It’s the kind of memory that stands out: when Iggy was eleven years old, he broke his foot nine minutes into the second period and skated on it the rest of the game. He stopped noticing, after a while; didn’t realize until after his skates were off and the coaches were fussing over him that he had a fat lip as well, swollen and raw-meat red from biting it all game so he wouldn’t cry.
He didn’t cry. They won the game. Those parts of the memory stand out too.
It’s helpful, he thinks. Since that day, since he was eleven, that’s the standard, the winning and the being willing to hurt to do it, so Iggy grits his teeth, ignores the twinge in his leg, and ups the resistance on the stationary bike.
He’s become pretty partial to it this summer, working out with no one else around. It means he can blast his music over the speakers and not have to pull the captain card when the guys complain; means he always gets to use his favourite equipment without wrestling for it.
He spits onto the ground, his lungs burning the way they do when a workout’s doing what it’s supposed to. Ten more minutes, Iggy decides, a couple more songs, he’ll push through it and then he’ll be tight for time but he can stop upstairs before leaving and see-
“Boys are back, baby!”
“Fuck!” The curse slips out in Russian as Iggy flinches, recoiling sharply enough that he nearly falls right off the bike as his d partner appears in front of his face, entirely out of nowhere.
“What is up, my dude?” Andy says, either oblivious to or unbothered by the fact that he almost just gave Iggy a heart attack. He leans on the handlebars, making himself comfortable. “You were going, like, really fast, that’s intense.”
“Hi, Andy,” Iggy pants, wary, lifting his feet as the pedals slow to nothing under him. Andy’s a lot at the best of times, let alone when Iggy wasn’t expecting him. His heart’s still racing, hammering against his chest. Not just because of the surprise, either – he wasn’t expecting any of the guys to be back in town, not until later in the week. He thought he had more time.
Andy leans his chin in his hand. “What did you do for summer?”
“Not your business,” Iggy says, still catching his breath.
“Cool, cool,” Andy says. He probably would have had the same response no matter what Iggy said, just enough manners to pretend to care before continuing, without being asked, “My summer was pretty awesome. Like, at first it was whatever, because my mom was like ‘we don’t get enough family time’ so I just chilled at the lake for a couple weeks with the family and then I was like, ‘dude, I have to train soon and I don’t even have a good tan’, so I went to Maui for the surfing, so that was lit.”
Iggy interjects, mostly so that Andy will pause and take a breath. “You know surfing?”
“What?” Andy blinks. “Oh, no, but my instructor was really hot and, like, Australian, which was literally the craziest.”
“Why crazy?” Iggy asks, confused, because it doesn’t seem all that strange for an Australian to know how to surf.
“’cause it was Maui, man,” Andy says. Slow, like he thinks this is a language barrier thing. “That’s like, far from Australia.”
Iggy looks at him. Wonders if he’s aware of the existence of airplanes.
Andy goes on, untroubled, “So, anyways, her whole thing was pegging-”
“I finished working out,” Iggy cuts him off as he hops off the bike, because he’s got somewhere to be, not to mention the fact that he’s not getting paid to deal with his d partner for another week and listening to Andy talk about his sex life is something that’s only tolerable when he’s making millions to do it. Even then, iffy. “Bye.”
“Oh, cool, I’ll leave with you,” Andy says.
There’s no way to shrug him off without opening up for a barrage of questions, so Iggy trudges to the locker room with Andy in tow, peels off his sweaty workout clothes and gives the occasional ‘yeah’ so Andy thinks he’s listening to his extremely detailed account of the Australian surfer story, which lasts the entirety of Iggy’s shower and through him getting dressed. Only once Iggy’s tying his shoes does Andy stop and, apparently, remember he’s talking to someone other than himself.
“So your knee is like, fully better?” he asks.
“Better.” Iggy stretches it out, demonstrating. He’s got a new scar, souvenir of his surgery, and a tendency to tighten up that wasn’t there before, but for the severity of the injury, the amount of rehab it took, he’s happy with his progress. Good to go now, better for the season, which is what matters. “You trained?”
And that starts Andy on his summer training regimen, the way that Iggy was hoping it would. It gives him the chance to check his phone – nothing, even though he’d usually be at their spot by now – before he has to shove it into his pocket as Andy tries to peek at the screen.
“Nosy,” Iggy chides.
“I wasn’t looking,” Andy whines, but fights back willingly enough when Iggy traps him in a headlock.
They tussle their way out of the locker room, still shoving as they get to the exit. The sun is beating down, bright enough that the whole sky almost hurts to look at.
Iggy sidesteps Andy’s half-hearted lunge, feeling significantly more generous toward him now that they’ve established that Iggy can still kick his ass. “I forgot my wallet inside,” he lies, then adds, for realism, “Oops.”
Andy glances over his shoulder to the parking lot, lingering in the doorway. “Oh, do you want me to wait-”
“No,” Iggy says, almost before Andy’s even done the sentence. “No, go home.”
For once, Andy listens. Probably just wants to find someone else to tell about his summer hookups. Iggy could care less, already doubling back inside and jogging up the stairs. His footsteps echo. The place is empty, the upper floors where coaches’ offices are even more so. The only sign of life is the ‘Caution: Wet Floor’ sign propped up outside the bathroom. He stops to check his reflection in the shiny-clean floor tiles, smoothing down his hair where it’s sticking up at the front. Which, okay-
He’s fully aware, thank you very much, that he’s being embarrassing, objectively, fucking with his schedule and fixing his hair post-workout to see someone he’s going to see later anyways. He’s come to realize that constantly being attacked by deeply embarrassing feelings and words and actions is a significant part of the whole being in love thing.
He doesn’t hate it. That part is also embarrassing. Equally embarrassing, but infinitely better, is the way that Iggy’s heart leaps when he rounds the corner, pushes open the EMPLOYEES ONLY door with his shoulder, and makes it down the cramped little maintenance hallway to where Riley’s sitting hunched over their laptop, pages of handwritten notes and printouts spread out on the floor around them, same way they write their articles after every practice and home game.
It’s kind of like magic: whatever was rattled inside Iggy from Andy showing up unexpectedly stills just seeing Riley, just being near them. It makes him quiet.
“You know it’s bad to break in places, right?” Iggy calls, ambling slow toward Riley on purpose, like he didn’t just jog up four flights of stairs to get here. Like he’s not smiling like a big loser. “Big trouble.”
Riley looks up, vaguely guiltily, but their face relaxes into a smile when they realize it’s only him. “The places you can get with a media pass,” they quip, with their sleepy drawl like cowboys in old movies. Iggy used to think everyone in America spoke like that. Riley glances at their screen, maybe a little curious. “Did you work out longer than usual today?”
“Andy came,” Iggy says, explanation enough that he knows he’s forgiven for being late. “You’re writing?” He sits down next to Riley on the floor, one leg stretched out in front of him. “Whole article only about me working out?” He shakes his head, tsks disapprovingly. “The Athletic is boring now, wow.”
Riley rolls their eyes, the gesture softened by their lingering smile, and tilts the laptop in Iggy’s direction so he can see the spreadsheet on the screen. “Scheduling stuff for the drop-in kids,” Riley explains. “Don’t worry, you’ll get your articles.”
Iggy sighs, dramatic on purpose, and scoots in closer to hook his chin on Riley’s shoulder. “You’re using me to write more news about Andy, I know this,” he teases.
“Ah, you got me, that’s the plan.” Riley plays along, leans over just enough to rest their head against Iggy’s, and that’s how they sit while Riley gets back to work, the two of them cozy and surrounded by boxes and cleaning supplies and dust. This has been their spot for years and years, since long before they got together. Long before they got even close. Iggy would cool down after a bad game or gloat after a good one, would watch the whole thing get written down in Riley’s articles. He learned half his English from Riley narrating half-formed sentences to themselves as the arena emptied out. He’s pretty sure he could map out every square inch of this cramped little hall by memory, that’s how much time he spent sitting against the opposite wall trying to will Riley into wanting him back.
He doesn’t keep track of how long they sit there, today. Long enough that Riley’s spreadsheet is filling up by the time voices become audible on the other side of the door and Riley pulls back. Iggy does not sigh dramatically again, but only with great difficulty.
“You were going to call your sister twenty minutes ago,” Riley reminds him, all responsible. “And I’m delaying you.”
“It’s okay,” Iggy says, because he’s been delaying himself, and willingly, but he gets up all the same. He promised Anna he’d call, and he wants to eat and take a better shower before tonight. “I’ll see you later?”
“You know I won’t hold it against you if you don’t, you’ve got to be tired.”
“I’ll see you later,” Iggy says, firm, because like hell is he passing up on one of his last chances to spend time with Riley without the chaos of the in-season schedule. The thought’s not a pleasant one – seeing each other every day as reporter and player isn’t the same as seeing each other every day as them, not when there’s so much else he has to be – but he refuses to dwell on it, just flicks the ends of Riley’s hair over their shoulder as he goes, lets his touch linger at the nape of their neck, a goodbye without words.
Once he’s at home, he goes methodically down his to-do list. Changes into a better outfit – a step up from gym wear, but still something moveable – and remembers to lay out clothes for tomorrow as well, then turns the TV on for background noise as he makes dinner for himself, reheating one of the prepared meals from his fridge. Chicken and potatoes, lots of them, because he’s still got to get his weight up before the season.
He scalds himself on the steaming-hot dish as he’s taking it out of the microwave and has to run his finger under cold water, but eventually he manages to get his food on a plate, which he sets down on the counter. Finally satisfied, he video calls his sister, then leans his phone against the backsplash so he can eat as her face fills the screen.
“Finally,” Anna says, not bothering with a hello. “So how many coats do I need to bring?”
“It’s California, stupid,” Iggy reminds her, slipping comfortably into Russian as he pushes his food around the plate. “You’re only here until December, it’s not that cold.”
Anna gives him a Look through the camera. “How many coats do you have?”
“Why would I count?” Iggy asks, even though he knows that she knows that he knows everything he owns. “Eight. Not heavy.”
“Thank you.” Anna disappears out of frame, revealing a stack of clothes sitting on a bed. Iggy recognizes one of the guest rooms at their grandmother’s house. He’s fairly certain that Anna has co-opted every closet in both her own apartment and there. A move he has to respect. Certain clothes need to breathe.
Iggy chews a chunk of potato. “Don’t bring the ugly one,” he tells Anna as she wanders back onto the camera with an armful of jackets.
“Fuck you, none of my clothes are ugly.”
“The yellow jacket is,” Iggy informs her.
“You’re jealous because you could never pull off yellow,” Anna retorts, which, hello, literal twins, if she can pull off yellow he can absolutely pull off yellow. He makes the rudest gesture he can and promptly has to scramble to hide it as their grandmother appears on the call, right up close to the camera like she thinks Iggy won’t be able to hear her otherwise.
“Stefan, tell her that if she leaves Kosta behind she won’t have a boyfriend when she gets back, I know how young men are.”
“Hi, mama,” Iggy says, bemused, while Anna groans and tugs her back enough that he can see both of them.
“He’s not going to suddenly forget me because I’m gone for a few months, that’s not how it works.”
“He might,” Iggy chimes in, pleased at the opportunity to mock Anna’s asshole boyfriend, because the only upside to the indignity and general annoyance of his twin dating his grade school bully is that she gets incredibly defensive whenever Iggy mocks him, and Kosta is just so easy to mock. “Remembering people requires actually having an IQ higher than, like, five, I think, right?”
Anna makes a grotesque face at the camera while their grandma scoffs.
“Don’t you start,” she wags a finger at Iggy warningly. “At least she’s seeing somebody, you’re twenty-seven and you’ve never even brought a girl home for me.”
“You two would terrify anyone I brought there, you know that,” Iggy deflects, easy enough. His grandmother is eighty-two years old and has never left their back ass of nowhere city, not while raising them and not any time after – he’s fairly certain that the possibility of him being gay has never once crossed her mind and he’s not about to shatter that particular illusion for her.
Anna glances at him – she knows about him and Riley and HimAndRiley, because they know everything about each other – then changes the subject, loud and indelicate. She’s a good sister, in spite of her terrible taste in both men and yellow jackets. “Tell mama to hire someone to clean.”
It’s a foolproof distraction. “I can clean my own house,” their grandma scolds, without missing a beat. A matter of pride. “It’s just too big for one person, I’m not used to it.”
“You’ve lived here for seven years,” Anna teases, while Iggy laughs.
“Move here with me and I’ll clean for you, babushka,” he promises. He only really calls her ‘grandmother’ when he’s teasing, which he is, mostly, except for the way he’s been telling them both to move here for years. Not that it’s done any good – their mama scoffs and hustles out of the frame, and, distraction successfully implemented, Anna goes back to interrogating him about what she should pack.
“Don’t leave it to the last minute,” Iggy warns once they’re saying goodbye, even though he knows she will, because that’s how she operates.
“I’m planning it literally right now,” Anna says, like planning to pack and actually packing are the same thing. “Make sure my room is perfect.”
“I’m putting you in a fucking hotel,” Iggy says, no heat to it.
“I’ll go stay with Riley,” Anna says, airy, and makes kissy faces at him until he hangs up.
She’s so obnoxious. Iggy can’t believe he misses her. He does, though – he’s been back to his hometown less and less over the years, but this is the first offseason ever that he hasn’t gone back to Russia at all, and the longest he’s ever gone without seeing his sister.
It’s so, so important for Anna to like it here. He’s been thinking it through ever since she first mentioned visiting – it’ll be her first time coming to the US for more than a week, first time here at all since he’s been captain. Iggy bought new sheets, the expensive, high thread count kind, and a comforter for the guest room, and moved a bunch of his workout stuff from there to the living room to get it ready for her. She’ll get here and like it, is the way it’ll go, and she’ll realize how much better San Jose is than Norilsk in literally every way, then if she stays their mama will come and stay too, and everyone Iggy needs to look after will be in one spot.
The rattled feeling from earlier is back. Feels like something looming over his shoulder, and Iggy wants to blame Andy for it, but it could have been anyone, he thinks, because the problem wasn’t Andy, it was – is – the fact that things are suddenly real. His team is coming back into town, and his sister will be here, and of course Iggy is excited for her and for hockey, he lives for hockey, he just hasn’t quite gotten his head around summer ending yet, and all of a sudden that ending is just incredibly... it’s very imminent, is the thing.
He spears the last piece of chicken on his fork, glances at the clock over his stove. It’s too early to leave, but if he walks instead of driving it’ll take long enough for him to arrive at a normal time. Better than standing around getting in his own head about stupid things. Better to do something productive with the time he has left.
His phone lights up. It’s Anna, sending a message consisting only of airplane emojis.
Iggy shuts off his phone, grabs a jacket from the front closet, and leaves.
The neighbourhood around the community centre isn’t as nice as his, but the building itself is familiar, friendly-looking, lots of windows. The only other thing happening at this time is a ladies zumba class, so the lobby of the building is quiet save for the faint music. The high-schooler at the front desk is on the phone, but she greets him with a smile, and Iggy lifts a hand in a quick hello as he makes his way to the gym room where the youth drop-in program congregates.
He instinctively seeks out Riley as he enters the room, finds them over at one of the folding tables, drawing and chatting with some of the kids who don’t like sports. When Riley notices him, their face brightens, and it makes the looming feeling fade – not all the way, but close – and makes leaving the house worth it, right there.
Iggy turns around in time to get walloped with a hug from Emmy, one of his favourite kids.
“I still have to beat you in our tournament, you know?” He tugs on her braid, playful. “Get my title back from you, thief.”
Emmy laughs, and Iggy looks around for more of his usual high energy kids to rope into a game of ball hockey. There are a couple of new kids standing over by the wall, arms crossed in the universal ‘we’re too cool for this and our parents made us come’ signal. One of them is staring at him, wide-eyed. Wearing a Sharks t-shirt.
Iggy raises an eyebrow at him, a ‘what are you looking at’ toned down to kid levels, maximum five out of ten on the intimidation scale. The kid goes red anyways.
“Are you Stefan Ignatiev?” he asks, like blurting it out.
“Iggy,” Iggy corrects. “Good shirt.” He nods towards the logo. “You want me to sign?”
The kid nods, wide-eyed – not too cool for a hockey player to be a superhero, then – and Iggy gestures for him to wait, crosses the room and steals a marker from Riley’s table, fending off high fives from the kids as he does. He bops Riley on the head with the marker, fond, before heading back, crouching down and beckoning for the Sharks fan to come closer and get signed.
“How come you’re back from Russia already?” the kid asks.
“He’s been here all summer,” Emmy chimes in. “He does activities with us and Riley.”
“Really,” Iggy says, then elbows Emmy. “Tell how good I am at baseball.”
She laughs, clearly enjoying being the one with the information. “He’s pretty bad at hitting,” she admits. “But he’s fast.”
“Talking too much trash,” Iggy informs her, winking at Sharks fan so he’ll know it’s all for fun. “Come, get nets, let’s play.”
There aren’t as many kids here tonight as there were in the middle of summer, most of them probably getting ready for school or something, but there are enough to make teams and get everyone running around, chirping each other and, for the braver ones, him. Iggy wouldn’t have ever done something like this without Riley bringing him along, but he likes the kids here. A couple of them are like he was, shoes worn through at the soles or clothes that don’t quite fit right. He likes those kids best. He even likes the asshole kids like Sharks t-shirt – Noah, his name is – for the most part, because god knows he was an asshole child. Also an asshole teenager and most probably an asshole adult. Could’ve used an NHL player to run around and play hockey with for a couple of hours, every now and then.
It’s not as intense as his workout earlier, but it’s not nothing either, and Iggy’s knee is tugging at him by the end of the two hours. He doesn’t care. He’ll miss this, the little bubble that he’s been living in this summer between his apartment and Riley’s apartment and this battered old room at the community centre. It’s been like an escape from real life, like everything in the bubble with him and Riley is tinged soft pink and warm and sunny.
The two of them stay behind to tidy the room after the last of the kids has been picked up. It feels like a routine by now, even though it won’t be, after tonight.
“You didn’t have to come,” Riley says, but in the voice that means they’re pleased that Iggy did, which he figured they would be, which is why he came.
“It’s the last one I can do,” Iggy says, then, because that’s ominous, amends, “For a while.” He tosses the last of the floor hockey balls to Riley. “Don’t make articles about this.”
Riley grins, crooked, as they dump the balls into the storage bin. “See, I’m familiar with how you act with reporters you don’t like, I don’t intend to get on your bad side.”
“I have no bad side, Riley,” Iggy says, haughty, and makes a big show of checking out his reflection in the windows; enjoys the way it makes Riley laugh.
