Chapter 1: just really needed a hug sort of hug
It’s been a long day. Geno can see it in the way Sid carries himself, from the hard set of his shoulders to the tension he holds in the corners of his eyes.
Ben’s had a low grade fever for going on three days now along with a cough and general crankiness. They’ve kept him home from school, not wanting to start a cold epidemic and be judged harshly by the PTA until Ben graduates.
Last year they were in a pinch and brought store bought cookies to a bake sale and they feel like they still haven’t lived it down.
Geno leans against the wall just inside the kitchen and watches Sid scrub at the counters with Clorox wipes. He’s been on a disinfectant kick since Ben first got sick and he’s gone through two containers already. When he’s done with the counters he wipes down the stove then takes the heavy bottomed pot and puts it in the sink to soak. The air still smells vaguely of chicken soup, the same recipe Sid’s mother used to make for him when he was sick.
“Have leftovers,” Geno asks and Sid jumps and spins around, hand pressed to his heart.
“Shit, I didn’t hear you come in.”
“Was quiet,” Geno says as he ventures further into the kitchen. They both close doors softly and keep their footsteps light, holdovers from when Ben was a baby and naptime was sacred and essential. “Where is Luisa?”
“I sent her home,” Sid says then holds his hand up. “I don’t want to hear it, okay? If I’m here she doesn’t need to be.”
“Sid, if you don’t like then we get new nanny. I tell you this.”
“I like her just fine. I love her, Ben loves her. You know she’s teaching him Spanish? He’ll be multilingual before he hits third grade. How many kids can say that?”
“Should have let her stay so she could clean up. You look like you need rest.”
Geno steps into Sid’s space and cups his face in his hands. He drags his thumbs over the dark circles beneath Sid’s eyes. It’s getting to the point where Geno can’t remember them not being there.
“I’m fine,” Sid insists and tries to step away but Geno drops his hands from Sid’s face and curls his fingers into the belt loops of his jeans to keep him in place and it’s like all the fight falls out of him.
He sways forward into Geno’s chest and Geno catches him, wrapping his arms around Sid’s shoulders and Sid holds him around the waist, burrowing his face in Geno’s chest.
“Sid,” Geno says softly, lips moving against Sid’s temple. “Can tell me what’s wrong. Is okay.”
“I don’t know,” Sid says, voice muffled by Geno’s shirt. “I’m just stressed because Ben is sick.”
“Been happening longer than that. Haven’t been…like you for awhile now. Something I do?”
Sid shakes his head and wraps his arms a little tighter around Geno’s waist. “No, it’s not you. It’s just…” Sid goes quiet and Geno waits. He can tell that whatever Sid says next is going to be incredibly hard for him to admit. “I thought I could do it,” Sid says softly. “I thought I could be a part of hockey without actually playing hockey but I don’t think I can.” He sags even further into Geno.
To the public, Sid had stepped into retirement gracefully. He watched his numbers be lifted into the rafters and waved to the home crowd then very quietly took a position in the front office.
Privately, Geno has noticed a change.
“Then don’t,” Geno says simply and Sid picks his head up with a frown. “Say you done. Is okay.”
“I can’t quit. I’m not a quitter.”
“Is not quitting. You try, it not work out, you move on.”
“I made a commitment.”
Geno sighs and leans back to he can look Sid in the eyes. “You already give so much to team, to city…you give so much soon there’s nothing left. You find something else to do, something you love.”
“Doesn’t matter. Could be anything. Could take up knitting or show those little mini ponies–.”
Sid laughs, breath coming out in short little puffs against Geno’s collarbone.
“I don’t think I’m into that.”
“Then whatever. Take time to think. You still have lots of it.”
Sid sighs but it sounds nothing like the weary and bone-tired ones Geno is used to hearing from him.
This sounds content, like for the first time a long time his brain isn’t pulling himself in a million different directions at once. He rests his head back against Geno’s chest and Geno brings his hand up to run his fingers through Sid’s hair, the light from above the stove catching in the silvers and grays.
“You going to let me go so I can eat,” Geno jokes and Sid squeezes him a little tighter.
“Just a minute,” Sid says and Geno leans his hip against the counter, getting comfortable and settling into the hug.
He’s ready to give Sid all the time he needs.
Chapter 2: "You could say I'm fond of you." + phone calls
Geno’s still awake when the phone rings. It’s late, nearly midnight, and he looks up from the book he’s been reading and listens.
No one calls him on the landline except for—.
He throws the covers off his legs and tosses the book to the side, losing the page he was on and not caring.
He tears out of the bedroom, tripping over his slippers, narrowly catching himself on the door frame before he wipes out.
The phone rings for the fourth and fifth time as he races down the hall and he knows he doesn’t have much time.
He slams into the fridge then lunges for the phone, picking it up and pressing it to his ear with excessive force.
“Geno?” Sid’s voice floods his ear and Geno closes his eyes and slides down to the floor, back against the lower cabinets, phone cord stretching to accommodate him. “Are you okay? Did I wake you?”
“Is okay,” Geno says, voice light and teasing. The white lie worth it just to play the game. “Lucky I like.”
“Just like,” Sid teases back and Geno closes his eyes and leans his head back against the cabinet. There it is. The playful side of Sid that only comes out on occasion.
“You just okay,” Geno says and Sid laughs into the phone.
“I’m sorry for calling so late,” he says, “well, it’s only four thirty here but…”
“Is really okay,” Geno tells him. He knows better than to ask where here is. It’s classified or will make Geno worry more than he already does. Those are always the only answers. “Glad you call. Been a little bit.”
It’s been three weeks since he’s last heard Sid’s voice and two weeks since their last email.
“It’s not though.”
“It is. I’m used to it. Is all right.”
“But you shouldn’t have to be used to it,” Sid says, sounding frustrated in a way that Geno doesn’t understand.
He knew to expect this with Sid when they started dating all those years ago. He had been warned by friends and even Sid himself that dating someone in the RCAF wouldn’t be easy. Geno has listened and pretended to consider it and then almost immediately fell in love. It was worth it, the distance and the worry for all the moments in between, when Sid was safe and home and sleeping beside him in bed or cooking omelets in the kitchen with him in the morning.
“Is okay, Sid. You home soon anyways.”
“Two months,” Sid says, “then I’m gone again.”
“Yes, but, you know, is how it is.”
“But what if it doesn’t need to be? Listen, there’s a position open on the base in Halifax, a flight instructor. I’m thinking about taking it.”
Geno takes a deep breath.
“I’m not getting any younger,” Sid continues. “I feel like I’ve been away from home for too long now. I could be home with you every night. I wouldn’t miss holidays.”
Just the idea of it seemed overwhelming and Geno closed his eyes against the sudden rush of emotions.
“The pay is good,” Sid continues. “Really good. Good enough to afford a house instead of an apartment. One with a good sized yard and a couple of spare bedrooms. You know, for when your parents come to visit or…whatever. Some place in a good school district. What would you think about that?”
Geno’s next breath shudders in his chest in the best possible way.
“If you want then I want,” Geno says softly.
“Yeah I want,” Sid says back. “I want a lot. When I get back, when I get home, I want it all.”
Geno smiles into the phone, happily wasting time just listening to Sid breathe on the other end.
“I love you,” Geno says and Sid laughs, high and happy.
“I love you, too, so much. Listen, I don’t have much time left on the phone but tell me everything. What have you been up to, tell me how you’ve been.”
Geno takes a deep breath and starts to tell him everything.
Chapter 3: "It made me think of you."
The first thing Sid sees when he opens his eyes is a tuft of dark hair peeking out above this comforter beside him.
He shuts his eyes again and replays the events from the night before in his head.
The boys all going out for drinks to celebrate yet another win against Edmonton, Geno licking eyes with him over the rim of his glass. Geno following him back to the hotel and then down the hall to his room. Geno stood patiently to the side while he fumbled with the key card then draping himself over his back when he finally got the door open.
They slept together, they had sex, finally for the first time last night and now Geno is sleeping peacefully beside him.
Sid reaches out and pulls the covers down just enough to reveal the pale skin of Geno’s neck and lightly drags his fingertips across it. It’s soft and sleep warm and Sid rolls closer and presses his lips just above the chain that lays at the base of Geno’s neck.
Geno wakes with a start and Sid feels him tense then relax all at once.
“What time,” Geno asks and Sid rolls away to check the time on clock on the bedside table.
“We have to be up in ten minutes.”
Geno groans and curls in on himself then stretches and throws the covers back. “Should go back to room, so guys don’t see.”
Sid blinks and Geno’s bare back as he stands and looks around for his clothes.
He didn’t think this would be a secret. He didn’t mean for it to be something to keep hidden.
Geno pulls on his shirt and steps into his pants, finding his underwear only after he buttons and zips. He rolls his eyes to himself and shoves them into his back pocket.
“I see you at breakfast,” he asks and Sid nods as Geno lets himself out the door.
There was no good morning kiss. No, “that was fun, let’s do it again sometime.” No, “I’ve been wanting to do that for years, I love you, you’re the only one for me.”
There was minimal eye contact and ‘see you at breakfast,’ like last night never even happened.
Sid lies there looking up at the ceiling, bed sheets cooling next to him, until his alarm goes off and he has to get up.
Geno doesn’t treat him any differently at breakfast. He nods at him when he walks in then gets right back to his conversation with Zach and Muzz.
Sid scoops a pile of scrambled eggs onto his plate and sits down between Tanger and Jake.
They have to be on a plane to Calgary in an hour. Tomorrow they have a game.
Sid is the captain. There’s no time for him to dwell.
It’s business as usual when they touch down in Calgary. Everyone is handed a room key and they all go their separate ways.
They get on the bus a few hours later for an optional skate and then they head back to the hotel.
Sid stays in while Geno goes out with the guys. At night there’s no knock on his door, no suggestion of a repeat performance.
It’s the same story in Winnipeg. Sid is the Captain and Geno is his alternate and it’s like it’s never gone beyond that.
Sid switches from feeling hurt to feeling annoyed in the locker room after the game while Geno is stripping out of his gear.
He pulls his under armor over his head and Tanger whistles.
“Where’d you get that,” he asks, pointing to the small, mouth shaped bruise on Geno’s left hip.
“Don’t know,” Geno answers casually, tossing his dirty clothes into the hamper in the middle of the room. The mark is four days old and beginning to fade so it shouldn’t sting when Geno presses his fingertips to it but he winces anyways. “Maybe from game. Look like end of stick.”
Tanger doesn’t push because it’s a perfectly reasonable explanation and Sid snaps. He hurls his jersey toward the hamper, not caring that he misses.
He left that mark on Geno’s skin, along with the ones on Geno’s inner thighs, just before he sucked Geno off with Geno’s fingers tangled in his hair.
They had sex. Good sex. Mind blowing sex and even if it was a one night stand Sid feels like he at least deserves credit for that.
Sid stomps off to the showers, ignoring Jake’s outstretched fist to celebrate the 4-0 victory.
“What’s his problem,” he hears Jake asks as he turns the corner.
“Maybe he just ready to go home,” Geno answers and Sid huffs and turns on the showers.
Winnipeg is cold and bleak and they make it to the airport to catch their flight home at the same time a blizzard rolls in.
Their flight is delayed and then delayed again and even though no one will officially say the word canceled, the writing is on the wall.
The guys spread out in the terminal. It’s been a long road trip and there’s really only so much bonding they can do.
Some of them wander off to find food while others stretch out either on the floor or on the uncomfortable vinyl covered seats to catch a nap.
Sid’s on his own by own is the large windows that looks out over the runways. The view is obscured by snow, coming down so heavy he can’t even see the lights that line the runway. They’re not getting out of here, at least not any time soon.
With a sigh he digs his phone out of his bag. He’s just unlocked it when Geno sits down heavily beside him and drops a small, brown paper bag in his lap.
He’s smiling and sitting to the side with his knees presses against Sid’s thighs.
“For you,” Geno says as he flicks the bag. “Open.”
Sid sighs and sets his phone down then opens the bag. Inside he finds a small stuffed penguin with grey and white fur wearing a light blue ‘I ❤️ Winnipeg’ t-shirt.
“Was only penguin thing I find in whole airport,” Geno tells him, “I look all over. You like?”
“It’s great, G,” Sid says flatly and goes to put it back in the bag.
“You mad,” Geno says and Sid shakes his head. That’s not what he is. “You mad at me? You mad about what happened?”
“What did happen,” Sid asks, Penguins still clutched in his fingers. “Because you’re acting like nothing did. Do you even like me?”
“It’s okay if you don’t, I guess. I mean…it’s not. I can’t make you.”
“Sid.” Geno cups Sid’s chin and turns his face toward his then leans in and kisses his cheek.
When he pulls back Sid looks around to see if anyone saw but no one is paying them any attention.
“Like you, Sid. Like you so much, but—.”
Sid deflates. “But.”
“But,” Geno starts again. “I think we on road trip and have hockey to play. You’re best Captain, best player, only want to focus on that. Make sure we win. So, I—.” He presses his thumb into Sid’s thigh, miming out putting a pin in it. “I think we’ll talk when we get home but now.” He sighs and looks out the window. “Maybe we never get home.”
“You ignored it because you thought I wanted you to? You know I gave you that mark on your hip, right?”
“Oh,” Geno says with a wide smile. “I’m know. But I think you want to play hockey, good hockey. If guys find out they chirp and chirp, not focus on game, maybe not play so well. Thought we think same thing. But then I see how mad you get—.”
“I wasn’t mad,” Sid insists. “I was confused. I thought maybe you thought it wasn’t good and you didn’t want to talk about it.”
Geno shakes his head and leans in again but this time he misses Sid’s cheek and lands on his lips instead for a long, slow kiss.
“Was very good,” Geno assures. “Want to talk about it lots. Want to do it lots. If you want.”
“I definitely do,” Sid tells him and Geno grins back.
“Good, now tell me what you really think about penguin now I know you not mad.”
Sid looks down at the stuffed animal in his hands then holds it over his chest.
“I love it.”
Chapter 4: fixing the other persons clothes absentmindedly
He doesn’t remember the award show going on for this long in the past.
Granted, it’s been a few years since he’s watched it and even longer since he’s attended but it seems to drag.
It’s a commercial break and most of the audience is out of their seats and stretching their legs before the feed goes live again. The host, some reality TV star that Geno vaguely recognizes is on stage chugging a Red Bull while a team of people fix his hair and dab more powder on his face to keep the sweating to a minimum. He’s doing okay. Not great, but okay.
Beside Geno, Sid is leaning into the aisle to talk to MacKinnon about summer plans and four rows in front of him Ovechkin is talking to whoever will listen.
Geno rolls his eyes and reaches into his jacket pocket for the napkin is grabbed from the hotel bar. He could certainly try to fasten it into some kind of paper football and with the right amount of force he could land a direct hit to the back of Ovechkin’s big head.
Before he can begin the first fold Sid is shifting in his seat and knocking their knees together.
“What are you doing?”
“Nothing,” Geno says innocently as he folds the napkin. His eyes flick up to Ovechkin’s and Sid snorts.
“You only got one shot at that so you better make it count.”
Geno smiles, giddy with Sid’s approval, until he notices Sid’s leg bouncing up and down and the way his fingers tap against his knee.
“Don’t need to be nervous, Sid.”
“I’m not,” Sid says, too quickly to be the truth. “I don’t care if I win or not. You know I hate these things.”
“I know, I know. You think individual awards are stupid.”
“They’re not stupid, they’re just…unimportant. You know the only thing that really matters is–.”
“The cup because team win it together and is team sport. I know.” He covers Sid’s hand and knee with his own, stilling them both. “Sometimes though, is okay to win on your own. Let everyone know you still the best.”
“And if I don’t win then I’m not the best?”
“No,” Geno says slowly. “If you don’t win just mean people who vote are stupid. Always going to be the best.”
Sid gives him a grateful smile as the music starts back up and people begin to scramble back to their seats.
“Win or lose,” Geno whispers as the host welcomes everyone back from break, “we go back to the hotel room tonight and I make you feel like a winner.”
“You promise,” Sid asks and Geno nods as he fixes the collar of Sid’s shirt beneath his jacket.
“Of course,” he answers and doesn’t wait for the camera to leave them before pressing a kiss to Sid’s cheek.
Chapter 5: "this is my boyfriend/fiance/husband"
Geno says it so easily.
This is my boyfriend. Have you met my boyfriend. You see where my boyfriend went.
It’s like he can’t get enough of the word. He wants everyone to hear it and everyone to know it.
It must be freeing to finally say it after years of not being able to. Of introducing each other as teammates or friends or “this is Sid,” or “this is Geno,” like the person they were talking to didn’t have a clue of their names.
Everyone knows, but no one ever really knew. Geno makes sure that’s different now.
Sid loves it. He loves how happy Geno sounds when he says it, just like he loves Geno’s hand resting low on his back or the way Geno’s arm will slide around his shoulders, letting everyone know that they belong to get other. That they’re not just talk.
However, there’s something about it that doesn’t sit right with Sid. It just doesn’t seem like enough.
“I’m just saying,” Sid says as they walk back to the car after dinner. Their hands are linked loosely together and Geno’s swaying a bit from the wine he drank. “Aren’t we a little old for boyfriends. Haven’t we aged out of that?”
Geno frowns and takes an unsteady steps, listing toward the edge of the sidewalk and Sid steps around him so he’s closer to the street then retakes his hand.
“Not too old,” Geno answers. “Everyone say we so old now just because we retire. Stupid.”
“We’re not old,” Sid says as he squeezes Geno’s hand. “But boyfriend makes it sound like we’re in highschool.”
“I never had boyfriend in highschool,” Geno says softly.
“Well, neither did I but–.”
“Never had boyfriend.” Geno steps in front of him and looks down at their feet. “I see everyone else…girls have boyfriends and boys have girlfriends…they all get someone, you know? And I think, would be nice to have someone.” He shrugs. “Had to wait longer but I finally get, so, I like to say. Is bad?”
“No,” Sid tells him. He cups his free hand to the side of Geno’s jaw and leans up for a kiss. “Of course not. It’s a good word and I’m glad we both get to use it. It just feels like we’re more than that.”
“Then what you call us? Don’t say partner.” Geno wrinkles his nose. “Sound like we in business together.”
Sid moves his thumb slowly back and forth over Geno’s cheek, catching the stubble that’s grown since the last time he shaved.
“What about fiance,” Sid asks and even through the haze of alcohol Geno’s eyes go wide and clear. “And then after that, what about husband?”
Geno takes a deep breath in through his nose. “You just say because you don’t like boyfriend or you really mean?”
Sid drops his hand from the side of Geno’s face and reaches into his inner coat pocket to pull out the ring box and pops it open.
“What do you think,” he asks, “will you marry me?”
Geno takes a step back then sways forward, whispering the word, “yes,” against Sid’s temple.
Chapter 6: Giggling during sex
Geno pulls back, lips tugging up into a smile when Sid groans in frustration beneath him.
“One second,” Geno says as he pulls open the drawer in the bedside table and fishes blindly around for the lube. His fingers close around the slim bottle and he leans back over Sid, shaking the bottle as he smiles. “See. I’m back.”
Sid nods and tries to arch up to force Geno to touch him but he can barely move under Geno’s weight. “Good, great,” he says as he runs his hands up Geno’s thighs. “Hurry up.”
“Why you so….” Geno stops, minding tripping over the word impatient as he flips open the top of the lube. “Needy.”
Sid keeps his hands moving and drags his fingernails lightly over Geno’s stomach. “Because I need you.”
“Have me,” Geno says as he ducks down for a quick kiss, “have me.”
“Then touch me,” Sid whines and Geno upends the bottle to squeeze into his hand, frowning when nothing comes out. “What’s the matter?”
“New bottle,” Geno mutters as he twists off the cap and drops it to the bed beside them. He tries to pick at the foil that’s covering the opening but his fingernails are too short to catch the edge of it so he brings the bottle up to his mouth and uses his teeth.
“Sexy,” Sid deadpans as Geno pulls the foil free and spits it out onto the bed. “Hot,” Sid adds.
Geno throws him a smile as he squeezes the bottle into his palm. The lube is a little cold and slow moving and Sid is so needy so he shakes the bottle and it floods out all at once.
“Oh,” he says as he looks at his hand then at the bottle then down at Sid. “Oh, shit.”
He tries to funnel it back into the bottle but all it does it drip down the sides causing it to slip from his hand.
“What are you doing,” Sid asks and Geno presses his lips together, thinks for a moment, then smears the palmful of lube onto Sid’s stomach. “That’s cold!,” Sid shouts and Geno holds his slippery hands up.
“What you want me to do? Too much come out!”
“So you just dump it on me?”
“Is cold, right? You say! Can’t put on dick, don’t want to wipe it on bed, bathroom too far away,” he explains with a look over his shoulder. It’s only a few steps but… “You so impatient!” Geno yells, proud he finally found the word. "You want me to leave you and go to bathroom? I never hear end of it.”
Sid blinks up at him as the lube slowly drips down the cut of his hips and over his side, pooling on the sheets below. He huffs then laughs, then all out giggles, body twisting and curling in on itself as he clutches at his sides.
“Oh my god,” Sid laughs as he pulls Geno down by the shoulders, “you’re ridiculous.”
“I’m ridiculous,” Geno counters, annoyance undercut by his own laughter. “You are—.”
The rest of his rebuttal is cut off by Sid’s lips on his.
“I’m in love with you,” Sid whispers between kisses, hitching his leg up around Geno’s waist to pull him closer lube warming between their bodies. “And I never want you to leave.”
“Lucky,” Geno says as he rolls their hips together, causing Sid’s giggles to taper off into a low moan, “never leaving.”
Chapter 7: Retail
Tanger is just getting out of his car when Geno pulls into the parking lot.
“Why did we have to come way out here,” Tanger asks when Geno gets out. “There’s like, twenty jewelry stores way closer to home.”
“Want to be surprise,” Geno explains. “We come out here and maybe no one recognizes us. Thank you for coming.”
“I’m really only here for the free lunch you promised me,” Tanger says then claps Geno on the back. “But first, let’s find you an engagement ring.”
The saleswoman behind the counter doesn’t seem to recognize either of them when they walk in but she does take a long look at Tanger when Geno mentions needing to see rings for a man.
“No, no, not him,” Geno says as he pushes Tanger away. “No. Not my boyfriend.”
“I’m just a friend,” Tanger tells her.
“My boyfriend much more handsome,” Geno says and Tanger scoffs.
“Okay then,” the saleswoman says with a laugh. “Do you have any idea where you’d like to start? Price range, what type of finish, what type of metal?”
Geno looks to Tanger and Tanger rolls his eyes. “So I’m good enough to help you but I’m not good enough to be your boyfriend?”
Geno gives him his best pathetic puppy dog eyes and Tanger sighs.
“He doesn’t have a budget. He’ll pay whatever. We’re not interested in rose gold and even regular gold is iffy. We’re looking for more white gold and platinum but we’d also consider a silicone ring at least as a part time alternative because his boyfriend is very active so if you have those we’d like to see them. If not that’s fine, we’ll just take a look at the white gold and platinum today.”
The saleswoman immediately sets about unlocking the appropriate display cases and Geno gapes at Tanger.
“I’ve shopped for an engagement ring before, remember,” he says as he holds up his left hand to show off his own wedding ring. “Plus I know Sid, I know what he likes.”
“Want to get him something he’ll love.”
“Geno,” Tanger says as he squeezes his shoulder, “you could propose with one of those twenty five cent rings you get out of the little machine in front of grocery stores and he would still say yes because you’re the one asking. He’s going to love anything you put on his finger.”
“You so sure he’ll say yes?”
Tanger rolls his eyes. “Yes and I know you are too. Now come on, let’s find a ring. I’m getting hungry for lunch.”
Chapter 8: Desperation
Fyi, this one takes place in the 1940's.
Sid sighs heavily and rolls from his side to his back, yanking at the covers and kicking out his legs, doing his best to get comfortable.
He’s been home for well over a month now but he’s yet to have a good night’s sleep.
The mattress is too thick and the room is too quiet. He doesn’t have his rifle beside him or his knife clipped to his belt.
He’s alone. No one to watch his back and no one who needs him to watch theirs.
Sid turns his head on the pillow to look out the window. The rain is still falling softly against the windowpane, a quick summer storm that will hopefully do something to break the humidity that’s been hanging heavily on the air for the past week.
The dampness makes his knee ache and he bends it, foot flat on the mattress, so he can reach beneath the sheets and cover it with his palm. His fingers brush over the raised skin beneath his kneecap and he pulls his hand away and lowers his leg.
He’ll always have the pain and he’ll always have the scar, physical reminders of his failures that he’ll carry with him for the rest of his life, however long that might be.
In the distance he hearts a steady roll of thunder but over that he can hear the sound of Geno’s footsteps coming up the stairs.
He can tell by the slow and steady way that they fall Geno’s trying to be quiet, like he thinks Sid might actually be asleep behind the closed door and Sid appreciates the effort even if it is unwarranted.
It’s late, Sid knows that without even looking at his watch on the bedside table. Geno is definitely more of a night owl instead of an early bird, staying up long after Sid retires for the evening either reading or writing in the small, leather bound journal he brings with him everywhere, filling it with page after page of beautiful, foreign script.
Sid turns his head to look toward the door as Geno’s footsteps come closer and he watches the shadows pass by beneath it when Geno walks past. Sid holds his breath and listens carefully and just barely hears the sound of the Geno softly closing his bedroom door behind him.
With sleep evading him Sid’s mind drifts to Geno getting ready for bed on the other side of the wall. They’ve only been living together for a few weeks and there’s still so much about the man that Sid doesn’t know.
He wonders idly if he’s the type to carefully fold his day clothes before putting on his pajamas or if he leaves them in a pile at his feet to be dealt with in the morning.
Geno is always fully dressed for the day when he comes downstairs for breakfast so Sid wonders what his pajamas even look like. If he wears pants or shorts and if they match his sleep shirt. Maybe he only wears a t-shirt and his underwear or maybe he doesn’t wear anything at all.
Sid’s mind halts on the thought as his dick twitches against his thigh.
It’s an unfamiliar feeling. He can’t remember the last time he touched himself or the last time he was touched by someone else.
He lived in a constant state of either bone-tiredness or pure adrenaline while he was fighting and getting off was the very last thing on his mind.
But now, all he has is privacy and time and his imagination and a handsome and mysterious stranger in the next room the idea of it is much more appealing.
He works his hand beneath his shirt and lightly scratches his fingers against the soft skin of his lower belly as he closes his eyes and lets his mind wander.
He thinks about Geno opening the door and not saying a thing as he crossed the room and climbed into bed beside him.
Maybe Sid would lift the covers and let him in or Geno would do that himself. Either way Geno would cover Sid’s body with his own and grind their hips together.
Sid shoves his hand down the front of his pajama pants and gasps as his dick swells in his hand.
It’s been so long and he needs this. Some kind of release or connection. He’s desperate for it.
He imagines Geno’s lips on his or trailing down his neck or biting at his jaw as he strokes himself. He can almost feel Geno’s stubble dragging across his skin and hear the sweet words Geno would whisper in his ear as he let his huge hands roam over Sid’s body. Geno would cup Sid’s hips and his ass, he’d lick a stripe across his palm—Sid removes his own hand from his pants and does just that—-and jerk him off just the way Sid likes it. He’d just know.
Sid thrusts up into his hand and throws his head back. He bites his lip to hold in the moan. The house is solid but the walls are only so thick.
Geno would want him to be loud. He’d want him to tell him what he liked and what to do. When to go faster and harder and when he was close.
Sid’s so close. Just another twist of his wrist, another kiss, Geno telling him to let go.
Sid’s groans and swears, just barely stopping himself from saying Geno’s name as he comes all over his fist and stomach, his orgasm rolling through him and making his toes curl.
He’s missed that, that completely spent feeling that comes from nothing but pleasure.
He catches his breath and calms his pounding heart and in the next room Geno coughs. It’s loud and clear and if Sid could hear that there’s no doubt that Geno could hear him.
Sid’s face flushes as he cleans himself up the best he can without getting out of bed.
Tomorrow might be awkward but tonight was so worth it.
Chapter 9: Cowboy
Sid ‘s hands freeze on the glass he’s cleaning and he looks up at his manager, Steve.
“Penguins Halloween,” Steve says and Sid sighs in relief.
The Penguins have been good patrons in the past. They’re most respectful than the bachelor parties that blow through and less sloppy than the bachelorettes. The majority of the guys are married with kids and leave long before last call so Sid won’t be staying late and cleaning up and they all tip very well.
It’ll be a fun night. Sid stands to make a good amount of money and he gets to covertly check out some hockey players. He knows he can’t touch but it doesn’t hurt anyone to look.
By nine the party is in full swing. The guys that are spoken for are in matching outfits with their wives and girlfriends while the single ones are in significantly less impressive ones.
They still look like they’re having fun though, drinking and flirting with the waitresses and telling Sid to keep the change when they pay for their ten dollar drink with a twenty.
Sid’s lost count of how many shots he’s poured and the music and laughter are getting louder and louder. Suddenly, the noise swells and the guys all start shouting in the direction of the door. Sid looks up from the beer he’s pouring just in time to see Evgeni Malkin stroll in and Sid nearly drops the bottle.
Malkin’s costume is obvious and terrible and absolutely devastating.
Faded and ripped denim jeans wrap around his sinfully long legs and a blue button down shirt stretches across his shoulders. He’s wearing a leather vest on top of it brown boots on his feet. To complete the look there’s a wide brimmed cowboy hat on his head and he tips it toward the guys as they surround him and pat him on the back.
“Okay, all right, I’m here, party can start.”
“A little late,” one of the younger guys says. He’s a call-up from Wilkes-Barre who is dressed as Thor.
“Only important that I’m here now,” Geno says, practically sauntering by him on his way toward the bar.
Sid pulls at his own shirt, trying to straighten it as Geno gets closer. It’s a pointless act, he spilled a bottle of grenadine on himself a few hours earlier and it still hasn’t dried.
Geno smiles as he leans against the bar and Sid clears his throat and tries to remain a professional. He’s had a crush on Geno ever since he was drafted to the Pens.
Sid was a freshman at Pitt who spent more time watching Geno play than studying. Sid’s seen him around the city a few times but the only time they’ve ever interacted is at these parties and Sid doubts he’s ever left much of an impression.
He pulls at his sticky shirt and winces. Looks like that won’t be changing tonight either.
“What can I get for you,” Sid asks as Geno leans against the bar. His shirt is rolled up to his elbows and Sid has to force himself to look away and make eye contact instead, not that that’s a safer place to land.
Geno’s eyes are dark and warm beneath the brim of his hat and Sid swallows thickly.
Geno orders shots for the whole team and stays at the bar while Sid pours instead of wandering back into the crowd and waiting for the waitress to deliver them.
It makes Sid’s hands sweat and he grips the liquor bottle more tightly.
“You not say anything about my costume,” Geno says, stepping back and spinning around, giving Sid the full show. His ass looks even better in the jeans than Sid thought it would. “You like?”
“Uh.” Sid looks away and concentrated on filling the shot glasses as quickly and proficiently as possible. “You look good. What’s your girlfriend dressed as?”
Geno always shows up to these parties with some beautiful, long legged woman who clearly spent much more time on her costume than he did on his.
Sid’s sure that this year she found a way to create a sexy cow costume or maybe a horse. Possibly a rodeo clown.
“No girlfriend,” Geno says and Sid’s eyebrows raise involuntarily as he fills the last glass and sets about putting them on a serving tray. “Alone tonight,” he continues. “Alone most nights.”
Sid nods, unsure of what to say. Geno doesn’t seem to have the same problem.
“Like your costume, too,” he says and Sid frowns.
“I’m not wearing one.”
“You sure,” Geno asks as he reaches for a shot glass. “Look like sexy bartender to me.” He brings the glass to his lips and tips his head back, the long line of his neck exposed as his throat works to swallow the liquor. He winces then puts the glass down on the bar and winks at Sid. “See you around, yes?”
