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The Penguin Prince

Chapter Text

RIIIIIIING. RIIIIIIIIING. RIIIIIIIIING.

 

I wake up groggily, fumbling around in the dark for the light switch as my phone’s ringtone wakes me out of sleep. I rub my eyes as I reach for the iPhone, turning the screen on to see Sid’s name pop up on the screen. That is enough to wake me fully, swinging my legs up and over the bed to answer the call.

 

“Sid? What…”

“Geno!” Sidney cries, “Geno, listen to me because I don’t have much time. We’ve been cursed.”

“Sid, if this is joke…” I grumble.

“Evgeni, this isn’t a joke. Just, listen, please,” Sid pleads.

“Okay. What is happening?” I grumble.

“Okay, so there’s this curse that was laid on everyone back in Pittsburgh and basically we’re gonna turn into penguins and you probably won’t but you’re gonna forget about me and us and everyone and I need you to promise me you won’t forget okay? Please tell me you won’t forget me Geno…” He rambles.

“Sid,” I cut him off. “Sid, I would never forget you. Penguins forever, okay? You are best. I never forget best, Sid.”

“Geno… I,” The line goes dead in my hand. I look at my phone in confusion, feeling extremely tired at that same moment. I yawn, the memory of the conversation already fading from my mind as I lay back down. The lights go off and my eyes close quickly, settling me back to sleep in a soft, warm bed.

 

 

Chapter Text

Waking up every morning is never different. Get up, drink coffee, get dressed, go to work, come home. Over and over again. The zoo is familiar now, the animals recognizing me instantly as I go from enclosure to enclosure, feeding and watering and cleaning up after them. My co-workers like me, as well as the little children visiting the zoo every day, wanting to feed the penguins and the bears and the birds. When I get to work one morning, my boss calls me into his office, face soft but grim.

 

«Евгений, ты хороший сотрудник. Мы очень рады, что ты у нас работаешь. Но есть еще один зоопарк, который нуждается в твоей помощи» (Evgeni, you are a good worker. We’re very glad to have you here. But there’s another zoo that needs your help.) He says, sitting down.
«Еще один зоопарк?» (Another zoo?) I ask, thinking about the other zoos in the area.

«Америка. Питтсбург. У них есть пингвины, которые нуждаются в особой заботе. Они позвонили и спросили, знаю ли я кого-нибудь, кто может присмотреть за этими пингвинами? Я ответил, что да, я знаю подходящего человека. Его зовут Евгений Малкин. Он хорош со всеми животными. И вот они приглашают тебя в Питтсбург» (United States. Pittsburgh. They have penguins that need special care. They called me and asked if I know someone who can look after these penguins. I said yes, I know the right man for this job. His name is Evgeni Malkin. He is good with all animals. Now they’re inviting you to Pittsburgh.) Sasha explains.

«Пингвины? Питтсбургские Пингвины? Саша, я мало что знаю о пингвинах» (Penguins? Pittsburgh Penguins? I do not know much about Penguins, Sasha.) I protest.

He waves me off. «Ерунда. Ты со всеми животными ладишь. Ты хорошо соображаешь. Быстро научишься» (Nonsense. You're good with all animals. You’re sharp. You will learn fast.) He claps his hands. «Ну что? Поедешь в Америку присматривать за пингвинами?» (Well? Will you go to America to look after penguins?)

I sigh. «Мне нужно это обдумать» (I need to think about it)

He nods. «Хорошо. Жду твоего решения завтра» (Okay. Come back tomorrow with your decision)

I nod my agreement and leave.

 

Driving home, my mind is muddled. Penguins? In USA? I would have to get a passport, pack up my entire life. For penguins? I think over this as I eat, chewing slowly as I imagine life in the US. I think to call my mother, but I already know what she’ll say. Zhenya, you go to US. Take care of penguins, make mama and papa proud. You go on adventure, Zhenya, and learn. I ponder over this as I shower, read, and finally settle down to sleep, eyes closing of their own accord.

 

The next morning feels new, fresher than ever before. There’s a spring in my step as I ditch my car for my bicycle, taking advantage of the beautiful weather in Magnitogorsk, the air warm but dry for once, clouds passing the sun. I take the long way to the zoo, exploring some of the hidden paths in the city as a smile blooms on my face. I eventually have to cut my joy-ride short, making it to the zoo in the nick of time, right before my shift starts. Sasha beckons me over when he sees me pull in.

 

«Женя! Ты уже принял решение?» (Zhenya! Have you made a decision?) He asks, getting right to the point.

I think back on what my mama said last night. You go on adventure, Zhenya. «Я ... я поеду. Кто не рискует, тот не пьет шампанского!» (I… I will go. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!) I murmur, "Кроме того, если там не получится, я всегда смогу вернуться» (Besides, if it doesn’t work out there, I can always come back)

Sasha claps me on the back. «Вот и отлично! Я позвоню в Питтсбург. Они будут рады. Горжусь тобой, Женя. Очень горжусь. Я уверен, что и в Питтсбурге есть катки. Иди, расскажи родителям. Я свяжусь с тобой насчет визы и билета. Не забудь попрощаться с животными перед уходом. Они будут скучать. Ты не волнуйся, за ними есть, кому присмотреть». (That's the spirit! I’ll call Pittsburgh zoo. They’ll be pleased. I’m very proud of you, Zhenya. Very proud. I’m sure Pittsburgh has ice rinks. You go tell your parents. I'll call later about your visa and your ticket. Don’t forget to say goodbye to the animals before you leave. They will miss you. Don’t you worry; we’ll take good care of them.)

 

I nod at Sasha before making my last round, taking time to say goodbye to every animal. It’s close to dinner when I get home, having biked to my parent’s house to tell them the news. My mama reacted just as I thought she would, crying and hugging me while telling me all the things I should do when I get there. My papa, stone faced as always, hugged me tightly with the hint of tears in his eyes.

 

«Горжусь тобой, Женя. Вся семья тобой гордится!» (I’m so proud of you, Zhenya. All family is proud of you!) He says.

 

«Я буду приезжать. А может быть, и вы навестите меня в Штатах. Я познакомлю вас со своими новыми друзьями пингвинами» (I can come visit.And maybe you can visit me. I can take you to meet my new penguin friends) I say.

 

Mama nods, wiping her eyes. «Женя, тебе еще надо друзьям рассказать. Кстати, что стало с тем мальчиком с которым ты играл в хоккей? Его вроде звали СидниВы все еще общаетесь?» (Zhenya, you also need to tell your friends. By the way, what happened to that you boy you played hockey with? I think his name was Sidney. Do you still talk to each other?)

 


I shake my head«НетСид уехал домойМожет быть, я когда-нибудь снова увижу его» (NoSid went homeMaybe I’ll see him again.)

