Zhenya woke up damp. Sand had found its way into his sheets, and it scraped at his cheek as he lay, eyes still shut, trying to remember leaving the light on. He inhaled, and that was wrong, too – it smelled wet. Green. A kind of biological funk that was all right for fishing trips but completely, utterly unwelcome in his house.
He opened his eyes, and then he sat up. He blinked into a glaring sun.
He was very far from his house. Or any house. To one side, clumps of weeds grew out of the sand on which he was lying. To his other side a lake spread out, flat and shining and serene. Also, he was naked.
Was he even in Moscow? Yesterday he’d been in Moscow. There’d been shots; he remembered that much. Had Arkady brought him here? And left him, the asshole fuck?
Distantly, a boat motor whined. Zhenya considered his naked toes with sand grinding between them and also his soft naked dick. He’d never gotten a sunburn on his dick before, and he wasn’t much interested in starting now. He got to his feet. There were no footprints in the sand except his fresh ones; he supposed they’d all washed away. He took a guess and turned left, his back to the sun, and he began to walk. The beach soon ran out, but a packed-dirt trail led up through the grass tufts, and he followed it. The occasional stone made him wish for shoes, but otherwise it wasn’t so bad. It would have been pretty, even.
Zhenya made a turn, and there was civilization: a boat dock, leading up into the trees. Thank fuck. Set in the trees was a house – an odd-looking one, for this part of the country, but Zhenya was not inclined to be picky. He found what looked like the front door. He gave himself a once-over, decided there was no possible help for being completely fucking naked, and rang the doorbell.
It rang hollowly on the other side of the door. A few moments later, Zhenya heard footsteps – heavy, male. He was already composing his apology, his winning smile that would smooth over whatever difficulties his autograph could not, when the door swung open.
He stared. The man in the doorway stared back. It took a moment for the unexpected yet familiar features to resolve into a person he knew. “Sid?”
English was hard. The first few words were always the worst, like they had to dragged from Zhenya’s throat one by one. “What you do in Russia?”
Sid leaned out the door and looked one way, then the other. He’d been working out; a flush rode high on his neck and cheeks, and a sheen of sweat peeked out from his collarbone, under his ragged t-shirt. “What’s the deal, Geno?”
“What’s your deal?” Zhenya demanded, sharp. He was hungry and probably burnt and the sun had given him a headache, and here was Sid where he had no business being, asking stupid questions. “I’m in Russia, and you here?”
“No,” Sid said slowly. “I’m in Canada. At my house in Cole Harbour. And so are you.”
“Last night I’m in Moscow. I can’t be in Canada.”
Sid blinked at him. “Uh huh. Um. You should probably come in. Where are your clothes?”
Sid’s shirts were too broad in the shoulders and his sweatpants ended two inches above Zhenya’s ankles. Sid rolled his eyes when Zhenya pointed this out, which Zhenya enjoyed just enough to be distracted for a moment or two. His stomach reminded him, though. “You have food?”
“In the kitchen. Help yourself, I’m gonna go shower.”
Sid’s kitchen here – which Zhenya would accept provisionally was in Cole Harbour – had all the same things as his kitchen in Pittsburgh. Zhenya was able to muster together a sandwich without much trouble. That plus two glasses of water had him feeling a little better, even if he still had sand in places he didn’t want.
Immediate problems solved, he now had new ones. Bigger ones.
“Has this happened to you before?” Sid asked when he came down from his shower. He eyed the crumbs remaining on Zhenya’s plate, and he turned towards the fridge.
“What? Wake up next your lake?”
“No, asshole.” Sid took out the roast beef slices and mustard Zhenya had just put away and set them next to the bread, still lying on the counter. “Have you woken up somewhere weird before?”
“It’s offseason. I wake up lots of places.”
Sid turned to give Zhenya a hairy eyeball. “Have you woken up in any physically impossible places, Geno? Because I checked the time difference, and there’s absolutely no way you could have crossed the Atlantic between last night in Moscow and this morning in Cole Harbour, even if they let your drunk ass on an airplane.” Sid looked well on his way to being pissed off, which was absolutely not Zhenya’s problem. At least, aside from Sid giving him food, shelter, clothing, and hopefully a ride to the airport. “You must have jumped here, and you don’t just randomly start jumping continents when you’re fucking twenty-eight years old, so this has to have happened before.”
“Twenty-nine,” Zhenya said automatically. He repeated Sid’s words to himself. “Jump? You think I jump here?”
“How the fuck else would you get here?” Sid demanded.
