On November 26th, 2017, somebody knocked on the door of Sid’s Boston hotel room loud enough to make him flinch. He checked the time: nearly midnight. The guys who’d gone out were probably trickling back in now, so this must be one of them.
When he swung the door open, Geno was on the other side of it. He was leaning against the doorway, his eyes closed, his cheeks flushed. The wet November snow had flattened his hair to his skull and darkened the shoulders of his wool coat.
Sid had figured on one of the young guys in sudden, drunken, dire need of a heart-to-heart. He had not expected this. “G?”
Geno’s eyes snapped open. He squinted at Sid, brow furrowed in deepest skepticism. When he spoke, his voice was rough. “Sid?”
“Yep,” Sid said. His surprise was settling into amusement. He hadn’t seen Geno this trashed in a long time, definitely not on a road trip. A few of the guys—Dumo, Hags, Schultzy—had been bragging about their college-educated alcohol tolerance for a while now. They must’ve finally goaded Geno into some kind of competition. “The other guy looks worse, right?”
Geno didn’t seem to hear that. As he kept staring at Sid, his eyes filmed over with tears. “Sid,” he repeated.
Okay, maybe not a drinking game. “You want to come in?” Sid said, holding the door open.
Geno stared a moment longer, and then he pushed inside. The path he took was only approximately straight. He landed on Sid’s bed and watched, unblinking, as Sid closed the door carefully behind him. Step two was water: Sid fetched an unopened bottle, screwed off the lid, and handed it to Geno. Geno looked at it like he’d never seen a bottle before.
“Drink up,” Sid said gently. He’d taken this tone with scared rookies before, and even Geno, very occasionally. He sat on the bed a little ways down from Geno. “Then we can talk, if you want.”
Geno shuddered, making a sound in his throat very like a sob. Then he tipped the bottle back and drank until it was half empty. Setting it shakily on the bedside table, he turned to Sid again. “You’re here,” he said, with a voice like gravel. Whether that was drink or tears or something else yet unguessed, Sid had no idea.
“This is my room. Yours is on the second floor.”
“And yours always same. Third floor, last door on left.”
“Sure,” Sid agreed. “When I can get it.” It wasn’t really a superstition. It was just a preference. Sometimes the universe declined to accommodate those, and he could live with it.
“Sid,” Geno said, rough. He leaned into Sid, wrapped his octopus arms around him, and pressed his newly-wet face into Sid’s neck. The arms of his coat were wet, too, with Boston’s bitterly cold rain. He began to shudder with new sobs.
Sid had seen Geno drunk plenty of times, but never like this, not even after Sochi. He stroked Geno’s forearm, the only part of Geno he could conveniently reach while Geno was holding him so tight. “It’s okay. Come on, Geno, whatever it is, it’s okay. We’ll figure it out, all right?”
Geno paid no attention. Sid kept murmuring soothing nothings anyway, because that was better than just sitting there doing nothing while Geno cried on him. Gradually the sobs wracking Geno began to ease. After twenty minutes or so, they’d died down to just occasional hitches in Geno’s breath. Finally Sid dared to disentangle himself and push Geno upright. Geno blinked at him, red about the eyes, all his eyelashes stuck together in wet clumps.
“I’m gonna get a washcloth, okay?” Sid said.
He came out of the bathroom to find Geno right where he’d left him. Sid offered him the tissue box on the bedside table, and Geno dutifully blew his nose into it. Then he looked at Sid again, so lost, like a little boy who’d gotten separated from his parents in Giant Eagle. Sid had a weird moment where he wanted to wipe under Geno’s eyes himself, but he recovered quickly and handed the wet washcloth to Geno instead.
While Geno pressed the cold cloth to his eyes, Sid busied himself with collecting snacks and refilling Geno’s water bottle. Finally he ran out of busywork to do. Somehow when he turned to face Geno, it was no surprise to find Geno staring back. He looked—less drunk than Sid had thought. The skin on the back of Sid’s neck prickled. “Do you want to talk about it?” he asked. Whatever it was.
Slowly Geno shook his head.
“Okay, well…” Sid didn’t really know where to go from there.
“Can I stay here?” Geno asked.
“Just tonight. Please, Sid.” Geno’s eyes were huge and red and too clear for Sid’s comfort. This was all really fucking weird.
There was still no way Sid was going to say no. “Sure. Do you want to go to your room and get—”
“No!” Geno said sharply. He swallowed. Softer, he said, “I just stay here, okay? Just tonight.”
“I’m going to have some questions for you in the morning,” Sid said. Geno didn’t seem to hear. He was staring at the carpet now—some kind of faintly striped pattern that probably hid a shit-ton of stains.
Sid had been about ready to turn in anyway. He did his final before-bed things, a routine so ingrained that he’d pulled his briefs halfway down his ass before he reflected that maybe tonight was not the night for sleeping naked.
When Sid came out, Geno was already under the covers of the room’s one bed, bare-chested, leaning against the backboard. His t-shirt and jeans were in a heap on a chair, with the wool coat hung over the back and shoes tucked underneath. Geno watched silently as Sid pulled a t-shirt and sweats out of his suitcase and slipped them on. Finally Sid turned to face him and found Geno staring back, his chin tipped up, like a dare. He didn’t look drunk at all anymore.
Geno’s expression crumpled. Sid couldn’t find it in himself to say whatever he’d meant to say next. Something about Geno going to his own room, maybe. A crack about how all this was kind of gay. Instead Sid just climbed in on his preferred side of the bed. Conveniently, Geno had picked the other side. “We could talk about it,” Sid tried again.
Geno lifted one shoulder and let it drop again. “It’s not help.”
Sid had a little bit of experience with that petulant certainty. He knew there was nothing to do but wait it out. “Okay,” he said. He turned out his lamp and burrowed deeper into the sheets, facing towards the door. A few seconds later, Geno’s lamp shut off, too. Then there was nothing for Sid to focus on but the sound of Geno’s still-congested breath and the rustle of the sheets as he moved.
Into the near-silence, Sid blurted, “I haven’t shared a bed with a guy since junior.” The minute rustlings across the bed stilled. Sid’s face heated, a flush that started in his cheeks and spread immediately to his neck, the tips of his ears, into his armpits. “It’s fine, though. I mean—”
Before he could finish, Geno scooted up behind him and draped an arm over Sid’s side, pulling him close. For an instant, Sid was frozen, too shocked to move, Then, before he could figure out the patient, helpful response, he blurted, “What the fuck.”
Geno flinched, but he didn’t let go. “Please,” he said.
“Please what?” The thought occurred, fleetingly, that this was all some kind of enormous prank. Soon half the team would bust in with a stolen key card and a bunch of cell phones to take video. But he’d seen how red Geno’s eyes were. He knew Geno would never pull this shit for a prank.
Geno pulled him in tighter and didn’t say anything. His nose was buried in Sid’s hair, and his breath warmed Sid’s scalp.
“Shh,” Geno said. His breath hitched once, twice, and Sid braced himself. Then he felt a light pressure at the back of his skull: Geno pressing a kiss to his hair. A new, agonized flush stole over Sid. It was all he could do to hold still. “Sleep, Sid.”
Fat chance. Sid quit protesting, though. Within moments, Geno’s breath evened out, and then Sid was alone. He had a lot of time until morning to think about all the questions he would ask.
Sid woke up alone. Slowly the conviction stole over him that something was wrong. All at once, the previous night’s events returned to him. He sat up and blinked at his empty bed. The covers were more twisted than usual, but there was otherwise no sign Geno had ever been there at all. His clothes and shoes and coat were gone.
“Geno?” Sid said, without much hope of an answer. There was none. He got up and padded around the room, looking for some sign that Geno had been there.
Geno had obviously been there. Otherwise Sid wouldn’t have worn clothes to bed and woken up sticky with hours-old sweat from sleeping too hot. He checked his phone—a text was a hell of a lot likelier than the hand-written note he’d half-expected to find—but there was only chirping from the guys for staying in, texts from Taylor about school. The usual. His most recent message from Geno was several days old.
“What the fuck,” he asked the empty room.
He looked for Geno as soon as he got down to breakfast. Geno wasn’t there, of course; hell would freeze over the day Geno was any better than fashionably late to anything that happened before noon. Except Geno had dragged himself out of Sid’s room that morning so quietly that Sid had never even stirred.
Sid sat next to Rusty, across from Shears and Schultzy. “You guys have fun last night?”
Predictable chirping and accusations of his being an old man ensued. There’d been a time when all of these guys were too awed by being in the same room with him to pull this kind of shit. At the moment, Sid kind of missed it. He let the teasing go on for a while, and then he said, “And you finally got Geno drunk off his ass?”
Rusty and Shears shared a glance. “No?” Rusty said cautiously.
“I’ve got some texts on my phone that say otherwise,” Sid said drily. That was the story he’d settled on.
“I fucking knew it,” Schultzy said. “Russia hold alcohol best my fucking ass.”
“That fucker,” Rusty said, a little admiringly.
Sid tuned them out and focused on his eggs and bacon. He’d get no answers here.
Geno swanned in twenty minutes before they were supposed to board the bus for morning skate. He had his sunglasses on, which pointed to a headache, but he returned the chirps with a grin and moved with his familiar easy arrogance. Sid spent the final few minutes of his breakfast sneaking glances, looking for traces of the guy who’d sobbed on his shoulder the night before.
He was tempted to leave Geno alone, let the previous night be a weird aberration, never discussed. He didn’t make up his mind until they arrived at the arena for Sully’s morning meeting, and Geno finally took off his sunglasses. His eyes had cleared. The post-crying swollenness had receded. He caught Sid’s eye on him and lifted his eyebrows, and suddenly Sid was flushing so hard he had to duck into his locker to hide it.
Geno was fine now. Or he’d always been fine, and last night he was just fucking with Sid. Or he wasn’t fine, but he was hiding it way too fucking well for Sid to try and touch it. All Sid’s burning questions died down to ashes. He couldn’t imagine saying any of them aloud, now. He flashed back to the heat of Geno at his back, the weight of Geno’s arm over his side. His stomach twisted.
Sid would just let Geno come to him, if he had something he needed to talk about. Probably Geno really was fine.
A week later, in Buffalo, it happened again. The same knock startled Sid away from his reading. He pulled the door open and there was Geno ’s sorry figure, not just damp this time but soaked through, his pants legs dark with melted slush up to the knee. Snow crystals clung to his toque. “You’re here,” Geno said, with the deliberate care of the very drunk.
