Jack said no at first. “You’re not even in the Western hemisphere right now, are you? Aren’t you going to the Riviera or some shit, like usual?”
“I’ve got some time.” Sid’s voice buzzed a little. Too many satellite connections between Jack and Prague, probably. “I want to get some work started at the house, so I’ll be around for a week or so. You should come.”
“I’ve got… stuff,” Jack hedged awkwardly. He didn’t lie to Sid. Or he didn’t used to.
“Like legal stuff? Can you do it remotely? We have internet here, you know.”
“Pretty sure you don’t. You’ve got, like, Canadian geese. A pet moose. You get your groceries by dog sled.” At least the shit-talking was the same.
“It’s a good time,” Sid agreed. “So you should come out. Or, um.” Jack knew he wasn’t going to like whatever came next. “Do you want help with the plane ticket?”
There it was. “No, Sid, I don’t need you to fund my fucking plane ticket.”
A pause drew out. Idiot, Jack told himself. Sid was only trying to help, and look what you do. He doesn’t have to talk to you. He doesn’t have to give a damn about you. But Jack couldn’t get an apology around the lump in his throat.
Finally, Sid said, “So that means you’re coming?”
“Fine,” Jack snapped, sharp with relief and other things. Everything was sharp, these days.
“Cool. Text me when to pick you up.”
Right. Okay. So Jack was going to Nova Scotia, then.
Sid picked him up at the curb in Halifax. “Don’t get out, I can load my own gear,” Jack told him, but too late. Sid was already out of the driver’s side and halfway around the car, and when he got to Jack he folded him in a hug – a quick one, a slap to the back and already disengaging by the time Jack started hugging back, but that was a lot from Sid, in public.
The drive out was pretty, like Jack remembered it. He hadn’t been out in years, but he didn’t think Cole Harbour changed all that much. Maybe it was why Sid had been so comfortable at Shattuck in its tiny farm town of twenty thousand.
They drew up to the house. It was hidden away in the trees, but even from the drive it clearly was in excellent shape and big enough to house plenty more people than just Sid. Jack wondered what work Sid could possibly want done to it. “I thought we’d cook out?” Sid said. “Burgers?”
“No tomatoes,” Jack said reflexively.
From the deck, the lake was just visible through the trees. “Cheese?” Sid asked.
“Yeah.” Jack should’ve had something to say, here. About training or the house or Sid’s family or anything at all. He took another pull on his beer, to cover. He’d be drunk pretty fast at this rate. They’d never lacked for things to talk about before.
“That was a great run you guys had at the end there,” Sid said over his shoulder. “I don’t know if I like our chances against you guys next year.”
“Well, you do have trouble with the Metro,” Jack agreed.
“Asshole,” Sid said, without heat.
“But yeah, if we can stay in one piece, then maybe.” This, Jack could talk about. He looked at Sid, who used to know his every secret – girls he kissed. Guys he wanted to. One night after lights out, he’d admitted that one of those guys was Sid. He took another sip of beer, and he said, “That run - it’s been the one good thing, you know?”
“Yeah.” Jack picked at the label on the bottle. “Everything else this year – it sucked, man. Even hockey sucked for most of it. We were so freaking broken, man, you have no idea.” Sid threw a disbelieving look over his shoulder, and Jack amended, “Well, I guess you have some idea.”
“Fucking right,” Sid said. Jack didn’t think it was him Sid was swearing at.
Buttloads of injuries were not really a thing Jack wanted him and Sid to have in common. Asshole that he was, he found some comfort in it anyway. In at least this one thing, they were alike. Still. “But yeah. Record win streak and record loss streak. It was a hell of a season. We kicked your asses, though.”
“Some of the time,” Sid said, like some meant three times out of four in this universe. Jack sipped his beer this time just because he wanted it, because Sid’s taste in beverages wasn’t completely shitty, and he chirped Sid right back.
The shadows were long by the time they’d finished and cleaned up. “Go for a walk?” Sid asked, and Jack shrugged. He followed Sid down past the dock and onto the beach. A breeze kicked up, cool, reminding Jack that winter wasn’t so far gone from this part of the world. Rocks slipped underfoot. Soon they ran out of beach and rocks both, but Sid led the way to a dirt foot path. “We got so much snow last winter, people were riding snowmobiles along here. It was crazy.”
Jack hummed a reply. He had the beginnings of a buzz, just enough to loosen up a bit – looser than he’d been in a long time, it felt like, though God knew there’d been nights he’d drunk plenty more than this. It was a Sid effect, maybe.
They came to a point overlooking the lake just as the sun was casting its last rays on the trees on the far side. It gave them a burnished look, like maybe that was a different kind of country over there, like maybe they weren’t familiar pines and firs at all.
Columbus definitely didn’t have anything like this, with or without moose.
Jack and Sid stood side by side, looking out over the water, and Sid said, “I’m sorry. About your parents.”
Jack shivered. “Yeah, well.” He waited for Sid to say something else, more awkward, worse, but Sid just stood there with his hands in his pockets. After a while, it occurred to Jack to add, “Thanks.”
