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Something Just Like This

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~*~ January 8, 2017, first day back from the bye-week ~*~

Jim Rutherford slid the printout across the conference table into the space between Shears’ and Murr’s hands. He said nothing.

“This was online overnight,” Jennifer said in short, clipped words, then was silent as Murry and Sheary finished reading. She quickly tapped out emails on her phone as she waited.

Sid side-eyed the paper, trying to read it without being conspicuous, but the print was too small to read from where he was sitting. Instead, Sid watched his teammates. He and Geno’d been asked to come to the meeting, but neither had a clue why. Sully looked confused, so Sid assumed he had no insight, either.

Judging by Sheary’s face, which was now colorless, and Murry’s clenched fists, whatever it was, it wasn’t good.

“What is Sports Crazy Days and Nights™ ?” Geno asked.

Fuck. What did those two idiots do to land in that gossip cesspool? Sid looked over to Geno, who had pulled glasses from his suit jacket. He swiped the paper from Murr and the further he read, the deeper his frown became.

Sheary grabbed at the paper, but Geno pulled it away from him. Conor scraped back his chair, wild-eyed and looking like he was ready to fight Geno for it.

Sid held Conor back; Jesus, if he went after Geno, it wouldn’t be Geno in the hospital afterward. “G. What is it?”

Geno read the article slowly, as if he were translating it into Russian in his head first. “These two A-list athletes, in their Steel City corner of the ice world, were wrapped around each other like octopus tentacles aiming to leave definite marks.

Jen looked directly at Sheary and Murray. “Crazy Days and Nights is a website specializing in celebrity gossip. It’s unnamed, so they can’t be sued, but there’re always enough hints that people figure it out. So, Sports Crazy Days and Nights--”

“Jesus fuck.” Sid dragged his hand down his face. Fucking internet gossip. It made him ill what people would do or say online.

Sully spoke through his clenched teeth. “What the fuck did you two idiots—”

Jen put her hand on Sully’s to stop him. “That’s counterproductive, Mike.” Sully glared at Murray and Sheary, who stared at the table. They didn’t look up, didn’t meet anyone’s eyes. Didn’t speak, except for Sheary’s sharp breath as Geno read.

Sid studied the people in the room, read them like he read other teams’ plays during a game. Jen stared at her pre-written press release, but her black and gold manicured nails tapped out a quiet rhythm. The hard line of Sully’s jaw as he tried not to yell. Only JR’s face was blank.

Under the table, Murr sought out Shearsy’s hand until their fingers were linked. The gentle sweep of Matt’s pinky over Conor’s. Matt turning away from the table to whisper in Conor’s ear.

Sid had spent 10 years knowing No Gay Men played professional hockey. Except for those he met after the games, at his hotel or theirs, sometimes for an hour or less for a quick fuck that they’d both pretend never happened, until the next time the two teams met.

How’d he missed this? In the few months they’d been up from the Baby Pens, Sid must have seen them talk hundreds of times, but it all slotted into place now. The smiles, the quick movements apart, inside jokes they never explained. This wasn’t some quick fuck. This was a relationship.

“We’re a family,” Rutherford began, measuring his words. “And family doesn’t always agree, but there’s still respect. So, with respect I’m asking—” He removed his glasses and cleaned them with his crisp, white handkerchief, taking time before he spoke. “Conor. Matt. If there’s anything we need to know as we draft a response--”

“Me.”

Sid watched Geno, out of position and nowhere near the goal, take a desperate, Hail Mary shot.

“Me. I’m at bar last night with—friend. Back from week off and happy, for sure.” Geno crossed his thick arms across his chest and sat back, his long legs taking up too much room under the table. He radiated his I Fucking Dare You attitude, but Sid knew him, every emotion and expression. The vein on the side of his jaw was a giveaway that he was scared and bluffing.

The room was silent. Sid didn’t know what to say. Geno was setting up some plan and Sid could only sit back and pray it didn’t explode in their faces.

Sheary turned to Geno, his voice rising with fear. “What the fuck, G? You weren’t—”

“I’m at bar,” Geno said, ignoring Shears. “Very happy to be back. Blow off steam. Things get, uh, more than I mean for public to see.”

Sid watched it play out, fear icing his stomach until he felt it spread outward. He’d spent more than half his life hiding his sexuality, who he was, because he didn’t want to be the poster boy for You Can Play. How could Geno choose to take this on, for the sake of his teammates. And with only an instant’s thought?

Sid wasn’t even sure Geno was gay. They’d teased, but was it flirting? They’d hugged a tick too long; fallen asleep with one’s head on the other’s shoulder. Shared warm blankets on cold planes, dug toes under thighs. And the wet, messy kiss with champagne running down their faces and necks. The kiss that he replayed over in his head as often as he replayed games.

But that was just Team Building Stuff.

“Evgeni.” Rutherford cleared his throat, and Sid thought Jim looked like he hated every word he was about to say. “I have to ask who you were with.”

“No. You don’t.” Geno leaned forward, pressed his palms to the table and spoke only to Rutherford. “Not your business. Is mine.”

Sid reached across Murr and Shearsy, grabbing Geno’s wrist. “Geno, you can’t. You just can’t. At least call Barry—” His agent would talk sense into him. This was basically career suicide.

Geno turned to Sid. There was so much in his eyes, things he was trying to tell Sid without words. But Sid couldn’t read it. Why would Geno do this.

“Actually, Evgeni,” Rutherford said. His voice was casual, but as he spoke, he wove his fountain pen through his fingers, back and forth, back and forth. “It’s not your business. It’s ours. If he’s from another team, I need to contact them.”

Sid watched Geno, the set of his jaw, but the tiny tremor in his lip. Geno was a pretty good liar, unless you’d played poker with him for 10-plus years. “G, this is going to fuck up your—why are you doing this?”

As soon as Sid said the words, he wished he could take them back. Conor and Matt shrank away, their knuckles white as they clenched each other’s hands. Jesus, this would fuck up their careers.

They’d be The First Out NHL’ers forever. No matter what Conor Sheary or Matt Murry accomplished, that would be the first thing any reporter would mention. They’d be verbally abused on the ice and possibly physically abused off the ice.

Fuck. Now he understood.

Geno sighed. He deflated, his shoulders sagging as he fell back against his chair. “Sid. I’m playing long time. Guys know I’m fight them. If they say shit, I’m fuck with them. But for rookies, it’s too much. So, it is me.”

For a moment, Sid was 19 again with the pressure of a promising future weighing against him. The people trying to cut him down, to hurt him on the ice and in the press. And if he’d been out, it would have been another thing to hate, to mock and taunt. To hurt him with. Anger rose like bile in Sid’s throat, burning him and searing his thoughts. That was why he never told anyone he was gay. He wasn’t an aberration. He wasn’t sinful or immoral. He was—he was just a person.

“Geno, if he’s from this team, we need a name in order to formulate a PR plan.” Jen spoke quietly, and Sid wondered if she hated her job at that moment as much as he hated her job. “We have to handle this to mitigate the damage to your careers—”

“Why is saying you’re gay going to damage your career?” Couldn’t a man be a good athlete, a good man, a good son, and be gay? He’d heard this shit for years from the other Definitely Not Gay athletes. “This fucking pisses me off. We give everything we have to this game. We open our lives. Our locker room. Can’t this be private?”

The players’ intimate lives. Whom they chose to love. Each day, they left everything on the ice. Didn’t they have the right to hold something back.

Sid asked again, arguing his point. “Can’t we just have privacy?”

Tension hung in the room, heavy and thick. Everyone stared at Sid, except Geno who was focused on a hangnail on his thumb. Shit. What did I miss?

“Are you saying it was you with Evgeni, Sidney?” Rutherford asked, his words measured, cautious.

Shears and Murr watched them. Once, when Murr had pulled a hamstring in practice, his face had gone pale with pain, pale like the ice he lay on. Sitting here, listening to other people argue about their future, Murr’s face was whiter than the deep ice. Their lives would be irreparably changed once this hit the news.

Rutherford placed his fountain pen atop the legal pad. The pen was aligned with the faint red lines on the yellow paper, fitting perfectly in the small space. “Sidney?” he asked again.

Fuck it. We take care of our own, the way Mario had done for him.

“Yeah—”

Geno bolted upright, knocking over his chair. “No, Sid—”

“I was the one—”

“No, wasn’t him.”

I was with Geno last night.”

Chapter Text

“G, what did we just do?”

Sid dropped his head to the conference table. Each tick of the clock’s second hand thudded in the silence between the two of them, and Sid felt it deep in his chest as if it were a second heart beating out the word stupid stupid stupid.

"We focus on hockey. They too young, like baby Pens. Don’t know how reporters can trick. I’m know how say fuck off without saying.”

Sid gripped the edge of the table, knew his knuckles were going white. When he felt the warmth of Geno’s hand on his, he looked up. “And when the reporters come after us?”

“We tell them fuck off without those words. We already know how to deal with ugly, right?” Geno grinned as he said it. “We play Flyers for years. Philadelphia fans for sure ugly.”

Sid knew Geno deliberately wasn’t going to talk about all the Cindy Crosby Crybaby signs they’d seen in Philadelphia and Boston. The chants and boos, the shit thrown onto the ice at him.

Geno’s phone vibrated on the table, and when he picked it up, Sid missed the press of Geno’s hand, the strength that felt like they had this under control. He’d felt grounded, like his anxiety couldn’t grab hold of his thoughts and run.

“Why do people even fucking care where our dicks go?” Sid asked in resignation. He meant what he’s said to Rutherford. Most professional athlete he knew left everything they had on the ice. Even though ticket sales paid his salary, he’d never understand why fans believed he owed them intimate details of his life.

“Look, Sid,” Geno said, and he sounded like the Alternate Captain, his voice hard and curt. “I’m decided for me. If you not sure, don’t do it.”

Sid pushed his chair away from the table and stood. “I said I’ll do it, and I will. It’s just—why? Why is it fucking news? Why do people give a fuck?” He sounded defensive and angry, and he was. He’d asked these questions thousands of times; it was just the first time he’d said them to someone else.

And he’d never imagined a time he’d say them to Geno, would be in a position to have him care.

Sid gnawed at his lip. There was so much they hadn’t thought through. Like, at some point, he should probably tell Geno that the things Sid had said—they weren’t just words for him. That he’d known at Shattuck’s that he was gay. Jack was more than just Sid’s roommate; they were best friends, inseparable. He was Sid’s first everything. His first love.

“Is okay if you don’t do,” Geno said, his gentle voice pulling Sid from those thoughts. He turned Sid toward him and squeezed his shoulders. “Is big thing.”

Sid searched Geno’s face for any hint of disappointment or irritation, but he saw none. Geno’s hands rested softly on Sid’s shoulders, and Sid could almost imagine that Geno’s fingers were a caress.

And that was it, wasn’t it? Sid was a gay man, pretending to be a straight man pretending to be a gay man in a relationship with Geno. And all he really wanted to be was a gay man in a relationship with Geno.

But G wasn’t gay. And when his hand remained a moment too long on Sid’s shoulder or the small of his back, when his eyes flitted to Sid’s lips—those were the times when Sid thought that maybe Geno might be interested. But the next tall, leggy girl with huge boobs would appear at Geno’s side. He’d hint at bedroom activities and grin when the guys tried to pry details from him.

And let’s face it, Sidney thought. He’d won just about every damn trophy in the NHL, but he’d never be tall with long, slender legs. He’d never have boobs. And he’d never be a woman. He wasn’t what Geno wanted.

Sid exhaled as his shoulders drooped. Nothing about this was going to end well for him. Not one damn thing. At least he could do something right for Murr and Shears.

“I’m good.” Sid pushed his feelings about Geno into some tiny imaginary box, duct taped it shut, and pushed it to the back of the Things To Deal With After Hockey Is Gone part of his mind. Ok, maybe it was a pretty big box. And there wasn’t much room left because maybe he’d been doing this longer than he wanted to admit. He’d deal. He always did. “I volunteered because I agree. Those guys need to grow as players, and if they are outed, that’s what people will focus on.”

Geno nodded and squeezed Sid’s shoulders once more before removing his hands. “Is not that guys not say shit, but maybe they think twice. Know I’m hit them big.” He winked at Sid and grinned.

Sid told himself that he felt better because Geno knew what he was doing. It had nothing to do with the smile he shined on Sid. “You’ll look so pretty on the You Can Play videos.”

Geno looked so pained, shook his head and held out his palm to Sid to say stop. “You already pretty with big brown eyes and those lips. You do talking.”

Sid laughed for the first time all morning. Maybe it would be alright, that just this once, he’d wind up with the boy, the Cup, and love. That was a thing, right?

~*~

Sid stopped outside the dressing room, bracing himself for the response when he and Geno shared this intensely private (and soon to be incredibly public) news. In his experience, team was family but how many blood families had been torn apart by someone coming out? He had no idea who would still be his friend when the dust settled. Sid swallowed hard, trying to settle the fear in his gut. But as wrong as all of this was, as monumentally fucked up that it mattered who someone loved, he and G were doing this so Murr and Shears could have a future in the NHL.

“Ready?” Geno asked, his mouth right at Sid’s ear.

Sid nodded and ignored the scent of Geno’s lavender and balsam cologne that he knew would linger on his cheek. He ignored Geno’s breath that tickled his ear and made him shiver as he imagined it on the soft skin between his legs. He ignored the smell of jam-sweetened tea, 1 spoonful of cherry jam—never admitting the second that he’d sneak in. And he ignored the sorrow he felt knowing he’d never tell Geno how he felt about him.

“Good. Now we tell team.” Geno nodded once and entered the dressing room, allowing Sid to be last.

Sid waited a moment, trying to block out the morning coffee that suddenly felt like acid in his stomach. What ifs flashed into his mind, not to mention all the ways this could backfire on them and the team.

He exhaled to the count of ten to steel himself and pushed the dressing room door open. He didn’t know what he expected but it wasn’t something normal. He watched the guys, joking with each other, ignoring the suits who’d gathered inside the doorway. Instead, they talked about what they’d done over the bye week.

Sid looked over to Rutherford and Sully, silently asking if they wanted to run the meeting. Rutherford shook his head, and at that, Sully waved Sid off.

“Listen up. Listen up!” Sid said, raising his voice over the sarcastic jeers and various good-natured complaints about him and Geno being late to their own meeting.

No one except possibly Guentz and Weedle paid attention to Sid. The rest of the team continued to chatter about their plans as they changed into their morning skate uniform.

“Sid say shut up or I’m fine you $500 each.” Geno’s voice rose over the noise. “Worse, I’m make you pay next time we go drink.”

The room quieted to a point where Sid could be heard. “Thanks, and this’ll be quick.” He surveyed the room; as comfortable as he was in his role as Captain, he felt like each set of eyes were x-raying him, would clearly see his secrets and expose him for the liar he was.

Sid did the best he could. “Geno has something he wants to say.” Sid took a step back but stayed with Geno in the center of the circle. They were in this together, right?

"Good. You smart and listen. Not pay bar bill tonight.”

The guys laughed loudly; Sid didn’t know if it were the tension in Geno's shoulders or the flex of his fingers into fists but the everyone settled in to listen. He stood behind Geno, relieved he’d agreed to take the lead.

Instead, Sid watched Sheary pull black tape off his stick blade and then carefully apply a new layer of tape. He turned to Murr, who seemed hyper focused on his leg pads. He flicked the buckles in and out of lock and pulled the straps tighter before loosening them again. No one around them seemed to notice that they weren’t listening.

“Sid and I have announcement. I'm tell you, we talk it out, then we done. Not talk about again.” Geno was quiet but the threat behind his words was real. Several of the guys looked at each other, but no one spoke.

Sid stepped up to Geno’s side, and when Geno smiled at him, Sid almost believed it would be alright.

Geno draped his arm over Sid’s shoulder. “Me and Sid come back from bye week. I’m call him, and we go out to Kubec’s bar, have a great time.” Geno swallowed hard, and Sid saw his jaw clench before he began speaking again. “Fucker watch us. See me kissing Sid. Spread it online.”

Gasps of shock and nervous laughter filled the dressing room. Sid tried not to focus on the comments but couldn’t ignore them. what the fuck? why--? Geno and Sid--!

Geno cut them off. “People think it their business we go on date. Not their business, not your business. Is our business. Me and Sid.”

Sid turned to Geno and took his hand, lacing their fingers even though every cell in his brain tried to stop him. This was supposed to look natural, to be something they did in their intimate moments. Instead, his hand felt like cinderblocks, clumsy and too heavy to move. Geno must have read him, must have known what he was feeling. Geno leaned over and whispered, “S’ok, Sid,” and squeezed his shoulder.

Rutherford walked to them and stood between Sid and Geno. “The dressing room will be closed to everyone except players and staff. In place of the regular pre-game presser, we will have a press conference in,” he checked his watch, “an hour. We need to control this story. No one is required to be at the press conference except Sidney and Evgeni. Go home.”

Rutherford allowed his directions to be understood before he continued. “In the event that you do not support this situation, we ask that you come to us instead of speaking out. Jen has prepared some stock answers for you to use if reporters come to you.”

“I just emailed it out. If something doesn’t ring true for you, I’m happy to craft an answer specifically for you. As always, the best answer is, ‘You’ll have to talk to Sid and Geno about that.’” Jen waited for the buzz to die down as the team tried to respond. “I’ll be very clear at the press conference that the dressing room will be open tonight as always, but the rule is no questions about this topic at all. I’ll be in the dressing room, and I’ll cut off anyone who tries, and they’ll be immediately escorted from the dressing room.”

Jen tapped her phone against her leg. Sid recognized it as her nervous tic, but he didn’t think anyone else had figured that out yet. “I’ll be more present in the dressing room until this settles down.”

Rutherford cleared his throat. “One final word. We’re a family here. We don’t air our dirty laundry. If you don’t like what’s going on, talk it out in here. Not out there. I’m asking for your cooperation. Our run to a second Cup is going to be hard enough. This has just brought every bit of attention down on us. So, fasten your seatbelts, because it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Rutherford walked out of the silent dressing room, followed by the other administrators, the trainers, the Communications staff. Jen was last to leave. She opened her mouth but closed it without speaking.

Sid understood. What else was left to say.

Chapter Text

The door snicked shut, and in the stillness of the room it sounded like a slapshot cracking against the boards.

To Sid, the silence in the dressing room felt ominous, like the car ride home after a disappointing game when he was young. As he waited for the inevitable explosion, to be shouted at and blamed, Sid felt cold panic slither around his shoulders and squeeze until he could only wheeze.

Then Hell broke loose. A pandemonium of catcalls and chirps, and one or two congratulations! deafened Sid. He gasped, ragged in the noise of the room. This—this wasn’t what he’d expected.

“I knew it!” Flower crowed, pointing to Horny and Tanger. “I. Told. You!”

With an exaggerated motion, Tanger reached into his pants pocked to grab his wallet. "I only have a 50,” he said, holding out the bill.

“Catherine will give me the other $150,” Flower said, grinning wide. “Text her.”

Sid pushed through the crowd and grabbed the money from Flower’s hand, wanting to strangle each one of them. With one hand. Possibly two of them at the same time. “You bet on us?”

“Of course,” Flower shrugged without any chagrin. “I bet you would tell us in January.”

Sid’s face was pale, but blotchy red spots bloomed high on his cheeks. What the fuck were they talking about—him and Geno?

Horny snorted, and Sid turned to him. “You, too?” Sid said, his finger in Horny’s face. Then Tanger’s. Then back to Horny. A headache festered behind his eyes, and when it flared, it would be ugly; moving his head back and forth this quickly wasn’t helping.

“Yes, but I think you tell after season is done.” Horny at least looked embarrassed as he reached around Sid to give Flower two crisp $100 bills.

Tanger gently pushed Sid’s finger away from his face. "Please. You two aren’t even subtle. Geno always sits next to you, then sticks his arm around your shoulder. Not even talking about the fucking heart eyes. Do you even google yourselves? There are entire Tumblrs about you two.”

Geno wedged himself between Tanger and Sid like a buffer and slipped his arm around Sid’s waist “Don’t care what Tumblr say. Only what Sid say.” Geno pressed his lips to Sid’s temple, and Sid skin tingled from the static electricity shock. From the dry air. And feet scuffed on the rug.

Geno had probably kissed Sid 100 times—after great wins, before long vacations. And once in ‘09 at Mario’s party when they had both been spectacularly shitfaced and trying to swim with the Cup. Geno's mouth had missed Sid’s cheek and landed on his lips. It was quick and sloppy, and Sid was certain he’d felt Geno’s tongue brush against his. When, Geno pulled away, he’d stared at Sid, and then had dived under the water and swum away, leaving Sid speechless.

It wasn’t his first time kissing a guy, but it was the first time he’d wanted a moment to last an eternity.

Each time Geno had kissed him since that mistake, Sid’s heartbeat skipped then plunged, and when it raced when it came back online, leaving Sid breathless and confused. But this kiss wasn't surprising or restless; it was open and unapologetically claiming Sid as Geno’s.

And for a moment, Sid forgot they were only pretending. When Geno slid his hand from Sid’s hip, Sid missed the gentle pressure on his waist, around his back.

Geno stuck his fingers in his mouth and whistled shrilly, cutting through the noise. “If you have to say, do it now. Or to me and Sid in private.”

Geno elbowed Sid and tilted his head toward the back corner of the room. Eric Fehr was whispering to Ian Cole before turning his back on the meeting. “We watch them, be sure they not talk,” he whispered to Sid.

Jake raised his hand. “G, hey, G.”

“It’s not school, asshat,” Dumo said, pulling Jake’s hand down. “Just talk.”

Jake’s face flushed. “Are you going to be kissing and stuff all the time? Like, in the dressing room, on the plane, on the—”

Sid spluttered, wishing he could disappear or maybe die. He was going to be mortified during the entire presser. “What? No! Why would you—”

“Maybe,” Geno said with a casual shrug. “Sid good looking guy. Most handsome.”

“Since we’re bringing our better halves with us, can I bring Vero on the plane, too?” Flower asked, trying to look innocent but failing.

Sid stared at Flower. “What the actual fuck? This isn’t—”

“Sure, if she can bank a shot off Lundqvist’s helmet and score.” Geno folded his arms across his chest and waited for Flower’s response.

“Never mind,” Flower said, sounded dejected. But Sid suspected that this was going to fuel Flower’s glee for the rest of the season.

Desperate to leave the room, to find a dark corner and curl into a ball, Sid raised his voice to be heard over the laughter. “Are there any real questions—”

Tanger raised his hand.

“—that don’t have to do with my sex life?”

Slowly, Tanger lowered his hand.

“What if you two have some lovers’ quarrel at home?”

In the chaos after the announcement his teammates had shifted and moved, and Sid couldn’t see who’d asked. But the question was loaded and somewhere between too innocent and almost sneering, loud and full of bluster.

“You bring that to practice? To a game?”

A few guys moved, giving Sid a direct line of sight. Fehr. Shit. Geno was right; he was going to be trouble. It was the most aggressive Sid had ever seen Fehr. His thick arms were folded across his puffed-up chest, his head cocked away from them. He stood perfectly straight, as if he were trying to make himself even larger than his 6’4 frame.

Geno smiled easily. “What you do if you and wife fight, Fehrsy?”

“I leave it at home.” Fehr smirked and looked around him for support. Cole and a few of the newer guys laughed awkwardly. “But then, I don’t work with my wife.”

Tanger roared and surged forward; Flower held him back, the two of them shouting in English and Québécois. Sid moved to help Flower, but in that same second, Geno lunged at Fehr; Sid stepped in front of him, used his body to block the attack. He faced Geno, his arms wide to the side, holding him and yelling Stand. Down. Geno shook as he shouted in Russian but backed off enough that Sid could face Fehr, who seemed to be taunting them.

Sid stayed on guard, hoping G wouldn’t try a surprise attack. His heart pounded from the adrenaline and anger, that Fehr would say such a shit thing to a teammate. Cole pulled Fehr back, said something to him that Sid couldn’t hear because of the Québécois in his ear. Sid tried to translate; most of it was too fast for his limited skill. But when Flower released Tanger, he patted Tanger’s chest and said, Revenge is a dish, best served cold, my friend.

That Québécois phrase he knew; it was one of Flower’s favorites. From experience, Sid knew that a giant prank would hit Fehr when he least expected it. The way Fehr laughed, Sid knew he had no idea the depth of the shit he was in.

Cole led Fehr out of the dressing room, and the rest of the team gathered around him and Geno, offering support and kind words. Sid smiled weakly. He’d expected more of them to be angry. To have the f-word thrown in their faces. But their friends had their back. Or at least, most of them did. He felt his shoulders loosen, the anxiety sloughing off him.
.
“Anyone else have something to say?” Tanger asked, the threat in his tone clear to everyone.

When no one responded, Geno looked around the room, acknowledging any smiles he got from his friends. Sid watched; only a handful looked away. This was sapping his energy; what he wanted was an extra-long pregame nap, but the presser was soon, and he needed to get ready with Jenn. And Geno.

Geno had drifted away to talk to some of the guys; Sid watched the easy way Geno joked with them, as if he hadn’t just revealed something monumental. Geno, who was joking with Flower and Dales about blow jobs, if his tongue pushing against his cheek were any indication. Geno, who looked happy and untroubled. For the first time since Geno had opened his big fat mouth that morning, Sid felt like maybe, just maybe, this might not 100% suck.

For the next six months, they’d be together. Hold hands, drop innocent kisses on a cheek or forehead. He’d be Geno’s, and Geno would be his. Six months is better than nothing, Sid thought, as he watched G play-punch Dales and then head to his stall, stripping off his suit jacket. His tailored shirt clung to his broad shoulders and tapered at his waist.

Sid’s pocket buzzed. Six months of being Geno’s world. He’d deal with the then what? later. He pulled his phone from his pocket. “Listen up,” Sid called out after he read the text. “Pregame skate is cancelled. Sully says go home and rest. Get out of the building.”

Some of the older guys grumbled about putting their uniforms on for no reason, but most were silent as they changed.

Before they left, Geno took Sid’s hand again; Sid felt steadier with the contact. “I’m ask you as our friend,” G said, his voice quiet. “Please. Don’t go to reporters.”

No one responded, but the message had been heard. Rutherford had reminded them that the Penguins were more than a team. They were family.

Their teammates wandered off to begin their game-day rituals. Sid’s mind raced through all the possible outcomes of their decision. He felt like he had when he’d ridden the Tilt-a-Whirl as a kid. It had spun around as it rose and fell; his stomach lurched and sank with each dip and spin. One moment he was flying and the next he dreaded.

Yeah. It was just like that.

Chapter Text

Sid rested his forehead against the wall outside the dressing room, unsure what to do next. He felt an arm around his shoulder; when he turned, Geno was there, solid, certain, like he’d always been for Sid.

“That was good. Better than I’m expect.” Geno massaged Sid’s shoulders, and Sid pressed into the touch, humming at the relief he felt. “Is hard. I’m know. But we do together. We’re good team.”

Sid turned and pushed his back against the wall, trying to add more space between their two bodies. Geno was too close. His chest was too close. If Sid leaned in, one inch, two inches, he could bury his face in Geno’s neck, hide from everyone who wanted so much from him. From them.

He gave in, leaned in, but Geno was gone. He’d moved back, added the space Sid had meant to. Geno’s smile wavered as he watched Sid. “Should find Jen,” Geno said, rubbing his hand through his hair.

There, Sid thought. That’s it. He moved because he knew what I wanted. Sid gritted his teeth and nodded. “We don’t have much time to figure out what we’re gonna say.”

He trailed Geno to the Communications suite, watched Geno’s hands swing loose against his side and knew there’d be a time soon that they’d have to hold hands wherever they went. Part of him wondered what that would be like—to slip his fingers through Geno’s and feel his strength, to take some and give some, like there was no beginning and no end to them.

“You’re late,” Jen said when they walked into her office. Sid didn’t even realize they’d had a schedule and already felt wrong-footed. “Take this, read it, see what you want to change.”

She thrust an official statement at them before they’d even sat at her conference table.

“I’ll read the Pens’ official statement, you two will speak, I’ll make it clear we’re not accepting any questions and we’re done. I’ve invited the friendly media, so they should play by the rules. Plus, we’ll have this on In the Room as well as Inside Scoop,and Michelle will talk about it on tonight’s pregame radio show with Josh.”

Jen looked from Geno to Sid. “Who wants to talk first?”

Sid cut Geno off. “Me. I’m the captain.” He picked up the paper and said, “I’ve been friends with Geno since he arrived here from Russia. Over the years, our friendship has evolved. I’d like to say that Geno and I are in a committed relationship.”

Sid looked up at Jen, who seemed pleased or at least less stressed than before. But he’d sounded ridiculous. He’d never actually say anything like this; the words were stupid, and they definitely weren’t him.

“Good. Exactly like that. No more, no less.” Jen waited until Sid nodded in agreement before motioning for Geno to read his statement.

Geno read his announcement slowly, careful to pronounce each word the best he could. “Sid welcome me here, make sure I’m know language, have friend on team. He is good person, good friend. We ask you respect our privacy.”

Geno sounded much better than he had, Sid thought. His voice had been rich and deep, confident where Sid thought he’d sounded embarrassed. As if he could read Sid’s mind, Geno reached over and patted Sid’s thigh.

“I like that, Geno. Do it at the presser,” Jen said, tapping her rolled statements against her chin. “It’ll help sell the lie.”

“I’m not know what you mean. Not lie,” Geno said, and out of the corner of Sid’s eye, he saw Geno set his jaw, grinding his teeth.

Jen’s voice softened, and she shook her head. “This is ridiculous. You both know that, right? Matt and Conor should be doing this.”

Geno managed to speak through his clenched jaw. “I’m not know what you mean. Me and Sid in bar. Baby Pens home doing baby Pens things.”

That’s how it would be, then. Their story was The Truth, even to the administration. Sid nodded. “What else can we say, Jen? We’re just stupid.”

In so many ways. But, this is for Shears and Murr, Sid thought as he smiled wanly. He’d agreed to this, and he needed to be all in, to sell the lie, or it would fall apart. He put his hand on top of Geno’s and squeezed. “We got this, right?”

“We do,” Jen said, scrolling through the texts she’d received in the few minutes they’d been talking. She returned to her desk and looked at them, as if she were daring Geno to contradict her again. “At some point, we’re going to have to talk about the endgame here, meaning how and when you’re going to break up. But for now, you two are deeply in love, so Sid, try not to look like you’re in front of a firing squad.”

Sid laughed awkwardly--he sure as hell felt like he was in front of one. Geno turned to him, his eyebrow raised in confusion, but before Sid could explain, Jen dismissed them. “Get your game faces on. This is game 7 with the Cup on the line. And call your parents so they’re not blindsided.” She was already on to the next task.

They stopped, Sid’s hand frozen on the doorknob.

“Fuck.” For the first time since the morning’s meeting, Geno’s voice wavered.

Sid took Geno’s hand and led him out of Jen’s office into the empty room next door. “Want me to call them? I’ll say it was me.”

Geno shook his head. He looked ashen as he walked into a corner with his phone. Sid realized—although being gay wasn’t illegal in Russia it was dangerous. And if the government saw their announcement as “homosexual propaganda,” that was illegal. Sid had no idea what repercussions Geno’s family would suffer. The police could harass them, and he and Geno were too far away to protect them.

Geno.

Sid had been so worried about himself, he hadn’t stopped to think about G and what this would mean for him personally. Would he be able to go home? Could he still represent his country?

