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It Takes One Desire

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Sid graduates high school and gets a job because it’s not like they have the money for college. He could have gotten some scholarship money, he knows, but it wouldn’t have been enough to cover books and living expenses as well.

It’s just being a waiter at one of the nicer restaurants in town, but the pay is decent and the tips are better. Gonch, the manager, told him on his first day that he doesn’t need to make small talk with people, that he needs to take their orders and leave. Drop in often enough to tell if there’s a problem and fix it if there is.

No jokes, nothing unnecessary. It’s how Sid would prefer to operate anyway.

-x-

He buys another pair of slacks and a white button down for the restaurant and gives the rest of his first paycheck to his mom, and she looks up at him with watery eyes and presses her hand to her mouth. She hugs him, and after dinner he goes to sit out back with his dad.

Troy lights his cigarette and offers the lighter to his son. Sid shakes his head because it’s too expensive of a habit to get hooked on. They sit in silence for a while, and the smoggy city of Pittsburg isn’t too much to look at from their view, but Sid’s grown to like it over the years.

“You’re a good son, kiddo. I’m sorry we… I know there were things you would’ve liked to do, when you were younger,” Troy says, keeping his eyes carefully pinned in front of him.

There were things Sid would’ve liked to have done. He remembers some of the boys in his class in Cole Harbor playing hockey, and he was always pretty good at skating. He might’ve been decent at it, but skates were expensive, and he didn’t keep asking after they told him no.

So maybe he would have liked to go skating more often, but he’s always been fed, always had a roof over his head, always had parents who loved him and tried to make sure someone was home when they needed to be. He’s never actually wanted for anything, and he’s grateful for that.

-x-

He works a few shifts at the restaurant, and then he works a few more. It isn’t long until it pays steadily, Gonch telling him after he finishes the schedule, “People like you for some reason.”

Sid doesn’t really know why. It’s not like he talks to the people beyond taking their order and asking how the food is, but he takes every shift he’s assigned and picks up some from his co-workers when they can’t come in.

He gets to know Marc-Andre, one of the line chefs, and Marc-Andre laughs when he mentions it at a poker night. “They like you because you don’t stick around.”

“Why would I stick around?” Sid can’t help but ask. He looks at his cards and pauses before folding.

Marc-Andre whoops a little and scoops up the pile in the center. He shrugs and reaches for the deck, sliding the cards together and breaking them apart as he starts to shuffle it once more. “We get some pretty important people in here. Some of the guys try to listen in.” He eyes Sid speculatively and breaks the deck again. “Not interested in anything that could help you move up in the world?”

Collecting the cards that Marc-Andre sets out for him, Sid thinks about how his mom doesn’t seem as strained since he’s started contributing part of his paycheck to the house. She still clips coupons, still shops the sales, but he notices she doesn’t wince at the checkout in the grocery anymore. Taylor’s going on a field trip with her class to see a performance of some Shakespeare instead of spending the day sitting in the library.

“Interested in staying out of trouble,” Sid answers, a grin sliding across his face when he sees his hand.

-x-

He’s grabbing plates from the kitchen and is about to run them when Gonch pulls on his arm and introduces him to Mario Lemieux.

“It’s nice to meet you, sir,” Sid says automatically, mind reeling as he wonders why he’s specifically being introduced to the owner.

Mario looks from Gonch to him and smiles, shaking his hand. “Gonch says you’re one of the best waiters and you’re the newest on the team, only been here six months. That’s impressive.” He looks down at the tray that Sidney’s carrying and frowns before asking Gonch, “Why are we serving the melon when it’s not in season? I thought that was a summer dish.”

Sid stands before them a few seconds longer, until Gonch starts to answer and motions for him to get on with it, so he heads out.

In the morning, the melon salad has been switched on the menu for a squash casserole, and the check that Gonch hands him is significantly larger than it should be.

“I can’t… I can’t accept this, sir,” he protests, but it’s a token protest at best. He’s thinking about Christmas approaching, Taylor wistfully mentioning that some of her friends were on the hockey team. There’s a skate shop on the walk to work, and Sid thinks he knows which pair she’d like best.

Gonch looks up at him and arches an eyebrow. “I get twice as many comments about you as any of the other servers, and they’re all compliments. If I start getting complaints, that’s when you won’t be able to accept it.”

Sid knows a dismissal when he hears it, so he tucks the check in his pocket. He’s right at the door when Gonch raises his hand and he stops.

“Would you be interested in helping out at the bar next week? I know you don’t typically work late in the evenings,” he says, looking down at the schedule in front of him.

Sid’s been there long enough to know that the new guys don’t work after the kitchens close. The clients during the day are important people, big enough that Sid has recognized some of them even if he hasn’t said anything to them. There are rumors about the types of people that come in just for the bar, and Sid has an idea of what he might be getting into. “I can help with the bar,” he answers.

Nodding, Gonch makes a note. “Good. Mario said it was nice to meet you.” He keeps writing, and then he looks up, glancing to the door.

Sid nods, heading out.

-x-

Colby Armstrong is one of bartenders, and he raises his eyebrows when he meets Sid. “Newby already working at night? Must be pretty impressive.”

Marc-Andre comes by and elbows him, because apparently the kitchens never close, just cut down to a limited menu at a certain point. “Mario said it was nice to meet him,” he says, grinning as he dodges when Sid reaches out to take the tray.

“You’re not supposed to be delivering these,” Sid protests, reaching again.

Marc-Andre twists out of reach, bringing the plates with him. “It’s for a friend; worry about the cosmos you need to get,” he laughs, making his way into the dining room over to a set of tables by the windows, the set of tables they don’t seat people at unless their name means enough.

A man stands up when he sees Marc-Andre, pushing his chair back and reaching out as Marc-Andre sets the tray on the table, dipping in to kiss his cheek and give him a hug. When the first man is done, the man sitting across from him stands up and shakes his hand.

“Order up, kid,” Colby says from behind him, and Sid starts to see that the drinks are ready.

As he’s walking away, he hears Colby whistle low under his breath and comment, “Mario said it was nice to meet him.”

-x-

He works at night when he needs to, and he doesn’t linger at tables to overhear anything. He takes orders and drops them off and keeps his head down. He buys Taylor skates for Christmas, and when she runs to pull him into a hug, he doesn’t have to see how his mom is bites her lip while she looks at him.

She tells him to be careful, rubbing a thumb along his cheekbone. “Please, Sidney. Just promise me you’re looking out for yourself.”

It’s late. Taylor is already in bed, worn out after they took her to a rink and she got to try out her new skates. Sid had rented skates along with his parents, and he’d skated alongside his sister, showing her the best way to come to a stop.

“I’m fine, Mom,” he promises her, and he sees his dad nod at him over her shoulder.

-x-

He’s dropping off drinks when a guy who looks familiar asks, “Is Flower here?”

Sid blinks, wondering if it’s some kind of code. “Flower?” he echoes.

The guys grins a little bit and corrects himself. “Marc-Andre,” he amends, and that’s why he looks familiar: he’s the guy who kissed Marc-Andre’s cheek.
Sid heads back to the kitchen, grabs the plate of appetizers he needs, and asks, “Flower?”

Marc-Andre’s head pops up, and then he grins abashedly. “Kris is out there, I guess?” he asks, drying his hands and then tossing the towel over his shoulder.

“If that’s the boy toy’s name,” Sid teases him, watching as Marc-Andre (Flower?) blushes and waves him off as he moves to get by. “Oh, come on, he’s cute,” he says, balancing the plate along with a newly placed one on his tray.

Nudging the kitchen door open and holding it for Sidney to follow him through it, Marc-Andre glances towards the tables at the windows. “He is cute, and he’s the boyfriend, not the boy toy.” He’s smiling, though, and Sid watches as he weaves around a few of the regular customers to lean over Kris’s shoulder and kiss him.

The man across from them, the same man who was with Kris last time, laughs, lifting his drink, and Sid thinks he must be imagining how he turns and looks over where Sidney is delivering dishes.

-x-

Kris goes by Tanger, and he smiles at Sidney over lunch at a diner down the street, one that Marc-Andre strongarms them into going to. “Flower says you don’t do more than you can handle,” he says, slicing into a chicken pot pie and letting the steam rise.

“I try not to,” Sid answers, wondering why it feels like he’s being interrogated. He dips one of his fries in ketchup and then shakes salt on it for good measure, glancing at how Flower has leaned over to whisper something in his boyfriend’s ear.

Tanger laughs and nudges Flower back over his own plate of cheese fries and a Rueben. “Do you feel like you can handle a little more?” he asks, arching an eyebrow.

-x-

Colby tells Sid to call him Army and trains him on bar, tells him to fix drinks and move on, not to stick by any customers longer than necessary. They go through the basics and some of the more common complicated ones. Sid can’t drink legally, but he can bartend since he’s older than eighteen, and Army and Flower tease him about making things he isn’t allowed to taste.

Sid rolls his eyes and goes back to trying to get the right measurements just from eyeballing.

He’s only been working for a month over a year, and he knows he bypassed people who have been working longer than he has. He isn’t going to show that he deserves any less.

The size of the check he gets that week feels bigger than it should be, big enough to make his eyes widen in surprise even as he tries to keep himself in check. He wants to ask if it’s a mistake, but he knows that Gonch doesn’t make mistakes.

When he goes home, Trina’s eyes widen too, and she hugs him tightly.

“You’re not getting involved in something you shouldn’t be, right?” she asks, clutching his arms.

The truth is that he might be, because he knows the reputation by now, knows some of the things he might overhear if he stuck around long enough to. He moves fast, though, keeping up the drink service, and he isn’t doing anything that anyone could accuse him of except be a good bartender.

“No, Mom,” he tells her, and the white lie is worth it to see the relief on her face.

-x-

Tanger always comes in with the same guy, and Sid ducks in the kitchen to tell Flower as soon as he sees them come in. They come in often enough that he gets to see that they always sit at the same table, right in the middle of the largest window. The guy Tanger comes in with always looks at the bar when they pass it, and Sid makes sure to be turned away and wiping things down.