“Geno—” Sid began, but Geno was already pushing inside. “You’re going to tell me what’s going on this time,” Sid warned him. “No more of this I’m fine, everything is fine crap.”
Geno’s shifty gaze seemed to catch on Sid’s face. He wasn’t crying this time, at least. That was an improvement. It was Sid’s last coherent thought before Geno kissed him.
For a moment, shocked still, Sid let it happen to him: Geno’s lips, cold and chapped, mouthing against his. Geno’s whiskey-breath warming him. Geno licking along Sid’s mouth, Geno’s icy fingers cupping the back of Sid’s neck—
“What the fuck,” Sid said, sidestepping out of Geno’s loose grip. His voice broke on the last word. “What are you fucking doing?” The question came out angry. That was, he realized, because he was angry. He was furious. He was shocky with adrenaline, light-headed, his breath coming too fast. “You don’t—you don’t fucking touch me.” That was too harsh. He knew it while the words were still on his lips, even before Geno’s eyes widened like he’d been struck.
They stared at each other for a beat, two, while Sid heaved each breath and Geno didn’t seem to breathe at all. Then, with drunken grace so fluid he seemed barely human, Geno dropped to his knees.
“What are you—?” Sid said.
Geno lifted his hands level with Sid’s waistband, though he didn’t touch. “Let me,” he said.
“You don’t want to do that,” Sid said, more a plea than a surety. Sid wasn’t sure of anything anymore, even though he’d have bet a lot of money that Geno wasn’t like that.
Geno licked his lips, a motion so mesmerizing Sid had to struggle to hear his next words. “I want. Let me, Sid.”
Please, Sid heard. Everything in Geno’s steady gaze was a plea, his entire posture a supplication: the very picture of Sid’s guiltiest, most shamed fantasies. Heat pooled in Sid’s gut. His stomach churned. “Geno—”
Geno must have heard assent in that one word. He broke Sid’s gaze to focus his attention on the tie of Sid’s sweatpants. He tugged until the knot loosened, and then he pulled the sweatpants down over Sid’s ass—without making a single crack about the size of it, which was how Sid knew this wasn’t real. This was another dream, as photo realistic as the last one, and when Sid woke up in the morning nothing would have changed.
The pants pooled around Sid’s feet. Finally Geno tucked his thumbs inside the waistband of Sid’s briefs. Sid shivered at the cool touch of his fingers against sensitive skin; his cock stiffened with it. Geno had to see it. It was right in front of his face. Any moment Geno would realize what was happening, what he’d asked for, and be disgusted.
Instead Geno pulled Sid’s briefs gently down around his thighs, letting Sid’s cock spring free. Geno took a deep breath, and then he bent and took Sid into his mouth.
Sid had had lots of blowjobs before, from girlfriends or just girls in bars. He’d sat on a bed or braced against a wall and enjoyed the heat of their mouths, the swipe of their tongue, skilled or not-so-skilled.
But one time in junior, a kid on the opposing team—Sid had somehow forgotten the team and the kid’s name, though he remembered every goal he scored with Rimouski and every goal he should’ve scored but didn’t—this kid had caught Sid alone in the parking lot, when most everyone else had gone. He hadn’t met Sid’s eyes, and he had a high flush on his cheeks, but his voice had almost been steady as he asked if he could suck Sid off.
Sid had laughed, kind of. You’re punking me, right? he’d said. The kid blushed harder, but he didn’t move, and finally, after a few long, silent moments, he knelt on the tarmac.
Sid had never quite got around to saying yes, but he let the kid do it, anyway. The kid was on the less-skilled end of the scale—even with Sid’s limited experience then, he could tell that much. The kid never lost that flush, either. But he didn’t get Sid with his teeth once, and he sucked as noisily and sloppily as any hair-trigger seventeen-year-old could have hoped for.
Sid minded his manners. He patted the kid’s head when he was close, and the kid pulled off and worked Sid with his hand the rest of the way. Sid thanked him after. He warned him, too, not to go making that offer to just anyone. Most guys won’t be as nice about it.
Yeah, the kid agreed. He never did look Sid in the eye.
Geno was really fucking good at sucking dick. That was the realization that slowly floated to the top of Sid’s consciousness, what precious little of it he had left. The rest was caught up in the wet heat of Geno’s mouth as he sucked Sid down, deep, deep—a pro Sid thought vaguely, and then was ashamed he’d thought it. Geno was his friend, his teammate. Geno didn’t—
But Geno demonstrably did. There he was at Sid’s feet, doing it. Sid must have been as red as a goal light, but Geno was barely flushed at all. He looked comfortable down there. Shameless. He worked Sid with his hand a little, at the root, where even Geno’s prodigious skill with his mouth couldn’t take him. He pulled back and traced around the head with his tongue in slow, maddening circuits. A pro.
Sid’s cock was plump and full now. Each of Geno’s choked exhales was a special, teasing torture. Each touch of his fingers felt like the beginning of too much.
And then, finally, one was. “Geno—”
Geno didn’t pull off like that kid had in junior. He retreated a half inch or so and twisted a little to meet Sid’s eyes, and then he just kept going. He’d plucked Sid apart, thread by thread, and now he kept his mouth on Sid as he unraveled. Sid’s entire self collapsed down to his cock, to the clench of his belly. He came like he hadn’t in years, since—
He came into Geno’s mouth. It seemed to take a long time. Only during the aftershocks did Geno pull off at last. He stared Sid in the eye as he swallowed, and all Sid could do was stare back. Whatever there was in Geno’s eyes, Sid couldn’t read it. His knees felt ready to give out. By some force of will he stayed upright as Geno patted his thigh and then tugged his briefs carefully over up over his ass, his spent cock.
Sid didn’t have any surprise left in him when Geno pressed his face into Sid’s crotch, nor when Geno’s shoulders began to hitch.
“Hey,” Sid said. He rested a hand on Geno’s head, on the gray knit toque he was still wearing. Geno sniffled and wrapped his arms around Sid’s bare thighs, tight, like a child. Like he’d never let go.
Sid’s anger had all spurted out of his dick. Geno had swallowed it. Sid was empty now, and exhausted. “Hey,” he repeated. After a moment, Geno let go and looked up. His eyes were red. At the sight of them, the last ghost of Sid’s anger slipped away. He’d be angry tomorrow. He’d have time for a lot of things tomorrow. “What’s going on?” Sid asked.
Geno shook his head. Slowly, stiffly he pushed to his feet. He looked down—at Sid’s dick, Sid assumed, but then Geno reached for Sid’s hand, hanging at his side. Geno gave Sid’s fingers a squeeze. “Thanks for let.”
For sure, Sid very nearly said. Verbal autopilot. He caught the words just in time, dangling on his lips. But without them he had nothing to say at all, and so he could only look at Geno, looking down at their joined hands.
At last Geno heaved a sigh and let go. Before Sid could react, Geno snatched a kiss from his mouth, with the same lips that had just been stretched around Sid’s cock. “Bye, Sid,” Geno said, and then he walked down the room’s abbreviated hallway and out the door, shutting it gently behind him.
“What the fuck,” Sid said.
Sid didn’t try to catch Geno’s eye the next day as the team prepared for the night’s game. He didn’t look at Geno at all except when it couldn’t be helped. He checked in on everyone else instead: Phil racking up power play points like they were nothing, Rowns still finding his hands after a month on IR, Tanger still finding his reflexes after so many months away from the ice.
Tanger tried to return the favor. “You okay, man? You sleep good last night?” He eyed Sid much too closely for Sid’s comfort.
Sid shrugged and gave the first lie that occurred to him. “Checked the Vegas score before I went to bed.”
“Aw, shit,” Tanger said. He gave Sid a shoulder-bump and contemplated the carpet for a few beats, and then he gave Sid a last sad smile and went away. It was the best result Sid could have hoped for. He felt like shit about it.
Jake scored off a sweet assist from Geno that night. As they flew by the bench, Sid’s gaze was drawn to Geno like a magnet, and suddenly he saw those same dark eyes peering up at him, pleading with Sid to let him suck his dick.
Heat stirred uneasily in the pit of Sid’s stomach. He squeezed some Gatorade into his mouth and turned away, listening to Sully call the next line off the bench.
That was it, Sid thought. That had to be it. Two drunken nights, spurred on by some private sorrow Geno would never share with him—or maybe he would in a year, some off-night in a bar when the other guys were out on the floor picking up. Sid had taken more than one confession that way over the years from across the table of a booth, while the odor of hops and deep-fry oil rose up around them like incense.
Regardless, Geno had worked out whatever his issue was, and it was over now. Sid clung to this theory through a home stand that seemed without end. Five games, all close, mostly losses. The Sabres were their sole regulation win.
Geno, true to form, talked to the media after they lost the final game before the roadie. Sid slid his hockey pants down his thighs and tried not to listen in. “We know it’s tough to win, you know, we try but I think we not try hard enough. We have to do better. Go harder to net, you know.”
Thus spoke Geno, who had six points in those five games. His hair stuck up every which way, stiff with drying sweat, revealing the hairline that he usually tried to hide, which rose ever higher at the temples. He always made English look like hard work when he spoke, his mouth puckering around the sounds, like—
Sid cursed quietly to himself and stepped out of his jock strap. If Guentzel heard him from the next stall over, he gave no sign. Sid felt Geno’s eyes on him, though, as the beats dispersed. Maybe Sid had been conspicuous about the staring. Maybe Geno was going to show up at Sid’s house tonight. Fuck.
Sid cast his gaze around the room and found Sheahan peeling off his socks, clearly deep in a post-loss funk. “So, good job on those goals, the last couple games,” Sid said. Sheahan brightened.
Flower always said Sid could talk hockey in a house on fire. Geno’s searching gaze felt almost as dangerous; the heat licking up Sid’s body felt almost as savage. Sid ignored it and focused on Sheahan’s face as Sheahan described a set play Detroit liked to use.
Geno did not show up at Sid’s house. Sid circled through it in a frustrated simmer of—frustration. Irritation. That was all it was. Irritation at himself for being thrown by Geno’s concentrated attention in the locker room, as if Geno had never looked at him before; for thinking it meant something; for fucking being irritated.
In bed, he barely had to touch himself before he came.
The second night they were in Vegas, Flower met them for dinner. It was Sid and Flower and Tanger and David Perron, like old times. Flower looked good, still hanging onto the last of his summer tan. Or maybe he still went out and baked in the sun even now, in December; who the hell knew what people did down here in the desert.
