When he thinks about it later, Sidney isn't actually sure how it started. It's just natural – polite, even – to offer to babysit for Mario and Nathalie while he's living out of their guest house. And he likes the Lemieux kids anyway – it's more like hanging out with his younger cousins than work. They're not even that much younger than him – the oldest is twelve, perfectly old enough to look after three fairly self-possessed younger siblings – but he doesn't mind spending time with them. They mostly just play pick-up games on the back patio anyway.
It's not until later that he finds out that the Lemieux kids apparently have a habit of terrorizing their babysitters until neither love nor money nor the promise of free season tickets are enough to entice anyone to brave them.
"I don't know how you do it," Nathalie says when she and Mario come home from their date night to find all four kids already asleep, their homework completed and their rooms tidied. "They're not even this good for us."
Sidney shrugs and says, "They're not much worse than some of the guys on the team."
Nathalie snorts incredulously, but Mario just nods and says, "Makes sense."
After those first couple of times when the Lemieuxs just aren't able to find any babysitters, Sidney somehow becomes the default babysitter rather than the back-up. He's fine with that, he really is.
And then one day, Dan makes him stay late after practice, and Sidney fidgets nervously all the way up until Dan says, "Sid, I hate to ask this, but our usual babysitter got sick and, well, you're good with Mario's kids – would you mind looking after Bryan tonight?"
Sidney blinks in surprise. "What?"
"I know it's last minute," Day says, "but I'd really appreciate it."
"Um – sure?" Sidney says, which is apparently the right thing to say because Dan breaks into a huge grin and slaps Sidney on the shoulder.
"Thanks so much, Sid," he says. "Come by around seven."
Geno is waiting in the locker room, fully-dressed in his street clothes. He frowns at Sidney and asks, "What did coach want?"
"I'm babysitting tonight," Sidney says, shrugging. He sits down at his bench and starts unlacing his skates.
Geno squints at him. "Sitting – babies?"
"Oh, uh." Sidney pauses and looks up. "I'm going to look after Bryan tonight."
"Oh," Geno says, eyes lightening in comprehension. "I see. Why you?"
"I don't know," Sidney admits. He pulls off his skates and starts to pull of his practice uniform. "But it'll be fine. Bryan's a good kid."
"Maybe I drop by if you need help," Geno suggests.
Sidney rolls his eyes. "If I can look after four Lemieuxs, I think I'll do fine with one Bylsma."
"Okay," Geno says. "If you say so."
"I do." Sid stands and hits Geno in the shoulder. "Thanks, though."
"Yeah. Night, Sid," Geno says, and he waves over his shoulder as he heads out. "Good luck!"
"Thanks," Sidney calls back.
He doesn't think he'll actually need the good luck until he arrives at the Bylsma house precisely at seven, just in time to hear Bryan yelling something indistinct before slamming a door. Sidney hovers awkwardly on the doorstep, not sure if he should intrude, then just knocks when he doesn't hear another sound from inside.
"Hi, Sid," Dan says tiredly when he opens the door. "I'm sorry about –" He shakes his head. "Anyway, thanks for coming."
"It's no problem." Sidney follows him inside. "Is everything all right?"
"Oh, we just had a minor disagreement," Dan says, which Sidney mentally translates to 'screaming fight.' "Bryan's in his room now; he should come down for dinner."
Mary appears from the living room, wearing a dress and heels, and Sidney realizes abruptly that Dan is dressed up too. "Sidney," she says, sounding relieved. "Come on, let me just show you some things."
She takes him into the kitchen and shows him the paper pinned to the refrigerator with a list of emergency numbers, then opens up the fridge to point out the leftover pot roast.
"And Bryan's going through some sort of phase where he doesn't eat potatoes, so we have rice instead," she explains, nodding towards a container. "And there's money in the –"
"It's okay, Mrs. Bylsma," Sidney says. "I look after Mario's kids all the time."
"I know," she sighs, "just – okay."
"Have a good time," Sidney tells her, trying not to sound too much like he's telling his coach's wife to get some.
She kind of smirks at him anyway and gives him a quick, perfumed hug that leaves him weirdly nostalgic for home. He walks them to the door and waves as they set off in Dan's car.
Then he goes to find Bryan.
He's been to Dan's house a few times before, but always for hockey reasons, and he's never been upstairs. It takes him two tries to find Bryan's room, and he only knows it's the right one because he tries the door and Bryan yells, "Go away!"
"Hey, Bryan," Sidney says, leaning against the door. "It's Sidney."
"I said go away," Bryan snaps.
"All right." Sidney stands there for a moment, frowning at the door. Bryan is normally a great kid and a lot like Dan – quiet, self-possessed, and even-tempered, not given to tantrums. He feels like he probably should try to talk to Bryan, but he honestly has no idea what he'd even say.
He decides to give Bryan some space and returns downstairs to look around the living room. There's a PS3 hooked up to the TV and a stack of games next to it, so he pulls one out at random and pops it in.
While the game loads, Sidney returns to the kitchen to dig out the leftover pot roast. He heats up a plate for Bryan and troops upstairs with it to see if he can tempt him out. He knocks gently and calls, "Bryan?"
"Leave me alone," Bryan shouts.
"I've brought you dinner," says Sidney. "I'll be downstairs if you need anything."
"I won't," Bryan says. He sounds a lot closer to the door this time, and Sidney smiles a little.
"Okay." Sidney gently taps his knuckles against the door, then goes downstairs to make himself a plate of food.
He eats on the couch while the game's narrator introduces the world, which kind of seems like it was dreamed up by someone on an acid trip. His little sack doll character floats around aimlessly until he sets his plate aside and starts playing.
Sidney is in the process of dying by electrocution when he hears a door upstairs open and close. He waits, his sack doll making distressed noises, and is rewarded by the sound of Bryan's footsteps on the stairs.
Bryan shows up in the living room a moment later, looking a little guilty. "Hi," he says.
"Hey," Sidney says. "Do you play this game much? I keep dying."
Bryan turns to look at the screen and, unexpectedly, laughs. "I thought you'd pick one of the NHL games."
Sidney shrugs. "I have those at home."
"Well, this game is easier if you play with other people." Bryan throws himself down next to Sidney and picks up the second controller. "Come on, I'll help you out."
So Bryan pulls out his own pimped out sack doll, which has, like, tiger stripes and a crazy hat, and proceeds to kick Sidney's ass, even as he insists that, "It isn't a competition, Sid."
"You're the one who keeps laughing every time you get to the stickers before me," Sidney points out, furiously button mashing in a vain attempt to keep from falling off into a herd of buffalo.
"Well, fine, maybe it is a competition," Bryan says, leaping neatly over the same gap that Sidney had fallen through. "And you're losing."
Sidney rolls his eyes, but can't help his grin. "I'm glad you're enjoying this. The only time you'll be able to beat me."
To his surprise, Bryan abruptly pauses the game and turns to look at Sidney. "Actually," he says, each syllable sounding like it's being dragged from him, "I – I wanted to ask you about that."
"About Little Big World?" Sidney asks, raising his eyebrows.
"It's Planet, and no." Bryan puts his controller down. "About – beating you. Or, well –"
"Is this about what you fought with your dad about?"
Bryan nods and sighs. "They grounded me from hockey."
Sidney can't help his immediate wince in response, even though he tries to hide it. Bryan catches it and says, "Yeah, exactly! And they don't see why I'm so upset!"
"I'm sure your dad understands," Sidney says. He's pretty sure every hockey player would understand that bone-deep itchiness and anger that creeps in the longer you have to stay away from the ice. Even when he was younger, he had hated taking time away from hockey for anything else. It's why he has always been so focused; he never wants to have hockey taken away from him for any reason. "Why did they ground you?"
Bryan looks away, mouth working. "I flunked a test," he admits. "It was stupid."
"Do you think that hockey is taking time away from studying?" Sidney asks.
"I guess, but that's what hockey is, you know that." Bryan gestures emphatically at Sidney. "It takes up your life. I mean, did you get really good grades at school?"
Sidney shifts uncomfortably. "Actually, uh, I got straight A's."
Bryan groans disgustedly and sinks down in the sofa. "Of course you did."
"You just have to learn to balance things out." Sidney turns to face Bryan, wanting to be sure that he gets this. "Hockey is important, but you can't just ignore the other important parts of your life. Make yourself a schedule or something. You need to graduate school, right? And what if you don't drafted?"
"Hey," Bryan says.
"No, I'm not saying you're not good," Sidney says hastily. "It's just, something could happen between now and your draft year, and it's always good to have a back-up plan."
Bryan looks at Sidney for a long moment, then says, "You and my dad are so much alike, it's kind of sickening."
Sidney goes red and tries to think of something to say that isn't horribly embarrassing, because that's probably the nicest thing anyone has said to him in a while. He eventually settles on, "Thanks," and Bryan rolls his eyes.
"You're welcome, you giant loser," he says, picking up his controller again, and Sidney considers saying something about how hey, he's supposed to be the authority figure again, but he's mostly happy that Bryan is smiling again.
They move onto Mario Kart, after a brief break to dig out the wiimotes from between the couch cushions, and Sidney is trying very hard not to curse as Bryan throws a shell at him when he hears the front door open. He pauses the game and pushes at Bryan gently.
"What?" Bryan demands.
"You should talk to your parents," Sidney says reasonably. "See if you can work out a deal where you still get to play hockey if you bring your grades up. Get a tutor or something."