 

 They bid me farewell soon after, but not before bundling my arms full of Mama’s cooking. I take the short way home this time, putting food away before cleaning once more. I read before I sleep, a smile on my face as I get my mind ready for the next adventure.

 

 

Chapter Text

The next few weeks are a blur. I contact the US embassy in Moscow, get my passport and work visa, and start to pack up. The things I plan to take are few, only totaling to three suitcases and a duffle bag. I let the landlord know that I will be leaving, and take everything that I am leaving behind to my parents.

 

As soon as I’m cleared for travel, I book my plane ticket. The cost is high considering that I am going on an international flight, but it leaves late at night so I’ll be in the US in their afternoon. The whole thing seems like a dream, leaving my home, bidding my family farewell, and finally getting on the plane.

 

“Now touching down at Philadelphia International. The time is 3:32 PM, EST. Welcome to Pennsylvania!” The intercom garbled as we reached the tarmac. The people in my row stood up, a young couple that looked like they were just getting back from their honeymoon. The plane cleared out slowly, carry-ons and small children clogging the walkway. Eventually, we started to move, slow and steady all the way to the terminal. Baggage claim was no better, a sea of suitcases in every colour blocking the way. Currency exchange was no fun either. I had to speak with three different clerks before getting to one who could understand my accent!

 

The next step was getting to Pittsburgh. Renting the car was easy, as I had done it online while on the plane. The clerk was nice, helping me fill out the rental insurance information and showing me where the car was parked. The drive took almost 5 hours. There was construction, tolls, pit stops, but I finally made it to Pittsburgh. At 10:00 at night. The hotel was a welcome change of scenery, with reruns of old hockey games on the TV in the lobby. I watched for a few minutes, looking at every team and each jersey. A segment played showing a hockey team that used to be based just a few blocks away.

 

“Excuse me, can I ask question?” I ask the front desk. The lady working nods.

“How can I help?”

“I was wondering,” I point to the tv, “There used to be hockey team here?”

She nods. “Yeah. I think they were called the Pittsburgh Penguins. I don’t know much about them, the franchise collapsed when I was a kid. I think it was after the captain retired, Mario something-or-other, and Jagr was traded. Not sure what happened to the players though. Probably got traded. They run that segment every year during this time. It’s the anniversary of the franchise being sold or something.”

“Thank you.” I smile at her, heading back to my room.

 

That night I don’t sleep well. I look out the window for a few hours, taking in the new surroundings, the buildings stretching high into the sky. The building that I saw earlier, the CONSOL centre, has a strange glint to it. I pass it off as a trick to my eyes and go back to bed. After all, I need to sleep. I have work in the morning.

 

The next morning, I woke early, eager to start the day. After puzzling over the shower for a good twenty minutes, I finally dress and grab breakfast from downstairs. The drive to the zoo is short, which is good and bad at the same time. Good because I know that if I get an apartment close to downtown it will be easy to walk on nice days, bad because I’m starting to freak out a little bit. I take a deep breath, stepping out of the car and heading up to the office. The man at the desk looks up at me.

 

“Hi. I am Evgeni Malkin. Is Roger Lars here?” I ask.

“Yes, let me get him. He’s been waiting for you.” The man says, getting up and disappearing through the door behind him. I stand for a few minutes, hands awkwardly in my pockets, looking at the floor. The man returns with another, this one short and balding. He smiles up at me pleasantly.

 

“Evgeni, did I say that right?” I nod.

“Welcome to Pittsburgh! Alex told me all about you. My name is Roger, I’m the owner of this fine establishment. Come, let me show you around. We’ll end with the King Penguin’s, that’s where you’ll be working. And I’ll tell you all about the history of this place and the city we reside in.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Roger is a good man. He shows me around the zoo for the better part of three hours, telling me about the history of the zoo and the city, where everything is, and little things about each animal. It’s clear that this is more than a business to him, that he truly cares about his workers and animals. The animals all look clean and well fed, with happy looking habitats. Finally, we get to the king penguin habitat, giving everything a thorough once-over as Roger points out where everything is. One penguin waddles up to me, tapping my leg with his flipper.

 

“Hello little penguin. I am Evgeni.” I say to him softly.

“Ha! That’s Sidney. He’s a cute little guy, isn’t he?” Roger laughs, “He’s an affectionate one, that one. You should see the rocks he hoards. Never gives them to anyone, just stacks them in the corner over there and sits on em,” He points to the corner that we hadn’t looked at. “The best thing about these guys is they’re all male. No fighting for a mate with these ones. Best of friends, all of them. And of course we’ve got the little chicks too. No one knows where they came from, they were just dropped of here a while back.”

 

I nod absently as I scratch Sid’s head, his feathers slick but soft. After a while, the other penguins crowd up to me, pushing each other out of the way as I laugh softly. “Easy, there’s plenty for all.”

 

Roger leads me out of the enclosure after a while. We go back to his office and discuss my work visa, pay, and where I’ll be staying. He gives me the number of a landlord in the city, one of his friends, who has a vacant apartment for fairly cheap. I go to meet with the landlord once our meeting ends, and sign a contract for a six month lease. I move my stuff out of the hotel the next day, setting up my apartment before I have to head into work. For the next week I explore the city, always passing the mysterious CONSOL centre and the glittering sheen. I ignore it for the most part, continuing on my way.

 

The following Wednesday, I start work. This day marks two weeks since I left Russia, and I’m almost as excited as I am apprehensive. I leave early, almost too early, which gives me time to wander about and get a coffee. I stare up at the skyline, shielding my eyes from the sun as I take in the concrete jungle around me.

 

When I get to the Zoo, one of the penguins, Sidney, greets me with a flap of his wings. I wave back at him as I throw fish at each penguin, watching them squabble over it with each other. As I work on cleaning the habitat, a few penguins come over to watch, one carrying a rock and dropping it at my feet. I smile at him.

 

“Thank you, Sidney. It is best rock,” I tell him. He flaps his wings happily.

 

The zoo opens, and people start to pour in. All throughout the day the zoo is busy, with families and couples coming to ooh and ahh at all the animals. The penguin habitat seems to be a big hit for little kids, their chubby little fingers waving at me as their parents snap pictures. I make sure to wave back at all of them, working away diligently as the penguins mess around on the rocks and in the water. An older couple walks by, not looking at the sign as they throw their half eaten food directly at a penguin. It hits him in the face, and I glare up at the people.

 

“Hey! Read sign please! No outside food in penguin home! You will make them sick!” I yell up.

 

The old woman rolls her eyes rudely. “It’s doing them no harm.”

 

“You hit penguin in the face with half cheeseburger!” I bite out angrily.