It stays routine, easy, as they walk back to Riley’s place. The sky’s only barely hinting at darkening, the few clouds that there are glowing orange in the sun.
“You got to talk to Anna?” Riley asks, conversational.
Iggy nods, hands in his pockets as they walk. “She’s excited.”
“Just her?” Riley asks, playful, then, turning and ambling along backwards so they can face him, “It’s your twin sister, Stef, you’re allowed to be happy to see her.”
Iggy glances at Riley, then out ahead of them. “We always planned,” he admits. “When we’re little, we planned together everything we would do when we’re bigger.” He shakes his head, laughing at himself. “Like, to leave our city, buy a real house for our grandparents, and her and me to live next door to each other.” It’s not the sort of thing he’d usually tell people. Past belongs in the past. He doesn’t mind, with Riley.
“That’s sweet,” Riley says, all sincere, even though ‘sweet’ is maybe dead last on the list of words that accurately describe Iggy. They have a habit of using words like that for him, completely unironically. Iggy can’t bring himself to mind that either.
“She’s too smart for that place,” he says. “Even her model thing she does now, you know, California is better for that. She will like here.”
“Good,” Riley says, then, “How do I say ‘good’, now, like-” They say something that Iggy can assume, only from context, is supposed to be ‘good’ in Russian, which, in a Texas accent, is both painful to listen to and the cutest thing he’s ever heard. He loves it when Riley tries to speak his language. ‘Tries’ being the operative word.
He opens his mouth, intent on teasing them, but before he can, Riley crosses their arms just for a moment, this understated, unconscious little attempt to warm up. Iggy reroutes from the chirping; shrugs out of his jacket – just denim, not particularly warm but very particularly designer – and holds it out to Riley, who fixes him with a look.
“Then you’ll be cold, and how does that make any sense?” Riley says.
“I’m from Siberia, I don’t get cold,” Iggy retorts, frank, because no one in California knows what real cold is and even half the time he’s indoors he’s on a sheet of ice. It makes Riley do their Riley-smile, crooked on one side so their dimple creases. Iggy takes it as the permission it is and drapes his jacket over their shoulders. Riley drags their hair out of the way, but not smoothly enough. It catches on the strap of Iggy’s watch.
“Oops.” Riley tugs, and Iggy’s wrist goes with them.
Riley winces. “Ow, careful-”
“Just- let me do,” Iggy says, and Riley stills under his hand while he untangles the two of them, careful not to pull too much. Being gentle doesn’t come naturally, but he tries; tucks Riley’s hair back behind their ear once his arm is free.
He swallows. The feeling is back, the tense one from before, and it’s- it’s stupid, because it was nothing, they were out of sync for the tiniest offbeat moment, but it roars up like a cornered animal in his chest, this is it, this is where things go wrong, it’s all done now.
Iggy tells the animal, very forcefully, to shut the fuck up and leave him alone.
Public displays of affection aren’t a thing they do – they’re on the same page with regards to keeping things lowkey, Riley because of journalistic ethics and Iggy because he has a reputation to maintain that does not involve being referred to as sweet, god forbid – but he checks to make sure no one’s looking at them, leans in, and just barely has to duck to press his lips to Riley’s for a quick, hard kiss.
“Looks good on you,” he says. His voice comes out steady, untroubled.
“Knowing you, this cost more than my rent,” Riley says, maybe trying to be chastising, but their eyes are soft.
“Yeah, what I said, it looks good,” Iggy says, no hesitation, and he even manages a grin when Riley bumps up against him as they get walking again, side by side, this time.
They’ve walked this way more times than Iggy can count, these past months. He was furious when he fucked up his ACL, obviously, but it meant months with no hockey obligations as an excuse, months to finally work up the nerve to make a move, months of allowing himself the luxury of just being with Riley. He likes being a boyfriend. He’s never been one before. He’s never had anything half this good.
It’s terrifying. Makes him want to curl up with Riley inside their bubble and hoard it just for the two of them, to hiss like something venomous whenever anyone gets close; and that’s the problem, he supposes, with today and tonight, is that it’s not just anyone getting close, it’s his sister and Andy and the entire team and the press, and it’s not like all those anyones are bad anyones, but they’re just- they’re going to make things different, and Iggy can’t think of anything he wants less.
The kiss helped, but not for long enough. The spectre of the beginning of the season feels like a looming thing, growing bigger and bigger with every step they take away from the community centre. Iggy wants to ask Riley to walk slower, to put off the end of summer, and by the time they’re at Riley’s place, he feels like he’s dragging his feet through cement to make himself climb the stairs.
The door to Riley’s apartment clicks closed and Iggy’s already tugging Riley in, clinging to them from behind and leaning his face into the crook of their neck, breathing them in and trying to steady himself.
It’s awful, liking something this much. He likes the weight of Riley in his arms, how they can take his weight in return without wavering; likes his jacket over the forest green Henley that they have multiple copies of in grey and navy as well because they have most boring fashion sense ever; even likes the weird tacky welcome mat they’re standing on right now.
He likes summer, with them, and he doesn’t want it to end. He’s not ready for it to end.
Riley rubs circles with their thumb on Iggy’s forearm, leans back against Iggy’s chest, and doesn’t try to pry Iggy off. Doesn’t try to make him meet their eyes, either, maybe getting that Iggy’s hiding his face for a reason, which Iggy appreciates.
“You’re being cuddly tonight,” Riley observes. “Today.”
“I’m not cuddly,” Iggy mumbles, because pride, but he doesn’t let go. Can’t.
“I know, hence the confusion,” Riley says. They sound kind of bemused, even as they keep making circles on his arm as Iggy hangs on to them, reassuring without really trying to be. “You okay?”
He holds on, stays where he is, Riley’s hair tickling his nose. “I like having you,” he admits into their shirt, quietly. “I don’t want different.”
“You still got me,” Riley reminds him, gentle. Their voice gets teasing, then. “I mean, I’ve been gone for you for what, six, seven years, at this point-”
Iggy wants to laugh, mostly in spite of himself. They’ve been having this debate all summer, at varying levels of investment and in varying states of undress. “You weren’t first, Riley,” he says, because he’s never been one to give in.
“I absolutely fell for you first, Iggy, sorry to break it to you,” Riley says, and now, when they turn in Iggy’s arms to look at him properly, he finds himself fighting a smile instead of trying to hide. The look on Riley’s face fades into something softer as their eyes meet his. He leans into their touch, a big hand along his jaw, lingering at the clean line of his beard where it turns to nothing but skin.
“Hey,” Riley says, holding Iggy’s gaze, firm. No room to doubt, like they carried their ‘just the two of them’ bubble from the community centre here as well. “We’re good.”
Iggy nods again. “I know,” he says, eventually, and it’s not even a lie, because that part, the them part, he doesn’t doubt. It’s everything else that’s the problem.
Riley still looks a little worried – their eyes are like saucers, big and brown and making everything they feel entirely obvious – so Iggy turns his head and kisses the tip of their thumb, makes like he’s going to bite it, silly on purpose because he doesn’t want Riley to worry about him or about anything, not ever.
“I know,” he repeats, stronger this time, and it’s convincing enough that Riley relaxes, gives him one last little, just-for-him smile before turning to take off their shoes.
“I tell you about the writing workshop they want me to run for the after school program?”
“Tell me,” Iggy requests, so he’ll get to listen, to stay in their bubble for a little longer, and he does.
He can do this.
Doubting himself has never been an option Iggy’s seriously considered, and he refuses to start now.
He kisses Riley goodbye in the morning, turns the trek back to his place into his daily run to get his heart rate up, then heads out again half an hour later to put in some time on the ice. Camp’s starting in a few days, which means that from now on, he’s in captain mode, which, until real hockey starts, means welcoming the new guys and welcoming back the team from before. More of the latter than the former, because there’s significantly less turnover than when the team was shit. Most of the people walking into the locker room today are already Iggy’s friends, which is a good part, and the best part is that his best friend is finally back, too: Tanner walks in the door and nearly stumbles right back out, Iggy hits him with such a forceful flying hug. He missed him.
“Hey, Iggs, hey,” Tanner laughs, his whole face crinkling up as he sets Iggy down. Iggy gives him a once-over to make sure that he’s been taking care of himself, because that’s the kind of thing you have to make sure of, with Tanner. He looks good, for what it’s worth. Happy, all tanned with his hair relatively respectable levels of dishevelled, by his standards. “Missed you too, bud.”
Chris, who came in with Tanner, puts up with a hug from Iggy as well, even pats him on the back. He’s the only guy on the team other than Iggy who grew up without money. Means he’s one of the only other sane ones. “Hi, Iggy.”
Iggy flings an arm around both him and Tanner, dragging them in. They’re good As for him and the team. Good friends, too. “Your hair looks so fucking bad, old man,” Iggy informs Tanner, cheerful. “Good summer?”
Tanner nods, squirming out of Iggy’s grip. “Kicked this guy’s ass at training, so pretty good.”
“He didn’t, he sat on the porch with my mom and played chess,” Chris says, dry – he’s gotten better at chirping, lately, only took like, four years – then shrugs off Tanner’s attempt to reach over Iggy and give him a nougie and asks, “What did you do in summer, Iggy?”
“Riley,” Tanner says, before Iggy can come up with a convincing answer.
Iggy gapes at him – Tanner’s dad powers aren’t supposed to apply to Iggy, how could he possibly know – but the shock only lasts a few seconds before he processes the rest of what’s happening, Tanner holding out a hand to shake, the noise of the cluster of the usual reporters, Riley among them, making their way into the room to get their quotes. “Sam, Nina, hey, guys, good to see you.”
Iggy exhales, relieved, as Tanner greets the press by name. False alarm. Tanner would earn the assistant captaincy even if he could barely skate, just for the way he handles the media, actually converses with them and makes jokes. He has a higher bullshit tolerance than Iggy does. Iggy would mind it less, talking with reporters, if their questions weren’t always so inane.
“You missed the end of last season with a lower body injury, is it safe to assume that you’re fully recovered?” Sam from NBC asks, once Iggy’s hemmed into his stall by the usual phone wielding suspects.
“Yes,” Iggy says, and does not elaborate, because he’s been on the ice all week, which he knows they’ve all seen. No shit, he’s recovered.
“I saw on social media you volunteered at a local sports camp this summer, is that true?” asks Nina from Bay Area Today. Iggy hates Nina from Bay Area Today. She enunciates her words with him and all the other foreign guys like she’s talking to a child, just dripping with condescension.
Iggy steadfastly does not look at Riley. “I did,” he says, curt.
“Good to get out in the community?” she prompts.
Riley cuts in, a clear change of subject. They’re using their serious reporter voice. It’s at least eighty percent the hottest thing Iggy’s ever heard. “We saw you out on the ice with Anderschuk, is it looking like that’ll be the pairing going into camp?”
“I think, yes,” Iggy says, leaning a little closer to Riley’s phone mic so the audio will be better. “I played with Andy for a couple of years now, so it’s good. We match styles, I saw we had good numbers for possession last season. We play fast, so, you know. Up to coach. Lots of good players on this team, for me I don’t really care, I can play with anyone as long as we win.”
Riley nods, drops Iggy’s gaze – they’re trying not to smile, Iggy can tell, and it makes him want to smile too – and goes back to transcribing away on their phone, all professional, while the other reporters exchange slightly incredulous glances. Tanner, one stall over, raises his eyebrows, like you good?
Okay. More subtle, he can be more subtle. He can do that.
For all Iggy’s worries, for all the added pressure of an NHL season, the return to routine does make things easier, in some ways. He knows his responsibilities: the weight of the C on his chest is familiar by now, but never something he takes for granted. It holds him to a high standard, lets him hold others there too. He knows that he can make the guys want to play better, because he’s talented enough and works hard enough to earn their respect, but also because he doesn’t attempt to hide that the opportunity to be here, playing in the NHL and making more money than anyone could ever need, is everything to him.
“Come on, Mikey, you forgot how to make a save?” he chirps, loud, when they’re scrimmaging after skate on Wednesday and he roofs one all the way from his spot on the blue line. Shouldn’t have gone in.
“Someone tell Iggs it’s not even the fucking preseason yet,” Mikey gripes good-naturedly, spraying Iggy with his water bottle as he skates past; he makes the next ten saves, though, and the boys are getting into it, playing with more effort, so- good. Better.
Iggy watches the line combinations and defense pairings, picks Chris’ brain for ideas at meetings with team leadership. He keeps a mental tally of who improved at what over summer, how the team can use it to be more dangerous. Spares approximately a fifth of his brain to respond to the stream of texts and videos and pictures from Anna, who, predictably, left packing to the literal last possible minute.
Practice english :)))), he comments when she posts a picture of herself at the airport, and it gets a ridiculous amount of likes before he’s even put his phone away to head into the end of camp barbeque.
The party’s in full swing when he arrives, massive amounts of food everywhere and a soundtrack of high-pitched laughter from Mikey’s army of kids running around. Feels like there’s a new one every time the team’s families get together, like Mikey and his wife are singlehandedly trying to corner the market on tiny goalies.
Iggy makes the rounds, checks in with the guys as he grabs his food, then makes his way over to the other Russians on the team, who are gathered by the fence, laughing. It’s been just Iggy with Alex and his wife Kasia ever since Dima got traded, but they finally have another one, a callup from the farm. The new kid, Max, is a winger; talented, if raw, all of twenty years old and looking approximately twelve.
“Eat more, you’re too skinny,” Iggy orders, and Max obediently takes another bite of his burger.
Kasia pats Max’s shoulder, comforting. “He’s nice very deep down,” she says. Not in English. Never in English unless absolutely necessary.
“I’m always nice,” Iggy retorts, and it makes Kasia roll her eyes while Alex laughs, his arm around her.
“You were ten times skinnier than him when you got here,” he chirps and now Iggy has to roll his eyes at him. Alex was on the team a year before Iggy made it, and Iggy’s equal parts impressed and irritated by the years-long grift he’s been running to convince every reporter and half the fucking team that his English is a dozen times worse than it really is, because while it is an admirable level of avoidance, it’s also a shitty example for the rookie. People already expect that every Russian player is friends with every other by default, and cliquey bullshit doesn’t translate well on the ice. No one will make them belong here unless they make themselves belong first.
Not on Iggy’s team, not if he can help it – he drags Max over to socialize with the other young guys, mostly Canadians, ignoring Max’s protests. The kid was in the AHL for playoffs last season, his English is fine, or at least not worth being embarrassed about. Because Iggy’s not entirely heartless, he sticks around long enough to make sure Max is involved in the conversation before heading to the cooler to grab another beer. He gets a club soda for Tanner, expects him to be hanging out with Mikey or Chris, but instead recognizes the back of his head across the yard: he’s sitting by himself at the edge of the pool. At first Iggy thinks he’s watching Andy goofing around with the kids over by the diving board, but as Iggy gets closer, he can see that Tanner’s smiling at his phone.
“Being rude, you know,” Iggy heckles, to get his attention. “It’s a party.”
Tanner glances up like he’s being startled awake, sees it’s Iggy, and offers an only-slightly-sheepish smile as Iggy sits down next to him. “Yeah, yeah.”
“You rather talk to your girl than the guys?” Iggy teases, only because chirping is his sworn responsibility as best friend. Tanner in love is actually pretty heartwarming – Iggy was skeptical about how it would affect team dynamics, but the weird cobbled-together family thing seems to be working for him and Chris both.
“You really want an honest answer?” Tanner asks, grinning all mischievous; when Iggy shoves him like he’s going to push him right into the pool, Tanner shoves right back, makes a whole show of complaining even as he’s laughing. “Fuckin’- ow, y’know, this is what I’m talking about, you hardly texted all summer and now this, you’re about as romantic as a brick wall.”
And it’s right there as a comeback on the tip of Iggy’s tongue, the fact that he has a good reason for not texting a lot over summer, and that reason is that he’s been pretty fucking excellently romantic for eight months, thank you very much. He almost says it – he knows he can trust Tanner not to tell anyone or make it awkward for Riley professionally, and he knows that Tanner would be happy for him like the big softy he is, but he also knows that the entire team is around them and that if any of them heard it would become a whole thing. Everyone’s thing, not just Iggy’s and Riley’s anymore.
He’ll tell Tanner. He will, just- not yet.
Iggy drags off his shoes by the heels, dips his feet into the water. “What you’re thinking, about the team?”
If Tanner’s suspicious about the subject change, he doesn’t show it, just shrugs a shoulder and takes a swig of his soda as he looks around the yard, surveying the guys. “One year better than last year.”
“Our season,” Iggy decides, right then and there.
“Hope so,” Tanner agrees. “Would be a hell of a last hurrah, y’know?” Which-
Iggy glares at him. He thought they were done with this. “Shut up.”
Iggy shakes his head, refuses to hear any arguments. “There’s a new rule that says you can’t sign another contract when you’re forty?” he demands, because he’s been steadfastly ignoring every hint Tanner gave about possibly retiring for the past two seasons and he has no intention of stopping now just because his contract is expiring. “You’re not that fucking old, old man,” he chides. “Listen, you play good, I win us the cup, you sign again, it’s perfect.”
Tanner gives him this sideways look, but just sighs. Doesn’t argue. “Sure, Cap,” he says. Iggy gets the feeling he’s being humoured, but he doesn’t let it get to him. He knows Tanner. He’s there, without fail, every time Iggy needs him to be a sounding board, stays out on the ice after practice the way you only do if hockey really means something to you. No way he retires if they win, probably not even if they go on a deep run. So- so that’s that, Iggy will just have to make that happen. He can do that.
He wants to say something else, make a joke of it, but then at the other side of the pool, Andy takes a running start and cannonballs into the deep end. Mikey’s kids squeal at the splash, and the resulting wave races all the way to Iggy, lapping up against the side of the pool and soaking the bottom of his pants before rippling down into nothing.
“It’s this fucking, like,” he rants aimlessly, narrating the barbeque to Riley as he’s getting ready for bed that night. “Always sticking together, this stupid thinking, like, ‘old country’, you know? Like, I learn to speak, I talk to guys even when I couldn’t speak at all, any English. He can try too.”
“He’s just getting comfortable with the group, you know that,” Riley says absently. They’re still concentrating on their laptop, with the cute little wrinkle in their brow that they get when they’re focused. Iggy can tell from the audio that they’re working on the Conversational Russian 101 online class they started when he told them about Anna visiting. Is pretty sure that they also probably have a Word document open so they can multitask work and volunteering and the million other things they do at any given time.
