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Zhenya began to notice the signs in early April. At first he thought Sid was just out of sorts because of Flower and because they would have to play the Blue Jackets in the first round. But they were living together by then, more or less, and Zhenya saw Sid first thing in the morning, bleary and half-awake in the bathroom, rubbing distractedly at his lower belly, and the slight but noticeable swell there, like he had put on some weight.

Zhenya could do the math: it had been seven years since the last time, which he distinctly remembered due to Sid’s escalating surliness throughout the playoffs, and the way everyone had rolled their eyes about it. Eggy, Talbo had explained to Zhenya, and that he understood. Things were just the same in Russia.

They beat the Jackets in five games. The morning after, Zhenya woke up with Sid already awake in the bed beside him, frowning at the ceiling and rubbing his abdomen: eggy.

Zhenya rolled toward him and covered Sid’s hand with his own. He kissed Sid’s neck and waited.

“Sorry,” Sid said, which didn’t make any sense; what was he sorry for?

“You need to, ah,” Zhenya said.

“Soon,” Sid said. “Pretty soon.”

Zhenya waited. Sid drew in a deep breath, like he was going to say something, but then he said nothing. After another minute, he did it again. Then he said, “I’ll make some breakfast, eh?”

Okay: he didn’t want to. Zhenya stuffed down his mingled disappointment and relief. They had only been together since last season’s Cup: ten months, and they had spent part of that in separate countries. That wasn’t nearly long enough to think about clutching with someone.

There was no reason to dwell on it any further. Sid would lay his eggs in an artificial clutching aid, probably before they played the Caps unless he decided he had a superstition about it, and then he would be done with it for another seven years. And maybe by then—

A lot of things could happen in seven years. There was no point in thinking about it.

Zhenya didn’t expect to hear anything more about it. But Sid came over for dinner a few nights later with an unanticipated bouquet of pink roses and hovered by the kitchen island while Zhenya put the flowers in water. Zhenya’s heart pounded in his chest. Flowers were a clutching gift; pink flowers—

“Geno, uh,” Sid said, and Zhenya’s hands trembled slightly as he fussed with the blossoms. “I know it’s way too soon, but. Do you want to?”

Zhenya turned to look at him. Sid took his hands out of his pockets and then shoved them back in. Seeing his hopeful, anxious expression made Zhenya’s heart unfold with tenderness. He loved Sid so much. Their relationship was less than a year old and they were still learning the shape of it, but it felt to Zhenya like a rich and deeply rooted love, the kind that lasted.

“Okay,” Sid said, in response to whatever he saw on Zhenya’s face, and started smiling.

The evening was warm: late April, mild out even with the sun sinking behind the trees. After dinner, Zhenya took Sid outside to the swinging bench in his front yard, and they sat there together and shared a bottle of wine and listened to the frogs calling from the pond. Zhenya rocked the swing with his feet and delighted in Sid so close against him, warm and tucked beneath Zhenya’s arm.

“We’ll have to wait until after the playoffs,” Sid said.

“That’s too long,” Zhenya said. He set down his empty glass and reached over to cup the small curve of Sid’s belly. “You ready now.”

“I mean. I can wait,” Sid said. “It’ll be a little uncomfortable, that’s all.”

“Maybe you do now, in fake egg thing,” Zhenya said. “And we do together next time, if you want.”

“We could,” Sid said. He didn’t say what they both knew: that maybe in another seven years, it would be too late. He turned his head to look up at Zhenya. “If you don’t feel ready—”

“No,” Zhenya said immediately, although he didn’t feel ready. He didn’t believe that marriage was a prerequisite for a family, but he and Sid hadn’t made any sort of commitment to each other, weren’t even formally living together, and Zhenya wanted children but had expected they would probably adopt, maybe in another couple of years, after they were more settled with each other. But Sid had brought him pink flowers, and that was—an honor, of course, but it was also a declaration. Some bearers went their whole lives without clutching with someone, much less clutching to keep. He would be a fool to turn down the chance to do it with Sid, who loved him.

“It’s a lot to ask,” Sid said. “It’s too soon. If you—”

“No,” Zhenya said again. He tightened his arm around Sid’s shoulders and bent down to kiss Sid’s mouth. When he drew back, the worried line between Sid’s eyebrows had eased. “How many we keep?” A clutch could be ten or fifteen; most of them would be adopted out.

“Two?” Sid said. “One? I don’t know.”

“Two,” Zhenya decided. “Then they play together. Not so much work for us.”

Sid huffed. “Okay. Two it is.”

“After playoffs,” Zhenya said. He would have to make sure they won the Cup again. That would give him time to get used to the idea.

“After the playoffs,” Sid agreed, and they sat outside, rocking in the swing, until the last light faded.

