“You want to specialize in what?”
“Hockey,” Sid says, and waits while his advisor chews ferociously at his moustache in thought.
“I can’t say I’d recommend it,” Dr. Whitmer says finally. “Ice is tricky. You’re good enough to be making six figures doing wards for a pro football team within two years of graduation, you know that?”
He doesn’t twitch, and Dr. Whitmer shrugs. “Well, that’s your choice. But not many people have the knack for working magic on the ice.”
“That’s okay,” Sid says. “I do.”
He graduates from CMU with a degree in sports magic, a 4.0, and a job offer from the Pittsburgh Penguins.
His parents go quiet on the phone when he tells them. Sid knows that they worry, but it’s been ten years. He’s done grieving.
When Sid was twelve, he lost eighty percent of the vision in his right eye. A stray puck hit him in the face at the end of practice one afternoon, and nobody could prove that it wasn’t an accident; he wasn’t wearing his helmet because he’d thought everyone else had already cleared the ice, and the other boy had only been messing around.
They were, the coach said, just children.
A good surgeon could fix a lot, but no procedure is perfect. They told him he’d always be a little slow to follow a puck, and Sid was so sure he was going to prove them wrong that he didn’t even protest. He’d get better. It was hockey.
Besides, it wasn’t as if he couldn’t play at all. He didn’t need to see the puck to stick handle, and he was still fast on his skates.
But the doctors weren’t wrong.
He’s supposed to begin work in September, but the Penguins call him in early when it turns out that Evgeni Malkin is coming over from Russia - or maybe ‘fleeing’ is a better word for it. Coach Therrien doesn’t seem to know the details, but it’s pretty clear that however Malkin’s getting to Pittsburgh, it’s not entirely legal. They wouldn’t need Sid otherwise.
“Metallurg had his passport,” Therrien says over the phone. “And when they had to give it back so he could travel with the team, it’s likely that they took - ah, other precautions.”
Magical precautions, he means. They’re practically sanctioned in the Superleague these days, though it’s not like North American hockey has any room to point fingers. Sid grew up a Habs fan; he knows from curses.
“I can take care of it,” Sid says.
“I hope so, kid.” Therrien’s sigh is a weary thing. “I’ll be honest with you. We really need Malkin to work out.”
“He’ll be skating with the team by training camp,” Sid promises, and means it.
Malkin arrives in Pittsburgh at 5:45 PM on a Thursday. Sid gets the call at 6, and by the time he’s pulling into what is, frankly, the most terrifyingly massive driveway he’s ever seen, another car is already parked by the front door.
God. Maybe it’s not too late to turn around.
Then the door swings open. “Dad, I think he’s here!” A brown-haired boy stares skeptically at him. “Are you the magic guy?”
“Austin, manners,” Mario Lemieux scolds - THE Mario Lemieux, Sid thinks wildly. Le Magnifique is intimidatingly tall, towering over Sid and Austin both, and his face is lined with stress, but when he extends his hand, his smile is genuine. “Nice to meet you, Sidney. Thanks for doing this on such short notice, come on in and we can get started.”
“Right,” Sid says, with more composure than he feels. He just shook hands with a back-to-back Cup winner. Who cares what the Russians are going to throw at him?
The living room is as proportionately massive as the driveway. He can hear the soft sounds of conversation filtering through the walls, but when they walk in, the two men on the sofa stop talking and turn towards them.
“Sergei, Evgeni,” Mario says smoothly. “Meet Sidney Crosby. He’ll be the team’s magical specialist starting this season. Sidney, this is Sergei Gonchar and Evgeni Malkin.”
Sid waves awkwardly. “Hi.” Gonch grins back - Sid’s heard he’s a pretty nice guy - but Malkin shoots to his feet, looking unhappy.
“Zhenya,” Gonch starts, confused, but Malkin cuts him off with a stream of harsh Russian.
So that’s how Sid finds out that in the very traditional town Malkin’s from, male witches are considered to be bad luck, and nobody sees one unless they have no other choice.
“Well,” Mario says after a moment. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to go make some phone calls.”
“Of course,” Gonch replies, but he doesn’t even wait until Mario’s left to round on Malkin with a scowl.
They argue back and forth for several minutes. Malkin’s still crackling with energy, tense and upset, and he keeps flinging out a long arm to gesture emphatically at the corner where Sid’s standing.
Needless to say, this is not how Sid wanted his first meeting with Mario Lemieux to go.
Finally, Gonch seems to have had enough. He snaps something at Malkin that makes him fall silent, and turns to Sid with a sigh. “I am sorry about Zhenya. He is not normally this stupid.”
“It’s okay,” Sid says, because it’s not Gonch’s fault that Malkin’s acting like a child.
Mario pokes his head into the room. “Sidney, do you mind if I speak with Sergei and Evgeni in private? Nathalie’s making coffee in the kitchen, if you’d like some.”
Sid is vaguely horrified by the thought of drinking coffee in Mario Lemieux’s kitchen, but it’s that or lurk outside the door until he’s told to go away. He wanders around the first floor until he sees a blonde head of hair that matches the family photos hanging on the walls.
Mrs. Lemieux – “Call me Nathalie, dear” – makes him the promised cup of coffee, but she also feeds him a huge helping of stuffed peppers, topping it off with a slice of the single best cheesecake he’s had since coming to Pittsburgh. By the time she’s done, he hasn’t forgotten why he’s here, but he’s no longer feeling quite so off-balance.
The thing is, Pittsburgh has no shortage of witches, but the Pens are one of the first teams in the league to integrate full-time magical personnel. At least for now, most of the NHL still relies on short-term magical contracts; in practice, this means that very few witches train to work exclusively in hockey. Mario’s not going to be able to find someone more qualified than Sid.
“Now, this is just temporary,” Mario soothes. “But I don’t want you getting injured before the season even starts because we didn’t have you checked over.”
Gonch translates, adding an unsubtle elbow to the ribs when Malkin doesn’t respond.
“Yes. Thank,” he mumbles.
“Wonderful,” Mario says, with the kind of placid satisfaction that comes from years of running herd on twenty-odd young men just like Malkin. “I’m sure you’re tired from traveling, but perhaps the two of you could set an appointment – Sidney, would you rather see him at the rink, or would you be willing to make house calls?”
Sid considers it for a moment. Malkin is sullen and probably going to be uncooperative away from his new coaches, but if the Magnitogorsk witch was smart, she laid down spells on his stuff in addition to whatever she put on Malkin himself.
“House would be better,” he decides. “Uh – where…?”
“I’ll give you my address,” Gonch interrupts. “Just let me know when you’ll be coming over.”
“Sure,” Sid says. “The sooner, the better, right?” Mario nods. “Then, tomorrow?”
“Saturday,” Gonch says, shaking his head. “I’ll be surprised if Zhenya doesn’t sleep straight through the next twenty-four hours.”