“What’s the deal with your co-worker?” Sid asks once while Tanger’s beating him sufficiently at Call of Duty. He tries to glance at Tanger’s screen to figure out where his opponent might be, taking his eyes off his own just long enough to get killed.

“My co-worker?” Tanger asks, tossing his controller on the couch and heading to grab something from the fridge.

Sid rolls his eyes and leans back, grabbing his water bottle. “You know, that guy you come in with all the time?” He watches as Tanger freezes, shutting the refrigerator door and turning around.

“You don’t know who Geno Malkin is?” he asks incredulously, and Sid flushes at the tone.

“I don’t know who a lot of people are,” he defends.

Tanger stares at him before shrugging and saying, “Geno Malkin, Mario Lemieux’s protégé, the guy who’s in charge of nearly half of Pittsburgh? I’m not his co-worker; I’m his body guard.”

Half of Pittsburgh can’t be right, but that’s about what Mario’s in charge of if the rumors are to be believed. And if Geno is the apparent heir to that, it would mean he’s in charge of it, too. Sid blinks and decides to rephrase his question. “Fine, what’s the deal with Malkin?”

Poking is head into the hall, Flower asks, “What do you mean?”

Sid shrugs, grabbing his controller for something to do. “He just looks at me,” he says, suddenly wishing that he hadn’t brought it up.

“Looks at you how?” Tanger asks with interest, coming back into the living room from the kitchen.

It isn’t a strange look, although it’s strange that he does look. There isn’t a way to exactly describe it, because it isn’t like Malkin’s gaze lingers on him longer than any regular look would. It just seems like he looks more often, maybe. “Just looks at me, I don’t know. Forget I said anything.”

From the way that Tanger lights up, Sid guesses that it isn’t likely he’ll actually forget.

-x-

He’s on his way into Gonch’s office to talk about the next shipment, because they don’t have enough olives at the bar and the ratio of gin to vodka that people drink is different now that the holidays are coming up. He’s walking up the steps when the door swings open, laughter flooding out as a man nearly knocks him down the stairs.

“Fucking shit,” Sid curses, thankful he at least wouldn’t have fallen on a wet floor and needed to change like if he’d fallen in the kitchen.

“Sorry, so sorry,” the man apologizes, and he extends his hand to help Sid stand up.

Standing, Sid brushes himself off once more and then finds himself looking into the face of Geno Malkin. “Mr. Malkin,” he breathes, and he wants to move his hand to grab onto the railing but Malkin hasn’t dropped it yet and is looking at him intently.

Malkin doesn’t ask how Sid knows his name, presumably because future mob bosses are fairly well known. “Call me Geno,” Malkin instructs him, smiling at him in a way that’s far too friendly for the average person after they’ve collided with someone in a stairwell.

“Geno,” Sid corrects himself, his voice carefully neutral.

There’s a bit of movement, and Gonch appears at the top of the stairs, looking amused. “Ah, Zhenya, I see you’ve met Sidney,” he comments, fighting to keep only a restrained smile on his face.

“Sidney,” Geno says simply. The word comes out sounding almost treasured, and Sid stares at him, wants to ask if he can say it again to see if it comes out in the same way.

“I hope I can trust that you don’t knock any of my other employees down on your way out,” Gonch says, and the smile isn’t restrained any longer. He waves Sid up, and Sid goes, purposely not thinking about having to pull his hand away from Geno’s as Gonch asks, “What can I help you with?”

-x-

The next time Tanger and Geno come in, it’s dinnertime, the kitchen is still serving its full menu, and Sid is waiting tables because someone called out sick. He puts in their usual drink orders when he sees them, and comes by to drop them off after they’ve been seated.

Tanger grins as Sid comes up to them, stands up and lets him set down their drinks before hugging him. Tanger’s smile turns wolfish and he says, “I should introduce the two of you. Sid, this is Geno. G, this is Sid.” He looks between them avidly, paying them more attention that any introduction usually requires.

“Sidney,” Geno says in the exact same tone as last time, extending his hand. Sid feels caught by his gaze, and he reaches forward to take it as Geno adds, “It’s good to see you again.”

Running his tongue along his lip, Sid nods. He moves their drinks off the tray and takes their menus when Tanger hands them without ordering anything. Still looking at Geno, Sid says to Tanger, “I’ll tell Flower you’re here.”

-x-

Their visits used to be more sporadic, and that was the first time that Sid saw them at a normal mealtime, but after that it becomes a weekly thing. Not always dinner, sometimes later in the night. Always when Sid is working, even though the shifts he takes vary.

Army asks him if he knows what he’s doing, and the truthful answer is no.

Sid shrugs and continues to rinse out glasses, looking over to the large window that Tanger and Geno are sitting in front of like always. “I’m figuring it out,” he says, and it’s not exactly true, but he doesn’t think it’s a lie.

“I worry about you. This is a lot of responsibility,” Army says, and he isn’t talking about bartending, he isn’t talking about waiting tables. He’s talking about the secrets that Sidney diligently doesn’t overhear, the customers who sometimes meet with unsavory people, the things that go unsaid.

Sid thinks about the first time he babysat Taylor, nine years old and watching over his year-old sister. Trina had sat him down and gone over all the things to do in an emergency. “Your dad is getting off work in two hours, and he’s going to come straight home. You just stay right here,” she’d told him.

Troy had gotten in and had let out a quiet breath of relief when he saw Sid sitting in the living room, Taylor gnawing on a teething ring quietly beside him.

“I’m used to responsibility,” Sid answers, and he looks away when he notices Geno looking back at him.

-x-

“You’re not getting mixed up in anything, right, kid?” Troy asks one night on the back patio, a cigarette in hand as the smoke curls upwards.

Not directly, Sid thinks. Geno looks at him and looks at him and looks at him, never does anything about it. Sid doesn’t know what it means, but he thinks he might have an idea.

“No, Dad. I’m keeping my head down,” Sid answers, because it’s true. He doesn’t do what he isn’t told to, and he’s started to save up for a car. His parents have started to limit the money he can give to them, claiming that it’s too much.

Troy nods and watches him carefully. “I’m proud of you. You know your sister’s starting to say that she wants to grow up just like you?”

Taylor’s already growing up; Sid had to buy her a new pair of skates at the start of hockey season this year because she’d outgrown her old one. He needs to ask off for a game she has next week, their first game of the postseason. It’s all she’s been talking about.

Shaking his head, Sid looks out on the view, the view of Pittsburgh that he calls home, and he thinks of the view from the restaurant, the skyline in front of them. “I don’t know,” he says, a smile slipping onto his lips, “I think she’s got some parents it’d be pretty great to grow up like.”

-x-

The next time he sees Tanger and Geno, they’re bypassing their table as Geno leads the way over to the bar. Sid clears two spots instinctively, wondering why they’re changing the routine and watching as Tanger raises his eyebrows like a challenge.

They sit down and Sid starts to prep their usual drinks, but he’d ask if they ever ordered anything different. A glass of vodka for Geno and a Scotch and soda for Tanger, placed carefully in front of them as he gives them a smile.

“Missed you last week, Sid,” Geno says, and it’s one thing to know that Geno notices him, but a totally different thing to know that Geno looks specifically for him, notices his absence as well as his presence. His blood runs hot under his skin, and he wonders whether he’s blushing.

“My sister had a hockey game I wanted to go to,” he explains, and then realizes that it’s the first small talk he’s had with a customer since getting hired.

Geno smiles, looks like he wants to ask more, but there’s a clatter and Sid turns to see where Colby’s dropped drinks onto a politician and his wife. Sid looks at the mess, tries to figure out who had ordered what, and sets about remaking the drinks as Geno and Tanger head over to their usual seats.

He wants to asks if Geno missed him, maybe tease him a little about it. He’s never flirted much, because being the socially awkward poor kid was one thing, and being the socially awkward, poor, gay kid would have been something else entirely. It’s been months but it feels like he might be going too fast, might be setting a pace that isn’t sustainable.

He’s a bartender, and Geno is set to be Pittsburgh’s next mob boss, the guy who will take over for Mario Lemieux. It’s doesn’t matter that Geno keeps looking at him, because that’s all he’s ever going to do.

-x-

Pascal Dupuis is suddenly on bar with him instead of Colby, and Gonch says that Colby is now working for a restaurant in Altanta, that he’d had good recommendations.

Dupuis prefers to go by Duper, and he and Flower get along immediately, cursing together and making snide remarks in French about customers who send things back. It takes no time at all before invitations to video game nights at Tanger and Flower’s apartment are being extended to him as well as Sid.

Sid likes Duper well enough, but he misses Colby. Colby laughs when he calls to tell him that, but it sounds hollow, so Sid doesn’t mention it again.

-x-

He buys a used car outright, four years old with thirty thousand miles on it. He gives it to his parents and takes his dad’s old car, a clunker that can be heard three blocks away. It runs, though, and that’s what matters. As long as Sid has a reliable ride to work, that’s all he cares about.

He’s toying with the idea of moving out. Not that he needs to, not that he doesn’t like to see his parents, just that he likes going over to Tanger and Flower’s apartment. He thinks he’d like a place of his own, and he’d be able to afford it. Other than the car and Taylor’s skates, he doesn’t spend the parts of his paycheck that he keeps on much of anything.

So he parks in the lot in back of the restaurant and does what he always does: what he’s told to, and nothing more. He’s seen more than enough guys get fired for thinking that Gonch might want some extra information. It’s foolish, because it’s Gonch’s restaurant, and there’s nothing going on here that Gonch doesn’t already know about.

“Any of the new kids seem particularly bad?” Gonch asks one day, counting out the tips to split among the servers as Sid wipes down the bar.

He shrugs, because no one is particularly noticeable either way. None of them are extremely slow, but no one is getting plates out as fast as they could be. He can’t tell whether they’re trying to do more than they’re told to just yet.

