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At the Mirk and Midnight Hour

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The first thing Evgeni does when he gets to Pittsburgh is text Sid, because Sid’s been fussing like the mother hen he is about all his chickens coming back to the henhouse. Half of the group chat is the guys teasing him for it, but Evgeni thinks its charming. He might not be unbiased, because he finds most things Sid does charming, but the way Sid loves his team is maybe the best of him. And no one can blame Sid for his eagerness, after so long.

The second thing he does is put out some milk by the back door. He’s been away from Pittsburgh for far longer than usual, with the lockout, but the same service that cleans and airs out his house has stocked his refrigerator, and there’s some whole milk there. He pours it into the same bowl he always uses, has used since he first got this house, and sets it by his door.

He doesn’t watch it, of course. He’s seen the brownies taking the milk, more than he's seen domovoi in Russia, but you can’t look for them. Even a child knows that. The Faerie are best seen out of the corner of your eyes.

Instead, he goes to take a shower. He has to stay up to beat the jetl ag, but he knows from experience he’ll feel less like he’s been traveling for weeks if he’s clean.  He’s just getting around to thinking about ordering food when there’s a knock on his door. Evgeni doesn’t bother looking at his phone to know who it is, though he knows there’s a text there. No good Canadian boy shows up unannounced.

“Hi!” Zhenya says, as he opens the door. “Take you so long, Sid. Think you not coming.”

On the other side of the door, Sid doesn’t even bother to look abashed. Instead, he grins at Zhenya, and holds up the shopping bags he’s got in both his hands.

“I needed to pick up supplies,” he explains, and shoves past Zhenya to get into the house.

Zhenya grins at his back. He’d missed Sid, and he’d known he’d missed Sid, but that doesn’t mean that something doesn’t settle in him seeing Sid in front of him. It won’t really settle until they’re on the ice together, but it’s better. Sid’s here. It’s been too long.

“I get food,” Zhenya objects, and follows Sid into the kitchen. “Not helpless.”

Sid’s already opened the refrigerator door, and is examining the contents of it with a lot of scorn for someone who’s still basically living with Mario. Zhenya knows he’s still smiling stupidly at Sid’s back, but—well, he’s stupid a lot, with Sid. With Sid and the way his shirts stretch across his back and how his jeans are holding onto his ass for dear life and the way he’s tilted his head, looking into the refrigerator. And it’s been months, he thinks he’s allowed.

“I’m going to make some pasta,” Sid decides, edging on his captain voice. Zhenya snorts. Sid is many things, but creative isn’t one of them. Still, he did spend a lot of time with his concussion learning how to cook, so Zhenya trusts him to make it taste decent.

Zhenya leans against the counter, and watches as Sid starts to take things out of the fridge. “Sid.”

Sid hums in acknowledgement, but he’s not diverted.

“Yes, Geno. Hi! Is very nice to see you too. How your flight?” Zhenya parrots, in his best Canadian accent. He switches back to his voice. “Flight fine, thank you Sid. Love Russia, but good to be back too.”

Sid’s pulled his hand down, and he turns around sheepishly. Zhenya doesn’t care, really; he’s spent seven years with the guy. And even if he hadn’t, well, Sid’s ability to focus is legendary—and that focus leads easily into fixation, Zhenya’s come to learn. It’s just part of the maddening, delightful, complicated person that is Sidney Crosby. But he still puts on a sad face, because messing with Sid is also his favorite pastime, and for the past year and a half Sid’s been too miserable for it to really be fun.

“Sorry,” Sid says, pushing at his hair. “Hi. It really is nice to see you.”

“I know,” Zhenya agrees. Now that Sid’s settled, and is facing him, he can really see Sid. Zhenya’s been looking at Sid for almost a decade now, and it never gets old; he’s watched him grow from a baby-cheeked boy into this man, solid and strong, like he’s been chiseled from stone. His hair’s longer now, curling carelessly over his forehead; he’s bulked up with the frustration of the lockout; his eyes are the same clear hazel as they’ve always been, a color that’s somehow sunlight and tree bark all at once. He is, always, the most handsome man Zhenya’s ever seen, even if maybe that’s not true if you added by the pieces.

He also looks off, somehow. Zhenya frowns. “You okay?” he demands.

“What? Yeah.” Sid shoves at his hair again. “I’m tired,” he explains. And it does look like that—the exhausted circles under Sid’s eyes. But after the past year…

“Tired? Not—concussion?”

“No!” Sid yelps, and Zhenya would laugh at Sid’s horror if he could ever laugh at anything about a concussion ever again. “No, that’s fine, I promise. I’m skating tomorrow.”

“Good. Miss you on ice.”

“Missed you everywhere,” Sid says, heartbreakingly honest like he can be when he gets into the mood, and Zhenya really doesn’t have any choice but to hug him then. Sid’s solid in his arms, against his chest, and he somehow smells like the ice, like he always has. Sid’s hugging him back too, tighter than he usually does, almost clinging. Maybe it’s how long it’s been since they’ve seen each other, or maybe it’s the unspoken desperation Sid’s had for too long to get onto the ice. It doesn’t really matter. Zhenya’s happy just to be here, with Sid.

Finally, he has to let go before he lets himself think things he doesn’t want to think. He steps back. Sid’s still watching him, and there’s something in his eyes—Zhenya doesn’t know what it is. It’s almost like how he’d looked at the ice during the worst of his concussion. “Hungry, Sid,” Zhenya whines, and Sid laughs and goes back to the fridge.

“What would you do if I wasn’t here to feed you?” Sid jokes.

“Starve,” Zhenya replies promptly. He is, actually, a decent cook, but the longer no one realizes that the less work he has to do. “Need best captain, come over and make me food.”

Zhenya doesn’t have to see Sid’s face to know he smiles at that. “Were you making food for all your players, then?”

“Only for favorites. I your favorite, so is good.” Zhenya doesn’t wait to hear Sid’s response, because he knows it’d be a chirp about Flower or one of the other Quebecois and he doesn’t want to hear it. “You not make anyone else food.”

“No one else needs me to,” Sid retorts. Out of the corner of Zhenya’s eyes, he can see movement near the back door. The brownies have come out, then. That’s good. He’s missed them, and didn’t want them to think that just because he’d been gone so long they weren’t welcome. It didn’t do to offend the faerie, his grandmother had always said, and he’d always assumed that applied to the greater and lesser faeries alike. Obviously you didn’t offend the Fae, but brownies could be mean when angered.

“And you want spend time with me, I know, Sid. Is okay. Don’t have to pretend.”

Sid laughs, and Zhenya has to laugh too. “Sure, okay,” Sid agrees, and throws a tomato over his shoulder at Zhenya. It is, of course, unerringly accurate. Zhenya catches it. “Now get to work.”

“Always captain,” Zhenya mourns, as he goes to get a cutting board. “Always make me do work.”