"You're not going to tell me to apologize?" Bryan asks, narrowing his eyes.
Sidney shrugs. "I can't make you do anything you don't want to."
Bryan still looks suspicious, but he gets up and goes to the door. Sidney takes his time gathering up his (very few) things to give Bryan some time to talk to his parents, and by the time he makes it to the front hall, Bryan is being squeezed into a hug by his mother. Bryan gives Sidney a very long-suffering look. Sidney gives him thumbs up and tries to slip away, but Dan is wise to Sidney's ways and grabs his arm before he can eel out of the door.
"Sid," he says in an undertone. "I don't know what you said to him, but – thanks. He really looks up to you, you know that?"
"I didn't get that impression," Sidney says.
Dan rolls his eyes. "He's thirteen, he wants to seem cool." He claps Sid on the shoulder. "Thanks, Sid. We can pay you for –"
"Oh, no," Sidney says quickly, raising his hands. "I don't want you to pay me."
"Well, Mary is going to want to treat you to dinner some time," Dan says. "Fair warning."
"Okay," Sidney says, who thinks he can accept that without feeling guilty. "Sure."
"You're a good kid, Sid," Dan says, opening the front door. Sidney decides not to debate the "kid" thing and says, "Thanks," before waving awkwardly and heading out to his car.
And that should have been that – Sidney would look after the Lemieux kids, maybe Bryan even though he is really getting too old for babysitters – but then Sidney comes out of the bathroom during a road trip to New York to find Duper having a somewhat frantic-sounding discussion with his wife.
"Non, je – un moment," and Pascal covers the mouth of his phone. "Sorry, Sid, I'd take it into the hall but the reception sucks."
"It's okay," Sidney says, shrugging. He listens absently as he folds up his clothes from earlier in the day, but he's only able to catch about one word in four with his sadly deteriorated French. He thinks there's something going on with the kids, but he isn't positive, and he doesn't want to ask anyway, now while Pascal is still on the phone.
"God, sorry," says Duper when he hangs up. "Our normal babysitter moved unexpectedly, and now Carole-Lyne is freaking out."
"You can't find another?" Sidney asks, frowning.
"We're trying." Pascal flops back on the bed. "But we like to know our babysitters and four kids is a lot."
Sidney nods as he searches underneath his suitcase for his other sock. "Yeah, that's what the Lemieuxs said. I didn't think it was so bad, but I guess that's because I'm used to them."
There's a pause, then, "Wait, what?"
Sidney looks up and sees that Pascal is staring at him, frowning a little. "I babysit for the Lemieuxs sometimes," he says. "Dan too, if he needs it."
"Oh my god," Pascal says. "This is fate. It has to be."
"What?" Sidney asks, alarmed. "I –"
But Pascal has already pulled out his phone again and holds up his hand to silence Sidney. Sidney scowls, but goes quiet anyway because his parents bred him to be a Canadian stereotype. "Carole-Lyn, j'ai trouvé un baby-sitter pour nos enfants!" He pauses, grinning, and then says, "Sidney."
Sidney groans and covers his face. "Duper, I did not agree to this."
Pascal gives him a look as he listens to whatever his wife is saying on the other end. Sidney can just barely make out the tinny noise of her voice. She sounds – not worried, which does not bode well.
"Ouais, je pense – non, non. Oui, Mario et Dan." Pascal gives Sidney thumbs up and grins smugly. "Oui, je sais. Je t'aime aussi, ma chérie."
"Duper," Sidney says when Pascal finally hangs up his damn phone, "I can't be your babysitter. I'm with you half the time."
"No, it's perfect!" Pascal says enthusiastically. "Carole-Lyne hates leaving the kids with people we don't know, but we're supposed to go to this wedding next weekend and they're kind of too young to take with us."
Sidney feels himself weakening, which is terrible because he is not going to be the team babysitter, but he actually really likes Pascal's kids, and he kind of understands why Carole-Lyne doesn't want to leave them with a stranger. He crosses his arms and says, "I'm not going to be your default babysitter."
Clearly sensing blood in the water, Pascal says, "We're working on finding a new regular babysitter, but we really need someone for next weekend."
Sidney eyes him, then gives into the inevitable and says, "Okay, fine, but you owe me."
Pascal does a ridiculous fist-pump, and Sidney throws his briefs at his head.
So he's babysitting Duper's spawn, which of course is spread around to everyone because his team loves to call him a mother hen, and the next morning, Max seizes Sidney around the neck and teases him about his biological clock.
"You gotta meet a girl, have some babies of your own so you don't have to steal Duper's," Max chortles, and Sidney shoves him off, scowling. He gets some more ribbing from the team during breakfast, but that seems to be the end of it.
"Do you want kids?" Geno asks later, voice casual. "You like kids, right?"
Sidney shrugs. He's always wanted kids in the same vague, nebulous way that he wants to settle down with someone. He used to imagine a wife for himself, someone tall with dark hair and a kind smile, and a brood of hockey-playing kids, but now that he's older and a little more self-aware, he recognizes that he's more likely going to stay a bachelor or find a way to live quietly with someone he can't officially call his partner, not in public. He's had some time to get used to that, to the fact that he'll probably never have any kids that are biologically his, and he's mostly okay with that now.
"One day," he says. "Like Talbot, need someone else first."
"Girlfriend," Geno agrees. "First step."
Sidney rolls his eyes and says, "Sure," but elbows Geno affectionately so he knows that Sidney is kidding.
"What, you just marry first girl you meet?" Geno asks. "Sid, you can't do that."
"Why not?" Sidney asks, making his eyes big.
"She could have –" Geno flaps his hands. "Who knows!" Then he actually looks at Sidney and makes a face. "You're teasing."
"Sorry," Sidney says, grinning, and Geno grumbles something in Russian before hitting Sidney's shoulder.
"Mean," Geno says, but he's grinning. "I try to be nice about babies, you make joke."
"Whatever, you'll get over it," Sidney says. "Come on, we're supposed to be on the bus already."
Duper seems to find it necessary to tell Sidney all about his spawn's different habits while they're on the bus, loudly explaining that Kody doesn't eat cheese now and Lola, the baby, is pretty quiet but she still needs to be burped and does Sidney need a demonstration? Sidney tries to ignore him, but Flower seems to find it all amusing and keeps elbowing Sidney, asking him why he isn't taking notes.
"You're going to be a bad babysitter if you don't listen," says Flower.
"I'm an amazing babysitter, shut up," Sidney says automatically, and Flower starts cracking up because he's an asshole.
Of course, Sidney only remembers that all of Duper's kids are under the age of ten halfway to his house and wonders if it's too late to back out. But he's determined to prove that he's good at this, so he grits his teeth and continues the rest of the way to Duper's house.
Kody tugs on Sidney's jeans the moment he comes in and says, "Sid, Sid, I want food like Papa makes," and Sidney looks kind of helplessly at Duper, who just shrugs.
"You're on your own, dude, Carole-Lyne and I are officially off the clock." He pulls on his jacket, ruffles Kody's hair, and holds out his hand to his wife. Sidney looks away, feeling as awkward as he always does around couples who have been together long enough to develop that easy symbiosis he mostly associates with hockey.
"Thank you for this, Sidney," Carole-Lyne says, squeezing his shoulder. "Lola is fed and sleeping, so she should be okay, but you can call us if you need anything."
"Come on," Duper says, tugging at her hand. "We have an urgent appointment at –"
Sidney hurriedly covers Kody's ears, even though Kody squirms and says, "What, what's he saying?"
"—a wedding, Crosby, Jesus," Duper says. "I mean, yes, we do have a hotel room –"
"All right, honey," Carole-Lyne says, rolling her eyes, "I think it's time for us to go," and she tugs him out the door.
Sidney nods goodbye, hands still firmly clamped over Kody's ears, and Kody waves cheerfully, shouting loudly, "Bye Mama! Bye Papa!"
Kody peels Sidney's hands off his ears and says plaintively, "I'm hungry."
Sidney looks up at the sound of thundering footsteps and sees Maeva coming down the stairs, looking determined. "I want food, Sid," she announces, putting her hands on her hips. "Papa said you'd make us croque-monsieurs."
"Okay," Sidney says. He thinks he vaguely remembers what a croque-monsieur is from the French textbook he had studied religiously in Rimouski. He looks around, frowning. "Where's your sister?"
"Which one?" asks Kody, hopping forward on one foot towards the kitchen.
"Zoe," says Sidney. Kody and Maeva both point in the direction of the living room and Sidney sighs. "Don't do anything, okay? I'll be right back."
He finds Zoe playing with LEGOs in the living room, gleefully knocking down her tower and making crashing noises. She stops guiltily when she sees him and tries to hide the block she's holding behind her back.
"Hi, Zoe," he says, crouching down to her level. "Do you remember me?"
She shrugs, then holds out the LEGO. "Hi," she says, stuffing it into his hands.
"We're making dinner," Sidney says. "Your brother and sister and me. You want to come with us?"
"Apples," Zoe says firmly, and she starts to toddle off in the direction of the kitchen. Sidney sets the LEGO back down, then sweeps her up into his arms. She squirms a little, but settles after a moment, tucking her face into his shoulder.
To his complete lack of surprise, Maeva and Kody have migrated into the kitchen and are attempting to pull food out of the refrigerator, even though they're too small to reach most of the ingredients properly. "I thought I told you to stay still," Sidney says, setting Zoe down in the high chair. "And stop that, I'll get out whatever it is we need."
