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Thirty-Nine Years

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Thick clouds hid the ground from view as the plane began its descent toward Sheremetyevo. The forecast had called for flurries, and as the plane dropped into the gray mist and then down into the pale afternoon light, Sid could see the ground blanketed in fresh snow.

He had passed through this airport before, more than a decade ago, on his way to Sochi. His memories were hazy: all airports looked the same after a while, glassy, vast, and impersonal.

He messaged Geno from the runway: Landed. How long for customs?

easy, fast, Geno replied, see you soon)))

Sid’s heart jumped and stayed high, quivering behind his ribs. He had slept on the flight from Toronto to Warsaw, and studied his phrasebook between Warsaw and Moscow, and hadn’t been nervous at all until this moment. It was only Geno, after all.

Geno, who he hadn’t seen in a year and a half. Who had hesitated on the phone for many long, painful seconds when Sid first proposed this visit.

He had agreed in the end, though. Sid was here now. He hadn’t booked a return flight, and his visa was good for three months. He would stay until he wore out his welcome.

He rolled his suitcase down the jet bridge and followed the signs for passport control, the bold Cyrillic on top and the English smaller and occasionally misspelled below. Customs was, as promised, a breeze. The guy flipped through his passport, squinted at his visa, stamped a few times, and waved him on through.

Sid had done a lot of traveling over the years, but the initial entry into a new country was always a little disorienting. He couldn’t read the signs on any of the storefronts. The brief snatches of conversation he caught as he passed were incomprehensible to him. People’s shoes looked different. He definitely wasn’t in Canada anymore.

Geno was waiting for him just past security. Sid’s heart left his chest altogether and lodged in his throat. Geno looked the same—a little thinner on top, but still the same guy he’d always been, his huge coat unzipped to show his sweater, patterned with the elaborate white stitching that was all the rage. He smiled at Sid and slid his hands out of his pockets, and Sid abandoned his suitcase and took three steps forward into Geno’s arms.

They hugged like friends, the way guys did: a few hearty slaps on the back, their hips at a safe distance. Sid wanted to close his eyes and push his face against Geno’s neck and hold him close, but he stepped back instead, and tried to rein in his smile. He was finally here.

“How’s flight?” Geno asked, smiling down at him. He had a few faint crow’s feet around his eyes. He hadn’t shaved in a few days, and the stubble of his mustache looked like a greasy smear on his upper lip. Sid knew his face so well after twenty years as teammates and brothers-in-arms. He wanted to take note of every change the past year had inscribed so that he could go over the differences in private, to compare the Geno he knew with the man before him now: the same Geno, only not quite.

“The flight was fine,” Sid said. “I slept some.”

“Good,” Geno said. He pulled a toque from his pocket and jammed it on his head, and zipped up his coat. He gave Sid’s own coat a skeptical look. “Don’t know why you want visit in winter. It’s so cold.”

“I’m less delicate than you are,” Sid said. “I like winter.” This was an easy rhythm to fall into, the back-and-forth of chirping: the first language they had ever spoken together, that elided all the things they had never learned to say.

He followed Geno out of the airport and across a pedestrian bridge to a parkade. Geno kept shooting glances at him as they walked.

“What is it?” Sid asked.

Geno shrugged. “Nothing.” Then he smiled, lopsided. “You all gray.”

“Yeah.” Sid ran a rueful hand over his head. He’d been salt-and-pepper for a long time, but in the last year he’d undergone a rapid transition to silver. “My dad was gray by forty. Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, I guess.” He didn’t really mind. He got recognized in public less often, which was a nice side benefit.

Geno’s car looked almost exactly like the one he’d sold when he left Pittsburgh: tiny, red, and sporty. He peeled out of the garage so fast that Sid had to brace himself against the door. Some things never changed.

There wasn’t much to see along the highway at first, just trees and noise barriers. Traffic grew heavy as they approached the city, and Geno muttered to himself and switched lanes a lot, and for some reason didn’t turn on the autopilot. They passed car dealerships and nondescript apartment blocks, exactly in line with Sid’s mental image of post-Soviet Russia. But as they came into the city center, Sid was reminded more of the other European cities he’d visited, Paris and Prague, Riga. New buildings were mixed in with old. He saw a KFC on the bottom floor of a peachy-pink Neoclassical façade.

“Train station,” Geno said, as they passed a mint green confection on the right, “here’s statue of Mayakovsky, he’s famous poet,” and Sid took it all in as the car crept along and Geno liberally applied his horn. People hurried along the sidewalks, bundled in their dark coats. A few snowflakes drifted down from the low clouds. The light was fading already. Night came early, this far north.

Geno turned off onto a different road after a while. “Garden Ring,” he said, “but it’s not gardens anymore. You hungry?”

Sid shrugged. “Not really. They fed us right before we landed in Warsaw.”

“Okay,” Geno said. He sighed. “We’re home soon. It’s always traffic.”

“I could have taken the rail line in,” Sid said.

“No.” Geno cut off a truck and ignored the ensuing blare of a horn. “You get lost in Belorussky, text me from Tretyakovskaya, oh Geno, how I’m end up in Yakimanka?”

Sid didn’t know what any of those words meant. “Your funeral.”

Geno turned right again, and then turned off onto a side street and pulled into a gated parking lot shielded by bare, snow-covered trees. Sid figured he would park there, but instead he pulled beneath the building into an underground garage and turned off the car.

They took the elevator up. Sid hadn’t gotten enough sleep, and it was starting to catch up with him now. He wanted a shower, a cup of coffee, and maybe a big meal, in an hour or two. He yawned, his jaw cracking. He had plans, but his brain was wrapped in fuzzy cotton batting, and he couldn’t connect thought to action. There would be time for that tomorrow.

Geno fished his keys out of his pocket. “Don’t sleep yet, you be sorry.”

“Yeah, I know,” Sid said. He followed Geno into the apartment. The interior was about what he had expected based on Geno’s house in Pittsburgh, that same kind of over-the-top décor, textured wallpaper and plush carpeting and crystal chandeliers. Geno took him down a hallway and through an open door into what was clearly a guest room: carefully furnished but unused. The huge bed was piled high with pillows. Sid wanted to swan-dive into it and sleep for ten hours.

“Don’t lie down,” Geno said. “Here’s towels, if you want shower. Bathroom is across hall. We go for dinner when you hungry. Okay?”

“Yeah,” Sid said. “Thanks.”

Geno pulled off his toque. His remaining hair stuck up in wild dark tufts. He had enough left on the sides that he probably could have gone for a combover if he wanted to, but he’d never seemed to care much about his encroaching baldness. Looking at the thin wisps on the top of his head filled Sid with an unspeakable tenderness. They weren’t kids anymore, but they weren’t old yet, either. Sid had half his life ahead of him still. All of the joy and heartbreak and wonder of his first thirty-nine years could be replicated in his second. There was so much he wanted to do.

“Come find me when you ready,” Geno said. He turned his toque in his hands and offered Sid a small smile, even sweeter for how long it had been since Sid saw it last.

Sid had missed him every day since he left. “Sure. Thanks, G.”

Alone, he sat on the bed for a minute or two. Here he was, in Moscow, in Geno’s apartment. He had been in Toronto last night, and now he was a whole hemisphere away. The distance between him and Geno had shrunk from thousands of kilometers to three rooms, and Sid had plans; Sid was going to make it happen. The clock hadn’t run down yet.

+ + +

They went for dinner at a place near Geno’s apartment, a short walk through side streets to a busier main road. “Lots of good bars, restaurants,” Geno said. He gestured ahead of them. “It’s second ring there, bulvarnoye?”

“Boulevard,” Geno’s phone said from his pocket, a little muffled. He had set the voice to male, and Sid wasn’t sure what that meant. Probably it didn’t mean anything.

“Old parts of city,” Geno continued. “We go tomorrow, I show you best things.”

“The Red Square,” Sid said, and grinned when Geno groaned. “Come on, we have to. I can’t come all this way and not see the sights.”

“It’s too cold,” Geno said, like he wasn’t bundled up in enough gear to survive an Arctic expedition, even though the temperature was only a few degrees below freezing.

It was so good to be with him again, listening to him complain about the weather.

The restaurant was quiet and cozy, in an old building with wooden floors and low ceilings with exposed beams. Overstuffed dining chairs clustered around each table. The place was pretty full for a Tuesday night—Sid was 90% sure it was Tuesday—but they were seated right away, at a table in the back, tucked between the bar and the rear wall.

Sid had many memories of going out to eat with Geno during his first few years in Pittsburgh, when he couldn’t read the menu or didn’t want to, and couldn’t order or was too shy to. Listening to Geno flirt with the waitress and place Sid’s order for him seemed like a symbolic and necessary inversion. They had come back to the beginning, after all this time.

“So,” Sid said, after their orders were in and their bottle of wine had been uncorked and poured. “How, uh. How have you been?”

Geno gave him a look that Sid didn’t think he entirely deserved. It was true they hadn’t talked much since Geno left Pittsburgh, but that was Geno’s doing as much as Sid’s. They had texted a little, and Sid hadn’t pushed, and Geno hadn’t volunteered. Sid knew from Gonch that Geno had thrown himself into charity work and his assorted business ventures, but aside from those few details, the shape of Geno’s post-retirement life was obscured to him.

“Fine,” Geno said. “Busy. You know.”

“No, I don’t know,” Sid said. “That’s why I’m asking.”

Geno tilted his wine glass, watching the liquid slosh to one side and then the other. “It’s good, Sid. Lots of friends here, you know. We see football, go for dinner. Gonch is here in summer, and Max.” He grinned then, wide and white. “I skate a little, too. Play some hockey with friends.”

“That’s fantastic,” Sid said, grinning himself. “I’m real happy to hear that, G.” Geno’s knee had given out on him in the end; he’d spent the last year and a half of his contract on long-term IR, as a fixture in the dressing room but no longer on the ice. He had been skating a little when he left, but nothing more than a few cautious laps around the rink.

“It’s hard for me, when I can’t play,” Geno said, which Sid had known, but never heard Geno admit. “Now I’m old guy, go slow, be careful, but it’s still fun.”

“Maybe we can skate together, while I’m here,” Sid said. “Like old times, eh?”

Geno smirked at him. “You bring skates? You rent at rink?”

Sid grimaced. He had packed pretty light; there hadn’t been room in his suitcase for skates. “Maybe I’ll buy a pair.”

“Good, we go tomorrow,” Geno said. He took a sip of wine and watched Sid for a moment, his expression unreadable. “You like retire? Gonch tell me you move back to Canada.”

“Yeah,” Sid said, amused by how they were back to using Gonch as their go-between again, the way they had when Geno first arrived in the States. It was sad but fitting. “I kept my house in Pittsburgh, but. Mostly up at the lake for now.” He hesitated over his next words, because they felt like gloating, but he also wanted Geno to know that he was okay. “It hasn’t been as bad as I thought it might be. Retiring, I mean. I’ve seen so many guys struggle with it”—Geno included, but Sid definitely wasn’t going to say that part—“but I was ready for it, I guess. I got my twenty seasons. I was worried about what came next, but turns out there’s a lot of options.”

“You coaching?” Geno asked, and then hesitated. “Kids?”

“Thinking about it,” Sid said. “Expanding the hockey school, for sure.” He sipped his own wine. It was good, not too dry. “Next year, maybe. I’ve got some things to get settled first. Hockey’s not the only thing I want in life.”

“Hmm,” Geno said, and Sid’s pulse spiked for a moment, because maybe Geno was going to ask him now—but Geno only said, “You still with Alicia?”

Sid hadn’t expected that question at all. “No, uh. That’s over.” What did Geno think was going on here? Surely he had some inkling why Sid had traveled all this way after so many years.

“Sorry,” Geno said, and Sid wondered then if Geno hadn’t been referring to coaching when he said ‘kids.’

“Wasn’t ever all that serious,” he said. “She didn’t want to leave Pittsburgh, so.” He cleared his throat. “You, uh. You seeing anybody?”

“No,” Geno said, and that—well, that was something. Geno fussed for a moment with the napkin in his lap. “How’s Flower? Duper?”

Sid filled him in over dinner, and Geno talked a little more about his life in Moscow, and things they could do in the city. The food was excellent. Sid had told Geno he wanted fish, and whatever Geno had ordered for him—sea bass, it looked like—arrived butterflied, grilled, and perfectly seasoned. They finished the wine. Geno ordered dessert, some type of layer cake with a custard filling: a slice for each of them, and Sid ate half of Geno’s, when Geno pushed his plate away, and ignored Geno’s judgmental eyebrows.

