Actions

Work Header

Looking Forward

Work Text:

There was a kid in Geno’s yard.

It happened sometimes. Not often; security at Geno’s place was good. But no matter how secure a property was there was always one kid who’d climb up a tree or scale a wall or sneak in via some mysterious and creative route that no adult ever managed to figure out.

When Geno spotted this particular young trespasser walking out of the trees and towards the house he sighed and went over to the patio doors. Kids who broke in on a bet or a dare tended to run when they saw him. The ones who were desperate to meet their hero sometimes stuck around, if their nerve didn’t break. This one didn’t run when Geno opened the doors, which suggested the latter category – or so it seemed, until Geno was close enough to see the kid clearly.

It was a boy, probably nine or ten, and he didn’t look like he was playing a game or hoping for an autograph. He looked pathetic, shifting from foot to foot, eyes too wide with just the suggestion of unshed tears. Something about his face made Geno’s heart go out to him.

“Hello. What you doing here?” Geno asked him.

All in a rush, but impeccably polite, the kid said, “I’m sorry to disturb you, but please may I use your phone to call my mom?”

“You lost?” said Geno.

The kid nodded unhappily. “I got turned around and I don’t know which way I came from.”

How on earth anyone could accidentally get lost inside his walled, gated yard Geno had no idea, but it was clear that the kid wanted to go home, so the first priority was to make that happen. Geno pulled his phone out of his pocket, unlocked it, and handed it over.

The kid took it, looked at it blankly for a moment, and then turned a puzzled face to Geno. “What is it?” he said.

Geno stared at him. “Is... Samsung?”

“Is it a phone? It doesn’t have any buttons.”

“Of course. Is touchscreen.”

“What?” the kid said.

Geno took it back from him. “You tell me number,” he said.

With an ease that suggested he’d been made to repeat the number until he had it irrevocably memorized, the kid rattled off a string of digits. Geno typed them in, pressed the call button, and waited for it to connect.

It didn’t. Instead, the phone calmly informed him that the number was not in service.

“Not work,” said Geno. “Tell again, maybe I type wrong.”

The kid repeated the number. It matched up exactly with what Geno had typed before.

“You sure is right?”

“Yes,” the kid said. He was beginning to look really worried. “Why isn’t it working?”

Geno pursed his lips. “Not sure,” he said. “You live in Sewickley? Have address?”

“In where?” said the kid.

“What part of Pittsburgh you live?”

The kid blinked at him, more bewildered than ever. “Pittsburgh? Like with the Penguins?”

“Of course with the Penguins,” said Geno. He frowned. Although he wasn’t good at recognizing different accents in English, now he thought about it the kid didn’t really sound like he came from Pittsburgh. “You don’t live here? Visiting?”

“I live somewhere near here,” the kid said, glancing around at Geno’s tree-filled yard and up at the house. “I don’t know where this house is, though. It’s really big.”

“So… live in Pittsburgh?” said Geno.

“No, I live here,” said the kid.

“This Pittsburgh,” said Geno, feeling like they were going in circles. “You live here, how you don’t live in Pittsburgh?”

“I don’t live in Pittsburgh,” the kid insisted. “What are you talking about? Pittsburgh’s in the United States.”

“Yes in United States. What country you think we in?”

“Canada!” the kid said, sounding frustrated to the point of tears. “We’re in Canada, and you’re teasing me.”

Geno winced. A horrible suspicion was forming in his mind. “This Pittsburgh,” he said. “You don’t know? Somebody bring you here? Somebody hurt you?”

“No!” the kid said. “I got turned around in the woods, that’s all. I don’t understand, I don’t know where my house is, I…” His voice cracked and he stuttered into silence as his tears spilled over and trickled down his cheeks.

Geno didn’t understand either, but he wasn’t about to show it in front of a crying child. “Is okay,” he said, trying for a comforting smile. “We fix everything soon. We find your parents, get you home. Nothing for worry.”

The kid made what looked like a vast effort and managed to stem his tears. He took a deep breath, going all serious and business-like. “You promise?” he asked, sounding as though he were asking Geno to shake on a merger.

“Promise,” said Geno firmly. “You call me Geno. What’s your name?”

“Sidney.”

Geno nodded, pleased. “Is good name. I have friend named Sidney. Best hockey player in world.”

Sidney wiped his eyes on his sleeve and looked up at Geno through his long dark eyelashes. “Yeah?” he said. “Better than Mario Lemieux?”

“Some people say.”

For the first time, Sidney cracked a smile. It was a very watery, small smile, but it was real. “I don’t think your friend can be better than Mario Lemieux,” he said.

“Huh,” Geno said, pretending to be offended. “You wrong. Sidney Crosby best.”

Sidney tilted his head. “Me?” he said.

“What you? Ah!” Geno laughed, gently so as not to hurt Sidney’s feelings. “Maybe one day you best hockey player. Now Sidney Crosby best.”

“But I’m Sidney Crosby,” said Sidney.

Geno stared at him. Really looked at him, taking in thick dark hair, hazel eyes and a very distinctive mouth. Oh. Oh. He knew this sort of thing happened. Plenty of stranger things had happened, some of them to him personally, but every time they did it struck him afresh that hockey was weird.

 

***

 

Geno didn’t expect Sid to pick up the phone. The only reason he was calling was to prove to himself that his theory was correct. He was deeply surprised, then, when Sid answered on the third ring, sounding his normal, unruffled, grownup self.

“Hey, G. How’s it going?”

“Sid,” said Geno, feeling a wave of quite ridiculous relief.

“What’s up? You want to come over?” said Sid.

“No!” said Geno emphatically. When Sid said come over in that tone he meant have sex, and even thinking about that was so inappropriate at the moment. He peeked through the doorway of the lounge, where little Sidney was sitting fidgeting with the fringe on a cushion and staring vaguely out of the window. Then he turned his attention back to the phone. “Sid, you okay?”

“I’m fine,” said Sid. “Why? Is something wrong?”

“Yes, wrong,” said Geno. “Thought you…” He stopped. English was hard when he had to work out how to say things like, I thought you’d been shrunk down to child-size and lost all your memories of ever playing hockey with me, and I was just calling to check that you weren’t going to pick up your phone before I called Mario in a panic, but here you are and now I’m very confused, in a clear enough way that Sid wouldn’t just assume he was getting his words mixed up again. “Like with Benn brothers last year,” he attempted. “They turn little... like children, and Jamie hide in locker room. I think it happen to you. But you normal? I have little boy here call himself Sidney Crosby, and he look…”

“Ohhh,” said Sid, in a tone of sudden understanding. “Shit. That’s now?”

“What now?”

Shit,” Sid said again, with a hint of laughter in his voice. “I’d forgotten. I hadn’t even thought about it in forever.”

“Sid! What?

“He was in your yard, right? And he asked to call his mom?”

“Yes,” said Geno. He frowned suspiciously at thin air. “How you know?”

“Because I did it. I remember doing it, meeting you. I wanted to tell you about it before, when you first came to America, but you didn’t speak any English, and you probably wouldn’t have believed me, and anyway I figured it’d be best if I didn’t, in case we had to, uh, preserve the timeline or something.”

“Preserve the timeline,” Geno repeated. He really hoped that didn’t mean what he thought it meant, but he’d seen Terminator and Back to the Future and a whole bunch of other movies that were suddenly horribly relevant to his real life.

“Yeah. Back when I was ten I got myself lost trying to come home from a teammate’s place on my own. I wandered around for ages. Eventually I came to a house. I figured I’d ask if I could call home, and this gigantic, terrifying Russian guy told me I was in Pittsburgh.” Sid paused. “Oh god. I cried, didn’t I? Fuck.”

“I don’t care if you cry. You travel in time?

“Yeah,” said Sid. “Hockey’s weird, eh?”

“Very weird,” Geno said wearily. He wiped his hand over his eyes and took another peek into the lounge at his small, tousle-haired problem. “Little boy version of you is sit on my couch, drink juice. What I do with him? You come get?”

“What?” said Sid, sounding utterly horrified. “No! I can’t meet him. Haven’t you ever seen a science fiction show? If you meet yourself you can change your past. It could cause a rift in space-time, or something.”

“This not fiction. Real. Is different, I tell you many times.”

“That doesn’t mean it won’t destroy the world,” said Sid huffily.

Geno refrained from saying that he was willing to take that chance if it meant getting the ten year old precursor to his captain-slash-fuckbuddy out of his house, preferably before young Sidney somehow realized that one day Geno was going to do very X-rated things to him.

“Besides,” Sid added, “I’d remember if I’d met myself, and I didn’t. I met you and Flower, and a couple of the other guys… I don’t know who. It was seventeen years ago, it’s all really fuzzy. I do remember that you took me to the grocery store and then taught me how to make pelmeni. That’s probably tonight. You should do that. Go to the store, make pelmeni.”

“Fuck pelmeni,” said Geno feelingly. “How long you in future?”

“I don’t know. Three days, maybe? Four? I stayed with you, at your house. You took care of me.”

“Is kid, Sid. I can’t care of him four days,” said Geno. He could feel his command of English slipping away from him. It often did when he was feeling completely out of his depth.

Sid paused. Geno could imagine the thoughtful way he was pressing his lips together. “Well, G, you’re going to, because you did. I was there.”

“This your answer for all question?” said Geno. “Is not fair. You say, ‘Geno, must take little Sidney to Disneyland and buy him all candy,’ because you remember it happen.”

“We didn’t go to Disneyland. Don’t try to take me to Disneyland. I wouldn’t like it.”

Geno groaned. “I know. You don’t like anything fun. Taylor tells often. When you young you make much fuss, many tantrums. Nothing is change.”

“I didn’t have tantrums,” Sid said. “And there’s no point threatening me with Disneyland; I know you don’t take me anywhere like that because you didn’t. Now, I’m going to call my mom.”

“What?” said Geno, giving up all hope of keeping track of the situation.

“I’m. Calling. My. Mom,” Sid repeated slowly, and hung up.