“Yeah, your life is tough, I know,” Sid snaps a towel at him as he goes, and Zhenya shoves him back. Everything settles into place.

///

Practice the next day is amazing. Geno’s jetlagged to hell despite Sid forcing him to stay up until a reasonable hour, but they’re all thankful to be back and back on the ice. Or maybe that’s just Sid, because when Sid’s alight like this, he drags the team with him. There’s no way not to love just being on the ice when Sid’s so clearly, incandescently happy to be there at last.

Not to mention Geno’s pretty damn happy to be back too. He’s glad he got to play in the KHL again, to shut those doors and finish that circle and all of that, and being home for more than a summer was wonderful, and being a captain was an experience in his own right that both makes him admire Sid more for carrying that weight and also make him want to shoulder more of his own responsibilities as an A—but this is what he ran away to do. He came here to play NHL hockey, to play with the Pens and with Sidney Crosby, and being able to do that is a joy of its own.

Geno’s in love with hockey most of the time, and in love with Sidney all of the time, and it’s times like these that make him remember why.

A few of the guys, including Sid, stay after to work on some stuff, but Geno’s exhausted and he’s ready to go home and take a nap. Practice is still going on when he’s done, and just for fun, he wanders over to the stands to watch practice. Sid and some of the younger guys are out there taking shots against Flower, and Flower’s clearly giving them a lot of shit about it, from the way they’re circling. Geno leans against a seat, watches.

He thinks that even if he didn’t know Sid’s number—even if Sid was dressed in different colors, different everything—he’d still be able to know where Sid is. Sid skates like no one he’s seen, and he always has. It’s been too long since Geno’s seen it.

Geno heads down towards the ice, maybe to go heckle or bug them until they give in and go home. He’s most of the way down when he realizes there’s already someone there, watching the practice.

It’s a woman. Or no. She is a woman in the same way an ice sculpture is a woman—that is the form it is currently holding, but that’s not what it is. She isn’t beautiful, either, except for how she’s more and less than that both. On the one hand, she is tall and thin, blonde, with sharp features and light eyes; on the other she has eyes like ice and hair like the harsh sun on a winter morning and her skin is snow and her body is slim like a young tree stripped of leaves. She’s is terrible and wonderful and she is watching Geno’s team with the sort of focus Geno’s only ever seen from Sid.

“Hello,” Evgeni says, cautious. Be polite, his grandmother had once warned, though he doesn’t know how she knew. No one knows much about the Fae. But politeness seems right. “Welcome to rink.”

She turns her head. Tilts it to look at him. She isn’t taller than him, but she doesn’t look up to see him either. “Your welcome is well said,” she says. Her English is luting, somehow accented in a way Evgeni can’t quite identify. “I accept it.”

Evgeni’s not quite sure what to say to that. “Like hockey?” he says, because that’s always a good opener.

She makes a sound that might be a laugh. “It is a worthy game,” she says, “Blood and metal and strife and glory. A game fit for those who would make their name.”

Evgeni nods. He thinks he agrees.

On the ice, Sid gets a shot past Flower. Flower must say something, because Sid laughs and retorts. Geno doesn’t have to hear the words to know the cadence of it.

The Fae’s watching them again. Evgeni doesn’t think it’s Flower she’s looking at. “Why you watching Sidney?” he asks. He will never be able to out-subtle a faerie, but the Fae don’t lie, everyone knows that.

“Sidney,” she says, and it sounds like she’s trying out the name. “Why do you watch him?”

“Because—he my friend,” Evgeni says, like that’s enough. Like those words can encompass everything Sid is to him. “My captain.”

She makes a thoughtful noise. “You have three names,” she says, and Evgeni takes a moment to make sure he’s translating right, but no, that’s definitely what she said. “Seven would be better, but three is good. Three is lucky.” She reaches out, puts a hand on his chest, over his heart. “Take that luck. He will need that luck.”

Evegni is frozen under her hand. It feels like any other touch. It feels like a brand. “Who need it?”

“Three names, and heart enough to hold them all.” She presses her hand in once, then lets him go. “The heart is enough. Heart can bind even the greatest of us.”

“What? Not make—”

“You welcomed me, and so I give you luck in return.” She bows, formal. “Good luck, Evgeni Malkin. To you and your captain.”

There’s a bang, and Evgeni looks away, towards the sound—Flower messing with his goal—then back. She’s gone.

He turns to the rink again. Flower’s fixing his goal, but Sid is staring at him, at where the Fae had been. His skin is snow as he stares, and his eyes are the inside of a tree.

///

There are stories of changelings. Zhenya’s grandmother told them, late at night when he and the other children wanted to be scared. A changeling was always evil, some of the stories went; something so vile that the Fae refused to keep it. Those changelings were dangerous, because what was too evil for the faerie was too evil for the humans too. Or maybe a changeling was simply ugly, though ugly to the Fae was still beautiful beyond compare. Or maybe a changeling was there because the Fae wanted the human child, and they could not take without giving in return, so they left one of their own. Those stories, Zhenya had always thought, were the saddest; a child given away not through any fault of their own, but because their parents wanted something more.

When he’d told his grandmother that, she’d shrugged. “Changelings are just stories,” she’d told him. “The Fae don’t let go of their own.”

///

Geno waits by the door for Sid to come out, grabs him as he does. Sid jumps far more than he should have, yanks his arm away like he’s been burned. It’s only once he sees who it is that he relaxes. “Geno! I thought you’d gone home.”

Geno shakes his head. “Sid.” He looks at his friend. He still looks the same. He still looks like the man Geno’s been in love with since he was barely more than a boy. “Why is a Fae watching you?”

“You met a Fae?” Sid replies, but Geno knows his tricks. The way he manages not to answer a question, without lying.

Geno shoves that thought aside. Sid is Sid—humble, practical, hard-working, obsessive, fussy, brilliant Sid. Geno knows him more than he knows anyone. Sid is the Pens, and Pittsburgh, and getting off a plane not knowing where he was and finding him smiling at Evgeni like he was Geno already, like he knew what they were going to be. Sid was winning the cup and how they’d held it together. Sid is the pang in Zhenya’s heart as he tips back his head and laughs at one of Flower’s jokes, the way Zhenya’s stomach flips when he cuddles one of Duper’s children close. Geno knows what Sid is.

“I’m meet,” Geno agrees. “Sid—she talk about you.” And Sid was tired, and tenser than he should have been when hockey was back on the table but before playoffs, and—“Sid. What wrong?”

Sid shakes his head, his lips pressed together. “I’m dealing with it. It’s fine.”

“If Fae involved—”

“It’s fine, Geno,” Sid snaps, then immediately swallows that down, looks contrite. “Sorry. I’m dealing with it, I promise. It’ll be fine.”

Geno knows what Sid looks like looking down the barrel of a gun—or, more to the point, an indefinite time without hockey. Things are not fine.

“You know you can tell me? Yes?” Geno puts a hand on Sid’s shoulder. It feels like marble. “Thought you learn better, can’t do alone.”