“The best thing about retirement,” Sid said, “is no diet plan.”

“No,” Geno said, and grinned. “Best thing is don’t talk with reporters.”

“You’ve got me there,” Sid said ruefully. He missed certain individual reporters, but he definitely didn’t miss answering the same questions night after night for decades.

Geno leaned back in his seat. His grin softened and faded. The expression that lingered on his face was one he had directed at Sid many times over the years, and Sid had never done anything about it, not really, for a whole variety of reasons that had seemed extremely compelling at the time and now seemed like stupid excuses. Geno seemed cagey and guarded, and Sid wasn’t having any doubts, he couldn’t have doubts, but seeing that look on Geno’s face now was a careful breath across the embers of his hopes, warming them to a soft glow.

“Let’s go, you too tired,” Geno said, just as Sid raised his hand to cover a yawn.

Sid won the faceoff over who got to pay. When they went out into the dark, it was snowing. The main street was full of people going out to dinner or a bar or maybe going home late from work. Each restaurant window they passed glowed with warm light. Sid listened to their boots crunch in the slight dusting of snow on the sidewalks. He was full from the meal, content, ready for sleep.

“Hey,” Geno said, after a few blocks, and nudged Sid with his elbow. He smiled, small and strained, but still a smile. “Glad you here.”

“Yeah.” Sid nudged Geno in return. The embers glowed brighter. “Me, too.”

+ + +

Sid woke early, jet-lagged. The world was still dark outside the guest room window.

“It’s 5:13 AM,” his phone told him softly. “The current temperature is -5. The high today will be -3. Sunrise is at 8:53 AM.”

“Thanks,” Sid said, and his phone chirped in acknowledgment. He had at least a couple of hours before Geno woke up.

He read his email and sent people a few pictures he had taken yesterday from the car. He watched some highlights from the previous night’s games. The Pens seemed to be heading for the playoffs, and that made Sid feel great but also weird, that the team was carrying on without him. It had been his team for two decades, and now it was someone else’s.

His growling stomach finally drove him out of bed. He went down the hall into the kitchen and fumbled around until he found the light switch. A French press sat on the counter beside an unopened bag of coffee grounds. Sid plugged in the electric kettle and investigated the contents of the fridge. It was pretty well-stocked, and Sid was glad to see the crisper drawer was full of leafy vegetables. Geno was taking care of himself.

He opened cabinets at random until he found a plate and a frying pan, and he fried some eggs and ate half a clamshell of what were probably incredibly expensive out-of-season raspberries. The rest of the apartment was dark and silent, and the world was dark outside, still all around him. He had exited time, or paused it for a while, long enough to tie up this last loose end with Geno, one way or another.

The apartment was set up in two wings: the three bedrooms at one end with the public areas in the middle, the kitchen and living room. Sid took his second cup of coffee and went down the other hallway off the kitchen, toward the other wing. He found a media room with a huge, well-worn leather couch, and another room that seemed to be Geno’s study, judging by the bookshelves and the messy desk wedged beneath a window.

Sid wandered in. Geno’s miniature trophies were lined up on a shelf, the same as they had been on Geno’s mantle in Pittsburgh: Worlds, the Calder, the Conn Smythe. There were three Cups all in a row. They had never managed a fourth, and Sid wasn’t sorry about that, not really. They had done enough, him and Geno together. They’d had a good goddamn run.

The walls were covered in photographs, old team portraits from various international tournaments, and a picture of Geno with Gonch after the 2009 win, champagne-drenched in the locker room, beaming, arms around each other’s shoulders. There was a picture of Sid and Geno from 2017, holding the Cup between them—not the famous picture of them kissing it together, or even one of them holding it and smiling at the camera, but a picture of them looking at each other, Sid in the middle of saying something, and Geno watching him, smiling, waiting for what would come next.

A noise from the hallway caught his attention. He turned, and there was Geno in the doorway, wearing a pair of sweatpants, his chest bare, his hair wild from sleep. Sid was physically incapable of keeping his eyes from dropping to Geno’s chest and stomach, both a little softer than they had been while he was still playing hockey, like maybe Geno was also enjoying the absence of a diet plan. He looked great. He looked really—and then Sid looked away, back at the pictures on the wall.

“You’re up early,” he said.

“Not so early,” Geno said. “It’s usual time for me. And I see light on here.” He came into the room and stood at Sid’s shoulder, gazing at the pictures.

Sid felt horribly revealed, like Geno had caught him doing something embarrassing. But Geno couldn’t know what he was thinking, what seeing that picture of the two of them had made him feel, and anyway Geno was the one who hung it on his wall in the first place.

“It’s good memories,” Geno said quietly.

“Yeah,” Sid said. “The best.” He turned to look at Geno then, and Geno smiled at him with no trace of wistfulness. Sid’s stomach unknotted. They’d had their time. It was done now. Sid was looking ahead, and maybe Geno was, too. Waiting for what came next.

“You eat already?” Geno asked. “You want go out?”

“No, I ate,” Sid said, “but we can go out if you want to.”

“No,” Geno said, and grinned. “I eat, then we go buy skates.”

The sun was up when they walked out of Geno’s building, but hidden by clouds. Geno had ordered a car on his phone, and when it pulled up at the curb, Sid was surprised to see there was no driver.

“This isn’t legal in Canada yet,” he said, climbing into the passenger seat as Geno went around to the driver’s side.

“No?” Geno said a few things in Russian to the screen on the dash, inputting their destination. “Stupid. It’s best way.” He flashed a grin at Sid. “Traffic’s so bad, nowhere to park, and this way you don’t have to talk with driver. Easy.”

“Russia’s on the cutting edge,” Sid said, and he was kind of being sarcastic but not entirely. The future had arrived, and he was in it.

Rush hour had mostly ended. The car pulled off Geno’s quiet street and onto the main road. Sid had never thought much about Moscow aside from knowing that Geno loved it, and he had looked forward to Geno’s take on the city, but so far he liked it even more than he had anticipated. The fresh snow that had fallen the night before made everything seem clean and muffled, all of the old pastel buildings and the boulevards and even the billboards and power lines overhead, the dull infrastructure of urban life.

Buying skates didn’t take long; Sid knew his size, and what he liked. When they were done, Geno ordered another car, and they went outside to wait for it at the curb. The low clouds looked gray and heavy, full of snow.

“I have ice time tomorrow,” Geno said. His shoulders were hunched, his chin turtled down into the collar of his puffy coat. “We go skate then. Today—I don’t know. We go shop, go eat, go see old part of city, Kitai-Gorod—”

“Red Square,” Sid said, “and don’t make that face, it’s not that cold. Come on. I’ve gotta get some pictures. Just until lunch. We can spend the rest of the day indoors.”

“Fine, fine,” Geno said, sighing heavily, rolling his eyes up toward the sky, like he hadn’t decided to live precisely here instead of any number of more temperate places.

Red Square was at the heart of the old city, through a twisting warren of narrow streets. The car came to the end of a road and there it was, with no lead-up, the abrupt red walls of the Kremlin before them, and the colorful domes of St. Basil’s, bright against the gray sky.

“Holy shit,” Sid said, leaning forward to peer through the windshield as the car pulled to a stop at the curb.

Geno laughed. “Yes, it’s very nice. Come on, let’s go.”

Sid had read a couple of guidebooks and seen some pictures, but the size of the square was more impressive than he had expected. He took a lot of pictures with his phone. Geno patiently walked around with him and tried to answer Sid’s questions, but he was pretty vague on dates—“I don’t know, it’s old”—and a few times trailed off mid-sentence, seemingly lacking the English. Well, Sid could read about it later.

Nobody approached them, or even seemed to recognize them. Sid felt anonymous the same way he always did in LA. He might get recognized, but he also might not. He could have that third beer; he could let his gaze linger too long on a guy at the other end of the bar. He could be here with Geno.

A bitter wind blew through the square from the north, but Geno didn’t complain. He kept smiling at Sid like he couldn’t help it. An old woman in a huge overcoat offered to take a picture of them, and Geno put his arm around Sid’s shoulders, just like old times, and kept him tucked there afterward as they inspected the image, until he seemed to remember himself and stepped away.

They did a full loop around the exterior of St. Basil’s. “Can we go inside?” Sid asked. “Is it open?”

Geno shrugged. His hands were jammed deep in his coat pockets. “Yes, it’s small fee but not much. It’s nice inside, pretty. Lots of art.”

“Okay, let’s do it,” Sid said.

The whole square was quiet: mid-morning, mid-week, early enough in December that the excitement of the holidays hadn’t picked up yet. There was no line to get into the cathedral. Geno had really undersold it: the interior was jaw-dropping. The walls and ceilings were all decorated with elaborate murals or gold leaf or carvings, or all three at once. Some of the rooms were tiny, with narrow doorways, and Sid had a powerful sense of the past and present overlapping, the deep impenetrable murk of time.

Geno didn’t rush him. He had surely been inside many times before, but he let Sid linger, probably partly because it was warm inside. Geno took off his coat and held it in his arms like a dark formless animal. In one small room, they were alone, and Sid moved in behind Geno as he studied an icon painted on the wall and put his hand on Geno’s lower back, right in the warm curve of it.

Geno stiffened, and then leaned into the touch for a few perfect moments before he sidled away. “Let’s go, lots more to see.”

“Geno,” Sid said, but Geno was already through the arched doorway and into the corridor beyond.

Sid wanted to go inside the Kremlin and maybe tour the Armoury, but it was after noon by the time they were finished in the cathedral. He was hungry, and Geno had the grumpy expression that meant he was hungry and fed up but trying to be a good sport.

“Let’s go eat, eh?” Sid said, as they exited the cathedral.

“Yes, good,” Geno said, “I know good place, not far.”

Geno took him to a small café a few blocks off the square. He was quiet over lunch, typing at his phone for a while and then gazing out the window. The morning had gone well, with the distractions of skates and sightseeing, but Sid hadn’t come all this way just to play tourist. They both knew it, but Geno hadn’t asked Sid why he wanted to visit, not even when Sid first called him and suggested it. What would happen, if Sid didn’t push? Geno would keep him busy, the funny, light-hearted host, an old friend happy to have company and nothing more, and eventually Sid would lose hope and go home. And that would be the end of it.

“Geno,” he said.

Geno turned from his contemplation of the sidewalk. For a moment, his expression was solemn and real, the face of a thoughtful man busy rummaging around in his interior landscape. Then he slid on a smile, and the moment was gone.

“What you like to do after lunch?” Geno asked. “You like history, there’s good museum in Tverskoy. It’s in beautiful old house, many things to see. Or we do Kremlin.”

Geno was trying to divert him, and it was working. He was here for a specific reason, but he also did want to do some tourist things; and maybe it was a good idea to give them both a few days to settle in, and get used to being around each other again. He had time.

“Can we do both?” he asked.

“Of course,” Geno said, like he had never once whined about the cold, and that ate up the rest of their day: walking around the grounds of the Kremlin and going through the museum in the Armoury, and then taking a car to the modern history museum Geno had mentioned. They went directly from there to dinner, and back to Geno’s apartment afterward, and by then it was late enough in the evening that Sid’s jet lag was towing him down toward sleep.

“You tired?” Geno asked him, as the car turned off the main road. “Busy day.” He had been the consummate tour guide all afternoon, translating signs, navigating around the city, full of enthusiasm and anecdotes. Sid’s suspicions about Geno’s behavior were beginning to solidify. Geno didn’t want to talk about it, for whatever reason. Geno was going to pretend nothing was going on, that Sid was here to see Russia, that Sid’s visit was totally casual. It was bullshit, but he was tired, and too tired to do anything about it.

“Busy but good,” he said. He watched Geno from the other side of the car. Geno turned to look at him after a moment, his face shadowed, and then suddenly illuminated as they passed beneath a streetlight. He wasn’t smiling. His earlier playfulness was gone, and part of that was probably due to Sid, here to interrupt Geno’s careful post-retirement equilibrium. Maybe he shouldn’t have come.

The awkwardness of their situation, muted until now by Sid’s jet lag and the general excitement of a new place, crept uneasily up Sid’s spine. He and Geno had never spent a ton of time together, and they had barely talked since Geno left Pittsburgh when his contract was up. Now Sid was sleeping in Geno’s guest room, and they still hadn’t talked about it. Geno was acting weird because he was uncomfortable.

For the first time since he bought the tickets, he considered the possibility that he might fail.