Geno stood there looking helplessly as his phone. Not for the first time, he thought that however weird hockey was, Sidney Crosby would always be weirder.

 

***

 

Luckily for everyone, Geno’s phone rang again not five minutes later. He glanced at the caller ID and picked up hurriedly. “Mrs Crosby?” he said, trying not to sound nervous. On the occasions he’d met Sid’s mother she'd always struck him as a trifle intimidating. Warm, yes. Caring, yes. But also the kind of person who didn't take shit from anyone. She had to be tough to be the parent of Sidney Crosby. Hockey players' families made sacrifices, and Sid's more than most.

“Hello Geno," she said briskly. "Could you put Sidney on the phone please?”

“Little Sidney?”

“Yes. Please.”

Geno went over to the couch. “Sidney? For you.” He demonstrated gripping the phone by its edges. “You hold like this. Not touch screen.”

Sidney lifted the phone to his ear, looking suspicious. “Hello?” he said cautiously. Then his face brightened as though he’d just stepped into a sunbeam. “Mom!”

Geno stepped away to allow mother and son a little privacy. He could follow the tone of Sidney’s half of the conversation, which ranged from happiness and relief to confusion and questioning, with a few tearful moments thrown in for good measure.

About two minutes later, an unpleasant artificial jangle made Geno jump. He was only peripherally aware that he even had a landline, and it took him a minute to work out where the noise was coming from. He located the phone on a side table in the hall.

“Hello?”

“Hey, G.”

“Sid,” said Geno, and yes, it was completely weird to be talking on the phone to Sid while Sidney was in the next room with Geno’s cell phone clutched to his ear, talking to… well, Sid’s mother. “What happen?”

“My mom’s explaining everything to me. That’s why I called her.”

Geno sighed. “Next time maybe you say what you plan before hang up. What she tell? What story?”

“Story?”

“Lie,” Geno amended. “What lie she tell to little Sidney?”

“She’s not going to lie.”

“Oh, sure,” said Geno sarcastically. “She say, Sidney, you in future, but no problem, back in few days?”

“Yeah.”

One of us is going crazy, and I don’t think it’s me,” said Geno in Russian. Sid had been making attempts at learning Russian recently, but luckily he was nowhere near good enough yet to translate Geno’s bitchy asides.

“Look, I know this is an imposition,” said Sid, “but it’s not for long, and my mom and I will fix things up as much as we can. You’ve just got to look out for me, and you always do that anyway.”

“Is different. Usually you don’t need diaper change.”

“Geno, I'm ten. Don't be a dick, eh? You just need to be nice to me. I remember talking to my mom on the phone, and I remember that you were really nice afterwards, and things weren’t so scary anymore.”

Geno couldn’t argue. That was the only thing that mattered, really. This little boy was Sid, right there in Geno's house, and he was young and scared and alone.

“I know you’re going to say yes,” said Sid, “but… are you mad about it?”

“Not mad. Is good, maybe. Teach little Sidney important things. Best pranks, best Russian swear. He need place to stay, of course I give.”

“Thanks. I really appreciate it,” Sid drawled, a hint of sarcasm overlaying genuine gratitude.

Out of the corner of his eye, Geno caught sight of Sidney standing patiently a few feet away, holding Geno’s phone. He looked like he was waiting for something – and of course, Geno thought, he wouldn’t interrupt while Geno was on the phone. That wouldn’t be polite.

“I go now, Sid,” he said.

He hung up and turned to Sidney. "You talk with mom?"

Sidney nodded. “She says it’s okay and I can stay with you a while,” he said nervously. “She wants to talk to you.” He held out the cell phone.

Geno steeled himself and took it. "Hello, Mrs Crosby."

"Hello Geno," she said, just as briskly as before, and launched into a detailed lecture on the care and feeding of Sidney Crosby.

“Bedtime is at eight thirty,” she said, as the torrent of instructions slowed down a little. “Don’t let him stay up later or he’ll be half asleep the next morning. I’ll call at eight to say goodnight. Understand?”

“Yes, Mrs Crosby,” said Geno, as he had at regular intervals for the past five minutes.

“Now, you’re going to need clean clothes for him for tomorrow – at least socks, underpants and a t-shirt. And pyjamas. You’d better buy them today. Wake him up at six; that’s when he needed to get up to have time to skate before school."

“He don't have school now,” said Geno hopefully. “I wake later, yes?”

“No. Routine is very important for children. He should eat oatmeal or eggs for breakfast. He likes his eggs over easy--”

“On toast with ketchup,” Geno finished for her. “I know how Sid like his eggs.”

She sighed. “You look after my boy, Geno.”

“Yes, Mrs Crosby.”

“Give him the phone again, please. I’d like to say goodbye to him.”

There were a few more sniffles from Sidney as he said goodbye to his mom, but afterwards he wiped his eyes surreptitiously on the back of his hand and turned to Geno with a look of determined calm.

“Your mom explain what happen?” Geno asked.

“I’m in the future?” said Sidney. He shrugged with the acceptance of someone who’d grown up surrounded by hockey players and all the oddities that came with the game. “She said it’s a hockey thing. Hockey things don’t have to make sense.”

Geno nodded in weary agreement. “Now we go to grocery store,” he said. “I show you how to make pelmeni.”

 

***

 

Not at all to Geno’s surprise, ten-year-old Sidney was incredibly particular about what he ate. Sid’s mom had made it very clear, and by the time they got to the grocery store Geno already had a stream of texts from Sid himself.

Don’t put onions in anything. Not even chopped small.

Milk with dinner.

Don’t get the juice with pulp.

Don’t cook anything with watery sauce. I didn’t like when it got on my plate.

Once they’d parked the car and Sidney had gone trotting off to pick up a shopping cart, Geno picked up his phone and snapped, “Sid, if you not stop text I turn off my phone. You want all perfect, you come look after yourself.”

Sid was quiet for a moment. Then, coldly, he said, “Fine, if you want me to be completely fucking miserable I’ll go right ahead and leave you to it.”

“Little Sidney right here to tell me what he like or don’t like.”

Sid snorted. “Yeah, good luck with that.”

Geno couldn’t begin to imagine what he’d need luck for. Even if his broken English got in the way, all he had to do was hold up whatever item it was and ask Sidney if he liked it or not.

Once Sidney came back, pushing a wobbling shopping cart, Geno guided him into the produce section and grabbed a couple of onions by way of proof. He held them up. “You like?”

Sidney ducked his head, looking down at his own hands wrapped around the handle of the cart. He didn’t answer.

“Sidney. You like?”

No response.

Feeling a little put-upon, but doing his best to stay calm and patient, Geno said, “I can make pelmeni with onion or no onion. Which you prefer?”

Sidney didn’t look up. “No onion, please,” he said. Geno couldn’t see his face, but the way he was hanging his head looked a lot like shame.

“Okay,” Geno said, quashing an odd sense of guilt. “Is good. We make good pelmeni, no onion. I don’t like either.”

“I’m fine with onions,” Sidney mumbled. “I don’t mind.”

Geno frowned. “Okay. Then we have onion.”

Sidney looked about ready to cry.

“Sidney.” Geno crouched down to look him in the face. “Sidney, we make pelmeni for you. Make just like you want. You don’t like onion, we not have.”

“I’m not fussy,” Sidney said with quiet, unhappy determination. It was perhaps the most blatant, gigantic lie Geno had heard in his entire life.

“But you don’t like onion, yes?”

“I’ll eat them. I will.”

Geno took a deep breath and counted to ten. He put the onions back, feeling out of his depth again. By this point in his life he was fairly expert at managing the adult Sid, but one of Sid’s good qualities was that he was never shy of speaking up about exactly what he wanted. He could make one hell of a fuss if something was upsetting him, but you certainly knew where you stood with him. At ten, it seemed, he’d been a whole different ballgame. The thought of coaxing unwilling opinions out of Sidney through all the fruits, vegetables, bread, meat, and presumably the t-shirts and underwear too, filled Geno with a sense of impending doom. He almost gave in and texted Sid back, but pride made him pause. He frowned, thought through what he knew, and decided he might as well try a pep talk. Sid sometimes needed pep talks.

“Sidney, your mom, she gives you what you like, yes?” he asked. “Even if fussy.”

Sidney gave a cautious nod, flushing slightly.

“Because she knows you and she loves you. Wants you to be happy.”

A shrug.

“When you grow up, we friends,” said Geno. “Teammates. I know big Sidney lots. Very fussy. Most fussy ever. Must eat sandwich before every game. Must be right peanut butter, right jelly.”

At that, Sidney looked about as miserable as Geno had yet seen him.

Geno crouched down again. “Is okay,” he said. “If right jelly make big Sidney happy, I want him to have. Is easy, you know? Easy to get right jelly, make Sidney happy, make me happy too. Easy to make pelmeni no onion. If no onion make you happy, I want you to have. Fussy is okay.”

Sidney’s hands clenched around the handle of the cart. “My mom says I’ll grow out of it,” he said.

“Some part you change. Now you eat onion. But still fussy.”

“I want to grow out of it. Everyone thinks I’m weird.”

Geno tried to keep his face straight. He couldn’t quite manage it, but he didn’t think Sidney noticed. “Hockey is weird, you know? Is my favorite thing. You weird little bit too. What matter? Is good. So, tell truth. You like onions, or not?”

Finally, Sidney looked up, a touch of defiance on his face. “Not.”

“Good,” said Geno, with a feeling of mingled relief and disbelief. Surely, he thought, it shouldn’t take that much effort to confirm that a kid didn’t like onions. “Good. Make me happy I can give you what you want.”

They worked their way around the store. Sidney was perfectly articulate in general, happy to ask a flood of questions as they went up and down the aisles, willing to talk about hockey in intense detail, and almost completely incapable of stating a preference about groceries. Whenever Geno found something new to put in the cart he held it up and asked, “You like?” Mostly he got nods. Often these were converted to headshakes when he pressed, “Is truth?” By the time they were nearly done Sidney was more open, wrinkling his nose at the things he didn’t like, and even offering an “Ew” or a “Gross” to make his position amply clear. Nonetheless, it ended up being the most exhausting grocery run Geno had ever undertaken.

