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Sid blinks open his eyes and sees the face of Scott the trainer hovering over him. He's cold, he's in his gear, he's - fuck, he's playing the Wild and he's on the ice and he took a hit that he can’t remember. He blacked out.

He's got another fucking concussion. God fucking damn it.

"Sidney?" Scott says, and he looks really, really worried. He's bent over Sid, talking directly into his ear, and Consol is quiet enough that it's almost like there aren't twenty thousand people watching the possible end of Sid's career. "Sidney, do you know where you are?"

"Consol Energy Center," Sid says. "Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania."

"Right." Scott sounds relieved. Sid knows from experience that it's a really bad sign when the trainers are relieved that you can remember where you are. "What's your father's name?" And that's a new one, but that's no surprise; Scott started switching these up during the second concussion, when Sid got tired of answering the same goddamn questions all the time and pointed out he could probably answer them dead he'd heard them so often.

"Boris," Sid says automatically. He's mostly occupied with wondering why his head doesn't hurt more. In his experience, and he's got way more than he needs, a concussion starts with a brutal headache, and really this is just a vague sense of discomfort behind his eyes.

Scott blinks. "Sidney," he says carefully. "Are you listening to me? How old are you?"

"Thirty-three," Sid answers. And that doesn't feel exactly right. But it doesn't feel wrong, either.

"You know what, we're going to take you to the hospital," Scott says.

"No, come on! I feel fine," Sid says, and he might be whining a little, but the game has barely started. He doesn't want to miss it. "Aren't you going to finish the exam?"

"Uh, no," Scott says, and he's gesturing at someone.

And then there's a stretcher next to him on the ice. "I can get up," Sid says. Scott's still holding his shoulders down, but he can totally get up. He's not getting stretchered off the fucking ice like a baby.

"No, you can't," Scott says. "Sidney, you need to move as little as possible, okay? I need you to let us do this. This is important." And Scott sounds honestly worried, so Sid does his best to comply, through the whole ordeal of the back brace and the neck brace and the careful lifting onto the stretcher and the wheeling out.

Sid can't figure out why Scott's acting like this. They've all been down this road before, after all, and this concussion seems a lot less awful than the last two. Or at least that's what he thinks until he’s in the hospital, still in the stupid brace, trying to talk to a nurse he can’t really see. He's a sentence into his medical history when the nurse stops him. "Do you speak any English?" she says, spacing out her words carefully.

"Da," Sid says. But, no, that's not right. What is he doing? He doesn't speak - how can he be speaking Russian? "Yes," he repeats. When he isn't thinking about it, the Russian and the English both feel natural. Now that he is, they both feel wrong.

"Do you need me to get a translator?" she asks, still way over-pronouncing every word.

"No," Sid says. "No, I'm fine." And he is. He just has to take a moment to think about English before he opens his mouth.

Also, he keeps worrying about where his wife and kids are.

This - might be a problem.

~

They keep him forever, until almost four in the morning, and when he finally gets out, he really does have a headache. Mario is waiting to drive him home, which is unusual, but maybe Scott had to leave or something. Sid collapses gratefully into the front seat of Mario’s car, and Mario hands him a plastic bowl.

“I don’t feel sick,” Sid says, reclining his seat.

“Good news,” Mario says. “But just in case.” Sid knows he’s remembering the first days of the last time, when Sid could go from fine to puking in three seconds flat.

The drive home is restful. Mario’s been around a lot of concussed people in his life; he knows how to be unstimulating. Sid tries, he genuinely tries, to clear his head and think about nothing, but he can’t. The car is quiet - Mario even turned the stereo off - and his eyes are closed, and he wants to sleep, but he keeps thinking about that moment in the hospital, not knowing what language he was speaking.

That’s probably a bad sign. On the other hand, it isn’t a concussion symptom as far as he knows, and he knows them all at this point. He did so much reading on them when he was out that he sometimes thought a medical degree would be a real possibility if he - but even now, especially now, Sid doesn’t want to finish the thought.

Sid’s tempted to tell Mario, except. Obviously he’s committed to getting healthy, to only playing when he’s healthy. For that, you have to tell the doctors all your symptoms. But this isn’t a concussion symptom, after all. Seems like it might just muddy the waters. Better not to mention it. With luck, he’s just going crazy. You can totally still play if you’re crazy.

~

Sid spends the next week in the dark in Mario’s guesthouse. Mario or Nathalie or one of the younger kids checks on him several times a day, and there’s always food to reheat in the fridge. Sid hates the enforced inactivity, hates being bored, but he did this wrong the last time and maybe paid for it. This time, he’s determined to be the best concussion patient there ever was, right from the start, and focusing on that goal keeps him on task. He doesn’t turn on his phone. He doesn’t turn on his TV. He doesn’t read. He sleeps if he can, and he lies in bed and replays games in his head when he can’t. He tries to keep the focus on happy games, even, so he doesn’t get too angry.

He lies in bed, drifting through his own goals, through Geno’s, through some of the most amazing plays he’s ever been a part of - he remembers going to his knees and still getting the goal in the net, he remembers skating straight down the middle around the defenders and going five hole, he remembers the Golden Goal.

It keeps him going until his first appointment. He’s not going to play this one stupid; he’s got appointments with Dr. Bray and Dr. Carrick for two weeks from now, when he’ll be okay to fly, probably. But in the meantime, he’s not ignoring the locals.

They’re used to him at Dr. Collins’ office by now. The nurse takes him back right away, so he doesn’t have to talk to fans while he’s waiting for bad medical news, and she dims the lights. None of it feels so necessary this time - Sidney doesn’t feel like he can’t stand to talk to a fan or be asked about his head, he doesn’t wince away from the lights, he hasn’t thrown up even once. Mostly he’s just horrified that he’s been here so much.

Dr. Collins comes in after a long, boring wait in which Sidney misses his phone a lot, and his voice is soft and gentle when he says, “How are you feeling, Sidney?”

Sid sorts through the symptoms in his head. He just doesn’t have a lot this time, if you don’t count the Russian and forgetting how old he is and thinking he’s married and has two kids so wonderful his heart clenches whenever he thinks about them. “I’m having a lot of bad dreams,” he finally offers. It’s true, he is, mostly about terror and pain.

“Not a big surprise,” Dr. Collins says. “Let’s go through the questionnaire, okay?”

They do, but the thing is, Sidney doesn’t really have any symptoms to speak of. He’s not unusually tired, he’s not sick, his head doesn’t hurt, he’s not forgetting things. (He is relieved that Dr. Collins doesn’t ask him about remembering things, but obviously that’s a whole different deal.) They go down the list, and Sidney says “zero” to everything except restlessness. “I’m incredibly restless,” he says. “I’m so bored.”

“Boredom’s good in this case, though,” Dr. Collins says. He hesitates and clears his throat, then continues, “I know we talked about this a lot last time, but I just want to remind you - if you do return to play before your concussion is completely gone, you risk a more severe situation, maybe even a career-ending injury. And your play won’t be at the same level.”

“I know,” Sidney says, because he fucking does. “I’m going to do what it takes to get better.” He’s committed, 100%.

“Okay,” Dr. Collins says, and they move on to the physical tests. Sid remembers these as being really bad, painful and nauseating most of the time, but not so much anymore. When they’re done, Dr. Collins turns his computer around to face Sid and starts talking him through images of his own brain.

Sidney’s a little depressed about how easy it is to read an MRI now.

At the end, Dr. Collins says, “You know, if this were your first concussion, I’d call you ready to start exercising. You’re asymptomatic. As it is, though, I want you to return to normal non-exercising activity - being up and about, normal light levels, reading, watching TV - and monitor yourself very closely for any symptom.”

Sidney nods and thanks him, and they leave.

~

Over the next week, Sid returns to light exercise, and then, cautiously, to training, although not with the team. He doesn’t get headaches. He’s not light sensitive. They let him start skating, and he’s still fine. He’s starting to think his stupid brain is letting him off easy this time, and then one night he jerks awake, sweat all over his body, so terrified, in so much pain in his chest, and he can’t feel his legs, and he can’t breathe, and he’s afraid he’s having a heart attack. He wishes he could call someone, he wishes - he’s so worried - god, Irina, he can’t see her, he can’t hear her.

It’s an eternity before he can calm down just enough to see, to breathe, and his heart won’t quit pounding. He reaches for his phone and pages the team doctor on call with shaking hands.

“You had a panic attack, Sid,” Dr. Hagen tells him.

“It felt so real,” Sidney says. If he thinks about it too hard, he can still remember the pain, the fear, and he feels awful.

“They do,” Dr. Hagen says. “You feel like you’re dying.”

That was it, that was it exactly.

“I think we need to pull back to training,” she continues. "I'll check in with the rest of the team and coordinate, but to me this says we need to take a step back."

Sid sighs. He hates taking steps back, it’s so goddamn frustrating, but at least this time he doesn’t feel like he needs to punch a wall, probably because he’s still distracted by the memory of the panic attack.

Panic attacks. Great. Sid fucking hates his brain sometimes.

~

“Two steps forward, one step back is better than where we were at this point last time,” Dr. Collins tells him.

Sidney hates the way doctors say “we,” when they can go about their business and do whatever they want and he’s the one who can’t play. He grits his teeth and forces himself to smile and nod.

“Do you want something for the panic attacks?” Dr. Collins says.

Sidney has to weigh that one out. He doesn’t want to feel like that again, but he knows the down side to taking medications: you’re not allowed to take steps towards playing while you’re taking drugs. “No,” he decides.

“Tell you what,” Collins says. “I’m going to give you an emergency kit, some Niravam, and when you have an attack, that’ll give you a way to cope. But you don’t need to take it if you don’t need it.”

Perfect. Sidney nods gratefully, and he fills the prescription on his way out of the building, in the little pharmacy they have there. He wonders if the pharmacist is thinking about what a weakling he is, needing drugs for something as stupid as panic. By the time she gives him the bag and takes his money, he’s feeling awkward and embarrassed and angry, and he can barely speak to her. She tells him to have a nice day and he nods and bolts.

~

Sidney flies to Atlanta to see Dr. Carrick, who examines him and says he looks good, no bone concerns, and then he heads to LA and sees Dr. Bray, who pronounces his soft tissue in good shape. He doesn’t have any ill effects from either flight, so he’s declared good to travel with the team.

It’s a relief just being with the guys. Sid feels like he’s back where he belongs, like he’s a part of something again. He doesn’t bother reading or playing a game or anything; he just sits in his seat on the plane, and then on the bus to the hotel, listening to the sounds of his team around him.

The bus is especially great, because after the flight people pull out their phones and start calling people. Sid can hear Flower talking in French to his - oh, um, his wife, and wow, Sid’s not listening to that anymore. He can hear Pascal talking to his oldest daughter, something about homework, and Cookie talking to his wife. Geno, sitting next to him, is talking to someone, but Sid doesn’t know who, so he listens for a little bit. They’re talking about hockey. That’s more interesting than all the “I love you” stuff he’s hearing on the rest of the bus.

“We’ll see, old man,” Geno is saying - and, oh, he must be talking to Gonch. “Do you remember how it goes? Puck on the ice, stick in your hands, and I know it will be difficult for you to understand this, but I don’t mean your dick. No matter how much time you spend beating off on the ice usually.”

Sidney laughs. Not a bad chirp at all. Geno’s getting way better at this. Geno looks over, and Sid nods and smiles. Geno looks a little surprised, actually; maybe he thought Sid was asleep?

That night, Flower wants to watch this French-language TV show he’s really into. It’s mostly about people who don’t want to have sex with people, or who do but shouldn’t, or who did but regret it. People spend a lot of time talking about things really seriously. Sid doesn’t like it much. So he’s fine with it when Geno comes in and says, “Hey, Sid, play game?”

“Yeah, sure,” Sid says, and grabs his keys.

Turns out Geno wants to play cards, not a video game, which is good, because Sid’s still trying to limit his hours in front of screens, just in case. Geno’s laptop is playing something, because Brooksie is out and Geno doesn’t like quiet rooms, but Sidney focuses on the game, trying to put together a rummy. He’s shit at games like this. He didn’t even know Geno liked them.

The harder he works at his cards, the more the TV starts to distract him. He can’t figure out why Geno’s even interested in this program; it sounds like people are arguing over - building a house?

“But when I started building my house, you said you’d rather have a house that already existed,” Sidney says, staring hopelessly at his hand, pretty sure his last discard made things worse.

Geno looks up at him and blinks a few times. “Think conversation started without me,” he says after a while.

“Why do you watch this?” Sidney clarifies, gesturing behind himself at Geno’s laptop. “You don’t like home improvement stuff.” Sid watches that stuff all the time, but he’s pretty sure Geno doesn’t usually.

Geno blushes a little. “Is stupid show. Is like - men and women, they build a house together, they find lovers, one pair gets house.” He shrugs. “I like it. Russian voices, and - making home together. Is - nice.” He glances over Sid’s shoulder at the laptop and says, “Why you not say you learning Russian?”

Sid flinches so hard he drops the cards. “What?” he says. “I’m not - I don’t know - I’m not.”

Geno raises his eyebrows. “Oh, of course. Cannot see laptop, cannot understand Russian, so - lucky guess? That is lots luck.”

Whoops. “I’m, uh, I guess I’m learning,” he says. He doesn’t know how else to explain it.

“Strange time to pick, to learn new language,” Geno says.

“Well, you know, I have time.”

Geno nods, and Sidney breathes again, because apparently he’s gotten away with it. He looks back at his cards and can’t even remember what he was trying to collect.

Geno wins. He puts the cards away and says, “We practice.”

Sid feels his face getting hot, and damn it, that’s not - the things he sometimes thinks about, that’s just in his head. He clears his throat and says, “We practice what?”

“Russian,” Geno says, in Russian. He’s speaking slowly and carefully, watching Sidney’s face to see if he gets it. “We are going to practice speaking Russian.”

English, Sid reminds himself before he opens his mouth. “You’ll probably teach me to say dirty shit,” Sid says, and then he remembers that if Geno does, he’ll know.

“I would not,” Geno says in English, and he sounds entirely serious. Sid thinks back on some of the stupid pranks the team pulled on him when he first got here, and figures Geno really means it.

“Yeah, okay,” Sid says, and he’s only intending to agree that Geno would be a good Russian teacher if he needed one (which he doesn’t), but Geno nods in response.

“You say da,” Geno says firmly.

“Da,” Sidney repeats.

Geno’s eyebrows go up. He offers Sidney a sentence, and Sidney repeats it. Another, and another, and Geno says in English, “You have good accent. You sound like Moscow native.”

Sidney didn’t think about accents. Damn it. “I, uh. I bought Rosetta Stone?” he tries. It’s true, he did, although that was three years ago and he never managed to find time to use it.

“Maybe I should get, for English,” Geno says. He looks thoughtful, though, and Sid’s a little wary of that, so he says, “Oh, shit, I forgot, I’m supposed to go over plays with, uh, Flower.” And he gets his ass out the door before he can fuck up any more.

~

Geno is reasonably sure that Sid is avoiding him. It’s not like they’d be together very often anyway; Geno’s playing and Sid isn’t even skating with the team yet. But Geno watches Sid a lot anyway, so he notices - Sid sees him coming and turns away, walks into a teammate’s room, locks himself in the bathroom. He’s so bad at it that it’s really obvious once you're looking.

That’s fine. Geno can wait. If Sid has discovered a magical method of learning a language so you go from speaking nothing to sounding like a native in just a few weeks, Geno will get it out of him eventually. And if Sid has been learning Russian secretly all this time - well, Geno will think about what that means if it turns out to be true.

Actually, he doesn’t think either explanation is the right one. He just can’t come up with any more ideas. So while Sid is ducking him, Geno’s waiting, looking for some kind of indication, a hint, anything. He doesn’t want to ask a teammate. “Sid knows Russian and he shouldn’t” is going to make him sound like the crazy one.

So he just watches. It doesn’t take long for Sid to give himself away.

From almost the moment he came to Pittsburgh, Geno’s had a weird awareness of Sid. Most of the time, if both of them are in a room together, no matter how crowded it is or how far apart they are, Geno still knows where Sid is. On the ice, it’s a gift, but off the ice it’s always been a party trick more than anything, plus a way to get stuck with Sid-rescuing duty way more than his fair share. But now he can use it to his advantage.

Their first practice back from the Ottawa trip, Sid works with his trainer while Geno’s on the ice, and after he showers with the team. And then, instead of grabbing his things and heading home, he heads for somewhere inside the building. Geno finishes putting on his shoes and heads after him.

After five minutes, he finds Sid in the equipment room. Dana’s not in there, and neither are Paul and Danny, so it’s just Sid. He’s touching a spare stick like it’s holy. Geno looks a second time, but it’s still just a stick that’s never been used.

Sid’s so focused on the stick that he doesn’t realize he’s being observed, so Geno watches. Sid runs his hands along the stick, bends it, holds it in his hands and pretends to hit a puck with it; Geno can see the stick is a little too big for Sid, but he doesn’t seem to care. He uses the ground like the ice and mimics a slapshot, again testing how well the stick bends. He's a little clumsy, like he doesn’t know how to do a slapshot, like he’s trying to copy something he saw once, even though Geno’s watched Sid practice these a million times.

Sid is handling this stick like he’s never seen one before. Like he’s played hockey, but never with a real hockey stick. Geno has no idea what that means, but he’s suspicious enough to walk up right behind Sid before he calls his name.

Sid doesn’t respond, and that’s - that’s not normal. Sid hates being surprised by people, hates being snuck up on. Now he’s acting like he still hasn’t even noticed Geno. Geno considers the available evidence and then says, in Russian, “What are you doing?”

“This is amazing. We never had anything like this,” Sid responds, speaking Russian in the same abstracted way he sometimes speaks English when he’s watching tape.

That’s it. Geno has no clue what’s going on, but he knows what this isn’t. This isn’t Sid. He grabs this guy's upper arm, turns him around, and slams him up against the equipment room wall. “Who are you?” he growls in Russian.

Sid, or whoever this is, isn’t fighting back at all. His face has gone paler than Geno’s ever seen on Sid, and he’s breathing fast, close to hyperventilating. His eyes are wide, and Geno realizes, looking at them, that Sid is panicking. He lets go and takes a step back, then dives forward to catch Sid when his legs go out.

Geno helps him into a sitting position and, after a few seconds, sits across from him, waiting.

“Oh god,” Sid says, his voice shaky. He’s speaking English and he sounds like himself again. Geno has heard about multiple personalities. He saw a movie about it back when he lived with Sergei, but he didn’t really follow it very well because it was in English with no subtitles.

He wonders if he should call Sergei and get the name of the movie.

Or call the team doctor.

Sid’s hands are shaking, and he’s staring at them, and he sounds wrecked when he says, “That wasn’t – what’s happening?” And then he answers his own question. “I don’t know what’s happening,” Sid says, and he sounds scared and pissed off at the same time, like it’s killing him to admit that he doesn’t have a clue what’s going on.

Geno thinks. “What you remember?”

“I - wanted to go to the equipment room, it was always this thing that I wanted to do,” Sid says, and then he seems to think about what he just said. “Which is weird, because I do that all the time. And I came in here, and I don’t. I don’t remember anything happening, except you grabbed me and I wasn’t where I had been and I was holding a hockey stick. I had a – a memory lapse.” He looks sick just from saying the words.

“You look at stick like you want to marry it,” Geno says.

They both look at the stick, lying on the floor where Sid dropped it. “It’s just a stick,” he says, bewildered.

Geno puts his cards on the table. “You speak Russian. Not learning, you speak. And you act like you play hockey, but never with stick.” He pauses, waiting for Sid to fill in, but Sid’s just looking at his hands, so he prods him with his foot. “What else?”

“I’m having panic attacks,” Sid admits grudgingly, but Geno knows that could be the concussion. “I keep thinking about my wife and kids, and sometimes when I think about my wife I’m really fucking scared.”

Okay. That - that is not a concussion symptom Geno's ever heard before. He has no clue what to do with that. “You have secret wife? Secret family?” There’s no way. Sid can’t have any secrets that big, not that involve that many people. Someone in the woman’s family or at the kids’ daycare would tell.

“Ha. No. But I - sometimes I think about them.” Sid’s trying to keep his face neutral, but his whole body is screaming with tension.

“They have names? Faces?” Geno’s out of his depth here, but he’s got Sid talking, and that’s not going to happen again if he lets him get away. So he’ll keep asking questions until something makes sense.

“Irina,” Sid says instantly. “Alexander. Tatiana.”

Geno feels like he’s been punched in the face. “This is very bad joke, Sid. Not funny.”

“It’s not a fucking joke,” Sid snaps.

“So just coincidence?”

“What’s just a coincidence?” Sid says, and he sounds really angry now. “Is that your secret wife’s name?” And, yeah, he’s angry. Sid’s terrible at comebacks when he’s mad; he always descends to primary school level, and someday Geno expects he’ll actually say “I know you are but what am I?” just the way Sergei’s daughters used to when they were younger.

“Irina Kharlamov’s wife. Alexander his son. Tatiana his daughter.”

Sid looks at him, so shocked his jaw is slack. Geno forgot how NHL-centered the Canadian players are; Sid's heard of Kharlamov, of course he has, and he had to know Alexander Kharlamov's name, but apparently he never knew about Irina or Tatiana. “I.” His voice is shaking, and he stops and swallows and starts again. “What the fuck is going on?”

Sid sounds more afraid than Geno’s ever heard from him, and it makes Geno want to fix things. “Tell me all,” he says. “From start.” Then he hesitates. He doesn’t want to lose the moment with Sid, but he really does think they should maybe get out of the equipment room. Anyone could come in here.

“Come on, we go to my house. You talk, I drive.”

Sid follows him out relatively obediently, and that more than anything that’s happened so far tells Geno this really is serious.

~

On the ride home, Sid tells Geno everything. After all, he already knows most of it, and just with that he’s made a connection Sid should have but didn’t. And it would be nice to have - well, some help, he guesses. Someone to talk to. When he describes the panic attacks - the crushing pain, the fear, the inability to move - Geno says, “That sounds like car accident how Kharlamovs died.”

Sid hears that and feels worse than he’s ever felt, sadness so intense it’s a physical pain, and then he’s jerking back to consciousness and they’re sitting in the car, parked in Geno’s driveway.

“What the fuck?” Sid says.

“It was.” Geno looks shaken, and he’s looking at his hands, not Sid. “I think. I think I talk to Valeri Kharlamov.”

Sid puts it together - when he can’t remember anything, Kharlamov is there, he has, he has someone else in his brain, taking over his body, oh god - and his skin crawls, his heart pounds, he wants to hit his head against something until Kharlamov falls out. He can’t, though, he can’t, so he gets out of Geno’s car and starts walking.

Geno catches up with him like a minute later, loping after him on his stupidly long legs. “Go the fuck away,” Sid snaps, and speeds up more.

“Sid,” Geno says. “Come inside. Please? Can use treadmill.”

“Fuck you,” Sid tells him, because he needs to get away, he needs to do something, he - fuck, he's getting light-headed. He needs to take some deep breaths.

He does, and Geno just stands there, watching him. He's got his arms folded across his chest. He’s biting his lip. He looks really worried.

After a few more seconds of standing on the sidewalk like a fucking moron, Sid turns and heads back to Geno’s house. If he’s going to have a nervous breakdown, he can at least do it where no one will take a video for YouTube.

They get inside, and Geno leads Sid to the kitchen, not the living room. He gets out two bottles of water and some little cookies and puts them on the table. “Drink something,” he tells Sid as he sits down. “Water is good for concussion.”

“Is water good for losing your fucking mind?” Sid says, but he takes the top off the bottle and drinks from it. After he swallows, he says, “What do you mean you talked to Kharlamov?”

Geno looks at his own bottle of water, turning it in circles on the tabletop. “I said about Kharlamovs dying, remember?”

“Yeah, that’s the last thing I remember.”

“You ask if Irina died in accident, and I said yes. You said - uh, cannot translate from Russian exactly, but it means, uh, ‘Oh my love,’ like that. You got tears. And then you - Sid-you - came back.”

Sid hears a dull roaring, feels blood pound in his head. There’s a dead Russian in there, apparently, crying with Sid’s eyes, and he just - no. He wants to dig his fingers through his skull and pull the fucking asshole out of there. He can’t. He can’t do this. He -

“Sid, breathe,” Geno says, and he’s right in front of Sid, crouching down. Sid didn’t see him move. He feels light-headed. “Breathe,” Geno says again. He puts his hand on Sid’s chest. “Breathe here.”

Sid forces himself to do it, and it’s surprisingly difficult to keep it steady, and then he thinks about how someone else can control his body, and he - he -

“Breathe in,” Geno says.

Sid forces himself to focus on Geno, to breathe with Geno. He stares at Geno’s face and tries to think about nothing else at all.

After a while, Sid’s pretty much in the zone, and Geno says, “Okay. Good job.” He gets back up.

“I don’t want someone inside me,” Sid says, and then realizes how that sounds. “I mean I don’t want to share my head with -” he stops. He spent the whole summer after his rookie season working on getting double entendres and shit out of his language; he’s not slipping now just because his life is fucked up. “I don’t want a stranger in my brain,” he finishes.

Geno sits down in his chair. “Don’t know if you can change,” he says.

“He could say anything,” Sid says. “He could do anything. In public. And it would be me doing it.” He’d actually rather have CTE.

"So far he only say Russian," Geno points out, and that's true, but it doesn't help.

"If I started talking in Russian in public, someone would record it and post it to the internet, and someone else would translate it. And what if he decides to take all my clothes off? Or, like. Get drunk in public? Oh god, he could kiss someone where anyone could see."

"Don't think he would," Geno says, and shrugs. He looks - hesitant. "We ask him?"

That's the stupidest piece of bullshit Sidney's ever heard. "So, like, you're going to sit here and say, 'Hey, Kharlamov, you in there? What do you want? What do you plan to do?'"

Geno shrugs. "Next time I see him, maybe."

That thought makes Sid's heart rate spike a little. "I don't want you to see him again," he says. And he doesn't. He wants this to go away, for it to be like this never happened, for his brain to have just him in it again.

"We not even sure it is Kharlamov," Geno says. "We should check."

"Again, how do you plan to do that?"

Geno makes a thinking face. And then he's just quiet for a while, and then he says, "You let me talk to him?"

"No." It's immediate, and it is absolutely the right response. Sid can't encourage this, he can't - he doesn't know how to, whatever, let Kharlamov take over, and if he did know, he wouldn't do it. Kharlamov needs to go away. Talking to Geno is the opposite of going away.

And. Sid doesn't know if Kharlamov can tell things just from being in his head, if he knows things about Sid, but maybe he can. And there's no way to know if Kharlamov would keep his secrets. He shudders. "No," he says again.

"Can't think of another way," Geno says.

"I'm okay with not knowing as long as he never comes out," Sid says.

Geno opens his mouth like he's going to say something and then closes it again. After another second or two, he says, "Lunch?"

Sid takes a deep breath. This is just distracting him from the important stuff: getting in shape, keeping in shape, getting back to playing, playing well. He needs to stop worrying about it. "Okay, but I'm not eating any weird Russian crap," Sid says.

Geno grins at him. "Good for you no Russian food is crap," he says, and goes over to his fridge.

~

Geno's considering a test. He just doesn't know - it seems like an awful thing to do to Sid. But on the other hand, it's going to happen at some point, so maybe it's better if it happens here, at Geno's house, where no one can see. Geno doesn't want to hurt Sid, and he's already seen Sid more scared and more upset than he ever has before.

But the more he thinks about it, the more he's sure they really do have to know.

After he feeds Sid, who manages to eat a ridiculous amount while complaining the whole time about how good it is, he pulls out his phone and finds the picture. "You see this yet?" he asks Sid, and pushes his phone across the table.

"Oh, yeah, this is you getting the - holy fuck, the Kharlamov trophy."

"And that is Alexander Kharlamov," Geno says.

