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“The real home that you build in your world is a home of love. That is a home that is all about exposing yourself to vulnerability, it’s all about giving yourself fully to another person, it means that you feel comfortable and safe enough to drop all of your masks… also that you forgive in another person their flaws, because you’ve already encountered, embraced, forgiven your own flaws. And really I think as a human person—in my mind, I’ve always thought the final home of any human is in love.”
-- Junot Diaz

Everyone is somber when they get off the bus at the CONSOL Center. Usually after an elimination the guys will make plans to have beers in a few quiet groups, maybe fire up a grill, but not this time, not when it’s Philly that eliminated them. Everyone’s heads are hung and they all make their way to their cars quickly, eager to get home to their wives or girlfriends or families, or, if they’re Nealsy and Martin, probably drink a lot and play Call of Duty until they pass out. A part of Geno would like to join them, but he knows it’s only going to put off feeling bad and that it’s better to get it over with, so he follows Sid to where they’d parked their cars next to each other.

“I don’t want to go home yet,” Sid says mournfully.

“No,” Geno agrees. “I go home, Dixi not happy with my playoff performance.”

Sid giggles a little. “She watched the games when you were gone,” he says. “That’s how she knows.”

“Cats always know,” Geno says, nodding and smiling a little helplessly back.

The silence stretches between them, awkward where it never used to be, and Geno doesn’t know why.

“I really thought this was going to be our year,” Sid says eventually, fiddling with his keys.

“Sorry, Sid,” Geno says, because there isn’t really much else to say.

“It’s not your fault,” Sid says, but he still sounds miserable, so Geno puts a comforting hand where the collar of Sid’s fleece ends. Sid stiffens, as if he’s about to shake of the contact the way he always does, before he sighs and the fight leaves him again. Instead, he leans into the touch and looks up at Geno with wide, dark eyes and an expression Geno can’t name.

“Okay?” Geno asks, running his thumb back and forth along Sid’s neck a little, trying to coax that openness out as long as he can. Sid’s face is close to his, like before they go out on the ice. Geno has just enough time to notice this and wonder what it means before Sid clenches a fist in Geno’s sweater, leans in, kisses him, and everything stops.

Somewhere in the distance, Geno can hear the first birds whistling to each other over the frantic pounding of his heartbeat. The world, when he inhales sharply, smells wet and coppery like new spring and Sid’s aftershave. Geno had no idea that this - standing in an empty parking lot with Sid’s lips pressed gently against his - was even something he wanted. But now that Sid is kissing him he finds himself pulling Sid in closer, and all he can think is yes.

Sid makes a sweet little noise of surprise against Geno’s mouth and melts into him, arms winding around Geno’s neck. Geno feels awkward and stiff with his hands nervously resting on Sid’s hips, like this is the first time he’s ever kissed anyone before. But when Geno pulls away what feels like hours later, it’s slow and lingering, and he’s oddly reluctant for the kiss to end.

“Sid?” he asks.

“I don’t, I just,” Sid stutters. “I didn’t think -”

“Me either,” Geno says, because there wasn’t a lot of thinking involved, just pure instinct, and now he wants to stay there forever almost as badly as he wants to jump in his car and drive away as fast as he can. “I have no idea.”

“Oh.” Sid smiles at him a little, reassuring. “I’m sorry.”

Geno clears his throat. “I like,” he admits. “Just... confusing.”

“Then think about it,” Sid says. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He presses one last, too-quick kiss to the corner of Geno’s mouth and gives him another bracing smile while he gets in his car and pulls out of the parking lot. Geno feels like the world should look different now, now that he knows both what it’s like to kiss Sid and that he likes it. But the parking lot’s still the same, his car keys are still heavy in his pockets, and the Stanley Cup still isn’t theirs, so maybe nothing has actually changed at all.

For some reason, that seems like an even scarier idea.

- - -

Sid is the only person in the locker room when Geno comes in for clean-out, which Geno hoped to avoid, but he supposes it’s inevitable. They’re the ones who are going to have the most questions to answer and need to stay the longest, besides maybe Jordy, so it figures they’d get started the earliest. Geno had dawdled over breakfast, hoping Jordy would beat him there, but he should have known better. Jordy’s late for everything.

“Nice Canadian tux, denim on denim never goes out of style,” Sid says awkwardly, like he’s not sure he’s allowed to chirp but is trying to make everything seem normal. Normal is good, Geno thinks, so he gives Sid a little smile back and punches him in the arm in a friendly way.

“Nice black t-shirt,” he says. “Bet white and gray t-shirts say thank you for break.”

“Fuck you,” Sid laughs, rubbing his arm.

“Is okay, you make look good,” Geno says, because that’s what’s next in the script, except it’s flirting, he realizes abruptly. And it’s not the fake-flirting all the guys do with each other, because he means it. He’s meant it every time he said it, jealous of how Sid fills the team t-shirts out like they’ve been tailored to him, and not baggy the way they are on Geno.

Sid’s watching him, big-eyed and a little flushed, hand still where he was rubbing his arm, and it makes something hot twist in Geno’s gut. Geno’s seen Sid look at him like this a million times before, fond and a little giddy that someone seems to like him, but now Sid’s kissed him and the earth’s shifted under his feet and nothing makes sense. Looking at Sid is like driving past a house a million times before noticing it’s there, and now it’s the only thing he can see.

“I...” Geno starts, and then swallows. “I don’t know what,” he gestures between them. “What this, Sid?”

Sid ducks his head nervously. “I, uh, I think this,” he mimics Geno’s earlier gesture, “is flirting.”

“Oh,” Geno says. It makes sense, then, that if their go-to script is flirting, why Sid had thought it was okay to kiss him. What doesn’t make sense is how Geno could have been flirting with Sid for forever and never noticed it for what it really was.

“Maybe you should, um,” Sid’s eyes are fixed on his shoes. The tips of his ears are red, and Geno realizes he wants to see if they’re warm under his lips, too. “Maybe after you clean out your locker we could hang out? Discuss this at my place?”

“Sid,” he starts, and then Sid steps a little closer and brushes his knuckles against the inside of Geno’s wrist, an innocuous little gesture that’s probably happened by accident a million times. Except those times, it hadn’t made Geno catch his breath and shiver, and Sid hadn’t bitten his lip and looked up through his eyelashes in a way that just wasn’t playing fair, all hope and longing and heated focus. “I have girlfriend.” Geno says, and his voice comes out scraped raw.

Sid jerks back, wide-eyed and guilty. “Shit, I’m sorry,” he babbles, backing away and raising his hands up defensively, “I thought when she went back to Russia you two broke up again -”

“We did.” Geno sighs heavily, rubbing the back of his neck. “But when we break up, is never really... over.” It should be, maybe, he thinks, because he isn’t sure like he used to be that Oksana’s the one, but he’d been sure she was the right one for now. He just - he doesn’t know what’s going on with them. He hasn’t known in awhile, he’s just also never had a reason to try and figure it out.

“You choose bad time, Sid,” he says, and he doesn’t just mean because Jordy could walk in at any minute, but because he isn’t ready to deal with any of what kissing Sid or wanting to maybe kiss him again might mean.

Sid lets out a short, harsh little laugh. “No kidding,” he says. “Sorry. Forget about it, I guess.”

Geno knows he should let that be that, that he should shut this down and never speak of it or think about it ever again. Sid is the kind of bad idea that could ruin everything Geno’s ever worked for or thought he wanted, and 24 hours ago he didn’t even know that Sid was one of those things he wanted, too. But the idea of never standing like this with Sid, never seeing the same open expression on Sid’s face, never kissing Sid - he can’t do that, either.

“What if I want to choose you?” He asks, and Sid meets his eyes again, finally.

“Then choose me,” he says quietly. “But you have to make a choice, Geno.”

Geno hates how final Sid’s tone is, and he hates even more that Jordy chooses that moment to stumble in, clinging to a giant mug of coffee like a lifeline.

“I figure it out,” he promises in an undertone, even though Jordy wouldn’t understand or care what Geno meant even if he did hear them.

Sid smiles a little, just one side of his mouth, gives Geno’s arm a quick, friendly squeeze and says, “I know you will.”

- - -

When Geno was growing up, before he went to youth academy, there was a boy in his class who lived in the same apartment building as him named Semyon. Semyon was different. He never played sports with the other boys, or was even friends with them. He always dressed just so and hated getting his clothes dirty. When he talked - which was rare - his voice was high-pitched and lilting, and his hands flitted around like excited birds.

Geno never really cared much about Semyon except as someone he walked home with if Denis was going over to a friends’ house. He was just weird, Geno figured, and since he wasn’t weird in a way that had anything to do with hockey, it hadn’t bothered Geno at all. But it bothered some of the other boys in his class, and they’d circled Semyon and hissed words at him that Geno couldn’t understand. Sometimes, if it was a day they were walking home together, Geno would have to stand and wait outside the bathroom while Semyon tried to make it look less like he’d been crying so his mother wouldn’t know. Geno hadn’t known how to comfort Semyon or if he should even tell his teacher, because he hadn’t understood what any of it meant. But when he’d repeated the words carefully to his mother, her lips tightened and she forbade him from ever saying them ever again.

“Those are nasty things to call a little boy,” she said. “He should be pitied. He can’t help that he’s like that.”