“Ummm,” Sid mumbles, stunned at the interaction. “Yeah. I’m gonna be here. I work here so yeah, this is where I’ll be.”
“Good,” Geno says. “Then I be back.”
Sid feels off kilter for the rest of the night. He goes through the motions of serving drinks but keeps glancing over at Geno.
Each time he looks over Geno is looking back at him causing Sid to go hot all over.
He needs air and a moment to collect himself so he volunteers to take the trash out to the dumpster.
He’s halfway to the door that leads to the alley when he looks back and makes eye contact again with Geno.
Geno stares back at him then dips his head and looks away and Sid practically sprints to the door.
The night air is cool against his overheated skin but the relief it offers is short lived.
As soon as Sid tosses the trash in the dumpster he hears the door open behind him and when he turns he sees Geno standing there suddenly looking unsure.
Sid squares his shoulders and takes a deep breath.
“Hey,” he says and that seems to be the only encouragement Geno needs because he’s crossing the distance in two big steps and reaching for Sid.
Sid tips his face up for a kiss just as Geno cradles the back of his head with his huge hand so it doesn’t hit the brick wall behind them.
Sid makes a soft sound as his back hits the wall and Geno swallows it down and presses their lips together as the brim of his hat bumps against Sid’s forehead.
“I’m always want to do this,” Geno mumbles as Sid breaks the kiss so he can mouth at Geno’s neck. “I always see you here every year and always want to do this.”
Sid huffs a laugh against Geno’s skin. He doubts he stayed on Geno’s mind like that over the years but it sounds nice.
“You always had a date,” Sid says, nipping at Geno’s collarbone and Geno’s fingers curl into Sid’s hair at the back of his head.
“I’m know, I’m know,” Geno says, “but I still notice you. Still think about you.” He pulls Sid’s head back and cups his jaw with his other hand. “You think about me?”
Sid nods dumbly. “Always.”
Geno smiles down at him. His cowboy hat is crooked on his head.
“You go home soon?”
Sid shakes his head. “My shift ends at two,” he says and Geno frowns.
“You free tomorrow? Day after? Any day this week? Next week?”
Sid laugh. “Yeah, I think I have some time.”
“Good. Then we meet up some time. Like date? You eat dinner?”
Sid laughs again. “Yeah, for sure. But for now, I should really get back inside.”
Geno smiles and kisses him again.
Chapter 10: Applesauce
Geno’s mouth tastes like cinnamon when Sid kisses him hello.
Geno laughs against his lips when Sid makes a low, interested noise as he presses Geno back against the counter and tries to get a better taste.
“Morning to you too,” Geno says when Sid pulls back, leaving his arms looped around Geno’s waist. “You have good run?”
“No. I hate running.”
“Don’t know why you do it. Why so early.”
Geno was still in bed when Sid set out this morning. He half expected him to be there when he returned, forgetting that today was canning day.
“If I don’t go early I won’t go at all.”
“Then don’t go.”
Sid barks a laugh and finally steps away to peek into the pots bubbling away on the stovetop. Raspberries and blueberries and blackberries picked and frozen in the summer are simmering on three of the burners and the fourth has the apples.
Sid lifts the lid and takes a deep breath as cinnamon and sugar wafts around him.
“Made first batch way you like it,” Geno says and Sid puts the lid back on the pot and turns around. “Very sweet. Too sweet to sell. Don’t know how you eat.” His voice is fond and warm and Sid steps back into the circle of Geno’s arms when he opens them.
“This is why I have to go for runs,” Sid says and feels more than hears Geno’s laugh.
“Then maybe I stop making.”
Sid makes a disagreeable noise and pulls Geno down for another kiss. “Don’t you dare.”
Chapter 11: Blueprint
The small box fan on the edge of Sid’s desk does little to drown out the late night noise of city traffic outside the trailer.
He hears a car horn and tires squealing on damp pavement and he braces himself for the sound of a collision but thankfully it doesn’t come. Sid’s not sure if he could deal with sirens tonight.
He’s behind in his work, almost comically so, and if there wasn’t a multi million contract riding on this job he’d probably laugh.
It’s mostly weather related. It’s been raining in Pittsburgh for the better part of two weeks and it’s impossible to get guys up on scaffolding in a thunderstorm.
The rain isn’t the only problem they’ve encountered. They’ve had some surprise issues with zoning and permits and water main break that took nearly two days to fix.
The building is supposed to officially open in October but Sid feels that date slipping further and further away with every mishap.
There’s a knock on the trailer door and Sid double checks the time on his watch before he yells “come in.”
A moment later the door opens and Geno pokes his head in.
“Geno,” Sid says, “you don’t have to knock. I told you my door is always open.”
“Is late,” Geno says as he steps up and into the trailer. He has his hands full with plastic bags filled with take out containers and Sid hurried to roll up the blueprints he’s been looking at so he can make room on his desk.
“So then why are you still here,” Sid asks as Geno sets the bags down and begins unpacking container after container of food. “The rest of the team went home hours ago.”
“I’m know. I go home too but you say you were staying late so…”
“So you picked up food and came back?”
Geno pops open a container of Chinese and then another of Italian. He picked up a lot of food and came back.
“Notice you didn’t eat with rest of guys at lunch. Probably didn’t eat dinner. Have to eat, Sid.”
“I haven’t had the time.”
“Time now. No work in the dark.”
Sid laughs. He has an unending amount of paperwork but he supposes he could take ten minutes to eat the food that Geno brought for him.
“How much do I owe you,” he asks and Geno rolls his eyes and doesn’t answer, busying himself instead with pulling out plates and utensils and napkins out of another bag. “Okay,” Sid says quietly as he grabs an egg roll out of one container and garlic bread out of another. He doesn’t necessarily like to be treated but he’ll give this one to Geno. This time.
“Look bad,” Geno says as he scoops out a pile of lo mien onto his plate.
“What? The food?”
“No, you.” He digs in his fork in and takes a huge bite. “Look bad. Worried. Tired.” He shrugs. “Bad.”
“Thanks,” Sid says dryly. “Always nice to hear I look awful.”
“Didn’t say awful. Said bad. We worry.” He spears a piece of broccoli. “I worry.”
“It’s just stressful,” Sid answers. “All of it. We’re so far behind–.”
“It’s not your fault,” Sid says quickly, “I know that and I know you’re all doing the best you can but….” He trails off and runs a hand through his hair. “You ever feel like quitting?”
Geno’s eyebrows shoot up. “You leaving us?”
“No, no, I’m not leaving. I’m not actually going to do it but do you ever think about it? I’m so tired of the city,” Sid admits. “You know, the noise and everything. I’d like to get away.”
“Can take vacation.”
“It’s not the same when you know you have to come back.”
Geno frowns deeply and Sid worries that maybe he’s pushed this too far but then Geno nods.
“Could go,” Geno says. “Construction…not what I want to do when I was little but where I grow up …not many options. I come here and I think maybe find something else but just get stuck with what I know. Might be nice to go somewhere else, get in car and just drive. Find something new. Where would you go?”
Sid hadn’t really thought about it like that. He never thought about where he’d like to end up, just that he would like to leave. The destination didn’t seem as important as the journey.
“Somewhere quiet, like a cabin or something.”
“Of course. No highways or new construction. Somewhere where if it rained it wouldn’t ruin my entire day. Maybe somewhere with a pond or a lake. Somewhere with good fishing in the summer but would freeze over in the winter. It’s been awhile since I’ve skated.”
Geno nods, mulling it over. “I could be happy there,” he says, making and holding eye contact with Sid.
Sid had never given any thought about where he’d end up but there have been moments where he’s thought about who he’d like to end up with. They’re fleeting and few and far between and always leave a bitter aftertaste of ‘that’ll never happen,’ but now, sitting across from Geno in the small work trailer he thinks ‘maybe’.
“Better skater than you,” Geno says simply and Sid laughs, the sound making Geno smile. “Eat more,” he says, pushing a container of pierogies toward him. “Don’t want leftovers or else will have to share with rest of crew.”
“Nah,” Sid says as he fills up his plate. “I think this is just for us.”
Chapter 12: Century
The sun is just coming over the far mountains when Evgeni steps onto the balcony to watch the men in the courtyard below.
They run through drills, one right after another, and by the third it’s painfully obvious how thin the ranks have become. A man near the front goes down and doesn’t get back up and Evgeni has to look away.
“How do they look,” Sidney asks, coming up behind him and placing a warm hand on Evgeni’s bare back.
“They won’t be ready,” Evgeni mutters.
“They will,” Sidney counters as he steps up beside him.
“Then why did you ask?”
“Because I was trying to figure out if you’d need me for celebration or consolation.”
He’s smiling softly and Evgeni has to lean in and kiss the glow of it off his lips.
“You worry too much,” Sidney whispers and Evgeni shakes his head then juts his chin out toward the courtyard.
“Look at them. They’re an embarrassment. I’m to go to war with them?”
“There’s time,” Sidney soothes, pressing a kiss to the base of Evgeni’s throat. “Come back to bed. I’ll help you think of something else.”
“If I don’t win I won’t have a bed to go back to. Neither with you.”
Sidney sighs, breath fanning against Evgeni’s collarbone.
“I’m running out of men,” Evgeni explains. “Soon there will be nothing but boys. If I take children away from their mothers I’ll have lost this war before it’s even begun.”
Sidney is quiet for a moment before he pulls back, eyes bright and golden.
“I’ll fight,” Sid says simply and Evgeni’s stomach rolls.
“I’ve proved myself to be a good soldier. You’d be foolish not to use me.”
“I won’t allow it.”
“It’s my duty to defend the kingdom. As your servent—.”
“As your king,” Evgeni counters, voice raised but Sidney stands his ground, tilting his chin up definitely. “I won’t allow you to fight. I’m not losing you. No war is worth that.”
“So you’d rather lose the whole kingdom?”
“Yes. I didn’t save you—.”
“Yes, I know,” Sidney interrupts, turning away and leaning on the balcony. “You didn’t save me from war just to send me back into one. You’ve said before.”
Evgeni had found Sidney clinging to life on the battlefield. Evgeni had been newly crowned and only sixteen, much too young to see the ruined bodies laying at his feet.
He couldn’t leave this boy behind so he brought him back to Magnitogorsk to nurse him back to health. Sidney became a symbol of the kind of ruler Evgeni would grow to be. Evgeni had a heart and by the time Sidney was well again it belonged wholly to him.
“Didn’t save you,” Evgeni says. He takes Sidney’s hand and places it over the center of his chest. “Heart did. Knew you were special, knew you would be mine. Nothing is worse losing you. I die before I let that happen.”
Sidney hangs his head and Evgeni steps behind him and pulls him back against his chest.
“Best place you can be is beside me. I can protect.”
“I can protect myself. And you. And the kingdom.”
Evgeni kisses the back of Sidney’s shoulder. “Were right, should go back to bed.”
“Don’t turn my words against me,” Sidney says but there’s a lightness to his voice and Evgeni smiles against his skin.
He doesn’t know what will happen in the future but for now he and Sidney will go back to bed and the rest of the world will fade away.
Chapter 13: Facial
Geno’s head thunks back against the door with enough force to hurt.
It’s loud in the quiet of the room and he’s sure if there was someone walking out in the hallway they would have heard it.
Below him, Sid laughs, sound muffled around Geno’s dick that’s slowly sliding in and out of Sid’s mouth.
This isn’t how Geno imagined this night would go.
He thought it would be a little slower, a little sweeter. Maybe he’d order some room service, maybe some wine or champagne. He booked this room specifically for the tub in the bathroom, a deep claw foot that looked like it would fit the two of them. He wanted to try. He at least wanted to shower or maybe just take his shoes off, tight and pinching after a long day.
He didn’t get a chance to do any of that.
As soon as he got the door open Sid had pushed him back against it and dropped to his knees. Geno barely had the time to flail around for the light switch before Sid was pulling his dick out of his pants.
He’s lost track of time. Sid’s been sucking him off for either five or fifty minutes but either way he’s close and he his fingers find their way to Sid’s hair to give him a warning.
Sid pulls off and unwraps his hand from the base of Geno’s dick and Geno makes a low, frustrated noise. He hadn’t meant for Sid to stop completely.
“Do you want to come on my face?”
Geno blinks up at the ceiling then let’s his head roll back down, chin tucked against his chest so he can see Sid.
His lips are puffy and his cheeks are flushed and Geno’s dick twitches.
They don’t do this. Sid’s rules have always been very cut and dry and rule number one has always been condom on at all times.
“Sid,” he starts and trails off because what does he say to this? Yes. Yes he wants this. He wants to come all over Sid’s pretty face. He wants to streak Sid’s pink cheeks and red lips. He wants to stake claim. He wants Sid to be his.
But these aren’t things that he can say. They’re not things that he can do.
“I want you to come on my face,” Sid says, eyes wide and jaw set. “Do you want that?”
Geno presses his lips together and takes a deep breath through his nose.
He nods and Sid strips off the condom dropping it to the carpet by his knees.
He wraps his hand around Geno’s dick and Geno’s whole body tenses at the feeling of Sid’s hot hand on his bare skin.
“Sid,” he grits out, fingers digging into Sid’s shoulders. “Have to sit down. Can’t keep standing.”
Sid rolls his eyes but rocks back onto his heels and stands in one fluid motion. He moves over to the foot of the bed and Geno takes the opportunity to kick off his shoes and step out of his pants and underwear. He hesitates with his hands on the buttons of his shirt and decides against it. He wants Sid’s hands back on him as soon as possible and undoing all the buttons and getting the shirt off his shoulders would take too much time.
He kisses Sid, slow and filthy and tastes just the faintest hint of latex on his tongue. Sid bites at Geno’s bottom lip then grabs him by the hips and pushes him down onto the bed. He takes his shirt off then spreads Geno’s knees and drops down between them, laying his hand over his dick and sucking a kiss onto the slight swell of Geno’s belly.
Geno sighs and leans back on his hands. This is perfect, or as close to it as he’s ever going to get. They don’t get to have a normal relationship. Geno doesn’t get to bring him home to his parents or introduce him to his friends. There’s no anniversaries or date nights. He can’t buy him flowers or gifts. All he gets are nights like these in rented out hotel rooms. Beggars can’t be choosers.
“Hey.” Sid bites at Geno’s inner thigh to get his attention. “Where’d you go? What are you thinking about?”
“Thinking about how after I come, I’m want to push you back against carpet and ride you until you come. Get rug burn on my knees but is okay. Worth it.”
Sid grins then tries to hide it by sinking his teeth into his bottom lip. “That sounds good,” he says, “are you planning on coming tonight or…”
“You planning on getting me off tonight,” Geno fires back and Sid laughs. “Can’t come if you don’t touch me.”
“I think we both know that’s a lie,” Sid says and Geno goes red hot remember the night Sid tied him up and hit his prostate with his fingers relentlessly until he was coming all over himself without a hand on his dick.
“Maybe, yes,” Geno says and Sid licks his palm before curling his hand around Geno’s dick.
Geno forces himself to keep his head up and his eyes open. He wants to see all of this, he’s not sure when he’ll get another chance, if ever.
Sid keeps the pressure tight and consistent and his strokes slow just the way Geno likes it. Sid’s always so good at doing things just the way Geno likes.
“Talk to me,” Geno pants, pressing his thumb to the center of Sid’s lip.
Sid flicks his tongue against it then leans back. He’s red right up to the tips of his ears, the same way he always gets when Geno asks for dirty talk. Sid can work magic with his fingers and tongue and dick but as soon as he’s prompted to say filthy he gets shy.
“Sid,” Geno says, taking pity on him, “don’t have to—.”
“You’re so fucking hot,” Sid interrupts and Geno grins and leans back on his elbows. “You look so hot like this, still half dressed like you couldn’t wait for me to get you off. You just had to have it right now.”
“You,” Geno corrects, “had to have you.”
“You got me,” Sid tells him, hand moving a little faster on Geno’s dick and Geno’s toes start to curl. “I’m right here now c’mon, I want you to come all over me.”
Geno groans and paints Sid’s face with thick, white stripes. It catches in his eyelashes and falls across the tops of his cheeks. It drops down slowly and curves around the corner of his mouth when he smiles.
“Fuck,” Sid says, “that was so hot. We should have done that before.”
Geno nods, momentarily unable to form words until Sid starts to stand and he stops him with a hand on his shoulder and a breathy, “wait. Want to look at you more. Want to remember this.”
“Just take a picture.”
Geno’s eyes go wide. “You let me?”
“No. I just wanted to see your face when I said it.”
“Mean,” Geno says, lightly kicking his heel against Sid’s ribs. Sid pushes his foot away, stands, and heads for the bathroom.
Geno falls back on the bed and listens to the water run as Sid washes his face.
He comes back with a clean face and a cool washcloth that he runs across Geno’s forehead and neck, mopping up the sweat that’s gathered there.
“You good,” Sid asks and Geno nods then shakes his head.
“No, no, was going to ride you, remember. Had plan. Hot, good, plan.”
Sid gives him a look as he crosses the room to the mini fridge beneath the coffee maker.
“If you could see yourself right now you’d see that there’s no way you’re going to be riding me,” he says as he bends down to open the fridge and pull out a complimentary bottle of water. “You’re spent.”
“Then you just fuck me. I just lie here.”
“Mmm. Sexy.” Sid takes a long drink from the bottle then holds it out to Geno. “I’m fine. As long as you’re good that’s all that matters.”
That’s not true, not even a little bit and Geno bypasses the bottle in favor of reaching for Sid so he can pull him down for a kiss.
“Before I forget,” Geno mumbles against Sid’s lips, “have extra money in wallet.”
Sid pulls back with a frown. “What?”
“Money. Don’t know if you charge extra for that so…”
“That’s what you’re thinking about now?”
“Yes? Want to make sure you get paid, make sure you’re taken care of.”
Sid blinks at him then pushes away and stands up. “I have to go.”
“What?” Geno sits up and stares as Sid scans the floor for his shirt. “Where you going?”
“I just remembered I had something. Something to do. Sorry.”
“But we say all night.”
“I’m sorry,” Sid says as he pulls on his shirt, “but I have to go.”
“Geno,” Sid snaps. “No.”
Geno clenches his jaw. Thad’s another one of Sid’s rules, maybe the most important. No means no no matter the circumstance.
“Okay,” he says quietly and Sid grabs the small backpack of supplies he always brings with him and hefts it over his shoulder. “Still need money. Let me pay you.”
Sid sighs and waits by the door while Geno gets off the bed and digs through the pockets of his pants for his wallet. He pulls out the pre-agreed upon amount then hesitates, looking down at Sid.
“How much extra?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Sid mumbles.
“Sid, c’mon, is your money. You earn.”
Sid heaves a sigh and stares down at his feet. “Fifty.”
Sid nods and Geno adds an additional three twenties to the stack of money.
“Only have twenties,” he explains. “Keep it.”
Sid grabs the money and quickly pockets it then reaches for the door knob. Geno gets their first and holds the door closed.
“Sid, I do something wrong? Make you upset? Don’t know why. Sorry but don’t know why.”
Sid’s shoulders droop and he finally looks up at Geno. “You didn’t do anything wrong. You’re fine. I….” He trails off. “I just forgot I had to do something. I’ll see you around, okay? Get some sleep.”
He leans up on his toes for a quick kiss then pulls the door open and disappears into the hall.
Chapter 14: Cast + Shaving Cream
Sid opens his eyes but all he sees is the empty spot beside him in bed, sheets pushed down and pillows askew.
He lifts his head off his own pillow and looks toward the bathroom. The light it on but and he can hear movement but he still can’t see him.
“Geno,” he calls as he climbs out of bed. “You all right? Did you get the cast wet? I really thought the duct tape would work.” Sid stumbles toward the bathroom, still half asleep and rubbing at his eyes. “Geno?”
“Can help me, Sid?”
Sid lowers his hand from his eyes and blinks away the bright spots until he can see Geno standing in front of him, dry cast on his arm, shaving cream spread haphazardly on his face, and a razor in his left hand.
“What happened,” Sid asks, holding back a laugh at the glob of shaving cream that’s starting to drip down Geno’s neck.
“Can’t shave with wrong hand,” Geno pouts, lips quickly curving into a frown when Sid ‘awwws’ in sympathy. “Cast is stupid, Sid. On right hand, worst. Can’t do anything.”
Sid sticks his bottom lip out in an exaggerated pout. “Well, maybe next time you’ll think twice about dropping gloves and slamming your hand into the other guys helmet.”
“Was for good reason,” Geno defends as he turns away back to the mirror and brings the razor up to his face, awkward and uncoordinated in his left hand. “Would do again.”
Sid sighs and shoulders his way between Geno and the sink and lifts himself up onto the counter.
“I know you would, and I love that about you,” he says as he takes the razor from Geno’s hand. “But I don’t love it when you get hurt. But hey, it’s only for a few weeks, right?”
“Maybe,” Geno says sullenly, hanging his head until Sid tips it back up, fingers tucked beneath his chin. “Maybe it don’t heal right.”
Sid doesn’t say anything, just slowly drags the razor across Geno’s cheek. He’s not a doctor. He doesn’t know.
“It’ll heal when it heals.”
“Sid,” Geno says, sounding desperate and Sid shakes his head.
“You’re not playing hurt so it might as well heal the right way. The season just started. You have time.”
“You want to shave my face everyday?”
“Yes,” Sid says, taking another slow swipe with the razor. “I’ll do anything I can to help you. That’s the point of this whole thing, you know, boyfriends. Partners. Teammates. That’s what we do.”
Geno has been looking down, eyelashes fanning over the tops of his cheeks but when he finally looks up his eyes are warm and bright and full of love.
“You shave other teammates face I’m not gonna like.”
Sid laughs and Geno spreads his left hand over Sid’s thigh, laughing himself for the first time since he was escorted off the ice by the trainers.
“Hurry,” he says as his hand trails further up Sid’s thigh, intent clean. “Can still do some things with my left hand.”
Chapter 15: Drinks on the patio/deck of your fav place.
Sid sighs and leans back against the railing. He crosses one ankle over the other and sticks his hands on the pocket of his jeans to stop himself from looking at his watch.
It’s late, the sky dark above him and the city bright around him and the bar loud and loud and lively all around him.
This isn’t necessarily his kind of scene, but Geno promised this was the best place to get drinks in…God, he doesn’t even remember what city he’s in.
He didn’t ask a lot of questions when he got the call from Geno that one of his gigs had been pushed back a day and he suddenly had a Sid sized hole in his schedule. Sid just accepted the ticket Geno forwarded to him and headed for the airport.
But that had been sixteen hours and two connecting flights ago and now he has no idea where he is.
Since he’s been standing here waiting for Geno to come back with their drinks he’s heard four separate languages being spoken from vastly different areas of the globe so it’s impossible to narrow it down.
Sid guesses it doesn’t matter exactly where he is, as long as Geno is in the same place. He could be closer though. Closer than weaving his way through a sea of people in a packed bar on the Friday (or is it Saturday with the time difference) night. They could be back at Geno’s hotel, completely wrapped up in each other enjoying the short time they have together. In fourteen hours Sid has to be back at the airport and standing here alone kind of seems like a waste.
He hears Geno’s voice in the crowd and does a quick scan of the surrounding area trying to find him. To his left Geno is politely pushing his way through throngs of people, a drink in each hand.
It’s not a waste, Sid realizes suddenly as he watches Geno get closer and closer to him. To see him like this, happy and a little sweaty, lights reflecting off the slight sheen on his neck and forearms. It’s a gift.
“Sorry it take so long,” he says when he gets close enough to hand the drink over. He steps up and slots his body into the empty space beside Sid, touching from their shoulders to their feet. “Bar was busy. Bartender was straight,” he says with a wink. “Couldn’t get his attention.”
“You can get everyone’s attention,” Sid counters as he takes a sip. It’s good. Sweet and strong just like Geno. He’s only had one taste but he loves it.
“Only care about your attention,” Geno fires back and pushes in closer, lips moving against Sid’s temple.
Wherever they are, it’s safe enough for them to do this, for Geno to be nearly wrapped around him and for Sid to drape his arm around Geno’s lower back. He’s thankful for that.
“Missed you,” Geno says, voice low in Sid’s ear. “Missed you so much.”
Sid closes his eyes and hums, pulling Geno a little tighter into his side. They’ll head back to Geno’s hotel in a bit where they’ll stay until the very last second before Sid has to head back to the airport.
But for now they’ll stay like this, wrapped up in each other as the warm summer night wraps around them.
Chapter 16: Swimming
Geno sets the bottle down on the dock and gets himself to his feet.
He stumbles a bit and Sid puts his hand out for support but Geno corrects himself and stands up with his hands on his hips.
Sid takes a pull from his own bottle and waits. Geno is just on the right side of too drunk and whatever he’s about to say is bound to be good.
“Going to get naked,” Geno says and Sid nods. It’s unexpected but good.
“Why would you want to do that?”
“Skinny dip,” Geno says as he pulls his shirt up, getting it caught on his elbows before he drops it. “Come, Sid.”
“I have neighbors, you know.”
“All the way across lake,” Geno fires back, pointing with an unsteady hand at the lights across the water. “They watch you with binoculars? Is dark, can’t see.”
“Sid, don’t be baby.” He yanks down his swim trunks and Sid puts down the bottle, watching intently as Geno walks to the edge of the dock and jumps off.
Geno yells about the cold water as Sid rolls his eyes and stands up.
He pulls his shirt over his head. Steps out of his trunks. And follows.
Chapter 17: Water Ice
Geno’s mouth is red and he taste like cherries from all the samples he’s been sneaking.
They only have about five minutes until Mr. Sullivan comes looking for him and he’s a great boss, but Sid doubts he’d be very understanding if he caught them making out on work time.
“We’re going to get caught,” Sid says as Geno trails his cherry stained mouth down the side of his neck. “We’re going to get fired.”
“Who cares. Stupid job anyways.”
Sid huffs a laugh. It’s not a bad job as far as high school summer jobs go. It could be worse. Tanger collects carts at the grocery store, at least the two of them get to be inside in the air conditioning.
“Stupid or not, I kind of need this job.”
Sid took this job to help him pay for new hockey equipment and Geno took this job for Sid.
“Sully not going to fire us,” Geno says, “we best employees.”
Sid snorts. “Not right now we’re not. Okay, maybe he won’t fire us but he might punish me by making me get in the mascot costume again.”
Geno barks a laugh then silences himself by pressing his face to Sid’s shoulder. “You look so cute in it.”
“Fuck you,” Sid says playfully. “It’s not fair you’re too tall to fit in it.”
“I never hear you complain about size before,” Geno says, pulling back to give Sid a teasing look, his tongue pushed against his cheek.
Sid rolls his eyes and drags Geno close by the front of his company provided polo.
“Do you want to talk or do you want to make out someone more.”
Geno pulls a face like he has to think about it and Sid tugs him the extra inch closer and answers his own question.
Chapter 18: Ice Cream + Going Down To The Shore
Sid zips his hoodie halfway up his chest and kicks off his flip flops at the end of the boardwalk. He uses his toes to stack one on top of the other, out of the way and off to the side. He doubts anyone will steal them, after only a few days at the beach they already look a little ragged.
He jams his hands in the pockets of his sweatshirt and starts down the beach, sand still sun warmed beneath his feet until he hits the hard packed section down by the water.
Sid hadn’t even wanted to come on this vacation, he’d much rather spend the time training, but his mother had insisted in a way that suggested her heart would be broken if he didn’t come along. He knows that their time together as a family is fleeting, that next year he’ll be drafted and be off to who knows where to play in the NHL. Things will never be the same after that. One week away from hockey is the least he can do even if his fingers were itching to hold a stick minutes after getting out of the car.
Sid sighs and looks out at the water as the surf bubbles over his feet. Only four more days and he can get back on the ice and back to training.
He walks, watching a seagull bob back and forth out in the waves until something big and heavy hits the back of his knees and knocks him over.
He ends up with his ass in the sand, salt water soaking his sweatshirt and shorts until it recedes. Sid blinks and shakes his head, trying to figure out what just happened and before he can get himself to his feet there are hands under his arms pulling him up.
“So sorry,” a voice says, “was bad throw and Jeffery don’t know how big he really is. Was big mistake. You okay? You hurt?”
Sid brushes his sandy hands off on his shorts and turns around.
The guy is still holding onto Sid’s elbows and his hooded eyes look incredibly apologetic. Beside him there’s a dog, a giant dog, covered in sand and drool, holding a tennis ball in his mouth and wagging his tail.
“That’s the thing that hit me,” Sid asks, still trying to piece everything together and the guy slowly lets go of Sid’s arms so he can place one large hand on the dog’s square shaped head.
“Jeffrey say he’s sorry. Didn’t mean to. Just, so big and so excited. Should really be on leash, I’m know, but is dog, has to run and beach is almost empty anyways. I’m sorry,” he says again. “You hurt?”
Sid shakes his head. He’s taken harder hits than that out on the ice, granted, he usually prepared for them out there.
“I’m okay,” Sid says as he looks down at the dog. “He’s a giant. Is he friendly?”
“Yes, very,” the guy says, “Jeffrey loves people.”
Sid holds out his hand for Jeffery to sniff but he bypasses it and pushes his head into Sid’s thigh, demanding to be pet.
“You like dogs?”
Sid nods. “I have one back home. Not as big as him, though.” When he looks back up the guy is smiling.
“Should let me buy you dinner, you know, as apology.”
“Oh,” Sid says, feeling a little dumbstruck as the guy clearly gives him a once over. “You don’t have to do that. I mean, I already ate dinner, so.”
Sid stares and then laughs. He’s not used to this kind of attention, of someone wanting to spend time with him for more than just hockey related reasons. “I don’t even know your name.”
“Geno,” the guy says, slapping a hand to his own chest. “Geno and Jeffrey.”
“I’m Sid,” Sid tells him and Geno smiles.
“Well, now we all know each other. Time for dessert. What do you want, ice cream, fried dough? Know place that has good milkshakes.” He starts off toward the pier but Sid doesn’t follow.
“I left my shoes by the boardwalk,” Sid says, jutting his chin back toward the hotel. It’s a good half mile away, too far to walk to and then come back.
“You stay here,” Geno says, ushering Sid further up the beach where the sand is dry and soft. “You sit with Jeffrey and I’ll be right back.”
“Are you sure, you really don’t have to do this.”
“Be right back, Sid,” Geno calls over his shoulder, his long legs moving easily across the sand.
Sid watches him until he disappears into the crowd on the pier then sits down in the sand. Jeffrey sits down directly in front of him then spits the tennis ball out between Sid’s feet.
It’s disgusting, covered in slobber and sand but Sid picks it up and throws it anyways.
By the time Geno returns Jeffery is stretched out beside Sid and Sid’s sweatshirt and shorts are nearly dry.
Geno is holding a vanilla ice cream cone in each hand and shaking his head, mumbling something under his breath as he hands one over to Sid.
“Sorry take so long. Tourists.”
Sid nods sheepishly, and takes the cone. He’s a tourist, technically, and hopes he’s not as annoying as the ones Geno just encountered.
“You not from around here,” Geno asks, teasing grin on his face as he sits down next to Sid. “You say back home you have dog.”
“My family and I are just on vacation this week, but I don’t live that far from here. You’re not from here either,” Sid asks carefully and Geno laughs.
“How you guess? No, not originally. From Russia but then parents move so I go with.” He takes a bite of his ice cream then looks Sid over. “Look young. High school?”
Sid nods. “I have a year left.”
“Already done,” Geno says and Sid tenses at the idea of spending this kind of time with someone older but then Geno adds, “college in fall,” and he relaxes. “You going to college?”
Sid shakes his head and Geno’s eyebrows shoot up.
“No? Parents not make big deal? My parents make huge deal. They say they come all this way from home so they could get better job to afford school for me so I better go. Your parents don’t pressure?”
Sid’s not sure how to explain that he never even entertained the idea of college because he was always going to go pro. He’s really not sure how to explain that he’s probably going to be picked first in the draft this time next year.