The playoffs were a long grind. Sid was increasingly short-tempered and aggressive with everyone else, and sweet and solicitous with Zhenya. He brought leftovers to the rink for Zhenya, even though the team had a cook who would prepare any nutritionist-approved meal Zhenya desired. He massaged Zhenya’s back every night and clucked over his various minor injuries. He started touching Zhenya’s slit every time they had sex, which he had never done before, until Zhenya came to expect it and felt himself softening and unfurling at the first gentle brush of Sid’s fingers.

Zhenya wasn’t a virgin. Oksana had laid blanks in him a few times, just for the fun of it. But that had been for sex, not for mating. Sid wanted to mate with him, he was making his intentions unmistakably clear, and Zhenya was overwhelmed both by Sid’s courting behaviors and by his own responses. Sid was egg-ripe and irresistible, and Zhenya wanted to tell him to do it now, fuck the team, fuck the playoffs, give it to him right now, Sid, please

They were both running on instinct. Everyone always said that your body would know what to do when the time was right, but Zhenya had thought that was romantic bullshit and not the stark and somewhat nerve-wracking truth. Sid was a laid-back guy, not jealous, not possessive, but he started unsubtly lurking around in the trainers’ room whenever Zhenya needed a treatment, like he thought maybe Stew would go wild and lay his eggs in Zhenya.

“You scare Stew,” Zhenya told him, in the evening after the second time Sid did it, when they were watching the Ducks-Preds game after dinner.

“I’m sorry,” Sid said, and he did look pretty sorry. “I’m trying not to. I can’t help it.”

“You want mate with me,” Zhenya said, and saw Sid’s eyes darken, and they fucked right there on the couch, rubbing off on each other with Sid’s arm awkwardly tucked between them so he could finger Zhenya’s slit, pushing in deep for Zhenya to clench down on.

There was no way they could keep it a secret, not with Sid acting like that, and Zhenya helplessly tracking his movements any time they were in the same room, like a weathervane turning in the wind. “Sid’s eggy,” Flower told him confidentially, at practice during their few days between beating Washington and facing Ottawa, and Zhenya smiled tightly and said nothing; but a week after that they were in a hotel lobby in Ottawa and Sid had his hand on Zhenya’s shoulder and his gaze fixed on Zhenya’s face, and Flower looked back and forth between them and said, “Oh my God.”

“Shut up,” Zhenya said, “you shut up, Flower,” and Sid, the total moron, said, “You can’t say anything,” which meant the entire team would know within twelve hours.

But Flower said, very seriously, “Of course I won’t. Sid. I won’t say a word.” He started grinning, and sunk his teeth into his lower lip in a failed effort to fight it. “Oh, my friends. Congratulations.”

“Thanks,” Sid said, and laughed a little, and he was grinning now, too. “We’re pretty, uh. We’re excited.”

“No wonder you’ve been such a dick,” Flower said fondly, and Zhenya leaned into Sid’s side, thoroughly muddled by love and hormones and the way Sid kept looking at him, like Zhenya was the rising sun.

He believed that Flower didn’t say anything, but the entire team figured it out anyway. Zhenya arrived at the arena one morning and found a stack of neatly-folded baby clothes at his stall, Penguins onesies and tiny jerseys with DADDY 71 embroidered on the back, and all of it topped off with a traditional green bow.

“Name one of them for me,” Tanger called from across the room, and Zhenya was so hormonal he started crying, which embarrassed everyone and made Sid yell.

Tanger apologized to him later. “The guys are excited. It’s good luck. We want to say we’re happy for you.”

“Yes, it’s okay,” Zhenya said, desperate to escape this conversation before he started crying again. “It’s nice to have things. I don’t think about yet, you know?” Russians didn’t throw baby showers or make any baby-related purchases until after the birth, but the team didn’t know that, and they meant well.

“Cath cried every day for the first week,” Tanger said, and then glanced around and lowered his voice and added, “and then we fucked every day for the next five weeks. Enjoy.”

“Thanks,” Zhenya said, and carefully didn’t mention that he and Sid had already started having sex every day, sometimes twice a day if they had time for it. All of Sid’s game-related sex superstitions had gone out the window. Eggy.

He played hard in every game, but by the end of it he had almost forgotten why. There was hockey, and Sid, and sex with Sid, and Zhenya entered some altered plane of existence and only came out of it toward the very end of their final game against Nashville, when Horny finally put a puck in the net and Zhenya realized they might win.

They won.

The night passed in an ecstatic haze: interviews, blotting blood from his face with a towel, all of the many pictures he posed for, his friends from Russia in their Metallurg jerseys, the arena emptying out, his teammates crying and hugging, the abundant rainfall of beer in the locker room, and Sid was everywhere, sweaty, beaming, pulling Zhenya aside for a single private moment to say, “I’ll come to your room later.”

“Yes,” Zhenya said.

It was the middle of the night by the time they were finally alone, closer to dawn than to dusk, the two of them in Zhenya’s hotel room, freshly showered, exhausted, a little drunk, undressing each other in the soft lamplight. Zhenya pulled Sid down into his arms. They kissed, Zhenya’s legs around Sid’s hips. He was warm and sweating and Sid braced himself on his hands and shifted up to rub his dick against Zhenya’s slit, and Zhenya felt open and heavy and joyful and wholly in love, and he turned his head to kiss Sid’s arm and said, “Let’s do now.”