Gonch nods, understanding. “Let me know if anything sticks out,” he says, and it’s a sign of how much he trusts Sid that he wants his opinion, that he’d listen to it. That he’d like to hear his opinion about it.

Sid smiles, wringing his cloth out in the sink, and nods.

-x-

“What’s up with Malkin and you?” Duper asks after a few months, and Sid wishes that he were more unobservant like Colby, because at least then he never had to answer questions.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t even talk to Malkin when he’s in here,” Sid tells him, not thinking too hard about what he isn’t saying.

From the look on Duper’s face, it doesn’t go unnoticed. “He’s always looking at you, and you’re always looking back,” he says, frowning as he pours the remnants of a bottle of white out.

Catching a look at the label, Sid sets the towel he was wiping the bar down with aside and heads into the kitchens, hoping they have a few extra bottles in the backroom. He dodges when Flower reaches out for his elbow, but not well enough, and he ends up jerking a little back.

“Try this,” Flower instructs, lifting a spoon to Sid’s lips and looking at it critically.

Sid opens his mouth as soon as notices the smell, because it’s going to be amazing. Everything Flower’s made is. It’s a creamy sauce, bits of some kind of vegetable in it, spices warming the flavor. He thinks he might make a noise that’s a little inappropriate, but Flower just smiles, smug as ever. “That’s amazing,” he says wondering if he can convince Flower to overlook his rule about tasting spoons not going back in the pot. Sid thinks he might be able to finish the rest of it before he’s caught, so his chances aren’t bad.

Clearly pleased, Flower goes back to stirring, hip checking Sid to move him closer to the counter so that he isn’t blocking any of the other cooks’ way. “It’s a slow day, and I got inspired. What do you think about that on the salmon? The cedar-infused salmon, not the honey glazed one.”

“I’d eat it by itself,” Sid confesses, grabbing a clean testing spoon and dipping it in quickly. Just as good the second time around, and this time Sid appreciates the varying texture that the vegetables give the creamy mixture. “Shit, that’s good.” He moves to double dip, only for Flower to slam the lid over the pot and glare at him darkly.

He heads over to find a case of the wine he needs, pulling two bottles and then switching to four when he remembers the group of women who always come in on Thursday nights. It’s a wives’ club of some kind, because they come in with their husbands sometimes as well, and they drink the bar out of wine over the course of a few hours before they ask someone to call them a car to get home.

Stopping by Flower’s station with the bottles tucked under his arm, Sid remembers the look of disbelief on Duper’s face when he’d tried to say there wasn’t anything going on between him and Geno.

“You know that there’s nothing with me and Malkin, right?” Sid asks, pitching his voice low so they aren’t overheard by any of the servers or cooks passing through.

“Sure,” Flower agrees readily, flipping a porkchop and then reaching back over to stir the sauce.

Sid nods, because that’s good. He sees Flower and Tanger often enough, though, and he tells them most everything (well, he tells Flower everything, and Flower’s never been able to keep a secret from Tanger). Maybe Duper just isn’t sure because he’s still a little new, he reasons.

“I mean, there can’t really be if you’re still working here,” Flower finishes, shrugging.

Squinting, Sid wants to ask what that even means, but he hesitates before heading back to the bar with the wine. He can’t stop thinking about it, though. The fact that he works at the restaurant is the thing that’s stopping there from being anything between him and Geno? It doesn’t make much sense.

-x-

The next time that Tanger and Geno come in, they aren’t alone. It’s a large group of people who don’t wait to be seated, just head over to a large table that’s been set aside for them. Most of the men and women are familiar faces, regular patrons, but he also spies Mario Lemieux, plus a guy Sid’s seen on campaign material for the next police commissioner. One of the group splits off to head to the bar.

Sid hesitates and sets down the bottle he’d been pouring from, moving over to an empty space in the bar, where the guy is most likely to come up to.

The guys nods at him when he gets over, reaching over and taking a toothpick. “Tanger says you can tell Flower he’s here, but tell him not to come out. And Geno says you can’t serve anything to the table tonight.” He uses the toothpick to dig around for a moment while Sid silently takes everything in.

“I’m on bar tonight, I’m not running anything,” Sid starts, because why would he be serving them tonight? Does Geno want him to serve them every other time they come in?

Rolling his eyes, the guy nods. “I told him that, but he’s paranoid for a good reason. I’ll get a gin and tonic,” he orders, and there’s a note of finality in his voice.

After the guy goes back to the table, sitting in the chair next to Geno that Tanger isn’t already occupying, Sid finishes the current drink orders he has and then slips back into the kitchens to find him Flower and ask him what’s going on.

“Don’t attract any attention,” Flower tells him immediately, in a corner where no one will overhear them. “I mean it. Don’t make their drinks ahead of time even if you know their orders, because you don’t want them to know that you know them well enough to know their orders. If any of them come up to you, just take their order or point them to the bathroom. Don’t fucking talk to them.”

“That’s what I’ve been doing,” Sid protests, because he doesn’t talk to the patrons, and that’s why they like them. So maybe he does their usual order if he knows them, but he just won’t do it tonight.

Flower levels him with a look and glances around before saying in a low voice, “Kuni didn’t just give you a message for me from Tanger. He gave you a message from Geno, direct orders. I hope you know what you’re doing.” He says it carefully, measured, and Sid bites back any initial protests he had.

Sid goes back out to the bar and does what he’s told, nothing more, nothing less. He sometimes lets himself look over at the table where Geno sits, but he’s always deep on conversation with someone sitting near him, and he’s never looking back.

-x-

Geno comes in with Kuni, the guy who came up to Sid, for lunch on a day where Sid’s picked up a shift to wait tables. He smiles as Sid comes up to them and drops off menus, wondering if Flower’s warning still applies, if he should put in Geno’s usual drink order or wait for him to give it. Or if he even wants a drink, it’s still lunch after all.

“Good to see you, Sid,” Geno says, smiling as he accepts the menu. He doesn’t bother to look at it, just sets it down as he continues to look at Sid.

Sid flushes and wishes he had more menus in his hands for something to do with them. “Glad to have you back. What can I get for you?” There’s silverware to be rolled, that table needs to get cleared, that table needs drinks refilled, but he can’t think of anywhere else he needs to be when Geno smiles at him.

“Balsamic chicken with mushroom risotto, Tanger convinced me to try it. Swears that it’s the best thing Flower cooks,” Geno says, glancing over to Kuni and waiting for him to order as well before tacking on, “and whatever wine you think would pair best with it.”

Rolling his eyes, Kuni passes Sid back his menu. “Of course Tanger likes a dish that Flower made. He likes every dish Flower makes,” he says, and Sid can’t say that it isn’t true.

“I like every dish Flower makes, and I’m not even fucking him,” Sid says with a laugh before freezing. Panic floods him, because this goes against everything he’s ever been told about working in the restaurant, even if Geno’s been looking at him since before they met.

Geno chokes on a laugh and reaches for his water glass, taking a drink as he stares up at Sid with mirthful eyes. “It’s a good point,” he laughs, bringing a hand up to cover his mouth. He points at Kuni, who’s also chuckling, and Sid lets himself relax the slightest bit.

“The balsamic chicken and mushroom risotto, then. Excellent choice,” Sid says carefully, reaching for the menu that Geno offers him. He walks back to the kitchen thinking about how inappropriate of a comment it was, how Geno is the heir to Pittsburgh’s criminal activity and then some. They aren’t friends, and Geno isn’t even someone that Sid should want as a friend. He pointedly doesn’t think about the warm brush of Geno’s fingers against his as he handed the menu back.

-x-

He gets his own place, something small. It’s a one-bedroom apartment with a small kitchen and a closet that ends up split down the middle between work clothes and what he wears on his days off. It isn’t much at all, but it’s something.

It’s more than he could have hoped for before working at the restaurant.

Flower and Duper help him move, because Tanger can’t take a day off as a bodyguard. They get everything moved fairly quickly, and two people is almost overkill. Sid doesn’t have that much stuff.

He pays them in pizza and lets them pick out what movie they want to watch on the TV he bought secondhand. The sounds of traffic around them aren’t quite the same at his parents’ home, but it’s close enough, and Sid thinks that he could get used to this.

“Don’t you think it’s going to get lonely here?” Duper asks, and it does seem a little empty. Most of the boxes aren’t unpacked, though, and Sid probably does need to buy a few more pieces of furniture beyond a bed, a couch, and a bulky armchair.

“Just because he doesn’t want to pack the house with kids like some people,” Flower laments, and Duper shoves him off the armchair just for that.

-x-

The apartment is closer to the restaurant, and Sid walks over when the weather is nice. It has to be within a certain range of temperature, because too cold and his feet feel frozen by the time he gets there, too warm and he ends up with sweat patches under his arms.

“Bonne nuit,” Flower bids him, wiping down his station and boxing up some of the leftovers from the night. He passes a few of the boxes off to Sid, waving him along.

“Thanks, Flower. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Sid calls, grabbing his jacket on the way out the door.

He checks the top box while he’s walking, grinning when he sees that it’s the rest of the caramel cheesecake a party had ordered and then sent back when they realized everyone was too full. The other box probably has some of the roast beef and garlic mashed potatoes, and Sid knows what he’s doing when he gets back home.

There’s a guy up ahead of him on the sidewalk, pacing a little bit by a shopfront, and Sid moves to give him some space, passing to the other side and freezing when the guy turns to him.

There’s a gun pointed at him. It’s the first thing he registers before everything else filters in slowly.

Sid has to listen for sound beyond the rushing in his ears as the guy asks him to get out his wallet with a shaking voice. He freezes for the simple reason that he’s using both hands to carry the boxes, and he doesn’t really know whether he should set them on the ground or try to balance them with one hand while he gets his wallet out.

“I said, give me your wallet,” the man demands, enunciating the words carefully as though he’s practiced them. He’s holding the gun with one hand, like he doesn’t know anything about recoil, and it’s shaking.

