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Winter Forage

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Sidney stands on his back patio with his hot coffee mug tucked under his chin, nose scrunched as he watches the shaggy brown bear digging in the dirt in one of his flower beds. Not that he really maintains them himself, but it is his property. He's responsible for it in the end, more or less.

The bear shimmies as he drives down with his forepaws into the dirt again, the morning light glinting off the golden tones that ripple over his shoulders. He rumbles the air with standard groan-like noises that Sid's pretty sure mean he's having fun. Not that he's had much opportunity for time up close and personal with grizzlies - or rather, whatever non-north-american variety of brown bear this is - but the rumbles seem happy.

It sure looks like it when the bear grabs a big clump of winter-dormant plant in his jaws and then flings his head back, sending the tawny root clump into the air in a spray of dirt and slushy snow, falling back on his fluffy butt and wuffling happily at his triumph as it falls to the ground in front of him.

"Rude," Sid protests to himself, but he does it quietly, because. Bear.

Even if he is almost certain he knows this particular bear very well, he's still a fucking bear at the moment, and he's not quite so stupid as to just gamble on it. He'd have to get closer to see his eyes, see the markings in his fur to be sure who it is and… he'll pass for now.

The bear rifles through the snow and dirt again, patting off the root clump to his satisfaction before settling down onto his late-winter-skinny belly and gnawing on it. Sid considers being irritated at the loss of a plant that his gardener has surely tended for years by now, but decides he doesn't have any spare fucks to give about plants and instead heads back inside to finish his coffee before it gets too cold.

If Geno wants to dig up his garden, then whatever. He can dig. It's not like Sid can't afford new flowers in the spring.

 

-o0o-

 

"Settle down, settle down," Sully is saying to the group - mostly Rusty and Dumo who seem to be having what is essentially a slapfight - much to the entertainment of most of the team, and Sully, who's mostly failing to put on a serious face.

Andy is fiddling with the computer still anyway, getting the right clips pulled up for them, so Sid leans over to Geno instead of waiting quietly and watching the mayhem like normal.

"Hey, was that you again this morning? Visiting my house?" Sid says under the din of laughter, elbowing him gently in the midsection. It's the third bear visit he's gotten in as many weeks; it's almost becoming something he expects to see on mornings where they've got a free day or a late video session.

Geno feigns hurt, rubbing his fingers over his ribs and pouting at him, but then his gaze turns thoughtful, his mouth screwing up as he searches his memory. His brows go up in recognition as he remembers, and he smiles a little sheepishly at Sid.

"Today? Yes, I'm go walk through woods," he says, referencing the semi-shared wooded territory that conjoins their two properties on adjacent sides of the neighborhood, shrugging like the Bear's ways are as much a mystery to him as they are to Sid. It's not true, because Sid is pretty sure he understands none of it and is therefore well behind Geno, but he is under the impression that Geno's memory of things as a bear isn't always the clearest, and that his time as a bear isn't necessarily a thoroughly deliberate choice - though he thinks maybe that's more to do with Geno's personality than how things work for shifters in general. Olli's certainly never gotten into any of the shifted mischief Geno has over the years and pretended ignorance later. Although Phil has been known to shift after a particularly tough game and occasionally crawl his red panda self into somewhat inconvenient quiet places to hide till the media has gone away - and once, memorably, Hags' duffel, where he'd been napping in plain sight for hours of everyone searching for him so they could get on the road.

Beyond that, though, Sid's in the dark. Shifters keep their mystiques pretty tight around themselves and their personal lives, and when it comes to hockey, it doesn't really overlap all that much.

"Well good, just wanted to make sure there wasn't a strange bear digging up my gardens."

"What strange bear?" Geno says immediately, scowling at him, then shaking his head as he sinks back in his chair and crosses his arms. "I'm never let strange bear come."

"Okay, sure thing, I mean, why would you," Sid says, laughing internally about the defensive posture. But maybe their shared territory is something the bear in Geno has laid claim to. Sidney doesn't shapeshift but he supposes if he did, maybe he'd feel precious about someone else digging around in Geno's woods. Yeah, probably definitely, now that he thinks about it.

Not for the first time he wonders what he'd be, if he were a shifter. Probably nothing anywhere near as cool as a bear. He gnaws on his lip as he considers Geno in his peripheral vision. He almost opens his mouth and asks. Asks why Geno has suddenly started to come around so much, or maybe just to ask what animal G thinks he would be, if he could shift. Or what it feels like. Any number of questions he's never felt like he had the option to ask before Geno had started adding Sid's home to his private shifted-life's territory.

Instead he is preempted by a loud hand-clap and Sully booming, "Okay! Let's start with zone entries," so he sits back and shuts up.

 

-o0o-

 

"What do bears eat?" Sid asks his phone, staring down at the destroyed remains of another plant in his garden laying out on his patio.

His phone tells him fish. Which, he sort of knew that he thinks, but it doesn't really explain the plants so he leaves the fresh corpse of his local flora and goes back inside to start reading wikipedia articles with more detail. It doesn't take altogether that long for him to figure it out, once he realizes what tubers are and why that explains Geno eating some of his plants.

Fish seems a lot easier though.

He's got tons of it in his freezer already, and he goes into his kitchen and opens the freezer door and stares at its contents, wondering if he's really about to get some tilapia fillets out of storage and stick them in the snow for his teammate to eat when he comes nosing around his house uninvited.

But it's not like Geno isn't already eating his plants. It's already weird. The question is whether it becoming a little weirder is going to be a problem.

Fifteen minutes later he really doesn't have an answer to that question but nevertheless he's standing out in his yard staring at the bowl-shape he's gathered the remaining snow to make, with the handful of tilapia fillets stuck out of it like little frozen canape spears at a really weird party. Not that they haven't both been to some really fucking weird parties over the years, between some of the Sigs' attempts at innovative social calendars and some of their weirder teammates' ideas of a good time.

"This is so dumb," he mutters, because what is he going to do, call Geno and say - Hey, make sure you turn into a bear and come over soon, I put some food out on the ground for you?

For a moment he almost decides to scoop them back up and throw them away, but then, there's no point in wasting them and hell, Geno might not even remember it when he's back in human form. It's not like Sid knows what goes on in the minds of shifters but it's not like he can't chirp Geno right back if Geno tries to make fun of him for it.

In the morning when he looks out his kitchen window and the spears aren't there - he goes outside and within a couple steps he realizes it's just that they're not standing upright anymore, thawed slowly in the cool night air. The pale fish meat lays there looking foolishly unappetizing, but he catches motion out of the corner of his eye; Geno on the edge of the treeline. Sid stops, partway across the patio and watches him trundle across the open expanse of yard towards him. For a moment he considers running forward and scooping the fish up and trashing them before Geno can make fun of him, but then he hears Geno snort, looks at him to see him with his nose up in the air, sniffing big heavy breaths.

Sid stands there and feels frozen in place, the big bear approaching him, larger than life, thick paws and muscled shoulders carrying him closer. He glances at Sid, but his attention is clearly focused on the fish, his head swinging down low to follow his nose to the offering.

He stops before it, looking down at the snow bowl, sniffing all around its surface. One massive paw steps on one side of the snow pack and crumbles it, but he lifts his paw away and puts his mouth down instead, burrowing against the broken snow to take up the nearest fish fillet. It disappears into his maw, then another, seeming like little more than appetizers now against his proportions.

The handful of fish fillets are gone in moments, and then Sid's left there standing a dozen feet from a siberian brown bear who's licking his chops. Geno looks at Sid a long moment, then starts walking right for him.

Sid wants desperately to run, but he knows better, both because this is Geno, and because even if he wasn't Geno it still wouldn’t be smart to run from a bear. He stays frozen still, his blood starting to rush in his ears, and Geno walks right up to him, walks right by him, just ever so slightly checking Sid with the massive weight of his torso as he walks along in a slow loop into some dormant bushes of Sid's in one of the other flowerbeds.

Sid can't help it, he backs the heck up to the house while Geno's distracted chewing on one of his shrubs and pretends it's just that he has to get ready for the day and he didn't run away and hide in his house just because Geno is currently a bear. When he peeks down from the window upstairs, Geno is totting away from the yard into the woods, his stubby little tail waggling along with his strides.

At morning skate Geno is energetic, loud and playful as he wreaks havoc on any sense of order the coaching staff had in mind for the day - not that they usually try and cram too much into the morning skate anyway.

Sid doesn't let himself get too caught up in it - he tries to balance his role with the team with Geno's moods, sharing responsibility, being there to support him and pay attention to the things he's not focusing on. It's still fun to watch from afar in between drills with some of the callups he's trying to keep focused on the work. Days like this he loves his job maybe even a tiny bit more than he already does.

Later, off the ice, Sid can't resist the pull of his cheerful energy. He brings his lunch over near the table where Geno's sitting with Phil in the player's lounge. If Flower were here he'd probably cock an amused eyebrow at Sid for his unsubtle hovering, but he's not here to judge and anyway it works.

"Sid," Geno complains, waving him over, "Come save me, Phil-"

Sid is startled into a laugh when Phil pokes his fork over at Geno's plate in the middle of his sentence, stealing a chunk of his sushi without even a passing glance towards shame. He holds the stolen bite up on the end of his fork, squinting at it like it's something strange.

"You know they can cook your food for you," Phil says, the joke well-worn a thousand times over. As if the team hadn't specifically hired one of the team chefs because of their sushi-related qualifications - not that Geno's the only guy who favors fish, not by a long shot.

Geno makes an exaggeratedly insulted, contemptuous face for Phil's benefit, who chuckles happily at it. He sticks the stolen fish in his mouth and makes a face like he's not so into it, fluttering his hand side to side. Affronted, Geno scoops up two pieces of sashimi with his chopsticks and shoves them both in his mouth, his cheeks pouching outwards like a chipmunk - or a bear, maybe.

"Get a load of this guy," Phil says, turning to share the teasing with Sid. "You'd almost think he'd eat sushi for breakfast if he could convince anyone to make it for him that early!"

Geno freezes, mouth stuffed full of raw fish and rice, eyes flicking over to Sidney, looking every inch the caught-out bear. Sid laughs. He laughs too hard for how funny it should be, given Phil's bemused expression, but then, Phil doesn't get the whole joke. Phil chuckles anyway, because he's always one to join into good humor, digging his elbow into Geno's ribs as Sid just laughs harder.

"For breakfast," Sid manages to say, doubled-over the edge of the table, caught up in the throes of it.

He knows the good humor in the room is shifting towards being at his expense instead of Geno's now as he fails at anything resembling composure, but he doesn't care. He just wipes at his eyes and grins at Geno. Geno is looking back at Sid with a complicated expression, but it softens into amusement as Sid fails to stifle his grin or his giggles, even though he tries.

"Yes, I'm eat fish for breakfast every day," Geno says with faux seriousness and a pleased smirk when that just sets Sid giggling anew.

"Ohh, hey, what's so funny over here?" Horny bellows as he enters the fray, coming over to grab Geno's shoulders and give him a bone-rattling thump.

"Sid so weird, I'm always say this," Geno offers with an eye-roll that just has Patric beaming.

"Aww, that's why we like him."

 

-o0o-

 

It's been a snowy few days in Pittsburgh, replenishing the almost faded snow blanketing everything in fresh inches overnight and all morning as he had headed into the city to pick Olli up and go to the museum.