Like that, Geno learned in a whispered conversation with Denis after the lights went off, meant that everyone thought Semyon liked boys. And not like friends, but the way Denis liked girls, sometimes. Geno just thought that liking anyone and wanting to kiss them was gross altogether.

“It’s not nice to make fun of someone who’s like that,” Denis told him solemnly. “It’s not his fault he’s a weirdo. Just like it’s not your fault that you’re ugly.”

You’re ugly,” Geno yelped, affronted, and then he and Denis started beating each other with their pillows and giggling until their father came in their room and told them they wouldn’t be allowed to go to hockey practice if they didn’t calm down and go to sleep.

So Geno always assumed, that just like with Semyon - who moved away a few years later, though where, Geno doesn’t know - that whenever someone was like that, you knew. He’d thought it was the same way in America, too, because you could always tell in TV or movies. And if someone was like that, well, it wasn’t the best thing to be, but it wasn’t the worst, either, and it certainly wasn’t any of Geno’s or anyone else’s business.

But he’d never known about Sid, never even guessed. Sid was tough, he never cried, he even slept with and dated girls. Rarely, sure, but he’d had a girlfriend for a few months once, and Geno had seen him go home with girls and joined in the teasing about hickies the next day. Geno loved girls too, loved them and had never thought about anything or anyone else. And if Geno had ever felt like what he and Sid had between them was special, he’d always assumed that was because Sid was a special guy, just like everyone always said he was. He’d certainly never thought to think they might be like that.

Now it’s all Geno thinks about. He thinks about the way Sid tasted and how Sid’s hands had felt clutched in his sweater, about how it felt good and right, not because it was a boy or a girl but because it was Sid. When Geno packs, he thinks about the way Sid moves, how he smells, the million tiny things Geno memorized about Sid without realizing it. When Geno jerks off, he ends up thinking about Sid. He tries not to, because this isn’t the normal one-night stand he’s contemplating, the sort of thing he always does when he and Oksana are on one of their increasingly frequent breaks. What he fantasizes about is something more, about kissing Sid all over and learning everything that he likes, everything he wants, learning every detail of Sid’s body and making it his until it’s impossible for Sid to want anyone else and Geno wins.

Geno doesn’t call. Being horny isn’t making a choice, being competitive about sex is just weird, and casually hooking up isn’t an option. He doesn’t know what it is he’d ask Sid for, or how to ask for it. Even if he did, he doesn’t trust himself to know much of anything anymore.

- - -

The first time Geno gets a text from Sid, he’s about to board his plane. Good luck at Worlds! :) the text reads, and Geno smiles a little.

i beat canada for you he texts back, and his phone dings at him almost immediately after he sends it.

Dream big, G it says, and Geno laughs, but he can only type out a quick flight boarding before he has to turn off his phone and check his ticket.

Geno spends the first half hour of the flight staring out his window, watching Pennsylvania and New Jersey disappear behind him with his phone pressed to his lips. He feels lonely and hollow, watching the stretches of gray-black towers slip away to green fields, and for the first time he can remember he wishes the plane were turning around. He stops himself from further brooding when he sees the first blue slip of the Atlantic Ocean, pulls down the shade on his window, and closes his eyes. There’s no point thinking about it now. What’s done is done, and he’s sure he’ll feel better once he gets to Moscow. He always does.

- - -

Geno realizes abruptly when the Russian team takes over the nearest bar in Zurich after winning Worlds that he hasn’t gotten laid in four months, which is ridiculous. He hasn’t gone that long ever, not even when he and Oksana were long-distance. Maybe that’s why he’s been so messed up about Sid, why he kissed him back. Maybe he just needs to have sex. Maybe it’s been long enough that anyone will do. He and Oksana have a deal on breaks, that they can both date whoever they want, as long as it’s casual. And right now, a casual one-night stand sounds perfect.

The girl he picks up that night is exactly his normal type of girl - stacked, long blonde hair, the kind of smile that says she knows something the rest of the world doesn’t. She doesn’t pretend she blows him for any reason other than that he’s a hockey player, and she waves off his offer to get her off in turn. Maybe that’s why he feels shitty when he goes back to the hotel, why he needs an extra-scalding shower to wash the memory off himself. He normally doesn’t do that kind of thing, when it’s so obviously about who he is and not because the girl actually is attracted to him.

He gets the name of the next girl he picks up back in Moscow - Tatyana. She’s nothing like his normal type. She’s a bit angular and almost doll-like, with a short-cut halo of tight black curls around her wide blue eyes, and she’s very, very shy. He likes her better. He likes her small rosebud mouth and how she giggles and smiles to herself when he does something right. And the sex is good - it’sreally good.

He should ask to do this again sometime, he thinks, when he still likes her the next morning, but something doesn’t feel quite right. He still thinks about Sid when he sees her messy curls after she wakes up instead of about how cute she looks. He still wishes he was kissing Sid when he kisses her goodbye, even though it’s a sweet kiss. He wonders if he liked Tatyana because something about her hair and the way she looked at him, half-laughing, half-shy through thick eyelashes, reminded him of Sid. Either way, he feels just as awful as he did after the girl in Zurich.

Sid includes him in a group e-mail that afternoon that’s some pictures of what look like truly awful attempts at whole-wheat pancakes and the caption Still can’t cook anything that isn’t eggs. :( Geno doesn’t respond, because Colby’s already beat him to it, ragging on Sid much more mercilessly and effectively than Geno’s grasp of English would allow him to. He doesn’t know what he’d say, anyways, besides he wishes he knew that he could sleep with Sid only once, that he wishes he knew what sleeping with Sid was like, and that if Sid had been the one in his kitchen this morning and made those, he’d still have eaten every last one of them. Or, at least, he’d have fed them to Jeffrey.

- - -

If Geno didn’t constantly replay it in his head, he’d almost think kissing Sid never happened at all. Sid acts as though everything is normal. He calls, texts, and e-mails exactly as much as he always has. He talks about all the normal things: hockey, training, fishing, golf, the stupid hats at the Kentucky Derby, Taylor and the guy she has a crush on who works at the local rink near Shattuck.

Are you sure a Russian mob hit is a bad idea? Sid e-mails him. I have a lot of money, and I want this done right.

Russian mob always messy, Geno writes back. Cheaper to ask Engo for favor.

It needs to be soon, Sid’s e-mail waiting for Geno in his inbox the next morning reads. I literally listened to her talk for fifteen minutes straight about how great he is. And if what Taylor says is true and this guy isn’t blind or a total dumbass, he’s got it bad for her too.

Geno, like the rest of the team, barely knows Taylor. He’s met her a few times, shaken her hand and said hello politely when she comes and sees a game or two each year, but never had a conversation. Flower is the only one of the team who has, and by all accounts, it was strictly about goaltending and Sid felt it necessary to supervise the entire time.

“Good kid,” Flower told him when he asked how it went out of perverse curiosity. “Smart. Asked a lot of good questions. Sid’s fucked, though. In a few years she’s gonna be hot on top of being a killer hockey player, and he’s gonna have to lock her up somewhere to keep boys away from her.”

“You thought sixteen year old was hot?” Geno asked dubiously, and Flower laughed.

“Nah, man, she’s gotta grow up first. But she lucked out, got Sid’s girly face without his crazy.”

And if that’s true, if she really does look as much like Sid as she did when Geno saw her almost a year and a half ago, if she really is as smart and funny and sweet as Sid swears she is, then Geno feels sorry for the nameless rink guy. He remembers meeting Sid at Worlds when he was eighteen, remembers what it was like to watch him play hockey and want to be playing next to him so badly it burned him up inside. If Sid had been a girl, with the same big smile and bright eyes, Geno wouldn’t be as confused as he is now, he’d have fallen in love with Sid right then and there and never looked back.

Maybe rink guy okay. He writes out over a bowl of fruit salad. Better she have boyfriend now. Almost same age as rookies. What happen when they learn you have hot sister?

When Geno takes his first break after weight-lifting, there’s a reply from Sid that just reads, You have nuns in Russia, right? Don’t call my sister hot. Geno barks out a laugh, which earns him a few glares from his fellow gym-goers.

If Geno were braver, he’d call Sid - not just text or e-mail about Taylor - and yell at him. He’d get angry that Sid came in and just changed everything without asking, turned it upside-down and inside-out and left Geno to deal with the mess Sid had made of what Geno had thought he wanted, or should want, anyway. It isn’t fair that Sid gets to go along being normal and complaining about normal things. There’s only one tiny thing that stops Geno from doing just that, and that is that Sid hasn’t called Geno once the entire summer either. It’s not like he usually calls very often, but a month is long even for him. He probably feels awkward and confused and more than a little embarrassed, and Geno feels the same way, so he doesn’t push it.

Instead, Geno settles for the e-mails about Sid’s new house, and the street hockey game on his new block that Sid joined (“I think there are a couple of ringers in there, eight year olds didn’t used to play like that”), and then about Duchene and LA and watching the Kings win the Cup. Geno tells him about training and publicity appearances with the World Cup and his Russian friends, and he doesn’t tell Sid that he’s working himself hard enough in training to be too tired to think about anything at all.

