There's a curse mark on the back of Sidney's neck. It's a burned-looking thing, charred dark red and shading to black in the center. Geno notices it when Sidney is changing after an evaluation, his shirt and curls baring the pale skin for a moment. It doesn't look new – too ingrained in the skin for that – but Geno hasn't seen it before, and that's telling in and of itself. He's reaching out before he can stop himself, fingers tingling at the strength and maliciousness of the magic. His fingers brush the curling edge and a shock jitters up his arm, sending his hair on end.
Sid jumps, nearly falling down as he twists to stare at Geno, the shirt in his hands slipping to the floor without him noticing. "Ow," he says, pained. "Did you pinch me?"
"What?" Geno holds up his hands. "No, I just touch you."
"Well, it hurt." Sidney rubs the back of his neck, brow creased.
"Sorry." Geno worries his lip and waits for Sid to turn back around. He leans again, this time careful not to touch the skin. It's not a curse he recognizes, though of course the ones his mother had taught him to break crouched in their attic, hidden away from his father and the inspectors that still came by every few years to check the house for hidden magic books, had not been nearly as complex as this.
Geno's great-grandmother, or so family legend goes, was an old-world magician, the kind that worked serious charms for those who could pay. She could break curses, imbue objects with luck if she concentrated, and heal small illnesses and injuries, and everyone knew to come to her if they had a problem that needed unconventional help. But with the revolution came the investigations, and the work camps, and she locked away her books and her charms and her ointments. Still, she knew better than to let the old ways die, and she tucked herself away with her children every night to impress in her memory the knowledge of how to work small magics.
Of himself and his brother, Geno has always been more inclined to magic, taking to his mother's lessons easily and quickly. Denis struggled and was allowed to stop once he was thirteen. Geno, though – he continued until he fled on a flight from Finland to the United States, each inch of his skin and bags warded with every charm of concealment his mother had taught him and a few he had invented after years of studying and learning how magic worked.
Curses are one thing his mother had never taught him much about. Technically under the new government, magic is legal, but enough of the old regime is around that it can't be publicly practiced, and nothing is more public than a curse. The good ones – or, rather, the bad ones – leave a mark. They leave a feeling. They leave – disquiet. Anger. Unhappiness.
He should have known, really, should have spotted that the despair lingering behind Sidney's eyes wasn't just the concussion talking. Sidney isn't pessimistic by nature; he's stubborn and driven and positive and it would take a lot to deaden the spark behind his eyes when he sees the ice.
Geno should have known.
"Geno," Sidney says, leaning away from him. "What are you doing?"
"You have mark," Geno says. He lightly rests his fingers against the irritated skin around the mark, but carefully doesn't touch it. "Here."
"Mark? Nothing happened today." Sidney tries to turn around to see his own back. Geno seizes him by the shoulders to prevent him from falling over himself. "What do you mean, mark?"
"I mean curse mark," Geno says, in as low a voice as he can, and Sidney's gaze turns wide, terrified. The curse mark heats beneath Geno's fingers, and he knows it knows it has been found.
It takes a photograph from Geno's phone and corroboration from Paulie, who had apparently done a few classes in magic studies in college, before Sidney believes that there's a curse mark on him. Then, he can't stop asking questions.
"How do you know?" (Geno answers, "I learned from my mom," which mollifies him somewhat, but the twist of his mouth says he'll be asking about that later.)
"What does it do?" (His frown grows deeper when Geno says, "I don't know.")
"Why didn't anyone else notice before?" (It might have only just showed up; it might only have been a small patch of darker skin before; the doctors might not have recognized it for what it is.)
And, perhaps most importantly, "Where is it from?"
That last one, Geno has no answer for, and neither does anyone else, but then magic workers – real magic workers – are few and far between in the cities of America and Canada. It had been one of the hardest things to get used to when he moved, to see how casually cheap and weak charms were sold in stores, yet no one seemed to know anything about wards or curses or anything useful. Gonch once explained that America, especially, has clung onto the puritanical fears of its founders. Most serious magic workers live away from society. And anyone strong enough to work a curse this powerful on Sid would have to be a serious magic worker, not just a dabbler like Geno.
He explains this as best he can, grateful as usual that Sidney is good at understanding him even when his English fails him. When he finishes, Sidney looks at him curiously.
"I didn't know you practiced," he says.
Geno shrugs. They've drawn an audience now, which he's doing his best to ignore. "I don't, really. Just small things. Nothing here."
"Well, obviously, it's warded." Sidney taps the side of his stall, which bears a ward sigil in the wood. "So it couldn't have been someone in a rink."
"You see people all the time," Flower says, looking unusually serious. He rests a protective hand on Sidney's arm. "It could have been anyone."
"Looks new," Geno offers. "I don't know if happen before concussion or after, though."
Sidney rubs the back of his neck. "What do we do?"
"Talk to Ray and Mario," says Dan, who has been listening with pursed lips. "We'll go together. Geno, you come too."
"Why me?" Geno asks, half-rising to his feet anyway.
"You know more about it than anyone else," says Dan. "The rest of you," he adds, "Tony and Mike are still here. Get to work."
"How are we gonna concentrate now?" Jordan wonders, before being shoved lightly into his stall by Kris, who starts chirping him for being too dumb to concentrate on hockey and anything else.
