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going up flying, going home

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*

*

Sidney Crosby notices things. It starts before they land in Vancouver, on the tarmac in Columbus when the flight attendant blushes. "Welcome to your flight for this evening, gentlemen," she says by rote. "Please, take a seat on the plane anywhere that you like." It's the same thing that she'd said when he, Flower, and Weber had boarded the plane hours earlier in Pittsburgh, but this time there's real warmth to it.

Brent Seabrook ducks his head through the plane door and smiles at her, which explains the blushes. He and Duncan Keith shuffle wearily on board, wedging themselves between seats to stow gear. 'Anywhere on the plane that you like' isn't as generous an offer as it sounds; the cabin is cramped enough that none of them can stand upright, not even in the aisle. There isn't any discussion of who sits where -- Keith and Seabrook hunker down next to each other and Keith leans over on Seabrook's shoulder to sleep even as the flight attendant greets another person on the ramp.

It's Rick Nash, and he settles in with Weber. Toews is last -- more blushing from the flight attendant, so much that her hands hover nervously around her face and she forgets to tell him to sit anywhere he wants. He takes the seat next to Sidney, who notices the way his shirt pulls when he stretches to wrestle the formless shape of his gear bag into the overhead. When the compartment finally closes after a bit of shoving, Jonny seems almost to deflate into the seat. His eyes close and one hand stretches up to the side of his neck, squeezing at a tight muscle. He winces, flash of dark eyebrows. Around them the flight crew begins the final preparations for takeoff, droning the safety lecture and holding up a detached seat belt to demonstrate.

Sidney tilts his head toward Jonny's ear and whispers. "Did you guys win?"

Jonny nods, whispering back. "Shootout. Got pretty ugly." Sidney glances over his shoulder at Nash, who looks even worse for wear than the Chicago players. "He had a goal," Jonny mumbles, watching Sidney's focus.

Sidney rumbles a noise of acknowledgment. Jonny's head has flopped back against the seat rest, like it's too much for his spine to support him anymore. Even exhausted, Sidney notices that his seatmate keeps himself carefully compact. There's none of the easy sprawl of Keith and Seabrook, or even the casual touches of knees that Sidney can see between Nash and Weber -- two very large men sharing limited space. Jonny seems to make himself smaller, hold himself apart. Sidney scrunches minutely over toward the window to try and respect his seeming need for a personal bubble. "You sound like you're about done in."

Jonny nods again. "Tired. I'm gonna sleep." The syllables are muted, slurred with effort.

By the time they hit five thousand feet, he's out like a light. Sidney notices that Jonny's fingers curl into fists, and that he snores.

*

The room is simple, two double beds, thick comforters and plain walls. It has a balcony that looks out over the main street in the Village, the twin glass doors flanked by heavy curtains to block out the neon lights and the laughter of celebration on the ground. When Sidney opens the balcony doors, the air tastes like exotic foreign food cooked in woks and lingers stinging against his eyes with the suspended ozone tang of coming snow. Sidney inhales. So this is what the Games smell like.

Turning back to the room, there's a bag on the other bed and sounds of running water from behind the closed bathroom door. The handle twists; it's Toews.

Sidney grabs the cotton pants he uses for sleeping from his own bag and brushes past into the now-empty bathroom. When he comes out ten minutes later, the light is off in the room, but the orange and green that glares through from the street is more than enough for navigation. Toews has left the glass doors open a foot or so; the wind brushes goosebumps up on Sidney's skin. He didn't bring a sleep shirt. He never uses one. Most guys in the League don't, on the road, but Toews sleeps in exercise pants and a Blackhawks t-shirt, the neck of which is stretched out enough to show his collarbones. A stiff blast of cold draws shivers and Toews tugs the covers up to his nose.

For a moment Sidney hesitates, his hand on the door handles, but then instead he draws the felted curtains, leaving a space in front of where the doors let in the breeze. The bed isn't as comfortable as his own at home, but after a moment the blankets ward off the cold and Sidney sleeps to the sound of soft chatter from the streets and Jonny's halting, light snores.

*

He'd thought the press was bad in Pittsburgh, but he was wrong. Comparing the Pittsburgh media to the onslaught in Vancouver on Monday is like comparing a single kitten to a pride of lions, from the point of view of an antelope. By the time he manages to escape into the bowels of GM Center -- Canada Hockey Place, whatever they're calling it -- Sidney definitely feels hunted.

He's the last one into the dressing room because of the throng, and even before he opens the door he has a dark feeling in that place underneath his stomach that says he should have shown up earlier; that being last was a mistake for someone so young on the team who already carries the A. Brodeur looks up to watch him as he steps inside, pausing with a scuffed shinpad in one hand, a can of silicone buffer in the other. Niedermayer catches his eye and frowns. "The press," Sidney says in explanation, and Niedermayer dips his chin in understanding.