“Thank you again, Sidney,” Mario says, and shakes Sid’s hand for the second time that evening. In a little corner of Sid’s mind, the four-year-old boy who watched Le Magnifique hoist the Cup is having the best day of his life. Gonch shakes his hand too, but Malkin doesn’t offer, and Sid doesn’t insist.
The Gonchar home is quiet when Sid drives up in his junker of a Nissan on Saturday morning. There’s a month left until the first preseason game. It’s not a lot of time, but Sid’s never had a problem with pressure.
Gonch greets him with a cheery, “Morning. You need me around to translate?”
“Not today,” Sid says. “Just want to get a feel for what’s going on, maybe knock off a layer or two of the superficial stuff. All he has to do is sit there.”
Gonch snorts. “Yeah. Good luck with that.”
Malkin’s slumped in an armchair in front of the TV, watching Sesame Street with grumpy resignation.
“Hi,” Sid says, before he can think about it.
Malkin doesn’t move.
Well, fine. Sid’s never turned down a challenge in his life.
Malkin is staring at the puppet on the screen like he’s going to be facing it in a shootout, so Sid walks over until he’s right in front of the TV. Then he sits down.
Malkin glares. Sid glares back.
“You -” Malkin waves his hand frustratedly, a clear indication that he wants Sid to move.
Sid gives him his best ‘who, me?’ look, and Malkin actually growls. Whatever else he adds isn’t in English, but Sid’s guessing it’s not complimentary.
“I have to be able to see you,” he says. He’s not sure how much Malkin understands, but the part of Sid that hated every minute he spent being poked at by doctor after silent doctor won’t let him work magic on someone without telling them what he’s doing and why, even when that someone is Malkin. “I’m looking for things that’ll keep you from playing. You know,” and he wiggles his fingers and frowns exaggeratedly. “Curses.”
“Curses,” Malkin repeats, skeptical. “You - curse?”
“I break curses,” Sid corrects. “So if you want to play hockey, you’re going to have to deal with me. Okay?”
He’s found the right button to push. Malkin’s spine pulls straight, even if his eyes don’t lose their furious shine. “Da. Hockey.”
It’s the first thing they’ve agreed on so far.
“It’s bad,” he says, and Shero groans. Beside him, Therrien looks resigned, as if he’s already picturing a repeat of the catastrophe that was the Pens’ last season.
Sid purses his lips, trying to picture what he’d felt from Malkin. “They had more than a year to work on it. Most of it’s not even straight curse-work. They took all the good magic and turned it into an anchor, so that if he left…”
“It’s pulling him back to Russia,” Shero says.
“More or less.”
“Can you fix it?”
“Yes, but -”
“Sidney,” Shero says. “As long as it’s yes. We need him. Whatever it’s going to take.”
What it’s going to take is a whole lot of time. This is true even though Malkin came from Helsinki with nothing but hope and the handful of clothes he could fit in his carry-on. Sid knows what that’s like, wanting to play so badly that everything else seems irrelevant, but it’s not going to make much of a difference in this case.
Ripping out harmful magic is painful sometimes, but it’s the sting of removing a splinter - it feels better once it’s gone. Getting rid of the good stuff is harder. People tend to resist it even if they don’t mean to, and Sid gets the impression that Malkin isn’t going to make his job any easier. Unraveling the spells on him will be delicate work, fussier than nearly anything else Sid’s done since he came to Pittsburgh.
Although the thought of dealing with Malkin and his shitty attitude still gets his hackles up, he’s kind of looking forward to it. People think that because ice is so capricious, you need to be just as changeable to work with it, but it’s actually the other way around. You provide stability, and the ice will shape itself to be what you need. Sid’s good at that.
He hasn’t been formally introduced to the team yet - that’ll happen at training camp, when they’re all back from the offseason - but that hasn’t stopped some of the older Canadians from more or less adopting him on sight.
“Man, I thought Geno was going to throw a fit when the coaches told him he’d have to come in before practices to see you,” Army laughs. “Honestly, Crosby, what did you do to the guy?”
Sid’s prepping Colby’s sticks for taping, and he has to take a moment to finish his count before he can connect Geno with Malkin, longer still to come up with an answer that’s appropriately diplomatic. He settles on, “He’s very traditional.”
“So what? You some kind of magical hippie wild-child or something?”
“No,” Sid says, and goes back to tapping his fingertips over the curved blade of each stick, pressing a little harder every time he hits twenty. “Alright, you’re set.”
Army looks at him, kind and a little rueful. “Thanks. Whatever Geno’s issue is, don’t take it personally, eh?”
Sid gives him a tiny smile, but keeps quiet.
“Aha! Just the guy I was looking for.” Flower waddles into the room, half-dressed in his Under Armor and massive shinpads. His expression is far too innocent for Sid’s liking. They haven’t known each other for very long, but Sid’s already figured out what that face means: trouble.
The trick with goalies, like small children and overly exuberant dogs, is to be firm. “No, I will not take the wards off of Staal’s stick so that you can - can put glitter glue on it, or whatever else you have planned.”
“Crosby, Crosby, would I ever do something like that? You wound me,” Flower proclaims, and then his eyes narrow suspiciously. “How’d you know I wanted Staalsy’s?”
Sid sighs. “No, Marc-Andre.”
Flower makes a face. “Who haven’t you done yet, then?” he asks, running his hands over the rack of sticks still waiting for Sid to get to them. “Ooh, Free Candy.”
“Your funeral, man,” Army says. “He’s gonna crush you like a bug.”
“Out of my office,” Sid snaps. “Both of you, now.”
“Come on,” Flower protests, but Army chuckles.
“Nah, let’s leave the creature to his lair.” His eyes widen in gleeful realization. “Ooh, Creature.”
Flower punches his arm and says, “Stop giving the kid awful nicknames or he’ll never help me.”
Still snickering, Army wraps one arm around Flower’s neck and drags him away.
“Thank you,” Sid grumbles to the empty room, and goes back to work.
Malkin shows up half an hour late the next morning, wearing sunglasses and what Sid is quickly beginning to think of as his customary scowl. His hair looks as if it hasn’t seen a comb in days.
“Are you seriously hungover right now?” Sid blurts out, and is immediately horrified at himself, but - it’s fine, he thinks. Malkin doesn’t understand him anyways.
He points at the table, and Malkin lies down, not bothering to remove his shades before he promptly appears to fall asleep. He’s snoring gently, mouth half-open; his breath, when Sid takes a cautious sniff, doesn’t smell like he spent the last night drinking.
Unwillingly, Sid thinks about being seven, ten, twelve, so tired after practices that he’d fall asleep in the car and not wake up even when his dad carried him inside the house. Malkin’s given up everything for the chance to play Penguins hockey. Sid might not like him much - fine, Sid doesn’t like him at all - but he can respect that.
