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My Hands Are Shaking From Holding Back From You

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“Shit, foul play, man!” Jonny yells, laughing as he tries to get his skates back under him. “That was a hook, you rotten cheater.”

Back-skating away from Jonny and towards his makeshift goal, Sid giggles. “Street rules, Jonny. We agreed. Now quit your whining and come try to take this puck back before I score.”

“Whining?” Jonny cries and shoves away from the boards, pursuing Sid who has turned tail.

He intercepts him before he can get a shot off, and they push at each other uselessly, sticks banging against shin pads and elbows jostling. Jonny’s almost got him beat, one skate sneaking between Sid’s, ready to topple him once Jonny gets his flailing hands out of his face. He waits for Sid to raise his arm just a bit too high before dragging his skate in and nudging against Sid’s lifted arm so he goes sprawling out on the ice.

“What the fuck?” Sid yells, laughter echoing through the rink, and he swipes at Jonny with his stick, catching him behind a knee and tugging him down before he has time to get away. Jonny crashes against Sid’s legs and pins them down. “Get off, asshole! You’re crushing me.”

Jonny goes limp, and Sid huffs.

“God, you’re a dick.”

“Sidney, Jonathan,” a voice calls out from the closest bench, and they look up to see Q watching them, face set in a stern frown. “Get up, and get changed. The Don needs to speak with you.”

Sid shoots Jonny an inquisitive look, but he is met with a shrug. Apparently neither of them had been expecting a visit to Bryan, an unusual occurrence, especially for Jonny who, with less than a year until his eighteenth birthday, is called upon more and more frequently to participate in the family business. Slowly rising, Sid offers Jonny a hand up, distracted as he thinks about why Bryan would need them both. Whatever it is, it can’t be good.

Jonny gives a quick shake of his head to discourage Sid from asking any questions and nudges him toward the locker room, where they change in silence, neither willing to test the Don’s patience for a quick shower to clean off the sweat. When they have finished, Q hustles them out of the rink and towards a waiting car.

“But we drove here, Q,” Jonny protests, gesturing at his precious Tesla.

“Seabs will drive it back. Your father doesn’t want any detours.” His tones leaves no room for argument, so Jonny begrudgingly fishes the keys out of his pocket and hands them to Seabs with a quiet request to be careful.

Seabs rolls his eyes, just slightly, but he offers Jonny a small nod as he peels away from their group and starts Jonny’s car, steering out of the parking lot at a crawl that still seems too fast for Jonny. Q hurries them into the back seat of the nondescript SUV and slides in beside them, tapping the driver’s seat to let Sharpy know they can leave.

There are a few minutes of quiet, nothing but the hum of the engine filling the tense air, and Sid can feel Jonny growing more and more tense beside him, fists clenched and knuckles white.

“Has something happened?” Jonny finally asks, the question exploding out of him in a rush. “Is Dad okay? Is Maman okay?”

“Yes, Jonny. They’re both fine. Nothing bad has happened.”

Jonny’s brow furrows the way it does when he feels like a bad call has been made during a game or when Sharpy nags at him about finding a pretty girl. “Then why the interruption? Why the escort back?”

Not wanting to draw attention, Sid lets his hand fall between them and pushes it against Jonny’s thigh, a light pressure to calm him down.

Q huffs, breath ruffling his moustache as he spares Jonny a glance. “First, you know the Don doesn’t like it when you slip the guards and go off on your own.” It’s a conversation they have had many times with Bryan to no avail. “Second, he doesn’t trust either of you to actually get off the ice and home without an escort.” This too is a well-trod topic, Sid and Jonny unwilling to give up rink time, despite Bryan encouraging Jonny to leave his childish hobby behind and prepare himself for his future responsibilities. “Third, he wants to talk to Sidney, not you.”

The words pull them up short, and Sid can’t help the automatic flinch that runs through him, brief but violent. “Me?” he asks, trying to rein his trembling voice in and mostly succeeding.

“Yes, you,” Q answers, terse and final, and Sid wonders if he just isn’t willing to tell them more or if he himself doesn’t know the reason for Bryan’s actions. Normally, Sid would have no problem speaking with the patriarch of the family; the man is, for all intents and purposes, his father and has been since Sid lost his parents to a vengeance killing almost a decade ago, but it is not his father asking him to come. It is Don Toews, the leader of the Chicago Mafia, a man who clawed his way to the top after immigrating to the US as a young man in search of something better.

“Oh,” Sid exhales, and he can feel Jonny’s eyes on him, the hard gaze boring holes in the side of his head, but he refuses to look up, focused instead on taking deep breaths.

“He wants to talk to Sid?” Jonny asks, and Sid can hear the current of confusion and worry tinging his words.

“Yes,” Q answers, and it’s the last thing anyone says, the rest of the drive passed in stilted silence.

The tangle of fear that had settled in Sid’s stomach after Q’s announcement weighs heavier with each step he takes away from the car and up the steps of the large, family home. He isn’t afraid of his adopted father, knows that he would never hurt him, but if he wants to speak with Sid individually, something is going on that he doesn’t want Jonny privy to yet. There are few things he would want Sid to know before Jonny, very few.

At the doors leading into Bryan’s office, Sid nervously licks his lips and rubs his palms across the fabric of his sweatpants, desperately wishing he had worn something a bit nicer. Too late now, though. He knocks at the door.

“Come in.”

Bryan is sitting behind the large, imposing desk that dominates the room, its lacquered surface covered in the organized chaos that comes from running the mafia, file folders stacked precariously and paperwork spread across it. The curtains of the large bay window have been drawn, and only the few lamps scattered throughout the room provide any light, casting ominous shadows.

Sid remains standing by the door until Bryan looks up, a brief look passing over his face that Sid can’t quite parse. He doesn’t look angry, but he looks a bit upset, frustrated maybe. Sid swallows down the irrational fear climbing up his throat; this may be the head of the Family, but it’s still Bryan, still his father’s closest friend and therefore his adopted father.

“Take a seat, Sid,” Bryan says with a gesture towards one of the high-backed chairs across from him. He tracks Sid’s movement, eyes unblinking, as he crosses the room and sits, back stiff and shoulders tense.

“You’re not in trouble, Sid. Please, relax.”

“Sorry,” Sid mumbles and deliberately loosens his tight fists, finger by finger.

Eyes roving over Sid, taking in the tight set of his shoulders and the carefully blank face, Bryan sighs. “It’s fine, really. I understand.”

He pauses, collecting his thoughts. “I am sure you’ve guessed I haven’t called you in here for a chat. This isn’t me talking to you as a son but as a member of this Family.” Choosing his words carefully, he continues, “You see, I’ve been getting some questions, inquiries you could say, about you. I’ve tried to put them off, to ignore or postpone them, but I’ve delayed for longer than I probably should have, and people are starting to get restless, talking and saying things they shouldn’t.”

Sid is lost, so lost. He can’t imagine any reason people would be asking about him. He isn’t anyone important in the mafia, not the successor like Jonny, not the consigliere like David would be. He was just the extra child, taken on after a tragedy.

Sensing Sid’s confusion, Bryan backpedals, “I should start from the beginning, shouldn’t I?” He waits for Sid to nod. “Right, well, if Andrée were here, she would know how to talk about this tastefully, but unfortunately she had some business to take care of on the South Side, so we’ll just jump right in. You’re a carrier, Sid,” he says like it’s news, like Sid hasn’t know that since he was a young child, like Sid didn’t have to endure embarrassing doctor’s visits where he was poked and prodded and called special because he was a part of the five percent of men who could bear children. “And you have to know how valuable that is. Carriers are sought after and cherished. They bring prestige to Families.”

Sid also knows this. Since before he can remember, everyone has told him how unique and wonderful he is, how blessed he is to have been born with the ability to bring children into the world. He endured the comments, the pinched cheeks, and the salacious looks from others as he grew up, but he’s never liked his status, never felt proud of it. For Sid, it’s always been something that held him back—“You can’t play hockey. You don’t have the strength or endurance for it.”—something that separated him from others—“Look, man, you can’t join the team. I mean, you’re good, great even, but you’re a carrier. That’s not… not…not allowed. Sorry.” He hates it, has always pushed that part of himself away, suffering the monthly cramps and pain in silence, ignoring the jeers and catcalls that eventually led Bryan and Andrée to pull him from school.

“I know you don’t want to talk about this, and I haven’t wanted to either,” he continues, and the look on his face is enough to convey how little he wants to have this conversation. “Sid, you’re family, the son of my blood brother, and I want the best for you; however, there are expectations for all of us. Just as Jonny is expected to find a spouse that will help him continue the Toews name here in Chicago, you are expected to marry into a good Family and secure ties for us wherever you may go.”

And this, Sid knows best of all. Since before puberty, it’s been drilled into his head by well-meaning instructors and loud-mouthed rookies alike. He knows he is expected to get married, open his legs, and have babies until his husband is satisfied. Andrée has done her best to fight these ideas and teach Sid about being a Don’s equal in the bedroom and in the business, but it’s so very hard to listen to a single, affirming voice in the tidal wave of derogatory statements and slurs about his role as the wife.

He still remembers when Andrée had sat him and Jonny down, face soft but eyes hard and determined.

“You’re getting older, boys,” she had said. “You’re changing and growing up, and that’s good, but that also means your friends and classmates are growing up as well and trying different things.”

“What, like drugs?” Jonny had responded, a sarcastic brow raised. They had gotten the ‘drugs are bad and will mess you up’ talk before; they didn’t need it again.

“Yes, like drugs.”

Jonny had huffed, exasperation evident. “Maman, Sid and I aren’t dumb enough to do drugs. A moment of pleasure isn’t a worth a lifetime of pain and all that.” Andrée had pulled them from a game of street hockey for the conversation, so Sid had understood Jonny’s frustration.

“Good,” she had said, giving Jonny a mildly disapproving look that shut him up quick. “But I wanted to talk to you about sex, not drugs.”

“Maman,” Jonny had exclaimed, voice cracking over the word as his cheeks blazed a vicious, hot red.

“Now, darling, don’t be embarrassed. It’s a perfectly natural activity and very enjoyable at that.” Jonny had gagged at the words. “Stop, this is important.”

She had waited for Jonny to settle down before continuing. “It’s a natural urge that people have, and it’s a good thing, but you need to be careful.”

“We already know about condoms and birth control, maman,” Jonny had grumbled, eyes fixed on his scuffed sneakers.

“Good, but I want to stress the importance of not sleeping around, beyond the health effects. Jonny, you are the future head of this Family. That’s an important title, one that many people would like to have or control, and there are many ways to gain control of a don, or future don in this case, and one of those is having his illegitimate child.”

“What the hell?” Jonny had sputtered. “Maman, oh my god, no. I’m thirteen. Thirteen! I’m not going to have kids anytime soon.”

Andrée had given him a stern look. “Jonny, do you remember what happened in Anaheim a few years back? How the Don’s son was forced to marry some layman’s daughter because he’d knocked her up.” Jonny had reluctantly nodded. “Well, it’s more shameful to deny responsibility for one’s actions than to have an illegitimate child, so he got stuck with that useless girl and her status-seeking family because he couldn’t control himself enough to not sleep with her. I expect better from you.”

“Got it, be careful, use protection, and don’t sleep with random people.” Eager to leave the room and return to his game, Jonny had stood only to be glared back down by his mother.

“That’s not enough, Jonathan. Some boy or girl could easily claim you as the father of their child, whether you are or not, if they can get you to sleep with them even once, or if they just know you are sexually active. It’s not a stretch. It happened in Ottawa, and they didn’t even know until after the ink on the marriage license had dried.

“That will not happen here. If you find yourself in need of relief,” Jonny had choked at her words, “masturbation is a perfectly acceptable practice and will be enough until you find a good woman or man to marry with whom you can run this Family. Is that clear?”

Jonny’s cheeks and ears had nearly matched his Mikita jersey, and he had only been able to nod his understanding and agreement, too embarrassed to try and choke out a verbal reply.

“Good, now Sid.”

“I, uh, I don’t think I’m going to have the same problem, Andrée,” Sid had been quick to reassure, tamping down his mortification. Carriers were notoriously incapable of impregnating women or other carriers.

Andrée had given him a wry smile. “I know, sweetheart, but as a carrier you could get pregnant, and that would be just as big a problem. As a son of the Don, you are expected to marry another high-ranking man that you can start a family with and run the Family with. An illegitimate pregnancy or a reputation as someone who sleeps around would be detrimental to your prospects. I know it’s not pretty, but it’s the way things are, so same thing applies to you as Jonathan. Take care of your own needs, until you have a husband.”

Sid had nodded, mute.

Looking at Bryan’s grim face, Sid thinks of that conversation and the expectations Andrée had outlined for him and his future. Apparently, it was closer than he had thought.

“I understand,” he tells Bryan, striving to maintain a blank face, as his mind spins through the possibilities and potential spouses. He feels a bit sick.

Lips pursed, Bryan eyes Sid. “I know you do, but trust me when I say, this isn’t easy. You’re eighteen now, though, so I can no longer ignore invitations or requests to visit.”

“Eighteen and fair game,” Sid scowls.

Bryan looks away, shuffling papers and rearranging his pens. “Not exactly. I’m certainly not going to let just anyone come in here and whisk you away, especially not anytime soon, but I can no longer turn potential candidates away on principle. You are of legal marrying age, so we will have to start accepting some Families’ requests to visit, but that’s no guarantee. “

There’s bile in Sid’s throat. He has always known this would happen, has been preparing years for the eventuality of marriage and life away from Chicago, but that makes little difference now. His chest is tight, and his breathing has grown short.

Standing, Bryan makes his way around the desk, taking the chair beside Sid and rubbing his back in firm, smooth strokes. They stay that way, Sid hunched over and Bryan calmly seated at his side, for longer than they probably should given Bryan’s busy schedule, but Sid appreciates it and takes comfort in the knowledge that Bryan doesn’t want this anymore than Sid does.

When he feels able, Sid sits up and offers Bryan a shaky smile, which he returns. “Sorry,” he says.

“No apology necessary,” Bryan answers, waving Sid’s words away. “I get it. I would love to delay this another year or two, but it isn’t possible, especially with our precarious position among the Families. We need to strengthen some ties and secure some allies and trading partners. I will do my very best to find you a good match, Sid, someone who will love you and take care of you. I won’t accept anything less.”

Smiling weakly, Sid tries to shift into the pragmatist he usually is. “How many are there?”

“Candidates? A lot. You’re a carrier and a very handsome boy. I have had inquiries about you since you were sixteen and had that godawful dye job.”

His joking tone draws a laugh out of Sid and helps settle his nerves. More is good, means more chances of finding someone Sid could actually like, someone he could imagine a future with. “Anyone in particular?”

“No, not for now at least. I don’t plan to marry you off to the first schmuck who comes knocking, Sid. This shouldn’t be a quick process. In fact, if we play our cards right, we could drag this out for a year or more.”

Put that way, it doesn’t sound so bad. Sid has time to meet his future husband, to get to know him and maybe love him. There’s no rush.

“Okay, okay,” says Sid, mostly to himself. “I know that this is important for the Family, and I will do everything that I can to make the best match possible.”

Bryan stands and claps Sid’s shoulder. “Don’t take this all on yourself. We’re a team, a family, and we’ll work this out together, I promise.”

Slowly, Sid rises and makes to head out the door, but Bryan grabs him and pulls him into a fierce hug. “I love you, kid,” he whispers into Sid’s curls.

“Love you, too,” Sid answers and returns the hug, arms tight around Bryan as he holds back tears.

Stepping back, Bryan holds him at arms’ length. “You can tell, Jonny. I know he’d pester you into it anyways, but don’t let him lose his head over it. Nothing is happening anytime soon, alright?”

Sid nods and says goodbye before exiting the office, grateful to find the hallway empty as he slowly walks to his room, turning the conversation over in his head. 

----

Jonny is lying in wait for Sid when he gets back to his room, furiously pacing the floor, obviously agitated with his wringing hands and hard, dead eyes. He stops when he catches sight of Sid in the doorway.

“Is something wrong? Did something happen?” he asks, closing the distance between them in a few long strides. His gaze sweeps over Sid from head to toe, assessing him. “What’s going on?”

Sid walks past him and takes a seat on his bed, patting the spot beside him to get Jonny to stop the anxiety-inducing laps. “Calm down,” he starts.

“Calm down?” Jonny repeats incredulously. “The fuck, Sid? Something’s going on, I know it. Why would Dad want to talk to you without me? What’s he planning? And why can’t I know about it yet? I’m the fucking heir. I should know about anything happening in the Family, especially if it involves my brother.”

Letting his eyes fall shut, Sid contemplates how to begin, knowing that Jonny will explode no matter what he says, always losing his temper when it comes to the safety of his family. It’s a good quality to have, a diehard loyalty that means he’ll protect his own at all costs, but he will need to learn control if he wants it to be a strength and not a liability.

“Jonny,” Sid says, reaching out to clasp his shoulder. Andrée’s always called him a soft touch, praising his ability to defuse situations and calm flared tempers. Any don would want that level-headed, slow-to-anger personality by his side, she says. Sid used to shake off the compliments and the allusion to his future relationship; he can’t do that anymore. “Bryan wanted to talk to me one-on-one because he knew you would react like this.” He squeezes Jonny’s shoulder before he can protest. “He didn’t want a disruption, so we talked, just the two of us, and now, I can explain things to you. But only if you don’t interrupt.”

Grinding his teeth, Jonny glares at the ground before letting out a rough exhale and visibly relaxing his shoulders. “Right, right. Sorry, I’ve just been worried since Q told us Dad wanted to talk to you alone. He doesn’t usually leave me out of stuff, anymore, you know.”

“I get it, seriously, but it’s nothing to stress over or worry about, okay?” Once Jonny nods his understanding, Sid goes on. “As the sons of the Don, other Families have certain expectations for us and our future roles. You’re going to take over here in Chicago when Bryan decides you’re ready, and I’m going to marry into another Family to foster good relations or something.” Sid can see Jonny’s thoughts written all over his face, ever the open book. He watches him going over his words, weighing and interpreting them, and he sees the moment that things start to fall into place. “I’m eighteen now, and as much as he’d like to, Bryan can’t put off accepting inquiries from potential spouses anymore, unless he wants to get on someone’s bad side, and we really can’t afford that right now. You know Detroit’s poaching on our territory, and we have to shore up our alliances if we want to avoid a fight.”

Sid holds up his hand to stop the questions Jonny looks ready to spew. “And one of the best ways to guarantee good relations is marriage. Now, nothing’s going to happen anytime soon, but we have to start accepting visits when other Don’s come into town, and I’ll probably have to attend more events and put myself out there. It’s not ideal, Jonny, I know that, but we’re not desperate. Bryan will make sure I end up with someone good for the Family and good for me, too.”

Silence falls on them, thick and heavy, after Sid finishes, and he can tell Jonny is deliberately staying quiet, pausing to reflect before opening his mouth. It’s a definite improvement from a few months ago, when he would have cut Sid off halfway through his first sentence, throwing questions at him and not listening long enough to get his answers. He comes of age next year, and the responsibilities of the heir apparent are things he can no longer avoid, so he’s learning to curb his temper, slowly.

“Does he have anyone in mind?” Jonny finally asks, tone wary.

Shaking his head, Sid answers, “No.”

“Will it be some creepy, gross old guy?”

“God, I hope not.”

“Are you even into guys?”

Sid shoots him an incredulous look. “Yeah, I’m a carrier,” he says, gesturing to himself, as if his status is outwardly evident. “Liking guys kind of goes along with that.”

“It doesn’t have to. There are carriers who like women. It’s not wrong or anything.”

“I know, but even if that was me, I’m pretty sure my status as a carrier would outweigh any preferences I have when it comes to a future partner.” Sid has no illusions about the purpose of his marriage; his own wants and desires come second to the needs of the Family. “Luckily for all of us, I definitely like men.”

“Oh,” Jonny breaths out. He doesn’t say anything more, staring down at the carpet, eyes glassy and distant, and Sid doesn’t understand. He wouldn’t have expected his sexuality to come as a shock to anyone. Carriers are generally assumed to like men, what with the whole ability to get pregnant and everything, but he supposes Jonny is right. There are some carriers who end up with women. “Me too,” Jonny finally says, interrupting Sid’s thoughts.

“You too, what?” he parrots back.

“I, uh,” Jonny stutters over the words, cheeks flaming, as he nervously scrubs a hand over his head. “I like guys,” he mumbles.

Sid blinks once, then twice. He’s hardly in a position to be throwing stones, but that doesn’t seem to matter to Jonny, who has ducked his head and looks ready to bolt at the smallest sign from Sid. He wonders if this is the first time Jonny has ever told anyone. “Okay,” Sid says, slow and hesitant. “Thank you for trusting me with that. Am I the first person you’ve told?”

Jonny nods mutely.

“Okay, that’s okay.” He lifts a hand and painstakingly places it around Jonny’s shoulder, avoiding any fast movements that might startle him. “You know that doesn’t change anything for me, right? You’re my best friend and my brother. Now I just know you like guys, too, and that’s not a problem.”

Jonny snorts. “Maybe not for you, but it could be for other people, for Dad or Maman.”

Turning, Sid lifts a disbelieving brow. “Jonathan Bryan Toews, don’t be ridiculous. Your parents love you, and who you love doesn’t matter to them.”

“As my parents, it probably doesn’t, but as the heads of the Family, it definitely does. I’m supposed to carry on the family name, to take over once Dad isn’t able to anymore. Then my son will take over after me.”

Sid’s brow furrows. “I’m failing to see what the problem is here?”

Exasperated, Jonny waves a hand through the air. “I like guys.”

“And guys can have kids.”

“Yeah, and that means I have to marry a carrier.”

“Is there something wrong with carriers?”

Jonny blanches at Sid’s tone. “No, god no. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with carriers. It’s just that there aren’t that many of them. They’re, what, five percent of the male population, six? So there aren’t that many already, and we reduce the pool even more when we look solely at mafia Families.” Jonny heaves a sigh. “There aren’t that many, and if Dad and Maman decide that none of them are right—if they don’t think that any of them are a good match for me—if they don’t believe whoever I might like is the best fit for what the Family needs…” He trails off and looks back at the carpet, jaw tense.

“If none of them are right, you may be stuck with a woman because there’s a lot more of them, so more chances of making the best match for the Family.”

Jonny swallows thickly. “Exactly.”

“Shit,” Sid breaths out. “That could be a problem.”

“Yeah.”

“You should tell Bryan.”

Jonny’s gaze snaps up to Sid, brow drawn in disdain. “What the hell would that do?”

“There’re still a few months, or even a few years, before people will be expecting you to find someone to start a family with. If Bryan knows now, he can already start finding out which Families have carriers who will be coming of age in the next few years. Just like you said, there won’t be that many of them, so he’ll need time to find them all.”

Mulling it over, Jonny stands and returns to his earlier pacing. Sid’s surprised he hasn’t burned a hole through the carpet yet. “You’re probably right. For all we know, Dad might already be looking at different options. My birthday isn’t that far away, less than a year.”

“Well, that’s decided then. I wouldn’t suggest talking to him about it today. I think there’ve been some problems on the South Side—that’s why Andrée is gone—and they’re taking up his time.”

“Right, I’ll do it tomorrow. We’ve got that luncheon after Mass. I can pull him aside then and tell him.”

A thought dawns on Sid, horrible and likely. “There’re a couple guys from Tampa coming, aren’t there?”

“I think so, yeah.”

“Fuck, I’m going to have to dress up, aren’t I?”

Jonny offers a commiserating look and asks Sid if he wants to go outside and play catch. It’s obviously a diversionary tactic, but Sid doesn’t care. He needs a distraction from the idea of meeting a potential candidate tomorrow. Who is even from Tampa?

----

Sid dresses up for the luncheon and a charity ball the next week and a dinner the week after. He meets more people than he can count, furiously reciting names in the car, on a plane, or as he is getting ready for bed, determined to remember everyone and their third cousin twice-removed. In the sea of faces, no one catches his eye, each blurring into the next.

He’s in Detroit at the moment on a welfare visit with Andrée, hoping to ease some of the tensions between their Families. They had toured two warehouses and a shipping yard that morning before a short break for lunch and a stop at one of the Family’s more philanthropic investments, a Boys and Girls Club they fully funded. Sid had been roped into a game of kickball, which he enjoyed enthusiastically. He has always loved being around kids, playing games or reading books, relishing the simple outlook children take, so different from the frustrating complexities that characterize adult relations.

