfing with subtitles on and reading. This is the kind of vacation that Geno is more accustomed to this late in the summer, choosing to keep his adventures to the earlier months, though he knows why Sidney wants to keep busy. He knows why he wants to keep himself busy, why even now he’s pointedly staring at the TV so he doesn’t watch water droplets make their way down from Sidney’s wet curls and snake down the back of his pink neck.

Geno considers asking Sidney which kind of vacation he prefers, though he supposes it doesn’t really matter now. He knows this would probably be an entirely different vacation had it been Sidney and Charlie. There would be less leaving the hotel room, he thinks, and the thought makes his stomach squirm.

He thinks back to how often he and Sidney had just sat around together like this, just hanging out. It definitely hasn’t been a regular thing since both of them were injured, and there was nothing charged or vaguely unsettling about it then. They were just two friends healing together, two teammates isolated from the team and trying to keep a piece of it between them. He wonders what’s changed and nearly snorts out loud when his brain supplies the obvious answer: everything.

Somehow, sitting next to a Sidney who is available, who is warm and smells good and has his arm pressed against Geno’s even though they have a full sectional to share, is entirely different from sitting next to the Sidney he’s always known. It’s barely manageable, and it spurs Geno into action again.

“Have to go,” Geno says, which is the truth in many different ways, but he lets Sidney think it’s all about the Eiffel Tower and necessity. “Have to go all the way up to top, Sid,” and Sidney’s brow creases as he nods slowly and then sighs.

“Yeah, okay. Let’s go.”

They go all the way to the top, though Sidney’s apparently worn out enough from his hangover that he’s amenable to taking the elevator. “We can save the stairs for Sacred Heart,” Sidney says, and Geno just hastily agrees.

The view quiets them both; Geno hears Sidney suck in his breath through his teeth, and they just stare for a while. “It’s such a beautiful city,” Sidney says eventually, and he tells Geno about how the city was designed for views in mind, built for beauty especially from above, as if Geno hadn’t gone to the same museum Sidney had and heard this same lecture already.

He lets Sidney tell it anyway. He only speaks to say, “Have to stay around here, see at night too,” and feels Sidney just nod.

“Yeah,” Sidney says. “We’ll do that.”

It’s easy to keep Sidney busy on this trip, Geno thinks. Sometimes there’s something soft and sad about his face, sometimes he goes quiet, but most of the time there is this set determination shading his features, a forced happiness that drives him towards any adventure Geno wants to take him on. The Eiffel Tower is about making sure Sidney experiences the essential Paris adventure, the pinnacle of it, and Sidney is wholly appreciative. It’s satisfying to watch Sidney’s face lit up by the lights later that night.

He looks straight ahead across their view, over the Champ de Mars and beyond. Geno looks straight down, enjoying how high they’d climbed, how they’re all the way at the top.

The next picture he posts on Instagram features the tips of their shoes, the view all the way down.

 

 

The thing is, no matter how game Sidney is for anything, how easily he goes along with whatever Geno tells him he needs to be doing in Paris, he’s still stubbornly Sidney. He still wants to see Sacred Heart.

Geno makes sure it happens. To go by what Lissette tells them, Montmartre is a whole day’s worth of a trip, a popular and vibrant arrondissement with plenty to keep them occupied. They head there early after breakfast, no lazing around that day. Geno thinks Sidney is faintly trembling with anticipation, his eyes bright.

Lissette had been right, and they’re barely a few minutes from their long, winding climb out of the Metro before they stumble upon an outdoor crafts market. It stretches up and down the hilly street and Sidney tugs at Geno’s arm, as if Geno needs any kind of prompting to shop.

They stick together as they go booth to booth, identifying different handmade trinkets, crafts and goods from different countries. There’s a huge range of stuff, cheap to expensive, and Sidney stops for jewelry for Taylor, asking Geno’s opinion and then picking the opposite of whatever he likes.

“Why you ask if you not listen?” Geno says, annoyed and amused. Sidney shrugs as he passes over money and smiles at his little bag; he’d picked a necklace and matching earrings with flowers pressed inside crystal, and Geno is sure Taylor will like them but tells Sidney they’re ugly on principle.

“I don’t trust your taste. No one should trust your taste. So I figure whatever you like, the opposite is good.”

“Okay, bad taste, you don’t want birthday present then,” Geno says hotly, though a second later they’re at a booth full of fine wooden clocks from Switzerland and Geno tries valiantly to buy one for Sidney.

“Geno! I told you, you can’t buy my present for me while I’m here.”

“Then go away, have to buy you present,” Geno tells him. It’s something he’s been insisting on for days, disappointed when Sidney’s actual birthday came and went without it happening. It had been a mixed bag of a day, a return to the moules frites restaurant because it was what Sidney wanted and a boat ride that night that included an English tour of all the statues and buildings they passed, more informational than romantic. In between, Sidney had taken calls from home and they had dimmed his mood; Geno is still fairly determined to get that mood all the way back up.

“You don’t have to,” Sidney says, which is exactly what he always says a few rounds into their argument about presents. Geno hip-checks him anyway, making him snort loudly with laughter, and points over at a booth full of fancy Belgian chocolates.

“Go get candy. Meet you by big carpet booth in the middle.”

“Fine,” Sidney sighs. He’d already started moving at the word “candy” and he doesn’t even look back.

Geno keeps an eye on Sidney as he wanders past more booths, snickering at how long it takes him to decide on what to buy and letting the warmth of his affection for him guide his pick for a present. It’s another few booths before he sees the perfect collection, and he knows he’d picked well when the woman manning the booth greets him in friendly Russian.

Sidney has a smudge of chocolate at the corner of his mouth and the little bag he’d gotten with Taylor’s jewelry is now bulging when they meet up again. Geno had wandered a little more after making his purchase, trying to throw Sidney off the trail in case he’d kept an eye on Geno, too.

He asks, “Good shopping?” with some irony and Geno gives him a smirk, raising his eyebrows at the bag.

“Maybe. Not as good as you, I think,” and he laughs when Sidney goes a little pink, ducking his head.

“I couldn’t decide. Shut up. So what’d you get me?”

“Is surprise,” Geno says, bumping his shoulder against Sidney’s as they start up the hill. He’s not entirely sure if they’re going in the right direction for the lunch place they’d planned for, but he doesn’t really mind just walking with Sidney. His head is a little fuzzy with Sidney’s pleased eyes, the way he’s clutching his bag tightly in his hands and looking raptly at the bag Geno’s carrying. “You say you can’t see me buy, so you have to wait for surprise.”

“How long do I have to wait? My birthday’s past, you know,” Sidney says. He bumps Geno’s shoulder back, and they make it all the way up the hill before Geno finally shakes his head and checks his phone, sighing.

“Go wrong way.”

“Whatever,” Sidney says. “Is it horrible? It’s not alive, is it?”

“Find restaurant, then you see,” Geno says solemnly, trying not to crack up at Sidney’s eager face.

They go down the hill, wind around the crafts market, and emerge in view of the stairs up to Sacred Heart and the funicular, the very tip of the basilica stark white against the blue, blue sky. Sidney stops and stares for a few minutes, his eyes finally torn away from the bag in Geno’s hands, and Geno lets him look before gently prodding him and telling him, “After lunch, very soon.”

“Right,” Sidney says. He clears his throat and shoots Geno a quick flash of a grin. “We need to carb up for those stairs, let’s go.”

“But Sid, look how comfy little cart looks. Take us all the way up easy, like incline back home.” Sidney won’t hear it, though, instead taking charge of the walk to their restaurant, getting them just lost enough that his forehead gets a little creased.

“I hate getting lost,” he says, and Geno sighs and nudges him along with his phone at the ready.

The restaurant winds up just on the other side of a hill. It’s more of a climb, up a bunch of winding stairs that are starting to seem characteristic of this area; “Like Montreal,” Sidney says when Geno faintly grumbles about them. This place is a Sidney pick, which makes Geno gasp dramatically when they get their menus and see that it specializes in salads.

“Right,” Sidney says, pursing his lips and eyeing his menu critically. “But special salads. With fried potatoes on top, just like—”

“Pittsburgh,” Geno finishes, grinning at his own menu. “Okay. I get it.”

“They’re supposed to be really good. And they have steak too, so don’t panic or anything.”

“Why panic? I like salad. You allergic to green.”

“I am not!”

“Really? Oh I know, you put chocolates from market in salad, make it taste nice for you.” Geno sticks his tongue out of the corner of his mouth and snickers as Sidney reaches across and whacks at his menu with his own, then goes red as the waitress appears to take their drink orders.

They both order the same kind of steak and different salads, because Sidney had agonized between two different kinds and Geno rolled his eyes and ordered the second one to share so they could eat sometime that day. It’s a ridiculous amount of food—the salads are huge and as good as Sidney had promised, but Geno laughs out loud when Sidney makes noises about not being able to finish.

“Hey,” Sidney says, his voice shaking with laughter. It’s even shakier when he adds, “Look, I ate a lot of chocolate,” and Geno laughs even harder.

When they’re in the thick of clearing their plates and salad bowls, Geno finally shoves the bag from the market over at Sidney. “Open,” he says through a full mouth, and Sidney rolls his eyes but eagerly complies. “Happy birthday, old man.”

“You said that already,” Sidney says absentmindedly, eagerly plucking away the strings tied around the little cardboard box in the bag. Geno grins, because he’d woken Sidney up on his birthday by shaking him and calling that out to him, which he’d considered a top notch way to wake up on your birthday.

“I’m say again, with great present. Come on, open, you so slow.”

“I can’t get the string off, geez.” With a big yank, Sidney finally snaps the string and makes a triumphant little noise that has Geno pressing his widening grin into his wine glass. Then he opens the box, moves away tissue paper, and stares into it for a moment.

Then he starts laughing.

“What?” Geno asks, only feigning his outrage a little. “So rude, Sid! Take me so long to pick, find best one, test it out and—”

“No, G,” Sidney says, choppy and a little choked with his laughter. He has to take a breath before he speaks again but he starts laughing again in the middle of his next sentence. “It’s just—it’s great, I love it, but—oh just, here—” Practically shaking in his seat, Sidney reaches down and picks up the jewelry and chocolate bag, which he then reveals to contain less chocolate than he’d thought and a little box eerily similar to the one Geno had just given Sidney, down to the same colored string.

His suspicions are confirmed when he opens the box and sees the little hand-carved matryoshka doll shaped like a penguin nestled in the tissue paper, almost completely identical to Sidney’s but for a few painted details. Geno starts laughing, too, and Sidney joins in until there are tears on his cheeks and people are looking at them from other tables.

“We are really the worst,” Sidney says when they finally calm down, hiccupping a little and thumping his sternum with a fist. He is bright red in the face and his eyes are so shiny Geno never wants to stop looking at them. He shakes his head firmly.

“No. We are very best. Best taste.” Geno forces himself to stop staring at Sidney and grinning like a moron and instead starts to unfold his doll, popping off little penguin halves to reveal smaller penguins nestled inside. The tiniest one is barely the size of his thumb, and Geno smiles down at it until Sidney reaches over and taps the top of its head.

“That’s Olli.”

“No, is Pooh,” Geno says immediately. He taps the next smallest penguin. “That’s Olli.”