He has to shake Malkin awake a couple of times at the end of the session, but it doesn’t surprise him when Malkin leaves without so much as a ‘thank you’. He’s probably worried about Sid’s bad luck messing up his game, and the players who don’t occasionally let their on-ice problems make them snappish and rude off of it are, quite honestly, in the minority.
He hopes that in a different life, he’d have been like those guys, the Béliveaus and Selannes and Datsyuks of the world. (In this one, Sid spent the summer after high school making coffee for disgruntled suburbanites at his local Timmy’s. He’d already learned what it was like for his life to be more than hockey.)
Still, he loves what he does. Malkin’s reticence doesn’t change the fact that Sid’s a part of something bigger, something with the potential to be great. He makes just enough to cover rent and food and the iPhone Taylor guilted him into buying when he told her he was moving to Pittsburgh, but he’s happy.
Even though camp doesn’t officially start for a few weeks, nearly half the team is in Pittsburgh already. As the rest of the players trickle back in ones and twos, Sid only gets busier. The only constant is the hour he spends each morning with Malkin.
He gets rid of the easy curses first, sweeps away the handful of hexes that dull skate blades and snap laces. Then he starts in on the years of protections and blessings laid into Malkin’s skin. They’re tough with the weight of every game played on Russian soil, twisted by bitterness into something dark and malignant.
Even so, Sid should be well past the point of being able to lift the warped spells. But every time he tries Malkin pushes back, keeping him from getting close enough to even see the tangle of magic.
He knows that if he asks, Malkin would deny it, and Sid should be able to do his job regardless - but it’s driving him nuts.
Sid doesn’t even realize how much he has left to do until the first time Malkin has a meeting with management, checking in on his progress. They try to show him a draft of his contract, and the instant he touches the papers Sid can feel the magic yanking at Malkin’s heart all the way from across the building. Sid’s sprinting for the conference room before Shero even starts shouting his name.
The tug of the curse is already fading when he arrives, but Malkin looks wrung-out, head tipped forward as though he’s struggling to stay awake. Sid’s suspected for a few days that the spells are draining Malkin’s energy, punishing him for every step towards being a Penguin. He just can’t see how.
“I don’t think I need to remind you how important this is,” Shero says, and Sid tries not to flush under his disappointed gaze. “If he can’t touch the goddamn contract -”
Malkin, slumped in his chair, mutters something to Gonch.
Gonch frowns and whispers back, but Malkin seems to insist, and after a brief moment, the older man caves. “Zhenya’s concerned that the original magic might be too complicated - beyond the capabilities of a younger witch.” He pauses and asks Malkin a question, gets a begrudging head shake in response. “Though he also says that he’s no longer having difficulties with the minor curses.”
Shero purses his lips. “Finding another witch with more experience in hockey-specific magic is difficult, but obviously we’ve been making every effort to do so. We’ll put out the notice to other teams that we’d like to fly in one of their regulars if that’s what needs to be done.”
They can bring in as many witches as they want, Sid thinks furiously. It won’t matter unless Malkin actually wants the curse gone. He doesn’t say anything, but his anger must be apparent, because Shero turns to him.
“Sidney, this isn’t going to affect your employment as a member of this organization, but I need you to be honest with me, because I’m not feeling a lot of confidence right now. Are you going to be able to do this?”
“Yes,” Sid says. Even to his own ears, he sounds overly-loud, offended, and he forces himself to modulate his tone. “Yes,” he says again.
After a long pause, Shero says, “You’ve had a good track record so far. I appreciate that you’re willing to keep trying.”
Unsaid is the assumption that Sid isn’t going to succeed. He knows it’s Shero’s job to look out for the Penguins’ best interests, and it’s better they start asking other teams now, before training camp and preseason games begin.
But he doesn’t have to like it.
“I know you don’t think so, but I’m good at what I do.”
Malkin stops walking back to the lockers, and Sid’s trying to help but he doesn’t need this, not when Shero and Therrien and Mario Lemieux are counting on him, not when failure means so much more than looking bad in front of his bosses.
“I’m good at it,” Sid insists again, and catches Gonch’s eyes. “Tell him!”
Gonch seems faintly embarrassed about being caught in the middle, but he translates. Malkin looks startled, then disbelieving.
“Good?” he scoffs. “Three week I curse, good?”
“I’ve been working on it, but you’re obviously against the idea of me helping you,” Sid says flatly.
Malkin barely waits for Gonch to finish before he shouts, “Not fix! Вы даже пыта́етесь?”
Gonch says, “He wants to know if you’re even trying.”
Oh, that is it.
Sid’s always been better at attacking than defending, anyways. He closes his eyes, finds the gnarled tangle of loyalty and betrayal and guilt that Malkin carries in his chest - and rips.
He knows where the spells are vulnerable from days of trying to coax them to loosen their grip, but he’s not coaxing now. One by one, he finds those weaknesses and goes after them with brute force. It’s working, too - he can feel the magic lifting off of Malkin in waves as he shreds through layer after layer, and underneath -
“No,” someone snarls, and Sid feels two broad hands on his chest an instant before he gets shoved backwards and loses his balance, falling to the floor.
Malkin is standing over him, panting. His hands are outstretched; as Sid watches, he balls them up into fists and spins on his heel.
They leave Sid sitting on the floor, Malkin stalking off while Gonch peppers him with concerned questions. Sid’s not hurt, but he feels dazed as he returns to his office, finishes up the paperwork he had been working on, and drives home.
That was stupid. Malkin probably thinks Sid went nuts and tried to attack him. He imagines he’ll be getting a call from the Pens any minute - or worse, their lawyers, charging him with assault on their star player - but his phone stays silent. Finally Sid hides it on the other side of his apartment so he can’t keep staring at it. He doesn’t sleep well.
When he wakes up, going to the IceoPlex is pretty much the last thing he wants to do, but if they haven’t fired him yet, maybe he can salvage the situation. Security accepts his pass without question when he drives in, and nobody stops him on the way to the office, but the hour comes and goes with no sign of Malkin.
When Max Talbot clomps by his open door, Sid goes after him. “Sorry, you haven’t seen Malkin today, have you?”
Max doesn’t even turn around, much less stop walking. “No.”
Great, Sid thinks. He should have expected this - hockey players are terrible gossips. Forget the rest of the Pens; half the Russian players in the NHL probably know what happened by now. He’s half-grateful, half-worried when Army still comes by for his routine equipment prep, but the older man just shakes his head.
“Remind me not to get on your bad side, Creature.”
“I didn’t -” Sid starts, before he remembers that he really did. “Malkin thought it wasn’t getting fixed fast enough.”
“Look,” Colby says. “I’m not an expert in magic or anything, okay? Maybe you were doing what you thought was best. I’m just saying - the way Malkin’s acting, that’s not how he saw it.”
Which - well. Sid might not want to, but he knows what he has to do.
For a guy who’s the size of a tree, Malkin is surprisingly difficult to track down.