Standing in front of his dressing room stall space, Sidney takes a moment to stare. His skates are gone. In their place is a pair of glittery pink figure skates, complete with curly-cue laces. They have purple stars on one side. Sidney knows without checking that they're child's size two; he's seen them before. Toews steps out of the showers with a towel around his waist and his underarmor shirt already on.

"Flower," Jonny says and glances covertly at the culprit, wiping water off his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt. Sidney's already headed across the room, giving the enormous carpeted maple leaf logo in the center a wide berth out of respect.

"Marc," he growls. He only ever uses Flower's first name when he's pissed. As a Penguin, Fleury is the one person in the dressing room -- besides perhaps Toews and Doughty, who are both even younger than Sidney himself -- with whom he can credibly pull rank. He's also the one person in the dressing room who should know better than this. Flower knows how uptight Sidney gets in the run-up to big games; he spent the Stanley Cup Finals watching Sidney sweat, work himself to exhaustion, and snap at anyone who wasn't taking the game seriously enough. He also knows about the pink skates; they're a running joke in the Pens' locker room, where Talbot thinks they're hilarious. He knows how deeply Sidney is not amused. Flower just grins more widely at him, unrepentant.

"Is something wrong, Sidney?"

"Skates. Now."

"But you already have skates. They are in your locker."

"Flower."

An even bigger grin. "I told you, Sidney. They are in your locker."

Sidney whirls around, prepared to point to the skates which are not his skates currently sitting in his dressing stall, but sure enough, the pink skates have vanished and in their place sit a familiar pair that actually fit his feet.

"Canada can get along with two goalies. I don't think they'll care if I kill the third one," Sidney mutters darkly at Flower, not turning around. He isn't going to take his eyes off his skates again.

"Ah, you would care if you killed the third goalie, because the Penguins would be sad." Now Flower's just laughing at him.

"One of these days," Sidney grits out, and stalks back across to start getting dressed. Toews is already fully dressed out and watches him curiously.

"You really don't like people messing with your stuff."

"Flower knows how much I hate those damn skates." Sidney twists to fasten the straps on his pants then reaches for the hanger with his sweater. He's wearing the red practice sweater today. Jonny is wearing white. Sidney watches out of the corner of his eye as Jonny fidgets backward a little, anxious shifts of hips and skates.

"I had your skates in my bag," Toews says finally. "Flower gave them to me to do the switch when you went to talk to him." Sidney's mouth thins out into a tight-pressed line. "I wouldn't have done it if I knew it was a thing with you."

"Don't," says Sidney and turns to face him full-on, still annoyed and looming. Instead of shrinking back or casting his eyes down as if he's sorry, Toews meets him head-on, open expression and slight lift of his chin. He stands up, and since Sidney isn't backing down they face each other close. Even though Toews has a few inches on him in height, the anger makes Sidney feel taller. Toews has very dark eyes.

"It won't happen again." Somehow when Jonny says them, the words carry weight, an unexpected sense of gravity and consideration. The force there makes Sidney think that not only will Toews not be pranking him again, anyone else on the team who wants to mess with Sidney's things will have to go through Jonny first.

Sidney nods and waits for Jonny to be the first to back away before he turns to his own stall again and reaches to his shelf for stick tape.

*

"It's not working," Babcock says in undertones to Hitchcock, holding the battered clipboard over his mouth so players on the ice can't see. The paper beneath the clip is covered in doodled line combinations, name after name paired together then crossed out, circled, underlined, erased. Sidney notices and watches with the corners of his eyes, eavesdrops as he thumbs at the fraying edge of the tape on his stick. He'll need to rewrap it before shootout drills.

"He takes up too much ice."

"Well," the clipboard droops and hearing becomes easier, "we knew what we were getting when we picked him. He's always centered in Chicago, he's never had to play wing."

"Fucking natural centers."

Babcock laughs, echoes, "Fucking centers."

Hitch sniffs and raises an eyebrow in consideration. "We could move Richards. 18-12-61, then bump Toews to the Crosby-Staal line."

"He's a fucking natural center, what the hell is he going to do out there with Crosby?" Babcock shakes his head in quick denial, his focus following Toews's progress up and down the ice. Sidney averts his eyes and rips the tape away from his stick. It splits with the force of the tug, and he picks at the dangling end to get a grasp on the bits still stuck to the wood. Babcock shifts his weight from side to side. "We could bench him. Thirteenth forward, five minutes a game and sit."