Geno trails after Sid and Dan up to Ray's office, listening absently to their conversation while feverishly trying to remember everything his mother ever taught him about breaking curses. It isn't enough, it can't possibly be enough, but he could ask her, maybe. Find someone to help.
Ray dials Mario in on speakerphone for the conversation, which they have without Geno's participation except for answering Ray's question on how he knew what the mark was. Ray's face is as dark and worried as Geno has ever seen, and it only gets stormier as it becomes clearer that they have few options.
"We can't call in a magic worker," Mario says. "Imagine the optics. Pittsburgh is still a very old-fashioned city in many ways, and we would have to explain why."
"We could send Sid somewhere," Dan suggests.
"There would be questions," Ray says. "Better is to hire someone discreetly –"
"There's no such thing as discreet when it comes to Sid –"
"And how do we make sure we don't hire the person who cursed him in the first place?"
"Why can't Geno do it?" Sidney asks abruptly.
They all fall silent and turn to look at him. He rubs the back of his neck again and looks to Geno. "You could, right?"
Geno clears his throat. "I can try."
"Sidney," Mario says after a moment. "It would be better if we got a professional –"
"I trust Geno," Sidney says firmly. "I know him. I'd rather have him than some stranger."
"Can you do it?" Ray asks Geno. "You know how?"
"I know how to break small curses," Geno says, miming with his hands. "This, much stronger. It will take time."
"You'll do it?" Sidney asks, voice tight. His hand finds Geno's, and he squeezes. "Please?"
"Okay," Geno finds himself saying, and Sidney smiles finally, small and nervous, but still a smile.
"Thanks," he says, and he squeezes again. "Thank you."
"Can we start today?" asks Sidney when they leave Ray's office. "I don't have anywhere to be."
Geno stares at him. "Practice."
"Yeah, okay," Sidney says agreeably. "Come over after that?"
"Fine," Geno says, rolling his eyes. "Won't do much. I have to look first."
"Okay," Sidney says again. "I want it gone, Geno."
"I know." Geno taps Sidney's jaw lightly with his knuckles. "Go home."
"Yeah." Sidney turns his face into his touch briefly, then ducks away. "Go practice."
He leaves, and Geno can't really see the mark through Sidney's shirt, but he feels like it's looking at him. His skin prickles and he presses down on a reflexive shudder before he heads back to the dressing room to ready himself for practice.
Curses are dangerous things to create, spirals upon spirals of magic that can backfire easily upon an unpracticed worker. They take time, too. The person who laid the curse on Sidney would have had to really mean it. They would have had to hate him.
The thought chases Geno through practice whenever he isn't focusing on Tony's drills. Who could have had the time and access needed to perform such a complex curse? It isn't a question of who hates Sid – plenty of people hate Sid, he knows that – but how did someone like that get close enough to him? How could he, or any of them for that matter, let that happen?
Maybe it's the guilt, or maybe it's the fear that Sidney will try to find someone else to break it for him, that drives Geno to Sidney's sparsely decorated apartment. Sidney brings him inside and takes him to the couch before sitting down cross-legged on the floor in front of it and tilting his head forward, exposing the back of his neck to Geno.
"Sid," Geno says.
"I want it off," Sidney says sharply. "Do what you have to do."
Geno hesitates, eyes fixed on the vulnerable knobs of Sidney's spine, where the collar of his shirt dips down to expose the top of his back. "It will hurt."
"Do it," Sidney snaps, and Geno jerks to obey. He settles himself down behind Sid, knees either side of his shoulders. He rests his hand on the sides of Sidney's neck and brushes his hair fully away before touching the mark with his thumbs.
Sidney jerks and gasps, "Fuck," tensing between Geno's knees, but Geno hardly notices, reeling back from the shock running up his arms. He shakes the tingles out of his hands and sits back.
"This is going to take a long time," he says to himself.
"What?" Sidney asks, twisting to look at him. "What did you say?"
"Oh – sorry." Geno gets up. "I need paper and pencil."
"Um, there's some in the bookshelf." Sidney points him in the right direction. Geno finds a legal pad covered in Sidney's handwriting and flicks through it to a blank page. He sits down on the couch next to Sidney and starts drawing the curse's layers out from memory.
"What are you doing?" Sidney asks, craning his neck.
"Drawing curse," Geno says gruffly. "Only way to translate it."
"It doesn't look like that in the photo."
"Layers," Geno says, circling his finger in the air.
"How do you know what they look like?"
Geno rolls his eyes. "Because I am magic, Sid. I see – sense? – when I touch."
"Oh." Sidney climbs up onto the couch next to him and watches him draw the curling lines of the second layer, spinning over each other in dizzying patterns. Each line means something, Geno knows this, but it will take time to decipher them and design the countermagic for it. It's actually a little terrifying to see just how much work it's going to take to unravel it. The layers get denser and more tangled the further down they are, and Geno knows it's purposeful, the nastiest layers left until last so they cause the most damage.
He recognizes some of the patterns from his mother's lessons – marks for bad luck and injury, for unhappiness and restlessness – and though he thinks they'll be easy enough to undo, the way they're laid atop each other tells him he'll have to be careful of the order when he breaks them. When he was young, he loved the puzzle of curse-breaking, taking apart a spell and figuring out how it worked before burning the paper he had scribbled on, destroying all evidence of his unusual after-school activity.