He had been exhausted afterwards, feet aching in his wing-tips and head throbbing from all the facts that had been thrown his way: the price of importing from overseas versus buying domestic, the increase in labor costs, and the best methods—at least in Detroit—for maintaining control.

Sid wants to collapse into his bed, pull the down comforter over his head, and snuggle into the expensive sheets for a long night’s sleep, but he won’t. Before excusing himself to take an incoming call, Don Holland had invited them to a gala his wife had organized, honoring veterans struggling with PTSD. There would be a fair number of Families in attendance, and Sid knew he wouldn’t be able to skip out on the opportunity to rub elbows with several unattached young men, as Andrée had put it.

Reluctantly, he peels himself out of his suit and climbs into the steaming shower, letting the water slough over his shoulders in a pounding wave to wash away the sweat and grime accumulated throughout the day. Though he would rather not, Sid knows he must put on a good show at the gala, smiling at potential candidates and laughing at their sorry jokes: the very picture of a charming, attentive carrier ready for marriage. It turns his stomach a bit.

As he dresses, he goes back over the names he has learned, reciting them in alphabetical order first and then by rank within the Detroit Mafia. It’s a routine he developed quickly, something that will calm his nerves before the uncomfortable proximity that generally occurs at events like this. He runs a cursory hand through his hair, checking for any unkempt spots, and makes his way across the hall to Andrée’s room.

“Well, don’t you look handsome?” Andrée coos from her spot at the antique vanity Mrs. Holland had been sure to point out when she first showed them the room. “You’ve grown up so much, Sid, and so well..”

“Thank you,” Sid responds, resisting the urge to shove his hands into his suit pockets, a habit Andrée despises. “You look very lovely.”

“Thank you. Shall we head downstairs? We’re just late enough to be noticed but not so late as to cause offense, especially after the busy day we’ve had.” She rises gracefully from her spot and slips an arm through Sid’s. “Did you get any rest, darling? You seemed a bit fatigued after that game, though it was unseasonably warm, and the suit you had on wasn’t the most breathable.”

“There was no time for rest,” Sid answers, guiding Andrée down the large staircase and into the waiting car they are directed towards. “I might excuse myself a bit earlier tonight though.”

“Not too early, I hope. Cindi told me there are a fair number of bachelors in attendance that you should meet.”

“Of course.” Sid has learned the ins and outs of these kinds of events over the past few months. You never leave too early for fear of what others may assume you are getting up to. You never keep the same partner for two dances in a row, though you can dance with them a second time as long as you dance with someone else in between. (Sid hasn’t needed that rule.) You never approach a single man; he approaches you. The list goes on and on, and Sid still feels like he is learning something new at each event, filing it away to ensure he avoids any faux pas.

The gala is being held in the ballroom of an old, art-deco hotel that speaks of a time when Detroit was the industrial capital of the region, rife with culture and people, new and glittering. Sid knows Holland has been fighting the rot and ruin spreading through the city, both literally and figuratively, but it seems to be a fruitless endeavor as more and more businesses head to greener pastures, leaving their skyscrapers abandoned.

You wouldn’t know it though, looking at the glitz and glamour of the evening, mounted sconces illuminating detailed murals and the gold-leaf of the ornate crown molding. The party reeks of decadence and hedonism, tables overflowing with exotic food and expensive alcohols and the guests clothed in imported silks and gems. Sid is no stranger to wealth and luxury, has grown up in an established Family, but this feels like an excess even he cannot justify.

They stop for refreshments, Andrée guiding him away from certain choices that would leave him with bad breath or spinach in his teeth, and they make their way to a table with a few of Andrée’s acquaintances. She manages to leave Sid with the open seat next to a young man who looks just a few years older than him. He wears no ring.

“I’m Michael,” the man says, before Sid can get a small gougeres into his mouth.

Sid swivels towards him, fixing a pleasant smile in place, and extends a hand. “Sidney.”

“Sidney, it’s a pleasure.” Michael takes his hand, but rather than a firm shake, he gently turns it and places a soft kiss against his knuckles, dry lips ghosting across the skin, followed by a puff of warm air. A shudder runs through Sid, and he resists the urge to yank his hand back and reprimand the man for his actions. If Sid had wanted his hand kissed, he would have held it out palm down; it was simple etiquette.

“Likewise,” he replies, withdrawing his hand at the fastest socially-acceptable pace possible.

“I know you have only just sat down, but would you care for a dance?”

Refusal would be impolite. “Of course,” Sid demurs and levers himself out of his seat before Michael can reach for his hand again.

Weaving through the maze of tables, they make their way out to the open space of the dance floor and slip into the mass of dancers gracefully spinning over the hardwood. Sid settles a hand on Michael’s shoulder and tries to maintain a respectable distance between them, though his efforts are futile as Michael slides an arm around his waist and draws him close. They fall into step, swaying to the music.

“You are an even better dancer than I imagined,” Michael murmurs, squeezing Sid’s hand.

The words catch Sid off-guard, drawing him from his thoughts. “Pardon?”

“When I first saw you, I thought you would make an excellent partner, and I was right. You hold yourself very well.”

Sid doesn’t understand how this man could decide he was a good dancer just by watching him sit at the table, but that would be rude to point out, so he smiles. “Thank you.”

“You also have quite the understanding of supply chain management,” he goes on, in no way deterred by Sid’s short but polite response. “I was very impressed with some of your comments earlier today.”

His words make no sense. Sid met this man five minutes ago and has said only a handful of words since, none of which related to supply chain or business at all. “Excuse me, but I am not sure to what comments you are referring?”

Michael flashes him a wide, glimmering smile, and Sid can’t help but think he has an uncanny resemblance to a shark. “Of course, I probably look a bit different. I was at the shipping yard this morning, overseeing the arrival of some product, and I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation you had with Ken.”

Racking his brain, Sid tries to recall the conversation and who was around at the time. He can vaguely picture the bustling yard, employees hurrying to and fro as a freighter came in, but he doesn’t remember Michael, can’t recall him participating in the conversation or even being near enough to overhear. It’s unsettling to know that he listened to Sid speaking without his knowledge; he’ll need to be more aware of his surroundings in the future. An oversight like that could mean danger for him or those around him.

“Thank you. It was interesting to hear Don Holland’s take on transport methods.”

“He is a very smart man, my uncle,” and Sid notes how casually he slides the words in, making Sid aware of his position in the Family. “He also mentioned that you are, shall I say, looking for companionship.”

Sid goes stiff, fingers tensing and back arching to escape the incessant heat of Michael’s hand that seems to have drifted lower over the course of their conversation. He knows his status as a marriageable carrier is no secret and that the purpose of coming to this gala and Detroit is to meet available men, but to have it stated directly, uncouth and bald-faced, takes him by surprise.

“I am getting to know some of the gentlemen from the different Families.”

Michael laughs and leans closer, hot breath rushing over Sid’s ear. “So polite and proper. Ken mentioned you had Canadian roots, but I can see that they run very deep. It’s charming.”

The strains of music fade and change into something light and quick, and Sid sighs in relief, uncurling his fingers to offer a small bow, but Michael’s arm tightens like a band around his waist, and Sid finds himself pulled flush against him.

“We didn’t even get the full song, Sidney,” he husks out. “Indulge me in another.”

“Thank you, but I should be returning to my table. I left my plate untouched.”

Scoffing Michael tries to bodily move Sidney in a circle, but his height advantage has nothing on Sid’s lower body strength, and they stay pressed against one another, Sid firm and unmoving.

“You can get another plate.”

“I prefer not wasting what I have already taken.”

“We can afford it, really,” Michael reasons and once more tries to move Sid, hand clutching at his waist uncomfortably.

“No—”

“Found you!” A deep voice suddenly shouts from Sid’s right, and he spins, grateful for the interruption, to see an unfamiliar man, tall and lean, with tousled hair and warm, sleepy eyes focused on him. “I looked everywhere but couldn’t find you.” Sid has no idea who the man is, but he schools his features into a blank mask. “You promised me a dance. Can I take you up on that now?”  he asks with a charming grin, holding a hand out to Sid.

“We were going to finish this one first,” Michael insists, hand tight around Sid’s.

“You already danced once. It’s impolite to keep one partner for too long.” He holds his hand and gaze steady, not even sparing a glance for Michael. “Will you dance with me?”

Smiling, Sid pulls away from Michael, fighting through the small resistance he puts up. “I would love to,” he says and takes the stranger’s hand.

He deftly spins Sid into his arms and begins a quick step that has them leaving Michael sour-faced and glaring. They don’t speak, turning in circles around the other guests, and Sid slowly lets himself relax, tension draining out of him.

“Are you okay?” the man asks, eyes soft. “Did he do anything?” He has a faint accent, rich and beautiful, and Sid thinks he might be Russian, though he can’t be certain.

“No, no. He was just a little too insistent. Thank you for rescuing me.”

The man shrugs, lips pouting adorably. “It’s no problem. You looked like you were holding your own just fine, but I wanted to avoid any escalation. Michael doesn’t appreciate people going against his wishes.”

“No, he doesn’t,” Sid agrees. “What is your name by the way? I’m almost certain we’ve never met nor agreed to a dance. I think I would remember that.”

The man laughs, and it’s a husky sound that sends a pleasant shiver down Sid’s spine and a flush into his cheeks. “No, we’ve never met. I’m Evgeni Vladimirovich from Pittsburgh.” Lemieux’s Family then. Good people, Sid thinks. “And you are?”

“Sidney Crosby from Chicago.”

“Toews’ Family?”

“Yes.”

Evgeni smiles. “Good Family. Mario has known Andrée for years, speaks well of her and her kids. How do you fit into the Family?”

“I am Bryan and Andrée’s adopted son. My parents died when I was young, and the Toews took me in as their own.” Sid’s shocked at his own forthrightness, normally not one to share such personal information with someone he has only just met.

Evgeni makes a noise of sympathy, stroking his thumb over Sid’s for a brief moment. “I am sorry to hear that but am happy that the Toews were there to take care of you.”

“Me too,” Sid agrees, “but what about you? How did you find yourself working with Mario Lemieux?” He can’t help the awe that comes out in his tone. Mario Lemieux has a reputation that precedes him, known across the continent as a capable man and a good Don.

“My family is from Russia,” so Sid was right. “We were part of a Family in my hometown, nothing high-ranking, just labor mostly. There was a feud with the neighboring Family, a territory squabble that progressed into a drawn-out war, lots of murder and rapes. I was young at the time, not old enough to even be a street worker, but the Boss kept pulling in younger and younger guys to replace those who had died, and my parents worried that my older brother and I would be chosen next.

“We had a friend who had already left Magnitogorsk and moved to Pittsburgh, and he encouraged us to join him, said there would be a place in the Lemieux Family, protection against the repercussions of our disappearance. It was a hard decision for my parents, but they wanted the best for us, so we fled the country, hid out in Finland for a few days to wait for visas, and then arrived in America.

“Mario welcomed us with open arms, giving my father work and finding tutors to help us with our English. Our old Family tried to force us to return, but Mario kept his promise, and we have loyally worked for him ever since.”

Even within the mafia, it’s an extreme story: fleeing the country, taking refuge in America, working for Mario Lemieux. “That’s pretty incredible.”

Evgeni nods. “He’s a good man and a good boss.”

“What do you do? In the business.”

Ducking his head, Evgeni flushes, and Sid wonders if he misspoke or overstepped some unknown boundary. It probably wasn’t any of his business what Evgeni did in the Family.

“I am Mario’s consigliere.”

Sid’s stops abruptly at the words, shocked to hear that Evgeni is Mario’s right hand man. He’s so young, a few years older than Sid at most, and he’s at the top of the food chain. “Consigliere? That’s…wow. Consigliere?”

Evgeni chuckles, a soft sound made only for Sid, and shrugs humbly, eyes downcast. With a gentle tug, he pulls Sid back into their dance, guiding him through the crowd with ease.

“How did you manage that?” Sid inquires, too curious to filter himself.

A fierce look passes over Evgeni’s face, his eyes going cold and hard in a stark contrast to the earlier warmth. “Jagr, Mario’s old consigliere, left a few years ago in search of better things in Washington,” he begins, the disdain evident in his tone. “Mario didn’t name a successor immediately, and it led to some in-fighting, people jockeying for position and favor. It was harmless in the beginning, but as time passed and he didn’t choose anyone, people became restless.”

They’ve managed to maneuver into a quiet corner, away from the spinning dancers, where they sway back and forth, the distance they should maintain quickly vanishing. Sid spares a thought for the impropriety of their position, but he lets it go, enthralled by Evgeni and his story.

“Someone decided Mario wasn’t fit to head up the Family anymore, especially with his health problems, so they plotted to kill him. I learned about their plans just a few hours before and was barely able to put a stop to them. It was a bit of a bloodbath, but I got Mario out of there and to a safe house, and he thanked me by naming me consigliere.”

Sid likes the way Evgeni talks, the deep timbre of his voice and the hushed tones that make Sid feel like the words are just for him. “You seem to find trouble an awful lot.” Sid is mortified by the words that slip out without his permission, his tone coy and teasing.

Evgeni’s eyes dip to trace over Sid’s lips. “Can’t help it. It finds me,” he says, and his accent is thicker, dripping off the words.

“Oh,” Sid exhales, breath stuttering in his chest, as he watches Evgeni watch him. “Must be something about you.”

“Must be,” Evgeni agrees, and his hand slides further across Sid’s back, wrapping around his waist and drawing them inexorably closer. Sid feels himself swaying forward, and he’s never wanted to kiss anyone like he wants to kiss Evgeni now. It’s a startling revelation, but from the way Evgeni’s eyes haven’t left his mouth, he must be feeling the same way. The moment stretches out, and Sid desperately wants to close the distance between them, but even if they weren’t surrounded by hundreds of nosy, dirt-digging hob-knobbers, it would still be a bad idea.

Evgeni blinks, then clears his throat. “The song is over,” he says with regret, and Sid is almost certain several songs have ended since they started dancing. “How long are you in Detroit?”

Trying to get his bearings back, Sid licks his lips and watches Evgeni intently follow the motion. “We fly back to Chicago tomorrow morning.”

“That’s too bad.”

“Yes, it is.” They have already danced for longer than they should, songs blurring together into an easily-ignorable white noise, but Sid doesn’t want to leave Evgeni and his warm voice and sleepy, soft eyes or their conversation. He has never felt more comfortable with someone who wasn’t family. “Will you be in Chicago anytime soon?” Sid asks, feeling foolish but letting the desire to know outweigh his embarrassment.

“Nothing planned,” Evgeni answers, and Sid’s heart falls, “but I think I’d like to visit, if I’d be welcome.”

“We would love to have you,” Sid assures him. He holds out a hand, palm down, and waits with bated breath for Evgeni to take it.

Gently, he bows his head and brushes his lips over Sid’s knuckles. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Sidney. I hope to see you again.”

“As do I,” Sid answers with a half-bow befitting the exchange.

----

Sid still feels the imprint of Evgeni’s lips the next morning, as he finishes packing his suitcase and boards the plane home. He stayed up late the night before, too wound up from the unpleasant exchange and Evgeni’s intervention to sleep. Sometime after two, he had decided he would speak with Bryan about inviting a contingent from Pittsburgh for a visit, knowing he would have to explain himself before Bryan would agree to it. They have decent relations with Pittsburgh due to Andrée’s French Canadian connections, but shoring them up wouldn’t hurt anything. Resolved to speak with Bryan, Sid had let himself relax, and though it’s embarrassing to admit in the light of day, he had indulged himself to the point of release while thinking about Evgeni, before drifting off to sleep.

When they climb into the car sent to pick them up from the airport, Sid leans forward to speak with Duncs and Seabs. “Is Bryan available at all this afternoon?”

The two guards exchange a curious glance, before Seabs replies. “I know he had a meeting this morning with the mayor, but I think he’s in his office for the rest of the day, making calls and signing off on some expenditures.”

Sid can feel Andrée’s gaze on him, assessing. “Good, thank you.”

It’s a quiet drive, Duncs and Seabs not the most loquacious when on duty and Sid lost in thought, as he prepares himself to meet with Bryan.

Jonny is waiting when they pull up, and he bounds down the stairs. “How was the 313?” he asks with a grimace.

“It was alright, nothing on Chicago though.”

“You mean you aren’t planning on leaving us for Motor City?”

Sid scoffs. “Motor City is dying a slow, painful death. Of course, I don’t want to leave you for that place.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” Jonny grins. “Do you want to go to the rink? I’ve got the afternoon free.”

“In a bit,” Sid answers, bracing himself before continuing. “I need to talk to Bryan—”

“Sid!” It’s his only warning before a small body crashes into him, tiny arms and legs wrapping around him like an octopus.

“Taylor!” he shouts, returning the hug. “How was your game yesterday?”

“So good,” she exclaims, grabbing his hand and dragging him into the house. “I had fifteen saves. Fifteen! They scored once though, so it wasn’t a shutout, but coach gave me the crown after the game.”

“That’s awesome, kiddo. Congratulations!”

“Thanks, do you wanna play dolls with me? I got a new one because I played so good yesterday. He’s a hockey player, and it took forever to find him, but Abby helped me.”

Sid grins, wide and bright. “A hockey player? That’s awesome. I would love to play, but not right now. I need to go talk to Bryan for a little bit, and then Jonny asked if I’d go to the rink with him.”

Eyes lighting up, Taylor stares at him. “The rink? Can I come? Please? You and Jonny can shoot on me. I need the practice.”

Sid wants to refuse, knows he and Jonny won’t go as hard with Taylor in the net watching them, but he can’t say no to her. She’s his little sister, and with how much he’s been traveling recently, he can’t help but feel bad for the lost time. He looks over at Jonny, who nods.

“Yeah, you can come.”

Taylor cheers, lifting her arms in victory. “Awesome, I’ll go get my stuff ready. Be back in a minute.” She scampers off before Sid can remind her that he needs to speak with Bryan before they leave.

“Dad’s in his office,” Jonny informs his, a quizzical look on his face.

“Thanks, we can go as soon as I finish.”

Nodding, Jonny follows Taylor up the stairs, and Sid heads down the hallway, feeling an eerie déjà-vu as he stands outside of Bryan’s office. He knocks, a quick rap of knuckles, and waits to be invited in.

“Sid, how was your trip?” Bryan asks, a warm smile gracing his features.

“Good, it was good,” Sid tells him and feels a sweat break out on his hands. “That’s actually why I wanted to come talk to you. Do you have a few minutes?”

“I could do with a break from all the paperwork,” he answers wryly with a gesture at the empty chairs.

An awkward silence falls between them, Bryan waiting for Sid to begin and Sid trying to collect his thoughts. He had a whole spiel prepared, but seated across from Bryan, he finds himself at a loss for words.

“So what about this trip, Sid?” he finally asks, patient but forward. A Don’s time is not to be wasted.

“Right, so I should probably start with the bad news,” he begins, fingers curling in his lap. He had debated keeping quiet about the incident with Michael, but he knows it could come back to haunt him if he doesn’t make sure Bryan knows the truth. “At the gala last night, Don Holland’s nephew, Michael, invited me to dance. I accepted and accompanied him onto the floor, and when the song ended, I wanted to go back to my table and get a breather from him.”

Bryan harrumphs, nodding. “He isn’t the most pleasant to be around.”

The words are a relief to Sid, and they give him the confidence to continue, more sure of Bryan’s reaction. “Exactly, but when I informed him of my wishes, he tried to stop me and have another dance. I refused, but he wouldn’t let me go and was getting a bit too handsy.”

Sid can see a shadow pass over Bryan’s face, rage and disbelief clouding his features. “I see.”

“Nothing too bad happened,” Sid reassures him, before he gets the wrong impression and sends out a hitman or something. “Another guest stepped in, and Michael left me alone after that.”

“I never liked that boy,” Bryan states, eyes still flinty. “So that’s the bad news. What’s the good news?”

Immediately, Sid feels himself blush, the heat creeping up his neck and staining his cheeks. “Well, I,” he stops. “You see,” he stutters out.

Bryan arches a single brow.

“I know that the whole point of me traveling around with you and Andrée is to meet guys and hopefully find a future spouse who isn’t too bad, and I’m sure you’ve done plenty of research into all of the eligible bachelors from the different Families, but I’m not sure if you found anyone yet that might be a good choice. But I did meet someone at the gala last night that I maybe, possibly, sort of could be interested in, though I can’t be positive because we didn’t talk for very long, but he’s the one who intervened with Michael and helped me get out of there. And he’s a really good guy, and I wouldn’t mind if we invited him to Chicago for a visit, with your approval of course.

“He’s from Pittsburgh, so Lemieux’s Family. Actually, he’s Lemieux’s consigliere, which is totally crazy because he’s around my age, and he’s already the right hand man of a mafia boss. Though I’m not that surprised because he had no trouble handling Michael. Anyways, I don’t know if he is someone you were maybe considering, but if not, I definitely think that he should be because he’s a pretty decent person, and I’d like to get to know him. With your blessing of course.”

With that, Sid snaps his mouth shut, mortified at the uncontrolled stream of words.

Bryan sits wide-eyed, just as shocked as Sid. “I see,” he starts, shuffling some of the papers on his desk, moving them back and forth with no real intent. “Well, this is unexpected to say the least.”

Sid’s chest feels tight with nerves. “Did you already find someone?”

“No, not yet.” He slots his fingers together and rests his hands on the desk. “To be honest, Sid, I’m completely shocked. Not at your choice. Mario’s a good man, and though I haven’t met his consigliere, I am sure he is as well, and Pittsburgh is a good city. I just hadn’t expected you to have an opinion on any of this. You’ve seemed quite content to just let things happen.”

Ashamed, Sid hunches in on himself. He knows he hasn’t been the most helpful in the whole process, has allowed Bryan and Andrée to take on most of the responsibility. Ignorance is bliss after all. “Well, I haven’t been interested in anyone.”

“But you’re interested in him?”

Sid fights the rising blush. “Yes.”

“Alright, I’ll contact Mario, and see if he could send his consigliere for a visit in the next couple weeks.”

Eyes widening, Sid asks, “That’s it? You don’t have any questions? No objections?”

“Would you like me to?” Sid shakes his head, and Bryan continues, “Like I said, Mario has good judgement. If this man is his consigliere, he must be rather impressive. Also, you are genuinely interested in him, which is a plus. And finally, we could do with some stronger ties in the east. Pittsburgh is a good stopping point between here and the coast.”

“Okay, well, that’s good. That’s great. Awesome, yeah, nice, cool,” Sid fumbles out, fingers fidgeting. “Well, I’m gonna go now; Jonny wanted to play some hockey. But, uh, good talk. Thanks for listening to me and everything.”

Bryan chuckles and waves Sid’s words off. “It’s nothing, Sid. I’m just happy to hear someone has caught your eye. I’ll call Mario this afternoon and see what arrangements can be made. What’s your boy’s name?”

A strange possessiveness ignites in Sid at the words. “Evgeni.”

“A Russian?”

“Yes.”

“Alright, then. I’ll let you know the plans at dinner.”

“Thank you,” Sid says and leaves the room, pausing outside the doors for a short celebration that probably looks as awkward as it feels, but Sid doesn’t care. He is too happy at the prospect of seeing Evgeni again.

“What the hell are you doing?”

Sid freezes, looking over to see Jonny eyeing him, a gear bag thrown over his shoulder.

“Nothing,” Sid replies and lets his hands fall. “Are you ready to get your ass kicked?”

Sid can tell that Jonny wants to pursue the line of questioning, demand answers from Sid until he gives in, but he doesn’t. “First, you’re not getting out of it that easily. We’ll talk about this later. Second, it’s the other way around. You’re going to get your ass kicked.”

“Language, Jonny!” Taylor shouts, appearing out of nowhere like the crazy goalie she is.

Laughing at Jonny’s constipated face, Sid dives in to give Taylor a quick noogie before shouting, “Last one to the car has to wash everyone’s gear!”

There are twin shouts of protest behind him and the sound of feet pounding against the tile. Putting on an extra burst of speed, Sid manages to make it to the car first and smiles to see Jonny lagging enough that Taylor doesn’t completely lose.