“Mario’s helping,” Sid admits. That’s something. It’s still not a teammate.

“Flower? Tanger? Duper?” Geno asks. It would hurt, if Sid confided in them instead of him, but he would rather that than Sid deal with whatever the hell is happening along. “If team thing, I A—”

“It’s not a team thing,” Sid replies, and he sounds tired again. He rubs at his temples. Geno wants to push his hair out of his face, to kiss his forehead and hold him close until he remembers that he can set aside the weight for a while, with some people. “It’s personal. And I can’t bother the guys with it. They’ve got things—got people.”

“They have you,” Geno replies, and Sidney shakes his head again.

“Thanks for the offer, G,” he says. “But I don’t want to get you involved.”

Zhenya thinks of the hand on his heart. Thinks of Sid’s white face. The time for that, he thinks, passed almost a decade ago.

////

Things continue. They’re back on the ice, and it’s amazing—Zhenya loves the KHL, but there’s nothing quite like the Pens. He still can’t look away from Sid when Sid’s in the room, but that’s normal. Sid continues to look tired, and nervous in a different way than he had for the long months of his concussion. It’s not that long, painful slog of endurance, that edged into hopelessness too often, when Zhenya would come to visit and Sid would be in bed, unable to conceive of ever getting back to hockey. This is something more sudden and more desperate, like when they’re down at the end of the final game of the Stanley Cup series.

It’s enough that Flower stops him in the locker room, one day after practice as they’re all finishing getting changed. Sid’s still on the ice, hitting pucks mechanically into the goal like Geno imagines he once shot pucks into a dryer. “Do you know what’s wrong with him?” Flower asks. Behind him, Tanger and Duper are lingering, not at all subtle.

Geno shakes his head. He won’t tell Sid’s secret, though he’d hoped that Sid had told one of them since he last managed to pin Sid down. “Won’t tell me.”

Flower swears quietly in French. “It’s more than just him being weird though,” he says, and it’s not a question. Geno nods anyway. He thinks again of the woman who wasn’t a woman. He thinks he might have caught sight of her, or maybe someone who looked like here—or something—sometime in the last week, watching the rink with that same preternatural focus, but he can’t be sure.

“Think…trouble.”

“Sid? Our Sid?” Flower snorts. “What, gambling? He would. Wouldn’t be able to leave the table until he won.”

Geno echoes his snort, because the idea of Sid getting into trouble in the same way another rookie might is pretty laughable. But he wishes that were the problem. Sid getting some girl pregnant—owing money to the mob—even a drug or alcohol problem—those, he would know how to help with. Not this nebulous feeling, and the weight of a hand on his heart.

“Think…worse,” he replies, meaningful. “Worst.” He sees the moment Flower gets it, because his eyes widen.

“Shit, really? Sid? But the faerie love him! They’re always around so much more when he’s there.”

Geno shrugs. He only knows what he knows.

Flower swears again, more harshly. Tanger and Duper are starting to circle, drift in closer. Maybe they should call in Kuni, too. Make a full conference of Sid’s inner circle. Mario can come as well. They can phone in Army.

“Do you know why?”

“Not even sure is true,” Geno admits. “He didn’t say. But—that my guess.”

Flower turns to Tanger and Duper, who have finally decided to stop hovering and just get in on the conversation. He says something to them in fast, intense French, probably getting them up to speed.

“Leave him alone for one minute,” Duper mutters, when Flower must be done. He turns to Geno, glares like it’s his fault. It’s a glare he’s used on his kids. It’s not as effective on Geno, but it still makes him hold up his hands.

“I’m say everything I know!”

“I—” Duper cuts off, and Geno doesn’t have to ask to know why. He always knows when Sid’s come into the room.

Sid stalks over to his stall, but he’s looking askance at their circle. “Plotting?” he asks, as he sits down to take his skates off.

“Definitely,” Flower agrees, and smiles like it’s a lie. “Watch your back, mon chum.”

“Always, when you’re there,” Sid retorts. He’s got his skates off, and he starts stripping everything else off. Geno’s seen him do exactly that countless times, but his attention’s still helplessly caught—Sid’s hair is sweaty and curling with it against his skin, his muscles are outlined clear against his underarmor. Everything about him is warm and alive, and Zhenya wants to—he wants to kiss the skin at the back of his neck above his collar; he wants to touch all the skin slowly revealed as Sid strips off his underarmor, he wants to soothe the lines from his face and wrap him in his arms and promise everything’s going to be okay, even though Sid’s never needed or wanted anyone to take care of him.

“Earth to Geno,” Tanger says, with a hard elbow to Geno’s side, and Geno starts.

“Yes?” he says, like he was definitely paying attention.

He’s not fooling anyway. All three of them are not pretending they aren’t laughing at him.

“If you can look away for a moment,” Tanger grins, thankfully keeping his voice low enough that Sid, who’s paused with just his pants on to stare at his phone, won’t hear. “We’re planning our offense.”

“Offense,” Geno echoes.

Duper nods. “We’ll get it out of him. He can’t resist the kids.”

The Fae have a soft spot for children, Evgeni remembers, and pushes it away. “Tell me?”

“Yeah, we’ll share information,” Flower agrees. Sid’s set down his phone, and he’s eying them again. Flower punches Geno’s shoulder. “Lunch?”

Geno glances at Sid. “I wait,” he says, and gets three matching smirks. Geno glares back at all of them, and silently and fervently promises to check them all extra hard next practice.

Sid wanders over when they’ve left. “You not going with them?” he asks. He’s still naked from the waist up, and his tight pants leave nothing to the imagination from the waist down. It’s unfair.

Looking at his face isn’t any easier. “No, not want to hear them…” he forgets the word, so he makes yapping motions with his hand. “In French.”

Sid giggles, and Zhenya grins back, helpless with it. “Come to lunch, then?” Sid proposes. “I promise no French.”

Zhenya narrows his eyes. “You have tape review?”

“Well, yeah,” Sid admits shamelessly. “But I’ll do it in English.”

“English as bad as French,” Zhenya mutters, but it’s not like he knows how to say no to Sid, even if he wanted to. “I go. You shower.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Sid retorts, and wanders away. Zhenya watches him go. At times like these, all those half-formed suspicions Zhenya’s been having seem faraway, ridiculous.

He rubs at his chest. He hopes they stay that way.

At lunch, Sid is twitchy, and he watches the crowd like he might watch an opposing team at a faceoff, like he’s waiting for the moment he’s called to move. Zhenya decides not to call him out on it.

Instead, he distracts Sid with talk of their defense, and how the rookies are getting along. Sid will talk about that for hours, once he’s started; Zhenya can just sit back and eat his sandwich and watch.

Sid is midway through demonstrating a new play with assorted salt shakers and balled up straw wrappers when there’s a sound near them, and he goes tense all at once, his eyes shadowed.