“College isn’t for everyone,” he says lamely but Geno nods.
“No, you right.”
“But it’s good that you’re going,” Sid says quickly. “It’s important.”
Geno rolls his eyes. “Is just a lot, you know? Have to decide whole future right now? Who knows that kind of thing so young?”
Sid takes a huge bite of ice cream nearly giving himself a brain freeze. He’s known since he was just a kid that hockey was all he wanted to do.
Geno eats his ice cream down to the cone then whistles to Jeffrey who scrambles to his feet once he figures out there’s food about to be offered.
He takes the cone in one bite and Geno smiles and rubs at his fur, catching a glimpse of his watch as he does so.
“Shit,” he says as he springs to his feet. “Late. Mama worry if I’m not back.”
“Oh,” Sid says, trying and failing to hide his disappointment. He hasn’t even finished his ice cream.
“You say you are here for rest of week,” Geno asks, “come find me tomorrow. Always walk Jeffrey at night about this time. Will be much more careful where I throw ball tomorrow.”
“Okay, yeah, sure, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Good,” Geno says with a smile. “Can’t wait.”
For the first time Sid’s actually excited to be on vacation.
Companion piece to Wide Open Spaces but you don't need to read that to understand it.
Sid finds him in one of the rocking chairs on the side of the porch that faces West.
He’s rocking slowly back and forth with Timmy and Sharik asleep at his feet. In the pasture in front of him the horses are slowly making their way up to the barn and Toby sits atop one of the wooden fence posts, orange fur highlighted by the sunset behind him.
The sky is awash with reds and pinks and oranges. It’s beautiful and dramatic and when Sid sits down beside him, Geno doesn’t take his eyes off it, just blindly reaches over to take Sid’s hand.
“You ever think how many times Antoni and Irina sit like this together?”
Sid hums. “They had a long life together.”
“A good life,” Geno says, nodding as the color of the sky shifts to a deep purple. “Very lucky. You think we can be that lucky?”
Sid knows he’s teasing, just a little bit, just by the way his voice changes, but Sid doesn’t take what the two of them have built here lightly. He brings their entwined hands up to his lips and presses a kiss to the ring on Geno’s finger.
“We already are.”
Chapter 20: Quiet warm summer mornings in bed
Sid can tell when Geno wakes by the flutter of his eyelids and the way his hand twitches on Sid’s thigh which is thrown over Geno’s hips.
Geno keeps his eyes closed but his lips quirk up at the corners when Sid slides a hand over Geno’s chest and settles it low on his stomach, pinky just barely grazing the strip of skin above the waistband of his sleep pants where his t-shirt has rucked up.
Sid’s pinky passes back and forth until he dares to dip it beneath the elastic and Geno grins.
“Sid,” he says, eyes still closed, “you start something, you finish it.”
Sid smiles and pushes himself up and over Geno’s body.
He loves mornings like this, where the alarm isn’t set and they don’t have anywhere to be. Where they can take their time with this, with each other, where they can make out like teenagers until their lips are slick and sore and the journey is just as good as the destination.
Sid straddles Geno’s hips and kisses him like that’s the only thing he’s ever going to do, like it’s what he was made for, slow and through and with just enough heat to make Geno’s hips shift beneath him and his fingers dig into Sid’s side.
He huffs into Sid’s mouth when Sid doesn’t give him any room to remove the layers between them even as their shirts stick to their backs with sweat and the sheets tangle in their legs.
“Sid,” he whines and Sid laughs into the kiss, hands cupping Geno’s face, thumbs tracing his cheekbones.
“Shhh,” he soothes as he lets one hand drag down Geno’s chest. He cups Geno’s hardening dick through the fabric of his pants. “It’ll be worth the wait.”
Chapter 21: Road trip
The air conditioner rattles as it kicks on, the sound bouncing off the walls of the small hotel room and echoing on Sid’s ears.
It doesn’t do much to cool room and Sid needs to sleep with one leg out of the covers to be comfortable. On the twin bed beside him Geno has taken his shirt off, leaving it balled up at the foot of the bed.
“Sid,” Geno says, voice barely able to be heard above the A/C. “What are we doing?”
Sid thinks about faking sleep because he doesn’t have an answer.
He just needed to leave. He had to get out of Pittsburgh where the weight of everyone’s disappointment made him feel like he was drowning.
After locker clean out he packed a bag and went to the only person who he knew would understand.
“Do you want to go somewhere,” Sid had asked, standing on Geno’s doorstep with his car still running behind him. Geno had looked at him, then the car, then nodded. “Go pack a bag,” Sid said, then turned on his heel and headed back to the car.
They drove in silence until it got dark and Sid’s eyelids started to feel heavy.
He pulled off into a roadside motel that had seen better days. It didn’t matter to Sid, he wasn’t too good for it and even though Geno looked apprehensive he followed Sid into the lobby anyways.
“Sid,” Geno prompts again and Sid takes a deep, shuddering breath.
“I don’t know,” Sid answers, covering his face with his hand when he hears Geno shift on the other bed. Feet hit the ground and then there’s a tugging at the sheets. Sid peeks out from his hand in time to see Geno get his knee up on the mattress.
“What are you doing,” Sid asks, trying to sit up but stalling when Geno presses him back down with a hand to the middle of his chest.
“There’s not enough room.”
Geno shakes his head and lifts the sheets so he can slide in beside him. He turns so he can drape his arm over Sid’s chest and rest his head on Sid’s shoulder.
Chapter 22: Soft Summer Rain
Geno lightly taps his spoon against the side of his mug as the front door opens and closes.
He sets the spoon down with a soft clink as Sid’s sneakers squeak against the floor.
“How was run,” Geno asks before Sid even turns the corner into the kitchen and when he does Geno’s lips turn up into a smirk.
Sid’s hair is damp, black and silver misted over with warm summer rain and there are drops on his shoulders and chest. He looks sweaty and uncomfortable and beautiful.
“Terrible,” Sid says, breezing past the kitchen table to the fridge. He pops it open and pulls out a Gatorade, twisting off the cap and taking a long sip in one even movement. “You should have come with me.”
Geno snorts. “What they say, misery love company?”
Sid laughs into the bottle. He pulls it away to reveal fruit punch red lips. “Yes, exactly. Maybe tomorrow?”
“Maybe,” Geno says even though they both know the truth. Tomorrow he’ll be staying in bed and if he has it his way, Sid will be staying with him.
Chapter 23: Afternoon Nap
Sid stretches his arms above his head and winces. His skin still feels tight from the sun and when he looks in the mirror he finds the tops of his shoulders painted a faint red from where he forgot to reapply sunscreen after climbing out of the lake and back onto the boat.
It’s not terrible, but it’s only the start of the summer and he’ll need to be more careful if he wants to stop himself from peeling.
Tonight he’ll take a cool shower and rub aloe into his skin. Or, he’ll have Geno rub the aloe in, something he thinks they’ll probably both enjoy.
“Hey, I’m hungry, what do you want to do for…” he says, leaning his body out of the bathroom and trailing off when he sees Geno, face down on the bed, legs hanging off the end, fast asleep.
He managed to get his shirt off before he passed out and Sid tip-toes closer and runs his hand down the middle of Geno’s back, over warm, tanned skin.
Geno doesn’t burn, or at least Sid hasn’t seen it. He goes from winter white to honey gold with nothing in between and Sid feels like he should be jealous while his own skin aches but he can’t bring himself to find him anything other than beautiful.
Slowly, Sid sits down on the edge of the bed and lifts Geno’s arm so he can slide beneath it.
Geno stirs, mumbling incoherently into the bedspread then tightens his arm around Sid’s waist.
Sid takes a deep breath and shifts the extra inch closer to him so he’s fully tucked against Geno’s side.
Sid is hungry and overly warm and they both smell like lake water and bug spray but he closes his eyes and presses his nose to the curve of Geno’s neck.
He takes a deep breath and slowly drifts off.
Chapter 24: Fireworks
It had been chaos the first time Sid brought Geno home to Cole Harbour for his birthday.
Sid’s friends and family were overeager to get a look at the guy who finally managed to catch his eye, not totally believing it was a preschool teacher from Pittsburgh via Russia.
It had been overwhelming, to say the least, and Sid found Geno tucked away in the upstairs bedroom trying to decompress.
“So many questions,” Geno had said. “Feel like I forget English.”
It’s better now, clearly.
Geno has been the center of a rather lively conversation with a group of Sid’s uncles and older cousins talking about fishing or football, beer in hand and posture open and relaxed.
Sid works his way into the circle and Geno lifts his arm and wraps it around Sid’s shoulder without even pausing in the middle of his sentence about how the Steelers are definitely going to go all the way next year.
“Can I steal you away,” Sid asks when there’s a lull in conversation and Geno nods, beer bottle pressed to his lips.
“Is your party,” he says as he lowers it, “can do whatever you like.”
Sid leads him away from the group and down to the water, stepping out onto the old wooden dock that sticks out onto the water.
“Some of my friends got fireworks,” Sid says as he sits down at the end, feet dangling just above the water. He tips his head out toward the middle of the lake. “They’re going to launch them off their boat.”
“Is legal in Canada,” Geno asks as he sits down beside him. His feet dip into the water.
Sid shrugs. He doesn’t know. He didn’t ask.
Geno bumps their shoulders together and grins. “Sid, going to get in trouble?”
“It’s not like I’m going to be the one setting them off. I kinda need my hands for my job.”
“And for other things,” Geno says, reaching over and lacing their fingers together. “When do they start?”
“It has to get a little darker first.”
“So you bring me out here now?”
“I wanted to make sure we had a good spot.”
“There are bad spots?”
“Some are better than others,” Sid says. They have privacy out here. His parents and sisters promised to run interference on any adults who try to come out this far and they’re way past the point where the kids can go without wearing a life jacket.
No one is going to bother them.
Geno narrows his eyes. “Acting weird, Sid.”
“When am I not,” Sid counters and Geno laughs and nods.
“Yes, good point.”
He looks out over the water and Sid looks at him. The little square box in his pocket feels like it weighs a ton, like if he were to jump in the water it would pull him right down. It’s nothing to worry about though, he knows Geno would jump right in after him.
Sid has a plan to ask him as soon as the first firework goes off, while the glow of it is reflecting off the water.
But then Geno turns to him and smiles and Sid’s heart feels like it’s going to overflow.
He lets go of Geno’s hand so he can reach into his pocket and pull out the box.
“Actually,” he says, “before it starts, I have a question for you.”
Chapter 25: Thunderstorms
Sid hits the porch first, followed closely by Geno who runs into his back as Sid fumbles with the screen door.
The clap of thunder makes him jump then laugh as Geno’s hands come up to grip at his sides.
“Hurry,” Geno says, low and quiet and just barely audible over the pounding rain behind them.
Sid nods and yanks open the door and they spill into the entryway together.
Their shoes slide and squeak on the hardwood as they turn into the kitchen. Usually, Sid is a real stickler for shoes off at the door, he even put out a large wicker basket to collect them so they wouldn’t get in the way, but today is an exception.
With the morning forecast calling for dry and clear weather they left the windows in the house wide open to welcome in the early summer breeze.
The first rumble of thunder didn’t give them much warning before the skies opened up and they ran, leaving the blueberries they had been picking behind in favor of sprinting back up to the house to get out of the rain.
They’re both completely soaked through and Sid pulls at his t-shirt as he leans over the sink and shuts the first window.
He doesn’t get any further than that because Geno is behind him again, hands at his hips and pressing him against the counter.
“The windows,” Sid reminds him but his voice comes out weak and breathy as Geno kisses the back of his neck, wet lips on wet skin. Sid grips the edge of the counter. “Geno.”
Sid can feel Geno’s smile against his skin right before Geno turns him, huge hands grabbing at his hips.
There’s another clap of thunder followed by a flash of lightning as Geno ducks his head for a kiss.
Chapter 26: Sprawling Out On The Floor With The Lights Off
The hardwood feels damp beneath his shoulders and back and Sid wiggles a bit, looking for a cooler spot. Above him the ceiling fan whirls around, the chain clinking lightly against the glass covering the bulbs and beside him the bed frame and dozens of screws and washers.
It had been Geno’s idea. New house new furniture. Their old stuff was just fine but Geno was insistent.
It’s easy for Sid to blame him for the fight that ended with Geno storming out, pulling the car keys from his back pocket and not giving Sid a timetable for his return.
If they had their old bed they wouldn’t have started arguing about how to put the new one together which then wouldn’t have escalated into a full blown shouting match over nothing and everything. All the little thing they’ve been holding in for the sake of the move.
It had to come out sometime and it’s not fair for Sid to blame Geno but it’s also not fair that Geno got to be the one to walk out, leaving Sid alone in this oven of a house on the hottest day of the year before they got the central air working.
Sid sighs and shifts to a new spot. He thinking about ditching his shirt and maybe his jeans too when he hears the front door open downstairs and heavy footsteps coming up the stairs.
Sid stares up at the ceiling as the footsteps come down the hall and finally stop at the doorway.
“Hi Sid,” Geno says and Sid turns his head just enough to see his silhouette, back lit by the light in the hall holding two bottles in his hands.
“Hi G,” Sid says back and Sid watches Geno’s shoulders slump forward in relief before he steps into the room.
He puts one bottle down beside Sid’s head and when Sid reaches for it, expecting beer, he finds root beer instead.
He twists a little and looks up at Geno who shrugs.
“Forget wallet when I leave so didn’t have ID. Had to use emergency money in car just to buy this.”
Geno picks it back up before Sid can grab it and twists the cap off using the hem of his shirt then hands it over. The glass is blissfully cool beneath Sid’s fingertips and slippery with condensation. When he takes his first sip the bubbles tickle his nose.
“Thank you,” Sid says and Geno nods and lies down behind him then gently pulls Sid back with a hand on his shoulder.
Sid pillows his head on Geno’s chest and really, it’s too hot to lie like this, but Sid can’t make himself move, not when Geno starts petting a hand through his sweaty hair.
“Am sorry for fight,” Geno says softly. “And for leaving.”
“It’s stressful,” Sid says, “moving is stressful. And it’s hot.” He twists so he can look up Geno’s face. “Why is it so hot?”
“Summer,” Geno says easily. “Better than cold.”
“Uh, no,” Sid says and he can feel Geno’s chest rise and fall beneath his head as Geno laughs. “I can’t wait for it to snow.”
Sid relaxes back onto Geno’s chest as they bicker back and forth about the weather and what the ideal temperature actually is, Geno’s fingers raking softly through Sid’s hair all the while.
Chapter 27: Bare Feet
Zhenya follows in the Nymph’s footsteps, bare feet stepping their way through mud and moss and dried leaves.
At the Nymph’s insistence, Zhenya left his boots (and his armor and helmet and sword ) at the edge of the forest, leaving him vulnerable and stripped bare.
The Nymph walks without a sound in front of him. There are twigs and flowers woven into his dark hair and the fabric that swirls around his body feels like water beneath Zhenya’s fingertips when he dares to reach out and touch it. Every few feet he turns his head over his pale shoulder, as if to check to see that Zhenya is still following.
Zhenya wants to laugh each time he does it. Where else would he be? Where else would be want to be? How could he ever say no to an invitation like this?
“You know how to swim,” the Nymph asks, voice like a wind chime swaying in a warm breeze.
Zhenya’s toes catch on a root and he lurches forward into the Nymph’s arms. His skin is smooth and cool and smells like the Earth.
Up close, there’s a green hue to his skin, running like a current through his veins. He’s beautiful, rose red lips and golden eyes. Otherworldly. There’s no mistaking what he is and what he isn’t.
“Do you know how to swim,” he asks again and Zhenya nods.
His brother had pushed him off the dock when he was young. His father had to jump in after. They began lessons the following day.
“Good,” the Nymph says and lets go of Zhenya’s arm.
Above them a bird sings a sweet song.
Zhenya follows and follows, over fallen trees and through wildflower filled meadows. The Nymph keeps a steady pace, glancing back and looking.
Zhenya smiles at him as they step around an old and decaying tree stump and the Nymph smiles back, flashing sharp, white teeth and a cherry tongue.
He’s dangerous, or at least he could be but Zhenya vows to never see that side of him.
The Nymph stops at the edge of a lake, deep blue and calm.
He steps one foot in and then the other, small ripples spreading outwards around him.
He turns again and asks, “are you coming,” holding one hand out for Zhenya to take.
Zhenya looks at the outstretched hand then up at the Nymph.
Then, he follows.
Chapter 28: Wings
For the first eighteen years of his life, Sid’s mother is the only one that can see his wings.
Visible only to people that love him without conditions. More than they love themselves. They are his and his mother’s little secret.
It doesn’t bother him that his father can’t see them. Maybe it should. He can see how it could.
But Troy wants what’s best for him. He wants Sid’s to have it all. He wants him to be a success. He wants his talents and love of the game to take him as far as he can go.
Train harder. Practice longer. Don’t settle for anything less than perfection. Stop playing hairdresser and put your skates back on.
Sid knows that his father loves him but it’s not the same as his mother, who waits for Troy to leave the room before pressing the hair brush back in Sid’s hands and lets him braid her hair.
For eighteen years Sid’s wings feel like a burden. He carries them around waiting for someone, anyone, to notice.
His mother is back in Cole Harbour and alone, in Pittsburgh, they’re a heavy weight to bare on his own.
Finally, in the entryway of Mario’s home he meets Evgeni Malkin. He looks half asleep in a wrinkled suit, the wall he’s leaning on holding more of his weight than his legs.
Gonch introduces them and Sid holds his hand out.
Evgeni focuses on him then his eyes go wide. He bypasses Sid’s hand and lightly traces his fingers across the high arch of Sid’s wing.
“Pretty,” he says.
Sid falls in love.
Chapter 29: Numb
Geno’s just beginning to drift off when he hears the key in the lock.
There are footsteps, even and familiar, and then a heavy, warm weight drops onto his chest.
He cracks open one eye.
Sid’s standing over him, jacket unzipped and hands up near his face, fingers pushing through his hair.
On Geno’s chest, there’s a paper bag from McDonald’s and he immediately sits up and rips it open.
“What you do to get this,” he asks and Sid shakes his head as he steps away toward the bathroom.
“Don’t ask. Just eat.”
In the sickly, yellow light of the bathroom Geno can see the bruise high on Sid’s cheek as he stands in front of the mirror.
He pokes at it then winces and Geno sighs and stands up, taking the food with him. There’s only one burger and a small sleeve of fries and Geno wishes he’d stop doing this.
“Looks bad,” Geno says as he steps behind Sid. Sid meets his eyes in the mirror briefly then turns on the tap.
“It’s fine. Just a bump. You going to eat or not?”
“What will you eat?”
“I already ate,” Sid says before he bends down to splash water on his face.
It’s a lie, just like the bruise being just a bump.
Geno sets the bag down on the edge of the sink and reaches for Sid’s chin, aiming to tilt Sid’s face up so he can get a better look but Sid is quick to bat his hand away.
“Come on, G, I’m fine, I promise. Now eat. It’s going to get cold and gross soon. We can’t heat it up.”
Their microwave has been sparking lately and the landlord will do nothing to fix it. Plus reheated fries are shit anyways.
He sits down on the closed toilet seat lid and pulls out the burger while Sid shrugs out of his jacket.
Besides the bruise, Sid looks fine. His t-shirt is a little dirty but it’s not like it was clean when he pulled it on this morning anyways. Geno takes a bite of the burger as Sid wets a face cloth and holds it to his cheek.
“Is it good,” Sid asks, nodding to the burger in Geno’s hand.
There’s too much ketchup but Geno’s not about to complain about it. “Have bite,” he says as he holds out the wrapper and Sid shakes his head.
“I already ate, I told you.”
“I eat too. Earlier.” It’s a lie but that’s only one to Sid’s two. “Have bite. Can’t finish, don’t want it to go to waste.”
Sid’s eye roll is accompanied by a heavy sigh but he leans forward and takes a bite right out of Geno’s hands. Geno can see the edge of the bruise behind the face cloth. It’s turning an ugly purple against Sid’s pale skin.
He’ll be a hard sell for a while. Clients usually don’t like the guys they’re picking up to looked used, no matter how nice their ass is.
Maybe the food is an apology. It’ll be a lot harder to make rent without Sid pulling his weight.
“You going out tonight,” Sid asks as he waves off another bite of burger.
Geno shakes his head. “Went this afternoon.” He shrugs one shoulder. “A hundred bucks.”
Sid hums. It’s not bad. It’s not great, but it’s not bad.
“Should sleep,” Geno says as he finishes the burger and tosses the wrapper into the trash. “Is late. Look tired.”
“I’m fine,” Sid says, “honest. It’s not a big deal.”
Geno huffs a laugh but doesn’t push it. He knows Sid would push right back and Geno would rather they both spend a rare night off sleeping instead of arguing.
He pushes himself to his feet to give Sid some privacy. He’ll want to shower. There’s just enough shampoo left for another use before they’ll have to fill the bottle with water to make it stretch.
“Going to bed,” Geno says, “quiet when you come out.”
“You don’t want the fries?”
“You keep. Full.”
He flops down face first onto the bed then flips over in time to see Sid poke at the fries a bit before he picks a few up and pops them into his mouth. He closes his eyes and sighs happily then shoves a few more into his mouth before he strips out of his shirt. He drops it on the floor, grabs more fries, then moves out of the doorway to start the shower.
Geno stares up at the crack in the ceiling and falls asleep to the sound of the water hitting the tiles.
Chapter 30: Preparation
Usually they don’t have the time to take it slow.
Most of the time they don’t want to.
After practice and before they’re nap. After they check into their rooms on the road and before they have to meet the guys before dinner.
It’s a rush of hands and lips and laughter and moans as they trip over each other to the bed or kitchen table or any flat surface they can find.
They use the cheap lube, the kind that can be bought in convenience stores or, in a pinch, a conditioner or lotion that’s provided to them by the hotel. Anything that’ll make the glide a little easier.
It’s always great. Sid doesn’t think it could ever be anything less than great but sometimes, when they have time, they like to take it slow.
Sid likes to spread himself out on the bed and let Geno stretch himself out over him.
He likes to be touched and kissed everywhere. He likes the expensive lube, the kind he orders from that specialty shop online that comes to the front door in a plain, brown box.
He likes the slow stretch of Geno’s fingers as they slide in and out, crooking up in just the right way that makes Sid’s back bow and his hips roll forward, begging for more.
His whole body is covered in a layer of sweat by the time Geno pulls his fingers out and pushes in.
It’s quiet. Soft gasps and whispered I love you’s until they’re both shaking apart.
Geno presses a kiss to Sid’s sweaty brow and Sid drags his hands down Geno’s back to keep him as close as he can for as long as he can.
“I love you,” Sid says, out of breath and blissfully happy.
Geno picks up his head from where he’s been resting it against Sid’s collarbone.
“Love you,” Geno says back, and burrows in even closer to Sid
Chapter 31: Hope
When Geno goes down he can tell instantly that this isn’t like any other hit.
The doctors are swift with their prognosis. He’ll be lucky to walk again, never mind skate.
There’s an outpouring of grief and support on social media. Some people swear he’s going to get better and in a year or two he’ll be out there raising the Cup and other people are declaring this the end of the franchise.
Geno tweets one ‘thanks for the support’ message drafted by Pens PR then deletes the app from his phone. He doesn’t want to look at it anymore.
The adjustment to a life without hockey is slow. His parents fly over to stay with him. He sees doctor after doctor. The team comes over to check on him. They talk about the power play and the penalty kill and face off techniques. They haven’t named a new captain but everyone knows it’ll be Tanger. Horny and Cullen will get the A and when Cully retires it’ll probably go to Jake who will in turn, get the C.
Life just moves on like that. It’s not stopping just because Geno can’t skate. Or because he can’t walk.
Eventually, the team stops talking about hockey. Maybe they can see the pain in Geno’s eyes when they bring it up. Maybe they got tired of talking about something with someone who has nothing to add.
The team goes on roadies and Geno stays behind. “You’re there in spirit,” some of them say and Geno appreciates that but he also hates it. He doesn’t want to be there in spirit. He wants to be there.
He starts physical therapy in the Spring.
He feels like he can’t do anything right and he’s not making any progress. He’s angry and frustrated and he didn’t even realize that he had all these emotions bottled up until they suddenly burst out of him in front of his physical therapist.
Fortunately, Sid has the patience of a saint and he doesn’t bat an eye at all of Geno’s cursing, whether in English or Russian. He acts like he’s seen and heard all this before and if that’s true, Geno does not envy him.
Some days, Geno thinks about quitting. He could stop coming here. No one is forcing him. On those days Geno doesn’t do anything Sid asks him to. Sid doesn’t push.
He just pats Geno on the shoulder and says “let me know when you’re ready,” and goes off to clean mats or refill his water bottle or finish up a dozen other little chores he has to do.
Geno tries not to watch him move around the room. There’s an ease in which he moves that’s like a knife straight to Geno’s heart.
It doesn’t matter if Geno participates or not Sid always ends the session with “you did great today, Geno. I’ll see you next week.”
Geno always shows up the following week.
He thinks he should probably feel happier when he manages to stand up.
He’s not doing it on his own and most of his weight is on the bars that are holding him up but he’s definitely up and out of his chair.
Sid seems excited for him.
“You’re doing amazing, this is incredible, you’re doing such a good job,” Sid says and Geno knows that he’s just being supportive and he’s happy that the hard work is finally paying off but Geno just can’t hear it.
He lost everything. His whole life has been flipped on it’s head and just standing up–not even on his own–isn’t enough to put a dent in his despair.
“Stop,” Geno grits out. He’s sweaty and his arms are shaking from holding up his body weight. “Have to stop.”
“Geno,” Sid says carefully, “I know this might not seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of things but you have to appreciate the step that you’re taking right now.”
Geno lets go of the bars and with Sid’s help he’s lowered to the mat below where he buries his face in his hands and cries and cries.
He knows that maybe he should be doing this in front of an actual therapist instead of his physical therapist but he can’t really help that now.
He tells Sid how much it sucks, how he’ll never play hockey again, how things will never be the same again and how much he already misses all of it and how it’s only going to get worse over time.
He can feel Sid sitting beside him but Sid doesn’t touch him. He doesn’t put his hand on Geno’s shoulder and tell him that it’s all going to be okay. He just sits there quietly until Geno lifts his head and wipes at his eyes with his fingertips.
“You won’t play hockey again,” Sid says and Geno hiccups out another sob. It’s always hard to hear even if it’s the truth. “At least, not in the way that you know it. But I know that you can walk again and you are making progress even if you can’t see it. Trust me. Know that I can.”
There’s a shift in Geno after that.
He works a little harder. His attitude is a little lighter. His outlook is a little brighter.
He manages to make Sid laugh a few times. He doesn’t even know what he’s said but suddenly Sid is leaning forward and there’s this ridiculous noise coming out of him.
It’s nice and Geno finds himself smiling for the first time in a long time.
A month later Sid slips a flyer for sled hockey into Geno’s bag.
“You think I should go,” Geno asks him at their next session. He’s been thinking it over for a week and he still doesn’t know what to do.
“I think it would be good for you,” Sid says. “You don’t have to participate or anything but to go and watch…” He shrugs. “It might be interesting.”
It is interesting. It’s faster than he thought it would be and more intense. Sitting by the glass watching the puck fly by him makes his heart swell with nostalgia. It hurts but in a good way. All those guys out there are competing and playing and having fun. They’re doing what they love.
After the game he gets talked onto the ice by one of the coaches.
It takes some time to get used to and the players that stuck around show him no mercy but even though he loses, badly, it’s still exhilarating.
It’s only when it’s over and he’s running his hand through his sweaty hair does he spot Sid standing next to the glass. Geno waves him over to the bench.
“This where you spend spare time,” he asks and Sid shakes his head.
“I have a couple of patients that play here. I try to drop by every now and then to see how they’re doing. How was it?”
“You see. Get my ass kicked,” Geno says with a laugh.
“Yeah,” Sid says back, “but how was it?”
Geno beams at him. “Amazing.”
A few weeks later Geno stands on his own.
Then he takes a step with Sid’s help and then two and three and then-
“Are you single?”
Sid freezes. His hand are still on Geno’s hips and his eyebrows knit together.
“You? Single? Are you?”
“Come on. Know lots of patients must ask you out.”
“Is this you asking me out?”
“No,” Geno says slowly, “this is me asking if you single or not.”
Sid’s quiet for another moment then says, “I’m single.”
Geno hums but lets the subject drop until the very end of their session.
“You want to have dinner with me,” he asks and when Sid blinks up at him he adds, “this is me asking you out.”
Geno’s almost expecting to be turned down, gently, because Sid is a professional and they still have so much more work to do and maybe, he’s just not Sid’s type and that’s okay, it’ll suck, but it’s okay, he’ll get over it. It’s far from the hardest thing he’ll ever have to do.
“Okay,” Sid says and Geno’s eyes go wide.
“Yeah. Where are you going to take me?”
Geno shyly reaches for Sid’s hand. “Have some ideas.”
Chapter 32: Foolish
The night air is blissfully cool on Zhenya’s flushed skin.
He doesn’t know which direction the hotel is in. He wasn’t paying attention on the cab ride over, too preoccupied with the overwhelming feeling of Sid’s thigh pressed against his own as they squeezed in together in the back seat.
He decides to go left but only makes it half way down the block before he hears his name being called.
Or, he hears a name being called.
He’s supposed to answer to Geno now and really, Zhenya doesn’t mind it. Everyone on the team has a nickname and most of them are much worse than what he’s been given but right now the simple name sets his teeth on edge.
He wants to get away from it as much as he wants to get away from the person who’s saying it.
Sid’s footsteps fall heavy behind him as he hurries to catch up and Zhenya lengthens his strides in an attempt to get away.
If it was anyone else he might slow down. He’d accept the proper directions back to the hotel. Maybe he’d even let them hail a cab for him. But because it’s Sid (and of course it’s Sid because Sid is going to be Captain one day and he’s been preparing for that moment his entire life) he has to keep going.
Sid’s determined though and Zhenya doesn’t even get a chance to step off the sidewalk and into the crosswalk before Sid has his fingers wrapped around his wrist.
“Geno, wait, please.”
Zhenya stops and looks down at Sid.
His cheeks are stained red and his hair is a mess. He looks like a kid pretending to be an adult. Zhenya is only one year older. He’s not any better off.
“Geno, please. Just wait.”
“Sorry, Sid,” Zhenya mumbles. His face feels like it’s on fire with embarrassment. “Shouldn’t have done that. Is mistake.”
They shouldn’t have been at that bar. They shouldn’t have had those drinks. Zhenya shouldn’t have thought it was a good idea to lean down and kiss the lopsided smile off Sid’s face as they waited in line for the bathroom.
Running away seemed like a good idea at least until Sid caught up to him.
“Sorry,” Zhenya says again, “was stupid. Won’t do again. Know you didn’t like.”
“Well, now, wait a minute,” Sid says. He doesn’t give Zhenya an inch when he tries to pull away. “Why did you do it?”
Zhenya blinks at him. He did it because he wanted to. Because Sid is funny and good and kind and a million other things that Zhenya admires. But he can’t just say that. He shrugs instead and Sid shrugs back. “You don’t know? You just felt like it?” Sid looks down at his feet. “Was it a joke?”
“Not a joke,” Zhenya says quickly. “Never a joke.”
Zhenya barely holds back from shrugging again. “Wanted to.” It’s the most honest thing he’ll ever say. “Look at you and think, should probably kiss. So.”
“So you did,” Sid finishes and Zhenya nods. He feels like his heart is going to beat out of his chest. “Would you ever do it again?”
Zhenya’s eyes snap to Sid’s. There’s a car alarm going off in the distance. A police siren wailing a few blocks away. Zhenya’s ears are ringing but he’s sure he heart that clearly enough.