Calling his own parents didn’t seem like such a big deal anymore he thought, as he dialed his mom.

“Sidney!”

“Mom—I need to—”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m—I’m fine.” Sid frowned at the phone. How did his mother do that--how’d she know he wasn’t okay?? “Dad there? Taylor? Can you put me on speaker?”

In 29 years, he’d had two conversations with his parents about sex: once when his father had decided to tell Sid about The Birds and The Bees, which was awkward, because most of what he told Sid was about birds and bees, and not really about sex.

And the second was when Sid had told them he was gay.

They hadn’t been surprised, but his father was concerned that Sid would engage in something that might compromise all the work and sacrifices they’d made.

“Stay away from sex, Sidney,” his father had said, holding him by both shoulders and looking him directly in his eyes. “Plenty of time for that after you retire. Don’t do anything that will derail you or detract from your legacy.”

His mother had sighed when Sidney nodded. “Be careful,” she’d whispered, hugging him like she was trying to protect him with her love. “Lonely and alone is no way to live, honey.”

At 18, he’d believed his father without question.

He was a hockey superstar, mentioned in the same sentence as Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Without doubt, through his relentless focus, he was the best player in the world. When he wasn’t on the ice, he was reviewing film to give him an edge or working on strength training to give him additional speed and stamina.

At 29, he understood his exactly what his mother had meant.

He was lonely and alone.

~*~

The call drained Sid’s energy. His mother and sister were quiet as he spoke; only his father interrupted, arguing that Sid was tarnishing his legacy that they’d worked so hard to create.

Sid had listened with diminishing patience as his father offered his opinion. “Dad, I am a gay. I’m not ashamed. But you know what? If this is what people remember, if this is my legacy? Fine.” Sid’s voice was cold and strong, steel-hard; he was never like that, but he’d have to learn, and that thought churned in his stomach. “I have to go. The presser. Talk to you later.”

Sid shoved his phone into the back pocket of his jeans. His father’s anger didn’t surprise Sid. He just wanted the best for him. But now, Sid wanted the best for Shears and Murr.

Geno was still facing the corner of the room, quietly arguing with his parents in Russian. Sid thought maybe he should give G some kind of support, pat his arm or a quick side hug. Before he could decide, his phone buzzed with a text notification.

Sid sighed; he’d expected this text from his sister.

I don’t like this, Squid. You’re gonna get hurt, and G will never know what he did. You’re gonna lose your best friend.

Sid slumped, struck by the truth of her words. He could already see how it would be: the two of them playing house like children and Sid falling more in love each day until G announced it was time to end their “relationship” so he could start dating again.

But, he could do this, had to do this.

He began tapping out a reply, but Geno raised his voice then said bye! in English. Geno’s phone dangled at his side, his fingers barely holding on; his head rested against the wall. Sid had never seen Geno like this--like he was a failure, a fuck up. Even when they’d lost huge games, Geno had radiated a belief that they could do more. He could do more. Not that he was nothing.

Sid was flash-angry, white hot at—at—who? Geno’s parents, who wanted what was best for their son? A government who wouldn’t let people live in peace? Sid’s hands clenched, and he wanted to slash whoever had made G feel like less. Take them down, make them hurt like Geno was hurting now.

“Stop staring, Sid,” Geno said into the wall. His voice was thick with emotion, and Sid wanted to hug him until Geno smiled and told bad jokes again.

“You okay?” Sid flexed his fingers as he tried to bleed off some anger, shake it out through his hands so Geno wouldn’t be able to feel it when Sid had to touch him in a few minutes.

Geno shook his head, which Sid thought probably hurt because it was still against the wall. “Don’t want to talk about. What you say? It is what it is.” He turned to Sid and smiled weakly.

Sid wished they were together. That he could hold Geno and kiss his temple, whisper that it would be alright and that they had each other. That Geno could lean on him as long as it took. Instead, he did nothing except what Captain Crosby would do. “Come on,” Sid said, heading out of the room. “We’ve got to get ready for the presser. We’ll deal with this later.”

Deal with it later.

Wasn’t much space left in that Things to Deal With After Hockey Is Done section of Sid’s mind. But he didn’t have time to think about what would happen when it exploded. He’d deal with that later.

Chapter Text

“Stop mess with string.”

Geno slapped at Sid, who had the hoodie drawstring wrapped around his finger.

Sid balked but dropped his hand to his side. “You sure about not wearing suits?” He pulled at his jacket again. “Feels like we’d be taken more seriously in suits.” Sid pulled off his Pens cap and ran his fingers through his hair. Dammit, if he kept doing this, he was going to screw up the gel, and his hair would start curling again. He shoved the hat on and adjusted it til it felt right.

Geno checked the time on his phone. “Jen say if we wear Pens stuff, people know team agree. Support our decision. Maybe get less shit.”

Sid snorted, but there was no sense in telling Geno that nothing was going to lessen the amount of shit they were going to get. But maybe Penguins sweatshirts with Sid’s C and Geno’s A visible would reinforce that the team supported them. Anyway, Sid learned years ago not to question Jen when it came to presenting himself to the media.

Like, she’d asked them to wait in the dressing room instead of being already seated at the media room table. She’d said it would “help the Penguins drive the narrative.” It sounded manipulative and like a half-truth, but Sid knew he had no right to judge anyone about truth and lies. “Glad Sully sent the guys home. It’ll keep them neutral,” he said to fill the oppressive silence.

Geno pulled his phone from the jacket’s front pocket, checked the time, and with a huff shoved it back into the pocket. “Is after 11. Why she not call us?” He pulled the phone out again.

“It’s one minute after. We both need to relax,” Sid said and took Geno’s phone from him. He placed it face down on the bench. “You know what you’re gonna say?”

Geno nodded. “Have Jen’s words memorized. You?”

Sid didn’t respond. He knew what he was going to say, but they weren’t Jen’s words. If they were going to sell this to the media, then the words had to be his. The feelings had to be his, to come from his heart and not someone else’s printer.

Fuck. He hadn’t called Kathy to warn her. After pretending to be his girlfriend for 10 years, he owed her more than this hastily typed out text. Watch the news. I’m sorry. Talk later.

Geno’s phone vibrated against the bench, and Sid jumped at the noise that jarred the locker room’s stillness. Geno’s hand shook as he picked up the phone and looked at Sid. “Time to go.” He slid the phone into the pocket of his sweatpants and stood up, waiting for Sid.

Geno was always The Steady One. Before games, before interviews he was solid and sure. Sid was the one prone to nerves, nausea, wanting to run instead of forcing himself to smile and answer questions.

“You stay here? Or you need help to get big ass off bench?” Geno asked as he stuck his hand out, offering to help Sid stand. But, his voice sounded uncertain around the taunt.

Okay. Today, Sid could be the The Steady One. “Weak, G,” Sid laughed as he took Geno’s hand and pulled himself up. “That was the weakest chirp ever.”

Geno pretend-sputtered as he shook his head as if it saddened him to say the words. “Sid, your chirp weak. Like your legs. No wonder you sit so long. You skip leg day again?”

Sid held the dressing room door open, listening to Geno mock him. It was the only normal thing that they’d done that day, and he’d happily say and do stupid things to give Geno ammunition if it meant he wouldn’t be afraid.

Geno looked from the open door to Sid and back again. “Me. Three years Super League.” He pointed to his chest and smiled; his tongue peeked out from between his teeth.

Of course, Geno would go out last, the way they always did. It was their way. Their normal. “Let’s do this,” Sid said, leaving the dressing room followed by Geno.

They walked down the broad hallway that was silent, devoid of the usual chatter and noise of the arena preparing for a game. “Is like ghost arena,” Geno said. “Spooky.”

Sid wanted to tease him, poke his shoulder and shout “boo!” to watch him jump. But if G’s nerves were frazzled like Sid’s, who knew how he’d react. Sid laughed at the thought of him showing up to the presser with a black eye blossoming. Instead, Sid looked to Geno and said “Ready?” as he reached for the media room door.

Geno took Sid’s other hand and squeezed. “Is good thing we do. Mario take care of us. We take care of them. Way it works, right?”

Geno sounded like he was looking for reassurance and Sid wanted to give it. “For sure, G. We got this.” Sid squeezed Geno’s hand once before opening the door to the small room.

People blocked the entrance, but they shifted as Geno and Sid entered.

Their teammates lined the wall from the door to the stage. Sid felt overwhelmed, more thankful for each of them than he ever had been on the ice, that they would take this on as their own. That the guys would openly support them. Sid opened his mouth to speak but realized he had no words big enough to say thank you.

“Sully say—go home,” Geno said, his voice wavering as he searched for words. He tried to shake Horny’s hand, but Horny pulled him into a hug. He looked like he wanted to pick Geno up off the floor and hold him tighter.

“We’re here for you guys,” Hags said, slapping Geno on the back when Horny finally released him. “And on the ice. Nobody’s gonna take any cheap shots.”

Sid laughed, relief flooding his body as he shook Hags’ hand. It meant more than he had words for—that the guys would make a clear statement supporting them. He and Geno worked their way up the line, gratefully accepting hugs and handshakes and fist bumps. Sid searched for Fehr whom he suspected was there against his will.

Fehr was in the middle, leaning against the wall with his cap pulled low. Sid’s mind spun out scenarios where Fehr tainted their press conference with homophobic shit, and he felt twitchy, barely listening as Schultzy and Dumo quietly promised an on-ice beat down if any opposing players started anything.

When Sid reached him, Fehr shoved his hand out for a fist bump. “I don’t like it. It’s wrong,” Fehr said, his voice low. He pushed his cap up so it rested higher on his forehead. Sid edged past him toward Cole, not sure that would be any better, but Fehr grabbed his wrist. “No one else is gonna say this to you, so I will. Don’t fuck up this team with your cock sucking.”

With a fragment of doubt and Canadian manners, Sid began to apologize for making Fehr uncomfortable, but Geno crowded against him, moved him along with his palm low on Sid’s back.

“Thank you for come, Fehrsy,” Geno said, easing Sid away. His words were polite, but his tone was brittle. “Most nice. But say that again, and you wind up with jaw wired shut.”

Fehr tried to shove Geno, but Cole grabbed his wrists, whispering something that made Fehr shut up and fade out of the line. Cole scooched over to close the space. Sid felt jangled, afraid the reporters had seen Fehr go at Geno, afraid others believed the same thing, afraid that they’d done something that fractured the team and would make a Cup repeat impossible.

Geno’s smile never changed; he’d threatened to break Fehr’s jaw with the same grin he’d accepted Guentz’s enthusiastic hugs. He leaned over to Sid and said, “No apology. He doesn’t deserve. Think he going to catch The Gay.”

Sid laughed, loud enough that the reporters were staring, and Geno smiled, like he was confused that he’d made Sid laugh. That smile, the one that started with a small quirk of his lips before growing slowly to a grin—that smile was Sid’s favorite because he almost never saw Geno so open and happy. His nerves seemed to have disappeared.

And it was so Geno to walk into a presser that was going to change his life and act like he wasn’t worried that everything he’d spent his life building was going to crumble. Like that didn’t scare the fucking shit out of him. Geno’s hand was still on Sid’s back, and Sid knew he was steadier, stronger with it there.

The line of their teammates ended at the table on the stage. Tanger and Flower waited their turns patiently, shaking Sid and Geno’s hands.

“Did you do this?” Sid asked, looking at his teammates. No, they were his family, his friends.

Flower shook his head and pointed to Kuni, who shrugged. “I’ve got the A,” he said. “I only had to use that on a few. Besides, it was all or nothing. They got that. We play as a team; otherwise, we lose.”

“Best Alternate Captain,” Geno grinned and patted Kunitz’s chest where the A would be on a jersey, and Kuni just winked and pushed them toward the raised platform stage.

Jen came up behind them and placed their scripts on the table. “Remember,” she said leaning close to them and whispering, even though the mics were not yet on. “The bosses support you. Your teammates support you. When you talk, make sure your faces match your words, especially you.” She pointed to Geno, who feigned innocence.

He laughed, but Jen stopped him. “Every emotion you have plays out on your face, Geno. If you don’t look like you are desperately in love with Sid and that all is right in the world, no one’s going to believe you.”

Geno pulled at the neck of his jacket as he turned to Sid. He smiled softly, and with his brown eyes and long lashes, looked at Sid as if he were a long-awaited Christmas gift. As if Sid could just lean an inch or two and brush a stray hair from Geno’s forehead. As if touching Geno wasn’t a breathtaking, heart-stuttering milestone that wasn’t really real.

“Everyone believe me, Jen,” Geno said, still holding Sid’s gaze, and Sid could barely breathe under the weight of what he wanted that gaze to mean. “Look at him. Perfect face, perfect teeth. What not to love?”

“They’re not even mine,” Sid said, hoping his joke would lighten the moment. Because, he reminded himself, they’re just acting.

“And his ass—” Geno whispered to Jen. “Should be in that museum in Washington—”

Jen shook her head. “The Smithsonian?”

“American treasure,” Geno nodded wisely. “Not even American, but they still claim Sid’s ass.”

Jen snorted as she walked to her podium. Sid saw her flip a switch next to her papers and knew their mics were live.

“Good morning, guys,” Jen said casually, her typical presser greeting.

Geno covered his microphone. “When you die, you leave ass to museum?”

Sid gasped and laughed, trying to say stop it.

“People buy tickets, most popular exhibit ever. Sid Crosby’s monumental ass. Maybe make a statue, just of butt—”

Sid giggled, focused on one curl that had slipped out from the brim of Geno’s cap.

“Sidney?” Jen said, finished with her introduction.

Sid caught himself before he blurted, “What?” surprised by the interruption. For a moment, he’d forgotten what they were doing. He removed his cap and put it on the table, then angled the microphone up so he could look at the reporters as he spoke. He turned Jen’s papers upside down, leaned forward to speak into the microphone, and began.

“Ten years ago, Geno arrived at Mario’s house right from the airport. He was jetlagged, exhausted from the stress of leaving home and the trauma of hiding. He was wrinkled and half-asleep, and he was beautiful. Not just his hockey, but what he did to play here. He became my best friend on and off the ice.”

Sid looked at Geno, spilling the truth in this room of reporters knowing G would think it was part of the fiction. It was ok to look at Geno like he was a wonder, something priceless to cherish. Geno stared at Sid, his head tilted as if he were confused; he probably was confused, because Sid hadn’t followed Jen’s directive to stay on script.

“Geno’s more than my best friend. I—Geno and I—”

The reporters, who’d looked bored as if they’d heard it all before, perked up, realizing why they were here. Josh Yohe held up his phone to get a clear recording. Jason Mackey scribbled as quickly as he could. They were hungry, greedy for what Sid might say. The Penguins’ video cameras rolled, capturing every second of his uncomfortable declaration. He stole a peek at Jen—her clenched jaw and blank face told him more than he wanted to know. She was furious he’d ignored her one rule.

Sid put his chin down and shuffled the papers as he stalled for time. When he raised his head, he took a breath and continued, “Geno and I are extremely private, but our privacy has been violated, which is why it’s necessary for us to be here today.”

Sid looked for kind eyes, someone who seemed more interested in him than in the story. Angie Carducci smiled at him, and he wondered if she already knew what he was going to say. Sid spoke directly to her. “I’m bisexual, and I’m in a long-term relationship with Geno.”

Bisexual. It wasn't strictly true, but it was the least he could do for Kathy. This way, no one would accuse her of faking or being too stupid to notice he wasn’t really into her.

As he spoke, Angie’s smile grew, and she nodded. Her phone was directed toward the stage, and he knew from experience that she would pull sound bites that supported them. Sid would talk it over with Geno, but he’d already decided she would get their first interview.

For the other reporters, shock rippled through the room. Sid kept his face blank (even when he’d heard the No fucking way!) until he looked at Geno, who was doing a great job of pretending he loved Sid. It was the same look Geno’d shown Jen—vulnerable and shy, maybe a little confused, judging from the lines between his scrunched eyebrows.

When Jen asked Geno to speak, he fumbled with his statement, then gripped it like the paper wouldn’t shake if he held it tight enough. Sid felt sorry for G for a moment; had he even thought this through before he opened his mouth and took the blame? Whatever, though. It was way too late to think about that.

Geno looked up, and it was like everyone inhaled at the same moment, so that they wouldn’t have to breathe while Geno spoke. “Sid—Sid welcome—” He put the paper down. “English still not—” He waved his hand to mean he was struggling with a word. “Sid. What that word is? Means how you feel at home?”

“Safe? Comfortable?” Sid supplied, like this was any other presser.

“Yes, comfortable. Still not comfortable with English. I’m let Sid mean for me. So, what he say.” Geno lowered his eyes and didn’t raise them again. His face was flushed, mottled with color down his neck.

Sid slid his hand across the table and laced his fingers with Geno’s, squeezing as if G would understand he was saying good job. He focused on their hands and ignored the Post-Gazette photographer at Geno’s elbow, the constant whir-click of his camera announcing how many pictures he’d taken.

Sid curved his hand around the microphone. “Think we can get out of here?” He wanted to get home. To make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, then take his nap before that night’s game. Fall into his routine and let it comfort and relax him.

But mostly, he wanted to avoid Jen.

When Geno nodded, they left the stage calmly; once the door closed behind them, Geno grinned and said, “Come on!” He shot off down the hall, running toward the trainer’s treatment room, which was sacrosanct and off-limits to the media.

Safe in the treatment room with the door shut, Geno bent over laughing, hugging his thighs while he tried to catch his breath.

Sid stared at him. “God, you’re in shit shape after a week off, if you’re breathing like that.”

Geno turn his head and winked at Sid. “How you say such bad things about your boyfriend? Am in most best shape.”

Geno was ridiculous. And Sid finally laughed with him, high from adrenaline and fear. They stopped abruptly when someone knocked on the door.

“Sid? Geno? You ok?” Dana asked. “Do you need help?”

Geno opened the door enough for Dana to squeeze himself in. “Maybe you guys shouldn’t leave the arena. A crowd is starting to form by the players’ parking lot. Security sent me to find you guys. People are asking questions.”

“Fuck,” Geno said, looking toward the back door like he wanted to make a break for it.

Sid shifted into captain mode. “Dana, we need a huge favor. That room you have set up—“

“Yes! The one for when we get in late, and I still have to work.” He patted Sid’s back and led them through his equipment room to the small storage closet He’d remade as a dorm room. Shelves with packs of chips. A fridge with water and soda.

And one bed.

Chapter Text

On the ice, too hot, too hot, get it, the puck, fucking tripped, body on top of me, punching my head against the ice, pushing my face into the boards…

Sid forced himself to wake up, and his own harsh breaths flooded his face. He was pushed against a beige cinderblock, no room between the tip of his nose and the cold, dimpled wall. He couldn’t roll or move; he was trapped in this position.

Geno.

“G. Hey, G,” Sid grunted, trying to wake Geno who was pressed against Sid’s back, his nose tucked behind Sid’s ear. It tickled a little when Geno snored or sniffed, and Sid was definitely more bothered by the situation than aroused--amused! He meant amused.

Sleep-warm Geno wearing only boxers, tight around his ass and thighs, lying against Sid’s back with his arm draped over Sidney’s hip, his hand dangerously close to Sid’s cock. With Geno so deeply asleep, Sid felt reckless; he dared to wriggle back and melted as Geno curved around him. He felt the edge of Geno’s cross bite into his shoulder and, when Geno snuffled in his sleep, Sid almost believed Geno’s lips brushed against his neck.

Sid closed his eyes and sighed, acknowledging he wanted this with Geno. Well, not this, but something just like this. Where they fell asleep together and woke up in a tangle of legs and sheets, because they wanted to, not because they couldn’t leave the arena. Or because they had to pretend.

Sid’s emotions had been swirling and tumbling all morning, out of his normal tight-fisted control. Over the years, he’d become adept at avoiding his feelings for Geno, his disappointment that G didn’t return them. He shouldn’t do this to himself. Because this was just pretend.

“G. Wake up.” This time Sid elbowed Geno in the gut. “Wake. Up.”

Geno yawned and mumbled a nyet and settled his hand flat on Sid’s bare abdomen. It was wide and firm, spanning much of Sid’s stomach, and Sid didn’t want to imagine Geno’s hand wrapped around his Sid’s wrists, holding him as they—

No. Holding Sid this way was too close to caring, too close to loving, when Geno likely thought he was with Anna, or Oksana, or any of his dozens of girlfriends. Because that would break Sid’s heart. “Geno, it’s me,” Sid said, elbowing Geno in the gut. “Wake the fuck up.” Sid knew his voice sounded angry, nasty, but this ended now.

Geno pulled his hand away like Sid’s abs were on fire. He leaped out of bed, stumbling over his feet and his words. “Sorry, Sid,” Geno said as he grabbed his t-shirt from the floor and wrestled with it to get it on.

It was inside out and backward as Geno pulled it over his head.

But all Sid could see was Geno’s mostly hard dick pushing at the fly of his boxers, curving, and his breath hitched as he imagined stretching his mouth around that cock. The weight on his tongue as it hit his throat.

And he wanted that more than he would ever admit.

Before he did something stupid like blurt out, “Jesus Christ, Geno. Fuck me now,” Sid scrambled out of the bed in search of his own clothes. He bent over to dig his sweatpants out from under the low bed frame and snuck a peek at Geno who was still struggling with his shirt. Sid turned away quickly, rushing into his sweatpants so Geno wouldn’t see his cock thickening in response.

“Sorry, Sid,” Geno said quickly, his voice muffled. Sid glanced over his shoulder; Geno was stuck, trying to twist his shirt to the front and pull his arms out at the same time.

“Just—Let me help.” Sid bit his lip to hold back from laughing. This was so Geno, getting tangled in his shirt. Geno. Goofy, caring, kind, ridiculous.

The same Geno he’d gotten drunk with, played Mortal Kombat with. The one who’d planned the most epic prank against Flower. The same person he’d laughed with for years.

Sid dragged the shirt over Geno’s head so he could turn it right side out.

“Hi,” Geno said with a smile once his head was free. “Sorry about nap—”

Sid held his palm up. “Don’t—let’s just get you dressed before anyone thinks we were fucking.” He pushed the shirt at Geno’s chest and smiled. “Try not to screw it up this time,” he said fondly as he turned to finish dressing.

~*~

Game day was game day, and major news story or not, Sid wouldn’t allow anything to alter his pregame rituals. He ate his peanut butter and jelly sandwich at 5 and began taping his sticks at 5:09. After the treadmill and stretching, he joined the regulars in two-touch. At 6:20 he pulled on his sweater and tightened the laces on his skates as he re-tied them.

The routine comforted him; he concentrated on the upcoming game as he clothed himself in each piece of his uniform, transforming from Sid into Sid Crosby™. It was easier to ignore his teammates when they thought he was deep inside himself, but he saw them look at him and Geno as they whispered.

The dressing room was quieter than usual even with the speakers blaring a weird country/rap crossover. The whispers had to be about him and Geno. Sid frowned and decided it was his job as captain to address it before it took on a life of its own.

Sid cleared his throat and motioned for Guentz to shut down the music. “Look. We go out and play our game. Focus on the hockey and not what they say. Don’t take cheap shots,” Sid paused for a moment to stare at Geno. “We don’t need them scoring on the PK.”

Sid looked around the room, trying to make eye contact with as many of them as he could. “No fights. They’re gonna say what they’re gonna say. The best way to answer them is to beat their asses.”

Sid held Geno back as the team headed up the runway. “I mean it. They’re gonna say shit, and you can’t fight them. We need you on the ice, not in the box.”

Geno nodded but didn’t meet Sid’s eyes. Sid didn’t believe for one minute that Geno meant it.

At exactly 6:29, he and Geno fist-bumped, then touched their fists to the other’s chest before leaving the dressing room, Sid in front of Geno.

~*~

The game was a blur of insults and congratulations, rainbow flags and obscenities shouted from the seats. Sid tried to shut it out and concentrate on the puck, but some of it filtered through.

Before the opening face-off, Jo Drouin skated over to Sid. “Hey man, congratulations on coming out. Nate said you’re brave. Maybe next year, we’ll—”

Sid watched Jo, who was inspecting the tape on his blade. He patted Jo on the back, his heavy hockey glove probably landing harder than Sid intended. “Time to play, Drouin.”

Jo skated out of the circle, his face flushed. Sid suspected it had nothing to do with exertion. Maybe, if what he and Geno did could help kids like MacKinnon and Drouin, Sheary and Murr, it would be worth it in the end.

No one had said anything over the top ugly to him or rather, nothing out of the ordinary. He suspected the Lightning players saved that for Geno, working their way under his skin; even still, Geno had only one penalty in the game.

Once the dressing room doors were open to the media, Jen restated the team’s new policy. “The players are only answering questions about hockey. If you test me, you’ll be escorted out.” She glared at the assembled media, and Sid thought it was almost like she was daring them.

The scrum started with Sid (who’d peeled off his uniform down to his UnderArmour), asking about the 6-2 win, about Vasilevskiy, about Flower over Murray. Sid pulled Geno over to help answer about the switch up within the lines. The Post-Gazette, DK Pittsburgh, Yahoo, WPXI stayed within the boundaries.

“Sid!”

A reporter waved with one hand and shoved his recorder at Sid with the other. Sid didn’t recognize him, and he knew all the locals. He nodded warily, waiting for the question.

“Do you think the Penguins have an unfair advantage with you and Malkin playing on the same team?”

Sid relaxed a tick; it was weird, but it was a hockey question. He began to respond, but the grinning reporter cut him off.

“Do you two communicate better because you’re sleeping with each other?”

There was a collective intake of breath and then silence, shattered by Jen’s thundering, “Interview’s over. You’re outta here.”

Sid’s heart raced as one of the plainclothes security men grabbed the reporter’s arm and forcibly escorted him from the room. Jen closed the dressing room, polite but firm with the rest of the reporters on the other side. Sid sat on the bench and dropped his head, breathing to slow his heartbeat. At least he didn’t have to answer any more questions tonight; his mouth was dry, and he doubted he could string words together.

“Sorry, Sid.” Geno patted Sid’s thigh and left his hand there as Jen explained that the guy was from TMZ and looking for a reaction from Sid.

“TMZ won’t be back,” she assured them before checking her phone for messages. “Go home, you guys. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

Their teammates ramped their post-game chatter back up as they stripped out of their sweaty uniforms and made their way to and from the showers around Sid and Geno who remained seated in front of their partitioned lockers.

“My phone explode,” Geno said scrolling through his messages, his left hand still resting on Sid’s leg. Geno’s thumb brushed absent-mindedly over Sid’s thigh. “Best you not look tonight.”

Sid didn’t look at Geno’s hand, splayed across his thigh, but the soft back-and-forth motion felt soothing and something a little more that he didn’t want to think about. “I’m gonna—uh—” He hitched his thumb toward the shower and shoved his feet inside his Crocs.

Sid moved through his shower slower than he’d intended. His legs felt heavy and unwilling to do what he needed them to do, like he’d skated through two full overtime periods. Since he had nowhere to be, Sid lingered under the hot water allowing the spray to pulse against his exhausted muscles.

He emptied his mind of the jarring hits and the disgusting words, imagined it all washing off him along with the sweat of the game. It hadn’t been horrible tonight, probably because Jo shut that shit down with his teammates, whether they knew about him and Nate or not. No worse than any other game where guys called him a cocksucker or faggot when he scored.

He hated it each time he heard it, had since he was 6 playing with 10 year olds and hadn’t known what those words meant. By the time he was 10 playing beside teenagers, Sid had known what the words meant and knew it was about him, about people like him. Boys who liked other boys, who wanted to kiss and touch them like other boys touched girls. He’d felt weird and different—and bad. Those words had been hissed at him when he’d stolen the puck and scored, when he was at the bottom of a pile and someone was kneeing him in the nuts. When he’d been on his knees left alone in a toilet stall, his own cock still hard and This doesn’t mean I’m some kind of fag spewed at him as the other guy left. The word swirling in his brain.

Enough.

He was 29 not 15. Words couldn’t hurt him much, and he had coping skills for when he felt overwhelmed and raw.

Like winning a second Stanley Cup. It was possible, more than just possible. He felt it in his soul, knew they had the group of guys who could make it happen.

Sid shut off the water and shook his hair dry. He enjoyed the silence of the locker room, after the guys left, when the music was off, and the only sound was the drone of the ventilation. Sid draped a towel around his neck but didn’t bother wrapping a towel around his waist. Everyone would be gone, and even if they weren’t, being naked in a dressing room was as common as being in full uniform.

His feet squished in the crocs as he headed to his stall, dissecting their PK in his head and how they could generate scoring attempts—

“Sid—” When Sid walked into the room, Geno looked up from his phone like he was going to say something. His mouth moved, but nothing came out. He pushed his glasses up his nose but didn’t say anything.

Sid didn’t try to fill in the blanks. “What?” he asked, the exhaustion and irritation seeping into his tone. Food and bed. That was what Sid wanted right now. And maybe not even in that order.

Geno didn’t answer, just looked down at his phone.

Sid bent over to put his crocs in his cubby and to pick up his sweaty UnderArmour before toweling whatever wetness remained on his legs. He placed one foot up on the bench as he dried that leg before switching to the other.

“You get a lot of texts?” Sid nodded toward Geno’s phone as he pulled his suit pants on. He should have dried himself more—the fabric sat funny against his damp skin, clung to his bare ass and balls. “I haven’t checked my phone yet.”

Sid pulled at the fabric around his fly, trying to get it to sit right before he gave up and slid on his dress shirt.

Geno’s voice cracked before he cleared his throat. “Many texts from friends.” He turned the screen toward Sid and scrolled up.

Sid squinted. “Geno. They’re all in Russian.” He shook his head in frustration. “You know I can’t read that.”

Geno looked up and grinned. “Sad, Sid. Should read best language.” He scrolled and paused occasionally. “Tarasenko say congratulations. Kuch say he happy but I could do better.” He scrolled further and said, “Ovechkin say he always know and that you have best ass in NHL.”

Geno snickered when Sid blushed. “Ovechkin’s an asshole,” Sid said as he shrugged his suit jacket on. “Will you tell any of them the truth?”

Geno jammed his phone in his pocket, his temper flaring. “This is the truth, Sid,” Geno said, his voice sharp. He waved his hand between himself and Sid. “Choice I made. Choice you made. Can’t fuck it up by tell secret. No such thing as secret.” Geno turned his back on Sid. He shoved his toiletry kit into his bag and ripped the zipper closed.

Sid reached out, touched Geno’s arm hoping that he would turn around. He hated it when he pissed Geno off, but this felt like more. Felt like he’d hurt Geno in some way. He wanted to respond, to tell Geno he knew secrets were bad, to say something so Geno knew he was all in, but Jen interrupted him.

“We’ve got trouble. The players’ park lot exit is jammed with reporters,” she said. She looked frazzled and drained, a little frenzied and working to hold it together.

“You guys!” Guentzel yelled as he slammed into the room. “It’s a clusterfuck out there—Sorry, Jen.” He covered his mouth for cursing.

Jen sighed loudly. “Jake’s right. I don’t think you’ll be able to get through without answering questions.”

“So sorry, Sid. I shouldn’t have dragged you—” Geno picked up his duffle and car keys. “I’m go—”

“Wait,” Sid said, holding Geno’s arm to prevent him from leaving. “There’s got to be something—”

“I could drive you guys home,” Jake offered with a shrug. “No one cares about me. They won’t even stop me.”

