“In the history of the world, no one has done a thing that was not done for love. You must only train yourself to see it—the canny emerald strand that connects a soul to its desire and all the kinks and snarls in it, that might seem as though they tend towards wealth or power, but mean only love me, love me back, love me despite everything.”
- Cat Valente, The Habitation of the Blessed
The first time Sid meets Geno, he isn’t Geno, he’s Evgeni Malkin, and he’s the enemy. Sid is so pumped up for the game he barely notices him. He doesn’t notice anything except hockey, and Malkin’s good, but that’s all he is.
He feels a tinge of sadness when Canada wins, but he guesses he just feels bad. Ovechkin’s not the only one crying, and Sid isn’t so unfeeling he doesn’t have some sympathy for how it must suck to lose. He also gets a headache when he flies back home, but he’s just really overtired is all.
He doesn’t think anything of it.
- - -
When he shakes Malkin’s hand he definitely feels something, an electric frisson, a sort of understanding, like, yeah, Sid’s the kind of guy who would fly halfway around the world just to play hockey too. He thinks Malkin might feel that same sense of kinship because he smiles, and his smile is almost as goofy as Sid’s laugh. It transforms his face from dour and hound dog-like to childish and gleeful, and something about it makes Sid’s heart give a happy little leap. I like this guy, he thinks, and he could swear Malkin is thinking the same thing.
- - -
Gonch seems slightly confused by how easily Sid and Geno click. If he were anyone else, Sid might even say it worried him, but Gonch doesn’t do worried. Instead he’s watchful when Sid hands a pudding cup to Geno on the plane (like Geno’s staring hadn’t made it obvious he wanted one) or diagrams plays in a way Geno can understand. He doesn’t think it’s weird until Therrien corners him one day after practice and says, “you diagram plays for Geno,” like it’s news.
“Yes?” Sid asks, because Geno had been confused by the odd-man rushes, so of course he’d explained. Geno understands more English than he lets on, so long as it’s spoken slowly and lots of hand gestures are used. Everyone else treats him like he’s dumb, Sid thinks.
“Geno said something odd when I asked him why,” Therrien goes on, “he says when you explain, he can picture what to do.”
“Maybe I’m good at explaining?” Sid tries weakly. He doesn’t know how Geno’s brain works. He feels distinctly now like he’s been brought to the principal’s office and gotten in trouble for doing his job well.
Therrien shakes his head. “I made an appointment for you and Geno,” he says. “As soon as you get dressed, I want you to go to UPMC.” He hands over a card to Sid that Sid takes gingerly. Dr. Jenna Whitley M.D., Bond Specialist it reads, and then lists an office number. “Geno will meet you there.”
“A Bond Specialist?” Sid asks incredulously. “No, I’d know if I was bonded to Geno, wouldn’t I?”
“You want to take that chance? Because I don’t. It’s not a request, Sid.”
So Sid showers as quickly as he can and drives to UPMC. Geno’s in the waiting room when he gets there, sitting next to Gonch and looking bored while Gonch flips through a National Geographic. He starts a little when Sid walks in and waves, but before Sid can wave back, a small black woman opens the door.
“Sidney? Evgeni?” She asks, glancing down at her clipboard. “I’m Dr. Whitley. If you could follow me?”
Dr. Whitley separates Sid from Gonch and Geno, putting him in what looks like a bland doctor’s office, but there’s no equipment, just a bed and a small desk. The first few minutes she spends with Gonch and Geno, and then comes into Sid’s room and smiles an apology.
“I just had to explain to Sergei and Ev- sorry, Geno - what was going to happen,” she says, sitting down at the desk. “Now I’d like to hear from you. Geno says he’s experienced no bond symptoms since coming to America.”
“We met before that,” Sid says. “At Worlds, in Juniors. I didn’t feel anything then, either.”
Dr. Whitley makes a humming noise and jots something down before she gets up and dims the lights.
“Alright, Sidney,” she says in a gentle voice, “I want you to close your eyes and concentrate. Can you tell me what Geno is thinking about right now?”
“Hockey?” Sid guesses after a few moments, and she gives him an unimpressed look when he cracks one eye open.
“Take a deep breath,” she instructs. “And pay attention to Geno, as if he were in the room talking to you.”
Sid closes his eyes and tries, but all he can think is this is stupid, until he realizes that the thought doesn’t feel like his own, and also he’s... hungry? But he just ate in the car on the way over, and he’s not much of a fan of apples, so why does he want one so badly?
“He doesn’t understand what’s going on,” Sid says. His voice sounds distant, dreamy. “He thinks this is dumb. He wants an apple. Oh, he, he can feel me.” And that’s cool, especially since it makes Geno so happy. He immediately starts thinking a million things at Sid in Russian, and Sid doesn’t understand the words, but he understands the blooming green and gold excitement, like leaves unfurling in the sun.
“Sid?” Dr. Whitley says. “You’re smiling.”
“This is so cool,” Sid breathes. “He’s down the hall but he’s right here, he’s telling me everything -” Knew you special, Sid! Geno thinks. Knew you understand.
The next thing Dr. Whitley does is bring Geno in the room with Sid to discuss bond ethics. “A soulbond,” she explains,“is like sharing a house. If you need privacy, all you need to do is imagine yourself going to a room alone and shutting a door. Remember,” her voice turns serious and lecture-y, “a soulbond does not mean that you don’t have a right to the privacy of your own thoughts.”
Sid doubts that will be a problem, since Geno’s thoughts, now that he’s tuned into them, seem to mostly be in Russian, anyway. Now that Sid’s aware Geno’s there he can hear the distant hum of his thoughts, but he has to concentrate to hear the actual sounds and feelings that come with it. It’s more like having a radio in his head, always stuck between stations on a low volume. If it was in English, maybe he’d have noticed before, but as is, it’s like white noise more than anything else.