"Apples apples apples," chants Zoe, hitting the tray on her high chair.
"She wants applesauce," Maeva says matter-of-factly, reaching up and knocking down an entire stack of applesauce containers. "Oops."
"Why don't you write down what's in a croque-monsieur?" Sidney says, a little desperately, and he gives her a gentle shove in the direction of where he sees her backpack. "That way I can make sure I pull everything out."
The moment she and Kody seem to be occupied with writing stuff down, Sidney pulls out a container of applesauce for Zoe and opens it for her. She coos happily and starts shoveling it into her face before he can try to find her a spoon.
"Okay," he says, trying not to imagine the clean up that is going to be required. "So tell me what I need to do?"
"Kody wants an egg on his instead of cheese," says Maeva, her voice thick with all the disdain a six year old can muster.
"Lots of protein," Sidney says, solemnly nodding at Kody. "Very smart."
"See?" Kody says smugly, although Sidney is pretty sure that he doesn't actually know what Sidney means.
So Sidney makes two croque-monsieurs – or rather, one croque-monsieur and one croque-madame, according to Maeva – under Kody and Maeva's watchful eyes. He lets them flip the sandwiches themselves, careful to keep them from accidentally burning themselves on the stove. Maeva gleefully drops a slice of cheese onto hers when Sidney tells her to do so, sticking her tongue out at her brother, and Kody makes a face.
"Be nice," Sidney says mildly.
He makes them sit nicely around the kitchen table to eat, figuring it'll be easier to clean up that way. Zoe is nodding off in her chair by the time he eats his own hastily thrown-together sandwich, so he lifts her out of her chair and takes her upstairs. He uses some baby wipes to clean the remaining applesauce off her hands and face before he puts her to bed. She makes a soft, sleepy noise when he sets her down and grabs at him.
Sidney freezes, stares down at her tiny hand tangled in the fabric of his shirt, and forgets to breathe for a moment.
"Story?" she mumbles, blinking up at him.
He nods jerkily and says, "Sure," and picks up a book at random.
She falls asleep halfway through the fourth page, and he closes the book quietly so he can look at her, imagining for that moment that she's his daughter. He tries not to think that far into the future, but for once he can imagine it, can imagine having a little girl that he tucks into bed every night and teaches to skate and plays blocks with. He reaches out and tucks a curl of dark hair behind her ear so she doesn't chew on it during the night before getting up and padding out of the room, suddenly very tired.
Maeva pounces on him the moment he returns downstairs and asks, "Can we play a game, Sid?" and Kody joins in asking, clapping his hands. When Sidney says okay, she scampers away into the living room, yelling that she gets to pick.
"No fair!" Kody shouts, and Sidney winces.
"Your sisters are sleeping," he says in the vain hope that they'll pay attention to him.
Maeva has whipped out a battered but obviously much-loved copy of Candy Land, which she lays out proudly on the floor. "I get to be red," she says, snatching up the piece.
Sidney ends up with green, which apparently means he has to go last. He plays at being competitive, pretending to be mad when Kody gleefully skips five spaces at him, and tickles Kody until Kody shrieks with laughter and yells, "You're cheating!"
The game has the very welcome side effect of wearing both of the kids out, so Sidney makes them brush their teeth and put on PJs before tucking them in. Kody gives him a hug, announcing that Sidney is an okay babysitter, and Maeva asks him to wake her up when her parents get home. Sidney ruffles her hair, ignoring the answering squawk, and promises he will.
Sidney goes downstairs fully intending to stay up and wait for Duper to get home, but he has only just turned the TV to the Food Network (which he has become fascinated by thanks to Geno's obsession with it) when he finds himself nodding off.
He wakes suddenly, jerking upright and nearly smacking Pascal in the face. "Oh god," he says thickly. "I fell asleep."
"Whatever, dude, I know my kids," says Pascal, who is grinning like a maniac. "The fact that you're not dead right now says a lot."
Sidney scrubs at his face and says, "They weren't so bad."
"Sure," Pascal says. "I know they're not Cookie's kids, but still."
He gives Sidney a hand up and gently shoves him towards the door. Sidney is about to go when he remembers, and he turns back. "I think Maeva wants you to say goodnight to her," he says. "She asked me to wake her up when you got home."
Duper's face softens into the expression that every guy Sidney knows seems to get when they're talking about their kids. "Thanks for telling me," he says. He hits Sidney's arm. "And thanks for doing this, we had a really nice night."
"I don't need to hear about it," Sidney says hurriedly.
"Please, I don't kiss and tell." Duper grins. "One day, when someone kisses you, you'll understand."
"Hey," Sidney says. "I've been kissed before."
"Sure." Duper herds him out of the front door. "Go home and sleep off the kid hangover. See you at practice."
Sidney nods, and waves goodbye to Carole-Lyne before getting in his car. He barely makes the journey home, and when he gets up to his bed, he faceplants into his pillow and sleeps straight through to his alarm the next morning.
Of course, though, the secret of Sidney's babysitting powers can't stay secret for long, and when he eventually ends up out with his concussion, he finds himself spending a lot of time watching Food Network in black and white and also babysitting.
He babysits for Cookie (just the once, because that is enough for him) and Dan and Duper and Craig and Chris and eventually Sidney starts to feel like he's going to forget how to talk to people over the age of ten, so he tells everyone that he needs a break. Geno, of course, takes this as a sign that Sidney's concussion has somehow gotten worse and comes over to mother him.
"I didn't mean that I needed a babysitter," Sidney protests as Geno putters around his kitchen. "Geno?"
"You don't have food," Geno says reprovingly, gesturing at the empty refrigerator. "Why don't you have food?"
"I've been busy," Sidney says. "Everyone wants me to look after their kids."
"They only just realize you good with them." Geno shrugs. "One day, no big deal."
"I hope that day is soon." Sidney leans past Geno to shut his empty refrigerator. "I like their kids, but I'm so tired."
"I tell them to stop." Geno rubs the back of Sid's neck. "You need rest."
"Just a couple of weeks," Sidney says quickly. "After that, it's fine."
"Sid, you don't have to."
Sidney shrugs and looks down. "I like spending time with kids. Who knows when – you know."
"When you have kids?" Geno asks. When Sidney nods, he pulls Sidney into a rough hug and says, "You will, Sid."
Sidney allows Geno to hug him for another ten seconds before he shakes him off. "Come on," he says, turning away so Geno can't see his flush. "Let's order something. You pick."
True to his word, Geno says something to the team, and Sidney gets two weeks of respite from the babysitting requests. He appreciates it at first, but after the first week, he starts to get bored. He's pretty sure he's played through every single one of his video games twice, and he is so sick of the doctor's office and the walls of his living room that he's ready to do anything, including babysit Cookie's kids again.
"Okay," he says on Cookie's answering machine, "I'll babysit your hellspawn again," and Michelle calls him back like fifteen minutes later sounding so grateful that he can't bring himself to regret making the call.
But despite the fact that he knows he's getting a reputation amongst the Pens for being the go-to guy for childcare, he isn't expecting the call from Eric Staal.
"Hello?" he asks after checking the caller ID and seeing an unknown number. He tugs open the curtains of his hotel window and looks outside at the Canadian landscape. "Who is this?"
"This is Sidney, right?"
"Yes," Sidney says. "Who –"
"This is Eric. Staal. Jordan's brother," Eric says, like Sidney couldn't have figured that second part out. "Look, I know this is last minute, but Jordy said you're good with kids."
"Yes," Sidney says, accepting the inevitable even as he asks, "why?"
"I have to go with Jordy for a suit fitting or something and Tanya is helping out with some cake-related disaster, I don't really know, it's wedding sh – stuff," Eric says. "I just – there's no one else around, could you watch Parker and Levi? Just for a couple of hours."
Sidney represses a sigh and starts to collect his wallet and hotel key. "Okay, sure. Give me directions?"
The first thing Eric does when Sidney arrives is thrust a very small, very blonde child into Sidney's arms. "This is Levi. Parker is playing in the living room. Levi should be okay, but there are bottles in the fridge and diapers in the nursery. Okay." He swoops in to kiss the back of Levi's head, then lightly punches Sidney in the arm. "Thanks, man."
"I –" Sidney starts, but Eric is already out the door, and Sidney is left with a tiny Staal that is drooling steadily into the shoulder of his t-shirt.
"Well, all right," Sidney says to the tiny Staal. "I don't suppose you can tell me where your brother is?"
Levi hiccups, which Sidney takes as a no. He picks his way through the foyer, stepping over the haphazardly discarded shoes and following the sounds of cheerful, childish chaos.
He finds Parker in the living room like Eric had said, playing with a toy truck that he's using to knock over a toy mountie. Sidney grins and sits down on the floor next to him, settling Levi in his lap. Levi tries to lunge off in the direction of some blocks, but Sidney keeps a hold on him.
"Hi," Sidney says to Parker, who barely looks up. "I'm Sidney. I play with your Uncle Jordan."
Parker does look up at that and says, "Jordy?"
"Yes, Jordy," says Sidney.
Parker beams and claps his hands. "Come play," he says imperiously, pointing at the truck, so Sidney scoots closer and lets Parker direct him.
"Truck is Daddy," Parker explains, tapping it. "Horsey is Uncle Jordan." He taps the mountie and grins up at Sidney.
Sidney bites back his smile and nods very seriously. "I see," he says. "What about Jared and Marc?"
