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1. Gold

At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Sidney wins a gold medal and has sex. In that order.

The order is important to Sidney, because he doesn’t know if the sex would have happened without the medal. It’s that kind of sex, the kind he feels like he’s earned and feels good about after. He thinks the gold medal thing sort of fixes the less than idyllic parts of the circumstances: there is more alcohol and not as much privacy as Sidney had always imagined, and certainly more dick, but that’s all okay because the Olympics. He does what he had set out to do, makes his country and his team proud, and then he has sex. It fits.

Sidney doesn’t like to think about what ifs, anyway. There’s destiny, and then there’s how hard he works, and the truth is, he works hard for the gold and the sex comes after is just a natural part of that. He shows up at the Team Canada party and there are drinks pressed into his palm, hands slapped on his back, and he blinks at the room and thinks maybe I’ll have sex tonight and does not feel terrified, which just solidifies the possibility.

Okay, he doesn’t feel terrified then, but that comes eventually. He doesn’t think about this being the first time because that’s pressure, and he is determined not to feel pressure about sex. Sex is easy for everybody, it’s natural and it’s good and it will be good for him, Sidney knows.

With that in mind, he relaxes. He drinks more, at the insistence of everyone, and he laughs and does not shrug off the arms around him, though he sometimes twitches with the desire to. He talks to people and tries not to think too much, which is always his problem with people, really.

Tonight there is less to think about; everybody wants him there, even the older guys who hug him and growl in his ear, “It had to be you, eh?” Sidney doesn’t know what to say to that so for once he says nothing, grins and drinks and lets himself be yanked along through crowds of people pressed together in victory.

Medals clank as people connect, and it is easy to think he’s just still on the ice, the scents of alcohol breathed in his face hot because of their win, his goal. That feels good. He thinks of this party like one long, extended goal celebration, and everyone is piling on him because he did it, it was him, and yeah, maybe it had to be him. Maybe that’s the destiny part Sidney doesn’t like to think about.

“You seem different tonight,” Jon says, but really shouts, because there is terrible music blasting through the lounge and nobody is discontent enough to change that. Sidney nods, and Jon doesn’t try to hug him, even though Sidney wants to tell him he can, if he wants to. He’d be fine with that tonight. Tonight he’s going to have sex, he thinks, so hugging really isn’t an issue.

“I feel different,” Sidney says, and he doesn’t shout so Jon doesn’t hear him. He nods anyway, tips his beer towards Sidney, and wanders off only a little awkwardly to where Patrick Kane has snuck in and is being sandwiched by two girls, all dancing terribly to the terrible music. Sidney feels so different tonight that he can’t disapprove, even mildly.

Different is a good word, and with more alcohol he feels it more. He gets tricked into dancing with two girls that Getzlaf introduces him to, and he doesn’t mind because the girls are nice and they smell good and they aren’t that drunk. I could have sex with one of them, Sidney thinks, and the blonde is certainly grabby enough, but when one terrible song ends, he loses them in the lull before the next, and is not particularly heartbroken.

“Sid!” Getzlaf shouts from a couch Sidney would have tripped over, and he pulls Sidney down to sprawl across his lap. Sidney feels himself blush and does not punish himself too much for sort of liking Ryan’s hands on him because he is going to have sex tonight; that’s okay. He’s probably not going to have sex with Ryan, but it’s okay to feel like this right now.

Sidney says, “You’re so fucking drunk, man,” and takes some more pride in not adding let me go.

Getzlaf laughs in his face, maneuvers until he can press a bottle of something that smells like it stings to Sidney’s mouth, and says, “Catch up, Crosby. You’re a terrible dancer, by the way.”

Sidney drinks, chokes, spills a second mouthful down Ryan’s shirt, and says, “I know.” The body under him shakes in laughter, and Sidney laughs with him, loud and ripped from his stinging throat.

“You need to be taught,” Getzlaf says, arm flexing around Sidney’s stomach, and Sidney drinks from the bottle again with his head tipped back and his groin stirring, keeping almost everything down.

“I know,” he says again, and then someone else says, “But not by you, Getzy,” and pulls Sidney up.

“Fuck off, Tazer,” Getzlaf says, and he glares at Kane, too, who’s grinning at Jon’s side. “And you, how’d you get in?”

Jon drops Sidney’s arm and Kane picks it up and no one looks honestly annoyed with each other, so Sidney stays relaxed. Kane shouts at him, “I hear you’re not being boring tonight, good, take some shots with me,” like they’ve had more than four conversations before, and he drags Sidney to a table. There, he explains tequila shots to him like Sidney’s 15 years old, as Jon rolls his eyes and produces a salt shaker. Sidney listens patiently, lets Kane lick his hand while Jon leans over them and watches kind of intensely, and then loses them both sometime after the fourth shot, when the room is tilting and his mouth burns with lime and salt.

Sidney smells his hand, because he is that drunk, when Kane and Jon are gone, and wonders if he could have had sex with Patrick Kane. No, he decides, making a face at his hand, because he’s never had sex but he knows about other people who want sex, and he thinks he couldn’t have sex with Patrick Kane because Jon wouldn’t like that.

He shivers a little, and is not sober enough to pretend it’s in disgust.

Getzlaf, now joined by Perry, catches him alone and once again shoves him at a dance partner, this time letting him fall into Mike Richards and clutch clumsily at his shoulders, eyes wide. Pears and Getzy just watch and smirk while Richie laughs at him and tries to make Sidney dance, his hands on his hips, swaying him playfully.

“So terrible,” Getzlaf says, delighted, and Sidney is jerking away because of Richie’s hands on his hips, and because he’s too close, and okay, he’s going to have sex tonight, but it’s not going to happen if he pops an accidental boner against Richie’s thigh, he thinks.

Or maybe it is, actually, because he gets pulled back in, one hand warm and big on the small of his back, another firm at his left hip. “Never seen you this drunk, Sid,” Richie says, sounding admiring and mocking at the same time, and Sidney wants to huff because he doesn’t think that’s true. Sidney has gotten drunk before, and he’s known Mike for a long time, and he’s been drunker than this, and he’s not even that drunk. He is drunk enough, though, that the forceful relaxation he’d been pressing in on himself before is starting to go away, and he’s starting to feel himself sweat with Richie’s body heat so close.

It’s embarrassing, just because he doesn’t know what will happen if he embarrasses himself here. He knows that there’s a line to how much of this he’s supposed to enjoy, knows that line has always been there, and now is when he feels terrified, because he doesn’t want to cross that line without knowing. It’s all okay when he knows he’s going to have sex, it’s okay to feel like this, except for how it’s not, not really.

There’s relief when Getzy calls over the girls from before again, and they tangle around Richie and Sidney can get lost, then, can stumble back and escape the arm Pears throws around him, disappointed in himself but in serious need of a regrouping. He says, “Be back,” and heads for the bathroom, hoping they’ll assume he just has to piss or puke and isn’t trying to keep his heart from beating out of his chest.

Sidney’s not hard, which is good, because he hadn’t even done anything. It was okay with Ryan on the couch, and really it was okay with Mike’s hands on him, he can deal with that, he’s dealt with all that before. Russians are touchy-feely-cuddly drunks, and Geno is the cuddliest, arms long and likely to be draped over Sidney in a way that Sidney doesn’t ever have the heart to escape, not really. He can handle this.

But his heart is still racing and he does find a bathroom. Smaller rooms don’t spin as much, and here he can sit on the closed toilet seat and lower his head until his medal thunks against his knees.

“You are going to have sex tonight,” Sidney tells himself out loud, very firm, wondering if his captain voice still works when he’s drunk.

He has to try a few more times, uncomfortable with the slur in his voice, disappointed that he can’t be comfortable with being this drunk. For most people, it’s the opposite, the more they drink the looser they become, but Sidney doesn’t like not being in control. He splashes water on his face and feels more like himself, looking in the mirror and frowning, because feeling like himself isn’t necessarily a good thing when he’s trying to get laid.

“Sex,” Sidney says again, very determined, and he tries to smooth out the frown before he heads back out and tries again.

He’s still wearing it when he unlocks the door and finds himself unable to squeeze past the large body pushing inside the bathroom thoughtlessly, not registering Sidney in the dark. Sidney snaps the light over the sink back on and looks up at Rick Nash, watches a grin stretch over his face and then feels his arms go for Sidney’s shoulders.

“No, Sid,” Nash says sternly, flat and drunk and serious. “You are not allowed to hide. I’m not letting you.”

“I’m not hiding,” Sidney says, and Nash shoves Sidney’s face into his chest anyway. Sidney sighs against his shirt and does not try to wrestle away. Nash is warm like Richie, and big, and he smells like deodorant and sweat, like he could still be on the ice. Nash is talking, too, the way everyone talks to him tonight, loud and happy and slightly guileless, and he thinks he knows Sidney and Sidney wants to tell him he doesn’t, not tonight.

But he keeps his face hidden against the buttons of Nash’s shirt, his cheek pressed against the silk ribbon of the medal. “Should be getting your dick sucked,” Nash says, disgruntled, like there’s something wrong with a universe where Sidney isn’t getting his dick sucked. Sidney sighs again and silently tries to agree. “What are you thinking, Sid? Hiding in here like a fucking turtle, like you’re not the fucking man tonight, Jesus, that goal—”

“I’m not hiding,” Sidney says again, muffled because Nash is squeezing him tightly. He’s not listening to Sidney, either, which is par for the course tonight with everybody but Jonny, and Sidney listens to Nash ramble on about the goal long enough to start enjoying it.

Because the more Nash talks, the more Sidney can remember, like it happened just minutes ago. He can hear the sound of connection, can feel the vibration of his stick, can smell sliced-up ice and Nash smells like that, too. He’s being pressed into the counter while Nash rambles sweetly into the side of his head, and it’s like being pressed against the boards and hugged from all sides, the crush of bodies on his that feels better than anything he’s ever experienced.

If sex is anything like that, Sidney thinks, he’s definitely going to become a fan.

As it is, he finds that his dick is twitching in his pants, even though it’s not getting sucked right now, and he’s starting to believe Nash when he says that’s a travesty. He shifts and freezes when Nash cuts off, leaning back and looking down at where Sidney’s eyes are now at half-mast, his hips suddenly restless.

Nash says, “Oh,” with a curling, slow grin, and Sidney forgets to be terrified when there is a thigh shoved between his legs.

There is still that line, he can see it, and in the back of his mind he knows that there is always, always the possibility of this going horribly wrong, that daring to feel like this from the very start of his career was always going to be a risk. Nash is no less of a risk than Getzy or Richie or Kane, even, no less than Geno, for all his cuddliness and warm, stubborn affection. On paper, every hockey player that Sidney has ever let his eyes linger on is straight. On paper, Sidney is straight, too.

He doesn’t know what this makes him, exactly, the countertop digging into his ass, Nash’s body covering him completely, touching in so many different places that Sidney can only really focus on the important places where they’re not. He doesn’t know which of them shifts but soon they’re touching there, too, and Nash knows he’s hard and hasn’t punched him for it yet. He’s chuckling and it’s not mean, it’s still drunk and good-natured and very typical of the Rick Nash that Sidney knows.

“Oh, Sid,” Nash sing-songs a little, shifting ever closer, thigh slotted snugly between Sidney’s until Sidney’s practically riding it, though his breaths are coming too fast and high to really move much. “Why didn’t you just say so?” and it takes the fond note in his voice to make Sidney look down and swallow hard and realize, with a rush of surprising, tingling satisfaction, that Nash is half-hard, too.

“Oh,” Sidney says, feeling and probably sounding stupid, and Nash chuckles more and leans in until he’s chuckling against Sidney’s lips.

The kiss is gentler than Sidney had expected it to be, with how drunk Nash is and also how Nash he is. He remembers the slam of Nash’s body against his on the ice, can feel dwarfed and crowded in here and can feel how that makes him sweat, Nash’s stubble scratching his face, and the kiss doesn’t fit any of that. It’s sweet, and it’s easy to forget that Rick is sweet too, and his lips aren’t soft but they are careful.

Sidney, crushed up against the counter and trying to make his racing heart go calm, resents careful just a little bit.

He deepens the kiss, a little desperate, tries to get his teeth in on it and nips too hard, he thinks, because Nash goes, “Ow, hey,” and pulls back to frown at Sidney.

Feeling himself flush, Sidney bites his own lower lip and mumbles a quick “Sorry,” that the end of is swallowed up by Nash’s mouth on his again, firmer, his frown turned up in a smile.

“Easy, Crosby,” Nash mumbles, and Sidney wants to huff because he’s kissed people before, he doesn’t need to be condescended to. But he doesn’t huff because Nash is a good kisser, and his hands are sure and strong at Sidney’s hips, not holding him down but just holding him. Sidney rocks slightly in the hold, shifts his mouth against Nash’s and lets his lips part, and Nash’s fingers flex slightly over the denim of his jeans, digging in.

Sidney moves his hips again and swallows a groan as he feels himself getting harder, and harder still when Nash moves his hips for him, pressing his thigh up to rub against the bulge of Sidney’s erection. Sidney hisses out and feels his chest thump up and down heavily and Nash just keeps moving him, breaking the kiss to grin at his cheek.

A hand sneaks down to press between them, cupping at Sidney and making him unable to stifle his next groan. His jeans are uncomfortable and he feels very hot, and the warmth of arousal in his gut isn’t any kind of comfort, nor is Nash’s hands on him, not really, but at the same time he doesn’t want it to stop, not even a little bit.

Nash strokes him through his jeans and kisses the side of his face and hums a little, like this is not a big deal at all, and that’s what it takes for Sidney to relax, really. He lets his eyes close and his head drop forward against Nash’s shoulders and thinks this is not a big deal at all until he can believe it.

“I feel like I should be singing our anthem again,” Nash says, sounding bemused, and Sidney lets himself huff this time, head lifting so he can narrow his eyes. Nash kisses him quickly, a swipe of tongue and a flash of teeth that makes Sidney arch his hips without meaning to, and then he leans back and stops stroking him. “Better idea, though.”

He goes to his knees, and Sidney feels his breath catch embarrassingly, his nostrils flaring. Nash presses a palm flat against his stomach, grinning as he thumbs open the button of his jeans, tugs on the zipper. His hips jerk sharply as Nash reaches into his fly, and Nash’s grin widens. “See, told you. No hiding tonight, Sid.”

“I’m not—” Sidney starts for the final time, but he breaks off when Nash’s mouth is on him, so fast he can barely feel relieved of the strict confines of his jeans. A thick, strong arm locks over his hips before Sidney realizes he’d been thrusting them, and then all Sidney can do is throw his head back and be embarrassed about moaning loudly.

In contrast to his kissing technique, Nash isn’t gentle with him, which Sidney is very grateful for. Nash seems to think he needs to make Sidney come as embarrassingly fast as possible in the name of patriotism, and Sidney is too caught up in the hot, wet feel of Nash’s mouth to worry about stamina, really. It’s not as noisy as it is in porn, which Sidney appreciates because that always bothers him, and Nash’s hand is sweaty and loose around the base of his dick, but his mouth is tight and his tongue is quick and good and really, that’s all Sidney can focus on.

He has no basis for comparison, but it’s good, Sidney knows that. He knows the shake in his knees, the tilting, churning of his vision and the tightness in his gut, the way his hips twitch restlessly under Nash’s strong arm, turned on just as much by being held down, he knows, as he’s turned on by the blowjob. He still doesn’t know what this makes him, enjoying this and finally feeling like he’s allowed to enjoy this, but he’s beyond caring now, can only feel grateful.

Sidney is grateful when he comes, too fast to warn Nash beyond a choked-out cry and a particularly strong jerk of his hips. Nash makes a slight face up at him but rolls with it gamely, executing a smooth combination of swallowing and standing up to spit in the sink behind Sidney. He kisses Sidney again, pulling his lax, shaky body against him, and the knowledge that he tastes like Sidney apparently tastes is weird and too much to think about.

With a press of Nash’s hips against his, not insistent but just sort of there, Sidney realizes that Nash is still half-hard. He fits a fumbling, clumsy hand between them and mumbles, “I can—” and Nash shushes him and kisses him harder, tongue swiping over Sidney’s lips.

Then he says, “Okay,” and pushes down slightly on Sidney’s shoulders, and that really hadn’t been what Sidney had in mind, but fair is fair, he supposes.

Nash seems much bigger when Sidney’s down on his knees, and for a second all he can do is stare at his crotch and try and remember how belts work. Nash pats him lightly on the cheek, tips his chin up, and meets his eyes while he takes himself out. Sidney fumbles between his own legs, feeling self-conscious about still being sort of flopped out of his fly, but maintains eye contact through zipping up again, his head craned back at an angle that’s a little uncomfortable.

He meets Nash’s eyes because he doesn’t want to stare openly at his dick, but then it’s kind of all he can stare at, really. It’s red and stiffening in his grip, and the sound of Nash jerking himself is just like in porn, enough to make Sidney flush again. He jerks it with a looser grip than Sidney likes, which Sidney notes, and he’s thicker than Sidney and he notes that, too, feeling slightly weird about considering that.

He licks his lips without really thinking about it, because they feel a little puffed from kissing, but Nash groans like he thinks it’s in anticipation and jerks himself faster. He’s completely hard now, stiff enough that Sidney has to angle his dick when he’s pushed closer, Nash’s fingers light but guiding in his hair.

“Ever done this?” Nash asks in a thick rumble, and Sidney doesn’t answer except to open his mouth and close his fist and suck, light and kind of curious.

It doesn’t taste as bad as he’d thought, kind of like Rick’s saliva—he’d spit in his hand at one point, Sidney thinks—and his sweat, which Sidney has already tasted. Encouraged, Sidney opens his mouth wider until he feels his jaw click and sucks on more of him, down to his carefully loose hand.

He doesn’t know if Nash can tell he’s never done this before or not; he doesn’t seem to mind that Sidney’s kind of drooling a lot, more than he means to, or that he gags a few times when he gets too ambitious. Sidney’s jaw hurts and his lips are stinging at the corners, and he looks up at Nash to gauge his reactions and is pleased with his tipped-back face and fluttering eyelids. He thinks that’s a pretty good look, all in all.

Nash’s fingers scratch gently over Sidney’s scalp; he can feel his hair curling and flattening over his forehead where Nash’s sweaty palm smooths it. “Nice, kid,” he says raggedly, and Sidney is too focused on uncurling two fingers from the fist around Nash’s dick to feel his usual indignation at being called a kid. He wants to try to take more and not gag, and he doesn’t know why he wants that.

He feels like he’s being noisy, because his breathing is harsh through his nose and he knows it’s really sloppy, but Nash’s breathing is loud, too, and the room is small. Sidney’s chin is wet, and Nash tastes like something more than just spit and musk now. It’s something different, not worse than the other tastes but still different, and Sidney sucks more to get more of it and try to figure it out. He uses his tongue and Nash curses softly, nails digging in slightly, and it’s a pressure that Sidney likes. Actually, he’s surprised to find he likes all of it, and he likes it too much to think about what that says about him.

Nash goes for a lot longer than he did, and he’s not as loud as Sidney, but by the time Sidney’s jaw is aching enough that he thinks he might still feel it tomorrow, he feels a tug in his hair. He slides his mouth up reluctantly, slides his hand up with it to feel Nash shake, and twists his fingers around the slick, purpled head of Nash’s dick.

“Jesus, Crosby, you’re gonna get it in the face if you don’t—”

Sidney tightens his fingers, quick, and Nash freezes and then comes on his face.

His normal, rational mind is kind of squawking in righteous indignation, but most of Sidney feels weirdly satisfied. His dick is stirring again, not enough to do anything with right now, but enough to confirm that he likes this. The shocked look on Nash’s face, right before Sidney closes his eyes to avoid heavy warmth spurting over his vision, also confirms that.

There is come on his cheek and on his chin, which is not something Sidney had ever imagined before, but it still takes a while for him to feel self-conscious about it. His brain is racing too fast with a strange, satisfied contentment for shame, and that lasts until he blinks his eyes open and sees Nash staring down at him.

“Jesus,” he says again, and Sidney looks down but Nash hauls him up anyway, laughing a little and kissing him.

Sidney is glad because he has no idea what to say, and he thinks if he does speak he’ll say something terrible like thank you for sucking my dick and coming on my face. He really doesn’t want to say that. So he kisses Nash back and then wrinkles his nose when Nash mops at his face with a bunch of toilet paper. Their breathing calms, slow and low enough that the sounds of the party outside register again, the terrible music still thumping merrily.

He kind of wants a nap and a shower and maybe something cool to drink, and Nash pats him on the cheek and leans his forehead down to rest against his and says, “You’re a good kid, Sidney,” which is something he gets a lot, really, but never in this context. Sidney’s a little thrilled that this context exists now, as strange as it is, and this thrill is what makes him nod and then shrug.

“Yeah, I guess.”

Nash laughs at him, loud and happy, and pats his cheek one more time before backing away. Sidney’s sticky skin is cooling down and he shivers a little without Nash near, and when Nash goes he sits down on the closed toilet seat and tries to think.

He quickly realizes that now is not the time for thinking, though. Thinking will come later; he will wonder and remember and obsess, of course, because that’s what he does, and he will panic and get embarrassed and regret, on and off, later. But right now, Sidney sits and thinks of how his mouth tastes, thinks that a beer might be okay, and then he gets up and goes outside and finds one pressed into his hand like magic, Jonny’s eyes shrewd but not comprehending on him.

“I feel different tonight,” Sidney says again, laughing to himself.

Jon smiles as much as he ever smiles at Sidney, lips pressed together tightly, eyes flicking over the room at where Sidney doesn’t have to look to know that Kane probably has someone in his lap. Sidney wonders if Jon feels different, too.

“Of course you feel different,” Jon says patiently, and he claps him on the back, like everyone else. “You’ve got Olympic gold, man.”

Yes, Sidney decides. That must be it.

2. Girls Are Smart

Sidney had always thought that when he had sex for the first time, he would tell people about it. And by people, he really means his stupid team, if only to stop the chirping and the needling and the constant parade of girls they like to push at him at bars.

He has never used the word virgin (because he thinks it’s stupid), never admitted to anything beyond being a really private person, okay, he just doesn’t like to talk about that stuff, but the guys all knew anyway. Sidney being a virgin was never treated like a problem or something that was fundamentally wrong with him, at least not in the Pens locker room (and he knows perfectly well what people say about him in other locker rooms, so whatever), but it was still something to make fun of him for, another weapon in a bag that included his looks and weird habits and various unflattering reputations.

It turns out, though, for all his fake deflection, for all the times he only claimed privacy as a way of getting the guys off his back and maintaining the illusion of having actually dealt with puberty and beyond in a typical way, Sidney actually is a private person. He says nothing about Nash when he gets back into the regular season, and not just because he knows that news of the encounter won’t do much to change all that other locker room talk. And he’s not ashamed, not really, not most of the time; he likes what they did, jerks off to thoughts of it more than once, and sometimes he’s even a little proud.

Sidney just kind of wants to keep it for himself, in the beginning. He takes some time to wonder if Nash will say anything, and it’s hard to think about outing without shaking a little and feeling a bit nauseous, but at the same he feels kind of resigned. If Nash talks, Nash talks. Sidney’s not the only person he’ll out if he talks; it’s not like Sidney had been the only one with a dick in his mouth that night.

Maybe, Sidney wonders, he’ll brag about coming on Sidney’s face. That part still makes him blush sometimes, just thinking about it, especially when there are other people around. He flies back to Pittsburgh with Flower and has to very carefully avoid his eyes when he’s caught daydreaming, cheeks heated-up to think of the tacky feel of spunk on his skin.

“Aw, Sidney,” Flower says, bumping his shoulder and grinning. “What are you thinking of?”

“The party,” Sidney tells him honestly, hunching his shoulders slightly. “I got really drunk.”

“Good.” Flower sounds proud, and Sidney pretends for a minute that he didn’t leave the Nash part out, that he would react the same way upon hearing about it. Sidney thinks the odds are split, but that’s still not why he doesn’t say anything.

The secret aspect makes it feel more real, is the thing. It’s not a story, not a conquest, not exaggerated or embellished to draw the best hoots and gasps, the way 90% of Max’s stories always come across. Every detail still feels like it’s embedded in his skin, and it’s like his hair remembers what Nash’s fingers felt like among the strands, or his mouth can still taste Nash inside the flesh of his cheeks. It’s his, it’s an experience he gets to own and keep just for him, and that makes it easy to realize that it’s over, and it’s probably never going to happen again. Sidney kinds of likes it that way, and had definitely never expected to.

This also means that nothing really changes once he’s back with the team, settling into his normal routine and coming down from the Olympics high. The guys mostly regard him with the same bemused, almost begrudging pride that everyone else on Team Canada had regarded him with, but beyond that they treat him like their usual weird, awkward young captain. And why would they treat him any differently? They don’t know about the facial or whatever, and they’re not going to, so that’s that.

Going out together after games includes the new theme of “now you have a Cup and a medal, why aren’t you getting laid, again?” but now Sidney notices the resigned way they sort of treat the situation, like nobody actually expects Sidney to ever get laid. It makes him feel irrationally defensive, which is probably the stupidest thing, considering he could just tell them the truth and probably be done with it. But that’s not what happens, of course.

They go out after a home game hosting Dallas, and Sidney is totally fine and comfortable with falling into his old role of sipping one beer throughout the night and laughing at everyone’s respective failures and triumphs at getting tail. But Max brings over two girls, like he always tries to, and he barely gives Sidney a chance to stammer out an unintentionally curt refusal (he always manages to sound like an asshole when he’s turning down girls, despite how polite he tries to be) before he’s shrugging and pulling both girls away for himself. Like Sidney was never actually a part of the equation, just a courtesy, a force of habit.

This happens a few more times, and Sidney doesn’t know why he’s just noticing now and why it’s bothering him now, because it’s really entirely justified. He does always say no. It’s a part of the routine. The problem is that, now that he’d had sex with Nash (and there had been so many reasons to say no then, dozens of reasons, reasons he sometimes goes over in his head late at night, the only time he’ll allow himself any hints of regret), he can’t understand why he keeps saying no.

So, one night, he says yes.

“Sid, this is Kim,” Max tells him, one arm slung all the way over Kim’s tiny, freckled shoulders, his fingers playing with her long blonde braid. Sidney nods, the way he normally does, and then kicks the rungs of the barstool next to him, jostling Jordan out of contemplating a shot of Cuervo.


“Get up, Jordy,” Sidney says shortly, and he kicks the stool again until Jordan complies, scowling and clutching his shot to his chest proprietarily. “Here, you can sit, Kim. Um, can I buy you something? To drink, I mean.”

The um slips out because he’s trying to ignore the fact that all of the guys—Jordan, Max, Flower, Tanger, Geno and Gonch at a table merrily challenging Duper and Kunitz to match them in vodka shots and beating them soundly, of course—are all openly staring at him, like he just offered to buy her her own island. Sidney purses his lips, concentrates on listening to her drink order and making sure the bartender heard it, and mentally invites them to all fuck off.

“So,” he says, drinking his own beer and idly considering another. “Do you like hockey?”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Max mutters, and Kim laughs a little, shaking her head.

He goes home with her, even though she doesn’t like hockey. It’s pretty quick and simple, and Sidney has absolutely no idea how it happens, because he spills his second beer and calls her Cam, for some reason, and the entire exchange happens with a good chunk of the Pittsburgh Penguins watching them like they’re an intense game heading into OT, which is really just a great atmosphere for pulling girls, no wonder he’s done it so much before. But despite all this, and despite his stupid sweaty hands and the fact that he’s half doing this to prove something to himself and to his team (and it’s only half, he assures his dignity), Kim takes him home, and he has sex with her.

He doesn’t understand any of what happens beforehand, but once he gets going he gets the basics of what happens in her bed. She doesn’t ask him if he’s done this before, the way Nash had, and though he tries not to do it too much, Sidney spends a lot of time comparing other things about her to Nash.

Kim is tiny, built like a teenage boy (“I think I’m more jealous of your ass than I am attracted to it,” she tells him, after three of the rum and Cokes he’d bought her at the bar, and he laughs, startled and a little uncomfortable with her candor) and she kisses with a kind of placid gentleness that tells him he should probably take the lead. Sidney’s done that before, that part’s okay, but it’s a little strange to be the one to heft her into his lap, to press her down against the bed. This is not what his fantasies have involved lately, and his dick is interested and enjoying everything, but he doesn’t feel the same kind of frantic desperation that he had with Nash.

Which is perfectly fine, he thinks, because all that desperation all the time would probably wear him out eventually. Sidney kind of likes feeling this in control.

This is nice; making out is nice, and he picks up her cues easily enough. Kim presses his hands under her shirt, so he takes the initiative to pull it off, to slide his fingers under the cups of her bra and touch the soft skin there. He watches her chest heave and kisses her mouth hard and every step builds out of the one before it; the bra is the next to go, and then her jeans, and she has freckles everywhere and he is a little hesitant to run his tongue over them, but her heavy breathing spurs him on.

Kim tugs at his clothes, too, so he gets naked the way he’s used to, shimmying out of his clothes and piling them in a heap on the floor like he would in the locker room. The only thing he’s not used to is being looked at naked; locker room laws dictate looking above the neck, and Sidney flushes a little under Kim’s direct, appreciative gaze, but then she is naked, too, and he feels good about that, like they’re even.

His inexperience shows when he stumbles in the steps; he’s fully hard and her panties had been damp when he tossed them over the side of the bed, so he says, “Shit, condom,” and looks at her with wide eyes, because he hadn’t thought of that. Last year, when Gonch used to drag Sidney and Geno out together so they could bond more over fancy microbrews and icy blondes, he used to shove condoms in the pockets of their jackets. Of course, only Geno ever used them, with his crooked, apologetic grins and modest shrugs and Sidney assuring him he could get a cab home on his own, no problem. And Sidney would go home and dump his condoms in a drawer in his room, where they still are, protecting the furniture of the Lemieux guesthouse from STDs and accidental pregnancy.

“Um,” Sidney says, when Kim just sort of narrows her eyes at him, like she’s not sure if he’s serious. “Sorry, I think I’m out. I didn’t think I’d—” I never have sex, he doesn’t say, because it’s not true. He has had sex. He had unsafe oral sex with Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and no one needs to know that but Sidney. I never have sex with girls is more accurate, but also seems misleading; Sidney’s not exactly opposed to sex with girls, at least not yet.

“On top of my dresser,” Kim says, clipped, and she lies back on her pillows while Sidney scrambles up. She looks a little annoyed, folding her arms underneath her pert, small breasts, and he chews his lip nervously and looks over her pale, lovely body. Kim is pretty, he realizes, really pretty, and that makes him kind of sad. Sidney hadn’t even thought about her being pretty when he’d started talking to her, or even when he’d taken off her clothes.

“We could also, um,” Sidney says, getting back on the bed with the condom clutched in a sweaty palm. Her thighs are slightly parted, and with hands that feel clumsy and unsure, Sidney dares to spread them further, running his fingers up the very soft skin. “I can, you know.”

He touches her tentatively, lets Kim spur him further with hitching breaths and her eyes going soft. She gets more wet than damp under his touch, his fingers light and stroking over her opening, not actually knowing what he’s doing but studying her carefully. Sidney presses something important, apparently, because she moans a little and rocks into his hand, and he does it again and again before leaning down, emboldened by her reactions.

“Oh,” Kim gasps when he dips his head between her legs. “Oh, good, okay—” and Sidney is glad for her approval.

He has to compare this to Nash, really can’t help it. He tries to nudge his mind away from immediately thinking that he likes sucking dick better, because that’s kind of a snap judgment for something he’s only been doing for a few seconds, and he’s still not ready to examine the whole possibly gay thing yet. The taste is stronger, though not necessarily bad, just heavy and more consuming. Sidney breathes it in curiously, using his tongue on her like he did with Nash, and continues when she groans.

