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Closed Fracture

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Sidney knew it was broken the second it happened. He was skating fast, stick out in front of him, and then he was on his side, sliding on the asphalt with his left arm and stick tangled underneath him. The stick broke first, his arm just after.

He kept sliding until his skates hit the curb, and avoided a faceful of gutter by a few inches and dumb luck.

"Fu – fudge," Sidney said, biting down very hard in the middle.

There was the sound of many skates on asphalt, a collision, and some shouting.

"Mr. Crosby?" one of the kids asked. "Are you okay?"

Sidney sat up and scooted around on his butt. His left arm dangled, pulsing intermittent shocks of pain up his shoulder and neck. His team was clustered around him, collectively wide-eyed. The tallest of them barely cleared Sidney's head when he was on his ass.

"Okay," Sidney said. "Guys, this is why we always wear our safety equipment."

Blood ran down the side of his face and pattered onto his shirt. The parents were converging en masse, and somewhere in the crowd, Sidney heard a cell phone camera clicking away.

"Holy shit," someone said. "Did we break Sidney Crosby?"


The ER was busy. Sidney waited for three hours, and honestly, he would have waited longer if he'd known the doctor he drew would be a fan. Sidney liked his fans, really he did, but there was a time and a place, and he felt very strongly that he ought not be asked to talk about the season with someone who was in the process of sticking tweezers into his face.

"There's a big one," the doctor said, dropping a bloody piece of gravel into the tray. "So, that Rangers series was something else. Did you—"

The curtain closing off their little cubicle rattled, and Mario appeared, out of breath and dressed down.

"Fuck's sake," he said, surveying Sidney from head to toe in one comprehensive look.

"It's minor," Sidney said immediately, because Mario swore like a sailor during games, and almost never otherwise, so he was probably pretty upset. "No surgery, it'll be fine by training camp. Right?" He appealed to the doctor for backup.

"Uh." The doctor clearly recognized Mario. It seemed to physically pain him, which was confusing until Sidney remembered there were rules about this stuff.

"It's fine, he has my medical power of attorney," Sidney said, waving his good hand. "It's really not bad," he added to Mario.

The doctor nodded, visibly relieved not to have to say no to the very large man standing over him. "It's a closed transverse radial fracture," he said, pointing to the films displayed on the computer monitor. "Non-displaced, so the recovery time should be relatively short."

Mario nodded, then swiveled to look directly at Sidney. "Did you hit your head?"

"Oh," Sidney said. "No." He started to reach up, but he automatically did it with his left hand and that didn't go so well.

"We're going to put a few stitches in his face," the doctor said. "There, and there, I think."

"I slid," Sidney said, getting his breath back. "Hang on, aren't you guys supposed to be leaving for the coast today?"

"Yeah, funny thing, when the front office calls to tell me you're in multiple pieces in the ER, I postpone my weekend plans." Mario brought his full attention to bear on the doctor again. "Can we get him a head CT? Neck, too."

"That isn't really indic—sure," the doctor said. "I'll see how busy radiology is."

"Can't I get a cast first?" Sidney said plaintively to his retreating back. "Wait," he added, turning back to Mario. "How did the front office know? My phone is in my car and I couldn't remember anybody's number." At least not anybody in the country.

"They have all sorts of alerts on you guys," Mario said. "Apparently, you're a hashtag today." He folded himself down onto the doctor's abandoned stool with a long sigh. "Someone took pictures," he said. "You looked like half your face was torn off."

". . . Oh," Sidney said, belatedly catching up to the subtext of this conversation. "Hey," he said. "I'm okay. I mean, the numbing shots they do here aren't nearly as good as what we get during games. But other than that, I'm fine."

Mario scrubbed both hands over his face. "Good," he said. "Now, let's make sure, okay? Is your car still out by the park?"

"Yeah. Sasha's mom drove me."

"Okay." Mario nodded firmly to himself. "Give me your keys, and someone will get it. I'm going to call and get one of our guys in here to look at your films. And Nathalie can bring you something to eat. Hang tight."


They didn't release him for another five hours. The CT scans looked fine; Sidney was told repeatedly that this was a good sign but not a definitive one, even though he knew that very well. It was decided, after an extended discussion, not to follow the concussion protocol unless and until some actual symptoms popped up. Sidney understood the concern, he truly did, but mostly he just didn't want to deal with all of that.