“Put the gun down,” a familiar voice behind him says, and Sid freezes, forcing himself to turn around slowly to see Tanger over his shoulder, the large figure behind him presumably Geno.

Tanger is holding a gun, too, but he’s using both hands to steady it, like he’s intimately familiar with the weight and recoil of it. He moves carefully but only because he’s aware of his own power. He repeats himself slowly, as though the man standing across from Sidney is a small child rather than an armed robber, “You need to put the gun down.”

The man shakes harder than he’d already been, and asks, “Am I supposed to be afraid of some random vigilante?”

Tanger shifts over as Geno moves beside him, his suit jacket shifting so that they can all see the gun tucked into his pants. “No, but maybe you’d have some sense if Geno Malkin knocked some into you,” Tanger answers, unblinking.

Paling visibly, the man’s hand dips for a quick moment, but the moment is all Tanger needs to lunge forward to tackle him, the gun falling away from the other man and skidding away from him in the fall.

Sid doesn’t even notice that Geno’s grabbed him until he’s staring into the taller man’s eyes, panting for breath and clutching the take-out boxes tightly to his chest. “Shh, Sidney, you’re alright,” he says, and Sid feels his hands spanning his sides, the movement gentle as Geno soothes him.

His breathing comes in gasps, and he feels ridiculous, because the guy didn’t shoot him, and Tanger didn’t even fire his gun. He’s being stupid, and he tries to steady himself only for Geno to pull him in close and lift a gentle hand to the side of his face.

“Oh, sweetheart,” Geno whispers, and Sid looks at him and doesn’t want Geno to stop trying to comfort him. If this is the miracle that spawns their interactions, he’ll take it, and he leans heavily on him.

Tanger has the man’s hands and feet bound, and he’s leaning against a wall and watching them with interest. “I can call for somebody to come pick him up, or I can drop him off. Up to you,” he tells Geno.

“Drop him off. Want to make sure he gets there,” Geno says, and there’s a threat in his voice, a kind of impending violence. Sid registers it and accepts it for the protection it promises, not moving away.

“You’ve gotta come with me if I’m dropping him off,” Tanger says, his lips twitching when Geno automatically shakes his head. “Come on, you know Mario’s rules.”

“You drop him off, I will take Sidney home,” Geno counters, and he’s gripping Sid’s arm too tight to be comfortable, but Sid can’t say that he minds.

Tanger arches an eyebrow and looks between them. “Yes, but then I won’t be with you, and we just went over this.” He kicks halfheartedly at the man on the ground, and Sid realizes that he must also be gagged if the muffled sound is any indication. He wonders how long it took Tanger to tie him up, whether he should have noticed any of it.

Scowling, Geno motions at the man, “Take him, I’m take Sid home. Have the rest of the night off. You don’t want Flower to walk home tonight, do you?” He has to know he’s playing dirty, and Tanger’s mouth twists up into a sour expression.

Sid knows that Flower and Tanger go to a gun range on dates sometimes, that Flower’s been taking different types of martial arts for years. Tanger knows that, too, but he reaches down and yanks the man lying beside him up in a jerky motion. “Text me when you get there, text me when you leave, and call me when you get home,” he instructs carefully, glaring at Geno. “If you go anywhere else, you need to call me or Kuni, got it?”

-x-

By the time Geno pulls up in front of his apartment, Sid’s breathing has evened out, and his heart no longer feels like it might make a break for it. He grips the take-out boxes tightly and opens the door, closing his eyes and getting ready to thank Geno for the ride when Geno opens his own door and climbs out without a word, making his way to Sid’s side and helping him with the boxes.

Sid walks up the stairs, Geno trailing behind him, and he open the door with shaky hands. Some of the adrenaline is still there from sitting quietly in the car the drive over and just cycling through the memory. Someone pointed a gun at him, and he could have died because he was more concerned with what to do with a cheesecake.

Setting the boxes on the counter, Geno shuts the door and places a hand on Sid’s shoulder. Sid sinks into it gratefully, turning and pressing his face to Geno’s chest as he takes in a ragged breath.

“Shh, kotyonok,” Geno whispers, bringing his arms around to pull Sidney into him. They no longer have the boxes between them like they did on the sidewalk, and Geno takes a moment to appreciate the shape of Sidney curled into him. “I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

Sid shivers, because he’s known what Geno is ever since he’s known his name, but he wasn’t ready to see the gun that Geno keeps at his hip. He feels it against him, now, the sharp outline of it pressing into him, and he swallows down the tears that threaten to break free. And Tanger, so confident with how he moved with his own gun, holding it as easily as he holds a gaming controller.

It’s one thing to know that Tanger is a bodyguard, that the man he eats dinner with most nights will inherit the Pittsburgh mob. It’s another to have seen Tanger tackle a man who threatened Sid, to have been comforted by Geno as the man had been tied at their feet.

They stand there until Sid can’t hear feel his blood pumping in his veins anymore, most of the adrenaline having worked its way through his system. He feels calmer, steadier than before.

“Tanger saw you as we were driving, pulled over and told me to stay in the car, but I couldn’t. Not when I saw it was you,” Geno says, raising his hand to cup Sid’s cheek.

They’ve been looking at each other for more than a year, just looking, and Sid is sick of it. He meets Geno’s eyes and wants to be more than just looked at. He reaches up slowly to touch Geno’s face, watching as his eyes darken. It’s all the confidence he needs to lift himself up a little further to press their lips together, feeling the hitch in Geno’s breath as he does.

It’s barely a moment before Geno responds, backing Sid into the counter and settling his hands at the other man’s hips. Sid feels his heartbeat in his throat, hard enough that he wouldn’t have to be touching himself to take his own pulse, and he can’t help the whine that he lets out as he braces himself against the counter.

Geno smiles into the kiss, but it’s a harsh curl to his lips, something more of a smirk. He pulls back as though to say something, only to rush forward again at the last moment, capturing Sid’s lips against his own once more.

By the time they pull apart, Sid’s hands on Geno’s shoulders the only thing still connecting them, Sid is breathing heavily. Geno smiles again, but this one is slow and quiet, a moment of disbelief.

“Stay here tonight,” Sid asks, because he can’t imagine letting Geno go after this, letting them go back to their separate lives. It was fine when this was only a thought, something that Sid could imagine in the back of his mind, but he’s never going to be able to ignore it now that he’s experienced the reality. He digs his fingers into Geno’s suit jacket, feeling the muscle underneath the fabric.

Reaching forward, Geno situates his hands at Sid’s hips and squeezes. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he says mournfully, and Sid’s heart drops to the pit of his stomach.

“Right,” Sid says, freezing up. He removes his hands from Geno’s shoulders and holds them at his stomach, not daring to move them down any further and risk brushing against where Geno is touching him. “You’re right.”

It was a silly fantasy, something all in his head that he made up. It would make more sense if it weren’t true, so he guesses that it can’t be. Of course Geno doesn’t want some waiter in a restaurant that he’ll one day own, of course Sid couldn’t be the person that he wants. He’s just a nice enough guy that he didn’t let Sid get mugged, and it’s Sid’s fault for extrapolating the rest of it.

Geno frowns, his eyebrows furrowing together. “No, no, not what I meant. You had a gun pointed at you less than hour ago, Sid. I want you, but now not the best time for you to make decisions.”

The tension that leaks out of Sid at those words must be palpable, because Geno hesitantly smiles at him and brushes one of his curls out of where its fallen on his forehead. It probably isn’t the best time for him to be making decisions right now, all sorts of energy rushing through him still. His hands hover above Geno’s until Geno smiles at him encouragingly and he reaches to twine their fingers together.

“Can you still stay?” he asks before he can stop himself. Geno blinks slowly at him, and Sid says, quiet like he doesn’t want to admit it, “I don’t want to be alone right now.”

Face softening in understanding, Geno says simply, “Course I stay, kotyonok.” The reassurance warms Sid from the inside out.

-x-

When they go to bed, Geno rests his gun on the nightstand while he’s getting undressed. Sid looks at the weapon and wonders how many times it’s been fired, how many times it’s been aimed at a person. He wonders how many bullets have met flesh, how many were shot at a practice target.

He tears his gaze away and watches as Geno slides under the covers and curls towards the center. Sid follows suit, getting in bed on his usual side and shifting slowly across the mattress.

Geno reaches an arm out and pulls him close, situates them with one of his thighs wedged between Sid’s own, and then kisses Sid’s shoulder chastely. “Don’t walk to work anymore,” he says, and it’s clear that he isn’t accustomed to phrasing his expectations as questions. It’s gentler than an order, but it doesn’t come across like a request.

Moving his hand to feel where Geno’s is laid across his hip, Sid squeezes it. “I wasn’t really planning on it,” he confesses truthfully, because it’s not a problem to drive to work, just that he sometimes enjoys the walk. It isn’t something he’ll be doing again anytime soon.

Geno huffs, quietly amused, but he doesn’t say anything. The T-shirt Sid lent him, one from a club event in high school, is made from a soft, stretchy fabric, but it doesn’t stretch as far across Geno’s chest as it does on his own. He wonders how he would look if he were to wear Geno’s clothes, where they would gape or stretch on him.

Sid thinks of the gun on the nightstand, only a few feet away, and how Geno hadn’t so much as flinched towards it earlier. He remembers the quiet thrum underneath Geno’s voice, the threat he hadn’t bothered to adequately disguise. The same feeling of protection from before builds in him, and Geno lets Sid curl into him and listens as his breathing evens out.

-x-

It’s the familiar ringing that cuts through his sleep, and Geno reaches over to grab his phone on the nightstand next to the gun, blinking blearily when he sees that Tanger’s calling him. Sidney stirs nearby, his head pressed against Geno’s chest, and Geno answers it mostly just to get the noise to stop.

It starts a different kind of noise instead.