“Now,” Dr. Whitley takes out a folder and reads over the papers, “I had Geno hooked up to a bond strength monitor during the initial connection, and that puts your bond at a Level 3.”
“Level 3?” Sid asks while Gonch translates for Geno. “But that’s... wouldn’t I have noticed a level 3 bond?” He expects Geno to share his panic, to feel something kick in soon, but Geno’s projecting emotions too mild and varied for Sid to pick apart.
“Not if you weren’t looking for it and your working relationship was so new, no,” Dr. Whitley says. “I expect once Geno started speaking English, you would have noticed.”
“But a Level 3 is high,” Sid says. “There haven’t been hockey players who were level threes for, like, twenty years.”
“Well,” Dr. Whitley smiles, “you always were exceptional.”
- - -
It’s mostly like finding a really good friend and not having to go through an awkward period of explaining himself or what he’s about to them. Geno gets it. Sid thinks even if they weren’t bonded, Geno would probably get it. Hockey’s what’s most important to both of them. If there is some sort of cosmic point to the bond, Sid’s pretty sure it has something to do with hockey, because all of a sudden they’re winning with Geno around, the kind of winning that makes the playoffs seem like they’re maybe not such a pipe dream after all, even if it is early in the season.
The press loves them - Level 1’s are common in team sports, but Level 3’s are rare and exciting. They’re the next Howe/Lindsay, the next Yzerman/Shanahan, and everyone wants a piece of them. A million articles are written about what this means, what to expect, what he and Geno are going to do. Sid just tells them hockey, over and over again. It’s a hockey bond. Hockey is what they’re both meant for. Hockey is what they do.
“What do you think having this bond means?” Some new Sports Illustrated reporter Sid didn’t catch the name of asks him during one of the few press conferences he and Geno do together, and Geno sends him a clear thought that makes Sid laugh.
“He says it’s good luck,” he explains to the sea of confused faces. “We’re the third level threes, so we’ll win three Stanley Cups. Three threes.”
“And what do you think?” The reporter asks avidly, and Sid lets his grin turn sharp.
“I say, why stop at three?”
He can feel Geno approve as the flashbulbs all go off at once.
- - -
The only times Geno ever shuts Sid out completely is when he’s angry; when they lose or he has a fight with his girlfriend (at least, that’s who Sid assumes the blonde woman who appears sometimes in red clouds of lust/affection/frustration is), then the connection shuts off like a door being slammed. Geno’s anger is never outward except in games, it always goes inward and everything about him turns deadly and silent and terrifying. Sid tried, once, to nudge at it, hesitantly, and what he got back was a flaming orange rage, brighter than he’d ever felt anything from Geno, and a sense of a shouted NO.
He never bothers Geno when he’s sulking again.
- - -
“Can you two try not passing to each other?” Therrien snaps during practice one day, and Sid feels a surge of protective anger flare up as Geno wilts.
“No,” he says, steely enough that everyone else goes dead silent. “We can’t.” Therrien holds Sid’s gaze for a second before nodding, and changing up the lines.
“What kind of soulbonds are you, eh?” Colby asks, whacking Sid’s ass with his stick. “Fucking useless.”
Sid just smiles and resolves to work on it. He’s never been bad at anything he put his mind to, and he isn’t going to start now.
- - -
“What’s up with G?” Flower asks, awed, as Geno racks up another assist.
“I think I’m doing that,” Sid says. It’s hard to think much around the overwhelming rush of feeling coming off of Geno, the mentally shouted, Look, Sid! Look what we do for you! He feels like he’s part of the game, like he’s not even in the press box but living every shift, every pass through Geno. “I think it’s a bond thing?”
Flower frowns. “That’s not illegal?”
“No,” Sid says. That much he’s sure of - he’s read every rule on bonding there is. “I’d be on bond repressors if it was, wouldn’t I?”
Flower makes a noncommital noise, and Sid doesn’t bother to explain that it’s not what Flower thinks. He’s not making Geno do anything any more than Therrien makes them do something by telling them to. Geno’s just listening to Sid, relishing in having Sid there with him, in having Sid’s focus and extra attention on him, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Sid would do it every game if he could and still concentrate on his own hockey, because Geno’s playing with every ounce of potential Sid’s ever seen or felt in him. And so while he’s out, this is something Sid can give, a way to contribute without hurting his ankle at all.
- - -
“You keep the connection closed an unusual amount,” Dr. Whitley says, thumbing through his questionnaire. “Is it causing you pain or impacting your play?”
“No,” Sid says. “I keep it open when we’re playing.” Dr. Whitley arches an eyebrow, clearly indicating he should explain himself. “There’s just... there’s no point getting too used to it, is there? Geno’s only around part of the year, and he’ll move back to Russia when hockey is over. No point getting attached to something that’ll go away.”
“Bonds never really go away,” Dr. Whitley says. “The broken bond is a myth. No matter how long you and Geno are apart, or how much you fight -”
“I know that,” Sid says. “But you can come pretty close.” They could shut the bond out, like Lindsay and Howe did, or move out of range, like Yzerman and Shanahan. “Nothing’s forever, not even a bond.”
“So you fear losing a valued sense of intimacy,” Dr. Whitley says, and Sid winces, hating how probing and clinical that sounds.
“I’m just doing what’s practical,” he says, but Dr. Whitley only hums and moves on.
- - -
They need a new winger, people say, a talented winger so Sid can play up to his potential. Which, yeah, Sid would like, and Marian Hossa seems like a great guy, but he never imagined it would cost him his best friend.
Sid knows that people leave. Sometimes they don’t mean to, but people always leave. But he’d let himself believe that Colby wouldn’t leave him, because he was Sid’s best friend, and Colby was special, and Colby was good, and so surely Mario and Ray would have no reason to trade him when he knew how important Colby was not just to Sid, but to everyone. Sid had thought, foolishly, that maybe Colby would never leave, that he would settle down and stay in Pittsburgh forever.
