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Geno returns to Pittsburgh at the end of September after the CBA is finally signed, just as the air is starting to turn crisp. It's his favorite time of year, both for the loveliness of the city in the fall as well as the feeling of anticipation for the upcoming season. He never gets tired of seeing the city come into view outside the plane window, especially at night when the lights shine bright like stars.

His house, when he returns home, is quiet and cool, and he spends a few minutes puttering around, turning the heat back on and calling the newspaper for his subscription. Eventually, he runs out of chores to do, and he ends up standing in the middle of his living room, feeling small and a little lost.

He ends up calling James and saying, "I'm back," and James says, "Dude, what are you doing? Come over, we're watching reruns of The Bachelor."

Geno laughs and agrees, and ends up spending the rest of the night on James's couch with James and Paul, drinking beer and debating which contestant the bachelor would choose. He manages to stay awake for the drive home, but the moment he hits his bed, he passes out and doesn't think about the emptiness of his house.

He has a few days to adjust back to Pittsburgh time and to being in America before practice starts, and he spends most of them sleeping and grocery shopping and working out in his gym. He heads to their first morning practice of the season feeling upbeat and optimistic, happy about his own condition and ready to throw himself into hockey.

"Hey, Geno, welcome back!" yells Craig, grinning, and Tanger slaps him hard on the back as he heads to his stall. He rolls his eyes at them and takes a seat so he can change for practice.

"Should have stayed in Russia," he jokes. "There, everyone think I am god."

Flower throws a sock at his head and says, "Good thing you came back then, eh? Can't let your head get too big."

Geno laughs and leans down to lace up his skates. Suddenly, Duper looks around and asks, "Where's Sid?"

There's a pause as they all look around for Sidney, but he's not at his stall, which looks mostly undisturbed. "Maybe he's on the ice?" suggests James after a moment.

"Yeah, I thought he was already here," Tanger says.

"No, I didn't see him when we came in," Duper says. "Geno?"

Geno glances up and sees that everyone still in the dressing room is staring at him. "What?"

"Have you heard from Sid?" asks Tanger. "I haven't, not for a few days."

Geno thinks back and realizes that no, he hasn't heard from Sidney since before he got back. That's not necessarily unusual, but as far as Geno knows, Sidney isn't sulking over anything, and Sidney usually texts him a couple times a day during the off-season. "No," he says.

They all look at each other for a moment, and then Duper says hopefully, "Maybe he's sick," but he looks as worried as Geno feels. The last time Geno went for this long without hearing from Sidney was during the worst of his concussion, when he was too dizzy to even look at his phone.

"Probably overslept," Tanger says optimistically. Geno privately doubts that's the case, but he nods anyway and murmurs his agreement.

But Sidney doesn't show up while they're changing, and he doesn't show up while they're stretching, and by the time they're running drills, Geno is sure that Sidney isn't going to show up at all. He takes a break to skate over to Dan and asks, "Hear from Sid?"

Dan looks at Geno with a weird, kind of pitying look on his face as he says, "Sidney's sick. He's taking the morning."

"Sick, or –" Geno taps the side of his head.

"It's nothing to worry about, Geno," Dan says, which isn't as reassuring as he clearly means it to be. "He'll be back soon."

Geno frowns, sensing that Dan is holding something back, but he doesn't want to bug Dan too much, so he skates back towards James and decides to check up on Sidney later.

He drives straight to Sidney's house once practice is over after failing to convince himself that he should go home and eat lunch first. Anxiety thrums through his veins, a low-level feeling of fear that he can't quite shake. It isn't like Sidney to not come to practice, even if he's sick. Sidney once came to the rink in the full thrall of the worst flu Geno has ever seen, his face flushed and his eyes fever-bright as he tried to convince Dan through his coughs that he was good to skate. The only thing that has ever kept Sidney away is his concussion.

Geno has to take a breath before he can screw up the courage to knock on Sidney's door, praying that Sidney just has a cold or something and for once has the common sense to stay away from the ice until he is better. He feels a little bit stupid about even being there to begin with, but he needs to know Sidney is all right.

Sidney opens the door, looking slightly manic, all wild eyes and mussed hair. He looks tired and messy, but also reassuringly non-concussed and healthy. He is also, Geno can't help but notice, holding a baby.

"Geno! Oh, good," he says, and he thrusts the baby into Geno's arms. "Will you hold him for a moment? I just got him to stop crying, but he wants to be held and I need to make lunch."

"Uh," Geno says as Sidney disappears inside his house. "Sid?"

Sidney doesn't respond. Geno looks down at the baby in his arms. The baby blinks wide, hazel eyes up at him and babbles nonsense. Well, Geno assumes it's nonsense, anyway. For all he knows, the kid could be speaking French.

After a minute of standing there holding the baby, Geno steps inside and calls, "Sid!" again.

Sidney comes out of the kitchen, his hair smoothed down with water. "Don't shout, he just settled down." He leans in and there's a weird moment where Geno thinks – and Sidney kisses the top of the baby's head affectionately.

"Sid," Geno says patiently. "Whose baby? Did you steal baby?"

"What?" Sidney stares at him. "No. Don't be ridiculous. Come on, I was just about to eat."

The baby in Geno's arm babbles, reaching out towards Sidney, and Sidney's face kind of – well, melts is the only way Geno can think of to describe it, and he reaches out to take the baby back from Geno. Geno watches, dumbfounded, as Sidney rains kisses on the baby's face.

"You miss me?" Sidney asks the baby, grinning widely. Geno's heart does a weird flip, which he has mostly gotten used to when it comes to Sidney, but when he had come over, he had been expecting to find Sidney sick or injured. He is not prepared for seeing Sidney like this.

Geno follows Sidney into the kitchen, knowing he isn't going to get an answer until Sidney decides to give one. Sidney is humming, badly, and making some kind of sandwich at the counter. "Are you hungry? I can make you one too," Sidney says over his shoulder.

"No, I make," Geno says, opening Sidney's fridge. Its shelves are full of bottles and jars he's pretty sure contain baby formula and baby food. Squeezed in towards the back are containers of what Geno mentally labels as "adult food," mostly vegetables and meat and some bread. After considering his options, Geno decides to make a sandwich too and digs out the ingredients.

He takes his time spreading the mustard and cutting the tomatoes, still digesting the image of Sid with a baby and being all, well, parental. He has always known that Sid is good with kids, but this is something else entirely. He hopes that Sidney has a cousin he's never mentioned, but he has seen the baby's eyes and there's no mistaking that particular shade of hazel. Geno has lost sleep thanks to that shade of hazel.

Geno finishes making his sandwich and tosses the knife into the sink before going into the dining room. Sidney is sitting next to a high chair where the baby is playing with brightly colored blocks. Sidney is grinning dopily at the baby, not noticing that the filling is falling out of his sandwich.

"Sid," Geno says, hovering awkwardly. "Who is baby?"

Sidney looks up and sighs heavily. "Yeah, I – sorry, it's been a crazy couple of days."

"Sid," Geno says again, recognizing that Sidney is about to start rambling to avoid the question.

"Right." Sidney smiles and reaches up to turn the baby's face towards Geno. "Geno, this is my son. Mason."

"Mason Crosby?" Geno says, setting down his plate at the seat next to Sidney. He holds out his hand to Mason and grins when Mason grabs his finger. "I am Evgeni Malkin, nice to meet you."

Mason chirps something that could possibly be, "Hi," if Geno is being extremely generous, and Sidney grins so hard Geno is sure his face will cramp.

"It's actually Mason Crosby Purcell," Sidney says, picking up his sandwich again. "Purcell from his mom."

That just brings up a whole other list of questions that Geno wants to ask, but he can wait until Sidney is feeling more forthcoming. He carefully tugs his finger free from Mason's grasp, tweaks one of Mason's wispy curls, and sits down on Sidney's other side to eat his sandwich.

They eat in silence. Normally, Geno doesn't mind that; in fact, it's one of the things he likes most about Sidney. When he's nervous, Sidney can babble, but most of the time he's fine with sitting quietly, which means that Geno doesn't have to try to think the English words for what he wants to say.

Right now, though, Geno has about a thousand things he wants to ask, most of them along the lines of, "A baby, Sid? Really?"

He waits until they throw away their paper plates and Sidney has picked up Mason to ask the first of his questions. "How old?"

Sidney smiles again, looking like he just scored a hat trick. "About ten months."

Geno digests this. "So November?"

"What? Oh, his birthday? Yeah." Sidney jerks his head to get Geno to follow him into the living room. "November 20."

"So, when he –" Geno doesn't know the word he's looking for, so he makes a vague gesture and then points at his stomach.

Sidney's brows knit together in confusion. "When he what?"

"When you make him," Geno says, frustrated.

"Oh!" Sidney slowly goes pink, and he ducks his head. "Uh. Valentine's Day."

Geno should find it reassuring that Sidney knows the exact date – it means he hasn't been having wild sex all the time without the team knowing – but it just reminds him of his own lonely Valentine's Day, which had ended with him calling Oksana over Skype and the two of them drinking vodka in silence.

"Oh," Geno says. He's about to ask about the mother, but Mason suddenly starts crying, little face turning red. Sidney swears under his breath, then looks guilty.

"Sorry, he misses his mom," Sidney explains, and Mason is indeed chanting, "Mama," over and over, hitting Sidney's shoulders with his tiny fists.

"Give," Geno says, holding out his arms. Sidney hesitates, then visibly steels himself.

"Just be careful," Sidney says, seemingly unable to hold back the warning. Geno raises his eyebrows at Sidney, who grins sheepishly and shrugs before setting Mason in Geno's arms.

Geno hasn't held a baby in a while – he really only gets the opportunity when other players' families come to skates or parties and when he visits family in Russia – but Mason settles into his arms easily. Mason smells of that slightly sour milky baby scent, a familiar spot in this whole strange, hallucination-like day. Geno kisses the top of Mason's head and jiggles him gently, saying in Russian, "Your daddy loves you, you should be good for him."

Mason blinks up at him, still crying, but he quiets. He prods curiously at Geno's face with one tiny finger and hiccups, sniffling. Geno readjusts his grip so he can wipe the edge of his sleeve over Mason's tear-stained face. He sticks his tongue out, crossing his eyes, and Mason giggles. Geno nods. "Yes, good."

"What are you saying?" Sidney asks, going up on his toes to try to look at Mason's face. He's scowling a little, seeming disgruntled that Geno got him to stop crying.

"Terrible things," Geno says. "Tell him his daddy is bad man and he should cry."

Sidney wrinkles his nose, corners of his mouth twitching up. "Geno."

"Your daddy doesn't understand jokes," Geno tells Mason in Russian. "I will teach you, since he won't."

Mason gurgles happily and hits Geno on the chin. "Da," he says, then, "Mama," and Geno looks over at Sidney for help.

"I'll put him down for his nap," Sidney says, and he takes Mason back, his shoulders slumping in relief the moment Mason is in his arms again.

"Then we talk?" Geno asks, narrowing his eyes.

"Yeah," Sidney says, making a face. "Just give me a minute."

Geno goes to sit down on Sidney's couch and pulls out his phone just to check. Flower has sent him a text that's mostly emoticons but also says, Sid okay? and Neal sent him one saying that Dan wanted to know if Sidney was doing all right. Geno replies, everything fine, and puts his phone back in his pocket just as Sidney comes back into the living room and throws himself down next to Geno.

Up close, Geno can see just how exhausted Sidney is, his eyes bloodshot, the skin beneath bruised-looking, but he still seems upbeat. "You okay?"

"Tired," Sidney says in a heavy rush of breath, letting his head fall back against the couch cushions. "I forgot how much work babies are."

Geno looks at him questioningly. Sidney clarifies, "I helped take care of Taylor when she was a baby. But that was a long time ago."

"Yes," Geno says. "Long time. But you doing okay, I think."

Sidney smiles and bumps his shoulder against Geno's. "Thanks."

"So," Geno says eventually when it seems like Sidney isn't going to say anything else. "Mason."

Sidney nods. "What do you want to know?"

"Who is mother?" Geno asks immediately. He can count on one hand the number of girls he's seen Sidney with, and he doesn't remember anyone from around Valentine's Day. Sidney tends to be private about his personal life, but he usually tells Geno when he's seeing someone. Geno had thought that Sidney told him everything, actually, but he realizes now that he had been naive to think that.

"Erin," Sidney says. "I brought her to Tanger's birthday party last year?"

Geno thinks back, and he does vaguely remember Sidney coming with a tall, red-haired woman. Cookie had made a joke about Sidney paying top dollar for her, and Geno had socked him in the arm because she seemed perfectly nice. "Yes, okay."

"I knew her brother at Shattuck, and we met when she moved out here for med school." Sidney shrugs, smiles awkwardly. "She's nice."

"So you decide to have baby," Geno says flatly. "Not marry?"

"No, it was kind of – we weren't planning on it or anything, but when it happened we decided – well, she decided," Sidney babbles, hands twisting in the hem of his shirt, "she wanted kids and I said I'd help if she wanted to keep him and –" Sidney shrugs. "She did."

"But not marry?" Geno repeats, feeling slightly sick to his stomach.

"Oh, no!" Sidney shakes his head. "Erin doesn't want to be a hockey wife and – we were just, you know. Friends. We dated, but it wasn't – you know." He has gone pink again, which Geno really wishes he didn't find charming. "We never thought we were going to be together forever."

Geno nods, even though he can't imagine that. When he had dated Oksana, he had always pictured a future for them, even when it became increasingly clear that they wouldn't be able to make their relationship work from opposite ends of the world. He had clung to that hope, to that imagined future for them, until the very end. "And where is she?"

"Swaziland," Sidney says, which confuses Geno until Sidney adds, "In Africa," and Geno's brain makes the confusion. "She works with Doctors Without Borders. She meant to put off being called in, but they needed her, and she loves it, I couldn't tell her not to go."

Sidney sounds faintly guilty, though, and Geno wonders if they had argued before she left, if Sidney had wanted her to stay. Sidney doesn't give pieces of himself away easily, and Erin must be pretty special for Sidney to agree to a relationship that wasn't meant to last. He pushes that thought away and focuses on back on his list of questions.

"So now you have Mason," Geno says. "How long?"

"She isn't sure, but a few months at least." Sidney is back to smiling again, and Geno is starting to recognize it as his Mason smile, a softer, fonder one than his usual grin. "This isn't – it's good, Geno. I usually only see him a couple times a month, once a week if I'm lucky, and he's gotten so big. I'm supposed to be his dad, but I'm always so busy –"

Geno lets Sidney ramble for a few minutes while he looks around Sidney's house, taking stock. It isn't bad, perhaps not the ideal place to raise a child who will be learning to walk pretty soon, but he's sure that after some consultation with Sidney's mother and maybe Nathalie, the house will be more livable. Geno has nothing against Sidney's house, exactly, but he is also about one hundred percent sure that Sidney had just recreated the layout from the department store. Geno always feels like he's stepping into a Home and Garden magazine when he visits Sid; everything looks nice, but it doesn't feel like a home.

"I should check on him," Sidney says suddenly, and he starts to stand up.

Geno flails out his hand and grabs Sidney's wrist. "Sid, wait. Who knows?"

"About Mason?" When Geno nods, Sidney shrugs. "My family, Erin's family. The Lemieuxs, Dan, my agent, some of the people from the front office, I guess. And you."

Geno tries not to be overly pleased at being one of those few, reminding himself that the only reason he knows about Mason is that he showed up at Sidney's house unexpectedly, but he can't stop his smile. "Okay."

"You want to come see him?" Sidney asks, smiling, and he gestures for Geno to follow him upstairs.

The second floor seems more lived in than the first, and more of the rooms appear to be furnished than the last time Geno had visited. Now that Geno thinks about it, Sidney must have bought this house around the time that he learned that Erin was pregnant. At the time, they had all teased him because it was so much bigger than one person could possibly need, and so many rooms had been left unfurnished for ages, but Geno understands now that Sidney had been waiting for this. He had been waiting for Mason.

Geno can't believe Sidney kept this secret for so long, particularly when he enters the room to see that it's been turned into a full-fledged nursery. The walls have been painted in a wintry landscape that Geno recognizes from Sidney's photos of Cole Harbour, and there's a hockey-themed mobile hanging from the ceiling, turning slowly. It's perfectly, utterly Sidney in every way.

Sidney has gone straight for the crib where Mason is still sleeping peacefully and sucking his thumb. Sidney smiles lovingly down at him, face so bright with happiness that Geno just watches Sidney watch Mason for a minute before he clears his throat.

"Shh," Sidney whispers. He beckons to Geno. "Come here."

Geno moves to stand next to Sidney and looks down at Mason. Now that he's closer, he sees that Mason is curled up on a Penguins blanket and there's a small stuffed penguin in the corner of the crib, one flipper mostly devoid of fluff and slightly damp with baby spit.

"Definitely your son," Geno says, and Sidney laughs, knocking his shoulder into Geno's.

"Yeah," he agrees happily. "He really is."

Looking at Sidney's soft, fond expression, Geno thinks he can understand why Sidney has kept this a secret. Some people like to share every moment of their lives with people, both good and bad, but Sidney has never been like that. He keeps things close to his chest, clings to his privacy like a life preserver, and becomes more private the more emotionally invested he is. Geno has known Mason for all of maybe an hour, and he already feels a sharp stir of protectiveness curling around his heart and squeezing tightly. It's similar to the way he feels about Sidney, actually, just more manageable. And if this is how Geno feels – he's surprised Sidney had let him in the house at all.

"When you sleep?" Geno asks, eyeing Sidney's shadowed eyes. "You look tired."

Sidney rubs his hand over his eyes. "I don't know. He was fussy last night –"

Geno sighs and grabs Sidney's shoulders to steer him from the room. "Go. Sleep. I watch Mason."

"But –" Sidney starts to protest, trying to twist out of Geno's grasp.

"No," Geno says firmly. "Mason need you to sleep."

Sidney acquiesces, just as Geno knew he would, and trails out of the room even as he throws looks back at Mason like he's sure he'll vanish. "Call me if he starts crying," Sidney says before Geno finally manages to get him out the door.

"Of course, Sid," says Geno, who has no intention of waking Sidney until the shadows under his eyes have faded. "I take care of Mason."

"I know," says Sid. "I trust you." He smiles faintly, exhaustion leaking into his expression, and reaches out to squeeze Geno's shoulder before heading down the hall towards his bedroom. Geno watches him go and waits until he hears the click of the door closing all the way before going to sit in the armchair crammed into the corner of Mason's room.

There's a book on the seat, bent and battered from much use, and Geno is completely unsurprised to see that it's a parenting book. He opens it up, pulls out his phone so he can look up any words he doesn't recognize, and begins to read.

Mason sleeps for about an hour before waking with a fitful cry. Geno goes to the side of the crib and leans down to pick Mason up. "Hey," he says, not bothering to use English. Maybe Mason will pick up some Russian. "Don't wake your dad, hmm?"

Mason groans and tucks his head into Geno's shoulder. He doesn't seem to be upset or anything, just sleepy still, so Geno starts walking around the room, remembering how that would put his cousin's daughter right to sleep. He realizes after a moment that he's humming an old song his father used to sing to him, and he smiles down at Mason.

"You're a sweet kid," he remarks as Mason grabs at his necklace. "Not whiny like your daddy, yeah?"

Mason mouths at the chain for a minute before getting bored. He starts straining from Geno's arms, gesturing at the floor, and Geno sets him down on the thick carpet, watching in amusement as Mason makes a beeline for the toy chest.

"Need help?" Geno asks when Mason starts to pull himself up the side. "Let me help you."

He sits down cross-legged and tugs Mason into his lap before opening the chest. He goes through the chest and eventually finds a set of finger puppets that make Mason squeal in happiness. He fumbles them onto his hand and bops the end of Mason's nose with the one shaped like a horse. Mason giggles and bats his hands at it.

He ends up telling Mason one of the fairytales he remember from when he was little, using the puppets to illustrate the story. He has gotten to the part where Ivan breaks the egg containing the life of Koshchei the Deathless when he hears Sidney's footsteps in the hallway. He smiles at Mason, who isn't really listening to the story, just playing with the mane of the horse puppet, and finishes the story even though he can feel Sidney staring at the back of his head.

"And they lived happily ever after," Geno finishes, and he strokes Mason's hair gently with his bare hand before pulling the puppets off and setting them neatly back into the toy chest. He picks Mason up and gets to his feet.

Sidney is at his side before he's even finished straightening up, looking marginally more together but still a little frantic around the eyes. Geno hands Mason over without having to be asked and watches as Sidney relaxes into his son.

Sidney might be doing well as a single parent – far better than even Geno, who is fully aware that he has more faith in Sidney than almost anyone, could have imagined – but as well as he's doing with Mason, it's clear that he isn't doing such a good job of taking care of himself. He's going to need a babysitter and more adult food and sleep. Geno can help with at least two of those right now, but he won't always be around to make sure Sidney is taking good care of himself.

He puts that on the list of things to discuss with Sidney later and says, "He seems good."

"Yes," Sidney says, cuddling Mason close. After a moment, he looks up. "What were you saying to him when I came in?"

"Telling him story," Geno says. "Fairytale."

"I don't really know any stories," Sidney says quietly. He reluctantly sets Mason down on the floor after giving him a kiss. Mason immediately starts crawling towards the toys again, and Geno laughs.

"When he come stay with you?" Geno asks.

"Two weeks ago," Sidney says, which tallies up with Geno's recollection of the last time he had heard from Sidney. "I told Dan that I had him, and Nathalie has been taking care of him when I had stuff to do, but he just wouldn't stop crying this morning and I want him to be happy." He's speaking in a panicked, breathless babble by the end, watching Mason with a lost look on his face. "I've already missed so much."

Geno winces and wishes he knew a way to reassure him. "You doing good, Sid," he says quietly. "You here for him. But you need to eat and sleep, yes? You not robot."

Sidney rolls his eyes. "I can't take him to the grocery store," he says. "Someone will take a picture and the next thing I know, I'll be up on –"

"I go," Geno says, raising his hand to cut Sidney off. "And team will help, if you tell."

Sidney scrunches up his nose. "They're going to make fun of me."

Geno shakes his head immediately. "No." Then he reconsiders. "Maybe. But not all. They be happy for you, Sid. Today, you not show up, we think you sick."

Sidney winces and says, "I'm sorry. I guess I could tell them, right? I should tell them. I just –" He looks down at Mason. "I don't want to screw anything up."

"You won't," Geno says. "You tell team, Mason have twenty new uncles. Not a bad thing."

"Yeah." Sidney smiles hesitantly. "It hasn't been too long?"

"You have to tell," Geno says, shrugging. "Better now."

"Fine," sighs Sidney, sinking down into the armchair next to the crib. "I'll tell them next practice."

Geno nods, satisfied and starts for the door. Sidney throws out his hand and says, "Wait, where are you going?"

"You need food," Geno says. "I said, I go. Do you have list?"

"No," admits Sidney.

"Then I buy what I think you need." Geno says. "Be back soon."

"Wait," Sidney says, and he squirms as he shoves his hand into his pocket. He tosses Geno a key ring. "You can let yourself back in."

Geno stares down at the keys in his hand for a long moment. They're warm from the heat of Sidney's leg, and he tightens his fingers around them compulsively before nodding and leaving before Sidney can convince him to stay by pouting or smiling or, well, existing at him.

On his way to the store, Geno makes a quick stop home to pick up the coupons that he clips compulsively while he's watching television. He wanders around for almost an hour and ends up with far more items than he meant to get because he keeps wondering if Sid has baby aspirin or pediasure and buys it just to be safe. He even throws in some extra diapers and bibs, figuring that he might as well. The cashier looks at his purchases and smiles when she sees his face. She has wispy gray hair and a kind expression, but she doesn't say anything about what he has, just lets him use more than one coupon on the same items even though the sign specifically says that's not allowed.

When Geno lets himself back into Sidney's, his arms full of shopping bags, the house is quiet and still. He sincerely hopes that means Sidney is asleep, and he's careful not to make a lot of noise as he puts the food away. He goes looking for Sidney after he's finished and finds him in the living room, passed out on the sofa with Mason curled up on his chest.

Geno has to stop in the doorway, his heart feeling too big to hold inside him, and he stares at them for a long moment, trying to memorize every detail so he can remember it later. Sidney is smiling a little in his sleep, and Mason has one hand fisted in Sidney's shirt, and Geno just wants to lie down next to them and be there when Sidney wakes up.

Instead, he walks over to the sofa, because Mason is starting to stir, and sweeps Mason off Sidney's chest as quickly as he can. It's a mark of how tired Sidney must be that he barely even twitches, just mumbles a little and turns his face into the sofa pillows. Geno allows himself to gently twitch the hem of Sidney's shirt down so that his hip is covered before he turns away.

Geno readjusts Mason in his arms and takes him from the living room in case he starts crying again, but Mason seems pretty happy to be carried, babbling away cheerfully as he hits Geno in the shoulder with his tiny fists. It seems as good an opportunity as ever to investigate what supplies Sidney already has, so Geno tucks Mason securely against him and goes to poke through Sidney's closets.

He finds most of the things he's hoping to find, like extra diapers and baby food and a high chair, but no matter where he looks, he can't find a stroller or anything they can use to strap Mason securely to Sidney's chest. He frowns to himself, but it makes sense; given Sidney's reluctance to let anyone else know that Mason exists, he wouldn't have bought anything to take Mason outside.

That seems like a shame to Geno. He takes Mason out onto the back patio and sits down in one of the deck chairs. It's cool outside, not quite cold yet, and Mason is dressed pretty warmly, although Geno finds himself vaguely wishing that Mason had a hat, so they sit outside until Mason starts squirming.

"Okay, I take you inside," he tells Mason, who gurgles in reply.

They end up playing peek-a-boo on the floor of Mason's room, Geno using the Penguins blanket from the crib to hide his face. Mason's laughs are loud enough to carry downstairs, but Geno doesn't have the heart to quiet him, even when he hears Sidney fall off the sofa downstairs.

"Geno?" Sidney calls.

"In Mason's room!" Geno calls back. Mason looks up at the sound of his name and claps his hands together. "Yes, you," Geno says to him.

Sidney appears in the doorway a minute later and leans against the frame. "You're really good with him," he says, smiling.

Geno shrugs. "He easy baby."

"No, he's a monster," Sidney says fondly. "He's just on his good behavior with you. He cries on Nathalie all the time, and he even peed on Taylor."

Geno laughs at that. He can picture the look on Taylor's face, similar to how Sidney looks when someone shoves a sock in his face. He gently pokes Mason in the side. "You mean to your tetya?" he asks. "Bad boy."

Mason rolls over onto his back and grins up at them. Geno knows that Mason is too young to really understand what they're saying, but he can't help but see the smile as one of smug pleasure.

"Thank you for helping," Sidney says. He lowers himself to the ground next to Geno and leans against him to tickle Mason's feet, grinning when Mason giggles. "You don't have to, you know."

"I know," Geno says. "I want to."

Sidney smiles up at him, soft and fond, and Geno's heart does that weird clenching, too big for his chest thing again. "Are you staying for dinner?

And that's how Geno ends up making dinner while Sidney feeds Mason, making endearing attempts at getting Mason to open his mouth for food. "Come on, buddy," Sidney says, "car coming into the tunnel." He makes a very poor attempt at a car noise.

"Maybe he goalie," Geno suggests the third time Mason closes his mouth just before Sidney can get the spoon in.

Sidney shoots him a betrayed look. Mason picks that moment to knock over the jar of baby food all over his hi-chair tray.

"Oh, damn," Sidney says, and then he immediately looks guiltily at Mason, who is too busy happily drawing his fingers through the spilled food to be paying him any attention. "See, Geno? Monster."

Sidney cleans up the floor and the high chair and Mason, but completely misses the fact that he has pureed carrot smeared on his face. Geno grins and says, "Come here, Sid," and he wets the end of the dishtowel.

Sidney stills when Geno grabs his chin. Geno very carefully doesn't look Sidney in the eyes as he cleans Sidney's face, trying to make this seem like a totally normal thing to do. "Thanks," Sidney says when Geno leans back.

"No problem," Geno says. His voice comes out a little rougher and deeper than usual, but thankfully, Sidney doesn't seem to notice.

They eat dinner in the living room with Mason, the TV playing an episode of Sesame Street that Sidney had TiVo'd. Geno keeps having weird flashbacks to when he had first come to America and had stumbled across the show while living at Sergei's house. He had watched it until the guys had found out and teased him for watching a kids' show, but he still credits it for a good portion of his non-hockey English vocabulary.

Mason seems to like the show too, because he claps whenever Elmo is on screen and babbles happily in response to the things Big Bird says. Sidney keeps grinning down at Mason, forgetting his food until Geno elbows him and gestures at his plate.

"He's amazing, isn't he?" Sidney asks later as they clean up the kitchen. Mason has had one diaper change that Geno watched in horrified amazement. Now he's sitting in a little swing that Sidney has set up near the kitchen table, gently bouncing up and down. He seems to be getting sleepy, and Geno has to admit that he feels the same. A morning skate is enough to make him inclined to sleep early anyway, and adding Sidney and an infant on top of that is a lot for one day.

"He very smart," Geno says, even though he really has no idea how well Mason is progressing. "Very cute."

"I'm trying to teach him to say Dad," Sidney says, "but it's not sticking. I don't know, maybe it's because I didn't get to see him that much until now." He leans over so that he's in Mason's line of sight and says, "Say Dad, Mason."

"Ba," says Mason, clapping his hands.

"Or Papa," says Geno. "Can you say Papa?"

"Baba," says Mason, and Sidney throws back his head in a laugh.

"Nice try, Geno," Sidney says, and he bumps his hip against Geno's before going to lift Mason out of the swing.

Geno follows Sidney back to the nursery and waves as Mason is settled back into his crib, big hazel eyes blinking sleepily. "Night, Mason. Don't let bed bugs bite."

Sidney shudders and says, "Don't even joke." He tickles Mason gently. "Can you say goodbye to Geno, Mason?"

"Ba," Mason says.

"Ba," Geno says back solemnly. He reaches down and lets Mason grab at his finger for a moment. "I come back."

"Will you?" Sidney asks, looking at him with wide eyes.

"You're my friend," Geno says with a shrug. "And I like Mason."

"Okay," Sidney says. He punches Geno awkwardly in the shoulder, and Geno thinks wryly that it's so perfectly Sidney that he's fine with hugs when it comes to babies or goal celebrations, but take him off the ice and he's at a loss. "You're the best."

"I know," Geno says, grinning.

Sidney gives him a little shove. "Get out of here," he says, and Geno gives him a wave before heading for the door.

"You come to practice?" he asks before he leaves the nursery.

"Yeah. And you're right, I do need to tell the guys. So I'll do that on Wednesday."

"Good," Geno says. "Sleep good, Sid."

"You too," Sidney replies, and Geno gets the hell out of there.

Geno is determined to go home and just sleep, but he finds himself pulling out his laptop and opening up his web browser to look for baby stuff. It's too late – or too early, depending on how you look at it – to call his mom, so he leaves the browser open on the page for later. He goes for a run around the block, eager to stretch his legs and clear his head a little. By the time he gets back, it's just barely an acceptable time for Geno to call his mom.

"Evgeni," she says when she picks up, "do you have any idea what time it is?"

"This is important," he says guiltily.

She sighs. "Is this about Sidney?"

Sometimes Geno regrets telling his mother anything. "No. Well, yes, but not like that."

"Mm hm," she hums doubtfully. "So what is it this time?"

"I am looking at strollers and I don't know what's best," Geno blurts out, and then he ends up having to explain the whole messy situation. By the time he's finished, his mother is ominously silent, and he ends nervously with, "So now I want to get him a stroller and maybe one of those things you use to strap the baby to your chest."

She doesn't say anything for a moment, the silence stretching out as wide as the physical distance between them. Then she says, "Zhenya, what are you doing?"

"I have no idea," Geno admits, dropping his head into his free hand. "He needs me."

"Sweetheart," she says, sighing, "I know he is your best friend in Pittsburgh, but you don't have to do this for him."

"I know," he says, staring unseeingly at the webpage full of strollers. "That isn't – Mama, you know it isn't about that."

"Yes," she says dryly. "The last time I saw one of my sons acting this stupid was when your brother fell head over heels for that girl in St. Petersburg."

"I," Geno starts. "Um. It isn't – that isn't what I meant." He doesn't sound convincing, even to himself, and his mother's very loud snort tells him she isn't overly impressed by his lying attempt either.

"Zhenya, darling," his mother sighs. "You know that if you let yourself get invested, it will be harder to give up on him and move on."

Geno bites down his instinctive, childish response, which is to insist that he doesn't want to give up and move on, and says instead, "I know."

"Well, as long as you know," she says. "Now what brands of stroller were you looking at?"

With his mother's guidance, Geno ends up buying more stuff than he should and sets it to deliver overnight to Sidney's before he crawls into bed and passes out, exhaustion tugging him down and into sleep before he has a chance to worry about maybe telling Sid about the order.

His phone rings upsettingly early the next morning, and he knocks it off his bedside table before he's actually able to claw it up towards his face. "Da?"

"Geno," Sidney says, sounding exhausted, "why did I just get a package of baby supplies delivered to my front door?"

Geno squints at the clock and says, "Did not know it would be so early."

"Is this a stroller?" Sidney asks, shocked. "Geno, you didn't have to – a sling?"

In the background, Mason starts crying loudly. Geno sits up and rubs at his eyes, stomach churning with guilt. "I come over."

"No, Geno –" Sidney starts, but Geno has already hung up. He shoves his blankets off and drags the first clothes he touches out of his closet on before taking the stairs as quickly as his knee will let him.

Sidney answers the door with a crying Mason in his arms and says, "You have to send this stuff back."

"Why, you don't like?" Geno asks, frowning. "I pick best brand."

"No, it's not that – you shouldn't be buying stuff for me like this," Sidney says helplessly. "I told Erin I could do this myself."

"Everyone needs help sometime, Sid," Geno says disapprovingly. He holds out his arms. "Give me Mason."

Sidney sighs and readily passes over Mason, who shrieks so loudly that Geno is sure the neighbors will wake up. Geno hurries into Sidney's house, wincing, and says, "Mason, shh."

Mason screams some more, piercing as a goal horn. Sidney groans and drops his head into his hands. "I don't know why he's so upset. I checked his diaper, he isn't hungry, I don't think it's teething pains –"

"Maybe he need walk," Geno suggests. "Go get him dressed, I do stroller." He kisses the top of Mason's head and jiggles him a little before passing him back to Sidney.

"A walk?" Sidney asks, squinting doubtfully. "What if someone sees?"

Geno shrugs. "Still early. We can ask office if people talk."

"Okay," Sidney says as Mason continues to scream. "It'll be nice to get out."

Geno raises his eyebrows at Sidney, who goes a little red, and then leans down to take the stroller out of the box. The instructions are in English, but Geno can mostly understand them if he looks at the pictures.

Or at least, he thinks he can understand them when he first reads them, but halfway through trying to get one of the wheels on, he thinks maybe he should have examined the reviews online a little more closely to pick one he didn't have to assemble himself. He swears under his breath and smacks at the wheel. It pops on, finally, and he sits back, relieved.

"Okay," he mutters to himself, "now the rest."

Sidney comes out with a warmly dressed and slightly calmer Mason while Geno is cursing fluently at the canopy for the stroller, which is just not strapping in place, and says, "You better not be teaching Mason bad words in Russian."

"He learn plenty bad when he meet Flower," Geno says absently, still fiddling with the stroller. "I don't know how this work."

"You've got it on backwards, hang on," Sidney says. He kneels down and lets Mason crawl around on the floor as he looks at the stroller. "Here, like this."

It seems ludicrously easy when Sidney does it, and Geno rolls his eyes when Sidney gives him a smug look. "Think you so smart."

"You're the one who couldn't put a stroller together," Sidney says, lunging towards Mason, who is doing his level best to make a run for the kitchen. "Come on, buddy, we're going for a walk."

"No!" Mason shrieks as Sidney seizes him around the waist.

"Mason, come on," sighs Sidney. "It won't be bad –"

Mason flails his limbs wildly, trying to get away, knocking his hat off as he does. Sidney grimly hangs on, mouth pressed in a thin line.

"Mason," Geno says, moving forward so Mason can see his face. He reaches out and strokes Mason's head before replacing his soft blue hat. He hums a little until Mason quiets, staring at him, and then he takes Mason from Sidney and straps him into the stroller.

"He likes you better," Sidney says miserably, hovering over Geno's shoulder as Geno adjusts the stroller straps.

"I just new," Geno says, and then he caught the strange, sad look on Sidney's face. "Sid, what you not telling me?"

Sidney sighs. "He was so good for you yesterday. And I think – maybe it is because you're new, I don't know."

