Sidney doesn't remember any of the big things: learning how to skate, seeing his first game, taping his first stick. He doesn't remember his first time getting checked, doesn't remember his first goal, doesn't even remember ever thinking, This is what I want to do with my life, but what he knows, right down to his bones, and what nobody else seems to understand, is that that's the whole point. He’s tried explaining it, back when he was still in school and things were just starting to get serious for him, but he's long since stopped after coming to the realization that maybe he's just built differently than everyone else. They'd ask, When did you know that you wanted to play hockey? and he'd think, when didn't he?
There's no way to separate Sidney from hockey, or hockey from Sidney; there is no moment in his life that says, This is where Sidney ends and where hockey begins, and that's what nobody understands. That's the whole point.
When Evgeni finally gets cleared for his debut in time for the Devils game, Sidney feels that excitement in his belly. He’s hated it, knowing how good Evgeni could be on the ice while having to watch him sit out because of his shoulder, and when he sees Evgeni skate out for the first time, Sidney sort of feels like it’s his debut, too, all over again.
It’s strange, the way Sidney just knows that Evgeni’s going to be big—for hockey and the Pens and for Sid himself—in that it’s not strange at all; Evgeni’s made to be out here, just like Sid is, and he fills up all the empty spaces on the ice that others have left behind.
The goal, when it comes, is nothing special. Halfway through the second, Brodeur mishandles the puck and Evgeni’s there to poke it in, and it’s so objectively unimpressive that Sidney can’t help but smile, can’t hold back his laughter when Evgeni celebrates by pumping his fist and skating down the line to celebrate with the team.
By the time Sidney gets to him, Evgeni’s already with Recchi, and Sidney just skates right up, hugs him around Recchi’s arms. He feels happy, like he would if it was his own goal, and he can’t stop smiling.
“That was fucking easy!” Sidney yells, although there’s no way Evgeni understands. “Easy! And the rest will come even easier!”
Sidney slaps his gloved hand against Evgeni’s helmet and shakes his head a couple of times. Evgeni yells something back to him, something in Russian that means nothing to Sidney except for how it means everything, because Sidney doesn’t need to know Russian to understand what he’s saying.
In the end, though, they don’t win; they lose 2-1, and it sucks. Sidney knows that Evgeni’s not some magical cure-all, same as he wasn’t when he debuted, but after seeing Evgeni crack the glass with his slap shot in the third… He’s a quality player, and Sidney just thought they might’ve had this one.
Sidney sits through the team talk with Therrien and removes his gear and showers, and then he gives his post-game interview, same as always, same as Evgeni.
“It was good for him to get the first goal,” Sidney says, because that’s what he’s supposed to say, because that’s all anyone off the ice cares about, when all anyone on it cares about is winning. “There was a lot of buildup for this, and hopefully he'll get a lot more.”
It’s bullshit; he knows Evgeni’ll get a lot more, and there’ll be nothing that Brodeur or anyone else can do to stop him.
Sid’s one of the last to leave the Igloo that night, lost in his head, thinking about everything he did wrong and everything he did right, all thirty-eight of their shots and the only one that went in. He’s not—Sidney knows he can’t take thoughts like that home with him, but he’s not home yet and he can’t help himself.
The parking lot is empty by the time Sidney gets to his car, and the cold air feels good on his face, on his wet hair. Evgeni’s there, just leaning against his own car a few empty spaces over, and Sid holds up a hand in a half-hearted wave.
“You okay?” he calls out.
Evgeni shrugs, but whether it’s an answer or a signal that he doesn’t understand, Sidney doesn’t know.
He can’t help but think that Evgeni would know what he means about the big things, if he ever bothered to explain it anymore.
Months later, Evgeni still doesn't know much English, still speaks to them through an interpreter when he decides to speak at all. It makes Sidney wonder what he'll be like when he learns the language, if he'll stay quiet and keep to himself, or if they won't be able to shut him up. Half the team can't even say his name right, and so they call him Geno; Sidney wonders if he even likes that.
They're heading towards the IceoPlex locker room one day after practice, the two of them the last off the ice, and neither of them says anything. It's perfect, actually, because Sidney's always stuck in his head after playing, and yet for some reason, walking side by side with Geno, the both of them still in their gear, Sidney finds himself looking for something to say. And it's so bizarre, because the things that float through his mind are things like, Will you come to optional skate tomorrow? and, Do you need someone to show you around Pittsburgh? and Sidney doesn't ask anybody those kinds of things, let alone people who can't understand him.