Sid froze. “Now? Tonight?”

“Playoffs over,” Zhenya said.

“Yeah, but. We were gonna make it special,” Sid said. “At home. Candles—”

“Sid,” Zhenya said. He tugged Sid down to lie beside him and kissed his stupid flushed face. His beard was awful, just painfully scraggly and bad, and Zhenya loved him so much. “What’s more special than this?”

“You’re right,” Sid said. His eyes were dark and shining. He slid his hand down Zhenya’s belly to tease his slit, already opening up, the edges drawing back to show the soft pink inside.

“Cup babies,” Zhenya said. “Give me your eggs. Fill me up,” and Sid groaned and swore. Zhenya reached between Sid’s legs to stroke behind his balls, where his ovipositor was beginning to slide out. Zhenya had never felt it, and he wanted it, could feel his slit opening more, Sid’s fingers pushing in deeper.

“G, I love you so much,” Sid said, all choked up, and Zhenya rolled toward him and kissed him and hitched a leg over his hip and they did it just like that, holding each other the whole time, Sid buried inside him, moaning into Zhenya’s neck as each egg passed into Zhenya’s body, shuddering and panting until he had emptied himself completely.

Zhenya came twice, deep rippling slit orgasms like nothing he had ever experienced. When Sid was finally finished and pulled out, trembling, and collapsed on the bed, Zhenya flopped over onto his back and pressed his hard dick against his belly and rubbed himself until he came all over his slit.

“God,” Sid said, choked. He rolled toward Zhenya and ran his fingers over Zhenya’s oversensitive slit, working the come inside, fertilizing his eggs.

“I love you,” Zhenya said to him in every language he knew, and they passed out without cleaning up even a little bit, and slept until it was time to board the plane to go home.

The first week was easy: nothing more than some minor bloating, like the morning after over-indulging at a buffet. He did cry some, like Tanger had said, but not every day, and he cried for extremely good reasons, like how Sid kept wanting to talk about whose house they were going to sell (Sid’s) and which nursery pool they should buy (the most expensive).

“Come on, we have to think about this stuff,” Sid said, when Zhenya had teared up over a nursery website for the third time and pulled his T-shirt up over his face until the urge passed. “We’ve got five weeks left, it’s not that much time.”

“You decide,” Zhenya begged. “I don’t care.” Everything was perfect right now, and he didn’t want to think about how much their lives were going to change.

Sid sighed. “I should have gotten your mom to help me. She kept offering.” Zhenya’s parents had gone back to Russia shortly after the Cup win. He and Sid would handle the birth themselves, at home in their nursery pool, and the grandparents wouldn’t descend until the babies were ready to leave the pool several weeks after that. The metamorphosis was a private time for parents to learn to love the babies they would keep, and say goodbye to the ones they would let go.

“Vero text me, she say we get baby stuff from them,” Zhenya said. “Maybe they have pool.” He hadn’t wanted to bring it up, because Flower and Vero were of course getting rid of their baby things in advance of their move to Las Vegas, and Sid was still in denial.

“Oh,” Sid said. He turned back to his tablet and started scrolling again. “Well. I’ll ask them.”

In the second week, Zhenya started growing, and his belly popped at the beginning of the third week, visibly round and protruding, like a small cantaloupe attached to his midsection. His regular clothes still fit, as long as he stuck to sweatpants, but he was clearly pregnant. He ventured out of the house on a stupid, pointless errand to pick up a few boxes of tissues, because Sid always forgot to put them on the shopping list, and five separate people cooed over him in the drug store. Eggs were exciting, but—he didn’t want people asking him how many, or had they decided on a nutrient mixture for the nursery, or any of that. It wasn’t anyone’s business.

“People so nosy,” he complained to Sid when he got home.

“People are happy for you,” Sid said. He handed Zhenya a banana, already peeled, and Zhenya took it from him and started crankily eating. He was hungry all the time.

“Wish I go to Moscow,” he grumbled.

“It’s too late for that now, you can’t travel like this,” Sid said, which was true, but not what Zhenya wanted to hear. He shoved the rest of the banana in his mouth and scowled.

He had felt in perfect accord with Sid during the playoffs, but now they were always at odds. Sid wanted only to talk about the babies, make plans for the babies, and of course Zhenya wanted that, too, but he also missed his dorky boyfriend who liked to go to the mall just to walk around and check things out, and would read spy novels to Zhenya in the evenings and do different voices for all the characters. Now he read baby books and made Zhenya drink juice blends.

Zhenya knew it was normal clutching behavior, that Sid was nesting the way all mothers did, preparing their home for their children. But he was unsettled anyway. Their lives were changing already, and Zhenya wasn’t prepared for it.