Parker frowns, then turns towards the toy chest. He rummages around for a bit, then produces a small stuffed tiger which he declares is Jared and a Raggedy Andy doll which he says is Marc. Sidney accepts the tiger when Parker thrusts it at him, and obediently acts out what Parker tells him to in his semi-coherent child babble.
Levi starts to get squirmy after about fifteen minutes, so Sidney gets up and walks around the house, jiggling Levi gently. Levi pushes his face into Sidney's shoulder and appears to go to sleep, wuffling steadily against Sidney's neck.
Sidney takes him back to his room and settles Levi down in his crib. There's a baby monitor sitting on the dresser, and Sidney goes looking for the other one so he can keep an ear out for Levi's crying. By the time he makes it back to the living room, Parker has gotten bored of his toys and is toddling determinedly in the direction of the TV.
"Hey, no," Sidney says, stopping him. "You need to clean up."
Parker pouts. "Don't wanna."
"What if someone trips on one of your toys and hurts themselves?" Sidney asks. "You wouldn't want that, would you?"
Parker sighs and troops off to start tidying up. Sidney takes pity on him and helps, picking up the tiger and Raggedy Andy and setting them back in the toy box. After they've put all the toys more or less neatly away, Parker hits Sidney's knee and says, "Rat-tooey!" which Sidney eventually realizes is a request for a movie.
Remy the rat has just successfully made soup when the baby monitor crackles ominously. Parker says, "Uh oh," and, sure enough, Levi starts crying.
"I'm going to go check on your brother," Sidney says, getting to his feet.
"Pause?" Parker asks, tilting his head and hovering his small hand over the remote.
"It's fine," Sidney says. He ruffles Parker's hair, and then goes to investigate what's causing Levi's tears.
It is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a soiled diaper. Sidney takes a minute to locate where the wet wipes and baby powder is before he gets to changing Levi. Levi squirms angrily, but settles as soon as Sidney has cleaned him off a bit. Sidney gets a fresh diaper on and uses the antibacterial gel on the bedside table on his hands settling Levi back in his crib. Levi makes a slightly discontented noise, then blinks sleepily up at Sidney.
Sidney smiles and dangles his hand down so Levi can grab at it. He's always amazed at how tiny babies are, at how big just his finger is compared to the whole of a child's hand. It seems impossible that he, that Jordy, or Geno could have ever been this small and fragile, and when he looks at Levi, he feels like he can see a thousand possible futures for him, all wrapped up in a tiny, blond package.
"You're going to be big and strong like your daddy and uncles," Sidney says, because the Staals are nothing if not predictable. "You don't know that yet, but you will be."
Levi gnaws toothlessly at Sidney's finger for a moment, then squirms away. Sidney tugs the Hurricanes red blanket over Levi and leaves, shutting the door so the sound of the movie won't bother him.
He sits with Parker until Eric gets back, about an hour and a half after he'd left, and waves off Eric's effusive thanks. "It was no problem," he says, shrugging. "See you at the wedding."
Sidney spends most of the summer idly missing Geno, the same way he always does and the same way he misses his other friends on his team, but he finds himself growing melancholy after Jordy's wedding. He's happy for him, mostly, but there's a small part of him that insists on reminding him that Geno's contract is up in a couple years and maybe Geno will want to go somewhere else, too. Maybe he'll want to go back to Russia.
It doesn't help that Geno texts him things like, glad to be home!!! ))))) and you must visit russia or I never see you. Sidney does his best not to let his worry affect him, but even Matt, who Sidney has only really gotten to know this summer, picks up on it.
"You seem off," he remarks as they're leaving the rink. It's a little after four, and the rush hour from the 405 hasn't started yet. They had miscalculated a few days earlier and ended up having to go in a strange circuitous route to get to the hotel they're staying in. "Something bothering you?"
Sidney shrugs. "Contracts," he says, not bothering to elaborate.
"Well, you're locked in," says Matt. "Who are you – oh. Malkin?"
Sidney really hopes that he isn't that obvious to everyone. "And the other guys too."
Matt gives him a small smile. "Sure."
Sidney keeps meaning to talk to Geno about it, but he puts it off and puts it off, not even sure what it is he wants to say. When the season eventually starts up again, it feels like it's too late to demand, "Are you going to leave ever?" without some kind of reason, so Sidney pushes down his anxiety and does his best to ignore Geno's excited stories about playing in Russia.
Danny Brière calls somewhat abruptly in early March, and Sidney has to blink a couple of times, pinch himself on the arm, before he says, "Hi," and, "Don't take this the wrong way, but why are you calling me?"
Brière laughs. Sidney has always hated him the least of the Flyers (well, the Flyers who aren't Max, anyway), but it's still incredibly surreal to have him on the other end of the phone. "That is Sidney Crosby all over."
"Why are you calling?" Sidney repeats.
"I have something of a favor to ask," Brière says, sounding apologetic. "Talbot said you sometimes babysit for the people on your team?"
Sidney is going to kill Max. "Yes," he says cautiously. "Why?"
"I, well –" Brière hesitates. "My three boys, they're a little old for babysitters, but I want to be sure – they will have the house all to themselves and I don't want anything happening."
"Okay," Sidney says. "What exactly is it that you want?"
"I have a – a date night," Brière says, stumbling a little over his words. "It's the night before you play us, so you will be here, I think."
Sidney has to check his calendar, but to his annoyance, Brière appears to be right. "Yes, okay," he says. "But why me?"
"If I get them a normal babysitter, they will be angry," Brière says, huffing out a sigh. "But if I say, oh, Sidney Crosby is coming over and he'll cook something, then they will be okay with it."
"And not anyone else on your team?" Sidney asks.
"I don't trust them," Brière says simply.
Sidney frowns at his phone and wonders if he has split off into some kind of bizarre universe where Flyers members (who aren't Max) come out and basically say that they trust Sidney. "All right," he says eventually. "But I don't want to see anyone else from your team."
"Deal," says Brière.
So the night they arrive in Philadelphia, Sidney makes an excuse to the team and takes a cab to the Brière house. A boy of about fourteen answers the door, goes stock still, and then says, "Claude is going to hate this."
"Hi," Sidney says awkwardly. "Your dad called me?"
"Yeah," the boy says, and he turns and yells, "Dad!"
Brière appears a moment later, dressed neatly in a suit and looking tremendously nervous. He smiles at Sidney, though, and says, "Honestly, thank you so much for doing this, Sidney."
"I – sure," Sidney says blankly.
"I see you've met Caelan," Brière adds, pointing at the boy. "My oldest. Carson is the middle, he's doing math homework in the kitchen, and Cameron is the youngest. I think he's –" He pauses.
"Outside," provides Caelan. "Practicing shots."
"Ah, yes." Brière nods. "There is money for food, and I've left the keys to the car on the hook." He indicates the hook behind the door. "You can take it if you need it."
Sidney is honestly so baffled by the whole situation that all he can do is just nod mutely. Brière gives Sidney another nod, then goes outside, leaving Sidney and Caelan staring at each other.
"Do you have any idea why your dad called me?" Sidney asks eventually.
"No," Caelan says. He narrows his eyes at Sidney. "Why did you say yes? Concussion?"
"Hey," Sidney says, then he looks around and adds, "Let's go find your brothers."
It turns out that the Brière boys aren't picky about food, but they also don't want to eat anything Sidney suggests, and frankly Sidney doesn't know Philadelphia well enough to know what is a good place to order take out from. After the fifth shout of, "But I don't want dumplings," from Carson, Sidney says, "Car, now," and goes to get the car keys.
The Brières trail after him, and Sidney is forcefully reminded of those duck statues in the Boston Public Garden that Geno had once made him visit for some reason he's never fully understood. They have devolved into French, which they clearly think Sidney can't understand, and Carson is saying something about how bossy Sid is.
"Oui, mais je ne suis pas impoli," Sidney says in his terrible, fractured French, and the boys boggle at him wide-eyed for a minute before bursting into laughter.
"Your accent is awful," says Cameron, sounding delighted.
Sidney rolls his eyes and opens the door to the garage. "I know."
"So where are we going?" asks Carson when they finally managed to settle in the car (only after a small scuffle between the boys over who got the passenger seat, Caelan winning sheerly by virtue of size and age).
"Grocery store," Sidney says, and he catches Carson and Cameron giving each other dubious looks. "You'll like this."
"Sure," says Cameron.
Caelan directs Sidney to the nearest store, and they get there in one piece even though Sidney is most definitely not used to Danny Brière's car and its lack of responsive brake pads. They pile out and Sidney gathers them up with a sharp whistle that he only uses when he's coaching kids.
"Okay," he says, feeling a little like he's giving them a pre-game pep talk or something. "We're going to be making our own pizzas tonight. You can put whatever you want on yours."
"Our own pizzas?" Caelan asks in astonishment, just as Cameron says, "Anything we want?"
"Yes and yes," Sidney says. "But you have to eat it."
"Oh man," Cameron says, and he takes off into the store.
"Meet at the registers in twenty!" Sidney yells after him. Caelan snorts and wanders off in the direction of the meat, but Carson sticks by Sidney.
"Have you done this before?" he asks, following Sidney over to the dairy section.
"I used to do it with the Lemieuxs," Sidney says, shuffling through the cheese. "What kind of cheese do your brothers like?"
"I'll go find them," Carson says, sounding long-suffering, and he disappears off to go look for them.