Iggy leaves them to it, stepping out of his still-slightly-damp pants and fishing through the top left drawer for a pair of boxers to sleep in. His denim jacket from the other night is folded neatly on top of Riley’s dresser. Riley hasn’t offered to give it back, so Iggy doesn’t ask. He likes the idea of Riley keeping something of his. Likes the idea of having something as nice as the jacket for Riley to keep.
He kisses Riley’s cheek as he crawls into bed – “Men-ya- menya zavit-” they’re muttering along with the recording – then leans over to where his phone is charging on the bedside table to set his alarm. Anna’s on her flight right now, landing here tomorrow morning. It still doesn’t feel real.
He can do this. He feels decided on that, now; the anxiousness from before dulled into the usual buzzing kind of adrenaline throughout his body that comes at the start of hockey season and doesn’t fully go away until after playoffs. They made him captain for a reason: he can use the adrenaline and get things done.
Our season, he told Tanner, and he meant it. Hockey, his team, his sister, everything – it will be good. He’ll make it good.
He falls asleep to the slow touch of Riley’s hand in his hair.
He can do this.
Iggy only has to pose for two selfies with Sharks fans while he’s waiting for Anna to get through customs, so not too bad, except one of them decides to stay and make conversation, so, bad.
“Who’re you waiting for?” the guy asks, like Iggy can focus on anything except peering over people’s heads to the arrivals gate.
“My sister,” he says. “My twin.”
“Hey, that’s cool,” the fan says, then, clearly only interested in one thing, “Ready for the season?”
As if Iggy isn’t up half the night thinking about it. “Yes,” he says, then catches sight of Anna coming through the doors. “Sorry- Anna!”
He raises an arm to flag her down, shoving as gently as he can to get to the front of the crowd of people. He sees the moment that she recognizes him, and her whole face breaks out into a smile. She doesn’t bother being gentle with her shoving, and once she’s within two feet she leaps at him, drops her carryon, and practically strangles him with a hug. And honestly, she smells like the cabin of a plane, but Iggy holds on just as tight and laughs out loud, the kind of laugh where, if he was the kind of person to cry, he might be doing that instead. He didn’t fully realize how much he missed seeing his sister until he’s got her right in front of him, real instead of sarcasm on a screen, like he’s suddenly got back half of himself that was missing.
Anna pulls back, beaming, holding onto him by the elbows so she can look up at him. “You got so ugly,” she tells him, too fond for it to sting, prodding at his cheek like their grandma.
“Look in a fucking mirror,” Iggy says, and ducks out of her reach to mess up her hair. He can’t stop grinning, even when Anna jabs him, hard, in the ribs.
“That’s what I have you for,” she retorts, even though they haven’t looked that identical since grade school, and Iggy wants to be sarcastic but he just hugs her again, laughing; feels spectacularly fond of her for about thirty more seconds, until they retrieve her luggage and he gets stuck dragging three massive suitcases through the airport.
“-and the lineup at security was a nightmare,” Anna’s ranting cheerily, ignoring the couple of looks she’s drawing for being That Person speaking loudly not in English in a crowded elevator. “I mean it, I flew first class but I swear to god I’ve had flights in coach that boarded faster, but at least you were on time.”
“I’m always on time,” Iggy reminds her, not that she seems intent on pausing for breath.
“Your shirt is cute, by the way, it’s a good colour for us,” she says, then, leaning in to sniff at his shoulder, while a short old lady gives her a vaguely scandalized look, “Armani, though, really?”
“How would you know what Armani smells like?” Iggy asks, cocky on purpose to get a reaction; he grins when Anna slugs him in the arm.
“You’re still such a bitch, I almost did a whole shoot with them, you know.”
“Oh my god, are you that Anna Ignatieva, from Instagram?” he asks, faux-shocked, and he’s spared Anna’s retort once the doors slide open at their level in the parking garage and they have to focus on dragging her luggage out onto the cement.
“Hey,” Iggy says when they’re at his car. He switches to English, enunciating his words so she can follow. “Now we will drive in the car.” He pats the roof pointedly.
Anna rolls her eyes. “Speak normally.”
“You won’t learn if we speak Russian.”
“That’s what everyone else is for,” she says, getting into the passenger seat. “I just got off a plane, don’t annoy me.”
“But it’s fun,” Iggy says, so he gets the last word, except he also ends up cramming her luggage into, like, every possible crevasse of his car, so, fine, call it a tie. When he finally gets the trunk closed, Anna’s got her feet up on the dash and is scrolling through her phone, though she looks up, all eager, when Iggy slides into the driver’s seat.
“Are we going to meet Riley?”
He pushes her feet down. “Not now, you smell like airplane.”
Anna makes a face at him, but then she sniffs herself and makes a worse one, so there.
Iggy can’t stop smiling the whole drive home. He wants to point out everything they drive past like a little kid at show and tell, all proud, look, this is my city, this is mine, I have this for you. He does point out most things, until Anna starts yawning, the flight catching up with her, and he has to resort to blasting the radio at full volume to keep her awake.
He sits on the bed in the guest room while she unpacks the important stuff from her case, remembers to text Riley, she is here :), because they said to let them know when Anna arrived safe. She’s on a roll, talking as she makes a mess of the room the way she does most rooms, and Iggy nods along to all the updates from Norilsk, as if he cares about anyone in that city except for her and their grandmother.
“Oh, here’s the stuff she sent,” Anna says, tossing Iggy a tied up, stuffed-full package. Mama wrote him a handwritten letter, accompanied by an entirely-crumbled sleeve of her best cookies, and – Iggy pulls them out of the package one at a time, almost disbelieving – a knit hat and mittens. The hat has a pom-pom on top.
Iggy clutches them close to his chest, loves them and hates them equally fiercely and at the same time, how obviously homemade they are, how blatantly out of place they are in his condo where a month’s maintenance fees could practically buy the entire building they lived in growing up.
“I told her you don’t need winter things,” Anna says, her voice fond, clearly following his train of thought.
“She’s still okay?” Iggy asks. He has to call more. He’ll call tomorrow.
Anna shrugs. Her voice gets light and distant, very purposefully, the way it always does when the topic becomes something she doesn’t like. “Her lungs are worse,” she says. “Still okay.” They exchange a look, mutually and silently decide that today’s too good of a day for that particular discussion, and then Anna goes back to moving things from her case to the closet. “Anyways, Kosta comes almost every day to shovel snow and help carry her shopping.” She takes out a little baggie, the kind for jewelry, and sets it carefully on top of the dresser. “He’s more like a little old lady than she is, he worries so much about me travelling by myself.”
Iggy refrains from gagging, barely. “How is asshole doing?” he asks, reclining back into the pillows.
“Leave him alone.”
“You’re right, ‘asshole’ implies he has a personality.” Iggy dodges the wadded up swimsuit flung at his head. He’s right, and Anna knows it. Not his fault she chose to date someone who peaked in grade school. Not even a particularly good peak, at that, since it mostly consisted of hanging around with his equally goon-ass friends and shoving Iggy around, which they’re all just supposed to forget about.
“I just told you how he’s taking care of our aging grandmother, you fucking ingrate,” Anna chides, sharp but not all that heated, and Iggy doesn’t get a chance to argue back because she says, “Oh, more cookies,” and tosses yet another plastic baggie to him.
He catches it one-handed. These cookies are crumbled too. Frosted, even though it’s smudged everywhere. More pure sugar than is on his trainer-mandated diet plan for a week. “Does she know I have to play sports for a living?” he asks, and holds the cookies close, with his new hat and mittens, as Anna laughs.
She’s snippy at the best of times, and now she’s jetlagged enough that she should come with a warning sign. If Iggy was less selfish he’d tell her to fuck off and go take a nap, but he’s not, and he hasn’t seen her in forever, so instead he makes her a coffee and brings her out to sit on the balcony and eat broken-up bits of their mama’s cookies and keep talking. Anna doesn’t argue, anyhow, which means she missed him as well, in Anna-language.
She’s still kind of a mess, but she does a quick livestream for her army of followers to like, reassure them that she’s still alive after being gone for hours at a time, oh the horror. Iggy very nobly does not mock her for the influencer thing, and only minimally protests when she drags him into the frame to say hello to the camera.
“I wasn’t even dressed nicely,” he sulks after. Just because his life in Russia was hell doesn’t mean he wants the entire country to think he doesn’t know how to look good.
“We’re always dressed nicely,” Anna waves him off. “Besides, engagement is important and you’re good for my numbers.”
“Oh, in that case,” Iggy pulls a face and kicks at her, affectionately. She kicks him back, significantly more painfully but also affectionately, then sets her phone on the floor, face down, and leans back against the railing. Their reflections are warped in the glass of the sliding door, the sun splintering them into matching shimmering angles.
“So I already have a bunch of videos and shoots set up with people,” Anna says, conversational. “And my agent has a couple of things lined up too, like, real modelling stuff.”
Iggy talks through a mouthful of cookie. “I don’t even need to bring you to the tourist places, you’re saying?”
“You’d bring me to your fucking hockey games, I know you,” Anna says. “I can’t believe someone even agreed to date you, that’s all you talk-”
“Riley works a lot too,” Iggy interrupts, defensive, because if he’s obsessive about his sport, Riley’s just as bad, and it works for them. “We both like hockey.”
Anna looks delighted. He realizes his mistake. “Oh my god, you’re blushing, look at you!”
“I will throw you off of this fucking balcony,” Iggy informs her, desperately willing his face and traitorous, terrible blood vessels to get their shit together.
“So I could land on your shiny sports car?” Anna asks, innocent. “Or maybe in one of the pools?”
“The outdoor pool is on the roof, actually,” Iggy says, and their eyes meet, just for a second, before they both burst out laughing. It’s like- it’s ridiculous, objectively, that this is what their life is now, people caring about what they do while they sit on Iggy’s balcony in fucking California having serious discussions about where one of his pools is. It’s one of those moments where it hits him how unimaginably far away he is from Norilsk, and the feeling makes him want to yell out loud, triumphant, I’m here, I did this.
Anna’s train of thought goes somewhere similar, maybe, because she doesn’t yell, but she does ask, nearly reflective, “Did you ever think we’d actually get someplace like this?”
“Yes,” Iggy says, because getting as far as humanly possible from their hometown was a matter of survival, as far as he was concerned.
Anna’s face does this odd expression, just for a second, before flattening out into her usual look. “Well, I didn’t,” she says, frank, then holds out a hand. “Give me more cookies and tell me more about Riley so I don’t fall asleep.”
“Still so obnoxious,” Iggy chides, but between the two of them, they talk for another two hours without even faltering. They’re still the same as always. He knew they would be, because it’s them, but it feels like a relief anyways. They’re them, they’re finally both here, and it’s not like he hoped – it’s better.
“Our fucking year bay-bee!”
The energy from the first win of the season – five to two against the Kings, occasionally sloppy but dominant enough that Iggy is willing to save criticism until tomorrow – has yet to flag, even when they let the media into the room to get their interviews.
None of them look all that upset at being interrupted by the guys whooping like college kids.
“Good things to build off of, from the team effort tonight?” Riley asks, holding their phone a little closer, and Iggy nods.
“Yeah, lots of good. New guys impressed me. Old guys, I know.” He flashes a grin over at Tanner, who flips him off cheerfully. “Media, same, you guys don’t change really either.” He’s getting the hang of acting natural around Riley: the trick is to focus on whatever Andy is doing whenever Riley’s talking, which usually makes him at least mildly annoyed by proxy.
See you after :), is waiting on his phone when he checks his texts after the press have been shuffled out, and Iggy’s smiling as he shoves it into his pocket, on his way to the adjoining family room to bring Anna in.
“It kind of smells but it’s a good locker room,” he warns her, tugging her in by the too-long sleeve of her Sharks sweater. Their last name is on it, even though she insisted on buying it new rather than wearing one of the ones he’s got stashed at his place. “Good guys.”
It’s a lot at once, he realizes once they’re in the room, an entire NHL team’s worth of loud men speaking English at her, but he knows Anna can handle it, and she does, more with smiles or handshakes than with words, not that the guys seem to notice. She lights up when Iggy introduces her to Alex and Max, obviously relieved to have encountered people who can understand her, and vice versa.
“My little sister is obsessed with your makeup videos you used to do,” Max gushes, as enthusiastic as Iggy’s ever seen him.
“That’s so cute, thank you,” Anna says, a hand over her heart because she’s capable of being nice, when she wants to be. Max looks like he’s on the verge of asking for a selfie, so Iggy grabs her hand, pulls her over to meet Tanner.
“Look, Mack,” he calls, all proud. “My twin, Anna.”
Tanner holds out a hand to shake, friendly – he and Anna have seen each other in the background while Iggy called either of them, and most of his stories feature one or the other of them. “Hey, Anna. Welcome.”
“Hey,” she echoes, giving a more genuine smile than she has so far. And, like, the team still skews fairly young and fairly single – Iggy can practically see a few of the guys short-circuiting when Anna’s face brightens. She tends to have that effect on straight men. Maybe that’s why she’s infatuated with Kosta, because he was never properly circuited to begin with.
Andy pops up in Iggy’s peripheral, obnoxiously handsome, shirtless, and most definitely flirting. “Hi, Iggy’s sister-”
“Nope.” Iggy cuts that off at the pass, grabs Andy by the scruff of the neck and reroutes him towards the door. “If you look at my sister I will run you over with my car.”
“Cap,” Andy says, entreating. “Iggy, bro, Chris let his teammate date his mom and look how good it worked out.”
Chris, halfway through slinging his backpack onto his shoulders, shoots him a dark look. Tanner just ignores him. “Nice to meet you, Anna.”
“Thank you,” she says. It’s weird, how different her voice is in English. More unsure than she ever, ever sounds in their language.
She turns and looks at him, hopeful.
“Okay,” Iggy says, and Anna practically skips, her turn to drag him out of the room, even though he’s the one who knows where they’re going to meet Riley. He’s pretty sure that that, meeting Riley, is the only reason she agreed to sit through one of his games and the whole locker room thing.
“You have to be normal,” he orders as he’s leading her up the stairs. “Okay, Anna, don’t do your mean thing, or your intimidating thing-”
“Yes, I’ve met people before,” Anna says, dry, even though they both know for a fact that this isn’t like anything they’ve done before, Iggy liking someone enough to be in a relationship.
He raps on the EMPLOYEES ONLY door before shoving it open, gestures for Anna to follow him in. Riley’s in their usual spot, laptop and old boxes and all, and they’re typing, but this time Iggy doesn’t have to try to get their attention, they’re perking up as soon as the door opens.
“Took long enough,” Riley chirps, getting to their feet. Iggy extends a hand to help them up, doesn’t move away even once they’re upright, just lets his hand linger on Riley’s back as he ushers them forward.
“Nyusha, this is Riley,” he introduces. “The only good reporter.” He repeats it in English for Riley’s benefit, tries to ignore what feels like every muscle in his body deciding to tense up at once. He feels stupidly, irrationally nervous, because telling your twin that you don’t like women when you’re thirteen and still sharing a room is very different than introducing her to your partner of the better part of a year.
“Hello,” Anna says, and for all her talk, she sounds a little cautious too, keeping her distance.
“It’s so good to finally meet you!” Riley says, friendly and warm and the only one not nervous at all. Iggy’s never once seen Riley nervous, not all these years of knowing them. “Iggy talks about you all the time, he’s been so excited.”
And they’re trying to talk clearly, Iggy can tell, but Anna looks at him for a translation anyways.
“I’m not saying that for her,” Iggy informs Riley, because his sister doesn’t need that kind of ammunition.
“Say it, please,” Riley says.
“Say it,” Anna orders, significantly less nicely.
Iggy sighs and does. As predicted, Riley looks pleased and Anna just cackles maniacally. She’s the evil twin. The more evil twin, at least. “You missed me so much, that’s so embarrassing for you.”
“I’m unfollowing you on everything,” Iggy tells her, and doesn’t bother translating that one for Riley, just says, “She’s laughing at me. Your fault.” He can’t manage to sound really annoyed, especially not when Anna goes as far as to try speaking to Riley.
“I have-” She hesitates, looking for the words in English. Her voice sounds different again. “Photos, for you.” She points at Iggy. “When he is small.”
“Much thank you,” Riley says in Conversational Russian 101, and Anna grins while Iggy bites his lip so he won’t. The look on his face makes Riley smile, all sheepish. “That bad, huh?”
“No,” Iggy says. “No, perfect.” He smooths a hand up and down Riley’s back, just quick. Selfishly wants to linger, but says, “Go finish your article. See you.”
Riley kisses his cheek, an automatic kind of gesture. “Love you,” they say, then, after a second’s hesitation that Iggy only notices because he makes it a point to notice everything about Riley, they hug Anna, quick. “Bye, Anna. I’m really excited to get to talk to you more.”
“Bye,” Anna echoes. She looks bemused more than anything else, maybe a little thrown by the sincerity in Riley’s voice. Maybe by the magical and affirming experience that is a Riley hug, even if said hug is happening in a dusty old arena hallway. Iggy doesn’t know if she caught the ‘love you’ or not. Doesn’t know if he wants her to have.
He keeps glancing over at her all the way to the parking garage and even once they’re driving home, trying to gauge her reaction to Riley. He wants her to like them. Everyone likes Riley, it’s not like it’s something to worry about, it’s just- he really, really wants her to like them.
“Riley has a deadline,” he says, once they’re sitting in traffic. “After games, for articles, only a couple of hours, that’s why we only talked quickly.”
“I know how news works, my whole job is media,” Anna says.
“I know,” Iggy says; then, because he knows it’ll sway her in their favour, “Riley grew up like us. More poor than us, even.”
Anna raises an eyebrow. “Is that possible?”
“Yes.” He can see that she’s skeptical about it. He was too, until they started dating and Riley told him more about how things were for them. Riley’s stories are almost enough to make Iggy nostalgic about the shitty apartment and shitty air pollution and shitty weather and shitty everything back in his hometown. Almost. “Riley volunteers to help with kids.”
“You don’t have to try and convince me to like Riley,” Anna says, seeing through him, because that’s how they work. “I like-” She breaks off before the pronoun, and Iggy bites his tongue against the instinctive retort. He’s told her before about the nonbinary thing, but he knows she doesn’t really get it, not fully. It annoys him – more than it annoys Riley, he’s pretty sure, if only because Riley’s maximum apocalyptic height of annoyed-ness is basically Iggy’s everyday base level – even though he knows she’s not doing it to be shitty. ‘They’ as a gender-neutral pronoun literally doesn’t exist in Russian. Let alone all the ideas behind it.
“Them,” Iggy says, in English. Nicely, even, so there.
“Fuck,” Anna says, as apologetic as she gets. “I hate this language.”