“But technically Pooh is older than Olli, so he should be the bigger one.”

“They both babies, Pooh is just more baby so he’s smallest.”

“They would both kill us for having this conversation. God, what is wrong with us? One week with you in the offseason and I’m already going crazy and buying penguin dolls.”

“You already crazy, don’t blame me,” Geno says. Sidney looks like he’s struggling not to burst out laughing again, looking around like he’s become aware of their surroundings and is getting self-conscious. Geno wants to press a little, wants to get his eyes crinkled up and his cheeks appled again, but applies himself to finishing his salad instead, trying to reel it in a bit.

He feels stupidly, achingly happy in a way that’s so unique to spending time with Sidney that he doesn’t know how he’d ever replicate it. The reminder that they’ve spent a week together with only another week to go would be sobering if Geno didn’t feel like he could float out of this restaurant and land on the tip of the Sacred Heart dome without breaking a sweat. He keeps looking at the penguin dolls, shooting looks at Sidney and seeing the same happiness reflected back at him, and can’t stop smiling for the rest of the meal.

Part of him wants to just end the day now, because nothing can top what they just did for each other. In the shadow of Sacred Heart again, Sidney loses some of the effusive joy he’d been radiating and Geno wants to break out the dolls again and get it back. But Sidney is looking determinedly up the stairs to the basilica and this was the first place he’d said he wanted to go, so Geno just walks up beside him with the same determination.

These aren’t the 300 stairs within the basilica itself that Sidney had warned about; these are just the stairs to get up to those stairs. The funicular groans on by them a few times as they make their way up, and it’s a steady and long enough climb for Geno to wonder about Sidney’s fixation here, the way his eyes are set up ahead and never waver.

He doesn’t ask, mostly because by the time he’s plucked up the courage they’ve made it to the top of these stairs, standing at the base of the shorter stairs leading into Sacred Heart. The view just from here takes Geno’s breath away, and the sky is so near and such a bright, searing blue it hurts to look at for too long. He looks out over the railing, at the Eiffel Tower in the far distance and the spiraling clockwork of the city spread out below, and takes a big breath.

“Crazy view, eh?” Sidney says quietly, leaning against the same railing as Geno. “I told you.”

“How you know it like this?” Geno asks, feeling reverent. It’s no worse or better than the view from the Eiffel Tower, and he knows they still have further to climb, but somehow this feels very big in itself.

Sidney shrugs, close enough that he could feel it. “I didn’t, really. I just hoped it was.”

Boundless activity bustles around them: street performers and artists selling things, other tourists milling about and heading for the entrance. The shorter, wider stairs are littered with people trying to sell jewelry and souvenirs to the tourists, and after a few more minutes of just staring out across the view, Sidney winds them around the tourists and the peddlers and leads them into the cool quiet of Sacred Heart.

Sidney whispers their plan as they walk past the different chapels—walk around here, head down to the crypt, and then go up to the dome last. Geno nods, content to let Sidney run the show. This is not Geno’s favorite kind of attraction; for all intents and purposes, this is a church. It’s a beautiful church with a ton of history that Sidney seems reasonably knowledgeable about, but it’s still a church, and Geno’s never going to make that a priority on his sightseeing list.

He’s wondering again about Sidney making it a priority. Sidney had never shown much of a predilection for churches before, besides the wedding chapel in the Notre-Dame of Montreal, which he kept showing Geno pictures of until Geno finally broke down and went to see it with him before a road game. Sidney doesn’t lead them to any corresponding chapel here, though the beauty of Sacred Heart certainly rivals that of either Notre-Dame basilicas that Geno has been to.

He’s left wondering for most of the trip; through the exploration of the crypt, a cool and darkened underground chamber host to medieval treasures and graves, and through the climb up to the dome, 300 stairs Sidney looks up into with yet another determined set to his jaw. “No racing,” he says to Geno, his voice still hushed.

Geno just tips his head solemnly and keeps pace with Sidney, only waiting until they’ve hit their stride with the stairs and it doesn’t seem like such a tall climb to mutter, “Yeah because you lose.”

“Geno! I would not.”

Geno grins down at his shoes, grinning harder when Sidney bumps their hips. They keep going, winding upwards, just like the Metro stairs and the stairs at the salad restaurant. There are small windows with glimpses of the outer structures they’re passing and the vivid sky they’re climbing into, but it’s not until they’ve finally made it all the way up when they get their best, full view.

For a few moments, it’s simply overwhelming in its intensity, and Geno freezes as Sidney does, his breath caught. He can hear Sidney swallow hard before he starts to move around, wandering through the 360 degree view, but Geno stays in place for the time being and just stares.

Up here, Paris is a bruised smear of blue-gray rooftops spread out into the bright and hazy sky. It’s like being surrounded by a painting, as if he could reach right out and feel the bumpy, textured oil rendering of the city they’ve spent their week in. Sharp against the sky lies the vivid white of the rest of Sacred Heart, the tips of the height of Paris, and Geno feels a little faint with it.

“Hey,” Sidney says eventually, breaking into his reverie. His voice sounds gravelly and Geno looks at him expecting to see the same shocked joy he’s feeling staring back at him, surrounded by this view. But Sidney’s eyes are a little dark and distant, and his words sound a bit forced when he continues, “Can we, uh—”

“What wrong, Sid?” Geno asks. He’s quiet, humbled by their climb and this view, ignoring the other people milling about and ignoring him in return. He remembers what Sidney said about not knowing what the view at the base would be like and adds, “What you hoped?”

“Sort of,” Sidney says, shrugging. His shoulders stay stiff and raised and he quietly asks, “Can we take a selfie up here?”

Geno frowns, wondering if Sidney’s joking and why he sounds so serious. But he’s no position to say no, and it won’t be the first selfie they’ve taken together this trip, so he shrugs, too. “Sure. Let’s go.”

They try to get as much of the view behind them as possible; someone offers to take their picture after they struggle through a few messy shots, and Sidney smiles for the first time since they’d reached the top of the dome and thanks the woman sincerely. Geno takes his phone back and thumbs through the options with Sidney looking over his shoulder.

“I actually like the ones we took better,” Sidney says. At about the third one, their incompetence had made Sidney start to laugh a little, like it hurt coming out of him, and his eyes had finally softened, though they’re not looking in the right place in the camera. Geno nods, keeping that one up, and he nearly drops his phone when Sidney says, “You should post it.”

“Really?” Geno asks. It’s definitely his favorite of the bunch, and he doesn’t stop looking at it while he considers Sidney’s suggestion, but he doesn’t make a move to share it yet. They haven’t posted any pictures of the two of them clearly together on this trip, though there are individual shots of them both here and there. Sidney took a lot of Geno’s pictures for him, and the pictures of Sidney he has were taken sneakily, though they were approved before being posted.

“Yeah,” Sidney says. For a moment, he rests his chin against Geno’s shoulder, then snaps back and looks around. “It’s a good picture, I really like it.”

“This why you want us take selfie?” Geno asks, slowly starting to consider something. “Why you want us come up here?” Geno can’t say he’s above using Instagram to send a message to an ex, but he’s a little disconcerted at the thought of Sidney doing it. It’s uncharacteristically petty.

“Sort of,” Sidney says again, and Geno feels frustration flare. But Sidney moves away, looks out across the city again, clutching his bag from the market. “It really is beautiful, though,” he says. He sounds very far away.

Sidney doesn’t say anything else until they’re all the way back down again and inside a cab to the hotel. Geno is tired and feels unsettled; he hadn’t posted the picture to Instagram and is seriously wondering if he should or not when Sidney takes a messy, harsh breath and says, “The last time we were here, we—we were supposed to go to Sacred Heart.”

Geno clenches his hands on his knees and tries not to get angry, keeping his voice clear and flat when he asks, “What happen?”

“We had a fight,” Sidney says, chuckling darkly. “We—it was a really good day at first, though. We just walked around and we got lost for a little while, and I didn’t really like that but Charlie said it was fine. And then we were trying to decide whether we should take the funicular up or the stairs. I wanted the stairs.”

“Of course.”

“Of course. So—so he agreed. We were going to the stairs. And we started walking towards them and he—he took my hand.” Sidney’s voice has gone a little shaky, and Geno’s heart clenches.

“Why you fight?” he asks, though the echoes of Sidney saying “He wanted me to come out” will always be seared into his brain; the clarification probably isn’t necessary.

“Yeah,” Sidney says. He chuckles again, letting his head slip down against the glass of his window. He won’t look at Geno. “I—you know, there were so many people around. We never did that. I pulled my hand back and I asked what he was doing and it was—it was the same fight we always had. He thought I was ashamed of him, and he kept asking what the point of going to a big city was if we couldn’t take advantage and just get lost in it a while. But it doesn’t work like that, you know? There’s no—I take it with me wherever I go. I’m always going to be—at least, while I’m playing, I can’t—”

“I know, Sid,” Geno says quietly, shaking his head. “Don’t have to explain to me. I understand, you know.”

“You know,” Sidney repeats, just as quiet. He stays quiet for a few more moments, and then finally adds, “So, yeah. I never got to see Sacred Heart. So I really wanted to this time. I just keep thinking of all the things I haven’t done, all the things I couldn’t do, and—I wanted to do this. It was the whole reason I agreed to go to Paris in the first place.”

“Not want to go?” Geno asks, hoping he’s correct in thinking Sidney’s talking about going to Paris with Charlie. They’d been pretty drunk, but Geno remembers the trip being his idea at first, even if Sidney had taken charge of it.

But Sidney clarifies in another minute anyway, shaking his head sharply. “Not really, no. Paris was Charlie’s thing. He wanted to do—the big city thing. I wanted to go somewhere we could just be alone and no one could see us, and it would just be us for two weeks. And that—”

“Turn into same fight,” Geno finishes, starting to see the pattern here. His mind is racing, alternately wanting to ask so much and afraid of whatever answers Sidney could give him.

Sidney nods slowly, and finally looks at Geno. “Right. So, Paris.”

“Paris,” Geno says, tipping his head back against the seat. His instinct is to push more, to keep going—was it worth going anyway? Did Geno make it better? He hopes so and doesn’t really understand how that could be possible anyway; Sidney wanted to be alone somewhere with the man he loved, his husband.

He has to ask when they’re just rolling up to the hotel and Sidney is preparing to pay the cab driver, forcing the words out through stupid nerves. “You have good time here, yes?” Geno ask, and Sidney looks at him again, frowning. “Good we go Paris?”

Sidney appears to actually think about it, which is slightly worrying. But he looks genuine when says, “Yeah, Geno. It’s been a really good time. You—this was really good.”

Geno breathes a slight sigh of relief, soft and small while Sidney’s distracted with the cab driver.

Through a quiet room service dinner, putting their aching feet up and pretending to watch TV, Sidney just seems sad, and Geno’s relief can’t last in the face of that. He thinks about pushing a hundred times, making sure—he knows the circumstances suck, knows it’s awkward and heavy and every moment has been shaded with just that little bit of weirdness that’s always existed between them. But they’ve had a good trip, he thinks. Especially since Sidney didn’t even want to come here in the first place.

