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89) One hockey player's unexpected race to the altar teaches him a whole new meaning to marriage.


 

Sidney’s halfway to the rink when he realises he forgot his suppressants the night before.

He’d picked up last night, an alpha who asked if he wanted to be put on his knees and made to beg. Sidney wasn’t able to do as much as he usually liked, not this close to playoffs and with a game the following evening, but he’d gone down on his knees and had his mouth fucked, fast and unforgiving, just as promised. It wasn’t a super common thing, but Sidney enjoyed the submissiveness of his biology. The alpha hadn’t pushed, their negotiations set before everything started, and Sidney had four fingers up his ass and his cock buried in the guy’s mouth when he came. It had served to take the edge off, what with his heat only planned for the short break between the end of the regular season and the start of playoffs, but the whole thing went through his usual pill-taking time, and he’d passed out afterwards.

The alpha had left without a word, cleaning Sidney up while he floated on bliss. It was how these things usually went; Sidney would find an alpha, they’d fuck, and if it was good enough he’d make it a season-long arrangement. It was always discreet and kept out of the public eye, if not only for Sidney’s job but for the overwhelmingly negative light unmated alphas were seen as.

“Shit,” he mutters, digging around in his glove box to see if he’s got a spare sheet. It’s not a huge problem; he’s forgotten them before and has been alright. His heats don’t come on straight away, and he usually gets a while between the suppressants stopping and his heats kicking in. He’ll just get one of the trainers to give him a pill when he gets to the rink, whatever.

He parks, spotting Tanger and Flower getting out Tanger’s car, and he waves at them, wandering over. “Hey guys,” he says, falling into step next to them.

Tanger’s one of the two alphas on the team, and he’s just had his mating ceremony in the summer with Catherine. Everyone was really happy for him, but none more so than the front office. Unmated alphas are seen as loose cannons, hyper aggressive and untrained -- which isn’t true, for the majority of them. The rhetoric about alphas pisses Sid off to no end; it’s why he doesn’t read the newspapers or watch the news much anymore. Half of it is dynamics crap, anyway, which he doesn’t care for. Why waste time that could be spent on the ice or planning for the season or enjoying his summer? Besides, dynamics are bullshit -- his omega status elevates him, which he hates for the sheer fact he didn’t work for it; his biology was just part of him when he was born. He was just lucky to be born an omega.

Flower, a beta, sniffs the air and frowns. “You smell different today,” he says. Sidney flushes.

“Forgot my suppressants last night. I’ll grab some off the doctor.”

Flower shoots a look at Tanger, who shrugs. “I don’t smell anything weird. He’s fine. Should be fine around G,” he says as they head inside and towards the locker rooms.

Geno, of course, is their other alpha. His situation is... slightly more complicated.

Sidney’s been getting shit for years from the team about wanting to sit on Geno’s knot. The shit is carefully limited to being joked about only in front of Sidney, and never mentioned in front of Geno. While they all know Geno would take it in good humour and probably say some filthy fucking shit right back, it’s just not done. Alphas aren’t allowed to joke about knotting in the locker room, that much is for sure. There was the Packers linebacker who got suspended for two months when a reporter overheard him chirping one of the kickers. Once that happened, the precedent set, any knotting jokes between alphas and omegas completely stopped. So now he just gets sly looks whenever they’re near each other, the young unmated omega captain and their young unmated alpha alternate within scenting distance of each other.

He shoves it all to the back of his head, focusing on changing into his under armour and crouching down to reach into the back of his locker for his sneakers.

“You seen the doc yet, Sid?” Flower asks from somewhere behind him. He can’t quite reach his sneakers, shoved so far back in his locker he’s basically entirely in the fucking thing, and he grunts out a, “No, not yet.”

“Shit,” he hears Flower sigh. Sidney rolls his eyes. It’s not a big deal, he’ll just get the suppressants after he stretches.

He backs out, sneakers finally in his grasp, and straightens up, his back to the room. He breathes in, big and deep; something he does a few times a day to get a read on how everyone’s feeling. Scents and scenting are a big part of who he is and how people communicate, but he knows some people get upset when their scents betray how they’re feeling and don’t-- well. Sometimes it’s just better not to scent.

This is probably one of those times.

When he inhales, Geno’s scent is the first to hit him, and it’s like getting crushed against the boards by Milan Lucic. His knees lock and he feels his heat-- fuck, he feels his heat begin to bubble low in his gut, his ass starting to slick at the smell.

“Shit,” he gasps out, dropping his shoes and grabbing at the corner of his locker. All he can smell is Geno, burning hot and deep like a bonfire; wood, charcoal and ash all mixing together into a heat that melds with his own. He looks over his shoulder and Geno’s standing in the doorway, clutching his backpack and his eyes zoned in on Sidney. His eyes are blazing, his cheeks pink and his mouth open. TK’s talking to him, but he’s oblivious to the fact that Geno’s not paying him a lick of attention. Sidney can’t bring himself to look away.

He opens his mouth and a whimper escapes, a “please,” on a gasp with it. He knows he’s got no right to ask Geno for anything, to even dare to do this here and now, but Geno just brought on his fucking heat and he’s been so into Geno for so long, he’s just sick of… he’s sick of not saying anything. He wants to ask and see what happens.

Before Flower can speak, Geno’s crossed the room, his backpack falling to the floor, discarded, as he slams Sidney against the wall. He hikes Sidney’s leg up over his hip and grinds down on him.

“Fuck, Geno,” Sidney gasps out, his fingers tangling in Geno’s hair as Geno bites down on his neck and rubs his face along it, scenting Sidney. He moans and licks at him, burrowing his face into Sidney’s neck as Sidney tightens his leg around Geno’s hips.

Usually Sidney has somewhat more control when he goes into heat. It doesn’t happen the same for everyone; some people can ignore it, for the most part, while others spend a week locked away in agonising misery, fucking a dildo that can’t tamp the fire inside. Sidney doesn’t have that problem, he just meets up with one of his alpha hook ups, gets knotted and falls asleep. Heat solved.

He’s never had a heat bought on just from the scent of an alpha alone, though. From Geno.

Tanger’s on Geno before Sidney can wriggle his hands down the back of Geno’s jeans and tilt his head enough to kiss him, dragging him off and ignoring Geno’s wounded cries, while Flower grabs Sidney and drags him out the room, shoving Sidney’s jacket into his hands.

“Flower,” Sidney whines, painfully hard and his leggings not doing anything to hide it. Flower just shoves his jacket on, his grip tight around Sidney’s arm.