Geno crosses his arms and waits for Sidney to actually answer him.

"I think he still misses his mom," Sidney says after a moment. "He knows me, but she's not here, and you, at least, distract him."

"I know he's little," Geno says, "but what about Skype?"

Sidney rubs the back of his head and nods. "I hadn't thought of that. I mean, Erin's pretty busy, and I don't know what their internet is like, but – yeah. I'll send her an email."

Mason starts hitting the side of the stroller and crying again, wailing loudly. Geno sighs and starts steering it out of the house, Sidney trailing behind him. "We're going to wake the neighbors," Sidney points out.

"They live," says Geno. Sidney throws his head back in one of his high-pitched, hiccupping laughs and punches Geno in the shoulder.

"You're going to make them hate me," he says. He nudges Geno aside so he can push the stroller. Geno relinquishes it easily, glad to see Sidney smiling again.

Mason quiets when they finally make it outside and sniffles quietly as Sidney guides him down the path towards the sidewalk. Geno keeps pace with him, keeping an eye on Mason to see if he's feeling better.

They do one complete circuit around the block before Mason's crying completely stops. Sidney lets out a grateful breath before stopping and kneeling down in front of the stroller to look Mason in the eye.

"Hey, buddy," Sidney says, reaching out to wipe Mason's face with the edge of his sleeve. "Feeling better?"

Mason mumbles something incoherent and closes his eyes. Sidney leans in to kiss Mason's cheek – Geno lunges forward to keep the stroller steady – and says, "We'll talk to your mom soon, buddy, I promise."

"Mamama," says Mason. Sidney sighs and chucks him under the chin.

"Good boy," he says.

They head back to the house as the wind starts to pick up. Pittsburgh is still clinging to the last of the summer sun, but it's just cold enough that Geno wishes he had grabbed a sweater when he had left his house. Spending winters in America has weakened him, as his brother likes to tease, and he gets cold far easier than he used to. He shivers at a particularly chilly gust and rubs at his arms.

"Are you cold?" Sidney asks, frowning. He, of course, is very sensibly dressed in an actual jacket while Geno has only his thin cotton t-shirt. "Where's your sweater?"

"Home." Geno picks up his pace. "Let's go inside."

Sidney takes Mason back up to bed while Geno goes through the box of stuff he had ordered. He is a little embarrassed by the sheer amount of stuff he has bought, but he firmly maintains that Mason needs things like sippy cups and bibs, especially ones that have penguins on them. Every little kid deserves someone to spoil them.

He hears Sidney coming downstairs, but continues sorting out the box until something soft and thick lands on him. He jumps in surprise and twists around, reaching up to rub the edges of the sweatshirt between his fingers.

"It should fit you," Sidney says, and he bites his lip as Geno pulls the sweatshirt off his back and looks at it. It's one of Sidney's ancient Penguins sweatshirts, worn and soft with age. Geno remembers seeing Sidney wear it around hotels and dressing rooms, remembers the way it had been just a little too big for him, the sleeves drooping to cover his hands.

He must be quiet for too long, because Sidney shifts, looking away from Geno, and says, "I just thought – you were cold."

"Thanks," Geno says after a moment, and he tugs the sweatshirt over. It smells like Sidney's sweat and detergent, and a little like Mason, all baby powder and milk, and Geno has to resist the urge to tuck his nose into the collar of it.

Sidney relaxes and crouches down next to Geno. "What is all this stuff?"

"Stuff for Mason." Geno hands Sidney a bib. "For when he eat."

Sidney strokes his fingers over the pattern on the bib, face gone soft and pensive. "You're a good friend," he says at last. "Thank you."

Geno shrugs and says, "No problem."

And that, really, is the problem.

Somehow, Sidney manages to beat Geno to practice even though he has to drop Mason off with the Lemieuxs, and when Geno walks in, Duper is saying, "Hey man, don't just not show up like that." He punches Sidney in the shoulder, but his brow is creased with concern.

Sidney winces. "I'm sorry about that," he says. "I promise I had a good reason."

Duper raises his eyebrows. "And that reason was?"

"I want to wait until the rest of the guys are here," Sidney says instead of answering.

Duper nods and flicks Sidney's ear gently before returning to his stall to change into his practice clothes. Geno catches Sidney's eye and gives him an encouraging smile as the other team members start trickling in. Sidney kind of looks like he wants to vomit, pale and sweat beading at his hairline. He clears his throat once or twice, and Geno wants to go over and tell him it'll be all right, but he has the feeling that would stand out more than anything else.

"Hey, guys?" Sidney says once everyone has arrived, and the room instantly goes still. Sidney is a pretty quiet captain; he prefers doing things one on one to giving speeches. So on the rare occasions when he does ask for their attention, they give it to him.

"I, uh, I know you were worried yesterday," he starts, and Geno sees Flower opening his mouth to heckle. Geno throws a sock at him and shakes his head. "There's – I promise it's not me, I just –" He looks helplessly at Geno, who shrugs and waits. He knows Sidney can do this once he works up the right words.

Sidney takes a deep breath. "I have a baby. A son," Sidney says, and he starts talking quicker. "He's, um, his name is Mason and he's ten months old and his mom is out of the country right now so I'm taking care of him and –" He stutters to a stop. "Yeah, that's – that's it."

There's a brief pause. Then Duper asks, "Do you have pictures?" and all the guys who have kids crowd around Sidney to get a look at his phone. Geno smiles a little and returns to getting suited up for practice.

Flower is looking at Geno, eyes narrowed slightly. Geno does his best to ignore him, taking his time to relace his skates while everyone asks Sidney questions, but before he can slip away to the ice, Flower grabs his arm.

"You knew," he says, narrowing his eyes.

"I only just find out," Geno says defensively. "I check on him, find baby."

Flower looks skeptical. "I noticed he did not mention much about the mother."

"Yes," Geno says calmly.

"We don't see many of Sidney's girlfriends," Flower says, raising his eyebrows like Geno is supposed to get something from that.

"Sid's business," Geno says gruffly. "Not for me to tell."

"But he's okay?" Flower asks.

"Yeah," says Geno. "He is okay."

"Good." Flower knocks his glove against Geno's shoulder. "Keep him that way."

"I not his babysitter," protests Geno, and Flower just rolls his eyes.

Practice is good; everyone seems a lot looser now that they know what's up with Sidney, and the rookies are doing better with Sidney around to give them quiet words of advice in tandem with Dan's coaching. Geno doesn't say much to Sidney, just gives him some of his observations from the day he missed, and Sidney nods, eyes slightly narrowed as he watches the guys on the ice.

"Thanks, Geno," he says eventually, and Geno nods before pushing off to join James.

Sidney is the first one off the ice for once, and he looks sheepish as he's leaving, but Cookie slaps him on the back and says, "It's hard leaving them when they're that young, eh?"

"Yeah," Sidney says, going slightly red. "I – thanks guys." It's embarrassingly heartfelt, but they're all kind of used to Sidney randomly busting out with the emotion, although usually it has to do with hockey. "Thanks, I – I really appreciate it."

"Good luck!" someone else calls. Sidney grins dorkily, waves, and slips out.

Geno takes off his skates and rests his elbows on his knees for a minute, breathing out slowly. Flower shoots him a curious look, and Geno shrugs at him before laboriously getting undressed.

"Is that your sweatshirt?" Flower asks as Geno gets dressed again.

Geno looks down and realizes he hadn't given Sidney his sweatshirt back. Flower is looking at him with that unnerving goalie stare he uses when he wants to scare information out of people, but Geno meets his eyes evenly and says, "Yes."

Flower narrows his eyes suspiciously, and Geno hurries out of the locker room. Once he's outside, he lets himself lift the sleeve to his face so he can breathe in the smell of Sidney just once.

He catches up with Sidney out in the parking lot just before Sidney gets in his car. "Forget sweatshirt," Geno says, plucking at the front. "Want it?"

Sidney looks at him for a minute, and then shakes his head. "No," he says. "Keep it." He smiles, pats Geno's shoulder, and gets in his car. "See you tomorrow?"

"Yes," Geno says, and he stands there as Sidney pulls out of his space, watching him go.

Things go back to normal, more or less. Sidney is exactly the same in practice, exactly the same when he grabs lunch with Geno and Flower and Kris, exactly the same when some of the guys insist on dragging him out to celebrate his fatherhood before the season starts. The only difference, really, is that when he excuses himself, he uses Mason as his reason.

"I hate that you have a real excuse now," James says morosely, leaning heavily against the bar. "So boring. And we can't even chirp you for it."

Sidney shrugs carelessly and looks around. "Anyone want a ride?"

Geno, who had tagged along with James, says, "Me."

"Lame!" yells TK, and Geno flips him off as he follows Sidney outside.

"You don't have to keep me company," Sidney says, glancing back over his shoulder. "If that's why you're coming."

"No," Geno says, which is only partially a lie. "Tired."

Sidney nods and unlocks his car. "We have a Skype date with Erin tonight," he explains. "We'll go pick up Mason first, if that's okay, and then I'll drop you off?"

"Sure," Geno says. "Happy to see him again."

Sidney smiles. "He'll be glad to see you."

The inside of Sidney's car screams BABY, from the car seat in the back to the floor littered with toys. Sidney looks slightly embarrassed by it, but just shrugs and says, "As long as no reporters see inside."

Geno snorts and picks the stuffed tiger off the passenger seat. "Sid is sap," he says, moving the tiger's mouth so it looks like it's talking. Sidney rolls his eyes and takes it from Geno's hands.

"Yeah, yeah," he says, but he's smiling.

Mason is asleep when they arrive at the Lemieuxs' house, fast asleep in a crib upstairs. Nathalie seems surprised to see Geno, but she hugs him and asks how his parents are while Sidney scoops Mason up into his arms. The change is immediate, tension Geno hadn't even realized Sidney was carrying running out of him in one relieved exhale of breath.

"Geno?" Nathalie says, and he jerks his gaze over to her, realizing he has completely lost the thread of what she is saying.

"Sorry," he says, flushing.

She laughs, patting his arm, and says, "It's all right. I'm glad to see Sidney has help." She watches Sidney fondly for a moment, then turns to Geno and asks, very seriously, "Has he decided what he's going to do when you're on the road?"

"Um," Geno says slowly.

"I love Mason, but I can't look after him all the time," Nathalie explains. "I told Sidney, but I think he's trying to ignore it. He said something about Mason not liking new people, but really –"

"Sid don't like new people, yes," Geno agrees. "So, we need to find nanny?"

"I think that would be a good idea, yes," Nathalie says. "Try putting an ad out now before the season properly starts, all right?"

"I talk to Sid," Geno says. "Make him find someone."

"Good." Nathalie reaches up to pat Geno's shoulder affectionately. "Thanks for helping him out, Geno. It's very sweet of you."

Geno bobs his head awkwardly and catches Sidney's eye. Mason has his head tucked into Sidney's neck, hands opening and closing slowly. Smiling, Geno gives Mason a finger to grab at and watches Mason's eyes flutter open to regard Geno sleepily. Mason gnaws on Geno's fingertip thoughtfully for a minute with his brand new tooth (Sidney had come into practice bleary-eyed and a little snappish for a few days while it had been coming in, complaining about the crying), then solemnly hands it back.

"We need to get him home," Sidney says distractedly, looking around like he thinks he may have forgotten a second child somewhere. Geno tries not to take the we as anything more than a casual slip, but he can't help the warm, bubbly feeling that spreads through his chest anyway.

They say their goodbyes to Nathalie and take Mason to the car. Sidney straps Mason into the car seat with familiar ease and kisses him on the forehead. When he turns around and sees Geno staring, he turns red and crosses his arms defiantly. "What?"

"You are good dad," Geno says frankly, and Sidney goes even redder. Knowing he's probably being absurdly obvious, Geno looks away so Sidney can't read his expression. "Happy for you."

"Thank you," Sidney says quietly. He touches Geno's arm, just above the elbow. "You've been really great. I appreciate everything you've done."

"Haven't done much," Geno protests. Sidney gives him a skeptical look as he closes the car door. "Really, Sid."

"Okay," Sidney says, shaking his head, and he walks around the front of the car to get into the driver's seat. Once he's out of sight, Geno allows himself, just once, to touch the spot above his elbow.

He doesn't bring up what Nathalie said until they're back at Sidney's house and Mason is safely asleep in his crib, sucking meditatively on the wing of his penguin toy. Sidney leans against the crib, watching Mason and smiling faintly, and Geno decides it's better to just get it over with.

"Nathalie say you need babysitter," he says, and Sidney flinches, hard, his knuckles going white on the bars of the crib. "For when we travel."

There is a long pause where Sidney doesn't look up, just stares down at Mason, and then he lets out a slow, noisy breath. "I know."

When nothing else seems forthcoming, Geno prompts, "So?"

"So I've been putting it off," Sidney snaps, though he keeps his voice low. "I know I should, but –" He sighs again. "It's hard enough leaving him with Nathalie. It was hard leaving him with Erin, and she's his mom." He reaches down and carefully flicks the penguin's wing out of Mason's mouth. "I'll find someone."

This, of course, leads to several days of Sidney whining about how hard it is to find a nanny, especially one who can stay overnight. Duper jokes about getting Max to ask Brière for advice, which makes Sidney scowl and insist that he doesn't need the help of the Flyers, god.

Fortunately, one day towards the end of camp, Sidney comes in smiling, with the news that he has found a suitable candidate and that she doesn't seem insane or anything. "She's Canadian, too," Sidney adds, like this is the most important part.

"Good news," says Geno dryly. "Not crazy and Canadian."

"It is a good thing!" Sidney protests, but he seems too pleased by his success to be annoyed by Geno's teasing.

Geno, for his part, keeps his head down and tries to focus on hockey. If he sometimes lies awake and thinks about Sidney alone in his house with Mason, no one else has to know. In the meantime, they have a season coming; he can't spend all his time worrying about Sidney.

Only James seems to pick up on Geno's mood, and he picks up his own pace to match, dragging Eric and Beau along with them. "You're going to kill us, man," James says after their last practice before the preseason, wiping the sweat off his forehead.

Geno flicks him with his towel. "You just lazy," he says. "Don't know real work when you see it."

James squawks in protest, and then Sidney jumps in to tell them that they're looking good, and Geno feels his cheeks heat. He looks away and busies himself with unlacing his skates. When he looks up, Neal is watching him curiously.

"Really, though," James says quietly. "We're ready."

"Yeah," says Geno. He grins at James. "We are."

He returns home that afternoon feeling pleasantly tired and optimistic about the upcoming season. The house, which had been feeling uncomfortably big since his return from Russia, fits better tonight. It feels like he's properly coming home. Hockey has always had a way of doing that, though; when hockey is going well, everything else in Geno's life seems to settle nicely into place.

He eats dinner while watching the DVD of Russian soap operas his mom sends him for when he's feeling nostalgic; it isn't really a substitute for having someone to talk to, but it's comforting just to let the white noise of a familiar language wash over him. He calls his parents and talks to them while he does the dishes, and is feeling more at home than he has since came back to Pittsburgh as he goes upstairs start packing for their upcoming trip to Chicago.

His phone rings as he's pulling out his clothes. "Hello?" he asks, sandwiching it between his shoulder and ear as he half-turns around to look down the staircase.

"Oh, good," Sidney says. He sounds hassled, frustration bleeding in at the upper range of his voice. "I'm really sorry to ask this, but I haven't had time to go grocery shopping, and I told Simone there would be food for her this weekend. Could you – I know this is inconvenient, but Mason already knows you, so could you come watch him while I go to the store?"

Geno hesitates, thinking of how his mother will scold him if he says yes and wondering how much she would scold him if he said no. "Yes," Geno says after a moment, and then immediately wonders if he had been born without self-preservation, or if America had stripped it away from him along with his tolerance of the cold.

"Thank you." Sidney lets out a relieved breath. "See you in a few minutes."

The line goes dead. Geno swears to himself and heads back down the stairs, muttering to himself.

When Geno arrives at Sidney's house, Sidney's hair is standing on end and he's a little wild-eyed. "He's being a complete nightmare," Sidney groans. "I'm sorry to leave him with you like this, but I can't take him with me."

"I go to the store for you," Geno offers.

"No, it's better if I go. I'll be in and out in half an hour, I swear," Sidney says, rooting through a little bowl on the table next to his door before pulling out his keys. He rubs his hand over his face, shoving his hair off his forehead. "Thank you, Geno. I'll pay you back somehow."

"No problem," Geno says, waving his hand. "Where is Mason?"

"In his room," Sidney says. "He's teething again. Call me right away if he looks like he's in really bad pain or if he gets a fever or anything, okay?"

"Yes, Sid," Geno says patiently. "I take care of Mason. Go."

Sidney flashes him a quick smile before slipping out the door. Geno locks it behind him, then heads upstairs to go look for Mason.

Mason has pulled himself upright on the bars of his crib, looking like nothing so much as a very tiny jailbird. The moment he sees Geno, he starts to cry, as piercing as a siren, and Geno hurries over to pick him up. He suspects that this is Mason's plan, but he doesn't care. He hates watching Sidney be upset; there's no way he can stand by and watch a tiny version of him cry.

The shoulder of his shirt is very quickly soaked through with tears and snot. Geno jiggles Mason, humming quietly into his ear, but Mason just keeps on sobbing, tiny hands grabbing at him. For lack of any better plan, Geno decides to walk around the house, humming while he tries to remember the words of the lullaby his father had used to sing to him and Denis when they were sad or tired.

He sings quietly as he takes Mason down the stairs, letting the rhythm of the steps rock him gently. Mason's tears seem to be ebbing when Geno reaches the bottom step, but when he stops singing, Mason looks up at him, eyes narrowed.

"So you like my singing," Geno says. "You have bad taste, little man." He takes a breath and starts in on the second verse of the lullaby. His shirt is basically a lost cause, so he uses the hem of his sleeve to wipe the snot from Mason's face, smiling when Mason wrinkles his nose in a manner reminiscent of Sidney. Mason sighs and settles back against Geno's chest while Geno sings. He has to quickly invent some lyrics when he forgets how the fourth verse goes, and his voice sort of peters out towards the end, but Mason doesn't seem to mind.

Sidney returns home almost exactly half an hour after he had left, stomping noisily through the hall and into the kitchen. Geno gets up from the couch, Mason drowsing away on his shoulder, and goes to see if Sidney needs any help.

"You got him to sleep," Sidney says when he sees Geno. He sags against the counter and knuckles at his eyes. "God. I thought he'd never sleep."

"Not really asleep," Geno says, turning so Mason can get a look at Sidney. "See? Mason, Papa is here."

Mason reaches out towards Sidney and says, "Dada."

Geno freezes. For a moment, he's convinced he had imagined it, but then he looks at Sidney and sees that Sidney's mouth has fallen open, his eyes very huge. He swallows visibly. "Did he –"

"Dada," Mason says again, more insistently this time. "Dada dada –"

"I'm here," Sidney says instantly, reaching out, and Geno hurriedly passes him over. "Hey buddy, you said it."

"Dada," Mason mumbles, squirming to a more comfortable position in Sidney's arms. Sidney bites at his lower lip, still looking pole axed as he strokes Mason's hair with a shaking hand

"Geno," Sidney says, voice cracking a little, and Geno is over there before he quite knows what he's doing, folding Sidney and Mason into his arms. Sidney is shaking a little, fizzy bubbles of laughter spilling out of him. "He said it, Geno."

"I hear," Geno says into Sidney's hair. "Very smart boy."

"He called me Dad," Sidney says, and he starts laughing in earnest, bright and delighted. Mason starts to giggle too, and Geno grins helplessly. Sidney kisses Mason's head, and Geno tightens his embrace for a moment before stepping back and letting Sidney have his moment.

Mason seems to know that he did something good, because he's smugly happy all the way up until he crashes again, passing out with his face mashed into Sidney's neck. Geno volunteers to finish putting away the groceries while Sidney takes Mason back to bed, and Sidney gives him another smile. The bag of onions in Geno's hands slips.

The refrigerator is neatly organized according to some convoluted system of Sidney's, and Geno spends a minute trying to work it out before defaulting to his own standards and shoving the onions in the vegetable crisper. He does his best to put everything in its place, but he figures Sidney will probably rearrange it later in any case.

Once the groceries are all safely away, Geno hunts down Sidney and finds him standing in the doorway to Mason's room, unmoving. Geno cautiously taps Sidney on the shoulder. "Sid?"

"Now I really don't want to leave," Sidney says without turning around. "I thought it would be okay, you know? He likes Simone, but I wish –"

"I know," Geno says when it becomes apparent that Sidney can't get it out. "Don't want to miss."

"I was fine when he was living with Erin," Sidney bursts out. "I saw him at least once a week and I love him and everything but – I wasn't expecting to –" He turns to look at Geno. "I thought it would be easier after a while, to get used to leaving him, but it hasn't. It's gotten worse."

Geno sighs and wraps an arm around Sidney's shoulders tentatively. When Sidney doesn't shrug him off, he tightens his grip. "It's family, Sid. You love them, never want to leave. But you have to."

"It isn't that. I think if I had to choose between Mason and hockey," Sidney says, and he sounds frightened, his face very pale, "I would choose Mason. Without even thinking."

"Good," Geno says firmly. He covers Sidney's mouth when Sidney opens it to respond. "I know Sid love hockey. Whole world know Sid love hockey. But it is just game, Sid. Mason is your son. Of course he matter more."

"I didn't mean that it didn't make sense," Sidney says when Geno uncovers his mouth. "It's just – change."

"And Sid don't like change," Geno agrees, smiling to himself.

Sidney wrinkles his nose, but smiles anyway.

Chicago is beautiful in the fall before the bitter winds of winter blow in and sap away all color and life from the streets. Normally, Geno quite likes visiting Chicago – it's a nice city, and they don't get to go too often – but Sidney is on edge for the whole journey, snippy and sulky. He nearly bites off Flower's head during breakfast when Flower makes a quite tame joke about Sidney's shirt, and when Tanger tries to intervene, Sidney gets up and moves tables. Geno, who had been reading one of the Russian magazines his mother sends to him, sighs and stands up. "Sorry," he says to James and Paul, who barely look up from their eggs.

Sidney has gone off to sulk at the table where the rookies are huddled together, looking a little worried. Geno gives them a reassuring smile before laying his hand on the back of Sidney's neck. "Come on, Sid," he says, tugging a little at his collar. "Come sit with me."

There is a brief moment where Geno is afraid Sidney will say no; then Sidney sighs dramatically and gets to his feet. Geno herds Sidney over to his own table, pushes at Sidney until he takes the seat that Brooksie had vacated, and then sits back down himself. Now that they're closer together, Geno can see the dark circles under Sidney's eyes.

"Sleep bad?" he asks, passing over his cup of coffee. Sidney scowls, but takes it, which tells Geno just how tired he must be. "Miss Mason?"

"Yes," Sidney says after a moment. He takes a sip of coffee, makes a face, and reaches into the middle for the sugar. "I kept waking up thinking I could hear him."

Geno looks over at James, who is watching them with his fork hovering halfway between his plate and his mouth. "Think practice will help?"

"I hope so," Sidney says, and he drinks the rest of his sugary coffee without another word.

Sidney goes back upstairs a little while after that, ostensibly to brush his teeth, but Geno had seen him not-very-subtly checking his phone, and he guesses that Sidney is probably going to pester his nanny. He shakes his head fondly and goes to refill his cup of coffee.

When he sits back down, James has his arms crossed. "So," he says, "Sidney's kid."

Geno frowns at him. "Yes?"

"Is he handling it okay?" James asks. "He seemed –" He flaps his hand around vaguely.

"On edge," supplies Paul.

"Yeah, that," James says.

"First time away from baby," Geno says with a shrug. "Maybe distract him later. Take him out." Actually, Geno thinks, it's not a bad idea. Maybe he if got Sidney out of the hotel, Sidney would relax a little or at least be too busy complaining about something else to worry about Mason. "I go get him. Want to come?"

James shrugs. "Sure, I'm game." He glances at Paul, who shakes his head. "Guess I'm third-wheeling it," James says wryly, and he stands up to get more cereal before Geno has a chance to scowl at him.

After he finishes eating, Geno goes to find Sidney, expecting him to have holed up in his room, but instead finds him pacing the hall on his phone. Geno pulls up short in time to hear Sidney say, "I just wanted to check in, I know I called an hour ago –"

Geno sighs and heads over to Sidney. A tinny, female voice is saying, "He's fine, Sidney, I promise I will call if anything at all unusual happens –"

When Geno touches Sidney's shoulder, he jerks so hard that he drops his phone. "Geno!" he says, eyes huge. "I, uh –"

"Call babysitter," Geno says. "I understand. But I am sure Mason is fine, Sid." He leans down to pick up the phone and says into it, "Hello? This is Simone?" He glances at Sidney to make sure he got the name right.

"Yes, is this, um, Geno?" Simone asks. Now that he can hear her voice clearly, the French-Canadian accent is much more obvious. It's not as strong as Flower's, more of a halfway between his and Tanger's, but it's still reassuringly familiar. Geno bets that Sidney likes that. "Sidney said you had been a very big help."

"I not do that much," Geno says. "Sid will call back later. I take him out for walk."

"I'm not a dog," Sidney says grumpily. Geno reaches out absent-mindedly and ruffles Sidney's hair, grinning when Sidney lets out an indignant squawk.

"I don't mind him calling," Simone says. "It's good he worries."

"He worry too much." Geno drops hand to Sidney's shoulder and squeezes. "Thank you, Simone. Bye."

"Make sure Mason doesn't eat the carrots, he doesn't orange things this week," Sidney adds just before Geno hangs up. He scowls over at Geno and snatches his phone back. "Thanks."

"You need to relax," Geno says, squeezing Sidney's shoulder again. "Come, Neal say he come for walk with us."

They meet James downstairs, where he's running his fingers through his hair in front of a very unimpressed Pascal. "You still look all spiky," Pascal says, poking at him. "Like an electrocuted hedgehog."

"That's what it's supposed to look like!" James says. He sighs and turns to Geno. "It looks good, right?"

"Sure. Girls love," Geno says, rolling his eyes.

James pouts, but stops messing with his hair. "You guys have no appreciation for my art," he sniffs.

"It's just hair," Sidney says blankly. James's eyes go comically wide in horror.

"Just hair?" James demands.

"Oh, here we go," Pascal mutters. "Have fun, boys."

The hair argument that ensues lasts about five blocks, James waxing poetic about whatever ridiculous product he uses while also chirping Sidney's tendency to slather on the gel. Geno personally thinks Sidney looks much better when he lets his curls be, but Sidney has never listened to him. Somewhere along the line, Sidney had gotten it in his head that gel somehow looks more adult and professional and there's no shifting him now.

They return to the hotel after about half an hour. Sidney looks much more relaxed, the tightness gone from the corners of his eyes. Just before he goes into his room, he turns and squeezes Geno's shoulder.

"Thanks," he says quietly. Then he ducks away, and Geno stands there, watching him go.

They just barely beat Chicago, the score holding even at 2-2 until Sidney gives Chris a beautiful pass that has nowhere to go but the back of the net in the last few minutes of the third. Sidney shouts in triumph, throwing his hands in the air Geno taps his fist against Sidney's when Sidney comes back to the bench for a change before taking the ice with James.

After the game, Sidney goes to meet Toews for a quick drink, muttering that he better not be bitter about an exhibition game. Geno heads up to his room after eating a post-game snack with James and Paul, prepared to just go straight to bed. He has already showered and crawled between the sheets when there's a knock at his door, the brisk, sharp pattern telling him it's probably Sidney.

"Go away, I want sleep!" he yells.

"Let me in, Geno," Sidney calls back.

With a groan, Geno drags himself out of bed and stomps his way over to the door. "Sid," he says when he opens the door, "better be good reason."

Sidney looks Geno over and turns slightly pink. "Oh, sorry – I thought you were joking. I can let you go back to bed –"

"Already get me up," Geno says. "Tell me why."

Sidney worries at his bottom lip and then sighs. "I told Johnny about Mason," he says. "And then he asked when Mason's birthday was so he could buy a gift and I realized – Mason's birthday is in a month. He's almost a year old."

Geno silently opens the door wider so Sidney can come in, flicking on the lights so he can see him better. Sidney sits on the bed, right where Geno had been splayed out, and puts his head in his hands. For a moment, Geno just stares at him, unsure of what to do or say. He eventually settles on sitting next to Sidney and tentatively resting a hand against the small of Sidney's back.

"Sid?" he asks. "You okay?"

"It's just – a year." Sidney looks up at Geno. "And I've missed so much of it."

"Not miss it now," Geno says. Sidney gives him an exasperated look, and Geno pinches his side lightly. "You know what I mean."

"Yes." Sidney straightens. "I think I want to do something special for Mason's birthday."

"Good," says Geno. "Have party, have team attend. Mason meet other kids, not just stay with nanny."

"Yeah," Sidney says, nodding slowly. "Duper has been bugging me about not inviting his family over." His brow is still furrowed, though, pensive and worried. Geno rubs Sidney's back without thinking and Sidney leans into him. "Can I call Simone?"

"Should call," Geno says. "Don't need permission, Sid."

"I just don't want to be too annoying," Sidney says, narrowing his eyes at Geno even as he squirms to pull his phone out of his pocket. The two of them sit together while it rings, but the moment Simone picks up, Sidney stands, pacing towards the door. "Simone?"

Geno lies back on the bed and stares at the ceiling, only half-listening as Sidney asks Simone about Mason. Then Sidney says, "Can I talk to him?" and Geno props himself up on his elbows to watch.

"Hi," Sidney breathes, face breaking out into an incandescently bright smile. "Hey, Mason, it's Daddy."

For a moment, Geno can't breathe right, air catching against the sharp lump of fondness in his throat. Sidney is speaking quietly, mostly nonsense words, but it's so loving and so fatherly that Geno suddenly misses his own family, homesickness hitting him harder than it has in years.

He has to look away, eyes itching, and he's rubbing at his face when Sidney touches his shoulder. His palm is warm, even through the fabric of his shirt, and his fingers spread wide, five points of torturous pressure, and for a moment that's all Geno can concentrate on, until he takes in what Sidney is saying.

"Talk to Mason," Sidney says, pressing the phone into Geno's hand. "He'll want to hear you."

"He only baby," protests Geno, but he lifts the phone to his ear anyway and says, "Hello, Mason."

He hears the faint sound of Mason gurgling, and Simone laughs. "He looks happy to hear your voice," she says.

For lack of anything else to do or say, Geno starts humming the lullaby he has started thinking of as Mason's, then starts singing the words when he hears Mason let out a little giggle. He chances a look at Sidney as he's finishing the first verse and stumbles when he sees Sidney watching him, his smile soft and fond.

Fortunately for Geno's dignity, Simone takes that moment to say, "Thank you, Geno, but I think I should put him to bed. It's a bit late for him."

"Yes," Geno says gratefully. "Here, Sid." He thrusts the phone back at Sidney, who gives him a look that very clearly says, you're being weird.

"I – oh, yes. Right." Sidney hesitates, chewing his bottom lip a little. "Can I say goodnight to Mason?" Sidney sits down on the edge of the bed. "Hey, hey Mason," he says a moment later, voice turning into a singsong coo. "Daddy loves you, okay? Goodnight."

Sidney is smiling besottedly when he finally manages to turn off the phone, looking down at the screen for a long moment. Geno turns so he's facing Sidney and asks, "Better?"

"Yeah." Sidney knocks his knuckles against Geno's shoulder uncomfortably. "Thanks for – thanks."

"Always, Sid," Geno says. He tries to smile; his chest pulls painfully. "Goodnight."

"Night, Geno." Sidney hesitates at the door, then waves, a little waggle of fingers that causes Geno's smile to tip over into sincerity. He slips outside after turning the lights off, door closing behind him with a soft click. In the now-quiet room, Geno stares at the closed door for a long minute before getting back in bed and lying awake, staring at the ceiling in the darkness.

They return to Pittsburgh early the next morning. Everyone is a little bleary-eyed, James stumbling into people until Paul shoves a coffee from the hotel breakfast bar into his hands. Sidney falls asleep on Flower's shoulder less than fifteen minutes into the flight, eyes slipping shut and mouth falling open. Flower takes it in stride, hardly even glancing over from his video game, but Geno finds himself staring even though he has a magazine open on his lap.

"Long night?" Flower asks Geno, pointing at Sidney.

Geno shrugs. "Seem homesick. Maybe he not sleep good."

"Aww." Flower sighs. "I was hoping we could pull a prank on him, but now I feel bad."

"Sorry," Geno says, shrugging.

Sidney sleeps the whole flight, and when they land he's still a little sleep-dumb, wavering on his feet as Geno and Flower herd him down the stairs. "Can't believe we're already home," Sidney mumbles, and he almost slips down a step. Geno catches his arm and pulls him upright.

"You okay to get home?" Flower asks Sidney, eyeing him as he lists to the side, blinking slowly.

"It's okay, I go with him," Geno says. "Took cab here."

"All right," Flower says, although he still looks dubious. "You got him?"

"Yeah." Geno grabs Sidney's elbow just as Sidney starts to fall. "Come on, Sid."

Sidney makes a token protest as Geno takes his keys from his pocket, but basically collapses in the passenger seat as soon as he climbs inside. "I couldn't sleep last night," he says when Geno gets in the driver's seat. "I started making a list of things I'd need for Mason's birthday, and then I realized that I don't really know what you do for a one year old's birthday. Clowns are scary, I think he'd choke on balloon animals –"

"Cake," suggests Geno, cutting him off before he can really get going. "One candle."

Sidney snorts. "Yeah, I figured that part out. But it's really a party for the parents, isn't it? He's too young to know that it's his birthday." He closes his eyes. "I need to get Mason something special."

"He too little to know," Geno says, shrugging.

"Doesn't matter." Sidney half-mumbles the words, clearly halfway back to sleep. "It's his first birthday present from me. It has to be special."

"We find something." Sidney doesn't answer, and when Geno chances a glance over, he sees that Sidney has fallen asleep against the window, mouth open unattractively. He smiles and allows himself to speed up since Sidney isn't awake to scold him.

Geno has to herd Sidney up the walk to his front door and carries his bag for him. He reaches past Sidney to ring the doorbell and waits until a woman with a thick mane of dark hair opens the door.

"Hello, Simone," Geno says, waving. "Sid is very sleepy."

"I can see that," Simone says, a smile quirking at the corner of her mouth. In person, her accent is a little more obvious, charmingly clipped. "Mason is still asleep –"

"I want to see him," Sidney says, jerking upright and eyes opening wide. He stumbles past Simone, leaving Geno at the door with her.

"Why don't you come in?" Simone suggests after a moment.

Geno lugs Sidney's duffel into the entrance hall, hesitates, then says, "I take it upstairs."

Simone waves him on, still smiling faintly. Geno nods and smiles before following Sidney upstairs.

He sets the bag down at the end of Sidney's bed, then heads to Mason's room. Sidney is leaning on the crib, staring down at Mason with huge eyes. Geno leans against the doorframe for a few silent moments before quietly clearing his throat.

"There was a part of me that was worried I'd come home and something would have happened," says Sidney without looking up. "But he's fine."

"Yes," Geno says. He moves to stand next to Sidney, the back of his hand brushing against Sidney's thigh.

The room is quiet for a minute while they both look down at Mason, who is sleeping peacefully, one hand clutching at his stuffed penguin. It's the kind of quiet Geno has learned to associate with baby, the air warm and sweet-smelling, the only noise the sound of Mason's soft breaths. After a few minutes, Sidney shifts next to Geno and whispers, "I'm going to go to bed. Take a nap."

Mason stirs, blinking his eyes open, and Sidney turns back at the little noise Mason makes. "Dada," Mason murmurs, reaching out. Sidney picks him up, settling him against his shoulder, and murmurs, too softly for Geno to hear. Mason reaches out a little towards Geno and pokes him in the chin. Geno grabs his finger and shakes it gently.

"Can you say hi to Geno?" Sid asks softly, beaming. "Say hi to Geno."

"Gee," says Mason. He promptly buries his face in Sidney's shoulder. Geno grins and brushes Mason's soft hair from his forehead

"Close," Geno says. "I will go home now."

"Wait, how are you going to get there?" Sidney asks, turning.

"Maybe Simone," suggests Geno. "Or I call cab. Stay, rest. Play with baby." He pats Sidney's back. "See you at practice."

"Okay," Sidney says, still frowning. "Yeah. Thanks for driving me home." He yawns widely and shakes his head a little, as if to clear out the cobwebs. "I'll see you."

Geno heads back downstairs to find Simone tidying up a pile of books on the kitchen table. She gives him a small smile and says, "It's nice to finally meet you. I've heard so much about you from Sidney."