He wishes he’d known that. He’d definitely known that so much of this trip was driven by spite from Sidney’s side; his anger at Charlie had always been palpable even when the sadness wasn’t. Geno’s own motivations had been much simpler: he’d wanted to make Sidney happy, and had to do so with a trip completely devoid of Sidney’s first choices.

Before he can stop himself, Geno asks, “Where you want to go for trip with Charlie?”

“The beach,” Sidney says immediately, and then he gives a small, self-deprecating smile. “Somewhere like home that wasn’t home. That’s my favorite kind of trip, where everything feels right even if it’s a little different.”

Sidney had spent this entire trip looking for things that reminded him of Montreal. Geno feels like a bit of an idiot, especially because Sidney’s eyes look sad even as he keeps smiling. He knows he’s sad about Charlie, not about Paris, but Geno can only fix one of those problems.

He thinks about that for a while after they go to bed early, lying in the same bed for yet another night. Sidney curls up close, back to Geno but shuffling over minutely until Geno can feel how warm he is, can smell his soap and feel his breath in the rise and fall of his ribs. He waits carefully for those familiar, soft snores, thinks again about what Sidney hasn’t gotten to do, all the things he hasn’t done, and then he slides out of bed just as carefully, going for his laptop.

Geno can do the beach.

 

 

 

Part Three: Nice

Sidney’s quiet in the window seat—he’d said he likes the window seat on trains, the aisle seat on planes. Geno’s looking at the dining menu, contemplating lunch, but he’s also waiting for Sidney to start up again and he doesn’t have to wait long.

“I’m serious, though,” Sidney says, picking up where they’d left off as if they’d never stopped talking. Geno raises an eyebrow at him but listens patiently. “We really don’t have to do this.”

Geno chuckles, looking back down at the menu. “Little bit late, Sid. On train two hours already.”

“G.”

“Three and half hours to go. You keep saying whole time? We get to Nice and you say ‘we don’t have to, Geno’ and then what. We go back Paris?” He makes his voice higher to mimic Sid’s and gets a smack in the arm for his troubles.

“I’m just saying,” Sidney says, which he’s said about a dozen times already. “You love Paris. It’s great. We were having a great time, honest.”

“Yes,” Geno says, nodding with his eyes still fixed on lunch choices. He’d had to ask for an English menu and Sidney had been so distracted by worry that he’s inconveniencing or displeasing Geno that he hadn’t even jumped in to say there was no need, he could translate. “But we have great time in Nice. Greater time. I like beach.”

Sidney sighs and slumps a little in his seat. When Geno glances at him out of the corner of one eye, he’s chewing on his lower lip and looking genuinely distressed, which is the exact opposite reaction he wants to elicit out of Sidney on this trip. Geno turns a little in his seat to almost face him, spreading his legs until his socked foot touches the side of Sidney’s shoe.

“Don’t have to,” he murmurs, and Sidney looks even more distressed at that, his eyes widening. He looks progressively more so as Geno continues, “Can get to Nice, separate, go home and finish—”

“No!” Sidney says, with a vehemence that shocks them both a little. “No, I don’t want—I’m not ready to go home yet.”

“Okay,” Geno says. He lets out a gusty breath and looks Sidney straight in the eye, feeling a little better about the fact that Sidney doesn’t immediately flinch away. “Is fine. I’m okay for week, can stay with you. But why you so upset about Nice? You like. Is just because you think I’m not like? Because I like, Sid. Wouldn’t set up if I don’t.”

There’s a small, niggling part of him that’s berating himself for not being totally honest, or rather omitting the important part of this equation. That part is that Geno wants a little vacation in Nice with Sidney for all the absolutely wrong reasons, reasons that will be harder to ignore without the distractions of Paris drowning everything out.

For those reasons, going to Nice with Sidney and just spending the next week lazing around on the beach and doing nothing is exactly the wrong thing to do in terms of continuing to deny himself what he wants.

But Geno thinks it’ll be good for Sidney, better than whatever poisonous anger was driving him to go spite sight-seeing in Paris, better for some time to think. He had realized in their last day in Paris that there’s a ton Sidney’s refusing to work through, and while he doesn’t blame him one bit, he wonders if Sidney will look back and blame them both.

He doesn’t think they can ignore the specter of Charlie on this trip anymore, not since Sacred Heart. But Nice is far from the worst place in the world to muddle through something like that, and at least they’ll be doing exactly what Sidney wanted to do on this trip. Geno got them private beach access; they don’t have to speak to or see anyone else if they don’t want to.

Sidney seems to be coming around, his forehead finally starting to lose its worried creases. His lip slides slowly out from under his teeth and rests only in a thoughtful pout for a few more moments, until he finally says “Okay,” and looks out the window.

“Nap,” Geno says. He had gotten them up very, very early to make their train, uncharacteristic of both of them. “Wake you up for lunch.”

“I didn’t get to say goodbye to Lissette,” Sidney says, his voice pressed against the glass of the window. Geno chuckles and nudges him, then rolls his eyes because of course Sidney’s serious.

“Send email hotel, thank her. Don’t be dumb, Sid.”

“It’s not dumb. It’s common courtesy. She was nice to us.”

“She was nice to you, and you know why. I know you not dumb.”

“Whatever,” Sidney grumps, and he’s quiet for long enough that Geno assumes he’s on his way to the instructed nap. Geno reads the same few lines on the menu for the fifth or sixth time, wondering if the translation is bad or if it’s his English, and Sidney adds, “Thanks, Geno.”

Geno looks over at the top of Sidney’s head and mentally amends his last statement; Sidney might be a little dumb. He says, “Welcome, Sid,” with every bit of dry humor he can muster, and nudges him once more. The train trudges on and Geno settles on pork chops.

They arrive in Nice in the afternoon and there’s a car waiting for them at the train station, because Geno knows his shit. Their hotel is the kind of opulent and lavish that makes Sidney blink a little and shoot a guilty look at Geno as they head in, but Geno knew he had to throw money around to make arrangements so quickly and he’d decided to go big or go home. Plus, there was the matter of the private beach, which Geno confirms at the front desk over the sounds of Sidney’s stuttered, French check-in process.

Their suite opens right up to the beach, beyond French doors leading out to a lovely view. Those doors are open when Sidney and Geno walk in and the room smells of clean sea air and sunshine.

Geno watches, pleased, as Sidney takes a big, deep breath and then smiles rather grimly. “Okay,” he says again, nodding at Geno like they’re finally concluding their argument on the train. Geno preens a little, glad he’d done well, and kicks off his shoes.

It takes Sidney about five minutes to discover the two giant beds, which makes him blush for some reason. “Good,” he says, and Geno just shrugs as if he hadn’t made a point of asking even though he didn’t really want to ask, even though he couldn’t stop thinking of Sidney’s warmth curled up next to him every night and how much he’d miss it. He couldn’t let himself miss it, he knew, and this part of the trip is going to be difficult enough without those added stressors.

So they have separate beds now, as luxurious as every other part of this experience, though Sidney sits on the edge of his like it’s stuffed with explosives. “No good?” Geno asks, trying not to sound overly eager to please, and Sidney shakes his head and makes a face.

“No, it’s great. This is all great. I’m paying you back for all of this, by the way.”

“Fuck you,” Geno says, huffing. “I’m bigger cap hit.”

“You’re ridiculous. Don’t be ridiculous. Really I’m just—I’m tired, sorry. This is really great, I’m just tired.” He sounds like that’s only half a truth—there’s some exhaustion in his face and the lines at the corners of his eyes, but Geno doesn’t know how much of that is actually travel-related, as Sidney seems to want to suggest, and how much is about Charlie.

He doesn’t hazard a guess right now or question Sidney about it at all. Instead he nods and says, “Sleep, is okay. No jet lag from train, can sleep and do whatever you want.” That’s what this is about, Geno’s decided. Sidney can do whatever the hell he wants in Nice. Geno will make sure of it.

Sidney nods and doesn’t even manage to look apologetic. Geno leaves him to crawl under the covers and kills time on the patio, looking at the sun-striped beach ahead and listening to Sidney toss and turn in the bedroom. He never quite hears him settle, and he thinks of how far they’ve traveled now, how the wedding seems so long ago, and takes out his phone.

Geno tries not to think about it too much as he brings up the selfie he and Sidney had taken at the very top of Sacred Heart. He turns his brain off except for what he needs to post the picture on Instagram, carefully tapping out good summer ))) in English to caption it.

It’s maybe not the exact whole truth, Geno thinks. But he also thinks it’s close to what Sidney wanted, as close as he’ll get on this trip. And that’s what this is about now.

 

 

They’ve both been to Nice before, though never long enough to just kill time doing absolutely nothing here. Geno’s kind of looking forward to that, because they have the options of going around the city and checking out Castle Hill or a museum if they get truly bored, but none of the pressure to.

For the first day or so, Sidney seems to want to make a bit of an effort. They spend the morning on their quiet beach of tiny, tiny pebbles and cool water and then venture out to find seafood places that Sidney remembers liking in past trips. Geno makes no suggestions, lets Sidney guide them wherever, and only asserts himself when Sidney asks him for the third time if it’s okay to just stick around the hotel that night.

“Of course okay,” Geno says, making eye contact. As has been the norm so far, Sidney’s eyes focus but they still look sad, like he’s not quite all there with Geno. It makes him miss Paris, though he knows Paris itself had nothing to do with how Sidney felt at the time. “Sid, I’m not bored. Go swim. Lay down, get sun, have best time.”

“Get burnt,” Sidney mutters, and Geno scratches defiantly at his peeling shoulders and just stares Sidney down, shameless. “For God’s sake, please just use the damn lotion, if you get sun poisoning—”

“I’m get nice and tan,” Geno tells him imperiously, and he pokes at Sidney’s deeply golden forearm. “Catch up with you quick, you see.”

So it takes a bit for Sidney to lose the self-consciousness he’d never quite picked up in Paris, to just accept that this trip isn’t about Geno at this point. And when he does, Geno settles a bit, too, relaxing into the kind of vacation he’s supposed to relax on. A small part of him wonders if and when Sidney will want to talk, if that’s something he’ll want Geno on board for or someone else, someone that knows him and the situation a little better, and that same part is worried that he’s not equipped to handle it if Sidney wants to talk.

But when Sidney does start talking, it’s easy enough to just be honest with him. They’re on the beach the first time, around sunset when it’s starting to really cool off. Geno is sun-warm and feels the remnants of his swim clinging to his skin, lazily thinking of how awesome his shower is going to be.

Sidney is in the lounger next to Geno’s, in much of the same state, though he doesn’t look as relaxed as Geno feels. His knees are bent with his feet flat on the chair cushion, though Geno knows if they were completely stretched out they still wouldn’t reach the end of the lounger. Geno’s feet dangle just over the edge and sitting like he is, Sidney looks much smaller.

He gives a small sort of sigh, staring out at the water, and then he turns his head to ask Geno, “You’re never going to come out, right?”

Geno can’t help his short, choked laugh, and he shakes his head with a wry smile. “No, no. Never, you know. No point.”