“Jesus Christ, I told you to find the doctor before--” Flower cuts himself off, clearly pissed that it got this far, and he’s marching them out the front door and towards the carpark.

“I didn’t think. Geno’s never, my heat’s never…” Sidney’s at a loss for words, putting on his seatbelt and reaching for his phone with shaking fingers. He manages to fire off a Need you now, can you come? text to Aiden, who called him yesterday, knowing playoffs were soon and Sidney would be going into heat. Sure, be there soon is the reply and Sidney drops his phone in his lap, shifting in the seat as Flower tears out the car park.

“You two had better fucking hope nobody finds out about this. If the front office hears that Geno did that, you know he’s not-- they’ll get rid of him,” Flower hisses. Sidney digs the palms of his hands into his eyes. He knows, he knows.

Alphas aren’t afforded the same luxuries that omegas are, not by a long shot, and Geno’s been on a short leash since he stepped foot on American soil. It’s common knowledge the Penguins insisted he stay in Russia for an extra year after he was drafted, wanting to ensure he was mature enough to come to the NHL. Wanting to ensure he could be an alpha in their room and not cause trouble. How could Sid do this, how could he risk Geno like that?

“Shit, I fucked up,” Sidney says. His cheeks are hot and he’s sweating. His hands are shaking from the adrenaline, and he can still feel Geno pressed hard and solid against his front, the smell and taste of a bonfire invading every sense.

“You both fucked up,” Flower maintains. Sidney curls up in the seat and watches Pittsburgh pass by, gritting his teeth as the heat builds in his gut and up his spine, a whine barely trapped in his throat.

By the time Flower pulls up to Sidney’s house, Aiden’s sitting on the front porch, dressed in a suit and his hair combed over. He’s obviously just come straight from work, which makes Sidney feel more guilty. Aiden stands up and frowns as Sidney staggers out the car and almost into his arms.

“Woah, what the fu--” he stops abruptly, sniffing the air. His pupils dilate and his fingers tighten around Sidney’s waist.

“Fuck, you’re really far gone,” he rasps, licking his lips. Sidney nods.

“Get inside,” he demands, pushing his house keys into Aiden’s hands and turning back to Flower.

“Can you make sure Geno’s okay? Apologise to him for me, I-I’ll make sure I talk to whoever I need to tomorrow,” Sidney says.

Flower sighs, rubbing his forehead. “It’s just dynamics stuff, Sid. I know you both… it’s just, shit happens, I guess. Sorry I went so hard on you.”

“I feel really bad, Flower. I don’t want him to get in trouble. I’ll talk to Mario later or something.”

Flower waves a hand and steers around the yard to head back down Sidney’s driveway, and Sidney gets inside and kicks his door shut, shucking off his shoes and yanking at his shirt.

“Upstairs, now,” he demands. Aiden’s already mostly undressed and grabs him, pulling him in and kissing him hard and fast, biting on his lower lip and palming his ass. He’s thick and solid beneath Sidney’s hands.

Yeah, just like that, Sidney thinks.

 


 

Zhenya’s on one of the bikes, trying to work out the lingering stiffness before their first playoff game that night. He’s only been on for a few minutes, and he hasn’t spoken to anyone since yesterday; just showed up at the rink for skate and kept quiet the entire time.

Tanger and Nealsy stick close to him, and he appreciates it but he wants to be left alone. They don’t expect him to talk, though, so he doesn’t. He just works out and keeps his head down.

He wants to apologise to Sidney, most of all. He’s never lost control like that, ever. Sidney’s never come to the rink that close to a heat, either. He’s more responsible than that, plans his heats with a disturbing Google calendar he’d shown to Zhenya in their rookie year, before Zhenya could speak English well enough and Seryozha was there to chaperone.

Alphas and omegas aren’t meant to be alone until they’re over twenty one, in America. Archaic fucking system, but Zhenya’s used to it by now. Everyone hates alphas, no matter where you are. At least that’s something he can rely on.

His mind drifts as he bikes, fingers clutching at the handles, and he can’t stop himself from flashing back to yesterday, to pushing Sidney against the wall and burying his face in his neck. That rich, heady scent of Sidney’s was like a siren’s call, and he’s never lost control like that before. He’s been around omegas who were in heat more times than he can count and never has he launched himself on anyone like that. He’s been around Sidney for years, and never done that. He’s disgusted with himself, taking advantage of Sidney when he was vulnerable, just the feel of their cocks grinding together better than most, if not all, of the sex he’s ever had.

Sidney smelled like the ocean on a breeze, tangy and fresh and powerful, and Zhenya wanted him so bad. Not for the first time, and not for the last, but he’d vowed he’d never go there, couldn’t go there. Not with Sidney, not for that. But god, his heat smell was like that except so much more concentrated, reaching inside Zhenya and stoking something he didn’t know existed, a fire that burned so brightly it overtook him completely. It had scared him, once Tanger had gotten him off Sidney and dragged him into main locker room and then into a trainer’s room.

“Fucking stay in here until you cool down!” Tanger had barked, before storming off and slamming the door behind him. Easier said than done. An alpha who’s scented an omega in heat… well, it doesn’t turn them into mindless fuck machines, no matter what opinion pieces like to say, but it does start something inside them that’s hard to squash until they knot. His omega hook up ended last year when she mated to some alpha lady from her work. Zhenya couldn’t be mad at her-- he loves happy endings, especially for alphas.

Tanger had come back a while later, saying that nobody in the room was gonna talk and if he was ready, Sidney had left with Flower. Zhenya had shaken his head.

“I’m go home, can’t--” he choked off when he breathed in, Sidney’s smell still lingering on the air. He doubled over and moaned, his dick kicking in his jeans.

“Jesus, what the fuck? You’ve been around Sid for years, what the hell is going on?” Tanger had snapped. Zhenya had been at a loss -- still was -- and left shortly after, citing his own heat which had definitely started.

It took him six hours to get through it, and only after using the AlphaFind app Tanger had awkwardly told him about a few years back. He picked up an omega, a round faced co-ed, took her back to his, and they fucked until the fire subsided to a bearable level in Zhenya’s belly. He felt bad afterwards and insisted on cooking her dinner, and she patted Jeffrey with a bare foot while she talked about her macroeconomics final and how shitty heats were.

“Keep my number, okay?” she had said as she left in a cab. Zhenya had swallowed and nodded.

He feels like he’s biding his time, though, that the club knows what happened and they’re just waiting for Zhenya to fuck up and use it against him. He doesn’t want to give them any reasons.

His nose twitches and he stifles an unhappy groan when Sidney’s scent rolls in ahead of him, crisp and intensely satisfying. Sidney walks up and stops in front of the bike, and Zhenya pulls his earbuds out, slowing down.