"Really?" Geno picks up her books for her, grunting at the weight of them. "He say good things?"

"Of course." Simone smiles. "He says you are going to be Mason's favorite uncle."

Geno's stomach twists a little at the word uncle. "Can you drive me?" he asks abruptly, hoping the subject change will mask his reaction.

"Oh, sure." Simone shoulders her overnight bag with surprising ease and gestures for him to follow her. "He's right, though. It seems like you bought everything Mason has!"

"I spoil him," Geno says gruffly.

"Not the worst I've seen." Once they're outside, she opens the trunk of her car and throws her bag inside. "You can just put the books there," she says, pointing. "And grab your bag from Sidney's car."

Geno does as she says and gets in the car after reclaiming his bag from Sidney's backseat. "Have a lot of books," he remarks, rubbing at where the edge of one of them had cut into his forearm.

"Thesis writing requires a lot of books," Simone says wryly. "I'm lucky Mason isn't a more energetic baby."

"Care for babies a lot?" Geno asks.

Simone shoots him a look that says she knows he's trying to screen her. "Oldest of five," she says. "My parents worked. I took care of my siblings."

Geno grins and says, "Okay, no more questions."

"It's okay," Simone says. "I have had worse from families."

Geno laughs wryly. "I think, you know – being a single dad harder than Sidney think. Want to know he have good help."

"It is hard, especially with your schedule," Simone says. She glances over at Geno. "If it helps, they both seem to be doing okay. I hope I help, but it will get easier."

"Hope you're right," Geno sighs, thinking of Sidney's shadowed eyes and the tension he has been wearing him like a second skin. He doesn't know how much more Sidney can take; if he's going to be this stressed and anxious every time they go on the road, he isn't sure how he'll survive the season.

"I'll keep an eye on him," Simone promises. "I won't always be around, obviously, but I will be around a lot. If it seems like he's not doing well, I'll let you know."

"Thank you," Geno says. He rests his head against the window and sighs.

From what Geno can tell from the couple of times he visits Sidney at home, it does get easier. Sidney loosens up a little and doesn't have any more panicky moments that Geno sees, even when Mason throws fits and cries. It's good – reassuring, even – because it means Geno doesn't have to worry about Sidney on top of his own worries about his game performance.

They play the Senators a couple weeks into the season, and Geno and Sergei meet up afterwards at Sergei's house for a late dinner. The girls are already asleep, but Xenia is still around, and she greets Geno with a fond kiss on the cheek before shuffling off to the living room to watch some late night TV.

"How are you?" Sergei asks, handing Geno a plate. "I haven't talked to you in a while."

"I've been busy." Geno sits at the kitchen island and scrubs a hand over his face. "Things have been –" He hesitates, trying to figure out how to encompass everything from his own lackluster performance during the last few games to the whole Sidney and Mason situation. "Complicated."

"Yeah?" Sergei sits down across from him and nudges a tupperware of stuffed cabbage closer to Geno. "What do you mean?"

Instead of spilling everything about Sidney and Mason like he wants to, he tells Sergei about how frustrated he's been getting with his play, and Sergei listens patiently as usual. It's comforting, as it always is, even though Sergei inevitably reminds Geno of the early days in Pittsburgh, when he was so homesick and anxious he could barely speak in Russian, let alone try to use the few words of English he knew. Sergei was – and still is – his anchor in America in a lot of ways, and he misses being able to see him nearly every day and ask him for his advice. He badly wants to tell Sergei about Mason, but it's not for him to tell, not without Sidney's say so.

"You're not telling me something," Sergei says shrewdly when Geno finally runs out ways to stall him. "Zhenya, what is it?"

Geno sighs, resigned. "I don't know if I – let me just –" He pulls out his phone and sends Sidney a quick text. Ok tell sergei about mason?

Sergei watches him carefully, gaze a little too knowing for his comfort. Geno fidgets, pokes at the potatoes on his plate, and waits for Sidney to text him back.

Finally, his phone buzzes. It's fine, Sidney says. Geno lets out a breath and looks up to meets Sergei's eyes.

"Sidney – he, um, has a son," Geno says. He fumbles with his phone, scrolling through the photos until he finds one he had taken of Mason the last time he had been at Sidney's house. Mason is smiling, displaying his few teeth, and Sidney is propping him upright with one hand. "Almost a year old."

Sergei takes Geno's phone and stares at it for a long time. "I remember – you remember when the girls were this small?" He smiles, a little sadly, and passes it back. "Handsome child."

"Yes," says Geno, looking at the picture. Mason had just come out of his bath; Sidney had been damp and frustrated, Mason giggly and squirmy while trying to get Geno's attention. "He looks like Sidney."

Sergei nods. After a moment, he lays his hand over Geno's. "Are you all right?"

"He is a great kid," Geno says.

"That isn't what I asked."

Geno doesn't answer that. Sergei sighs and gets to his feet. "How is Sid doing?"

"He seems to be handling it well." Geno, out of habit, rises to help Sergei clean up. "He's a good father."

"Of course he is," says Sergei. "That boy has been waiting to have babies since he signed his NHL contract. Where is the mother?"

"Africa." When Sergei raises his eyebrows in surprise, Geno gives an abbreviated version of the story Sidney had told him while he dries the plates. "I worry," he confesses. "How will Sidney be able to deal with it when she comes back? He already hates leaving him for road games."

"That is another problem for another time," Sergei says. He squeezes Geno's arm lightly. "Let him know he has my and Xenia's best wishes, okay?"

"Of course," Geno says. "Thank you."

"And call," Sergei adds. "The girls want to see you. They got spoiled this summer, seeing you all the time."

Geno laughs and says, "Give them big hugs and kisses from me, okay?"

Sergei drives Geno back to his hotel, makes him promise to remind him about Mason's birthday, and leaves Geno to trudge up to his room. He runs into Sidney in the hall, and they both freeze.

After a moment, Sidney lets out a nervous giggle. "How, um. How is Gonch?"

"He is good," Geno says. "He and Xenia send good wish for Mason."

"That's nice of them." Sidney rubs his bare foot against his calf. Geno finds himself following the motion with his eyes and hates himself a little for it. "Well, good night. Sleep well."

"You too," Geno says, and he quickly retreats into his hotel room.

The second week of November, Geno receives an elegantly printed card inviting him to "Mason Crosby's 1st Birthday," with the added instructions that gifts were appreciated but not necessary. Geno smiles, texts Sidney his RSVP, and goes online to browse for baby gifts.

You're buying him a million gifts aren't you, comes the reply from Sidney.

Only 100 )))))), Geno sends back.

Sidney calls him a few minutes later and, after saying hello, pleads, "Please, just something small. Or practical. More diapers or baby food or something."

"That is not for birthday," Geno says reprovingly. "Birthday means fun gift, not boring." Nevertheless, he changes his search to penguin diapers.

"You've already bought him too many things," Sidney scolds. "You're going to spoil him."

"He deserve it," Geno says firmly. "Mason is the best."

"Yeah." Sidney's voice turns impossibly fond. "He's great."

"See? Need good gifts." Geno grins. "Even you say so."

"That's not what I said," protests Sidney. "I'm going to run out of room in my house!"

"Buy bigger house," suggests Geno.

"I just got this one!" But Sidney is laughing, his loud genuine laugh that's hideously embarrassing and charming at the same time. "Ugh, whatever, I'm never going to be able to stop you anyway."

"No," Geno agrees cheerfully. "Mason have one hundred gifts."

"I hate you," Sidney says, very sincerely.

Geno laughs and hangs up on him.

On the day of the actual birthday party, Geno takes Mason's gifts, as neatly wrapped as he's capable of, and drives over to Sidney's house a little early with the vague idea of helping him set up. He arrives to find the house in utter chaos, Sidney looking like a man demented as he tried to calm Mason and clean the dining room at the same time. Simone gives Geno an exasperated look and lets him in.

"Sidney is going crazy," she says, crossing her arms.

"Yes," Geno agrees. He gestures for her to stay put and cautiously approaches Sidney. "Sid?"

"Oh, great, you're here," says Sidney despairingly. "I knew we wouldn't be ready in time –"

"Sid." Geno grabs Sidney's shoulders. "Relax. Give me Mason."

Sidney stares at him for a moment, then obediently passes his son over. Mason is crying weakly, probably sensing Sidney's stress, and he doesn't calm even when Geno hums to him a little. "Should put him to bed for nap," Geno says, stroking his fingers through Mason's hair. "You should nap too."

"I have stuff to do," Sidney says weakly.

"Simone, you know what to do?" Geno calls without looking over.

"Yes, Sidney recited the list about fifteen times," she says, and Geno can just tell that she's rolling her eyes.

"Go nap." Geno hands Mason back to Sidney, then starts herding him towards the stairs. "We will clean –"

"And decorate," Sidney says, twisting around. "You're supposed to have decorations."

"Yes." Geno slaps Sidney's ass. "Go sleep. We wake you."

"Okay," Sidney says after a moment, and he stumbles up the stairs to hopefully relax. Satisfied, Geno turns to Simone, who is openly laughing at them.

"All right," she says once she's recovered herself. "Let's get to work."

By the time the first guests start to arrive, Geno and Simone have made the house both presentable and festive, gold and black streamers draped over the railings and a big black and gold Happy Birthday sign hanging in the living room. Simone goes to fetch Sidney and the birthday boy while Geno directs the Dupuis family to deposit their gifts on the table against the back wall of the living room.

"Do you live here now?" Pascal asks as Maeva carefully sets a brightly colored bag on the table, going on tip toes to push it towards the back.

"Ha ha," Geno says, rolling his eyes. "Funny."

"I'm just saying, I don't see Sid." He looks around overdramatically. "Is he hiding under the table?" He crouches down, shading his eyes with his hand.

Maeva giggles and says, "Daddy, we would see him."

"Yes, of course, how silly of me." Pascal winks at Geno as he straightens up.

Sidney comes downstairs with Mason a minute later, and Pascal and Carol-Lyne are immediately distracted, leaving Geno with four tiny, curious children, the youngest of whom barely reaches Geno's knee. After some very quick thinking, Geno suggests, "Game?" and they all nod excitedly.

He unearths an ancient copy of Candyland in one of Sidney's closets and sets it up on the living room floor, watching closely to be sure that Lola doesn't try to put the pieces in her mouth. He's relieved in his chaperoning duties by Pascal, who elbows him out of the way so he can claim the green piece.

"Go help Sid," Pascal says, poking Geno.

"Yes, yes," sighs Geno.

He returns to the dining room where Sidney is watching Carol-Lyne hold Mason while she talks to Véronique, a tight, manic grin on his face. Geno bumps his shoulder against Sidney's and whispers, "She knows how to hold baby," and Sidney shoots him a look.

"I know," he mutters, "but I can't help it."

"You are okay when I hold him," Geno says, raising his eyebrows.

"I trust you," Sidney says huffily. "It's different."

Geno smiles and pats Sidney on the back. "Need anything?"

"Just make sure everyone is okay?" Sidney asks, and Geno nods.

The house slowly fills with people over the the next quarter of an hour. Pretty much everyone spends at least a couple minutes in the dining room cooing at Mason, which Mason handles with considerably more poise than Sidney, who gets tenser and tighter the longer Mason isn't in his arms. Most of the adults wind up sitting around Sidney's living room and chatting while the kids play tag outside under the watchful eye of Simone and Carol-Lyne.

Sidney and Mason finally make it into the living room after everyone has arrived and taken their turn with Mason. Geno scoots over closer to James to give Sidney room on the couch. Sidney sits gratefully, and Geno instinctively reaches to take Mason.

He catches James giving him an odd look as Mason sighs and curls up against Geno's chest. "What?"

"Nothing," James says, though his eyebrows are still creeping towards his hairline. "He's a good kid, isn't he?"

"Best," Geno says firmly, stroking Mason's back.

Sidney gives them all a fond smile before leaning back and closing his eyes. Geno decides to let him be for the time being; there's no particular need for him to be awake.

"You're good with him," Véronique says later, when Mason has dozed off in Geno's arms. She's watching them with a fond gaze, her hands folded over her own baby-curved belly. "Thinking of having one of your own?"

Geno bites back the brief pang of loneliness at the unexpected reminder of his current bachelordom. He has always hoped to have kids, had hoped in the earlier days when he was still with Oksana that his children would be able to grow up with Sidney's and Flower's. He had never imagined that he would be the one left behind. "I need wife first," he points out, smiling wryly. "Or girlfriend, maybe."

"Sidney better watch out, you might just steal his kid," Flower says, grinning. "You're already like a father to him."

And Geno is hit, suddenly, by how badly he wants that to be true. He wants to watch Mason grow up, wants to teach him Russian and how to skate. He wants to be there for Mason's first date and for his (inevitable) draft and for all his temper tantrums. It's all too easy to imagine; he's already so proud that Mason knows him, that Sidney trusts him with his son, and he has come to treasure Mason's smiles and laughs. He wants to open his mouth, make a joke to distract Flower, but he can't figure out what to say without revealing himself entirely, so he settles for just glaring.

"Eh, Sid?" Flower says, leaning over to poke Sidney in the knee. Sidney jerks up, blinking.

"What?" he asks, breathless and confused with sleep. "What's going on?"

"Geno is going to steal your son," James clarifies from Geno's other side.

"Why would he need to?" Sidney asks, frowning. Geno opens his mouth to explain, but Sidney is getting to his feet and gesturing for him to follow. "I think it's cake time."

Lola, who had returned inside to collapse on Duper's lap, perks up and says, "Cake!"

Geno follows Sidney into the dining room and waits until Sidney comes out of the kitchen with a large sheet cake in his hands. The cake, predictably, has the Penguins logo on it, and Sidney carefully puts the one candle in the Penguin's eye. He surveys it proudly, then, seemingly at random, says, "I have to get my computer."

"What?" Geno adjusts Mason on his hip. "Why?"

"I told Erin we'd Skype her so she could sing to him," Sidney says. Geno's stomach twists, hard. "I'll be right back. Don't let anyone touch the cake."

Geno mock-salutes and smiles when Sidney laughs. Mason laughs too, a happy, infectious giggle that stretches Geno's smile wider. "You're happy you're going to see your mama?" Geno asks, and Mason gurgles happily.

Sidney reappears a few minutes later with his laptop, which he sets down carefully next to the cake. "Can you still hear me, Erin?"

"Yes, you're coming through just fine." Mason shifts at the sound of his mother's voice. "Where's Mason?"

"Hang on." Sidney gestures for Geno to pass Mason over. "Here he is."

Geno edges over to get a look at the screen. The woman in the Skype window looks pale and washed out in the harsh lighting of the room she's in. She's pretty, though, much as Geno remembered, and she has a lovely smile. When he finally looks at her, Mason waves his arms and says, "Mama!"

"Hey, Mason," Erin says, voice sounding staticky through the connection. She smiles and waves. "I miss you. Wish I could be there."

"Mama," Mason says again, straining against Sidney's hold. Sidney strokes his back and shoots Geno a look.

"Could you get everyone else?" he asks quietly. "Erin doesn't have long."

"Sure, Sid." Geno allows himself to pat Sidney's back just once before he returns to the living room and calls everyone in.

It's a tight fit around the table, Mason settled into his high chair in front of the cake, and everyone else jostling for a better view of the cake. The kids elbow their way to the front, and Geno scoops up Craig's son to keep him from getting squished against the corner. Once everyone has stopped elbowing each other, Sidney looks around, smiling, and counts them in to the song.

In the history of the birthday song, there have definitely been more cohesive performances, Geno thinks, ones where only one language was being sung instead of three and everyone was on key. Certainly none of them are particularly strong singers. But there's still something magical in the warm smiles of everyone gathered around the table as they watch the candle of Mason's first birthday cake glow brightly.

"Blow," Sidney says when the song is finished, smiling at Mason. He demonstrates, and Mason copies him, but is only just strong enough to make the flame flicker a little. Sidney blows it out for him, and everyone claps politely.

After a couple of frankly pathetic attempts on Sidney's part, Carol-Lyne nudges Sidney aside and takes over cutting the cake. Sidney cedes his place and retreats to the kitchen with his laptop, presumably to say goodbye to Erin. He returns a moment later just as Carol-Lyne hands Mason his slice.

Mason immediately pushes his hands into the cake, giggling, and Sidney makes a face as everyone else laughs. "He's going to be a nightmare tonight," he sighs as Mason starts eating cake off his fingers.

"Part of the joy of being a parent," says Michelle Cooke as her children run off towards the living room, plates of cake in hand.

Once the cake has been eaten, the guests start to leave, parents collecting their children despite their protests that the gifts haven't been opened, and everyone stopping by to say a last goodbye to Mason and Sidney. Mason is visibly running out of steam, his mumbled, "Bye-bye," becoming fainter with each repetition.

"I should put him to bed," Sidney says eventually. "Can you tell anyone who's left that's where I've gone?"

Geno nods and watches Sidney go upstairs. When he looks back, he sees Simone picking up the discarded paper plates from the table and throwing them into a garbage bag. He hurries to help, feeling guilty when he sees how much she's already done.

"Don't have to do," he says, gesturing. "Not your job."

Simone shrugs. "I like to help." She points at remains of the cake. "I'm going to put that in the refrigerator. Do you mind finishing up in here?"

They just about have the kitchen and dining room completely cleaned up when Sidney returns downstairs, a small gift bag in his hand. "For you," he says to Simone, thrusting it out. "You've been such an amazing help."

"Sidney," Simone says with wide eyes, "you don't have to –"

"Take it," Sidney says, going a little pink. "Go on."

Simone shoots Geno a small smile, then takes the bag. "Thank you."

"You can go home," Sidney adds. "You said you have a meeting with your thesis advisor on Monday, you should prepare for that."

"I – yes, I do," Simone says, seemingly off-balance. Geno can sympathize. "All right, as long as you're sure you don't need anything else."

"I've got Geno," Sidney says, and Geno's heart thumps hard at the careless implication in those words. "But thank you. And thank you for coming."

"I'll email you the photos I took," Simone promises, heading out to the hall closet to grab her coat. "Have a nice night, Sidney. You too, Geno."

Geno waves goodbye before turning to survey the unruly pile of gifts. "When you open them?" he asks Sidney.

"Probably tomorrow." Sidney rubs at his face and yawns. "I was supposed to Skype my parents so they could see Mason, but I don't want to wake him."

"Should call them, still," Geno says. "Your mom is sad she can't come, yes?"

"Yeah." Sidney nods. "All right." Suddenly, Sidney lurches forward and wraps his arms around Geno in a tight, awkward embrace. Geno freezes in shock for a moment; then he carefully hugs Sidney back. It's rare that they hug off-ice. Sidney isn't overly demonstrative by nature; usually Geno can tell when Sidney is in the mood to touch – alcohol is generally a key factor – and can prepare himself for it.

Taken by surprise like this, though, all he can think is how warm Sidney is, how he smells like Mason's baby powder and cake. He tightens his grip instinctively, and Sidney relaxes minutely, dropping his face into Geno's shoulder.

"Thank you so much for all your help," Sidney says into Geno's shirt. "You've been great."

"It is not a problem." Geno forces himself to step away. "Sid, I'm your friend. It nothing."

Sidney looks at him for a long moment, his expression blank. "It really isn't." He bobs his head awkwardly. "I'm going to call my family. Thank you for coming."

"Of course, Sid." Geno straightens up, suddenly feeling cold. "See you at practice."

Geno spends a few days after Mason's birthday party thinking about what Véronique had said about having kids. The sad truth of it is that he doesn't have much time to meet women – or men, for that matter – nor does he particularly have the inclination. He has always tended to get fixated on people, starting from his first crush in primary school. For years, there had been no one for him but Oksana, even when they were in one of their off-periods. But she had never quite eclipsed everything else in his life the way Sidney does. He isn't sure if that's because Sidney was already a huge part of his life before Geno fell in love with him, or if it's just because it's Sidney.

He spends the next few weeks leading into the holidays keeping to himself and staying far, far away from Sidney for the sake of his own mental well-being. As is usual during the winter, he starts to miss home more than usual, missing the sharp bite of the wind and the thick snow. He calls his family and Oksana regularly, greedily drinking in the familiarly accented Russian. When they're in DC to play the Caps, he asks Alex for a recommendation for a Russian restaurant and goes by himself, wanting to be alone with his thoughts and his memories.

"I would have come with you if you asked," Sidney says, a little hurt, when he hears where Geno had gone that night.

Geno shrugs and says, "It Russian food."

"Hey, you used to eat alone in your hotel room," James says from Geno's side. Sidney goes red and protest that it's different, and Cookie starts joking about how Sidney and Geno are too good for the rest of them. James gives Geno a look that's far more perceptive than Geno is comfortable with and adds, quietly, "You could have brought me."

"It's a nice place," Geno says. "Why I bring you?"

James laughs and flips him off, but they both know the offer was for more than just dessert samplers. Geno appreciates the gesture, even though he has no intention of discussing his weird onset of melancholy with anyone.

He is considering seeing what James is doing during their break, as his parents are visiting Denis for the holiday this year, but before he has the chance to find out, Sidney invites Geno over for Christmas dinner, saying nervously, "I know your parents are spending the holiday with your brother this year and I figured, my family's coming down."

"I can't," Geno starts, trying frantically to think of an excuse and wishing he had asked James first.

"I'm not letting you sit alone at home," Sidney says stubbornly. "Come on. You haven't been over in ages. Mason misses you."

"I best uncle," Geno agrees. "Does he like Penguin pacifier?" He trips over the last word a bit, but Sidney just smiles and nods.

"Yeah, he loves it." Sidney smiles sheepishly. "He plays with it a lot."

"Good." Geno kicks his foot along the ground awkwardly. "Thank you for invitation."

"You're always welcome," Sidney says, voice going soft. "You know that?"

Geno swallows hard and forces himself to meet Sidney's eyes without flushing. "Yes. I know."

Sidney stares at him, gaze moving restlessly over Geno's face. After a long moment, he seems to find whatever he's looking for and nods, satisfied. "Good."

So Geno has to go looking for gifts for the rest of the Crosbys – he has already bought Taylor a box set of a show Sidney swears she likes – and he adds them to the already worryingly large pile of gifts he has for Mason and Sidney. He likes seeing the Crosbys – Taylor seems to think of him as a secondary big brother, Troy always likes to talk hockey with him, and Trina tries to feed him as much as possible – but he always feels as though he's intruding when he spends time with them. Still, Sidney wouldn't have invited him if he weren't welcome, and Geno knows how stubborn Sidney can be.

On the 25th, Geno arrives at Sidney's house a little before five, bringing with him a bottle of wine and a small mountain of presents. Taylor squeals when she opens the door and tries to hug him, but only succeeds in dislodging a few of the boxes. She catches one before it hits the ground and giggles.

"You should probably put these down," she says, making a tragic face. Geno laughs and obediently heads into the living room to settle the presents under the gaudily decorated Christmas tree. Once he's free of parcels, Taylor hugs him tightly, then tows him into the kitchen, talking about how good the food smells and how cute Mason is.

Troy is at the stove while Trina chops vegetables on the counter, but they both step away to give him a hug. "Sidney is upstairs," Trina says, kissing his cheek. "Mason needed a diaper change. Why don't you two go get him?"

"That's her way of saying, 'get out of the way,'" Taylor says in a stage whisper. Trina swats her playfully with a dishtowel before shooing them out of the kitchen.

"How was Christmas?" Geno asks Taylor as they head upstairs together. "Get good presents?"

"Oh, yeah!" Taylor says happily. "Sidney got me a new computer because my old one broke, and Mom and Dad are getting me driving lessons."

Taylor chatters cheerfully all the way to Mason's room, but she falls quiet, almost respectfully, once they reach the open door. Geno lightly taps his knuckles on the frame and peeks inside the room to see Sidney holding a freshly swaddled Mason, his back to them.

"Sid," he calls. "Guess who."

"Duper?" Sidney says without turning.

"Ha ha, very funny." Geno pushes Taylor into the room. "Taylor wants to see nephew."

Sidney turns and smiles at them, wide and unfettered. "Mason, say hi to Taylor. Say hi."

"Hi," Mason mumbles shyly. Then he sees Geno and grins. "G!"

"Yes, it's Geno," Sidney agrees. "Geno, you haven't been here in a while, you have to see this." He goes to his knees on the ground and gently sets Mason on his feet. Geno and Taylor watch as Mason toddles forward a few steps before apparently giving up and sitting down.

"I swear he's better than that," Sidney says as Mason crawls towards Geno's feet. "Oh – here he goes."

Mason fists his hands in Geno's jeans and laboriously pulls himself upright. "G," he says, insistently, and Geno look over at Sidney.

"I think he wants you to pick him up," Taylor says helpfully. She's grinning widely, and so is Sidney, their smiles identical. Geno makes a face at them, but picks Mason up anyway.

"He lazy," Geno says. "Neal been here?"

Sidney laughs and gets to his feet. "Stop being so judgmental, Geno. Come on, the food smells good. Maybe Mom will let us sneak some."

"She never lets us sneak any," complains Taylor.

"I'll distract her," Sidney suggests. "Dad will let you eat some turkey if Mom is doing something else."

Geno trails after them while they plan, bickering with the same easy camaraderie Geno has with his brother. Mason gnaws at Geno's shirt as they walk down the stairs, dampening the fabric with spit. Geno can't quite find it in him to be annoyed; he has missed Mason and his easy affection.

Sidney and Taylor peel off into the kitchen, hissing at each other to be quiet, leaving Geno and Mason to troop into the living room. It looks completely different than it had three months ago, everything padded so Mason won't hit himself on the edge of a table or chair, and the floor is littered with Mason's toys. Geno sets Mason down and watches him make a beeline for the pile of foam cubes in front of the television. Geno sits cross-legged on the floor next to him and gravely accepts the blue cube Mason hands to him.

Sidney and Taylor scurry into the living room a few minutes later, giggling and clutching rolls to their chests. Sidney drops to his knees next to Geno and hands him one.

"Here," he says, "we stole one for you."

"Thank you," Geno says, looking at the roll dubiously.

"Eat it, it's good," Taylor says, joining them on the floor. "Plus, we braved Mom for you."

Geno obediently rips off a piece of the roll and eats it slowly, savoring the buttery taste. It's nothing like his own mother's bread, but it's warm and flaky and stolen with love. He has nearly finished eating it when Trina comes into the living room, puts her hands on her hips, and says, "Don't think I didn't notice the bread basket is missing a few rolls."

Geno freezes guiltily, the last piece of the roll halfway to his mouth. Sidney and Taylor are badly suppressing their smiles, both of them having wisely already finished eating. Trina surveys them all with an exasperated expression and shakes her head. "Honestly, I turned my back for one minute."

"Sorry," Geno says, but Trina waves him off.

"Not you, Geno, I know my children." Trina gestures at them. "Come on, scamps. You're going to help me peel the potatoes."

"Mom," Sidney and Taylor whine in perfect unison.

"Go on," she says. Geno eats the last piece of his roll as they slink out of the room, looking far more alike than their nine-year age gap should allow. Trina gives Geno a smile, then follows them back to the kitchen.

"Your dad and aunt are very naughty," he tells Mason, who had completely ignored all the commotion in favor of trying to put a red block on top of a yellow one. "Don't be like them, or Dedushka Moroz will not visit."

Mason nods, even though he probably doesn't understand anything Geno is saying, and points at the block Geno still has in his lap. "G."

"Okay." Geno passes it back and watches as Mason carefully places it on top of the red block. Mason sits back, apparently pleased with his work. He looks at it for a moment, then leans forward and pushes the tower over in one big motion. It crashes to the ground, soft foam hitting carpet, and Mason laughs, clapping his hands.

"Very good," Geno says, laughing too. Mason crawls over to Geno and flops into his lap, making a little huffy noise that reminds Geno of Sidney when he's frustrated. "Bored now?"

Mason huffs again. Geno pulls him up into his lap and looks around for something he can use to entertain Mason. He settles on the picture book sitting on one of the chairs and holds it open in front of both of them.

"You probably read better in English than I do," Geno says, absently kissing the top of Mason's head. "Okay, I will try." He switches back to English and reads, "The Night Before Christmas."

St. Nick is shouting to his reindeer when Sidney returns, looking a little flushed from the heat of the kitchen. There's a smear of flour on his cheekbone, whitening the hair at his temple, and Geno stumbles a little over the next words of the story. Sidney, instead of saying anything, sits down next to Geno and watches him intently as Geno reads the rest of the poem, slowly so that he can get all the words out properly. He doesn't speak until Geno reaches the last line, when he joins in saying, "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night."

Geno looks up and, for a moment, he is caught by Sidney stare. His cheeks heat and he asks gruffly, "I do something wrong?"

"No," Sidney says. He smiles, but it's small and fleeting. "We've set the table. Mom wants to know if you want red or white wine."

"Red," Geno says. He hoists Mason up into his arms and sets the book aside. "Mason eat with us?"

"Yes, we have his chair set up." Sidney leads the way back to the dining room. "Could you put him in it?"

Geno is settling Mason into his chair when the doorbell rings. Sidney, who is setting wine glasses at four of the place settings, looks up and frowns. "Who could that be?"

Geno shrugs. "Mario, maybe?"

"We saw them yesterday," Sidney says, still frowning. "I hope it isn't carolers." He sets down the last glass and heads out to the hall, muttering grumpily under his breath. Geno hears the sound of the door opening, and then the soft murmur of voices. He can't make out the words, but it doesn't sound like Mario or Nathalie, so maybe it is carolers.

He doesn't hear any caroling, but he does hear the door close, and Geno looks up as Sidney walks back into the dining room, expecting to see him looking annoyed.

Instead, Sidney is smiling, sort of, but his brow is furrowed in worry. "I – Geno, could you get everyone else? And sorry, could we get Mason out of the chair?"

"Sid?" Geno asks, now mildly concerned. "What's going on?"

"I –" Sidney starts, and then a tall, red-headed woman comes into the room behind Sidney.

"Hi," she says.

From his high chair, Mason shrieks, "Mama!"

The next few minutes are chaos.

Sidney's family comes in from the kitchen at the sound of Mason's yell and immediately start talking over each other, all of them asking questions and Sidney trying to answer them. Mason hits the tray of his chair, chanting, "Mama," over and over again. And Geno – Geno stares at Erin Purcell.

She's even more striking in person, her skin freckled and tan from sun and her hair a lighter shade of red than Geno remembers. There's something calm and steadying about her presence, even as she stands in the middle of a family argument looking distinctly uncomfortable. She can't stop looking at Mason, her eyes huge as she stares at him.

Geno makes a snap decision. He takes Mason out of his chair and carries him around the table to Erin, who has retreated to stand against the wall. Mason reaches out well before they're within touching distance, and Erin takes him from Geno with the look of a wanderer finding shelter in a storm.

Mason calms instantly the moment he's in his mother's arms. Erin, for her part, buries her face in Mason's hair and lets out a long, breathy sigh. "Hey, Mason," she says quietly, and Geno backs away, not wanting to intrude.

The Crosbys slowly quiet down, and they all turn to watch Erin with curious eyes. Geno realizes, with a jolt, that they might not have ever met her before. Sidney leans over to whisper something in Erin's ear, and she nods without looking up.

"Um," Sidney says, turning back to face them, "guys, this is Erin. Erin, this is my family."

Erin looks up and smiles tentatively. "I'm sorry to intrude like this – I thought I'd surprise Mason and Sidney for Christmas and –" Her eyes rove over the table, and she winces. "Oh, I've interrupted your dinner. I should go." But she makes no move to pass Mason back, and that Geno can understand.

"Should stay," Geno blurts out before he can stop himself. He feels himself flush when everyone looks at him. "If it okay with you, Sid."

"No, of course Erin should stay," Trina says briskly, seemingly fully recovered from the surprise. "Sidney, could you and Taylor go fetch an extra place setting and chair? Let Erin have some time with Mason."

And so Geno is left alone with the mother of Sidney's child.

"I am Geno," he says after a moment. "I play with Sid."

Erin smiles at him, her hand stroking Mason's back restlessly. "Yes, he's told me about you. Thank you so much for everything you've done for Sidney and Mason, truly. I'm glad Sidney had people to help him out." She readjusts Mason on her hip. "Sidney seems to think I magically did everything on my own, but I had my mother and my friends during the first months. He kept trying to do everything by himself."

"Yes, sound like Sid." Geno pulls out a chair for her and gestures for her to sit. "Want to be the best dad."

"He is already," Erin says with conviction. She looks down at Mason, who is staring up at her adoringly, and sighs. "He's so big."

"He can walk, a little," says Geno. "Maybe he show you later."

"I can't wait." Erin kisses Mason's head and closes her eyes.

Sidney comes back with an extra chair for the table and sits down in it so that he's wedged between Geno and Erin. "How long are you back for?"

"I don't know," Erin admits. "Hopefully for a while. I don't know if or when I'll get called back, but if they ask – I have to go." She bites her lip, clearly pained. "You know I have to."

"You do important work," Sidney says, shaking his head. "You shouldn't feel guilty."

"I don't want to miss him growing up," Erin says. "Once my time with them is done, though – we'll see." She sounds tired, and when she looks up, Geno sees the shadows under her eyes.

"Fly in today?" he asks, eying her wrinkled clothes.

"Landed two hours ago," she admits. "Don't know if I'll last through dinner." She looks down at Mason. "If I can let go of him long enough to eat."

"Here." Geno leans forward and holds out his arms for Mason. Erin looks at Sidney, who nods, and she passes Mason over. "Take seat next to high chair," Geno says, getting to his feet. "Can be with Mason, still eat."

Erin chuckles, a low, smoky sound that Geno would have found attractive in any other woman. "Good idea."

Taylor comes in with the extra place setting, followed closely by Troy and Trina, who are bearing the rest of the meal on huge platters. Geno hurriedly clears a space for the turkey before taking the seat across from Sidney, who has settled down on the other side of Mason's high chair.

Taylor says Grace before gleefully digging into the mashed potatoes. "I helped peel them, I get first whack at them," she explains, creating a small mountain on her plate.

"I helped peel them too," protests Sidney.

"Yeah, but you're bad at it," Taylor says, passing the potatoes to Geno.

The meal is quiet for the first ten minutes. Sidney and Erin both help Mason eat some of the mashed potato and some pieces of turkey cut up small. The Crosbys ask Erin a few questions – she's twenty-nine, she went to UPenn for medical school, she specializes in epidemiology (which Geno resolves to look up later if he can figure out how to spell it) – and she asks them about their holidays so far, but it's all pretty bland conversation.

Then Taylor says, "Well, if no one else is going to ask it, I will. How on earth did my brother get you to go out with him?"

"Taylor!" Sidney says, looking very much as though he'd like to throw something at her. She sticks her tongue out at him.

Erin laughs. "He's sweet, your brother. And I knew he was a good guy since he went to school with my little brother." She shrugs and, for some reason, looks at Geno. "I knew he would be good to me."

Sidney is bright red and trying to hide his face in his hands. His mother absently pats him on the back and says proudly, "He's a good boy."

"Oh god," Sidney groans.

"Are you Canadian?" Taylor asks. "This is very important, you see. Sidney will want Mason to play for Canada."

"He can play for whatever team he likes," Sidney says, though he looks like saying that physically pains him.

"Yes, as a matter of fact," Erin says. "My family's from Windsor. But Mason was born in the United States, so I think he's actually a dual citizen."

"He better choose Canada," mutters Sidney, and Geno bursts into laughter.

The mood relaxes substantially after that, and the conversation flows freely as they eat seconds, then thirds of the meal. Geno finally forces himself to stop eating and sits back in his chair with a satisfied sigh.

"Very good meal, Mr. and Mrs. Crosby," he tells them. "Almost as good as mother's cooking."

"Oh, I have your mother's recipe for borscht," says Trina, looking contrite. "I was going to make it –"

"No, it is fine," Geno says hastily. "Everything very good."

"Yes, it's delicious," says Erin, who has inhaled three plates of food and is working on a fourth plate of salad. "I haven't eaten this well in months." She eyes her plate dubiously. "I'll probably regret this later, but it was worth it."

"Thank you, both of you," Trina says. "The turkey was all Troy's doing."

"One year we'll try smoking it," Troy says. "The rub came out well this year, I think."

"No one knows what you're talking about, Dad," Taylor tells him kindly.

"Shall we open presents before dessert?" Trina suggests, getting to her feet. Geno hastily rises and clears his place before taking Taylor's empty plate. "To give us all time to recover?"

Geno helps Trina clear the table before she kicks him out because, "You're a guest, Geno, go rest with the others." He heads to the living room and halts in the door, a smile spreading across his face.

The other four are lying, with varying degrees of dignity, on every available surface in the room. Taylor has claimed the armchair closest to the door and is clutching at her stomach, head lolling back. Sidney is sprawled out on the couch, Mason resting on his chest, and Erin has taken the L-bend of the couch, curled up in on herself. Troy, who already looks to be mostly asleep, has taken the other armchair.