Sid went with him to his first ultrasound appointment, when they found out how many embryos there were: twelve, tiny and squirming, each of them still in its egg sac.

“Everything looks good,” the doctor told them. “No concerns at this point. You’re free to start making adoption arrangements, if you’d like.”

So then Sid wanted to deal with that immediately: ten babies who needed families, and Sid had a spreadsheet on his tablet, like he had already started thinking about this, when Zhenya was busy trying to get through the day without eating everything in the house.

“I think Tanger and Cath want one,” Sid said. “I’ve sent some emails. Maybe a couple friends from back home. You know anybody who wants one?”

“Maybe Max and Katya,” Zhenya said, who might in fact want one, but were largely the first names Zhenya was able to call to mind to halt the onslaught of Sid’s planning.

“Great, I’ll let you talk to them,” Sid said, so then Zhenya had to call them and listen to their overjoyed exclaiming, and there weren’t even any babies yet—not for weeks, and more weeks after that in the pool, until they were ready to come out.

At least the sex was great. Tanger hadn’t been exaggerating about that part. The bigger Zhenya got, the more he wanted it. He liked how full he felt, and the heavy warm curve of his stomach beneath his hands; and he liked Sid’s hands on him, and Sid seemed to like touching him, so it worked out well for both of them.

The skin of his belly started itching fiercely partway through the second week, as it stretched and expanded, and Sid went to the store and came back with a big tub of cocoa butter and a familiar determined look on his face.

“You rub me?” asked Zhenya, who would never turn down a massage.

“Yeah,” Sid said. “Here, I’ll do it while we watch,” because Zhenya was on the couch watching a movie. Zhenya sat up long enough to let Sid settle behind him, and then he lay down again, leaning back against Sid’s chest. “Perfect,” Sid said. He kissed the top of Zhenya’s head and tugged up the hem of his shirt.

The lotion was soothing, but mostly what felt good was Sid’s hands on him, rubbing broad circles at first to spread the lotion and then massaging with his fingertips. Zhenya was warm and blissed out at first, and then, as Sid kept stroking, the warmth turned into heat. Zhenya squirmed a little as his dick began to swell.

Sid didn’t notice at first, but then on a low pass his fingers brushed against Zhenya’s erection. He paused, and laughed softly against Zhenya’s ear. “You like that?”

“Feels good,” Zhenya said, because bravado had never failed him yet.

“Hmm,” Sid said. He smoothed one palm over the slight curve of Zhenya’s belly. His fingertips ran along Zhenya’s slit, closed and dry now, but so sensitive that Zhenya squirmed again.

He reached down to grasp Sid’s wrist. “Don’t.” It was weird—kinky. Slits were for clutching and should otherwise be left alone, and Sid had never shown any interest in Zhenya’s before he got eggy.

“Do you not want me to,” Sid said, “or do you think you shouldn’t want me to?”

Zhenya hesitated for too long, which was answer enough. Sid stroked him again, from the bottom of his slit to the top, and Zhenya exhaled and spread his legs wider and released Sid’s wrist.

Sid got him off like that, one hand on Zhenya’s dick and the other playing with his slit, and that opened the floodgates. Sid rubbed lotion onto his belly every night before bed, and without fail it turned into sex, Sid’s dick in his ass or Sid’s fingers in his slit, or both, and sometimes Zhenya got a handjob in the morning, too, if he made enough pathetic noises and rubbed himself against Sid. He was well-fucked; he couldn’t complain about that, at least.

“We need to get you some new shirts,” Sid told him, toward the end of the third week, while Sid was making dinner and Zhenya was reading the news on his phone and eating half of an avocado sprinkled with the pink Himalayan salt Sid insisted on buying.

Zhenya glanced up. “Hmm? Why?” He tugged at the hem of his shirt. It was true he was outgrowing his T-shirts, and they were beginning to ride up and reveal the lower curve of his belly, but he wasn’t doing much aside from lying around the house feeling full of eggs, so who cared?

“You’re, uh. Showing,” Sid said, gesturing vaguely with a zucchini.

Zhenya squinted at him. His cheeks were a little pink. Zhenya deliberately reached down and cupped his belly, sliding his hand upward to push his shirt out of the way, baring himself from his sweatpants to his sternum, and Sid flushed more and said, “Yeah, okay, that’s—you’ve made your point.”

Zhenya wasn’t totally sure what his point was, but he was happy to feel like he had the upper hand for once, instead of figuratively trailing after Sid, who had everything figured out. Sid had already put his house up for sale. He was starting to think about baby names. He didn’t appear to have any doubts or concerns.

“Sid, don’t you, like. Worry?” Zhenya asked him one night, after sex, in the dark, which was the only way Zhenya felt brave enough to say what was on his mind.

Sid cleared his throat. “Worry about what?”

“You know,” Zhenya said. He scooted in and pressed his face against Sid’s shoulder, asking for comfort, and Sid slid a hand over his back, giving it, always, without question, even when he didn’t understand why Zhenya was upset. “It’s like. Big change, you know?”