So instead he says, nice and slow, "How is everything?"
Geno shrugs, glancing at Sidney out of the corner of his eyes before looking back ahead. He says, "Good."
It's about as much as Sidney was expecting, and so he just returns the sentiment, says, "Good."
In the locker room, everyone's sprawled out along the benches, taking off their gear and joking around. Flower's half-naked, already heading to the showers, and even though Sidney's long since used to it, he can't help but be impressed with how fast Flower gets all that padding off.
"I'm getting dinner after, if anybody wants to come with," Flower announces as he passes by, and Talbot's response is to just take the towel sitting next to him and snap it at the back of Flower's legs. Flower jumps in surprise and says, "Don't be an asshole," but it's light-hearted, and the second Max turns around, Flower gets him back in between the shoulder blades with the towel hanging around his neck.
"You wanna go, little boy?" Talbot asks him in a faux-macho voice, standing up to get in Flower's space, and he puts his gloves back on just so he can take them off and throw them on the ground in a challenge. The entire locker room erupts into laughter at that, Sidney included.
And then—and he's not sure why he does this—Sidney turns to look at Geno, to see if he's smiling along, only to find that Geno's looking right back at him. He's already shirtless, the skin of his chest on display as he leans forward to remove the sock tape from around his shin pad, and Sidney knows that look, recognizes how it makes him feel.
Sometimes, Geno looks at Sidney and—
Sidney remembers being younger and playing pond hockey all winter long. Whoever he could get, however many people, he didn't care; if he couldn't be at the rink, he was playing outside, and it didn't matter that the style of play was sloppier, or that the goals were different sizes, or that there were no boards or glass to hold them in. Hockey is hockey, and that's all that's ever mattered to Sidney, even now.
There was always a second, though, right before Sidney stepped out onto a pond for the first time, that he would remember that under all that ice was nothing but freezing cold water. And he knew that it was winter, it was cold out, the ice was frozen solid and could support his weight, but the thought was always still there: What if? It never stopped him, though, and he still skated out to play, hopeful and eager and ready, and although he knew it wouldn't happen—he knew it, as sure as he's known anything else—he also knew it wasn't impossible, that there could be thin ice anywhere, just waiting for him to skate by.
The game would start up and Sidney would eventually forget, becoming distracted by the movement of the puck, but for the first few laps around, Sidney would be on edge, equal parts excited and terrified. If he’s honest, he could never tell if he was watching out for the sound of ice cracking, or going looking for it.
Sometimes, Geno looks at him and it feels like that.
There's nothing in the regular season better than beating the Flyers at home, but the only thing that comes close is this: beating the Flyers 5-4 in Philadelphia, in front of the largest regular season crowd in Flyers history. Sidney feels happy, his whole chest feels light, and he thinks, This is it. This is where we turn it around.
Afterwards, the team meets to celebrate in the locker room, to get the rundown from the coach, and right before they head off to shower, Gill starts a slow clap for Sidney's 250th assist.
"Thanks," Sidney says with a tip of his hat, holding up the game puck for a second. It's all so ridiculous, and he tries not to smile.
"You assist, but I am score," Geno says, teasing. He talks all the time now. "You want we should cut this puck, too?"
Sidney laughs at that, loud and unrestrained, because it's funny and he likes Geno, and because all of Sid’s hang-ups are his and his alone, and not something for Geno to ever have to worry about.
Back before Bylsma—back in the very beginning of the season, before they started struggling—Sidney had a big game against the Maple Leafs, passing three big milestones that had been looming for a long time: he netted his 100th goal, his 200th assist, and passed the 300 point marker.
He only found out later when he was in the locker room, game puck safely shoved down into the side pouch of his bag, that the game marked Geno's 200th point, that it was a big deal for Geno, too. And Geno's someone who's always been outspoken about the things he wants, about coming to the NHL and about walking out last, but he didn’t even so much as mention the puck. Sidney hates the thought that maybe Geno didn't say anything because he thought Sidney’s accomplishment meant more than his own.
"Hey, Evgeni," he said. "Geno. I'm gonna have them split the puck when we get home, so you can have half."
Geno looked at him, sweaty and smiling so wide, and he said, "Sid Crosby, what a good guy. Always do right thing."