But everyone leaves Sid, so Colby leaves too. He packs up his locker and Sid lets himself be hugged one last time. “It’s okay, kid,” Colby says, even though it’s not, and Sid spends a lot of time sitting in Colby’s stall while he says goodbye to everyone else, thinking about how nothing feels like it’s going to be okay again.
“Sid okay?” Geno asks, and Sid starts. He hadn’t even realized Geno was there, or that anyone was still there. He’s probably leaking misery everywhere, and Geno could feel it.
“I’m fine,” he lies, because he will be fine, eventually.
“Want me stay with?” Geno asks, and Sid shakes his head. There’s no use. It feels nice to have Geno close, but that’s not a feeling he can rely on. One day, like Colby, Geno will leave. He’s too good, he can’t possibly want to play in Sid’s shadow for forever, and besides - everyone leaves.
- - -
But when Geno dreams, Sid dreams too. They’re never together in dreams, but sometimes he dreams about strange places or eats strange foods or has strange feelings that he wakes up knowing came from Geno. Sometimes he wakes up hard and wanting, pointedly alone in his head, he and Geno avoid each other and try not to talk about what goes on those mornings they spend apart.
When Geno has nightmares, though, they’re all the same. Sid/Geno is in an old, too-large rink, skating alone, and people yell at him in harsh voices. He tries to leave and he’s locked in. They take his equipment and yell “score, score!” at him, and boo when he doesn’t. Sometimes he’s standing outside Mellon and the doors won’t open, and people around him watch and yell that he’s a traitor, a coward, that he doesn’t keep his promises. “Worthless!” they scream. Sid always wakes up from those alone in the dark, sweaty, and gasping for air.
Sid doesn’t talk to Geno about those dreams either. He wants to - wants to ask how Geno could think those things about himself and still be so afraid when it’s so obvious that Pittsburgh is where he belongs. He wants to know if Geno regrets coming over, and if that means he resents Sid and their bond. He wants to know what puts that miserable look on Geno’s face after he gets calls from Russia some days, and why the dreams are extra-bad after them.
Sid doesn’t ask, though. It’s something Geno tries so hard to keep from Sid and locks far away inside of him. Sid would never want Geno to ask about his secrets, about all the things he keeps to himself, even if none of it gives him nightmares the way Geno’s secrets do. But a small, irrational part of him wishes Geno would just tell him one day, even though Sid hasn’t done much to deserve that sort of trust at all.
- - -
Geno’s shut himself off to sulk, so Sid drives back to Mario’s in silence. The first thing he does is shave. It doesn’t make his reflection look any friendlier or more like his own, but it hurts less to see the beard he couldn’t quite grow as a reminder of what he couldn’t quite win.
Sid is about to settle down and drown his sorrows in Chips Ahoy and the History channel when he hears his front door open and someone let themselves in. He isn’t entirely surprised when Geno appears in the living room. No one else has a key besides Mario and Nathalie, and they always knock first. The bond is mostly still closed, but little tendrils of miserable/lonely/needy are leaking through.
“Hey,” Sid says, and scooches over on the couch to make room. Geno accepts the seat silently, but doesn’t take one of the offered cookies. There’s a long silence while Sid crunches.
“Maybe my fault,” Geno says eventually. “Maybe I should not shave mustache.”
That makes Sid laugh, the first laugh anyone’s been able to get out of him. It feels good. “No, believe me,” he says, “you should have kept your mustache shaved.”
“Sorry,” Geno says. “I not know what to say, Sid.”
“You don’t have to say anything.” Sid says. “I was going to watch TV.”
“Can I stay?” Geno asks hesitantly.
“Of course,” Sid says, and Geno slumps into the couch, like a puppet whose strings have been cut.
“You good captain,” he says while Sid roots for the remote, and Sid shrugs.
“I could be better.”
“Best,” Geno disagrees. And for the first time, Sid feels something leaking out that he can tangibly identify as love, fierce, abiding love for Sid and the team all swirled up in one, and Sid wraps himself in that feeling like a blanket and holds on tight while he turns on the TV.
- - -
“Yes.” Geno says after a long pause.
Geno flashes Sid his own face, and then competition, and Sid feels his cheeks heat up.
“That’s not...” he stutters, mortified and guilty, like he made this happen by even contemplating what it would be like if Geno just leaned over and - he shuts the door on that thought. “Yzerman and Shanahan were Level 3 and they’re both married,” he points out instead. He pictures lifting the cup three times, then five President’s Trophies. That’s what we’re for, he thinks firmly to both himself and Geno. That’s what we do.
“You here,” Geno says. “She in Moscow.”
“Maybe she should be here,” Sid suggests. If she’s going to stick around and he can’t go anywhere, he figures he may as well meet her in person, not just in Geno’s head.
“Maybe,” Geno agrees. His brain is a jumble of too many emotions for Sid to sort out.
He learns, a week later, that Geno and Oksana have broken up. “It’s tough dating with a bond, huh?” is all he says to Geno, who shrugs. Sid doesn’t push it. He can’t read Geno’s emotions, and he doesn’t know how he feels about neither of them dating, so to be safe, he doesn’t feel anything at all.
- - -
“You don’t want me to set you up?”
“No,” Sid says, shortly, while Flower cackles. He knows the kinds of girls Max knows and they’re - well, they’re just not his type.
“So,” Flower settles down on the bed next to Sid, his grin huge and eager, like he’s been waiting his whole life for Sid to ask for help dating, “what kind of girl do you want? Tall, short, dark hair, light hair -”
“I don’t know,” Sid says uncomfortably, picking at the duvet cover. “I don’t think about that stuff?”