Sid doesn’t offer to come to the NHL awards, and Geno doesn’t ask. He’s nervous enough at the prospect of having to speak English that he almost doesn’t want to win at all. (Bullshit, you always want to win, Sid e-mails him back when Geno’s agonizing over his eighth draft and everyone else has long since refused to proofread his changes, and then Sid points out a dropped pronoun he missed.) Geno thinks it’s for the best, anyway. If Sid was there, Geno... doesn’t know what he’d do, actually. He knows what he thinks about doing, that he’s been running and swimming and weightlifting and skating so he forgets how badly he wants to do it, because it’s still wrong. Geno still feels like he doesn’t know how to make a choice, like he’s a stranger learning how to be in his own body and re-thinking everything he thought he knew before. He doesn’t even know how long this will last, if it’s worth breaking it off with Oksana for good, let alone calling Sid, even if he wants to hear him more than anything.

- - -

The news about Jordy doesn’t come until Geno’s in Miami, and his first reaction is a sad sense of resignation and then a flash of worry over how Sid must be feeling. Geno, at least, saw this coming. He sat next to Jordy earlier on a flight earlier that year, before Sid came back from his concussion, and Jordy spent a good ten minutes showing him what seemed like an endless stream of pictures of his nephews.

“They cute,” Geno said, because they were, even if he’d known that about thirty pictures ago, and then “look like Tanya, not a Staal,” which made Jordy laugh and kick his shins.

“Fuck you,” he said, and then his face twisted into a sad, unusually solemn sort of smile. “Y’know,” he said thoughtfully. “If - when my contract’s up this summer, I mean, I don’t want to leave Pittsburgh, but if it meant being close to these guys? I mean, Heather and I want kids, and if they got to grow up with their cousins... I think that’s something I’d seriously consider, you know?”

And even though Geno hadn’t, because he’d made the opposite choice and he’d make it a million times again, because home was home but Pittsburgh was hockey, he nodded and smiled and agreed. He can understand, at least, why Jordy would feel that way, even if he doesn’t, but he doesn’t think it’s in Sid’s power to understand that Pittsburgh isn’t sacred to some people the way it is to them.

you ok? he texts Sid. He doesn’t expect to get a reply, but five minutes later his phone is ringing with Sid’s number.

“Hi,” Sid says when Geno picks up. He sounds exhausted and miserable and still something heavy that’s been resting in between Geno’s shoulderblades feels like it’s been lifted, and he immediately feels terrible that even hearing Sid like this feels so good.

Still, he says, “don’t have to call, Sid,” in his gentlest tone.

“No,” Sid says firmly. “I did. I needed... just promise me that I’m not - this isn’t going to be you, one day.”

Geno wants to promise that yes, he’ll stay in Pittsburgh forever, because that’s all he’s ever wanted since he first stepped on the ice in a Penguins uniform, but that all depends on Sid and Sid’s contract. Geno is the last person who would ever ask Sid to take less or say Sid doesn’t deserve to take up every spare inch of cap space there is. But that isn’t something Sid needs to be reminded of now, so Geno just says, “not if I have say,” and he knows it’s the right thing by the way Sid sighs, like something heavy has been lifted off him too.

- - -

As much as Geno loves Sergei and Xenia, he doesn’t always love how much having them around is like having his parents around. They start giving him strange, almost sympathetic looks after Jordy gets traded, always opening their mouths to talk and getting interrupted by someone, usually the girls, who Geno has never loved more. He uses them as a barrier, declaring it their special day and catering to Natalie and Victoria’s every tiny, ridiculous whim. But after all the scuba diving and fried dough and shopping the girls inevitably collapse in front of the TV after they order dinner in, leaving Geno suddenly alone and trapped at the dinner table with Sergei, Xenia, and a bottle of wine. The wine looks the friendliest, so he takes it and pours himself a liberal glass.

“You have two choices,” Sergei says, well into his second glass himself. “You can tell us why you spoiled our children rotten today, or you can let us guess and not leave this table until we get it right.”

Geno watches them both evenly over the rim of his glass, trying to assess if they’re drunk enough to be serious, but of course, they’re not, they’re too smart for that. Blunt force is the only way out, then. But just to get back at them, he waits until they’re both taking a sip of wine before he goes, “Sid kissed me and I didn’t hate it,” just to watch them choke and splutter.

“One day,” Xenia says when she’s done coughing, “you’ll be old and boring like us, and then what will I do? I’ll have to watch soaps like everyone else.”

“Sidney Crosby kissed you,” Sergei repeats, and Geno makes a face at him, because how many other Sids does he think Geno knows? “When?”

“Right after we got eliminated.”

“Did you sleep together?” Xenia asks, and Geno blushes enough that she tilts her head and goes, “No, you wouldn’t with Sid, would you?”

“So you two kissed, and then you just left it like that?” Sergei asks. “And since when does Sid go around kissing guys who don’t - unless he -” His eyes widen and he points at Geno. “You like him.”

“Fuck off,” Geno sighs, scrubbing his face with his hand. He’s not drunk enough for this. He’ll never be drunk enough for this. “You know it’s more complicated than that.”

“You’re an idiot,” Sergei says, pouring himself another glass. “It’s like you don’t even want to be happy.”

“It’s Sid,” Geno says, by way of explanation. “Sid is...” Perfect he doesn’t finish, because that’s ridiculous. He knows better than anyone how imperfect Sid really is, how he’s a know-it-all who can’t stand to lose and he whines bitterly when he does. Sid puts on his socks before he puts on his pants, which is possibly the weirdest thing Geno has ever seen. But he’s also the guy who stays after with anyone until any hour, even if they’re a minor league rookie called up for only one game, and he’s the guy who signs an autograph for every kid he meets. Sid is hockey and Pittsburgh and hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head over and over, everything good wrapped up in one person. Geno wonders, sometimes, if the reason he never thought too hard about maybe having feelings for Sid has less to do with Sid being a guy and more to do with the fact that Sid is so out of his league that it’s crazy. It’s like thinking about Megan Fox suddenly showing up on his doorstep and saying she’s in love with him - he doesn’t bother because it’s never going to happen. It’s safer to stay with a sure thing, he thinks, only Sid happened, and Sid could be a sure thing, and that’s terrifying.

“Such an idiot,” Sergei groans.

“Well, what do you want me to do?” Geno snaps. “Sid isn’t exactly a good Russian wife.”

“Maybe you don’t want a good Russian wife,” Xenia suggests, putting her hand gently on Geno’s knee. “If you did, wouldn’t you and Oksana have worked?”

“Don’t bring her into this,” Geno says. “We will, I’m just too young -”

“You’re too something,” Sergei mutters.

“- but she’s the sort of person I should - the sort of person I want.”

“Bullshit,” Sergei says. “If she was, you would be with her. You wouldn’t have kissed Sid, you wouldn’t have flirted with him, it wouldn’t be complicated, you wouldn’t still be thinking about it, and you wouldn’t be using my daughters to pretend like you’re not. And yes,” he says, glaring at Geno’s mouth opening to protest, “I know that’s why you bought them fried dough as big as their heads. You think there’s this right person who you’re supposed to want, that’s your problem, you think this is all supposed to be easy.”

Geno wants to protest that it is, that love isn’t supposed to be something you have to work at feeling around a choking feeling of terror, it’s supposed to feel good. It’s easy to feel good around Oksana. He knows what he’s doing and what to expect, where he’s going. The only reason he’s hung up on Sid as anything more than a friend has to be because Sid jumbles him up, makes him feel like up is down and what’s wrong feels right and what he never wanted before he suddenly wants. None of Sergei’s advice is helping, and he’s set to tell Sergei that when he’s cut off by Victoria shuffling out to the balcony, knuckling her eyes as she climbs into her father’s lap and declaring herself ready for bed.

- - -

Everyone pairs off early in Magnitogorsk, the way people do in small towns. When it comes down to it, that’s what Magnitogorsk is: a small town that’s a city by dint of having nothing much besides rolling, empty fields around it. It’s not like Pittsburgh, which sprawls out in crowded suburbs forever. Geno’s friends back home all married young and most of them have kids by now, and Geno thought he escaped that by spending most of his time in Moscow, until he starts looking self-consciously around the tables at group dinners and everyone’s paired off and at least one of the girls is refusing wine politely and smiling with her husband down at her belly.

Two years ago, Geno was so sure he wanted that smiling couple to be him and Oksana. That was what he was supposed to do; meet a nice, beautiful girl and have grandchildren for his mother to dote on. Besides, babies were fun and he was good with them, and Oksana always wanted children, so it had seemed like a great idea until his mother and Oksana’s mother both insisted they get married first, and then he’d panicked. He’d suddenly realized that marriage and children were forever, and forever had seemed like a long time then, and far too permanent. So he broke up with Oksana, bought an ill-advised restaurant, and blown out his knee instead.

Geno’s friend Alexey gets engaged that summer, and as his fiancee is showing off her new ring to a huddled group of girls, he turns to Geno with a big, gap-toothed grin and says, “you next, huh Zhenya?”

Geno’s used to this kind of ribbing, and normally he thinks of Oksana and says “of course,” but when he thinks of her this time he feels ill and uncertain, and when he imagines a wedding with Sid sitting there amongst the other guests and smiling encouragingly, he feels worse. But Alexey is still waiting for his answer, so Geno gives him an anemic smile and says “sure”, before pouring himself a large glass of wine.

He drinks a little too much that night and ends up opening a new e-mail to Sid when he gets home. dont know who i am anymore he types out very, very carefully. A few more mouthfuls of vodka later, it seems like a great idea to press send.