“I don’t know!” Zhenya said. Really, he did not understand why Sid was the one upset that Zhenya had woken up naked with sand in his hair. “I don’t remember, I have no idea. I don’t ask to come here! I just want to go home to Russia, finish my vacation.”
“Oh.” Sidney deflated all at once. “You—oh.”
“I already miss training, and now I have to fly, and—oh, fuck.”
Zhenya gestured down at his too-short sweatpants and their empty pockets. “Passport still in Russia.”
“Oh,” Sid said. “Uh, that sucks. Can you get someone to send it to you?”
“I guess. Maybe take couple of days, though, Sid.” He felt a little bad, suddenly. “Sorry I bother you. You take me to hotel, it’s fine.” Of course Zhenya didn’t have any money to pay for a hotel, either, but Sid would know he was good for it.
“You’re not—that’s stupid. Of course you’re staying here. You can train with me, if you want? I mean, I’m leaving at the end of the week, but you’ll be gone by then. It’ll be nice to have company.” Sid turned abruptly and began spreading mustard for his abandoned sandwich.
Zhenya blinked at Sid’s back. Sid’s hair was getting long, and it curled damply at his neck and over his ears. A summer of training had built up his shoulders again. He looked good, and Zhenya felt an old, familiar tickle in the pit of his stomach. “Train more after lunch?” he asked.
Sid flashed him a grin, irritation apparently forgotten. “Sure. I’ll show you what Andy has me doing, and you can show me your routine?”
“You do that a lot?” his agent asked. “Do I have that in my file?”
“It’s never happened before. I don’t really know how I got here.”
“You should get that looked at when you get back – off the record, you know. Find out what the deal, then you can decide if you want it made official.”
Zhenya’s family had never had any of those kinds of talents. He’d never had to think about whether he wanted the Pens to know he might accidentally jump space in a blink of an eye, eavesdrop on other people’s dreams, or shift objects he wasn’t touching. And Sid was right, that stuff hit in puberty, if it was going to hit at all.
Zhenya had a lot to think about as he wandered through the house, looking for the gym. Then he found it, and the sight of Sid, already flushed and sweaty, drove everything else out of Zhenya’s head.
He followed Sid through his afternoon workout and put up with Sid critiquing his form. “I know how to squat lift, Sid, what the fuck.”
“Yeah, but Andy says if you want to get the most out of it, you want to—” And then Sid had his hands on Zhenya’s back, demonstrating, which was fucking distracting and didn’t help Zhenya’s form in the slightest.
“You don’t lift this much, right?” Zhenya asked, just to get Sid to lay off, and Sid’s eyes lit with that same fire Zhenya saw every time Zhenya challenged him to a faceoff competition. “Bet you can’t.”
“Oh, you are fucking on.”
So maybe they pushed a little harder than either of their training schedules really allowed, and maybe afterwards they stole a few moments collapsed on the floor before they picked themselves up to go shower. Zhenya lolled his head over to look at Sid sprawled out on the mat. “Oh my god,” Sid said to the ceiling, laughing. “I am so done.”
“So fucking done.”
“Good,” Zhenya said comfortably. “You retire, next year they give me C. I show them what real captain look like.”
Sid barked a laugh. “You don’t want my C. You’d hate it.”
Zhenya hummed, but it was for show. Sid was right. He’d hate being captain, and worse, he’d hate Sid not being captain.
Sid pushed upright. “We should get dinner, right?”
“Right,” Zhenya agreed, and followed him up the stairs.
“Good,” Sid said from where he stood at the counter, slicing tomatoes. “See, you won’t be stuck here long.”
“Sure,” Zhenya said, obscurely disappointed. “Get out of your hair, right?”
“I mean.” Sid turned, butcher’s knife in hand. He sought Zhenya’s eyes, and earnestly he said, “I don’t mind. Like I said, it’s nice to have company when I work out. Nate already left for some family thing before the season starts, so it’s been, you know. Quiet.”
Too quiet, as far as Zhenya was concerned. Sid’s preference for solitude always looked a little too much like loneliness for Zhenya’s comfort. “Boring,” he said, making an exaggerated face. “Sad.”
“Shut up,” Sid said, smiling as he turned back to the counter and the tomatoes.
Well, all right, then. If Sid didn’t mind Zhenya being here, then Zhenya didn’t need to feel guilty about enjoying it. He joined Sid at the counter, where they sliced onions and pepper jack in companionable silence. Sid brought out his George Foreman countertop grill, and Zhenya poked fun at it.