As Sidney pushed their cart back to the car he continued peppering Geno with questions about his playing style, about his training regimen and his fitness and what drills worked best, about what Pittsburgh was like, and what were his favourite movies, about almost everything under the sun, with a few glaring exceptions.

“I’m surprise you don’t ask what happen in the future,” said Geno at a rare break in the flow. “You don’t want know if win Cup? Win trophy?”

Sidney bit his lip and shook his head. “You already said I’ll be the best hockey player in the world,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s really true, but I know I get to keep playing hockey. That’s what’s important. And I’m glad it’s here in Pittsburgh.” He frowned. “At least, some of it is. I don’t want to know anything else. It’s like… there’s no point in playing a game if you already know what the score will be before you step out on the ice.”

“Smart,” said Geno. He almost reached out to ruffle Sidney’s hair, then realized in time that it might not be appreciated. He held up his hand instead. “High five. Because smart.”

Sidney looked dubious, but he let go of the shopping cart and smacked Geno’s palm lightly with his own.

Geno grinned. “Yes. Now again, harder, because very smart.” He moved his hand up half a foot, and Sidney smacked it with a little more force. “Good. You reach?” Geno moved his hand up again. This time Sidney had to go up on tiptoes for the high five. For the next he had to jump. By that time he was giggling. Geno raised his hand again, well above head height this time, and Sidney took a little run up and leapt, his fingertips just brushing the edge of Geno’s hand. Geno laughed. “Nice job,” he said. “Smartest. Best! Now come, we go home.”

 

***

 

They made pelmeni. It was messy and time consuming, but Sidney seemed to enjoy himself. His pelmeni were crimped with characteristic perfectionism, and came out of the pot looking much neater than Geno’s attempts. Moreover, Sidney actually ate the pelmeni, hot and savoury, licking lemon juice and sour cream off his fingers. Geno felt like he’d just scored a hat trick.

“Aren’t you going to have any?” Sidney asked, after swallowing his last mouthful and conscientiously wiping his fingers on a piece of paper towel.

“I eat after workout,” said Geno. He hadn’t worked out at the rink that day, and had meant to go back later, but… well, he’d been otherwise engaged. After a stint on the bike he’d be starving. The plate of uncooked pelmeni was still piled high. Later he planned on devouring the kind of feast that would have Sid and the trainers glaring at him for a week.

Sidney’s face turned guilty at the mention of a workout. “I’ve hardly practiced at all today,” he said. “I should do some stick-handling drills.”

Geno managed not to roll his eyes. Sidney looked pretty much ready to collapse. He’d had a long, stressful day, and if he tried to put himself through a set of drills on top of that it would do more harm than good. Geno hesitated, then put one hand at his own head level and one at Sidney’s to demonstrate the two feet of difference between their heights. He hummed. “Yes, can do. I think my stick fit you.”

“Oh,” said Sidney, looking somewhere between disappointed and relieved.

Geno smiled at him. “Tomorrow we get you Sidney-size stick, you know? Then when I work out you practice stick-handling. Today we don’t have stick, so you watch TV.”

“I’ll be able to skate while I’m here, right? I need to do drills on the ice too.”

“Of course skate. Tomorrow is free day, we buy gear for you and I take you skate. Next day is practice, but we skate after.”

“I get to watch the team practice?”

Geno shook his head regretfully. “You don't come to practice. Big Sidney there.”

Sidney’s face fell. “But… why does that mean I can’t go?”

“Sid tell me, ‘I don’t meet little Sidney because we must… must preserve the timeline.’”

“Ohh,” said Sidney. “For sure. That’s sensible of me, eh? Otherwise we could destroy the world. I wish I could see a practice though. I want to see how the team plays.”

Geno nudged him. “Don’t want. Spoil surprise.”

Sidney gave a shy giggle. “I guess.”

Once Sidney was settled in front of the TV, looking ridiculously small in one of Geno’s vast leather chairs, Geno went upstairs and hopped on the bike. He got in a good stint before his phone rang; eight o’clock on the dot, and Trina Crosby on the caller ID.

By the time he was halfway downstairs he could hear the commentary on a hockey game, which meant Sidney had figured out how to change the channel despite being seventeen years behind the times and notoriously terrible with technology. Instead of the child-friendly show Geno had found for him, he was watching the Rangers play the Leafs. His knees were tucked up under him and he was leaning forward with avid interest. Geno strode into the room and flicked the TV off. “You not watch game. Too much know future. Also end too late. Speak with mom, then is time for bed.”

Sidney looked chastened and a little sulky as he held out his hand for the phone, but by the time he’d said hello to his mom he was smiling again. He gave her a run-down on how much he liked pelmeni, how big Geno’s house was, how it had its own movie theatre, and how Geno was going to take him skating tomorrow. He sounded altogether cheerful. Geno, while he admitted he wasn’t an expert in childcare, congratulated himself on his success. He was even more pleased with himself once Sidney was tucked up in bed, face clean and teeth brushed, not very much past eight thirty.

Job done, he thought, and went back to the exercise bike.

 

***

 

Usually as he pedalled he listened to music, or Russian podcasts, or occasionally something in English as a pretense that he was still putting effort into improving his language skills. This time, he put his music on, but found himself tuning it out completely. Instead, he thought about Sid.

It wasn’t new, this thing between them. They’d been hooking up for… well, since the Cup. Back then it had been only occasionally, but it had become more frequent over the years, until it became a way to celebrate particularly amazing wins or commiserate over particularly shitty losses. And then - Geno didn’t quite know when - it had become just a thing they did whenever they wanted to. They’d get together, hang out, have a good time, make each other breakfast, and then head to practice. It was completely uncomplicated.

Sid was good at uncomplicated. He liked to keep his distance, keep his walls up, just a little. It left him free to concentrate on hockey. And that was fine. To Geno, Sid was first and foremost his captain. Secondly, they were friends. Whatever thing it was that ended up with them in bed together was lower down than either of those. It didn’t endanger what was really important.

Geno liked uncomplicated. He’d had complicated relationships woven in between his times with Sid, and when they inevitably ended they always left him weary and dispirited. With Sid, even if they stopped hooking up, they were both Penguins for life. Sid would always be Geno’s captain.

 

***

 

An hour later Geno had finished his workout, showered, and was heading down for his pelmeni feast. As he passed the guest room where Sidney was sleeping he paused. There were noises coming from behind the closed door, muffled but recognisable as the sound of a child crying and trying not to be heard.

“Sidney?” Geno called. He tapped on the door and pushed it open. Sidney was lying on top of the covers, curled into a tight ball. His small body was shaking. Geno sat hastily down next to him and laid a hand on his shoulder, trying to coax him to uncurl. “Sidney, what wrong?”

Sidney turned an utterly woebegone face to Geno. His mouth twisted and trembled.

“You sick? Scared? Miss your mom? You want we call again?”

Sidney shook his head. He buried his face in his arms, breathing in tiny, stifled sobs.

“Sidney, you need tell me what wrong so I can fix.”

“No,” Sidney snuffled against the barrier of his arms. “You’ll laugh at me.”

Geno was fairly sure no decent human being could laugh at a crying child, and he personally would never laugh at a crying Sidney Crosby. “I promise I don't laugh.”

Sidney raised his head again. His face was blotchy and his eyes were swollen and red. He looked at Geno distrustfully, opened his mouth to speak, closed it again, and swallowed hard.

“We friends,” Geno tried. “You can tell me anything. I don't laugh at you.”

Sidney looked down at his clenched hands. “You can’t tell anyone else.”

“Promise.”

“I need… I need my blanket.”

Geno blinked. “Blanket?” he said. Surely ten-year-olds should have grown out of comfort blankets, but he couldn’t think of any other way to interpret that statement. “You need blanket for sleep? Special blanket?”

Sidney nodded. He mopped at his eyes with the hem of his pyjama shirt. “It’s really dumb,” he said brokenly. “I just can’t help it.”

“Not dumb,” said Geno. “Hard to sleep in strange place. I bring you glass of milk, sit with you a while, maybe read story. Is okay.”

Sidney shook his head. “It's not okay. I don’t need stories or milk, I need my blanket.”

“We don't have your blanket here.”

“I know,” said Sidney. Then, in a tiny whisper, “Geno, I want to go home.” Tears trickled down his cheeks. He wiped them with his sleeve but they just kept coming. He turned away from Geno and buried his face in his arms again.

There seemed to be no solution. Sidney wanted only one thing. If he was anything like Sid was now, nothing else would do - not a treat or a hug or a talk with his mom. And it was a thing Geno couldn’t give him. Geno swore under his breath and got to his feet. “I make phone call,” he said. “Back soon.”

He stepped out into the hall and hit his top contact. Sid, thank god, picked up almost immediately with his usual, “Hey, G.”

Geno didn’t bother with a hello. “He don’t sleep without favorite blanket,” he said.

“Shit,” said Sid. “I should have remembered that.”

“What we do? He cry and cry.”

“Oh god,” said Sid, sounding mortified. “You’re not seeing me at my best, G. I swear, I didn’t usually act like that. It’s just I was staying with a total stranger and my mom was thousands of miles away, and I didn’t have any of my stuff.”

“Sid! I understand, you don’t need excuse. What we do?”

“We give me the blanket,” said Sid.

“Give you…? How? You have blanket?”

“Yeah, I do. I can’t sleep without it.”

Geno paused, baffled. “I see you sleep many times without blanket.”

“I don’t need to have it in bed with me. It’s in my closet. I have a picture of it on my phone for when I’m at your place or on road trips. I guess I’ll cope with just the picture for a few days.” He sounded disconsolate but resigned. “I’ll bring it over. Don’t let me see myself, though.”

“I know, I know, must protect timeline.”

“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes,” said Sid, and hung up.

Geno stood for a moment, staring at his phone, hearing that disconsolate note in Sid’s voice again. Sidney Crosby, a grown man who didn’t want to sleep without his comfort blanket in his closet. Well, at least he no longer threw an absolute fit if he couldn’t.