The snow has stopped in the afternoon by the time they get back to his neighborhood, which Sid admits he's a little glad of. The private drives in Sewickley don't exactly get plowed and he'd rather not have to balance visibility along with the other issues inherent in driving in the snow.

He's also glad he's driving and not Olli because that is something he's never doing again in his life if he can help it. Not that Olli does anything but roll his eyes and sit back lazily and pointedly enjoy his coffee every time Sid insists, or that Sid genuinely doubts Olli's driving competence in terms of actual skill, given what Olli's told him about Finland's more advanced driver's education. But since Olli seems to consider things like red lights guidelines more than rules, Sid drives when they do their nerdy shit like visiting museums nobody else on the team is even remotely interested in going to.

"Mm, you've got a visitor," Olli says mildly as Sid pulls up and parks in front of his garage, since he'll just be driving Olli home later. Olli gets out and starts walking straight off the walk into the snow around Sid's house, trudging through the big expanse of untouched powder towards the bear gnawing on one of Sid's berry bushes in the side garden. He glances back over his shoulder at Sid as Sid gets out of the car behind him, the engine ticking over loudly in the cold. "Geno?"

"Probably," Sid says, shrugging. "He's been…" but he trails off, not sure how Geno would feel about Sid outing just how often Geno's been coming around ruining his gardens and thoroughly depleting his store of un-frozen fish lately, since he's not sure he understands it at all either.

"Hey," Olli calls out, announcing his presence from a long ways off so as not to startle him.

Geno seems startled anyway; his big snow-dotted head swings around with a snap that has a twig breaking and a pile of fresh snow dumping down on his head in a way Sid can't help but snicker at. But it's clearly Geno, given the scar on his cheek and the cheerful bellow he lets out, long body swinging around to follow it in a curve as he springs to his feet, in a heavy rolling motion.

"Perrrrrrrrkele!" Olli yells at him, rattling the paper bag with his lunch in it, but he's laughing.

Geno-bear roars a little playfully and bounces on his front paws before pushing off and loping across the yard to Olli, his warbling punctuated with little grunts every time his forepaws land on the ground.

"Perkele! Paskapää karhu!" Olli calls at him again, but he's laughing at some shared joke and Geno tries to bite his arm but is whuffling too much to do much more than slobber on him a little bit. Not that Olli is even slightly worried looking.

Sid shakes his head, because for all that he trusts Geno to have ahold of himself like this, he's still a bear with a paw the size of his head. There's always something in him that's just a little terrified of a predator like that - but then, he's only human. Other shifters like Olli always seem a little more self-assured about these things, and he supposes that makes sense. Shared experiences and all that.

Olli scratches behind Geno's ears and doesn't seem to care when Geno curls his claws around his hip and tries to chew on his other arm and Sid tries not to die a little inside imagining how badly that could go and instead makes himself cross the yard to join them like he's totally cool and unfazed.

Geno spots him and abandons Olli to come trudge over to Sid and look at him with big pouting eyes, wuffling sadly. For a moment Sid can't imagine what he's possibly done wrong to deserve the sad eyes, but then Geno's eyes flick hopefully to the to-go bag Sid is holding and it clicks.

"Oh my god. Are you actually so spoiled already?"

He has fed him nearly the entirety of his freezer's fish stores over the past week or so of increasingly frequent visits. It's almost become part of his morning routine - a part neither of them has even hinted at bringing up again at work. Geno groans and shoves his nose against Sid's thigh like a needy puppy, and Sid wants to sink his hand into the thick brown fur on his head like Olli had so easily, but his heart is still thumping a little unsteadily and he just clutches his coffee and his lunch to his chest.

"Well you weren't here earlier, I wasn't about to just leave it out in the snow all day and go bad."

Geno rolls his head back and plops down on one shoulder in the snow, like he'd rolled his eyes so hard in disdain he'd been unable to stay standing. He keeps rolling then, digging his shoulderblades into the snow and letting his legs dangle up in the air like he can scratch his back on the snow instead.

Sid makes his retreat towards the house, walking around the back towards the mud-room since they're already covered in snow, and Olli follows after a slight hesitation. He unlocks the door and keys off the alarm, stomping the snow off his shoes and wiping them off on the boot brush but leaving them on since he's just going to go right back out, for a moment at least. And it's not like Olli is probably in any particular hurry to watch the movie they'd vaguely planned on. The whole point of hanging out together is that they like the same nerdy shit and don't fuss about much of anything.

"You want to shift, go play in the snow?" he asks as Olli stands in the mud room, glancing out the window to where Geno is still rolling around in the snow, having partly followed them around towards the back of the house. It's been a nice snowfall, and the snow is fresh. It's not every day they get weather like this.

Olli glances back at him, a little surprised perhaps.

"You don't mind?" he asks, maybe towards Sid minding altering their plans, casual as they might be. Hopefully not like he thinks Sid in particular minds the idea of being around for him shifting, though maybe cautious like people in general do. Maybe they do. It's not really the most pleasant thing to witness, especially for non-shifters who have no experience to compare it to.

"Nah," Sid says, gesturing at the cubbies that are basically there for that sort of thing, or bathing suits and stuff in the summer. "It's nice out. Geno has the right idea I think. You go on ahead, I'm going to get something for Geno, and then I'll come out too. I'll put your food in the fridge."

Olli smiles, bright and boyish and then hands him his food so he can start stripping out of his clothes. Sid heads for the kitchen to put away Olli's lunch and retrieve Geno's. It's still on top, really the only place to put something that big. He picks up the five kilo paper-wrapped package and then considers his fridge for a minute. Movement out of the corner of his eye catches his attention and he looks out the kitchen window to see a bare-assed Olli chasing bear-Geno through the snow, yelling in what he assumes isn't English given the rolled Rs he can faintly hear.

Olli stumbles into the snow bank - or so it seems at first, but as he hunches over Sid supposes it has more to do with the way his body is flexing and then contorting into the shift. Sid looks away, back to the fridge, where he moves a container of leftovers to find one of the steaks he'd put there to thaw for dinner. He replaces it with another one from the freezer, then stacks the food for all three of them and carries it out to the back yard.

Geno is now chasing Olli around the snow, though Olli could easily flatten himself out into the snow beside the winter-dry garden and disappear in the camouflage his snowy spotted coat affords him. He's much faster and more agile than Geno, being a fraction of the size of a brown bear, so he's mostly leading Geno on a merry chase through the biggest snow drifts that they can skid through.

Sid puts the food down on the snow-covered patio table and dumps the snow off one of the chairs so he can sit down and dig into his sandwich. It looks fun, and he wishes he could join them, but since he can't he'll settle for watching them and stuffing his face.

Olli doesn't hesitate to slap his large snowshoe paws at Geno's face whenever he gets too close, or gets a mouthful of fur or tail, playfighting with abandon, his infrequent higher-pitched snarls and chuffing sounds mostly getting lost under the noises Geno makes. Sid isn't surprised that Olli isn't terribly loud in this form either, or that Geno is.

They notice his presence eventually, and Geno immediately stops trying to chew on Olli's fat fluffy tail and rumbles his massive way over to where Sid's sitting. He walks right up to him and tries to shove his nose into Sid's hands, probably aiming to steal his sandwich. Sid, feeling a little more confident after the way Olli as a relatively tiny snow leopard has been wrestling with Geno, uses his free hand to shove with as much strength as he can swing, laughing as he holds his lunch away.

"Hey - hey, get your own!"

Geno bites his teeth at the open air as if he can't get to it, even though he could easily stand up and reach it out of Sid's hand if he really wanted, clearly playing at it. Sid laughs again and gets up from the chair, ducking around him to the table and reaching first for the steak.

"Olli, hungry?" he calls, hefting the steak in the direction of the snow leopard sitting at the edge of the patio, eyes fixed calmly on him, just the tip of his tail lifting and falling in steady flex and release. His eyes flick up to the offering, though, and he licks his lips and stands gracefully, even as Geno warbles plaintively and paws at the air.

Sid tosses the steak in Olli's direction, then sets about unwrapping the fish he'd bought for Geno before Geno gets designs on the beef. When he folds back the rustling butcher paper the salmon gleams in the daylight, bright red against the contrast of the snow everywhere else. It seems huge to Sid, but when he turns back to the massive brown bear behind him, it doesn't seem quite so big anymore.

Geno's rump hits the snow at the sight of the fish, his whining silenced utterly as Sid shows it to him. Sid pauses at the way Geno stares at him, and when Sid tosses it to him he snaps it out of the air before dropping it at his feet to put some claws on it and just hold it there, regarding it. He glances up at Sid, the moment stretching long enough Sid's cheeks warm, wondering if he's done something foolish, something too much in getting the biggest whole fish he could find, like he's made it weird now that it's not just whatever filets he's had in the freezer, but then Geno drops his mouth to the fish and tears its head off.

"Ugh," Sid grumbles, mostly teasing, and goes back to his sandwich before it gets soggy. He's only got a few bites left anyway, and he gets up and starts clumping up some of the untouched snow on the table, putting his lone human advantage to good use.

To his utter delight, Geno is fully distracted by the fish dinner, so much so that he's completely caught off guard by the snowball he gets full in the face when he looks up from the last bit of tail.

Geno's big bear mouth gapes open as he blinks away the snow, swipes at his nose with his paw and then turns an affronted look up at Sid.

"Gotcha," Sid says, unable to suppress the snicker that wells up in his chest.

Geno warbles accusingly at him, and Sid laughs harder and scrabbles to gather up more of his stockpiled ammunition.

Geno grunts, low and loud and like the massive bear he is, and pushes up off the ground, his big hunched shoulders flexing with thick muscle. He gives his whole body a shake, shedding the leftover snow and Sid's contribution alike, which Sid is happy to undo immediately with another volley, and another.

Geno bounces on his forelegs, snapping his teeth at the snowballs now that he knows to expect them. Sid unloads his arsenal, rapid-fire, landing a few more than Geno can block, and when those run out he grabs the biggest armful of snow he can and hurls it out in a spray. Geno catches most of it square in the face

Geno roars, rears back onto his hind legs to a shocking height, shaking his ruff as he digs his back feet in, and then all at once he's charging forward, loping in thunderous hits of paw on the snow at terrifying speed. Sid face goes cold as he feels the blood rush from his head, a kind of bone-deep panic that no amount of knowing that Geno is his friend can counter at the sight of a fully-grown brown bear charging his way.

His knees give when he tries to move, he ends up stumbling backwards, crashing into the chair he'd been sitting in and falling, his head just missing the table behind him. He flails and his mind is empty of any real conscious thought as he curls under the table as Geno's body barrels into the chair he'd tripped over, sending it skidding away. It clatters to the ground, and the table shudders, remaining snow raining down around the edges of the table. All Sid can do is curl his head under his arms and tuck his legs to his belly and cling to the center table leg, the echo of Geno's roaring vibrating in his chest. For a moment he's certain that he's going to be torn to shreds by huge blunt claws and teeth-

And then there's silence. Silence and the ragged sound of Sid's gasping breaths.

It takes a minute for Sid to get ahold of himself enough to open his eyes, and then, only because there's the soft crunch of snow behind him, retreating slowly at first, then faster. He peeks past his knee and sees the dark shadow of Geno's body disappear into the shrubs at the edge of his garden.

