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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.