When he wakes up in the morning, cotton-mouthed and cranky, there’s an e-mail from Sid that says Do you want me to tell you?, and he smiles around the water he’s guzzling.

No, he writes back, glad at least you know.

You’ll figure it out. :) Sid replies, like a smiley face can make everything okay.

Even with his current ambivalence about weddings, though, Geno is really sad that he has to miss Flower’s, even if he couldn’t have taken that much time off training. “I could have used you there,” Sid says the day after when Geno calls. He sounds a little groggy. “There were too many French Canadians.”

“You had Nealsy,” Geno says, and Sid snorts.

“Did you see his suit? I think he and Max were, like, exchanging information about awful tailors.”

“You only want me for my normal suits?” Geno asks. He’s edging into flirting territory, he knows, but Sid’s using the goofy tone that means he’s trying to joke, that he wants the person he’s talking to to push him around like he’s just another guy, and Geno suddenly wants to flirt with Sid, to break this friendly stasis Sid’s been carefully maintaining.

“Eh, maybe not,” Sid says. “I’d have competition for best dressed, then.”

“You get more bridesmaids without me,” Geno agrees, and Sid makes a noncommittal noise.

“Wasn’t much in the mood for bridesmaids,” he says. He sounds completely neutral, like he’s contemplating what he wants for dinner or the weather, but it’s enough to make Geno’s cheeks heat and something warm in the pit of his stomach unfurl just a little bit further, enough to make him think yes, this flirting is an indulgence he can have, a secret thing he can keep close and know it’s what he wants.

- - -

“How you figure out you like boys?” Geno asks Sid when Sid’s called to catch up after two weeks of only having time for texts and e-mails and during a pause in one of his golfing stories. Sid makes a choking noise.

“We’re talking about this now?”

“Who else I have to ask?” Geno says.

“Fine,” Sid sighs. “That’s fair. Um, always, I guess? I mean, I always had crushes on guys but, like, I mostly thought it was just that I wanted to be them or hang out with them, you know?”

“Yeah,” Geno says. That’s been the most confusing part of this whole thing, going back and thinking about all of Denis’ friends he’d hero worshipped and followed around like a lost puppy, or how many hours he’d lost staring at his Sakic and Federov posters and the elaborate fantasies he had about playing on a line with them, and realizing that, in retrospect, that all might have been something more.

“But girls were okay,” Sid goes on. “And they were just, you know, easier. And it was like that until, like, two years ago.”

“What change two years ago?” Geno feels like he can hear Sid blushing. “Sid.”

“My friend Tim, he, uh, he lives up in Cole Harbour and his parents throw this big barbecue every Canada Day,” Sid says, awkward and halting. “Two years ago his cousin Eric was in from Hamilton, and, uh, he was kind of cute, I guess? I don’t know, he was just really friendly, and I’d had a few beers, and, uh, we kind of hooked up in Tim’s bathroom?”

“Oh,” Geno says. He’d guessed that he wasn’t the first guy Sid had ever liked, or maybe even kissed. But he’d wanted, selfishly, to change Sid’s world as much as Sid had changed his. “So you have a few beers on the way back from Philly, too?”

“I already said I was sorry about that,” Sid snaps, “but I thought you wanted it too, okay. And I get that it’s weird for you that I have this stupid crush on you -”

“You have crush on me?” Geno asks. His heart is doing uncomfortable things in his chest, tightening and expanding all at once.

“Fucking fuck,” Sid bites out, “no, I kissed you because it seemed like fucking fun -”

“How long?”

There’s a long, tense pause before Sid mumbles out a miserable “Two years.”

“Two years -”

“It’s not like I was pining!” Sid cuts in. “You had a girlfriend and I had a concussion and I just sort of, it was just sort of a no big deal thing, only then I got better and I thought you were single and flirting with me.”

It’s a horrible, sensible timeline when Sid lays it out like that, how Geno’s last attempt at a relationship with Oksana lined up with Sid’s concussion, how it had taken only a week of Sid being back for them to end things, and how it had seemed, at the time, like a coincidence. He’s kind of a terrible person. “I am bad choice, Sid,” he says eventually. “You could have - you have anyone you want.”

“I didn’t want anyone,” Sid says. “I wanted you.”


Sid sucks in a breath and is silent for a moment, as if he’s weighing out his answer. “I don’t know,” he says finally. “It’s not like you did anything. I just remember coming to training camp after that summer and it was like, you know, when you’ve seen someone a million times before, and then it just sort of clicks, and it’s like you see them for the first time?”

“Yeah,” Geno says hoarsely. “Is what happens when you kiss me.”

Sid lets out a quiet little “Oh” and then falls silent again.

“How you know,” Geno starts, then pauses. “How you know is not bad idea? How you not care what everyone else think?”

“I don’t know it’s not a bad idea,” Sid says frankly. “But, I mean, can you imagine if I listened to everything people said I should do? You just... you do what’s right as best you can.”

“And if you wrong?”

“Then you fix it,” Sid says in his bracing, captainly tone. “You’re a good guy, Geno. You’ll know what to do.”

“Yeah.” Geno doesn’t mention that summer’s winding down and he’s still as confused as ever. He doesn’t mention that it’s not what he wants that confuses him, it’s wanting it in the first place, and it’s everything that comes with wanting it at all.

- - -

Two days into their training, Kadar crosses his arms, tilts his head, and goes, “who is she?”

“Who is who?” Geno asks, toweling off his hair from the pool.

“The girl you keep thinking about,” Kadar says, moving out of dripping range. “You’re not focused.”

Geno frowns. “Do drills wrong?”

“You do the drills perfectly,” Kadar waves him off, and Geno relaxes and goes back to trying to get water out of his ear. “You’re just not all there.”

“Is fine.”

“Is it your ex?” Kadar asks, and Geno shakes his head. He’s barely seen Oksana since she was at his birthday, and that was the first time he’d seen her at all since they broke up. They hadn’t even hooked up. “Someone here I should meet? Someone back in Pittsburgh?”

“Is fine,” Geno interrupts, before Kadar starts guessing names.

“So it’s someone in Pittsburgh, then.”

“He’s good at guessing,” Sergei pipes up beside him, in Russian so Kadar won’t understand. “Of course, it’s not that hard when you blush every time he gets close.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Geno snaps, turning around to glare at Sergei, and Sergei and Kadar exchange looks, heavy with resigned condescension.

“He’s being idiot,” Sergei finally says to Kadar, in English again. “I work on training him too. Is a hard job.”

“Fuck both of you,” Geno says, and stomps off before they can gang up on him. He doesn’t know if Sergei tells Kadar who it is he’s preoccupied with and he wouldn’t much care if he did. Kadar can keep his mouth shut.

Sid isn’t sympathetic when Geno calls him to complain about Kadar and Sergei on his back. “Is it because you aren’t training hard enough?” He asks briskly. “Because I’ll stop calling or give you more time to think if -”

“I train hard,” Geno insists, wincing as he moves the icepack on his knee. It’s not even his bad knee, but he banged it up yesterday and the bruising is impressive. He feels good, though, when he doesn’t hurt.

“You better be training hard,” Sid says. “I don’t hang out with slackers.”

“Not slacking,” Geo grumps.

“Good,” Sid says briskly. “Because I’m riding you hard this year. I know how good you can be now, so no more coasting or compromising for me.”

Geno makes a choking noise, and when Sid says “What?” irritably Geno goes, “Sound dirty coming from you, Sid.”

“If that’s what motivates you, it was dirty,” Sid says. He’s completely businesslike and devoid of emotion, in that strange robot place where he’ll do anything to win and get his way even if it means pimping himself out. And strangely, it’s really working for Geno. He likes being challenged, being pushed - being ridden - when it’s Sid, because Sid’s one of the few people who’s earned that right. He suddenly wants to knock the icepack off his knee and go tandem bike or swim until he can’t feel his limbs, just so he’ll be so good when he gets back to camp that it won’t be him slack-jawed and hot under the collar, it’ll be Sid.

He doesn’t tell Sid that, though, he just says, “fuck off, Sid,” and they go back to idly shooting shit like that never happened.

Geno kills it in training the next day, though, and Kadar watches him thoughtfully, half-smiling, half-curious, but he doesn’t say anything, and Geno doesn’t offer any sort of explanation.

- - -

Geno’s packing for Barcelona when his phone rings. He frowns at the screen that says “Sid” - Sid rarely calls, and when he does, he usually texts Geno first to make sure it’s a good time, even though Geno’s sure he can calculate the time difference just fine.

“Sid?” He asks.

“Hi,” Sid says briskly. Geno hadn’t thought it was a pocket-dial, and he was sure no one had stolen Sid’s shitty flip phone, but he hadn’t been able to figure out anything that made sense. “Are you going to Barcelona?”

“Um, yes?” Geno asks, looking down at his half-packed duffel.

“Oh.” Sid sounds strange, and not in a way explained by a bad connection.


“It’s just... You know how important this is, right? I mean, I know you’d probably enjoy playing back in Russia for a year -”

“You think I don’t try for good contract so I play in Russia again?” Geno asks incredulously, the so I can avoid thinking about you going unspoken. If it was anyone else, he’d be insulted, but it’s Sid, who’s never intentionally rude but always insecure and therefore unintentionally awkward.

“Not on purpose?” Sid hedges. “It just wouldn’t be so bad for you, maybe. But it’d really suck for some people.”