Sidney is putting pizza dough into the basket he had snagged when his phone vibrates. He shuffles the basket to his left hand and answers distractedly. "Hello?"
"Sid!" says Geno, relief coloring his voice. "I come look for you, Duper say you leave. Where are you?"
Sidney looks around for the Brière kids, but they haven't made it back to him yet, so he says, "Babysitting."
"In Philadelphia?" Geno sounds pretty much as skeptical as Sidney had felt when Brière had called him. "Who do you know in Philadelphia?"
Sidney sighs. "Promise you won't tell anyone else?"
"Okay," Geno says slowly. "I won't."
"Danny Brière," says Sidney.
There's a long pause where Sidney fidgets and looks at the dough in his basket like it will somehow make this whole situation less bizarre, and then Geno starts to laugh.
"Sid, babysit for a Flyer?" Geno asks. "Really?"
"Ugh, don't start," Sidney says. "This is why I didn't tell anyone." He's smiling fondly, though, which he only realizes when he looks up and sees all three of the Brière boys smirking at him. "Um, so, I'm fine and I have to get back to babysitting, so I'll see you later."
"Bye, Sid," says Geno. "Careful, they Flyer boys."
"Bye," Sidney says, rolling his eyes, and he hangs up.
"Was that your girlfriend?" Cameron asks immediately.
"What? No!" Sidney holds out the basket to them. "Put your stuff in here."
The boys pile in a staggering array of cheeses and meats and – skittles, okay, Sidney can deal with that – and even some vegetables and he thinks he's in the clear until Cameron says, "Well, you looked like you were talking to your girlfriend."
"Cameron," hisses Caelan.
"It's the same look Dad gets when he's talking to C –" Cameron stops and makes a face.
"His girlfriend?" Sidney prompts. "I don't need to know her name."
All three boys exchange looks and immediately burst into laughter. "Yeah," Caelan says through hiccupping laughter. "You probably don't."
Sidney frowns at them, but doesn't really want to know what's so funny. "Okay," he says. "We should be ready to go."
"Wait, what about your pizza?" asks Carson. "Aren't you going to eat?"
"I hadn't," Sidney says, and winces. "I don't know what to get."
Cameron gets a devilish gleam in his eye that can only mean danger and says, "We'll pick stuff for you."
Sidney knows full well that it's a terrible idea, but he says, "Okay," anyway.
He only lets them choose one topping each, since he doesn't want this to get too out of hand, but they naturally go for the most terrible things they can think of. Carson grabs brussel sprouts, Cameron picks a bag of spinach, and Caelan, with a very evil grin, chooses a tin of sardines.
"Don't forget cheese!" Cameron says cheerfully, and that's how Sidney ends up with the ingredients for possibly the worst pizza in the world.
He lets them make his pizza, trying not to laugh as they argue over the placement of their toppings, and then takes them outside to play some hockey while the pizzas are in the oven. He stands in goal even though he's never been particularly good and calls out advice as the Brières take turns shooting on the goal.
Carson gets in a nice shot over Sidney's shoulder just as the timer goes off inside the kitchen, and Sidney absently claps him on the back as they head in. "Good job," he says, and Carson goes slightly red.
His pizza, predictably, looks absolutely foul, but when the Brières look at him expectantly, he cuts himself a slice and takes a large bite. It takes nearly all his concentration to swallow it without gagging – the brussel sprouts aren't cooked all the way through and the flavors don't go together at all – but he manages it.
When he sets the piece back down, he finds that the boys are looking at him with varying degrees of awe. "Wow," Caelan says after a moment. "I didn't think you'd actually do it."
"It isn't that bad," Sidney lies. "Want to try?" He waves the pizza under their noses and grins when they all recoil. "Suit yourself."
"That's awful," Cameron says in amazed disbelief as Sidney eats the rest of the slice. "You're disgusting."
"You picked it," Sidney points out. "Eat your pizza." He notes, with some amusement but more knee-jerk dislike, that Cameron has arranged the candy on his pizza in a vague recreation of the Flyers logo.
He puts some vague effort into getting them to do their homework after they've cleaned up from dinner, but he doesn't protest when they follow him into the living room. They wind up on Comedy Central, which Sidney vaguely thinks might not be age appropriate, but the program that's on is relatively tame and he's not supposed to be like a babysitter anyway, according to their dad.
At ten, he makes them go to bed, insisting, "You want to be awake for the game tomorrow, right?"
Cameron sleepily walks into Sidney, says, "Ouch," and then, "You're really not that bad."
"Thanks," Sidney says. "You guys are okay, I guess. For Flyers kids."
Cameron snickers. "Right. Night, Sid."
Sidney waves and waits until Cameron disappears to head back into the kitchen to finish tidying up the detritus from their pizza. He's drying off the pan when he hears a noise from back in the hall, and he sighs. If he had to guess, he'd say Cameron.
Except that Cameron isn't out in the hall when Sidney goes looking for the source of the noise. No one is there, in fact, but the porch light is on, and Sidney catches a glimpse of Danny Brière's hair through the front window. He's about to go open the door to let him in when suddenly, Claude Giroux appears in the window, too.
Sidney instinctively shrinks back against the wall and tries not to make a sound as Giroux says something that makes Brière laugh, loose and uninhibited. Then – they're kissing, and it's not cautious or uncertain in anyway. It's passionate and sure, like they've done this before, like it's all they ever want to be doing and Sidney –
Sidney backs away, back into the kitchen, and decides to pretend that he hadn't seen anything.
He hears the front door open a few minutes later, and Brière calls, "Sidney?"
"Kitchen," Sidney calls back. He shoves down the rest of the trash as Brière comes in and tries to smile normally. Would he normally smile at Brière? He has no idea anymore.
"Thank you," Brière says, shockingly heartfelt. "I'm assuming it went all right?"
"They were fine," Sidney says. "They made me eat some disgusting pizza, but nothing I can't handle."
Brière looks down. "I should be honest with you about – about why I asked you to do this –"
"It's okay," Sidney says hurriedly, who suspects the answer might have something to do with Giroux, and that's something he just doesn't want to deal with right now. "I don't need to know anything."
"Okay," Brière says after a beat. "Let me call you a cab."
Sidney can't stop thinking about it all the way back to his hotel, though, the way Brière and Giroux had looked through the window. He wants to know how they manage it, dating and being on the same team, especially with three kids in the mix. The kids must know – they have to know, Sidney realizes, rethinking some of the things the kids had said. But they're keeping it quiet, a secret, and Sidney privately thinks that it must kind of suck.
He's still thinking about it at the game the next day – or at least, he is until Duper elbows him partway through the second period and says, "Sid, look."
Sid looks up and sees that the video screens are showing, of all people, the Brière kids, sitting in the midst of a sea of orange. Except for Cameron, who is clad in black and gold.
"What is he wearing?" Sidney asks in astonishment as Cameron notices he's on camera and immediately starts mugging, grinning wildly and pointing at his chest, where the number 87 is emblazoned.
"It looks like a Crosby jersey." Duper cackles and slaps Sidney on the back. "You're doing it, Sid. Winning Philly over, one member of the Flyers' families at a time."
Sidney shakes his head, laughing a little, and resolves to send Cameron an autographed jersey sometime.
It comes up after the game during the media scrum, naturally; one of the reporters asks, "So do you know why one of Danny Brière's sons was wearing your jersey tonight?" and Sidney just smiles a little and shrugs.
"I guess there's hope for everyone," he says blandly, and then he excuses himself to get changed.
Sidney is almost finished getting dressed when Geno comes up to him and says, "What did you do?"
Sidney raises his eyebrows at Geno. "What?"
"Boy wearing jersey," Geno says, plucking at Sidney's to illustrated. "He is Brière's son?"
"Oh, yeah." Sidney shrugs. "I guess he liked me."
Geno grins. "Good taste." He slaps Sidney on the back, then rubs the back of his head fondly. "Come on, we go celebrate."
Sidney is in a good enough mood to not feel guilty about heading out to a bar, and he even lets Tanger talk him into getting a beer. He blames that for why he ends up sitting a little closer to Geno, and not the fact that he hasn't been able to stop thinking about how happy Brière and Giroux had seemed together.
Geno bumps his knee up against Sidney's and asks, "Okay?"
Sidney shrugs and picks up his beer. "Just thinking."
Geno raps him gently on the head. "Think too much. We just win! Celebrate." He wraps an arm around Sidney's shoulder and flags down the waitress to order shots even as Sidney protests that they shouldn't, they're traveling.
By the time they make it back to the hotel, the other guys still at the bar, Sidney is loose and chatty from the alcohol. Geno is barely affected at all, apart from a slight reddening of his eyes, and he's holding Sidney up easily. It makes sense, at the time, to turn his face into Geno's neck and say, "I saw them."
"Saw who?" Geno asks, pulling Sidney's keycard out of his pocket.
"Brière and –" Sidney hesitates. "You can't tell anyone."
"I can keep secrets," Geno says, and he sounds sad, just a little. He unlocks the door to Sidney's room and tows him to his bed. Sidney falls back against the pillows and blinks up at Geno.
"Giroux," says Sidney.
"What about him?" Geno's mouth twists unhappily.
"Him and Brière." Sidney gestures vaguely. "Kissing."
Geno goes very still, perched on the edge of Sidney's bed and watching him with careful eyes. "Yes?"