Zhenya looks over—it’s a kid and his dad, barely into his teens.

“Sorry,” the kid says. “I don’t want to interrupt, but—” he looks to his dad for encouragement, who nods. “I’m a big fan, and I wanted—can you sign this?” he asks, and shoves his hat at Sid.

Sid’s relaxed now, and he nods, smiles his fan smile. “Of course,” he says, and pulls out the sharpie that lives in his pocket. “What’s your name?”

“David,” the kid says. “And, like. I’m just really glad you’re back, and you’re feeling better. We missed seeing you out there.”

Sid smiles again, a little looser. “I missed being out there,” he says, low like it’s a confession. “Do you want Geno to sign it too?”

“Yeah!” David bounces on the balls of his feet. “Yeah, definitely, sorry. I’m a big fan of yours too,” he tells Evgeni, who laughs and takes the cap and sharpie Sid’s handed to him.

“I see where I am,” he jokes, signing the hat too.

David’s red now. “No, I just—he’s been—”

“G’s messing with you,” Sid tells him. “He’s mean like that.”

“Not mean. Nicest.” Evgeni gives Sid his best innocent smile.

“Nicest, eh?” Sid retorts, and his face is sugar-sweet as he kicks Evgeni under the table. Geno is a hockey player and used to pain, and thus does not react other than to kick Sid back.

“Thanks!” David chirps, and his dad nods, and then they’re gone.

Sid watches them go. Zhenya watches Sid watch them. There’s something wistful in it, something that isn’t the usual wistful way he looks at kids.

“Okay?” Zhenya asks.

Sid nods. He looks back at the table. “Yeah.” He swallows. “It can all just end so fast, you know?”

Zhenya straightens. “Sid. You hurt?” he has to ask. “Concussion back? You know not play injured, not be stupid—”

“No, I told you, I’m fine,” Sid snaps back. “I’m not—don’t worry.”

They’d been having a nice lunch. Zhenya is stubborn, but he’s smart too, and patient when he wants to be. “Okay,” he says, placating. “Tell me about power play.”

///

At practice the next day, he catches Flower’s eye, shakes his head. Flower shakes his back—so he got nothing either.

Sid comes in just on time, still talking to Mario until the door of the locker room. Neither of them look happy, and Mario barely nods to the rest of the team before he leaves, which is unusual. Sid, on the other hand, is intensely social, laughing too hard and pushing too hard, like he does when he’s on the edge of an injury. Like he had that time between concussions, except that had been a joy, and this is—it hurts to look at Sid, somehow. Like it hurts to look into a fire too long. Like when Sid had held the cup, and it had been—too much. Zhenya had thought that was just because of how much Sid always made him feel, but…

He matches Sid, like he always does, always will; the rest of the team does too. It’s exhausting, it’s exhilarating. When Sid’s in the right place…Skating is always electric, and Geno loves hockey and loves to skate, but Sid’s unbridled drive turns everything up to eleven.

Geno banks around the rink, and that’s when he sees him. A man, though even from this distance Geno can tell he’s not a man. Watching, like the woman Fae had watched. Geno doesn’t have to move closer, to know that he’s staring at Sid and only Sid.

Evgeni glares, and gets closer. He catches Tanger’s eye, and Tanger nods, grabs Duper. They all draw in, though the Quebecois can’t know why. But after this long, its second nature, like it was when Sid was still smaller than half the guys on the ice and targeted for every penalty under the sun.

The Fae is still there when practice is done. Sid stays after, like he has even more since they got back, but Evgeni gets changed quickly, and goes to the stands.

“What you want?” Evgeni demands. He’s done with politeness, and reckless with it.

“He has such potential,” the Fae says. He is built solid as a tree trunk and his hair is like the edges of a bonfire, and he doesn’t look away from the ice. Evgeni’s not even entirely sure the Fae is talking to him. “To have cast such a glamour so young, and all alone. Such a waste, staying here with your cold iron and petty wars. He will throw the Courts into disarray.” He says it with a malicious sort of glee.

“Not waste,” Evgeni protests. Whatever Sid is—whatever else he is—him on the ice will never be a waste.

“No?” The Fae turns to face Evgeni. His eyes are dark like a night sky, like the space between the stars on a summer night. Evgeni grits his teeth and glares back. “What do you think he is? Do you think he is human? He is ours.”

The last word hisses out, and it hits Evgeni like a puck to the chest.

But Geno’s been hit by pucks since he was a child, and the Fae’s eyes are glittering a challenge, and Sid is out there on the ice with Flower and Tanger and his rookies. And Geno thinks of coming from Russia with nothing at all and seeing Sid’s hapless smile, and long nights on the ice together with no language between them but laughter and hockey, and raising the Stanley Cup and grinning at Sid with tears in both of their eyes, and standing on the ice with a K on his chest and all the others with their Cs, and long nights sitting on the couch watching their team’s game as much as they could before Sid burrowed into the cushions with his eyes closed, his head splitting open but trying to listen a little more, and the locker room filled with the guys chirping each other and Sid beaming at all of them like there’s no place he’d rather be. Thinks of coming back this winter, and seeing Sid and everything coming into place. Of the moment when the power play is called and they go over the boards and their eyes meet and Geno knows they understand each other better than anything.

“No,” Geno says, and he meets the Fae’s uncanny eyes. “He is ours.”

The Fae smiles like a knife blade. “Is he?”

///

“Sid.” Zhenya’s waiting at his car, because he knows Sid won’t be able to avoid him there. He’s still a little shaky from his encounter with the Fae, if he’s being honest, but shakiness has never deterred him before.

Sid jerks and looks up, panic in his eyes before he settles on Zhenya. Then he relaxes. Have the Fae been harassing him?

“Oh, shit, Geno, you scared me.”

“I’m scare?” Zhenya laughed without humor. “I’m scare, Sid? Fae trying to take you!”

“I’m handling it,” Sid says, and he’s probably trying for even but his face is pale and his eyes are still a little wild and he looks tense like an animal about to spring. “Geno, you don’t have to get involved.”

“No. You won’t distract me.” Not lying, Zhenya fills in. Sid doesn’t lie. Of course he doesn’t. Maybe he can’t. “Tell me what is happening.”

“I can’t.”

“You can.” Zhenya takes a step forward, looming as best he can. He just wants—he wants to hug Sid and never let him go, he wants to brush away the exhaustion, he wants to promise Sid that it’s going to be all right. He wants to know what the first Fae had meant, when she told him he was lucky. “Sid. I’m talk to Fae, okay?”

“Again?” Sid straightens at that, and his gaze focuses a little. “G, you’ve got to stay away from them, it isn’t safe.”

“No. Is not. But I want to know, so I either ask them, or ask you.” Sid glares. Zhenya glares back. Sid might be—whatever he is—but no one’s more stubborn than Evgeni.

Sid knows it, too. Zhenya can see where he gives in, deflating. “Not—not here, okay?” Sid glances around. “They’re around here a lot. We’ve salted Mario’s.”