Instinct has him locked in, frozen tight against the meager safety of the table. His joints refuse to release, to let him do anything for a few long moments, before the cold of the snow through his jeans and along the gap of his rucked up jacket begins to register to his senses again.

The cold air on his face helps him breathe voluntarily instead of in panicked reflex, and he forces himself to calm down, to let his heartrate start to ease. He lets go of the table's center column, lets his legs lay down on the ground a moment as he rolls slightly onto his back and gets his breathing fully under control.

There's a soft crunch of snow again, smaller, quieter this time, and after a moment Olli's face slides into Sid's view under the table, his mouth pressed tight in a sympathetic frown.

"Hey, you okay?" he says quietly, no sign of his furry feline side now other than the fact that his skin is bare.

"Yeah," Sid says quickly, scrubbing a hand over his face and making himself sit up. "Yeah for sure, I just got… startled, I guess. Overwhelmed."

He feels like an idiot.

Olli nods solemnly, says, "Bears can do that sometimes."

"Sorry," Sid says, taking the hand up that Olli offers and getting up slowly. He stands on legs that are still a little shaky, but he's asked a lot more of them in tougher situations. They hold. "Sorry," he says on a sigh. "Didn't mean to spoil the fun."

Olli shrugs, turning to look out over the yard beyond the patio. Even outside in the cold air he is uncaring in his nakedness in a way Sid has never managed outside a locker room, but Sid can't help but be grateful that he switched back to the face Sid's more familiar with for the moment. His heart is still pounding worse than a double-shift, even as he does his best to calm it.

He follows Olli's gaze out to the bushes on the far edge of his garden before it turns into the forest. In the shadow of one of them he catches sight of the faint reflection of sunlight on Geno's dark eyes, looking back at them, but before he can do anything, say anything, Geno ducks out of sight into the brush. A few moments later, Sid catches sight of him loping away through the trees, away into the woods where he disappears among the dense natural camouflage within moments.

He grimaces, but there's nothing else to do at the moment, and there's snow melting uncomfortably in the small of his back, so he turns and gathers the trash from their lunch with shaky fingers and carries it back inside.

Olli follows, putting on his clothes again and grabbing a spare penguins sweatshirt with an alacrity that suggests now that his thick fur coat is gone he's not quite so untouched by the cold as he appears.

"Hot chocolate?" Sid suggests, leading the way into the kitchen for something to do. Setting everything out is calming to focus on, but the shrill hiss of his espresso machine as he steams the milk just sets his teeth on edge and makes all too apparent in the rippling froth the way his hands are still unsteady.

When he tries to pour the milk into a mug, holding back the froth, the spoon slips his grasp and clatters loudly to the counter, splashing hot milk everywhere.

"Fuck," Sid says, setting the pitcher back down and turning and leaning his hands on the edge of the island counter so he can close his eyes and take a few steadying breaths. He feels like a fool and a coward.

Olli's presence nearby is solid and quiet as ever as he gets out a hand-towel, wets it to wipe up the worst of the mess. He takes over making the hot chocolate for them, then turns on the espresso grinder and starts making some coffee for good measure because he's an addict.

"You're an addict," Sid says.

"I know," Olli says, unflappable as always. "Here," he adds, handing Sid a mug and gesturing with his elbow towards the living room.

Sid takes it in, sets it down on the coffee table and then curls up on the thickly-padded well-used leather couch. He may or may not proceed to space out a little bit as he gets his breathing and his heart-rate down to normal levels, but Olli leaves him to it as he putters around in the kitchen for a minute or two, presumably cleaning up.

"So. How are you doing?" Olli asks, setting his drinks down on the table by Sid's, along with his lunch. He turns on the tv and switches it to the history channel, but puts the volume low enough it's mostly unintelligible background noise.

Sid sighs, gesturing vaguely at nothing to illustrate uselessly some semblance of his feelings. "Embarrassed," he admits.

Olli shakes his head a little. "I'm pretty sure fear is a really normal reaction to this kind of thing. He shouldn't have run at you like that. I think he forgets sometimes, how big he is."

Sid laughs at that, slouching further into the couch. "He deliberately forgot how big he was back when he was a growing teenager and never bothered to remember since."

Olli huffs a laugh at him in agreement and reaches for his coffee. Sid does the same, taking a minute to try to further relax into the warmth of the sweet chocolate and the comfortable familiarity of his living room and the droning tv. The drink is good. He isn't so sure how successful he is with the rest.

"He wouldn't have hurt you, you know that, right?" Olli says carefully, staring at the black pool of espresso he has cradled in his palms. "I mean, it's okay that you were scared, it's normal to be scared. But you know…"

"Yeah," Sid says quickly. "Yeah of course."

It might be a lie, just a little bit. Just in the way that he's really having to work at reconciling the experience of fear with his conscious understanding of things.

Olli frowns at him, like he knows Sid isn't being as honest as he's pretending, but Sid isn't sure what else he can do or say and he's not really sure he wants to start talking about his feelings where Geno is concerned in any case, so he focuses on his drink.

"Thanks for the steak, by the way," Olli says, breaking the silence as he opens his lunch. "That was thoughtful."

"Sure," Sid says, trying not to let his embarrassment show. It had only seemed polite at the time, but now with Olli commenting on it, it feels like a bigger deal.

"Nice fish you got for Geno," Olli adds, and Sid's known him long enough to catch the humor in the dry tone. He's being made fun of, and he's not sure exactly which part it's for.

Sid squints at the TV trying to figure out what the hell the hosts are talking about, but mostly so he doesn't have to look at Olli while he says, "Yeah well, he seems to like fish."

"Hm," Olli responds, irritatingly, smirk hinting in the crinkles around his eyes.

Their plan to watch a movie had really been vague at best, and he's still a little too full of adrenaline to just sit and sip a drink now, he's pretty sure.

"Hey, do you want to do some weights instead of the movie?"

Olli slants an amused look at him and says a little archly, "Oh, does that fit into our rest schedule after all? I wouldn't want you to have to tell the front office I've been "working too hard" again."

Sid scowls at him and chucks a coaster in his direction rather than admit his little hypocrisy, which just makes Olli snicker and then get up and head for the guest room he knows from long experience has spare workout clothes in it, just for this purpose.

 

-o0o-

 

Geno doesn't come by in the morning, though Sid stands at the kitchen window, waiting. He eats his eggs and oatmeal at the island where he can still see out, and then drinks his shake over the sink, studying the treeline. When it's clear that he's not coming, that Sid needs to get a move on if he wants to be on time to get to the interview he's scheduled for, he goes.

He wants to make sure things are okay with him and Geno, but at the same time he's still trying to figure out how to convince himself not to be afraid of such a massive predator. He's not sure whether he's more relieved that he doesn't have to have an answer or disappointed that Geno hasn't come, so he puts his confused emotions aside and goes and gets dressed.

Nevertheless, it bothers him all day, sitting there in the back of his mind. Geno's come almost every day they had even a little free for a few weeks now. They haven't really talked about it since that first time when he'd nearly offended Geno by suggesting it could possibly be another bear. It was just something that was, a thing that was happening. It didn't need to be discussed.

But that doesn't mean it's the only thing that had changed, now that he thinks about it. It's subtle, which is maybe why he missed it since subtlety has never been Geno's mode. Running through his memories of the week shows him a lot more Geno than usual. Just small things, silly things. Quiet bumps amidst the chaos of practice, just drifting into his space when waiting for the next drill along the boards. Geno getting himself out early in the end of practice game of keepaway because he sacrificed his defensive position to take Sid out first, snickering like it was the greatest joke. He can't actually pinpoint any more specific memory of it exactly, the way normal things in normal days blur together, but he gets the overall sense that Geno's just been closer-by of late.

It's a strange realization, and the thought makes his chest feel a little tight in a way he's not sure he knows how to interpret.

Geno doesn't come by that evening, or the next day either, even though Sid waits out on the patio a longer while than he'd like to admit, holding a big redfin he'd picked up on his way home. He leaves the fish in the snow because it feels weird to put it away.

In his gym for his evening workout, in his shower after, and lying in bed trying to fall asleep that night he composes thousand different text messages. He writes them, then rewrites them to the point where they're utter nonsense. It's only then he realizes that a) it's too late to send a message without it being too obvious that he's been fussing, and b) if he sends it in the morning Geno won't get it before morning skate and at that point he'd be better off just talking to him instead of trying to jam his thoughts into a coherent text message.

In the morning he spends breakfast staring out the kitchen trying to compose coherent sentences to say out loud to Geno, which proves about as successful as his text-message writing had. he resolves to just… act normal - not that he fucking knows what normal means given that he's staring out his kitchen window at the redfin still sitting out there snuggled in its insulating bowl of snow.

Yeah.

But it is normal when he gets to the rink, more or less. They're a bunch of very different people and everyone goes through their own things, so variation is normalcy too. Geno showing up late is normal. Rusty talking anyone nearby's ear off about nothing is normal. So Sid does his best to be normal.

Normal stretches and drills and conversations fill the first part of the skate, so it follows that eventually he ends up finishing a drill and looping around to wait for the next part of their routine in the same area where Geno's already waiting for his turn. Olli's there too, but he sees Sid coming and, with a subtle but still unmistakable glance between them, skates off to some other task that leaves Geno alone for Sid to approach.

"Hey," Sid says, slowing up early and easy so as not to crowd Geno against the boards.

Geno hasn't avoided him, exactly, but the recent elevated proximity he's felt is even more apparent now in its absence today. Geno hasn't been as loud as usual, regardless of Hörny's energetic attempts to rope him into the team's groove - and that in and of itself isn't so very odd; Geno's moody, he sulks sometimes, spends games off in his own head - but this is different.

So is the way Geno's eyes are big and a little bit wary as he turns Sid's way, butt of his stick clutched in both mitts against his chest under his chin.

He stares at Sid, looking like maybe he's holding his breath, and Sid realizes everything he'd thought to say sounds really dumb in the moment. He tries a smile that he hopes gets across the weird mix of apology and forgiveness he wants to convey, tries, "About the other day-"

Geno interrupts him, spills a string of Russian words out at him with his familiar weird toothy grin of awkwardness and then skates away from Sidney. Sid has no idea what he said at all, but he can take a hint, so he just calls out "Sorry," to his back and then leaves him be. They have practice to focus on anyway.

That evening he sits in the twilight out on his cold patio, blanket wrapped around his body and warm mug in his hands. He watches his breath fog the air, watches the forest beyond it, listening to the soft rustling of wind, the quiet sounds of small animals finding their nests, or awakening from them for the night.

The redfin is still there, but the day has been cold and packed in that much snow he doesn't think it's spoiled. There's a bucket of fresh berries sitting next to it now.

 

-o0o-

 

Sid isn't particularly late getting up, but in the morning when he looks out his kitchen window, the fish is gone and the bucket is overturned, the snow around it stained bright purple from the leftover juices.

There's no other sign of Geno in the area, other than the paths worn through the heavy days-old snow that haven't been covered by powder. No plants freshly dug, and no bear on the premises, but some of the knotted tension in Sid's chest eases.