“You gotta give me something, man.”
“I just -” Sid blows out a frustrated breath. “I asked you because I want something like you and Vero have, you know? It’s not about what she looks like, it’s about if she’s, you know, cool.”
“He’s out to steal your woman,” Max says, and Sid throws one of the useless little pillows they always have in hotel rooms at Max’s head.
“I asked him because he’s actually good at having a relationship, unlike you.”
“You want what Vero and I have?” Flower repeats.
Sid nods. He wants someone who’s in step with him, who he isn’t always explaining himself or apologizing to. He had a girlfriend the summer he was sixteen, and she never got why he was always training, or how important hockey was. And now that Colby’s gone, Flower’s the only one close to his age who has that thing that Sid sees Mario and Nathalie or his parents have, that worldless synchronicity, like two players on a line together. Flower’s the most likely to be able to help Sid find it for himself. He’s ready, he thinks.
“You know we grew up together, right?” Flower asks, and that’s definitely a note of pity in his voice that Sid doesn’t want to hear.
“Are you gonna help or not?” Sid asks, and Flower raises his hands defensively.
“Yeah, yeah, just saying, don’t expect a miracle.”
The dates Flower and Vero set him up on are nice, Sid will give them that. The girls are all nice, good-looking, the kind Flower would nod at in a bar and go “Her?” hopefully when he was trying to get Sid to loosen up and have a good time. But after every one, Sid says goodnight and feels no need to call them, even though the date went just fine, and in spite of Flower’s hopeful questioning the next morning.
“What’s wrong with this one?” Flower sighs after the third try, without even bothering to ask how it went.
“There’s nothing - nothing’s wrong with any of them,” Sid says, because Becky was pretty and smelled like fresh-cut strawberries, and Marie had a cute smile that made Sid smile back and was smart and accomplished, and Casey was sporty and fun and had freckles all over that Sid had idly thought about touching. But none of them had felt right, either. He didn’t feel comfortable around any of them. He felt unnatural and stiff, like he was doing PR or performing a ritual instead of going on a date. It was dumb, being set up, anyway. He wasn’t ever going to feel comfortable with people he didn’t know.
“I think maybe being set up isn’t for me.”
“That mean you’re going to choose girls for yourself?” Flower asks, and Sid shrugs.
“Probably not,” he says. He wouldn’t even know where to start. Flower just buries his head in his arms and groans.
“How did you date?” Sid asks Geno the next morning. Flower’s disappointment is still hanging in the air, leaving him feeling like a failure, and Geno, he thinks, would know. “I mean, it’s hard with the bond, isn’t it?”
Geno blinks at Sid owlishly over his oatmeal, and then glances around the room. Everyone else is at their own tables, having their own conversations. The team tends to leave Sid and Geno alone at meals every so often, to afford them a little privacy to be bonded. Sid wouldn’t have asked if it was a normal meal where they were crowded in between Max and Tanger and Brooksy, but Geno’s still edgy until he confirms to his own satisfaction that they are, in fact, being ignored by everyone else.
“Yes,” he says finally. “It hard, with bond. Too hard. Why it not work.”
“Right?” Sid sighs with relief. “I thought it was just me.” Geno flushes a little and shakes his head. He must be embarrassed too, with his own recent failure, Sid thinks. “You just get so used to having it be easy with one person, and then it’s just really hard with everyone else.”
Geno looks at him a little strangely. “Yeah,” he says. “It different.”
“I just don’t think I have time for that,” Sid says, grateful Geno’s backing him up. “You know, hooking up once in a while is fine, but I think when I’m ready to date someone, I should know, right?”
“That right,” Geno says firmly. “You wait until there sign. You wait until you know.”
- - -
I fine, Sid, Geno thinks at him, but Sid pushes him aside, skating up to Ballard and shouting, “the fuck you think you’re doing?”
“You wanna defend your boy, you gotta go,” Ballard shouts back.
“Then let’s fucking go,” Sid says, shedding his gloves.
He gets his ass kicked pretty cleanly - Ballard’s got tons more experience and a heck of an upper-cut--but he still feels some grim satisfaction going down the tunnel to get his smarting hand attended to.
Geno comes to visit Sid a few minutes later when the period is over, thankfully whole and none the worse for wear. “Thank you,” Geno says, smiling in a way that makes Sid feel more pleased than any amount of stick-tapping ever did. “You my... what called, knight in shiny armor.”
“Shining armor,” Sid corrects, wincing as the ice pack slips off his hand, but Geno retrieves it and holds it to Sid’s knuckles, his hands warm around the cool, soothing ice.
“That’s what I say,” Geno insists. “But stupid, not mess up soft hands.”
“He hit you,” Sid says stubbornly, and then realizes how that sounds. “I mean, I don’t know, he could have killed you, and he just made you so mad, and he was right there, and whatever, fuck him, anyway.”
Geno laughs. “You best, Sid,” he says, knocking their knees together. “I return favor, some day. Fight for you.” He doesn’t let go of Sid’s hands.
“Don’t,” Sid says shortly, but he can tell from Geno’s crinkly smile that Geno doesn’t plan on listening. If it were anyone else, he’d be offended, because he can take perfectly good care of himself, but it’s Geno, and Geno of all people knows that best, even if he acts sometimes like he knows it least.
- - -
We not lose again, Geno thinks with quiet surety as they stretch side-by-side, silent and grim before the first Detroit game. Not be scared.
I’m not scared, Sid thinks, even though he’s silently terrified. Of course Geno’s not scared coming out of Carolina. Geno lets out a little huff that sounds like exertion, but Sid can tell it’s exasperation, and switches to stretching out his other leg.