"Yeah, yeah," Sidney said, rolling his eyes, but later, when Geno pulled him aside as they were boarding their plane and said, "Thank you. For puck," Sidney smiled back, looked at Geno's lips and the fresh bruise on his jaw and the way he stood closer to Sidney than Sidney would usually allow, and he thought,
Sidney takes the Cup into the locker room after their Game 7 win, and it’s the lightest thirty-four and a half pounds he’s ever lifted. This entire time, he’s believed in his team, believed in his coach, believed in the staff, but he still can hardly believe that this day is here, that the Cup is finally theirs.
In the locker room, Sidney feels like he’s about to fall apart, he’s so happy; he drinks from the Cup and lets the sounds of his teammates wash over him, and everything he’s feeling just thrums in his veins until he can hardly stand the idea of giving it up. This is everything Sidney’s ever wanted and ever worked for, and it makes him feel so much, the fact that he got here just by working hard at what he loves.
There are people everywhere, so many people scattered throughout the locker room, cameras and kids and people in suits, and Sidney wants to hug them all right then and there, because he knows he won’t later. He wonders where the Cup went; he wants to see it again, wants to touch it again now that he’s finally allowed to.
“Sid!” Flower yells, careening into him, already well on his way to being drunk. He’s smiling and Sid’s smiling, and Sid’s never felt closer to him in his entire life; Flower’s been there since day one, and so he understands. “Tenth place and we fucking did it, man!”
And Sidney just—Flower’s right, they did it, they fucking did it, and Sidney can’t help but laugh. He’s just so fucking happy. They must look like such idiots, the two of them laughing at not much at all, and they stay there like that for a while, until Flower shouts to someone in French and heads off, getting swallowed up by the crowd.
Sidney stands there for a minute longer, looking out at the celebration, and suddenly it’s too much for him and he needs to get out of there, just for a second, just for some air. He stumbles back into one of the large equipment rooms, and he wonders if it makes him a shitty captain, to be bailing like this when he should be out there.
There’s a noise like the rush of air, and Sidney look around. Geno’s sitting on one of the benches with the Conn Smythe Trophy sitting next to him, and he looks exactly how Sidney feels: ecstatic, overwhelmed, stuck in a state of simultaneous disbelief and realization that it really just happened, that they really just won. His elbows are on his knees as he stares out at nothing, and Sidney just looks at him for a second, because they just won the Stanley Cup, and he’s forgotten that there are still some things that he cannot have.
“Geno,” he finally says. “Geno.”
Evgeni looks up, and once he sees that it’s just Sid, a smile spreads so slowly across his face that Sidney’s not sure it’ll ever stop. The noise from the celebration is still there, but it’s in the background, and it doesn’t matter, not right now.
“Sid,” Geno says, the corners of his eyes crinkled, and there are a million meanings in that, crammed into such a short word. “I can’t believe.”
“I know,” Sidney says, and the laughter bubbles up out of him. “I know, but we did it.”
Geno laughs a little with him, and when that fades away, when the two of them fall serious, he just looks at Sidney, looks at him and looks at him and looks at him, like he doesn’t ever plan on stopping, and Sidney doesn’t ever plan on telling him to.
He’s not entirely sure how it happens, what sets it all in motion, but Geno stands up and keeps looking at Sidney as he walks over and backs Sidney up against the wall. Sidney doesn’t even question it, just lets himself be pushed back until there’s nowhere else to go, and he knows what’s coming, can see it a million miles away.
Evgeni brackets his two large hands on either side of Sidney’s hips and then doesn’t move, just stands there with his body pressed flush against Sidney’s as they breathe. His eyes are wide and dark, and his lips are full and pink, and Sidney doesn’t know where to look, where not to look.
“This okay?” Geno asks.
“Yeah,” Sidney responds, and it’s almost embarrassing how quickly the word falls out of his mouth. “Fuck, yes, it’s definitely okay.”
“Okay,” Geno says, his lips quirking into a small smile, and then he leans in, kisses Sidney on the mouth. He’s a lot gentler about it than Sidney would’ve expected, although maybe that’s just because Sidney only really knows the Geno that skates and the Geno that fights and the Geno that’s always out on the ice. Maybe that’s not the only Geno there is. It makes him wonder how many Sidney Crosbys there are, how many Geno knows and how many he wants to know.
The kiss is over in a second, the two of them pulling back and breaking out into laughter once they look at each other, not because of what just happened, but because they just won the Stanley fucking Cup, and this is the biggest thing that’s happened to the either of them in a long time.