“Perfect,” Jen said, her voice hopeful. “I’ll have someone bring your cars to you tomorrow.”

She worked out a plan where one of the security guards brought Jake’s SUV to the equipment bay. Sid and Geno sat in the back seat and hunched down as Jake drove through the crowd of reporters and photographers. They yelled at the car, and Jake rolled down the window.

“Yeah, they’re still inside,” Jake said with his regular grin. “With the trainers, I think.”

The crowd parted and let him through, and Jake laughed. “That was easy. Where am I taking you?”

“What?”

Jake drove out of the arena parking lot toward Sewickley. He looked in the rearview mirror and asked, “Whose house do you live at? Like, yours or Geno’s?”

“Mine,” Sid and Geno responded simultaneously. Sid glared at Geno.

“What?” Guentz said, obviously confused. “Which one?”

“His,” they said again. Sid grabbed Geno’s leg and squeezed hard. “We alternate,” he said before Geno could interrupt. “We didn’t want anyone to notice that we, um, live together.”

“Seems legit.” Jake nodded as he guided the car over Veteran’s Bridge and onto 279.

It felt like a luxury to have someone else drive Sid home. The rhythmic thunk of the tires passing over highway expansion joints and the quiet country music was soothing; the soft seats and dark interior didn’t help, and Sid felt himself dozing, sliding sideways until he found something to rest his head on.

Geno tapped Sid’s shoulder. “Wake up, Sleeping Beauty. We home,” he said softly.

Sid blinked awake; he slowly realized he’d fallen asleep on Geno’s shoulder, but Geno’s anger seemed to have fizzled away. Sid thought Geno looked almost fond as he watched Sid wake up.

Guentz pulled into Sid’s driveway, his car idling as Sid and Geno grabbed their bags and thanked him. As Sid unlocked the front door to the house, Guentz rolled the window down and yelled, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!”

Sid flipped off Jake, who laughed as he drove away.

“Um—I have—I mean, you don’t have to stay here if you want. I have the Tahoe. I can drive you home,” Sid said. “If you want.”

Geno followed Sid into the house and stood awkwardly in the foyer. “Up to you, Sid. But you tired. I’m tired. Happy to sleep on couch,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck.

“Yeah, sure. Of course,” Sid said, feeling every bit as awkward as Geno looked. “But, I’ll make up a guest room. You’ll need one anyway, right?”

Sid kicked off his shoes by the front door and threaded his tie out from under his collar. He tossed the tie and his suit jacket on the back of the arm chair. “C’mon up and pick a room.”

Geno followed Sid up the stairs to the second floor. He looked into each room and evaluated it with a running commentary about the color of the room, the size of the bed, the amount of sunlight or moonlight likely to shine through the windows.

Sid was ravenous and exhausted. He wanted food and his bed, and for some reason, he was listening to this nonsense and laughing.

In the final bedroom of the hallway—the one closest to the master suite—Geno stepped in and looked around. “Sidney Crosby museum,” he said as seriously as he could. “Pictures of baby Sid. Trophies for baby Sid. I’m choose this one.”

“You fucking moron, this is the one my parents use when they come.” Sid shoved Geno, who embellished the hit and landed on the bed.

“Best bed. Not too hard. Not too soft. Just right.” Geno pretended to plead, pushing his bottom lip out in a pout.

“Fine. Whatever,” Sid laughed, giving in as he knew he would. He’d give anything he could to Geno. “But no fucking jerking off. My parents sleep there.”

“Where I should jerk off then?” Geno leered and reached for his fly.

“Good night, Geno,” Sid said, because he did not want to think about Geno’s hand around his cock. “Bathroom’s up the hall. Linens are in the closet over there.” Sid pointed to the corner of the room. “You know where the kitchen is.”

“Good night, Sid.”

“And clean up after yourself. I’m not your housekeeper.” Sid crossed the hall to his own room without looking back at Geno.

Sid changed into a threadbare Rimouski t-shirt and flannel pajama pants and crawled into bed. He’d regret it in the morning, but he was too damn tired to go back downstairs and eat. He picked up his book from the bedside table and meant to read.

Instead, he listened to the water running in the hall bathroom as Geno brushed his teeth. Geno humming some fragmented tune as he squeezed shaving cream into his palm and lathered it on his face. Tapping the razor on the sink’s edge as he rinsed off the blade after each swipe through the foam. Finally turning off the light and padding down the hardwood hallway to his room.

Sid smiled as his eyes drooped closed. He’d forgotten how nice it was to have someone else in the house.

Chapter Text

“You make bacon?”

Sid turned from the stove to answer, but he wasn’t prepared for sleep-rumpled Geno, rubbing sleep from his eyes as he tried to stay awake. Shirtless with lines pressed into his chest from the sheets. His bony ankles sticking out from the sweatpants that were Sid’s from boarding school.

“Yeah,” Sid said, and silently thanked his dad for all of the media training that stopped him from blurting out you look adorable. “We have a lot of stuff to do today, and I figured bacon was probably my best chance of getting you up.”

“Lots of ways you can get me up,” Geno said, coming up behind Sid to steal a piece of bacon.

Oh. My God, Sid panicked at the double entendre he hadn’t intended to make. “I didn’t mean—”

“But bacon is most best. Pancakes good, too.” Geno stole another piece before Sid threatened his hand with the tongs.

Sid relaxed a little when he realized Geno hadn’t taken it wrong, but he still felt anxious and awkward with Geno. “Sit down, and I’ll give you food, you animal.” He divided the bacon and the protein pancakes between two plates and handed one to Geno, who’d sat at the breakfast bar and was waiting patiently for Sid to sit before starting.

“There’s butter, blueberry syrup from Nova Scotia, real maple syrup—none of that shit American syrup, I’ve got coffee, tea, water—”

“Sit,” Geno said, patting the barstool next to his. “You not restaurant, and I’m not guest. I’m know where stuff is.” He held the blueberry syrup bottle as if he wouldn’t pour until Sid was next to him.

Sid almost sat but popped up before his bottom hit the stool. He grabbed knives and forks from the drawer on the other side of the bar. “Utensils,” he said as he sat back down, fumbling as he handed them over to Geno. “Stupid thing to forget.”

Geno touched Sid’s wrist to slow him down, maybe tell him they were alright together. His hand was still sleep-warm, and Sid remembered waking up next to him after the nap the day before, pressed together, like a dream Sid had had maybe once or a hundred times.

“Not stupid. I’m know you eat like puppy when you alone.” Geno nodded wisely, like he’d told Sid a huge secret, struggling to keep his smile hidden.

“You’re a fucking idiot,” Sid said, laughing. “Just eat.” He poured Geno a glass of orange juice and handed it to him before pouring one for himself. Sid flipped on the radio, and they listened to country music as they inhaled breakfast.

Every year Sid forgot how hungry he was by mid-season, but this year he’d noticed he wasn’t burning calories the same way he had when he was younger. Sid poked his hip to see if he were losing definition there.

“Ok, Sid?” Geno asked, stuffing the last of his pancakes into his mouth. “Why you poking you?”

“Just thinking about calories,” Sid mumbled, trying to decide if he should trash the syrup and go without.

“You good,” Geno said as walked past Sid on the way to the sink. “Whatever you think, you wrong.” He took the syrup bottles from Sid’s hands and put them in the refrigerator. “You look good, not fat.”

“Good. Thanks,” Sid said, then stopped to think. “How do you know?”

Geno pushed the stool back under the bar. “I’m get changed and then we go to my house.” He left the kitchen without answering Sid.

There were things about Geno that Sid would never understand, like why he walked away instead of answering Sid’s question. Sid shrugged; it was probably a language difference, he decided as he rinsed the dishes and loaded the dishwasher.

By the time Sid made it upstairs, Geno was already dressed with his hair combed, which was a shame because he kind of missed sleepy Geno, who’d looked unguarded and vulnerable in a way that Sid hadn’t expected, hadn’t needed.

Definitely wanted.

“I’m, ah—” Sid stumbled when he realized he’d been staring at Geno. He pulled his phone from his pocket to look at something besides Geno, and said, “Probably still shouldn’t look at it, huh?”

Geno spread his palm over the top of Sid’s phone. “No. I’m tell you. Tumblr very squeeee," Geno said raising the pitch of his voice as he dragged out the word. "Twitter both happy and mad. Sports websites know we ruin all sport forever.”

Sid shoved his phone into the back pocket of his jeans. “Well, I guess my dad was right. This is our legacy, then.”

Geno laughed and seemed genuinely tickled by what Sid had said. “You still be Sidney Crosby when media stop talk about this.”

Geno looked thoughtful and almost sad as he said it.

“What do you mean? You’ll still be Evgeni Malkin,” Sid said. When Geno rolled his eyes, Sid grabbed his arm. “Do you think this will be what you’re remembered for?” he asked incredulously. “Is this about the NHL’s top 100 list? Because it’s fucking bullshit that they left you off.”

Geno flinched at Sid’s words, but then patted Sid’s hand that was still gripping his arm. “Is okay, for sure,” Geno said, but Sid didn’t believe him. For one thing, he wouldn’t meet Sid’s eyes.

It was fucking bullshit that they’d left G off that list. He was better than half those guys. And definitely better than Toews and his goddamn rapist teammate. He’d never understand how they made the list, and Geno hadn’t.

Sid’s pulse was speeding, like it was driving his anger, pushing it. He wanted to say so much more, to rip that fucking list to shreds, go player by fucking player and tell Geno each way he was superior to any one of them.

Sid reined it in, settled himself before speaking. He raised Geno’s chin (which was the tiniest bit rough from stubble where he’d missed shaving) and tilted his own head from one side to the other until Geno gave in and looked at him.

“You are so much better than them,” Sid said, making his voice warm and clear hoping Geno would hear the truth. “This will be part of your legacy, but people will remember you for so much more.”

Geno shook his head and looked away, as if he didn’t believe Sid. That goddamn list. Sid felt his teeth grind together as he steadied himself before he spoke.

“Hey. Please,” Sid said, cupping Geno’s face to bring him back. He didn’t mean to—never would have presumed to—but without thinking, Sid traced Geno’s high cheekbone with his thumb as he looked at Geno. His cheeks--usually the curve of his smile carved them, created a dimple on each side that Sid had always wanted to touch. Now there were no dimples, no curves.

Geno brought his gaze back to Sid’s. Geno had gold specks in his brown eyes that shimmered like the morning sun reflecting from the Cole Harbour lake. They were beautiful and reminded Sid of home.

He leaned forward, just to see better. Sid’s pulse still thrummed, but the anger had subsided, changed into something quieter and more intimate. He thought Geno was leaning into his touch, like maybe he liked it, like maybe he wanted Sid’s touch. And his lips were close to Geno’s. He’d been about to say something, he thought, maybe. Geno brushed his tongue over his bottom lip, and Sid wanted to do the same, to know what it would be like to kiss—

Their phones pinged in their pockets with the different alert tones, shattering the moment.

Sid pulled back, his eyes wide with the shock of what he’d almost done. He was insane if he thought he could bring his feelings into this agreement. This was a contract, and if he couldn’t separate his emotions from business, he’d be miserable for the next six months.

“I promise that this won’t be the only thing we’re remembered for,” Sid said, his voice cracking. He backed away in the small hallway, and Sid thought Geno still seemed confused by what he’d said. Sid swore that it would be his mission the rest of the season to talk about Geno and his skill as often as he could. “I promise. And I never lie, right?” Sid smiled, trying to coax one from Geno.

“Lie all the time,” Geno finally said, and Sid protested because he knew Geno expected him to. “So bad, Sid. Everyone know.”

When the phone repeat-pinged, Sid couldn’t ignore it again. “Jen. She wants us to stop by the offices today.”

Geno grimaced as he nodded. “Get cars, I’m think. But first we go to my house and I’m get things before we come back.”

“You want to come back here?” Sid asked, unsure because they’d never talked about it the day before in the chaos.

Geno sighed heavily. “Everyone know Sid have routines that make you—happy. You come to me, you miss your stuff. So I’m come to you. Is no big deal, you know?”

But it was a big deal. His habits were weird. Quirky. Everyone had said that. At Shattuck’s. In the billet home in Rimouski. Only his parents, who loved him unconditionally, hadn’t complained about only buying one type of peanut butter. One special clothes detergent. About his life that he scheduled down to the minute. Relief rushed through him; he hadn’t realized how worried he’d been over moving.

Sid smiled and felt like he should do more, like pat Geno’s shoulder? Hug him? Instead, he rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. “Yeah, thanks. I mean—thanks. A lot.”

“You weird, Sid,” Geno grinned slowly, “But you my weird. We live here, and you happy, then I’m happy.”

“Just—get changed so we can go,” Sid grumbled, holding back his smile.

This was going to slowly kill him.

~*~

Sid trailed behind Geno as he haphazardly threw his things into boxes. Books, Russian DVDs, chargers for God only knew what. At least Geno used a ziplock baggie for his toiletries. No way he wanted Geno’s favorite pillow on his sofa, stinking it up, if that nasty cologne spilled on it.

Maybe it wasn’t really nasty, as much as kind of exactly like Geno in the best possible way.

Geno had moved on to clothing, re-folding each piece before placing it in the suitcase. Sid had seen Geno’s hotel rooms on the road. At best, it was organized chaos. It always looked like the luggage had forcibly ejected its contents onto any flat surface, and once, the lamp shade.

Given that, Sid would never have guessed the care Geno took packing his underwear, socks, t-shirts, and jeans. It had the precision of an elegant hockey play. Geno moved on to his sweatshirts.

“That’s mine!” Sid squawked as Geno folded a black Penguins hoodie, the number 87 in gold below the logo. The gold C on the shoulder. “I haven’t seen it in, like, a year.”

“It just here in my drawer, so I’m keep.” Geno laughed when Sid tried to take it from him. “You want it, you should know where it go.”

Geno placed it in the suitcase, and Sid snagged it. He shoved it over his head and pulled it on before Geno could grab it again. Sid was pretty sure that it had been worn; it smelled like Geno’s nasty cologne and just a little bit like laundry detergent that wasn’t Sid’s.

“What else do you have that’s mine?”

“I’m tell you, not yours,” Geno said, his eyebrows raised. “You lose yours.” He held his hand out for Sid to return the sweatshirt, but Sid crossed his arms over his chest and wouldn’t budge. “Is fine, Sid,” Geno said as he patted Sid’s shoulder. “Soon we live together. I’m have plenty of 87 shirts.”

Geno latched the suitcase and pushed past Sid, who was left standing in the bedroom secretly sniffing the sweatshirt before he followed Geno down the stairs to the foyer.

Sid grumbled about locking his room so no one could fucking touch his stuff as he carried boxes to his Tahoe. Geno laughed as he shoved the suitcase into the back. “Poor Sid. Most sad. Oh! I’m almost forget!”

Geno dashed up the stairs and disappeared into the house. When he returned, he was carrying a large cooler.

“What the fuck, G,” Sid said as Geno wedged it beside the boxes in the already crammed passenger seat. “I have beer at home.”

“Not beer. Most important.” Geno shook his head slowly. “Mama’s cooking. She here for New Year’s and cook borscht, varenyky, pirozhki, blinis.” Geno ticked the foods off on his fingers. “She put in freezer so I’m have all year. If you good, I’m share. But only tiny bit.”

Geno laughed, and Sid giggled with him. “Like you shared my shirt?”

“Shirt not good to eat, Sid,” Geno said as if Sidney were a confused child. “Plus, I’m already say. Not your shirt. You snooze, you lose.”

Which made Sidney laugh hard enough that he couldn’t pull the car out of the driveway. “Who the hell taught you that?”

“Kuni. He say it to one of his kids. It’s good, yes?”

Before Sid could answer, Geno yelled, “Wait! I’m need to get—” He pointed at the metal statues of the predator from the movie Alien that stood on either side of his front stairway.

“No. Just—no.”

Geno looked devastated, and Sidney wondered how often Geno was devastated. “Geno, look. You can’t bring them. They’re like ten feet tall and ugly as hell. They scare the shit out of me.”

Geno turned to Sid, his bottom lip out as he pretended to pout. Or, at least Sid hoped he was pretending. “Where’d you learn that from?” Sid asked, pointing to Geno’s mouth.

“Kuni kid. It work, too.” Geno sounded smug. “Work for statues?”

“No. It really didn’t. And even if I agreed, they’d never fit in the Tahoe.”

Geno hrumpfed as Sid drove out of the circular driveway, but he didn’t say anything else.

Somehow, Sid suspected that wouldn’t be the last he’d hear of the god-awful sculptures.

Chapter Text

The PPG was overwhelmed with media—local, national, international—who all wanted “just a few minutes” with Sid and Geno.

Don’t come over, Jen texted them while they were driving to the arena from Geno’s house. It’s a zoo. We’ll get the cars to you.

Sid looked at Geno, who shook his head no. Instead of texting, which made Sid feel awkward and old, he called Jen, putting the call on speaker phone. “Leave the cars there. The last thing I need is for them to follow you guys to my house.”

“We need to talk about—”

“Not today,” Geno cut Jen off as politely as he could. “We trying to be us. Get used to being out. Plenty of time for talk later.”

Jen was silent.

“Look, Jen,” Sidney added, hoping to smooth over any irritation Geno caused. “I know we made your job a thousand times harder. After the road trip, we’ll sit with you.”

Geno glared at Sid, but Sid held a finger up to tell Geno to wait. “Eventually, we’re going to have to talk about this, right? I was thinking—Angie Carducci seemed really sympathetic at the presser. What if we gave her the exclusive?”

“Not want to—”

“Shhhhhhhh, wait,” Sid whispered harshly to Geno as Jen spoke. Geno glared harder at Sid, who ignored him as he and Jen worked out details for the interview.

“Sorry. What now?” Sid asked when the call ended, but Geno talked over him.

“Why you not let me say—”

“I had it under control,” Sid said, looking at the road. He shrugged and reached for the radio.

Geno grabbed Sid’s wrist and pushed it away from the panel. “This not the Penguins, and you not the captain.”

Geno’s words were sharp, cutting through Sid’s casual disregard. He glanced over, and Geno was furious. Sid knew that look, the vein in Geno’s jaw that throbbed, the set of his mouth. He’d seen it plenty on the ice just before Geno cold-cocked someone.

Sid swallowed hard; he hadn’t meant to make Geno angry and definitely didn’t want G angry at him. Around the thickness in his throat, Sid said, “I know I’m not the captain—”

Geno’s voice was measured as he spoke. “You not decide these things without ask me.”

“Yeah, well, we haven’t had a lot of time to talk about things.” Sid raised his voice to equal Geno’s. “Y’know, since you told everyone we’re gay.”

Jesus, he hadn’t meant to say that. Sid regretted the words before they’d finished coming out of his mouth. He wanted to pull them back, stuff them deep inside his pockets, and hide them away. And maybe, if he were being honest with himself, when he was thinking clearly, he should act like an adult and take responsibility for the commitmenthe’d agreed to. He wanted to apologize, but Geno cut him off quickly.

“Don’t fucking start. You choose this. I’m not make you.” Geno’s fury echoed in the car, and Sid felt powerless to stop him, because Geno was right. The yelling continued, but Geno switched to Russian, which sounded even angrier to Sid. Geno jabbed his finger at Sid, punctuating each sentence.

Sid remained silent, kept his eyes on the road as he drove them back to his house. Geno slumped down in the passenger’s seat as his tirade wound down. After Sid parked the Tahoe, they sat in the deafening silence while Sid thought about what to say.

He looked at Geno, who was staring out the side window. “G, I’m sorry. I thought—”

“No.” Geno slowly shook his head. He sounded disappointed, which felt worse to Sid than actual anger. “That is you problem. I. I. I. Is always I. Well, now is we.” Geno turned to Sid and waved his hand between them. “We team, but you not in charge.”

“Do you want to be the one in charge?” Sid asked, hoping to smooth over Geno’s feelings, which felt too big, too bold for Sid’s quiet life. “Because you can—”

Geno threw his hands up in the air and started yelling again in a strange combination of Russian and English. In addition to the English idiot and stubborn, Sid recognized a whole bunch of Russian curses. When Sid tried to apologize again, Geno flung open the car door and slammed it shut, then opened the rear hatch and grabbed boxes to haul into the house.

Sid picked up a box from the back seat and carried it as far as the foyer, but Geno snatched it from him and took the stairs two at a time back up to his new room.

“Okay,” Sid whispered, staring at his empty hands. What had he done that was so horrible? Something crashed upstairs followed by Russian cursing, and Sid thought it was probably safer for him to let Geno cool off.

When the cursing slowed down to grumbling, Sid decided the best thing he could do was start dinner. By the time the stew was done simmering, maybe Geno would be done simmering, too.

Sid could hear bumps and thumps coming from upstairs, and what sounded like furniture being dragged along the hardwood flooring. It sounded fine, until a jarring crash made Geno yell Fuck! followed by more cursing. Sid suspected it wasn’t just the furniture G was cursing at, and maybe, Sid needed to tackle this problem of what he’d done that had pissed G off so bad.

He opted work in silence. Sid pulled up the recipe from his Pinterest board, gathered the root vegetables from the pantry, and set them out on the countertop in the order they were listed on the recipe.

Sid peeled and chopped parsnips, rutabagas, carrots, and potatoes while he thought
about how he’d offered for them to meet with the reporter. He sautéed the chicken and wondered whether Geno even wanted to talk about their “relationship” with the media. As he arranged the vegetables over the chicken and added white wine, he imagined what pushback G had received from his family and Russian friends. Sid hadn’t checked in, hadn’t asked Geno about anything important today.

Jesus. I’m an asshole. Sid added the remaining ingredients and covered the pot. He felt hot and uneasy, wanted to pass it off as being overheated from standing at the stove, but he knew so much better. He’d shit on Geno by blaming him for all of this when Geno had told him no, had tried to stop him.

I’m a fucking asshole.

Sid rubbed his temples trying to hold back a headache that had been threatening since they’d left Geno’s. Sid had no idea how to fix something this big. He’d pissed Geno off, and he knew from experience that wouldn’t just go away. He and Geno were in this ‘til at least April, hopefully longer, and he needed—no, they needed to learn how to live together if they were going to make it without killing each other.

The first thing Sid needed to do was apologize to Geno; at least this time, he knew what he’d done. Sid slid his phone out of the back pocket of his jeans and searched his icons for the notepad app. He hated this phone because it felt fragile and awkward in his hands. It didn’t make sense to him like his flip phone had. He felt stupid and clumsy when he pecked out messages, but he’d use it for a good cause

rules for talking to Geno
1. Don’t make decisions for him
2. Ask how he’s doing/what’s up
3. Never say he made you do this

Sid erased number three and replaced it with,

3. Remember that you chose this

He saved the list and shoved the phone back in his pocket. He’d go upstairs, apologize, wait for Geno to forgive him, and they’d move on. He mentally patted himself on the back for solving the problem so quickly.

Feeling upbeat now that he had a plan, Sid climbed the stairs to help Geno unpack. He heard a steady stream of mumbling and thought Geno was on the phone, but when he stood in the doorway, Sid realized Geno was arguing with himself, muttering a steady stream as he dumped his things onto the bed and began filling the box with Sid’s old trophies that lined the shelves of the bookcase.

Geno yanked Sid’s framed Rimouski jersey from the wall but stopped. With a sigh, he carefully rehung the frame, then gathered an armful of books and DVDs from the bed. Geno wedged them into the bookcase just like he pushed the puck over the goal line—it was going to happen by the force of his will. The books and DVDs were jumbled together, jammed in at odd angles irrespective of title or author or even medium.

The room was really too small for Geno to live in. The Queen bed ate up most of the space, and the mismatched dresser was both too chunky and too small at the same time. He’d set the room up for his parents, who would visit maybe a week at a time, not for a 6’3 athlete who would be there for months. Not to mention his clothing, his Xbox, another box of DVDs and magazines. It wouldn’t fit, but judging from the determination on Geno’s face, he was going to try.

It was as if Geno didn’t feel welcome in the house—like this was the only space he owned.

Before Geno could catch him, Sid ducked back, embarrassed he’d been spying on Geno who was still obviously pissed. He walked downstairs, feeling even crappier because he’d never apologized and had somehow managed to make Geno feel unwelcome.

He stopped at the bottom of the stairs and yelled back up. “G! Dinner will be ready in an hour.” The first thing Sid could do was give Geno space to make his own decisions. There was no response, but at least the mumbling stopped.

~*~
Sid filled two bowls with stew and took his to the living room. “Damn. Forgot my water,” he said, placing his bowl next to the remote on the coffee table (where the remote belonged; that way, he never had to search for it.). “G,” Sid yelled upstairs. “Dinner’s ready if you want some.”

Sid brought back two bottles of water, one for him and one in case Geno decided to come down. He clicked on the NHL channel and as he ate, he pretended to watch the Panthers/Devils pregame show. Mostly he listened for some sign that Geno was going to join him, had forgiven him.

In the end, he could have been completely absorbed in the game and he would have heard Geno clomp down the stairs, get his bowl from the kitchen after shaking the contents of the utensil drawer. Finally, he collapsed on the couch, almost spilling his bowl.

Sid thought maybe Geno had been noisy on purpose, like a passive-aggressive tantrum, but when he peeked out of the corner of his eye, Geno was happily spooning the stew into his mouth when he wasn’t talking about the bad reffing.

Sid agreed that the reffing was horrendous, which he knew was safe ground for a conversation.

“That ref,” Geno said, pointing at the screen with his spoon, “Most bad. Call no penalties when we play Caps. Ovi laugh at us. ‘Poor Zhenya. You got all the penalties. Penguins so sad.’” Geno raised the pitch of his voice to sound like an old woman.

“Ovechkin doesn’t sound like that!” Sid giggled not only at Geno’s impersonation, but also from the relief that flooded him. They were talking and laughing, and if Geno were making fun of Ovechkin, they were okay.

They watched the game with running commentary from both of them as they focused on the players. At one point, Geno retrieved two more water bottles from the fridge, and when he sat down, he sat next to Sid, close enough to jostle his bowl. Geno slung his arm across the back of the couch, and Sid almost thought Geno was leaning into him.

Between periods, Sid muted the television. “I—uh. I’m sorry about before. I get what you were saying. We need to decide things together. And I’m sorry about setting up that interview. I should have asked you first.”

Feelings. Ugh, Sid thought as he stood up, his stomach flip-flopping as he waited for Geno to say something, to say anything. He drank from his water bottle, which at least gave him something to do with his hands. It’s a hell of a fucking lot easier to just ram someone into the boards then beat the shit out of them.

Geno touched Sid’s wrist. “Sorry I’m not try harder to stop you volunteering.”

“I think we both know you couldn’t have stopped me.” Sid grinned as he turned the sound up on the tv.

Geno patted Sid’s thigh and then rested it there, as if that kind of intimate touch were something they did. “You most stubborn.”

Sid’s brain short-circuited, spraying sparks as he tried to process this new touch. An inch to the left, and Geno’s pinky could graze Sid’s dick, maybe brush it with casual intent--

“—true.” Geno’s voice interrupted Sid’s thoughts, but the ghost of those images stayed with Sid as he worked to focus on the game and not the warmth and weight of Geno’s palm on his thigh.

The Devils beat the Panthers easily, and Sid’s excuse for sitting curved into Geno’s side was gone. “I’m gonna, just—” Sid stood, angled away from Geno; he felt like some awkward teenager with a half boner at the end of a date. He picked up the bowls and motioned toward the kitchen with his head.

“I’m have more work to do before bed,” Geno said. He followed Sid into the kitchen and watched him rinse the bowls and load them into the dishwasher.

“The room you chose. It’s kind of small. There are other bigger ones if you want?” Sid said as he scrubbed the pot.

“I’m like that room. Is cosy?” Geno asked, checking if he’d used the correct word. “Is very Sid. I’m fall asleep looking at so many you.”

Sid flicked soapy water at Geno, who was already laughing. “I just want you to know, this is your house, too. There’s plenty of room for, like, your movies and books down here. On the shelves. With mine.”

Geno’s only response was a pleased thanks, like Sid had offered him something terrific, instead of a few shelves in the entertainment center. Geno wished him good-night, and Sid finished cleaning the kitchen. Upstairs, he stopped in front of Geno’s doorway for a moment.

Geno was unpacking Sid’s trophies from the box and replacing them on the bookshelves. Sid smiled at how small the awards looked in Geno’s hand. He treated them gently, like they were priceless instead trinkets that signified nothing. Sid backed away from the doorway, afraid he might do or say something that would give himself away.

And he definitely didn’t replay that scene in his mind as he fell asleep.

Chapter Text

“Where you going?” Sid tugged Flower’s coat sleeve as he walked past their usual plane seats.

Flower stopped short. “To find a seat,” he said, motioning over his shoulder.

“You can’t—you—this is your seat,” Sid stuttered, sweeping peanut butter cup wrappers off the seat-back table and shifting it up so he could stand. “This is where you always are.” They sat together, played Call of Duty, and Flower chirped Sid for being terrible. It was routine. It was what they did.

Flower tilted his head to the side as he considered what Sid had said. “What about Geno?” Sid caught the fuck you in Flower’s voice.

“It’s not—it’s—oh, just sit,” Sid said, pulling Flower past him and nudging him into the window seat. “Want a peanut butter cup?” he asked, grabbing his packages from his seat before he sat down.

Flower waved away the offer. He looked around the plane before he sat down. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he whispered, obviously angry.

Sid debated playing dumb or avoiding the question, but he knew that—as sure as he knew that the sun would rise or that he’d retire as a Pen—Flower wouldn’t let it go. And despite the lead weight of the candy in his stomach, Sid decided to answer. “Look, it’s—complicated.”

“Bullshit. I’m your best friend,” Flower said, leaning into Sid’s space. He lowered his voice further and said, “You told me you were gay years ago. I never told anyone, not even Vero. You could have trusted me.”

“I do trust you.” Sid fiddled with his PSP as he tried to find a way to answer without lying. He sucked at lying, knew everyone could tell when he was trying. The only reason anyone had believed him about Geno was because he’d spoken his truth. “There just wasn’t anything to tell.”

And that was the truth, wasn’t it.

Sid grabbed the package of Reese’s from his shoulder and shoved one in his mouth to avoid talking any more. “So, are we playing or what?” he asked, pointing his PSP at Flower, who rolled his eyes and pulled his PSP out of his bag.

~*~

Sid gave Flower credit. He waited almost 30 minutes before starting again.

“Did you tell Kathy?”

Sid stuck another peanut butter cup in his mouth and hoping it would help cover the lie. “Of course I told Kathy. I’m not a total douche.” He had told Kathy, just kind of after it was over.

Sid was glad for the cheers from the card game at the back of the plane, and for Bones being DJ and blasting his music to prove to Cully that country was too real music. It gave him another moment to think as Flower stood and hurled insults at teammates and grinned as they slung them back.

“And?” Flower asked as he sat down, as if there’d been no interruption.

“She watched the presser. She said she was glad I could now be my authentic self,” Sid said with air quotes. “And that I’d probably play better now.”

“What the fuck does that mean?” Flower asked, rummaging through his carry-on for his bag of peanut M&Ms. He poured a handful and offered them to Sid.

“I don’t know. She goes to therapy,” Sid said as he picked through the M&Ms and popped the red ones in his mouth. “She always said I should go, too.”

“Was that whenever you talked about Geno?” Flower asked. Although Flower was wide-eyed and innocent, Sid didn’t miss the jibe.