“Of course there’s a point,” Sidney says. At first, Geno thinks he’s being defensive out of instinct, and he keeps smiling, but then Sidney continues, and it sounds like he’s parroting information from someone Geno doesn’t really care to hear from on this. “You know, to be a role model, to feel open about yourself and your identity, to—”

“Already role model,” Geno says very firmly. He tries not to sound too pissy, to remind himself that he’s not arguing with Charlie, but it kind of feels like he is. “I’m try to be. And you know I’m open, it’s—my country, if I come out ever, mean no more role model. No more life there for me. Not gonna change if I come out, just be over and I lose too much. You know.”

“I know,” Sidney repeats in a near whisper. He’s not looking at Geno anymore but his forehead is creased in concentration. “You don’t—you don’t ever feel bad about that, then? I mean, do you ever see yourself with a man forever, later on, or—”

“Not feel bad.” Again, Geno has to temper himself, taking a breath before he continues in a steady voice. “And I don’t know. Maybe. Only ever date few men, date more women. Maybe I’m find person who fit and knows me and it’s good, and we stay together forever, and if it’s man that’s secret and it’s okay.”

A lot of this is stuff he’s never actually said out loud and it’s a bit nerve-wracking, though they’re truths he’s found to be steadier and steadier as he’s grown older. Sidney’s rapt attention, his slightly widened eyes, make Geno blush a little, but it also feels good to be honest with Sidney and lay the inside of his head out a bit to see if it makes sense on the outside.

“You think it would be okay?” Sidney finally asks after appearing to digest for a while. Geno shrugs, but Sidney shoots him an aggrieved look and presses, “If it’s a man, and it has to be secret—you think the secret would be okay?”

“Have to be, or can’t be with man,” Geno says, as clear as he can. Sidney nods. Geno thinks about being careful, about not pressing too hard, but—“And if it’s not okay then it’s not fit good. Not right person.”

Sidney flinches, almost hard enough to make Geno apologize, though he’s not quite sure what it would be for. He’s not sorry for implying Charlie wasn’t good enough because he believes it wholeheartedly. But Sidney just says, “Yeah,” kind of softly, sounding thoughtful.

So Geno takes the inch he’s been given and asks, “You gonna come out some day?” keeping his voice carefully light.

It still takes Sidney a long time to give him an answer, and it still sounds wrenched out of him. Geno watches him flex his toes into the lounger cushion, his fingers wrapped too tightly around the arms of the chair. “I don’t know. It was always the plan after I retire.”

“Because Charlie?” Geno asks. Sidney flinches again but answers pretty bravely.

“I think so, but I don’t—I’ve never had the chance to think about it outside of him. It was always—there was never a time when Charlie wasn’t part of the equation, so I couldn’t separate it. When I was a kid and I knew I was gay, it was out of the question, I couldn’t even imagine it. And then with Charlie, I mean. It was the plan.”

Geno thinks about asking his next question over and over again, turning it over in his head and hesitating. When it comes, it’s heartbreakingly simple, and it makes Sidney’s face crumple. “Now what’s plan?”

Sidney stretches one leg out, his foot flexing forward. He hugs his arms around his middle and tilts his head back against the chair and says, “I have no idea. I kind of need a new plan now.” He laughs, short and dry. It sounds like it hurts. “It’s total bullshit, you know. I’m 28. I shouldn’t need a new plan now, come on.”

“I know,” Geno says softly, his heart clenched in sympathy. Sidney chuckles darkly, kicks at nothing on the chair, and then stands up unsteadily.

“Gonna swim one last time before dinner. That sounds like a good plan for now, eh? Better than anything else I’ve got.”

“Good plan.” Geno watches Sidney head out to the water, his feet stomping deep indents in the pebbles with his short, choppy strides.

That night, it takes Geno a long, long time to fall asleep. He’s missing sharing the bed again, and he can’t stop thinking about how much Sidney might miss it too. Part of him wants to creep over to Sidney’s bed, far enough away and on the other side of slotted shelves to give some illusion of privacy. Another, smarter part of him is remembering his own boundaries, the whole stupid reason for the two beds in the first place.

He wonders, though, as Sidney talks more, bares himself and his relationship just that much more on the beach or at lunch, if this is a way of redefining boundaries anyway. They’ve certainly never talked about this stuff before, but Geno tries to make sure there’s nothing Sidney thinks he can’t talk about with him. He tries to be open, and honest, and not rail on Charlie too much as Sidney just seems to get sadder and sadder, echoes of Kuni giving them all instructions.

That becomes difficult one night when Sidney asks him, “Have you ever cheated on anyone?”

Geno blinks. It’s mostly nighttime on the beach and they’d gone back out after dinner to finish beers and watch the stars come out. Sidney hadn’t said much throughout their meal and Geno doesn’t know if that means today was a good day or not. He’s deciding not to try and label their days like that anymore.

Geno’s been playing at making a fire—and he knows Sidney’s really lost in his head because he hadn’t even crabbily shoved Geno out of the way and done it himself, bragging about Canadian wilderness skills—and he drops the stones he’d been messing with and brushes his hands off to stall.

He finally shrugs and offers, “Little bit? In open couple, so is okay, but sometimes it mess up anyway so feel like cheat.”

Sidney nods, which gives Geno some relief because he hadn’t been sure how to get that concept across eloquently or delicately. He doesn’t say anything else for a while, prompting Geno’s head to start spinning a little, and he finally has to ask Sidney as gently as he can, “You?”

To his surprise, Sidney laughs. He shakes his head immediately and for a second he looks perfectly normal, turning to Geno and pulling a face that’s almost insulted. “Who, me? Of course not. No way.” He chuckles a bit longer until it starts to feel a little ragged around the edges, and Geno’s just thinking of how to change the subject when Sidney adds, “Charlie never did either.”

It sounds weirdly defensive, and Geno feels his back straighten a bit in response. He hadn’t suggested it, though he’s had it as a possibility in the swirling cloud of vague evil that Charlie has become in his head. Geno just says, “Okay,” and tries not to sound dubious.

It might not work, because Sidney doubles down. “He didn’t,” he says, almost snappish. Then he laughs again, a terrible sound. Geno winces and looks at his useless little fire pit so he doesn’t have to watch Sidney’s face break open. “I know he didn’t, but—”

Sidney breaks off, clearing his throat a few times and seemingly trying to expel whatever place that awful laugh came from. It’s still there, though, making Sidney’s voice shake when he continues, “But I kind of wish he had, you know?”

That makes Geno frown deeply, peeking up at Sidney. Sidney’s looking straight ahead at the water, black under a new moon. He doesn’t think he’ll like the answer, but he has to ask, “Why?” after a moment because he’s honestly baffled.

“Because then it’s like—it wasn’t my fault,” Sidney says. It’s very matter of fact and dry and it sends rage bubbling through Geno’s veins anyway.

“Was not your—”

“No, not—I mean, if he had cheated, then that’s it. He was wrong, he was the bad guy. Cheating is wrong, one hundred percent, and if someone’s going to cheat then he’s already that kind of guy. There was nothing I could’ve done to stop what he did.”

Geno thinks that was supposed to reassure him, going by Sidney’s tone—placating, too stark and logical, like this is something he’s been twisting out of his own mind for days now—and it does none of that. Rage still licks at his spine and he has to take a deep breath to not unleash it on Sidney, because Sidney’s not the one he’s mad at.

That distinction is fairly difficult to make, though, because Sidney looks defensive again, his shoulders stiff, like he’s gearing up to argue his stupid case with Geno. Geno twists to look at him head-on, refusing to break eye contact. “No.”

“I don’t think you get it—”

“I get it,” Geno says as firmly and clearly as he can. “Is not your fault, nothing you can do. Sid, don’t do this.”

“I’m not doing anything,” Sidney says. His voice breaks like he’s arguing with a referee and getting emotional about it, and it’s such a familiar sound and stance that Geno feels shaken from it. “I’ve been trying to make sense of it. If he’d cheated, then none of it was on me, and if I don’t—”

“No! Sid, stop, none of it on you anyway. He leave because he’s asshole, not because you not do something.”

“He left me because I wouldn’t come out,” Sidney tells him. His lower lip wobbles for a minute, and Geno wants to punch something. The feeling is worse when Sidney just rallies and keeps going. “If I’d just—if I thought about it more, maybe gave him a shorter time table—”

“You don’t want to come out!” Geno bursts out. It’s more of a yell than he wanted, and it makes Sidney’s face freeze for a moment, but it feels necessary and even more necessary to keep going, because Sidney can’t keep thinking this stuff. He certainly can’t have it developed enough that he feels okay to say it out loud; that’s too much of a formed thought for Geno’s liking. “Good guy not ask you to do that when you don’t want to. No one make you do that, change your whole life, risk so much.”

Sidney’s biting his lip now. His eyes are very large.

“You ask someone do that for you?” Geno asks, and he knows what Sidney’s stupid argument is going to be before he even opens his mouth. “No, I know is different for Charlie, he want, but—you ask me do it? You ever ask me that?”

It feels dangerous to throw something like that, still skirting the edges of the dark, deep breadth of feeling Geno’s been harboring, but it gets him the reaction he wants.

Sidney looks appalled, and he shakes his head with a little huff.

“No, of course not, I would never—”

“So why is okay for him to ask?” Geno says, and Sidney’s mouth snaps closed.

For a few minutes, it stays closed and then opens slowly. Geno can see thoughts and words forming behind Sidney’s eyes, in his creased forehead, but none escape for a while. Geno starts to consider giving him a mental pat on the back, like he’d actually contributed something finally, talked Sidney out of the most dangerous line of thinking he’s had since this whole thing went down.

But then Sidney finally speaks again, and nothing in his voice sounds like anything to be proud of. “I still—it would still be better if he’d cheated,” Sidney croaks. His chin is tucked into his chest. “It would be easier to hate him, then. To stop—to stop loving him and feeling fucked up for it.”

Geno kicks pebbles over his failure of a fire and stands up, brushing his shorts off. He shuffles over to Sidney, prone on a lounger, and reaches his hand down to help him up, feeling grim and unhappy but still committed to being honest with him. “I think maybe not,” Geno says quietly. Sidney just looks up at him helplessly. “Think maybe hard any way, Sid. Not have to feel fucked up. It’s—normal.”

He remembers what Kuni warned them about, remembers the instructions not to bash Charlie. He knew why they were given then but now he really understands, as much as it burns him. Geno waits for Sidney to take his hand and, when he does, grips him very tight.

 

 

The thing is, in Nice Sidney stops making any passes at him. Geno considers that mostly a good thing, though an embarrassingly large part of him misses the bubbly, flirty Sid from Paris. This Sidney is quiet when he’s not asking Geno difficult questions or making heartbreaking confessions.

Sidney is sad, and Geno thought he could handle that a bit better than he actually is. Watching Sidney bleed out his relationship with Charlie hurts even more than watching that relationship live and breathe, more than wanting Sidney when he wasn’t attainable. It makes Geno ache and itch and look at the days they have left, wondering what the fuck he’s going to do after this trip, and wondering the same for Sidney.

And it all confirms that the only flirting interest Sidney ever had for Geno was spiteful. He’s not flirting now, not touching Geno or drinking with him, and Geno misses the attention much more than he should. He hates that Charlie has stolen that, too, just as he hates that that’s all it ever was, and that he’s even thinking like this about Sidney right now. It makes him feel petty and small, and Geno wishes there was some kind of fix.