“Well, if you’re going to live here you have to speak it.”
“Ugh.” Anna thuds her head back against the seat and says, in a very deliberately obnoxious valley girl accent, “Them.”
She rolls down the window just enough to let in the sound of the other cars outside as they start moving again. Iggy knows what her thinking face looks like, because it’s the same as his, so he isn’t surprised, really, when she says, a few moments later, an undercurrent of something in her voice, “You act so American now.”
“It’s not an American thing,” he says, and Anna rolls her eyes, and this time he forgets to bite his tongue, protective. “Nonbinary people are everywhere in the world since forever, Nyusha, I’ll send you fucking videos if you’re going to be an-”
“Oh my god, I believe you, I wasn’t talking about the ‘them’ thing,” she says, all offended, like that wasn’t the obvious fucking conclusion there.
“Good,” Iggy snaps. Then, once his brain catches up to his mouth and he’s cooled down a couple of notches, “What were you talking about?”
Anna shrugs. When Iggy looks over at her again, at her reflection in the window, she’s staring out the window at the cars passing by, maybe contemplatively. “Everyone called you Iggy,” she says.
Iggy opens his mouth to shoot back an answer, but closes it a second later. He doesn’t have an answer, really, not for that.
It bothers him. Keeps bothering him even once they’re back home and he’s texted Riley goodnight and is lying there in his bed, trying to figure out why that sits so wrong, of all things, after a win like that.
He’s thrown off by it, he realizes, by Anna being thrown off by something as obvious as his name. Like, obviously people call him Iggy. He calls himself Iggy, he’s been referred to that way pretty much exclusively by pretty much everyone since he arrived here at nineteen, and he likes it that way, because Iggy is widely regarded as one of the best defenseman in the league and is dating the best and kindest and most patient person in the world and has never once had to check the price on anything at the grocery whereas Stefan is just- not any of that. Not anything at all.
The only people allowed to call him Stefan are his grandmother, his grandfather when he was still alive, and occasionally Tanner, because Iggy looks up to maybe three people and Tanner’s one of them. He accepts Stef and assorted pet names from Riley because it’s Riley and anything said in Riley’s voice is a gift to the world, and he’ll tolerate Stefa from his twin and not from another soul on the planet.
He’s- he’s Iggy, that’s it. That’s just it, and it didn’t occur to him that that would be weird for Anna. It feels wrong that it is, or maybe just wrong because of the idea of her not knowing something about him, because that’s not how they work.
She knows now. She’s here, she liked Riley, she’ll get used to the Iggy thing the same way he did. They have time. She knows as much about him as ever, and he still knows everything about her, and they’re good.
Iggy forces himself to relax the tension in his shoulders, squirms deeper under his stack of blankets. The people he loves are here, and they met each other. That’s a start. He’ll take care of the rest.
They lose their second game, then win the next four straight. Could be better, procedurally. Will be, Iggy decides, because the current incarnation of the team has all the tools, is going to have all the chemistry, once it’s had a chance to build. It’s on his mind 24/7, the team as it is, the team how it can be, what he can do in himself to bridge the gap between the two states. Mikey’s playing well, stopping pucks. Forward depth is solid. Tanner’s lost a step, not fast like he was a couple seasons ago, but he plays smart, and Chris is more than capable of carrying a line. Iggy knows he and Andy are good, too, playing big minutes. He goes through the lines one by one every night, identifying what’s good and what needs fixing. Winning, even four in a row, isn’t an excuse to get lazy, because getting lazy and thinking things are status quo is how you lose it all. He won’t let that happen.
“This is what I’m talking about, boys.” Iggy makes his way around the room, patting backs and doling out fist bumps after they shut out the Coyotes. “More like this, no one stops us, okay?”
“Aye-aye, Captain,” Fish says, flinging his gear into the centre of the room, and Iggy makes an exception, turning his fist bump into a nougie. A celebratory yet still motivational nougie. It’s a balance, the captaincy thing. Some guys need positive reinforcement. Some guys need a kick in the pants. Some guys need nougies. Iggy mostly just needs for them to clean up their messes in the neutral zone so he and the rest of the d can stop defending so many rushes.
Growing pains, Riley called it in their last article. It’s a good one. Iggy set the app to send him notifications whenever one of Riley’s pieces is published, even though Riley sends them to him anyways, all proud.
“Reading your own press?” Tanner asks, mussing Iggy’s hair as he heads into the room where the leadership group is meeting. Iggy lost track of the time.
“For information,” Iggy lies, flustered, and Tanner doesn’t look especially convinced but Chris, taking his seat across from them, looks genuinely curious.
“Oh, I didn’t think of reading postgames, does it help break things down?”
“…Yes,” Iggy says, and Chris nods, so- crisis averted, with the side effect of Iggy accidentally recruiting a new subscriber for his partner’s employer, so, fine.
He’s not good at secrets. Has gotten worse at them over time, actually. Not that Riley is a secret, per se, it’s just- it’s a balancing act, careers and media and people’s opinions like plates spinning on sticks, and right now Iggy has each of his plates spinning quite nicely, maybe the best they’ve ever been spinning, and he doesn’t want to risk shattering them by trying to get fancy and mixing them up.
He gets into a routine, with Riley. Iggy answers their questions in scrums, then after home games, they can see each other at their spot in the arena, and after road games, Iggy can sneak downstairs to Riley’s hotel room to be around them before he passes out. They usually end up watching hockey anyways, a replay of the earlier games on mute on the shitty hotel TVs, Riley finalizing their Sharks writeup while Iggy curls around them.
“You know the team has medical people to check that for you,” Riley points out, gently, when Iggy almost dozes off with an ice pack on his knee.
“It’s just in my brain,” he says, dismissive, because he’s not about to derail the team’s season over an old injury; then, poking at Riley’s side to make them squirm where they’re ticklish, “but you worry about me, Riley, aw-” and he falls asleep smiling because he made Riley smile, not noticing his knee at all.
His knee is not even an honourable mention on the list of things Iggy’s got prioritize taking care of. Hockey is most of them. Riley most of the others. Anna is too, more than her fair share, but that’s not really her fault as much as Iggy’s teammates being a bunch of heathens.
They’re on the plane, Iggy in his normal seat and enthusiastically arguing with Alex and Max about whether American soda tastes better than European soda when Andy pops up, peering over the headrests of the row in front of them.
“Bro,” he says, and Iggy enjoys one brief moment of blissful hope that Andy is speaking to either of the others before he continues, “Your twin is like, Russia-famous.”
“No shit,” Iggy says. Max looks from him to Andy, clearly following along, but stays silent.
“But like, actually,” Andy says, like that’s not literally what Iggy just confirmed. He holds up his tablet, which is currently open to Anna’s Instagram. He’s scrolled back a few months and landed on a bunch of photos of her in swimsuits, making all these ridiculous sultry faces that Iggy knows for a fact she used to practice in the mirror because it was also his mirror, and it had a massive crack in the middle from Anna throwing a hairbrush at it when they were eight. “This was in a magazine.”
“Are you sure you’re twins?” Alex deadpans in Russian, and Iggy scowls at him – well-deserved – and then Andy turns his attention on him as well – even more well-deserved, ha.
“Did you know this, Alex?” Andy demands, all stunned, like the concept of a celebrity culture distinct from his own is just the wildest concept he’s ever heard.
“Everyone knows this,” Alex confirms, because he only speaks English when it’s to ruin Iggy’s life more. Iggy’s switching seats and napping with Tanner on flights from now on.
“So your whole family’s just, like, ballers, Cap,” Andy concludes.
Iggy sighs. “Sure.” Andy grew up with at least three houses in different cities, you can’t not be at least slightly stupid after growing up that rich.
“Ballers?” Max sounds out, unsure, looking between the three of them. “What is ballers?”
Andy looks expectantly at Iggy.
“You go ahead,” Iggy says. “Translate for him ballers, Andy, have fun.”
Alex snorts a laugh, which Iggy takes as confirmation that he won this particular interaction, except for the fact that Andy is still ogling his sister, which- bad and gross, but mostly just true to form for everyone involved, so, fine. If that’s the price he has to pay for having Anna here, he’ll pay it.
She’s enjoying San Jose, Iggy thinks. He worries about it, at first, because it’s a huge adjustment from their hometown, and Anna not hating it here is kind of a fundamental part of the ‘get her to move here permanently’ plan, but the days and weeks pass and he doesn’t think he’s being overly optimistic to think that the plan is going well.
Sharing a space with his sister again becomes a routine as well. Anna can’t be bothered to go to most of Iggy’s games, too busy with whatever work goes into being a content creator or whatever she’s calling herself now, but she’s up almost as early as him, even goes running with him sometimes.
She’s still a nightmare to live with, objectively; takes way too long getting ready, which is troublesome because Iggy usually takes too long getting ready, so he ends up hammering at the door of his own bathroom on multiple occasions. He’ll admit, though, that it’s nice to have someone around who is not a forty year old Canadian hick or a neutral-colours-only boring dresser and therefore can offer valid opinions on and proper appreciation for his outfits. They’re the one thing he splurges on.
“This is nice,” Anna enthuses, draping the charcoal gray tie over her arm when Iggy recruits her to help decide on his Hockey Night suit.
“I know,” he says. The fabric is the softest thing he owns. “But the blue-”
“With our eyes, I know,” she finishes the thought, head tilted. “Unless-”
“Purple,” they say at the same time, and Iggy grins, equally pleased with the resolution of the tie dilemma and with them still being them. Twin telepathy is nonsense, mostly. It’s still nice to know that theirs is functional on a second continent.
Anna fits here, Iggy thinks. California is alive, the kind of place with opportunities and places to go and people with actual futures, the kind of place she could stay in and have a real life in, not like Norilsk. He even already did the legwork figuring out the best places, getting a hang of the language.
He gets more used to hearing her speak English, even though she refuses to speak it when it’s just the two of them. Iggy’s grateful he has Riley, because of that. Well. For a million different reasons, but particularly because of that, because they have a way of making people feel comfortable, and Anna’s not an exception to that.
They get along well, Anna and Riley. Iggy kind of hovers the first few times all three of them hang out, feels weirdly self-aware every time he touches Riley, but Anna keeps the teasing him about having feelings to a minimum and either refers to Riley by name or switches around pronouns if she has to refer to them in Russian, which is a reasonable workaround for the lack of ‘they’.
It’s more than he ever thought he’d get, his two most important people both here with him in the place where he’s happy. More in good ways, mostly, but also-
“Look at your face, Stef!” Riley gushes, a hand over their heart.
Iggy groans, thudding his head against the back of the couch. They’re on hour two of embarrassing childhood photos, courtesy of Anna. She made a fucking slideshow.
A star wipe cuts across the screen, filling it with an image of them as toddlers in matching knit sweaters. Riley and Anna both coo. Iggy’s soul leaves his body.
“Where you’re even finding these?” he demands. He didn’t know half of these images existed. It’s like- it’s very obvious when they went to live with their grandparents, because there’s an immediate and exponential increase in the number of baby pictures, and then those pictures give way to hundreds more photos of them in no longer matching but only slightly less embarrassing secondhand clothes. It makes Iggy cringe to look at them – he felt like shit, wearing stuff that was threadbare and ill-fitting, and it comes across in his scowls in the pictures. Not exactly conducive to nostalgia.
“Oh, hush, you were adorable,” Riley says. They squeeze Iggy’s knee.
Iggy decides he will allow nostalgia, just this once.
A new picture comes up – a bouncing effect this time, Iggy is suing whoever taught Anna PowerPoint transitions – and even he has to soften at this one.
Anna, on Iggy’s other side, tries to narrate. “This is papa- like, our-” She breaks off, obviously unsure how to explain adoption and names and relationships in English. Riley just nods, already familiar with the story from Iggy.
“Your grandfather, right?” they ask, encouraging. “You guys look like him.”
Iggy exchanges a grin with Anna. It’s not really a compliment. Their grandfather looked exactly how you’d expect someone who worked in mining for fifty years to look. He was a grumpy old man Iggy’s entire life. A good man, still.
Riley laces their fingers with Iggy’s, squeezing his hand like a little you okay? Iggy squeezes back, nudges their shoulders together as the slides keep changing. He can’t be nostalgic about the past. He thinks he can like Riley knowing it, though. Seeing pieces of him that most people don’t.
The photos gradually become more and more recent. It’s obvious when Anna started her modelling, because the quality of both the pictures and her outfits goes right up, and it’s only a matter of time before Kosta starts appearing next to her, big and hulking and with an unfortunate tendency to blink during pictures.
“This is your boyfriend?” Riley asks. “He’s handsome.”
“He has a personality of a potato,” Iggy informs them, unimpressed and also Not Jealous, because he’s way more handsome than Kosta, so there. Anna maybe doesn’t understand the nuance of his comparison, but she gets the gist and elbows him, hard, so Iggy grapples her and ends up with her face in his armpit as she’s stabbing him with her horrifyingly pointy pink nails.
“You’re such a brat-”
“Y’all were terrors are children, huh,” Riley says. Hopefully endeared instead of horrified? Iggy thinks probably.
“Still terrors, Riley,” he agrees, whilst being impaled on Anna’s manicure.
“No wonder I knew first,” Riley says, patting Iggy’s cheek as they heave themselves up off the couch. “Coffee, anyone?”
“I was first,” Iggy calls after them, and watches Riley disappear into the kitchen before loosening his grip on Anna.
“You’re dating incredibly out of your league,” she informs him, very dignified, considering how utterly messed up her hair is. Iggy grins. He missed fighting with her.
“Hey,” he says, ready to tease her more. “What’s Kosta even doing, without you there to think for him?”
“Stop being a dick,” Anna orders, then, as she smooths down her hair, “I don’t know what he’s doing.”
It’s like, a completely nonsensical thing for her to say, because Iggy knows for a fact that she texts Kosta all the time. He’s pretty sure she called him yesterday. “Uh, what?” he asks, halfway to laughing.
“What?” Anna snaps, totally out of nowhere and far more intense than he was expecting. Iggy blinks, too thrown to argue. “None of your business.”
As if their businesses are not an overlapping venn diagram. “Why are you being weird?” Iggy asks.
“I’m not,” Anna says.
Iggy debates the merits of pushing this. Pros, bother his sister about her garbage boyfriend. Cons, her nails are really sharp, and maiming each other might be a detour on the ‘getting her to move here permanently’ mission.
“You’re always weird,” is what he settles on; not his best, but Anna visibly relaxes when the subject is changed, so- fine. Sisters are a balance, same as captaining. Same as everything. Iggy’s good at it, by now.
They team plays on the road – Nashville then Chicago, a loss then a win, neither exactly inspiring, but Riley does use the word ‘contender’ in their article, which is nice – then back at home for a matinee game. They go out for dinner after, Iggy and Anna and the Russian teammates plus Kasia. Balance, he figures. Something to make her feel more at home here.
In his defense, Iggy doesn’t mean to tune them out. He just has limited interest in Alex’s terrible jokes and Anna’s equally terrible reactions, especially right after a game, so once they’re distracted, he watches and rewatches the clip of their one goal against on his phone under the table. Max, seated next to him, watches as well. Iggy turns the phone so it’s easier for both of them to see. Andy pinched and the forwards didn’t drop back so Iggy had to defend a three-on-one. Amateur play by everyone on the ice, himself included. If the coaches don’t bring it up tomorrow, he will.
“Game tape, seriously?” Alex demands. “You’re going to ruin the rookie.”
Not distracted enough.
Kasia sighs while Alex tries to pluck the phone out of Iggy’s hands, shaking her head at them and asking Anna, “Has he ever, once in his life, relaxed?”
“No, literally never,” Anna says, all innocent.
“Fuck off, I could relax better than all of you any day,” Iggy informs the table hotly, only to realize belatedly that that was perhaps not the most convincing way to argue his point. Max laughs, then chugs half of his sparkling water like he thinks he’s about to get in trouble.
“This is why I like Tanner better,” Iggy tells everyone at the table, and very purposefully does not let them see him smile when Anna and Kasia keep joking around like they’ve known each other for years. He knew this dinner would be good. The Russian teammates are good people. Grouped with him by default, even though Moscow and Norilsk are nearly as different as Norilsk and San Jose, and both guys’ fathers played in the KHL, and they didn’t grow up even remotely similarly. Still: a shared language isn’t nothing. It means the chance to talk without mentally auditing every word or sentence. Moreso for Anna than for him, with the state of her English.
Iggy sits around on the bathroom counter, back at home, while Anna’s scrubbing off her makeup. Another routine.
“I’m going to call mama in the morning, okay?” she says, tossing aside the crumpled makeup wipe. “Early, so she’ll be awake.”
“Yeah.” Iggy picks up the discarded wipe and tosses it at the garbage can. Makes the shot. Asks, really casual, “You liked the guys?”
“Yeah,” Anna echoes. “The little one is sweet.”
“He needs more friends,” Iggy says, thoughtful – he’s been trying to nudge Max towards spending more time with the Canadian crew of young guys, but he’s going to have to try harder – then presses on, “You like Riley too?”
Anna’s focused on putting toothpaste on her brush, clearly only barely listening. “Obviously.”
“And working here?” Iggy prompts.
Now, Anna meets his eyes in the mirror, wry. “Stefa.”
“I’m just saying,” Iggy holds his hands up, innocent. “It’s good here, you know? More people to help for mama.”
“She barely lets me help her,” Anna says.
“She’s not going to get younger, Nyusha,” Iggy presses, counting off arguments on his fingers. “The weather is good here, she can sit outside, I can get her Russian channels on the TV-”
Anna cuts in, weary, because they’ve had this discussion too many times to count. “Convince her, not me.”
“If we’re both here you know she’ll come here,” Iggy reasons, putting it right out there, because he’s right and they both know it. “You know it’s good for your work here.”
“Because there’s such a shortage of models and influencers in California,” Anna says.
“Okay, but you aren’t going to model forever.”
“You aren’t going to play hockey forever,” Anna retorts, less irritable than Iggy thought she’d be, considering. “But don’t worry, I’ll help you get a new job when you’re living back home again.”
It occurs to him that they might be having two different, parallel conversations. Also occurs to him that it might be on purpose, like a standoff, neither willing to venture into the other’s argument.
There’s no reason for Anna not to want to stay here. Literally, none.
Anna jabs her toothbrush into her mouth. “I’m impressed, you didn’t even bring up how terrible my-” she falters, a nothing split second of hesitation. “My boyfriend is.”
“Well that goes without saying,” Iggy says. Anna side-eyes him pointedly. Whatever, he’s right. “You could find ten new Kostas here. Better looking, too, trust me.”