He finishes drawing after nearly ten minutes, two sides of a sheet of paper covered in his drawings and notes to himself. Not for the first time, he's glad Sidney doesn't know Russian, spoken or written. Geno doesn't want Sidney knowing what the curse is doing to him. Geno wishes he didn't know.
But he can do something to help, he realizes. "Sid," he says. "I have suggestion."
Sidney looks up from the pad. "Yeah?"
"You, uh –" He reaches out and tugs at the chain around Sidney's neck. "Nasty curse. But I can help a little now before I start to undo. You always wear necklace, yes?"
"Yes," Sidney says slowly, frowning.
"I want to charm it," Geno says. "Just to protect you. Can't stop everything, but it will help."
"Do I need to take it off?" Sidney asks, already reaching back.
"No," Geno says hastily. "Can do like this." He reaches back in his memory as he takes the 87 charm between his fingers. "Don't move."
He closes his eyes, remembers his mother taking his large-for-his-age hands and placing them over a spoon from their kitchen. "You have to feel it," she told him. "Remember feeling safe and fill the pattern with that feeling."
Safe now has a completely different meaning now than it did when he was eleven. Then, safe meant home and his mother's hands and the name Zhenya and his father's smile. Now, he thinks of hockey pads and the smell of fresh ice and Jordy laughing Geno and Sidney tapping his chest before they head out of the dressing room. He thinks about that, about Sidney going after Ballard for him, about hearing Sidney's loud honking laugh as he plays PSP on the plane, and draws the densest, most complicated and powerful protective charm he knows, fills it with warmth and safety and Sid.
He knows it takes when Sidney inhales sharply. "Geno."
Geno opens his eyes. Sidney is staring at him, mouth open slightly, cheeks flushed. Geno bites his lower lip, embarrassed. "What?"
"You're –" Sidney blinks rapidly. "Geno, your eyes are glowing."
"What?" Geno rubs a hand over his eyes. "Like what?"
"It's fading, but they're glowing." Sidney touches the hand still holding his charm. "Have you never noticed?"
"I never do magic," Geno says softly.
"In front of anyone, you mean." When Geno nods, Sidney tightens his grip on Geno's hand. "What did you do?"
"Protect you," Geno says. He gently tugs his hand way. "Keep you safe until I remove curse."
Sidney touches the charm. "Is it legal?"
"On ice?" Sidney nods. "When you play again, I take it off."
Sidney's flush deepens. "I dunno, it's kind of nice. It's a piece of you. It seems a shame just to get rid of it."
"Can always make another," Geno says. He swallows and scoots away before taking the legal pad. "I need to work on this."
"Okay," Sidney says. "Thank you." He gets to his feet, and Geno is happy to see that Sidney's shoulders are a little less slumped, a little less defeated. "I really appreciate it, Geno."
"Anything," Geno says, more sincerely than he wants to be. "Captain."
Sidney snorts. "Not right now."
"Always my captain," Geno says, and he squeezes Sid around the shoulder, quick, before escaping to the car with his notes.
The next months of Geno's life are all research and hockey. His knee is better, he's flying with James and Kuni, and he just feels like he's finally fitting right into America, even without Gonch and without Max. He even has magic back, for what that's worth, charms to renew and a curse to unravel. The first layer – basic discomfort, unsteadiness, all things that would exacerbate Sidney's concussion – is easy enough to take apart. Once he's sure he understands how it's constructed, he tells Sidney and goes over to his apartment to start undoing it.
"How does it work?" Sidney asks as Geno draws out the spells he's going to use. "They taught us some basic theory in school, but I didn't really understand it."
Geno shrugs. "Hard to explain," he says. "Patterns are like math. I fill with power and – and meaning."
"For magic to work, there need to be, uh." Geno searches for the word he wants. "Purpose."
"Huh." Sidney looks at Geno's notes, then sits down on the floor. "Okay, let's do this."
"Might take a while," Geno says. "Will take longer than charm."
"Sure." Sidney practically wriggles in excitement as Geno sits down behind him. "Come on."
"Yes, yes, brat." Geno pushes Sidney's hair up to look at the mark. It's darker than before, horrible in its malice. "This will –"
"Hurt, I know." Sidney bows his head. "Geno –"
Geno covers the mark with his palm before Sidney is through speaking, gritting his teeth against the sudden jolt of energy that runs up his arm. He closes his eyes and pictures the spell he'd created, overlays it on the curse. The curse twists – he feels it move, in his chest, in his hands – but he presses, power building in his chest, and thinks, Get out.
The twists and turns of the curse start to unravel apart, unwinding beneath the countercharm. Each piece is like an intricate knot he has to peel apart thread by thread, and he starts to sweat less than half of the way through, but he can feel the evil slipping away, and he can feel Sidney relaxing beneath his hands, so he pushes on until the last loop of the top layer – a nasty bit of spellwork that attracts distemper – is slipping away under his magic.
Geno wakes on Sidney's couch with a raging headache.
He groans and curls over onto his side, swearing to himself in Russian. He feels drained in a way he's never felt before, and when he tentatively reaches inside himself for his magic, all he senses is softly burning embers of power.