“It really suck for me too,” Geno assures him. “If I want to play in KHL, I play in KHL. I want to play in NHL.”

“With me?”

Geno’s heart stutters and he clenches the phone tighter. “With you,” he agrees. He hears Sid sigh at the other end of the line in what Geno hopes is relief.

“Okay,” Sid says. “Well, um, good luck.”

“Thanks,” Geno says. They’re silent for a few beats, unsure of how to end the conversation until Sid says “Bye” softly and hangs up before Geno can reply.

Geno’s still staring at the phone in confusion when Sergei pokes his head in a few minutes later. “Who just called you?”

“Sid,” Geno says, pocketing his phone. “He worries.” He doesn’t get why Sergei laughs at that. It’s not funny. Sid worries about everyone, Geno’s not kidding himself into thinking he’s special.

- - -

Just like fishing and playing with Sergei’s daughters and eating his mother’s cooking, waking up in bed next to Oksana and wondering how he got there is a part of Geno’s summer routine. The night before is usually the same - they’re at something with mutual friends, Geno drinks a little too much, looks across the room, and remembers that Oksana is the only woman besides his mother he’s ever really loved. So when Oksana calls him and asks if he wants to come over for dinner, he says yes, even if he knows what this is the start of. She’s still his friend, and he’s mature enough to act like it and not take it further unless he wants to.

He can tell Oksana wants to take it further by how she looks when she opens the door and invites him in. She’s wearing less makeup and more casual clothes, the way he always used to love her best, and she lingers on the lipgloss-sticky kiss she presses to his cheek.

“I remembered your diet,” she says when they sit down at the table and she pulls some plates from the oven. “There’s a place a few blocks over that makes wonderful salmon.”

“You didn’t have to,” Geno says, but she waves him off.

“Sit down and relax. You should tell me about your trip to Barcelona.”

So Geno talks to her while she serves them and starts to eat. He skips over the negotiations, because he knows she doesn’t care about all those boring details. Instead he tells her about the perfect long stretches of white sand and shallow, warm water, he tells her about the Gaudí buildings that rise like castles made of sand and seaglass, about the meticulously laid out stone streets and the constant stream of Vespas that will run you down if you’re not careful.

“And the contract negotiation?” she asks, refilling his wine glass.

“Thanks,” Geno says automatically, even though he’s surprised she asked. “Well, I think? The guys who met in Chicago did most of the work, we just changed a few details. Nice vacation, really.”

“Do you think they’ll go for it?”

Geno looks up sharply from his plate. “I hope so,” he says, watching Oksana trace along the curve of her own glass with her fingertips. “Why?”

“Would it really be so bad if you played in Russia for one year?” she asks, soft and plaintive. “Couldn’t we make it work, if you stayed here? We’re not getting any younger, Zhenya, and we always... I thought we’d be married by now, starting a family. I thought that was your dream too.”

“It’s my dream to have a family in Pittsburgh,” he corrects, feeling the old, familiar guilt. He knows she hates Pittsburgh. Her old ultimatum that he leave there for another team was a step too far, but she’d at least tried to move and make it work, and he’s never done any such thing for her. He should have been able to meet her halfway somehow. He should have been able to promise that he’d move back to Russia when hockey was all over, at the very least. Oksana’s face twists into something sour, like her dinner has begun to disagree with her.

“It’s always Pittsburgh with you.”

Geno sighs and stands up, taking both their plates as he goes. Dinner is clearly over. “I don’t want to do this again, Koska,” he murmurs, kissing her cheek after he puts the plates in the sink, which she accepts with downcast eyes. “Thank you for dinner. It was delicious.”

“Go on, then,” she says. It used to be that she would have bitten those words out, angry and vicious. Now she just sounds resigned, like she didn’t expect any different. It hurts more than her anger would have. “I hope Pittsburgh appreciates all you give up for it.”

He doesn’t answer her before he leaves. He doesn’t have anything to say.

- - -

Sid calls when the lockout is official and the first thing out of his mouth after “hello” is “are you okay?”

“You ask if I okay?” Geno asks incredulously. He’s doing all right, he thinks. He has a team to play for, he gets to spend time with his family, and he didn’t miss almost all of the last two seasons the way Sid did.

“I didn’t know if being back playing for them brought up... stuff,” Sid says awkwardly. “Stuff you, you know, needed time to think about.”

“Sid -” Geno says, suddenly uncomfortable.

“I miss you,” Sid says, so quietly Geno isn’t sure he was supposed to hear it, but he tries to memorize the words anyway. “And so if you, if you need more time, if you didn’t want to decide or promise anything, that would be okay.”

“I miss you too,” Geno says, “but maybe is, is sign.”

“Geno -”

“Is bad idea,” Geno plows on, and this was so much easier to get out when he was just trying to convince himself. “What we have is... is just hockey, Sid. You take away, we just two people far apart. So you find someone better.”

“If that’s what you want,” Sid says, like it’s really just that easy for him, like Geno just had to tell him no and he’s over it.

“Is not what I want. Is like, I love Pittsburgh -” Steelers, bright lights, sold out crowds, passing to Sid, Sid, Sid - “but Russia home.” And Russia means responsibilities, the same way Sid has responsibilities. Sid has to always be polite and do a million commercials and be the face of everything. Geno, he has to be polite and find a nice Russian girl to marry and move back when he’s done with hockey and never, ever do anything to hint that there’s anywhere he’d rather be than where he is right now. If Sid can just say what he feels goes away that easy, that closing that door is okay, then it’s a good thing Geno closed it first before he examined too closely what was behind it. He has the feeling if he ever did, he’d never be able to shut that door and have it be okay ever again.

- - -

Geno gives up on pretending that his mind isn’t elsewhere after that and throws himself into a full-on mope. Once summer ends, Russia feels out of place, awkward. He misses English and sushi and football. He misses Dixi more than ever, the pain of losing her lingering because he keeps forgetting she won’t be waiting for him when he goes home. He misses Sid the most. He knows he did the right thing and still he misses what could have been, what would have been so good if he and Sid were anyone or anywhere else.

“At least pretend you’re happy you’re still here,” Max says, nudging him with his foot at Geno’s last lunch in Moscow before he heads out to Magnitogorsk. “Come on, a little smile.”

Geno tries one, but he’s sure it looks anemic, stilted. “It’s hard,” he says, when Max doesn’t look impressed. “Russia,” he starts, and then sighs, “it doesn’t feel much like home anymore.”

“Is that really all it is?” Max asks. Geno’s mouth tightens as he looks down at his lunch, which doesn’t taste right. The texture is too old and familiar. Everything feels cloying and strange, his internal rhythm thrown off. He should be in a hotel room surrounded by loud chatter, eating foreign foods. He should be watching the leaves change color, and Sid should be laughing at him for staring at the trees with such breathless wonder, even after six years. Sid should be letting Geno steal sips of his pumpkin spice latte, guilty about ordering such a girly drink until he takes the first sip and his face melts into an expression of bliss. The world should be too large with possibility, not confining and well-trodden.

“Got used to things a certain way, I guess,” he says. Max doesn’t look happy, but he lets the subject drop, for now.

- - -

Geno wakes up his first morning after moving back into his parents’ house in Magnitogorsk to Denis in the kitchen mangling that stupid Gotye song he hasn’t been able to escape on either side of the Atlantic Ocean.

“Where is everyone else?” Geno grumps, sliding into the breakfast bar and rubbing his eyes with the heel of his palm. “And why aren’t you still at your girlfriend’s house singing at her?”

“I’m happy to see you too, Zhenya,” Denis says. He’s making something egg-y on the stove,but Geno can’t see what. “And Mama had a check-in for her back, so I came to make breakfast for you before I go to work this afternoon.”

Geno makes a sleepy, discontent noise and buries his head in his arms. He’d forgotten it was a Tuesday, a day normal people go to work and doctor’s appointments. “I can cook,” he mutters petulantly, and Denis just laughs.

“Say that to someone who hasn’t eaten your stroganoff.”

“I was sixteen,” Geno says indignantly. He sounds like he’s sixteen all over again, too, because he always does around Denis. “And that was one time.”

“Maybe I just wanted to see you,” Denis says, while Geno goes to pour himself orange juice.

“You can’t have missed me that much,” Geno says. He takes a quick sip from the carton when he knows Denis is looking, just to piss him off. Denis gives him a look that clearly says he thinks Geno is being a brat, so Geno says, “why, what’s up with you?”

He lets Denis go on a soothing monologue about his girlfriend, about the kids he’s coaching at their old school, how he’s thinking of going to culinary school in Moscow (he’s always thinking of going to culinary school in Moscow). “Is something bothering you?” Denis asks when he’s done, peering at Geno the way their father does when he’s worried but trying not to say anything.

Geno and Denis have never been the sort of brothers who share feelings with each other, but Geno considers, for a brief second, telling Denis about everything that’s happened this summer, and then dismisses it. Denis keeps his life small. He makes excuses not to come visit Geno in Pittsburgh. He’s the good son, the son who stays back with their parents and has been dating the same girl for four years, a girl their mother actually likes, which is something Geno’s never managed. For all he and Denis share, to Denis, the world will never get bigger than culinary school in Moscow. He’s the last person who would ever understand that Geno feels hemmed in, like when he was a teenager having growth spurts and still trying to fit in his too-small clothes. Denis wouldn’t understand feeling suffocated in Magnitogorsk, or why Geno feels like he’s gone back in time to being nineteen and stuck in Russia all over again, or what it’s like to be tied in knots over Sid, or how badly Geno wants to scream and how frustrated he feels that he has to be good and keep silent.