Sid can’t spend the entire day roaming the halls and lying in wait outside the locker room, of course, and Malkin obviously knows his schedule. Plus Fedotenko and Gonch - and Talbot too, he suspects - are running interference, popping up to distract him every time Sid gets close. Nobody’s that curious about the magical side-effects of changing jersey numbers.
Some of the guys seem sympathetic - Colby, obviously, and Flower and Tanger both smiled encouragingly at him when he had to leave his post outside the lockers yet again. The rest of the team is hanging back, apparently willing to let this play out without getting management involved. That’s more than Sid could have asked for. He’s trying.
By the end of the week, though, he’s getting desperate. On Thursday, Gonch actually puts an arm out to bar his way while Malkin makes his escape. Sid nearly groans when Malkin disappears around the corner. “But I just want to tell him that I’m sorry.”
“That’s nice,” Gonch says coolly. “If Zhenya decides he’s willing to hear it, you’ll know.”
“Oh, cut the kid some slack, Gonch,” Duper calls.
“You didn’t see what he did,” Gonch snaps back.
Sid watches them glare at each other with rising dismay. The Pens bring him in to solve problems, and instead he manages to create new ones. Fantastic.
“No, I know,” he says hurriedly. “I shouldn’t have, but - look, will you at least let him know that I’d like to apologize?”
Gonch inspects him narrowly. “Don’t expect any miracles.”
Believe me, Sid thinks. I really won’t.
Which is why he forgives himself for gaping like an idiot when his door swings open promptly at 9AM the next morning to reveal Malkin standing on the other side. That Malkin is actually smiling at him goes beyond improbable and into the realm of surreal, and Sid just stares as Malkin shuffles into the room uninvited.
“I Penguin,” he announces without preamble.
“What?” But even as he says it, Sid’s mind is flipping through the possibilities, and coming up with -
“Yesterday. I Penguin.”
“You signed? You - you were able to sign the contract?” He mimes a signature in the air; Malkin’s vocabulary doesn’t extend that far yet.
Malkin nods, grinning a little like he can’t help himself, but he sobers quickly. “I,” he starts, and then chews on his lip for a moment. Sid tries not to feel as though the events of the past few days are a particularly vivid hallucination, but that impression only gets stronger when Malkin continues, “I want thank. For Penguin.”
“Don’t.” Malkin blinks, but the words are still pouring out of him. “No, look, I owe you an apology. What I did to you wasn’t right. I promised myself I’d never do that, using magic without you saying it was okay, and - and just because I was pissed doesn’t mean I should break that promise. You didn’t deserve it, and I’m sorry.”
Malkin looks as if he understood one out of every ten words, but he meets Sid’s gaze seriously. “Sorry?”
Sid doesn’t look away, though the lingering shame of what he did makes him nauseous. He nods. “Sorry.”
“Okay,” Malkin says. “Sorry.”
So Sid doesn’t lose his job.
He’s back to being careful with Malkin, though. It’s less urgent now that he’s torn away so many of the bad protections - or at least, management seems to think so - but he has two matching bruises as a reminder of what happened the last time he overstepped.
And he knows, now, what Malkin was keeping safe. Why he was pushing Sid away. Underneath the magic, the accusations of being a traitor to team and country, Malkin’s heart shines with raw, brilliant love. Sid saw glimpses of it - the pride of wearing Russian colors for the first time (every time), the ache he feels when he remembers his parents’ home in Magnitogorsk.
The protection spells feed off that love, hooked into Malkin’s soft heart, but Sid can’t take that from him. He just has to go slow, work the magic out piece by piece.
Sid doesn’t think he’s imagining the way Malkin seems lighter after he’s finished for the day. No matter what Magnitogorsk’s witch did, Malkin doesn’t have to give up his home to be a Penguin. Sid’s going to make sure of it.
And, okay - he’s kind of looking forward to Shero’s face when Sid tells him that Malkin will be ready to play in the first preseason game.
(Sid is, in fact, very good at what he does.)
Whatever the Pens are paying Malkin, it isn’t enough. Every time he takes another shift on the ice Sid can’t look anywhere else, because it’s clear why Shero and Therrien and the city of Pittsburgh have set their hopes on him. He’s incredible. It’s only a preseason game, but that doesn’t matter: Malkin is going to make things happen.
The fact that it’s the Flyers he’s decimating is an extra treat. The Pens are up by one at the end of the first period, and when Malkin grabs possession sixty seconds into the next, slips an easy pass to LeClair through two d-men, it seems inevitable that they’ll only widen the advantage.
Except. As the puck leaves his tape, LeClair’s feet go out from under him without any warning. His shot goes wide. He falls, skidding uncontrollably towards the boards even as he struggles to rise. And Malkin - Malkin is distracted by the rebound, curving into a fluid arc around the net, and there’s a split second when the arena holds its collective breath, waiting to see if he’ll stop before -
he slams into LeClair and goes flying, crashing to the ice.
He doesn’t get up.
For a moment, Sid’s heart stops beating.
He’d have noticed if Malkin was still cursed. He’s sure of it.
But he watches on the screen as Malkin stays down for two, three, four minutes, and when they finally help him limp off the ice, Sid doesn’t call the trainers’ room to check his status. He doesn’t ask, when the Pens win the game and fill the room with subdued cheer - victory, at a cost - just gathers the equipment and retreats to the bus before the media descends.
“Bad luck about Malkin,” the driver says commiseratively when he clambers aboard.
“Yeah,” Sid says, swallowing hard. “Bad luck.”
That’s all it is.
“Two to four weeks for a dislocated shoulder,” Flower says, kicking his feet against Sid’s table. He’s been waging an ongoing campaign to get Sid to teach him runes, claiming that he wants to paint them on his posts and crossbar. Sid keeps refusing, on the grounds that it’s illegal (it is), runes won’t stop inanimate objects (they can’t), and anyways, Flower would only use them to ward someone’s stall so they can’t get to their clothes after a game (he really, really would).
“Geno. Dislocated shoulder. Shitty fucking timing, but that’s hockey, eh? At least he’s only missing the preseason.” Flower pats his cheek. “Stop making that face, Sidney, you’ll get stuck that way.”
“I’m not -”
“You are,” Flower says. “It’s okay, I’m a goalie. I notice these things. Probably at least one or two of the guys haven’t figured out why you’re moping yet.”
“I’m not,” Sid says again, batting Flower’s hand away. He knows it hadn’t been his fault. It was an awful accident, but it was, after all that, only an accident.
Flower shrugs. “Whatever helps you sleep at night.”
“Sorry about your shoulder,” he says a few days later, when Malkin comes in to pick up a spelled no-contact jersey. The words sound awkward coming out of his mouth, but he’s pretty sure Malkin hasn’t spontaneously become fluent in English in the last week.
Malkin shrugs, lopsided. “Hockey.”