Nathalie took him home while Mario went to the pharmacy. It was a sad commentary on Sidney's life that he had two regular rooms at the Lemieuxs': one, on its own at the top of the house, where he'd stayed his rookie year and off and on ever since, and one just down the hall from the master suite where he stayed whenever he was injured and they wanted to be able to hear him in the night.

Alexa was lying in wait at the top of the stairs.

"Oh my God, your face," she said, goggling.

"It's only eight stitches," Sidney protested. They'd applied nearly a roll of gauze to him, though, so he felt mummified.

"Turn your head," she said, and snapped a picture before he could protest. "Chill, it's for Taylor."

"Don't send that," Sidney said fruitlessly.

"Argue tomorrow," Nathalie said. "Alexa, the dishwasher needs emptying. Sidney, bed, march."

He slept like the dead for six hours, until the various numbing shots started wearing off. There was a trick to finding refuge in sleep from pain, but it was actually harder with more minor injuries, and Sidney'd had it much worse than this.

He tried for a while, but it was no good. Eventually, after three in the morning, he got up, went across the hall to the bathroom, and squared up to the mirror to assess.

The bandages on his face were pretty impressive. Sidney worked his fingers under a bit of tape and peeled it back for a peek. Everyone was right; it looked bad. Which just figured, because the broken jaw had been far, far worse, but superficially he'd looked okay as soon as the swelling went down. This was going to take a while. They'd stitched up a few bigger cuts, but there was nothing to do about half a faceful of road rash. There were some other raw patches covered in gauze: one below his ear where the strap of the helmet hadn't covered him, one on his neck, a whole archipelago of them down his shoulder and upper arm.

The cast wasn't too bad. He could bend his elbow but not his wrist. Austin had signed it, apparently while Sidney was sleeping. His hand was already turning black and blue.

Mario appeared in the doorway with a quiet footstep, wearing only sweatpants. He joined Sidney at the bathroom counter, running his eyes assessingly up and down. He leaned around to open the medicine cabinet and produced a penlight, pointing it at Sidney with his eyebrows raised.

"Yeah, okay," Sidney said.

Mario turned off the bathroom light. The two of them stood side-by-side in silence in the dark for a while, waiting for their eyes to adjust. Then Mario touched his shoulder in warning, and took him gently by the chin. The light flashed, and Sidney did his best to keep his eyes open and not to twitch away.

"Pupils are normal," Mario said softly. He laid his large palm over Sidney's eyes and flicked the bathroom light back on. "Are you dizzy?" he asked, taking his hand away.

"No." Sidney shook his head to prove it. "And I can remember everything."

"Good," Mario said, palpably dry. "That will help with the discussion we're going to have about why the hell you weren't wearing wrist guards."

"I was," Sidney protested. "But they were too small, so I, uh. Took them off."

Mario pressed his lips together, but said only, "Tomorrow. Now, any confusion? Disorientation?"

They went through the rest of the drill together, voices low. When they were done, Mario put his hand on Sidney's good shoulder and said, "Passed, with flying colors." Which was unnecessary because Sidney already knew, but still nice.

"Right," Mario continued. "There's prescription Tylenol. The ER also gave you Percocet, but our guys got you gabapentin if you'd rather not go down that road again. Up to you."

Sidney made a face, then another one when that hurt. He had never tolerated narcotics well, and it was only getting worse with age. The single blessing of his concussion was the time he'd spent with a pain specialist to find something he could take that actually worked for him. Or sort of worked, some of the time, and at least didn't make him throw up.

"Gabapentin," Sidney said. "Please."

"Go back to bed. I'll bring it to you."

Mario brought Gatorade and water into the guest room, along with all three prescription bottles. He double-checked the dosage by the light of the bedside lamp, then tipped pills into Sidney's good hand.

"By the way," he said, collecting the discarded drug information sheets. "Do you want to talk about whatever's been bugging you for the past two weeks?"

Sidney put down the Gatorade, wincing. Speaking of raw spots. "No," he said. "Thank you."

"Okay. Get some sleep."