“Shut up and play,” Sid grumbled. So what if it had been whenever he’d talked about Geno? Talk to him or talk to a therapist, she’d say, pretending to hit her head against the closest wall. When he’d say that he valued Geno’s friendship and didn’t want to fuck it up, she’d just pretend to hit her head harder.

~*~

When Sid’s battery died, Flower took his duffle and headed to the back of the plane to join the card game. Sid opened his latest biography. Before he’d read a paragraph, Geno climbed over him and settled into the empty seat, somehow managing to unfold his lanky body and long legs in the small space.

“What you say to Flower? He all whisper whisper with Tanger,” Geno asked, closing Sid’s book while it was still in Sid’s hands. When he fussed, Geno simply laughed.

“I didn’t say anything.” Sid opened the book to a random page, but Geno slid it out of his hands and dropped it to the floor on top of Sid’s bag. “He’s just pissed off that I didn’t tell him we were, y’know. Dating.” He knew he was red, splotchy on his cheeks like he always got when he was embarrassed and flustered. “He said I should’ve told him because he’s my best friend.”

Geno thought about that and nodded solemnly. “You say, I’m best friend now. Boyfriend always most best friend.”

Sid laughed at Geno, who looked self-satisfied at winning the best friend discussion. “That’s right,” Sid said. “You’re my best friend now.” Sid’s stomach jittered and swooped as he said the words, as if Geno would know he was telling a naked truth.

“Now you share peanut butter cups!” From his seat, Geno grabbed for the packet, but Sid was too quick. He held it up and away, dangling the candy over the aisle, laughing louder the more Geno struggled, mostly because they both knew that Geno could easily reach Sid’s hand if he wanted to.

“Very greedy, Sid. Bad example to baby Pens,” Geno said, snatching at the air. He’d climbed into Sid’s seat, his knee wedged between Sid’s thighs and his chest flat against Sid.

“You’re so full of shit, G.” Sid nudged Geno back enough that he could rise up in the seat. His laughter echoed through the plane as he kept the peanut butter cups barely out of Geno’s grasp.

Geno stretched further, laughing as his fingertips grazed the package. His chest was pressed to Sid’s face, and the cotton shirt was soft against his cheek. Sid closed his eyes, wished there were no shirt, that he could drag his lips up Geno’s chest, taste his cologne, lavender and balsam mingling with sweat from making love.

Fucking.

At most, it would be fucking.

Someone chanted Kiss! Kiss! Kiss! and Sid swore he heard the ting of a knife on a glass. He opened his eyes to find they were surrounded by teammates. Sid pushed Geno away, but Geno just laughed and waggled his eyebrows, looking dirty as all fuck.

“What are you waiting for? Catherine told me not to come home without a picture,” Tanger said gleefully, his phone directed at them. Sid had no doubt Cath would be getting a video and not just a picture.

“We’re not gonna kiss in front of you guys, so get the fuck out,” Sid said, embarrassed at the attention, but Geno preened in the spotlight, combing his hair back with his fingers and winking at Sidney.

He leaned over and whispered in Sid’s ear, “Probably should if we want them to believe.”

Sid’s face stung; his stomach teetered like it had when he was little on a roller coaster. He nodded against his better judgment. Geno was probably right, but Sid didn’t like it, didn’t want it, wanted it too much.

Sid pecked Geno on the lips. The kiss was short and fast. Almost painless.

“That’s not even a real kiss,” Tanger complained, but his phone was still pointed at them. “It’s like it’s your first time.”

“My grandmother kisses better than that,” Dales laughed, poking Sid’s arm.

“Well, she did last night,” Horny yelled from somewhere in the throng.

Sid wanted out, out of the chair, out of the plane, out of everyone’s sight, but that wasn’t going to happen. He shook his bowed head, but it didn’t stop the catcalls.

Gently, Geno raised Sid’s chin, and when Sid met his gaze, he thought Geno looked uncomfortable—nervous and hesitant, not just in his eyes, but the way he bit his bottom lip.

Sid’s heart sunk; part of him had hoped that just maybe—no matter how deep inside—Geno might have had a flicker of interest, and that this pretense would have fanned it into something more. But even Sid could tell that Geno was embarrassed to kiss Sid.

Geno slid his hand along Sid’s cheek as he whispered, “I’m know you not want to do, but if we don’t—”

Sid nodded. The guys wouldn’t stop til they did it. Like Geno said, might as well get it over with.

Geno’s hand trembled, and Sid leaned into his touch as they kissed. He eased his mouth open for Geno’s tongue, and—yeah. Fuck, but G knew how to kiss. Sid lost himself in this, the taste of spearmint toothpaste, Geno’s hand warm and strong, his thumb brushing against the cut of Sid’s cheek. It’s like they were alone, that nothing else existed but the two of them and this intimate moment.

God, it felt like everything—he wanted this, all of this. Geno’s casual touches, brief grandma pecks and breathtaking kisses, all of it.

“Gross, get a room,” Jake said, making retching noises. “So gross.”

Geno pulled back slowly, hesitating for the smallest moment before standing up. Sid was dazed and tried to get his eyes to focus on Geno, who he thought looked embarrassed. “I’m—need—got to go—” Geno said and left Sid alone, the crowd having long since moved on to something else.

Sid touched his tingling lips, traced them with his fingertips; he felt like Geno’s lips were still there. Wished Geno’s lips were lingering on his.

But given the way Geno had booked it—he’d almost run away. It seemed pretty clear to Sid that Geno hadn’t felt the same way. Sooner than later, Sid was going to have to sit G down and explain things. That he really was gay, that maybe he had one or two secret feelings for Geno. And then, y’know, Geno could end this just like he’d started it.

Sid laid the seat back and closed his eyes. He pretended to be asleep to avoid talking to anyone. Instead, he tried to figure out what he should say to Geno and when.

Until then, he’d try not to think about the kiss. But Sid already knew that was like not thinking about hockey.

Impossible.

Chapter Text

2012-2022 Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NHL and NHLPA

Section 16.9: Single Room Accommodations

Any Player on a Standard Player Contract who is not in the Entry Level System shall be entitled to single room accommodations for all Club road trips.

Flower didn’t sit next to Sid on the bus from the Washington DC airport to the hotel, and that was okay. Sid was so tired. Tired of talking about him and Geno. Tired of thinking how to break the news to G that he actually was gay. Tired of imagining every way that conversation could go to shit.

All Sid wanted was his room key, his room service, and his laptop. He planned to get out of his suit, get into bed, and watch Caps tape while he ate. After which he planned on passing out and hoping tomorrow would be a better day.

And anyone who knocked, called, or texted could just deal with the fact that he was off-grid.

They filed off the bus and into the Four Seasons hotel lobby. Sid hung back as the guys grabbed their key packets from the concierge’s desk. Their good-natured noise echoed in the hotel’s foyer as they joked over who was sharing rooms this trip. Murr and Shears grabbed their keys for their room, and Sid shook his head, surprised again at how oblivious he’d been.

He should have seen the quiet way they stayed together. How Murr brightened when he laughed at Shear’s jokes. Their hands that brushed as they walked. Sid was as bad as everyone else who though they were just bros. Hanging out, sharing a room. Before the gossip article, it had never occurred to Sid that Murr and Shears could’ve been something more.

The team headed in different directions—some searching out their rooms, some going out the door to meet friends. Geno headed toward Sid through the thinning group, chatting with the coaches and the equipment manager along the way. He had two key packets and held them out to Sid.

“Which is mine?” Sid asked, frowning.

“Doesn’t matter,” Geno said with a shrug. “Both have same room number.”

Dana slinked up behind them, grinning as he reached up to pat their shoulders. “Since you guys are a couple, I called in a favor with the Caps’ equipment manager, who called in a favor with the hotel, and got you one king-size room. Figured you’d want to—you know—sleep together,” Dana whispered with a wink.

Sid ground his teeth as if it would keep his anger at bay. “I’m sorry, you wh—”

Geno grabbed Sid’s hand and squeezed it as tightly as he could. Sid had just registered the pain when Geno said, “Most thanks. Very nice of you to think of. This new routine for Sid.” He grabbed Sid’s elbow and dragged him toward the bank of elevators.

“Gimme my key.” Sid held his hand out and wiggled his fingers, waiting for Geno to put the key in his palm.

Geno slipped the keys into his jacket pocket before hitting the Up button. “We talk in the room.”

“Give me the key. Now.” Sid spoke through his teeth as he closed the space between them until his chest almost touched Geno’s. “I’m gonna go to the desk and get my own room, even if I have to pay.”

Geno handed over the key, and Sid grabbed it and turned toward the front desk.

“You do in every city?” Geno asked over the ding of the elevator that had just arrived.

Sid turned back. “What do you mean?” he asked. He had to stop gritting his teeth; the pain in his jaw was already giving him a headache.

Geno shrugged and stepped into the elevator, but held the door back. “I’m think Dana called hotel in Ottawa and Detroit already. He very nice like that.”

Fuck. Sid rubbed his eyes and tried to stretch the tension out of his jaw. He didn’t say anything, just walked back, got in the elevator, and let Geno hit the floor button.

They rode to the 14th floor in silence; Sid felt ready to lash out, like he’d been ridden into the boards one too many times, but Geno—Geno leaned against the back wall of the elevator, his body relaxed and loose as he looked at his phone, laughing at a yappy dog video.

Of course he didn’t care about sharing a bed, because he wasn’t—what word had Kathy used?—pining. Geno wasn’t pining for Sid. He probably hadn’t thought of that kiss at all.

That kiss.

Jesus. It had been like something out of a fairy tale, if fairy tales were rated M for Mature Audiences Only. Geno’s wide hands had cupped his cheeks so gently, but Sid had no trouble imagining them on him, rough, forceful, in charge. Exactly the way Sid wanted it.

Desperately wanted it.

And Geno’s lips had been electric; Sid had felt it race through him, to his fingertips, down to his toes, before settling in his dick. It was the first time anyone had kissed him like that, hot and slow—like a beginning and not a means to an end.

Geno opened the door with one key and handed Sid the other. Sid snapped the light on as he stepped inside. The room was spacious, large enough for the two of them if he were being honest and definitely nicer than the ones he’d shared as a rookie. The curtains were open, and Sid knew from experience that the view of Georgetown from those windows would be stunning. Under the window sat a stark white L-shaped couch--who the hell put a white couch in a hotel? In addition to the couch, the curtains were white. The walls were white. The linens and down-duvet cover were white--

But that bed.

It was front and center, the focal point of the room. Like the hotel thought that they were there to—sleep together. To have a tryst. A rendezvous. An assignation.

To fuck.

Sid ignored the elephant in the room, pushed past Geno and hauled his suitcase onto the rack. He stuck to his routine; he unpacked the suitcase, hanging up what could be hung in the closet and refolding the remaining items before placing them in the bureau.

Somehow, Geno’s suitcase had already exploded over the desk and chair. Geno was sprawled on the bed messing with the tv remote, his suit exchanged for flannel pajama pants and a worn t-shirt. Sid had no idea how, Geno in sleep clothes was hotter than Geno in a tailored suit.

“I’m going to take a shower,” Sid said for lack of anything else to say. At least in the bathroom, he didn’t have to see Geno lying on the bed, because that led to--thoughts.

By the time he’d rinsed off, Sid had everything planned. He’d sleep on the couch, Geno could have the bed, and it would be good. Fine. It would be fine.

The pit of slithering, angry snakes in his stomach told him otherwise.

Sid stepped out of the shower and as he toweled off, he tried to find the words to tell Geno the truth.

Geno walked in, pulled his pants low enough to get his dick out, and took a piss.

“The fuck, G!” Sid yelled. He scrambled for the towel to cover himself even though he knew G had seen him naked hundreds of times. “I’m in here. And you could knock.”

“I’m have to pee,” Geno said, which was clearly true.

Sid turned his back to Geno, didn’t look in the mirror at the thick curve of Geno’s ass or how huge his dick was. He kept the towel wadded over his own dick that was reacting in ways he didn’t want Geno to see. Think cold, boring thoughts. Cold. Boring. The original six hockey teams were located in Boston, Chicago, Montreal—

Geno flushed the toilet, washed his hands, and left with a smile aimed at Sid as if it were something they did all the time. When the door snicked shut, Sid collapsed on the toilet and almost fell in. Geno had left the seat cover up.

He could do this. He’d just tell G to stay out of the bathroom while he was in there. Yeah, that would work, he thought optimistically and felt a little more at ease. Sid pulled on his underwear, sweats and shirt and convinced himself he could do this.

“Hey, G—” Sid dropped his shoes under the suitcase stand and--

Geno was naked.

All 6’3 of him.

Naked.

Sid swallowed hard. He couldn’t do this.

“Since you shower and don’t smell bad anymore, I’m think we go out to eat with Horny, Hags, and some baby Pens.” Geno held up two shirts before decided on the one in his right hand. He pulled the gray t-shirt over his head and before his face popped out again, Sid stared at Geno’s dick.

Between locker rooms and hook-ups, he’d seen his fair share. He was no size queen, but god damn. If they ever—that was gonna hurt like fuck.

And in the best possible way, though, Sid thought.

“Okay, Sid?” Geno asked as he bent over to pick up a pair of khaki pants that had fallen to the floor. “You looking funny at me.”

Sid denied it and turned away quickly but not before he saw Geno step into the pants, bare-assed. He was going commando, which was so much more than Sid needed to see.

There wasn’t enough forget in the world for this.

Sid felt his face heat, because he really didn’t want to forget. He stripped out of his sweats for nicer clothes, and steeled himself for a night out with Geno.

His best friend, Geno.

Who was free-balling.

Before they left, Geno grabbed his eyeglasses from the desk and put them on.

No no no, Sid sighed. Geno in glasses was his weakness. A harmless kink that didn’t seem so harmless now.

“Ready?” Geno asked, holding the door open. Geno, in his too-tight gray shirt and khakis. With his glasses and his lopsided grin. And no underwear.

Sid was so fucked. He swore he wouldn’t drink anything besides water with dinner; he needed to be in control of himself, or this would be so very bad.

~*~

True to his word, Sid did not drink. Not at dinner, where Geno sat next to him and offered to fill his wine glass. Sid shook his head, because he was certain if he opened his mouth, he’d say something ridiculous like, “I’d rather kiss it off your lips.”

Not at the bar they dragged him to afterward, where they crammed themselves into the last open booth. Sid was squished against the wall; Geno sat next to him, his arm slung over the back of the bench. Occasionally, he felt Geno’s hand brush his shoulder as if he were asking Sid to move closer. Maybe those were Geno’s fingers in Sid’s curls, where his hair had grown too long. Sid remembered that it was ok now, he could allow it, show it. He leaned against Geno, settled his head on G’s shoulder and indulging in Geno’s warmth.

He closed his eyes and wondered why he fought this. Fought any of this instead of just flowing with it.

“Sid, we go now,” Geno said, startling Sid when he spoke. “You asleep. Embarrassing, Sid. Big hockey man sleeping in bar.” He tsk’d as he teased Sid. “Also, you drool. I’m just say.”

Sid mumbled, “I do not!” but scrubbed at his mouth and chin just in case he had. He slid out of the booth and stretched, feeling calm and loose. The constant thrum of life and go-go-go eased to a peaceful contentedness. He grinned at Geno and saw something in G’s eyes that said maybe he hadn’t minded that Sid’d fallen asleep on Geno’s shoulder.

As they walked the few blocks to the hotel, his teammates chirped Sid for falling asleep, and openly guessed at the ways Geno was keeping Sid awake at night. Geno puffed up, grunted back his comments, laughed when the questions were too personal.

“Jesus, Geno, if they knew the truth,” Sid laughed, hoping that the cold air would explain any redness on his face.

Jake stuck his fingers in his ears and chanted “La-la-la-la-can’t hear you,” and Sid hip-checked him.

Geno caught Jake and stage-whispered, “Truth is, Sid kind of man who sleeps in bar.”

Geno wrapped his arm around Sid and tugged him in closer. They walked the rest of the way to the hotel cuddled together, and when the others wanted to hang in the hotel bar, Geno and Sid begged off, motioning toward the elevators.

Sid’s sense of chill disappeared when they opened the door to their room, and it was still there.

The bed.

He ducked out from under Geno’s arm and busied himself hanging up his coat. Sid grabbed the extra pillows and blanket from the closet and dropped them onto the small couch; he knew Geno was watching him. He could almost feel Geno’s frown.

But what he’d done in the bar—curled against Geno, soaking up his body heat, tuning in to Geno’s sense of ease and falling in step until he’d been so relaxed he’d fallen asleep—it had felt too real. And he’d forgotten. And he couldn’t forget again.

Sid cleared his throat and patted Geno on the shoulder. “Great job in the bar tonight, G. We really made the guys think we’re for real.” He grabbed his toiletry bag and disappeared into the bathroom before Geno could agree. He spent as long as he could in the bathroom in the hopes Geno would be asleep when he got out.

No such luck.

Geno was awake, sitting in bed and watching a video on his phone. Sid ignored him and made a make-shift bed out of the couch, propping the pillow at one end and folding the blankets over to make something like a bedroll.

“Can’t fit on that,” Geno said, his voice matter of fact. “Why you do when you have bed?” The way he said it, it sounded as if he already knew what Sid would say.

“This couch is fine,” Sid said, ignoring what Geno had said. He plumped one of the pillows like that would prove it was fine.

“Is not real couch.” Geno put his phone onto the night stand, folded his glasses and laid them on top of his phone. “Is kissing couch. Even you too long and your ass won’t fit.”

Geno was right. The couch was too short, and he’d wind up with a crick in his neck or a muscle pull. Then Sully would ream him out for being an idiot. He should probably just get in the bed.

Geno turned out the light. “Not seeing you reason, Sid. Plenty of room. We already sleep together in Dana’s small bed.”

Fuck. He’d somehow forgotten waking up with huge wood because Geno was wrapped around him. It had been even better than leaning against him in the bar tonight. That was why he couldn’t get in the bed.

Sid scrunched up his body as much as he could, pulled the cover up to his ears, and tried to fall asleep.

“So fucking stubborn,” Geno mumbled into the darkness. “You play like shit tomorrow. I’m say told you so.”

Yeah, Sid thought.

~*~

They lost in Washington. They lost in Ottawa. They lost in Detroit. They were outscored 15-6. Sid tallied only two points. Geno managed only three.

Sid was in pain from the fucking love seats. He was sore in places he didn’t know could hurt, and that was saying something for a hockey player.

Geno had gotten increasingly more pissed off each night Sid slept on the couch. He was surly to his teammates, and took his anger out on the opponents, drawing heavy penalties which led to enough of those 15 goals. “You gotta stop,” Sid had yelled, pulling Geno away from Nyquist and jamming him against the boards. “He’s winding you up, and you’re too fucking stupid and stubborn to stop.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Geno had laughed, but it was ugly and loud. “You don’t call me stubborn when you fucking invent word.” He’d pushed Sid out of his way, and for a moment, Sid thought Geno was going to punch him.

They lost 6-3 to the Redwings to end their 0-3 road trip.

The team limped home, tired of Sully’s voice in their ears. He’d pulled Sid aside and told him to get his head out of his ass. To act like the fucking team captain, and if this fucking shit with Geno was going to affect the team, he’d goddamn well scratch Sid so he’d have plenty of fucking time to think about how to be a better captain.

And he was right. When he got on the plane, Sid put on his sleep mask. He let everyone believe he was asleep, but he spent the hour-long flight thinking.

~*~

It was almost 3am by the time Sid pulled the car into the garage. He and Geno had driven home in tense silence, and when Sid put jammed the car into park, Geno stormed out, slamming the door behind him.

Geno was a grown-ass man and could behave like an idiot if wanted to. Sid stomped up the stairs to his room, took a fucking shower, threw on a pair of boxers, and got into the damn bed. If Geno wanted to behave like a fucking asshole, that was on him. Sid rolled over on his side. Turned to his other side. Tried his stomach. Closed his eyes and counted sheep.

He stopped at 250.

After an hour, Sid flung his covers off and gave up. Getting up and doing something would be better than lying here. Maybe he was hungry—at this point in the season, he was always hungry. Geno’s door was closed, and Sid didn’t see any light from under it.

Sid sighed in relief; at least he wouldn’t have to deal with that. He padded down the stairs, rolling his shoulders to work out tension. In the morning, he’d talk to Geno. He’d work everything out so they could live together in some kind of détente.

The kitchen was dark, and Sid stubbed his toe on a barstool that hadn’t been pushed under the counter. “Christ, this mother-fucking day just isn’t gonna get any better,” he growled, resisting the urge to yell it instead.

“I’m do same thing.”

Sid jumped, shocked by the voice in the dark. “I thought you were asleep.” He turned on the overhead light and saw Geno at the kitchen table, his head laid on his folded arms. A mug of something was on the table at Geno’s elbow. Judging by the sweet aroma of cherry, Sid assumed it was tea that Geno had sweetened with the jam he’d brought from his home.

Geno didn’t respond. He didn’t even raise his head. Sid opened the fridge and pulled out a loaf of white bread, Geno’s cherry jam, and the gallon of milk. He dumped them on the table before going back for plates and cups, knives and the jar of peanut butter. “Can you use this on peanut butter or is it just for tea?” Sid asked, examining the jam.

“Is good for all,” Geno sat up, slouched back against the chair and crossed his arms at his chest.

Sid saw the toll the past week had taken on him. Geno’s face was gaunt, the circles under his eyes deep and dark. He was shirtless, and his ribs were pronounced. He was too thin, and they had too much season left to fall apart now. They desperately needed the off-day tomorrow? today? to sleep and eat.

Sid made the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches without paying attention. This was a good time to talk to Geno, to tell him how he felt. To apologize for lying, for being an idiot about the bed. And once Geno understood why, maybe he’d stop being angry.

Sid slid a plate across the table, glad it stopped before it flipped over into Geno’s lap. Sid took a big bite of his sandwich. The cherry jam was good—really good. Maybe he’d make his pregame sandwiches with—

In one breath, words pressed so close together that Sid almost didn’t catch them, Geno said, “Sid, I’m gay.”

Chapter Text

Sid’s mouth was stuck shut--wrong ratio of peanut butter to jelly, he thought —otherwise, his jaw would have dropped like a cartoon character.

“I’m not want to say,” Geno said. He’d twisted sideways in his seat and stared out the French doors, like he didn’t want to see Sid’s reaction.

Sid wanted to go to him, hold him close, and say, I understand. But he was rooted to his seat, his legs too heavy and too clumsy to move to Geno, to wrap him in a hug and say, thank God, because I’ve loved you forever. Instead, he swallowed his bite and poured a glass of milk, giving Geno time to think and space to speak.

Kathy had taught him that people need time and space, so just shut up, Sid.

Geno turned to Sid. He was slouched in the chair, curling in on himself, and Sid had never seen him look so defeated, not even after they’d lost in the playoffs. His lips were pale, bitten tight between his teeth as if he were afraid of what Sid would say. “I’m know you already know. You sleep on couch. You change in bathroom.”

Sid had no fucking clue what Geno was talking about, so he nodded and took a bite of his sandwich. It sounded like Geno was accusing him of something, but he was so lost in this conversation. His brain was thick and slow, like maple syrup in the middle of winter. He didn’t want to interrupt, so he nodded and said, “I did—”

Geno pushed the dish away, almost tipping it with the force of the thrust. He scraped the chair away from the table and stood. “I’m not need this.” When he thrust the chair at the table, it flipped, clattering to the floor. “Fuck this,” Geno yelled as he pounded up the stairs.

Sid hung his head. He could hear Geno stomping around in the room, probably saying shit about Sid in Russian. Well, he’d fucked that up. Kathy had given him bullshit advice. He’d listened, and Geo had just gotten angrier.

Sid rewound the conversation: Geno had told him he was gay. That was a real shocker. Then he said that Sid already knew. But he hadn’t. Not at all. Like, he’d totally thought Geno and Anna were going to get married and have a houseful of babies. But then, maybe people thought the same of him and Kathy.

What he’d said next had been the weird part. That Sid slept on the couch—that he’d changed in the bathr—

Christ—Geno thought Sid was avoiding him because Geno was gay. Sid laughed at the irony. When this started, he was a gay man, pretending to be a straight man pretending to be gay. It never occurred to him that Geno was posing, also.

Fuck listening. Sid knew what to do now. He ran up the stairs to tell Geno that he got it.

Sid blew into the bedroom, where Geno stared at an empty suitcase on the bed, as if he were making a decision.

He turned Geno toward him, barely registering the dull, flat eyes. “You’re gay?”

“Stop. I’m know you think—” Geno pushed past Sid, out into the hallway to get away.

Sid took off after him and grabbed Geno’s elbow to spin him around.

He crashed into Geno, crushed their mouths together, ignoring the pain of the clack of their teeth. Sid poured his feelings into the kiss, wanting Geno to know how he felt in case his words turned stupid again. And maybe to stop Geno from coldcocking him in case he’d read this completely wrong.

Geno dipped into Sid, rested his hands on Sid’s hips. Sid nipped Geno’s bottom lip and he felt Geno tremble, felt it skate down his body from his shoulders to his hips. Sid withdrew and smiled softly, waiting to hear what Geno would say.

He leaned in to kiss Geno again, but Geno forced Sid away, pushed him as he swiped his hand across his lips. “The fuck was that?”

Sid stood wide-eyed, his mouth open with no words coming. He had thought that would do it - wasn’t it all obvious now? But no, he’d fucked it up again somehow because Geno was pissed.

“Don’t need pity or being curious,” Geno spit out. His hands were curled into fists at his side, and Sid had no doubt Geno was ready to punch him. “Fuck off.”

Sid walked slowly toward Geno, closer until their bare chests touched. Geno stiffened as Sid brought his mouth to Geno’s ear. “Not curious,” Sid whispered before he dragged the tip of his nose along the shell of Geno’s ear.

Geno’s arms hung still; he raised them but stopped, letting his hands drop by his sides again. Sid shifted his hips to press against Geno’s thigh and guided Geno’s hands to Sid’s ass. “Does that feel like pity?” Sid asked, knowing Geno could feel the thick line of Sid’s cock against his thigh. He wanted to touch Geno, to know if he were hard too, but this had to be Geno’s choice.

Geno kissed him.

And Sid responded, kissed deeper, opened his mouth for Geno’s tongue when it pressed at his lips. It was sloppy and perfect, better than Sid had ever imagined alone in his room at night. Geno kissed with his whole body. His hands were everywhere and settled on Sid’s ass. He pressed his thigh between Sid’s legs and rolled his hips; Sid could feel Geno, just as hard, just as desperate as Sid felt. It was too much and not enough, more than Sid ever expected and so much less than he wanted right now.

Geno slid his hand to the center of Sid’s ass, letting his fingers trace the crease. The thin cotton of Sid’s worn boxers offered no resistance, and Geno tucked his fingertips in as he grinded against Sid.

“Jesus,” Sid whispered, his face buried in Geno’s neck. “You can’t do that, because I’ll—”

“Me, too,” Geno said, his heavy breathing in time with Sid’s, and Sid wondered when breathing had become fucking erotic.

Sid stepped back, then stepped back again. He felt like he could drown in this, in them together and what ever they would become, and his only answer would be please. But, their first time wasn’t going to be in a hallway like two teenagers ready to pop off with a touch or two.

Geno looked wrecked, his lips red and rough, his hair wild from Sid’s fingers dragging through it. His eyes were heavy-lidded, dark and almost all pupil, and he looked at Sid with such obvious desire that Sid could barely breathe. Geno looked like more, and as much as Sid wanted more, he needed to slow them down.

“We should, um, talk—” Sid began, but his resolve crumbled when Geno pressed his palm to Sidney’s bare chest, over his racing heart, as if he were laying claim.

“We talk,” Geno said, edging closer to Sid until they were only separated by inches and his mouth was at Sid’s ear. “Then we fuck.”

Sid felt weak as if Geno’s palm were the only thing holding him upright. He knew they needed to figure things out, but for now he didn’t want to move.

Chapter Text

Sid led Geno back to the kitchen. It took much longer than it should have because Geno would stop them, press Sid against the wall, kiss him, nip his shoulder where it met his neck making Sid weak. Weak kneed and weak willed, desperately wanting to drag Geno to bed rather than the kitchen.

“Geno, stop. We have to talk.” Sid laughed and tried to duck under Geno’s arm that bracketed him against the wall.

“We talk now,” Geno grinned and grabbed Sid’s wrists, holding them up over his head. Sid gasped a small oh! and Geno raised an eyebrow. “I’m not know you into bondage.”

Sid blushed hard, his body on fire —just from Geno’s mouth forming the word. “I’m not—I mean, I might—I mean, talk. In the kitchen.” Sid leaned in and brushed the tip of his nose along Geno’s too-sharp cheekbone. Geno closed his eyes and breathed out as if he were waiting for Sid to continue. Sid kissed the corner of Geno’s mouth and said, “Let’s talk first.”

Geno opened his eyes slowly, and Sid saw the moment he went pliant, the moment he placed himself in Sid’s control. It was in Geno’s eyes, the sleepy trust in his heavy lids. Like Sid could do anything, and they both knew it would never be wrong or hurtful because this was Sid, and Sid loved Geno.

Sid took Geno’s hand and led him to the kitchen. He thought they would maybe, probably get actual talking done if there were a table separating them. Geno filled the kettle with water, and Sid cleared away their sandwiches and the milk while trying to suppress his yawns. Over the past three games he’d spent more than sixty minutes on the ice and felt it in every muscle, in every swing and bend. He watched Geno (who’d easily poured as much time onto the ice), his easy movements, the way the faded exercise pants hung at his hips somehow defying gravity and managing to accentuate the well-muscled ass. He didn’t show one sign of fatigue.

Geno placed a mug of tea in front of Sid and took the opposite seat. “Go.” Geno brought the mug to his lips, but the tea was too hot. He blew across the top of the mug, and Sid’s heart beat a little faster in tune with his filthy thoughts.

Geno’s full lips in that small O, and Sid pressing his cock into the tightness, stretching Geno’s lips until they fit his girth. He’d push into Geno’s mouth so slow, inch by inch, until he could feel G swallow around him. And when Geno was ready, Sid would fuck his mouth, grab his hair and thrust, listen to the sweet sounds G would make as Sid came. And Sid would drop to the floor to suck Geno off, but he’d be too late. He’d kiss Geno, who’d be embarrassed that he’d come in his pants like a teenager, and he’d just tell Geno that it was the fucking hottest thing ever.

He cleared his throat, hoping it would also clear his mind. And he needed to, because Jesus, he was so fucking hard, he might come in his pants right then. He took a sip of his tea and scalded his tongue. “Why didn’t you tell me you’re gay?” Sid asked, making sure to keep his voice curious and not accusatory.

“Why should I?” Geno asked with a shrug. “You straight. You and Kathy together for years. I’m know you want marry, want kids.”

Sid stumbled over that—it was the illusion they’d meant to create, he and Kathy. That he was too busy with hockey to marry, but look! Here’s my girlfriend, and we are happy, and very straight. “What does Anna think?”

Geno turned the mug around, as if the tea would be cooler from that side. “We make deal. She want to come to US to be model. If she with me, it easier for travel. If people think we fuck, I’m not say no. Now she have people she know so, ok, we break up.” Geno used one hand to air quote the words, his other hand wrapped around the mug. He took a cautious sip and said, “Why you not tell me you bi?”