He's watching for it, so he can see it happen, see Sid disappear. It's incredibly creepy. Sid doesn't say anything immediately, he just reaches out for the phone and then pulls his hand back. "Kharlamov? Valeri?" Geno says. He can hardly believe it even as he's saying the words. Talking to Valeri Kharlamov. Holy fuck.

Valeri nods, and Geno's heart skips a beat, because this is real. "My son," he says quietly, watching the photo. "Oh, baby boy, you grew up and I wasn't there."

"I've met him," Geno says inadequately. "I don't know him that well. He has children, now. He seems - happy." Geno can't even imagine what someone would want to know in this situation.

Valeri taps his chest. "Sidney is very upset. I should fall back now."

"Wait," Geno says. "Can you take over any time?"

"No idea," Valeri says. "I never mean to. He's having a hard time with this. I'm trying not to make it harder. But I saw Sasha and -" he shrugs. "Thank you," he adds, and then Sid is back, shaking and sweating and furious.

"Jesus fuck," he snarls. "Did you do that on purpose?"

"Sooner or later, you were going to see that picture, see Alexander, and he was going to come out. It was better to do it here and now." Geno realizes he's still speaking Russian. And that Sid hasn't noticed. How does this work? If Valeri is in there and he's the one who speaks Russian, how can Sid understand it? Geno thinks maybe the boundaries between Valeri and Sid aren't as clear as he thought. He's not going to tell Sid that, though.

"Oh fuck," Sid says. "You think he comes out when he sees stuff he remembers?"

"I think - when he feel things," Geno says, switching back to English. He doesn't know how else to explain it. "And maybe when you sleep?"

"But he could. That could be anytime. Fuck, he had that run-in with the Flyers, it could happen when we're playing them. It could happen on the ice." Sid sounds horrified.

"He probably hate Flyers as much as you."

"Fuck you. No one could hate the Flyers as much as I do," Sid says instantly. He pauses, and his face goes tight. "He comes out when he feels things. What the fuck do I do? Do I - do I say I'm having a concussion relapse? Do I tell the team doctors?"

Geno considers. Then he gets up and goes to the liquor cabinet. "You want vodka? Tequila? Rum?"

"No," Sid responds. "God, no, why would I drink now?"

"Help you relax," Geno explains. Sid's not going to like what Geno has to say, that's a given no matter what, but if he's had some alcohol, maybe he'll actually be able to relax enough to listen, anyway. Maybe it will take the edge off his fear.

Sid laughs, but he doesn’t sound amused. “Everyone wants me to relax.”

“Maybe clue,” Geno says, smiling big at Sid so he will know Geno’s just joking. Geno hates the tense look Sid gets around his eyes when he's trying to figure out if something's a joke or not.

"It's stupid to relax in this situation. No one would be relaxed with some random dead guy in their head."

Geno takes down the whiskey - Canadians like whiskey, usually - and pours a shot. Sid doesn't drink much; that should do it. He puts the glass down in front of Sid and says, "I think it help you listen."

Sid picks up the glass, takes a sip, makes a face, and puts the glass down again. He folds his arms across his chest and gives Geno a challenging look.

Geno sighs. "Sid, no doctor for - brain visitors," he says.

"Psychiatrist," Sid says, but Geno can tell he's just talking to talk.

"We cannot go find expert, say, 'Tell us what is going on.'" Geno pauses to give Sid time to protest again, but he doesn't, so Geno continues. "Best expert we have is Valeri."

Sid bursts into sudden, furious motion, standing up and stalking out of the room. Thirty seconds later he comes back in and yells, "That's such fucking bullshit. You think Kharlamov is going to tell us what's going on, tell us how to get him out of my head? That's like - that's like going to Giroux and saying, 'Oh, can you help me set up some plays for our game against you?' That's fucking moronic."

Geno considers his options; he can think of lots of things to say, but he discards them all. He can see the problem here: he already knows Valeri better than Sid does. Sid has no reason to trust Valeri at all, and a lot of reasons to distrust him. Finally, he says, "I think Valeri can say. Better than anyone else I can think of."

Sid's walking in tight circles around the kitchen table now, his hands clenched in fists at his sides. "I," he says, and then he stops and starts again. "You said I could use your treadmill?"

Geno nods and walks him down to the exercise room. "I give you workout clothes, but they not fit over your ass," he says.

"Fuck you," Sid says, but there's no feeling in it. It's just a reflex. He's looking at the treadmill, already clearly running on it in his mind. "I'm good like this."

Geno waves a hand at the equipment and heads back to his living room. Before he's halfway there, he hears the treadmill start, and the rhythmic thump, thump, thump of Sid's running feet.

He'll be doing that for a while. Geno sits down on his couch and starts clicking through the international channel options until he hit on a comedy news program he likes. He settles in to wait Sid out.

~

Sid runs. He runs until his legs burn, his lungs burn, and then he keeps pushing until he's reached the point where he can hear the trainers yelling at him in his head.

And that's a much creepier thought now. He tries to imagine having someone he knows - Scott, say, or Mario, or Geno - in his head, and he cringes so hard he almost falls off the treadmill. Apparently there are worse things than having a dead Russian in your head.

Of course, exactly how much this sucks depends on what Kharlamov knows, what he can tell about Sid. Sid finds himself sorting through it in his head. It would be useful to get Kharlamov to answer some questions, although Sid still sees no reason for him to be honest with them. But even lies might tell them something.

Sid finishes his cool down and heads off to look for Geno, wandering through sparsely furnished rooms until he finds him asleep in front of a TV show involving women wearing not enough clothes.

Sid doesn't see Geno asleep a lot, and it's a sight worth taking in. He ignores the sweat drying on his body and just - looks a little. He's pretty sure that's not creepy. Geno is sprawled out comfortably on the couch, which had clearly been bought because it was long enough for him to lie on, rather than, say, for appearance, since it's a fuck-ugly couch. Geno's got one hand pressed under his head, and he's breathing heavily, evenly. He looks.

Well, he looks good. Sid has always liked looking at Geno, though. That isn't new. And it isn't relevant. He forces his eyes away and heads upstairs. Somewhere, Geno has to have a shower, and towels. Sid doesn't need to wake him up just yet.

After the shower, Sid looks through Geno's closet and borrows some loose sweatpants and the least horrible t-shirt he can find, rolling the pants so he doesn't trip over them. When he's done with that, Geno's still sleeping. Sid's starting to feel sleepy himself.

Well, Geno has spare bedrooms. Sid heads upstairs, picks one out, lies down, and is asleep in minutes.

~

Geno awakens to the sound of distant screaming. He reaches automatically for the remote and mutes the TV, but that doesn't help at all, so he pries his eyes open and looks around. The TV is still on, showing a sports discussion program now. And the screaming isn't coming from there at all; it's coming from upstairs. He heads up to check.

Sid is sitting up on the bed in one of the guest rooms, his eyes wide, his face blank, screaming. He's also wearing Geno's clothes. Geno blinks, confused, and heads over to try to - calm him? Shake him awake? He doesn't know. He says, "Sid? Valeri?" and puts his hand on Sid's shoulder. Sid punches him in the nose.

“Ow,” Geno says, and retreats several feet. Sid looks at him, and Geno can see awareness hit him. Then his eyes go wide, and he says, “Oh, fuck. I didn’t - sorry, Geno. God, I'm sorry.”

“What happen?” Geno feels his nose. Not broken. A little blood. Sid didn’t hit him very hard.

“I was - I had a dream. About - about the car accident, I think.” Sid stares blankly at the wall in front of him, flexing the hand he hit Geno with.

Geno waits.

“I can’t. While he’s in there, even when I’m in charge, I’m not in control.” Sid sounds like death, his voice tight and pained, and Geno suddenly wants so much to hug him, tell him things will be okay. He doesn’t think that would make Sid feel any better, though. “You better talk to him.”

Geno suddenly, irrationally, doesn’t want to trigger Valeri. “We can wait. Maybe have dinner first?”

“Just fucking do it,” Sid says, and at least he doesn’t sound defeated anymore. He sounds angry. “What’s the point in putting it off?”

Geno nods. He has a mental list of things he thinks might trigger Valeri, and he starts with the obvious one. “There is no more USSR. The Soviet Union fell in 1989.”

Sid looks at him, eyes wide, except that isn’t Sid. That’s Valeri. Geno’s learning to recognize him. He’s more expressive, for one thing. “What happened? Did we lose a war?” Valeri says, shocked.

“Cultural war, maybe,” Geno says. “But there was no war with guns and bombs. It just couldn’t hold together anymore.” Geno tries to think - they covered this in school, of course, the economics, the politics, but, well. He missed a lot of classes. And he never cared much about history that didn't have to do with hockey. He can call up his tutor, though, get her to teach him. He makes a mental note.

Valeri's still sitting there, bewildered. Well, no surprise; Geno just told him his whole country is gone. “Where are you from, then?” he says.

“Magnitogorsk,” Geno says. “In Russia. Russia’s still there, Moscow’s still there.” He knows Valeri must be desperately curious, but he has things he needs to know more than Valeri needs a history lesson. “How do you come forward?”

Valeri shakes his head like he’s trying to settle his thoughts and focuses on Geno. “Most of the time, Sidney is in control. But when I feel things, feel things strongly, he pulls away, and I am - pushed forward, I guess you could say. Then he feels things. Fear, mostly. And his fear gets worse the longer I stay forward. Probably eventually I wouldn’t be able to stay forward, but I’ve not tried.”

“Can you just come forward any time?” Geno asks.

Valeri shakes his head. “Sidney clings too tightly for me to be able to push in.” He looks down. “This was supposed to be good for both of us. I could prevent damage to his brain, protect him, and he could - help me. But he can’t. He hates it too much.” Valeri reaches up and rubs his ear, and it’s really creepy, because it’s obviously a habitual gesture, but it’s one that Geno has never seen Sidney’s body do before. “Even now, he’s so scared - I should go.”

“Wait,” Geno says. “Can you - can you leave him?”

“I don’t know,” Valeri says. Geno looks at him skeptically. “The terms of the deal - it isn’t clear. Or it isn’t clear from this side. From here, everything from there is - fuzzy.” Valeri presses a hand to his head. “Sidney’s coming,” he says. "I'll think more."

And then Sid’s back in charge, and Geno’s never seen him like this. He curls into a ball on the bed, shaking hard, and he wraps his arms around his body like he’s trying to hold himself together.

Geno tries to figure out if Sid would rather be touched or not. If he felt like that - but Sid’s not Geno. In the end, Geno wraps his hand around Sid’s left ankle.

A few minutes later, Sid uncurls and rolls onto his back. “What did he say?” he asks. His voice actually sounds a little rough, like he’s been yelling, even though he hasn’t made any noise at all.

“He said - when he has strong feelings, you go back and he goes forward.” Geno really doesn’t understand how all of this works. How can Sid be feeling things in his head, if he can’t remember what goes on while Valeri is here? There are so many things he wishes he had thought to ask.

“So anytime a Russian has feelings, I lose control of my body,” Sid says flatly, staring up at the ceiling.

“You think Russians have lots of feelings?”

Sid makes a hand gesture that seems intended to encompass Geno, but he clearly doesn’t think it’s worth actually discussing.

“I think I was there that time,” he says.

Geno stares at him, startled. “How do you mean?”

“I – before it’s always a blank spot in my memory, but this time I remember.” Sid stops abruptly and takes a deep breath, but his attempt to breathe out evenly and calmly fails. “I couldn’t move my arms or legs. I wasn’t. I was helpless.”

The situation has just gotten worse. If there’s one thing Sidney’s going to like even less than empty spaces in his memory, it’s being helpless inside his own body. Geno doesn’t even know what to say. He doesn’t think there is any comfort to offer.

“Why me?” Sid says, totally sincerely.

Geno’s not about to laugh at him over this. And, thinking about it, he has the answer. “He told me it was like a deal. He help you, you help him.”

“For fuck’s sake. How is he helping me?”

“No concussion,” Geno says.

Sid turns over to look at Geno for the first time. “I don’t have a concussion? I can play?” He looks genuinely happy, for the first time in a while, and then his face falls. “I have panic attacks. That’s the concussion.”

“I think – that Valeri.” Geno shrugs. “He died. I think that is his death.”

“Fuck.” Sid sighs. He looks down and away. "No concussion, though. He, uh." And then Sid just trails off, like he has nothing more to say.

"Come on," Geno says eventually. "I make you dinner."

Sid, as usual, is into the idea of food, and he gets up off the bed and leads the way down to the kitchen. Geno lets him, watching him walk as he goes. He likes to watch Sid; it's an easy way to tell how he's doing. The view is pretty rewarding, too.

Geno makes chicken and rice for dinner. It's nice, working in the kitchen with Sid there. He doesn't say much, but the kitchen doesn't feel empty, and that makes a difference. Geno's gotten better at cooking since he moved to Pittsburgh, but mostly he half-asses it when he's cooking for just himself. With Sid here, though, Geno finds himself rubbing spices onto the chicken, making a wild and brown rice pilaf, chopping vegetables instead of just microwaving ones from the freezer; the food makes the house smell welcoming, smell like a real home. Sid working next to him in the kitchen with him helps with that, too. Sid carefully constructs the salad, and it's obvious from watching him that he does this a lot - that's Nathalie, probably - and also that he has strong opinions about what exactly a salad should look like. Geno stops his own prep to watch Sid precisely placing red pepper slices, and he can't help smiling to himself. Sid is entirely Sid, even when he's doing something simple like cooking.

Except when Sid isn't Sid at all. Geno shoves that thought down and concentrates on cooking.

~

Geno wakes up irritatingly early the next morning and finds Sid sitting on his bed, staring at him. Geno jerks away by reflex.

"Morning," Sid says, apparently ignoring the fact that Geno almost fell out of his own bed. "Are you hungry?"

Geno rubs his hand over his face and reminds himself that he likes Sid, that Sid is his guest, that he'd have to be up soon anyway. "Just woke up," he points out. "Early to be hungry."

"I was thinking we could go out and pick up breakfast?" Sid says. "I don't want to eat at a restaurant."

Geno can fill in all the blanks there: Sid's hungry, he's already looked through Geno's kitchen and not found anything ready that he wants to eat, and he's unwilling to hang out in a restaurant when Valeri could show up and order food that's bad for him or something.

"We have game today," Geno says. "I make scrambled eggs."

"Just protein?" Sid says dubiously.

"I make scrambled eggs with toast," Geno says, and gets up and heads for the bathroom.

Sid eats his eggs without complaint and then sits, staring at Geno, until Geno finally says, "Need something?"

"I was just thinking," Sid says. "I've got a suit at the rink."

Geno's not awake enough to figure out all the steps Sid skipped in that conversation. "Good?" he finally says.

"And I'm not skating today, so I don't need to go by my place and get the gear bag. If you let me borrow some more of your clothes."

Sid didn't ask yesterday, so Geno's not sure why he's asking today. Still. Geno nods.

"Okay, good, then we have time." Sid hesitates, then pulls out his phone. "I think we should make a list of things you need to ask Kharlamov. The next time you see him. In private, I mean." Sid's frowning down at his phone. "I've got 'Why did you come?' and 'When or how can you leave?' Anything else you can think of?"

Geno thinks back through his conversations with Valeri. "He said was like a deal," he reminds Sid. "I guess - terms of deal?"

Sid makes another note. "I want to be thorough about this," he says. "That way we can limit the number of times we have to trigger him." He looks up at Geno like he's been caught out. "Uh, you know, because we might run out of stuff that will."

"Right," Geno agrees, like he's completely missed how scared Sid is of letting Valeri take over.

"He needs to know the ground rules, too," Sid says. "Explain to him about how people are always watching, and that he has to try to act like me. Nothing weird, nothing that will stand out. Make sure he knows not to touch people or let them touch - me. And he can't drink in public. And he can't yell at anyone. And if people ask him questions -"

"Sid," Geno breaks in, because he can't stand listening to the rules Sid lives by anymore. "I tell him. He never in charge that long. Not long enough to worry about questions."

"Right." Sid takes a deep breath. "So, you have the game today. Let's work on the list today, and we can trigger him tomorrow."

Geno nods. "Deal," he says.

~

They lose to the Devils, which sucks, and then the press conference is mostly about Sid, which is at least normal. "Are you missing Crosby out there?" a reporter asks him.

"Always miss him when he not play, but I think he back soon," Geno says without thinking, and then has to endure tons more questions. When he gets back, he catches Flower studying him thoughtfully. Sid showed up to train this morning in Geno's car, wearing Geno's clothes. Geno doesn't want to know what their teammates are thinking right now, so he looks deliberately away from Flower.

He gave that kind of thing up years ago. It would suck to pay for it when he doesn't even get the fun of it.

Sid actually goes back to Mario's guesthouse that night, but he shows up at Geno's house bright and early the next morning, carrying a gym bag and looking so tense Geno keeps reflexively adjusting his posture whenever he looks at him. "Okay," Sid says grimly. "Let's do this."

Again, Geno finds himself wanting to put it off, to avoid putting Sid through this, but waiting won't make it any better. He leads Sid upstairs - it's already obvious that when they do this, it had better be on a bed if they can manage it - and takes Sid's phone, open to the list he made. Then Geno pulls out his phone; he found the photo last night and saved it, ready for use. He couldn't find a very recent one, but it shouldn't matter. "Tatiana," he says, showing Sid.

Valeri stares at it for a long moment, and then he looks up. "Thank you," he says, gesturing to the photo. "Is she - Irina is dead. Tanya is -" he trails off, like he can't say it.

"Alive," Geno says. "She's married now, with kids." He knows that much from googling around last night.

Valeri nods. He touches the photo once and then focuses on Geno. "Why did you want me?"

Geno starts taking Valeri through the list. "These are questions from Sidney," Geno explains, to start.

Valeri smiles wryly, and Geno is startled by the expression, which looks off on Sidney's face. "He could maybe talk to me sometime."

Geno's distracted by that. "How?"

Valeri just shakes his head. "I don't know. But I don't think it's supposed to be like this." Valeri looks sad. "He hates it. I had no idea he'd hate it this much."

Geno wants to get the sad look off Sid's face, but there's nothing he can say to that, because Sid does hate it. "He's grateful that you saved him from another concussion," Geno tries. "There's nothing more important than hockey to Sid. Keeping hockey - if he'd had a choice between this and never playing, he'd have chosen this."

Valeri looks away. "I was the same. In a way, that's why I'm here. From when I started playing, it was - get sick, get better, get back to hockey. Get hurt, get better, get back to hockey. Even after the accident - the first accident - I worked and worked to get back to hockey." He laughs a little, but it doesn't sound like he really thinks it's funny. "Then I died, and still I worked to get back to hockey."

"Is that why you came, then?" Geno asks him. "To play hockey?"

"I wanted - yes, that's part of it, to play again. And I wanted to see my family."

Geno winces. If he has to see Irina to be able to leave, they've got an unsolvable problem. "Irina -" he begins.

"Yes," Valeri says. He obviously doesn't want to hear Geno say it again. "But Sasha, Tanya - them, I would love to see. Even for a moment or two." He sighs. "I had no idea how much time had passed. They're older now than I was when I died."

Geno just nods. "And after - after you see them, after you play, what then?"

Valeri waves a hand, throwing something imaginary into the air. "I don't know. It's so hard to understand, here, what happens when you're waiting."

"Waiting?"

"When you die, but you don't go, then you're waiting," Valeri says.

Geno thinks about it. He can imagine that. It sounds awful. He hopes - he hopes it never happens to anyone he loves. He hopes they don't send Valeri back to waiting.

"Sidney needs to be back in control now," Valeri says.

Geno's not surprised; this is by far the longest Sid's lasted. "Wait," he says. "Sidney wants you to know - please don't do things in public. If you take control where other people can see, try to be - try to be invisible. If you can't be invisible, smile a lot." That's a pretty good summary of how Sid acts most of the time, he thinks.

"I will do my best," Valeri promises. "But I'll also try not to take control. He - we need to work together, but he can't."

"I'm working on it," Geno promises. Valeri nods, and Geno's tempted to kiss his cheek, but this is Sid's body, and Sid would never want that.

And then Sid is back, gasping and - he immediately curls into a ball, as before, but this time he's hiding his face. Geno considers the problem, then lies down on the bed next to Sid, behind him, so Sid doesn't have to hide. He rubs Sid's back and waits.

Eventually, Sid gets up and goes to the bathroom, and when he comes out he's got his game face on, so Geno sits up. "What did you get?" Sid asks.

"I thought - maybe you hear?" Geno says hopefully.

Sid makes a face. "I was too busy trying not to move." He hesitates. "It's a little easier if I don't try to move."

"But you remember?" Geno asks.

"I knew Kharlamov was in control," Sid says, which is not the same thing as remembering what happened. But it's obvious Sid doesn't want to go into details, so Geno lets it go.

He explains what Valeri told him, and Sid says, "He wants to play? He can't - he can't play. If we had a pre-season game coming up, but -" Sid stops short. "I can't wait until next season," he says quietly.

Geno nods.

"And how would I ever - for a whole game. That's. That's impossible." Sid sits down on the bed and stares at his hands intensely. "But he can't stay here. That's impossible, too."

Sid doesn't say anything for a long time, and Geno just stays on the bed, sitting next to him, waiting, watching Sid chew on his lower lip and fold and refold his hands like he's trying to achieve the perfect hand position. After ten minutes or so, Sid says, "He was a lot smaller than me. And he played wing, not center. And when he played, the game was different. Completely different. He. He'd need to learn, re-learn almost everything. And I can't teach him."

"I teach him," Geno offers instantly. That would be the easy part. Playing against Valeri Kharlamov, teaching Valeri Kharlamov - it's like the dreams he used to have when he was a kid.

"Then I just have to learn to." Sid stops short.

Geno thinks it's probably a bad sign that Sid can't even say it. "Meditation? Alcohol? Meditation and alcohol?"

Sid hesitates. "If I tell you something, you have to promise not to chirp me for it. Or tell anyone."

Geno has to take a moment to make sure Sid actually said what he heard. No matter how many times he thinks about it, though, it still translates the same, so he says, "Worse than Russian ghost in your brain?"

Sid looks away, and his whole body is tense, now, absolutely rigid. "I have - they gave me drugs to help me relax. To not be - scared. For the panic attacks."

Geno gets it. Lots of hockey players pop pills, but Sid's never been one of them. And while he'll take painkillers, apparently Sid thinks this kind of medication means he's weak. Geno sort of wants to hug him and sort of wants to hit him, so he does neither. "I never tell," he promises. "You take them?"

"Of course not," Sid snaps. "It's not that bad." Geno has no trouble translating that to mean it will never be that bad. "But I could. For - for, like, learning to deal with Kharlamov. With the meditation, maybe."

It's the best idea either of them has had yet. "Okay," Geno says. "Next time we trigger him, you take a pill."

~

Sid gets back to skating again, mostly because he feels okay lying about the panic attacks. Yes, he spends a lot of time panicking these days, but he's got good reasons. A Russian ghost, the Russian ghost's death, all kinds of stuff. So he tells Dr. Collins that he hasn't had another one, and gets rewarded with a step forward.

That means the 20 Niravam he has are all he can get, though. If it helps with Kharlamov - well, if it helps with Kharlamov, he'll deal with it then.

Sid also buys three DVDs, a book, and a CD about meditation. The book suggests first thing in the morning as a good time to meditate. One of the DVDs says right before dinner is the best time. Sid figures that in the short term he'd better do both, and pencils that into his schedule.

The first time he tries it, though, he regrets already adding it to his schedule. He gets into position - legs crossed, hands on knees - and breathes in. And breathes out. And breathes in. The DVD plays syrupy music in the background, and he doesn't know why there's even a DVD of this, since his eyes are supposed to be closed.

"Breathe good air into your hands," the woman on the DVD says. "Breathe out your tension."

And Sid has to pause, because that is ridiculous. Like, the stupidest thing he's ever heard. He can't breathe into his hands; he doesn't have lungs there. And if he could breathe out his tension, he wouldn't be meditating. He texts Geno.

Meditation is fucking stupid

Thirty seconds later, Geno sends back:

May b u just suck))))

"Fuck you," Sid says out loud in Mario's empty guesthouse. It's just breathing. And relaxing. Sid can do this. He's good with his body; it stands to reason he'd be good at meditation. He starts the DVD over again and decides he'll just ignore anything she says that's stupid.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. He's not really listening to the DVD lady, just letting her be noise in the background, and he thinks it might be working.

Except. Wait. What if Kharlamov comes out while he's meditating? What if he actually does relax? Will Kharlamov go through his stuff? Will he go talk to Mario or Nathalie or the kids? Sid picks up his phone.

Can I come do this there?

Sid's already by the door, holding his DVD and reaching for his car keys, when Geno texts back yes.

Geno's house is getting to be comfortable to Sid. Familiar, like Mario's guesthouse, instead of weird like his apartment or empty like the house he's building. Sid walks in the front door, puts his keys down next to Geno's, and then puts his phone there, too. Probably getting a text message would ruin his ability to become one with the universe or whatever.

"You doing this with me?" Sid asks Geno as he walks into the living room.

"Meditation with Sidney Crosby," Geno says. "How can I miss?"

"I should put together my own DVD," Sid says. "I could call it Penguins Meditation with Sidney Crosby, and you could be on it, too. You could be the guy in the back doing the easy version, for wimps."

"Oh, yes," Geno says. "You make great DVD. 'Now meditate harder! You doing wrong! Don't slip up! Two hours a day! Breathe! Meditate now! Breathe! Meditate now!'" He makes a lot of sharp hand movements that Sid guesses are supposed to be somehow related to meditation.

Sid laughs. "It'd be better than this piece of shit DVD," he tells Geno. "Wait until she has you breathing with your ankles and then tell me you wouldn't rather do a DVD I led."

Geno smiles at Sid in a way that makes him feel - funny. "I do your DVD," he promises. "You make it, I do, no matter how bad."

Sid feels his face heat. "It wouldn't be bad," he says, to cover it. Then it's time. "Watch for Kharlamov," Sid says, and hits play.

~

They meditate together twice a day. Geno mostly doesn't even listen to what the lady says; he can't focus on English and relax at the same time. He listens to the lady's breathing, and the music, and Sid's breathing, and his own heartbeat, and usually the twenty minutes are over before he knows it.

After the third time they meditate together, Sid gets up, frowning. "You're better at this than me," he says. And Geno had Jeffrey's head in his lap the entire time, which had to be a major distraction, given how much Jeffrey drools.

Geno shrugs. "What can I say? I have gifts."

"You'd be better at dealing with Kharlamov than me," Sid says, looking away. Then he looks over quickly. "Not that I mean that I wish you had Kharlamov in your head, just - if you did, you'd be handling this better."

The truth is, Geno would happily have Valeri in his head if that meant he wouldn't be in Sid's anymore. Geno wouldn't mind the company. He wouldn't mind letting Valeri play a game. And he would really love not to have to watch Sid suffer without being able to do anything. But wishing that won't change it, so Geno smiles at Sid. "Not exactly news that I am better," Geno says. He waits for the outrage to hit Sid's face, then adds, "Everyone better than Sid at getting order. That's why we make you captain. You never listen to other captain."

Sid's face clears. Then his body goes tense, destroying the limited relaxation he managed to achieve while meditating, and he says, "I need to do Kharlamov practice, with the pills. And we leave for the road trip tomorrow, so. Tonight?"

Geno would honestly rather just spend the evening hanging out. It's not that it's a hardship to see Valeri; he likes that. But he doesn't like what it does to Sid.

It's not his choice, though. "Okay, Sid."

~

They eat dinner and watch TV for thirty minutes so that Sid has a little time to digest, and then he pulls out the pills. "It says to let one dissolve under my tongue," Sid says, and makes a face. Then he picks one out and puts it in his mouth.

"What if he doesn't come out and I'm just dopey for a while?" Sid says.

"Then you dopey," Geno says, and shrugs. "Next time we try something else."

Sid moves to the floor and gets into meditation position. "Geno, come down here," he says.

He sounds - weird. Geno scooches off the couch and peers at Sid thoughtfully. "Working?" he asks.