They play for as long as they can, shooting pucks at Taylor and doing some one-on-one work that has Sid huffing for breath. With all the mandated travel, he hasn’t been able to keep up with his fitness as much as he’d like; though, if things turn out well with Evgeni, that may change. He wonders if Evgeni likes hockey, if he plays, and is distracted by the thought of Evgeni made even broader and more imposing by the pads. He feels a little weak in the knees; it’s embarrassing.

At dinner that evening, Bryan leans in and tells Sid, “We’ve had some problems with the factory workers, some complaints about conditions and pay rates. I’ve called in some favors in the east, and Pittsburgh is sending a representative, their consigliere, I believe, to help out.”

Sid’s mouth goes dry, and he stutters out a quiet acknowledgement, before returning to his meal.

----

On the day Evgeni is due to arrive, Sid is up long before his alarm. He’d been restless all through the night, tossing and turning, as he began to second guess himself. Maybe Evgeni hadn’t been all that interested in Sid; maybe Sid had just been projecting and convinced himself of things that weren’t true. Surely, Evgeni had only danced with him to get away from Michael. Also, after one dance, could Sid really even know if he was interested in Evgeni? He could have just been so relieved that he mistook that for romantic feelings.

Unwilling to wallow in his thoughts, Sid drags himself out of bed and asks Duncs if he would be willing to go on a run with him, despite the cool spring air. It’s soothing, the feel of pavement under his feet, the burn as his muscles work to move him forward, and he feels his mind go blank and quiet. It’s nice.

He showers and dresses, spending an embarrassing amount of time in front of the mirror, making sure his hair isn’t sticking up and that he didn’t leave any toothpaste around his mouth, before making his way downstairs to join everyone for breakfast, trying to avoid watching the seconds tick by.

“I would appreciate it if you would accompany us today as well, Sid,” Bryan is saying over the eggs benedict Corey had made, when Sharpy knocks on the dining room doors and informs them that the Consigliere has been picked up at the airport and is in route.

“I still don’t understand why Lemieux is sending his consigliere,” Jonny says, brow furrowed. “I don’t think the factory problems are enough to warrant a personal visit like this.”

“An outside perspective and fresh ideas are never a bad thing, and I trust Mario to send someone who can provide both.”

“Of course,” Jonny demurs, “it just seems like overkill.”

Polite but stern, Andrée interrupts. “Let’s not talk shop at the table, boys. Save that for later.”

“Sorry, cherie,” Bryan says, lifting Andrée’s hand to place a soft kiss over her knuckles.

Désolée, maman.”

“Taylor, how is school going?” Bryan asks, and Taylor launches into a detailed explanation of the drama of fourth grade, describing intricate social networks and ever-changing relationships that left Jacob Anderson and Katie Martinez on the outs, though Jacob wants to get back together.

As she begins to recount something that happened last year between Katie and the new girl, Sophia, Sharpy once again knocks at the door and enters. Sid’s heartrate ratchets up, heavy and thumping, as he waits for Sharpy to announce Evgeni’s presence.

“Don Toews, I present Evgeni Vladimirovich Malkin of Pittsburgh.”

Bryan steps forwards, as Evgeni walks past Sharpy to greet him, hand extended for a firm shake. He looks even better than Sid remembers, tight suit cut to highlight his long legs and trim waist, and the room suddenly feels warmer than it was before. Well, some part of Sid is interested at least.

“Evgeni,” Bryan says. “Thank you for coming. Please,” he continues, gesturing at the table, “come meet my family and join us for breakfast.”

Evgeni’s gaze shifts to the table, eyes passing over Sid before returning quickly, dark and intense, and Sid resists the urge to undo the top bottom of his shirt, certain that would give far too much away.

“My wife, Andrée,” Bryan says, as Andrée stands to join him.

“Enchanté,” Evgeni replies, carefully lifting Andrée’s hand to his mouth to press a short, chaste kiss to it.

“Enchantée,” Andrée repeats, smirking just the tiniest bit.

“And these are my children: Taylor, David, Jonathan, and Sidney.”

Evgeni accepts Taylor’s offered hand, dwarfing it with his own long, capable fingers as he bends nearly in half to give it a small, friendly peck that has Taylor giggling. He shakes hands with David and Jonny, grip firm and steady, before turning to Sid with a question in his eyes.

God, Sid had forgotten what it was like to have all that attention focused on him, rendering him helpless and powerful all at once. He swallows, throat working uselessly to clear the lump that has risen since Evgeni strode into the room, all easy confidence and charm, and he slowly raises his hand, palm down.  He can see the immediate relief and subsequent satisfaction that curl Evgeni’s lips and heat his eyes.

“Очень прияатна,” he rumbles out, head bowing to place a kiss on Sid’s knuckles, breath sending a shiver racing down Sid’s spine to pool in his belly like liquid fire. He pulls back and hesitates, eyes flicking up to Sid’s, darting across his face and surely cataloguing the reddened cheeks and spit-slick lips. Without looking away, he drops a second, longer kiss to Sid’s ring finger and squeezes his hand before dropping it.

There is silence in the wake of his greeting, and Sid can see Jonny’s shocked and outraged face over Evgeni’s shoulder. He probably should have explained the real reason Evgeni was visiting Chicago, instead of avoiding Jonny’s persistent questions over the past week. Too late now.

Bryan speaks first, voice calm. “Take a seat, Evgeni. I am sure you didn’t have time to eat a real meal before catching your flight so early this morning.”

“No, I didn’t,” Evgeni replies, pulling out the chair beside Sid and gracefully folding himself down into it.

“Well,” Andrée jumps in, “Corey is an excellent chef, so I am sure you will find the food to your liking.”

Evgeni tilts his head in respect. “I have no doubt it will be delicious.” He busies himself with the platters of eggs and sliced fruit, dishing up a generous serving before turning to offer Sid more melon.

“You are rather young, aren’t you, Evgeni?” Jonny suddenly asks, his face set in a way Sid knows means trouble.

“I am nineteen,” Evgeni answers, and Sid almost chokes on his food. He had known Evgeni was young, but good grief, nineteen was nothing. Just a year older than Sid himself.

“And you’ve been the consigliere for a few years now, haven’t you?” Jonny goes on, acting like a shark that has caught the scent of blood in the water. He is a smart man; Sidney knows this, so he has no doubt Jonny is very quickly putting the pieces together, realizing why Mario Lemieux sent his treasured consigliere to Chicago to help out with some simple factory disputes. He won’t be able to avoid Jonny’s questions anymore.

“Two years, yes,” Evgeni says, unperturbed by the dead shark eyes Jonny has fixed on him.

Squinting, Jonny gives him a quick onceover. “How does a seventeen year-old become the Consigliere to one of the strongest families this side of the Atlantic?”

“By demonstrating complete loyalty during hard times and protecting the Don and his family at all costs.” Evgeni’s response is prompt and to-the-point, and he holds Jonny’s gaze until the other looks away.

“So Evgeni,” Andrée slides into the conversation with the ease of years spent mediating negotiations and sibling squabbles. “Tell me a little about yourself. Any hobbies or interests?”

“I like a hockey,” he begins, and the rest of his sentence is drowned out as everyone jumps at the chance to argue with someone new about which teams have a shot at going all the way and which are overrated.

The rest of the meal passes mostly peacefully, though Jonny seems to make an extra effort to contradict everything Evgeni says, whether he agrees with it or not. Overall, it’s not a complete failure, and Sid finds himself more drawn to Evgeni than before.

After the dishes are cleared and Taylor has left for an afternoon with the Bowman kids, Bryan has them pile into two separate cars, leaving in different directions, though they have the same destination. It’s a tactic commonly employed to keep the line of succession from being disrupted by an errant car bomb or a targeted shooting. Sid understands the precaution, but it also means he is stuck sitting in the backseat with a fuming Jonny, for it wouldn’t be appropriate to ride with Evgeni, and Bryan is not dumb enough to stick Evgeni with Jonny.

They have been driving for a few minutes, before Jonny abruptly turns towards him. “What the fuck, Sid? What the actual fuck?” He isn’t shouting, but the quiet, cold anger permeating his words might just be worse than his typical, fiery explosions. “He’s not here to help with the problems at the factory, is he? He’s here to court you. Goddammit, I knew it was suspicious to have a consigliere coming to help out, and I was fucking right.”

Sid purses his lips, unsure how to respond.

“Why didn’t you just tell me that in the first place? Why all the secrecy and hidden intentions? I wouldn’t have been upset. I know you’ll have to get married soon and that Maman and Dad have been looking for a suitable husband, so I don’t get why this was kept from me. Did you think I would disagree?”

Sid shakes his head, but Jonny ignores it.

“For fuck’s sake, Sid, I’m not stupid. I know how important it is to secure allies, and I know that both of our marriages are going to be more political than romantic, so what’s the deal? Why wouldn’t you just tell me a candidate was coming? I would have been fine with that, better even. I was completely blindsided this morning when he kissed your hand. Shit, I was about to punch him in the face before I saw your reaction.”

The words cause Sid to squawk a half-hearted protest.

“Oh, don’t even. Sid, you looked ready to jump him right there in the dining room. Anyone could see it.” Sid gapes, mouth moving soundlessly. “Oh my God, you really like this guy, don’t you?” Jonny exclaims, eyes lighting up, shifting from anger to glee. “Holy shit, you have a crush. You have a crush. Dude, what the hell? How did I not already know about this? And how did this happen? If you’re already into him, that means you’ve met him before.” He is putting the pieces together quicker than Sid would like. “But when?”

“It’s not a big deal,” Sid mutters.

“Not a big deal? Oh yes, it is. You like this guy. What is it, the accent? The build? Wait, it’s the obsession with hockey, isn’t it? God, of course you would go for some just as crazy about it as you are.”

“I didn’t know about the hockey until today,” Sid says, and it’s a weak defense.

Jonny’s eyes widen. “Fuck, that makes this even better. Also, you definitely just admitted to knowing him before.” He pauses and gives Sid a considering look. “Why didn’t you tell me?” The anger has faded, but it’s been replaced with a quiet sadness that Sid can’t stand.

“I was embarrassed,” Sid confesses.

“By him?” Jonny scoffs. “Now, he isn’t really my type, but he’s a decent-looking guy, pretty sharp, too. You could do a lot worse.”

“Thanks,” Sid grumbles.

“So why were you embarrassed?” Persistence is one of Jonny’s strongest qualities.

Sighing, Sid turns his head to look out the window, not willing to say anything while looking Jonny in the eye. It had taken him hours of thought and reflection before he came to terms with his feelings. “Because you’re right,” Sid whispers. “I do like him.”

Jonny, for once, stays quiet, patiently waiting for Sid to continue.

“Bryan didn’t set this up on his own. I asked him to. I met Evgeni at the gala last week in Detroit, when he helped me out of a tough spot with one of the other guests and asked me to dance.” He ducks his head. “I know it sounds stupid, but I just kind of clicked with him. He was nice and funny and polite, and I just sort of lost track of time. I’m not actually sure how long we danced for, probably longer than we should have, but I don’t care. I wish we could have kept going,” he says wistfully.

“I know it sounds stupid, since I only met him last week, but I feel like I’ve known him forever. There’s just this weird connection between us that I don’t understand, but I’m okay with it. That probably sounds crazy.”

“No,” Jonny says, voice strange, distant. When Sid turns to look at him, his eyes are glassy, focused on some far away point. “No, that’s not crazy,” he mutters before falling silent.

“So,” Sid continues, drawing the word out to cover Jonny’s awkwardness, “I asked Bryan if he would invite Evgeni to Chicago for a visit, and well, obviously he accepted.”

“He did,” Jonny agrees. “You really like him?”

Heart clenching, Sid nods. “I do. I really do. He treats me like I’m his equal, like my opinion matters and deserves respect. It’s a nice change of pace.”

Jonny nods in understanding, unfortunately familiar with the less savory treatment Sid has received over the years. “And Dad has approved the match.”

“Nothing is set in stone,” Sid hurries to reassure him. “He hasn’t given official approval yet, but that is the goal of Evgeni’s visit. I’m sure Bryan is raking him over the coals right now, taking advantage of the privacy he probably won’t get at home.”

Jonny makes a considering noise. “Do you want him to approve it?”

“I,” Sid starts, trailing off as he ponders the question. “Well, I can’t be absolutely positive, but who ever really is? I…I could see a future with Evgeni. I can actually imagine being his wife, which I haven’t been able to do with anyone else. Before meeting him, I dreaded the thought of marriage, didn’t want to have anything to do with it, didn’t want to talk about being a carrier and having kids someday, but it’s not so bad when I think about all of that with him.” He shrugs. “So I guess the answer is yes, I do want Bryan’s approval.”

Letting out a put-upon sigh, Jonny jokes, “I can’t be too mean to him then, can I? Not if he’s possibly my future brother-in-law.”

Sid blushes and turns away from Jonny’s mischievous gaze, looking at the Chicago skyline passing by. “Nothing’s certain.”

Jonny nudges him in the ribs, elbow digging in. “Maybe not, but you want it to be, don’t you? Have you been doodling Evgeni and Sidney forever in a notebook? Have you practiced your Mr. Sidney Malkin signature?”

Sid shoves at Jonny’s shoulder. “Fuck off, asshole.”

“Oh my god, that wasn’t denial,” Jonny exclaims, delighted. He continues chirping Sid, until they pull up to the factory. Evgeni and Bryan have already arrived, and Evgeni strides up to the car, opens the door, and offers Sid a hand down. It’s absolutely ridiculous and traditional, but Sid feels his stomach flutter all the same. Jonny smirks at him.

“I didn’t get the chance earlier to tell you that you look very nice today,” Evgeni whispers, smile warm and irresistible.

“Thank you,” Sid replies, wishing Evgeni didn’t have to let go of his hand. “You look really nice, too.”

“You’re just saying that,” he retorts, tongue peeking out from between his teeth.

“I am not! You look really good, very fit.”

The grin that breaks across Evgeni’s face is almost worth the mortification. “Have to look good if I’m going to impress your family,” he says, and Sid finds himself gaping back at Evgeni, shocked by the forwardness of the comment but liking the words, the intent behind them.

“You seem to be doing just fine, though Jonny will take a bit more work.”

Evgeni nods gravely. “Of course, and I’m willing to put in all the work needed.”

Someone clears their throat, and Sid jumps back, head frantically swiveling to identify the source of the noise; no one is looking their way, and it seems almost deliberate. Sid doesn’t think his cheeks have ever been so red before.

“Shall we go in?” he asks, and they fall into step, Jonny and Bryan leading with way with Sid and Evgeni just behind, a respectable distance between them.

Bryan takes them through a tour of the facilities, explaining how things run and who people are, Evgeni interjecting with thoughtful questions or comments. By the time they have finished and moved onto a discussion of the current employee problems, even Jonny seems impressed with Evgeni, asking for his opinion about the threat of unrest among the employees.

“Some of their demands are reasonable,” Evgeni says once Jonny has finished outlining the situation. “It certainly wouldn’t be difficult to bring in healthier options for the vending machines and institute a better rotating schedule on the weekends. The complaints about promotions seem a bit odd.”

“How so?” Bryan inquires.

“The men who work in these factories have little ambition,” Evgeni answers bluntly. “As long as they have a steady paycheck to cover their families’ needs and a little left over to indulge themselves, they won’t complain. They have no desire to be in charge, to be responsible for the mistakes of others.”

Bryan hums, thinking over the insights. “True enough. Some of the men complaining have worked here for years and have never complained.”

“So it’s a new thing,” Sid contributes. “Which means maybe one of the new hires has been stirring them up, convincing them that they deserve more than they have.”

Evgeni beams at him. “Yes, maybe ask those complaining if anyone else feels the same or ask when they started feeling that way. Any names they mention that have been hired in the last few months should be looked at.”

It isn’t a terribly difficult conclusion to come to. Bryan would have been able to root the problem employee out, but from the way he is watching Evgeni, Sid thinks this might have been a test of some sort to see how Evgeni would decide to deal with the situation. A swift, violent approach would have raised concerns, as would a submissive capitulation to the employees’ demands.

Bryan nods once, before turning to Hossa. “Bring back in the men who have complained, make them think we are assembling a list of their demands. Then get them comfortable enough to talk about who or what might have influence their beliefs. Give priority to any names mentioned that were hired in the last few months.”

Hossa nods and sets off, his assistant scrambling to keep up.

“Well, that should hopefully be settled in the next few days; though if any further problems crop up, I will be sure to ask your opinion, Evgeni.”

Evgeni offers a short, respectful bow that’s barely more than a tip of his head and shoulders. “It’s a pleasure to assist however I can.”

“I am sure it is,” Bryan answers with a knowing smile. “Shall we stop for lunch before checking out that shipping yard down by Burnham Park?”

With everyone’s agreement, Bryan takes them to one of the ritzier places nearby, telling them to order whatever catches their eye, and the lunch passes in pleasant conversation, an easy mix of work and get-to-know-you topics. A few men and women stop by their table to greet Bryan, business tycoons and politicians that he has befriended over the years, and they shoot Evgeni curious looks that he ignores, unless Bryan makes an introduction.

Sid finds the day passing quicker than he would like, and suddenly, it’s half past seven, and Evgeni is asking Sid if he’d like to go on a walk before it gets too late. Hammer and Oduya accompany them, staying a few paces back to at least give them the illusion of privacy.

“Good day?” Evgeni asks, and his accent sounds thicker, heavy like he’s fighting to stay awake. Sid’s not surprised; he had to have left Pittsburgh rather early in order to make it in time for breakfast.

“Great day,” Sid answers honestly, and Evgeni gives him a sleepily content smile that makes Sid think about waking up next to him, light filtering in through the curtains and Evgeni smiling at him like he’s the best thing to wake up to.

“Good, I liked it, too.”

A companionable silence falls over them, and Sid finds himself swaying closer to Evgeni’s side, justifying it by the cold nip in the March air.

“I have to say, I was surprised when Mario told me that I had been invited to Chicago.”

Sid looks up, brow furrowed. “Why would that surprise you?”

Shrugging, Evgeni looks away, and it’s a strange sight. He always seems confident, sure of his abilities and his place in the world, and Sid wonders if this is as new to Evgeni as it is to him. As high-ranking members of the mafia, they are expected to act in certain ways, to avoid certain behaviors that could reflect poorly on the Don, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if Evgeni had never been in this position before.

Feeling brave and a tad bit reckless, Sid reaches out and twines his fingers in Evgeni’s, noticing how Evgeni’s envelope his completely. “Why would that surprise you?” he repeats.

Evgeni looks shocked, mouth hanging open in a way that shouldn’t be as attractive as Sid finds it and eyes bulging as he stares at their interlaced fingers. He visibly shakes himself, before looking at Sid. “After the gala, well, I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I wanted to try and see you before you returned to Chicago, but no one seemed to know what hotel you were staying at, or they weren’t willing to disclose that information without incentive.”

Warmth bursts in Sid’s chest at the words, and it spills through him in a heady rush.

“I called Mario the next morning, too impatient to wait for my flight home the day after. I was so excited I couldn’t even get the words out and ended up throwing together a mess of Russian, English, and French that he couldn’t figure out.”

Sid giggles at the thought, trying to picture a tongue-tied Evgeni and failing.

“Don’t laugh,” he chides, tongue poking between his teeth, and Sid realizes he’s teasing him and laughs harder, giggles tumbling out in loud, honking bursts.

When he regains control of his breathing, Sid looks up and finds Evgeni staring at him, helplessly adoring. “I lied earlier,” he says, catching Sid off guard. “When I said you looked nice, it was a lie.” A heavy weight settles in Sid’s stomach, and he’s about to pull his hand away, when Evgeni tightens his fingers. “Nice isn’t a good enough word. I wanted to tell you that you were—are—beautiful, gorgeous.” He pauses, considering. “But even those don’t seem good enough.”

Sid struggles not to trip over his own two feet, heart hammering. He ducks his head and grins to himself, squeezing Evgeni’s hand once to show he appreciated the compliment, even if it left him embarrassingly breathless and swooning.

“I finally got the story out,” Evgeni continues, picking up where he had left off, tugging Sid close enough that Sid can feel the heat of his body. “Mario thought it was hilarious and chirped me about it for days, but he agreed to contact Don Toews. Before the day was up, he called me back with surprising news: Don Toews had contacted him first and asked if his consigliere would be willing to visit Chicago and make the acquaintance of his son. I couldn’t believe it. To be honest, I didn’t believe it until I was standing face-to-face with you and you offered me your hand.” He lifts their intertwined fingers and presses a dry kiss to the back of Sid’s hand.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about you either,” Sid stutters out. “I talked to Bryan as soon as I got back.”

“Good, I’m glad you did,” Evgeni says with a grin, and they pass the rest of the walk in quiet conversation, hopping from one topic to the next.

When they return to the house and are forced to part, Sid turns to say goodbye, and emboldened by Evgeni’s confession, he stands on tiptoe to leave a brief kiss on his cheek.

Evgeni’s breath hitches, and his hand, which had come up to steady Sid, tightens for a moment, then releases. “Thank you for the walk and for inviting me,” he whispers into the small space between them and ducks forward to kiss the crown of Sid’s head. It’s the same short peck Andrée gives when she’s leaving in the morning or returning in the evening, but it feels so different coming from Evgeni.

“Good night,” Sid breathes out.

“Good night,” Evgeni answers and takes a step back, before turning and leaving Sid, though the look on his face makes Sid believe he wouldn’t if he didn’t have to.

----

Mario is only able to spare his consigliere for a few days, and Sid finds that the time passes quicker than he would like, slipping through his fingers like sand until they are sitting down for breakfast before Evgeni catches his flight back to Pittsburgh.

The conversation is lively and boisterous, a stark contrast to the formal dinners they host from time to time, and Evgeni easily fits in with them, teasing David about his current crush and contradicting Jonny’s opinions on hockey teams and proper pancake toppings. They have settled into a friendly, if competitive, relationship that often leaves Sid rolling his eyes.

“When are you coming back, Geno?” Taylor asks. Evgeni had told her and everyone else that they could call him Geno, since Evgeni is a bit too difficult for French and English mouths, but Sid has been practicing though and feels pretty confident in his ability to pronounce the name correctly.

Fork halfway to his mouth, Evgeni pauses, eyes flicking over to Sid and then to Bryan. Technically, he has not been given permission to return, not yet. This visit was for him to meet Sid’s family and present himself as a viable candidate for marriage. Before any future visits can be planned, Bryan must give the match his approval, and it’s causing Sid no small amount of grief, waiting for him to pull Evgeni and then Sid aside to talk.

“I’m not sure,” Evgeni finally says, deciding to play it safe. “There’s a lot to do in Pittsburgh, and Mario was already reluctant to let me visit for a few days.”

Frowning, Taylor nudges a slice of fruit through the pool of syrup left on her plate, sliding it back and forth mindlessly. “You should come back soon. We didn’t even get to play hockey while you were here.”

“I know, and I am sorry about that.” He deliberately avoids committing to play at a future date, a big no-no in the whole courtship thing, and Sid tries not to pout at Bryan like a child.

“You have to promise you’ll come back and play with us,” Taylor pleads, eyes round and wide, lip jutting forward. “You have to promise. Please, please.”

“Taylor,” Bryan chides, silencing her and drawing the attention of the whole table. Out of the corner of his eye, Sid thinks he might see Andrée raising an eyebrow at him in question. Maybe Sid isn’t the only one frustrated and confused about Bryan delaying the conversation until the last minute. “Well, I have finished,” he continues, setting his fork aside and wiping at his mouth. “Evgeni,” Sid’s breath catches in his throat, “would you join me in my office for a quick chat before your car leaves?”

It’s comical how quickly Evgeni rises from his chair, nearly toppling it to the floor in his haste to follow Bryan, who has already swept out of the room. Before leaving, he turns and catches Sid’s eye, giving a small nod and an anxious smile. Sid tracks his footsteps down the hall and waits for the distant thud of the heavy, wood doors that echoes ominously.

With the conversation underway, everyone swivels to look at Sid who shrugs helplessly and turns his best pleading look on Andrée. As the Don’s wife and his maman, there is no way she doesn’t know what Bryan is saying to Evgeni , likely having discussed it with him last night or this morning.

“I am sorry,” she says, and Sid’s stomach plummets painfully, the color draining from his face and leaving him cold. Quickly, she clarifies, “I am sorry I cannot talk to you about this.” Her voice is mild, neutral, and Sid does his best to parse out a meaning from her words, but she’s learned well how to shield her emotions and shutter her eyes to not give anything away. “You should go wait in the hall though. Whatever his decision is, he’ll call you in when he’s finished speaking with Geno.”