Except it wasn’t like old times at all. Flower and Perron shared jokes that Sid could barely glimpse the inside of. Flower asked Sid how Reaves and Hunwick and Sheahan were settling in—team minutiae he’d never needed to ask before.
“And you?” Flower asked Sid soberly, in an odd moment when they were alone. “Life is good?”
“Shit, Flower,” Sid said, unnerved. “Don’t go all serious on me.”
Flower shrugged, his gaze sliding away. “I’m not there anymore, you know. I don’t know how you are.”
“I texted you like three days ago,” Sid protested.
“It’s easier to lie in text, though.”
“What the fuck,” Sid said blankly, too off-balance to defend himself. Then he took in Flower’s rounded shoulders, the way he was picking at the tablecloth. “Are you—are you okay?”
Flower looked up, startled. “Yeah, I’m good,” he said earnestly, like he had a half a dozen times in Sid’s hearing in the last twelve hours. “I just—I don’t know what’s going on with you guys now.”
Sid had gone the whole dinner without thinking about Geno. Now the well-worn image returned to him of Geno on his knees, bent over Sid’s cock. For one instant, he thought of telling Flower all of it, the crying and the cuddling and the blow job, what a wreck Geno had been. Let Flower make of it what he would. This would never have happened if you were here, he’d joke.
Except that didn’t really feel like a joke. Sid summoned up a smile. “What, like you don’t have half a dozen spies on the team texting you our every move?”
Flower cracked a smile—a feeble one, but Sid pretended not to notice that. Over Flower’s shoulder, he saw Perron winding his way through the tables, back from the men’s room. Tanger’d be back in from his check-in with Cath any minute.
Sid leaned back in his chair. “Wait ‘til you see our power play this year. It’s pretty hot, man.”
The old familiar glint appeared in Flower’s eye. “Not as hot as me. You fuckers don’t have a chance.”
Back at the room, Sid settled in with his phone for his pre-bedtime reading. He was working on a history of an old Manhattan neighborhood, a recommendation his dad had dug up somewhere. Now that he was getting into the meat of it, he was disappointed—the writing was really dry. He couldn’t focus at all. He kept rereading paragraphs, his brain skipping over the meaning like a water skimmer.
Somebody yelled just beyond his door, and he startled so badly he dropped his phone. The voice moved on past—Sid couldn’t tell, through the heavy door, whether it was even a Pen or just some other loud hotel guest. He waited a moment to see if a knock would come. None did.
Sid’s heart was still racing. He picked up his phone again and switched over to instagram. Scrolling through pictures of people’s kids and dogs sounded just about his speed.
Eventually he put the phone aside and slipped his hand under the waistband of his briefs. He brought to mind that image that seemed to linger so near the surface, all the time: Geno sucking him noisily, brow furrowed in concentration, eyelashes fanning his cheeks.
It wasn’t gay to like thinking about blow jobs. Who didn’t love a blow job? It was fine.
The game was shit. Vegas smothered them. Everywhere the puck was, a Knight was there first. The Pens power play was not hot. Colesy of all people scored the Pens’ lone goal. Shears had a breakaway, a beauty of a chance, but Flower skated way out of his crease and poke-checked the hell out of Shears before he could get a shot off, to the crowd’s roaring approval.
They loved Flower here. Every time Sid came near the Vegas net, it was clear: Flower was having the time of his life.
It felt like Sid should say something to the guys afterwards as they stripped down in near-silence. Muzz was devastated. Rusty tried to rib Shears about his near goal, but the ribbing was half-hearted, and it died with Shears’ monotone response.
In the end, Sid couldn’t find anything to say. He peeled off his base layer as silently as the rest of them.
Sully let the team sleep in after they’d flown into Phoenix after midnight. Sid skipped Jacques’s optional skate the next afternoon and spent the time in the Yotes’ weight room instead. Phil and Tanger and Geno were there too, like usual, and Olli, who’d tweaked something in his ankle against the Knights and wanted to let it rest.
Conversations were still muted today, even from Reaves, who had no reason to give a shit about Flower except that everyone else did. Sid put his head down and focused on his breath: sharp exhales as he pushed the weights up, long inhales as he lowered them again. Pauses, while he recovered. There was no space left for thinking, only the burn in his muscles and the rise and fall of his chest.
“You work so hard, Sid.”
Startled, Sid looked up from the bar, which he’d been loading more weight on. A glance around the room said there was nobody else left except Geno, standing there on his string bean legs and peering down at Sid with theatrical concern. Sid was supposed to say something funny here. He was supposed to chirp back. Instead he could only stare up at Geno’s cheeky grin, which slowly dimmed as Sid failed to respond.
Geno prodded Sid with his toe. “You okay? You’re quiet.”
Sid let his gaze settle on the treadmill in the corner. “Everybody’s quiet after last game, I guess.”
Geno hummed and let that lie awhile. Then, “You know you’re still good captain?”
Geno shrugged. “We’re little bit mess this year. Maybe we’re tired, we’re miss Flower, I don’t know. But you can’t do all, you know?”
Sid felt abruptly like he might cry. He blinked viciously down at the weights before deciding he’d had enough. He knew better than to lift to failure, but he’d maybe gotten a little close, that last set. Maybe Geno hadn’t just been wandering through. “I’m done here. You want to help me put these back on the rack?”
“Eh, I’m rather watch you do.”
Sid’s gaze snapped up to Geno’s, heat flooding his face. Geno’s arms were crossed, his eyes twinkling, his tongue between his teeth in a shit-eating grin. There was nothing in that grin that said Remember that time I sucked your dick? or How about we do it again? There was nothing suggestive in it at all, and that made Sid feel even stupider for how red his face probably was. He turned abruptly away. “Fine. I’ll do it myself, fucker.” Geno chuckled behind him.
Geno didn’t want to do it again. Good. They could all move on, then.
Sid had done such a good job convincing himself, he was genuinely startled when the knock came on his door that night. Something hummed in his bones as he walked to the door, a feeling more complicated than the fight-or-flight purity of adrenaline.
Geno didn’t seem surprised to see Sid, which boded well for his sobriety. He hadn’t stumbled in from the elements sopping wet this time, either. He was wearing only jeans and a t-shirt—Sid had thought he’d seen all Geno’s weird fashion going-out t-shirts, but he’d missed this one—and he had a mulish, determined expression that boded who the hell knew what. He shouldered in past Sid without waiting for an invitation, and then he stood nearby while Sid shut the door.
Sid’s heart thudded in his throat as he turned to meet Geno’s gaze. Slowly Geno closed the distance between them, until Sid could have reached out and touched him. Geno’s eyes were dark and intent. Sid held very, very still as Geno cradled Sid’s face in his fucking enormous hands. Sid wasn’t sure he was still breathing.
“You freak out this time?” Geno asked softly. The words were warm against Sid’s face. Slowly Sid shook his head. Geno exhaled, long and slow, and then he bent and put his mouth on Sid’s.
Sid closed his eyes. Geno’s hands were gentle and loose; Sid could step out of them anytime he wanted. For a moment he was still, a statue, being mouthed at by warm, chapped lips. Then he pressed a hand to Geno’s hip and kissed him back.
Geno sucked in a breath. He disengaged for a moment to lean his forehead against Sid’s. “Sid,” he said, low and needy.
The sound tugged something loose in Sid’s gut, a thread of arousal. He swallowed. “Yeah.”
“Sid,” Geno repeated, followed by some mumbling in Russian. “It’s like dream, you know?” he said at last. “It’s like, not real.”
“Yeah.” None of it was real. Here it didn’t matter who Sid kissed.
Geno kissed him again. The kisses turned hungrier. Sid opened his lips to Geno, half to hear Geno’s shocked intake of breath and half because Sid needed it. He needed this, all Geno’s attention on him, Geno’s mouth and tongue, his hands. That thread of arousal was spinning out rapidly now, like the string of a kite, and all Sid could do was hold on.
“You want I suck you again?” Geno murmured.
“I don’t—I don’t know.”
Geno’s hand dropped to Sid’s side, stroking along Sid’s ribs. “What you want?”
Something in Sid had fractured—during the Vegas game, maybe, or the fruitless anticipation in his hotel room the night before, or the long homestand when he had nothing to do but circle uselessly around memories he didn’t dare look at straight on. Or maybe it was a long time before all that, before even the first knock at Sid’s door.
It didn’t matter when, really. What mattered now was that the hairline fracture inside Sid finally broke in two. “I want to—can you—I want to see you.”
Geno swore and stumbled backward in his hurry to get out of his clothes. His shoes first, toed off in the middle of the room where someone would trip over them later. His socks, tugged off his long, bony feet. He almost got stuck pulling his t-shirt over his head, and Sid laughed, startling himself. The sound made Geno pause, but then the shirt was off and there Geno was, in nothing but his jeans.
Sid saw Geno naked all the time. The trick to locker rooms had always been to focus on something innocuous, a guy’s ear or missing tooth or sweat-stained ball cap. Now Sid looked at Geno straight on, heedless of the flush rising in his own face, and he looked his fill: at Geno’s arms and shoulders, thick from a summer’s training. At the barest hint of softness below his belly-button. At the sharp V of his hips. Without making any conscious decision, Sid stepped forward until he was close enough to touch. He pressed his palm to Geno’s chest. He could feel Geno’s heart rabbiting underneath.
Geno covered Sid’s hand with his. Sid looked up and found Geno looking back, brow furrowed, eyes suspiciously shiny. He didn’t look like a guy who was about to get some. He looked—heartbroken.
“Geno,” Sid said.
Geno shook his head, as if shaking those unshed tears away. When he came back he was smirking. “I see you, too? Or you all clothes?”
Sid’s hands shook as he pulled his t-shirt over his head. He tossed it on a chair, and now he and Geno were even: both wearing pants and nothing else. With a glance to Geno for permission, Sid let his hands fall to the waist of Geno’s jeans. Geno held very still as Sid unbuckled his belt.
Sid unbuttoned Geno’s fly next and rested his thumb on the zipper. “You want—” Geno began, raising his hands to Sid’s waist.
“No.” Sid took a deep breath and pulled down the zipper tab, and then he slid his fingers inside. Geno’s breath hitched as Sid brushed against his cock, still clothed inside his briefs. Geno was already half-hard, hot with blood.
“Sid,” Geno breathed. Sid gave him an experimental squeeze. Geno squirmed a little, but didn’t move away. “Like this, you want?”
“No,” Sid decided, withdrawing his hand. He began tugging on Geno’s jeans, and Geno helped him until they fell around Geno’s feet and he could step out of them.