 

“Hey, how about you learn proper english, you barbarian!” The old man yells.

 

“Zhri govno i zdohni!” "Eat shit and die!" I scream. 

 

“What in the good name of the Lord is going on here?” Oh thank god, it’s Roger!

 

“Roger! These people threw half cheeseburger at Beau! Right in his face!” I call to him.

 

Roger looks at the people. “Excuse me, but the sign here CLEARLY states to not throw food into the enclosure. I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” He says calmly.

 

“Like hell I’m gonna leave, not when you let this… this COMMIE work here!” The old woman yells.

 

“Ma’am, please, you’re making a scene,” Roger says, putting his hands up.

 

“No! Get that dick sucker out of here!” She screams.

 

“Ma’am I’m going to have to call the police. Daniel, can you please call up PPD?” Roger asks calmly.

 

I look on, shielding Beau as Sid and Marc waddle closer. Beau’s face is covered in mustard and cheese, a sad look in his eyes as I take a rag and wipe it away. The police soon come, escorting the old couple away as onlookers clap. Beau shakes his feathers out once I let go of him.

 

The rest of the day is, thankfully, uneventful. Closing time comes and I feed the penguins one last time before retiring for the night. It wasn’t too horrible of a day at least, as far as first-day-of-not-shadowing workdays go. The penguins were well behaved, thankfully. I think back to Sidney, looking at his face reminds me of someone, an old lover perhaps? I go to bed thinking of it, trying to remember anything about this person, but it soon leaves me with a headache and little more. I sleep thinking about how lucky I am to have a job, a roof over my head, and a family that supports me, smiling faintly as the sky goes dark.

 

Chapter Text

The weeks go by slowly, the calendar soon changing from August to September. The days get colder at night, the trees start to turn, one by one, and the atmosphere changes. Children head back to school in their brand new uniforms, parents head back to work, and the zoo gets progressively less and less busy. Structures are erected over the outdoor habitats of some of the animals, others are brought inside, some shipped off to new places. The penguins are moved to their inside enclosure for the fall and winter months, not putting up much of a fight as myself and Drew herd them into their winter home. Sidney looks up at me with slight disdain, which I understand almost too well. He drops a fish at my feet when I’m feeding them, so I think he forgives me. For now.

 

“Cheeky. You hide fish scale everywhere, Sidney,” I tell him. He ignores me and continues preening, but Pascal comes up to me and nudges my leg.

 

“Hello friend. You want story, no?” Marc and Olli are next to come up. They gather around me, looking up at me expectantly.

 

“I tell you about friend Sid. He reminds me of penguin Sidney sometimes. Always cheeky, but so proud and kind. One time though, not so proud, not so smart. He almost kill himself to death eating mozzarella stick,” As I tell the story, more fuzzy memories of Sid come back to me, the hint of a smile, a bucket of ice being dumped, brown hair and equally brown eyes. The images remain blurry and unfocused, so I ignore them for now and focus on feeding and telling the penguins gathered in front of me stories about my friend Sid.

 

That quickly becomes habit. Every feeding time, every time I’m in the enclosure cleaning, I make sure to tell them stories about my friend Sid, from the time we went skating on the pond and he fell in, to older memories, these even more fuzzy than the last. The fog never clears from my mind, making the memories just out of reach. I continue to tell stories, even as the others grow somewhat bored. Sid never fails to leave, always standing and listening quietly as I tell tales of mother Russia, my family, my friends, playing hockey in the streets… His eyes are always interested, always watching me as I go around the enclosure. He plays well with the baby penguins, protective and kind, even going as far as teasing them. That action reminds me of my Sid even more, always the mother hen among us. More blurred faces join his in my mind, floating there but just out of my reach.



It’s incredibly frustrating to go back to my apartment at night. I lay awake, tossing and turning, trying to make sense of the disjointed memories floating around my head. They never cease to torment me, showing me things that I once had(?), in a different life(?), and I start to think that the person in my mind might the person that I love. They make little to no sense, only serving to leave me yearning. The feelings are strong, the compassion and companionship and love and joy bubbling through my mind. It makes me wonder why every time I look at the penguins at the zoo I’m struck with the same feelings in my dreams. They leave me restless, awake and aware of everything, just hoping to be able to see something that will help me make sense of all these… memories? Thoughts? Hopes? Dreams? The only thing that I absolutely can’t remember, no matter how hard I try to zero in on it, is why this person, this man who I think might be the Real Sidney, keeps appearing in my dreams. I think that we were at least friends, very good ones, but that doesn’t explain the look he gave me, the feeling seeping through the dreams. Did he love me? Do I love him? I think that I do, or did at least, but thinking about it like that only serves to give me a raging headache and more frustration than I’m willing to deal with. Still, it’s always in the back of my mind, just out of perception.

 

Even after I’ve worked several weeks, I’m unable to shake the feelings during the day, much less the night when I’m exhausted. I briefly consider going to see a therapist, but that costs money I don’t have, and nothing is more revolting to me than spilling my guts to a complete stranger who just wants his paycheck.

 

Working at the zoo proves to be fun, if not a little lonely. I still tell my penguins stories about my childhood, my home, and the mysterious man haunting my dreams. Sid is always engaged in these conversations, flapping his little wings at me whenever I start to speak. He hides fish scales all around the enclosure, making me work at finding them. I never get mad at him, just smile and shake my head. Beau joins in on this fun too, hiding himself behind rocks and underwater, then jumping at me when I walk by. I have to say, I’ve landed on my behind more than a few times with him jumping out at me like that. Sometimes Roger will walk by and just laugh. Several of the visitors have also been unfortunate witnesses to this as well.

 

Telling stories about the man in my dreams, the (assumed) human Sid, helps my mind reach some clarity. While the memories aren’t getting any more recognizable, the faces, one of them at least, is almost perfect. I truly start to believe it’s Sid, appearing every night in my dreams. He smiles at me, talking even though I can’t understand what he’s saying, expression kind and loving. I imagine mine is too, if the looks he gives me, filled with love and companionship and happiness, are any indication. It wakes me up in a cold sweat every morning, leaving me shaking slightly and looking around my bedroom. I always feel like there is something missing, something vitally important, but I can never pinpoint what it is so I ignore it and go to work.

 

My days are routine by now. My co-workers know me as well as I know them, inviting me out to dinners and parties. I accept a few, but politely decline the rest, not wanting to impose on these people’s personal lives. They respect my decisions as I respect theirs, and I am pleased to note that I have made more than a few friends. My parents call once every week, keeping me updated on what’s going on back home as I tell them about my newfound friends, how different life is here, and how amazingly cool some of the food is. I also tell them about the odd dreams, the CONSOL centre and how there’s something seemingly off about it, the penguins who remind me of old friends… My mother is a great listener and she listens patiently as I try to describe it all to her. Our calls always end with me promising to talk to them soon, my mother promising to send me some cookies in the mail, and my father’s gruff voice asking for her to ‘come back to bed Zhenya is a grown man and he needs to go to work’.