“Well. Sure,” Sid said. “But it’s a good change, don’t you think?” He paused. “I didn’t realize you were, uh. Worried.”

“No, I don’t worry,” Zhenya said, because what else could he say in the face of that unwavering certainty? “Only think about, a little bit.”

“Okay,” Sid said. “Well. Don’t worry. I love you.”

“Love you,” Zhenya repeated, and lay awake as Sid’s breathing evened out.

Pittsburgh was boring in the summer. Seryozha was in Moscow with his family, and so were Max and Katya, and everyone from the team was gone. It was a good time to be pregnant. Zhenya made Sid drag a lounge chair into the back yard, and he spent a lot of time basking in the sun like a fat, immobile lizard, idly stroking his belly and thinking about the sex he was too lazy to go inside and solicit.

He had dinner with the Birmans a couple of times. Both of their children were adopted, and so they had absolutely no advice for him about clutching, which was a nice change of pace. He took walks through the woods behind the house, and sometimes made Sid go with him, to keep him company. They went to a few baseball games, which Sid loved and Zhenya tolerated. But mostly they stayed home, and Sid nested, and Zhenya grew inexorably bigger.

By the start of week four, he had given up on trying to wear Sid’s shirts and permitted Sid to buy him some special clutching clothes online. They were giant and shapeless, but he didn’t need to look hot now, not when all he had to do to get Sid’s attention was raise the hem of his shirt a little.

Sid had to go to New York for a few days to film a commercial, and when he got home, he went to his knees in the front hall and kissed and stroked Zhenya’s sensitive belly until Zhenya was hard and tugging at Sid’s hair. The stretched skin of his stomach was tender to the touch, and every movement of Sid’s lips and hands sent a ripple of heat through him.

“I swear to God you’ve gotten bigger in the last two days,” Sid said. He kissed the side of Zhenya’s belly. His hands cupped the heavy curve. “Geno. I swear to God.”

“You like that I’m big,” Zhenya said, not certain that was he was saying was the truth, but pretty sure. “Full of your eggs.”

God.” Sid kissed Zhenya’s belly again. All Zhenya could see of him was the top of his dark head. “I do like it. I really enjoyed, uh. Laying in you.”

“Sid!” Zhenya said, shocked, because Sid was a skilled and enthusiastic lover, but he was really vanilla. Sid’s lips brushed his slit, and Zhenya held his breath and stopped trying to fight it, letting his slit soften the way it wanted to, parting slightly.

“Good,” Sid murmured, and pressed a lush, wet kiss to the bottom of Zhenya’s slit.

No one had ever done this for him: not even Oksana. He trembled there in the hall as Sid licked gently at his slit until it was open and wet and then slid his tongue, Christ, inside, making Zhenya cry out.

Sid pulled back with a final kiss. “My knees are killing me. Let’s go upstairs.”

Upstairs, Sid pushed two fingers into Zhenya’s slit and lapped at him until Zhenya clenched down and shuddered through an orgasm, and then Zhenya bent Sid over a stack of pillows and fucked him slow and deep. His belly was almost too big for this now, but if Sid’s chest was down and his ass was high, they could make it work. Sid’s noises were delicious, and the way he clawed at the sheets when he came on Zhenya’s dick.

Afterward, sleepy and cleaned up, Sid held Zhenya close and rubbed lotion on his belly, and Zhenya felt better than he had since the night of the Cup, when they made a family together. Here was his Sid once more, smiling at him, kissing his jaw, and maybe there didn’t have to be an end to it, this golden intimacy Zhenya treasured. He had felt excluded from Sid’s close private focus on their impending children, but they were Zhenya’s children, too, and he thought now of all the ways Sid had tried to draw him into the circle, asking for his opinion on things, sharing tidbits from his reading, and regretted his own sullenness. It wasn’t Sid’s fault that Zhenya didn’t feel ready. Sid hadn’t forced him. Zhenya had agreed.

“Maybe tomorrow we look at baby names,” he said.

Sid glanced up and smiled. “Yeah? I’ve got some ideas, but. I’d like to know what you think.”

“Tomorrow,” Zhenya said, and gave him a kiss.

Things were better for a couple of days. Zhenya permitted himself to be talked into a trip to the hardware store to look at paint colors for the nursery. Decorating was fine; that was a normal part of clutching. But then Sid wanted to shop for baby clothes, and that was where Zhenya drew the line, because he hadn’t even given birth yet.

“It’s bad luck,” he said, and Sid sighed heavily, like Zhenya was being totally unreasonable, and said, “We have to prepare, you can’t just—babies need stuff, Geno,” and went back to stuffing spinach in the blender, and then added, wholly unnecessarily, “It would be nice to feel like you were on board, here.”

