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Zhenya woke up sweating, his T-shirt damp and sticking to his lower back, and the sheets damp beneath his thighs. He had one hand tucked between his legs, and as his confused sleep-fog faded, he realized he was rubbing his cloaca through his boxers.

He yanked his hand away at once, but the arousal lingered. He was really turned on, but his dick was soft, and stayed soft even when he cupped it with his hand. But he needed—

His boxers were damp, a little sticky. He touched himself cautiously through the fabric. He cleaned himself there, but it was like cleaning between his toes, or behind his ears: not sexy, just another body part that needed routine maintenance. It had never felt good when he touched it. Not bad, either; just skin. But it felt good now, building to a strange rolling peak that made his thighs quiver. And it kept feeling good even after that, like maybe he needed more, and he stroked himself less carefully, rubbing around and around until he cried out and shuddered.

Fuck,” he said to his ceiling, when he was finally done. He was only twenty-six; he’d thought he would have more time.

Twenty-six was a little late for it, really. If he was being honest with himself.

He went to practice, and realized halfway there that he probably should have showered, because of Sid. Well, Sid would smell it on him anyway, probably, no matter what he did.

It was perfectly normal, he told himself, as he exited for the rink. It happened to everyone. There was no need to be embarrassed.

He tried to act casual, but Sid sat up straight when Zhenya slunk into the locker room, the same perfect alertness he displayed at all times on the bench during a game, like he was taking sharp note of everything happening on the ice. All of that focus and intensity fixed on Zhenya as he slumped at his stall and started putting on his gear. Zhenya kept his head down and avoided Sid’s gaze. Something in the locker room smelled really good, really appealing, and he was getting sticky in his shorts again. It took him longer than it should have to realize he was smelling Sid.

“Mother of God,” he swore in Russian, slamming his gloves down on the bench in frustration.

Beside him, Nealsy gave him a weird look. “Too early in the day for that, G.”

“Go fuck yourself,” Zhenya said, which was a mistake, because they all knew the swear words. Nealsy smacked Zhenya with his own gloves and called out, “Geno’s on the rag.”

It was uncomfortably close to the truth. Zhenya scowled and ignored the jeering from everyone who had heard Nealsy’s remark. At least none of them could smell him—none of them knew what was happening. Only Sid.

Sid kept his distance during practice, but every time Zhenya happened to look in his direction, Sid was watching him. Zhenya fully expected to be the recipient of some targeted captainly concern and decided to win that draw by pre-empting him. After practice, he loitered at his stall until Sid was done talking to the press, and then slid into the empty spot to Sid’s left and said, “I think it’s happen now. You know, change. Like, grow up.”

Sid gave him a sidelong look and wiped his face with his towel. “Yeah, you kind of, uh.” He wouldn’t meet Zhenya’s eyes, and Zhenya realized Sid was slowly turning red. “I sort of had an idea.”

Zhenya leaned a little closer. Sid smelled terrible, as he always did after practice, but underneath the stink was that good smell from earlier, and Zhenya wanted to draw deep lungfuls of air until he had analyzed the scent down to the molecular level.

“Stop it,” Sid said, turning even redder. “Go away. Go shower.”

Zhenya frowned at him. Wasn’t Sid going to ask about his feelings? “It just start this morning. I wake up and—”

“Okay!” Sid interrupted. “That’s great. Congratulations. I’m gonna, um. Shower.”

Zhenya frowned harder as Sid dropped his sweaty interview hat at his stall and went out toward the change room. He’d thought Sid would want to hear every detail, ask him some probing questions, and give Zhenya some unnecessary advice. He had kind of been looking forward to it, maybe. Sid was the only other shifter on the team now that Seryozha was gone, and Zhenya knew full well what was happening to him, but it would have been nice to talk about it with someone who understood. But Sid didn’t want to talk about it. Maybe he thought it was weird.

Embarrassed, Zhenya sat at his stall messing around on his phone until he was certain Sid had finished showering and left.

+ + +

He had to change his pants when he got home, because he had leaked something sticky into them in the car. He was going to have to start wearing underwear more regularly if this kept up. He didn’t want to have to wash his sweats all the time.

He sulked around the house for a while. Outside, the morning’s heavy snowfall was turning into rain as a warm front came through. He was hungry, but nothing in his fridge seemed appealing. He was bored, but he didn’t want to watch TV or read or call anyone to hang out. Finally he settled down with his laptop and went online to confirm that everything happening to him was normal. It seemed to be, but it also seemed that things would get worse before they got better—as in much worse, as in he would go into estrus and probably try to get Sid to mate with him, which would be humiliating at best.

He thought about calling his mom. His dad was human and couldn’t relate; Zhenya and Denis were both the products of a helpful shifter neighbor. His mom was his only chance at sympathy and advice, but it turned out puberty was just as awkward the second time around. He didn’t want a soothing lecture about how it was okay to have those feelings and explore his body. He was an adult. By human measures, at least.

Sid approached him before morning skate the next day, when Zhenya was picking at the remains of his breakfast. He wasn’t very hungry. Sid sat down across from him at the table and smiled when Zhenya looked up, which to Zhenya’s annoyance immediately made him feel better. He always wanted Sid’s attention, but now it felt urgent, like he would probably die without it.

“Sorry I brushed you off yesterday,” Sid said. “Just kind of caught me off guard.” He reached over and stole a slice of avocado from Zhenya’s plate.

“It’s fine,” Zhenya said at once, pathetically relieved that Sid wasn’t going to ice him out. Sid hadn’t been the same around him since the lockout ended, and Zhenya had feared that this would be the final straw, that Sid would be polite and distant until they were no longer friends.

“You feeling okay?” Sid asked. “Everything, uh. Normal?”

Zhenya shrugged. In the face of Sid’s earnest concern, he suddenly didn’t want to talk about it. By unspoken mutual agreement, he and Sid had never had sex, and after years of maintaining the strict chasteness of their relationship, having a calm breakfast conversation about his cloaca felt wildly inappropriate. Like discussing his porn preferences with his mother or his priest.

Sid was turning pink. Well, at least he was embarrassed, too. “I can’t really, uh. Offer you any advice. Wrong parts, eh?”

Zhenya was trying extremely hard not to think about Sid’s parts. Sid had gone through his own change at some point during the lockout, although he had never said anything to Zhenya about it. It was hard to miss the forked penis. Zhenya couldn’t help wondering if Sid’s change had triggered his own, but he didn’t want to wonder, he didn’t want to think about it all, because he and Sid weren’t like that and never had been.

He could smell Sid a little bit, not as strong as when he had been so sweaty after practice, but still too appealing for Zhenya’s peace of mind.

“There are some people in the front office,” Sid said. “If you want to talk to someone.”

“No, it’s okay,” Zhenya said. Leave it to Sid to know the name of every person in the organization with a pouch. “It’s weird, like, talk to stranger, you know?” It would be weird to talk to anyone, really. He had friends in Pittsburgh who were shifters, but they were all older and paired off or married, and had probably forgotten what it was like.

“Yeah, I get it,” Sid said. He shrugged, and Zhenya waited for him to share an anecdote about his own experiences, some embarrassing yet heart-warming tale about whoever had provided him with fond reassurance during his change. But he only took the fork from Zhenya’s hand, ate Zhenya’s remaining three bites of omelet, and said, “See you out there.”

The next few days sucked. Zhenya had been living in his body for twenty-six years and had a pretty good idea of how it worked. Now, overnight, it was doing all kinds of weird things that served only to annoy him. He was overheated and itchy at all times, and his cloaca was so sensitive he had to be careful how he sat, so the seam of his jeans wouldn’t press on it and get him hot. He was short-tempered and irritable, to the point that Nealsy put a “Beware of Bear” sign above his stall, which everyone but Zhenya found hilarious. He wasn’t a bear.

His first puberty, his human puberty, had been an uncomfortable time of acne, body hair, and unpredictable boners. But everyone else had been in the same situation. This time he was going through it alone. No one could relate, except maybe Sid, but he and Sid were kind of avoiding each other, not in an overt way, but just finding somewhere else to be. Zhenya had no one to commiserate with.

It was more unpleasant this time, and more embarrassing, too. He had a pouch on his belly and he didn’t have any balls, and everyone could see. They knew what he was made for. It wasn’t shameful, but Zhenya had always hated to be so exposed, had spent many years staring down teammates if they looked too long in the showers, and it was worse now, with his cloaca so tender and leaking, and the inside of his pouch feeling like it had been rubbed raw. He felt so obvious. Like everyone could tell what was happening to him.

He broke down at last and called his mom. “Oh, Zhenechka,” she said a few times, as he described in the most abstract of terms how many times he had woken up humping his own hand, and then predictably reassured him that everything he was experiencing was normal, and finally said, “You know, you’ll be a free agent next summer. You could always see about finding a team with more shifters—”

“No, I don’t want to leave Pittsburgh,” Zhenya said, although of course he had thought about it. Washington had eight shifters on their roster, and he had had more than one wistful thought in the past few days about what that would be like, to have people who would sympathize with him and make gentle jokes about his child-bearing hips. Sid wouldn’t joke, because Sid wouldn’t talk to him.

“Well, you have Sidney there, at least,” his mom said. “Although I know it isn’t quite the same.”

“Yeah,” Zhenya said. “At least I’ve got Sid.”

+ + +

The itchiness got worse. Zhenya went to see Dr. Vyas about it, just to make sure he hadn’t developed some type of allergy.

“It’s only puberty,” Dr. Vyas told him cheerfully, and drew some blood, and the next day told Zhenya he would go into estrus soon. “Use protection if you have cloacal intercourse. Don’t hesitate to talk to me or one of the trainers if you have any discomfort. We’ll sit you for a game or two if you need, but I don’t anticipate any problems.”

Cloacal intercourse. Zhenya stared at him for a few moments, his mind totally blank. That was… a thing. He could be doing. With someone. If he wanted to.

“Okay thank you,” he said, and got the fuck out of Dr. Vyas’s office before he started making a mess in his shorts, again.

They flew to New York. Zhenya lingered after morning skate as the Islanders took the ice, hoping to talk with Zhenya Nabokov. They weren’t close, but Nabokov had played with him a few times at Worlds and the Olympics, and he was a shifter, and he had a pouch, like Zhenya did. He had carried two children. Maybe he would have some advice.

Nabokov saw him as he came down the hallway from the dressing room, and stepped aside to get out of the way of traffic. “Malkin,” he said, and tucked his gloves beneath his arm so they could clasp hands. “What’s the occasion?”

“Do you have a few minutes to talk?” Zhenya asked, trying not to blush. God, this was so embarrassing. “I know you need to get out on the ice.”

“A minute or two,” Nabokov said. He narrowed his eyes and leaned in. Zhenya watched his nostrils flare. “Oh, is that it?”

There was his blush. Zhenya’s cheeks burned as he said, “It only started last week.”

“Come on, let’s sit,” Nabokov said, and guided him onto the empty visitors’ bench. “You’re a little old for it, aren’t you?”

“Well, I can’t help it,” Zhenya said, piqued. It wasn’t like he could control it.

“You’ve had your first heat yet?” Nabokov asked, and when Zhenya shook his head, he said, “Soon, smells like. It’s not so bad. Start tracking your cycles so you know when the next heat’s coming. It helps to have sex, but you’ll do fine without. But if you’re on the road when it hits, any shifter on the home team will be happy to help you.” He eyed Zhenya. “Or there’s Crosby.”

“I don’t shit where I eat,” Zhenya said, like he wouldn’t immediately crawl into Sid’s bed if that were an option.

Nabokov laughed. “Okay. That’s fair.” He patted Zhenya on the back. “I’d offer, but my wife’s human, and she likes monogamy.”

“How quaint,” Zhenya said dryly. Goalies were so weird. Plenty of shifters were monogamous, either to please a human partner or simply because the demands of children or work or life in general kept them too busy to have time for more than one person.

“We’re very happy,” Nabokov said. “Buy some condoms. A human probably can’t knock you up, but you never know.” He patted Zhenya again. “Good luck.”

Zhenya went back to the locker room feeling bemused but reassured. Nabokov had made it sound like heat was a minor inconvenience and nothing to get worked up about. Zhenya had known that already, more or less, from the internet and his half-remembered sex ed, but it was good to have confirmation from a hockey player: someone who knew the demands of Zhenya’s schedule and what was expected of him on the ice.

“Look, he’s smiling!” Nealsy hollered when Zhenya came into the room, and Zhenya immediately rearranged his expression into a frown. He didn’t want anyone talking to or looking at him.

He saw Sid’s head come up, but when Zhenya glanced at him, he looked away.

+ + +

Zhenya was avoiding Sid as much as Sid was avoiding him, but he was still bent out of shape about it. Sid had been an unvarying constant during Zhenya’s entire life in Pittsburgh, since the earliest dinners with Seryozha and Ksusha during which Zhenya had understood almost nothing. After years of shared hockey and shared afternoons on the lawns of various houses, shifted into their other forms for a while to doze and eat grass, Sid existed somewhere in the weird liminal space between friend and family.

They had texted as much during the lockout as they ever did, and Zhenya had looked forward to returning to Pittsburgh and sliding right back into their easy friendship. Sid came to meet him at the airport when Zhenya got back into town, like he always did, and hugged him, like always, and drove him home, and then, instead of staying to eat dinner and catch up, left without even coming in the house for a minute. That had set the tone for the past two weeks, through training camp and the start of the abbreviated season. Sid was friendly enough, but he was always somewhere else. Zhenya didn’t know what had changed.

Well, they had both changed. Maybe that was it.

He thought he should warn Sid about his oncoming heat. Not that it was going to be a problem; they weren’t even sitting at the same table at meals. But he didn’t want there to be any surprises.

He approached Sid after practice, back home in Pittsburgh. Sid watched him coming but didn’t skitter off for once. Zhenya sat beside him on the bench and Sid leaned almost imperceptibly away. It hurt Zhenya’s feelings, frankly, but he wouldn’t show it. He knew he smelled, but he hadn’t thought he smelled bad.

“I’m in estrus soon,” he said, skipping the pleasantries. “Few days? I don’t know. Just let you know. But it’s not problem, since you ignore.”

Sid gave him a startled look. “What? What do you mean?”

Zhenya scoffed. “You don’t talk. You run away, don’t sit by me.”

You don’t sit by me,” Sid said. “Come on, G, don’t be mad at me about this. I’ve just been trying to stay out of your way. You know, give you some space. You’ve been biting everyone’s head off for a week. I thought you wanted to be left alone.”

Zhenya deflated, because Sid wasn’t wrong. He picked sullenly at the seam of his leggings. “I’m just bad mood,” he muttered.

“I know, bud.” Sid’s hand hovered in mid-air for a moment, and then finally settled on Zhenya’s shoulder. “Listen, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to ignore you. You just—you smell good? I’m trying not to be a creep.”

Zhenya stared at his leggings, feeling his ears go hot, probably glowing red. He hadn’t been so embarrassed so consistently since he was a teenager. He risked a glance at Sid, who was looking at his hand on Zhenya’s shoulder and chewing on his bottom lip. His cheeks were pink. When he caught Zhenya looking, he pulled his hand away.

Zhenya felt the soft throbbing between his legs that meant he’d have a mess to clean up when he showered. He wondered if Sid could smell it on him. Probably not. They weren’t dogs.