“Tomorrow we skate,” Geno said.

Sid sighed and tipped his head back against the headrest. “Yeah. Tomorrow.”

+ + +

The arena where Geno skated was twenty minutes to the south in a more industrial part of the city, a large complex with multiple rinks. From the things Geno had said, Sid expected some of Geno’s friends to be in attendance, but the locker room Geno led him to was empty, and nobody else was out on the ice.

“Just us, eh?” Sid asked.

“Yes,” Geno said, and dropped a puck onto the ice, looking away.

Geno had rented a small practice rink, maybe half the size of KHL regulation ice. Sid didn’t have any gear aside from a stick and a pair of too-big gloves he had borrowed from Geno, but that didn’t matter; they wouldn’t be doing anything too strenuous. Geno skated a few laps to warm up, and Sid followed behind, watching his skating. Geno was pretty fast through the straightaways, but he slowed considerably on the turns and took them mostly upright, not leaning into the turn much at all. But he looked loose and good, like he had skated enough to learn his knee’s new limitations, and wasn’t trying to push past that.

It was the best-case scenario, really. Sid had watched him go down, slammed into the boards at an awkward angle, and then curling up on the ice and grabbing at his knee, the same one he’d injured before. Everyone on the bench had fallen silent, because it was hard not to think that they were witnessing the end. And it had ended Geno’s career, certainly, but here he was on the ice again, turning to grin at Sid, still skating, his stick in his hands, that same familiar wild light in his eyes: the Geno Sid remembered.

“I don’t go easy on you!” Geno called.

“Challenge fucking accepted,” Sid muttered, and put his stick down to receive Geno’s pass.

Geno didn’t have the feet anymore, but God, he still had the hands, silky-smooth. Sid had to go a little easy on him because he couldn’t turn or spin as easily, but they ran a few passing drills down the ice and it was the same as always, he could have been nineteen again, on the ice with Geno for the first time and awed by how good he was, almost unable to believe he would actually get to play hockey with this guy.

“Skate, come on!” Geno yelled at him, and Sid laughed and crouched down and pushed off.

On the ice, Geno had always been the rawest version of himself, larger and louder than he was at any other time. Skating was an easy joy to share with him, and Sid felt that he was finally getting the real Geno, not the tour guide, not the old friend. If Sid’s plans didn’t work, if he went back to Canada alone after all of this, at least he got to see Geno grinning like that and taking trick shots at the net, showing off, happy.

They skated until Geno started to slow down and favor his knee. Sid was about to call a halt, but Geno surprised him by beating him to the punch. “Knee is a little bit sore, maybe we stop, go have lunch,” Geno said, gliding past, and using Sid’s moment of distraction to steal the puck.

“You’re an asshole,” Sid said, but he couldn’t get too worked up in the face of Geno’s willingness to admit he needed to stop. He skated after Geno as he made his way toward the edge of the ice. “I’m glad you’re not, uh. Pulling any of that tough-guy shit.”

Geno shrugged. “I do too much today, then I can’t skate for a week. You know it’s my knee.” He gave Sid a half-hearted glare. “It’s not fair you’re still skate so good. Still in shape for NHL.”

“Well, you know,” Sid said. He sat on the bench beside Geno and began to unlace his skates. He was sweating pretty hard; Geno was slower now, but he had still given Sid a good workout. “I didn’t blow out my knee, so. It’s a little different for me.”

“Hmm,” Geno said. He pulled his feet out of his skates with a groan and stretched his legs in front of him, turning his bad knee from side to side. “It’s surprise for me, you know. When you say you retire.”

“Yeah,” Sid said cautiously. He had called Geno to give him the news before it was announced publicly, and that had been a strained, awkward conversation, and Sid still wasn’t really sure why. “Well—you saw what happened.” He had fallen over a guy in front of the net and slid into the boards, head-first—a pretty bad collision, and he hadn’t been able to get up right away. That was in February, almost a year ago now, and he had retired at the end of the season.

“But you fine,” Geno said. “No concussion. You play for rest of season. Maybe you slow now,” he bumped Sid with his shoulder, “but you still Crosby, you still play.”

“I could have kept playing,” Sid admitted. “But after that—I started thinking about it, I guess. One bad hit’s all it takes, you know? And then you’re fucked up for the rest of your life.” He sat up and met Geno’s gaze. “When I was younger, I thought forty was ancient, and I figured for sure I’d play as long as I could, because I’d basically be dead by the time I retired. But I’ll be forty next year and I don’t feel old at all. Why keep playing until my body’s a wreck and my brain’s jello? This way I could go out on my own terms, I’m still in good shape, and I can have an actual life after hockey.” He hoped so much for that life to include Geno. He wouldn’t say it outright, because Geno had been so skittish, but surely Geno could read between the lines.

Geno huffed. “I never think it happens. But I’m glad.” He hesitated. “I think—maybe you have a hard time, without hockey. You miss too much.”

“I worried about that,” Sid said. “But it’s been okay. I’ve got stuff to look forward to.”

“Yes?” Geno said. He bent to fish his slides from beneath the bench. “Maybe that’s why you here, you so bored with no hockey.”

Sid shifted in his seat. “We’re gonna talk about this now?”

Geno stayed down for longer than he needed to, shoving his feet into his slides and then fooling around with adjusting his socks. “It’s just joke, Sid.”

Right. Fine. Well, Sid didn’t want to talk about this at a public rink, with their ice time almost up. He sighed. “You gonna take me to the sauna?”

Geno sat up again and scowled at him. “It’s banya.”

“Same thing,” Sid said, to make Geno scowl harder. “Come on, you always talked about how it’s your favorite thing in Moscow. You’ve gotta take me.”

“You don’t like,” Geno said. “Too hot. You like cold.”

What was his problem? “I’ll probably like it. Don’t you want me to get the full experience?”

“Okay, fine, we go after lunch,” Geno said, and Sid grinned and pulled off his skates.

They showered and changed at the rink, and then headed back into town for lunch. The restaurant where they ate was only a few blocks from the bathhouse, and they walked there afterward, through the narrow busy streets. “Sandunovskie,” Geno said as they walked, “but we say Sanduny. If you don’t like, we can leave, it’s no problem.”

“You seem pretty convinced I won’t like it,” Sid said. He’d sat in the sauna plenty of times, and he knew the banya wasn’t exactly the same thing, but it was close enough.

“Just try to,” Geno mumbled, and then trailed off. He hunched his shoulders and didn’t continue. He had been quiet in the car, and quiet during lunch, and now he seemed all bent out of shape and Sid didn’t know why.

“What,” Sid asked, but Geno shook his head and wouldn’t say anything more.

The bathhouse was in an old building, and just as fancy inside as it was outside. The walls in the entryway were painted a pale blue, and the domed ceilings were decorated with gold leaf. Geno talked with the guy at the ticket counter for a few minutes, and then came to collect Sid and lead him upstairs.

The locker room was filled with high-backed leather benches and half-naked old men drinking tea and glasses of a clear liquid that Sid was certain was vodka. “You change, get undress,” Geno said, and went off to speak with the attendant.

Right. Undressed.

Sid hadn’t really had any ulterior motives when he suggested the banya, because he had forgotten that they would be naked together. But Geno did this all the time, Geno knew there was nudity involved, and Sid wondered if maybe that was Geno’s issue, that he was feeling squeamish about showing Sid his dick.

Well. Too fucking bad. He was frustrated with Geno’s evasiveness, when he wouldn’t be here at all if Geno hadn’t planted the thought and then left him alone for those hopes to grow tangled and wild. Geno was always like this, but he would settle in a few days, or Sid would wear him down, and then they would talk about it, they would—

Everything would work out. He had time.

Sid didn’t have a clue about banya etiquette, so he took a cue from everyone else in the room and wrapped a towel around his waist once he was naked. He didn’t have a scrap of modesty left after a lifetime of hockey, but he also didn’t want to get kicked out of the bathhouse for doing the wrong thing. Especially not before he had a chance to make Geno squirm.

Geno came back holding two pairs of slides and two strange, soft hats with a loop at the crown. “Put this,” he said, and jammed one of the hats onto Sid’s head, pulling the scalloped brim low enough that it covered Sid’s eyes.

“Funny,” Sid said, tugging the hat back off. Geno wasn’t smiling. He was looking at Sid’s shoulders, or maybe his chest, and Sid turned away and pretended to re-fold his clothes to give Geno a chance to look as much as he wanted.

He watched from the corner of his eye as Geno undressed, feeling a little creepy about staring but not creepy enough to look away. He’d spent years furtively watching Geno in dressing rooms. Geno still had the ass and the impossibly long legs, and Sid loved how solid he looked now, still athletic but a far cry from the gangly kid he’d been.

“Let’s go,” Geno said, grumpy again, and Sid rolled his eyes and followed.

Geno led him to a tiled room where they rinsed off in the shower, and then through a doorway into the steam room. The heat and humidity smacked Sid in the face, nothing at all like the dry heat of a sauna.

“Only few minutes,” Geno said, watching him. “Then we go cool off.” He smirked. “We go easy, it’s you first time.”

“You’re hilarious,” Sid said.

There were a couple of old guys in the steam room, sitting on their towels on the upper benches, wearing nothing but their floppy hats. They looked over as Sid and Geno came into the room and then returned to their conversation. Geno took a seat on one of the low benches lining the room. After a moment’s thought, Sid took a seat across from him, unknotted his towel, and spread out, deliberately wide, his thighs parted to show Geno his soft dick and his balls.

He watched Geno’s gaze drop down and linger. Good. Let him look. A slow warmth coiled in Sid’s belly. He spread his legs a little wider.

“What do we do?” he asked softly, so as not to disturb the damp hush of the room. His skin throbbed with heat. He was coated in sweat already.

“Sit,” Geno said. “Few minutes. Then we go in pool.” He tilted his head back to rest against the wall and closed his eyes. Sid let out a slow breath and did the same.

Geno kept his towel on until they left the steam room and went out to the cold pool, a chamber lined with Roman-style columns. Geno had to get naked then, and Sid let himself watch openly as Geno dropped his towel. Sid was familiar with his body, the dark mat of his pubic hair and the heavy swing of his dick, but it wasn’t a sight that ever lost its novelty.

“Stop,” Geno said, flushed from the steam room but maybe also from Sid’s frank regard.

“Get in the pool, then,” Sid said, and slid into the water.

The temperature was shocking at first after the heat of the steam room, but Sid’s body adjusted quickly. He swam a few slow laps through the pool. Geno cut smoothly through the water beside him. Geno had always liked swimming, and started doing it more regularly when he was rehabbing his knee, back when they all hoped there was some slight chance he might play again. He was surprisingly graceful. Sid was a strong swimmer but prone to splashing, but Geno was confident in the water like he had been born there. Maybe he was part mermaid. Merman?

They went back to the steam room, and then to the pool again, back and forth until Sid lost all track of time. He had been interested in the bathhouse mainly for the experience, but the heat loosened his muscles and eased a steady ache in his lower back. And Geno kept watching him in the steam room, which made him loose and warm in a different way, his creeping doubts unraveling into hope.

“This was great,” he said to Geno, when they returned to the locker room at last to change back into their clothes. “Relaxing.”

Geno smiled at him, maybe a little less strained than he had been earlier. “Good. I come every week, like old guys. It’s best for health.”

“You fit right in,” Sid said, gesturing discreetly to the old fat bald men sitting nearby, arguing over a pot of tea, and then laughed loudly enough at Geno’s expression that he received some disapproving glares.

Night was approaching by the time they left the bathhouse. As they waited for a car, Geno said, “We can go shop before dinner, you buy present, how you say—”

“You don’t have to entertain me every second of the day, you know,” Sid said. “We can eat at home and do nothing. We don’t have to go out.” He had lost patience with Geno’s delaying tactics. He wanted to get Geno alone, in private, and finally have a chance to talk.

Geno rocked back on his heels and stuffed his hands in his pockets. He looked up at the darkening sky. “Maybe we go out.”

“Okay,” Sid said, his stomach sinking. Geno wouldn’t give him a single goddamn inch. “Sure. We’ll go out if you want to.”

Dinner was awkward. The initial catching-up was finished, and there wasn’t much Sid could think of to say about their meal. I like the salad dressing? Nice wallpaper in this restaurant? They had always talked mostly about hockey and the team, and now there was no hockey to mortar them together. Sid wasn’t even sure how much Geno kept up with the NHL.

By silent mutual agreement, they skipped dessert.