“I’m fine,” Geno lies instead, smiling around his orange juice. “Its good to be back home.”

- - -

When they first broke up, Geno and Oksana had agreed not to be that couple that couldn’t stand to be around each other. They had too many friends in common not to remain on good terms and liked each other too much besides. They’ve stuck to that resolution every time they’ve broken up since, and it works, as far as Geno’s concerned.

The problem is, whenever Geno’s feeling vulnerable or lonely, Oksana’s there with a kind word and a hug that never stays just a kind word and a hug.They’re not together, not doing anything more than what Geno did with the girls he picked up that summer. But sex is never really just sex between the two of them, even if Geno’s acting like that’s all it is, even if Oksana’s playing along. It looks good that they’re even loosely together, like he’s happy to be playing in Russia with his girlfriend. He’s acting the way a good Russian player should.

But the longer the lockout goes on, the harder it gets to maintain the illusion, until it’s late-November and he hears Oksana ask while he’s rustling around half-dressed to find the rest of his clothes, “this doesn’t mean anything, does it?”

“Of course it means something,” Geno says, because sex with Oksana never, ever means nothing. But then he notices that Oksana is pale and red-eyed with her lips drawn in a pouty, slanted line, huddled in on herself in the bed. “Koska,” he starts apologetically, sitting down next to her and rubbing his thumb along her elbow.

“We shouldn’t do this again,” she says, not meeting his eyes. “We know this doesn’t work, why do we keep trying?”

“I don’t know,” Geno says quietly. “I love you. I guess I don’t know how not to.”

“You love a lot of things,” she says with a watery laugh. “You love your dog, you don’t sleep with him.”

“I love you a little more than that,” Geno insists, but he knows that she’s right. He leans in to give her a close-mouthed kiss goodbye, tear-salty and bittersweet. “I’m sorry,” he says. It’s not enough to make up for everything he’s done, but Oksana nods and pulls him in for a final hug, burying her face in his shoulder, and he thinks maybe for her, it could be.

Geno makes extra sure to get everything from Oksana’s house before he shuts the door for the final time. An awful part of him thinks maybe he should feel relief, that this part of his life is finally over, but it doesn’t. It feels more like when he was little and his mother yanked out one of his loose teeth because it was dangling there by a thread. It had hurt and bled and even if a new, better one had grown in its place, he never forgot that sting.

Oksana is a little bigger and more important than any tooth.

- - -

Geno wonders if the reason he never broke up for good with Oksana before wasn’t just the lack of motivation but because of the inevitable awkwardness. His family is almost insultingly happy. Denis actually whoops when Geno tells them, and his mother and father at least are respectfully silent, even though he’s sure internally they’re just as bad as Denis.

“It’s for the best,” his father tells him after dinner, once Denis has left for his girlfriend’s. “Relationships shouldn’t be such hard work.”

Geno looks up from his laptop. “I thought you were supposed to work at relationships,” he says blankly, and his parents exchange a look.

“You should want to,” his mother says finally. “Like hockey. When you want to work, you’re more dedicated than anyone I know. And with Oksana,” she shakes her head. “No dedication. You gave up every time anything was hard. You can’t do that when you get married or have children.”

“Find someone who makes you want to work hard,” Geno’s father suggests gently, and Geno shrugs and turns away, pointedly not thinking about Sid and all he’s done for him, all he’d still be willing to do.

Sergei just nods and says “good,” when Geno tells him over pool the next day.

“It’s not good,” Geno says. “It’s terrible.”

“You’ve been dragging this out for years,” Sergei says, bending over and lining up a shot that bounces but sets him up for the next round nicely. “If you want to act like you’re not in love with Sid, fine, but don’t bring her into this mess.”

“I still love her,” Geno says, “and Sid and I...” He shrugs. “What’s the point?”

“Zhenya,” Sergei says gently, straightening up and putting a heavy, fatherly hand on his shoulder. “You’re in love with him. That’s the point.”

“If just loving someone was enough, I’d still be with Oksana,” Geno says, shrugging Sergei’s hand off.

“And you’re telling me there’s nothing different about the two of them?” Sergei asks. “You feel exactly the same?”

Geno doesn’t answer. To answer feels disrespectful to Oksana, like he’s blaming her because he outgrew the childish ideas of what love was and what it meant. It isn’t her fault any more than it’s Sid’s fault for being someone Geno can’t help but love even when he shouldn’t. “Maybe I’m just bad at loving people,” he says.

“Or maybe,” Sergei says, “you’re too good at it.”

- - -

The Christmas lights come up a few days later, and as December rolls in so do the really big snowstorms. Snow makes Geno think of Sid, of how he gets excited like a little kid whenever there’s a blizzard, how he beams up at the sky like a thank you. But lately everything makes him think of Sid.

“Are you okay?” Sid asks when Geno breaks down enough to call, shoulders heavy with a C and too much he feels and too many things he can’t change. He can picture Sid with his furrowed brow and slight pout, acting as though he didn’t call Geno just last week, voice shaking with frustration. He acts like he didn’t rant for ten minutes about how stuck he felt, having to stay put and smile, because he had to act like the talks look promising even if he has no idea whether they are or not, like he thought being vicariously angry is good enough.

“No,” Geno sighs, looking up at the smoky night sky and the snow falling for what looks like forever, the way Sid would if he were here. “I miss you.”

“Geno -” Sid says, voice sounding soft and vulnerable, and Geno hates himself.

“I need you to tell me what to do with C,” he says. “I don’t know. I suck.”

Sid’s chuckle is shaky, but there. “You’re doing fine,” he says. “And I think we’re really getting somewhere with these talks.” Geno isn’t sure which one of them he’s trying to reassure, but he closes his eyes and makes himself believe it’s true. “Do you believe me?” Sid asks, like he can read Geno’s mind, or maybe like he needs Geno to believe in him so he can believe in himself.

I’m in love with you, Geno thinks in a sudden moment of cold clarity, I think I always will be. But that’s not an answer and not something he’s ready to say aloud yet, so instead he says “I believe you,” which is close enough to the same thing.

- - -

Geno isn’t sure what’s harder on Sid, the failed negotiations or Flower and Veronique announcing they’re having a kid. Which is odd, Geno had thought, since Sid loves kids, but Sid’s apparently reached the point where any changes, good or bad, are sitting wrong with him.

“I thought I’d have someone by now,” Sid says. He sounds exhausted, more than Geno’s heard him since his neck put him back out last year, like he wants to cry but can’t or won’t. “I want... I don’t want to play in Europe, you know? That’s like admitting there’s not gonna be a season.”

“Sid -” Geno starts gently, because Sid needs to know, if he’s really considering Europe, that he’d have Geno, that Geno’s finally ready for him, for them.

“It’s like, I’m not even a person without hockey,” Sid plows on, ignoring Geno in favor of a monologue that’s clearly been building for months. “I’ve got fuck-all without it. My parents were married and had me at my age. Mario was married with kids too, and now Flower. Jordy and Max left - did you know Max has a girlfriend, now? Like, he’s stopped fucking around and got an actual girlfriend he’s serious about? Everyone’s got something or someone and I’ve got nothing. I do sit-ups to pass the time.”

Sid -”

“And I thought I had you,” Sid sounds really angry now, his voice oddly shaky, “and I don’t, we’re just another hockey thing, and that’s fine, I’m not, I don’t need your pity, okay? I’m just mad that you have a plan, you’ve at least got something else going on, and I’ve got nothing.”

“Oksana and I break up for good,” Geno tells him, because Sid finally sounds like he’s finished talking. “We end it. Is done.”

Sid is silent.

“You have me, Sid,” Geno says quietly, and he can hear Sid’s breathing pick up, heavier and faster. “You always have me. I mess up and not always good, but, but you have. Always have.”

Geno isn’t sure what he’s expecting, but Sid furiously spitting out, “Fuck your pity, and fuck you,” wasn’t it at all.

Sid doesn’t call, text, or e-mail for the next three days, and finally Geno types out very, very carefully, Not pity. I mean it. You have me. and presses send.

We’ll talk about it later. Sid responds tersely the next day, and then, because he probably thought that was too rude, Enjoy your break in Moscow.

Geno doesn’t.

- - -

By all rights, Geno knows he should be happy. He wins a cup for Russia with his friends - including Oksana, though she leaves too quickly for them to speak after - cheering him on, and he does it in Moscow, which is the greatest city in the world. He still loves the red stretching walls of the Kremlin, the candy-colored domes of St. Basil’s, and how they mix with the sleek lines of modern skyscrapers. He loves the constant noise and burbling chatter of Russian and car horns and people pressed everywhere - the streets, the metro, the stadiums. It’s the home he always dreamed of when he was little, a place where everything was opulent and fast-paced and bright. And it’s a good home, but he thinks, maybe, it’s not his home.

Geography, Geno realizes, isn’t about what’s in a place and what the weather is like. Places are the people who inhabit them. Magnitogorsk is his mother and father and brother; a battered, quiet little childhood that’s smoky and worn with love around the edges. Moscow is Oksana and his glamorous friends who wear fancy shoes and designer everything, glossy and fast-paced and air-kissed affection on cheeks. And so long as he stays skating on the surface of that life in Moscow and doesn’t think about the coziness of a family to come home to, he can be happy there.