"They looked happy," Sidney says, closing his eyes. "Sometimes I –"
He breaks off, because he's not sure what it is he wants, exactly. He's never been very good at relationships, never quite clicking with people off the ice the way Dupuis does with his wife, the way Dan and Mary do. When he's thought about his future, about family, he never thought about anyone specific that he could share his life with, and sometimes (usually when he's talking to his family) he worries that he'll never find that person for him.
"Do you think that could work?" Sidney asks slowly, working out the thread of what has been niggling at him all day. "Being with someone on the team?"
"Is that what you want?" Sidney opens his eyes; Geno isn't looking at him anymore. "You never say."
"I –" Sidney rubs his face. "I've never met anyone I wanted. Off ice."
Geno starts pulling off Sidney's shoes. "You drink too much."
"I'm not drunk," Sidney insists. "This is just – I want that. I want to be in love like that."
"It not all good," Geno says, and he looks up at Sidney. "Loving like that – hard, even if not your teammate."
And things seem to just – click into place suddenly, everything coming into sharp, clear focus, and Sidney says, "Maybe, but I want to try."
Geno doesn't move as Sidney pulls himself upright on the bed. He barely seems to be breathing, at least until Sidney puts a hand on his knee for balance, and then he sucks in a huge, shuddering breath and finally meets Sidney's eyes.
"Sid," he says roughly, and Sidney kisses him.
It's just a light kiss, nothing mind-blowing, but it fits. Geno fits against Sidney's lips, against his hands, and it's easy the way it's easy to play with him. Sidney fits his hand against the back of Geno's neck, stroking his fingers in the curling hair, and wonders why he didn't try this sooner.
Geno sighs into Sidney's mouth and pushes him back into the mattress, knees on either side of Sidney's hips. He raises his hands to cup Sidney's jaw and pulls back. "Sid, you want this?"
"Yes," Sidney says, more sure of this than he has been of anything else on this whole, strange trip, and he has just enough time to register the blinding grin on Geno's face before Geno kisses him again.
"You don't have to come," Sidney says for the fourth time, watching as Geno haphazardly folds a sweater and shoves it into his suitcase.
"I want to," Geno says firmly, just as he had all three times previously. He ducks in to kiss Sidney, casual and fond. "I like your family."
"They like you too," Sidney admits. He pulls the sweater back out of Geno's bag and folds it more efficiently. "But they're kind of – a lot."
"I don't mind." Geno takes the sweater from Sidney's hands. "I go to Russia after."
"I wish you weren't," Sidney says frankly.
"I have family too," Geno reminds him, but he's smiling. "You could come. Meet them."
"I've met them," Sidney says.
"And my friends," Geno continues, pushing down on the top of his suitcase.
"I don't speak Russian," Sidney says.
"I teach you. Not so hard." Geno doesn't even try to pretend that he isn't lying, because he has definitely heard Sidney's fumbling attempts to say so-called easy Russian phrases.
"Okay," Sidney finds himself saying. "Sure."
"Good," Geo says firmly. "I call taxi."
Sidney sighs as Geno goes to call the taxi and wonders if Geno had really understood what Sidney had meant when he said family reunion. It's been ten years since the last one, but Sidney remembers how chaotic it had been, all the various Forbes family members coming together for a few days of activities and eating and drinking. His mom's family has always been like that, close-knit and energetic, and Sidney loves them, but after a few hours with them, he just needs to take a break.
At least he'll have Geno with him this time, he reflects.
They have to transfer in Toronto, and their flight to Halifax ends up being delayed by an hour for mechanical reasons, so by the time they finally get to Cole Harbour, Sidney is cranky and hungry for food that doesn't taste like stale air. Geno, of course, is perfectly fine, and points out that it's much more annoying to get a plane back to Russia, Sid, don't whine.
"Sid!" screams Taylor when they pull up to the house, and she comes tearing down the steps towards him. He grabs her in a tight hug and smiles when he gets some of her hair in his mouth.
She hugs Geno next, who looks surprised but accepts it happily. "Good to see you," Geno says, carefully enunciating his words.
"Good to see you too!" she says enthusiastically. "Are you guys staying with us or in Sid's boring house?"
"Sid's boring house, I think," Geno says, glancing at Sidney for confirmation. He nods.
"Ugh," Taylor says, like she hasn't completely taken over Sid's old room. "Whatever. Come, come on in."
Sidney hugs his parents while Taylor chatters away at Geno, probably too quickly for him to totally understand, and then watches as Geno holds out the flowers he had talked the cab driver into stopping off to grab. Sidney's mom takes them and kisses Geno on the cheek before saying, "Sidney?"
He follows her into the kitchen and reaches up to pull down the vase she's pointing at. He's handing it over when she asks, casual as anything, "Were you going to tell us you and Geno are dating?"
Sidney nearly drops the vase. "Um."
"Don't look like that, you aren't as subtle as you think." She takes the vase from him and moves over to the sink. "You never bring anyone home. And don't say Max," she adds as Sidney opens his mouth. "That was for a commercial."
"We were going to tell you tonight," Sidney says eventually. "Could you – at least act surprised when we do?"
His mom's eyes soften suddenly. "Of course." She touches his hand gently. "You seem happy."
Sidney shrugs. He never knows how to put into words the way he feels about Geno, about the way his life has started to settle. Love and happy seem far too small and simple to encompass the vast swell of fondness and affection and contentedness that Geno can coax from him with one touch. "I am."
His mom smiles at him and squeezes his hand. "Good."
Sidney and Geno both get roped into helping out with dinner, which mostly means that Geno is set to stirring the pot on the stove and Sidney is relegated to peeling onions, even as he tries to insist that he's a pretty good cook these days. He will never live down the Burned Water Incident of '04.
"You burn water?" Geno asks, delighted, and Sidney scowls.
"That's an exaggeration," he says, because it hadn't exactly caught fire, but the pot had smoked ominously. "And I was sixteen!"
"I like my pots," his mother says, because she's a traitor, and she pats Sidney gently on the head. "You're doing a very good job."
"Hard to mess up onion," Geno says, because he is also a traitor.
Sidney spends most of dinner fidgeting nervously until Geno puts his hand on Sidney's knee and forces him to stop jiggling it. Sidney stills and tries not to look at Taylor, who is hiding her smirk very badly. He's sure now, from the questions that his father and sister are asking, that they too have figured out that Sidney and Geno are together, but are too polite to say so.
Still, Sidney wants to tell them. They've kept it quiet for months now, and while Sidney has never been prone to shouting out his personal life from the rooftops, he would like his family to know. It feels important that he tells them.
So when they've cleared the plates for dinner and his mother is making noises about taking out the pie she had made, Sidney clears his throat and takes Geno's hand. "I, um. I want you to know – Geno and I are dating."
Geno grins at him, and nods when Taylor looks at him questioningly. "I finally let him."
"Hey!" Sidney says as his family starts laughing.
Geno leans over and kisses Sidney gently, surprising him enough that Sidney forgets what else he had wanted to say. "No," Geno agrees, not looking away from Sidney. "He not have to say anything."
Sidney feels himself going red, and he ducks his head into Geno's shoulder.
Taylor, gleeful at the opportunity to practice driving, gives Sidney and Geno a ride back to his place in Halifax. It's musty inside, but the cleaning service he had hired must be doing their job because everything is clean and the sheets on the bed still smell like laundry detergent. Sidney collapses gratefully onto it, sleepy from travel and food, and Geno crawls in next to him.
"I like your parents," he says, tucking his head against Sidney's neck.
"You've met them before," Sidney points out.
"Not like this." Geno kisses the underside of Sidney's jaw. "Different like this."
He's right, of course; it is different, Sidney knows that. He knows because he worried about it for weeks before he asked Geno to come home with them. They've only been dating for three months – but they've known each other for nearly seven years, and Geno has seen Sidney through the Cup, through the concussion, has seen Sidney at his happiest and his most bitter and still seems to like him. Maybe even love him.
"Thanks for coming," Sidney says. "And I'm sorry about the rest of my family."
Geno clearly doesn't believe Sidney about how crazy the Forbes family reunions can get until they arrive at the hotel where the rest of the family is staying and find everyone over the age of thirty singing Rush at the top of their lungs in the middle of the ballroom. Sidney sighs and drops into the empty seat next to his cousin Sophia, who is the closest to him in age. Geno sits down next to Sidney, looking confused.
"They do this every time," Sidney tells Geno.
"The Forbes adults are very musical," explains Sophia, glancing over towards Geno. "Sadly, none of that skill was passed to any of their children."
"Yes, I hear Sid sing," Geno agrees, and Sidney hits him in the shoulder. "Ovie sing better than you."
"He does not," Sidney says, appalled.
"Sidney?" prompts Sophia, smiling. "This is...?"
She clearly knows who Geno is; all of Sidney's family watches hockey except for a few of the most determined younger cousins, but he realizes that he should have introduced them anyway. He shakes his head and says, "Geno, this is my cousin Sophia. Sophia this is my – um."
"Boyfriend," Geno says cheerfully. "But shh, don't tell." He presses his finger to his lips.
Sophia presses her mouth into a thin line to keep from laughing and shakes his hand. "Nice to meet you." She turns to the man sitting next to her, who Sidney belatedly realizes is her husband. He hadn't been able to attend the wedding thanks to a game, but his mom had sent him pictures. "Nate, honey."
Nate turns and – he's holding a baby, only a few months old if Sidney had to guess, and he has Sophia's curling dark hair, but Nate's oddly light blue eyes. Sidney is reaching out before he thinks that maybe he shouldn't, and the baby grabs for his finger, beaming toothlessly.