When he gets to the airport, Geno's not there yet of course, but when he does arrive he seems more normal, loudly casting aspersions on Tanger's grumpy appearance as he begins his shuffle towards his usual seat in the back past the rest of the full complement of teammates awaiting his arrival.

Sid knows he's looking up at him hopefully, foolishly invested in something he doesn't even really understand, but he can't seem to help it. Geno glances at him and his mouth shuts, he swallows before his lips part the way they do when his brain is running faster than his english, deciding whether or not he has something to say, and his eyes flick over Sid's features, trying to read him.

His hand twitches, shifting like he's going to use it to give Sid a facewash as he walks by, but he drops it and instead disburses a silent hip-check to Sid's shoulder, which is hanging out into the aisle a little despite the broad seats of their team plane. He huffs a faux-indignant half-laugh, going with the shove. The tongue poking out of the corner of Geno's mouth is business as usual, but it disappears early, and Geno's eyes are assessing and a little opaque in the glance he darts over his shoulder at Sid who turns with the leftover momentum from the shove and watches him walk away.

Their shared gaze breaks after just a moment, and Sid's not sure what was communicated, if anything really was, but it feels significant. He thinks about it for a few minutes, finds himself wishing more than normal that the seat next to him wasn't empty so he could look at Flower's face and get a sense of what he should be feeling, whether it is as significant as it seems to him. But then again, Flower's not a shifter either. Maybe he'd be just as out of his depth as Sid is.

After that there's a lot of normal hockey routines he has to pay attention to, to focus his mind sufficiently for the game they have in a few hours - it takes more effort than usual given the threat of inclement weather all over their travel plans. Even if he has time to think about where he and Geno stand, actual hockey is usually less affected by their personal interactions - obviously moods carry and interpersonal problems do get big enough to interfere with their cohesion on the ice, but there's mostly too much that's bigger than any couple of guys on the ice that makes more of a difference to the outcomes than not.

Still, Sid can't help but watch Geno, looking for clues about where things are between them, whether there's any hint he can glean that will tell him whether he should back off, or whether he should be trying harder to smooth things over between them.

Geno doesn't take any penalties, no red-mist fits happen, but then again Detroit hasn't been able to muster much of a cohesive threat this season and anyway tales of Geno's inner angry bear spilling onto the ice are definitely exaggerated beyond reality by xenophobic commentators and fans. Despite that, occasionally it really is an indicator of his general mood and feelings about things on the team. So Sid watches.

He's not on fire tonight either, but again, not much point of fomenting it against the 'Wings, and like his animal-side he tends not to waste his energy when it's not useful or entertaining. The steady, almost sleepy air to the majority of his play is pretty much business as usual. As they have gotten older, this kind of game has become one where they as centers tend to focus on playmaking and getting real-time practice with their cast of rotating wingers to try and give an energetic new guy a chance to try and shine, find their groove.

The game's late start due to weather, and the heavy snow lingering in the area makes heading directly to bed after the game the most appealing option, but Sid lays awake longer than he's used to, stuck on the thought of knocking on Geno's door to talk to him about… he's not even really sure what, or even why he wouldn't want to just let this all go and be water under the bridge like any number of previous points of friction in their relationships over the years. It's not a real problem, he's pretty sure they're okay, and it's something they'll easily forget about if they let it slide unaddressed. He's just not sure that's what he wants, exactly.

He sleeps fine, thoughts that seem to not want to leave ending abruptly into the pull of sleep long before anything resembling actual sleeplessness. He wakes up only when his phone alarm tells him it's time to pack up and grab some food on the way to the bus, but he gets the vague memory that his dreams had been something to do with walking through the woods towards his lake to go fishing.

Geno walks onto the bus late, but without his usual air of careless self-assurance. He almost looks a little contrite this time, murmuring what sounds like might even be an apology to the managerial staff at the front of the bus.

For the NHL it's a somewhat abnormally long drive they're in for, going from detroit to columbus overland instead of flying like usual, but the team's deemed it the better choice given the trouble the winter storms in the greater region are causing for airplane traffic. Geno's lateness hasn't even proven a delay, given the extra trouble everyone seems to be having with the weather.

It doesn't save him from some friendly cat-calling from most of the team, which he bears with his chin in the air as he heads down the aisle as the bus rumbles from idling into gear underneath them.

Mostly everyone has chosen a row to themselves, since there's no comforts of tables to play cards across, and it's early enough still to make the most of the daylight that most of them are still sleepy given the late game they'd played the night before, so it surprises Sid when Geno stops beside his row, looming over him, the top of his toque bumping against the bus's ceiling.

His face is unreadable, an expression on it Sid's not used to seeing - something that he'd almost label shy, if he had to, the way his eyes dart away from Sid's and then back again as he abruptly sticks his arm out towards him, thrusting forward a large paper bag hanging by its handles from his fingers.

When Sid hesitates in surprise, Geno gestures with it impatiently, then drops it on his lap before Sid can free his arm from the blanket he's snuggled under and then keeps walking as though nothing had happened.

Sid stays hunkered down in his seat, staring at the delivery, not wanting to rouse anyone else's attention on it since Geno hadn't. There's an overly-stylized name in a logo on the bag, some in roman letters, some in what he thinks must be cyrillic, though the decorativeness makes it hard to tell. He assumes it's a restaurant, given the fact that he can feel the warmth of the bag on his lap and the smell of food when he pulls open the top.

It's full of small takeaway containers. The urge to find out what Geno has brought him is stronger than his curiosity over why, for the moment. The one on top he opens is full of little thick pancake-like things, with little pots of what looks like jam tucked into the corner. It smells warmly-appetizing and entirely too perfectly-fried for Sid to resist, the bland hotel eggs he'd washed down earlier paling in comparison.

It's creamy, somewhat sweet and mostly like a pancake more than it is like anything else, but it isn't really anything like what he drenches in maple syrup back home. The jam tastes different too, all of it just a little foreign to his mouth. He's wary of the other pot he discovers is sour cream, but after a moment of long deliberation he sucks it up and tries it too.

It's good, though. Really good. Sweet and rich.

He wonders if this is just Geno finally working his way around to accepting Sid's apology berries and making his own kind of apology, but there's more context than that, than just the fact that Sid loves food and it's a good appeasement for any hockey player.

Some of it Sid isn't sure Geno is necessarily even aware of.

The thing is, Geno's never brought him Russian food before. Not in all the thirteen years they've known each other. Not even when Sid, brimming with youthful determination to make his new teammate feel welcomed, had asked, had offered to try and find somewhere with Russian food that they could go to together.

He'd taken it as a rejection of sorts, back then. His best idea he'd had to try and go outside of his comfort zone to share something with Geno, to prove he was willing to learn. Geno had turned him down, firmly - he'd accepted a different invitation from Sid soon after, hadn't been trying to escape him, exactly, but to Sid it had seemed like a sign that he was trying too hard, prying too far into Geno's personal life when they were just colleagues yet, not really friends. That Geno hadn't wanted Sid in his life outside of the team.

To nineteen-year-old Sid, it'd stung. He'd backed off. He hadn't tried again to tread on anything Russian with Geno again, not really. Not even in Sochi, even though he'd wanted to. The memory is clear, suddenly, as if it hadn't been long nearly forgotten under the dust of time. The feeling of being in Russia, with Geno, and yet not at all. The memory of seeing him across the Olympic village with some other guys from Team Russia on their way to a meal and thinking the better of going to say hi, lest he find himself unwelcome again, an embarrassing tag-along. The foreign non-shifter sticking his nose into things he wasn't supposed to.

In retrospect Sidney thinks he probably could've asked again then, given that they were friends then after all, after over half a decade working together. Geno surely would've found time for him amidst everything to go to one meal together, to show Sid one thing from his homeland. But 2014 Sidney hadn't been so certain, had still been carrying the weight of that earlier dismissal, and even now Sidney can't find it in himself to begrudge himself that, for being risk-averse when it comes to one of the most significant people in his life.

Maybe Geno doesn't remember, maybe he hadn't even understood Sid through the language barrier at the time, hadn't meant to rebuff Sid so thoroughly at all. Maybe the significance it hits Sidney with now is nowhere in Geno's intentions. Maybe it's Sid this time who's unaware of what it means. Still, as he sits there with a lap full of fascinating, unfamiliar food, fetched specially for him, from Geno's home cuisine, in a strange city… he can't help but think it must be something beyond an idle favor.

He thinks, maybe, he wants it to mean something.

He has no answers, and given that Geno is snuggled under his coat with his toque pulled down over his eyes in his seat in the back, he's not going to get any, but holding the warm food on his lap and in his belly leaves him warmed throughout the long drive.

 

-o0o-

 

The tv timeout drags on as the ice crew gets stuck trying to fix a divot near the boards in the corner, and Sid is all too aware of Geno's arm pressed against his as they sit on the bench waiting.

He studies Geno's profile, wondering if he should say something about the food. Or about the fish, or the bear thing, or any of it.

"Stop look weird," Geno grumbles, waving a hand in the direction of Sid's face that doesn't connect in a traditional face-wash, falling away in a hesitation that Sid probably wouldn't have noticed if he weren't looking for such things. His hands are huge even as a human, intimidatingly so, probably, if Sid hadn't already been up close and personal with the bear version that leaves them pale in comparison.

Geno hasn't touched him since that day in the snow, not with his hands specifically.

"You're weird," Sid spits out his mouthguard to say a half-second too late and too lame to be even halfway to a decent chirp. Geno pretends he's not amused and pout-glares at the ice, but after a moment his eyes dart to Sid's to see if he's still looking at him, and his eyes are dark and wide and when he looks away again he sniffs like he does when he's trying to feign nonchalance.

"Thanks," he adds, before he chickens out. "For the, you know the food."

Geno doesn't look at him a moment, sitting uncommonly still and pretending to be interested in the empty ice. He swallows and looks down at his boot, kicking the toe against the boards, dislodging imaginary snow. Says, "You like?" so casually it's definitely anything but.

It leaves Sid's chest buzzing, hearing evidence that means he's not wrong, that he's not imagining that something has changed, that this is important, whatever it is.

"Yeah. I've never really had like, Russian food before. It was really good."

Geno shrugs eloquently, familiar arrogance making a return. He smirks and says, "Is like, best food, so of course."

Sid laughs a little, which just makes Geno more smug, but that's okay. It's a good look for him.

It stays there on his face as he stands up when the ice crew starts skating away towards the gates, signaling the return to play is at hand, but the smile he flashes Sid after he lands on the ice is simple and sweet and warmly personal under everything else, and Sid can't help but grin back as he turns and skates away to circle up to the dot where the referee is checking over the puck in his hand for signs of damage.

There must not be any, because play resumes shortly thereafter.

 

-o0o-

 

It's columbus, so really, it's not even a surprise when Sid gets hit from behind, shoved low on his back so even he doesn't have a chance to do anything but go face-first into the glass, mouth and nose hitting the lip of the boards on the way down in a flash of pain so bright that for a moment he's sure he's going to lose teeth.

There's whistles going, and shouting, and skates flashing around him as he tries to get his bearings out of the crumpled heap he's landed in, trying to keep his head towards the relative safety of the boards in the moments before the ice opens up around him, the less-unsportsmanlike players drifting apart in little tangles of pairs locked off into temperance.

Most of them are, anyway.

