The room was quiet, the only noise beyond the soft scrabbling in lockers and shelves for their things broken when something fell to the ground with a soft thump. Evgeni glanced over towards the other side of the room, hands pausing in midair when he saw Sidney sitting at his stall, eyes roving around the room slowly.
He quickly placed the roll of tape he was holding into his bag, then turned and crossed the room. Evgeni sat down with a thud on the bench next to Sidney, pressing their thighs together tightly from hip to knee. “Everything gonna be okay, Sid,” he said firmly, watching the man’s eyes shift from player to player in the room, focusing on faces as if burning them into his memory.
His knee pressed back against Evgeni’s for a moment, just a slight acknowledgement of his words, but his shoulders hunched up towards his ears slightly. Reaching out, Evgeni caught him with an arm looped loosely around his neck. He drew him in against his side, giving Sidney a slight shake, and added, “Seven more years.”
Sidney huffed out something that could qualify as a rough laugh, and his words were muffled against Evgeni’s chest as he replied, “I know you’re here but –” He fell silent, then pushed back to look Evgeni in the face. He shrugged against the arm over his shoulders and muttered, “Everything’s going to change.”
Evgeni could see the shadow of seasons before in Sidney’s eyes, the dark look he had carried when Armstrong had been traded and then Staal years after, the look that was drawn up player after player, off-season after off-season until his eyes sometimes looked hollow and dim.
He released Sidney, familiar with what came next, and sat quietly in place as his captain walked across the room.
Sidney took his time, approaching each player and catching them by the shoulder or neck, drawing them in to tap their foreheads together lightly, fist thumping at their chest or palm slapping against their back, whispering a quiet ‘Thank you’ before drawing back. Most of the team had to duck down far to reach him, most of them giving him pats and bumps back in return, but all were quiet and somber until Sidney reached Fleury.
The goalie shook his head at him when he reached out, swallowed him up in a hug instead, tugging the man in close and wrapping his arms around him. He muttered something to Sidney instead of listening, slapping his back hard twice before shoving him back. “Look at this mopey fucker,” he exclaimed loudly, gesturing at Sidney with a wave, “Somebody better cheer him up before the press sees him.” He caught Evgeni’s eyes over Sidney’s shoulder and gave him a short nod.
“Sid,” he called, “Come get sticks before I touch.” He reached out a hand, waving them over the carefully aligned sticks until Sidney looked over at him with a frown, mouth opening surely to point out they had no game today, that Evgeni could touch them if he wanted, but he must have read something in Evgeni’s eyes because he merely nodded, patting Fleury on the shoulder again, before making his way back over.
Sidney leaned over Evgeni to reach the sticks and Evgeni looked up into his face. “Gonna be okay,” he reiterated, patting the man once on the hip. He gave a shallow nod in reply as he ducked down to tuck the sticks away in his bag. “You spoke to Mario?” Evgeni asked, tilting his head to catch Sidney’s eye.
He sat back on his heels, resting his forearms lightly on his knees, and answered, “I did.”
“He’ll take care,” Evgeni told him, hand coming out to ruffle at Sidney’s hair, to rub a thumb down his freshly-shaven cheek. Standing up, he reached out for Sidney’s forearm and tugged him up, “Come, you speak to big bad reporters, I go home make lunch, you come over later and eat.”
Sidney reached up and grabbed the back of his neck in a tight grip, pulled Evgeni down and pressed their foreheads together tightly. “Not sure I’ll be able to eat,” he muttered, breath hot against Evgeni’s cheek.
“Then we wait until you are,” he replied, chucking him under the chin lightly and pulling back. He gave Sidney a light tap on the ass and said, “Right behind you like always.”