Zhenya was sitting at the table with his feet up on a chair, and he wanted to climb dramatically to his feet, but his body was so heavy that he couldn’t stand up without rocking back and forth several times like his arthritic grandmother. He settled for banging down his coffee mug and saying, “You think I’m not on board? So full of eggs I can’t move, just eat and sit around, lazy, boring, and now you want bad luck in our house? No!”

Sid furiously jammed more spinach into the blender. “I’m tired of doing everything myself! You want me to make all the decisions, I had to ask you three times just to get you to call Max—”

“I look at baby names!” Zhenya protested. He hated when Sid raised his voice. “And we don’t need clothes now, or toys. It’s weird. It’s bad luck if we buy before they born.”

“Yeah, well, you’re not in Russia now, sorry if I don't think your superstitions are the most important consideration here,” Sid said, and Zhenya said a few unkind things, and they were mad at each other for the rest of the day. Zhenya hid in his media room and only skulked out a few times when hunger forced him, and he stayed there through the familiar evening sounds of Sid preparing dinner, until Sid came to the door wiping his hands on his pants and said, “Will you come eat with me?”

The lingering traces of Zhenya’s irritation evaporated. He held out his hands, and Sid came over and let Zhenya lean against him and stroked his hair.

“Sorry,” Zhenya said to Sid’s hip.

“I’m sorry, too,” Sid said. “I’m a little—” He huffed, and pulled back to lift the hem of his shirt. His abdomen was slightly swollen.

Zhenya stared at him, uncomprehending. “You, ah.”

“I’ve been playing with your slit too much,” Sid said. “Just blanks, obviously, but. Guess it’s been making me a little grouchy.”

“You get rid?” Zhenya asked, and then licked his lips and said, “Maybe you lay in me.”

Sid’s eyes looked very dark. “I was hoping you would want to.”

“Now?” Zhenya asked, already thinking about how nice it would be, how good it would feel to be so full. It wouldn’t last—his body would absorb the blanks within a day or two—but he planned to enjoy it while he could.

But Sid said, “No, not yet. I think they need a few more days. They have to—drop, I guess. I don’t know.”

“You don’t do before,” Zhenya said.

Sid shook his head. “No. Uh, that was my first time. With you.”

“Virgin, so cute,” Zhenya cooed, and Sid said, “Just for that, I’m making you get up on your own,” but in the end he did help Zhenya off the couch.

Sid was eggy for a couple of days, to Zhenya’s amusement: short-tempered but also fussing over Zhenya the way he had all throughout the playoffs, bringing Zhenya endless snacks, more than even Zhenya’s voracious appetite could handle, and touching Zhenya’s belly at every opportunity, trying to get his hands on Zhenya’s slit. Zhenya was happy to let him. He liked being spoiled.

“Rub my feet,” he told Sid while they were watching TV in the evening, and Sid did, with no complaining, even though feet grossed him out. Zhenya watched his face in the flickering light from the screen and couldn’t find any regret within him. Despite all of his uncertainty, his fears about the future, he was glad to be here with Sid, doing this terrifying and miraculous thing together.

“Aw, hey,” Sid said, as Zhenya sniffled up and reached up to wipe at his eyes. “I thought the crying part was over now.”

“It’s just sad movie,” Zhenya said.

“It’s The Big Bang Theory,” Sid said, and Zhenya sniffled again and refused to dignify that with a response.

Zhenya had begun taking a nap every afternoon, curled up in a mound of pillows to support his gravid belly. Toward the end of that week, the fourth week, he woke from a nap to find Sid beside him in the bed, fast asleep, his mouth hanging open, and Zhenya’s whole body filled with love, weighty and gentle around the edges. Everything would change, but Sid would be with him, changing with him.

He shifted in as close as he could get with his belly in the way, and pressed soft kisses to Sid’s face until Sid grunted and opened his eyes.

Sid smiled at him and reached up to touch Zhenya’s cheek. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Zhenya said. He kissed Sid’s mouth. They both had nap breath. Zhenya felt sluggish and warm, the way he always did these days, a kind of endless underlying glow that could turn into arousal at any moment. He took Sid’s hand and brought it to the curve of his belly, shivering as Sid reached beneath his shirt to stroke the sensitive underside.

“Look at you,” Sid murmured. Zhenya lifted his chin, inviting, and Sid kissed along his neck and behind his ear. “I’ll miss you like this. You’re so easy for me.”

“Rude,” Zhenya said. He pushed his belly into Sid’s hand, and Sid rolled onto his side to get his other hand on Zhenya, too, caressing him in broad, tingling strokes. Zhenya sighed happily and sank back into his nest. A nap followed by an orgasm was the best way to spend an afternoon.

“Hey, uh,” Sid said, sounding a little strained, “I think—my eggs might be ready. So, if you want to—”

“You lay in me?” Zhenya said, maybe too eagerly, but Sid already knew he wanted it. Sid’s face was red. Zhenya reached between Sid’s legs. His ovipositor wasn’t out yet, but there was a telltale bulge behind his testicles. “Yes, you ready.”