“There are a lot of attractive men here,” Anna concedes, hardly understandable with the brush in her mouth. “Like your one teammate, the loud one, what’s his name-”
“I hate you,” Iggy informs her, because Andy has no place in any conversation outside of the rink; then, when Anna gives him a gross, toothpaste-filled grin, “Fuck, that’s terrifying.” She lolls her tongue out and Iggy has to fight a laugh, trying to sound stern, “You’re so gross, I can’t believe people think you’re hot-”
“I’m beau-ti-ful-” Anna sings tunelessly, lurching toward him like a zombie and dribbling toothpaste all over the place while Iggy swats at her, drawing his legs up onto the counter with him.
“Don’t fucking- do not touch me, Nyusha, I swear to god-”
His sides hurt from laughing, the helpless kind, and Anna looks so ridiculous and happy, messing with him in her pajamas like when they were little, that Iggy decides: He’ll spin this particular plate later. They have time.
Iggy doesn’t think he’d know what to do with himself if he wasn’t busy. Fortunately, he doesn’t have that problem, and hasn’t since he got the C. Maybe not since he made the NHL, actually. Maybe ever.
Anna informs him, very asshole-ish, that he’s a workaholic. He might be, but only because there’s so much to do at any given time: he’s got an irritatingly lingering injury to push through, games to prep for and win. Reporters asking him subtle variations of the same questions they’ve been asking since he was nineteen years old, which he has to answer while making covert eye contact with Riley over the microphones and trying not to smile.
There’s stuff away from the rink, too. Iggy helps Max move into Alex’s basement once management tells him he’s staying up; poses for some picture with Anna for whatever outlet back in Russia is apparently running some feature about weirdly successful twins, which are the only kinds of twins people care about, past a certain age. He even finds time on a rare night off to make it to the community centre with Riley, and, granted, Iggy suspects that date nights don’t usually involve gym shorts and hyper-competitive children, but this one is fun anyhow.
“Miss, miss,” he calls out, hoping for the jinx as Riley dripples the ball through Noah’s legs, runs up on Iggy and sinks the basket, right over his head. The kids go nuts.
“Oh, and the journalism major’s still got it!” Riley celebrates, jogging around for high fives while Iggy laughs, hopelessly endeared.
“Yeah, laugh, I can still kick your butt at hockey, right, Emmy?” he asks, and Emmy, ever loyal, nods.
“We should play real hockey, on ice,” she gushes. “It would be so fun and we could pick teams except I want both of you on my team so we would do that-”
“Riley, be on my team?” Iggy asks, makes his eyes all big and puppy-like so Riley will do their big dimpley smile. Secret relationship be damned, Iggy thinks, and he’ll never care about professionalism again, if the suggestion of skating with Riley means he’ll get that look on their face. He’ll book them the Sharks rink tomorrow. Hell, tonight.
It’s a nice night. Nice things to think about, even if Iggy knows they won’t happen. They walk home, and Iggy kisses Riley in the stairwell, and he would do anything for them, anything, to protect this.
He’s exhausted when he makes it to the airport the next morning, but it’s worth it, worth it when they beat Edmonton on the first half of a weekend series then fly home and do it again on the second. It’s a fast-paced two games, intense the way hockey gets when you play the same team more than once consecutively. Familiarity breeds contempt – Tanner drops the gloves with one of the Oilers big guys, and Iggy gets the assist on the gamewinner on the ensuing powerplay.
“Comeback win like that, would you call this one a statement game?” Nina from Bay Area Today asks, after the game.
“Every game is,” Iggy says, and means it. You don’t get anywhere by contenting yourself with a job half-finished. They’re not there yet. More to do. Always more to do.
“Hey, Cap.” Mikey calls over, getting Iggy’s attention as the beat reporters file out. “You alright to meet at the restaurant?”
“Yes, go.” Iggy waves him on, mostly focused on getting his phone to text Riley to wait for him. He showers quick, fixes his hair and adjusts the collar of his dress shirt, then slips away from whatever teammates are lingering and detours upstairs, manages to steal fifteen minutes with Riley before he’s got to head out to meet the boys. He fights back a yawn as he jogs down the stairs – he’d be tired even if he hadn’t just played nearly thirty minutes, but team bonding is important for on-ice chemistry – and nearly walks right into Tanner as he enters the parking lot.
“Careful,” Iggy says, automatic. He wasn’t expecting anyone to still be here.
“Where were you?” Tanner asks, apparently on the same page, falling into step next to Iggy as they head for their cars.
“Nowhere,” Iggy says, maybe too fast. “Where were you?” Tanner gestures at his black eye. Right.
“No concussion?” Iggy asks, then, when he gets the affirmative, “I can drive us.” And he’s already fishing in his suit pocket for his car keys, but Tanner shakes his head, scratching at the back of his neck as he stretches it out like he’s sore.
“Ah, you go, I’m just going to head home.”
Iggy shoves him, playful, too familiar with this argument to worry. Tanner gets all antisocial, Iggy makes him be social, Tanner ends up laughing while all the guys get drunk, it’s their whole thing. “Barely November, you’re bored with us already?”
“Funny.” Tanner smiles, but it’s strained, and he just keeps walking to his car, leaving Iggy to scurry after him, after a second.
“Where are you going?”
“Nowhere,” Tanner says, which is fair, technically, but also just as obvious of a lie as Iggy’s was, and Iggy refuses to let lying to each other be a thing they do, so he flicks Tanner in the neck until Tanner swats him away and caves. “I’m not-”
Tanner makes this noise, frustrated. “I wanted to call Jo before it gets too late there, she’s stressed about this research grant thing and there’s a leak in the roof and other home shit.” He kicks a pebble along the cement, and it skitters away. “Which I can do nothing about because I’m in a different time zone playing a meaningless game against the fucking Oilers.”
It’s the closest to angry Iggy thinks Tanner’s capable of sounding, and he deflates a second later anyways, shoots Iggy this glance, like he’s embarrassed at that barely-an-outburst, casualty: one pebble. “Sorry.”
Iggy shakes his head, disconcerted. “It’s okay.”
“I’m just tired.”
“Old man,” Iggy chirps, instinctively trying to put things back to familiar territory so Tanner can laugh it off and call him something back, but he doesn’t.
“Yeah, probably,” Tanner says. He makes this sound that wants to be a laugh but is more just a breath. “Fuck, probably.”
Iggy doesn’t know what the fuck to do with that. “Not too old,” he says.
“I don’t know, Iggs,” Tanner says, confessional, almost. “My head’s not in it.” And he’s doing the thing again, Iggy realizes, where he talks about leaving to be a house husband or whatever, just when their team is finally first in their division, just when Iggy doesn’t want things to change at all. Tanner seemed like he was having fun. Iggy thought he was having fun, that he was over this, and the realization that he’s not makes panic surge up inside him.
“Get your head in it,” Iggy orders in his best captain voice. “Team needs you. That’s it.”
He doesn’t know what he’s expecting, but it’s not the look that appears on Tanner’s face.
“What, why this smiling, now?”
Tanner crosses his arms, leans on the roof of his car, wry. “Every time I get within a mile of talking about retiring you-”
“Shut up,” Iggy says, and starts jogging across the lot to his own car, because no, they’re not doing this discussion. “Shut up.”
“And put ice on your face,” Iggy calls over his shoulder. Tanner does this little salute, only mildly sarcastic.
Iggy slumps into the driver’s seat once he’s in his car. Scowls at nothing. He wants to shake Tanner, to get these stupid ideas out of his head so he’ll say something weird and Canadian and comforting the way he’s supposed to. Tanner’s not supposed to be a thing that changes.
And Iggy got good at ignoring it, the looming feeling he’s been pushing down since summer, but it’s back now with a vengeance as he watches Tanner start his car and drive away. Iggy wasn’t doing enough. That’s what it must come down to – he’s been so focused on balancing Riley and Anna and professionalism and the team that he got too comfortable with Tanner’s whole situation. Trying so hard to stop things from changing that he let them change anyways.
Everything in him wants to skulk back upstairs to Riley, to pour out his problems and sit in their presence and magically feel better. He doesn’t. Can’t, because the team will be waiting for him at the restaurant, and team bonding is important if he wants to win a cup, hell, if he wants the team to stay functional and for him to keep the life he has here.
He won’t lose this. He flexes his hands on the wheel, reverses out of his spot. Shakes his head, not quite clearing it, but clearing it enough that the looming is easier to ignore.
He doesn’t lose. He won’t lose this.
If asked by any media members other than Riley, Iggy would never admit to paying attention to the standings two months into the season. It’s too early, too much left to change.
He looks, though, multiple times a day, just for the thrill that he gets every time he sees San Jose Sharks at the top of their division. It makes him miss having the team gym to himself in summer, because he could’ve just pulled up the standings on his phone and looked at them while he worked out. Could’ve listened to his own music, too, rather than whatever the fuck is currently blasting over the speakers on their one day without a game.
“What the fuck is this, Fisher?” Mikey demands, dragging a towel down his face.
“Russian,” Andy says, with truly remarkable amounts of confidence, considering he’s wrong.
“This is not Russian,” Max says.
“Latvian, boys,” Fish informs the room. He should never have been given control of the speakers.
“Yeah, Mike, it’s Latvian, c’mon,” Tanner pipes up, cheery as ever. He hasn’t brought up their discussion from the other night. Hasn’t complained to Iggy at all. Iggy’s not naïve enough to think that means he’s suddenly over his whole retiring thing.
“Why do you have Latvian rap on your playlist, you’re from Minnesota,” Mikey’s asking, pained, and Fish looks mortally offended, enough that he stops stretching entirely. Andy does too, always eager for an excuse to do the bare minimum.
Fish is gesturing with his phone like it’s a picket sign. “What, I can’t have interests?”
Iggy intervenes before the discussion gets any more involved and derails the entire workout. They’re here for a reason. “Focus,” he orders, snatching Fish’s phone away and holding it out of his reach. “And find better music.”
“Are you jealous because Latvian rap is better than Russian rap?” Fish chirps, jumping unsuccessfully to try and intercept it when Iggy tosses his phone to Max, who clearly panics at the responsibility and flings it at Tanner.
Mikey cups his hands like a megaphone. “Turn it o-off.”
“Honest to god, though?” Tanner says, scrolling through the playlist. “It’s not not growing on me?”
“That’s what I’m saying, Mack,” Fish points at him, enthused, and Iggy bites back the bitchy comment that he was going to come out with, because Tanner’s joking with the guys, smiling, even, and that’s important. Iggy trying, just little things, getting Tanner to have more fun, to realize how much hockey means to him.
If that means Iggy has to finish his workout, and shower, and fucking penalty kill meeting to the not-so-dulcet tones of Latvian hip-hop, then, fine. That’s how it is.
“You good?” Cole from the coaching staff asks, when Iggy apparently doesn’t do a good job at hiding his wince as he gets out of his seat.
“Good.” Iggy says. He means it. Everything hurts, not just his knee, but hurting means he’s working, that what he’s trying to do is working. His team is happy, if a little unfocused, and he can’t really complain when they’re winning as much as they have been.
The Latvian song is still playing on a loop in his head as he opens the door back at his place, and that’s to the sound of more laughter, and to Anna and Riley stationed in the living room, where they’re apparently taking advantage of the day off, judging by their full glasses of something that, judging by the smell, contains ungodly amounts of both peach schnapps and vodka.
“Very classy,” Iggy teases, smiling in spite of himself.
“Either get drunk with us or go be uptight somewhere else,” Anna orders, imperious.
“I’m not uptight,” Iggy informs her, and, to demonstrate how not-uptight he is, he perches on the arm of the couch and beckons for her to pour him a glass as he switches to English, for Riley, “What’s this?”
Riley explains, “So the deal is for everything she says in English I need to attempt to respond in Russian, and when we mess up, we drink.”
“You agreed with this?” Iggy asks. Riley has the size advantage, but has clearly has never played a drinking game against a Russian before, let alone a Russian from a city with endless winters and not much else to keep people occupied. Absolute rookie move.
Riley thinks about it, taking the full glass from Anna to pass it to Iggy. “Da,” they say, very proud of themselves
“Bad accent,” Anna says. “Drink.”
“Bad- one syllable, really?” Riley asks, but sips from Iggy’s glass before moving to hand it over.
“One second,” Iggy says, grabbing the remote from the side table and switching on the TV, navigating down a couple of channels until he finds hockey. Leafs and Wings. Watchable, he decides.
“No hockey in our drinking game, come on,” Anna groans, but Riley’s already leaning forward on their knees, all eager.
“Y’know, I’ve been meaning to watch more out East, I was reading this great longform piece about quantifying divisional trends in play, it was really enlightening,”
“Detroit’s captain plays like a rat,” Iggy says, settling back to watch and trying his drink. He was right about the peach schnapps.
“You both are so boring,” Anna despairs, and takes a swig right from the bottle, even though no one corrected her; Iggy makes a face at her, and Riley breaks it up neatly before they have a chance to escalate.
“Oh, Anna, tell Iggy all the swears I taught you.”
So, sure. Swearing counts as practicing English, that works.
It’s a good evening. A good night, too, because the three of them finish the game and the bottle but stay hanging out as it gets dark outside, the rules of the game mostly forgotten since somewhere in the third period.
Iggy ends up sprawled out on the carpet, his head in Riley’s lap, Anna’s legs flung across his as she leans against the coffee table, gesturing far too enthusiastically considering she’s still holding a mostly full glass.
“You were not bad when you were kid,” she says, stubborn. “I don’t believe.”
“No, I’m serious!” Riley protests. They’re dragging a thumb back and forth over the scruff on Iggy’s chin as they talk, like they don’t even realize they’re doing it. They’re rambling too, also probably without realizing it, because drinking makes them talkative. “I had this one foster mom and I mean, she meant well, I think, but her whole thing was that I was always a troubled child. That’s exactly how she’d say it, ‘poor Riley’s such a troubled child’, ‘cause the gender of it all.” They tilt their head, thinking about it, then add, “and also my anarchy phase.”
“We got always ‘issues with behaving’,” Iggy offers, staring up at the ceiling. The light looks pretty. He loves his light. This whole place, his family, he loves.
“We deserved this,” Anna says through a huge yawn, distracting him from his pretty light. She’s not wrong.
“Why, what was your troubled child behavioural issue slash coping mechanism?” Riley asks, eager. “Unless it was like, arson, please don’t tell me if I’m dating an arsonist.”
Anna shakes her head. “We were always, ah,” she snaps her fingers a few times, looking for the words. “Get in fights.”
“With each other?”
“No, with everyone.”
Iggy leans his head into the fabric of Riley’s t-shirt, over their belly. He’s in too good of a mood to ruin it with thinking about the past in any level of detail. Only so many lessons you can try to derive from childhood bullying. Not to say- like, sure, he got beat up a lot, a combination of both him and Anna having big mouths and being bad at not using them, and of them being fairly easy targets, but he gave as good as he got, too. He had to, with some of the shit people said.
He doesn’t think any one back then actually knew he was gay or really even understood what being gay meant, it was just the sort of thing that got thrown around as an insult among kids where and when they were growing up, same as calling him poor. Just mean because they could be. Iggy figures that that maybe earned some brownie points for Kosta, in Anna’s eyes, because he stuck to regular insults instead of the homophobic kind. A fucking saint. Not that that stopped her-
Iggy finds himself smiling, unexpectedly, at the memory.
“You remember,” he asks, sitting up and scooting over so Riley can stretch their arm across his shoulders, shifting Anna’s legs into his lap, “Nyusha, you remember with Kosta and his friends-”
“Fuck off,” Anna says, clearly knowing immediately where the story’s heading, judging by how she jams a heel directly into Iggy’s gut.
“What’s this story, now?” Riley asks, looking between the two of them as Iggy gets his breath back.
“So her stupid boyfriend – not yet, you know, this is when we’re little, before they’re dating – he had these two, like, older friends, really bigger than us, and the biggest one, I said something bad to him, I don’t remember-”
“Because you always fucking talk too much!” Anna cuts in laughing, forgetting to cut him off when he starts talking about Kosta, and also to speak English, but Riley laughs along anyways at the look on her face, their eyes crinkled into a smile as Iggy continues, ramping up into the story.
“Shut up, listen, so I made him angry, okay?” he says. “And then he comes to me after school to, you know, to punch me around, that stuff. So we’re fighting, and Anna comes up close to yell at him, and Kosta is standing there useless the whole time, but now he tries to grab her-”
“To pull me out of the way-”
“-and she punches him right in his face,” Iggy finishes, triumphant. It was a highlight of his life. Perhaps still is?
“Oh my god, Anna!” Riley says, scandalized, but they’re laughing even as Anna protests.
“We were ten years old only, it was not bad!”
“She fucking broke his nose,” Iggy cackles, and even Anna can’t not smile at that, and he can feel Riley’s side shaking against him as they laugh; between that and the drinks and the frankly glorious memory of Kosta’s stunned face when he got fucked up by his worst enemy’s sister, Iggy feels like he could fly.
“He has still the-” Anna breaks off, switches to Russian to say “deviated septum”, which, fair, isn’t usually part of introductory English lessons, then switches back. “Like, he’s snoring so much, always, and I can’t even feel angry because I did this.”
“I was right,” Riley giggles, “I was right, you were terrible, just evil twins.”
“Yeah,” Iggy sighs, pleased, and leans on Riley’s shoulder, returns Anna’s smile. He doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to feeling this happy, the feeling like the bubble from summer, like nothing else in the world could bring him down.
It’s nearly two in the morning by the time Iggy shuts off the muted television and he and Riley leave Anna snoring on the couch – Riley puts a blanket over her, because Riley is the only nice one in this condo – and make their way, giggling at their pointless attempts to be quiet, to Iggy’s room. He’s drunk, a little, but the nice kind of drunk, the kind where he has enough presence of mind to lock his door before tugging Riley in close, settling back against the closed door and looping his arms around Riley’s waist. He bumps their noses together, gentle, or trying to be.
“Thank you for making her talk in English,” he says.
“I get roomfuls of angsty preteens who’d rather be doing literally anything else to do team-building sports activities,” Riley reminds him, smoothing their hands across Iggy’s chest. “And I drag soundbites out of non-verbal athletes post-loss, a snarky Russian is nothing.” They shrug a shoulder, their dimple appearing as their grin gets mischievous, their voice low and flirty. “Besides, I got practice with you, didn’t I, sweetheart?”