She gets wet, so wet, and somehow it feels sloppier than with Nash, though Sidney’s drooling less now. It’s more comfortable, at least, his tongue doing more of the work than his jaw, and when he gets his fingers in on it too, Kim gets louder and Sidney feels kind of thrilled. He’s only half-hard but he gets harder the louder she gets. Sidney remembers being loud with Nash and being embarrassed about it, but Kim seems to have no such reservations and Sidney really likes that.

Sidney thinks he might even make her come soon, which would be amazing, but he really has no basis for comparison except for porn, which even he knows is where all the girls fake it, so he can’t be sure. At some point, though, sooner than Nash had, Kim grabs his hair and says, “Okay, fuck me now, now now now,” and yanks his head up, harder than Nash.

“Oh,” Sidney says, licking his lips and frowning a little. He still has two fingers inside her, his thumb brushing over her clit. “I mean, I could keep—”

“Fuck me,” Kim says again, almost like a snarl. Sidney shrinks back and nods, because clearly she knows what she’s doing and he has no idea, so he might as well go with it.

He keeps his fingers where they are, though, as he takes himself in hand and strokes. In the back of his mind, he’s idly worried about coming too quickly—isn’t that what always happens during the first time? Though maybe this is a special case because of Nash; Sidney had come pretty quickly then—but in reality he knows he’s nowhere near the edge, and she’s probably closer than him. First times are always awkward, Sidney knows that from movies and TV and Colby’s words of kind wisdom, and this feels like a more typical first time than Nash did.

“Oh my God,” Kim says at one point, and Sidney doesn’t know what that means until she scoops the condom up from where he’d dropped it and tears the foil. “Just, get over here,” she tells him, and she sounds exasperated and frustrated but also kind of fond, like she totally knows he’s trying his best. As Sidney complies, letting her shove him down when he’s not fast enough, and watches her bat his hands away from his dick and put the condom on him, he thinks that maybe she hadn’t asked if he’d done this before because she already knew that he hadn’t.

Girls are smart, Sidney decides, as Kim lowers herself down onto his cock.

He likes this a lot, likes how easily she moves over him, lithe and quick on his dick. Inside her is hot and wet and tight, so much better than his own hand and about even with Nash’s mouth. He feels a little bad for thinking that, for continuously comparing them, and he tells her, “You’re really pretty,” a little breathlessly, because this is really good.

Kim laughs raggedly and flips her braid over her shoulder. Sidney likes the way it’s kind of falling out, little hairs sticking out in the air. All he can remember of what Nash looks like is his stubble, and how good he’d looked in red and white, but then so did everybody, in Sidney’s opinion.

It lasts a long time, so much longer than with Nash. Kim comes after a while, working herself up and down vigorously, head thrown back, and Sidney just sort of watches and feels and is glad he doesn’t have to worry about being loud this time. Kim leans down and kisses him messily, mouth open and lax against his, and she says, “Come on, come on,” and he doesn’t know, exactly, what she wants him to do, so he puts his hands on her hips.

She groans, but they keep going like that for a while until she meets his eyes and says, “Jesus, come on.”

“Are you cramping?” Sidney asks a little worriedly, and he uses his hands on her hips to flip them around easily, pressing into her and taking some of the work on, which he thinks is more than fair. Kim really likes that, her fingernails digging into his shoulders and he thrusts hard, and when he puts his hand down between her legs she comes, harder than before, clenching down on him so much that he has to stop moving.

Sidney’s own orgasm hits him then, making him choke on the spit gathered in his mouth, leaning down and groaning into Kim’s neck. Kim says, “Thank God,” and pats him on the back of his sweaty neck.

He’s surprised, because he hadn’t felt like he was close at all, and it’s almost anticlimactic. That thought makes him stifle a hysterical giggle, biting on his hand, and Kim doesn’t notice because she’s rolling out from under him and walking to her bathroom, rubbing her hands over her thighs. Sidney wonders if she does squats, and if she does squats properly—a lot of people don’t—and he thinks about offering her pointers, but then decides that getting dressed and going home might be a better idea.

He takes off the condom gingerly, wincing, wondering if it’s possible for a penis to feel tired, because his kind of does. Sidney pulls on his boxer-briefs with care and zips his jeans even more carefully, and when he is dressed and turning around to find his coat, Kim is watching him and smiling a little.

“Was that good?” she asks him, which is strange, because he thinks he’s supposed to ask her.

“Yeah, it was great,” Sidney says, feeling stupid. He wants to ask her now, but then it will seem like he’s just asking to be polite, when he kind of really wants to know. Instead, he asks, “Have you seen my coat?”

“On the couch. I’ll walk you out.” Kim tugs on a robe and follows Sidney out of her bedroom, flipping on a light in the hall that illuminates the couch he basically remembers. He looks at her apartment now, eyes passing over pictures of Kim in graduation robes, with girls all wearing sweaters with the same Greek letters on them, with a big, white dog. In his head, he asks her about the dog, tells her about Sam, asks what she studied in college and what she does now. Maybe he asks for her number, too, because that sounds right.

But out loud, he doesn’t say any of that. He picks up his coat and fusses with the collar. Kim calls him a cab and he says, “I’ll wait outside,” and she says, “Okay,” and leans up to kiss him. He has to lean down a long way, and it was a lot easier in bed.

Sidney thinks of another thing to ask her, halfway through the door to her apartment, and this one makes it past his lips. “What’s your last name?”

Kim frowns a little, hands on her hips. “Why? Are you on Facebook?”

“God, no,” Sidney says, shaking his head, a little pleased that she doesn’t know why Facebook would be such a terrible idea for him. He wants to know because he hasn’t been fair to her, because he’s been comparing her to Rick Nash all night, Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and he knows a bunch of Nash’s stats and he knows how he plays and he knows he’s one of the best power forwards in the game, and the sex with Nash was better than the sex with Kim, but it’s really not fair to compare them. Sidney knows why, and he doesn’t want to admit why, and he wants to know this instead. “I just—I want to know, I guess. Because it was really great.”

Because sex isn’t just about sex; it’s about people, too. Sidney has always been bad with people, and he thinks he’s kind of sick of using that as an excuse to not have sex.

“It’s Wade,” Kim says, sounding a little amused now. “Don’t stalk me, though.”

Sidney smiles at her, and gives her a hug. “Promise,” he says, touching the end of her braid.

Outside, he pulls out his phone as he waits for his cab and groans when he sees all the text messages he has from the guys, every guy that had been at the bar plus others that hadn’t been, and somehow Colby, too; his message is just a string of question marks, followed by mazel tov!!

Sidney only answers one text, because he remembers those nights out with Geno and Gonch, and he remembers that Geno had always waited for Sidney to get a cab home anyway, no matter how much Sidney protested.


yeah. i’m ok.

3. The Rachel Meyers Incident

“Grab him, Cookie,” Flower says, and Sidney very quickly finds his arms pinned down to his sides in a vice grip that he can’t wiggle out of. “Hold him still, I’m checking him out.”

“Fuck off,” Sidney snarls, but it’s too late, of course; he’s surrounded by Cooke, Flower, Max and Jordy, the rest of the team looking amusedly from their stalls, halfway through changing for practice. Flower leans in very, very close and inspects his eyes, making Sidney jerk his face to the side and look at Geno, who is watching them with a half-smile. He gives him the most imploring face he can and says, “Geno, please, get them off me.”

“No way, we’re getting to the bottom of this,” Flower says firmly, grabbing him by the shoulders and giving him a hard shake that makes his teeth rattle. “You can’t escape, impostor!”

“Who are you and what have you done with Sidney Crosby?” Max demands, leaning in, too. Behind him, Cooke rumbles out a laugh and squeezes Sidney slightly, not letting him go.

“I hate you all,” Sidney tells them, looking around at each and every one of them to make sure they know he’s serious. “Seriously, you’re the worst team ever. And you need to let me go because we need to go to practice.

“Okay, that sounds like Sid,” Jordan says thoughtfully, stroking his chin and frowning. “But maybe he’s a good mimic.”

“Geno!” Sidney yells, and with a heavy sigh, though he still looks like he wants to laugh and feels bad about it, Geno stands up and crosses his arms over his chest and tries to look menacing.

“Let Sid go.”

“No,” Matt says cheerfully, squeezing again. “And don’t be fooled, Geno, this isn’t Sid. I hear this kid got laid last night.”

Geno shrugs and looks apologetic, eyes twinkling. “Sorry, Sid. I try.”

“Seriously, I am your captain—” Sidney says, and Jordan whistles.

“Okay, it has to be Sid, he’s whining about being a captain, no one does that like Sidney Crosby,” Jordan says. Flower shakes him again and eyes him distrustfully for a moment, before he nods at Cooke.

“All right, let him go,” Flower says, and Sidney sighs as he’s released, only to immediately be tackled into a hug by Flower.

“Oh no, no—” But everyone’s piling on now, saying things that make him splutter and flush hotly, and Sidney struggles under way too many oversized bodies and tries to remember that he likes this, usually.

“You’re a man now, Sidney,” Max says, sniffling phonily. Sidney huffs. “I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time. I wanted to have a cake for you, but it was all so sudden.”

“You’re such a freak,” Sidney moans, and everybody laughs in his ears, loud.

Geno does manage to dig him out eventually, because he’s Geno and his headlocks are like iron, but the questions don’t stop with the hugging, all through changing for practice and pulling his gear on. They don’t seem to realize how mortifying it is to be grilled like this when he’s 22 years old, like the rest of them haven’t done this sort of thing a hundred times before.

Worse, still, are the guys who seem genuinely worried underneath the teasing. Colby had been worried on the phone this morning, taking only 10 minutes to rip him and congratulate him before asking, in a quieter voice, “Really, though, you’re okay?”

“I’m fine, Jesus Christ. It was sex, I’m not going to get pregnant.”

“But why now?” Colby wondered, and Sidney had to bite his lip to keep from spilling about Nash, about possibly or probably being gay, all in a rush that he did not have the time or patience for.

“I don’t know,” Sidney said. “Why not now?”

Flower regards him with the same sort of examination, running his hand over Sidney’s shoulders through his pads, like he’s expecting to find injury or scratch marks or something. Sidney scowls at him, scowls at all of them, because he’s pretty sure this is not how friends normally treat their male friend when he has sex for the first time (that they know of, he adds bitterly, utterly and completely grateful that they’re not playing Columbus again this season). And why does the universe refuse to allow him to be normal?

Geno is the only one that doesn’t thoroughly humiliate him, and for that, as the other guys are heading out still discussing Sidney’s sex life, Sidney sits down next to where Geno is lacing up his skates and bumps shoulders with him. “Hey,” he says, and Geno looks over and smiles at him.


He feels like he owes Geno something, because he’d been the only one that hadn’t asked for anything. “It was really good,” Sidney says quietly, and then he immediately feels bad about sort of lying, and feels bad for thinking that he’s sort of lying. It wasn’t bad, he thinks, but he doesn’t want to say that to Geno; Geno can be a worrier, sometimes.

Geno’s smile widens, and he bumps Sidney’s shoulder back. “Good.” He sounds genuinely pleased, which makes Sidney feel kind of warm and happier about all this than he had been since last night, when it all started.

“Good,” Sidney says, nodding shortly, and Geno throws a quick arm around his shoulders, squeezes once, and then lets him go.

Practice is really good, and that’s not at all a lie, or even sort of a lie. Of course, everyone attributes Sidney’s stellar performance to the fact that he got laid the night before, so that every trainer, coach, and janitor in the building gets to know that Sidney Crosby finally had sex.

“You seem different,” Flower says after, and Sidney kind of wants to laugh until he cries, but instead he says, “I’m staying late,” and Flower sighs a little, in relief.

“That’s our Sidney. I’ll stay, too; let’s see if Miss Kim can help you out when I’m not letting you score on me.” Sidney grins as Flower gets back in the net, because that, at least, feels normal.

The thing is, Sidney doesn’t feel different, not really, not like the night of the Team Canada party. Nothing in his routine changes, nothing essential anyway, except for this: he starts carrying condoms in his wallet, at least two all the time, and he packs more on road trips. And the biggest change is, of course, that he starts having sex almost regularly.

The team still clucks and gapes the second time he does it, and the third time, but by the fourth time they’re sort of over it, and Sidney is grateful. By the fourth time, Sidney has figured out a few more things about sex: he likes blowjobs a lot, and every girl is different, and he always lasts a long time, sometimes uncomfortably long. He is still hurtling towards a conclusion that he knows he has to face sometime, but every time he thinks about that conclusion, he picks up another girl. He thinks it’s a pretty good system.

Sidney likes sex on road trips, because girls rarely recognize him, and he has a curfew excuse to escape the awkwardness afterward. It’s almost always awkward afterward; he wants to ask the guys how they manage to be smooth leaving someone’s bed, or at least ask Colby, but since they’re bad enough just knowing he has sex, he really doesn’t want to open it up anymore.

He likes to see different apartments and houses, never takes them back to his hotel room, and not just because of Duper. He likes to get glimpses of their normal lives and try to imagine himself fitting into them: sitting on their couches, petting their dogs, cooking breakfast with them and arguing about who finished the milk. Sidney has always thought about things like that, more than he ever thought about sex, almost as much as he’d thought about hockey, but it’s really hard to imagine now, and gets harder with each subsequent girl. He learns all their last names but can’t even fathom marrying any of them, or calling any of them, and the future he’d once pictured with a wife and kids and a dog and hockey, always hockey, seems very, very far away, almost impossible. Sidney thought sex was supposed to get him closer to that.

“You’re 22 and finally enjoying yourself,” Colby tells him, sounding proud like all the others finally are. “Don’t go crazy, you know, and don’t get caught with your pants down, but have fun.”

Sidney doesn’t tell Colby that, twice now, he hadn’t been able to get off while he was having sex. He doesn’t ask if that’s normal, and he wants to, but knows that would be a ridiculous question, because it’s probably not. He would ask Geno, maybe, who would never make fun of him and never pity him, but he doesn’t know if he could explain it so that Geno could understand. He doesn’t want Geno thinking he’s sick or something; the playoffs are coming.

So Sidney winds down to the playoffs having sex with girls whose names he remembers, collecting them to mentally list under that first name. He wins games and loses games, and some nights he gets off and some nights he doesn’t. Some nights he watches game highlights and sticks his hand down his sweatpants and comes almost as hard as he had with Nash, and he’s feeling better about that, almost resigned to it by now.

No sex during the playoffs, he decides, because after every new encounter with a girl, he feels just a little bit gayer, and Sidney doesn’t have time to worry about that right now. He submerges himself in hockey, letting the remnants of victory burn through his veins, until there is only hockey, so much so that it’s hard to imagine that there was ever anything else but hockey in his life.

“I can’t tell if not getting laid is making you crankier or happier,” Max tells him, and Sidney scowls and tells him that maybe he should be thinking about his penalty kill instead.

“Both,” Max decides, nodding firmly and slapping him on the back. “Weirdest, Crosby.”

Getting eliminated in the second round by the Habs is a lot like getting dunked in ice water; Sidney feels like he’s woken up from a really great dream, into a sort of nightmare. He tries not to take it too badly, or no worse than he usually takes eliminations, but losses always make him a little jittery, a lot trigger-happy. He only ever likes change when it comes after a loss, and so he knows that this offseason will be a good time for change.

He lays off sex for a bit longer, while preparing to move out of Mario’s and visiting home and stupidly missing Geno when he goes back to Russia, a little more than anyone else, because Geno is his only friend who treats him like a person, and not a very entertaining circus freak.

His new house is a long way off from being inhabitable, but he has a smaller new place for the time being, and ignoring all the chirping he gets via text about finally leaving the nest, Sidney starts moving in. Colby flies down to help him, because that is a sworn best friend duty, and Jordy is still hanging around Pittsburgh, putting off heading home to become just one in a collection of Staals, so he helps, too.

They’re terrible helpers, because they go through all of Sidney’s stuff and make fun of his sad DVD collection and bemoan the fact that everything he owns has to do with hockey or fitness. “You need a hobby,” Colby says for the hundredth time since Sidney has known him, so Sidney feels comfortable just ignoring him, hefting a box of fishing gear into his trunk pointedly (because fishing’s a hobby, okay).

Jordan, looking up from his phone where he’d been helping by “supervising”, says, “He has a hobby now, it’s weird, he gets laid for fun. Like normal people.”

“Yeah, and when’s the last time that happened?” Colby asks.

“No sex during the playoffs,” Sidney says automatically, and he glares when he hears it in stereo, because Jordy is reciting the same sentence, his voice pitched high and whiny.

“Playoffs are over, Sid,” Colby tells him, clapping him on the back like that will take away the sting of it. Sidney stills winces, shaking him off and heading inside for more boxes.

After their final trip to the new place, Colby sprawls out on Sidney’s small front porch and insists they all split a six pack as the sun goes down. Sidney barely touches his beer, listening to Jordan and Colby aimlessly chatting about the Hawks’ Cup run, and looks around at his new, temporary place. Change is good after a loss; it shakes things up and gives him time to adjust, to figure out what’s wrong and what’s right and what might work again. There is one more change that he still won’t try, though, isn’t ready for yet, no matter how inevitable it seems. Sidney’s been thinking about it more and more, because without hockey and without sex, he has nothing but time to think about it, but he’s not ready yet.

“Okay,” Sidney says eventually, putting his beer down and cutting into Colby and Jordan. “Let’s go out.”

They both stare at him dumbly, and Sidney can’t even begin to convey how sick of staring he is. He just looks back flatly, wiping his hands on his jeans and standing up. “Playoffs are over, right?”

“Right,” Colby says, grinning big, and Jordan grins too, huge and goofy and excited. Sidney wants to sigh, because going out and picking up girls, which is something other guys do all the time, should not be such a novelty, so exciting. He wants that to stop happening. He thinks he might be able to resolve this whole sex thing a little bit better once that stops happening.

The thing about change is that it takes Sidney a while to settle into it. Like when he starts wearing a new hat, at first all he can think about are the benefits of the hat he used to wear before: the perfect, folded curve of the brim, the softness around the seams, the way it sits on his head and flattens his hair the same way every time. But after a while, the new hat becomes the normal hat, worn in and broken down like the others, with its own set of luck and its own carefully formed shape, and it’s not a change anymore. It’s just another hat.

But having sex never follows that pattern, not really. He’s gotten used to having sex with girls, and it hasn’t gotten easier (though it hasn’t gotten harder, either), but Sidney still feels like it’s a change he has to break in and get comfortable with. He doesn’t like that. Change is best after a loss, after all, and this is still a change that came after one of his biggest wins ever. Sidney would like to shuffle it along now, and settle in.

Conversation still feels foreign to him. No matter how many times he’s done this, Sidney still doesn’t understand why anyone ever wants to sleep with him, because he says absolute nonsense most of the time. “Thank God you’re getting to see this, Army,” Jordan says, knocking shoulders with Sidney and still grinning widely, and Sidney reels back from where he’d been about to ask what a girl was drinking, was it good, should Sidney try it or order something else, and what would she recommend? “It’s like watching a baby moose learn to walk.”

“That doesn’t even make sense,” Sidney says, very reasonably, but Colby just laughs at him, and Jordan says in a hushed voice: “Ah, the whine. The mating call of the Crosby.”

“I thought I was a baby moose?”

“I thought you were a big ladies’ man now,” Colby says, leaning back in their booth and looking very unimpressed. “Have I been hearing tall tales?”

Sidney grumbles a little into his beer, pressing his lips together, because he is not going to be goaded into hooking up, he has more dignity than that. He’s here because this is a thing he does now, sex is a thing he does (sex with girls, and no one has to know what he thinks about when he jerks off). When he looks up again, Colby is kind of squinting at him, and then he says, “Whatever, this can be bro time, let’s get another round and—”

“I’ll get it,” Sidney says, getting up with his teeth gritted, because that, that right there, that’s worse than the goading, or the teasing, or the mortifying questions. That’s something way too close to pity, and Sidney doesn’t need pity. Sidney has sex all the time; no one should be pitying him for not having sex.

The bartender knows who he is, that much is obvious by the way his face lights up with interest as Sidney approaches him. For a few stupid moments, Sidney fantasizes that the bartender looks like that because he thinks Sidney’s attractive, and that maybe Sidney could talk to him (or not talk to him, he doesn’t think he’d be any better at talking to guys than girls, really) and meet him later after his shift. But obviously, that can’t happen, not with Jordy and Colby there, and because the bartender looks like that because Sidney is Sidney, and this is Pittsburgh, and this happens all the time.

Sidney signs a coaster as discreetly as possible, pushes it across the bar with too many bills, and orders more beer in his most unapproachable voice. The bartender grins anyway, seeing the autograph, miming zipping his lips and busying himself with getting the drinks. He’s really cute, Sidney decides with an unhappy pang, and he makes himself stare down at the bar counter while he waits, ears burning.

He looks up when the beers are thunked down in front of him, and before he can grab all three, one of them is snatched away by someone with silver sparkly fingernails. Sidney looks over to glare at her, because he doesn’t think girls should get away with that kind of stuff just because they’re girls, it’s a really weird form of this game that he’ll never understand, but the girl just looks back at him with wide, innocent eyes.

“Thanks for the beer,” she says, knocking back a healthy sip, and Sidney frowns and looks at the bartender, who is still grinning.

“I didn’t buy that for her, okay? She just took it.” The bartender laughs, thinking he’s joking, and he gets another beer for Sidney but doesn’t make the girl pay for hers.

The girl totally knows he’s not joking, because her eyebrow is raised and now she’s drinking the beer defiantly, and Sidney just doesn’t get how she thinks that’s okay, why that’s a way to flirt, and why it’s ever successful. It’s just rude. “Don’t be a grump,” she says as he gathers his three beers up, and she sidles up close, eyes sparkling in a way that reminds him of Max. Sidney shrinks back and narrows his eyes at her.

“Whatever, enjoy the beer, I have to get back to my—”

“Your friends will never stop giving you shit if you blow me off to run back to them,” the girl says, and Sidney stares at her because how can she know that?

Then he looks over at where Colby and Jordan are staring over the back of the booth with massive, shit-eating grins on their faces, Jordan’s lips moving like he’s still narrating the Sidney Crosby Nature Special. They duck down when Sidney meets their eyes, completely unsubtle, and Sidney sets the beers down with a resigned sigh.

“Fine. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I want to talk to you.” He leans against the bar anyway and starts working on one of the beers. As usual, his mouth is running away with his mood, and rationally he knows he’s being kind of a dick, and a lot childish, but so what. I don’t even like girls, Sidney thinks petulantly, leaning over the bar on his elbows.

“So what?” the girl says, leaning in so that they’re hip-to-hip. She’s tall, only two or three inches shorter than him, which is really kind of annoying. “Maybe I don’t want to talk to you, either. Maybe I just wanted a free beer.”

Sidney looks at the bartender, further down the bar now but still listening to them with amusement. He wants to tell him that he should really charge her for the beer; it’s the principle of the thing, now. In his head, he offers to blow the bartender in exchange for him charging the girl, and it’s a really, really dumb thing to think, especially with an objectively hot girl pressed up against him, giving him shit in the name of flirting.

“You’re something else,” the bartender says eventually, coming back to them and winking at her. “Stealing a beer from Sidney Crosby, that takes guts.”

“Who’s Sidney Crosby?” the girl asks plainly, and Sidney sags slightly in relief, as he always does when he hears that question.

The bartender nods towards Sidney, and Sidney tips his beer and nods back.

The girl just shrugs. “I don’t see what your name has to do with anything. I’m Rachel Meyers, and I stole your beer. See how that doesn’t make a difference?”

Sidney looks up at the ceiling, rolling his eyes as the bartender loses it laughing. She’s not even that hot, he thinks. And she’s really not funny.

“Good luck with this one,” the bartender tells him, patting him on the arm like they’re old friends now and heading down the bar again, and Sidney doesn’t know whether he’s subtle or not about checking out the bartender’s ass as he goes, but he’s too annoyed to care right now. And anyway, it’s a nice ass; Sidney has a general appreciation for asses that are nicely contained.

“Cold shoulder,” Rachel Meyers says, bumping his hip a little and setting her empty bottle down with a pointed clank. It rattles against one of Sidney’s beers, dripping condensation down the sides and pooling on the wooden bar top. “That’s very mature.”

“Fuck off, you’re the one who—”

“Are you still on that?” Rachel sighs very heavily and tosses her hair. Her eyes are still sparkling, and this is the game that Sidney doesn’t get, will never get. Why not just go up and talk to Sidney like a normal person? He prefers fan encounters to this, really; at least the fans are genuine. This feels more like a media scrum, and there’s nothing he hates more in the offseason. And fans are always nice to him, unless they’re from Philly.

Even so, he can admit that he’s being a little ridiculous. Rachel is being obnoxious but she doesn’t seem like she’s going to give up any time soon, and Sidney decides he might as well take the high road and be nice, even though it’s apparent that she can’t. He pushes over one of the sweating beers and watches her smile in victory. This is a nice smile, with faintly crooked teeth, and it’s real, truer than any expression she’s worn tonight, and for a second, Sidney has the weird compulsion to smile back.

It’s difficult to hold on to his petulant indignation in the face of that smile and on the high road, and when she talks to him in even tones that are still flirty, still slightly teasing but also gentle, now, like she’s willing to play nice if he is, he can’t help but start to relax, maybe for the first time since the elimination.

She truly doesn’t know who he is, fails all the clumsy conversational tricks that he lays out (“So, did you catch the Olympics this past winter?” “God, no. Who cares what people can do on ice; winter sports are all exclusionary and elitist, anyway.”), and he thinks that’s really why he keeps talking to her. Not knowing who he is is often a good enough reason for Sidney to sleep with a girl.

The more Sidney talks to Rachel, the more he kind of wants to talk to her. It’s weird. She still kind of vaguely bugs him, but once he feels like she’s not making fun of him anymore, it gets easier. They finish the four beers between them and the bartender serves them more with a knowing look, and this time Sidney only glances at him fleetingly, as he walks away.

“He has a great ass,” Rachel says, and Sidney doesn’t know if that means something significant, that she’s picking up on something from him, and right now he doesn’t really care. All he really knows is that he kind of likes her smile, and he never really notices things like that on girls. It’s strange, and it makes him weirdly hopeful.

By their last round, Sidney is pleasantly buzzed and his stomach feels odd, shaky in a good way, kind of like he just played an awesome game and he’s about to have an even more awesome shower. Rachel sets down her empty beer bottle and Sidney moves automatically to wave for another, and feels an unhappy jolt go through him when she shakes her head.

“I’m good, Sidney Crosby. Your friends ditched you, by the way.”

Sidney blinks over at his empty former booth, shrugging. “Whatever. You don’t want anything else?”

“I want you to come home with me,” Rachel says. He still feels a tiny flash of annoyance at her brazenness, can remember his own aversion to her in the beginning, but now it also seems appealing. It makes him feel brave.

“I want to go home with you,” Sidney says, surprised and pleased to find that he means it, and he puts his beer bottle down, too.

When she leans across the empty space between their stools and kisses him hard on the mouth, his first instinct isn’t to jerk away and hiss out about being in public, God, the bartender is probably taking pictures on his phone and the guys will never let Sidney live this down. No, Sidney just kisses back, and it feels natural and good. Kissing has always been okay, but this one feels especially okay, and there is a small, flaring thrill in the pit of his stomach.

“Have fun with the Kid!” the bartender calls out when Rachel pulls him off in the direction of a cab, and Rachel looks at him and says, “Oh God, you’re not underage, are you?”

“I’m legal,” Sidney says, and he puts his hand over his heart the way he would with Geno, playful and silly. “Promise.”

Rachel smiles at him and leans up again to kiss him, then pops open the cab door and pushes him inside. He feels that thrill again when he drops into the seat and she drops in on top of him, and he pushes his hand up her shirt with no prompting, no self-consciousness, just driven by that thrill.

Tonight, he actually does feel different, not like himself, like someone better, maybe. Rachel spends the car ride in his lap, kissing him over and over, thighs spread over his, and he runs his hands up over the curves of her breasts and does not worry about staying hard, for once.

Her hair is very curly and smells good when he puts his face in it; he feels bereft when they leave the cab for the open night air, but Rachel keeps him pulled close as they walk up the stairs to her apartment. Sidney wants to look over her place, like he’s done with all the others, but she shoves him through too fast and her bedroom is good enough, anyway.

“I’m glad you stopped being grumpy,” Rachel tells him, matter-of-fact, like she always knew Sidney would warm up to her. Sidney is too enthralled to really take offense or to get annoyed anymore, but he is kind of annoyed at the fact that Rachel’s stripped him naked and she’s still half-clothed.

“Can you take off your pants, please?” Sidney says, not whining even a little bit, the please in there on instinct, but she laughs anyway and presses herself against him from on top, kissing at his jaw.

“Yeah, eager is a much better look on you.”

“Fuck you, I’m not eager, I’m—” and he doesn’t know what he is, exactly, which is almost exactly why he’s here, but he decides that a better idea than figuring that out is just grabbing her and flipping them over, pulling her jeans off himself. Rachel laughs again, and moves easily with him.

Sidney has come to learn that sex, in general, is easy, even when it’s kind of a letdown for him personally. But sex with Rachel is more than just easy; it seems to finally fit him, to really play into what he likes from sex. Rachel is in turns pushy and pliable, willing to be bossed around and giving him confidence that he didn’t even know he had stored in him, but she knows exactly how to goad him, too, in the way that’s annoying and frustrating and stupidly arousing.

“Are you sure you’re not underage?” she asks breathlessly when Sidney starts out fucking her slowly, her legs wrapped tight around his waist, and he growls and pushes into her hard, harder still when she keeps going: “I really don’t want your parents reporting me for statutory—”

“You are such a pain in the ass, God.” And he’s smiling, sweating and smiling and fucking her, and Rachel’s smiling back, and Sidney has to wonder if she slipped something in his beer or something, because he’s never felt like this before.

His stomach has that weird shakiness again when he comes, and again when she comes, and he only really starts to recognize it when, after lying next to each other and panting out into the heated, humid air of her bedroom, she slides down his body and pulls the condom off for him, immediately cupping him. “Uh,” Sidney says, looking down, but Rachel rolls her eyes at him.

“I hope you didn’t think we were done, God, after all the bitching I put up with to get you here?”

“Jesus Christ,” Sidney says a little helplessly, partly because she’s getting him hard again (and that has never happened with a girl, ever) and partly because he knows what he’s feeling, suddenly and terrifyingly: he’s into her. He’s really, honestly into her.

It’s even easier to go again with Rachel, then, and to have another orgasm, to get her off while he’s kissing her slow and sloppy and thorough. Afterwards he feels like he’s wrung out, emptied of the playoffs loss and the pressures of change and the nagging, haunting fear of being gay. Sidney’s also blissfully happy, and touching her hair as she curls up around him feels like another goal celebration, a gentler, kinder one.

He stays in her bed, and he wants to stay, even as he grows sticky and slightly smothered with her still on top of him. Sidney’s heart is beating hard as she falls asleep, kissing his shoulder and saying, “Goodnight, Sidney Crosby,” and it stays kicking like a kettle drum when he thinks of a morning with her, something he’s never thought about before. Sidney wonders if she has a coffeemaker, if he’ll be able to figure out how to use it. He wonders what kind of juice she likes with breakfast, and if she’s even a breakfast person. Maybe she’s a tea person; he can work with that, too. The important thing is that he wants to, and that makes him slightly giddy.

Sidney wakes up to the sound of running water, and when he turns over and blinks in the sunlight streaming through the thin curtains, he can see Rachel in her bathroom, brushing her teeth over the sink. He doesn’t say anything for a moment, just watching, still happy, and she spits and turns around and smiles.

She’s wearing the button down shirt Sidney had been wearing last night; it barely covers her ass, because she’s so tall, and Sidney wants her back in bed with him and can’t believe he wants that.

“Good morning, Sidney Crosby,” Rachel says, leaning against her doorway. “Breakfast?”

“In a minute,” Sidney says, reaching out unmistakably, and she huffs like she’s bothered but moves towards him. She kisses him deeply, fingers pressed to the side of his face, his hand up the back of his own shirt and reveling in her warmth and her smell.