Sid cleared his throat. “So, uh. Your heat. You can text me when it starts, and we’ll just. Stay away from each other. Shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Yes,” Zhenya said.

“Okay,” Sid said. “Good talk.”

+ + +

Zhenya and Sid had never had sex with each other, not even after their worst playoff losses, not even when they had just won the Cup and Zhenya looked at Sid from across the locker room and had never loved anyone more. Shifters were in general extremely casual about sex—Zhenya had spent his entire adolescence fooling around with teammates and classmates—but with only two of them, it could get messy. Someone could get attached. They had never risked it.

Zhenya had thought about it, of course. Impossible not to, as Sid outgrew his baby fat and became—well, he was no Lundqvist, but he wasn’t bad-looking. But he never considered actually doing anything about it.

He had wondered if Sid might offer to help him through his heat. Maybe hoped he would.

Sid thought he smelled good.

It was a bad idea. If he were planning to go into free agency next summer, he might have been willing to take the chance. But he had thought long and hard during the lockout and decided in the end that he wanted to stay with the Penguins, and he didn’t want to do anything to mess up his chances of signing an extension with the team. If things between him and Sid went south, he might have to leave Pittsburgh after all.

He couldn’t think about it. He woke up two mornings later feeling even itchier than usual, and so horny that he almost missed the flight to Newark because he spent so much time humping a pillow.

“Thanks for joining us, Evgeni,” Bylsma said, when Zhenya finally rolled up to the terminal at the airport, hair wet and skin flushed. Zhenya bared his teeth in what he hoped would pass for a smile. He wished Bylsma would just call him Geno, like everyone else did.

Then it turned out the plane was late, so he probably could have gotten himself off a third time before he left the house.

He texted Sid, even though Sid was sitting fifteen feet away. Zhenya didn’t want anyone to overhear or ask questions. It’s heat now

Sid glanced at his coat pocket and then took out his phone to look at the screen. Zhenya watched him type slowly; he still wasn’t used to his new iPhone. Finally a message appeared: OK. Thanks for letting me know. Do you need anything?

He needed to not be in public right now. He needed a cold drink and maybe a cold shower. He needed to shift forms and lie in the grass somewhere in the warm sunshine and think of nothing but the bumblebees buzzing placidly near his head. But it was February, and the grass was covered in snow.

No it’s ok, he responded. Sid stared at his phone for a long moment before he put it away.

Zhenya claimed a headache to get out of playing cards on the plane. He sat by himself and festered in his irritation. His cloaca throbbed, and his dick was starting to get in on the action, too. He shifted in his seat, trying to find a position in which his pants wouldn’t rub against every sensitive part of his lower body. He thought about going to jerk off in the lavatory, but he would have to walk by Sid’s seat on the way, and Sid would know what he was doing. And he didn’t want to think about Sid thinking about him in a sex way. That was a terrible road to start down.

He weighed his options all through the flight. When they touched down in Newark, he pulled out his phone to text Ilyusha Kovalchuk. He wasn’t a shifter, but he and Zhenya had fooled around a little at the Vancouver Olympics, and Ilyusha had been curious about his pouch and his cloaca—had tried to touch, until Zhenya batted him away. Zhenya wanted to be touched there now, and Ilyusha might want to. He wouldn’t be offended if Zhenya asked, at least.

Free this evening? he sent. Practice soon but I’ll be done by 4

Ilyusha was probably at his own practice; Zhenya didn’t expect a response right away. He stayed in his seat until the rest of the team had filed off the plane. Sid paused for a moment as he went past, but Zhenya stubbornly kept his head turned to look out the window, and Sid moved on along.

He checked his phone again after practice, too impatient even to delay long enough to take off his pads. He was sweating in his gear and his hands were sweaty as he fumbled with his phone. Ilyusha had replied: Sure, dinner tonight? Which hotel?

They worked out the details: Ilyusha would meet Zhenya at the hotel at 7:00 and they would go to dinner from there. Zhenya’s agitated brain established its own private agenda. Somehow Zhenya would casually proposition Ilyusha over sushi, and Ilyusha would be receptive and not taken aback, and they would go back to Zhenya’s hotel room and fuck.

Time slowed to a crawl as Zhenya waited for the appointed hour to arrive. He took a shower and went down the hall to the ice machine so he could suck on ice cubes while he scrolled through Instagram. The nipples inside his pouch were so swollen and sensitive that he couldn’t lie flat on his stomach. His heart beat too rapidly for him to settle down. With almost an hour still to go, he got sick of his hotel room and went down to the lobby, which at least was a change of scenery. He parked himself in one of the overstuffed lounge chairs near the door and tried to look like he wasn’t about to start touching himself through his pants in public.

He hadn’t counted on being able to smell every shifter who came in or out of the hotel, as close to the front door as he was. Many of them gave him speculative looks that made his blood heat. If Ilyusha didn’t pan out, he could probably camp out at the hotel bar and find someone amenable without too much trouble.

He heard Sid before he saw him, Sid’s laughter rising above the background noise of the lobby, people checking in, elevators dinging, the murmur of conversation and dishes clinking from the hotel restaurant. His whole body took notice. His shoulder blades drew back and down as he sat up straight, tense and watchful. Sid was with Flower, and he was wearing one of his going-out shirts under his coat, a checked button-up, and he was grinning and shaking his head until the moment his eyes met Zhenya’s. Then his smile froze and slowly faded as he drew nearer.

All of the noise in the lobby dropped away. Zhenya couldn’t hear a thing over the sudden rush of blood in his ears.

Sid was right there, looking down at him, his hands crammed in his pockets. He smelled so good. Flower was saying something, but Zhenya couldn’t look away from Sid’s face, the flush rising in his cheeks, his lips parting for his tongue to wet them.

“I’ll catch up with you, eh?” Sid said to Flower, his voice cutting through the roaring in Zhenya’s ears. Flower said a few more things, and Sid was shrugging and shaking his head, his eyes on Zhenya, and then Flower left, finally. It was dark outside and bright in the lobby and Zhenya was alone with Sid and he was in full heat by now, probably, and Sid smelled good.

Zhenya couldn’t move. He managed to unstick his tongue from behind his teeth and said, “Hi.”

“Hey,” Sid said. “Uh, you just hanging out here?”

Zhenya’s mouth felt stuffed with cotton. “Wait for Kovalchuk. He’s come here and meet me.”

“Oh,” Sid said. He rocked forward onto the balls of his feet and then back onto his heels. “And you’re gonna—he’s helping you through your heat?”

“I hope,” Zhenya said, too on edge for subtlety. He hoped Ilyusha would give him exactly what he needed, although he wasn’t sure yet what that entailed.

“Kovy, really?” Sid made a skeptical face. “I didn’t know you guy were friends.”

“We friends,” Zhenya said. They were friendly acquaintances at most.

“He’s not even a shifter,” Sid said, looking even more skeptical.

What other option did Zhenya have? Ilyusha at least spoke Russian. He at least had a decent track record of making Zhenya come. “It’s not you business,” Zhenya said, which was hopefully rude enough that Sid would fuck off and let Zhenya carry on with his plans.

Sid rocked onto the balls of his feet again. His lips compressed. Why wasn’t he leaving? Zhenya opened his mouth to say—something—and Sid blurted, “You could have asked me.”

Zhenya’s heart lurched sideways. He stared up at Sid, not sure what to say.

“I just mean, uh.” Sid shrugged and stared down at his shoes. “It’s better with a friend, eh? And I’m, uh.” He glanced quickly at Zhenya and then away again. “I’d try to take care of you.”

Zhenya’s body screamed an immediate, unambiguous yes. He said, “Sid, we never do. It’s bad idea.”

“Yeah, probably,” Sid said. “I’ll still do it, though. If you want.”

Zhenya had a strict personal hierarchy of who he trusted in the NHL, starting with Russians and ascending through shifters, Russian shifters, teammates, and ending with actual friends. Given a choice between Ilyusha, who was in the outer circle, and Sid, who was in the innermost, Zhenya didn’t have to think twice. But he and Sid had stayed away from each other for so long for a reason. Heat sex could be casual, but Zhenya was very stupid and would probably fall in love at once. Why risk it?

“I need text Kovy,” he said, and Sid swallowed and nodded and said, “Your room or mine?”

+ + +

Sid kept smiling him in the elevator on the way up to Zhenya’s hotel room, which probably should have been reassuring but instead made Zhenya horribly nervous, which in turn pissed him off. He’d had sex many times with many people, and Sid already knew every gross, weird, or embarrassing thing about him. He was probably the least intimidating person Zhenya could sleep with.

And yet.

In the room, with the door closed, Sid turned to him and lifted his chin. That was all the invitation Zhenya needed. He ducked his head to press his face against Sid’s neck, his fingertips hooked in Sid’s jean pockets to hold him in place, and drew in a deep breath. There was that good smell, Sid and his soap and his laundry detergent all mixed together.

He felt Sid’s hands settle on his hips. “Hey,” Sid said quietly.

Zhenya had felt clear-headed down in the lobby, but now, breathing in Sid’s scent, pressed against the warmth of his body, he was going a little hazy. He opened his mouth against Sid’s pulse and sucked gently, trying to coat his tongue with that smell. Sid groaned and dragged him closer. Zhenya sucked harder and rubbed his stiffening cock against Sid’s hip. He had been stirred up all day; he was ready to go now, oversensitive and hot for it, but his dick hadn’t fully gotten the memo yet.

“G, hey,” Sid said, tugging a little at his hair, and when Zhenya looked up, Sid kissed him.

Kissing hadn’t featured in any of Zhenya’s heat-addled fantasies, but if it was on offer, he was going to take full advantage. Sid had a wonderful soft mouth, but at first he was almost totally passive, standing there and letting Zhenya kiss him with his lips parted, not really responding in any way aside from the noises he made. But after a minute he started kissing back, his tongue sliding along Zhenya’s bottom lip, and Zhenya realized with a flood of warmth that Sid had been observing, and was now trying to kiss Zhenya the way he liked.

He was doing a good job. Zhenya hooked one arm around Sid’s neck and kept him there, learning the taste of his mouth. Sid reached down to unfasten Zhenya’s pants and slid one hand into Zhenya’s briefs, curling for a moment around Zhenya’s cock as Zhenya pushed urgently into the touch, and then sliding his hand backward between Zhenya’s thighs, where Zhenya was making a sticky mess.

Zhenya froze, his thighs clamping reflexively on Sid’s hand. He broke their kiss to drop his forehead to Sid’s shoulder and pant into Sid’s neck. His head was spinning. He felt more desperate than he had expected, and more turned on, too. Sid didn’t have any special technique, but even that cautious press of his fingertips felt good, tucked there behind Zhenya’s dick.

“You wanna let me?” Sid asked. He turned his head to press an off-center kiss to Zhenya’s temple.

Zhenya drew a shaky breath. “Okay,” he said, and relaxed his thighs.

Sid’s free arm wrapped around Zhenya’s waist. He moved his hand to stroke the pads of his fingers over Zhenya’s cloaca, the lightest possible touch with only the gentlest friction. A wave of sensation rolled through Zhenya’s lower body. He heard himself make a terrible high whining noise and clutched at the textured wool of Sid’s coat. He wasn’t an animal, overwhelmed by his biological imperatives, but he really, really wanted to get Sid naked and touch him everywhere and rub against him until they both smelled the same.

“Come on, let’s,” he said, and started fumbling at the buttons on Sid’s shirt.

They had to separate to get out of their shoes and socks and all the rest of it. Sid performed a choreographed wiggle to get out of his jeans without losing his boxer-briefs, shoving his pants down a few centimeters at a time while holding on to the waistband of his underwear with his free hand. Zhenya, wearing fewer and less demanding layers, sprawled naked on the bed and considered the soft pinkness of Sid’s nipples. He reached down to touch his dick, teasing himself at last into full hardness. His dick and his cloaca weren’t fully coordinated and maybe never would be.

Sid finally managed to free himself from his jeans. Naked except for his underwear, he crawled onto the bed and hovered above Zhenya on all fours. “What are you smirking about?”

“I don’t,” Zhenya said, although Sid’s pants dance had been endearingly hilarious. He reached up to curl one hand around the back of Sid’s neck. “Come here, you’re so far.”

“This is how it’s gonna be, eh?” Sid said, and bent his head for a kiss.

Zhenya drew him down and clung to him, his legs around Sid’s hips. The hard line of Sid’s dick pressed against his own. Zhenya tried to shift to rub his cloaca against Sid’s dick, knowing he would make a mess on Sid’s underwear but beyond caring about it, but Sid was heavy on top of him and then kissing him again, and Zhenya couldn’t move enough to make it happen. But Sid’s mouth was so sweet, and Zhenya got distracted kissing him and running his hands over Sid’s back, warm bare skin, soft flesh over muscle. There was so much of him to touch.

Sid broke away to kiss Zhenya’s neck and ear, neither of which was usually a sensitive spot for him, but right now the brush of Sid’s mouth made him shiver. “Let me touch you,” Sid murmured. “You smell so good, Geno, G—let me see your pussy.”

A choked, shocked whine forced its way from Zhenya’s throat. He turned his head aside, trying to hide his face in a fold of the rumpled sheets. He couldn’t believe Sid had said it like that, just—it was embarrassing, but Zhenya’s legs were squeezing Sid’s hips, trying to pull him closer, to pull him in; he wanted Sid to tug down his underwear and push inside. He wanted—

“Sid,” he groaned, clutching uselessly at Sid’s hair and shoulders as Sid wormed his way down the bed.

Zhenya’s thighs fell open without his permission. Sid kissed a tender line from his knee to his groin and nuzzled at the base of Zhenya’s dick. “Can I?” His hand slid up Zhenya’s other thigh. “Please, I really want to—”

“Okay, yes,” Zhenya said, and crossed his arms over his face, so he wouldn’t have to watch.

The mattress shifted. There was a long pause. Zhenya couldn’t hear anything but his own fast, shallow breathing. He didn’t know what Sid was doing, and he wanted to close his legs and pull the sheet up to his waist and hide himself. He started to bring his knees together but was blocked by Sid’s body.

“Hey, come on,” Sid said. His hands palmed the insides of Zhenya’s thighs, huge and warm. “I know you feel weird, but you’re so—God, Geno.” His fingertip traced a wide circle around Zhenya’s cloaca, and then a slightly smaller one. Zhenya contracted with each touch, and he was so wet; Sid could probably see it; Sid knew how much he wanted it. He lifted his hips slightly, inviting, and Sid eased that fingertip just inside, breaching the tight rim.

Zhenya had never had anything inside of him. He had worried that it might hurt, but Sid’s finger only felt good as it slid deeper, pressing inside until his knuckles brushed Zhenya’s perineum. Zhenya clenched experimentally and heard Sid suck in a breath.

He moved one of his arms aside to take a peek at Sid’s face. Sid’s cheeks were pink, and his dick was hard in his underwear, and Zhenya really wanted to get a look at him. And maybe touch him, and maybe—

“You get yourself off like this?” Sid asked, pushing a second finger into Zhenya’s body, splaying them to fill Zhenya just right.

Zhenya covered his face again. “Not inside. Just, you know, touch.”

“Oh,” Sid said. He rubbed his thumb over the sensitive rim of Zhenya’s cloaca, stretched now around his fingers. “But this is okay?”