“You like?” Geno said slyly. Sid glanced absently up, and the expected smirk was there, but something else, too, like he was bracing for Sid to disagree.
Sid hurriedly looked down again. “Like your ego needs the help,” he said, pinching Geno’s side so Geno would know he was joking.
“Fuck you,” Geno said, grabbing Sid’s arm and dragging him closer. Then he pulled out the dirty tactics: he started tickling. Tickling devolved into wrestling, which devolved into Sid straddling Geno on the bed while Geno stared up at him, breathless. The moment stretched out, and Geno’s gaze softened. He stroked along Sid’s hip. “What you want?”
The moment snapped. “Stop fucking asking me that,” Sid said, voice gone sharp with embarrassment that oh god, he was doing this, and he didn’t have a fucking clue. He shoved the heel of his hand into Geno’s chest. “I’ve never—I don’t know what I want.”
“Okay,” Geno soothed. “It’s okay, Sid. You tell me, you want me to stop, okay?”
He rolled them over so it was Sid sprawled out on his back, cock tenting his sweatpants. Geno pulled the pants down over Sid’s hips and then he smiled at Sid’s erection with proprietary affection. Sid flushed with new embarrassment, all up and down—his neck and chest and armpits.
He didn’t get long to feel embarrassed, though, because then Geno bent down and took Sid into his mouth. The thought returned: Geno was really fucking good at this. Geno had had a lot of practice.
That was pretty much the last thought Sid had for a while.
At the end, Geno pulled off and worked Sid with his hand, until Sid shot white strings of come across his belly. Sid lay gasping through the aftershocks while Geno wiped at Sid with a tissue. He bent and kissed Sid’s dick, lying lax against his thigh. Then he crawled up the bed and flopped down to next to Sid.
When Sid rolled his head over, Geno was grinning. He patted Sid’s hip. “I’m best, right?”
Sid laughed. “It was okay.”
“Okay,” Geno said, affronted. He shifted as if he might give it a second go right then.
“What about—” Sid said, sitting up on his elbow. He gestured at Geno’s half-chub.
“It’s fine.” Geno rolled onto his back, farther out of reach. “You don’t have to do.”
“Oh,” Sid said, swallowing down a wave of inexplicable disappointment. He was suddenly aware that he was naked. His skin prickled with cold. He sat up and said, “Okay, well—”
Geno caught his wrist. “You want?” He gazed up Sid with huge, dark eyes. There was that uncertainty again, that suggestion of fragility all out of keeping with his smug grin of a few moments ago.
“I don’t understand you at all,” Sid said. He didn’t have the brain cells left to parse Geno’s moods anyway, mercurial at the best of times, in the most mundane of situations, which this was not. Instead Sid scooted a little way down the bed and slipped his hand inside Geno’s briefs. He curled his fingers around a dick that did not belong to him. He squeezed gently, and Geno groaned, a sound that coiled in Sid’s belly, deep and satisfying.
The angle was awkward, but otherwise jerking Geno off was pretty much like jerking himself off, except that it was Geno gasping and squirming under his hand, Geno’s groans that Sid used for guidance instead of his own arousal. At the last, Sid worked by feel and watched Geno’s face, his mouth gapped open, his breath quick and shallow. Geno came with a grimace that Sid could’ve mistaken for pain, in other circumstances.
Sid ended up with come on his hand, once he’d pulled it out of Geno’s underwear. He eyed it, and there was a moment when he really thought he was going to lift his hand to his mouth and lick it clean. When he realized Geno was watching him, he flushed hard and reached for the tissue box Geno had dropped over the side of the bed.
He wiped stray dribbles of come off Geno’s belly. When he turned back from tossing the dirty tissue away, he found Geno sitting up. “Oh,” Sid said, pointlessly. You’re going, he didn’t say. He watched silently as Geno re-assembled himself, jeans and t-shirt and socks. Geno wasn’t meeting his eyes anymore. Sid had a dozen things he wanted to say, Are you okay and You’re not going to tell anyone right and What the fuck is happening? What actually came out of his mouth was, “Thanks for the pep talk today. It, um. It helped.”
Geno looked at him at last, and he looked at him for a long time. “You’re welcome,” he said at last, and then he was gone.
Sid half-expected someone to say something the next morning, that he looked different, that he looked like he’d gotten laid. That he looked like he’d touched Geno’s dick and enjoyed it. It was there on the tip of Sid’s tongue: I had sex with Geno. He teased at the idea of saying it, just for the swoopy feeling he got in his stomach like the one he got looking down from the cable car at the Duquesne Incline.
Nobody said anything, though. Geno sat at the other end of the table with Phil and Tanger and never even looked his way. For just a moment Sid wanted to kiss him—now, in front of everyone. Catch those ever-chapped lips between his.
A chill raced over Sid. This wasn’t the time to be having those kinds of thoughts. Someone would see.
It happened again two days later, in Denver. Geno didn’t say a word about it beforehand, not even a meaningful glance, but the knock Sid was waiting for came all the same. He could admit, now, that he was waiting for it.
“Fuck you,” Sid said, nonsensically, as soon as the door was safely shut. He pushed Geno against the wall and found Geno’s mouth that he was so hungry for. He gave the bulge in Geno’s pants a squeeze, just to hear him groan. The sound kicked like arousal in Sid’s gut.
He’d never wanted a guy like this, before Geno. He’d never been fucked up like this. “Fuck you,” he said again, and swallowed any reply Geno might have made.
Another homestand arrived, this one with Christmas break in the middle. Sid flew home to Cole Harbour for the holiday. He ate his weight in mashed potatoes and Christmas ham and only regretted it a little bit. He got embroiled in a poker game. “My god, you suck so bad at bluffing,” Taylor told him as she swept her latest winnings towards her.
Sid’s mind flashed to Geno’s eyelashes, fluttering shut as he moaned around Sid’s cock. To Geno’s dark eyes, watching Sid so intently as Sid jerked him off. And then the next morning, when Sid walked down to breakfast and ate lunch with Tanger or Olli or the rookies, and no one knew a goddamn thing.
Pulling his blandest media face, Sid said, “Well, I just gotta keep creating chances, hope I get a bounce.”
“I want to blow you,” Sid said in Raleigh.
Geno paused in the midst of angling for another kiss. It was four days after Christmas. They’d gotten into Raleigh four hours ago. “You sure?”
“You think I can’t?”
Geno chuckled. “Think you do anything you want.” He thumbed along Sid’s jaw, gaze gone distant with that melancholy Sid had given up asking about. It didn’t matter what Geno’s reasons were, Sid had decided. He certainly didn’t give a fuck right now.
“Come on,” he said, pulling Geno towards the bed.
“You so impatient. Maybe I want to kiss more.” But Geno let Sid lead him to the bed anyway, unbuckle Geno’s belt, drop his jeans to bunch around his ankles, tug his briefs over his ass, push him down until he was seated there with his legs open wide. His cock was already beginning to plump.
Sid’s eyebrows rose. “Just from making out?”
“You shut,” Geno said, with less than entirely good humor. His face was turning red.
Something strange and terrible and tender twinged in Sid’s chest. “You shut up,” he said. He dropped to his knees, a little too heavily for comfort.
“You want pillow?”
“You didn’t use a pillow,” Sid said.
Geno rolled his eyes. “I’m drunk, and it’s bad. I’m sore next day.”
“You were?” Sid said, startled. He cast his mind back to the Buffalo game, the first of a home-and-home. He remembered Jake’s goal off the beautiful pass Geno had made. “You looked fine.”
“I’m okay by game time,” Geno said shortly. “You suck me or you just talk boring?”
“Fine,” Sid said, even though this had been his idea. While he was still eyeing Geno, though, trying to decide what angle to come in on—trying to get up his fucking nerve—Geno stretched behind himself and came back with a pillow off the bed. He closed his legs and refused to open them until Sid let him put the pillow under his knees.
Now Sid was back where he started, staring at Geno’s cock.
“You don’t have to,” Geno said softly.
“Shut the fuck up,” Sid said. He bent forward, hand braced against Geno’s thigh, the other reaching out to touch. Ever so gently he thumbed across the slit. Geno inhaled sharply, but otherwise he didn’t move.
Sid knew the rules. If you touched another guy’s dick, well, you and your billet brother and your teammates, you all had needs. It was understandable. If you got your dick sucked by another guy—by anybody—you were lucky.
If you sucked another guy’s dick, you were one of them.
Sid’s grin felt warped, misshapen. He looked up at Geno and he said, “It’s not real, right? None of this is real.” Before Geno could respond, Sid took a deep breath and stretched his lips around Geno’s cock.
For a moment just the fact of it, the bulk of it in his mouth, was all he could deal with. Slowly other facts filtered in: how Geno smelled a little musky down here. How he was breathing so quietly and carefully. How he was watching to see what Sid would do next, if Sid was going to punk out. Sid took another of those deep breaths, and he licked across Geno’s slit.
Geno grunted. It was a small sound, involuntary, barely noticeable.
Sid had caused it.
Kneeling there on the pillow from a hotel bed, Sid realized with stark clarity that he could never go back to that time before he heard it. He could never forget what a man sounded like when Sid put his tongue on his dick, or how hot it was, or how much Sid wanted to do it again.
Sid shoved all that aside to think about later and took Geno a little deeper.
Sid was not very good at sucking dick. At no point during the proceedings did he give Geno a reason to think he was a pro. But he followed Geno’s mumbled directions, and he pulled off when his jaw started to ache, and he ignored the drool.
Finally Geno patted Sid’s head. “Off, off now.”
Sid sat back on his heels and palmed his own dick. Little sparks of pleasure zinged all along it. He ground the heel of his hand against himself as he watched Geno bring himself off with just a couple of strokes. The sound he made in his throat as he came was the hottest thing Sid had ever heard in his life.
Eventually Geno recovered enough to stick his hand down Sid’s sweatpants and give him a handie. It wasn’t his best work, which Sid told him, cheeky enough to make Geno pinch his side before continuing. At last, Sid taken care of, Geno put his own clothes back on and stumbled away to his own room. Sid collapsed on the bed, staring at the ceiling.
He fucking loved sucking dick. He got off on it, even. He wanted to do it again and again and again. “I like sucking dick,” Sid said experimentally, to an empty room. Then, in the spirit of honesty, “I like sucking Geno’s dick.”
The room didn’t reply. Sid was breathing way harder than anyone lying alone in a room needed to, and his face was hot. He waited for that usual twist of intrigued disgust in his gut, but all he felt was the exhaustion of a late night and a good orgasm.