Sid looks at Geno and looks away. "Yeah, I think so," he says. He breathes in. Breathes out. "Kharlamov," he says out loud, "you should come out now, if you can." Geno shifts to where he can watch Sid more closely. Sid breathes some more, and Geno finds his breathing synching up with Sid's.

Probably they've meditated together too much.

After a few minutes, Geno sees the shift and says, "Valeri?"

"What did you do to him?" Valeri asks, sounding amused. "We're both much more relaxed. I feel a little high, actually."

"Uh, we gave him some medicine to help him relax."

Valeri laughs. "It works." He shakes his head and then looks even more amused at whatever effect that has. "What did you want to know? Ask quick, before I fall asleep."

"He's trying to get used to sharing with you," Geno explains. "Can you - help him?" He doesn't know what else to ask for.

Valeri shifts his body around, and then again. "Why am I on the floor?" he asks. Geno shrugs, and when Valeri moves to the couch, so does he. They sit for a few minutes. "Sidney's not really scared," he reports. "I wouldn't say he's happy, but he's not scared."

"That's good."

"Yeah." Valeri leans his - Sid's - head against the back of the couch. "He's bigger than I was," he says thoughtfully. "Plays center."

"Yeah, we'll have to retrain you before you can play," Geno agrees. "Get you used to his position and his body, so you don't mess Sid's stats up. He'd never forgive you."

Valeri puts his head up. It looks like it takes some effort. "What? No," he says.

Geno blinks at him.

"I can't play like this, feeling like this, and - and do you really think Sidney wants me to play a game for him?"

"But it's what you want, right?"

"Right, but. I'm sure we can work around it. Maybe a game of one-on-one?"

That would be a lot easier. "I'll tell Sid," he promises.

Valeri sighs. "I'd like to tell him myself, but he's not listening to me."

"I don't think he knows how," Geno says, watching Valeri a little worriedly. He's - listing a little.

"Tell him to - to focus on me, I guess," Valeri says. He yawns and stretches and adds, "Whatever you gave him, it hits him hard." He slumps to the side awkwardly. It makes Geno's back hurt to watch.

Geno nods abstractedly and grabs Valeri, pulling him over until he's lying down on the couch. "Next time, we're doing this on a bed," Geno mutters.

"Oh, are you having sex with him?" Valeri says, surprised. "I didn't know that." And then he falls asleep.

~

When Sid wakes up, he's not entirely sure where he is. He doesn't remember falling asleep, either. Then he remembers - the Niravam, letting Kharlamov take over. Apparently Kharlamov fell asleep on the couch; Sid shifts carefully and realizes he's got his head in Geno's lap. Geno fell asleep, too, and - whoa. That position looks guaranteed to induce back and neck pain.

"Wake up," Sid says, poking Geno in the stomach, and eventually he manages to wake him up. "You'll want to die tomorrow morning if you sleep like that all night," Sid tells him.

Geno winces and cracks his neck. "Too late." He checks the clock on the wall and says, "Time to sleep." Sid sits up so Geno can move, and then Geno holds out a hand to help Sid off the couch.

Sid still feels a little groggy and clumsy, but then, Geno's not moving with his usual grace, either, so maybe it isn't the drugs, just sleeping on the couch. Sid follows Geno upstairs and heads to the room he's starting to think of as his.

By the time he's in bed, though, he's thinking about what happened. He remembers a little, and when he thinks about it, he can remember more, more than just forcing himself not to try to move. He remembers - Geno and Kharlamov talking, talking in Russian, and when he thinks about it, he can even understand what they're saying. He remembers Kharlamov telling Geno that he doesn't need to play in a real game.

That should be a relief, but it's not. Sid can't figure out why. It's not like he wants to let Kharlamov take over. But - he knows, in Kharlamov's shoes, what he'd want more than anything would be to play a real game, see how things have changed. If you want to play hockey, you want to play hockey, not some game of one-on-one. Sid supposes he could find a game of shinny somewhere, though he'd probably have to go back to Canada for that, but - that's not Kharlamov's level. He was a pro. He deserves to play like one.

Which takes him back to the problem of letting Kharlamov take over enough so that Geno can get him up to speed. The drugs are obviously way too strong to take before a game; Sid can just imagine what his reaction time would be like. He pictures it and cringes, how slow he'd be, how much he'd let the team down, what people would say.

Well, he can keep working on switching off with Kharlamov. Worst case scenario, he can't do it without the drugs, and Geno has to drive him back to Canada and find some kids for them to lose to.

Sid shifts, and shifts again in bed. He should never have slept - well, Kharlamov was the one who actually fell asleep, and Sid doesn't think he could help it, exactly. But now he doesn't feel awake and he can't go back to sleep. He closes his eyes and counts his breaths, but that just reminds him of the stupid meditation DVD. He shifts some more.

He lets his mind drift back into his favorite thoughts, run over his favorite goals. He thinks about running through an entire game, play by play, but for some reason he's having a hard time focusing on hockey. It's probably because he's in Geno's house, and he just woke up in Geno's lap, but he finds himself thinking about Geno.

Geno's been - good to him, strangely good to him, really. He's been acting like Mario or Nathalie might, but Geno has no reason to. He didn't sign up to babysit a teammate with a dead Russian in his head, and even so, he's let Sid kind of - move in here, move into his house, move into his life.

Maybe he figures it's temporary, Sid thinks. That makes sense. Most people can put up with Sid short term. After Kharlamov is gone, Sid will go back to visiting Geno only sometimes, hanging out with him from time to time on road trips, joking with him on the bench.

That was great before. For some reason, though, it seems like it would be strange now.

Sid groans and rolls over again and wishes so much that he could just jerk off. He can't, though, not with Kharlamov there probably watching his every move.

It's going to be a long night. Sid stares at his ceiling, trying to force himself to sleep. Eventually, he almost manages to drift off, but as he's hovering on the edge of sleep, he hears his own voice saying, "Are you having sex with him?"

He cringes, and that's pretty much it for sleep that night.

~

The next morning, Sid seems a little weird, a little out of it. Geno can't tell if it's after-effects from the medication or Geno's imagination or just Sid having a weird spell the way he sometimes does. Geno makes eggs for breakfast again, and Sid makes whole-wheat toast and then complains because Geno only has real butter.

"You want fake, you buy," Geno says.

Sid looks down at his toast and says, "So, uh, probably next time I shouldn't take so much of the - stuff," he says. "Maybe half a one?"

Geno smiles, thinking about dopey Sid and sleepy Valeri. "Good idea." They need to find the right dose, where Sid can't panic but can still stay awake. Geno assumes this will be possible with this medicine. He's not actually sure.

"Uh," Sid says, and clears his throat in a really obviously fake way. Geno looks at him, eyebrows up, and he continues, "Did I say anything, uh, stupid? Or Kharlamov, did he?"

"No," Geno says. "Mostly just he was tired. He said he doesn't need a game, though. Just one-on-one." Geno looks up at Sid, expecting to see him look happy, but Sid keeps frowning down at his food.

"I remember that part," Sid says, and Geno is delighted to hear it, although Sid looks anything but. "But that's not fair. He fixed the concussion, or stopped it, whatever. He deserves a real game."

Geno tries not to moan audibly. Sid has made a decision, and gotten his back up, and now they will all have to do it the hard way. He has to at least try to argue, though. "He say that make him happy," Geno says. "You not have to do more."

"He's lying, though," Sid says confidently. He apparently catches Geno's thoughts from his expression, because he adds, "I can't read his mind or anything. I just know. I know what I'd want."

"You also going to Russia," Geno points out. "Is enough, I think."

Sid frowns. "I'm going to Russia?"

"He want see his kids."

"But." Sid looks thoughtful. "I guess I thought they'd come here, but it'd be sort of hard to explain, huh?"

Geno imagines trying to convince Alexander and Tatiana that their long-dead father was in the body of Sidney Crosby. He'd rather play a full game at Wells Fargo Center stark naked. With Pronger back in, even.

"You're going to take me, right?" Sid says.

"I bring you, you bring Valeri," Geno offers.

Sid laughs at that - his genuine, honking laugh. "But we'll only have to pay for two airfares," he says. "We've got bargain travel down."

Geno smiles back at him, and they head out to pick up Sid's stuff before practice.

~

The road trip goes fine until they win in Anaheim and Flower decides they need to go out and get drunk. Geno goes, curious about the bar Flower has picked out, somewhere in Los Angeles. It takes forever to get there, that's all Geno knows. Sid goes, probably to make sure everyone gets home safely. Sometimes he takes the captain thing too far.

Geno's in a different cab than Sid heading down, so he doesn't even know there's a problem until they get there. Sid's cab arrived just ahead of them, and everyone's getting out. From fifteen feet away, Geno can see Sid isn't in control, and he's over next to Sid before he can think about it.

"You okay?" he says quietly. He can see the guys who rode down with Sid watching them worriedly.

Valeri gives him a big forced smile. Shit. Sid can speak Russian, so it stands to reason Valeri can speak English, but apparently he's not willing to take the risk in front of the team. They should have practiced that. Obviously.

"You don't look so good," Geno says, temporizing.

"He's been acting strange," Flower says, and then he sort of shifts behind Sid and mouths "Concussion?" at Geno.

That would be the perfect excuse, except Sid would kill him. "I take him for walk," Geno decides. "See if he get better. If not, we get cab back."

"Don't get that one," Brooksie advises him, nodding at their cab pulling off into traffic. "Call if you decide to go back."

"Okay," Geno says, already guiding Valeri down the street.

After two minutes of walking, Valeri says, "This is - amazing." He sounds stunned, and he's staring at the street around them.

"Try English," Geno says. "What happened?"

Valeri thinks for a moment before saying in careful English, "The driver was - very reckless, and the roads were alarming to me. I thought back to my car accident, and was very scared. Sidney withdrew and I replaced him."

Geno sighs. Valeri can speak English, but that doesn't help much, because he sounds nothing like Sid. If he started talking that way to anyone on the team, whoever it was would call the doctor. "Why you not give back to him?" he asks, reminding himself to stick to English. It's harder with Valeri than it is with Sid, even though they both know exactly the same amount of Russian.

Valeri pauses again, then says, "He does not want me to. He is - he is having a hard time, and he does not want people to see him that way. People from the team, or people on the street." Valeri looks around, and adds, "And there are many people here to see. Many interesting people." Two women walk by wearing ridiculously sheer and skimpy tops, and Valeri watches them appreciatively, swiveling his head until they're gone. It makes Geno want to smack him, which is ridiculous. It isn't Sid looking.

And even if it had been Sid, that would also be fine, of course.

"So we need quiet room," Geno says. "So Sid come back."

"Yes," Valeri agrees. "It should be soon, I think. He is very distressed now."

Geno looks around and spots a building that says "hotel" on it. It's weirdly red, but it's there, and right now that's all he can care about. He leads Valeri toward it.

In the lobby, it's obvious that he and Valeri are not going to be the hotel's ideal clientele - this is a place for skinny, pretty people who wear deliberately ugly clothes, not for hockey-playing Russians dressed for a night out - but this is America. Geno has money. He hopes that will do it. It has to. Valeri's not looking that great; Geno's afraid that this is an indication of just how badly Sid is doing.

The negotiations at the front desk take ten agonizing minutes, but they get a room - a suite, actually, and Geno's happy to hand over his card for the $700 it will cost them. As soon as they're alone in the suite - the inside of this hotel is oddly red, too, and there are giant posters of women's heads all over the place, which is one of the stranger decorating choices Geno's seen in the US - Valeri heads for the bathroom. Geno hesitates, wondering if he should follow, or if maybe Sid would prefer privacy.

Two minutes later, the shower turns on. Geno's still not sure. He's seen Sid shower lots of times, but if Sid wanted company, he could ask. Of course, he might not. This is Sid, after all.

And anything could be happening in there. Geno watches the time. Three minutes. Four. Five. And then he can't take it anymore and heads to the bathroom, knocking on the open door and saying, "Sid?"

No reply. Geno walks into the bathroom. Sid's curled on the black tile floor of the shower, and he's shaking so much Geno finds himself thinking about a seizure. Geno opens the shower door and again says, "Sid?"

Sid makes a choking sound. He's - holy shit, he's crying. Geno's never seen Sid cry before. Geno sits on the floor just outside the shower - more weirdly shiny black tile - and reaches in to touch Sid's shoulder. Sid's shoulder shakes under Geno's hands, but Sid doesn't actually pull away, so Geno stays like that, gently rubbing, wishing he could do something that might actually help, listening to Sid cry.

Sid cries like he's bad at it, like he's fighting it, shuddering sobs and gasps and wretched noises that sound yanked from him. It's painful to watch, and worse because there is absolutely nothing Geno can do.

Geno wishes they had the medication with them. Even if it meant Valeri came back, at least Sid wouldn't be in such terrible shape.

There's no clock in this bathroom, and Geno doesn't want to pull out his phone, so he has no idea how long it takes for Sid to stop crying. When he does, he looks up into the shower for a few seconds, and then he gets up off the shower floor.

"Sorry," he says. His voice sounds rough and raw, and Geno winces. Sid reaches for a towel.

"Nothing to be sorry for," Geno tells him. He gets up and heads into the living room part of the suite so Sid can get dressed in peace. This suite is actually quite a bit nicer than anywhere they usually stay on the road, and it's definitely nicer than the room Geno will be sharing with Brooksie back in Anaheim. That's what makes Geno think to pick up the phone and order room service. After that, he texts Flower that Sid is feeling okay and they'll wait to go back until the rest of the team is ready. And then Sid comes out.

His eyes are red and his face is flushed. He doesn't want to look at Geno, but he apologizes again, and adds, "Waiting for so long was - hard, but I didn't want to come back out there." He looks around the room and blinks. "Where are we?"

"Some hotel," Geno says, and shrugs. "It was close."

"Huh." Sid studies the place like he's trying to pick up interior design tips. Then he says, sounding grim, "Thank you."

Geno waves the thanks away. "Better to be here than in that bar," he says. "Flower picked it, so the drinks will be watery and too expensive." But the girls will be really pretty, of course, even if Flower isn't looking these days.

"Yeah," Sid says vaguely. He sounds exhausted, more tired than Geno, even though he didn't play tonight. After standing awkwardly for a few minutes more, he goes to sit on the couch and stare at his knees.

Geno moves next to him. This is a time for acting like a captain, maybe. "You both did well," he says.

"How do you figure that?" Sid snaps. "He freaked out on the freeway and I - freaked out after that."

"No one noticed him there," Geno points out. "You kept it together."

Sid frowns and goes back to looking at his knees. "Yeah," he says. He takes a breath. "I've got to get better at this," he says. "Kharlamov - he's going to come out sometimes. I've got to get better at dealing with it." He sounds like he's making a pledge to improve his faceoff win rate or something.

"You're already better," Geno points out. Sid lasted for longer than he ever has before, and he's remembering more of what happens when he's out of control, too.

"Can you start training with him next week?" Sid says.

Geno doesn't think Sid will be ready to skate with Valeri in control next week, but there's no point at all in telling him that. "Okay," he says. "You want us to run speed drills?"

Sid tilts his head, clearly considering. "Better start with shooting practice," he decides. "I'll make a list."

The knock on the door makes Sid startle badly. Geno gets up, signs the bill, thanks the delivery guy, and wheels the cart in on his own. "Sugar good for stress," Geno tells Sid, only noticing as he says it that this is the first English he's spoken in a while.

"I shouldn't," Sid says. He will, though, Geno knows. He assumes Sid knows, too. And it absolutely will help; Geno doesn't know if desserts work for stress as a general rule, but they definitely do for Sid.

Sid drinks a bottle of water and eats the cheesecake and the flourless chocolate cake. Geno drinks the wine and eats the tiramisu. About halfway through the food, Sid starts acting more normal, and his shoulders relax at least a little. "Thanks," Sid says again.

"Is fun," Geno says. "Better than Anaheim."

"Yeah. We should ask Shelley if we can stay here next time," Sid says, and laughs at his own joke. Whenever Sid does that, it makes Geno laugh too.

By the time Flower texts them with where r u guyzzzzz?, they're as ready to go as they'll ever be. Geno calls the front desk to check out, enduring the slight pauses and the clerk's perfectly blank tone of voice when she says, "I hope you've enjoyed your stay with us this evening."

"Very nice hotel," Geno tells her cheerfully.

They meet the guys two blocks away. "Hey," Tanger shouts, throwing his arm around Geno's shoulder. "Did you guys even hit the club?"

"Went for walk," Geno says. "Not want to hang in bar with losers."

Tanger mimes being stabbed through the heart and writhing in extreme pain, and most of the guys laugh. When the cabs come, Geno makes sure he gets into Sid's this time, but Sid's calm and quiet all the way back to the hotel, and Valeri doesn't step in once.

~

Sid spends the rest of the road trip thinking about it. He'd been hoping Valeri wouldn't come out in public, but that's obviously a stupid way to think. Sidney needs to deal with this, not deny it, just like Mario always says in his confusing lectures about life choices that don't make any sense. And according to Geno, even though he speaks English, Valeri is never going to be able to pass for Sid.

They need a plan. On the plane home, once Flower is asleep next to him, Sid pulls out a sheet of paper and makes a list.

1. Practice switching - fast switches, long ones, meds/no meds
2. Practice playing
3. Work on communication
4. Plan Russia trip???

That's the best he can do. He outlines the hockey practice a little more - he's seen a few clips of Valeri playing, so he's confident Valeri can learn modern play, but they're going to have to do a lot of work to get him ready; Valeri's a natural winger, for one thing.

And then Sid thinks about communication. That might be something they can practice with Sid in control, and just thinking that helps Sid relax a little bit, enough that it seems like now is a good time to try. He gets comfortable in the chair and closes his eyes. He breathes slowly and carefully, keeping himself calm, and when he feels at least a little relaxed, he starts looking for Valeri.

He's looking for something that doesn't feel like him, some thought or feeling, some stray piece of Russian. When that doesn't work, he switches to mental imagery. He pictures Valeri the way he used to be, the way he looks in the pictures Sid has seen of him, and he thinks about talking with him. He thinks thoughts at Valeri and leaves pauses, hoping Valeri will fill in the blanks.

After an hour, Sid takes a break. He drinks some water and tries not to feel dispirited about the process. He's doing the work, and eventually he'll get the reward, and that's just how life is. But still. It's hard, and it's frustrating, and he wishes he had a coach or something, to tell him when he's doing well or how he needs to improve. As soon as Sid thinks that, though, he feels - warmth. Maybe approval? But definitely warmth, and that has to be Valeri. He tries thinking additional thoughts at Valeri, but he doesn't get anything else.

Still. He got a feeling from Valeri, and he didn't even have to lose control. That makes him feel ridiculously good. When he gets off the plane, he's still smiling.

When they get off the bus at the rink, Sid walks to the parking lot with Geno, who smiles at him. Sid smiles back, entirely without meaning to. "Hey, so," he says. "Practice tomorrow? After team practice?"

"Sure," Geno says. "Got training plan?"

"Yeah," Sid says. "Just, you're in charge of making sure he doesn't trip over my skates and hurt us." That sounded weird. English wasn't designed for talking about stuff like this. Just for fun, Sid switches to Russian and tries it out under his breath. It's different, but not better.

He gets a little twinge of defensiveness at that, and he's pretty sure that's Valeri, so he thinks, as deliberately as he can, that Russian definitely isn't any worse, either.

The satisfaction he feels at that makes him smile. Geno looks over, sees him smiling, and smiles back, and it's. It's a nice feeling. And Sid's pretty sure it's entirely his own.

~

Geno's really not sure how to expect this to go. Sid appears to have a plan, though, and he's willing to follow it. After practice the next day, Sid goes back to the locker room with everyone else, so Geno follows him, sort of hoping that Sid forgot.

But that's ridiculous; Sid doesn't forget about stuff related to hockey. As soon as they get to the locker room, Sid says, "Oh, Geno, I wanted to work on blind passes. You in?"

Geno ignores the sympathetic looks he gets from the rest of the team and says, "Okay, Sid." They troop back to the ice.

"Sorry," Sid says. "I wanted to make sure no one else stayed." And then he pops out his mouthguard and puts something in his mouth - right, the medicine. Geno didn't know he was planning to use it on the ice. "Don't expect me to be fast, okay?" Sid says. He puts some pucks on the boards and then lines up a few on the ice and starts shooting.

Geno, watching him, can see when the drug hits him, when Valeri comes out. Geno skates up and knocks sticks with him, and they start battling for the puck.

Sid obviously took less of the drug this time; Valeri isn't falling asleep on his skates. He's not fast, not as fast as Sid normally is, but he's focused and driven and tricky and - it's amazing. Geno suddenly realizes he's playing with Valeri Kharlamov, and he has to take a break and just appreciate the moment. His life is so amazing, so much of the time; Geno still doesn't understand why he of all people is this incredibly lucky.

Valeri looks at him. "You can't be tired already," he says in Russian, grinning up at Geno. "Even an elephant like you must have a little left."

Geno laughs, because Valeri's joy in being on the ice is so clear and radiant. And so familiar. Sid is right. If he can stand to let Valeri play in a real game, it's the right thing to do. Geno wishes he could take a picture of this moment - Valeri thrilled to be back on the ice, Sid sharing and coping well - but a photo would say nothing about what is really going on here. So he just gets his head back into the game and goes skating after Valeri. Can't let him have it all his way.

~

Coming back into control is way easier with the drugs. Sid hates the way they make him feel - even with just half a dose, he's feeling a strange urge to be near Geno, to touch his shoulders, to talk to him - and he worries a lot about what they'll make him say or do, but they really do make dealing with Valeri easier.

This time, when he gets back into control, it's in the locker room, and even when he's all the way back in charge, Sid can still feel Valeri's joy. "He's really happy," he hears himself say to Geno. "Did practice go that well?"

Geno looks up from unlacing his skates and says, "Remember when you came back to skating after your concussion?" Sid doesn't bother to ask which concussion, because coming back to skating feels the same after any injury: like, like coming back from space and taking off your helmet and breathing real air for the first time in forever. It's a great feeling. Sid nods. "Valeri has been away from playing much longer than you," Geno says.

That's a weird thing to think about, and kind of sad. Valeri died thirty years ago. If he'd lived, he'd be older than Sid's parents are now. For longer than Sid's been alive, Valeri's been waiting to play hockey again.

He's suddenly glad. Glad that they can give this to Valeri, who has obviously waited long enough. Glad that they can give Valeri at least one real game before he goes - wherever he's going to go, afterwards.

"How's he look out there?" Sid asks.

Geno considers, and then smiles in a way Sid totally recognizes; Geno always telegraphs his jokes, which is one of the things that makes talking to him so easy. "Oh, he'll be fine eventually," Geno says, and it's the obvious way he says it that makes Sid realize they've been speaking Russian this whole time. "He just has to get used to real hockey. And a real hockey body."

Sid laughs. Partly it's Geno's obvious delight in the chirp, but partly it's Valeri's clearly detectable feeling of outrage. "I think he's going to get you for that," Sid tells Geno.

"First he'll have to catch me," Geno says. "And I'm pretty good out there." Geno stretches ostentatiously, showing off how long he is, and Sid finds his eyes traveling the full length of Geno's body in a way that totally does not at all belong in - well, in Sid's life.

Sid feels himself flush, hard. He bends over and pretends to take a long time getting the tape off his legs, and when he sits up, he hopes any residual blush just looks like it's from having his head basically upside down.

~

It becomes a routine. Twice a week, Sid and Geno stay after practice and let Valeri practice for a while. Geno and Valeri insist on keeping the extra practices fairly short, because after all Valeri and Sid are using the same body, and overworking would be really stupid at this point, but Sid hopes it will be enough.

After two weeks of Valeri practicing, Sid gets cleared for contact. It's obvious the doctors are still confused - Sid doesn't recover from concussions this quickly - but they can't come up with reasons to drag their feet any longer. Sid gets the usual shoulder punches when he comes out to practice in the black helmet, and, again as usual, he can't help feeling like his world is just a little bit more right than it was before.

In his second cleared-for-contact practice, there's one of those stupid accidents everyone hates. Cookie and Suttsy collide during a drill, and Cookie rebounds straight into Sid, so fast and so close that he doesn't have a chance to dodge. They both go down, and Sid hits the boards at a really bad angle, basically head first. Afterwards, Cookie apologizes a lot, and everyone watches Sid even though he can tell they're trying to pretend they aren't.

Afterwards, Chris comes up to Sid. "How you feeling?" he asks.

"Good," Sid says. He worked hard out there. It felt like a good practice.

"Did you hurt your head when you fell?"

"Uh, I don't think so," Sid says. He got knocked over, he got right back up again, and that shit happens. It's no big deal.

Of course, maybe it's only not a big deal for Sid because Valeri's in his head. Maybe that would have been a serious accident if Valeri wasn't there. Suddenly Sid doesn't feel so good. He heads off to shower and change; he and Geno agreed not to do a post-practice practice until his first week of contact is up, so he doesn't have anything to distract him from thinking about this.

Under normal circumstances, Mario is the person Sid would talk to about this stuff, but since they still haven't mentioned the Russian in Sid's head - Sid just doesn't know how that conversation would go, and he hates going into important conversations blind - he decides to talk to Geno.

It's kind of weird, actually. He's been talking to Geno about a lot of stuff lately. It's. It's pretty nice. Sometimes he'll even think of what Geno might say about things that happen during the day. He can't remember when that started, but he guesses maybe Valeri had something to do with it.

Sid is still smiling some, thinking about how things have been with Geno lately, when he follows Geno out to his car.

"Glad for contact?" Geno says, smiling back at Sid the way he always does. That's another weird thing, Sid realizes; Geno usually seems happier when Sid is happy.

"Contact, yeah," Sid says. "And other stuff."

They're quiet all the way to Geno's, but it's a comfortable, happy silence. Ten or so minutes in, Sid realizes that Valeri is happy, too, and that makes it better. Valeri didn't live that long. He suffered a lot. If he has to be a - whatever, a ghost now, Sid wants him to be a happy one.

"Do you think Valeri protects me from concussions now, or just when he - uh, came in?" Sid asks, right when they turn into Geno's street.

Geno thinks about it. "Don't know," he decides. "Can ask when I see him?"

Sid agrees, and that's pretty much it for that discussion. They move through the house, doing what they always do after practice - hydration, meditation (because Sid is going to get good at this or he's going to die trying), more hydration, food - and Sid realizes something. "This is like another routine," he says.

Geno pauses in the act of turning the TV on. "Watching TV?" he says.

"We have a post-practice routine," Sid realizes. "Like a pre-game routine."

Geno laughs. "Where Sid is, routine is," he says.

And that's true, but that doesn't explain why it makes Sid happy to hear Geno say it. He tells himself it's maybe Valeri's happiness, but he knows it isn't.

~

It's like being cleared for contact triggered something; suddenly Sid is anxious to get Valeri out there playing, and after the agreed-upon week is up, he accelerates Geno and Valeri's training schedule. He should have expected someone to want to talk about that, but Sid only realizes that after Dan pulls him aside after practice.

"You've been doing a lot of extra work with Geno," Dan says.

"Don't want to lose my edge," Sid says. He doesn't, either. He worked like hell to get it back after the last concussion. He's afraid if he loses it again it'll just be gone, and - he doesn't think about what would happen then.

He's surprised, though, to note that as he's choosing not to think about it, he's feeling something from Valeri. He can't actually figure out what it is, but it's definitely there, and it's definitely not his.

Dan says, "You'll be back out there soon enough. This isn't going at all like the last time."

It isn't, and Sid is suddenly so, so grateful to Valeri for saving him from another horrible, endless concussion. "Yeah, I will," Sid says, and then remembers he's supposed to be talking like a guy with a concussion. "I mean, I hope," he adds.

Dan laughs. "The universe won't strike you down for hubris," he says, and Sid nods like that makes sense. "Look, I'm glad you and Geno have been doing work together," Dan says, "but right now I want you to focus on team practices. I don't want you overworking."