“Yes,” Zhenya said. He clenched again. He could probably come like this, squeezing around Sid’s fingers, if Sid would only touch him a little more.

Sid rotated his hand, his thumb dragging deliciously over Zhenya’s rim. His fingers were hitting something inside that made Zhenya squirm. He said, “Geno, you look—how close are you?”

“Close,” Zhenya said, because suddenly he was, tense and trembling. He’d had a hair trigger lately, but this was ridiculous, Sid had barely—but Sid was touching him now with both hands, slowly fucking his fingers in and out and stroking Zhenya’s rim with his other hand, awkward half-circles that were exactly what Zhenya needed, the perfect friction. He was clenching again, not deliberately this time.

“Oh, listen to you,” Sid said, and then Zhenya made an even worse noise as he came on Sid’s hand.

Sid kept moving his fingers until Zhenya reached down to stop him. That was a mistake, because then he could see Sid’s flushed, happy face, smiling at Zhenya like he had just scored a hat trick. Zhenya could feel how hot his cheeks were. He was probably bright red. “Sorry,” he said.

Sid’s eyebrows went up. He slid his fingers from Zhenya’s body and wiped his hands on the sheets. “What? Why are you sorry?”

“Come too fast,” Zhenya said.

“Shut the fuck up, it was amazing,” Sid said. He lay on top of Zhenya and kissed his jaw and cheek until Zhenya gave in and turned his head and let Sid kiss his mouth, deep and sweet. He was still hard, and Sid was hard, and grinding a little against Zhenya’s hip.

“Sid,” Zhenya said. He clutched at the soft flesh at Sid’s hips. He wasn’t anywhere near done. “Sid—”

“Hmm?” Sid asked. He was back to nosing at Zhenya’s ear. “Oh, do you—” He pulled back and sat up. “We could, uh.” He ran a hand through his hair. “Do you have any condoms?”

Zhenya flushed. He didn’t, or at least not the kind that would fit Sid, but now he was thinking about what they could do if he did. Sid’s fingers had felt good, and he thought he would probably like it, if they tried it. But they couldn’t go bare, not while he was in estrus. “No, I don’t have,” he said.

“Okay,” Sid said. “No problem. We could—do you wanna fuck me?”

“Yes,” Zhenya said at once. He hadn’t realized Sid’s ass would be on offer, but he had been covetously admiring it for years and wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity. “Let me get lube.”

“You don’t have condoms but you’ve got lube?” Sid asked. “Can’t jack off with hotel lotion like the rest of us?”

“No, shut up,” Zhenya said, too horny to come up with a wittier retort. He crawled off the bed and went into the bathroom to dig the lube out of his toiletry kit. When he came back, Sid had finally taken off his underwear and was on all fours on the bed, his head down and pillowed on his folded arms, and his ass high and fat and round. Zhenya stopped for a moment to stare—but only for a moment. No need to waste time looking when he could touch.

Zhenya climbed on the bed behind Sid and bent to kiss the small of his back. “Look good,” he said softly, his lips moving against Sid’s skin. He straightened and dragged his thumb down the cleft of Sid’s ass, stopping at his hole and pressing there.

Sid spread his knees wider. “Lube me up and let’s go, big guy.”

Zhenya’s laugh burst from his chest, louder than he expected. Sid turned his head around to give Zhenya a look that was probably intended to be stern, but his smile ruined the effect. He was cute. Zhenya kissed him again, right on his tailbone, before he opened the lube.

Sid took one finger so easily that Zhenya gave him a second right away. He loved to finger someone. He watched open-mouthed as his fingers sank into Sid’s body, the hot clutch of it, slick and soft. Sid shifted to work one arm beneath his body and stroke his dick, and his little hitching breaths were driving Zhenya wild. He couldn’t hold out. His dick was so hard the head was curving toward his belly. He said, hopefully, “You ready?”

“Yeah, do it,” Sid said, and Zhenya took his fingers out and shuffled closer and pressed in, groaning at the easy give of Sid’s body. He was so tight but also yielding, and Zhenya heard himself panting and gasping and couldn’t do a thing about it. He ran his hands over Sid’s cheeks and filled his palms and squeezed, and he groaned again as he watched his cock stretching Sid’s hole, overwhelmed by the visual even more than the feeling.

“Sid, you look,” he said, his fingertips making divots in Sid’s thick ass.

Sid huffed. “Can you hold off until I come?”

Zhenya gave himself a 50/50 chance. Maybe 75/25. “How fast you come?”

“I’ll make it quick,” Sid said, and moved his hand faster.

Zhenya did his best to draw it out. He didn’t watch himself fucking Sid, even though he really wanted to. Instead he stared at the ugly art mounted on the wall above the bed. He kept his thrusts short and shallow, to make Sid moan, instead of going for the long deep strokes he really wanted. “Keep going,” Sid said a few times, and then he said, “There, there, fuck, keep going,” and Zhenya did his best to rub the head of his dick in that exact spot. He risked a glance, and Sid’s upper back was flushed pink: probably a good sign.

Sid got quiet as he started tensing up. Zhenya tried the reach-around, because he wanted to help, but Sid smacked him away and said, “I’ve got it, I’ve,” and then a minute later he groaned and squeezed rhythmically around Zhenya’s dick, his flush spreading all down his back as he came.

Zhenya pushed deep and let Sid work himself through it. Sid’s arm slowed and stopped. He moved forward and then back, pushing back onto Zhenya’s dick.

“Okay?” Zhenya asked. He patted Sid’s hips, and finally succumbed to temptation and slapped his ass, just once, sharply on the right cheek.

“Jesus,” Sid said. He kicked his foot against Zhenya’s calf. “Yeah, go for it. You can come in me.”

Zhenya didn’t have to be told twice. He leaned forward, flattening Sid onto the mattress, blanketing Sid’s body with his own. He hooked his arms under Sid’s armpits and gripped his shoulders for leverage, grinding his hips against Sid’s ass and mouthing clumsily at the nape of Sid’s neck. He tried to be a considerate lover, to give more than he got in bed, but he felt selfish now, deep in heat, and it was so good to use Sid’s ass for his own pleasure, to fuck how he wanted until he came.

Sid reached back blindly to touch his hip. “G, hey,” he said quietly, and Zhenya’s eyes squeezed shut and his fingers tightened on Sid’s shoulders as he went hot and let his orgasm roll through him at last.

He went limp on top of Sid, sweating and pleased. He wanted to go again.

Sid let him lie there for a minute, his dick going soft in the mess of Sid’s ass. Then Sid said, “Come on, you’re heavy,” and Zhenya reluctantly permitted himself to be rolled off to one side, well away from the wet spot. Sid had come a lot.

“That take the edge off?” Sid asked. He scooted in and drew one of Zhenya’s thighs up to rest on his hip, and slid his hand along Zhenya’s hamstring, gliding his palm over the curve of Zhenya’s ass, his fingers dipping into the cleft and then teasing forward to rub over Zhenya’s cloaca again. “You still feel pretty wet.”

Zhenya squirmed closer, trying to hide how pleased he was by Sid’s continued attention. He reached between their bodies and stroked his fingers over Sid’s dick. Even soft, the divide between the two heads was obvious. Zhenya had never gotten to touch one, and he was curious. He’d tried a few times, but after a humiliating incident in Vancouver in which Fedorov told him he smelled unripe, he had decided to wait for puberty.

Sid went tense, watching Zhenya’s hand, his own hand motionless between Zhenya’s legs. His stillness made Zhenya feel guilty, like he was doing something wrong, but why couldn’t he touch? He stubbornly trailed his fingers along Sid’s shaft, down toward where the heads split.

Sid took hold of his wrist. “That’s enough. Come on, quit playing around. It’s not a toy.”

“I don’t play,” Zhenya said, aggravated by how Sid phrased it, like Zhenya was being frivolous. “Sid—”

“Okay, so let me touch your pouch,” Sid said. He ran his fingertips over the small wrinkled opening, making Zhenya squirm and kick from how sensitive he was. He cleaned his pouch once a week in the shower, and sometimes played idly with the stretchy opening while he watched TV, and it never felt like that.

“Stop,” Zhenya said, when Sid teased one fingertip just inside. His nipples were throbbing. He reached down to push Sid’s hand away.

Sid huffed. “Yeah, see? There you go.”

“It’s for baby,” Zhenya insisted, because his pouch and Sid’s dick were in different sexual categories, but then he fumbled to a stop before he could really work up a head of steam. He hadn’t thought about it, but that was the whole point, wasn’t it? He could have a baby now, if he wanted to.

“Yeah? What is it you think my dick’s for?” Sid said. “I’m gonna order some room service, I’m starving.” He sat up on his knees and then reached back to touch his hole, and Zhenya realized with a new flush of heat that he was feeling Zhenya’s small dribble of come slide out of him. God. He wanted to keep Sid in bed and fuck him three times in a row until he was filled with a reasonable load.

“You stay?” Zhenya asked.

Sid glanced down at him. “I mean—yeah. You don’t seem like you’re done.” His expression shifted. “Or if you’d rather be alone, I mean, I can go—”

“No,” Zhenya said, warmed through. Of course he wanted Sid to stay and order a cheeseburger for him and get him off again. Maybe he could even talk Sid into spending the night. He loved sleeping with someone else in the bed. “Please stay.”

“All right,” Sid said, smiling, and reached down to touch Zhenya’s cheek before he climbed off the bed.

+ + +

Zhenya woke a few times in the night, sweaty and agitated, and was comforted by the sound of Sid’s steady breathing beside him in the bed. In the morning, Sid put Zhenya over his lap and rubbed his cloaca through two orgasms, and then Zhenya got himself off a third time in the shower after Sid went back to his own room, and then he felt like he could probably survive until the game. It was an afternoon game, so that helped.

He ran into Ilyusha in the corridor outside the locker room, before morning skate: almost physically ran into him coming around a corner. “Watch it,” Ilyusha said in English, and then seemed to realize who had nearly collided with him. He narrowed his eyes. “Thanks for cancelling on me at the last minute, Zhenka.”

“Sorry,” Zhenya said. His whole plan seemed stupid and embarrassing now. He would never admit to Ilyusha why he had asked him to dinner. Sid knew, but he wouldn’t tell. “Wasn’t feeling well. Something I ate on the plane disagreed with me.”

“Good, that means we’ll kick your asses tonight,” Ilyusha said.

“Big talk coming from an old man,” Zhenya said cattily, but then the Devils did kick their asses. It was a wild game from start to finish; Zhenya took three penalties, and the Devils scored on one of them, and he knew he was fucking up but he couldn’t help it. He was too big for his skin. He went into the bathroom at the second intermission and shut himself in a stall and pressed his fingers into his cloaca, like Sid had, until he came, but even that didn’t help. He needed more, he needed—God. He was fertile, and his body was waiting for someone to impregnate him, and he would be uncomfortable and horny at all times until it was over. And then it would happen again in another month and a half. He already hated it.

He watched Sid look at him when he went back into the locker room, his nostrils flaring. Zhenya was sure he reeked with it. He imagined stopping at Sid’s stall and sliding his fingers into Sid’s mouth, to let him suck any lingering hint of flavor from Zhenya’s skin.

They were home by dinnertime. Zhenya had simmered unhappily through the whole flight, and he jogged after Sid on the tarmac and said, “Sid, wait—”

Sid stopped and turned to look at him. Zhenya thought he probably looked disheveled and frantic. He could go home alone and take care of himself, but he wanted to do it with Sid again; maybe they could stop and get condoms. The kind that would fit.

“You need it again, huh,” Sid said, like he thought Zhenya was desperate for it, which—well, he was. Zhenya scowled and shoved his hands in his coat pockets. Sid grimaced and reached for him and said, “No, I didn’t—I’m not trying to, uh. Embarrass you, I just. Maybe you could come home with me? I’ll feed you.”

“Okay,” Zhenya said, and then, feeling a little shy, “Thanks.” He craved Sid’s time and attention and hoped Sid didn’t know, because it was humiliating. He’d had a low-level crush on Sid as long as he’d known him, and thought he kept it hidden pretty well, but maybe he had done something during sex to clue Sid in. He didn’t want Sid to pity him.

He put Sid’s address into his phone and let it direct him. Sid had moved into an apartment downtown while his house was being finished, and Zhenya had been there only once, about a month ago, for a team movie night at which Sid had far too much food and far too little furniture. Zhenya got the feeling Sid was still spending a lot of time at the Lemieux house. The apartment looked a little more lived-in now, with an overflowing shoe rack in the entryway where Zhenya took off his coat and his suit jacket, and a homey jumble of crap on the kitchen counter, junk mail and protein bars, and a sweatshirt that looked so cozy that Zhenya pulled it on immediately. It smelled like Sid. The front had a lighthouse on it.

“So, uh,” Sid said. He rubbed a hand over his head, fluffing up his hair. “You wanna eat first, or—?”

As much as Zhenya wanted to drag Sid into the bedroom at once, he knew he needed dinner more than he needed Sid’s dick. He had eaten after the game, but his stomach was growling again already. “Maybe eat first.”

Sid reheated stew on the stove and served it along with some crusty bread for dipping. Zhenya ate every bite and used the bread to wipe the bowl clean. He hadn’t been hungry like this since his first year in the league.

“You want seconds?” Sid asked him.

Zhenya considered it. “Later?”

Sid grinned. “Yeah, okay.”

Now that they had done it once, everything seemed easier. Sid’s bedroom smelled like him, the flannel sheets and especially the pillow, which Zhenya buried his face in. He could keep it together in public when he had to, but they were alone now, safely hidden away, and Zhenya could let himself snuggle into the blankets and rub his face against Sid’s pillowcase and feel as giddy and eager as he wanted.

Sid laughed softly as he joined Zhenya beneath the blankets, slinging one leg over Zhenya’s waist and pressing a kiss to his shoulder. “Happy there, G?”

“Yes,” Zhenya mumbled into the pillow. Sid was still wearing his fucking underwear for some reason, but Zhenya could feel his erection, which was mostly what mattered. He turned his head and kissed the tip of Sid’s nose, and Sid laughed again and nudged Zhenya over onto his side.

Sid’s warm naked body distracted Zhenya from the underwear issue. He kissed Sid and ran his hands over Sid’s back, and Sid held him close and worked a thigh between his legs, giving Zhenya something to rub himself against. He happily got to work, grinding on Sid’s thigh as they made out, his whole body singing with the pleasure of getting what he wanted. He came as quickly and easily as letting out a breath of air, shaking in the tight circle of Sid’s arms.

Sid kissed his jaw, smiling against Zhenya’s skin. “You want another?”

“Yes,” Zhenya said. At least one more. He was getting overheated now, and he rolled away from Sid and pushed the bedding away. Sid’s thigh gleamed where Zhenya had rubbed off on him, but Sid didn’t even seem to notice. He was looking at Zhenya’s dick as Zhenya settled on his back, and then moving to lie on top of him, kissing him again. Zhenya wrapped his legs around Sid’s hips. He wanted

But Sid squirmed away down the bed. He kissed Zhenya’s hip, his hands sliding up the insides of Zhenya’s thighs, holding his legs out of the way. He kissed the base of Zhenya’s dick. “You smell really good.”

“Okay,” Zhenya said, spreading his legs a little wider in hopes of a blowjob. He had never joined in the locker room chirping about Sid’s mouth because he couldn’t find anything funny in how red or distracting it was. He had never let himself fantasize about Sid in detail, but if he had, that mouth would have been near the top of the list.