“Fuck me,” he said. Then he crawled under the covers and closed his eyes. His last waking thought was of Geno’s face as he had slapped at Sid’s thigh with the pillow.
“You’re in a good mood today,” Tanger said through a mouthful of egg.
“Slept good last night,” Sid said. He spared a glance down the table at Geno, who was working on a cup of coffee and aggressively ignoring everyone, including Phil, who was sitting next to him and clearly found him hilarious. When Phil laughed at some joke Reavo made, Sid realized he’d been staring and hurriedly returned his attention to his plate.
In Detroit Sid practiced his blow job technique again. In Philly Geno talked him into letting Geno finger him. Geno had even brought surgical gloves for the purpose, tucked into the pocket of his sweatpants. “I know you don’t let without,” he said, as if they’d ever broached the subject before.
Afterwards, Sid sprawled out on the bed and said, come drunk, “I can’t believe that felt good.”
“I know it’s good,” Geno said smugly.
Sid lolled his head to the side, so he could look Geno in the eye. “Yeah, how’d that happen?”
Sid flapped his hand at Geno. “I know we’re not talking about this—” About how Geno’s eye slid right over him in the locker room or at practice, how Geno was somehow really fucking good at pretending none of this was happening, and Sid didn’t appreciate that quite as much as he should. “—but like, who did you do this with first?” A terrible thought occurred. “It wasn’t Ovechkin, was it? God, that would explain so much.”
“It’s not Ovechkin,” Geno said. He pushed to his feet and pulled his t-shirt back on. Sid had slipped it off him while they made out. He’d figured out Geno liked being stripped out of his clothes, because it meant Sid’s hands on him. He liked Sid’s hands a lot, and Sid really enjoyed that he liked them.
Except now Geno was stuffing the bottle of lube back in his pocket like he was heading out, and Sid hadn’t gotten to even touch him. “You don’t want me to take care of that?” he said, nodding his chin at Geno’s half-chub.
“It’s fine,” Geno said, in that tone that meant it was definitely, one hundred percent not fine.
“Geno, wait.” Sid sat up, struggling to pull his scattered thoughts together. “You don’t have to go. I won’t ask about it.” Even though he suddenly, desperately wanted to. Who was Geno’s first? Did he freak out? Did any of his Russian teammates know? Had he ever really been with someone, for real?
Sid stumbled over this last thought. Geno wasn’t—he couldn’t—
Except he clearly was. Maybe he could. Maybe—
Sid scrubbed his hand across his face. “I won’t ask about it. Come on, let me get you off.”
Geno huffed and came to stand at the edge of the bed, looking uncertain and unhappy.
“Hey,” Sid said gently. He reached out and stroked the outside of Geno’s thigh, along the seam of his sweatpants. Geno caught hold of his fingers and held them, and when Sid looked up he was crying. Fuck. “Come on,” Sid said again, tugging at Geno. Slowly Geno settled onto the bed, folding in on himself. His shoulders hitched. “Hey,” Sid said again, wrapping his arm around Geno and squeezing.
Geno cried quietly. No sobbing this time, just a steady trickle down his cheeks, accompanied by sniffing. When he was finally done, tears blotted away with tissues, Sid offered again to get him off. “Not tonight,” Geno said. He’d gone pretty soft by then anyway, and Sid let him go.
He cleaned himself up and took a shower, and let himself wonder about this guy that had Geno so fucked up. An ex, Sid supposed. Somebody secret that Geno snuck around with like he was doing with Sid—although probably not just like with Sid, because Sid couldn’t quite believe it was somebody on the team. Surely he couldn’t be that wrong twice. He was still a little stuck on the idea of Ovechkin, but Ovechkin would’ve explained the drama of five years ago, not what had Geno so upset now.
So: some guy, maybe a hockey player or maybe not. A guy that Geno loved, maybe. It’d been hard to believe that Geno could ever want to suck a guy’s dick; Geno in love with a guy was easy by comparison, when his feelings were already so wild and unwieldy. If anyone on the team could feel that way about a guy, Geno could.
There was an ache behind Sid’s breastbone. He rubbed it absently, to no effect.
It took him a long time to fall asleep that night.
They stomped Philly in Philly’s arena, always satisfying, and flew home for a day of rest and practice before facing the always-dubious Canes. After the roadie, guys were busy seeing the trainers about little twinges and planning dinners in Market Square. Sid found Geno by the stick cutter. There was no one else nearby, and the next open door was a good ways down the hallway. “Hey,” he said.
“Hey.” Geno fit another stick under the saw.
Sid waited through the cutting of the stick and the careful eyeballing after, to be sure of length. You didn’t fuck with a guy’s stick-cutting process.
Instead Sid watched Geno’s hands: the long fingers, the knuckle missing a layer or two of skin from an equipment mishap the day before. He shouldn’t have been looking, probably. Someone might have walked up and seen. But no one did, and he kept looking and wanting, maybe, to get a couple of Geno’s fingers in his mouth and suck on them a little.
But this wasn’t what he was here for. He was here for Geno. That was the thought that dragged his gaze away at last.
After Geno had put the finished product aside, satisfied, Sid said, “How you doing?”
Geno eyed him suspiciously. “You make small talk now? What’s up?”
Heat prickled along the back of Sid’s neck. “Just checking in. I just thought you might want to talk, I guess?” Though Sid was no longer sure why it had seemed likely Geno would want talk to Sid in broad daylight, when even ill-considered questions two nights ago had brought him to tears. “We could get dinner somewhere, if you wanted.”
Geno turned to him, brows raised. “Talk about what?”
Sid made a face. “You know. What’s going on with you. After last time—”
“What last time?” Geno asked.
God, he wasn’t giving Sid an inch. “Nothing. Never mind,” Sid said, and made his escape, feeling incredibly stupid. Asking Geno if he wanted to talk about it over dinner, what the fuck.
The team checked into the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott at around two in the morning, after a fucking dispiriting loss against the Canes. A shutout loss. On home ice. The struggles of December seemed prime to continue, and a playoff berth looked ever shakier, never mind a threepeat. Sid crashed face-first into his pillow and never even thought of Geno.
The team was staying a second night, though, to rest up before flying home for a late practice the next day. After a decisive win against the Isles, Sid went out with the guys looking for drinks and inadvisable appetizers.
He lost sight of Geno before too long. Spurred on by some second sense, he headed back to the hotel early, to a round of chirping. He’d barely closed his door before Geno’s knock came. Sid swung it open, and there Geno was, looking on the verge of tears. He stumbled in past Sid to stand by the edge of the bed like he didn’t know what else to do. “Hey,” Sid said. He stroked Geno’s arm. It felt the same as the first time Geno had ever come to him. Sid thumbed across Geno’s knuckles, momentarily surprised at how quickly the skinned one had healed over before his thoughts moved on. “Hey, you should tell me about it.”
Geno’s gaze swung to Sid. “Tell about what?”
Sid shrugged. Carefully he said, “This guy you’re fucked up about.”
Geno squinted at him. “What?”
“That’s what this is all about, right? There was some guy, and he, I don’t know, he treated you like shit. That’s what’s got you all—” Heartbroken “—fucked up.”
“Sid, you’re so idiot. It’s—” Geno cut himself off and gave Sid a hard look. “I tell in Russian, you think it’s make me feel better?”
“Uh. Maybe? Do you wanna sit on the bed?”
So they sat on the bed, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, and in slow, stumbling Russian, Geno began to explain. Sid understood about one percent of it—an occasional curse word, at best. Geno started by addressing it all to his hands, hanging between his thighs, but eventually he turned to Sid with red, wet eyes. It was a little overwhelming, being caught in the headlights of all those feelings, even though Geno was talking about someone else.
And then Geno said something Sid understood just fine. “What?” he said.
Geno froze mid-phrase, eyes suddenly enormous.
There were a lot of reasons Geno might say I love you. The reason Sid knew the words at all was because every year some rookie wanted to know how to say it, in case he ran into some hot Russian girl who didn’t speak any English. It got mixed in with such key Russian phrases as You’re really hot and I have condoms.
Geno looked stricken. Horrified.
“Geno,” Sid said slowly. “Did you just say you loved me?”
And this was the thing that had confused Sid since the very beginning: Evgeni Malkin could bullshit with the best of them, but he was, in Sid’s experience, a fucking terrible liar. “No,” Geno said.
“What the fuck.” Sid couldn’t tell what he was feeling. Dizzy, maybe, that awful nauseous feeling after a bad hit when you weren’t sure yet how much you hurt but it meant a visit to the quiet room regardless. “Don’t you fucking go anywhere,” Sid said, but Geno was already on his feet and headed for the door. Hastily he followed. “Geno!”
“It’s mistake, Sid. I shouldn’t do. I’m sorry.” Geno turned and kissed him. Sid was too surprised to do anything but let it happen to him—just like the first time, all those weeks ago. He watched, dazed, as Geno slipped out the door. It fell shut just before Sid reached it; he yanked it open again and ran out into the hall. Geno was gone.
Sid strode all the way down the hall to the elevators. He thought Geno’s room was on the floor above him this trip. Only once he was in the elevator did he realize he’d left his key card behind in his room, and the only place he could go was the lobby, to wrangle another key out of the front desk.
By the time he finally got back into his room, he could only slump on his bed in bewilderment. He got out his phone to stare at it. This wasn’t the kind of shit to hash out over text, but it wasn’t like he’d had any success in person.
The last text in the conversation was from a week ago when Geno wanted to know where Sid and some of the other guys were meeting up for drinks. No sign of the fact that they’d been fucking for over a month. No evidence at all, like it might never have been.
What the fuck, Geno was how Sid started.
Please talk to me
i’m not mad
Okay, that was maybe a lie. He might’ve been mad. The knots in his stomach could’ve been anger; to be determined.
This is kind of fucking me up
Voices passed his door—the other guys, getting in at last. It startled Sid out of his fugue. The first text was an hour old. Geno hadn’t replied to any of them.
please tell me you’re okay, Sid typed, and went to brush his teeth. He stared at his phone a while longer before finally turning out the light.
Somehow, he slept.
In the morning, he woke to two messages from Geno: ????? and then Im fine.
“Fuck you,” Sid said, desperately relieved and furious beyond belief.
Geno stumbled down to breakfast at the last minute, just in time to pile a plate with whatever was left and stand eating it in a corner as everyone else was getting to their feet. Sid piled his plate on top of the others in the dish tray and went to go stand by Geno. Pitching his voice low, keeping an eye out for anyone trying to approach, Sid said, “What the hell, Geno.”