Sidney looks up, watches across eighty feet of slushy ice as Toews rips the puck away from Niedermayer and spins around, looking for a linemate for the pass. Thornton is out of position, three strides too far back and tangled up with Doughty. The pass goes wide. Toews has to cross the whole ice, his skates slicing snow up against the boards right in front of Sidney, but he's the first one to pick up the recovery. Thornton doesn't get untangled in time to support him. Jonny dumps the puck in and idles off to the rear corner, watching the Staal line come out and pick up play. Not his fault. Sidney himself wouldn't have done it any differently.

"Bench him," Hitchcock's voice sounds resigned. Sidney glances over at the two coaches and watches their crossed arms, their stony faces. He feels something unexpected boil up behind his sternum and under his lungs.

Babcock shrugs his eyebrows, eloquent expression above passionless stance and shoulders. "Split Toews and Morrow for time on the fourth, nobody's feelings get hurt, we don't have to worry about it. Put him out on the kill, maybe. If he takes up space he'll be good at that."

"Bench him," Hitchcock repeats, skeptical.

Sidney checks the new tape job, clenches his hands over the familiar slim-wrapped handle, and rolls both legs back across the boards to head out to the ice. Toews whips by him with the puck, all alone with both defensemen whirling lost and confused in his wake. He dekes twice, hesitates for a half-step, and scores on Brodeur. The goalie laughs and nudges the puck into his glove from the back of the net, hurls it at Toews's head. Jonny laughs as well, and Keith skates over to bat at the back of his helmet.

Sidney shifts to an inside edge and cuts a quick turn, skates back to the bench, careful not to skid the stop, careful not to be conspicuous. "Sixteen deserves ice time, he works too hard for us not to use him," he says, trying to sound like an alt captain and not like a twenty-two-year-old kid talking to men who've been champions at this game since before he was born. "Put him out with Iggy. Hell, put him on my line before you bench him. I'll deal with it."

A deep, hard line appears between Babcock's eyebrows; Sidney wonders how many minutes of frowning it would take for that canyon to become permanent. Hitch shuffles his feet, glances at the head coach, and tries his best to mirror Babcock's expression. "Taken under consideration," Babcock says at last. Sidney nods and heads back out to rejoin his linemates. They'll probably think he was just sticking up for his roommate. Still, the coaches and the media and the fans are all expecting him to carry this team, and if Sidney's going to do that, then his opinion will need to bear some sort of weight. Maybe he helped out. At least he tried.

On the ice they set up for four-by-four drills. Keith attaches himself to Toews's side with a rough arm around the neck and a faked headlock. Toews struggles ineffectually, but this is clearly an old game for both of them, and he isn't trying hard to escape. Keith is chuckling and happy and he refuses to leave Toews behind, pulling Niedermayer over to start forming a special teams unit. Maybe Sidney's not the only one who's trying to help out. He wonders if Toews knows, if he realizes what Keith's up to. Jonny cuffs Keith lightly on the back of the head, and Sidney thinks that maybe he does.

*

The blankets are just warming up in the cocoon he's built around himself when Jonny steps out of the bathroom, releasing a cloud of steam that dissipates quickly in the cold room. He's already wearing his worn-out shirt and sleep pants, and the steam makes them stick to his ribs, the tops of his thighs. This time it's Sidney who's left the doors to the balcony open, enjoying the contrast of the wintery air and the warmth of the comforter. Jonny's hand lingers over the light switch for a moment then drifts away, leaving the room dark as he crawls quickly into bed.

It's only just dusk outside, faint haze of deep blue clinging to the horizon between the crevices and arroyos of the skyscrapers. Twelve hours until tomorrow, until press conferences and team meetings and careful meals and naps and Norway. They'll win tomorrow.

"We'll win tomorrow," says Toews into the dark, apropos of nothing. He isn't reading Sidney's mind; no one on the team has thought of anything else for the past few days. Tomorrow. Tomorrow we win.

"Yes."

"You'll be fine," Jonny says, confident. Sidney snorts. Of course he will. He'll be fine. For a moment, bundled up snug and cosy against the cold, he allows himself to envy Jonny. Toews has no pressure on him, no expectations but the ones he gives himself. Even the coaches don't expect much, and the rest of the country couldn't care less about a fourth-line forward. He doesn't have to drag himself out of bed at nine tomorrow and face the sharks with reporters' faces. Sidney snorts again and uses one foot beneath the blanket to scratch at his calf.

"Hey." Toews's eyes are open, watching him from the other bed, and Sidney turns onto his side so that he can watch back.

"Hey?" repeats Sidney at last when after a few seconds nothing more is forthcoming. Jonny shakes his head wordlessly, keeping to himself whatever he was going to say, but his gaze lingers on Sidney as though he's looking for something. Searching, with the same focused intensity that he brings to everything he does. Jonny is the only person Sidney has ever met who could probably eat cereal or brush his teeth with intensity.