"Oh, you're awake," Sidney says from somewhere by Geno's feet. A plastic cup appears before Geno's face. "Water?"
"Thank you," Geno rasps. He pulls himself upright and takes the glass. "How do you feel?"
"How do I feel?" Sidney asks in disbelief. "How do you feel? You passed out."
"Fine," Geno lies. "Sid –"
"I feel a lot better." Sidney crouches down in front of Geno. "You don't look fine."
"Thank you," Geno says, rolling his eyes.
"I don't want you to kill yourself doing this," Sidney says. "We can ask someone else."
"No," Geno says. "I am fine."
"You're pale like a ghost," Sidney says. "Do you need to stay the night here?"
Geno shakes his head and tries to stand up. Almost immediately, all the blood rushes to his head and he sways. Sidney catches his arm and hauls him up.
"Yeah," he says, "you're staying here."
"Do you have room?" Geno asks fuzzily, already starting to feel exhausted again.
"Yeah," Sidney says. "I got a huge bed, it'll be like a sleepover."
Geno doesn't pay much attention to Sidney's chatter, just lets him lead the way to the bedroom. At Sidney's urging, he takes off his shoes and jeans and collapses on the huge bed, made a little untidily with sheets the color of the sky, before falling asleep almost instantly.
He wakes up warm and with a nearly dead arm from the weight of Sidney's head over his bicep. Geno eels his arm away and massages the blood back into it, wincing as pins and needles set in. Sidney opens his eyes and squints blearily up at him.
"Hi," he says.
"Hey," Geno says. "You not say it is your bed."
"I only have the one," Sidney says, not moving. "Get me breakfast."
"Get your own," Geno shoots back.
"I'm injured." Sidney pouts, but starts giggling half a second later. "Or we could go together."
"You know place?" Geno says. "Bet I know better."
"Whatever, just clean yourself up," Sidney says, still not moving. "You know, I think I could skate in a few days."
"Let me try at least," Sidney says. "I miss it."
"I know," Geno says. "But curse –"
"Was making the concussion worse, we both know it." Sidney rolls his shoulders. "I've been feeling better anyway, and now I feel – like I could rule the world."
"World not ready for you to rule it," Geno says, getting out of bed. "Everybody have to eat pbj at five."
"You suck," Sidney says. "I was going to treat you to breakfast, but I don't think I will anymore."
"If you feel so good, get up," Geno says.
They go to breakfast at a cafe near Southpointe, where Sidney eats more food than Geno has seen him take in for ages, not shying away from the more pungent and flavorful foods either. He goes with Geno to practice too, where the coaching staff seems surprised to see him.
"Didn't know you were coming in today, Sid," Dan says mildly. "How are you feeling?"
"Great," Sidney says, and he smiles. It isn't quite the doofy grin Geno remembers from his rookie year, but it's closer than it has been in ages.
"Glad to hear it," Dan says. "Hey, Mike, come take care of Sid."
Sidney disappears for testing – Geno can't imagine that it means anything at this point, since Sidney probably has them memorized – and Geno gets ready for practice. James pokes him as he passes.
"Sid looks better," he says.
"Yeah," Geno says. "He wants to play."
"Cool." James laughs. "Funny, when you remember. I was supposed to play with him."
"You and me, line soul mate," Geno says, and he grins before leaning down to take off his shoes.
Sidney doesn't show up until the very end of practice, wearing a no-contact jersey, but everyone cheers when he steps on the ice.
"Just in time for shootout practice," Dan says mildly, and Flower starts swearing.
Sidney stays on the ice after everyone disperses, going through some test drills with Mike. Geno comes out to watch after he changes, some of the other guys joining him. It's great to see Sidney back on the ice, his familiar stride comforting. Jordy watches with an unreadable expression, hat pulled low.
Sidney is cleared a few days later, and though his first full practice back is a little tentative, everyone gets used to having him back about fifteen minutes in. Geno still doesn't think Sid should be on the ice, not until they know what the rest of the curse does, but when Sidney is fixed on something it's hard to stop him. And it's hard to deny that Sidney does look better and is skating and feels fine.
Less than a month later, Sidney's out again, and Geno tries very hard not to say I told you so, but the look on Sidney's face when he sees Geno says he already knows.
Sidney hides away for a while, and Geno throws himself back into research. Paul finds him books from the magical theory classes he took as a college student, which is helpful for the illustrations if nothing else. Most of the text is too dense for him to glean all the meaning from, even with a English to Russian dictionary at his side, but it helps him decode the second layer of the curse, which is more of the same kind of physical discomfort and unsteadiness, only more insidious. It affects Sidney's balance instead of just his senses, attacks his good feelings.
It takes longer for Geno to come up with a way to undo it, and he ends up searching on the internet more often than not, trying to sift the useful from the useless. Most of the information is either irrelevant or wrong, but in the depths of some sites, he finds diagrams that he can base his own spellwork on.
"Okay," he says when he arrives at Sidney, notes in hand. "I'm ready."
"Oh, no," Sidney says. "You're not doing all of it in one go, okay? And you have a game tomorrow."
"Can you do it in parts?" Sidney asks. "Because I'm not letting you knock yourself out again."
"I'll be fine –"
"You didn't see what you looked like last time," Sidney says sharply. "I did."
"Fine," Geno snaps. "I take small piece off, okay?"