Not only you on ice, Geno thinks. Hockey team sport. Who care if you win Cup, I win Cup, Flower win Cup? Long as we win Cup. Play your game, Sid. So Sid smiles and acts the optimistic captain, the calm eye of the storm, and he lets Geno feel everything he’s calmly tucked away. Geno plays better for it.
In the end it’s Max who wins it for them, not that Sid remembers much in retrospect in the haze of painkillers after he snaps his ankle. The only thing that sticks out in his mind is Geno staring at him when he returns to the bench and thinking clearly, I win this for you. Then everything in his memory zooms forward to Flower making one last save and they’ve won, they’ve won, he’s screaming and hugging everyone he can find and Geno’s mentally yelling See? See? And he’s lifting the Cup and Geno’s lifting the Conn Smythe and everything hurts and is perfect, all at once.
The other thing Sid remembers, besides everything and nothing, is the parade. He remembers Geno lifting the Cup over his head this time, then turning to look at Sid as the crowd roars for both of them. What I tell you, Sid remembers Geno thinking smugly. This is what we for, Sid.
This is what we do, Sid thinks back automatically, and knows deep in his bones that they’re going to do this again.
- - -
He doesn’t notice the effects too badly in Pittsburgh, because Geno’s still around all the time, and Sid keeps the bond closed so much anyway. It isn’t until they get to Vancouver that Sid really feels it - the empty echoing in his head like Geno’s halfway around the world again, even though he’s just in another part of Olympic Village. It’s different than during the summer, because Geno’s supposed to be right there but isn’t, and it makes Sid miss him desperately. But he’s determined not to be weird and make the first move, until Geno shows up after a Team Canada practice. He sticks out like a sore thumb in his Team Russia track suit, but he’s gloriously, solidly there, and Sid finds himself grinning a little stupidly.
“Hey,” he says, waving Geno over.
“Hey,” Geno responds, and they stare at each other for a few minutes, both their hands stuffed awkwardly in their pockets.
“So these bond repressors suck,” Sid blurts out, and Geno looks relieved that Sid was the first to admit it.
“Make me feel weird,” Geno says. “Miss you in head, during games. Play better with you.”
“I miss you too,” Sid says, because he’s not feeling great either. Tazer’s been showing him up the entire time and he knows it. Without Geno’s warm, comforting weight anchoring him he feels scattered and empty. He’s nervous, too, because silence from Geno usually means anger, and the meds make sleep hard to come by. All he ever thinks about lying awake is how unfair it is that no one else has to go through this. Duncs and Seabs were chosen to play together because they’re Level 1’s,and Iginla’s the only other guy who’s bonded on the team, but he’s bonded to his wife, so he’s fine as far as the IOC is concerned.
“You do okay,” Geno says, reaching out and squeezing Sid’s arm, and the contact feels good, because he’s not used to Geno being there without feeling him, too. They go out to dinner and, as if he can still read Sid’s mind, Geno bumps elbows and knees with Sid the entire night.
- - -
As soon as Sid gets back to the locker room, before he’s even fully changed, he takes the repressors and flushes them viciously down the toilet.
He doesn’t need them anymore.
- - -
“The fuck’s with you?” Tazer asks. He’s tense and miserable, and has been since he learned they were playing the US, though Sid doubts anyone but him, Duncs, and Seabs have noticed.
“I feel good today,” Sid says, lacing up his skates. Geno’s finally back in his head, his line’s solid, and he’s about to play hockey. He feels great.
The game’s intense, tightly drawn, and with neither team giving an inch. It isn’t until overtime when Sid gets the pass off Iginla and he suddenly knows it’s his. He can feel Geno from somewhere in the crowd in his head going, shoot, Sid, shoot. Miller shaky. Shoot! And so he does, just taps it in, and he knows he’s done it. He knows the millisecond before the crowd roars because Geno is yelling in his head, because overwhelming happy/proud is washing over him in waves of purple-blue and gold, and he throws off his gloves and thinks thank you back desperately.
That one all Sid, Geno says as clearly as if he were one of the people crushing Sid to the boards in an impossibly large tangle of Canadian limbs and screaming. As happy as Sid is, he wishes, just a little, that Geno was there, because Geno deserves it as much as Sid does, but he knows better than to ever tell anyone that. So instead he leaves the connection open, so Geno can feel like he won, too.
- - -
“Thanks,” Sid said, torn between relief to finally know the reason Geno’s thoughts had taken a melancholy steely-blue cast and annoyance that Geno hadn’t thought to tell him why he was projecting in the first place. Geno just shrugs when Sid brings it up with him.
“No big deal,” he says. “People leave.” And Sid has nothing to say to that, because it’s true.
But for all that Geno puts on a brave front when Sergei signs with Ottawa, the blue-gray shade of his thoughts gets deeper and deeper until the day Sergei leaves, when Geno’s sadness leaks so heavily that Sid can’t help but drive over, desperate to do something.
Geno isn’t there when Sid arrives - he’s seeing Sergei off at the airport - but Dixi greets him by tangling herself around his legs and shedding thoroughly on him before slinking away. Sid wanders into the kitchen and starts throwing together dinner, because Geno’s bound to be hungry when he gets back, and Sid feels awkward and at a loss for what else to do. Cooking soothes him, between the rhythmic chopping and easy steps that always follow one after another, orderly even when nothing else is.
He almost misses when Geno does come in, so absorbed with the pasta sauce that it takes Sid a moment to feel the difference between hearing him at a distance and having him nearby. Geno’s watching him silently, expression unreadable and emotions in a confused swirl Sid can’t pick apart completely. He’s still sad - desperately sad - but he’s happy Sid is there, and Sid relaxes minutely the moment he can feel the thin tendrils of Sid/pleasure/good.
“Didn’t know you cook, you keep secrets from me,” Geno teases after a long moment of silence, and Sid turns away with a blush.