It's weird, and it's not the kind of thing that roommates do, but if Toews is going to stare then Sidney will feel free to stare back. So he studies the funny shape of Jonny's ear, the way his cheek mashes up against the pillow, the wrinkles in the worn neck of his t-shirt. Jonny has very long eyelashes. The warmth of the blankets lulls Sidney into slower breaths, long blinks with weighted eyelids that don't want to reopen easily. He doesn't know if Jonny has found whatever he seemed to be looking for, because he dozes off with Jonny still silent and intent across from him.

*

Sidney ducks his head, hunches over and concentrates on panting. The world has a lot of air in it, but he can't seem to get nearly enough into his lungs. A line of sweat trickles down from his hair into the corner of his eye, stings. He, Nash, and Iggy were the last shift of the first period against the Norwegians.

"Well, that was an unmitigated disaster," says Getzlaf from off to his right. Sidney glares at him and he shrugs. "Just telling the truth."

"Scoreless isn't a disaster," says Lemaire, marching into the room and over to the whiteboard. Sidney lifts his head to listen to the strategy revamp that's no doubt coming. "Losing would be a disaster. Scoreless is a fixable problem, and we are going to fix it."

The room fairly vibrates with nervous energy as Lemaire throws up a game plan in red and black marks on the board. Richards bounces his foot incessantly, Perry twists his stick in ever-quickening circles, Marleau tosses a tennis ball ferociously from hand to hand. Keith grinds down on his mouthguard between his teeth loudly enough that Sidney can hear the rubber squeak from ten feet away. It's worse than even the Stanley Cup finals. This is a team full of desperate men, and they don't know each other well enough yet for the coaches or captains to say the right things and calm everyone. Outside the door is the muffled hum of reporters from every country in the world, and above them the roar of the crowd seeps through a half-dozen feet of concrete, louder even than the reporters. It presses down on them all, constant trembling reminder of how many eyes are watching, how many people want this. Lu has his mask off and is rubbing little circles into his temples, muttering. Marty pats him on the back.

Off in the very corner of the dressing room at the end of the benches, Toews is a pocket of calm, detached in a way that reminds Sidney of the plane flight on the way up. He seems terrifically untouched by all the pressure, and Sidney clears his throat to stop his jaw from clenching with envy. Toews doesn't have to deal with the weight of being the Next One. He can just play the game, and he's playing well; Babcock stuck him in on the kill and he'd managed a short-handed breakaway.

"-- so from the dot --," and an X on the board, "-- to the shooter in the high slot --," another X, and a dotted line for the path of the puck, " -- then take the shot and everyone crash for the rebound. Real simple." Lemaire stops talking to change markers and in the short silence Keith rises from where he's been sitting by Seabrook, walks the length of the room, and sits down by Toews. He's the only one on his feet; the whole team notices. The creak of his gear sounds loud and obvious since no one is speaking, somehow embarrassing in an itchy, ill-defined way. Toews raises an eyebrow at him in question and Keith shakes his head, a message that Toews seems to understand, because he relaxes back and focuses once more on Lemaire's new plan for the power play.

Sidney concentrates on Keith, though. Little by little Keith relaxes and seems to center himself, as though his captain's calm is contagious. In the next pause Seabrook moves to be near Keith again -- another lone player walking, with the whole team staring -- but neither Toews nor Keith seem in the least bit surprised, and when Seabrook settles down, the little pack of Chicago players is suddenly the most serene, focused area of the room. A glance at Babcock finds him standing by Niedermayer, their heads together and whispering to each other, both taking surreptitious glances toward the end of the benches where Keith is now slouched back, laughing with Seabrook at a private joke. Toews smiles fondly at them. Babcock raises an eyebrow at the sight and Niedermayer nods that he's seen.

When the red light above the doorway goes on to mark the end of intermission, Lemaire jabs a marker in Sidney's direction. "Kid, you're on first face-off." Sidney nods and they shuffle into a line for Lu to lead them back out onto the ice. Keith seems loose, the most confident that Sidney's seen since they set foot in Vancouver. Their skates make gentle sucking noises as they step on the rubber mats that line the route from the dressing room to the ice. Sidney sets his mouth in determination and imagines the sheet, the goal, himself shooting, the light, the ripple of the crowd jumping up. He tries to feel it in his arms through the tunnel: the exact weight of the stick when it makes contact with the puck, the wind that it'll create on the backswing. He pins the idea of that perfect shot in his mind and steps out through the door to the deafening yells of the crowd; it's time to go out and win.

*

After the adrenaline of the Norway game, there's simply no way that Sidney's body will let him fall asleep at a normal hour. It's a problem he has with the Penguins too, staying up well past midnight in the aftermath of big games simply because he's too keyed up for rest. The easiest way to deal with it is to simply wait out the rush, then sleep when his system finally crashes. To this end, once the last of the reporters have left the green room and Hitchcock has spent fifteen minutes explaining the next day's practice agenda to the captains, Sidney returns to the room, hangs up his suit, and changes into jeans to go back out again.