Iggy scoffs at that, at the ‘sweetheart’, because he is not a sweetheart, he’s pretty sure, but it just comes out incredibly, ridiculously fond. He loves the way Riley gets when they’re tipsy, because tipsy Riley is rambly and silly, their voice syrupy-slow and their accent stronger than usual, making Iggy really have to focus to parse the words. He wouldn’t care if he couldn’t, really, because tipsy Riley has eyes like pools for Iggy to get lost in, somehow more open and earnest than usual.
He walks Riley backwards into the room, slow, their legs bumping clumsily together as they go. He stays holding on, pressing his thumbs into Riley’s hipbones.
“She really cares about that boyfriend of hers, you know,” Riley tells him, eye-to-eye all serious, and Iggy groans.
“Not you also.”
“C’mon, now, don’t you think there’s something to be said for the benefit of time helping people change for the better?” Riley prods, playing with the collar of Iggy’s shirt. “I mean, look at how long we took.”
“How long you took,” Iggy says, because he’s grumpy and drunk but he’s not getting tricked into admitting defeat here, not a chance. “I knew.”
“Not before me, you didn’t.” Riley chucks him on the chin. “I was already pining by your second year, you remember that interview you did, with the-”
“I remember,” Iggy cuts them off, wincing. He had been heated after losing yet another game and hadn’t quite figured out the finer points of swearing in English. People were making ‘I fuck on the ice’ memes for months.
“I already liked you then,” Riley says, triumphant, and gets all moon-eyed as they say, “Then, and since, and now-”
Iggy kisses them quiet.
Riley sways into it, their eyes fluttering closed. They taste sweet. “Mm,” they hum, pleased, one hand finding its way to the back of Iggy’s neck; when they pull him in for another kiss, it’s slower, deeper, makes Iggy’s stomach leap so he feels drunker and crystal-clear sober both in the same instant. The world is middle-of-the-night silent around them. He likes Riley’s hands and mouth on him. He wants more of both, he decides.
He reaches up to grab Riley’s hand, tugging it down to the button of his pants, permission and a request all at once.
Riley opens their eyes, looking at Iggy appraisingly. “Yeah?” they ask, in a voice rough enough to make Iggy breathe out, fast and hard. He nods, and this time it’s his turn to close his eyes and sink into the kiss, to let Riley manoeuvre him into the room until the backs of his legs bump into the bed.
And, see: sex is the kind of thing Iggy’s always been impatient with. It wasn’t even a possibility, the first nineteen years of his life, what with the wholly nonexistent gay dating scene in the literal fucking Arctic Circle, and even now that it’s available to him it’s still not something he finds himself wanting all that often, because it’s like- it’s a lot to allow someone to see, good but also kind of inherently overwhelming, to be that much of a mess in front of another person.
He likes that Riley gets that. Likes that he can trust them to be careful without acting like they’re being careful, to lay him out and fill him up so that there’s no room for thinking, so that the always-there coil wound tight in Iggy’s chest unspools and leaves him as a sweaty mess.
He thinks: he’ll never get sick of touching Riley, probably. Of being allowed to touch them, to curl up after they’re done and press his lips to their neck, their collarbone, while Riley winds an arm around him. And that’s another thing Iggy’s never had much patience for – sex is sex, and once they’ve both come there are plenty of other more productive things to do than hanging around naked or, god forbid, cuddling – until Riley.
He sometimes thinks that maybe that’s the dividing line of his life, Until Riley. He wouldn’t recognize this as his life, that’s how much things have changed starting with that very first day.
Riley lifts up a little, eventually, and kisses Iggy’s temple. “Let me up, I’ll get you a washcloth,” they say, so Iggy does, rolling over and stretching out with a yawn, folding his arms behind his head to watch them head for the en suite.
“Wait,” he requests, and Riley spins to meet his eyes. He twirls a finger, gesturing for them to turn back around. “No, stay facing other way, I’m looking.” He so nearly makes it to the end of the sentence without smiling. Knows he made a good call with the flirting either way, because Riley snorts a laugh and tosses a pillow at him, then does this ridiculous faux-model walk to show off their ass – Iggy was joking, but he very much does enjoy the view – as they disappear into the bathroom.
Iggy lays back onto his pillow, smiling at his ceiling.
His muscles feel pleasantly achy, the way they do after a workout but with the soreness of the season replaced with something nicer, warmer right to the tips of his toes. He hates complacency as a rule, but right now, tonight, he thinks he can be forgiven for feeling content. He’s got his favourite person coming to sleep next to him, and in the morning he’ll get up and go for his run and make hungover breakfast for the two of them and for Anna and they’ll all make fun of her for being a sleepy drunk.
There’s no chance she leaves, not when things are so good here. Iggy’s got nearly everyone that matters to him close and taken care of, and a team that’s finally looking like it’s going to do something, and there’s no way Tanner retires if they go deep in the postseason.
There’s nothing quite like it, the feeling of things coming together, of a plan and hard work going right.
“Okay, here’s a good one: if you weren’t a hockey player, what would you do with your life?”
Iggy lets out a long breath, considering the question. He doesn’t see how this can be interesting to people, especially the people who follow Anna’s accounts. He agreed to it readily enough anyhow, when Anna asked: he’s got time to kill before the game tonight, and he already watched and rewatched the tape that the video coaches prepared.
“I’d be a coach, I guess. Or, I don’t know, go work with our grandfather.”
“I’m the exciting sibling,” Anna tells the camera. Iggy’s never quite managed to get used to her internet persona. Or- persona is a strong word, she’s still her, just, like, flawlessly made up and acting all friendly instead of with her normal sarcastic goblin personality. She changes her whole posture, when she’s on camera. Iggy will tease her about it later.
Anna’s nails click against the screen as she scrolls through the questions. “Ah, I like this one, would you ever consider posing for a real photoshoot with your sister?”
“No, I wouldn’t want to make her look bad,” Iggy says, straight-faced, and barely gets a glimpse of a bunch of laughing comments – some in English, which, kudos to Sharks fans, he doesn’t know what they can possibly be getting from two people speaking Russian – before Anna turns the phone to cut him out, all conspiratorial.
“It’s because he doesn’t know how to smile for pictures and he hates when people on the internet compare him to grumpy baby animals.”
“Sometimes grownup animals,” Iggy grumbles, then schools his face as Anna tugs him back into frame, just so no one will get any ideas about photoshopping his face onto angry kittens again. His resting face is infinitely more normal than if he was just smiling at everything all the time, and he refuses to change his mind on that.
Anna hums as she skims through the questions from people watching. “Who’s your favourite Russian player in the league, what’s it like playing with Christopher Chan- ugh, more hockey questions, guys, really?”
“Oh my god, they’re asking a hockey player hockey questions,” Iggy deadpans, slumping down more into the couch, comfy.
“Ooh, okay,” Anna completely ignores his complaining. Probably smart. “What do you miss most about living in Russia?”
Oh, god. “My family,” Iggy says. “Before you got here, obviously.”
“Other than me and mama.”
“Nothing,” he answers, no hesitation.
Anna lowers the phone just for long enough to glare at him and mouth seriously?. Iggy shrugs – she asked – then says, “Next question.”
It is, objectively, not a big deal. Potentially slightly unpatriotic, or whatever the fuck, but Anna’s certainly not going around waving any flags, and Iggy’s said worse. No one in their hometown is under any illusions that their city isn’t a cesspool.
Not a big deal. Anna’s holding herself a little differently after he says it anyways, like it’s bothering her. She’s incredibly transparent, if you know how to look.
It doesn’t come up until after they’re done the video. Anna says bye to all her fans and quits doing her perky nice voice, and they’re both just lounging around, Anna on her phone and Iggy with his eyes closed, toying with the idea of a pre-game nap, and then she asks, all casual, “You really don’t miss anything from home?”
“What would I miss, Nyusha?” Iggy asks – rhetorical, there is fully and objectively nothing from their past he wants back – and that should be that, any other time he thinks it would be, but this time Anna’s face does something weird.
She doesn’t say anything. Just looks down at her phone, where she’s been texting, and does this little smile at the screen. The kind of smile where it looks like it’s in spite of herself, because of whoever’s messaging her, and it’s late back in Russia, which means the only one awake is-
“Tell Kosta I said hi,” Iggy says. “Also to fuck himself.” He says it to provoke her, mostly, for fun, and to put them back into something comforting and normal. Anna would usually just tell him off, but now she just gives him this look, like- it’s weird, still, strangely piercing, one of those moments where she looks more like him than usual.
It’s always this subject that makes her act weird, ever since she got here. Iggy doesn’t like it.
“How come you won’t talk about him?” he asks. Not making fun of her, this time. “You usually never shut up, when we would video call.”
Anna chews her lip, glancing down at her phone again. “You’re going to be all stupid and protective.”
“Tell me, stupid,” Iggy needles, shoving his socked foot at her face, gently. “Tell me, tell me-”
“Oh my- fuck off,” Anna swats him away, and she laughs, but it’s obviously reluctant, still holding back.
“What?” Iggy asks, not sure if he should be worrying or not. If Kosta did anything to upset her-
Anna squeezes her eyes shut, tight, then opens them and meets Iggy’s, like she’s just made some decision. “He asked if I would marry him,” she says, in her pretend casual voice. Just says it, just like that. “While he was driving me to the airport.”
Iggy’s first reaction is to want to laugh. He doesn’t, it just- his sister got proposed to, and the idea of that is somehow very grown up, which is the most absurd thought he’s ever had, they’re twenty-seven. People get proposed to at twenty-seven all the time.
“What did you do?” he asks, forgetting to poke her with his foot again, and Anna skewers him with a look.
“What do you think, I got on my fucking plane here, I planned this trip for months.” She shoves his legs aside, gets up from the couch and heads for the kitchen, not looking at him in a way that feels very on purpose.
It finally makes sense now, Iggy thinks, the way she’s been all weird and secretive about texting with Kosta, not giving straight answers when Iggy asked about him. Iggy almost has to feel bad for the guy – he got overinvested and proposed, and Anna finally came to her senses, and now she’s sad about ending things with him, which is misguided but probably normal when you’ve been together as long as she and Kosta were.
Iggy trails into the kitchen after her; leans against the island and watches her pour herself a glass of water. He tries his best to look respectfully sympathetic instead of ‘I told you so’, which is a courtesy he wouldn’t normally afford to just anyone.
“Did you tell mama?” he asks, careful.
Anna shakes her head. She’s still watching him like she’s waiting for something.
“Okay,” Iggy says, nodding, going right to making a plan. “Then, you know, it’s fine, just tell her on the phone. She’ll bother you about breaking up, but by the time you get home-”
“Wait, what?” Anna cuts him off, brows all crunched together like she’s confused.
She’s staring at Iggy like he’s the slow one, here. “I didn’t break up with him,” she says.
Iggy frowns, because he knew Kosta was pathetic, but this is a lot, even for him. “You said no and left the country and he still wants to date you?”
“I didn’t say no,” Anna says.
Anna’s glass clinks against the countertop as she sets it down. It echoes, that’s how quiet the kitchen suddenly is.
He doesn’t know what to do, has never once in his life felt this blindsided. Nearly two whole months, Anna’s been here, living in the same place as him, and she didn’t tell him she’s apparently engaged to her trash boyfriend, as if they’ve ever not told each other every thought in their heads, let alone something like this. Iggy surprises himself with the sharpness of the betrayal he feels, realizing that, and doesn’t know whether to feel relieved or annoyed when it crystallizes into anger. He told her everything.
“He’s never going to leave that city, Nyusha,” is what he says, finally, because that’s what it comes down to, she can’t possibly be deluding herself otherwise.
Anna straightens up a little, the way she does when she’s bracing for a fight. “I like our city.”
Iggy laughs, humourless. “What, you like having no money and getting cancer working in a fucking mine-”
“I like being with my family and not having people look at me like I’m stupid because I can’t speak this fucking language,” Anna snaps, because she’s always been shit at being laughed at. “I like having people who don’t just like me because I’m pretty or popular online, I like living there-”
“Bullshit, we spent our whole life planning how to leave,” Iggy interrupts, flat, and Anna turns like she’s going to storm off, only to wheel on him again, her temper flaring up.
“This,” she says, gesturing like she wants to choke something. “This is why I didn’t want to fucking tell you about Kosta, you’re so condescending-”
“You’re sure it’s not because you were embarrassed?” Iggy talks over her, loud, because he knows that it’ll hit the way he wants it to; and it does, he thinks, because Anna’s eyes flash, only she doesn’t yell at him or shove him or insult him the way she normally would, just does this terrible, sawed-off laugh.
“We’re not good enough for you,” she says, like a realization, and Iggy rolls his eyes.
“When did I say that?”
“Uh, every day for the last ten years?” He opens his mouth to argue but Anna keeps going, “No, don’t start, I tell you I’m going to get married and you can’t even be happy for me!”
“’Have you met your fiancé? There’s not that much to be happy about-”
“You don’t even know him!”
“I know him,” Iggy says, spiteful, because fuck her for acting like this guy and his friends didn’t directly contribute to making their life hell for over a decade, just because she decides she suddenly wants to marry him.
“When we were children, people change-”
He cuts her off. “Not that much.”
“You have.” Anna practically spits the sentence, fucking- low hanging fruit there for her, and he can tell she’s satisfied saying it, that she thinks it’s some kind of gotcha, which- it’s not, it’s obviously not.
“Oh, fuck off, Anna,” Iggy tells her, a second too late. He feels wrongfooted by what she said, a low blow and- and a fucking stupid one, really, just because she’s insecure that he’s the one who’s actually done what they always planned-
“You fuck off, Iggy,” she retorts, and snarls his name like it’s an insult, every syllable just concentrated venom. “You try so hard to pretend like you’re this rich California person and you’re so ashamed of where you come from, it’s pathetic.”
Iggy sees red. “I’m pathetic?” he demands. “What do you do, you’re going to go be a trophy wife for some fucking nobody and sit in our stupid hometown and post pictures instead of doing anything you can actually be proud of-”
They’re both shouting, now. “Don’t talk to me about being proud, you spend your life trying to talk without an accent, you don’t even get on a plane in summer to visit the woman who raised us-”
“I send money, I call-” Anna scoffs, and Iggy wishes they were six years old again so he could hit her without it being unfair. “What, Anna, you want me to move my team to Russia?”
“Right, I forgot, because there are no hockey teams in Russia-”
“Don’t what, point out how much better than us you think you are-”
“Maybe I am!” Iggy shouts her down, furious, and he can’t tell if he means to switch to English, but he does, and he says, “Maybe you’re just jealous of me.”
He doesn’t even know if Anna knows ‘jealous’, but she understands that it’s English wielded like a weapon, something he has that she doesn’t, and it works the way Iggy intended, carving out the distance and difference between them into something gaping.
He hopes it hurt.
Anna slams the door to the guest bedroom hard enough that the paintings on the walls shake.
Good, Iggy thinks, spiteful, standing there alone in his kitchen. Fucking- she lies to him for weeks, acts like he’s somehow the one doing something wrong here, he hopes she’s mad at him, he hopes it hurt her feelings.
He puts her used glass in the sink before storming out to get ready for the game. She can mess up her own life if she wants, but fuck if he’s going to let her mess up this place, his place, too.
No one can say he doesn’t try to put it behind him, for the game.
It’s one of Iggy’s least favourite things in the world, the way it happens with such regularity: you could take the best team in the world, but put them up against a team in the middle of a tank every ounce of skill leaves them in favour of ugly, sloppy hockey.
His team isn’t the best team in the world. Not even close, apparently.
Last place. Not in their division, not in their conference, the Wild are last place in the entire fucking league, and for all that the Sharks get accomplished, they may as well be the fucking Russian Five.
Iggy got to the rink angry, ready to skate it off, to play hard and do what he came to do, but if he had any hopes of forgetting his fight with Anna with an engaging game, his team puts them to bed pretty decisively by the end of the first.
Neither team scores a single goal. Neither team comes particularly close, even, and it’s more of a coin flip than usual when Chris buries the winner after six rounds of the shootout.
Iggy doesn’t bother with high fives as he’s skating off the ice; doesn’t know he’s limping until Dr. Sanchez pulls him aside and he ends up on the trainer’s table with just about every trainer employed by the team fussing over his knee.
“It’s fine,” he grits out. Doesn’t allow himself to flinch when Dr. Sanchez touches where it’s swollen.
“We only cleared you to play with the understanding that you’d be communicative about any flare-ups,” she scolds. “Torn ligaments aren’t the kind of injury you can brute force-”
“My numbers look like I play injured?” Iggy challenges, and Dr. Sanchez can’t argue that – Iggy’s playing more minutes than anyone on the team, all situations, and he’s doing it well, he’s needed here – and can’t do more than make a disapproving sound as Iggy swings his legs off the table.
“I’m scheduling you for an MRI,” she informs him as he’s gathering up his skates and whatever other equipment he shed. “Tonight or tomorrow, up to you.”
“Not tonight,” Iggy says, curt, then stomps out of the office.
He stops stomping once he’s through the door. Dramatic emphasis hurts.
He doesn’t know what he’s thinking as he heads for the locker room. There’s too much competing for his attention, Anna apparently getting engaged, the shit she said to him, the way she didn’t even leave the guest room before he left for the game. He pushes everything else aside. The game, that’s priority one right now.
He won’t let his own shit derail the team. They’ve done a decent job of that themselves, tonight, but that’s what a captain’s for – Iggy takes a deep breath, forces himself to focus. He’s planning to, he doesn’t know what, say something inspiring, tell the guys to burn the tape and not to let this throw them off, except as he heads down the hall, ready to give a pep talk he doesn’t particularly want to give, he hears music coming from the room.
It’s a wall of noise that hits him as he enters the room, Fish’s ironic Latvian bullshit blasting, the guys singing along and chirping and celebrating, fucking celebrating after the worst game they’ve played all season.
Iggy doesn’t know why he bothers.
He doesn’t know the last time he was this angry, angry like something brittle, like he’s about to shatter into shrapnel. That’s the fucking problem with this sport, this league, is it’s for rich kids who’ve never been anything else but rich kids. They take things for granted, like mailing it in for a game and winning on a fluke is even remotely acceptable, like they’re not all one losing season away from getting sent down or bought out and losing everything he’s worked for, like anything here is permanent when it’s the furthest fucking thing-
“That was shit effort,” Iggy says, loud. Most of the guys turn to look at him, half of them still smiling mid-celly, like they expect him to join in. He doesn’t.
“You’re happy how we can’t score a goal against fucking Minnesota, you think this is good enough in the playoffs?” he demands, making eye contact with them all, one at a time. “No one inside here cares enough to try not to embarrass the other guys? This is not how this league works, we’re not in the fucking AHL.”
Max looks down at the floor at that, and even Andy looks as close to chastened as he can get. No one is smiling anymore.