It took him a couple hours to get back to solid sleep, but once he got there, he stayed out for a long time. Sidney woke up late in the morning with a headache, a dry mouth, and patches of tender bruising coming up from his cheek to his ankle.

He groaned his way upright and drank half a bottle of Gatorade. Someone had come in while he was asleep and left his cell phone in reach, which meant they'd gotten his car. Sidney picked up the phone, working it one-handed. His left hand sort of functioned, but he found after some trial and error that it wasn't worth the effort. He had thirty-two texts.

He winced and called Taylor without reading any of them.

"You're on Puck Daddy," she said, instead of a greeting.

Sidney sank back into the pillows. "So? What's new?"

"The headline is 'Best Hockey Player in the World Sidney Crosby Taken Out by Eight Year Old, Breaks Arm in Mite Hockey Game.'"

"Okay, first of all, I wasn't 'taken out,' no one hit me," Sidney said. "I just . . . fell over."

"Oh, well then," Taylor said. "That's much less embarrassing." She paused. "How bad?"

"Not bad," Sidney said instantly. "Six weeks in the cast, tops. And my face might scar a bit, but that's all."

Taylor breathed out audibly. "Okay," she said. "I want to come down there."

"Hey, no," Sidney said. "I just told you I'm okay. I'm at Mario and Nathalie's for a few days, that's all. Don't interrupt your plans."

"No." She sounded firm and determined. "I want to come down there for the rest of the summer, that's what I'm saying. Stay with you, leave for school from there."

". . . Oh." Sidney was the first to admit that he was not always good at figuring out why people did what they did. But this was such an obvious declaration of loyalty, even he couldn't miss it. It was heart-warming and terrifying. "You know I love having you here," he said carefully. "But are you sure you want to do that?"

"Um, yes," she said.

"I really don't want to cause any more friction," Sidney said honestly.

"Oh, yeah." He wasn't sure he'd ever heard his baby sister sound bitter before. "Because, like, there are more awful things they can say to you?"

Sidney swallowed. "I meant friction for you," he said. "You don't have to – you shouldn't get stuck in the middle of this."

"You're right," Taylor said crisply. "I'm not in the middle. I'm on your side. Problem solved."

Sidney shut his eyes, weary and dismayed. When did his family start having sides to take?

The truth was, though, that her conviction felt good. And the idea of having her here seemed to fill the hollow place under his ribs. "Give me a couple of days to get back on my feet," he said. "And then we'll talk about it."

"Three days," Taylor said, because she knew if he made her a specific promise, he would keep it.

"Three days," Sidney agreed. "But the thing is. Um. I might not be here all summer."

"Oh my God. are you going to Russia? Is it a romantic rendezvous? Will you have feelings?" Taylor sounded exponentially happier than she had for the entire conversation.

"Maybe," Sidney said. "And none of your business, and shut up."

"Okay," Taylor said briskly. "Figure your shit out. You've got three days. Love you!" And she hung up.

He sighed, and started working his way through his texts in chronological order. He suspected the team phone tree in action, because his inbox went from nothing to an explosion right around the time Mario was showing up at the ER. Sidney scrolled past a number of sarcastically concerned inquiries about his status and offers to back him up next time he needed to take on a pack of vicious pre-teens. Flower had watched the entire first season of The West Wing with him once in a single weekend when they were both out injured; he sent only, did you come to a sudden arboreal stop?.

Geno had sent three texts. The first said Sid (((((. Five minutes later, I come home?, and, right on its heels, I come home.

Sidney's heart thumped painfully against his ribs. He texted back, You don't have to, because it seemed the polite thing to say. He itched to call, suddenly, uncharacteristically, but Geno hated talking on the phone in English, even with people he knew well. So instead Sidney texted, But I'd like it if you can..

There was no answer. Sidney waited, tapping his fingers impatiently on the screen. Eventually he gave it up and picked out a mass text, telling everyone he was okay and would be good by training camp. He put in the extra effort to text Flower separately and tell him no, he had not skated into a tree, and also fuck off.

He wandered downstairs and poked around the kitchen until Mario found him and banished him to the couch. He ate breakfast there, flipping idly through Saturday cartoons. His mouth was fine, but chewing too vigorously made his whole face throb.