“I’m sorry,” Sidney says. Zhenya’s the only one on the bikes; Tanger’s doing some free weights but the room is empty besides them. Zhenya purses his lips.

“Not your fault, my fault. I’m almost-- not good, Sid,” he rasps. Sidney shakes his head.

“Geno, it’s-- it’s fine. I forgot my suppressant, I should’ve just gone home and taken it, and I didn’t, and I put you at risk. I just feel really shitty.”

“Not put me at risk, Sid, I’m do. So sorry.”

Sidney looks really frustrated, and he smells it too, niggling at the back of Zhenya’s throat. He can only wonder how he smells to Sidney, and if it’s irritating his captain.

“Look, we both fucked up. How about that?” Sidney says. Zhenya can’t help but smile, and Sidney smiles back, his scent breaking into something more like his usual ocean breeze.

“Yes, okay. I’m buy you dinner, say sorry forever.”

Sidney rolls his eyes but his cheeks are pink and he smells pleased, and that’s about all Zhenya’s got the strength for right now. He’s just so glad things aren’t fucked up between them. He’s one of the only alphas in the league with a letter, and he’s pretty sure the only reason he got it was because Thierren’s an alpha as well.

Of course, Zhenya’s learned not to put too much stock in one good moment, because the playoffs are a complete shitshow -- and that’s being polite.

The team plays loose and sloppy, angry and mean, and the Flyers take the series. Everyone’s off-kilter, passes don’t connect, and Zhenya’s left with that wildfire feeling pressing at the surface of his skin, wanting to burst forth and scorch everyone around him. He takes reckless penalties, buries deeper into himself and the room smells bitter and acrid with the tang of defeat by the last game. They can’t pull themselves out of it, Sidney can’t drag them out by force of will alone, and they lose.

They lose and it’s fucking heartbreaking.

Zhenya can see the headlines already, knows they’re going to scream about his alpha nature unbalancing the room. Two alphas in a team, you only have two alphas if you want to play scrappy, chippy, horrible hockey-- not the beautiful, flowing game they’re capable of when they’re on point. Despite it all, even in his worst moments of self-doubt, he is proud to be an alpha.

He goes home after grinding out answers to the media, showering quickly and avoiding the murmurs, holding his breath to escape the stink of losing, gasping for air by the time he reaches the car park. He drinks until he passes out, and wakes up the next morning with a headache to match the empty ache inside.

There’s a missed call on his phone, and a text message from Morehouse.

Please come in for meeting to discuss incident with Crosby
10am. Sharp

Of course.

 

*

 

There’s a copy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette lying on Morehouse’s desk when Zhenya sits down, dressed in jeans and a Pittsburgh hoodie. He’s got a beanie on, pulled down low over his eyes, and the thrum of his hangover is making him regret drinking alone.

“So,” Morehouse says, leaning back. Morehouse is a gamma, a scent null -- he has no scent, and he can’t smell -- and Zhenya feels uneasy based on that fact alone. Zhenya’s used to using scents to help him when he communicates, especially in English, but Morehouse is impenetrable for him. He guesses it works in his favour though, keeping the fact he’s feeling panicked and nervous somewhat hidden.

Morehouse pokes a finger at the newspaper and slides it across the desk towards Zhenya.

The back page is taken up almost entirely with a picture of him, skating alone. His spine is bent a little, his head ducked and his stick limp between his gloved fingers, the 71 on his back looking as though it sags along with him.

DYNAMICS ISSUE IN LOCKER ROOM LEADS TO PENS WOES, the title screams. Not even a question mark, but a statement. It happened, thus it must be so. Zhenya curses under his breath and pushes the paper back to Morehouse.

“How they find out?” he asks, a moot point. Morehouse shrugs.

“Point is, they know. Point is, we know.”

Zhenya feels stubborn about this, and he will be until they trade him or cut him free. He is not the stereotype, and he will not be made into one.

“It was accident. Never happen before, and not happen again.”

“Can you promise that, Geno? It’s your biology, it’s your nature. You shouldn’t have to work so hard to pretend to be something you’re not.”

Zhenya’s jaw threatens to drop, the confusion growing. His knee starts to jiggle. What the hell is Morehouse playing at?

“You turn 26 this summer. You’re still unmated, yes?”

“Of course. You know this.” Zhenya’s had enough to think about without having that on top. His mama has been pushing him for years to find a nice omega to knot and get fat with babies. Zhenya doesn’t want a nice omega to get fat with babies. He wants the babies, and he’d like an omega, sure, but he doesn’t want that bullshit. He doesn’t want a doormat. He wants someone to challenge him, make him want to be better. Someone like-- “I find someone back in Russia, this summer. Will not be problem.”

Morehouse nods distractedly, before he leans forward.

“We might have an alternative for you, Geno. The club has discussed it, and we’re in the process of negotiating with all parties concerned, but… how would you feel about mating with Sidney?”

Just when Zhenya thinks he can’t be blindsided by anything more, something else comes along. Because of course their unmated alpha alternate should tie himself to their unmated omega captain forever. He doesn’t know why he didn’t see this coming.

 


 

Sidney is invited to Mario’s for dinner the night after getaway day. Most of the team is still in the city, loose plans for a final meal at some point still in the works. Everyone’s exhausted and looking forward to their summers, Sidney included. This season has ended quite unexpectedly, to say the least.

Nathalie’s reading the paper and Sidney makes the mistake of browsing it while he makes salad to accompany the lasagna, and is pissed off and tossing it viciously by the time the food comes out the oven.

“Sidney,” Nathalie chides. Sidney flushes and stops what he’s doing.

“You know they always turn to dynamics when things go wrong. It’s always been harder in Pittsburgh because of the alphas thing,” she says.

Sidney shakes his head, feeling righteous and angry.

“It’s not a dynamics thing, it’s a ‘we didn’t play good hockey, the right hockey’ thing. Geno and Tanger didn’t-- this isn’t their fault, and constantly blaming them for upsetting this supposed balance in our locker room isn’t helping the issue.”

He doesn’t talk much during dinner, caught up in his own head and trying to figure out how to address this dynamics bullshit and make it go away. Mario’s already had Shero fire the trainer who leaked the news, but it’s too little, too late. The world knows something went down between Sidney and Geno, and that it was dynamics related, and that’s all they need to string Geno up in a noose and leave him hanging. After all he’s done for the city, winning a cup with Sidney and staying in Russia for another season just to appease the ownership, he should be left alone. He’s earned that much.