Geno doesn't roar as a human, but it's easy to see the bear in the huge paw swipes he takes as he wrestles with opponents. There's angry shouting and the bared teeth to bridge the gap between human ferocity and the animal that's inside him as he gets one hand inside the collar of someone - Dubinsky. Not surprising.

Sid dabs at the blood spilling from his nose, shifting to sit upright against the boards. His neck twinges and he grimaces, testing carefully as he sits up more slowly whether it's just a little or something big. Not that he can really tell right now, full of gametime adrenaline. He spits his mouthguard out for easier breathing - a little bloodied but none of his fake teeth come with it, which is a pleasant surprise.

Stewie's skirting the rink, following the line of the boards to get to him instead of cutting straight across the ice because Geno's still there hurling big punches and grappling with Dubinski.

"Fuck," Sid mutters to himself, leaning his head back against the boards, knowing that at the very least he's not going to be on the ice to manage the fallout. And there will be fallout, given that the refs haven't had much sympathy for the recently champion Penguins, or really Geno ever in his career, given the various forms of xenophobia prevalent in the perspectives of many north-americans.

In fact, "it's not too bad but I think I'm done tonight," he says to Stewie, grimacing as he sits the rest of the way up as Stewie kneels by his shoulder, handing him the clean towel he takes and presses under his nose. There won't be that much time left in the game after he'll be done with the concussion protocol, and the team will probably have a better chance of hanging together if he doesn't try and push it.

"Yeah," Stewie agrees, looking at his eyes, evaluating his status. He dabs at Sid's face with a fresh towel as he finishes getting a look at the extent of the visible injuries. Sid pokes his tongue at his teeth but none of them feel loose, his lip getting the worse of that collision. His jaw hurts a little, but that's pretty much par for the course for him anymore. "Okay to get up?"

"Yeah, probably," Sid says, sighing. He glances past legs to where Geno lands another big swing on Dubinsky's cheekbone, helmets long gone now. The wild flare of contempt on Dubinsky's face kindles fresh anger in Sid's gut. He swallows as Geno bellows again, launching himself bodily into another volley of attempts to overwhelm.

"What are you feeling?"

Sid almost startles, looking away from the fight again to concentrate on his own job. He doesn't feel disoriented but he'd let himself get distracted anyway. "Uh. My neck is pinching but I don't feel too dizzy or anything. I don't think it's more than a strain."

The crowd is still distracted over the fight, so Sid takes the cover to lever himself up and start taking the circuitous route back to the gate, Stewie on his elbow with the bloodied towel taken from Sid and laid over one arm, crimson deliberately visible towards the direction of the officials in a silent demand for a double, since Geno's too busy punching people to play the Alternate lobbying on his behalf.

A swirl of motion draws his eye as Geno and Dubinsky go down in a tangle of limbs. The arena roars, that unique mix of triumph and disappointment and jeering that accompanies the end of every fight, and the officials hurry in to put a stop to things. Geno came out on top of this one, and when he rears back there's a heart-stopping moment where Sid fears he might not stop, that his ursine rage might spill out into hitting a man while he's down until he's out - or worse. He opens his mouth to shout but before he can call his name, Geno's fist drops to his side.

Sid feels ashamed of himself for thinking Geno wouldn't stop, however brief the thought was.

He gets up first, tugged back by his jersey by a linesman who doesn't let him go even as he turns away from the invectives Dubinsky is still shouting. The linesman tries to nudge him towards the penalty box, though it's not exactly effective.

Geno turns toward the Penguins bench instead, his head swiveling around till it lands on Sid, the official dragged along behind him like Geno doesn't even notice he has a passenger. His helmet's gone, his hair in a sweaty mess of curls sticking in all sorts of directions. He's got a cut on his nose from his visor, one of his lips too and his cheekbone is looking like it's going to swell.

He tips his chin up to flag down Sid's attention, face creased in all the usual questions, eyes searching and full of barely-banked fire. Sidney's been on the receiving end of that look before but mostly only ever in the playoffs. They're a ways off from that yet, so it must mean something else tonight. Maybe it's the growing rivalry with their opponent, but something tells him it's more than that.

Sid shakes his head shortly in a signal that he's not coming back to the game, still mopping at his nose, but shrugs off the severity and waves a hand in a gesture somewhere between a farewell and an encouragement to continue in his absence. He doesn't need the words to communicate that, just as Geno hadn't. They've been at this together a long time.

Geno's shoulders ease in relief, though his mouth scrunches into a frown that he turns on the Columbus bench as he lets the official turn him towards the penalty box now that he's done what he wanted. He glances back over his shoulder at Sid and nods, but skates away. As usual Horny's lingering nearby, like in his heart he never took off his temporary A once Tanger returned from injury, keeping sharp eyes on the movements of the officials, ready to jump in and argue if it looks like they're going to punish Geno unfairly or fail to give Dubinsky at least a double-minor for taking Sid out.

Sid pauses at the gate to catch his breath, handing off his helmet and remaining glove to Dana. Recci silently leans in to their little huddle, his head close to Stewie to hear him over the jeering of the crowd.

"Done for today," Stewie says to Recci, who just nods and turns to carry the message over to Sully, who's down the bench bellowing out demands for Dubinsky to be thrown out of the game.

Sid looks out once more across the ice to where Geno's towering over the doorway to the penalty box, an ice pack draped over his knuckles, looking stern and aloof now, letting Horny be his voice, ignoring Dubinsky's bitching from the adjacent box.

Years ago Sidney would have been arguing, would have been fighting to stay, to lead the team. Today he's - he doesn't want to leave, of course not, but he knows they don't need anything else from him but to take care of his health, so Sid turns and heads up the tunnel, more than ready for the quiet room Stewie leads him to through the echoey old brick halls. He can relax, knowing Geno will take care of the team in his absence.

 

-o0o-

 

They get home late, but not behind schedule. Sleep is a little hard to come by with the twinge in his neck and bruises on his face, and when he wakes with the light coming through windows he forgot to draw the blackout curtains over, he can't fall back asleep. He's almost certain he doesn't have a concussion but how he feels in the comfort of his bed isn't a sufficient diagnosis, and the smallest potential for any repeat of past hurts is frightening enough to tug at his thoughts no matter how much he tries to will himself to more rest.

After some fruitless dozing, he gets up and goes for a walk. He's not allowed or willing to do much more strenuous at all before he can go in and get re-evaluated in a few hours, but he's too energized and - aside from a few bruises and the twinge of a strain - generally too healthy-feeling to want to be cooped up inside doing nothing at all while he waits.

At first he just drifts around his gardens, making note of the dug-up patches and thinking about whether or not he should call his landscaper in early to plan. Whether he should wait because it might only continue. Whether he should tell his landscaper to plant more bear-friendly plants.

Maybe it's the way the early light is catching the treeline or maybe it's really that fresh, but his eyes catch on one of the trees along the clearing of his yard, the bark broken away in patches, exposing the brighter wood underneath to the cold air. It draws him across the clearing to the edge of the treeline, to the boundary between the man-made meadow and the forest, mostly untouched by human intervention.

There's sap oozing at the bottom of the wounds, he notices when he gets closer, sticking to tufts of familiar brown fur that have been left behind, so they must not be too old of wounds. He can't really imagine any other scenarios than the one that must've happened, but still, it's something he doesn't think he's seen Geno do before.

There's a lot of things that have changed lately.

Beyond that tree, further into the woods, he spies another tree with brown fur on it, now that he's looking for it, and to get a closer look he climbs over a broken branch and piled snow to get over to the footpath that's mildly been worn into the dirt over the years.

This fur looks older, the little bit of broken bark not wet with fresh sap, and Sidney doesn't really know what to make of the warmth it engenders in his chest. It shouldn't be anything out of the ordinary, that there's signs of Geno in the woods they've shared for several years now, but it is - or maybe it's that he's finally noticing it that's the cause of the feeling.

He keeps walking along the path a ways - there's little pawprints from a variety of critters in the snow banked at the edges, a few distinct enough to identify as rabbit or deer. The middle has been even more thoroughly disrupted by animal traffic that much of it shows the dirt through what would otherwise be several inches of snow. Other than a few lesser-used branches here and there, the main path takes a slow, weaving loop around the edges of his property, a route Sid often treads in the fall. Today, partway along the main path, there's a new break in the snow made by bigger legs than any deer, diverging deeper into the woods into the territory joining his and Geno's land.

He follows that path, looking for signs of a bear on the trees he passes by. It's not silent, between the light rustle of wind and the occasional chatter of early birds, but it's close. His feet crunch in the snow and the occasional twig, making him the noisiest thing in the area. There's no rumbling beast lurking around the bend today.

The woodland area isn't enormously big. It only takes a few minutes, five maybe ten in the snow to cross it to get to Geno's house. Still, the trees are dense enough he can't really see more than a little ways through it at a time. His own home has disappeared long before Geno's comes into sight.

When it does, he stands at the edge of the treeline and falters, looking at the dark, quiet big brick house beyond. There's one light on, somewhere upstairs, but that's all, and Sid realizes he has no idea why he's here.

It's not the nicest feeling, questioning his motivations given that he's waiting on a concussion evaluation, but he knows himself and his head injuries well enough by now to be pretty sure that he's doing alright as far as his head is concerned. Besides, this whatever it is with Geno started long before yesterday's game.

He runs his palm over the rough bark of the tree he's standing next to, wonders what it means to bears, to mark trees. He turns back towards home and wonders what it means that he'd come here to stand in these trees, wondering that, but then again, maybe that part's not so much of a mystery at all.

 

That evening when he gets back from the training facility after a long day of tests, Geno is sitting at the edge of Sid's yard, next to one of the trees that border it. He's not doing anything, just sitting there, looking towards Sid's house. He's sitting near the tree with the broken bark. The sun is nearing the tree line behind him, still bright enough that Sidney raises a hand to shadow his eyes to make sure it really is still just Geno. If he wasn't looking for him, he's not sure he'd have noticed him.

Sidney walks out to the edge of his patio and pauses. Waves at him. Geno's head tilts a little, but then he lifts a forepaw up and waves back. He sits there on his hind legs a moment, watching Sid, then drops down and starts walking through the yard towards him.

He sets a slow pace along the same path Sid had worn through the snow that morning, almost cautious, but he approaches steadily right up to the edge of the patio stones. The snow has melted more on the patio than the grass, and when Geno sets a tentative paw to the stone, his claws clack audibly. He pauses, just a moment, round little ears curved forward, face tipped up from down low, eyes on Sid's face.

"Hey," Sid says, waving his fingers again in greeting. "Hi."

Geno whuffles softly and keeps approaching till he's at arm's length, stretching out his nose to sniff Sid's direction before he sits down in front of him with a ripple of dark fur.

Sid doesn't know how bear body-language works, but if it's anything like that of a dog, this seems like some kind of supplication. At the very least it's a hundred times more cautious an approach than the last time, and while Sid is grateful for the thoughtfulness, he finds himself missing the exuberance of last time - before he'd panicked anyway.

"Oh! Sorry, I didn't get to pick up any fish for you. Schedule's all messed up."

Geno shifts his massive body, tilting to the side and rumbling, his lower lip hanging loose from his teeth and wobbling as he makes some mix of sounds that feel like Sid should be able to make some sort of sense of them, but are meaningless to him nonetheless. Geno looks up, shifting on his hindquarters to get a little more height but still is tucked under Sid's level, his paw waving vaguely in the direction of Sid's head, before his own head thumps gently into Sid's thigh, nuzzling there.