Sid wants to protest, but he can't, of course he can't; Dan's the coach, and what he says goes. "Okay," he agrees.

Dan claps him on the shoulder and says, "Not long now" as he goes.

Geno's still on the ice, waiting to do his extra practice with Valeri, so Sid waves him in. "Coach says no more extra practices," he says, and, wow, he knows that feeling - Valeri's disappointed. "It's okay," he tells Valeri, talking out loud in Russian because he still doesn't know how much Valeri can get just from his thoughts. "You'll just have to take over in team practice sometimes. You're ready." Sid can't help smiling at the flood of relief he feels from saying that. "Valeri's such a hockey player," he tells Geno.

Geno laughs. "If he wasn't, how could he fit in your head?"

Geno's right, and Sid's laughing with him as he goes to the locker room to shower and change.

~

The thing about Valeri taking over in team practices is - Sid can't take the drugs for that. And he really doesn't want to panic in front of the team. So he decides to spend the day before Valeri's team practice debut with Geno, rehearsing the switch.

He packs some stuff in a bag before heading out - he's not planning to sleep at Geno's, but he needs to be prepared anyway, and it's not like sleeping at Geno's is bad - and he meets Mario in the yard as he's walking to his car. Mario looks at the bag and smiles a little. "I guess you're feeling better," he says. His tone is very gentle, like he's talking about more than just Sid's head, but there wasn't any other part of Sid that was hurt.

Sid hesitates for a second - he's not sure how to respond to whatever it is Mario's implying. Then he says, "I never felt that bad this time," which is true and not. He never felt like he had a concussion. Getting used to what he has instead hasn't been entirely easy, though.

Mario nods like Sid's said something really interesting and useful. "Things change," he says. "What happens one time doesn't always happen the next."

Sid's totally adrift in this conversation. "Uh, yeah?" he says, hoping Mario will throw him a clue.

"I'm glad things are working out for you," Mario says, which isn't even remotely helpful. "Where are you going today?"

"Geno's," Sid says, happy to have an unambiguous question to answer.

Mario nods again, this time more like Sid said exactly what he expected. "You've been spending a lot of time there."

"Yeah," because he has, and he really can't explain why.

"I'm always here to talk if you need to," Mario tells him.

Sid thanks him and basically flees. He has no idea what that was about.

He arrives at Geno's house and realizes he forgot to call ahead and tell him he was coming, which is embarrassing. In the end, he calls from his car after he parks it in Geno's driveway, and Geno answers and says, "Sid. I see your car. Why you call?"

"To ask if I could come over," Sid says.

Geno laughs for a long while. He's still laughing when he opens the passenger door of Sid's car and slides into the seat there, holding his phone. "Now we can talk in comfort," he says into his phone, and it sounds super-weird, hearing him in person and over the phone.

Sid shuts his phone off and says, "Well, it's polite to call first."

Geno shrugs, still smiling. "You don't have to," he says. "You can always come over. You're always welcome."

Sid smiles at Geno, helplessly and way too big. "Thank you," he says, and he feels - he feels flattered. The only house he knows where he's allowed to do that is Mario's, and he basically lives there. Now he can do that at Geno's, too. "Even when you're not here?" he asks, just to be sure.

Geno laughs some more. "You speak Russian but you definitely don't think like a Russian," he says, getting out of the car. "Come in," he calls back over his shoulder, and he heads into his house. Sid follows and heads upstairs to dump his bag in his room. Geno arrives a few minutes later holding a key. "Now you can come in anytime," Geno says, giving it to him. "No need to call first. No need to ask or ring the bell and bother the dog."

"Wow. Thanks," Sid says. He puts it on his key ring, and when he looks up from that, Geno is still standing in the doorway, leaning against the frame, watching Sid. Sid has no idea at all what his expression means, or why this silence suddenly got weird. He feels like there's something he should do, but he already said thank you.

Geno finally looks at him and smiles. "What do you want to do today?" His smile turns a little sly. "Maybe we'll just skip practice?"

Sid doesn't even bother addressing the question. "I need to practice handing over to Valeri, so he can practice with the team tomorrow." Without freaking out about it, Sid doesn't say. It's been a while since he panicked when Valeri took over, but it's also been a while since he let that happen without the drugs. It's just as well that Sid has to learn how to do this without them, he knows - there's only so many, and anyway he can't keep taking them, god only knows what they're doing to his reaction time - but he's still a little worried.

"Meditation?" Geno asks, and Sid nods, but it turns out he can't relax. Well, honestly, he's still not all that good at meditating, but this time he really can't get into it at all. After fifteen minutes, he clicks off the DVD, frustrated.

"This isn't going to work," Sid says. He's getting more tense, just sitting here thinking about how he's not relaxing, about how he doesn't have the drugs, about how he needs to get this done.

Geno looks at him, and he looks - thoughtful. Sid's not sure exactly what's going on there. "Lie down," Geno says. "On your stomach."

Sid does, and waits, and - oh. Geno's going to give him a massage, apparently.

Sid loves massages; they're usually a reward for hard work, though, and not just something you get from a friend to help you relax while you're trying to let your ghost take over. Sid's body still does exactly what it's supposed to, though, sliding into relaxation as Geno digs his fingers into Sid's back, releasing tension, warming him, and it feels so good, except -

"I should take my shirt off," Sid says.

"If you want," Geno says.

Sid does, and lies back down, and this is perfect, seriously great, Geno's big hands on him, his body going warm and pliant everywhere Geno touches. This feels different than getting a massage from a professional, and Sid has to focus pretty hard on his own body so he doesn't think about Geno's hands on him, touching him. He's half hard before he can draw his focus down, but he does, and then he just - floats. After ten minutes, he feels so good, so relaxed, that it's easy to let go in his head, and he just does.

~

Geno can see the moment when Valeri takes over, and he stops the massage. Touching Sid is fine, though maybe Geno was enjoying it a little too much, but touching Valeri this way seems - different.

Valeri rolls over onto his back and stretches. "Hmmm," he says, looking at Geno. "I think this kid is wired differently than I was."

"He's not a kid," Geno says, firmly keeping his eyes fixed on Valeri's face. It's not that he doesn't want to know if Sid was turned on, because he does, but this whole situation is - awkward enough, basically.

"I was born in 1948," Valeri says. "He'll always be a kid to me." He laughs. "So will you, and yet you still can't take a puck from me."

Geno rolls his eyes. "Half a dozen games of one-on-one and you get cocky. Wait until you've done a real practice before you tell me how wonderful you are, okay?"

Valeri's face goes from amused to hungry. "Did he mean it? Will I really get to play in a real practice?"

"If Sid says something like that, he means it," Geno says. "Today you're practicing switching off, so you can take some time at practice tomorrow."

Valeri smiles delightedly, and it's Sid's smile and yet it isn't. Sid never seems this open, Geno thinks. "Then I should try to hand back to him now," Valeri says. "Better that way anyway, since I interrupted your moment."

Geno wants to protest that there wasn't a moment, but he finds himself sort of hoping there was, even though he knows that's unlikely. Sid's never shown the slightest sign of being interested in Geno, and even if he's attracted to Geno physically, he has to, to want Geno to make anything happen.

And Geno doesn't want anything to happen. He gave that up. Except he's not entirely sure that's so true anymore.

He takes some time to think about it, while Valeri lies there with his eyes closed and tries to do - whatever, Geno has no idea how this works. Sid's got a great body. And Geno liked touching him. It's just. It's risky.

Geno didn't get where he is today by being afraid of risk, though.

And there it is, the switch; Geno can see Sid take over. "Good job," he says, because that's really impressive.

Sid opens his eyes and smiles at Geno, and that's it, that's the smile that Geno has been wanting to see. "Yeah, we're getting better," he says. "We've got a long way to go, though." He closes his eyes again.

Several minutes pass, and then Sid says, "Could you, um. It helped before?" He rolls onto his stomach, and Geno puts his hands on Sid's shoulders and starts a slow, deep massage. He can't help noticing the strength of Sid's body, the way it feels to stroke his hands along Sid's back. Sid's making tiny noises of contentment, and each one sends a slow roll of heat through his belly, along his spine, to his dick.

Sid and Valeri aren't the only ones figuring stuff out today, Geno thinks.

And then Valeri takes over, and Geno stops again.

~

They practice all afternoon, break for dinner, and go back to practice more. By the end, Sid can hand over to Valeri with two minutes of intense effort, and Valeri can hand over to Sid in seconds, as long as Sid is relaxed enough. Eventually, it starts taking longer again, and Geno calls a halt to the practice. "You don't want to overwork," he tells Sid, and Sid nods.

"Yeah, you're right. You want to play XBox or something?" He smiles and adds, "We should show Valeri what people in this century do for fun."

"We'll blow his mind," Geno agrees solemnly, and puts in GTA.

They play for a few minutes, and then Sid puts down his controller and says, "Huh. I think he doesn't like this?" He sounds doubtful, but after a few seconds he nods and says, "Yeah. He doesn't like it."

Geno blinks at the screen. "But it's just a video game," he says, bewildered. It's not even a weird video game.

"I guess old dead Russians aren't into that," Sid says, and shrugs. "Movie, maybe?"

Geno looks at his DVD collection. "I think the oldest movie I have is Die Hard," he says. He has no idea how old dead Russians feel about action movies, though.

"You can do Russian movies, too," Sid reminds him, and - Geno smiles to himself a little, because that's right. He can. Sid speaks Russian now.

But if they're going to delve into the history of Russian cinema, there are practical problems. "You really don't want to see old Soviet movies," Geno says. "They're terrible."

"Valeri's laughing at you," Sid informs him, smiling like he's in on the joke.

"We'd better not show him Die Hard," Geno says. "If he's only seen Soviet movies, he has no taste. Won't be able to appreciate good stuff."

"Oh, come on," Sid says. "It's a classic! It's basically as old as he is."

"I think you skipped too many math classes," Geno tells him, but he gets up to put the movie in.

When he comes back to the couch, Sid scoots over so he's right next to Geno, which means that Geno spends the first part of the movie paying more attention to Sid than to Bruce Willis. Well, Sid's more interesting. Sid's warm against his side, and Geno's body is keenly aware of every place they touch. Geno's starting to realize that maybe his decision has already been made, was made a while ago.

It's just a question now of what Sid wants. If Sid even knows what he wants, of course.

~

They get the handovers - well, not perfect, but decent. Acceptable. Sid resolves to work on it more, of course, but this makes it possible to deal with team practices. "So Valeri will come forward after warmups," Sid says, because it's his body; he's going to make sure it's ready to practice. "And then I'll take back over when we break up to do two-on-one and we're at the back of the line."

Geno just nods. He's driving them to practice, and he's being extra quiet today. If Sid didn't know better, he'd think Geno was nervous, but who gets nervous about practices?

"So. We can do this," Sid says firmly, trying to convince himself it will all be okay. He gets a confirmation kind of feeling from Valeri, and a weird - it's like his head wants to nod. But, okay, however weird it is, it means Valeri's on board with this plan, and that's what matters.

Geno's quiet as they change, but Sid is, too. He catches Flower looking at them both more than is really normal in the locker room, so maybe the tension is obvious. But it's not like he can explain it - "Oh, the dead Russian who lives in my brain is going to take part of the practice for me today" is something even Sid knows better than to say.

As they walk out onto the ice, Sid notices there's a little extra bubble of space around him, and another one around Geno.

Their teammates are a little weird sometimes.

Sid goes through the warmup and gets set for shooting drills, then he takes a deep breath and thinks, Now, Valeri. Your turn.

~

Geno watches, and Valeri plays well, although his moves are different enough that people keep glancing over. At one point Brooksie backs Geno up against the boards and says, "Is this what you guys were working on? All those extra practices?"

"Yes," Geno says, because it was.

Brooksie turns to watch Valeri skate for a bit and shrugs. "It's not like Sid needs improvement, and I think he's crazy to try to switch up his play style, but - could be good, I guess." He slaps Geno on the shoulder and skates away.

Geno risks a look over at Dan. He's standing with the assistant coaches, arms folded, eyes narrowed, watching Valeri and only Valeri. Well, shit.

And then two-on-ones come, and Sid doesn't take over. Valeri's playing fine still, but Sid isn't in control. Geno's paired with Nealsy, so he's not able to talk to Valeri until later. When he finally can, Valeri says, in his usual careful English, "Sidney is having difficulty coming back where everyone can see. Each time he cannot, it gets worse."

"Break your stick," Geno advises him, using Russian but speaking quietly enough that no one should know. "Take your time taping the new one."

Valeri manages to break his stick two minutes later and he makes it look like an accident. Geno's impressed, especially since these sticks are still new to Valeri, and he's more used to sticks that break if you look at them funny and can't easily be replaced. Valeri spends the next few minutes carefully, anally taping his new stick, sitting on the bench on the side of the ice. Geno has to pay attention to practice, but when he manages to look over, Sid is clearly there, retaping his stick the way he likes.

Tanner leans over and says to Geno, "I guess he really knows how to take care of a stick," and his tone is suggestive, which Geno doesn't entirely get. He gets the dirty overtones, of course - he's a hockey player, so obscene and suggestive is basically his native language - but he isn't sure why Tanner thinks Geno should care if Sid jerks off a lot. Before Geno can figure out exactly what he's implying, Tanger skates by and bodychecks Tanner onto the ice.

When practice ends, Geno's grateful. The last time he felt this much relief at the end of a practice, he was 16 and getting bag skated while seriously hungover. As Geno heads off to the locker room, he sees Dan say something to Sid.

It was probably pretty dumb to expect hockey professionals not to notice what they were doing. Geno just hopes Sid knows what to say.

"So, that went okay," Sid says as soon as they're in Geno's car, heading home.

"What Dan say?"

"Oh, he asked what I was working on. I just said I'd had some ideas I wanted to try, and I'd see how it went." Sid shrugs. "I've got to get better at taking back over, though."

"Practice," Geno says, imitating Todd. "Practice, practice, then practice again."

"Pretty sure he wasn't talking about having a Russian inside you," Sid says. Geno snorts, and then Sid turns bright, bright red. "You know what I meant," Sid adds.

Geno does, but the thing is, he'd kind of like it if Sid had meant something else. So he doesn't chirp Sid any for it.

~

They play the Flyers next, in Philly, and Geno doesn't think that's a good time to let Valeri play a game. Sid is fixated, though, and he says, "We have to start sometime."

"If make mistake," Geno points out, even though he really means if Valeri does, "you want in Philly?"

"They already hate me as much as possible there," Sid points out. "I'd rather have the first time there than in front of the fans at home."

That's a good point, although - playing at home is easier than away games, especially ones where the audience is really hostile, like in Philly. "Guess Valeri use to bad audience," he says out loud.

"Yeah, I figured," Sid says. "I watched some video of him the other night. They really hated the Russians back then."

"Soviets," Geno corrects carefully. They didn't hate the Russians, they hated the Soviets, or that's what he tells himself whenever he watches old footage, or movies about the USSR team versus some North American team, things like that. It's too easy to take it personally otherwise.

And, bizarrely, Sid seems to get that. "I hope they enjoy the fuck out of having a Soviet up there in Philly now," he says, and he's already got that vicious about-to-play-a-rival edge to him. Apparently Geno is the only one worried about this.

"When you switch?" Geno asks.

Sid chews his lip, clearly thinking it through. "Maybe let him play second period?" he says. "Switching during intermission has to be easier."

Geno agrees, and that's that.

~

In the bus up to Philly, Sid puts his headphones on, closes his eyes, and leans back against the seat. He takes deep breaths and tries hard to relax. He's reaching for a place he's not sure really exists, one where he can understand Valeri a little more without handing over to him. He tries to convey his intentions to Valeri, that he's not giving up control, just trying to meet in the middle, and then he tries to relax.

He can't, though. He's been on the edge of something, on the edge of - of fear, all day, and this is just making it worse. Sid knows he has to give his body over to Valeri, not just to, whatever, meet his conditions, but because it's fair. Valeri deserves to play. He's good enough to play. And he helped Sid, he saved hockey for Sid. He should get hockey in return.

But people will be watching. People will see someone else in his body. People will see what Valeri does as what Sid does, and that. That's what scares him.

I hate being watched, he thinks at Valeri. Don't let them - see anything, okay? There are so many things Valeri could let slip. So many things Valeri could fuck up for Sid. Sid trusts him, he does, he hast to, but. His heart's pounding, just thinking about it. He tries harder to relax.

After a few seconds, he starts to feel inexplicably sleepy. Warm and sleepy and a little turned on, and Sid realizes he's remembering Geno's hands on his body, massaging him, making him relax and turning him on at the same time.

No, Sid realizes. He's not remembering. Valeri is remembering, and he's making Sid remember. Sid slumps more comfortably in his seat and gives himself up to the memory of it, lets himself really feel it in a way he couldn't while it was happening. It's good. It's - really good.

By the time they get to Philadelphia, Sid is a little more relaxed and a lot more - whatever. Excited, he guesses. That's okay, though, because they're going to play.

~

The first half of the first period goes just like any other game in Philly. Geno gets booed every time he looks at the puck, Sid gets booed any time he's on the ice, Giroux is a monster to contain, and Ilyusha makes a few spectacular saves and one seriously bone-headed mistake that gives the Pens their first goal - Nealsy taps it in, Geno gets the assist.

It's frustrating for the Flyers, Geno can tell, and there's some argument with the refs that Geno isn't really following. And then, a few minutes later, Geno's on the bench and Sid's on the ice and Hartnell slashes at Sid. It's low and intended to threaten without garnering a penalty, but it does make contact. Sid flinches, much harder than Geno would have expected, hard enough for the audience to see and jeer at, hard enough for Hartnell to say something about, but Geno's not watching Hartnell anymore. He's watching Sid. Because he's pretty sure Sid's Valeri now.

Within five seconds of play, it's obvious. Valeri's on the ice, and he's playing like he's possessed, better than Geno has ever seen him play, owning the center position like he was born to play it. The shifts switch with Valeri way in the offensive zone.

As soon as Valeri's on the bench, Geno leans over and asks him if he's okay, careful to use English, because it's getting too easy to speak Russian to Sid, never mind Valeri. "I am fine," Valeri says tightly, and that's really all he can say, at least until intermission. Geno goes back to watching the game.

First period ends up being a massacre. Valeri scores twice in the last ten. He's playing brilliantly, and the bench would be jubilant, except that everyone else just thinks Sid has completely switched up his play style and is really confused.

"What the fuck?" Nealsy mutters to Geno on the way down the tunnel for intermission. "What is Sid doing out there?"

Geno shrugs. "He mad, I think," he says, which is totally true and not at all the point.

In the locker room, Valeri goes to sit by himself and breathe, and everyone on the team detours around him, recognizing that something's up with Sid. After ten minutes, Geno can't take it anymore and heads over to talk to him.

"What happened?" Geno says.

"I had a memory," Valeri says in the careful, quiet English that Geno envies so much. "I pushed Sidney out without meaning to."

It makes sudden sense to Geno. "Clarke, when he break your ankle," he says. He's soon the footage from a TSN rebroadcast of a CBC special on the game, and the game footage itself is crappy and a little fuzzy but still utterly infuriating, because it's so deliberate, and every single person in the arena is thrilled except the USSR team. If it makes Geno this angry just to remember the footage, of course it'd throw Valeri into control, remembering it on the ice playing a North American team. Especially this North American team, the one that targeted Valeri right off the ice - and, yes, that was long, long ago, but not so long for Valeri.

It wasn't a question, but Valeri nods, winces. "It is - it is the thing I remember most about playing North Americans. They were so aggressive, so emotional, so physical." He looks down at his hands wrapped around his stick. "We used to call them the little soldiers, because to us, it was like they didn't want to play hockey. They wanted to fight a war on the ice. They played like they were angry every minute."

Geno nods, and it's amazing to hear this from Valeri Kharlamov, but it isn't exactly news. He knows the USSR team played a less physical game. Sometimes he wishes the current game of hockey was a little less physical; the hits, the fights, he's fine with those, but seeing head hits makes him cringe more than ever these days. He felt sick when he saw Sid go down during the game that started all this.

"Sidney cannot come back," Valeri says. He sounds ashamed.

"He not want?" Geno says, surprised. Shocked, even.

"He can't. We are trying. I think it is my fault. We are playing the Flyers, and no matter how I try to relax, I can't. It's the first time this has happened to me." He pauses and shrugs. "In this body, I mean."

This is a problem. Not so much a permanent problem - Valeri will relax after the game, surely, when he's not facing the Flyers, and Sid will come back - but Geno can just imagine how Sid is feeling in there, with Valeri not giving up control. And they need Sid to be able to talk to people, to the press, to Dan; people are giving him space and quiet right now because they're not sure what's going on in his head, but he's the captain. He can't stay apart from the team forever.

Relaxing Valeri has never been the problem, though, and so Geno isn't sure where to start. "Where you happiest? Most relax?" he asks.

"With my family," Valeri says instantly. Then he nods, like he gets it, and closes his eyes. "With Irina, when we had an afternoon in the summer where we could just walk together. Holding Sasha for the first time, his tiny hand wrapped around my finger. Tanya, so tiny, born yelling at the world." His voice trails off, and Geno can see him letting go, relaxing.

Two minutes before intermission is up, Sid opens his eyes. He looks tense, scared even, but he's in there, and he's not panicking, which Geno is so, so grateful for. "Thanks," Sid says, swallowing hard, squeezing his eyes shut for just a second. "That was fucked up," and he gets up to talk to the team. Geno watches him a little warily; his whole body is tense.

The first half of the second period is a disaster. Sid is playing like an inferior copy of himself. He's hesitant when he needs to charge forward, and then too aggressive when anyone from the Flyers gets near him. They pick up on it and start chirping him hard, and Sid loses his temper and his control of the game. The team follows his lead, as usual. Geno tries to play harder to compensate, but he's too worried, too distracted by Sid even when Sid's on the bench, and he doesn't have the instinctive command of the ice the way he usually does. He makes stupid mistakes. They all do. The Flyers score once, twice, three times inside of five minutes, knotting it, and Flower's starting to look tense, which is always a really bad sign in Philly.

Dan switches up the shifts to give Sid a longer break on the bench and leans over. "Get your head together," he says quietly, into Sid's ear, and Geno sees Sid nod quietly and close his eyes, his expression like it is before a game, take a few deep breaths. Then it's Geno's turn to go over the boards.

When Geno's shift is over, Sid's on the ice again.

But it isn't Sid. It's Valeri.

Valeri plays the rest of the second, and he's on. No player can carry a team all by himself; Geno knows that, and it's one of the things he loves about hockey, that when he's on the ice it isn't about him, it's about the single entity that six guys make together. But Sid has always had the ability to charge up a team, to change the game when he's on, and Valeri is obviously just the same. He yells something at Morrow, takes and wins a faceoff, and suddenly everyone's got their heads out of their asses.

Geno breathes again. Now he can focus on the game.

They play hard, but it stays tied through the end of the second. During intermission, Valeri goes to the bathroom, and when he comes out, he's Sid. Sid goes around talking to all the players, talking to Dan, discussing plays - and then hands over to Valeri in the tunnel on the way out for the third.

The third is chippy and tense, both teams looking to break the tie, both teams pushing themselves. No one scores, and no one scores, and then, 27 seconds before the end of the third, Valeri just goes for it, moving like he's unstoppable, skating around five guys like they're standing still and then roofing it in.

It isn't until the game's over that Geno realizes Valeri got a hat trick. When he does, he goes over and knocks Valeri on the shoulder. "Welcome back," he says in Russian.

Valeri smiles at him, open and honest. "Glad to be here," he says. He's glowing with joy that Geno recognizes perfectly: the joy of having played, played well, and won.

~

Geno knows they have a problem, but he doesn't know how bad it is until after the game, after the trip home on the bus. Sid was in control during the press interviews, although the press obviously thought him ridiculously subdued for someone who got a hat trick and beat a rival, and he was himself up until Geno nodded off on the bus. But when Sid walks up to him in the parking lot and says, "May I come with you?" he isn't Sid at all.

Geno nods and gestures. As they leave the lot, Valeri says, "Sidney 's angry at himself. Angry and embarrassed."

That makes sense. He would be. Geno nods and grimaces. Sid will hate feeling that way.

"But he didn't give over to me during the game for those reasons. He -" and Valeri hesitates.

For some reason, that makes Geno's heart pound. "What?" he asks, taking the route home by rote.

Valeri's Russian is as oddly precise as his English when he speaks; Geno gets the feeling he doesn't like what he's about to say. "He gave over to me because he thought I was better. That it was better for the team for me to be out there."

Geno's stomach sinks. "Oh, fuck," he says. That's really bad, because for Sid - for Sid it's never been about being the king of hockey, the face of hockey. He wants what's best for the team. He wants to be part of a great team, and he'll kill himself to be the best he can for his team. When he first came to America, Geno worried about Sidney Crosby. The man was a prodigy, a superstar, and he played Geno's position; surely they'd clash? But when he met Sid for the first time, he saw no envy, no tension, just genuine happiness that Geno had come, and it didn't take Geno long to realize Sid meant it. That Sid didn't compete within the team. He just wanted the best for it, and he thought Geno was it.

And now he thinks Valeri's it. Geno groans.

Valeri nods. "My time is done, Zhenya. I played. I played well. Yes, I died with business unfinished, but I died. Sidney's still here, and he needs to be his own player. He can't do that if he's giving over to me every time he thinks he's doing badly in a game."

Geno can't think of anything to say. That's obvious to him, obvious to Valeri, but apparently it isn't obvious to Sid, and he's so fucking stubborn. It will be hell to change his mind.

"I think tonight I should try to go back," Valeri says quietly.

Geno's throat closes up. "Valera -" he says, and it's hard to push his voice out past the lump in his throat. He doesn't want Sid to let Valeri play for him, no, but he doesn't want Valeri to - to leave.

To die again. For real this time.

But Valeri's right. He had his time. If there's a risk to Sid - there's no choice here.

Valeri closes his hand on Geno's arm and says, "When we get home." He sounds quietly determined. At the next stoplight, Geno glances over; Valeri's eyes are closed, and he looks - reserved, withdrawn, but somehow still tense.

Geno bites his lip and forces his attention back to the road.

~

Back at his house, Valeri heads to the living room immediately, sitting down. He apparently learned meditation as Sid and Geno did, because he goes right to the posture that the woman suggests in the DVD, and concentrates. Geno sits on the couch, unsure if he'll bother Valeri, but unable to just leave him. Leave them.

In the first minutes, Geno's braced every second to see - he doesn't know what. For Sid to come back, he supposes. After thirty minutes, though, he already knows what Valeri says when he opens his eyes. "I can't do it. I don't know how," he says, as frustrated as Geno has ever heard him.

"You tried," Geno says. He can't even figure out how he feels about this development. "I will take care of Sid. Talk to him." He forces a smile. "It'll be fine." And it will be, because it has to be. Valeri apparently can't go back yet, so he has to stay, and so Geno has to find a way to get through to Sid. These things are all absolutely obvious.

"Yes," Valeri agrees, and hands back to Sid.

~

Sid comes back with a pounding headache and a feeling like he's been beating on a locked door for hours. "What the fuck," he starts out, and then he - remembers. He doesn't remember most of it, Valeri taking control, Sid waiting on the sidelines, how he got here to Geno's house, but he does remember Valeri's voice saying he would try to go back.

And that's wrong, that's crazy. Valeri didn't get what he wanted. They didn't fulfill the deal. "You're both such fuckers," he snarls at Geno. He's angry enough that his face feels hot.

"Valeri worried," Geno tells him. "Me, too."

"Jesus fucking Christ. Why?" Sid says, and after Geno explains he realizes he's got more reason than he thought to be mad at them. "You stupid motherfuckers," he says. "You thought, what, I'd just give up on hockey? Of course I gave back to Valeri. I was fucking terrible out there, I was letting the team down. But when you get your ice time cut, you don't quit the team, oh, I guess I should just give up, oh, I guess I'll just take up fucking - whatever - macrame now. You get better." And Sid has a lot more to say on the subject of stupidity and Russians with mass delusions, but Geno's relief is so obvious that he finds his anger slipping away.