Jonny is curled in bed when he returns, already in t-shirt and shorts for sleeping, concentrating at punching away on his phone. He looks up when Sidney grabs for a pair of jeans. "You going out?"

"Yeah. Still --," and Sidney shakes out his hands, bounces on the balls of his feet, trying to explain without words the effects of the adrenaline. "Thought I'd maybe go get food, see if anyone is still up around the ping-pong tables for a game or something."

Jonny's eyes drift unfocused for a moment, thoughtful, then land back on Sidney's face. "X-Box?"

"I could go for that."

"Give me a minute, let me get dressed." Jonny snatches up a pair of his own jeans, shucks the sleep shorts and pulls on the jeans over dark colored briefs, then roots around in his dresser for a shirt. When he finds one -- Grateful Dead, looks vintage -- he ducks into the bathroom and emerges a few seconds later with it on. Sidney blinks. "Okay," says Jonny, pulling on shoes, "Let's go."

They phone Doughty and Seabrook on their way to the Village's all-night cafe. Keith tags along, and the five of them play Mario Kart until 2 a.m., giving up only when they have to wake Doughty off the beanbag that he crashed out on in the lounge. With Jonny's help, Sidney escorts Doughty back to the room he shares with Boyle, then they both return to their own room and fall into bed. Sleep comes easily this time.

*

"We could get lunch," says Marty eagerly and pats him on the chest. "'Lu says they have bacon cheeseburgers."

There are twenty-two reporters standing around him, a vast tangle of cameras and microphones and cords, pen-sized digital recorders and men wearing headphones to balance the sound levels. Maybe fifteen of them chuckle, all of them older men; bacon is a long-running gag between Marty and the Canadian media. The others frown, unfamiliar with the joke, and Sidney wonders how many articles about Marty's weight will show up in tomorrow's papers.

"Do you really think bacon burgers are the best thing for an athlete who --," one of the younger reporters begins, and Sidney cuts him off.

"We're not going to eat cheeseburgers," -- Marty's face falls into a soft O of disappointment and Sidney stifles a laugh -- "but the food here at the Village has been really good. I'm looking forward to trying the Mongolian." He's looking forward to no such thing, but it's exotic enough to get the jackals' minds off of Marty. He does this sort of thing routinely in Pittsburgh -- deflecting attention to himself whenever reporters get too close to a sensitive area for a teammate -- but it feels momentarily strange to act so protective of a goalie who spends most of the year on a different team.

"Sidney, do you think it's important for the hockey team to be seen with the other athletes this Games, or are you guys trying to keep to yourselves and stay focused on your play?" Sidney barely avoids rolling his eyes. There is no win to that question; either he comes off as sociable but not serious enough about hockey -- a cardinal sin with the weight of the entire country's hopes around his neck -- or he comes off as an antisocial jerk with no life outside his sport.

Marty rescues him. "Food," says Marty urgently, apparently reduced by hunger to single-syllable words. "Foooooooood."

Sidney runs his fingers through his hair and smiles. "Alright, alright, I'm coming. Sorry guys, we're going to go eat."

The reporters mutter anxiously, but with a few strategic shoves from Marty and apologetic looks from Sidney, they make good their escape.

"Thanks," says Sidney, once they're safely within the confines of the Athlete's Village, where none of the jackals have credentials to come through the gates.

Marty grins. "You looked like you were about to bite somebody's head off, so I figured maybe you needed rescuing."

"It's been a long morning." Even after the late night, he'd been up by 7 a.m. running a schedule of shower, breakfast, practice, shower, and then press junkets. In a choice between the hockey on-ice and the media, Sidney isn't sure which exhausts him more. Babcock still isn't happy with their team chemistry and keeps changing his linemates; the reporters aren't happy with the Russian team's accessibility and keep asking Sidney more questions to make up for the ones they can't ask Ovechkin.

"No kidding." Marty bites at his thumbnail then points further up the sidewalk. "Oh hey." They're joined by Nash, Perry, and Keith. Marty glances down at his phone, then up again at Sidney. "I texted to let them know you were eating."

Sidney catches the slip. "I'm eating?"

"Yeah, I'm not really that hungry, you just looked like you could use the help. I kind of figured I'd take a nap. My kids are going to call me at two, so I thought I'd get some shut-eye before that."

Nash pokes Marty in the side. "Don't you dare start wasting away on us." Brodeur bats his hand away, and after a brief tussle, Nash ends up with a victory in the form of a headlock. "Oh look, honey, there's the figure skaters! Isn't that quaint?" he says loudly, and gives Marty a smacking kiss on the cheek before releasing him.