But it’s Pittsburgh he misses when he closes his eyes at night. Pittsburgh is the strange amalgamation of a million things he loves. It’s the CONSOL Center hallways and sharp Yinzer accents, it’s shopping for Russian food at Kiev and American food at Cracker Barrel, it’s that breathless moment coming out of the highway tunnel from the airport after a late flight where you can see the whole city laid out and lit up below. It’s his teammates and especially Sid he misses the most.

Sid still speaks to him, sometimes. The first words out of his mouth when he called a week after their fight had been, “Let’s pretend it never happened”, and they do, but something’s off. Talking to Sid feels more like a postcard from Pittsburgh, and Geno was used to long, heartfelt letters.

The postcards will dry up soon, too. Sid tells him a week before Christmas that, unless there’s a miracle before the New Year, he’s coming to Europe.

“Oh,” Geno says, torn between feeling too many things to name at once. “Where you go?”

“Switzerland, probably,” Sid says, and that’s still so, so far away. “They’ve got the most money and biggest crowds there, so. We’ll see.”

On January second (“Hangover Day,” Denis called it, toasting Geno last night with the vodka he and their father had used to stay merrily tipsy all of yesterday) Geno wakes up to a phone filled with e-mails and news alerts. He has a brief moment of giddy hope that the lockout is over, but it’s instead about Sid - Sid going to Bern, group e-mails wishing him well, an e-mail Sid sent out informing everyone of his new address and phone number and replies from people Geno didn’t even know Sid knew, and under it all a lonely e-mail from Sid timestamped an hour before everything else. I think I’m going to Bern, it reads. I know you’re asleep, but I need to tell someone who won’t tell anyone. And that’s all there is, no matter how many times Geno tries clicking it to find more.

“Are you happy or sad?” Sergei asks when he comes over for supper that night, and Geno shrugs a little helplessly.

“Both,” he says. Terrified, he thinks.

- - -

Sid comes to Switzerland while Geno’s playing in Prague, and it takes a lot of convincing from Sergei to not fake sick and hop on the next flight to Bern instead of playing one more game in Moscow.

“Life is not a romantic comedy, Zhenya,” Sergei sighs wearily. “Can’t you wait a few more days until we have a break? Sid won’t exactly welcome you with open arms if he knows you skipped a game for him.”

Geno supposes that much is true, especially since Sid’s gone back to being distant since their fight. He doesn’t even know if Sid wants to see him, but he’d been hoping the grandness of the gesture would win him points. It diminishes it to actually send Sid a text that says break on 11. I come visit?

Sid demures politely for a bit that Geno doesn’t have to, but gives in pretty easily once he realizes Geno’s either coming to Bern and seeing him or coming to Bern and not seeing him. Looking forward to it :) Sid’s final text reads, and Geno holds his phone with his heart pounding, desperately trying not to read too much into getting the first smiley from Sid that he’s gotten in weeks.

“I’m going to see him,” he says dully to Sergei, still in shock. “In three days, I’m going to see him.”

“Ah,” Sergei sighs nostalgically, “if that isn’t the face of a young idiot in love, I don’t know what is.” Geno is forced to take the pillow from his hotel bed and hit Sergei in the face with it.

- - -

Geno hasn’t so much as let himself look at a picture of Sid since he left. He could have Skyped, or found them online, because he knows Sid is followed and photographed everywhere, and that the informal NHLPA practices were open to fans with cameras, but he hadn’t wanted to. It hadn’t seemed fair, to torture himself filling his head with pictures of Sid looking uncomfortable with fans when that wasn’t his Sid at all.

Sid doesn’t look much more comfortable when Geno shows up at his apartment building, straight from the airport and too excited to wait, but he at least looks uncomfortable and happy about it. And he looks good, too. He’s broader across the chest and shoulders and he isn’t stretched thin the way he was while he was injured, or restless the way he was when he came back, like he had something to prove. He looks settled, like he fits in his own skin. The old Pens sweatshirt Sid’s wearing looks a little tight, and his bare toes are peeking out from under his jeans and curling in the colder air in the hallway. His hair is cut a little shorter than Geno remembers, and he looks really, really hot. The kind of hot that makes Geno’s wool coat feel too confining and his stomach feels like fireworks are going off in it.

“Hi,” Geno says awkwardly, and Sid smiles at him like he just uttered the most profound word ever spoken.

“Hey,” he breathes out, and gestures Geno in with automatic politeness. “Come on in.” Sid takes his coat and scarf easily while Geno toes off his shoes, and then they stand there, frozen, both unsure what to do.

“Want to see my place?” Sid blurts out awkwardly. His hands are shoved so far in his pockets Geno thinks they could get lost in there.

“Sure,” Geno says, because as badly as he wants to kiss Sid and as many times as he’s imagined it, he’s never really pictured kissing a Sid this tightly wound and clearly nervous. It’s a short tour, anyway, because while it’s a nice place and comfortably pre-furnished, it’s certainly not ostentatious.

“...and that’s the bedroom,” Geno catches Sid saying, because he’d shamefully been tuning out most of what Sid was babbling about, just letting Sid’s real voice with all the rich notes he’d missed on the phone wash over him. He’d felt giddy and drunk over every tiny mannerism and uniquely Sid gesture he caught that proved Sid was in front of him and real.

“Sid,” Geno says gently, catching Sid’s elbow, because Sid’s blushing and looking down, like he can hear what Geno’s been thinking about him. “Can I?” he asks, and Sid shivers at the touch and presses closer into Geno’s hand almost without thought.

“Are you asking if you can kiss me?” Sid asks incredulously, and Geno finds himself smiling a little.


Sid is silent for a moment, studying Geno’s face, before he takes a deep breath and nods. So Geno leans in slowly, just enough that their noses are brushing and they’re breathing against each other. He wants to remember how the tip of Sid’s nose feels dragging across his cheek and the way Sid makes a little impatient huff when Geno takes too long. And so even though Geno wants to stay like this forever, too close and heart racing, he presses a kiss to the upper corner of Sid’s mouth, and then, braver, lingers on his lower lip. Even the barest, most tentative kiss is so good, so much better than the worn-thin memory of their first kiss. Sid’s face is pink when Geno finally pulls away, and he looks torn between pleased and huffy, like he’s almost mad at himself for getting so flustered. Geno has to kiss that pout away, has to hold Sid tighter and kiss him deeper until Sid is moaning and fumbling backwards towards the door of the bedroom and dragging Geno with him.

“Tell me this is why you came to Bern,” Sid gasps when Geno nips at his jawline, one hand gripped painfully tight around Geno’s shoulder and the other leaning heavily on the doorknob. “You - for me. You came for me.”

“No,” Geno teases, pushing the door open and walking Sid slowly back to the bed. “I like clocks.”

Sid’s laugh is bright and loud and still that terrible noise like a dying car horn, and Geno loves it. “You asshole,” Sid says, sounding delighted, and Geno has to kiss him again and taste that laughter in Sid’s mouth.

Kissing Sid is like sinking slowly into a warm bath, but instead of soothing the heat is hungry and reckless. It’s easy to get lost in the way Sid’s mouth and tongue slide against his, and forget everything but how warm Sid’s hands are when they slip under Geno’s shirt, how heavy and big they are resting at the base of Geno’s spine. Sid is solid under Geno when he tugs Geno down onto the bed. He’s nothing like Geno ever thought to want, but he’s perfect. He isn’t even shy anymore, pushing at Geno’s sweater like it personally offends him. Shirts are easy to get rid of, but pants are harder. Button flies are almost enough to make Geno miss getting bras off, because at least that was something he’d taught himself to be good at. But the two of them with their fronts pressed together trying to undo belts and flies is impossible, and Sid finally gets frustrated enough to sit up on his knees so they can both kick their pants down.

They sit there, frozen for a moment, Sid on his knees above Geno’s lap, both breathing heavily, just staring at each other. Tentatively, Geno reaches out and smooths his hand from Sid’s heart to his hip and then rests it there, thumb rubbing in circles, and waits. Sid looks like a marble statue brought to life, all sleek lines and masculine curves. He’s as still as one, too, suddenly back to being withdrawn, thoughtful, nervous.

“Don’t -” Sid swallows, like there’s something he needs to say but isn’t sure how. “Don’t leave that long ever again.”

Geno spoke Sidney Crosby long before he spoke English. He knows that even if it sounds like an order, it’s not - it’s a plea. Sid knows as well as Geno does that there are no certainties in hockey. There could be another lockout after this one, Geno could be traded, one of them could get an injury that requires long and grueling recuperation somewhere far away. But Geno still presses a kiss to the center of Sid’s chest and says “I promise,” because he won’t, not if he can help it, and that makes Sid smile and lean down to kiss Geno again.

It’s been so long since Geno’s had sex with someone he was in love with - really in love with, not trying to mimic love where it used to be - that he’s forgotten what it’s like. He’d forgotten how intense just being naked can be, how every inch of touching skin feels lit up by static electricity. He and Sid are just kissing, but whenever Geno’s hips stutter against his or he kisses Sid’s neck, Sid moans like he’s done something amazing. When Sid pulls Geno on top of him, or squirms, or hitches his hips and sighs, Geno’s breath catches. His throat feels like it’s going to close from how good, how perfect everything is.