"And that's Cole," Sophia says, sounding amused. "Nate, I don't think you ever met Sid."
Nate looks vaguely starstruck as he attempts to juggle his baby into a more convenient spot. Eventually Sophia takes pity on him and takes Cole so Nate can shake Sidney's hand. "It's really nice to meet you," Nate says earnestly.
"Not me?" Geno jokes, and Nate shakes his head hurriedly, protesting no, no, that's not what he meant –
Sidney is too busy smiling down at Cole to pay them much attention, amazed at always at how small, how delicate babies are. Sophia looks at his face, then says, "Here," and passes Cole over.
"Hi," Sidney says softly. Cole waves his arms a little, and Sidney grins. "I'm your Uncle Sidney."
"First cousin once removed, technically," Sophia says.
Sidney rolls his eyes at her and accidentally catches Geno's gaze. Geno is watching him with a tiny, impossibly fond expression that makes Sidney's heart thump. He has to look away, embarrassed and suddenly shy. Cole whacks his hand against Sidney's chest.
They have a huge family lunch that involves Sidney having to go around and say hi to all the family members he hasn't seen in years thanks to his schedule. Geno trails after him and charms everyone he talks to. At least three of his cousins and two of his aunts try to tell Geno that they're available, if he's interested, and Sidney's fourteen year-old cousin Liam turns bright red when Geno shakes his hand and says he's glad to meet him.
"Your family is nice," Geno says when they're eventually allowed to sit down again, Taylor and Sidney's parents on one side, Sophia and Nate on the other.
"You say that now," Sidney says. "Wait till the hockey game on Wednesday."
Taylor groans and covers her face with her hands. "It's a good thing it's not on the first day this year," she says to Geno. "Last year we did it first thing and the rest of the reunion was spent with everyone split into the two teams and arguing whether Dad was allowed to play since he's only a Forbes by marriage."
"Which makes no sense because half the people here are Forbeses by marriage," Sophia says, jerking her head towards Nate.
"And now Sid's playing and you're here," Taylor continues, "so it's going to be even more horrible." She grins. "I can't wait."
Geno actually looks excited by the prospect.
The next few days are a flurry of hiking and fishing and singing and more family time than Sidney knows what to do with. He lets himself get roped into looking after the younger cousins on Tuesday while the parents go for some sort of hike and picnic. He has them all over at his place and sits in his living room with his Aunt Isa and Geno while the kids color and make things out of popsicle sticks.
Sidney is helping one of the kids color in a picture of what she is insisting is a unicorn when he hears Geno saying something in Russian. He looks up and sees Geno sitting cross-legged on the floor with five of the littler kids around him. "That is how to say hello," he says, and the kids repeat it back, accents all over the place. Geno grins and repeats the word. This time, Sidney finds himself mouthing along with the kids when they try again.
Geno sees Sidney looking at him and waves. He says something else in Russian. "And that is how you say I love you."
Sidney bites his lip and ignores the way his aunt is looking at him in favor of helping Lily color the unicorn's mane bright green.
The other adults come back a little after three to reclaim their children. Sidney's mom comes to stand beside him while he says goodbye to Cole, poking Cole gently in the stomach until he giggles and grabs at Sidney's finger.
"You're so good with kids," his mom remarks, reaching out to stroke a curl of hair away from Cole's face. "You always have been."
"I babysit a lot," Sidney says, because he's mentioned Dan and Mario before, but hasn't told her about babysitting for all the other hockey players. "It's kind of nice."
"When you were younger, I thought you'd be married with three kids by now," his mom says, laughing a little. "Then I realized how serious you were about hockey and I kind of thought – but you and Geno, do you think it's going to be a long-term thing?"
"I hope so," Sidney says. Then he thinks about the way Geno smiles at him, how he's starting to know Geno's habits and moods, and amends, "Yes."
"Oh, Sid," his mom says, and she hugs him, careful not to squish Cole between them.
Geno and Sidney beg off the evening's activities so they can clean up the house. Sidney orders in food, and they sit in the living room to eat, watching the Food Network until they both start to nod off. Geno takes Sidney's plate from his limp hands and takes them to the kitchen while Sidney dozes, too comfortable to move.
"Sid," Geno says in his ear, warm and kind. "Bed, Sid."
"I'm comfortable here," Sidney says.
Geno squeezes the top of Sidney's thigh. "I make it worth it."
Sidney smiles when Geno kisses him and opens his eyes. This close, Geno's features blur a little, the curve of his eyelashes just a dark splash. He leans up into Geno, and when they break apart, he says, "Yeah, okay."
They're late for breakfast because Geno goads Sidney into the shower with him, even though they're both broad enough that it's not exactly a comfortable fit. Sidney keeps absently rubbing the hollow of his hip where Geno had thrust against him and only notices when Geno taps the back of his knuckles lightly.
Breakfast is loud and cheerful, people shouting about who is going to be on what team for their game that afternoon. They've secured the local rink for two hours, and it's probably going to be absolute disaster with too many people playing at once and rules that would make no sense in a real game. Sidney is kind of looking forward to it; it's been a while since he was on the ice, and he's itching to be back.
"Okay, but Geno and Sid are not allowed to be on the same team," Sidney's cousin Owaine says, pointing at them with his fork. "That's just cheating."
"He's right, Sid," Geno says when Sidney opens his mouth to protest. "But then you need good player. If don't you have me."
Sidney laughs and asks, "Is it okay if Taylor's on my team, then?" and watches as his family starts arguing all over again.
Eventually, it's decided that Taylor can be on Sidney's team, which is good because otherwise he'd feel bad trying to score on her, and it shakes out to be about fifteen people on each team. Sidney's dad volunteers to be one of the refs, and Nate elects to be the other one.
Sidney is surprised when he sees Sophia gearing up with him – they had played together a bit as kids, and he knows she had played in college, but he hadn't realized she kept it up. She catches him looking and laughs.
"I play in a local league," she says. "It's good to finally be allowed to play again, honestly. Nine months off was a bit much." She smacks him on the ass as she walks out towards the ice. Sidney catches Geno's eye and smiles.
"We do handshake," Geno says when he's through lacing up his skates.
"It's not a real game," Sidney reminds him.
"Still, tradition." Geno holds out his hand, and they bump gloves before heading out onto the ice. Sidney has to admit, he feels better having done it.
Neither Sidney nor Geno play at their highest level; it's far from fair when a good number of the players are under twenty and the rest are mostly people who haven't played competitively in years, but there's enough competitive and (extremely tame) trash talk to get Sidney motivated.
He circles the goal as Geno comes in on a breakaway and tries not to laugh when Taylor calls him a Communist dog. Geno sticks his tongue out at her and lobs an easy hit that she deflects with her glove.
"Gotta try harder than that!" she crows gleefully. Geno catches Sidney's eye, and they both have to look away to hide their smiles.
Geno's team ends up winning, 5-4, and Geno shouts gleefully when Sidney's dad calls the end of the third period, throwing his gloves off and hugging Sophia, who had scored the last goal for his side. Sidney tamps down his instinctive impulse to be upset and instead goes out on the ice to congratulate Geno and console Taylor.
"I think we prove I best!" Geno says to Sidney, grinning, but he hugs him tight and doesn't let go for longer than is strictly necessary.
"Do you think about having kids?" Sidney asks Geno later during dinner. Geno is discretely passing his french fries over to Liam, who is flushed and pleased by the attention. Geno glances over at Sidney, smiling shyly.
"Sometimes," he says. "When I visit Russia, the orphanages – I think, it would be nice to have. To offer home."
Sidney nods. He's seen the photos from Geno's trips, and he knows how badly Geno likes helping people, with no thought of getting anything in return. He can imagine it, can imagine Geno with one of those sweet-faced children in his home, making them breakfast, teaching them to skate.
"Why?" Geno asks, startling Sidney out of his thoughts.
"Just thinking," Sidney says, and he takes one of the french fries off Geno's plate.
Sidney is awake before either of them and has tea ready when Geno comes stumbling down the stairs, hair sticking up in all directions. He knows exactly how much milk and sugar Geno likes, how hot it should be, and what mug Geno thinks is the cutest. It's second nature by now, and he thinks, sometimes, about seeing those couples so settled in each other's routines that it was just part of them.
He guesses they're one of those couples now.
"Morning," Geno says when he's taken a gulp of tea. He kisses Sidney's cheek. "Training today. Taking Katya to daycare?"
"Is she up yet?" Sidney pokes at the eggs on the stove. "She was still asleep when I checked in on her."
"Yes, I wake her." Geno leans against the counter. "Excited for tonight?'
"It's not really our anniversary," Sidney protests. "We didn't get together until March."
"But we meet today," Geno insists. "First time I see you and know we play together."
Sidney smiles and leans forward to press his forehead to Geno's shoulder. "Well."
"Anniversary," Geno says firmly, and he tilts Sidney's face up. "No matter what you say."
Sidney kisses him and then Geno pushes him back, kissing him until Sidney has almost forgotten about the eggs. "Geno," he says as Geno starts kissing his jaw and neck. "Breakfast."
"We have more eggs," Geno says.
"We have tonight for this," Sidney says, gently pushing Geno off. He sighs at Geno's pout. "Make sure Katya's dressed? If we get her to daycare early, we might have time before we have to meet Kadar."
