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The Real Thing

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Sid was late.

He was late sometimes, despite his freakish devotion to punctuality. Maybe he had hit traffic, or gotten an important phone call at the last minute. It happened. But he usually texted if he was going to be late, and he hadn’t. Dinner had been his idea, and everything was ready, and he hadn’t texted. Zhenya was annoyed up until the fifteen-minute mark, and then he started to get worried.

Sid food is ready, he texted, and then You still come? and finally, with a greasy coil of anxiety twining in his belly, Sid you ok?

The typing bubble popped up, at long fucking last. Sorry. Can you come over here?

Zhenya frowned at his phone. I’m make dinner, you don’t want eat? He had made Sid’s favorite lasagna recipe, with spinach and artichoke hearts and homemade sauce, which was a lot of work but worth it for the way Sid would smile and kiss him. But it wasn’t worth it if Sid didn’t want to eat it.

Sorry, Sid sent again. Everything’s okay. But I need you to come over.

Zhenya found that statement the exact opposite of reassuring. Sid had been known to insist that everything was okay even when he was actively bleeding. Zhenya left the casserole dish to congeal on top of the stove, and broke the speed limit and a number of traffic laws on the way to Sid’s house.

He used his key to let himself in through the front door.

“We’re in the kitchen,” Sid called, and—‘we’?

Sid was leaning back against the counter, his arms folded. He didn’t look hurt. He seemed fine. Zhenya verified, running his hands over Sid’s shoulders and back, tipping his head back to check for pupil dilation, until Sid pulled away from him and said, “G, I told you I’m fine.”

“Then why you say come over?” Zhenya asked, annoyed now, and hungry. “Waste lasagna.” He heard the sharp note in his voice and cursed himself silently. There was no need to pick a fight.

But Sid didn’t take the bait. He tilted his head toward the breakfast table. Zhenya turned to look, and felt his keys slip out of his suddenly numb fingers. They fell to the tile floor with a loud clatter.

Sitting at the table was Sid: Sid as Zhenya had first known him, almost a decade before: dorky, long-haired Sid, his cheeks round with baby fat. He couldn’t have been older than twenty, and even that was generous.

“Wow,” baby Sid said. “Are you Evgeni Malkin?”

+ + +

Sid—big Sid—old Sid?—ordered a pizza, and Zhenya helped himself to the bottle of excellent vodka he kept stashed in the freezer for exactly this sort of situation.

“This is so cool,” baby Sid said, wide-eyed and smiling. “You’re here in Pittsburgh! Wow. You must be playing for the Penguins finally, eh?”

He was a little buck-toothed; he still had his real front teeth. Zhenya did some mental triangulation.

“Don’t hurt yourself,” Sid said—real Sid, Zhenya’s Sid. “He’s eighteen. He just finished his rookie year.”

Zhenya added a little more vodka to his glass. He could already tell what kind of evening it was going to be. His thoughts were too big for his skull, and they were all bleeding out into blank white noise, shapeless and incoherent.

“He’s staying for two weeks,” Sid said. “Roughly.”

Zhenya sputtered. “Two week? Flower only comes for two days—”

“Well, he’s not Flower,” Sid said. He sat down at the table with baby Sid, and then there were two of them sitting there, giving Zhenya almost identical looks of extreme judgment. Baby Sid’s wasn’t quite as effective.

“Better not happen to me,” Zhenya said. He couldn’t deal with this time travel bullshit. Things like this never happened in Russia.

Sid rolled his eyes. “It probably won’t. It’s really rare. Drink your vodka and quit scowling at him, you’re going to scare him.”

“I’m not scared,” baby Sid said. “Are you really on the team?”

“He’s got the A,” Sid said. “Geno, stop it.”

If Zhenya was scowling, he didn’t mean to; but he couldn’t stop staring. Being presented with two versions of Sid was more than his fragile mind could cope with. His Sid seemed completely unruffled, typing away at his phone now, but Zhenya knew him well, and he knew it was a façade. When Sid got mean like this, it meant he felt out of control and helpless. But baby Sid didn’t seem anywhere near as distressed as Zhenya might have expected. He was looking all around the glossy kitchen, the dark wood cabinets, the practical granite countertops. He was by far the least freaked out person in the room, which seemed unnatural.

Warily, Zhenya took the seat at the table furthest away from baby Sid.

“What are you drinking?” baby Sid asked. “Can I have some?”

“No,” grown-up Sid said, without looking up from his phone.

“I drink, you know,” baby Sid said.

“You can’t hold your liquor,” grown-up Sid said. “You’ll get drunk and start hitting on Geno.”

Zhenya watched, fascinated, as baby Sid’s face turned a bright, glowing red. Big Sid still didn’t look up.

“I wouldn’t do that,” baby Sid mumbled.

Zhenya took pity on him. “You not scared? Not worry you come here?”

“We talked before you got here,” baby Sid said. “It’s just two weeks, and that isn’t so bad. The season’s over for me. And it might be kind of cool, to hang out with you guys. Sid said I can practice with the team.”

“Probably,” Sid said, looking up from his phone at last. “I said probably.”

Zhenya sighed. “Sid, why you say come over?” If Sid was just going to make snide remarks and provide no useful information, Zhenya might as well go home.

“Well,” Sid said. His expression cracked open for a brief moment, and he looked worried and hurt. It was more emotion than Zhenya had seen from him all season, and Zhenya had to look away and breathe through the sudden fierce guilt and shame. Sid made a noise like a laugh, only devoid of any amusement, and he said, “I guess I thought it would be nice to have my boyfriend here for this.”

“Your what?” baby Sid yelped.

Zhenya dropped his face into his hands. “Sid—”

“He’s going to figure it out eventually,” Sid said. “Believe me. I’ve done this before.”

“He figures out because you say!” Zhenya said.

Baby Sid was looking back and forth between them, face red again. “Are you really—”

Sid ignored him. “I knew the first time, so we’ve got to do everything the same, okay? Or we’ll fuck up the timeline. It’s got to be just like I remember.”

Zhenya didn’t have a clue what Sid was talking about. He was pretty sure time travel didn’t work that way.

Then he put his head in his hands again. If baby Sid knew now, then he had known when Zhenya first joined the team—he had known all along, for years, until he became the grown-up Sid who was watching Zhenya now with an unreadable look on his face. He was lovely, and unfathomable. They had been together for more than a year and Zhenya understood Sid less than he had when they first started.

“We’ll talk about it later,” Sid said.

“Fine,” Zhenya said, and then the buzzer sounded to let them know the pizza guy was outside at the gate.

+ + +

Over pizza, the Sids agreed on a nomenclature. Sid was Sid; baby Sid was Sidney.

“That’s stupid,” Sidney complained. “Why can’t I be Sid? You can be Old Sid, or Fat Sid—”

“Let’s call you Little Sid,” Sid said.

“Baby Sid,” Zhenya contributed helpfully.

Fine,” Sidney said, scowling, and so it was decided.

Sidney packed away almost an entire pizza and then began nodding off over his plate.

“It’s a side effect of the time travel,” Sid said to Zhenya. “I don’t remember being too tired after the first day, though. But I guess we’ll find out.”