“God.” Sid laughed shakily. “Are you—” He drew his fingers across Zhenya’s slit, still tightly furled.

“It’s easy,” Zhenya said. “Touch me, I’m ready soon,” and Sid groaned and stroked him and kissed his neck and Zhenya was ready in no time at all.

He sat up against the pillows, leaning back with his legs spread, making room for Sid to kneel between his thighs. Sid was flushed and breathing hard. His ovipositor had slid out fully, short and fat and dripping at the tip, pushing his erection to one side.

“You’re sure it won’t—hurt the babies?” Sid asked.

“Yes, it’s fine,” Zhenya said, smiling at him, running his hands over Sid’s broad shoulders, “they safe, I promise.”

Zhenya’s belly made the positioning a little awkward—they couldn’t press their bodies together to get the close fit they really needed. But they made it work. Sid shuffled in, frowned, tugged Zhenya slightly downward on the bed, and then his ovipositor dragged against Zhenya’s slit and Zhenya arched into it and held himself open and Sid pushed inside.

His memories of their mating night were a warm, joyous blur. He had been too doped up on hormones and adrenaline to take note of any of the details. He remembered holding Sid and listening to him cry out, the sensation of his body slowly filling with Sid’s eggs, but past that nothing stood out.

He had done this with Oksana, though, and knew how it went. But Sid had that one night and nothing more, and Zhenya delighted in the expression on his face as he sunk inside, his eyes wide, and the way he ran his hands carefully over Zhenya's belly and said, “Oh my God.”

“Yes, it’s good,” Zhenya said fondly. He was enjoying it, but the best part for him wouldn’t start until Sid began to lay. He shifted down a little further and stroked the sides of his own belly. “It’s good for you like this?”

“Yeah,” Sid said, and then, “Actually, maybe if I,” and he leaned forward to brace his hands against the wall above the headboard.

That worked great. Sid had the leverage to move his hips, and he could stay up on his knees to avoid crushing Zhenya’s belly. Zhenya nestled in his pillows and smiled up at Sid, who was smiling down at him with the same soft earnest look he had whenever he told Zhenya that he loved him.

“Yes, I love you very much,” Zhenya said, “now do it,” and Sid laughed and started to move.

Laying wasn’t fucking, but a little bit of friction helped the eggs to move along. Sid rocked against Zhenya in shallow thrusts, and soon Zhenya felt the first egg moving down Sid’s shaft. They both groaned as the egg slid out into his body, pushed in deep by Sid’s inner muscles.

“God,” Sid said, and laughed breathlessly. “That’s good for you? Feels okay?”

“It’s so good,” Zhenya said, pretty breathless himself. Sid’s ovipositor dragging in and out of his sensitive slit, Sid’s cock rubbing alongside it, another egg coming down the shaft and pushing into him—everything felt good. Zhenya reached down to press his dick against his belly and rub it there, good and warm and contented, safe in bed with Sid, listening to him groan.

Sid came after three eggs, a warm splash of come against Zhenya’s skin. His hips stuttered for a moment and then smoothed out into the same slow rhythm, pumping Zhenya full of blanks. There were so many. Zhenya stopped counting after the sixth and just enjoyed it, the feeling of his belly swelling even further, his slit throbbing with deep, rolling orgasms that left him gasping and shaking on the bed.

“Oh, Geno,” Sid gasped out, his head hanging down, his arms trembling, “G, Geno—”

“Please,” Zhenya moaned, gripping his ass, dragging him in, and Sid shuddered and gave him another egg.

When Sid stilled at last, empty, they were both sweating and panting. Sid pulled out carefully, holding his shaft at the base, and Zhenya watched as it shrank and shriveled. Sid reached down to tuck it back inside his body. Zhenya’s slit was still open and wet, and he idly pushed a couple of fingers inside, feeling how loose he was, and a little sore from Sid’s laying.

“Christ,” Sid said. He lay down between Zhenya’s legs, his head cradled on Zhenya’s thigh, arms looped around Zhenya’s hips. He kissed Zhenya’s belly, and craned his neck to kiss Zhenya’s soft dick. “Why don’t more people do this?”

Zhenya laughed. He petted Sid’s hair, damp with sweat along his forehead. “I think lots of people do, they just don’t talk about.”

“Mm,” Sid said. He lifted one hand to stroke blindly across the curve of Zhenya’s belly, almost painfully sensitive now from being stretched to take in the additional eggs. “You’re so big.”

“It’s go away soon, blanks don’t last,” Zhenya said.

“You’re done growing now, mostly,” Sid said.

“Yes, thank God,” Zhenya said. “Or else maybe I wake up one morning, can’t get out of bed.”

“I’d help you,” Sid said. “I’d roll you out of bed every morning. Like a beached whale.”

“Yes, very funny,” Zhenya said, and smiled as Sid kissed his belly again.