Back in the spare room, Sidney was sipping the glass of water Geno had left on the nightstand. He’d found Kleenex too, but he still looked a mess, forlorn and miserable.

“Is OK, Sidney,” Geno told him. “We get blanket.”

“It has to be my blanket.”

“Is your blanket. Older Sidney still have blanket. He bring for you. You stay upstairs, don’t see him, but he bring.”

Sidney raised his tearstained face. “Yeah?” he said, shaky and hopeful.

“Promise. Very soon.” Geno sat down on the bed and held out his arms. So far Sidney had seemed almost as averse to casual touch as the grown-up Sid, but he scooched over into Geno’s embrace and let himself be hugged while he calmed down. He was still plastered up against Geno’s side, talking seriously about his last hockey game, when the doorbell rang.

Sid was standing on the doorstep. He looked so normal and familiar, so together. It was hard to grasp that the Pens’ dedicated, self-contained captain was the same person who had just been crying his ten-year-old heart out in Geno’s guest room.

“Ta-dah,” said Sid, holding up a small, tattered bundle of red and blue fabric. It was barely a blanket. It looked like it would unfold to not much more than the size of a dish towel.

“Sid, why you never tell me about this?” said Geno. It had been bothering him all the time he’d been hugging Sidney. “Is okay you tell me, you know. I don’t care you weird.”

Sid quirked his mouth into a half-smile. “I know you don’t. It’s just not something I think about. I’ve got it covered, with the photo on my phone and all. It’s low priority.”

Geno frowned to himself. The inside of Sid’s head was a worrying place, sometimes. “Your mom not say either. She tells every little thing about look after Sidney, but not say need blanket for sleep.”

Sid shrugged. “She didn’t know. We went through this whole thing just before Taylor was born, where she and my dad decided I was too old for it. They packed it away, and I said I was fine without it. And then I got it out again and hid it in my room. I used to sneak it into my bag when we went away for trips.”

Geno… well, he really didn’t know how to react to that. It was a relief when he caught the glimpse of a logo on the fabric bundle, and abruptly had something else to focus on. He raised his eyebrows. “Habs blanket?”

“What? It was my dad’s team.”

“No. Not allowed bring that thing in my house.”

Sid flushed. “Shut up.” He pushed the blanket into Geno’s hands. “Don’t lose it.”

“Is magic blanket, I don’t lose.” Geno sniggered. “Magic Habs blanket.”

Sid flipped him off and went back to his car.

Geno closed the door and unfolded the blanket. It looked like part of a hockey jersey, cut into a square and trimmed all the way around with soft red fabric. It was ragged and faded, and Geno could only hope that it was reasonably clean.

He made a face at it and took it upstairs.

Sidney was sitting on his bed when Geno walked in, looking utterly exhausted but much steadier than he had been earlier. “Did you get it?” he asked.

“Yes. Here. Is OK?”

Sidney took it and ran curious fingers over the trim, tilting his head as he examined it. “It looks really old,” he said.

Geno tensed. If the tattered version of the blanket wasn’t good enough for Sidney they were basically fucked. But Sidney snuggled down under the covers, one hand holding the corner of the blanket tucked up under his chin. “I’m sorry I got upset, Geno,” he said. “I won’t do it again.”

“Get upset is okay. But next time you tell me, instead of be sad all alone. Whatever problem, I fix. Yes?”

“Yes,” Sidney repeated seriously. “Thank you for not laughing.”

“You’re welcome,” said Geno. “Much welcome. You okay for sleep now?”

“Yeah.”

“Goodnight.”

“Night,” Sidney mumbled, soft and sleepy and content.

Geno breathed a quiet sigh of relief and headed for the door.

 

***

 

Because you didn’t fuck around with Trina Crosby, Geno had obediently set his alarm for six. When he dragged himself out of bed Sidney was still passed out cold, which wasn’t surprising; what with the whole blanket debacle he hadn’t got to sleep until after ten. Geno decided to give him another hour or two. He showered, ate a quick pre-breakfast snack, and then, just to be a dick, picked up his phone to call Sid. If Geno had to be up at this ungodly hour, Sid would have to as well.

“Hey G,” Sid said cheerily, and yes, of course he was already awake. “I called Flower just now.”

Geno rolled his eyes. “Mean captain. Not good for call Flower 6:30 in morning.” He could imagine Flower’s first reaction to being woken up so early. What he couldn’t imagine, though, was how Flower had reacted to being told that a tiny, time-travelling Sidney Crosby had descended on them unannounced.

“He understood once I explained,” said Sid, sounding slightly offended. “I think he’s interested to meet me. He’s going to come skate with you and me later.”

“You and me?” said Geno.

“You and little me,” Sid amended. “And I found a store you can go to for hockey gear. It’s where Duper goes with his kids. The owner’s willing to delay opening to the public today, so you can take me in first to pick stuff out.

“You call Duper this morning too?”

“Don’t be stupid,” said Sid, which really didn’t answer the question. “You can go in at nine, he’ll be expecting you.”

“You arrange everything?”

“Well… yeah,” said Sid. “This isn’t really your problem. I have to take responsibility for myself.”

“Responsibility? I’m one who dry tears last night. Not you.”

“I couldn’t help crying,” Sid said defensively. “Time travel sucked. There was nobody who knew me and my routines. I was all on my own.”

“Not on your own. I here, I help with routines, I do anything, but little Sidney… ” Geno huffed in frustration. “He not talk, Sid. Not tell what like to eat, not come tell when sad about blanket. Maybe many thing I don’t know. Impossible!”

“I had a few trust issues back then.”

“Why?”

There was a pause, then a small sigh from Sid. “Things were tough, sometimes,” he said. “When I was that age it seemed like the only people in the world who didn’t hate me or ignore me were my parents and my coach, and my coach only liked me because of my hockey. Nobody else would have pissed on me if I was on fire.”

“Not true.”

“I know that now. But it meant I didn’t like talking about my… fussiness. Everyone thought I was weird enough already. I wasn’t going to go around telling total strangers that… you know, that I only liked to sit on the left hand side of buses, and all that kind of thing. I found ways around it, mostly. Like, if I made sure I got on the bus first when we went to away games, nobody noticed.”

Geno frowned. “You talk now. Hard to shut you up, sometimes. What change?”

“It started affecting my hockey,” said Sid simply. “By high school I figured I’d rather be a freak who played good hockey than fake being normal and not live up to my potential. So I started making a hell of a fuss about all my superstitions and routines. After a while people were okay with it. I was winning. That’s what they cared about. I was Sid the freak, but I was winning, and I didn’t have to worry the whole time. I just had to say what I wanted. Things were better after that.” He huffed a gentle laugh and changed the subject. “Have you got a pen? I’ll give you the address of that store.”

 

***

 

They went to the store after breakfast. Sidney was trying hard not to look overwhelmed by the concept of being bought a whole set of brand new equipment all at once. His expression alternated between excitement and trepidation. As they got to the door of the store he hesitated. “Geno, all that stuff will be really expensive,” he said, as though he was worried Geno might not have realized how much hockey gear cost.

“Money not a problem. You pick whatever you want. Don’t worry.”

“But I won’t even be here long, and I don’t think I can take it home with me.”

“When you go, I find kid who love hockey but can’t afford nice hockey gear. I give to them. Is okay?”

Sidney’s smile lit up his face. “Yeah, that would be really good.”

He was practically bouncing with enthusiasm as they went into the store, though he became instantly more subdued when an imposing grey-haired man came out from behind the cash desk.

“Mr. Malkin,” the man said, shaking Geno’s hand warmly. “It’s great to see you.” He crouched down to Sidney’s level. “And who have we here? Hi, buddy. I’m Tom. Tom Kandinsky. This is my store.”

Sidney looked at Tom Kandinsky’s outstretched hand as though it was going to bite him, but after a moment he took it politely. “Hello Mr Kandinsky,” he said. “I’m Sidney Crosby.”

“Sidney Crosby?” said Tom, raising his eyebrows.

“Uh,” Sidney said, and then clamped his mouth shut and looked up at Geno, worry and guilt on his face.

“We play game,” said Geno hastily. “Today he Sidney Crosby. Tomorrow maybe Wayne Gretzky.”

Sidney exhaled, relieved, and turned back to Tom, plastering on a reasonably convincing smile. “Tomorrow I’ll be Mario Lemieux,” he said. “He’s the best ever.”

Tom chuckled. “You’ve got good taste, Mr Crosby. So, how can I help you fellas today?”

“Sidney need skates, stick, helmet, gloves. Everything.”

“Well that’s just great. Come this way, we’ll see what we can do for you.”

Although Sidney wouldn’t state a preference on groceries with a gun to his head, he had no problem giving his very definite opinions on hockey gear. Here, he was in his element. Under Tom’s eye he tried on several pairs of skates and played with sticks until he found one he was happy with, brow furrowed in concentrated consideration.

“One more thing,” said Tom, once Sidney had meticulously picked out his pads and his helmet and other bits and pieces. He made his way down a couple of rows, and returned with a jersey in the Pens colors. “How about this one, Mr Crosby?”

Sidney drew in his breath. His eyes were wide and reverent as he reached out a tentative hand to touch the number 87. His gaze flicked up to Geno, and then back to the jersey, as though he could hardly bear to look away.

Tom was watching with a fatherly smile. “I’ll put this with the rest then,” he said, obviously knowing a sure sale when he saw it.

Sidney drew back his hand sharply. “No,” he said.

Tom looked startled.

Sidney bit his lip, and mustered up an expression so earnestly polite that it should have been on a Canadian poster somewhere – not that his face hadn’t made it onto a fair few Canadian posters in its time. “No thank you. Do you have a Malkin jersey, please?”

“We sure do. But aren’t you Crosby today?”

“That’s just a game.” He turned to Geno. “If I’m allowed a new jersey, please may I have a Malkin one?”