He spent the day shuttling between the couch and a chair on the back deck. The kids were all over the place, in and out of the pool, going to soccer and karate and hockey, coming back with friends to play video games. Sidney soaked it all up, quietly greedy.

His phone beeped steadily all day, but Geno didn't text, and didn't text, and didn't text.

Mario joined him on the deck in the late afternoon. He brought Sidney a water bottle, and set a plate of finger foods on the small table between their chairs. They ate in silence for a while, staring out over the pool.

"Sorry," Mario said eventually. "But I do need to know what you want me to do here. Your parents haven't called me."

Sidney paused, teeth halfway through a slice of apple, then bit down and chewed.

"Normally, one of them is on the phone to me or Nathalie five times a day when you're hurt," Mario continued mildly. "Do you want me to call them, make sure they know?"

His parents had spent a fair amount of time with the Lemieuxs, particularly when Sidney was new to Pittsburgh. Back then, he had vaguely assumed, when he didn't have his head buried in hockey, that they had become friends in the same effortless way he had become enmeshed in Mario's family. It had been odd to realize, years later when he was older and could see these things more clearly, that they weren't friends at all. They were cordial, they shared common interests. But there was a coolness that he could never put his finger on. It used to upset him that these people he cared about so much did not care much about each other. Now he was grateful.

Sidney cleared his throat. "They know, if they want to," he said. "And they know where to find me. You don't need to call them." He didn't look over, but the quality of Mario's silence had palpably changed. "Also," Sidney said quickly. "Taylor might be coming to stay with me for a while. Maybe the rest of the summer, we haven't figured it out yet. But yeah. She – she might be around."

He heard Mario shifting in his chair. "Steph will be thrilled," he said.

After a while Mario got up, pressed Sidney's good shoulder, and went back inside. Sidney could hear his voice rising and falling in the kitchen, and Nathalie's responses, but none of the words.

The entire family was home for dinner, which almost never happened. It was a drawn-out, disorganized affair. Mario put corn and salmon and potatoes on the grill in no particular order, so they all sat around the deck, eating in bursts as food was ready. Sidney felt noticeably better, after, and he knew he couldn't put off washing out the road rash anymore. Ugh. This was going to suck.

He retreated to the second floor bathroom with soap and peroxide and a stack of washcloths Nathalie said she didn't mind if he ruined. Austin volunteered to video the proceedings and put them up on YouTube, but Sidney firmly declined this kind offer.

"Leave the door open so you can shout if you need extra hands," Nathalie called after him.

Sidney did, so he heard the doorbell as he was working his way out of his shirt, and steps on the stairs as he was peeling the gauze off his face.

"Sid." Geno appeared in the doorway behind him, reflected in the mirror. He looked awful.

"Oh my God," Sidney said, dropping a ball of soiled gauze onto the counter. Somewhere, Taylor was laughing, because this – Sidney was definitely having a feeling.

Geno took two steps into the bathroom, then braked to a halt. "Sid?" he said, lifting his hands uncertainly.

Sidney turned and threw himself at him. Geno oofed and staggered, but caught him solidly around the ribs, squeezing. Sidney squeezed him back, knocking his cast painfully against Geno's shoulder and then his head.

"Sorry, sorry," he muttered, pressing the good side of his face into Geno's t-shirt. "I missed you so much."

Geno looked startled, when Sidney checked. But he was smiling, too, and he pressed his face into Sidney's curls given half an opening, like he always did. "Miss you too," he said, and firmly kissed the skin under Sidney's ear. Then he pulled back and inspected Sidney's face, holding it carefully between his two giant palms. "Ouch," he said, sucking air between his teeth.

"It looks worse than it feels," Sidney said. He couldn't stop smiling, and it was tugging at the raw patch beside his lip. He could feel it beginning to ooze again, ugh. "Have you slept at all? You look awful."

"Planes," Geno said. He could never sleep on them, no matter what he tried. "Not look as bad as you." He brushed careful fingers around the gauze patches on Sidney's neck and shoulder and elbow, and frowned at the cast. "You need to wash?" he asked, looking over the supplies laid out on the counter.

"Oh, yeah. I'm supposed to try and get more dirt out." Sidney grimaced down at his chest. "I'm not allowed to shower until tomorrow, but I feel disgusting."

"I help?" Geno asked diffidently.