Sidney makes it worse, of course, because one night he says, “I’ve never been with anyone else,” as Geno is toweling off from an afternoon swim.

Geno drops his towel and tries to make that his only visible reaction, even though inside he’s kind of screaming. “I know,” he says slowly, sitting down on the edge of a lounger very carefully and squirming in his wet shorts. “Charlie only boyfriend,” and he knows that’s not what Sidney meant.

“Right,” Sidney says slowly, like maybe he doesn’t know that Geno knows that’s not what Sidney meant. “But, I mean—I haven’t had sex with anyone else, ever.”

He doesn’t need the clarification, nor does he want it, but it’s out there now, hanging between them unpleasantly. Geno has no idea what to say, can think of a hundred things he might want to say—just three weeks ago he’d have made lewd comments about fixing that, and that feels like an entire lifetime away. Three weeks ago he probably couldn’t have admitted he’d mean those comments about fixing that.

“Okay,” Geno finally says when the silence has gotten too heavy and he’s eliminated every other option.

Sidney snorts, and Geno feels annoyance bubble up in him a bit. “Right. Okay.”

“Why you tell me?” Geno asks, trying very hard to keep a handle on the snappish tone to his voice.

“I don’t know,” Sidney says. He gives a helpless sort of shrug. “I’ve just been thinking about it. I had other—chances, you know. I could’ve done it with someone else. I should’ve.”

Geno remembers “I should’ve said yes,” and Sidney talking about them running away together, how it would be a joke. It wouldn’t be a joke now, though. Now of this has really been a joke, even if that’s all Sidney wants it to be.

He doesn’t really want to hear it, but he makes himself ask, “Want tell me about chances?” and he can feel the look Sidney’s giving him in response.

“No,” Sidney says eventually. He huffs a little. “They weren’t—if they were that important I would’ve done it.”

“But you say you never cheat,” Geno says. Sidney huffs again, but Geno plows on. “So you only cheat if important? I don’t think so.”

“Maybe I should’ve cheated,” Sidney says hotly. Geno sighs, and shakes his head.

“No. You never cheat, is not you.”

“Fuck you, Geno. You don’t—I could’ve cheated a hundred times and you know it. You would’ve helped me.”

Geno considers that. It sounds like an accusation, spat out and furious, though Geno knows it’s somewhat true. It just proves again that anything that could’ve happened between Sidney and Geno as result of all the bullshit flirting Geno did would’ve been wrong. Geno would’ve done it. Sidney never should’ve, no matter what happened with Charlie.

“You never cheat because you good person, and I’m glad,” Geno says slowly, carefully. Sidney makes a disgusted sort of noise, starts to say, “Yeah, okay, I’m a good person, look where that got me—” And Geno hastens to add, “Is why I’m—I like you good. Is why you best to me.”

Sidney is quiet for a long, heavy while after that. Geno tries regretting what he said and fails, then thinks about just bailing back into the room and giving Sid some space. But eventually, Sidney clears his throat and says, “I don’t think—you were always joking. I don’t really think you would’ve helped me cheat. You’re a good person too.”

For a fleeting moment, Geno thinks he hears something like a challenge in that. It’s absolutely thrilling, the first overture Sidney’s made towards him since before Sacred Heart.

He feels sick with it when he realizes that Sidney doesn’t really mean anything by it, is just earnestly putting his faith in Geno’s goodness like he always, always has. It makes Sidney’s responses to any flirting Geno’s ever done with him make too much sense.

And it makes Geno feel even sicker to think that Sidney’s wrong. If he’d had the chance—if Sidney had ever given him a real green light, any hint of taking it seriously, it would’ve happened. Geno is sure of it.

He’s not the good person Sidney thinks he is. He wonders if wanting to be counts for something.

All of this goes through his head at about a mile a minute, stealing his English, and it’s Sidney who’s retreated back to the room by the time Geno thinks he might be ready to say something.
After that, Geno wonders if it’s worth it to say anything, and he decides it isn’t when he goes back into the room and checks on Sidney and finds him napping, curled up in a bathrobe in the middle of his bed like that entire conversation had exhausted him that much.

Geno understands. He feels tired, too, but also itchy with things left unsaid, air still unclear. He showers and hopes it’ll help but it leaves him with the sea washed off and nothing left to think about but the chances he and Sidney had always had.

He finds he can’t stay in the room, and the beach feels too big for all its privacy, the wide open sea too vast and aimless for his purposes. He leaves a note for Sidney in case he wakes up and arranges for a ride from the hotel, something they’ve rarely done on this trip.

He has no idea where to go when the driver asks, but his accent gets noted and the driver says, “St. Nicholas, yes? Russian Cathedral?”

“Yes,” Geno says, shrugging internally.

The driver chatters at him, telling him about the cathedral, and Geno mostly tunes him out, thinking about how Sidney would be talking back at him, politely engaging. It’s an awful consequence of this trip that Geno can’t help filling in the spaces of Sidney’s absences with memories, and he wonders how long that’s going to last when they’ve gone home, and how long it’s going to hurt.

Geno doesn’t realize he’s been to the Russian Orthodox Cathedral before until he sees it; churches in Nice were no more his favorite tourist attraction than churches in Paris. But, as the driver told him, it’s the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in Western Europe and it’s obscenely beautiful in a way that reminds him achingly of home. He thinks of Sidney looking for Montreal in Paris and understands again.

What Geno knows about the cathedral is a combination of knowledge from his previous visit and learned wisdom from going to services. He knows he can’t take pictures inside and doesn’t bother with the outside—he has them already, somewhere. He kisses his cross when he goes inside, kisses the painted wooden hand of the saint he lights a candle for—the first saint he sees, unable to muster a prayer for anything but slowed thoughts and some peace of mind.

He keeps filling in spaces, wondering what history he could drum up to tell Sidney, the stories he could tell him. There’s not much he remembers off the top of his head, but he knows Sidney would hang on every word, ask questions and be truly interested. He wonders if Sidney has been here before, had wandered as a tourist like Geno is.

But Geno’s not just a tourist in a cathedral like this. He avoids that part of him right now, while his head is stuffed full of Sid and thoughts that are hard to reconcile with his church. It’s always going to be separate, always some kind of division between his self and his home, and he’s always been okay with that because it’s how it has to be.

It feels fragile here, though. Geno backs out when a scheduled service starts accumulating, and he lets out a shaky breath once he’s back out on the warm, dusky streets of the city. He takes a last look at the cathedral and can’t decide if it was a mistake to go, to obsess over a man he’s in love with there.

He doesn’t feel guilty enough for the answer to be clear.

 

 

Sidney’s just waking up when Geno slips quietly back into the room and pokes his head around the shelf to check on him. Sidney’s yawning, stretching while barely sitting up propped against his pillows, and he looks at Geno with a small, tremulous smile.

“Hi,” Sidney says. His hair is a mess and Geno knows from sharing his bed in Paris that he is so, so warm, sheets puddled around him and creased in the pink skin of his cheeks. “Did you go out?”

Geno nods, just kind of staring at Sidney some more. His head and heart both feel so full, tugging him in all directions, and he doesn’t know which way to go when Sidney asks in a small, careful voice, “You okay?”

“Just get some air, see some city,” Geno says. His voice feels quiet and thick to his own ears and it doesn’t seem to reassure Sidney at all, so Geno adds, “Thinking.”

“Yeah,” Sidney says. He sighs a little and plays with the loosely-tied belt of his robe. “Anything we should talk about?”

Yes, of course they should talk about it, but Geno’s not sure he has the words. He tries anyway, coming in closer to the bed, not sitting down until Sidney rolls his eyes and gestures at him, patting the edge of the bed.

He shifts to sit right next to Geno, his legs crossed beneath the robe and the sheets shoved away. He gives Geno his full attention, as if his nap had awoken the careful, polite Sidney that always exists when he’s not too far in his own head.

“Lots we should talk about,” Geno starts, but fear swallows everything in the next seconds, and he has to take deep breaths. Sidney doesn’t help, just hums and picks at his robe, his shoulder and arm a line of warmth next pressed against him. “Have to tell you—most important—tell you that you wrong, before.”

“What was I wrong about?” Sidney asks plainly, tilting his head.

Geno takes another breath, then tells himself to stop being a coward. He’s had too many years of that and he’s bound to have more unless he tips over the edge into the stupidity he really wants to right now. “You wrong because you say—I’m not do it. I’m good person, I’m not help you cheat. Is wrong, I’m—”

“Geno—”

“I’m do it if you ever say yes,” Geno says as firmly as he can, shutting Sidney up. He looks Sidney in the eye for this, letting everything flood his face—shame, wanting, fear and desperation. “I’m still—now, too. I want it now too, always, just—wrong time always too. Never know you for right time. You say you have chances, is true, but I think I have no chance ever.”

“Geno,” Sidney says again, and though Geno clams up and lets him speak, words seem to fail him for a bit. He looks thunderstruck, a little sad, and it’s a while before his eyes harden and lock on to Geno’s again. “But I didn’t get married.”

Now it’s Geno’s turn to close his eyes and sigh out, “Sid…”

“I didn’t get married,” Sidney repeats. “I asked you—I’ve been saying yes this whole trip. I came to you that night because I wanted us to—to have our chance. I’m not married now.”

“Is wrong time,” Geno says, but it’s so, so weak, and his eyes can’t stay closed for wanting to look at Sidney’s face again. What he sees there is familiar and slightly terrifying, that signature Crosby mulishness that has bent many wills and conquered many obstacles. It makes his stomach flare up, burn hot, and Geno clenches his fist on his own knee.

“I’m single,” Sidney says. Geno wants to counter “But you’re sad” and can’t find it in him as Sidney keeps going as if Geno’s not a house of cards just waiting to fold. “I didn’t get married, I haven’t been with anyone else, I’ve wanted to try it with you so many fucking times—”

Geno kisses Sidney as gently as he can while still cutting off the rest of his words. To Sidney’s credit, they drop immediately, lost against Geno’s lips.

Sidney returns the kiss near to instantly, as if he’d just been waiting for the first excuse to do it. His lips are dry and warm and open up quickly for a first kiss and Geno wants to reel them back, stop them up a bit and slow down. But he’s been doing that over and over again for this entire trip when all he’s wanted to do was move forward, to take, and finally giving into that feels thrilling and freeing. It feels too good for shame right now.

Geno slips his tongue into Sidney’s mouth and Sidney sighs. His whole body feels loose and sweet next to Geno’s, leaning in closer as if there’s any closer to be. Geno picks up his hands from his knees and spreads one over the cotton-covered expanse of Sidney’s ribcage, another at the back of his neck. He keeps kissing him.

For all that this is a final push forward, time feels as though it’s slowing down around them. Geno holds onto Sidney with his hands and mouth, not releasing him until they need air, and then they share their breaths and press kisses elsewhere, bumping noses. Sidney laughs, small and low in his throat. Geno touches their foreheads together and inches a smile across his face, widening it when Sidney leans in for another kiss.

“There we go,” Sidney says lowly, pressed against the corner of Geno’s mouth. He sounds happier than he’s been since that day in the salad restaurant, and Geno feels a rush of dumb pride. Geno squeezes his hand at the back of Sidney’s neck and watches Sidney relax back into the touch.