“Would you,” Sid presses, stepping closer and forcing Zhenya to draw up to his full height. He has a feeling Sid is always going to be doing that, pushing him to take up as much space as possible. To not shy away from anything.
“You want me to,” Zhenya asks.
Sid lets go of Zhenya’s hand and for one terrifying second they’re un-tethered until Sid gets his hands on Zhenya’s hips and leans up and then they’re connected everywhere.
Sid kisses him, slow and soft and when he pulls away Zhenya follows after him.
“The hotel is the other way,” Sid says. “Do you want to go back?”
Zhenya nods and lets himself be pulled back down the sidewalk.
Chapter 33: Sleepover
There’s something wet and cold pressing against the side of his face.
Sid’s eyes pop open and he flails. His arms get stuck inside the sleeping bag and when he finally frees them they whack into Sam, who is standing over him, tail wagging and drooling.
She noses at him again and Sid groans and gently pushes her away. It’s too early for this. Or possibly too late. He’s not sure. There’s no clock in the basement but everything is still dark and the rest of the guys are all still asleep on the floor around him.
“Go lay down,” he mumbles, “go back to sleep.” He rolls over, putting his back to her. Beside him, someone is sitting up in their sleeping bag. He can’t make out features, just a vague outline of a head and shoulders and thinks hard about who was next to him when he fell asleep.
“Geno,” he whispers and the head turns. “Why are you awake?”
“Am fine,” Geno says and Sid frowns. He definitely doesn’t sound fine.
“Are you okay,” Sid asks and Geno is slow to nod as Sam clambors over Sid’s legs to get to Geno.
Sid’s eyes adjust to the dark and he watches her push her head into Geno’s chest. He brings his hands up to the side of her neck then drops his forehead to the top of her head and takes a ragged breath.
“Do you want to go get some cake,” Sid offers and Geno nods.
They climb out of their sleeping bags as quietly as possible then tip-toe over their teammates on the way to the stairs.
Sid trips over someone’s foot but Geno is right behind him, keeping him steady with a hand wrapped around his arm.
“Thanks,” Sid whispers as they follow Sam up the stairs and into the kitchen.
The clock on the stove tells him it’s 2:54 as he opens the fridge and pulls out the half eaten birthday cake.
“We have to be quiet,” Sid says as he slides the cake on the counter in front of Geno. “My parents room is all the way down the hall but my sister’s is closer.”
Geno nods as he snags two plastic forks out of the container beside him.
“Plates,” he asks as Sid takes the offered fork and Sid shakes his head.
“Just eat it.”
Geno looks hesitant but Sid shrugs and digs into the cake. It’s chocolate with peanut butter frosting and he makes sure to scoop up some extra frosting on his following pass through.
Geno takes a small bite and then another larger one and smiles at Sid around the fork.
Sid smiles back.
He likes Geno. He’s a good friend and an even better teammate. When he first moved here in the beginning of the school year everyone- including Sid- was wary. A hockey team is only so big, only so many guys can make it and they were all afraid of this new kid taking their spot.
But it became obvious from the first moment that Geno stepped on the ice that he deserved any spot he wanted. He’s amazing out there. Quick and confident. Physical and graceful. He looks like a professional trapped in the body of a gangly thirteen year old. If he keeps it up he’ll have an easy path to the NHL and everyone knows it.
That’s why his parents sent him over here at least.
Geno lives with his aunt and uncle, or maybe they’re just close family friends. No one is really sure what the exact relation is and Sid’s afraid it would be rude to ask. Geno’s English is spotty anyways and Sid definitely doesn’t want anything to get lost in translation.
Sergei and Ksenia seem nice enough. They come to every game and always have the best snacks and Gatorade flavors available when Sid goes over to their house.
Geno seems like he should be happy here but now Sid’s not so sure.
“Do you want something to drink,” Sid asks. “Milk, water, soda? What about some chips and dip? There’s a ton of cut up vegetables too.”
There’s a ton of everything really. His mother bought way too much food. She wanted to make sure she didn’t run out and that she had enough but there’s no way of knowing what’s enough with a group of teenage hockey players.
“Milk,” Geno asks quietly and Sid pulls the carton out of the fridge and two glasses down from the cabinet.
“Did Sam wake you up,” Sid asks as he pours.
Geno shakes his head as he takes the glass. “Was already awake. Is hard to sleep.”
“Are you not comfortable? We have more pillows and blankets. If the floor is too hard you could take my bed. I don’t mind.”
“No, no. Is just hard to sleep here.”
“Oh.” Sid takes a long drink from his glass then wipes at his mouth with the back of his hand. “We could call your….Ksenia and Sergei,” Sid stumbles. “I’m sure they’d come and pick you up. I could tell the guys you ate too much cake or something. They wouldn’t give you too hard a time about it.”
They’d be dicks about it but Sid would get them under control.
Geno hangs it head. “Doesn’t matter which house I sleep at. Is hard to sleep here. In Canada. Is not home.”
Oh. That makes sense. Sid can’t even begin to imagine moving thousands of miles away from his parents and starting school in a country that didn’t even support his first language.
“You’re homesick,” Sid asks and Geno looks away, color flooding his cheeks. “It’s okay, I mean, I went to summer camp when I was really little and I cried every day. My parents finally had to come and pick me up. And I was only like, forty five minutes away.”
Geno looks up at him. There’s a small smile on his face. “Really?”
“Yeah. It was awful. I never went back.”
Geno’s smile grows and then dims. “I think…maybe if other guys find out they make fun. Already different. New, English bad.”
“It’s really not that bad and honestly, half the guys were new kids at some point. Plus, you’re like, amazing at hockey. You could just challenge them to a shoot out or something and embarrass them even harder. I don’t think you need to worry about it.”
“You not tell? Just in case.”
“Of course not.” He holds out his pinky. “It’ll be our secret.”
Geno stares at Sid’s hand and Sid huffs. He reaches out for Geno and links their pinkies together.
“It’s a pinky promise. You can’t break it.”
“Pinky promise,” Geno repeats and Sid nods.
“It’s sacred. Our secret forever.”
Geno nods and looks down at their joined hands. His smile turns warm and fond.
Sid thinks it looks nice on him.
Chapter 34: “We’re going outside today! No huddling around inside today, no sir!"
Geno groans and pulls the covers up to his chin. He’s warm, deliciously so, tucked into his cocoon of blankets. He has three days off and he’s not getting up for anything.
“G, wake up, c’mon.”
The covers start to slide down his body but he’s quick to grab them and yank them back up.
Sid groans and Geno drags the pillow over his head. It doesn’t muffle the sound, not really, but he hopes that Sid at least gets the message.
Instead Sid scrambles onto the bed and sits across Geno’s lap and pulls the pillow off his head. Geno might be half asleep but he’s not dead and his hands immediately slide up Sid’s thighs.
Sid laughs. “Oh, I see how it is.”
Geno hums. “You don’t sit on my lap and pretend you don’t know what you’re doing.” He slides his hands up to Sid’s hips. “You want,” he asks, fingers brushing against the skin under Sid’s shirt.
“What I want,” Sid says slowly as he leans down and kisses the side of Geno’s neck, “is to get outside and enjoy the warm weather and the sun. It’s been so cold for so long. I need warmth.”
“Am very warm,” Geno says as he threads his fingers though Sid’s hair. “Come closer, I show.”
“I need the sun. I need to go walk around. Maybe we can get a round of golf in.”
Geno groans and twists around, trying to throw Sid off. If he has to gold then all bets are off.
“Or not golf,” Sid says quickly as he pushes at Geno’s shoulders. “But let’s at least eat lunch somewhere with a patio. Come on, G,” Sid says and Geno cracks one eye open.
He knows that tone. That’s Sid let’s take this to the bedroom right the fuck now tone.
“If you get up right now I’ll make it up to you tonight.”
“Tonight is long way away.”
“This afternoon then. And then tonight. And tomorrow morning. And then-.”
Sid doesn’t get to finish his thought because Geno is pushing himself up and Sid over until Sid’s splayed flat on his back on the bed.
He makes a soft oof sound that’s immediately swallowed up by Geno’s lips on his.
“I take shower and then get dressed and we go, okay? Golf, eat, golf and eat, whatever you want.”
He presses another quick kiss to the corner of Sid’s mouth then rolls out of bed.
“Going to have best day,” he yells over his shoulder and Sid laughs as the water turns on in the bathroom.
Chapter 35: Birds
“I mean, it’s obvious that my penguin is going to be the best one.”
“No fucking way. My penguin is going to be way cuter than your penguin.”
“Not a chance. They obviously found the best looking penguin and named it after me. Sid, what do you think?”
Sid looks up from his phone. Flower and Tanger are waiting on him to answer.
“I think all penguins kind of look the same, don’t they?”
Tanger blinks then rolls his eyes. “Sid’s penguin is going to be the lamest.”
“Absolutely,” Flower agrees and Sid looks back to his phone. If they’re talking about him at least they won’t be bickering with each other.
“You don’t look excited at all to be here,” Tanger says to him. “Usually you’re like, 110% with everything charity related. What’s up?”
Sid shrugs. He is excited to be here. When Jen asked for volunteers to head out to the Aviary for a few hours to meet their real life penguin counterparts Sid was one of the first ones raise his hand.
It was supposed to be a fun day. The Aviary is beautiful and who would ever turn down meeting an actual penguin?
He was really looking forward to this but then…last night…
“Kyle broke up with me last night.”
Tanger sits down beside him. “Fuck. Sorry man. Hey, fuck him.”
“No,” Sid says as he shakes his head, “it’s fine. He’s not a bad guy or anything. I was just…gone a lot. He didn’t like it.”
“You’re a hockey player,” Flower says, “he knew that going in.”
“It’s not for everyone,” Sid reasons. “I’m fine though. I’ll get over it.”
“You want me to kick his ass,” Tanger asks and Sid laughs.
“It’s all right. You don’t have to do that.”
“Okay,” Tanger says slowly, “but just say the word and I will.”
“You’ll find someone better,” Flower says. “You deserve someone better.”
Sid nods even though he’s not sure if he believes it. He doesn’t have much time to dwell on it because Jen is coming through the door with a man following behind her.
He’s in khakis and a polo with The National Aviary logo stitched on the front. He’s tall, seriously tall, and handsome, with a face full of character and a friendly smile.
“Boys,” Jen starts, “this is Geno. He’ll be bringing you into the enclosure.”
“Very nice to meet,” Geno says. He has a deep voice and a thick accent and Sid can’t stop staring at him. “Big fan. Best team. Going to have lots of fun with penguins today.”
He waves them down the hall and Flower laughs and pats Sid on the back, breaking him out of his trance.
“See something you like, Sidney?”
“Shut up,” Sid grumbles and Tanger cackles.
“And I thought the penguins were going to be the cutest thing I’d see today. I had no idea I’d be witnessing love at first sight.”
“Sid, when I said you’d find someone better I didn’t mean right now but hey, if it all works out, I claim best man at the wedding.”
“Okay, whatever,” Sid says, trying to brush it off while also calming his frantic heart. “Lets go meet some penguins.”
Chapter 36: “Did you ever expect your life was going to be like this?”
Heavily influenced by that scene on The Office where Jim and Pam have their first ‘date’ on the roof.
“Oh, yes please.”
Geno leans over toward Sid to fill his paper cup, the crappy plastic lawn chair creaking beneath his weight.
“Here,” Geno says as he tips the bottle up to get the last drops into Sid’s cup. “Finish bottle.”
“Do you have more,” Sid asks and Geno hums. He sets the empty down and picks up a full one.
“Peach iced tea,” he says as he twists off the top and Sid laughs.
“Well, is big night. Dinner and show.”
Down in the parking lot below them, Kris and Marc-Andre are setting up a display of what Geno is pretty sure are illegal fireworks. He doesn’t know where they came from exactly and he doesn’t know why they’re choosing to set them off in the parking lot of the office but it’ll either be a pretty show or they’ll set their faces on fire. Either way it’s entertainment.
Sid had suggested watching from the roof.
“I think it’s the only safe spot,” he had said in the breakroom over his fourth cup of coffee. “I mean, who knows what’s going to happen with those two. I actually think I should probably move my car.”
“You mean you don’t like car fires,” Geno had joked and Sid had laughed, leaning into him just briefly. It was nothing, just there and gone but Geno was going to take every moment he could get.
At five o’clock as everyone else filed out into the parking lot Sid and Geno took the stairs up to the roof.
Geno had stopped on the vending machines on the way and spent ten dollars on drinks and chips and candy, making sure to get Sid’s favorites.
Geno smiles as Sid tears open the package of Reese’s Pieces and pours some out into his hand.
It’s a nice night for this. Clear and just a little cool. Sid has his coat wrapped tight around his body and Geno has the sleeves of his pulled down past his hands.
Their past the worst of the weather now. In the coming weeks it’ll start to feel more and more like spring as the flowers in the planters by the front entrance to the building start to bloom.
It makes Geno think about taking long walks along the river and eating outside at little cafes and restaurants. He thinks about doing all that with Sid, if that was something that they’d do together.
Which they don’t.
He’s honestly surprised that Sid even stuck around. It’s Friday night. He figured he had plans with Jack.
“Did you ever expect your life was going to be like this?”
Geno looks over at Sid. He has the rim of the cup pressed to his bottom lip, just holding it there, as he watches Kris and Marc-Andre bicker over who is going to light the first firework.
“You mean I ever think I would end up in Pennsylvania selling paper and watching two co-workers fight over book of matches?”
Sid laughs again and Geno smiles.
“No, never think.”
“What did you think? Where did you think you were going to end up?”
Geno blows out a breath. It’s just cold enough that he can see it condense in front of his face. “Don’t know. Think maybe get job in hometown. Work.” He shrugs.
“That’s it. That was your big dream?”
“Never say it was big.” Magnitogorsk wasn’t exactly brimming with opportunities. It was a small miracle he made it out at all. “What about you?”
“I definitely didn’t dream about being a receptionist. I wanted to play hockey,” Sid says. “Professionally. I wanted to be the best at it. I wanted it to be my whole life.”
“Why didn’t you do that?”
Sid laughs. It sounds a little sad. “Dreams are just dreams. That just wasn’t my reality. You make new dreams to fit the situation your in.”
“What are dreams now?”
Sid shrugs like he doesn’t know or care but his knee starts to bounce, a tell of his nervousness. If he doesn’t want to be having this conversation he doesn’t need to be having it. The last thing Geno wants to do is make him uncomfortable.
“I don’t know,” Sid says loudly, “I guess the usual stuff. Get married, start a family. You know. Normal things.”
“Well,” Geno says, “almost there.”
Sid doesn’t say anything. He just takes another long sip from his cup.
Sid and Jack have been engaged for five years. They still don’t have a date for the wedding. Geno’s not sure what’s taking them so long. If he were in Jack’s positions they’d be long married by now.
“It’s stupid,” Sid says after a moment and Geno doesn’t say anything. He could be talking about anything. The extra long engagement, his job, Kris and Marc-Andre burning their fingers on the matches before they can even get the fuses lit.
They finally get one to go and Kris lights the fuse then darts away from it. It burns for ten seconds before it goes out and their coworkers start booing. Kris and Flower take turns kicking at it until it finally starts to spark and Sid huffs.
“This is going to be a disaster,” he says as he sets his cup down and pulls his phone out of the pocket of his pants. “I’m going to film it.”
Geno laughs and refills his cup.
Chapter 37: Fake Married
The gold band still feels foreign on his finger.
It fits well, suspiciously well, but every time he talks with his hands he has a fear that it’s going to fly off.
He doesn’t know how married people do it.
Real married people. Not the pretend married that he and Sid are playing at.
They’re supposed to be newlyweds moving into their first home. Sid is supposed to be a teacher, home all summer on break and Geno is supposed to work in tech and they’re supposed to be the model neighbors.
Friendly and outgoing. Unassuming and trustworthy.
They’re supposed to get invited to Saturday night barbecues and Sunday morning brunches and sit beside each other and tell these strangers about their life together. Where they met, when they fell in love, what their wedding was like.
They’re supposed to be in love. Deeply and madly in love.
Geno sighs as he picks up another cardboard box with KITCHEN scribbled on the side with permanent marker. He is not a good actor but thankfully, for that last part, he doesn’t need to act.
“Is that for the bedroom,” Sid asks. He’s standing on the stairs, shoes off and sleeves pushed up. There’s a ring on his finger as well and it catches the light when he lifts his hand and shoves his fingers through his hair. He is easy to love like this.
“Kitchen,” Geno says as he sets his box on the island and Sid swears softly.
“Where are the boxes for the bedroom? We have no sheets.”
“Still more in truck. Can go look.”
“Thank you, sweetheart,” Sid says, voice sugary sweet. He laughs when Geno flips him off. “Tanger should be here soon.”
Geno nods. Tanger will be here to sweep the house for bugs and then set up surveillance on the house immediately to their left.
Mr. and Mrs. Han have been married for ten years. They’re a prominent couple in the subdivision, hosting block parties and tag sales where the proceeds go to local animal shelters or church groups.
They’re a nice couple. Except Mr. Han sells government secrets and Mrs. Han knows all about it. Allegedly. That’s what he and Sid are here to prove.
“Going to make fun of Tanger’s outfit,” Geno says and Sid laughs again before he turns up the stairs.
“Don’t be too mean. I know he’ll be self conscious about it.”
Geno knows. Tanger’s usually so stylish, so put together. It’ll be hilarious to see him in an ugly coveralls as he pretends to be here to hook up their cable.
“You think maybe he actually hook up TV?”
“Wouldn’t bet on it,” Sid says as he turns around and heads back up the stairs. “Bring the box up if you find it, please.”
There are at least a dozen more boxes in the truck and Geno takes his time stepping over arm chairs and end tables until he finds the missing sheets.
He grabs that box plus another marked master bathroom and brings them up the stairs.
He finds Sid in the bedroom. Their bedroom. With the one bed that they’re expected to share.
Sid hanging artwork on the wall, attempting to make the house a home, their home, and he smiles at Geno when he sees the box.
“Thank you,” he says as he sets down the frame. “You’re my hero.”
Geno hums and watches Sid move around the room, unpacking boxes and unfolding the sheets. He shakes the fitted sheet at Geno until Geno steps around the other side of the bed and tucks it under the corner.
Making the bed is mundane and boring but watching Sid navigate around this domestic little space is anything but.
If this is marriage, he understands how people do it.
Chapter 38: Cherry Blossoms
It’s been a long winter.
Cold and windy with snow and ice storms every other week. It’s been relentless and even though Sid usually loves it, Geno can tell it’s starting to wear on him.
Geno tries to bring light to their home.
His magic sparks and pops out of his fingertips as he keeps the logs burning in the fireplace all through the night. The floorboards are always warm beneath Sid’s feet and his towel is always cozy with that fresh-from-the-dryer feeling as he wraps it around himself after he gets out of the shower.
Geno tries and Sid is thankful, looking up at him with appreciation in his eyes but he can’t hide the deep lines around them that signal that he’s just tired.
It makes Geno ache. It messes with his magic and with his heart and his head. It makes sense, they’re all tied together and they’re all tethered to Sid. Sid’s emotions run deep (Geno can feel all of them) but his desire to act like everything is okay runs even deeper.
Don’t worry about me. Everything’s fine. Everyone is like this this time of year.
Geno hears it but he doesn’t believe it and neither of them then go on like this.
It’s just barely beginning to snow when Geno wrestles Sid into his winter coat and pulls a toque down over his hair.
“Why do we have to go outside,” Sid complains and Geno grabs his face and kisses him soundly, warming him up from the inside out.
When he pulls away Sid’s face is flushed and smiling. Geno can’t stop himself from ducking back in and tasting the sweet curve of his lips.
They walk hand in hand out to the small cluster of trees on the edge of their property. The limbs are bare and they sway gently in the breeze, cracking with the cold.
“G,” Sid starts and Geno shushes him, pressing his index finger to Sid’s lips before stepping away.
One by one he presses his hand to each trunk. He stops, concentrates, and then moves on.
Slowly, light works it’s way through the gaps in the bark. A warm yellow glow that shoots up and up, making it’s way to the end of each limb before dimming. Then, the flowers appear.
Light pink blossoms burst from the tree. Hundreds upon hundreds of them covering each limb and perfuming the air.
Geno hears Sid gasp and when he turns around Sid’s standing the middle of the trees, petals falling down around him like snowflakes.
He holds his hand out toward Geno, reaching for him, and Geno’s quick to link their fingers together and pulls Sid into his arms.
“Amazing,” he hears Sid says. “You’re amazing.”
Geno props his chin on the top of Sid’s head. His magic is only as amazing as his muse and with Sid in his arms, he feels like he could do anything.
Chapter 39: “You are not wearing that to dinner with my parents.”
“Not wearing that to dinner.”
“Why?” Sid looks down like he’s expecting to find a stain or a rip somewhere in his suit. He won’t find one. It’s perfect. Not even a wrinkle to be found. “What’s wrong with it?”
“Is not game day, Sid. No reason for so fancy. Is just dinner.”
“With your parents,” Sid stresses as Geno steps up behind him and pulls his jacket off his shoulders.
“Yes. Don’t need to be fancy in front of them.”
“I want them to like me.”
Geno laughs as he un-knots Sid’s tie and slides it off from around his neck. “They already love. They already know you. Why so nervous? You have dinner with them before.”
“This is different. This is.” He cuts himself off and presses his lips together.
Geno nods. This is the first dinner with Geno’s parents as boyfriends, not just teammates.
Geno reaches for Sid’s left wrist and undoes the buttons on the cuff then rolls the fabric up to his elbow. Then, he does the same with Sid’s right arm.
He looks more casual even if his face is still pinched with concern.
To fix that Geno leans in brushes a kiss to Sid’s forehead then another to his nose and cheeks and to the side of his neck until Sid is giggling- that ridiculous out of place giggle- and pushing him away.
“There,” Geno says as he touches the corner of Sid’s mouth. “Smile is better. I love so they love. Is so simple.” He presses a feather light kiss to Sid’s lips and Sid sighs.
“You’re right,” he says softly. “I just want things to go well.”
“Will go well. Promise.”
“And I want you to remember all this when my parents come to town in a few weeks.”
Geno visibly pales and Sid leans up for another kiss.
“Come on,” he says as he reaches for Geno’s hand. “We’re gonna be late.”
Chapter 40: “Please don’t lie to me again, I can’t take it.”
“Please don’t lie to me again, I can’t take it.”
Geno pauses and replays the last few minutes in his mind, searching for the lie. He’s been honest and open and he doesn’t understand why Sid looks so heartbroken.
“I’m not doing this again,” Sid says. He slides off the bar stool and reaches into his back pocket for a twenty. He tosses it on the bar and doesn’t look at Geno. “I have to get back to the hotel.”
“Sid,” Geno says as he reaches for his arm but Sid steps away and begins winding his way through the sea of bodies on his way toward the door.
Geno follows his wake, slipping into the free space Sid creates as he side steps around people dancing and talking and laughing. Sid stays just out of reach. Close but not close enough to touch. What else is new these days?
Geno catches up to him out on the street.
They’re in Manhattan or maybe New Jersey. It could also be Brooklyn. Geno can’t be sure. He’s a little drunk and this late in the season all the cities start to blend together anyways.
What he is sure about is that it’s cold, his breath curling in front of him in a thick fog as soon as he steps onto the sidewalk.
Sid’s already a half of a block in front of him, hands deep in his coat pockets and his shoulders hunched.
He’s easy to catch up to. Geno’s long legs eat up the pavement between them.
Sid’s face is flushed from the cold and the wind and maybe the beers knocked back before everything fell so quickly apart.
“Sid, stop, want to talk.”
“What, about what? About how you want to give this another go and then turn around in a few months and tell me you’re not ready? We’ve done that. I’m tired of that.”
He pauses at the curb and waits for a cab to fly past then he jay walks across the street. Sid’s walking just to walk, getting further and further away from the hotel but Geno doesn’t care. He’ll need every extra block he can get to convince Sid that this time is real. This is it.
“First time we were so young, didn’t know what we were doing.”
“And what about the second and third time,” Sid snaps back. “We’re not so young anymore. We’re not kids. I’m tired of this bullshit.”
Geno grabs Sid’s arm and yanks him back, anger bubbling to the surface. “Is not bullshit. I love you.”
“I’ve heard that before.”
“Always mean it.”
“But not enough to stay with me. Not enough to keep me.”
“Do you have any idea what it feels like,” Sid asks. “It’s like this weight right here.” He touches his fingers to his collarbone and Geno feels it in his own chest. A phantom pain. “I can’t take a deep breath when I think about it and I’m always thinking about it. I can’t stop. I’m miserable and I can’t.” He stops and shakes his head. “I can’t physically do this again. I just can’t.”
Sid shakes his head again and pulls his arm free. “Let it go. Let me go.”
He steps away and Geno doesn’t follow.
Chapter 41: "Is that blood?" "No."
“Is that blood?”
“Geno,” Sid says in what Geno affectionately would call his disappointed dad voice, “you know I can see you right now, right?”
Geno purposely shakes his phone and Sid get a shot of the street in front of him, the brick of the building beside him, and an unflattering angle straight up his nose.
“Can’t hear Sid, I think you breaking up….signal bad….have to go….see you soon, save me Chinese!”
There’s a beeping sound as the call ends and the monitor in front of Sid goes dark.
With a sigh he leans forward and grabs the carton of General Tso’s off the table. Forgotten during the panic of Geno losing his comms and his GPS tracker, the sauce around the chicken has gone cold and thick but Sid is starving and he can’t be bothered to get up and throw it in the microwave in the breakroom.
“Is Geno okay?”
Sid jumps and behind him, Flower laughs.
“Someone’s touchy,” Flower says when Sid spins his chair around. “Is Geno okay,” he asks again and Sid nods.
“He’s all right. Bleeding but pretending not to be.” He shrugs. “You know how he is.”
Flower crosses the room and sits down in the chair beside Sid. He folds his legs up beneath him and slowly spins in the chair.
“You know,” Flower says after a few rotations, “you should really tell him.”
Sid stops chewing. “Tell him what?”
Flower gives him a knowing look. “C’mon. You can’t keep this up forever. I know how much you worry about him while he’s out in the field.”
“I worry about everyone,” Sid says as he pokes at the chicken. “Geno’s not special.”
Flower barks a laugh. “How your nose didn’t just grow a foot I’ll never know. Geno’s not special. Don’t fucking lie to me.”
“We work together,” Sid says, “it could ruin everything. Plus it’s not like he feels the same way about me so….why bother?”
“You seriously don’t believe that do you?”
“All of it. Geno is crazy about you. He always has been.”
“Sid. Seriously. The way he looks at you, the way he talks about you…you’re everything to him.”
“Then why hasn’t he said anything?”
Sid snorts. Geno jumps out of planes and climbs sheer cliffs without a rope and that’s on a good day. “Geno’s not afraid of anything.”
“Except the idea of you rejecting him. God, that would kill him.”
Sid flinches. There’s a part of him, buried beneath the worry and the fear, that thinks Geno is indestructible. Untouchable.
“What do you want me to do?”
“Tell him. I know it’s scary but our whole lives are built around scary things. Tell him. It’ll be worth it.”
“Where is Sid and egg rolls!” a booming voice yells from down the hall. Geno made it back to base in record time. Sid’s going to have to have a conversation with him about following the speed limits.
“There’s your boy,” Flower says as he squeezes Sid’s knee and stands up just as Geno barrels into the room.
He’s not bleeding anymore, at least not that Sid can see, but there are bruises blooming around his eyes and across the bridge of his nose. He smiles when he sees Sid, pulling at the cut in the middle of his lip.
“Good to see,” Geno says. “You save food?”
“Beef and broccoli and sweet and sour pork. Couple of egg rolls, too.”
“Best,” Geno says, smiling growing even wider. “Best in whole world.”
“Well, I’ll leave you two to it,” Flower says as he sidesteps Geno, patting him on the shoulder as he goes. “I’m sure Sid needs to debrief you.”
Geno nods as he sits down in the chair at Flower vacated and grabs an egg roll from the container.
Just as he takes his first bite Sid clears his throat and finds his confidence.
“Hey,” he say softly and Geno looks up. “I have to talk to you about something.”
Chapter 42: "Give me attention."
“Give me attention.”
Geno flops onto the couch and rests his head in Sid’s lap.
Sid’s eyebrows furrow, a little divot forming between them, as he lifts his laptop out of the way and sets it on the arm of the couch.
Sid has work to do–his book is due to his editor in three days and it’s crunch time, but Geno also knows that he is very needy and right now he needs Sid’s attention.
Sid mumbles something about work and chapter fifteen and Geno rolls his eyes and reaches a hand out to bat at Sid’s fingers as they fly across the keys.
The divot between Sid’s eyebrows gets deeper.
“Can take break,” Geno tells him. He’s been working non stop. Geno has no idea when the last time he ate was or when he slept. He stayed up past Geno’s bedtime and was already awake when Geno got up this morning. It’s possible Sid never made it to bed. Geno flips over so he’s lying on his stomach, his chin propped up against Sid’s thigh. “Let’s take walk or go get coffee. Just go for drive. Need to get out of the house. Take eyes away from screen.”
“I don’t have that much work to do, G.”
“Then can take break.”
“Geno,” Sid says. It sounds like a warning that Geno ignored.
He pushes himself up to his knees and snatches the laptop out of Sid’s hands. He ignores the outrage and sets it on the coffee table behind them before climbing onto Sid’s lap.
“You burn yourself out,” Geno says, gathering Sid’s face in his hands.
“I have work.”
“Work is not more important than health. Look tired, Sid. I worry. Need sleep.”
“I can sleep when I’m done writing. Please, G, I’m so close.”
“Can sleep now,” Geno insists then slides off Sid’s lap and falls to the side, dragging Sid with him. He pokes and prods until Sid is stretched out beside him with his head tucked beneath Geno’s chin. “Feels good, yes,” Geno asks, rubbing his hand up and down Sid’s back.
Sid takes a deep breath, his chest expanding against Geno’s as he draws it in. When he exhales he shudders. The exhaustion has finally caught up with him.
Geno kisses his forehead and curls his arm around Sid’s back.
“Thank you,” Sid says quietly and Geno kisses the top of his head.
“Welcome,” Geno says back, “now sleep.”
Chapter 43: "You come here often?" "Well, I work here. So yes."
“You come here often?”
“Well, I work here. So, yes.”
The man turns bright red and behind him the group of friends he walked in with start to laugh.
Geno bristles. He knows they’re laughing at their friend and not him but Geno’s not long removed from people snickering at his unique interpretation of English.
It’s never fun being laughed at.
“I’m sorry,” the man says. He has an accent too. Canadian, probably, his words all sweet and rounded. “I’m sorry,” he says again. “I’m just…really sorry.”
Geno nods. Definitely Canadian.
“You want drink,” Geno asks and the man nods.
“Beer,” he says, “whatever is on tap.”
His face is still red but his voice is quieter now, the embarrassment slowly dissolving.
Geno grabs a glass and moves down to the end of the bar. He’s surprised when the man follows him.
“I’m sorry,” he says again. “You’re working. I shouldn’t have done that.”
“Is okay,” Geno tells him. He gets hit on all the time with worse pick up lines than that. “Is no big deal.”
“No,” the man continues, “it’s just that my friends dared me–.”
Geno’s mood shifts rapidly. It’s one thing to be hit on, but it’s another to be hit on as the butt of a joke.
“No, not like that,” the man says quickly, clearly reading Geno’s face and the hard set of his shoulders. “They dared me for me. They knew I couldn’t stop watching you and they dared me to do something about it and when I got up here I just panicked. I didn’t know what to say and then I said the wrong thing.” He stops and takes a deep breath. “I’m still saying the wrong thing. I’m just going to leave you alone now. Sorry for bothering you.”
“Wait,” Geno says, because he’s walking away without the beer that he just poured for him and because Geno is inexplicably charmed. When the man turns around Geno asks “you can’t stop watching?”
The man looks back at him like a deer in the headlights. “No, obviously not. Look at you.”