Geno raised his eyebrows, but he gave the Tom a nod to fetch the replacement jersey. “You sure?” he murmured to Sidney, once Tom was out of earshot.

“Yes. I’ll wait for the Crosby one until I can get it on my own.”

Geno snorted. “How old are you?”

“Ten,” said Sidney, puzzled.

“Really? Not hundred and ten?”

Sidney gave Geno an unimpressed look. “I’m going to deserve that jersey. I’m not going to get it for something I haven’t done yet.” He scuffed at the ground with the toe of his sneaker. Then, with a hint of reassuringly ten-year-old whine in his voice, he asked, “Are we going to go skate soon?”

Geno caught sight of Tom coming back to the desk, 71 jersey in hand. He chuckled and reached for his wallet. “Patient, Sidney. We go now.”

 

***

 

Sidney insisted on carrying his new hockey gear himself. He traipsed gamely into Consol, laden down with bulky bags. Geno walked slowly next to him, amused. “Sure I don’t take?” he said, for perhaps the third time.

“I’m fine,” said Sidney. “I can carry my own gear.”

“New idea. You carry bags, I carry you.”

“No,” said Sidney, with an irritated huff.

“Why no? I can do with one hand.”

“You can not.”

“Can. I’m most strong, I show you.”

Sidney eyed him warily. He poised on the balls of his feet, ready to dodge should Geno try to make good on the threat.

“No way you run, Sidney. Too many bags. You put bags down, maybe I not catch.”

“I’m not putting them down. I can carry them,” said Sidney, so full of annoyance and determination that Geno could barely hide his laughter.

“Okay, okay, you carry. You carry bags good. You next most strong after me.”

“They’re not heavy,” said Sidney, starting to smile a little now he’d got his own way. “They’re just big.”

“Only not heavy because you strong.”

“You’re so weird, Geno.”

They turned the corner into the corridor where Flower was waiting for them. Sidney stopped dead, his eyes going from Geno to Flower, wide and worried. Of course, Geno thought to himself. Just like Sid, the younger Sidney would probably have preferred to be informed and prepared before engaging in any kind of interaction with a stranger. The more Geno saw of little Sidney, the more it seemed like very little had changed. “Flower,” he called, waving Flower over, “come meet.” He crouched down to put himself on Sidney’s level, and explained, “This Flower. Friend, come for practice with us. Call Flower because so pretty.”

Sidney didn’t quite laugh, but Geno saw his lip twitch before he looked up shyly at Flower. “It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Flower,” he said.

“Nice to meet you too, Sidney,” said Flower. He shot a glance at Geno that plainly said, oh my god, he’s so cute. Geno gave a helpless shrug and a nod. Sidney was, indeed, ridiculously cute. Complicated, confused, struggling with the world around him, but cute as hell.

Sidney looked curiously at the helmet tucked under Flower’s arm. “Are you a goalie?” he asked.

“That’s right. Do you want to come shoot some pucks on me?”

Unsurprisingly, Sidney’s shyness evaporated completely when hockey was on the cards. He beamed. “Yes please.”

“Okay. Come this way.”

Sidney glanced sideways at Geno. “Are you coming too?”

“I join later. First must do something. You go with Flower, he take care. He not easy for score on, you know? You have to try hard. Think you can do?”

Sidney ducked his head. “I’ll try, for sure.”

“Go then. See you in few minutes.”

As easy as that, clutching his bags and his brand new stick, Sidney followed Flower down to the locker room.

 

***

 

Geno stood in the press box watching Flower and Sidney make their way out onto the ice and begin setting up for drills. After a couple of minutes he heard the door open and close behind him. Sid came to join him at the window. “Hey G,” he said, bumping shoulders companionably.

“Sid,” said Geno, bumping back. Then, on impulse, he pulled Sid into a hug and gave him a little shake and a quick kiss. “You pain in my ass. Time travel? Is bullshit.”

“Sure, it’s all my fault,” said Sid, shrugging him off. He was grinning. “I made this happen. A ten-year-old with a time machine.” He gestured out onto the ice where little Sidney was lining up another shot on Flower. “That’s an evil mastermind right there.”

They watched for a couple of minutes in companionable silence.

“Skate good,” Geno commented.

“I can’t believe how small I was.”

"Still small. Except for ass.”

“Fuck you,” said Sid, without heat. He watched himself for a while longer, frowning. “My slapshot was awful back then. You tell me to work on it, eh?”

And wasn’t that just Sid all over? Trying to make Geno coach his former self – a little kid who already treated hockey like it was his religion and seemed far too old for his years.

“I don’t tell anything,” said Geno firmly. “You ten. Is not strange your slapshot not perfect.”

“I can do better than that.”

“You learn without me tell you.”

“Maybe I learned because you told me.” Sid paused. “I remember you did,” he said.

“You lying. Can’t remember, because I will not tell.”

Sid scowled. “You suck.”

It was something about the scowl. Something about how Sid’s face screwed up just the way it had when, seventeen years earlier, he had looked up at Geno and said, “I can carry them!” Geno had to stop and stare. Strangely, very strangely, the thought that popped into his head was, I miss you.

“Geno? What’s wrong? ” said Sid. “Hey, are you okay?”

“Fine, Sid.”

“Is this too weird for you? It’s… well,” Sid shrugged helplessly, “hockey.”

“Yes. Hockey weird, I know.” Geno fumbled for a plausible excuse for his distraction. “Just. I learn much. Is difficult.”

Sid ducked his head, flushing. “Yeah. I guess I was a pretty difficult kid.”

“No, I mean… is difficult for you.”

“Huh?”

It wasn’t easy to find words to explain the thought he hadn’t really been thinking. He tried. It seemed important. “For most people, blanket is little thing, not matter. You know? But for Sidney is end of world. Cry and cry, no way to fix. Until now, I don’t understand how you feel when routine go wrong, rules go wrong. So sad. And… you must arrange everything, must take picture on phone for road trips, must take much care so not sad. Make everything in life difficult.”

Sid looked up at him, faintly puzzled. “You’re worried that my life is difficult? It’s okay, Geno. I do fine. You know that.”

“Maybe. Just – wish is easier.”

Sid bumped up against his shoulder again. “You can be really sweet when you’re not being an asshole.”

Normally at that point Geno might have murmured something filthy about Sid’s asshole, but, well. Sidney was right there on the ice.

Sidney looked up at that moment, caught sight of Geno through the glass of the press box, and gave a cheery wave. Sid made a hilarious noise of dismay and dove out of view. For the next few moments Geno had to wave back at Sidney while attempting not to fall on the floor laughing.

Sid, who actually had ended up on the floor, picked himself up and plastered himself against the wall. “You won’t be laughing when the world ends,” he said.

“World not end, Sid.”

“No thanks to you,” Sid muttered, glaring.

Geno gave a theatrical pout. “So moody. I go play hockey with nice little Sidney, from before he grow up to be mean, grouchy captain.”

 

***

 

When Geno got down to the rinkside, Sidney skated over to him instantly. “Geno, did you see? Did you see me score?”

“I don’t see. Sorry. Was first time?”

“Flower let me score a couple of times at first,” said Sidney with a derisory eye-roll. “Because I’m obviously too young to deal with losing. It’s not like I play hockey for real all the time.”

Geno swallowed yet another laugh. Ten-year-old sarcasm was adorable. “Flower very stupid,” he said.

Sidney gestured up to the press box. “Who were you talking to up there?”

“Not important person.”

Fortunately Sidney was far too fixated on hockey to really care. “Are you coming on the ice?” he asked. “You said you’d only be a few minutes and you don’t even have your skates.”

“I change now. Go, score again before I come out.”

Geno changed quickly, grabbed a stick and made his way out of the locker room. When he stepped out onto the rink he dropped a puck and sent it sliding straight and fast towards the center, calling out to Sidney as he did so. Sidney gave a little whoop of joy, abandoned his drill with Flower and raced across the ice to pick up the pass.

They skated for a while, Geno and Sidney and Flower, running drills and just playing around. Luckily, Mario had made sure nobody was around to see them. It would have been impossible to pass Sidney off as just some ordinary kid, a relative or the child of a friend. Anyone who knew anything about hockey would have known in minutes that they were watching a prodigy. He was so quick, so intuitive, so astonishingly aware. Already, he had the mesmerising Sidney Crosby spark in him.

Sometimes Geno winced when he heard stories about how hard Sid’s father had pushed him. At that moment he almost understood. There was such incredible potential there. If Geno himself had been faced with the responsibility of crafting that amazing talent, he couldn’t be sure he wouldn’t have done the same.

 

***

 

After skating they went out for lunch. Flower excused himself to the bathroom, as Geno had told him to, so that Geno could press Sidney for the truth over what he wanted to eat. The brightly smiling waitress scribbled Sidney’s complex order down on her pad without a blink. When the food arrived Sidney poked suspiciously at his plateful, as though there might be a pile of onions hiding beneath his chicken. Satisfied, he shot Geno a grateful smile and inhaled the food faster than could possibly be healthy.

He was quiet over lunch, seeming not nearly as comfortable with Flower now they were off the ice. That didn’t really bode well for the afternoon’s plan, which was to introduce Sidney to Flower’s wife, Vero. She was supposed to be taking care of Sidney during practice the next day. She was an utterly sweet person, and happy to have him, but to Sidney she was still a stranger. Geno was uncomfortable leaving Sidney with a stranger.

In the end he needn’t have worried. Sidney had no time to be shy. The moment he went into the Fleury household he was accosted, not by Vero but by Estelle, who came toddling across the hall to greet them. For once she completely ignored both her daddy and Geno, in favor of peeping up at Sidney with a cheeky grin. Sidney dropped to his knees, smiling delightedly, and somehow in less than a minute he was chasing her up and down the hall as she squealed in excitement. Five minutes after that, when he remembered his manners and came to say hello to Vero, Estelle was balanced on his hip and her little arms were wound lovingly around his neck.

“I see you’ve met Estelle, Sidney,” said Vero wryly.

Sidney flushed. “She’s beautiful. How old is she?”