 

As I drive past the CONSOL on my way to work, I notice something more about it, something seemingly… magical. As I stare, the light changes, and when I don’t notice it, cars start honking behind me. I hit the gas as fast as possible, making it to work with just minutes to spare before my shift starts.

 

Sid and Beau are the first to greet me, waddling over with flapping wings. I smile at both and herd them away from me, getting to work cleaning out their homes. I notice that a few of them seem subdued today, even Sid, and start to panic. What if I’ve made them sick?

 

They act interested in their fish, which is a good sign. I figure it’s just tiredness when I see them all huddle together, breathing as one. After a few minutes, one by one they start to wake, jumping in the water and off of rocks in a show of bravery, cleaning themselves and each other. Sid makes his way over to me and sits down beside me, watching his friends play around. I ruffle his head feathers softly. His sitting there, it reminds me so much of my friend, the dream man, the human Sidney, always watching, making sure no one was hurt, a complete mother hen sometimes, but funny and sneaky nonetheless. It gives me pangs of longing, making me miss something that I can barely remember, but it hurts all the same. Sid must sense this too, because he slides closer to me, nuzzling my hand with his head and looking up at me with eyes shining. He runs… waddles off to the water, getting himself nice and soaked before coming back to me… and shaking his wet feathers out all over me. I jump up, squeaking in anger and confusion as I see him nod once, the other penguins looking like they’re laughing at me. This again reminds me of something Sid would do, the human Sid, always playing jokes on me and our friends. I glare at him before grinning, sitting back down even though I, as well as everything around me, is now soaked.

 

“I tell my parents this story next time they call,” I tell the penguins. “Say that Sid wanted to be funny and shake wet feathers out all over me. Make me very damp.” Sid nods again, like he understands me perfectly. This just adds to my confusion over these memories, which gets me thinking about my dreams again, which gets me thinking about the CONSOL centre, something just doesn’t add up.

 

My mother again listens silently. I decided to skype them this time, rather than use up all of my international calling minutes. I tell her about that morning, how something was so odd about the CONSOL and I almost got hit by a car thinking of it. She stays silent for a few minutes after I finish telling her about it, getting an old, dusty book. She opens it, reading aloud a few pages, all about detecting magic and getting around spells. With orders to try these things tomorrow morning, we sign off and continue our respective routines, her getting ready for work while I turn my bed back. That night, I barely sleep, the dreams so vivid and bright and real that it leaves me gasping for breath. It makes me glad the zoo opens late tomorrow.

 

 

Chapter Text

As I drive, I focus on remembering what my mother said. There’s barely any traffic this morning, so I can drive slowly through town, my eyes sliding over the walls of the building. I close my eyes softly, driving carefully and obeying my body’s urges while ignoring my mind telling me ‘no don’t go there there’s nothing you’re wasting time’. I park, stumbling out of the car with arms outstretched, reaching towards something, until my hands run into something slick and so cold and very, very familiar from working in the penguin enclosure. It feels absolutely magical.

 

I run my fingertips over the surface, searching blindly for an end, an edge of some sort, anything but this seemingly endless wall of ice, until I hit a door. Several minutes of blind struggle pass, the door frozen shut from the inside and out, until I’m suddenly inside… wherever this is. I open my eyes, squinting at the bright, blinding light as the inside is revealed to be a hockey rink. A very large, official hockey rink, dedicated to the Pittsburgh Penguins that looks a lot newer than the collapsed franchise. I wonder if this is where the last of the money went, but it wouldn’t make sense, why would they put so much into a building that’s not being used? That’s hidden away from the world, hovering just on the edge of consciousness?

 

I explore for several long minutes, awed by this magical place, but my ‘you are very very horribly late’ phone alarm goes off, breaking the eerie waiting silence that comes from being the sole living thing in a building large enough for almost 20,000 people. I really, really need to get to work, even if I have managed to find an entire cursed building that’s completely invisible, forgotten, and covered in ICE. Who knows? Maybe it holds a… a hockey prince for me to kiss awake or something. Although if I’m going for ridiculous fairy tale scenarios, maybe I’m also secretly the Queen of England or something. Either way, it would all have to wait, penguins are by far the least patient birds and there are a certain few that would hate to have their routines changed and will sulk all day if I got too far behind.

 

I look around for something, anything to take with me, something that will help break the forgetfulness side of the apparent curse. It makes me wonder, as I look around, if this has anything to do with the dreams I’ve been having. I grab a hockey puck, printed with the penguins logo, and a piece of wall that was loose, just fitting into my hands, having both the building and a reminder of what it was, after all, if the curse could make me forget these, it was probably impossible to break anyways.

 

I hurry back to the zoo, clocking in just barely on time, and go through my routine with my penguins, feeding and cleaning and talking to all of them. This time I’m not talking about My-Friend-Sid but instead the curse, how the building was covered in ice and almost impossible to get into, about the OTHER penguins of Pittsburgh, these once human, but vanished and forgotten and not right here in front of me being adorable.

 

As I talk, I doubt myself more and more, doubting what I saw, but when I get home that night I remember the chunk of wall and puck. I set them both down and stare pensively at them, before giving up and going to bed.

 

My dreams that night are nightmares. Fear and anger and love all seeping through, phone conversations cut short and crying and pain, and I wake up gasping for breath, a cold sweat all over me and now the bed. I pace for hours until the sun rises, racking my brain for anything, anything at all that could help.

 

I’m groggy and tired at work the next morning. I don’t talk to my penguins, not like usual, and the change in mood makes some of them upset. I grab the chunk of wall and puck again, staring at them as some of the other penguins gather around me, worried faces and ruffled feathers. I deflate and I think it’s visible, because a rock rolls into my vision, bumping against my hand. I look up slowly, seeing Sid look at me, worry in his huge, dark eyes.

 

“Thank you,” I smile fondly. “You worry about me?”

 

My penguin crowds closer, squeezing in between my leg and the wall-chunk. Definitely worried. As he touches the wall-chunk, I rub his head. No matter how weird or awful or lonely the past couple of days have been, my penguins always manage to make me feel so much better. I lean down and press my lips gently to Sid’s feathered forehead, overcome with fondness. “Best penguin!”