Three really pretty girls are coming towards them on the sidewalk. Sidney thinks they're actually skiers, though he can't be sure, and at Rick's pronouncement they slow down. Sidney watches as one's eyebrows climb toward her hairline, and she takes the girl next to her urgently by the wrist, tugging. All three cross the street and hurry away.

"You're an ass," says Marty flatly.

"I'm an angel," says Rick, and bats his eyelashes. "Isn't that right, honey? Besides, it's not like you were looking. I think your wife and kids would agree."

"I'm not the only one here who might be looking," Marty points out. "What if Sid --."

"-- He's Sidney fucking Crosby," Rick interrupts. "If he wants to get some ass at this Olympics, he'll get some. Hell, --"

"I'm right here," says Sidney loudly. The others ignore him.

"-- there is no one in this whole Village that should be more knee-deep in pussy than Sidney Crosby."

"Shaun White," says Keith helpfully.

Rick cocks his head to the side, gives Keith a considering look, and nods. "Point. Anyway, as I was saying. He's Sidney fucking Crosby, the pussy should be falling all over him. He doesn't need some washed up fat goalie getting him tail."

"I am not washed up," says Marty with great dignity. Keith snickers and Marty cranes his head back over his shoulder to meet Duncan's eyes. "Hey, where's your wife?"

"In the cafeteria. He and Tazer are saving us spots." Sidney doesn't think too hard about why Keith doesn't even blink at the 'wife' in reference to Seabrook. "Come on, hurry up."

They all present their credentials outside the cafeteria, then again in the coat check line, where Sidney passes off his jacket to a guy who seems struck dumb to be acquainted with him. "Thanks," he says, brushing the snow off one shoulder before handing over his red windbreaker.

"I --. It's --. We --," says the coat checker, then visibly snaps his jaw shut and thrusts a check ticket at Sidney's face, clutching the windbreaker to his chest like a security blanket. Sidney takes the ticket and waits to see if he's actually going to put the jacket away, but after a long silence that stretches far into the realm of uncomfortable, Sidney gives up and turns toward the cafeteria proper, jogging to catch up with the others.

"You're not going to see that coat again," says Perry matter-of-factly. Sidney sighs.

At the other end of the large dining room, two hands are waving in the air. "Wife," says Nash, snickering, and Keith punches him casually in the ear then saunters on toward their saved seats, while Nash clutches his wounded head and makes pained noises.

Seabrook and Toews have Marleau with them and are saving a bunch of chairs at a long, straight table, athletes from other teams on both sides of the chunk they've got reserved. Sidney collapses into a chair between Toews and a man wearing the orange-and-black uniform of the Dutch speed skating team. Sidney recognizes the uniform from television, though not the man. "Long morning?" Toews says, and Sidney nods.

"Perry thinks I just lost my jacket to the coat-check guy." He has to raise his voice a little. The room is spacious and airy, but it's also full of people in conversation. A normal speaking voice would get lost in the din.

Jonny gives him a puzzled look. "But if you checked it in --."

"He seemed a little possessive about keeping it. I don't know if I'll get it back." Sidney leans back against the chair's padding and arches his back to stretch. Sitting down feels good after doing press on his feet all morning.

Jonny looks him up and down, taking in his formal interview shirt. "If you don't see it again, you can use my jacket until we get back to the room. At least I'm wearing a sweatshirt." Toews is also wearing a hoodie over the sweatshirt and a longsleeved t-shirt under it. Sidney saw him pull all the layers on that morning over the omnipresent short sleeved t-shirt after Toews got out of the shower. They'd joked about how Jonny mummifies himself and Sidney had realized, to his surprise, that despite being on a team with the guy and practicing with him for four days now, he wasn't sure he'd ever seen Toews shirtless. With all the fabric he's wearing, Sidney won't feel too guilty about taking him up on the offer of his jacket. Toews pats the table beside himself. "Go grab food. Your spot will be here when you get back."

Sidney nods gratefully and rises. "Thanks."

"No problem," Jonny says and takes a bite of his chicken scallopini.

*

When overtime ends against Switzerland, the whole team sits through an unbearable pause while the Zambonis do their thing. Lemaire takes the opportunity to review the scouting report on Hiller for them, while Babcock fills out the shooter list for the refs. Sidney checks the tape on his stick and grinds his teeth into his mouthpiece. For all their vaunted neutrality, he could happily kick every single citizen of Switzerland in the balls at this moment. Especially Jonas Hiller, who picked the worst possible night to play out of his mind.

"Kid, you're up first," says Babcock, pen sticking out of the corner of his mouth, and Sidney nods. "Toews, second. Getzy, third."