They managed to rouse him enough to get him up the stairs into one of the guest rooms. Sid pulled off his shoes, but otherwise let him burrow under the covers fully dressed, to Zhenya’s relief. He wasn’t sure he could handle being witness to—or worse, participant in—undressing a sleepy, pliable teenaged Sid.

“There,” Sid said, closing the door behind him. He looked up at Zhenya and sighed. “You want to talk.”

“Yes,” Zhenya said. Sid never wanted to talk, not about anything, but Zhenya wasn’t letting him get away with it this time.

They went back downstairs to the kitchen and sat at the table once more. Sid dragged over Sidney’s plate and began eating his discarded pizza crusts. He took a huge bite, chewed twice, and said, muffled, “So, talk.”

“Me?” Zhenya said. “What I say? I think I make dinner, you come over, nice date, now there’s two Sids!”

“Yeah, sorry about dinner,” Sid said. “I forgot which day he was going to show up. I thought it was before the away game, not after. It’s been a while.”

“Why you don’t say?” Zhenya asked. “If you know he’s come.” Sid hadn’t been blindsided by any of this. He could have at least given Zhenya a fucking heads-up. Sid was behaving so strangely and Zhenya had the feeling, unfortunately very common these days, that he was missing something critical.

Sid shrugged. “What difference would it make? I couldn’t stop it.”

“If I know,” Zhenya said, trying to stay patient, “then I don’t run two stop signs on drive to your house.”

“Oh,” Sid said. He put down the crust he was holding. “I—you were worried?”

Zhenya just looked at him.

“Sorry,” Sid said. “I didn’t think, uh. Well, I’m sorry.”

“Why he’s here, Sid?” Zhenya asked. His understanding of the whole time travel nonsense was admittedly shallow, but Flower had told him, when Flower’s own older self visited the year before, that there was always some reason for it: some benefit, either to the visitor or the visited, although of course the nature of that benefit wasn’t always immediately clear. But Zhenya thought Sid probably knew.

“I don’t know, I think it’s probably so he knows that everything turns out okay, you know? With my concussion and all that. I’m still playing.”

“Oh,” Zhenya said. He probably should have thought of that. “But—”

“Yeah, I know, I was still an asshole that whole time,” Sid said. “I knew it would get better, but it still seemed like an eternity when I was going through it. I mean, you know how it is.”

“Not asshole,” Zhenya said. “Worry. Sad.”

“Yeah, well,” Sid said. He shrugged again, and looked down. “I kind of thought—maybe I had screwed it up. I did something wrong, and I changed the timeline.”

“Not how it works,” Zhenya said. “Can’t mess up, can’t change.” Maybe he didn’t know a lot about time travel, but old Flower had treated him to a detailed lecture about temporal paradoxes and causal something-or-other, which Zhenya had only partly understood; but he had gotten the gist.

“Is that what Flower told you?” Sid asked. “He’s full of shit. Nobody knows anything about time travel, not really. I could screw it up. And I can’t—I can’t screw it up. Nothing can change.” He sucked in a breath. “That’s, uh. That’s part of why I asked you to come over, actually.”

That didn’t bode well. “Yes?” Zhenya said cautiously.

“You know I’m going home for Christmas pretty soon, and—Sidney needs to stay with you,” Sid said. “He can’t go with me, he doesn’t have a passport. He wouldn’t even be able to get through security.”

Oh, Jesus. Zhenya didn’t want Sidney staying with him. He remembered what Sid had been like at nineteen, overly friendly and incredibly picky about completely unpredictable things. Who knew what eighteen was like? Probably far worse. “Family can come here. Maybe they like to see baby Sid.”

“No, I have to go there, and he has to stay with you,” Sid insisted. “Because that’s what happened the first time.”

That didn’t seem like enough of a reason, and Zhenya had a sinking sensation as he watched Sid carefully avoid making eye contact. “You don’t tell me about time travel, you don’t tell parents either?”

Sid sighed, and Zhenya knew he was right. “No, they know, they realized I was missing. But they don’t know it’s now, and—there’s enough going on. I just don’t want to explain it all to them.”

Zhenya gave him a skeptical look. That still didn’t seem like enough of a reason.

“Please, Geno,” Sid said softly, and Zhenya folded like a lawn chair. It had been a hard month for Sid, with the team sucking, Johnston getting fired, Duper’s retirement, and then Flower’s concussion on top of all the rest of it. Well, it had been hard for all of them, but Zhenya had watched Sid cry in the locker room in Denver the day Duper announced his retirement, silent tears that he wiped furiously away and refused to acknowledge.

“Okay, Sid,” Zhenya said. He took Sid’s hand. “He can stay with me. We figure out. Take care.”

Sid exhaled. “This is just—really bad timing. I don’t think I realized everything that was going on with the team, when I was here.”

“You remember me?” Zhenya asked.

Sid laughed and glanced aside. “Well, yeah. Of course I do. You were really nice to me. It was a—a good experience for me. Being here. I had a really great two weeks. It was fun and exciting, and I didn’t think at all about what it was like for the two of us to have me here.”

“It’s fine, Sid,” Zhenya said. “He’s you, okay? It’s not big deal. We hang out, keep him busy, then he goes home soon. It’s no sweat.”

“Okay,” Sid said. He laced his fingers through Zhenya’s. He was still looking away, not meeting Zhenya’s eyes. “Thanks, G.”

+ + +

Zhenya went home that night to deal with the lasagna and sleep in his own bed. He didn’t want to stay at Sid’s. He felt—not angry that Sid hadn’t told him about the time travel. Hurt, maybe. It was an unusual thing, a major life event, and Sid had never, in almost ten years of knowing each other, given any indication that it had happened.

He knew that things with him and Sid weren’t the greatest at the moment, maybe hadn’t been spectacular for a while, but he couldn’t believe Sid hadn’t said anything. But there was no point in trying to argue with him about it. Sid would just clam up, give him the silent treatment for a few days, and then act like nothing had happened.

Christ. What a fucking season they were having. What a fucking year.

When he arrived at the arena in the morning, both Sids were there in the change room, surrounded by a cluster of curious teammates. Sidney was wearing a spare set of Sid’s workout clothes, ever so slightly too loose on him all over. He was smiling, but Zhenya knew Sid pretty well, and he could read even this younger version of him: he was uncomfortable.

Zhenya approached with the intention of telling everyone to fuck off and get changed for their team meeting, but before he had a chance to say anything, Sidney spotted him over Horny’s shoulder and lit up.

“Hi, Geno,” Sidney said, his smile turning genuine. His cheeks flushed pink.

Horny turned to look at Geno, and then looked at Sid and Sidney in quick succession. “You meet this guy already?”

Shit. He’d assumed that Sid had briefed Sidney on the situation, but obviously not. There was absolutely no plausible reason for him to have been at Sid’s house. Sid was struggling with his T-shirt and offering zero help. Zhenya thought fast. “Uh, Sid text me last night, I don’t believe. So he says come over.”

Kuni grinned. “You, too, eh? Maureen wouldn’t let me leave the house, otherwise I would have been there, too.”

Bullet dodged. Zhenya knew how Sid operated; it had been a safe bet that he’d texted the team core.

“He’s gonna skate with us,” Cullen said. “Huh, kid?”

“If Coach says it’s okay,” Sid said, emerging from his T-shirt. His hair was all fluffed up for a moment, until he pulled on his cap to cover it again. Zhenya looked away. “Guys, come on. Quit hovering. Flower, you knew me when I was eighteen.”