“Where the fuck are you?” Tanger snarls, and Geno closes his eyes, debating the merits of just hanging up on him versus giving in and saying that he’s staying over Sid’s.

He could hang up, but it’s probably bad form to not at least assure his bodyguard that he’s alright. “Over Sid’s, stayed with him,” he says, trying to keep his voice down as Sid adjusts himself, twisting his body tightly against Geno’s. “Forgot to let you know,” he concedes, because he and Tanger have agreements just as Tanger and Mario have their own, separate understandings. There are certain things expected of him, and if he makes a statement he needs to honor it.

Tanger breathes tightly for a moment before sighing. “Alright, that’s fine. Just tell me earlier, because I drove by your house when I realized what time it was and you hadn’t called.” He pauses, and Geno can just imagine the grin that’s spreading across his face as he asks, “And you’re at Sid’s?”

It will certainly be an interesting morning. “Yes, and I’m trying not to wake him. Goodbye, Tanger,” Geno hisses pointedly, hanging up before Tanger can yell something that will come through the speaker loud enough to rouse Sid.

The sound of the phone hitting the nightstand is what does it in the end, Sid turning his face up and asking, “What time is it?” He sounds exhausted, certainly not fully awake yet.
Geno runs his thumb across Sid’s cheek, watching with wonder as he leans into the movement. “Still early, kotyonok. Go back to sleep,” he whispers, moving to adjust the blankets around them.

Sid makes a sound that might be an attempt at a word, but he settles in close against Geno and twists until he’s trapped his legs sufficiently in the confines of the blanket as well. He falls back asleep in an instant, never really awake in the first place, and Geno looks down at him and feels something like innocence bloom in him.

-x-

There’s a loud crash that wakes Sid up, and he jolts out of bed before he even recognizes what’s going on. Through the door, he can see Geno standing at the stove, holding a few pots and pans in his arms as he glances surreptitiously back at the bedroom.

“What are you doing?” Sid asks, rolling his shoulders back and stretching his arms above his head.

Geno sighs and bends over to collect the rest of the pots and pans that have fallen on the floor. “I didn’t mean to wake you,” he starts, looking sheepish. “I was going to try for breakfast, you don’t have eggs.” He stands up and shrugs, like he can’t think of what kind of breakfast they would have without eggs.

Sitting down on the edge of the bed and pulling the blanket down towards him, Sid gets quiet as he thinks. Geno Malkin is in his kitchen, trying to cook breakfast, because he and Tanger saved Sid form being mugged. He’s there because Sid kissed him in an adrenaline-fueled rush, and he let Sid sleep pressed against him the whole night.

Geno walks around his kitchen with the air of a man who doesn’t ask for forgiveness or permission, digging into cabinets and pulling out mugs when he finds them, setting them next to the coffee maker that’s already been turned on. He’s dressed in the clothes he was wearing last night, and Sid looks over at the nightstand to see that the gun is no longer there.

He runs his tongue over his lips, thinking about the kiss they shared last night.

“I have bagels,” Sid volunteers as Geno puts the kitchenware away. He thinks about the contents of his fridge. No eggs apparently, but he might have cream cheese.

The answering smile that Geno gives him is more than bagels should cause, and Sid quiets down all the questions that he has. Waking up to Geno still here answers most of them already.

-x-

Geno leaves after having a bagel, smearing both halves with a ridiculous amount of cream cheese and eating them while reading the news on his phone. They don’t talk much during breakfast, and Geno grabs his keys and his gun and heads out fairly quickly.

Sid walks Geno to his car because his mother raised him right, and Geno leans over to reach his lips in a brief kiss before heading out of the parking lot, tires squealing behind him.

When Sid gets back in his bedroom, his phone is lit up with a new text from an unknown number.

Don’t walk to work anymore.

That answers some questions, but it creates more new ones. Sid tucks his phone into his pocket and finishes off the last of the coffee before setting the pot in the sink.

He doesn’t have a shift, so he gets to Taylor’s practice before it ends and watches her block shots. She really likes hockey, and she’s good at it, and Sid is so happy to have given her something like this.

She waves when she sees him, missing a puck that her teammate shoots at her, and he covers his smile with his hand and points back at the ice.

Taylor shuffles through radio stations on the ride back, stopping when she gets to one he recognizes from when they used to run errands together while he lived at home. She talks about her teammates, about their upcoming games, and she can’t sit still because she gets so excited. Every time that he’s gone to see one of her games, she smiles so widely that he can see it beneath the goalie mask.

Trina smiles when they come through the door, pointing Taylor towards the shower and Sid towards the cutting board in the kitchen. They make dinner in silence, and this is something that Sid has missed since he moved out. He revels in the practice of the motions, the familiar songs that his mom hums under her breath while she puts together a salad.

“I miss you guys,” he says offhand, carefully slicing the rest of the onions and sliding them into the pan on the stove. “I’m sorry I’m not around more often.”

To his surprise, he looks up to find Trina smiling at him while shaking her head. “You’re around plenty. I’m glad you moved out; you’ve always needed your own space,” she tells him. “I know it can be strange, living on your own for the first but, but I’m glad you’re doing it. And you seem to be happy with it.”

He is. The apartment can be lonely, like Duper said when Sid first moved in, but it’s not so bad. There’s a cat that climbs the fire escape, and she acts like she owns the area. “I am, but I do miss seeing you guys so much.” He tries to make sure he can come to dinner at least once a week, but it’s been getting spotty because of how often he’s been working bar. Lunches on the weekend are a pretty good alternative, though, and the benefit of that is he can help his dad work on the cars after if he doesn’t have a shift.

“You see us plenty, Sid. You do so much for this family. I mean it,” Trina says, her praise getting stronger when Sid ducks his head. “Your dad and I appreciate you so much.”

It makes his throat tight, because he isn’t doing much. Just working at a restaurant and avoiding people’s secrets. It’s nothing like his parents did for him and Taylor when they were younger, never seeing each other because they tried to make sure that someone was there for the kids.

“Mom,” he starts, but he doesn’t know where he’s going with it and is relieved when she waves it away.

“I was worried when you started working there, but I trust you, and I know you’re not getting involved in anything you don’t need to.” She tears a few leaves off from the head of lettuce and sets to shredding them. “I’m proud of you, Sid. I want you to know that.”

He looks down at the second onion he’s moved onto, thinking of Geno’s arms wrapped carefully around him during the night, thinking of how he’d watched Geno in the morning and how he’d wanted him, and doesn’t respond.

-x-

Geno doesn’t text again, and Sid doesn’t let himself be disappointed by it. It’s not like Geno doesn’t have other things to do. It isn’t until Sid gets his next paycheck that he wonders if there are other reasons.

“You can’t give me this,” he announces to Gonch, holding the check out as though bringing it too close will make him keep it.

Rubbing his thumb and forefinger together between his eyebrows, Gonch sighs. “It’s what you earned this week,” he tries, but it doesn’t sound defensive the way he did the last time that Sid tried to protest.

It’s more than double the amount he made last week. There’s only one thing that changed, and Sid clenches his teeth together as the thought as he thrusts the check out further to Gonch. “It’s not what I earned, it’s what someone told you I should earn,” he snaps.

Gonch looks up at him through tired eyes. He has a wife and two girls at home, a life out of this restaurant, a life that could be complicated if he doesn’t do what he needs to. “That doesn’t mean you didn’t earn it,” he says simply.

Disgust rolls through Sid, boiling within him. He breathes through his nose, trying to force himself to reason through it, before dropping the check on Gonch’s desk and walking out.

-x-

The check that Gonch hands him the next day is right, and Sid barely says thank you before grabbing his jacket and heading out. When he gets back to his apartment, he feels like he’s looking at it through different eyes.

It’s small and a little cramped, and the drain in the bathroom needs to be unclogged, but it’s something he did, something he’s almost proud of. The top shelf of the refrigerator functions more like a freezer, and the tile is chipped in the kitchen, but Sid doesn’t think about those things when he comes home.

He imagines the apartment through Geno’s eyes, expensive shoes having to walk up the steps because the elevator’s been broken for a month. Sid doesn’t clean often, but he wouldn’t classify his apartment as dirty, and he feels cold to his bones when he thinks about the money that Gonch handed him.

-x-

Geno comes by the restaurant with Tanger at his side, and Sid has their drinks started before they’ve even sat down. He hands them to Beau, one of the new waiters on staff, and points him in the right direction before going back to the patrons already sitting at the bar.

Beau comes back a moment later, the drinks still on his tray. “Malkin said he wanted you to bring them,” he says, intrigued at the idea.

Momentarily frozen, Sid finishes the drink he was working on and then walks around the edge of the bar, looking to where Geno and Tanger are seated in their usual spot. Tanger has his eyebrows raised like he knows what’s going on, and Geno is smirking as he glances over in a manner that he must believe is surreptitious. “Go help Duper, I’ll be right back,” Sid tells Beau mostly so that he’ll have something to do instead of just watch Sid go deliver drinks when it’s not even his job at the moment.

It takes Beau a second before he realizes he has any instructions, and then he goes behind the bar slowly, like he thinks Sid’s going to take it back. Once he’s talking to Duper, though, and Duper is giving him a few orders to fulfill, Sid lifts the tray and heads out through the dining room.

The tables near the window are a little more spread out, because the people who sit in this area are the ones who need privacy. It means he doesn’t have to worry about sneaking by any chairs that aren’t pushed in, and he can just walk up to Geno’s table and set the tray down without incident.

“Hi, Sid,” Geno greets him, clearly self-satisfied.

Sid takes their drinks off the tray and gives them the smile he wears for all customers, generic and bland. “Can I get you gentlemen anything else?” he asks, and they don’t have menus yet, but it isn’t like they don’t come often enough.

“How about a date?” Geno asks with a grin, loose and confident. Tanger rolls his eyes and watches with interest.

Sid grips the tray a little tighter before answering, “You can pick me up tomorrow at eight.”