Sid shifted just close enough to brush his arm against Jack’s. Tears gathered in a lump in Jack’s throat, like they had so many other times this year. Every time he thought he was over this part - or at least in control of it - something else happened and then here he was, in what might as well be the prettiest place on Earth, trying not to bawl his eyes out like a little kid. He swallowed hard. “I just feel so fucking stupid, you know?”
“They’re your parents,” Sid said, like that was reason enough. Jack took in a harsh breath. Sid shifted over another few inches, so they were shoulder to shoulder, and he stayed there while Jack blinked the tears out of his eyes and swallowed a few more times and finally felt like he could talk again without his voice cracking.
“Thanks for having me up,” he said.
“Yeah,” Sid said. “For sure.”
It was nearly dark when they got back – really dark, like it got out here, away from the city. Sid hesitated with his hand on the door. “The guest bedroom’s made up,” he said.
There was a question buried in that statement. The calculus it’d take to answer it was beyond Jack tonight. “Sounds good,” he said.
Sid had handymen over in the morning - to make a shitload of minor improvements, which Jack would have known if he’d given it any thought. Leave well enough alone wasn’t in Sid’s vocabulary.
While Sid was busy with them, Jack spent the morning in Sid’s personal gym. The treadmill faced Sid’s framed series of Stanley Cup-winning captains. There was space next to Toews for a photo of Fliggy, and that was a nice, comfortable, familiar thing to focus on as Jack worked up a sweat.
Sid came down after a while and warmed up. They spotted each other through the weights. “It’s nice having someone here for this,” Sid said. “I stick to squats and lunges and shit usually.”
Jack fell out of his headspace with a crash. Was Sid trying to make like having Jack up wasn’t a giant favor? Like Sid hadn’t very probably rearranged his summer schedule for it? Was he saying thanks because it was ingrained? Was he just making conversation?
Fuck, Jack hated the inside of his head these days.
Sid broke into Jack’s thoughts. “I was thinking maybe take the boat out? We could bring lunch.”
Lunch was leftovers from the cookout, eaten cold and washed down with beer. The boat rocked gently beneath them, and a breeze off the water brought a chill, despite the sun overhead. Jack swallowed the last of his burger and zipped up his fleece. “Too cold for this, man.”
Sid just grinned, cheeks pink with that same chill. “Hey, you should put some of this on,” he said, tossing Jack a tube of—sunscreen, it turned out.
“Seriously?” Jack hunched his shoulders inside his fleece.
“You’ll burn. You’ll burn so bad.” Sid said this like it was clearly the most hilarious possible result.
Jack huffed, but he didn’t actually want to go back to Columbus looking like a tomato. He squirted some onto his hands anyway and rubbed it over his face and around the back of his neck.
“You missed some,” Sid said. He tapped his cheekbone. Jack lifted his fingers and rubbed. He saw Sid’s moment of indecision, and then Sid scooted over. Carefully he lifted Jack’s sunglasses from his face. He swiped across Jack’s cheek with his thumb. Hand still poised, he looked Jack in the eye, and he waited.
Somewhere underneath, Jack had known since he’d first taken Sid’s call that they’d end up here. Whether that was good or bad, he had no idea. He’d never really known – it didn’t seem worth determining. They were Jack and Sid, and that was enough, or had been.
He leaned across those last few inches anyway. Pressing his lips to Sid’s felt like an exhale, like letting go. Sid cupped Jack’s jaw, his thumb brushing Jack’s ear, and Jack ran his fingers up Sid’s side, over the swish of his windbreaker. Underneath it, Sid was warm and solid and immovable, and Jack clutched at Sid, because Jack was none of those things anymore.
Sid pulled back just far enough to look Jack in the eye. “You wanna head back to the house?”
“What are you saying, Crosby? You don’t wanna fuck out here on this nice warm lake in the sunshine?”
The edge of Sid’s mouth curled. “Not where the neighbors can see.”
It didn’t take long to get back to Sid’s side of the lake and dock the boat, but there was still plenty of time for Jack to think. He wasn’t exactly sorry to get back inside where his fingers could warm up – yes, Sid, he did remember Minnesota winters, and the memory didn’t make him any warmer – but then Sid headed for the stairs with a glance back to make sure Jack was following, and Jack just—didn’t.
“I didn’t come here for a pity fuck.” Jack tried to keep his voice level. It didn’t really work.
Sid turned. He gave Jack a long look, face unreadable – and unreadable was better than sympathy, so Jack would take it. “I didn’t ask you here to give you one.”
“Then why?” asked Jack, pathetic and miserably aware of it, but unable to keep the words in. “Why did you ask me here?”
Sid approached cautiously. “Because you’re my friend?”
“You don’t sound very certain.”
“I’m pretty certain.” Sid reached out and rested a hand on Jack’s arm – not holding or tugging, just resting.
Jack looked down at it, at the skin across Sid’s knuckles gone a little raw from the cold breeze. “If all that shit hadn’t gone down, you wouldn’t have asked me here.”
Another of those little pauses. They gave Jack time to breathe; he couldn’t seem to do it when either of them was speaking. Then, Sid asked, “You remember that time you tried to take on a whole baseball team for me?”