"My head? It's okay, we're going to take it easy for a game just to be sure though. Getting old, my neck's a little twinged so we're resting it."

Geno rumbles again, shaking his head, but settles back down to just sitting. There's a fresh scratch across Geno's nose, skin split and pink under the parting of fur, and Sid finds himself reaching towards it. He doesn't touch it, but a rush of anger washes over him thinking about how the same person who left that permanent slice in the fur over his cheek is responsible for this mark too. Geno is tougher than people - even Geno himself - give him credit for, but seeing it like this, in soft brown fur…

Geno pushes his nose into Sid's palm but jerks back, paw coming up to pat over the tender spot in surprise and Sid snorts.

"Forgot about that one, eh?"

Geno heaves a hot breathy sigh all over him, warbling plaintively then butting against his hip again. This time Sid does sink his hand into the thick fur behind his ear. It's not so different from a hand on a shoulder, maybe. Geno stays still for him, pressing gently back against the pressure of Sid's fingers.

"Are you okay?" he asks. "That game got rough."

Geno pulls back and looks at him, staring into his face, backlit by the evening light gleaming off the snow behind him. Then he grunts and nudges Sid's hip with his head, then his shoulder as he stands back up and pushes past him, moving towards the house.

It's not that hard to interpret when Geno walks right up to the back door and paws at the handle. He could probably open it if he tried in earnest, but he mostly just swats it and then looks back over his shoulder with an impatient rumble, shifting his feet as he waits for Sid to catch up.

Part of him is still vehemently reminding him that this is a bear he's walking up to and opening the door to his home for. It doesn't really seem any less insane as he follows the bear into his house, even considering he's known the man nearly fifteen years now. Perhaps more pertinent is the fact that he doesn't seem to give two shits about how little it makes sense to him, a human in over his head with shifters he doesn't understand in any fundamental way. Geno casts a few glances back along the length of his body to check that Sid is following, and he is. He follows Geno to the den, where Geno pauses outside the doorway and swings his head in a chin-lifting gesture directing Sid in that's so eerily familiar even in this different form. Perhaps he's more fluent in all of Geno's various non-english communications than he'd realized.

Obediently, Sid enters the room, and when he comes to a halt in the middle of the room, uncertain of Geno's further wishes, Geno comes up beside him and tips his head down to bump his forehead against Sidney's thigh. Geno keeps nudging him, directing him over to the big recliner he rarely uses anymore but which had been his primary location during the worst of his concussion recovery days. Even more rarely used is the twin beside it that had been Geno's on days when his own recovery had been too frustrating to bear locked up at home, or perhaps when he'd sensed his captain couldn't handle the lonely silence any longer.

"My head's fine," Sid argues, stopping when he puts the pieces together.

Geno rumbles at him, low in his chest and paws at the air in the direction of the recliner. He doesn't make eye contact with Sid, stubbornly insistent with another nudge to his thigh.

Sid considers arguing, considers the little flicker of nerves at the idea of physically resisting and what Geno could levy in response. He thinks about Olli's certainty that Geno would never hurt him, recalls the moment when he'd been ashamed of his fear of Geno's raw anger at Dubinsky that could've gone unchecked - but hadn't, and pushes those nerves aside. It surprises him to find that they were masking a fresh, different kind of nerves that bubble in his chest as he looks down at Geno who turns his head up to gaze back at him, eyes huge and dark and flecked with gold. He's brought the forest in with him, faint scents of earth and evergreens. Sidney watches his hand extend slowly, till his fingers land on the thick shorter fur over Geno's brow, just above where the cut mars his snout. His heart is pounding but he's not afraid, not in the physical way at least.

He sits down on the recliner, leans into the thick padding under the leather, the seat broad enough to fully and comfortably fit his unyielding widths. Geno whuffles at him for it, shuffling closer and pawing at the switch for the recliner function until Sidney says, "Stop it you're going to scratch the leather," and pushes it himself, the foot lifting his legs into a reclined position and smacking into Geno's flank on the way.

Geno rolls with it, looking comically offended for a bear, especially one who did it to himself. He moves his furry ass out of the way so the footrest can fully lift to its normal position, then turns and looks Sid over to see that he's situated how he wanted.

"How long do I have to stay here?" Sid asks, laughing a little as he glances around the room. "If we're going to be here a while at least let me get the tv remote."

Geno rumbles his disapproval and then he pushes closer, lifts his head right up into Sidney's lap, one of his forepaws coming up to cross across his thighs. This awkward position doesn't seem to satisfy him, however, because he backs off and tilts his head to look at the inaccessible position.

"We can put on animal planet even," Sid wheedles, moving to push the recliner button again, but Geno reaches out and ever so lightly smacks his paw on Sid's hand, pushing it away. Sidney can't help but be aware of the change, the progress in how Geno is comfortable behaving with him and he can't find it in himself to bail out now, so he lets Geno win, gives up on getting up.

Oblivious to Sid's surrender, Geno just goes to the other recliner, the one that is implicitly his, and climbs up into it. He crawls his long forelegs up across the arms and then across Sid's lap to the opposite arm, shuffles his belly onto the shared arms between them, then lowers his head and his upper body down onto Sid's lap and chest, pinning him completely. He nuzzles his face in against Sid's ribs and wuffles his shuffling contentment as he closes his eyes and then heaves a heavy sigh as if signaling that he's there to stay.

"Okay, okay," Sid says, laughing.

He's so heavy, even just the half of him laying on Sid is maybe the weight of his human body, but he's soft and warm and the weight of him is comforting in a way Sid didn't even know he wanted. Geno is pressed tight against the chair, like he's determined to resist Sid's movements.

"Okay," he says, softer, and Geno's eye peeks open, peering up at him from his lap, studying his face a moment. He must see Sid's acceptance, because he adjusts his position slightly, to something a little less strained and more comfortable - for him anyway. Sid's pretty sure his leg is going to fall asleep before too long sitting like this, so he shifts his ass a little till his hips are more even, ignoring Geno's irritable grunt. Still, in short order, the both of them settle.

"Comfy?" he asks, and this time when Geno closes his eye again and sighs, it feels genuine instead of playacted to communicate a point.

He's not tired, despite the workout earlier and the apparent sleepy intent of his companion, and without the distraction of the television, he's left contemplating the massive bear head in his lap. Up close he can see all the scars, the small ones collected over time. He can see the way the fur closest to Geno's nose is shorter and ever so slightly lighter towards the top. His eyes stay closed, and Sid can't help but notice the delicate fan of eyelashes. He's not sure he's ever thought about whether bears have eyelashes or not before, but he notices it now.

He's warm, huge and heavy against him in a physical, visceral, and not unpleasant way. Not at all.

Without even really thinking about it, one of his hands strays to the ruff of Geno's neck, reaching out to pet it like he would any animal in his lap. He stops when he realizes what he's doing, but Geno cracks an eye open and then tilts his head just a little so that Sid's fingers sink deeper into the fur again. He doesn't really want to stop anyway, and with that implied approval he picks up the scratching motion with renewed efforts.

Slowly, the longer his touch goes on unrejected, his hand's path turns closer to Geno's jaw, his cheek and then behind his ears. It's a lot like petting a dog and nothing like it at the same time. When he rubs the thick ridges of muscle on Geno's forehead, Geno's jaw hangs open, a low soft rumble coming out of his throat as he pushes up into the pressure of Sid's hand. Sid shifts against the weight of Geno's head so he can get two hands on his brow to massage with, pressing in long slow strokes, thumbs sliding into the slight valley between the sides of his head.

He's not going anywhere, and Geno seems to like it, so he keeps it going.

Up close his claws are huge, but more blunt than Sid had really expected. They aren't quite so scary, laying there half buried in Geno's fur and Sid's clothes all scrunched together, all thick and straight and unsharpened. Not that they can't do plenty of damage, but they aren't dangerous-looking like a cat's are. They look like they're for digging or something.

He finds himself wondering whether Geno would ever visit him in Cole Harbour. There he could easily go to the fish markets early, bring fresh catches back for Geno to snack on, or hell, even fish them right out of the lake himself. Maybe Geno would fish with him - it's no river, there's no salmon, but it's oddly easy to envision; Geno splashing around on the banks of the lake, maybe catching something, probably mostly just scaring off all the fish and preventing Sid from catching anything himself. Digging up all his plants when they don't catch enough for dinner. Lazing around a fire while Sid roasts up what little he did catch that didn't get eaten right out of the bucket by Geno. Snuggling together like this, all warm and relaxed and content.

It's a pretty dream. He's smiling at the thought of it. It's been a long time since he's let himself dare.

He's not quite sure whether he falls asleep or just dozes, but some indeterminate time later he becomes aware of a sudden shifting of weight in his lap, the fur his fingers are tangled in pulling against his grip and then slipping away from under his hand until he's just touching bare human skin. The sun has set and there's no light on in here, just from somewhere beyond the room, so his vision is limited, but it doesn't take much to make out the now thoroughly human and naked form half laying in his lap.

His hand is still cradled on Geno's neck and shoulder, and in his barely-awake state it's almost on reflex that he glides his thumb along the vulnerable curve where it meets his jaw. His hand drifts up to where tousled chocolate curls are shadowing his forehead and he brushes them back, looking upon his face in the gentle repose of sleep.

As his brain comes more fully online he realizes it's perhaps an intimacy too far, that there might be differences between what Geno would like as a bear versus as a human. He stills his fingers. Moves them back to Geno's shoulder and gives him a shake.

"G, hey. Hey, you done making me nap yet?" he asks, shifting his weight a little because his leg has definitely started falling asleep. Also his stomach is starting to complain that he hasn't eaten in an eternity of a couple hours now. Geno stirs only a little, and Sid reaches over to hit the switch on the lamp on the side-table. He pats Geno's shoulder a little more firmly. "Wake up bud."

This time Geno inhales sharply, rolling slightly as he turns his head from Sid's belly up towards the light and his voice - but his position is even more precarious in his human form and before Sid can reach out and shift the hand on his shoulder to something more effective, he rolls right off the arm of the chair and lands his bare ass on the carpet with a thump and a curse, his upper body thankfully cushioned by the footrest and Sid's legs, forcing him into a sitting position and leaving his head unscathed, albeit a bit disoriented.

"Schto?" he says, twisting around, blinking against the brightness of the light, and Sid reaches down to lower the foot rest so he can get up now that his legs are finally free to move.

"Nice nap?" Sid says as he shakes out the slight numbness in his leg, unable to resist poking a little fun. "I've never had a bear for a nap buddy before but I gotta admit, you're very soft and warm like that. Heavy tho, jeez."

"Nap?" Geno says, frowning up at him. Some of his hair is sticking up on the side of his head from being pressed against Sid's thigh. Sid feels thoroughly fond.

"Yeah," he says, snorting as he thumbs over his shoulder at the chair. "Bear-you came for a visit and decided I needed a nap in the concussion chair - whether I wanted one or not."

Sid laughs, but Geno doesn't. Sid falls quiet watching him.