“What, you think I should fire up the big one outside?” Sid asked, looking conflicted. “Just for the two of us?”
Zhenya considered the grill for a long, judicious moment. “It’s fine. But I want eat outside.”
“Oh, for sure.” Sid flashed Zhenya another of those smiles, bright and easy. The immunity Zhenya had built up to Sid the season before must have worn off, because when he looked at that quirk of Sid’s lips, a pleased, warm feeling began to pool in the bottom of his stomach.
To distract himself, he said, “What about you? You jump?”
Sid cast him a startled glance, which was fair. People volunteered that kind of thing about themselves if they wanted to, but usually you didn’t ask. Zhenya just waited and watched as Sid drew himself in, tight and still. “Uh, no. I’ve never—not like that. Never gone somewhere else.”
Sid rolled his eyes, as Zhenya intended. “That’s bullshit and you know it. Dreamers don’t steal anything from anyone. They just watch, is all.”
“Then what you do?” Zhenya pressed.
“Lots of people don’t do anything, Geno. Maybe I’m boring, like you said.”
That wasn’t quite what Zhenya had said, but whatever. He kept looking, wide-eyed, and finally Sid’s shoulders slumped in a kind of defeat. “I’m a shifter, okay? I shift things.”
“Like hamburger?” Zhenya asked.
Sid looked across the kitchen to where the meat sat in pink patties on a plate. “You know it doesn’t work like that. It’s involuntary. It’s all… emotion. How much you want it.”
“So what you move?”
“Oh, you know.” Sid turned and began to uncoil the cord to the grill. “A stuffed elephant one time, when I was little and I got scared. There was this time my sister—” He paused to push the cord into the power outlet and he held it there for a moment before he continued. “Anyway. It’s all about really wanting it.”
That seemed reasonable enough. Zhenya knew few people who wanted things more than Sid did. In fact—“Hockey? You do it for hockey.” Zhenya had a new thought and choked a little. “Golden goal, you… shifted that?”
Sid didn’t answer, and he didn’t answer. A sort of horror began to steal over Zhenya. This was why you didn’t ask. This was why his agent had told him to get tested in private, so no team or organization had any record of any extracurricular talents he might have.
Finally Sid said, quietly, “Not the golden goal. That—that one was all me.”
“It’s okay, Sid.” Zhenya patted him on the shoulder. “Is rude question. We talk something else.”
“No, I—” Sid searched Zhenya’s face. “I don’t talk about it a lot, obviously, so.” He shrugged. “It’s like shifting anything else. You still have to want it, like, really fucking bad, and I like goals, but usually I don’t like them that much. The hockey, it’s mostly just me.”
“Mostly,” Zhenya repeated cautiously.
Sid gave Zhenya another long look, and whatever he saw there must have decided him. “There was this one goal – it was in my rookie year, before you got here. I was freaking out, kind of. The league was a just a lot, you know? And we kept being so fucking bad—”
“Good thing, else we not get Staalsy.”
Sid snorted. “Yeah, I didn’t really see it that way at the time. I don’t even really remember – I just really, really wanted to score in this one game. I shot this wrister, and the Lightning player blocked it with his stick. It should have deflected high, you know? But it didn’t.”
Zhenya waited, but the font of words he’d inadvertently tapped seemed to have dried up. “Weird bounce,” he said finally. This story was really not as impressive as he’d been expecting, after all that build up.
“No. No, I saw it change direction, like in mid-air. It wasn’t knuckling or anything. Like its path just bent, and it beat Grahame glove side. Just—” Sid shook his head, lost for words. “Unreal. Literally.”
“And you win?”
“Lost it in the shootout,” Sid said wryly.
“Huh,” Zhenya said.
After a long moment, Sid said, “So you want cheese on yours, right?”
“Yeah?” Sid said through a mouthful.
“Whole bunch of guys, their girlfriends. Dogs. So much noise all the time.”
“Sounds fun,” Sid said. He sounded sincere.
“Yes. Always lots go on. Lot of drinking.” Sid snorted, and Zhenya grinned widely back. “But this, too. This nice.” Zhenya swept a hand across the view, the deck. Sid, too, before he realized what he was doing. He dropped his hand again. “Nice break.”
Sid set his plate aside and sprawled a little, legs as long as they’d go. He wriggled his toes. “I like it. I didn’t figure you would, though. Not enough night clubs. Or vodka.”
“Vodka can buy at store. Night clubs, eh.” Zhenya waggled his hand.