Sid didn’t suck his dick, though. He pressed slow open-mouthed kisses along Zhenya’s groin, and then moving inward—toward his cloaca, which Zhenya realized only a moment before he felt the soft press of Sid’s tongue against his rim.

In an unthinking panic, he reached down to grab at Sid’s hair and stop him. What if he smelled bad? What if he tasted weird? He had showered after the game, but that was hours ago now. What if—

“Hey,” Sid said. He gently reached up to disentangle Zhenya’s fingers. When Zhenya shot a cautious look down the length of his body, Sid was smiling up at him. “I want to, okay?”

“Fine,” Zhenya said, releasing him. The inexplicable behavior of several girlfriends of his youth abruptly made a lot more sense. It was a different anxiety from getting his dick sucked—like it was more personal, somehow, which he had to acknowledge didn’t make any sense. It was new, and he didn’t know how Sid would react. But it was Sid’s funeral; Zhenya lay back and let him at it.

Sid curled his arms under Zhenya’s thighs and tugged him closer. He started kissing again, this time around the edges of Zhenya’s cloaca, skirting the sensitive skin where Zhenya most wanted to be touched. He drew nearer and then away, back into the crease of Zhenya’s hip, and finally it occurred to Zhenya that Sid was deliberately trying to tease him.

Sid,” he said, and knocked his feet against Sid’s ribcage.

Sid turned his head to laugh against Zhenya’s inner thigh. “Something wrong?”

“I’ll find someone else,” Zhenya threatened in Russian. “I’ll go back to Newark.”

“I have no idea what you’re saying,” Sid said, but maybe something in Zhenya’s tone had gotten through, because his next kiss was carefully pressed right to Zhenya’s slicked-up rim.

Zhenya gripped the pillow beneath his head as Sid kissed him all over and then started using his tongue, soft little laps like he was cleaning up the mess between Zhenya’s legs, and maybe he was. It felt like nothing else, repeated hot twists of pleasure so shocking at first that Zhenya flinched with every pass of Sid’s tongue. He had to force himself to settle into it, to breathe and let the sensations come.

He buried both hands in Sid’s hair, his thumbs catching the slight movements of the muscles in Sid’s temples as his jaw worked. Sid ate him out hungrily, holding Zhenya right against his mouth, and groaning repeatedly like he was getting off on it as much as Zhenya was. Zhenya started unconsciously flexing his hips against the sweet drag of Sid’s mouth, feeling himself tensing up again, and a slow pass of the flat of Sid’s tongue brought him over the edge.

Sid didn’t let up at all. He sucked on Zhenya’s rim as Zhenya cried out, overstimulated but still wanting it, Sid’s hands gripping Zhenya’s thighs almost hard enough to hurt. Sid groaned loudly, his mouth sloppy against Zhenya, but it didn’t matter, because Zhenya was there again, a few tears squeezing out of his closed eyes as he shook through it.

Sid pulled back—not far. When he spoke, his breath was warm on Zhenya’s wet flesh. “I can get you off again.”

Three orgasms would tide him over until he could eat another bowl of stew. “Come here,” he said, tugging gently at Sid’s hair, and Sid made his way back up the bed. His mouth was all shiny. Zhenya kissed him anyway, tasting himself, a little tangy. Sid settled on top of him and kissed him more deeply, which made Zhenya start thinking the stew could wait. The pressure of Sid’s body against his abdomen had Zhenya arching beneath him. His nipples had leaked a thin liquid into his pouch during the game, making everything sticky and damp, and cleaning himself in the shower at the arena had felt much better than he expected. He had spent the flight thinking about Sid touching his opening, Sid pushing his fingertip inside, working himself into a frantic state of mingled arousal and shame.

“You fuck me?” he asked. That was a safe thing to ask for. Surely Sid had the right kind of condoms.

“Oh, uh.” Sid sat up. His expression was sheepish. “I already came.”

Zhenya stared up at him, and then at the bulge of his dick: clearly soft, and the dark fabric of his underwear was darker at the crotch. He’d gotten off humping the bed with his mouth on Zhenya’s—his pussy. Remembering Sid saying that, his voice hushed against Zhenya’s ear, made Zhenya want to squirm and push Sid back between his thighs.

He carefully cupped Sid’s soft dick. The fabric was damp. “You like so much?”

Sid shrugged. “I mean, I do, but it’s also—you’re really, uh. Putting out pheromones or whatever. It’s had me pretty worked up.”

Zhenya didn’t know what pheromones were, but he could figure it out from context. Sid liked how he smelled. Well, so did every other shifter who’d gotten a whiff. He was in heat. Anyone would take a second look.

“Hey,” Sid said. He bent down to kiss Zhenya. “You want something else to eat? Let me change out of these shorts.”

“Okay,” Zhenya said. He watched as Sid climbed off the bed and went into the bathroom. The good feelings from his orgasm were fading, leaving him cold and a little disappointed. He reached down to pull the blankets over his body. He hadn’t been done, but—Sid was done. He probably wanted Zhenya to leave, so he could get on with his evening. Whatever it was that Sid liked to do in his free time these days. They didn’t hang out anymore the way they used to. Every time Zhenya texted Sid about it, Sid mysteriously had other plans.

Now thoroughly unhappy, Zhenya rolled over to poke around in Sid’s bedside table to distract himself from these unwelcome emotions. The drawer contained lube, condoms that wouldn’t fit Sid’s new dick, a dildo, and nothing else. Zhenya took out the dildo to inspect it. It was a decent size, matte black in color but shaped like a real dick. The single head was the right shape for a human vagina, or maybe for Sid’s ass, based on how happily he’d taken Zhenya’s dick the day before.

“You wanna try that?” Sid asked, coming back into the bedroom, naked now and mopped clean.

“It’s wrong shape,” Zhenya said. He dropped it back into the drawer. “Won’t fit.”

“Right,” Sid said. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “I’ll heat up some more food.”

“Come back in bed,” Zhenya blurted. He could blame it on hormones, maybe. He wasn’t ready to get up—for it to be over.

Sid turned away and opened a dresser drawer. “I thought you were hungry.”

Frustration itched beneath his skin. Why couldn’t Sid read his mind? Asking was too hard. “Sid,” he said. “Five minutes, okay?”

Sid glanced at Zhenya over his shoulder. Zhenya didn’t know what expression he wore, but Sid abandoned the dresser and climbed back in bed with Zhenya, tangling their legs together and arranging the blankets to make a warm nest. He dropped a kiss on Zhenya’s shoulder. “This what you wanted?”

“Yes,” Zhenya said, too content to be embarrassed. He turned toward Sid’s body, burying his face in the crook of Sid’s neck. “Let’s shift, okay?” Even more than sex, he longed for the comfort of lying in wordless silence and grooming each other.

“We probably shouldn’t,” Sid said. His arm slid around Zhenya’s waist. “We’d probably fuck like that, and—you know.”

Zhenya grumbled to himself in Russian, but he knew Sid was right. His impulse control always took a hit in his other form. If he got knocked up—if he let Sid knock him up—he would never hear the end of it.

“When your heat’s over,” Sid said. “I’ll come over.”

Zhenya lifted his head to check Sid’s face. “Promise?”

He waited for Sid to roll his eyes or express some other sign of impatience. But Sid only smiled and said, “Yeah, G. I promise.”

+ + +

His heat wasn’t so bad the next day. He got himself off in the morning before skate, and again before his nap, and after it, and he managed to behave himself during the game. He didn’t take any penalties. He even assisted on Nealsy’s goal, the only goal the Penguins scored during that game. Fucking Devils.

In the locker room afterward, in the few minutes before Jen let the press into the room, Sid pulled him aside and said, “You need me to, uh.”

“No, it’s fine,” Zhenya said, magnanimous even in defeat. “I go home, sleep. No problem.” Of course it would be nice to have Sid again, but he shouldn’t get too reliant. He would have to deal with this every six weeks for the next couple of decades; he needed to learn how to cope with it on his own.

“Okay,” Sid said. He looked at Zhenya for another moment, and then shrugged and went back to his own stall.

At home, Zhenya got himself off thinking about Sid’s mouth. He had gotten his blowjob the night before, after more stew: Sid’s mouth on him and Sid’s fingers inside him, which had made the whole experience so intense that Zhenya had genuinely thought he might pass out. Zhenya had sat up against the headboard with Sid sprawled between his bent legs, greedily watching Sid bob his head on Zhenya’s dick. He came quickly now, thinking about it, and came again, not long after, wondering what it would be like to have Sid fuck him. Good, probably. He slid his fingers as deep as they would go and imagined it was Sid’s cock inside him. A guy could dream.

He felt even better the next day, and by the day after that, his heat was over. He was still itchy and horny, but only at levels he was coming to begrudgingly accept were his new normal. At least for the next six to nine months, until puberty was over.

“All done?” Sid said to him at the rink that morning, while they were waiting around during practice.

Zhenya shrugged. “Guess so.” He glanced around to make sure nobody was paying attention, and then said, “Thanks for help me.”

“I was happy to,” Sid said. He looked down at his skates as he shuffled his feet back and forth on the ice.

Zhenya tried to think of something else to say and couldn’t. It didn’t matter, because in another moment Bylsma called his name, and he skated up to take his turn at the drill.

+ + +

He had thought that having sex with Sid might mark a turning point. Not necessarily a transformation in their relationship. He hoped more for a return to the way things had been before the lockout: Sid over at his house at least a couple of times a week, to watch TV after dinner and maybe shift forms for a while, a pattern they had established as soon as Zhenya moved out of the Gonchar home. He still didn’t know why Sid had been acting so weird, but had settled on a vague mental explanation about Sid feeling uncomfortable with his change. Surely that was over now, with Zhenya going through his own change. Life could go back to normal.

Instead, a week went by with Sid acting the same way he had since Zhenya got back from Russia: friendly but distant. He chatted with Zhenya at practice like always, but there were no invitations to go for lunch afterward, and no road trip shopping expeditions when they went to Winnipeg and Buffalo. And Sid didn’t come to Zhenya’s house, even though he had promised.

Zhenya’s frustration and hurt feelings built to a boil. Sid had promised, and he still didn’t want to hang out. Having sex with him had been a mistake. Zhenya missed his friend.

He told himself he would say nothing. Friendships changed. He was an adult, and he would take the high road, and let Sid give him the slow freeze. No need for a humiliating confrontation.

Yeah, right.

The final straw was overhearing Sid make plans with Duper to go over for dinner the next evening. He had time for Duper’s four munchkins, but not for Zhenya? It was intolerable.

He dawdled in the locker room until Sid was finished talking to reporters, and then he went over and inserted himself into Suttsy’s empty stall. “When you come over?”

Sid blinked at him. “Soon? It’s been like a week, Geno.” He wiped at his face with his towel. “You really, uh. You want that to happen, eh?”

Zhenya refused to be embarrassed. “Yes. Like we always do.” He leaned heavily on the words. He wasn’t asking for anything extraordinary. Only Sid’s presence in his life, where he had been all along.

Sid glanced down and grimaced, either annoyed or guilty. Zhenya chose to believe it was guilt. “Soon, okay? I’ll text you.”

‘Soon’ was meaningless, but Zhenya knew he wouldn’t get anything further from Sid. He went home in a dark mood and considered sending some pity-inducing messages to the team’s group chat, like maybe a picture of his feet while he watched TV, tragically alone. But Sid barely read the group chat, so Zhenya would only make himself pathetic for no reason.

Two days later, he slid into the boards playing the Panthers, and came out of it with short-term memory loss and a concussion.

Sid drove him home after the game. He came to find Zhenya in the trainers’ room, still dressed in his base layers, and Zhenya was too dazed at first to understand what was going on. “I’ll take you home,” Sid said again: the only good thing that had happened to Zhenya all day. He wouldn’t have to be alone, and he would get to be with Sid.

They were both quiet on the way to Zhenya’s house. Zhenya knew they were both thinking of the long ordeal of Sid’s concussion. Maybe Zhenya would be fine in the morning. Maybe he would never play hockey again. There was no telling.

Sid made him sit at the kitchen table while he cooked some of Zhenya’s freezer pelmeni. “You should try to eat something,” he said, when Zhenya made faces over it. “I know you feel awful. But your body needs it.”

Zhenya ate half of the bowl—or at least part of it—and Sid finished the rest, with a pleased smile, because most of the time Zhenya wouldn’t let him deplete the pelmeni stash. He ordered them in bulk from a Russian restaurant in Pittsburgh. They were almost as good as his mom’s.

“Do you want me to stay?” Sid asked quietly, when he was done eating, and Zhenya had slumped over onto the table and pillowed his head in his arms.

He peeked out with one eye at Sid’s question. He wanted his parents, or maybe Ksusha, who liked to spoil him. But Sid was nearly as good. “You spend the night?”

“If you’d like me to,” Sid said. “We can, uh—it might help you to shift. It made me feel better, when things were really bad.”

Zhenya hadn’t known that. Maybe that was why Sid didn’t want to spend time with him anymore: it reminded him of his concussion. They had spent many days together in their other forms while Zhenya was recovering from his knee surgery.

“What is it?” Sid said, peering at him.

“Nothing,” Zhenya said. “Yes, please stay.”

He spent the night curled up with Sid on the floor of his bedroom, Sid’s tail draped over his eyes like he wanted to protect Zhenya from the light. His headache was bad in the morning, and Sid tucked him into bed and made him drink some water and called Dr. Vyas. Nobody would think it was strange. Shifters were always like this: in each other’s pockets, in and out of each other’s beds. Not Sid and Zhenya, though.

“I’m going to keep an eye on you,” Sid announced, when he hung up the phone. “And you’ll see Dr. Vyas again on Monday.”

“I play tomorrow,” Zhenya said, muffled from within his nest of blankets and pillows. Surely he would be better by then.

Sid scoffed. “You’re not playing tomorrow. Don’t even think about it.”

“You not a doctor,” Zhenya said, although he would acknowledge, privately, that Sid probably knew as much about concussions as anyone did.

“S-I-D C-R,” Sid said. “Doctor. It’s right there in my name. Don’t argue with me. I’m going to the store to get you some ginger ale. I’ll be gone for like half an hour. Don’t call Bylsma and tell him you’re playing tomorrow.”

That was a good idea: Bylsma had no sense and would consider it. “No, I don’t call,” Zhenya lied.

“I mean it,” Sid said. “Even if you try it, he’ll just talk to Vyas to confirm. Don’t get out of bed. I’ll be back soon.”

“Fine,” Zhenya said, and pulled the blankets up over his head.

Sid came back with three bags of groceries and stayed the whole weekend, even though Zhenya did feel much better by Sunday morning. He was thrilled to have Sid cooking in his kitchen and sleeping with him on the floor at night and wearing Zhenya’s clothes. Sid even lay down with him on the couch when he got back from the game on Sunday night and found Zhenya still awake, watching the Ducks play the Avalanche in his lamplit den. The couch wasn’t really big enough for both of them, and after some uncomfortable squirming around, Sid ended up mostly on top of Zhenya, his head tucked beneath Zhenya’s chin.

Zhenya rested his hands carefully on Sid’s lower back, his heart throbbing hard in his chest. They had never done anything like this in their humans forms. Wearing skin, Zhenya had only been so close to Sid the two times they had sex.