“Yeah,” Sid says. “That’s hockey.”
Malkin takes the jersey, but he doesn’t leave, rubbing the fabric between his fingers thoughtfully.
“I watched the game,” Sid says, just to fill the silence. “You played really well. Uh, good hockey,” he simplifies.
Malkin shrugs again. “Not score.”
“But you made some good chances. Like at the twelve minute mark, when you went glove-side? Esche got lucky, stopping that. You’re still overcorrecting for the smaller rink size when you backcheck, though, you have enough space to go out along the boards and leave the inner lanes to the d-men.”
“I backcheck,” Malkin huffs, and Sid flushes.
“No, sorry, I know. I just meant - sorry.”
“Hm. Thank,” Malkin says, waggling the jersey demonstratively.
Two days later, he’s back.
“Uh,” Sid says.
“Hockey,” Malkin says impatiently.
It’s really kind of incredible, Sid thinks, how Malkin can convey so many different meanings with a single word.
“Not really.” He means: not in the NHL.
“You say - backcheck.”
“Oh. Uh, yeah. Like -” He grabs a stick of chalk - he’s a bit old-school that way, prefers them to whiteboard markers - and shoves the papers on his desk off to the side so he can sketch out the shape of a rink on the wood. “Okay, so our goalie’s here, and our d-men - and when you come back you’re going like this, see, in where you could be covering more angles by going wide. The rink’s smaller, yeah, but if you’re fast enough you can actually take that space and block the lane.”
Malkin pokes his tongue through his teeth and studies the diagram intently, then steals the chalk. “Maybe think…”
Sid’s desk is grey with chalk dust by the time Gonch comes to collect his errant houseguest. Gonch only nods brusquely - he’s a d-man, Sid can’t fault him for his protectiveness - but Malkin leaves with a spring in his step and a cheery, “Bye, Sid!”
So that’s alright.
Malkin may have trouble expressing himself in English, but he has no problem at all arguing with Sid about hockey plays. Sid’s never seen anyone be quite so vehement with chalk-drawn arrows. After the first few days of Malkin dropping by to sketch out thoughts about the Pens’ powerplay, Sid invests in a whiteboard.
Then he starts bringing his laptop, because they might as well watch tape while they’re at it.
He puts his foot down at practicing faceoffs in the office, though.
“You’re going to fuck up your shoulder worse,” he argues.
“Not,” Malkin says.
“Evgeni -” Sid says, or tries to.
Malkin actually laughs out loud. “Stop, you hurt. Geno.”
“Put that stick down, Geno, or I’ll hex you myself,” Sid threatens.
Geno grins even wider. “Not.”
“I really will.”
Geno looks torn between fondness and amusement. “Sid good witch. Not hex.”
“Yeah, but I’m not going to practice faceoffs with you, either,” he grumbles. Geno eyes him speculatively. “And that’s final.”
“Physio say okay,” Geno declares, dumping a bag of pucks on his desk and smirking. “Faceoffs.”
Sid rubs his eyes. It’s been a long day. Ouellet managed to snap a stick in practice right where Sid had put his marker spell, and the resulting magical backlash screwed with all the wards on the arena. He’s been trying to settle the ice all morning, but Southpointe is more temperamental than Mellon, and it’s still not back to where it should be. Besides, it’s not as if Geno needs his help. He and Jordy were running repeated puck drops at center ice when Sid came up to the rink to evaluate the damage, working Geno back up to pre-injury speed.
“Just tired,” he says. Geno waits, expectant. “The wards are giving me a bit of trouble, that’s all.” He does his now-familiar gesture for magic.
“Ice empty,” Geno says. “We skate, you fix.”
“Oh, no, I couldn’t -”
“You fix,” Geno insists.
Sid usually kneels at the bench gate to cast on the rink itself, putting his hands on the ice and letting the spells skim out across its freezing surface. He’s never tried to skate his wards, though he knows that it’s theoretically possible.
Usually when he’s on the ice, he’s thinking about a different kind of magic.
“Maybe I can’t skate,” he says instead.
“You skate,” Geno tells him. “You Canada.”
“Canadian,” he corrects.
“I don’t -” He fiddles with his focus-charm, twisting the pendant back and forth, blowing out a breath. He can do this. “Alright. Fine.”
Growing up, this wasn’t the way Sid imagined he’d skate with the NHL.
But it’s not bad, either. Sid gets an extra pair of skates from the equipment room. Geno says, “I skate too,” so they lace up side by side on the bench while Sid thinks about the ice, about the pressure of his blades guiding it where he needs it to be, carving his will into it with every stride - and then, because he’ll talk himself out of it if he waits any longer, he steps onto the rink and pushes off, right-left-right to set the rhythm. He loses track of time to the magic, but every time he turns he can see Geno out of the corner of his eye, cutting his own lines, adding strength to Sid’s spells.
He’s not any less tired when they make their last, generous lap of the rink, but the discordant feeling of the upset wards has eased. There shouldn’t be any more mishaps at practice tomorrow. And he’s not as flat-out exhausted as he would be if he’d done the working alone, which: “Have you done that before?”
Geno pauses unlacing his skates to shoot him a puzzled glance.
“Help with magic,” Sid says. “Or skate magic.”
“Mama do at home,” Geno says eventually, after long enough that Sid wonders if he’s going to just pretend he didn’t understand.
It’s Sid’s turn to look questioning, and Geno’s face creases in frustration as he searches for the right word. “Skate пруд. Small...water?”
“Pond,” Sid supplies. “Your mom’s a witch?”
Geno nods, and Sid’s struck by a terrible thought. “Not - not Metallurg’s -”
“Mama do small magic,” Geno says quietly. “Safe. Happy.” He taps his own chest.
The protections, Sid thinks. The ones at the very bottom, the oldest and quietest ones that only remained because they’d been laid with such care. Those must have been Geno’s mom’s. Maybe they were the only thing he had from her when he came from Helsinki.
Even if he’s more or less gotten over his skittishness over having Sid doing magic for the team, Geno always looks reluctant every time Sid offers to cast on him. It’s just the usual stuff for health and luck that he puts on all of the guys, but this once, Sid thinks he gets it: some things, you can’t replace.
The regular season starting isn’t as big of a deal for the support staff as it is for the Penguins themselves. Everyone’s excited, of course, but the work of marking sticks and hauling medicine balls and scheduling interviews doesn’t change when the wins start to count for something other than morale - and they’re losing more than they’re winning. Sid had been too busy to even watch most of the home opener against the Flyers, though he knew it was a shutout when the triumphant roar of the Pittsburgh crowd made the whole building flare bright with energy.
Geno’s first game back is a home game too. Therrien confirms the lineup at morning skate, and Geno comes thundering down the hallway to Sid’s office, grinning like a lunatic, the instant he escapes the locker room.
“I play!” And then, slyly, “Now faceoffs?”