 

Suddenly there is a small shockwave, a loud pop that leaves my ears ringing and… my lips are no longer pressed to feathers, but plastic instead. Also, that is definitely not a penguin cuddled up to my leg anymore. I lean back and open my eyes, seeing a dark haired man in hockey gear with a newly-familiar logo on his chest, sprawled out where my favorite penguin once was, random snowflakes drifting in the air to settle despite being indoors.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“You not penguin, you Pittsburgh Penguin!” I yell, unable to hold the words back. And then I want to go hide in the walk-in fish freezer and never have to be around anyone ever again. Especially not very handsome blushing men who are hockey players and… are also starting to look horribly familiar.

 

I distantly remember myself dropping on the floor, but the state of my body is pretty much my last priority behind this entire lifetime of memory abruptly re-writing itself while at the same time retaining the memory of the last… four months? where I had believed an entirely different set of memories.

 

“S-Sid?” I ask softly, looking up at the man.

 

He nods. “Geno… GENO!”

 

I’m soon engulfed in a hug, being squeezed by none other than my best friend ever, the man who was turned into a penguin for months, the man I think I love(d), the man that I thought I’d lost forever… I grab him and pull him as close as I possibly can, squeezing as I turn to bury my face in his shoulder.

 

“Sidney…” I murmur softly. “I… I’m so sorry. You told me to not forget you and I promised I wouldn’t but I did and I’m so sorry I missed you so much Sidney oh my god…”

 

“Shhh, Geno, calm down, you’re gonna make yourself sick,” Sid says, pulling back slightly. “You didn’t forget. You just couldn’t remember. There’s a difference. And I missed you too.”

 

I laugh. “Sid, that is same thing.”

 

“No it’s not!” He pouts.

 

I shake my head at him. “I can’t believe… you were penguin! REAL penguin! So cute though, penguin rolling rocks and hiding fish…”

 

He blushes more. “Yeah… it wasn’t horrible actually. Everyone could still understand each other, a lot of the baby pens were scared, but no one was upset really. No one was hurt or scared or sad, just quite disoriented. I mean, I was being cared for by the world’s most devoted zookeeper in an area with plenty of food and no predators and so much ice and water, I was a damn happy penguin! But it’s good to be back in my real body. Even if I am craving fish…”

 

I laugh. “You almost kill yourself to death on krill,” I remind him.

 

“Yeah, that’s true,” Sid scratches the back of his neck sheepishly. “Oh, god how are we gonna explain this?”

 

“дерьмо…” I mutter, “I hadn’t thought of that. Let’s get you home first, into some clean clothes and fed and out of that hockey gear, and we’ll talk to Roger in the morning. It will be okay.” (shit)

 

Sid nods, so I pull back and help him stand on wobbly, human, legs. The other penguins look up as I lead him out of the enclosure, heading home after clocking out, faking sick. It’s not a huge lie, because as soon as we get to my apartment, Sidney collapses onto the couch and groans softly.

 

“Sid?” I panic. “What’s wrong? Are you hurt? Are you sick? Oh my god are you dying? Sid please don’t be dead!”

 

“Geno, I’m fine. Not dying. Just tired.” He mumbles softly.

 

I walk over to him, laying my palm against his forehead. Feverish and sweaty. I look down at him worriedly, seeing his eyes close again as he yawns. I hurry to the bathroom, grabbing the thermometer and some tylenol, worrying about my friend, sick on my couch. He stirs only slightly when I gently ease the thermometer under his tongue, waiting anxiously for it to read as I measure out the cold medicine. He coughs as I tip his head forward, eyes opening as I pour it down into his mouth. He pulls a face as he takes the bitter drink, but ultimately swallows it and curls into a ball.

 

He doesn’t say anything as I pull his skates off, settling into the familiar routine of helping out if he’s pulled a muscle or is sore after a hard check to the boards. As soon as he’s out of his hockey gear, I help him up, leading him to the bedroom slowly, where I sit him on the bed. He doesn’t look at me as I visually examine him, making sure he’s not hurt anywhere, and finally leading him to the bathroom. He blushes bright red as I start the shower, showing him where the clean towels are and where the shampoo is.

 

“Geno, I’m pretty sure I can figure out a shower,” He says mildly. “I’ll be fine.”

 

“Okay, if you’re sure. Just holler if you need anything, I make us sandwiches for dinner,” I say.

 

He nods, so I close the bathroom door behind me and rush to the kitchen. As I make sandwiches, I try to not think about the fact that I just kissed my best friend (even if it was only on the helmet), and that I may or may not have feelings for him. Dinner is a fun event, we eat silently, determinedly not talking about the fact that we hugged for several minutes or that he called me before the curse hit, nor the manner the curse was broken.

 

After dinner, we sat together for a few minutes, just enjoying each other’s company, a company that we had been missing for months. At bedtime, I offered him my bed, deciding to sleep on the sofa, even if my back would hurt in the morning. The dreams don’t come at all that night, and that morning, I wake up feeling refreshed and better than I have in a long time.

 

Sidney comes to the zoo with me, even if he’s still feeling a little sick. After explaining the situation to Roger, he gets a pass to go into the enclosure with me to help feed the rest of our teammates. He comes with me every day for the next few weeks, even as my zookeeper duties begin to feel ill-fitting and unfamiliar. It makes me realize how much better my life is with Sid by my side, how much color and life is in my life. It turns out that he only had a cold, after feeling ill for a few days, but we figure it’s just a side-effect of the curse, like his constant craving for sushi. We still haven’t talked about the kiss and the phone call, nor what we’re gonna do about the rest of the penguins, and how we’re going to break the rest of the curse. I pull him to the side as soon as we get home.

 

“Sid, we need to talk. Come here, sit down,” I say, pulling him to the couch, “How are we going to break the curse on everyone else? Did the person that cast this spell say anything?”

 

He nods. “Yeah, she did. I think it was something about all of the penguins making their triumphant return to the CONSOL? But that doesn’t make any sense… how are we going to get twenty something penguins across town? And how did the curse on me break?”

 

“I think part of it was me visiting the CONSOL, remember? When you were turned back into… you, it was a couple of days after I got the wall-chunk and the puck. Maybe that weakened the curse? That, and there was something my mother said, one thing that will always break a curse. Let me see if I can find it…” I grab my laptop.

 

We sit silently as I scroll through my chat history, looking for something, anything, that would help. Finally, I found the conversation, and scrolled through until I found what I was looking for.

 

“Sid, it says here that the only sure-fire way to break any curse is… is a true love’s kiss.”

 

When our eyes meet, we both blush heavily. He looks down at the laptop as I look around the room, both of us trying desperately to not meet each other’s gaze. As soon as I look up, he does the same, meeting my eyes steadily even as the silence grows.

 

“True love’s kiss, eh?” He chuckles, “So… does that mean…?”