“That’s why it’s so weird,” Flower said. “It’s like maybe I’ve time traveled.”

“Is anyone else still here?” Sidney asked. “From, uh. Back then?”

“Rex and Gonch are on the coaching staff,” Sid said. “But that’s it.”

“Oh,” Sidney said.

“That’s how it goes, kid,” Cullen said, not unkindly. “Teammates don’t stick around forever.”

“Geno does,” Sidney said.

Flower hooted. “That didn’t take very long!”

“Okay, every single one of you get the fuck out of here,” Sid said in his don’t-make-me-turn-this-car-around voice, which terrified everyone else but mostly served to arouse Zhenya, as it was essentially indistinguishable from his hurry-up-and-fuck-me voice.

Before the meeting, Sid herded Sidney up to the front of the room. “He’s here for two weeks,” Sid said. “He’s eighteen, so don’t even think about giving him alcohol. I would really prefer to keep this away from the press. Any questions?”

Phil raised his hand. “Are you Thing One and he’s Thing Two?”

“Sid and Kid,” Tanger said.

“We could call him Creature, like Colby used to,” Flower suggested.

“Just call him Sidney,” Sid said. Sidney opened his mouth to say something, and Sid ruthlessly cut him off. “That’s it. Thanks, Mike. Sorry to take up your time.”

Zhenya paid attention during the meeting—he wasn’t a total fuck-up—but he also watched Sidney, seated in the front row beside Sid and just totally rapt, like he had never attended a team meeting before. He was a complete dork, and it was sweeter than Zhenya wanted it to be. But it was hard to prevent his feelings for present-day Sid and his memories of his feelings for nineteen-year-old Sid from influencing his reaction to Sidney.

Everyone stayed focused for the first part of skate, running light drills and taking shots on net. Sidney participated, although he stuck close to Sid at first and didn’t say much, which Zhenya found shocking; he had never known Sid to be able to keep his hockey-related opinions to himself. The whole team was curious about Sidney, Zhenya included, and after Sid paused for a quiet word with Sullivan, skate devolved into a series of Sid-on-Sid scrimmages while everyone else stood around and provided color commentary.

Zhenya could admit, privately, that Sid was maybe past his prime. He was still the best player in the world, there was no doubt about that, but at eighteen, he’d already had every ounce of raw talent he would ever possess. But watching the two of them square off, it was clear that Sid was better. Sidney had youth on his side, he was fast and intuitive, but Sid had the advantage of an extra decade of relentless, unwavering work, and it showed. He kept pulling moves that Sidney clearly didn’t expect, stealing the puck or protecting it, and Zhenya found himself grinning fiercely to see it, matching the ferocious joy on Sid’s own face.

It had been a hard season for Sid. He wouldn’t talk about it, but Zhenya knew he was doubting himself, maybe even despairing. But he was still good: he was great at hockey. He was the best. Zhenya hoped so much that Sullivan was the change they all needed.

Sullivan indulged them for maybe ten minutes, and then he blew his whistle and said, “Okay, enough of that, let’s get back to work.”

They finished skate with a keep-away drill. Zhenya found himself faced with Sidney, and was so intent on trying to steal the puck from him that Olli got the drop on him and knocked them both out.

“Well, I guess we both suck,” Sidney said, laughing.

“Sorry!” Olli called back cheerfully.

“He’s not sorry,” Zhenya said to Sidney.

They stood together against the boards and watched Sid duking it out with an increasingly small number of guys.

“He’s really good,” Sidney said wistfully.

Zhenya glanced at him. “He’s you.”

But Sidney shook his head. “He’s not me. He’s who I’ll be in ten years, if I work really hard.” He watched Sid steal the puck from Phil, the last man standing, and briefly toss his arms over his head, triumphant. He added, more quietly, “It seems like all the guys on the team really respect him.”

“Of course,” Zhenya said. “He’s captain. We all want to do better, work harder, because he work hard every day.”

“I think I talk too much,” Sidney said. “I—the guys are fed up with me.”

He still talked too much, but Zhenya knew better than to say it. “Hard for guys to listen when you so young. You grow up, learn more. Learn to be captain. All guys like you here. It’s good team.” There. That sounded reasonable and encouraging. Zhenya wasn’t in the habit of dispensing life advice, was way more inclined to mercilessly chirp anyone foolish enough to show vulnerability in his vicinity. But Sid was always an exception for him, in almost every way.

“I guess so,” Sidney said. “Thanks.”

Zhenya sighed. “You welcome, Sid.”

Sidney leaned on his stick. “Are you and him really, uh. You know.” He was pink again. Zhenya didn’t remember Sid ever blushing this much.

“Yes,” Zhenya said.

“But the team doesn’t know?” Sidney said.

“No,” Zhenya said, a little testy now. He couldn’t help interpreting Sidney’s question as judgmental. “No one know, so you don’t say. It’s secret.”

“Okay,” Sidney said. “Sorry.” He gave Zhenya a sideways look that Zhenya didn’t know how to interpret. “I won’t blow your cover.”

“Good,” Zhenya said, and hoped he looked sufficiently menacing. He had no idea how he was going to survive two full weeks of this.

+ + +

When Zhenya woke up from his nap that afternoon, he had a text message from Sid: Come over after the game?

He frowned at his phone. Under any other circumstances, that would be a booty call, but Sidney’s presence was throwing a real wrench in the works. For sex or for help you with baby?

For sex, obviously, Sid replied. I don’t need help with him.

Ok, tell him go to bed early, Zhenya sent, and after they lost to the Bruins that night—their fourth crushing loss in a row—he drove over to Sid’s house straight from the arena.

Sid met him at the door. “Mini Me’s in the den,” he said. “FYI.”

“Don’t call me that,” Sidney yelled from inside the house.

“I’ll make you something to eat,” Sid said, ignoring this, and led Zhenya into the kitchen. He had already changed into sweats and an old T-shirt, and he looked so comfortable and familiar. Without discussing it, they had fallen into the pattern of spending the night together after almost every game, and it was part of Zhenya’s routine now, to eat a late meal with Sid and take him to bed.

Sid gave Zhenya a beer and a plate of leftovers, and Zhenya took his spoils into the den to eat. Sidney was sprawled on the couch; Zhenya stood and waited until he moved his feet to make room for Zhenya to sit down.

“Sorry about the game,” Sidney said. He was watching highlights from the night’s other hockey games. The talking heads were mercifully dissecting the Panthers-Hurricanes game and not the Penguins’ poor performance.

“It’s okay,” Zhenya said. Sidney had watched the game from the locker room, and Zhenya had braced himself to hear a full rundown of each of the team’s errors—but Sidney was still Sid. The post-game analysis was for the locker room or a team meeting; home wasn’t the place for it. Sid was always very strict about that, after a loss, even when Zhenya maybe wanted to talk about it a little, to alleviate his own guilt for fucking up.

Sid came in then with his own plate of leftovers, and balanced on one foot to poke at Sidney with his toes until Sidney sat up with a groan. Sid settled down on his other side, and they sat there and watched TV in companionable silence until Zhenya finished his last bite and set the plate on the coffee table.