“Wait long time for that,” Geno tells him. Sidney bites his bottom lip and nods slowly, then leans in for more kissing, something Geno is totally fine with just continuing forever and ever.

But after another long while, Sidney’s hand goes up to Geno’s and he slips his fingers over his and tugs. Geno goes where Sidney leads, wrapped up in kissing him as senseless as he can get him.

Apparently it’s not senseless enough that Sidney lacks the coordination to put Geno’s hand on his bare thigh, flipping the robe out of the way. Geno makes a wordless, slightly pained noise and settles his hand there, pushing a harder kiss to Sidney’s mouth and then breaking away to look at Sidney.

He squeezes Sidney’s thigh, the solid bulk of muscle a stark contrast to the soft skin. Sidney takes in a sharp breath and doesn’t break Geno’s gaze, staring him down with something like defiance.

Geno pushes his hand up, up just to prove to himself how bare he is underneath. He’s shaking a little. Sidney says, “We don’t have to wait anymore, you know?” and Geno marvels that he ever managed to choke out the words “wrong time”.

After that everything seems to follow what feels like an inevitable pattern, the routine mechanics of getting someone underneath him and making him feel good. Geno is no stranger to a hard, strong male body and he tries to show his appreciation at every turn, mapping out skin and muscle and soft spots with his hands sweeping everywhere.

The robe is pushed and twisted until its purpose is moot and it’s halfway off Sidney anyway, now spread out on his back with Geno over him. Geno keeps kissing him as he allows his hands to wander freely, a little afraid that if he breaks away and looks he’ll wake up from an awesome dream.

He has to look when his hand brushes over Sidney’s cock, a little wet at the tip, poking out of the widened gap in the robe. Sidney huffs a big breath into Geno’s mouth, then pants a little against his cheek as Geno holds him loosely and plays with the tip with his fingers, spreading some of the wetness there.

“You gotta—” Sidney says, and Geno thinks he means he wants a handjob as soon as possible and spits in his hand to try and oblige. But Sidney says, “No, G, clothes, you need to get your clothes off,” and Geno blinks and realizes he’d been fully prepared to just get Sidney off without even taking off his shoes.

It’s a good demand, though, because Geno gets to step back a little as he strips. He watches Sidney on the bed as he does, naked in all the ways that count, looks and looks while resisting the urge to pinch himself. Sidney looks back, stares pretty shamelessly as Geno’s erection is revealed until he’s biting his lip again. His eyes are very dark.

“Can you—there’s lube under the sink in the bathroom,” Sidney tells him, and Geno silently goes for it, his cock leading the way and his stomach fluttering. When he gets back the robe is gone completely, which could almost be a disappointment—he’d liked the wrecked, disheveled look, like this is lazy morning sex they’d just decided to try on a whim and not put too much effort into.

But this has been such a long time coming, and effort is fucking worth it. And no robe means Sidney is fully naked, spread out on the bed and staring at equally naked Geno like he wants to eat him up.

Geno stares, too, indulging himself, waiting to lose patience and deciding he probably never will. It’s Sidney who reaches out and says, “Come on, let’s—no more waiting,” and Geno goes and kisses him as hungrily as Sidney’s been looking at him.

“Fuck,” Geno says when their cocks brush, and Sidney kisses his hair and echoes the sentiment. He rocks his hips up and Geno’s eyes flutter shut, his face tipping into Sidney’s neck and mouth latching there nearly of its own accord.

In his daze, he feels Sidney snag the lube, and soon things are slicker and easier, Sidney’s hand moving between them on its own until Geno’s joins him. Neither of them really set the pace, falling into some undiscussed rhythm of kissing and stroking and rolling their hips, a little clumsy the whole way through but so good that nothing else matters.

Geno’s mouth at Sidney’s neck makes him brave enough to mumble things, the stuff he shouldn’t admit in Russian and then the stuff he needs Sidney to hear in English.

“Never do this with someone else?” Geno asks, the just Charlie silent but implicit.

Sidney gasps a little and leans up to bite at Geno’s shoulder. “No, never—nothing with someone else, ever.”

“Good,” comes out in Russian, and maybe Sidney knows that one. It doesn’t really matter because in English, Geno makes it sound like a question. “Is good?”

“Fuck, it’s so good, don’t stop—”

“Not stop,” Geno says, claiming Sidney’s mouth again. “Gonna make you come, Sid.”

He keeps rubbing his cock against Sidney’s but displaces his hand to wrap his own just around Sidney, thumbing firmly at the slit until Sidney makes a soft little cry and goes stuff. Sidney’s come coats Geno’s hand and it sends his hips snapping desperately searching for his own orgasm. He gets there when Sidney’s loosened, slack hand tightens around Geno’s cock and just pulls, wrenching it out of him with a groan.

Geno holds himself up over Sidney as long as he can, not wanting to move away. When his arms are too tired, he shifts to the side with a heavy groan, and Sidney doesn’t let him get very far anyway, tugging him close by the arm until they’re pressed side by side on the bed.

A hundred things go through Geno’s head as they lie there, the most prominent question being, “What now?” which he doesn’t ask because he’s afraid of an answer. Sidney doesn’t seem nearly so concerned; he looks carefree and blissful in the afterglow, seeming more at peace than he’s been since the morning of his wedding.

He smiles a little dopily at Geno and strokes his hand up and down his arm. Geno stares back at him, wanting to kiss him again, to make him come again, and he watches Sidney’s smile grow and gets lost in it until he has to ask Sidney to repeat what he finally says.

“I said I’m kinda hungry,” Sidney tells him. He stretches languidly, his feet coming to rest at Geno’s shins. “Did you eat when you were out?”

Geno hadn’t, and though food has been the last thing on his mind the last little while, it certainly couldn’t hurt. He says, “Hungry too,” and Sidney nods firmly and sits up.

“Cool. I’ll call for food.”

They eat dinner in bed together, sitting cross-legged and facing each other. Sidney had thrown on clothes to answer the door for room service and he’s still wearing them, but Geno just stays naked and enjoys the way Sidney stares while he eats, for once his mind not completely on his food.

Geno knows he has streaks of come drying on his stomach, knows there’s matching evidence underneath Sidney’s t-shirt, and he’s never felt any shame in stuff like that but right now he’s reveling in it. He’s had most of Sidney’s attention on this trip but now it feels more complete, a total indulgence that might be an addiction. He can’t believe he’s waited this long.

As if determined to kill him, Sidney casually asks him, “So what do you like?” He pops a spoonful of burrata in his mouth, plain, and Geno hides his wince and tells himself it would be too much to handfeed him better cheeses with proper accompaniments just yet. Maybe ever.

He stalls though he knows perfectly well what Sidney means, feeling a little more surefooted when he can tease him. “Like the fish,” Geno says, poking at his sole and then shuffling a portion off with a bite of risotto. “And good rice, too. Not so much lemon, good for me.”

“Geno,” Sidney says, drawing out every syllable and smiling so hard his eyes crinkle up. Geno wants to push their plates away and tackle him, kiss the wrinkles around Sidney’s eyes until he laughs out loud. He keeps eating with his head ducked. “Tell me, I really want to know.”

“Everything,” Geno says. He predicts Sidney’s quick protest and heads it off, looking up and swallowing his last few bites of food before he says, “Really, like everything. Would do everything with you.”

“Everything,” Sidney repeats. He looks a little dazed, and a lot pleased. “Okay. Me too.”

“Really?” Geno shoots back, letting his tongue poke out and laughing at Sidney’s affronted face.

Really,” Sidney says with a huff. “I’m not a virgin, I’ve done tons of stuff.”

Geno braces for the ghost of Charlie to pour ice water into his insides, killing the mood, but it doesn’t really happen. Sidney looks stubborn again, and then determined, and then he says, “I’ll show you,” and puts his plate on the nightstand.

He puts Geno’s plate there too, ignoring Geno’s token protest even though his plate is mostly cleared. He arranges them neatly, making Geno’s heart swell with just how Sidney he’s being even in utterly uncharted territory for them, and then he strips like he’s on mission.

“Lie down,” Sidney tells him, and Geno shifts onto his side and props his head on his hand, grinning at Sidney winningly. Sidney gives him a tightlipped but crinkly-eyed smile again, then crawls onto the bed with his head down by Geno’s crotch.

He positions himself so that there’s no question of what he wants to do, and Geno’s cock thickens as his heart pounds. He chokes out a laugh, forces out, “Think maybe you too short to do this,” and gets Sidney’s cock right in his face for his troubles, Sidney glaring up at him from below.

“We’re gonna try everything,” Sidney says. He looks like he wants to keep eye contact but can’t as he takes Geno’s hardening cock into his mouth, and Geno can’t complain even a little bit.

He doesn’t even complain when Sidney kicks at him because he’s taking a little too long to get with the program, lost in the wet heat of Sidney’s mouth, his skillful, careful tongue. Sidney’s definitely showing off for him, sucking him as if on mission, taking him deep and playing with his balls with fingers he’d slipped into his mouth beside Geno’s cock to slick up.

He’s a little too coordinated, a bit too pointed and put together, so Geno leans forward and gives Sidney’s cock a few licks of its own, mostly hard now and still a little sticky with come. Geno cleans it off carefully, getting to feel and watch Sidney’s thighs start to shake, and then he feels Sidney choke a little when Geno takes him in deeper.

It feels really fucking good at both ends. Sidney moans around his cock, his sucking getting a little sloppier. In turn, Geno tries to show off too, sucking Sidney down to the base and swallowing around him until he can really feel it in the back of his throat. He hears and feels the noise Sidney makes, the way he pulls off to gasp out Geno’s name and curl to rest his forehead on Geno’s thigh. Geno feels a rush of victorious smugness, smiling around Sidney.

And then it’s just another pull of a different kind of pleasure when Sidney puts his mouth back on him, deep-throats him like he’s trying to one-up a goal Geno just scored, and it’s Geno’s turn to groan.

They both get lost in the familiarity of that, the way they constantly push each other to a place where they both wind up winning because it’s for each other. Geno can’t believe he’s getting to experience it like this, still feels like he needs to pinch himself after he’s come and Sidney’s come and he keeps licking his lips to chase the taste, lapping at Sidney’s soft cock until his thighs clench.

After a few moments of just lying there, sweaty and catching their breaths, Sidney basically wriggles his way up the bed and kisses Geno hard. Now it’s a different taste that Geno gets to chase, and he pursues it hungrily as Sidney gives as good as he gets.

He’s a little too warm to keep Sidney in his arms, still feeling overheated, but Sidney clings and Geno’s not going to push him away ever, especially not now. When Geno’s mouth is truly sore and Sidney’s tongue feels lazy and sluggish against his own, they stop kissing and just stare for a while. Sidney’s hair is stuck to his head with sweat, his lips are swollen and pink, and Geno never really wants to stop looking at him.

Sidney takes Geno’s hand, puts it on his hip, then slowly slides it down to cup his ass. “Everything,” he says, his voice hoarse, and Geno laughs and kisses his nose.

“Have to wait for that,” Geno says, squeezing his hand.