Rachel breaks the kiss too quickly, though, and her smile drops for a second when she pulls back, studying his face. Maybe he looks like an idiot, smiling besottedly back at her, but he can’t help it, and soon her smile comes back, soft and small.

She punches his shoulder lightly and says, “Get up, there’s a spare toothbrush on the sink you can use. I’ll start the coffee.”

He watches her go unashamedly, then pulls on boxers and his undershirt because she has the AC turned up. Sidney brushes his teeth thinking of more kissing, and other things he can do with a clean mouth, and goes outside to accept the coffee mug she gives him, trading it for another short kiss.

It takes him a while of watching her move around the kitchen, chattering about her superior egg-beating skills, to pick up on the fact that she’s not making eye contact with him at all. His quivery, butterfly-ridden stomach drops a bit, realizing that her mood is all wrong for how he’d pictured this. Rachel’s not happy like he is, despite the constant smiling and the cheerful chatter. And it’s really awkward, awkward the way it’s usually awkward for him, and that’s really disappointing because he thought this time would be different.

He wonders if he can make it different, if there’s something he’s not doing. “Can I help with anything?” Sidney asks, and Rachel shakes her head so thoroughly he can feel the motion through the air. The kitchen is pretty small and she is vibrating with something that’s not the happy, floaty feeling that’s now ebbing away from him, too, and Sidney can’t help wanting to get closer to her. “Seriously, I can—”

“It’s okay,” Rachel says, very bright and very firm. She still won’t quite look at him.

They listen to the AC and eggs crackling and cooking for a few moments, and Sidney has no idea what to say, never knows what to say, and now he really wants to. He quietly says, “Is there something wrong?” and wishes his voice didn’t sound so small; he feels like an idiot.

Rachel takes in a breath, and she starts, “Listen—”

“I really like you,” Sidney says all in a rush, because it’s true and because he wants to and because he hopes she wants to hear that.

Then the front door to her apartment opens.

Rachel finally meets his eyes, and she looks so sad that his heart clenches in his chest. The guy that walks into the kitchen has wide eyes and broad shoulders and seeing him feels like getting punched in the gut, and for a second all any of them can do is stare at each other. Sidney feels like he can’t breathe.

Then the guy talks, face growing red. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Sidney fucking Crosby? Really?”

Rachel’s face flashes, twists into something predatory and ugly, similar to how she had looked to him last night. “Did you think I’d just forget about you fucking her that easily? Did you think I didn’t know you’ve been texting her, too? I’m not an idiot, Jay, but clearly you are.”

“Jesus Christ,” Jay says, and he kicks a small, plastic trash bin across the room and shoves his hands into his hair. His face is nearly purple now, and he is staring at Sidney like he can’t believe he’s actually standing there. Sidney pretty much knows the feeling, because he’s staring back at him in the same way, he thinks.

Jay starts cursing, loud and brash and mean, and he kicks some cabinets, and Sidney would be concerned but Rachel is going back at him, just as loud and mean. He would listen to them, follow along, and maybe get angry along with them, but his chest aches too much and his stomach keeps turning like he might be sick. He stumbles out from between them, legs feeling numb and insubstantial, and silently returns to Rachel’s bedroom—their bedroom, and now that he’s looking he can see the men’s clothes and the men’s shoes and the men’s deodorant on the dresser, and God, he’s an idiot.

Sidney dresses mechanically, thinking about his shirt and deciding he’d rather set himself on fire than go out there and ask for it back. The shouting keeps going but Rachel’s voice gets closer, and when Sidney turns to head back out to the front door, she appears in front of her bedroom, eyes wet and wide and cheeks red and splotchy.

“Wait,” she says, when he just looks at her blankly and then pushes past her. “I’m really sorry, okay, I didn’t mean to—”

“Did you know who I was?” Sidney asks her flatly, his voice horrifyingly tight and choked, and he looks down and presses his lips together determinedly.

Rachel’s heavy, wet breath is answer enough, and he starts moving, but she rushes out words anyway, touching his arm. “He’s—he grew up in Philly, and when I saw you I just thought—it was too perfect, like fate, and—”

“Whatever,” Sidney says roughly, jerking out of her reach. His chest still hurts, like he really had been punched, and it takes him a while downstairs to call for a cab, because his fingers are shaking. It’s still early enough for a chill and he wraps his bare arms around himself, burning with disappointment and more shame than he’s ever felt before.

He feels almost as bad as after a loss, and in the cab he tries to calm himself down and rationalize, telling himself it’s not nearly as bad. But right now it feels like it, and it takes the long cab ride home, pinching the bridge of his nose and forcing himself to breathe slowly and deeply, to start feeling remotely okay again.

Sidney never thought he could feel like this about things that weren’t hockey. He wonders why people invite this, why they let this happen to them; what he felt last night doesn’t feel worth it, not now.

His stomach turns unpleasantly again when he rolls up in front of his new place, because he doesn’t want to be here. He wants to be back at Mario’s, and he feels incredibly stupid for wanting that, so he shoves the cab door open and forces himself to climb out.

Halfway up the footpath to the porch, the front door opens and Colby steps out, barefoot and holding a steaming mug. His smiles widely at Sidney as he sits down on the steps, but the smile drops almost immediately and he shoots back up again as Sidney nears him. “What happened?” he demands, reaching out, and Sidney shakes his head and doesn’t look at him, feeling ridiculous.

“Nothing. I’m fine.”

“Sid,” Colby says warningly, and Sidney grits his teeth and looks him in the eye and curses the lingering tightness in his throat.

“I’m fine. Drink your coffee.” Colby stares back at him, frowning deeply, but Sidney doesn’t break the gaze, concentrates on beating him out, and he feels something loosen inside him when Colby sighs and squeezes Sidney’s shoulders before dropping back down again.

“Fine. But you sit down with me; you can sit in silence but you’re staying with me.” Colby’s tone brooks no argument and he’d probably dive across the steps before he let Sidney pass, so Sidney nods reluctantly and sits next to him, folding his knees up and looking out across his tiny, fresh patch of lawn.

He doesn’t want to stay out here, doesn’t want to like Colby’s warm, steady presence at his side, somehow comforting and protective without even saying anything. They sit in silence, like Colby promised they could, and Colby sips his coffee and Sidney waits to stop feeling horrible, telling himself to feel okay until he starts actually feeling a little okay.

“Okay,” he says, after a while, and his voice sounds stronger. He doesn’t exactly want to talk, or to ask the question he’s going to ask, but this is the one thing that’s been bothering him all along: how could he be so stupid? “Can I ask you something?”

“Of course you can,” Colby says, frowning more.

Sidney frowns back, trying to figure out how to word this without sounding like a tool, and realizes it’s a lost cause: this morning, he’s a tool, there’s no getting around it. “Is it possible to be in love with someone after a couple of hours?”

Colby looks down into his coffee a little despairingly. “I think this needs to be more Irish for this conversation.”

“Colby, you said I could—”

“Look, I have no idea what happened last night, but you look like someone shot your dog in front of you, so I’m guessing it was nothing good. I really need a little more context for heavy questions like that.”

“I’m just asking in general,” Sidney says, glaring down at his knees. “You know I don’t know about these things.”

“Yeah, I know, and that’s why I’m kind of freaking out here. Will you please tell me what happened?”

In a split second, the thought of telling him feels okay, possible, so Sidney starts, keeping his voice flat and even. Halfway through he wants to stop, hates the angry, disappointed look on Colby’s face, but Colby is pressed up against his side stubbornly, listening even more stubbornly, so Sidney makes himself keep going. When he falls quiet, his own fists are clenched over his thighs, and Colby’s nostrils are flaring slightly with his breath.

“Fucking bitch,” Colby says, and Sidney flinches but barely stops himself from shaking his head.

“No, whatever, it’s not—she didn’t owe me anything, it was just a one night stand, right? I’ve done those before, and it was fine, okay. And I’m fine now, obviously, I really am—”

“My ass you’re fine, she broke your heart,” Colby tells him, and he gulps at his coffee angrily, scowling at his mug and at his feet and at Sidney’s sprinklers just turning on.

Sidney huffs and says, “She didn’t break my heart, don’t be so dramatic. I just—”

“You liked her,” Colby says, softer now, and Sidney’s mouth opens to deny it, but Colby’s face tells him how utterly useless that would be.

“I just don’t get how things like this happen,” Sidney says. “I didn’t think I could ever feel like this, and not so quickly, God. She drove me nuts last night, I wanted to kill her, and then I kind of wanted to marry her, and now I—I just feel stupid.”

“You’re not stupid.” Colby shakes him hard, looks at him until he can force eye contact. “It happens, Sid. You’re human.”

“I really liked her,” Sidney says quietly, and Colby makes a small, wounded noise of anger and slings an arm tight around his shoulders. The warmth of it kind of breaks his heart more, and he takes a shuddering breath and suddenly needs to tell him the rest, needs to get out the very core of what makes this fucked up. “I don’t really—I don’t like girls, Colby.”

He refuses to look at him in the immediate moments after he says it, the first time he’s admitted it out loud and meant it like this. It’s not that Sidney doesn’t like girls because one was mean to him this morning; Sidney just doesn’t like girls, and he’s known that for a while, but he liked Rachel, and that makes this suck so much more.

Colby is quiet long enough for Sidney’s heart to start pounding, for him to start inching out of his hold, his limbs kind of tingly with anxiety. But Colby’s arm tightens quickly, and he sounds fondly exasperated when he says, “I know.”

Sidney twists to face him, jaw going slack. “What do you mean, you know? What do you think you know?”

And now Colby looks like he’s trying not to laugh at him, resisting the urge to ruffle his hair. “You’ve never liked girls, Sid, come on. I’ve known you a long time. You like hockey, and I’m pretty sure you like guys at least a little bit, but you’ve never looked at a girl twice in your life.”

“That’s not true,” Sidney says, instinctual and silly because Colby’s right and he’s in the middle of admitting that he’s right. Colby does laugh at him then, and does ruffle his hair, and Sidney scowls and shoves him.

“A girl once asked you for your number, and you said ‘87’,” Colby says, picking his hand up and starting to count on his fingers. “Another one tried to split a dessert with you on your one and only blind double date—the one where Kris had to talk you out of climbing out the bathroom window, remember—and you told her you didn’t see the point in splitting desserts, you could afford to get your own and she shouldn’t worry about it because you were paying anyway. Oh, and this one, I was there for this one: that time that chick spilled a drink on you and offered you anything for your forgiveness, and you asked her if she knew of a good drycleaner—”

“Oh God, shut up,” Sidney groans, dropping his head into his hands. “You’ve made your point. I’ve never liked girls. But I liked Rachel, so how does that work?”

Colby shrugs, bumping him amiably. “Fucked if I know. Maybe you don’t like girls that are nice to you.”

Colby’s joking, but Sidney thinks about it. He shakes his head. “No, that doesn’t work, because I like guys that are nice to me.”

That gets him bumped again, and Colby’s eyebrows up by his hairline. “Oh really? And how many guys have been nice to you?”

Nice sounds like a terribly filthy word there, but for some reason, that makes Sidney comfortable enough to blurt out, “I let Rick Nash give me a facial in Vancouver, actually.”

He looks away, feeling stupid with nerves, but Colby’s reaction becomes apparent almost immediately when he starts shaking slightly at Sidney’s side. Sidney looks at him and rolls his eyes to see Colby’s fist shoved between his teeth, his face purple with suppressed, shocked laughter.

Sidney sighs. “Don’t freak out.”

Oh my God.

“Colby, come on.”

“You cannot just say things like that and except me not to—Sidney!” Colby collapses into choking laughter, and Sidney shoves him once more for good measure but can’t help his own small, rueful smile. He really should have known Colby would react like this, and now any other, more violent reactions seem ridiculous.

He waits for Colby to calm down enough to gasp out, “And Jesus Christ, you have a really weird definition of nice.” And Sidney has to laugh at that, shaking his head at himself.

“Tell me about it.”

“No, you tell me about it,” Colby says. “I am seriously hurt that I’m just finding this out now. I’m your best friend!”

“Yeah, you are,” Sidney says, and he tries to sound miserable about it, enough for Colby to finally shove him back, but he doesn’t really feel miserable. He feels better, actually, and he doesn’t have any answers, still can’t understand the Rachel thing and how he feels about it, but he’s better.

Talking about Nash is basically more embarrassing than anything else Sidney has ever done, but he feels lighter the more he tells, like he’d been carrying around the heavy weight of the encounter for too many months. It was a good weight, he knows, and he thinks Colby knows that, too, because at no point does he make threats against Nash, but still a weight, and it’s surprisingly easy to let Colby share it.

“So, definitely gay, then,” Colby says, and Sidney sighs and nods. He feels lighter to admit that, too, even though his stomach still sinks like he’s giving something up. “Okay,” Colby continues, and he claps Sidney on the back. “We can work with that.”

For the first time, Sidney feels like maybe they can.

4. Akron, Ohio

Before he leaves Pittsburgh for the rest of the offseason, Sidney drives to Akron, Ohio and goes to a gay bar.

“It’s okay,” Sidney tells Colby over the phone, while he’s printing out the directions to the bar and checking his hair in the reflection of his bedroom mirror. He probably needs more gel, maybe, and though his sister would protest, Sidney digs some out of his bathroom. “I have a plan. I’ve got this.”

He does have a plan. He has rules now, even, meant to prevent further disasters like the Rachel Meyers Incident, as he and Colby have taken to calling it. He’d talked some of the rules out with Colby but has mostly just written them down for himself, and he feels pretty good about them now.

Sidney may be bending the first rule a little already, as Colby has been quick to tell him, because the first rule is no sex after a loss. Losing makes him kind of crazy, Sidney has noticed, and it impairs his judgment and puts him in a slightly vulnerable position. Sidney isn’t going to risk that again, not for anything.

He thinks it’s long enough after the loss to Montreal, though, that the rule doesn’t count anymore. He tells Colby this, and Colby keeps arguing with him anyway.

“I’m not sure you’ve got anything,” Colby says. “Especially since you’re banking on the thriving gay bar scene of Akron, Ohio to help you out here.”

Sidney scowls at himself in the mirror, tugging his fingers through his hair thoroughly. Now there might be too much gel, his hair is kind of crackly, but he doesn’t have time to wash his hair again. “Whatever, I looked it up, there are some okay places there. And no one will recognize me.” Which is the entire point of Akron, Ohio, and probably the most important point, and of course Colby would miss that.

“Are you sure you’re not making a pit stop to visit your Columbus sweetheart?” Colby asks, voice pitched high and sing-song, because Sidney is never, ever going to live Rick Nash down.

“Columbus is like two, three hours out of the way,” Sidney says, and he sighs when Colby just breaks out into laughter, spluttering out, “You looked that up?!” “Anyway, that breaks the second rule, you know that.”

The second rule is another really important one: no sex with hockey players. Being a gay hockey player on his own is one thing, especially if there’s no way he can deny it to himself anymore. Being a gay hockey player and drawing someone else into a possible scandal is another thing entirely, and Sidney won’t ruin another player’s career just for sex. Risking his own career is hard enough, and it still makes his stomach turn over.

“Sure,” Colby says. “You really need to come out to Mario, just so we can make bets on how long it takes you to break that rule.”

“I’m going to hang up now, because you’re not being helpful,” Sidney informs him. “That’s another rule, right, I only have to talk to you when you’re being helpful.”

There are more rules than that, kind of a lot of rules, but Sidney tries not to obsess over them as he gets his car on the road and glares at Colby’s incessant, persistent texts. The rules are there to protect him, to keep him from making stupid choices in the name of experimentation or, God forbid, love, and they make him feel safe.

Colby was right about the lack of a thriving gay bar scene in Akron, but Sidney had looked up a good place that mostly fits the images of gay bars he’d had in his head. He can’t do this back home, can’t do this in Pittsburgh, but Akron, Ohio and the little spot he’d found scouring the internet seem relatively safe. Sidney’s a hockey player; there’s not much that anyone can do to him in there that would be worse than outing him.

Of course, to do this, he has to get out of his car, force one foot in front of the other, and actually enter the bar. He has to loosen his white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel and take a few deep breaths and move. Gay bars apparently look just like straight bars from the outside, Sidney notes, and he tries to comfort himself with that. He can do this with girls, though he still doesn’t quite understand how it all works. He’s sure he can get at least one guy to sleep with him, but he has to move first.

Sidney sits in his car and thinks instead, which is stupid, he knows. But he thinks about getting out of the car and walking in there and proving all the locker room talk right, once and for all. He thinks about how he’s still scared of that, and thinks that’s kind of worse than proving the talk right.

“Don’t be a pussy, Crosby,” Sidney tells himself, and he has to laugh at the irony. But it gets him out of the car, his head bowed and his shoulders up, just in case.

There is no sudden strike of bravery in the loud, bright atmosphere of the bar, brief mental pep talk or not. Sidney hovers close to the bar and maps out his surroundings, immediately noticing that gay bars look just like straight bars from the inside, too, except for the notable fact that there are no women. Well, there are men who are dressed as women, and Sidney forces himself not to stare, but everyone pressed up against each other, dancing and talking in the relatively small pockets of space between tables and booths, is male.

Sidney has never been to a bar by himself, and it feels strange to order just one drink. Stranger still is how he checks out the bartender without really noticing he does, because he does it all the time, but now the bartender checks him out, too. For a second Sidney fumbles his beer, ready to hightail it because he’s sure he’s been recognized, but the bartender just says, “New?” and nods at him when Sidney points his beer at himself.

“Yeah,” Sidney says, and the bartender clasps his hand briefly where it’s leaning against the bar top. Sidney can’t help but jump, yanking his hand back like it’s been burned, and the bartender grins at him.

“It’s okay, sweetheart. Everyone’s new at some point. Sit tight, you won’t be lonely long in here.” The bartender winks at him.

“Um,” Sidney says, because sweetheart, really, and that last comment sounded vaguely threatening, but the bartender is already talking to someone else, and Sidney has no idea how to demand that he elaborate without sounding like a tool.

So he drinks his beer and tries to pace himself; another rule is that he can never be drunk when he does this, always keeping full control of all his faculties. He’s not really the lightweight that everyone likes to tease him for being, but he likes to have his mind working all in order, even when his overactive thoughts are a hindrance. He likes to be able to plan out the steps of things and to stick to the steps, and to be quick enough on his feet to roll with it if the steps don’t work out.

Sidney only regrets the no drunkenness rule when he admits how nervous he still is, how he’s kind of terrified to talk to anybody. People talk to him, guys who bump into him and smile with hazy or interested eyes, and Sidney knows what it’s like to be chat up, but still really doesn’t know how to respond to it. He talks in monosyllables, clutching his beer like a shield in front of him, until the guys realize he’s actually terrible to talk to and move on. He wants to tell them that they don’t necessarily have to talk to him, or even like him; they just have to fuck him, but he doesn’t know how to get those words out.

The bartender sighs, clucks and shakes his head at him, and Sidney glares. “I’m new, remember?” Sidney says defensively, and the bartender doesn’t look impressed.

“There’s new, and then there’s new. Have another beer and go talk to Adam, he’s been staring at you for the past 20 minutes at least.”

Sidney twists to look at where the bartender is pointing, squints at a guy in a shirt and loosened tie with his sleeves pushed up to his elbows, standing with two friends at a high table and looking in Sidney’s direction. “I thought he was looking at you,” Sidney says, feeling himself flush even before the bartender starts laughing at him. He’d noticed the guy, notices a lot more guys than he ever did girls, and somehow that makes talking harder: he wants, now. It’s an unfamiliar feeling off the ice; there has never been anything he’s wanted before that he couldn’t make himself have, one way or the other.

Go,” the bartender says, shoving a cold beer at his back and making him yelp a little. People look at Sidney, including Adam, and Sidney holds his head up as high as he can, takes the second beer, and thinks about how he could totally take the bartender in a fight on the ice.

“‘Guys are more direct than girls about what they want,’” Colby had told him, reading from literature about homosexuality that he’d then emailed to Sidney, “to help”, much to Sidney’s horror. “‘It’s not that they don’t play games, or act coy, or always know exactly what they want, but they’re generally more confident about it. This comes from living in a patriarchal society that affords them a sense of entitlement that is—’ okay this is getting kind of ranty now, but the point stands, I think. Be aggressive, Crosby. Be assertive. Go get your man.”

“Hi,” Sidney says loudly, encouraged by Adam’s nod and the way his friends sort of back off, huddled in together and not really watching them, unlike some other friends Sidney could mention and whose absence he appreciates. Good start, Sidney thinks, and then of course it goes to shit. “The bartender said you were staring at me.”

Adam blinks, and Sidney hears Colby saying, “Assertive!” with a kind of manly growl in his head and thinks this is probably not what he meant.

“I’m sorry?” Adam says, looking uncertain and a little bemused, fiddling with a glass filled with ice and clear liquid. Sidney looks at his hands, his neat, callous-free fingers, and he likes the way his forearm strains against the cotton of his rolled-up sleeve. His stomach stirs with a low, slow burn of attraction, and it makes the stakes feel higher.

“No, don’t be,” Sidney says, and he leans against the table as naturally as he knows how, getting close. “I don’t mind if you stare at me.”

He flushes immediately, of course, because to his own ears that sounded like a line, oh God, and a sleazy one at that. But Adam smiles, takes a drink, and when he lowers the glass his lips are wet and shiny and Sidney never, ever notices things like that, and can recognize that means he’s into this.

“Good,” Adam says. “I like staring at you.”

They talk, then, and Sidney could not recount the things he says or explain any of them if someone put a gun to his head. He does know that he introduces himself as Stanley, “but call me Stan” and that Adam is okay with carrying the conversation because he can tell that Sidney is staring at the space where his tie is loose and the buttons of his shirt are open to reveal his pale throat, below a strong, stubbly jaw.

“I like staring at you, too,” Sidney eventually says, when they’re talking about something else completely, and Adam laughs and blushes and that makes Sidney feel pretty fucking ace.

Direct, he thinks to himself, watching the long, lean lines of Adam’s body shift against the table, his dress slacks tight and his thighs thin and neat. Adam talks with his hands and his hands look so good, and Sidney’s nervousness finally feels eclipsed by his want, the same kind of frenzied need he’d felt with Nash. He’s almost hard. Aggressive. Assertive.

“I really want to suck you off,” Sidney says, and Adam chokes on a piece of ice from his drink, spitting it back out hastily. Sidney can feel himself wanting to retreat, shrink back, and he would with a girl, but he wants this too much, and he’s being too honest to stop now. “Can I?”

“Um, yeah,” Adam says, with enough choked enthusiasm that Sidney thinks he actually means fuck yeah. That makes Sidney happy, brave enough to grab Adam’s hand and squeeze it and tug.

“Okay, let’s go.”

He’s pulling them toward the bathroom, willing himself not to sweat or think too much, but Adam digs his heels in and says, “Wait, no, ew, it’s dirty in there. We can go to my place.”

“I have my car,” Sidney says, feeling for a moment like he’s five years old and reminding himself to never go home with strange men. But he’s not five, and he’s entirely willing to let this strange man do whatever he wants to him, really, so he shakes that off and nods when Adam says, “Cool, you can drive us, I don’t live far.”

“Cool,” Sidney echoes, and he digs out his keys.

They kiss up against the car, long enough for someone to whistle and honk at them in passing, for them to laugh out loud together in the humid summer air. Adam says, “Aw, your laugh,” and kisses him again, harder now but faster, and then he pushes Sidney towards the car before Sidney can think too much about what he means by ‘aw’.

Adam doesn’t live far, but far enough for Sidney to feel nervous again. He wonders if he’ll always feel nervous about this, if it’s just part of the gay package for him, but inside his small house, Adam notices and touches his hand. “Uh, I can—”

“No, I want to blow you,” Sidney says firmly, and Adam grins and kisses him again.

“Cool. Go for it.”

It’s actually the perfect instruction, because that’s pretty much exactly what Sidney does. He pushes Adam until his back is against the door of his bedroom and he takes his pants down to his thighs and he licks him through his briefs a few times, because he saw that in a porno once and thinks about it a lot. He thinks about the last time he’d done this, how little he had thought at all, just tried and did it with no technique or fuss and liked it, so, so much.

He likes it again, his mouth sliding hastily over Adam, whose thighs are pale and shake under Sidney’s hands. Adam says things like, “Oh fuck,” and touches Sidney’s lips, and Sidney likes that even when it stings. He likes the way Adam tastes in the very back of his throat, like when he swallows he’ll taste him again even after this is over, and he likes how Adam moves his hips even when Sidney glares a little up at him, like he knows Sidney doesn’t mean it, and like he can’t help it.

“Of course you’re good at this, Christ,” Adam says, begrudging and breathless and amused, and Sidney hums at him in agreement and thanks and question. “I was staring at that mouth all night.”

Sidney tries to grin, discovers he cannot grin with a dick in his mouth, and tries deep-throating instead. It’s almost a success, enough that Adam swears a blue streak above him and then grabs his hair and says, “No, wait, I don’t want to come yet.” Sidney meets his eyes, blue blown to almost black, and swallows hard when he understands just by looking at him.

“You liked that,” Adam says, almost gentle, when he stands Sidney up and pulls down his jeans, tugs down his underwear, which has a small, embarrassing damp spot at the front. Sidney can only whimper as Adam takes him in hand, nods because it’s true, he really liked it, he thinks he always has, and he liked it enough that he’s not even obsessing about what’s going to come next. “Good,” Adam praises, guiding Sidney back and tugging his shirt off, pushing him back onto the bed. “You should like it, you’re good at it.”

Sidney falls back easily and has to grin about that, glad that Adam is too busy tugging off his own clothes to notice. He feels a weird, slightly embarrassed pride, the same way he feels after putting up a bunch of points and listening to people crow about it. Sidney Crosby: Master playmaker, good at sucking dick.

“You’ll like this, too,” Adam tells him, and he turns Sidney over onto his stomach, sticks a tube of lubricant against his hip to warm it.

The thing is, at first, he really doesn’t. It’s weird to feel Adam’s fingers inside him, even though Sidney’s done this to himself before, and he can’t help but tense up slightly the further Adam goes. He doesn’t like being pet like a frightened animal, either, which is kind of what Adam’s doing at the small of his back, and he cranes his neck back and loses his annoyance when Adam just grins apologetically and pulls his hand away. “Relax,” Adam says, leaning down and kissing him there, which is slightly better, so Sidney takes a breath and turns back around and tries.

He doesn’t know if relaxing is what makes it better, or if he relaxes because it gets better, but it does soon enough, Adam with three fingers in him until he feels sloppy with lube, and there are noises that make Sidney blush. It gets really good when Adam brushes over his heretofore unfound prostate, something he’d only read about in that goddamn literature Colby had sent him, but noises fall from Sidney’s mouth, then, and he works himself back on Adam’s fingers, works himself down into the bed until he’s all the way hard again.

That doesn’t last too long, though, because the next part kind of hurts too much to feel really good for a while. Sidney concentrates on breathing wetly into the pillow he’d jammed under his face, barely noticing that he’s gone soft until Adam wedges an arm beneath him and starts stroking him, petting him again until Sidney snaps, “Ugh, stop and just fuck me, come on.”

“It hurts the first few times,” Adam says, a little choked, easing in a little more, and Sidney chokes too because he’d thought he’d bottomed out already. But Adam sounds like an old wizard of gayness, handing down pearls of wisdom to a young, green virgin. I am not a unicorn, Sidney thinks a little hysterically, and he grits his teeth and instructs his ass to relax. He has never failed at something he truly wanted and he refuses to be a failure at gay sex.

“Good,” Adam says after a while, and Sidney kind of wants to punch him, because he doesn’t exactly feel what’s good, but then Adam’s moving and that feels pretty okay. Then it feels better than okay, Adam’s hand on his dick still wet with slick, working him hard and fucking him slow until Sidney’s making noises again, moans he tries to smother into the damp pillow. Adam tugs him up a little and Sidney moves with him, angling his ass up into the thrusts, and the noises are too loud to smother when Adam hits his prostate again. “Good,” Adam says again, and Sidney still wants to punch him except sort of not really, because punching him would probably make him stop. “You’re loud, that’s awesome.” He’s breathless and shaking and fucking him hard and that’s the only reason Sidney doesn’t rear back and snarl at him.

He still says, “Just shut up and fuck me, Jesus Christ,” because it’s a matter of pride, of course.

Sidney bites on the pillow when he comes, but it still sounds like he’s screaming a little, and Adam laughs until Sidney clenches down on him, and the laughter dies in his throat. He seizes up, pressing himself over Sidney’s back, a hand held tight against Sidney’s slick belly, and he groans deeply before falling away in a slump.

“Good,” he says one more time, wheezing it out a bit, and this time Sidney does punch him, though it’s sort of a loose fist that flops over in the vague direction of Adam’s ribs.

Adam untangles himself gently, and Sidney lies still and curls up a bit around the sting of him withdrawing, but his mind is blissfully blank with his orgasm, and he lets his face rest where it’s buried in the pillow. Adam strokes a quick hand over his back and says, “You can stay, if you want,” while he presumably dumps the condom, and Sidney is very comfortable but doesn’t actually want to do that.

He shakes his head and mumbles, “Nah,” into the pillow, and hears Adam laugh softly.


The call of his own bed lures Sidney up onto his elbows, and Adam is there with his clothes and a quick kiss. He thumbs at Sidney’s mouth when they break away and says, “Want my number?” and doesn’t look particularly shocked when Sidney says no, just a little bummed out. “Damn. That mouth, though.”

“Sorry,” Sidney says, actually feeling a little guilty as he pulls his clothes on. Adam was nice to him, better than he necessarily had to be, but it’s one of his rules to have no repeated performances. He doesn’t want to form attachments, knows how impossible it would be to follow through on those attachments with any consistency, and so he kisses Adam in another apology, until Adam is grinning at him.

“It’s okay,” he says, and he smacks Sidney on the ass before he leaves, jolting him and making him feel eerily like he’s about to step out on the ice. And also like he’s forgiven, which is a good thing.

The drive home is uncomfortable and too quiet. It feels too late to put on music, inching in towards early dawn, and the roads are empty and brightening as Sidney passes over the state line. He texts Colby first gay mission: success and tosses his phone into the passenger seat, knowing it will be a while before he gets a reply unless Colby stayed up all night to hear from him.

Sidney squirms in his seat and tries not to think about how this drive is so uncomfortable because he just took it up the ass for the first time, but then of course it’s all he can think about. He makes himself take deep breaths and thinks about it.

He’s gay now, he knows. It’s official; he’s gayer now than he was when he let Rick Nash come all over his face, gayer than those times he couldn’t get off with girls, or wanted to run away from them. He knows it, he knows there’s no denying it, and his stomach feels slightly shaky to think of it, still, to think of all the times this could have gone badly tonight, every moment in which he could have been recognized, and every moment he could still be recognized again.

Because even though he knows he’s never going to do this with Adam again, Sidney isn’t stupid enough to think he’s never going to have sex like this again. He likes it too much, wants it so much, more than he ever thought he could. That’s what makes his chest kind of tight, really. Before, all Sidney had ever really thought about wanting was hockey, and all there ever was was hockey. It was okay to not like girls that much because he liked hockey instead, and no one was going to hate him for that. They’ll hate him for this, and that’s not enough to make him not want it anymore, and that’s slightly terrifying.

He’s still thinking about it when he drives past his new house, past the house that’s being built for him, and keys himself into the Lemieux property, not actually realizing what he’s doing until he’s pulling into the driveway of the guest house. Sidney feels dumb, then, and kind of aching; the sun is rising over his former home and he thinks he can allow himself this brief relapse, just this once, as he gets out of the car.

He doesn’t know why he’s surprised to see Mario waiting for him on the couch, but his first thought is that he hopes he hadn’t stayed up all night. Mario looks him over, face giving away nothing, and then pats the couch cushion next to him. Sidney tries, with everything in him, not to flinch or wince when he sits down stiffly, but he thinks he sees Mario quirk a tiny smile anyway.

“Colby told me to watch out for you here,” Mario says quietly. There is an empty mug with a tea bag still in it on the coffee table in front of them, and the TV is on very low. Sidney rolls his eyes and sinks back against the couch, thinking about how much he hasn’t let himself miss this place, and how much he had failed.