“How’s Geno?” Sidney asks when he joins Mario on the deck after dinner, the kids helping Nathalie clean up. He’s got a glass of wine and the weather is balmy, and Mario smells contented and happy. That stops as soon as Sidney talks, though. His scent turns worried and sour.

“The front office are worried about the dynamics issue,” Mario says. Sidney groans.

“There is no issue, Mario. It was all my fault. I caused the problem, I was careless with my suppressants.” He’s pissed, because everyone keeps painting this as Geno’s fault and it’s not.

“Kris was there as well, and he didn’t lose his mind and almost rape you.” Mario’s eyes are hard, his jaw set. This conversation is wildly spinning out of control.

“He didn’t ‘almost rape’ me, he just scented me. It wasn’t--” Sidney bites down on his tongue. He doesn’t want to say that it would have never been rape in that situation, because the idea of Geno knotting him, claiming him wholly and completely, mating to him, is something he’s desired for years. Because he asked, and Geno said yes.

“Oh,” is all Mario says, smelling it on his scent anyway, and seeing it all over his face. Sidney flushes and drains his wine, before leaning on the deck to look out over the property.

Mario comes to stand beside him, and swills his glass. “I want to talk to you about Geno’s mating. You know it has to be done before he turns 26, otherwise…”

“The government finds him an omega, I know.”

Sidney’s still 24, but he knows the clock is ticking for Geno and has been for a while. He’d mostly ignored it, happy every fall when Geno would come back, still unmated and still just smelling of bonfires and cinnamon, when he’s really happy.

“We discussed it with him, and Geno said he wouldn’t be averse to the idea of mating with you, Sidney. Morehouse asked to float the idea between you both, see how you’d find it.”

“W-what?”

Mario smiles at him, reassuring. “We talked about the possibility of him mating with you. It’d solve his dynamics issues, as you’d always be around to shore up his balance. And it would solve the ah, PR issue surrounding you being, uhm… well, your dates.” Mario looks embarrassed and Sidney has never fucking hated being a famous athlete more than now.

What? But I’m discreet, I never-- how is that even being discussed?”

Although omegas are basically given carte blanche in society, seeing an omega slutting it up on multiple alpha knots is considered distasteful. Apparently Sidney’s had a red A stuck on his chest for a while without knowing it. He’s got a PR team to handle this for him, and nobody’s seen fit to mention it before now. Probably because he’d tell them to go fuck themselves. He’s got needs and he’s not ashamed of them; never has been, and never will be.

Mario puts his hands up, trying to assuage Sidney. “I know, and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with what you’re doing. You’re an omega and it’s different for you. But maybe, given the circumstances, you can see how this could work in your favour as well? That it wouldn’t be a hardship for either of you?”

Sidney frowns. Mario leans in closer, a smile on his face.

“The man enticed your heat out of you only hours after you forgot your suppressant, Sidney. That’s not… that’s not nothing, you know?”

He hates having this dangled in front of him, like an oh-so-convenient bow to wrap around a troublesome present. The publicity around his private life brothers the hell out of him, and from his side of it, mating to Geno would cancel a lot of it, if not all of it. He’s wanted it for so long, and having it within arm’s reach is exquisite torture.

“Geno’s staying in Pittsburgh for a little while. I said you’d text him once we’d talked,” Mario says softly, and leans next to Sidney on the deck, nudging him softly. Sidney sighs, but nudges back.

 

 

*

 

Sidney goes to see Geno later that night. He figures there’s no point in waiting, and the fact that the club has discussed it with Geno and he didn’t say no -- Sidney wants to hear it for himself.

Tanger’s there, which doesn’t surprise him.

“It’s an alpha pity party,” Tanger says to him in French as Geno hauls himself upright from the lounge, heading downstairs to get another bottle of wine.

“Why?” Sidney asks. Tanger levels a glare at him, and switches to English once Geno’s footsteps fade.

“If you’re here, it’s because Mario talked to you, yes? Imagine how it feels to be an alpha, just for a second. Imagine the kind of abuse we get, especially before we mate. It doesn’t even really go away after we mate, not completely. We’re thugs, we’re violent, we’re ticking time bombs who shouldn’t be allowed to integrate with the general population. You’ve seen the hate campaigns, the signs at games, the shit that gets yelled at us on and off the ice. Geno wants it to stop, but he doesn’t… forcing you to mate with him isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time.”

Sidney feels miserable, utterly miserable. Tanger’s nostrils flare and he rolls his eyes.

“I’m not trying to guilt you, Sid, I’m just trying to give you context. Just so you understand why he’s having trouble right now, eh?”

Sidney tucks his hands in his pockets, ducking his head. “It… the mating, us being together. It wouldn’t be a hardship, Kris. Believe me.”

Tanger smirks, and Sidney’s wondering what more he can say when Geno appears in the doorway, sniffs the air and frowns.

“Okay?” he says slowly, fingers tightening around the neck of the bottle. Sidney looks at Tanger, who coughs.

“Uhm. I gotta go, G. Sorry. Family stuff, but uh… call me tomorrow?”

The front door’s shutting before Geno has time to reply, and he looks at Sidney.

“What you do?”

Sidney purses his lips; as if this is his fault. “I spoke with Mario. About mating with you.”

“Ah,” Geno says, moving toward the kitchen and waving a hand, follow me, Sid. Sidney pads into the kitchen after him, and sits down at the island and waits while Geno roots around in his drawers for a corkscrew.

“They think unmate captains can mate. Should mate. Solve problems. Tell me media will stop say bad things, I can play hockey. Not worry anymore. You can be happy too, no problems. Everyone wins. Sounds like fairy tale.” He spits out the last two words like they personally offend him. Sidney winces.

“It’s not a bad idea, I mean… it could be an easy fix to a lot of our problems. And I mean, ah… it wouldn’t exactly be a hardship.” Sidney coughs, and his gaze darts around Geno’s kitchen until it lands back on him. Geno’s breathing heavier than normal, and his scent is crackling in between them, the smell tinged with confusion, and a little bit of fear. Sidney hates it.

“Hard… ship?”

“You know. Not a bad thing. I uh, I like you, G. I like you probably more than I should. You kissing me the other day wasn’t bad. It was good, I liked it. I like everything.”

The fear bleeds out entirely and the confusion starts to ebb away, now replaced with something like hope. Geno’s cheeks are pink, and Sidney doesn’t think it’s from the wine.

“You… you like?”

Yes. I liked it, you didn’t do anything I didn’t want. You scented me, and I scented you right back. We were equal in it.”