Sidney blinked. Geno always went a little nuts when Sidney or Nealsy or Tanger was injured, which usually manifested as a lot of heartfelt scolding and endless bossiness. But that had sounded like asking, not telling, which was weird. "Sure, if you want to," Sidney said.

"Of course I want to," Geno said. He eyed the washcloths. "Here, sit on counter," he said briskly, sounding much more like himself. He hovered while Sidney hoisted himself up on one arm, then thoroughly scrubbed his hands at the sink.

"This is going to be gross," Sidney warned him.

Geno rolled his eyes. "You bleed on me before," he said. "And spit, and after Max's Halloween party you—"

"Okay, okay," Sidney said hastily. There was no reason to bring up the unfortunate tequila incident of 2008, jeez. Geno did have a point, though. They had been seeing each other at their unprettiest for years before they'd started dating. There was no reason to be squeamish now, except that Sidney felt obscurely that there ought to be.

Geno tugged cautiously at the gauze on Sidney's neck. "Stuck," he said, wincing. "Fast or slow?"

"Fast," Sidney said, and shut his eyes.

Geno took him at his word. He got each bandage off with a decisive yank, clucking his tongue in disapproval over each new wound as it was revealed. The gauze was stuck down with a combination of lymph and blood, and getting it off hurt like hell. Without comment, Geno used one of the washcloths to dab a couple of involuntary tears from Sidney's eyelashes.

"Face first," Geno decided when all the gauze was off. "Lean over, hand on me."

Sidney ended up bent sideways with his cast tucked out of the way, hanging on to Geno's upper arm for balance. Geno started the water and tipped Sidney's head with a warm palm pressed to his temple. Sidney closed his eyes and held his breath while Geno sluiced the side of his face with warm water, then did it again, and again.

"Sid, have to scrub," Geno said, sounding unhappy.

"I know. Go on."

Geno was as gentle as he could be, but it was still an unpleasant experience. The doctor had said that ground in dirt and other contaminants would work their way to the surface of the wounds for days, though, and Sidney saw that the water dripping off his face was turning brown.

Geno accidentally tweaked one of the stitches, and Sidney hissed.

"Shh, sorry," Geno said. He paused to drop a kiss on Sidney's forehead, even though he was rank with yesterday's sweat and God knew what else.

"I'm sorry I didn't come to Russia," Sidney said, when Geno was done wiping at the wounds. Geno's supporting hand was covering his ear, so his voice seemed to echo in his head.

Geno was silent for a minute, rinsing Sidney's face again. He picked up a dry washcloth and began blotting gently.

"You say you come meet me," he said at last. "Spend summer together, meet family. Then you say no, not coming, upset, need time. Then you say you miss me. Confusing, Sid."

"Oh." Sidney had for years assumed that, as long as he was explicit about what he wanted, anyone who cared to would understand why and wouldn't need to ask him about it. It had been very disappointing to discover how wrong he was about that. He still forgot sometimes,. "I did miss you," he said. "A lot. And I was going to email you soon and ask if I could still come. I just—" he twitched his shoulders and Geno grumbled at him, holding him still "—I needed to be here for a while."

"Neck now," Geno warned him, and turned the water back on. When he turned it off again a few minutes later, he said, "Your parents upset."

"You could say that, yes," Sidney said.

Geno scrubbed at his neck. Sidney could see him in the mirror if he twisted his head, but whenever he tried, Geno tisked at him and turned his head back.

"I think, Sid upset," Geno said eventually. "Parents say things. Unhappy. Make Sid unhappy. Sid change mind about Russia." He paused. "Change mind about us."

"What?" Sidney sat up and knocked Geno's hands away. Red-tinged water ran down the side of his neck and onto his chest. "I am not changing my mind," he said.

Geno's shoulders dropped, like he'd honestly been worried about that. It was one of those moments where Sidney sincerely wished he was better at this. He didn't care, most of the time, that three quarters of what people said and did was so baffling. Hockey made sense; he usually knew what people would do next on the ice. And Geno made sense. Except when Sidney got it really wrong and Geno came up with crazy ideas, like that Sidney was breaking up with him, what the fuck.

"I'm not," Sidney stressed. "And I'm not sad, either."

Geno tipped his head. "But upset," he said. "Parents say things, you come to Pittsburgh instead of Russia."