“He tell you why?”

“Nope, just said you might want to come home for a bit.”

Sidney pushes aside the weird guilt he feels whenever he thinks of this place as home and tips his head back, closing his eyes. He doesn’t know what he wants to tell Mario, doesn’t know if he has to tell him anything. He’s not worried about telling Mario, not the way he’s worried about telling the team, but the words still feel stuck in his throat, making his chest tight.

It was always just hockey, but now there’s this, too, and for all that he’s never going to call Adam, all that he had never even gotten Adam’s last name, this is a big deal. This is bigger than all the girls. He really should tell Mario, because he thinks Mario might get how big this is better than Colby, at this point.

“I’m gay,” Sidney says, voice stupidly hoarse. “I’ve basically just confirmed that after six months of trying to figure it out.”

“Ah,” Mario says, and Sidney has no idea what that means so he keeps his eyes closed, even when he feels Mario clasp his knee briefly, squeezing. “Do you feel better knowing for sure?”

Sidney swallows hard. “I don’t know. A little? But I’m also—” Don’t be a pussy, Crosby he thinks, and can’t finish the sentence anyway.

He thinks Mario gets it anyway, though. “You know it’s okay, right? And it’ll be okay, no matter what happens, because you’ll have us and you’ll have Colby and—”

“You can’t tell,” Sidney says, eyes flipping open. “I mean, I can’t tell anyone, okay, not yet, I can’t—”

“You can, Sid,” Mario says patiently, squeezing Sidney’s knee again. “But you don’t have to. The most important thing is that you’re happy with whatever decision you make. You deserve to be happy.”

“I know,” Sidney says, trying to sound annoyed, because that shouldn’t be a revelation. Being happy is really important for his game.

“I hope you do,” Mario says, sounding a little like he doesn’t think so. “And now, I have to ask—”

“Oh no,” Sidney groans, closing his eyes again. Mario sounds amused but also a little serious, which is never a good combination.

“Are you being safe? Do you have a boyfriend?”

“Of course I’m being safe, and God, no,” Sidney snaps. “How would I have a boyfriend? How would that even be possible?”

Mario no longer sounds amused after that. “Of course it’s possible, and if it would make you happy—”

“It wouldn’t,” Sidney says quickly, and it’s true, really. He has no idea how he’d ever handle a boyfriend, could probably never deal with the constant pressure of upping the outing risks. That future he’d pictured so briefly with Rachel Meyers is completely unimaginable with a guy; how could he ever have that, and hockey too? It wouldn’t work. He wouldn’t know the first thing about making it work.

“No boyfriends,” he says when Mario opens his mouth again, and he meets Mario’s eyes unflinchingly, firm in his resolve. It’s one of his rules, really, goes along with that no repeated performances rule. Boyfriends aren’t safe, because feelings aren’t safe. There are too many possible disasters involved when things get personal. He can only imagine that the Rachel Meyers Incident would have been ten times worse with a guy.

“Okay, Sid,” Mario says, like he’s humoring him, and Sidney suddenly feels exhausted, entirely aware that he’s having this conversation without having showered.

“I’m going to go sleep now,” Sidney says decisively, standing up with as much dignity as possible. He still feels like a little kid when Mario says, “Sleep well,” with familiar warmth in his voice, but he’s so tired he doesn’t care.

He doesn’t really mind how young he feels when he crawls into his familiar-smelling bed again, is just grateful for the warmth and the certainty that comes from knowing this bed is still here for him, like this house, and like this family. It’s a pretty good feeling.

5. The Columbus Sweetheart

Sidney learns a lot about gay sex after that, more than Colby could ever teach him from his research. He learns a lot about himself, embarrassing things and surprising things (the more sex he has, the mouthier he gets, apparently, building confidence almost faster than he had on the ice, and with certain guys he can get downright bossy). He learns about how his body works, maps out his own boundaries and limitations and hotspots until he can tell guys exactly what he likes, and how, and he had never really figured out how to do that with girls.

And so the sex is almost always really good, worth fitting it into his training schedule, cutting down his time in Cole Harbor with the honest excuse of needing to train harder. Never mind that hooking up is impossible for him anywhere near his home; Sidney means it when he says he wants to concentrate on training, and he really does. He just also has a lot of really good sex.

Sidney knows it’s going to be harder once he heads back to Pittsburgh, and he’s fine with that, really. He can handle this best when it’s hockey and sex, but knows that if it comes down to hockey or sex, there’s no contest. Eventually, though, he comes to learn the most important thing, the very best part of this: having great, regular sex is apparently really, really great for his game.

It takes him a little while into the season to notice that, though there are rumblings of something special just humming under his skin all throughout training camp and seeing the guys again and the preseason. There are also some awkward bumps along the way, like hosting Columbus in exhibition.

There were a lot of things that Sidney could have predicted about facing the Jackets for the first time since the Olympics, and a lot of those things do come to pass. Rick Nash flings an arm around him when they pass each other for warm-ups, shakes him a bit and laughs in his face; Sidney is well-prepared enough for that that he doesn’t even shrug him off or flinch, just lets himself be shook and laughs back. Nash calls him “kid”, shouts at everyone else that they don’t even know what this crazy kid got up to in Vancouver, and that Sidney does shrug off, because he’d been expecting it, too.

The rest of his team also shrugs that off: “Did you stay up past midnight?” Max asks Sidney when he’s released from Nash’s hold.

“No, I bet someone held a door open for him and he forgot to say thank you,” Cookie says, and most of the warm-ups are then spent debating about what terribly boring stuff Sidney did in Vancouver. Sidney just grins and says, “Guys,” only once, because none of them bring up the possibility of him getting a facial in a bathroom, so that’s pretty cool.

Except, of course, for Nash, who brings up that possibility repeatedly and soundly throughout the game, spouting off about it at every faceoff, his voice sounding just good-natured enough spewing filthy things that it could all be a joke. And yeah, Sidney could have predicted that, too.

He doesn’t really care. It’s an exhibition game, and no one is really taking Nash seriously. Sidney doesn’t think Nash means for people to be taking him seriously; Nash keeps winking at him, suggestive and coy, like that’s going to throw Sidney off his game. Sidney has to roll his eyes back because no, that’s not going to do it, and now that he’s got a little more experience under his belt in that department, it takes much more to make him embarrassed about that sort of thing. Maybe if Nash were going on about how loud Sidney gets; that still kind of makes him cringe, but whatever.

Sidney really doesn’t think that anyone is bothered by the trash talk in particular, though there is a weird tension throughout most of the game. Tanger gets into two fights in the second period, and there are some little physical back-and-forths between Nash and Geno throughout, too.

And Sidney can see Nash jabbering away through each shove and flying elbow, can imagine what he’s saying by the tightness in Geno’s jaw, and the crushing hit Geno lays on Nash is what starts to get him worried, though not too worried. Not too worried, at least, until there’s under three minutes left in the game and Nash and Geno are actually dropping the gloves.

He has his back to them when it starts, and even once he turns he can’t believe that he’s actually seeing it. He knows, logically, that Geno can be easily goaded into stupid penalties, but he doesn’t fight, and not in the preseason, Jesus Christ. Geno rains hits down on Nash like he’d just been waiting for the excuse, and though there is a part of Sidney (the part that’s a good teammate) that is pretty proud of Geno for the eventual takedown, the rest of him is pretty dumbfounded, and very confused.

Nash never shuts up through the whole thing, which now makes Sidney cringe, and what’s worse is that Geno is talking back. He looks positively thunderous when he makes his way back to the room, and he doesn’t meet anyone’s eyes as he goes. Sidney finds himself gaping after him and has to be shaken out of it by a bump to the shoulder from Duper.

“Could’ve won a lot of money betting on that one,” he says, and Sidney just shakes his head and forces himself to put it out of his mind. This may be an exhibition game, but it’s still a game and there’s time on the clock, even if Sidney’s main concern right now is that Geno has been taken over by an alien.

He could never have predicted Geno fighting with Nash, not in his wildest imagination. And he tells himself that when he talks to Geno about it in the dressing room later, wincing at the hunted, slightly embarrassed look that Geno has when Sidney approaches him, even after the hooted congratulations from his teammates, that he’s doing this as a captain. Sidney tells himself that he’s not ridiculously nervous about Geno’s surprising and violent reactions to Nash, or what those reactions could mean.

“Geno,” is all Sidney has to say, before Geno is sighing and letting his shoulders slump, looking down at his untied shoes.


“You don’t have to be sorry,” Sidney says quickly. “I just—what happened? That’s not like you.”

“He say things,” Geno says, eyes burning again, and Sidney swallows hard and tries not to look at him too closely. The thing is, underneath the bewilderment and the confusion, Sidney has to conclude that Geno is kind of stupidly attractive when he’s gone all smoldering like that. And that’s a terrible conclusion, awful, it goes against his most important rule (no hockey players) and the most important subsection of that rule, underlined multiple times on his written list: ABSOLUTELY no teammates.

Sidney is shoving his unfortunate conclusion as far down in him as it can go, focusing on maintaining a concerned captain face and not staring at Geno’s pouting lips, and he is glad he’s doing so when Geno continues gruffly. “He say nasty things about you.”

Sidney’s stomach starts sinking, and he shakes his head quickly. “Whatever, Geno, he was kidding, he didn’t mean it. He was just being a dick. I’m sorry he got to you, but he really didn’t mean—”

“You don’t do things he say,” Geno says darkly, and he is positively scowling, his lip curling in disgust. Sidney’s stomach sinks even further, and for a small, breathless moment, he feels as shitty as he did the morning of the Rachel Meyers Incident, figuring out why she was avoiding his eyes.

It’s only a moment, though, because then his rational mind kicks in. Geno is being a good teammate. He’s defending Sidney, and he means well, and he doesn’t know that Sidney actually does do those things, and does them gladly. Geno just hates the thought of it, hates it enough to pound on Rick Nash in a goddamn exhibition game, and that’s what has Sidney’s stomach feeling like this. And that’s really stupid, because it’s not like Geno’s attitude is an anomaly; this is what he should expect in the locker room. He should have predicted this, and it’s stupid that he couldn’t.

“Of course not,” Sidney says, and he knows he’s a good captain because his voice stays steady and his face stays straight. “But I promise he was kidding, okay?”

“He talk like—” And Geno shakes his head, still scowling, and suddenly the fact that Sidney had even dared to think of Geno as attractive feels that much more like a betrayal. ABSOLUTELY no teammates, Sidney’s list says, and this is absolutely why.

“Whatever,” Sidney says again. “It’s done. You got some good hits in, eh? That’ll teach him to run his mouth off again.”

Geno tries to smile at that, though it looks more like a grimace. Sidney pats his shoulder, like a good captain should, and finishes changing. He doesn’t look at anybody else in the room, especially not Geno.

The final thing that he could have predicted was Rick Nash waiting for him outside of the room, dressed with his bag over one shoulder, eyebrows raised when Sidney walks out. Sidney eyes him warily, glances around to make sure they’re alone, and warns, “If you so much as breathe at me suggestively, I’ll make that pounding Geno gave you look like a handshake.”

Nash laughs out loud at that, doubling over as Sidney scowls at him, but eventually he straightens up and sticks out his hand. “Okay, I’ll take that handshake and raise you an apology. I didn’t mean to stir up that much shit; I got a little carried away.”

A little,” Sidney repeats, but he’s really not mad at Nash, and he shakes his hand gamely.

“I guess your exploits aren’t as widely known as I thought,” Nash says, shrugging and putting his hand in his pocket when Sidney gives it back. “I know at least one asshole who knows about them, since he called me up with some very interesting threats against my person—”

“Fucking Armstrong,” Sidney says, groaning, and Nash grins at him widely, playfully bumping shoulders with him.

This is, of course, the moment that Geno chooses to come out into the hall, and the scowl that had finally faded away returns again in an instant. Sidney instinctively puts himself between them, that awful foreboding feeling that he recognizes as disappointment unfurling within him again, but Nash sticks his hand out, still grinning big.

“Hey man, sorry things got so heated. No hard feelings, right?”

Geno glares at him like he’d rather shake the hand of a scorpion, and Sidney can’t help but tense up. But Nash is undeterred, keeps his hand stubbornly held out, and Geno looks between them a few times before slumping and taking Nash’s hand in a grip that looks like it hurts.

“No feelings. Sid, we go.” Geno’s still speaking in short, harsh sentences, and Sidney imagines he can hear the bones in Nash’s hand getting ground together, but his face softens a little when he looks at Sidney, and his eyes go big and a bit downcast. Sidney is nodding and moving before he can even think, but it’s not fast enough to avoid Nash’s hug.

“Sid’s a good kid, Geno, you look out for him,” Nash says, always straddling that line between earnest and mocking, arms warm and too familiar around Sidney, and Sidney sighs but Geno looks solemn when he nods.

“Of course. We go now.” Geno glares again when Nash doesn’t immediately release Sidney. “Let go.”

“Of course,” Nash says cheerfully, and he gives Sidney a little shove towards Geno.

“Asshole,” Sidney grumbles, and that, somehow, makes Geno quirk a small smile. Sidney chooses to focus on that smile throughout the night, when he and Geno grab dinner together, and not on anything else about Geno. It’s certainly not the first time he’s had thoughts like that about a teammate, and not even the first time he’s had them about Geno, if he’s being honest, but they’ve never felt so dangerous as they do now, so he forces them down, forces down the hollow feeling in his gut when he hears you don’t do things he say.

How would you feel if you knew I did those things? Sidney wants to ask, but he doesn’t, because he’s pretty sure he knows the answer.

He doesn’t let it become an issue, an obsession. His season is going too well for that, and so are his off-ice activities. It’s easy to lose track of the guys because there are more of them than there were girls, and he doesn’t always get their names, but that doesn’t make it any less great.

Some of it is just fumbling in bathrooms, and Sidney is so weirdly okay with that, okay with being on his knees on a dirty bathroom floor, because it all just works for him. He still likes sex on road trips best, giving himself until curfew to be clear of the team and pick someone up, mess around as much as he can, and then get back in time for them to think he’d stayed in all night.

Sometimes, that’s impossible, because Geno wants to stay in with him, or Tanger does, or Max won’t take no for an answer and drags him out. Those times, he either grins and bears it or manages to skip out early and at least have time to make out with someone, to push someone up against a bathroom stall or be pushed. Sidney likes both, really, likes using his strength some nights, likes being held down too because it reminds him of Nash and being on the ice. He likes everything, he’s come to realize, even the parts that can still be awkward, or the parts that get messy or uncomfortable.

“Back to the monastery, huh?” Max asks him one night, and Sidney shrugs and says, “Yeah, all that really wasn’t for me,” and he isn’t lying at all, of course. Hooking up with girls really wasn’t for him. But hooking up with guys? Yeah, that’s kind of Sidney’s thing now.

He keeps Colby marginally informed, though he almost doesn’t have to. “You’re crushing it out there, man,” Colby tells him, sounding awed and grumpy at the same time. “Starting to think I’m batting for the wrong team.”

The thing is, Sidney would totally market gay sex as a performance enhancer if everyone else wouldn’t think that was insane. Everything is just clicking for him all at once, all the time, syncing up perfectly and keeping his mood continuously bright, so much so that no one even really gives him shit for long about supposedly abandoning sex. “Keep doing what you’re doing, Sid,” Dan says, and Sidney tips his hat and thinks about his point streak, thinks about how last night, he’d bent someone over a sink of extremely questionable hygiene and fucked him until he couldn’t even think about the sink anymore. Yes, he is definitely, definitely going to keep doing what he’s doing.

“I never thought I’d say this,” Colby says incredulously, listening to Sidney attribute a four point game to the guy with amazing, goalie-like flexibility that he’d gone home with the night before. “But you’re kind of a slut, you know that?”

Sidney balks, glaring at the phone so hard he’s sure that Colby can somehow tell. “I am not a slut, what the hell.”

“How many different people have you had sex with this week?”

Sidney thinks about it; they’re in the middle of a road trip, so it’s been a few. “Whatever, not that many. It’s not like I do it every night, that’s impossible. That’s not—I’m not a slut!”

Colby just laughs at him, of course. “Don’t worry, I won’t call you that in front of Geno. I hear he gets sensitive about that sort of thing.”

Sidney’s stomach sinks familiarly to think of Geno, and he has to quickly shake off the melancholy, starting a pointless argument with Colby about what kind of sluttish things he could do to improve his own point production. He doesn’t want to think about how Geno feels about any of this, not that he has even a clue of what’s going on.

For how often he does this, and how good it feels, Sidney is very, very careful not to ever let any of the guys catch on, particularly Geno. It makes him feel a bit guilty, especially when Mario tells him he’s being kind of an overdramatic idiot about it, but it still feels so wholly necessary. The part of him that loves and trusts his team wholeheartedly thinks that they could handle this, would at least try to hide their disgust if they had any. And that same part of him just isn’t willing to risk his relationship with his team in case they can’t.

There are other things he’s not willing to risk, too. Sex on a road trip is good for anonymity, and so is sex in Akron, Ohio on his nights off or after an early home game, but Sidney gets recognized sometimes, too. He’d known it was bound to happen, because even though he tries to live in a fantasy world where all gay men hate hockey and he’s just an exception to that rule, he also knows that’s ridiculous. Also, Stanley is an absolutely terrible fake name for a hockey player, but Sidney likes routine too much to think of a new one.

He always bolts when he’s recognized, despite most guys’ assurances that they’re not going to cause trouble for him. “You all have cameras on your phones,” Sidney points out reasonably, and he runs before they can take that as a suggestion. Most of the time, guys that recognize him just seem to feel bad for him, clucking over him like they want to wrap him up in a blanket and help him hide, and he thinks he hates that almost as much as the thought of outing. He likes to be in control of this thing; being outed would take it out of his control, so that can’t happen. Sidney certainly doesn’t want to be pitied for that choice.

The HBO series adds another layer of microscopic examination to his life, more cameras around to make Sidney freeze up and second-guess himself, and he tries desperately not to let it show. He refuses to obsess about what the cameras catch, but sometimes he can’t help it; does he look at Geno too much, or maybe not enough? Does he keep his eyes at a respectable level in the dressing room? And of course he does, he’s always made sure of that, but sometimes he feels like everything’s written all over his face, and that’s a little scary.

But he doesn’t have time to be scared about it, really. There’s a point streak and a win streak to protect; Sidney’s growing a mustache that actually makes guys at the bars recoil, which he finds more amusing than insulting. “Why?” one guy asks him, cupping thin fingers over his mouth in horror while they stand at the bar and chat. “How could you think that that’s a good idea?”

“I lost a bet,” Sidney lies, mentally apologizing to the hockey gods and hoping the universe doesn’t treat that as a jinx. The guy shudders violently.

“You lost a bet to a very mean person. I hope you don’t think you’re kissing me with that thing.”

Sidney laughs and shrugs a little bashfully. “Fine, no kissing.” But the guy is perfectly fine with Sidney’s mouth on other parts of his body, so Sidney has to call that night a win anyway.

All streaks end eventually, though, and Sidney keeps to his rules and doesn’t have sex the night that the Pens’ win streak gets snapped in Philadelphia, though the fact that it’s the Flyers stings almost enough to make him want to go out and forget about it. He doesn’t, though. Sidney keeps his head up and sticks with his team and listens to Dan: “It really sucks to lose.” Yeah, it does, and as much as having sex all the time has been pushing Sidney to win, he knows it can’t ever erase the loss.

He does buy a new hat, though. Change is good after a loss, and Sidney folds the brim carefully in his hands while he watches game tape, thinking about hands on his wrists, his knees pushed to his chest while someone moves over him.

He is tempted again when his point streak breaks, more tempted than ever. Sidney is sort of glad that Long Island is something of a cultural wasteland, though he knows if he tried he could find gay people here. Gay people are everywhere, he’s discovered, and they always have been, and that had been something of a convenient revelation for him through all this. And Long Island being barren and boring and kind of horrible isn’t what keeps him from going out and breaking his no sex after a loss rule. Geno does that.

“Sad about loss, Sid, need shoulder to cry. I drown sorrows in vodka and you watch, because you are good friend,” Geno says very plainly. It’s utter bullshit, of course, because no one is really that much sadder about the loss to the Isles than any other loss, except for maybe Sidney. But Geno looks stubborn, which of course means he’ll be unmovable, so Sidney shrugs and ignores the twitching need to go out and let someone hold him down and fuck him until he can’t think.

“I wasn’t going to go out anyway,” Sidney says when they’re in his room, Duper off with Tanger or maybe with the rest of the guys and Geno sprawled over his bed with the mini-bar emptied out in front of him. Geno nods, eyes flicking between the TV, which has something mindless on it, and Sidney over on the other bed. He has a little bottle of vodka pressed to his lips, which are wet and shiny from the previous bottle. Sidney looks at the TV.

“Never go out anymore,” Geno says, and Sidney hunches his shoulders defensively for a minute, forgetting that this is Geno, who never gives him shit about that kind of stuff.

“Whatever, it’s obviously working. Or it was working. I’ve been staying focused and keeping distractions out and it’s been paying off. It was paying off.” He doesn’t consider being gay a distraction anymore; it kind of feels like an old hat, a really great fit, a supplement to his routine that he had never discovered before.

“Still pay off,” Geno tells him, and now Sidney can tell Geno’s beyond pretending why he’d insisted on staying in with Sidney tonight. Geno still goes out with the guys. He hooks up with girls, has a girlfriend that he’s on and off with so much that Sidney can never keep track. And now he’s looking at Sidney with big, solemn eyes, eyes that Sidney meets and has to count the seconds he spends staring at them, because how long is too long? There is that line again, the line he can’t cross, the line that he has to remind himself of every time Geno shifts so that his t-shirt rides up and Sidney can’t let himself look.

It’s okay to be gay, Sidney knows. Mario tells him that often enough, because he thinks Sidney forgets sometimes, and the rest of the Lemieuxs, too, who all know how to keep important secrets while still giving him shit for them. He couldn’t tell the Lemieuxs without telling his family, he hadn’t been able to stand the guilt, and it had been okay with them, too, if a little awkward. But it’s not even a little bit okay to be gay for Geno. Sidney can only be gay with rules.

No sex after a loss, Sidney recites in his mind, looking away from Geno again. No sex with hockey players. ASBOLUTELY no sex with teammates.

“Not have to be perfect all the time, Sid. You get more points again,” Geno tells him. Sidney swallows hard and knows, rationally, that he’s right, that Geno’s always right. But at the same time, what he’s been doing has been so close to perfect that it’s heartbreaking to lose it now. And he’s not just talking about hockey, though that’s part of it. Perfect for Sidney has been rough hands on his skin, fingerprint bruises he has to palm to hide in the showers. It’s been his throat sore and aching in the best way, and finally doing something right that’s not hockey.

He’s not good at people, he never has been, and he’d always used that as an excuse not to have sex. But it turns out he’s good at his kind of sex, and that makes him better at people by extension. And that feels like a kind of perfection he’s been missing his entire life.

“I know that,” Sidney says, and he almost adds I’m not perfect. Because he’s definitely not; all those men, and all those points, added up to a streak of almost, very close to perfect, and still not close enough to keep him from his shower later, Duper back and snoring and Geno off in his own room. None of that was enough to keep him from turning the water up hot and biting on one fist and jerking himself until he’s slumped against the shower wall, breathing hard and harsh and aching, not in the best way. There is nothing perfect about thinking of Geno’s big eyes and his big hands and the ripple of his shoulders beneath his t-shirt while he comes.

There’s nothing that’s anything close to perfect there, and when it’s over, Sidney feels like he’s snapped more than a point streak.

6. Certain Slants of Light

Losing the win streak and then the point streak is the start of some kind of terrible streak of luck and fate that gets pretty fucking awful during the Winter Classic. Sidney does a lot of stupid and/or crazy things, sometimes, when things aren’t going his way, and he mostly chalks the Rachel Meyers Incident up to that. Now, with the promise of downward fate hanging over his head, Sidney burns his new hat on his grill and sticks with his old ones, hoping that will help. That’s a crazy thing, he thinks, so he doesn’t tell anybody about it. He doesn’t tell anybody about the stupid thing, either.

The stupid thing goes like this: Sidney and the Penguins lose in the Winter Classic. They lose to the Capitals in the Winter Classic, which is almost as bad as breaking a win streak to the fucking Flyers. They lose to the Capitals in the Winter Classic, and Sidney takes a bad hit that no one saw coming, not him or the person hitting him, and he may or may not have a concussion. So that’s step one of the stupid thing.

Step two of the stupid thing is probably not going to the hospital, exhaustion and tension rattling his bones as he lets himself be examined and tested and finally cleared by the team doctors. Step two involves coming out of the borrowed exam room to find Geno waiting for him, feeling his stomach squirm under the intensity of his concern. Sidney still feels like he’s being tested, and like he’s failing a fundamental test as he assures Geno he’s fine, really, he’s just going to go home and get some rest.

The thing is, he’s lying, and Geno knows it, except Geno doesn’t know the truth, could probably never guess it. Sidney is fine, he’s pretty sure he is, except for the itchy tension thrumming through his veins, his fingers flexing into fists and his teeth on edge. He’s not going home tonight; he’s going to get in his car and drive to Akron, Ohio and tell the first gay man he sees there to push his face down into a pillow and fuck him as hard as possible. He’s going to break his rule. Geno would never imagine that.

“No,” Geno says, and he’s taken ahold of Sidney’s arm, which he’s usually okay to do. Tonight Sidney wants to jerk away from him, because he doesn’t want to be touched like that, like something’s wrong with him, especially not when he feels so wrong, and when there’s only one kind of touch that can make him feel right again.

“Yes,” Sidney says. Geno sets his jaw, and Sidney knows he’s in trouble.

“If you fine, you come out with me,” Geno says, because he doesn’t believe that Sidney’s fine, not even a little bit. Sidney glares down at his shoes.

“I’m fine, Geno.”

“Good. We have great time, then.”

And then it’s like Sidney doesn’t really have a choice in the matter; if he goes home (or doesn’t go with Geno, really) he’s admitting that he’s not okay, which he’s not willing to admit just yet. Later, he will wonder if the steps could have been cut off there if he had just admitted it, if he’d just listened to the churning of his gut. But right now it’s not even an option.

“I’m fine,” Sidney repeats, and he follows Geno out to a cab.

Step three is not bolting when he sees what, or rather who, going out with Geno involves.

“Oh, fucking shit,” Sidney says when Ovechkin’s grinning face pops into his suddenly swimming vision, Semin’s bowed head right by his shoulder and looking exactly how Sidney feels when he sees them. Geno doesn’t hear him because the club he’s taken him to is pounding with an obnoxious bass, the kind that Sidney can feel like a hook in the base of his skull. He grits his teeth together when Geno just looks back at him, all big-eyed innocence, and clearly mouths okay, Sid?

Sidney calls Geno’s bluff and shoulders past him, not surprised when Geno leans in very close to him soon after and shouts in his ear, “Is okay, we go home, I just want to—”

No,” Sidney snarls, craning his neck around, Geno pressed against his back and peering down into his eyes with discomfiting awareness. “You wanted to go out, so we’re out. I’m fine, remember?”

“Sid—” Geno shouts, eyes flashing with guilt, and Sidney is angry. He feels young and stupid and very angry, with himself for being a stubborn idiot and with Geno for pushing him into it, thinking Sidney would break first. Sidney has broken way too much lately, and he can feel in the way that he’s too big for his skin tonight that he’s going to break some more. But he can’t let himself break with Geno; that’s one rule that’s never, ever going to be broken.

“Sidney Crosby! Come to finally shake hands?” Ovechkin bellows at him in what Sidney imagines is his normal speaking voice. This makes him perfectly audible over the music, more so even than Geno still spluttering guilty protests at his back.

“Why aren’t you with your team?” Sidney asks, going for disgusted and probably only making it to disapproving; he decides to blame it on the noise.

Ovechkin shrugs. “My team not need me.” His grin is nasty, all of his teeth bared with that stupid gap. “My team win, you see.”

Sidney wonders if wanting to break a bottle over the bar and stab Ovechkin in the neck with it makes him a sore loser. Probably it does.

Geno and Semin have their heads bent together, speaking to each other in fast Russian that Sidney couldn’t understand even without the noise; Geno looks worried and wounded and Semin looks bored, drinking out of a sweating glass and nodding along. Ovechkin is ignoring them, obviously waiting and hoping for Sidney to rise to his bait and maybe try that bottle trick.

That would be pretty predictable, he thinks; it is the first day of 2011 and Sidney just lost. He wants to have sex so badly he’s practically vibrating, and he feels stupid and crazy and just on the other side of in control. This is why he orders a single beer, swearing that it will be his last of the night, and clinks it against Ovechkin’s frosty glass of vodka.

“To the Washington Capitals, then,” Sidney says, and Geno is looking at him like he just confirmed his concussion to all and sundry. “The winners of the Winter Classic. Cheers.”

“Can do that, but can’t shake hands,” Ovechkin says, but he drinks and keeps grinning.

Sidney shrugs and looks at his beer. “I’m a complicated guy, Ovechkin.”

“Yes,” Ovechkin agrees, and he orders shots of vodka and sticks two in front of Sidney, who rolls his eyes and holds up his beer.

“Complicated and staying sober.”

“Boring,” Ovechkin says. Geno and Semin are watching them talk as if waiting for a bomb to go off, though Semin is starting to look amused, at least. Geno shouts something, probably English judging by the way it’s directed at Sidney, probably more entreaties to go home. Sidney ignores him, finishes his beer, and knocks into a girl with platinum blonde hair, as tall as he is, with a curl to her pale pink upper lip that reminds him of Rachel Meyers.

“Dance?” he shouts in her face, too tired and swallowed up in sound to go through his exhausting awkward process, and she purses her lips until he puts a hand at her waist. He doesn’t really care if she says yes or not, will just ask someone else, anything to get into that crowd long enough to get lost and be able to sneak off.

She says yes, though, probably because she doesn’t care either, and Sidney pulls her into the crush of bodies without asking her name, the first time he’s ever done that with a girl.

His head really fucking hurts.

He’s a terrible dancer, still, though he’s never cared about that and isn’t about to start. She gets fed up with him fast but it’s too soon for him to make a break for it; Geno is still watching with Semin, though Ovechkin has disappeared, probably not about to be upstaged at hooking up by Sidney Crosby.

Sidney’s looking for someone else to eat up time with, edging deeper into the sweaty, moving mass of people (God, his head hurts, and he hates clubs so much). He thinks his head hurts too much to drive to Ohio, thinks he’ll have to risk a bar he knows that’s not too far from here, that he’s never been inside of but knows he’ll be able to use it for his very simple purposes tonight. It’s 2011, and he’s still Sidney; the only way he can break rules is to plan it out as carefully as possible, even when he’s planning out recklessness.

There is a body too close to him, too big against him to work for what he wants out of the girls. Sidney barely has to hear the loud laughter in his ear to know who it is; he turns around slightly and glares up through his eyelashes.

“You terrible dancer,” Ovechkin tells him. He looks delighted.

“Fuck off.”

“Zhenya worry about you,” Ovechkin says, and when Sidney goes to move away, Ovechkin locks his hands on his hips. Sidney’s body seizes up before he can help it, and sweat beads all over his skin. Ovechkin is very warm and too close, crowding Sidney like he only allows in very specific contexts. If they were moving, it would look like they were dancing.

Sidney’s head really hurts.

“He’s the one that wanted to go out,” Sidney says, twisting to face Ovechkin completely, trying to push him away. Ovechkin just grins down at him, still nasty. His hands are hot brands through the denim of Sidney’s jeans, fingers dug in, too strong. “I’m fine.

“Is what I say, too,” Ovechkin says, nodding eagerly, pressing closer. “Sidney Crosby always fine. Evgeni say no, is just out to prove something. Always want to prove something.”

“Tell Geno he can—”

“I know is not true.” Ovechkin’s eyes glitter with the lights that are trying their damnedest to blind Sidney and make sure his brain never works properly again. “Sidney Crosby only want one thing.”