“What?” Geno said, mouth full of breakfast sandwich. “Hey, what’s all those texts? I think you’re send to someone else.”
“You said that shit and then just walked out. I thought—I was worried about you. You weren’t answering my messages.”
“What you worry, Sid? I’m fine.” Geno shrugged with vast unconcern.
Something snapped. “Look,” Sid said. “You come to my room, and you’re upset, and I know you don’t want to talk about it, but you fucking cried your eyes out last night, and—and I need you to tell me what the hell is going on.”
“Come your room,” Geno repeated. “What you talk about? I go out with guys last night. You see me.”
“I fucking know you went out!” Heads turned. Shit. Sid shouldn’t be doing this here, except Geno had never given him a chance to do it anywhere else. Sid tried to smooth out his expression, leaned closer to Geno, and whispered sharply, “I’ve let you take the lead on this, but you freaked me out last night, okay? Especially when you just walked out like that. I just—give me something here. Please.”
Geno squinted at him. “Freak you out?”
God, this was the guy Sid had been feeling all awkward and off-center about? This asshole?
Sid nodded sharply. “Yeah. That’s what I said.”
“Sid,” Geno said slowly, “I don’t come your room last night.”
“Right,” Sid said. That cold fury he’d been walking around with suddenly vanished, leaving him frozen numb. “Right, because it wasn’t real, right? That’s what we said. None of it was real.” Sid swallowed the lump in his throat. “Fuck.”
Oh, now Geno looked sorry, too fucking late. “Sid—”
“No, I can’t—I have to go take care of stuff. With Sully. I can’t talk to you right now.”
Geno was starting to look distressed, and Sid couldn’t quite handle that, which was how he’d gotten into this fucking mess in the first place. He gave Geno a quick shoulder squeeze and fled. Some of the guys had to have seen and were going to have questions, but that wasn’t his problem.
At least, it wasn’t his problem until they were already in the air on the flight home to Pittsburgh. Tanger squeezed past Sid’s legs and dropped into Flower’s—into the seat between Sid and the window. “Fucking tired of cards,” Tanger said.
“Lost that bad, huh?” Sid said lightly.
Tanger snorted. “I’m so far ahead. I’m just giving them time to catch up.” Sid hummed and turned back to the book he was reading on his phone. It took less than a minute for Tanger to say, “So you and G okay?”
Apparently this wasn’t convincing. “You want to talk about it?”
It. Here Tanger was, just throwing it out there like a reasonable topic of conversation. Tanger didn’t even know what it was. “No,” Sid said. “No, I really fucking don’t.”
Tanger nodded. After a moment, he dug his phone out of his pants. “Cath sent me some new photos of Alex and the dog with a snowman. You want to see?” He leaned over to let Sid look.
It was snowing in Pittsburgh when they arrived. Sid followed the other guys across the wet tarmac, scraped and salted, to the bus that would take them to practice. After so many off days when Geno ignored him entirely, now Sid felt his eyes all the time, straying to Sid whenever Geno’s immediate attention was not required elsewhere.
Sid escaped at last. He was at home, pulling one his food service’s frozen meals out of the oven, when his phone chirped on the counter top. It was Geno, of course. You home?.
Don’t come over, Sid replied.
He needn’t have bothered. I’m come over.
“Fuck,” Sid said.
Geno already had a gate code and a key, in case of emergency. He wouldn’t have to knock. There was a sick asymmetry to that fact that Sid didn’t know what to do with. Rather than think about it, Sid sat at his kitchen table with his potatoes and pork chop. He was mostly finished when Geno walked into the kitchen. He’d taken his coat off, but his toque was flaky with snow.
He didn’t seem any more anxious to explain than before. He sat across from Sid and waited for Sid to finish, and he didn’t say a word.
Sid could only push the broccoli around the aluminum tray for so long. At last he swallowed the last bite, put the tray and fork aside, and met Geno’s eyes. “Okay?” he said. “So?”
But Geno wasn’t wearing that look of contrary disagreement Sid had expected, nor the hangdog guilt that came after bad games or those times when Geno lost his temper and regretted it. He looked—worried, if anything.
All those times, in all those hotel rooms, he’d never looked at Sid like that. He’d cared that Sid was enjoying what they did, that Sid was okay and not freaking out, but that was all. The Geno that Sid knew from all those nights was caught in his own mysterious grief, pinned by it like a butterfly on a board. He’d had no time to worry about anyone else.
“Geno,” Sid said. “If I ask you a question, will you promise you’ll tell me the truth?”
Geno dipped his chin. “I promise.”
It took Sid a few moments to say the words. “It wasn’t you who came to my room all those nights, was it.”
And if he’d had any lingering hope, it died when Geno slowly shook his head. “It’s not me, Sid.”
Just like that, Sid believed him. Sid had known, he’d known Geno couldn’t lie his way out of a paper bag. “Right.” Sid’s eyeballs ached, and he ground the heels of his hands against them. “So I’m just fucking crazy then. Is that—is it a concussion, do you think? Brain damage?” He dropped his hands and offered Geno a sickly smile.
Geno did not return it. “Someone come to your room. Someone looks like me.”
“Yeah. He looked—yeah, just like you. Except sadder.” That right there should have clued Sid in. Geno was transparent as glass. In hindsight, there was zero chance the sad sack who’d first sucked Sid off was the same guy cheerfully stuffing his face with eggs the next morning.
“And other Geno, what he do?”
Sid met Geno’s sober, intent gaze, concentrating on him in a way that dream Geno never had. Sid laughed shortly. He’d already touched Geno’s dick a bunch of times; what difference could talking about it make? “We had sex. We had a lot of sex. Did you know I love sucking dick? I didn’t know, before. Fuck,” he said, when the tears spilled over at last.
A chair scraped against the tile as Geno moved closer. Sid flinched at the first touch, but Geno only squeezed his shoulder and then left his hand there, heavy and warm, while Sid scowled at a blurry view of his own fists and tried to get his breathing under control. When it seemed like the worst was over, Sid lifted his head, and there was Geno looking kindly at him. Sid swallowed. “Wasn’t sure you’d want to, uh. Touch me, still.”
Geno frowned. “Because—”
He seemed unwilling to finish the sentence. “Yeah,” Sid said. “Not really who you want in the locker room, right? Especially not you, not when I—” But that was a sentence he was suddenly shy to finish.
Geno let go of Sid’s shoulder at last. Slowly he said, “This a lot of weird shit. You like sex with me—with guy looks like me—is like maybe third most weird thing.”
That startled a laugh out of Sid. “I guess that’s one way to look at it.”
“I mean, not really weird, right? My dick’s best.” Geno shrugged, totally fucking casual. “Makes sense, everybody want to suck.”
“Oh my god,” Sid said faintly, flushing and weak with relief. “Look, do you want a beer?”
They ended up on Sid’s couch with a can each of the locally-brewed lager Dumo had been trying to sell everyone on two months ago. The bitterness was a selling point, apparently. Geno looked unconvinced; Sid wasn’t sure he was either. They sat in silence for a while.
Finally, when his can was half gone, Sid said, “I don’t really know what to do now.”
“Maybe next time, you talk to him. Ask who he is.”
“How are you so casual about this?” Sid demanded. “There’s a guy walking around, looking like you! Who sucked my dick a couple of times!”
Geno stared at him, his mouth fallen open. His cheeks were turning red.
“Uh. Sorry. I wasn’t—it was a two-way street, you know?”
The words broke Geno out of his stare. He took a long sip of his lager—definitely longer than Sid would have chosen—and made a bunch of faces about it, and by the time he’d recovered from that, the air had cleared enough that they could both pretend Sid had kept that knowledge to himself.
Sid cleared his throat. “Anyway, if I asked him I’m pretty sure he’d say he was you. And it’s not like he ever answered my questions before. I stopped asking after a while. I guess I kind of liked it that way, maybe. Safe. Like it wasn’t real, you know? Except I didn’t mean literally.” Sid took another swallow to spite that other Geno, whoever the fuck he was.
“Sid,” Geno said, carefully. Sid braced himself. “You want to talk about?”
“What, you want to hear about all the sex I had?”
Geno didn’t look quite comfortable with that, but still he said, “Any you want to talk about. Or maybe you like better talk someone else? Tanger?”
“Fuck, no,” Sid said. “Are you shitting me? I can’t—I can’t tell people about this. Except you, I guess.” As far as his hindbrain was concerned, Geno didn’t count.
“Okay, so you tell me. Like, he nice to you?”
“He wasn’t mean to me,” Sid hedged. Geno nodded encouragingly.
Slowly, in starts and stops, Sid told most of the story. There wasn’t really much to it when he left the sex parts out, although a few of those eked through, too, described as tamely as Sid could manage. Geno kept his gaze fixed on his beer can through those bits, his cheeks turning that dull red each time. He listened intently through it all, though, asking a question every so often, until Sid’s words trickled to a stop.
He was exhausted, he realized—not just with the morning flight and the practice, but six weeks or more of living two lives: one in the daytime, and one at night with only that other Geno for company. “And now what I do? He wasn’t even—I thought he was you.” Sid thought he’d had a lot of sex with that guy across the breakfast table, and yet he was on Sid’s couch, more untouchable than ever. Those long fingers he’d admired while Geno was cutting sticks—he’d never get to suck on those.
He thought he’d been having sex with a friend. He’d even thought maybe—
But there was no maybe now, no unformed future he could daydream about and then pretend he hadn’t. There was nothing.
“He visit you in home?” Geno asked, breaking into these melancholy thoughts.
Sid shook his head. “Only—only on the road.”
“Okay, so here what you do. We have bye week, couple days. You go Canada with Tanger and Cath, like you plan. Make lots of snow angels.”
“I’m not going to Mont Tremblant to make snow angels.”
Geno took no notice of this. “You have very nice time, don’t think about, okay? Next roadie, you find out who’s this guy looks like me.”
“Sid.” Geno paused until Sid turned to look him in the eye. “Sid, it’s weird, but it’s okay. You’re okay. We figure out.”
“Okay,” Sid said shakily. “Sure, that sounds good.”
“It’s okay,” Geno said. He reached over to grip Sid’s shoulder and let go. “So, Phil’s looking so good on PP, right?”
When Geno eventually left, Sid walked him to the door. Geno put his coat on and gave Sid a hard look, one that maybe boded more talking, which Sid wasn’t sure he could stand. But instead Geno’s mouth twisted in determination, and he pulled Sid in for a hug.