Sidney winced. It had seemed the unquestionably necessary thing to do, when he'd been desperate to get out of Cole Harbour. He had a ticket to Moscow, but the thought of a new country, not knowing the language, meeting all of Geno's friends and his extended family – he just couldn't do it. The only thing he wanted was to go home to Pittsburgh, sleep in his own bed, skate on his own rink, have dinner with the Lemieuxs, play some games with the local mite league he worked with.

And it had been the right thing to do. Or, at least, the thing he needed to do. But clearly he could have managed it better.

"I'm not sad," Sidney said doggedly. "I'm pissed off." It wasn't like Sidney was any better at knowing why he did what he did than he was at understanding other people, so that surprised him as much as it surprised Geno.

"At parents?" Geno said carefully.

"Yes!" Sidney leaned forward. "I mean, they're my parents. Having opinions about my life is kind of their job. But what the fuck?"

"What they say?" Geno asked. He was twisting the washcloth between his hands, his eyes fastened on Sidney's.

Sidney pressed his lips together. "Lots of stuff. Not like, not like they're –" He'd been going to say that it wasn't like they were homophobes. They hadn't told him he was dirty or wrong. They'd just said they were surprised at him, and not sure this was a good idea, and maybe he should rethink this, and clearly he hadn't considered how he was endangering all he'd worked for with a distraction, and they cared about his happiness more than anything and they knew what made him happy, and, at the last when he wouldn't budge after three days of talking, that he was selfish. They'd never said he was dirty or immoral. But it had gradually dawned on him to wonder, in the past two weeks, if that really mattered, since it came to the same thing in the end.

"They not like me," Geno said, hangdog.

"That's just it," Sidney burst out. "They don't get to do that. They don't get to talk about you."

Geno eased back, looking startled. "Is okay," he said cautiously. "I not upset. Understand. They worry."

"It is not okay." Sidney thumped his heel into the cabinet under the sink for emphasis. "It's like – they're my parents. And we don't always have much to talk about except hockey, but that's fine. They're family, they're –" he gestured helplessly "—they're team. Or they're supposed to be."

"Yes," Geno said, nodding. "Family is team. But sometimes team fight. Like Brooksie, Flower, when on bus too long."

"But you're my team," Sidney said, wondering why Geno wasn't understanding this. "And if they don't – if they can't get that, then I guess they're not."

He closed his mouth, shocked at himself, not even sure where that had come from.

Geno looked like Sidney had hit him. "Sid," he said, "of course I your team, always." He made a helpless, strangled noise and swooped in for one of his extravagant hugs, where he tried to wrap his arms around Sidney twice.

". . . Ow," Sidney said after a minute, muffled.

"Sorry." Geno straightened up. He was a little damp around the eyes, which Sidney decided to chalk up to a very long day of travel on top of Russian emotionalism. "I do shoulder now," Geno said, a little hoarsely.

They retreated into the safety of silence for a while. Eventually Sidney nudged Geno with a knee. "Did you tell your parents?" That had been the plan: Sidney would go to Cole Harbour, Geno to Russia. They would tell their respective families, they would tell Mario at the start of the season, and maybe if they felt like it they would tell a few of the guys, the long-time core of their team.

"I tell," Geno said. He tipped Sidney back into the crook of his arm over the sink, pouring water over his shoulder.

"And?" A flutter of anxiety settled in his stomach.

Geno made a thoughtful noise. "Surprised. Think I go back to Oksana, some day." Fair enough. Sidney had spent a while convinced of that, too. "But okay," Geno continued. He smiled, a sudden flash of teeth in the mirror. "They say, 'That boy not cook for you, Zhenya. That boy not give you babies.'"

"I can cook," Sidney protested. "I've made you one-pot pasta."

"Very impressive," Geno agreed seriously.

"And," Sidney said on a burst of courage. "And there could still be babies? . . . If you wanted?"

Geno's arm tightened around him. "Yes," he said, sounding hoarse again. "You make me sad pasta. We feed to babies."

"Okay," Sidney said. He tipped his head back, smiling dopily at the ceiling. He felt as if he'd been physically battered, like he always did after strong emotions.