It was pretty fucking weird to sit there with a time-traveling adolescent version of the guy he was screwing, but it also felt very normal, which was also pretty fucking weird. Sidney smelled the same as grown-up Sid, he breathed in the exact same steady rhythm, he was more or less the same size and coloring, and somehow the primordial lizard part of Zhenya’s brain had decided that Sidney was just as safe and comforting as his older counterpart.

“Okay, we’re going to bed,” Sid said to Sidney. “Don’t stay up too late, if you want to go to skate with us again tomorrow.”

“I won’t,” Sidney said. “I’ll put the plates in the dishwasher before I go to bed.”

“Thanks,” Sid said. He touched Sidney’s cheek before he stood, a quick brush of his fingers, and so startlingly intimate that Zhenya felt like he’d seen something he wasn’t meant to. But Sid turned to him in the next moment and said, “You coming?”

“I hope,” Zhenya said, and Sid laughed and rolled his eyes, the same as always.

They fucked in the dark, rubbing off on each other with all the lights turned off, panting against each other’s mouths. The sex was always good, even when they were at odds with each other in all other ways. And in the morning, when Zhenya woke with Sid beside him in the bed, close enough to touch, he experienced a rare moment of pure uncomplicated happiness before the alarm went off and ejected him back to reality.

It was never uncomplicated. But Zhenya didn’t want to give up. He was still convinced he could fix it, somehow.

Sidney was in the kitchen when they straggled downstairs, freshly showered, Sid yawning and rubbing at his eyes. Zhenya pulled his shirt on as they came into the room, and when he got his head through the collar, Sidney was staring at him, eyes wide, lips parted.

“Morning,” Sid said. He reached out to tug Zhenya’s shirt down over his belly.

“Oh, uh,” Sidney said. “I made eggs?”

He had made scrambled eggs and toast, respectively overdone and a little burned, and coffee, which neither Zhenya nor Sid drank. Sid only kept it in the house for guests.

“Well, I didn’t know,” Sidney said, a little crabby. “I thought maybe you had picked up the habit.”

“Hey, it’s okay,” Sid said. He slung an arm around Sidney’s shoulders. “Thanks for making breakfast for us.”

Zhenya sat at the table with his plate and watched them, the two of them leaning side by side against the counter, a matched set. Sid was totally focused on Sidney, holding a piece of toast in one hand and studying Sidney’s face, but Sidney kept shooting little glances at Zhenya, over and over until Zhenya set his fork down and said, “You don’t like hair? Don’t like T-shirt?”

Sid looked over at him, and then looked at Sidney, and then grinned. “Not liking isn’t the problem.”

“Shut up,” Sidney hissed at him, and they scuffled briefly. Sid was heavier, more muscular, and he got Sidney pinned against the counter and held him there. He turned his head and whispered something into Sidney’s ear, and Sidney stared at Zhenya over his shoulder, face flaming.

Zhenya had no idea what was going on.

Sid stepped away, laughing. “Eat your breakfast,” he said. “We need to get going.”

When Sidney went upstairs to change out of his pajamas, Sid joined Zhenya at the table and said, “Sorry he’s being weird. You’re rocking his world and he doesn’t know what to do about it.”

“Rock his world,” Zhenya said.

“Sexually,” Sid said. “I was, uh. I had been figuring out I was attracted to guys. You were kind of the final nail in that coffin.”

Zhenya put his head down on the table and groaned.

He was absolutely not going to survive the next two weeks.

+ + +

They lost again that night, and Zhenya drove to Sid’s house afterward in a dark, self-directed fury. He had scored the Penguins’ single goal, but it wasn’t enough: they still weren’t winning.

Both Sids were in the kitchen. Sidney was standing at the stove, uneasily stirring a pot, and Sid was sitting at the table with his foot propped up on an extra chair, icing his knee.

“Hey,” Zhenya said. He dropped his bag on the island and peered over Sidney’s shoulder. It looked like pasta sauce.

“It’ll be ready soon,” Sidney said, offering him a shy smile. “Just reheating.”

“Good,” Zhenya said. He went to sit with Sid and gently took the ice pack out of his hand. It was wrapped in a towel that had a smiling cartoon penguin on it—a long-ago gift from Sid’s sister. His knee looked a little swollen, but not too bad. Zhenya probed carefully with his fingers, watching Sid’s face.

“It’s fine,” Sid said. “It’s—” He broke off and hissed air through his teeth as Zhenya hit a tender spot.

“Hurts?” Zhenya asked.

“Are you a trainer now?” Sid asked. “Curtis already looked me over. I’ll be fine in a few days.”

“I don’t like if you hurt,” Zhenya said. He bent over and brushed a kiss against Sid’s kneecap. “Here, come here.” He rearranged them so that Sid’s knee lay across his lap. He replaced the ice pack and held it there, wrapped halfway around Sid’s leg.

“I can do that myself,” Sid said. He looked at Zhenya for a moment, and then looked away.

“I know,” Zhenya said. “But let me do, okay?”

“The food’s ready,” Sidney said. When Zhenya glanced over, he was watching them, smiling a little.

Zhenya ate with one hand and iced Sid’s knee with the other. Sid and Sidney talked about people Zhenya didn’t know, old childhood friends. Sidney kept cracking dumb jokes and giggling, and Sid had a fond, indulgent look on his face and laughed at every stupid thing Sidney said. He never looked at Zhenya like that.

Zhenya had forgotten how weird Sid was as a teenager, how loud, goofy, and obnoxious. Sid still had the same lopsided smile and the same pitiful sense of humor, but he had settled into himself over the years. Having Sidney in the house was a surreal object lesson in the passage of time. Zhenya wondered how alien his own eighteen-year-old self would seem to him now.

Sidney went to bed first, and Zhenya and Sid sat in the kitchen for a while longer, not talking but simply sitting together. Zhenya tossed the ice pack on the table and stroked his hands along Sid’s leg, carefully skirting the swollen area. They had parted ways on a bad note at the end of the previous season, but Sid had seemed fine when they reunited in the fall; but as the weeks went by, Zhenya increasingly thought that Sid wasn’t fine, that maybe he had screwed up worse than he initially thought, and that maybe they weren’t going to make it through this after all. But they still did okay, like this, in wordless companionship.

“I can hear you thinking,” Sid said.

“No, I don’t think,” Zhenya said.

Sid’s eyes crinkled in a smile. “That explains a lot. Come on, let me up. Let’s go to bed.”

Zhenya woke in the morning to the very rude blare of Sid’s alarm. He groaned and rolled over, gathering Sid in his arms and pushing his face into the back of Sid’s neck. “Time for get up, Sid.”

“Ugh,” Sid said. He reached out and poked at his phone until the alarm went off. “M’sleepin.”

“Practice,” Zhenya said. “Unless you skip. Maybe Sully doesn’t mind. Tell team, sorry, captain too lazy to get up.” Sid’s bed was warm and soft, piled high with a fluffy duvet and even fluffier pillows. Even Zhenya, who had no excuse for skipping practice, was tempted to ignore his responsibilities and stay in bed for another hour or three.

“Five min’tes,” mumbled Sid, who really needed at least nine hours of sleep a night and rarely got that much.