Tanger smothers a laugh, looking down at the table and shaking his head in mock-despair. Geno seems pleased, sitting back and observing him like it’s his right, and Sid wonders if the grin that curls on his lips is the same one he felt against his own the other night.

“If you need anything else, I’m at the bar, so Beau will be the one serving you tonight,” Sid informs them before walking away.

-x-

The text comes in just as he’s about to get ready. Wear something nice.

Sid blinks down at it and doesn’t respond, but he does go over to his closet and pick out a navy sweater to pair with gray pants. He thinks about Colby when he asked Sid if he knew what he was doing.

He thought he knew what he was doing then. When nothing had happened, it was an easy thing to believe because there weren’t any consequences. He was toeing the line, and now he’s thinking about crossing it. Looking down at his phone to read the latest text, Sid has to acknowledge that, even if he knew what he was doing then, he doesn’t anymore.

I’m here.

-x-

The car is the same one that Geno drove Sid home in, black and shiny and detailed. Sid walks down the stairs and notices the other nice car in the parking lot, the one that Tanger or Kuni is surely driving. Geno waves at him from behind the wheel, and Sid doesn’t even bother to look at the passenger’s side as he walks to the driver’s window.

Geno rolls down the window after a second of confusion, asking hesitantly, “Sid?”

Sid takes a breath to steady himself, sticking his hands in his pockets. “My job isn’t something that you get to control,” he starts carefully. “If I’m working bar, then I’m not waiting tables, so don’t send your drinks back and expect me to bring them to you because you think it’s cute. I work for what I work for, and I don’t need you to tell Gonch to raise my pay when I haven’t started doing anything to earn it.”

Mouth slightly open, Geno appears to take stock of the situation at hand. When he finally comes up with something to say, all it turns out to be is, “Wasn’t trying to control you.”

That doesn’t actually make anything better. Sid nods, once, in finality, and takes a step back. He thinks about just walking away without saying anything else, but he bristles when his fingers brush the phone in his pocket.

“And don’t tell me to wear something nice. I’m not an escort, and you’re not paying me,” he says, turning back and heading up the stairs. It feels like it did after the attempting mugging, his heart beating so fast that he wonders idly whether it will stop from exertion.

-x-

Flower whistles when he comes into work the next day, picking up an earlier shift on purpose. “I heard you grew some pretty big balls last night.” Sid should have bothered to remember that Flower is positively shameless when it comes to being in another person’s business.

Sid shrugs, glancing over to see the mix of greenery that Flower is sliding around in a pan. Tanger must have told him, but he wasn’t close enough to overhear.

Flower watches him speculatively, but he doesn’t say anything else about it, and Sid grabs a few menus and runs the specials through in his head one last time before heading out into the dining room.

That seems to be the last of it, until he walks by Gonch’s office to go on break and hears someone bark out, “Crosby, get in here.”

Standing in front of Gonch’s desk is Mario Lemieux, eyes narrowed and arms crossed over his chest.

He glances behind Mario, where Gonch stands almost defiantly. Gonch pauses before sitting back down, but he doesn’t look down at the stack of papers on his desk that never seem to go away. “Sidney, Mr. Lemieux wants to speak with you about something,” he says finally.

A prickle of fear runs through him. He fucked up, and he should have known better, because now he’s about to lose this job, something that he shouldn’t have gambled with in the first place.

“If you’re going to fire me for turning Geno down, then do it, but don’t make up some excuse about how I’m not good at my job. I get here on time, I do what I’m told, and I don’t make mistakes. You can ask anyone.”

Mario blinks at him, leaning his shoulder on the wall. There’s something measured in his stare, a calculation being made. “Sounds like you’re doing good work,” he says finally, turning around to face Gonch, who pointedly glances at Sid and then at the door.

-x-

Geno is at his apartment when he gets back, standing outside of the door, looking like a dog who’s been scolded.

Sid stands by the stairs and looks out in the parking lot, where Kuni is probably sitting. He thinks about going down, getting in his car, and driving to go visit Marc-Andre and maybe weathering this storm out at his and Tanger’s apartment.

Geno lifts his hand and bangs on the door. “I want to at least talk about this, Sid!” he shouts, and Sid wonders how long he’s been here for, whether any of his neighbors will try to talk to him about it.

“I was at work,” Sid announces, digging his keys out of his pocket as Geno turns around to stare at him in surprise. “Did you send Mario to fire me?”

It’s a simple question, and it shouldn’t require the dramatics that Geno starts to espouse. Sid doesn’t listen, moves past him to unlock the door and doesn’t close it behind him, hoping that Geno will take it for the message it is. By the time that he turns around, Geno is standing quietly in the kitchen.

“Would you have gone out with me if I hadn’t asked Gonch to pay you more? Or if I hadn’t asked for you to bring the drinks?” Geno asks at last, and Sid suppresses his first response, which is that Geno didn’t ask for either of those things, just spoke his will into existence and waited for it to be done.

The truth of it is the Sid might have gone out with him even with the paycheck thing, before Beau had come back with their drinks. Clenching his hands, Sid wishes they’d talked outside. “I liked you when you left here,” he says, and he knows it’s an understatement but isn’t sure by how much. He liked eating breakfast in silence, he liked sleeping in the comfort of Geno’s embrace, he liked that Geno turned him down because he knew Sid wasn’t in the right headspace for it.

Geno stares at him for a long time before nodding. “I won’t ask Gonch to raise your pay again,” he starts, continuing when Sid doesn’t respond. “Wrong of me to ask you to deliver drinks when you were doing something else.”

The air is static between them, and Sid is reminded of the last time that it was like that: right before he took that step forward to kiss Geno. “I’m not yours,” he says, careful about the statement.

His words stand in stark contrast to the darkness of Geno’s eyes, and Sid is helpless to remember that they’ve only kissed once as he stands on the other side of the room. It would be more than just a step to go to Geno, and that thought keeps him where he is.

“Will you come out with me? I won’t tell you to look nice this time,” Geno tells him, remembering the final thing that Sid had taken issue with. “You always look nice anyway.”

The comment makes Sid duck his head and blush, and he uses that as an excuse to take his time thinking about his answer. “I don’t want to do anything fancy,” he finally decides, and Geno smiles in relief.

-x-

Instead of Sid’s phone buzzing with an incoming text, there’s a knock on his door this time, and he opens it to find Geno holding out a small bouquet of roses.

Sid reaches out to take them, holding them gingerly and breathing out, “Thank you. They’re lovely.” No one has ever given him flowers.

“Wanted to give you something as beautiful as you are,” Geno says. He stands large and intimidating in the small doorway of Sid’s shitty apartment, and Sid looks up to meet his darkened eyes and feels the same electricity bounce between them as before.

-x-

They’re at Geno’s apartment, looking out the window of the high-rise after their third date, when Sid can finally bring himself to ask.

“Why did you try to make them pay me more?” The thought of it rankles him, and he thinks he knows why but wants to ascertain it all the same.

Geno brings over Sid’s wine glass, newly filled, and sets it on the table. He looks hesitant to answer, but Sid doesn’t rush him, just takes the wine and lifts it to his lips. Geno’s apartment feels worlds away from Sid’s own rather than the fifteen-minute drive. It’s all glass and chrome, black leather couches that were designed with aesthetic rather than comfort in mind. “A bachelor pad,” Sid had remarked when they’d come in, and Geno didn’t bother trying to deny it.

Taking Sid’s hand and running his thumb over the knuckles, Geno tells him, “I thought… You deserve so much more.” It is, in all honesty, the most tactful way of calling Sid’s apartment a shithole.

They watch each other carefully until Sid responds, “I could afford more.” The restaurant pays him more than fairly, more than Sid ever could have hoped for when he started. He lives comfortably, makes sure his parents and Taylor do too, and money isn’t a problem. Compared to the way things used to be, it’s a dream. “I give my parents part of my pay.” He refuses to say it quietly, as though it’s an admission of defeat.

Geno pulls Sid’s hand over to him and brings it up slowly to his face. “When I first came to America, I sent Mama and Papa all my money. Was living at Mario’s, didn’t pay rent, just sent it all over to them. Taking care of parents means you’re a good son.”

It’s a small weight off his shoulders, and Sid sets his wine glass aside to move closer to Geno on the couch, leans forward and presses their lips together. Geno pulls him closer, wrapping an arm around Sid’s waist before palming his hips and squeezing when Sid sighs into the kiss.

“Stay here tonight, kotyonok,” Geno asks of him, and Sid is helpless to do anything but agree.

-x-

Flower corners him as they’re getting off, climbing into Sid’s car without asking and pointing at the diner down the street they went to when Sid first met Tanger. “I’m tired of hearing everything secondhand,” he says by way of explanation, flipping the menu over as he glances through it.

“Yeah, well, maybe Tanger shouldn’t gossip,” Sid answers, rolling his eyes when Flower glares at him.

It feels almost normal, sitting across from Flower and talking about Geno. Flower knows Geno, his boyfriend is Geno’s bodyguard, and he doesn’t seem surprised by anything Sid tells him.

“Trying to raise your pay doesn’t surprise me. He’s just extravagant like that. For Christmas one year, he bought Kris a Rolex with an onyx face. I got matching cufflinks and I’d only just met him. I can’t even imagine what he’s going to give you,” Flower says, drumming his fingers on the tabletop.

Sid hadn’t even been thinking of events like Christmas or birthdays, and the idea of it seems incredibly daunting now. “He buys me these giant bouquets and we only just started dating. I’ve been taking them to the children’s hospital because there are way too many of them, and I’m not at my apartment often enough to appreciate them.” He’s uncomfortable with Geno spending that much money on him, but the amount clearly isn’t enough to give Geno pause.

Flower snickers, and Sid’s eyes cut to him quick enough that he sobers up. “I mean, Sid, come on. You’re the hardest worker I know. Maybe it’s time to relax a little and let someone spoil you. It’s not like it’s a hardship for him.”