“Iggs,” Tanner says, quiet, the only one brave enough to talk right now. “We won, you don’t have to-”
Iggy ignores him, turns on the guys again. “If this is how you’re going to show up for playing, next time don’t come, make your money and don’t waste everybody’s time to make us watch-”
“That’s enough, Iggy,” Tanner says, more firmly this time, with a hand on Iggy’s shoulder. He’s trying to defuse, the way he always is, and today, now, it grates on Iggy’s last nerve, because fuck, the hypocrisy-
“What you’re going to tell me, huh?” Iggy lashes back at him, shrugging Tanner’s hand away, forceful. “You don’t even want to be here with us; you’re going to tell me enough?”
The look of hurt only stays on Tanner’s face for a second, the briefest little glimpse before he visibly shuts down. It only serves to piss Iggy off more, tonight, because no one here knows how to fucking fight for anything, not even their own pride at being in this room.
“That’s it, you’re not going to argue, even?” he asks, landing somewhere between pathetic and furious.
“Not with that, no, I’m not,” Tanner says, bluntly enough that Iggy knows he really fucked up, and then he sits down and goes back to taking his skates off and doesn’t say a single other thing. Iggy feels like he lost the argument anyways.
The rest of the team is staring, wide-eyed and hushed, like mom and dad just had a fight in front of them, which- what the fuck ever, it’s not Iggy’s job to coddle them, all they’ve ever been is coddled.
Somehow, ridiculously, Chris is the one to speak up, glancing briefly between Iggy and Tanner before addressing the team. “We’ll, um,” he says, quietly enough that it wouldn’t be audible if the room wasn’t this silent. “We can figure it out at practice tomorrow.”
It’s the closest thing to a resolution that they’re going to get from anyone with a letter on their chest. Chris says it, looks at Iggy one more time, then goes over and sits next to Max, starts talking to him, quiet.
Iggy doesn’t want to look at any of them. He can’t look at any of them right now, or he’ll say something he’ll regret and god forbid he fucks up his team, not that they’d care, so he just leaves.
The stands are long since emptied out, maybe a few stragglers left in the cheap seats. No one Iggy cares about. He grabs one of his sticks from the rack, knots his skates and hops the boards, wincing at the weight after a full game.
The ice quality is shit, after three periods of NHL hockey, but Iggy’s had worse. He stations himself at one blue line, winds up, and claps a puck into the glass, hard enough that it quivers dangerously, and then he doesn’t stop.
The movement is robotic, familiar like breathing. He knows how to work, knows how to hurt for important things, and that’s what he does, shoots pucks until his arms are aching and his leg is throbbing and he’s sweating all over again. He doesn’t stop until he’s doubled over, utterly exhausted, and usually knowing that he’s done as much as he can can make him relax, as much as he ever does, but tonight it doesn’t, tonight ‘as much as he can’ isn’t fucking enough-
Iggy snaps his stick over his knee; throws the splinters as hard as he can into the far boards. That usually makes him feel better too, the recklessness of breaking something that he used to save for religiously, the knowledge that he has more waiting for him, that a two hundred dollar stick is nothing, he can do what he wants and everyone will chalk it up to him being passionate or fiery or some other vaguely xenophobic bullshit.
He looks at the broken pieces of his stick sitting there on the ice and he feels sick.
The echoic silence of the empty arena feels suffocating as he skates forward, crouches down and picks up the two snapped shards. He carries them with him off the ice, all the way to the now-deserted locker room, and shoves them into his bag.
He tastes blood, once he’s in the shower. Didn’t even realize he was biting down on his lip. He spits, and the oblong splatter of red on the tile is jarring before it gets rinsed down the drain.
It’s not something he does consciously, but once he’s got his suit on, instead of heading to his car, because the idea of going home and seeing his sister is unbearable right now, he goes upstairs, navigating the hallways until he comes to his and Riley’s spot. It’s been hours since the game, he knows Riley won’t be there, but he just needs to be somewhere that’s his, somewhere he can be a mess until he can get himself together again enough to be all the things he has to be. There’s too much he has to do, because he’s failing right now but he can’t- he won’t keep feeling like this, he needs to get his shit together and figure out a new plan the way he always does, and-
He shoves open the door, roughly, and stops in his tracks, because Riley’s sitting there among all the cleaning supplies, and they look up at him like they’ve been waiting.
Iggy knows he looks bad. Knows Riley can see that.
He thought he’d be alone.
“Why you’re-” Iggy swipes at his nose, rough; clears his throat and corrects his grammar, same as he spends his life doing, “Why are you here still?”
“I was waiting for you,” Riley says. “You weren’t in the room for press.” They stay where they’re sitting, without trying to come closer. They’re worried about him, that much is immediately obvious.
“You don’t have to wait,” Iggy says. Pointlessly, he knows – they wait for each other, him and Riley. That’s what they do.
“What happened?” Riley asks.
Iggy shrugs a shoulder. “Nothing,” he says. His voice almost even sounds convincing. “I had an argument with Anna. Nothing.”
Riley shifts over, wordlessly making room for Iggy to come sit next to them. Iggy drops his bag by the door and comes.
He squeezes his eyes closed, hard, when Riley lays a hand on his back. It’s a big gesture, for such a small one. Tethering, maybe, or maybe just there, not expecting anything from him. Calm, just like they always are. Iggy doesn’t know what the fuck that feels like.
He finds himself speaking without meaning to.
“I’m always, like-” He bites back his words, makes a concerted effort to make them come out less bitter, less ugly than they feel. He doesn’t even know what he’s going to say, but what comes out is, “Since my whole life, I’m always too poor or too gay or too angry, always angry, and I was, like- nothing else. That’s it, I’m just nothing.”
The words come out bitter anyways. Ugly.
“Only reason I’m not nothing now, the only reason, is because I get here and I changed it,” he goes on, the words spilling out now that he’s started. “I did this, I made things good for me, I made this, and it’s fucking hard, making my life good like this, you know?”
“I know,” Riley says, quiet. “You know I know.”
Anyone else, that would be bullshit. Iggy knows it’s not, from Riley – they hide it better than he does, or are better at forgetting about it, or just don’t feel things as ugly as him, but they know what it is to claw your way out of a place that’s suffocating you, to love a sport like a lifeline because it is one.
“I don’t want for it to be hard like that for my family,” Iggy says. “It doesn’t have to be fucking hard for them, but nothing I do is enough, they don’t listen. No one fucking listens to me, so what I’m supposed to do for them, huh?” he demands, and he was working his way to being angry again, but his voice breaks and then he’s just asking, plaintive. “Leave them there?”
He looks at Riley, helpless. Wants to choke on the pity he sees on their face.
“You think I’m wrong?” he asks, and Riley shakes their head.
Not pity. Sympathy.
“No,” they say. “No, I think…” They pause, their brow furrowed. Iggy breathes, in then out.
When Riley speaks, it’s plain, considered, like they always are. “I think that you’re a doer. That’s how you care, by doing, and it’s hard for you not to do, but sometimes that’s- that’s what it is.” They hold his gaze, speaking frankly. “People want different things, Stef. You can’t fix everything for everyone.”
“I want to,” Iggy says. He means it to be fierce, but it just comes out petulant.
Riley’s eyes soften. “And I adore that about you,” they say, rubbing a circle with the hand that’s on Iggy’s back. “It’s my favourite.”
“But,” Iggy says, because he knows it’s there.
“But,” Riley echoes.
Iggy looks down at the floor. He wishes-
He doesn’t wish Riley was less reasonable. They wouldn’t be Riley, then, and Iggy doesn’t know what he’d do without them, everything they are. He wishes he could be more like them, maybe that’s it; wishes that he could take their way of making things make sense and have it for himself.
He wishes he didn’t know that they’re right.
His knuckles are white, clenched in the fabric of his suit pants, crumpling it over his thigh. He forces himself to relax his fingers one by one, to smooth out the creases, because he’s not walking out of here in a wrinkled suit, he’s not going to look like someone who doesn’t belong here. He refuses not to belong here.
Their hallway is quiet around them. Iggy wonders, if they stay late enough, if the arena workers will shut off all the lights, if it’ll just end up him and Riley locked in here in the pitch black until the morning. It doesn’t sound that bad.
His voice comes out ragged around the lump in his throat. “I hate losing,” he says, and it’s true, but it’s not what he means to say, exactly. He tries. “I worry- always, I worry about losing this.”
He’s never said those words out loud before. Can’t remember a day they haven’t been in the back of his head, the driving force behind everything he does.
“We won’t,” Riley says. “You won’t.”
Iggy wets his lips, shakes his head, not at anything at all. “I broke my stick,” he admits, in such a small voice that he can hardly hear himself.
“It’s okay,” Riley says.
Iggy doesn’t so much hug Riley as slump over against them, his breath coming out in one big shaky exhale as Riley folds him into a hug, big and all-encompassing, rocks into it and doesn’t let go.
Iggy winds a hand into the barely-a-space between them, clutching a handful of Riley’s shirt. Riley doesn’t complain about crumpled fabric.
He doesn’t know how long Riley holds him there, like that. He hides his face in the crook of their neck, breathes them in, and-
He almost laughs. Not- nothing’s funny, not close, but bit by bit, Iggy starts breathing more normally, and once he’s doing that, it feels sort of like some kind of out-of-body experience. Like- this, from his fight with Anna to the absolute disaster of tonight’s game, is the worst he’s felt in months or maybe years, the most completely miserable his life has been in just as long, and that realization is objectively something almost hilarious, the fact that he’s even capable of feeling anything less than hysterically happy, here when he’s getting hugged by his partner at the arena where people pay him millions of dollars to play a game he’s one of the best at, and when he’s going to go home to a beautiful, warm home with as much food, as much anything as he could ever dream of.
To have reached a point where he’s even capable of feeling any kind of upset when his life is this good-
It’s not like it used to be, for him.
Iggy doesn’t think it’s really hit him, the magnitude of that, until right now. It feels like it takes his breath away all over again. He has this. Things went to shit and still he has this, he’s going to have this, this is his normal, now.
“I got you,” Riley repeats, steady. Not like the kind of thing that Iggy can lose.
For maybe the first time, for real, Iggy believes them.
His condo is quiet when he gets home. Mostly dark, too, this time of the night, but there’s light coming from down the hall, spilling out from where the bathroom door is partway open.
Riley offered for him to come sleep at their place for the night. Instead, he steels himself, then heads inside.
Iggy stops in the doorway, half in the light and half out. Anna’s sitting up on the marble countertop, in front of the mirror, her legs stretched across the sink. She looks over her shoulder at Iggy as he stands there.
“If you’re going to yell at me more you can save your breath,” she says, utterly normal.
“I’m not,” Iggy says, shoving his hands in his pockets.
“I made a dent in your guest bedroom wall,” Anna says, then, like she’s daring him to say something about it.
“What did you throw?” Iggy asks. Anna holds up her hand, wordlessly showing her scraped and swollen knuckles. They clash, completely and totally, with her perfectly manicured nails. It’s so much his sister that it makes Iggy’s chest ache.
“Move,” he requests, and Anna shifts her legs out of the way so he can pull himself up to sit on the other side of the counter. He stretches his legs out across the sink, conscious of the empty space under him.
He can only just see their reflections out of the corner of his eye. Their profiles still look the same, their noses jutting out at the sharp angle that Anna always used to complain about. Their grandfather used to tell them it came from his side of the family. Iggy never bothered looking it up to see if he was right.
He looks away from the mirror, at Anna, and she’s already looking back.
“This bathroom is bigger than our fucking room,” she says, clearly as much of an apology as she’s ever going to be willing to give. Iggy huffs a laugh, as much of an apology as he’ll ever give in return, and that’s settled, then, the matter of squaring up their fight the way a fight can only get squared up when you grew up with someone.
“Did you win your game?” Anna asks. Still strangely normal.
Iggy shrugs. “It was shit,” he says. “I’m tired.”
“You don’t look tired.”
“I talked to Riley,” he says, and only realizes after that that maybe doesn’t count as an explanation. Anna gets it anyways.
She leans her chin on her knees. “Every time you see them you get so happy,” she informs him, quiet and very matter-of-fact.
“No,” she says. “No, your smile is so big and stupid, you don’t even look like us anymore.”
“I’m still us,” Iggy says. It comes out kind of desperate.
“Yeah, me too,” Anna says, and they just look at each other, then.
It feels careful. They’re both being careful.
“I don’t know why you hate home so much,” Anna says, eventually. It’s a question.
“You hated it too,” Iggy says. “You always hated it, we talked about how to leave-”
“Yeah, and then you left,” Anna cuts him off, and Iggy nearly flinches at the edge in her voice, sudden and unexpected and sharp the way something can only get sharp with time, honed to a point. It’s not how she sounds when she’s trying to be mean, because he knows how that sounds. This sounds hurt, and Anna must realize that, because her voice is more normal, more dismissive, when she follows up, “Don’t look at me like that, you know you did.”
She’s not fair. “You could have come here with me,” Iggy says. “How many times did I tell you to leave-”
“I did leave,” Anna says. “By myself, I made my money, and I moved to a nicer neighbourhood, and I can travel when I want to; I left, same as you.”
“Not far enough.”
“I’m happy there,” she says, and Iggy has to struggle not to cut her off. “I feel like- you have this idea in your head, you think it’s like it was when we were little, but my work is there, people care about me there, the person I’m going to marry is there- Don’t roll your eyes at me, I’m not stupid.”
He didn’t mean to roll his eyes. “I don’t think you’re stupid.”
“Then stop acting like it.”
Iggy swallows the instinctive retort. He doesn’t think his sister is stupid. She’s maybe the smartest person he knows, usually. Too smart to not understand why he takes issue with her plans.
“I don’t want you to make a mistake,” is what he decides on saying. As delicately as he can, which apparently isn’t very, because she picks up his meaning immediately.
“You haven’t spoken to Kosta in almost ten years,” Anna says. “You don’t know who he is.”
Like hell he doesn’t. “He’s not nice.”
“We’re not nice,” Anna points out, and it’s true enough that Iggy can’t even argue it. “We were never nice, not to him either, think of the shit you’ve called him.”
That one, Iggy can fucking argue. “It isn’t-” He breaks off, forces himself to ignore the twinge of guilt in his gut. He fought back, he defended himself, and sure- sometimes Kosta was a bystander, but he sure as hell wasn’t an innocent one, and sometimes Iggy started it, but if he hadn’t Kosta or someone else would have, experience taught him that lesson and made sure he’ll never forget it. “It’s not the same,” he says, finally, because he’ll entertain this conversation, but only to a point.
“He never said any of the really terrible things to you,” Anna says. She doesn’t try to defend the other stuff. “I wouldn’t be with him if he had.”
“And what about his friends?” Iggy asks, his words clipped with the effort of restraining himself.
“He stopped talking to them a long time ago.”
“But they’re still there, Anna!” Iggy bursts out, frustrated. He doesn’t know how to make her see, can’t fathom how she can talk herself into caring about a place that never gave a shit about them. They’ve been talking at each other since she got here, and he still can’t get through. “You know how miserable we were, and everyone in the fucking city is still there-”
She cuts him off, impatient, entreating, “And we’re more successful than any of them now, we won, so why not-”
“Everything bad is still there-”
“I’m still there,” Anna argues. “Our life is there.”
“Not mine,” Iggy says, and it’s not- it shouldn’t be a surprise, not remotely close to one.
Anna looks surprised anyways, recoils just a little and doesn’t say anything at all.
She doesn’t get it, Iggy realizes. It sinks in him like a stone.
He left as soon as he got drafted to the NHL, has spent the intervening years leaving in every more decisive way he’s been able to find; and it’s shocking in a way he can’t explain to realize that Anna doesn’t get that, how constantly fucking terrified he was their entire childhood, like something in him was rotting away all the time he was there. It wasn’t the same for her. Isn’t.
At one point she was getting in trouble next to him and Iggy could know her thoughts blind, same as she knew his. He thought that, always. Doesn’t know when they turned into different people, two instead of two halves, where along the line they started belonging to things other than each other more than to each other, but he’s acutely conscious of it, now, and it aches.
It’s not like before, no one yelling this time. No fight left to have.
“I don’t want to leave you and mama,” Iggy says. “But I won’t ever live there again, Nyusha.” He holds her gaze. “I won’t.”
He thinks: that’s what it comes down to, in the end. That’s the choice.
Slowly, slowly, Anna tucks her legs back onto her own side of the counter. Iggy misses her more now, sitting two feet away from him, than he did all summer, all the last years.
They aren’t the kind of people for weepy moments, for wallowing: Iggy watches Anna sniff, wipe at her nose with her sleeve, and sit up straighter.
“But you can visit, right?” she asks, nearly businesslike. She doesn’t manage to make her voice sound light the way she’s clearly trying to, but she comes admirably close. “And I can visit here.”
She’s shaking her head even as he’s speaking, forceful. “We can visit whenever we want,” she insists, determinedly enough that her voice wavers. “Because of how much money we have now, you can visit even for a little while and I can come and see you and Riley all the time and we can do whatever we want and both be happy, okay?” Her voice catches. “So no one’s leaving anyone, Stefa, okay?”
He can’t remember the last time he’s seen his sister cry.
“Okay,” Iggy says, and if it’s not the truth, he wants it to be, so, so badly. “Okay,” he repeats, and Anna’s lip is wobbling like she’s trying desperately not to let it, so he hoists himself up over the gap of the sink, crawls over to her side of the counter and without letting himself be embarrassed, squishes her into his side, hangs on while she squeezes back, hugging so tightly that it hurts. They don’t fit properly, both crammed onto a too-small square of marble so Iggy’s legs hang off the side, the handle of the top drawer digging into his thigh.
He thinks: angry was easier than this, if being this happy means being this sad, too, means accepting that the best they get is being visitors in each other’s lives.
He’d make his choices again, all of them. He thinks Anna would too. It feels like a kind of grieving all the same, knowing that some things, twin beds and broken mirrors and nothing to lose and too many plans to count, can’t come back, that he wouldn’t want them back even if they could.
Angry was easier. Not better. He doesn’t do nostalgia; he knows it wasn’t better, not for either of them.
It was simpler, though, than this.
“I hate this,” Iggy announces to the living room at large. “I hate.”
Riley, who is currently the only other person in the living room, squeezes his knee, supportive. “I’m proud of you,” they offer, and only sound a little bit like they’re trying not to laugh.
“Yeah, you fucking should be,” Iggy grumbles, crossing his arms and bracing himself. The whole thing feels vaguely like the moments before a gunfight in a Western, drawn out tension, Iggy eyeing the door to the guest room for any sudden movements.