“Gay,” Sid corrected him automatically. “In the press conference I said I was bi because I didn’t want people to go after Kathy.” He stretched, extending his legs and felt Geno’s feet bump his.

Geno nodded, and Sid wondered if Geno had worried about that for Anna. It was no win and he ached for Kathy, for the good she’d done and what she might suffer.

“Why Kathy do this for you?”

“It wasn’t like that at first. We did date, and I really wanted that life with her. A wife, kids, the white picket fence. I wanted to be a straight guy in the NHL. I tried,” Sid said. He felt the same stress he had for years when he tried to talk to this; it gripped him, tighter until he couldn’t move, and he had to remind himself he was an adult. He had coping skills and the worst that he’d ever thought could happen, well, he’d done that himself. Sid rolled his neck and then his shoulders, forcing the tension away. “When I told her, she offered to keep doing it because it saves her from creeps on photo shoots who hit on her.”

Sid yawned and stretched his arms over his head. And—if he knew he’d look fine doing it, that his muscles would flex, and Geno might stare—who could blame him. “I should have told you at the Cup party at Mario’s—”

Geno dragged his foot up Sid’s calf, inched his toe under Sid’s knee. “I’m kiss you in the pool. Most dumb but wanted you so bad.”

“I thought it was a mistake. That you only did it because you were excited about the win and y’know, drunk.” Sid dropped his head to his hands, caught between regret at the time they’d lost and happiness that they’d somehow gotten here anyway. “And you never said anything about it again.”

”You never say! I’m thought you straight boy. Should have ask.” Geno’s toe strayed further, playing with the fabric of Sid’s boxers.

A fox hunting horn blared, loud and jarring from outside the kitchen. Geno turned, looking for the sound.

“Shit. That’s my alarm. Is it 5 already?” Sid scraped his chair away from the table and ran upstairs.

He heard Geno yell, “Who get up at 5? Forget I’m ask!”

Sid picked up his phone from the nightstand, but it slipped out of his fingers and tumbled to the floor and under the bed. Silently cursing his sleep-addled/horny clumsiness, Sid dropped to his belly and reached under the bed, but the phone was just out of reach. Worse than that, the damn alarm was still ringing. He sucked in his belly and slid under the bedframe just enough to reach the phone. When he stood up, Geno was there with a gentle, fond smile.

Geno wrapped his arms around Sid’s waist and rested his chin on his shoulder. “Ok?”

His body was warm and intoxicating and the small grip Sid had on sanity disintegrated. He barely eked out the word alarm before Geno slipped the phone from Sid’s hands. With a few taps, Geno silenced the noise.

“You tired,” Geno said and laid the phone on the bedside table. “You no night owl. You early worm. I’m take you to bed. Get clothes off.”

“G, I really want to—” Sid’s sigh morphed into a yawn. “I’ve wanted to since the day we met, but—” Another yawn cut off his sentence. “With the game and everything, and I really want to remember our first time—” God, this was miserable. If he only had the energy of Olli or Jake…

“Not like that, Sid.” Geno turned the sheets down and nudged him into bed. “Not worry about teeth. Deal with you bad breath in morning.”

Sid legitimately believed he could not get out of bed, not even to brush his teeth. He rearranged his pillow as Geno pulled the blanket up and turned off the lamp. It had been a long time since anyone had tucked him in, ensured that he was safe. “G, sleep here. Don’t go?” he mumbled into his pillow. Barely awake, he watched Geno strip down to his boxers, and when Geno crawled into bed, Sid rolled over to face him.

He felt surrounded by love, which felt like warm blankets pulled up to his neck and the careful tangle of fingers as Geno held his hand. This might not be a thorough fucking, but it was pretty good, Sid thought as he drifted off to sleep.

~*~

Sid woke with the sun streaming through the edges of the curtains, his body cold with the January chill that had seeped into the room. His covers were in a lump at the end of the bed; he didn’t even have a sheet to ward off the chill. Geno was a friggin’ blast furnace; he must have kicked the blankets off--

Sid heard the bathroom door open, then Geno slid back into bed and smiled warily. “Ok?”

Sid realized with the shy smile and the question that Geno was checking in to make sure that Sid hadn’t been confused last night or changed his mind this morning. Sid nodded, feeling as awkward as he thought Geno felt.

“Sorry about last night,” Sid said when Geno curled up close to him. “You were right. I’m not a night owl at all. I get stupid if I don’t have enough sleep.” Sid brushed Geno’s bangs out of his eyes and felt reckless, daring, like he could be caught any moment.

He’d spent so many years not looking in case someone caught him and called him out. Not looking at Geno’s back, wide and heavily-muscled, above his slim waist. Not at his tight ass and tree-trunk thighs in the black compression shorts, so dark against his pale skin. And when he did dare look, it was quick, a glance out of the side of his eye so he could never be caught or, if he were, it was because, y’know, he was checking in on his teammate like a good captain.

But he could look now. And Geno was beautiful on Sid’s pillow. His eyes seemed bigger, more brown than Sid realized. They were brown like—like—Sid couldn’t think of anything to compare them to, because most brown things he could think of were kind of nasty. They were just Geno’s eyes and that made them beautiful.

Sid grinned at the thought of comparing them to wet ground as the snow melted or other brown things that he swore he wouldn’t say. “I like your eyes. They’re—brown.”

Geno didn’t say duh but Sid knew that’s what his smile meant. Sid traced Geno’s cheekbone, too prominent (can never eat enough calories during the season, Sid thought, then pushed hockey out of his mind). Over the dimple that only appeared when he smiles, and Sidney wanted to tell Geno that he’s the ruler against which he measures everything, his first thought in every experience—that G would love this, would hate that. How Geno is the best friend he’s ever made, and he feels blessed by God that Geno might feel the same way.

He wanted to tell Geno that he’s so in love, he might burst for holding it in.

Sid stopped himself. This moment. This one in front of them. It felt monumental, like a turning point, changing who they were together, off the ice and possibly even on.

His hand drifted down, over Geno’s chest, his waist, came to rest on Geno’s hip. He played with the waistband of the boxers, dragging his finger under the fabric and stroking the skin between the hip bone and belly. Geno closed his eyes and exhaled; each time Sid’s fingers grazed Geno’s cock, Geno’s breath shuddered, and God, Sid loved it.

“Jesus, Geno, you’re gorgeous,” Sid whispered against Geno’s neck.

“Zhenya,” Geno said. He stroked Sid’s cheek with his knuckle, over the tiny dimple in his left cheek. “Not Geno. Zhenya.”

Sid mouths the word, almost afraid to pronounce it. His Russian is far worse than his French, and his French is abysmal. “Zen-ya,” Sid tried, but Geno pressed his finger to Sid’s lip.

“Try like this—Zjay-nya.” Geno said it slowly, more carefully so Sid could hear the difference, and when Sid repeated it, Geno was radiant. “Best. Is Russian name special for people who love me. Is short for Evgeni.”

Sid knew he was grinning much too wide to be sexy, but Geno’s gaze was dark and hungry. He made Sid feel seductive and desirable. With Geno, he wasn’t some hockey robot, dorky and ridiculous, like he usually was when he tried to be sexy. Maybe that was it, the ‘trying,’ because with Geno, he was just himself.

Sid kissed Zhenya soft and slow, one flowing into the next like time didn’t matter. Their fingers entwined then separated to explore each’s bodies for their first time. Over broad shoulders to slim waists. Strong hips and tight, define abs. Their hands broke apart but always returned.

Sid pulled away to edge Geno onto his back before tucking his fingers inside the waist band of G’s boxers, awaiting permission to strip them away. Sid wanted—he wanted to bury his face in the crease of Geno’s hip and breathe in, to open his mouth and take G deep, swallow his release and hold himself back until Geno finished. He wanted everything his Zhenya would offer.

Geno murmured a ragged, cut-off Sidney, and Sid took it as permission. He tossed Geno’s underwear on the floor, dropped his own as quickly as he could atop Geno’s.

Sid nudged Geno to the center of the bed and straddled him, sliding his hands around Geno’s waist and resting them at the small of Geno’s back. Geno sat up and cupped Sid’s cheeks, brought him closer, kissed him—needy and filthy, sucking on the tip of Sid’s tongue, and it was Sid’s turn to whine.

Sid’s knees felt weak, and he tumbled toward Geno, caught himself on his forearms. “Fuck, Zhenya. You can’t do that, or I’ll come right now.”

Geno smiled, feral and full of intent. “Maybe I’m want you to,” and his voice sounded thick with desire.

Sid breathed out another Fuck and turned toward the nightstand, grabbed the lube. Geno raised an eyebrow when Sid popped the top and squeezed a line of the cool lube down Geno’s cock and then dribbled some down his own. Sid dropped the tube on the bed and leaned forward, rolled his hips and dragged his cock over Geno’s.

“Good, so good,” Geno crooned, trying to steal kisses when he could, when Sid’s head would dip close enough.

Sid felt the familiar buzz at the base of his spine, pooling in his stomach, spreading to his balls. He wanted to stave off his orgasm, wanted to come right now. He spoke nonsense, kissed Geno hard and knocked their teeth. Bit his shoulder harder than he’d intended. Heard the Russian words Geno called as he scratched his nails down Sid’s back, and somehow, understood each word.

Geno patted the sheets the tube, squeezed lube into his palm before wrapping his wide hand around both cocks.

“Jesus fucking—” Sid rocked his hips, thrust his cock into Geno’s tight grasp again and again. Nothing had ever felt like this, like he was going to explode into pure energy, atoms and nothing else, and he’d have no regrets.

Geno strangled a Syutushka and tightened his grip. Sid pressed his hips forward, watched Geno’s face as he came over their cocks, and for Sid, seeing Geno like this—open, vulnerable, and maybe in love—felt far greater and more important than just sharing an orgasm. Sid’s hips lost their rhythm, and he came with his eyes closed, imagining how he’d feel if Geno said I love you, Syutushka.

Sid crawled off Geno’s lap and handed him Sid’s boxers to wipe his hands until one of them could gather enough strength to get a wet cloth.

“Good we have day off,” Geno said into the pillow that he’d thrown over half his face. “Need time to breathe. Wear me out.” He edged the pillow away so he could see Sid with one eye.

Sid smiled softly, too worn out and too happy to care if he looked doe-eyed.

Geno climbed out of bed, and Sid heard the water running in the bathroom before Geno returned with a wet cloth to wipe Sid’s hand and stomach. He threw the cloth back into the bathroom and snuggled up next to Sid.

Sid turned on his right side and wriggled under the blankets closer to Geno. “That was nice.”

“Nice?” Geno sounded mildly incredulous.

“Good?” Sid sounded innocent as he pressed his ass into Geno’s crotch.

“Good?!”

“Ok, pretty incredible,” Sid said, laughing at Geno’s outrage. He linked their fingers and sighed, content to listen to Geno complain as Sid drifted off.

He woke once, his stomach unhappy that it hadn’t been fed, but Sid decided being enveloped by Geno was more important. He closed his eyes and fell asleep again.

~*~

They rode a four-game winning streak (which probably had nothing to do with the sex between him and Geno, but why take a chance?), taking down the Caps, Montreal, Carolina, and Boston. The team felt the magic of last season, when Sully was new, and they barreled back from behind. Some of the guys whispered Repeat, and Sid couldn’t listen but didn’t have the heart to tell them to stop.

He felt it, in the long passes across the ice that hit the tape, in the dekes and the dangles that led to goals. The way Murr filled the net, barely allowing the puck by. He was giddy with it, could almost taste the champagne in the Cup, pouring down his chin. Pouring down Geno’s chin.

With two minutes left in the second period against St. Louis, Sid was on the bench recovering from his long shift while Sully shouted in his ear. But Sid wasn’t listening.

Geno was down, and he wasn’t getting up. Sid couldn’t focus on the puck or the play, just G lying still on the ice. Sid’s mind raced, listing in order of most horrific all of the career-ending injuries that Geno could be suffering. He felt sick, needed to be next to Geno, wanted to find the asshole who did it, make sure they couldn’t do it again. Underneath his anger and fear, a tiny voice prayed over and over, Please be okay. Underneath his heavy uniform, the pads, and sweat, Sid felt cold, as if he were the one lying on the ice.

Sid was half over the boards before Dumo grabbed his jersey and held him in place. “Wait,” Dumo yelled from somewhere far away and right next to him. “If you go now, it’s too many men on the ice.”

Sid waited for the puck to be whistled dead and jumped over the boards for Geno. Edmundson circled Geno, and Sid didn’t know if he were sorry or looking to go. “Get the fuck out of here.” Sid pushed him toward Reaves and then knelt next to Geno. He saw the pain in Geno’s eyes and knew this one hurt, but what? Shoulder? But he wasn’t holding it. His bad knee that had been operated on once? Oh Jesus, not a concussion, please, not a concussion. Geno smiled weakly at Sid as the trainers helped G upright, and he skated off by himself and down the tunnel.

Sid skated off after him, but Tanger and Dumo held him back. “Let me go,” Sid shouted, his anger and fear at odds with the cheers of the crowd, who were happy Geno had left under his own ability. “Geno’s hurt.” It was visceral, his need to be with Geno, to find out what had gone wrong.

“He’ll be ok,” Tanger said as if he knew Sid was torn between wanting to be with Geno and needing to finish the period.

Sid’s jaw set as he looked around the ice. “Who was it? What number?” he screamed against the crowd.

Tanger shook his head. “There’s two minutes. Stay clean. We don’t need you in the box.” He patted Sid’s head and guided him away from the group of Blues who were shielding Joel Edmundson.

The two minutes took all night, and when Sid reached the trainers’ room, Geno was lying on the table, on his side and smiling goofily.

“G—you ok?” Sid asked, keeping his voice quiet in case Geno had a concussion. He caressed Geno’s cheek before realizing he still wore his hockey gloves.

“Most good,” Geno grinned and tried to pull Sid’s glove off. He was grasping the air several inches from Sid’s hand. “Why you move hand?”

The trainer laughed. “He’s pretty high on pain meds,” he told Sid. “It’s his left leg, but he’ll be ok. He’s out for the rest of the night, though.”

Sid looked from the trainer to Geno and back. He thought they were lying—knew they wouldn’t lie, why would they lie, what was really wrong. “No concussion?”

“Not head,” Geno said, pointing to his knee. “Is leg. See? I’m only lift this high.”

His left leg rested flat atop his right leg. The trainer snorted behind his hand, and Sid thought that was probably a good sign. If Alex were laughing, it probably wasn’t that serious. Sid dropped his gloves on the floor. “I’m going to sit here with you,” Sid said and drew a bench up next to Geno’s table.

“No,” Geno said, his grin comically wide. “You have—you have—What that word is? Crazy things you got to do?”

“Routines?” Sid raised his eyebrow and smirked. “Crazy, huh?”

“Yes, go.” Geno waved him away. “Most cranky if you don’t do.”

“Fuck you, Malkin.” Sid laughed as he returned the bench and picked up his gloves. “I’ll be back to take him home,” he told Alex, who shot Sid a look that he interpreted to mean good luck with that.

Sid waved from the doorway, and as he left, he heard Geno yell, “Pucks before fucks.” There was a high pitched squeal-giggle, and then, “Sticks before dicks!”

They lost 3-0, and for once, Sid didn’t care; he wanted to get them home. Geno hobbled into the house, leaning on Sid instead of using the crutches. Against Geno’s mumbled protest, Sid put sheets on the downstairs’ guest room bed and helped Geno out of his clothes and into bed. Sid slid in next to Geno and Geno’s quiet snores lulled Sid as he made plans for someone to help while the team was in Boston. Fuck, he had to take the red-eye from Boston to LA for the All-Star game—

“Way to get out of the All-Star Game,” Sid whispered into Geno’s hair before he kissed his forehead.

Sid watched Geno sleep, the snuffling breaths and the lines on his face as he tried to turn. He felt himself falling apart finally, tears prickling his eyes as the adrenaline drained from his body. Caring for someone, loving someone, was frightening, Sid thought as his heart finally slowed to a normal beat.

In this moment, he knew it was worth it to be in love with Geno.

~*~

For Sid, All-Star Weekend was tainted by their fucking ridiculous “100 Greatest NHL Players” presentation. He pasted on his media smile, said all the right things at the right times. But, anytime a reporter asked Sid what he thought, he told them the list was incomplete without Evgeni Malkin.

He also perfected his shutdown death glare. When a reporter would invariably begin the sentence, “Is that because you and he—” Sid stared with a blank face, radiating anger and silently daring them to continue the question.

They didn’t.

Mario, who’d been named to the list, told the media that Geno absolutely deserved to be in the top 100. “He has won two Stanley Cups, Conn Smythe, Art Ross. It’s tough.”

Tough my ass, Sid thought, smiling through gritted teeth. Toews made the list and he didn’t have half the hardware Geno had. And Kane, that piece of shit was goddamn accused of rape.

He texted Geno as much, and some of the responses were almost readable, depending on the pain medication cycle. Sometimes they were key smashes, and Sid smiled when he read them.

He missed Geno.

It wasn’t just that he was worried about Geno getting around the house without hurting himself further. He missed Geno’s body heat overwhelming him while they slept. He missed tripping over Geno’s shoes when he walked through the room. But mostly, he missed their conversations, the easy way they moved around each other when they shared the bathroom in the morning. His bad jokes, his grumbling in Russian. Walking past Sid and kissing him on the cheek or head.

“I don’t trust you, Sidney Crosby,” Ovechkin said when they were perched on the bench door during the skills competition. “This thing with Zhenya, it stinks.” He air-quoted thing, which Sid laughed at because of the heavy gloves on Ovi’s fingers.

“What do you think is going on? We’re lying?” Sid gulped back a laugh. They had been lying. They weren’t lying now. He didn’t even know how to explain any of it, and he couldn’t without bringing Murr and Shears into it.

“Whatever.” Ovi waved away Sid’s words. “Don’t hurt him.”

“Or what?” Sid laughed, actually a little afraid. “You’ll send the Russian Mafia after me?”

“Russian Mafia, no. Tom Wilson, maybe.” Ovi patted Sid’s cheek and skated over to a group of Russians, who kept turning to stare at Sid.

Sid sat alone, smiling for a camera he couldn’t see but knew was somewhere. Tanger was hanging with Giroux and the other French-Canadian players. Marchy was too hungover to carry on a conversation. Segs was pining over Benn; Sid had tried to tell him to come clean, to tell Jamie everything, but Segs teared up and said he knew Jamie didn’t feel the same way.

In the end, he skated over to Carey Price and let him talk about his wife and the baby that was on the way. The easy conversation washed over Sid, and he forgot about Sad Russians, in pain and alone two-thousand miles away.

And when the Metropolitan Division beat the Pacific Division, and they were awarded their share of the $1 million prize, Sid had already decided to donate his $90,000 portion in Geno’s name.

Or maybe he’d start a foundation for Geno, called The 101.

~*~

By the time the Uber driver dropped Sid at his home, the sun had crept up past the horizon. The air didn’t feel as frigid; the pink and orange in the sky seemed to warm him. Or maybe it was knowing Geno was in Sid’s home, sleep warm and waiting for him.

When Sid finally lay down, Geno pulled him close. “Glad you home,” he said into Sid’s shoulder and was asleep again before Sid could answer.

For the first time in days, Sid felt content. At peace. Right.

Chapter Text

IMMIGRANTS: THEY GET THE JOB DONE
By Angie Carducci
Special to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
February 11, 2017

I hear them long before I see the golf cart weaving up the long drive to where I parked my car.

“Geno! Just drive in a straight line!”

Sidney Crosby’s voice is both outraged and fond. It carries easily on the cold, crisp air.

“Is okay, Sid. I’m put snow tires on golf cart.”

“You did? When?”

There’s a beat of silence while Crosby processes Evgeni Malkin’s joke, and Geno’s raucous laugh is delightful.

Warily, I scoot into the back of the cart, but Geno is cautious as he drives us down the long driveway to the back of the house, only once swerving toward a slush patch and threatening to shove Sid out for side-seat driving.

From somewhere, I hear the unmistakable music from the Broadway show, Hamilton. When I sing along, Sid turns to me, and grins in surprise. “Isn’t it great?” he asks. “I’d read the book years ago, but this musical is—” He breaks off his sentence to sing. He looks embarrassed, but I join him. At least we’ll be embarrassed together.

The house is grand, constructed of brick and gable; Geno ignores the walkway to the front door and opts for the garage entrance, and that seems fitting. Neither man feels like the stately formality of a foyer, but more like the tumble in with muddy shoes and snow-wet clothes and ‘drop that gear bag right at the laundry room, young man.’

Malkin’s coat hangs next to Crosby’s on the mudroom hooks. He kicks off his shoes and toes around their extra skates, LL Bean boots, and one pair of bright yellow Crocs looking for his worn moccasin slippers. It’s messy and jumbled with all the signs that this isn’t something new. I sneak in a question about how long he’s lived with Crosby, and Geno masterfully dodged the question by inviting me to join them for lunch.

In well-practiced moves choreographed to perfection, Crosby rifles through the refrigerator for something to eat while Malkin fills the kettle for tea. Sid is still talking about the musical versus the original book and is clearly passionate about both. “Listen to this song,” he says, and I hear the mournful opening notes of History Has Its Eyes On You. “Washington tells Hamilton to be careful, that people will judge them, but in the end, they have no control. I think about that a lot, especially since—”

“Enough, Sid. You talk her ear off like big nerd.” Geno hip-checks Sid into the refrigerator, and I barely hear Sid mumble, Well, she started it.

Sid carries baggies of deli meats, bottles of mayonnaise and mustard, and a loaf of white bread to the table. The spread of his fingers, the strength of his hand—at one point, he carried most of that in one hand before dropping it on the table. He sounds almost apologetic as he explains. “At this point of the season, all I do is eat, trying to get calories in because we burn them so fast.”

“This where all your calories go.” Geno pats Sid’s bottom with a grin. He passes out plates and utensils, ignoring the finger Sid shoots him, and begins constructing a complicated sandwich, alternating meat and cheese before barely skimming the top slice of bread with mayonnaise. He cuts it into two triangles and then slides the plate in front of Sid, who smiles his thanks and begins eating.

When I make a simple ham and cheese sandwich, Sid stands and offers to grab additional choices of condiments and cold cuts from the fridge, as if he’d failed me as a host. He doesn’t quite believe me that I’m content. “Oh! We have leftover potato and cheese vareniki that Geno’s mother made—”

“Can’t give away Mama’s вареники!” Geno sounds aghast, but his teasing is clear in the smile in his eyes.

We stay at the kitchen table to chat; it’s cozy with its blonde wood floors and light cabinets. The refrigerator is covered in children’s drawings. Sid points them out, identifying each by its artist—the Fleury girls, the Cullen boys.

One crayon-on-copy paper masterpiece portrays two figures, stick-arm in stick-arm. Although the artist’s vision didn’t include clothing, it’s obviously Sid and Geno. The 87 and 71 on their chests are wobbly but clear.

“Estelle Fleury drew that last year,” Sid says, cutting off my question. “She said Geno and I are always hugging. I guess she knew before we even did.”

That feels like my cue. “What does it feel like to be the first openly gay men in the NHL?”

Geno snorts as he laughs. “Same as straight man except more stupid questions.”

I laugh, too, but Sid looks appalled. He turns to Geno and whispers, “You can’t say that.” I suspect Sid spends a lot of time saying that.

Sid apologizes and answers my (admittedly ridiculous) question. “We are now the face of all LGBTQ hockey players. We take that very seriously, and we hope that, if others decide to identify themselves to the public, they will feel that they can.”

Geno seems thoughtful, like there’s something he wants to say. I wait as he finds the English words, which he acknowledges is often difficult for him. “We are big, strong—play in NHL long time. Players know us, know we won’t take shit. But we know that words are nothing. In Russian, I’m say, Брань не дым -- глаза не ест. Means, like, hard words break no bones.”

Sid suggests, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

“But what if—” Geno leans forward, gesturing to Sid, and I can hear the stress and apprehension in his voice. The fear. “What if he rookie? What if he say I’m gay? Would he be check harder? Aim for head? Call him--” Geno doesn’t say what a gay player could be called, the taunts he might hear. He lets the statement linger for me to imagine the treatment a new player would receive.

Sid pats Geno’s thigh and whispers something as Geno sits back against his kitchen chair. He speaks too quietly for me to hear, but Geno visibly relaxes and nods.

I hesitate to ask what slurs they’ve heard across the faceoff circle or when they’re jammed in the corners.

Sid shakes his head. “No, I won’t repeat it. Just—it’s ugly, but like Geno says, because it’s us, they know when to stop.”

For the past 50 years, hockey has been a sport of testosterone, where players break bones and with tape and a promise, are on the ice the next period. Where, if a tooth dangles, they pull it and return for their next shift. A man’s sport.

The language is rife with homophobic put downs. You can imagine; you don’t need me to supply any. “We try to educate our teammates that a word they think means ‘you idiot’ is really nasty. Most of them go, ‘Huh, yeah. You’re right.’ Like, they never even thought about it,” Sid says. He pulls his mug to him, and his tea must be cold because mine is, but he takes a sip anyway.

“Always hear words,” Geno adds, watching Sid out of the corner of his eye, checking that he’s alright. “Even when I’m young boy. I’m ask others. Horny, Hags, Kuhnhackl, tell me yes, Jakub Voráček, Anže Kopitar, too. Same words. Different languages. Want to help stop.”

They’re both quiet afterward, and I wonder what they heard as children, what they hear now—not just from opposing players, but from their own teammates in their locker room, a sacrosanct space.

The You Can Play Project was begun by in 2012 by Patrick Burke and his father, Brian, a long-time NHL executive, as a tribute to their brother and son, Brendan, who’d came out as gay in 2009 to teammates and family. When someone leaked the story to ESPN, Brendan began a life of advocacy for the place of LGBTQ athletes in hockey. Sadly, he died in 2010 in a car accident before he could accomplish many of his goals. The You Can Play Project picked up where Brendan stopped.

Their mission states that they work for the safety and inclusion of LGBTQ athletes, fans, and coaches in all sports. They advocate that all athletes be judged by their contributions and not sexual orientation. Perhaps most important in the NHL, “You Can Play seeks to challenge the culture of locker rooms and spectator areas by focusing only on an athlete’s skills, work ethic and competitive spirit.”

The pair has already filmed a YCP spot that will air in HD on the center ice scoreboard during the February 14, 2017 Valentine’s Day game against Vancouver. Neither would spill what they said, no matter how much I begged.

Notorious for his lack of poker face, Sid blushed, and I suspect we may be treated to a grand romantic gesture.

When I ask about the history of their relationship, both men hesitate. Sid begins cleaning up lunch, returning the food to the refrigerator and stacking dishes in the dishwasher. Geno offers me a new cup of tea or dessert, and when I decline, he brings two spoons and one pint of Haagen Daz to the table.

Sid digs in to the plain vanilla, and it reminds me of an old movie where the character braces himself by taking a shot of whiskey. Sid eats his spoonful before answering.

“I said this at the press conference,” he begins, reminding me as if I could forget. “I knew of Evgeni Malkin. We’d played against each other in World Juniors. But I’d never met him. Mario [Lemieux] had told me what he’d gone through to get here, and how could you not want to meet him after that? He was, like, a hero. Then he moves here, doesn’t know anyone, can’t speak the language, how badass is that?”

Geno is uncharacteristically quiet, poking at the ice cream. “Yeah?” he asks Sid, as if it were the first time he’s hearing this.

Sid doesn’t answer, just nods and eats another spoonful.

Geno speaks to me, but his gaze never leaves Sid. “I’m think him big ladies’ man. He have girlfriend long time. I’m—what that word? Pining. I’m like him so much but never say because what if I’m say, and he hate me. How we be Two-Headed Monster?” His voice is soft, but the sorrow is there, in his face and in his words. In his body, slumped against Sid’s.

For just a moment, Sid links his fingers with Geno’s. They don’t speak, and I wonder if they’re thinking of time they lost to fear and toxic culture.

Before I can ask, Sid releases Geno’s hand and reaches for the Haagen-Daz container; he squawks when he realizes that, while he’s been chatting, Geno has been eating. My question is lost in their grabfest for whatever ice cream is left, and I’m fairly certain that, if I weren’t there, this would have devolved into a Wrestle to the Death for the remaining dessert.

Their laughter is infectious and only my pretend threat to steal the ice cream stops them. I’ve known both of these men for several years, and I’ve interviewed them numerous times, including after last year’s Stanley Cup victory. I’ve never seen them happier than they have been since they were outed in a gossip column. It may not have been on their terms, but it’s working.

While it may sound like Happily Ever After, the story has its conflicts. Neither man will comment on the locker room culture beyond the statement the Penguins’ Media Relations office released: “The entire Penguins organization supports Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and stands behind them. We request that their privacy be respected.”

Sid chooses his words carefully, walking the fine line between being a person in his own right and representing a multi-million dollar organization. He concedes that not everyone is celebrating. “People’s beliefs are personal, and I’m not out here to convert anyone. I’m living my life. But like You Can Play says, everyone has the right to play without being harassed. I’ll fight for that right if I have to.”

“No,” Geno says forcefully, dropping his spoon into the empty pint container. “I’m fight so you don’t have to.”

Sid looks so pleased and in love that he almost doesn’t notice that Geno finished all the ice cream. Instead of chirping him, Sid rolls his eyes and gets rid of the evidence. He leaves the kitchen and while he’s gone, Geno tells me his truth.

“Sid worry all the time. About getting old. Slowing down. About a legacy. About being 87 Sidney Crosby.”

He says the last part like 87: Sidney Crosby is a myth instead of a man, larger than life like one of the Founding Fathers he reveres.

Sidney dashes into the kitchen with a thick paperback book in his hand. It’s the biography of Alexander Hamilton that the musical is based on. I may have squealed because I haven’t been able to find a copy for myself. He nudges the book into my hands. “You’ll really like it. I think Hamilton would be pleased with how his story is told.”

I thank them for meeting me on one of their precious-few off days. Always a Canadian, Sidney politely thanks me for coming. Geno side-hugs me and invites me back when his mother is here from Russia to have her vareniki fresh from the pot.

As I wind my way down the drive to my car, I think that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin should have no worries about how future generations will remember the certain Hall of Famers. Amid their achievements, their styles that are different but complementary, the way they’ve changed the game as we know it—the Crosby-Malkin relationship will become a notation, like Sid’s love of history, and Geno’s tongue-in-cheek humor.

What people will remember is that immigrants—they get the job done.

Chapter Text

Sid climbed the stairs carefully, holding the tray steady so the tea wouldn’t splash onto his bare chest or the pancakes. This Valentine’s Day would be romantic, beginning with breakfast in bed for Geno—Zhenya. Cinnamon protein pancakes and jam-sweetened tea.

When Sidney had rolled out of bed, Zhenya had been sound asleep, sprawled in the center of the bed with the sheets tangled around his ankles. He’d been bare assed, not having bothered to step back into his tight boxers after they’d jacked each other off. It had been incredible, Zhenya over him, his right forearm bearing his weight as he wrapped his hand around both of them.

Afterward, they’d burrowed under the blankets, nestled together, and whispered about nothing until Zhenya had fallen asleep in the middle of a sentence.

That.

That’s what he’d always wanted.

Six weeks before, when it had begun as a way to help two teammates, he had thought, I want something just like this.

But what they’d created was so much better than anything he could have hoped. This home together, their relationship.