"Okay," Sidney says, and he opens the door to his apartment all the way.
It takes three nights of work, but he removes the second layer of the curse which he thinks – hopes – takes care of all the physical symptoms of the curse. Sidney seems to think that's the worst of it, but Geno knows better. The rest of the curse may not cause Sidney to feel shitty on the ice, but it affects him just as badly.
"How many more layers?" Sidney asks when Geno finishes the third night of work. He has made Geno a cup of tea – weak as hell, but Geno knows better than to expect otherwise from a Canadian – and is watching him anxiously.
"Five," Geno says. "Will take longer, they are not as easy."
"This was easy?" Sidney asks in disbelief. "Your hands are shaking."
"Easier," Geno corrects. "Sid, the rest of curse – will be more obvious now. When all parts work together, they are even. I did not undo power, so now it is – stronger in rest of spell."
"More concentrated, you mean?" Sidney asks. Geno nods. "But I can skate."
Geno bites his lower lip. "Yes. But still danger, Sid."
"We'll deal with that when it comes to it," Sidney says, and he smiles, wide and carefree. Foreboding curls around Geno's heart and squeezes.
After the disaster of a postseason, Geno slinks back to Russia to lick his wounds and play for his country. He doesn't think about the curse on the back of Sidney's neck, doesn't wonder if that's why everything went to shit. He comes back for the awards, accepts them with a smile, and then goes back to Russia with Mike in tow for training.
It isn't until more than halfway through the summer that he thinks to ask his mom about Sidney's curse. He has to draw it from memory, since he didn't dare bring his notes through Russian customs with him. His mother's eyes go wide when she sees, and she murmurs a soft prayer under her breath as she runs her fingers over the lines of his drawing.
"Oh, Zhenya," she says. "Who could hate that boy this much?"
"I don't know." Geno sighs and leans back. "I don't know all these signs, Mama. Do you know them?"
"Some," she says. "But not all. I'm sorry. I wish I could help more."
"I wish that too." Geno holds out a pencil to her, and she starts to mark up his drawings.
As usual, Geno burns the drawings after memorizing them, but he finds himself doodling ideas for counter charms on spare bits of paper whenever he's bored, which is often when he's reading NHLPA updates. Sidney sounds more and more annoyed every time they exchange emails, and Geno feels guilty that he has Metallurg as a fallback.
"You should accept," Sidney says when Geno relays their offer. "One of us should be playing." He laughs, bitter, and Geno wishes he could reach through the phone and give Sidney a hug.
Geno knows that Sidney's curse has nothing to do with the lockout, but he can't push away the knowledge that this is just further reason for Sidney to be miserable. If he knew more – if he had managed to lift another layer of the curse – maybe things would be better.
He's thinking about the curse and doodling in a notebook on the bus to the airport when Mats Zuccarello pokes his head over the seat and says, "Hey, Geno – oh, what's that?"
Geno jerks, nearly banging his head on the window. "Fuck," he says, speaking in English for Mats's benefit. Mats can say a few words in Russian, but not a whole lot, and spends most of his time speaking to Geno or Gonch or Ryan, who can understand him and speak back. "Nothing, Zucca."
"No, I know that." Mats clambers out of his seat and flings himself down next to Geno. "I did exercise like that in school. Curse breaking, yes?"
Geno shushes him, looking around anxiously. No one else seems to be paying them the slightest bit of attention, so he looks back at Mats and says quietly, "Don't talk so loud."
"Sorry," Mats says. "I forgot. But this –" He points at one of the patterns Geno has been tracing, trying to figure out what it means. "We learn this in school in Norway."
"Really?" Geno has heard that the education system in Scandinavia is much more comprehensive when it comes to magical theory, but he has never had much time to interrogate anyone who had been through it. "Can you teach me?"
"Sure," Mats says, grinning. "What are you going to do for me?"
Geno rolls his eyes. "What do you want?"
"Russian lessons," Mats says.
"Okay," Geno says, and he holds out his hand. "Deal."
So Geno adds lessons with Mats to their grueling travel schedule. He makes flashcards for Mats, remembering Gonch's wife doing that for him when he arrived in Pittsburgh to help him with his English, and tries to think which weird Russian sayings will be most helpful to know. In return, Mats goes over Geno's drawings with him, deciphering the parts Geno doesn't know and giving him suggestions for how to undo the pieces.
"This," Mats says, pointing to something in the third layer, "this is for, uh. Sex. Makes you not want it, I guess. Nasty one." He shakes his head. "I never asked, where did you see this curse?"
"Around," Geno says vaguely.
"No, you know someone with this," Mats says shrewdly. "I won't ask," he adds. "I'm sorry for your friend, though."
"Yeah," Geno says. "Me too."
With Mats's help and the further aid of some books Mats directs him to, Geno finishes taking apart Sidney's curse by the time the lockout ends. He departs Russia with no small amount of sadness; he has gotten used to hearing his native language around him almost all the time, to eating Russian food and using Russian money. But the moment he walks into the dressing room and sees Sidney lacing up his skates, he feels something loosen in his chest.
"Hey!" Sidney says when he spots Geno. "Welcome back."
"Thanks," Geno says, smiling back. Sidney grins at him before going back to taping his stick just so.