Geno leans on the bar. “How I look?”
The man narrows his eyes and takes a step forward. He puts his hands on the bar. “Really good,” he says and Geno ducks his head and smiles. This Canadian is very sweet.
“You have name,” he asks and the man nods.
“Sidney. I’m Sid. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too,” Geno says as he grabs a napkin and pen. He scribbles out his number and places the napkin beneath the glass of beer and slides them both over to Sid. “I’m Geno. This is my number. You take back to friends to show them, win dare. Then later, you call me.”
Sid lifts the glass and picks the napkin up. “Really?”
Geno nods. “Now go back to friends. Have customers waiting for me.”
There’s a line forming behind Sid and he jumps a little when he backs into someone.
“Sorry,” he tells them then looks back to Geno. “I’m going to call you.”
“Please do,” Geno calls and Sid grins, crooked and lopsided before he turns and heads back to his friends.
Geno shakes his head then sends a round of drinks over to Sid’s table. A thank you for making him come over.
Chapter 44: “Did you seriously just get your foot stuck in a toilet?” “Maybe.”
“Did you seriously just get your foot stuck in a toilet?”
“This is ridiculous.”
“Help me get it out.”
“I’m not touching it.”
“It’s my foot, how do you think I feel? Help me.”
Tanger leans against the wall and starts to laugh and Sid kicks at him with his free foot.
“You fucker, help me. People are going to start to get suspicious-no, don’t flush it!”
As soon as he finishes the sentence there’s a knock at the door.
“Okay,” a voice says. “Been in there for long time. Going to open door now. If you having sex, is very gross in frat house bathroom and if you doing bad drugs going to call cops. Here on scholarship, not getting sent back to Russia if school kicks me out.”
The door handle jiggles like a key is being jammed into the lock and a second later is starts to turn.
Tanger pushes himself away from Sid, distancing himself from the disaster but Sid has nowhere to hide when the door swings open and a tall guy in denim shorts and a snapback steps in.
Sid knows him.
Or knows of him.
But everyone on campus could say the same.
Evgeni Malkin- or Geno as he asks to be called, is very smart and very popular. He dabbles in a little bit of everything, never settling down with one club or activity. He doesn’t have a close group of friends because everyone is his friend.
Sid had a class with him freshman year, a class he almost didn’t pass because he spent more time staring at Geno’s profile than listening to the professor.
Geno is hot and Sid is standing here with his foot in the toilet.
“No sex,” Tanger says quickly as he makes for the door, “no drugs, have a good night.”
“Kristopher,” Sid hisses, “get back here.”
But Tanger just shoots him a double thumbs up before he disappears around the corner and Sid curses and stares up at the water-spotted ceiling.
“Okay,” Geno says slowly as he swings the door shut so the rest of the party goers can’t see. He is incredibly kind. “Think maybe I need explanation.”
“My foot is stuck in the toilet,” Sid says because there’s absolutely no way around it.
“I see. Maybe need more.” Geno approaches him cautiously, like Sid’s going to attack or something which is crazy because his foot is stuck in the toilet. He can’t believe this is his life.
“We were trying to climb out the window,” Sid says on a heavy sigh as he pats the window frame beside his head. “It’s too high for me to boost myself up so I got on the toilet seat–why is there no lid?”
“Broke,” Geno explains. “Some of the guys were fooling around–don’t ask– and break it. I won’t use money to replace because they stupid. Bunch of guys live here, never put lid down anyways. You still have to explain.”
“We were trying to get out. We wanted to leave.”
“We have front door.”
“There’s a guy downstairs,” Sid says. “He keeps…” He trails off, suddenly unsure. “He keeps trying to hit on me.”
“It’s not funny. He’s very aggressive.”
Geno stops laughing. “He touch you?”
“No, no, nothing like that. He just doesn’t understand that I’m not interested and he’s camped out in the living room and I can’t get by to get to the front door.”
“So you think is good idea to go out window?”
“It was Tanger’s idea.”
“You know we have backdoor, right? Through kitchen?”
“I didn’t,” Sid says. “That sucks. Now I’m stuck here.”
“Big stuck,” Geno says as he peers into the bowl. “You live here now? I bring you food each morning?”
“Can you just please help me,” Sid asks, not even caring about how pathetic his voice sounds.
Geno laughs but steps closer.
“I think I just need to lean against something, maybe,” Sid says. “I just need a little bit of leverage and I think my foot will slide free. Hopefully.”
Geno takes Sid’s hands and brings them up to his shoulders. “Here,” he says softly, “can lean on me.”
Sid nods, not trusting himself to speak, and pushes on Geno’s solid shoulders. After a moments struggle his foot slides free and Geno has to catch him by the hips before he over balances and falls over.
Sid whoops with joy at being freed then shakes his wet foot and scowls. “Disgusting.”
Geno laughs, still holding him even when Sid hops down. “Can get you shoe and dry sock,” he says. “Help you out of house. But first, maybe you stay and we talk for a little while. Get to know.”
“You want to get to know me?”
Geno nods. “Cute. Funny. Think this would make good story to tell grandchildren, you know?”
Sid laughs. “You know they’ll never believe it.”
Geno hums. “Maybe we find out.”
Chapter 45: "Sleepover? Please?"
Sleep over? Please?”
Geno sighs because this isn’t fair. Because he’s so in love with Sid he can’t even fathom the thought of someone else. Because all he wants is to gather Sid in his arms, press kiss after kiss to his skin and never let him go.
It isn’t fair for Sid to ask this of him because they’ve been broken up for months now even though they keep sliding back toward each other.
Maybe Sid can’t think of anyone else either. Maybe they’re meant to be together in this weird and awful way where it’s just sex and no feelings even though Geno feels like he’s about to overflow with them.
He’s drowning in them. Choking on the words that he can’t say.
We have to stop doing this.
I’m still in love with you.
Why don’t you love me back?
But those words won’t come and because nothing in his life is simple Geno simply reaches for Sid’s hand and lets himself be pulled up the stairs.
Chapter 46: "He's so pretty I think I'm gonna faint."
“He’s so pretty I think I’m gonna faint.”
Zhenya rolls his eyes but doesn’t look up from the dirt that he’s tilling.
Natalie is at the age where every man she sees is the prettiest man in the world and immediately begins planning their wedding in her head. It’s a lot for a ten year old to think about.
Zhenya takes off his straw hat and swats at her. “Back to work. Your Papa will be upset if you don’t pick every tomato off the plant. What will he have to sell at the market tomorrow?”
“Maybe the tomatoes that I picked yesterday,” she says, smart mouth on full display and Zhenya pulls at one of her pigtails before she plucks a cherry tomato off the plant and drops it into the basket.
“Careful or they break,” Zhenya tells her and laughs when she mimics him under her breath.
She’s a handful and her sister is right behind her. There are days when Zhenya believes that the only reason Seryozha asked him to come stay with him and his wife, Ksenia, was so he didn’t feel so outnumbered.
It’s a nice life here on the Gonchar farm. It’s hard work in all kinds of weather but it’s worth it for the surrogate family that Zhenya has been craving ever since he left his home.
The loneliness and longing deep within his chest didn’t feel so deep when he had a warm home cooked meal in his belly and a soft pillow beneath his head at night.
The hot summer sun is relentless this time of day and he wipes his forehead over his forehead.
He’s about to suggest that they go for a swimming in the little pond just down the hill when their chores are done when he turns his head and catches sight of the man Natalie was staring out.
He is pretty. Very, very pretty.
Dark curls that are sticking to his forehead and the back of his neck with sweat. His skin is still a milky white but the tops of his shoulders and the fine cut of his cheeks are starting to turn red.
He pumps some water out of the tap and catches it in his hand then slicks it back through his hair Zhenya’s mouth suddenly goes very dry.
“Natalie,” he whispers and she hums and looks up, her hands filled with ripe tomatoes. “Who is that?”
She follows his gaze and her smile turns sharp on her angelic face. “I told you he was pretty. I told you so.”
“Okay, okay,” he snaps, “just tell me who he is.”
“I heard Mama talking about him with some of the women at the market. His name is Sidney and he’s from the city. He just moved out here but no one knows why. He’s a bachelor,” she says, rocking up on her toes. “I think Mama invited him to dinner tonight.”
“Tonight,” Zhenya yelps and Sid whips his head around to look at them. He raises one hand and Zhenya and Natalie wave back. Zhenya is a sweaty mess and none of his nice clothes are clean. He’ll have to bathe and hang the clothes out on the line. He’ll have to hope they dry in time and then hope his hair doesn’t do that funny thing where it curls on the side and–.
“Uncle Zhenya,” Natalie says as she reaches for his hand. “I’m sure Sidney will think you’re pretty just the way you are.”
She pats his hand like she’s assuring him then breaks into giggles and turns back to the tomatoes.
Chapter 47: "Are you hurt?" "No." "Then why are there bruises all over your face?"
“Are you hurt?”
“Then why are there bruises all over your face?”
Geno touches his fingers to his cheek then winces when he hits a particularly tender spot.
“You forgot that you got your ass kicked?”
“Did not get my ass kicked,” Geno says and Sid can hear the clear pout in his voice even through the less than stellar FaceTime connection. “Was baby Dallas player. I let him fight me so he thinks he’s tough. Was for his self esteem. You know, his own good. You not watch?”
“It started so late,” Sid explains, “I had to go to bed.”
“Well, should see what I do to him. His face looks ten times worse.”
“His face looks completely normal,” Letang says as he pops over Geno’s shoulder, “because G here got his ass kicked pretty squarely by an eighteen year old kid.”
Geno shakes Letang off and turns around to spit something that certainly sounds like “don’t embarrass me in front of my boyfriend.”
Letang cackles and takes off and Geno’s frowning face fills Sid’s screen.
“Tell me the truth,” Sid says, “does it really hurt?”
“Maybe,” Geno says back, “little bit.”
“When you come home I’ll kiss it all better, how’s that sound?”
Geno’s answering smile is beautiful, if a little busted.
“That sounds great.”
Chapter 48: “Is there a reason you’re blushing like that?”
“Is there a reason you’re blushing like that?”
“Oh, come on,” Tanger says as he slides up beside Flower, “you know what room he just came out of.”
Sid rolls his eyes and sets the clipboard down on the counter at the nurses station. Tanger and Flower both grin at him because while they are extraordinary nurses, they are shitty friends.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Sid says as he ignores they’re wiggling eyebrows in favor of flipping through the charts in front of him. Mrs. Foster will need her lunch soon, with grape instead of apple or else it’s a whole thing and Mr. Wilkins needs to see Dr. Perez about his blood pressure, it’s been a little low.
“If you can’t talk about it with us then who are you going to talk about it with,” Tanger asks and Sid ignores him in favor of clicking his pen loudly so he can make a note on Miss. Baker’s chart.
“Seriously no idea what you’re talking about.”
Flower reaches over the desk and pokes at him. “We’re talking about Evgeni Malkin having a huge crush on you.”
“And you having a huge crush on Evgeni Malkin,” Tanger adds and Sid’s pen hovers above the paper.
He knows exactly what they’re talking about. He’s pretty sure everyone on the floor—patients, doctors, and nurses knows what he’s talking about.
Sid happened to be on break when Malkin went down. He was sipping burnt coffee in the nurses lounge watching the game on the shitty, little TV when Malkin took an awkward slide into the boards and had to be helped off the ice. Sid could tell it was bad but he didn’t have time to dwell on it because one of the patients was calling for a nurse and he had to go.
Two hours later they got the word that Malkin would be having surgery at their hospital and three hours after that he was being wheeled up to recovery and put into Sid’s care.
Malkin was pretty out of it for the first few hours but slowly he came around and halfway through Sid’s shift he was lucid enough for introductions.
“Mr. Malkin,” Sid had said, as gently as he could, “my name is Sid, I’m going to be taking care of you for awhile, okay?” He waited for a nod as Malkin focused in on him. “This is Marc-Andre,” Sid said, nodding to where Flower was checking Malkin’s monitors. “He’ll he taking care of you as well.”
“You can call me Flower. If you forget that just look at the scrubs.” They were bright pink with yellow daisies. Just one of the dozens of floral themed scrubs he had.
“If you feel a little groggy that’s totally normal,” Sid told Malkin. “The best thing is to sleep it off.”
“I died,” Malkin had said and Sid froze at the foot of the bed. “Am dead.”
This wasn’t uncommon. People often came out of surgery feeling disoriented.
“No, Mr. Malkin, I promise you, the surgery was a success and you’re doing just fine. You are very much alive.”
“No, no. Died. Gone to heaven. Looking at angel.”
Beside him Flower had barked out a laugh and Sid felt his own face flush.
“Okay, Mr. Malkin,” Sid said evenly, “try to get some sleep. I’ll be back to check on you in a little bit.”
“Can’t wait,” Malkin had said and Flower threw his head back and laughed.
“It’s not a crush,” Sid says and Flower and Tanger roll their eyes in unison. “It’s not. And don’t act like this kind of thing doesn’t happen all the time.”
“Oh, someone’s awfully full of themselves,” Tanger says.
“You get hit on a lot, Sidney?” Flower asks and Sid throws his pen at him. It bounces off Flower’s chest leaving a blue mark in the middle of one of the sunflowers printed on his scrubs. “Douche,” Flower says and Sid grins.
“You know what I mean. We all get hit on.”
It was true. Old ladies who insist that they’d be perfect for their granddaughter or grandson and college frat boys who embarrassingly stumble through the explanation about how they broke their wrist or ankle before asking them out to get a drink.
“It’s not a crush,” Sid restates. “Mr. Malkin is just like that.”
He’s friendly and funny and he likes to talk and joke around.
“Uh, definitely not like that with me,” Tanger says. “I went in there to check on him last night and he immediately asked me where you were. Like he was disgusted to see me. Like I was trash.”
“I’m sure that’s not how he acted.”
“Well, he certainly wasn’t impressed with me. Can you imagine not being impressed with me? I’m happy you guys are gonna get married but your future husband has awful taste.”
Sid groans. “Stop. We’re not getting married. He’s not even flirting with me.”
Flower and Tanger both scoff.
“He’s heavily medicated,” Sid explains and Tanger hums.
“He came off the hard stuff two nights ago. It’s worked his way out of his system by now. That’s all him.”
“You guys can get married at the chapel here,” Flower says, “we’ll get you some fancy dress scrubs and wheel Malkin on down. It’ll be beautiful. I call flower girl, Tanger can be the ring bearer.”
“You know what,” Sid says as he straightens out his paperwork, “I hope you both get double shifts and I hope your feet hurt the entire time.”
Flower clutches at invisible pearls around his neck and Tanger gasps.
Sid doesn’t have favorite patients. Not since his stint in pediatrics where every patient was his favorite.
Up in recovery there are some that are easier to deal with than others. Their personalities are more compatible and they’re more pleasant to be around but regardless of what Sid thinks of them personally, they all deserve the best care he can give them and his respect.
He doesn’t play favorites and it’s certainly not his fault if patients play favorites with him.
That seems to be what Geno is doing.
Sid has heard from several nurses, not just Tanger and Flower–which gives it a bit more credence, that while Geno is always polite and kind to them, he really only comes alive when Sid walks into the room. They tell him that he seems sullen and pouty, dwelling on his injury and the time away from the team and ice until Sid walks in and it’s all smiles.
“I hope you’re treating the other nurses well, Mr. Malkin,” Sid says as way of a good morning when he walks into Geno’s room.
Predictably, Geno smiles back at him even as Sid snaps open the blinds and lets the light in. It looks like it’ll be a nice enough day. The sun is shining and the weatherman isn’t calling for snow this week.
“Can call me Geno,” he says, “of course I treat well. Am best patient. They all tell you, yes?”
“They tell me lots of stuff,” Sid says as he checks his blood pressure and heart rate.
“All good things?”
“If you say so,” Sid tells him loftily then steps to the end of his bed and squeezes his toes over the blanket. “How are you feeling today? Are you ready for breakfast?”
“If you eat with me.”
“Mr. Malkin,” Sid insists. He has to keep this professional. “You know I’m very busy.”
“Of course. Best nurse has lots of patients. Can’t blame me for wanting to steal time.” He smiles, tongue poking against the side of his cheek and Sid ducks his head to hide the way his own lips curve up.
Sid loves his job. It’s the only thing he’s ever wanted to do.
However, it’s also the hardest thing he’s ever had to do. It’s long hours and little recognition. It’s following the lead of doctors that are being pulled six different ways while Sid is being pulled twelve different ways and doing it all with a smile on his face as he keeps himself together.
It’s grabbing a few hours of sleep on the lumpy couch in the nurses lounge and when that’s taken curling up in a ball in the linen closet– both of which make his back ache but it’s better than no sleep at all.
There are days when he just doesn’t go home. He eats out of the vending machine on the third floor or, if he’s lucky he gets enough time to grab something from the Au Bon Pain in the lobby.
Sometimes, it feels like his job is impossible and while he wouldn’t trade it for anything, it gets to be a lot.
Sid clears his throat and blinks rapidly. He had been staring out the window for so long the lights of the city were starting to blend together.
“Sorry,” he tells Mr. Malkin. “Do you want the blinds closed or open for a little while longer?”
“I’ll leave them open. You don’t look like you’re quite ready for bed yet.”
“Sid, I know about Mrs. Miller,” Geno says and Sid sighs.
Hospitals are a hotbed of gossip.
“I’m sorry,” he says, “know it must be hard.”
Sid nods. Mrs. Miller wasn’t even his patient and she had lived a good, long life, but still, it hurts.
“Do you need anything,” Sid asks and he knows without even looking that he’s getting sad, puppy dog eyes from Malkin in return.
“Maybe come sit by me. Watch hockey game for little bit.”
“Can take break. Floor is quiet now.”
“Sid, please,” Geno snaps, “look like you’re about to fall over. I worry.”
“I’m fine,” Sid says with a heavy sigh but he crosses the room and settles into the chair beside Geno’s bed anyways. It does feel nice to sit.
“Good,” Geno says. “When you eat last?”
“Are you my mom?”
“If I have to be,” Geno says as he leans over and grabs something off the table beside him then tosses a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup package into Sid’s lap. “For you. Know you like, I ask around.”
“How did you get this?”
“Kris bring to me.”
“He’s trying to suck up to you. He thinks you don’t like him.”
“Like him just fine. Especially after he gets candy. Now eat.”
Sid heaves another sigh and rips the wrapper open. The first bite tastes like heaven and he leans back in the chair and stretches his legs out in front of him.
They watch the game in silence for a little while. The team is out on the West coast and while they don’t look completely lost without Geno, it’s clear that they miss their captain.
They take another dumb penalty and Sid shakes his head.
“You know,” Geno says as the PK unit hops over the boards. “This sport….is very easy to get hurt. I see lots of doctors and nurses. Lots of people there to take care of me. You are best.”
Sid rolls his eyes and takes another bite of candy. “You’re only saying that because you think I’m hot,” he says then immediately winces. It’s late and the sugar is going to his head.
Luckily, Geno just laughs and reaches over to pat Sid’s knee. “No, I say because is true. Is not about you being hot. Which is also true.”
Sid laughs and it’s so unexpected that he almost chokes on chocolate.
“You care so much about everyone,” Geno says.
“I’m a nurse. That’s my job.”
“You know is more than that,” Geno says flatly. “But you work yourself sick if you don’t stop every once in a while. Spend whole life taking care of other people, maybe let someone take care of you.”
“I’m eating your candy,” Sid says as he pops the second cup into his mouth and Geno laughs, a low rumble of a thing that warms Sid up from the inside out.
“I guess is start,” Geno says softly and together they watch the rest of the game.
Chapter 49: "I think I'm in love with you."
“I think I’m in love with you.”
Geno immediately turns his head toward Sid. His face is flushed, color dotting his cheeks and his hair is stuck to his forehead with sweat. His chest his heaving and his breath is coming out in quick, frantic puffs.
He looks like he just stepped off the ice after a double shift.
“Fuck,” Sid huffs. He’s breathless and a little uncoordinated as he slaps the back of his hand across Geno’s chest. “Fuck. That was good. You good?”
Geno blinks at him. Sid’s acting like he didn’t just say the L word. The one that Geno’s been thinking ever since Sid first kissed him months ago after a hard loss when they both needed comfort.
It was easy to fall into bed together. Sid’s bed. Geno’s bed. A hotel bed in Boston, Columbus, Ottawa, Tampa.
It was so easy to touch Sid, to kiss him, to arch against him and under him.
It was easy to fall in love with him but he never once through Sid would feel the same.
This is fun. Casual. They’re not together. They’re not dating. What Geno wants and what the reality is are two different things.
“Speechless,” Sid asks, the corner of his mouth quirking up into a smile. He rubs his hand over Geno’s chest, sliding easily through the sweat that’s rapidly cooling over the dip of his heart. “I know. I need some water and maybe a snack then we’re doing that again. I love off days.”
He starts to get up but Geno is quick to swing his leg over Sid’s thighs as he pushes himself up and over. He pushes Sid down by the shoulders.
Sid’s eyebrows furrow. “Yeah. I’m thirsty and I have to pee.” He taps his hands against Geno’s side. “Let me up.”
“No. What you say. You say you love.” He knows how desperate he sounds but he doesn’t care. “You mean?”
Sid looks at him like he’s crazy. “What do you mean? Why are you asking me?”
“Because you say. Shouldn’t say if you don’t mean.”
“Who says I don’t mean it?”
“Sid.” Geno says his name like a warning and Sid pushes Geno’s hands off his shoulders and pushes himself up. Geno leans back and sits across Sid’s thighs.
“What do you think we’re doing here,” Sid asks softly and Geno looks away.
“Think we’re having fun. Casual. No big deal.”
“I don’t do casual,” Sid tells him, hooking his finger beneath Geno’s chin until he finally looks up. “Especially not with you. Why do you think I kissed you?”
Geno shrugs, trying to hide his hurt with indifference. “Bored. Lonely. A little sad. Don’t know.”
Sid looks stricken. “Because I was in love with you then and I’m still in love with you now. You think I could just…” He trails off and shakes his head. “You think I didn’t care? How could you think that?”
“You never say.”
Sid smiles, soft and fond and gathers Geno’s face in his hands. “I love you. I’ve always loved you.” He kisses Geno and Geno can feel it. This is what being loved feels like. “Now let me up,” Sid whispers against his lips. “I’m gonna go grab some Gatorade and a protein bar and then I’m going to show you how much I love you.”
Geno grins and rolls to the side.
Chapter 50: "If I die I'm haunting you first."
“If I die, I am haunting you first.”
“You’re not going to die.”
“You sure? What if poisonous?”
“I don’t think there are poisonous snakes in Pittsburgh.”
“You don’t think,” Geno mumbles, his voice even more distorted as he shoves his head back under the cabinet. “You see when you drive me to hospital with rattlesnake bite.”
Sid laughs despite the fear and adrenaline that’s still shooting through his veins.
Sid’s not afraid of much. He’s okay with spiders and heights and clearly has no problems with flying. Dark water doesn’t send a shiver up his spine and he never understood people’s discomfort with clowns. They were just people with a lot of makeup on.
The one thing he can’t handle is snakes.
So, when he opened up the bottom cabinet searching for a pan to took his morning omelet in and saw a snake he, very understandably, lost his shit, ran out of the house, and called Geno.
Now, Geno is down on all fours, slowly working his way through Sid’s kitchen, cabinet by cabinet looking for the snake with a flashlight in his hand.
Sid is sitting cross legged on the kitchen island ready to jump off and flee as soon as Geno finds the thing.
“Why you even call me,” Geno grumbles as he closes one cabinet and opens another.
“You like animals,” Sid explains. It’s a half truth. The other truth is that he’s pretty much always thinking of Geno. “I thought you could help.”
“Afraid not,” Geno says. “Can’t find snake. You sure you see?”
“Maybe you see something else. Like rope.”
“Why would a rope be under my cabinet?”
“Why would snake be under cabinet? Not like you live in middle of nowhere.” Geno clicks off the flashlight and stands up and Sid’s just about to beg him to keep looking when he catches the way Geno is looking at him.
It’s heated and with purpose and Geno practically stalks across the kitchen toward the island.
“You know,” Geno continues, “don’t have to make up story to get me to come over.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Oh, Geno,” Geno says, mimicking Sid’s Canadian accent. “Come over, help me find snake.” He rolls his eyes and leans on the island in front of Sid. “Was no snake, Sid. Can admit.”
“There was a snake,” Sid insists but his argument falls away when Geno reaches for Sid’s ankles and straightens out his legs. Geno steps between Sid’s knees and Sid swallows back a gasp.
“You just want to see me,” Geno whispers. “Is okay. Can just say. I would have come.”
“I always want to see you,” Sid admits and Geno grins.
“Oh, I’m know. Was just waiting for you to say. Funny way of doing it but…”
“Okay, but there really was a snake,” Sid says but that’s the last thing he gets out before Geno is kissing him.
Chapter 51: "I think you might be my soulmate."
“I think you might be my soulmate.”
Geno sets the lime back in the bin and looks over at the man that’s appeared at his side.
He’s handsome, with golden eyes and black curls. He’s holding his arm out, showing off the timer on his wrist that’s flashing zero.
Geno never imagined meeting his soulmate in the produce section of the grocery store but stranger things have happened.
“It’s been counting down all week,” the man says frantically, but there’s a hopeful smile on his face . “I looked at you and it hit zero.”
Geno sets down his basket and pulls up his sleeve. His timer is flashing zero as well.
“It’s you,” the man says. “It has to be you. I’m Sid.”
Geno reaches out and lays his hand against Sid’s cheek. His skin his arm beneath his palm and Sid closes his eyes with a soft sigh. Geno’s heart beats for what feels like the first time in his chest.
This is what everyone has been talking about. This is what he’s been missing.
“I’m Geno,” he says, already deep in love with Sid. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Chapter 52: "Do you think the moon is jealous of how pretty you are?"
“Do you think the moon is jealous of how pretty you are?”
Sidney blushes and looks away. “You spend much too much time flattering me, my Lord.”
“How can I flatter if it’s true?”
Sidney smiles up at him and dares to step closer to Zhenya on the path.
Moments like this are few and far between. They’re truly alone out here wandering through the gardens together with only the silver glow of the moon the light their way.
Sidney had snuck out of his room and climbed down the terrace, a risky endeavor but one he always felt safe doing with Lord Malkin waiting at the bottom to catch him if he happened to fall.
Here, without the prying eyes of the royal escorts Zhenya feels brave enough reach out and trail his fingertips along the sleeve of Prince Sidney’s robe. The fine silk slips between his fingers until they run into Sidney skin, which is just as soft.
Zhenya traces his thumb against the inside of Sidney’s wrist and holds back a gasp when Sidney links their fingers together.
“I wish we could stay out here forever,” Sidney says softly and Zhenya brings their joined hands up to his lips and presses a kiss to Sidney’s knuckles.
He wants this forever. He wants to take Sidney into his arms and whisk him away from the rules and restrictions that royal life have bestowed upon him.
They’re both longing for the freedom they can’t yet have.
“Someday,” he whispers against Sidney’s skin.
Someday they’ll have it all.
Chapter 53: "Can I pet your dog?" "Do I know you?"
“Can I pet your dog?”
“Do I know you?”
Sid can tell that the man is tall even though he’s already leaning down toward Stanley.
He freezes and looks up at Sid with warm, brown eyes.
Sid pulls on Stanley’s leash as Stanley pulls back trying to get closer to the man, tail wagging and tongue hanging out of his mouth.
“No,” the man says. “Sorry. Have twitter account.” He waves his phone at Sid. “Go around and meet dogs, pet them, put them on Twitter. Is okay? Dog is cute.” He looks Sid up and down quickly. “Owner cute, too.”
Sid’s stunned into silence and Stanley’s leash slips through his hands. He throws all sixty pounds of himself at the man who laughs as he kneels down and rubs at his ears.
“Is cute. Lab?”
“Lab mix,” Sid says, “hound, maybe some shepherd mixed in.”
“About six months.”
Sid nods. He hadn’t even been looking for a dog but the barking from the adoption event in PetSmart drew him in like a moth to a flame. Stanley was a wiggly, unnamed puppy who locked eyes with him and stole his heart.
“He’s cute. Name?”
“Sid. No, sorry, his name is Stanley. My name is Sid.”
“Sid and Stanley,” the man says as he stands up. “Good fit together. Sounds nice.”
“I’m Geno.” Geno holds his hand out then immediately pulls it back and wipes it on the back of his jeans. “Sorry. Slobber.”
“It’s okay,” Sid says as he takes Geno’s hand. It’s big and warm and Sid likes the idea of holding it for as long as he can. “I’m used to it.”
Chapter 54: "Are we on a date right now?"
“Are we on a date right now?”
Geno looks up from the menu with wide, panicked eyes. It’s the first time Geno has acknowledged him in hours.
The day started normally enough.
Sid woke up, had breakfast, did a load of laundry, then headed in to practice.
Geno had an extra pep in his step when he took the ice. Almost like nervous excitement that Sid couldn’t figure out. They didn’t have a game tonight or even the following day.
Halfway through practice in the middle of a drill Geno turned to him and asked if he wanted to see a movie that night.
“Then maybe dinner,” he asked, not meeting Sid’s eyes.
“Sure,” Sid agreed. It had been ages since he actually went out to a movie and Geno always managed to find the best restaurants to eat at.
Geno’s head had snapped up and there was a wide smile on his face. “Okay. Good. Will have fun, promise.”
Sid hadn’t doubted it and Geno slid back into the drill seamlessly.
Geno had insisted on picking him up and then insisted on paying for the ticket and the popcorn and the candy and the drinks.
He seemed delighted in the idea of Sid paying next time and led Sid into the theater with a hand on the small of his back.
They got a seat in one of the last rows tucked away from the crowd and Geno leaned in close to whisper ideas about dinner even though the lights hadn’t even dimmed yet.
“Whatever you think,” Sid whispered back, “I trust you.”
Geno smiled as the lights finally went down.
About ten minutes into the movie Geno brushed his arm against Sid’s on the armrest between them. A few minutes later he did it again. Then, a minute later, Geno’s hand covered his and Sid immediately pulled his hand back. If Geno wanted the armrest that badly he could have it.
“Sorry,” Sid whispered as he folded his hands in his lap.
Geno didn’t say anything but Sid could feel the tension rolling off of him. He sat stock still for the rest of the movie, his shoulders set in a sharp line and his hands tucked between his thighs. He stared straight ahead and Sid wasn’t even sure if he was breathing.
After the movie let out Geno kept his hands in his pockets and tried to brush off dinner.
“If you tired….don’t have to go. Maybe I just take you home?”
But Sid was starving and looking forward to spending more time with Geno even though things had gotten a little awkward.
“No way, it sounds like you had a good plan and I’m starving. You have to feed me.”
Geno had given him a slightly pained look then nodded down the street.
Sid had no idea what was happening at first but now, sitting across from Geno in this fancy restaurant everything started to fall into place.
Geno’s nerves at practice. Picking him up. Paying for him. Sitting close. Even the way Geno was dressed, dark washed denim and a button down—faded jeans and loud, graphic t-shirts nowhere to be found. He was never fighting for the armrest. He was reaching for Sid’s hand.
“Geno,” Sid asks and Geno’s face flushes. “Oh, G.”
“Is okay, Sid. Don’t worry. Is not date if you don’t want.”
“I didn’t know,” Sid rushes out, “I didn’t…”
Geno rolls his eyes and scoffs. “How you not know? Is obvious. Everyone knows.”
“Everyone knows this was a date?”
“Everyone knows I like you. For long time. Forever. Except you and is fine if you don’t. Forget this ever happen, nothing change.”
“Won’t mess with hockey.”
“I don’t care about that.”
Geno looks even more shocked than before. “Don’t care about hockey? Sid, you sick?”
“No.” He sighs heavily. “I care about hockey but I care about you more. I didn’t know this was a date. If I did–.”