Sid takes a moment to regain his composure, then nods and stands, avoiding Jonny’s commiserating look and Taylor’s confusion. As he walks out, he can hear Taylor asking Andrée why Sid looks so sad and why Dad needed to talk to Geno in private.

Despite their size, the hallways feel stifling as Sid paces, trying to distract himself from the pessimistic thoughts swirling around his head, envisioning the worst case scenarios: Dad telling Evgeni he has not received his approval and will have no further contact with Sid, Evgeni angrily storming out and ignoring Sid’s pleas to wait just a minute because he could change Bryan’s mind.

The image takes shape before his eyes too easily, so Sid recites the Stanley Cup Champions from the last twenty years, then the Conn Smythe winners, then the Hart Trophy recipients. He is about to start the Art Ross, when he hears the tell-tale creak of the office door opening.

“Sid?” Bryan calls out.

“Right here,” he answers.

“Join us.” His face is composed, a blank slate that Sid’s mind can use to create more terrifying scenarios for how this will end. When he sees Evgeni, he is no different.

Gingerly, Sid seats himself beside Evgeni, noting the distance between their chairs and trying to decide if they have been moved closer or further apart.

“Sidney,” Bryan begins, and Sid immediately ceases his obsessive investigation of the carpet, sitting on the edge of his chair, ramrod straight. No matter what Bryan says, it will be okay. Sid can accept his decision. He can be a good son and Family member. He can meet other guys and get to know them and hope to like them half as much as he already likes Evgeni. It will be okay.

“I would like you to know that I have given Evgeni my approval to court you with the intent of marriage.” The words go right over Sid’s head, too lost in his repetitive mantra of “It will be okay. It will be okay,” to notice Bryan’s expectant look and Evgeni’s hopeful one.

Sid freezes and looks between them, wide-eyed and disbelieving. It sounded like—It was almost as if Bryan had—He said—

“Oh thank God,” Sid finally says, feeling a weight lift off his chest as he slumps back in his chair. “Oh thank God. I was so worried. You took forever with this, you know that? I kept freaking out, thinking that you didn’t like him and were going to send him back to Pittsburgh with nothing, and I was going to have to pretend that I wasn’t totally pissed about it and actually wanted to meet other people.

“This is good. This is great.” Suddenly, he turns to Evgeni and feels a smile break across his face, wide and uncontrollable. “This is great,” he sighs out and wonders how acceptable it would be to lean over and kiss him. He’s been thinking of little else the past few days, caught up trying to decide if Evgeni’s lips would be soft against his own, if he would have a hint of stubble that would scrape against Sid’s chin and cheeks, if he would hold Sid close like he was something precious.

Bryan coughs, interrupting Sid’s slow approach and reminding him that they aren’t alone in the room. “Right, well, I have spoken with Mario, and he is in accord with this decision. We have set a tentative date for June 30th,” Sid’s heart stutters in his chest. Holy shit, that whole with the intent of marriage thing wasn’t a joke. If this goes right, Sid will be married in three and a half months. To Evgeni, holy shit. “In that time, you will be permitted to call one another each day, though someone must be present when you do, and you will switch off visiting one another, as schedules permit.

“From everything I have seen, I believe you will find happiness together, and I know that this union will be beneficial for both of our Families.”

Sid couldn’t care less about how their relationship affects the business. He’s just happy that Bryan approved and approved enough that he already has a tentative date set. It’s not unusual, but it’s not the norm.

“Do you have any questions?”

They both shake their heads, mute, and Bryan smiles tolerantly.

“In that case, you have three minutes to say goodbye, during which I will wait in the hallway with a very dedicated eye on the clock.” Sid’s eyes go wide, and his mouth parts in shock. “If you are not out in three minutes, I will come in. Is that clear?” He waits for them to nod, then rises to his feet. “Time will begin as soon as the door shuts. Be smart,” he says and steps outside.

Sid is reeling from everything. Bryan approved; a wedding date is set; he’ll talk to Evgeni every day and see him again. And he now has three, precious minutes alone with him that he is wasting with useless thoughts.

He is about to turn towards Evgeni, set on at least one good kiss, when there is a rustling and suddenly Evgeni is before him, kneeling at Sid’s feet and taking his hands in his own larger ones. Sid tries not to swoon. It’s embarrassing, but he doesn’t care, not with Evgeni looking at him like that.

“Sidney, I am so, so happy. I can’t even tell you how much.”

“Me too. Evgeni, me too.”

“Zhenya,” he says, and Sid doesn’t know what that means, isn’t sure if it’s an endearment or an expletive. Either would fit the situation.

“What?”

“Since we are to be married, you should call me Zhenya.”

A thrill of delight races through him at the easy confidence Evgeni—Zhenya has when speaking about their relationship. “Zhenya,” he repeats. “What does that mean?”

“It’s a nickname for family and close friends. And my fiancée,” he adds.

Sid’s head spins. Ten minutes ago, he wasn’t sure whether he would ever see Zhenya again; now, he is being called his fiancée, and it’s a little overwhelming but wonderful.

“In that case, you should call me Sid.”

“Sid,” he says, and it sounds so nice coming from his mouth. “Sid, Sid. My beautiful Sid.”

Sid’s eyes flutter shut for a brief moment, goosebumps spreading over his skin at the reverence in Zhenya’s voice.

“Sid,” he says again, and Sid slowly opens his eyes, finding Zhenya much closer than he had been before. From this distance, he can take in the various shades of warm brown in Zhenya’s eyes and the swell of his full, red lips. “Can I kiss you?”

A slow grin spreads over Sid’s face, content. “Please,” he answers and lets his eyes fall shut again.

He can feel Zhenya’s breath ghosting across his cheeks, hot and heady, and unsuccessfully tries to suppress a shiver, breath hitching. The kiss is a dry press of Zhenya’s lips to his own, there and gone again in a second, too quick to be appreciated. Sid makes a discontented noise and opens his eyes, crossing them to see Zhenya, who lifts one, huge hand to cradle Sid’s cheek and swipe his thumb over his lips, the other sliding up Sid’s leg to settle at the bend of his hip. He has scooted closer, and Sid’s knees are spread enough for him to squeeze between.

“Good?” Zhenya asks, eyes fixed on Sid’s parted lips.

“Too short,” Sid responds, then lifts his arms to encircle Zhenya’s neck and pull him closer.

They are both clearly inexperienced, shifting this way and that in search of the best angle, hands moving restlessly over fabric and skin. Sid is about to pull back for another readjustment, when they finally find a rhythm.

Zhenya’s arm slides around his waist, pulling him to the edge of his seat and forcing Sid to spread his legs even more to accommodate his size. It feels deliciously obscene; the stretch of his inner thighs sending a thrill through Sid. Zhenya’s other hand is cupped around Sid’s jaw to hold him in place as he slides his tongue across Sid’s lips in a flash of wet heat that has Sid pitching forward for more, desperate to keep him close.

They lose track of time, tangled up and panting into each other’s mouths, and Sid can feel himself reacting, blood rushing south to where he’s nearly pressed against Zhenya’s stomach. If he slides forward just an inch or two, he can maybe get some friction for his rapidly-hardening dick. He’s gotten himself off before, and though he prefers to have a couple fingers pressing at his entrance, he really isn’t going to be picky, not when he has someone else to grind against for the first time.

Just as he is about to wiggle forward, there is a sharp knock at the door, and it is thrown open. They narrowly avoid knocking their heads as Zhenya jumps back, sprawling on his ass in his hurry to get out from between Sid’s legs, and Sid leaps to his feet, face burning and hands fidgeting as he tries to hide his erection.

“Bryan,” Andrée scolds, a hint of laughter in her voice. “That was a bit unnecessary, I think.”

“Did you want to see what they were up to?”

“No, but there are certainly better ways of breaking things up.”

They peek around the corner, eyes scanning the room cautiously. When they catch sight of Zhenya on the floor and Sid trying not to be obvious with his hand placement, they burst into laughter, loud and raucous.

“I think this is worse than ours,” Andrée gasps out between breaths, clutching at Bryan’s shoulder as she tips precariously.

“Indeed,” Bryan chuckles and hooks an arm around her waist to keep her steady.

Though its mortifying to have your parents walk in on you in a compromising position, Sid is incredibly grateful that they are laughing and not yelling, even going so far as to compare it to their own courtship experience. For as long as he can remember, he’s been conditioned to avoid everything from lingering hugs to overly-familiar greetings, so to be allowed to kiss his fiancé and laugh about it is a strange relief.

“I guess we won’t have to worry about any physical compatibility between you two,” Bryan says with a none-too-subtle look at Zhenya’s splayed legs. He hasn’t gotten up yet, shocked at the interruption and the laughter, so when Sid follows Bryan’s line of sight, he can easily see the heavy tent of Zhenya’s own dick, tucked away in his expensive suit. It sends a fresh wave of heat through him, and he can feel himself get a tiny bit wet at his entrance, eyes tracing over the faint lines of Zhenya and trying to imagine how he would look without all the clothes in the way, how he would look under Sid or over him.

It’s a bad line of thought in front of his parents, who give them knowing looks after Bryan startles them out of their mutual appreciation with a cleared throat.

“Right, well then. Geno, I suppose it’s time to leave,” and Sid doesn’t miss the deliberate use of the nickname. Bryan had persisted in calling him Evgeni throughout his stay, maintaining a distance he now eliminates with ease.

“Yes,” Zhenya agrees as he scrambles to his feet and shuffles over to the door, gait irregular.

“Your suitcase has already been brought down, so we’ll see you out to the car.”

They amble down the hallway to the front door, where David, Jonny, and Taylor are gathered to say goodbye. Taylor steps up first and throws her arms around Zhenya’s waist, squeezing him with all the strength of an almost-ten-year-old.

“Taylor,” Zhenya says, and his voice is so unbelievably soft, “we’ll play hockey next time I come visit, okay?”

“You’re coming back?” she screeches and burrows further into his arms. “This is the best day ever! You have to come back soon, okay? Because we’re going to miss you, and Sid will definitely miss you the most.”

She may be young, but she’s very observant, able to sit back and take in everything going on around her. It’s probably what makes her a good goalie—besides the innate craziness, of course.

“I will miss you all, too, and Sid the most.”

“Good.”

David offers a back-slapping hug, and Jonny pulls Zhenya close, whispering fiercely in his ear, before pulling back to give him the dead-eye stare. Zhenya nods solemnly and mutters something under his breath that seems to satisfy Jonny. Andrée hugs him close, and Sid thinks he can hear her welcoming him into the family, before Bryan shakes his hand.

Suddenly, they are face-to-face, and the first thought that comes to Sid mind is ‘Holy shit, I was kissing this guy just a minute ago. I was about ready to crawl into his lap and rub one out on his stomach. Damn.’ Luckily, he keeps those thoughts to himself and holds his hand out palm down for Zhenya to kiss. He lingers over Sid’s empty ring finger, a small smile tugging at his lips.

When he stands upright, Sid darts forward to press a quick kiss to his cheek. “Think about me tonight,” he whispers, stupidly brave.

Zhenya swallows audibly, before responding, “You too,” in a thick, low voice that has Sid’s thoughts careening back into dangerous territory.

“Call me when you can.”

“Of course.” He turns to looks at the assembled group and bows, small and respectful. “Thank you for your hospitality and warm welcome. I look forward to visiting again.”

----

“What do you think about this color? I have always thought you looked great in navy blue,” Andrée asks, pointing out a bolt of woolen fabric. “Though we’d maybe want to find something a bit more breathable than this. June is such a hot month.”

“I would be fine with that,” Sid responds politely.

“Fine with that,” Andrée scoffs. “That is not a real answer.” She turns to the attendant, a young girl that has looked on the brink of tears since Charles asked her to assist them while he finished up some alterations for another customer, and asks for all the different fabrics in that precise shade of blue.

“I still don’t understand why I had to come,” Jonny mutters, when his maman disappears into the rows of imported fabrics, interrogating the girl about which materials were the lightest or most flexible, which would allow some ventilation in the hot, Chicago summer. He’s been complaining since Sid’s tentative wedding date became fixed and the flurry of wedding preparations began. Numerous times, he had explained to Sid the merits of elopement, but although Sid would love a quiet ceremony with immediate family, he knows that isn’t possible. Too many distant cousins and great-aunts would take offense at a private wedding.

“If you didn’t come, I would have to suffer through this alone.”

“Serves you right. You’re the one who decided to get married.”

“Oh fuck off,” Sid says, shoving at Jonny. “You’ll be next. I’m sure of it. Hasn’t Bryan got a visit to St. Louis planned soon, which you’ll be going on?”

“That’s strictly business,” Jonny states firmly. “They’ve been a fucking mess ever since Hull’s pathetic flight to Dallas, so tying ourselves to them would be a waste of time. Dad just wants me there to observe and practice negotiation.”

Shrugging, Sid responds, “You never know. You may be surprised.”

Jonny’s laughter is loud enough to garner a few dirty looks from other patrons. “You’d know all about that wouldn’t you? I’m sure you didn’t expect to meet Geno when you went on that awful peace-keeping visit to Detroit.”

“He’s the only good thing to come out of that.” Though they haven’t devolved into all-out-war, their relations with Detroit are now tense at best, each side toeing the line of acceptable behavior at every opportunity.

Jonny looks mildly horrified. “God, you’ve turned into a fucking sap, Sid. I swear, if you start telling me about how much you want to have his babies and name them all Geno, Jr., I’m disowning you.”

“First,” Sid says, lifting a finger, “you don’t have the authority to disown me yet. Just because Bryan is bringing you along to more things doesn’t mean you have more power. Second, if you could disown me, it wouldn’t make a difference. In a few weeks, I’m going to be a Malkin and will therefore be provided for and protected by Zhenya’s Family.”

Aghast, Jonny huffs. “You would forsake us just like that? Take a new name and new money and be rid of us?”

It’s a well-trod argument at this point. Jonny will joke about how Sid is abandoning them for some good dick, and Sid will try and genuinely reassure him that marrying Zhenya won’t stop them from being brothers. After which, Jonny will try and laugh off the whole thing like it isn’t a big deal, even though Sid suspects it is. Pittsburgh and Chicago are quite close, closer than most other cities he could have gone to, but it’s still a permanent distance that will separate them.

“No, Jonny. I don’t think I ever could be rid of you. You’re like a dog, absurdly loyal and impossible to shake.”

“I’m somewhat offended by that,” Jonny says with a furrow in his brow.

Andrée appears between them quite suddenly, and Sid feels justified in the small shriek he lets out because Jonny does the same. “I think it’s time for lunch, don’t you? Why don’t we try that cute, little café down the road?”

“Are we being kicked out again?” Jonny asks, face a bit ashen. Being kicked out hadn’t bothered them, but dealing with Andrée’s fierce anger afterwards left Sid with nightmares that still crop up from time to time.

“No, one of the patrons just suggested the café as a good place to take a rest and destress, and I think that’s a wonderful idea, so let’s take an hour to relax and refuel. Then, we can come back and get this whole color business sorted out.”

They bid Charles goodbye, and Sid doesn’t think he’s imagining the relief on everyone’s faces as they take their leave; the poor attendant still looks scared to death, jittery like she’s worried about missing one of Andrée’s requests to fetch a different fabric.

Outside, the sun is high overhead, breaking through the thin clouds that have been skating across the sky all day, and Sid tips his head back as they walk to let the warmth sink into him, as Andrée chatters about the mixed greens salad the woman had recommended. He can feel Seabs fall into step behind him, a strong, reassuring presence at his back.

The café is quaint and charming with mismatched armchairs shoved in corners and the smell of fresh bread permeating the air. Andrée might want a salad, but with that smell, Sid is craving a sandwich, something with Italian meat and maybe some veggies thrown in for an attempt at healthiness.

“Think there’s a bathroom in here?” Sid asks, and Jonny points to a wooden sign with “restroom” carved into it. “Cool, would you mind getting me the porchetta if I’m not back before you get to the register?”

“Sure, what kind of bread?”

“Ciabatta.”

Sid weaves through the tables littered with the odd student, tapping away at their laptop, or couples out for lunch on their breaks, and waits forthe current occupant to finish up before slipping in. He’s almost got the door shut when a foot slides in to block it.

“Excuse me,” Sid says, polite, following the foot up to get a good look at the owner. The man’s a bit taller than him, broader too, and he’s got a scowl on his face that Sid doesn’t like. “Could you please move your foot?”

“No.”

“If you really need to go, I don’t mind waiting. You can go before me.”

Suddenly, there’s a gun in his face, held steady in the man’s hands as he steps forward and shuts the door behind them. “I’d keep real quiet if I were you, kid. You got that?”

Sid’s got his hands up by his head. He isn’t afraid of this man or his gun, has been trained since childhood to stay calm in these kinds of situations—being the son of a mafia boss exponentially upped his chances of being held for ransom or threatened—but he doesn’t want to cause a scene.

“What do you want?” Sid asks, quick and to the point, just like he was taught.

“Your presence has been requested.”

“By whom?”

“None of your goddamn business. Now, listen good. You’re going to keep quiet and do exactly as I say, unless you want a bullet in your brain, got it?”

Sid nods, eyes roving over the man’s figure, checking for other weapons or a communication device that would help Sid know if he’s working alone. He doesn’t sound local, though if he’s got any smarts, he’s putting on an accent to throw Sid off. He looks a few years older than Sid, maybe mid-twenties, and he’s clearly had practice at this kind of thing, if the even timbre of his voice and the steady grip he has on the gun are any indication.

Behind Sid, he can hear a strange squeaking sound followed by a hiss that could only come from a set of old, aluminum blinds. He remembers seeing a window next to the toilet before he got distracted by the man. That answers his question about partners.

“Good, now, you’re going to turn around and crawl out that window, and my friend there is going to help you get into the car. You’re not going to scream or struggle, but he’s got chloroform on him just in case you decide to be stupid. Get moving.”

Sid turns and wiggles through the open window, sucking in to keep his suit mostly clean, though judging by the dirt-streaked palms of his hands, it was a wasted effort.  As soon as he is through, the window slides shut, and the next guy with a gun waves it around to hurry Sid up into the backseat of a large, black SUV. Good God, this feels cliché.

There’s a man behind the wheel, and a woman in the passenger seat. Neither looks obviously armed, but Sid knows that means next to nothing in this business; they’ve probably got shoulder holsters under their jackets and some other weapons strapped to their ankles or wrists.

“Drive,” Guy #2 says, as he hops in beside Sid, and they go shooting out of the alley behind the café almost soundlessly. Professional driver then.

“Where are we going?” Sid asks, risking the question. If they haven’t killed him yet, they clearly need him alive, but he doesn’t want to piss them off. Alive doesn’t mean unhurt after all.

“Shut it, kid,” Guy #2 says as he rifles in his pockets before pulling out a long strip of fabric. “Now, I’m going to put this blindfold on you. I’ve got a matching gag, too, but I’d prefer not to have to use it.”

Sid nods mutely, turning to accommodate the man, as he winds the blindfold around his head and ties it off in the back. It’s thick and wide, blocking all the light and any chance Sid had of seeing where they were taking him.

“Can I at least know how long this ride will be?”

“As long as it is,” Guy #2 answers.

The two up front are silent; Sid can’t even hear their breathing, and a sick dread begins to settle in his stomach. They’re clearly trained for this, letting Guy #2 do all the talking to keep Sid from learning the sound of their voices. He had only caught a glimpse of their faces, sunglasses on their eyes and stupidly large hats atop their heads. They had been ridiculous fedoras that had made Sid want to laugh in the moment, but he’s beginning to understand they had probably been to block his view, not to look like film noir villains.

The ride is silent, just the hum of the engine and Sid’s own breath filling his ears. He can guess when they hit the freeway, speed increasing, but he has no idea what direction they are heading. Chicago has numerous highways cutting through it in all directions, and he doesn’t know them all well enough to distinguish one from the other by its curves and turns.

As time drags on with no break in their speed and only terse orders to shut up when he dares to speak, Sid begins to recite his Hockey Facts ™ to stay calm, running through winners until he’s gone so far back he can’t remember. The car is still silent, and Sid feels cold.

Clearly, this was planned from start to finish. Someone had known they would be in the area, had probably sent the woman into the tailor shop to tell Andrée about the café. Maybe the attendant who kept bringing them drinks was on this person’s payroll, too, and whoever had most likely complained about him and Jonny in order to get them kicked out of the shop, too.

Sid wonders how long they had tracked him, how often he had a tail of some kind monitoring his movements without his knowledge. They had become lax, comfortable enough to only bring one guard with them when they went out. Seabs was great at his job, one of their finest, but even he could not see everything at once. God, he’s probably so torn up about this, blaming himself for Sid’s disappearance.

It hurts to think about the pain this is causing his family. It’s easily been a few hours since they started driving, so by this time, Jonny is probably two seconds away from biting someone’s head off, pacing angrily around the house, yelling at everyone to “just fucking find Sid.” Andrée is surely doing damage control, keeping David and Taylor occupied so they don’t notice Sid’s absence, while Bryan makes calls and gives orders. Maybe he’s even called Zhenya to let him know.

There’s a sick twist in Sid’s stomach at the thought of Zhenya answering his phone, probably expecting it to be Sid given the area code, and then learning that he’s gone missing, up and vanished from the café bathroom without a trace.

Sid can hear the faint sound of a blinker and feels the car decelerate like they’ve taken an exit. He counts the seconds until they turn right, then again until the next right, then a left. It’s a maze though, so by the fourteenth turn Sid can’t remember if it was twenty seconds or thirty-two between the first and second rights.

They roll to a stop, and Sid waits with bated breath for the sounds of seatbelts being released and doors opening. He can hear muffled conversation outside, maybe the woman, maybe a different woman entirely because Sid still can’t see anything.

His door is opened and Guy #2 orders him out, a gun pressed into his back. “Walk forward.”

Sid does as he is told, listening to the crunch of rock under foot and trying to guess how many people surround him. They walk into a building; Sid can only tell by the shift in the air and the sound of feet on tile instead of asphalt.

A door shuts, and someone pushes him down into a chair. His wrists are bound behind his back and his ankles are tied to the legs of the chair. The door opens and shuts again, and Sid is left in silence.

“Hello?” he calls out and gets no response. “Who are you? What do you want?” There isn’t so much as a rustle of fabric or the whoosh of a breath, so Sid suspects he has been left alone. There isn’t even the tick of a clock to help him keep track of the passing time.

After what could be fifteen minutes, maybe twenty, the door opens, and a lone set of footsteps echo through the room as someone comes up behind Sid and unties the blindfold. The light burns his eyes when the fabric falls away, and he can hardly make out the table in front of him, its shiny metal surface littered with various tools that make Sid’s eyes go wide.

“Hello, Sidney,” the person says, and his voice is familiar, not someone Sid knows well but someone he remembers.

“Michael,” Sid replies, proud that his voice stays neutral and impassive.

“So you do remember me.” He rounds the table and takes the seat across from Sid, eyes roving over the different knives and pliers spread out.

“What do you want? Why did you bring me here?”

He smiles viciously. “We received news of your impending nuptials a month ago.”

“And you wanted to offer congratulations? This really isn’t the best way to do that,” Sid says with a jerk of his chin to encompass the entire room, hoping to goad some answers out of his captor. “Most people would just send flowers or a gift.”

“Congratulate you?” His laugh is short and mean, a choked sound that runs down Sid’s spin like ice. “For what? For tying yourself to that Russian trash?”

Sid’s jaw clenches, and he resists the urge to spit at Michael for his insult to Sid’s fiancé.

“I don’t think so. I’m stopping you from making the worst decision of your life.”

“By doing what?” Sid scoffs, and he can feel the anger boiling under his skin, cutting through his composure. “Convincing me to marry you instead? This is a poor start, if that’s the case.”

Michael’s eyes burn as he looks at Sid. “Never. You had your chance, and you let it go, Sidney. There’s no going back, and now that you’ve let that filthy foreigner get his hands on you, the thought of sharing your bed repulses me. I won’t take Malkin’s sloppy seconds.”

“He is twice the lover you could ever even hope to be,” Sid hisses. It’s a lie, of course. Well, Zhenya probably would be a much better bedmate than Michael, but Sid doesn’t know that from experience. They’ve always had a chaperone, a sibling or a guard hovering around them to make sure things never got too heated. Sid’s never even seen Zhenya’s dick, let alone had it in him.