 

I nod once, scratching my neck, “Listen… Sid… I get if it makes you…”

 

I don’t have a chance to finish as Sid’s lips meet mine. The kiss is slow and sweet, his lips soft and plump as he hugs me close. I grab his cheek with one hand, closing my eyes and letting myself feel for once. He pulls back, eyes still closed, as a needing noise softly escapes my mouth. I look at him, face still bright with blush, lips sore but smiling.

 

“Oh,” I murmur stupidly.

 

“Shit… Geno, I’m so sorry I get it if you hate me now I’ll just…” He swears softly, getting up on wobbly legs. I grab his hand, tugging him back down into my lap. He gasps as our lips meet again, this time more desperate, more needing, as I scramble to touch him, to hold him close to me and never let go again. He must feel the same, because he clutches at my back as we share lazy kisses, only shifting slightly so he’s better perched on me.

 

We pull away again after long minutes of just being together, faces flushed and chests heaving like we just skated a full overtime period. I smile at him, earning the same smile back as he shifts off my lap.

 

“So that means… we’re on the same page?” He asks softly.

 

I laugh. “Sid, you can say it.”

 

“You first.”

 

I take his face in my hands again. “Sidney Patrick, I think I might be in love with you,” My voice is sincere, hopefully getting the message across. Sid’s eyes light up as I say this.

 

“You… really, Geno? For real?” He’s cautious.

 

“Yes.” He’s so adorable with a blush on his face.

 

“Evgeni Vladimirovich… did I say that right?” I nod. “Evgeni Vladimirovich, I think I might be in love with you, too.”

 

I grin. “It makes me so happy to hear you say that.”

 

“Me too, Geno.”

 

We cuddle on the couch for a good few hours, until the crick in my neck refuses to let me ignore it and Sid has to use the bathroom. I let him up and head to my bedroom, turning back the sheets and clicking the TV on. Sidney looks surprised when he sees me on the bed.

 

“I thought we could sleep on real bed tonight, both of us. We have to talk about things still,” I pat the spot beside me.

 

“Okay. What first?” He asks, sliding in next to me. I wrap an arm around his shoulders.

 

“Not sure. Should we discuss… this?” I motion to us.

 

“Probably,” Sid agrees. “What do you think? I mean, is this something you want to pursue?”

I nod, “Yes, if you feel the same.”

 

“Of course I do, doofus! I wouldn’t’ve just made out with you for over an hour if I wasn’t interested!” Sid laughs.

 

I smile, relived. “So, I can call you my boyfriend now?”

 

“I don’t see why not,” He says softly, looking up at me with warm eyes. I grin wider.

 

“Perfect. Now, how are we going to get the other penguins to the CONSOL? I’m not sure Roger is gonna like that much…” I question softly, laying back and thinking.

 

“Well, we could always ask him. He wasn’t horribly surprised when we explained this,” Sid motions to himself, “to him. I’m sure he’d be okay if we explained it in further detail.”

 

I sigh. “Right. And how exactly do you plan on getting over twenty penguins to CONSOL?”

 

“A truck.” I snort.

 

“Sid. We’re gonna need big truck,” I poke him.

 

“What about the trucks used to transport animals to like… schools and stuff. That would work, wouldn’t it? And stop poking me!” He squirms.

 

I look at him thoughtfully. “Hmm. Hadn’t thought of that. We’ll ask tomorrow. Zoo opens late, so we can sleep in. Okay?”

“Yes!” I laugh at Sid’s slow fist pump, “Sleeping in sounds like heaven. Honestly, I’ll never understand how you wake up and go to work that early. I need four cups of coffee to even resemble a person.”

 

“I drink tea. That might be it,” I point out softly.

 

“Leaf water,” Sid grumbles, crossing his arms.

 

“Bean water.”

 

Sid pouts more once I say this, so I pull him close and lay down. He puts his head on my chest as I click the TV off, setting the alarm on my phone for a ‘decent’ time (at least in Sid’s mind) , and finally reaching up to turn the light off. Sid wiggles around for a couple moments, getting comfy, but allowing me to pull him closer and wrap my arms around him. I’m about to ask him if he’s okay with me spooning him like this, but his soft snores soon clue me into the fact that he’s completely exhausted. I kiss his forehead before closing my eyes, joining him in sleep. No dreams.

 

The next morning, I’m the first to wake, hearing the alarm go off next to my ear. Sid is still wrapped in my arms, facing me now, face smooshed into my chest. I lay there with him for a few minutes, smiling down at his sleeping face. He just barely stirs as I get up, untangling our arms and legs and returning him to a semi-normal sleeping position; on his side, arms wrapped around a pillow. He’s so cute, I almost don’t want to leave, but I force myself up, and get to work making my tea and some coffee for Sid.

 

Eventually, he makes his way downstairs. I sit on the couch, reading the paper while sipping contentedly at my tea, glancing up for a moment to see his disheveled hair. He smiles tiredly at me.

 

“Morning. Coffee in kitchen,” I smile.

 

“Geno, have I ever told you that you are easily the best person on the planet?” His voice gets softer as he enters the kitchen, presumably going to make his coffee, and my suspicions are correct when he returns with a mug of the bitter concoction.

 

“I’ll never understand how you drink that,” I grimace as he takes a long, slow sip. He winks.

 

“It takes practice and patience. Much like hockey,” He looks thoughtful.

 

His green shirt is wrinkled at his shoulders, and I lean over to gently smooth it out. He smiles warmly at me before capturing my lips in a chaste kiss, lips soft and warm with just a hint of cream and sugar. He scooches over next to me as he grabs the remote, flipping through TV channels like the pages of a magazine. I wrap an arm around him as he settles in next to me, relaxed against my side. I sigh softly.

 

“Everything alright, Geno?” He questions.

 

“Yes. Just happy,” I peck his cheek, chuckling softly at his blush.

 

“What time do you have to be at work?”

 

I look at the clock. “The zoo doesn’t open today until noon, and Roger has probably already taken care of the penguin’s morning feeding. We’ll probably head out at, say, 11:30?”

 

“Works for me. That gives us time to shower. No offense, G, but you smell. Really bad,” He scrunches his nose.

 

“I don’t remember you complaining last night,” I point out.

 

“That’s because we were too busy making out like horny teenagers,” He laughs.

I fake glare at him. “Fine. No more kisses for you. And I’ll even take shower so I smell nice.”

 

“Geno…” He whines. I roll my eyes.

 

“Sid…” I mimic. “I’m going to take shower. And no, you not joining me.”

 

He nods, finishing his cup before standing up. “Right. I’ll go make the bed, you shower, then I’ll get dressed and you can do… whatever it is you do before work. You don’t have some odd ritual, do you?”