Unable to resist , Geno snaps a picture with his phone and saves it as his contact image for Sidney before going over to sit on Sidney's feet. Sidney cracks his eyes open but doesn't move.

"Your butt is bony," Sidney says, voice slow and syrupy.

"No room anywhere else," Geno points out. Sidney looks around, sees that Geno's right, and pulls his knees up so there's some room on the couch. As soon as Geno sits down, Sidney kicks his feet over Geno's lap.

"Hey," protests Geno, trying to tickle Sidney's feet. Sidney digs his toes into Geno's side and grins at him. "Sid!"

"Shh, Mason's sleeping," Sidney says, smiling beatifically at him. "Don't wake him."

"Don't use baby for excuse," Geno says, poking his fingers into the arch of Sidney's foot. Sidney squirms, giggling, and wraps his arms around Mason to keep him from getting knocked off.

"You're the one who wanted to sit here." Sidney closes his eyes, still smiling, and Geno lets his hand settle over Sidney's ankle, rubbing his thumb over the bone. Sidney's toes twitch.

The room falls quiet again, the kind of companionable quiet that's restful rather than uncomfortable. Geno could stay there forever, Sidney relaxed and happy, Mason curled up on his chest, and the smell of pine tree and pastry mixing in the air.

"My goodness," Trina says from the doorway, and Geno looks over to see her looking at them with a resigned smile. "You're all tuckered out."

"Still want pie," Taylor protests, shifting a little to look at her mom. "And presents."

"Well, here's the pie." Trina sets it on the coffee table along with a small stack of paper plates. "Eat when you're ready. I'll get the presents out from under the tree."

Geno tries to get up to help her, but Sidney kicks him in the ribs. Erin drags herself upright and says, "Let me help you, Mrs. Crosby."

The two of them distribute the gifts, and Erin goes out to her rental car to grab the gifts she had brought back with her. Sidney reluctantly straightens up, scooting over so he's pressed up against Geno. Mason has fallen fast asleep, and he doesn't wake when Sidney settles him on his lap.

"You okay?" Geno asks Sidney quietly.

Sidney purses his lips together thoughtfully. "Surprised," he says after a moment. "But it's good to see her again." His voice lilts up at the end of the sentence, as though he's trying to convince himself.

"I'm afraid it's not much," Erin says as she comes back in the room. She hands Trina a box and Sidney a larger one. "I couldn't carry much."

"You didn't need to bring anything," Sidney protests as she sits down on his other side.

"Sidney, I crashed your family Christmas," Erin says. "Take the gift."

"Oh, Erin, these are beautiful," Trina says, looking in the box. She lifts out something shaped like a bird, brightly-colored and rounded. "Are these candles?"

While Trina and Erin talk about the candles, Geno looks over Sidney's shoulder as he opens his box. Inside is a stuffed elephant and what turns out to be a brightly-patterned woven blanket, thick and warm. "I'm going to buy Mason more clothes," Erin says when she sees Sidney unfolding the blanket. "But I needed to see how big he is first. But I thought, you know, he always needs more stuffed animals. And I hope the blanket is okay. I thought you might like it."

"It's great, Erin," Sidney says, running his fingers over the fabric. "Thank you."

Sidney keeps stroking the blanket absently, even after he sets it down next to him. The stuffed elephant goes into Mason's arms, and Mason immediately starts chewing on the trunk in his sleep.

"Glad I washed it," Erin says wryly, reaching over to twitch it out of Mason's mouth.

"He just start chewing again," Geno predicts, and sure enough, Mason wakes up long enough to locate his new chew toy and bring it back to his mouth.

"Oh well," Erin sighs. She and Sidney share a look that's so reminiscent of Sidney's parents that Geno laughs, sharp and awkward at the reminder that yes, they are close.

Sidney looks to him. "Are you okay?"

"Yes," Geno says. "Open gifts." He nudges his boxes closer to them.

"Present time!" Taylor cheers, and she rips into her present from Geno. "Aha!" She waves the box set he'd gotten her at Sidney. "You're watching this with me, don't think you're getting out of it."

"Ugh, fine," says Sidney, but from the smile he gives Geno when Taylor isn't looking, Geno guesses he'd known she would say that and doesn't mind.

The Crosbys have given Geno a soft grey sweater and a couple of Russian movies he knows they must have asked his parents about, which is such a sweet gesture that it makes it hard for him to choke out, "Thank you." He clears his throat. "Love these movies."

"You're very welcome, Geno," Trina says affectionately. She's already wearing the necklace he had bought her, the delicate white gold chain glinting in the light. "And thank you."

"Yes," agrees Troy, lifting the watch Geno had given him; the last time they had seen each other, Troy had been complaining about his old watch running slow. "You didn't need to get us anything."

"You let me have Christmas with you," Geno says. "Must give gifts." Feeling a little embarrassed and on the spot, Geno kicks Sidney's ankle and says, "Open," gesturing to the boxes still sitting at his feet. Sidney shifts Mason into Erin's lap before leaning down to pick up the gift labeled To: Mason.

"You're kidding," Sidney says in exasperation when he sees what's inside. He lifts it out for the benefit of the others and Geno allows himself to grin when Taylor starts laughing. "A Team Russia jersey." Sidney turns it around and shakes his head. "I assume this is yours?"

"You good, of course, but Mason need to know who is best," Geno says.

Sidney rolls his eyes and digs through the tissue paper, coming up with the first plush toy. "You didn't."

"Check the box," Geno says, grinning madly.

Sidney eyes him suspiciously, then shakes the box until the other one falls out. He groans, settles both on his lap so everyone can see the A on plush Geno and the C on the plush Sidney, and says, "I really hate these things."

"I've never seen them in person," Erin says, leaning in. "May I?"

Sidney passes over the plush toy of himself, wrinkling his nose in distaste. Erin looks at it for a minute, her mouth pressing into a smaller and smaller line, and then she starts to giggle. "It's even worse than you said," she says.

"I know," Taylor says gleefully, coming over to look too. "Aren't they terrible?"

"Mason is going to chew on our heads," Sidney tells Geno. "I hope you know that."

"I just think," Geno says, quiet so that only Sidney can hear, "nice for Mason to have. When you are not here."

Sidney's expression softens. He puts his hand over Geno's, just for a moment, and says, "It's a nice thought, Geno. Thank you."

Geno swallows and bends down to pick up his gift to Sidney. "Don't forget for you."

Geno always struggles to buy gifts for Sidney – he thinks most people do – because Sidney is the practical sort of person who buys himself everything he needs and rarely wants anything that isn't hockey-related. This year he has defaulted to something he's pretty sure Sidney will like, and Sidney's smile when he opens it confirms it.

"I haven't watched this one yet," Sidney says, holding up the boxset of The Pacific. "Will you watch it with me?"

"Might need help," Geno says. "Bad at history."

"I'll explain stuff to you," Sidney says. Then, "You haven't opened my gift yet," he points out, smiling eagerly. He pushes at Geno's shoulder. "Go on."

Geno eyes him warily, then carefully unties the ribbon and peels off the wrapping paper. Inside is a sleek black picture frame, the glass covered with a piece of cardboard. Geno lifts it away and freezes, hand shaking.

It's a photo from Mason's birthday party – one Simone must have taken, he realizes – and it's from just before they had lit the candle on the cake. Geno and Sidney are settling Mason into his high chair, and Sidney is laughing at something, cheeks bunched up and flushed. Geno can almost hear his stupid honking giggle just looking at it.

And Geno – Geno is smiling at Sidney and Mason like he's never seen anything better in his entire life. Geno hadn't realized that he was quite so obvious; he knows he isn't great at hiding his feelings, but it's written all over his face. I want to belong here, it says, and I love you both so much.

"I, um," Sidney says nervously, and Geno realizes he has been silent for nearly a full minute, just staring at the photo. "I just thought you might like a picture of you and Mason and I liked this one. It's okay if you don't like it."

"Love it, Sid," Geno says quietly. "Thank you." He carefully sets the frame on the coffee table. "Very nice picture."

Erin leans forward to pick it up. "This is from the birthday party?"

"Ooh, I want to see," Taylor says, and she and Sidney's parents pass it between them to look. "Aww," Taylor says. "You guys look so happy."

"Looks like a fun party," Trina says as Erin takes the picture back from Troy.

"Very nice," Geno agrees. "Many friends come."

Erin doesn't say anything, just looks at the picture. There's an odd expression on her face – she's smiling, a little, but she looks sad, too. "I really wish I could have been there," she says quietly, and she looks over at Geno. "I'm glad you were."

Geno frowns, but no one else seems to think it's an odd thing for her to say. "So am I," he says finally.

After they eat the pie, Geno insists on helping Trina clean up and goes with her to the kitchen to help put away the remaining leftovers and wash the dishes. She asks about his family, and he tells her about his brother's girlfriend and his mother's new knitting hobby, and when he asks, she tells him about what she's been doing with both her kids away.

"I almost wish Sidney would call me down to help take care of Mason," she says wryly. "But he's doing fine."

"He is," Geno agrees.

"I'm so proud of him," Trina says, turning to lean against the counter. "Of both of you."

"Me?" Geno asks, surprised. "Why me?"

"You've been such a good friend to him." Trina squeezes his shoulder. "And Mason is doing so well and I know that's partially thanks to you."

"No," Geno says immediately, shaking his head. "I not do much."

"Of course not," Trina says. "You didn't buy that stroller for him or tell him to hire a nanny –"

"Okay," Geno says, feeling chastened, "maybe I help a little." He pinches his fingers together. Trina smiles and gives him a hug.

"Now go relax," she says. "I can take care of the rest of the clean up from here."

Taylor and Troy have already gone up to bed when Geno returns to the living room, and Sidney is presumably upstairs putting Mason to bed, but Erin has fallen asleep on the couch, stretched out and completely dead to the world. Geno hesitates, then covers her with the blanket she had given Sidney.

In sleep, she looks younger, the lines on her face smoothed out. Geno wishes that he could hate her, that he could resent her for having Sidney and not wanting him, that he could resent her for taking the family Geno wants. But Geno has never had any claim on Sidney or his family, and now that he's met her, he can see why Sidney would have gravitated towards her.

Besides, she's Mason's mother, and he knows he could never hate anyone who responsible for him.

"I should go to my hotel," she mumbles, her eyes opening to thin slits.

"No, sleep," Geno says. "Sidney say same."

Erin smiles slightly. "I like you, Geno," she says sleepily. "Thank you for helping take care of Mason. And Sidney."

"Always," Geno says, and he twitches the blanket over her feet before gathering up his gifts. He takes them out to his car before going back inside to say goodbye to Trina, and is about to leave when Sidney pads into the hall, dressed in his pajamas.

"Leaving without saying goodbye?" Sidney asks, a smile playing around his mouth. "Not very Christmas spirited of you."

"Not Christmas in Russia yet," Geno says. Sidney does smile at that, and Geno's stomach flips. "I think you are asleep."

"Not yet." Sidney chews on his lower lip for a moment, then reaches out to awkwardly squeeze Geno's shoulder. "Thank you for coming."

Geno rolls his eyes and folds Sidney into a hug, squeezing tight. Sidney lets out a sigh and hugs him back. "Merry Christmas, Sid," Geno says. "Erin is sleeping on couch. I tell her she can stay."

"Okay." Sidney steps back and shakes his head. "It's going to be weird having her around."

"Good or bad?" Geno asks, genuinely curious. Sidney has rarely mentioned Erin, but Geno has never gotten the impression that Sidney missed her, really. He always said her name fondly, but no differently from how he'd say Geno or Neal's names.

"Good, I think." Sidney smiles. "Merry Christmas, Geno. Drive safe."

Geno suddenly wants to kiss Sidney so badly that he actually steps closer before he can stop himself. Sidney tilts his head quizzically, and Geno forces himself to just smile, stomach twisting at how close they are, how he can smell the sugar on Sidney's breath. "Night, Sid," he says, voice coming out husky, and he lets himself out.

He drives home in silence and comes back to a cold, dark house. Geno sighs in the echoing emptiness of his front hall before dragging himself upstairs to his room. He sets his gifts on his dresser before digging out a Penguins sweatshirt to sleep in. He's about to get into bed when he thinks to take the photo from Sidney and set it on his bedside table, where he'll see it when he wakes.

He lies down so that he's facing it and closes his eyes. His house is very quiet.

Geno spends the next day recovering and being pathetically grateful that the Pens have a day between the 25th and their next game. He isn't sure that he quite manages to work off everything he ate at Sidney's, but he does feel better after working out, pushing himself right to the point of exhaustion.

Their game against the Islanders the next day starts slow, but something just clicks in the second period and Geno scores once, gets an assist on James's goal in the third, and they take home the win with a score of three to one. They follow it up with another win against the Devils two days later, leaving all of them in a pretty good mood going into the new year. Brooks and Chris take some of the rookies out for drinks after the game, and Geno tags along, bringing James and Paul along with him.

Other members of the team wander in and out, as usual – most of the family men stay for one drink before going home to their families – and Sidney stays long enough to congratulate everyone and wish them a happy new year before leaving. Geno watches him go, nursing his vodka tonic and talking himself out of following him.

James sits down next to Geno and says, "You don't seem happy for a guy who's just won a game."

"Not everyone is as perky as you," Paul says, leaning against the bar.

"I'm just saying, he's being a gloomy gus," says James. He kicks Geno's leg. "We should find you a girl."

"No, no," Geno says, waving him off. "Don't want."

"You might need it, though," James says. "You need companionship. Someone to go eat desserts with you so you don't go by yourself."

Geno rolls his eyes. "Never let it go."

"No, because it's really pathetic," James says gleefully. "I think even Paulie agrees that's worse than the state of my apartment."

"Nothing is worse than the state of your apartment," Paul says flatly.

"So anyone you see here that catches your eye?" James looks around. "There are a couple of blondes over in the corner –"

"I don't want a girl!" Geno snaps, far louder than he means to. James flinches back, eyes widening. Geno winces and lowers his voice. "Not interested."

"Are you back together with Oksana?" James asks. "No, wait, you told me she had a new boyfriend, that can't be it."

"Not Oksana," Geno says gruffly. "Someone else."

"Dating?" When Geno shakes his head, James leans back. "Oh." He sounds sorry now, and he frowns awkwardly at his drink. "So, you're in love with someone."

"Don't want to talk about it," Geno says to his drink. "Never gonna happen."

"That sucks, man," Paul says sympathetically. "Want another drink?"

"Yes," Geno says fervently. Geno drinks enough that he needs a cab home, and he collapses in bed with the intention of sleeping as long as he can.

His plans are ruined at way too early the next morning when someone rings the doorbell, loud and insistent. Geno cracks his eyes open and glares at the ceiling before dragging himself out of bed and stumbling blearily downstairs. He yanks the front door open with the intention of telling off whoever has the nerve to wake him before noon, but his words die in his mouth when he sees who it is.

"Hi," Sidney says, shifting from foot to foot. "I, uh. Can I come in?"

"Uh," Geno says, still staring. "Sid?"

"Yes?" Sidney frowns at him. "Oh, you're hungover, aren't you?" Sidney shakes his head and gently pushes Geno aside. "Come on, let's get you some aspirin."

Geno sits at his kitchen table while Sidney bustles around, pouring Geno a glass of water and getting him a couple of tablets of aspirin from his cabinet. Geno accepts it gratefully and downs the whole glass in one swallow. When he puts it down, Sidney is sitting across from him, annoyingly coherent and awake.

"What you doing here, Sid?" Geno asks, too tired to couch his bluntness in courtesy.

"Erin, uh, kicked me out," Sidney says, going a little red. "She said she wanted a day with Mason." He shrugs. "And, I don't know, I thought maybe we could watch the game."

"Winter Classic?" Geno asks. Sidney nods. "Okay." He blinks at Sidney, turning over what he had said. "Kick you out?"

"Oh! Erin's been staying in one of the guest bedrooms." Sidney shrugs in a clear attempt at nonchalance. "Her house is back in Philadelphia, and she didn't want to – to take Mason back there when she didn't know how long she'd be here for. She was going to stay in a hotel, but that's silly." Sidney looks at his hands. "It's been good."

He doesn't sound entirely convinced, and Geno doesn't miss the way Sidney's voice wavers at the idea of Erin taking Mason back. Geno, as usual, is weak to Sidney's attempts to soldier on.

"Okay," Geno says, standing up. "We go watch."

"The game isn't until the afternoon," Sidney points out. "But, um, I brought the DVDs you gave me." He pulls the boxset out of his coat to demonstrate. "I don't know if you're still willing to watch it with me, but –"

"Whatever you want, Sid," Geno says with a little more sincerity than he intends. He coughs awkwardly and says, "But we need food."

They order out for lunch, and Geno putters around the living room getting the DVD player set up while Sidney talks about the show. "I read the book while I was out," he is saying as Geno fiddles with the stereo, "and I've read other places that it has some inaccuracies, but it's all about the Pacific Theatre and that's not talked about as much in a lot of books –"

Geno listens with one ear as he turns the TV on; he had never been a great student, always too busy thinking about hockey to concentrate, and Russian schools taught a much different version of WWII than Canadian ones, let alone American ones. He isn't as enthralled by history as Sidney is, but he has to admit that it is interesting, at least. And honestly, he would listen to Sidney talk about how paint dried just to hear his voice.

"Sorry, am I boring you?" Sidney asks suddenly, and Geno looks up from the DVD player to see Sidney flushing. "I know I'm kind of babbling –"

"No, no," Geno says hurriedly. "Is interesting, promise. And good you have passion that is not hockey."

"I have Mason," Sidney points out indignantly.

"And not family," Geno adds. "Good to have hobby." He holds out his hand for the first disc. "Ready?"

Sidney curls up on the sofa next to him, shoulder pressing against Geno's. When he shows no sign of moving or even noticing how much contact he has initiated, Geno finally relaxes all the way and lets himself get sucked into the show.

They watch the two episodes on the first disc, taking a break between them to eat their food, before switching to the Winter Classic channel. Neither of them has been following the HBO special, but Sidney announces he's rooting for the Red Wings.

"Pasha's team," Geno says, nodding as Datsyuk shows up on screen. "I root for them too."

"Good," Sidney says, leaning more heavily against him. "We can't root against each other. Unless it's Russia versus Canada."

Geno laughs. "Yes."

It's fun, watching a game with Sidney; they usually don't get the chance, too busy with their own training to just enjoy a game together. Sidney watches plenty of tape, but usually he's analyzing the other teams in anticipation of an upcoming game.

Now, Sidney is muttering under his breath at plays, and Geno forgets to watch part of the first period in favor of watching Sidney's face. Geno doesn't resent Mason, not at all, but he has missed having time like this with Sidney, just the two of them hanging out together. In Russia, he always spent New Year's Day with family and friends, and since he moved, the closet he has gotten is skyping with them to talk and wish everyone well. He had been expecting another year of that; instead he has Sidney.

"Glad you're here," Geno says during a commercial break. Sidney looks over and smiles, wide and bright.

"I am too," he says.

Sidney goes home after the game, the Red Wings having won it with a filthy goal from Datsyuk in the last five minutes of the second period, but he hugs Geno before he goes, awkward but sincere. "Thanks," he says. "I had fun."

"Always welcome, Sid," Geno says, and he swallows back the horrible swell of overwhelming fondness that threatens to rise up and trip out in words he isn't ready to say. "Kiss Mason for me."

Sidney smiles widely and says, "I will," and Geno watches him go, heavy-hearted.

Geno finds himself looking forward to the All-Star break more than usual; he and James are going again along with Flower and Tanger. Sidney had apparently used Mason as an excuse with the front office to get out of having to go, which makes Flower laugh and say, "I should have said that."

"You love it," Kris says, shaking his head, and Flower laughs again before saying something in French that makes Kris snort skeptically.

"Tell Jack hi for me," Sidney says the day before they leave. Geno is over at his house to retrieve a package that Sidney says is a belated birthday present for Jack, and he's trying not to watch Erin, who's feeding Mason and looking very much at home. "And that I'm sorry that I'm not there."

"Not sorry," Geno accuses, looking back at Sidney.

"No," Sidney agrees, smiling. "Have fun."

"Yes." Geno looks over at Mason, who's watching them with big eyes. "Hey, Mason."

"Mason, give Geno a hug?" Sidney says, looking over at him. Mason opens his arms and Erin laughs, backing away so Geno can go pick him up.

Mason has gotten big, he realizes, and he feels terrible when he realizes that he hasn't seen Mason since Christmas. He should be around more. Mason settles in Geno's arms happily, mumbling, "G," under his breath. Now that he has met Erin, Geno can see the way she's reflected in the soft freckles on Mason's nose, barely visible now, and the softer waves of Mason's hair, and his heart hurts a little.

Geno's eyes sting, and he kisses Mason's cheek. "G leave now," he says. "But I come back soon."

"Promise?" Sidney asks.

"Yeah," Geno says. "I promise." He hugs Mason, who presses a kiss to Geno's cheek when prompted by Sidney, then hands him back to Erin. She, to his surprise, gives him a hug once she has Mason settled back in his chair.

"Good to see you again," she says. "You should come by more often. I think these two miss you."

"I see Geno all the time," Sidney points out.

"You were whining yesterday that he hadn't been over in ages," Erin says, poking Sidney in the side. Sidney bats her hand away, grinning, and Geno has to look away, stomach twisting.

"I was not whining," says Sidney.

"Whining. As if you were the toddler in this house." Erin gives Geno a smile that she's clearly expecting him to share, but he can't quite make himself return it.

"Should go," Geno says. "Travel tomorrow."

"Oh, right," Sidney says, stepping away. "Mason, say goodbye to Geno."

"Bye, G," Mason says obediently, and Geno hates, hates the way his heart clenches up at that.

"Bye," he says, waving solemnly to him. He gives Sidney and Erin his best attempt at a smile. "See you."

Sidney follows him to the door, frowning. "Are you okay?" he asks. "You seem kind of off."

"Fine," Geno says shortly. "Will give Jack his gift."

"Okay." Sidney lingers at the door a little longer, still frowning at Geno. Then he shakes his head and says, "Well, have a safe flight. Text me when you land?"

"Sure." Geno waves and steps outside. Sidney stands silhouetted in the door until Geno is back in his car; then he closes the door and Geno is left looking at the dark front of Sidney's house, chest tight and painful.

Geno and James get drafted to the same team again by a clearly forward-thinking Jack Johnson, but Kris and Flower get claimed by Ryan Callahan, so the four of them part ways to mingle with their team. Geno finds himself drawn into James's group of friends, most of them OHL alumni. Jack thanks Geno for the gift when he passes it off, provoking some chirping from the guys about trying to butter up the captain.

"Should be trying that on the coach!" Seguin calls as Geno passes. Geno rolls his eyes at him.

"Where is there even to go drink around here?" James asks as they're heading out, supposedly with the vague idea of going to a bar.

"We could ask Rick Nash," Stammer suggests from Geno's other side.

"If Rick Nash knew where to drink in Columbus, he wouldn't have wanted to leave so badly," says PK. He laughs at his own joke, head tipping back, and Stammer hits him, looking like he's trying to suppress a smile.

As it turns out, there is no shortage of bars around the arena, and they find one within ten minutes of leaving. Geno sits at the bar with James while Stammer and PK play pool with a couple of locals. A few other players wander in and out, and Geno waves to the ones he knows, but it's relatively restful. He and James learned their lesson the year before; if they take the first night easier, they can have a little more fun with everyone else the second night.

"So how's it going with that girl?" James asks partway through his second beer. When Geno frowns at him, James clarifies, "The one you like. You said you were in love with her?"

Geno stares at his drink and considers his options. After a moment, he sighs and says, "Not a girl, Nealsy."

James blinks at him. Then he takes a long chug of beer, sets it down, and says, "Okay. Okay, that's cool." He stares at Geno thoughtfully. "Where did you meet him?"

Geno gives James a look. "Don't want to talk about it."

"Yeah, sure," James says. "Okay. Just, this is kind of huge, you know? Is it, like, a thing?" He gestures vaguely at Geno. "What about Oksana?"

Geno shrugs. "Love is love."

"All right." James traces his fingers through the condensation on his glass. Geno plays with his napkin, waiting for him to process. "I'm glad you told me." He smiles a little. "Sure you can't tell me who it is? I probably don't even know him, right?"

Geno winces and James's eyes go wide. Before he can say anything, Geno leans in and hisses, "You want to know? Fine. It's Sid. I love Sid."

James's mouth falls open, and he gapes dumbly at Geno for almost a full minute. Then he picks up his glass, pounds back the rest of his beer, and announces, "I am not drunk enough for this conversation. Let's go back to the hotel and raid the minibar."

Geno wholeheartedly agrees with this plan and flags down the bartender to pay their tab. They wave to PK and Stammer as they go, passing Seguin and Landeskog on their way out.

"Leaving already?" chips Seguin, but Neal just waves him off and Geno shrugs at him.

"You here, must mean this party over," he says. Seguin flips him off, laughing.

They catch a cab back to the hotel and head up to their room in silence. James is fairly twitching with nervous energy though the entire elevator ride, and the moment they get inside their room, he makes a beeline for the minibar. Geno watches as James downs a swallow of vodka, then accepts the stupidly tiny bottle for himself.

"Okay," James says. "Tell me everything."

"Bossy," Geno comments, trying to smile. He looks down at the bottle, sighs, and chugs the rest of it. "Fine, I tell you."

But he doesn't know where to start at first – does he start with when learned about Mason? Or when he first fell in love with Sidney? The former is easier to explain than the latter, so he tells James, as briefly as he can, the situation with Erin and Sidney and why everything is terrible and nothing is good.

When he has finished, James stares at him, mouth working soundlessly. Eventually, he says, "Wow. You are so gone on him, aren't you?"

Geno glares at him. "You ask me to tell, I tell."

"No, I know, I just – look, I've never seen you like this," James says, waving his hands expressively. "No wonder you've been –" He stops and winces.

"Yes," Geno agrees. He rubs at his face and sighs. "I am stupid, I know. Let it get to me too much."

"We all do stupid things when we're in love." James stands up and goes back to the minibar. "Fuck it," he says after a moment of consideration. "I'm taking all of it. I have money."

Geno laughs and tosses the teeny bottle of vodka at the trash can. "We split it."

Between them, they go through three more of the tiny bottles of alcohol in the next half hour. Geno finds himself rambling about Sidney, about how Sidney smiles at him, has always smiled at him even when they couldn't understand each other except on the ice. He has tried, before, to figure out when his admiration and respect for Sidney had changed into the all-consuming affection and desperate longing that seems to define his life now. He still doesn't know what it was, but he remembers thinking, when Sidney was drinking from the cup, I want to spend the rest of my life with him.

And it isn't just a physical thing; Geno has been attracted to men before, but only fleetingly, nothing more than passing infatuations. He had been taken by surprise when he realized how badly he wanted to kiss Sidney – not just for the sex, but because he wanted to hold Sidney close to him, to feel him beneath his hands and reassure himself that Sidney is real.

"You know," James says, much later. He's lying on his bed, head dangling off the edge to look at Geno, who has sunk down to sit on the floor between their beds. "It makes a weird kind of sense. You've always been weird about Sidney."

"Hey," Geno protests weakly.

"Please, you know I'm right." He drops his hand down and bats it against Geno's face. "How many people know?"

"Family knows," Geno says. "Think Sergei knows. And you."

James smiles, which looks weird upside down. "I'm honored." He sobers abruptly. "Honestly, Geno, thank you for trusting me."

"We are friends," Geno says. "Yes?"

"Of course." James sits up and turns so that he's facing Geno normally, albeit looking down at him. "Are you going to tell him?"

"Why?" Geno contemplates the small, empty bottle of rum in his hand. "What to get from telling?"

"I know you don't want to hear this, but the guys – we've noticed that something is going on with you. I mean, I think Paulie has told people you're pining for someone or whatever, but if you think Sidney doesn't know something's up –" James shakes his head. "He's going to start asking us – probably me – if we know what's going on with you. He's already kind of asked."

Geno looks up at that. "What he say?"

James shrugs and slides off the edge of the bed so that he's sitting on the floor too. "He asked if you had been busy recently, because you hadn't been around to see Mason."

And Geno hates that he's doing this to Sidney, and he knows there is some logic in what James is saying, but – "He hate me if I tell," he says. "Not feel the same."

"He won't hate you," James says. "It would take a lot, I think, for Sidney to hate you." He sighs and rubs a hand through his hair. "Maybe it's a dumb idea, but if you got it out – if you, I don't know, had the chance to do something, maybe you can get over it?"

Geno stupidly wants to insist that he doesn't want to get over it – that he can't; as terrible as it can be to see Sidney with the family that Geno, in his more selfish moments, thinks should have been his, there's no happiness that can compare to the way he lights up when Sidney smiles at him. Love shouldn't be something you just get over, even when it hurts – especially when it hurts.

But James is right, and he knows that. Sidney would want to know, if only so he knows why Geno has been off all year. Maybe he'll stop asking Geno over, stop asking him to dinner to see Mason, stop reminding Geno that Sidney has found himself a life and a home and a family and he did it all without Geno.

"Okay," he says croakily. "I find a time. I tell him."

James looks at him for a moment, then lunges forward and clumsily hugs Geno around the neck, kneeling over him. "I'm sorry," he says. "This sucks. You can come and get drunk with me and Paulie after, if you want."

"Thanks," Geno says. He pats James's back. "You are a good friend."

"The fucking best," James agrees, sitting back. He punches Geno in the shoulder. "Fuck you for dropping that on me like that though."

"You ask!" protests Geno, but James is grinning at him, and Geno feels lighter, better than he has in ages.

The All-Star weekend ends up being pretty fun, and there's surprisingly good turn-out given it's Columbus. Team Callahan wins handily by four points, and they all go out to celebrate afterwards, drinking and trading stories. Geno gets a text from Sidney a little before midnight, just a brief, Sorry you lost, and instead of staring at it like he might have before, he elbows James and they go to buy shots.

He gets another text about an hour later, this time with a photo attached. He opens it and sees a picture of Mason curled up in his crib, clutching the little plush Geno toy to his chest. Mason says sorry too, Sidney has sent.

Geno swallows hard and turns off his phone. James catches the look on his face, yells something at Tanger, and then drags him back to the bar. "Here," James says, taking a glass from Tanger and pressing it into Geno's hand. "To winning and to a good season."

"We're the ones who won," Flower says from Tanger's other side, but he agreeably clinks his glass against James's. Geno drinks it down and smiles.

Geno returns from the break determined to face the Sidney situation head on, but once he's back in Pittsburgh, it's hard to convince himself that it needs doing. He settles in at home, getting ready for the season to resume, and sends Sidney just one cursory text to let him know he got back okay.

Erin got called back to Swaziland, is what he gets in return, and Geno swears softly at his phone. He can't tell from the text how Sidney feels about it, and he sits staring at his phone for nearly five full minutes before he shakes his head, grabs his coat, and heads out to his car.

Sidney looks surprised when he answers the door to find Geno standing there, but he lets him in all the same, gesturing for Geno to stamp off the snow on the mat outside. "What are you doing here?" Sidney asks as Geno shrugs off his coat.

"You say Erin leave," Geno says. "Come to see how you are."

He takes the opportunity to look Sidney over. Sidney looks exactly the same as he had before the break, though he's dressed for bed now, low-slung sweatpants and a worn t-shirt. As Geno watches, Sidney rubs one bare foot against his calf, scrubs a hand across his hair, and sighs.

"I'm fine," Sidney says. "You want, I don't know, tea?" He doesn't wait for an answer, just heads for the kitchen, and Geno trails after him, getting damp boot prints on Sidney's floor.

Sidney fusses with the stove for a few minutes while Geno makes himself comfortable at the kitchen table. When Sidney finally turns around, he looks a little more composed, and he sits down across from Geno while the kettle heats.

"She got the call last night," Sidney says, not looking up at Geno. "They – she's an expert in epidemics, so they need her and she –" Sidney sighs. "She said she's going to try not to be away for so long again. Anyway, she went back to Philadelphia this morning to grab some things and then she's flying out."

"And you are okay?" Geno asks. The tension running through Sidney is palpable, the line of his shoulder and neck tight and unforgiving. "She is special for you, yes?"

Sidney looks up at that, and Geno can't read his expression, the way Sidney's mouth is a flat line, but he doesn't look unhappy, exactly. "Of course she is. She's Mason's mother." Suddenly, all the tension runs out of Sidney, like someone had cut a string, and he slumps forward. Geno instinctively reaches out to squeeze Sidney's shoulder, feeling helpless.

"I asked her to marry me," Sidney confesses in a very quiet voice. "When she told me about Mason."

Geno clenches his jaw and breathes out slowly. It makes sense – it's a Sidney thing to have done – but his chest aches at the thought, of having Sidney that much farther from his reach. "What she say?"

"Obviously she said no." Sidney sighs and drops his head into his hands. "I knew she would, but I had to do something, you know? She was prepared to have this baby and I wanted her to know that I would be prepared too." He pauses for a moment, then says, carefully, "I think I was in love with her, once."

Geno bites the inside of his cheek hard and forces himself not to change expression, even as his eyes burn. "Yes?"

"When we first met," Sidney says. "I'm not anymore," he adds, looking at Geno finally. "I haven't been for a while. But sometimes I think we could have been – good. And having her around reminded me of that." He shakes his head, smiling wryly. "I think I got a little too used to it. To seeing what having a family could be like, you know?"

Geno does know, knows all too well exactly what Sidney means. But before he has to answer, the kettle on the stove starts whistling, and Sidney gets up to take it off the flame.

Geno accepts the mug Sidney hands him and breathes in the rich smell of the herbal tea Sidney has chosen. The two of them sit in silence for a few minutes, cautiously sipping at their tea. Eventually, Sidney sets his mug down and looks straight at Geno.

"I'm fine, I really am," he says. "She's my friend, and I'll miss having her around – and so will Mason – but this is her job. I would never ask her to quit."

"She will miss Mason," Geno says, because he can't think of anything else to say, and Sidney looks sad at that.

"She cried, a little," Sidney says. "I think it scared Mason." He plays with the tag on his teabag for a moment. "This isn't going to be able to work this way forever. But I don't know how we're going to change it." He huffs out a small, very false laugh. "Sorry. This can't be very interesting."

"We are friends," Geno says, bumping his mug against Sidney's. "You can talk to me. Always."

Sidney gives him a smile that's much more real than his laugh, and Geno smiles back instinctively before remembering that he's supposed to be distancing himself from Sidney and looking away.

There's a staticky crackle from the counter. Geno jerks around, startled. Sidney gets up and lays a soothing hand on Geno's shoulder as he passes. "Don't worry, it's just Mason's baby monitor." He glances back over his shoulder as he picks up the monitor. "Want to say hi to him?"

Geno knows he should say no – it will be easier, after he comes clean, if he doesn't have to think about Mason and Sidney and those awful moments where they felt like family – but Sidney looks so hopeful that Geno can't deny him. "Okay," he says, rising from his seat. "He asleep?"

"I think he just woke up," Sidney says, lifting the monitor to his ear. "Let's go check on him."

Geno follows Sidney upstairs to Mason's room, a path so familiar Geno is sure he could pace it in his sleep, and watches as Sidney lifts Mason out of his crib. Mason seems a little restless, kicking at Sidney's ribs as Sidney bounces him lightly, but he settles when he sees Geno.

"G!" Mason says, wriggling. Geno breaks into a helpless smile and is reaching out before he consciously decides to. "G home," Mason says to Sidney.

"That's right," Sidney says. "Your G is home." Sidney carefully settles Mason into Geno's arms and watches them with fond eyes. "He really has missed you, you know."

"I believe you," Geno says, hoarse and thick. He hums softly to Mason and watches as he starts to smile. Encouraged, Geno sings the first verse of the lullaby he has started to think of as Mason's, and Mason settles down, looking up with huge, adoring eyes.

Mason starts to flag at the beginning of the third verse, blinks becoming slower and more languid until he finally slumps into Geno's shoulder, soft baby snores vibrating against Geno's skin. Geno blinks hard, amazed at the trust and love Mason gives so easily.

"Have you ever thought about having kids?" Sidney asks suddenly. "You would be an amazing dad."

"Yes." Geno looks down at Mason and tries to imagine what this would feel like if Mason were his; but he finds that he can't imagine loving any child more than Mason, this child who is part Sidney and calls Geno G and loves when Geno sings in Russian to him. It's the child he always wanted; only, Mason isn't his.

"Did you and Oksana ever talk about having kids?" Sidney asks. "You were pretty serious for a while."