“It’s just chicken and pasta,” he says. “It doesn’t - I can’t fix anything, I can’t -”
“Hey,” Geno puts his hand on Sid’s, friendly and warm. “Dinner exactly what I need. Thank you.” Sid can feel sincerity radiating off of Geno, mixed in with warm, pink-gold affection, a little like the way he used to feel Geno feel around Sergei’s family.
“If you ever need company, I’m, you know,” he clears his throat awkwardly. “I mean if you’re not sick of me, I’m around to cook for you, or whatever.”
Geno squeezes his hand and smiles, the coloring of his thoughts turning more vibrant, and Sid lets himself feel like he’s exactly what Geno needs.
- - -
“Take away my pain too, to be in your head,” he assures Sid, petting him the way Sid is petting Dixi, who’s dozing in between them.
“What’re you finding in there?” Sid asks.
“Lots of hockey,” Geno says happily. “Is like TiVo. You remember every game. I go through best ones.”
Happy/fond Sid thinks at Geno, too sleepy to talk, and then Thank you, because the two of them together like this means everything to him right now.
Geno responds with a warm pinkish wash of feeling that Sid is too tired to pick apart. There’s something familiar about the color of Geno’s thoughts, something a little melancholy, but mostly what Sid gets is Happy/fond back and Go to sleep, Sid, so he does.
- - -
Sid’s fine with being left alone, he expected it once Geno got back from Russia, looking fit and glowing and chomping at the bit to go. He’s good at being by himself, but lately he finds he just doesn’t like it the way he used to. He hates the long, lonely stretches where Geno goes on team trips and he’s left in his own head. Sid wonders how normal people deal with being alone with their own thoughts all the time, with no hope of reprieve. He’d tell Geno, but Geno is on fire without Sid, racking up points like it’s easy as breathing, and Sid doesn’t want to distract from that, not when the team needs Geno to perform so badly - not when Geno’s worked so hard and deserves all the recognition he’s finally getting.
A lot of the recognition revolves around Nealer, who seemed to click with Geno as soon as Max left, like Geno had a hole in him and Nealer was there to fill it. Sid feels like he blinks and they’re best friends with in-jokes and the easy camaraderie Sid still struggles to have with Geno sometimes, like they’re the ones who are bonded.
“You jealous?” Geno asks when Sid brings it up.
“He was supposed to be my winger,” Sid grumbles, even though thats not it at all, but Geno doesn’t call bullshit.
“Kuny and Duper sad you don’t think they good enough,” he says instead.
“You stole Kuny too,” Sid points out, and they don’t talk about it again.
The truth is, Sid just doesn’t like Nealer as much as he should. He’s hung out with the guy a few times and he’s cool, but Sid can’t click with him the way he’s clicked with new teammates in the past. Maybe it’s because Sid’s not around as much, or it could be that he’s taken Max leaving more to heart than he realized, but Sid doesn’t think it’s either of those things. The truth is, if it was only Max’s space Nealer was filling when he hung out and joked with Geno, Sid would welcome him with open arms. But with Sid feeling so removed from the team and Geno welcoming Nealer so enthusiastically, it feels less like he’s taking Max’s spot and more like he’s taking something that used to belong to Sid.
- - -
Dr. Whitley smiles at him. “Why, have you met someone?” She asks.
No, but I think Geno has, Sid thinks, but instead he shakes his head and then winces. “No, we, uh, there’s a new winger, and he and Geno are getting really close, and I was wondering...”
“Sidney,” Dr. Whitley sighs, looking pitying. “Bonding is... it’s a reflexive indication of psychological compatibility. It isn’t an instant relationship.”
“Okay,” Sid says warily, unsure where she’s going with this.
“Have you ever dated?” Dr. Whitley asks kindly, and smiles when Sid must visibly bristle. “You’re right, that’s prying. What I mean is, a bond is a spark. To have something come from that spark, it’s like any relationship - it requires hard work, from both parties.”
“Are you saying I don’t work hard enough?” Sid asks, because he feels like working hard to keep the unsavory and uncomfortable parts of himself and his concussion out of Geno’s head so Geno isn’t burdened with him is all he does, lately.
“What I’m saying is that Geno may be getting closer with -”
“James Neal,” Sid supplies.
“- with James for a reason,” Dr. Whitley says. “You’ve consistently told me that you shut Geno out of your head. Are you really surprised he’d get along with someone who lets him in?”
Sid opens his mouth, then closes it again. He can’t really protest something that’s true.
“Think about it,” Dr. Whitley says.
- - -
Geno’s still around, of course, in Sid’s head, or in the same locker room, or rink, but he isn’t there, not the way Sid wants him to be, not the way he was when they were playing together, and not the way he could be if they were anything more. But if there’s ever been a time where Geno wanted more from Sid than what they have, he’s never let Sid know, or been careful to stuff it down where Sid couldn’t see. That’s hard to do, Sid realizes, just from how hard he has to work to tamp down on the fierce rush of love and joy relief he’s started feeling every time he sees Geno, now. He knows Geno loves him too, he can feel Geno loving him, but it’s so muted, and he wants so much less than Sid wants.
Maybe they’re not Yzerman and Shanahan. Maybe that’s some bullshit Sid made up, some metric he thought they could follow. They’re just them, and since bonds don’t make people feel certain ways, maybe Sid was always meant to be in love with Geno more than Geno could ever be in love with him. At least Sid has the knowledge from the bond that he is loved, and that love makes him feel and play better, when he’s allowed to play. He loves Geno quietly and steadily, and since Sid can’t play himself, he funnels all that feeling, all that drive and determination into Geno, and Geno blossoms. He’s finally the star he should always have been instead of catering to Sid and how Sid plays. Sid lets the world see Geno and fall in love with him, and for once in his life he takes the backseat.
That’s what love is, he thinks. That’s what Geno deserves.
- - -
“What we do?” Geno asks when Sid calls to tell him.