"Sorry, Sid, sorry," Geno says, looking a little wild-eyed and mortified. The cut on his nose is still an angry pink. He swallows against a clearly dry mouth and pushes to his feet a little awkwardly, swiping a palm over his forehead as he takes a rapid breath and takes stock of his naked body and the den he's woken up in. He looks back at Sid and goes still.

"I'm not hurt you," Geno says, and it's not a question so much as a plea that Sid believe him. He reaches out with his big hands as if to take hold of him and then realizes what he's doing and snatches his hands back against his belly, lips parting in dismay as he regards them, and Sid's heart aches.

"I know. I know you wouldn't," he says with conviction. He steps forward and reaches for Geno's hands, lays his over them and squeezes as he tilts his head to catch Geno's downturned eyes. "You wouldn't. I believe you."

"You believe?" Geno says, and his voice is hardly more than a whisper.

"Yeah. Yeah, I do."

Geno nods slowly, looking away from Sid like he does when he's sorting through his thoughts and his english. He swallows again and nods once more and then laughs a little.

"Is good you believe. Maybe I'm scare you be mad, ask Jim for to trade me."

He turns his mischievous little smirk on Sid and Sid can't help but laugh outright at that absurdity. As if that isn't one of the things Sid wants least in his entire life.

His hands are still on Geno's, his knuckles brushing against the bare skin of his belly. Sid wants to touch him, to spread his palm over his skin and explore, and his breath catches at the thought of it. It feels entirely unprecedented and yet not at all at the same time. Like maybe he was always going to end up here, if there weren't all those layers of cautious distance laid out between them over the years.

Like they are and have been as connected as their two houses conjoined by a wood, the path everpresent even if it had gone untraveled before recent times. Like maybe he built his world this way without knowing this was why. It's almost a frightening thought, but he resists the urge to jerk his hand away, lest he make Geno think he was lying when he said he wasn't afraid of him.

"Do you want to stay?" he finds himself asking. It sounds far too breathy and hopeful and Geno's brow furrows in question as he looks down at him.

"For dinner, I mean. There's - in the guest room, there's some clothes you can borrow. And I can give you a ride home later if you don't want to shift again - or, can't? I don't know how it works," he adds, embarrassment making his voice fall off at the end. It's like he's nineteen all over again, asking Geno to spend time with him.

But it's not thirteen years ago, they're not the naïve kids they were back then. And Geno's been coming to him for weeks. Months, now.

Geno's eyes are steady on his face, fondness mixed with perceptiveness and searching now. The silence stretches a moment while he parses and he twitches his lips to the side. But then he glances away with deliberate casualness as he licks his chapped lips and says, "You want I'm stay?"

There's something in his eyes when they glance back Sid's way briefly that he can't help but label something like surprise and even hope, and it makes him brave.

He shrugs, says, "I mean. I haven't been buying all that fish so you'll go away, you know?"

Geno's face does something complicated and hard to read in the moment as he draws a slow breath. He looks like maybe he's still trying to puzzle out Sid's meaning, so Sid carefully squeezes their joined hands, running the pad of one thumb over the back of Geno's hand in a gesture he hopes is hard to mistake but easy to sweep away into plausible deniability if it's unwanted.

Geno goes still under his touch, frozen, and when Sid dares to glance up to his face he looks dismayed. Sid's laugh feels shaky as he abandons the caress and just pats Geno's hand and steps back quickly. He heads for the door with brisk strides, saying, "I've got some steak, if that sounds good. We could put on the Vegas game, see how Flower's doing."

Geno doesn't follow him out to the kitchen, though Sid can hear soft footfalls fading behind him presumably in the direction of the guest room for some clothing. The reprieve has him stopping to lean against the counter and hang his head as he squeezes his eyes shut and sucks in a few deep breaths as he tries to stuff his emotions back in their box for the moment. It had been a reckless impulse to chase, to assume that this new turn in their friendship had felt the same to Geno as it had to him.

It doesn't matter though. He'd taken a risk and made a mistake, and that's all. As much as Sid wants to just go hide in his room and call Geno a cab, he doesn't want to let his other feelings for Geno interfere with their friendship they've built over thirteen years even more. Steaks and hockey talk aren't dependent on his other feelings being returned and he'll be damned if he's going to let Geno think that.

He scrubs his hands over his face and gives his head a shake and then turns his focus to cooking. He doesn't have a lot of prep in mind given how much his stomach is rumbling, just some salt and pepper on the meat while he gets the grill panel on his stove heating. Once that's going he busies himself with digging up whatever salad veggies he has on hand, getting them rinsed and readied for the cutting board.

Geno's absence stretches on, though Sid doesn't begrudge him taking some space. He'd be glad of the space himself if he weren't also fretting over what Geno must be thinking. The thought threatens to overwhelm him so he shoves it aside firmly and turns on the game on the TV in the kitchen, sound down low, and then re-focuses himself with the steady task of washing the vegetables. He distracts himself thinking about whether he's gotten enough food for the day - he'd kept breakfast on the smaller side pending the evaluations, and lunch at the facility hadn't been enough to make up for it given that he'd squeezed in a workout there after all. On the other hand he's not sure he has the patience to cook up potatoes. He glances at the tv, but it's still just pre-game commentary, so he turns his attention to his cutting board and the selection of a knife for chopping veggies. Maybe rice? If he starts it now it'll be ready by the time they finish eating their salads and steaks, and then he can use it to mop up the leftover jus-

"You want-"

"Fuck!" Sid yelps, jumping half out of his skin at the unexpected interjection as the knife in his hand clatters onto the cutting board.

He glances over his shoulder to take in the freshly-clothed Geno on the other side of the island. He looks back to his cutting board to secure the knife, but even the brief look was enough to tell him that the tee shirt Geno had found is worn thin and it's too small for his frame. It doesn't really do much to temper the recent and lingering memory of wanting to touch him. He takes a deep breath and deliberately goes back to work.

"Sorry. What was that, G?" Sid says, focusing on the celery he's slicing thinly.

This time he feels Geno's presence as he approaches, comes to stand in Sid's periphery. When Geno's fingers come up to touch his shoulder, they're tentative, almost fitful. Sid puts the knife back down.

"I'm think maybe, we have wine?"

He sets a bottle he must've retrieved from Sid's pantry or cellar down on the counter, but his hand on Sid's shoulder doesn't depart. It stays there, tentative but perseverant. When Sid looks up into his face, his expression is serious and intent, searching in return. His fingers are warm along the back of Sid's arm.

"Okay," Sid murmurs,

"Okay, good," Geno says, squeezing his arm and then letting him go to go dig around for a wine-bottle opener like nothing different has happened between them. For a moment, Sid is washed up on a reef of disorientation, wondering if he'd somehow imagined making a pass at Geno, or imagined Geno noticing it and his apparent dismay.

A moment more watching Geno tells him that no, Geno's not unchanged. His eyes are deliberately focused on his task, and his ears are flushed, the faint lines around his eyes pressed into existence by the tiniest curl of the muscle in his cheeks.

He doesn't look upset. He doesn't look mad or tense or freaked out or anything like that. Flattered, maybe? Sid's seen him politely turn people down before, a phrase memorized and practiced for clarity to tell them he's "very flattered, but not available right now." He smiles at them and pats their arms and always looks a little pleased after they've gone off disappointed but not hurt.

Sid can handle that. He can definitely handle that. When Geno sets a half full wine glass down next to his cutting board for him, he smiles at Geno.

"Thanks."

Geno pats his shoulder and wanders over to Sid's fridge, digging around in his drawers looking for something he's muttering about in Russian. Sid sighs out a slow breath and then lets himself relax as he goes to get the rice started cooking. Maybe he's a little embarrassed and disappointed, and maybe Geno was surprised and maybe even taken aback, but they're friends and they'll figure it out.

Geno takes over his spot at the cutting board with a paper bag of semi-neglected mushrooms that Geno tsks over, but Sid leaves him to it, until Geno laughs.

"Reavo," Geno says, gesturing with his wine glass at the tv when Sid looks at him.

"Oh hey, yeah," Sid says, looking up to see their former teammate on the screen, hamming it up for the pregame camera. The sound's still low but he doesn't need it to guess at whatever easy chirps Ryan's laying into the interviewer. When Flower glides up into the frame behind him, mischievous smirk on his face, Sid snickers and says, "Flower!"

The soft thump of the knife on the cutting board behind him pauses and together they watch the big blade of a goalie stick float up under the back of Reaves's helmet, tipping it forward over his laughing face.

"Classic," Sid says, chuckling to himself as he tosses the steaks on the grill.

"He never change," Geno agrees, voice soft and fond and sounding like he finds that a thorough comfort.

And if Sid feels a pang of wistfulness over the fact that life changed around them, well. That's life. And theirs is pretty good now too.

The conversation turns easily to hockey, to commentary on the game after it starts and some bickering over Geno's attempts to grill the sliced mushrooms beside the steaks without them sticking hopelessly to the grill. By the time they're loading up their plates and sitting at the island so they can eat and still see the TV, he's almost forgotten he'd made it weird. It'd be almost like nothing had changed at all except for the odd moments here and there where silence falls, and Sid looks up from his plate to find Geno looking at him with an unreadable expression for a moment before Geno turns back to his food or starts a new conversational turn.

They've eaten so many meals together over the years, albeit fewer of them alone and far away from any trappings of their work. They polish off every scrap of their food, and a good portion of the bottle of wine too, and even though by the end of it Sid is not really any less tense than he had been, he's also more comfortable in familiar territory as Geno groans and leans back in his chair, only halfway bothering to cover his mouth as he belches his satisfaction with the food. It's not like Sid hadn't talked with his mouth full at some point during the meal. There's not much point in some excessive pretense of civility when it's just them, after all.

"Thanks for dinner," Geno says, halfway through a yawn.

"Anytime, sure," Sid says, shrugging it off, or trying to anyway. He considers making a joke that Geno ought not be tired again already, after the afternoon nap, but then hesitates, not sure he wants to bring any of that back up. Maybe this shared meal was really just a successful back-track to the more familiar, shared paths of their friendship.

"Ok, is late," Geno says, breaking the silence that Sid had let stretch in his hesitation. Sid would offer to call a car but Geno is already slinging himself up out of his chair and walking right to the back door as Sid gets up to join him.

He thinks, normally, he'd probably just call out a farewell and start on the dishes, but he doesn't do that today. Sid's not quite sure why he follows him so closely - canadianness aside they're way past the point of formally seeing each other out of their homes - or why it seems like Geno maybe expects him to, the way his shoulders are angled just a little back towards him. But it does, and he does, even as his thoughts teeter over which way he ought to be heading.

Geno pauses in the mudroom instead of opening the door immediately. He reaches for the neck of his shirt like any of the thousands of times he's done so in Sid's presence, but for a brief moment he pauses, eyes flicking to Sid like he's suddenly remembered that Sid had shown interest in him. His eyebrows twitch up and his mouth purses in consideration, but there's a certain smug glimmer to his eyes and turn to the corner of his mouth as he follows through with the motion, stripping his borrowed shirt off.

There's a swooping anticipation mixed with dread; that Geno is going to tease him like this now. That his desires, now laid foolishly bare to him, are going to leave him humiliated at the mercy of Geno's whims. And he's not sure he cares enough to try and stop it.