Granted, they had once managed a full five minutes of privacy, after slipping their assigned babysitter, and had spent it pressed against each other, tongues tangling with familiarity. When Zhenya had finally pulled Sid close enough to be flush from head to toe, he had moaned at the feel of Zhenya, hot and hard against his stomach, achingly close to where Sid could feel himself getting wet. He had pulled back, cheeks aflame and an apology on the tip of his tongue, but Zhenya had reeled him back in, muttering about how much he wanted to hear Sid do that again, and slipped a solid thigh between Sid’s legs to roll their hips together. Sharpy had crashed into the room shortly after, hollering at them to keep it decent.

“The fact that you believe that shows you how much this relationship has ruined you.” The words pull Sid from his thoughts, the memory of Zhenya slipping away. “To think, you could have had someone from a well-established, well-respected Family, a true blue blood, but instead you chose to open your legs for some no-name, who was adopted into Lemieux’s ragtag bunch because he’s a tactless bully who will badger his way into anything, including your bed.”

“There was no badgering,” Sid answers coolly. “Unlike you, Zhenya understands the meaning of the word no and would listen if I ever said it. I’ve never had to though because he is the only person I want in my bed.”

“Slut,” Michael sneers and lunges across the table to slap Sid, hand open and flat. The sound echoes through the room, a hollow ringing that reverberates in Sid’s head, as black dots swim across his vision, everything going in and out of focus.

“I used to think you were beautiful, perfect,” Michael continues, once he has retaken his seat, “and I wanted you. That’s why Ken invited Andrée to visit the weekend of the gala. I had been pestering him since before your eighteenth birthday, determined to get you for myself.”

His words confuse Sid. “You didn’t even know me though.”

“Didn’t even—” he begins, shocked. “Sid, we met when you were twelve, and I was seventeen. Ken had decided I was old enough to start traveling with him every once in a while to learn how the business ran—I am the future Consilgiere after all— and Don Toews had invited us for a visit and for dinner with his family. Don’t tell me you don’t remember that.”

Sid doesn’t. He remembers numerous visits from Don Holland, remembers shaking his hand and being told he was growing up beautifully, but he can’t remember Michael accompanying him. Normally, Sid’s memory is impeccable, never a forgotten face or name, but he was twelve at the time and hadn’t yet learned how important it was to know those things, too caught up in school and hockey to think much about the teenage boy that had come with another powerful man in a suit.

“Oh Sid,” Michael mourns. “You were young, I know, and it was a long time ago.”

“So you’ve wanted me since I was twelve years old?” Sid asks, and he feels a bit sick, nausea rolling through him as he thinks of Michael, seventeen and almost grown, looking at him like he wanted him.

“You make it sound bad. It’s wasn’t like that.”

“Then what was it like?”

“I thought you were pretty with your curly hair and hazel eyes, and even though your teeth were too big for your mouth, they just added to your charm. When I saw you again in that shipping yard in Detroit, I couldn’t believe how well you’d grown up.”

Sid ignores the sickeningly appreciative tone. “So you wanted twelve-year-old me?”

“Don’t say it like that!” Michael yells, looking like he’s about to hop up and give Sid another slap. His cheek is still stinging from the last one, so he would like to avoid that possibility.

“How would you have me say it then?”

“I don’t know. Not like that,” and it’s shocking how quickly he’s lost control of himself, eyes bulging and teeth clenching.

“Anything else would be a lie,” Sid says, calm and logical. “You said you met me when I was twelve, thought I was beautiful, and you nagged Ken about a courtship proposal before I was even legal. How should I say that, so it sounds different? It’s the truth; there’s no other way to say it.”

“Shut up!” he says, breathing heavy. “Shut up!”

Snapping his mouth shut, Sid watches Michael rake a hand through his hair, combing it out of his face, where it had fallen in his rage. He pulls at his cuffs and straightens his jacket, before folding his hands on the table and looking Sid.

“I waited until you were old enough, but when I came to you at the gala, you turned me away.” He seems to have regained his composure, though there is a slight tremble to his voice. “And for what? Malkin? His family was poor, bottom feeders, the lowest in the food chain before he managed to latch onto Lemieux’s coattails. If the man wasn’t such a goddamn charitable pushover, he would never have let the likes of Malkin into his inner circle. Don and Consigliere are titles meant for those who have inherited them, who come from good Families, Families that have existed for centuries. He is not worthy of you and does not deserve you.”

Michael rises from his seat, smooth and sinuous, and moves behind Sid, crouching low to get at his hands. For a moment, Sid thinks he is going to untie him, get him up to move for whatever he has planned, but he realizes too late what Michael wants. He feels the warm metal of his ring slide over his finger and off, flexing at the last second to try and keep it on with no luck.

Standing beside his chair, Michael holds the ring up for inspection, the pads of his fingers gliding over the polished surface. “It isn’t much, is it?”

An irrational anger bubbles up inside Sid, and he wants to defend the choice because it was only simple at his request. When they had stopped by a jewelry store, shortly before their engagement, Zhenya had pointed to all the gaudy rings with glee, cooing over the biggest diamonds and asking Sid what his size was. He had wanted the largest ring possible, something that would show everyone that Sid was spoken for.

It had taken significant concessions to talk Zhenya down, and Sid had walked out of the store with a new pendant for his necklace, a Rolex he never took off, and a long, wispy chain that the attendant had blushingly informed him would look lovely around his bare waist. Zhenya’s eyes had gone dark at her words, and if Sid hadn’t much cared for it at first, he completely forgot when he realized how it would affect Zhenya.

“I didn’t want anything too flashy. I don’t need that to know Evgeni loves me.”

“Loves you? Fuck, Sid, you’ve known him for a few months. Is he just that good in bed? Has you begging for it enough to believe he loves you?”

Sid probably wouldn’t mind begging Zhenya for it, has felt tempted a time of two to complain about the constraints put on their relationship in order to see what Zhenya would do, but that’s neither here nor there. He knows Zhenya loves him, has heard him say it enough times that the words feel right and comfortable now.

“God, this is pathetic,” Michael says and flicks the ring onto the table, where it clatters across a row or knives. “Enough of this disgustingly sappy bullshit. I’ve been planning this since I heard the announcement,” he explains and lifts a pair of pliers, turning them this way and that before setting them back down. “I’ve imagined what I would say, what I would do, so it feels a little surreal for the moment to finally be here.”

“Now stage fright’s setting in?” He knows it’s stupid to goad him, but he can’t help it. He has no idea where he is or how he got there. His family is hundreds of miles away, probably scouring all of Chicago in search of him, and he can’t kid himself about Michael’s intentions. When the man at the café had confronted him, Sid thought it might be for ransom money or for an advantage in negotiations, but with the spread before him, Sid doesn’t expect to get out of this alive.

“No, no. Just a bit of indecision. There are just so many options, you know,” he grins, manic and fans a hand out over the weapons, fingers wiggling as he moves from one to the other. “You, see, I thought about beating you to a pulp, using you for a punching bag until no one could recognize you, but I didn’t like that. I didn’t want to send your family or Malkin a giant bruise to cry over.” He continues on with an almost sadistic glee, “Then, I thought about pulling your teeth out one by one, ruining that pretty mouth Malkin must love so much, but I didn’t like that either. Too messy. Too much blood to clean up.

“Then, I thought about it some more, and I realized I didn’t want to beat you.” He pauses. “I wanted to break you. I wanted to get beneath the skin, to your very core and destroy it. I looked it up, talked to a few doctors, and learned that the body can sustain significant structural damage before shutting down, especially if the initial breaks are small. You can’t start with a big one, or you ruin all the fun.”

Sid pales, blood draining from his face as his mind conjures the image of his broken body laid out somewhere conspicuous for his family to find, no cuts or bullet wounds, just a hundred broken bones.

“The doctors told me that depending on where and how the force is applied, there won’t even be a bruise. Underneath, you’ll be in pieces, but on the outside, you’ll be perfectly fine. Cool, right?” Sid doesn’t respond, though Michael doesn’t seem to expect a response. “I’ve tried it with a couple of guys and gotten better each time, though it can be a little unpredictable. You never know just how the bone will break, but that makes it more fun.

“So, where should we start?” He pulls Sid’s chair back from the table and crouches in front of him. “Your feet? That way you couldn’t run away later. Your hands? You have beautiful hands, and I am sure you’ve used them on Malkin enough that I wouldn’t mind destroying those first, especially that left one.” Sid throws his weight back awkwardly, tipping the chair onto its back legs, but Michael is unbound and quicker than him.

He gets a hand on Sid’s foot and tuts. “I don’t think so. We’ll break that pretty head of yours a bit later, but we need to warm up first, and with your current position, the arms and hands are probably best. The most practical, don’t you think?”

He rights the chair and slinks behind it, rubbing over Sid’s shoulders in a mockery of a massage, and Sid leans forward as best he can, given the restraints. He can hear a distant gunshot, and he wonders if they’re far enough out of the city that Michael’s men can practice shooting here. It’s a strange thought to be having with Michael’s hands tracing down his arms and curling around his wrists. Maybe he’s already dissociating, his mind preparing for the pain his body will soon experience.

There’s another gunshot, closer, and Michael’s hands tighten around his wrists. He strides to the door, and it must be more solid than it appears because when he opens it, Sid can hear indistinct shouting and booming shots that don’t sound like they are coming from shooting practice.

“What the hell is going on?” Michael says, and he turns back to Sid. “As soon as I take care of this, we’ll get started.” He hurries down the hall, and Sid exhales in relief.

He has no idea what is happening. If he’s lucky, the police are raiding the place, having connected some of Holland’s shadier activities to this warehouse. They’ll offer him protection and the ability to call home. If he’s not so lucky, it’s a street gang trying to prove themselves by poaching on the mafia’s territory. They’ll either kill him or keep him as a trophy. He doesn’t want to rely on luck though, can’t count on fate to keep him safe, so he painstakingly scooches his chair back to the table and grabs the nearest knife with his teeth.

He leans to the side and back and lets it slide out, careful of the blade, wincing at the loud ringing sound the metal handle produces. Once it’s settled, he braces himself, rocking the chair side to side, until it tips over and crashes to the ground. His shoulder bears the brunt of the fall, but he manages to not hit his head, so the massive bruise likely to develop is worth it.

Delicately, his hands skate over the ground behind him in search of the dropped knife, and he finds it with his pinkie finger, getting a small nick for his trouble. He turns the blade in his hand and sets it against the tight plastic of the ziptie, pressing hard and sliding it back and forth gently. Too much force and the knife will slip and go flying across the room. When his hands are finally free, he is able to sit up enough to get a decent angle for his ankles.

“We’ve got him,” someone shouts from the hallway, and Sid flinches, head jerking towards the door. There’s a woman peering in at him, gun in hand. She doesn’t look threatening, and if Sid wasn’t coping with the adrenaline overload of the day, he would maybe even call her expression relief.

Another man comes into view beside her, and Sid feels a tinge of recognition. He knows this man, has seen him before, but not here, not dressed in a bulletproof vest and matching helmet. The man is talking into an earpiece, rattling off rapid-fire sentences in a language that isn’t English. When he’s done, he steps through the doorway .

“Sidney,” he says, and he has a rich accent, thicker than what Sid is used to from Zhenya, and that’s it. That’s it! A tidal wave of relief crashes through Sidney because this man is from Pittsburgh; he is Zhenya’s friend, his mentor.

“Seryozha,” Sid gasps out, hands losing their grip on the knife, and it clatters uselessly to the ground.

“Oh, Sidney,” Seryozha says and kneels beside him. He reaches for the knife, fingers wrapping around the sweat-slick handle when the sound of running pulls him up short. Someone is yelling, loud and angry, a vicious mixture of English and Russian that has the woman frantically gesturing towards the room.

A figure steps into the doorway, tall and imposing in its protective gear, and Sid wants to cry because he would recognize that face anywhere.

“Zhenya,” he sobs out, and Seryozha cuts the tie just in time for Sid to lunge at Zhenya, who has collapsed at his side.

“Sidnyusha.” He pulls him into his lap, long arms enveloping his shaking frame and fingers running through his sweat-soaked curls. “Sid, Sid, Sid,” he repeats like a mantra. “You’re okay. God, you’re okay. Did he hurt you?” he asks, hands moving in broad strokes across Sid’s back and arms, looking for wounds of any kind. “Did he touch you?” he asks, a dark, possessive edge to the words, and Sid takes an odd comfort in the violence they promise.

He shakes his head and burrows further into Zhenya’s arms, trying to eliminate any space between them, desperate for the solid, reassuring press of Zhenya’s body against his.

“Sid,” he says, cradling a hand around his head and tilting it back to meet his eyes. Sid notices that the hallway has been evacuated; the door is shut, and only Seryozha remains outside, likely standing guard. “I’m not be mad if he did. Well, not mad at you,” Zhenya corrects, accent thicker than Sid has ever heard before, and it sends a shiver down his spine that he is going to blame on residual fear. “I’m kill him, tear him to pieces and feed to the sharks. Please, tell me if he do anything.”

Sid locks eyes with Zhenya, trying to convey the honesty of his words with his gaze. “He didn’t, I swear. I kept him talking for as long as I could to buy time. He didn’t do anything more than touch my arms and feet. Oh, and my ring, my ring!”

Sid struggles to get out of Zhenya’s embrace so he can get his ring back, but Zhenya holds him firm. “Where is it?”

“On the table. He took it off because he didn’t think it was good enough for me.”

“Is not good enough. You deserve best, all diamonds and gold, but you not want.” Shaking his head ruefully, he stands and walks to the table, fetching the ring and returning to Sid. He kneels down and looks at Sid, gaze intent as he holds the ring out. “Will you marry me, Sidney?”

Sid can’t help the laughter that bubbles up in his throat, a mixture of amusement and gasping relief. “Yes, absolutely. Yes!” Flinging his arms around Zhenya’s neck, they tumble to the floor in a mess of tangled limbs and laughter, exchanging hard kisses that have Sid gasping for air.

“Let me see your hand,” Zhenya says, grinning up at Sid. He takes the proffered hand and kisses each finger, one by one, before sliding the ring back on, bussing a final kiss to its shiny surface, before pulling Sid down.

It’s a bit awkward, Zhenya’s thick gear getting in the way and the cold tile floor biting into Sid’s knees where they bracket Zhenya’s hips, but neither cares, ignoring the situation to trade deep kisses that ground Sid better than his Hockey Facts™ ever have. Zhenya’s got a hand working at Sid’s shirt, trying to pull it out from his tight pants, but the thick material of his gloves keeps sliding over the fabric uselessly.

There’s a knock at the door, and they pull apart enough to see Seryozha waving them over, face placid in the face of their comprising position. With a final kiss, Sid pulls himself up, grinning when Zhenya lets out an exasperated breath, readjusts his pants, and stands.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Seryozha tells them once they have emerged from the room, and he actually looks sorry, though he might just be sorry that he had to be the one to see and interrupt them. “We need decide what do with Holland and other survivors and get out of here. If cops aren’t already coming, then guys who work next will come soon and find everything.”

“Right, let’s go kill Holland,” Zhenya says, calmly resolute, and marches down the hall, hand tight around Sid’s.

“You should talk to Mario before kill him,” Seryozha advises as they enter the cavernous room where everyone has gathered. “He need decide if that best for everyone. Kill Holland, could lead to war.”

Zhenya looks torn at the words, wanting to eliminate Holland but knowing he must defer to his don first and foremost. “Yes, you’re right,” Zhenya finally grumbles out.

“And we should call Bryan, too,” Sid adds.

Zhenya’s brow furrows. “Why?”

“Well, for one, because I was taken on his territory, and two, because I am still technically under his protection.” Sid curls close, pressing his front all along Zhenya’s arm. “As much as I don’t like it, we aren’t married yet, Zhenya. A slight against me is a slight against Bryan, not you.”

There is frustration in his eyes, teeth grinding at the insinuation that anyone has more claim to Sid than he does, but he relents. “You’re right,” he sighs and kisses Sid’s hand where it’s joined with his. “Three more weeks.”

“Three more weeks.”

“It’s a long time.”

“Yes, but after that, we’ve got forever, so it’s worth it,” Sid says, feeling only slightly embarrassed at the sappy words and tone.

“Forever,” Zhenya repeats, wonder in his voice, and Sid suspects that if they weren’t surrounded by a whole rescue team, Zhenya would kiss him. Well, actually, Zhenya would kiss him no matter who was watching, but he knows Sid doesn’t like the attention, so he refrains from the more intimate displays of affection when others are around.

The call to Mario is quick, efficient, and he gives Zhenya permission to execute Bryan’s will, whatever it may be, ready to accept the consequences. Bryan’s call takes a bit longer, mostly because he spends the first two minutes screaming at Zhenya for not bringing him in on this, shouting about how he is still Sid’s father and his don, and Zhenya does not yet have the right to take on the full responsibility of protecting Sid. Eventually, he calms down enough to thank Zhenya and determines that Michael poses a permanent danger to Sid and must be dealt with swiftly and without mercy; Don Holland won’t be able to make any substantial objections, as the kidnapping and torture of another high-ranking mafia member is grounds for execution. Bryan promises to call Holland, as soon as he hangs up and inform him of the situation. Whatever his reaction, they will have enough time to get out and get back to Pittsburgh, or Chicago in Sid’s case, though the thought of leaving Zhenya has him burrowing closer beneath his chin to feel the steady rise and fall of his chest through the vest.

“Everyone agrees,” Zhenya tells him, “and Bryan has given me permission to exact revenge for your kidnapping and attempted torture.”

Sid nods, having overheard most of the conversation, and Zhenya beckons Seryozha to their side for a quick, whispered conversation that has Seryozha jogging back down the hall where Sid was held.

Zhenya looks down at him. “I am going to kill him for what he did,” he says, voice flinty. “You can stay to watch or wait in the car. What do you want?”

And this is one of the things Sid has liked most about Zhenya from the very beginning. He doesn’t treat him like he is fragile, too delicate to play hockey or too faint-hearted to watch him kill a man. He treats Sid with respect and allows him to make decisions for himself. It’s more than Sid had ever expected from his future spouse, and he is so grateful that Zhenya stepped in at the gala that night and showed him that Andrée wasn’t wrong when she promised Sid he would find a husband who treated him as an equal.

Sid looks over at where Michael is being held on his knees between two guards, and he remembers the manic fervor in his eyes when he talked about all the awful things he wanted to do to Sid. A shudder rattles through him, and he tucks himself closer to Zhenya, speaking into his neck. “I want to stay. I know it sounds crazy, but I think I’ll feel better knowing he is dead, seeing it happen with my own eyes. I’m sure that I’ll have nightmare no matter what,” and Zhenya makes an unhappy sound at the words, arms tightening around Sid like proximity alone will chase away future nightmares, “but if I can wake up and tell myself not to worry because he is dead and won’t come after me again, I think it will be easier.”

“Smart,” Zhenya says and presses a kiss to his curls.

Seryozha returns and holds a knife out, the one Sid had used to cut his ties earlier. Zhenya nods at Sid once, face going blank but eyes burning, as he holds a hand out to Seryozha for the blade.

“Michael Holland,” he begins, stepping away from Sid to turn and face Michael, “you kidnapped the eldest son of Don Bryan Toews of Chicago and the fiancée of Consilgiere Evgeni Vladimirovich Malkin of Pittsburgh.” It’s more formal than Sid expected, but there are traditions in the mafia, customs that must be upheld to maintain order. “You planned to torture and kill him, though these plans were fortunately stopped by our arrival. As Sidney Patrick Crosby falls under the protection of Don Toews, he is your judge in this case.” Zhenya sounds unhappy at the words, and Sid can’t help the small grin that curls his lips. “In his absence, he has chosen me to execute his ruling in the method I see fit.” He pauses, eyes hard. “Don Toews has sentenced you to death, and I have chosen to carry out his wishes through a ritual slashing of the belly and throat.”

From his vantage point behind Zhenya, Sid can see Michael’s eyes go wide, horrified, and he feels a dark satisfaction settle in his gut.

“Hold him up,” Zhenya commands, and the men holding Michael on his knees, raise him to his feet. “This knife would have been used to torture Sidney, but instead, he used it to cut himself free. What saved his life will bring your death.”

He raises the knife high for all to see and brings it down in a ferocious arch that leaves blood spattered across his clothing and dripping onto the floor. Michael groans but keeps his feet, and the first swipe is followed by two more. Sid can’t see the wounds, blocked by Zhenya, but the blood is spilling to the floor in thick rivulets, gathering into pools of glistening black.

“Sidney is mine,” Zhenya growls and drags the knife across Michael’s throat.

There is silence after, heavy and oppressive.

“Lay the body down. Holland can do what he chooses with him now.” Zhenya drops the knife to the floor and turns to address all assembled. “We will leave in five minutes, but we need to run a last sweep of the building.” He turns to Sid and meets his eyes, keeping a fair distance between them. There’s blood coating his hands and soaking into the fabric of his gloves; it’s splattered across his gear and face, and it’s awful, the deep red looking almost black.

“Thank you,” Sid tells him.

“I will take you back to Chicago,” he says. “Seryozha, can you make arrangements for the rest of you to get back to Pittsburgh?”

----

Their departure is quick and efficient, Zhenya dolling out orders to wipe down rooms and destroy anything that might be of value to the Hollands. In the center of the room, he stands stiff, and Sid wishes he could do something, anything to help him relax, but when he had approached Zhenya earlier, hand outstretched, he had been rebuffed.

“Not while I am like this, Sid,” he had said, holding up his bloodstained hands. “I have some spare clothes in the plane. I’ll change after we take off.”

Sid had nodded and stepped back, let Zhenya do what he thought was necessary and followed the directions to get in the car, to walk out to the tarmac, to board a private plane, to buckle up for taxi and take-off. Throughout it all, Zhenya was at his side, a solid but subdued presence, and it is only once they are in the air that Sid sees his shoulders relax minutely.

As soon as the captain gives permission, Sid hops up and makes his way to the front cabin, grabbing a couple rags and a garbage bag from one of the cabinets. He can’t find a bowl to fill up, so he snags a couple of water bottles and makes his way back to Zhenya, who is on his feet, rifling through a small carryon bag, gloves discarded in the seat beside him.

“Turn around,” Sid tells him, voice gentle.

Zhenya doesn’t hesitate to listen, abandoning his task to face Sid. He raises an eyebrow when he sees the supplies Sid has gathered, but he doesn’t ask questions, giving Sid space to do as he pleases. Carefully, Sid lets the bottles and rags fall into an empty seat before he turns to face Zhenya fully.

Hands shaking the tiniest bit, Sid catches his eye and takes a deliberate step forward, settling his hands at Zhenya’s waist, where he begins fiddling with the buckles of his bulletproof vest. Zhenya’s arms stay limp at his sides, his gaze fixed on Sid’s face as he works, tracing his features with a strange wonder that has Sid blushing. He gets the vest off and slides it into the garbage bag, taking a quick, fortifying breath before setting in on the buttons of Zhenya’s shirt.

“Sid,” he says, just a soft whisper that barely crosses the distance between them. It’s a statement and question rolled into one.

“Let me do this for you. Please.”

Zhenya only nods.

When the last button slides free, Sid pushes it off his shoulders and tries to distract himself from the warmth of Zhenya’s skin, the feel of his muscles flexing under Sid’s touch. The shirt follows the vest into the bag, and Sid places a gentle hand on Zhenya’s chest, nudging him into his seat. He then folds himself down, fluidly sinking to his knees, and he can hear the hitch in Zhenya’s breath, the cutoff groan that he lets out between parted lips. Nothing is going to happen, but it gives Sid a thrill to know the effect he has on his fiancé. Three more weeks. Just three more.

Cracking open one of the water bottles, Sid pours a generous amount onto a rag and grabs Zhenya’s hand, holding his wrist and dragging the cloth over his fingers, mindful of every wrinkle and fold as he cleans off the blood that soaked through his gloves.

“How did you find me?” he finally asks, curiosity getting the better of him. The question has been nagging away at him since Seryozha came through the door.

Zhenya shifts restlessly, and when Sid looks up from his task, he seems reticent to explain. “I tracked Holland.”

Arching a brow, Sid asks, “You found out I was missing, and your first thought was to look for Holland.”

Zhenya shakes his head. “No, I,” he looks embarrassed. “I’ve been tracking him since the gala.”

Sid’s hand falters. “Since the gala?”