They didn’t talk in the car on the way back to Geno’s. In the front hall, Geno tossed his keys into a bowl on the side table and hung his coat in the closet. Sid hung back, his own coat in his arms. He shouldn’t have come. He was abruptly certain that Geno was going to tell him to leave; he could see it in the slumped defeat of Geno’s shoulders, the way he arranged and rearranged his coat on its hanger, wasting time.

“Are you ever going to ask me why I’m here?” he asked. “Are we gonna talk about it at all?”

Geno’s head snapped up. He gave Sid a wild, wide-eyed look. “Sid—”

“You kissed me,” Sid said.

Geno went back to fussing around with his coat. “I’m tell you sorry.”

“You didn’t give me any time,” Sid said. “You were gone three days later. I was still with Alicia. What did you expect me to do?”

“It’s not expect.” Geno turned and tugged the coat from Sid’s arms and jammed a hanger into the shoulders. He was scowling, because of course he was scowling, he always thought he was the victim, forced by Sid to explain his mysterious goddamn inner workings, as incomprehensible to Sid as astrophysics. There were whole galaxies inside Geno, arcane movements of stars and black holes, continually shifting, and all Sid could ever get out of him was a sly look or, once a decade, a stolen kiss.

“Okay,” Sid said.

“I don’t expect,” Geno insisted. “I feel, I—” He sighed, and closed the closet door. “Sid. Let’s go tomorrow. We leave city, go to my dacha. It’s quiet. Maybe we talk there.”

“We can talk now,” Sid said, “and also I don’t know what a dacha is.”

“A seasonal or year-round second home,” his phone said, “often located in the exurbs of post-Soviet cities.”

Geno gave him a pleading look, his face all screwed up. “Please. It’s my home here, I—if we talk, maybe it’s bad, then I can’t be here, you know? I can’t see, remember—let’s go to dacha. Okay?”

Sid didn’t really understand what the problem was, but he would do anything, whatever it took to make Geno talk to him. If he couldn’t have Geno, then—none of the rest of it mattered: his lake house, his hockey school, the youth coaching he would probably do; it was all empty, a barren expanse, his next thirty-nine years fruitlessly expended on nothing of any importance. He wanted Geno with him.

“Okay,” he said. “We’ll go to your dacha.”

+ + +

They left mid-morning, to avoid rush hour traffic. Geno entered an address, reclined his seat, folded his arms across his chest, and was breathing heavily within five minutes and snoring in another five. Sid wondered if he’d insisted on driving manually from the airport to have an excuse to avoid conversation.

Even without heavy traffic, getting out of the city took some time. The suburbs went on and on, high-rises and bus stops, and it was half an hour before they got off surface streets and onto the highway. Geno snored the whole time. His septum was so deviated that he probably hadn’t breathed through his nose in a decade.

The highway went on through the farthest outlying reaches of the city. Trees appeared, narrow birches with their white trunks, all bare now. There wasn’t much to see. The road had been cut through the forest, and there were only trees, and from time to time an open field with a farmhouse. Sid reclined his own seat and slept for a while.

He woke at last when the car slowed, pulling off the highway. He sat up and rubbed at his face. Geno was awake, typing on his phone. He glanced at Sid and then went back to whatever he was doing.

“We’re here?” Sid asked.

“Soon,” Geno said. “We drive through town first. Then out to dacha.”

The town had seen better days. Moscow was a thriving city, but every house they passed on the main road through town needed major repair work and a fresh coat of paint. A few stray dogs poked along the sidewalks, and Sid remembered that from Sochi. Even the main drag, when they got to it, looked like its glory days were well past.

But Geno said, “It’s good resort town. People come here from Moscow in summer, swim in lake, see old—ah, it’s not church, place where church people live? It’s Golden Ring, very old towns, lots of history.”

“It looks, uh. Kind of run-down,” Sid said.

Geno snorted. “It’s Russia, Sid.”

Well, fair enough.

The car drove through town and out onto a smaller road that ran along what Geno told him was the lake. It was frozen now, and covered in snow, indistinguishable from the shore. They turned onto a smaller road, plowed but snow-covered and probably unpaved, from the way the car started bumping along; and then another road after that, rough enough that Sid seriously started to wonder whether Geno’s tiny sports car was going to make it. They would end up stranded out here, at least a couple hours’ walk from town.

But then the car crested a slight hill and came down into a low clearing beside a pond, with a house beside it—not really a cottage or shack, like his phone had informed him, but a nice good-sized wooden house, painted green, with a steep, snow-covered roof. Geno switched off the autopilot and guided the car into a small detached garage tucked off to one side of the house.

They took their bags from the car and went into the house, scuffing through several centimeters of snow. It was cold inside. Geno had clearly closed up for the winter.

“I go turn on power, water,” Geno said, dropping his bag beside the door. “You make fire?”

“You got it,” Sid said.

There was a wood-burning stove in the main room, with logs stacked beside it and a basket of kindling. Sid had the fire roaring by the time Geno came back into the house, stomping his feet to knock off the snow and blowing into his cupped hands.

“Good,” Geno said approvingly, like there had been some doubt about Sid knowing how to light a fire.

The interior of the house was more rustic than Sid would have expected based on Geno’s taste in every other aspect of life. The wooden floors creaked beneath his feet as he wandered curiously through the downstairs, still bundled in his coat against the chill. The interior had been remodeled recently—the kitchen was modern and looked expensive—but on the whole it seemed like someone’s casual country getaway, nice enough but certainly not millionaire caliber.

“When did you buy this place?” he called.

Geno appeared in the doorway to the kitchen. He had taken off his boots, and his socked feet looked oddly vulnerable as he stood there in his coat and sweatpants. “Only last summer. My house in Pittsburgh, it’s woods, big yard, and it’s—now I’m in apartment, so.” He shrugged. “I like city, but. It’s nice to have here.”

“Sure,” Sid said. He got that. He sat by the window in his kitchen every morning now and watched the water as he ate breakfast. He loved watching the seasons change, the deer that picked delicately through his yard, the hawk that liked to hang out in a tree by the dock. But Geno liked cities, always had, always complained about how Pittsburgh was too sleepy and boring, and Sid hadn’t ever thought Geno experienced those same longings for quiet and nature.

People changed. Maybe in another ten years Geno would be a hermit, living by himself out in these woods. Well, probably not.

It was time for lunch by then. Geno unpacked the food he had brought, essentially the entire contents of his fridge, and said, “Uh, sandwich?”

They stood side-by-side at the counter to assemble the sandwiches. Geno cut dark slices of bread from the loaf, and Sid raised one of them to his nose to smell: rye. Geno slathered the bread with mayonnaise, and passed the slices to Sid to layer with ham and cheese, sliced tomatoes, lettuce.

“Is this a traditional Russian sandwich recipe?” Sid asked. He knew it wasn’t. Geno had lived in the US for too long, and his cooking was a weird combination of North American and Russian, lots of mayo at all times but also a lot of pasta and steamed vegetables, a hockey player’s meal habits.

“No, Russians don’t eat sandwich like this,” Geno said, oblivious to Sid’s teasing.

They ate by the stove, their chairs dragged close, their plates balanced on their knees. The room was starting to warm up at last, and Sid peeled out of his coat. Geno kept his on, and his toque. He stretched out his long legs to stick his feet beneath the stove. The tile was probably warm under there, soaking up the radiant heat.

“Hey,” Sid said, and when Geno turned to look at him, he forgot what he had wanted to say. Geno had shaved that morning, and his bare face was lined and weary but so familiar. They had been soft-cheeked children together, and Sid could still see that determined, turbulent boy in Geno if he looked at him sidelong, the past softening and filling out the present. He had spent his whole career with Geno, aside from two years, one on each end, a solitary bracket to their shared life’s work. Geno had been there for every triumph and every defeat. Sid had loved a lot of teammates over the years, friends who became brothers, but nobody else was in him all the way down to the marrow, the way Geno was.

His gaze lingered on Geno’s face. Geno licked a smear of mayonnaise from his lower lip and suddenly Sid was thinking about his mouth. He and Geno had kissed twice, once after the first time they won the Cup, and again in Geno’s study during his goodbye party, right before he left Pittsburgh for good. Both of those kisses were seared directly onto Sid’s brain. He wanted there to be more.

Geno looked away and repositioned his feet slightly. “Let’s go skate, okay? You want?”

“Pond hockey,” Sid said, well aware that Geno was trying to distract him, and Geno grinned down at his sandwich and took another bite.

The pond was covered in snow, less than half a meter but more than they could skate through. Geno wheeled a snow blower out of the garage and cleared a space for them to skate, and Sid went to work with a shovel to speed the process along. Growing up, his friend Matt had a pond behind his house, and they spent every winter clearing it by hand with shovels and push brooms. The snow blower was way faster.

The ice was a little uneven, but good enough for casual skating. Sid glided out toward the middle of the pond, reveling in the cold air and the quiet, the pine trees surrounding the pond dripping with snow, a single bird calling softly somewhere. Skating outside had always been one of Sid’s favorite things.

He turned to look at Geno, still lacing up his skates on the shore. But Geno wasn’t working on his skates at all, just sitting there watching Sid, smiling a little, his nose red from the cold.

“Your ass is gonna freeze,” Sid called. “Come on.”

They didn’t have any equipment, but it was good just to skate together, cutting slowly across the cleared ice. Their breath made pale clouds in the air. Geno tried a few cautious spins, made a face, grinned.

“Here,” Sid said. He moved in close and grabbed two fistfuls of Geno’s coat. “Put your feet—yeah.” He braced himself and spun Geno in a tight circle, almost like a figure skating spin. Geno’s laugh rang out as he wobbled a little and then caught the movement, bending his knees slightly, turning and turning until friction slowed him and he stopped.

“Again,” Geno said, red-cheeked, grinning, and Sid laughed and gave him another whirl.

They stayed out until the light began to fade, and then they went inside to stoke the fire and wait for the early night to fall. Geno made tea. There was no cell service, but the house had satellite internet, and Sid checked his email and read the news at the kitchen table while Geno clattered around. He looked up when Geno slid a plate onto the table before him: cheese, bread, pickles.

“It’s too early for dinner,” Geno said, “but maybe you hungry, after we skate.”

“Thanks,” Sid said, smiling up at him. Geno watched him for a moment, and then he squeezed the back of Sid’s neck, his hand cold enough to make Sid flinch.

When the tea was ready, Geno gave Sid a mug and shuffled past him into the living room. Sid followed him. Geno was by the stove again, the mug cradled in his hands. Sid wanted to take him somewhere warm, where he could lie on a beach in the sunshine.

“Here, come here,” Geno said. He turned to set his mug on a side table, and then reached for Sid’s mug. Sid let him take it and put it on the table. And then Geno reached out again, and took Sid’s hand, and pressed it against his cheek.

Sid stared down at him, heart banging in his chest. Geno’s face was smooth and cool against his palm, and Geno’s eyes were closed, squeezed tight, like he was intently focused, or in pain. He held Sid there for a few shattering, infinite moments. Then he turned his head and kissed the cupped center of Sid’s palm, once and again.

“Geno,” Sid breathed. He had thought for sure that Geno was going to shoot him down, had been preparing himself for it, trying to dismantle all the fantasies of a life together that he’d crafted for himself in the past couple of months, since he bought the plane tickets. But maybe—

Geno kissed him once more and then released his hand, and turned to reclaim his mug. He looked a little flushed, but maybe that was only from the fire. But maybe not.

Sid stepped around behind Geno’s chair to grab his own mug. He sat in the chair beside Geno’s. The flames jumped behind the glass door of the stove. A log fell, sending up sparks. Everything Sid wanted to say crammed into his mouth, and then there was no room for his tongue to move. He couldn’t speak; he didn’t know where to begin.

“Tell me why you here,” Geno said.

Sid blew on his tea and watched the steam rise. “That was a shitty thing you did. Kissing me and then leaving like that.”

“You kiss me first,” Geno said. “In 2009.”

“Did I?” Sid’s memories of the lead-up to that kiss were vague, blurred by alcohol and time. They had been in someone’s hotel room, that night after the game—maybe Jordy’s? Sid couldn’t remember. He and Geno had ended up on the floor together, lying there between the bed and the wall, hidden away from everyone else in the room, and Sid remember laughing and laughing, rolling toward Geno, watching Geno’s face, thinking of nothing but how happy he was, and then somehow they were kissing. He remembered everything about the kiss: Geno’s tongue in his mouth, Geno’s thumb stroking over his eyebrow. Sixteen years passed before they did it again.