Love bubbled up inside Sid like the champagne they’d sprayed around the locker room after they’d won the Cup last year. It had fizzed against Sid’s thumb like the bottle would have burst if he hadn’t pulled his thumb away. He felt like he’d explode if he didn’t tell Zhenya I love you.

And it had to be a perfect moment. Something tender and loving they could tell their kids one day.

Sid backed into their bedroom planning his words. He toed the door mostly closed, and said, “Good morning, Zhenya. I brought—” Sid pushed the tray onto the bureau and turned toward the bed—

Zhenya sat naked against the headboard, pillows stuffed behind his back and his fingers pointing to his lap. He grinned as Sid stared, his mouth open.

“What the fuck, G? Is your dick wearing a—a tuxedo?”

“I’m dress for success.” Zhenya waggled his eyebrows and blew Sid a kiss. “And maybe little bit impress you.”

“You’re wearing a tiny tuxedo--”

Zhenya balked at the word tiny. “Is biggest tuxedo size to fit my cock.”

Sid’s giggle became full-blown laughter as he crawled up the bed. “How the hell did you—Where did you even—?” He straddled Zhenya’s thighs and traced the lines of the tiny tux jacket and shirt—even the rosette on the satin lapel.

“Internet,” Zhenya said with a wink as he cradled his hard dick in his hand. “Want you to be impress. Big day for us. First Valentine’s Day.”

“Oh, I’m impressed,” Sid said, staring at Geno as he slapped his dick against his palm. Every sweet and romantic plan Sid had made disappeared, consumed by how much he wanted Geno.
Sid had insisted they go slow. Jacking off was okay, but anything else seemed too intimate. Too personal. At first, he didn’t want to become too invested if they were just for show. But they weren’t, were they.

He loved Geno, and even more, he wanted him.

Now.

“Can I undress you?” Sid slid his fingertip around the head of Zhenya’s dick and pressed it over the slick tip before bringing his finger to his lips. Zhenya’s eyes were almost all pupil, dark and heavy lidded, and when Sid slipped his finger into his mouth, Zhenya’s moan slammed him like a check into the boards.

For Sidney, everything fell away except for them in that moment. Zhenya underneath him, his breath hitching each time Sid licked his lips. The taste of Zhenya on his tongue and Sid’s desire to have more. He leaned forward and kissed Zhenya hard and filthy, let his tongue slide over Zhenya’s, hoping he could taste himself in the kiss. Hoping that he could feel Sidney’s desperation.

When Sid pulled away, Zhenya shook his head and grabbed for him. “Come back--”

Sid kissed him once more and said, “I have a better idea.” He climbed off the bed and opened Zhenya’s legs so that he had room to settle himself between them.

Zhenya’s cock strained the elastic that held the tux in place. Careful not to catch it on the head, Sid removed the tuxedo and tossed it onto the bed. He wanted to take the huge cock into his mouth until it hit his throat, wanted Zhenya to fuck his mouth until he gagged from it. He wanted their first time to be memorable, but Sid was pretty sure he wasn’t going to last if he tried to finesse this. He wrapped his hand around the base and licked up to the tip as slowly as he could manage.

He’d barely licked the head when Zhenya dropped his head against the headboard. “Fuck, Syutushka. So good. So good,” he whispered, hesitantly raising his hand. Sid guided it to his head, held it in place hoping Zhenya would understand that it was more than alright. Hoping that Zhenya would know he loved it. Loved him.

Sidney swirled his tongue around the foreskin, flicked it over the head, and Zhenya’s breathy yes, Syutushka, yes made Sid’s dick throb. He was afraid that, once he took Zhenya’s cock into his mouth and knew the weight on his tongue, it would overwhelm his senses. That his brain would go offline, leaving him with just his instincts, and he’d come in his underwear, long before Zhenya was finished.

“Is okay, Syutushka.” Zhenya’s hand trembled as he stroked Sid’s hair. “We no have—”

In answer, Sidney wrapped his lips around Zhenya’s cock and took him deep into his mouth. He sucked and nipped and kissed; he listened to each noise he pulled from Zhenya until they became more breath than actual language. Zhenya’s hips bucked, and Sidney held him down, pressing his arm across Zhenya’s hips. He lightly scraped his fingernail over Zhenya’s balls and down to his hole. Sid teased the opening as he tongued the shaft and head, and when Sid dipped his finger inside, barely the tip, Zhenya grasped Sidney’s hair, trying to pull him off.

Sid shook his head; he wasn’t going to pull off and allow Zhenya to come on his stomach, not when he could learn whether Zhenya would taste sharp or bitter, whether it would pool on Sid’s tongue or hit the back of his throat. Sid hollowed his cheek and sucked tighter, then pushed his finger in just a little more.

Zhenya’s body shook under Sid, and he begged as he stroked Sidney’s hair, grabbing it almost as hard as Sid would have liked. Sid was lost in the heat of Geno’s body and the way he babbled nonsense or maybe it was Russian, and Sid only recognized one word again and again: Syutushka.

Zhenya pulled harder, yanked on Sid’s hair, and Sid felt the warmth fill his mouth. He swallowed as he could, sucking Zhenya through coming until he nudged Sid away. Sid sat back and wiped his mouth, slicking his palm with whatever had leaked out. He shoved his hand into his boxers and jacked himself, replaying what they’d done as he listened to Zhenya pant as he came down from his orgasm. Jesus Christ. Zhenya had been so fucking hot, and he’d blown him, and he’d tasted so good, and Sid just wanted to do it again, and maybe finger each other, or let Zhenya fuck him…

Sid came quickly, faster than he had since boarding school. He wasn’t even embarrassed.

He wiped his hand on his boxers and flopped onto the mattress next to Zhenya, ignoring whatever was digging into his back. He flung his arm over his eyes and caught his breath. “Damn, G. That was—”

Sid peeked out at Zhenya, who’d rolled to his side to face Sid. His eyes were closed and his breathing even, but after sharing a bed for the past month, Sid knew Zhenya wasn’t asleep; he looked relaxed and happy—but, almost something more. Usually, Sid felt a constant thrum pulsing from G, a need to move, to go, to do. Another goal to achieve, another insurmountable accomplishment to overtake.

Sid stroked Geno’s cheek with his knuckle, and beneath his touch, Geno smiled slowly without opening his eyes. The stress lines between his eyebrows were gone as was the tension that usually lined his face. Geno radiated contentment--as if they stayed in bed all day, that would be okay.

Maybe they’d do just that, Sid thought. They had the morning off as an apology to the young guys for stealing their Valentine’s night. He moved closer, snuggling into the space below Geno’s chin. Geno wrapped his arms around Sid and whispered “Я люблю тебя” as he brushed his lips over Sid’s hair.

Sid had never needed anyone. He hooked up or took care of himself. No one spent the night because it avoided any messy entanglements like sharing lives and sharing love. But Geno, with his superhero sense of right and wrong, swooped in to save Murr and Shearsy. Sid had followed him, trusted him, and look where they were.

Maybe it was too soon to say anything like “I love you.” But lying there, listening to Geno croon in Russian, it sure didn’t feel like it.

Sid reached behind him to find whatever was digging into his side. He pulled out the tux and laughed quietly. Geno was ridiculous in the best way.

“I love you,” Sid said into Geno’s chest, struggling to keep his eyes open. He kept his voice low; that way, if he were wrong, if G didn’t feel the same way, they could just pretend it didn’t happen.

“Ya lyublyu tebya.” Geno’s voice was thick and deep, and sounded like home and safe and intimacy. “Best Valentine’s ever.”

And almost before he finished speaking, Geno huffed out a small snore.

Sid’s eyes opened wide.

Ya Lyublyu tebya.

Geno had said those words a bunch of times before, mostly at night as Sid was falling asleep. Sid had assumed it meant something like, good night or sleep well.

But that didn't really go with “Best Valentine's ever.”

His emotions welled up as he rolled over to grab his phone from the nightstand. Could it mean—

Sid typed the phrase in the Russian language app, sounding it out the best he could. He hit translate and waited as it wrestled with his poor spelling. He tried to hold back in case he was wrong, to not think about a future together, marriage, maybe even children, because if he didn’t stop himself and he was wrong, he’d be crushed.

I love you, the app spelled on his screen.

He loves me, too.

Sid grinned and stopped himself from laughing out loud—but maybe he should wake him because G was an asshole. He’d been telling Sid this for weeks. By saying it in Russian, that motherfucker had hedged his bets. Sid left his phone on the bedside table and scooted closer to Geno, curving into him. They had time to sleep a little longer, and when they woke up, he’d make Geno pay.

Yeah. He’d make Geno say it in English as many times as he could get away with.

Sid was pretty sure he’d never get tired of hearing it.

Chapter Text

The chirping began the moment Sid and Geno stepped onto the ice for pregame skate.

“Happy Valentine’s Day, lovebirds!” Flower shouted from the crease. From the blue line, Sid could see his grin. “Have any fun so far today?”

Sid blushed and hoped he could play it off as exertion. No way he was going to share details with these big mouths. He and Geno would be all over the gossip websites if anyone knew the way he’d woken Zhenya that morning—how he’d dragged his tongue along the crease of Zhenya’s thigh until he could bury his face between Zhenya’s legs. How Zhenya had begged him for more until—oof

Tanger purposefully checked Sid, who went down on his ass. He scrambled back to his feet and refused to rub where he’d bruised himself.

Over his shoulder, Tanger laughed at Sid. He skated around Geno and asked, “Did Sid wake you up the right way?” Geno grinned his answer, and Tanger high-fived him, their thick gloves making a dull smack.

“Why do you all assume I woke him up?” Sid grumbled to whomever would listen. Their teammates laughed as they skated warm-ups around their half of the rink.

“LALALALAAAA,” Jake sang loudly and off key as he pretended to stuff his gloved fingers into his ears while holding his hockey stick. “Mom and Dad don’t have sex. The stork brought us. It’s the truth.”

Sid slapped the puck at Flower who caught it easily and dropped it to the ice. For a moment, Sid allowed himself to think about the probability of Flower leaving them, going to the new Vegas team. It had to be better than riding the bench, but…

Sid curled a puck away from the net and skated toward the yellow M in the McDonald’s logo in the ice. Thank you, God, for routines, he thought as he worked the puck back and forth over the curved M. He lost himself in the tap tap tap of stick on puck instead of letting his mind wander to Flower leaving or that night’s You Can Play video.

It wandered there anyway.

Sid was acutely aware that for most people, tonight would be about the First Out Couple in the NHL. About him and Geno and what they signified. Their relationship wasn’t breaking news, but this was the first time since the presser six weeks before that he and Geno would acknowledge it in public.

They’d avoided media questions and requests for interviews; every reporter knew that continued access to the locker room depended on them following the rules. He and Geno had been the ones who’d sought out Angie Carducci for the interview, which had made Sid almost ill. His stomach churned for days before she came to their home (which Jennifer had suggested so they could “continue to control the narrative”).

And the article turned out okay. She didn’t make them sound all stupid and lovey-dovey like kids. But she did paint him like some gigantic history nerd, which wasn’t even a little funny, even if Geno did laugh and say, ‘But Sid. You are gigantic history nerd.’

Sid worked the puck to the end of the M’s leg, from one side of the stick blade to the other, sharp and precise movements—

“You okay?” Geno asked, skating up to Sid and interrupting his ritual. “Look like you murder puck.”

“If I don’t get to fucking one-thousand points soon, I just might. I just need two fucking points.” Sid stood with Geno and looked up at the seats and the people filing in. “I’m glad you’re back for tonight. I don’t think I could’ve done this alone.”

Geno patted Sid’s shoulder and left his hand there. With two minutes before they had to clear the ice, they should be stretching or shooting or something, not standing here worrying.

“So many rainbow,” Geno said. He ran his fingers over the stick’s grip that was wrapped in Pride Tape.

Sid turned to Geno, whose eyes were wide as he scanned the seats. “It’s crazy, huh? I never thought—”

“When I’m live in Russia, is so bad there. Can’t tell people, worry someone say. Now everyone know. Sometimes I’m forget we not hide. Still I’m little bit scared.”

Sid turned to Geno and moved in until they were chest to chest, and he could look up into Geno’s eyes. Even if their helmets wouldn't be in the way, Sid couldn’t kiss him here, just couldn’t do that to their privacy; this was the best he could do right now. “We got this, eh?” Sid said, and hoped that it said, I understand.

And he did. Even though Canadians were more open to LGBTQ+ rights, that didn’t mean that Canadian hockey players were. Locker rooms were the same everywhere, and homophobia was a universal language. Sid patted Geno’s chest. “Race you to Murr!” and Sid was off.

He heard Geno curse in Russian and knew it would be only a moment til G was at his back. Sid stopped short in front of the goal and felt Geno smack his ass with his stick as he skated by.

“Crosby big cheat!” Geno yelled to the rest of the Pens who were skating toward the bench.

Sid grinned at Murr and tapped their helmets together. “Nice tape,” he said, looking at the rainbow Pride Tape Murr had wrapped over the blade of his stick. “You and Shearsy ok?”

Murr nodded. “We never thanked you for—”

Sidney waved him off. “No one should be forced to come out. That was bullshit.”

“But you and G—”

“It’s all good,” Sid said as he skated away. He held his stick so the Pride tape at the knob was visible to everyone. He wanted to shout: This is for the boys who know and who are afraid. Geno and I are here, and you never have to choose hockey over being you.

~*~

The Pens traipsed to the dressing room, their skate blades leaving wet lines in the carpet. This was their time, without coaches, without trainers. They could spend the 20 minutes yelling, dancing, praying, swearing, but as the C, Sid knew how to read the room and figure out what the guys needed.

“I don’t know what to expect from the Canucks tonight,” Sid began. His teammates were switching to game sweaters, fixing the tape on their socks, checking for nicks in their skate blades, but he knew they were listening. “The You Can Play video will probably—I’d expect plenty of chirping about me and G, and it’s probably not going to be too inventive, just more stuff we’ve already heard.”

After 16 games, Sid was pretty sure he’d heard them all, from which position he preferred in bed to a proposition to meet the opposing player after the game. He laughed out loud at the same comments that he’d heard since he was barely a teenager; usually it wrong-footed the guy and allowed Sid to get a jump on the play. But inside he felt unsettled as he always had, like the guy might beat him up if they met in a dark parking garage. Like his sexuality made him an easy target for bullies and cowards.

“Thanks to everyone for supporting us,” Sid said. He nodded his head toward Geno to include him. “For ignoring the questions, for not selling us out to reporters. For not letting it change how you feel about us.”

Tears prickled the corners of Sid’s eyes. He’d spent sleepless nights worrying that Fehr’s or Cole’s homophobia would infect the team. That one day he might walk into the dressing room, and his friends—family—would shun him, turn their back on him and when he walked by, punch him with their fists or words.

“Nah. We still think you’re overbearing—” Flower called from his corner stall.

“Bossy!”

“Bossig!” Horny echoed Kunitz.

“A dictator—”

“Tyrannisch—” the usually quiet Kuhnhackl added with a grin.

“I get it; I get it,” Sid laughed, waving them off. “Long as nothing’s changed.” This was—normal, how the room had always been, how he’d always loved it. Maybe not talking about it—his relationship with G, supposed or real—had been wrong; now, knowing that they still had his back, Sid felt the tension uncoil, leaving his shoulders looser and less painful than they’d been in weeks.

The teammates’ attention shifted away from Sid and Geno as they completed their final pre-game ritual, but Geno slid his hand into Sid’s and squeezed gently. “Good friends,” Geno said with a grin before coming closer to Sidney’s ear. “You worry about 1000th point—When you get, I’m celebrate with you. You naked, I’m get on my knees, grab ass, blow you so good.”

Geno’s warm breath tickled Sid’s ear, sent shivers down Sid’s spine. He loved this casual intimacy, the promise of later. He’d never expected this when they’d begun and couldn’t imagine not having it now. Sid nodded as he turned his head just enough that Geno could brush his lips at the corner of Sid’s mouth and no one would notice.

“Let’s do this,” Sid called out to his teammates, and if his voice were thicker, deeper than usual, hopefully no one would notice.

They team filed out to the ice, and the crowd’s roar filtered down the runway to Sid and Geno as they completed their special handshake—a quick fist bump, then a chest bump. When Sid turned toward the runway, Geno slapped his ass. “For later,” he grinned.

~*~

According to Jen, their You Can Play video would be shown before the game. Sully had given the team the choice of staying on the ice to watch the video or returning to the bench. Each of the 21 teammates remained; they stood with Sid and Geno at center ice. Sid felt immensely proud to be part of the Penguin organization and especially these guys.

“Ladies and gentlemen!” The announcer’s deep voice boomed through the packed arena. “The Pittsburgh Penguins welcome you to Pride Night 2017 against the Vancouver Canucks.”

The capacity crowd roared its approval; rainbow flags dotted the seating, more than they’d seen since the Pens began hosting YCP nights. Sid knew it was because of him and Geno but hoped some of it was for the Pens and their unwavering public support of them coming out.

“We draw your attention to the video scoreboard at center ice. In cooperation with the You Can Play Project, the Pittsburgh Penguins invite you to view the latest You Can Play video.”

Sid stared at the scoreboard, nausea threatening to overwhelm him as his fears spun wild. This wasn’t Philly, but what if people threw things on the ice? Full beer cans. Paper boats of food. Worse, what if they threw it at him. Then Geno was next to him, as if he knew what Sid needed. The back of his hand brushed Sid’s, to remind him that neither of them was alone.

At least that subdued the nausea, enough that Sid could tilt his head back and look up at the screen. Although he and Geno had okayed the rough takes, neither had seen the final version. They’d left that to Jen.

The video begins with a montage of Sid and Geno scoring and celebrating with the Cup after they’d won last year.

“The only place I’ve ever wanted to be was on the ice.” Sid’s voice plays over the footage. “Most days, it was the only place that felt like home.”

“I’m know I’m not like teammates who want to hook up with girls, but I’m never say in Russia.” Geno’s voice follows Sid’s, synching with a 2016 Stanley Cup celebration picture of Sid pouring champagne into Geno’s mouth.

The video cuts to Geno and Sid sitting on barstools in front of a deep green backdrop. They wear white dress shirts and dress pants.

“The great thing about hockey,” Sid says to the camera, “Is that once you’re on the ice, what matters is moving fast and getting the puck on the stick. Not your gender, your ethnicity, your sexuality.”

“When I’m new in US and didn’t know language, I’m talk through hockey,” Geno says.

“You did great, too. You learned the hockey words really fast.”

Sid remembered saying that; he just had no idea he’d looked so…in love. He’d smiled at Geno with his entire body, as if Geno were the sun, and he was starving for light. But then Geno smiled back as if Sid were the sun—

Sid shook his head and laughed; my God, he’d been so, so stupid. They’d filmed it during the 3-game road trip from Hell, when he’d slept on the couch instead of in the bed, because he hadn’t wanted to embarrass himself or make Geno hate him. Didn’t want to wake up hard, aching for something he couldn’t have. Someone he couldn’t have.

But Geno.

Geno had looked at him the same way he’d looked at G. And Sid hadn’t realized. Had been too dense, too caught up in his own fears to see the obvious.

On-screen Sid giggles at a question the viewers can’t hear. “It wasn’t love at first sight, like I didn’t get hit in the head with a brick like in cartoons.” He turns to Geno who’s laughing at him. “But this past summer, I realized how much I missed him when he wasn’t here. He’s always my first thought.”

Geno beams at Sid and reaches out to mess up Sid’s hair, but Sid blocks Geno’s hands. They’re laughing as they chirp each other. “Already love Sid’s hockey when I’m get here, but worried because he’s Great Sidney Crosby. Maybe he won’t want to be friends.” Geno sounds intensely serious, but his tongue peeks from between his lips, as if he’s trying not to laugh. “But he nice guy. Hang out with me and even try to learn Russian.” Geno shivers with mock horror. “His mouth can’t say Russian words,” he whispers to the off-screen interviewer. “Is most bad.”

“C’mon,” Sid almost whines as he laughs. “It wasn’t that bad.”

“Little bit bad.” Geno measures a small amount with his thumb and forefinger, but it keeps getting larger and larger until Sid punches him in the shoulder. “It took 10 year to know it was love at first sight.”

Sid watched himself rolling his eyes and making faces as Geno spoke. When they were filming, Sid remembered thinking how effortlessly Geno made up lies about their fake relationship. That after Geno retired from hockey, he’d make a great actor. Jesus, it had all been the truth for Geno, just like it had been for him. He felt so foolish and so in love standing there on the ice. That he had to watch a video to see what he’d never seen in real life.

The interviewer asks, “Are you glad your relationship is in the open?”

Sid takes a deep breath and exhales slowly before speaking. “I’m happy that I can be me, and I’m glad that people feel empowered by what we’ve done. So, that makes it worth it. If one kid playing hockey somewhere can be their authentic self, then it’s is worth it.”

That silence had felt like forever when Sid had been filming. He’d thought so carefully about his words, felt the significance of them as he spoke. Each had felt like a brick stacked on his shoulders, weighing him down with the responsibility of what effect his words might have on someone watching.

“But. My privacy is extremely important to me. I’d prefer that people didn’t know.” Sid frowns and changes his wording. “No. I’d prefer that people didn’t care. That my hockey spoke for itself, and that who I loved was a non-issue.”

Geno nods at Sid’s comment. “In Russia, this—” He points his finger back and forth between Sid and himself, “—not possible. Not sure about my future there.” Geno’s voice breaks as he says it.

Sid leans over and whispers something to Geno that the audio didn’t catch or someone edits out, and Geno smiles even though his eyes look teary. “I’m so sorry,” Sid says and slides his hand into Geno’s.

Geno looks at their interlocked fingers and then looks back at the camera. “Is okay. He worth it.”

To Sid, it sounded like each of the 18,600 people in PPG awwww’d at the same time. He’d said that when they’d filmed; asked the crew to stop taping and stood up. He’d pressed Geno’s head to his chest and whispered silly things like, You are worth it. You’re worth so much more than Russia. They’d be lucky to have you play for them.

Sid remembered that Geno’s breath had shuddered, and when he’d finally had looked up at Sid, his cheeks were wet. Sid had kissed the top of Geno’s head and with the soft pad of his thumb, he’d wiped away the tears.

“Makes me sad, because is stupid but is my country. I’m love it. Parents there. Geoffrey there,” Geno had said, trying to hold back any more tears.

Sid had laughed hard enough that Geno had joined in. “Your dog. You said you’d miss the dog but not your brother.”

Geno had doubled over, almost toppled off the bar stool from laughter. “Denis not like me as much as Geoffrey.”

Sid giggled at center ice, and Geno stared at him. “Geoffrey!” Sid mouthed, and their shoulders shook as they laughed again. Jen would probably rip them a new one for not paying attention, but this was more important.

—“If you can play,” Sid said on film.

“Then you can play,” Geno finished.

The silence in the arena suffocated Sid as the video faded to black. His shoulders fell; he’d hoped for a positive reaction, not--

The crowd erupted with deafening applause and cheers. In the pulsing strobe lights, Sid saw people holding banners over their heads, shaking them as they shouted. Their teammates enveloped Sid and Geno, smacking their backs, rubbing their heads, congratulating them on their video.

Sid was smooshed against Geno’s chest at the center of the circle. G celebrated just as he did everything—with his entire body, without reservation. He wrapped his arms around Sid and threw his head back and shouted back to the crowd. “We do good job!” he said through his laughter.

Sid’s crooked smile grew. “They like us. They really like us.”

When the announcer began his regular spiel, the team scattered to their bench or lined up around the face off circle, leaving Sid and Geno together at center ice for one more moment. Sid rested his helmet against Geno’s. “I love you, Zhenya,” he said shyly. Fucking hockey gloves. He wished he could touch Zhenya as he said it, cradle his face and kiss him slowly. But he’d happily settle for touching helmets.

Zhenya grinned, shot his fist into the air, and cellied as hard as if he’d scored the game-winning goal. He kicked up knee and whooped all the way to the bench.

Before the ref dropped the puck to start the game, Henrik Sedin tapped Sid’s shin with his stick. “What was that about? Valentine’s plans?” he asked, cocking his head toward the bench.

“Something like that,” Sid said as the puck dropped, and he flew down the ice leaving Sedin to follow.

~*~

4-0 over the Canucks.

“So sad,” Geno said loudly, ruffling Sid’s sweaty hair as they shuffled into the media dressing room. “Only 999 points. No blow job today.”

“Geno!” Sid hissed. “Shut up!”

“LALALALALA,” Jake sang loudly, spinning out of the way of their conversation.

Jen cut them off before Sid could say anything further. “Because of the video, I can’t stop anyone from asking questions about your relationship. Just know that.”

As she stepped away to open the dressing room door, she shot Geno and Sid her most threatening glare.

“She scary,” Geno stage-whispered, loud enough for Jen to hear.

“And very serious,” she answered without turning around as she opened the door.

Sid gritted his teeth and nodded. Given the choice of sitting—fully uniformed—in the middle of Flyers fans or facing reporters who wanted to talk about him and G—he’d choose Philly every time. Worse, he was fairly certain that during the questions, Geno would default to forgetting how to speak English.

But.

They’d chosen this path. The announcement, the video. And it wasn’t bullshit when he’d said if they could help one person, it was worth it. He’d really meant it. Sid just wished they could mean it without the media.

Reporters streamed in, bee-lining for Sid and Geno. Each question about their private life chafed, rubbed him until he felt raw from it. They answered each question as respectfully as they could, trying to sidestep the ones that were too personal.

“Who cooks and who cleans?”

“Sid, is it your job to fold the laundry?”

“Do your squabbles at home affect your play on the ice?”

“Geno, rumors say you guys are engaged!”

“What?!” Geno squawked. “Nyet. Nyet.”

“Don’t you want to get married? It’s legal in Pennsylvania—”

“Are you guys thinking about adopting or using a surrogate?”

Jesus Christ, Sid thought, biting the words back. “That’s not anyone’s—”

“Sorry, guys.” Jen stepped in, almost reading their minds. “I’m sure all of you have Valentine’s plans.” Sid and Geno, the only two players left in the room, hustled out before the reporters shouted more questions.

“Let’s go,” Geno said. “We shower and leave before asshole ask what our Valentine plans are.”

~*~

Jen snagged them as they were headed out to their cars. “Glad I caught you,” she said, grabbing Geno’s elbow. “Good idea to stay off social media tonight, if you know what I mean.”

Geno nodded, and Sid couldn’t imagine how kids like Jake and Dumo had the energy for SnapChat, Instagram, a spam Instagram (whatever that meant). He just wanted to get home, eat, and go to bed. Sid reached for Geno, but he’d wandered away with Jen; they were deep in conversation.

“C’mon, G. Let’s go,” Sid said, sounding irritable to his own ears. “I’m hungry.”

The cold air felt good against Sid’s face; it wasn’t cold enough to snow, but it wasn’t far off. He shimmied his scarf up over his mouth and nose and followed Geno to the Porsche. “Where’s your coat?” Sid asked when he realized that Geno’s only coat was his suit jacket.

“Only cold to sad Canadians who in America too long,” Geno said as he folded himself into the undersized driver’s seat. Once Sid was in the car, Geno patted his arm. “So sad, Sid,” he said, his voice dripping with pretend pity.

“Oh, fuck you.” Sid laughed as he picked up Geno’s hand and dropped it into Geno’s lap. “What did Jen say?”

“You want take out for dinner?” Geno asked. “I’m not make you get Thai. Get Italian for you.”

Sid rolled his eyes at Geno’s generosity. “Yeah, I’ll call.”

Honestly, Sid was glad to focus on his phone instead of Geno’s Russian hip hop and his terrible driving, since G pushed the speed limits on the roads to Sewickley. He entered their order on the mobile form and checked his texts to see if Taylor had caught the YCP video.

Her only text read, Jesus, why are people so fucking disgusting?

Jen had said not to check social media, and Sid generally abided by her rules.

Tonight, he opened Twitter.

 

 



 

 

Sid read the tweets that supported them and their video. That upheld LGBTQ+ people and their rights. He said a silent prayer of thanks for those. But every repulsive, closed-minded bigot who believed they were right and tweeted with absolute certainty like they knew the mind of God—those tweets felt like steel-toe kicks to his balls.

This was why he’d remained in the closet.

Geno pulled into a parking space in front of the small Italian restaurant. “You too quiet,” he said. “I’m not really think you sad Canadian.”

Sid handed over his phone. Geno slowly scrolled down the Pens’ Twitter feed, and Sid watched him grow angrier with each swipe. He handed the phone back to Sid, maneuvered himself out of the car, and slammed the door before stalking into the restaurant.

When he re-appeared, he had the bags of food, and to Sid, he didn’t seem quite as angry.
“You okay?” Sid asked as Geno handed the bags over.

“Johnny and Carla watch the game, see video. They hug me and say so proud.” He turned to Sid with a wan smile. He blinked rapidly, and Sid was pretty sure he was trying to hold back tears. “They not let me pay, say Happy Valentine to us.”

He leaned across the gearshift and kissed Sidney. It was a different kiss than they’d shared before. Gentle and slow, to say I love you and The world sucks a little less when I’m with you.

Sid’s stomach growled mid-kiss, and it echoed in the small car.

“I’m take you home, feed you. Put you to bed.” Geno backed the car out of the parking spot carefully and obeyed the speed limits all the way to Sid’s house. “We deal with everything tomorrow.”

Sid thought as he relaxed into his seat. Tonight, he’d celebrate their first Valentine’s Day. They had plenty of time the next day to deal with bigots.

Chapter Text

David Morehouse slid the printout across the conference table into the space between Sid and Geno’s hands. He said nothing.

“We received this email last night during the game,” Jen said in her short, clipped words, then was silent as Sid and Geno finished reading. “When I received it, I sent it on to David, who forwarded it to Mario and Ron. We haven’t heard back from Mario, but we are expecting Ron any moment.”

Fuck. The CEO and both owners? Sid dragged his hand down his face. Christ, this was déjà vu. They’d been here before. “You’re not taking this—” he picked up the paper from the corner, let it dangle from his two fingers. “—garbage seriously, are you?”

Sid looked at Geno out of the corner of his eye. His face was colorless except for the press of his fingers over his lips. He dropped the paper to the table and rubbed his fingers together, as if he could wipe the filth from his hands. “Zhenya?” Sid angled himself toward Geno, but his knees banged against the armrest. Geno’s smile bloomed behind his hand, and Sid didn’t know if it were from his grumbled Fuck! or his use of the intimate name. “Not my fault,” he whispered. “These chairs are made for administrators.”

Sid drew Geno’s hand away from his mouth. “Zhenya. We’ve got this. It’ll be okay.” He held Geno’s hand in his and waited for Geno’s response.

“Maybe,” Geno said, his voice wavering. He moved closer to Sid and cupped his hand around his mouth to whisper. “I’m not trust these people. I’m think they have plan up their sleeve.”

“C’mon. It’s Mario. He wouldn’t—” Sid began, but maybe Geno was right. Mario and Nathalie had been suspiciously distant since the story broke. He’d played it off as them being busy with the kids or just caught up in their charity work. Sid felt a spike of anger at the possibility of someone judging Geno; if they wanted to criticize him, fine. He’s a big boy—he can deal, but no one was going to do that to Geno, decide that he was less than.

A string of loud curses from the hallway interrupted the meeting, but when the conference room door flipped open, and Ronald Burkle strolled into the room, his calm demeanor at odds with his burst of anger. “Mr. Rutherford. Mr. Morehouse. Coach Sullivan, Jenny,” he said as he made his way toward Mario’s leather chair, sitting empty at the head of the table.