“I didn’t like the way he looked at you, the way he talked to you. I have a friend in Detroit that I trust, so I asked him a few questions about Holland. What he liked in his partners, whether he was looking for a wife. Stuff like that,” Zhenya says with a shrug. “When he came back to me and said that Holland had his eye set on a boy from Chicago, I knew it was you, so I had him give me updates every once in a while.

“About a month ago, he told me Holland had heard about our engagement and wasn’t happy. Then, a week or two ago, he called me and said that Holland was planning something, didn’t know what, didn’t know where, but something was going to happen to you.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Sid asks, keeping a neutral tone. “Or tell Bryan?”

“I couldn’t risk my friend’s life, especially because he didn’t know enough. I would have called you and warned you that Holland was planning something, but that wouldn’t have changed anything.”

“We could have had extra security, could have stayed at home more until things blew over.”

“Blew over?” Zhenya repeats, incredulous. “Sid, didn’t you hear the way he talked about you? He was obsessed with you, wanted you for himself. Whether it was now or later, he would have done something to get you,” says Zhenya, arms waving emphatically, “and I couldn’t have you living in fear, not knowing when he would come.”

Taking his hand once more, Sid continues, “Maybe you’re right. Maybe this was inevitable, and extra security wouldn’t have changed anything, but either way, we would have known, would have expected it. We could have continued on as normal, same routines, but we would have known that something was coming and been prepared to handle it as soon as it happened.”

Zhenya looks somewhat chagrined. “Maybe,” he concedes. “But can’t change anything now.”

“No, but in the future, things can be different.”

“In the future, you will be my wife,” Zhenya growls, dislodging Sid’s grip to wrap his fingers around his left hand and trace his ring, “and I won’t have to contact another don to ensure your protection.”

Finished with Zhenya’s hands and arms, Sid rises to his feet. “True, and as your wife, I expect to be informed of everything going on within the Family. There will be no secrets between us,” he tells him and leans forward to work at the blood on Zhenya’s face.

“No, no secrets,” Zhenya agrees, hooking his fingers through Sid’s belt loops and tugging him forward, until Sid gives in and straddles his lap, legs splayed wide to bracket Zhenya’s hips. Even though the seats are larger than they would be in a commercial jet, it’s still a tight fit. “I won’t keep anything from you; I won’t be able to.”

“Good, now let me finish, so I can kiss you.”

Zhenya falls obediently silent, eyes fierce as he watches Sid determinedly scrubbing at his chin to get the last drops off. When Sid has thrown the rag into the garbage bag with everything else, Zhenya captures his hands and holds them up for inspection, thumbs swiping over the red lines from where the ziptie had bitten into his wrist. He places a soft kiss on the tender, inner skin right above Sid’s pulse, then another in the palm of each hand.

“You are the strongest, bravest man I have ever met. The smartest, too,” Zhenya says, pressing small kisses to the pads of Sid’s fingers. “You were kidnapped by a crazy man, threatened with torture, and you kept him talking for so long, long enough for us to come for you, for me to find you.”

“He thought we were sleeping together,” Sid tells him. The words spill out without thought or intent, filling the space between them, and Sid can’t help it, feels like he needs to tell Zhenya this, needs to let him know. “He thought that you’d already had me, so he didn’t want me anymore, didn’t want what you had gotten first.” Zhenya drops Sid’s hands and pulls at his hips, dragging him closer and locking an arm around his waist.

“Am first,” he rumbles out, his voice slipping into the heavier accent Sid had noticed earlier. “First and only.”

Sid sighs, trying to follow Zhenya’s words and not the hot paths his hands are tracing over his body, leaving him flushed and overheated. “Yeah,” he agrees and tightens his legs until Zhenya groans at the pressure. “First and only for you, too.”

“Of course,” Zhenya promises. “Wouldn’t want anyone else.”

There’s a deep satisfaction that settles in Sid’s gut at his words, a fierce pride in knowing he is the only one who will ever see Zhenya like this, who will ever receive his kisses or feel him between his legs.

Zhenya kisses the hollow of his throat, nuzzling against the soft skin until Sid is breathless, caught between a giggle and a moan. “Remember my first visit to Pittsburgh?” Zhenya asks, nipping up Sid’s neck and gently sucking at his ear lobe.

“Yes,” Sid breathes out.

“Remember what you said when I left?” He nibbles at Sid’s jaw, hands kneading over Sid’s hips and lower back, fingers just above the swell of his ass, and Sid can feel the wetness gathering at his entrance.

“Yes,” he answers, struggling to keep the thread of the conversation, all his energy focused on not shoving his ass back into Zhenya’s hands or grinding down where he can feel him getting hard. They’re flirting with the very edges of propriety, alone in the cabin, positioned as they are.

“I did it,” Zhenya informs him, grin pressed to the underside of Sid’s jaw as he bites at the skin there, like he knows exactly how hot that gets Sid. “I do it,” he amends. “Every time, I think of you.”

Sid lets out a moan, soft and whiny, and rakes his fingers through Zhenya’s hair, guiding his mouth where he wants him.

“Think about it being your hand, your mouth, your hole. Think about getting between your legs like that first time, like now, and staying. No one interrupt; no one stop.”

Sid’s hips are moving in short, aborted thrusts, and he can feel the slickness between his cheeks, coating the thin fabric of his briefs. He wants to pull his shirt off and press against Zhenya’s bare skin, feel him move against him.

“Do you think about it?” Zhenya whispers into his ear, lips wet where they brush Sid’s skin.

“Think about what?” Sid’s struggling to pay attention, too distracted by the prominent bulge in Zhenya’s pants that is pressing just behind his balls, hard and insistent.

“About me, when you’re alone, when you want.”

“Yes,” he murmurs, blindly mouthing at Zhenya, “every time.”

Zhenya makes a broken noise and bucks up against Sid, snugging his erection further into the crease of Sid’s ass.

“I think about your hands and your mouth opening me up, getting me wet and ready. I think about wearing that chain you bought me, the one the girl said would look beautiful on my bare skin.”

Zhenya growls and pulls Sid tighter against him. “But she never see it.”

“No,” Sid answers with a soft kiss, “she won’t. I tried it on though, later that night, let it slide down until it stayed in place, and I thought about you. I thought about how much you would like it, me wearing only the chain and the ring you bought me. I thought about how you would react, how you would keep me close the whole night.”

“Never let go,” Zhenya promises, and he’s clutching at Sid’s waist like he’s picturing the chain there, the small golden links gliding across Sid’s skin under his fingers.

“Never,” Sid agrees, and he curls his fingers through Zhenya’s hair to pull him into a filthy, wet kiss that goes on and on.

He can feel the minute shifts of Zhenya beneath him, the way he pushes up into Sid when he gets his teeth on his neck or when he accidentally trails a hand over one of his nipples, relishing the hot gasp Zhenya presses into his neck, brokenly asking Sid to do that again. He’s managed to untuck Sid’s shirt, fingers sliding beneath the fabric and stealing Sid’s breath away, his hands large and warm, painting broad strokes across Sid’s back that have him rocking his hips down.

“We will begin our descent in three minutes,” the pilot’s voice comes over the speakers, and Sid flinches back, nearly pitching himself out of the seat before Zhenya steadies him. “Please make sure any baggage or other items are properly stowed.”

Once the speakers go silent, Sid wants to dive right back in, tempted by the swollen pink of Zhenya’s lips, but he knows someone will be waiting as soon as they land, Bryan or Jonny or Andrée, none of whom will have any qualms about interrupting, if they don’t get off the plane fast enough. He’s been laughed at plenty over the last few months, so he gives Zhenya a last peck and slides off his lap.

Pressed close, Sid could only feel Zhenya, but now he can see him, too, can appreciate the uneven rise and fall of his chest, the smattering of red marks he left on his neck, the obvious erection pressing at his zipper. He turns away to tuck in his shirt.

“Go finish changing in the bathroom,” he orders.

He can hear Zhenya rifling through the bag again, pulling out articles of clothing, but he doesn’t turn back around until he can hear footsteps headed toward the bathroom. Grabbing the water bottles and rags, he tosses the unused ones back into the appropriate cabinets and chugs what remains in the open bottle, suddenly aware that the last time he drank anything was at least eight or nine hours ago at the tailor shop.

When Zhenya exits the bathroom, he shoves his ruined dress pants in with the rest of his clothes and ties it off. “We should buckle up,” he tells Sid, gesturing to the seat beside his, tangling their fingers together as soon as they are strapped in, thumb swiping over Sid’s as they begin their descent into Chicago.

Looking out at the familiar skyline, Sid is suddenly struck with the thought that this is probably the last time he will fly into Chicago and think of it as home. In three weeks, he will marry Zhenya and move to Pittsburgh with him, and though they’ll probably visit Chicago from time to time, it will never be home again. It’s a bittersweet thought.

“Gentlemen, we have arrived,” the polite announces once they’ve come to a stop. “There is a car waiting outside for Mr. Crosby.”

Sid turns to Zhenya, confused. “You’re heading straight back to Pittsburgh?”

“Yes, Mario will need a full report of what happened.”

“Surely, he can wait until tomorrow morning. It’ll be so late by the time you get in.”

Zhenya smiles softly and presses a kiss to the back of his hand. “It’s okay.” The smile turns mischievous, and his tongue pokes out between his teeth. “Anyways, after what you told me earlier, I am not sure it’s the best idea for me to sleep in the same house as you, when I can’t sleep with you.”

Sid swallows thickly, nodding. “You’re probably right.”

“But I’ll be back in three weeks, and then I won’t ever have to say goodbye again.”

“Never again,” Sid says and stands up, making his way to the front of the plane, where the pilot has opened the hatch. At the exit, he spins around and presses in close to Zhenya. “Think about me tonight.”

“You too,” Zhenya answers with heat in his eyes.

Sid stands on tiptoe to kiss him, tongue sneaking out to swipe over his lips before pulling back. “Three more weeks,” he says.

“Three more weeks, Sidnyusha,” Zhenya agrees and watches Sid climb down to the tarmac, where Andrée drags him into a fierce hug, sobbing into his shoulder about how scared they had been. When she finally lets go, they wave to Zhenya and climb into the car, peeling out of the airport and back to the house.

----

The weeks pass quicker than Sid would have expected, and it feels like no time at all before he is standing in front of a mirror, navy blue suit on, as Charles does the final adjustments. “Stop fidgeting, or I’ll stab you,” he threatens, waving a pin around menacingly until Sid stills and he can return to work. “I don’t understand why you’re so fidgety. You’ve not got cold feet, have you? I’ve heard nothing but praise and adoration for this boy since you came into the shop after the engagement, so you can’t be having second thoughts.”

“I’m not nervous,” Sid says. “Just a bit impatient.”

There’s a snort from the corner, where Jonny sits. “Impatient to get out of that suit, if you know what I mean,” he jokes, wiggling his eyebrows in a truly idiotic way.

“Shut up,” Sid hisses and tries to shoot him a dirty look, getting a light prick to his leg for his trouble. Jonny had caught them in the library last night, stretched out on the couch, trading slow kisses and whispering about how excited they were for the next day. They had kept it mostly appropriate, Sid tucked into the curve of Zhenya’s arm rather than on top of him like he wanted, hands above the waist on both sides. Jonny had still given them shit though, telling Sid it was bad luck for the bride and groom to see each other the night before the wedding.

“You’ll have forever to fuck. You can wait one more night,” he had said, causing Sid to flush a vibrant red. He had known his affection for Zhenya was no secret, had known that everyone knew how much he wanted and still wants him in his bed, but he didn’t know how to explain to Jonny that it wasn’t about the sex. He had wanted to stay curled up next to Zhenya because he felt safe and protected, and marriage didn’t seem quite so foreign and intimidating when he had his future husband telling him all about their new home in Pittsburgh and the children they would have someday to fill it up.

Sid didn’t know how to express those feelings last night, and he doesn’t think he could do any better today, though he wants to explain it to Zhenya, wants him to know how much he means to him, how much Sid looks forward to their future together.

“We all know you want it, Sid. I don’t think there’s any one in the whole Family who hasn’t interrupted you two mid-make-out yet. We’re all quiet scarred, you know.”

“If you learned to knock, it wouldn’t be a problem.”

“If you learned to stay with your chaperone, no one would have to come bursting in on you in compromising positions,” Jonny retorts.

Sid huffs. “Whatever, anyways, don’t you have better things to do than give me grief about my love life? Like, say, get one of your own Mr. I-turned-18-two-months ago. There’s going to be lots of eligible young men and women at the ceremony and the party afterwards. I am sure one of them wouldn’t find you totally repulsive.”

“Ha, ha. You really should just stick to being the pretty one because you’re definitely not the funny one.”

“And you should be nice to me. It’s my wedding day, and after today, I won’t be around to tease all the time.” He had started off reprimanding but finished with a tinge of sadness that has Jonny looking forlorn.

“Abandoning us for some guy you’ve only known for four months,” Jonny jokes, voice tight.

Charles rises and looks Sid over. “Right, my work here is done. I’m heading to my seat, boys.” He walks out, door swinging shut behind him, leaving Jonny staring at the ground and Sid staring at Jonny.

“I’m going to miss you,” he says and steps down from the small stool Charles had brought out, taking a seat beside Jonny. “It’s been the two of us for as long as I can remember, and it’ll be weird not to see you every day.”

“Could just not get married,” Jonny mutters, gruff.

“If I don’t marry Zhenya, then I’ll have to marry someone else eventually, and I much prefer someone that I actually like and am attracted to over someone I am forced to marry for political gain.”

Jonny shrugs, and his eyes look a bit misty.

“Jonny,” Sid starts and loops an arm around his shoulders, “he’s not replacing you. He could never replace you. He’s my husband, and you’re my brother, and I love you both, so much, just in very different ways.” Jonny snorts. “I know that we won’t get to see each other as much, especially as you get busier and busier with the Family here in Chicago, but we can call. Hell, it’s not even a two-hour flight, so it won’t be hard to visit, if our schedules are good. I’m not abandoning you. I’m not leaving forever. I’m just growing up and starting the next part of my life. Look, I wish I could explain to you what it feels like to love Zhenya—”

“Please, don’t try,” Jonny begs, a disgusted look on his face.

“Shut up,” Sid says, shoving at his head. “First, he’s gorgeous, and you know it. Second, that’s not what I was talking about. I know that there’s a political element to our marriage, that this will be used to grease the wheels for some negotiations and trade agreements, but I also know that I lucked out getting someone who genuinely cares about me and who I care about, too. I love you, Jonny. You’re my brother, and you always will be, but the love for a spouse is something else entirely, something more, and I never really understood that before now.

“It’s not that he’s my other half because that’s a bullshit idea; I’m not an incomplete person without him, but he is my perfect complement. We balance each other out, and I feel like he is always pushing me to be better, on the rink and at the negotiation table, and I think that’s what marriage is about, getting better together.”

“Shit, when did you get so wise?”

“Always been mature for my age, or so they tell me,” Sid smirks. “But seriously Jonny, I hope that you find someone someday that makes you as happy as Zhenya makes me, that you marry someone who loves you unconditionally.”

There’s a blush rising in Jonny’s cheeks, and Sid doesn’t know if he is embarrassed to talk about something as sappy as this or what. “Yeah, yeah, that’s the goal. Yup. I’ll get on that. Find my perfect complement or whatever and live happily ever after like you and Geno. Sounds great. Yup, can’t wait.”

“You’re rambling,” Sid interrupts. “Why are you rambling?”

“I’m not rambling,” Jonny protests, eyes wide and alarmed. “I’m just saying that I agree with you about finding some great person to spend the rest of my life with like you and Geno. We can play hockey together and shove each other around the rink like you guys do and get caught making out by all our parents and siblings like you do, and it’ll be good. That’s all.”

“No, no, you only ramble like this when you’re nervous,” Sid says, eyeing Jonny suspiciously. “Are you worried about marriage, Jonny? I mean, it is kind of intimidating to be honest, but as long as it’s with the right person, that doesn’t matter.”

“Marriage doesn’t scare me.”

“No? Then why are you nervous rambling?” Sid asks, squinting at Jonny, trying to parse his expression, a strange blend of fear and anxiety, tinged with what may be…joy? Or at least some happiness. “Oh, shit,” he breathes out, shocked. “Holy fucking shit, Jonny!”

“What? What?” And his expression is morphing into panic.

“Holy shit, you’ve already got someone, don’t you?”

Jonny sputters, “No way! That’s not true. That’s ridiculous,” Jonny yells, shoving at Sid. “That’s fucking horseshit, man. Stop projecting your feelings onto me.”

“Oh my God, who is it?” Sid asks gleefully. “Do I know him? Where’s he from? And why haven’t I heard about this before?”

Jonny shrugs noncommittally. “You’ve been a little busy planning your wedding.”

“No way, not so busy that I wouldn’t have noticed you developing real, human feelings for someone,” Sid scoffs. “Come on, tell me. Is it a secret? If so, why? Is he in a lower station, some laborer’s son? Or is he a layman, some civilian you’ve picked up?” Sid pauses, horrified. “Wait, he’s from Detroit, isn’t he? God, Jonny, please don’t tell me he’s from Detroit.”

“He’s not from Detroit!” Jonny bursts, cheeks a splotchy red from annoyance and embarrassment.

“So it is a he,” Sid grins.

“You suck.”

“Earlier you said I was wise.”

“I take it back.”

Sid looks at Jonny, pensive. “You’ve known him for a while, haven’t you? I remember that day in the car, when you met Zhenya for the first time; you understood what I was talking about when I said we had clicked. You understood because you’d already felt the same thing, right?”

Jonny hunches over, burying his face in his hands. “Please, stop talking.”

“Nope, you can’t be an emotionally-constipated dick forever. Better to talk this out with me than with Bryan, when he starts really getting onto you about finding a spouse, or worse, Andrée.”

Groaning, Jonny sits up, head tipped back as he silently mouths what Sid thinks are obscenities at the ceilings. “His name is Patrick.”

“Patrick, good name.”

“We met when we were thirteen at some conference in Detroit. I think one of the Holland kids was having a birthday, and bringing us along to celebrate was a sign of goodwill or something. I don’t know,” he trails off.

“So you were thirteen,” Sid prompts.

“Thirteen, and we’d convinced everyone that it would be a great idea to set up a game of ball hockey because Pat had claimed he had the softest hands and could get around anyone.”

Sid doesn’t miss the slide into a more informal name and wonders just how well Jonny knows this guy.  “So of course, you had to challenge him.”

“Yeah, so we got everyone divided up, and we started playing, and he was right,” Jonny says, and there’s wistfulness to his tone that has Sid raising an eyebrow. “Softest fucking hands I’ve ever seen. I swear, if he wasn’t a Don’s kid, he could’ve made it in the NHL.”

“Which Don?”

“Kane.

“So Buffalo?

“Fuck,” Jonny swears. “Stop interrogating me, Sid. You’re too fucking smooth with the questions.”

“Thank you,” Sid answers, knowing Jonny didn’t mean it as a compliment, and presses on, “We could do with better connections further north. What makes Patrick Kane so great though?”

Jonny huffs, grumbling under his breath about “fucking brothers who never listen and are too hopped up on marriage,” but Sid ignores the words, prodding Jonny gently.

“He’s just something else,” Jonny finally sighs out. “He’s got the softest hands but the hardest eyes when he’s determined to deke past you and get a shot on goal, and he’s insanely smart. Well, street smart, not really book smart. He’s got a head for strategy and knows how to get on people’s good side.”

Sid nods, all good qualities in any spouse but especially in the spouse of a future Don. “If I’m not mistaken, he’s a carrier.”

“Yeah.”

Sid waits for Jonny to continue and rolls his eyes when he stays silent. “So have you maybe mentioned your interest to Bryan? I know he’s been looking for matches all over the place, and I know you haven’t liked any of them, which makes sense now if you’ve had your sights set on this guy. I’m actually surprised Bryan hasn’t arranged a meeting with Don Kane.” An awful thought occurs to him. “Patrick’s not already seeing someone is he?”

Jonny shakes his head. “He doesn’t even turn eighteen until November.”

“So he’s a carrier, the son of a Don, and about to come of age. Also, you already have a ridiculously huge crush on him. Seems like everything is falling into place quite nicely for you.”

Jonny stays quiet, hands fidgeting restlessly, and Sid waits him out. “What if he doesn’t like me?” Jonny finally asks, head ducked low and voice uncharacteristically soft.

“Then he’s an idiot.”

“Sid, I’m serious.”

“And I am, too. Jonny, you are a catch: young, athletic, okay-looking, and a future leader.”

“Yeah, anyone would want to marry a future Don,” Jonny bites back, jaded.

Sid wants to shake the stubbornness right out of him. “That’s not what I meant, and you know it. Jonny, even without your birthright, it’s clear you were meant to lead, and if you hadn’t been born into the family you have, you still would have risen up to be the CEO of some Fortune 500 company or the captain an NHL team. Anyone would be lucky to have you.”

Jonny grunts.

“If you tell Bryan, he could arrange a visit, something informal since Patrick isn’t of-age yet, and you could feel things out with him, find out if he likes you or not.” The suggestion gets a vague shrug from Jonny, and Sid can sense something more, a deeper worry Jonny is brushing off. “It’s not Patrick liking you that you’re most concerned about though, is it?”

Jonny shakes his head, jaw tense, and Sid doesn’t understand why he’s tight-lipped about this, why he’s avoiding eye contact and shifting around like he wants to bolt from the room. It’s clear he likes Patrick, and Sid is certain that even if Patrick isn’t on that level yet, he could get there, given the time. It’s not the guy thing, obviously, and since Patrick is a carrier, the question of heirs is covered.

Sid thinks back to the moment Jonny told him about his interest in men, quiet and almost fearful, like he didn’t think Sid would accept it, didn’t think he could get what he wanted from a marriage because there were so few carriers in the mafia, so few options for him to choose from. With Jonny’s most recent confession though, Sid begins to turn that conversation back over in his head, reviewing Jonny’s words, noting his reticence and fear.

“Oh my God,” he breathes out, an awful thought striking him. “Oh my God, you fucking idiot.”

Jonny gawks, offended and on the brink of defending himself. 

“No,” says Sid, holding a hand up to keep him silent. “I can’t believe you, you fucking self-flagellating idiot. You are so, so into Patrick, and I bet you know that he’s into you, too, but you don’t think the match will be approved. Either Bryan won’t reach out for a visit, or Don Kane won’t give his approval, and you’ll be left with a broken heart and no interest in anyone else.”

Sid continues, on a roll, “So you’ve decided to not even risk it, haven’t you? You’re so convinced that it won’t work out, you’ve decided to not even give it a shot. Less pain this way, or something dumb like that.” There is a look of dawning horror on Jonny’s face, and Sid knows he’s right on the money with this. “When you came out to me, you weren’t worried about the small number of available carriers, you were worried because there was—is—only one that you are interested in, but you’ve decided, for some unknown reason, that you two won’t receive the approval of your dons, so you haven’t asked Bryan to do anything about, and you knew he wouldn’t reach out to request a visit to a minor on his own. But why would you think that? I mean, seriously, what the fuck, Jonny?” Sid falls silent, breath whooshing out of him in a rush.

Jonny looks like he’s about to cry, and it breaks Sid’s heart to see him so torn up about it. “I hadn’t even realized I liked boys the first time we met,” he confesses, voice achingly soft. “I thought it was just my normal competitiveness that had me thinking about him all the time, trying to come up with ways to defend him or get past him for a shot. It wasn’t until—” he cuts himself off abruptly, cheeks flaming, and Sid waits him out, knows what Jonny is about to share is immensely personal. He clears his throat and starts again, “It wasn’t until I had a wet dream about him that I realized I liked guys and that I liked him in particular.

“I tried to brush it off because, even though I knew there were men who could have children and that Patrick was one of them, Maman and Dad always talked about me marrying a woman: some nice girl I could start a family with. I knew there weren’t many carriers already, and I knew how ridiculous it was to believe that Patrick and I had any chance of ending up together, so I tried to get over it, get over him.

“Obviously, that hasn’t worked too well, but I’m trying, especially since Dad keeps talking about strengthening relations out west or in the South. I know my marriage will be about politics, and though I’d love for things to turn out like they have for you and Geno, I know that’s not the majority of marriages, at least not for the leaders.”