“It’s good game tonight,” he said, when Sid didn’t say anything, only pressed his face against Zhenya’s neck. “Two goals for you.”

“You watched?” Sid said.

Zhenya rolled his eyes. Obviously he had watched. He untucked Sid’s shirt from his trousers and cautiously slid his hands underneath. Sid’s back was a little clammy, like he had showered and dressed before he cooled down from the game.

The second period had just started. Perry scored a few minutes in, the first goal for Anaheim. “Not bad,” Sid said.

“Yes,” Zhenya said. The Ducks went on the power play less than a minute later, and scored again. Zhenya fought the urge to ask Sid if he had eaten anything. Sid knew how to take care of himself. He fought the urge to turn his head and kiss Sid’s damp hair. He said, “Why you’re weird since I come back?”

Sid sucked in a breath and then let it out again, slowly. Zhenya waited, his stomach churning. Sid always took a while to consider his words when he was backed into a corner, and Zhenya understood but it also drove him up the wall. Finally, Sid said, “It’s not anything you did. I was hoping you wouldn’t notice.”

He was an idiot. Of course Zhenya had noticed. All this time he had been making excuses for Sid and telling himself he was only imagining Sid’s new distance. But of course it was real. He pressed his hands to Sid’s backbone and said, “You hurt my feelings.”

Sid drew another huge breath. He covered his eyes with one hand, even though his head was turned toward the TV and Zhenya already couldn’t see his expression. “It looked really bad when you went into the boards. You were behind the net, so I didn’t see it happen, but. The replay. And you took so long to get up.”

“Okay?” Zhenya said. “But I’m fine.” He didn’t know why Sid was bringing this up now and didn’t understand what it had to do with Sid’s weird behavior. A teammate getting hurt during a game was always scary, but Zhenya had already cleared himself to return to the lineup and was only waiting for Dr. Vyas to agree with him.

Sid huffed. “Yeah.” His hand was still over his eyes. “Listen, uh. You’ve smelled really good to me. Since you got back after the lockout. And I know you don’t want that, that we’re just—and I knew having sex would make it worse, and guess what, it did.” He groaned deep in his chest. “I’m an idiot.”

“I smell good?” Zhenya said, focusing on the easiest part of all of that.

“Well, yeah,” Sid said. “Obviously I’m attracted to you.”

“Oh, obviously,” Zhenya said. He needed to see Sid’s face for the rest of this conversation. He nudged at Sid’s shoulders until Sid sat up, and Zhenya sat up, too, taking in the rumpled uneven curls of Sid’s drying hair, and the determined jut of Sid’s jaw, the way he looked when he was embarrassed but resolved to power through.

“Sorry I’ve made it awkward,” Sid said. He grimaced and looked away. “I thought I could, like. Keep my distance until it stopped being a problem. I wasn’t trying to hurt you.”

“Sid, it’s two of us for so long,” Zhenya said. “Of course I notice.”

“Yeah, well.” Sid looked down at his hands. “Sorry.”

Zhenya scooted closer and nudged him. “You want sex with me?”

“I already had sex with you,” Sid said. He glanced at Zhenya. He looked so uncertain. His furrowed brow filled Zhenya with a tender ache. They had both changed, and their friendship was changing, too. Zhenya didn’t know what new form it would take in the end.

“We can do again,” Zhenya said. He had been unhappy for more than a month, missing Sid, wondering what had happened, trying not to care. He wanted to get as much of Sid as he could—as much as Sid would give him.

Sid glanced at him again, sidelong. “You’d want to?”

“You think I’m not attract?” Zhenya said. He studied Sid’s dark eyes and soft mouth. “After I’m in heat—”

“It was my idea,” Sid said. “You just went along with it.” He shrugged. “Figured I was the easiest option.”

“No,” Zhenya said. He scooted even closer, so that his thigh was pressed against Sid’s, and laid one hand on Sid’s knee. He could feel the warmth of Sid’s body through the fine wool of his trousers. “After it’s so good? And I follow you at airport—”

“You didn’t want to do it a third time,” Sid said.

His objections were infuriating, but also fascinating, because he had them all lined up and ready to go. Like maybe he had been thinking about this and trying to explain Zhenya’s behavior to himself. It was strange for Zhenya to think of himself as mysterious to Sid, because he felt like an open book at all times.

“I don’t want to ask too much,” Zhenya said. “Then maybe you get tired of me.” He gently squeezed Sid’s knee. “Maybe you say no, and then I’m embarrass.”

“I wouldn’t—jeez,” Sid said. “I wouldn’t have said no.” He curled his hand around Zhenya’s forearm, right above the wrist. “You were really worried about that?”

Zhenya shrugged. Of course he had been. Nobody liked being rejected.

“Well. For the record,” Sid said. “I wouldn’t have said no.”

“Okay,” Zhenya said, looking down at Sid’s hand on his arm. A sweet quiver of pleasure stirred in his belly. He knew Sid well enough to speculate about what had been going on in his head: he had felt guilty for—whatever, lusting after Zhenya or whatever, and had stayed away because of it. He hadn’t grown tired of Zhenya. He didn’t want to stop being friends. Zhenya said, “You want—tonight?”

Sid drew in a breath and met Zhenya’s gaze, and held it for a moment, long enough that Zhenya began to think it might happen. But then Sid shook his head and said, “It’s late. I gotta be at the airport early tomorrow.” The team had a road trip. Zhenya, to his disgust, had been told to stay home.

“Okay,” Zhenya said, only a little disappointed. He was tired, too, and ready for sleep. And his head was hurting a little after watching the game. Not that he would admit it.

“I won’t be gone for too long,” Sid said. “When I get back—”

“Yes,” Zhenya said. His heart beat in a quick flutter. He looked at Sid’s face, his mouth that was smiling now, a small pleased smile, like a secret. Zhenya leaned in, feeling like he was getting away with something, and pressed a kiss to the soft curve of Sid’s cheek.

+ + +

Zhenya spent the road trip masturbating and working out with Kadar. He texted Sid a few times, and Sid always responded right away, with an encouraging number of smiley faces. Zhenya went to the store and bought the right kind of condoms—two boxes, so he could take one to Sid’s apartment and leave it there. Sid kept trying to wriggle out of fucking him, but Zhenya was determined. He wanted to know what it was like.

The team got back late after beating the Canadiens in overtime. The next morning at practice, Zhenya deliberately arrived a little early and took his omelet into the lounge where Sid was sitting with Flower and Duper. Zhenya claimed the empty seat beside Sid and stretched out his legs beneath the table, pushing his feet against Flower’s until Flower swore at him in French and moved.

“Good morning to you, too, Geno,” Duper said.

Zhenya stuffed a bite of omelet in his mouth and chewed with his mouth open, grinning at Sid. “Hi, good morning.”

Flower and Duper were exchanging a look. Zhenya ignored them in favor of watching Sid. His head was bent over his plate, but Zhenya could see the way his lips were pressed together, trying to fight a smile. Zhenya knew he was adorable and he knew Sid was a sucker for his most obnoxious behavior. He would have Sid in his bed in no time.

“Geno,” Flower said loudly. “Are you playing tomorrow night?”

The thought of playing distracted Zhenya from Sid. “Yes, I think. I talk to doctor after practice. But I skate while you’re gone, it’s good, everything’s fine.”

“That’s great, G,” Sid said, beaming, and Zhenya forgot that he was supposed to be acting like a dick and returned Sid’s smile. Sid was so cute, which was a safe word to think that didn’t stir up all of Zhenya’s increasingly abundant and complicated feelings.

“Please, not over breakfast,” Flower said, and Sid turned pink and tried to kick him beneath the table, accidentally kicking Zhenya in the process, and then Duper started saying something in French, and Zhenya stopped paying attention. He finished his omelet and watched a conversation that involved a lot of smirking on the parts of Flower and Duper and a lot of gesticulating on the part of Sid. Zhenya had picked up some French over the years, but mostly the swear words. Certainly not enough to follow what they were saying.

“You come to my house tonight?” he asked Sid when he was done eating, interrupting Duper mid-sentence. Whatever they were talking about couldn’t be that important.

“Ha!” Flower said, and pointed an accusing finger in Sid’s direction.

Sid pushed Flower’s hand aside. “We can go to my place after practice,” he said to Zhenya.

“Okay, good,” Zhenya said, ignoring whatever Duper was doing with his eyebrows, and he took his plate and left them to it.

He took full contact during practice, and felt fine afterward, and was smugly thrilled when Dr. Vyas agreed at last to clear him to play. He was even more smug and even more thrilled when he found Sid waiting for him in the change room, freshly showered, his hair dripping onto the towel he had draped around his shoulders. He wasn’t dressed, just sitting there playing around with his phone, and Zhenya spent a few moments imagining sinking to his knees on the floor of the empty change room and nuzzling Sid’s thighs apart to get up close and personal with his dick.

“What’s the verdict?” Sid said.

“I play tomorrow,” Zhenya said, and Sid ducked his head and smiled and said, “Well, let’s go celebrate, then.”

Sid’s apartment was tidier than it had been the last time Zhenya went over. His cleaning service had probably come by. Zhenya followed Sid into the kitchen and loitered uncertainly at the island as Sid rummaged around in the fridge. He had thought they were going to fuck, but—they did need to eat after practice. All of this had been easier to navigate during heat, when Zhenya had been too eager to let social niceties trip him up. He hadn’t slept with Sid enough to develop an easy language of sexual initiation, the eye contact and inviting touches that would ask the question and then answer it. They would have to talk about it instead, which always seemed so inelegant.

“I don’t have much food,” Sid said, a statement completely at odds with the assortment of sandwich fixings he pulled from the fridge, lunch meat and sliced cheese, mayo, mustard, a big head of romaine. “I was gonna go to the store this afternoon, but.”

“You go tonight,” Zhenya said, pleased that Sid had derailed his shopping plans. Zhenya was at least higher on the list of Sid’s priorities than groceries were.

Sid made two sandwiches and they went into the living room to eat. Sid had a big squashy sectional with plenty of room for both of them to sprawl out. He turned on the TV and flipped through the channels until he settled on a golf tournament, which made Zhenya roll his eyes. Sid had the TV on pretty much whenever he was home, as background noise. Zhenya had never understood it, and he understood the golf fixation even less. It barely qualified as a sport.

“So,” Sid said. He stretched out on the chaise. Even slumped down, his feet didn’t hit the end of the cushion. “Just so you know, Flower and Duper think we’ve started screwing.” He took a big bite of his sandwich and raised his eyebrows at Zhenya.

Zhenya shrugged. He had figured they did, and he didn’t care. He was a little surprised they hadn’t assumed he and Sid had been fucking all along. The general assumption about shifters was that they were all having sex with each other at all times, which sounded fun but also exhausting.

“I may have implied that you’re going through a hard time right now and they should leave you alone,” Sid went on, still chewing. “So hopefully you won’t have to hear much about it.”

“I am go through hard time,” Zhenya said. “You tell them be nice to me.” Every part of him was either itchy or leaking. He thought he deserved a lot of sympathy.

Sid’s expression softened. “It’s been that bad?”

Zhenya shrugged again, uncomfortable now. It was easy to whine about something, but hard to talk seriously about his emotions. He removed the top slice of bread from his sandwich. Too much bread masked the flavor of the fillings. “No, it’s okay.”

“If you say so,” Sid said. He directed his attention to the TV and his sandwich. When Zhenya was finished eating, Sid reached over and took the discarded slice of bread from his plate and ate it: whole wheat smeared with mayo, probably soggy by now.

Zhenya got up to take their plates into the kitchen. When he went back into the living room, he hovered for a moment beside the couch, watching Sid intently watch golf. His hair was getting a little long, and as it dried it was curling at his nape. In his sweatpants and hooded sweatshirt, he looked texturally soft and cozy, which probably wasn’t what Zhenya was supposed to be thinking about him, given that he had come over to fuck.

Sid looked up at him. “You wanna—”

“Yes,” Zhenya said, even though he didn’t know for sure how Sid would have finished his sentence, and crawled into Sid’s lap.

“Oh,” Sid said. He smiled up at Zhenya as Zhenya sat on his thighs. “Hey.”

“Hi,” Zhenya said. He shifted closer, repositioning himself right on top of Sid’s crotch. Sid’s hands went to his hips, and then slid beneath his shirt to stroke his sides and the small of his back. His palms were a little callused, and the gentle scrape against Zhenya’s skin felt so nice.

“I’ve been thinking about you,” Sid said. “Having sex with you.”

“Oh?” Zhenya said, horribly pleased and hoping Sid would say more about this. “When you on road trip?”

“Yeah,” Sid said. His hands dipped beneath the waistband of Zhenya’s track pants, sliding down to cup Zhenya’s bare ass. “And before that. I don’t know. I’m gonna fuck this up, G.”

“No, it’s fine,” Zhenya said. Sid was such a worrier.

“You don’t know that,” Sid said, but he finally shut up when Zhenya bent to kiss him.

Zhenya pressed closer as they kissed, wrapping his arms around Sid’s neck and trying to discreetly grind his belly against Sid’s. His nipples weren’t swollen anymore like they had been in heat, but he had touched himself there the other day, one hand tucked into his pouch while he jerked off, and had been shocked by how sensitive they were, how good his fingers had felt. He hadn’t been able to stop thinking about it since.

“Geno,” Sid said against his mouth, and Zhenya bit down a little on Sid’s lip to hear him sigh into the kiss. Zhenya was starting to get turned on, his dick chubbing up and a low warm heat pooling between his thighs. Almost three weeks had passed since the last time he had sex with Sid, and he had thought about it every day in that time.

“What do you want?” Sid asked, a few minutes later, when his own dick was a firm ridge for Zhenya to grind against. He rested his head on the back of the couch cushion and looked up at Zhenya, his mouth swollen and wet. “I’ll eat you out again. I think you liked that.”

Zhenya ignored his sly tone and considered his options. There were too many. He wanted to do everything all at once. His erection felt more urgent than whatever was going on with his cloaca, so he said, “Sit on my dick,” already anticipating the flex of Sid’s thighs as he bounced in Zhenya’s lap.

Sid smirked. “Oh yeah? You sure that’s what you want?”

“Yes,” Zhenya said, even more certain in the face of Sid’s challenging expression.

“I gotta go get the lube,” Sid said, and Zhenya shifted aside to let him up.

They fucked right there on the couch, Sid wearing his T-shirt and nothing else, his head bowed in concentration as he rode Zhenya into the cushions. He actually let Zhenya play with his balls and his lovely pink cock, thumbing over and over each head in turn until Sid groaned and spurted over Zhenya’s hand and belly and his own shirt, a mess that threatened to drip onto the couch until Sid stripped off his shirt to mop it up, laughing at Zhenya’s expression.

“You gonna clean me up if I let you come in my ass?” Sid asked, already moving again, his hands braced on Zhenya’s shoulders.

“I don’t make big mess like you do,” Zhenya said, and Sid laughed again and rode him in a slow deep dirty rhythm that had Zhenya moaning in short order.

“How was it?” Sid asked, when they were done and had mopped up just enough to put their clothes back in order and lie tangled together on the couch. “Okay?”

“Forecheck is okay, backcheck not so good,” Zhenya said. He moved one of Sid’s hands to his head. Sid didn’t need his ego stroked, but Zhenya needed his hair played with.

“You’ll never cut me a break, eh,” Sid said, obediently sinking his fingers into Zhenya’s hair.