“Equals,” Geno says, sounding dazed. He clutches the edge of the island, and Sidney wonders if he’s going to keel over. He feels like an asshole when he realises that Geno probably doesn’t hear like the phrase ‘equal’, ever. He’s been a superior hockey player his entire life, yet his biology has labeled him lesser than. Equal has never been an option.

Sidney will never let him feel like he’s less, not for as long as he lives.

“Yes, G. We were equals. I want to be that, with you. Mated, together. I mean, I asked you for it and you said yes. You gave it to me.” He feels horrible about what he did in the locker room to Geno, here and now, but Geno’s flush deepens and his scent drops, cinnamon winding itself through the burning wood and Sidney hopes his scent does the same-- whatever he smells to Geno comes across as pleased and wanting, as open to everything.

“Okay. We mate. I-- okay.” Geno swallows and looks back down at the bottle, finishes unscrewing it and pours himself a generous glass. He swigs half of it without breathing.

Sidney pulls a face. “Aren’t you going to offer me one?”

“So pushy, Sid. You boss me around, not even alpha. Not even mate yet.” Geno’s grinning and he reaches for a second glass, pouring Sidney a generous amount.

Sidney’s reaching for his phone and dials Mario’s number, unable to stop smiling. “Mario? Yeah, it’s Sid. I’ve spoken to Geno… We’ll do it. We’ll mate.”

Geno holds up his glass in a salute, and Sidney giggles and drinks. Geno’s scent is still tinged with something bitter, but he can’t quite place it. It lingers though, and is still there as they’re saying goodnight in the foyer. Geno presses his nose against Sidney’s neck and scents him, and Sidney bites his lip and does the same, breathing him in. He gets to smell this every day for the rest of his life. Geno pulls back and kisses his forehead, palm big and warm on the back of Sidney’s neck.

“Goodnight, Sid,” he says. Sidney just waves goodbye, so fucking pleased with his lot.

 


 

Zhenya’s pacing by the time the next evening rolls around. Sidney had texted earlier in the afternoon and said he wanted them to go out for dinner -- but Zhenya isn’t interested in being seen in public with Sidney, not just yet, not when they are still working out their own dynamics together (it’s still echoing in his head, Sidney saying equalsequalsequals to him).

Sidney arrives just before seven, as planned, and Zhenya’s checking on the fish that’s baking as he lets himself inside, calling a greeting down the corridor.

“Hi Sid,” Zhenya calls back, that low grade panic at the idea of them mating still there. Sidney had smelled nothing but pleased and excited when they talked about it the night before, had acknowledged that he asked for Zhenya and Zhenya gave him exactly what he wanted, like he could be happy with that for the rest of his life. But Zhenya, Zhenya isn’t used to being given everything on a silver platter like this. He isn’t used to being handed an omega and being told ‘here, take this, do with it what you will’ -- like it’s a piece of flesh to be moulded into the perfect mate, as opposed to his captain, his Sidney.

It sickens him. A mating of convenience, what a farce. If it’s what Sidney says he wants and it means Zhenya’s life will be a little better, then so be it. He’ll fuck Sidney through his heat, thinking the entire time how much he wants and loves him, and then they’ll finish the mating by having a ceremony and exchanging rings.

“Have you told your parents?” Sidney asks later that evening, when they’re at the table and eating their fish and vegetables, Sidney heaping praise on Zhenya’s average cooking skills and Zhenya trying to bait Sidney into an extra slice from the cheesecake he’d made earlier.

“I’m tell soon. Need time to… think, how to say.” He prays Sidney gets what he’s trying to say and doesn’t give him that confused look he does so well. Sidney, smart as he is, does get it, and his fingers tighten around his knife and fork. His scent spikes angrily, the ocean turning choppy and cruel. Zhenya wrinkles his nose.

“Hockey most important now. They happy and I’m happy, can talk about mate after.”

Sidney doesn’t look or smell any happier. “Geno, if this is going to cause too many problems back home… I don’t want you to be, I mean. You love your family, and you love Russia. I don’t want to keep you from that,” Sidney says slowly.

Zhenya has spoken to his brother in a moment of panic, after Sidney left and they agreed to mate. Denis laughed and said he was a dumbass, but he’d pass on the message to their family. Mama had apparently taken to musing every summer after Zhenya returned to Pittsburgh on whether this would be the year he knotted Sidney. It lifted a weight off his shoulders, somewhat. The pressure is coming from him at all sides, so it’s nice to know his family are behind him. He’s just a little nervous about speaking to his parents directly about it, and would rather his brother do his dirty work.

“No, no problems… just, lots to think about, I’m focus here,” Zhenya says roughly. Sidney sighs and looks like he’s about to argue, but Zhenya pushes on and starts talking about some dumb new shake recipe TK emailed to him early that morning, effectively distracting Sidney.

When Sidney reaches into his wallet and pulls out a small sheet of suppressants, going to pop one from the foil, Zhenya reaches across the table and stops him.

“No,” he says. Sidney looks up at him, both of them frozen.

“You sure, Geno?” Sidney asks. Zhenya hears his voice waver, feels his uncertainty, and Zhenya’s so fucking tired of all of this.

“Sure,” he says. Sidney nods, putting the sheet back, and picks his knife and fork up to finish his meal. Zhenya clears the table and gets the cake, cutting two thick wedges and sliding one in front of Sidney with a cup of tea, sweetened with honey just as he likes.

Zhenya sits back down and crosses one leg over the other. He watches Sidney hesitate before he reaches for his fork.

“Can you… I mean, uh.” He flushes, and his scent peaks in a strange way, one that calls to something deep inside Zhenya. His alpha nature, he supposes.

“Can what?” Zhenya asks. Sidney might be bending over backwards for him in this, but Zhenya’s not going to make everything so easy. He’s still him, and Sidney’s still Sidney, and he’s always going to give him a little bit of shit. Sidney goes scarlet, though, and Zhenya wonders if he’s overstepped some boundary.

“Can you feed me?”

Oh.

Zhenya’s alpha nature roars into effect and he almost falls over himself to acquiesce, moving around the table to sit by Sidney. Sidney smiles, embarrassed, but Zhenya just, he-- fuck.

His fingers are shaking when he picks up the fork and he swears under his breath.

“I’m nervous too,” Sidney says, and puts a hand on Zhenya’s thigh and squeezes. Zhenya huffs out a laugh and tries to concentrate. He wants to be good for Sidney.

He slices off a small piece onto the fork and holds it up to Sidney’s mouth, watching as Sidney’s lips part and he lets Zhenya slide the bite between them.

“You like?” Zhenya asks, licking his own lips. Sidney’s close around the fork and he pulls back so he can chew and swallow.