Sid resists the urge to punch him in the shoulder, certain that Jonny’s feeling raw and vulnerable after sharing all of this. Collecting his thoughts, he chooses his words carefully, deliberately, mulling them over before speaking. “First, I know that there is a chance that Bryan or Don Kane might not approve the match, but you’ll never know if you don’t ask, and you don’t want that ‘what if?’ hanging over you forever, no matter how it turns out.” When Jonny doesn’t immediately contradict him, Sid continues, “Second, while your marriage will have a political element, Bryan will also want to be sure that it is a strong marriage because that will make you a stronger don. Your wife will be your partner and confidante, and a solid relationship with him bodes well for the whole Family. Third, I am certain that an alliance with Buffalo would be beneficial. It’s practically the gateway to all the eastern Canadian cities: Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, so it wouldn’t hurt to have an in over there.”

Jonny barely moves as Sid speaks, jaw set and eyes fixed on a far-away point, but Sid knows he is listening, has lived with him long enough to recognize the minute signs he gives off to indicate he is paying careful attention, so they sit in silence as Jonny considers his words.

After a few minutes, he slowly nods. “You make some good points,” he concedes. “I still have some doubts. To be honest, I’m kind of scared shitless that this isn’t going to work out, but I don’t want to ask myself in twenty years, ‘What if I had tried things out with Patrick? What if we had worked out?’ I don’t want to look at my future kids and wonder if they could have had Patrick as mother, if I had just been brave enough to go for it.”

Sid smiles, soft and proud. “Is he here? I know the Kanes were invited.”

“He should be.”

“Ask him to dance,” Sid tells him. “Obviously, you won’t be able to talk about anything too personal with everyone around and with him being a minor, but you can ask him if he would want you to request a visit.” Jonny looks unconvinced. “I bet Bryan would be thrilled to hear you might actually have an interest in someone. You’ve shot down every other option he’s presented thus far, and that’s got to be frustrating.” Sid pats him on the shoulder and stands. “At any rate, it is your choice, but I really think you should go for it.”

There’s a knock on the door, and David peeks in. “You ready?”

Sid looks to Jonny, who nods, and they stand, Sid praying his suit didn’t get too wrinkled otherwise Charles will have his head. “No what if’s, right?” Sid whispers to Jonny, as they make their way down the hall, footsteps echoing on the stones on the church.

“No what if’s,” Jonny responds, looking nervous but sure.

----

The wedding party is gathered outside the chapel doors, milling about as they wait for the procession to begin.

“There you are!” Andrée exclaims, rushing towards them and clasping Sid’s face in her hands. “You look so handsome in your suit, all grown up on your wedding day. I can’t believe it’s finally arrived. It feels like just yesterday that Trina had you.” Already a bit emotional from the conversation with Jonny, the mention of his mom has Sid tearing up like he hasn’t in years, fat drops pooling in his eyes and rolling down his cheeks to the cold stone floor. “Oh sweetheart, don’t cry,” she murmurs and pulls him close. “I am sure she is watching you from up there, so proud and so happy for you and Geno.”

Sid nods and buries his face against Andrée, too choked up to speak. After almost a decade, the memory of his parents’ death doesn’t sting as much, fading to a dull ache he doesn’t think will ever fully heal.

Once Sid has regained enough composure to pull back, she says, “She and Troy are watching over you. They would want you to be happy today.”

Scrubbing at his eyes and cheeks, Sid takes a deep breath, grateful Andrée hadn’t forced any make-up on him. “I know. You’re right; I know.”

“Chéri, I am so proud of you, proud of the choices you have made and the life you are beginning with Geno. You will always be your mother’s son first, but you’re my son, too, and you’re all grown up! Marrying a good man, who will take care of you, and I couldn’t be happier.”

“You’ll always be my maman,” Sid says and hugs her again, trying to get a handle on his emotions.

“I love you, sweetheart,” she murmurs, rubbing soothing circles into his back. “I love you so much, and I know you and Geno will be good to each other, and that’s the only thing that makes this easier.”

“I love you, too,” Sid whispers, choked up. “I promise I’ll call as often as I can.”

“And if you don’t, I’ll just assume he hasn’t let you out of bed,” Andrée grins to lighten the mood. Sid can see a few people checking their watches and knows the procession should be starting soon, or it maybe should have already started, but no one is brave enough to interrupt them to get things moving.

Feeling daring, Sid grins right back, “Maybe I’ll be the one keeping him in bed.”

Andrée’s mouth drops open in surprise and delight, and she laughs loudly. “Well, if you can joke like that, maybe you are ready to get married.”

Sid tries to maintain his mischievous grin, but eventually, he ducks his head, cheeks flushed from embarrassment. This woman raised him, saw him in the first awkward stages of puberty and inconvenient erections, accepted him during the awful frosted tip faze, and never judged him when she would stumble across the lube stuffed under his bed. Now, Sid is making sex jokes to her face. It’s a little surreal, maybe even more so than that first wonderful, too-short kiss with Zhenya, when Andrée and Bryan had burst in.

“Are we ready?” Bryan asks, stepping up once Andrée’s laughter has died down and Sid is able to raise his head again.

“Yes, we are,” Andrée answers, and Sid feels misty-eyed at the bittersweet smile she directs his way.

“Let’s do this,” he says and falls into place in line, hand looping through Bryan’s arm as the various members of the wedding party move into position.

He watches the chapel doors swing open, the faint strains of organ music pouring out into the entryway, and he lets out a shaky breath.

“Nervous?” Bryan asks, eyes fixed on the first pair slowly walking down the aisle.

“Yes,” Sid admits, “but it’s not bad nervous.”

Bryan raises a brow.

“I’m not scared. I’m not worried I’m making the wrong decision,” he reassures him. “It’s more an excited nervous, like I just want it to be over so I can to be married, you know?”

“I do,” Bryan says. “I felt the same way when I married Andrée, though I had to wait at the end of the aisle, and I’m a bit ashamed to admit that a small part of me worried she wouldn’t walk in through those doors. Obviously, that was ridiculous, and she came down the aisle, looking like an angel.” They’re almost to the chapel, just the ringbearer and Taylor standing between them and the open doors. Bryan leans close, smirking. “I’ll bet you a thousand bucks Geno won’t be able to keep his mouth shut when he sees you. He’ll be standing up there catching flies the whole time.”

Smiling, Sid ducks his head. He’s never had trouble seeing his faults: the teeth that always seem too big for his mouth, the ass that garners chirps everywhere he goes, the curls that never seem to sit still. But Zhenya always looks at him like he’s the best thing ever, cooing over his teeth (“So cute, Sid.”) and running appreciative eyes over his ass, making Sid flush and go a bit wet. He wouldn’t be surprised if Zhenya gapes at him through the whole ceremony, but he really wouldn’t mind either. Sid’s never much cared for attention, just wanting to work hard on the rink or in the classroom, but he finds he kind of likes it when Zhenya is the one paying him attention.

“I think I would lose that bet,” Sid whispers back, and Bryan laughs.

“You’ve got his number, kid. That’s for sure.” As they enter through the doors of the chapel, Bryan pats his hand. “Joking aside, I’m happy for you. You and Geno are well-matched.”

Sid offers a quiet thank you and fixes his eyes on the end of the aisle, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other as everyone stares at him. Zhenya is standing beside the priest, striking in a sharp, black suit, and he’s let his mouth fall open to gape at them, at Sid.

When they make it to the end, Bryan hands Sid off to Zhenya with a final, quiet demand to take care of him, to which Zhenya quickly agrees without looking away from Sid. His mouth is still hanging open, and Sid can’t help the soft giggle that bubbles up his throat.

“So beautiful, Sid,” Zhenya says, and Jonny snorts from behind him.

Feeling charitable, Sid ignores him and smiles back at Zhenya. “Thank you. You look really good, too.” The words feel inadequate, but judging by the way Zhenya’s eyes go a bit dark, Sid is certain his tone more than makes up for it.

“Dearly beloved,” the priest begins, and Sid tries his very best to concentrate on the words. It’s difficult though with Zhenya’s eyes on him, looking like he wants to jump him right there but also like he wants to cuddle him forever in the tenderest embrace. He tunes back in just in time to hear Zhenya say, “I do,” before sliding the ring on his finger.

When it’s Sid’s turn, he can’t help the tears that gather in his eyes as he listens to the priest read off the promises of sickness and health, for better or worse. His “I do” is soft but certain, and Zhenya breaks into a wild grin when Sid gets the ring on. He barely waits for the priest to wrap up and give them permission to kiss, before he is pulling Sid close and sealing their mouths together in a hot slide. There’re a few affronted gasps and hooting catcalls that have Sid breaking the kiss before he really wants to, cheeks flushed from the heat of the kiss and the attention.

They grin at each other, besotted, only turning to face the guests when the priest lets out a pointed cough. Sid is too happy right now to be embarrassed though, and he clutches tight to Zhenya’s hand as they make their way to the front of the church and the limousine waiting to take them to their reception.

Zhenya opens the door for him, then slips in to crowd Sid against the opposite side. “Do we have to go to the reception?” he immediately asks, hands already moving to get beneath Sid’s jacket.

“I’m afraid so,” Sid laughs, gentling the words with a sucking kiss to Zhenya’s jaw. “As much as I would love to abandon them all for our hotel, Andrée and Natalia would never forgive us, and our siblings would never let us forget it.”

Zhenya groans. “Why are you so smart?” he whines, chasing Sid’s lips with his own. He’s got a hand on Sid’s knee, fingers flirting at the inseam of his pants, and he keeps moving them up and back down, getting closer and closer to where Sid can feel himself growing wet.

“Don’t know, just am,” Sid responds, reaching down to stop the dangerous path Zhenya is on, much as he doesn’t want to.

“What if we jerk-off?” Zhenya proposes. “Just quick.”

The thought is tempting, and Sid imagines Zhenya’s hand moving down his back and between his cheeks, teasing at his entrance. He bites back a moan. “Too messy.”

“Sid, please,” Zhenya begs. “I’m need, or I die.”

 Sid scoffs. “You won’t die.”

“Don’t know that,” Zhenya persists, fingers creeping over Sid’s thigh. “I’m wait so long, Sid. Been thinking about for months and months. Think about sounds you’re make. Think about how you’re look when you come. Think about be inside you.” The thicker accent is back, words slurring as he moves more into Sid’s space, blocking out everything else.

“I know,” Sid whimpers, and clutches at Zhenya’s hand, unsure if he wants to pull it closer, right where he needs it, or push it away because he knows they can’t start anything that won’t end in utter mortification when someone at the reception hall opens the door to find them with their pants down.

“Then why stop, Sid? We wait long time, be so good. Just kiss, little touches. Can do more now though. Can look everywhere,” Zhenya’s voice is a low rumble that Sid can feel, “touch everywhere,” he continues, as his hand slides up Sid’s legs, nails scraping lightly over the fabric, “kiss everywhere,” he finishes, mouthing at the skin below Sid’s ear as his fingers work against Sid, sending shivery shocks through him with every pass.

Sid fumbles for anything that isn’t a drawn-out moan and mostly fails. “Zhenya,” he whines, “Zhenya, I know. I know. I want to.” His hand spasms against Zhenya’s wrist when he presses firm enough to get between Sid’s slick cheeks. “God, do I want to.”

“Then not stop. We married, Sid. Can do anything now. No one interrupt; no one stop.” He catches Sid’s ear lobe between his teeth and pulls lightly at it. “You my wife,” he whispers hotly. “All mine.”

The car rolls to a stop, and Sid groans, half relief and half frustration. “God, Zhenya,” he says, head tilted back and fists clenched at his sides. “I promise I want you just as much as you want me. I’ve thought about it so much, so damn much. Everything I want to do to you. Everything I want you to do to me,” he breathes out, and Zhenya makes an unhappy noise next to him. “But I don’t want our first time to be some rushed jerk-off in the backseat of our limo. Let’s wait a couple hours, eat dinner, and dance. Then, we can go back to our hotel and spend as much time as we want looking and touching and kissing.”

Zhenya huffs, and Sid pats his knee, commiserating.

“I know it’s not ideal. I wish we could just go now, but we can’t. We need to go in there,” Sid continues with a jerk of his head toward the large reception hall, “and pretend like we actually want to see other people. As soon as we can though, we’ll leave and spend the next two days in bed before we have to fly out to Pittsburgh. Okay?”

Zhenya growls lightly and bites at Sid’s neck. “You right,” he concedes and leans back. “Sid is smartest.”

“And don’t forget it,” Sid grins as they slip out of the car, and he can’t help but watch Zhenya readjust himself, incredibly smug at being the cause of his predicament.

Somehow, Natalia and Andrée are already waiting for them, when they push in through the doors, and they’ve both got knowing looks on their faces.

“Just as we suspected,” Andrée begins in English for the sake of Natalia and Zhenya. “You two are too much, really. Sid, come with me,” she steps forward and grabs his wrist, gently separating them. “We need to get you looking at least somewhat decent before everyone shows up and realizes you decided to get busy in the back of the limo.”

“We didn’t do anything!” Sid protests.

Her eyes dart back and forth between Sid’s neck, where he almost certainly has a couple hickeys developing, and Zhenya’s awkward stance from the boner that hasn’t completely faded. “Right,” she says and pulls him away. “We’ll be back in ten minutes. Geno, please, think about dead cats or something.”

Zhenya sputters, and Natalia chides him in Russian, hand waving in the vague direction of his crotch. He sputters more.

“We didn’t do anything,” Sid grumbles, as Andrée drags him towards the bathroom.

“Nothing?” she asks, disbelieving.

Sid ducks his head and lets her fret over the state of his neck. “Well, not nothing, but not much.”

She throws her head back and laughs, patting Sid’s cheek right over the vivid, red blush. “No need to be ashamed, darling. He’s your husband and a handsome boy; you’re allowed to do what you want together. It just would have been better if you had waited a bit longer.”

Sid shrugs helplessly. “I feel like we’ve waited long enough.”

“Fair enough. Now hold still,” she says and sets to work covering the more obvious bite marks, tutting over the state of Sid’s neck and wondering aloud if she has unwittingly married her oldest child off to a vampire.

When she finally steps back and declares that she can’t do much more, Sid sags in relief. “Can we go eat?”

She peers at the clock and nods. “Everyone should be here by now. Let’s go find Geno for your entrance.”

God, Sid doesn’t want to make another entrance, doesn’t want to walk through the surely crowded hall up to the front table, where the wedding party has to sit. The thought of eating while an entire room of people watches isn’t the most appealing any day of the week and especially not on his wedding day, when he’d rather hide away with Zhenya.

“Sid!” Zhenya shouts, bounding up to him to slip an arm around his waist as soon as they’re out of the bathroom. “I thought you would never come out. Let’s go! I’m starving, and there’s food waiting.”

Sid grins at his husband and decides it’s not so bad walking through the crowd, when he’s got Zhenya smiling and waving at his side, charming everyone like he always does. Once they are seated and begin to eat, a never-ending stream of well-wishers starts up, coming forward to offer congratulations and mention the gift they’re left on the table in the entryway. Sid does his best to remember names and faces, leaning over to ask Zhenya who is who among his numerous Russian friends, trying to commit titles and cities to memory.

A woman steps up, a curly-haired young man at her side, and Sid tries to figure whether he or Zhenya should be making the introductions for this one. “Sidney,” she begins, and he furiously tries to remember how he knows her, “I can’t believe you’ve grown up so quickly. Last time I saw you, you barely even reached my waist, and now, you’re married! And soon it will be Patrick,” she continues and gestures to the man. Sid sits up straighter, keenly eyeing the boy because he knows him now; he knows them. “Oh, I just can’t believe how quickly time flies!”

“It is good to see you as well Mrs. Kane, Patrick. I would like you to meet my husband, Evgeni Vladimirovich Malkin.”

Zhenya grins, shaking their hands and exchanging pleasantries. “I have met your husband before, but it is a pleasure to finally meet you, Mrs. Kane. And you, Patrick.” He glances over to Sid, clearly sensing the excitement thrumming through Sid’s body.

Turning more fully to look Patrick over, Sid says, “Time really has flown. I couldn’t have been more than six or seven when we last saw each other. I’ve heard you’ve become quite the dancer, Patrick.” He can’t recall who told him this or when, but over the years, Sid has learned how valuable it is to remember this sort of information and pull it out in just the right situation.

“I’m decent enough,” Patrick responds, eyes wary as he looks at Sid.

“Don’t be so modest!” Mrs. Kane says. “He’s phenomenal. I still don’t understand why a boy with so much grace would prefer to take up hockey instead of figure skating.”

Patrick scoffs, and Sid shrugs bashfully. “I’m afraid you’re talking to two hockey lovers, Mrs. Kane, so you won’t find much support over here.”

She tsks playfully. “And here I had hoped that you would help me talk some sense into him.”

“Not possible,” Zhenya interjects. “Our mothers had to talk us out of holding the reception at a rink.” It had been a bit of a joke Sid had made shortly after their engagement. During a visit, Zhenya had rented out the local rink in Pittsburgh and taken Sid skating. They had played for hours, racing down the ice together, trading the puck back and forth, and taking increasingly ridiculous shots to see who could make it. When Zhenya had slid to one knee at center ice with a ring that was simple and beautiful just like Sid wanted, he had barely been able to get the question out before Sid was tackling him to the ice, where they kissed until their chaperone shouted at them to separate. Since their engagement was at a rink, it only felt fitting for the reception to be, too, Sid has said. Andrée and Natalia had quickly shot that down.

 “That would have been awesome,” Patrick exclaims, eyes bright, and Sid and Zhenya nod their agreement.

“But that didn’t work out, and so we’re here,” Sid goes on with a deferential shrug. He braces himself before continuing, hoping he isn’t meddling too much. “Anyways, I was going to say that my brother, Jonny, could use a partner tonight.” He eyes Patrick’s face as he speaks, trying to determine if there’s any reaction to Jonny’s name. There might be a slight blush, but Sid can’t be certain.

“Yes,” Zhenya adds, and Sid loves him so much. “Jonny is not the most confident on the dance floor, but I am sure if he had the right partner, there would be no problem.”

“Jonathan?” Mrs. Kane clarifies, eyes drifting down the table to where Jonny sits beside Taylor, attentively listening to her talk about the pretty flowers and the glowing lights and the giant piece of cake she is going to eat later. “He’s just a bit younger than you, isn’t he, Sidney?”

The question is subtle, innocuous, exactly what Sid would expect from a Don’s wife experienced in the art of saying one thing and meaning something else. “Yes, he just turned eighteen in April, and I’m afraid I’ve had the whole house so busy with centerpieces and color schemes that he hasn’t had the time to get out much.” Sid prays he’s not too heavy-handed, striving for the casual tone Mrs. Kane seems to have mastered.

She nods, and her eyes flick over to Jonny again. “It was long ago, but I definitely remember what it was like planning my wedding, the stress over decorations and dresses. I am sure Jonathan could do with something light and enjoyable after all that.”

“Everyone enjoys dancing,” Zhenya chips in.

“Yes, they do, and if he needs a good partner, I am sure Patrick would be more than willing to accommodate him.” The blush on Patrick’s face is unmistakable now, especially with his fair skin, and Sid wants to high-five himself for a job well-done. “I won’t take up too much more of your time,” Mrs. Kane says. “Congratulations, boys, I have no doubt you will be very happy together.”

They respond in kind, and Sid can feel Zhenya’s eyes on him, though he doesn’t turn until they are out of earshot.

“What are you doing, Sid?” Zhenya whispers, eyes twinkling with mischief. “I know something is going on.”

Sid leans close and relishes the proximity, the way that Zhenya’s arm curls around the back of the chair to draw him in as he bends to listen. “Before the ceremony, Jonny told me he was interested in Patrick. He didn’t mean to, but he was teasing me about last night, so I told him he’d understand when he had a fiancée someday. Then he accidentally mentioned Patrick.” It’s the watered-down version, but Sid doesn’t want to bring up Jonny’s concerns here, not with so many inquisitive ears roaming about that would jump at the opportunity to have leverage on the Toews family.

“So you’re playing matchmaker?”

“No, I’m just giving them the opportunity to get reacquainted. Jonny told me they met when they were thirteen, and I think he’s had feelings for him ever since.”

Zhenya makes a considering noise. “Sounds like a matchmaker to me, Sid.”

Sid swats at him. “I just want Jonny to be happy.”

“You’re a good brother,” Zhenya teases and presses a quick kiss to Sid’s lips. “Will be a good mama someday, too.”

Sid blushes to the roots of his hair. “Someday, yes, but I think we need to practice a bit before we get to the actual babymaking,” he whispers and can’t help the smug satisfaction that runs through him at Zhenya’s groan.

As the evening wears on, speeches are given, toasts are made, and Sid gets a piece of cake gently shoved in his face. He doesn’t mind, especially when Zhenya licks the lingering frosting from the corner of his mouth as the crowd hollers at them to get a room.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please clear the floor. We’d like to invite Evgeni, Sidney, and their parents out for their dance.”

Bryan lifts Sid’s hand and leads him onto the floor, spinning him gently until they fall into the familiar steps. “Troy would be so proud of you right now, Sid,” he murmurs, voice more tender than Sid has ever heard, and he feels his breath catch in his throat. “I remember when you were born, and he called me, boasting about having the most beautiful son in the entire world. He said that I could try and compete but that his Sidney would always be the most perfect baby boy to grace the earth.”

Sid can feel the tears gathering in his eyes. He’s already cried so much today, but Bryan almost never talks about Sid’s parents, rarely shares stories about him and Troy, though Sid knows they were the closest of friends.

“When he first put you on skates, some guy joked that he needed to teach you to figure skate because a carrier could never play hockey. Too small, too delicate,” he says with disgust. “Troy told the guy to go fuck himself because his son was going to be the best damn hockey player the world had ever seen. He never wanted to treat you like you were fragile or weak; he wanted you to feel like every other boy on the ice.

“I remember talking to him about it one day, when you were seven or eight and really tearing it up on the ice, beating people two or three years older than you. We were listening to you shoot pucks in the basement, and he said, ‘Bryan, I know how dangerous this line of work can be, so if anything ever happens to me, you need to take care of Sid. You need to make sure he knows how strong he is, how capable.’ I promised him I would, even though I didn’t think I would ever have to.”

He sighs, heavy with grief. “It was hard to lose him and Trina, and I know it was even harder for you, but you were so brave, Sid. It’s been amazing to watch you grow up from the little boy we took in to the man you are today. We’ve been lucky to have you, and Geno is the damn luckiest man in the world to have you for his wife, and he better not forget it.”

“He won’t,” Sid assures him.

“Good, I’m happy for you, Sid. For both of you.”

There’s applause all around them as the song fades, and Bryan draws him into a hug, misty-eyed.

Before the emcee calls him back out for the first dance as husband and wife, Sid darts over to Jonny, determined. “You’d better ask Patrick to dance, or I’m disowning you.”

Jonny gapes, and there’s a blush high on his cheeks. “Sid, what the fuck. Go dance with your husband, Jesus.”

“Not until you agree to ask him,” Sid persists. Jonny may be stubborn, but Sid can out-stubborn anyone when he wants to.

“Fine, yes. I’ll do it. Get away from me,” Jonny says, shoving at Sid who gives him one last look before joining Zhenya at the center of the floor.

“Matchmaking again?” Zhenya asks, as he slides an arm around Sid’s waist to pull them flush.

“And so?” Sid responds.

Zhenya grins, eyes sparkling delightedly. “You’re going to get all of Pittsburgh and Chicago married if you keep this up.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Sid says and presses just a bit closer to Zhenya, arm nearly looped around his neck. “From where I’m standing, marriage seems pretty great.”

“Will be even better later tonight,” Zhenya tells him, and his hand slips a bit lower on Sid’s back, pinkie just barely brushing over his ass.

Sid hums his agreement and watches Jonny walk over to Patrick’s table when the emcee invites everyone to join them. He looks horribly nervous, licking his lips as his eyes dart towards the exit repeatedly, and Sid’s never seen him so pale. Miraculously, he doesn’t make a break for it, and Patrick lights up when Jonny offers him his hand.

“What are you thinking about, Sid?” Zhenya asks, fingers massaging at his lower back.

Sid’s eyes cut up to Zhenya, and he feels a bit bad for focusing on Jonny and Patrick during their first dance as husband and wife, so he stands on tiptoe and whispers in Zhenya’s ear, “I’m thinking about how if your hand was underneath my jacket, you could feel the chain I put on earlier.”

Zhenya looks confused for a moment before realization dawns on his face. “Fuck, Sidnyusha. You can’t just say that.”