“No,” Zhenya said, and then he took pity on the poor bastard and said, “Of course it’s good. You can’t tell? I come so hard, you’re so hot, it’s perfect.”

“Well. Good,” Sid said. He sounded pleased.

“It’s okay for you?” Zhenya asked, because maybe all of this was just a circuitous way for Sid to voice some complaint of his own.

Sid’s hand curved around the back of Zhenya’s skull. His thumb traced a spine-tingling line around the rim of Zhenya’s ear. Zhenya tucked his smile against Sid’s neck as Sid said, “It’s been great for me every time.”

“You like my dick,” Zhenya said.

“I do,” Sid said. “It’s a great dick.” His voice was quieter when he said, “I really like doing it with you.”

Zhenya snuggled in more comfortably against him, flushed warm with happiness and the smell of Sid’s body. Sid’s other hand settled on his back. He kept waiting for Sid to make noises about how he had things to do, but Sid had turned on the golf again and seemed content to spend his afternoon with Zhenya lying on top of him.

“You want to stay for dinner?” Sid asked after a while. “I can order sushi.”

“Thought you need groceries,” Zhenya said, his toes curling inside his socks with pleasure. Sid wanted him to stay.

“I can go tomorrow,” Sid said. “I’ll get the tuna kind.”

Like he had to sweeten the deal. “Crispy roll for you,” Zhenya said. He lifted his head to look at Sid’s face. Sid smiled at him, and Zhenya’s heart flopped over in his chest, an unfortunate but also wonderful feeling. Had there ever been any hope of this staying casual? Did Zhenya want it to? He was an idiot, but so was Sid, so he was in good company. He gave in to temptation and bent his head to kiss Sid’s mouth.

+ + +

Zhenya was back in the lineup for two glorious games, and then during the third game, in Toronto, he got crunched into the boards and injured his fucking shoulder.

“You’ll be fine, buddy,” Brooksy told him, when Zhenya was moping in the locker room after the game. The team had won, but Zhenya had been in the trainers’ room throughout overtime and the shootout and had missed all of it. “Week or two, huh? No big deal.”

“Two weeks!” Zhenya protested. “It’s too long.” He hated being injured. He was going to miss more of the season than he played, at this rate.

Brooksy ruffled his hand through Zhenya’s hair, which Zhenya hated but would tolerate because it was Brooksy. “The team’s doing fine, G. Don’t worry about it. We’ll keep it going until you’re back in the lineup.”

“I guess,” Zhenya muttered, but just then Sid finished talking to the press and met Zhenya’s eyes and gave him a look filled with as much fond sympathy as Zhenya could hope for. At least he had Sid to entertain him while he recuperated.

He had Sid a lot, lately. Sid had even come to his hotel room in Toronto the night before the game, after everyone got back from dinner, and watched TV for a while, and Zhenya had very eloquently and persuasively talked his way into giving Sid a blowjob. He couldn’t fit both heads in his mouth at once, and Sid had apologized a lot, and Zhenya had drooled everywhere, and then Sid came on his face. Zhenya counted it as a resounding success. He was looking forward to future opportunities to perfect his technique.

Sid’s calendar opened up overnight. If Zhenya texted him about coming over, he no longer had a convenient prior obligation. Most of the time, Zhenya didn’t even have to ask. They had a packed game schedule with the shortened season, but whenever Sid had a few free hours, he was on Zhenya’s couch or in Zhenya’s bed. The team held two practices in the week after Zhenya’s injury, and Zhenya ended up at Sid’s place after both of them, and somehow ended up staying the night.

Waking up in Sid’s bed and eating the breakfast Sid cooked for him made Zhenya feel like he had been wrapped in a warm blanket. There were many types of love, and Zhenya didn’t know exactly which kind Sid felt for him, but he knew that Sid did love him, and that was why he had been so crushed by Sid’s withdrawal: he was afraid of losing that love, which had been his since his first year in Pittsburgh.

He felt the full weight of Sid’s love now, in the way he smiled at Zhenya from across the room at team meals, like he didn’t care who saw or what any of them thought. Zhenya didn’t care, either. Let Flower and Duper smirk about it and make crude hand gestures in the locker room. Zhenya was getting laid more than either of them.

He watched the Penguins shut out the Rangers from the press box, and afterward talked Sid into going home with him. Sid didn’t like afternoon games because they threw off his routine, and to Zhenya’s complete lack of surprise, he fell asleep on the couch while Zhenya was still in the kitchen fixing a snack. He had gone upstairs first to change into a pair of Zhenya’s basketball shorts and a T-shirt, and Zhenya stood over him and watched his slack mouth hanging open and his hands folded over his belly and ached with tenderness.

Zhenya was undeniably going through a physical transformation: his body preparing to bear children. But the change was emotional, too. He was starting to think about the shape he wanted his life to have for all the years ahead of him. Until now, he had been satisfied with his platonic relationship with Sid because he hadn’t been ready to settle down or think about anything serious. But so many things had happened in the past year to change the way he thought about himself: the way he’d played without Sid, winning gold at Worlds, serving as Metallurg’s captain during the lockout. He wasn’t a boy anymore, to passively play hockey and follow Sid and bend with whatever life threw at him. It was time for him to decide what he wanted in the long run.

He perched on the edge of the couch and gently shook Sid’s shoulder until Sid stirred and squinted his eyes open. “Let me lie down,” Zhenya said, and Sid made a sleepy noise of agreement and turned onto his side, so that Zhenya could lie down beside him, his back against Sid’s chest. Sid kissed his nape and slung an arm around his waist and quickly relaxed back into sleep.

Zhenya slept, too, and was disoriented when he woke. The light had changed in the room as night fell, and he rarely slept on the couch unless he was sick. Sid was still tucked up behind him, one hand under Zhenya’s shirt to stroke his lower belly.

“Sid,” Zhenya croaked. He reached back blindly to pat at Sid’s hip.

“Hey,” Sid said. His hand stilled, spread flat over Zhenya’s abdomen. “You awake now?”

“No,” Zhenya said. He was warm, and Sid was so close. He didn’t want to get up yet.

“Oh, my mistake,” Sid said, and laughed a little, quietly, his breath puffing against the back of Zhenya’s neck. He went back to rubbing Zhenya’s belly, small circles right above the waistband of Zhenya’s sweats.

Zhenya drifted for a few minutes, feeling like he was encased in sleep, a hard shell that would need to crack and split before he fully woke. Sid’s hand felt so good on him. Without thinking, Zhenya reached down and dragged Sid’s hand a little higher.

“Thought you didn’t want me to touch you here,” Sid said, his fingers carefully, slowly mapping the opening of Zhenya’s pouch. Zhenya wasn’t as sensitive there as he had been during estrus, but that was a good thing, because he didn’t flinch away from Sid’s touch. It felt nice in a subtle way, like when Sid traced a wide circle around Zhenya’s cloaca, enough to tease but not enough to really get him going.

When Zhenya didn’t say anything, Sid made a soft noise and stroked him more firmly. Zhenya’s opening was narrow, almost fully closed, but there was a small gap that Sid dipped his fingertips into. Zhenya tensed, because he wasn’t sure how he felt about Sid exploring further. It was kind of—sticky inside, and maybe Sid would be grossed out. But Sid didn’t go any deeper. He crooked his fingers, very gently, and Zhenya opened up so easily, parting and opening for Sid’s fingers.

“Jesus,” Sid whispered. He tucked his thumb inside and spread his fingers apart, stretching Zhenya wide.

Zhenya moaned. It shouldn’t have felt so good, but it did. He squirmed in Sid’s arms, his entire lower body throbbing. Sid closed his fingers and opened them again, this time a little wider, and Zhenya was already frantic, more turned on than he could account for. Maybe he was going into estrus—but he wasn’t; not for another week or more, and it didn’t feel like that, anyway. Just like he wanted to get off.

He shifted and reached back to grope Sid’s cock through his shorts, hard and growing harder as Zhenya gently squeezed. The room was dim and quiet, and Sid’s inhalation was loud in Zhenya’s ear. He let Zhenya’s pouch slide shut again and rubbed his fingertips over the opening. He pressed his mouth to the back of Zhenya’s neck and whispered, “Geno—”

“Come on,” Zhenya said, fumbling around with the waistband of Sid’s shorts until he managed to work it down to bare Sid’s cock. “Fuck me.”

Sid groaned. His hand clenched on Zhenya’s belly, dragging him closer. “God, you want—here?”

“Yes,” Zhenya said. He started trying to push down his sweatpants, which gave him more trouble than Sid’s shorts had, because he had to get them down over his hips. There wasn’t room, but he didn’t want to get up and give Sid some excuse to stop.

“Fuck,” Sid said, and he started helping, tugging at Zhenya’s sweats when Zhenya braced to lift himself a few centimeters from the cushions. “This is a bad idea.”

“Sid, I’m so wet, please,” Zhenya said. His cloaca was throbbing. He wanted Sid inside him ten minutes ago.

Sid’s hand slid beneath the stretched lopsided waistband of Zhenya’s sweats and dipped between Zhenya’s thighs, his fingers slipping through the wet mess Zhenya had made. Sid bit an open-mouthed kiss at Zhenya’s nape. “Shit, you really are.”

“Come on,” Zhenya said, tugging at his pants again, and then they had it: his ass was bare against Sid’s hips, and Sid’s dick slotted between his legs, curving up hard.

Sid swore under his breath, repositioning, urging Zhenya’s top leg to bend to make room. “We need a condom?”

“No,” Zhenya said. This far out, there was no chance he could get pregnant. He didn’t want to stop or get up, and he wanted Sid bare inside him; he wanted Sid to come inside him. “It’s fine, do it, Sid—”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Sid muttered, and pushed inside.

It burned at first, not bad but enough to make Zhenya wince, because it was unexpected. He reached back to grab Sid’s hip, hissing through his teeth. “Careful—”

“Sorry, I’m sorry,” Sid said, but he was already in, and the pain was over. There was only a tender stretch, and a deep fullness. Sid said, “Should I—”

“No,” Zhenya said, tightening his hand to keep Sid from pulling out. “It’s good now, you can,” and Sid swore again and began to move.

His thrusts were slow and shallow, which was probably a good thing, because Zhenya wasn’t sure he would survive a thorough fucking. Even this gentle drag of Sid’s cock inside him had him tensing up immediately. Fingers were great, but this was—bigger, and deeper, hitting something with every stroke that felt amazing, and Zhenya breathed through his mouth and tried to relax and lost it anyway. A dozen cautious thrusts from Sid and Zhenya helplessly moaned his way through his orgasm.

“G,” Sid gasped, his hand flat on Zhenya’s belly. “You’re coming?”

Obviously, Zhenya wanted to say, but he was still shaking through it.

Sid didn’t stop moving, even as Zhenya finished and went limp. His cock felt huge and so hard, tugging at Zhenya’s oversensitive rim as he rocked his hips. Zhenya squeezed around him and decided he was probably going to come again, and Sid groaned and said, “Geno, fuck.”

“It’s good?” Zhenya said, certain that it was from how much noise Sid was making. He still wanted to hear it.

“You’re so fucking,” Sid said, “soft, and—wet, I’m. God, can you come again?” He slid his hand down to palm Zhenya’s cock, which was only a little bit hard, but that wasn’t where the action was happening. Zhenya squeezed again and Sid said, “You’ve gotta stop doing that or I’m gonna come.”

“Good,” Zhenya said, but he did want to get off again first. He dragged Sid’s hand back to his belly and pressed it there, over his pouch. Sid mouthed at his nape and fucked into him less carefully and deeper, going slowly to grind in, his hips hard against Zhenya’s ass. Zhenya had been thinking about this for weeks, and it was better than any of his fantasies, Sid warm and close behind him, groaning and kissing the back of Zhenya’s neck and moving inside him, just—amazing. Sid wasn’t the only one making a lot of noise.

Sid stopped, panting harshly. “I’m too close.”

“Don’t stop,” Zhenya said, too close himself to tolerate any interruption.

Sid began moving again, slow and deep, every thrust bringing Zhenya closer to the edge. Sid rubbed his fingertips over the opening of Zhenya’s pouch and tugged slightly, enough to make Zhenya tighten around his cock. His teeth scraped at Zhenya’s neck. He exhaled, hot and damp against Zhenya’s skin, and said, “Should I pull out?”

“No, come inside,” Zhenya said, and Sid clutched at him almost painfully as his rhythm fell apart and he shoved in hard, a few last stuttering thrusts before he groaned loudly and his hips moved in the short sharp twitches Zhenya recognized as his orgasm.

He had thought he would be able to feel Sid coming in him, that it would feel hot and wet the way it did when it spilled across his skin. He didn’t feel anything, though, which was a little bit of a letdown. Sid hadn’t even held out long enough for Zhenya to come again.

Sid kissed his nape. “Hey,” he said. He slid his hand down between Zhenya’s thighs, to stroke his thumb over the rim of Zhenya’s cloaca where it was stretched around Sid’s softening dick.

Zhenya’s back arched at the touch. “Sid,” he said, thin and high, and Sid rubbed at him until Zhenya came, feeling some of Sid’s come leak out of him, pushed out by his orgasm.

“Shit,” Sid whispered, dragging his fingers through the mess, rubbing it into Zhenya’s rim, making him cry out as he trembled from how good and overwhelming it was. Sid was going soft and slipping out of him, but he shoved his fingers in to replace his dick, plugging his come inside.

Zhenya moaned, beyond words. He felt tender and heavy between his legs, a little sore, and excruciatingly sensitive. Sid’s fingers worked in and out, fucking him, making a huge wet tacky mess that Zhenya could feel smearing all over his thighs. He didn’t want this to stop, maybe not ever: a whole eternal lifetime of Sid fucking him in the dark on his too-small couch.

Sid usually couldn’t shut up during sex, but he didn’t say anything now, only sucked and bit at Zhenya’s nape and rubbed his thumb over Zhenya’s rim, unrelenting. Zhenya let himself fall into the feeling, like rolling down a slope in the cut grass, picking up momentum as Sid worked him over until he plunged straight into his orgasm, shaking in Sid’s arms.

Sid murmured things that Zhenya couldn’t hear as he eased out his fingers and tugged Zhenya’s sweatpants back into place. They were filthy with come, but better his pants than the sofa. Sid’s arm slid around his waist, his fingers still wet from Zhenya’s body. Zhenya rotated backward into the broad warmth of Sid’s body and closed his eyes. His limbs were heavy with contentment.

He felt Sid nosing at his hairline. “You passing out on me?”

“No,” Zhenya said. He wriggled and drew Sid’s arm around him more firmly. “I’m hungry.”

“Trying to get me to make you dinner, huh,” Sid said. He kissed the back of Zhenya’s neck. “Was that okay? The—I know you haven’t done that before.”

“Best,” Zhenya said. “I’m think about lots. I want to do before. But you not—” He brought Sid’s hand to his face and kissed his palm. “I think you’re, like. You shy about your dick.”

“I’m not shy,” Sid said, but then shut up as Zhenya took Sid’s fingers into his mouth, the same ones that had been inside him, and sucked gently. They tasted like Sid’s come and the musky tang of Zhenya’s body. He sucked harder. He was done for now, but maybe they could do it again later.

“Tell me,” he said eventually, pulling off Sid’s fingers once they tasted like nothing but skin. “You don’t tell me when you change.”