“What do you mean, ‘we’?” Sid asks. “You’re playing for Magnitogorsk, right?”
“Not if you say no,” Geno says. “We bonded, so. You say word, I go there.”
“You can’t do that,” Sid says softly, even though he wants to beg Geno to fly over right now. His head is fine, he’s fine, and there’s no reason to cheat Geno out of playing for his hometown because he feels beholden and Sid has all these feelings growing uncomfortably in his chest.
“So I say word, Sid come play here.”
“I can’t do that,” Sid sighs, even though that sounds amazing. He has his responsibilities in New York boardrooms, just as much as Geno has his in Russian ice rinks far, far away. It’s like a glimpse into their future, the way they’re going to be when hockey is over. Geno might think he has some responsibility to appease Sid and stick around, but at the end of the day they’re meant to be half a world apart, and the bond will mean nothing at all.
“Okay,” Geno says softly, like he’s disappointed, but he doesn’t bring it up again.
Sid knows, in theory, that he can be alone in his head. He’s never had a problem after the initial first day of queasiness and migraines whenever Geno leaves for the summer. But every summer, he knows Geno will be coming back. He has a date he can mentally circle that Geno, and hockey, will come back, and now he has nothing but uncertainty and silence, and it feels like he’s going insane. Sid feels heavy all the time, like he’s dragging around dead weight with him wherever he goes. He’s restless and bored of doing the same summer drills over and over again. He wants to play hockey, and he wants Geno back from Russia so he can go back to not thinking about how terrible it is when Geno’s gone and how much it’s going to hurt when this separation is for good.
The reporters say he’s never looked better, when they watch him come practice, but the truth is he’s never felt more like he’s using hockey as a crutch to compensate for a hollowness inside him. He laughs and jokes because it’s what’s expected and is optimistic because he has to be.
His head is dead silent. It’s the worst noise Sid’s ever heard in his life.
- - -
“This feel so weird,” he tells Sid, and it must be before he’s going to bed, because Sid can hear the faint squeak of bedsprings whenever Geno shifts. “Still be in Russia, at this time of year, and playing with Gonch. I always wonder where you go.”
“Yeah,” Sid says, fiddling with the drawstring of his hoodie and slumping into the couch. ”It’s a little less weird for me, with everyone around, you know?”
It’s not, really, because no matter how much of the team is around Pittsburgh to practice with, Geno not being there is always going to feel like the biggest, unfillable hole, but Sid has too much pride to admit that aloud. Geno would never let him live it down.
“I guess you lucky,” Geno says. “Guess I lucky too.”
“I mean,” Sid draws his knees under him, “I just think of it like it’s something we’re going to have to get used to, you know?”
“Because lockout?” Geno asks.
“No, because it’s how it’s going to be, you know, in a few years you’ll go play in Russia and I’ll stay here.”
There’s a long silence on the other end of the line, and Sid has to check his phone to make sure the connection hasn’t dropped. “That never happen,” Geno says eventually.
“Yeah, it will,” Sid sighs. “Look, no one plays together forever, I get it. You’ll be a Penguin for life, and that’s great, but -”
“No, Sid,” Geno says more forcefully. The bed squeaks on the other end, he must have sat up straighter. “That why you keep bond closed?”
“Of course,” Sid says, puzzled. “I thought you knew -”
“So stupid,” Geno sounds angry now. “How you think - I never Sid, I never say that.”
“You want to go back to Russia -”
“I want you.” Geno says.
“Love you, Sid,” Geno says gently. “I always love you.”
Sid’s heart thumps so loudly he swears Geno must be able to hear it through the phone, and for a glorious moment he believes, he reaches out to feel Geno loving him, and then he remembers that he’s alone.
“How - I mean,” he huffs, frustrated. “I’ve never felt... wouldn’t I know?”
He does trust Geno, but he also trusts himself, and he’d have known if Geno felt what he felt, it would have leaked out at some point, wouldn’t it?
“I tell you,” Geno says gently. “Always love. From beginning, maybe. You never notice because is nothing new.”
“I want to believe you.” Sid says. His fingers are tangled in the drawstring of his hoodie, so tight the tips are turning bright red.
“But how?” Sid whines, and Geno laughs, a little humorlessly.
“Way everyone else does. You just believe, Sid. Trust.”
“The way everyone else does things sucks,” Sid says grudgingly, and Geno just laughs again, but he doesn’t argue.
- - -
He doesn’t think about anything but driving to Geno’s as fast as possible, doesn’t remember any of the ride or anything else until he’s crashing into Geno’s house and they’re running to each other and Geno wraps him in his arms. “Sid,” he whispers. He sounds heartbroken. “Oh, Sid.”
“I didn’t know,” Sid babbles into Geno’s chest. “I thought you didn’t - It must have been so gradual I didn’t notice. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
“I want you for so long,” Geno says and a warm flush of silly washes over Sid.
“I’m a frog,” Sid says. “I’m - never mind, it doesn’t matter.”
“Silly,” Geno says, this time out loud, and kisses him.
Geno kissing him feels so different than kissing normally does. Not because he can hear Geno’s litany of always, always, love, Sid, always, or feel the heady red and white starbursts of want spiking through him, but because he’s never been kissed the way Geno kisses him. There are a lot of ways people have kissed Sid - needy, desperate, nervous, absent - but never like Sid really mattered, like they wanted to know him or kiss him forever, with no missed cues or miscommunication. Or maybe they did and Sid didn’t notice, but there’s no way to miss that that’s how Geno kisses him, to not feel the crashing waves of affection and joy Geno radiates.
Geno sighs out a quiet “Sid,” when they part, and Sid has to kiss him again. He wants, so badly, and he knows he’s leaking all the things he wants to do to Geno - that he wants Geno to do with him, but Sid can also feel Geno’s exhaustion like a physical thing, heavy and gray and blanketing everything else.