"Good, Sid," Geno says, and his smile is sincere.

"You really thought I'd just give up," Sid says, and the anger's mostly gone now, but he feels shaken. "It's like you don't even know me."

Geno looks down at his feet. "I - I see was stupid," he says quietly. "Scared for you out there. Thinking with fear instead of head."

Sid doesn't know what to say about that. Yeah, it was stupid. Yeah, it's insulting. Yeah, it's a million years away from who Sid is.

But Geno was wrong because he was worried about Sid, and that - for some reason, that makes Sid feel good.

~

Sid can't sleep, which is fucking stupid, because he can always sleep. His body's tired. And it's after the time when he normally goes to bed, like, way after. But he's just lying in bed, staring at the ceiling of Geno's spare bedroom, thinking.

He really wants the day to just be over, so he can wake up tomorrow and start working to fix things. But to do that, he has to get to sleep.

Sid turns over in bed, looking for a comfortable position, but lying on his side is worse, and lying on his stomach is worse still. Under - other circumstances - he'd jerk off at this point, just to make his mind stop spinning in place, but - Valeri. He can't. He promised himself he wouldn't, because - it's embarrassing. It's worse now that he knows Valeri a little, now that Geno knows him a lot. Sid never managed to get casual about that stuff like most guys do by the time they're in Junior, and the problem then was just picturing waking his roommate up. Now the roommate is in his head.

It's getting to be a real problem, though. He never used to think about sex stuff that much, not nearly as much as it seemed like other guys did, but now that he knows he shouldn't do anything about it, anytime he's somewhere quiet and dark and private, he starts to -

And. Fuck. Now he really isn't going to sleep. Sid gets out of bed and pulls out some sweatpants and a t-shirt from the drawer where Geno's housekeeper puts all his stuff after she washes it. He leaves all the lights off upstairs and pads down to Geno's exercise room. He really shouldn't be adding any exercise on top of the game today - his body played it, even if he didn't - but he needs to calm down, and this is the only way he knows how to. He sets the bike for two miles - he wants ten, but he can hear the trainers yelling at him already - and climbs on.

His brain kind of zones out as he bikes, focusing on the game. He can only really remember the few minutes he played, of course, and he hasn't seen the footage yet, but he knows Valeri was good, knows it from the box score and the feeling of - of satisfaction, of rightness in the back of his head. Valeri feels the way Sid always does after a good game, the way he'd be feeling right now if he'd actually played that game, and Sid lets it wash over him a little. Technically, he didn't earn it, but tonight he's willing to let himself have this.

Normally, after a good game, Sid replays the pivotal moments in his head, in his muscles, even; he's pretty sure that makes him better, makes him more likely to repeat the things he did right. Sid finds himself thinking about the nifty move he - Valeri - made, slipping the puck through Timmonen's feet, almost dancing around him, and then scooping the puck back up again to carry it to the net. He rehearses the feeling of it, both familiar and strange, tries to make that foreign move his own.

The timer on the bike goes off and Sid gets down. He's feeling a little more relaxed now. Better. It's time to rehydrate and get some sleep. He walks into Geno's kitchen, opens the refrigerator, stares into it, tries to figure out what to drink.

All the bottles look weird, a little wrong.

~

Geno wakes up, rolls over, checks the clock: four in the morning. He groans, reaches for the half-full bottle of water at his bedside, drinks the rest of it down. He's still thirsty. Must not have had enough to drink after the game. That makes sense, actually; he was a little more focused on Valeri and Sid than on electrolytes.

Geno heads down to the kitchen and is surprised to see the light already on. When he gets there, he can see why: Valeri's standing in front of the fridge, staring at it like it will reveal the secret to a 150-point season. He's probably mystified by Geno's collection of sports drinks.

"Take whichever color you think is prettiest," Geno tells him. "They're all the same. Americans just don't feel right about their lives if they can't make a thousand tiny choices every day."

"Right. Like you don't love switching up flavors. If it doesn't make a difference, why did you buy them all?"

Geno stops, frozen, no longer half asleep, because that isn't Valeri. That's Sid. Speaking Russian instinctively, standing like Valeri, staring at sports drinks instead of reaching for the only flavor he likes - but those are Sid's words, Sid's thoughts.
Geno's heart pounds. "Sid," he says carefully. "Why you up?"

"Couldn't sleep," Sid says, shrugging. He pulls out a Gatorade. Sid's speaking English now, probably because Geno did, but he's still standing wrong. "The game." He drinks half the bottle.

Geno realizes Sid worked out, which is ridiculous after a game, but also very Sid. "Come upstairs, get cleaned up," Geno says.

He follows Sid upstairs, sits on his bed while Sid showers, watches while Sid puts on a t-shirt and the stupidly threadbare sweatpants he likes to sleep in. He should just leave Sid to go back to bed, but he can't; he's mesmerized by the way this Sid moves, every gesture just a little bit off, every step just a little bit looser and more graceful than it should be. And he's afraid. What if it's permanent? What if playing the game, or trying to go back and failing, what if that did something to Sid and Valeri?
Geno wants his Sid, the real Sid, back.

This Valeri-flavored Sid is what he's got, though. Sid pulls back the covers and crawls into bed. "Can't you sleep, either?" he asks.

Probably not anymore, Geno thinks.

"It was a fucking weird game," Sid says. He stretches and yawns. "Can you get the lights?"

Geno reaches out, flips out the bedside lamp, and hesitates. "I stay for a bit?" he asks. He knows that's a weird request, and that Sid really doesn't like having people in his space, but he can't help asking. He just wants to wait until Sid's sleeping, see if he goes back to normal once he's out.

"Yeah, sure," Sid says, like it's nothing, and Geno freezes, because - is that Valeri talking, or is that Sid? "But you have to lie down and hold still," he adds, and that irritated note is pure Sid. "I don't want you doing Russian calisthenics or whatever while I'm trying to sleep."

"Russian calisthenics same as Canadian ones," Geno says, crawling under the covers. He feels better already, but he still wants to wait. Just until Sid's asleep, and then he'll go back to his own bed.

Geno listens to Sid's breathing, waiting for it to get deep and even with just a hint of a snore. Sid's peaceful like this, and it's nice to have a warm body next to him in bed. Geno settles in a little more comfortably, still listening. Any minute now, Sid will fall asleep, and then Geno will leave.

Any minute.

~

Sid wakes up with Geno asleep next to him, which is weird. He blinks and tries to think back, and - yeah, he remembers last night, biking and being thirsty and saying Geno could stay here.

It's weird, because normally Sid wouldn't have been able to fall asleep with Geno in his bed. It makes sense that he would have been extra tired, though, with the biking on top of the game. Geno was probably tired, too, because he's sleeping hard, his whole body slack and relaxed. He looks warm and comfortable, and Sid wonders if he can just let Geno sleep. He glances at the clock to see how much time they have, and - fuck. They're going to be late.

"Geno, wake up," Sid says, and bolts out of bed.

They make it to practice only five minutes late. Like half the locker room applauds when they run in, and Sid takes the time to flip them off before diving into his gear.

After practice, Sid gets pulled aside for another talk with Dan. Sid feels bad, but he absolutely cannot explain what's going on with his play. "It's just something I'm working on," Sid says. "I'm trying not to let it affect the team."

"I'm just wondering if...anything else is going on with you," Dan says, and he's spacing his words out weirdly, like he has to think before saying each one. That's usually not a good sign.

"Just the stuff with the game," Sid says, and it's true, assuming you know that Valeri is the reason for the stuff with the game.

"Right," Dan says carefully. "Sid, you know, if there's anything going on, um, in your personal life..."

Sid stares at him, but Dan trailed off like he was really hoping Sid would pick up the cue there, so Sid kind of has to say something. "Nothing, really," Sid says after a while. What could be going on in his personal life? "You know me. I'm pretty focused on hockey during the season." Out of the season, too, actually.

"Right," Dan says again. "You've been spending a lot of time with Geno," he notes, after a thoughtful pause.

"Yeah, he's been great," Sid says, because he believes in giving credit where it's due, even if he can't exactly explain what Geno's been great about.

Dan looks down at his desk. "Okay, well, keep me posted," he says.

"Yeah, sorry, I should have kept you in the loop," Sid says. That gets him kind of a strange look from Dan, but at least the conversation is officially over.

But the whole thing was weird and uncomfortable. Sid's still thinking about that as he leaves Dan's office, which is why he almost walks right into Mario.

"Hi," Mario says.

Sid looks at him warily, but he doesn't look mad or anything. Still, better to preempt any lecture he might be planning to give about dedication. "Sorry I was late this morning. I couldn't sleep last night, so I worked out, and then we overslept this morning. Forgot to set the phone," Sid says, and shoots another sideways glance at Mario to see how he's taking this.

Mario looks - like he's trying not to smile, actually. Sid can't figure out if that's a good sign or a bad one. "I wasn't aware that you were late for practice this morning, but thank you for letting me know," Mario says. Fuck. Sid cannot win today. "Putting that to one side for now," Mario continues smoothly, "let's talk about the game."

On the one hand, Sid's really grateful that Mario didn't try to talk to him about the game right after it happened. Last night, he was too fucked up to even respond to Mario appropriately, and it's not like he needed to disappoint more people. On the other hand, Sid might be calmer, but he still can't explain anything. "It was a shitshow," Sid offers. "I just couldn't get it together."

"You got a hat trick," Mario points out, eyebrows raised. And he just stops and waits.

More than anything, Sid wants to say that that wasn't him. It was Valeri. Valeri got the hat trick after Sid couldn't hack it. But he can't. And he also can't be happy about how he played. So he says nothing.

Mario doesn't say anything, either, and they walk in silence down the hallway, out past the rink, to the parking lot. Sid doesn't realize this is another mistake he's made until he gets to Geno's car. Geno's sitting in the driver's seat checking his phone, but he scrambles out when he sees Mario and Sid coming.

Sid watches Mario to see what he thinks, but he just can't tell at all. Mario's face looks - tense, maybe?

"Sid," Mario says, and his voice is so careful that Sid braces for the worst, "why aren't you driving?"

Why would he drive Geno's car? "We were late," Sid says.

Mario turns so he's facing Sid, close in, and looks him directly in the eyes. He never does that, because he knows Sid hates it, hates to have people right in his face. "If you're concealing something about your health," Mario says.

Fuck. That isn't - but suddenly Sid realizes how this might have looked from the outside. "I'm - I don't have a concussion," he says, and this is exactly why he doesn't like having people in his face: he's too stressed to lie well and too stressed to make the truth sound true.

Mario nods, his face blank. "Geno?" he says.

"Lots going on now for Sid," Geno says. "But not injury. Not sick. No concussion." Geno, at least, sounds totally sincere. He almost always does. Sid wishes he knew how to do that.

Mario watches them both for a minute and then nods once in response to nothing. He steps back, so he's standing at Sid's shoulder rather than right in front of him, and says, "The kids miss you. Nathalie and I miss you."

"Oh. Sorry," Sid says. "I can come visit."

"Sunday afternoon," Mario says. "Both of you."

Geno nods, and Sid nods, and Mario smiles at them both. "Have a good day," he says, and heads back into the building.

It's ten minutes into the car ride home before Sid manages to relax even a little. Keeping secrets from people who care about you sucks.

~

The next game sucks in a whole different way. Sid's supposed to play this whole game - they're at home, and he's afraid these fans will notice too much. And according to Geno, Valeri is totally willing to skip a game.

Sid goes out braced for another disaster, but it's back. He's good, he's in control, he's playing well. And then, at 8:31 in the third, while they're both out on the ice for a power play, Geno takes a slapshot to - either the thigh or the jock, Sid couldn't see which. He curls up on the ice for a few seconds, hauls himself up leaning heavily on his stick, and gets off the ice.

When the power play is over, Geno's not on the bench. Sid can't focus on that, though; he keeps his mind on the game. They still lose, though, 2-1, which is fucking irritating.

After the game, in the locker room, there's the usual wincing and jokes about Geno's future sex life, which for some reason pisses Sid off. He grits his teeth and stomps over to Geno. "You okay?"

Geno laughs a little, even though his face looks tight around the eyes, so he's obviously hurting and tired. "Feel like I got puck in the balls," he says, and shrugs. "Will live."

"Did the trainers clear you?"

It's a stupid question; if they hadn't, Geno would be on his way to the hospital right now, not sitting here waiting for Sid to be ready to go home. Geno pats Sid carefully on the shoulder and says, "All fine. Go captain."

Sid tries to keep one eye on Geno as he goes through the post-game routine.

~

"I'm driving," Sid announces as soon as they get to the car. Geno's walking like he really doesn't want to be walking at all; it will be better for everyone if he sits in the passenger seat.

"You hate my car," Geno says, handing over the keys.

It's true; Sid does hate Geno's car, which is ridiculously sleek and speedy. Sid likes having a nice, solid, stable car around him, one with tinted windows and good coverage and lots of room. Geno loves this stupid, tiny Porsche, though. And Sid can stand to drive it this once.

At home, Geno settles into a recliner and looks like he doesn't plan to move, not ever. Sid gets him an ice pack from the freezer and a towel and stands over him, frowning, while he carefully positions it.

Geno does the usual wincing - an ice pack on the balls is no fun at all, but it's better than the pain of having been hit there. After a few minutes, though, he looks up at Sid and smiles. "You want to check? Make sure still there?" he says, and his voice is - different. Not exactly what Sid was expecting.

Sid has no idea what to say. If it were an injury somewhere else, he would already have demanded to see it. But he's pretty sure that would cross a line here. Still, Geno's offering. His tone of voice is a little off, yeah, but he's offering.

"After you're done with the ice pack," Sid says. He sets Geno's phone for twenty minutes and goes to get them both drinks.

When he comes back and hands Geno his, he has a weird expression on his face.

Whatever. They lost the game, Geno got hurt, this whole day sucks. Sid lets Jeffrey out and fills his food dish. Then he gets his phone and starts killing fruit. It's the only thing to do.

~

The problem with Sid is that it's never easy to tell if he's being deliberate or just clueless. Even when he isn't being totally obtuse, he still manages to make awkwardness look like a lifestyle choice.

Geno watches him play some game on his phone - it's really funny, actually, watching Sid's fierce concentration and focus as he moves his fingers, and Geno would absolutely laugh except for the pain aspect of things - and tries to figure this out. When he first came to Pittsburgh, he spent a lot of time doing this for everyone. Someone who worked for the team shaking his hand for a single second and persistently referring to him as Mr. Malkin despite all requests to the contrary - being insulting or just being polite? (Politely Canadian, it turned out.) Someone punching him in the shoulder a lot and asking when they started recruiting ballerina lumberjacks - being insulting or just being friendly? (Being Talbot, it turned out.) Over the years, he's gotten a better sense of how people in North America think and act, and he spends less time wondering if people are shrieking because they're happy, scared, or angry.

He still has to wonder about Sid from time to time, though. Because Sid is in a class by himself in social interactions. From anyone else, a request to see Geno's junk would be a joke or a come-on, but from Sid? It's impossible to say. Geno's had a working theory for several years that says Sid doesn't actually know that people flirt with each other, because you can flirt with Sid forever and he'll never notice.

Geno has, on occasion, tested that out. Usually alcohol was involved. But it was funnier back when he wasn't - hoping for something. Now it'd just be sad.

Geno checks the counter on his phone: 14 more minutes. The ice pack is bad - cold and poky in a place where you never want anything to be either one - but he knows from experience that once the ice comes off, he'll want it back. Numbness is definitely better than anything else he's going to feel tonight.

And, of course, once the ice comes off, Sid's going to want to check him out. For - bruising or whatever. Geno can picture it, picture Sid staring down at his balls with a little frown, like he's evaluating Geno's dick, and it's funny. It'd also be hot, if Geno could find anything hot right now.

At nine minutes to go, Geno realizes that he doesn't actually want the first time Sid looks at him, really looks at him, to be because of a puck to the jock injury. If Sid's going to check him out with intent at some point in the future, that's great. Right now, though, no. Geno shifts in his chair.

Sid looks up. "Is the ice pack uncomfortable? There's peas."

Peas would actually be better, and - yeah, Sid's already getting up to get them. He comes back with another bottle of water and one of the bags of frozen peas that Geno labeled DO NOT EAT at the beginning of the season. Sid shows every sign of wanting to position the bag himself before Geno firmly takes it out of his hands. Sid picks up his phone and says, "When did you get Advil last?"

Geno blinks at him.

"I have an app that tells you when to take your medication next," Sid says patiently. "When did you take it last?"

"You have app for Advil?" Geno says. He cannot begin to believe that they make an app for that.

Sid sighs like he's asking stupid questions. "Anti-inflammatories work best when they're taken on a regular schedule with a consistent program of ice and elevation." He still has his fingers poised over his phone like he's about to start dialing a number.

Geno has no idea what to say. He suddenly has a mental image of Sid alone in the dark in Mario's guesthouse, setting his phone to remind him to take his next round of medication, and for some reason it's so depressing Geno will basically do anything to avoid thinking about it. "An hour ago," he says, completely at random.

Sid nods in satisfaction and does something to his phone. "You'll be fine," he says, like he's remembering lines from a play he was in a long time ago.

"I know. Has happened before," Geno says.

Sid makes a face. "We need to work on your on-ice awareness skills, then," he says.

Geno groans. Sid goes back to his game.

Eventually, Geno has to face the reality that either he's going to climb the stairs to his bedroom, or he's going to sleep in the recliner. Falling asleep in the living room is pathetic, too pathetic for a minor injury like this one, so he hauls himself up and walks carefully up the stairs. Sid follows right behind him like he's spotting him.

"Not going to fall," Geno says at the top of the stairs.

"I know," Sid tells him. At the top of the stairs, he hesitates, looking like he wants to keep following Geno, but Geno frankly is not up for Sid watching him change into his sleep shorts. After a few awkward seconds, Sid says, "Do you have your phone?"

Geno left it downstairs, and he's not about to go get it. "No," he says.

Sid goes bounding down the stairs exactly like Jeffrey does, and he comes back with Geno's phone while Geno's still pulling clothes out of his drawer. "Here. I'll have mine, so you can call me if you need something," Sid says. "Or do you want me to stay in here? I can."

Geno can't help it; he laughs. Only for a few seconds, because laughing isn't comfortable right now, but - "You ask to see my junk," he tells Sid. "You offer sleep here. All this now, when I can't give back?" Because the great part about Sid is - if you mean it, he doesn't get it, and if you oversell it, he laughs a little awkwardly and lets it go.

Except in this case, apparently. Sid blushes dark, dark red, looks down at his feet, and mumbles something. Then he leaves Geno's room so fast it's like he saw an empty net at the other end of the hallway.

Huh. That's - new Sid behavior, for sure. Geno thinks about it the entire time he's brushing his teeth.

~

They play another game and win this time, with Geno back on his feet and skating like he never got hurt. And that's especially good because the next day is Sunday, time for dinner at Mario's, and Sid would rather go in with a win, in case Mario's still pissed off about him showing up late that one day.

Sid's not sure why Mario wanted them both over for dinner, but it will be good to see the Lemieuxs again. He misses them.

Huh.

Geno stops what he's doing and just looks at Sid for a few seconds, then goes back to tapping out something on his phone.

"What?" Sid says.

"Had thought?" Geno asks.

"I -" Sid's not sure how to put it. "I was just thinking. When I bought the house, the old house, I'd move in for a little bit, but I'd get, whatever, I don't know. Uncomfortable. The first time I waited for it to get better, and it never did, so I went back to Mario's for a while. The second time I went back to Mario's faster. The third time I put the house on the market."

Geno nods. After a few seconds, he says, "Okay?"

Sid says, "Yeah," because he doesn't want to get into the rest of it. He's been getting ready to go visit Mario's, as though he doesn't actually live there anymore. And it's not like the other times he's lived somewhere else, where it was always in his head that he wasn't at Mario's, and he was, honestly, always trying to think of an excuse to move back. He hasn't even been thinking about it. For weeks.

He'd like to blame that on Valeri, but he really can't. It's - it might be a problem.

Geno says, "Ready to go?"

"Yeah," Sid says, shaking it off. And they go.

Mario's place is still super-comfortable, though. Walking in makes Sid relax, which makes him think of meditation, which makes him think of Valeri, which makes him tense up again. Still. It's nice. Geno looks a little uncomfortable at first, which he pretty much always does, but then he gets drawn into an argument between Alexa and Austin about - something. Some game about eating? Sid has never heard of it, and he's kind of surprised Geno has, but whatever. They have lots of weird shows on cable.

Sid stands watching the argument progress to the point where Alexa is yelling that she could absolutely take up archery and she would be amazing at it and Geno is pretending to cower in fear, and then Mario comes to stand next to him.

"He's a family guy," Mario observes.

Sid considers that. It's not how he thinks of Geno, actually. But Mario's track record on this stuff is way better than Sid's, so he says, "I guess?"

"There are all kinds of families," Mario says.

An alarm goes off in Sid's head, because - he's had several uncomfortable discussions with Mario in his life, and this seems like it could be going there. "Definitely," Sid agrees, trying to sound sincere, hoping this is what it takes to head this off. "Lots of different kinds. Lots."

Mario looks at him and - great. He's trying not laugh. Sid is doomed. "If you don't want to talk," Mario says, and he sounds incredibly amused, "you could always go make a salad. We've missed those."

"Yes," Sid agrees, and hightails it to the kitchen. They only have like half an hour before dinner; he has to hurry if he's going to make a halfway decent salad.

Nathalie smiles when he comes in but doesn't say anything right away, probably because she knows that good ingredient selection is the foundation of a good salad. As Sid's spinning the lettuce, though, she says, "I'm glad you brought Geno here."

"Well, Mario said to," Sid says.

"I hope we get to spend more time with him in the future," she says, doing something precise and complicated-looking with hot broth and rice.

"You probably will, at least for a while," Sid tells her, because he's apparently living with Geno now, and he still plans to come see the Lemieuxs a lot, and he's not going to leave Geno at home alone.

Nathalie says, "Only for a while, Sidney?"

Sid pauses over his parsley, because the way she said it, it sounds bad, and he didn't mean it in any bad way. "Well, you know, because - the future is hard to predict," he finally says.

"The future is what you make of it," Nathalie says. "I'd think you of all people would know that."

And that's - not exactly true, actually. He definitely didn't have anything to do with Valeri being in his head, for example.

Except. He thinks about it while he's slicing carrots into little sticks because Austin won't eat carrot coins. Like most things in his life, Valeri goes back to hockey. And he did choose hockey, he worked for hockey, worked every bit as hard as Valeri himself apparently did. Valeri couldn't have been in his head if he hadn't been out there on the ice. So it's sort of like he did have something to do with it.

That's - oddly comforting. Sid thinks about it all through dinner, while Geno and the Lemieuxs make conversation he doesn't really hear.

~

Sid's been weird all evening, or at least Geno thought so. The Lemieuxs appeared to take his complete distraction as a fairly normal thing; Mario and Nathalie and Geno talked about dogs and curtains and Russian politics, and the kids and Geno talked mostly about the Hunger Games and Hip-Hop Hello Kitty. Sid ate his food. Thinking back on it, Geno is fairly sure he promised to buy Alexa a starter archery kit, but then, he was distracted. He was worried about Sid.

And that's why, back at the house, Geno suggests they watch a movie before turning in. For reasons he doesn't entirely know and absolutely declines to think about, Geno wants to see Sid interacting, being normal, before he goes to bed.

Sid argues intensely over movie choices, but Geno wins because it's his house and he doesn't have any of the terrible movies Sid likes. It's a major tragedy that Sid's taste in movies is permanently set on idiotic teenage gross-out comedies and romantic comedies where nothing ever happens.

"I still say you could stream something decent," Sid says grumpily, sitting down on the couch.

Geno can't help smiling; Sid loses so badly. "Why stream when have all best movies here?" he says, gesturing at his DVD collection.

"Russian movies and movies with spaceships and movies where shit explodes," Sid says, rolling his eyes.

"Could always watch Die Hard again," Geno says.

Sid sighs like his life is the worst. "No, let's watch your stupid car movie," he says.

Geno likes The Fast and the Furious. Lots of pretty cars, lots of pretty women. And lots of pretty men, which in the past he's kept his mind off of with practiced ease, but this time his eyes keep catching on Brian's mouth and neck, on Dom's arms. They're both unreasonably hot. It's distracting, which is why it takes twenty minutes or so for Geno to notice that Sid is distracted, too.

He's staring at the screen, but he's blinking less than he should be, and he's twitchy. He shifts, he shifts again, he drums his fingers on the couch.

"Movie boring?" Geno asks, pausing it.

Sid visibly starts. "Huh? Oh, no, it's good. It's. I like it."

He's a crappy liar, but Geno's willing to go with it. He hits play again. He wants to know if Sid's going to get even weirder tonight, or if he's reached his level.

~

Sid keeps thinking about what Nathalie said. Except it's not really what Nathalie said anymore; he just keeps thinking that if he has control over his future, maybe he should do something with that. But his goals have always been for hockey. He knows exactly what he wants his hockey future to look like. He has vague ideas about his personal future, but nothing concrete. He's been focusing on hockey and letting life wait.

But just thinking about that is uncomfortable, because - Valeri. Sid's head contains proof that sometimes there isn't life after hockey. Sometimes if you let things wait they never happen. Sid can't imagine dying at 33. That's eight more years, total, to do everything he wants to do. And the hockey stuff will happen if he can make it, but - he keeps remembering what made Valeri react most strongly. Not hockey. His wife. His kids.

Sid has nothing like that in his life. It's. It's disturbing.

And then Geno pauses the movie, and Sid has to face the fact that he hasn't really been paying attention. On the screen, there's stuff happening involving shiny cars, but he has no idea why. He tries to refocus. It's not a good time to think about his long-term future, anyway; he has to get Valeri out of his head before he can think about - anything else.

That doesn't explain why he's suddenly very aware of Geno next to him on the couch, though. And this - this is exactly the problem. This is why he can't think about a future, because when he does it never looks right. He always gets hung up on the wrong stuff. Stuff like how warm Geno's thigh is, pressed against his. Stuff like Geno's mouth. He - fuck, he needs to stop thinking about this. It's one thing in the privacy of his room at night, or in his head, if his head was actually private, but it's different with Geno right here. He forces his attention to the movie again, but it isn't working, he's just getting more distracted and more turned on, and pretty soon he's going to be hard, and then Geno will see.

He gets up off the couch. "I'm - going to bed," he says, and heads for the stairs.

Upstairs he's at least away from Geno, so there's no possibility of discovery, but his mind keeps spinning around the problem. He throws himself on his bed and shoves his head under the pillow, trying to stop his brain from thinking. He's always maintained a certain mental distance between what he likes to think about when he jerks off and what he expects of his own future. But it's like the distance isn't there anymore. He can't make his mental picture of his future - the vague but pretty wife, the bunch of kids who all play hockey - jibe with what he wants right now, this minute, which is - Geno. Fuck.

And for some reason his brain is torturing him. Every time he manages to stop thinking about the future, he becomes very aware of his present, how his dick is hardening, how his skin is hot, how he just wants.

And then his face heats, because he's imagining Geno's hands on him, and - no, damn it, Valeri is remembering the massages Geno's given him again. He's probably just trying to help, but it's making everything so much worse that he wants to punch himself. Sid gets up off the bed, hoping that if he isn't lying down - but the movement makes his jeans shift against his dick, and, fuck. Fuck.

Sidney's so fucking hard. Too hard to work out. Too hard to think. And for some reason, it feels like it will be - giving in, accepting things if he gets his hand on his dick, jerks off as he's remembering Geno's hands stroking along his back.