Sid made a noise that was somewhere between a groan and a sigh. “Because it sucked. It kind of—hurt. And I was, uh. I had started seeing someone, and it didn’t—we couldn’t make it work. We kept trying, but we couldn’t, uh.”

“What?” Zhenya said, baffled. He didn’t know what Sid was implying.

Sid sighed. “She was weirded out by my dick, okay? She was human, and it had only been a few months, and I think it was just, like. More than she wanted to deal with.”

Zhenya flopped around awkwardly, accidentally jabbing Sid with his knees and elbows, until they were face to face. Sid regarded him warily. He was still pink from fucking, and his hair was curling a little at his forehead and nape. Zhenya couldn’t resist kissing him, and Sid softened at once, kissing him back, his arm going around Zhenya’s waist again to hold him on the couch.

“I like your dick,” Zhenya said, kissing the tip of Sid’s nose. “I like to deal with. It’s no problem.”

“You couldn’t even blow me,” Sid said, his expression deeply skeptical. “It’s weird.”

“I’m do fine,” Zhenya said, outraged. Sid had gotten off, hadn’t he?

“I liked my old dick,” Sid said, and then hunched down and tucked his face against Zhenya’s neck.

Zhenya reached between them and cupped Sid’s soft sticky dick in his hand, still hanging out of his shorts. He tugged gently and thumbed at the split between Sid’s heads. He hadn’t known Sid’s change had hurt.

Sid twitched against him and reached down to try to pry Zhenya’s fingers away. Zhenya wouldn’t let him: he liked his handful. He liked everything about Sid’s dick.

“You never let me see your old dick,” Zhenya said. “I think new one is good.” He turned his head to press his lips to Sid’s hair. “It’s not weird. It’s good for me.”

“Yeah?” Sid said. His face was hot against Zhenya’s neck.

“Favorite,” Zhenya said, and felt Sid smile.

+ + +

Sid fucked him again after dinner: in Zhenya’s bed this time, with Zhenya’s legs wrapped around Sid’s waist and Sid nailing him fast and rough. Each snap of Sid’s hips jolted a moan from Zhenya’s mouth. Zhenya jerked himself off until he came on his own belly, a shivery orgasm that spread through his whole body and seemed to go on and on.

“You’re gonna kill me,” Sid said when they were done, laughing a little, heavy on top of Zhenya and kissing his neck.

There was no reason Sid couldn’t handle going twice in one day, and he had been the one to initiate, anyway, sliding his hands inside Zhenya’s sweats while he was scrubbing out a pot at the kitchen sink. Zhenya had no remorse. He stroked across Sid’s back, pleased as always by how big and warm Sid was, and tilted his head back to let Sid get at the soft skin just under his jaw. “It’s good, though.”

He was mostly teasing, not even thinking much about what he was saying. But Sid’s voice was entirely earnest as he said, “It was great, G.”

+ + +

Zhenya knew the novelty would wear off eventually. There were many other types of sex he enjoyed and would want to have again. But for the moment, all he wanted was Sid’s dick, and he got it: every day for the next week, even in New York, the night before the game. Zhenya had wheedled his way into coming on the road trip, because maybe he would be able to play, and he was grateful for his machinations when Sid came to his hotel room and put Zhenya on all fours on the bed. Zhenya went off twice in quick succession, making so much noise that Joey V, who had the room next door, gave him several dark looks at breakfast the next morning.

Zhenya was obsessed the way he had been when he first started having sex, constantly daydreaming about the next time they would get to do it, the new positions he wanted to try. He might have been embarrassed about it except that Sid seemed just as eager, coming up to Zhenya in the workout room before practice and saying, “You wanna?” And they would go to Sid’s place afterward and fuck before they even ate anything, which was how Zhenya knew Sid was desperate for it. He usually took his post-workout nutrition very seriously.

Amid all the sex, there was time for tenderness, too. Zhenya was thrilled to have so much of Sid’s attention and took ruthless advantage. Every night that there wasn’t a game, he invited himself over to Sid’s, made cute wide-eyed faces until Sid cooked dinner for him, and then arranged Sid on the couch so that Zhenya could sit comfortably with Sid between his spread legs, leaning back against his chest, and Zhenya could duck his head to smell Sid’s hair. He couldn’t have said what they watched on TV. Golf, for all he cared. The important part was holding Sid in his arms.

“Are you ever going to learn how to cook?” Sid asked him once, as Zhenya inspected the contents of the foil-covered baking dish Sid had set in the fridge to marinate. “Or are you just gonna make me do it forever?”

“I cook,” Zhenya said, internally delighted by that casual “forever.” “But you better. And you like to do.”

“You like to eat it,” Sid said, and when Zhenya looked over he was smiling down at the apple he was cutting into slices.

Zhenya was overall pleased with how their relationship was progressing, even though Sid still seemed bothered by obscure worries he couldn’t or wouldn’t articulate. He talked a few times about the contract extension he had signed over the summer, which was old news to Zhenya and not very interesting anyway, and which consequently made no sense as a topic of conversation until Sid said, “I think they’re gonna try to sign you to a contract extension this summer.”

He and Zhenya were in bed at Zhenya’s house, getting ready to go to sleep, and Sid’s comment came after a solid ten minutes of peaceably mutually ignoring each other to look at their phones. Zhenya didn’t have a clue what had prompted Sid’s comment. He turned onto his side and said, “Yes, probably.”

Sid didn’t look up from his phone. “Have you thought any about, uh. Whether you’re going to re-sign?”

Zhenya drew his knees toward his chest and prodded Sid’s calf with his toes. “Why you think about this?” He had already told his agent and several reporters that he hoped to stay in Pittsburgh. Nothing about his intentions was a mystery.

Sid scowled at his phone. “I’m just wondering, okay? Are you gonna answer me or not?”

“Sid,” Zhenya said. He prodded Sid some more, scraping a little with his toenails until Sid redirected his scowl from his phone to Zhenya’s face. “Of course I stay. It’s my team.”

“Okay,” Sid said. His expression was more serious than Zhenya thought the conversation called for. “Your team, eh?”

Your team,” Zhenya said, wondering if he had misstepped. “I mean, like, it’s team I play for so long—”

“I know what you meant,” Sid said. “Of course it’s your team. I just meant…” He trailed off. Zhenya waited. Sid sighed and went back to scrolling through his phone.

Zhenya eeled closer. He wasn’t entirely sure what was going on in Sid’s head, because he hardly ever was, but he liked that Sid was concerned about him leaving. He mashed his face against Sid’s upper arm and said, “Of course I stay. If they want me.”

Sid huffed. “I don’t think there’s much question of that.” He put his hand on Zhenya’s head and worked his fingers into Zhenya’s hair. Zhenya tugged the blankets a little higher and settled in.

Everything was great, as far as he was concerned, aside from the ongoing irritations of puberty. He got itchier and crankier as the week went on, and after a few days made Sid start wearing condoms, because he knew now what was happening to him, and right on schedule, too. His shoulder was feeling better, but the team was doing so well that Vyas and Bylsma had decided to keep him out until he was 100%, to his irritation; but maybe he could get his heat out of the way before they put him back in, the only possible silver lining.

Halfway through watching the Penguins play the Flyers, he had to leave the press box and find an empty bathroom to jerk off in, which meant it was time for him to go. He texted Sid on his way out to the parking deck: come to my house after game

He heard the front door open a while later, and Sid calling his name. Zhenya was in the den with three fingers buried in his cloaca, and his first attempt at calling out to Sid emerged as a hoarse whisper. He had to clear his throat and try again.

Sid appeared in the doorway, his smile freezing and fading as he took in Zhenya’s state of disarray: basketball shorts around his ankles, knees bent as he finger-fucked himself. Going upstairs to change had taken most of his self-control, and coming back downstairs to fix some food had taken the rest of it. He hadn’t even made it all the way to the kitchen.

“I thought you had another couple of days,” Sid said, still standing in the doorway for some reason. He’d taken off his suit jacket and rolled up his sleeves and he looked good enough to eat, as in, Zhenya wanted to devour him whole.

Zhenya groaned. He didn’t want to explain the variability of his cycle to Sid right now. “It’s fine. It’s normal.” He could smell Sid just enough to make him want everything all at once, and Sid was so far away. He pulled out his fingers and wiped them on his shorts, and finally kicked the shorts off onto the floor. He flopped his legs apart and tried to look inviting. “Sid, come here.”

Sid took a few steps into the room. “I wasn’t sure you were gonna want me to help you through your heat again.”

Zhenya stared at him. “What? Why I don’t?”

“I just wasn’t sure,” Sid said. He went to his knees beside the couch and tugged Zhenya around to face him, and slid his hands up Zhenya’s bare thighs. “Maybe you’ve got someone else in the lineup.”

“Stupid,” Zhenya said. He touched Sid’s mouth, fat and sweet. “Who else? It’s only you.” It was true that he had considered Ilyusha, but that had been before he knew what it was like with Sid. Now he couldn’t imagine being with anyone else during his heat, when all of his longings were so close to the surface. At the very bottom of the complicated stratigraphy of his feelings for Sid, deeper and older than anything but the simple admiration Zhenya had harbored before he and Sid ever met, was an unshakeable trust. Compressed by time and the weight of the shared experiences layered above, it was solid as stone. Who else did Sid think he could want?

“I wasn’t sure,” Sid said again, and leaned up to kiss Zhenya’s mouth.

Sid dragged him to the rink in the morning for practice. Zhenya was into the worst of it by then and wanted to stay in bed and fuck until they were both rubbed raw. It was good to be on the ice, though, although by the end of practice he was desperate enough that Sid took one look at him and said, “Let’s go to my place. It’s closer.”

“Okay,” Zhenya said, dazed and sweaty. Sid brought him off just inside the front door, one of Zhenya’s legs hiked over his shoulders so he could get his mouth on every sensitive spot between Zhenya’s thighs, and after that orgasm, Zhenya was content to sit at Sid’s breakfast bar and eat the leftover pasta Sid heated up for him.

He went into Sid’s bedroom when he was finished, leaving Sid to finish his own meal, and stripped out of his clothes and crawled into Sid’s bed. The sheets were fresh and only smelled a little bit like Sid. Zhenya curled on his side and squeezed his thighs together, trying to decide how long he could wait or wanted to. He was the expert at getting himself off, but it was better with Sid smelling so good and kissing him and putting his hands on Zhenya’s body; he wanted to wait for Sid.

“You napping?” Sid asked, coming into the room, smiling at Zhenya like he loved him.

“No,” Zhenya said. He watched Sid undress, hungry as always for a good look at his thighs and ass. When Sid turned away to put his clothes in the hamper, Zhenya rolled onto his other side, his back to Sid, a wordless invitation to spoon.

Sid took him up on it, sliding in behind him and kissing Zhenya’s shoulder. He slid his hand over Zhenya’s belly, skimming over the entrance to his pouch. “Let me get you off,” he said. His thigh pushed between Zhenya’s legs, a wonderful firm pressure for Zhenya to rub against; and Zhenya happily did, grinding on Sid’s thigh while Sid played with his opening. He drifted in warm contentment, pleasure slowly winding him up until he released with a sigh.

Sid kissed his shoulder again but otherwise didn’t move. His fingertips had found their way into Zhenya’s pouch, and he tugged gently as Zhenya quieted, and then slid in a little deeper. “Can I?”

He pushed in another centimeter, tucking his pinky finger into Zhenya’s pouch, pulling him wider. Zhenya sucked in a breath and said, “Sid—”

“You let me a little,” Sid said, “before. And I went online, and—some people like it.”

Zhenya squeezed his eyes shut. How could he tell Sid that he had already tried it on his own, and liked it so well that he had done it several more times? He didn’t know why he was embarrassed. It was part of his body, and Sid seemed to like every other part. He said, “Sid, I don’t know.”

“I’d like to,” Sid said. His fingers crept a little deeper. Zhenya didn’t stop him. “I’ll stop if you don’t want me to. But I really—” He sighed, his breath warm on the back of Zhenya’s neck. “I’ve been thinking about it.”

Zhenya couldn’t resist that sweet talk, or the brush of Sid’s fingers against the tender hidden flesh inside his pouch. Sid admitting that he had fantasized about this dissolved Zhenya’s remaining objections. “It’s a little bit, like. Messy, sticky, kind of,” he said. “Maybe you don’t like.”

“Messy isn’t really a problem,” Sid said dryly, and—okay, Zhenya had made a huge mess all over his face and all over his thigh within the past hour. He hadn’t shown any signs of being squeamish.

“Okay,” Zhenya said, bracing himself for what it would feel like, and Sid slowly pushed his hand inside.

His hand was smaller than Zhenya’s, but it stretched Zhenya wonderfully, a perfect fit. Zhenya’s nipples were swollen and tender, like they had been during his last heat, and the first brush of Sid’s fingers made Zhenya hiss through his teeth. Sid froze at once and said, “Is that okay?”

“It’s like—kind of sore,” Zhenya said. He shifted, pushing into Sid’s hand. “But it’s okay.”

“Good sore?” Sid asked, cautiously thumbing over one of Zhenya’s nipples. Zhenya twitched, already overstimulated, and moaned when Sid did it again. Sid laughed softly. “Guess so.”

Sid held Zhenya and toyed with his nipples until Zhenya was squirming constantly and rocking down on Sid’s thigh, so worked up that both his dick and his cloaca were leaking. Having Sid’s hand there, where no one else had ever touched him, made Zhenya feel subversive and shivery. Sid was gentle with him, not pinching or tugging but only rubbing his fingertips over Zhenya’s nipples, his hand moving slowly inside Zhenya’s pouch, so deliriously good that Zhenya felt like he was coming out of his own skin.

“Fuck me,” he said at last, when he was too urgent to wait any longer. They hadn’t done it in this position since the first time, and he wanted that again, with Sid so close behind him and moving so slowly inside him. He turned his head toward Sid, but his neck wouldn’t rotate far enough to make eye contact. “Sid—”

“Yeah,” Sid breathed. “Let me get a condom.”

Zhenya grabbed Sid’s forearm to hold him in place, his hand buried in Zhenya’s pouch. What if you didn’t, he wanted to say, and even thinking it filled him with such a powerful combination of longing and shame that the words died unspoken in his mouth.

“Geno,” Sid choked out. His cock twitched where it was pressed against Zhenya’s ass. “You’ve gotta let me up.”

“Please,” Zhenya said. He released Sid’s arm and shifted away from Sid’s thigh, and reached down to guide Sid’s dick to his entrance.

“We can’t,” Sid said, “you’ll,” but he carefully extracted his hand from Zhenya’s pouch and reached down to take over, pinching his heads together and pushing into Zhenya’s body in a single deep perfect glide.

Zhenya groaned as Sid bottomed out. Heat-addled, all he wanted was for Sid to fuck him until he came inside.

Sid panted, clutching at Zhenya’s hip. He moved in a few jerky thrusts, and then he swore and said, “G, you know we can’t,” and pulled out.

“No,” Zhenya moaned. The mattress shifted, and he heard the nightstand drawer open. He turned onto his back to watch Sid kneeling on the bed as he fumbled around with a condom. He couldn’t believe Sid had stopped. He dipped his fingers into his cloaca, more than ready to take care of himself if Sid wouldn’t.