“Coming up to eighteen months.”

“That’s the same age as my sister. She’s eighteen months now.”

Vero’s eyebrows raised briefly. She glanced at Geno, who was suffering from his own sense of cognitive dissonance at the thought that, to Sidney, Taylor was still a baby. After a beat, Vero obviously decided to brazen it out. “What’s her name?” she asked.

“Taylor.”

“Do you like her?”

Sidney nodded. “She’s kinda stinky sometimes and she’s still really little, but she’s smart. She can say lots of words, and she’s learning to run, and she can play with a ball. She’s fun to play with. I like making her laugh.”

“You must be a good brother. You’re already an expert. Would you be really kind and help me out with Estelle while Geno and my husband are at practice tomorrow?”

“Sure,” said Sidney, and gave Estelle a kiss on the nose.

 

***

 

“You like Flower?” Geno asked as they drove back to his place.

Sidney nodded enthusiastically. “He’s a really good goalie.”

“But you like him for friend?”

Sidney frowned. “He is going to be my friend, right?”

“Whole team friend. Maybe Flower is best friend, you know? Vero good friend too.”

Sidney looked disconsolate. “I want you to be my best friend,” he said. “You’re nice, and you’re amazing at hockey. One day I want to play like you do.”

“You play like yourself,” said Geno, grinning. “Is best.”

They had a quiet evening. Geno received a handful of text message dinner invitations from a few of the guys, and turned them down without too much regret. He wasn’t exactly ready to give up his semi-single guy lifestyle – bars were fun and freedom was better, even if he didn’t really hook up with anyone but Sid these days. But just for a couple of nights it was nice to have a kid around. Sidney had a snack when they got back, and did his stick-handling drills while Geno worked out. Then they made dinner, and ate, and watched TV. Sidney sulked briefly when Geno vetoed hockey, but the judicious selection of a dumb comedy with plenty of fart jokes got him smiling again.

Sid’s mom called again at eight o’clock precisely to hear about Sidney’s day and wish him a good night. Afterwards Geno caved to his sad eyes and let him stay up a little longer to finish the movie. By the end of it he was droopy and yawning, perfectly ready to go to bed.

And okay, perhaps the night before hadn’t gone as smoothly as Geno had expected, but this time everything was fine. What could possibly go wrong?

 

***

 

When he heard muffled whimpers coming from Sidney’s room again, Geno’s first reaction was a groan of exasperation. Worry came in at a definite second place, which probably said something reprehensible about his character.

He knocked on the door and pushed it open. All irritation instantly melted at the sight of the barely-contained misery in every line of Sidney’s body. He was in the far corner of the room this time, sitting curled over with his face pressed against his knees.

“Sidney, what wrong now?” Geno asked. He wasn’t really expecting an answer, and he didn’t get one. Sidney’s only response was to curl up tighter. Geno sat down on the floor next to him and laid a hand on his back. “Is not good you cry here alone. You tell me problem. We agree last time: if you sad, you tell me and I fix.”

Sidney was stiff and tense at first, barely breathing. After a moment he choked out, “What if it’s something you can’t fix?”

Geno slipped his arm around Sidney’s shoulders and pulled him into a hug. “I fix everything,” he said. “Come, start small. You sick?”

“No.”

“Scared?”

A nod.

“What scare?”

Sidney looked pale, terrified. He pressed his face into Geno’s chest and whispered, “Did something bad happen to Taylor?”

Geno was so astonished that for a moment he didn’t know what to say. He was jolted back to life when Sidney’s fingers clenched feverishly in the material of his shirt. “Sidney, no. Nothing bad happen to Taylor.”

“You promise?” said Sidney, sounding a little hysterical. “You have to promise.”

“Promise. Biggest promise,” said Geno. He rubbed Sidney’s back and rocked him gently. “All is okay with Taylor. Why you worry, little rabbit?”

Sidney snuffled tearfully into Geno’s t-shirt. “I… I was thinking about what Vero said. She asked me my sister’s name, but if she and Flower are my friends when I’m grown up they should already know my sister. So I thought… maybe I don’t have a sister anymore.”

Geno hissed between his teeth. There was no reason to be angry with Vero, but he still wanted to shake her for what she’d inadvertently done. Sidney was smart, he made connections, he followed logic in straight lines. It was a perfectly reasonable conclusion to draw. No wonder he’d been scared. “You have sister,” Geno promised. “She is well, grow up nice, strong, happy. I meet many times. She loves you very much. You’re good brother. You never let bad thing happen to her.”

“I’m sorry. I wanted to ask you, but I didn’t want you to tell me she was dead,” said Sidney. He was still crying, but it was the crying of breaking tension, not of fear.

Geno went right on rocking him, letting him cling. “Shh, Sidney. Is okay. Always okay, I promise. Whatever problem, you come to me and I fix for you. Always.”

Sidney pulled away slightly and looked up at Geno. He was tear-stained and shaken, as he had been far too often in the short couple of days they’d known one another. “You don’t have to be so nice to me. I know I cry too much.”

“I’m always be nice to you. Because you best.”

“I’m the best at atom hockey. That’s not really anything.”

“You best at be Sidney Crosby.”

Sidney sighed and rested his head against Geno’s shoulder. After a while, he asked, “Why didn’t Vero know about Taylor?”

“She knows,” said Geno. “She met Taylor, knows her. But… is very strange you be here, you talk about Taylor like she still baby. Some people don’t like strange, so pretend all is normal. Is normal to ask name of baby, so Vero ask you, even when she already know.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Don’t need to understand. Need to wash face, drink water. Then I sit with you until you sleep.”

Once Sidney was settled, snuggled under the covers with the magic Habs blanket clutched up by his chin, Geno sat on the edge of the bed and smiled down at him. “You want story? I have not many English books, but maybe find something.”

Sidney shook his head. “No, I’m okay.” He paused. “Geno? If I ask you one more thing about the future, will you tell me?”

“Depends what thing.”

Sidney shifted restlessly as he worked up the nerve to talk. “Back home, people don’t like me,” he said. “The other teams, on the ice, they hit me whenever they can. And the parents yell things. They call me names and yell at their kids to hurt me. And my team in the locker room they… they laugh at me. They always laugh, and try to trip me, and stuff, and they play pranks that are really mean. My mom and dad say it’s because they’re jealous that I’m better at hockey than everyone else. And you said I’m the best hockey player in the world. So…” he swallowed, “is it going to be like that forever?”

Geno’s chest tightened. This wasn’t normal, was it? Normal ten-year-olds didn’t wonder if their future would be filled with people hating them. Normal ten-year-olds didn’t get so overwhelmed with chasing worries around the insides of their own heads that they became too distraught to ask for reassurance. And to think that this was Geno’s Sid – tough, unbreakable Sid who took all the shit the world threw at him and deflected it back as calm soundbites, who never gave an inch on the ice and laughed off every chirp in the locker room. It felt as though that Sid was suddenly a stranger, unreal, not at all the person Geno had thought he was.

Geno brushed Sidney’s hair away from his forehead and pressed a kiss there. “You very good player,” he said. “Sometimes you make big difference in game and then some people don’t like. Players from other team, and fans of other teams, yes, they often… unkind. But not Penguins team. Team is like family. We help, protect, never hurt. We love.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes.” He tapped a finger against Sidney’s nose. “Maybe tease, little bit.”

Sidney giggled. “That’s okay. I don’t mind teasing.”

“You remember this,” Geno said gently. “Whenever is hard, or you sad, you remember team is wait for you here.”

 

***

 

The next day Geno left Sidney playing happily with Estelle and drove Flower to practice. In the parking lot they ran into the grown-up Sid, who greeted Flower with a fist-bump and Geno, to his surprise, with a brief, sideways hug.

“Did the rest of yesterday go okay?” asked Sid as they made their way down to the locker room. “I talked to my mom. She said you seemed to be doing a great job.”

Geno barely hesitated. “Yes. Was good,” he said. Somehow he felt he couldn’t share what had been a private moment between him and Sidney. If Sid didn’t remember that heartbreaking late-night conversation, Geno wasn’t about to remind him.

“And you left me with Vero today?”

“Yes. Sidney like Estelle. Remind of Taylor.”

“My daughter’s crazy about mini-you,” said Flower, rolling his eyes. “God forbid she develop a taste for hockey players. If she asks me for a Crosby jersey one day I’ll come punch you in the face.”

Geno gave Flower a smirk and a raised eyebrow. “You try,” he said, crossing his arms and stepping slightly in front of Sid.

Flower snorted. “For real, Sid, you going to hide behind your babysitter?”

Sid shrugged unconcernedly and stepped around Geno, patting him lightly on the arm. “I’m not paying him to be here. If he wants to kick your ass for me, that’s his own business.”

Geno paused, and then had to stride hurriedly to catch up. He couldn’t work out if Sid touching him so easily and publicly was unusual, or if he was just more aware of it lately. There was no doubt that he was very much aware of Sid’s presence. He’d found himself looking forward to this practice, to spending some time with Sid, seeing him on the ice, comparing the Sid of today with his ten-year-old self. And not only that. Most nights he saw Sid for dinner at least, or a drink with the guys, or something. He’d missed Sid, these past couple of days.

“Sid,” he said, “I talk with you quickly?”

Sid glanced at his watch. “It’s not going to make us late?”

“Only take a minute.”

“Flower, we’ll catch up,” Sid called, and he and Geno peeled off into an empty room.

As soon as the door shut behind them, Geno caught Sid’s wrist and drew him in. Sid tilted his head up to look into Geno’s face, which put his mouth at just the perfect angle for Geno to lean down and kiss him. Sid made a small noise of surprise and kissed back softly, sliding his hand down Geno’s side for a second, before pulling away.

“Geno… what?”

“Wanted to kiss,” Geno explained.

Sid raised his eyebrows. He was smiling and a little pink in the cheeks, but he sounded slightly aggrieved when he said, “Was that all? Because I’d prefer it if you’d kiss me when we don’t have hockey practice to go to.”