Valeri hits him with another burst of sense memory - Geno hugging him, Geno's body pressed against his, and Sidney grits his teeth. He ends up standing against the bedroom wall, his hands pressed hard against the plaster, imagining that he can't move, that he's been ordered to stay there - but, fuck, not by Geno, not for any of the reasons his brain is spinning through. And Sidney knows that really that's his imagination, that's his - whatever, thoughts - but Valeri's still hitting him with a highlights reel of every time Geno's ever touched him, so he's okay with blaming this whole thing on him.

"Shut up, Valeri," Sid says through his teeth. Valeri, if anything, turns up the volume.

And that moment is, of course, when Geno knocks on the door and then comes in.

~

When Sid left the couch, Geno assumed he was going to the bathroom or something; he called something fast over his shoulder, but Geno didn't pick it up. He paused the movie and picked up his phone.

Four levels of Where's My Water? later, Geno's stuck. He can't get the water to the alligator in time. And Sid should have come back already. Geno gets up to go check on him, make sure the right personality is still in control, all the rest of it.

Geno knocks on Sid's bedroom door and then walks right in, and the sight that greets him is - wow. Sidney's standing against the far wall of his bedroom, his face flushed and his cock obviously painfully hard. Geno stands where he is, totally frozen in place by the sight. He can't think of anything to say; the sudden wave of lust that hit him has rendered him effectively mute.

For a few seconds, they just stare, and then Sidney makes a frustrated noise, pushes off the wall, and launches himself at Geno. The kiss is rough, unpracticed; Sidney's pressing way too hard, like he thinks Geno is going to push him away. Geno wraps his arms around Sidney, pulls Sidney's hips against his, and kisses back. After a few seconds, Sidney breaks the kiss, panting, and Geno gives him a pause to breathe before kissing him, slower and softer.

Sid moans into his mouth, and Geno's trying to slow the pace, but it isn't working. Sidney is obviously way ahead of him, rocking his hips against Geno's, gasping for breath whenever they aren't kissing, making desperate, helpless noises that go straight to Geno's dick. So, yeah, Sidney's ahead, but Geno's catching up fast, and then Sidney makes a whining noise and jerks away, stumbling back several steps.

Sidney looked great when Geno came in, but that's nothing to how he looks now. He's - his mouth is red and a little swollen, his clothes are mussed, and even standing away from Geno he can't entirely stop moving his hips, which just draws attention to his cock, and - Geno drags his eyes up to Sidney's face, licks his lips, tries to remember how to speak English.

"Valeri," Sidney says, in a desperate whine. "He's - I can't - with him in -" and Sidney's apparently having some trouble speaking English, too, which is a minor comfort.

Geno thinks about this problem. He wants Sidney, and he's not really sure there's going to be another chance. On the other hand, it is a little weird, to do this with Valeri right there. Geno takes a deep breath and gives up on English, goes for Russian. "Can you let me talk to him?"

Sid nods and sinks down onto the bed, eyes closed. He's forcing himself to take even breaths, Geno can tell. Because his eyes are closed, Geno feels totally comfortable really checking him out, noting all the places he wants to touch, lick, bite. His eyes catch on Sid's biceps, his shoulders, his neck, and then Valeri clears his throat.

Geno jerks his eyes up, caught, and Valeri is looking at him, clearly amused. "Please tell me you're going to do something about this," Valeri says, gesturing at Sid's body. "He's great at hockey, but he's pretty gifted at sexual frustration, too."

Geno says, "He, uh. Does not want to do anything with you watching." Even his Russian is coming out a little rough.

Valeri rolls his eyes. "You know, when I first got married, I lived in a one-bedroom apartment with my wife and her mother. We learned to work around it. Everyone just - doesn't pay attention, when other people want privacy."

Geno says, "Can you not pay attention?" He's almost afraid to ask, because he wants the answer to be yes so much. Sid is never going to be comfortable doing anything, let alone all the stuff Geno is hoping for, with even a chance that Valeri is looking over his shoulder, and Geno - Geno really doesn't want to wait.

"Yes," Valeri says, and Geno feels his whole body relax a little with relief. "For the next few hours, I am going to be metaphorically watching TV with the volume turned way up. I am not going to hear or see anything. And you are going to do something with this stubborn, stubborn boy." Valeri closes his eyes. A few seconds later, Sid opens them.

Geno walks over to Sidney, still sitting on the bed, and climbs onto the bed, knees on either side of Sid's thighs.

"What did he say?" Sid asks.

"He say he not watch," Geno says, and kisses him.

The break took most of the urgency away, but not any of the wanting, and Geno takes his time with the kiss, angling Sid's head correctly and really going for it. Sid's not - he's not used to this, Geno can tell, but he's into it. He's not desperate anymore, but he's still eager. He lets Geno move him into place, lets Geno lead, but he responds so well. He kisses back. He gasps when Geno strokes one hand down his neck, and when Geno pushes into his mouth, he shudders. It's incredibly hot. If just those things get a reaction - Geno's dick gets harder just thinking about what else he can do to Sidney, what other noises he can get him to make.

Geno doesn't do anything yet, though. Sid's obviously not ready yet. He just keeps kissing him.

Sid has his hands around Geno's shoulders, holding him too tight, like he's afraid Geno will go somewhere or stop this, but after some amount of time - Geno's getting a little lost in this - his hands relax. Geno settles more of his weight into Sid's lap, draws his hands down Sid's back, and pulls back.

Sid looks wrecked. His eyes are hugely dilated, his lips are swollen, his face is a little flushed, and he looks vague and disoriented for a second before he focuses on Geno. When he speaks, his voice sounds rough and his breathing is shaky. "Geno, what -?" he says.

Geno's almost speechless. He's never gotten this kind of reaction from anyone just by kissing him.

"I thinking, this off?" Geno says, moving his hands to the buttons of Sid's shirt.

"Yeah," Sid says. He's dropped his hands to Geno's waist, but he's locked them there, and the knowledge that he doesn't want this to stop, and that he still doesn't understand how into this Geno is - it accelerates Geno's heart rate, sends blood pounding into his dick.

Geno undoes the first two buttons on Sid's shirt, watching carefully for a reaction, and apparently he's too careful, because Sid makes a frustrated noise and brings his hands up to undo the other buttons. He pulls his shirt off, and the t-shirt underneath, and then brings his hands back to Geno's waist like he's coming to rest position in an exercise.

Geno has no objections to this at all. He takes his time, looks at Sid, because he's seen him naked lots of times, but never like this. Never flushed and desperate and wanting.

After a minute or so, Sid shifts underneath him and says, "Are you just going to look?" His tone is a little petulant, which Geno figures is hiding impatience and actual worry.

"No, not just look," Geno tells him. He's wondering - Sid's been really responsive so far, and so he brings a finger up and just strokes it over one of Sid's nipples. Sid gasps, then bites his lip, and Geno smiles at him and does it again. Sid is obviously trying not to make noise now, and that's - that's a bad habit that Geno needs to break right away.

"Let me hear," Geno says firmly, and does it again, this time dragging his fingernail over Sid's nipple and then back up again, and Sid makes a breathy noise. Good enough. Sid also moves forward like he wants to be kissed, but Geno still wants to hear him, so he angles his head to kiss Sid's jaw, his ear, his neck.

The jaw makes Sid pant, and the ear makes him squirm, but when Geno kisses Sid's neck and then rubs his stubbled face against it, Sid moans, loudly and helplessly. Geno rewards him with a bite - soft, because Sid's clearly sensitive, but enough to let him feel it.

Sid gasps, and then hemoves, shifting his weight and muscling Geno over onto his back, rolling over with him so he's on top. Geno wasn't expecting it, so he doesn't go as smoothly as he might otherwise have, but he goes. Of course, this is Sid, who can move a defensive pairing with his will alone, so that's maybe not a surprise.

Even though he did this, Sid still seems surprised to find himself on top of Geno. Geno shifts him slightly and then rocks up against him, and Sid gasps and rocks back instinctively. They get a rhythm going, and Geno would certainly rather be naked, but he can make this work, and just be grateful he's wearing relatively loose sweatpants instead of jeans. Sid's body seems to know what to do here, and Geno can see his eyes sliding shut and figures maybe this is it, so he puts a little extra into it.

Sid makes a sharp, desperate noise and pulls back. Geno can't help but admire the complete mess he's made of Sid, or helped Sid make of himself; he's sweaty, his hair dark and curling against his forehead like it does after practice, flushed, desperate.

It's a good look for him. Geno already knows he wants to see this again and again.

Sid swallows, loud enough for Geno to hear, and says, "I, should we, I want -" Then he shakes his head, hard, and reaches for his own fly, unbuttoning with fingers that are somehow steady enough to do the work. He gets his fly undone and then looks up at Geno, biting his lip. "Okay? I'm, um. I'm gonna, um." He looks embarrassed, but there's no need for that.

"More than okay," Geno says, and reaches over to draw his fingers over the bulge he can see in Sid's boxers. Sid's whole body goes tense, and then he does a lot of things at once - gets up, yanks off his jeans, steps out of them, climbs back onto Geno. Someone else would have tripped, but not Sid. He doesn't make it look graceful, but he gets it done, no problem.

Geno says, "You want - just you?" He gestures to his own clothes; he's still completely dressed, and he's not actually sure what Sid wants, here.

Geno wouldn't have believed Sid could get any redder, but he does. "I. Yeah, if you. If you want." He sounds like he's pretty sure that Geno doesn't actually want to get undressed, but he's absolutely wrong about that. Geno can't think of many things he'd like better than to feel Sid's naked body against his right now.

"Up," Geno says, tapping Sid on the thigh. When Sid gets up, Geno gets undressed without ever getting up, and Sid watches the entire process with an intensity he usually reserves for games. Geno hesitates at his boxers - Sid didn't take his off, so maybe - he glances up, though, and raises his eyebrows, and Sid nods, so he takes them off.

Sid's breathing hard, now, just from watching this, and he's digging his fingers into his thighs. Geno lets him look for a minute, then pats the bed next to him says, "Come here?"

Of course, Sid gets onto the bed exactly where Geno indicated, so now they're next to each other, which - Geno can work with that. He reaches over and strokes his hand down Sid's side, along his boxers-covered hip, and then down to his naked thigh, and Sid shudders and arches towards him. When he gets down as low as he can reach, Geno starts back up, and this time he spends some time working around Sid's underwear, sliding his fingers underneath, touching whatever he can reach. Sid's boxers aren't just tented; there's a wet spot over the head of his cock that Geno desperately wants to touch, to lick, but - he has to wait for Sid to be ready, he reminds himself.

Sid is ready, though. When Geno moves on again, Sid makes a ragged noise and says, "I - Geno. Please. Please -" And he stops.

Geno realizes with a rush of heat that Sid doesn't know what to ask for. Geno doesn't know if he's never been down this road before, or if he just doesn't know what Geno will do, but either way it's amazing that Sid is willing to do this when he's this unsure. Geno brings his hands back down to the waistband of Sid's boxers and says, "Hand? Mouth?"

"I - hand," Sid says, chewing on his lower lip. Geno nods, and slides his hands into Sid's boxers. Sid's really close, that's obvious; he's shifting his hips, trying to track Geno's hand, trying to get it onto his cock faster, and that's - surprisingly hot. Geno is hit with a memory of Valeri, saying that Sidney is gifted at sexual frustration, and suddenly he doesn't want Sid to wait any longer. He's waited long enough.

He wraps his hand around Sid's cock. He doesn't have anything to make this go smoother, no lube or lotion, but Sid's pretty wet and honestly, this close, it might not even matter. He strokes Sid a few times, wishing he could see, and Sid makes a noise with every stroke, sounding like he's helpless to stay quiet. It's not very long, maybe a minute or two, before Sid's thighs start to shake. Geno kisses his neck, the place that worked before, and that's it: Sid thrusts into Geno's hand a couple of time and comes, moaning.

Geno gives him time to come down from it, gentling his strokes and then stilling when Sid twitches. He wipes his hands on the sheet and waits. If Sid's going to freak out, now is when it's most likely to happen. Of course, Geno's experience with guys is pretty dated, because he gave this up when he came to the US, so maybe Sid's going to be different.

Sid blinks a few times and says, "Wow." Geno smiles at that, because Sid should always be this dopey and happy; it's a good look for him.

Thirty seconds later, Sid rolls over and faces Geno, and his lips are still swollen, but his eyes are definitely very focused now. "Tell me how to do that to you," he says. "Tell me what you want."

Or maybe Sid's going to get focused on success instead of freaking out. Geno doesn't know why he's surprised; he should have been able to predict that one. He laughs at himself even as he's guiding Sid's hand to his cock. "Not going to take much," Geno tells him.

"Fine, whatever, tell me how," Sid says, impatient and intent.

"Like this," Geno says, showing him the rhythm he prefers. He's not a big fan of doing it dry, but Sid's hand on his cock is a very convincing argument not to wait. He keeps his hand covering Sid's for a few strokes, enough for Sid to get the hang of it, and then drops back and lets him take care of it. Sid's intent on Geno, watching him for every breath and every clue, and Geno tries to make sure Sid knows how much he appreciates it.

He's close, and getting closer, and then Sid does two devastating things in close succession. He embellishes, throwing in a slight twist at the end of each stroke that brings the pads of his fingers along the sensitive spot right underneath the head of Geno's cock, and it's not just that it feels fucking great, it's that Sid feels confident enough to do that. And then Sid leans forward and kisses Geno's neck, clearly mirroring what Geno did to him. The combination is too much, and Geno doesn't even get a chance to warn him before he comes.

When he blinks his eyes back open, Sid's sitting up and looking around, and Geno can't figure out what he's doing, but then Sid nods slightly and wipes his hand on the sheets right next to where Geno did it. It's funny, and Geno just had a spectacular orgasm, so he can't stop himself from cracking up. Sid looks up and catches his eye and smiles, and then they're both laughing. This happens sometimes - during practice, on road trips, even occasionally in interviews, where they set each other off to the point where just laughing is funny, and it's always great, but it's better here. Geno laughs and pulls Sid down against him and laughs more.

Sid stops laughing first - of course he does. "You're not laughing at me, right?" he asks.

"No," Geno tells him sincerely, and then adds, "I always laugh after sex."

Sid studies him for a long moment, and then Geno can't keep down the grin anymore. "You don't," Sid diagnoses. "You fucker, are you supposed to lie to me after you just -" and then he hesitates, clearly unsure what to say next.

Geno knows exactly how to step in on this one. "I lie to you after sex. I lie to you always," he says, and laughs some more while Sidney pulls him around and gets them both settled on the bed.

Geno shifts between laughing and sleep so smoothly he's not really sure when one becomes the other.

~

The next morning, Sid wakes up to a seriously unfamiliar thing: Geno asleep in bed next to him, curled against him like a limpet, like he's trying to get as much of his naked skin touching Sid's as humanly possible.

Sid has never woken up naked in bed with anyone. It's a very strange feeling. Geno's wrapped around him pretty tightly, though, so he just lies there, staring at the ceiling, and tries to figure out how he feels about this.

Geno's warm, a little sweaty, breathing heavily in his sleep. Sid feels - close to him, mostly. Good. He has morning wood, though, which means he should probably move, if he can get Geno to let him.

But they had sex, if jerking each other off counts as sex. Does that mean he's allowed to be hard around Geno forever? Or was it just like a one-day pass, and it's expired now?

Sid considers waking up Geno and asking him. Then he remembers Nathalie saying the future was what he made it. Maybe if he just acts like what he wants to be true is actually true, then it will be.

Sid wants it to be more than a one-day pass. He's pretty clear on that, even if he's not sure what else he wants. So he relaxes as much as he can and puts an arm around Geno.

He pays careful attention, because this might not work, and if Geno doesn't want to do this again, well. Sid's made it to 25 without ever waking up naked with someone, so realistically it'll be a while before it happens again. He closes his eyes and focuses on every sensation: Geno's breathing, Geno's warmth, Geno against him.

Some time later, Geno moves, and Sid opens his eyes again, realizing that he went back to sleep. Whoops.

Geno sits up. "Freaking out?" he asks Sid.

Sid thinks about it. "No," he decides. Mostly he just needs to go to the bathroom, and maybe also shower because - wow. Because he smells like sex. Which he had with Geno. "Not freaking out," he says, firmly. He thinks about it for a few seconds, but the risk/reward calculation is pretty obvious, so he kisses Geno briefly on the cheek before he gets up and heads for the bathroom.

~

Geno watches Sid leave, blinking. Sid makes a fuss about everything. It's who he is. And when things change - equipment, routines, the kind of plane the charter company sends them, the taste of the jelly he buys - he freaks out. If Geno had been asked, any time at all before this morning, how Sid would react the morning after having had sex with a teammate, he would have said a Sid meltdown to rival the lost gym bag incident of 2009.

Geno thinks about it for a few more minutes, then shrugs. He'll take it. He gets up and heads down the hall to shower in his own bathroom. They have morning skate today.

At morning skate, Sid moves through the practice pretty cleanly for the first half. When they switch to passing drills, though, Geno can see Valeri take over. When practice is over, before they get off the ice, Geno heads over to catch Valeri.

"You had fun last night," Valeri says quietly enough that their teammates won't hear Sid speaking Russian.

Geno's heart sinks. "You were there?"

Valeri laughs at him. "No. I told you, I - shut myself in my room last night. I paid no attention. But you have to remember - this boy may not be familiar with the good kind of morning after, but I am." He stretches, looking satisfied. "Took you long enough. Russians didn't used to be slow, back in my day."

Geno knows he's smiling hugely; he's too relieved not to. But he makes sure to roll his eyes, too. "Valera, I promise you, if you'd known Sidney Crosby at any point in your life before you visited his head, you'd understand why I was slow."

Valeri considers this, biting back a smile. "Are you saying he's not like the other boys?"

Geno laughs. "Absolutely not."

"Worth the effort?" Valeri asks, and this time he's serious.

Geno lets his smile get even bigger. "Yes."

"I'm almost sorry I wasn't paying attention, then, because he must be something, to be worth that much waiting." Valeri hugs Geno and heads off to the locker room laughing.

When Geno goes to leave the ice, he notices that Flower's still there, fussing with his goal. And when Geno passes him, Flower looks up with a thoughtful frown on his face.

~

Geno wants to get a chance to warn Sid about Flower, but Valeri stays in control for the shower and changing. That's a little unusual, but Valeri's moving well and seems comfortable, so Geno doesn't worry. He just waits.

Waiting gets him blindsided. Flower catches his eye as he's pulling on his shirt and nods towards the door, and Geno can't even pretend that his English has gone bad, or that he can't understand Flower's accent. Damn it. Geno nods back. Valeri's still getting dressed when Geno slips out, Flower right on his heels.

"Have to take Sid back," Geno says, trying to preempt any long conversation.

"What the fuck is wrong with him?" Flower says.

Geno tries for an innocent look and says, "What do you mean?"

Flower rolls his eyes so hard Geno's afraid he'll damage his vision. He starts counting on his fingers. "He switched up his play style. He's been really fucking quiet. He's barely practiced his French at all on road trips recently. Ever since he came back from the concussion, he's been acting funny. I think he's speaking Russian. He just hugged you. Oh, yes, and he's been all over the place on the ice recently. I can't fucking predict what he'll do." Flower finishes his counting and folds his arms.

Geno can't play this one off. Flower is genuinely worried, genuinely freaked out, and Geno and Sid should both have seen this coming. Well, okay, expecting Sid to predict this is ridiculous, but Geno should have. He picked up on it quickly enough, after all, and Flower's a goalie. Of course he's going to watch the captain. Of course he's going to notice shit. Of course he's going to worry when he can't figure out where Sid will be on the ice anymore.

But it's a problem, because he can't explain this to Flower. Not without Sid and Valeri both agreeing. And Flower looks ready to hit him if he delays any longer. Geno says, "Not my problem to tell."

"It's everyone's problem," Flower says. "The whole team's. If something's wrong with Sid. If something's wrong with his head -"

Geno holds up a hand, because he doesn't want anyone thinking that way. Sid being Sid, it's not a surprise they all automatically go to the concussion place. He doesn't want them worrying. "I get Sid," he says. "We go to lunch?"

"Fine," Flower says, still angry. "You're paying."

Geno nods and heads back into the locker room. Valeri's lacing up Sid's shoes, but he looks up, sees Geno, and closes his eyes. A few seconds later, Sid opens them. They're getting good at that. "Zhenya?" Sid says quietly, when he gets near him. "What's wrong?"

It takes Geno a minute to formulate a reply, because Sid just called him Zhenya, and something about that word coming so casually out of Sid's mouth - he has to take a second to refocus. "Flower's figured out that something's wrong," Geno says, and only then remembers he shouldn't be speaking Russian. Sid shouldn't be speaking Russian. He finishes in English. "We tell him?"

Sid looks stunned. "I - we can't," he says.

"He already know most of it," Geno points out.

"Fuck," Sid says. Neither of them has to say the obvious, that Flower won't quit until he knows everything.

"Lunch with him, all three of us," Geno adds.

Sid nods and leads the way out of the locker room. Flower's waiting, leaning against the wall exactly opposite the door, looking poised to grab them if they try to run. Sid nods at him. "Where to?"

"Mexican," Flower says firmly. This is - not a good sign. Sid doesn't like Mexican food much. Flower's either being a dick deliberately or trying to figure out just how much Sid has changed.

Sid says, "Seriously? No."

"I want tacos," Flower says stubbornly, setting his whole body like he's preparing to be charged.

"I hate that shit," Sid says.

"Then order a chicken salad, just like you would anywhere else we go," Flower tells him.

The argument continues for the next five minutes, with Sid and Flower both digging in. Geno would swear they're enjoying it, and he'd also swear Flower provoked this. It makes a certain amount of sense, actually; Sid's never more himself than when he's fighting to the death to win a completely ridiculous battle.

Eventually, Geno breaks the deadlock because it's that or break both of their heads, and if he tries that, Dan will kill him, and Flower will probably end up sharing brain space with Jacques Plante or something. "I drive. I pick. You quiet," he announces, and starts walking towards his car.

"Oh, fuck no, we're not going in your car," Flower says. "There's not room in there for three people, even if one of them is Sidney-sized." Sid hits him on the arm, and that distracts them enough for Geno to get them all in his car. He drives them to Los Chiludos, because he'd rather eat good Mexican than the revolting sports bar food Sid prefers. Sid sulks a little, but Geno gave him the passenger seat and stuck poor Flower in the back without legroom. And Flower's right; Sid can order a chicken salad anywhere.

Geno's almost forgotten why they came out to lunch until Flower says, "So. What's wrong with your head?" to Sid as they climb out of the car.

Sid says, "There's nothing wrong with my head," very defensively. "It's fine."

Flower sighs heavily. "Fine. What is going on in your life, then?"

Sid looks at Geno and then looks around the parking lot - there are a couple of other people, far enough away that Geno's really sure they won't overhear. But Sid apparently isn't so confident; he says something very quietly to Flower, in French. Flower freezes for a few a seconds, his mouth open, and then his eyes shoot quickly to Geno. "I changed my mind," he says. "Let's go back to your place to have lunch."

Sid rolls his eyes. "We're already here," he points out. "And you made all that fuss about tacos."

"Yes, but now I think we should get you somewhere quiet," Flower says.

Sid moves so that he's blocking the passenger door, preventing Flower from getting back in the car. "I don't have a concussion. I told you."

"Fine. Then I want to go someplace where I can yell at you in private. How's that?" Flower raises his voice enough to make the threat clear: Sid gets in the car or there will be a public scene. Geno's deeply impressed with Flower's ability to manage Sid. No wonder they work so well together as roommates.

Sid lets Flower in and then climbs back in himself with extremely bad grace. "You always make such a stupid big deal out of stuff," he's saying to Flower as Geno gets into the driver's seat. Geno can't help choking a little on that, because Flower is Flower. And also because Sid is apparently sinking to the level of total hypocrisy.

The drive back home is silent until they're about halfway there, and then Geno can't take it anymore. "What you tell him?" he asks Sid.

From his squished spot in the back, Flower says, "He said, 'I have Valeri Kharlamov stuck in my head. And I'm fucking Geno." Geno almost drives the car into oncoming traffic.

Sid says, "I didn't! I just said the first part. About Valeri. I said Geno was helping me."

"Right. And by helping you meant blowing you." Flower doesn't even sound like it's up for debate.

"That's - um." Sid sort of trails off. "He really has been helping me a lot." It's a terrible evasion, a serious failure to lie appropriately. Geno surrenders any chance of keeping that aspect of things from Flower.

"You came in late to practice wearing his clothes," Flower points out. "Everyone on the team knows you're fucking. Or everyone on the team hopes you're fucking, because the other alternative is -" and he breaks off there.

"He not crazy," Geno reassures him. "Kharlamov really in there." He glances in the rearview mirror; Flower looks pale and totally unreassured.

Flower says something quietly in French. Sid responds instantly, "Oh, fuck you. We're not going to leave you with Brandon centering the top line, and even if we did, he'd step up."

Flower just sighs. They're almost to Geno's house, and that's good. He can't drive and convince Flower not to call the team doctors at the same time.

~

As soon as the door closes behind them, Geno turns to Sid. "Let Valeri out." Sid's already on it, though, closing his eyes and thinking, Your turn, Valeri as hard as he can.

When he gets pushed back into the driver's seat, they're all in the living room. Geno is sitting next to him on the couch. Flower is perched on the edge of a chair, and he looks unhappy.

"He does not believe us," Geno tells Sid.

"Jesus Christ, you fucking stubborn-ass idiot, you talked to him! What more does it take?"

"I think," Flower says quietly, "that you should speak to the team doctors. You have - you should get checked. By a psychiatrist."

Sid sighs. He can feel a headache starting, and he hates that; these days every headache makes him worry that it's the end of - everything. "Did you have Valeri talk to him in English?" he asks Geno. Geno nods. Fucking goalies. He turns to Flower. "Did you ask him stuff about - Soviet Russia or whatever? There's all kinds of shit he knows that I don't."

Flower looks away from Sidney, which is - bad. Shit, Flower really does think he's crazy. "I think when you have two personalities in your head, they both know things the other doesn't," he says softly, like he's trying not to make any sudden moves. "Sidney, you - aren't well."

"I'm fine. I'm not crazy, I'm not concussed, I'm not anything except for sharing my brain with a dead Russian." Sid says. Huh. Put that way, it does sound crazy. He thinks hard. Finally he says, "Look. You've seen him play, right? I mean, you've seen me play with him in control."

"Yeeeees," Flower says. He sounds incredibly dubious.

"Well, look," Sidney says. He grabs Geno's iPad and searches YouTube for Валерий Харламов clips. Then he starts playing them for Flower.

Flower watches the first few, frowning. Then he takes the iPad and re-plays one of them, studying it with level intensity that's very familiar to Sid; he sees it whenever they review film together. Sid settles back, waiting, and Geno catches his mood and stays still and patient. Flower goes back to the search results and picks something else. As he watches, he chews on his lower lip, completely focused. He barely blinks.

Twenty minutes later, Flower finally looks up. "The strange part," he says hesitantly, "is that you don't - when you're not playing like you, you're not playing exactly like him, either."

"He couldn't play like that here," Sid points out. "He died thirty years ago, with his best years already behind him. Hockey's changed."

"But," Flower continues, "I can see how that guy could end up playing the way you have been sometimes lately. It's very - it's like Kharlamov plus you plus Geno. What I don't understand is why you'd ever let him play a game. You have to know it's getting you more media attention than you want."

The actual amount of attention Sid wants from the media is zero, but it's part of the job. Still. He's avoiding watching SportsCentre or any discussion on TSN these days. He shrugs. "It's what he needs. To be able to go - back." He hesitates, but Flower's come this far; he deserves the whole story. "And he's a great player who loves hockey so much he came back from the dead to play. He deserves game time."

Flower crosses himself, looking seriously uncomfortable with that. "If playing hockey is what it takes to lay him to rest, how come he's still here?"

"He also needs to see his family," Sid says.

Flower's face falls and he looks at Geno. "Alexander and Tatiana," Geno says. "They in Russia. We can't call, say, oh, your father here, come visit."