-x-

The flowers keep coming even after Sid mentions to Geno that they’re not necessary. Some of them come with chocolates, and he’ll admit that he enjoys those, likes thinking of Geno in a florist’s shop, watching someone cut flowers into a dramatic silhouette as he types a note for someone to pick up candy to go with them.

After their first date, where they went mini-golfing and then saw a movie, Geno insists on doing nicer things. They go to an art gallery opening, looking at sculptures of birds in flight that hang from the ceiling, and to a French restaurant where the head chef comes out to great Geno like an old friend. It’s… More than necessary, a little much in all honesty.

Not all their dates are expensive, because while Sid liked the French place Geno had taken him to, the portions were ridiculously tiny and he’d felt awkward. “You know you don’t have to impress me,” he says on the drive back, looking out the window to watch Pittsburgh race by in a streak of lights.

Geno drives fast, like he’s the only one on the road and everyone else needs to get out of his way. He smiles and changes lanes, glancing over to look at Sid out of the corner of his eye.

“Not trying to impress you. I’m showing you off,” he tells Sid simply, and it puts some of the context of their relationship in a new light.

Everywhere they go, there are people who stop by the table to see them. It’s similar to when Geno comes into the restaurant with Tanger or Kuni, politicians popping over briefly to exchange greetings before going back to their meal. It had never occurred to Sid that Geno might have been choosing those spots on purpose, other than using them to show off his influence on city.

Geno reaches over and sets his hand on Sid’s thigh, heavy and proprietary. “Come back for a drink,” he says, but the weight of his hand and how his thumb brushes on the inner seam of Sid’s pants promises something more than that.

They come to a stoplight, and Sid takes the opportunity to reach over and pull Geno to him, nipping sharply at his lips. “I have work in the morning,” he informs Geno, because he’s scheduled for opening.

“I have an early meeting, and I want to wake up with you in my bed,” Geno responds, dipping forward to kiss Sid once again before they’re honked at, the light turning green.
Muttering sharply under his breath, Geno lifts his hand from Sid’s thigh to flick the person behind them off, gripping the steering wheel tightly as he turns.

-x-

“How come you’re so busy all of a sudden?” Taylor asks at dinner, poking her meatloaf and looking up suspiciously at him. “Do you have a boyfriend?”

Sid chokes on his roll and coughs, reaching out for his water glass. His parents are laughing at him a little, but they’re looking at each other in a very measured way. “Um, kind of,” he admits once he’s gotten everything under control.

Trina smiles and passes the green beans. “Why haven’t you mentioned it before?” she asks carefully.

He told his parents he was gay in high school, around the time Troy started asking if he’d gotten himself a girlfriend yet. They’ve always been supportive of him, but he’s never dated someone he’s referred to as a boyfriend, never brought someone home before. “It’s new, Mom, I didn’t want to say anything before we’d talked about it.”

That suspends the conversation for the duration of dinner, but after, when Sid’s standing on the patio with Troy, Troy says, “He’d better treat you right.”

Sid thinks about what was intended to be there first date, when he’d had to lay down what he thought would have been ground rules so basic they didn’t need to cover them. Ever since then, though, it’s been different. Flowers delivered to his apartment every other day, Geno walking to the door to pick him up. It’s more than just, though, it’s that he’s careful with Sid, kisses him like it matters and holds him with the kind of gentleness that’s instinctual and not learned.

“He treats me really well, Dad,” Sid answers. It feels like a confession, something that he’s learning how to want. He feels Troy’s hand rest on his shoulder and smiles into the night air.

-x-

“What did you want to be when you grew up?”

The question seems to come out of nowhere. They’re eating breakfast in Geno’s kitchen, a sausage and egg combo that Geno whipped together served on the toast that was Sid’s minor contribution.

Sid takes a minute to register the question, and he mulls it over as he chews. “When I was really young, I wanted to be a firefighter. We went to a firehouse in kindergarten and got to try on their helmets. I thought it was really cool,” he answers, shrugging. “During high school, I thought about becoming a teacher. Maybe for elementary schoolers or something, I don’t know. Are you worried I might not be fulfilling my dreams as a bartender?”

“Yes,” Geno responds simply, grabbing another slice of toast and scooping the last of the scramble onto it. He pauses to look up at Sid, guilt in his expression, and then clarifies, “I’m not trying to control you, not trying to tell you what should do. Just wanted to know.”

Sid smiles and hooks his ankle around Geno’s under the table. “I know. What did you want to be when you were little?” he asks, suddenly curious. Geno can’t have always known he would end up in organized crime.

“A policeman,” Geno tells him, and Sid can’t help the laugh that he lets out. “I know, I know. Wanted to protect Mama and Papa, though.” He shakes his head at himself, remembering. “I protect them still like this, just in different way.” He smiles sadly, reaching and holding Sid’s hand carefully on the table, before looking up at Sid and squinting. “Still want to be a teacher?”

Sid shrugs. “I mean, I’d love to, I just don’t see how I’d do it right now. Maybe one day,” he says absentmindedly. He squeezes Geno’s hand gently, smiling. “It’s good you protect them.”

-x-

The next week, Gonch announces the restaurant’s new tuition assistance program for long-term employees. People who have been employees for a year or more are eligible, and Sid thinks about the pamphlet he woke up to about the education programs in the Pittsburgh area yesterday morning.

“We’ve talked about this. You can’t just give me money,” Sid says when he gets to Geno’s apartment that night, trying to keep himself as calm as possible.

Geno looks up from where he’s sitting at his desk and shuts the notebook in front of him. He groans and raises a hand to his forehead. “Not giving you money, not just for you. Talked with Gonch, he’s wanted to start program for a while. We organized it with Mario. Can work at the restaurant, still, different hours for classes they help pay for. Why are you upset?”

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Sid sits down on the edge of the bed. “You can’t just do these things because it makes me happy,” he tries instead.

“Why not?” Geno asks, crossing the room and pulling Sid towards him. “I like making you happy, and if this will make you happy, why can’t I help? I’m not giving you the money; I know you don’t want it if you haven’t earned it.” He’s smiling secretively, and Sid can’t help but smile back as they share the joke.

It’s still… “It’s too much,” he protests weakly.

“It’s a good solution. Go take classes to be a teacher,” Geno takes his hand and sits down, shifting Sid into his lap as he nuzzles into his shoulder.

Sid lets himself be manhandled, tucking himself into Geno’s body. “What if being a teacher doesn’t make me happy?” he asks, unable to resist the question. “It’s hard work, and it’s stressful, and maybe that’s not what I want.”

Geno wraps his arms around Sid, pulling him closer. “Then find what you want. Doesn’t matter to me, baby. I just want you to be happy.”

-x-

Beau is the first person to start the tuition assistance program, and any lingering reluctance that Sid felt about Geno starting the program melts away when Beau tells him about the engineering program he’ll be enrolling in.

“Good for you, Sunshine,” Sid says, watching as Beau ducks his head and blushes.

“It’ll be pretty intense, so I’m not sure what hours I’ll be working. Gonch said they might have to get some new hires,” Beau admits, and he looks a little worried about it, like he thinks it’s his fault that he’s taking advantage of a program that the restaurant offers.

Finishing the last of the drinks for the order, Sid gets them situated on Beau’s tray and smiles at him. “Well, looks like I’ll just have to train some new guys. I’m happy for you.”
Beau grins, lifting his tray and taking it into the dining room.

Sid looks up and notices Geno and Tanger enter, taking off scarves and hats as they walk over to their usual table. He gives them a wave and starts their drinks, waving off Duper when he offers to do it.

When Beau pops back over, Sid steals his tray and sends him back behind the bar, placing the drinks onto it himself. Duper smothers a laugh when he notices Sid walking out, but Sid rolls his eyes and doesn’t let it bother him as he walks over.

Geno smiles when he notices, standing and waiting until Sid’s tray is safely on the table before pulling him in for a quick kiss. “What a surprise,” he says, and Tanger rolls his eyes at the two of them.

“Beau is going to be an engineer,” Sid tells them without prompting, unable to do anything but smile. “He’s doing the tuition assistance program.” He lifts his hand to Geno’s face and runs his thumb over a fresh cut on his jaw, leaning forward to kiss him again. “You did a good thing.”

-x-

On their six-month anniversary, Geno says, “You should move in.” He’s looking through the menu at the Chinese place that’s grown to be one of their favorites, and Sid doesn’t know why since he always orders the same thing.

“I stay over all the time,” Sid responds, glancing through the appetizers and trying to decide between egg rolls and pot stickers. “You started delivering the bouquets to your own apartment rather than mine since I wasn’t there to get them often enough.”

Geno rolls his eyes, huffing a little. “I know, is why you should move in.”

Setting the menu down, Sid looks at him from across the table as he squints. “You actually mean it,” he says in wonder, suddenly unsure. He tries to think about the last time that he stayed at his apartment twice in a row, because he goes over often enough to grab clothes and feed the stray cat, but he only stays if Geno has something going late that night.

“Yes, Sid, want you to move in,” Geno says slowly, a little exasperated. “I just said you should.”

He did, in fact, just say it. Twice actually, three times now. Sid looks down at his menu and tries to make sense of it, concluding that it’s been at least three weeks, maybe a month, since he’s stayed at his own place two nights in a row.

“Oh,” he says finally, and some part of him wonders if it’s too soon but most of him is focused on how quickly Geno smiles at him in the morning, like he’s happy just waking up to Sid. “Okay, then.”

-x-

Sid packs up his stuff into a surprisingly small number of boxes, and he donates the things he won’t need, like kitchen supplies. All told, he doesn’t even feel the need to ask anyone other than Geno to help him move, and he wonders why it feels like he has less stuff than he did when he first moved.

He’s moved most of his clothes to Geno’s already, and when they were going through to make room for Sid’s stuff he was surprised to find how much of it had already migrated into Geno’s closet.