Geno snorted with laughter. “Not all. Vero bring little Sidney to skate after practice. I think maybe he like to meet some of the guys.”

Sid wrinkled his brow. “Yeah,” he said, after a moment. “That sounds right. I definitely skated with some of the others. I’ll take a few of them aside and let them know what’s going on, see if they can stay behind. Who do you think? Duper, Borts and… uh, Kuni?”

“Who you want. Is for you.”

 

***

 

He couldn’t take his eyes off Sid all practice.

They didn’t always click on the ice the way they clicked off it. Sometimes they were great together, and sometimes they were a little off. Today was an off day for Geno in all sorts of different ways. He couldn’t focus on the drills. He was always just a split second slower than he should be. By the time practice came to a close he couldn’t count the number of times Mike had shouted, “Come on, Geno! Move, move, move!”

He tried. But whenever he caught sight of Sid his concentration went to hell.

Sid on the ice was beautiful to watch, but it was the thought of Sid off the ice that was uppermost in Geno’s mind.

Little Sidney was not a happy kid. The grownup Sid, while inherently awkward and closed-off, was happy. Behind his walls, Sid knew his place in the world. He was settled and confident, and the few people he let in – really let in – were people he loved and trusted completely. Taylor. Flower.

Maybe Geno too.

When Mike let them go, with a final mystified glance at Geno, Sid skated over. There was a small worried crinkle between his eyebrows. “What’s up with you today?” he asked.

Geno shook his head. “Is nothing. Sorry. Do better tomorrow.”

“Hey,” said Sid gently, “come on, talk to me.” He raised a hand, as though he wanted to touch Geno but didn’t quite know how. “I know I’m not good at this, G. I’m not good with people, but you can tell me stuff, you know? Same as I can tell you. Like with the blanket. I’d forgotten all about it, until you called me the other night. But I remember now. You said I could tell you anything, and I told you, and… you fixed it.”

“Of course I fix.”

“So maybe if you tell me what’s bugging you I can fix it.”

“Is not thing to be fixed,” said Geno. He shifted on his skates, suddenly feeling ungainly. “Is just I’m distracted. Think of you much.”

“Think of me?” Sid tilted his head. “You mean little me?”

“All of you, Sid. Is same. Have little Sidney here, it’s make me think about all of you.”

“Oh,” said Sid. “Well… okay. I don’t want anything to distract you from hockey, but I guess I can’t really fix that for you.” He gave a rueful shrug and a half smile. “I don’t want you to stop thinking of me.”

 

***

 

After practice, Sid’s chosen few teammates clustered in the stands, eating the takeout Sid had gotten delivered and trying to poke Geno into admitting that it was all some kind of prank.

“Not prank,” said Geno firmly. “Is Sid, but little. And is…” he sought for the right word, couldn’t find it, and substituted, “…hurt easy. You don't upset. Nobody stare or laugh. Nobody make mean chirp. You know? Or I make sorry.”

“What the hell do you take us for?” said Kuni. “We’re not going to make fun of a little kid, even if it is Sid.”

Sidney and Vero arrived a few minutes later, making their way down on the far side of the rink. Geno saw them and waved. Sidney waved back, just a little abortive raise of his hand. Then he then hoisted up Estelle so she could wave too, with much less inhibition and a lot of flailing arms that threatened to hit Sidney in the nose. Even from that distance, he looked like Sid. He moved like Sid. Thinking back to that first encounter in his yard, Geno had no clue how he’d missed it for so long.

Kuni made a small noise. Geno glanced at him, then elbowed him hard in the side. “I say not stare. He don’t like.”

“Uh…” said Kuni.

Geno stood up and made his way down the steps towards the rink, taking a second to push Kuni’s head down firmly to look at his food. He stepped onto the ice and skated over to the opposite side. “Hi Sidney. You have fun with Vero and Estelle?”

“Yeah,” said Sidney. “We ran races in the yard.” He grinned, nuzzling his face into Estelle’s neck to make her laugh. “Vero timed us. Estelle can run about as fast as I can crawl, but she doesn’t understand what racing is so she didn’t win any. Mostly she just likes being chased around. And Vero made tomato soup for lunch.”

“You like?”

“It was really good.”

Geno gave a satisfied nod. The recipe had come directly from Sid’s mom, and Vero had been under strict instructions to follow it to the letter.

“Are they from the team?” asked Sidney. His arms were too full of toddler to let him point, but he flicked his eyes towards the group of hockey players. “What are they doing here?”

“You have fun when skate with Flower, yes? I think maybe you like to skate with these guys too. All very good guys, all your friends. Maybe do drills, scrimmage. You want to skate with them? If don’t want, just say.”

“No, I… I want to,” said Sidney, wide-eyed. “They’re all real NHL players. Of course I want to.”

Of course, Geno mentally agreed. He wondered why he’d ever doubted it. “Your gear in locker room. Go change.”

Sidney set Estelle back onto her feet and led her toddling slowly over to her mother, before scampering off to the locker room. Geno followed, and nodded hello to Vero as Sidney disappeared. “Everything okay with little Sidney?” he asked.

Vero swung Estelle up into her arms. “He was fine,” she said. “Very quiet. He missed you, but he and Estelle got on like a house on fire.”

“Thank you for look after him.”

“Of course, Geno. It’s no trouble to watch him.” She laughed warmly. “He’s a tiny, helpless, adorable version of Sid – obviously Marc would walk out into traffic for him without a blink. The least I can do is make him soup. Besides, Sid – grown-up Sid – thanked me already. He said he had a really nice time.”

 

***

 

Geno had decided to introduce Sidney to the guys one at a time. He couldn’t be sure they wouldn’t stare, no matter how much he threatened them, and he didn’t want them all staring at once. Duper went first, since he was older and calmer than the others and had kids Sidney’s age. He skated across to them just as Sidney, geared up and obviously excited, was stepping out onto the ice.

“This Duper,” said Geno. “Forward. Right wing.” He wiggled his hand, a so-so motion. “Is OK. Not great.”

Duper shouldered Geno lightly before turning to Sidney. “Hey, Sid, good to see you.” He put out his gloved fist for Sidney to bump.

Sidney did, smiling awkwardly. “Hello,” he said.

“I’ve heard you’re pretty good out there. We gonna play some hockey?”

“Yeah,” said Sidney. He was blushing and enthusiastic, and just as willing to go with Duper as he had been to go with Flower the day before.

“Geno got you a Malkin jersey?” said Duper as they skated away from Geno and out to center ice.

“It’s the one I wanted,” said Sidney firmly.

Geno smiled after them and went to wrangle Kuni.

Once Sidney had said hello to the other adult Penguins, and warmed up, and done a few drills, they set up for a scrimmage. The guys went very easy on Sidney, of course. They had to; any one of them could have shoved him off the puck without a thought, just by virtue of having twice his reach and three times his weight. But it amused Geno to watch each of them in turn vastly overestimate how easy they needed to go.

“Holy shit,” Kuni said, the first time Sidney darted in to steal a puck from him.

“Hey,” Flower called from the goal, “keep the language clean.”

“You can curse,” said Sidney, passing to Geno just a little too slowly and scowling as Borts intercepted. “I already know all the words.”

“Don’t encourage them, Sid,” said Duper. “I have to let these assholes hang out around my kids. They can learn to watch their dirty mouths.”

Sidney frowned. “You said ‘assholes’,” he pointed out.

The other guys laughed. Sidney looked worried, but after a moment he seemed to decide that they weren’t laughing to be mean, and he turned his attention back to hockey.

Whenever Sidney took a rest, he watched intently as the others ran through their own drills, faced off against each other and challenged each other for the puck. Geno found himself wishing that the grownup Sid was on the ice with them. Sidney was obviously loving every minute of watching real NHL players in the flesh. He deserved a chance to watch the best of the best.

During one of these rests, Sidney sidled over to Geno – or as much as one can sidle in hockey skates. His expression was serious behind his face guard. “Geno,” he asked, glancing back at the handful of Penguins on the ice, “did you really make them all stay here just for me?”

Geno tapped him fondly on the helmet. “Don’t have to make. Think they not want to? Want to meet you. And was not me,” he said, deciding to go for the truth, however confusing it might be. “Was big Sidney. He ask them to stay, and they his friends, they say yes.”

Sidney’s mouth fell slightly open. He looked like he was struggling with something, though whether it was to understand or to believe Geno couldn’t tell.

When they set up for the next scrimmage nobody was really holding back, except to avoid hurting Sidney. Things had got competitive among the grownup Penguins, leading to a bunch of unusually PG-rated trash talk between Duper and Borts as they went head to head. After a messy scuffle, Duper shot the puck off in Sidney’s direction. He was obviously expecting Sidney to pass to Geno. None of them were expecting Sidney to turn on a dime, dance around Borts like he wasn’t even there, and whip the puck right back onto Duper’s stick. Duper hammered the shot past Flower, who didn’t have a hope of stopping it. The whole thing had been so fast.

“Motherfu-” Duper began, and cut himself off just in time. He was staring at the puck in disbelief as it lay innocently against the back netting. “Mother of god. Sid, buddy, nice pass.”

Sidney had already spun around, yelling in triumph. He rocketed across the ice to Geno, who caught him and wrapped him up in a celebratory hug. The others crowded around to pat him on the back or the helmet, and Duper, finally getting over his shock, elbowed his way through to grab Sidney from Geno and hug him too. Sidney was laughing, glowing, happier than Geno had ever seen him.

They played on that way. Ninety-five percent of the time Sidney was an unusually skilled and intuitive Atom hockey player. The other five percent he was a tiny, lightning-fast force of nature.

“He’s ten,” said Duper during their next break, leaning against the boards next to Geno, shaking his head disbelievingly. “How the fuck does he do that?”

Geno shrugged, smiling across the ice to where Sidney was once more running drills against Flower. “He’s Sidney Crosby.”

When they wrapped up their final scrimmage and skated towards the entrance to the locker room, Geno thought maybe he was the only person who noticed the watchers behind the press box glass. Sid was there, standing oddly tense with one hand resting on the window. Beside him, solid and reassuring, was the larger silhouette of Mario Lemieux.