Zhenya started kissing along the back of Sid’s neck, and stroked a hand down his belly to scratch through his pubic hair. There was some dried come on Sid’s abdomen, probably Zhenya’s, flaking away beneath Zhenya’s fingers. They’d gotten a little lazy about the cleanup. Zhenya felt tacky between his own legs from a mixture of lube and come.

“Mm,” Sid said, sounding a little more awake and a little more appreciative. “Feels good.”

“You wake up now, we have time for mess around in shower,” Zhenya said, and gently set his teeth in Sid’s earlobe, just the way Sid liked it.

“Mmm,” Sid said again, and then someone who was distinctly not Sid said, “Oh, uh—sorry, I was just—”

Zhenya’s eyes snapped open. Sidney was standing in the doorway, face crimson.

“You should have knocked,” Sid said, and he sounded all the way awake now.

“The door was open!” Sidney said. They must have left it open by mistake, just out of habit; they never kept it shut. “I’m really sorry, I just—”

“It’s fine,” Sid said. He flung back the covers and sat up, exposing both himself and Zhenya, who was not nearly as blasé about being unexpectedly naked in front of Sidney. “We’ll get in the shower. What do you want for breakfast?” He got out of bed and strolled toward the bathroom, naked as the day he was born, and Zhenya’s eyes followed him helplessly: the thick curve of his ass and thighs, the rumpled mess of his hair.

“Uhh,” Sidney said, and when Zhenya managed to drag his eyes away from Sid, he realized that Sidney was staring at him. Sidney’s gaze tracked across Zhenya’s shoulders and chest and down to the chubbed-up bulk of his dick, half-hard from groping Sid. He looked—how had Sid put it? He looked like Zhenya was rocking his world.

“Sid, go away,” Zhenya said sharply, and Sidney stammered something indistinct and fled.

Zhenya rubbed at his face and went to join Sid in the shower.

Sid was mid-soap; Zhenya confiscated the body wash from him and took over. Sid leaned against him and let Zhenya feel him up. It was the only acceptable way to start the morning.

“Baby Sid is trouble,” Zhenya told him, one hand sliding between Sid’s legs.

Sid laughed, tipping his head back against Zhenya’s shoulder. “He’s cute, though, isn’t he?”

“Jailbait,” Zhenya pronounced. English sucked, but some of the words were great.

“He’s almost nineteen,” Sid said. “He isn’t jailbait.”

“He’s too young,” Zhenya said. “I’m too old.”

“He’s only ten years younger than you,” Sid said. “Ten and a half. That’s nothing.”

“You try talk me into?” Zhenya asked, because it really sounded like Sid was trying to persuade him it was a good idea to fool around with Sidney.

“I. No,” Sid said unconvincingly.

Zhenya squeezed Sid’s balls just hard enough to make Sid yelp and twist away from him. “Don’t tease about baby Sid.”

Sid turned in Zhenya’s arms, slippery as a fish, and scowled up at him. “You’re a jackass.” One corner of his mouth was pulling into a smile.

Zhenya gave him another squeeze, much more gentle, and pressed his knuckles into the soft skin just behind Sid’s balls. He watched Sid’s eyelids flutter. There was time, he decided, and ducked his head for a kiss.

+ + +

Sidney was cute; it was a problem. Zhenya was pretty fixated on Sid, but he wasn’t blind. And he had, at one point in time, had a huge and debilitating crush on a Sidney not very much older than this one. Present-day Sid was more attractive, but there was something to be said for nostalgia.

He spent that evening at home. He was hiding. There was no shame in it. Sidney had insisted on talking to him in the change room for a long time after practice, about literally nothing, and wearing literally nothing, and Sid had watched the whole thing and smirked to himself and failed to intervene.

He’s asking about you, Sid texted him as Zhenya was loading the dishwasher after dinner. I think he misses you.

No, Zhenya replied, which he intended as a blanket rejection of whatever Sid might follow up with, ranging from an invitation to come over to nude shots of Sidney reclining on a bearskin rug. Zhenya wouldn’t put it past him—either of them.

You could come watch a movie with us, Sid said.

At least that was at the less emotionally scarring end of the spectrum. No, Zhenya said again.

Sid replied with a winking emoji, and Zhenya put his phone on silent for the night. Enough was enough.

The game the next day was their last before a few days off for Christmas. Sid wasn’t in the lineup, out because of his knee, but Zhenya drove to his house afterward anyway. They had won, finally: the blowout win they had all needed. Zhenya had scored two goals and he was amped up and he wanted to fuck Sid through the mattress.

Sidney wandered into the entryway when Zhenya was still taking off his coat and shoes. Sid kept his thermostat turned down to levels Zhenya considered frankly unacceptable, but Sidney was wearing only a pair of very small athletic shorts and, unbelievably, one of Zhenya’s shirts: an old long-sleeved Team Russia shirt, the screen-printed logo faded but still legible.

“Where you get that,” Zhenya said hoarsely.

“Oh, Sid said you left it here and he washed it,” Sidney said. “You don’t mind, do you?”

“No,” Zhenya managed. The shirt didn’t fit Sidney very well. The sleeves were too long and the chest was too tight. Zhenya’s palms were too sweaty. Who had let this child into Sid’s house?

“There you are,” Sid said from the doorway. He had a wine bottle in one hand. He glanced from Zhenya to Sidney and pressed his lips together, and Zhenya knew that look: he was trying to hide a smile.

“You played really well tonight,” Sidney said, beaming.

“Come on, let him come into the kitchen,” Sid said, and shooed Sidney out. He lingered in the doorway, and as Zhenya passed by, he palmed Zhenya’s ass and leaned up to murmur, “You played really well.”

Zhenya knew that look, too. He was definitely getting laid.

Sid heated up a casserole and opened the wine. He gave Sidney a single glass, which somehow turned into two. Sidney was sitting beside Zhenya, and he got a little flushed and giggly, leaning against Zhenya’s arm. And Sid, of course, sat there at the head of the table and watched it happen, smiling into his wine glass, and did nothing.

“Okay, Sid,” Zhenya said, the second time Sidney put his hand on Zhenya’s thigh. “Time for baby go to bed.”

“I’m not a baby,” Sidney said, taking his hand away and frowning.

“You’re not a baby,” Sid agreed, “but it’s time for me and Geno to go to bed.” And then he leaned over right there, leaning across Sidney to give Zhenya a messy, open-mouthed kiss.

Zhenya heard Sidney’s sharp inhale, but he was too busy kissing Sid to pay any mind. Sid slid his tongue along Zhenya’s lower lip and into his mouth, stroking against Zhenya’s tongue. Arousal flared at the base of Zhenya’s spine.

But Sidney was right there, and Zhenya forced himself to pull back after far too short a time.

Sidney was staring, pink and glassy-eyed. Zhenya licked his lips reflexively, and he watched Sidney’s eyes track the motion.

“Good night,” Sid said, a little raspy, and he turned his head and pressed a lingering kiss to Sidney’s cheek, and then towed Zhenya upstairs.

Zhenya gave himself credit: he did try to talk about it a little, even though it was incredibly difficult to string words together with Sid straddling his lap, working himself open and refusing to let Zhenya help. “Sid, uh,” Zhenya said, squeezing Sid’s hips, that soft delicious spot where his thighs joined his torso. He loved everything about Sid’s body, couldn’t imagine ever getting tired of him. “Sid—”

“What,” Sid said, and then his eyes squeezed shut as he hit a good spot.