"We talk, yes," Geno says. There had been a time when he had imagined raising his kids in Pittsburgh, alongside Sidney and Duper and Tanger, but Russia was – is – Oksana's home and he'd never ask her to leave for him. He probably should have wondered sooner why he had stopped thinking of Russia as home; he knows why now, of course. Home for Geno will always be where Sidney is. "I think I never have kids."

Sidney frowns at him. "I don't understand."

Gen takes a deep breath. He can see his options now, like a play happening farther down the ice that hasn't reached him yet. "There is a person I want a family with. But it is – I do not think it can happen."

"I overheard Paulie saying something like that," Sidney says, looking slightly guilty. "You haven't said anything about it to me though."

"No," Geno agrees.

There is a brief, awkward silence and then Sidney says, "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to." But he looks hurt, mouth turned down in an unhappy curve. Geno hates when Sidney looks like that.

"I don't," Geno says honestly. "But Nealsy say I should tell you."

Sidney waits, and Geno stalls by tucking a lock of Mason's wavy hair behind his ear. "Geno," Sidney says finally, and Geno looks up. "Who is it?"

Geno breathes in, then out. "You, Sid," he says finally, his voice cracking on Sidney's name.

Sidney's brow draws together. "I don't think I understand," he says slowly, staring at Geno.

Geno closes his eyes tightly. "I love you, Sid," he says, and the words fall from him like broken glass, the sharp edges lodging in his chest and his stomach and his heart. "I am in love with you."

Sidney doesn't say anything for nearly a full minute. Geno chances a look at Sidney's face and immediately regrets it; Sidney has gone ashen, staring at Geno as though he's never seen him before.

"You –" Sidney stops, shakes his head. "You're serious."

"Yes," Geno says.

"I," Sidney starts, and then he turns away. He paces away, back, and looks at Geno for so long that Geno has to avert his eyes. "Geno," Sidney says at last, and he sounds horribly pitying, so kind that Geno wants to tear his hair out, beg Sidney to just break his heart so he can move on, tell himself that Sidney wasn't worth it anyway. "I'm flattered, but. You know I don't feel the same way. Don't you?"

"Yes," Geno whispers. "I know. I always know."

"I never meant to –" Sidney gestures inarticulately, then drops his hands back to his side. He chews his lower lip. "I'm sorry if I did anything that made it worse."

"You don't have to say sorry," Geno snaps before remembering that he's still holding Mason. He turns to the crib and takes a deep breath before settling Mason down. When he turns around, Sidney is still standing there, still with that awful, pitying expression on his face and Geno can't look at him, not when all he wants to do is take Sidney in his arms and whisper over and over again, I love you, please don't hate me.

"Still," Sidney begins, and Geno just – can't take it, not now, not with Mason behind him, not when he's tired and lovesick and so lonely he aches with it.

"I go home," he says, and he brushes past Sidney on his way to the door. Sidney doesn't try to stop him, and Geno doesn't look back.

He doesn't take in most of the drive to James's house, too consumed in self-pity and trying not to think too hard about the look on Sidney's face, the clear sorrow that he can't give Geno what he wants. And the worst part is that Geno hadn't expected anything else. He had dreamed, of course, of Sidney welcoming him with open arms, but he had known it was unlikely. Even so, it hurts more than he thought it would, and he has to pull over on the way to just breathe, gasping for air while his hands clench hard around his steering wheel.

James looks like he had probably been sleeping when he answers the door, but he takes one look at Geno's face and says, "I'll call Paulie. Beer's in the fridge."

Geno goes into the kitchen, pulls out a beer, and then his knees kind of give out beneath him. James finds him there a minute later and crouches down to squeeze Geno's shoulder.

"I'm so sorry," James says quietly. "But I'm proud of you too. You got it all out in the open, man, that's kind of amazing."

"I love him," Geno says to the can of beer in his hands. James sighs and sits down so that his back is against the fridge.

"I know." James steals the beer from Geno and takes a long swig. Geno hears the sound of James's front door opening, and Paul yells, "Where are you guys?"

"Kitchen!" James yells back, and Paul appears a minute later.

"Party on the floor?" he asks. He steps over them to get to the fridge and pulls out two beers, one of which he passes to James. He sits down so that his back is to the kitchen island and holds up his beer can in a salute. "Love sucks."

"Amen," James says, clinking his can against Paul's, and Geno manages a smile, lifting his own can to theirs.

He spends the night on James's sofa, legs sticking off the edge, and drives home early in the morning, bleary eyed and achy from head to toe. He crashes back into his bed and passes out again, but not before turning his back on the photo from Mason's birthday, still sitting on his bedside table.

Geno can count one hand the number of times he has gone for longer than a week without speaking to Sidney in some way since they met. Ever since he arrived at Mario's, hands shaking from nerves and still convinced that someone from the Superleague would pop out and drag him on a plane back to Russia, and saw Sidney standing on the porch, hands awkwardly shoved in his pockets, Sidney has been a constant. Even when they had been separated by half the world, Sidney would text him small updates about his life, ask Geno about his.

The two times Geno can remember not talking to Sidney were during the very worst of Sidney's concussion, when all he was permitted to do was sit quietly, maybe read if he was able, and what Geno now knows were the first weeks of Sidney being Mason's sole caretaker. Neither time had he been so acutely aware of the silence between them as he is now.

What makes it worse is that they aren't not talking, exactly; but they aren't saying anything important either. Sidney speaks to him about their games, about practice, and Geno gives short answers, neither of them looking at each other the whole time. Geno's confession hangs heavy in the air between them every time they speak, and Geno can tell that Sidney is trying to pull back, give Geno space. He hates it, but he's grateful, too.

Valentine's Day feels more like a mockery than usual, coming in a saccharine swell of pink and red hearts and chocolate that he shouldn't be eating anyway. They have a game scheduled for the actual day, which Geno is actually happy about, as it means he can safely go to sleep afterward and not think about Sidney and the vague imaginings he's had of what he might do for Sidney on Valentine's.

Geno receives a sweet card from his parents and a joke-flirty one from Oksana, both of which he props up on his bedside table. He still hasn't moved the photo from Mason's birthday, even though his chest feels tight and his breath comes harder when he looks at it. He can't bring himself to touch it, which is probably a little pathetic, but he's still glad he has it, so he can remember what it felt like to feel as though he belonged somewhere.

They fly out to Winnipeg on the thirteenth, the married guys on the team jokingly complaining about having to leave their wives, as they do every year. Sidney doesn't look at Geno on the bus or the plane, and is quiet even for him, burying his head in one of his history books rather than playing video games. After Flower makes a few unsuccessful attempts to draw him into conversation, everyone leaves Sidney alone.

The game goes well, an easier win than any of them expecting especially with the whole stadium booing them, and Geno goes back to the hotel feeling if not happy, at least not actively sad. He emails his family and Oksana to thank them for the cards before changing out of his suit and showering, hissing when the hot water hits the new, blooming bruise on his left hip.

He's getting ready to go to bed and maybe watch some television when there's a knock at his door, cautious and quiet. Frowning, he answers it and finds Sidney standing on the other side, mouth twisted unhappily.

"We need to talk," he says, voice firm.

There is absolutely nothing Geno wants to do less, but he isn't in the habit of refusing Sidney anything, so he opens the door silently and lets him in. Sidney is hunching a bit, as if trying to make himself smaller to give Geno space. Geno does them both the favor of pulling out the chair at the little desk and sitting in it so Sidney can pace restlessly, brow furrowed.

After an interminable amount of time, Sidney turns to look at him and says bluntly, "I want to go on a date with you."

Geno is on his feet before he consciously realizes it, anger blazing through him. "That is not funny, Sid," he growls, hands clenching. He had never thought this of Sidney – never thought he would be so cruel to throw it back in his face like this. "Why you do this?"

But Sidney doesn't back down. He lifts his chin, jaw set, and stares back at Geno. "It isn't a joke. I want to go on a date with you." He's using his captain voice, his gaze steady and unwavering, and Geno can't listen, can't deal with Sidney saying something like this. It's too much

Geno shakes his head and says, "You don't know what you saying."

"I've been thinking about it since –" Sidney stumbles, then regroups. "I've been thinking about it. I wasn't expecting you to say that, but I don't – I like you, Geno, you're my friend. And I want to go on a date with you."

"It not that simple," Geno says, shaking his head.

"Don't you think I know that?" Sidney snaps back, taking an aggressive step forward. "Do you think I haven't thought about this? I have, okay? I have Mason and we're teammates and – you're important to me, Geno, and I can't stop thinking about you and I don't know what that means, because I've never –" His voice trails off, but he doesn't look away from Geno's face. "I don't know what I'm doing here," he says after a moment. "But I care about you."

"Don't need pity," Geno says. "Leave, Sid. Don't do this for me."

"It's not pity," Sidney retorts. "I want to try this, Geno. Please." His voice wavers, and Geno feels his resolve melting away, even though he doesn't want Sidney like this, doesn't want their friendship to be broken up by Sidney trying to force himself to like Geno.

Geno swallows hard. "I –" He rubs his hand over his face and sits down again, heart pounding. After a moment, Sidney touches his shoulder, and Geno reaches up to catch Sidney's hand in his. Sidney squeezes gently, thumb rubbing over Geno's knuckles. "Sid," he says, looking up. "I don't want – we are friends. Could lose that."

"I know," Sidney says, crouching down so his face is even with Geno's. "Geno, I know. I'm not going into this blind. We're good together, we both know that. I just think – we could try. I think I could –" He clears his throat, going slightly pink. "I think I could love you, if you let me try."

Geno stares at Sidney, at his faint blush and his damp curls, dripping water down his temples, and lifts his free hand to cup Sidney's jaw. Sidney doesn't flinch, doesn't move, just keeps looking steadily at Geno.

"Okay," Geno says quietly. "Okay, we try." He hesitates, then says, "I kiss you now," and at this, Sidney closes his eyes.

"Okay," Sidney says, and Geno leans in slowly, stomach fluttering absurdly, and presses his lips to Sidney's, light and tentative. Sidney sighs and instinctively follows Geno's mouth when Geno pulls back, eyes opening to slits, and they stare at each other for a moment before Geno ducks back in and kisses Sidney more firmly, hand sliding around to cup the back of his head.

Sidney tightens his grip on Geno's hand, making a small noise into Geno's mouth, and it's so much better than Geno had ever imagined, because Sidney is responsive and eager and solid, smelling like the hotel shampoo and shaving cream, and Geno knows he never could have dreamed this up in a million years.

He lays two more gentle kisses on Sidney's mouth before he pulls back, keeping his hand on the back of Sidney's neck. It takes Sidney a moment to open his eyes again, and he looks so beautiful, eyes wide and amazed, mouth full and pink, that Geno has to kiss him again, quick and sneaky.

"A date," Sidney says after a moment, blinking slowly. "When we get back to Pittsburgh. Um." He flushes. "That was good. But –"

"We go slow," Geno assures him. "Slow as you want."

"Thank you," Sidney says, looking embarrassed. "This is just all kind of new to me." He waves his hand vaguely between them. "But I like it." He coughs, smiles, and tilts his head up just a little, and Geno takes the hint to kiss him again, slow and soft. His hands are shaking against Sidney's neck, and Sidney covers Geno's hands with his, smiling when Geno pulls back.

"Sid," Geno sighs, cradling Sidney's jaw, awestruck that this is his life, that this is happening. "If you ever don't want something – tell me."

"I don't think I'll need to," Sidney says, still smiling, though now it's kind of dazed. Geno sucks in a shaky breath and closes his eyes.

"I love you," he says, unable to hold it in, and Sidney lets out a tiny sigh that puffs across his mouth before moving his hand to Geno's neck.

"I know," Sidney says, and he squeezes gently before letting go.

Geno opens his eyes and watches as Sidney stands up, straightening his shirt. "Sunday?" he suggests as Sidney is about to leave.

Sidney flashes him a little smile. "I'll ask Simone to babysit," he says, and he waves dorkily before slipping out the door. Geno sits back in his chair and covers his face with his hands, body still thrumming with adrenaline and his stomach jumping with nerves.

Things don't exactly change, although Sidney and Geno keep looking at each other and grinning stupidly or breaking into fits of giddy laughter, which luckily no one but James and maybe Beau seems to notice. They eat breakfast together, not speaking, just with their legs pressed together under the table, but sit in their usual places on the plane. Geno keeps having to remind himself not to zone out while staring at the back of Sidney's head if he doesn't want someone catching him and chirping him for it.

He spends some time frantically researching romantic restaurants and making some very weird phone calls to see what he can do about getting private rooms. Eventually he decides that he's better off just making Sidney dinner himself, and that sets off a whole new spiral of worrying what to make. Eventually, he calls James and forces him to help, which does also mean he has to confess to the fact that he has a date with Sidney.

"I can help you with that," James says when he gets the whole story out of Geno. "For the good of the team and everything. Meet you at the store by your house in fifteen."

Geno is standing blankly in the supermarket, staring at the produce aisle in a daze, when James arrives and says, "Okay, not that I don't appreciate your faith in me, but I don't understand why you called me."

"Only one who know about us," Geno says, giving him an exasperated look. "Who else?"

"I don't know, someone who cooks? You could have called Paul." James picks up a ginger root and makes a face at it. "Gross. Look, I'm sure he'll like whatever you make for him."

"First date, Nealsy," Geno says, taking the ginger from him and putting it back down. "I have to impress him."

"Paulie just makes me eggs and bacon and I'm happy," James points out.

"You easy," Geno says. "Also, not dating."

"True." James grabs a bag of onions and shakes them. "What about these?"

Geno rolls his eyes and holds out the basket. "Put it in."

They collect enough ingredients for Geno to be able to make pretty much anything that he knows, which admittedly isn't much. James comes home with him and "helps" around the kitchen, which mostly translates to cutting onions and swearing when his eyes start watering.

"This is ridiculous!" he yells as he washes his hands, eyes streaming, and Geno laughs helplessly, doubling over. "Fuck you, Geno! See if I ever help you again."

"You do very good job," Geno says, breathless with laughter.

Geno makes risotto, since it's easy and Sidney will probably appreciate the carbs during the pre-game skate on Monday. James does a lot of stirring, but bows out when it's about time for Sidney to arrive, saying, "I'm happy for you and everything, but I don't really want to see you guys suck face."

"We are going slow," Geno says primly, trying not to think of how Sidney's mouth had felt on his.

Something of his thoughts must show on his face, because James makes a disgusted noise and says, "I'm sure. Good luck and whatever."

Geno waves him out and runs upstairs to change clothes while the risotto is simmering. He goes through four shirts before settling on a button-down black one his American agent had made him get for some event a few years before, and he's debating tucking the ends in when his doorbell rings. He glances in the mirror, smoothes his hair anxiously, and gives up on tucking his shirt in.

He heads back down to his front door and spends a couple of seconds reminding himself that it's just Sidney. They see each other nearly every day, have known each other for years. He's seen Sidney's horrible jock strap. He pushes back at the tiny voice saying, this is different. This is important. Once he has collected himself, he opens the door and smiles at Sidney, who is standing on his porch with a bottle of wine, a bouquet of flowers, and a panicked expression.

"Taylor said I should bring wine," Sidney says, waving the bottle. "I didn't know what you were cooking so I just grabbed red, and I bought the flowers in kind of a panic –"

Geno reaches out, snags Sidney by the belt loops, and drags him inside. "Thank you," he says, closing the door. He takes the wine bottle and leans in to kiss Sidney on the cheek. "Very thoughtful."

Sidney sags. "I'm a little nervous," he confesses.

Geno smiles at him, touches their foreheads together, and says, "Me too." They grin shyly at each other for a moment. Then Geno says, "Come, get a vase for flowers."

He gives Sidney a stool to stand on so he can get a vase down from the cabinet over Geno's stove and busies himself with preparing two plates of risotto. He goes into the dining room and sets them down as Sidney tidies the bouquet. There is a moment where they look at each other, both of them blushing and smiling idiotically, and then Sidney says, "I'll go grab the wine glasses."

Geno follows him into the kitchen and takes the glasses from Sidney, setting them down on the counter. Sidney looks up at him, eyes very wide, and Geno gently rests his hands on Sidney's shoulders.

"Relax," he says. "No tricks here."

"That's not what I'm worried about," Sidney says, rolling his eyes. "I'm worried that I'll say something wrong and you'll hate me forever and then Mason will lose you too."

"Never hate you," Geno assures him. "Come on, we eat and watch something."

Sidney perks up. "I still have the DVDs you gave me in my car," he says shyly. "If you want."

"Dinner first," Geno says. He leans past Sidney to pick up the glasses and gently hip checks him. "Come, food will get cold."

They sit awkwardly at the table for about a minute, both of them poking at their food and sneaking looks at each other, before Sidney gives a huffy sigh and says, "We're being dumb about this."

Geno grins down at his plate. "You make me dumb."

Sidney presses the inside of his foot to Geno's calf, fleetingly. "It's dinner. We can both relax, right?"

"Done this before," Geno agrees. He reaches out across the table to lay his hand over Sidney's. After a pause, Sidney turns his hand over so he can squeeze Geno's fingers.

"Okay," Sidney says, bracing. "So tell me about – what you cooked."

Geno raises his eyebrows. "What I cook? Really?"

"Shut up, I couldn't think of anything else." Sidney goes red and ducks his head. "Well?"

So Geno tells Sidney, in between bites of food, about grocery shopping with James and how Xenia had taught him to cook risotto his first year in Pittsburgh. "She say easy, not even I can make mistake," he says, laughing. "First time, though, I burn onions."

Sidney visibly fights back a smile and lifts his glass of wine to his lips. "Geno."

"I get distracted!" Geno kicks Sidney under the table. "Never see you cook."

"I can – make sandwiches," Sidney says, and Geno laughs, then laughs harder when he sees Sidney's indignant expression. "Other stuff too!"

"Prove it," Geno challenges.

"I will," says Sidney. "Next date, I'll cook you dinner, how about that?"

"Next date?" Geno asks, smile turning dopey.

"I think you've earned it." Sidney raises a fork loaded with risotto. "This is really good."

"Thank you," says Geno. He picks up his glass of wine. "Toast?"

Sidney clinks his glass against Geno's. "To risotto."

"To risotto," agrees Geno.

Sidney turns giggly partway through his second glass, cheeks going red, and Geno loves this, loves when Sidney relaxes just that extra bit. Sidney doesn't drink often, and Geno can't say that he prefers Sidney a little tipsy, but he does appreciate the way Sidney forgets to be Sidney Crosby for a while, forgets to be on his guard.

"I was at the store," Sidney is saying as he scrapes his fork against his plate, cleaning up the last of his food, "just staring at these flowers, you know? And I guess I must have looked –" He twirls his finger next to his temple. "Anyway, this woman who works there comes up to me and asks me what I was looking for and I told her it was for a first date and the first ones she suggested were these bright orange roses and I couldn't." He starts laughing. "So we settled on sunflowers. Safe."

"Black and gold," adds Geno, and Sidney nods, grinning.

"Figured they were a good omen," Sidney says, reaching over to twitch one of the flowers back upright.

They migrate to the living room after putting the dishes away in the sink, Sidney settling into the couch cushions like he belongs there. Geno sits next to him and, after a hesitant pause, puts his arm around Sidney's shoulders. Sidney hums happily and tucks his head against Geno.

"Okay, let's watch," Sidney says, and he hits play on the DVD remote.

It's a quieter episode than the first two, more about the soldiers as people. Some of it reminds Geno of going out with the boys after a game, all of them amped up with adrenaline and looking for release. Geno pulls Sidney a little tighter against him.

When the episode is over, Sidney is yawning and boneless, wavering on his feet when Geno helps him up. "So tired," he sighs, leaning into him.

"I drive you home," Geno suggests. "You crash."

"I'll be fine," Sidney says, and immediately yawns so widely he nearly walks into the doorframe. Geno grabs his shoulders and carefully steers him out into the hall.

"Yes, fine," Geno says dryly. "Come on, I take you home, I see Mason, all win, yes?"

"Okay," Sidney says, relenting. "Let's go.

They arrive to a quiet house, the lights off. Simone is asleep on top of her notebook at the dining room table, thick hair falling out of its braid. Sidney wakes her with a gentle shake of the shoulder and says, "Hey, we're home."

"Oh, hi," she says groggily, blinking at them. "Hey, Geno." She yawns and stretches. "Mason is asleep. He was a little fussy with dinner, didn't want to eat his food, so I gave him some cheerios and then convinced him to have some yogurt."

"Thank you," Sidney says. "You should head on home, you look exhausted."

"Ugh, you're not wrong." Simone rises to her feet. "You two take care."

Geno waves as she packs up her things and then follows Sidney upstairs. Just as Simone had said, Mason is asleep, curled up around his Sidney toy this time. Sidney groans and tries to move it out of Mason's arms, but Mason clings on tightly.

"He loves those creepy things," Sidney says, glaring at Geno. "Won't put them down. I don't know if he recognizes them as us, but it's kind of weird to come home to your son chewing on the head of a toy version of you."

Geno laughs and reaches down to stroke Mason's hair. "He miss you, maybe."

Sidney leans over and cautiously twines his hand with Geno's. Geno looks at him in surprise, and sees that Sidney is smiling at him, soft and sweet. "He misses you when you're gone, too. I miss you when you're gone."

"That why you go on date with me?"

"Yes," Sidney says simply.

Geno tugs Sidney in closer. "I miss you, too." He kisses Sidney lightly, then lets go of his hand. "We wake him up, say goodnight?"

Sidney chews his lower lip, staring at Mason. "No," he says eventually. "Let him sleep. He'll wake us up before we're ready anyway."

"Us?" Geno asks, raising his eyebrows.

"I'm not driving you home," Sidney says, immediately punctuated by a huge yawn. "Stay here tonight. I can drive you back to your house tomorrow before practice."

"Here?" Geno feels like he did his first year in America, listening to words that he understood separately but made no sense together.

"I have room," Sidney says, giving Geno another one of those smiles that twist him up inside. "I'll even loan you some sweatpants to sleep in."

"Too short for me," Geno says. "And too big in the ass."

"Oh, those jokes never get old," Sidney says, rolling his eyes.

"Never," Geno agrees happily. "Okay, I stay over."

Sidney loans him a pair of sweatpants he claims are too long for him and a nearly falling-apart t-shirt. Geno takes a quick shower, just to rinse off, and is about to go pick a guest room to crash in when Sidney peeks out into the hall and says, "Hey, where are you going?"

"Find a room?" Geno waves at the hall. "Which room have sheets?"

"Sleep with me," says Sidney. He immediately goes red. "I mean, um. In my bed. There's plenty of room."

"Not that kind of girl?" suggests Geno, trying to hide how pleased he is by Sidney's suggestion.

"Not at all." Sidney holds out his hand to Geno. "Ready?"

Geno goes with him, and they settle into Sidney's bed together, carefully confined to their own sides. Geno glances over at Sidney and catches him looking back.

"This is awkward, isn't it," Sidney says, mouth twisting up.

"A little," says Geno. He shifts so that he's closer to Sidney and curls into him, cautiously linking their hands together. "Better?"

Sidney wriggles around for a minute. Geno waits patiently until Sidney has finished before he rests his head on Sidney's shoulder. Sidney snorts, ruffling Geno's hair. "Better."

"Sleep now," Geno says, closing his eyes, and the last thing he's aware of is the quiet rumble of Sidney's hum of affirmation.

Geno wakes when Sidney shifts out from underneath him, way too early the next morning. "Eugh," he grumbles, trying to cling to Sidney. "Don't leave."

"I can hear Mason moving," Sidney whispers, pointing at the baby monitor. "I think he's awake."

"I come with you." Geno blearily rolls out of bed and leans heavily against Sidney. "So early."

"I told you he would wake us up before we were ready." Sidney wraps his arm around Geno's waist and leads him down the hall. He pushes open the door to Mason's room and calls, "Morning, Mason."

"Dada!" Mason coos, pulling himself up on the bars of his crib. "G!"

Sidney lets go of Geno and picks Mason up, beaming. "Are you hungry?"

Mason nods, hooking his hands into the collar of Sidney's shirt. "Food."

"All right, big man," says Sidney. "Let's go get you some food." He sets Mason down on the floor and walks behind him as Mason toddles towards the door. Geno follows them both, grinning at the way Sidney is visibly holding himself back from trying to help Mason.

When they get to the stairs, Sidney swoops Mason up and says, "Ready to fly?"

"Yeah!" Mason says, waving his arms as Sidney lifts him. "Fly!"

Sidney makes some really dumb noises Geno thinks are meant to be airplane noises as he carries Mason down the staircase. Mason shrieks with laughter, voice echoing around the stairwell, and Geno smiles as he follows them downstairs.

Sidney sets Mason down in his high chair and says, "Geno, do you mind grabbing a bowl and pouring some cereal in it for Mason?"

"Sure," Geno says, and he heads into the kitchen. In the cabinet, he finds a green Winnie the Pooh bowl which is clearly Mason's. He takes that out along with a tiny spoon from the silverware drawer and gets out the cereal and milk. It isn't until he has set the bowl on the tray of Mason's high chair that it occurs to him to wonder at how he knew exactly where everything is in Sidney's house.

He sits down next to Mason's high chair and watches as Mason plows into his breakfast. "He get so big," he says, watching in awe. "Last time, he still eating mostly when you feed him."

"I wish you were here more," says Sidney, stroking Mason's hair. "I like having you around. Mason likes it too, don't you?"

Mason looks up at the sound of his name and nods. Geno grins and says, "Thank you, Mason." Sidney gives a mildly exasperated look.

"You want breakfast?" Sidney asks. "I can make eggs. I think I have sausage, too." He glances at his watch. "Simone will be here in about an hour and then I can drive you home, if that's okay?"

"Breakfast is good," Geno says. "I watch Mason."

"Okay," Sidney says, and he disappears into the kitchen, leaving Mason and Geno to stare at each other. After a moment, Mason digs his spoon back into his bowl and offers a spoonful of cereal to Geno.

"No, thank you," Geno says. "But it's very nice of you to ask."

Mason grins with his tiny baby teeth and bangs his spoon on the tray. Geno reaches over to still his hand and Mason squirms away, giggling, and then somehow manages to completely upend his bowl, sending milk and cereal flying.

"Uh oh," Mason says quietly as milk starts to spread over the tray, dripping over the edge onto the carpet.

"Yep," Geno agrees, standing up so he can pull Mason out of the chair before he becomes a total mess. "Let's get your Daddy, yes?"

Mason frowns at him, so Geno says, "Daddy," in English for his benefit, and Mason nods solemnly.

Sidney looks at them in surprise when Geno comes into the kitchen. "What happened?" he asks, turning away from the stove to check them over.

"Mason had accident," Geno says. "Need towels, clean up breakfast."

Sidney sighs, but smiles at Mason. "Did you make a mess?"

"Uh oh," Mason says, nodding. He giggles, clearly pleased with himself, and waves at Sidney.

Sidney leans in to kiss Mason's cheek. "You're going to have to help Geno to clean up, okay?" he says seriously. "I'm making breakfast."

Mason nods again, much more solemnly, and Sidney lowers the flame on the stove before grabbing the paper towels for Geno. "Cleaning products are under the sink if you need them," he says. His mouth quirks upwards. "This is nice."

"What, Mason making mess?" Geno hitches Mason up and takes the paper towel roll from Sidney.

"No, this." Sidney gestures between the two of them. "I like having you here. Helping out."

Geno has to bite his lower lip to keep from grinning like a total idiot. "Thanks. I like it too."

Sidney flashes him a smile and turns back to the stove. Geno stands there for a moment, staring at the strong line of Sidney's back, the flex of his muscles visible through his shirt, until Mason gets a hold of a lock of his hair at the back of his neck and pulls.

"Ouch." Geno readjusts Mason so he can look him in the face and frown at him. "Bad boy."

Mason grabs his nose, which Geno decides to take as an apology.

He mops up the spilled milk and cereal and lets Mason crawl around on the carpet with a piece of paper towel after he has moved the chairs out of the way. Mason kind of rubs at the carpet with his towel for a minute before getting bored and pulling himself up on Geno's leg.

"G," he says, insistent. "Book."

"Book?" Geno asks in confusion. He glances back over his shoulder towards the kitchen, but Sidney doesn't magically appear to translate for his son. He crouches down so he can look Mason in the face. "What you mean, book?"

"Book," Mason repeats, and he starts toddling off towards the living room. Geno hurries after him, ready to catch him if he wobbles, but Mason is surprisingly steady on his feet. Geno has to open the door for him, but once through, Mason drops to a crawl and makes a beeline for the brightly colored book sitting on the floor by the coffee table.

Geno sits down next to him and accepts the book when Mason pushes it into his hands. "Always you have me read for you," he says. "Not learn good English that way."

Mason points at the book. "Book," he says again, and Geno shakes his hand.

"Just like your papa," he says, and he opens to the first page.

He's about halfway through when Sidney comes in with a plate of eggs and sausage and a cup of coffee. He sets them on the table behind Geno and leans down to peck Mason's head. Geno looks up at him, smiling, and Sidney licks his lips before ducking down to kiss Geno's cheek quickly, too.

"I read him something every morning I'm here," Sidney explains, dropping to the floor beside him. "I figured you'd be in here with him."

"G," complains Mason, and Geno obediently looks back down at the book to pick up where he left off. Sidney scoots closer to him, resting his cheek on Geno's shoulder while Geno tells the story of the neglected teddy bear and the girl that decides to make him her best friend. His voice grows rougher towards the end, and he finds himself trying to discreetly wipe away the dampness in his eyes.

"Sad book," he says after he's closed it and Mason has settled into a contented sprawl on the carpet. "Bear can't find a way to fix himself."

"But he finds someone to do it for him," Sidney says. "He finds someone to love him." He reaches out and folds his hand over Geno's, fingers warm. Geno's breath hisses out of him. "He finds a home."

Geno lifts Sidney's hand to his mouth and kisses his fingertips, chest too tight for him to speak. Sidney regards him steadily, mouth curled in a soft, intimate smile, and Geno doesn't know if Sidney is trying to say what he thinks, but he really hopes he is.

He clears his throat and squeezes Sidney's hand. "Pass me coffee?"

Sidney's smile grows. He twists around to pick up the mug and presses it into Geno's free hand. "I put some sugar in it. I don't know if it's as much as you usually like."

Geno sips at the coffee and smiles. "Perfect."

Sidney smiles back, then gets up. "I'm going to grab my plate."

Geno nods and reaches back to pick up the plate Sidney had left for him. He starts eating his eggs as Mason rolls over and pushes himself up onto his hands and knees. "What are you doing?" he asks Mason.

Mason doesn't appear to hear him. Geno takes a bite of sausage as Mason totters to his feet, pressing his mouth together to hide his smile when Mason nearly falls over. Sidney returns as Mason makes his way towards the small hoard of toys in the corner of the living room.

"I should probably buy another toy chest at some point," Sidney says, sitting down next to Geno. "He's too little still, I think, but once he's older he'll be able to get it open on his own."

They sit and watch Mason play with a toy fire truck, making little whiny siren noises as he steers it around their feet. Mason bumps it against Sidney's thigh before scampering off, giggling. Sidney shakes his head, mouth curved in a fond smile, and takes a bite of his breakfast. He gets a spot of ketchup on the corner of his lip and doesn't seem to notice.

It's comfortable, easy, even, to lean over and kiss it away, easier still to turn it into something a little less chaste. Sidney sighs into it, straining towards Geno when he pulls back. His eyes flutter open and he stares up at Geno, mouth slightly parted.

"Thank you," Geno says. "Very nice date."

Sidney snorts. "We didn't even do anything differently from normal. Except sleep in the same bed." He pauses, expression turning thoughtful. He doesn't say anything for a few minutes, and Geno decides not to bother him while he's thinking. Instead, he drinks his coffee and watches Mason pat his hands on the carpet, apparently fascinated by the texture.

Simone arrives in a flurry of books and papers that she dumps on the dining table after Geno lets her in, and the next few minutes are all hellos and goodbyes as Sidney covers Mason's face in kisses and promises he'll be home soon, don't worry, and Mason hugs him around the neck before reaching out towards Geno.

"I leave too," Geno says, settling Mason comfortably against his hip. "Be good for Simone."

Simone smiles and says, "He's a good kid." Sidney looks so proud, cheeks going pink with happiness. He kisses Mason's head again, bracing himself on Geno's elbow for balance, and sighs.

"We should go," he says, sounding regretful, and Geno nods before giving Mason a fond hug and passing him to Simone.

Sidney is quiet for the drive over to Geno's, and when Geno asks if there's something wrong, he just shakes his head and says, "Just thinking."

Geno knows from experience that it takes Sidney a while to adjust to changes in his life; it took him nearly a full year to get used to Colby being gone, always half-turning like he was expecting to see him there, and sometimes Geno still catches him glancing up after someone makes a comment Max would have turned into a dirty joke. It's why it took Sidney years to finally leave Mario's, and why Sidney still wears that disgusting cup, and Geno knows that this thing between them is a huge, seismic shift for Sidney's world, especially coming off the heels of having a son.

The best way for Sidney to come to terms with change, Geno has found, is to let himself just work it out internally. Talking it out never helps – he had nearly bitten off Flower's head when he had tentatively broached the topic of Colby being traded – but Sidney will figure things out on his own. So Geno just reaches over to gently squeeze Sidney's knee and smiles when Sidney glances over. Sidney lets out a long, uneven breath and smiles back.

At his house, Geno grabs a change of clothes, figuring he can shower at the rink, and brushes his teeth out of a vague sense of paranoia about coffee breath. Sidney is waiting in his driveway when he comes back out, a toque from somewhere pulled down low on his forehead.

"I think," Sidney says when Geno opens the door, "that we should keep this to ourselves for a bit." He gestures between them, going red. "I don't want to mess with the team dynamics or anything until –" He falls silent, looking down.

Geno reaches out and grabs Sidney's shoulder. "I understand." And moreover, he agrees; it's bad enough to have James know how gone he is for Sidney. He absolutely does not want Cookie or Flower or Duper to know before they're both secure and settled in what they have. It's not so much that he's afraid they won't be supportive – actually, he gets the feeling some of them might be a little over-supportive, tipping over into the lewd suggestions category, and Geno doesn't want Sidney to get frightened off.

"And you're okay with that?"

"Yes." Geno squeezes, thumb digging into the muscle of Sidney's neck. "Not a problem, Sid."

Sidney slumps a little, the steel going out of his spine. The smile he gives Geno now is looser and more relaxed than any Geno has seen yet that morning. "Okay."

It's a bit of a moot point anyway; they have a tough week ahead of them, traveling to Columbus early in the week before coming home to play back to back games. They don't have much time to do couple-y stuff between practice and sleeping and then traveling. They still eat breakfast sitting next to each other when they're in Columbus, and Geno drops by Sidney's room to talk to Mason over the phone, but aside from that they try to act as normally as possible. Geno does catch Sidney giving him considering looks, but he brushes it off as nothing more than part of Sidney's thinking process.

They win the game against Columbus, which is a great start to the week, and they're set to play the Panthers on Thursday, wearing their third jerseys which makes Sidney's lip curl when he realizes it.

"We play two games with them already," Geno points out, nudging his elbow against Sidney's hip.

"I don't like them," Sidney mutters, glaring at his jersey.

"Too bad, you look good in blue," Geno says breezily, and Sidney's cheeks go pink. He shoves Geno away and makes a face at him, and Geno throws his head back and laughs.

The game against Florida is going okay – he helps Chris tie it up in the second, and they go into the third with a one-one game – when Gudbranson pushes him off the puck as he's heading for the net and he –

He blinks his eyes open, breath coming in harsh gasps. For a moment, his world is narrowed down to the feeling of his neck and shoulder burning, sharp and bright. He doesn't remember hitting the boards but he must have. He thinks, nonsensically, Maybe Sidney is right about the curse.

He shifts so his head is in his hands, cushioned from the ice, and tries to focus on his breathing. After a moment, he feels a little less like he wants to throw up, and he pushes himself up.

From a long way away Geno hears someone saying his name, then again, louder. "Geno? Can you hear me?" He recognizes the voice as their head trainer after a moment, and he knows it must be bad. The crowd is booing, probably at Gundbranson, and Geno has to swallow a couple of times before he can speak.

"Yes," he says, then he remembers himself and repeats it in English. "Yes. I can hear you."

"Do you think you can get up?" Chris asks.

"I think so," Geno says, and he pushes himself up. "Bad?"

"We're going to have to do tests," Chris says neutrally, and Geno really doesn't want to do that, but he gets to his feet anyway and skates for the bench, ducking his head as Consol lights up with cheers for him. Guys pat him gently on the back as he passes, calling out well wishes and gentle chirps. Sidney grabs his hand and squeezes once, hard.