"Well, we have to do something," Flower says, and something about his tone of voice makes Sid's stomach sink. "People are getting suspicious. And -" he pauses, then continues. "And also Brooksie and I have a meeting with Dan tomorrow. When he set it up, he asked me if I knew what was going on with you."

Oh, shit.

~

Geno's not been thinking this through at all. Of course they were playing in overtime on this one. He gets up and goes to the kitchen, begins mechanically putting together sandwiches, trying to figure it out.

It's the end of March. They're going to the playoffs, and Geno can't hope for an early exit; that's against everything he stands for as a player. And the additional heat from the press in the playoffs is a serious concern; people are going to expect Sid to be playing his best, not switching his style every second period.

Flower comes in as he's finishing up the sandwiches and clears his throat apologetically. "You think Sid will be different after Kharlamov is gone?" he says.

Geno blinks. It's something he hasn't considered. Valeri and Sid aren't exactly talking to each other yet, but he can see bleedover between them sometimes. More with every passing day. So it's possible that Sid won't be exactly the same after Valeri goes. "Don't know," he finally decides. "Maybe he still speak Russian? Guess we see."

The pause after that one goes on so long that Geno looks up from slicing sandwiches - carefully, in rectangles, because everyone knows Sid's preferences on that one. Flower's frowning. "So you don't think it was from him having the Russian in there? The sex thing."

Geno has to take a second to parse that one, and then he's horrified. "Valeri had nothing do with that," he says.

"Then haven't you already sent him back?" Flower sounds seriously puzzled.

"Because - cannot go to Russia before summer," Geno explains. He's done the math on this one a thousand times. They can't spend 14 hours on a plane, fly out to Moscow, meet with Alexander and Tatiana, and spend 14 hours coming back any time before the offseason. It'd be ridiculous.

Flower picks up a plate and says, "Then you better get them out here, because this can't wait until the offseason."

Geno gives himself a minute to stare at nothing. He's been too focused on the immediate problem, he guesses. He's got to start thinking of strategy, here. He can do that. He picks up the other two plates and follows Flower out.

Back in the living room, Sid's in the middle of complaining about something. Venue, apparently. "There'll be crumbs everywhere. And there's a perfectly good table in Geno's dining room, I've seen it."

Geno can hear from Sid's voice that he's tense, that he's making trouble to avoid thinking. So he just sits down and says, "We need get Alexander and Tatiana here."

Sid freezes. Flower picks up his sandwich and takes a gigantic bite.

"I thought - we can't do that," Sid says. "You can't exactly call them up and tell them why."

"Lie, then," Geno says.

Sid stares at him. "What lies can you possibly tell to get the Kharlamov kids to get on a plane to Pittsburgh?"

It's a good question. Geno's got talents, but lying to people isn't one of them. "We tell them - win free trip?" he says, knowing it's about the most pathetic idea possible.

Sid rolls his eyes, but his suggestions aren't any better. After five minutes of increasingly ridiculous ideas, Flower sighs. Sid turns on him, apparently happy to have a target. "Like you're doing any better," he says. "Mr. Doesn't Even Contribute." Wow. That's a pretty harsh insult, coming from Sid.

Flower takes it in his stride. "Lokomotiv," he says.

Geno and Sid both stare at him. It's a painful idea, and it kind of leaves Geno wanting to punch Flower, but - it could work. And maybe it's the anger that gets Geno's brain moving, maybe it's the mention of Lokomotiv, but Geno suddenly remembers that he pays someone to be sneaky on his behalf. "Genya," he says. Sid and Flower don't get it, so he explains. "Gennady. My Russian agent."

~

Geno goes to call his agent right away - the time difference means that if he waits, he'll end up maybe calling too late, and apparently this has become a very urgent matter all of a sudden. Sid can't help blaming Flower for that, even though he knows there's really no blame necessary. He just - he was just getting used to things. He was starting to feel like he had a handle on the situation. And now it's going to change. Good change, probably, but he still wants to complain.

"So," Flower says, putting down his empty plate and stretching out in the chair. "Geno, huh?"

Sid shoots a glance at Flower, trying to figure out if his feelings are hurt or what. Just in case, he goes defensive. "He figured it out," he says. "I wasn't going to tell anyone, but he - noticed." Flower doesn't say anything, so Sid adds, "I guess Geno's just more observant than you."

Flower gives him a look Sidney's only too familiar with. The last time he got it, it was for believing a little old lady who said her hand slipped and just happened to hit him on the butt, which - he knows that's stupid, but she had to be eighty. Flower says, "Sorry. I forget you need it all spelled out. I meant to say, 'So, you spend seven years dating once a blue moon and saying you'll find time to have relationships later, and then you hook up with Geno?'"

Sid can feel his face heating. "He's very -" he starts, but Flower stops him with a hand.

"Don't give me details. I'm not asking for some kind of defense of his attractiveness, for fuck's sake. I'm saying - you always said dating was too complicated, took up too much time. So you decided fucking a teammate was a good idea?"

Sid thinks about it. It's a good point. This really isn't a good idea, on all kinds of levels. There's the guy aspect, although Sid's starting to think maybe he never had a chance to get away from that. There's the teammate thing. And the public figures thing. There are all kinds of problems here.

But that's not exactly - that makes it sound like the way to do this is to sit down, make a list, and pick the easiest, safest person to. To date. And maybe that is how Flower did it, but not Sid. "It wasn't like that," he finally says. "I didn't decide it was a good idea. I just wanted to." He clears his throat, because the next part is hard to say, but he doesn't want Flower getting the wrong idea, thinking this is just some quick fuck. "I wanted him."

Flower thinks about that, head tilted, for a minute or so, while Sid tries to be patient. Eventually he says, "Mes meilleurs vœux."

Sidney feels himself blushing again. "Thanks," he says. He hasn't put a lot of thought into how the team will react when they inevitably find out, but this argues that it's going to go well. He wouldn't have expected anything less of them, of course; they're a great team, the best team. Still. It's nice to be right. "Thanks," he repeats.

"Now we just need to get the ghost out of your head," Flower says. He looks way less thrilled with that.

Sid glances towards the door to the study or whatever Geno calls it; a little room he barely uses, basically. The door's mostly closed, but he can hear the low thrum of Geno speaking Russian, too quiet for him to pick out more than a word here and there - "please," he hears at one point, and "I'm not," and "intentions." He also says "Kharlamov" a lot.

Ten minutes later, Geno comes out. "He try," he says. "We write big check for Lokomotiv, that help."

Sidney thinks about it. "Fifty thousand?" he says, after some mental math. He can donate fifty thousand, no problem.

Geno's eyebrows go up. "I match that," he says instantly.

"Me, too," Flower says, and Sidney turns to him to protest, because this isn't his problem, but Flower just gives him the flat stare that means goalie-level judgment is about to happen. "Me, too," he repeats, and this time Sidney doesn't argue.

Geno shakes his head and mutters something under his breath about goalies.

"So we write the checks and then what?" Sid asks. He likes to have the plan clear.

"Genya call me. Alexander Kharlamov raise money for Lokomotiv, he think it work best. We maybe have other come too. He not sure."

So the game has started, but Sidney's on the bench for this one, and all he can do is let it play out. He nods.

~

Geno drives Flower back to his car after lunch. "You stay here," Flower tells Sid, adding some seriously uncomplimentary things about Geno's back seat. Sid does, and for the first time - well, he can't remember ever being in Geno's house alone before. It feels weird. Normally Geno's here, normally they're together.

Sid spends a few minutes sitting on the couch, waiting for the walls to start closing in on him. One of the things he's always hated about the houses he buys is that when he's in them, he's alone. And he can't go out without having to be on, to be Sidney Crosby of the NHL, to remember that people are always taking photos and video and watching and listening, paying attention to everything he says and does and buys. So once he's alone, he's stuck alone, and - it fucking sucks, is all. Sid spends a lot of time Skyping Taylor and Jack and Colby when he's alone. And he could totally use Geno's iPad to do that, but for some reason he doesn't feel like he needs to, right this second.

Maybe it's because he isn't alone? Technically, he's got Valeri with him every second, which is - not really the kind of company he wants. Still. It's a good opportunity to work with Valeri. There's no point in letting this time just go to waste.

Having a plan makes things easier. Sid stretches out on the couch, noting yet again that Geno buys fuck-ugly couches, but they're seriously comfortable in any position. He takes a few deep breaths, and tries to reach for the place in his head where Valeri lives.

He has to work at it for a while before he gets the first sense of something that isn't him. Sid follows it back, trying not to push, trying to keep calm, just looking. Valeri feels - Sid hesitates, thinking it through. Sad. Sort of.

Melancholy, he thinks after a few minutes, and Sid's whole body goes tense, because that wasn't his thought. That was Valeri's. But he manages to fight it back, force himself to relax, breathe through the speeding of his heart.

"Why?" he says. "Why melancholy?" He's not sure whether he managed to say that in Russian, but Valeri should understand, either way.

The answer isn't in words. It's in images, flashing through Sid's mind, of rinks and games and the people on Hollywood Boulevard, of flexible sticks and superlight shoulder pads, of - shit. Of all the things he's done since he's been with Sid.

Valeri knows he's going to have to say goodbye to that, and pretty soon. Of course he's melancholy. Fuck. Sid curls up on the couch, curls around a feeling in the pit of his stomach that he doesn't like.

"When you leave me," Sid says carefully, "do you go back to where you were before? Or do you, um. Die?"

Valeri's answer is the feeling of a shrug. He doesn't know. And either answer sucks, actually.

Sid's eyes sting, and it isn't fair, because Valeri's supposed to go. Valeri doesn't belong in Sid's head. He's caused all kinds of problems. But still. He's a good guy, a great player. Sid doesn't want him to sit in limbo for another generation or two, to wait for a hockey player who is ten or a newborn or not even here yet to grow up and have a place for him. That would suck. And it would suck just as much for Valeri to be gone forever.

Sid wraps his arms around his head and breathes carefully, a little shakily. He's not going to cry. He won't. He's so focused on that that he doesn't hear the door, doesn't even know Geno is there until he hears, "Sid?"

Sid freezes. He doesn't want to be weak in front of Geno. But Geno's seen worse from him. And, honestly, he doesn't have a lot of choice. Geno's got a hand on his back now, stroking along the curl of his spine, and Sid talks without moving his arms or opening his eyes. "Valeri's. He has to go," Sid explains helplessly. "But I." And, shit, he shouldn't have tried to explain, shouldn't have tried to talk. Sid shuts up and goes back to focusing on breathing.

Geno wraps his arms around him, fairly awkwardly because Sid's still in a ball on the couch, but the warmth is great, the feeling is great. Geno says, "I'll miss him, too," and his voice is shaky and rough. He presses his face against Sid's back, and it's - it's comforting, to know that someone else feels the same, someone else will miss Valeri, that Sid's not alone in this. Sid covers Geno's hands with his, and they just stay there, the two of them.

No, the three of them. Sid can feel Valeri, too, there with them, sad but comforted, also not alone.

~

Eventually, they unwrap. Geno feels drained and shaky, like he's recovering from having the flu. And Sid looks worse, too tense, too hunched. He doesn't want to look at Geno. After a few minutes of assessing the situation, Geno sits them both in front of a TV show - he has no reason not to watch his Russian shows with Sid now, which is nice, so he puts on some older episodes of Interny - not Geno's favorite or anything, but it's a nice safe show that won't make them any sadder.

Sid likes stupid comedies, so it's really not a surprise that he gets into it, snorting from time to time as the interns fuck up and then fuck up again. Eventually, inevitably, there's an extended, ridiculous daydream sequence, and Sid gives in entirely. His ridiculous, honking laugh makes Geno laugh, too, and something in him relaxes for the first time since he came home to Sid shaking on the couch.

He still needs something, though, so after four episodes he goes to make them dinner, and it's just obviously time to pull some of his mother's pelmeni from the freezer. He boils them up and serves them traditionally.

"No butter," Sid says, watching him pour it on the first bowl. "None for me."

Geno points his spoon at him. "Today you'll eat butter," he says firmly.

Bizarrely, Sid doesn't protest. Instead, he shakes his head and says, "You know you look exactly like your mother when you do that, right? It's weird."

"My mother is smart," Geno says, and puts a bowl in front of Sid, full of pelmeni and dripping with butter. "My mother is a good person. And my mother made this. So eat it and stop complaining."

Sid does. Geno applies himself to his bowl. He's halfway through when Valeri says, "Your mother's a good cook."

"She's the best cook," Geno says instantly.

"No, that was my mother," Valeri says. He sees Geno preparing to argue and holds up a hand. "Her food was just as good," he says, gesturing at his bowl, "but she had less to work with."

That's probably true, given what Geno knows of Valeri's family and Soviet history. He concedes the point with a shrug, the most he can do, since he still believes in his heart that his mother is a better cook than Valeri's could possibly have been. But there's something else he wants to know. "Sid gave over to you?"

"Yeah," Valeri smiles at his bowl and licks his lips. "He figured this was my kind of thing, not his. He has no idea how to appreciate good food."

Geno rolls his eyes. It's true. "He's the worst eater. It's like he never figured out food that wasn't dessert could be fun. You see him with anything sweet, he's eating it anytime he thinks no one is looking, but he eats his dinner like it's just another set of pushups to get through on the way to hockey glory."

Valeri laughs at that. "You have lots to teach him," he says.

It's true. Geno goes back to eating, thinking about all the things Sid just doesn't know. Inevitably, he comes back to the way Sid was in bed, desperate and clumsy and clueless, and he thinks about the many, many things he wants to teach Sid about sex. His face heats just thinking about Sid's mouth, his hands, his cock, and then he remembers who he's eating with and looks up.

Valeri's gone. The bowl is empty, and Sid is back, watching him thoughtfully. "What are you thinking about?" he asks. His studied and completely failed attempt to sound casual suggests he already has some idea.

"Fucking you," Geno says, mostly to watch Sid's eyes widen and his cheeks go red.

"Um," Sid says, and swallows hard. "Now?"

Geno lets his smile show. "Unless you want more food?"

"No, I'm. I'm done," Sid says, looking down. He's blushing hard now. Geno wants to chase the blush, follow it, see how far down it goes. He gets up, holds his hand out to Sid, and leads the way upstairs.

~

Sid's not nervous. This is just a normal thing that people do. But his body is reacting in so many different ways - he's blushing, he feels hot all over, his clothes feel weird against his skin - that he's distracted. The trip up the stairs isn't enough for him to figure out how other people do this.

Apparently there's an advantage to being driven insane with lust; you don't have to think about things, you just do them. That reminds him to check to make sure Valeri's shut himself down, or whatever he does. By the time he's pretty sure that yeah, Valeri's not watching, they're in Geno's room. Sid looks at Geno, surprised, and he smiles. "Here is better," he says. "I have the bigger bed. And I have stuff here."

"Stuff," Sid repeats dumbly, thinking maybe he for once misunderstood the Russian, and then he realizes what Geno must mean and it's like he got hit with an electric shock. He wants that, he does, but he's only ever seen it in videos online. "I, uh, okay," he says. Great. That was articulate.

Geno, though, seems to know what to do. "Relax," he says. "I'm not going to fuck you tonight. We'll save that for later."

"Then -" Sid says, but he shuts himself up in time. Geno knows what he's doing. He's obviously had sex with lots of people before. Sid just needs to follow his cues.

Geno steps forward and puts his hands on Sid's shoulders. He pulls him in so slowly that it feels like it takes a week before Sid's pressed against Geno's body. "Do you want this?" Geno asks.

That one's easy. "Yes," Sid says definitely.

Geno kisses him. The last time, Sid wasn't really in any shape to be paying attention to much, which he regretted after. You should never pass up a chance to learn skills from someone better than you. So he tries to figure out what Geno's doing, take it apart, analyze his moves. After a few seconds, though, Geno pulls back. "No thinking," he says, dragging his thumb along Sid's jaw, and it distracts Sid a little bit. "Better," Geno says, and moves in for another kiss.

It's a simple press of lips, nothing advanced, and Sid's done this, kissed people, lots of times. He knows Geno's not doing anything special. But it still feels different, feels better, and Sid's heart rate picks up more in response.

Geno pulls back long enough to smile at him, to meet his eyes the way he sometimes does on the ice, just a simple check to make sure Sid's got it. Sid looks back, and Geno nods and kisses him again. This time it's a little more, a little longer, and Geno's moving his hands now, down Sid's back, long smooth strokes that pull the two of them closer together. It's good, but Sid knows it could be better. And it seems like Geno is willing to stand here kissing forever.

Well, Sid isn't. And he knows where he wants to be. This is a simple problem to solve.

Sid pulls back from Geno just enough to turn them around, and starts taking backwards steps towards the bed. Geno laughs against his mouth, and the sensation makes Sid shiver. "Pushy," Geno says, as the backs of Sid's legs come up against the bed.

"Well, yeah," Sid agrees, and falls backward onto the bed, pulling Geno with him.

Having Geno on top of him is - it feels so good, so right. It's like his weight is holding Sid inside his body, keeping him from losing it. Geno looks down at Sid like he's trying to figure out where he wants to start. After a few seconds, he drops his hands to the buttons on Sid's shirt. He undoes one and glances up; Sid bites his lip against the desire to tell Geno to hurry up, and Geno smiles and goes back to getting Sid out of his shirt.

That exposes his undershirt, and Geno says, "You know, sex would be easier if you wore less." But as he's saying that, he's sliding his hands under Sid's undershirt, and the skin to skin touch is - it's good, it sends shivery feelings through Sid's body, and his dick is already half-hard and paying close attention. Sid shifts a little, to get Geno's hands to move more, and Geno responds by pushing Sid's undershirt all the way up. Sid curls up to let Geno slide it off, and before he's all the back down he's curling again, hard, because Geno's - fuck, licking his nipples, which are apparently always going to be connected directly to his dick. Geno bites him, and Sid gasps and arches helplessly. Geno gives his other nipple the same treatment, and once he's got Sid panting and shifting, trying to get some friction, he pulls back and just looks, like he wants to see exactly how desperate Sid is.

He kisses Sid once more, and then he slides down, kissing and gently biting along Sid's abs, until he reaches the waistband of Sid's pants. He hesitates there until Sid says, "Geno," and he almost doesn't recognize his own voice, it's so rough.

Geno pops the button on Sid's jeans, and his first reaction is relief, yes, thank you, and then Geno slides the zipper down, and his mouth is so close to Sid's dick that Sid can't think about anything but having it on him. He tries to say that, but it comes out as a noise, something really embarrassingly close to a whine. Geno responds by breathing out, and even through his boxers Sid can feel it. "Geno," he says helplessly.

"I'm getting there," Geno says, and kisses Sid's dick. It's still through the boxers, and it's just a light press, but it feels so good. Sid's hips jerk forward involuntarily, but Geno's ahead of him, has an arm across his hips holding him down. "Relax," Geno says.

"Easy for you to say," Sid says, because - seriously, relax? Now?

"Not easy. Just," and Geno rubs Sid's hip. "We have lots of time. There's no hurry."

Sid couldn't agree less. He wants Geno's mouth on him, he wants to get off, he - and then Geno mouths Sid's dick and he completely loses his train of thought. Geno stays focused, though, kissing and even sucking him a little without ever taking off the boxers, until Sidney loses patience completely and shoves his damn underwear out of the way himself.

"Still can't relax?" Geno says, sounding amused, and then he goes down on Sid for real, and Sid is trying to pay attention, but it's all hot wet friction, and it's fucking glorious. Geno's going so slowly, though, down and then off, down and then off, and after a few minutes Sid's making high-pitched noises and doesn't even care if he's whining. It's like Geno doesn't notice, though; when Sid looks down, Geno's eyes are closed, and he's acting like he plans to suck Sid's cock for the rest of his life. It's - it's a compelling thought. Sid imagines himself here, desperate for it, forever, and he shoves his hand in his mouth but doesn't manage to stop the moan.

Geno pulls off again and licks a stripe all the way up Sid's dick, and then he goes back to sucking, the same slow, maddening rhythm that is enough to get Sid close but not enough to get him there. Sid tries to shift the pace, tries to speed things up, but he can't - Geno's holding his hips down, Geno's running the show, and all he can do is lie there and take it. And for some reason it's that realization - that he can't do anything about this, that he's not in control here - that takes him from frustrated and desperate to just into it. His body is still aching to get off, but he feels suspended, like the clock isn't running, like he really could wait forever. He lets his body go slack, lets it get the message that he'll get off when someone else wants him to, and Geno makes an approving noise. The vibration just adds to the sense of helpless want that's taking Sid over, and he gasps. It's just one more thing for Sid to experience, one more way to light up his body.

Sid's lost all track of time. He's just existing in every second, totally surrendered to the feeling in his body, and he's fine, he can do this forever, and then Geno moves his tongue just right, and suddenly the pendulum has swung back to desperation. "Geno, Geno, please," he says, and he's astonished to hear his own voice, like he forgot he could talk.

Geno pulls off and Sid almost can't stand it, but all he says is, "Yeah," and his voice is scratchy and raw and somehow that just winds Sid higher. When Geno puts his mouth back on Sid's dick, it's more intense than it was before, and Sid gasps and moans and shakes against Geno's arm, and then he's coming so hard it's like his whole body goes white.

When he opens his eyes, feeling shaky and blissful, Geno's next to him, shoving his pants out of the way, and he looks desperate now, hands shaking and eyes wild. Sid rolls him over on his back and then pushes his hands out of the way, and he doesn't really know exactly what he's doing here, but it also doesn't seem like he'll need a lot of finesse for this. He gets Geno's boxers off enough to get his hands on Geno's dick, and Geno gasps and says, "Yes, yes, yes." Sid can't get a decent rhythm going, because Geno won't stop thrusting into his hand, so he keeps his hand still and lets Geno set the pace, lets Geno fuck his hand. Geno's dick is hard and dark and flushed, and he's leaking a little, and Sid finds himself wondering what that tastes like, what it had been like for Geno to blow him. He leans over, using his other hand to press down on Geno so Geno doesn't overbalance them, and licks carefully at the head of Geno's dick.

Geno jerks like he's been shot. "Sid," he says, and he reaches down to wrap his hand around Sid's. It only takes a couple strokes from their joined hands before Geno comes all over Sid's shoulder.

Geno flops back on the bed, loose and boneless. Sid licks his hand cautiously - yeah, he could stand to have that in his mouth next time - and then cursorily wipes his hand and shoulder on the sheets. After a few seconds of thought, Sid lies down next to Geno. He smiles at Sid, and he looks almost drunk.

Then he yawns hugely, and Sid can't help smiling. "So, what, now we sleep?" he says. He should probably shower, actually, but he doesn't want to move yet.

"Yes," Geno says firmly, curling around Sid. "Now we sleep."

Geno does, almost instantly. It only takes a few minutes for Geno's even breathing to drag Sid down, too.

~

The next day, Geno wakes up before Sid and lies there feeling worried for a few minutes. He can't figure out why - he's already done the morning after with Sid, enough to know that mornings after are apparently one of the few times when Sid does not get squirrelly, and this is - this is more of a settled deal, here. Sex with the expectation of repeating it. There's nothing at all to be worried about today, either, just morning skate and a quick road trip to play the Flyers.

No big deal. He doesn't know why he's still worried.

Then Sid rolls over, clearly awake, and says, "God, this is disgusting, I've got dried come on me."

And the worry is gone, replaced by laughter. When Geno can breathe again, he says, "This can't be the first time you've woken up that way."

Sid considers that for a second, sitting naked on the edge of the bed, scratching his neck where some of the dried come is. "No, it is," he says after a minute or so of thought. Geno blinks, derailed by that thought, because it's always a little sad to think about all the things Sid hasn't done. Then Sid adds, "Come on, get ready. I want to get to the rink early today so I can catch Flower before the meeting with Dan."

Oh. That's it. That's why he's worried. Geno reassures himself as Sid gets out of bed and heads for his room. It's fine, it's nothing to worry about, he tells himself. Dan isn't going to make any drastic decisions now, with the playoffs in smelling distance and them fighting it out for the top slot in the conference. And by the time the playoffs roll around, the Kharlamov kids will have come, Valeri will be gone, and Sid will be back to normal. Geno swallows hard and heads off to his own shower.

It isn't until after showers and dressing and breakfast, until they're in the car driving in, that Geno realizes they've been speaking Russian all morning, that they spoke Russian all last night. "English," he reminds Sid.

"Oh, right," Sid says, and makes a face, like the English tastes strange in his mouth.

They really do need to get Valeri out of there. And Geno knows he needs to pay closer attention to what they're doing, what they're speaking, since it's looking more and more like Sid can't. The problem, he realizes, is that he likes speaking Russian with Sid. It feels natural. It feels comfortable.

And it shouldn't. Sid isn't supposed to speak Russian. And in three weeks, maybe he won't anymore.

After that thought, Geno concentrates hard on driving. He figures Sid's thinking about Flower's meeting with Dan until they turn into the parking lot and Sid says, "After - uh, after. If I can't anymore. Will you teach me Russian? I have Rosetta Stone, but. I'd learn better from you."

Geno smiles so hard he can feel it in his ears, remembering back at the beginning of all this, remembering how much he wanted to teach Sid Russian, how good it felt that Sid wanted to learn to talk to him. It still feels good. "Sure," he says. "I patient teacher."

"Yeah," Sid says thoughtfully. "Yeah, you really are." Then they're parked and Sid's climbing out of the car, his game face firmly in place.

When they get to the locker room, Flower and Brooksie are clearly already in - their shit is there - but nowhere to be seen, which means the meeting is already happening. Sid thinks for a few seconds, face set, and then shrugs. "Let's hit the ice early."

"Game day," Geno reminds him. They can't wear themselves out.

"I know," Sid says.

Out on the ice, they play around more than they practice. Or at least Geno's playing around. Sid, he realizes, is practicing something else. They're doing some simple stuff - pass, pass back, shoot. Easy. But Sid and Valeri are switching off every play. Geno finds himself watching the interplay between them more than anything else. They've gotten so much better. Even knowing what they're doing, Geno has a hard time noticing the moment of the handover.

He's impressed. And a little scared. They're so good now, and even Sid's so comfortable with this. Geno finds himself wondering how Sid's going to feel when Valeri's gone.

He's glad when the rest of the team shows up and it's time for real skate. He finds himself focusing fiercely on practice, letting it drive all other thoughts from his head, working himself harder than he normally would with a game coming. He feels like he did when he was 14 or 19, times when hockey was the only constant in his life, the only thing he really understood or felt good at.

~

After practice, Sid heads right over to Flower. He wants to know for sure, get this out of the way if things are - if he has to talk to Dan or whatever. He can't afford to have the team losing faith in him, to have the coach losing faith in him, and they've stuck by him through a lot of bullshit, but "possibly crazy" is different than "concussed again," after all. Sid's body takes a deep, calming breath without him intending to, which is weird, but it's obviously just Valeri. When Sid focuses, he can feel Valeri, who is mostly sure that things will work out fine, and he focuses on Valeri's confidence to boost his own.

Flower looks up when he comes over and nods, once, but Sid wants details. "Lunch?" he says hopefully.

Flower shakes his head. "Game day," he says, and okay, good point. Sid can respect other people's rituals.

He still drags Flower into the equipment room - it's weird, remembering being here with Geno, telling Geno about Valeri here - and says, "What did he say?"

Flower sighs. "He said you're being weird. Brooksie and I agreed, you are, no one's arguing. He asked me if I thought you had any health problems, I said no. Brooksie said you're playing well so he's not worried. I said I thought you were probably just experimenting and you'd have it together for the playoffs. He's still worried, but." Flower shrugs. "I think he'll let it go. As long as you aren't actually like this during the playoffs." He makes a face Sid doesn't get at all, and then spells it out. "I saw you out there with Geno, going back and forth." Flower shivers a little. "It's fucking weird."

The weird part is, Sid can remember when he was more freaked out about this than Flower is. He just doesn't feel that way much anymore. That in itself is a little freaky. "It's strange," he says, not really thinking about it. "I think I'm getting used to this."