There isn't a whole lot of time for curse breaking during the hectic schedule of the half-season, but Geno ekes out a few nights to go to Sidney's apartment or hotel room and unravel a small piece of spellwork. It's getting to the point where each removal has a visible effect on Sidney's mood, bringing the spring back to his step and the smile back to his face. Geno worries, of course, but he can't deny the change he sees.
The piece of the curse that had aroused Mats's interest – the sexual dysfunction loop, Geno has been calling it – is the last piece of third layer to go. Geno had saved it for a night at home, not sure exactly how its removal would affect Sid but feeling relatively sure that he would want to be in a familiar place. They're in their usual position, Sidney sitting between Geno's legs with his neck bowed so Geno can touch the still-dark mark.
The moment it lifts, Sidney goes rigid. Geno pulls his hands back and says, "Sid?"
"I –" Sidney slowly turns his head. His cheeks are flushed, as has become usual after these sessions, but this time there's something hectic and desperate to it. "Geno?"
"Yes," Geno says, brushing his knuckles down the side of Sid's neck. "You okay?"
"Yes," Sidney says, and he pushes up onto his knees so he's nearly at eye level with Geno. "Your eyes are glowing again," he says, and then he kisses Geno.
Geno startles back and says around Sidney's tongue, "Stop, Sid –"
Sidney kisses him harder, biting Geno's lower lip and pressing his fingers into Geno's shoulders. He pulls back after a second, eyes bright, and says, "Fuck, I've been wanting to do that."
"You have?" Geno asks in disbelief.
"I wanted to want it," Sidney corrects himself. "I felt, god, was that the curse?"
"Yes?" Geno says.
"I really hate whoever did this to me," Sidney says flatly, and he kisses Geno again, pulling himself up to straddle Geno's legs. He's like a live wire under Geno's hands, twisting and moving restlessly against him as he tries to touch all of Geno's body at once, licking into Geno's mouth like he wants to swallow his soul. Geno finally gets his hands on Sidney's ass, since that's the only part not constantly moving, and hauls him in closer.
"Should wait," Geno suggests.
"I haven't had sex in – way too long," Sidney says. "If you don't want to come, that's fine, but I'm going to."
"Fine," snaps Geno, and he turns them over so Sidney is on his back beneath him. He gets his hand down Sidney's sweatpants and jerks him off in rough, fast strokes that have Sidney arching up and grabbing at Geno's neck for purchase. It takes about two minutes to get Sidney off, come striping Geno's hand and Sidney's shirt before he collapses back against the couch cushions.
"Oh, I have to jerk myself now?" Geno asks Sidney, who looks halfway to passing out already.
"You seem pretty good at it," Sidney says, but he does reach for Geno with slightly shaky hands.
"Stay the night," Sidney suggests when Geno collapses into his chest.
"Yeah, okay," Geno says into Sidney's sweaty neck.
Geno stops going home except for clothes not long after that. Sidney has enough pent-up sexual frustration to power a small city at this point, and he's apparently unwilling to go to anyone but Geno for it, which is something Geno will examine at a later date when he isn't too busy having his brain melted out by Sidney's stupid perfect mouth and stupid perfect ass.
James, who can usually be counted on to be oblivious to everything, notices that Geno is coming to practice with Sid a lot more than usual these days and says as much during practice. Geno raises his eyebrows and counters, "Breakfasts at Paulie's."
James flips him off, but drops it.
Sidney likes to watch Geno work on his spellwork, often draping himself over Geno's shoulders as Geno works out the kinks. Geno always shrugs him off, which makes Sidney laugh and kiss Geno's cheek, and then they usually end up making out for a while which isn't really conducive to Geno's work but is definitely more fun.
Geno spends his time out with his concussion working on diagramming out the fourth layer, which is more mood-altering and some mild bad luck spells. The last layer is where it gets real nasty, attracting negative attention and physical harm to Sidney like a magnet, and Geno is anxious to get to it, but Sidney is insisting even more that Geno take it slow with the work. He won't even let Geno start on the fourth layer until a week after he's cleared for skating.
Ray calls Geno in to talk about the progression and seems pleased to hear that it's more than halfway done. "He's been looking better," he says. "I'd been hoping that's why. Any idea who could have done this to him?"
"No," Geno says. "Someone strong, is all I know."
"I don't like this," Ray says, mouth turning down. "It could have been anyone."
"I know," Geno agrees. "But no way to know."
"If you do figure it out," Ray says, "don't tell anyone but me and Mario, okay? I don't want to know what the guys on the team would do."
Geno is pretty sure Kris alone would hunt down the perpetrator and tear them limb from limb, and given that he likes his teammates unincarcerated, he has to agree. "Yes, of course."
"Great." Ray turns to his computer, a tacit dismissal, and Geno gets to his feet. "Oh, and congratulations."
"Normally I would counsel against intra-team relationships," Ray says, "but I don't know, you don't seem to be letting it affect you on the ice. Let's keep it that way."
Geno stares at the back of Ray's head. "Okay," he says eventually, and he leaves Ray's office feeling a bit like he's had the rug yanked out from beneath him.
"Oh, I told him," Sidney says when Geno mentions it at home later. "I thought he should know."
"And you don't tell me?" Geno demands. "Sid!"
"Sorry," Sidney says guiltily. "I was going to mention it, but this season has been so busy."