Zhenya looks to his car, then to Sid’s. “We talk at Mario’s?” he confirms. He wouldn’t put it above Sid to talk himself out of it on the ride over, but he doesn’t want to leave his car here, either.

“Yeah.” Sid nods. He meets Zhenya’s eyes, that color that Zhenya’s always been ready to sink into. “I promise.”

///

Zhenya’s still not sure he trusts Sid out of his sight—partly because Sid can be evasive, but also because who knows what the Fae will do—so he follows Sid back to Mario’s, dealing with Sid’s glacial driving in favor of keeping an eye on him. But they get there without issue, and when Zhenya follows Sid in, no one seems to make a fuss. Instead, Mario gives him a rueful, almost relieved smile when he sees him.

“He told you, then?”

Geno shrugs. “He say he will.”

Mario lets out a long sigh, and that’s definitely relieved. “Good.” He looks—worried. Like he’d looked during the concussion. Like he’d looked the time Stephanie got sick and had to go to the hospital and Sid had dragged Geno with him to go visit them. He turns to Sid, raises an eyebrow.

Sid flushes, like he’s just been yelled at. “I know,” he mutters. “Come on, G.” He beckons Geno into the kitchen. It’s empty; Zhenya doesn’t know where everyone else is but it isn’t here. “Do you want anything?” Sid asks, going to the fridge.

Zhenya actually is pretty hungry, because they just came out of practice, but he knows what Sid stalling looks like. “Sid.”

Sid turns to look at him, and there’s something bleak in that gaze. “You know it wouldn’t—I mean, it’s safe, right? It’s not, like, glamoured.”

Take a Fae’s food, and you’re bound, his grandmother had said. Zhenya rolls his eyes. “Yes, I know, feed me lots, Sid. Just not hungry.”

“Oh. Really?” Sid makes a confused face, but he turns to pull out some leftover pasta and set it on the table. “It’s not trouble, I’m heating some up for myself.”

“Fine, am hungry,” Zhenya admits, because he is. “But not distract, Sid.” He thinks of the man whose smile had been like a wolf hunting. “You promise to tell me what going on.”

“I know. I will.” Sid dishes the pasta onto two plates, then puts one into the microwave. “I just…”

He trails off, staring at the microwave.

“Just what?” Zhenya demands.

Sid sighs. “I just wanted things to be normal. I’d come back, and the lockout would be over, and everything would be like it was,” He tells the microwave. “I was so excited, to be back on the ice, back with you guys. And now this, and—” The microwave beeps. Sid opens it, takes the plate out and puts in the other one. He’s still looking at the microwave when he says, “I don’t want you to look at me differently.”

Zhenya watches the flex and tension of the muscles of Sid’s back, helpless and aching for him. “I’m not.” He doesn’t think he’ll ever look at Sid any differently, and he’s come to a place where he’s not terrified by that.

“I’ve had two years of that. I’m sick of it.”

“I’m not look at you different during concussion,” Zhenya protests.

Sid turns, and he’s smiling—something warm and fond that makes everything in Zhenya feel warm too, but tinged with something like grief. “No,” he agrees. “You didn’t.” He hands Zhenya a plate of pasta, then takes his own and slides onto a stool at the counter.

Zhenya swallows. They’ve sat here so often, over the years, shoveling food into their mouths in companionable silence, talking over games good or bad, laughing at the Lemieux kids or just random YouTube videos Zhenya’s needed to share. He wants to sit here for years more. He wants Sid to smile without that edge of grief. He wants to forget about the faeries and just play hockey.

“What’s happening?” he asks again, and Sid sighs around his mouthful of pasta.

“I’m not entirely sure, to be honest—they haven’t told me everything. I get the feeling they don’t know everything.”

“They? You mean the Fae?”

“Yeah. There’s a bunch of them, around.” Sid stares at his plate, then meets Zhenya’s eyes with that same bleak look. “From what I can tell, I apparently ran away as a toddler, and cast some sort of spell so no one noticed I wasn’t actually born human. Including me. If I would remember? I’m not clear on that.”

Zhenya nods, slowly. He wishes he were surprised, but it’s not like he hasn’t guessed. “Born Fae?” he asks, to confirm.

“Yeah. I guess.” Sid shrugs. then his eyes widen. “It’s not—it has nothing to do with my hockey, the Fae physically aren’t different then us and I didn’t even know I had magic, I wouldn’t—and we’ve played in salted rinks, if I hadn’t—”

“Sid!” Zhenya interrupts him, then when he looks ready to keep protesting, puts a hand on his knee. Sid goes quiet, still wide eyed as he looks at Zhenya like he thinks Zhenya’s ready to disavow him. “I know. I’m say before, say always. You best at hockey. Not because human, or Fae. Because you.”

Sid’s smile flickers, flashes over his face. “I—thanks.” He looks down again, but this time at Zhenya’s hand on his knee. His face is a little red.

Then it twists again, and the smile goes away. “That’s not what most people will think.”

“Most people stupid.” Zhenya dismisses them with a wave of the hand, like he has the people who’ve said shit about him or his friends for years. “Important people know. Other people not important. Probably Flyer’s fans,” he adds, hoping for another smile.

He gets a snort, which he’ll take. But like before, it turns into a shake of his head.

“It doesn’t matter, anyway. I…” Sid swallows, sets his jaw like he’s bracing for the final seconds of a game he knows is a loss. “They want me to go with them. To the Fae.”

“No.” It comes out instinctive as it had to the Fae.

“It’s not that simple.”

“No,” Zhenya repeats. “You not go.” His hand tightens on Sid’s knee. He knows its childish, but a part of him wants it to be that simple, like in his grandmother’s stories—if he holds on long enough, Sid won’t have to go.

“I don’t want to!” Sid twitches, like he would pull away, but he doesn’t. “It’s—there are treaties and magic and I can’t stay unless I’m bound but they don’t tell me what that even means, and I don’t—fucking hell. I just want to be here. I just want to play hockey. It’s all I ever wanted. To play Penguins hockey, with you.”

Zhenya knows that the you he means isn’t just Geno—it’s the team, it’s Flower and Tanger and Duper and Kuni and Paulie and Beau and everyone else. He gets it too. He loves Sid, but the team is the team, changeable but solid and somehow built into Sid’s bones.

“Why now?” he demands. This isn’t fair. None of this is fair. “Why not—” He can’t think of a good time. If they’d come for Sid before, and Zhenya had never known him? Unthinkable. If they came in thirty years, and Zhenya had to finish his life knowing Sid wasn’t in it? Unacceptable.

“The concussion messed with whatever glamour I cast, apparently.” Sid shrugs, but he looks anything but nonchalant.

“Fuck concussion,” Zhenya spits. Yet another thing to blame it for.