“It was a Cup thing,” Sid said. “I thought it was just a Cup thing. I didn’t think you were actually interested in men. Until, you know. Your goodbye party.”

Geno shrugged and turned his mug around in his hands. “So why you here now? You say I kiss you—okay, yes, but that’s long time ago now. You leave, don’t talk about, and then we don’t talk ever.” He stared down at the mug. “I’m think it’s bad mistake. Very sorry I do.”

Sid hadn’t expected that he would feel like the asshole here. “That wasn’t, ah. I was just surprised, mostly. And kind of—” He sighed. “When you said you were leaving, I was angrier than I should have been, and I didn’t know why. And then you were just gone. I was angry. I fucking missed you.” The admission pained him. This visit had shown him that Geno probably hadn’t missed him at all.

“Oh, Sid,” Geno said. He sighed heavily. “Sid, why you here?”

“I’ve had a lot of time to think, these past six months,” Sid said. “I was always busy with hockey, and—I guess I always figured there would be time. After. But then you left.” This was turning out to be more embarrassing than he had thought. But what had he expected? For Geno to fall directly into his arms? Geno had kissed him, and maybe Sid could have made some grand romantic gesture at the time, showed up at Geno’s house and begged him to stay in Pittsburgh, but he hadn’t. The moment had passed. Maybe now it was gone for good.

Geno looked at him, solemn, chewing on his lip. His expression wasn’t encouraging. Sid’s heart began to drop. “It’s not okay, in Russia. For men to be together.”

“I mean. I know that,” Sid said. “There’s a lot to think about. But I think it’s worth a shot.”

“We have long time,” Geno said. He raised his mug to his mouth and gazed at Sid over the rim. “Nineteen year. And it’s never happen. So maybe it’s not suppose to. We have nice visit, then you go home, tell people Russia is so nice.”

“Okay,” Sid said. His throat was closing up. What was there for him, back home? An empty house. His old friends all with families of their own. He had started thinking—

He would have to stop. Geno had made up his mind.

“Excuse me,” he said, and stood up and went into the mudroom in the back of the house, where they had come in from the pond. With the lights off, he could see the pond ice shining faintly beneath the waxing moon.

The floor creaked behind him. Geno had followed him. “Sid,” Geno said. The light from the living room made a faint reflection in the window. Sid watched Geno raise his hand, hesitate, and lower it again.

“It’s fine,” Sid said. “I get it.”

“We go back to Moscow tomorrow, if you like,” Geno said after a moment.

“Sure,” Sid said. He would buy a plane ticket tonight. There was no reason to linger.

He booked the first flight that seemed feasible: the day after next, early morning departure with a layover in Amsterdam, and home to Halifax from Toronto that same evening. It would be a long day of travel, but then he’d be home, away from all this, and ready to get on with the rest of his life.

After years of hockey, he could sleep just about anywhere: buses, airplanes, airport terminals, any hotel room. But he had trouble sleeping that night. He kept seeing Geno’s face when he said, It’s not okay, in Russia. After a while, he sat up in bed and turned on the lamp, and looked through old pictures on his phone, stuff he’d saved to the cloud over the years. There were a lot of pictures of the team in various configurations, and he scrolled through looking for Geno: skinny, chip-toothed Geno in the oldest pictures he had, scans of actual physical photographs; patchily bearded Geno during their deep playoff runs in 2016 and 2017; Geno in more recent years, on the ice with Max’s daughter during family skate.

What he had now was all he would ever have. There would be no more pictures to add to his collection. His years with Geno were finished.

He turned off his phone, and the lamp, and stared at the dark window until sleep came for him at last.

+ + +

He woke in the morning to a snowstorm. He went downstairs and found Geno standing at the open front door, shining a flashlight out into the yard. Thick flakes fell through the beam. It was coming down hard. Pissing snow, Sid’s dad would say.

“Was this in the forecast?” Sid asked. He hadn’t known where they were going, and hadn’t checked the weather before they left Moscow.

Geno hunched his shoulders. “I don’t look.”

“Good thing I bought that fucking plane ticket,” Sid said. There wasn’t a chance in hell they would make it back to Moscow today.

He and Geno spent the morning ignoring each other. What was there to say? There were plenty of books in the house, but they were all in Russian, and Sid had stupidly left his e-reader in Moscow. He found a TV in one of the rooms upstairs; it was hooked to the internet, and he watched hockey for a while. Outside, the sun rose, filling the room with a heavy gray light. The snow hadn’t let up at all. His phone told him the storm would last through the evening. Sid wasn’t sure how long it would take for the roads to be cleared.

Toward noon, he heard Geno’s tread on the stairs, and then Geno pushed open the door. He looked at Sid, and then at the TV. Sid was watching the Wild cream Tampa. It was a good game.

“I’m make lunch,” Geno said.

“Okay,” Sid said, and then, because licking his wounds always turned him into an asshole, he added, “I don’t know why you wanted to come all the way out here. We could have had this conversation in Moscow, and I’d be on a plane by now.” Geno was so goddamn impulsive. He acted first and thought later, and it was exciting but also infuriating, because half the shit he did made no sense.

He was trying to pick a fight, but Geno didn’t take the bait. He just shrugged and said, “Food is ready soon. Ten minute.”

Geno didn’t try to talk to him during lunch, which made Sid feel both infuriated and ashamed. He was too old to behave this way. But disappointment filled him so thoroughly that rational thought had been squeezed out. All of his hopes had hinged on Geno saying yes. He hadn’t been prepared to hear no.

He retreated upstairs again after lunch. The inactivity was making him antsy, but he couldn’t skate in this weather, and tromping around in the woods was a sure way to get himself hopelessly lost and probably freeze to death. He watched hockey for a while, and then some inexplicable Russian reality show that Sid initially thought was about dating but then turned into some type of adventure/survival competition.

By mid-afternoon, his anger had burned itself out. He slunk downstairs. Geno was sitting on the couch with a book; he sat up when Sid came into the room and said, “I message guy for plowing. He say not tomorrow but day after.”

“Okay,” Sid said. He’d already killed most of one day; he could handle one more. “You, uh. I’m thinking about opening a bottle of wine.”

“Yes, okay,” Geno said, and went back to his book. There was a scantily-clad woman on the front cover. It was probably a romance novel. Geno had been lying about that particular habit for years.

Sid found a corkscrew after a bit of rummaging around. He brought the bottle into the living room and left it on the coffee table beside Geno’s full glass. He took his own glass over to the stove and sat with his back to Geno, watching the fire.

He fell into sort of a trance, staring into the flames. The daylight faded. He heard Geno get up. A lamp turned on. There was the sound of Geno uncorking the wine and refilling his glass, and then Geno came over and emptied the rest of the bottle into Sid’s glass.

“Hi,” Geno said. He took the seat beside Sid’s.

Sid slumped down in his chair. “Sorry I’ve been an asshole today.”

Geno looked at him. Sid avoided his gaze, but still he could feel Geno’s eyes on him. “Maybe you go home, tell people Russia is so nice, text me once a year on my birthday, otherwise we never talk.”

“I don’t want that,” Sid said. God, it was the last thing he wanted. “We can still talk.” But he knew this was the end of the road for them. Geno might come back for his induction into the Hall of Fame, but otherwise this was their last shot. Geno had been his other half for nearly twenty years, but they had never really been friends. He didn’t want to be friends. Nothing was friendly about his feelings for Geno.

They subsided into silence again, both of them watching the fire. Geno stood up to open the damper on the stove and add another log. Sid finished his wine. His mom kept trying to set him up with daughters of her friends; maybe he would let her. He knew plenty of guys who hadn’t gotten married or had kids until they were his age.

Sid made dinner that night, chicken and roasted vegetables supplemented with that same dark Russian bread. Geno opened another bottle of wine to go with their meal, and Sid might regret it in the morning, but—so what? He could deal with a mild hangover. He didn’t have anywhere to be.

They drifted back into the living room after the dishes were washed and put away. Geno sat on the couch and took a deck of cards from a basket on the coffee table. “Sit, I teach you Russian card game.”

“We can just play rummy,” Sid said. He sat at the other end of the couch, a careful distance away.

“No,” Geno said. “It’s durak. It’s best game.” He sifted through the deck and started extracting cards.

Sid narrowed his eyes. “Is this that weird game you and Nealer used to play?”

“It’s not weird,” Geno said, which meant Sid was right. Geno shuffled the deck and dealt six cards to each of them. “Let’s go, you ready? You lose for sure.”

Sid lost the first game, largely because Geno was shit at explaining the rules. He lost the second because Geno was a card shark, and then he won the third probably because Geno could tell he was getting frustrated and took pity on him, but Sid was willing to pretend he’d won on his own merits. By then they had finished the second bottle of wine, and Geno was curled up at his end of the couch, his feet tucked beneath him, smirking at Sid over the top of his hand of cards. Sid was drunk enough to pull up his own legs onto the couch and stretch out. His feet bumped Geno’s knees. Geno gave him a sharp look but didn’t say anything or move. Sid counted it as a victory.

He got up after the fourth game, another loss, to take a leak and add another log to the stove. When he returned to the couch, Geno had dealt out another round.

“I’m gonna win this time,” Sid said, picking up his cards.

“Hmm, I think maybe no,” Geno said. He turned over the card for the trump suit.

Sid slouched back into the corner of the couch and put his feet up again. Geno had repositioned, and now Sid’s feet were against his hip. Still Geno didn’t push him away. Sid was muddled by the wine and didn’t know what to make of it, if anything.

They played a few turns in silence. Abruptly Geno tossed his cards onto the coffee table and said, “Sid, why you’re here?”

“Uh,” Sid said. He fanned his own cards closed and held them against his chest. “We talked about this last night.”

“It’s because hockey?” Geno asked.

Sid blinked at him. “What?”

Geno started picking at his cuticles. “You miss hockey, so. You bored. Maybe you think you miss me, but. You just confuse.”

“That’s what you think?” Sid said. “That’s not why I’m here. Of course I miss it. But I told you it’s been fine.”

Geno gave him a flat look.

“I’m not in denial,” Sid said. “Fuck off.” He slung his cards onto the coffee table—too forcefully, and they slid across the surface and fell off the other side. “Were you just gonna let me go back to Canada? You didn’t think we should talk about this?”

Geno grimaced at his cuticles. “We talk,” he muttered.

He was such a coward. Sid could imagine repeated trips back and forth between Moscow and the dacha, each time wringing one more singular confession from Geno until finally the full story was revealed. Geno had always been like this, touchy and furtive, and Sid had never figured out why. He’d spent a lot of time messing around in tide pools as a kid, poking sea anemones to make them retract their slender tentacles, and that was how he always thought of Geno, the sudden complete withdrawal and then the slow reemergence afterward.

“Let me get this straight,” he said. “You think I’m here because I’m at loose ends now that I’m retired, and I thought to myself, gosh, I know, I’ll start a complicated long-distance relationship with Geno, because that’ll keep my mind off how bored and aimless I am. That about right?”

Geno’s scowl deepened. “It’s not—”

“I would just play some fucking golf,” Sid said. “You’re an idiot. Okay, what else you got? Let’s hear it.”

Geno sat up and put his feet on the floor, and leaned forward to brace his forearms on his knees. “It’s not joke. I’m not stupid. It’s not joke for me, Sid. It’s—” He let out a shaky breath, and Sid’s annoyance faded, replaced by concern, and regret for his sarcasm. “It’s big choice, big—change, you know?”

“Yeah,” Sid said. He sat up, too, and shifted closer to Geno, their thighs pressed together. Carefully, he settled one hand on the hunched curve of Geno’s back. His sweater was soft and nubbly. “Sorry. I know.”

Geno glanced at him, and then stared down at his feet again. “Sorry I kiss you. You say it’s shitty, and I know it. I don’t think, just—feel, do it, and then I’m sorry.” He let out another breath. “You say you think we have time after, and I think same. It’s hard choice, so I’m think, it’s okay, not yet, we wait for later. But I can’t stay in US if I don’t play, and then it’s no more time, and—you leave my house, you don’t talk, and—I think it’s done. I lose my chance.”

“Then why are you being so—you told me to go home. I bought a plane ticket.” Sid watched the side of Geno’s face flush pink, and knew he was digging down toward it, whatever weird bullshit Geno had internalized that was leading him to keep pushing Sid away. “Because you thought I was having a mid-life crisis? Or—I don’t really know.”