Marty paces the ice on the other side of the boards like a prisoner or a man possessed. The entire team watches his progress. "Marty," Babcock says at last, "there's not much we can give you on their shooters. Shootout scouting on the Swiss was a little light." His tone is wry. Brodeur shrugs and hefts his stick as though he's testing the weight of it. "You know the report on you is high corner, glove side. The most we can tell you is watch for those."

Marty nods again, bangs the stick twice against the boards. "I got this," he says, and heads out to his crease to rough up the ice.

Sidney takes a deep breath and focuses on Hiller at the other end of the ice. He's worked on this, on the shootout. He knows what shot he wants -- backhand drag and roof it -- and winning is just a matter of faking until Hiller goes down and he gets a decent look at empty twine. The first Swiss skater steps out onto the ice and heads towards the goal, but Sidney ignores him and doesn't take his eyes off the Swiss keeper. He doesn't need to watch the Jumbotron to know if the other team's shot went in. The crowd goes deafening behind them when Marty makes the save, and Sidney takes a deep breath and blinks at Hiller.

"Kid," says Babcock.

The puck is at center ice, tiny black dot placed precisely on the red line. Sidney circles it, takes a final focusing breath. He taps his stick once on the ice for luck and pulls the puck to his tape.

Hiller doesn't go down.

Deke backhand, forehand shuffle, backhand again and still Hiller won't fucking drop. Sidney isn't even breathing and he's closing on the goal too fast, not enough space now to really roof it. Two more strides and the backhand is impossible, he's too close to get any air under it. There's only one option left, and Sidney shifts instinctively: try and slip it in just at the side of the goal if Hiller can't get to the post quickly enough. Sidney pushes off as hard as he can -- speed is the only way to do this -- but Hiller follows him and now he goes down, slides all the way across so that Sidney's shot bounces harmlessly off a pad.

The ref waves his arms. No goal, and the crowd's, "Oh," of disappointment echoes exactly what Sidney himself is feeling. He wants to punch something, maybe punch Hiller, but instead Sidney steers the rebound back to the nearest linesman and heads for the bench.

Toews is up next and Sidney watches him instead of the Swiss man now out against Marty. Toew's face is a mask, pure tunnel-vision, and Sidney wonders if that's what he himself looks like when he's concentrating. He doesn't think so; Sidney's never seen anyone look so tightly locked down onto a goal. There's a burning intensity in his eyes and in the way Jonny's breathing hard already, as though he's already skating or as if the effort of zeroing in to just him and the goalie is enough of itself to start him winded. Babcock doesn't even say his name when it's time for Toews to head out -- between the crowd screaming for Marty and the concentration, Sidney isn't sure that Jonny would hear it if he did. Instead Babcock just taps him on the shoulder with a little push.

Toews doesn't take his eyes off of Hiller after he sets foot on the ice. Never even glances down at the puck, and Sidney wonders what it feels like to have that lazer-focus directed straight at you. Just watching gives him chills.

Head up, staring contest all the way, three strides and Hiller does go down for Jonny, pretty as can be. The backhand after is also a thing of beauty, but Hiller gets his glove up just in time. It's tipped away.

They're still scoreless.

Jonny comes back to the bench shaking his head, mouth twisted in disgust, and shrugs it off when Sidney lays a hand on his shoulder.

"Hey," says Sidney, but whatever else he would have said gets drowned out in the crowd's euphoria at Marty's next save.

Getzlaf, their third shooter, doesn't score either. He knows Hiller, sees him every day in practice for the Ducks, but when he tries to go close and five-hole it doesn't work.

"Sidney," says Babcock, screaming to be heard over the crowd. "Sid, you're up."

"Go high," yells Getzlaf. "You won't beat him five-hole, not today."

"Come on, Kiddo. Atta boy, Kid." Sidney can't make out whose voice it was, but the sound is comforting, the cadence exactly like something that he might hear back in Pittsburgh.

There really isn't time to be nervous. Sidney catches Hiller's eye, glares, turns his back to circle the puck, then looks up again.

The ref gives him the whistle.

Hiller doesn't go down.

Backhand, stickhandle, toe-drag for a half-stride, and suddenly it's like a green light comes on in Sidney's head. While Hiller isn't down completely in butterfly, he's working his legs further and further apart so that he can spring side-to-side if Sidney tries to wrap one around him. Legs that far apart mean that he's low to the ice.

There's an empty corner blocker-side.

Sidney gives it everything he's got, a half-stride for momentum before he bangs it high and fast.

The net moves. The fans behind the net go nuts. The red light comes on.

Sidney thinks his lungs might be exploding, chest somehow both weightless and tight at the same time. The building is definitely exploding, and the crowds at the boards are going insane when he circles back to skate down the line for fist bumps. Toews thumps him on the head when he slides back into his spot on the bench. "You nailed it," Jonny says, and Sidney has to read his lips; it's too loud to hear the words, even from only a couple feet away.