Sid was right: he was mostly done growing. The final two weeks were for development, the embryos working on gills and little webbed hands. Zhenya finally returned to eating what he considered a reasonable human amount of food. They painted the nursery and installed the pool they had inherited from Flower and Vero. They found families for all of their babies. Sid bought some baby clothes that he kept in a spare bedroom and Zhenya pretended not to know about.

Zhenya took a lot of naps. Everything was peaceful. Zhenya would be a father soon, and maybe he wasn’t ready, but who was? Was anyone ever ready to become a parent? Sid would help him when he stumbled, and they would do their best, the two of them together. They would make a family.

With one week to go, he woke from his afternoon nap and went to find Sid. He wasn’t in any of his usual places: not the kitchen or the workout room in the basement, not the den or the room Sid had claimed as his “office,” which was currently full of unopened boxes of hockey paraphernalia Sid had moved over from his place.

“Sid?” Zhenya called, standing in the kitchen, disoriented, a little concerned. Sid would have left a note on the kitchen whiteboard if he had gone out, but there wasn’t a note.

He found Sid upstairs in the nursery, sitting in the armchair they had positioned beside the pool, so they could sit with the babies. Sid had a book open on his lap, but he was gazing out the window, his face blank, watching the trees shiver in the warm summer air.

“Sid,” Zhenya said from the doorway. “Here you are.”

Sid turned toward him and smiled. “Hi. I didn’t hear you get up.”

Their bedroom was at the end of the hall; Zhenya had walked past the nursery on his way downstairs. Sid was lying to him. Zhenya narrowed his eyes. “You okay?”

“Of course,” Sid said, and then he glanced down at the book in his lap and said, “Do you think we’re gonna do a good job?”

Zhenya came into the room and laboriously lowered himself to sit on the floor at Sid’s feet. He pulled the book from Sid’s lap to inspect the cover. It was one of the eight million parenting books Sid had been reading. Zhenya hadn’t read a single one. He and Sid had both been raised well; they would do what their own parents had done, and ask for advice if they needed it.

“I think we do pretty good,” he said. “Sometimes we mess up. But we try hard, and we love our kids.”

Sid looked out the window again. “I don’t know if I’m ready.”

Zhenya blinked, trying to take that in. “But—you say you don’t worry.”

“Well, I was lying, I guess,” Sid said. He glanced down at Zhenya and smiled ruefully. “I was trying not to worry. But—how can I not?”

Zhenya hadn’t known he needed to be frightened by this, but now that the possibility was before him, he was terrified, his heart pounding with adrenaline. His vague imaginings of the future had begun to crystallize: a daughter and a son, each with a shortlist of three potential names, and the tiny clothes he had maybe examined while Sid was out of the house. He wanted that, even when it was frightening, even if he wasn’t ready.

He took a careful breath. “Okay. You not ready. But it’s like, you worry? Or like, you don’t want to be family, don’t want to keep babies.”

“Shit,” Sid said. He slid out of the chair to join Zhenya on the floor, his face creased with concern. “Geno, no.” He took Zhenya’s hand and brought it to his mouth, his lips pressed against Zhenya’s knuckles. “Of course I want to—to be a family.”

“Okay,” Zhenya said. He inhaled and let it out, shakily. “Sid. It’s okay if you scared. We scared together, figure out together.”

“Sorry I’m a mess,” Sid said. He sat back, leaning against the base of the chair with his legs stretched out before him, and stroked his hand over the high curve of Zhenya’s belly. “You’ve been so calm about the whole thing, and—I don’t know what my problem is. I’ll get over it.”

“Me?” Zhenya said. Calm? Him? “I’m huge mess. Biggest. I cry for a week!”

“That was hormones,” Sid said. His hand moved in a slow sweep, sliding down toward Zhenya’s lap.

“No, it’s not just hormones,” Zhenya said. “I worry—so many stupid things, maybe I regret, maybe you regret, you get sick of me, wish you had pick someone else—”

“You’re the only person I can imagine doing this with,” Sid said, and then, “Hey, come on, I didn’t—what did I say?”

“It’s hormones,” Zhenya said, and buried his face in Sid’s shoulder to hide his tears.

Later, after Sid had helped Zhenya clamber off the floor, and they had mutually decided to order pizza for dinner just this once, they sat on the couch with Zhenya’s feet in Sid’s lap and passed Sid’s tablet back and forth, playing the word scramble game they were using to work on Sid’s Russian vocabulary. Sid was intent on it for a while, and then he lowered the tablet and said, “I want you to know that I’m scared, but I’m excited, too. I’m really happy to be doing this with you.”

Zhenya wiggled his feet in Sid’s lap and smiled. “I’m happy, too.”

“I can’t wait to meet our children,” Sid said, his expression gently, quietly pleased, and Zhenya knew Sid had been thinking about them, too: a boy and a girl, the sleepless nights, the diapers, teaching them to skate, loving them, consoling them, and all of it together, Zhenya and Sid together, as a family.

“One more week,” Zhenya said, and he managed not to cry that time, but it was a pretty close call.