"My mother very happy, then," Geno said, and picked up the washcloth to scrub out the wound on the point of his shoulder. "You think you make up with parents?" he asked carefully.

Sidney pressed his lips together. "They never called today," he said. "I mean, neither did I. But that's . . . that's telling." He shook his head tiredly. "I don't know. I don't want to right now, but maybe I will. Or they will." Crosbys were a stubborn people, though; this was no secret. "I don't want to think about it."

"Okay." Geno bent over, squinting at his shoulder. "Small rock," he said, gesturing with two fingers close together. "Stuck, deep. Need—" he gestured again, making a pinching motion. It honestly looked like a clothespin, but that seemed unlikely.

"Tweezers," Sidney said, and turned to rifle through the medicine cabinet. "I don't see them."

"Right back," Geno said, and trotted out.

He came back a few minutes later with three sizes of tweezers and Mario.

"Seriously, Sid," Mario said, leaning in to stare at his shoulder. "This is pretty impressive, even for you."

"Shut up, it could have happened to anybody," Sidney muttered rebelliously.

"You hold still, I get?" Geno asked.

Mario nodded, and they flanked Sidney, prodding him into various positions to give Geno the best angle and light. Sidney ended up tipped backwards, most of his weight on Mario's forearms and his head in the hollow of Mario's shoulder.

"We can still go back to Russia," he said to Geno in the mirror.

Geno hmmed. "You not want, though," he said.

"Well . . . no," Sidney admitted. He badly wanted to stay right here, but still couldn't have said why.

"So, go next year," Geno said comfortably. "Is fine. Now hush, need to concentrate."

Sidney closed his mouth and endured a series of painful tweezer pinches. He tipped his head and stared at the three of them in the mirror, clumped up together awkwardly while Geno hunched over him. And, two weeks after the fact, Sidney knew why he had needed to come home.

It was suddenly easy to butt his head into Mario's shoulder. "Hey." And when Mario made eye contact in the mirror, he said, "Geno and I are together. We've been — ow. Geno!"

"Sorry, sorry," Geno said.

"Well really, Sid," Mario said. "How about not surprising the guy poking you with sharp things, eh?" He shifted his hold, easing a bit more under Sidney's weight.

"Yeah, well." Sidney's pulse was racing, he could feel it in his throat.

"Although," Mario continued, "I don't know what I can really expect from a guy who got on rollerblades with a pack of eight year olds and took his wrist guards off."

"You what?" Geno said, popping upright. "Sid! Idiot!"

"Oh my God," Sidney said to Mario. "Why would you do that?"

Mario smiled to himself. "I figured I'd deputize someone else with a vested interest," he said.

Geno was making a series of outraged faces. "Not believe!" he said, and dropped into Russian for what sounded distinctly like a lecture. He leaned back in, though, talking all the while, and plucked something small and sharp out of Sidney's shoulder with a quick flick. Fresh blood welled, and Mario shifted his hold, taking Sidney's weight with one arm so he could press gauze down with the other hand.

He lifted Sidney upright with a flex of strong shoulders, then stood behind him for a moment, one arm draped casually around him.

"Stephanie is already asking when Taylor will get here, just so you know," he said. Then to Geno, "Do you need help with anything else?"

"Help smack sense into head," Geno said.

"Yeah, you're on your own, that's on you now," Mario said cheerfully. He squeezed Sidney around the shoulders and stepped back. "Come down when you're done, Nathalie is making brownies."

He left them alone. They stared at each other in the mirror.

"That's okay then," Sidney said. He breathed out, sagging a bit against the wall.

Geno nodded. He ran a washcloth under the warm water and beckoned. "Come here."

"You got them all," Sidney said, straightening wearily.

"Yes. Come here."

Geno settled him on the edge of the counter again and stepped between his thighs. He began running the warm washcloth down Sidney's chest, his back, his uninjured arm. Sidney had been fantasizing about taking a shower since coming home last night. This was so close, it was blissful.

"Feels good," he said.

Geno smiled. He leaned in and kissed Sidney on the mouth, then rinsed out the washcloth and started again. Sidney swayed into him, eyes closing. The bathroom door was still open, and he could hear Mario moving around down the hall, Austin and Alexa loudly talking in the living room. And Geno breathing close to his ear.

"Yeah," he said. "Let's stay."