Geno brightens up at that and goes upstairs to fetch their daughter. Sidney shakes his head and goes to see the damage done to the eggs. Nothing looks particularly burned, just a little brown, and he thinks that if he gives her ketchup, Katya probably won't even notice. She has a weird thing about her eggs being pure yellow that neither of them has been able to figure out.
Katya and Geno return downstairs a few minutes later, and Sidney has to stifle his laugh at the messy, uncoordinated braids Geno had clearly done for her. She's wearing a tutu skirt and a tiny Penguins jersey that is her new favorite shirt, and she is the best thing Sidney has ever seen.
He crouches down as she runs into the kitchen and says, "Morning, Katya."
"Morning, Daddy," she says, holding out her arms. He picks her up and settles her on his hip as he starts to separate the eggs between three plates. "Maps today."
Sidney vaguely remembers the daycare woman saying that, something about teaching children important skills like geography and math while they were still young. "Yeah? You excited?"
"Mm hm." She tucks her head against his neck as he waves Geno over to help him with the rest of breakfast. "Gonna paint Russia."
Sidney smiles at that. He had been afraid at first that Katya had been too young to remember anything about Russia when they had adopted her, and he wanted her to remember for Geno. She had been just over a year old and quiet and shy, with only a smattering of Russian words to her vocabulary. But he needn't have worried. Between Geno's parents and Geno himself, Katya never forgot where she was from. She spoke Russian with her grandparents and with Geno sometimes and picked up English quick enough to make Geno shake his head wryly and mutter about his school's classes.
True to form, Katya slathers her eggs in ketchup and eats it gleefully, looking a bit like something out of a horror movie. Sidney and Geno eat much more sedately, but Geno keeps knocking his foot against Sidney's, fond and familiar. Sidney helpfully nudges a napkin towards Katya when she goes to wipe her mouth on her wrist.
"Thank you," she says, just the way they had taught her, and Geno gives her thumbs up.
"Grab your bag," Sidney says when Katya is finished eating. "We're taking you to daycare early."
Katya cheers, because the daycare has cookies and milk for kids who get there early, and tears off towards her room. Sidney picks up her plate and goes to put it in the sink while Geno makes himself a second cup of tea. It's the second cup that really wakes Geno up, and sure enough, Geno is pushing his shoulder against Sidney's as soon as he's halfway through it.
"After we get Katya to daycare," Sidney says weakly, but he's already turning into Geno, letting him kiss him.
They pull themselves together before Katya comes back into the kitchen, and they all pile into Sidney's car to head to the daycare. Sidney still feels a little twinge every time he has to leave her, but it's getting better. Neither he nor Geno had slept well the first time they had left her behind during a road trip, even though they knew she was in good hands with the Lemieuxs. It hadn't helped that Katya had cried the whole time, still too new to them to be sure they were coming back. Mario finally had to force them off the porch and into the car.
"Bye Daddy! Bye Papa!" she calls, waving. Sidney waves back until Katya disappears into the center, and kind of idles at the curb until a car behind him honks.
"Home," Geno says firmly, and Sidney laughs, but he drives them back home.
Geno has him up against the door almost before it's even closed, kissing him the way they haven't had time for in ages. Sidney pushes his hands up under Geno's shirt and gasps, "Bed."
"Yes," Geno agrees, and they stumble upstairs to their bedroom.
They end up being late for training, but Kadar just gives them a look and doesn't comment. Sidney only notices the bite Geno left on his neck when they're showering afterward.
"Geno," he says, exasperated, and Geno flicks him with a towel.
"Everyone know already," Geno says. "We have Katya."
"I know, but –"
Geno presses his hand against Sidney's shoulder. "No one important care, Sid."
"I know," says Sidney.
"I love you," Geno says, and he kisses Sidney too quickly for protest.
They pick Katya up early from daycare and take her to the pool, which is her favorite place in the world. She splashes around in the shallow end of the pool in her floaties, proudly showing off her limited swimming skills. Geno flicks water at Sidney playfully. Sidney makes a face, then sputters when Geno dunks his head under water.
"Daddy's wet," Katya says happily, paddling over to Sidney.
"You bet I am," Sidney says. "You want to go further into the water?"
He takes her to the deep end and treads water until his legs are too tired, and then he passes her off to Geno. Geno rubs his nose against hers playfully and swims with her until she's decided she's had enough.
"Okay, ready to go," she says. Geno laughs and lifts her out onto the concrete.
It takes nearly an hour to get Katya bathed and dressed again, even though they remind her that she's spending the night with the Fleurys. She has a mild crush on Flower's son Laurence, which Sidney thinks they probably should be discouraging because she's four and Laurence is going to be six in a month, but Geno insists that Sidney is over-thinking it.
"They kids, Sid," he had said, shaking his head, and completely ignoring the fact that Katya had made Laurence a Valentine in daycare.
But she actually likes staying with the Fleurys, so that's a big step, and there's a kid roughly her own age. Sidney is determined that Katya is going to have the most normal upbringing they can manage, and if that means he has to ignore his private paranoia, then so be it.
"You're early," Flower says when they arrive at his house. He waves to Katya, who immediately sprints off into the living room to look for Laurence. "You're just dropping her here and running?"
"We looked after Laurence on your anniversary," Sidney points out. "Your turn."
Flower sighs. "I knew you would say that. Fine, we will watch her. See you in the morning."
Geno smiles and tugs Sidney towards the living room. "First, we say goodbye."
Katya is sprawled out on her stomach in the living room, playing with a toy car. Laurence is putting together a ramp of some sort, tongue sticking out of his mouth as he concentrates.
"Katya, we are leaving now," Geno says, touching her shoulder gently. She twists up to look at them, then clambers upright and hugs his leg.
"Bye Papa," she says. Geno laughs and peels her off so he can crouch down to her level. She hugs him tightly, then holds her arms out to Sidney. He lifts her up, as always, and kisses her cheek.
"We'll be here in the morning," he tells her, because she's looking a little confused. "I promise."
"Okay," she says quietly. "Bye, Daddy."
"I love you," Sidney says, because sometimes he worries that he doesn't tell her enough. He hugs her tightly and then sets her back down. "See you soon."
Katya waves, and Geno has to tug Sidney from the room.
"We'll take good care of her," Flower says when they pass him.
"Call if anything, anything –" Sidney starts.
"Shh, Sid, everything will be fine," Geno says. "Come. Dinner."
They go out to a nice meal downtown, steak that's more expensive than Sidney knows what to do with and good wine that has them both slightly tipsy by the end of their meal. Geno gets handsy after his third glass, leaning in to whisper rude speculations about the other diners until Sidney is giggling helplessly.
They go home and have lazy, unhurried sex, Geno taking his time to bring Sidney to the edge again and again until his thighs are shaking and his murmurs have become wordless. "Love you," Geno whispers against Sidney's skin, and Sidney says it back in his fractured Russian, stumbling over the still-unfamiliar sounds.
After, when Geno's finally gotten up to throw away the condom and they're lying in bed together, Geno says, "You want to get Katya, don't you?"
"Kind of," Sidney admits. "I don't like spending nights apart from her."
"I know," Geno says. He rolls over and kisses Sidney quickly. "Okay, we go."
"Really?" Sidney struggles upright as Geno gets out of bed. "We can get her?"
"Really." Geno smiles at Sidney. "I miss her too."
Katya is asleep when they get to the Fleury house, and she doesn't stir when Geno picks her up. Sidney strokes her hair – it has come out of her braids from earlier – and smiles wryly at Flower, who looks pretty exhausted.
"She has so much energy," he says wearily. "Never again."
"She and Laurence, soul mate," teases Geno, and he laughs when both Sidney and Flower make faces. "Thank you, Flower."
"No problem," Flower says, and he waves them off as they get into the car.
Katya wakes up halfway home and asks sleepily, "What's going on?"
"We picked you up early," Sidney says, turning to Katya. "Hope that's okay."
"Can we have pancakes?" she wants to know.
"Shaped like Mickey Mouse," Sidney promises, because Geno had done it just once and Katya had loved it.
"Okay," she says easily, and she falls back asleep almost instantly.
They take her inside and tuck her into bed, where she immediately curls up with her stuffed penguin. Sidney lingers, carefully combing her thick brown hair away from her face, and watches her sleep. He's constantly amazed by how quickly she grows and changes, how she's gone from being a baby he could fit in his arms to a girl that might soon outgrow her tiny bed. Geno wraps his arm around Sidney's waist and tips his head against Sidney's.
"Are you happy?" Sidney asks Geno suddenly. "With everything?"
Geno laughs and says, "I have Katya, I have you. Of course I am happy."
Geno sighs and asks, "Why you worrying?"
"I don't know," Sidney says. "I'm not, really, I just – I'm happy. I never thought – that I could have this, like this."
"Because you worry," Geno says. "Don't worry, Sid. I am happy. This – this is what I want, for years. With you."
Sidney sighs and turns to kiss Geno. "I love you."
"Da," Geno says. "I love you." He presses his forehead to Sidney's. "Happy anniversary."
"You too." He tucks his hand into Geno's. "Let's go to bed."
Geno makes a soft noise of agreement, and the two of them trail out of Katya's bedroom. Sidney shuts the door as quietly as he can. They make their way down the hall to their bedroom, curl up on the bed together, and Sidney falls asleep to the soft sound of Geno's breathing, the beat of his heart against his back, and the knowledge that their daughter is just down the hall, waiting for her Mickey Mouse pancakes in the morning.