Sid snorts around a laugh. “No. Congratulations, please go away.”
“Fucker,” Geno says affectionately. The side effect of letting Max Talbot teach you English, Sid supposes.
“Seriously, G, I’ve got work to do.”
“Not score you goal,” Geno counters.
Maybe Sid should take off his jacket; he’s feeling kind of warm all of a sudden. “Doesn’t matter who you score it for,” he mumbles. “As long as you put some points up, eh?”
“Of course,” Geno says, mock-affronted, and finally lets himself be shooed towards the door. He leaves only slightly less noisily than he’d arrived, shouting, “Watch celly!”
The goal, when it comes, isn’t one for the highlight reels, but Sid leaps to his feet anyways, mirroring the crowd above. He’s waiting for the promised celly, but the screens only show the end of it, Geno’s return to the benches coming out of a familiar, spiraling glide -
It takes him a minute to realize, because he hasn’t seen the pattern before - he skated it. That spiral happens to be the first part of Sid’s wards, the ones he and Geno laid down over Southpointe a week ago.
He’s glad everyone else watching the game from the locker room is busy cheering the equalizer, because it means that none of them comment on the way Sid ducks his head to his water bottle, trying to hide his furious blush.
Geno’s goal is the only one that night, but while losing to the Devils isn’t exactly pleasant, it’s also not an excuse for the mood in the conference room the next morning.
Nor does it explain the grim-faced lawyers flanking Shero, one of whom slides a sheet of paper across the table. “This was faxed from Metallurg last night. They’re going to sue us and the NHL for signing Malkin while he’s still under contract with them.”
“Okay,” Sid says slowly. “I’m sorry to hear that?”
“We’re concerned about the possibility of magical reprisals,” Shero says, blunt.
Sid goes to pick up the letter and flinches back the instant he makes contact. He can’t help it. The magic on that unassuming piece of paper is nasty, and it’s only the echo of a curse, translated through electronics and ink. He braces himself and reaches again, gritting his teeth and pulling it close enough to read.
Shero, who’s been watching carefully, clears his throat. “I’ll take that as a yes, then.”
“It’s not really cursed,” Sid tells him. “But whoever Metallurg has working for them, she’s pissed. This wasn’t meant to hurt Geno, because he’s no good to them injured, but you might want to screen anything that goes to the front office.”
“The chances of Metallurg actually sending us hexes are slim,” Shero says. “But we’ll be careful. Thank you, Sidney, that’s all we needed.”
Okay, Sid thinks. Okay.
He hadn’t lied to Shero - Metallurg doesn’t want Geno hurt - but he’s not sure that they don’t want him hurting. Sid knows from experience how vindictive hockey players can be. And as any good Habs fan could tell you, management is no different.
He could warn Shero, and the Pens would bring in a security specialist, but - Sid doesn’t trust some unknown witch, one who won’t know how to work magic around ice and steel.
Which means it falls to him to keep Geno safe.
Sid takes three deep breaths, waiting for the panic to subside. Then he pulls out his whiteboard and starts drawing up a plan.
Geno’s still living with Gonch, which is a bit of a mixed blessing. It limits the places he’s vulnerable, but if Sid tells Geno he needs to ward the house, Geno will tell Gonch...and Gonch will almost certainly tell Therrien, or Shero, or even Mario Lemieux.
They won’t let Geno play if he’s cursed. Sid’s not going to let that happen.
Casting protection charms from a distance isn’t something he has to do very often, but he approaches it like he would any other problem: methodically. Having a routine has always helped him concentrate. Back in midgets, the more control he exerted over everything else, the fewer things there were that could affect his game. The same principle applies to magic as it did to hockey. At this point, frankly, he thinks of it more as a science than a superstition.
He eats spaghetti in the mornings and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at night, drinks three bottles of Gatorade to keep him going during the day (red, blue, and red again). One of Geno’s old jerseys becomes the focus for his spells, and every six hours he refreshes his warding circles, pacing clockwise and counterclockwise around it in eight alternating sets of seven, pouring power into a wall that even Magnitogorsk’s witch won’t be able to break.
Meanwhile Geno puts up points against the Islanders and Columbus in quick succession, and comes back swinging against the Devils with another two-point night. He’s on track to break records, and people are taking notice. To management’s delight, interest in the Penguins is growing with ticket sales, and it’s all thanks to Geno.
It doesn’t matter that Sid himself is dropping nearly a pound a day. It doesn’t matter that he’s not sleeping more than five and a half hours at a time, or that he feels stretched thin and fragile. He can’t anchor the wards to a location the way he does at the rink, which means he’s feeding them constantly from his own reserves, and he can’t put a hold on all his other duties for the team. Sid just spent four years in college. It’s not like he’s unfamiliar with running on caffeine and willpower.
(But he’s so fucking tired.)
It’s only until he knows Metallurg’s given up on hurting Geno. He can rest then.
The West Coast trip is what screws him up in the end.
The time difference means he has to wake up at 4 AM to renew the wards, creeping into the hotel bathroom so that he doesn’t disturb Stephane in the other bed. He’s woozy from the moment they get their scheduled wakeup call, and he nearly gets Whits’ and Army’s sticks mixed up when he’s doing prep during morning skate.
Keep it together, he thinks, but that’s easier said than done. The players all get to nap in the afternoon; Sid has to make sure that the Staples Center’s facilities aren’t hiding any magical surprises that could mess with his equipment charms before he runs back to the hotel to do Geno’s wards again before dinner.
He tells himself it’s paying off when Geno scores the game winner in overtime, but the locker room is so loud, and - fuck, it’s 1AM in Pittsburgh, meaning he needs to be doing the wards now, and he doesn’t have his focus.
So maybe Sid overcompensates, pushes everything he has left into healthy, protected, safe, ignoring the way his vision is getting blurrier.
Until, like flipping a switch, everything goes dark.
He wakes up on one of the trainers’ exam tables, blinking to clear the spots from his eyes. There’s a moment of confusion as someone lets go of his hand and the bodies around him shuffle, and then a man in a white coat looms over the table, looking supremely pissed off.
“I’m fine?” Sid tries.
“Dr. Kvitne, LA Kings,” the man introduces himself. “And you passed out,” he adds, clearly unconvinced. Fair enough; Sid wouldn’t have believed himself either. “I don’t count that as ‘fine’ in my athletes, young man, and I certainly don’t count it with you.”
Sid shrugs, trying for casual. “I’m just tired. I’ll be fine when I’ve slept a bit.”
“You know, I’ve worked with other witches before you, so I’m going to say this once, and you’re going to listen. Whatever extra spells you’re working, you need to stop before you compromise your ability to work magic at all.”
Sid had been set to protest that he couldn’t just stop any of his spells, but - “What do you mean?”
“You’re close to burnout. Another few days like this, and your body’s going to be so used to channeling power that the systems which let you intentionally regulate your magic will be too fatigued to function.”