“I wouldn’t have asked you here if you hadn’t done that. Or let me cheat off you in algebra. Or listened all those times I called you when I was all fucked up about Courtney that one year. Or blew me that first time at Shattuck.”
Sid’s knuckles blurred in Jack’s vision. He took a breath, trying to get control of himself again, but it was shaky and no good. He leaned into Sid, because Sid was right there. Sid put a hand on Jack’s shoulder and squeezed. “I just can’t—I can’t help but think, how much of a fuckup do I have to be, that they’d do that to me?”
Sid pulled Jack into his arms and held him while Jack dripped hot tears on Sid’s shoulder. After a while, Sid tugged him over to the couch, and Jack let Sid sit him down on it and hold him some more.
Eventually the tears eased up a little, by which point Jack was a mess of snot and couldn’t breathe through his nose. Sid got up and came back with tissue, and Jack cleaned himself up as much as he could. “Sorry,” he said.
“Well, I did ask you up here to cry all over my shirt, so.”
“Asshole,” Jack said weakly, shoving Sid in the arm. Sid shrugged, unrepentant.
They sat peaceably for a few minutes while Jack tried to sniffle his nose clear. Sid’s arm was a present heat along the back of the sofa.
“It’s been a while,” Sid said.
Jack twisted see what Sid meant. Sid looked steadily back. “Since…?”
“Since we hung out, or whatever. We played games against you guys—”
“—which we won,” Jack said automatically.
“Some of which you won. But we didn’t really text that much, and I called a few times, but you weren’t around.”
“Oh.” A lot of texts had piled up on Jack’s phone in the past eight months, a lot of voicemails gone unanswered. “Sorry, I wasn’t—I haven’t been that great a friend recently.”
Sid shrugged away the apology. “I’m just saying, I haven’t seen a lot of you lately. I know you’ve been having a rough time, and that was part of it, but—” He lifted a shoulder and let it fall. “I just wanted to hang out. That’s why I asked you. That’s all. No, like, ulterior motives.”
Jack scoffed. “Everyone’s got motives, man. Everyone wants something from you or wants to help you – it’s always something.” If ever he’d learned a hard lesson, that was it.
“Believe me, I know.” And yeah, he was Sidney Crosby – he probably did. Jack would grant him that. “But—it’s not always true.”
Jack would have scoffed some more, but there was Sid, peering at him, open and earnest and so fucking sincere. Belief trickled through Jack. He kept looking, and the belief began to soak in, water on a parched desert, seeping into crevices and crannies dry so long Jack had forgotten they’d ever held life.
If Jack didn’t do something, he’d get weepy again, and he couldn’t bear to cry one more fucking time. Instead, he leaned into Sid, and he kissed him. This time it felt less like falling and more like making a choice, and there was something heady in that that he didn’t have time or attention to examine. He took kisses from Sid’s lips; he chased after more when Sid pulled back.
“I just don’t want to kill our necks,” Sid said, shifting position until he had them both where he wanted them. His hand strayed across Jack’s thigh after a while, thumbing across Jack’s crotch and grinning against Jack’s mouth when he shivered. He pulled back again, this time to slip onto the floor and kneel between Jack’s open knees.
Jack tried to sit up a little. “You don’t have to.” The protest was instinctive. No, I’m fine.
Sid’s grinned widened. “But what if I want to suck your dick?” His eyes laughed and teased, glinting with that peculiar, specific joy Jack had never seen in anyone else’s.
It was impossible not to want to smile back. “Yeah, okay.”
Sid helped Jack get his jeans off and then his boxers, and there Jack sat on Sid’s game room sofa while Sid bent his dark head over Jack’s dick, just beginning to perk up, and took it in his mouth. God, Sid’s mouth. It’d been a long time Jack had had it like this. He gripped the sofa cushions to hold himself still; he whiteknuckled them when Sid hummed appreciatively around him.
Sid pulled off to work his jaw, and Jack came abruptly to his senses. “What the fuck, Sid, you can’t blow me. You’ll pull something in that titanium jaw.”
“No, I won’t,” Sid argued.
“I’m not fucking injuring you with my dick, douchebag. Get up here.”
Sid must have been hurting a little, despite his protests, because he crawled back up on the couch without further complaint. He slouched back for a minute, grinning at Jack and taking heavy breaths. Then he reached for Jack and finished him off a few minutes later, and when Jack recovered, he slipped his hand down Sid’s track pants and worked Sid until his breaths were short and shallow, cheeks flushed hot and eyes half-shut.
Jack paused a moment to savor that. So many people had so many pieces of Sid, but not this one. This one he kept for himself, and only a few got to see it.
It took just a few more twists of Jack’s wrist to get Sid there, coming on a sharp exhale.
They slumped together on the couch. Jack’s happy trail was sticky with jizz, and his hand, too, but Sid was warm next to him, and heavy, and real. Sid’s breath evened out. A sliver of blue sky was visible through the window curtains, and a bird darted across it as Jack watched.
“So,” Sid said. “I was thinking steak tonight. Maybe a salad?”
“No tomatoes,” Jack said.