Geno sighed. “We don’t talk for so long. You’re retire for six months. And now you want come visit? Why? It’s not me, you just need—I don’t know. Keep busy, something for distract. It’s hard for me when I try, I take my chance, and you leave. Now you here, maybe it’s second chance, but I don’t want, uh, risk. You take from me, then go again. I don’t want. And even if you serious, Canada’s so far. I don’t know how we do. I’m scared, okay?”

“Sorry,” Sid said. His heart ached. He slid his hand along the bony ridge of Geno’s spine. He had hurt Geno without meaning to, or even realizing he had done it. “That makes sense. But I want you to know I’m taking this seriously.”

“Okay,” Geno said. He glanced at Sid. “Sorry I—it’s hard. I think I lose my chance.”

“I thought I had lost mine,” Sid said. “When you stuck around after they put you on IR—I started to think maybe you would stay for good.”

“I think about,” Geno admitted to the floor, and Sid’s heart twisted painfully. He hadn’t known that at all. “But you have girlfriend. You say now it’s not serious, but I don’t know that, I’m think probably you get marry.”

He might have married Alicia, or at least tried to talk her into it, if Geno hadn’t kissed him. “So you would have stayed. For me.”

“Yes,” Geno said. He sat up finally and slumped down on the couch, trapping Sid’s hand between his back and the couch cushions. He turned his head to give Sid a rueful smile. “It’s dumb. We’re not even date. But—”

“I know,” Sid said. “Christ. Geno, I’m so fucking tired of missing you.”

“Sid,” Geno murmured. He reached up and brushed his fingers across Sid’s cheekbone. Sid closed his eyes, overcome. Geno’s fingers trailed down the side of his face and along his jaw, light, tender. “When I first move back, I know I’m miss hockey. I miss Pittsburgh, and that’s surprise for me.” There was a pause. His hand dropped away. “But most I miss you.”

“Yeah.” Sid’s throat felt tight. He forced himself to open his eyes and look at Geno, and of course Geno’s expression was ruinous, affectionate and frightened, his mouth touched with the barest hint of a smile.

Sid couldn’t handle it. He twisted sideways on the couch to face Geno full-on, one leg folded beneath him. With Geno slouched down, he was shorter than Sid for once. Sid touched the old scar on his cheek and the little patch of graying hair at his temple. Geno held his gaze. A log shifted in the stove. The heavy moment brightened and expanded. Geno licked his lips.

Sid cupped Geno’s jaw and leaned in, slowly, making his intention clear, giving Geno time to turn away. He didn’t. He closed his eyes.

Sid kissed him, gently, their mouths pressed together for a sweet moment before Sid pulled back. Geno didn’t move. Sid kissed him again. His heart was racing not with nervousness but with uncontrollable joy. Geno’s mouth parted. Sid kissed his full lower lip, and Geno made a quiet noise, and that kiss went on and on, their mouths moving together, the whole world dark and still outside the house and warm and safe within.

Geno pulled away at last. He tipped his head back against the couch cushions and laughed breathlessly, his hands coming up to bracket his forehead. Then he turned to look at Sid, his mouth red from kissing, and reached up to touch Sid’s face.

“Hey,” Sid said, softly, trying not to break the spell. “You okay?”

“Yes,” Geno said. He slid his hand into Sid’s hair. “You?”

“I’m—great,” Sid said. “Amazing. Fantastic,” and Geno laughed at him, smiling up at him, his eyes filled with light.

Sid felt more or less the same inside as he had at nineteen. Maybe he was calmer, less worried about what other people thought about him, but those changes had been so gradual that he thought of them as a natural progression rather than a transformation, like watching the landscape slowly shift on a road trip until you found yourself in an entirely new place.

He wasn’t the same, though. He couldn’t have had this with Geno at nineteen. No other path could have led him to this exact moment. He wouldn’t trade this, the look on Geno’s face, the slight tremble of his hand as he stroked Sid’s hair, for any more straightforward route.

+ + +

“It’s 6:58 AM,” Sid’s phone said. “The current temperature is -9. The high today will be -6.”

“Thanks,” Sid said. He stretched. His shoulder cracked. He felt like he could probably sleep for a while longer.

When he left his bedroom, the house was dark and quiet. He went down the hall to Geno’s room and pushed open the door. In the faint moonlight, he could see that Geno was still asleep, curled on his side with the blankets tugged up around his ears. Sid felt swamped with fondness. And cold. He hadn’t bothered to pull on any clothes, and it wasn’t warm enough in the house for him to go wandering around with his balls out.

He went around to the empty side of the bed and lifted the covers to slide beneath. The bed was warm from Geno’s body. Sid shifted in, lying curled behind the length of Geno’s body close enough to feel his heat but not quite close enough to touch. Geno tended to kick and shriek when he was startled. They used to prank rookies by sending them to wake Geno from a nap.

“Geno,” he said, loudly enough to make Geno snort and twitch. “Hey. Wake up.”

Geno muttered something and turned his head to look at Sid over his shoulder, one eye scrunched shut. The smile that spread across his face was slow and sleepy and warmed Sid to his core.

Sid closed the remaining distance between them and slid one hand onto Geno’s hip. Geno was wearing underwear, but he was naked otherwise, and Sid pressed himself against Geno’s long bare back, skin to warm skin. Geno made a contented groaning noise.

“It’s early,” Sid said. He kissed the back of Geno’s neck. “Go back to sleep.” He moved his hand lower, to cup the soft curve of Geno’s belly. Geno’s hair smelled like lavender. Sid closed his eyes.

He woke when the mattress shifted as Geno stirred beside him. Geno turned over in Sid’s arms and gathered him in close. Sid tucked his head beneath Geno’s chin, burrowing in. This was probably too intimate, crawling naked into bed with a guy he had kissed a few times and nothing more, but it had felt right to him in the moment, and he wasn’t sorry now. His chest was damp where he and Geno had been pressed together. He was warm and languid. The room was filled with light; they had slept in.

Geno pressed a kiss to his forehead. Sid toyed idly with the waistband of Geno’s briefs and tried to exist only in this one moment. He still wasn’t sure what was going to happen. They had played one final game of cards the night before and kissed at the top of the stairs before going to sleep in their separate bedrooms. Maybe this would be the end of it, and Sid would be on a plane back to Toronto in a few days. But he had this moment, and Geno’s hand cupped around the back of his head, holding him there.

They lay together for a few peaceful minutes, until Geno said, “Sid, I’m so hungry.”

Sid laughed and kissed Geno’s throat. “Yeah, I could eat. You gonna bring me breakfast in bed?”

“No,” Geno said. He threw back the covers to let in the cold air, and then yelped, high-pitched and ridiculous, when it hit him. Sid started laughing, and didn’t stop even when Geno tossed the blankets over him in disgust and left him there, buried underneath the duvet.

After breakfast, they bundled up and went outside to survey the snowfall. A thick layer of fresh snow blanketed the woods and covered the drive and the path between the garage and the house. They waded up the driveway to the crest of the rise. The snow was mid-calf even on Geno. At the top, Geno contemplated the slope down the other side, and said, “Let’s try, I think car can do.”

“You’re full of shit,” Sid said.

Geno grinned at him. “No? You want stay more, you like dacha.”

“It’s not bad,” Sid said. Geno’s smile widened. Sid wanted to look at it for the rest of his life.

A cold front had come through after the storm. The air was sharp on Sid’s face. He trailed behind as Geno walked back down the drive, following the track they had already cut through the snow, and continued down to the pond. “Maybe skate,” Geno said over his shoulder, and the thought was tempting until they came out through the trees and the open expanse of the pond was before them. All of their hard work to clear the ice had been erased by the storm.

“Uh, maybe we can skip the skating,” Sid said. He wouldn’t admit it, but his lower back was still a little sore from shoveling.

“Yes, good, it’s too much work,” Geno said immediately, even though all he’d done was push the snow blower around.

Sid waded out onto the pond. The ice was solid beneath his feet. He bent and scooped up two handfuls of snow and shaped a snowball. The snow was just about perfect, not too wet or too powdery. He turned and considered the distance to Geno, positioned his feet, and wound up to throw.

“No!” Geno shouted, ducking, but Sid had expected him to, and had aimed the snowball to account for it. Geno took it right in the chest, bursting open against his coat and spraying up into his face, making him sputter.

Sid, grinning, ducked down to gather another snowball.

“You in big trouble, Crosby!” Geno yelled. He had a snowball of his own now, and he took a few steps forward and lobbed it. But Geno had a shitty arm, just embarrassingly bad, and the snowball fell harmlessly at Sid’s feet.

“Your aim sucks,” Sid called.

Geno scowled and came toward him, packing another snowball. Sid backed up, because Geno had a look on his face that meant trouble, but Geno’s long legs ate up the distance between them. Before Sid could get away, Geno was right there, one arm hooked around Sid’s neck, smashing the snowball into his face.

It was really fucking cold. Sid let out a manly bellow and tried to squirm away, but Geno wrapped both arms around him and held him fast, squeezing. “You think you so funny,” Geno said, “but you in so much trouble now,” and Sid overbalanced and toppled backward, hauling Geno down with him.

The snow broke their fall, but Geno’s weight still knocked the wind out of Sid. Between the shock of the fall and the sudden cold of the snow all along his back and legs, Sid could only gasp for a few moments.

“Shit,” Geno said. He pushed up onto his elbows, removing some of his weight from Sid’s chest. “Sid, you okay?”

“Yeah,” Sid said. He coughed a few times. “No harm done.”

“Sorry,” Geno said. He brushed some snow from Sid’s face and his toque. “Don’t mean to hurt.”

“You didn’t,” Sid said. He wrapped his arms around Geno’s waist, a snug circle with the bulk of Geno’s coat. Geno’s face was really close. His eyes creased with a smile. He ducked his head to rub his cold nose against Sid’s, and then shifted slightly to bring their mouths together in a kiss.

Their kissing the night before had been sweet and exploratory, but now it was hungry, heated. Sid shivered not from the cold but from the slow glide of Geno’s tongue against his. Geno’s lips were full and chapped. His deep kisses grounded Sid in his body, physically aware of himself the way hockey had always made him feel, every sense heightened, every part of him working together, striving for the same thing.

Geno pulled away finally to say something breathless in Russian and start kissing along Sid’s jaw. Sid lifted his chin to give Geno better access to the narrow strip of skin above the collar of his coat. He was getting hard, but also his toes were starting to go numb, lying there motionless in the snow. He wanted to keep going, but he wanted to do it somewhere warmer.

“Geno,” he said, and tugged at Geno’s coat. “Let’s go inside, eh?”

“Yes,” Geno murmured, and Sid couldn’t resist kissing him once more before they separated and climbed to their feet.

Sid began shivering on the walk back to the house. It wasn’t a big deal, he would warm up as soon as he got inside, but Geno frowned at him and said, “You cold?”

“You aren’t cold because you were lying on top of me,” Sid said. “I insulated you.”

“You can take bath,” Geno said. “There’s big tub upstairs.”

That did sound pretty nice. Sid’s back wasn’t thrilled about the fall onto the ice, and soaking it seemed like a good idea.

The tub was in the washroom connected to Geno’s bedroom, with white walls and white tiled floors, like the inside of a cloud. A large window looked out over the snowy woods. The tub was long and deep enough that Sid could stretch out full-length with the water up to his chin. The dull ache in his back slowly eased. The window steamed over.

There was a tap at the door, and then Geno came in, holding a mug. He stopped in the doorway and looked Sid over, down and up and back down. When he looked at Sid’s face again, his eyes were hooded.

The arousal Sid had felt when they were kissing flared again in his belly. He sank down a little further in the tub and spread his legs as far as he could, drawing his knees up to show Geno everything. “Like what you see?”

“Of course,” Geno said. “Sid. You know you look good.”

“Do I?” Sid asked. He looked the same as he always had, maybe a little softer now that he had stopped playing. He brought one hand between his legs to cup his dick. He was already chubbing up just from Geno staring at him.

Geno crossed the room and sank to his knees on the bath mat. Sid heard the soft clink of him setting the mug on the floor. Geno avoided his gaze as he pushed up the right sleeve of his sweater above the elbow and then curled his hand around Sid’s wet knee, protruding above the surface of the water.

“You look good,” Geno said. He slid his hand up the inside of Sid’s thigh, excruciatingly slowly, and stopped midway. He was looking down through the water, at his hand or maybe at Sid’s dick, half-hard now. “Big. Sid, fuck. You’re always—every year you bigger, you come back after summer and you’re huge. And now you don’t play hockey but you still huge. Fuck.” He exhaled. “You look so good.”