“Okay,” Sid says blankly. “I’ll be careful.”
He needs to find Geno. Some of the Pens are still finishing up with the press in the locker room, but Geno’s conspicuously absent. They’ve got a free day in LA tomorrow. Maybe he’s left early to go out with some of the other young guys.
But Gonch catches his elbow on the way out of the room. “Hey, you should let Zhenya know you’re okay. He was worried.”
“Oh,” Sid says. “Yeah, sorry, I’ll do that. Is he -”
“He’s on the bus already. Jen took pity on him and didn’t make him do interviews.”
Geno’s sprawled out across two seats, but he stands in a flail of arms and legs when Sid clambers onto the bus. “Sid! You okay?”
“Yeah,” Sid says, feeling his throat close up. “But listen, can we talk when we’re back at the hotel? It’s important.”
It occurs to him on the ride back that he’s probably crossed a line. The “appropriate distance” warning is usually reserved for interns and the arena employees who don’t have to work one-on-one with the athletes, but the Pens staff are still expected to know how to separate personal friendships from professional responsibilities.
Sid...hasn’t done that.
They arrive at the hotel close to midnight, nearly 3AM on the East Coast, and as soon as Sid’s off the bus Geno looks him over and orders, “Sleep, we talk tomorrow.”
“No,” Sid says. “We need to talk now.”
“You sick,” Geno argues, using every inch of difference in their heights to glare intimidatingly down at him, but Sid refuses to be cowed.
“I’m not sick. Metallurg might try to hex you again, and I’ve been trying to stop them. That’s why I -” He tips his hand over to mime a collapse.
Geno makes a wounded noise.
“Not because of you,” Sid says hurriedly. “Because of the lawsuit. A lot of paperwork going back and forth, all you’d need to do is touch the wrong form or open the wrong envelope, and unless you were already warded, the Pens would have to scratch you.”
Geno stares at him for a handful of seconds before he can say, sounding shattered, “But you hurt. Why you do?”
Sid fidgets, uncomfortable. He could claim that by keeping Geno in one piece, he was looking out for the team’s best interests, but the simple truth is that Geno is more than the points he scores or the seats he fills. Geno is pushy, and funny, and everything that Sid isn’t, except for in the one way that matters.
Once, Sid loved hockey more than anything, and he lost it. He wouldn’t be able to stand watching Geno have his heart broken the way Sid’s was.
“I wanted you to be happy,” he says. “Playing in the NHL makes you happy. That’s all.”
“Only hockey, Sid,” Geno says roughly.
“It’s not only -”
“Only hockey,” Geno repeats louder. “Superleague is hockey. Pond hockey is hockey. Any hockey, I happy.”
Sid breathes out, slow and controlled. It’s not Geno’s fault that he doesn’t know better. “Look, just promise me you’ll be careful?”
“Sid be careful,” Geno mutters, and reels him in for a sudden, tight hug. “Promise.”
He can barely breathe with the way Geno’s crushing his rib cage, but Sid manages a nod. “Okay. I promise too.”
It’s not crossing any lines if Geno does it first, right?
The bad news is that the Pens start losing. The Sharks break Geno’s point streak. Sid’s half-tempted to start casting his wards again, because at least then they might win, but Geno’s been hanging around his office even more than usual. He would definitely notice.
The good news is that Geno’s been hanging around more than usual. At first it’s because he’s making sure Sid’s sticking to their promise, but as the losses extend from one game to three, then five, it’s as much for distraction as anything else.
He’s in a particularly foul mood on the flight back to Pittsburgh, sitting by himself with headphones on after the team failed to make more than a minor dent with their late rally against the Canes.
Sid sits in the aisle across from him and says, “Hey. A goal and an assist against the Sens isn’t nothing.”
“Lose,” Geno points out grumpily. Aha. Sid knew he wasn’t listening to anything. “Lose Sens, lose Canes. Lose Flyers too?”
“Only if you don’t quit sulking instead of focusing on how you can get better.”
“You worst,” Geno groans, but he takes his headphones off and lets Talbot and Recchi coax him into a game of Call of Duty. Sid’s willing to call that a success.
After their OT victory against the Flyers, carried on the back of one Evgeni Malkin, they’ve got two days’ rest before they start a homestand. Therrien gives the whole team the morning off, and the rink is quiet.
So Sid’s actually getting work done when the cheering starts. Unless he’s imagining things, it’s coming from the suite where all the execs and coaches have their offices.
There’s a lot of congratulatory back-slapping going on when Sid peeks into Hockey Ops. Linda, who sits at the front desk and schedules everything from dentist appointments to charter planes, catches sight of him and beams. “Oh, good, you’re here! We just got word - Metallurg’s injunction was denied.”
Sid stares at her. “So -”
“So,” her voice lowers to a conspiratorial whisper. “Mr. Malkin is going to play the rest of the season in the NHL! It’s not official yet, and we won’t announce it to the press for another day or two, but you worked so hard with him, you deserve to hear it from us first.”
Sid’s heart thumps once and then takes off on a breakaway.
“That’s great news,” he says, hearing the stunned tone in his own voice.
“Sidney!” Shero looks as pleased as Sid’s ever seen him; he even claps a genial hand on Sid’s shoulder when he gets closer. “I take it Linda told you that Geno's staying.”
“Yeah,” Sid says. “I’m glad to hear it.”
“Aren’t we all,” Shero says wryly. “And listen - I wanted to say that you’ve done a real nice job here. I think I speak for all of us when I say that I hope you’ll be sticking around with the Pens for a while.”
Sid knows he’s probably going red, but he thanks Shero with complete and embarrassing sincerity.
This is where he wants to be.
“Please control your feelings, Sidney, they’re getting all over the place,” Flower says before practice the next day.
Sid blinks at him. “I’m not doing anything?”
In answer, Flower just lifts his pads. Which are glowing. Oops.
So he hasn’t stopped buzzing since he found out Geno would be allowed to play the rest of the season with the Penguins; it’s a good sign that Magnitogorsk will lose the lawsuit entirely, and there’s no point in them sending any more hexes, because they have no legal claim on him.
Ha, Sid thinks at Metallurg’s witch. Take that.
He tries to focus during the rest of practice - they have another game tomorrow, after all - but he can’t stop himself from waiting outside the locker room until Geno steps out, hair still damp from the showers.
“Congratulations,” Sid says in a rush, giving Geno a quick hug before he can second-guess himself.
“Thank,” Geno says solemnly, eyes bright and focused on Sid, his smile so stupidly pleased that Sid has to return it. Neither of them are paying attention to their surroundings, and so they miss the clack of heels on concrete until a thickly accented voice calls,
Geno’s head flies up. “Sana?”
The woman approaching them is gorgeous. Her bright blue eyes remind Sid of being twelve and watching trailers for Charlie’s Angels on the hospital TV. She ignores Sid completely, which isn’t unusual, but when she brushes past to get to Geno, Sid’s magic sputters and pops.