"Don't tell anyone else without me," Geno says, swatting his thigh. "I get to tell next person."
"Fine," Sidney says before dragging Geno down into his bed.
Geno spends a lot of time after that thinking about who could have cast the curse. Mats had mentioned once that there was a theory in Norwegian magic studies that every magic worker has a signature style. Geno knows from experience that his method of spell working is very different from his mother's and brother's, but it had never occurred to him that studying a spell could maybe lead back to its caster.
He's sharing this thought with James, who is mostly ignoring him as usual, when Beau says, "Yeah, man, that's totally what we were taught."
Geno turns to stare at him. Beau shrugs and flicks his hair back. "You know, like, some people even sign their spells? Seems kind of stupid to me, but my dad showed me some examples."
"Wait, you do magic?" James asks, glancing over at Beau.
"Not a lot, but Cali's a lot more loose about it than out here," Beau says. "What do you think that necklace I wear is?"
"I don't know, some weird hippie shit?" James suggests.
"Nah, it's supposed to bring good luck," Beau says. "Only small stuff, like finding quarters, but it's cool."
"Beau, you know how to identify?" Geno interrupts.
"I don't know, I could look at it," Beau says. "I mean, I could probably tell you where they learned magic. That could help, right?"
"Yes," Geno says, and he basically forces Beau back home with him after practice to look at his notes. Sidney hovers for the first five minutes before realizing their conversation is going completely over his head and disappearing to his mini-gym.
"So wait, you and Sidney live together?" Beau asks.
"Focus, Sunshine," Geno says firmly.
"Cool," Beau says before going back to studying Geno's notes.
Beau eventually decides that the person is probably from around the Canadian-American border ("You can tell from the way they do this interlocking pattern here," he says, pointing) and educated in school for magic. "Which narrows it down," he says. "There are only a few schools in that area that have magic programs, you know?"
"What are they?" asks Geno.
Beau lists them off, but Geno knows right away which one is important.
"Shattuck-Saint Mary's?" Sidney asks in disbelief. "That's the connection?"
"Yes," Geno says. "Pretty sure. Anyone from there you saw before mark?"
Sidney frowns. "Well," he says reluctantly. "There was Pete."
"Peter Gordon, we were in school together," Sidney says. "He visited me a few times last summer. But we're friends, he would never –"
"Don't be so sure," Geno says. "Not all people are good, Sid."
"I know that," Sidney snaps, going red. "But seriously, Geno, we're friends."
"Not anymore," Geno says.
"Okay, I was always closer with Jack than him," Sidney continues, "but we were friendly."
"Still telling Ray," Geno says. "He can check. If I am wrong –"
"If you're wrong, you're doing the dishes for a week," Sidney says.
"Fine," says Geno, who is pretty sure he isn't wrong. "If I am right, you do dishes."
"Deal," Sidney says.
"Now sit still," Geno commands. "Time to start next layer."
It takes two weeks to remove the fourth layer, in which time Ray puts in a number of inquiries into the whereabouts and activities of Peter Gordon. He seems to have largely slipped off the radar, leaving only a number to an answering service and an address for a P.O. Box. Geno decides to let Ray handle that aspect, focusing his energy instead on hockey and Sid.
But the bad luck aspect of the curse rears its head not long later, and Geno finds himself visiting Sidney in the hospital instead of spending time with him at home. Sidney, the idiot, keeps trying to talk around the gauze in his mouth until Geno punches him in the leg and says, "They give you whiteboard, Sid," and forces Sidney to write out what he wants to say.
Sidney is no fit shape to have magic worked on him, and Geno is too busy with hockey to work on spells anyway, especially with playoffs coming. Curses and possibly disgruntled former classmates have to be put on the back burner in favor of their Cup push.
Once again, though, they fall apart like badly made pastry, losing their identity and their cool and exiting the playoffs gracelessly. Geno sleeps at his home for the first time in months, not wanting to deal with Sidney, and mopes for a few days. His parents, who have come for a visit, indulge him only for so long before they order him to leave the house and stop acting like a child, Zhenya, you are nearly twenty-seven.
He goes over to Sidney's apartment, intending to apologize to him for being kind of shitty, and instead finds Sidney with Ray and someone who identifies herself as a private investigator.
"Hi," Geno says hesitantly, lowering himself onto the couch next to Sid. "What is going on?"
"We found Peter Gordon," says the PI.
Sidney looks at Geno, expression bleak. "You were right," he says quietly. "Pete – he's the one that did this to me. Cassidy found his notes."
"Sloppy of him, really," she says, spreading out a series of photographs on the table for Geno to see. "Well, he kept them in a safe, but it wasn't much to crack it."
"Oh," Geno says. He hesitates, then figures he can count on a PI to be discreet and puts his arm around Sidney's shoulder. "You okay?"
"I don't know," Sidney admits. "I don't know why he would do this to me."
"You have a few choices here," Cassidy says. "First – you could do nothing. Second – you could blackmail him with this information, though I doubt you'd to do that. Third – you could go to the police and tell them he worked an illegal curse upon Mr. Crosby."
"I don't like any of those," Sidney says flatly.
"Well, think about it," Cassidy says. "Ray has my number for when you decide."
Sidney nods absently, staring at the photographs in front of him with a stormy expression. "Thank you."