“Baby Sid,” Zhenya said. “He’s—maybe we don’t—”

“Oh,” Sid said. He pulled his fingers out and slid his slick hand down Zhenya’s dick, lubing him up. “You mean the kissing?”

“Yes, kiss,” Zhenya said, trying very hard to stay focused.

“Don’t worry about it,” Sid said. “I mean. You took my virginity, so.”

“What!” Zhenya yelped, and Sid grinned at him, wicked and unrepentant, and sank down in one smooth glide. Every thought evaporated from Zhenya’s head.

+ + +

He woke alone in the morning. Sid had opened the curtains, and the room was filled with gray light. It was drizzling.

He went downstairs. Sid was sitting in the kitchen, a mug steaming at his elbow, wearing a cardigan that had formerly been Zhenya’s and now was decidedly Sid’s. Zhenya detoured to drop a kiss on top of his head, even though he was annoyed.

“I made oatmeal,” Sid said. “And tea.”

Zhenya grunted, and fixed himself a bowl. “Where’s baby?”

“You should probably stop calling him that,” Sid said.

“Why, because I fuck him?” Zhenya asked.

Sid sighed. “You’re mad about that.”

“Why you don’t tell?” Zhenya asked. “You wait, don’t say, then say when you decide. What else you don’t say?” He added some walnuts to his oatmeal, and dried cranberries. Sid was a manipulative asshole, but he knew how to make a good breakfast.

Sid didn’t respond. He stared down at his bowl, scraping his spoon against the inner rim.

“Sid,” Zhenya said, a little more sharply than he intended. “Don’t ignore.”

“I’m not ignoring you,” Sid said. “I’m trying to think of what to say. Okay? Can I have thirty seconds to gather my thoughts?”

Zhenya plopped another scoop of oatmeal into his bowl and banged the spoon against the side of the pot, shaking off the excess.

“Oh, now you’re mad,” Sid said. “Great.”

He was mad, and now Sid was acting like a jackass, and it was making him even angrier. But this was a spiral that would end with Zhenya storming out of the house and Sid ignoring him until Zhenya missed him too much and came crawling back, and then they would pretend that nothing had happened. Zhenya was sick to death of the whole business.

He joined Sid at the table and scooted his chair in close to put an arm around Sid’s shoulders. Sid was tense against him at first, but Zhenya leaned in to kiss his temple and Sid relaxed with a little sigh.

“Sorry,” Sid said.

“I eat, you talk,” Zhenya said, and let go of Sid so he could pick up his spoon.

“I don’t really know what else there is to say,” Sid said. “He’s—I had slept with a couple of girls, but. No guys. And then you were so—I don’t think I can really overstate how attracted I was to you. And you were—” He grinned, a quick flash of teeth. “You really resisted. But I was pretty determined.”

Zhenya groaned. He couldn’t believe this. At least he had put up a fight, this other Zhenya. Or was it the same Zhenya? Were they on the same timeline? Maybe it was him, this exact same version of himself, letting both Sid and Sidney walk all over him.

His head hurt. Time travel was too fucking complicated.

“I’m dirty old man,” he said.

“Oh, stop whining,” Sid said. “It happened already, so there’s nothing you can do about it. Look, it was great, okay? You were really good to me, and I’m really glad it was you, and not some random guy at a nightclub, which is who it probably would have been otherwise. It was perfect for me, okay?”

Zhenya looked at him. He was so earnest, and wearing Zhenya’s sweater, his face still creased from the pillowcase. “Perfect,” Zhenya said.

“Yeah,” Sid said. He smiled, and reached out to squeeze Zhenya’s arm. “You were.”

A dark shameful possessive part of Zhenya really liked the idea of being Sid’s first. But it was also strange to think that the first time they’d had sex, when Zhenya was so overcome that he’d had to go hide in the bathroom for a while afterward, nothing about it was new to Sid at all.

“Why you’re not say?” he asked. “When we first meet, when—”

“You wouldn’t have wanted me to,” Sid said, which was true enough. Zhenya had struggled with his attraction to men for a long time, and still wasn’t totally at ease with it.

“So you wait,” he said. “And whole time, you know. That we’re together like this.”

“Yeah,” Sid said. His expression looked crumpled, somehow.

“But you never say,” Zhenya said. “Even after we—when we’re together. It’s big deal, Sid, big thing for baby to be here. You don’t trust? Don’t think I care?”

Sid winced. “It’s not that. I just—I don’t know. It just seemed like it was a really long time away, and then all of a sudden it wasn’t, and I—didn’t know how to tell you. There was never a good time.”

“Not that busy, Sid,” Zhenya said. His stomach hurt. How had Sid thought he would react?

Sid scraped around in his bowl. “I didn’t want to mess it up. You said it’s a big deal, and—it is. I didn’t want to do anything that might mess it up.”

The fucking timeline again. Zhenya was already tired of hearing about it, and anyway he was still stuck on the idea of Sid waiting for him for so long, almost a decade, like Zhenya had ever done anything to earn that devotion. “You wait for me,” he said. “For years.”

“There were other people,” Sid said. “But, yeah. I did.”

Why,” Zhenya said hoarsely. “When you not even happy, not—”

“G,” Sid said, and Zhenya looked up, and Sidney was there in the doorway, yawning, his brow furrowed.

This kid had the worst fucking timing.

“Sorry, uh,” Sidney said.

Zhenya swore under his breath in Russian and rubbed his hands over his face, his stinging eyes.

“It’s okay,” Sid said. “You can come in. Do you want some oatmeal?”

+ + +

Sid left for Nova Scotia later that morning, and Zhenya and Sidney went back to Zhenya’s house.

Zhenya drove in silence. He was in a foul mood, and didn’t want to take it out on Sidney, who had done nothing to earn his ire. Sidney held his duffel bag on his lap—one of Sid’s—and stared out the window. It was still raining lightly.

“Everything’s so familiar,” Sidney said. “But it’s all just a little bit different. Like, that house shouldn’t be there.”

Zhenya glanced at him. “Ten years. It’s long time.”

“Yeah,” Sidney said, and subsided into silence again.

When they got out of the car, he said, “I’m sorry about all of this. I wish Sid would just tell his—our parents. Then you wouldn’t have to put up with me.”

Zhenya sighed. As they walked up the steps toward the front door, he slung an arm around Sidney’s shoulders. “It’s not your fault. You don’t ask for be here. We have four days, nice vacation. Play video game, eat junk food, maybe go skate. Okay? Sid is miss out.”

Sidney smiled and leaned into him a little.

Zhenya refused to go along with this. He didn’t care what Sid said, and he didn’t care about the goddamn timeline. If the world had to end, so be it. Sidney was cute, but Zhenya wasn’t in the habit of fucking teenagers.

He showed Sidney around the house: kitchen, den, the workout room in the basement. Then he took him upstairs to one of the guest rooms—strategically at the opposite end of the house from Zhenya’s own room.

“Bathroom is across hall,” Zhenya said. “All food in kitchen, you can eat. Make, uh.” He took a moment to remember the phrase. “Make yourself at home.”

“Thanks,” Sidney said, clutching his duffel, and Zhenya went downstairs and left him to it.