“Well, I’m glad you like it. My place.” Sid met Zhenya’s eyes with an earnestness that didn’t seem quite warranted, and Zhenya’s pulse picked up for no reason at all. A silence stretched out over the distant hiss of evergreen needles in the breeze.
“Very nice,” Zhenya repeated, disconcerted and suddenly awkward. He reached for his plate, and then he stood and reached for Sid’s, too, and took them both to the kitchen.
“Yes?” Zhenya said, because what else do you say to an announcement of ownership like that.
“I mean, it’s not much, but. We could look at it, if you want?”
“Sure.” Better that than wade through any more of that awkward silence that had risen up between them for no reason Zhenya could see.
The walk across Sid’s lawn and down into the nearby valley was quiet, too, but it was a companionable quiet. The sun was nearly set now, and birds were singing far up in the trees. Yes, this, Zhenya could like.
The creek was indeed not much, in the summer heat just a trickle at the bottom of a shallow, rocky gully. “Upstream, there’s kind of wide spot with some crayfish in it. Or there were – I think the heron got most of them.”
“Pretty,” Zhenya said politely.
In the evening gloom, Sid flashed him a grin. “Whatever, I know it’s dumb.”
In the locker room, on the ice, in the weight room Zhenya would have taken that opening and run with it. Now he said, “No, I tell you. It’s nice. Nice see what you like.” Made awkward by his own sincerity, he added, “Maybe you come to Russia someday, I show you everything I like. Take you to all the best clubs.”
Sid laughed a little. “I guess I wouldn’t mind that for a while.” He took a step nearest to Zhenya and peered towards the creek. Zhenya could barely make out the water now, just a brighter ribbon in a black shadow. “Maybe that was what you were thinking about yesterday in your club in Moscow. Maybe that’s how you got here, eh?”
Zhenya tried to think back. It was all clouded by a pleasant alcoholic haze, and finally he shook his head. “I don’t remember. I’m not think about anything, really. Just summer, you know? Party, friends.”
“Right,” Sid said. He took a noisy breath. “Look, Geno, I’m glad you had a good day, because, uh. I think this is my fault.”
“What your fault?” Zhenya asked, bewildered, before his brain caught up. “You--you bring me here?”
“God, this is stupid,” Sid muttered. Louder, “I did it before, once. When I was at Shattuck, I was just homesick, I guess. I don’t know. I just really wished my family was there? And then I woke up with Taylor on top of me, ready to freak out because she didn’t know where she was.”
Zhenya was having trouble tracking. “You bring me here? That’s thousands of kilometers.”
Sid chuckled harshly. “Yeah, that’s a personal best. Look, I’m really sorry.”
“You bring me here,” Zhenya repeated one more time. “You… homesick?”
“Well, obviously not, Geno.”
“You say if you shift something, it’s because you really want it. You really want me here?”
“It doesn’t have to be weird, okay?” Sid said. Pleaded.
But Zhenya wasn’t going to let him get away with that now, not when hope had just sparked, solar-bright. He laid a careful hand on Sid’s shoulder. He wasn’t sure whether to be glad that he couldn’t make out Sid’s face anymore. His own was flushed hot. “Why you want me here, Sid?”
Sid shrugged under Zhenya’s fingers. “I just wanted to share it, I guess. The lake. All of it.”
Zhenya had fucking known it was lonely up here, and he’d been fucking right. “Because we’re friends? Why not Flower, Tanger?”
“Why are you asking me?” Sid said, voice tight and untrusting and—scared, maybe. “I apologized, okay, I’ll get you on a plane tomorrow. It’s just my fucked up talent. It does shit like this sometimes. It doesn’t matter.”
Zhenya squeezed gently. “It matter to me,” he said. Before Sid could answer that, Zhenya leaned in and aimed for where he judged Sid’s mouth must be. He found the corner and pressed a kiss to it, one brush of the lips that carried all his hopes in it. Then he retreated, heart racing, a litany of fuck fuck fuck keeping time in the back of his head.
“Oh,” Sid breathed. “Really? You—really?”
“Yes,” Zhenya said, certain now and near bursting with it. He leaned back in, and Sid kissed back this time, eager, his hand slipping up the back of Zhenya’s neck and gripping him there.
“Really?” Sid repeated against Zhenya’s mouth. His breath smelled of ketchup.
A rock pressed into the sole of Zhenya’s shoe, just under his heel, and somewhere in the dark, a last bird chirped. “Yes, Sid.”
“Oh.” Sid gripped Zhenya tighter. “Okay.”
Distantly, a boat motor whined.