“Fuck concussions,” Sid echoes, just as bitterly. Under Zhenya’s palm, he can feel the tension in Sid’s muscles, and when he looks at him Sid is fuming. “I don’t—we’re fighting it, and Mario’s got experts on it, but it’s such bullshit! I don’t want to leave!”

“Then they not take you,” Zhenya promises. He doesn’t know what he can do that Mario can’t, but he’ll do everything he can. He won’t let them take Sid away. “Know what to do? Green card marriage?”

Sid snorts. “No, it’s not—they don’t recognize human law like that. Lauren already offered.” Zhenya doesn’t pout, because this is the wrong time. But if Sid had needed a magical green card marriage, he’d have clearly been the better choice. More age appropriate. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what we can do. No one knows how the Fae work, and they won’t tell me shit even though I’m apparently one of them!”

His voice snaps out at the end, ice and steel, and for a second Zhenya sees him and not him, that part of him that burns too brightly to be looked at head on shimmering behind him.  

Then he sighs, and he’s back—just Sid. Zhenya’s Sid.

“We have deadline?” Zhenya asks. That’s the important thing.

Sid nods. “The half moon, apparently. It’s the balance.”

“Mean?”

“The third.”

“Day after Devils game,” Zhenya points out mostly on instinct.

“Yeah.” Sid makes a face at his pasta. “Shitty team to end on.”

It’s so perfectly, wonderfully Sid, and everything Zhenya loves about him, and he just has to laugh, as Sid makes a face at him this time, and laugh some more. It’s that, or cry.

///

When he leaves, there’s someone lingering on the sidewalk outside of Mario’s house. It could be a fan—even now, Mario Lemieux’s house gets those occasionally—but the way they walk is clear. Evgeni is certain it’s a Fae.

There’s a part of him, the part that earned him his on-ice nickname, that wants to go over and fight it out. The Fae aren’t physically different, Sid had said, and Evgeni might not be particularly a fighter but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how. It would make him feel better, at least.

But he knows better, too. The Fae have tricks upon tricks, his grandmother had always said, and to get into a fight might be to owe more than you can pay. And more importantly, it wouldn’t help Sid.

He glares at the Fae instead, and drives away. The Fae raises a hand as he passes, in greeting or warning Evgeni isn’t sure.

///

“Oh, Zhenya.” His mother’s voice, full of sympathy and sadness even from across two continents, for once doesn’t manage to make him feel better. He’d hoped—well, he hadn’t really hoped, except that every athlete has to be an optimist at their heart—that she’d just know. That his grandmother would have told her the secret. “Oh, my Zhenechka.”

“I know.” Zhenya paces his kitchen in circles, from the brownie’s milk to the door to the living room. It makes him feel better to be moving, less impotent. It’s been two days of nothing changing, of Sid’s pale face and Mario’s grim expression and the Fae watching, always watching. The more Evgeni notices them, the more it makes him notice things he didn’t want to notice, about Sid—that obsessive focus. Sid’s routines, and how the Fae always stay in the same spot, follow the same patterns. The shadow behind Sid that is closer to the surface now, somehow, that is an avalanche and a winter’s night.

But the knowing—it makes Zhenya notice other things, too. Things that he’ll treasure if Sid does have to go. Sid’s gaze in the locker room, the way it touches every one of his teammates and makes sure each one knows he’s valued. The way Sid always makes time for the fans, no matter how busy or drawn thin he is. The way Sid smiles on the ice, entirely and utterly himself. The way Sid smiles at Zhenya, the way he hugs Zhenya back when he holds on too long. His giggle at Flower’s pranks, or Geno’s jokes, or how Beau and Bort play around on the ice. All the things that make Sid Sid.

He’s been quiet too long, thinking of it. “Babushka didn’t tell you anything? Any stories?”

His mother doesn’t point out that if they’re looking for stories, then they’re really clutching at straws. None of Mario’s experts seem to know anything, though, and the Fae apparently won’t say anything to Mario because he’s human or Sid because he’s not.

“I don’t think so, I’m sorry. I’ll go down and ask her, though.”

“Thank you, mama,” Zhenya says. It’s a straw, but they’ve won on straws before—on desperate Hail Mary plays.

They’ve lost on them too, of course. Sometimes the ice goes for you, and sometimes it doesn’t.

“Is Sidney okay?” his mother asks. She’s always had a soft spot for Sidney, since Zhenya came to Pittsburgh and Sid had, in his awkward, slightly uncomfortable way helped him make a place here.

Zhenya opens his mouth, then closes it. “He’s not great,” he says. Then, because it’s his mother and he can tell her things he’d never voice to anyone else. “I think he’s started to say goodbye.”

“Oh.” It comes out a little choked. “Well. You’ll find something. I believe in you.”

“Thank you, mama,” Zhenya says again. He can try to believe in that belief.

///

Flower, Tanger, Duper, and Kuni corner Geno after morning practice the next day, before the Rangers game. After a quick glance around to make sure that Sid’s still in the showers, Duper starts.

“Have you found out anything else? I’m really starting to get worried.” He should be. But Geno’d told Sid he wouldn’t spread what was happening, not yet—he doesn’t want to worry anyone, Sid had said, which Geno was pretty sure meant that he didn’t want to deal with the Flower’s emotions until it was too late—and he wasn’t going to break that.

“He and Mario figure out,” Geno says instead.

Tanger’s eyes narrow. “So there is something up, and you know it.”

Geno doesn’t see a reason to lie. And even if he can’t say what it is, these are some of Sid’s best friends—their best friends. “Yes. I’m tell Sid I not tell you what.”

“Oh shit, it is bad.” Flower looks at Duper and says something in French. Duper replies in the same language. Then Flower turns to Geno. “Is it the concussion again? Is it—is he okay?”

“Yes! Or. No. Not head. Not—he healthy,” Geno manages to get out. Healthy, and not.

“Thank god,” Flower mutters.

“I thought he might be dying,” Tanger agrees. “He’s been spending so much time with us.”

Geno manages not to laugh. It is funny, in a fatalistic sort of way. He’s not far off. “It not good,” he tells them, because they deserve to know. To appreciate Sid while he’s here. If it turns out he’s going someplace, which he isn’t.

Kuni’s been quiet this whole time, but he’s giving Geno that even, steady gaze that’s always felt a little too knowing. “Are you okay?” he asks.

Geno shrugs, and is trying to figure out how to answer when Sid comes out of the showers. He’s naked except for a towel slung around his hips and he’s flushed all over from the warmth of the water. Zhenya doesn’t bother looking away—all that pretend feels silly, somehow. He watches the water drip from Sid’s hair down onto his neck, over his chest.

“Geno,” Tanger hisses, like they had any hope of being subtle in the first place. Sid takes one look at them, and raises his eyebrows knowingly as he wanders over to join them. He fits himself into the circle next to Zhenya, and this close Zhenya can almost feel the leftover warmth on his skin. He is ice, the Fae had said, but how could they think that when he looks like this?

“Should I be worried?” Sid asks, smiling a little.