“Hi, G,” Sid said to Geno’s woolen shoulder. He was feeling a little shaky again. I missed you, he didn’t say, but it was a near thing. He gripped Geno a little tighter. He didn’t get to kiss Geno anymore, and the sex had all been a lie, but this was real.
“It’s okay, Sid.”
Okay, yep, there were some tears. “Thanks. I, uh—just, thanks. For believing me and for—” Being my friend. “Helping me out.”
“I’m best A, you know,” Geno said, stepping back. He gave Sid a smile so full and genuine it hurt a little to look at.
Sid’s answering smile was kind of watery. “I think Tanger would hear about it if I agreed with you, and then he’d have to kill me.”
“Eh, I just fine him. It’s fine.”
They played a barn burner against Boston the next night. Geno won it in OT off a beautiful pass from Phil. Geno’s finish was pretty hot, honestly. If this were the guy Sid had been fucking, Sid might’ve offered a celebratory blow job later.
“Remember,” Geno said in the locker room after, soft so only Sid could hear, “bye week, you don’t think about, don’t worry. Have nice time.”
“Yeah. Thanks, G.”
And Sid did have a nice time. He allowed a moment’s concern when he checked in at the Tremblant lodge before deciding firmly that since Geno had only ever visited him on team road trips, he was not going to show up here. He went to bed that night exhausted from a day hanging out with the Letangs—there might have been one snow angel—and the next sound he heard was the alarm on his phone, waking him the next morning.
“You look better,” Tanger said over breakfast, when Cath took Alex to the bathroom.
“Better,” Sid repeated.
“Last few weeks, you seemed like something was bothering you.”
Sid looked down at the remains of his pancakes, a bye week indulgence. It occurred to him that he could talk about this, maybe—not the part where Sid had been fucking a fake Geno for a month and a half, but the part where Sid had been fucking a guy. Or at least, the part where Sid wanted to, where that was a thing Sid liked.
Not today, he decided. “Good getting some time off,” he said. Tanger seemed to accept that, or at least he didn’t press further.
Cath and Alex came back, and for a while Sid was alone with his own thoughts. In that time he realized: he probably was going to talk to Tanger, sometime. It didn’t have to be now or tomorrow or any particular time at all, but sometime he would.
Sid still wanted a bunch of shit he couldn’t have, that had never existed in the first place. Still, he felt lighter somehow, all the rest of that week.
Geno caught up to him, their first day back. “It’s nice trip?”
Geno had gone to Miami and sunned himself like a lizard for five days. Tanger had shown Sid the evidence on instagram. “Yeah, G. It was great.”
“Anaheim soon, right?”
He must have looked over the schedule, just like Sid had done. Several times. They had two home games and then the California roadie. “Anaheim,” Sid agreed.
They won both the home games handily. The beat reporters had started to ask about switches flipping, about the Pens finally getting over their cup hangover. Sid had a good feeling, getting on the plane to Anaheim.
No knock came on his door the first night in Anaheim. Geno caught Sid’s eye at breakfast the next morning, and Sid shook his head. They checked into their LA hotel late the next night, after a close-fought loss against the Ducks. Sid didn’t hold out much hope—that other Geno almost never came the night of a game—but he stayed up too late anyway, waiting. Finally he texted Geno I don’t think he’s coming and went to bed.
They got into San Jose even later the next night, and no knock came there, either. Sid shrugged at Geno across the breakfast table the next morning and then applied his attention to his own plate.
Sid went with a bunch of the guys to the same steak place they always went to, a couple of blocks from the hotel, and walked back together. Geno appeared at Sid’s elbow and didn’t say anything, but he didn’t peel off with any of the other guys. Eventually it was just him and Sid, standing at the door of Sid’s room. Sid raised his eyebrows.
“We talk,” Geno said, and Sid shrugged and let him inside.
He had a weird moment when Geno walked past him into the room. This was how it always started. But there was nothing sad or seductive about Geno dropping into one of the room’s two chairs and waiting expectantly for Sid to shove his shoes off.
Sid said it this time. “I missed you, man.” He shrugged at Geno’s rising eyebrows. “It was just different with him. We weren’t—friends. I don’t know. Never mind.”
Geno let that pass by without comment. “So he’s not come.”
“I don’t think he’s going to come. I think he—I think that was good-bye.” The apology, the last kiss. It seemed pretty clear, now.
“And it’s okay?”
“I mean, I’m not thrilled about it. I’d like some fucking answers. And also I’d like to not be crazy.”
Geno rolled his eyes at that. “And he comes every night, when we’re on road.”
“Not every night. The night before the game, usually, if we get into town early. Not usually the night after a game. But we’re usually traveling then, so. And Vegas,” Sid added.
“He didn’t come while we were in Vegas. It kind of sucked. I could have used the distraction, you know?” Sid offered Geno a wry smile of apology.
The look Geno was giving him was much too intent for sorrow over departed teammates. “What?” Sid said.
“Sid, how this guy find you? How he know room you’re in? You think he ask desk, say hi, I’m Evgeni Malkin, tell me room of Sidney Crosby?”
“We—could call them and ask, I guess?”
Geno shook his head. “He’s not do that. What if someone see? Anyway, he’s don’t need ask. You’re always in same room, because superstition.”
“It’s a routine,” Sid said automatically.
“Except Vegas, because it’s new. He don’t know where your room is there.”
Slowly what Geno was saying began to sink in. “How would he know what room I stay in? I have different ones in different hotels.”
Geno began ticking them off on his fingers. “Philly you want most far west, in corner on second floor. Boston you want second floor, most close to elevator. Brooklyn same, but third floor. Washington—”
“Okay, okay,” Sid said. “What the fuck, how do you know all that?”
Geno shrugged, attempting modest and landing on smug as hell. “I pay attention.”
Sid laughed, impressed, but then he got caught on something else. “The first time he showed up, he was really surprised to see me. I mean, he was also wasted, but—”
“He look for his Sid, and he find you,” Geno said.
“Except he didn’t think I’d be there,” Sid said slowly. “Like maybe something happened to me. Like—” He stopped, chilled.
Geno looked unnerved, too. “Maybe nothing happen. Maybe it’s fine.” Seeing that Sid wasn’t convinced, he said, “It’s not matter. What’s matter is, if he doesn’t come to you, you go to him.”
“Oh,” Sid said, as realization dawned. “Right.”
So here was the thing: Geno was not as married to his hotel room routine as Sid was—“It’s superstition,” Geno said—but he did have his favorites in a few different cities. Including San Jose. “Big win, 2015. First time we win at Shark Tank in so many years. I have three points. So, I know room’s magic.”
“Magic,” Sid said, laughing. Then again, he was trying to figure out how to find the fake version of his real teammate. Probably he had no room to judge.
Sid would wait until midnight, they decided. “He always came pretty late, after everyone was in for the night.”
He’d go alone. “I don’t like,” Geno said.
Sid was not thrilled about it either, but, “It was always just us. In the whole world, it felt like.” Had Sid even gotten any texts during those stolen hours? It seemed impossible now. “I think it has to be just me.”
“What if you don’t come back?”
There was another of those chills up Sid’s spine. “I’m going to come back, G.”
“You promise.” Geno’s brow was furrowed, his whole mobile expressive face twisted in worry. Fondness welled behind Sid’s breastbone.
“I promise,” he said solemnly.
Geno nodded and then stood up to stretch. They’d been sitting there in Sid’s room a long time. “It’s okay I stay here, see what happen? Long time until midnight.”
“Yeah. Sounds good, G.”
They stretched out on the bed and watched a couple of episodes of a baking show that sounded vaguely familiar; Sid thought maybe Dumo had mentioned it. It kind of made him hungry. Next he talked Geno into a documentary about the wolves in Yellowstone park. “It could be interesting,” Sid said defensively, when Geno made dubious noises. “Like that podcast I listened to about the coyotes. There was a lot of really good information.”
Predictably, when Sid looked over a few minutes in, Geno was on his phone. But he wasn’t going anywhere and didn’t look discontent, so Sid left him to it.
“Sid,” Geno said, sometime later.
Sid glanced over. Geno had put his phone aside and was peering down at his hands, folded across his stomach. “Yeah.”
“You say this guy, he’s teach you a lot.”
“Uh.” Sid hit the mute button. “I mean. I learned how to give a blow job?” Just saying the words made him flush. They appeared to have the same effect on Geno. “There wasn’t a lot of high-level theory involved, or anything. And kissing a guy, you know, it’s—it’s pretty much like kissing a girl. Except I had to lean up,” he added, cracking a grin.
“You like, though.”
“Yeah, I liked it,” Sid said quietly. “Did you—is that going to a problem?”
Geno lifted his gaze to meet Sid’s. “I wonder, maybe you teach me sometime.”
Geno’s face was a dull, flushed red, and he wasn’t looking at Sid anymore.
“I didn’t think you were into—that.”
“I never try. I think about sometimes, but it’s—girls easier, you know?”
Yeah. Sid really did know.
“But you talk about, you like, and I think maybe.” Geno swallowed, eyes still firmly fixed on the duvet. “I think I like with you.”
All Sid could do was stare. Geno turned visibly more uncomfortable until finally he took a deep breath and shifted to move off the bed. Sid caught his wrist, and Geno looked at him at last. His nose was a little less red than the rest of him, but not by much. His eyes were big and round, and Sid could break him with a single wrong word.
Sid didn’t bother with words. He rolled up onto his knees and then, slow and deliberate, telegraphing every move, he leaned in and kissed Geno’s chapped pink lips. Geno shuddered underneath him. Just as Sid was pulling away in alarm, Geno cupped Sid’s jaw and kissed back.
Sid broke it off after just a few moments to let Geno catch his breath, which he did in harsh, heavy inhales. “So?” Sid said after a bit, when Geno hadn’t said anything. “It’s okay if you didn’t like it.”
Fuck, he really, really wanted Geno to like it. He wanted to blow him and find out what sounds he made when he wasn’t a mess of emotions and maybe a ghost. He wanted to take him home so they could figure out anal together and then cheat on their diet plan the next morning. He wanted so many things.
But it wasn’t just up to him. He gave Geno an encouraging smile: neutral. No pressure. Nothing at stake.
Geno licked his lips. “I think, maybe not sure yet. Have to try again.”
Sid squinted until that telltale gleam appeared in Geno’s eye. “Oh my god,” he said, and leaned back in.
A quarter-hour later, Sid tapped out for good. “I’m not ready for more yet, sorry. Maybe after—after this. Tonight. I mean, assuming you ever wanted more.”