Geno could toss it in the hamper, or a cubby, but instead he turns and holds it out for Sid to take from him, eyes hooded and his pursed mouth only barely holding the tug of his smirking cheeks at bay. Sid takes the shirt, feeling altogether too out of sorts as he notices the fabric is warm in his hands. Geno watches Sid watch him as he tugs loose the drawstring on the sweats and then sweeps the waistband over the bubble of his ass before letting them fall the rest of the way to the tile. He stands there, naked and tall and clearly aware of Sid's undivided attention for a second before stepping out of them and bending down to scoop them up. Geno piles those into Sid's waiting hands too and stands there, gazing down at him a longer moment, his palm sliding from the bundle of clothes to land on Sid's forearm.

Sid is so thoroughly aware of the glide of Geno's palm down his arm to pause at his wrist, long fingers encircling the joint for a moment. It prickles the hairs on the back of his neck, and the twist of anticipation deep in his gut. His breath feels unsteady as his hand turns a little towards Geno's touch, opening to it. Geno's thumb presses slowly along the seam of his wrist, down over the sensitive nerves along the thumb muscles in his palm. All too quickly his hand drops away as he steps back.

"Do skorovo," Geno murmurs, and then he turns and walks out into the night, naked and unabashed. The door he shuts behind himself leaves him mostly in shadow, and Sid doesn't try to watch him transform anyway, but when he glances back out a bit later as motion further off catches his eye, there's a shaggy bear's butt disappearing out into the night.

 

-o0o-

 

It takes him a week to decide what he wants to do about things. A week of Geno lurking in the shadows of the woods - still eating Sid's offerings but never when he's there, and definitely not marching up to him to force him to take even more naps than the ones he's already taking along with the orders from the training staff. A week of Geno behaving almost normally around him at the rink, other than the long, considering glances Sid keeps catching getting sent his way.

He almost does it in the lounge one day when Geno's chowing down on another plate of sashimi, but Phil is there a table away talking about Stella with Hags and Olli isn't far behind him coming from conditioning so Sid loses his nerve at the audience he suspects will be all too knowing for something he thinks he'd rather be private with. However small it is still.

By the end of the week, unable to sleep past the dawn because of all-too needling thoughts - nerves he's been working up for days, he gets dressed and slips out the back door. There's only a little snow left on the ground, little patches of fresh green starting to poke through. He walks carefully to avoid the fragile shoots and crunches through old ice instead.

Lots of people have keys to Geno's house. Any number of Geno's friends. Half the Russians in the league. Most of the shifters that have ever had any connection to Pittsburgh - however tenuous.

And Sid. He's had the key a long time. He's never used it.

It feels ridiculous, letting himself into Geno's house unannounced. It treads on all his sensibilities as inappropriate, but it's the only thing that had even felt a little like it made sense - reciprocating, in a way. It's not like he has a shifted form to take to come sniffing around Geno's yard in, some animal counterpart that he can blame oddities on if his overtures fall flat. If he's going to rustle around in Geno's home for food it will have to be with his own hands.

It's early. The place feels empty, and he's glad he doesn't run across any hungover visitors draped over living room furniture as he makes his way in from the back patio. He is almost certain Geno is here, probably asleep, but there's an utter stillness to a house this big this early. He might be alone here after all - his presence might go completely unnoticed even.

He's been here dozens of times, even rifled through this fridge before, not that the way his heart is pounding would suggest such familiarity. It feels like everything he touches rattles loudly, every cabinet door bangs even with its soft-close hinges. And maybe he wants them to. Maybe that's why he's here. To leave his unmistakable mark on the hodgepodge of foreign and local foods in Geno's home.

Not that he knows what half of it even is. He's staring at a container he's holding labeled in blocky cyrillic as "Творог" when he hears the first sound in the house that isn't his. Footsteps overhead. Despite a momentary panicked glance towards the door as he considers attempting an escape, he's still standing there as Geno comes downstairs.

Given how free he is with access to his home, it's probably not surprising that Geno doesn't startle to see someone as he steps into the large open concept rooms, but he does belatedly drift to a halt when he squints across the room enough to see that it's Sid.

"Hi," Sid says, offering a stupid little wave on reflex. His heart is in his throat, though he tries to clear it with a swallow. "Just thought I'd come see if you had any…" He squints at the cyrillic and doesn't even make the try, just holds it up and says, "this."

"Tvorog?" Geno asks, sounding completely perplexed.

"Yeah. That. Whatever it is," he mutters that last bit under his breath, but it's loud enough Geno huffs a quiet laugh. He eyes Sid with that same slow, speculative look he's been giving him all week. Slowly, he starts to drift closer.

"It's like, you know, kindof cheese. For lot of things," he says, gesturing nonsensically. "Like, you know, little syrniki."

Sid shakes his head slightly and lifts his brows in question and Geno pauses near the corner of the kitchen island, frowning slightly.

"Little… I'm bring them for you, on bus."

"Oh, good," he says, biting his lip and smiling down at the container. "That's what I needed then."

Geno is looking at him with his eyebrows all scrunched up and together, his mouth twisting before he licks his lips and squints at Sid.

"You… need tvorog?" he says, voice heavy with skepticism as he crosses his arms over his chest and looks down the length of his nose at Sid.

"Yep," Sid says, firmly, tucking the box against his chest. He hadn't been at all sure what he'd come here looking for, but he's certain now that this is it. And he's sure he's not going to manage to cook anything quite so good as the restaurant quality food Geno had brought him, but that's not the point.

"Why you need?"

Geno looks sleepy still, to be honest, and maybe a little pouty, like he does when he sighs around on early travel days, put upon by anyone speaking english at him. Some of his curls are sticking up on one side where they haven't been brushed down from sleep. He looks curious more than irritated though, studying Sid and his pilfered prize.

Sid shrugs, then says, "Maybe I want to make syrniki."

Geno looks even more skeptical then. "How you make? You not know," he scoffs, stepping closer and eyeing the box of cheese like he's considering liberating it back from Sid.

Sid rolls his eyes and pulls out his phone, asking it "How do you make Syrniki?" as he hugs the cheese to him and turns out of Geno's reach. "See?" he says, holding up his phone to show Geno all the myriad recipes.

Geno scoffs louder, barely hiding his laugh, and reaches for him. Sid's expecting him to grab the cheese, so he fails to protect the phone Geno plucks out of his hand and swipes away all the recipes, tossing the phone on the counter away from them. He then steps in and reaches for the cheese, but Sid twists, sticking it behind his back.

"No, it's mine now," he says, feeling absolutely ridiculous with giddy adrenaline as Geno grumbles at him, follows him deeper into the kitchen.

"My cheese!" Geno argues loudly, but there's laughter in his eyes, and something deeper, something knowing. He swipes big, deliberately ineffectual paws around Sid's sides, backing him further and further into the corner. "Why you think yours? I'm buy."

"I found it, it's mine," Sid insists, unable to hold back his stupid discordant laugh as Geno pens him in against the base cabinets, boxing him in thoroughly with his body and his limbs all caging around him.

"You cheese thief?" Geno accuses, voice low and round with humor. His teeth gleam in the dangerous smile he flashes. "Steal from bear house? Big risk."

"I'm not afraid of you."

"No?" Geno says, humor tempered as he searches for the truth of it in Sid's eyes. He leans his head down and murmurs like a warning he isn't sure who it's for, "I'm catch you."

"Okay," Sid agrees, feeling foolishly breathless.

Geno's hand curls around his wrist on one side, but his other is braced against the counter on the other side, pinning Sid there with the easy press of his bodyweight leaning in against him from chest to knee. His breath is warm on the bare skin under Sid's ear, along his jaw as Geno brushes just by him, exhale just fluttering against his hair. He feels like closing his eyes to hide from the terrible tension of waiting for Geno to decide what this is. Whether this is just going to be silly roughhousing, goofing off, or whether it's going to be something more.

It's almost startling when Geno finally does press his chapped lips against Sid's jaw, against his cheek and then the corner of his brow. The hand on his wrist is tight, and Sid doesn't even really realize that he's let go of the box onto the counter behind him until he feels his fingers curl closed. He feels like holding his breath as Geno pulls back a little, looks down at him - at his mouth - but it comes out of him in a shaky rush when Geno dips his head down to press a shaking, tentative kiss to the corner of his lips.

It lingers, even after Geno pulls back a little Sid can feel it on his skin. Like a crisp pass to his tape, and so pretty he almost misses the fact that it's his turn to shoot. He feels Geno's body tense but before he can really pull away, Sid turns his head the rest of the way and makes their lips meet fully.

Geno's weight leans right back into him with the touch, not a surge or a push but just an inexorable closeness. He doesn't lift his hand from the counter behind Sid, doesn't touch his body. His lips are trembling as Sid kisses him, slow and gentle, not pushing for more than just the way their lips meet, the way their noses align and they can feel each other's breaths.

Sid renews the kiss with another press of his mouth, anticipation making his guts feel like liquid as he dares to lift his free hand to curl around Geno's waist, to feel the warmth of him through the thin material of his tee. Geno makes a faint sound, his lips opening as he slides his tongue into Sid's ready mouth, tasting him like he must have done so many times before with others. It's a deep kiss, slow but intense and Sid can't help but lean into it.

Geno pulls back, a little abruptly, eyes wide as he looks down into Sid's face. His tongue slips out to brush over his lips in a nervous flick. Sid leaves the hand on his waist loose, but doesn't pull it away. It's not like he has anywhere to retreat to anyway, pinned into the corner like he is. Geno stares at him, swallows, then surges forward to kiss Sidney again fast and hard, cabinet thumping hollowly as someone's leg knocks into it.

It's over far too quickly as he jerks back away again, this time putting a solid two feet between them, panting a little and looking a little more wild around the eyes as he glances down at his own body and then away at some random corner of the room to stare at fixedly. His cheeks are flushing red and his fingers twitch fitfully against his tee shirt and those thin sleep-pants of his aren't really doing anything to hide his other reactions to things.

Sid gets it. It's a lot.

He reaches blindly behind him on the counter for the abandoned cheese, then straightens himself up and moves out of the corner. Geno's eyes flick towards him in mixed anticipation and alarm but Sid just smiles and turns towards the exit. On his way, he reaches out with his free hand and pats Geno's side, low and intimate and maybe just a little mean as he lets his fingers slide in and over Geno's belly as he walks away, enjoying the little twitch of his body under his fingertips. He plucks up his discarded cell phone on his way out of the kitchen and hums in consideration.

"I'm going to go make breakfast," he says over his shoulder, waggling the stolen cheese as he walks away towards the back door. "If you want your cheese back, I guess you'll have to come over to eat."

He pauses, looks over his shoulder in time to see Geno yanking his fingertips away from where they'd been brushing over his lips. Sid studies his face a moment, takes in the flutter of nervousness and what he hopes is some anticipation.

"You know, if you're hungry. If you want. You know where to find me."

Geno stares back at him, face still flushed. His eyes are dark and focused on Sid so intently. The way he's holding himself, something about it is so very much the same as his bear side, to Sid's eyes. They don't really seem like separate things anymore, Sid realizes, smiling.

Geno nods.

Maybe it's a yes. It's not a no. Not yet anyway, and that's enough. More than enough for what he'd come over here looking for. Sid lets himself out into the cool morning air and the woods between their homes, smiling and muttering at his phone as he looks at recipes for syrniki.

Either way, he'll cook enough for two.