Somehow Duper, Flower, and Tanger exchange looks at once. “Sid…” Duper begins, then goes on in French.

Sid listens with his brow furrowed a little, like it always is when he has to understand French. “I know,” he replies in English, with a meaningful look at Geno and Kuni, like he always does when guys on the team start speaking languages not everyone in a conversation understands. He doesn’t like people being left out, he’d told Zhenya once. “You guys are team. I know I can rely on you.” He smiles again, and Geno’s stomach goes warm. “I trust you guys more than anyone, you know that.”

“Then—” Tanger starts, and cuts off when he gets an elbow in the side from Flower.

“Good,” Flower says, his gaze caught with Sid’s in that quiet understanding they get. “As long as we all know that.”

///

It’s so late that it’s almost early, when Evgeni wakes to his phone buzzing. He doesn’t even know how it woke him; they’d gotten in late after the Rangers game, and Geno hadn’t slept well on the plane, restless and trying not to wonder what Flower and Sid were talking about, a few rows ahead of him.

But he does, and answers the unknown number with a groggy, “Hello?” in Russian.

“Hello,” an old, whispery voice comes back. “Zhenya?”

“Hello, babushka.” Zhenya sits up straight, and old instinct, and tries to force himself awake. “How are you?”

“Still alive, which is most of what I could hope for,” she replies tartly, and Zhenya laughs. “Your mama came to visit me. Told me about your Fae captain.”

“He’s not Fae,” Zhenya objects.

“Isn’t he?”

“Well—Fae, but not theirs.” Zhenya’s fist clenches in the blankets. “Do you know anything?” He can’t help the hope. His grandmother doesn’t like phones.

“Not much, I’m sorry.” Zhenya sighs, and his grandmother echoes it. “I only know stories, and barely even those.”

“Then—stories?” Zhenya demands. Then he remembers himself. “Sorry, I’m just—worried.”

“I know.” She pauses, then adds. “There is a story, I heard once. About the Fae girl who came to the human world because she wanted nothing of her life with the Fae. But her father wanted her back, because she was promised to the Winter Prince, and to break that promise would mean war.” She pauses, and for a moment Zhenya is a child again, waiting with bated breath.

“And?”

“And she found a home and friends and fell in love with a human, who bound her to the human world. And they lived happily ever after.” She lets out a long, reedy breath. “But it’s just a story, Zhenya. It doesn’t say how. I am sorry.”

“I know,” Zhenya tells her. He forces his fists to loosen. “Maybe we’ll find something on binding.”

“Maybe.” She takes another breath. “But be careful, Zhenya. The Fae don’t let go of their own.”

“He’s not theirs,” Zhenya says again, like he’ll say a thousand times. Sid might have to go with them, but he’ll never be theirs.

///

“Are you doing anything today?” Sid asks, after morning skate the next day. Geno’d been hoping to sleep, if he’s being honest; it had felt like he’d barely gotten to sleep after his conversation with his grandmother before he’d woken up again to skate. Or maybe desperately trying to find some information on the internet, something to stop that clock that’s ticking down.

But he looks down at Sid, at the face he’s loved so long and well. “Just research. Hope to find something.”

Sid bites at his lip. “Want—do you want to come with me?”

“Yes,” Zhenya replies without hesitation. “Where we going?”

Sid looks around, but no one is paying attention to them. “I want to—” He swallows. “Just, can you come with me? If you’re busy, or tired, it’s fine, I just…”

“I come,” Zhenya decides, because he doesn’t want Sid to look like that, and because he’ll take any time with Sid he can get, right now. What use would he be researching, anyway? He’s just a hockey player. He just loves Sid. It doesn’t seem like that does much, right now, but it’s all he can do. It’s all he’s ever been able to do.

“Good,” Sid smiles at him and pats his arm, then goes to change.

It’s a good day. They go to lunch at their favorite sushi place, then as far as Zhenya can tell, they just wander Pittsburgh. They go to the zoo, to the riverside even though its freezing. They go to Consol and Sid’s favorite bakery. They get ice cream, and Zhenya watches as Sid licks it from his fingertips with no thought of diet plans.

Sid smiles through it all, laughs as he drags Zhenya around and ignores his playful complaining in favor of chattering about the city or about the team. But Zhenya doesn’t need him to talk to know what he’s doing. This is Sid saying goodbye to his city.

They end up at Duper’s, and apparently Sid set up some sort of dinner, because Duper’s whole brood is there, and Flower and Vero and Tanger and Catherine and Kuni and Maureen and their kids. It’s loud and fun and Zhenya can almost forget just what’s happening, until Sid sits down next to him on the couch, the kids running around them and Tanger and Flower arguing loudly in French in the kitchen.

“Good day?” Zhenya asks.

Sid smiles and nods. It feels like a real smile; it feels like Sid’s about to cry. “Good day,” he agrees. “I didn’t…” he looks around again, trails off. “Tomorrow we have the game, and then I’ll have to tell everyone the next day, and mom and dad and Taylor are coming down. I wanted…I wanted a good day.”

Zhenya really is going to cry, but he swallows it back.

“You get lots more days,” he insists. “Not—they not take you. You not theirs!” Like saying it has ever done anything.

Sid’s smile twists, bitter as it ever was with the concussion. “Apparently, I am.”

“No, you—”

“Sid!” Lola yells, throwing herself into Sid’s lap. “Sid, can you come set up the Xbox for us?”

Sid grins at her, and gives Zhenya a look he can’t interpret. “Yeah, of course.” He gets up, and holds out a hand to Zhenya. Zhenya takes it, and lets Sid pull him up.

///

They’re last out for the game against the Devils, like they have been for the past seven years. Geno leans down, lets his forehead rest against Sid’s. If this is the last time—and it might be, it seems like it is, he can’t process it yet because there’s hockey to play, but it might be the last time the two-headed monster’s on the ice—he’s going to breathe it in. Remember it.

He can feel Sid breathe too, then their eyes meet from behind their helmets. “Let’s go out hot,” Sid says, and Geno swallows but nods.

They step out onto the ice to the cheers of the crowd, and the game starts.

It’s different. It feels different to Geno at least. Sid’s playing like it’s the same, like it’s any night, and like every night, he’s the best player on the ice, but Geno’s going to make this happen for Sid.

The Devils must know, because they’re playing like their namesakes, until—there’s a scrum at the net and the puck shoots out of it, then Sid’s there and it goes in right over the goalie’s shoulder, and the crowd screams as Duper hits Sid for a celly first, then the rest of the team.

Then the Devils tie it up, and Geno grits his teeth. Sid is not losing his last game. He is not.

But Geno’s not on the ice again when Sid scores another time, off of Beau’s assist, an elegant shot like something out of a drill. Sid’s grinning as he looks at the crowds, and as Beau’s hug almost spins him around.