 

I shake my head. “No odd ritual.”

 

I wink at him before fleeing to the bathroom, locking the door and setting the water temperature as high as it can go. I’m slightly dismayed to find that certain… parts… have reacted to Sid’s attention, trying to ignore it as best I can as I clean off. I make sure to use the best smelling soap I have, wanting nothing more than to tease Sidney, winding him up as much as he has me.

 

I contemplate my growing problem, even as I try to banish all thoughts of the things I could be doing to Sid right now, but nothing I do stops any of the thoughts. I sigh heavily, head falling against the wall. My hand unknowingly finds it’s way to my groin, fisting and stroking my dick as I pant softly. I hear Sid on the other side of the wall, humming to himself, oblivious to the fact that holy fucking shit I am jacking off to the man that is my best friend/boyfriend?

 

I let go for only a moment, coating my hand with more soap, before I start pumping again, long, languid strokes as a soft, needy noise escapes my mouth. I close my eyes and tilt my head back, letting the soft gasps and moans escape me as my pumps become harder and faster. It’s not long before I have to bite back a particularly loud moan, releasing all over my hand and leg. I’m sure my face is hot with blush as I rinse myself off, watching the evidence of my ‘activity’ go down the drain. A knock on the door startles me.

 

“Geno? You almost done in there?” Sid asks worriedly.

 

“Yeah, I’ll be out in few minutes!” I call back.

 

I turn the shower off and hop out, drying myself off as quickly as I can. My skin is still damp when I pull my clothes on, combing my hair out and brushing my teeth before pulling the door open. I must’ve opened it too quickly, because on the other side stands a very startled Sid. A blush paints my face almost as quickly as his, and we stand there for a good few minutes, not moving, not speaking. Eventually, I move out of the way, muttering a quick ‘sorry’ as Sid enters the bathroom, emerging only a couple of minutes later in fresh clothes. I grab us both poptarts on my way out of the apartment, pocketing my keys and waiting for Sid to get his wallet. The ride is quiet for the most part, us munching on our snacks and looking over at the high rises.

 

“See? Ice. Completely ice,” I motion to the CONSOL.

 

“It… you’re right. It feels so, odd. Eerie,” He turns to me, “How did you even get in?”

 

“Through the door. I found part that was cracked. I think it should open again though,” I glance sideways.

 

“Hmm. Let’s talk to Roger. Hopefully he’ll let us take everyone out tonight. Although I’d hate to think of what could happen if anyone escapes…” Sid grimaces.

 

I laugh. “Let’s not think about that. Roger would have my head. And yours too.”

 

As soon as we get to the zoo, we head in to see Roger. He listens patiently as Sid and I explain the situation in further detail, how important it is for us to get these penguins to the CONSOL centre so they can become their actual species again, a calm but thoughtful look on his face. After we finish explaining, he sits quietly for a few moments, taking it all in.

 

“So what you’re saying is that if you’re able to bring these penguins to the old CONSOL arena, they’re gonna turn back into humans like your friend Sid here and we’re gonna regain all these memories? Geno, I trust you a lot, but are you high? Have you even thought of what could go wrong? What happens if it doesn’t work? What happens if someone goes missing?” Roger asks. “I like you, Geno, I really do, but right now, unless you can convince me otherwise, the risks outweigh the supposed benefits.”

 

“Roger, I think this will work. I know what I see there, and I know what happened with Sid. Getting them inside shouldn’t be problem. They trust me. And we have trucks that we use for transporting animals to schools and other zoos. If it works, I’ll make sure you get fully replenished penguin home. And if it doesn’t, then it doesn’t, and they can stay here. Please just give us chance, Roger.” I say, a hint of pleading in my voice.

 

He sighs. “Evgeni, you better be careful. If this works, I’m holding you to your promise. The keys are hanging on the wall. I’ll help you get the penguins into the truck, and I’ll wait here for you to call me, so I can know if it works. And if you hurt any of them, I’m keeping your head on display in the gift shop,” He wiggles a finger at us. “The zoo closes at 6:30. Is that too late?”

 

I look at Sid, grinning. “Perfect. Thank you Roger! You will not regret.”

 

He sighs. “I’d better not. Now, you’ve got penguins to feed, don’t you?”

 

 

Chapter Text

The penguins are antsy by the time Sid and I get to their enclosure. I smile at all of them, making sure each penguin gets a hug and pat on the head. Sid sits on the ground with them, baby penguins in his lap as Pascal and Marc crowd closer. Beau follows me around as I get to work cleaning.

 

“You and I go on adventure later, Beau. You and I and Sid and all penguins,” I smile at him, ruffling his head feathers as I scrub off their favorite rocks. Sidney laughs over on the other side of the enclosure, a sound that makes me want to laugh as well.

 

“Sid sounds like duck when he laughs,” I chuckle. Beau nods his head.

 

Eventually, Sid makes his way over to us, smiling at Beau as he picks up the taller penguin. Beau flaps his wing once on Sid’s hand, making a show of hitting him as Sid laughs and sets him on the newly-cleaned rock. Kris soon waddles over to join him, looking up at me with his mouth open wide. I walk over to the fish freezer, grabbing the pail of fish and nudging away the baby penguin who’s latched onto my foot.

 

Sidney pays no attention as I throw fish for the penguins, choosing instead to interact with Olli as the penguin chirps and brays at him. I take aim, cocking my arm back just enough and…

 

WHAP! Right in the face!

 

Sid squeals as the dead fish hits him in the cheek, landing unceremoniously in the water, a big splash coming up and soaking Olli. The penguin shakes himself out all over the place, adding to Sid’s problems as the man jumps up and scutters away. I laugh, hands on my knees as Sidney glares at me, even as he tries to fight the smile that’s trying to make it’s way onto his face.

 

“Sid-!” I gasp, “Y-your face so funny! You didn’t even see coming!”

 

“Ha ha,” He says in monotone, still glaring, “Very funny, Geno. You’re gonna pay for that though.”

 

I wipe my eyes, “What are you gonna do, captain? Make me run suicides all day?”

He points at me, “I might if you don’t shut up.”

 

I grin. Sid does too, eventually, as we finish cleaning the penguin’s home and continue to feed them. The day drags slowly, most of the penguins resting, Sid and I sitting on a rock near the fish freezer chatting. The zoo is slow, those who do come in only stay by the penguins for a few minutes. Eventually, Roger calls it a day, closing and locking up as everyone goes through their cleaning duties for the evening. He pulls me aside as I exit the habitat, jacket in hand.

 

“Here,” He says, tossing me a set of keys, “The back door will need to be locked before you leave. You can drop the keys off tomorrow morning. There’s crates in the back office. And for gods sake, don’t lose any penguins. Please.”