“What’s that?” Sidney asks through gritted teeth.

“To win.”

It would have felt less like an insult if he’d spit in Sidney’s face, and Sidney burns with a rage he doesn’t think he’s ever felt before. He wants to beat Ovechkin over the head with the Stanley Cup, to strangle him with his gold medal ribbon. He wants to tally up the wins and the losses between them, tell him what a joke this entire “rivalry” has been, and what a joke Ovechkin is. He wants to ask what Ovechkin knows about winning anything more than two points.

And that’s what Ovechkin’s expecting. Maybe that’s what he wants from him, too. But he has his hands on Sidney’s hips, his eyes bright and catching intently on Sidney’s face, and in certain slants of light, Sidney can hold his breath and imagine, for a moment, that Ovechkin wants something else, too.

Sidney moves closer, a vicious satisfaction slicing through him when Ovechkin’s eyes widen.

“That’s not the only thing,” Sidney says, and though he’s sure his tone is unmistakable (and it’s strange, now, that he can even place that tone, can recognize it in his voice, when not too long ago he hadn’t even been able to hear it in other voices), Ovechkin’s searching look begs for more definitive action.

Sidney snakes a hand between them, moving closer still. Nobody else in the club can see Sidney’s hand on the inside of Ovechkin’s thigh, and they’d have to look very closely to see Ovechkin swallow hard and tighten his fingers at Sidney’s hips.

“Sid?” Ovechkin asks, and Sidney presses close until there is no space between them, his hand crushed up against Ovechkin. He meets Ovechkin’s eyes and nods very firmly.

“Don’t call me Sid.”

Ovechkin lets out a breath that seems to release all the air in him, but his mouth curls back up into a nasty grin. “Meet outside?”

“Five minutes, under the awning of the hardware store across the street.”

“Go to my hotel,” Ovechkin says.

Sidney scoffs. “Don’t be an idiot.”

“We go to your house, then?”

“Of course not. No way.” He leans up, so that someone would have to be right in his face to hear what he says. “You can fuck me in a back alley for all I care right now, but you’re not getting in my house.”

“Hotel,” Ovechkin says hotly, now sounding slightly annoyed, his fingers still clenching hard. “Sid will have to be sneaky.”

“Don’t call me—”

“Five minutes,” Ovechkin says, smacking his two palms against Sidney’s ass and then pulling away, cheerful and beaming. Sidney eats up the five minutes making sure Geno’s lost him in the crowd, scowling, telling himself that this is possibly the stupidest thing he’s ever thought about doing, and not letting himself back out of it.

Ovechkin has a cab waiting for them and he doesn’t bother keeping his hands to himself once they’re inside it, despite Sidney remaining stock-still and unmoved and glaring straight ahead at where there is a cab driver, Jesus, he may be making poor decisions tonight but he’ll never make a public groping in front of people decision, ever. Ovechkin has no such qualms, muscling right up into Sidney’s space, spreading his hand out over his ribs and dipping his face into the side of Sidney’s neck, breathing deeply.

“Stop it,” Sidney snaps, shoving him slightly. When Ovechkin just chuckles, dragging his knuckles across the stretch of Sidney’s ribcage, Sidney reaches down and north of his thighs this time. He cups and squeezes and means it as a warning, a promise, and a bit of a threat, but Ovechkin moans something in Russian and just drapes himself closer.

“Mixed signals,” Ovechkin breathes out into Sidney’s hair. “You complicated guy.”

They have already had this conversation; Sidney rolls his eyes and doesn’t answer.

He’s thinking about the hotel, how they’re going to navigate a floor full of Ovechkin’s teammates. He feels like he’s entering enemy territory, swimming in shark-infested waters while bleeding profusely, and is starting to feel immensely stupid about this whole thing, sure this won’t be the last time he feels stupid tonight.

“How—” Sidney starts in the elevator, swallowing hard, and Ovechkin just backs him up against a wall and smiles down at him.

“Team is out. We win game tonight, so—”

“Can you fuck off with the gloating, please? And they’re all out?”

“What, Penguins usually stay in after win? Play board games and drink milk?”

“Fuck off,” Sidney says again, growling it out this time. Ovechkin just hums and leans closer, and Sidney is simultaneously grateful and annoyed that he’s actually turned on. He rationalizes that Ovechkin could be anyone male right now, that he vaguely fits Sidney’s type (big and willing to bulldoze right past Sidney’s self-imprisoning hang-ups), and that this is just exactly what he needs tonight. He doesn’t think he could do this any other night, doesn’t think he could let himself break all these rules if he were thinking more about it.

Sidney is very tired of thinking; his head really, really hurts.

He doesn’t think on the walk to Ovechkin’s room, weirdly soothed by his mocking assurances. As infuriating as Ovechkin is, Sidney doesn’t think he wants to undermine him; he wants to beat him fairly, which is what Sidney ultimately wants from him, too. Ovechkin doesn’t want to ruin him, even though Sidney is trembling slightly with the kind of recklessness that keeps him from caring too much about being ruined.

Inside the room, Ovechkin kicks off his shoes and decides it’s a good time to start up a conversation. “I text Sasha, tell him to stay with Zhenya and let him drink so he stops worry.”

“Great,” Sidney says, and he pushes Ovechkin up against the wall. He has to use every bit of his strength, and Ovechkin is caught off guard so he goes easily, grinning widely.

“Point is, no room—” And Sidney pushes up onto his toes and kisses him, hard, because this is not the time for talking.

Ovechkin laughs into the kiss at first, until Sidney bites him. Then he kisses back almost furiously, hands going for Sidney’s hips again and one arm locking underneath his ass. Sidney and gravity knock him back into the wall with a solid thump, and Sidney’s wrist gets trapped between the wall and the back of Ovechkin’s neck. He hopes the face of his watch isn’t cracked.

They kiss like they’re fighting each other for two points again, like they know each other well enough to know how to do the most damage (because they kind of do, and Sidney has never been with anyone that he’s known that well). Sidney thinks his lip splits first, just a tiny stinging crack, already chapped from the ice, and he’s annoyed about that, and the feel of Ovechkin’s tongue swiping over the cut. But Ovechkin is pushing his hips into Sidney’s, his breathing already harsh and ragged, and his grip is so tight, like he’s sure Sidney is going to bolt at any second.

Sidney’s heart is trying to beat out of his chest, but he’s not going anywhere but the bed.

“Fuck,” Ovechkin says eventually, smothering the sound into Sidney’s cheek in between short pants. He pushes himself off the wall, keeping his tight hold, and Sidney’s belt and shoes are tugged off before they reach the bed, the button on his jeans snapped open by Ovechkin’s insistent fingers.

Sidney fumbles to make them even, tugging at Ovechkin’s t-shirt and grumbling at his interfering pendants. His jeans are easier, pooling at his feet and leaving Ovechkin visibly hard in boxer-briefs and pushing into Sidney’s hip again, trying to get rid of the rest of Sidney’s clothes.

“Let me—” Sidney starts, annoyed at his own uneven breaths, but Ovechkin ignores him and instead just shoves him backwards onto the bed, grabbing his flailing legs and tugging his jeans off that way. He pulls his socks off, too, running his hands up Sidney’s legs and staring enough to make Sidney squirm. Ovechkin’s fingers slide over the bulge in Sidney’s underwear, cupping and squeezing so purposefully it has to be payback for the cab ride, which is really fine by Sidney. He rolls his hips up into it, moans out loud and fights down the embarrassment that always goes along with being loud.

For a little while, Ovechkin seems content to just play with Sidney through the cotton of his boxer-briefs, blithely ignoring Sidney escalating to swearing at him and trying to pull down his own waistband. Ovechkin grabs Sidney’s wrists in on hand and leverages himself over the bed with them pressed into the mattress, almost too much of his weight bearing down. Sidney grits his teeth against gasping out a, “Please,” and just meets Ovechkin’s smug gaze, hating that the please is probably written all over his stupid, Canadian face.

“What you want?” Ovechkin asks, voice tilted up and casual, and Sidney wrenches one wrist free and uses it to quickly shove his hand down Ovechkin’s briefs, grabbing him and tugging probably on the wrong side of rough. Ovechkin jerks forward, almost losing his balance and collapsing onto Sidney, but he gets his knees under him, planted on either side of Sidney’s thighs, eyelids fluttering as his head drops forward.

“I want you to fuck me as hard as you can,” Sidney says, very clearly, so there is no mistake in understanding. He squeezes Ovechkin, and it’s dry and can’t be good, but Ovechkin shudders and pushes into it anyway.

“I like this idea,” Ovechkin rumbles, and he leans all the way down to kiss Sidney roughly again, tongue quick and searching. He releases Sidney’s other hand and Sidney uses it to shove him up, wrapping around his back and tugging his underwear down as far as he can reach. Ovechkin gasps as his dick is freed, bobbing up red and hot in Sidney’s hand, and Sidney shoves at him one more time.

“So do it, then, and stop fucking around.”

Sidney shifts until he can pull off his own shorts, his shirt, while Ovechkin slides off the bed and stumbles in the direction of his suitcase. He comes back with lotion and a condom, lotion already applied to the palm he’s using to work his dick slowly. Sidney gets up on his knees, holds out his hands and says, “Give me that,” and ignores Ovechkin’s stupid smirk as he fumbles with the lotion and leans up to finger himself open.

“Good show, Sid.”

“Shut up.”

Ovechkin rolls the condom on and Sidney grabs him again with a slick hand, jerking him hard and thorough. Stealing his breath away, making his eyes roll back like that and his hips stutter, gives Sidney the same sort of brutal satisfaction he gets from stealing the puck from him, keeping his legs underneath him during a hard check. He wants to steal Ovechkin’s control and his reason, to get him frantic and frenzied enough to fuck him as hard as he needs it.

He thinks he’s succeeding, too, Ovechkin’s hands shaking and clenching down over Sidney’s shoulders, kneeling on the bed facing him. Sidney gives him a few more hard strokes and then lets him go, his stomach jumping pleasantly when Ovechkin blurts out words he recognizes as Russian curses.


“You ready?” Ovechkin counters, voice gravelly and tight. Sidney answers by twisting over onto his hands and knees, presenting his ass to Ovechkin in what he hopes is a clear instruction. He should’ve known better, though; if anyone needs things spelled out to him, it’s Ovechkin, purposefully dim because he knows Sidney has no patience for it. He slides a slick finger into Sidney, one and then two, his other hand stroking over his tensed-up back, and Sidney shudders and shakes his head furiously.

“I did that already, come on, do I have to show you how to do this or—”

“Gonna make trouble with that mouth, Crosby,” Ovechkin says, voice pitched low but not bothered enough. He twists his fingers in Sidney and Sidney can’t help the keen that makes its way from his throat, high and reedy. Ovechkin answers it with a third finger, stretching Sidney and making a moan roll through him, his hands clenched in the thick hotel bed covers beneath him.

“Fuck—Ovechkin—you need to—”

“What I need?” Ovechkin asks, and Sidney bites down on his already broken lip as a thick fingertip brushes over his prostate. Ovechkin’s cock presses against the curve of his ass, so hard and so not in the right place, and Sidney tries to rock back on it, Ovechkin’s bracing hand on his hip as hindering as a body-check that lays him out on the ice.

“You need to fuck me, okay, before I get out of here and find someone else who can,” Sidney manages to spit out, and Ovechkin fucking laughs, squeezing his hand around Sidney’s hip.

“Trouble,” he says again, like he’s agreeing with himself, and Sidney tries to rear up, pushing up on his elbows. Immediately, there’s a strong hand on his neck, forcing his face down, his spine arching and his dick bobbing without his say-so, and he really hates being turned on by this kind of stuff sometimes, how he can be so angry and so aroused at the same time. Ovechkin’s fingers slip out of Sidney, too, leaving him feeling empty and aching, clenching around air and gasping out in want.

Ovechkin slides his hand down, over the bumps of Sidney’s spine, and Sidney shivers and wants and hates, just a little. Hands curve over his ass, cupping, then curl over his hips, and with a sharp, twisting movement from behind, Ovechkin slides into him smoothly, hard and without hesitation.

Sidney’s voice cracks on a moan, and he doesn’t even care. For the first time since that idiotic hit, he feels like himself again, like his body is right and his and under his control. He can use it the way he wants to, to feel good, to rock back into Ovechkin’s short, snapping thrusts on his hands and knees. The moans he lets roll through him are his, and the hands that Ovechkin has on him are there because he wants them there, because he wants Ovechkin holding him down and fucking into him.

“Fuck,” is the only thing Ovechkin ever says in English, but he talks constantly in Russian. Sidney only recognizes the swearing; the rest could be terms of endearment, though he hopes not, or death threats, which are more likely. Sidney doesn’t care. It’s so fucking good, Ovechkin driving in so hard Sidney feels like he’ll break, almost wants to break, burning up from the inside out.

His dick is sticky and leaking against his belly, so hard Sidney keeps gasping about it. The lingering ache in his head is nothing compared to the way he aches all over, in the best way, Ovechkin’s hands bruising his hips and his knees pinning Sidney’s legs together. At one point he leans all the way forward, his skin a hot press draped over Sidney’s back, sweaty and smothering.

In any other context, Sidney would shove him away, but here it’s so okay, so much more than okay. Here, the angle is deepening and Ovechkin’s thrusts are somehow more consuming, thorough, and Sidney is still feeling the stretch and burn and wants to feel it forever.

Ovechkin’s hand comes up under his stomach, sliding along his sweaty skin, hovering over his dick. Sidney whines and jerks his hips and jerks harder when Ovechkin smacks at his ass, grinding his hips in immediately after.

“Sid,” he says breathlessly, and Sidney just groans, dropping his head down. Ovechkin’s voice is thick and Sidney’s not a talker, more of a screamer, but it would figure that Ovechkin’s a talker. “Sid, feels—”

“Fuck,” Sidney forces out, head dropped down all the way now. His lip leaves a small, bloody smudge against his own wrist, the taste of copper still strong in his mouth. He keens when Ovechkin presses his hand to Sidney’s dick, strokes it down to cup Sidney’s balls, just under where Ovechkin’s still thrusting into him.

“Feels so—” Ovechkin doesn’t seem to have the words in English, breaking off in Russian again, babbling and pressing his mouth to Sidney’s back and forcing the words out against his skin. He is using a palm to spread Sidney’s precome around his dick, hand lazy and casual like he could keep doing this all night, and Sidney’s actually fine with that, except for how the need to come is starting to build up in his stomach and it feels like hunger pangs.

“Feels good?” Ovechkin asks, like he doesn’t know that Sidney’s quickly coming apart beneath him, thrusting back and forward like he doesn’t know if he’s coming or going. Sidney just lets out a sob in return, Ovechkin’s fingers quick and light around the head of his dick.

The fingers tighten, and Sidney yells out something unintelligible and drives himself further back onto Ovechkin’s cock. He closes his eyes because his vision is going double, hazy and dizzy, his stomach turning over, and through a sort of fog he hears Ovechkin’s voice floating over his back again.

“Yeah, I think feels good.”

“Fucking—go fuck—fucking hate—” But he doesn’t really hate Ovechkin because Ovechkin is pumping his dick, rough and fast and purposeful, pumping him until Sidney’s coming in hard spurts over his fist, and still pumping him through that. He keeps thrusting into him, too, harder and faster now, nearly frantic, pushing himself up a bit further to be able to move more, and Sidney barely registers the way he seizes up against him, still shuddering through his own orgasm.

All of Ovechkin’s weight draped over him is almost too much after coming. Sidney feels weak and shaky, and he needs to lie down without a 230-pound human blanket of heat pinning him. Still, he doesn’t move, doesn’t shove Ovechkin away like he would have a little while ago. He listens to his breathing slow down, nearly matching Sidney’s own small, hitching breaths, and waits for him to move away.

Sidney curls onto his side the second Ovechkin pulls out, ignoring the pat on his ass. He feels okay, not quite as good as he’d felt getting fucked, misses the feeling almost enough to wish they could go again. His stomach is rolling, head still throbbing, and he presses his cheek into the comforter beneath him and listens to Ovechkin moving around the room.

The bed dips and Sidney doesn’t turn, refuses to flinch under Ovechkin’s hand stroking over his shoulder. “Sasha staying with Zhenya,” Ovechkin says, and he’s still so loud, like he doesn’t have an indoor voice. It’s incongruous with the nearly gentle hand he has cupped over Sidney’s shoulder. “You can—”

“You’re kidding, right?” Sidney says, his voice sounding wrecked to his own ears. “What, I’ll just have breakfast with the Caps tomorrow?”

He feels Ovechkin shrug. “Guys not care. I am too polite to kick a good fuck out.”

Sidney snorts, twists to peer up at him, and realizes that he’s actually serious: he would let the guys find out about this. He would let them see this. “You’re not—this is staying between us, right?”

“What you mean?”

“I mean, you’re not going to tell your team that we fucked, right?”

Ovechkin shrugs again, and Sidney’s stomach turns over. “Not a big deal, Sid. They probably laugh about it.”

“I don’t think Geno would laugh about it,” Sidney says, sitting up. His head is pounding in time with his beating, racing heart. Ovechkin looks thoughtful at that, and then he nods, more solemn.

“Right, he will not be happy. He think I corrupt you.” His eyes get a little narrow, his mouth upturned and teasing. “I think you corrupted already, though. Zhenya doesn’t know?”

“Are you crazy?” Sidney practically yelps, and Ovechkin looks solemn again, frowning. “No one knows, so you can’t—”

“No one know?” And now Ovechkin’s like those guys at the bars who recognize him, who feel bad for him for being closeted. Sidney hates that, picks that moment to shove at him, scowling while his head swims.

“No one, I mean, not on the team, and I’m not—and you’d better fucking keep it that way, Ovechkin, or I swear I’ll—”

“Is not my place to tell,” Ovechkin says, and he reaches to try and grip Sidney’s shoulder again. This time, Sidney doesn’t let him, shoving him once more, then pushing off the bed and fumbling quickly for his clothes. “Sid, your team—”

“Don’t talk to me about my team,” Sidney says, yanking his shorts on, dropping his shirt from shaky hands. Bending down to grab it back up makes his head swim more, his stomach churning so badly with sudden nausea that he has to stop and take a centering breath, hating Ovechkin’s no longer mocking eyes on him.

“Is not a big deal,” Ovechkin says again. That’s what Colby keeps telling him, what Mario seems to want him to realize. Sidney doesn’t get how they can say that, and know that. It always feels like a big deal, like the biggest deal there is about him. “Team knows I like both, I date girls and hook up with guys, they don’t care—”

“It’s not like that for me,” Sidney says, and then he clamps his teeth down on his own lip, furious with himself. It’s one thing to have sex with Ovechkin; it’s another thing entirely to come out to him.

It’s possible Ovechkin doesn’t get it; he just looks vaguely perturbed, but doesn’t say anything except, “Don’t look so good, Sid.”

“Fuck off.”

“A little green. Sweaty.”

“Of course I’m sweaty, we just—” Except Ovechkin’s right, and he doesn’t know if it’s this conversation, the stress of the night in general, the thought of the team knowing and how that still feels way too scary for him to ever be comfortable, but yeah—he’s going to get sick. Sidney wants to stubbornly ignore it, wants to keep getting dressed and pour himself into a cab, but he knows he’s not going to make it out of this hotel room without throwing up, and he’d rather not do that all over the carpet.

That’s how Sidney winds up on his knees in Ovechkin’s en suite bathroom, puking up what feels like all of his insides. Every time he thinks he’s done, a wave of dizzy nausea hits him until he’s heaving again. He can sense Ovechkin hovering in the doorway, hates that he’s there and doesn’t have the energy to make him leave, but at least Ovechkin waits until he’s probably finished to speak.

“I will call Evgeni, he come and—”

No,” Sidney chokes out, horrified at the prospect. “Don’t you dare.”

“You don’t drink at club,” Ovechkin says, tone even but his voice still slicing through Sidney’s pounding head. “You pass baseline?”

“Yes,” Sidney says, gritting his teeth together and resting his head against the toilet seat. “The doctors said—”

“Doctors wrong sometimes, you know.”

“They’re not wrong about this.”

“Crosby,” Ovechkin says, and he suddenly sounds tired and very serious, enough that Sidney turns back to look at him, squinting in the light. “Don’t fuck around with this.”

“I’m not,” Sidney says, and he cringes at how small and weak he sounds, stupid. This whole night was stupid, maybe the stupidest thing he’s ever done, and kneeling in this bathroom, nearly naked and starting to shiver and listening to Ovechkin patronize him like that, it’s easy to start regretting it already. He had those rules for a reason, he always felt better following the rules, and now he’s done this and right now it feels like the worst thing he could’ve done.

And it’s probably not that awful; it just feels that way. His head still hurts so much.

“You should stay,” Ovechkin announces, and he seems to be trying to keep his voice down, which is the absolute limit. “We have slumber party, order room service, I keep you up to check your head. Sneak you out before team wakes up tomorrow, fine. Can do other stuff, if you want.” He’s leering at Sidney, and being too nice to him at the same time. Sidney grits his teeth together and shakes his head, stops doing that immediately when it feels like the worst thing in the world.

“I’m going home, Ovechkin.”


“Can you get me my clothes?” He hates having to ask it, but knows from Geno it’s the right thing to do; apparently all Russians have a bit of a mother hen in them, because Ovechkin heaves a big, dramatic sigh and shuffles off to help.

“Evgeni kill me if I let you go brain dead,” Ovechkin tells him as he watches Sidney dress, arms folded over his chest in a pout. Sidney rolls his eyes.

“He shouldn’t know about this, at all. He never has to know. Don’t be an idiot and tell him.”

“Promise,” Ovechkin chirps, making a cross over his heart.

He doesn’t do anything stupid like walk Sidney down to the lobby, but Ovechkin does inch closer and pull him in when Sidney goes to leave with a stiff, “Okay, bye.”

He cups the side of Sidney’s face and peers into his eyes, frowning, and then says, “I kiss you, but—” and makes a face at the bathroom. Sidney rolls his eyes again and turns his face away from Ovechkin’s palm.

“You don’t have to kiss me. Thanks, though, I guess.”

Ovechkin grins. “Anytime, Sidney Crosby.”

He sounds like he means it, and that’s so ridiculous that Sidney can’t even really fathom it.

He just shakes his head, slowly and carefully, and says, “Bye,” again, and leaves with his hands shoved in his pockets, his head bowed and still pounding, and the weight of his own stupidity only making it worse.

7. Out

Sidney is up at 6, and Geno is knocking on his door at 7, eyes big and forlorn and surrounded by bags, enough to make Sidney feel guilty.

He holds up a white paper bag and says, in a clear, firm voice that tells Sidney he’d probably been practicing on the way over, “I am sorry.”

“Geno,” Sidney says, sighing, and Geno keeps talking.

“These are sorry muffins. Blueberry, I know you like. I bring because I want—I do not want make you angry, and I make you angry last night. I am sorry.”

“I’m not angry. I was an idiot.” But Geno is not done, the lines around his mouth getting tighter.

“I think you go out with me, hate it, hate Russians, say okay, we go to hospital. Team should have send you to hospital, I think I can get you there, but I can’t.”

Sidney knows; he’d known exactly what Geno was trying to do all night. Geno is not subtle, honestly doesn’t know how to be subtle, at least in Sidney’s experience with him. He doesn’t have to know people to know how Geno works, and he thinks that’s an important part of their friendship.

“It’s okay,” Sidney says, but Geno doesn’t relax until Sidney takes the paper bag and cocks his head to the side. “Come in, I have juice.”

They eat the blueberry muffins standing up at Sidney’s counter, drinking tall glasses of orange juice, and Geno shooting Sidney worried and pleading looks. “I feel better,” Sidney says finally, quietly, and it’s true; he feels miles better than he felt last night, his head working through bare twinges of pain every so often, and that’s it. He still feels stupid, still feels like he’s reeling, but it’s the second day of 2011, and Sidney doesn’t wallow.

“Better,” Geno repeats, looking him over intently. Sidney stuffs a good chunk of muffin into his mouth, meeting Geno’s eyes and trying to let him know that he appreciates the good amount of blueberries in these and also his concern, now that he can be more rational about it. Geno is a good friend. It’s not fair that Ovechkin can make Sidney feel like a bad friend with his stupid, ridiculous stories about his team loving him for who he is or whatever.

“Better,” Sidney says firmly, and resolves to follow through on that, to actually live better. That means keeping secrets, still, and not letting stupid losses throw him off, and following the rules again, and it means taking it easy with his friend Geno for the rest of their little stretch of days off and letting him hover until he thinks he’s mostly reassured of Sidney’s better-ness.

And then, of course, he’s not really better at all. The word concussion becomes less of a stomach-sinking idea and more of a solidified reality after the game against Tampa Bay, and it is joined by words like “waiting it out” and “tests” and “balance” and “headaches” and “light sensitivity” and eventually, the worst, “indefinitely”.

Sidney manages to keep his head through it all, even though it’s his head that’s betraying him in the first place. He refuses to give in to the swirling fear and despair that seems to be on the verge of overtaking him constantly, fueled by constant unknowns and reminders that head injuries are so tricky. This is hockey, the most important thing, the one thing he can’t afford to lose his shit mentally over. He’ll keep calm, do whatever his doctors tell him to, stay brave, and wait to heal.

It’s easier said than done, and he can’t do it alone, not that Geno or Mario or Flower or anybody would ever let him do it alone. As such, he moves back into Mario’s guesthouse, makes himself welcome the revolving door of teammates there and the encouraging, warming presence of the Lemieux kids and dogs, and concentrates on being around people so much that he doesn’t have time to be alone and worry. It’s a good system, he thinks.

He has sex, still. It gets more complicated because he’s not supposed to drive the Akron distance, and he’d been going to Cleveland, too, which is even farther, but now Sidney just takes buses and gets hotel rooms instead. He uses his stupid fake name, pays with a credit card he borrows from Colby (“Dammit, now Mel is going to check my statements and find out about all the gay sex I’m having,” Colby grumbles, but in the next breath he’s telling Sidney he doesn’t have to pay him back, which is so ridiculous Sidney doesn’t even bother arguing, just starts writing out post-dated checks), and still never lets anyone stay the night. This is also a pretty good system.

Geno gets knocked out with a torn ACL and MCL, and at first Sidney thinks that means Geno won’t come around as much anymore, rightly dealing with his own injury and leaving Sidney to deal with his. On top of the worry and general anguish he feels over his hurt friend, and the worry for the team having to surge on without them, Sidney finds he’s a little disappointed at the thought.

Geno may not be subtle about his hovering, but he’s not smothering, and doesn’t try to pull any more tricks to get Sidney to take better care of himself (mostly because Sidney is already taking good care of himself, is scared shitless not to). He is patient with Sidney’s frustration, puts up with and goes along with his very brave front, and for that, Sidney is going to miss having him around all the time.

Well, for other things, too, the kind of things he still doesn’t allow himself to think about at all: the heavy, comforting weight of Geno’s arm around the back of Sidney’s chair, or the clean, warm smell of his soap and his skin, the little indents his teeth leave when he bites on his lips. These are things he will miss, and is also slightly relieved to be missing, because he’s following the rules again, and it gets harder to even remember the rules when he’s surrounded by so much of Geno all the time.

Sidney’s wrong, though, as he often is about these things. Geno’s knee injury and subsequent surgery doesn’t mean he comes around the Lemieux guesthouse less; it means he comes around more, with the added bonus of hobbling around on crutches.

“You’re crazy,” Sidney says. “Seriously, you should be home.” The fact that he’s furiously fluffing up a pillow to put under Geno’s propped-up leg sort of betrays his severe tone, but whatever. Just because Geno’s a giant hypocrite about his health doesn’t mean that Sidney has to encourage him.

“Is boring at home,” Geno says, paying rapt attention to the Food Network, which is his favorite channel when he’s over at Sidney’s. He barely reacts to Sidney gently lifting up his foot to put the pillow under it, throwing up a quick glance and a smile that Sidney has to scowl at on principle. “Besides, who fluff pillow at home?”

“Your mom,” Sidney says, because seriously. But Geno just scoffs.

“Don’t tell, but you do better.”

“I’m totally telling,” Sidney says immediately, reaching across Geno to grab his phone from the end table. “I’m telling her right—”

Geno grabs him and manages to wrestle the phone away way too easily for someone injured, face split in a smile as he locks a hand around Sidney’s wrist and keeps him tugged close. Sidney can’t even pretend to stay annoyed in the face of that smile, even while dealing with the absurd fluttery feelings he gets in his stomach in response, and settles almost against him, closer than he would be normally. It’s okay this time, he thinks, but just this time.

Sidney turns into something of a couch potato with Geno around all the time, watching games and cooking shows with him until they have a routine, designated spots on the couch and a spot for Geno’s leg on the coffee table, with his own special pillow. Sidney’s not going to be the kind of asshole that makes Geno get up and hobble around doing stuff with him, and he’s not going to be the guy to kick him out at night when it’s late and they’ve been watching a Good Eats marathon for too many hours, so that just means he has less sex. It’s fine. Sidney is a good friend, has been trying to be a great friend to power through his lingering Ovechkin-induced guilt.

Less sex means sleepless, restless nights, closing his eyes and pushing his hand down his boxers, pointedly not thinking about Geno sacked out in the spare room, snoring like the bellows. Sidney thinks, instead, of Rick Nash’s hands pushing down on his shoulders, or Adam’s hips pushing up, or any of the nameless men he’s taken in bathrooms, elbows banging into soap dispensers, everything graceless and dirty.

He thinks about the large, heavy drape of Ovechkin over his whole body as he thumbs over the head of his dick, the bruises Ovechkin had left behind, purpling over his chest from the game and hand-shaped marks over his hips from after. They’re faded now, almost completely, but as Sidney presses down on the slight points of bare tenderness along his ribs, curls the fingers of one hand over the side of one hip and squeezes, he imagines he can still feel them and imagines someone else is pressing, squeezing. His legs spread, his breath quickens, and there is nothing to keep him from coming into his fist, twisting onto his side and seizing his body up around the sharp rush of pleasure.

Sidney really misses sex. But it’s good to be with Geno, good in a different way than sex. It’s always been good with Geno, because Geno’s not like other people, starting with the fact that Sidney understands him more than he’ll ever understand most people.

Despite being virtually couch-ridden, Geno still finds things for them to do. Most of these things involve cooking, because that’s a dangerous side effect of the Food Network that Sidney has discovered. Living on his own never managed to give Sidney any motivation to cook for himself, content to live on takeout or snacks, but now he has to look things up to explain or translate them for Geno, who turns around and uses these explanations to then boss Sidney around his (well, Mario’s, technically) own kitchen.

“There’s nothing wrong with your arms,” Sidney gripes as he chops onions furiously for a crab cake recipe that Rachael Ray had shouted at them and Geno had fallen in love with.

“Sid have good hands. Okay, not that small, want crunch and flavor,” Geno says, reading from his notes. Sidney looks at him balefully, eyes watering.

“I’ll crunch you.”

Geno sighs heavily. “Your chirps get even worse with no play. Team gonna crush you when you come back.” He grins sunnily at Sidney’s continued grumpiness. “Is okay, I protect you. My chirps still work.”

“Seriously, why do I even talk to you?” But he stops chopping the onions before they get too small, and dutifully breaks up the crab meat, and whatever, the crab cakes wind up being delicious, especially with the homemade tartar sauce Geno mixes up. I could be getting laid, Sidney thinks once, but, well, the crab cakes are good too. And Geno. Geno is always good.

He wishes there were a way he could have both sex and Geno, the way sex and hockey seemed to balance each other out perfectly. He knows there’s only one way to have that, and that would be to tell, to explain, “I can’t make lobster bisque tonight because I’m going to take a bus to Cleveland and hook up with a guy. I do that sometimes, because I’m gay.” But Sidney doesn’t tell; he makes the lobster bisque, and it is delicious, too.