“Don’t have to say it,” Geno winces, “don’t want to hear it.”
“Let me finish,” Sid says gently and Geno presses his lips together. “If I had known this was a date, I would have dressed nicer.”
Geno’s mouth drops open as Sid lays his arm across the table toward him, palm up.
Slowly, Geno covers Sid’s hand with his own.
Chapter 55: “You said to be honest, stop hitting me!”
“You said to be honest, stop hitting me!”
“I hit because you are wrong. Know nothing about art.”
“I know enough to know that this isn’t art.” Sid points to the canvas leaning against the wall in front of them. Geno only made it as far as the foyer before calling Sid to come help. Sid took one look at the color—every single color, every single one—splashed haphazardly onto the canvas and froze.
“What you think,” Geno had asked and Sid had been honest. And now he’s in trouble for it.
“Is art,” Geno insists. “Spend lots of money on it.”
“Can you get a refund?”
Geno slaps his hand against Sid’s arm.
“Look,” Sid reasons, “it’s not that it’s ugly, it’s not. It’s just that it doesn’t really go with anything in here.”
“Maybe it will once I bring in more stuff.”
Sid tries not to wince. This was his idea anyways. He asked Geno to move in with him three weeks ago after thinking about it for months. They’re working together to make Sid’s house their home but he didn’t know to get there it would involve such loud artwork.
“I like,” Geno says as he nods to the painting. “But if you don’t like….is your house.”
Sid rolls his eyes. It’s a dirty play and he knows Geno knows it. “It’s our house,” he says as he loops his arms around Geno’s waist. “If you want to keep the painting, we’ll keep the painting.”
Geno kisses the top of Sid’s head and holds him close. “Where we hang it?”
“Maybe the garage?”
Geno scoffs and shoves Sid away. Sid laughs and reels him back in for a kiss.
Chapter 56: Aroused by his voice & Curses
Geno probably should have listened to the rest of the guys when they told him going to that fortune teller on Broadway in Nashville was a bad idea.
“You’re throwing your money away,” Tanger says as they stand outside the store front. He taps the sign that says 20 Dollars For A Reading. “You’d be better off giving me your money. I could tell your fortune just as well as she can.”
“Just for fun,” Geno says with a shrug, already reaching for his wallet. “And is only 20 dollars.”
“Mr. Moneybags over here,” Phil says as Tanger laughs. “We’re going to go waste our money on drinks.”
The rest of the team follows after him until only Sidney is left.
“You want to come,” Geno asks as he flashes the two twenties he has in his wallet. “My treat.”
Sid jams his hands in his pants pockets and tips forward on the balls of his feet so he can look into the doorway. It seems like he's considering it until Geno says “maybe she can tell us if we win Cup again,” and Sid drops back down onto his heels.
“I don’t think so,” he says flatly. “I’m going to go catch up with the rest of the guys. Meet us when you’re done?”
Geno nods. “Unless she tells me the great love of my life is in different bar. Then I go there.” He smiles, hoping to get a laugh out of Sid but Sid’s face seems set in stone.
“Just be careful, okay?”
“Sid, is just fake fortune teller. It’s not real. It’s a party trick.”
Sid nods. “Just…please be careful.”
Geno promises and writes it off as Sid being overly superstitious. He should know by now not to joke about the Cup in front of Sid.
The fortune teller’s office looks like it’s out of a bad 80′s movie. They both sit in purple velvet lined chairs with a small table in front of them, a fake crystal ball in the middle of it. The power cord that lights it up poorly hidden by the cheap table cloth.
Once she gets her money she starts rattling off random facts that anyone would know if they had access to google. Maybe she has a tablet in her lap…
But then she says, “you have a great love,” and Geno holds in a laugh because he definitely does not. “Someone very close to you.”
She shuts her eyes and presses her fingertips to her forehead. “He’s very important to you.”
Geno abruptly stops laughing. No one is supposed to know that his great love could be a he. Geno himself barely knows that.
“You crazy,” he says as he stands up. His palms are starting to sweat. “Don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Just because you don’t like it doesn’t make it not true,” she says evenly and Geno scoffs.
“You crazy, you wrong, and you steal my twenty dollars. I should call cops.”
She narrows her eyes. “You don’t know who your love is, do you?”
“No. And neither do you. I’m going to write bad review online about you, make sure everyone knows not to waste time here.”
“You like to talk, don’t you?”
“You see that in crystal ball?” He grabs his coat off the back of the chair and turns.
“He’s been telling you,” she says and Geno pauses. “You just aren’t listening.”
“Crazy,” Geno mumbles under his breath as he starts for the door.
“I can make you hear,” she calls to him and Geno stops at the front door then shakes his head and pushes it open.
The bar is crowded and loud but it’s easy enough to spot Jamie towering above everyone else.
Geno pushes his way over, too shaken up to bother with ‘excuse me’and grabs the bartender's attention.
“So, how was it?” Tanger asks. “Did she tell you how the next sixty years of your life are going to go?”
“How many points you’ll get this season?” Jake asks.
“What you’ll name your kids?” Rusty adds.
“How many kids you’ll have?” Shears says.
“You didn’t ask her anything about the Cup, did you?” Sid asks, voice wary and Geno almost drops the shot the bartender just handed over to him because Sid’s voice….it makes him want to throw the drink to the ground so he’ll have both hands free to twine in Sid’s hair. He wants to kiss the breath from his lungs, push him against the bar, spread Sid’s thighs with his knee and absolutely wreck him.
“You okay?” Jamie asks. “You look like you’re about to break the glass.”
His grip around the glass is way too tight and he downs the shot just so he can put the glass down on the bar.
“He’s just now realizing that he wasted his money,” Tanger says. “That twenty bucks could have gone towards another tacky shirt.” He picks at the fabric on Geno’s shoulder and the guys laugh.
Loud and awkward and objectively horrible and Geno can’t help himself.
He reaches out and pulls Sid in.
Chapter 57: Past Lives
Despite all the jokes about Sid being an old soul, Geno is the one who is sure he has lived past lives.
There are things he knows that he has no business knowing. Answers on Jeopardy about sixteenth century artists or the American Civil War.
Sid rolls his eyes and shakes his head from his side of the couch and says “you probably learned it in school and you didn’t remember it until now.”
“American Civil War, Sid. How would I know?”
“I don’t know.” He lightly kicks at Geno’s thigh with the heel of his socked foot and Geno wraps his fingers around his ankle. “I have history books all over the place around here. You probably got it from there.”
But Geno doesn’t read those books and he knows he didn’t learn about El Greco in school and really- the trivia is just a small part of it.
Sid doesn’t believe him. He doesn’t seriously believe in reincarnation at all, not just Geno specifically but still, he is a good boyfriend and he tries to indulge him.
Between the rational explanations as to why Geno clearly remembers watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, live, or why he has an irrational fear of rattlesnakes even though he’s never actually seen one Sid will drape himself along Geno’s back, hook his chin over his shoulder, and read with him the article or the post on the message board that Geno has stumbled into.
“Look,” Geno says as he points at the screen. “They say same thing always happen to them. They know things about the past, have deja vu about things that never happen.”
Sid interrupts him with a kiss to the side of his neck. “That’s what deja vu is.”
“You not listening,” Geno says, exasperated as he feels Sid smile against his skin. “We all have same experiences.”
“I’m listening,” Sid says softly as he reaches over and closes the laptop. He loops around and sits himself across Geno’s thighs and suddenly, the only life Geno cares about is the one he’s living right now.
Geno thinks Sid thinks it’s funny. Or cute or eccentric and sometimes it is. Like a good party trick. It’s good for a laugh.
Sid likes to joke when they’re playing golf and they’re only on the fifth hole and Geno is already fifteen over par for the course that he definitely wasn’t a professional golfer in a past life.
Or when he’s making breakfast and he accidentally cracks some shell into the bowl and Sid will squeeze him around the waist and say “guess you weren’t a chef, either.”
Geno doesn’t think he was either of those things. He thinks he was a Gladiator in ancient Rome and a bystander in St. Petersburg in the winter of 1905 and more recently a zoo keeper negotiating with China to send over another panda.
It is funny and Geno lets Sid laugh about it. If it was happening to anyone else Geno’s sure he would find it hilarious and chirp twice as hard as Sid does and it’s really not Sid’s fault that he doesn’t know the extent of it.
There are some things that Geno doesn’t tell him.
His death is what he remembers the most clearly.
All of them.
He remembers the slow descent into it while he was living into his nineties on the beaches of Greece. It was almost boring, all the waiting around.
It was peaceful in the end. Falling asleep to the sound of the waves breaking on the shore and then waking up somewhere else in another body, brand new and safe.
Those memories come to him in idle moments. When the team is waiting to board the plane for a flight to Winnipeg or while he’s sitting in the dentist’s chair waiting for the hygienist to come in.
They’re not all like that. He didn’t always get to turn grey with age. There were times when he died young with a knife in his back or a sword at his throat. Measles, smallpox, tuberculosis.
Those memories hit him at night. They jolt him awake with a sharp pain in his back or an ache in his lungs and for a moment he doesn’t know where or when or who he is. It’s not until Sid is sitting up beside him with his hand around his elbow or pressed flat to his heart does it come back to him.
“What’s wrong,” Sid says, voice still thick with sleep. “What’s the matter?”
“Bad dream,” Geno tells him. “Sorry to wake.” He can feel Sid’s eyes on him, pinning him in place. There’s sweat bleeding through the t-shirt he’s wearing and soaking his hairline and he needs some cold water on his face but he can’t will his legs to move. He can’t tear himself away Sid, not when he’s holding onto him like he’s something he wants to protect.
Because it’s not the death that leaves him rattled.
It’s the loneliness and longing and desperation.
It’s feeling that no matter how old he is, was, when he passes on he’s still missing something. Someone.
He’s lived a countless number of unfulfilled lives, empty and strange and painful.
In this life Sid pulls or pushes until Geno eases himself back down into the sweat soaked mattress and rolls closer to him. His arm hangs over Geno’s chest and his face is tucked into his shoulder so his voice is muffled when he asks “do you want to talk about it?”
Geno really doesn’t. Talking about it would slide it into dangerous new territory. Dreaming about your own death is funny or cute or quirky. Sid would worry and that’s the last thing he wants.
“I’m fine,” he says and he kisses the top of Sid’s head. “Go back to sleep.”
Sid mumbles something too softly to hear and drifts off while Geno stays up, rubbing a hand across Sid’s back and watching the shadows the moonlight casts against their bedroom wall.
Open and honest communication is the key to any healthy relationship. Geno likes to think he and Sid are two of the healthiest people he knows.
But still, there are things Geno doesn’t tell him.
Little things, like how he was the one that broke Sid’s favorite coffee mug or how bad his feet actually smell after a game.
But there are big things too. Like the dreams or the woman in Paris in the 20’s and the child they had together. Or the men in Copenhagen. Or that when he first met Sid over a decade ago in the entryway of Mario’s home he looked into his eyes, brown and gold and beautiful in the light, he thought finally.
“Do you believe in soulmates?”
Geno snaps his head up from the menu.
Sid’s chewing on the end of his straw, a bad habit that Geno knows Sid hates but hasn’t quite been able to break himself of yet.
Personally, Geno finds it adorable.
“Are you making fun of me?” Geno asks and Sid lets go of the straw and sits up straight.
“No, no, of course not. I’m just wondering is all.” He huffs a breath when Geno doesn’t cut in. “You know I don’t really believe in the whole past lives thing but soulmates….that’s kind of in the same vein, isn’t it?”
“Ah,” Geno says as he sees what this really is. It’s an olive branch. Can we both agree on this slightly less crazy thing?
“I think it’s a nice thought,” Sid continues. “Two people that are meant to be together actually finding each other and being together forever. It’s nice.”
“Is that what you want to be?” Geno asks and Sid blushes.
“I think,” he says slowly, “when I think about you I don’t think of anyone else. If that makes sense?”
Geno looks across the table at the man he’s been chasing for hundreds of years. He’s finally caught up to him and he wants to stay.
It’s a bigger feeling than Geno knows what to do with. He’ll never be able to tell Sid what it’s been like. The looking and the waiting and the relief in the finding.
So instead he holds his hand out across the table and waits for Sid to cover it with his own.
“I’ve always been thinking of you,” Geno says and it’s okay that Sid doesn’t know how true that is.
Chapter 58: Kink/Scars
When Sid picks the belt up off the floor and hands it back to him, Geno doesn’t understand what he’s asking.
It’s not until Sid crawls onto the bed and wraps his fingers around the slats in the headboard that he finally gets it.
“Oh,” Geno says, gripping the belt hard enough for it to hurt. “Sid. Oh.”
“Come on, G,” Sid moans out. His voice is husky and his cock is hard and heavy between his legs. “I want you to.”
Geno is frozen in place.
They don’t do this. Their sex isn’t vanilla, not that that would even be a bad thing.
But it’s nice and soft and that’s wonderful.
Their job is so violent. It takes so much from their bodies day in and day out and it’s nice to go home with someone that will kiss the aches and pains away and whisper I love you against the bruises.
They’re gentle with each other. They deserve that.
Geno never saw this coming but he’s also never been able to tell Sid no,
So he moves up the bed and straddles Sid’s hips as he loops the belt through the slats.
“You tell me if it’s too tight,” he says with his hand flat over Sid’s heart. He’s beating like a drum beneath his palm.
Sid arches his back and tenses his arms, pulling against the leather. There’s not a lot of give and he nods.
“You tell me if it hurt?”
“I’ll tell you,” he says as he hooks his leg around Geno’s hip to pull him forward. “Kiss me. Touch me.”
Geno does that without a second thought.
Sex with Sid is never bad. Not even that first fumbling time in Mario’s guest house all those years ago.
Touching Sid and being touched by Sid was the best thing that had ever happened to him.
It continued on in hotel rooms across the country and in Sochi during the Olympics and Sid’s brand new house that they christened for the first time before there was even any furniture moved in.
Sid has always been perfect for him, moving on top or blow him, moaning and gasping and panting his name, telling him how fast and how hard.
He didn’t think it could get better.
But now, with Sid’s hands stretched above his head and his back and his hips stretched up to meet every thrust, it’s more than Geno can handle.
Sid comes untouched between their bodies, his head thrown back and his mouth dropped open and Geno bites the tendon in Sid’s neck and follows immediately after.
“Fuck,” Sid pants out and Geno can’t think, brain too foggy with the afterglow to form words.
“Best,” Geno finally whispers. “Best person. Love.”
Sid laughs and Geno wants him to pet his hair, tell him how good he is and how much he loves him. When it hits him why he can’t he bolts up and undoes the belt.
“Okay?” Geno asks as he eases Sid’s arms down. “Feel okay?”
“I’m fine, Geno. That was great. That was exactly what I wanted.” He pushes Geno’s sweaty hair back off his forehead and Geno tips his head into the touch. It’s like heaven. “You’re perfect,” Sid murmurs and Geno tips forward to kiss his collarbone.
It’s not until watery morning light is filtering through the windows that Geno finally sees the proof of what they did.
Sid’s still sleeping peacefully, his face relaxed and his mouth parted just slightly. Dark lashes sweeping across pale cheeks and hair wild and curly.
He looks sweet and beautiful and Geno wants to spend the rest of his life right here watching him dream.
He follows the strong line of Sid’s jaw down the slope of his neck and over the curve of his shoulder. Down his arm and the bend of his elbow to his fine wrists, pillowed beneath his cheek.
That’s where he stops and every muscle in his body tenses. His stomach rolls.
Sid’s wrists are red and raw. It has to be painful. It has to hurt.
Geno hurt him and he can’t stand himself.
Sid is going to hate him. Geno hates himself.
He slides out of bed and paces the floor while Sid sleeps on, oblivious to the scars that Geno has left on him.
Geno can’t be here when Sid wakes up. He can’t watch the realization cloud his face.
So he goes downstairs and sits at the kitchen table with his head in his hands. By the time Sid comes down twenty minutes later there are tears stinging the backs of his eyes.
“Morning,” Sid says, sweet as anything. He stops and kisses the top of Geno’s head as he passes by. “Did you start the coffee yet?”
When Geno drops his hands Sid’s already in the kitchen fiddling with the coffee maker. His has a shirt and boxers on but the only thing Geno can focus on are the marks at his wrist.
“Are you feeling okay? Usually you’re not up so early? Do you want to go out for breakfast or stay in.”
“Sid. About last night-I’m.”
“We should probably talk,” Sid interrupts as he leans against the counter and Geno braces himself for the worst.
“I’m so sorry,” Geno says at the same time Sid says “we should do it again.”
Geno blinks at him.
“What are you apologizing for? Did you not have fun? It seemed like you liked it.”
Geno’s horrified that Sid thinks this is about him. That he would put his own pleasure above Sid’s well being.
“Sid, your wrist.”
Sid frowns and looks down at his hands. “Oh,” he says as he rolls his wrists. He winces and Geno is up and crossing the room to him. He’s not above dropping to his knees and begging for forgiveness if he has to.
For now he gently cups Sid’s face with his hands and tips Sid’s chin up to meet his eye line.
“So sorry, Sid, didn’t know what I was doing. Didn’t mean to.”
“You didn’t do this,” Sid says, confused as ever. “This isn’t your fault.”
“It is. From the belt. I did that.”
“I asked you to.”
“I hurt you.”
“You didn’t.” Sid pushes his hands away and pulls him into a tight hug. “You didn’t hurt me. If anything this is my fault.”
“Sid, don’t blame yourself.”
“You don’t blame yourself. I shouldn’t have used the belt. I should have found a tie or….ordered something.”
“I think I jumped into this too quick. We should have planned better. I should have planned better.”
“Sid, I hurt you.”
Sid kisses him soundly on the lips to quiet him down.
“You didn’t hurt me. I would have told you if you were hurting me and I know you would have stopped.”
Geno nods. “Right away, would have stopped right away.”
“I know. I trust you. Now I need you to trust me when I tell you that you didn’t do this. This is nothing to feel guilty over. I asked you for that.” He bites his lip. “Did you like it.”
“Don’t like this,” Geno says as he lightly touches his fingertips to the marks. Sid doesn’t flinch.
“If I found away to make sure this didn’t happen again would you like it more?”
“It was good,” Geno says, a little embarrassed as he remembers how quickly he came. “But…like other stuff too. Like when you touch me. That’s good too.”
“It doesn’t have to be either or you know. We can do both.” He curls his fingers around Geno’s jaw. “I like touching you, too.”
“Just want you to be happy,” Geno admits and Sid smiles.
“As long as I’m with you I’m as happy as I can be.”
Chapter 59: Secret Relationship & Massage
There is a kink in the back of Sid’s neck that will not go away.
He’s not sure if he tweaked it during a game or slept on it wrong or what but no amount of Advil or time spent with a heating pad will help him.
Tanger tries to massage it out for him while Sid is innocently eating his breakfast before practice but somehow he manages to make it worse.
“I was always told I had magic hands,” Tanger says as he stares down at them like they’ve betrayed him.
Sid rubs at the back of his neck and rolls his eyes.
“Go see the new masseuse,” Horny tells him. “Geno is like a god. You know how my shoulder was bothering me? One session and-.” He snaps his fingers. “All better.”
Sid suffers quietly for a few more days before he seeks this Geno out and when he opens the door to the training room right down the hall from the locker room he regrets waiting so long.
Geno is beautiful and annoyingly professional as he runs his hands, slick with massage oil, up and down Sid’s bare back.
His thumbs dig in at the base of Sid’s scull and when he asks if it’s too much pressure Sid can only moan in response and think ‘where the fuck have you been all my life?’
Sid’s neck is fixed after that first meeting.
But then mysteriously it’s his back. And then his shoulder. And his thigh keeps cramping, it’s the strangest thing.
They talk as Geno works on the phantom pains. Geno loves hockey and misses Russia but loves his job and misses skating on a regular basis.
Sid is charmed and just a little bit in love not only with Geno’s hands but with his voice and sense of humor and the way he treats Sid like he’s something special. He listens when Sid talks and doesn’t ask anything of him. He’s not expecting anything. He doesn’t get down on him when Sid hasn’t been scoring or tell him to shoot the puck.
They kiss for the first time after Sid comes for his tenth appointment. He told Geno the arch of his foot was acting up which Geno clearly saw right through because he hummed then very gently backed Sid up against the inside of the door and bent his head down for a kiss.
The door handle is digging into Sid’s back and Geno keeps pressing he’s going to have to massage that pain away.
“We can’t tell anyone,” Sid says on a gasp as Geno bites down at the tender spot between his neck and shoulder.
“So, a secret?” Geno asks and Sid nods.
This is unprofessional. This could make the news. The media would never let him forget it. Geno could lose his job.
Any and all of those are good reasons to keep their mouths shut.
Instead, Sid says this.
“Can you imagine how many happy ending jokes I would have to put up with?”
Geno laughs as he kisses him again.
Chapter 60: Summer Camp & Magical Accidents
Sid is a counselor at a summer camp for Magically Gifted Children, ages 12-18.
They offer the run of the mill camp experiences, horseback riding, canoeing, swimming, arts and crafts, etc but they also specialize in training and honing each child’s gift. How to control their emotions so they don’t accidentally turn their little brother into a frog or their teacher into an apple. They teach spells and how to find and treat a familiar. How to not be ashamed of their magic, something a lot of kids, teens especially, deal with.
Sid loves it. All that time in the open air, wowing the younger kids as he freezes the lake for them to skate on in the middle of July and helping to teach the older kids how to do it.
Geno comes in as a new counselor. The camp keeps growing and growing every year and they need the extra help.
Sid watches from the back of the group as Geno is introduced, already sun kissed, radiating warmth and light from every inch of him.
“What is he?” Sid whispers to Flower.
“I don’t know,” Flower whispers back. “They haven’t said. He might not have one.”
Sid doesn’t believe that. There’s no way someone who is practically glowing from the inside out doesn’t have a charm.
It’s hours later when they meet for the first time, every other counselor jumping in before Sid is able to.
Sid holds his hand out and as soon as Geno closes his own around it Sid pulls back with a hiss.
Geno’s skin is burning hot, it’s like sticking his hand into the warmest part of the flame.
“Shit,” Sid says as he flexes his fingers. He closes his eyes and ice crystals float to the surface of his hand, easing the burn. “Fire, right? That’ll be fun for the kids. Tanger’s the same way but he can only roast so many marshmallows at one time. You’ll be a big help.”
Geno is looking at him like he’s crazy, a half step back and mouth dropped open.
“What are you talking about?”
“Fire,” Sid says. “Heat. Lightning maybe. Something warm. That’s your magic, isn’t it?”
“Don’t have magic,” Geno says. “Just regular.”
“No,” Sid says and he looks down at his hand. He can still feel the heat. “That can’t be right.”
Geno’s still looking at him funny as Flower comes up behind him thumps his knuckles against Geno’s bare arm to get his attention.
There’s no reaction from Flower. No pain or surprise.
There’s nothing out of the ordinary with Geno.
So what the hell is wrong with Sid?
Chapter 61: Fairy Tale AU & Bathtub Fic
I still don't know what a bathtub fic is...
Prince Sidney runs from his boring, royal life, filled with obligations and rules and an arranged marriage that looms over his upcoming 21st birthday.
In the middle of the night he slips out of the castle, past the guards and the walls and into the woods. He stays off the roads and ignores his growling stomach in favor of putting more space between him and the Castle.
Finally, when he feels like he can’t go on any longer he stumbles a small cottage with smoke billowing from the chimney and a delicious smelling pie cooking in the windowsill.
The house is quiet and still and when Sid’s sure that no one is home he moves in. He has the pie plate in his hand when a throat clears behind him.
When he turns there’s the tallest, most handsome man he’s ever seen. He has a bushel of fresh berries propped against his hip and his eyes are narrowed and Sid knows how he looks. He’s dirty and his clothes are torn. He looks like a vagrant. He looks like a thief. He is both.
“I can explain,” Sid says. But he can’t. He’s sure the King and Queen have offered and award for him by now. The man would be foolish to turn that down.
“You’re hungry,” the man says. His voice is rich and warm and tinged with a foreign accent. “Can come inside. Use a plate and fork, unless you want to eat whole thing yourself. Maybe you share?”
“Maybe we get you cleaned up, too.”
An hour late Sid is up to his neck in warm water in Zhenya’s (the man had asked Sid to call him Zhenya) deep copper bathtub that’s laced with sweet smelling herbs and oils.
His skin is soft and he is clean.
He sighs and pushes his hand back and forth in the water then looks across the cottage, beyond the crack in the privacy screen that Zhenya set up for him.
Zhenya is pulling the stems off strawberries and every so often he pops one into his mouth, humming happily at the taste before he picks up the next one.
Sid sinks a little lower into the water and closes his eyes. He feels safe and cared for even though he’s only just met this man.
He feels like a new person. Maybe here, with Zhenya, he can be.
Chapter 62: Drunk on One Beer
The bottle is slowly slipping from his fingertips. The glass is damp with condensation and the alcohol flowing through his system is making his grip loose and easy.
He’s not all there and he loves it.
For the first time since that first puck drop in early October he is out of his own mind.
It is what it is.
Sid tips his head back against the chair and takes a deep breath. The air smells clean, like the promise of rain from a far off thunderstorm rolling closer and closer.
The sliding glass door opens and Sid tips his head towards the sound and smile as familiar footsteps pad across the deck.
“Still alive,” Geno asks and Sid nods. “Drunk.”
“I’m not drunk,” Sid says, but there’s a definite slur to his voice that really shouldn’t be there after only one beer. “Jus’ not used to drinking.”
“Drunk,” Geno says again as glasses clink together.
Sid cracks an eye open and watches Geno lean over the patio table collecting bottles and cans. He has a black garbage bag in his other hand and he tosses the empties in.
He’s still favoring his knee and he looks too skinny and too far away and Sid drops the bottle and holds his hand out.
“Come over here,” he says and Geno smiles as he shakes his head.
“Have to clean up. Everyone leave, you’re useless.”
“I am not useless,” Sid says but his limbs feel heavy and sluggish and Geno is going to have to come to him. “Is everyone really gone?”
“Horny and Hags were the last to go.” He picks up a can and shakes it back and forth before he raises it to his lips and tips his head back. Sid watches the line of his neck as he swallows and Sid spreads his legs wider.
“Come here,” he asks again and Geno rakes his eyes over his body.
“You disappointed?” Geno asks as he sets the now empty can down on the table and it takes a second for Sid to figure out what he’s talking about.
When he does he shakes his head and holds his hand out. “Not now, I don’t want to talk about it now.”
Geno tips the can back and forth on the glass table top.
“Can you just-.” Sid stops and crooks his fingers. “Please.”
Geno lets go of the can and the bag and finally makes his way over to him. He steps between his open legs and cards his hands through Sid’s hair.
“Come down here and kiss me,” Sid says as he tugs at Geno’s shirt.
Geno rolls his eyes and says “you want lots,” as he bends at the waist.
“Just you,” Sid says as tugs Geno down the rest of the way for a kiss.
Chapter 63: Flowers
There are flowers in a vase in the middle of the kitchen table when Sid wakes up.
They’re tulips. Bright pink and yellow and they weren’t there when Sid went to bed last night.
Or, they weren’t there when he and…..oh god, Sid can’t even remember his name stumbled down the hall towards the bedroom last night.
Whatever-His-Name-Is is standing in front of the toaster, fully dressed with severe bedhead and when Sid clears his throat he turns around.
“Hi, good morning,” he says. His voice is deeper than Sid remembers it being but the accent is still there. That was one of the deciding factors in bringing him home. “Glad you wake up on your own. Cute when you sleep. Didn’t want to wake.”
Sid’s face burns as the toast pops up.
“Made you breakfast,” the guys says as he spins around again and Sid takes a deep breath to calm himself down. “Made you toast. Get good bread from the bakery down the street. Make fresh everyday,” he says as he puts two slices on the plate and puts it on the table. He gestures for Sid to sit before he puts in two more slices.
“You went to a bakery?” Sid asks as he eases himself down onto the chair.
“Yes. No food here. How you live?”
“I….fine I guess.”
The guy throws a smile over his shoulder and Sid returns it weakly. He’s thrown off. He’s not used to this. Guys making him breakfast the morning after. Guys staying for breakfast. Flowers on the table.
“Well, I make you breakfast so eat.” He puts a stick of butter on the table next to Sid’s plate along with a butter knife. “Going to be late for work, so maybe I can’t eat with you. Might have to take with.”
“You can go,” Sid says, thinking he’s looking for an out but the guy shakes his head and waits patiently for the toaster to pop. “I don’t mind.”
The guy glances at his watch then turns around. “Have a few minutes. Eat.”
Pushy, Sid thinks as he spreads the butter across the warm bread. It’s thickly cut and swirled with cinnamon sugar and raisins. It’s sweet across his tongue.
“Good?” The guy asks as he sits across from him and Sid nods. The height of the tulips between them block out the guys mouth but Sid can tell from his eyes that he’s smiling. “Good, glad.” He looks down at his own plate as he says “last night was good, too. Maybe we do again sometime?”
Sid puts down the toast and wipes his hands on the pair of sweats he pulled on. “I don’t remember your name,” he admits and the guys laughs as he glances down at his watch again and stands.
“Is Geno,” he says as he wraps up his toast in a napkin. “Sid, yes?”
Sid nods as Geno presses a hand to his jaw and tips his face up.
“Sid, we do again sometime?”
“Okay,” Sid answers and Geno presses his thumb to the middle of his bottom lip before he replaces it with his mouth for a short, sweet, kiss.
“Have to get to work. Enjoy breakfast. Have a good day.” He steps back and picks up his toast. “Call you later,” Geno says with a wink as he opens the apartment door and slips out.
Sid stares at the closed door for a long moment, like he’s expecting Geno to come back and tell him he’s kidding.
That this was a true one night stand.
That he’s not worth his time.
But it stays shut and when Sid turns back to the toast it’s no longer warm but the flowers in front of him, they’re still beautiful.
There are purple lilacs while Geno flips bacon in a frying pan.
Daisies while Geno sprinkles shredded cheese on top of diced peppers and onions for their omelets.
Daffodils and pancakes.
Hyacinths and blueberry muffins.
Orchids and scrambled eggs.
“You know you don’t have to do this,” Sid says as he gently touches the petals of the Black-Eyed Susans in the vase.
Geno’s at the stove waiting for the french toast to brown. “Do what?”
“The food and the flowers. I like you. You don’t have to like ...win me over or anything. You already did it.”
Geno laughs and taps the spatula against the side of the pan. “I already win, huh?”
“Well. Yeah. You don’t need to keep buying me things.”
“Maybe I think your kitchen needs something bright.” He clucks his tongue black cabinets and stainless steel appliances. “Horrible taste.”
Sid snorts a laugh. Geno is one to talk. Sid has been to Geno’s place. Wall to wall carpet and drapes with bold prints.
“Maybe,” Geno says as he fiddles with the knob on the stove, lowering the heat just a tad. “Maybe I just like buying pretty things for my boyfriend.”
“Boyfriend?” Sid questions Geno freezes. His shoulders are up to his ears. Sid has never seen him so tense.
It’s been months.
Months of getting closer and closer and learning more and more about each other.
Months of breakfast and kisses and flowers.
Boyfriend doesn’t seem like a strong enough word.
“Is that okay?” Geno asks quietly and the question hangs between them, heavy and thick.
Sid looks back at the flowers. Bright gold and vibrant.
He looks back at Geno. Broad shoulders and kind heart.
Sid loves him. He has loved him this whole time. From that very first meeting in a dark bar with enough alcohol in his system to kiss him without even knowing his name to right now, barefoot in the kitchen waiting on french toast.
Sid gets up and stands behind him. He loops his arms around Geno’s waist and presses his forehead between Geno’s shoulder blades.
Slowly, Geno relaxes and Sid takes a deep breath.
“Can stop buying you flowers if you want,” Geno says and Sid kisses the back of his neck.