"All right," Ray says, glancing at Geno. "Keep your heads up, boys."
Geno waits until he hears the door close behind Ray and Cassidy before pulling Sidney firmly against him. "Sid –"
"Don't say anything," Sidney says. "I need to think."
Geno nods and rubs his hand up and down Sidney's arm. Eventually, Sidney sighs and says, "I'm going to talk to him."
"Um," Geno says. "No."
"Yes," Sidney says. "And you can't stop me, you're going back to Russia."
"I not go back to Russia if it means you act stupid," Geno retorts. "This fucker cursed you, Sid."
"Yeah, and I intend to find out why." Sidney pulls out of Geno's arms. "I'm doing it, Geno."
"If you going to be stupid, let me protect you first," Geno says, holding his hand out for Sidney's charm.
Sidney untucks his necklace and lets Geno take it between his fingers. "Make it strong."
This time, when Geno thinks of safe, he thinks of the hollow of Sidney's neck where Geno presses kisses late at night and the color of Sidney's eyes under the lights of his kitchen and the guiding force of Sidney's hands when he helps Geno chop onions for dinner. He fills his magic with love and every ounce of protective instinct he feels towards Sidney and commands it to keep him from harm.
"He will never touch you again," Geno says, looking at Sidney, and in the evening-dim of Sidney's unlit living room, he can see the reflected glow of his eyes in Sidney's.
"No," Sidney agrees, and he kisses Geno, returning every ounce of feeling Geno had pushed into his magic with equal fervor.
Geno goes to Russia after signing his contract with the Penguins, and this time he can hardly get away from Sidney's texts and calls even as he travels from Russia to Europe, seeking out magic sites and experts everywhere he goes, realizing that his knowledge really is very limited. If he had been better educated, maybe he could have removed the curse a year ago, spared Sidney unimaginable pain and discomfort.
"You don't know that," Sidney says when Geno says as much. "It could have happened anyway."
"Maybe," Geno says, tracing his fingers over a charm he had bought in a store in Nice. He's been studying its design and practicing it himself on various objects in his suitcase. "Maybe not."
"Yeah," Sidney agrees. He's quiet for another moment, then says, "I saw Peter."
Geno knocks the charm off the table. "What?"
"I found him," Sidney says. "He – wasn't happy to see me."
"Did he try anything?" demands Geno, half-rising like he can do anything from his hotel room halfway across the world.
"No," Sidney says. "Not when he realized I was protected."
"Should have him arrested," Geno mutters.
"Probably," Sidney says. "He thinks – this is crazy – he thinks because I chose to be friends with Jack and not him, that's the reason he didn't make the NHL."
"Is it?" Geno asks.
"Please," scoffs Sidney. "Jack deserved to go third. No, Peter just wasn't good enough. So instead he studied magic."
"What did you do?" Geno asks. "Punch him?"
"No, I just got new teeth, I don't need to have more knocked out," Sidney says. "I told his girlfriend what he did."
"Why she care?" Geno asks.
"She's Canadian," Sidney says with satisfaction. "She wasn't very happy that he could have kept me off the Olympic team."
Geno pulls his phone away from his face and pinches himself. Then he raises his phone back to his ear and says, "You joke."
"Nope," Sidney says cheerfully.
Geno starts to laugh, doubling over. "Sid," he gasps, "you tell his girlfriend. That is how you take revenge?"
"It worked!" Sidney says. "Maybe my luck is turning around."
"Maybe," Geno agrees.
"I mean," Sidney says, voice softening, "I have you."
"Yes." Geno smiles at the wall, wishing he weren't quite so far away. "You have me."
Sidney gets whacked with an absurd number of sticks in the preseason before Geno manages to remove the last traces of Peter's curse from Sidney's skin, the curse mark fading away as though it had never been there. It takes a full month this time, each session leeching all the energy from Geno's body to the point where Sidney makes him take two days off between each section so he can recover. When the last knot comes undone beneath Geno's hands, the power unraveling into the air, Geno collapses back on the couch and lets Sidney blow him with that stupid, talented mouth before taking him to bed.
"You're amazing," Sidney says, kissing the side of Geno's neck, his throat. "You know that?"
"Yes, I am best," Geno says solemnly, then laughs when Sidney smacks him.
"I'm trying to thank you," Sidney says. "You saved me."
"Of course I did," Geno says. "Always, Sid."
Sidney finally moves out of his depressing apartment and into the house he has spent ages building, and Geno mostly moves in with him, more and more of his books and clothes finding their way into Sidney's closet and onto his shelves. Geno has to remove his protective charm from Sidney's necklace before games start, but he starts putting it on other things around Sidney's house, liking the idea of leaving his own kind of mark on Sidney's life.
Sidney catches him at it the night before their first long road trip and waits as Geno finishes filling Sidney's beloved crocs with his charm before speaking.
"You know," he says, "there are easier ways of asking to stay than magicking everything in my house."
"Don't need to ask," Geno says. "I already live here."
Sidney shakes his head. "I don't mean in my house."
"Sid, I sign contract for eight years," Geno says. "You never getting rid of me."
"Oh," Sidney says. He smiles. "Good."
"Good," Geno mimics back at him, and Sidney hits him in the shoulder before leaning over to kiss him.