Sid felt for Jen, his own skin crawling with the owner’s casual disregard of her position. Jen visibly tensed, turned to Burkle and said, “Ron. Again. It’s Jennifer, Jen, or Mrs. Ridgley. Not Jenny.”

Burkle smiled at her and patted her hand. Sid fumed, waiting for Burkle to call her “little lady.” Everything about him was slimy; Sid had never liked him, with his carefully pressed trouser creases and his French cuff linen shirts. The ostentatious Stanley Cup cufflinks that glittered in the fluorescent light. The sprayed, dyed hair and his whitened teeth.

Burkle settled in Mario’s chair and carefully laid his phone on the table in front of him. “Alright, friends. Someone fill me in on why we’re here.”

Sid gritted his teeth, and Geno reached over and gripped Sid’s hand. For fuck’s sake, he knows goddamn well why we’re meeting.

“We’ve received a number of negative emails and social media messages regarding last night’s You Can Play video,” Jen began, handing Burkle a stack of papers.

He pretended to look at them, then said, “It’s an easy fix, Jenny.” Burkle smiled at her, as if she were too simple to figure it out herself. Sid cringed again, at how Burkle’s good-ol’-boy attitude demeaned Jen. “End the relationship.”

Sid held himself back from lunging across the table. He wanted to punch the air quotes out of this man, part owner or not. “No. Not an option.”

“Crosby,” Burkle smiled again, his voice condescending. “Everyone in that meeting knew you and Malkin lied to protect those—rookies.”

Geno snarled as he lurched out of his seat, and Sid had to hold him back from lunging across the table, but he didn’t want to. He wanted Geno to shred this fucker. With one punch, G could shatter his jaw, and they could all leave.

“Jenny, write a press release that Crosby and Malkin broke up.” Burkle shrugged, waving his hands in an elaborate play at sorrow. “So sad. Too bad.” He shrugged again, dropped his hands in his lap, and grinned toothily at them all. “If the media believed they were in a relationship, they’ll believe that they broke up.”

“With all due respect, Mr. Burkle,” Sid said through clenched teeth. He was also pretty sure that Geno was going to squeeze his hand off his wrist. “Our private life isn’t yours to—”

“Oh, but it is. We can drop your contract, citing Material Breach. It won’t work, of course. We don’t want it to. But it will force your name in front of the media daily—” Burkle smiled as he spoke, all white teeth and congeniality but underneath, barely hidden, lay a hint of malice and cruelty. The kind of man who would Out two kids for the “greater good.”

Burkle didn’t scare Sid. And that was Burkle’s mistake.

He wasn’t any better than the countless fathers who’d hurled abuse at Sid from the stands because he was better than their children. Who’d yelled to their children to “take the bum out!” or to “break Crosby’s leg!” Once, when he was 14, he’d heard a voice boom, “Don’t let the fag beat you!” Sidney stumbled to the ice, lost the puck as the words filled the rink, echoed their way into his skull and lived there. How could that guy know? He’d been careful. What did he hear? The home team’s fans cheered when he face planted; they didn’t cheer when he stood.

Bullies were nothing new to Sidney. “Here’s the thing, Mr. Burkle. You think being gay is something we’re ashamed of, like having people talk about it is bad. But I meant everything I said in that video—if you bothered to watch it. Right now, gay kids are looking at us as role models. Gay teenage boys are watching us and saying, I can, too.”

Burkle rolled his eyes theatrically. Sid’s gaze shifted to the others around the table: at the CEO, the general manager, the coach, the publicity director. No one was going to confront Burkle, because he was a 25% owner, and the only one who might have was notably absent. Fury roiled like molten lava, spiking and spitting until Sid could settle down. If none of these fucking assholes were going to stand up to Burkle, then he would.

As Sid opened his mouth, Geno grabbed his wrist. “Gay kids not only in US. In Russia, too,” Geno said. He spoke softly, his voice aimed at the conference table, and Sid strained to hear him. The others angled forward to listen; Burkle didn’t bother. “Only there, police come. When story about us first comes, police go to my parents’ house every day. They let police in because it doesn’t matter. They kick door down if parents say no.”

Sid took Geno’s hand, laced their fingers and held tight. He replayed the words in his head, must’ve heard Geno wrong.

“They come every day and sit on couch and ask about me. Am I there? Am I come home soon? Parents say no, but afraid police don’t believe, will search house. If my parents not home, the police go to market, to work to find them. To remind them I’m not normal. I’m sick. I’m need help.”

Sid’s chest felt empty, like everything had simply stopped as he listened to Geno, who was stoic as he spoke. How could people do this to him and his family? He was amazing. Funny and smart and caring and loving and…everyone loved Geno because he was incredible. He loved Geno because he was incredible. Sid leaned into Geno’s space to hold him; G smiled softly but put his hand up to ask Sid to wait.

Geno pointedly glared at each person. “One young police whisper to Mama, Evgeni is good hockey player. Does good things. Tell him not to come home. He say they will take me away for questioning. Make an example of me.”

Sid brought Geno’s hand to his mouth and kissed his fingers. “Zhenya, you don’t have to—”

Geno smiled gently at Sidney, the smile he saved for tender, quiet nights in bed. But when Geno looked at Burkle, Sid saw the steel-cold hardness that he’d only ever seen during a game.

“So, Mr. Burkle. You don’t scare. You worry about ticket sales? You drop Sidney, people make big fire in front of PPG. Burn tickets. Jerseys. Same if you drop me.” Geno brought their linked hands to the table top in full view of everyone who hadn’t spoken up for them. “I’m know many other teams want to talk to us. Not care if we gay. Because we best two centers in NHL.”

Burkle snorted. “You’re not Lemieux,” he said derisively. “You’re not even Jagr—”

“They’re not. They’re better than we ever were,” Mario said casually, resting against the door frame. “Are you comfortable in my chair, Ronald?”

Burkle flushed, pink spreading across his cheeks. When Mario walked toward his chair, Burkle stood, gathered his papers, and attempted to appear collected rather than embarrassed.

Mario sat down and drew himself up to the table. No diamond cufflinks. No suit. He wore a Penguins polo shirt and track pants. Sneakers in place of thousand-dollar wingtips.

“First, no one’s going anywhere yet.”

Sid closed his eyes and breathed out slowly. Maybe Mario wasn’t upset with him, with them. He didn’t know how to process that, because he felt the same relief he had as a child when he realized his father wasn’t angry at him.

“Hi, Geno. Hey, Sid. I’ve been informed that, if you don’t come for dinner this week, I’ll be eating with the dogs.” Mario spoke directly to them, as casually as if they were standing at the boards watching the rookies skate drills. His smile was genuine and open, and Sid felt relaxed for the first time since he’d entered the room.

“Jennifer, excellent job handling the negative reactions on our social media accounts. Thank you.” Mario looked her in the eye as he spoke. “As for the letters such as these—” he held up maybe six sheets of paper to show the rest of the table. “I had the chance to review the sales data since January.”

Mario paused, as if he were waiting for them to connect the obvious; from their blank stares, Sid realized no one else had checked the actual numbers.

“The Penguins have a sold-out streak over 450 consecutive games. We average over a sell-out crowd with standing room tickets. Since Sid and Geno’s announcement in January, per game ticket sales hasn’t changed and our waiting list for season tickets jumped from 2400 people to almost 2700.”

He winked at Sid, almost a don’t worry and Sid felt the rest of his pent-up fear drain away. He eased back in the chair and loosened his death grip on Geno’s hand. Geno laid his right hand on top of Sidney’s, gently enclosed it in his, like a reminder that they had each other. That they could face anything if they were together.

“But a much more interesting number,” Mario continued and swiveled his chair to face Burkle, “is from last night. Based on the time the video began, we received 3 calls to drop season tickets immediately--”

Burkle smirked, a What did I say? look that Sid wanted to slap off his face. Except Mario’s next words did it for him. ‘--and almost 50 enquiries regarding season tickets. Social media responses ran about the same: roughly 15% unhappy and 85% supportive to the point of delighted. They ship it hard.”

Those air quotes Sid loved.

Mario turned back to the center of the table. “We do need to listen to people with complaints, just as we listen carefully to everyone who calls. But I won’t negotiate. Sidney and Evgeni are the rock that this team is built on. Any comments, questions, or concerns?”

Sid watched Rutherford and Sully whispering. They both looked relieved that their roster would stay intact.

“Ron, you good with this?” Mario asked, but Sid sensed it was more of a directive than a question.

“It’s about the bottom line, Mario. Always.” Burkle shrugged and picked his buzzing phone off the table. “Didn’t get to be a billionaire by thinking about anything else. Sorry. Gotta take this.”

Burkle was out of the room; he’d already jumped on to the next crisis, the next phone call.

Sid and Geno rose to leave, but Mario motioned for them to stay. He worked his way around the room to them, stopping to make small talk. When everyone else away to their regular routines, Mario turned to Sid and Geno. “I could use a coffee. What about you guys?”

When the team had a game or morning skate, the Players’ Lounge had a small buffet of hot and cold breakfast food; on days off, Chef supplied fresh coffee and pastries.

Sid poured a black coffee for himself and a tea for Geno. He eyed the warm cinnamon rolls with the gooey cream cheese frosting, but once he calculated that he’d be running on the treadmill for an hour to burn it off, the treat didn’t seem worth it. He continued past the pastries, sat at the other end of the breakfast bar and stirred cherry jam into Geno’s tea.

Cherry jam the team stocked for the sole purpose of sweetening Geno’s tea. The Penguins were good to them; Sid had no delusions—if they were fourth line players who totaled a handful of minutes a game, there might not be perks like that—but he’d like to believe there would be. Like the meeting today when Mario stepped up to support them.

A small Pengins-branded plate with half of a cinnamon roll appeared in front of him, and Sid grinned. The smell was rich and sinful, almost like his mom’s on a lazy summer morning. And half was easier to work off, right?

“I’m know you want so bad.” Geno stood with his back to Mario and Chef, brought his mouth close to Sid’s ear. “Most jealous. You suppose to look at only me like that.” The heat of Geno’s breath, the brush of Geno’s nose along the curve of his ear, Sid shivered slow and deep, and wished they hadn’t left the bed that morning. That they’d remained, wrapped in each other, skin on skin, in a world of just them.

Zhenya’s breath tickled, wavered between too much and not enough. Sid rested against him, Zhenya’s chest warm and solid. “Zhenya, God, you can’t—” Sid said, his words little more than breath as Geno traced Sid’s jaw with his knuckle.

“Can’t what? Not doing anything.”

“It’s a—uh—you know—”

“Superstition? Can’t have sex til you get thousandth point?”

Sid nodded, but at that moment, he had no clue why he’d thought that made any sense. What he wanted right now was to be in bed. Zhenya, naked and lingering over Sid, waiting for permission to bring their bodies together, to feel Zhenya’s full weight press him into the mattress as Zhenya slowly, slowly pushed inside Sidney.

“But, we have sex twice yesterday—”

That wasn’t fair at all, Sid thought as Zhenya’s fingers brushed the nape of his neck, up and down, twisting in the curls of Sid’s too long hair. “I have to get this point,” he said, with much less force than he’d had when he’d made the rule.

From somewhere behind Geno, Mario cleared his throat, and the two jumped apart, guilty like they’d been caught by a parent. Mario sat across from them at the breakfast bar and sipped at his coffee, which allowed Sid to regain his ability to breathe.

Geno hovered at Sid’s elbow, drinking his tea in silence.

“I really was serious about dinner,” Mario said after he returned his mug to the table. “Nathalie’s been on me about inviting you two, but I wasn’t sure—” He stopped mid-sentence, and Sid waited for him to continue instead of stepping in to finish the sentence. “I guess I put off asking because, I knew you two had—stepped in to save Murr and Sheary from being outed, and I didn’t want you to feel like you had to keep up the act in front of us.”

Sid shifted uncomfortably on his chair, unsure what was his to share with Mario. At the start, Sid was a gay man passing for straight who was pretending to be gay with another straight man (who was a gay man passing for straight). It was hard to remember that GMJR, Sully, Jen, Burkle, Morehead—they had no idea that had changed. And that wasn’t his alone. That also belonged to Geno.

“Mario, we tell you, but is complicated,” Geno said, pushing away his empty plate and reaching for part of Sid’s cinnamon roll. Sid slapped his hand, and Geno laughed, bright and clear. He didn’t seem concerned about telling Mario.

In the Pens’ lounge with enough tea and coffee, Sid and Geno provided the abridged version. They answered Mario’s questions and asked several of their own.

“We say now because we want to be Pens together til we retire,” Geno said, finally sneaking past Sid’s fork and snagging the last piece of pastry. “No Material Breach of Contract. No trade. Us here.”

Mario bit his lip and nodded as he listened. He drained his coffee, which judging from the grimace on his face, was already cold. He gathered his plate and crumpled napkin. “Three things: First, no one’s going to direct your public or private life except you two. Second, thank you for sharing your relationship with me. I’m not going to discuss that with anyone. It’s your business. Except Nathalie, if that’s alright with you both. And speaking of her—” Mario raised his third finger to accompany the first two. “Text her about dinner. Please.” Mario tapped at his phone and grinned. “She’s waiting!”

Although technically it was a day off, since they were already at the arena, Sid convinced Geno they should stay and work out here. With a grumble and a huff, Geno agreed. “Get all sore and sweaty and not from sex? Big waste of time.”

“Maybe it will help me get my thousandth point,” Sid wheedled and poked Geno in the belly. He headed to the locker room to change into workout clothes and knew that Geno would be right behind him.

~*~

The next night, at 6:28 into the first period of the Penguins game against Winnipeg, Sid battled for possession of a puck, fought Blake Wheeler before getting clear and passing to Chris Kunitz who slapped it in.

Fucking finally, Sid thought a second before Tanger, Guentz, Kuni, and Dumo slammed in to him. The cheers were deafening, his teammates surrounding him, the noise from the stands echoing at ice level.

Sid only wanted to share this with one person.

They skated to the bench, and Sid fist-bumped down the line until he was mobbed at the open door to the bench. So many helmet pats and hugs. But then—

Geno.

“You do it! I’m knew you would,” Geno yelled and cupped Sid’s face with his big, smelly hockey gloves. “You know what this means!”

“Fuck yeah!” Sid yelled and raised his stick to acknowledge the cheers. Together they skated to center ice, where Sid waved, and then back to their bench so the game could continue.

After the win, the Baby Pens—Rusty, Murr, Shears, and the rest of the guys in their second year with the big club—were in charge of the post-game celebration. They paid for the taxis and had to buy the first five rounds at the bar. They were loud and obnoxious, drunk on beer and shots, playing darts and pool and trying to pick up girls to take home.

Sid had been crammed into the booth, Geno plastered to his left and a revolving door of teammates to his right, stopping to congratulate him, relive Point 1000, and others along the way. Sid had nursed his beers as long as possible, passed his shots off to whomever would take them. He was pleasantly buzzed from adrenaline and alcohol, but what he wanted was Geno, whose hand crept higher on Sid’s leg and was currently idly stroking his inside thigh.

Hags left, and before anyone else sat down, Geno slid out of the booth and leaned over Sidney. “Come. Now,” he said, or that’s what Sid assumed he’d said. The deep, thumping bass and the waves of cheers and laughter made it difficult to hear him, but Sid didn’t need words. The way that Geno stared at Sid, his intention clear—his gaze falling on Sid’s lips, the triangle of skin showing at Sid’s open collar, until it stopped at Sid’s lap.

Sid was already ramped up, half-hard from Geno’s fingers playing along his inner thigh; if Geno kept staring at the growing bulge in Sid’s pants, he’d be rock hard in seconds. Sure, they’d only gone two days without touching each other, but it was the longest they’d gone without—anything. And Sid wanted everything from Geno.

Geno reached for Sid’s hand to help him out from behind the table, and as Sid stood, Geno stepped forward, against Sid. “Stupid superstition,” he said into Sid’s curls. “No more. Can’t not touch. Not have.”

I know. I know. Sid nodded and curved back enough to see Geno’s face. His eyes, exhausted but dark with interest. His cheeks, drawn, cheekbones too prominent. His lips, chapped, rough from the cold.

Geno was beautiful.

And he was Sid’s.

Sid crowded Geno, as if there were any room between them. He kissed Geno hard, nipped at his bottom lip until Geno opened for him. When he ran out of breath, when his thigh pressed between Geno’s legs had accomplished what Sid had wanted, he pulled away and grabbed Geno’s wrist. “You have the best ideas.”

Geno looked dazed, his hair wild from Sid’s fingers. “I’m not—”

“You said it was us. In January,” Sid said, before he kissed Geno again. “I never could have told you—”

“I’m not know, too dumb—”

“No. Never,” Sid said, pushing his fingertips over Geno’s lips to stop him. “I love you. I’ve always loved you.” Each time he said that, his heart felt like it would burst—in the best possible way. That it would fly apart like dandelion fluff and land in other parts of his life, sow seeds of happiness and—contentment. With Geno, he didn’t need to be exercising, or running plays in his head, or making plans for the future. He was content to just be.

Except for right now. Now he wanted Geno. He kissed Geno and whispered against his lips, “Where?”

Geno didn’t answer, just tugged Sid by the wrist, past the dart boards, past the pool tables, ignoring the catcalls and comments from teammates. Sid blushed furiously as he followed Geno, partly because their intention was obvious to their teammates, but also because they were so visibly a couple. The years he’d spent hooking up, careful that no thread could be traced back to him and destroy his career. And now, that lifetime of hiding was gone, changed, but it was like his gut and brain didn’t recognize that. First the panic hit hard and fast, followed swiftly by icy fear. Then, slowly, like the three rivers in Spring, he reminded himself, convinced himself, it was all good. He was safe. They were safe.

Flower wolf-whistled and shouted something obscene in Québécois. “Want to join us?” Sid asked with a wink.

“Maybe next time. I have to ask Vero.”

Sid heard them laugh as the men’s room door closed behind them. It was a tiny bathroom, big enough for one urinal, a sink, and a stall.

“That was—”

Sid didn’t finish his sentence.

Geno kicked open the stall door, crowded Sid inside and then slammed him against the wobbling metal door. Before Sid caught his breath, Geno was kissing his neck, his jaw, his lips, slipping his thigh in between Sid’s spread legs and rubbing up against Sid’s hard cock. He yanked at Sid’s shirt, untucking it and running his hands against Sid’s bare back. It was abrupt and rough and fucking hotter than anything Sid had ever done.

It almost felt wrong, too risky here in public, too daring. But they’d already been outed. There were no more secrets. Sid dragged Geno’s shirt out of his waistband, wrestled with the buttons to get to skin. More. They kissed roughly, again and again; Sid bit off his moans in an attempt to be silent—but Geno unzipped Sid’s fly. Sank to his knees on the nasty tile floor. Shoved Sid’s pants and briefs down over the hard curve of his ass, down to his knees. Sid didn’t hold back. Couldn’t have held back.

He reached behind his head and grabbed the top of the stall door to hold on as Geno’s lips wrapped around the head of his cock. Crooned Geno, Geno, Geno, as Geno swirled his tongue around and over the leaking slit. Sid stood still, ass resting against the cold, metal door, afraid if he moved, he’d thrust too hard, too deep. That Geno would gag and stop…

But Geno slid his hands up the inside of Sid’s thighs and around, grabbed Sid’s ass and pulled him forward so Sid’s cock slid deep into Geno’s mouth, hitting the back of his throat. He tentatively thrust his hips, and Geno looked up at him, grinning around his mouthful. He was gorgeous, on his knees for Sid, his lips swollen, and his chin wet with saliva. That Geno would do this for him, would get on his knees for Sid—for their pleasure—here in public.

Geno mewled around Sid’s cock, dropped his hand and fumbled with his zipper, struggling to free his own dick, and Jesus fuck. Geno was rock-fucking-hard in his pants. Sid released his right hand from the metal door and gently laid it on Geno’s head—not to control him, but to complete the circuit, hoping his touch could convey everything he was feeling.

Because here in public, in the middle of this filthy, erotic moment, Sid was staggered by his love for Zhenya. He wanted to pull out, haul Zhenya up and kiss him, whisper that he loved him more than he thought possible, that he owed those two stupid rookies anything. Everything.

“Love you, love you,” Sid whispered, watching Zhenya stroke himself.

The bathroom door squeaked open, the driving bass line from the music louder until the door swung shut. Sid’s heart stopped for a second as the man unzipped and pissed in the urinal. Zhenya rested his forehead against Sid’s thigh, his hand momentarily still on his cock as they waited for the guy to finish. Zhenya’s ragged breath, his lips near but not on Sid’s cock was overwhelming, his nose pressed into the tight curls—

Jesus, just fucking finish already— Sid wanted to shout at the stranger.

The man washed his hands as he sang drunkenly off-key; Sid recognized the terrible voice.

The door opened, and the music invaded again. “Sorry guys. You can finish now,” Jake said and left with his high-pitched giggle.

Sid dropped his head back against the metal door in exasperation, but Zhenya laughed. “He’s gone. We do what he say.”

Before Sid could answer, Zhenya’s mouth was on him again, and Sidney couldn’t answer as Zhenya hollowed his cheeks and sucked, swirled and flicked his tongue, leaving Sid nothing but white noise where his brain had been. He was reflex and nature, responding to the tight, wet heat surrounding him. Fears of choking Zhenya vanished, Sid thrust again and again.

He knew Zhenya was jerking himself in rhythm with the blow job, heard the slick movement, felt the hesitation as Zhenya must have been too close to coming. Sidney wanted him to. Wanted him to come while he was still sucking off Sid. The thought and the visual played in Sidney’s mind, and he felt his balls tighten. Before he could say anything, Zhenya moaned around him, and Sidney was gone, immersed in the bright light and surging heat of his orgasm.

He leaned forward, hugged Zhenya’s head to his belly, scratched at his back until his hips stopped stuttering. Until his shattered atoms re-formed, and he could breathe once again.
“Jesus Christ,” Sid said into Zhenya’s hair, glad he was holding on. His legs wobbled, and if there’d been room, Sid would have slid down to the floor to rest with Zhenya. “That was…I really…Jesus.”

He finally hauled Zhenya to his feet and offered him some toilet paper for his hands. Then Sid kissed him as tenderly as he could, cramped into a stall in a men’s room in a dive club. “Let’s go home. Do this on a bed.”

Zhenya nodded, his eyes dazed as he swiped at his fly with more toilet paper. He gave up, washed his hands, rinsed his face, and said, “Happy one thousand. You do for me when I’m get.”

With a grin, Zhenya swaggered out of the men’s room, while Sidney processed Zhenya’s words. He had, like, 815 career points. You do for me when I’m get. It would be several years before he hit the mark.

Of course he’d known that Zhenya was in this for real, but to hear him say it, that he looked into the future and saw them together? Sid grabbed his boyfriend and their coats. “Home, now,” he growled, and pushed Zhenya out the door into the cold, February night. They’d be warm, soon enough.

~*~

The team literally limped toward the end of the regular season. Sully placed Geno on the Injured Reserve list on March 17, in the hope that G’s nagging shoulder issue would heal with rest. He wasn’t alone. From the beginning of March til the first week of April, they wound up putting at least one person each day on the IR.

They just had to make it to the end of the season. Then they had a four-day break before the first round of playoffs, to rest and to heal. Every man, from the equipment manager to Sully himself needed the break. Guys were sprained, strained, twisted, and broken. They were under-nourished and over-exhausted.

The real season would begin on April 12th when they faced Columbus in the first round.

Nothing else mattered but that. Not the strained muscles or strained starting lines. Not the number of goals their teammates scored or didn’t score. Not the number of starts for Murr versus Flower. Not even the Winter Classic where they spanked the Flyers, or Sid’s broken teeth in the last regular game.

Just the four-opponent season that could lead them to their fifth Stanley Cup.

Chapter Text

They wouldn’t really know until they saw the footage, long after the game was over.

Long after Murr was stable at UPMC, Conor at his bedside, grasping his hand. Almost daring someone to separate them.

Long after the reporters had plucked and picked, nudged them, tried to trick them into telling the truth.

As if their version weren’t real.

It wasn’t. It hadn’t been, but then it had been. It still was.

~*~

Sid waddled onto the ice for warm ups, followed by Geno, who’d been out since March 17. First game, first round of playoffs. They started with Columbus, which was way better than the Rangers, who sucked this year, but still gave them fits.

Sid guided the puck to the stylized McDonald’s yellow M logo on the ice and worked the puck back and forth, tracing the letter. The calm of the routine centered Sid, forced him to focus on what was in front of him.

But if he sneaked looks at Geno lying on the ice, on his back with his legs in the air, scissoring them open and shut. If Sid remembered the strength of those legs wrapped around his waist as he fucked into Geno. If Sid grinned a little wider as he tapped the puck back and forth within the tight yellow lines, who could blame him?

Once he reached the bottom of the M, Sid slapped the puck toward their net, toward the scrum of baby Pens tumbling to the ice in front of Murr, taking him down with them.

“How’s your shoulder?” he asked, skating up behind Geno, who’d finished with his leg stretches and was back upright. “Be careful with it. It’s your first—”

“Nag nag nag, Sid,” Geno laughed, patting Sid’s helmet with his thick black gloves. “You like бабушка, old granma. Shoulder fine, or I’m not be here now.”

“You’re so full of shit. We both know you’re lying.”

“Off season long enough to heal. Be longer if I’m not here. Team need me.” Geno kept a straight face, but Sid saw the bit of tongue poking out from between his teeth. “So bad without.”

“Fuck you, asshole,” Sid sputtered, even though he knew Geno was winding him up. “We were over .500—”

The scream pierced the crowd’s cheers, carried as if the room were still, punched the air from Sid’s chest.

Sid pushed Geno aside, saw Murr crumpled on the ice, Shears kneeling next to him. Sid raced over, Geno already on his way. Maybe a hamstring or a groin. Puck to the face or neck. No, can’t get through mask or the shield. Flower’s dressed and ready. Jarry could be here tonight from WBS.

Until Sid skated up, it was just another hockey injury.

But.

Blood spurting, and with each heartbeat, the pool growing wider under Murr’s pale face.

Conor yelling, sobbing, screaming, “Do something, Jesus, he’s bleeding, please help him. Matty, please—” His bare hand holding Murray’s, their gloves discarded on the ice.

The head trainer sliding up in his sneakers, then kneeling, evaluating Murr, whispering as he removed Murr’s helmet, but Sid saw his hand tremble. “Get the paramedics out here, now.”

Sid left Murr to the others, to Cole who was skating back from the bench with the paramedics, to Flower and Tanger who helped roll Murr to get the spinal board under him, making it easier to lift him.

The fans, a minute ago so loud he couldn’t think, were silent as they watched the drama unfold on the ice, Murray bleeding out and Sheary leaning over him, holding him, not letting go, and every thump of Sid’s pulse tolled in his ears. What if Zhenya were on the ice, bleeding, dying. Leaving him. Sid’s heart pounded as he tried to breathe, tried to catch his breath.

“Sid, we help Conor,” Geno said from behind and bumped Sid, forced him from his thoughts as if Geno realized where Sid’s mind had gone. “Now.” For the second that he glimpsed Geno’s face before they skated away, Sid recognized the same worry lining Geno’s forehead, the same fear in his eyes. The What if it were you lying there?

Sid skated after Geno and pulled up next to Shears, who was staring as paramedics lifted Murray onto the gurney. Geno followed the paramedics toward the bench and grilled them about Matt; Conor skated next to them, still gripping Matt’s hand.

“You’re going to out you and Matt,” Sid said, prying Conor’s hand loose and drawing him away. “Come over here with me, let’s get some distance—”

“Fuck you!” Conor’s voice was quiet but frigid like the ice beneath them. “Go fuck yourself and your perfect image and your martyr complex, making decisions for me. I’m going with him.”

Shears raced to the bench and stumbled through the doorway, his skate catching the doorsill. He whipped around, daring anyone to make fun of him. The rifle-shot crack as he slammed the door to the ice shut echoed in the silent arena. Sheary caught up to the paramedics, held Matt’s hand as they pushed through the throng of teammates. The guys tried to talk to Shears, but he ignored them and kept on.

Geno waved Sid over to the bench, and Sid obeyed. He was gut-punched, furious that Conor lashed out, but beneath the anger, embarrassment and hurt stung. It darted from his clenched stomach to his over-anxious brain, back and forth like a boxed-in wasp. He couldn’t, didn’t have time for this before a playoff game.

“Paramedic say skate severed artery.” Geno used his finger to slash at his throat to show where Murr had been cut. “As long as they hold it, he probably okay til surgery. We know later.”

The refs conferenced with the Blue Jackets’ coach and Sully, spoke with the League office at the same time to determine if they should postpone the game. Sid couldn’t tear his eyes away from the scarlet stain that had grown larger as it soaked into the ice. Or maybe it had been that big, spreading larger with each beat of Murr’s heart. The ice crew scraped at the blotch, removing as much as they could before the Zamboni lumbered onto the ice to begin the resurfacing.

~*~

With Murr stable and heading into emergency surgery, the League and coaches decided to allow the game to begin. After the game, they could all squeeze into the hospital room and hear the gory details on repeat and avoid the biggest one until either Conor or Matt addressed it. But for now, they had a game to play. Flower, fully suited up, led them back onto the ice.

At the end of the first period, the Pens logged three shots on goal. Three. They were lucky the Blue Jackets hadn’t scored. They all owed Flower a scotch or three.

During his between-periods rant, Sully yelled the word three so many times that to Sid, three sounded like nonsense, a made-up word harboring all the evil of a boogie-man.

Sully led the coaching staff out of the dressing room, and once the door swung shut behind them, the players heard Sully’s broad Boston accent as he shouted at the coaching staff to bring him as much about Bobrovsky as they could. When the bellowing faded, the silence in the dressing room felt heavy with embarrassment and fear. Maybe they weren’t good enough to be in the playoffs.

That they really weren’t good enough to hold onto the Cup.

The trainer burst into the room, specks of blood staining his yellow and black jacket. “Sorry to interrupt but just got word from the hospital that Matt’s out of surgery and in recovery now. He did great!”

Cheers rose drowning out anything else Chris was going to say. Sidney let them whoop and cheer; any pep talk he could give, anything he could say, they already knew. Different versions of let’s do this for Murr! echoed as they returned to the ice.

They took Columbus easily with three goals in the second period. Flower recorded his first playoff win since 2015, but all of that was nothing compared to Murr.

Post-game questions about Murr’s status were easy. “Guys, I don’t know,” Sid said to the group of microphones and iPhones jammed in his face. “You probably know more than I do. You saw replays.”

“Why wouldn’t Sheary leave Murray’s side?”

Careful. Be careful what you say. Old fear washed over Sid—of being trapped, tricked into admitting something that was no one’s business, of being outed by someone who thought they were clever. Don’t out them. Sid pressed his bottom hard against the wooden bench, felt it cut into the back of his thigh to ground him, to make him think before he spoke.

He wiped the sweat from his face and hid his rising anger behind the thin, terry cloth towel. Why do you fucking think? he wanted to say and throw his disgusting towel at them. “Yeah, I don’t know,” Sid answered in his best media voice, making sure to scrunch his eyebrows in confusion. He pursed his lips for good measure. “I don’t know. It was gruesome. I’m glad he had someone with him.”

“Why did Sullivan allow it?” another reporter poked, piggybacking his question on the prior.