Geno laced his fingers through Sid’s. Their length made Sid’s short, square hand look even shorter and squarer. Geno gave Sid a little squeeze. “I want.”
Sid exhaled, shaky with a feeling he couldn’t quite name yet. “Well, we can arrange that.” He reached for the remote. The wolves had switched over to panda bears, he found.
Finally, ten minutes past midnight, Sid got up and pulled on his shoes. “You come back,” Geno told him. “You promise.”
“I’m gonna come back,” Sid said, and then he stepped out into the hall.
Sid had spent half his life in hotel rooms, and if there were any place in the world that felt less like a place than a hotel room, it was the hallway between one and the next. This hallway was silent—no voices from around the corner or through the heavy doors. Sid’s footfalls made no noise on the carpet. Even the ding of the elevator seemed muffled as the doors closed behind him for the short ride to the next floor.
Sid walked another twenty feet along another hallway just as silent as the first, and then he came to the door Geno had described for him. Sid stared at the number for a few moments, and then he compared it to the one Geno had written on his hand, just in case. Finally he raised his hand and knocked.
For a few beats there was only silence—as there should have been, in any world that made sense. This was Geno’s room, and Geno was lounging back at Sid’s, probably surfing the channels looking for a fishing show. No one would answer.
And then Sid heard the first noise that sounded real since he’d first walked out of his room: the scrape of the door opening.
On the other side was Geno—the sad, worn-down Geno. His face was drawn with an old, tired grief, and Sid wondered again how he could ever have mistaken this guy for the one he’d left behind in his room. When Geno saw Sid, his eyes grew round as two pucks. His mouth had fallen open, and he didn’t seem to have anything to say. “Are you going to let me in?” Sid asked. Mutely Geno shuffled aside, giving Sid room to pass. When the door was closed, Sid said, “I have a lot of questions.”
“How you get here?” Geno asked hoarsely.
“The same way you always got to me, I guess.” Vaguely Sid noticed the familiar race of adrenaline. He was on high alert and itching for a fight. “My turn. What is it that you’re all fucked up about it. Is it me? Did something happen to me?”
Geno took a shaky breath. “Come sit,” he said, gesturing to the bed. Sid perched on the edge of it and crossed his arms. Geno sat close enough to touch, though they weren’t, currently. “It’s bad head injury, couple years ago.”
“A couple years.”
“Beginning of season. Concussion. It’s get worse, better, worse. He retire, beginning this season.”
“Shit,” Sid said, chilled to the bone.
“He say, maybe come back someday. Mario come back, you know.” Geno’s smile was a pale, sickly thing, and there was no hope in it.
“I’m sorry,” Sid said. “And—you were together?”
Geno nodded, mouth twisted, clearly trying not to cry. “He break up with me, when he retire. Say it’s too hard long distance. Too hard for me, when he’s not play anymore. Fucking idiot,” he said, his voice cracking.
“And you got drunk one night, and you found me.”
Geno nodded again.
“And decided to lie to me.”
Geno sucked in a breath. “I think it’s not real, you know? Just dream. Good dream.”
Sid was not mollified. “And the next time? And the time after that? Because I thought you were my Geno, and it—it fucked me up, okay? It was a really shitty thing to do.”
“I know,” Geno said. Tears had begun trickling in twin rivulets down the sides of his nose. “I know, it’s just—I know my Sid, he’s so hide away and he’s not talk to anyone anymore, not even talk to me. Then I see you, and I think it’s like—you see thing, it’s not there?”
“Mirage?” Sid tried. “Hallucination?”
“It’s like I wish for it, and you there, healthy, happy. It’s like my dream. You win Cup again, right?” he said, smiling through his tears. “I see it’s on your lock screen.”
“Yeah,” Sid said slowly. “With Mike Sullivan. I won the Conn Smythe.” Geno lit up, genuinely pleased, and Sid felt the last of that fury he’d been holding onto for weeks sputter to nothing. He should have tried to rekindle it, maybe, but he was suddenly exhausted by all of it, this whole bizarre farce he’d never really be able to explain. Anyway, even if this wasn’t his Geno, he was still a Geno, afflicted with all Geno’s quirks and idiosyncrasies and heart, and Sid couldn’t help caring about him.
Now that Sid was sitting here, in some other—what was the word? Dimension? Now that he was here, his mouth filled with questions. Who won the Cup these past two years? Had the Pens re-signed Sully here? But he looked at this Geno that had lived such a different life than his had—the last two years at least, and how long had he and his Sid been together before that?—and Sid thought maybe he didn’t want to know the answers. Maybe they weren’t his to know. In the end, there was only one thing he had to ask. “Is Flower still with the team?”
Geno’s eyes got big. “Of course, Flower still on team. For you, he’s not?”
Sid shook the question away. Of all the fucking things he didn’t want to talk about, that was near the top of the list. “I’m glad you’ve got him around. He’s a really good friend.” How would this all have played out, if his Flower had still played on his team? Probably the exact fucking same. “Look, I should head back. My, uh, my Geno is going to get worried before too long.”
“Your Geno,” Geno repeated. His eyebrows rose, but Sid wasn’t going to explain that, either. From the glint in Geno’s eye, he maybe got the idea.
Sid supposed he was okay with that. “I don’t think you should visit me anymore.”
“I already decide I don’t do anymore, but then you come here.”
“Yeah, well. Probably not coming back.” Even if he wanted, Sid had a suspicion he wouldn’t be able to. Surely byways like these only stayed open so long, and some sixth sense told him this one was on the verge of closing. “But listen, good luck, okay? To you and, uh, me. Your Sid. Give him time, eh?” Geno’s face crumpled again, and Sid gave him a shoulder squeeze. “And fucking talk to your teammates, okay? Don’t just, like, hide it all.”
Geno shrugged him off. “I can’t tell about this.”
It took Sid a moment to catch up with him. “Wait, you mean they don’t know? About you and Sid?”
“We don’t want before, and now, you know, there’s nothing to tell.”
Christ. No wonder Geno was such a mess. “Well, maybe think about it, eh? Flower, or somebody off the team, I don’t know.”
Geno chewed on that for a few moments. “You think?”
“Yeah. I really do.”
Sid wondered fleetingly if this was when a good-bye kiss should happen. He didn’t want to kiss this Geno, though, and this Geno didn’t really want to kiss him. Instead he pushed to his feet and opened his arm for a hug. This Geno used a different soap, Sid realized, a sharper pungeance instantly familiar now that it was in his nose. How many other details were different? What life had this Geno lived?
But Sid couldn’t follow his thoughts down that rabbit-hole.
Geno let go, looking only a little weepy. He followed Sid to the door and closed it shut behind him, and Sid was alone. The hall was as silent as before. No time passed here, Sid thought. Not at this hour. He went back the way he’d come wondering if Geno would even have had time to miss him yet.
Finally Sid stood in front of his own door again. He took his key card out and slid it in the lock. The light beeped red. For one moment of cold panic, Sid wondered if he was in that other place still, in front of the hotel room that other Sid had used to stay in. “I promised Geno I’d come back,” he told the lock, and then he slid the card in again. As it turned green, he heard the familiar snap of a latch opening.
Geno was already on his feet when Sid walked in. “Sid, you’re okay?”
Sid carefully shut the door and walked into Geno’s arms. Geno held him as if he’d never let go. Sid breathed him in, the mild-smelling bodywash he used. Sid would get used to this soap, now. He could get used to so many things about Geno. “It’s good to be home,” he said.
Sid was just walking back from the bathroom when his bedroom door squeaked open. He froze. In the dark Geno was just visible on top of the covers, a lump, dead to the world. Through the open window, frogs croaked in chorus. Green lake scents floated on the faint breeze.
Sid’s house alarm was across the room. Just as he was contemplating his baseball bat, tucked under the bed years ago and mostly forgotten, a head pushed into the room—one Sid was very familiar with. “Geno?” he whispered.
The figure paused.
Sid knew him now, he was certain of it. He padded carefully to the door and pushed the person out into the hall. Sid turned the hall light on, and there he was: clearly Geno, and just as clearly not Sid’s. For one thing, this Geno had a ferocious sunburn. “What are you doing here?” Sid whispered.
“It’s our house,” Geno said hotly.
“No, Geno. What are you doing here.”
It took Geno a moment. “Sid, from hotel?”
He narrowed his eyes. “You win Conn Smythe?”
Geno’s face opened suddenly, like a time lapse of a flower in the sun. “Sid, you’re here.”
“So are you,” Sid pointed out. “Wait—you’re at my house? Did you and Sid—”
“We try again. Sid’s—he’s still retire, you know? But he’s feel a lot better these days. Look.” Geno dug around in his sweatpants pocket until he found his phone. After a couple of swipes, he showed the screen to Sid. It was a picture of, yeah, Sid and Geno—a selfie, taken on the lake Sid recognized as his own.
Sid looked weird in pictures at the best of times, so he couldn’t really judge anything from this one, except the guy in it did look a hell of a lot like him. “You look happy,” he said. “Both of you.”
Geno shrugged. “Maybe not happy yet, but it’s get better. Every day, little bit.”
“That’s awesome. I think about you guys.” Less now than a year ago, but every so often Sid looked at Geno, scowling over his morning cup of coffee and daring anyone to speak to him, and remembered how they got here. The memories were fading with time, though, maybe more than was explicable. Sid thought maybe that was how it was supposed to work. “Uh, me, too,” he said belatedly. “Me and G.” He thumbed behind him, at the closed door.
Geno’s smile softened. “And it’s good? You’re good?”
There was a lot Sid could say, about coming out to Tanger and then Taylor and then his parents, about his and Geno’s first months together. Some of it was good, and some of it not so much. What he said was, “Yeah. We really are.”
Geno looked better than Sid remembered. He’d put on some weight, and not just summer muscle. He’d been so skinny then, and Sid had spent so long not looking at Geno in the locker room that he hadn’t even noticed. The circles under his eyes were gone now, too, and the lines of perpetual grief.
They were done here. Sid knew it as surely as he’d known anything in his life, as sure as he was of his Geno, snoring lightly on the other side of the bedroom door. He wouldn’t see this man in front of him again. “You think you can find your way back?” Sid asked.
Geno made a moue of unconcern. “I just walk around house all night, it’s fine.”
Sid chuckled softly. “Okay man. Take care.”
Geno—his Geno—stirred when Sid got back in bed. “What’s happen?”
Sid spooned up behind him. He’d get too hot in a while and have to move, but just now he didn’t care. “Go back to sleep,” he said. “I’m here.”