Something is wrong.
Sid throws every bit of power he can call into a barrier, and shouts, “GENO, NO.”
Half the team comes flooding out from the locker room at his yell.
“Is G okay?”
Gonch elbows his way to the front of the pack. “Zhenya, what the hell is going on?” The woman turns and rattles off something in Russian, and Gonch’s eyebrows go up. “Zhenya?” Geno nods.
“Tell her to back off!” Sid demands wildly.
Gonch coughs. “She’s not here to hurt him.”
“She works for Metallurg!”
“Yes, I know,” Gonch says, voice dry. “She’s also his girlfriend.”
Sid drops the barrier.
According to Gonch, Oksana and Geno dated for two years while he was playing for Magnitogorsk, and she divorced her husband to be with him - just in time for Geno to start making noises about moving to the NHL.
Oksana shrugs and says something to Gonch. “He wouldn’t stay for her, and she wasn’t ready to give up her life in Russia for him,” Gonch narrates. “But the curses were just business. Metallurg offered her steady work, and Magnitogorsk is not a city with many opportunities. Without her husband’s money, if - when - Zhenya left her behind...”
The assembled audience looks skeptical. Sid doesn’t blame them; he’s half convinced that Gonch is making this up, or at least borrowing liberally from some Russian soap opera.
“Yeah, I’ll bite,” Recchi says into the silence. “So why the fuck is she here now?”
“She here fix,” Geno mumbles, and everyone swivels in his direction. He flushes at the attention. “I say Sid do.”
There’s a pause while everyone tries to parse that, except for Gonch, who shrugs and says, “Metallurg’s figured out he’s not coming back. She came to get rid of the remaining curses as a personal favor, except Sidney’s already gotten rid of all of them.”
“Fucking right he has,” Jordy says loyally.
Sid breaks. “Is she staying?”
Gonch asks, but Oksana shakes her head. Several of the guys sigh with poorly-disguised relief - nobody wants a powerful witch with a vindictive streak hanging around. Even though he’d prefer Oksana to be back across the Atlantic where she can’t do any more damage, Sid’s irrationally annoyed. Isn’t she Geno’s girlfriend? How could she not want to spend as much time with him as possible?
Oddly, though, Geno doesn’t look too upset. When they all proceed to the parking lot, he doesn’t make any moves to follow her to wherever she’s staying. He just walks her to a cab and lets her kiss his cheek with brief affection before she climbs into the car.
So maybe they’re not together anymore. Good riddance, as far as Sid’s concerned.
Then he notices that Geno hasn’t left. He is, in fact, watching Sid. Waiting.
“That was nice of her,” Sid offers begrudgingly. “It’s too bad she can’t stay in Pittsburgh, though.”
Geno frowns. “Why stay? She like Russia.”
“Yeah, but - don’t you miss her?”
“Um. Miss is like - you miss your mom’s cooking. Wanting something that isn’t there. Don’t you want to be with her?”
Geno’s headshake is emphatic. “We talk, think good not -”
“Dating?” Sid asks carefully.
“Yes, not dating. Miss Russia, but I want Pittsburgh, not with Sana.” He sidles closer, hesitant. “And I - miss Sid, too?”
Sid vows to tell his parents he wants Rosetta Stone for Christmas. They’d have a lot fewer translation errors if he could explain things in Russian. “No, you can’t miss me. I’m right here.”
Geno says, quiet but firm, “I miss. You say, ‘miss is want be with, not have’. I miss Sid.”
Oh, Sid thinks, and there’s a bizarre moment when he’s struck by the urge to giggle. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Then the moment passes, and the reality of what Geno’s trying to say sinks in. “Wait - you like me?” It comes out embarrassingly high and squeaky, like he’s one of Taylor’s friends talking about her first crush, and god, Sid's not even a teenager anymore.
Geno attempts to puzzle that out for the span of a half-second, then throws his hands up in the air. “English worst,” he huffs, and takes the two strides he needs to lean in and press his mouth to Sid’s.
It’s - well, okay. It’s not a great kiss, because Sid’s mouth is lax with shock and Geno’s hands are freezing where he presses them to the hinges of Sid’s jaw, but when Geno steps back, looking nervously for his reaction, Sid’s smiling so hard his cheeks hurt. “You like me,” he says again.
Despite the slow grin starting across his own face, Geno manages to scrunch his eyebrows expectantly.
“Oh,” Sid says, a deep and boundless joy bubbling up from somewhere in his chest. “Right. I missed you too, G.”
And then, because Geno maybe has a point about English, Sid tugs him back in for another kiss.
Five months later
“Okay,” Sid says. “You can look.”
Geno’s quick inhale when he opens his eyes makes all the trouble worthwhile. Sid’s been driving down to the cabin he’d rented every other day for a week, and the ice spreading across their private lake is thick and pristine even in the late April sun.
They could always skate at Southpointe, of course, but it’s not the same.
“We do bag skates now?” Geno says teasingly. “Want Flyers to win series?”
Sid mock-glares and says, “Well, if you don’t like it….” He moves to dispel the magic keeping the ice intact, and Geno is on him in an instant.
“Not say don’t like! Present from Sid, of course is best.” He smacks an obnoxiously loud kiss at the corner of Sid’s mouth. “See, I thank.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Sid laughs, and squirms out of Geno’s arms. “Come on.”
They chase each other back and forth across the lake a few times, but neither of them actually want Geno to start the playoffs any more worn out than he needs to be, and they end up just doing slow laps, talking about their favorite games and who they think will make the Russian squad at Vancouver next year.
Finally Geno pulls a face and says, “Enough talk about hockey. You see new Harry Potter movie with Taylor this summer?”
“Ugh,” Sid says with feeling. “Not if I can help it. Do you know how many people think that they want to be witches because of those stupid books?”
Geno laughs. “Little Sid not want magic like Harry?”
Sid tips his face up to the sunlight, closing his eyes. “Nah, all I wanted was to play hockey in the NHL. But I got hurt.” Geno makes a soft noise, but he doesn’t interrupt. “If I hadn’t been injured, though, I’d never have found out that I was good at magic - really good. I love being a witch. I love that I get to come to work every day and help give people hockey. If the Pens offered to sign me right now, I wouldn’t do it.”
Geno hip-checks him gently. “Why you not say?”
Sid shrugs and twines their fingers together. “I know it’s a lot. I wasn’t always okay with it, either.”
“Okay now?” Geno asks, still tentative.
“Yeah,” he says, and means it.
Sid has the job of his dreams, and a boyfriend who loves him. In a few weeks, he might even get his name on the Stanley Cup. His life isn’t what he used to want it to be - but it’s what he wants now.
He curls a hand around the back of Geno’s neck and kisses him as the first flakes start to fall from the clear skies.