Jesus Christ. They don’t fucking listen. Sid felt his vein throb in his cheek and the headache growing behind his eyes. He glared at the reporter and held himself back from snapping. “You’re gonna have to ask Sully.”

Eventually, the reporters moved on to the baby Pens, but Angie Carducci remained behind. Out of the corner of his eye, Sid saw her watching him and Geno as they argued about their post-game food stop on the way to the hospital.

Sid liked Angie; she was smart and perceptive, always quick to find the invisible thread between comments and to draw the right conclusion. Her articles often showed insight he hadn’t considered before. Which made the way she was studying them…Fear settled cold and hard in his stomach. Sid grabbed Geno’s hand and squeezed, praying Geno would play along, would follow Sid’s lead, whatever that would be.

If Geno thought holding Sid’s hand in the dressing room was weird, he didn’t act like it. He looked at their intertwined fingers then grinned at Sid. “Big win deserves reward, for sure,” he said, “But have to wait til after we see Murr in hospital. Unless you want to play doctor—”

“Angie—Did you need something?” Sid cut Geno off before he could reveal anything real or a lie intended to shock. He smiled at Angie and hoped she’d find his crooked smile charming.

She raised an eyebrow at Geno, who’d let go of Sid’s hand and drifted toward the group surrounding Flower. “Geno left pretty quickly.”

“He’s his own person, Angie,” Sid said with a shrug. “What’s up?” Get to it. Tell me what you’ve figured out.

“I felt horrible when Murray was injured,” she said, looking at the phone and not at Sid. She poked and swiped, looking for something in her photos. “I know you all must have, too. And Sheary. I was glad someone stayed with Matt.”

Sid nodded.

Angie handed Sid her phone, open to the screencap of the Sports Crazy Days and Nights™ blind article. Sid didn’t have to look at it; he’d committed the damn thing to memory.

These two A-list athletes, in their Steel City corner of the ice world, were wrapped around each other like octopus tentacles aiming to leave definite marks.

“What about it.”

“Look, Sid. I respect you, so I’m not gonna ask for answers. But I think Sheary and Murray confused a lot of people today—people who are going to start asking questions. And if they want to control the story, what’s reported and what’s left out, they need to jump on this right now.”

Sid squirmed under her stare, uncomfortable in the position of being the gatekeeper to the gays. “Ok, I hear you. We’re going to the hospital after this.”

“You have my number. Tell them to use it.”

Sid faced toward the locker’s clothing hooks and pulled his Under Armour shirt out from his hockey pants. He meant it as a clear signal to Angie that he was done speaking, but the tap on his shoulder said differently.

“What about you and Geno?”

Before he turned around, Sid counted to ten, hoping it would stop him from saying something stupid. Geno was laughing with Horny and Phil now, no doubt something about Sid, because Geno looked over and grinned at Sid. His hair was matted and sweaty from his helmet, his beard was patchy and ridiculous, and he squinted as he looked over, because he was too vain to wear his glasses in public. And it was so much—the intimacy of the knowledge combined with the emotion in Geno’s eyes. He read the joy and love and something more feral; Sid was pretty certain he was about to embarrass himself.

Angie was a good person, doing her job. But prying into their private life had to stop.

“Geno and I are so good, Angie. I’ve loved him since he set foot in Mario’s house. He was exhausted, couldn’t speak English, but he’d left everything and moved halfway around the world to play hockey. And you know what? That’s so fucking hot. We wasted ten years of our lives afraid, because that’s how hockey is. If I’d said something and he was straight, he could’ve punched the shit out of me? Or if he’d said something. What if I laughed, called him a f—” Sid stopped himself. He couldn’t say the word. It made him ill to think of the pain it caused.

“If there are other gay guys in the NHL, and I’m not saying there are, but 5% of the population is gay, so you do the math—I’m not surprised they’re in the closet. The shit Geno and I hear every day, you can’t even print it. And that doesn’t include the shit they say that’s just casual, like, not meant as an insult. The Players’ Association has to make hockey safe for gay players. Leadership needs to step up more than once a year because they’re forced to participate in You Can Play month.

“But at the end of the day, it’s no one’s fucking business who’s gay and who’s straight. It’s no one’s right to know that, because it makes zero difference in how someone plays hockey. I think Geno and I proved that for the past 10 years. Geno—come here!”

Sid had taken a chance, speaking candidly and dropping his carefully crafted media façade. What he was about to do would show Angie how real their relationship was, better than any words he had.

Geno strolled over and slapped Sid on the back, but Sid wrapped his arm around Geno’s neck and pulled him closer, kissed him hard and filthy and for probably too long.

When Sid broke the kiss, Geno’s eyes fluttered open. He smiled softly, like Sid was the only person in the room. Geno tried to kiss Sid again, but Sid pushed him away. Another kiss like that one, and Angie would have too much to write about.

“G. Angie wants to know how our relationship is?”

“So hot, Sid, but you make me promise we wait ‘til after the hospital!” Geno said, trying to be surreptitious as he adjusted the front of his hockey pants. “You know how bad it hurts in cup.”

Sid’s anger fizzled out, sputtered and died, replaced by post-game exhaustion and the knowledge that the night wasn’t over yet. They still had to go to the hospital, which would mean confronting Conor. Sid’s shoulders sagged and for a moment, he buried his face in Geno’s neck and breathed in the scent of hard-fought hockey and the equipment manager’s laundry detergent, and Geno. Always Geno.

“I’m so damn happy for you guys,” Angie said, resting her hand on Sid’s shoulder. “I always have been. Tell Conor to call me.”

Sid nodded against Geno’s shoulder. He’d probably regret all of that later, but right now? He’d said what needed to be said, and that had to be okay.

~*~

Mario Lemieux and the Penguins had some pull at UPMC, but not nearly enough to squeeze 23 oversized men into one intensive care room. In the end, the team agreed that Sid and Geno could go after the game, and the rest would spread their visits out over the next two games before they left for Columbus.

Geno insisted on driving to UPMC, um-hmmming when Sid half-heartedly argued that he could drive. “You need think time,” Geno said, carefully maneuvering Sid’s Tesla onto Centre Avenue.

“I don’t need time to think. I’m fine. Just drive,” Sid snapped, staring at the dark buildings that lined the streets, everyone home and asleep. They probably could’ve walked the six-tenths of a mile faster than they could drive, but Geno wouldn’t listen to Sid’s argument. And at least Geno couldn’t actually build up any speed.

“I’m know you.” When they stopped at a red light, Geno pressed his hand to the top of Sid’s thigh, and the heavy weight felt comfortable, stable. It kept Sid’s mind in the here instead of racing through Shears’ words, the accident, the media. Reminded Sid that he wasn’t alone. Didn’t have to be alone.

Sid sighed. “Conor called us martyrs. Said we took the decision away from them.” The words rung in his ears, echoed just as ugly as when Conor had said them. Pricked the place in Sid’s conscience that asked did you?

Geno parked at UPMC. He nodded solemnly, obviously thinking about what Shears had said. “C’mon. Time to go up. See Murr.”

“Aren’t you going to say anything?”

“What’s to say. We did do what he say we did,” Geno said with a shrug as they left the car.

Sid thought about that as they rode the parking deck elevator to the Intensive Care floor.

~*~

Strictly speaking, they were breaking the Intensive Care rules. No more than two visitors at a time, the sign warned, but a nurse motioned Sid and Geno further into the ward when they wavered. The beeps and blips of the monitors unnerved Sid; he’d spent enough time in Emergency Rooms, and the noises reminded him of every concussion, bruise, and break. His nerves felt jangled and raw. Sid just wanted to get out of here, get home and into bed, but that was a shitty captain thing to say. Geno zipped and unzipped his jacket, played with the small metal pull that looked even smaller between G’s fingers.

“I know you’re there,” Conor said, without turning around to look at them standing in the doorway of Murr’s room. “You might as well come in.” He sounded weary, probably from the adrenaline crash. Conor had pulled a folding chair up next to the bed; his head rested on the mattress. As they stepped into the small room, Sid saw that Conor’s head was laying on Murr’s hand.

Sid felt like they were intruding on a private, intimate moment. Sid thought about taking his coat off but didn’t want to imply they were staying long. He slapped Conor on the back and inspected Matt’s bandages. “How’s Murr? He okay? Missed him in the game. We played for him, did okay—”

“Sid. Shhh.”

Sid bit his lips to stop babbling. He patted Matt’s hand and retreated the few feet to lean against the wall.

“How Murray is?”

Conor raised Matt’s hand to his cheek. “Surgery was good. Repaired his artery, which, thank God, wasn’t as bad as they thought. He lost a lot of blood though.” Matt’s eyelids fluttered but didn’t open. “We’ll be in here a few days. He probably won’t play again this season.”

“Play not important,” Geno said. “Heal is most important.”

Sid wanted to say something, but examined every sentence before he spoke, wondering if it would be condescending or mothering or babbling. Instead, he poured a Styrofoam cup of ice water for Conor. “If you want to talk, call Angie Carducci. I’ll text you her number,” Sid said and handed the cup to him with a tentative smile. “She’s figured it out, all of it, including me and Geno.”

Sheary took the water. “I’m not going to apologize for what I said.” He glared at Sidney, but with Murr’s hand tucked against his face, he looked frightened and not fierce. Sid edged his way toward the door, because Sheary’s message was clear. They weren’t welcome, or at least, he wasn’t.

“Not need to say sorry. You right,” Geno said, zipping his jacket and adjusting it around his waist. “I’m forget you grown men, not just baby Pens. Can make own choice.”

Conor nodded once, sharp and as if he were saying I told you so.

Geno dropped his hand heavily on Conor’s shoulder and lowered his voice. “I’m tell you this. If you talk to you Captain like that again, you deal with me.”

Conor shrank under Geno’s hand and whispered his understanding.

“Good.” Geno thwacked Conor on his back with a hearty laugh. “We go now, see you Friday for game. Call Angie.”

Sid waved half-heartedly and followed Geno out of the room. He waited until they were in the elevator to say, “You threatened him!”

“Good A always take care of Captain. Good boyfriend always take care of boyfriend.” Geno slid his hand into Sid’s then tucked them both into his coat pocket. “I’m just remind him.”

Sid dipped his head and smiled. Geno was the best boyfriend.

~*~

Sid sat in bed, propped against the headboard, trying to work his way through a history of the Pittsburgh steel industry and US warships. He’d spent over six months on this book, mostly because he always fell asleep when he was reading it. He heard the water shut off in the bathroom, and when Geno emerged, he was wearing threadbare sleep pants and one of Sid’s Pens shirts.

He climbed into bed and slid close to Sid. “You know is ok to give up?” he asked, closing the book. “You start this when I’m move in. Read every night but get nowhere.”

Sid put the book on his nightstand and slipped down the pillows until he was lying in Geno’s arms, head under Geno’s chin. “Someone keeps distracting me.”

Geno didn’t answer, didn’t laugh as Sid had expected. Instead, he gently kissed the top of Sid’s head and held him close. “I’m think all night what Sheary says.”

Sid moved back far enough that he could watch Geno as he spoke. He looked wary, pursed his lips as if he were afraid to continue. Like after six months, Sid might change his mind.

“I’m want to tell you for so long what I’m feel but not brave enough. At that meeting, when I’m know what is happen, I say it was me. I’m think, maybe Sid would want if he knew. Make it easier to say truth.”

Sid brushed his fingertips down Geno’s cheek. He swallowed around the lump in his throat, wanted to speak but waited for Geno to finish.

“Know you feel same was more than I’m ever think I’m have.” Geno sniffed and swiped at his eye with the back of his hand.

Sid cradled Geno’s cheek and kissed him softly, afraid that if he spoke, he’d break down from the beauty of Geno’s words. From the time they’d lost and the time that stretched out in front of them. “I’ll never be sorry for what we did,” Sid finally said, snuggling closer again. “What I am sorry about is this patchy ass thing you call a beard.”

Geno laughed but didn’t chirp Sid back, because they both knew Sid’s was just as bad.

They fell asleep curled into each other.

~*~

The Penguins rolled over Columbus to end the first playoff round. Sid ignored Dubinsky’s slurs about him and Geno, knowing that Jack Johnson would shut him up. But when Dubinsky screamed something about their “faggot goalie and his midget boyfriend,” Sid dropped his gloves, but wound up hauling Geno away, intercepting him before he reached Dubinsky. “We can’t, G. Murray and Sheary haven’t said anything. You can’t either.”

The Penguins were one step closer to their repeat. They sat back and waited, watched the Capitals play the Maple Leafs to see who they’d face in the next round. It was all they could do.

Chapter Text

Game 3. Ovechkin’s on his ass, but he takes the pass from Guentzel, right in front of the net. Holtby’s out of position, and Sid just has to tap it in.

Someone slashes Sid’s right arm before smashing the stick into the left side of his head. He loses his balance. He’s falling backward. His left leg slides too far out. Another white jersey is in his face, then the rough, fast crack of a stick against his helmet. Sid slides between someone’s legs. The blinding pain and the surge of nausea are all Sid needs to know as he slowly rolls over and pushes himself to get on all fours.

Fuck.

 

~*~

His bedroom was dark and silent, except for the air conditioning cycling on at irregular intervals. The Catch 22 of concussions was that he had to be in almost total darkness without screens and without reading, but not fall asleep until someone said he could. He obviously knew how to manage a concussion. This one wasn’t really that bad. The low-watt lamp on in the room barely made him squint. And at least his mom was there with him to talk to.

“What time is it?” Sid peered out through his barely open eyes. Even with concussion protocol and his mom driving him home well under the speed limit, the game should still be on. Maybe.

“Five minutes later than the last time you asked, honey.” His mom checked the ice pack on his forehead and rearranged the bedsheets. Before she sat down, she pointedly surveyed the room, cataloging every item that obviously wasn’t Sidney’s—the eyeglasses atop of tower of books on the night table. The stack of shirts folded and waiting to be put away, too brightly colored to be Sidney’s. She didn’t say anything, just raised an eyebrow as she sat down in the chair by the bed.

Sid ignored her. Maybe they could listen to Mike Lange and Phil Bourque call it on radio. “What’s the score now?”

“Oh! Geno scored, then Schultz tied it.” Trina checked the app, then handed her phone to Sid. He reached for it, but Trina pulled it back. “I’m sorry, Sidney. I forgot.”

Sid lay back against the pillow, hoping the sledgehammer at the back of his skull would stop. “Can you get the call on the radio?”

Trina set her lips and slowly shook her head. “I don’t think it’s a good idea. If they score and you get excited—”

He didn’t need his mother reminding him how to act. Sid covered his eyes with his forearm and imagined what Geno’s goal might have looked like. Top shelf? A wrap around from behind on Holtby’s bad side? And then Schultzy tied it!

“Oh, shit,” Trina whispered, tucking her phone into her pocket. “The Caps won in overtime on the power play.”

Fuck. How could they win two in Washington and then lose at home? Ovechkin was such a fucking dirty player. If I’d seen him or just kept my balance—

“But Geno scored and got an assist on Schultz’s goal. That’s great. I know it’s not the result you hoped for, but Geno looked really great tonight and had so many great shots. It’s great that he’s back.”

Trina was talking to fill the oppressive silence, trying to buoy him through the team’s loss, erase his pain and make him feel better. But it didn’t. It exhausted Sid to his core and made him feel like she thought he was a child. Or maybe, he was responding to his own guilt. He sighed and slid his arm from his eyes before pushing himself to sit up in bed. “Mom, look. I—” Sid waited for the nausea to pass before he finished his sentence. “I should’ve told you about me and Geno.”

His mother looked confused, biting her lip and frowning. If Sid didn’t know her so well, he might have been convinced she was clueless. But he did, and she wasn’t. She’d trick

“We decided to give it a try, you know, together. And we’re real happy.”

Her big smile was Sid’s answer.

They settled back into silence. Sid rested, comparing each surge of pain and each swell of sickness to his prior concussions. The minutes dragged. His mom changed out the ice packs, offered him sips of ice water, helped him to the bathroom when he asked.

“Dad and I knew you’d be happy with Geno,” she said when Sid returned to bed. “Glad you two finally realized.” She brushed his hair back and kissed his forehead. “I think it’s okay for you to doze. Dr. Vyas said as long as you can carry on a conversation.”

Sid closed his eyes. He felt—alright. He’d have to wait and see, just like every other time. And no matter how badly he needed to be on the ice, he wouldn’t push.

Probably.

He floated in and out of sleep, bizarre dreams where medieval knights battered his armor with their flails, the spiked balls rattling his helmet. Or where asteroids buffeted his spacecraft and he was alone and scared, afraid he’d never see Zhenya again.

He vaguely heard his mom whispering to Geno, felt the bed dip, then bare arms surrounded him.

“Syutushka.” Geno pressed against Sid’s back, brushing his lips over Sid’s shoulders, in the curls at the nape of his neck, in the sensitive spot behind Sid’s ear.

To Sid, the tiny kisses felt like a spell both protective and healing. He almost believed he could feel the fog lifting, his thoughts sharper. But Sid knew it wasn’t magic. It was just Geno loving him.

~*~

Magic or not, Sid felt up to going to the skate in Cranberry the next morning. He moved slowly, talking with each guy and encouraging them. He wasn’t 100%; he wouldn’t be back tomorrow, but it wouldn’t be 15 months either. Although Dr. Vyas scratched Sid from Game 4, the Penguins won; they were up 3-1 in the series. But the best news was that Vyas allowed Sid to participate in full-contact practice, which surprised everyone, including Sid.

Sid traveled to DC for Game 5, feeling as close to good as he ever did at this point in the season: shitty but functional. He’d powered through more than 200 games in 16 months, between last season and this season, the 2016 playoffs, the World Cup of Hockey, and these playoffs. The nausea was gone. The dull headache remained along with some memory issues. But he was alright.

Until the middle of the first period when Horny checked John Carlson, edged him further left until he squeezed Sid over.

Sid saw it coming, couldn’t do anything to stop it. He tucked his elbows into his sides, trying to make himself as small as possible. He went limp on purpose as his skate hit the metal post and he flew off his feet, head first into the boards.

No, no, no, please no, Sid prayed, more cold from fear of a second concussion in five days than from lying on the ice. But, he felt—just okay, but at least there was no sledgehammer headache or confusion about time or place.

Gingerly, Sid rose to his feet to the scant applause of the Penguin supporters in the Washington crowd. He completed his shift, icing his head between periods, monitoring his pain. “Just got the wind knocked out of me,” he said after their 4-2 loss. “It’s a non-issue, so let’s move on.”

Then, they’d lost back at PPG. Their home ice, home crowd, home cooking. None of it mattered that night as the Caps scored 5 goals on Flower. Jake and Geno scored, but it couldn’t undo what they’d allowed.
Geno repeatedly informed Sid that he was worried about the two head hits. Occasionally, on the ice or at a team meal or before they kissed good-night, Geno would stop Sid and with his soft hands, cup Sid’s face and look into his eyes. Examine him, observe him, as if Sid were hiding his pain.

Sid pretended to be irritated but then he’d smile, and Geno would respond with his own grin, and to Sid, that was like brilliant sunshine that broke through grey clouds. He felt his heart leap with more joy and love than he ever imagined. Geno was his. He didn’t need a superhero or some fairytale bliss. He wanted someone who would be there for him, who would love him when he was ugly and grumpy or stupidly happy. Not something like this, but this.

“Zhenya, I promise. I won’t do anything to hurt myself long-term,” Sid said when Geno had finally given in and pulled Sid close. “This—us. It’s everything. I’m not going to risk fucking up my memory and forgetting anything.”

Zhenya kissed Sid’s forehead, held his lips there before nodding. “Not worth it, Syutushka. Cup not worth losing you.”

They flew back to Washington for Game 7, and before a sold-out crowd, the Penguins blanked the Caps to win the series. Flower stopped 29 shots, while Rusty and Horny scored the only two goals in the game. Sid kept his face blank as he worked his way down the handshake line, even if, in his mind, he was laughing his ass off.

They needed 16 victories to win the Stanley Cup. So far they had 8. They were half way. Ottawa wouldn’t be an easy series, but they all knew it would be a lot fucking easier than the Caps.

They were all wrong.

~*~

All season, Flower had genuinely supported Murr, shared what he’d learned, what bits of advice he thought were worth passing on. All season, Flower sat at the end of the bench, suited up in his awkward pads that must have felt like a second skin after so many years, and he watched play unfold without him. It felt wrong to Sid, like having Giroux on his wing or celebrating American Thanksgiving.

With Murr’s injury, Flower had been their savior, had stepped in when they needed him, and he’d saved their asses. Kept them in games they probably should have lost, in series that shouldn’t have been theirs. Everyone knew they owed Flower big time.

Except Sullivan. Sid didn’t get why Sully was so high on Murr. He’d rendered Flower the back-up, whispered to GMJR that Vegas could use a face-of-the-franchise player. Suggested the Pens sweeten the pot to ensure VGK would draft Flower.

When Murr was declared fit to play a month after almost severing his artery, when he traveled to Ottawa and dressed, they knew Flower was on borrowed time.

They took the ice in Ottawa with the series tied 1-1. Before the Senators hit the first minute of Game 3, they were up 1-0. They scored again at 10:34. But when the Sens hit two in 30 seconds and were up 4-0, Sullivan pulled Flower and sent Murr in. Sid scored in the third, but it didn’t matter. They’d lost 5-1 and now were down 2-1 in the series.

The moment Murr stepped on the ice, Sid knew—knew—what the media scrum would focus on. Murr and Sheary. The Pens PR and Media departments had done a remarkable job at keeping those two unavailable, but today they didn’t have a choice.

And Shears and Murr, they couldn’t decide whether to ignore the question of their relationship, or answer it, or lie. Although Matt had thanked Sid for what they’d done, obviously Conor hadn’t felt the same way. “Go fuck yourself and your perfect image and your martyr complex, making decisions for me,” ran through Sid’s mind on a two second loop, like Sheary was Princess Leia trying to get a message back home.

He had no choice but to let them deal with it themselves. It was their mess. Their lives. No matter how grateful he was for his relationship with Geno, it didn’t change the fact that they were adults with adult problems. If they chose to come out to the media, then Sid and Geno had made the way a bit easier.

“What do you think they’re gonna do?” Sid asked Geno in the changing room, tilting his head toward the end of the row where Murr and Shears were.

“Not know. Not care,” Geno mumbled, his voice muted as he pulled the sweater over his face. “Is their problem, right?”

Sid sighed as he ripped the Velcro open on his shoulder pads and pulled them over his head to hang up. Yeah, it was their problem, but it felt a little like his problem, too. If he took some of the pressure from them, it might be easier. But he and Geno had already done that. Maybe it was like being a mother bird and pushing your babies out of the nest to make them fly because they had to learn. Or sending your son to school half a continent away when he was 15 because it was the best thing for him. Sid dropped to the bench and jammed his lucky baseball cap on over his sweat-soaked hair.

Geno slid along the bench closer to Sidney. He squeezed Sid’s hand. “We do together, so answer less questions.”

For Sid, tiny gestures like that meant more than grand proclamations. They flip-flopped Sid’s heart and made him grin like puppy love, instead of some bone-weary, old man. He nodded and slid his fingers between Geno’s. “Love you, baby.”

“I’m love you, too. So much.” Geno slapped the brim of Sid’s cap. “But I’m hate you stupid rules. No sex is stupid.”

“When we win, you know—” Sid couldn’t say it. Couldn’t jinx it their chance at the Cup. “When we win, you’re gonna fuck me so good. I probably won’t last two seconds. Want you so bad.”

Geno strangled out a whine, and Sid understood every syllable of this language they shared. They hadn’t fooled around since April 11th, the night before the Columbus series began. Nothing. At all. Not together. Not alone. Not in the shower, or the bed, or against that wall, or in that bathroom stall.

Sid dragged in a breath and didn’t dare look at his UnderArmour shorts. “Who made this fucking rule?”

“Is no-fucking rule, and was you,” Geno said with a final squeeze of Sid’s hand as the reporters flooded the changing room.

As he answered questions about their PK unit or their thoughts on Ottawa or the Predators, Sid also tried to listen to Shears and Murr.

“—Not answering that—”
“—No, we’re friends—”
“—Roomed together in Wilkes-Barre—”
“—Only questions about tonight’s—”

Sid’s heart hurt for them each time they lied, but the choice was theirs. No one should be backed into a corner, having to out themselves for someone else’s story. He focused on the reporter asking him about his goal in the third. It was easier this way.

 

~*~

Usually, Sid was big into team bonding or talking out a loss with the younger guys. Going out to a bar, having fun, and mostly making sure they didn’t internalize the loss.

But that night, Sid encouraged Tanger and Horny to take the kids out, to make sure Flower was alright about being pulled from probably his last time on ice as a Penguin. That tomorrow was another night to fight again. Sid would catch up with all of them over breakfast, check in and allay any lasting fears.

Because tonight he wasn’t thinking about hockey.

Sid barely allowed Zhenya into the hotel room before he crowded him against the door. “You smell fucking incredible.” Sid dragged his lips down Zhenya’s neck, scraped the muscle with his teeth. “I can’t get enough. I’m sorry about the rule,” he said in-between kisses.

They kissed filthy and without any finesse while they fumbled with zippers and half-Windsor knots. Sid slid his hand into Zhenya’s briefs and wrapped his fist around his cock, thick and ready for Sid. He loved this, would never get used to the silky feel. He stroked slowly, rolled his fist over the crown, and listened to Zhenya’s ragged breathing. “Want me to blow you? Or just get you off right here?” Sid didn’t care which Zhenya chose.

Zhenya whined or maybe it was Russian, and Sid understood the meaning if not the words.
Fuck it. They had 12 hours til they had to be back at the arena. He could jack Zhenya, take the edge off, and they could definitely go again.

“I’ve got you,” Sid whispered, twisting his wrist again. “Baby, I’ve got you.”

And he did.

~*~

In Game 7 double overtime, on a Chris Kunitz slapshot, the Pens took the series over Ottawa 4 to 3. They were bruised and battered, but the Penguins limped their way into their second Stanley Cup finals.

Chapter Text

The Stanley Cup champions paraded down Grant Street, down the Boulevard of the Allies, to Commonwealth, and ended at Point State Park. Already, thousands of fans pushed against the makeshift stage, and all reports indicated the crowd would continue to swell as more of the 625,000 people made their way to the Point.

Sid watched out the pick-up truck’s window as the driver jockeyed for a place to stop long enough to drop him off. Thank God he wasn’t driving. Between the people and the television production trailers lined up behind the stage, they’d be lucky to find a spare inch.

Sid understood the people who’d been out along the parade route since before sun up hoping for the chance to see the Cup up close or maybe touch it. He’d been within fingertip reach most of the past 24 hours, and it still wasn’t enough. The Cup was the embodiment of everything they’d given: their blood, their bones, their time and energy. Their spirit.

The driver crept along the dirt road that was little more than a path and slowed to a stop at the area the security guards had kept clear. Sid hopped off the back of the truck and then grabbed the Cup from the bed. Geno was in a separate SUV further down the parade route; he wanted to wait for G but standing around holding the Cup was a bad idea.

“Guentz! Here. Take this onto the stage,” Sid said, shoving the Cup at Jake’s chest. His nerves danced like a downed power line, sparking each time he thought about the small box in his pocket and what it meant to them. When Geno jumped out of the SUV and loped toward the stage, Sid skipped a breath—Geno, who refused to shave his scraggly beard before the parade, whose hair was too long and curled around the back of his 2017 Stanley Cup Champions cap, was gorgeous. Sid would never admit this out loud to his teammates, but Geno was more precious to him than the Cup.

The guys followed Guentzel onto the stage, their own cheers blending with the crowds. Jake held the cup over his head, as if 35 pounds weighed nothing, and waved it. The shouting grew louder, as if that were even possible.

Geno grinned when he saw Sid. “Was best parade, better than last year,” he said as he pushed up the brim and wiped the sweat from his forehead. “Do again next year. Three-peat.” Geno adjusted his cap, and Sid wanted to tuck one of the stray curls behind Geno’s ear. Instead, he cupped Geno’s cheek with one hand and marveled for the millionth time when Geno leaned into his touch.

The arena announcer, on hand for the festivities, began his script. Geno followed Sid to the stage, but instead of elbowing their way to the front of the stage, Sid held Geno at the back by the curtain. Sid could barely hear himself think over the accumulated sound.

He tapped Zhenya’s arm to get his attention. “Zhenya,” Sid began, just like he’d practiced so many times at home. He reached into the pocket of his shorts and withdrew a small box, the word Orr’s embossed in the velvet.

Zhenya stared as Sidney pulled back the lid. A man’s ring, gold with two baguette-shaped black diamonds flanked by four round, clear diamonds glittered even in the box. “I was thinking something small on the lake in Cole Harbour this summer. Fly your parents in. I asked your dad’s permission and he—“

Sid’s voice died away as he realized that Geno hadn’t said anything, hadn’t reached for the box, just stared at it, one hand thrust deep into his pocket and the other rubbing the back of his neck.

“Of course, we could do it at their house or—“

Sidney would’ve stopped breathing if he could’ve, would’ve gladly fallen through the stage. He’d misread this, moved too fast, and now Geno was trying to find a way to let him down and—

“Is for me?”

Sid kept his mouth shut and nodded, praying Zhenya would say something.

Geno removed his sunglasses and handed them to Sid to hold before sliding on his reading glasses. He brought the ring closer, to take it all in. He touched the diamonds with the tip of his finger, and when Geno looked inside the band, Sid knew when he saw the SPC ♥ EVM inscribed on the inside.

“When we do?”

The crowd noise rose again as Sully spoke, and their teammates eyes were trained on their coach, affording Sid and Zhenya privacy. Sid brushed his lips on Zhenya’s cheek before saying, “I thought we could be alone here for a bit, go to Russia for your Cup day, then after the hockey school, on my second Cup day…”

Zhenya nodded and kissed Sid. It was like each kiss they’d shared for six months: a little soft, a bit heated, and with the promise of much more. Zhenya looked dazed when he pulled back from the kiss. “Please. You do,” he said, and handed the box back to Sid.

Sid’s throat felt thick, like he couldn’t speak or swallow. He carefully removed the ring and slid it onto the fourth finger of Zhenya’s left hand. “I love you. Will you marry me.”

Zhenya spoke quietly in Russian, caressed Sid’s face and pressed his left hand over Sid’s heart. “Da. Yes. We marry in Canada.”

Sid’s nerves dissipated, but the dancing live wire remained; he felt giddy and lightheaded, because this amazing man wanted to marry him.

 

They were called to the front of the stage, and off to the left, Sid saw Angie Carducci speaking with Shears. She reached up and handed him what looked like a business card and then shook his hand. Sid thought that the NHL could expect another relationship announcement soon.

The PR team wouldn’t let either Olli or Schultzy talk, and Sid was pretty certain it was because they’d been drinking non-stop for 48 hours.

Neither Sid nor Geno mentioned their engagement at the rally. Later at Sully’s house, surrounded by friends and family would be time enough.

In the meantime, in their two weeks left in Pittsburgh, they’d consolidate homes, put Geno’s on the market, and take whatever Geno needed back to Sid’s—their—home.

Except those two metal Predator sculptures, that Sid swore from day one would never, ever be brought to his house.

Who am I kidding? Sid thought with his lopsided grin. By Christmas they’ll be decorated and standing guard on the driveway.

And he knew it would be with his blessing.