Sid had meant his question rhetorically and hadn’t really expected a response at all, much less Geno revealing—maybe years of sexual attraction. He had assumed Geno was attracted to him after the kiss at Geno’s goodbye party, had been operating on that assumption the whole time he was in Russia, but hearing Geno say it and then glance up at him with those dark eyes of his underlined the sexual nature of what they were doing. If Geno kept touching him like that, they were probably going to fuck.

“You like big guys,” Sid said, testing the waters. “It turns you on.”

“Yes.” Geno slid his hand a little higher, and Sid gripped the sides of the tub as Geno’s fingertips approached the crease of his groin.

“You ever been with a guy?” Sid asked.

Geno huffed. His hand stopped again. “I have boyfriend, during lockout in 2012. But I can’t keep, can’t bring him to Pittsburgh. So we break up.”

“I didn’t know that,” Sid said. “You never said anything.” He remembered Geno being weirdly grumpy after that lockout ended, and maybe that was why. Thinking about it made him feel pretty strange. Geno had dated a guy, maybe even been in love with a guy. Sid felt like it was a momentous revelation, but didn’t really know why he felt like that. What had he just learned about Geno that he didn’t already know?

That he had done this before. That he wasn’t skittish because he was uncertain about his sexuality, or nervous about being with another man. Maybe he thought those things about Sid.

Like he could read the thoughts right off Sid’s face, Geno raised his eyebrows and said, “You do?”

“Not for a long time,” Sid said, “but I sucked a lot of dick in the Q.” The risk hadn’t seemed worth it, after that, and he liked women just as well. But he liked guys, too, and especially Geno, and this wasn’t his first rodeo. He was ready for anything.

Sid,” Geno said, faux-shocked, or maybe actually shocked. He moved his hand that last final bit and teased his fingertips against the base of Sid’s dick, wringing an aspirated noise from Sid that he hadn’t intended to make.

Sid arched into Geno’s hand. “Should we?”

“Maybe no,” Geno said. He moved his hand to cup Sid’s balls. “But I want to.”

Sid squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, trying to decide if it would be better or worse to potentially go back to Canada empty-handed after having sex with Geno. He wasn’t sure. He didn’t know how he would feel. Maybe he would regret it, but he wanted it now—to go to bed with Geno and see what happened.

He opened his eyes. Geno was watching him. Sid curled his fingers around Geno’s wrist and drew Geno’s hand back to his dick. His thighs twitched when Geno touched him. He held Geno’s gaze and said, “I want to, too.”

+ + +

Sid dripped his way into the bedroom and slid beneath the covers without bothering to dry off. The nightstand held a stack of books and an empty drinking glass. The white sheets were cool and smooth and smelled like Geno. He heard water gurgling as Geno drained the tub, and then Geno came into the room, pulling his sweater over his head.

“Do you have lube?” Sid asked. He watched Geno toss the sweater on a clothes-covered chair beside the dresser. He wanted to fit his hands around the perfect curve of Geno’s hips, right where the elastic waistband of his sweats was digging into his love handles. He arched his back to push his dick against the weight of the duvet above him. Geno looked so fucking good.

Geno turned to give him a sharp look. “Lube?”

“I want to fuck,” Sid said. “Vaseline works, if you’ve got that, or mineral oil.” He’d never done it with a guy. He wanted to do it with Geno—God, he really wanted to do it with Geno; if this was his only shot, he wanted this memory to keep.

Geno blew out a breath. He was hard in his sweatpants. “I don’t have condom.”

“Do we need one?” Sid asked.

Geno hesitated. “No,” he said. He stared at Sid for a moment longer, and then he went back into the washroom, and came out again with a little plastic tub of petroleum jelly. He put it on the nightstand and stepped out of his pants. He wasn’t wearing underwear.

Sid had seen his dick a million times, but never hard. He sat up and wrapped the duvet around his shoulders and scooted to the edge of the bed, and put one hand on Geno’s hip, right where he had thought of touching. Geno’s skin was warm and soft and yielding when Sid squeezed a little, unable to resist the temptation.

Geno cupped Sid’s head in his hands and smiled down at him. “You so wet. Make my bed all wet.”

“You’ll live,” Sid said. God, he was so turned on. He curled his other hand around the base of Geno’s dick, learning the size of it, the weight and heat of it. Geno’s smile dropped away. His hands clenched in Sid’s hair, a slight good pain. Sid leaned in and opened his mouth to rub the head of Geno’s cock across his tongue, tasting him.

It had been ages since he last did this—actual decades—but Sid’s body hadn’t forgotten how this worked. He went down a few times, indulging himself, listening to Geno’s harsh breathing, and then he pulled off and moved back, making room for Geno in the bed. “Come on,” he said. “Get in bed with me.”

Geno lay down close, facing him, and arranged the duvet until it was tucked in around their shoulders. They considered each other, maybe a little nervous now that it was actually happening, both of them waiting for the other to make the next move.

Geno wrinkled his nose. “Sid—”

“Yeah,” Sid said. It was always a little weird with a new person, and Sid liked that, the fluttery uncertainty of it. And he liked being able to do this new thing with Geno even after knowing him for so many years. Their relationship wasn’t immutable. They could create something new between them.

He leaned in. Their noses bumped. Geno laughed softly. Sid smiled, angled his head, pressed their mouths together.

Right away they were back where they had been earlier in the snow, that same urgency. Geno opened his mouth to let Sid in, and Sid rolled him onto his back and went for it, straddling one of Geno’s thighs, pressed against Geno from shoulder to knee. Geno was warm and solid and his dick was a hot line against Sid’s hip, and his hands were everywhere, on Sid’s back and his ass and his arms.

Having so much bare skin beneath him made Sid feel wild. He hadn’t slept with anyone in six months, not since he broke up with Alicia, and he had been thinking about Geno the whole time, about doing this with Geno. The reality was so much richer and more satisfying than his fantasies: the taste of Geno’s mouth, the slight friction of the hair on his thighs rubbing against Sid’s, the way he groaned and bit at Sid’s lips.

Sid broke away, panting, and squirmed down a little further to kiss Geno’s throat. Geno didn’t react much until Sid scraped a little with his teeth, and then Geno let out a noise that had Sid smiling against his skin. Success.

He could have made out with Geno for a long time, but his hard-on was starting to feel pretty urgent. He sat up, ignoring Geno’s protesting whine, and grabbed the Vaseline. “You want me to do this part?”

“No, me,” Geno said immediately, and reached for the jar.

They lay down together again, Geno spooned up behind Sid, and Sid drew his top knee toward his chest to give Geno room to work. He was starting to sweat a little, his face flushing with arousal. He flinched when Geno’s sticky fingers touched his hole, not expecting it, and Geno kissed the back of his neck and said, “Sorry.”

“Just surprised me,” Sid said. “Keep going.”

Geno didn’t push in right away. He stroked Sid’s hole, rubbing in slow circles with the pads of his fingers. It felt incredible. The Vaseline warmed and softened, going slick. Sid waited for Geno to give him a couple of fingers, or at least one, something, but Geno only kept touching him like that until Sid was so tender and sensitive and, God, ready.

“Yes, I hear,” Geno said, and kissed his neck again. “You do before?”

“Not with a guy,” Sid said. He reached down between his own legs to grasp Geno’s wrist, feeling the flex of tendons as he worked Sid over. “I had a couple girlfriends who liked to fuck me. And, uh, I do myself all the time.”

Geno exhaled something that was probably a curse. “You like?”

“Yeah,” Sid said. “So quit fooling around.” He twisted his head around, and Geno arched forward for a kiss just as he pushed in with two fingers, all the way to the knuckle.

Sid moaned into Geno’s mouth. Geno’s fingers were long and thick and Sid was pretty hot for it after all the teasing. He rotated forward again and slumped against the pillow, stretched open around Geno’s fingers and already anticipating Geno’s huge dick.

Geno pulled out slightly and pushed back in. It was a little dry, a little too much friction, and Sid said, “Can you—”

“Yes, need more,” Geno said. He drew all the way out. Sid heard him fumbling with the jar. Then his fingers were sliding back in, perfectly slick, and he rotated his hand and curled his fingers and nailed Sid’s prostate on the first try.

“Fuck!” Sid cried out. “Right there, that’s,” like Geno couldn’t tell from his reaction. But Geno didn’t chirp him, just kissed Sid’s neck and his ear and finger-fucked him, slow and deep, until Sid really couldn’t handle it anymore and pulled away, and went up on his knees to shove Geno over onto his back.

Geno’s cheeks were a blotchy red. His mouth hung open as he gazed up at Sid. And Sid couldn’t help himself: he straddled Geno’s hips and bent down for a slow, sweet kiss, pushing his tongue into Geno’s mouth, delighting in Geno’s groan.

He sat upright and reached for the Vaseline. “You ready?”

“Yes,” Geno said. “Sid—”

“I’m gonna make you feel so good,” Sid promised. He scooped out some jelly and rubbed it between his fingers until it warmed, and then he smeared it down the length of Geno’s cock, thrilled by the way Geno’s hips pushed into his touch. He couldn’t fucking wait. He leaned forward and braced himself with one hand on Geno’s shoulder, and with the other held Geno’s dick in place to rub his ass against the blunt head and then slowly, carefully work himself back onto it.

Geno hissed and clutched at his hips, leaving a sticky smear across Sid’s skin from his lubed-up fingers. Sid was suspended helplessly between the look on Geno’s face and the thick stretch of Geno’s cock filling his ass, a little too big but definitely not so big that he wanted to stop.

He sat up and moved his hips in a tight circle, testing the feel of it. There was plenty of lube. God, he was going to ride Geno straight through the mattress.

He ran his hands over Geno’s chest, pinching his little dark nipples to make him squirm. “You look so fucking good,” he said, because Geno had talked about how much he liked Sid’s body, and Sid wanted him to know they were on exactly the same page.

Geno squeezed Sid’s hips and grinned. “Maybe a little bit fat now.”

“It’s perfect,” Sid said. He pulled off slightly and sank back down, watching Geno’s flushed face. “I love the way you look. You’re gonna lose all your hair and I’ll think you’re so hot.” He jacked himself for a minute, lubing himself with the traces of Vaseline on his hand. He was leaking, and his own touch felt good enough that he knew he couldn’t mess around too much, because if he wasn’t careful he was going to come.

He set both palms on Geno’s chest and started riding Geno’s cock in earnest, rolling his hips forward until just the head was inside of him and then pushing back and grinding at the bottom of the stroke, taking Geno in as deep as he could. It was so good, the stretch and the fullness. He couldn’t get himself quite right at this angle, but that didn’t really matter; it felt amazing anyway, and he wanted to make this last.

He watched Geno as he moved, and Geno watched him right back, his hands stroking over Sid’s thighs and hips. He hadn’t expected to feel quite so many tender emotions, but there they were, welling up like blood from a wound, hot and vital. From the way Geno was smiling at him, he thought Geno probably felt the same way.

The eye contact was intense, but Sid didn’t want to look away and pretend this was something less than what it was. His feelings for Geno were planet-sized, undeniable, unavoidable, the brightest star shining in Sid’s sky, fixed just above the horizon, the star he used to navigate by. He watched Geno’s face and let his own face say whatever it wanted to. He hoped it was telling Geno everything.

“Sid,” Geno whispered. His hands gripped Sid’s thighs.

“I want you to come first,” Sid said, moving steadily. “I wanna watch you lose it. I want you to come in my ass—”

Geno groaned. His fingers dug in. “You can’t—”

“I fucking can,” Sid said. He sat up straight and used the strength of his thighs to lift off Geno’s cock and sink back down. Geno was flushed clear to down to his chest, and his thighs were shaking, and Sid didn’t think it would take much more to send him over the edge.

He was getting pretty close himself. He was sweating. His face was hot. His thighs strained as he moved. He lifted his hands to his chest and pinched his nipples, watching Geno’s eyes track the motion. Everything was so good, Geno’s cock felt amazing, Geno’s hands on his hips felt amazing, and the awed, overcome expression on Geno’s face was the best part of any of it.

“Sid, ah, you want,” Geno said unsteadily, and moved one hand to Sid’s dick.