 

I nod, “All penguins will return unharmed, no matter what form they’re in. Do you want me to call tonight?”

 

He shakes his head. “No. Just come by tomorrow morning. Obviously if this works, I’ll let you off the hook and you can get back to playing hockey, but I would like you to come in and help out once in awhile. Alex was right, you do have a real passion for animals.”

I smile. “Thank you, Roger. Good night.”

 

“Good night, Evgeni.”

 

Sid comes out of the habitat soon after Roger leaves. “Are we all set?”

 

I nod. “Yes. Let’s go get crates and penguins.”

 

Getting the crates is the easy part, even if it does take a few trips to carry them. Getting penguins INTO the crates, well, that proves to be difficult. Very difficult. It took almost an hour for Sid and I to chase down all the penguins, getting each one into a crate as they flapped and squaked and splashed at us. The last one to go in was, of course, Beau, making a big stink of everything as he evaded both me and Sid. Eventually, we got them all into crates and out to the truck, loading them inside and closing the doors. I leaned against the side of the truck, sighing.

 

“Hey, Geno?” Sid asks.

 

“Hmm?”

 

“How are we gonna get them inside? If we return them inside, and they’re still in the crates, what happens if they… become human again?”

 

Shit. “I’m not sure. Let’s bring one inside, see what happens. They might have to be in the rink itself to turn.”

 

Sid nods. “That’s what I was thinking. Ready to go?”

 

I nod, opening the door of the driver’s side. As I start the car, Sid jumps in the passenger seat, tapping on his leg as I back out of the zoo’s parking lot. The penguins are quiet for the most part, only shifting around quietly as we drive through town. The CONSOL centre soon comes up, the glittery, icy sheen still there. This time, I’m able to keep my eyes open as I pull into the back parking lot, near the door I went in the last time I was here. Sid eyes the building quietly, fingers tracing the walls as soon as we get out.

 

“Wow. It’s not even cold.” His voice is awed.

I smile. “Come on, Sid, we need to get penguins. Should we grab Marc first?”

 

He looks up. “Flower? Sure. What are we gonna do if he doesn’t turn?”

 

I smile. “I have plan. If Flower doesn’t turn when we inside, we bring him out and grab every penguin. We put them on bench, and crate by crate, release them on ice. That will work, yes?”

 

Sid nods. “Good plan. Alright, what crate is Flower in?”

 

I shrug. We sift through every crate, looking for the long, ruffled feathers of Marc’s head. I smile when I find him, picking him up and handing him to Sid as I get ready to wrestle the door open. It opens easier than I thought it would, Sid meeting my eyes as we both take a deep breath, and head inside.

 

Nothing happens when we put Marc on the floor of the locker room.

 

“Okay. Now, we go get other penguins, bring them on ice yes?” I look at Sid, worry overtaking his features as he looks down at Marc.

 

“What? Oh, yeah, let’s get the others. God, Geno,” He looks at me as we head back outside. “What if this doesn’t work?”

 

“It will work, Sid, I can feel it,” I assure him. The certainty in my voice must help, because Sid looks up at me and smiles.

 

“Yeah. Okay, let’s get these guys inside.”

 

One by one, we each carry a crate inside, until every penguin has gotten to the penalty box bench. I close the door of my box at the same time Sid closes his, opening the doors of the cages to release the penguins into the small space. They all look up at me as I look to Sid, seeing his nod. We both open the doors at the same time, watching the penguins hop onto the ice one by one. Sid looks at me anxiously, sliding his way over.

 

“Geno… I don’t think…”

POP! POP POP POP POP POP!

 

We both cover our ears at the loud noises, the same noise I heard when Sid was transformed. My eyes are closed as the noises get louder and faster, small shockwaves coming from every direction until… Silence.

 

I’m almost afraid to open my eyes, but when I do, I gasp aloud.

 

There, in all their human glory, is the remainder of our team. The Pittsburgh Penguins.

 

“Geno! She was right! The penguins had to make a triumphant return to the CONSOL centre! It worked, Geno!” Sid yells, hugging me. Soon enough, I’m surrounded by twenty more bodies, everyone hopping up and down at the same time my knees feel weak. I know this feeling all too well, my memories rewriting one more time to include all the familiar faces, Beau, Flower, Duper, Kris… everyone before me.

 

“Geno! You did it, man!” Beau yells, tackling me like we just won the cup.

 

“Oh my god,” I gasp, hugging him tightly. “It worked. Oh my god, you don’t know how worried I was when we got here. Oh my god you’re here. You’re all here!”

 

“And it’s all thanks to you, Geno,” Duper hugs me. “Thank you. So much. Although I did laugh when Beau got hit in the face with a cheeseburger…”

 

“Hey!” Beau pipes up. “Not funny!”

 

As soon as we know everyone is human, and no one is left behind, we all head back to our respective homes, minus me and Sid. We return the truck, only to find Roger sitting at his desk, typing away on his computer. He looks up as we come in.

 

“It worked. I can feel it,” He says by way of greeting. “It’s like… it’s like nothing ever happened.”

 

I nod, “Thank you for trusting us, Roger. The crates are in truck,” I say as I hand him the keys.

 

“Evgeni,” He stands up to shake my hand, “Thank you for all your help the past few months. I’m gonna let you get back to hockey, but I hope you’ll consider coming back and helping out for a few weeks in the summer?”

 

I smile and nod, “I’d like nothing more. Thank you, Roger.”

 

Sid nods, “Thanks.”

 

Roger sits back down, “Well, I’ll let you two run home. No sense in keeping you here all night, am I right?”

 

I laugh, “Thanks. I’ll find a way to get you the penguins.”

 

The next month, we all get back onto the ice. The NHL, after being alerted to what had happened, and seeing the evidence for themselves, push the season back a few weeks, having us play 12 less games than we would’ve. Roger and his family are in the stands for our first game -- and first win -- of the season, cheering louder than everyone else. The third goal of the night, a pass from Sid to me and buried in the back of the net, I point to Roger and yell as loud as I can. He jumps up, along with everyone else in the stands, as the buzzer goes off. We win 4-1, patting each other on the back and pads as the final seconds disappear. Feeling Sid’s lips on mine at the end of that game makes everything feel complete.

 

That same week, there’s an oil spill in the ocean. I catch wind of there being several penguins, both male and female, hurt by this, and pull some strings to rescue them. I keep my promise to Roger, flying to New York to see the penguins before they fly back with us. Roger is more than thrilled when we walk into the zoo with crates in our arms, penguins poking their heads out at their new habitat. It feels good… right. Just like sharing my bed with Sid at night.

 

I’ve been asked if I’d go back and do it all again. And given the choice… yes. Yes I would.