The thing no one tells you about emotional revelations and tentative truces with your twin at two in the morning is that once you’re done with all the emotions nonsense, instead of returning to a comfortable state of affectionately bullying each other, said twin will apparently get it in her head that ‘respecting each other’s choices’ means forcing you to talk to her new fiancé like some warped family reunion.
“They’re right in here,” Anna’s saying as she opens the door. Iggy tenses up without meaning to as she approaches, phone in hand. She’s wearing a ring on her fourth finger – fucking, sure, okay, that’s going to take some getting used to – which Iggy can’t help but notice as she shoves her phone into his face, like a postgame scrum except a billion, trillion times worse, because this one involves-
“Kosta, you remember Stefan,” Anna says, in her nice, breezy, extremely dangerous, ‘if either of you ruins this for me I’ll destroy you’ voice. “And this is his Riley.”
Iggy snakes an arm around Riley’s waist as she’s speaking, mostly instinctively; doesn’t know if he’s being protective or asking to be protected.
“Hello,” Kosta does this little nod at Riley, all polite, then looks at Iggy and switches to Russian. “Hi. Your face is still skinny.”
“Your face still looks like a nuclear accident,” Iggy snaps back before he can stop himself, irritation flaring up inside him like fire catching. Kosta scowls like the attempt to come up with a retort is straining his tiny caveman brain, and Iggy doesn’t even get to feel satisfied at that because Anna pinches the underside of his arm, hard. Riley, who pretty clearly has no idea what’s being said, because they’re a little beyond the scope of Conversational Russian 101, lays a hand on his thigh, silently reassuring.
Iggy lets out a breath.
Media. Treat it like media.
“Anna said you help with our grandmother,” he forces himself to say, dully, in his best dispassionate but not technically rude interview voice. “That’s good.”
Kosta nods, warily, like he thinks it’s a trap. “She shows me video from your games when we have tea,” he says. “You got stronger.” No fucking shit, Iggy got stronger since being a literal teenager, honestly, the idiocy-
“Look at you two being friends, see how easy that was?” Anna says, wedging herself into the non-space between Iggy and Riley and leaving them to adjust themselves around her.
“No,” Iggy says, stubborn, except Kosta says the same thing at the same time. They glare at each other.
“If you make her sad,” Iggy tells him flatly, “I have enough money to hire somebody to kill you. But I’ll do it myself and make it hurt.”
Anna leans her head on Iggy’s shoulder. “If he makes me sad,” she says, “I’ll help you.”
Kosta looks between the two of them. “You’re like demon twins from a horror movie, just terrible,” he says, but it comes out distinctly fond, obvious even over video.
“Yes, very happiness,” Riley agrees in their terrible Russian.
“Very, Riley, yes,” Anna grins, linking her arm with theirs, and even Kosta cracks a bemused smile, his eyes going soft when they land back on Anna. For a tiny, mostly nonexistent moment, he doesn’t look like Iggy’s sworn nemesis. Just like a person, pixelated at the edges of their call, crooked nose and deviated septum and all.
Iggy watches him watching Anna. Watches Anna watch him back. She’s doing her real smile, her dorky happy one, not her model one. The kind that has to be earned.
“Yeah, great,” he says, then, as much of an olive branch as he can muster, “What the fuck ring choice is this, though, Kosta, a princess cut? Really?”
“You’re just jealous because men’s rings are hideous and plain,” Anna argues without missing a single beat, and Iggy doesn’t think he’s imagining how relieved she looks. Bickering over diamonds is safe. Stupid, but safe. “Riley, tell him my ring is good.”
It’s not as terrible as Iggy expected, goading the others on while they bicker. He still thinks Anna can do better.
But it’s not terrible. For her, if this is what she wants, he can live with not terrible.
He can do this.
Montreal’s coach calls a timeout one goal down with two minutes left, and Iggy uses the time to catch his breath, because he knows he’ll be on the ice for the rest of the game. It’s a big two points. Every game is a big two points.
He lines up with Andy behind the forwards for the draw in their own zone, standard positioning against an extra attacker. Iggy was built for moments like this, he thinks, when his always-there stress is the kind of tension that allows him to make the right choice, to get his team wins.
The puck drops, and time moves differently – Chris loses the draw, and it’s enough of a scramble that the Canadiens can get the puck to the blue line to start the cycle, to pass it off to Iggy’s wing. Iggy slams the puck carrier into the boards shoulder-first, squeezes him out and reaches to clear the puck, but even with the check his man manages to get it off his stick, and by the time Iggy gets free the guy who took the pass is winding up just outside the crease, going nearside because Mikey’s already down and out in the net. A sure goal, or it would be, if Andy didn’t fling himself down, blocking the shot with his face.
The puck comes free and lands on Iggy’s stick, so he sends it blindly down the ice; knows it missed the empty net from the relieved roar of the Bell Centre, but he doesn’t bother skating for it as the refs’ whistles blow, skating over where Andy’s on his knees, one bloody hand over his mouth.
“You’re okay?” Iggy asks, loud to be heard over the crowd and the guys calling for the trainers. Andy never blocks shots.
Iggy’s expecting- he doesn’t know, whining, ‘what if I’m not pretty anymore’, that kind of bullshit, but instead, Andy grins at him, shows off the gap where his two front teeth used to be. He’s still somehow handsome. Dick. “Caring enough, right?” he says, All earnest.
Well. Iggy feels bad for calling him a dick, now. Like, he is one, by all standards, but- he willingly took a puck to the face to keep them in a tight game, and, weirder still, it’s not just him. Iggy watches his team, the last minute and a half of six-on-five, and every single guy on the ice is playing like they’re possessed, not a single hint of regular season fatigue about it.
They heard him. They listened. Iggy’s so fucking proud of his team.
Caring a lot feels like shit, sometimes, but it’s games like this that make him feel like it’s worth it, like they’re going somewhere and going to be something, together.
“This is a good fucking game,” he tells them back in the room, after, fired up, because it’s only fair, after the shit he gave them last time. “This team can do something, I know this.”
“Won it for you, Cap,” Andy hollers, and Iggy waves him off, but the rest of the guys are chiming in, agreeing.
“Just don’t yell at us again, ‘kay?”
“Aw, guys, look at him, he loves us.”
“You’re saying that so I’ll pay for drinks,” Iggy grumbles, instead of informing them that he does indeed love his boys, a lot, because he doesn’t want anyone to think he’s getting soft on them.
“You hear, he will buy,” Alex pipes up, waggling his eyebrows at Iggy.
“One round only,” Iggy says, and is promptly drowned out by both happy chirping and Latvian rap.
It’s... not not growing on him.
Montreal is covered in thick snow, more coming down as they pile into the bar, shedding coats and generally taking over the place as a herd of six foot tall guys, the way they tend to do anywhere they go as a group.
Iggy’s as good as his word: he gets the first round for everyone, lets Alex bully him in Russian for a while, then frees himself to look for his guys. He passes Max and Andy, who are squished into a booth with a menu open in front of them and an extremely confused-looking waitress standing by their table.
Iggy leans on the back of Tanner’s seat, steals a French fry from the plate he’s sharing with Chris and Fish. “What are they doing?” he asks, nodding over at Max and Andy.
“Trying to order in French, I think,” Chris says, while Fish rolls his eyes, all fond. Iggy scoffs. Can’t help but be at least a little proud, that his baby Russian made a friend without his help. Sure, that friend was Andy, but- it counts, still, probably.
He nudges Tanner. “Come help me carry drinks,” he requests. An excuse to talk privately, and probably an obvious one, but Tanner doesn’t call him out, just gets up and follows him to a spot at the end of the bar. Iggy’s still getting used to moving with the brace on his knee. He hates it on principle, but it’s the best compromise he could wrangle that wouldn’t make him sit out any games.
He can admit, just to himself, that he can feel the difference. He didn’t realize how used he got to living with the pain until he’s not anymore, which, he supposes, yeah, is kind of how pain works.
Tanner slides into the seat next to him, a little bit warily, which is fair. “Carrying drinks?” he asks.
Iggy waves him off, turns on his stool so they’re face to face. “I’m sorry,” he says. It’s not something that comes natural to him. Feels important, all the same.
“What?” Tanner looks genuinely confused. For someone who punches and gets punched as much as he does he’s about as good at being angry as a stuffed animal. “What for?”
“You don’t have to apologize to me,” Tanner says. “You get heated, it’s not-”
“Not for being hot,” Iggy waves him off. “For saying you don’t care. For not letting you talk with me about you retiring. It’s because I don’t want for you to go.” He picks at the edge of the bar, makes himself keep being honest. “I know you feel happy away from here. But I want you here still.” Then, because if he’s doing this, he might as well do it all the way, he reminds himself, firm, you’re safe, you won’t lose this, and adds, “Also I’m dating Riley from The Athletic for one year, almost. Don’t be weird.”
Tanner opens his mouth like he’s going to say something, then closes it, looks like he’s processing, which is probably fair. “Okay,” he says, after a moment. “Which part of that do you want me to respond to first?”
“Riley,” Iggy says. Selfishly, probably. It feels like something terrifying, opening up his one best thing to the rest of the world.
“Okay,” Tanner says again, slow. “Then congratulations, Iggs, that’s great.”
He sounds totally sincere, the way he usually does. Maybe a little careful, though, and that’s what tips Iggy off.
“…you know already?” he asks, then, when Tanner winces, “You know already. How?”
“I didn’t know,” Tanner says, but then, apologetically, “You get an extremely dopey smile on your face every single time they ask a question, bud. Literally, every time.”
Oh, god. Anna was right. He’s never, ever telling her that.
“Ugh,” Iggy says, faceplanting onto the bar rather than dealing with the humiliating reality that apparently he’s a lot less good at captainly stoicism than he thought. Maybe Riley was right too. Maybe he’s a sweetheart now. Gross.
Tanner pats his back. Sounds like he’s trying not to laugh, and he doesn’t, for which Iggy adores him. “Got it bad, huh?”
Iggy peels his face off of the bar top – he needs a sanitizer facial now – to meet Tanner’s eyes. “Yes.”
“That’s good, then,” Tanner says, simple as that, and then he shrugs, gets this shit-eating grin, “Could’ve gone for ESPN or something, but, y’know, The Athletic, kind of melodramatic but still okay-”
Iggy shoves him, hard enough that Tanner nearly teeters right off his barstool, but Iggy can’t stop smiling either. He thinks- it’ll never stop being terrifying, trusting the pieces of his life to the people in his life, but he’s getting better at it. He’ll keep getting better at it.
The bartender sets down his vodka soda and Tanner’s plain old soda in front of them. Same drinks they’ve been ordering since Tanner’s first year here, Iggy’s first as captain, when the team was a steaming pile of garbage. That’s another thing that’s gotten better. Not him and Tanner – they’ve never changed. Not through anything.
Stay, Iggy wants to order him, captain voice and everything, but this is a friends thing, not a hockey thing, so he sips his drink, just waits for Tanner to be ready to talk.
“It’s not that I don’t want to be here, y’know,” Tanner says. Slow, like he’s really putting thought into it. “I love this team, I know what I owe this team, I just-” He shakes his head, looks at Iggy straight-on, just frank. It makes him look younger. “I always wanted to be someone’s family more than I wanted to be a hockey player. More than any of this.” Tanner shrugs. “Even ten years ago, Iggy, I’d make that trade in a second.”
It still hurts to hear, a little. More than Iggy was expecting. He wouldn’t- it’s never occurred to him to want a future without hockey and everything that goes along with hockey, good and bad, involved. He doesn’t think it’s occurred to Riley either. He doesn’t understand how it even would, especially for someone like Tanner, playing pro since Iggy was a preschooler. But then-
It’s not his thing to understand, Iggy reminds himself.
He knows how good it is to have someone you love. That part, he can understand.
“Got it bad, huh?” he echoes, and it makes Tanner smile, ducking his head all bashful. Iggy kicks him, and Tanner kicks him back.
“Just because we won’t be teammates anymore doesn’t mean you won’t still be my friend, y’know?” Tanner says, and it makes Iggy’s heart feel warm, like glowing. Stupid embarrassing feelings.
“Best friend, old man,” he corrects, haughty on purpose.
“Best friend,” Tanner agrees, then, tilting his head, he adds, “unless you tell them to give my A to Andy next season, then I’ll sign a PTO just to come back and kick your ass, make Riley write that up.”
Iggy scoffs. “Fucking try,” he says, but glances over at where Andy’s still lisping at the waitress and adds, charitably, “He’s not bad, sometimes.”
Tanner raises an eyebrow. “How hard was that for you to say?”
“Never again,” Iggy says, because he’s already pushing his capacity for, like, emotional maturity and being the bigger person, these past few days. Then, because he’s never really been the type not to push himself past a few limits, “I will miss you. After this year.”
Tanner, who is generally better than Iggy at being the bigger person but is almost immeasurably worse at letting himself feel things, takes pity on the both of them. “I mean, fuck, I’m not gone yet,” he scolds, teasing. “Still gotta win me a cup, Cap, don’t wimp out now.” Which-
Not a chance.
“Our season,” Iggy declares, holding up his glass. Tanner touches it to his own, returns Iggy’s grin, because for this, at least, Iggy knows they’re on the same page, same as ever.
The kids look awed when Iggy leads them down the hall, past the stick racks and pictures of winning teams from the past.
“Is this really where your team skates?” Noah asks, reverent. He’s in a Sharks hoodie, brand new, courtesy of the team store.
“Yeah.” Iggy glances over his shoulder, offers him a grin. He can see Riley smiling from where they’re bringing up the rear of the drop-in group kids. “Pretty cool, right?”
“Are you going to skate with us?”
Iggy pats his brace. “I have to be gentle with this,” he says, pushing open the doors to the ice, stepping back so the kids can file in. “But I have help.”
“These kids better be as good at shinny as you said, Iggs,” Tanner calls, loud on purpose, before he and every other member of the team who showed up promptly gets swarmed by a herd of extremely excited children who are just now realizing they’re going to get to skate with an NHL team.
It’s organized chaos, the way things tend to be around kids: Iggy gets roped into lacing up what feels like hundreds of skates, and there’s music playing over the PA, the team PR people lurking around trying to get heartwarming photos. Not a particularly challenging task, today, what with Andy zooming around getting chased by some of the teens, Chris stickhandling all playful with the younger ones.
Iggy’s temporarily blinded by a bright flash; turns around to see Emmy in the row of seats behind him holding a camera, Anna crouched next to her, steadying her grip.
“This is good!” Anna says, encouraging. “We need better model than my brother, though.”
Iggy does not tell her to fuck herself, because they’re surrounded by children. He comes fairly close.
“He looks so surprised, like a baby animal!” Emmy laughs, and Anna beams.
“Very funny, brat,” Iggy tells her in Russian.
“I like her,” Anna tells him, all smug, and Iggy rolls his eyes, messes up her hair before continuing his lap around the ice.
She leaves in a couple of weeks. Iggy feels like she only just arrived, like she’s been here forever. He guesses- that’s something, for them, the ability to pick up where they left off. He’ll see her again. They’ll still be them. He’ll be too busy cleaning up the mess she’s made of his guest room to miss her, probably.
There’s one person he’s looking for, now, the same person he’s always looking for, and he finds them leaning along the boards by one of the team benches, watching the kids all contentedly. Knowing them, probably already thinking through a million new activities to make from this.
“This gets me an article, yes?” Iggy calls as he approaches.
“Mm, maybe even a podcast,” Riley plays along, turning just enough to open a space for him next to them.
Once he reaches them, Iggy hesitates, not sure if they’re being reporter and player or Iggy and Riley right now, with this many people around. Riley doesn’t hesitate – they scoot closer, still arguably professional, but enough that the length of their arm is pressed up against Iggy’s, that Iggy can brush his fingers against the sleeve of their jacket. His jacket. He hopes Riley keeps wearing it forever.
They watch the kids and Sharks skating around for a few moments, a companionable quiet, before Riley speaks.
“Thank you,” they say, simple. “For arranging this, Stef, you made their weeks. Their years.”
“You’re happy?” Iggy confirms, because that’s the point of everything. For some reason, the question makes Riley smile.
“Very happy, yeah.”
“Good.” Iggy says, decisive, and his mind’s already going, sketching out plans for how they can take this and make it better, maybe get some regular arrangement going between the team and the kids. “We can do this again. I’ll talk to management and they can know ways for me and the team to help the centre, like, more official. More help for you.” He pauses, doesn’t let himself get carried away. “If you want.”
“If I want,” Riley echoes, and their voice sounds like they want to laugh, this disbelieving look on their face.
Iggy nudges them, more curious than concerned, for now. “What?”
Riley looks out at the ice, then back at Iggy, and when they do, they look the closest Iggy’s seen them to overwhelmed and the furthest from calm, a couple of false starts before they manage to speak. “I never in my life thought I’d have someone like you,” they say. “Even when I started liking you way back, I never-”
They break off, and now they really do laugh, at themselves, it sounds like. “I never once thought I’d be this lucky,” they finish, and they sound nearly bewildered, utterly sincere in their surprise.
It surprises Iggy too – the ludicrous suggestion that he’s not the lucky one in their relationship, first thing, but also the novelty of realizing that this is just as big, just as unfathomable to Riley as it is to him. After everything, they made it here to each other, to the same place at the same time. Took them years to do anything about it, but- they’re here, together, and Iggy doesn’t have the words, not in either of his languages, to tell Riley what they are to him, but he tries anyways.
“My first day here,” he says.
Riley tilts their head. “Hm?”
“My first day I’m with the team,” Iggy clarifies. “We did media, then I go to Alex and asked who’s the reporter with the long hair and boring shirt, because they’re looking at me for their question instead of at the translator.” He catches Riley’s gaze. “And I thought, right that first day I knew you, just- nicest eyes I ever saw.”
He shrugs, casual, even though it’s not, really. “I loved you first, you see?”
It’s like watching the sun come out, seeing the realization dawn on Riley’s face that Iggy almost certainly just won their game – they laugh, incredulous, and their eyes are shining just for Iggy when they lean down and drop a kiss to his shoulder. They don’t even look to see if there are people paying attention to them. Iggy thinks it probably wouldn’t matter, right now: the rink is cold around them, but he feels like summer all the same, when he was all wrapped up in his bubble of him and Riley. It’s bigger now. More people in it, but Iggy can’t bring himself to worry. Things are different, and they’re good; and they’ll keep being different, and different again, but they’ll stay good, too.
Iggy hooks a finger through Riley’s belt loop, not enough to pull them to him, just to feel that they’re there. That they both are.
He exhales. Feels quiet. Steady where he’s standing.