The stray cat wanders inside when he leaves the patio door open, yelling bossily as it jumps onto the boxes. Sid reaches over and pets it, pulling out his DVD collection from under the TV, setting it aside to figure out how to fit it into the rest later.

The cat is still there when Geno comes, Kuni walking in behind him and giving Sid a wave as he takes a seat at the kitchen table. Geno barely even says hello, walking up to the cat and scratching her chin as she purrs loudly, rubbing her face on his hand. “Such a pretty girl,” he coos.

“Should I be jealous?” Sid asks drily, but he’s charmed despite himself. He knows Geno loves dogs, because he stops to pet them while they’re out on walks, not to mention Jeffery, the large French Mastiff he has at home. Sid would describe himself as more of a dog person, but he’s come to like the small cat that curls up on his lap if he’s sitting on the patio.

He thought that she was a neighbor’s outdoor cat at first, but he doesn’t think so anymore. A lot of the people in the complex don’t stick around for very long, and the cat has been around longer than any of his neighbors.

“You know you’re my best girl, baby,” Geno says with a smirk, twisting to kiss Sid quickly as Kuni laughs.

They get everything carried out to Geno’s car without a problem, and Sid tucks the boxes meant for Goodwill in his car. “Alright, I’ll meet you back at your place,” he says, leaning up to peck Geno quickly on the lips, moving back when he feels something knock into his ankles.

The cat twists between their legs, rubbing on Geno happily as she purrs. She’s always been affectionate, but never so much as now that Geno is here, and Geno smiles as he reaches down to pet her.

“Might be a little late,” Geno tells him, sounding suspiciously guilty. “Want to stop and pick up kitty litter.” He pouts a little when he says it, and the cat meows at Sid like she knows he could become the deciding factor.

Sid sighs, stroking her head. He knows that Kuni is suppressing laughter at them, but he nudges his shoulder against Geno’s and tells him, “You should probably pick up some catnip, too.”

Moving to kiss Sid’s cheek, Geno grins widely at him. “Best, Sid,” he announces, gathering the cat into his arms and pulling her against his chest.

-x-

Living with Geno is more different than Sid would have expected, given that he already spent most nights there in the first place. Geno gets home late a few nights of the week, later than Sid gets home even when he works until closing. He crawls into bed and kisses Sid gently, whispering, “Just me, kotyonok, go back to sleep.”

In the mornings, Sid lets Geno sleep as late as he needs to, and he looks at the slight bruising that colors his chest. It’s not a question he wants to ask, and it probably isn’t an answer he wants to hear.

There are signs of things that surely aren’t the same in any other relationship. Kuni and Tanger follow Geno like a shadow, bodyguards turned friends, and one day Geno comes home with a blond kid trailing behind him.

“Sid, this is Olli,” Geno says, and the blond guy nods at him before looking back down at the floor.

Sid pushes his textbook to the side, smiling at Olli and then arching an eyebrow at Geno, who has acquired a black eye since he last saw him. “Babe, what happened?” He’s out of his chair before he can think about it, marching into the kitchen and tilting Geno’s face into the light.

There are some scrapes on his cheeks, but they aren’t deep. It’s really the bruise that’s bad, bad enough that Geno says, “Don’t worry about it,” instead of trying to play it up for attention like he usually does.

Opening the freezer and packing a few ice cubes into a plastic bag, Sid wraps it in a washcloth and rests it as carefully as he can against the tender skin. Geno winces anyway, and Sid curses under his breath. He’ll need to open some green tea packets and get a paste going, and hopefully that will reduce the swelling by the morning. He knows more about caring for minor injuries than he ever did before living with Geno.

“A deal went bad; you shouldn’t worry. I’m okay,” Geno insists, smiling at him, the injured half of his face covered by the makeshift icepack.

It isn’t until he’s done fussing over Geno that he remembers Olli is standing at the edge of the kitchen, looking far too young and baby faced to be involved in anything that Geno is running. “Christ, how old are you?” he asks without thinking, and Olli blanches.

“Nineteen, uh, sir,” Olli answers, and Sid’s eyebrows raise automatically as he turns to Geno.

Geno meets his eyes through the one that isn’t obscured. “He’s been training for the last few months, and he’s ready now. Meet your bodyguard, Sid.”

When Sid looks back at Olli, the kid isn’t laughing. “I don’t have a bodyguard,” he says carefully, looking between Olli and Geno like they’re going to make it into a joke.

He pulls Geno into the bedroom, excusing them as he yells something to Olli about finding an antibacterial ointment for the cuts. Which isn’t so much of an excuse as something he actually needs to do, but he uses the time to ask Geno, “What the hell? I don’t want a bodyguard.”

Geno sighs, leaning against the bathroom counter. “Please, kotyonok, just want to keep you safe. This deal that went bad… It’s a bad sign, I’m worried for you,” he pleads, taking Sid’s hand in his and squeezing it gently.

The careful touch draws Sidney away from the medicine cabinet, and he wants to touch Geno’s face but doesn’t want to hurt him. “So you want me to have a bodyguard? And you want that guy to be my bodyguard? He’s so young.” Sid can’t help it, that’s the point he’s stuck on.

With a sympathetic smile, Geno lifts Sid’s hand to kiss it. “He’ll blend in at school with you, and Dumo will go to work with you. He’s other one, I don’t want you to be… Sweetheart, please, let me do this,” he says, his tone almost begging, and Sid bites his lip before he nods.

“They can’t be there when I go home to see my parents. I don’t want them to ask any weird questions about it.” There are boundaries that have to be set.
Geno nods readily. “I’ll tell them. I’m sorry, know you don’t like it.”

And no, Sid doesn’t, but if it’s choosing between having bodyguards and not having Geno, then he doesn’t really feel like it’s a choice. “It’s okay, really.” He kisses Geno’s uninjured cheek and then goes back to the medicine cabinet, finally pulling out what he was looking for. “He can’t call me ‘sir’, though.”

“I’ll let him know.” Already familiar with the routine, Geno removes the icepack and winces pre-emptively before Sid even starts putting the ointment on the cuts. “Be careful,” he says, like Sid hasn’t done this dozens of times before.

“You big baby,” Sid coos at him fondly, but he keeps his touch light as he brushes it along the cuts.

-x-

Usually, Sid is already asleep when Geno comes in late. If he’s gotten off work for closing, he goes to bed almost immediately after he showers, and he usually doesn’t stay up that late doing homework otherwise. Most nights that Geno gets in after Sid’s already gone to bed, he has to move Jeffery and the newly named Dixie around until he can make enough room to scoot beside Sid.

Tonight, though, Sid is up studying for a test, curled up by the window, squinting down at the words. He hears the door unlock and then sees Geno walk in, holding a phone up to his ear.

He doesn’t have any fresh bruises that Sid can see, but he watches Geno pull off his jacket and looks at the newly revealed skin just to make sure.

Geno opens the fridge after throwing his jacket on the counter, and then he says, “Not going to ask again. I’ll be there tomorrow, and I expect you to have it.” He pulls the phone away and hangs up without waiting for anything, setting it on the counter before shutting the fridge.

Sid sits quietly, watching as Geno rubs at his forehead. “Babe?” he finally calls.

Geno starts a little bit and turns around guiltily. “Didn’t think you were awake,” he confesses, walking over and joining Sid on the couch. “More work?”

Flipping the page, Sid nods. He’s stuck on the conversation that Geno just had, the threat he carried through without even having to say it. He tries to push it out of his mind, moving to lean on Geno as he shuts his textbook. “There’s always more work.”

Kissing Sid’s cheek, Geno hums. “You always work so hard. You’re going to be a good teacher.”
Sid relaxes into him and sighs. “Thanks.”

They sit in silence for a while, and Sid watches the clock, thinking about going to bed. There’s something else, though, that he’s been thinking about for longer. He sits up, moving to face Geno, grabbing his hands as he does so. Geno watches him with interest, smiling indulgently.

“Did you know that you can boil a frog alive?” Sid asks.

Geno squints at him and shakes his head as he huffs out a short laugh. “Is this what you’ve been thinking about? So quiet, thinking about boiling frogs.”

Squeezing Geno’s hand, Sid continues, “You can’t just drop the frog into boiling water, though, because the frog would jump out. You have to set the frog into water and then boil it, because it won’t notice the temperature change. It’s too gradual.” He breathes out, trying to steady himself. His hands are shaking.

Moving towards him, Geno moves a hand over Sid’s cheek, and Sid aches to do the same but he keeps both of his hands in Geno’s lap. “What are you saying, kotyonok?” he asks carefully.

He’s said it a thousand times before, but never in words. Sid thinks about cleaning Geno’s cuts, about being quiet in the morning and trying not to wake Geno because he came in late, about being kissed ever so carefully, like he’s something precious and worthwhile. He’s not worried about Geno not feeling the same way, but it’s nerve wracking all the same.

“I love you,” Sid breathes, and his bravery is rewarded instantly by the smile that unfolds on Geno’s face.

“Oh, Sid,” Geno responds, stroking his cheek again. “I love you, too. I’ve loved you for so long, my darling.” He adjusts his hand and cups Sid’s jaw, leaning forward until their mouths meet.

As many compatible kisses they’ve shared since that first one, quick hellos and goodbyes as well as acknowledgements, this one feels more like the first than anything else. Sid scrambles forward, climbing onto Geno’s lap and straddling him. It feels like there’s too much space between them, even with as close as they are.

Geno settles his hands on Sid’s hips and presses him down as he arches up. He licks into Sid’s mouth and shudders when Sid grinds down.

Sid pulls away with a gasp, using his hands at Geno’s shoulders to steady himself. “I just… You make me so happy,” he manages, and it feels like he’s living an entirely different life than he was when he graduated. It’s so hard to imagine himself then, before Geno, before the restaurant. “I don’t think I’m ever going to have the words to tell you how happy you make me.”

Smiling, Geno leans forward and kisses him, chaste and sweet. “Going to wait forever for you to figure it out,” he says, and Sid can’t stop his answering smile.