They take him back to the trainer offices and dim the lights while they go through the assessment test. Geno obediently turns his face up as they test his pupils' reaction to light, touches his nose on request, answers the questions – Evgeni Vladimirovich Malkin, age 26, born in Magnitogorsk, Russia – by rote, and recites the numbers they give him backwards. He doesn't feel great, but he doesn't feel awful either – his shoulders and neck hurt, but he doesn't have a headache and he doesn't feel dizzy, so they let him go back to the dressing room to change into a t-shirt and sweatpants before making him sit in the trainer's office with an ice pack on the blooming bruises until they find someone to drive him home.

"Sid can drive me," he says to anyone who's listening, and Chris nods at him. "Can watch me tonight, too, if have to."

"Okay," says Chris. "We'll ask him once the game is over."

One of the younger trainers keeps Geno updated on the game while they sit in the office together, watching on his phone. The Penguins win handily, snatching up two goals in the third, and Geno feels a momentary surge of pride before scowling down at his hands and wishing he could have been out there to help.

Dan drops by to check on him and they talk with the trainers and the team doctor, who comes in to look Geno over again. They eventually decide that he can leave, but he'll have to come in for more tests the next morning, which is pretty much what Geno had expected.

"Take it easy, okay?" Dan says. "Sid's taking you home?"

"Think so," Geno says.

He isn't sure how long it is before Sidney comes in, but Sidney is dressed and no longer sweaty, looking exhausted and worried, his face drawn tight. The trainer in the room excuses himself and leaves them alone as Sidney turns Geno towards him.

Sidney doesn't say anything for a moment, eyes roaming over Geno's face. Then he lets out a huge, gusty sigh, and drops to his knees in front of him. "God, Geno."

"I'm sorry," Geno says, reaching out to him, hoping to make Sidney look at him. "Sid."

"Why are you apologizing?" demands Sidney, turning his face up to stare at Geno. "I mean, you should be sorry, you better never do anything like that again," and then he kisses Geno, initiating for the first time but gently like he's afraid of hurting him, his hand bracing Geno's jaw. Geno starts in surprise and nearly falls off the chair, catching himself on Sidney's shoulders, and Sidney groans, kissing Geno harder, an edge of desperation to it.

"Now you know how I feel when you get hit," Geno says when Sidney pulls back, and Sidney shakes his head, still looking shaken. "Sorry."

"Stop apologizing." Sidney smoothes Geno's hair back from his forehead and kisses him again, a little bit softer this time. "Chris said you wanted me to drive you home?"

"Can't drive myself," Geno says, shrugging. "And need someone to watch me."

Sidney nods and stands up. "How are you feeling?"

"Okay," Geno says, getting to his feet as well. He grabs Sidney's hand. "Not dizzy, just sore."

"We'll get some more ice on you at home." Sidney wraps his arm around Geno's waist. "You're not leaving my house until you're better, okay?"

"I need clothes," Geno points out, smiling. "Unless you have big plans?"

Sidney blushes. "Not while you're injured," he says tartly, pinching Geno's waist.

"But after?" Geno grins, liking the implied promise, and Sidney just goes pinker and refuses to answer. He releases his hold on Geno's waist when they're out of the trainer's office, though he lets Geno lean on him all the way to the car. They pass through the dressing room on the way out and the guys call well-wishes after him, and he waves back at them.

Simone greets them tiredly when they get in the house, saying, "He would not go to sleep." She focuses on the way Geno is leaning on Sidney and frowns. "Are you okay?"

"He took a bad hit," Sidney says. "Could you grab the ice packs from the freezer? I'm going to get him settled upstairs."

"Of course." Simone disappears into the kitchen while Geno trudges up the stairs, suddenly very tired. Sidney hovers behind him, as if he's worried that Geno will topple over just like Mason, and when Geno climbs into Sidney's bed, Sidney tucks the comforter around him and stands there until Geno raises his eyebrows at him.

"Just stand there?" Geno asks.

"Do you need anything?" Sidney shoves his hands awkwardly into his pockets. "Tea? A cookie? More pillows? Aspirin?"

"Water, I guess," Geno says. "Pills, too."

"Okay." Sidney leans down to kiss Geno quickly and gives him a reassuring smile before heading for the door, toeing off his shoes as he goes. Geno settles back against the pillows gingerly, wincing as he rolls his shoulders. He's sure he'll be at least a little bruised in the morning, probably sore and stiff too, but right now he doesn't feel too bad.

Sidney returns upstairs juggling a cup of water, a pill bottle, and an ice pack. Geno leans forward to take the ice pack from him and settles it on the back of his neck while Sidney puts down the water.

"Here," Sidney says, holding out the pill bottle. "How are you feeling?"

"Still okay, Sid," Geno says, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. "Better if you sit."

Sidney purses his lips but does take off his suit jacket and settles carefully down on the bed. Geno swallows a couple of tablets, drinks half the water, and sits back. The ice feels good against his skin, and he's comfortable enough that he starts to drowse, eyes sliding to half-mast.

"I don't think I've ever been so scared," Sidney says suddenly. Geno cracks his eyes open to look at him; Sidney's eyes are averted away, his hands twisting together. Geno reaches out to take Sidney's hand in his and squeezes. "Maybe the day Mason was born, but that was different. I hate that there's nothing I can do to make you better."

"Can kiss it better," Geno suggests, joking, but when Sidney looks at him, his gaze is heated and thoughtful.

Sidney turns and shifts up the bed so he's straddling Geno's hips, mouth turned up in a sly smile. "Where does it hurt?"

Geno taps his neck with a shaking finger. Sidney leans down, bracing his hands on the headboard on either side of Geno's head, and presses his mouth to the junction of Geno's neck and shoulder. His mouth is very warm, particularly in contrast to the child of the icepack at his back, and Geno can't hold back his shudder at the feeling. Sidney kisses the hinge of Geno's jaw next, then ducks down to the curve of Geno's shoulder, the top of his arm, changes sides. He finally makes his way towards Geno's mouth, and Geno is so on edge, thrumming with desire and affection and happiness, when Sidney stops, a hair's breath away from kissing him.

"Sid," Geno whines, unable to help himself.

"I've been thinking about this," Sidney says, ignoring him. "I like being with you. And when the trainers clear you for contact –" He goes pink, giggles a little before continuing, "I want to try – this."

Geno pushes up, finally, and pulls Sidney's face down to his, kissing him so hard Sidney makes a little squeaking noise of surprise. It feels amazing, having Sidney's warm, solid body pinning him down, hemming him in. It's safety and love and belonging, and Geno wishes they could stay like this forever, tangled up in each other.

"I'm serious," Sidney says, between kisses, voice coming out breathy. "We're not having sex until the trainers clear you."

"Just happy you want to," Geno admits, combing his fingers through the thick curls at the base of Sidney's head.

"I wasn't sure if I would, at first, but – I really like it when you kiss me." Sidney blushes and ducks his head. "I've been thinking about it. A lot."

Geno tries really hard not to grin smugly at that. He must not be successful, because Sidney groans, says, "You're going to be awful about this, aren't you," and rolls off Geno to flop down on the bed.

"Want my body," Geno teases.

Sidney gives Geno a look that's impossibly soft and fond. "I want all of you," he says quietly.

Geno feels himself go red, and he lifts Sidney's hand to his lips to hide his smile. "Okay."

"Now you should rest," Sidney says, trying to be businesslike with his hair mussed and his lips even fuller and pinker than usual. "If you want to sleep, I'll be right here to keep an eye on you, okay?"

"This is why you are good daddy," Geno says, and Sidney rolls his eyes.

"Think you can read?" Sidney asks. "If you're not feeling up to anything too hard, I can get you one of Mason's picture books –"

"Hey!" Geno says, scowling, and Sidney grins at him before getting up to go grab a book.

Geno gets the sneaking suspicion that Sidney is trying to test him when he asks Geno to define pretty basic words for him, but he goes along with it. He trusts Sidney's knowledge of concussions at this point, and even though the trainers and doctors had said he'd need more evaluation before they could conclusively say whether he had one, he knows as well as anyone else on the Penguins that it's better to be safe than sorry.

Geno finally goes to sleep after he's been awake for about six hours and hasn't shown any signs to alarm Sidney. Sidney passes out before him, curled in towards Geno, hand splayed out over Geno's hip, and it's with a warm feeling of fondness and affection for Sidney that he closes his eyes and drifts off.

Geno is woken the next morning by a pressure on his stomach.

He blinks his eyes open, squinting against the sunlight that's streaming in through the window. Mason is lying on him, watching Geno curiously. When he sees that Geno is awake, he pushes himself up on Geno's ribs – "Oof," Geno says as the air is pushed out of him – and asks, "G boo boo?"

"Yes," Geno says, voice gravelly with sleep. "G hurt his head." He taps his temple to demonstrate.

"Boo boo?" Mason asks. He clambers of Geno and stumbles down towards him to lay a smacking kiss on Geno's forehead. He grins at Geno.

"Yes, all better," Geno says, sitting up. He seizes Mason around the waist and starts tickling him. Mason shrieks with laughter, kicking, and protests, "No, G!"

"What are you doing to my son?" Sidney asks, coming out of the bathroom, and Geno falls back against his pillows, laughing. Mason takes advantage and climbs back on top of Geno, still giggling.

"He sit on me," Geno tells Sidney, grinning. "I get payback."

Sidney puts his hands on his hips, obviously trying very hard to look stern. "Mason, don't bother Geno, he's hurt."

Mason pouts and flops down on Geno. Geno instinctively wraps his arm around him to keep him from rolling off and shifts so Mason is in his lap. "He not bothering me."

"I didn't know he was going to sit on you," Sidney says, giving Mason an exasperated look. "I told him you were hurt."

Geno shrugs. "Not hurt me more," he says practically. "Just baby."

"Even so." Sidney takes a half-step towards them, then stops. "You good to carry him?"

"Yes," Geno says. "For a little. Getting big, Mason," he adds, and Mason giggles.

He carries Mason down the stairs before setting him down, wincing as he rolls his sore shoulders. Sidney lays a hand at the small of Geno's back and murmurs, "I'll get you some painkillers."

Geno pulls at the collar of his shirt to try to get a look at the bruising. It isn't as bad as he had been afraid it would be, but he can tell it's going to be painful for at least few days. Sidney hisses when he sees it and ghosts his fingers along the edge of the bruising.

"Bad?" Geno asks, holding himself still.

Instead of answering, Sidney ducks his head to kiss Geno's shoulder. "How are you feeling?"

"Okay. Sore, I guess." Geno skirts Mason as he heads into kitchen. "I will make tea."

Sidney has never had a good selection of tea, but Geno had bought him a box of Russian tea a year or so ago claiming he wanted Sidney to learn to like it while secretly just trying to stock Sidney's house with his favorite brand. Sure enough, his box is sitting in Sidney's cabinet, barely touched, and Geno takes it out as Sidney herds Mason into the kitchen.

Mason eats cereal and drinks some orange juice from a Penguins sippy cup while Sidney makes breakfast and Geno takes his aspirin, the two of them moving around their daily routines easily. Geno pours himself a cup of tea, adds milk and sugar, and sits down at Sidney's kitchen island to sip gingerly at it. Mason wordlessly holds out his sippy cup to Geno, who shakes his head and gently nudges it back towards Mason's mouth.

Simone arrives a little before it's time for them to head to the rink; Sidney wants to review tape and do a little warm-up before the night's game, and Geno has to talk to the trainers. Sidney reminds Geno over and over that he'll be there to drive Geno home, that Geno isn't to push himself too hard, that Geno should listen to whatever the trainers tell him, Sidney knows from experience, okay, and Geno has to kiss him to shut up him up.

"...okay," Sidney says when Geno pulls back. "I'll relax."

"Good, you make your head explode," Geno says. "And I like your head." He pats the back of Sidney's neck, and Sidney leans in towards him, seemingly unconsciously.

"I like yours too. That's why I'm worried," Sidney snips back, even as he drops his head to rest against Geno's collar. "Ugh. Okay, let's go."

Geno hates being at the practice rink when he's not there to skate; he's been raised since childhood to have an instant spike of excitement at the first breath of rink air, the stale smell of sweat and ice as familiar to him as the feel of a stick in his hands or the pressure of skates on his ankles. He says goodbye to Sidney when he leaves to stretch and then heads down to the trainer's office for his evaluations.

There are a lot of things Geno hates about being injured. He hates not being at his best and not being able to do things without help. He hates not being able to skate and he hates watching games from home or from the press box, and most of all, he hates evaluations.

The trainers check him out physically, take a look at the bruising on his shoulders, do some balance and reaction tests. He takes the test they give him, answers their questions, and things are looking up until Chris asks, almost off-handedly, "Can you walk us through the hit?"

Geno opens his mouth to answer, blinks, and frowns. He remembers heading towards the goal, and he remembers Chris saying his name, but he doesn't remember anything in between.

When he stays silent for too long, Chris looks up sharply, eyes narrowed. "Geno?" he prompts.

"I don't remember," he admits, and that's when everyone goes quiet.

Concussion is the eventual decision, although the trainers tell him that it's reassuring that he isn't showing any symptoms other than the one instance of short-term memory loss. Sidney gets a mulish look on his face when he hears the news and practically frog marches Geno out of the building, insisting that he's going home to rest. Dan stops them on the way out and says that trainers said it's fine for Geno to come and sit in the press box during the game if he wants, and Geno says yes before Sidney has the chance to overrule him.

"If you don't feel up to it, just say so," Dan says. "But I think the guys would be glad to see you."

"I want to come," Geno says, pinching Sidney's side to get him to shut up. Dan watches them, a smile quirking at his mouth.

"Glad to hear it. Get some rest, Geno. Hopefully we can get you doing some light skating in a few days." He gently pats Geno's shoulder, gives Sidney a nod, and leaves them standing alone in the hall.

Sidney rounds on him. "You shouldn't come," he says immediately. "You have a concussion, you should be at home resting –"

"Not all concussions same." Geno rests a hand on Sidney's shoulder. "Sid. No headaches, no dizzy. Just memory."

"'Just memory'," mutters Sidney. "'Just memory,' are you kidding me?"

"Trainers say it okay," Geno points out. "If I feel bad, I leave. If not – I want to watch game, Sid. Remember when you have concussion? You like watching from home?"

Sidney purses his lips, still looking unhappy. "No, but –"

Geno waits. Sidney cross his arms and scowls. "It's different when it's you," he says grumpily.

Absurdly pleased by this, Geno gently pushes Sidney towards the door. "We go home, I rest, you happy?" he asks.

"Happier," Sidney allows, and he leads the way out to the parking lot.

They drive by Geno's house so he can pick up some things for while he's staying at Sidney's, and he gets settled in Sidney's bedroom, hanging his suit in the closet and unpacking some of his clothes into one of Sidney's empty dresser drawers. After that, Sidney makes Geno lie down and brings Mason upstairs to say hello. Mason climbs onto Geno's chest and sprawls out, and he smiles, resting his hand on Mason's back.

Sidney sits down on the bed next to Geno, watching them with a fond smile. Mason seems kind of sleepy, his eyes drooping, and when he starts to nod off, Geno readjusts him so he's lying on his back. "Nap time," he tells Sidney. "Like you."

"It isn't time for my nap yet," Sidney says, rolling his eyes. "I just changed Mason though, and Simone said he ran around outside after he ate lunch, so he's probably ready to sleep for a bit."

"Gotta grow up big and strong, like Daddy," Geno says to the top of Mason's head. He hesitates for a moment, then asks, "What if Mason come to the game?"

"I'd love for him to, but –" He bites his lip. "Erin and I have talked about it and we really don't want any attention on him. Eventually, I'll probably have to say something –"

"Unless you just surprise press at 2029 draft," Geno says dryly.

Sidney grins and admits, "It's crossed my mind. No, I've talked to Pat about it and he thinks we'll probably be able to keep it under wraps until he's a little bit older." He slides back against the pillows and sighs. "I hate thinking about it."

"Sorry." Geno nudges Sidney's shoulder. "Not worry yet, yes?"

"Yeah," Sidney agrees. "Not yet."

Watching games from the press box isn't quite as frustrating as watching from home, but only because he isn't the only one shouting when something happens on the ice. He wants to be down there, knows he should be there helping the team. They need him, he thinks stubbornly, even if he hasn't been playing his best hockey, and he wants to yell at Nealsy when he sees him fumble a pass, but has to settle for swearing under his breath instead.

He heads to the dressing room after the game and is caught by Chris, who says they've decided to put him on retroactive IR, and that he won't be going on the road trip. Geno isn't exactly surprised, but it still stings to know that he has more days like this ahead of him, days with nothing to fill them, not even able to work out. He nods, thanks Chris, and continues on to wait for Sidney so he can tell him first.

"Oh," Sidney says when Geno tells him. He stares at him for a moment, eyes huge and beautiful, and Geno wants nothing more than to push off Sidney's helmet, slide his fingers through Sidney's sweaty hair, and kiss him, but Dan is standing right there and the team is walking by, so he settles for discreetly bumping his hand against Sidney's.

"Not too bad," he tells Sidney. "Chris say maybe I can skate if I rest."

"You're staying at my place," Sidney says firmly. "Simone will be there to look after Mason, so she can keep an eye on you."

"Get me babysitter?" Geno raises his eyebrows. "Grown up, Sid."

"Concussion, Geno," Sidney says. "Look, she'll be there anyway, and you're having memory loss –"

"Forget one thing, Sid."

"—so I want someone around in case you forget why you're here and not in Magnitogorsk." Sidney completely mangles the pronunciation, as always, and Geno smiles instinctively. "We'll argue about this later, I need to get changed."

Sidney starts towards the dressing room, and Geno calls, "Good game, Sid. No hat trick for me?"

"Ugh, shut up," Sidney groans, and Geno laughs.

True to Sidney's promise, they spend the ride home arguing about Geno needing a keeper while Sidney is away. Geno insists that he can watch Mason by himself, Sidney points out that Geno is going to be doing a lot of work with the trainers, Geno counters that Simone can just use the schedule she uses when Sidney is in town, and Sidney finally wins by asking if Geno really wants to risk anything going wrong.

"No," Geno says, deflating at the thought of having some sort of dizzy episode or his concussion getting worse while he's taking care of Mason. "Fine, you win."

Sidney flashes him a smile. "I knew you'd agree."

Geno sits quietly for a moment, brooding. Then he says, "Sid, you know – I never let anything bad happen to Mason."

Sidney gives him another smile, this one softer, a little less triumphant. "That's how I knew you'd agree."

"Oh." He considers this. "Cheater."

"Yes," Sidney says unrepentantly. "I won, though."

"Because you cheat!" Geno protests, and Sidney smirks at him.

Sidney leaves the following evening after Geno has a fairly productive day at Southpointe, kissing Geno breathless before hugging Mason and thanking Simone (who had very politely averted her eyes while they said goodbye) for staying with them.

"Make sure he doesn't try to do anything too strenuous," Sidney says very seriously, and Simone looks like she's trying to hide a smile when she nods.

"I think it's sweet," she says when they're eating dinner later, Mason smearing tomato sauce all over his face as he shovels spaghetti into his mouth. "He worries a lot about the things he cares about."

Geno's cheeks heat, and he busies himself with pushing Mason's bowl away from the edge of the tray so they don't end up with another mess to clean up. Mason babbles something through a full mouth and Geno scolds, "Don't talk with your mouth full."

"Do you speak Russian to him often?" Simone asks, watching them.

He looks up. "When we are alone, yes," he says. "When he is older, I use English."

"Oh, I'm not criticizing," she says hurriedly. "It's just that sometimes he says words that sound Russian and I'm not sure if they are words or just toddler speak."

Geno blinks. He hadn't thought he was around Mason enough to teach him any Russian. "Like what?"

"Sometimes, he'll say da instead of yes," Simone says, and as if to prove her point, Mason chirrups, "Da!"

"Very good," Geno says automatically, smiling at him. Mason smiles back, looking vaguely gruesome with the smear of tomato sauce around his mouth. "Can you say anything else in Russian?"

Mason frowns and says, "Da," again, and Geno laughs.

"Your papa will be upset if I teach you to speak better Russian than he does," Geno says. "He can barely string together a sentence."

Mason nods seriously and drags his fingers through the remnants of tomato sauce in his bowl.

It takes them nearly an hour to get Mason cleaned up, particularly when Mason throws a tantrum about the pajamas Simone tries to pick for him, throwing himself to the floor and bursting into tears. Geno immediately swoops in to pull Mason into his arms, humming soothingly.

"You are going to be a terror when you're older," he says as Mason cries into his shoulder. "Just cry and you know I'll give you anything you want."

"Want Daddy," Mason mutters, and Geno sighs.

"I know," he says, in English. "Me too."

Eventually, he coaxes Mason into his pajamas and puts him to bed with the plush Sidney doll. He tries to leave, but Mason reaches out and grabs the hem of his shirt through the crib bars, face still tear-stained. Mason doesn't say anything, just stares at Geno, and Geno sighs before pulling up a chair.

"What do you want? Story?" He mimes opening a book. "Song?" He hums. Mason nods. "Okay, spoiled boy."

He sings the lullaby twice before Mason finally drifts off, eyes blinking slowly and eventually closing. Geno sits there, watching Mason sleep, and then goes to check on Simone.

"Sorry I jump in," he says when he finds her downstairs, one of her many books open. "I know it is your job. But I hate when Mason cry."

"It's all right, Geno," Simone says. "You're his –" She hesitates, then changes tact. "I'm the back-up for this week. You're the primary. You're – starting." She frowns. "Did I use that right?"

Geno laughs. "Close enough."

He thinks about her half-finished sentence as he's getting ready to sleep in Sidney's bed that night, rolling it over in his head and trying to imagine how she might have completed it. He's Mason's – what?

He isn't even sure how he would finish that himself, mostly because he still isn't sure how to define his relationship with Sidney. They've definitely progressed past "friends" – if the searing kiss Sidney had laid on him before heading out to the car had been any indication – but they've done little else besides that first date.

After lying in bed for nearly half an hour brooding over it, Geno gives in and texts Sidney a quick, Good night )))))) From mason too

He gets a response less than five minutes later. Sleep well. And stop texting. Ps give Mason a kiss for me.

Geno grins and turns his phone to vibrate before turning over and going to sleep.

Being injured has a certain, dull rhythm to it. When he isn't at the rink with the trainers, Geno putters around the house, playing with Mason or reading. They let him skate for half an hour the day after Sidney leaves, and the day after that they let him shoot some pucks, but he's still banned from working out off-ice, and he's sent to evaluations every day to assess his concussion.

Sidney calls Geno on Tuesday night after losing their game in Montreal. He sounds frustrated at first, and Geno, who had watched the game on low volume while Mason played on the floor with Simone, understands. It had been a bad game, necessitating some third period heroics from Voky and Beau, who tipped in a goal on the power play, and they still hadn't managed to eke out a win.

"Can I talk to Mason?" Sidney asks after Geno tells him about his workout on the ice. He sounds less stressed now than when he had first called, and Geno gets off the couch to go wake Mason.

Mason is grumpy at first, but when Geno holds out his cell phone and says, "Daddy," he lights up and reaches for the phone. Geno puts it on speaker and says, "Sid, he can hear you."

"Hey, Mason," Sidney says, and Mason starts babbling happily, most of the words nonsense, but he does manage to say, "Dada."

"Is Geno being good to you?" Sidney asks, and Geno smiles as Mason claps. "You happy?"

"Da," Mason agrees, and Geno snorts.

Sidney talks to Mason for another minute or two – which means that Sidney talks and Mason says a few words that are actually recognizable here and there. Eventually, Geno reclaims the phone and sets it on the edge of the crib as he hoists Mason out.

"You get him excited and awake," he tells Sidney as he settles the now boisterous Mason against his chest. "Now he won't sleep."

"Sorry," Sidney says, not sounding very sorry at all. "I miss him."

"He miss you too." Geno kisses Mason's head and tries not to long for the warm presence of Sidney at his side, but isn't able to keep himself from blurting out, "I miss you."

"Yeah." Sidney lets out a breath "I really wish you were here. And not just because we could have used you tonight."

"Big compliment, Sid," Geno teases. "Not just want me for hockey, huh?"

Sidney is quiet for a moment. "I really do miss you," he says eventually. "I didn't realize I would miss you this much."

"I can sing you lullaby like I do for Mason," Geno says.

He's joking, but Sidney says, "Okay," and Geno is left staring at his phone in disbelief.

"Really?" he asks. "I don't sing very good, Sid."

"You're all right," Sidney says. "Please? I'm having trouble falling asleep."

Geno wets his lips and clears his throat. "Okay. Might give you bad dream, but I sing." He starts pacing the room, Mason gnawing on the fabric of his shirt, and starts singing softly, off-key and rough, but Sidney doesn't say a word, and Mason slowly settles against him.

When he finishes, he sets the once again sleeping Mason back in his crib and picks up the phone on his way out of the room. "Sid?"

"I'm still here." Sidney's voice has gone syrupy smooth with tiredness. "Thank you."

"Sleep good, Sid," Geno says. "Win game for Mason."

"I'll win it for both of you," Sidney says, and he yawns loudly. "I'll talk to you tomorrow."

"Night," Geno says, and Sidney murmurs, "Good night," before hanging up. Geno smiles at his phone, then realizes he's standing in the middle of Sidney's hallway grinning like an idiot, and goes to bed. If he rolls over into the spot Sidney sleeps to smell the faint trace of his aftershave and shampoo, there's no one around to rat on him.

The trainers clear Geno for contact the day before the team gets back from their road trip, and Geno is so excited that he spends an extra half hour at the rink going through drills by himself. He grabs lunch with Paul, who has been doing work with the trainers on his leg, and heads home in a buoyant mood, which is probably the reason he comes in to find Simone frantically trying to calm a sobbing Mason.

"What happen?" Geno asks, dropping his coat and holding out his arms. She passes Mason over immediately, worrying at her lip.

"I think he's sick, but he won't stay still when I try to take his temperature," she says, lifting up a thermometer. "I took him out to the park on Wednesday while you were at the rink and some of the moms were saying that something was going around."

Geno rests his hand against Mason's forehead. He does feel a little warmer than usual, but that could just be from the crying. He bounces Mason gently and says, "Mason, please stay still for Simone, okay? Just a minute."

He holds Mason steady while Simone takes the temperature from the ear. She frowns and says, "99.3." They exchange looks, and Geno sighs.

"I call Sid," he says, holding Mason out to her. "Get him juice, try to make him sleep."

"Okay." Simone takes Mason into the kitchen and Geno is left with the unenviable task of telling Sidney what's going on.

"He's sick?" Sidney says, sounding horrified, and Geno hurries to reassure him that it's a mild fever, he isn't showing any other symptoms yet (though Geno privately acknowledges that with the crying, they aren't be able to tell if he has a runny nose or not). Sidney isn't satisfied though and tells Geno to hold on a moment.

Geno heads into the kitchen and finds Mason, looking marginally calmer, drinking juice under Simone's watchful eye. He waits about two minutes before Sidney comes back.

"I called Erin," he says. "She says to keep giving him liquids and if his temperature goes up, take him to the doctor. Also that you should give him a hug for her."

"You call Erin?" Geno asks, trying not to laugh.

"She's his mother and she's a doctor," Sidney says defensively. "I thought she'd want to know."

"She's in Africa, Sid." Geno kisses the top of Mason's head. "Want to talk to Simone?"

"Sure," sighs Sidney, and Geno passes the phone off. Mason finishes drinking his juice, and Geno uses the edge of his sleeve to clean up Mason's face before letting him out of his high chair. Mason heads off for the stairs, and Geno follows him as he laboriously climbs to the landing before getting tired and flopping down onto his stomach.

"Oh, tired already?" Geno jokes, crouching down. "Want G to carry you up stairs?"

Mason rolls onto his back and stares at Geno, looking disgruntled. He laughs and picks him up. "Okay, yes, you are sick. I will take care of you, since your papa isn't here."

"Papa," Mason mumbles, popping the p's loudly, and Geno pats his back as he walks down the hall.

"Hug from your mom, kiss from your dad," Geno says before he sets Mason in his crib. "Now get better, or Sid will be mad."

Mason hooks his finger into the chain around Geno's neck and tugs at it until Geno untangles him. Geno sets Mason into the crib and strokes Mason's hair until Mason starts to blink sleepily. "Sleep," Geno says softly. "Get better."

He stands there looking down at Mason until Simone comes into the room, feet whispering against the floor. "Geno," she murmurs quietly, and he turns to see her holding his phone. "Sidney wants to talk to you."

Geno thanks her and steps outside. "Yes, Sid?"

"Call me right away if anything changes," Sidney orders. "We'll be home tomorrow morning, and I'm coming straight home."

"Okay," Geno says. "He is sleeping now."

"Oh, good." There is a pause where Geno is left listening to Sidney's breathing, a little harder than normal. "And, um. How are you feeling?"

"Skated today," Geno says happily. "Trainers say ready for practice contact. Still have to pass test, but they say I look good."

"That's great." Sidney's voice tips higher in happiness. "Geno, that's amazing."

"Maybe staying here helps," Geno says.

"Maybe you should stay after," Sidney suggests. Someone shouts in the background – it sounds like James – and Sidney sighs. "I have to go. Take care of Mason."

"Always," Geno agrees. "Win game tonight, Sid."

"We will," Sidney says confidently.

Geno spends the rest of the day stretching, jogging, and checking up on Mason. His temperature stays around the 99 mark, so Simone and Geno just make sure that he drinks a lot of juice and eats dinner. Mason climbs into Geno's lap during the preshow for the Pens' game against Detroit, but dozes off halfway through the scoreless first period. Geno knows he should put Mason to bed, but there's something sweet about having Mason settled against him, small breaths puffing against his neck in steady, even intervals.

They win the game after a disappointing second period, surging in the third and scoring two goals in rapid succession that see them winning a 3-1 game. Geno is glad to see them win – glad to see the bright, delighted smile on Sidney's face as he hugs Sutter for his game-clinching goal – but he itches to be out there with the team, to be shouting at James across the ice and to feel the rush of rink air against his face. He wants to be playing.

Sidney returns home in early the next morning, waking Geno with a kiss on the cheek, and whispering, "Don't get up, I'm just going to go check on Mason."

Geno nods and drifts off again to halfway between sleep and wakefulness until Sidney returns, shoulders relaxed. "Mason okay?" he asks sleepily.

"No fever. I'll check again later." Sidney takes off his sweater and pulling off his trousers. He folds them and sets them aside before sliding into bed next to Geno. "God, I'm tired."

Geno reaches out and pulls Sidney in by the hips. "Sleep, then."

"Mm." Sidney rubs his nose against Geno's cheek. "Glad to be home."

"Happy you're home too," Geno returns. He kisses Sidney, close-mouthed and closes his eyes again. "Sleep, Sid."

"Okay." After a moment, the last bit of tension runs out of Sidney's body, and Geno smiles to himself before going back to sleep.

"Daddy daddy daddy," Mason chants, climbing onto the bed and bouncing up and down. Geno cracks his eyes open and squints down at the foot. Mason is dressed and clean, and Geno kind of suspects Simone had let him loose on them as a bit of fun once she had discovered that he was better.

"Morning, Mason," Sidney mumbles. He pats the space between himself and Geno, and Mason curls up into it. "Miss me?"

"Daddy," Mason says, grabbing at Sidney's nose, and Sidney lets out his stupid laugh, loud and happy.

"He miss his papa very much," Geno tells him. "Cry for you."

Sidney's mouth turns down at that, and he pulls Mason in for a hug. "Sorry, buddy. You know I hate leaving you."

Mason burrows into Sidney's hold, beaming happily. Geno smiles and starts to get out of bed, thinking to leave them alone, but Sidney snags a hold of his t-shirt and frowns at him. They stare at each other for a moment before Geno eases back down so Mason is snuggled between their bodies.

The three of them lay together, breathing in sync. Geno starts to drop off again, but then Mason shifts and says, "Hungry," and Sidney breathes out and nods.

"Okay, buddy, let's get you some breakfast." He sits up and grabs Mason by the hands. "Ready?"

Mason leads the way, carefully scooting down the stairs, and goes to tug at Simone's jeans, saying, "Hungry!"

"What do you say, Mason?" Sidney calls, and Mason tacks on a, "Please."

"Sure, Mason, what would you like?" Simone asks, and she takes him into the kitchen while Geno drops into a chair and rests his head on his arms.

Sidney touches the back of Geno's neck lightly. "Are you okay?"

"Tired." Geno turns to look up at him. "Travel okay?"

"Wasn't bad." Sidney scratches his fingers through Geno's hair, and Geno shivers pleasurably. Sidney sits next to Geno and rubs at his neck in small circles. "You said the trainers cleared you for contact?"

"Yes, Dan say we try today at practice." He groans as Sidney hits a knot, and Sidney obligingly digs his thumb in harder. "Why?"

"Oh, no reason," Sidney says, but he's smirking a little, eyes bright, and Geno remembers what Sidney had said the night he got hit.

"You promise –" he starts.

"We have a game the day after tomorrow," Sidney says, watching Geno's face. "Against Tampa Bay."

"Yes," Geno agrees. "And?"

"If we win –" Sidney squeezes the back of Geno's neck. "And if you play –" He grins, and Geno is going to kill him for being like this.

"Tease!" he accuses as Sidney rises to go to the kitchen.

"It's incentive!" Sidney calls back, and Geno groans before dropping his head back onto his arms.

It's good to be back at practice, even better to have Engell check him into the boards and to be allowed to check him back. Sidney yells, "You can do better than that, Geno!" from across the ice, and Geno sticks his tongue out before flicking a puck over Voky's shoulder. He feels good, loose and ready to compete again, and the fact that he scores his shootout goal at the end of practice before James and Sidney only makes him feel better.

He passes the ImPACT test the next morning, and he assures the trainers that he hasn't had headaches or dizzy spells, and he hasn't had any more memory lapses as far as they can tell, so they approve him for the game against Tampa Bay. He leaves the office with a bounce in his step and heads into the dressing room to announce the news.

"Oh, good," James says. "I've had to carry Sunshine this whole way," and Beau scoffs as he pulls his shirt over his head.

"Please, like you can carry anyone, Lazy," Geno says cheerfully.

James flaps his hand, rolling his eyes, and Geno goes to change into his practice gear.

He feels more amped than usual for the game, and he isn't entirely sure if it's because it's his first game back, or if it's because Sidney keeps giving him smirky, dark-eyed looks that make his stomach twist in anticipation. He has to stop looking in Sidney's direction so he doesn't go on the ice distracted.

It isn't a great game; Kuni scores early in the first period, but the Lightning get two up on them in the second period. The intermission after is quiet. Sidney talks to Beau and Niskie, quiet and serious, then comes over to Geno and James and says, "We need to pick it up."

"Yes," Geno agrees. They exchange glances, and Geno can see his frustration echoed on Sidney's face. They had hoped that they were past this, the scrambling to get back, and they both want a tick in the win column to get the week off to a good start.

They want a win for other reasons, too, but Geno is trying to focus on the sports part.

A few minutes into the third, Dan sends Geno and Sidney out together, and Geno –

He catches a bad pass from Brewer and tears off, eyes on the goal even as he senses Carle and Brewer closing in on him, and he slips between them, sees Lindback drop prematurely, and flicks the puck in.

The goal horn goes off, and he yells in triumph, Sidney shouting his name from across the ice, and Geno jumps against the glass as Kuni and Sidney come tearing towards him, Simon close behind, and he grins as they press up against him, shouting in excitement.

"Nice fucking goal," James says when Geno returns to the bench, and they bump gloves. "Bet I can do better."

"Fuck off, you can't," Geno says automatically.

Sidney gets a goal for himself a few minutes later, and he gives Geno a bright smile when he comes back. It's looking good for them – the Lightning pull their goalie and Geno feeds James a pass for a goal that has James seething because he can't claim an empty netter is better than Geno's – and then Stammer gets one in just under the wire that has everyone on the bench swearing.

The last ten seconds are a mess, but they do finish with the win, and Geno is flying high from beating Tampa and from beating James, who is still sulking as they head back to the dressing room. Geno is about to follow him, maybe chirp him some more, when Sidney catches his arm and pulls him aside.

"I want to kiss you so badly right now," Sidney breathes, eyes bright. "That was a fucking gorgeous goal, Geno."

Geno drops his head a little and smiles at him. "Yours not bad either. Mine is better."

Sidney groans and mutters, "The presser better not take too long," before heading into the dressing room. Geno takes a moment to think very hard about unsexy things before following him.

It feels like there are a million things they have to do before they're allowed to go home – Dan gives his post-game talk, Geno is awarded the ceremonial hat, and they have to talk to the media – and then even when they get home, they have to say goodnight to Simone, who says Mason is sleeping soundly before seeing herself out.