The more time he spends with Geno, the more he wants to tell, though. And not just because his hand isn’t really cutting it anymore, though that’s starting to be true. It feels strange to have his life narrowed down to these two chunks now, Geno instead of hockey, sex instead of self-imposed social exile, and to have those parts be completely separate, unknown to each other. Mario still thinks he’s being silly. Colby still doesn’t get it. Alex Ovechkin, who Sidney hasn’t spoken to since the night of the Winter Classic, still manages to insert his disapproving, unwanted opinion into things with his pitying, confused look that Sidney sees on the back of his eyelids at night.

He think I corrupt you Ovechkin had said, grimacing, but the more space Sidney shares with Geno, the more he wants Geno to know how thoroughly corrupted he is. He wants more from Geno now, wants things he’s not supposed to want, really, but more than that, he wants acceptance or at least acknowledgment that he’s starting to think he’s a little entitled to.

It doesn’t happen, though, not even when Mario meets Sidney at the breakfast table and says, “You haven’t been going out as much,” because he knows all about the Cleveland and Akron trips, in case Sidney gets murdered there or something.

“I’m at the point in my life where I don’t know if you mean that as a compliment or an insult,” Sidney says tiredly, and Mario smiles at him over his mug.

“Neither; it’s just an observation. No judgment at the breakfast table.” Sidney takes a cautious bite of his cereal, momentarily relieved, and then groans around his spoon when Mario continues. “You’ve been staying in with Geno a lot.”

“Another observation, huh?”

“Yes. A keen one.”

“It’s not like I can take him to Cleveland,” Sidney says, and then he stubbornly adds, “It’s a long bus ride for his knee.”

“Right. That’s why you can’t take him to Cleveland.”

“I guess I could tell him all the girls in Cleveland heard I was coming so they cleared the bar out,” Sidney says. “Think he’d buy that?”

“He’d buy anything if you were selling it, Sid,” Mario says, very matter-of-fact, and Sidney blanches.

“Ugh, was that an innuendo? No innuendos at the breakfast table!” He looks around for witnesses, but the kids are already at school and Nathalie is looking at Sidney’s stovetop, because he swears there has to be something wrong with it just due to how many eggs he burns on it daily. “You are what’s wrong with your stovetop, Sidney,” Nathalie had said, which is completely ridiculous because Sidney can cook, which he’d pointed out hotly, not at all appreciating her argument that he can only cook with Geno. That doesn’t even make sense.

“Also, you’re wrong,” Sidney continues, when Mario doesn’t even say anything in his defense, just sips his tea and lets Sidney hang himself with his own rope. “Wrong. He wouldn’t—what if he—”

“Don’t hyperventilate.”

“He’s straight,” Sidney says hotly, and then he takes a breath; no hyperventilating at the breakfast table, either.

Mario’s eyes crinkle into a kind, bemused smile. “I’m straight, and I think you’re pretty okay.”

“Ugh,” Sidney says again, definitively, pushing his cereal away, even though he’d drizzled honey over it like Alton Brown suggested. Mario shrugs and finishes his tea.

“I’m just saying.”

“Please stop saying.”

It doesn’t happen before Sidney and Geno watch the Pens go out with a whimper in the first round of the playoffs, huddled close together in the press box and Geno’s fingers pressed against the inside of Sidney’s wrist as the final buzzer sounds. It doesn’t happen when they join the team in the room to help shoulder the loss, Geno’s kind voice breaking through the quiet gloom.

“We make turtle brownies,” he announces, and Sidney holds the pan out and feels his heart clench as the guys take their first bites and smile, just a little. “Not have real turtles in them, only in Flower’s.”

“Fuck you, Geno,” Flower says with his mouth full, tossing the rest of a brownie at Geno’s head.

Geno scowls at him. “Stop that, Sid work very hard to make!”

Things aren’t quiet after that, because everyone is busy laughing and calling Sidney Betty Crocker and wrestling each other for the last brownies, and Sidney is rolling his eyes and taking it and feeling stupidly happy, happier than maybe he’s ever been after a loss. Geno smiles at him, touching his wrist again and looking proud of them both, and Sidney knows it’s because of him that he feels like this.

The terrible butterflies he always associates with Rachel Meyers are back, and this, more than anything, is why Sidney doesn’t tell before Geno goes back home to Russia. He can’t have another Rachel Meyers Incident. He can’t want this. There is another way he could theoretically have both Geno and sex, and that breaks almost every rule Sidney has set up for himself, in the worst way.

So Geno leaves, crushing Sidney to him in a hug before he goes, and Sidney resumes his trips to Cleveland and Akron, finally cleared to drive. It’s a lonely summer even with all the sex he keeps having, anchored in Pittsburgh by his doctors, and Sidney tries taking longer drives, risking trips up north or further west just for a change in scenery. Colby tells him he’s going to run out of men in Ohio to sleep with, and he’s kidding but Sidney feels like the words might come true anyway.

It’s stupid to go to Buffalo; Sidney gets recognized there, enough that usually the trips are just a waste of time. A few times, he lucks out and catches a guy checking him out at a rest stop, eyes downcast and blushing, and then it’s easy to just talk to him and push him into a bathroom stall. This is also stupid behavior out in the real world that exists outside of the relative safety of gay bars, but it manages to be generally satisfying, and that’s all that Sidney ever looks for out of these trips. That’s all these trips can give him.

Sex is still an old hat, broken in and buried in routines. That summer, it feels like just an old hat, because there’s nothing else; his training goes too slow, his progress too unpredictable, for him to feel like he has hockey back again. Texting Geno and trying to cook without him isn’t the same as having him, not even close, but he does it anyway, because what else can he do?

The end of the summer gets better, because then there is promise: the promise of skating again, really skating, and the possibility of hockey and Geno returning at the same time for him. It’s exciting, and Sidney lets himself get excited, lets himself be happier in Geno’s return hug than he was in his goodbye hug.

He sets up cooking nights on their days off, and it’s rarer because of Geno’s playing schedule and Sidney’s practice schedule, but he doesn’t mind dropping the trips again, only misses them in a physical sense. The feeling of soon is humming under his skin, practices back to normal, skating back to almost normal, and no symptoms. It’s exciting, and Geno is excited for him, with him, crushing garlic with him elbow to elbow at the counter and talking endlessly about their system, their lines, what it will be like with Sidney back in the fold.

At night, he slides his hand down his boxers again and doesn’t even think about sex anymore, really. He thinks about being back on the ice, about relighting the fire he’d been running on before the Winter Classic, about scoring a goal and being pressed against the boards and hugged from all sides, the crush of bodies on his that feels better than anything he’s ever experienced. He knows, now, that sex is a lot like that, but it’s still not better than that. Nothing is better than that.

Sidney’s comeback night is like something out of a fairytale, and when it’s over there are so many celebration options he barely knows which way to turn. The guys want him go out with them, and Geno is insistent, and he could drive to Akron tonight and have the time of his life there, he could do that, too, and it would be good. Anything would be good; he feels like he’s floating, flying, invincible in a way he hasn’t felt in months.

He thinks about the options. He thinks about the possibilities of both; of going out with the guys, bringing them someplace where he can find people like him, can go home with someone who he’s attracted to, and do that with guys knowing that’s what he’s doing. He thinks about that a lot. Sidney wants that, the night of his comeback. But it doesn’t happen. He goes out with the guys to a straight bar, and he drinks more than he would in a gay bar and leans into Geno’s long, flopped-about limbs, and he has a good time, a great time. And he thinks about what he wants a lot, thinks about being invincible, and about being ready.

Sidney might be ready.

And then he’s out again, too soon, and he’s definitely not ready to be out in any other sense right now.

This time, there is nothing that can keep the fear and rushing despair from starting to consume him: not sex, though he keeps trying, or Geno, who also keeps trying, or any of the guys on the team, or Mario or Colby or any member of his family, Lemieuxs and Crosbys alike. It’s just—none of it works this time. No one can assure him that he’s going to play again and make him believe it, no one can make the sting of having and then losing (again) any better, no matter how many cooking shows he watches or hands he lets move over his skin.

Sidney pulls away for a while, spending time back in his little temporary house with its bare walls and tiny lawn, and he knows it’s selfish, stupid, but he can’t bring himself to really care. 2011 is nearly over and Sidney thinks he’s entitled to some wallowing, just for a little while.

Sex makes him tired now, unhappy with his body. It can still do all this, it can still work like this, can bend and fold and hold, push, but it can’t work the way he wants it to the most. Now, there are more unknowns about it, another possible injury, questions he just wants answered once and for all, and he can’t answer any of those questions with sex.

It doesn’t stop him from making the trips, though. He’s back on the bus, back to sacking out in hotels with Colby’s credit card, and sex doesn’t make him feel better but at least it feels normal. It’s the last routine he lets himself have; Sidney can’t surround himself with his teammates (with Geno) because they just remind him of what he stands to lose in all this. If he can’t come back.

He shouldn’t be surprised to see Geno sitting on the steps of his small front porch when he drives himself home from the bus station one morning. It’s the day after a game (a win) and there is an optional skate this morning and nothing else. Geno looks tired and trying to hide his worry, his hands clasped in front of him and hanging between his knees. This is generally how he always looks to Sidney these days, because he’s always worrying about Sidney. Sidney is usually better at being worried over, in that he tries not to give anyone reasons to worry. But now he can’t stop worrying over himself, so it’s hard to reassure Geno.

He’s too tired to even try it this morning. He’s too tired to think of being ready, either, or to lie. Right now, these trips are all he has. They could be all he ever has, and Sidney has to swallow hard at that thought, his hands shaking as he turns his car off. This is Sidney Crosby: gay, concussed, a hockey player only in theory right now, an expert on Ohio gay nightlife. He doesn’t have the energy to be anyone else this morning, not even for Geno.

“Hey,” Sidney says as he walks up his own walkway. Geno frowns up at him; the sun is barely up, the morning still gray and quiet. It’s also cold, too cold for Geno to just be sitting out here, and Sidney frowns back. “I thought you had a key.”

“Key to Mario’s,” Geno says, and Sidney nods, remembering. “He say you stay here now, mostly.” The look on Geno’s face tells him exactly what he thinks of that, and Sidney just sighs and gets out his own key, stepping up onto the porch past Geno.

“Come inside, it’s freezing.”

“Think we make breakfast,” Geno says, hefting in a grocery bag, and Sidney stares at him as he walks into the kitchen and starts unpacking it methodically without even taking off his coat. That’s when he realizes that Geno’s not going to ask him where he was, that he’s not actually as busted as he should be. Geno’s going to wait for Sidney to be ready, probably because he can’t imagine where Sidney could have been, because he doesn’t really know Sidney. He doesn’t know what has become the biggest part of Sidney since this concussion. And that’s not fair, it’s never been fair, but it seems especially unfair right now.


“I think French toast,” Geno says, arranging everything on the counter and then turning to look in Sidney’s cabinets. Sidney inches into the kitchen with him, his heart starting to pound as he turns over what he’s going to say in his mind. “Stuffed, I find recipe—”

“Geno, I was with somebody last night,” Sidney says softly, and Geno freezes with his head in Sidney’s cabinet.

Slowly, he backs up, and looks at Sidney, blinking. Then he says, “You have no pans, Sid,” and frowns deeply.

“Did you hear what I said?”

“I hear,” Geno says, and he slams the cabinet door shut, so sharply that Sidney jumps. “Girlfriend not buy you pans for new house?”

Sidney lets out a long, low breath. “I don’t have a girlfriend.”

“Hooking up again?” Geno’s voice sounds completely flat, blank, and Sidney can’t read a single note of it. He can only read himself, the sick feeling in his stomach as he contemplates this next, final step, shoving the words from his throat.

“Yes.” He swallows hard and closes his eyes. “I didn’t get his name.”

There is no response, and Sidney has to sit down anyway, grabbing shakily for chair at his kitchen table, turning his back to Geno because he still can’t look. He waits, but Geno stays quiet, and Sidney wants to believe he hadn’t heard, or doesn’t understand, but finds he can’t hope for that, for better or for worse.

“I met him at a bar in Cleveland,” Sidney says quietly. “We went in the bathroom together. I do that sometimes. I just—I thought you should know.”

More silence follows, enough to make Sidney start to panic, to think about saying more. He’s going over the words in his head, and it’s a lot of words, stupid words, stories that Geno doesn’t need to hear and probably doesn’t want to hear, and thankfully, before he can blurt any out, Geno finally speaks.

“I come back.”

“What?” Sidney snaps, startled and turning around. Geno never took his coat off, and now he has his hands shoved in his pockets, loping towards Sidney’s front door like that’s the most natural thing to do in this situation. “What are you—”

“Will come back, Sid. Wait here,” Geno says, and the look he gives Sidney is like—it’s like he’s trying to smile, trying to be normal, and completely and utterly failing. Sidney stares after him, feeling more than sick now, full-on into devastated, and he thinks that’s why he obeys. He stays sitting at his kitchen table, taking big, heaving breaths and staring at his hands. He hasn’t taken his coat off, either, Sidney realizes, and he doesn’t now because he’s shivering.

He’s not sure how long he sits there. He thinks about a few different courses of action: calling Colby, for one. Bursting into tears. Getting up and taking a shower, and then maybe another shower, even though he’d already showered at the hotel. Sidney thinks about making cereal, and about punching through a window, and he still can’t quite breathe right, not for the whole time he sits there. He doesn’t do anything.

Sidney lets out a choked, ragged gasp when his front door opens again; he hadn’t locked it after Geno, and it’s Geno in the doorway, holding two large shopping bags that say Bed Bath & Beyond on them. “Had to wait for store to open,” Geno tells him, setting the bags down next to the groceries he’d been unpacking on the counter. He shrugs out of his coat, and Sidney stares at him, stares harder when he pulls out a boxed set of pots and pans from one bag, a pile of small cooking gadgets emerging from the other. “Now we make French toast.”

“Geno?” Sidney asks, heart pounding.

“Boy in bathroom is not buy you pans,” Geno says, making a face. “Not make you toast.” He’s banging the pans around a little, rinsing them out and sighing over Sidney’s pathetic dish liquid supply. “Don’t need boy in bathroom right now.”

Geno,” Sidney says, and now he’s reconsidering that bursting into tears plan. “I don’t—I don’t get it. Are we just going to ignore the gay thing?”

Geno slams a heavy frying pan down into Sidney’s sink and turns on him, and there, now he looks pissed. This is what Sidney has been waiting for, what he always knew was going to happen. It’s sickly satisfying.

“Why not? Not important for you to tell—”

“I didn’t tell anybody!” Sidney says, yelling a little, heart still in his throat. “I haven’t told because it’s too important, okay, it’s everything now, and if you can’t—”

“What you want me say, Sid?” Geno asks, eyes flashing wide and hard. “Want me say I hate you now, I go, not your friend—your best friend now? Leave you alone to be sad about head?”

“Of course I don’t want that,” Sidney says in that small voice he will always hate. He hates even more how it makes Geno soften immediately, the fight leaving him, and Sidney doesn’t want that. He wants to be fought. He wants someone, anyone, to check him into being normal again. And yeah, he also wants everybody to leave him alone. It’s pretty tough.

“You tell me now because you think it make me leave,” Geno says, his voice hoarse, firming up with his next sentence as he stalks over and puts his hands on Sidney’s shoulders. “Not gonna leave, Sid.”

“I just wanted you to know,” Sidney tells him, and now it sounds weak, fake, even though he knows it’s at least a little true.

“Not ever gonna leave,” Geno says, and he gives Sidney a shake that puts his teeth on edge and makes his stomach squirm with those terrible, dangerous butterflies again. “Boy in bathroom, boy in car, boy in library—”

“Library?” Sidney chokes out, his laugh a raspy, strangled thing. Geno shakes him again, digs his thumbs into the tense muscles of his shoulders. When Sidney looks up, Geno is smiling, but his eyes are filled with hurt that makes his stomach clench, his heart feel too big for his chest.

“Boy in house, cook you breakfast,” Geno says softly, and Sidney shakes his head slowly, swallowing, understanding too well.

“Not ever like that. Not for me.”

“We’ll see,” Geno tells him, cupping the side of his face and locking eyes with him, just like Ovechkin had done. It’s discomfortingly kind, and it makes Sidney think of all sorts of things to say: I’m scared. I just want hockey back. I want it all back and I don’t know if I can have it back. He doesn’t say any of that because he is tired, he is tired of being out and tired of being unhappy.

Instead, Sidney says, “Thanks, Geno,” and he also means I’m sorry.

Geno smiles at him widely, lets him go, and heads back to the counter, rubbing his hands together. “Not thank me yet, haven’t tried toast.”

Sidney sits at the table for a few moments longer. Then, without really thinking at all, he gets up and says, “I’ll help,” and he takes off his coat.

8. Spoken For

“What,” Sidney says, for maybe the third time.

Geno does not look amused, and neither does Tanger or Brooks or any of the other guys who have dragged Sidney out to dinner for the third time that week, almost enough to make Sidney start resenting homestands.

“Not gonna say again,” Geno says, turning back to his steak like the conversation is over and Sidney doesn’t have much say in the matter. That’s a little troubling to Sidney, considering the topic at hand.

“No, please say it again, because I’m sure I didn’t hear you right,” Sidney says, trying to keep his voice from climbing higher in agitation and apprehension. When Geno just shoves potatoes in his mouth and chews pointedly, Sidney scrambles to continue building his case. “Because I think you said we want to go to Akron with you to pick up guys, and I know that can’t be right.”

“We didn’t say we want,” Tanger says; Geno still has his mouth full. “We said we’re going to Akron with you to pick up guys.”

“What,” Sidney says, and Geno kicks him hard in the shin, making him jerk and spill his water over the table. “Hey, ow!”

“Play dumb not work,” Geno says, and Tanger nods so hard it looks like his head is going to pop off his neck. Flower, Duper, Brooks, Jordy, Neal, and Cookie all nod, too, clinking their beers together to toast this plan and throwing out suggestions for the next off-day, and Sidney just slowly sinks in his seat, gripping his napkin in his lap and trying not to panic.

You wanted them to know, he tells himself, taking deep breaths. This is better than them hating you. This is support. This is love. He thinks his face might be collapsing in on itself, though, because the next time Geno’s foot bumps his shin, it’s not to kick but to rub, just a little, a comfortable nudge. “Is okay, Sid,” Geno tells him, still very firm. “Will be fun, not embarrass you.”

“I just want to see how this works,” Cooke says, knocking shoulders with Sidney heartily and making him spill more water. “Are you better at talking to guys than girls?”

“Of course he is,” Jordan says, and Sidney has to furiously repeat Geno’s voice in his head over and over again, teeth clenched. Is okay, is okay, is okay. “Army told me he gets tons of guys, he’s a total slut.”

“I am not a slut,” Sidney says emphatically, and basically everyone at the table laughs except for Geno, who just smiles at him and nudges his shin again.

So that’s happening, then; they’re taking two cars and Sidney presents long, winding lists of why this is a terrible idea in the days leading up to the off-day, to anyone who will listen, but none of it does any good. Mario is delighted, Colby is unabashed (“And please stop telling people that I’m a slut!” Sidney shouts into the phone over Colby’s laughter), and even his mom think it’s good that he’s including people in this part of his life. Sidney quickly hangs up on her before she can start making noises about him bringing a nice boy home; there have been whiffs of that topic in the wind lately, and Sidney has exactly zero tolerance for it.

Sidney tries to be smart about it, at least. He takes them to that very first bar, which he knows by now is safe and almost protective of Sidney, because he doesn’t trust in any of his teammates’ abilities to be subtle about any of this. Geno drives and puts a hand on Sidney’s knee on the way and says, “Will be fun,” and Sidney can’t even imagine a universe in which that could be true.

Except it kind of is true; everybody at the bar knows him, if only by sight and not by true identity, and the bartender, Bill, looks amused and charmed when Sidney troops in with what could possibly be considered a posse, God. It’s a Friday night so Adam is there, too, and Jacob and Victor and Theo and Lee and—well, Sidney knows a lot of people here. Some of them wave. Sidney waves back, nods when Bill says, “Been a while, Stan,” and puts his favorite kind of beer in front of him.

“Stan,” Cookie repeats, giggling at Sidney’s shoulder, and then everyone is pretty much crowded around the bar, talking loudly over each other or looking around the room with wide, curious eyes. Guys look back but mostly ignore them, which is good, and Tanger and Flower wind up dancing with someone (that Sidney has never slept with, thank God) on the semi-crowded dance floor. Brooks talks carpentry with a man in flannel, Cookie crows to Pascal and Neal about how clean the bathroom is, and Sidney watches Jordan try to figure out if the bartender is flirting with him or not.

“My brother is gay,” Jordan tells him, and that is the fourth time Jordy has mentioned that since Sidney came out to him.

Bill nods and leans over from his side of the bar. “Is he as cute as you?” Bill asks.

Sidney tenses a bit, enough to make Geno poke him in the side, but Jordan just snorts and shakes his head. “No way. He’s a ginger.”

“Some people like gingers,” Bill says, and he smirks over at Sidney. “Right, Stan?”

“Ugh,” Sidney says, shaking his head, because just because Adam and Theo both happen to have rust-colored hair does not mean Sidney has some kind of fetish. But Jordy cracks up, his laugh big and hooting, and Geno is grinning into his beer (drunk in solidarity with Sidney, he thinks, or maybe because he doesn’t trust the vodka in Ohio), and okay, maybe it’s a little funny.

It’s less funny when Jordan makes the final jump from his repeated gay brother mentions. “I’m telling you, Sid—I mean, Stan—you and Marc should really—”

“No,” Sidney says sharply, and Geno nods at his side.

“Is against rules, Jordy,” Geno says, because that had been part of coming out fully, explaining the rules so Geno wouldn’t have something else to worry about regarding Sidney. He doesn’t know if Geno understands all the rules, but at least he knows the basics. “No ho—”

“Hot dog vendors,” Sidney finishes with a quick glance at Bill, scrambling. The full ridiculousness of what he’d just said hits when everyone, even Geno, nearly falls over laughing at him, and Sidney has to put his head down on his arms and laugh, too, though it comes out dangerously close to crying.

“Yes,” Jordan says, nodding sagely. “Hot dog vendors make the worst boyfriends.”

“Absolutely,” Bill agrees. “You’ll want to steer clear of them, Stan. No offense to your brother.”

“No boyfriends,” Sidney mumbles into his shirtsleeves, but nobody listens to him.

After a while, Geno, who’d been sticking close to Sidney all night (and Sidney doesn’t know if that means he’s uncomfortable or if he’s just being Geno, since that’s generally what they do when they go out together), gets up and sets down his virtually untouched solidarity beer. “Not find boy when just sit here,” Geno says disapprovingly.

Bill holds his fist out for Geno to bump it, and Sidney watches them a little helplessly. “I tell him this all the time,” Bill says. “He thinks he’s pretty enough that the guys will just flock to him.”

“Hey,” Sidney says. “I do all right,” because he does, but Geno doesn’t seem to be listening to him.

“I find you boy.”

Sidney can think of nothing worse and scrambles off his stool to stop him, but Geno is off in a flash, leaving Sidney to gape and scowl in turn. “Is he serious?” Sidney asks, and it’s rhetorical, but Jordan cheerfully answers anyway.

“Yep, I think so. But about Marc—”

No. Nothing about Marc.”

“You guys already get along pretty well; you like him more than Eric, don’t you?”

“I don’t—what are you talking about? I don’t like any one of your brothers more than any other—oh God, he’s actually talking to people.” At least he’s not targeting people with red hair; that’s a small consolation, Sidney decides. Only a small one, though, because Geno is actually approaching men and chatting with them, and Sidney can’t even begin to fathom what he’s saying.

“I don’t know,” Jordan continues, oblivious to Sidney’s strife. “I really think this could work, Sid. Stan, whatever. You’re both nice and polite and you both really like ho—hot dogs, okay, God you are so fucking weird—”

“I need to hide,” Sidney says, because Geno is coming back over to them with a smaller man who has his head shaved, grinning broadly over at Sidney. He looks over the bar and leans up on his stool, pretty sure he can flip over the bar top. “Bill, get out of the way.”

“No,” Bill says, and he turns to Jordy. “Is he big? Because Stan only likes guys that are bigger than him.”

“No I don’t!” Sidney yelps, and why did he ever allow this night to happen?

“He’s big,” Jordan says, and he is grinning so hard. Sidney thinks now would be a really good time to get struck by lightning.

Unfortunately, Geno has joined them, a friendly arm wrapped around the bald man’s shoulders. He is a full head shorter than Geno, and he has a very kind smile. Sidney just stares at him, because he’s not hooking up tonight, he had decided very early on that there was no way he could really do this in front of the guys, and he’s certainly not going to do it with Geno helping, that is so weird.

“This is Phil, Sid,” Geno says, nudging Phil over. Sidney nods at him and opens his mouth to correct him (his name is Stan when he’s in Ohio, unless he’s playing in Columbus), but Geno just talks right over him. “He work in bank, is very nice. Not even make fun of English.”

“Wait,” Sidney says, straightening up and meeting Geno’s eyes with a frown. “People made fun of your English in here?”

Geno just smiles at him, shaking his head. “Not Phil, is what important. Buy Phil drink, is how this works.”

“I know how this works, Geno,” Sidney says. “Who made fun of your English?”

Before Geno can answer, or push Phil at him anymore, Tanger and Flower rejoin their group, sweaty and grinning and holding the tall, very skinny man they’d been dancing with between them. “This is Oscar!” Tanger shouts, holding up Oscar’s hand and making him wave to them. “There is a party at Oscar’s friend’s cousin’s house. We will go there!”

“What,” Sidney says, but Oscar tells everyone, “There are girls there, too,” and that, apparently, decides it. They all pile back into the two cars, and Phil is still with them for some reason; Sidney blinks and they’re next to each other in the backseat of Geno’s car, Neal squeezed in on Sidney’s other side with his arm flung around him while Brooks grins back at them from the passenger seat.

They follow Duper’s car to a big house on the city outskirts. There’s a bass pounding from within the house and people spilling out of it with drinks and cigarettes in the cold, and Sidney stares in horror because all he can see is people who could theoretically recognize him and take pictures, and he has a small bald man plastered to his side and this is just not okay.

“Guys,” he says bracingly, because maybe he can just stay in the car; that’s not odd Sidney behavior.

“Come on,” Phil whispers in his ear, and okay, that is not going to get him out of the car, except to get away from Phil.

But Geno gets him moving, of course. He kills the engine and looks back and only has to say, “Sid,” with big, pleading eyes, eyes that say you lied about being gay for a long time. You are a bad best friend. You thought I was a homophobe. You slept with one of my good friends and you still haven’t told me.

Okay, maybe most of that is Sidney’s guilty conscience talking. But he gets out of the car anyway.

Inside, he at least manages to lose Phil by taking him aside and saying, “Listen, you’re not really my type,” in the gentlest way he knows. It is not helped by Jordan sidling up to them and yelling, “Sidney likes big guys, sorry Frank!” and pulling Sidney away.

“His name was Phil,” Sidney says, as Jordan pushes beer from an actual keg at him (he’s beginning to suspect this is actually a fraternity party, though he hasn’t been to enough of those to really be able to identify them easily). “I mean, to be fair.” When he does learn guys’ names, he likes to remember them, at least. It’s just rude otherwise.

“Whatever,” Jordan says. “You’re spoken for, anyway.” He’s holding Sidney’s arm, like he knows that Sidney’s always seconds from bolting in situations like this (and he knows correctly), and something about the way he says it makes Sidney’s head snap up to look at him, narrowing his eyes.


“Not me!” Jordan says, laughing in his face. Sidney wills with everything in himself not to blush, and thinks he mostly succeeds. Jordan keeps going, though, probably because making Sidney blush is always a point of triumph. “I have a girlfriend, God, keep it in your pants.”

“It would be against the rules anyway,” Sidney says hotly. “Absolutely no teammates. Never any teammates. Not in a million years.”

Jordy is still guffawing, but he tilts his head to the side at that. “Really, though? Like, no teammates, ever?”

“Jordy, I don’t want to have sex with you—”

“I’m still not talking about me!” He gives Sidney a chance to blush again, before adding, “I mean, Geno—”

Absolutely no teammates,” Sidney says, and he’s proud of himself for not squeaking it out, because his throat is suddenly kind of tight. Jordan just continues to stare at him with his head cocked, frowning thoughtfully, before he shakes his head and clears his throat.

“Fine. No teammates. But you know who’s not your teammate?”


“Marc! And I swear, he’s a good guy, Sid. He would be a great boyfriend. And Mom would love for him to bring you home—”

“No hockey players,” Sidney says, pleased he can still say that with a straight face, because it’s true, anyway. There will be no more hockey players; he doesn’t think Ovechkin counts, anyway. He hadn’t been in his right mind. Jordan snorts anyway. “And no boyfriends, God, how would I ever have a boyfriend?”

“Having a boyfriend is easy!” Jordy says brightly. “It’s like, you know, you just have sex with one person, and you do stupid, cheesy stuff with him like, I don’t know, watching TV and getting food and going to concerts and to the movies and stuff—”

“It’s really not that simple,” Sidney says, uncomfortable with how familiar all of those things sound. Except for the sex with one person thing, he basically does all of that with Geno, and that’s—he can’t imagine why Geno would still allow that if that was what being with someone is really like, especially now that he knows that Sidney’s gay.

“Yeah, it kind of is,” Jordan says, and then the conversation doesn’t get any better because Geno is there, clutching a cup of clear liquid like it’s his saving grace, and Sidney assumes he had found good vodka somewhere in this giant house.

“Why you talk to Jordy?” Geno asks, frowning and looking around, probably for Phil. “He not good for you, Jordy has girlfriend.”

“I know Jordy has a girlfriend,” Sidney says.

“Sid and I were talking about his rules,” Jordy tells Geno. “I was saying that he should really make an exception for—”

“Marc,” Sidney blurts out, glaring at Jordan, who blinks and nods slowly.

“…Yeah, Marc, exactly.” It occurs to Sidney that that was what he was going to say all along (and of course it was, he’s never going to stop pushing this) and that Sidney’s the only who’s obsessing about the idea of breaking his rules for Geno, but luckily Jordan is used to Sidney’s weirdness, and Geno appears unfazed and unimpressed.

“Not good to break rules,” Geno says, and Sidney nods emphatically.

“Yes, absolutely right, Geno—”

“I find you boys you not have to break rules for,” Geno finishes, and Sidney stops nodding as Geno grabs him and starts tugging him around, apparently on the prowl for guys for Sidney.

“You really don’t have to do this,” Sidney says, but that’s really all he gets to say, because he’s being shoved in front of a guy—a kid, really, he looks like he can’t be more than 19 or 20, skinny and wearing a neat polo—and Geno is making introductions, because somehow Geno has culled information from every eligible gay bachelor at this party.

As Sidney stumbles through rejections (he is not hooking up tonight) and is pushed along to someone else, he has to notice that Geno picks the least threatening-looking guys they see, most of them small or slight or sweet-looking, who are polite like Sidney and kind even when basically blurts out, “No,” over and over again in their faces (so more polite than him, actually). And it’s not that Sidney usually goes for assholes; Ovechkin and Nash are both okay guys, sort of, and while he’s less picky at the bars about how he’s treated, he still has certain standards. But those standards generally include guys who are powerful, who give as good as they get, if not better, and okay, whatever, maybe Sidney does have a type, and it’s not guys with red hair, but it is guys who could, theoretically, overpower him in a—a wrestling match or whatever.

And it’s very clear that Geno does not approve of this type, not least because of his choices in men for Sidney throughout the night. At some point, Sidney does manage to shake him off, which is not something he ever really wants with Geno, but tonight it’s almost too much, Geno so determined to be supportive that it’s making Sidney uncomfortable. Sidney wanders into a corner of the big house on his own and, without actually meaning to, starts talking to a tall man wearing a Buckeyes sweatshirt.

He’s not looking to hook up, and it’s really, really weird to be talking to someone like this when the final objective isn’t going to be sex. Sidney wonders if this makes him a tease; he’s pretty sure guys only ever talk to him like this when they think they’re going to get sex, and he wants to tell this guy that that’s not going to happen, just to be fair.