He had acquired a New Year tree a few weeks ago—an outing with Sid that hadn’t turned sour. Sid had laughingly refused to buy the giant tree Zhenya tried to talk him into, but he’d gotten a respectable enough seven-footer to set up in his living room. Zhenya had purchased his usual enormous tree for the back hall, set it up in its stand, and then become so distracted by the retirement/firing/injury situation that he had done nothing else. He went down into the basement now and brought up his ornaments: three big plastic bins full of them, and two more bins of general decorations for around the house.

He turned on some music, poured himself a drink, and got started on the tree.

He had finished with the lights and most of the bulbs by the time Sidney came downstairs dressed in workout clothes. Sidney drifted over and watched for a moment as Zhenya crouched on the floor to hang bulbs on the lowest branches.

“Can I help?” Sidney asked.

Zhenya groaned internally. Phrased that way, he couldn’t say no. And Sidney looked so hopeful, like there was really nothing he would rather do than spend the rest of the morning helping Zhenya trim his New Year tree.

“Okay, I finish bulbs, you put candy cane,” he said. “Maybe need ladder, for get top.” He paused. “Tall ladder, for you.”

“I’m not that short,” Sidney said, and Zhenya had to grin; he sounded just like Sid, and Zhenya missed him already, only a few hours in. Four days was too long. They saw each other every day, at the rink or at home, without really planning for it. This break for Christmas would be the longest they had spent apart since the off-season.

He and Sidney worked in silence for a while. Then Sidney said, “Is this, uh. Are these Russian Christmas carols?”

It was Russian techno. Zhenya narrowed his eyes, and Sidney cracked immediately, his wide-eyed expression dissolving into a goofy smile.

“Yes, very funny,” Zhenya said.

Sidney started up with his ridiculous giggle. Sid didn’t really laugh like that anymore; he tried to rein it in. Zhenya found that he had missed it, the sound of Sidney just unabashedly enjoying himself.

“Sad you miss Christmas with family?” Zhenya asked, when Sidney settled down again. “Maybe boring, lonely. Russian Christmas not until January 7, so I don’t celebrate, only sit in house.”

“Well, it was June when I left, so I wasn’t really expecting Christmas,” Sidney said. “It’s okay.” He hooked a candy cane over a branch, and then added, wistfully, “It would be kind of nice to see Taylor, though.”

“She’s grow up well,” Zhenya said. “Smart, pretty. Sid is very proud.”

“I bet,” Sidney said. “Wow, she’s older than me now, huh? That’s weird.”

On Zhenya’s list of things that were weird about this situation, Taylor being older than Sidney was very near the bottom. “Finish tree,” he said. “Then we do rest of house.”

Sidney’s eyes widened. “There’s more?”

Zhenya took decorations very seriously. “Yes,” he said, and waited for Sidney to make fun of him for it.

But this Sidney was too—fine—too smitten to find anything that Zhenya did less than fully wonderful. He trailed Zhenya around the house and obediently hung tinsel and did whatever else Zhenya told him to. They took a break for lunch, and then finished up with the outside of the house, a wreath on the front door and a Santa hat for each of his statues.

“Looks good, eh,” Sidney said, and adjusted the hat on the Predator to sit at a jaunty angle. He grinned at Zhenya, clearly pleased with himself.

“Yes, very cute,” Zhenya said, and Sidney, ruinously, blushed.

Sidney fucked off to the basement at last to work out. It was barely after noon, but Zhenya poured himself his second glass of cognac of the day and retreated to the media room. His Penguins recliners, at least, had never tormented him in any way.

He texted Sid. You need come get baby.

Sorry, no can do, Sid replied. Are you having fun? Don’t fuck him without me there. And then a second message: I mean it, I have to be there. It’s important for the timeline.

Zhenya drained his glass.

+ + +

He couldn’t hide forever, or flee the country like Sid had. His stomach drove him out into the kitchen eventually, and Sidney was there already, standing in front of the refrigerator drinking orange juice straight from the carton, just like Sid liked to—a disgusting habit that none of Zhenya’s shaming could break him of.

“Drinking glass right there,” Zhenya said.

Sidney lowered the carton and wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his T-shirt. He didn’t even have the grace to look guilty.

His shorts were too short. Why did he even have shorts that small? How deep in Sid’s closet had he found them? There was far too much thigh on display.

“Dinner,” Zhenya said, and took the orange juice out of Sidney’s hands.

Sid hadn’t learned to cook until after he finally left the Lemieux household, but Zhenya put Sidney to work fetching things from the pantry and chopping vegetables, which was hard to screw up. Sidney talked the whole time, unsurprisingly about hockey. He had gotten back from Worlds a few weeks ago, and he wanted to endlessly analyze Canada’s sub-par performance. Zhenya wasn’t much help, as his memories of that tournament were almost a decade old, fuzzy and faded with time.

But Sidney didn’t seem to require a whole lot of input. He was easy to talk to: happy to lead the conversation, only pausing from time to time to glance at Zhenya for a reaction. “Team is all player, not only you,” Zhenya said, and “Still do better than Russia, you know,” and that got them all the way through preparing the meal and sitting down at the table together to eat.

“It was just frustrating, that’s all,” Sidney said, waving his fork around. “I thought I was—I’m not trying to, to brag, but I thought I was playing pretty well—”

“You play very well,” Zhenya said, because he didn’t remember every detail of the tournament, but he certainly remembered Sid scoring more goals and racking up more points than any other player.

“Oh, well,” Sidney said, and glanced down shyly at his plate. “I—thanks. It’s just that—I wanted to win something. The season was kind of hard, and.” He stopped there and swallowed.

“Rookie year?” Zhenya asked. “You not excited, top draft pick, play in NHL, everyone happy for Sidney Crosby is new face of league?”

“No, of course I was,” Sidney said. “It was—playing with Mario was so great, and—the NHL has been my dream, my whole life. But the team was, uh.” He lowered his voice a little, like he thought he was saying something blasphemous. “We were really bad.”

“Penguins rebuilding, Sid,” Zhenya said. “It’s same like with Worlds. One player can’t make team good.” He grinned. “You need me. Then we’re best.”

“Sid told me we won the Cup,” Sidney said, his voice even softer: sharing a precious, secret hope.

“Yes,” Zhenya said. “Sometimes hockey is good, and sometimes it’s not so good. But even if we don’t win, it’s hockey, you know? We still play in NHL, together.”

“Yeah,” Sidney said. He hunched his shoulders, and Zhenya thought they were finally getting down to the hidden root of it, whatever lay coiled there in the damp earth, gnawing away. “I lost the Calder,” he whispered.

“Ah, Sid,” Zhenya said.

“I know it’s dumb,” Sidney said. “I shouldn’t care about it. It’s just a dumb award. But I—I’m supposed to be the best.” He stuffed a bite of chicken in his mouth and stared at the surface of the table, chewing determinedly.

He was so young. Zhenya had never heard Sid talk much about his rookie year, and certainly hadn’t known it had been so difficult for him, that he struggled with these feelings of inadequacy. But Sid was a closed book, indecipherable, and everything Sidney felt was scrawled across his face in a clear, firm hand. Zhenya wondered when that had changed, and why.

He was lying to himself. He knew why.

“Ovechkin is very good player,” Zhenya said.