Even so, Sidney triple-checks the lock on his bedroom door before turning on Geno and pressing him against the wall, hands on Geno's hips. "You looked good out there," Sidney breathes. "Really good."

Geno wraps his arms around Sidney's neck and smiles. "Of course I do, I am the best."

Sidney kisses him, languorous and indulgent, thumbs digging into the hollows of Geno's hips. Geno tucks his fingers into the collar of Sidney's dress shirt and smiles when Sidney shivers. Sidney abruptly pushes his knee between Geno's legs and goes up on his toes to kiss Geno more effectively as he untucks Geno's shirt and slides his hands into Geno's trousers to palm Geno's cock.

Geno breaks away and gasps, "Sid," and Sidney shakes his head before ducking his head into Geno's shoulder.

"Tell me if I'm doing something wrong," Sidney says, voice wavery. "I haven't done this before."

"Haven't done this in long time," Geno admits. "Not since I move to US."

"Oh, well." Sidney laughs and rubs his nose along Geno's jaw. "I guess we're both figuring this out a bit." And then he squeezes, lightly, exploratory, and Geno lets out a really stupid noise.

Neither of them manage to get completely out of their suits, although Geno does get Sidney's jacket and tie off so he can mouth at Sidney's collarbone. He's kind of obsessed with the way Sidney looks with an open collar, the flash of his necklace just barely visible against the curve of his clavicle, and he hooks his fingers in it when he reels Sidney in for another kiss. Sidney, who is trying to get Geno's trousers off, goes limp at that, fingers relaxing on Geno's belt buckle.

Geno bites Sidney's lower lip gently and then kisses him again, fingers still hooked into Sidney's necklace as he worms his other hand down between them to shove Sidney's trousers and briefs down and wrap his hand around Sidney's cock.

"Fuck," Sidney says, strangled, and he resumes trying to get Geno's trousers off. He finally succeeds, and Geno spares a moment to think of what his tailor would say if she saw the way they were treating their suits, and then he isn't thinking at all because Sidney has his hand on Geno's bare dick and it feels amazing.

Sidney braces his free hand on the wall next to Geno, and his arms is shaking, he's shaking all over, cheeks flushed hectic red and sweat starting to bead at his hairline. "Geno," he breathes, and Geno is so overwhelmed that he has to kiss Sidney again, tugging on Sidney's chain again, and the moment he does, Sidney chokes and comes, probably ruining both of their shirts.

Sidney pants for air, harsh and loud, when Geno pulls back, and the dazed look in his eyes as he stares at Geno is enough to send him over the edge. He collapses back against the wall, taking Sidney with him, and they stand there in the wreckage of their clothing until Sidney lifts his head and says ruefully, "I meant for that to be a little more dignified."

Geno ducks his head to Sidney's. "Who cares? That was amazing."

"We could have gotten completely undressed," Sidney points out. He steps back – Geno is proud to note that Sidney's knees seem a little weak – and surveys them both. "I think we need a shower."

"Yes," Geno says. "Big enough for two?"

Sidney looks thoughtful. "I think we can make it work."

They don't get much showering done in the shower – Sidney gets shampoo in his eye and starts swearing, and Geno promises to kiss it better, which ends with Geno backed against the tiles as Sidney sucks what's probably going to be a truly impressive hickey into the underside of Geno's collarbone – but they do manage to get mostly cleaned up before they collapse in bed together. Sidney curls up into Geno, looking content. Geno drowsily cards his hand through Sidney's thick curls, longer than they've been in ages.

"That was good, right?" Sidney asks suddenly. "For our first time?"

"Perfect," Geno pronounces. "Perfect because of you."

"You're a sap," Sidney accuses, but he's smiling. "Next time, we'll get all our clothes off."

Geno privately has his own thoughts about next time – most of them involving his mouth and Sidney's dick – but he has to admit the prospect of having all of Sidney available for touching and looking is never going to get old, so he nods. Sidney kisses Geno's shoulder and closes his eyes, and his breathing slowly evens out. Geno drops off not long afterwards.

Dan has given them the day off, so they sleep in until Mason calls, "Daddy," through the baby monitor the next morning, sending them both dragging themselves up to pick him up. They spend the day hanging out in the house and the snowy yard with Mason, playing tag and batting around a ball. Mason goes diving into a snow drift happily, shrieking in delight, and throws handfuls of snow at Sidney and Geno, who gamely fall over and pretend to be injured.

Despite the fact that Geno is recovered from his concussion and no longer has a real reason to be staying with Sidney, he doesn't leave and Sidney makes no moves to kick him out. March carries on and they settle into a nice routine, waking up in the morning to play with Mason and eat breakfast together, going to the rink for practice or staying in to work out in Sidney's home gym if they don't have anything scheduled. Sidney proves to be as superstitious as sex as he is about everything else, and so they reserve it to nights after wins. Sidney is a quick study, learning how to make Geno shudder and squirm, and he likes using his mouth, which Geno is totally okay with.

"I take it things are going well?" James says in an undertone when he spots the fading mark on Geno's collarbone while they're getting ready for practice.

Geno flushes and tugs his underarmor on. "Yes," he says, rolling his eyes at him. "Very well."

"I couldn't help but notice the two of you come to practice together almost every day," James says. "Moving quickly?"

Geno frowns and realizes that he's been staying with Sidney for more than a month. He can count on one hand the number of nights he's spent at his own house since his concussion, and he's surprised that he hadn't realized sooner. "I guess," he says slowly. "Feel right, though."

"Ergh, you guys are disgusting," James says, making a face. Geno flicks him with his towel and makes the mistake of catching Sidney's eye across the dressing room. Sidney flashes him a smile, and Geno grins helplessly back.

"Disgusting," James repeats, shaking his head.

Geno idly mentions their conversation to Sidney while they're making lunch after practice, the two of them moving easily around each other as they cut up the tomatoes and lettuce.

"Has it been that long?" Sidney asks, looking startled. "I hadn't realized."

"Me neither," Geno admits, leaning past Sidney to grab the mustard. "I like it here. Feels like –" Home, he thinks. "Feels comfortable."

"I like having you here. I always have." Sidney cuts some lettuce and says idly, "I've been thinking of getting Mason some kid-sized hockey stuff. I was worried about his balance, but he seems pretty steady now."

Geno grins and bumps his hip against Sidney's. "Already training him, huh? Not too little?"

"It's when I started," Sidney says defensively. "I'm not saying we put him on skates yet. I think it's a little soon for that."

"Wait until he run without falling on his face," Geno says wisely. "Then skates."

"Yeah. So what do you think?"

Geno frowns. "About what?"

Sidney huffs, exasperated. "About getting him some indoor hockey stuff! Just a stick, a goal, and a puck to start with."

"Why ask me?" Geno asks. "He is your son, Sid. You and Erin, not me."

Sidney stares at him, brow furrowed. "Because you're – if we're doing this, Geno, then he's going to be your son, too."

Geno goes very still, his eyes widening. He hadn't realized – he loves Mason, would do anything for him, but he has been deferring to Sidney whenever he can because he wasn't sure of his place. "Sid –"

"And even if it doesn't work out," Sidney says, speaking quicker now, "your opinion will still matter to me because Mason loves you and you're one of my best friends. You've been here for us, even when I didn't – when we weren't together. We're always going to be family to each other. No matter what."

"Sid," Geno says roughly, and he gently takes the lettuce out of Sidney's hands so he can back Sidney up against the counter and kiss him. Sidney curls his fingers into Geno's shirt, shaking a little, opening up easily to him and kissing him back with just as much urgency.

"I meant to lead into that," Sidney mutters when Geno finally lets him go. "I just kind of thought you knew. Mason basically thinks you're his dad anyway."

"We buy him hockey gear," Geno says. "Black and gold color."

"Obviously," says Sidney, rolling his eyes. He pushes up to kiss Geno again and steps back. "I did say that I was sure about this when we started."

"Not realize you that sure." Geno pokes Sidney in the side. "Surprise me."

Sidney shrugs and smiles at him. "It isn't exactly the family I always thought I'd have when I was little, but so far it seems to be working out all right."

Geno thinks about that as they eat a quiet lunch. They have, in a lot of ways, been sort of family-like, although Geno had been careful to keep his distance for a while there. It isn't anything like his family, or the family he had imagined having with Oksana, so maybe that's why he hadn't really recognized it for what it is.

Family is a little like hockey, Geno thinks. You can plan and plan as much as you like, but nothing can prepare you for the reality of it, for how everything speeds up or for how your emotions rise and tangle around your throat and make it impossible for you to do anything but just feel. And he feels at home in Sidney's house, feels happy when Sidney is lying beside him at night, feels proud of Mason when he figures out something new. He fits here.

After lunch, they make a half-hearted attempt to watch a movie, which ends in them making out on the sofa, legs tangling together as Sidney giggles against Geno's mouth. Geno keeps trying to shush him in case Mason wakes up from his nap, but it's a hopeless cause. They're both too giddy and happy to aim for subtlety, and when Mason wakes up early, they take him outside to play, even though Mason is bound to get totally filthy in the springtime mud.

"Ugh," Sidney says when Mason smears dirt on Sidney's cheek with one muddy hand. "Your turn to wash him."

"Not it," Geno says, touching his nose, and Sidney throws him an exasperated look. Geno grins and carries Mason inside so he doesn't track mud all over Sidney's floors, teasing Mason that he's going to dump him in the bath in all his clothes.

Mason is settled in the bath with his cadre of floating penguin toys when Sidney joins them, his face scrubbed clean. He kneels down next to Geno and splashes Mason playfully, and Mason shrieks, flailing, and splashing Geno and Sidney.

"Very naughty daddy," Geno tells Mason seriously before turning to kiss Sidney. "Very naughty."

"Stop saying naughty like that," Sidney hisses.

Geno laughs and combs Sidney's damp curls back from his forehead before turning back to Mason and picking up the sponge. Mason pouts but holds out his arm obediently so Geno can scrub the dirt out from underneath his fingernails.

Mason is a little terror out of the bath, squirting off at a run before either of them have the chance to wrap him in a towel. Sidney tosses Geno a towel from the bar, and Geno goes chasing after Mason, finally catching up with him as he's trying to make a break for the stairs.

"Bad boy," Geno scolds, wrapping the towel around a squealing Mason and bundling him up into his arms. "Don't run away from Daddy."

Mason beams happily at him and giggles when Geno hands him off to Sidney, who is waiting with a diaper and pajamas. Sidney frowns at him and says, "Don't run when you're wet, you might slip," but he tickles Mason when he slips on the diaper, and gives him a big kiss before putting him in his crib.

"Sing," Mason says to Geno, peering over the bars at him, and so Geno sings to him until Mason starts looking sleepy.

"I never asked you what that song is called," Sidney remarks as they head off for bed themselves. "It's pretty."

"My dad sing it to me and Denis," Geno says. "Don't know the English name – old song, though. A little sad."

"I like it." Sidney takes Geno's hand and squeezes. "I'd ask you to teach me, but –"

"No," Geno agrees. "Can't speak Russian, can't sing."

"Nope." Sidney turns a bright smile on Geno, and all Geno can do in response is kiss him until Sidney sighs and pulls him to bed.

Instead of buying Mason hockey gear, Sidney ends up with Mario and Nathalie pushing their kids' stuff on him, saying, "It's taking up space, you can use this gear until he gets too big for it," and Geno has to come with him to pack it into Sidney's car. Mason, chilling in his car seat with a tiny Penguins hat on his head, waves at Mario and Nathalie.

"Hey, little man," Nathalie says, leaning down to shake his hand. "Haven't seen you in a while."

"Sorry," Sidney says, sounding guilty. "It's been crazy."

"Why don't you stay for dinner?" Mario suggests. "Unless you're in a rush."

Sidney blinks and looks at Geno, who suddenly feels as though he has a spotlight on him. "Okay," he says tentatively, and Mario smiles.

"Come on in, boys," he says, gesturing them inside.

Geno unstraps Mason from his carseat and carries him inside Mario's ridiculously palatial house, trying not to feel too out of place. He glances back at Sidney, who looks a little deer-in-the-headlights, and resolves to talk to him as soon as they get a moment alone.

"I'll grab one of the old playpens for Mason," Mario says when they're in the living room. "You two sit tight, eh?"

Geno sits obediently and waits until Mario has left to say, "What is going on?

"I, um." Sidney scratches the back of his neck as he sinks down on the couch next to Geno. "I had to tell my agent about us, because if it comes up he needs to deal with it, but I didn't know it would get back to Mario. I guess that was kind of dumb of me."

"Tell your agent?" Geno asks, surprised.

"You've been living with me since February," Sidney points out and, well, he has a point. The only person who knows anything on Geno's side is James, and that's only because he was around for Geno's total meltdown before their first date.

"Do you want to tell more?" Geno asks, hesitantly. Sidney guards his privacy zealously, a practice born largely out of necessity, and Geno is used to it by now. Still, he would like to be able to be a little less circumspect.

"Maybe the team," Sidney says. He makes a face. "After playoffs though, I don't want to go into them if anyone is going to be weird about it."

"Okay," Geno agrees. In his lap, Mason gurgles approvingly. "Can I tell Gonch? My family?"

"Sure." Sidney smiles and bumps his knee against Geno's. "If you want."

"All right," Mario says, coming into the living room with a soft-looking structure. "We can let him play around in here while we talk."

Sidney and Geno exchange worried glances before letting Mario set up the playpen and setting Mason down inside. Mario sits down on one of the armchairs and looks at them with a thoughtful expression for a long time.

"I can't say I'm surprised," he says eventually.

"Really?" Geno blurts out, Sidney echoing him.

"But I'm very happy for you," Mario continues. "You seem to have a good thing right now." He smiles sharply at Geno. "Let's keep it that way."

"Oh god," Sidney groans, pinching the bridge of his nose.

"Frankly, I'm mostly surprised that you weren't dating before," Mario says. "Sometimes, I thought you were."

Sidney is beet red and avoiding Geno's eyes. "Mario –"

"I'll stop," Mario says, smiling. "Just making conversation, Sidney."

Geno wraps his arm around Sidney's shoulders and squeezes. "We try slow, but –"

"We were bad at it," Sidney says, somehow managing to turn redder.

Mario laughs. "I'm sure." He stands and says, "I'm going to get some wine. Red or white?"

"Red," Geno says, and Sidney nods in silent agreement.

When Mario has gone, Sidney turns to Geno and asks, "Do you think we're going too fast?"

"Hope not," Geno says lightly. "Love you for years, Sid, this not fast for me."

Sidney snorts and leans back. "Maybe not for you, but I should be more freaked out about this."

"Freak out because not freaked out?" Geno asks, laughing, and Sidney socks him in the thigh.

"I'm being serious here!" Sidney shakes his head. "It weirds me out that this feels so normal. I don't want things to change and –" He swallows visibly. "They will change eventually."

"You mean Erin?" Geno asks quietly. Sidney nods silently, looking away. "Sid, I promise I not change. And we find a way with Erin. Mason still your son. Maybe keep him half of the year."

"Yeah." Sidney sighs and tips his head onto Geno's shoulder. "I just like things the way they are."

"Me too," Geno says, and he reaches over to link their hands together for a second. Sidney sighs and then scoots a little away to put a decorous two inches of space between them as Mario returns with three wine glasses and a bottle of wine that probably costs more than Geno's couch.

Dinner is surprisingly not terrifying, Mason managing to defuse any tension by making a mess of himself. Geno talks to Mario's kids about their classes and hockey, relaxing more as the meal goes on. By the time they're ready to go home, Geno is feeling much more comfortable knowing that Mario knows about them and approves.

Nathalie presses a casserole on them as they leave, kissing Geno's cheek and whispering, "Good luck," when he takes it from her. "Take care of Sidney."

"Always," promises Geno. He smiles awkwardly at her before following Sidney out to the car. Sidney secures Mason in his car seat and turns to take the dish from Geno.

"This wasn't as bad as it could have been, right?" Sidney asks, taking it from him. "It was kind of nice."

"They love you," says Geno. "Want to know you are happy."

"I am." Sidney turns and rests his hands on Geno's chest. "And I don't want to keep second-guessing why."

Geno frowns down at him. "Okay?"

"Yeah." Sidney nods decidedly. "I'm happy right now." He hits Geno's chest lightly and squirms around him to circle around to the driver's seat door. Geno rubs the spot Sidney hit him and shakes his head in amusement before opening the passenger door and climbing in beside him.

Mason takes to floor hockey with gusto, whacking delightedly at the little rubber puck as soon as Sidney has shown him how to hold the stick. His aim isn't very good; Geno soon learns not to stand anywhere near the tiny goal if he doesn't want to get hit in the knee or the shin by a rogue puck.

"Going to have very broken clothes dryer," he says to Sidney when the puck pings off the wall to the left of the goal.

Sidney laughs and ruffles Mason's hair fondly as Mason makes a determined face and swings at the next puck Sidney puts in front of him.

"He's not doing too bad for a first try," Sidney says. "He'll get better."

He does, too; by the end of the week, Mason is making it in the goal three times out of ten, and Sidney is absurdly smug about it in the dressing room to the point where Cookie checks him into the boards just to get him to shut up about it.

"We get it, your kid is going to be like the lovechild of Mario and Gretzky, and he's going to probably beat all of our kids one day," he says as Sidney laughs. "Leave it to the scouting report in sixteen years time, okay?"

"He'll be captain for all your kids," Sidney counters, and Geno smiles at the idea of Mason at the head of a team of Penguin children.

Sidney Skypes with Erin at least once a week when they're in town, and Geno usually gives them their space to talk, not wanting to intrude. Mason is having a particularly squirmy day, though, so Geno sits in to help keep him still. He half expects Erin to say something when she sees him, but she doesn't ask why he's there, just says, "Hi Geno."

"Hey, Erin," he says, waving. Mason squirms in his lap and reaches towards the computer screen. She smiles and waves at him, eyes sad. "Mason miss you."

"Mama," Mason says plaintively. Sidney shifts next to Geno, mouth turned down unhappily, and Geno reaches over to squeeze his knee, forgetting that Erin can see them. When he looks back at the computer, she's watching them sharply, and she and Sidney have what appears to be a conversation entirely with long stares. Geno feels a little awkward being in the middle of it, and even more awkward at the reminder of how long they have known each other.

Eventually, she smiles again and starts to talking to Mason, who is able to string together two word responses for most of her questions. He's not wholly coherent yet, but Geno is getting the feeling he's going to be a chatterbox once he gets old enough to form full sentences.

Mason gets squirmy after twenty minutes, and Geno lets him down to go play on the floor while Erin and Sidney talk. He feels a little like a third wheel and is thinking about excusing himself when Erin says, "I think I'm going to be coming back soon. For good this time, like I promised."

Geno's head jerks up, and he looks over to see that Sidney has gone pale. "Oh," Sidney says, voice leaden. "Do you know when?'

"End of April." Erin leans away from the camera and comes back with a handful of papers. "I haven't worked out my flights, but it'll be soon."

Sidney is so tense that his knuckles have gone white, and Geno reaches over to settle his hand over Sidney's, gentle and reassuring. Sidney slowly lets out a breath and says, "I'm glad."

"We'll work things out when I'm back in the United States," she says. "Okay?"

"Okay," Sidney says, and they say their goodbyes, turning the computer so Mason can shout goodbye from the floor.

Sidney is very quiet after they end the Skype call. Geno watches warily as Sidney gets to his feet, looking lost, and finally asks quietly, "Sid, are you okay?"

Sidney looks up. "I'm fine," he says, voice very falsely bright. "We should put Mason down for his nap."

"Sid –"

"He'll get cranky if we don't," Sidney says, and he swings down to pick up Mason. Mason starts squirming unhappily, and he starts shouting when he realizes what's going on, kicking out his legs.

"No nap!" he protests at ear-splitting volume, and Sidney's face kind of crumples, cheeks reddening and his mouth opening in a silent oh. Geno hurriedly takes Mason out of his arms as Sidney turns away.

"Shh, Mason," Geno says, watching the defeated line of Sidney's shoulders. "Have to nap, or no jello with dinner."

Mason looks thoughtful at this. After a moment, he nods, and Geno goes to put him down before he changes his mind.

He returns to the bedroom to find Sidney sitting on the edge of his bed, head in his hands. Geno wraps his hand around the back of Sidney's neck and says, insistently, "Sid."

"I'm fine," Sidney says without looking up. "Is he in bed?"

"Yes." Geno tugs. "Come on, we eat lunch now."

When Sidney finally straightens, he looks okay, but Geno knows Sidney better than to necessarily believe what he sees. He desperately wants to poke away, find out how Sidney is really feeling. Instead, he decides to let Sidney be for now so he can process everything.

Sidney almost visibly pushes away his concern as they go downstairs to the kitchen, and by the time Geno is cutting tomatoes for their sandwiches, he's managed to slap on a passable facade of cheeriness that might fool someone else.

"Sidney," Geno starts.

"I don't want to talk about it," Sidney says sharply, and he shoves an onion at Geno. "Cut."

Geno sighs and does as Sidney asks. He has known, at the back of his mind, that Erin would come back eventually, and he has no doubt that she would like to regain full custody of Mason when she does. He had seen her face when she was with him; it was the same one Sidney has every time he comes home from a road trip. Geno gets it. Mason is as integral to his life now as Sidney is, a constant presence who can be irritating at times, an utter delight at others, and always, always important.

He doesn't even know where to begin with Sidney – tell him it will be okay? That he won't miss Mason as much as he thinks he will? It's a lie that neither of them would believe.

So instead of making Sidney talk about it, he gives Sidney a kiss at the temple and holds him close until Sidney lets out a breath and relaxes into him.

After that, there's simply no time to talk. They're jostling with a late-surging Rangers team for the division title, and Sidney always starts to get stressed and irritable around the end of the season anyway. Geno, for his part, is just tired; it's been a long season, and he's gassed physically and emotionally. Sidney explodes at Geno when he accidentally buys the wrong brand of peanut butter, and Geno snaps right back, and they spend two stubborn days not speaking to each other except when they absolutely have to. Their tenseness sets Mason on edge too, and he throws several emphatic temper tantrums that neither of them have much energy to defuse, which of course makes both of them even crankier.

It's a stupid, petty argument that's resolved when Geno goes to the store and buys a jar of the proper brand. In lieu of apologizing, he leaves it on Sidney's pillow – he's been sleeping in one of the guest rooms – and that night Sidney sneaks into bed with him, slipping in after Mason finally goes to bed.

"I'm sorry," Geno says sleepily. "Forgot to read your list."

"I'm sorry I freaked out." Sidney sighs. "I hate fighting with you."

"I don't like it," Geno agrees, wrapping his arm around Sidney's shoulders.

Sidney is quiet for a moment. "I'm worried," he says eventually. "I don't want Erin to –" He bites his lip. "It isn't that I don't want her to come back, I just want –" Words seem to fail him, and Geno nods, stroking Sidney's curls away from his forehead.

"You want to keep Mason," he says softly. "Me too."

"He's her son, too." Sidney sighs and burrows his face into Geno's chest. "I don't want things to change. I like them how they are."

"Me too," Geno says again. "But Sid, I promise I not leave you. Maybe go to Russia for a week, two, but I stay. With you, if you want."

"Of course I do." Sidney mumbles something against Geno that he doesn't quite catch, and Geno tilts Sidney's chin up towards him.

"Can't hear, Sid."

"I said, I love you," Sidney says, louder. Geno opens his eyes. He can just barely make out the curve of Sidney's cheek, and it isn't enough to tell if Sidney's blushing, but he strongly suspects he is. Geno shifts his hand to Sidney's jaw and feels Sidney's smile, the slight dimpling of his cheek.

"Say again," Geno breathes.

Sidney huffs and pushes himself up so he's braced on an elbow. "I love you."

Geno grins and yanks Sidney towards him, finding his mouth in the darkness. Sidney melts into him, their legs twining together, and Geno is pulling at Sidney's shirt before long, spreading his hands along the small of Sidney's back, down into his shorts to grab his ass. Sidney shudders and breaks away.

"We have a game tomorrow," he reminds Geno. "If we win –"

"Hate your rules," Geno mutters, flopping back.

"If it helps, right now I hate them too." Sidney kisses Geno as an apology, slow and thorough. "We should go to sleep."

Geno hums and pulls Sidney down to his chest. "Okay. And you have peanut butter, so should win."

"Should, yes." Sidney presses his lips to Geno's jaw. "Thank you for being here. For staying."

"Always," Geno murmurs. "Always, Sid."

They win their home game against Boston, and Geno takes Sidney out for a celebratory dinner over his protests, insisting that they deserve it. They take a back table, in a dark corner out of sight of the main restaurant, and Geno orders them a bottle of wine.

"The season isn't over yet," Sidney says even as he picks up his glass. "Why are you doing this?"

"Because I want to," Geno says simply. Under the table, he hooks his foot around the back of Sidney's ankle, and Sidney smiles into his wine glass. "Have time now, give you good night."

"All right." Sidney glances around, then rests his hand on Geno's for a fleeting moment. "Thank you."

They have a nice meal, talking about Mason's hockey prowess – he's getting better at firing more than one in a row without falling over – and Sidney excitedly telling Geno about his plans for Mason, how he's been looking into children's skates. "Only if he wants to, though," he adds, suddenly looking guilty. "I don't want to make him do anything he doesn't want."

"Mason is your son," Geno says, laughing. "Of course he want to play hockey."

"I hope so." Sidney sighs. "I mean, if he wants to, I don't know, play tuba, I'll support him. But I really hope he plays hockey."

Geno raises his eyebrows, trying to suppress a smile. "Tuba?"

"It was the first thing I could think of," Sidney huffs, kicking at Geno under the table, but he's smiling back.

Mason is still awake when they go home and has to be pried away kicking and screaming from his toys in the living room. Geno helps a wild-eyed Simone gather up her belongings and walks her to her car, apologizing for taking so long at dinner.

"It's fine," she says, rubbing her face. "I love Mason, don't get me wrong, but he is exhausting sometimes."

"Yes," Geno says wryly, "I know. Thank you."

"Night, Geno," she mumbles, getting into her car, and he watches to be sure she gets out of the driveway all right before he heads back inside.

Sidney is giving Mason a stern lecture when Geno joins him upstairs, telling him about the virtues of sleep and why it's important for growing boys. Mason looks distinctly unimpressed, and Geno has the feeling that if he had better command of language, he would ask Sidney to stop being boring.

Sidney finishes his talk by kissing Mason's head gently and saying, "Be nice to Simone tomorrow, okay? Now say goodnight."

"Night, Da," Mason says obediently. "Night, G."

Sidney nods, satisfied, and backs out of the room, nearly walking into Geno, who catches him by the shoulders and leans past him to switch off the lights. Sidney sighs and leans against Geno, turning up his face for a kiss, a silent request that Geno gladly granted.

"Bed?" Sidney suggests breathlessly when Geno finally manages to pull back. His mouth looks pleasingly plump and pink, and Geno can't resist rubbing a thumb over it, shuddering when Sidney's eyelids drop to half-mast at the contact.

"Yes," Geno rasps, and he goes easily when Sidney fastens his fingers around his wrist.

He takes his time undressing Sidney, because he still hasn't gotten tired of that part, especially the way Sidney goes pink under his attentions. Sidney hooks his fingers into Geno's belt loops and pulls him forward so he can kiss him as he fumbles with Geno's shirt buttons and Geno helps him, untucking his shirt and unbuckling his belt.

The bed squeaks when Sidney pulls Geno to it, and Geno is about to say something about it when Sidney gently nudges Geno's knees part and kneels between them. Sidney is good at this part and seems to love that he's good at, it if his smug smiles are anything to go by; Geno should probably be more put off by Sidney's smirking, but he's not going to try to stop him, not when he reaps the rewards.

Sidney keeps Geno from pushing up with an arm across his hips, and Geno twists beneath him, hands clenching in the sheets as Sidney hollows his cheeks, mouth stretched obscenely around his cock. His eyes flick up to meet Geno's, and that's worse, his hazel eyes knowing and coy from underneath his lashes. Geno gives into temptation and buries one hand in Sidney's hair, combing his fingers through the thick curls, and Sidney groans, eyes slipping closed again.

"Sid," Geno sighs, and Sidney sucks harder, moving his hand in time with his mouth. "Sid."

"What?" Sidney asks, pulling off. There's a thin string of spit trailing from his lower lip to Geno's dick, and it shouldn't be hot, but Geno still has to think very hard about the smog in Magnitogorsk for a moment. "What is it?"

"I want –" Geno draws in a shuddery breath. "Sid –"

And he doesn't know how to get his desire across, his brain fracturing as he tries to bring out the words in English, but Sidney's eyes go wide and his terrible, horrible mouth opens, and he breathes, "Okay," before scrambling up the bed to kiss Geno, wet and dirty and desperate.

They haven't tried this before – haven't been patient enough or ready enough – but Geno just needs to have Sidney in him tonight. Sidney is hesitant about it, even though they prep together, his hands going white-knuckled on Geno's knees as he presses in. Geno, for his part, breathes out slowly and curves his fingers over Sidney's until Sidney relaxes and gets into it.

Geno is grateful for his flexibility when Sidney leans down to kiss him; it feels much more urgent, somehow, that he have Sidney's mouth on his. And when Sidney picks up his courage and starts moving in a smooth, steady rhythm, Geno hooks his hand around Sidney's neck, fingers playing under the chain, and pulls Sidney back down to him.

Sidney, when he comes, kisses Geno like he's afraid he won't get the chance again, his hips moving unevenly and his fingers digging into the muscle of Geno's thighs. It's just the right edge of hurt for Geno, and he arches up, desperate for some kind of pressure on his dick. Sidney murmurs an apology against Geno's mouth before moving his hand and getting Geno off in the space of a few diminishing thrusts.

"Fuck," Sidney says, awed, and topples forward. He hasn't quite pulled out of Geno, and his cock is softening slowly inside him. It feels a bit strange, but Geno's too busy tracing shapes on Sidney's sweaty back to care much.

He kisses Sidney's jaw, his temple, his ear. "Love you."

Sidney smiles – Geno can feel it against his cheek – and turns his mouth to Geno's. "You too," he says, husky and sincere. This close, his eyelashes are just dark smears, his eyes a little lighter, and Geno closes his eyes so he can memorize every piece of this moment, can paint the image of Sidney into the back of his eyelids.

Cool air rushes over Geno's body as Sidney moves away, and he shivers reflexively. Sidney tosses the blanket over him and murmurs, "I'm going to take a shower. Do you want one?"

"Can I come?" Geno asks, cracking his eyes open. Sidney, his naked body lit by the moonlight streaming in through the window, laughs.

"We won't get much showering done if you're in there with me," he says. Geno has to concede his point.

Geno takes a quick shower after Sidney, just a short rinse to wash the semen and sweat from his skin, and he returns to find Sidney sitting awake in bed, hands clasped over his stomach. Frowning, Geno sits next to him and asks, "Something wrong?"

For a moment, Sidney is silent, though his hands are moving restlessly. When he speaks, his voice is low. "I don't want to lose this."

Geno wraps his arm around Sidney's shoulders and kisses his damp hair. "Lose what? Mason? Me?"

"Either. Both." Sidney turns his face into Geno's shoulder. "I've gotten so used to this. I don't want things to change."

"Me too," Geno confesses quietly, rubbing at Sidney's arm. "Love you. Love Mason. Feel –" He hesitates. Happy doesn't quite cover it, because he's been happy before and there's a world of difference between the happy high of winning a game and the baseline level of bliss he's been living in for the last month. He finally settles on saying, "Home."

Sidney nods. "This is the longest I've gone without moving back into Mario's guest house." He laughs, self-deprecating and harsh. "And it might all go away."

"I say I not leave, Sid," Geno reminds him. "I promise."

"But you will be gone, for a bit," Sidney says. "And that's fine, I would never tell you not to go home, but Erin will be back and Mason –" He breaks off, looking stricken.

Geno's chest is tight, his breath coming shallow and uncomfortable. "Can you ask Erin for time? More with Mason?"

"If she's coming back for good – it's better if he's with her. She can offer him a more stable life than I can." Sidney's mouth twists in a bitter smile. "I'm tied here until I'm thirty-seven, Geno. Do you know how old Mason will be then?"

He continues without waiting an answer. "And I'll miss it, because I'm gone half of the year and I'm always going to be busy and Erin can at least be at home for him if she picks up a normal job. It's no contest, Geno. She offers the better life for him."

Intellectually, Geno knows Sidney is right; but he can't stand the idea of Sidney without Mason, or of Mason without Sidney. He knows Erin is a good person and would be – is – a good mother to Mason, but Mason is Sidney's and, to some extent, his too, and he doesn't want Mason to go so far away. He squeezes Sidney's shoulder again, unable to offer any words of comfort other than, "I stay here for you, Sid. If no Mason, I stay. Will not leave you alone."

Sidney's breath catches audibly in his throat; then he turns and kisses Geno fiercely. Geno holds him close and wishes he could do more.


Erin is set to return the third week of April, the day after the last game of the delayed season. Geno plays with Mason in the living room while Sidney talks to her about the details; he's been trying to teach Mason a few Russian words, and while he has been unsuccessful in getting Mason to call Sidney Papa instead of Dada, he has taught him please and thank you, which Geno thinks are valuable words to know.

"Now I will not be ashamed to introduce you to your grandmother," Geno says when Mason prettily asks for the toy truck sitting to Geno's left. He hands it over and raises his eyebrows expectantly.

"Thank you," Mason says in Russian that's about as clear as any of his English, and he beams when Geno ruffles his hair as reward.

"Are you teaching him to speak Russian?" Sidney asks from the door, and Geno twists around to wave at him.

"Good language, language for smart people," Geno says wisely, and Sidney rolls his eyes before coming to crouch down next to Geno.

"Yeah, whatever," he says.

"What is the news?" Geno asks after a moment.

"Erin is landing in Philadelphia on Sunday, and she's going to take care of some stuff at her house before she drives out here," Sidney says in a tense, quiet voice. Geno rests his hand on Sidney's back, and Sidney lets out a shuddery breath. "I don't want this to happen."

Mason chooses that moment to look up and see Sidney. "Dada!" he cries, pushing himself to his feet.

"Papa," Geno puts in, and Sidney lets out an involuntary-sounding snort of laughter. "Call him Papa. Like a good Russian."

Mason frowns and wavers unsteadily on his feet. "Papa?" he asks, looking between Geno and Sidney.

"Papa," Geno says, nodding.

"G papa?" Mason suggests, and Geno is about to say no, that's Sidney, but Sidney nods suddenly, expression going mulish.

"Yes, G is Papa," he says. "Dada, Papa." He points between the two of them.

Mason squints at them suspiciously. After a moment, he nods and says, "Dada, Papa," before running and flinging himself into Sidney's arms. Sidney laughs and stands, tickling Mason's sides.

Geno doesn't move, though, his breath caught in his throat. It's only the sound of Mason's voice saying, "Papa G?" that makes him look up, his eyes damp and burning.

"Yes?" he asks. His voice comes out as a croak, and he clears his throat, shakes his head, and tries again. "Yes, Mason?"

"Papa play?" Mason suggests. He points at the hockey stick and puck.

"Come on, Geno," Sidney says, grinning down at him. "You can play goalie."

"Okay," Geno says, getting to his feet. "Let's play."

He keeps thinking about it later, though, the way Mason's bright voice said Papa, and he has to ask Sidney about it later. "Call me Papa – not too fast? You think he is ready for that?"

Sidney stops washing the dish in his hand and stares at Geno. "What?"

"I live here only two month," Geno points out. "You only know I love you for three. I know you say you not worry, but –"

"Yes," Sidney says when Geno trails off. "What is it?"

Geno sighs, feeling dumb. "Not too soon for Mason?"

"I don't know." Sidney hands the plate in his hands to Geno to dry and leans against the sink. "The first time I held Mason in my arms, I knew that it was meant to be. I know that sounds stupid," he adds, scowling at Geno, "but I've learned to trust my instincts. Sometimes, things just feel right." He looks down at his hands. "Loving you isn't hard, Geno. And I trust you. You're a good father to Mason. You bathe him, you care for him when he's sick, you spoil him but don't let him get away with anything. Can you name one other person, besides Simone, who's around as much as you are?"

Geno thinks about this for a few moments as he wipes the plate down with a dishtowel. Then he carefully sets the plate on the dish drain and leans over to kiss Sidney lightly. "Okay," he says when he pulls back.

Sidney arches his eyebrows. "Okay? Just okay?"

"Yes, just okay." Geno snaps his fingers impatiently. "Wash next dish, Sid."

Sidney snorts and says," Okay," before picking up the next plate and turning the sink back on.