“I thought we said no more waiting,” Sidney says. His hand is still on top of Geno’s, warm and strong, just that little bit smaller but immovable all the same.

Geno laughs again, shaking his head. “You just have birthday, old man. Can’t go this soon, have to wait for you.” Sidney starts frowning, like he’s seriously going to defend his refractory time as if Geno’s not just teasing him, and Geno adds, “Have time to do everything, Sid. Not have to do all at once.”

It was apparently the wrong thing to say, and Sidney’s face falls a little. It takes Geno a second to realize why it was wrong, why—maybe they do have to do it all at once, because this is the only time they’ll have. This is their chance, Sidney said, and he’d said nothing about any more chances.

That thought makes Geno desperately, painfully unhappy, and at the same time want to toss Sidney onto his back and fuck him so that he’ll remember it the next 20 times he has sex, that he’ll demand more chances. If this is their only chance, Geno wants to make it a good one, and yet he feels frozen between the two impulses, as if fucking means it’s truly over but not fucking means he’ll have missed the boat.

Sidney is watching him carefully, and Geno tries to school his face into something that doesn’t look as pathetic as he feels. Sidney’s face softens, his eyes a little wide, and Geno doesn’t want to know what he’s realizing, doesn’t want to own up to anything right now. He feels too broken open.

“Hey,” Sidney says lowly when Geno just swallows hard and looks helplessly back at him. “Can I ask you something?”

Geno wants to hide under the covers, put a pillow over his head so he can’t hear what Sidney wants to ask him. He feels exhausted, starting to wish he’d stayed in the cathedral, the other part of him that’s safe from this kind of heartache.

He nods, though, because he hasn’t backed out on Sidney yet, and he’s not going to be the one to do it now.

Sidney licks his lips and seems to steel himself for a bit. His hand on Geno’s now feels crushing, clamped on. His voice is still just that little bit of broken, just to remind Geno that what they’d just done was real and happened.

“What were you going to do in Montreal?” Sidney finally asks.

Geno blinks. It was about the last thing he was expecting, especially since he’d been asked it already, way back at the Halifax airport. That same answer is on the tip of his tongue, but it sits heavy when Sidney looks at him imploringly, begging for honesty with his eyes.

So Geno sighs, and it takes a few false starts, but he eventually manages, “Going to drink. Go to clubs, be alone, just—do like we do with Max after we lose Cup, you know? But alone. Not Max.”

Sidney nods, like he’d been both expecting and dreading that answer. When he whispers, “Why?” it sounds reluctant, like Sidney wants to hide from this conversation too.

“Because you married,” Geno whispers back, wanting to tuck the answer between them and then never let it see the light of day again. He watches Sidney’s Adam’s apple bob as he swallows again, nodding one more time and squeezing his eyes shut.

He doesn’t really blame Sidney for his reaction. He mostly feels the same way, equal turns disgusted and surprised at himself. Less than two weeks ago, he couldn’t have admitted that, even if he knew it all along.

Sidney’s eyes are still shut when he grits out, “I didn’t get married.” He sounds utterly heartbroken, and Geno wants cover his ears again.

Instead, he says, “I know,” and finally moves his hand from under Sidney’s to smooth over his hip, trying to sooth the hurt.

“I went away with you instead,” Sidney continues, his eyes opening slowly and blinking a lot before they focus on Geno. That’s not quite the whole picture, and Geno knows he doesn’t have to point that out; it’s dripping from Sidney’s voice.

“Yes,” Geno says. Sidney folds his hand around Geno’s wrist now but doesn’t tug it or push it away, just holds it loosely. He rubs his thumb against Geno’s pulse point, and Geno shivers. “We here now,” Geno says, and Sidney nods one more time and slowly leans in to kiss him.

It’s a short kiss, and when Sidney leans back he looks determined enough that Geno forces himself to ask, “You still want—”

The swirling, conflicted stab of emotion he feels when Sidney slowly shakes his head and just curls into him, his forehead pressed to the base of Geno’s throat, is sharp and dizzying. “Can we just—” Sidney starts in a small voice, and Geno shushes him and pulls the covers up, pulls Sidney close, and kisses his hair.

“Of course,” Geno says. The sigh Sidney releases against him is shaky and sleepy, and it gives Geno a fragile, awful hope to lull him into an uneasy sleep.

That hope feels far, far way when Geno wakes up alone the next morning.

He can hear Sidney thumping around in the room so he doesn’t panic completely, but it just kind of sucks. The bed is cool and Geno has visions of Sidney so carefully extricating himself from Geno’s hold, sliding out of the bed with careful precision.

It takes a lot of mental coaxing for Geno to force his eyes open and look for Sidney, and at first all he sees is his outline in the gray morning light, moving around cautiously.

Eventually, enough of him registers that Geno can see that he’s dressed. But it’s not until Geno’s struggled up to sit against his pillows, rubbed at his eyes, and called out a thick, “Morning, Sid,” that everything comes into focus and he realizes the closet door is open, and so is Sidney’s suitcase.

He’s packing. The bottom of Geno’s stomach falls out completely.

Sidney looks at him slowly, his face broken open and pained. He looks like he’s braced for a hit and for a few moments Geno wants to just throw every cruel thought running through his head at him, every accusation and every comparison to Charlie. He has to take a few breaths to stop himself from doing that, but he still has to ask, “You going to sneak out?”

“No!” Sidney practically yelps, looking even more wounded. “No, I would never—”

“Is two days early, Sid,” Geno says. He sounds like shit to his own ears. “All this time, you can’t make it even whole—”

“I have to figure some things out, Geno,” Sidney cuts him off, his lips thinning out and his jaw set. Everything about his stance now is familiar, and Geno knows he’s about to get a plan breakdown. He’s not sure if he wants to hear it.

“I know, you need new plan. Okay. Can’t figure out plan here?”

“I really can’t,” Sidney tells him, chuckling choked and dark. “I have to—I have to go home and figure my shit out before I—I do something really stupid and mess things up with you.”

Geno twists his mouth, clenching his hand in the sheets. He doesn’t look at Sidney as he comes over to the bed and sits down gingerly on the edge of it, like he hadn’t just spent the night in it.

He only looks when Sidney puts a hand on his knee, over the blankets and cautious, but staring at him head-on. “Remember what we said in the beginning?” Sidney asks, and Geno is about to snap something nasty when Sidney just barrels on, likely because he knows Geno wants to be nasty. “We went on this trip because we’re friends, and that’s the most important thing. You said that. Right?”

Geno wants to spit out a petulant, angry protest. On an intellectual level, he knows that Sidney’s right, he did say that and he meant it to an extent. That was the most important thing. But now, having all but confessed the reality of what he feels and having it hanging between them, Geno knows that it wasn’t the only thing. And it doesn’t feel like the most important thing anymore.

Sidney squeezes his knee and waits, and Geno finally gives him a short nod. When he manages eye contact again, Sidney’s eyes look suspiciously shiny, and his voice breaks when he keeps going. “We have to remember that, okay? Promise me that you’ll remember that, no matter—no matter what. Because you’re—” He takes a big, shaky breath. “You’re the most important friend I have, Geno. And I’m really fucked up. I can’t risk—I just can’t right now. Do you get it?”

And of course Geno gets it. He’s gotten it all along, thinking about it intellectually, knowing with everything he has that for all their chances, it’s still the wrong time. It was the wrong time in Paris and going to Nice didn’t change that. Having sex didn’t change that.

“I get it,” Geno says. The words leave his mouth like they’re taking teeth with them, and he wants to hide under the covers again.

Sidney goes in for a hug, squeezing him tight and breathing out, “Thank you, fuck, so much, you have no idea—” and then breaking it all off to kiss Geno soundly on the mouth, breathless and wet. Geno kisses back with everything in him, squeezing his eyes shut when they start to sting. He only dares open them when Sidney is pulling away, getting back to packing quietly, wiping his nose on his sleeve.

“Bye, G,” Sidney says as he heads out, giving him a short, terrible little wave.

Geno still hasn’t managed to get out of the bed, thinks if he hugged Sidney again he wouldn’t let him go.

So he stays where he is and takes shaky breath after shaky breath until he can finally manage to say, “Bye, Sid. See you when we go home.”

 

 

Part Four: Pittsburgh

This year everyone’s heading back to Pittsburgh early. Geno doesn’t even really waffle about it, or let himself dread it; he squares his shoulders and goes back and gets settled in.

He sees Sidney at their informal player skates, and then at a lunch with a bunch of guys already in town. It’s pretty much normal; a bunch of different guys who know about the trip ask how it went with varying degrees of nosiness on a scale from Kuni, just being polite, and Flower, looking a little manic and deeply suspicious.

Sidney’s a little better than Geno at talking about it like nothing of consequence happened whatsoever. He gestures at Geno with his beer and tells him to pass around the pictures he didn’t post, and together they pull out some general vacation talking points.

Geno mentions the nesting dolls. Sidney mentions the catacombs and Geno’s refusal to bring a sweater. Neither of them mention Nice at all. It all feels like a sanitized recap of something that may have changed Geno’s entire life, and Geno doesn’t know how to feel about it.

He thinks he should probably feel something more, now that he knows he’s in love with Sid, that he had sex with Sid, and that there’s something so unbearably unfinished about what happened. They’d taken so many steps farther than they’ve ever gone with each other, and now they’re just stopped. Back in Pittsburgh like always, getting ready to play hockey like always, and it all feels too normal.

Geno doesn’t talk about that to anyone because he’s afraid of what he’d say. He doesn’t even think about it that much, happy with the distractions of the new season, of both Sergei’s settling in Pittsburgh around him, of Sidney’s shy but comfortable smiles, as sure and sweet as they’ve always been. It’s somewhat gratifying to know that no matter what, they’ll always have all of this, and Sidney was right: no matter what happens, they’re always friends.

It’s not really satisfying, though. And that becomes rather painfully obvious when Sid ducks out of a skate with vague mentions of being “busy” and every French Canadian in view looks absolutely furious.

He has a sinking feeling about it, but that doesn’t really bloom into something real until he overhears Duper and Flower arguing about it as they all get changed and showered.

He’s sure he’s meant to overhear because they’re speaking in English, and they wouldn’t do that if they wanted to leave him out. It’s a nice reminder that he and Sidney are far from the only ones involved in any of this, that though for a few weeks Geno’s entire world felt like it was just him and Sidney, that’s such a small part of the bigger picture.

A less pleasant reminder of that comes when he hears Flower saying, “But what is he even doing here if they’re not back together?”

Geno’s hands tighten up in the towel he’d been rubbing the back of his neck with. He freezes. The locker room moves on without him, and Duper answers Flower, but his eyes flicker over and meet Geno’s for a split second, because it’s Duper and he’ll never be able to help himself.

“It could be lots of things,” Duper says. He doesn’t seem to believe of a word of it, and as Geno drifts closer like he doesn’t have a clear invitation into this conversation, that becomes more evidence as he keeps making his case and his voice breaks a little. “He could be picking up his stuff, maybe they’re just talking—”

“Bullshit,” Flower says sharply. “What could they talk about now? It’s almost a month, they don’t see each other for the rest of summer and now they’re—”

“It’s Charlie, did you really think this wasn’t going to happen eventually?” Duper shoots back, and Geno abruptly feels sick.