 

***

 

A couple of hours of intensive skating against grown men was a very effective way of wearing out a boy Sidney’s age. By the time they were both changed and ready to go, he was drooping with exhaustion. He fell asleep on the drive home, hanging limp against his seatbelt. When they arrived Geno had to shake him awake.

“Come, no nap yet. You need snack before sleep, or be cranky later.”

“I won’t be cranky,” Sidney mumbled, stumbling out of the car and putting a hand on Geno’s arm to steady himself. “Only babies get cranky. And only babies take naps.”

“Hockey player get much cranky,” Geno corrected. “Should see Tanger when he wake up hungry. Like angry kitten.” He wrinkled up his nose and hissed by way of demonstration.

Sidney giggled and managed to rouse himself a little. He sat at the breakfast bar to eat the peanut butter sandwich Geno made him and drink a long glass of milk. There were only a few bites of the sandwich left by the time his head started nodding so low that Geno was seriously worried he’d fall off his seat.

“Nap now,” Geno decided. He hauled Sidney up off the high stool to sit on his hip in the same way that Sidney carried Estelle.

“I’m way too big to be carried,” Sidney protested sleepily as his arms slid automatically around Geno’s neck.

“Can do with one hand,” said Geno. It was true. To an athlete of his size and condition a smallish ten-year-old was barely a burden. He carried Sidney through to the lounge and deposited him on the squishier of the two couches. Sidney sagged into the cushions and was fast asleep almost instantly.

Geno thought about getting started on dinner, but it was early yet, and Sidney’s quiet breathing was restful. He grabbed a book he’d been meaning to start and settled himself on the other couch. When he was a few pages in, the doorbell rang. Geno frowned. He hadn’t been expecting anyone from the team, and few other people had his gate code. He glanced over to check that the noise hadn’t disturbed Sidney, then got up to open the door.

Sid was standing on the doorstep.

“Sid?” said Geno, surprised. “You can’t be here. Little Sidney here.”

“I’m still here?” said Sid. There was something urgent in his voice. He glanced past Geno, searching.

“Still?”

“I had this feeling,” said Sid. “I think this is when I’m meant to go home.”

Geno felt an unexpected chill rush over him. “Go home?” he said. “No, is too soon. You say four days.”

“I said I wasn’t sure,” said Sid distractedly. He stepped around Geno into the hallway. “Where-?”

“In lounge, taking nap. But-”

Sid nodded, and made his way unerringly through the house to the lounge. Geno followed him and watched, unnerved, as Sid crouched down by the couch, looking wonderingly at the sleeping boy.

”I was so small,” said Sid. “Christ.”

“Too small,” said Geno, something fierce catching in his chest. “Sid, if he go home… so hard for him there. He too small for all that shit. Is not fair.”

He’d spoken too loudly. Sidney mumbled something fretful and questioning, shifting restlessly. He half opened his eyes and turned towards the sound of Geno’s voice.

Sid froze. He stared down at Sidney. Sidney blinked blearily up at him. After a long moment of stillness, Sid smiled. “Shh,” he said. “Go back to sleep.”

Drowsy and confused, Sidney smiled back. His eyes drifted closed again as Sid ran a hand over his tousled dark hair.

They waited in silence for a minute, letting Sidney settle.

“It turned out okay,” said Sid. His head was bowed, and it was impossible to tell if he was talking to Geno or to himself. “Some things sucked, but all in all it’s been okay, getting this far. Better than okay. It’s been great.”

“Sid…”

“It’s really sweet that you’re worried about me, G. You don’t have to be, but it’s really sweet.” Sid looked awkward, as shy as little Sidney.

Geno shook his head. He felt like his stomach was somewhere in his shoes. “I promise I fix things for you when you sad,” he said. “Promise always. But can’t fix anything now.”

“I was okay on my own,” said Sid. “It’s better that I learned to manage on my own.”

“Is not fair.”

“Is it fair that you had to hide in an airport bathroom just to get to the NHL?” said Sid. “We got here. Both of us. That’s what matters.” His smile was peaceful, satisfied, as he smoothed his hand over Sidney’s hair again. “Can I wait here with you?” he asked. “I just want to be here, to see myself leave.”

They sat together. Not on the couch where Geno had been reading, but on the floor, close enough that they could have reached out and touched the sleeping boy. Neither of them spoke. They waited.

When it happened, it was both shockingly fast and shockingly simple. Over the space of a few seconds, Sidney grew fuzzy and translucent and faded away.

Geno stared blankly at the hollow in the couch cushions where a small body had lain. He knew that if he rested his hand there he would still feel Sidney’s warmth, fading now as his physical body had. An ache of loss shot through him, and a deeper ache of worry for Sidney, who would wake up expecting Geno to be there, to make him dinner and put him to bed, and who would find himself somewhere else completely. “Sid,” he said, “I don’t have chance to say goodbye.”

“It’s okay,” said Sid. “I knew I’d see you again.”

“But I…” Geno began, and then stopped himself. It was ridiculous to say he would miss Sidney. They saw each other every day.

He pulled Sid close to him. “Where did you go?” he asked.

“Home. I woke up on the couch at home. My dad was there. He saw me arrive. Scared the hell out of him.”

“You tell parents what happen?”

“Yes. No. Parts of it. I wanted to keep some things for myself. I never told anyone I was going to be a Penguin one day. It was special, my secret. I knew you were all waiting for me here.”

Geno tried to smile and didn’t quite manage it. “You glad that you knew?”

“Yeah. I’m glad. It really helped.” Sid leaned into Geno, warm against his side. “This feels so strange. It’s over. It happened. It’s always been a thing that would happen in my future, and now it’s done. There’s so much I wish I could have told myself. But you told me the important parts, didn’t you? I wish I could remember it more clearly. I know there’s a lot I ought to thank you for. Not just for putting up with me these past couple of days. Much more.”

“Not put up with,” said Geno. “Is good. Happy I meet, know you better. I like what I learn. Brave and smart. Kind. Best kid.”

“Brave? I cried all over you. Because of a blanket.”

“Blanket is important, Sid. For you, blanket is most important. Of course cry, is nothing to be ashamed.” Geno shook his head, frustrated. “Can’t make you see. But I want say, you grow up so good. Proud of you.”

“Oh,” Sid said, as though the air were being squeezed out of him. He touched his forehead to Geno’s and ran a hand down his cheek. “That... that really means a lot.”

“Sidney,” said Geno. “Sid,” and then he ran out of words, and tilted his head so they could kiss.

They kissed for a long time, slow and quiet. Small kisses at first, and gentle touches. To Geno, Sid seemed as fragile as a newly emerged butterfly, wings bright and easily crushed. But he was no different than he’d been yesterday. If anything, it was Geno who was different.

After a few minutes more Sid - tough, unbreakable Sid - laughed and pulled back. “I’ve missed you,” he said. “It sucked not being able to see you.” He kissed Geno again, more forcefully this time. “Can we move this to the bedroom?”

“Bedroom,” Geno agreed, letting himself be tugged where Sid wanted him to go.

Some small part of Geno had worried that it would feel strange being with Sid again. But it wasn’t strange. Sid was, as always, pushy as hell in bed, making full use of his solidly muscular body. His mouth was hot on Geno’s, and the confidence in his every movement obliterated any hint of memory of the uncertain boy he had been. Geno loved seeing him like this. Few people would have guessed how much fun Sid was in bed, how he laughed and wrestled and nipped at Geno’s skin. There was the same fierce joy that he had on the ice, except that here he had absolutely nothing to prove.

Afterwards, when they were both sprawled on their backs, sticky and gasping, Sid let his head loll sideways so he could look at Geno, and grinned wide. “God, I needed that,” he said. “Hockey’s weird, eh? I spent the past two days being cockblocked by myself.”

“Yes,” said Geno. He rolled over onto his side so they were nose to nose. “Is good. I miss too.”

“Ugh. I need a shower,” said Sid, but he didn’t get up. He scooched a little closer to Geno and kissed him. “I meant what I said. There’s a lot I have to thank you for.”

Geno snorted. “This was thank you?” he said, gesturing between their naked bodies.

“No. This was just us.”

And that, somehow, left Geno grinning like an idiot.

Sid did have his shower in the end, and they spent the rest of the day hanging out doing nothing very much, playing video games and watching TV. They didn’t talk much about what had happened at first, but when they went out to grab dinner Sid began to throw in a couple of questions here and there. “I just don’t remember,” he said ruefully. “When I watched myself it would all come back to me, but there was a lot I couldn’t be there to see.” He snorted. “How come I let you stick me in a Malkin jersey?”

“You ask. Not want Crosby jersey until you get on your own,” said Geno, and watched as realization dawned on Sid’s face.

The meal went on like that, full of memories that were fresh for Geno and years old for Sid. It was intimate in a way that their interactions rarely were, even in bed. Impossibly, it felt as though they’d shared something more important than the whole of their hockey careers together. For the first time, Geno felt like he was all the way inside Sid’s walls.

When they got back to Geno’s place Sid came inside, shucking his jacket and shoes, looking comfortably at home.

“You stay here tonight?” Geno asked. “If you want, we get magic Habs blanket, put in closet.”

Sid laughed and flushed. “You know something, G?” he said. “I’d really like that.”

They went upstairs. Geno padded down the hall to the spare room where Sidney had been sleeping, and retrieved the Habs blanket from underneath Sidney’s pillow. He folded it neatly and took it back to his bedroom. Sid took it from him with a little smile. He ran his fingers over the trim, and then took it over to Geno’s closet. After a few moments of consideration he laid it carefully in a drawer on top of a pile of Geno’s t-shirts. “Thanks,” he said quietly. “I know it’s dumb, but…”

“Not dumb,” said Geno. “If it make you happy, it make me happy too.”

He wasn’t sure if Sid realized that things between the two of them had just become a lot more complicated.

He liked complicated, he decided.

Hopefully Sid would too.