It’s enough, and Geno’s going to get him the rest of it if it kills him. But no matter what Geno does, it doesn’t work—the Devils rally for another point in second period, and the third starts with an endless back and forth that they can’t quite power through.

Then—there’s a minute on the clock and the Devil’s D-man gets called, and Geno and Sid’s eyes meet before they go over the boards. 

From there, it feels inevitable, like cause and effect—they hit the ice, and then Geno has the puck and no angle and Sid barely has a better angle but he passes and Sid puts it in like it’s a drill.

The crowd goes electric, like Consol itself is roaring, and the hats rain onto the ice as Sid spins in place, his head tilted up and his eyes closed, letting the cheers soak into him. Geno can hear the cheers echoing as he hits Sid, tugging him close—Pittsburgh screaming its love for its captain, back on their ice again.

There’s no question, from there—the Devils don’t have time to get their momentum back, and the game ends 3-2 for the Penguins.

“We’re going out tonight!” Tanger announces, when they hit the locker room. He’s not wrong; finally getting a win on home ice would be a cause for celebration no matter what, and the locker room’s lit up anyway, from Sid’s hatty and the things they don’t know.

“Celebrate the winning return of our captain to the Consol ice!” Flower agrees. Still in his pads, he nevertheless manages to snag Sid and pull him into his side, to press a kiss to his sweaty hair. Sid’s flushed and glowing with the pleasure of the game, and he’s looking around the room almost desperate—taking it in, Geno thinks. His team. “Best captain in the league.”

“We love you, Sid!” Beau calls, and the room echoes it. Sid’s really red now, but he’s grinning back—bright and lit up with the love of his team.

“Love you too,” he calls, and gets a bunch of coos from around the room. “Now get changed, you all stink.”

“Someday you’ll get better at chirping, though,” Flower mourns, letting him go. Sid shoves at him, and he just rocks back, grinning at his friend.

Geno watches Sid as he gets changed back into his gameday suit. He hasn’t stopped smiling, a smile that hurts Zhenya’s heart to look at it, the mix of pain and love and delight. Their captain is back, after so long. Shouldn’t those two years have been enough? Sid’s back, and he’s theirs again, and it’s not fair. 

Zhenya stands up. Nothing about this is fair, but—he has to say something.

“Sid,” he says, and puts his hand on Sid’s upper arm. “We talk?”

“Yeah, of course. One sec.” Sid takes one last look around the locker room—the teams’ laughing as they change, all bright and lit up with the win—then turns away. His face is set. If there’s wetness in the corner of his eyes, Zhenya’s not going to call him on it. “Let’s go.”

They go to one of the trainer rooms, an empty room near the locker room that’s always good for some privacy. Sid shuts the door behind them, and takes a deep breath.

“We should have talked before this,” he says, before Zhenya can say anything. “I—I have notes, and I’ve been trying to write down everything I can think of, because I won’t be around if you have any questions. It’s going to be you, for sure—I talked to Mario and I made it clear you’re the only choice. But, it’s going to be hard—” Sid looks up at Zhenya, and there are definitely tears in the corner of his eyes, but he’s standing straight and steady, always and forever the captain. “You’re going to have to hold them up for a little while, okay? That’s what captains do. And—Flower, and Tanger, and—everyone—make sure they’re okay. I know it’ll suck for you, but you have to—”

Zhenya kisses him.

Sid’s mouth tastes like the chapstick he always uses and the air on a crisp winter night, and now Zhenya knows that. Now he will always know that.

Zhenya eases back, lets air come between them. Sid’s watching him, his eyes wide. “Geno?” he breathes. “What—”

“I love you,” Zhenya says. He’s imagined saying it before, in a thousand different ways, but in the end there’s only this. “I’m in love with you. I have to say before you go.”

“Geno,” Sid breathes again, a note like wonder in his voice, and then his hands are in Zhenya’s hair and his mouth is on Zhenya’s this time, kissing him like it’s breathing, like letting go would mean he’d die. It’s what Zhenya thought it would be and more, overwhelming and all-encompassing to be at the heart of all of Sid’s focus, an avalanche come to bear on him. “God, Geno.” Sid breaks away to kiss at his jaw, his cheeks, his hands still lost in Zhenya’s hair. “I love you, I never thought—you didn’t—fuck, why now—“

“No,” comes a voice from behind them, and they both start. It’s the Fae with the hair of fire and those eyes like night, and he’s standing there with his hand outstretched. “Do you think to claim him like this, human?” he hisses, not even pretending for a human voice anymore. “He is ours and he always will be.”

“I am not!” Sid snaps back, and he moves so Evgeni’s behind him, just a bit. He looks a little like he’s arguing with a ref, but his voice is the crash of ice falling from a tree and his body is set like a mountain. “I am not yours, I’m—Pittsburgh’s, and the Penguin’s, and maybe I’m Geno’s, but I’m not yours!”

“No? You’re Fae.” The Fae takes a step forward, and Evgeni can feel Sid set himself like he’s waiting for a check. “And we don’t let go of our own.” His hand comes up, and Evgeni braces, and—

“Peace.”

It’s the women, the one who had wished Evgeni luck. She’s somehow there too, drifting between the Fae and them like snow falling from the sky. She takes one look back at Evgeni and Sid, then she turns to the other Fae. “You’ve lost, brother. He is thrice bound, and your game is played.”

“Not yet!” The Fae cries, the crash of a thunderstorm. “The moon is not yours yet, and—”

“Once for court, once for kin, and once for love,” she says, still calm. “Three times bound, and unless you can find a seven-binding—”

The man hisses again, and glares for a long moment. The woman doesn’t look away.

At last, he tosses his hair. “This game may be done, sister, but I am not. You would do well to remember that,” he tells her, and stalks away.

She watches him go, out the door and slamming it behind him, then she turns to them. Somehow, Sid’s hand is in Evgeni’s, holding tight enough that it might hurt, if Evgeni wasn’t holding back as tight.

“Well done,” she says “My luck was not ill-spent.”

“I—what happened?” Sid demands. The ice in his voice lingers, but no more than usual. 

“You are bound here.” She lifts her hands, palms up. “We have no hold on you.”

Sid jerks, and Evgeni knows his own face is doing something stupid.

“I—that’s it?”

She nods, slowly like a bow. “Brother,” she says to Sid. “Evgeni.” She smiles at him, the chill of cool water on a too-hot night. “The binding was well done. Keep hold.” And then she’s gone too, like snow melts in spring.  

Zhenya turns to Sid. “What…”

But Sid’s eyes are bright, and he turns to Zhenya with wonder in his eyes. “They’re gone.”

“Yes, know, but—”

“No, they’re gone!” Sid throws his arms around Zhenya. “Whatever that was, about binding—they’re not—they’ve left, for good, I can feel it.”

“You not theirs?” Zhenya echoes, his arms around Sid’s waist.

Sid lifts his head. His eyes are shining and his cheeks are flushed and he looks utterly human as he shakes his head. “I’m yours.”