Flower flinches. "Don't," he says. "Don't."

Sid thinks about that all the way to Philly. He knows Valeri's apprehensive about being in Philly again, remembering how much of a shitshow it was last time. He even knows Valeri's amused by the word "shitshow." And it's not - it's not normal. But Sid has gotten used to lots of things that aren't normal in his life. This doesn't feel like the worst one of all anymore.

Flower spends the trip with his headphones on, eyes closed, which is a sure sign that he doesn't want to talk, probably getting his game face on. In the seat behind him, Sid can hear Pascal talking on the phone, and across the aisle TK and Nealsy are snickering over something on TK's iPad. From Geno, in the seat ahead, he can hear the occasional muttered Russian word. And in his head, he can feel Valeri prepping for the game. Sid's surrounded by his team. He feels good.

~

The game is fucking insane. Sid feels like he's playing the best hockey of his life out there, it's all coming together just as much as it all fell apart the last time they played here. He doesn't worry about giving over to Valeri, doesn't think about anything beyond the ice and the puck and the game, and this is it, the clear focused hockey he lives to play. They win, 3-1, and Sid comes off the ice flying.

On the way into the bus, Brooksie pulls him aside. "Is that what you were working on all this time?" he says. He sounds stunned.

"Yeah?" Sid says.

"Well, I guess it's working," Brooksie says, and sits down.

Sidney spends the drive back to Pittsburgh looking at game footage. He never thought about handing over to Valeri, it's true, and he would have said he didn't. But watching the game he can see places where he wasn't playing. Or wasn't entirely playing. He keeps going back over his goal, the entire play leading up to it, starting from when he set up the shot. He can see his own reading of the ice, but then the approach - that's more Valeri than him. They pass to Duper, who takes a shot, and then Valeri picks it up on the rebound and Sid sets the shot and sends it home.

Sid watches again and again, looking for the handoffs. He can't find them.

Next to him, Flower says quietly, "Mary, mother of God." He doesn't sound like he's swearing.

Sid takes a mental tally - none of the French speakers are sitting near them. "What?" he asks in French.

"That isn't you," Flower says. "And it isn't him either."

Sid nods. "Good for my game, right?"

"Bad for your head," Flower says. "And what will you do when he's gone? What will you be like when he's gone?"

Sid blinks, thinking about that. And once he starts, he can't stop.

~

The next two weeks, it's like Sid spends the entire time head down, utterly focused on just the games he plays. They have sex, they spend time together, it's good, but they're both thinking about the postseason, and about the thing that happens before the postseason comes.

Genya's got an agreement with the Kharlamovs and tickets in their name. He's set up the press and coordinated with Brisson and the Pens PR office. It's really happening. The Kharlamov kids are coming to the US. And then Valeri is going to be going.

Geno just wishes he knew how Sid feels about that. Sid isn't talking, though, and he's not talking in the way where Geno knows it would be pointless to try to push it. So mostly he just wonders.

The day before what Geno is privately calling Kharlamov Day, Sergei flies in. He and Sasha are helping with the Lokomotiv part of this; neither one knows about the Kharlamov part.

That remains true until about fourteen seconds after Sergei steps off the plane. They meet in the unsecured part of the airport, they hug, and then Sergei drops his arms and steps back with narrowed eyes.

"What?" Geno says, honestly bewildered. Sergei's looking at him like he grew a third eye or something.

"You tell me," Sergei tells him, and folds his arms across his chest in a way that Geno finds very, very ominous indeed.

"Tell you what?" Geno says.

"You stop calling," Sergei says. "You start calling again but you don't talk about yourself anymore. And then you suggest this, and I fly out here for it, and I find you looking like a lovesick sheep lost on a hillside."

"You've never seen a sheep in your life," Geno says. "You can't pull this on me. I've actually been to Chelyabinsk."

Sergei sighs exaggeratedly. "And just as you cannot be fooled about my history with sheep, I can't be fooled by your bullshit. Come clean, Zhenya. Did you get married? Did you get someone pregnant? Are you negotiating with the Flyers?"

Geno's honestly shocked. He would never go to the Flyers. "No!" he says. "No." The thing is, though - he's going to have to tell Sergei some part of what's going on, and there's no part they can possibly talk about in an airport. "We can talk at my house," he says.

"You're running drugs," Sergei guesses as they walk out to Geno's car. "You're applying for American citizenship. You're keeping an alligator as a pet."

"I would never keep a pet I couldn't pat," Geno says.

"So we know where you stand on alligators, but the citizenship and the drugs are still on the table," Sergei says as he dumps his bag in Geno's car. "If you are running drugs," he adds, "can you get a bigger car? Just something that can fit two people and an overnight bag would be good."

Geno rolls his eyes and climbs in. Sergei spends the drive updating him on the family, telling him stories Geno's missed. Vika got in a fight at school with two other girls and won, Natasha wants to buy a horse, Kshusha's planning a big fundraiser: normal Gonchar family stuff.

They arrive at Geno's house. Geno insists on getting Sergei's bag, because his mother raised him right, which is why he ends up following Sergei in. It takes him only seconds to realize that basically everything he's done so far that night was a mistake, because Sergei is looking around - and suddenly Geno can see all the changes, from Sid's shoes by the door and his keys on the table to the exercise chart pinned to the wall - and figuring shit out. He turns to Geno, clearly about to say something, and then Sid comes down the stairs.

"Gonch!" he says enthusiastically. Geno really likes the way that t-shirt fits Sid, and he likes the sweatpants sliding down Sid's hips even more, but just this once he wishes Sid had chosen to dress up a little, because Sergei knows damn well that this is Sidney Crosby ready for bed.

Sergei's eyebrows climb upwards, and he says to Geno, "So." After a few seconds' thought, he adds, "I hope you know what you're doing. If you break his heart, you'll never walk again."

"Don't even joke about that," Sid says tensely; he doesn't like any references to potential future injuries, no matter how oblique.

"Also you didn't tell me that Sidney speaks Russian now," Sergei says.

Sid looks at Geno and says, "Um. Sorry?"

Geno kind of wants to beat his head against a wall, but instead he just says, "It's a good thing you're so good at hockey."

Sergei says, "Someone had better explain what the fuck is going on right now."

~

So the bright side is that Sergei's easier to convince than Flower was. The down side is that he turns out to be a huge Valeri Kharlamov fan, much worse than Geno himself. He's overjoyed to get the chance to speak to Valeri, and then basically furious that Valeri is in Sid's head when Sergei would appreciate the experience so much more.

After he gets over that, though, he turns practical. "Don't tell Sasha," he cautions Sid. "And try not to let him know you speak Russian."

Geno nods grimly. Sid just looks confused, so he explains. "He'll use it against you on the ice," he says. Sasha has never hesitated to use any advantage, and some of the shit he's said to Geno - well, someday someone is going to pick it up with a mic and get a translation, and then Geno's going to have to punch Sasha in the face and stop talking to him for another three years. He's not looking forward to it.

"Okay," Sid says, and shrugs. "It's not like he doesn't chirp me pretty hard in English," he adds.

Sergei and Geno exchange glances, because - if Sid genuinely believes that Sasha's bad when he only has English at his command, he could never stand up to him in Russian. Sid would die the first time he took the ice against Sasha.

"Don't tell him," Geno repeats firmly.

"We don't even know if I'll still speak Russian the next time we play him," Sid points out. "Kind of pointless to worry."

"Sidney Crosby says it's pointless to worry about something involving hockey?" Sergei says. "All right, now I'm worried."

Sid responds, "We just have to make it through the next few days. We'll know what we're dealing with then." From the way he says it, Geno can tell he's been repeating it to himself a lot.

But it's true. They just have to get through the next few days. Geno tells himself that as they work on the weak parts of the plan - getting the Kharlamov kids alone for long enough for Valeri to talk to them, convincing them it's their father or at least never to tell anyone that Sidney Crosby acted so weird, dealing with whatever happens after Valeri goes.

Geno also tells himself that when Sid yawns and says, "Okay, I've got to go to bed. Geno? Are you going to stay down here for a while?"

Sergei says, "Oh, you should stay."

Geno jumps up and basically bolts for the stairs. "Very, very tired," he calls back.

He'll talk to Sergei about the Sid thing, yes, but not for another few days. Everything is on hold until then.

~

Sid's restless in bed that night. For once, he can't settle down. Geno can't sleep, either, and it's only partly because he's lying next to a human perpetual motion machine. Finally, Sid says, "Geno -" and then he breaks off.

"Yes?" Geno says after a few minutes.

"Tomorrow. Everything could change." Sid hesitates, then adds, "But I don't want everything to change."

This isn't news, that Sidney Crosby would like things to stay the same, but Geno knows what he means. He understands why Sid's so restless, too. If Sid were someone else, he'd offer him sex to calm him down and distract him, but Sid is Sid, so that won't work. After a few seconds of thought, Geno reaches out and takes Sid's hand. Sid squeezes back tightly. "Not everything will change," Geno tells him. "Whatever changes happen, we'll deal with them."

"Yeah," Sid says. After a few more minutes, he says, "You should talk to Valeri."

They switch over so naturally that Geno can't mark the moment, even lying here next to Sid and holding his hand.

"Take good care of this boy, Zhenya," Valeri says. "He's a good kid."

"I will," Geno promises.

"Take care of yourself, too. I'll ask Sid to do that, but he probably won't know what I mean."

Geno laughs a little. "I will. I'm good at it by now."

"Actually, you're terrible at it, but lucky for you, you live in this amazing century. You have phones you can carry in your pocket to tell you when to eat and sleep and shit."

Geno really does laugh at that. "Then I'll keep my phone right by me."

"It's been good, being here," Valeri says softly. "I shouldn't have done this, but I can't be sorry I did. Knowing you, knowing Sid, knowing your kind of hockey."

"I can't even imagine," Geno says. He tries to picture it, tries to picture coming back in forty years, how everything will have changed.

"Don't," Valeri says. "Live your life. Die old. Don't come back. I was telling the truth, I'm glad I know you, I'm glad I know Sid, I'm glad I got this chance - but this wasn't meant to be, Zhenya. When people are gone they're supposed to go, not stay around and be part of a future that isn't theirs. When I'm gone, things will be right here again."

"Things will be different because you came," Geno points out.

"Better or worse?" Valeri asks.

Geno thinks about it, about all the things that have happened because Valeri has been here. For him, there's no question. "Better."

"Then I'm glad I came. But I'm still glad to be going," Valeri says. He doesn't sound glad at all. "It's the right thing."

Geno swallows hard. He doesn't want to think about this. "Valera," he says. "Tell me about something from your time. Tell me about your teammates."

Valeri laughs. He rolls onto his side to face Geno and says, "Slava Tretiak. He was a crazy man when I knew him. And on the ice he was like a machine, and he had this stare that made you wonder if he'd kill you in the night. But the thing I remember best about him is - we were on a road trip, and one of the other men on the team, Sasha Yakushev, decided to play a little prank on him, change all his socks for little ones. Like for children? He had to wear his shoes with no socks on the bus trip. Slava got his revenge and Sasha ended up naked in a women's bath."

Valeri keeps on going, telling stories about the players he knew, about playing games in the Soviet Union and abroad, and Geno listens as hard as he can, trying to fix every word in his head forever. Valeri talks for hours, until Geno falls asleep in the middle of the Summit Series.

~

The presentation of the check for Lokomotiv is surprisingly low-key. The hockey press is there - nothing to cover until the playoffs start. Russian press is there, of course. Sid's a little surprised by how easy it is for him to pick them out. A lot of people from Pittsburgh turned up, which surprised the hell out of Geno, but not Sid. This is a good town, so of course they came. There's a fair number of players from other teams, not even just the Russians. Lundqvist is there - Sid takes the time to shake his hand - and fucking Max Talbot came and dragged Sean Couturier along for the ride. "Sid, hey," Max says, raising a cautious hand. Sid was pretty pissed at him after the playoffs last year, and they didn't exactly have good times on the ice this season, but this is off the ice. Sid can be the bigger person here. He can.

"Hey, how's it going?" Sid says.

Max smiles at him. "Better for seeing your ugly ass." He introduces Couturier, who looks like he wishes he was somewhere else having his picture taken near any other hockey player, and then makes a few minutes of small talk. "What's going on with your playing lately?" he finishes.

Max isn't the enemy right now, but he doesn't get to know that. "Just trying some stuff," Sid says, giving him the press smile. He moves on.

The people he's really interested in are sitting over near Geno's Russian agent. There's a group of people from Russia - the coach of the new team, the head of the Wives of Lokomotiv group, and. And the Kharlamov kids. Sid's heart skips a beat just seeing them, and he can feel Valeri's desperate wish to get near them. He tries to shift over, let Valeri be in charge, but Valeri doesn't want that, he can tell.

And then he hears Valeri's voice in his head. "I can't keep it together," he says, and Sid gets that. He doesn't want there to be pictures of him crying at a Lokomotiv tribute; everyone would take it the wrong way and they'd be photoshopped until the end of time. So he keeps to the back and mostly watches Geno and Gonch and Ovechkin, just glancing over at the Russians from time to time.

There are some speeches, there's a check, Geno makes sure to thank everyone in the world but himself - it's a pretty standard event. Afterwards, Gennady Ushakov stands up and says something to the Kharlamov kids, and Sid moves unobtrusively forward, ending up near them around the time that Geno does.

"Zhenya!" Ushakov says. "I was just telling Alexander and Tatiana -" he gestures at them as he says their names "- how much you wanted to meet them."

"I can't imagine why," Tatiana says.

"I've heard so much about you both," Geno says.

Tatiana stares at him in confusion. "Do we have friends in common?"

Geno smiles and nods. This is the complicated part, right here, because they need to separate Alexander and Tatiana from the crowd and get them back to Geno's house so they can do this all privately. And Sergei can't help; he's busy distracting Ovechkin. Sidney was supposed to help, but his head is buzzing and he's starting to feel a little sick, a little faint. He's working hard to stay on his feet and follow the conversation; anything else is beyond him.

"Maybe we could all get lunch?" Ushakov says hopefully. "I'm starving."

"Me, too," Alexander says. Tatiana smacks him on the shoulder. "What?" he protests, ducking out of her reach. "I am! It's after dinnertime back home."

Tatiana rolls her eyes, and the interplay between the Kharlamovs is enough for Ushakov to get them all moving towards the exit, towards Sidney's car, retrieved from Mario's house because it will hold five people.

Sid follows, but he feels terrible. He's supposed to drive, but he's close to puking and he knows he couldn't keep the car on the road, so he pulls the keys from his pocket and presses them into Geno's hands. Geno looks up at him and nods, and then looks at him again with alarm. "Valera?" he says, very quietly.

Sid blinks at him, because Geno can always tell who is in charge. He doesn't make mistakes like that. "Sid," he corrects. Geno still looks worried, but Sid can't really focus on it too much. He's got to keep walking. He focuses on each step.

By the time they get to the car, Sidney's grateful just to be sitting down. He ends up in the back seat somehow, next to Tatiana, with Ushakov on her other side, and he knows he should talk to her, try to make friends with her, but he can't. He feels awful. He leans against the window and closes his eyes, and he doesn't follow the conversation, so he has no idea where they're going.

He doesn't notice anything, in fact, until there's a gentle touch on his shoulder. "Mr. Crosby?" Tatiana says, in heavily accented English. She'd be impossible to understand if he hadn't been there for Geno's first years on the team. "Okay?" she asks.

"Fine," he says. "I'm fine."

She blinks. "You speak Russian?"

"Sort of," he tells her, but talking was a mistake. He's definitely going to puke, and Tatiana figures that out.

"Pull the car over!" she yells at Geno, and he does, thank god. Sidney stumbles out of the car and vomits on the side of the road, and he's too miserable even to worry about whether someone is photographing this.

Geno comes pounding over and hands Sidney a bottle of water, and then someone - Tatiana - hands him some tissues. He rinses his mouth and wipes his face and says "Sorry, sorry" to everyone.

"Maybe we should take him home," Alexander says, looking worried. "He looks awful, and the playoffs are coming up."

Tatiana sighs. "Maybe we should take him home because he needs to lie down, playoffs or not," she says. "Not everything is hockey." Sidney can hear the cadence of traditional sibling argument in her voice, just like when he and Taylor argue over who gets to sit in the front seat.

"Yes, we should take him home," Geno says. "He's not - he's not sick, but we do need to take him home."

"He just throws up in the presence of Russians?" Tatiana says skeptically. "Hard for him to play hockey, then."

"He has," Geno says, and stops helplessly.

Sidney says, "I'll explain in the car." They all climb in and Geno starts driving, and then Sidney says, loud enough for Alexander to hear in the front seat, "Back in November, I hit my head during a game against the Wild."

The explanation lasts the whole way back to Geno's. The Kharlamovs are absolutely silent through it, although Sidney can feel Tatiana pulling away from him in the car.

~

Alexander and Tatiana confer for a few minutes after they get out of the car, and after they get inside the house Alexander pulls Gennady to one side. Geno's heart is in his mouth. He guesses from the way Sid's acting that it doesn't matter if they believe, only that Valeri gets to see them, but he doesn't want them to miss this. He doesn't want them to miss their only chance to see their father.

Tatiana turns to Geno and says, "Why would you do this? He's obviously crazy, obviously, but why would you go along with this?"

"He's not crazy," Geno says helplessly. "Valeri is here, in there, I've spoken to him."

Tatiana shakes her head violently, not so much like she's saying as like she's trying to shake something loose. "This is ridiculous, and it's a disgrace to my father's memory." Her voice breaks on the last word, and she turns away from Geno.

"Tanya," Valeri says quietly. "Oh, baby girl." He steps forward and puts his hand on her shoulder. "It's real, and I'm almost - no, I am. I'm sorry to do this to you. But I'm not sorry to see you. You grew up so well."

Tatiana freezes, staring up at him, caught between hope and horror.

Alexander steps forward, his arms folded. "You're - if you think - you're -" he starts, and he can't get any further.

Valeri looks at him. "Do you remember the robot?" he asks, and he does a strange little dance.

Alexander's face goes slack with shock. Geno almost can't stand to watch.

"Sasha," Valeri says softly, and murmurs a Russian lullaby very softly. Halfway through, Alexander breaks. He launches himself forward and buries his head on Valeri's shoulder. "I don't understand," he says helplessly. "I don't understand. Why would you come back, come back here, come back to him?"

"For you," Valeri says, wrapping his arm around his son. "To see you one last time. To tell you both that I love you, that I'm sorry I had to leave you, that you are the best people I ever knew and everything I ever wanted."

"I couldn't play hockey the way you did," Alexander says, like he's confessing something agonizing. "Sorry." His voice is quiet on the last word.

"Why should you? Hockey was my life. Not yours."

"Everyone told him," Tatiana says unevenly. "Live up to your father's - live up to his memory."

Valeri cringes. "No. No. You live up to my memory by being who you are, doing what you want. That's all I wanted from you, to be you."

Tatiana shakes her head. "If I had known, I would have brought -" she reaches in her pocked for her phone and flips through it hastily. "Kolya, Vasya, Larisa," she recites, showing him each picture in turn. Valeri stares, focused, intent. Alexander does the same with his wife, his kids, and then Valeri turns his attention back to them.

"Take care of them, be with them the way I wasn't with you. Later - all your life, you'll want to remember that you were there when they were little." Valeri looks sad. "That's where you do better than I did."

Tatiana nods. Alexander just looks dazed.

Valeri winces. "I don't have long left, I'm sorry."

Tatiana's crying now, and she turns and presses against Valeri, sobbing against his chest. Valeri puts an arm around her, too, and they hold on like that, Valeri whispering to them words Geno can't stand to listen to. His face is wet, and across the room Genya's covered his eyes with his hand.

It doesn't last long. A few minutes. Valeri says, "This is it."

"Daddy," Alexander says, choking.

"Bye, babies. I love you forever," Valeri says. And then he's gone, and Sid's back, white-faced and sick-looking. He opens his mouth to say something, winces, claps his hands to his head, and falls. Alexander and Tatiana catch him, moving automatically - they're both crying - and ease him down to the floor, where he curls into a ball and moans.

Geno moves forward fast, drops to the ground at Sid's side. "Sid," he says. "Sid, do you know where you are?"

"We're back where we started," Sid says, and Geno's irrationally terrified that he forgot everything, the entire season and all that happened, but then Sid chokes on something that's either a laugh or a sob and adds, "your house. I'm at your house. I'm 25, my father's name is Troy, and - god, my head hurts." He retches.

~

Genya, Geno, and Alexander carry Sid to the couch, and by the time they get him there, Tatiana has managed to find a bowl in Geno's kitchen. She gets it under Sid's head in time for him to puke into it, and then darts out again. She comes back with ice packs and a cold bottle of water. An ice pack to the neck seems to help some, and turning out all the lights and closing the blinds helps, too.

"Does he have a concussion?" Genya asks worriedly, his brows drawn together.

"He shouldn't," Geno says. "He hasn't been hit on the head since November." Of course, given what happened after that hit, he can't be sure, but - surely fate wouldn't be cruel enough to give him a months-delayed concussion.

Alexander makes a face and says, "Would calling a doctor help?" He sounds doubtful, and Geno shakes his head.

"Not yet. Let's see - let's give him a chance." After all, if it is a concussion, there's nothing the doctors would do that they aren't doing already.

Tatiana comes over. "I'm not a doctor, but I think he has a migraine," she says. "Do you have painkillers?"

Geno leads her upstairs to his medicine cabinet. She stares at it for a long moment, and then says, "Do you collect these bottles?"

"They prescribe lots more than I take," Geno says, shrugging. He reads the labels for her. Eventually, she picks one and they take it downstairs.

"See if this helps," she says to Sid, and he's apparently feeling really shitty, because he takes it without question. "Give him something with caffeine," she adds. "I get migraines. Caffeine will help."

"If I have caffeine this late I won't sleep," Sid objects, although Geno can tell he's arguing basically on autopilot.

Alexander's eyebrows go up. "Why does he still speak Russian if - if my father is gone?"

"He spoke it even when Valera wasn't in charge," Geno says, trying to hide how happy this makes him. It's - it's like Valeri left something behind, as a gift. Valeri's gone, but Sid speaks his language forever now. He knows it's not the right time, that Sid and the Kharlamovs are suffering, but he wants to smile. "I guess it's something Valera changed in him."

Alexander shrugs. "Not really something I understand," he says quietly.

"No one could understand this," Tatiana snaps. She turns to Sid. "Your choice," she says. "Head pain now and maybe sleep later if you aren't puking, or fix the head pain now and maybe be tired tomorrow."

"I'll take the caffeine," Sid says, holding his hands up in surrender.

Genya goes to Geno's kitchen for a surprisingly long time and finally comes back with a can of Red Bull. "Your coffeemaker is the devil," he says, shaking his head.

Geno actually sort of agrees with him on that front - it really wasn't one of his better purchases, but he'd rather skip coffee most of the time than admit defeat - so he says nothing, just opens the can and hands it to Sid, who drinks it down and then lies down with his arm over his face.

"Have you been living with - with my father?" Tatiana says.

Geno recoils. "No!" he says. "Just Sid. Valeri was - here, but not here. Not like that. Not for that."

Genya rolls his eyes. Tatiana says, "That's so much more than I wanted to know," she says tartly. "I just was asking if he'd been here continuously since November."

Oh. Geno blushes. "No, not really. At first I didn't know, and then - even after, he tried hard not to be here," Geno says. "But I was with him more than anyone. Even more than Sid. He couldn't talk to Sid at first. Not for a long time."

"What was he like?" Tatiana says. She's keeping her voice steady, but her eyes are shining.

Geno starts telling her everything he can remember. They settle in the living room, waiting for Sid's headache to go away, and Geno talks and talks. Sid, surprisingly, falls asleep, and they keep talking, but quieter. Alexander can tell a few stories about his father that he actually remembers, although he never explains the robot thing. Tatiana and Alexander both have stories their grandparents told them. And Geno has all the stories he's heard while Valeri's been here, all the things Valeri did. It's almost like a wake, except they're drinking tea instead of alcohol.

At five, Sid wakes up. "Jesus, I'm starving," he says, scrubbing his hand across his eyes.

"Your head?" Geno asks tensely.

Sid blinks a few times. "Fine, just like - I can feel where the headache was, pretty much." He makes a gesture like he's pressing something into his head. "It feels - empty," he says, and his face goes blank like he's trying not to show a feeling.

They order food, lots of food, and Geno gets out some bottles of wine. After a while, he feels like he knows the Kharlamov kids almost as well as he knew Valeri. It's satisfying in some way. It makes the strange absence in this house easier to take.

Eventually, Geno calls a cab, and Genya, Alexander, and Tatiana head back to the hotel. Before they go, Alexander hugs Sid fiercely. "Keep in touch," he says.

Tatiana hugs Sid, too. "Thank you," she tells him, and kisses him on the cheek.

Sid looks startled, but he responds automatically. "You're welcome," he says, all well-mannered Canadian boy, and then he switches back to real Sid. "It was - it was weird having him, but it was good, too. I'll miss him." He sounds almost bewildered, and Tatiana nods.

When they're gone, it's just Geno and Sid in the house. Really just Geno and Sid, for the first time ever.

"Fuck, I'm tired," Sid says, yawning.

"You're up so late," Geno says, trying for a joke. "You might turn into a gremlin."

"I don't think that's how that movie worked," Sid says. He starts turning out the lights.

"So," Geno says, following Sid up the stairs, "you still speak Russian."

"Obviously," Sid says, gesturing at himself.

"So this summer you're coming home with me, right?" Geno tries to keep it light, because Sid has a lot to do in the summer, after all. "I'll show you around?"

Sid shrugs, like it's not even up for discussion. "Of course," he says. "Playoffs first, though. We have to focus, get ready. Vacation comes after."

He's so Sid. Geno smiles at his back helplessly, all the way up the stairs.

Epilogue

Jetlag turns Geno into a hibernating bear, which is frustrating. Sidney barely slept at all, he's been wide awake for hours, and he wants to go do something. They didn't come all the way to Moscow to sleep. Sid wants to see Geno's city, see Geno's country, see something. "Come on, wake up," he says, poking Geno again. "If you get up now, we can get in all our training before we have lunch with Sasha and Tanya." The sun is even up, so it's a perfectly reasonable time to get out of bed and do stuff. Sid waited until fifteen minutes after it started getting light to be sure Geno wouldn't have a good reason to complain.

Geno won't even open his eyes. "If I get up, I'll die," he says. "Training tomorrow. Sleep now."

Sidney groans. "Geeeeeeno," he says, aware that he's being a little annoying but totally unwilling to stop, "you can't sleep all day. You'll get off schedule!"

"We can sleep until ten," Geno says. "Even you can't object to that." He reaches up, gropes around blindly, and finds Sid's arm, then pulls on it. "Come on, Sid. Come back to bed." He shifts around until it's obvious where he wants Sid to lie.

That's tempting, even if Geno's probably too tired even for handjobs. Sid can take ten minutes to just - be near Geno. Remind himself he isn't alone. He likes being alone even less than he used to, these days.

"I'm looking forward to seeing them," Sid says, although Geno's probably asleep. "The kids," he adds.

To his surprise, Geno actually responds. "Yeah," he agrees.

"It's weird," he says. "I miss them." He does. Not like he misses Taylor, say, but he feels like they belong to him in some way. Valeri left a lot of - connections behind. Sidney hates being alone more than ever, yeah, but he's got so many more ways not to be. He's still got the team and the Lemieuxs and his family during the offseason, but he's also got Geno and Jeffrey at home, Geno's entire family here in Russia, Sergei and Kshusha and their kids. And, of course, the Kharlamov kids. Who they'll be seeing in just six hours.

"We really need to train," Sid says to Geno. They do, although he's starting to regret that. Geno's warm and the bed is comfortable and Sid feels good here.

Geno holds him more tightly, doing his best imitation of an octopus. "Sleep," he says.

It doesn't take Sid very long to consider his options. "Yeah, okay," he says, and does.