“Hey, come on,” Sid said. He moved over to kneel between Zhenya’s legs. He was pink all over, clear down to his shoulders and chest. “I have to, you could—” He stopped, and swallowed. “You know why.”

Zhenya knew why. He reached for Sid, and Sid lay down in his arms and slid back into him. The condom didn’t make it feel any different, not in any substantial way, but Zhenya was thinking about it now: the likely outcome if Sid hadn’t pulled out.

Sid moved in him and kissed him, a little sweaty and smelling of it, big, perfect. Zhenya wrapped his legs around Sid’s waist and held on, content for now to let Sid run the show, a little shy knowing they were both thinking about it—about Zhenya getting pregnant, about how that was a thing that could happen.

“I’d do it,” Sid whispered in his ear, his head down and his face hidden. “If you wanted me to.”

“A baby,” Zhenya whispered back, and he felt the shudder run through Sid’s body and didn’t know what to do. He wanted kids, but it had always been an abstraction, something for the future. But now the future had found him, and Sid was offering, like that was at all a reasonable thing to do; and worse, Zhenya was considering it. Not this time, not any time soon, but—they could plan it for next year, so that he would give birth right after the playoffs, and have all summer to grow the baby inside his pouch. The whole fantasy bloomed all at once. By the time the new season started, the baby would be old enough to wait in an incubator during games, and Zhenya could feed it during intermission, and Sid would be there to help him; Sid would love him; Sid would move in with him, and there was the rest of his life, neatly sorted out. He wanted it an appalling amount. He turned his head to the side and closed his eyes.

“Geno,” Sid said, a hushed breath of air, and he kissed Zhenya’s neck and moved inside him and didn’t speak again.

+ + +

Zhenya felt a little shy in the aftermath. He had said some things, and Sid had said some things, and maybe they needed to talk about that. But Sid pulled out as soon as they were done and went into the bathroom to deal with the condom, and when he came back he smiled at Zhenya and said, “You want something else to eat?”

There was no sign in Sid’s expression that he thought anything out of the ordinary had passed between them. Maybe he had said it in the heat of the moment and regretted it right away, and now he wanted to pretend that nothing had happened. Maybe he had actually forgotten. Either way, Zhenya wasn’t going to bring it up now and risk humiliation.

“Yes, okay,” he said. “Let’s eat.”

His heat lasted for another two days and ended just in time for him to rejoin the lineup. Sid stayed with him the whole time, his willing body fully at Zhenya’s disposal, and he didn’t make Zhenya talk about it at all. Zhenya was relieved at first and then, as his heat faded, suspicious and worried, because wasn’t it a little weird that they both kept pretending nothing had happened? Shouldn’t they talk about it?

He scored a goal in his first game back and felt like he could have single-handedly wrestled a bear and won. Riding the high from that, he strutted over to Sid’s stall in the locker room and said, “You come home with me.” They could talk in the morning, maybe over breakfast, and finally clear the air.

Sid had gotten two points, and he had the shiny pink bright-eyed look of a good game. He glanced up from untaping his socks and smiled, and Zhenya felt a rapid brutal surge of victory. He hadn’t spent a night alone since their last road trip, and he wouldn’t spend this night alone, either.

“I still gotta do press,” Sid said. “Forty minutes?”

It took him forty-five, but Zhenya said nothing about it. They went home and fucked in Zhenya’s bed and passed out immediately after. In the morning, Sid made oatmeal with sliced fruit and cooked the eggs exactly as runny as Zhenya liked them, and was so sleepy and smiley in a pair of Zhenya’s sweatpants that Zhenya couldn’t bring himself to say anything after all.

He was going to do it, just—when the time was right. Maybe that weekend, when they had a day off. But then he never managed to get around to it, because Sid took a puck to the mouth during their next game.

Zhenya was on the bench and saw it happen, but none of them knew at first how bad it was. There was blood, but Sid got up right away and skated off on his own; but then at the first intermission they learned he had been taken to the hospital.

“Broken jaw,” Bylsma told them. “He might need surgery. That’s all I know. We’ll keep you guys updated.”

“Shit,” Nealsy muttered.

Zhenya said nothing, but worry sat in his gut like a stone for the rest of the game, and he went down the hall to hassle Dr. Vyas as soon as he stripped out of his pads. Was this how Sid had felt after Zhenya’s concussion? He remembered Sid saying it had looked bad. Everyone worried over an injured teammate, though, and what Zhenya felt wasn’t worry but a cold consuming gripping need to see Sid as soon as possible and hold his hand and reassure himself that Sid would be okay.

Dr. Vyas couldn’t tell him much. “He’s in surgery,” he said. He looked at Zhenya for a moment and then added, “He has his phone, you know. The hospital has visiting hours tomorrow.”

Zhenya knew all of that, but hearing Dr. Vyas say it settled him somewhat. A broken jaw would make Sid miserable, but it would heal. Zhenya didn’t know the timeline, but there would be one. It wasn’t like a concussion.

He texted Sid on his way out to the car: Sid((( ❤️❤️❤️

He didn’t expect a reply, and didn’t receive one. He tried again in the morning: You want visit? I come after practice. When he checked his phone after practice, Sid had responded: Y

Zhenya wasn’t sure if that meant “why” or “yes,” but he decided to take it as the latter.

Sid was at Presbyterian, not far from the arena, and a good half hour from the practice rink if one drove like an American. Zhenya made it in much less than that and pulled into the parking deck with his hair still dripping from his post-practice shower. He jittered in the elevator up to Sid’s floor. Hospitals made him nervous: the smell, the too-bright lights. But he needed to see Sid and talk to him and maybe extremely carefully kiss his cheek, if he wasn’t too swollen, and beg Sid to never get injured again or ever leave him.

He heard voices as he came down the hall: Sid had company, and Zhenya loitered uncertainly outside the room for a few moments, trying to decide if he should interrupt. But a furtive peek revealed that it was only Tanger, out of the lineup with an injury and clearly with too much time on his hands.

Sid was hidden by the half-open door. Zhenya moved until he could see fully into the room, and his heart did a slow roll when Sid came into view: sitting up in bed, looking—well, not great, but not nearly as bad as Zhenya had expected. He mostly looked tired and swollen. But he lit up when he saw Zhenya, his eyes widening and his eyebrows lifting, like Seryozha’s daughters when they got to open their New Year’s presents.

“I see it’s time for me to go,” Tanger said, but Zhenya didn’t spare his smug expression a second glance. Not when Sid was looking at him like that.

He waited in the doorway, his hands stuffed in his pockets, as Sid and Tanger said their goodbyes. He wanted Tanger to get the fuck out immediately, but it took Tanger three million years to stand up from the chair he was sitting in and pull on his coat and pat down his pockets for his phone and keys.

“He’s on a lot of pain medication,” Tanger said quietly to Zhenya on his way out the door. “Enjoy.”

As soon as he was gone, Zhenya shut the door and took a seat in the chair Tanger had abandoned. Sid was still giving him that goofy, happy half-smile. His mouth looked like it wouldn’t entirely cooperate, or maybe it was painful to smile too widely. His eyes said it all, though: bright and not quite pointing in the same direction, and full of every feeling Zhenya could have hoped for.

“How you feel?” Zhenya asked, taking Sid’s hand in his own.

“I’m on some good drugs,” Sid said. His speech was slurred, and he had a little bit of a lisp. Zhenya could see that a bunch of his bottom teeth were missing. He squeezed Zhenya’s hand. “You came.”

Oh, God. “Of course I come,” Zhenya said. “I worry so much.”

“I saw your text message when I woke up,” Sid said, with that same dopey smile. “With the hearts.”

Zhenya couldn’t bear this. How could Sid be surprised? Surely Zhenya’s feelings were painfully obvious to everyone. He bent over to kiss Sid’s hand and said, in Russian, “You have my heart.”

“What does that mean?” Sid asked.

Zhenya stayed where he was, bent over Sid’s hand. All this time, he had thought they were falling in love, and that they were both mostly on the same page. But Sid sounded so unsure, and Zhenya thought again of Sid’s lingering worries, the way he fretted and wouldn’t say what was on his mind. Zhenya had never been in a relationship with someone who didn’t speak Russian, and maybe he had relied too much on body language and assumption instead of communicating the things that weren’t easy to say.

“Sid, I love you,” he said, which lacked all finesse, but it was the truth.

“Oh,” Sid said, more a breath than a word, and when Zhenya cautiously glanced up, the look on his face put all of Zhenya’s fears to rest.

The bed didn’t look big enough for both of them, and anyway Zhenya didn’t want to risk doing anything that might jostle Sid’s jaw. He settled for sitting with the chair pulled close to the bed, bent over with his head in Sid’s lap, and Sid’s hand stroking his hair. A nurse would probably come in soon and interrupt them, or another teammate, but Zhenya didn’t care. Let them try to kick him out.

“You come home with me,” he said. “When they let you go. Stay with me until you better. I take care.”

“Okay,” Sid said. His fingers tugged gently at Zhenya’s hair. “G, I didn’t know how you felt. I kept thinking—but you’re so hard to read. So I wasn’t sure. Like, you said you were staying in Pittsburgh for the team, but I want you to stay for me, you know? I know it’s stupid. And then things got kind of intense when you were in heat, and you just—you didn’t even really react, and then we didn’t talk about it again, and I thought I had, like. Gone too far. So then I—”

“Sid, you talk too much, hurt your mouth,” Zhenya interrupted. He turned his head to look up at Sid’s face. He was so high and so sweet, and Zhenya couldn’t let him babble on like this. Zhenya pushed himself up with a groan, ignoring Sid’s sound of protest. “It’s because I’m lazy, okay? It’s work to say in English, so I don’t say. But of course I feel so much.”

He knew how to court someone in Russian: every teasing word, every tender turn of phrase that would show his interest without giving away too much too soon. He struggled to achieve the same subtlety and nuance in English, and that did embarrass him some, even though Sid had never once shown any sign of judging him for it. He didn’t know how to express the full range of what lay in his heart, and so he hadn’t tried. Better to say nothing than to fumble it.

“Teach me to say it in Russian, then,” Sid said. “So you can talk to me and I’ll know what you mean.”

Zhenya watched Sid trying to smile at him and couldn’t imagine what use he had in his life for nuance. He took Sid’s hand again. “I love you,” he said in Russian.

“I love you,” Sid repeated, his eyes fixed earnestly on two different spots on Zhenya’s face, his accent unbelievably bad, most of his teeth either fucked up or missing. Zhenya’s heart throbbed so hard he felt sure it would set off some type of alarm. He bent to kiss Sid’s hand.

+ + +

The next week was fully occupied with bringing Sid home from the hospital and getting him settled in for his recuperation. He was biddable and he wanted to please Zhenya, but he was a horrible patient who lied about his pain levels and didn’t want to rest. Zhenya put him on a strict dosing schedule and pretended to need a lot of naps so that Sid would lie down with him for a while.

“I know what you’re doing,” Sid told him, dutifully accepting the pain pill and glass of water Zhenya handed him. “I can look after myself, you know.”

“Okay, so go home,” Zhenya said, and then experienced a stab of such sharp immediate regret that he hastened to add, “It’s joke, I hope you stay.”

“Where else would I go?” Sid asked, blinking at him, as if he didn’t still have a bed made up for him at the Lemieux house. But Zhenya wouldn’t argue with him: he never wanted Sid to leave.

Sid was banned from the rink for two weeks, and he stayed at Zhenya’s house that whole time. Even bored, in pain, and unable to eat anything except meal replacement shakes, he was good company and a joy to come home to. Getting back from practice and finding Sid in his kitchen, drinking a juice blend or talking to his mother on the phone, gave Zhenya a feeling of deep unseen settling, like a heavy object burying itself in the earth, or like he had dropped anchor.

Zhenya was happier than he had imagined he could be, slowly sinking down into this careful new love. Sid was too uncomfortable for sex, but Zhenya had no objections to getting himself off while Sid lay beside him in the bed and watched, and they did other things that weren’t sex but were somehow even better. Every nap and shared meal filled Zhenya’s heart. They took a lot of showers together, and once Zhenya let Sid wash the inside of his pouch, probably the most intimate thing he had ever done with another person, shameful and thrilling in equal measure.

“Maybe I should go home,” Sid said, when those two weeks were up, disconsolately gazing at his morning nutrition shake.

Zhenya had returned from a road trip to Florida the night before and was tired and a little groggy at the breakfast table, but Sid’s words put him into a state of sharp alertness. “What? No, why you go?”

Sid sighed and stirred his straw around in his glass. “I saw Kadar yesterday when I went to the rink. We were talking about stuff and I mentioned that I’m still staying at your place, and he, uh. He was really smirking at me.”

Zhenya winced. Kadar wasn’t a shifter, but his father was, and he would know what it meant that Sid hadn’t gone back to his apartment yet. Zhenya hadn’t made an effort to hide that he and Sid were pair bonding, but he hadn’t advertised it, either, and he didn’t particularly want word getting around. People were so nosy.

“Yeah,” Sid said, and sighed again. “I forgot. Well, he knows now, so.”

“Other people figure out,” Zhenya said, feeling a little awkward about acknowledging what they were doing. They hadn’t really discussed it, although both of them had put their cards firmly on the table in the hospital.

“We could ask Shero to get another shifter,” Sid said. “You know he’d make the trade if I told him it’s important. So then we’d have a third, and—it’s not weird if there’s three of us, right?”

Zhenya didn’t want a new shifter to fuck so that he could fuck Sid, too, and pretend that it meant nothing. He didn’t want to have sex with a stranger, or an acquaintance, or even a friend. Nobody but Sid.

Sid was watching his face. “Or we could—it could just be the two of us. For good. If you wanted.”

Zhenya put his fork down. For once, Sid didn’t fidget or look away. He met Zhenya’s gaze steadily, not backing down from his offer or trying to qualify his words. His face looked a little different since his injury—his jaw had been reset at a new angle—and Zhenya thought that was appropriate, that there was a physical marker to go along with everything that had changed between them.

“It’s always two of us,” he said. His heart was pounding. “Since I first come.”

Sid’s mouth compressed in a way that didn’t look happy, which meant Zhenya had said something wrong without meaning to. “That’s not really what I meant.”

“Sid, no,” Zhenya said. He scooted his chair closer and put his hand on Sid’s knee. “I mean, like. You always here, always—I don’t know how to say. Like, it’s so many years, and I still think you best. And every year I know you more. I think you’re only person for me.”

Sid laughed softly, not mockingly but happily. He ducked his head and beamed down at his lap as he laid his own hand over Zhenya’s. “So, you’re staying in Pittsburgh?”

“I stay where you are,” Zhenya said. For now and always. There was nothing complicated about it.

“I don’t want to go back to my apartment,” Sid said. “I want to stay here until the playoffs are over. I don’t care if Kadar tells everyone. I want you to come to Canada with me this summer and meet my parents.”

“I’m meet already,” Zhenya said, because he was well acquainted with Sid’s parents.

“You know what I mean,” Sid said, and Zhenya did. It was a marriage proposal, tendered with no ceremony but with absolute earnest emotion. Zhenya didn’t want anything more. He leaned in and carefully kissed Sid’s cheek, and Sid turned his head and kissed Zhenya’s mouth, a sweet kiss that lingered.

“You stay here,” Zhenya said, when they broke apart. Sid’s crooked smile warmed him from his head to the soles of his feet and all the way into his marrow. “We go in summer.”