“I’m agree Flower,” Geno says, pushing next to them. “Is bad he’s here. Too soon.”

“Right, exactly,” Flower says, patting him on his bare shoulder. “Way too soon. Where’s Kuni? Did he do this? Is he still Team Charlie? I’m gonna kill him—”

“He’s not Team Charlie, no one’s Team Charlie,” Duper groans, shaking his head. “I don’t think Kuni knows he’s here. I know because I drove past the house and saw his car and—G, wait, Kuni didn’t—”

“Not find Kuni,” Geno says, stalking towards the secondary locker room and dropping his towel on the floor.

“Put clothes on, Geno!” Flower calls, not soon enough to spare Geno stalking into where reporters are still hanging around and chatting with Kessel and giving them a full show.

In the time it takes Geno to find clothes, throw them on, march out to his car, and get on the road towards Sidney’s house, he tries to talk himself out of it. He tries to come up with some kind of plan, like Sidney would, and he fails at both. He needs to talk to Sidney. Normal isn’t going to cut it if normal includes Charlie again, and if Geno leaves it alone after everything that happened, he’s just being a bad friend and a coward again.

He goes over their last moments in Nice again, thinks about Sidney figuring things out in the time between going home to Nova Scotia and going home to Pittsburgh. He has no idea what that involved, only has hopes, but Charlie in Pittsburgh can’t mean anything good and he can feel those hopes being dashed by the minute.

There’s a moment when Geno stops, really thinks for a second about his place in Sidney’s life, if storming into his house and blowing everything open could jeopardize that. He pulls the car over and breathes for that moment.

If Sidney’s forgiving Charlie, if they’re even thinking about trying again, then it’s always going to be the wrong time for what Geno wants, and everything has to change whether they like it or not.

For all that Sidney clings to routines, Geno doesn’t like change either. The thought of messing his friendship with Sidney up for good makes his hands shake. But the thought of losing the possibility of whatever he has with Sidney, whatever they circled around for too many years before finally, barely touching on in Nice—that makes his whole body shake.

They didn’t even fuck. Geno laughs at himself as he puts the car back in drive and starts going again, because he’s not ready to leave this unfinished forever, no matter the consequences. It’s too important.

Sidney’s house is familiarly quiet when Geno pulls up. Charlie’s car is nowhere to be seen, but then neither is Sid’s, so Geno rolls his windows down, turns the car off, and waits.

He waits for a while. He starts to get hungry, a vague, gnawing sort of hunger that always lingers around this time of year when he’s getting back into it, and it’s familiar enough to settle him. Hockey is hockey, training camp is training camp, but for the first time in a long time he has no fucking clue what Sidney’s going to be like, and that’s both exciting and terrifying.

Geno pulls out his phone to think about texting Sidney, ignoring the question mark texts from Flower and the go get him, tiger text from Duper. After a while, a text from Kuni pops up asking what the hell is going on, and Geno drops his phone in the console next to him because he really has no idea what to tell him.

Their texts keep coming, a quiet sort of comfort as time ticks by and Sidney never shows up. Geno’s haze of determined, stubborn emotion starts to quiet down to a low simmer, and it’s still there when he sighs and decides to go home for food before he can take another crack.

He’ll text Sidney while he’s eating, Geno decides, mentally constructing the best way to demand his presence without tipping him off or getting blown off. Sidney is the master of polite deflections through text and Geno won’t have that tonight. He won’t accept it unless he can see Sidney face to face and know he absolutely doesn’t want Geno back, could never love him. That thought is terrifying but just doesn’t feel likely, and that makes Geno feel a little braver.

Most of his bravery starts to dwindle when he heads through his own gate and sees Sidney’s car in his driveway. Sidney has his head bent over his steering wheel when Geno pulls up next to him, but he jerks up when Geno flings his car door open and hurries out.

Sidney follows suit, and for a second they just stand there staring at each other in the fading sunlight.

“What you doing?” Geno finally asks, turning to glare up at the house a little. “Gonch keep you out here? What the fuck, I’m kick him out—”

“No, uh, he let me in the gate but I told him I wanted to wait out here for you,” Sidney says. And then he blushes. “Um, I wanted it to be a surprise so I asked him not to tell you. Sorry.”

Geno keeps glaring, now looking around some more. He feels tripped up, and he doesn’t realize it until Sidney clears his throat that he’s looking around as if Charlie might be lurking behind a tree. The thought is ridiculous, but so is the realization that if Charlie were here, Geno thinks he’d completely ignore him. He doesn’t give a flying fuck about Charlie right now. All he honestly cares about is Sidney, standing in front of him and looking very hesitant.

He huffs out a sheepish laugh, rubbing at the back of his neck and forcing himself to say, “Hi, Sid.”

Sidney laughs a little, too, shaking his head, and he scuffs at the ground with the tip of his sneaker. “Hi, Geno.”

“I’m just at your house, want to see you,” Geno says, and he’s laughing again but this time at the both of them, how ridiculous and dramatic they’re being. Geno only came home because he’s hungry. Would they both have stayed there all night? Would Sergei have let them, laughing at them? The answer is likely yes.

“Oh,” Sidney says. He shakes his head again, grinning ruefully. “We’re still the worst, aren’t we?”

“No. Best. Very best. Want come inside? I’m really kick Gonch out, he’s too old anyway, eats all my food.”

“That’s okay,” Sidney says, and he hesitates long enough for Geno’s stomach to start to sink before he soldiers on. “Will you go somewhere with me?”

“Back to Paris?” Geno blurts out, just to hear Sidney snicker and shake his head. “Closer?”

“Much closer,” Sidney tells him, giving him that small, hesitant smile again. “Promise. Come on.”

“Fine,” Geno says, pretending to drag his feet even as his stomach trembles with excitement.

In Sidney’s car, nerves add to the trembling and Geno finds himself fidgeting, watching them head back into the city and wondering where they’re going. He still doesn’t care about Charlie, but he can’t help looking at how tightly Sidney’s gripping the bottom of the steering wheel, how tense his shoulders are, and he has to ask.

“Charlie here?”

Sidney shakes his head very quickly, a sharp jerk. He glances over at Geno and then lets out a deep, steady breath. His shoulders relax. “Well, he was. But he’s gone now. Like, really, really gone. Totally gone.”

Geno hears the finality in Sidney’s voice, the brisk, firm determination, and nods just as firmly. “Good.”

“Yeah?” Sidney asks, his voice breaking just a tiny bit. Geno nods again.

“Yes.” And then, because he hadn’t said it to Sidney enough all summer, and because Kuni’s not here, Geno says, “Fuck Charlie,” and feels like a 50 pound weight has been lifted when Sidney laughs, startled and pleased.

“Yeah,” Sidney says as his laughter dies down. He shoots a small, careful grin at Geno and then he puts his eyes back on the road. Geno grins out the window.

Sidney takes them near PNC Park, which surprises Geno. The sounds of a Bucs game floats around the streets, emptied into the ballpark, but he doesn’t think they have tickets, and Sidney confirms that by parking and then just walking them straight past the park and towards the bridge.

It’s already closed to cars in anticipation of the game’s end, so they walk in the middle of it until Sidney veers them off to the right and the bright yellow railing, close enough that Geno can see the padlocks wedged into the grating, hanging there. He realizes what Sidney’s going to show him before they even reach it, but he still follows Sidney to crouch down and look at the lock he plucks up and curls his hand around.

“Check this out, G,” Sidney says. He uncurls his hand and shows Geno the front of the lock. Geno leans in close to look at the scribbled writing and feels his breath catch.

There’s Sidney’s number, just like Sidney told him. But there’s also Geno’s, and Flower’s, and Jordy’s; Kuni and Duper and Tanger, all squeezed in and tiny in Sidney’s already cramped handwriting. “I lied before, when I said I just put mine on here,” Sidney tells him quietly, fingers tightening around the top of the lock. “I wanted it for all of us, you know? I wanted—this, all of this, to be ours forever, and for nothing to ever change. I needed to think it wouldn’t change.”

He rubs his thumb over the tiny number 11, his lips pressing into a frown. He lets the lock drop, wedging back into a yellow square, and Geno digs it out and holds it just as tightly as Sidney had.

“Understand, Sid,” Geno says lowly, searching out Sidney’s eyes and meeting them carefully. Sidney blinks at him, and Geno makes sure to keep his face open and honest, so Sidney knows he means it when he adds, “I like, you know? Want all of us here forever too. Want—be here with you always. You know.”

No matter what, they’d said, and Sidney gives him a small smile.

“I know, Geno. But—some things have to change, right? You can’t hope for no change ever because life doesn’t work that way. People leave, and other people come in, and you make it work in a different way. Or—maybe it doesn’t work. Maybe it’s just not right and it hasn’t been for a long time, so you have to be brave and end it. Even if it’s a really awful change and it hurts a lot.”

Geno takes a big breath. “Right. Charlie.”

“Charlie. And it’s—I’m not good with change, you know that. But sometimes I really fucking have to be. And now is one of those times because it was never going to work.” Geno nods carefully, mindful of the pain in Sidney’s voice, the palpable loss. Flower was right before—it’s only been a month, and maybe it’s a good thing Geno didn’t storm in and demand that Sidney let all that go for the sake of Geno’s heart, for the sake of their chance. Maybe some caution here wouldn’t be the worst thing.

“You helped me figure that out,” Sidney adds, and Geno feels his throat go dry.

“Yeah?” And when Sidney nods, Geno gulps down a shaky, wet breath, and then makes himself keep going. “Good. Because, Sid, I’m—for a long time, I care about you. More than I say. More than I’m even know. So I’m glad I—glad you not married. Sorry but glad. Happy that we—you know?”

“I know,” Sidney says. He smiles a little, and holds on to the lock in Geno’s hand, their fingers bumping in the tiny space. “I’m happy too. And, you know—guys leave and new guys come in and things change but—but we already said friends no matter what, right? So, whatever happens, we still have this. Right?”

He shakes the lock, not hard enough to dislodge Geno’s hand. Geno grips it tighter anyway, and nods very firmly.

“Right. Yes. Always have this, we promise each other. And we put it on locks so, good.”

“Right.” Sidney ducks his head. There’s crowd noise in the air again, the sound of the ballpark announcer, the river sliding on beneath them as Pittsburgh goes dark and the lights come up. And not one bit of it matters more than Sidney’s soft eyes, the careful tilt to his voice as he says, “I’ve got a lot of stuff to figure out, and I don’t exactly have a plan anymore, but—if we’ll always have this, we could try to figure some stuff out together, if you want to.”

Geno laughs, mostly at the if, but then at Sidney’s scandalized expression. He makes them stand up, dropping the lock and leaving it where it belongs but keeping his hand on Sidney’s, fingers loosely wrapped around his, glad for all the eyes on the Bucs.

“Okay,” Geno says, rubbing his thumb over the back of Sidney’s hand.

It’s Sidney’s turn to laugh, and he looks incredulous. “Okay? That’s it?”

“Waiting long time, Sid,” Geno says. He shrugs. “Don’t need say anything else. Okay. Why not?”

“Why not,” Sidney repeats. He swings Geno’s hand between them, then grins, hard. “Yeah, okay. Why not?”