Sid’s Russian is poor at best, though he is rapidly improving according to Zhenya, but he doesn’t need to understand to know how his words affect Zhenya. He can feel it as Zhenya’s hand rucks up his jacket to slip beneath, as his dick swells where it’s pressed against Sid’s stomach.

“Where is, Sid? Where is?” he mumbles out, fingers searching.

Sid presses a gentle kiss to the corner of his jaw and shushes him. “Don’t be so obvious,” he chides.

“Obvious? Sidnyusha, you tell me you’re wearing chain I bought. It’s not fair to say when everyone watching.”

“I know,” Sid says, unrepentant. “Now calm down, and listen to me. You’re getting everyone’s attention with all your groping.”

“Can grope now, Sid,” he informs him and squeezes his ass briefly, just to prove his point.

As much as Sid would like him to continue kneading at his ass, large hand moving across the fabric unsubtly, he really doesn’t want the extra attention that would garner. “Yes, but we don’t need to have everyone watching when we do.”

“Fine, fine,” Zhenya yields, and his hand falls still.

“Good,” Sid says and places a second kiss just below the first. “You’re so close. Just move your hand down and press in a bit.” The chain is just above the waistband of his pants, warm against his skin where it’s been since he got dressed. He had chased Jonny and Charles out of the room to put in on, claiming that he wanted just a little privacy as he got ready for his wedding.

Zhenya follows his directions, letting his hand drop in a glacially slow slide until Sid tells him to stop. “Now, press down. It’s right under your fingers.”

“Fuck, Sidnyusha,” Zhenya groans, and Sid knows he’s found it, can tell by the way Zhenya’s ring finger keeps moving back and forth, tracing over the metal. “Can we leave now? I’m need get you in bed.”

“Not yet. Soon though. We need to stay for a couple more dances, and then we can go.”

“Sid,” Zhenya whines. “Is torture.”

“Twenty minutes,” Sid tells him, and Zhenya nods morosely.

----

Outside their hotel room, Zhenya is pressed against Sid’s back, mouthing at his neck. He hasn’t taken his hands off Sid’s waist since he learned about the chain.

“Sid, hurry or we have sex right here,” Zhenya tells him, rubbing against Sid’s ass in the most distracting way.

“We are not having sex in the hallway, Zhenya,” Sid scoffs, frustrated. “If you would just give me some space for five seconds, I could get this damn thing open.”

“You not like my kisses?” he asks, and Sid knows him well enough to recognize the teasing note in his voice.

“I like them too much,” Sid tells him bluntly. “I can’t concentrate when you keep biting me like that.”

“Sorry,” and Sid knows he isn’t. Though he doesn’t let go of him, Zhenya does stop kissing and rubbing, giving Sid time to jam the key card into the lock and throw the door open when the light flashes green.

“Thank God,” Sid mutters before turning around and shoving Zhenya against the door.

He drags him down into a fierce kiss, biting at his lips until they open and he can slide his tongue against Zhenya’s. It’s familiar territory, easy and comfortable, but it still sends an electric thrill down Sid’s spine to pool in his stomach. He’s been embarrassingly wet since Zhenya cornered him in the limo, but now he can finally do something about it.

“Sid, Sid, Sid,” Zhenya mutters as his hands trail over the swell of Sid’s ass, lightly squeezing until Sid jerks forward, thrusting up against the firm thigh Zhenya has inserted between his legs. “Let me get jacket,” he says, fumbling at the buttons of Sid’s suit. He shoves the jacket off Sid’s shoulders and lets it fall to the ground in a messy heap. Charles would be so upset to know his one-of-a-kind creation was being treated so poorly, but Sid really doesn’t give a shit when Zhenya is scrabbling at the knot in his tie.

Once it slides out of Sid’s collar and Zhenya goes after his shirt, Sid realizes he hasn’t made much progress in getting Zhenya out of his clothes, so he gently pushes his hands away. “Hold on,” he says over the discontented rumble Zhenya lets out. “You’re going to have me naked before I’ve even got your jacket off.”

“You say like is bad thing,” Zhenya points out, but he lets his hands fall to his sides as Sid works the jacket down his arms and to the floor. He gets his tie off, too, then holds a hand out to Zhenya as he takes a step back, slowly walking towards the door he knows will lead to the bedroom. Their honeymoon suite is beautiful, warm and cozy, with a panel of windows facing the west that Sid is sure will offer a beautiful view of the sunset. They can enjoy that tomorrow.

“Wait, wait,” Zhenya says when they reach the bedroom door, fingers curling around Sid’s arm to stop him from opening it.

“What?”

“Let me.” He steps around Sid and slowly turns the handle, letting it click open to reveal their room. Sid can see the large bed that dominates the space with its fluffy duvet and soft-looking pillows, and he wants to push Zhenya through the doorway, get him on the bed, and straddle his hips like he’s been dying to do since that first kiss in Bryan’s office. Except now, no one will stop him from going a lot further than a clothed grind.

Zhenya faces him with a large grin, and Sid has just a moment to wonder what his husband is up to, before he finds himself swept up into Zhenya’s arms, cradled bridal style against his chest, as he crosses the threshold.

“Aren’t you supposed to do this at our home?” Sid asks, though it doesn’t bother him half as much as his tone would suggest.

“Here, our home, any door you let me do it,” Zhenya responds, grin widening.

“Any door?” Sid asks, incredulous. “That would be a bit ridiculous. We walk through a lot of doors every day, Zhenya.”

He shrugs and gently sets Sid back on his feet beside the bed, hands going up to work at Sid’s buttons again.

“Wait,” Sid says, clasping Zhenya’s hands in his. “Why don’t we get our shoes off first? Get more comfortable.” He’s not nervous; the excitement of finally being alone with Zhenya and allowed to touch him however he wants overwhelms any nerves he might have had. However, there’s a part of him that wants his shirt to come off last, so when it slips down his shoulders, he’ll only have on the chain and his briefs, a silky black pair he’d chosen because they looked best next to the gleaming gold.

Zhenya squints at him, hands hovering at the next button. He looks him over, and finally seems to understand Sid’s insistence on waiting because he suddenly drops to his knees and sets to work on the laces of Sid’s shoes, picking at the stubborn knots with impatient hands.

“Be easier if you sit,” he tells Sid, looking up at him from the ground, and Sid feels a rush of slick warmth pour out of him at the sight.

“Right, yeah,” Sid agrees and mostly collapses onto the bed, knees feeling weaker than normal. Zhenya hums his approval and slides Sid’s shoes off, following those with the socks, but when he goes to pull his own off, Sid jerks forward, grabbing at his hands.

“No, don’t.” Zhenya stills and looks at Sid, a single brow raised. “Stand up.” He obeys easily enough, and Sid swallows down the burst of nervousness in his chest as he slides to the edge of the bed, eyes locked on Zhenya’s.

He maintains the contact even as he moves off the bed and onto his knees at Zhenya’s feet, satisfied by the low groan Zhenya lets out and the way his eyes go dark and hooded, lips parted to let out shaky breaths. Sid makes quick work of the shoes, patting at Zhenya’s legs to get him to lift and move as needed. Though his head is bowed, Sid has no doubt Zhenya is watching him, eyes fixed on Sid, and it sends a thrill racing down his spine.

When he’s finished, Zhenya brings a hand up to cradle Sid’s cheek. “Come here,” he says, low and warm, and Sid doesn’t think he’s ever stood up faster, scrambling to his feet to throw his arms around Zhenya’s neck. It’s strangely intimate, kissing barefoot but fully clothed beside their bed, hands wandering aimlessly over shoulders and through hair.

Zhenya pulls back, and Sid thinks he’s never looked better, mouth red and puffy, hair mused. “Can I, Sidnyusha?” he asks, and it takes a moment for Sid to come out of his appreciation enough to realize what Zhenya wants, fingers skimming along the top of Sid’s pants.

“Please,” Sid answers and tries not to be too embarrassed when it comes out breathless and unsteady.

Bending to kiss him, Zhenya carefully undoes the button and slides the zipper down, hooking his fingers in the fabric to drag it over Sid’s thighs. He pushes as far as he can, and Sid tries to help, shimmying back and forth, until they fall to the floor. Zhenya drags a hand up Sid’s leg and gets it under the tail of his shirt, massaging over his ass and letting his fingers reach for the skin of Sid’s lower back.

“Fuck,” Zhenya groans out when he finds the chain, thumb rubbing over the metal links. He pulls Sid closer and mouths at his jaw, nipping and scraping his teeth over the fragile skin of his throat.

Sid clutches at his shoulders, fingers clenching and releasing sporadically, and he just wants to get the rest of their clothes off, feel Zhenya’s bare skin against his own. He makes quick work of Zhenya’s shirt but hesitates when he gets to his belt.

Zhenya pulls back and ducks his head to catch Sid’s eye. “Okay, Sid?” he asks, gentle and sincere, and Sid melts. If he asked to wait, if he said he wasn’t ready, Zhenya would accept it. He wouldn’t argue, wouldn’t try to pressure Sid into anything. He would probably just ask if Sid wanted him to sleep on the couch, and that thought has Sid surging up to kiss him, mouth open and searching.

They stand pressed against each other, half-dressed, until Sid busses a final kiss to Zhenya’s lips before pulling back to get a good look at the buckle. His hands are shaking just slightly, sliding sweaty over the metal, but Zhenya grasps his forearms in a steadying grip, and the thick leather slides from Zhenya’s belt loops with barely a sound. Sid bites at his lips as he works the zipper down, trying not to get too distracted by the heat of Zhenya’s dick pressing against the fabric just beneath his fingers.

When they’ve finally worked his pants off, Sid can’t help staring down at the flat expanse of Zhenya’s stomach, the long line of his legs, the very prominent bulge that his briefs can barely contain. It’s a lot to take in at once, but Zhenya lets him look his fill, only lifting his hands for Sid’s buttons, when Sid looks up at him.

 He undoes each button slowly, fingers brushing over the flushed skin of Sid’s chest and sending goosebumps racing over his skin. Hands steady, he slides under the fabric and up Sid’s chest, skating across his nipples and over his shoulders to push the shirt off. It slips down Sid’s arms and flutters to the floor, and Zhenya stares, open-mouthed.

Sid isn’t even sure he’s breathing with how still he stands, eyes flickering over Sid’s body, taking in his arms and legs and chest, but always returning to the gold secured around his waist. Zhenya lifts a cautious hand and gently places it at Sid’s waist, watching his own fingers run over the wispy chain with something akin to awe in his eyes.

Finding the courage to break the heavy silence, Sid asks, “Do you like it?”

Zhenya’s head snaps up to look at Sid incredulously. “Like? I’m love. So, so beautiful, Sidnyusha. So perfect. You look good, gorgeous, and I’m want—” He cuts himself off, swallowing audibly.

“Want what?” Sid asks, breathless.

“Everything,” Zhenya answers, hand tightening to pull Sid against him, and it’s so much better without clothes in the way, warm skin under Sid’s hands.

They kiss for what feels like hours, and Sid relishes the smooth glide of Zhenya under his hands, the firm muscles of his back and the tantalizing feel of his chest against Sid’s. It’s intoxicating, and he thinks he could do this forever and not grow tired of Zhenya’s lips against his, but he also wants so much more than Zhenya’s mouth.

Sid pulls back, bending to escape Zhenya’s pursuit. “We can, you know,” he says, and Zhenya whines at the distance between them, ignoring Sid’s words. “Hey, hey,” Sid continues, grabbing at Zhenya’s face, so he’ll stop and actually listen. “Look at me.”

Zhenya looks drugged from their kisses, pupils blown and eyelids drooping, mouth hanging open to pant out hot breaths.

“We can do everything, now. We’re married,” Sid tells him, and he slips from the circle of Zhenya’s arm and climbs onto the bed, feeling a bit ridiculous as he lays himself out.

It takes a minute for his husband to get with the program, too busy complaining at the loss of Sid’s warmth to understand what has been suggested. When he finally realizes Sid’s intentions, he nearly leaps onto the bed to blanket Sid with his body, wiggling his way between Sid’s thighs and pressing down firmly enough that Sid can feel him just outside his soaking entrance.

“Sid,” Zhenya groans as he begins rocking down, hands grasping at Sid’s legs where they encircle his waist. “You want?” he asks, and it’s an absurd question. Sid is just as hard as him where he’s pressed up against Zhenya’s stomach, and there is no way his husband can’t feel how wet he is, even through the two, thin layers that still separate them.

“Of course,” Sid gasps out and drags Zhenya down for a kiss, teeth clacking in his haste. “I’ve wanted since I saw you,” he admits and that gets a particularly firm thrust from Zhenya.

“Since first night?” Zhenya mumbles from where he has decided to suck another bruise into Sid’s neck.

“Yeah.”

“You not say that before, Sid.” He’s lifted himself up on his hands and knees and is looking down at Sid in mild shock.

“I did so,” Sid protests, tightening his legs around Zhenya to get him closer.

“No, you tell me you ask Bryan if I could visit. Not say anything about this,” he finishes with a dirty grind against Sid, and if Sid wondered before, he now has no doubts about Zhenya feeling how wet he is.

“It wouldn’t have been appropriate, especially not that first time. Bryan hadn’t even approved you yet.”

“Could tell me later, after engagement or something.”

Sid raises an eyebrow. “When? We always had chaperones looking over our shoulders, telling us not to stand so close, not to kiss so much. I couldn’t just lean over and tell you that I got off thinking about you that first night.” Zhenya lets out a strangled groan, and Sid grins mischievously. “I couldn’t tell you about how I touched myself, got three fingers in me because I was so fucking wet from just imagining it was you instead. I couldn’t tell you about how hard I came, how I bit into my pillow so no one would hear me saying your name.”

“Sidnyusha,” Zhenya moans brokenly, and he lowers himself back down, tilting Sid’s hips up until he can press against Sid’s entrance. “God, Sid, I think about, too,” he admits, starting a slow thrust that has Sid’s toes curling. “I get hand all wet with spit and lube and wrap around my dick, imagine is you, tight and hot. I think about getting my mouth on you, eat you out until you beg me to fuck you. And you take so good, so easy.”

“So easy,” Sid agrees, rocking up to meet Zhenya’s thrusts. “So easy for you.”

“Only me,” Zhenya says and sits back on his haunches, eyes roving over Sid’s flushed figure. “So much I want do,” he admits, hands rubbing up and down Sid’s sides, thumbs sneaking out to flick over Sid’s nipples. “Get you on hands and knees. Hold you up against wall. Lick you until you so close can’t even think straight.”

“Yes,” Sid hisses, thrusting into the empty air above him. “All of that, everything. I want it, Zhenya, please.”

“Will give you, Sidnyusha. Give you everything you want.” He bends over to kiss down Sid’s chest, nipping at the skin until he reaches the chain. Slipping his tongue out, he traces over the metal, following it around Sid’s waist and biting at his hip. “You deserve everything,” he whispers into the skin there, lips brushing just enough to have Sid trembling. “But tonight, we go slow. I’m show you how much I love you, yes? Be gentle and good, make love to you.”

Sid is quaking underneath his hands, letting out these soft, breathy moans. “Please, Zhenya. Please.”

“Always so polite,” Zhenya snickers. Then, he hooks his fingers in the waist of Sid’s briefs and slides them down his legs in one, fluid motion, tossing them to the floor to join the rest of their clothes. “Gorgeous,” he sighs and runs his fingers over Sid’s calves and thighs, moving feather light across the overheated skin until his thumbs sit at Sid’s crease, sliding over the slick skin. “Can I?” he asks, and maybe the frequent requests for permission will bother Sid someday, but it’s so damn nice right now.

“Yeah,” he breathes out and chokes out a moan when Zhenya pushes between his cheeks, thumb teasing at the ring of muscle. He starts with slow circles, tracing over the tight pucker and dipping in just the smallest bit before pulling back out. The motions draw more warm wetness from Sid, and he’s almost certain the duvet is getting soaked beneath him. “Zhenya, please,” he begs, when the careful circles continue, good but not enough.

Zhenya hums and drags his index finger through the slick mess, rubbing over Sid’s entrance before pushing in to the second knuckle. It’s an easy slide, hardly any resistance, and Sid cries out in relief, hips bucking and forcing Zhenya in further.

“Fuck,” Zhenya swears, eyes fixed on his finger where it’s disappeared inside Sid. “Fuck, Sidnyusha, you take so good. Even better than I’m imagine.”

Sid blushes under the praise and wiggles until Zhenya gets the picture and begins to move his finger in and out in shallow thrusts that aren’t anywhere near enough.

“Another one, Zhenya. I can take another one,” he tells him, head thrown back.

“Sure?”

“So sure. So fucking sure. I told you I got three in me that first night. You think I haven’t tried more since then?”

“Shit. Shit, Sid,” Zhenya murmurs and the next thrust of his fingers is wider, thicker, and Sid moans, planting his feet on the bed so he can meet Zhenya halfway.

“More, more,” he pleads, and Zhenya gives him more, scissoring his fingers to open Sid up and groaning at the sight.

“Sidnyusha, you ready?” he asks, and he sounds desperate, strung out from watching Sid take his fingers so easily. “Look so good. Can only imagine what you look like when is dick. So pretty.”

“Yeah, yeah, pull your fingers out,” he says and whines at the empty feeling. Zhenya goes to remove his briefs, and Sid stops him, knocks his hands out of the way. “I want to,” he says, and Zhenya groans. He drags the material down Zhenya’s thighs, moaning when his dick springs free, a furious red with streaks of precome smeared across the head, where his foreskin has pulled back. “Oh my God, I’m going to blow you sometime soon,” he informs Zhenya, licking his lips.

Zhenya grabs at himself, fingers curling tight around the base. “Sid, stop. Can’t say stuff like that.”

Sid can’t help the giggle that slips out. “Well, it’s the truth.”

“Yes, but don’t tell now. I’m so close just from watch you. Can’t hang on if you’re talk like that.”

Sid grins but relents, sinking into the pillows to watch Zhenya breathe deeply for a few counts before shuffling his briefs all the way off and crawling back between Sid’s thighs, gaze heavy as it catches at Sid’s groin, where he is almost certainly dripping steadily onto the covers, aching for Zhenya to give him what he needs.

He lifts his arms and reaches for his husband, gratified when he collapses against him with a deep groan. If it felt good before, rubbing against each other with absolutely nothing in between is nigh on heavenly. Sid can feel Zhenya’s dick rub against his own, once, twice, before he angles his hips enough that the next thrust pushes behind Sid’s balls and rubs right up against his entrance.

“Oh my God,” Sid cries, head tossed back, and hooks a leg up around Zhenya’s waist to keep him there, fingers scrabbling at his back. “Zhenya, Zhenya.”

“So good, Sidnyusha,” Zhenya mutters, breath hot against Sid’s ear. “You ready?”

“So ready, so fucking ready. Please, Zhenya, I can’t wait anymore.”

Zhenya gets a hand between them, lining up with Sid’s soaking entrance. “I love you,” he murmurs in Russian, and Sid is moaning at the words before he’s even pushed in.

“I love you, too. So much,” he answers, ankles hooking in the small of Zhenya’s back.

It’s more than he’s ever taken before, thicker than his fingers, an insistent pressure that Sid can’t escape from, doesn’t want to escape from. He can feel his eyes water just the smallest bit, and Zhenya whines when he sees a tear trickle down into Sid’s hair.

“Can stop, Sid. Is okay,” he promises him. Kissing at the salty trail, raising himself up to pull out.

“No!” Sid cries, squeezing at Zhenya’s waist. “Don’t move. Don’t move.” He adjusts carefully, wiggling his hips and breathing through the constant ache. “Give me a minute to get used to it, okay? It’s just a lot. I’m okay.”

Zhenya whines again and buries his face in Sid’s neck to press soothing kisses against his racing pulse. He is trembling from the effort of holding himself in place, letting Sid set the pace, and Sid knows it must be difficult, knows Zhenya is probably on cloud nine with Sid’s tight, wet heat around him, but he’s being so good, waiting for Sid to move forward and take more.

Sid pulls Zhenya’s face up to meet his and presses small kisses all across it, on his cheeks, his fluttering eyelids, his red mouth, and he slowly relaxes, opening up to Zhenya. They start and stop in bursts, Sid guiding Zhenya in with gentle nudges, stopping him when it starts to feel like he can’t take anymore, and his husband follows without complaint, whispering in Sid’s ear about how good he is and distracting Sid with deep, filthy kisses that leave them breathless.

When Zhenya is fully seated in him, hips flush with the back of his thighs, Sid almost wants to cry with relief. “You’re so good, so good for me,” he murmurs, hands sliding over Zhenya’s back, rubbing at the tense muscles until they unclench. “So good.”

Zhenya is mouthing at his collarbone, little hints of teeth scraping over the thin skin. “Sidnyusha, is so much better than I’m imagine.”

“Yeah?” Sid asks, and he rocks his hips minutely, shivering as Zhenya’s dick drags over his prostate. “How so?”

“Is you,” and Sid doesn’t understand. Of course, it’s him. Had Zhenya expected someone else? From the fantasies he’d described earlier, he’d thought Zhenya would have expected it to be him, lying beneath him, tight and wet around his dick.

“Of course, it’s me.”

“Yes, yes, of course,” Zhenya agrees. “Not want anyone else, never want anyone else.”

“Then what do you mean?” Sid asks, and he tightens around Zhenya experimentally, getting a drawn-out groan for his trouble.

Zhenya is thrusting lightly now, pulling back and pushing in gently. “I’m imagine you, yes. Since first night, I’m think about what you’re look like under me, pretty and open. Is good, yes. I’m come a lot think about you.” He thrusts a little harder and Sid gasps, nails scraping over Zhenya’s back. “But I’m can’t imagine this. Can’t imagine how you look with pink cheeks and lips; can’t imagine how you sound when you’re say my name.”

“Zhenya,” Sid whines at a particularly firm thrust.

“Like that. I’m can’t imagine that. You so much better than imagine,” Zhenya tells him, picking up speed with his thrusts, and Sid feels dizzy with pleasure. He’s got his hips angled just right, so Zhenya is pushing against his prostate every couple thrusts, sending shocks rippling through Sid’s body. “You real, and I’m keep you forever.”

Sid’s got a hand in Zhenya’s hair and another clutching at his waist to pull him closer, and he never wants Zhenya to stop, with the words or the thrusts getting Sid better than his fingers ever could. “Forever?”

“Forever,” Zhenya confirms. “We’re grow old together in Pittsburgh with family.”

“Family?”

Zhenya hums and ducks to suck at Sid’s left nipple, tugging gently at the sensitive flesh with his teeth. “In few years, you’re stop birth control, and I’m fuck you so good, get you pregnant. You’re look beautiful pregnant, Sid. Be round and glowing with our child, most beautiful wife and mama in whole world.”

“You think?” Sid gasps, and he tugs at Zhenya’s hair, dragging him to the right and letting him get back to work.

“Yes, look good with baby and small, little breasts,” Zhenya tells him, biting at the skin around Sid’s nipple. “I’m know you’re look best when feed baby here.”

Sid is at once mortified and horribly turned on by the words. He had known he would have kids someday, had accepted it but not put much more thought into it than that. He certainly hadn’t thought of it as a turn-on, but with Zhenya mouthing at his nipples and telling Sid how beautiful he’ll be round with their child, he thinks he could like it.

“Yeah, you’ll lay off them enough to let our baby eat?” Sid teases.

Zhenya’s answering grin is sharp and dirty. “I’m share with baby,” and that’s it. Sid’s done.

His orgasm rips through him, arching his back and causing him to clench around Zhenya, tight enough that he follows right after Sid with a groan and a rush of wet warmth. They lay in a tangled heap, trading sleepy kisses as they bask in the afterglow.

“Sidnyusha,” Zhenya whispers, pulling Sid out of the slight drowse he has been in, “I love you.”

“Love you, too,” Sid answers, and Zhenya whimpers, always a sucker for Sid’s elementary Russian. “Later, we do again,” Sid tells him and relishes the soft groan that gets him.

“Yes,” Zhenya agrees and carefully pulls out of Sid, shushing the quiet whine Sid lets out when he feels the come dripping down his thighs. “We’ll clean up later, maybe try the shower.”

“Good idea,” Sid answers and lets himself drift. He’s absolutely filthy, Zhenya’s come between his legs and his own streaked across his stomach, but with Zhenya’s arm pulling him close, Sid can’t find it in himself to care.