Sidney beams at him and mouths "Killed that fucker," hoping Jonny can see what he means. The way Jonny searches his face feels like tunnel-vision all over again, and Sidney doesn't ever want to find himself on the hostile end of that focus. With Jonny laughing and studying him and intent, Sidney looks away to the other end of the rink.

If he'd thought it was loud before, it's nothing to when Marty makes the final save and they've finally finally, thank you Jesus, won the thing. Piling over the boards to go congratulate Marty, Sidney knows he's screaming his head off just as loudly as the fans, and can't be bothered to care. It was too close, it went on longer than it should, but they won.

Sidney gets his helmet banged down around his ears more than once by an over-exuberant teammate, and somewhere in the melee he loses his gloves, but after a brief mob around the goal they line up to shake hands, circle up with sticks high to salute the fans, and head off toward the green room. It's sobering; if there's anything to take the edge off his joy at winning, it's his dread at facing the media after that near-disaster of a shootout. Sidney lingers, holds the door at the end of the rink open for the rest of the team, putting off the moment when he'll have to stop hearing these cheers.

Someone presses up behind him, wraps an arm around his neck in a loose mockery of a headlock. Sidney stiffens and cranes his head first to one side then the other, until he can twist enough to just see the #16 on the sleeve. Toews.

Jonny squeezes him in a half-hug, laughing in his ear, then leaves his arm loosely around Sidney's shoulder, body up against Sidney's back and hand draped casually against Sidney's chest, until the rest of the team is through the door. They're the last two to step off the ice. Sidney can still hear his name in the cheers when the door closes.

*

He steps out of the shower and reaches for the towel to dry his hair, then drops it on the floor. It's still wet. Hockey players tend to go through towels like crazy; between practices, games, weight training, makeup for media appearances, and steam saunas to keep the cramps at bay, Sidney sometimes showers more in a day than most people do in a week. He's the laundry service's worst nightmare. There are spare towels in the closet next to the kitchenette, and it's not like everyone on the team doesn't see him naked every day. Sidney steps out of the bathroom and stops dead in his tracks.

"Jesus," is all he can think to say. Now he understands why he's never seen Toews naked, or even shirtless. His chest and ribs have scars on them, pale lines that wrap up his sides and across his pecs.

Jonny freezes, then grabs a t-shirt from the bed and jerks it roughly down over his head. "Jonny, what the hell?" Sidney reaches towards him then freezes again when Toews takes a startled step back. A red-hot blush climbs up his throat and over his cheekbones, and his eyes are wide and frightened. "What the hell?" Sidney repeats.

The weird thing is, those scars weren't random. They weren't blotchy like from a car wreck or simple and clean like a surgery. They were figures, shapes -- lacy and too intricate to be anything but purposeful. Some of the lines were thicker and some thinner, but together they unmistakably formed designs. Sidney even recognizes one of them, he's seen the depiction etched on the gold medal he won at world juniors. It's a stylized skater, head up as if looking for a pass. Sidney stares at the t-shirt as though he could see through the fabric, trying to figure out why Toews has a scar like that on his ribs.

"Just drop it." Jonny's voice is icy. Sidney jerks his gaze up to Toews's face and is surprised at the hostility there.

"But --." It feels like something a team captain, even an alt captain, should be concerned about.

"Drop. It."

"O-Okay," says Sidney, because he isn't sure what else he should say. Jonny stares him down, stubborn set to his jaw, until Sidney feels acutely aware of the fact that he is still naked and Jonny is now fully dressed. A drop of water runs down the back of his neck. "I was just going to --," he pushes a hand weakly in the direction of the linen closet, " -- just going to get a towel."

Toews says nothing, but turns away and yanks the covers down on his bed with enough force that Sidney flinches. He watches for another few seconds, but Jonny won't look back up at him, so Sidney turns around and leaves toward the kitchenette. The door to the room closes behind him a few seconds later.

Towel in hand, he pauses for a moment before he steps back into his room, runs the cloth over his hair until it's no longer dripping. He gets a glass of water from the little sink above the minibar, and sips it slowly. He deposits the now-soaked towel in a heap next to the door for housekeeping. He's about to pour water into the little coffeemaker to heat when he realizes that he's avoiding the moment when he has to face Jonny again, and Sidney's never been that kind of coward.

The lights are off when he opens the door again. Jonny is a lump of blankets, turned away from the door and from Sidney's bed. The balcony door is open and the wind from outside tastes like snow. For a moment Sidney opens his mouth to say something, but when he realizes he still has no idea what he's thinking, much less what he should say to Jonny, he closes it again. Pulling on his sleep pants by feel alone, Sidney slides beneath the comforter of his own bed and stares at Toews's motionless back. The revelers have left the streets outside silent and dim before he manages sleep.