“Okay, yeah,” Sid said, because they were both getting there, moving together, faster now, Sid grinding down and Geno flexing his hips up into every thrust. Geno’s hand still had some Vaseline on it, and his grip wasn’t perfect, a little too loose, but at this point Sid was close enough that it didn’t matter. He could feel his orgasm building, a warm pressure in his abdomen, and he leaned forward again to brace himself on Geno’s shoulders, so he could shove back onto Geno’s dick and forward into his hand. Geno was making a lot of noise, but Sid couldn’t think about that now, couldn’t focus on anything but how good he felt, how close he was, fuck, he was so close—

“Sid!” Geno called out, and thrust up hard and trembled beneath him, and Sid felt a sudden deep warmth as he came.

“God, God,” Sid chanted, rocking fast, his heart pounding in his ears, and then he was there, tensed up, shaking, and spilling his come over Geno’s hand.

+ + +

They napped for a while. Sid woke up warm and a little dazed. Geno was in the bed beside him, propped up on one elbow, watching Sid with a gentle, unguarded smile. It was probably time for lunch, but Sid didn’t want to get up just yet.

“You watching me sleep?” Sid asked. He turned onto his side and drew Geno’s free hand to his face to kiss his knuckles.

“I just wake up,” Geno said, which wasn’t really an answer. He ran his thumb over Sid’s mouth, and then began stroking his hair.

Sid closed his eyes and drifted for a few minutes. The mattress shifted as Geno lay down and moved in close. Sid felt Geno’s hand running over his shoulder and down his arm, tracing the bones of his elbow, sliding along his ribs toward his waist: mapping him. Geno groped his ass for a while, and then shifted to his hip, that spot right above his pelvis where he tended to carry his extra weight.

“Soft,” Geno said, very quietly, like he was talking to himself, and squeezed.

Sid burst out laughing. Geno immediately snatched his hand away, and when Sid opened his eyes, he was scowling.

“Oh, stop making that face,” Sid said. He moved Geno’s hand back to his hip. Geno’s scowl faded. Sid leaned in and kissed his cheek, and then his mouth, a few sweet times until Geno squeezed him again, right there, where he was softest.

Geno nosed behind his ear. “Guy is come tomorrow and plow. Then we go back to Moscow.”

“We could stay another couple days,” Sid said. “If you wanted to.”

Geno drew back to look at him. “You don’t go home?”

“Do you want me to?” Sid asked. He swallowed. He didn’t really want to have this conversation, but of course they had to, and they had arrived at it now, and there was no good reason to delay it any longer. “I was gonna stay as long as you would let me.”

Geno watched him for a moment. He shifted, curling up, his toes brushing against Sid’s shins. “What’s happen now?”

“I don’t know,” Sid said. He put his hand on Geno’s neck, right where the pulse beat quick under his skin. “It’s kind of up to you. I know what I want, but.”

“Tell me,” Geno said. His thumb glided over Sid’s skin.

“I want to spend my next thirty-nine years with you,” Sid said.

Geno’s eyes filled. He turned his head away and blinked a few times, and Sid felt his own eyes water from seeing Geno’s reaction. What he’d said was only the truth, but of course Sid did have those deep, fast-running feelings, a huge underground river rushing beneath the stable bedrock of his everyday life. Geno always brought that to the surface in him: joy, fury, everything twice as big and twice as powerful in the face of Geno’s own unchecked emotions.

“Geno,” he choked out, and shifted in close to press his face against Geno’s neck. Geno’s arm hooked around his shoulders, gathering him in. They held each other, tucked there beneath the blankets, in a place no one else could ever join them, a private moment that Sid wanted to live in forever.

Geno said his name, and then something in Russian, and then, “I miss you every day since I leave. I don’t want to miss more.”

Sid exhaled. He pushed himself up to sit against the headboard. Geno blinked up at him, and after a moment shifted so he could rest his head on Sid’s thigh. Sid slid his fingers into Geno’s soft hair. It was long at the back, curling at his nape.

“I know we didn’t hang out a ton, away from the rink,” Sid said. “But you were always there. You were the one thing I could always count on. And then you were gone, and—that last season was hard for me. Without you there.”

“Sorry,” Geno said. He turned his head to kiss Sid’s thigh.

“It’s not your fault,” Sid said. “I should have asked you to stay.”

“I should tell you I will,” Geno said. “Instead I don’t say, don’t ask. Then it’s too late.”

“It’s not too late,” Sid said. “I’m here now, aren’t I?” He ran his fingers over the soft curling hair behind Geno’s ear. He was struck by a sudden sense memory of doing this to Geno before—this exact thing, lying on the floor in Jordy’s hotel room, or Talbo’s, or whoever’s it was, after kissing Geno—lying there watching each other, drunk, elated, and running his fingers behind Geno’s ear.

They were so young then, and they both had too much to lose. Now Sid was a grown man, and he understood the nature of loss. In the end it touched everything you treasured. So there was no reason to hold back, or deny yourself. He wanted to have Geno with him.

“Maybe I’ve been freaking out a little,” he said. “About retiring.”

“I know,” Geno said. “I freak out, too. For like three months. Like it’s always hockey, my whole life, and now what I do?”

“Yeah,” Sid said. “But that’s not why I’m here. Okay? I’m not confused about you.”

Geno kissed Sid’s thigh again. “How long you stay?”

“My visa’s good through March,” Sid said. “Don’t know if you’ll want me here for that long, though.”

Geno scoffed. “Why I don’t want you here?”

Sid smiled down at his head, combed his fingers through the thinnest part at the crown, where there was more scalp than hair. “Might be hard to explain to your friends.”

“My friend Alyosha is gay,” Geno said. “He doesn’t say, but. We all know. It’s fine, you know?” He huffed. “He’s got boyfriend, long time, seven, eight years, and everyone say, ‘oh Alyosha’s friend,’ it’s very stupid.”

“Okay,” Sid said. “I mean, we wouldn’t have to say anything. Can just tell them I’m here for a visit.”

Geno wobbled his hand from side to side. “Maybe they think already. I get drunk, say too much about, you know.” The half of his face Sid could see flushed pink.

“I really don’t know,” Sid said, amused. “I think you should tell me.”

“No, shut up,” Geno said. “You’re worst.”

Sid laughed and bent down to kiss his temple. “Okay. I’ll stay for a while. And then maybe you can come to Canada, and see how you like it.”

Geno nodded mutely, his head moving against Sid’s thigh.

“My house is a ways out of town,” Sid said, “but we could get a place in Halifax, too. It’s not Moscow, but. There are things to do. Or we could move to Toronto—”

“Sid,” Geno said.

“We have to think about this,” Sid said. “Come on. You know we do.” He couldn’t stay in Russia for more than three months at a time. Maybe he could get a coaching job, but those were probably hard to come by in Moscow. But if he and Geno got married, Geno could get Canadian citizenship. The logistics were just way less complicated.

“If I’m in Canada with you, people notice,” Geno said. “It’s small town, right? Why I go there? People talk.”

“I mean. Yeah,” Sid said. “People are probably gonna figure it out. I’m not thrilled about it, but. Guess I don’t care that much anymore.” He had messed up Geno’s hair pretty bad by now. He smoothed it back into place. “But also, people aren’t that observant. They’re not going to see you around town and immediately jump to the conclusion that we’re screwing.”

“But they figure out,” Geno insisted. “Sid. For me, in Russia—”

“I know,” Sid said. “I know what I’m asking you for. And you can say no, and I’ll go home, and—that’ll be the end of it.”

Geno exhaled loudly, his breath gusting over Sid’s skin. He shifted around and sat up, his knees drawn up, facing Sid. Sid reached out to trace the lines beside his eyes, and Geno smiled at him, the lines deepening.

“I don’t want this to be the end of it,” Sid said.

“We go to Canada after New Year,” Geno said. “Spend time. You come back here. Maybe I move in summer.”

“I’m sorry,” Sid said. “I wish—”

“I know.” Geno leaned in to kiss him, and Sid curled his hand around the back of Geno’s neck to keep him there, drawing it out, kissing him again and again until Geno laughed and pulled away. He was grinning, his mouth wet, his hair somehow rumpled again even after Sid had fixed it.

“Thirty-nine years,” Geno said.

“At least,” Sid said.

+ + +

The first time he and Geno kissed was after the Cup win in 2009, and the second time was at Geno’s goodbye party in 2025, in May, after the playoffs were done, two days after locker cleanout. Everyone stuck around for it, even the guys who were new to the team that year and didn’t know Geno well. He had been the team’s beating heart for twenty years. It was the end of an era.

The party was outside, on Geno’s front lawn. He had set up a grill on the patio. Sparks and Hanny appointed themselves grill-masters and went wild with the lighter fluid. Geno told Sid he wanted to show him something and took him into the house, into his study, and closed and locked the door. Sid didn’t know what was going on until Geno pressed him back against the door and gave him a look that Sid felt down to his toes, to the very soles of his feet. Geno’s kiss was slow and thorough, and what Sid remembered most was the soft scrape of Geno’s playoff beard, the last one he would ever grow. He was the only guy on the team who hadn’t shaved yet.

Sid kissed him back, even though Alicia was there, just outside, getting drunk with Phil’s wife. Sid worked his hands beneath the hem of Geno’s T-shirt and they kissed until they were startled apart by voices beneath the window, someone passing by outside. Geno stared at him for a moment, breathing hard, and then he unlocked the door and went out, and by the time Sid splashed some water on his face in the washroom and made it back outside, Geno was eating a burger and playing horseshoes like nothing had happened. Sid watched him and didn’t know what had happened. He felt turned inside out. He didn’t know what to do, and so he did nothing, and then Geno was gone.

Now, here, a year and a half later, he woke up next to Geno, in Geno’s bed in his dacha in Russia, in the pale early morning light. Geno was on his back and snoring. Sid scooted in close and nestled against him, hesitantly, bracing himself for an elbow to the face, but Geno only grunted and shifted to settle their bodies together more comfortably, one arm curled around Sid’s shoulders. Sid smiled and tucked his face against Geno’s chest and went back to sleep.

He woke again to a sudden loud scraping sound from outside. Geno twitched violently beside him, swore, and scrambled out of bed. “It’s Misha,” he said to Sid, yanking on his sweatpants, “he’s here for plow, let me,” and he was gone before Sid could ask any questions.

“It’s 9:02 AM,” his phone said. “The high today is -3.”

Sid dressed and went downstairs to light the fire and make some breakfast: eggs and toast, coffee for both of them and also tea for Geno, who liked one cup of each. Through the window, he could see Geno talking with the guy who had come to plow, both of them roaming around the yard and gesticulating, like plowing wasn’t a simple matter of snow removal but instead required careful planning and maybe some linear algebra.

Breakfast was ready by the time Geno came back inside, his nose and cheeks red with cold. He took off his boots and coat and sat down at the table still wearing his toque. “Misha is done soon, then we can go,” he said. He inspected each mug beside his plate, tilting them toward him to see what was inside, and gave Sid a small but intensely fond smile. “You make breakfast.”

“Yeah,” Sid said. He sat down with his own plate and picked up his fork. “We can, uh. You got something you need to get back to Moscow for?”

Geno shrugged. “Meeting on Thursday, but it’s not too important. I can change.”

“Let’s stay another day or two,” Sid said. “If you want to. I was serious about that.”

“Hmm,” Geno said. He took a bite of his toast and leaned back in his chair, chewing, watching Sid. “You like bathtub.”

“It’s got its merits,” Sid said. Geno had a big bed, and there were a lot of things they could do in it. Sid wanted to start working their way down the list. “You wanted to come out here so bad, so we might as well take advantage while we’re here.”

Geno sighed. “Sid, I want come here because I think it’s go bad, you know? Like you don’t want same I do, or you say you do but it’s not real, it’s just distract. And then it’s too hard for me if we talk about in my house. Then I remember how we talk about, you know, I sit on couch and think about and it’s bad conversation. I have to live there, you know? But here, maybe I don’t come back until summer, and by then it’s okay.”

“Oh,” Sid said, taking that in. “Okay. Well. You’re not a distraction.”

“I know,” Geno said, smiling at him. “I believe.”

“Okay,” Sid said. He bumped his feet against Geno’s beneath the table. “Good.”

Geno bumped him in return. “Let’s leave by Friday, weekend is bad traffic.”

“Whatever you want,” Sid said agreeably.

Geno broke the yolks of his eggs with his fork and dipped his toast in. “Tell me what it’s like, in Halifax.”

Sid watched him chewing with his mouth open, wiping his nose with the back of his hand, smiling at Sid across the table. He was so ready to love Geno with his entire heart: for thirty-nine years, at least.

“Well, it’s right by the ocean,” he began.