“Don’t,” he whispers and Geno tilts his head to the side so he can hear him better. Sid leans up and brushes his lips against his cheek, still rough with stubble. “Maybe I like it when my boyfriend buys me flowers.”
Chapter 64: Birthdays
It’s not like birthday blow jobs are their official thing.
They haven’t talked about it or anything. They haven’t had a sit down meeting or discussed it over breakfast or dinner mainly because Sid’s sure that it’s A. Lame and that B. Sid would die of embarrassment before he even got a sentence out.
Neither of those things, the lameness or the death are conducive to his and Geno’s sex life.
So it’s not official. It’s just a thing that they do. Each year on their birthday they wake each other up with a life changing blow job.
But it’s not officially their thing and that’s why Sid has no right to feel miffed when he wakes up alone in bed on August 7th.
Geno’s in the shower, singing loudly in Russian and when Sid pushes the door open he pauses and sticks his head out from behind the curtain.
“Morning, Sid,” he says with huge smile. There’s still shampoo in his hair and soap on his shoulders. “Be right out, okay?”
Sid blinks at him. No happy birthday. No invite in. Nothing.
“Hey. Come kiss,” Geno says and Sid leans in to peck him on the lips. “Few more minutes, be right out. Promise.”
Geno yanks the curtain closed and the only thing Sid can do is turn on the tap so he can brush his teeth and wait.
Geno is not out in a few more minutes.
Sid gets tired of leaning against the sink and waiting so he goes into the kitchen and pours himself a bowl of cereal.
Then he drinks a glass of orange juice, cleans up, then goes back into the bedroom so he can get dressed for work.
Sid’s pouring coffee into a thermos for himself when Geno finally comes into the kitchen.
He smells clean and his skin is soft when he drapes himself over Sid and kisses the back of his neck.
“Happy Birthday, Sid,” he whispers and Sid hums.
“So you do remember.”
Geno kisses him again then pulls back. “Of course I remember. You think I forget?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. You took so long in the shower I had to skip mine and just get dressed. I’m going to be late as is.”
“You could have joined me.”
“I wasn’t invited. I didn’t want to assume.”
“Sid,” Geno huffs and turns him around by the shoulders. “Why you so unhappy this morning. It’s your birthday. Should be excited. Have party tonight with friends. Gifts. Fun.”
“Because.” Sid keeps his eyes on the ground. He was right. This is lame and embarrassing and he can feel his skin heat all the way down beneath the collar of his dress shirt. “You don't ...you didn’t remember what we usually do.”
Geno pokes his chin against the inside of his cheek. “What do we usually do?”
“You know.” Sid takes a deep breath and runs a hand through his hair. “How we usually wake each other up.”
“You mean how we usually suck each other off.”
Sid coughs and Geno presses him against the counter.
He drops his lips to the side of Sid’s neck and drags them slowly against his skin.
“You I start by kissing you here,” he says as he nips at hinge of Sid’s jaw. “Then work my way down.” He kisses the hollow of his throat and the part of the collar bone that he can reach beneath Sid’s tie. He spreads his hands across Sid’s chest and then down to his hips. “Kiss you all over,” he says and Sid shivers as Geno cups him through his dress pants. Geno is hard against his thigh and as much as he wants to get lost in this he knows that if anything is going to happen it needs to happen soon.
He’s going to be late for work.
Geno works his knee between Sid’s and grinds down. Sid clutches at his shoulders.
“Want you to fuck me,” Geno whispers and Sid tips his head back and groans.
“I’m gonna be late for work.”
“Have some time. Bet you come quick, yeah?”
“I’m already dressed.”
Geno drops his hand to Sid’s belt and in one quick move flips it open. “Don’t have to take off clothes.”
“Yeah, but you have to get ready.”
Geno pulls back and looks him square in the eyes. They’re hazy and half lidded and Sid’s going to explode if Geno doesn’t touch him right now.
“Sid. Why you think I take so long in shower?”
Sid grabs Geno by the arms and turns them so Geno’s leaning against the counter, hands braced against the top.
“I love you,” Sid says as he pulls at Geno’s sweats.
Geno throws him a look over his shoulder as Sid pushes in.
“Happy birthday, baby.”
Chapter 65: Bumps & Bruises
Sid meets him halfway.
Geno wouldn’t expect anything else.
In an unfamiliar hotel room in Newark Sid pulls the suit jacket off Geno’s shoulders and drops it to the floor.
Geno presses his hands to the side of Sid’s neck and tips his head back so he can kiss him more deeply.
Adrenaline from the win is still thrumming through their veins and Geno thinks he could live on it forever. From now on whenever he closes his eyes he’s going to be seeing that goal, Sid hitting the puck out of the air and into the back of the net. See him throwing his head back and yelling at the ceiling of the arena and the smile that stretches across his face afterwards.
It’s amazing and beautiful and Geno doubts anyone could ever be in love with anything the same way that he’s in love with Sid.
Sid laughs as Geno trails kisses down the side of his neck and it ends with a sigh when Geno nips at thin skin over his pulse.
“So good,” he mumbles between kisses, “needed to win, knew you could get it done.”
“It was a team effort,” Sid says and Geno rolls his eyes and cups his hand around the back of Sid’s head so he can crush their mouths together.
“Trying to compliment you, Sid, just take it. Is first step.”
Sid anchors his hands on Geno’s hips and asks “what’s the second step?”
“Second step,” Geno says as he walks Sid back against the wall, “is I blow you, okay?”
Sid’s eyes darken as Geno crowds against him. He presses their hips together and runs his hands up Sid’s chest.
Sid hisses and flinches away. Geno drops his hands and immediately steps back.
“No,” Sid says between his teeth as he reaches back out for him. “I’m fine, come back.”
“Not fine, Sid. Hurt.”
“It’s okay. It’s just sore.”
Geno presses his lips together and looks down at him. Sid was quick to shower and dress after the game. Geno has no idea what kind of damage was actually dealt by Zajac’s cheap shot.
Sid makes grabby hands at him. “Come back.”
Geno snags his hands and pulls him back towards the bed.
“Geno,” he whines but goes along with him until Geno turns him around and sits him down on the edge of the bed.
“Easier like this. More comfortable.”
“I’m fine,” Sid says, “I told you.” He starts to take his jacket off but he winces before he can get one arm out.
Geno shakes his head and reaches out to help him. “Not fine,” he says as he helps slide Sid’s arm free.
Sid catches him in a kiss and it’s enough of a distraction that Geno forgets about the pain that Sid’s feeling and kisses him back. Sid’s hands roam and Geno moans into Sid’s mouth. He puts his hands on Geno’s shoulders and pushes him down and Geno laughs and reaches behind Sid’s head for a pillow.
“Okay, alright,” he says after one more quick kiss. “Know what you want.”
“It was your idea,” Sid mumbles as he pushes his head back into the mattress and lifts his hips so Geno can get his pants off.
Geno drops the pillow at the end of the bed and kneels on it before he unzips Sid’s pants and pulls them down his thighs.
Sid sighs happily and clumsily claws at his tie to get it off as Geno kisses the side of his knee and whispers perfect against his skin.
He kisses a straight line from Sid’s knee up to the edge of Sid’s boxers and Sid groans in frustration when he bypasses his hard dick to kiss his lower stomach.
“Take off,” he orders as he shoves up Sid’s dress shirt to reach more shower-clean skin.
Geno sits back on his heels and rubs his hands up and down Sid’s thighs as Sid sits up so he can pull off his tie and unbutton his shirt. It hangs open and when he twists his body to get it off he groans in pain and bites out a sharp fuck as he drops his arms back to his side.
“Don’t,” Sid says, just as sharp as he collapses back against the mattress and throws his arm over his eyes. “Don’t look at me like that,” he grinds out, obviously still in pain. “You were just looking at me like you were going to suck my dick, go back to looking like that.”
“Get to that,” Geno says as he presses his thumbs into the thick muscles of his legs. “Have to tell me how much you’re hurt.”
“I’m not hurt,” he insists. Geno frowns.
“I’m not media, Sid. Not fans or doctor or even teammate right now. Right now I’m boyfriend and you need to tell me the truth.”
Sid moves his arm and looks down at him.
After years of touching and tasting they’ve finally decided to put a name to this and Geno loves the weight of it against his tongue when he says it.
“Let me see.”
Sid nods and quietly says “you have to help me.”
Geno straddles Sid’s lap and carefully helps him out of his button down and when his fingers curl into the hem of Sid’s undershirt Sid covers them with his own.
“It looks worse than it is,” he warns and sucks in a huge breath to prepare himself when Geno pulls the fabric over his head.
Sid’s skin is black and blue and tender and Geno clenches jaw at the sight of it.
“Fucking asshole,” he bites out as he gently touches the unmarred skin around the bruise. “Should have kicked his ass.”
“I wasn’t about to do anything that late in the game.”
“Talking about me. Should have kicked his ass.”
“You weren’t even out on the ice then.”
“Don’t care. He just got away with it. Not right.”
“He lost tonight. That’s enough.”
“Not enough, never enough. Next time-.”
“Next time we won’t let it get to overtime.”
“Next time I kick his ass and we don’t let it go to overtime,” Geno says and Sid laughs into the kiss that Geno gives to him.
Sid leans back on his elbows as Geno kisses down his neck and noses against his collarbone. “Fine, fine, deal,” he says, “can you please suck me off now.”
Geno buries his face in Sid’s shoulder and laughs. “Romantic,” he says and Sid shrugs and falls back against the bed.
“I know what I like.”
Geno ducks his head and presses a feather light kiss to the middle of his bruise and he hears Sid’s breath catch in his throat.
When he glances up Sid is watching him, eyes soft and fond and he reaches out to cup Geno’s face in his hand.
“I love you,” he says and Geno kisses the center of his palm. “Do I say it enough?”
“Say it plenty.” He kisses Sid’s chest right over his heart then drops down to his knees. “Don’t need to say it at all, I always know.” He smooths his hands up and down Sid’s thighs and licks his lips. “Now relax, going to make you feel good.”
“Always make me feel good,” Sid says softly but he sighs as his eyelids flutter shut.
Geno takes a moment to watch him, perfect even with the bumps and bruises before he hooks his fingers in the waistband of Sid’s boxers and pulls them down.
Chapter 66: Jacket + Retirement
The blast of cold hits him like a hard check to the boards. He’s forgotten it could be like this. He’s forgotten the way Western Pennsylvania can freeze over, how the rivers fill with ice and the wind whips off the surface and swirls down the avenues. It makes your lungs ache if you take too deep a breath and numbs your from the tops of your ears to the tips of your toes.
Sid takes a deep breath just to feel it and exhales a column of grey air into the night in front of him.
Sid pulls himself from the cold and looks over at the valet standing beside him. He already has his hand extended, waiting for the car keys.
“Sorry,” Sid says as he drops them into his palm. “Sorry, I was just…I can’t believe how cold it gets here.”
“Winter in Pittsburgh is never easy,” the valet says as he hands Sid his ticket. “Enjoy your meal, Mr. Crosby.”
Sid gives him a closed lipped smile and steps up onto the sidewalk. So much for not being recognized.
Inside the hostess gives him a double-take before grabbing a menu and leading him back through the restaurant.
Sid’s shocked to find Geno already sitting there, bottle of wine open on the table and menu raised up, blocking the lower half of his face. He drops it back down to the table and smiles when he sees Sid, white teeth standing out against his tanned skin.
“How’d you beat me here,” Sid says, the words muffled against Geno’s shoulder as Geno bypasses the handshake that Sid had offered for a bone crushing hug.
“I’m on time for important stuff,” Geno says, patting Sid’s back three times before pulling back. “Look good. Lots of greys.”
“You’re one to talk,” Sid fires back and Geno laughs as they both sit down. “I hope you’re using sunscreen. Your skin can’t bounce back like it did when you were twenty.”
Geno rolls his eyes and pours Sid a glass of wine. “Am very careful.” He clucks his tongue. “Sound like Mama.”
“Are they in town, your parents?”
Geno nods his head. “I think last trip to Pittsburgh for them. Maybe last trip to States. Is long flight and they getting older now.” He puts the bottle down and goes quiet.
Sid thinks about the greys and whites in his own parents hair and the slow and careful way they walk now. Everyone is getting older. There’s no stopping it.
“My parents will be happy to see them. They always got along well.”
“Know what it’s like to have a son so far away,” Geno says. “Have him so far from home. Is good for bonding.”
Sid hums. “I’m surprised you’re here. I never thought I’d see you in Pittsburgh in January ever again.”
Geno laughs and ducks his head. “Miami ruin me. Have to wear two jackets or else I freeze. Why they do this now and not at start of season?”
“I don’t know but I’ll pay for everyone’s dinner in here if you ask Jen that.”
Geno snorts. “Not worth it. She kill me then I not get to see jersey get raised.”
Sid swallows and looks down at the scalloped edge of the table cloth. Sid and his parents came from Nova Scotia for this but knowing it and hearing it out loud are two different things.
Tomorrow they’ll gather at center ice and watch their jerseys be pulled up into the rafters together and that will really be it. No coming back. No change of heart.
They’re older now–too old for the NHL— and they both left at the right time but Sid would be lying if he said he didn’t think about it.
One more cup, one more season, one more shift.
He wonders if Geno ever feels the same.
“So,” Geno says, leaning forward with his elbows on the table, “tell me what’s new. Been quiet on group chat.”
“You mean the old guys group chat?”
Geno nods. “Is mostly me and Tanger being dicks to each other. Don’t hear much from you, am surprised. Think I be invited to a wedding by now, have lots of kids.”
“Whole hockey team.”
“All wear little Crosby jerseys.”
“Geno.” He raises his voice to get his attention then lowers it again. “G, c’mon.” He has to know. How can he not know? “You know that’s not…you know I’m not—.”
“I never say wife,” Geno interrupts, “and I know you can. Hockey is over, Sid.”
“It’s never really over,” Sid says softly. “I’m still me. People still look.”
“Let them. Who cares? You happy, that’s all that matters.”
“I’m not unhappy.”
“But could be happier?”
“Couldn’t everyone? Could you? You’re alone.”
Geno pulls back, elbows falling off the table as he sits back in his chair.
“Shit. I’m sorry,” Sid says. “That was completely out of line. I’m just …this whole thing is messing with my head and I guess I’m feeling defensive. I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry.”
Geno sighs heavily and reaches out for his wine glass. He doesn’t pick it up, just twists his fingers around the stem. “Is not how it was, Sid,” he says. Sid huffs a laugh and Geno’s eyebrows knit together, face pinched with annoyance. “Is not. Not like how it was. No more fans behind glass with stupid signs, no more Don Cherry talking shit. Don’t have to answer to anyone. Is just us.”
“Don’t say us like that.”
“Like there’s an us.”
“Geno,” Sid says on a hushed whisper but when he looks around at the other tables no one appears to be paying them any attention. “Don’t do this now.”
“You live in Miami, Geno. How would that even–.”
“You say like I never move before. Miami is just city. It isn’t home.”
“And where do you think home is?”
“For long time,” Geno says, letting go of the wine glass and stretching his arm out across the table, palm up. “Home was here. But now.” He shrugs and Sid stares down at his open hand. “You want Canada, Europe, Pittsburgh, middle of nowhere? We go, I’m happy.”
“You make it sound like it’ll be so easy.”
“No, not easy. You still picky and bossy. Drive me crazy little bit but in good way, same way you always do.”
Sid laughs and Geno smiles. He knows he has him now.
“Was always supposed to be like this, Sid. Always supposed to end up here.” He stretches his arm out just a little bit more. “What you say?”
Sid takes his hand.
Chapter 67: Leaf + Play Fight
Zhenya is in love with his next door neighbor.
Love might be a strong word. He doesn’t really know Sid or his daughter, Ella, or the spunky yellow lab, Sam, that bounces around their backyard with a grimey tennis ball constantly in her mouth.
Their friendly to each other, Zhenya and Sid. Smiling politely and nodding their heads or waving whenever they see each other on the way to get the mail or when their out in their yards or if they happen to cross paths as they drive down the street. Last winter Sid shoveled Zhenya’s front walk when he was sick with the flu and couldn’t get out of bed and Zhenya paid him back by collecting Sid’s mail when he and Ella and Sam went and visited family for the holidays.
Zhenya’s not sure where they went. He didn’t feel it was his place to ask but they came back at the end of the week they looked happy and well rested and when Zhenya handed the mail over to Sid, Sid handed him a tin of homemade cookies in return.
“Ella and my Mom made them,” Sid said. “Mostly my Mom but if you ask Ella she did them all herself.”
Zhenya was smitten–is smitten–and maybe love is a long way out of reach but sometimes, like when Sam wanders over and drops the filthy ball at his feet or Ella waves to him while she on her swing set or Sid smiles, it feels so close.
Zhenya only has four trees in his backyard and he can’t believe the number of leaves they drop every autumn. The entire yard is coated in a thick layer of red and gold and brown and Zhenya sighs, rake in hand as he thinks about the work ahead of him. He wishes he brought in enough money to hire a lawn services, that way someone else would have to worry about the leaves but he doesn’t so the chore falls squarely on his shoulders.
Thankfully it’s a lovely day. Cool but not cold with a gentle autumn breeze. He lets his mind wander as he starts his boring task, thinking about what he’s going to have for lunch and then dinner and how he forgot to call his mother last week and really needs to do that– oops.
He’s so preoccupied he doesn’t even notice the dog shaped missile heading for the leaf pile until it’s too late.
Sam disappears into the leaves, sending them flying up in her wake and scattering them along the edge of the pile.
Zhenya steps back, completely stunned and only regains his wits when he hears Sid yelling from across the lawn.
“Sam, I told you no,” he shouts as he jogs toward Zhenya. Behind him Ella is sitting at the top of the slide on her playscape. “Geno, I’m so sorry.”
“Is okay,” Zhenya says slowly.
“She just gets crazy around leaves, I don’t know why. It’s why I don’t even bother to rake. Even the smallest piles she absolutely destroys. Goes after the rake and everything. She’s a good dog but there’s just no controlling her around leaf piles. She knows not to leave the yard but I guess the pull was too strong. Sam, hey.” Sid claps his hands together and whistles.
The only part of Sam that Zhenya can see is her tail, which is sticking out of the leaves and wagging furiously.
“C’mon girl, lets go.”
“Is okay if she want to play,” Zhenya says. “Is not like I’m super picky about leaves.”
“But you’re trying to work, I don’t want to hold you up.”
“Is okay, really. I mean, kinda funny, yes. Dog running that fast and just …disappear.”
Sid looks to the pile where Sam is still wagging her tail and exhales a laugh. “I mean. Yeah, I guess.”
“So then we let her jump for little bit. I make better pile,” he tips his head back over his shoulder. “She jump in that one too.”
“If you’re going to do that at least let me help you.”
“No, don’t have to.”
But Sid’s already turning away, off to grab his rake out of the tool shed.
Sid and Ella return each holding rakes–Ella’s much smaller than Sid’s–and the three of them set out to rebuild the original pile. Sam watches on, chewing on her tennis ball and watching and waiting until she decides it’s good enough before she launches forward and disappears. They do it over and over again, Sam never seeming to tire of it.
Ella loves it. Tipping her head back and shrieking with laughter each time which makes Sid laugh which makes Zhenya fall just a little bit closer in love with him.
“I want to jump like Sam,” Ella announces as she tosses her rake to the side. The pile is nearly as high as Zhenya now and to get a really good jump, she’ll need more height.
“Can give you little toss,” Zhenya says, looking past her to Sid, asking for permission. His cheeks are rosy from the raking and the nip in the air and his hair looks windblown.
“Fine with me if Ella’s okay with it.”
Ella nods eagerly and lifts her arms to be picked up. Zhenya lifts her easily then gently drops her into the pile. She sinks to the bottom, laughing the entire time as Sam rushes in, trying to find her.
“I want to do it again!” Ella yells before she’s even found her way out of the pile. “I want to do it again and again and again.”
“A few more times,” Sid says, “and only if Mr. Malkin wants to. Then we’re gonna go inside for hot chocolate.” He looks up at Zhenya. “Mr. Malkin is welcome to have some too, if he wants.”
It’s a simple invitation. Friendly and polite like Sid always is but he’s looking at Zhenya in a way that makes him feel warmed from the inside out.
“Would be nice,” Zhenya says.
Sid’s answering smile is beautiful.
Chapter 68: Apple Cider
Sid wakes up just as the seatbelt like clicks on and the Captain’s voice crackles over the intercom telling them that they’re only a few minutes out from landing.
He slept well, even on the relatively short flight and with the guys still high off their shutout victory. He’ll credit it to the painkillers Stewie gave him before he got on the plane.
“The pressure might make it worse,” he had said and Sid had a violent flashback to Lovejoy’s ruined face and gladly downed the pills.
His face felt okay though, even before the medication. Probably looked worse than it actually was given the way Tanger apologized every single time they made eye contact.
Right now he just wanted the plane to land safely and the ride home from the airport to be traffic free. He wanted his own bed and Geno.
Sid missed him. The whole team did. He didn’t make the road trip, deciding to stay behind and get skates in, slowly but surely getting stronger and closer to his return. It’s felt like ages since Sid’s been out on the ice with him.
The plane begins its descent and Sid looks over his shoulder at the back of the plane. Tanger looks up and mouths “I’m sorry” before looking down again.
Sid knows he is. He also knows he’s sorry about Geno and Sid does his absolute best not to hold anything against him. Accidents are accidents and all, even if Tanger’s been on the winning end of quite a few this season.
The plane lands and as usual, Sid’s the last one off, telling each of the guys that pass to rest up for Tuesday. A game against the Flyers is always taxing, even on home ice.
He grabbed his bag from the overhead bin and followed Sully out onto the tarmac. He barely has his car keys out of his pocket before he hears Geno’s voice wafting across the open air.
He’s talking to Tanger, loud but not angry. Quick but not serious. Or, not completely serious. Geno’s teasing but there’s an undercurrent of frustration there, the way he always gets when he wants to protect Sid, like he knows that Sid can take care of himself but he still wants to throw his weight around, intimidate the media or fans or opponents out on the ice.
Geno throws his hands up and Tanger does the same then makes a sweeping motion in Sid’s direction.
“He’s fine!” Tanger shouts. “Look at him, he’s right there!”
Geno swings his head around and starts out across the pavement, quickly forgetting about Tanger and only nodding at Sully and the rest of the coaches before he gets to Sid.
He puts one large hand on the right side of Sid’s jaw. The other hovers over the left like he’s afraid to touch and Sid rolls his eyes.
“I’m fine, I promise. It’s not like I was the only one that got hit by a puck last night anyways.”
“Yes,” Geno says, “I’m see. Was like bad luck bloodbath.” He shudders. “Tanger not help though.”
“It was an accident. I’m fine, really. I can talk and eat solid foods.”
“Good. Not blending mac and cheese for you like I do last time.” He pulls a face. “So gross, Sid.”
“You’d do it if I asked you to,” Sid says and Geno’s face softens and he nods.
“Yes,” Geno says, “for you, yes.”
Sid closes his eyes and tips forward into Geno’s chest and Geno wraps his arms around him.
“You want to take drive with me,” Geno asks and Sid takes a deep breath, lungs filling with the familiar scent of his boyfriend and nods.
They’re an hour south of the airport when Sid finally decides to ask where they’re going.
Geno got off the highway at the first exit and they’ve been rolling down winding back roads ever since. It’s a beautiful ride, mountains and hills and brilliant fall foliage but god, if Geno’s lost, there’s no way he’d ever admit it.
They’d have to hit Florida before Geno would finally recognize that something was wrong.
“Is secret,” Geno says and Sid frowns. They’re for sure lost. “You gone lots, I get bored so I take drive. End up where we’re going. You like it. Is fun.”
“Convince me we’re not lost.”
Geno clucks his tongue and glances over, eyes immediately landing on Sid’s swollen jaw.
“Does it look awful,” Sid asks. He’s been too afraid to look in the mirror since it happened, not bothering to wipe at the fogged up mirror in the hotel room after he took a shower this morning. “Do I look awful?”
Geno looks between him and road before sighing and pressing his fingertips to the hinge of Sid’s jaw, so lightly Sid almost doesn’t feel it.
“Look like I love,” Geno says and Sid takes a deep breath, overwhelmed by the pounding of his heart in his chest.
It’s another thirty minutes of driving before Geno takes a left down a long dirt driveway with hay bales and pumpkins stacked up on the sides.
“I look online and find this place,” Geno says, body swaying as Geno’s sports car hits another bump in the road. “So I come and check out.”
The driveway bends and a large, white farmhouse comes into view. Beside it is a bright red barn with the sliding doors pushed all the way open. There are apple trees as far as he can see.
“You could have said we were going to an orchard,” Sid complains but he’s charmed by it. The wooden fences lining the drive and the hand painted signs advertising cider and apples and pumpkins. “Hey.” He grabs at Geno’s hand before Geno can get out of the car. “Thank you for taking me here and you know…” Loving me. Being here. Anything and everything.
Geno smiles and leans across the center console. The kiss he presses to Sid’s swollen cheek is even lighter than the pressure his fingertips had left but he means so much more.
“Come,” Geno says when he leans back. “Wait till you try maple cider. Going to love.”
Chapter 69: Wool Coat + Dog Walking
For the first time, Sid notices the human before he notices the dog.
The man is tall, the long strides absolutely eating up the pavement in front of him as he walks toward the point. His broad shoulders and slim waist are wrapped up in an elegant wool coat. It looks soft and cozy and expensive, probably costing more than Sid’s entire outfit put together.
Sid looks down at his beat up sneakers and frowns. That really isn’t saying much.
The man has a phone in one hand, pressed tightly to his ear, and a leash wrapped around the other that leads down to a beautiful brindle greyhound that moves swiftly beside him. It’s wearing a sweater in the same shade of burgundy as it’s owner’s coat and it’s looking up at him, ears up straight like it’s listening to his conversation, tail raised and curled slightly at the end.
They make quite the pair, long legs and an elegant gait to their walk. They look like they belong together and Sid’s so caught up in watching them move that he doesn’t even notice Bruno, the highly rambunctious maltese puppy, pulling out of his grip until it’s too late.
“Fuck,” Sid gasps as he jumps off the bench he’s been sitting on, jostling the rest of the dogs into action. “Bruno, no! Stay!”
Bruno doesn’t even pause when he hears Sid’s voice. He’s halfway across the park and closing in the man and the greyhound at alarming speed.
Sid can only go so fast pulling four dogs along with him, especially when one of those dogs is a five year old St. Bernard who only moves when he decides he wants to move.
“Jesus, Leo,” Sid says, tugging on Leo’s leash as the other three dogs tangle their way between his legs, “please move.” He looks over his shoulder and watches in horror as the greyhound turns around.
Sid’s never walked one before but he knows how they can be with small, fast moving creatures and the greyhounds owner hasn’t figured out they’re being followed yet so there’s nothing there to prevent a tragic outcome.
He holds his breath as Bruno practically skids to a stop in front of the greyhound, tail wagging a mile a minute as he tries to jump up and get as close as possible.
The greyhound sniffs at him then turns around to look at its owner as if to say are you seeing this and the man finally turns around.
He frowns down at Bruno then pockets his phone and looks around, trying to spot the runaways owner.
Still tangled in the leashes, Sid raises his hand and waves and the man quickly scoops up Bruno if only to get him to stop bothering his own dog.
“Is yours,” the man calls, walking closer.
Sid nods, nearly free of the nylon web. “Yes, I’m sorry. He slipped away from me. That never happens.”
“Have hands full,” the man says, eyeing the dogs around Sid as he comes to a stop in front of him. “Looks like it would be easy to happen.”
“Yeah,” Sid says with an awkward laugh. He knows he looks insane right now with all the dogs around him. “Usually they’re a little better behaved though. But he’s just a puppy and I guess he really liked your dog. She’s beautiful,” Sid asks, hazarding a guess and the man nods.
“Name is Cora. Used to be racing dog but now all she does is lay on couch and sleep. Have to beg to get her to walk.”
Sid’s heart warms at the kindness of the man to take in a rescue and at the easy life Cora lives now.
“They all yours,” the man asks and Sid shakes his head.
“No, well, just this one.” He puts his hand on Fiona’s head and Fiona pulls back to lick at his palm, looking for treats. “The rest I just walk. It’s a little side job.”
The man hums. “Sounds fun.”
“And a little crazy,” Sid admits as he nods to Bruno who is still cuddled up comfortably in the man’s arms. “I’m sorry again.”
“Is okay, he’s cute.” The man puts Bruno on the ground then hands the leash over to Sid, making sure it’s securely wrapped around his wrist before he lets go. “Should go,” he says, “still have to drop her off at home, going to be late for work.”
“Of course, yeah,” Sid says. “It was nice meeting you.” He looks down at Cora. “Both of you. Sorry about all this.”
The man smiles and waves and tugs gently on Cora’s leash to lead her away.
Sid watches him walk away until he rounds the corner of the path and disappears from sight. Then, Sid sighs down at the dogs.
“Let’s not do that again, okay?”
Sid sees Cora and her owner the following day, when he’s only walking three dogs and everyone is much calmer.
Cora’s owner waves and immediately crosses the park to get to them, Cora trotting happily beside, both dressed in the same lovely coats as the day before.
“Not so many today,” Cora’s owner says as he steps beside Sid. His face is flushed from the impromptu jog and Sid focuses on keeping Fiona and the other two from jumping up on him in excitement.
“Different dogs for different days,” Sid explains. “Some days are easier than others.”
Cora’s owner grins down at the dogs then seems to remember himself. “Didn’t introduce yesterday,” he says, pressing his palm over his chest. “Am Geno. Well, Evgeni but Geno is easy.”
“Sid,” Geno says with a smile. “Is easy enough, yes?”
Sid sees Geno the next day and the day after that. They say hello and tell each other to have a good day. Geno asks the names of the dogs he’s walking and Sid compliments Cora’s coat. Sometimes it’s the matching burgundy number and others it’s a bright green or a dusty rose.
“She get cold,” Geno says as they walk along the water. “Like, no body fat. Want to make sure she comfortable.”
It’s not a big deal. They’re acquaintances. Barely friends. Geno’s just a guy that walks his dog at the same time Sid happens to walk his and few other dogs.
Except it’s the part of the day that Sid looks forward to the most and he’s started taking the time to shave in the morning and make sure he pulls on a clean shirt even though he knows it’s going to be covered by his jacket.
He attempts to fix his hair and he puts on cologne.
He’s being an idiot, he knows that. Geno’s never….he doesn’t even know if Geno…
“I know,” he says to Fiona. She sits outside the bathroom looking up at him, judging him, as he fusses with his hair for the tenth time that morning. “I know. It’s pathetic. I mean, Geno probably doesn’t even like guys.”
Fiona whines and if dogs could roll their eyes, Sid’s sure that’s what she would be doing now. She turns around and heads for the front door. A moment later Sid can hear her scratching at it.
“Okay,” he says, dropping his hands from his hair, “I’ll be right there.”
“Here. Is for you.” Geno presses a cup of coffee into Sid’s hand.
Sid blinks down at the cup.
“Is latte,” Geno continues. “Not sure how you like coffee so I think maybe that safe. Don’t have to drink, never wear gloves so I’m know hands are cold. Can just hold it.”
Sid doesn’t know what to say so he settles on a quiet “thank you,” and takes a sip.
“You walk this way?”
The thing is, Sid doesn’t. They always walk around the point and then up the Allegheny. Right now Geno is veering them in the wrong direction.
“Maybe we walk together for a bit?”
Sid doesn’t think he can say no to that so he and the four dogs he’s in charge of today fall in step beside Geno and Cora.
They walk, shoulders bumping and leashes tangling as the dogs push together, smelling and circling each other.
Sid’s lived in this city for nearly a decade but walking with Geno feels like it opens up a completely different view.
You know good dog park,” Geno asks, “big, quiet?”
Sid knows nearly every dog park in the city but he tries to think fast and give Geno the best one. “There’s one in Highland Park. If you go early in the morning or late at night there’s not a lot of people there.”