“Let’s get you to bed,” Sid says, and then, “not like that,” when Geno chuckles. “You couldn’t even if you wanted to.”
“But I try very, very hard,” Geno murmurs low and dirty in Sid’s ear in a way that makes Sid shiver, and then punch Geno’s shoulder.
“You asshole,” he says, and Geno grins, unrepentant.
“Yes,” he agrees, and gives Sid a quick kiss in almost-apology. “You stay?”
“Couldn’t make me leave,” Sid says.
- - -
“I meant to let you get caught up on sleep,” he says when he pulls away from one of Geno’s more convincing arguments for spending the whole day awake in bed, pushing Geno’s mussed hair off his forehead.
“Mmm,” Geno hums, his hands wandering lower and gripping harder, more possessively, at Sid’s ass. “Not tired.” He wants to fuck Sid, and he’s not shy about planting tantalizing images in Sid’s head - a few Sid recognizes as thought-leaking from the night before. Sid would be embarrassed, but Geno’s kissing his neck and mentally crooning at him, and he can’t be desperately turned on and feel awkward about it at the same time.
“You’re not always going to get your way like this,” Sid sighs, and Geno chuckles smugly, his hands creeping under Sid’s shirt.
Sid already loves kissing Geno more than almost anything, loves the way their lips slide against each other and how Geno’s thoughts fuzz out to wordless happiness. He likes how warm Geno’s palms are when they run along his back and push his shirt off, how warm all of Geno is under him. He’s never let anyone just stare at him the way Geno does because it’s always been uncomfortable, not to know what the other person was thinking about him. But Geno thinks he’s beautiful, so Sid can let himself be watched while he strips down to nothing and watch back while Geno slowly loses clothing, revealing the breadth of his shoulders, the sharp jut of his hips, the whipcord strength in his limbs.
Mine Sid thinks, running his hand up Geno’s chest, and Geno simply thinks back yes before he leans down to kiss Sid and oh, Sid will never get enough of this, kissing with nothing in between them. Geno’s hands are huge on Sid’s waist, patient while Sid touches him everywhere, greedy and skin-hungry, determined to take his time. They thrust against each other lazily, a gradual rhythm building, picking up speed. One particularly hard thrust makes Geno’s cock brush past Sid’s balls, like he’s trying to fuck him, and Sid lets out a shuddery whine. He wants all of Geno, for Geno to fill him up until he can’t take any more and make him beg anyway. He wants to be so close he’s out of his mind with it. He must be practically shouting what he wants, because Geno groans every time Sid has a new thought and thrusts again. Yes, Geno promises, yes, until you crazy. God, Sid.
Want you to, Sid thinks, even though he’d never last, it’s been too long and it’s already too good just having Geno moving against him. Want you, want you, want you.
Love when you like this, Geno thinks and suddenly Sid can see it too, can see himself naked and unselfconscious, lips bitten red, and his mind blown open. He moans at the image - at how much Geno loves it - and drags Geno down for a breathless, sloppy kiss. Geno rutts against him harder, hard enough that Sid can’t bring himself to care what he looks like, or about much of anything but the white-hot feeling building in the base of his spine and spreading out until he feels lit up by it.
“Geno,” he groans, arching up into the next thrust shamelessly. “Please, please -”
“Yes,” Geno says. His voice is rusty and he’s shaking like he’s going to come any second. “Touch, Sid.” So Sid wraps his hand around his own cock and jerks once, twice, and then he’s coming, dragging Geno with him.
It takes longer than usual for Sid to come back to himself, longer to separate which pounding heartbeat is his own, and to even out his breathing. With a sigh, he rolls over and presses his face into Geno’s shoulder.
“I love you,” he whispers. It feels different, bigger when he says it out loud, to Geno’s face, and doesn’t just think it.
“Love you too,” Geno says, and Sid feels an arm come to rest heavy around him, keeping him close.
“I don’t want to mess this up,” he says. “This can’t mess us up.”
“Won’t,” Geno promises, so sure that Sid believes him.
- - -
Sid can’t help but think, when he goes in, that everyone must know something’s changed. He feels so different, so much fuller, so much more aware of Geno than he used to be. He feels a small start when Geno wakes up, then an affectionate, quiet good morning. He does interviews while in the back of his head Geno’s going from hazy happiness to focus and joy, like a kid on the first day back from school. Sid keeps smiling at random moments - when Geno finds the note and coffee Sid left, when he pulls on a Penguins t-shirt for the first time in months - and no one comments.
Jennifer comes the closest, but PR’s her job, which is really just advanced anticipating and noticing things, and she’s bonded to her fiance too. She takes one look at Sid coming to film a quick interview with Pens TV and gives him a smile.
“Glad not to be alone in your head anymore?” She asks, positioning him and his shirt to her liking.
“That obvious?” He asks, and she pats his shoulder.
“Only because you look how I feel after every long road trip,” she says. “But we all missed Geno.”
Geno luckily doesn’t come in until after Sid’s done with interviews, because he can’t stop himself from beaming at Geno when he stumbles in the locker room.
“You find the coffee I left?” Sid asks in an undertone when they’re skating lazy circles around the ice, warming up. “I didn’t want to go, but -”
“I know, Sid,” Geno murmurs, giving him a soft little smile that Sid had never seen before yesterday, and it makes his heart pound a little faster. “Was good coffee.”
“Oh boy,” Nealer shouts loudly from across the ice, “old bonded couple, back together.”
“Paulie make honest woman of you one day!” Geno shouts back, winking at Sid. “You ready?” He holds his fist up in the familiar ritual. Hockey what we for? he thinks, and Sid smiles and bumps fists back, knocking their helmets together.
No, he thinks. But hockey’s what we do.