Geno pulls back a little when he feels Sid’s movements against him getting jerkier, more erratic, because he wants to see this, wants to see Sid come apart. Sid groans at the loss, scrabbling at the sheets under him to get purchase.

“Geno,” he says hoarsely, “fuck, you can’t - don’t just - I will kill you -”

“Okay,” Geno says, peppering Sid’s shoulders with soft kisses, and sliding his hands down Sid’s skin, tacky with sweat under Geno’s palms. He’s not sure what Sid is asking for, but when he pulls Sid’s hips closer and holds them there to figure it out, Sid spasms under him and grabs at Geno so hard his fingertips bite into Geno’s back, clearly telling him to stay put. It only takes a few thrusts of Sid rubbing against Geno’s thigh before he’s coming, his entire body seizing and shaking before going unnaturally still. Sid doesn’t move for long enough that Geno starts to worry that something’s wrong, until he notices a slow, smug smile creeping up Sid’s face as his eyes slowly open.

“I thought you dead,” Geno says, and Sid laughs, the loudest, most open laugh Geno’s ever heard him do off the ice.

“You’re not that good,” he teases, and then he’s pulling Geno down for a kiss that makes Geno forget everything else, until he feels Sid’s hand reach down start to jerk him off, slowly, and then he makes a strangled noise into Sid’s mouth. Sid really does have good hands, they’re clever and quick to find every little thing that makes Geno fall apart, to touch the spot right behind the head and draw his fingers down in a way that makes Geno flash hot and cold. Geno can’t tell how long he lasts, if it veers more to the side of embarrassing or acceptable. It could be seconds or it could be hours. But when he does come, it’s like an earthquake under his skin, like he’s shattered apart.

He’s dimly aware of Sid gently rolling him onto his back when he’s done. He hears a drawer open, and then something that smells like a baby wipe is running over his stomach.

“You prepare,” Geno says muzzily, and Sid’s chuckle sounds like it’s coming from far away.

“I thought about this, too,” Sid says, tossing the used wipe aside and curling back around Geno, his head on Geno’s shoulder and hand resting on Geno’s bare, cooling stomach. Geno wonders vaguely if this should feel different, if he should feel different for having had sex with Sid. He feels mostly the same. If anything, he feels more like himself, more settled and right. He feels, he realizes, like he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be. It’s an odd feeling, to not always be missing something long gone or waiting for something he doesn’t have, a feeling he almost never gets to feel. But it’s a good one, too.

- - -

The break Geno spends at Sid’s is the happiest he remembers being, the most at home he’s felt in years. Sid’s a morning person, so he makes Geno eggs every morning for breakfast and brings it to him in bed with a big mug of coffee. Geno likes to pull Sid down and kiss him thank you, to lick the taste of mint toothpaste out of his mouth and mess his already sleep-tousled hair and have his first words of the day be moaning Sid’s name. They work out separately - nothing can convince Sid to go running with Geno, and he’s really tried - and Geno finishes first so he can make them lunch. They sometimes watch TV neither of them understand and try to make each other laugh with increasingly silly guesses of what’s going on. Sometimes they have sex again. They never bother going out at night. Mostly they just are together, peacefully orbiting each other in a daily puttering routine, or curled up and happy.

Geno likes to memorize the tiny moments to take back to Magnitogorsk with him, like the way Sid’s ass looks in the boxers he steals from Geno that are just tight enough to cling, his droopy wool socks with the dangling toe Geno snags at sometimes and tries to yank off just to tease, Sid’s bright, silly laugh and the way his body looks when he twists to get past Geno when they’re both going for something in the pantry. He loves the way the sunlight catches catches Sid’s face, how it makes his eyes go glassy green instead of deep hazel. He loves how at night or if he hasn’t shaved that morning Sid starts looking a little like he’s growing a mustache again, not for how it looks but for how it tickles when they kiss. He loves the single, deep smile line at the corners of Sid’s eyes and the callouses on his hands. He loves how Sid smells. He’s in love with everything about Sid and the way they are when they’re together in Bern.

“Is it weird that I’m happy even during a lockout?” Sid asks him one day, when they’ve spent all afternoon having lazy, half-asleep sex after napping, the kind of sex that made Geno’s toes curl and made Sid come with a happy sigh instead of a shout. Geno almost doesn’t hear the question because he’s lost in the lights and shadows that make up Sid’s face

“No,” he says finally, “me too, sometimes.” The only thing that could be better is the idea of a someday in Pittsburgh where it could always be like Bern but better.

“I’ve never been this happy doing this little,” Sid confesses in a whisper. “I didn’t know I could be.”

“I never this happy this long,” Geno whispers back. “I not know I can either.”

“Oh,” Sid smiles softly, and then shakes his head and laughs, pressing his face into Geno’s chest. “We’re such fucking pair of messes,” he says, muffled, “how did we even get here?” Geno smiles and runs his hand down Sid’s back. He doesn’t have an answer, he just knows that he’s happy he’s finally made it.

- - -

The rest of January is spent playing hockey in a state of blissful agony. On one hand, Geno has Sid, who kissed him goodbye like he was going off to war and made him promise to come visit in a month on their next break, as if Geno hadn’t booked the plane tickets already with Sid watching over his shoulder. He talks to Sid once a day now and watches proudly as Sid smashes every single record in Swiss hockey he can. On the other, Sid’s still just a voice on the phone, and Geno wants so much more of him than that.

His parents take him and Sid being together well. His mother hugs him immediately and tells him she loves him, but his father takes a few days to watch Geno with a troubled, nervous expression before he turns to Geno with a sigh and claps him on the shoulder.

“Sidney’s a risk you have to take, isn’t he?” he asks Geno, and Geno nods, his throat too tight to talk. Geno doesn’t know what his father is looking for as he scans his face, but he must find it, because he nods back and smiles. “Then good for you,” he says. “You always did like your challenges.”

“Yes, yes, Sidney is very nice,” his mother calls from the kitchen. “But why couldn’t his little challenge have been Russian?”

“Have you seen what that boy is doing in the Swiss Leagues?” His father shouts back, ignoring Geno completely while Geno beats a hasty retreat to his room. “I’d take him if he were from Mars.”

“So what you’re saying is that they like me, but only because I’m good at hockey?” Sid asks. He sounds bemused, at least, so Geno says, “Yes, and me too,” and Sid lets out a loud, honking laugh that Geno wants to see as well as hear. One more week, he reminds himself. One more week.

- - -

“You think I am bad Russian?” Geno asks Sid on a lazy morning in bed during their February break. Sid has his laptop out and is replying to some e-mails from his cousins, and Geno looked at him and thought it was strange, being here, about how if someone told him a year ago that he’d be happy in a bed in Switzerland with Sidney Crosby, he’d have thought they were crazy.

“No,” Sid says automatically, and then putting aside his laptop, “what?”

“My parents wish you were Russian,” Geno says, and Sid’s brow furrows

“I thought you said they were cool.”

“No, they, they like, they -” Geno sighs, irritated by the boundaries of language, and rolls over onto his stomach, propping himself up on his elbows. “Parents want me happy. You make me happy, so they like. But other people think I marry nice Russian girl, think is my duty.”

Sid is silent, taking one of Geno’s hands and threading their fingers together. “How bad will it get if people know about me?” He asks.

“Bad,” Geno frowns. He’s thought it through, made mental lists a million times of all the ways this could backfire on him and backfire on Sid, who has expectations too, and he’s done thinking about it. It will happen or it won’t, but if he’s going to go around with this secret, Sid-shaped hole in his heart, he wants a chance at the good and not just the worst of the bad. “But you best decision. Best thing.” Sid flushes, squeezing Geno’s hand. “I am just scared because all I want is Pittsburgh and hockey and you. And I think, ever since you, Russia seem nice but not - not same. Not home.”

“I think,” Sid starts, and then chews his lower lip, and Geno feels so overwhelmingly fond of that little gesture he can’t stand it. “That isn’t how home works, is it? Cole Harour’s my home, but I’d still hate living there forever. And I’m still Canadian, aren’t I?”

“Of course,” Geno says, bewildered, because Sid is every Canadian stereotype Geno’s ever heard and then some. The only person who might be more Canadian than Sid is TK with all his “for sure”s.

“You’ll never be everything everyone wants.” Sid’s smile is small and sad, and he would know, Geno thinks as his heart gives a painful, lurching squeeze. “But that doesn’t mean you’re not you.”

Geno still doesn’t really know who he is, except maybe that he’s the same person he always was, just with more things added on, now. And maybe, he thinks, that’s okay. Maybe he’s allowed to be from Russia and Pittsburgh and a hockey player and in love with Sid, who’s a nice Canadian boy. And maybe these thoughts are too deep for the precious little time he has to spend with Sid, especially when they’re both sitting in bed in just their underwear. “You smart,” he says with a smile. “When you get so smart?”

“Oh, fuck you,” Sid chuckles, trying to take his hand back, probably to punch Geno with, but Geno just holds on tighter and rolls onto his back, tugging Sid over him like a blanket.

He watches Sid’s face for a moment, backlit in the late morning light and smiling slightly before he says, “I love you.” He’s never liked how the words sound in English, how insubstantial and thin they are compared to Russian, but when Sid’s smile widens and he says, “I love you too,” it sounds better from his mouth. It sounds solid, Geno thinks, like something to build a home on.