Then he thinks he’d feel obliged to explain that it would happen (because it so would, the guy is brawny and loud and already has Sidney kind of pushed up against a wall, leaning against the wall with his arm extended close to Sidney’s face, so Sidney can smell his beer-and-soap scent, and yeah, it would so happen) except for all the reasons that it can’t, and he’d have to explain those reasons. So instead, he keeps talking about Ohio State until someone clears their throat very close nearby, and Sidney looks over.

Geno’s cup has been refilled almost to the brim, and his lips are sort of pressed together in a way that Sidney can’t tell whether it’s disapproving or uncomfortable or what, but just knows it’s not a good way, unless he’s trying not to laugh at Sidney. That’s always a possibility. Sidney says, “Hey Geno, this is—” and stops before he realizes he doesn’t know the Buckeye guy’s name, but then it doesn’t really matter because the guy is gone, backing off with his hands up, eyes wide and a little amused and a little nervous.

“Whoa, okay. Later man, sorry about that.” Sidney notices that he’s talking to Geno, which makes no sense, and Geno just watches Buckeye Guy go with dark eyes, taking a long pull from his cup. Sidney keeps himself from watching his throat work the vodka down and instead pushes himself off the wall, shaking his head.

“What was—”

“Maybe go now,” Geno says, voice a little rough. “You and Brooksie have to drive, guys all drink.” He makes a face down into his own cup, then shrugs and knocks the rest of it back like a shot. Sidney snorts.

“Yeah, okay,” Sidney says. He’s really not supposed to drive the Akron distance, still, but it’s really not that bad, and he hasn’t had a bad headache for a while. And this is normal, anyway, Sidney as the designated driver, not hooking up and rounding the guys up and getting them home safe. In fact, so much of this night has been normal that it’s a little scary: the guys treat him exactly the same. This night out could have been like any other night out from before the concussion, before coming out. It’s unsettling to think of and weird and—and it’s good. It’s a relief.

The only person who is treating him any differently is Geno, who still helps him pile the guys into the two cars, taking his place in the passenger seat with Sidney behind the wheel and Nealer, Cookie, and Jordy sprawled all over each other in the backseat. “No cuddling in Geno’s car,” Sidney says, to distract himself from Geno’s dark, unreadable eyes, and the three of them laugh and cling more to each other.

They doze like that, giving Sidney the impression that he actually has three puppies in the backseat instead of three grown hockey players, and he can’t help smiling to himself about it. Everything is normal, everything is good, and the only thing that would make this better is if he were lacing up his skates tomorrow and finally rejoining them on the ice.

And maybe it would be better if he could figure out what’s going on in Geno’s head. Geno, who had never, ever pushed Sidney into dating or hooking up with girls when he clearly didn’t want to, had never made him feel weird or wrong for not wanting to, now seems to think it’s his personal mission to push Sidney at guys. But only certain guys, guys he can choose, and it’s just—it’s weird. He wants to acknowledge that it’s weird, because his chest feels kind of tight to think about it.

“Geno,” he says softly, and Geno turns from where he’d been curled up against his door, looking out the window and watching Ohio turn back into Pennsylvania. “Is it—is everything okay?”

“Sidney,” Geno says, and he sounds exasperated and a little hurt, like he always does when Sidney thinks he’s annoyed or uncomfortable with Sidney being gay. “How many times we have this talk?”

And that’s not really fair; Geno can say he’s okay, he can promise he’s okay, but until he starts acting normal again, Sidney can’t really believe him. “The thing,” Sidney says, aware he sounds like a moron and not really able to help it. “With the guys, setting me up, it’s—”

“No good?”

“You never tried to set me up before,” Sidney says, trying to be firm and to make sense. “It’s—it was always okay with you, if I wanted to be alone or concentrate on hockey or—”

“You not playing, Sid,” Geno says, so, so gentle. Sidney flinches anyway, grits his teeth together.

“I’m aware of that, thanks.”

“Want you to be happy,” Geno says, now sounding a bit impatient. “Not happy with girls, not happy without hockey, not happy with—” He breaks off, shaking his head, and Sidney curses their language barrier, which has never really been a problem with them until recently. “Boys make you happy, yes? So I want help, because I don’t know what else I do.”

“They don’t—they don’t always make me happy,” Sidney says, realizing as he says it that it’s true. Happy isn’t the right word for it anymore; neither is content, really. Satisfied works, maybe, but it’s a very specific kind of satisfied, something very physical. It’s enough when he has hockey, too, but not so much when he doesn’t. “And whatever, I can—I can get boys on my own, Geno. I’ve been doing it on my own for a long time, for almost two years, now.”

“Boyfriend make you happy,” Geno tells him, almost under his breath, and Sidney grips the steering wheel hard.

“No boyfriends, I told you. It’s against the—”

“I know rules, Sid. Is only rule I—” But he stops again, frowning deeply, and then says, “What make you happy?”

“I don’t know,” Sidney says honestly. Geno pats him on the knee, familiar and comforting, and Sidney bites his lip to feel the touch, clenches his hands again. He thinks—no, really he knows—that hockey will make him happy, and that the uncertainty of it is what’s making him so unhappy with everything else. He knows that Geno can’t fix that, that as much as Geno can usually fix anything, this is one thing that runs too deep in Sidney to fix.

“Are we okay?” Sidney asks anyway, because there are some things that can be fixed, absolutely need to be fixed, always, or there will be nothing left. And Geno nods, squeezes his knee.

“Okay, Sid.” They keep driving through the night, and Geno’s hand doesn’t move until Sidney finally starts to feel like he can believe him.

9. The Ginger

Then there is progress, slow but steady, and the whispers of back before playoffs making him giddy and centered, lifting everything about him up into a focused, determined presence at team practices.

Sidney lets Geno fill his small house with everything that Bed Bath & Beyond sells and shoots pucks with him in his driveway. He skates, he works out, he breathes through infrequent dizzy spells and celebrates each headache-free day with a satisfying run, not pushing but finally moving. He feels more like himself, finally, like he has a purpose, and he doesn’t have any particular date to work toward but he knows he’ll get one soon.

He goes out, too, sometimes with the guys in Pittsburgh, and sometimes on his own in Cleveland or Akron. Sidney can drive again. He doesn’t take the guys with him on the trips because he really can’t hook up with them there, but one afternoon Tanger asks him, “You going to Ohio, Sidney?” and when Sidney looks around shiftily and reluctantly says yes, Tanger grins and says he’s going to come with him.

And it’s just the two of them, which is not really odd, except for how it’s the two of them going to a gay bar together, which is really, really odd. And Sidney kind of wants to turn the car around multiple times throughout the drive, because what is the point of going all the way to Cleveland if it’s not even for sex? But Kris turns to him when they’re past the halfway mark and says, “Do you mind if I try to meet someone, too?” and then Sidney just has to concentrate on not driving off the road.

“Um,” Sidney says. “You know where we’re going, right?” because he doesn’t actually know where any straight bars are in Cleveland, though he’s sure they could drive around and find one.

“Yes,” Tanger says patiently. He doesn’t say anything else, and Sidney looks ahead and waits for an explanation, tense and weirded out and—and then he realizes he’s being kind of a hypocritical dick, and he hadn’t actually answered Kris’ original question.

“Of course I don’t mind,” he says quietly, shooting him a quick, hopefully easy grin. Kris grins back, and Sidney has a million different questions for him, but Tanger was one of his teammates that hadn’t asked him a million different questions, so he figures it’s time to return the favor.

He does have to ask one thing, though. “Is Flower—”

“Man, goalies are crazy, you know that,” Tanger says, laughing, and that’s not really an answer but it’s true anyway. Sidney nods and grins again, a little truer, and the rest of the drive is easier.

They make plans that, whatever happens, they’ll meet back at the bar by 2 am to drive back home together, and they stick together for some of the night but inevitably wind up separated. Sidney meets a guy wearing glasses and a very white smile and goes home with him to fuck on his couch, and when he goes back to the bar a man with a shaggy beard has Tanger pressed up against Sidney’s car.

“Um,” Sidney says, which is something he’d do even if Tanger was French-kissing a hot girl, and they break apart and grin at each other until Sidney rolls his eyes and unlocks his car with the clicker on his keys.

In the car, Tanger kind of sighs and relaxes back in the passenger seat, and after a while of quiet driving he says, “I wish I had known about you sooner.”

Sidney swallows down a heavy lump of guilt in his throat, but a slightly choked, “Sorry,” escapes him anyway. Tanger waves at him dismissively.

“Don’t be stupid, I get it. It’s just—I’m your friend, Sid. We could have been—you didn’t have to be alone like this.”

Sidney can’t imagine Tanger by his side for all of these trips, can’t look back at them and insert another person like that. As good as tonight was, it just doesn’t fit into what he’d always been looking for out of these trips. It wasn’t about not being lonely; being lonely was never an issue he thought he could fix in Ohio.

But that night is good, and it’s not the last; it happens a few more times until Sidney learns that, in the gay world at least, sometimes being a wingman means you get to have sex, too. They don’t make a big deal out of it with the guys, and thankfully none of them read anything stupid into it (because it’s not like that, not at all, not even a little bit, which is something they never have to actually say to each other), but it’s good, with Tanger. Sometimes it’s even fun.

Also fun is getting back to hockey, but before he does that, the Capitals come to town for an afternoon game. Sidney’s not expecting Geno to follow him home after it, though he does that more often than not (Sidney’s house is really Geno’s house, for all the appliances and work Geno has put into it. Sidney just lets him because it’s better than listening to him try to convince Sidney to move back in with Mario, and also because he kind of likes having a blender now, and a dish drain). Sidney’s at least expecting him to do dinner with Ovechkin and Semin, but instead they cook a spinach pie with flaky phyllo dough, and they only burn the edges, so it’s a definite success.

He’s not really surprised, though, when there’s a knock on his door long after the pie has been demolished and Geno’s kind of sprawled out in his usual spot on Sidney’s couch (which Geno had picked out, of course). He looks at Geno, who just blinks tiredly back and then yawns exaggeratedly in his face, and then gets up with a deep, heavy sigh, because he’s pretty sure he knows who that is.

“Hello, lover,” Alex Ovechkin says in a low voice on Sidney’s doorstep. Sidney doesn’t even hesitate before shutting the door in his face, and he ignores Ovechkin’s loud squawks and pounding on the door to stalk back into the living room.

“You have a problem and it’s on my front porch,” Sidney tells Geno. “Go take care of it.”

Geno sighs just as heavily as Sidney had, but stands up, at least. “He is offend, doesn’t believe I not want to go out,” he tells Sidney with long-suffering weariness, but Sidney really can’t have any sympathy for him; this is what he gets for being friends with Ovechkin.

“Why does he know where I live?” Sidney asks, addressing the ceiling, because he’s sure he’ll never get a straight answer out of Geno. “And don’t let him into my house!” Sidney shouts, but it’s too late, of course—Ovechkin comes bounding in with Semin slinking in after, looking very unimpressed with Sidney’s small foyer.

“Nice digs, Sid!” Ovechkin crows, and somehow his exuberance is worse than Semin’s distaste; at least Semin’s being honest. Ovechkin looks like he’s actually contemplating trying to hug Sidney, and Sidney gives him a look that hopefully tells him what a terrible idea that would be. Ovechkin beams but stays well out of Sidney’s personal space, thankfully, and Sidney almost relaxes. Almost.

“Why are you here?” Sidney says, the words getting more despairing as Ovechkin starts unzipping his coat and tugging off his hat. Semin follows his lead and though Geno barks at them in Russian, it isn’t long before they’re all in Sidney’s living room, and Sidney still hasn’t gotten an answer.

“Is Zhenya’s fault,” Ovechkin says, giving Geno a mock glare that makes him throw his hands up and mutter in Russian. “He want to be boring and stay home with husband, so I have to bring party to him.”

Husband,” Sidney says, but nobody really listens to him; they’re all talking in rapid-fire Russian about, Sidney then ascertains, Sidney’s liquor cabinet, which was stocked by Geno, so they approve of it.

“Sorry, Sid,” Geno says, shrugging and passing out glasses, but he’s not actually removing them from Sidney’s living room, so he can’t be too sorry. Sidney just glares, glares harder when Ovechkin offers him vodka in his own house, and glares even more when Ovechkin offers to find some juice for him to mix with it.

“Give me that,” he snaps, of course, and then it’s not long before he’s dizzy with drunkenness, no less annoyed by Ovechkin’s presence or his body heat too close to Sidney, his smell which is stupidly familiar in all the ways it shouldn’t be, but less inclined to obsess over them, anyway. Instead, he listens to the three of them talk to each other in Russian, Geno breaking off every once in a while to try and include Sidney and giving up when he’s waved off.

After a while, he has the good sense to head up to bed before he knows he’ll have to be helped up, because Sidney is not going to allow himself to be dragged up the stairs by Ovie.

“Have to puke? I hold your hair back, you know I good at that,” Ovechkin says, winking at him. Semin must have only understood one word out of five of that but he laughs out loud anyway, and Geno just looks confused, looking between them with a frown.

Sidney does not need any reminders of the night of the Winter Classic and growls out, “Shut up,” and makes sure not to slur it. “Goodnight,” he adds carefully, addressing Geno with pleading eyes. “Please don’t let them wreck the place.”

“I keep them in line,” Geno says, giving Sidney a small smile, though he still looks confused. Sidney is too drunk and tired to keep worrying, to stay and try to unsubtly convince Ovechkin to keep his mouth shut. He goes upstairs and changes and then sort of collapses in his bed, and he falls asleep grumbling to himself, which he thinks makes sense.

The next morning, he wakes up with a headache, which he is pleased to identify as a hangover headache, and goes downstairs for juice (fuck Ovechkin, anyway) and some aspirin. Geno is awake, standing at the counter and drinking coffee, and Semin is spread out on Sidney’s couch, Ovie sprawled on his stomach across the carpeted floor.

“Ugh,” Sidney says, and then he gets a good look at Geno, whose eyes are red and bloodshot and whose face looks kind of gray. “Whoa. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this hungover.”

“Long night,” is all Geno says, and Sidney winces, looking around for signs of destruction.

There’s nothing, though, and Geno doesn’t seem forthcoming with information, so Sidney finishes his orange juice and thinks he can probably jog off this hangover, or at least try. “I’ll be back,” he says, and Geno nods stiffly, then looks back toward the living room.

“I get rid of them, before you get back.”

“Thank you,” Sidney says, already feeling better, but then when he gets back and discovers that getting rid of Semin and Ovechkin also includes Geno leaving, too, he feels a little bit bereft. He likes their breakfast routine when Geno stays over, and he’d been thinking about the omelets they could make with the leftover spinach from last night. Instead, he eats cereal and drinks more juice and shakes the feeling off.

He goes to practice and everything’s normal; he is skating more, waiting for the words cleared for contact to become a reality. Geno is a little withdrawn, and at first Sidney blames that on the hangover, but as that practice turns into a road trip that leads them right into the All-Star Break, which Geno returns from still a little off, Sidney begins to worry a bit.

Sidney asks, “Is everything okay?” and tries to somehow project no, this is not about the gay thing, for once. Geno tells him that everything’s fine, and gets him talking about how his progress had been over the break, and that’s enough of a distraction to make him nearly forget about Geno and his small, thoughtful frowns whenever he thinks Sidney isn’t looking at him.

But he doesn’t forget, and he tries to ask a few more times, and the only time he nearly comes close to getting anything is when Geno has been drinking a little (they had made something with wine for dinner, and Geno can drink vodka like a pro but wine goes straight to his head sometimes) and quietly asked, “What are rules, Sid?”

Sidney recites them, not the first time he’s done this for Geno. “No sex after a loss. No sex with hockey players. Absolutely no sex with teammates. No sex when I’m—”

“And you like rules? Keep you safe?”

“Yeah, Geno,” Sidney says, and for a few moments he thinks about telling him about the Rachel Meyers Incident. It’s been a while since that’s even bothered him, except for when he looks at Geno standing at his stove or making himself comfortable on his couch and feels those stupid butterflies again. But before he can quite muster up the words, Geno is shaking his head.

“Good to have rules. Is good for you.” And this might be another butterflies moment, because no one else agrees with him on that; Colby still thinks the no hockey players thing is a farce, and Jordy is still insistent about Marc, and so, as always, only Geno understands. Sidney thinks he can deal with a hundred odd looks that Geno won’t explain, as long as he’ll always understand him like this.

It’s hard to make any progress with Geno when he’s making so much progress on the ice, and it’s impossible to feel regretful about that. And things are normal, really, on the surface: Geno still comes over and Jordan still talks about Marc every chance he gets and Tanger goes with Sidney to Ohio twice more and he is skating, skating, getting really close until there’s a date in the air, a plan, and that makes everything, anything, feel okay.

“Guess who we’re playing that night?” Jordy asks, and Sidney knows, of course he knows, he’s already started watching their tape obsessively. But he humors Jordan because Cookie had finally said, “Oh fuck it, he’s too annoying to treat him like a china doll anymore,” and checked him into the boards at practice today, and it had hurt and it was so good.

“I don’t know, Jordy. Who’re we playing?”

“The Rangers. Guess who’s on the Rangers?”

“Ah,” Sidney says, nodding slowly. “You’re talking about setting me up with Lundqvist again, huh?”

Jordan’s eyes nearly bug out of his head, before he starts laughing and grabs Sidney and shakes him. “Oh my God, you’re joking about gay stuff! You never joke about gay stuff! This is so great!”

He doesn’t really know why he feels okay to joke about gay stuff. Maybe it’s the prospect of coming back, or the fact that Jordan really, really wants him to become his new brother-in-law and won’t seem to let it go. All he knows is that he comes back, and it’s good, it’s really good. It’s not the same explosion out of the gate as the Islanders game but it feels just as perfect. And after, Sidney’s too happy to be annoyed when Jordan drags everyone out to a bar full of New York Rangers, a group that includes Marc Staal, and Sidney is unceremoniously shoved at him and doesn’t even really mind.

“Good to be back, eh?” Marc asks him, his grin big and knowing and a lot like Jordy’s.

“Yeah,” Sidney says, meaning it down to his bones. He lets Marc buy him a drink, ignoring Jordan’s gleaming eyes from across the room, trying not to look guiltily over at Geno and the rest of the team who can’t seem to believe he’s letting this happen.

And he doesn’t actually know why he’s letting this happen, either. Except he thinks about picking someone else up, someone who would know him as Stan, and knows it wouldn’t be enough. Marc gets it, gets why he feels like he’s flying right now, the same way Nash got it years ago, and Ovechkin after him, as much as Sidney still regrets Ovechkin. The rule feels stupid in the face of that, inconsequential; no sex after a loss, and he feels like he’s won everything back tonight, so really it’s okay.

“Okay,” he says after a while. “But I really don’t want to make this that obvious, Jordy will never let me hear the end of it.”

Marc laughs. “I can be subtle.”

“Cool. Meet me out front in a little—”

“Wow, you get right to it, don’t you? Not even going to buy me dinner first?”

Sidney looks at him, hoping he’s joking and not misunderstanding. He’s usually good at getting his intentions across, and usually hockey players get his intentions right away; he hadn’t needed to explain to Ovechkin or Nash why he couldn’t actually ever date them. But Marc is joking, smiling goofily, that big stupid Staal smile, and he follows Sidney’s instructions fairly well, making a big show of saying goodbye to everyone while Jordan looks crushed and the Rangers look kind of shifty-eyed, like they at least have an inkling of what’s going on here. Sidney is really not too comfortable with that, but there’s not much he can do about it right now.

He rejoins his team, trying not to squirm guiltily under Geno’s approving gaze, and toasts his own return a few times before he thinks an acceptable amount of time has passed. “Okay,” Sidney says, and everybody knows exactly what he means, even when he stubbornly says, “I’m going back to the hotel.”

They all know he’s not really doing that, and they don’t even pretend not to know. “Okay, but be careful,” Flower tells him; he has an arm slung around Tanger’s chair that Sidney is relieved to see, because it means Tanger won’t want to join him tonight. “This is a big, scary city. I don’t want us to have to dig your body out of the West Village tomorrow morning.”

“Isn’t that how most episodes of Law and Order start?” Neal wonders, and as everybody starts talking over each other about crime shows while Jordan yells about how his brother’s apparently not good enough, Sidney slips out.

Marc is waiting for him, hands in his pockets because of the chill but otherwise looking patient, calm, and natural on a New York street. He walks close to Sidney like that’s perfectly okay to do and Sidney revels in the fact that it kind of is, so he doesn’t move away. He assumes they’re heading for Marc’s apartment until Marc bumps him and says, “Okay, but I really am hungry, can we grab some food?” and Sidney remembers that he’s dealing with a Staal here, and that they were all born with hollow legs.

“Fine,” Sidney says.

They go to McDonald’s, and Sidney looks incredulous until Marc grins at him and says, “I would be trying to impress you and take you someplace nice, but since you’re all ashamed of me and stuff—”

“I’m not ashamed of you!” Sidney says. “I’m—I don’t want to get Jordy’s hopes up. He seems to think we’re going to get married.”

Marc gives Sidney a look up and down, then leans around him to check him out from behind, frowning thoughtfully. “Nah,” he says, and Sidney punches him on the shoulder. “I mean, you’ll do for tonight, but—”

“Fuck you, you wish you could marry me,” Sidney retorts, even though that doesn’t make sense, and he hits Marc again when he holds the door open for him with an exaggerated flourish.

“Too whiny for good husband material. They have salads here, you know?”

Sidney doesn’t order a salad. Instead, he watches Marc order what seems like the entire menu and divide it up between the two of them, and makes sure to match Marc bite for bite just on principle. After, he feels kind of gross and not like he really wants to have sex at all anymore, but also not really unhappy.

Marc is sharp and not as excitable as his brother, and he takes Sidney’s ceaseless babbling about hockey completely in stride, which is a good thing because there isn’t anything else that Sidney wants to talk about tonight. He talks back, too, but mostly listens with an interested, nearly fond smile, until Sidney finds himself, irrationally, smiling back.

He still feels a bit betrayed by the food, though. He sort of just wants to keep talking to Marc, and doesn’t really care about having sex with him anymore, and that’s—

“You tricked me,” Sidney says, frowning over at where Marc is poking sluggishly at the remnants of a McFlurry. Marc pops his plastic spoon in his mouth and knocks into Sidney’s knees under the table, not for the first time tonight, Sidney realizes.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“This is like a date,” Sidney tells him accusingly, and Marc blanches, shaking his head.

“No way. This is not how I treat my dates.”

“You paid for my food,” Sidney points out.

Marc waves the spoon around. “Yeah, from the Dollar Menu! Believe me, if this were a date, I would at least spring for a steak. You know, cloth napkins, actual waiters, shit like that.” He squints at Sidney, looking suspicious. “You know how dates go, right?”

“I don’t date,” Sidney says, refusing to flush on principle. Marc nods, like that’s fair, which is good because it totally is.

“I figured. Still, though, you have dated before, yeah?”

“Do you date?” Sidney asks, not really able to stop himself. He can’t imagine a world in which that’s possible for a gay hockey player, and so he’s shocked when Marc shrugs like it’s no big deal.

“Sure. Not a lot, it’s hard because of—you know. But I date some. It’s easier here, in a big city like this, where nobody really cares what I do because someone else is always doing something more interesting.” Marc looks a little sympathetic, then, which Sidney chooses to ignore, even though that’s fair, too. The unspoken I can date because I’m not Sidney Crosby hangs between them for a moment, before Marc speaks again, careful. “I mean, it’s really hard, you know that, but relationships can be really good, too. You just have to decide if it’s worth it.”

Sidney makes a face down at his hands. There’s only ever been one person, maybe two counting Rachel Meyers, that it had ever felt worth it for. Worth it, but also impossible. He’s not going to tell Marc that, isn’t going to tell anyone that, but it’s true.

He has more questions, though. “But how does it work? Like, who pays with two guys—do you trade off?”

Marc laughs a little and piles all their trash on a tray, standing up with it. “Come on, let’s walk this off and talk.”

Even when they’re not talking about hockey, Marc is pretty okay to talk to. They walk along the chilly, crowded streets talking enough for Sidney to feel startled when they wind up back at his hotel. Sidney frowns at the revolving glass door, because he certainly hadn’t expected his night to go like this. And maybe he’s not expecting it to end like this, either.

“We could go to your apartment,” Sidney says, because there’s still the problem of the team, even if he doesn’t have a road roommate anymore.

“We could. Or we could just go upstairs, since we’re here.” Marc says it like he doesn’t care if they’re going upstairs to keep talking, or if they’re going upstairs to have sex, and Sidney realizes that he doesn’t really care which they do either. “I have a roommate,” Marc adds, and okay, that does sort of complicate things—Sidney can sneak Marc in and out of a floor full of Penguins that will give him shit but still love him, at least. He doesn’t want to deal with a singular New York Ranger who may or may not like him all that much, face-to-face.

“I don’t,” Sidney says decisively, and Marc grins at him, gropes for his hand in the elevator. Sidney lets him, feeling warm and kind of okay about it all, and soon he’s grinning back.

They grin at each other and talk a lot and eventually do fool around on Sidney’s big hotel bed, tangled up in socks and boxer-briefs and rubbing off on each other. After, it is Sidney’s instinct to kick Marc out, but they start talking again, quieter in the dark, Sidney sleepy and comfortable and stupidly tolerant of Marc’s easy breaths over his bare shoulder.

“Was this really your first date?” Marc mumbles, pressing a kiss into the skin he speaks over. Sidney squirms a little, trying to be annoyed, ruining it by yawning and nestling deeper into his pillow.

“Thought it wasn’t a date.”

“Should’ve been a better one,” Marc says, yawning too, pressing closer. He’s too warm, limbs heavy and everywhere, and Sidney rolls away a little but not as far as he should.

“Jordy says you’d be a good boyfriend,” Sidney says, not really thinking about it. He feels Marc nod.

“I would. I’d make a great boyfriend.” He kisses Sidney’s shoulder again, and then Sidney feels really sad, an aching, tender sort of sadness that feels too familiar. He shakes his head into his pillow.

“M’sorry. I don’t—”

Marc hums and settles down next to him, just an arm curled over Sidney’s side. Sidney allows it, twitching under the touch. “I know.”

“You should go,” Sidney says, but he’s falling asleep. The last thing he hears is Marc saying, “I know,” again, and not moving.

He doesn’t really mind until it’s morning, and Marc is snoring lightly in his ear, still with that arm over him, and he looks at the clock on his bedside table and swears loudly when he realizes he’s supposed to be on the team bus to the airport in an hour.

“Fuck!” Sidney yells, strangled and high-pitched, and Marc jerks awake, squeezing his arm tighter and blinking owlishly at Sidney. “You stayed over,” Sidney says, pulling out of his ironclad grip with every bit of early morning strength, cringing at the stickiness on his stomach as he gropes for his underwear in the sheets.

Marc keeps blinking, then looks around the room. “Yes. Yes I did. You’re sharp in the morning, eh?”

“Shut up, shut up and get dressed and get out, I have to—”

“Relax, geez,” Marc says, stretching out in the bed until Sidney hears joints cracking. “You’re not the one who has to do a walk of shame past his little brother’s room.”

“Ugh,” Sidney says, closing his eyes and sitting back down on the bed to wallow for a second.

Marc takes his sweet time wandering in out and of the bathroom and getting dressed while Sidney scrambles to get his things together, sweating a bit more every time he glances at the clock.

“Guess it’s too much to ask for a goodbye kiss,” Marc says with an exaggerated hangdog look, and Sidney sort of smacks their mouths together and then shoves him toward the door.

“Goodbye, thanks for the fast food, have a good season but not better than ours—”

And Marc’s out the door, pushed into the hallway with a smirk on his face, but of course he’s not the only one in the hall, because that’s not how Sidney’s life works. There is Geno, standing right outside Sidney’s door, holding out a danish and a small carton of orange juice in one hand, the other extended like he was about to knock.

Fuck,” Sidney says again, softer now, and he absolutely can’t look Geno in the eye, no matter what. He looks at Marc instead, whose smirk has dropped completely and is now rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly.

“Sorry,” Marc says to Geno, and Sidney chances a look and cringes to see his shuttered, blank face, stone-still. More room doors open, Jordan’s jubilant shouts of triumph echoing through the hallway, and Marc heads straight for him to hopefully shut him up, but Geno stays standing where he is, still staring, still holding out the danish and juice.

“Geno?” Sidney asks quietly, and Geno seems to shake himself a bit, taking a big, deep breath. His face goes through a few complicated twists and grimaces before he meets Sidney’s eyes, and his smile is strained and completely, utterly fake.

“Morning,” Geno says, pushing the danish and juice forward until Sidney takes them in his hands. “Miss breakfast, I bring—sorry for interrupt—”

“You weren’t interrupting anything,” Sidney says quickly, cringing again to see Geno’s eyes flash down the hall at where Marc is breaking Jordan’s heart. “Thank you for the food, I really—”
“Should get bus,” Geno says gruffly, and though Sidney says, “Geno,” once more, Geno just heads down the hall, shoulders hunched, leaving Sidney to juggle his breakfast and bag and try to catch up.

He doesn’t really catch up, on the bus or the plane or back home at practice. There is a gulf between them, something roiling and unpleasant and tense, but not obvious; it takes a while for the guys to pick up on it. Eventually, though, even they catch on to the way Geno’s jaw clenches every time they make a Mrs. Staal joke, or the way Sidney and Geno only ever truly connect on the ice now.

And so Sidney starts living for hockey again, and not just because he has it back or because it’s hockey, but because now hockey means Geno, too. Geno never comes over on his own anymore, never really answers Sidney’s worried inquiries and pleas for assurances that they’re okay with anything more than stiff, fake nods. It pisses Sidney off because he doesn’t get it, and he always gets Geno; if he doesn’t, Geno helps him until he understands. He feels lost here, uncertain again about how Geno feels about the gay thing. How can he be okay with it if he’s acting like this?

He finds himself apologizing out of sheer desperation, feeling more devastated when Geno only looks shocked and guilty, but at least it’s something, a response, something he can gauge. He doesn’t really know if he’s apologizing for being gay—and boy, Colby and Mario and Kris would kill him for this if he were—or for Marc or just for making Geno unhappy, but Sidney blurts it out quickly and awkwardly, staring at his feet in the parking lot at Southpointe, breath misting out in front of him.

“Nothing to be sorry for, Sid—” Geno starts, and that just—no, that’s not going to work.

“Okay, but that’s obviously not true,” Sidney says, and he knows he sounds and looks desperate and doesn’t really care. He’s always needed Geno to be okay with this, always been so terrified of the alternative, and now that he finds himself faced with the alternative again, he’s not going to just let it happen without trying to fix it. “Just—just please tell me what I did so we can be okay again. Please.”

Geno looks at him for what feels like the first time in weeks, since New York, and Sidney still can’t really look back. “The rules,” Geno says quietly, and Sidney is ready to just recite them again, aware of how ridiculous that is. He’s opening his mouth to just do it when Geno cuts him off. “Is only time?”

“What?” Sidney asks, and Geno huffs a little, frustrated.

“Is Staal—only break rules with Staal? Was he only one?”

It takes a few more seconds to figure out what Geno’s asking, and only another few to know he has to lie, to nod quickly and eagerly, because if that’s it—if Geno’s worried, if he knows how important the rules are and he’s mad about them being broken so easily—then Sidney’s not going to make that worse by piling Ovechkin on.

“Yeah, Geno. That was the only time.” This time he can look at Geno, can study his face carefully and watch him swallow hard. He lets himself look, tracing the bob of his Adam’s apple, and it’s not even about being attracted to him, or loving him in all the small ways he always has. It’s about keeping him in the only way he can, having Geno in the only way that’s possible, and Sidney will do whatever it takes for that.

Geno’s eyes are dark, and big, and Sidney stomachs sinks in the way it always does when he thinks about losing him for loving him. Because even though Geno says, “Okay, Sid,” and even bumps shoulders with him, he still leaves without Sidney, heading to his own car and pulling out of the parking lot. Sidney stays by his car with his keys in his hand, chest tight, until Geno is long gone, too far away to catch up.