“I think it would be good,” Geno says, “for Cora. Get her out more, used to new things. Want to go slow though.”
“I think that’s a good idea.” Sid tells him.
“Is good time to go on weekends?”
“Um, yeah. Sure. If that’s when you have time.”
“Okay. Saturday or Sunday?”
“Either, I guess.”
Geno nods and seems to make up his mind. “Okay. Saturday. Is nine okay?”
Sid has no idea what’s happening. He’s sure nine is fine for Geno and Cora to go to the dog park. “I guess so.”
“Good.” Geno smiles down at him and doesn’t miss a step. “I see you then, is date.”
Chapter 70: Maple + Accident
Sid looks up over his notepad as the group in the corner booth breaks out into laughter.
Firefighters, six of them, squeezed into a booth that should only fit four.
They’re regulars. They stop by the 24-Hour diner every Friday morning after their shift ends but before the rest of the world is really awake.
They’re usually in a good mood, the way they are now, chatting and laughing, when the night was easy and calm and they managed to get plenty of rest.
Other times, they’re quiet and to themselves. They looked exhausted and smell of smoke and there’s soot hidden behind their ears and on the backs of their necks, missed by the shower they took before they dragged themselves out of the station.
Sid’s careful with them on mornings like that. He doesn’t linger or look for small talk. He’s gets their orders in, gets them fed, and gets them out the door so they can get home.
Sully comps their meals on those mornings and the guys are all too tired to put up a fight over it.
The guys laugh again, louder and longer this time and Sid offers an apologetic smile to the customer in front of him, a college student clearly looking for a quiet place wrap up her all night study session.
“Can I get you anything else,” Sid asks and she shakes her head.
“Wait, no, more coffee?”
Sid gives her a tight smile. If he were a bartender he’d have cut her off four cups ago. “Sure thing,” he says, “I’ll be right back.”
He checks on his other tables, clearing plates and promising a refill of coffee and water before he finally makes his way over to the guys who all start to yell when they see him headed their way.
“Sidney!” Patric shouts, arms stretched out wide nearly knocking into Kris and Marc-Andre’s faces. “We thought you forgot about us.”
“Who could ever do that,” Sid says dryly as he steps up to the booth and Patric grins, wide and crazy. Patric is the loudest and the sunniest of the six with a big, booming voice and a shock of close cropped blond hair. The rest of the guys are more composed in comparison, although Sid doesn’t really know. He only spends a handful of minutes with them every week. He knows that Patric, Marc-Andre, and Kris are the married ones and that Dom and Jake are the rookies and Geno…
Geno smiles up at Sid, all warm brown eyes and chapped lips.
“What can I get for you, Geno?”
The rest of the guys all have their usual orders. Hamburger and fries for Marc-Andre, meatloaf for Jake, waffles for Patric, but Geno never gets the same thing twice.
“Sid,” Geno says, “you having good morning?”
Sid leans against the side of the booth and nods. He’s only two hours into an eight hour shift but the first hour and a half had been dead quiet. “So far so good,” he says.
“Is better now,” Geno asks, “now you see me?”
Sid bites back a smile as the rest of the guys roll their eyes and groan. “You are definitely a bright spot in my week,” Sid tells him and Geno shoots his friends a smug look. “Are you interested in breakfast or lunch or dinner this morning?”
Geno hums and looks back over the menu and Kris tips his head back at the ceiling. “C’mon, man, some of us have families to get back to.”
“You go,” Geno says, “wake Cath and kids up before the alarm, see if you live. Sid, you still have pumpkin pancakes?”
“Up until Thanksgiving.”
“Then I have that. Extra bacon and sausage and syrup.
Pancake syrup. Not maple.”
Sid grits his teeth and Geno smiles with all of his.
“Dude,” Marc-Andre says, “this is why he won’t go out with you. Making a Canadian serve you that shit.”
“I’m like what I’m like,” Geno says.
“It’s fine,” Sid says as he collects the menus. “The customer is always right, eh?”
Sid can feel Geno’s eyes on him as he heads back toward the kitchen to put in their order.
He’s had customers flirt with him before. He’s even flirted back a few times but it feels different with Geno. It makes him feel warm all over. It makes him feel special. For all he knows Geno goes to a different diner each day of the week and flirts with the waiter there but when he’s here and looking at Sid, it’s like he’s the only person in the world.
Sid shakes his head and grabs a full carafe of coffee. For all their teasing and flirting Geno has never actually asked him out and Sid should really stop living in this what if kind of world.
Sid makes his rounds, filling coffee and clearing tables and not so subtly eavesdropping on the guys talking about a charity calendar that Sid will definitely buy but never admit to.
When their food is ready, Sid makes two trips with everything, bringing Geno’s pancakes and offensive syrup out with the second batch just to give him a hard time.
He sets down Geno’s plate last, weighed down with pancakes and extra sausage and bacon. Just he’s setting the ramekin of pancake syrup down it slips from his hand and hits the table before spilling over onto Geno’s shirt.
Dominik and Jake slide further into the booth away from the spill and Geno jerks back but he’s not fast enough.
“We get it, Sid, you have the fake stuff,” Marc-Andre teases. “You don’t have to throw it at him.”
“Shit,” Sid says under his breath as he grabs a wad of napkins from a nearby table. “I am so sorry, I’m so sorry. I can’t believe I did that.”
“Aren’t you glad it was the fake stuff,” Kris asks, not seeming terribly concerned about the mess Sid just made. “It would be a waste of real maple syrup.”
“I’m so sorry,” Sid continues, mopping up the sticky mess and Geno shakes his head and tries to slow his frantic hands.
“Is okay, Sid.”
“It’s not. Look at your shirt.”
“Is just shirt. Will wash out.”
“But you’re gonna be all sticky.”
Kris and Marc-Andre snort and Geno gives them a dirty look.
“Am firefighter. Have felt worse.”
“That’s not.” Sid stops and sighs, running a hand over his face. He has a first full of napkins in the other and he’s done nothing to actually fix the problem. “At least let me get some water on it. Come with me to the bathroom.”
“Won’t say no,” Geno says as he scrambles out of the booth and follows Sid to the small washroom back near the kitchen.
It’s a tight fit with the two of them standing near the sink and Sid avoids absolutely all eye contact as he turns on the faucet and grabs a few sheets of paper towel from the dispenser.
“Don’t have to be so upset, Sid,” Geno says as Sid grabs the hem of Geno’s shirt and scrubs furiously at the stain. “Was mistake. Accident. Yes?”
“Yeah, of course it was. A stupid, stupid, mistake.”
“Okay then, is fine. Is not way for you to get back at me for ordering pancake syrup.”
“You know I don’t actually care about that, don’t you?” He glances up and finds Geno looking back at him, head tilted to the side and Sid huffs. “Fine, I do care but only because you’re so wrong about it. How can you like that stuff? It’s so thick and sweet–.”
“And real maple syrup not sweet?”
“That’s different. It’s natural. It’s the right kind of sweet.”
“You the right kind of sweet,” Geno says and Sid looks up and meets his gaze full on. “See,” Geno says gently, “that line much more embarrassing than spilling syrup.”
“Hey,” Geno interrupts. He takes Sid’s hands in his own. “Is okay?”
“Is what okay?”
“Way I talk to you? Flirt?”
“You know I do it back.”
“Yes, but don’t know if you just being nice because I’m customer.”
“Are you just being nice,” Sid asks. “Is it supposed to be a joke.”
“No,” Geno says quickly, squeezing Sid’s hands as he does so. “Not joke. I do because I like. Want you to like me.”
“I do like you, even if you have terrible taste in syrup.”
“Is my one flaw,” Geno says lightly and lets go of Sid’s hands in exchange for gently cupping Sid’s face. “Going to kiss you now, okay?”
Sid nods and leans up to meet Geno half way.
Chapter 71: Pumpkin + Porch
“Do you think you have enough pumpkins,” Tanger asks.
Geno sighs as he sets down another pumpkin on the front porch. “Is not me, is Nadia.”
“Her allowance must be pretty impressive if she can buy all these pumpkins.”
Geno sighs again. “I’m know, I’m know.”
“I mean, most kids carve one, maybe two pumpkins. Not twenty.”
“Is not twenty here.”
“Do you want me to count?”
“No,” Geno snaps. If there’s not twenty there’s close to it and they still have a week to go before Halloween. “Is just….is her first Halloween.”
“It’s not though.”
“Is her first with me. Before, you know, who knows how Halloween was? Maybe she never carve pumpkin. Maybe she never dress up. She want to make twenty Jack-o-lanterns then fine. She get twenty.”
Tanger nods. “You’re kind of a push over.”
“Maybe,” Geno says. “Little bit.”
Sid’s coming up the front porch, mailbag slung over his shoulder and friendly smile on his face.
“I like all your pumpkins,” he says and Geno looks at Tanger, smug as hell.
“Should tell, Nadia. She do them herself.”
“I’m surprised she’s not out here already,” Tanger says because Nadia’s crush on Sid is well known throughout the neighborhood. Just like Geno’s crush on Sid.
“Nadia,” Geno shouts and he barely gets her name all the way out before she’s bursting through the door, hair flying around her face fallen loose from her braid.
Sid bends down on one knee so Nadia can throw her arms around his neck and Geno smiles.
It’s been difficult to get her to trust people—she’s still a little wary of Tanger—but she’s taken to Sidney easily.
“Do you have something for me,” Nadia asks, fingers playing with the collar of Sid’s shirt and Sid nods and opens his bag.
“I think I do,” Sid says, pulling out a bright orange envelope and handing it over. Another Halloween card from Geno’s parents most likely. They’ve sent her six already. She’s received two from Tanger’s family and a handful from Geno’s coworkers.
If she’s spoiled it’s certainly a team effort.
“What you say,” Geno prompts and Nadia looks up at Sid.
“Thank you,” she says sweetly.
“You’re very welcome. I like your pumpkins. Did you carve all of them yourself.”
She nods. “Papa helped a little.”
“Did you figure out what your costume is going to be?”
Nadia shakes her head. “No, I’m still…” She trails off and looks to Geno for help.
“Decide,” he says.
“Deciding,” Tanger gently corrects.
“That,” Nadia says and Sid laughs.
“Have you narrowed it down at all?”
Nadia looks to Geno again.
“She have hard time picking between penguin and—.”
“A mailman!” Nadia shouts with a clap of her hands.
“A mailman?” Sid asks, clearly thrilled by the idea. “Whatever inspired that?”
Nadia looks down at her feet, suddenly shy.
“Well, whatever you decide I’m sure you’ll look great. And I’m sure you’ll have a ton of fun trick-or-treating. What about you, Geno? Are you going to dress up too?”
“Haven’t decide yet,” he says. “Not sure what to be.”
“A mailbox, duh,” Tanger says.
“What if she decide to be penguin?”
“You could still be a mailbox.”
“You just want me to be mailbox.”
“I just think it would be funny.”
Geno rolls his eyes as Sid and Nadia laugh.
“Well, let me know if you need any help,” Sid says as he stands up. “Have a good day, Nadia.” He pulls gently on the end of her braid. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
Nadia says goodbye then goes over to hold Geno’s hand, orange envelope still clutched in the other.
“So,” Tanger says as Sid continues down the sidewalk, “when are you going to ask him out?”
Geno sighs. He doesn’t know but he hopes it’s soon.
Chapter 72: Sweaters + Equestrian Stable
Sid rests the shovel against the side of the stall and wipes his forehead with the back of his hand.
Between the East facing windows and the heat the horses throw off, the barn runs warm. It’s worse after a morning of hard work and even though the weather is changing, it’s not changing fast enough.
The leaves are turning gold and red and orange and there’s a chill to the air but they still haven’t gotten their first real frost, still stuck in limbo between summer and fall.
Sid sighs and steps out of the stall and into the aisleway. There’s no use hiding from Tanger. If he wants to find you, you’re going to be found.
“Down here,” Sid calls with a wave of his arm. “In Blitz’s stall.”
Tanger whips his head in Sid direction and strides down the aisle. Horses poke their heads over the stall doors to watch him.
He is a sight to see, handsome and clean in fresh riding boots and breeches even though Sid knows he’s spent the entire morning out on the trails.
“Who are you trying to impress,” Sid asks, making a swipe at his hair—usually free and flowing—that’s pulled back into a neat bun at the base of his neck. “It’s just me and the horses.”
Tanger dodges the attack and grabs Sid’s arm, pulling him to the end of the aisle so they can lean out the barn doors.
“That’s who I’m trying to impress,” he hisses and juts his chin toward the front paddock where a horse and rider easily clear a set of jumps before taking a wide turn around the ring.
The horse is beautiful, with a silver that shines in the sunlight, mane and tail artfully braided.
“You’re trying to impress a horse?”
“Not the horse, well, kind of the horse, but the people. Those are the Malkin’s,” he explains and gestures to the older couple standing beside Sergei. They’re both dresses impeccably in white with red sweaters tied around their shoulders. “That’s Vlad and Natalia and their son,” he nods to the rider. “Evgeni. They’re rich. Obscenely rich, like, Russian royalty. They’re like.” He snaps his fingers. “What do you call them?”
“Oligarchs,” Sid guesses and Tanger nods.
“Yeah, that’s it. Except they have even more money.”
Sid’s brow furrows. Tanger is rich. Tanger’s family is obscenely rich and if he’s impressed by the Malkin’s wealth….
“So what are they doing all the way over here?”
“They’re frustrated with the trainers in Russia. Evegeni’s won almost everything there is to win, he would’ve gone to the Olympics if Russia had been able to compete. Anyways, they still think there’s more out there for him and they want to try something else. So, they’re here for Gonch.”
“They came all the way here with a horse for one trainer? How do you even get a horse in from Russia?”
Tanger rolls his eyes. “Haven’t you been listening? They have more money than god. Money can get you anything.”
Sid wouldn’t know. “So they’re moving here?”
“No. Vlad and Natalia have to get back to Russia. Evgeni is moving here. Word has it he’s moving in with Sergei.”
“They’re just gonna leave their kid in a new country?”
“His English is all right and he’s over eighteen.” Tanger shrugs like it’s no big deal. “They’ll do anything to win.”
Back in the ring Evgeni slows his horse to a stop in front of Gonch and his parents. He pets the horses neck then leans forward to kiss her.
The four of them talk for a bit then Evgeni slides out of the saddle. He’s tall, incredibly so, with long legs and arms and Sid doesn’t realize he’s staring until Tanger elbows him.
“Put your tongue back in your mouth, Sidney, they’re headed this way.”
Sergei, Natalia, and Vlad walk up front, nodding along to whatever Sergei is saying and Evgeni and his horse bring up the rear. He’s talking low to her, holding the reins in one hand and using the other to stroke her forehead gently.
“Kristopher, Sidney,” Sergei says and Sid knows it’s serious if he’s using their full names. “I’d like you to meet the Malkin’s. Vlad and Natalia and their son Evgeni.”
Tanger nods respectfully to them but Sid holds his hand out, then immediately pulls it back in. He’s filthy and sweaty, certainly nothing that these people would want to touch.
“They’ll he boarding their horse here,” Sergei continues, “and Evgeni will be staying with me so you’ll be seeing a lot of him.”
Tanger subtly elbows him again and Sid grits his teeth.
“Sidney is one of the best grooms we have. He’ll take good care of Marina.”
“I can cool her down for you if you’d like,” Sid says to Evgeni and Evgeni grips the reins a little tighter, like he’s afraid to hand over his baby to a stranger.
“You have nothing to worry about, Evgeni,” Sergei says. “I’d trust Sidney here with my life.”
Slowly, Evgeni hands the reins over.
“Kristopher,” Sergei continues, “why don’t you come with me and give our guests a tour?”
“I would love to,” Tanger says, voice dripping with forced pleasantries and Sid fights the urge to roll his eyes as he attaches the cross ties to Marina’s bridle.
Evgeni lingers behind once his parents follow Sergei and Tanger down the aisle and out of the barn. He twists his hands together and shifts his weight. Marina clearly picks up on his nerves and swishes her tail back and forth and presses her ears down flat.
“You can help if you’d like,” Sid says, taking a step away from Marina in hopes that it’ll calm her down. “She’s beautiful.”
“Best horse I’m ever have,” Evgeni says as he steps forward and holds his hand out. Marina drops her nose into his palm and nibbles with her lips.
“Can she have a treat,” Sid asks, already digging into his pocket for a sugar cube.
“Not supposed to,” Evgeni says, looking over his shoulder. His parents are gone and it’s only them and the horses in the barn. “But is okay one time.”
Sid holds his hand out flat and Marina greedily snatches it from his palm then immediately starts to nose around for a second one.
Evgeni laughs and gently pushes her away from Sid. “You get spoiled here,” he says and Sid decides that they’re both comfortable enough to take her saddle off.
“You work here long,” Evgeni asks.
“Five years,” Sid answers and beneath the shadow of the riding helmet he can see Evgeni’s brows furrow.
Sid understands. He’s young and looks even younger and five years is far too long. But it’s a story for another time. Possibly never. Sid doesn’t feel much like getting into his runaway past with just anyone. “I live in Mario’s guest house,” Sid explains, “just up the hill so I’m here a lot. If there’s anything Marina needs I’ll be the first one to get it for her.”
Evgeni nods and finally unbuckles his helmet. His hair is a sweaty mess, thick and curling at the ends. It looks good.
“Going to live with Sergei.”
“Sergei is great,” Sid says as he lifts the saddle off Marina. “I hope you like kids. He’s got two little girls.”
“Since before they could walk.”
“A little. I mean, not like you. I never got much into jumping but I’ll exercise the horses that need it. Usually long and slow trail rides.”
Evgeni nods. “Trails are nice. Try dressage for a bit but not for me. Fox hunting.” He sets his mouth into a thin line and shakes his head. “Not good. Trails are fun. Maybe we—.”
“Zhenya! Не теряйся!”
Evgeni huffs and turns toward his mother’s voice. “Mama, одна минута.” He turns back around and gives Sid an apologetic smile. “Have to go. See you later?”
“Yeah, absolutely, for sure,” Sid stutters and Evgeni’s smile grows as he holds his hand out. “Oh.” Sid says staring down at it. “I’m really dirty.” Even more so now that he’s been working with Marina.
Evgeni seems undeterred and holds his hand out further until Sid finally takes it.
“Zhenya!” His mother calls again and Evgeni huffs and steps back.
He turns and jogs off and Sid watches him go for a moment before turning his attention back to Marina. She bumps her head into Sid’s chest then noses at his pockets looking for more sugar.
“You’re going to get me in trouble,” Sid says as he pulls out another sugar cube. She takes it delicately and Sid wipes at his head with his hand again. He’s gotten warmer and sweatier and he lifts the hem of his t-shirt to mop at his skin of his forehead.
He catches movement out of the corner of his eye and thinking it’s a horse he turns, shirt still raised.
Evgeni is standing at the end of the aisle openly watching him, eyes dragging up his body, lingering at the exposed skin at his waist before continuing up.
Evgeni doesn’t look away, doesn’t look ashamed to have been caught when he finally makes eye contact with Sid.
He just slowly nods then slips out of the sliding doors.
Chapter 73: Pumpkin + Kitchen
Geno’s surprised to hear voices coming from the kitchen when he steps through the front door.
It’s late, the game got away from them in the third and slipped into OT. At least they got a point out of the mess.
“I think that’s him,” he hears Sid say then feet hit the ground followed by a soft ouch. “I told you to be careful when you’re jumping off the stools,” Sid continues. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine!” A little voice yells then there are footsteps racing down the hall.
Ben takes the corner too fast and Geno darts forward to grab him before he takes a tumble and hits the ground.
“Papa!” Ben shouts, throwing his arms around Geno’s neck and snuggling in. His hands feel a little sticky and wet. Geno’s shirt and jacket will have to be sent out to be dry cleaned. “Come see what we made!”
Geno hoists him up further in his arms, he’s getting too big and too heavy to be carried but Geno refuses to put him down. He’s still his little boy.
There are three pumpkins sitting on the kitchen island beside a bowl piled high with pumpkin guts and seeds. Two of the three are carved, one with the Pens logo and the other with the number 71.
“I did this one,” Ben says, nearly spilling out of Geno’s arms to reach for the smaller of the two. “Daddy did that one and this one is for you.” He pats at the uncarved pumpkin. “What are you going to make?”
Geno hums and watches Sid out of the corner of his eye. He’s been scrubbing at an invisible spot on the counter since Geno walked in and hasn’t once looked up.
“Not sure,” Geno says. “Maybe I wait to carve until tomorrow when you wake up? That way you can help, what you say?”
Ben nods, clearly excited about the idea of reaching into a pumpkin and cleaning it out.
“Is plan,” Geno says as he presses a kiss to Ben’s cheek. “Now you go upstairs, is late. Should be in bed.”
“He wanted to show you the pumpkins,” Sid says, turning around and leaning against the counter. “Tomorrow is Saturday, so.”
“Glad I get to see. You do very good job.” He looks over at Sid. “Both of you.”
He sets Ben down after another hug and Ben squeezes Geno’s legs before he turns and runs for the stairs leaving Geno alone with Sid.
They fought this morning, over what Geno can’t remember but he’s sure Sid does.
He’s sure Sid has a good reason for being upset but right now all Geno wants is a hug and kiss from his husband after a long and hard day.
“You played well,” Sid says, “sorry you guys didn’t win.”
Geno shrugs. He doesn’t care now. “Is just one game. We play better next time. Surprise you watch.”
“We always watch.”
“Geno.” Sid cuts him off with a shake of his head. “It’s okay.”
“But you mad.”
“I was. But, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. You spend a good four hours carving a pumpkin with Ben and your mood is gonna lift, you know?”
Geno takes a cautious step toward him and looks over at the pumpkins. “That take four hours?”
Sid smiles and shakes his head. “You’ll find out tomorrow.”
Geno hums and steps into the circle of Sid’s arms.
It feels good to be home.
Chapter 74: Oversized Knits + Arranged Marriage
Evgeni watches the Consort take another slow lap around the garden. His head is down and his shoulders are slumped and the sleeves of his sweater hang down below his hands. He stepped off the boat with it on and Evgeni hasn’t seen him without it. Rumor has it it was knitted by his mother and he refuses to take it off.
He looks small and young and sad.
“My love,” the King calls and the consort looks up. “Come have lunch.”
Evgeni watches the consort sigh then cut across the garden, stepping carefully between flower beds until he reaches the table the King’s aids have set up.
They’ve prepared quite the feast, different meats and breads and an entire table filled with sweets.
Evgeni shifts his weight from foot to foot and ignores the rumble of his empty stomach. The rations for the guards are meager compared to what the royal family eats.
The Consort sits down across from the King, head still bowed even as he reaches for a freshly baked roll. They speak too softly for Evgeni to hear but the consort doesn’t say much, taking small bites of food and nodding at whatever the King says instead.
It’s not long before an aid rushes out into the garden, papers clutched in his hand.
“Your highness,” he says, bowing his head quickly. He’s sweaty and nervous and the king sighs. “Your highness,” he says again. “There’s been an incident. Your court would like to speak to you.”
The king sets his jaw and nods, eyes like fire as he regards the aid. “I’ll be right in.”
The aid runs off, nearly tripping over his feet as he goes and the king’s face softens as he looks at his consort.
“My dear, I apologize. I’ll make it up to you.”
He reaches for the consorts hand and kisses his knuckles. The consort keeps his eyes to the ground.
The king sighs again and waves his hand toward Evgeni.
“Come sit with my husband,” the king says. “Keep him company. I’m afraid he needs it.”
Evgeni is slow to step away from the palace wall. “You sure, your highness?”
The king nods. “There’s no point in letting the food go to waste. I’m afraid I might be awhile. You’re welcome to it as long as my husband says it’s okay.”
The consort barely looks up but he nods his head anyways.
The king steps around Evgeni and Evgeni waits until he’s out of the garden before he sits down across from the consort.
“I never see so much food,” Evgeni says, feeling awkward and off balance. “Look good.”
“Have as much as you like,” the consort says. It’s the first time Evgeni has heard him speak. His voice is soft and light.
“What you like the most,” Evgeni asks carefully and the consort takes a deep, shuddering breath. Evgeni can see that his eyes are wet. “Your highness,” Evgeni asks softly and the consort snaps.
“My name is Sidney,” he cries, “no one ever uses my name anymore. It’s like it’s dead, like it doesn’t exist, just like my old life. I’ll never get to have it again. My life is over.” He presses his fists to his eyes, the sleeves of his sweater catching the tears and Evgeni sits stock still, unsure of what to do.
“I just want to go home,” the consort cries and Evgeni’s heart tightens.
“Your high—Sidney,” he corrects. “Why you agree to marry?”
Marriages are arranged but they’re not forced. Both parties have to consent.
“What choice did I have,” Sidney says. “Turn it down and leave my family to be slaughtered. My people would die. What kind of person would do that? How could I do that?”
Evgeni winces. The King has a reputation for being kind but he’ll defend his kingdom to the death.
“I don’t love him,” Sidney says, “I never will. I’ll be miserable here forever.”
Evegni presses his lips together. It’s treasonous, what he’s thinking. He’ll be hanged if he’s caught but Sidney—no one should feel like this. This hopeless.
“Can help,” Evgeni says and Sidney sniffs and looks up. “After the king goes to sleep, sneak out. Be careful, don’t get caught. Meet me by the docks.”
Chapter 75: Crisp Morning + International Gang of Jewel Thieves
Sid takes his coffee out on the balcony.
The morning air is cool and crisp and he’s glad he has the forethought to pull on one of Geno’s sweaters before he opened the sliding glass door and stepped out.
It’s a little long in the arms and tight across the shoulders but it’s soft and warm and smells like Geno’s cologne and aftershave. Spicy and sharp and a little smokey from the celebratory cigar Geno and Tanger smoked last night.
Sid ducks his head and takes a deep breath, filling his lungs with the scent. He’ll never get enough of it. He’ll never feel close enough to it even though the real thing is lying in bed just through the doors behind him.
He takes another sip of coffee then leans against the railing and looks out at snow capped mountains in the distance and the crystal clear lake below.
He wants to go hiking. He wants to rent a boat. Fuck, he wants to buy a boat, and adrenaline of a job well done making him ansty and reckless.
They have the money for it. Two hundred thousand dollars worth of diamonds and jewels on the room behind him. Another hundred grand down the hall in Flower and Tanger’s.
They could spring for something big then live small. Get a little cabin somewhere off the grid. Just the two of them.
The door opens behind him and Sid smiles in anticipation. It’s not long before two arms slip around his waist and a chin rests on his shoulder.
“Don’t like waking up alone,” Geno says, voice low and rough in Sid’s ear. “Bed cold.”
“I wasn’t gone for that long.”
Sid turns in Geno’s arms and looks up at him. His hair is a mess and the hotel bathrobe stops mid-thigh, clearly designed for someone much shorter.
He looks sleep and soft and perfect and Sid wants—he wants—.
“Let’s go back to bed,” Sid suggests and Geno tips his head to the side.
“Should check out. Leave town. People be looking for us.”
“We’ve got time,” Sid says, “and space. We can go back to bed for a little bit. I’m tired.”
Geno narrows his eyes, looking for meaning behind the words and Sid hopes that he finds it.
With a slow nod Geno unwraps his arms from Sid’s body and holds out his hand.
Sid takes it and follows him back into the room.
Chapter 76: Apple Cider + Donut Shop
The line is nearly out the door and Zhenya is on the receiving end of several dirty looks as he squeezes through.
“Sorry, sorry,” Zhenya says, narrowly avoiding stepping on toes.
“You know there’s a line,” someone snaps and before Zhenya can respond with yet another apology he’s saved by Sid.
“Oh, let him through! Please!” The please is tacked on at the end because Sid is absolutely incapable of being even a little bit impolite.
Zhenya shoots the snappish woman an apologetic glance then continues on, only stopping when he’s pressed up against the side of the counter on his tip toes in an attempt to take up as little space as possible.
Sid takes an order from a young man with a sleeping baby strapped across his chest then steps back, leaving Dom and Jake to man the counter.
“Geno, hey,” Sid says and Zhenya smiles back.
He always loses his English around Sid. Maybe it has something to do with the chaotic energy in the donut shop that comes from the morning rush. Or maybe it’s the flour that clings to Sid’s hair or the thought that if they were to kiss, Sid’s lips would taste like cinnamon and sugar.
“You can head right around back.”
“Did,” Zhenya says, “door is locked.”
Sid rolls his eyes to the ceiling. “Sorry, new guys opened up this morning.” He pulls the plastic gloves off his hands and tosses them in the trash. “Head back around, okay? I’ll meet you back there.”
Sid gives him an encouraging smile then slips through the swinging doors that lead to the kitchen and Zhenya takes a deep breath and wades back through the crowd.
Zhenya’s family’s orchard has been providing apples and apple cider to Sidney’s family’s donut shop for as long as Zhenya can remember.
It’s been generations, every since Zhenya’s great-great-grandparents stepped off the boat in Canada and bought of piece of land that was big enough for several hundred apple trees.
Sid’s great-great-grandparents had recently opened a bake shop in town and needed fresh produce for pies and tarts and cakes.
Overnight, a partnership was formed.
Zhenya’s mother and father moved him and his brother to Canada when Zhenya was ten to take over the family business.
Sid was nine and the Crosby’s bake shop had already shifted to specializing in donuts since that was the only thing Sid’s father could make successfully.
Troy liked to joke that the baking gene skipped a generation and by the time it was Sid’s turn to take over he would turn it into the finest pastry shop in Eastern Canada.
But Sid wasn’t one to buck with tradition, even a new found one and the donut shop stayed and Zhenya picked up the deliveries.
Zhenya backs the delivery truck into the dock and climbs out just as the back door rolls up and Sid steps out.
“Sorry about the door,” Sid says as he hops down off the dock and opens the latch on the back of the truck. “How’s your morning going?”
Zhenya shrugs. He feels ten years old again, shy and unsure in the face of Sid’s kindness as he stood there patiently waiting for Zhenya to muddle through broken English.
“Is okay. Little cold.”
Sid’s smile is wide. “I know, isn’t it the best?”
Zhenya rolls his eyes and grabs a bushel of apples. Its been twenty years but Sid is still exactly the same.
Together, they unload the apples and the cider and when Sid ducks back into the shop to grab the check he comes back with a dozen freshly baked dozens, still warm.
“Is business okay,” Sid asks. He’s always worried, like selling a dozen or so gallons of cider out of the shop will somehow bankrupt the orchard.
“Doing good,” Zhenya tells him. “Always good. How are you?”
Sid goes off in a rant about adding another cake or raised donut to the menu and something about eggnog flavoring because Sid always lives a season ahead. Zhenya nods along and thinks about what Sid would do if he cut him off with a kiss.
He thinks Sid would be okay with it. At the very least he’d let him down gently in the sweet, soft way that Sid always does things.
But if he didn’t stop him, if he was okay with it…what then?
“Okay,” Sid says, “I get it, I’m boring you.”
Sid is looking up at him with bright eyes and a crooked smile. He is every bit the boy Zhenya met twenty years ago but the salt and pepper in his hair proves that they’re not kids anymore either.
They’re wasting time. He’s wasting time.
“Do you think the eggnog should be cake or not,” Sid asks, unable to actually let go. “Because the gingerbread ones are cake and if we add two cake donuts to the menu and no—.”
Zhenya bends his head and presses their lips together, silencing Sid.
He’s there and gone, leaning back and taking a full step away as Sid fully registers what just happened.
“Sorry,” Zhenya says, ashamed and embarrassed in the face of Sid’s silence. “Sorry.”
Slowly, Sid’s lips turn up into a smile. “I always knew you’d be braver than me,” he says. “You always were. Coming all the way over here, learning a new language. Everything you do is just—.”
“Shhh,” Sid says and reaches out to pull Zhenya toward him.
Sid kisses him. He tastes just like cinnamon and sugar.