Geno presses the back of his hand into the back of Sidney’s, and then the two of them stumble out of the equipment room and back into the celebration.
“Fucking hell!” Jordan yells out over all the other noise. He’s got one arm thrown around Brooks, and the other around Duper. “Number One feels so fucking good!”
“Here, here!” Cookie yells, holding up the bottle of champagne in his hand, and he slings his other arm around Sidney’s shoulders when he gets close enough. From where Sid is, he can see Geno across the room, his head bent close to Gonch’s as they talk animatedly.
Geno looks up suddenly, sees Sidney watching, and he smiles.
Everything’s changed, and Sid knows it. Mid-season tenth place doesn’t look so bad, not from where he’s standing.
Sidney smiles back.
When the lockout ends, Sidney feels like he can finally breathe again. So many people he knows, so many of his teammates—Dustin, Tomas, Geno—they all went and played in other leagues, but he stayed home and tried to fix things, and he misses the ice. He'd have talked and gone to meetings every day, if he had to, if the owners were willing to, if it was what he needed to do to get the NHL up and running again. But now—it’s a huge relief, getting to go back to the game; it's all Sidney had really wanted, right from the start. He likes the money, sure, but it’s never been about that for him, and it’s never going to be.
Cookie texts him while he's at home, making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, because he thinks it’s funny that Sidney likes to know what’s up with everyone, always saying that it’s like he’s their team mother. Our little Geno is coming home, the text says, and attached is a picture, clearly stolen from twitter, of Geno walking through the airport in Russia. Sidney stares at that for a long time; Geno doesn't look any different in the photo than he has for the past few months over Skype, but just knowing that it was taken on his way back to Pittsburgh changes everything. Sidney feels that somewhere deep in his chest.
Sidney eats his sandwich standing over the sink, and then balls up the paper towel he was using as a napkin and tosses it in the trash. Although he knows he won’t even get to see Geno until tomorrow, he's still impatient, and he paces the living room while half paying attention to Sports Center. When that’s over, he reads for a bit, a few chapters in his book on the Pacific theater, and then he goes on the treadmill, does some laundry.
He goes to bed early, just because he runs out of other things to do, and wakes up what feels like minutes later.
"Sid?" Geno’s saying. He’s there, in Sid’s dark bedroom, dressed down in basketball shorts and nothing else, and he’s climbing into the bed. His large suitcase is in the corner of the room. "I'm home."
"Hey," Sid says slowly, sleepily, because that's all he can say, because Geno came straight from the airport and is calling Sidney's house home. It messes with Sidney's head a bit, more than anything that any player has ever said to him on the ice, and he likes it that way, having Geno be the only one who can get to him like that.
Sidney sits up on his elbows so that he can see Geno better, and it’s dark, but he’s there. He looks tired from traveling, dark bags under his eyes and a half-healed cut on the bridge of his nose, and looking at him, Sidney knows. He just knows.
“Missed you,” Geno says, and he slides one warm hand up along Sidney’s side, underneath his t-shirt.
“Missed you, too,” Sidney tells him, and Geno smiles, small and private, something just for the two of them.
Sidney is just barely nineteen when he meets Evgeni Malkin, when he welcomes Evgeni to Pittsburgh and the Penguins and the NHL. They've got nothing in common, not a thing except for hockey, but Sidney knows who Evgeni is—of course he knows who Evgeni is—and that makes him confident in their upcoming season, if nothing else.
It's dark out, the two of them on the back deck of Mario's house, and the silence between them stretches on for ages, comfortable but present. It's getting late, though, and Sidney should start winding down and getting ready for tomorrow's practice, and so he turns, says, "Well, welcome to the team, Evgeni."
"Sidney Crosby," Evgeni says with a nod. It's all he can say, really, because he doesn't speak any English, but he's smiling like maybe he wants to laugh, and Sidney doesn't understand. He doesn't like that.
"What?" Sidney asks.
"My name," Evgeni tells him, and that's about as much as Sidney's heard him speak all night. Evgeni puts a hand on his own chest and says, "Evgeni," but he pronounces it like there's a Y in front, and that's when Sidney understands that he's being corrected. He wonders why Evgeni hadn't said anything earlier.
"Yevgeni," Sidney repeats. The new pronunciation is just as foreign in his mouth as the old one, and Sidney's about to apologize for it when he looks over and sees Evgeni smiling again, different this time, like maybe he's pleased.
The words get caught in Sidney's throat, although he doesn’t understand why, and so instead he just smiles back.