“Yeah. I like it a lot. Sometimes we won’t have time, but I’d like… maybe once a day, if we can?”

Zhenya’s never handfed anyone. He sat through the classes in school, watched the videos, read the brochures like everyone else did, but… he’s never gotten to this point, or been allowed to do this. One of his omega hook ups hated hand feeding after a bad experience with an alpha, and another back in Russia had laughed when a mutual friend made some comment when they were out for dinner. Zhenya had flushed, embarrassed, but she’d waved it off and said she wasn’t into the traditional shit -- which Zhenya could attest to.

Sidney’s the first one to ask him for this. He struggles to remember how to do it.

“How you like?” he asks instead, figuring that’s safest. Sidney shrugs and drops his jaw, waiting for another forkful. Zhenya takes his own, and then feeds Sidney again, waits for him to finish before holding up his tea cup for Sidney to drink from.

“I like this, mostly. I’m not really sure, I haven’t really… I’ve wanted to, but y’know. I tried it once and it kind of sucked, but you’re doing great.” Sidney reaches out to wrap a hand around Zhenya’s wrist, his free one, and Zhenya swallows hard and gets more cake for him.

“What else you like, for omega?”

“I’m not a huge fan of kneeling, but sometimes it’s good. Sometimes I need it, after a really bad loss or if I’m just feeling shitty. I like a hand on the back of my neck, or if you’re sitting on the couch and I’m by your feet so I can like, rest my head on your knee.”

Zhenya almost moans at the visual, the domesticity of it and how keenly he wants it.

“Sex stuff I’m open to most things, I think. I’ve done a lot, so ah. Not in a like, lot way but uhm. I’ve been knotted before.”

Zhenya’s eating and he bites down on his fork, feeling a surge of jealousy rear up inside him. He’s got no right to feel like that, Sidney is not his and even when they’re mated, he isn't the kind of alpha who ever wants to fall under all the stereotypes of being that kind of overly controlling, possessive asshole.

He will be possessive of Sidney, of course, and it will be a problem.

“Is that okay?” Sidney sounds worried, smells worried, and Zhenya realises he’s been staring off into space while he thinks and feels.

“Yes, is okay. I’m not expect virgin.” It feels wrong in his mouth, but he says it anyway.

Sidney looks relieved. “I want to be honest with you. I’m an omega and you know what that means,” he says, before opening his mouth again and waiting for Zhenya to feed him.

“What about you?”

Zhenya blinks, confused. “What you mean?”

“Uh, like. What do you want, what do you like? How are your heats? Is there stuff you like, or want me to do?”

Jesus.

“Have you been with omegas?” Sidney continues, and he looks like he’s gearing up for a fight. That’s easier to answer than the other questions, so Zhenya starts there.

“Yes. Four. Two in Russia, two here.” He wants to be honest with Sidney as well.

What he isn’t expecting is for Sidney’s gaze to narrow, and his scent to become thick with jealousy right back. Sidney leans in and rubs his face along Zhenya’s neck, breathing hot against his skin. It makes Zhenya shudder, his fingers digging into Sidney’s hips as Sidney gets closer and closer.

“You won’t ever touch another omega again,” Sidney says into his ear, his voice steel.

Zhenya nods, letting Sidney pull back enough so they stare at each other, faces flush and the air stifling. Sidney looks at him long enough, finds whatever he’s looking for, and pushes Zhenya’s fork out the way. Zhenya frowns, he thought he’d been doing okay. He goes to apologise, but then Sidney’s climbs into his lap, tilting Zhenya’s head to the side and licking up the left side, and oh. He grinds down, his emotions cloaking Zhenya as he scents him.

Alphas aren’t given suppressants for their heats; they’re less strong than omega ones and come more often. Doctors weren’t as invested in making alpha lives easier as opposed to helping omegas with their biological needs. So he isn’t expecting for another heat to hit, especially not so close to his last one. God, had that even been?

Zhenya grabs the back of Sidney’s neck and tugs him back a little, enough so he can tilt his face up and bring Sidney in to kiss him. He wants to take control, to overwhelm and dominate, but he pushes that aside to wait and see what happens. Sidney moans into his mouth, grinding his hips in a sinuous rhythm that makes Zhenya’s cock swell in his pants, the cake long forgotten. He licks the taste of strawberry and cream cheese from Sidney’s mouth, breathes in the smell of his lust and tries to keep his own measured, tries to tamp down on his emotions and keep himself in check.

This is everything he’s wanted for years and been too scared to take, he thinks, and he pulls back when Sidney whimpers. He sniffs and looks at Sidney, shocked. He’s going into heat again?

Sidney looks just as shocked. “But I just-- heat, only a couple of weeks ago.”

“How long it last?” Zhenya asks. Sidney shrugs, his hips still moving, fingers digging into Zhenya’s shoulders.

“Uhm, that one didn’t last long at all. Maybe a couple of hours? I was-- it got taken care of quick, went away fast. Usually they last a lot longer. Maybe I didn’t… fully go into heat or something.” Sidney seems just as much at a loss as Zhenya is. Come to think of it, Zhenya’s heat didn’t last as long as it usually did, either. During previous heats, he spent three days out of commission, exhausted and sore by the end of it, and knows Sidney’s usually the same.

Maybe they never finished their heat and it’s been humming in the background since, just waiting for permission to rise up and engulf them.

“Bed,” Sidney says, standing up and holding out a hand. Zhenya nods dumbly, and lets Sidney take hold and lead him to his room.

He undresses mechanically, follows the steps he knows come next, climbs onto the bed and blankets Sidney, feels their cocks rub together and Sidney arching underneath him. His heat is really starting to take hold and Zhenya doesn’t know what any of this means, doesn’t want to be a convenient knot for Sidney. He wants to have everything or nothing, and maybe this really was the worst thing he could do. Sidney’s got a leg over his hip and is trying to press his ass down on Zhenya’s cock, his chest red to match his face, sweating.

“Geno?” Sidney says, and Zhenya blinks. He really doesn’t want to do this.

 


 

Sidney’s naked and Geno’s naked and his ass is so wet for him, and yet Geno smells like the same bitter horribleness that’s lingered for too long. Sidney knows something’s wrong.

“Geno?” he says, and watches as Geno tears himself back from wherever he went.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, a voice chants in his head, the one that Sidney’s identified as being his omega sensibilities. If his omega self is telling him something’s wrong with their dynamics, he’s going to listen.

“Sid, can’t do this,” Geno says and sits back, Sidney’s legs falling from around him.