The next few days while they wait for Erin to arrive are quiet and tense. Mason seems to pick up on their mood and throws more temper tantrums than usual, over anything and everything, from his food to his clothes to his toys. Things are made worse by a loss at home to the Rangers, leaving a sour taste in all of their mouths. By the fourth day, both of them are worn thin and exhausted, and when they show up to practice, Dan takes one look at them and tells them to take a maintenance day.

"Coach," protests Sidney, and Dan crosses his arms. "We have playoffs soon."

"That's exactly why I don't want you running yourself ragged," Dan says sternly. "I know Geno has been helping you out with Mason, but sometimes you just need a break. Both of you go home, sleep. You can come back after you've had at least five more hours."

Sidney opens his mouth to complain more and yawns widely instead, his jaw cracking loudly. Geno doesn't even have the energy to tease him for it, just leans heavily against his stall and nods. "I take him home."

"Good." Dan gives them a look that has Geno suspecting that Mario may have clued him into the more intimate details of their living arrangement. "Make sure you sleep, Sidney. You're no good to us exhausted. I remember what it's like to have a toddler, and I had a wife who could take the brunt of it when I had games. You don't. Take the morning."

Geno nods and grabs Sidney's arm to tow him out of the dressing room before he can complain more. Sidney had volunteered to take care of Mason's crying jag that night, and when he had finally come back to bed, he had been red-eyed too, miserable that he didn't know how to help Mason. Both of them had spent the night restless, and Geno had dipped in and out of sleep, waking to the sound of Sidney shifting in bed or getting up to pace.

They arrive home and find Simone playing with Mason in the living room. She frowns at them and Geno holds out his hand, looking at Sidney. "Stay," he says. "Take Mason to the park, maybe?"

"Sure," she says, pushing herself to her knees. "What's going on?"

"Coach sent us home," Geno says. "Tell us to rest."

"Yeah, he hasn't been giving you an easy time of it, has he?" Simone tickles Mason's neck gently before picking him up. Mason is very quiet, his eyes downcast, and Geno reaches out to smooth the unruly, feathery curls. "Go. I'll take him out. Maybe it will help improve his mood, eh?"

She goes to get Mason's coat and hat while Geno pushes Sidney up the stairs to the bedroom. Sidney has given up protesting altogether, his head nodding with every other step. He falls forward onto the bed without even taking off his shoes, and even though Sidney doesn't care now, Geno knows he will later, so he unlaces Sidney's sneakers and takes them off for him before shrugging off his own sweatshirt and lying down beside him. Sidney is already mostly asleep, mouth open slightly. He presses in close when Geno settles next to him, and the wrinkles in his forehead smooth out.

They sleep for nearly five hours, Sidney a little longer than Geno, and by the time, Geno wakes in the early afternoon, he is feeling a thousand times better. There's still that part of him waiting for the other shoe to drop, but until it happens there's no point in worrying. Sidney seems happier when he wakes up, too, and Geno gives him a fond kiss before going downstairs to investigate what they can eat for lunch.

Their last game of the season is an away game against the Leafs, and it's harder than usual to drag themselves out of the house to get to the airplane. Sidney hugs Mason tightly, face turned in. After a moment, Geno wraps his arms around both of them and breathes in the combined smell of Sidney with his soap and aftershave, and the sweet baby powder smell of Mason's skin.

"We'll be back soon," Sidney whispers to Mason, voice catching a little. "I promise."

Mason nods and lets them hand him off to Simone. Sidney looks back three times before they reach the end of the walk, and when Geno chances a look back of his own, he sees Mason waving sadly. Geno swallows hard and takes Sidney's elbow.

"Not gone long," he says softly. "Back soon."

"It feels different this time," Sidney replies, and Geno has nothing to say, because Sidney's right. This could be the last time they do this. He wishes he could kiss Sidney, soothe the worried lines from his face; instead, he just squeezes Sidney's arm.

They sit apart on the plane, as usual, and Geno distracts himself by talking to Paul and James and playing cards. Sidney, meanwhile, curls up in the seat next to Flower and doesn't talk for the entire plane ride. James elbows Geno about halfway through and asks in a low voice, "Everything okay?" He jerks his head towards Sidney.

Geno shrugs. "Bad time," he says, but doesn't elaborate. James nods, though he still looks curious. Geno doesn't want to go into it, so he takes the opportunity to lay down his cards and say, "Gin."

Sidney is on the phone as soon as they land, expression dark. Geno walks closely behind him to keep anyone from bothering him and listens to him talk to Simone. When Sidney hangs up, he lets his hand bump against Sidney's comfortingly before falling back a few steps to walk with James.

Their game against the Leafs starts out promisingly, with good momentum and solid play. Then a bad turnover from TK leads to a Leafs goal and things start to go downhill. Geno takes a stupid penalty that he should know better than to do, and he fumes in the box for his allotted two minutes, reminding himself that it doesn't help the team when he gets in trouble with the refs.

The first intermission is quiet as Dan talks to them, disappointment clear in his voice as he looks over the edge of his glasses at them. TK looks miserable, slumped back against his stall, and even Beau seems to be having trouble looking happy.

Sidney gets up after a moment, mouth set in a tense line. They all look up and wait; Sidney isn't the type to give speeches often, but when he does, it's always valuable. Sidney looks out over them, arms crossed.

"We've had a hell of a season," he says after a moment. "And we're guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. We could probably take it easy for this game, go into the playoffs well-rested. But we're better than that. And you know it." He gives a short nod before dropping back into his seat.

Voky shifts in his seat and says, "Get your heads in the fucking game," and somehow, that breaks the tension. James throws a sock at TK, and Beau chuckles as he relaces his skates, and they head out into the second with more lightness than the 2-0 score should deserve.

And it works, somehow – Sidney feeds Duper a gorgeous pass five minutes into the second, Geno scoring two minutes later, and when he bumps his glove against Sidney's as he skates by the bench, Geno feels lighter on his skates than he has in days.

Beau clinches the win for them with a goal in the third period, grinning wide when Sidney hugs him in celebration, and they end with a 4-2 score with an empty-netter from Tanger to put the ribbon on the game.

Geno can't help the exuberant hug he gives Sidney once they're down the tunnel and in the dressing room, and he gives Voky one for good measure too before heading off to shower and change. When he returns, the press have mostly left except for one or two getting one last quote for the articles covering the end of the regular season. Geno makes a face at Sidney over a reporter's shoulder and grins when Sidney has to duck his head to hide an answering smile.

They head back to the hotel, and Geno sneaks into Sidney's room once he's relatively sure everyone else has settled in for the night. Sidney smiles at him when he opens the door, though it's vague and distant.

"Only two more days," he says, subdued. Geno sighs and rubs his back. Sidney turns his face into Geno's shoulder and sighs heavily.

"Come," Geno says after a moment. "Sleep."

Geno wakes before Sidney, which is rare enough that he takes a moment to savor the way Sidney looks in sleep, his features softened and his currently ever-present worry lines gone. It's moments like these that Geno loves the most, when it's quiet and the world seems like it has narrowed down to just them. He wishes that Mason were with them so he could hug him good morning and pretend that their tiny family isn't about to come to an end.

He slips out of bed as stealthily as he can – he is of the opinion that Sidney needs as much rest as he can get right now – and leaves to return to his own room. He's closing the door to Sidney's room when he hears, "Geno?"

He freezes and swears to himself, because he should have known better, he should have checked the hall before he went outside. He turns to wave awkwardly at Beau, who's standing in the hall with a puzzled expression.

"Hi," he whispers. "Good morning."

"That's Sidney's room," Beau says, still looking confused. "I saw Sidney go in there last night." Beau's eyes go wide. "Did you –"

Geno shushes him hurriedly. "Don't tell," he says fiercely. "Please."

"I won't, I swear," Beau says, holding up his hands. "Um. For what it's worth, I'm happy for you."

Geno bites the inside of his lip, then smiles. "Thank you. Sunshine."

"Ugh, I hate that nickname," Beau mutters before ducking back inside his room.

Geno stands there for a few moments longer, staring at Beau's closed door thoughtfully. If everyone takes it as well as he had – well, then Sidney and Geno have nothing to worry about.

Sidney reacts better to the news than Geno would have expected, not even choking on his coffee. "Okay," he says, setting his mug down.

Geno stares at him. "Just okay?"

"We have bigger things to worry about right now," Sidney points out. Under the table, his hand finds Geno's knee, and he squeezes. Further down the table, Beau is watching them in what he probably thinks is a subtle manner. Geno flashes them both a quick smile and applies himself to his scrambled eggs with newfound gusto.

The return home isn't as pleasant as it usually is; it's tinged with the heavy anticipation of playoffs and the heavier knowledge that Erin is back in the United States. Geno likes Erin, truly, genuinely likes her, but he wishes that she were a little more selfish, that she would be willing to walk away. They're both a little inclined to spoil Mason that night, letting him have dessert for dinner and staying up late playing with him in the living room. Mason eventually starts nodding off and Sidney has to take him to bed. They both stand at Mason's crib after he's gone to sleep, neither of them moving until Sidney breathes out, wet and nearly a sob, and Geno wraps his arms around him, pressing kisses to the top of his head.

"Will be okay, Sid," he promises. "I stay, we see Mason. Drive to Philly every week. More."

Sidney laughs, damp and miserable and horrible, and says, "It won't be enough."

"I know," Geno says, holding him tighter. "Better than nothing."

Sidney doesn't answer, just shifts so he's more secure against Geno's chest. They stand like that for a long time, staring down at Mason.

The morning comes far too soon. Mason is cranky and uncooperative, and Sidney nearly breaks down when Mason starts throwing a tantrum about his overalls. Geno does his best to calm both of them down, with limited success. He manages to get Mason dressed and downstairs while Sidney takes a moment to collect himself, and is in the process of getting him fed when the doorbell rings.

Mason bangs his spoon on his high chair and says, "Papa!"

"I know," Geno says. "Sidney!"

Sidney comes downstairs, white as a sheet. Geno gives him a tight hug, kisses him, and says, "Ready?"

"No," Sidney says. He straightens up and sets his jaw as if he's getting ready for a game. "Let's do this."

They go to the door together and open it to find Erin standing on the doorstep, looking exhausted but radiantly happy, her thick hair pulled back and her smile bright. "I know I came a little earlier than I said I would, but I couldn't wait," she says. "I hope that's okay."

Sidney's smile could charitably be described as strained. "It's fine. Mason's eating breakfast right now."

"Can I see him?" Erin asks, and Sidney lets her in. Geno exchanges a nervous look with him before they follow her into the kitchen.

"Mama!" Mason shrieks when he sees Erin, and he starts straining to get out of his high chair, pushing at the arm rests. Erin hurries to his side and sweeps him out and into her arms.

"Hi, baby," she says, soft and private, smile only growing brighter. "You're so big! You're going to be bigger than Sidney soon."

Sidney chokes out a laugh. Geno reaches out blindly for Sidney's hand and squeezes, not caring if Erin sees. Mason is babbling to Erin, something about play and Papa and Dada, and she's listening raptly, nodding every time he pauses for breath.

"Erin, you should let Mason show you his hockey skills," Sidney says suddenly, still with that horrible false smile on his face. "Okay? Show Mama your hockey."

"Hockey?" Erin asks, grinning at Mason. "Just like your dad and Geno, huh? Okay, honey, show me what you can do."

"Living room," Sidney says, jerking his head, and she flashes him a smile before heading off with Mason.

The moment she's out of the room, Sidney sags against Geno, smile vanishing as though it had never existed. "I can't do this," he says in a rush, "I can't – do you think I could get full custody if I tried? I'll fight her in court if I have to. Geno, I can't let this happen." He groans and rubs his face. "No, I can't do that to her, though, that isn't fair."

Geno shakes his head and says, "Talk first, okay? Maybe figure out way to see Mason more."

"Okay. Okay." Sidney sucks in a shuddering breath. "Okay, you're right."

Geno rubs at his shoulder helplessly. "Go watch Mason show off. Then talk."

Sidney nods, but makes no move to follow Erin. Geno waits for a minute, then gently starts pushing at Sidney until he gets moving and shuffles off into the living room.

Erin is feeding Mason the puck, cheering every time he hits it and hurriedly steadying him if he looks as though he might fall. She looks up, smiling, and says, "He's going to be a star like you, Sidney."

"Yes," Geno agrees when Sidney fails to answer. "Like Dada."

"Erin," Sidney says suddenly, "I – are you back? For good?"

Erin's expression turns serious, and she straightens up. "Yes. And we need to talk about that."

"I thought so," Sidney says, soft and utterly miserable. He gestures to the couch and they sit, Mason running over to jump into Erin's lap. "When are you taking him?"

"That's – that's what we need to talk about it." Erin looks down at Mason and strokes his hair. "I've found a job here. One that's steady and has good hours."

"Here as in the U.S.?" Sidney asks sharply.

"Here as in Pittsburgh," Erin says, and Sidney's eyes go huge. Geno grabs his knee, hope abruptly bubbling up in his chest. "I didn't want to get your hopes up before I was sure, but last time I was here, I was looking for a job in Pittsburgh. I heard back last month, and they're willing to take me as soon as I'm settled. I haven't found a house or anything –"

"You're moving to Pittsburgh?" Sidney asks, still staring at her. "Here?"

"Yes." Erin smiles tentatively. "To be closer to you. And Geno."

Sidney's mouth works soundlessly for a moment. Then he chokes out, "Erin, you don't have to do that."

"Yes, I do," she says, in a tone that brooks no argument. "Taking Mason away would kill you. You think I don't know that?" She reaches out with the hand not holding Mason and squeezes Sidney's fingers. "You can't move. I can."

"But you love Philadelphia," Sidney says blankly. "And you have full custody."

"We can change that," she says dismissively. "We'll split it, fifty-fifty. I'm looking for a house near you so it's easy for him to go back and forth when you're traveling. He'll be old enough for preschool soon, too, so he'll have somewhere to go during the day."

Sidney sits back, looking thunderstruck, and Geno wraps his arm around Sidney's shoulders before leaning past him to says, "You think about this much?"

"I spent a long time thinking about it," Erin admits. "Since I got called back to Swaziland." She looks down at Mason in her lap, red curls falling from behind her ear. "I thought about how hard it was to leave Mason. I nearly didn't go, you know. Sidney talked me into it because he knew I would regret not going. But I would give it up in an instant for Mason. And more importantly, I can." She turns her head to meet Geno's gaze straight on. "Mason deserves to have both parents."

For a moment, no one says anything. Mason is watching them all with wide eyes, and Geno wonders how much he can understand. Erin drops her gaze from Geno's after a moment and fiddles with a loose lock of her hair.

Finally, Sidney rasps out, "I don't want you to give up what you love."

"What I love is Mason and helping people." She smiles. "I can help people here. The job I found isn't a step down, Sidney. And if I can be around for Mason – if we can both be around for Mason – then it's worth it. No question."

For a moment, Sidney doesn't move, doesn't even seem to breathe – then he grabs Erin in a fierce hug, saying, "Thank you," in a relieved brush of breath before turning to Geno and kissing him soundly on the mouth. Erin lets out a choked laugh, and Geno feels himself turning red as Sidney pulls back, eyes bright and looking better than he has in days, weeks.

"I know you still won't be seeing him every day," Erin says, "but this is the best arrangement I could think of for both of us. It's all right?"

"We'll make it work," Sidney says, nodding, "won't we, Geno?"

"Yes," Geno says, and he lets himself smile at them. Mason lets out a happy shout and starts clapping his hands. Erin laughs and passes him off to Sidney, who hugs him tight before letting Mason climb into Geno's lap.

"Play," Mason says firmly, tugging at Geno's shirt and pointing at the hockey goal. "Papa?"

"Yes, okay," Geno says, and he gets down on his knees to play goalie while Mason, Erin, and Sidney gang up on him.

Erin stays in Sidney's guest bedroom while she looks for a house, which results in an extremely awkward conversation between her and Geno while Sidney is giving Mason a bath. Geno isn't expecting it at all; he's drinking some herbal tea, getting ready for bed and early morning practice while Erin eats an apple, and then Erin says, "I'm really happy for you and Sidney."

Geno yelps and slops hot tea down his hand. He swears under his breath and hurries to the sink to run his hand under the cold water while Erin apologizes profusely."It is okay," he assures her, drying his hand and picking his mug up again. "Startle me, is all."

"I didn't mean to." She fidgets with the end of her braid. "I just wanted to tell you that I'm glad you and Sidney are happy together."

"Can tell we are happy?" Geno asks, genuinely curious. "How?"

Erin smiles. "Something about the way he is around you. He forgets to be on his guard. I don't think he ever kissed me in front of another person when we were dating. It isn't that I don't think he cared about me, I know he did, but –" She shakes her head. "My brother thinks I'm an idiot for not agreeing to marry Sidney."

"Me too," Geno says frankly. "But glad you are idiot, then."

Erin laughs, head thrown back. "I bet you are."

"Why say no?" Geno sips at his tea. "Good life."

"Maybe," she agrees. "But I don't think it would have been good for either of us. I'm not meant to be Sidney Crosby's wife, and he needs someone who he can let himself go with. I think if we had gotten married, we would have woken up one day and realized that we got married because of Mason, and that isn't a good enough reason."

Geno doesn't know if she's right – he's absolutely sure Sidney would have devoted himself to her fully if they had gotten married – but he's sure she knows herself, and they both deserve more than what Erin is describing. "And you are happy?"

"Yes," Erin says simply. "And I'm happy that Mason has you, too," she adds as she turns to go. "You've done a good job raising our son."

She disappears upstairs, leaving Geno standing in the kitchen with a mug full of cooling tea.

He's still standing there two minutes later when Sidney comes down and says, "There you are! Mason wants you to sing to him." He stops and frowns when he sees Geno's expression. "Something wrong?"

Geno hurriedly gulps down his tea and shakes his head. "Just thinking." He leans into kiss Sidney and smiles at him. "Happy."

"I'm happy too," Sidney says softly. He smiles back, and Geno loves that smile more than anything, loves when he sees it reflected on Mason's face. "Now come on, he won't go to sleep without it."

"Spoiled," Geno huffs, grinning, and Sidney says, "Your fault if he is," before tugging up the stairs.

The playoffs run them all ragged and by the time the Pens are out, Geno is secretly, guiltily grateful that Erin had found a house for her and Mason before the schedule had them flying all over the country. Every moment of rest is sacred, and they barely have time for themselves, let alone for Mason. But when they return home from losing the conference semi-finals, the first thing they do upon returning home is drive to Erin's new house, a ten minute ride from Sidney's, and pick up Mason for the rest of the week.

"Have fun with Daddy and Papa," Erin says to Mason, kissing the top of his head and settling his favorite stuffed penguin in his arms. Mason blinks sleepily at them before deciding they're not worth his time and going back to sleep.

"Are you coming to the barbecue tomorrow?" Sidney asks Erin. "I know Véro, at least, wanted to meet you."

"I'd love to come." She squeezes his shoulder. "I'm sorry you didn't win, Sidney."

"We'll have it next year," Sidney says, sure, and Geno can feel it too, the surety that they'll win again, that they'll be able to give Mason the cup.

"I know you will," Erin says. "I'll see you tomorrow." She gives both of them quick hugs, murmurs, "Sorry," again before waving them off.

"So we tell the team tomorrow," Sidney says when they have Mason settled in his room, having barely stirred from car to crib. "Before everyone leaves."

"Barbecue at Dan's," Geno nods. "Think that best?"

"It's time." Sidney sighs and leans into Geno, tired and battered from their last game. "And you should move in."

Geno laughs. "Okay."

"I'm serious." Sidney looks up at him. "When was the last time you were home?"

Geno has to stop and actually think about it. Sidney points at him and says, "Aha," and Geno bats his finger away, laughing.

"Shh," he says, "Mason sleeping," and Sidney says, "You shh," and it ends with Sidney pressed up against the wall outside Mason's room, his eyes bright and happy despite the loss.

"Love you," Sidney says before Geno kisses him.

Geno smiles and kisses the hinge of Sidney's jaw. "I know. Me too."

Geno takes Sidney to bed and kisses each bruise, each mark from the three series that had dragged out, wearing everyone down to the point of utter exhaustion. Sidney returns the favor, fingers lingering over the scar on Geno's knee before he trails his fingers higher up. Geno sighs and pulls Sidney close to him, finally fulfilling the long-denied need to touch his fill without anything immediate to worry them.

In the morning, Mason wakes them by calling loudly for them, and even though it's obscenely early, Geno has never been happier to wake up, a grumpy Sidney at his side and a noisy toddler demanding his breakfast. He sings along to the radio, getting the words wrong and making Sidney laugh, and dances with Mason around the kitchen.

"You're ridiculous," Sidney says fondly, kissing his cheek. Geno grins at him and strikes a disco pose, Mason propped on one hip.

They head over to Dan's a little after noon, picking Erin up on the way, and arrive just as James and Paul pull up. Geno waves at James cheerfully and laughs when James sees Erin, his eyes going wide and jaw dropping.

"Oh my god, is that her?" James asks when he pulls even with them. "No offense, Geno, but I definitely would choose her over you."

"Yes, I know. You like red hair," Geno says serenely, and goes to help Sidney and Erin get Mason out from his car seat before James can work out his meaning.

Despite their finish, the party is surprisingly upbeat, people laughing and kids running around. Mason toddles after Duper's son, shouting incoherently, and Geno keeps one eye on him while he talks to Véro, who is still getting used to letting other people hold her daughter. Flower is proudly showing her off though, saying, "She looks just like Véro, eh?"

"Lucky her," Geno remarks, and Véro laughs.

Erin ends up talking to Véro and Duper's wife, gesturing as she speaks. James keeps looking at her, clearly trying to be subtle and utterly failing.

"I'm just saying," he says when Geno pokes him. "She's a very striking woman."

"And too good for you," Geno says. Mason chooses that moment to come running back over, a flower clutched in his hand, and he shouts, "Papa!"

"Oh, very pretty," Geno says, reaching down to hoist Mason up onto the bench between him and James. He catches James's expression and glares at him.

"I didn't say anything," James protests, raising his hands.

"What do you think?" Geno asks Mason. "What do you think of Uncle James?"

Mason thinks for a moment, then holds the flower out to James. James looks baffled, but takes it and says, "Thank you."

Mason beams and hops off the bench. As he goes tearing off to wreak destruction somewhere else, James says, "I guess things are pretty serious, eh?"

"Yes." Geno shifts so he can have a better view of the whole yard. "Today, we tell people about us."

James chokes on his beer. "Wow," he says once he's finished coughing. "That's big. That's huge."

Geno swallows down his nervousness and affects a happy smile. "Yes."

"Wow, man." James shakes his head. "That's crazy. I mean, I'm happy for you, but that's crazy."

"One day, you find it too," Geno says, purposefully misunderstanding him. "Excuse me."

He heads across the yard to where Sidney is talking to Brooks and Kuni and casually bumps hips against his. Sidney turns, smile bright, and says, "There you are." Then, he very deliberately links his hand with Geno's.

Chris makes a weird noise, but Brooks just nods thoughtfully and says, "I was wondering when you were going to tell us." When Geno and Sidney stare at him, he raises his eyebrows. "Did you think you were being subtle?"

"Hope," Geno admits.

"You guys come to practice together every day," Brooks says. "And you – this is going to sound fucking stupid, but you light up around each other." He frowns at Chris. "Did you not know?"

Sidney looks mildly mortified, his cheeks flushing pink, as Chris says, "I wasn't sure, but I thought something was going on."

"Are you planning on telling everyone today?" Brooks asks.

"Well, apparently everyone already knows," Sidney says snarkily, and Geno has to laugh at Sidney's annoyed expression.

"It'll still mean a lot if you tell everyone yourself," Brooks points out, and Sidney nods. "I'll figure out a way to get everyone's attention for you."

"Thanks," Sidney says, and Geno echoes him. As Brooks and Kuni move off, Sidney turns to look at Geno, clearly exasperated. "Can you believe that?"

"Make it easy," Geno says, shrugging. Sidney scowls at him, and Geno pecks him on the mouth before tugging back towards the rest of the gathering. "Come on. Think burgers are ready."

Sidney and Geno grab two burgers apiece and sit with Erin and Mason on a square of blanket near the Fleurys and the Letangs. Alex keeps trying to crawl away, and Kris keeps having to lunge for him before he can get too far. Mason looks vaguely disdainful and is almost dainty as he eats his potato salad and little bits of cut-up hot dog.

"Your team is nice," Erin tells them after she finishes eating. She leans back and tilts her face up to the sky. "Thank you for inviting me."

"You're family," Geno says, since Sidney's mouth is full, and she shoots him a pleased look.

Mason falls asleep not long after he finishes eating, sprawled half on Erin's lap and half on Geno's. Geno shifts a little so his shadow gives Mason a little shade from the sun and tries to remember the SPF of the sunscreen they had put on him. He hopes it's strong enough.

Dan stands up, dusting grass off his trousers, and waits for them to fall silent. "I want to tell you guys," he says when he has their attention, "that we played a good season. We got to the conference finals and we won our division. That's not too shabby, so don't beat yourselves up too much."

Sidney shifts restlessly, and Geno reflexively reaches over to calm him. Dan's gaze flicks over to them for an instant, and then he continues, "You fought hard and you played well. We'll get 'em next year."

James whoops loudly and Geno joins in, and soon everyone is clapping and cheering. Dan smiles at them all and sits back down. Geno glances over at Sidney, who looks nervous suddenly, and then sees Brooks standing up, tall and serious.

"I want to thank you all for a good year," he says. "We've all worked through a lot this year and I think we've come out better and stronger for it. And I want to say congratulations to everyone – Flower and Tanger, two new French babies –" Flower laughs and says something in French that has Duper and Tanger shaking their heads. "– and of course, to Sidney."

People look around towards them, and Sidney goes pink again, but leans into Geno, smiling hugely. Geno can't help his own answering grin, idiotic and wide and painful.

"Thanks," Sidney says, pitching his voice to carry. "And, um, Geno and I have something to announce." He glances over at Geno hesitantly, and then plunges in. "He's moving in with me."

Geno rolls his eyes and corrects him. "We live together."

"They're dating," Erin adds helpfully, and Véro starts laughing, doubling over onto Flower's shoulder, and Sidney lets out a honk of a giggle before ducking his face away.

"Yes," Geno says. "We are." Sidney looks up, and they smile dopily at each other.

"Kiss!" James hollers, and Geno flips him off before kissing the corner of Sidney's mouth lightly, chastely. Someone – Flower, Geno thinks – wolf-whistles.

Sidney's blushing when Geno pulls back, even though everyone is shouting congratulations, and Geno asks, "Okay?"

"Yeah," Sidney says. He smiles shyly. "I'm great."

People start heading out around four, kids drooping tiredly in their parents' arms. Geno holds a drowsing Mason while Sidney and Erin help the Bylsmas clean up the yard, and says goodbye to the last few stragglers. Dan shoos them out eventually, assuring them that they'll be fine.

"Go home, rest. You've earned it." He shakes Erin's hand. "It was nice meeting you, Erin. I hope to see you again."

They say their goodbye and leave to drop Erin off at home. She gives each of them a kiss on the cheek before she goes inside, and she waves as they drive away.

"That all went better than I expected," Sidney says as they take Mason upstairs. Exhaustion has settled in for both of them, and Geno is struggling to keep his eyes open.

"Think people would be angry?" Geno asks, raising his eyebrows.

"I don't know," Sidney admits. "I didn't know what to expect."

"I think they glad you are happy," Geno says. He settles Mason in his crib and turns to look Sidney in the eye. "They are good friends."

"Yes," Sidney agrees. "We're lucky."

"Very lucky." Geno kisses Sidney and then yawns.

Sidney laughs at him. "Must be bedtime, eh?"

Geno pouts at him and lets Sidney tow him down the hall towards the bedroom. "Long day, Sid."

"I'll let you sleep in tomorrow," Sidney promises.

They curl up in bed together, foreheads together and hands clasped between them. In the thin moonlight, Geno can just see the gleam of Sidney's eyes, the silvery curve of his cheek.

"Thank you," Geno whispers, squeezing Sidney's hand.

"For what?" Sidney asks sleepily.

Geno kisses him instead of answering, and Sidney is smiling when he pulls back.

"Thank you," Sidney says, a little teasing, but it's sincere and warm, and Geno falls asleep to the feeling of Sidney's breath against his face and the clasp of their hands.

Sidney and Geno arrive at the rink at precisely eleven a.m. Erin is waiting outside, Mason at her side in a Malkin jersey and a grey cap, and he takes off running when he sees them. Geno drops to his knees in time for Mason to launch himself into his arms, yelling, "Papa!"

"Oof," Geno complains, standing up. "Legs not work?"

Sidney kisses Mason's head and says, "Hey, buddy. Happy birthday."

"Yes, happy birthday," Geno says. "Ready for your party?" Mason nods. "Okay, then you walk like big boy."

Mason grumbles under his breath, but when Geno lets him down, he doesn't immediately turn to Sidney with his arms raised, as he sometimes does. Instead, he takes Sidney and Geno's hands and walks with them towards the rink. Erin is watching them with a fond smile, and as they draw even with her, she reaches out to link her arm through Geno's.

"He's excited to learn how to skate," she says, smiling. "Like Daddy and Papa."

"Skate skate," Mason says happily, trying to swing on their arms. Geno pulls him upright. "Daddy."

"Walk, Mason," Sidney says firmly. "You have to walk before you can skate."

Erin and Geno snort in unison and exchange looks. Sidney scowls at them, but then they're inside the rink, and Mason is practically skipping in excitement. In the dressing room, Duper and Carol-Lyne are carefully lacing their kids into their skates, and they wave when Mason comes in, calling, "Happy birthday!"

Mason preens, beaming, and lets go of Sidney and Geno's hands to go babble at Lola. Sidney rolls his eyes and goes to get the box with Mason's skates that they had stashed at the rink a few weeks before.

The look on Mason's face when he sees the tiny skates (Geno can't believe how tiny) is one Geno will treasure for the rest of his life, joy and amazement and awe all mixed together as he reached forward. Geno carefully moves Mason's hand away from the blade and says, "Careful. Sharp."

"You ready?" Sidney asks, crouching down and smiling. "I promise you'll be a better skater than your mom."

"Hey," says Erin from the bench where she's lacing up a pair of borrowed skates.

Mason holds out his foot for the first skate, and Geno helps Sidney put it on. Mason gets a little helmet too, and as much padding as he'll let them put on him, and then Geno and Sidney help him walk to the ice to the raucous applause of the birthday party guests.

"Are you ready?" Sidney asks Mason.

Mason looks out at the ice – empty still, the guests having deferred to the birthday boy – scrunches up his nose thoughtfully, and then says, "Yes!"

"Okay." Sidney steps onto the ice and carefully guides Mason onto the ice. Mason wobbles a little, and Geno hurries onto the ice after them to be there in case Mason falls.

Erin joins them a minute later, her skating more practical than flashy, and she skates alongside Mason as he wobbles around the ice. Mason is giggling, delighted, and beams up at her as she approaches.

"He is so your son," Erin sighs, smiling at them.

"Yes," Geno says fondly.

Slowly, the other families start to step onto the ice. The Dupuis children follow their parents like ducklings, the younger children wobblier than the older. Cookie's kids race around the ice, their mother half-heartedly shouting at them to slow down. James skates up after a few minutes and grins at them.

"So are all of his birthday parties going to be at the rink?" he asks Sidney.

"Only if he wants them to be," Sidney says, narrowing his eyes at him.

"So yes," James says. He crouches down to Mason's level and narrows his eyes at Mason. "Is your Daddy making you do this? Blink once for yes, twice for no."

Mason lets go of Sidney and glides awkwardly towards James before falling over onto him. James falls back, feigning injury, and cries, "Illegal hit! Ref, did you see that?"

Mason giggles, says, "Uncle J silly," before trying to climb on top of him.

"Whoa there," Geno says, lunging forward to grab him before James gets cut by one of Mason's skates. "Careful, Mason."

Mason lasts a whole half hour on the ice before he gets tired, and Erin takes him off along with most of the other wives and kids. Someone pulls out a puck and kicks it over to Sidney, who shakes his head until Geno says, "Oh, come on," and then they are all scrambling off the ice to grab helmets and sticks.

Like all pick-up games, it's a mess, but it's still fun and Geno can see Mason cheering with Erin every time he glances up towards them. Even though Sidney's team wins, he's pleased. He grabs Sidney around the shoulders and says, "Time for cake and presents," and Sidney makes a face, but nods.

The giant pile of gifts is a little intimidating; Geno's parents had sent four along with the promise of bringing more when they arrive in Pittsburgh for Christmas. "He's my first grandchild," Geno's mother had said tartly when he had tried to insist that they didn't have to. "And you didn't tell me about him for months, Zhenya. Months."

Geno has to admit she has a point.

Mason successfully blows out the two candles on his cake and manages to smear chocolate icing all over his face and hands and hair before Erin grabs him and wipes him off with the baby wipes all three of them have taken to carrying around.

Mason is much more excited and aware that he's the center of attention than he had been at his first birthday, and he grins and giggles as he tears into gift after gift, shouting in excitement at the toys, the books, the hockey equipment. Nathalie laughs when Mason gets bored halfway through and runs off with Lola to play with his new toys, and pushes the Lemieuxs' gift towards them.

"He wouldn't have been that excited by this anyway," she remarks dryly, and Geno leans over Sidney's shoulder as he pulls out a very expensive-looking bottle of wine. "Two years old. You're going to need it. Got a bottle of amaretto for Erin."

"A very nice one, too," Erin says, lifting it as proof. "Thank you."

"Let us know if you ever need babysitting," Nathalie says,

One of the last gifts they open is the one from James, and Geno starts laughing the moment he sees the cover of the book, even as Sidney scowls and says, "Are you serious?"

"It's about the gay penguins in Central Park!" James says defensively. "I thought it would be nice for him to have once he's old enough to read."

"Very nice gift," Geno says, squeezing Sidney's hip. "Thank you."

"Aww, that's so cute," Erin remarks, leaning over to get a look at the book, and James flushes, shuffling his feet.

Mason insists on skating one last time before they go home, even though nearly all the guests have left,. Geno is the one to take him around the rink this time, Sidney skating in their wake while Erin and the Lemieuxs watch from the bench. Mason tries to skate on his own a couple of times, falls on his elbows twice, but bounces right back up and says, "Again!"

He does tire eventually, and wraps his arms around Geno's leg, which makes it kind of hard to skate but Geno manages. Sidney is laughing as Geno tows Mason along, using his free leg to push them towards the edge of the rink, and he catches up with them quickly, saying, "Are you being mean to your papa?" to Mason.

"No," Mason says, shaking his head.

Geno chuckles and ruffles his hair, coming in thick as Sidney's now. Mason grins up at him, and goes easily when Geno pries him off, lifting him up over the edge of the ice.

Sidney and Geno talk to Mario and Nathalie while Erin says goodbye to Mason for the night, giving him a kiss before gathering up about half the gifts to take back to her house for Mason's room. She pulls out the penguin book, though, and sets it back down, shooting them a smile before she heads out.

"We'll help you carry this stuff out," Mario says after surveying the remaining massive pile of gifts.

"Thank you," Sidney says, relieved.

They arrive back at home and immediately make a mess as they dump all the gifts on the kitchen table before taking Mason upstairs. Geno doubles back once he thinks of it and snags the book from James.

Sidney groans when he sees it. "Really?" he asks.

"New story," Geno says. "And it's sweet."

They sit on their bed, Mason between them with the book spread over their laps, and they take turns reading, Sidney going slow to match Geno's pace. By the end of the book, Sidney's voice has softened considerably, and when they finish, Sidney leans over to kiss Geno, warm and fond.

"Okay, it's a good book," he says. Mason wiggles between them, beaming brightly, and Geno squeezes the back of Sidney's neck before lifting Mason up into his arms.

"Our little penguin," he says fondly, rubbing his nose against Mason's. Mason shrieks and flails, giggling, saying, "Papa!"

"Yeah," Sidney agrees, cheek dimpling. He kisses the back of Mason's head and sighs. "I can't believe he's two."

"Time travel quick," Geno agrees. They exchange looks, and then Sidney leans around to look Mason in the face.

"Want to sleep with Daddy and Papa tonight?" he asks, and Mason claps his hands, nodding.

Mason shifts around nonstop for about ten minutes, elbowing Geno in the face and kicking Sidney in the chest a couple of times before finally settling down. Geno curls in around him, hand resting on the curve of Sidney's hip, and Sidney smiles at him, already looking sleepy.

"Happy birthday, Mason," Geno says softly, and Sidney echoes him, and Mason looks magnificently smug for a whole two minutes before he falls asleep, breathing out tiny baby snores. Geno smiles, closes his eyes, and goes to sleep too.