10. Crosby Sucks

No sex after a loss becomes Sidney’s most important rule during the playoffs, because it feels like he’s losing everything, even the games he wins.

It’s hard to follow the rule, too, because everything sucks. Geno is barely speaking to him, and everybody is uncomfortable about it, looking to Sidney to fix it. Jordan had apologized about Marc, because everyone’s assuming it had something to do with him, but no one can make much sense of it beyond that, and Sidney is too tired to keep trying constantly.

He reinstates his old no sex during the playoffs rule and ignores the sinking, defeated feeling that playoffs will be over soon enough. He doesn’t even really want to have sex, is the thing, not really. He wants to beat the Flyers. He wants to fix things with Geno. He wants to understand why Geno is acting like this, when it’s so obviously throwing everything off right when they need it to start working.

Sidney feels desperate all the time now. He’s desperate when he fights Giroux, when he texts Geno a picture of his fully-stocked fridge and gets only a busy, sorry in return. He feels young and desperate and stupid when he can’t stand to be in his little house anymore and heads back to Mario’s when he’s in Pittsburgh, and he doesn’t even bother pretending he’s not depressed as fuck while he’s there.

His last act of desperation comes just hours before the elimination game, Mario’s voice echoing in his head to “do something, kid,” when Sidney explained that talking doesn’t work when Geno won’t even admit something’s wrong. He has a list of phone numbers culled from various sources around the locker room, though he’d known the first number on his own.

Even so, he’s not surprised when Gonch just hangs up on him when Sidney opens the call with, “What’s wrong with Geno?” He’s not surprised when Ilya Kovalchuk does the same thing (though he’s pretty annoyed, because that number had been hard to find), or when Semin follows suit but takes the time to laugh at him first. There are several more numbers on the list, all possibilities, but Sidney sighs and looks at the fourth number and knows it has the best chance of success.

“What’s wrong with Geno?” Sidney asks Ovechkin, and he must sound truly plaintive right now, because Ovechkin only shouts, “Sidney Crosby! Calling me! Is happiest day!” before calming down quickly enough and trying to get serious. Or, at least, as serious as he ever gets. “Not going to stay happy day, though.”

“Ovechkin, can you please just—”

“Patience, lover,” Ovechkin says, and now Sidney is the one contemplating hanging up. He just grips his phone a little tighter and swallows hard, though, because this is important. “I am saying you not gonna like what I say. Might want to break up with me.”


“Is good you are in Philly, maybe want to come find me and hurt me when you hear—”


Ovechkin goes quiet. Then, his tone hushed and almost nervous, he says, “I do stupid thing few weeks ago, Sidney,” and then he doesn’t even have to continue for Sidney to know exactly what happened.

“Oh, fuck.

“I didn’t think it would be big deal! He knows you like boys, knows you hook up, tell me he try to find you boys but you so, so picky, and I tell him, don’t I know, Zhenya—”

“What the fuck is wrong with you? I told you to never tell him!

“It happen long time ago! Over a year ago, I think ancient history, no big deal, Evgeni loves you, he’ll be cool—”

“Well he’s not being cool,” Sidney snarls viciously, and Ovechkin goes quiet again.

Then he says, “Evgeni loves you, Sid,” and Sidney rubs his hand tiredly over his face.

“Not right now, he doesn’t.”

“No, is not what I mean. I mean he—I think he just good friend, protective of his captain, loves you like brother, but is not—I think I break his heart when I tell him. I think you break his heart.”

“I don’t—” Sidney takes a big breath, because this had started making sense for a minute—Geno is pissed because he knows Sidney’s been lying to him, and yeah, he would never have approved of what happened the night of the Winter Classic, no matter what—and now, of course, Ovechkin’s fucking it up with his craziness again. “I really have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Ovechkin makes a frustrated, impatient noise, which is really rich coming from him. “I mean he is jealous, Sid! Is not that hard to understand!”

But that still doesn’t make sense, and when Sidney says as much, Ovechkin lets out a very loud groan, like Sidney’s the stupid one here. And whatever, he’s gotten what he’d wanted from Ovechkin; this is still a mess, and he probably has a lot of groveling to do, so he doesn’t need the added, insensible ramblings of Ovechkin in this to make it even more complicated. He tells Ovechkin this, and ignores his disgruntled protests as Sidney hangs up on him, ignores the calls that come after and the text messages: YOU ARE IDIOT!!!

Yes, he kind of is, for not just telling Geno about Ovie in the first place, but now he can try to fix this.

Between his pregame snack and getting ready for warm-ups is not the best time to bring it up, but Sidney finds he can’t wait, doesn’t feel like he can get this out of his head long enough to play like he’s supposed to, needs to play tonight. That’s the first time that’s ever happened to him and so he needs this to be fixed, as soon as possible, and he can’t wait. So he manages to corner Geno heading into the visitors’ locker room and, with pleading eyes and a strong grip, finally gets him to try to listen.

“I’m sorry,” Sidney says, and when Geno opens his mouth to protest another apology, Sidney shakes his head and grips him tightly by the arm. “No, I’m sorry I never told you about Ovechkin, I’m sorry that I lied and—”

“Not good time,” Geno says, yanking out of Sidney’s grip, his face very blank. Sidney surges forward, because no, he has to listen, but no amount of protests keep Geno from heading into the locker room, slipping through his reaching hands again.

As Sidney takes a big breath and prepares to follow (and okay, maybe it’s not a good time, but that is not why Geno had refused to hear him out, Sidney knows that), knowing he’s not going to continue this in the locker room in front of the guys, his phone vibrates with another text that is, of course, from Ovechkin.

CROSBY SUCKS! CROSBY SUCKS! CROSBY SUCKS! reads the text, and Sidney grits his teeth together and turns his phone off.

There’s hockey to think about, hockey to fight for, and Sidney concentrates on that once he’s changed and warmed up, but in the end there’s only hockey for another 60 minutes. They’re out, and Sidney may have seen that coming, may have read what was happening in this series early on, but that doesn’t cushion the blow of disappointment, yet another playoffs ousting to deal with, and this one he had a hand in.

There are no turtle brownies in the locker room this time, no Geno pressing against the against the inside of his wrist and making him feel okay again. Geno looks as devastated as everyone else does, and somehow when he looks at Sidney he looks even more devastated, and Sidney just can’t figure out why he won’t let him fix this.

“Can we talk?” Sidney asks quietly, on the way out to the bus back to the hotel, and Geno’s jaw clenches.

“Not here, Sid, unless you want whole team—”

“I don’t care!” Sidney says, louder than he normally would, but the truth is he doesn’t, not now. He doesn’t care what the team knows, what the staff knows, what anybody knows as long as he can get Geno to listen, at least right now. “Please, just hear me out. When it happened, you didn’t even know I was—”

“Is not right place,” Geno says insistently, and Sidney slams his hand into the side of the bus in frustration, making everybody around them jump. Geno’s eyes have gone big but he doesn’t say anything else, just holds himself stiff and away from Sidney.

“Okay, not here,” Sidney says, trying to keep his breathing even. “But back at the hotel—”

“Tired, Sid,” Geno says, and that just—Sidney gives up, then.

It’s a terrible feeling, because he’s never given up like this. He doesn’t do it in hockey, grinds out every second of play because hockey is everything, and he might as well give up breathing if he’s going to give up on hockey. But tonight he lost. Tonight, the playoffs are over after a year and a half of nearly losing everything, and Geno refuses to meet him halfway, and he just doesn’t have any fight left in him.

“Fine,” Sidney says tightly, and then he steps out of the bus line. “I’m gonna—I’ll meet you guys back at the hotel.”

“Sidney,” Geno says, turning to face him, and the guys all look stricken. Tanger steps out of the line, too, and says, “I’ll go with—” but Sidney holds up his hands and shakes his head furiously.

“No, I need—I’m good, Kris, and I won’t be long, I just need to—”

They all know what he’s going to do. None of them have to remind him that he’s in Philadelphia, that people here will step over his corpse for free gum, because he knows that and doesn’t care. He doesn’t necessarily want to go out, not like this, and not because of Geno, and it breaks so many rules and he just—he doesn’t care. It feels like the first day of 2011 again, and he got everything back but somehow it feels like he’s lost even more tonight. So Sidney doesn’t want this but he thinks he needs this.

He turns away and puts his phone back on to call a cab, not listening to his teammates’ continued inquiries or watching them get on the bus. Sidney will be there for them tomorrow; he’ll do his captain speech then, when they’ve had time to sleep off the loss and will want to listen to him. Tonight he needs this for himself.

His cab is on the way and he hears the bus pulling out, but someone comes up quick behind him, grabbing at his arm. “No,” Geno says roughly, turning Sidney around, and Sidney glares at him. “Don’t be stupid, not this town—”

“Oh, so now you want to talk to me?” Sidney asks, and Geno’s eyes burn into his.

“Not let you throw more tantrums, risk whole career just to be—”

“To be what, Geno?” Sidney snarls, moving into Geno’s space, crowing triumphantly when Geno finally doesn’t back away. “To be gay? Because I don’t have a choice in that, okay, and I am really sick of begging you to be okay with that!”

“Always okay with that, never about that, Sidney!” Geno says hotly. “You are one who always make it into big issue, never trust me!”

“I trust you! I trust you more than anyone!”

“Yes, trust me,” Geno says, scoffing, his face twisted and bitter. “Trust me so much you lie all the time—”

“I already apologized for that! I’d apologize more if you’d let me, God, but you’re always so fucking stubborn—and anyway,” Sidney says, breathing coming fast and harsh, anger and frustration unfurling quickly in him and forcing him to jab where he knows it will hurt. “You haven’t always had the best reactions to hearing about what I do with guys, okay?”

“What?” Geno asks, looking almost hurt enough to derail Sidney. “What you—”

“Ask Rick Nash about it,” Sidney spits out anyway, and Geno’s mouth actually drops open for a second. Then his face tightens up, eyes shuttering over until he could be looking at a complete stranger, and Sidney throws his hands up in the air. “See, exactly, you can’t even hear me talk about it—”

“Rules are joke, then,” Geno says lowly. “Not real. Sid lying more—”

“Oh stop it, okay, Nash was before I even knew I was—and it doesn’t matter, anyway. They’re my rules, I can break them if I want to, and you don’t get to make me feel ashamed about it every time, that’s not fair!”

Geno’s shoulders slump, his face suddenly opening up, sad and guilty enough that Sidney has to squeeze his eyes shut not to break. After a quiet moment filled with their heavy breathing, Geno says, “I never mean to—” but he breaks off, and Sidney waits for him to speak again and folds his arms around himself when nothing ever comes.

A horn honks, and Sidney opens his eyes to see his cab there waiting for him. Sidney grits his teeth together and starts forward purposefully, aware of Geno immediately moving after him.


“I told you, I’m going out.”

“Bad idea, Sid,” Geno says, easily keeping stride with Sidney in a way that’s just infuriating right now. “Losing make you crazy—”

“I’m a grown man, Geno, I can be crazy if I want to.” And he’s in the cab already, not prepared for Geno to be shoving in after him.

“Then I be crazy, too.”

“Fine,” Sidney says, and he looks forward to give the cab driver an address before he realizes he doesn’t have one; he has no idea where he’s going. “Uh, can you just drive around for a bit?” he asks, scrambling for his phone and sending a desperate text to Marc.

He gets a few question marks in return, and then, thankfully, the name of a place that makes the cab driver raise his eyebrows. Sidney doesn’t know if he recognizes them, though it’s more than probable. He still doesn’t care all that much. “Stupid,” Geno is muttering darkly under his breath, muttering more of the same, probably, in Russian, and yeah, he’s being stupid, but he’s too pissed off and sad to care.

The place Marc sends them to is a club, which Sidney normally hates, but tonight he knows it’s at least kind of a smart move; there’s less chance of recognition in a crowded club. Geno sticks by his side, a heavy, heated presence glaring daggers at everyone else, but guys who look at them don’t really care; they’re looking to look, with interest, and that’s all Sidney needs.

“Don’t drink,” Geno says, and that pisses Sidney off even further, because he never drinks. That’s why he storms up to the bar and orders vodka shots, knocking away Geno’s outstretched, hindering arms. “Sidney.

“Fuck off, Geno.”

“Yeah, fuck off, Geno,” says a guy with shaggy hair and thick, muscled arms, flinging one of the arms over Sidney’s shoulders. Sidney takes a second to size him up, downs another shot, and then says, “Okay,” and starts tugging him towards the direction he thinks the bathroom is in.

Geno shouts at them in two different languages but Sidney ignores him, concentrates on navigating the thick crowd and keeping ahold of the guy with the arms, who may or may not be introducing himself, whatever.

The bathroom doesn’t lock but there are stalls, so Sidney shoves the guy with the arms into one and kisses him hard. The guy grabs him, arms wrapping around really tight and heavy and good, so that Sidney can barely breathe, is gasping out choked against his lips. “Your mouth, Jesus,” the guy says, and Sidney knows what that means, always knows what that means.

He goes to his knees.

Before he can do anything, though, before he can fumble for the guy’s belt or tilt his head forward to breathe him in, the door of the stall is ripped open and the guy yelps out, shoving Sidney away. “Fuck off, Geno,” the guy says again, looking incredulous, but whatever image Geno makes must be thoroughly terrifying, because the guy shoves Sidney back again and presses himself as far away from the both of them as possible.

“Sid,” Geno says, his voice deadly, and Sidney stays on his knees but turns to look up at him, heart beating too hard in his chest, his stomach sinking further than it’s ever sunk before. Geno looks wrecked, and Sidney thinks about what Ovechkin said, thinks about I think you break his heart and still doesn’t quite understand it. All he can think about is how many times Geno breaks his heart just by being straight, by being a bad idea, the one rule Sidney should never, ever break.

“Get up,” Geno says, and he sounds totally miserable. When Sidney doesn’t move immediately, he grabs at him and tugs him out of the stall, glaring at the guy with the arms until he throws his hands up and backs out of the bathroom. Geno slams the door shut after him and then leans up against it, looking at Sidney with big, devastated eyes.

“Am not mad at you, Sid,” Geno says, and Sidney groans out loud.

“Bullshit, you—”

“Mad at me,” Geno continues forcefully, shaking his head and looking up at the ceiling. “Mad because I am the one who is not—who—”

“You can be mad at me if you want,” Sidney says, voice cracking, stomach churning. “You can be mad, okay, I’m the one who lied, I’m the one who’s always convinced you secretly hate how I am and I—” I’m in love with you he thinks, but doesn’t say, and maybe that’s the worst thing he’s ever done to Geno, because it means that as long as they’re friends, he’ll always have to lie to him. “I broke the rules,” Sidney finishes, because he did, even after Rachel Meyers, the reason for all the rules in the first place.

Geno looks at him closely, and swallows hard. “Break rules for everyone but me,” he says, and for a moment all Sidney can hear is his own heartbeat in his ears, pounding hard and fast like a kettledrum.

“What,” he says faintly, and Geno looks like he’s in front of a firing squad but he keeps talking anyway, because somehow he’s the brave one in this.

“Find out about Sanja, Staal, Nash—” and the disgust is evident in his voice, making Sidney instinctively want to recoil, but he keeps listening so that he can finally get this, maybe, once and for all. “—maybe others too, and I think—why not me?”

“Geno,” Sidney breathes out. “Are you serious?” Geno just grimaces.

“So many others, Sid, and you never tell, like you’re ashamed, and I want to show you no, not ashamed, is okay. But I hate it—hate what you do, because is not—is not with me.” Geno sags slightly then, like all the air is going out of him at once, and Sidney doesn’t know how to breathe. “Bad friend,” Geno says quietly, and Sidney finds himself making a high, strangled noise of protest, moving forward quickly.

No,” Sidney says, and he’s touching Geno even as he flinches, because he has to. He’s fucking petrified, sure he’s actually dreaming this, and maybe it’s the worst thing or the best thing but tonight he doesn’t care, he doesn’t care about anything but Geno and maybe not fixing but building. He has no idea what to say, has never ever known what to say, and knows if he opens his mouth something terrible or nonsensical is going to come out, and he doesn’t want that.

“Sid?” Geno asks, voice trembling slightly, and then the only thing there is for Sidney to do is to push him back further against the door and kiss him, hard and terrified.

He doesn’t really think when he’s kissing Geno. The world is narrowed down to Geno’s lips against his, chapped and at first frozen, before they move against his with a desperate, wrenching noise that comes from between them. Hands go to Sidney’s hips and his own are tangled up in Geno’s jacket, fingers curled up so hard in the fabric that it hurts. The kiss itself is almost painful in how it’s not really enough, and how it’s everything, Geno’s lips moving so slowly in return to Sidney’s frantic desperation, his frenzied promise not to think about this too much, and to feel instead.

He feels everything, then, and all the small ways he’s loved Geno forever seem so big, huge, pressed up against the door and filling up the bathroom. Sidney doesn’t know if it had always been this big or if it had been waiting to be released, validated, to fill him up inside with more than butterflies: heavy, fuller, and much scarier. Those flashes of the future that he had dreamt about so briefly with Rachel Meyers have absolutely nothing on what Sidney’s feeling right now, right here, and all that he’s felt all along.

Their mouths move together and so do Geno’s hands, one coming up to gently cup the side of Sidney’s face, the other clenching over his hip. His fingers stroke over Sidney’s skin and Sidney leans into the touch, humming, moving to kiss the corner of Geno’s mouth with the same careful gentleness that Geno touches him with. Geno’s thumb goes to Sidney’s bottom lip, pressing, and Sidney kisses it without thinking, for the first time ever, that that means wanting Sidney’s mouth on him, wanting Sidney doing what he’s good at.

Geno doesn’t know what he’s good at; he just wants to touch him. That’s a powerful, heady feeling, one that makes Sidney feel warm and loved and breathless, gasping against Geno’s cheek. He’s never felt like this before.

Eventually, they stop kissing, though they remain clutching at each other, because Sidney isn’t about to let go anytime soon. They stare at each other, close enough that their eyes almost cross, and Sidney can’t tear his gaze away from Geno’s swollen lips until he sees them moving, forming his name.

“Sid, Sid, you—”

“Yeah,” Sidney says, with a short, incredulous laugh. He still has no idea what to say, just wants to kiss Geno again, and knows that that could get tricky if Geno wants to keep talking.

“I don’t understand,” Geno says thickly. “Why you not—why other guys? Why you not say—”

“Because how could I ever have this?” Sidney says, and he doesn’t know if Geno understands that, but it’s still the truth. This still seems so impossible, even with Geno’s warmth right under his hands. How he could get to have this, how could this ever really work, and have hockey too?

Geno’s eyes harden a bit, steely and determined in a way that has been missing for a while, and Sidney hates that idea that he did that. Now, he relishes the sight, heat pooled in the pit of his stomach, and he inches closer to it, even though there’s nowhere closer to go.

“Can have this,” Geno says firmly, squeezing the hand at his hip, drawing it over to press up under the hem of his shirt. “Can always have this, always have me.”

“Geno,” Sidney says, because there are a thousand different things he wants to say to that, stupid things like thank you and I’m sorry and promise? But he saves those things to whisper into their next kiss, wetter and harder, better because of three more words that slip between them, catching their breaths and pulling them even closer. These are things he’d barely allowed himself to ever think, and he won’t think now, won’t obsess and start to regret, not while he has Geno here, wanting him and loving him and saying it.

Sidney doesn’t think, refuses to think, because there are things that he knows, now, things that are more than just possibilities, no matter what can go wrong. And whatever happens, whatever they do after this, Sidney has to count tonight as a win, because he’s never gotten to know these things before, and he’s finally, finally found a feeling as good as hockey.

10.5 Evgeni Malkin

At the 2012 NHL Awards, Sidney doesn’t win anything.

Instead, he goes on his official fifth date with Geno. They don’t hold hands walking the red carpet or anything, and when Geno introduces him as his date people laugh, but still, they have both been clear with each other that it was an official date. They get an early dinner together beforehand, in between press junkets that Sidney is grateful to be left out of for once, at a place with cloth napkins and steak because that’s how dates are supposed to go, as far as Sidney knows.

He’s finding out that he has more experience with dates than he’d formerly realized, though. As many times as he panics and grabs Geno tight and lets him know, with wide eyes and a frozen tongue, that he is completely out of his depth here, has no idea what he’s doing, there are just as many times when he sees Geno sprawled on the couch, taking up space, and knows without prompting that he’s meant to curl up right in the same space, that he’s allowed to do that. And Sidney knows now that even without cloth napkins, even without that much effort, dating Geno is easy because it’s something he’s already comfortable with, like a hat he’s been breaking in for years, twisting in his hands without realizing it.

Those nights on the couch, or in the kitchen, or at Mario’s for dinner, or out with the guys—those are dates, too, Geno tells him. Relationships as a whole aren’t really about dramatic, shouted confessions and make-outs in bathrooms in Philly, but about spending time together, really, closer than they ever could be before, as close as possible. Sidney can do that.

He can do more cooking, taking instruction with more grace than he would from anyone else, maybe, because it’s Geno, and yeah, Nathalie was right about the fact that Sidney can’t really cook without Geno. He can work to turn his little house into more of a home because Geno’s been working towards that all along, and working hard to do it, and Sidney had never seen that as a relationship thing before, and he feels stupid about that now. He feels stupid about a lot of things, but also kind of proud that for all his stupidity, for all the mistakes he’d made and the people he’d been with that hadn’t been mistakes but hadn’t been Geno, either—for all of that, somehow, Sidney had managed to somehow have Geno in the end.

Sometimes it still doesn’t feel real. It’s not really like a dream but like a trick, like he’d tricked himself into being okay with this and not freaking out, or like Geno had. It shouldn’t be this easy, Sidney thinks, except then Geno will smile at him, or kiss his knuckles when he burns them on the oven door, or bump shoulders with him and stay touching there, just walking, and it’s just—it’s so easy. He can do this.

He can also do this: he can sit beside Geno and press his fingers to the inside of his wrist, just to see him smile into his collar and glance sideways at him. Sidney can cheer when Geno cleans up at the awards show, and he can grin to himself while Geno’s onstage and think that’s my boyfriend and ignore the tiny remnants of unease with the word, concentrate on the thrill instead. He can follow him to after-parties that he’s sure he’ll hate, but actually aren’t too bad.

That’s Geno’s fault, he thinks, because Geno’s smile is so big, all the time, and that makes anything easy.

After, they have a suite to themselves with a good Vegas view, not that Sidney spends any time looking out their giant windows. He can’t stop looking at Geno because he gets to look now, watching him undress carefully until he’s down to boxer-briefs and nothing else, blushing and watching Sidney watch him with a small, honeyed grin.

“Not fair,” Geno says, gesturing at where Sidney’s sitting still dressed on the couch in the suite. “You take off, too.”

And that Sidney knows how to do well, and it’s somehow even easier to get naked for Geno, because it feels like it’s worth more. Geno grabs his hands and helps him, one large hand going up the back of Sidney’s shirt to rub along his spine and make him shiver, and that—that Sidney is still learning about.

He knows about sex, now. He knows a lot about his body. But he’s never known sex like this, never knew it could even count as sex. With Geno, Sidney’s been learning what it’s like to just lie down and touch, to kiss at body parts not just for kissing but for knowing, too, what makes the other feel best. He’s learned where to press his hands, the right points to fit his body against, the exact spots on his calves that Geno’s feet will kick against in his sleep. Sidney never knew he wanted to know this stuff. He never knew he could.

They’ve done all that, they’re still doing that—now they fold against each other on the couch, Sidney’s legs curled around Geno’s stretched out beneath them, mouths pressing hungrily together—and they haven’t fucked, yet. Not really. It hadn’t taken long for Sidney to figure out that Geno hasn’t done much with guys, and that he still has weird, conflicted feelings about how much Sidney has done with guys, and so they’ve been careful with each other. The only way they can do this is careful, Sidney has learned, because the rules will fail them here, and it’s up to them to protect each other.

Sidney still hasn’t told Geno everything, not really. Sometimes he is afraid that he has to, to give this thing their best chance, and he doesn’t like having to do something like that, but Geno never really pressures him. Sometimes he’ll ask questions, and Sidney will answer them honestly (that’s important now, honesty), but he doesn’t know how to start volunteering information. It’s not about being ashamed, and he tells Geno that right away, that he can’t be ashamed anymore because whatever he did in the past, with whomever, was a step that brought him here. Here, with Geno, is a pretty good place to be.

There are things that Geno doesn’t need to know, and things that maybe he should, and that goes both ways. They’re still figuring it out, while they figure out everything else. It’s a process, like mapping out how to far to push, and it’s something they take day by day, because they have time to do it like that, to go slow.

And Sidney likes slow. He likes having time to press Geno into the couch cushions, to shift their hips together with no real purpose but to see how it feels (and he knows how it feels with a lot of other people, but he doesn’t how it feels with Geno, and that’s so much more interesting). He’s never done it like this before. He likes it.

He likes more, too, Geno’s hand sliding down now, thumbing at the waistband of his briefs and sliding in to cup his bare ass. Sidney makes noises at that, and he doesn’t blush about it with Geno because he knows enough now to know that Geno likes his noises, the same way Sidney likes the way Geno’s nose kind of scrunches up when he wants something he doesn’t know how to ask for, or the way his limbs go heavy and clinging after he comes.

Sex is about people, Sidney knows, and he’s always been bad at people. But he’s becoming increasingly good at Geno, and that makes the sex better than anything he’s ever done before.

Sidney kisses at Geno’s neck and groans against the damp, salty skin as fingers trail down the crease of his ass, so light and so hesitant, like Geno still hasn’t figured out he gets to touch everywhere. Sidney pushes into the touch, knowing it’s only going to go so far in the next few minutes but wanting Geno to know that they can go farther, that there isn’t anything Sidney isn’t willing to do with him. Geno kisses the side of his face, muttering in Russian, cupping his hand again and rubbing over Sidney’s skin, and then says, “Sid?” with heavy, weighted inquiry in his voice.

Sidney doesn’t say anything but, “Yes,” and sits up, drawn quickly in again for a hard, sucking kiss before Geno smiles up at him and lets him go. Sidney goes for his suitcase and grabs up the lube and condoms he always packs, now with hope instead of certainty that he’ll always need them.

When he turns back around, Geno is sitting up and touching himself, underwear tugged off and mouth dropped slightly open. Sidney tries to school his face into an expression that’s something besides really fucking turned on but only manages to croak out a half-annoyed “Hey, that’s—that’s cheating.”

Geno just grins at him, slow and lazy, jerking himself at the same pace. “Win big tonight, Sid. Can cheat if I want.” He has his legs spread wide, knees far apart and forming a perfect, Sidney-shaped spot to kneel in, and Geno’s not asking for anything but Sidney hopes he knows he doesn’t have to.

The carpet is easy on his knees, and he’s already so hard but so is Geno, and that’s way more important to Sidney right now. First he takes Geno’s hand away and kisses the palm, kisses his fingers, then kisses at where he’d been stroking, letting go of the hand to let it fall in his hair as Geno’s breath hitches slightly. Sidney likes the way Geno can get harder with Sidney’s mouth on him, likes the feel of him pulsing under his lips.

Geno’s hand in his hair isn’t pushy, just heavy, a comfortable weight that strokes through the strands as Sidney starts to suck on him. He’s had guys push his head down and he’s okay with that, really, okay if Geno’s hips start canting up more than minutely. Sidney taps his thigh encouragingly to tell him that, but Geno just swears softly in Russian and keeps his hips still, scratches gently across Sidney’s scalp. “Good, Sid,” he says roughly, and somehow that’s better, just turns him on more, makes him groan as much as he can around Geno’s dick.

He works at sucking on as much of Geno as possible, swallowing when he can, relishing in the press of Geno’s fingers against his straining lips and the slight bite of his nails on his head. After a while, Geno says, “Have to—” and Sidney thinks he might be coming and is glad for it, readies to swallow, but instead Geno gropes at his shoulder and slips his hands under his armpits and tugs him up onto his lap. “Kiss me,” Geno says, pleading, and Sidney is complying before the words are all the way out, straddling Geno’s lap and curling inward to kiss his bitten lips.

The thing he’s learned most with Geno is that sex with him doesn’t ever follow the same patterns it used to, the same steps, and the more they do it, the more Sidney learns the new steps. Geno doesn’t want the same things from him, wants more from him, and Sidney has learned how to give him more.

There are times when Geno is just desperate to touch, and this is one of those times; he keeps Sidney in his lap and keeps kissing him and pushes his underwear down and touches him, fingers curling sweaty and hot around Sidney’s dick. Sidney is the one to get the lube open between them, to drip it over Geno’s fingers and raise himself up to tell him there are other places he can touch, too, Sidney’s thighs taut with want and anticipation.

Geno does it, bringing his fingers up, pressing one in slowly and watching with rapt attention as Sidney groans out and rolls himself into it. Geno fingers him until Sidney’s thighs are shaking, until he’s slick and open and moaning into Geno’s insistent, continuous kisses. And then he keeps going, Sidney pressed so close to him that his dick keeps dragging over Geno’s skin, and it’s torturous and perfect and he wants it all over and never wants it to end.

“Please,” he says against Geno’s lips, and Geno makes a noise that sounds like he’s being cracked in half, broken open for Sidney, and Sidney doesn’t even know what he’s asking for.

But Geno’s fingers pull out, and Sidney shifts restlessly and tries to coordinate himself to grab at the condom. He rolls it on Geno with shaking fingers, drips more lube between them until they and the couch are really a terrible mess, and after another long, filthy kiss, takes Geno in hand and lowers himself down on him.

Geno shudders violently, arms going around Sidney and forehead pressed to his, eyes clenched shut. Sidney has to fight to keep looking at him, watching his face, looking to him more than his own body for cues. He knows his own body; Geno’s is so much more fascinating.

Sidney watches Geno as he starts to move, thighs flexing and still shaking with the insistent pressure of arousal, and he concentrates on keeping a steady, even pace. Geno’s head tilts back and his eyes open to slits, looking up at Sidney like he can’t believe he’s really there, and Sidney drives himself down and kisses him hard again, reassuring.

Fingers dig into his hips, hands cupped around the flesh of his ass again, and now Geno starts helping him, making Sidney move and thrusting up into the movements. It’s so fucking good to feel himself stretch around Geno, to have Geno’s hands on him like this, to be held but not held down (and that’s one of the things that Geno maybe needs to know, something he won’t dare to understand on his own, how much Sidney likes both being held and being held down, in different circumstances).

He lets him know how good it feels, lets sounds roll out of him continuously as he fucks himself up and down. Geno’s fingers tremble over his skin, but they are strong and sure when they wrap around his dick again, stroking him carefully, murmuring into the skin of his neck and kissing Sidney gently when he keens. His thrusts go weak when he starts coming, needing to lean against Geno and let him do more of the moving, letting him fuck up into him and hold him and then come, their mouth crushed together, his arm wrapped around Sidney tight.

After, it is all either of them can do to move, but Sidney drags them toward the bed, naked and sticky and falling under the covers together. Geno lets Sidney arrange them to his liking, touching but not smothering, and only moves to wrap his hand around Sidney’s wrist, stroking the skin there and humming against the back of his neck.

It’s not the first time he’s falling asleep with Geno, but it’s the first time he’s done it after an official date, and so Sidney tries to stay up for a while. He twists under Geno’s arm and watches him settle into sleep, eyelids heavy and face slack and shadowed and gorgeous. Sidney looks because he can, because he gets to do that now, and he doesn’t think he’ll ever sick of getting that.

He looks until he has to fall asleep, too comfortable and happy to keep his brain going. Sidney pushes a little bit closer, still touching and now maybe sort of smothering, and decides that feels okay, Geno’s breath fanning out over his forehead, his warmth a long line against Sidney’s front.

Sidney lets his eyes slide closed thinking of morning, Geno’s eyes opening again, sharing different spaces and different touches and different words. He can think of a hundred different mornings and he can dream of them knowing he’ll get to have them soon, and as he falls asleep he thinks he can’t wait to wake up.