“What?” Sidney yelps. Geno scrubs a hand through his hair. He stinks of frustration and failure, bitter and exhausted, the bonfire crackling like it’s about to explode into a bushfire. “Am I not… do you want me to be more submissive?” He’ll do anything for Geno, be anything, and it’s not even the heat talking, fuck.

“What? No, I just… can’t, Sid, not with you. Thought maybe, but it’s… too hard. Rather be given omega from government.”

Sidney feels like Geno’s just slapped him in the face, and Geno’s nose wrinkles so he knows his scent reflects it. Everything’s wrong, going wrong, and Sidney wants to cry at the idea that Geno doesn’t want him. He was so sure.

“But… why? What’s wrong with me?” His voice cracks on the end. He feels too naked, his dick still hard and his ass still wet, body flush with heat and begging for Geno to get back on him, to get inside him.

“Nothing wrong with you. Nothing at all,” Geno says vehemently, palming his knee. Sidney flinches and Geno pulls his hand back, stung. “Not your fault, my fault. My problem. I’m… I’m scared of mating.”

Sidney blinks. He’s trying really hard to understand here, but Geno’s so fucking hard to read, to predict.

“I thought we were together in this,” he says. Geno bites his lip and shuffles back, his dick mostly soft now. It pisses Sidney off, pisses his omega self off, this whole fucking situation is fucked. Alphas have been treated so fucking horribly by society that by the time they get to their mates, they’re so fucking confused and feel so guilty about everything that it’s a battle just to get to this point. God, he really fucking hates dynamics sometimes.

“I’m scared to do with you. Can’t be just… conv… fuck. Hate English.”

“Can’t be what?” Sidney asks, sitting up a little. His heat is making it difficult to pay attention, but he’s nothing if not determined and he pushes through the haze. Solving this, whatever this is, is his main priority. Everything else can wait, biology included.

“Can’t just be a knot for you, Sid. My feelings, I can’t fake. Can’t be empty for you.”

“When did I ever-- what? Geno, I never asked for that. I told you I liked you, what the hell did you think that meant? This isn’t a mating of convenience for me, Geno. The club might’ve suggested it but I’ve wanted to be with you for a fucking long time, before they even thought of it. I swear to you.” Sidney has no idea how they got here, but he’ll spend the rest of the week convincing Geno he’s in this for good if that’s what Geno needs.

He shuffles closer, and runs his hand down Geno’s arm, until he can lace their fingers together. “You brought on my heat, G, twice. That’s never happened before. Don’t you think that means something?”

Geno’s wavering, he can smell the hesitation on his scent.

“I want to be your omega. Don’t you want this too? Or have I… do you not…” Sidney struggles to finish, and Geno’s looking horrified as comprehension dawns.

“Of course do! I-- fuck, Sid, for so long, I try and hide but is too hard, cannot hide forever, I’m not strong. Please, I just…” Geno's moving back to him, kissing him, hands coming up to cup Sidney's face and hold him still. Sidney sighs into it, feeling everything Geno can't say.

“Geno, please,” Sidney begs and Geno nods, their foreheads pressed together.

“Yes, yes want, we mate, be together forever.”

Sidney whimpers at the idea, and Geno swallows that down. He pushes at Sidney shoulders and Sidney lets himself fall back, his hand seeking Geno’s dick, stroking him while they kiss, sloppy and wet. The air fills with Geno’s pleasure, Sidney feels drunk on it, and as Geno slides inside him, it isn’t like it’s been with any other alpha before.

“Fu-uh-uck,” is forced out of him at the first thrust, Geno’s eyes dark above him and his hips powerful. Sidney wraps his legs around him, trying to pull him closer with Geno's hands flat on the bed on either side of his head. Geno keeps ducking in to kiss Sidney stupid, his cock sliding in the slickness of his ass and making Sidney cry out in pleasure.

He digs his fingers into Geno’s back, they’re going to leave scratches -- good, he thinks viciously -- but he feels out of his mind, like the books and classes said he’d feel when he was fulfilling the first half of the mating ceremony with his alpha. Mating is physical, but it’s emotional and it’s willpower; that’s what sets it apart from regular heat fucking or general hook ups. You have to want to be mated to that other person, you have to have an emotional connection and the desire. There’s no physical signs of being mated, either, nothing that says you’re spoken for beyond the ring at the ceremony that follows the sex. He doesn’t know how it works with government mandated ones, probably involving drugs or something horrific, and he’s so glad Geno doesn’t have to go through that.

“Geno, I want you,” Sidney gasps and Geno grunts in reply, ducking down to kiss him and fuck into him even harder. He moves a hand and cups Sidney’s ass, pulling it higher and giving him better leverage, Sidney’s prostate lighting up as Geno’s dick hits it perfectly every single time. He’s not going to last, feels his ass tensing, that warmth of an orgasm building and mixing with his heat. Geno’s scent is drenching him, it smells like a wildfire and like impossible pleasure and happiness, and Sidney’s coming before he realises it, without a hand on him. Geno’s moaning and buries his face in Sidney’s neck, following him over with a few thrusts and pushing his knot inside as it swells, Sidney’s ass giving for him, just as it should.

“Fucking hell,” Geno mutters and Sidney laughs, squeezing his thighs around Geno.

“Fucking hell for sure,” he says.

 

*

 

“How come you not mate, before me?” Geno’s looking at him, eyes brown and bright in the lamplight. They’ve cleaned themselves up, changed the sheets and are back in bed. A gentle patter of rain had picked up against the windows while they'd been trading slow, steamy kisses in the shower. It's soothing noise in the background now that they're settled back in the freshly-made bed that they'd giggled at each other over all through refitting. Sidney squirms under the covers and shrugs, licking his lips. The change in the air warms him, stokes the heat fire low in his gut, but it just hums there, rather than rages. His heat knows Geno’s coming for it, will calm it for another month, and Sidney’s happy.

“I guess… I guess I always knew it was just physical, between me and the other alphas. It was a means to an end, to get me through my heats. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t…. It wasn’t for anything else but the physical. I didn’t have an emotional connection.”

Geno hums in acknowledgement, reaches out to thumb along Sidney’s bottom lip, still slick with spit. He leans in and kisses Sidney, and Sidney arches into it, even though the rest of his body aches from what they did together.

“With me, is different?” Geno asks against his lips. Sidney’s hands, trailing along Geno’s arms, squeeze down.

“With you? I never stood a chance,” Sidney says with a smile.

 


 

The mating ceremony is boring in comparison to their ridiculously emotional sex, Zhenya thinks. They’re in suits, but neither of them are wearing ties and Sidney’s collar is unbuttoned far enough for their guests to see the hickey Zhenya left there last night. Sidney smells well fucked and impossibly happy, the ocean mixing with something else entirely.

It smells like a beach fire or something, makes Zhenya think of sitting by the water in the summer with his friends and toasting marshmallows on a crappy excuse for a pit, but it’s warm and comforting -- it smells like them. He’s been scenting Sidney nonstop for the past two days while they organised the ceremony, found a celebrant and sent out invites.

Sidney’s wearing a dark blue suit, while Zhenya’s in his plum one. Tanger’s grinning and giving him the thumbs up from the seats in front of the alter. Most of the team is there, along with players and their families from across the league-- half of them Sidney’s Canadian friends and summer training buddies, and most of his family are in attendance as well.

(Taylor had helped him pick his suit, and Troy slipped him what tasted like battery acid but was assured was “liquid fire, my future son-in-law,” while Trina looked on unimpressed.)

They put on a lunch beforehand, everything so fucking casual but Zheyna’s not sure he knows how to be any other way than this. He wants to be surrounded by friends and family, even if none of his own are here.

“I did something and you’re probably going to be mad,” Sidney murmurs, appearing out of nowhere, his hand low on Zhenya’s back.

“Eh?” Zhenya says, confused. He coughs and nods his head towards the back doors. When Zhenya looks up, his jaw drops.

His mama, his papa, Denis, Denis’ girlfriend, Sanja, Masha and most of the Russians in the goddamned league are trooping through, holding bottles and presents and loudly greeting everyone within speaking distance.

“What…” Zhenya trails off, completely speechless as his parents and Denis come to stand in front of him. Mama reaches up to smack his cheek, before she bursts into tears and pulls him into a fierce hug.

“You stupid boy, how could you finally mate and not invite me?” she demands tearily. Papa looks and smells just as pissed, but he doesn’t smack Zhenya, just kisses his cheeks and hugs him tightly.

“I didn’t think…” Zhenya tries, but he feels himself tearing up and god, he’s going to make a fool of himself at his mating ceremony.

“We love you, Zhenya, and this is not-- this is good. We’re happy that you’re happy,” Denis says, pulling him into a hug and slapping his back.

He sniffles and nods, taking the tissue Mama presses in his hand before she moves to harass Sanja about proper dish placement, while Papa joining Seryozha and his family at a table and Denis shoving him towards Sidney before disappearing.

“I hope you’re not pissed,” Sidney says, looking shamefaced.

“Why I’m pissed? You-- fuck, you so amazing, Sid. You best,” Zhenya says fervently, hating his lack of vocabulary but he’s not sure that there’s even a string of words in Russian that could sum up how he feels for Sidney in this moment. Sidney just grins and Zhenya has to lean in and kiss him, not letting go until Flower elbows him and says, “Save it for the ceremony, eh?”

The ceremony itself is short and sweet. Mario’s there too, sitting with Sidney’s family, the rest of the Lemieuxes a row behind. Zhenya holds Sidney’s hands as he kneels on a pillow in front of Zhenya. It’s traditional, Sidney had asked for it and Zhenya wanted whatever Sidney wanted. So, Sidney kneels and Zhenya puts his ring on, a plain gold band, and Sidney does the same, sliding the identical band on Zhenya’s ring finger. Zhenya decides to break protocol and goes down on his knees as well to kiss Sidney when the ceremony is done. Sidney’s pink cheeked and laughing -- everyone is -- but Zhenya tugs Sidney in and kisses him. He keeps kissing him until everyone’s on their feet and clapping, and it’s time for them to walk back down the aisle and sign their paperwork and begin their lives as a mated couple.

  

*

 

It doesn’t get easier straight away. They’re a new couple, so there are things to be navigated-- who’s house they’ll live in, their morning routines to be adjusted around each other, the fact that they’re both strong personalities to compromise with. They work together for it, though, because that’s what being mated is all about. Neither of them have ever shied away from hard work.

There’s dynamics stuff as well that still permeates through, despite it all. Zhenya decides to go back with his family to Russia; he asks Sidney about fifty times, and Sidney tells him to go, that it’s fine, every single time. He doesn’t smell mad about it, so Zhenya goes. He misses Sidney the entire time, though, and comes back before a month is up, sick of being miserable and lonely. Besides, the thought of Sidney going through his heat alone, without Zheyna to fill him and please him, is almost enough to drive him mad.

The papers and blogs write their articles anyway, wondering how the hell Zhenya can go to Russia after being so newly mated, to his captain no less. Zhenya knows Sidney’s reading the news, can tell by the tenseness of his shoulders when Zhenya drops a kiss on the back of his neck in the morning, heading for the cereal. There’s eggs, sausage and toast already waiting for him on the table.

“Stop read that shit,” Zhenya says and Sidney huffs and closes his tablet in disgust.

“They’re full of shit. I thought they’d stop writing about us once we got mated,” Sidney says, crossing his arms while he waits for Zhenya to grab his food and join Sidney. He usually likes for Zhenya to handfeed him breakfast in the mornings, and dinner if they have time. Zhenya reaches for a strawberry and holds it to Sidney’s mouth, smiling as Sidney opens it petulantly and chews.

Zhenya leans over the table and kisses him, sliding his tongue along his lip and tasting the fruit, tangy amongst the milk and artificial sweetness of his cereal.

“Ignore it,” he says and waits until Sidney finishes and takes a few bites of his own breakfast, before reaching for a piece of mango and feeding it to Sidney.

“Do you feel different?” Sidney asks once he’s done chewing. Zhenya shrugs.

He guesses, if he had to say, he feels less angry about everything. It wasn’t like he was a rage machine before, but if anyone even looked or touched anyone on his team wrong, he was filled with an almighty need to kick the shit out of them. He’d been working on not acting on it all the time, but he feels a lot more… centered, he guesses? It’d be funny, punny or something, but he tells Sidney this and watches him smile.

“All that fuss over mating. I’m glad you’re still you, though. A bully,” Sidney says. Zhenya barks a laugh and picks up a grape, mischievous.

“Open wide,” he sing-songs, and Sidney laughs that honking monstrosity that Zhenya loves so much.

“Geno, c’mon!” he says but obeys, and tilts his head once Zhenya throws the grape so he catches it, and throws up his arms. Zhenya laughs again, longer this time, and Sidney gets up and crawls into his lap, straddling him and wrapping his arms around Zhenya’s neck, kissing him as he goes. Zhenya rucks up Sidney’s sleep shirt, and Sidney can feel his ring against his hip, warm and metallic.

“Morning, mate,” Zhenya says slowly once Sidney pulls back. Sidney nods and noses against him, their foreheads bumping together gently.

“Morning, mate,” he whispers back.