“Oh, for sure,” Sidney said. “I didn’t mean—”

“He’s older than you, two years. He plays in Superleague four years before he comes to NHL. Why you’re compare? It’s not fair for you, expect to be same as Sasha. You’re Sid, you’re best player.”

“You really think I’m the best?” Sidney asked. He glanced up at Zhenya and then away.

Oh, Sid. Zhenya felt a painful, unwelcome clenching in his chest. He wasn’t equipped to deal with this. He wanted grown-up Sid, and abruptly wondered why Sid had left him alone, if he was so frantic about maintaining the timeline. What if Zhenya did something wrong? Unless Sid knew it was actually impossible to screw up—but then why pretend otherwise?

He understood nothing. He would never understand Sid.

“You’re best,” he said at last. “And season’s over now, okay? You have little vacation, stay here with me, eat my food. Let’s have wine, okay?”

“Okay,” Sidney said, and smiled at him, very sweet.

Zhenya opened a bottle of wine, and they sat together on the couch in the den, Sidney at one end and Zhenya carefully at the other, slouched down with his feet up on the coffee table. He gave Sidney the remote, and Sidney channel surfed for a while until he settled on an extremely trippy animated film about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

“You’ve never seen this?” Sidney asked, in response to Zhenya’s baffled noise.

“No,” Zhenya said. He had never done hallucinogens, but he imagined this was probably what it was like.

“Come on, this is a classic,” Sidney said. “I used to watch it with my parents every year.”

Zhenya sighed heavily. He could accept defeat when it found him.

He finished the rest of the wine by the first commercial break, and by the third had polished off the (generous) glass of cognac he poured for himself once the wine was gone.

“Can I have some?” Sidney asked, when Zhenya came back into the room with the glass in one hand and the bottle of cognac in the other.

“No,” Zhenya said, but he tipped a little bit into Sidney’s empty wine glass anyway.

The movie was more than he could handle. What was wrong with North Americans? Why was this travesty considered a beloved holiday classic? The jerky animation made his head spin—or maybe that was the alcohol. He examined the level of cognac remaining in the bottle. Maybe he’d had a little too much to drink.

Sidney scooted closer on the couch. Zhenya regarded him balefully. Sidney was cute, and trouble. He wasn’t subtle about what he wanted, although he wasn’t exactly a master of the art of seduction. But that was cute, too, to watch him turning pink and roaming around in those very tiny shorts, by far the most effective tactic in his arsenal.

Sidney scooted again, even closer. His knee brushed against Zhenya’s thigh. He put his hand on Zhenya’s arm, just above the elbow. His eyes reflected the light from the television screen. Zhenya clutched his glass and didn’t move.

“Is this okay?” Sidney asked.

It wasn’t okay, and Zhenya felt like the oldest and dirtiest of men, but he put his arm around Sidney’s shoulders and let him settle in, tucked up snugly against Zhenya’s side. Sidney rested his head in the crook of Zhenya’s neck with a contented sigh.

Zhenya gave up on watching the movie. He closed his eyes and stroked his hand through Sidney’s hair: soft and thick, longer than Sid’s. Sidney ran hot, and that was familiar, like snuggling up with an electric blanket. He wasn’t Sid, but he was close: the larval form. He would grow into the person Zhenya would grow to—to care for very much. He was vulnerable in a way that Sid wasn’t any longer, and it roused all of Zhenya’s protective instincts. He wanted to take care of Sid, and Sid would never let him; but Sidney would.

Sidney fell asleep there, leaning against Zhenya’s side, and wouldn’t stir when Zhenya tried, not very hard, to wake him. Zhenya dragged his heavy feet up onto the couch and covered him with a blanket, and watched him for a moment, his mouth open, soft with sleep. Then he bent and pressed a kiss to Sidney’s forehead, and took himself upstairs to bed.

+ + +

Sid called him in the morning, allegedly to ask a question about Christmas tree maintenance, but really, Zhenya knew, to check on Zhenya’s progress with Sidney.

“Call baby if you want,” Zhenya said grumpily, after Sid’s third thinly veiled attempt at extracting information. He had a headache, and he was out of eggs. Breakfast was looking dire.

“He doesn’t have a phone,” Sid said. “He showed up with nothing but the clothes he was wearing. Come on, I know something happened. You wouldn’t be acting so bitchy about it if nothing happened.”

Bitchy,” Zhenya said, outraged.

“Yeah, you heard me,” Sid said. “Fine, put Sidney on the phone.”

“Baby sleeping,” Zhenya said, which wasn’t even a lie: Sidney had still been blissfully asleep on the couch ten minutes ago, drooling a little onto one of Zhenya’s throw pillows.

“You’re really going to have to stop calling him that,” Sid said.

“Why you’re call me? Spend time with family,” Zhenya said. “I have problem, I text you.”

“Okay,” Sid said, and inhaled, and then didn’t say anything for a few long moments. “Well, bye,” he said finally, and they hung up.

Eggless, Zhenya poured a bowl of cereal and went into the den to wake Sidney.

His lizard brain, still confused about who was who, was pleased to see Sidney there still safe and warm, rolled up in the blanket like an enchilada. But his higher-level thoughts were all about skating. “Sid, get up,” he said, and prodded Sidney with his knee until Sidney groaned unhappily and turned onto his back, scrunching his face and finally opening one eye to squint up at Zhenya.

“We go skate,” Zhenya said.

“Oh,” Sidney said, and sat up, immediately alert. “Now?”

Sidney ate, and they both changed into workout clothes, and then Zhenya drove them to the rink. It was still unseasonably warm; Pittsburgh wouldn’t be having a white Christmas. Sidney didn’t even bother with a jacket.

Zhenya hoped that nobody would be at the rink to see him arrive with Sidney and ask awkward questions. They didn’t run into a soul in the hallways, or the change room, or the dressing room, but Olli was out on the ice with some of the guys from Wilkes-Barre: Sheary, Wilson, Murray. But the planets had aligned in Zhenya’s favor. Olli might have some thoughts, but he would keep them to himself, and the rest of those guys were still much too intimidated by Zhenya to question him. It wouldn’t last, but he would take full advantage while it did.

The guys were at the other end of the ice when Zhenya and Sidney came out, but Wilson spotted them almost right away, and they all came skating down to say hello and unsubtly gawk at Sidney.

“Okay if we skate with you?” Zhenya asked.

“Maybe it’s hard for you to keep up with us,” Olli said, the little snot.

Sidney had the audacity to laugh.

Well, maybe Zhenya wasn’t eighteen anymore, but he wasn’t slow. He kicked all of their asses at drills, admittedly by cheating a little, and then they ran a scrimmage and he kicked their asses at that, too. They all sat on the bench for a while when they were done, drinking water and wiping their faces, and Sidney turned to Zhenya and said, “You’re really good at hockey.”

Zhenya snorted. “Play in NHL, of course good at hockey.”

“Come on, you know what I mean,” Sidney said.

“He’s only good because he cheats,” Olli said, from Zhenya’s other side.

“I guess he did cheat a little,” Sidney said, and the Wilkes-Barre guys all laughed.

But it was good: Zhenya got in a workout, and Sidney burned off some energy, and the presence of the other guys in the change room kept Sidney from trying anything cute. Zhenya drove them home feeling pleased with the morning’s efforts.

His luck ran out then, because Max was sitting at his kitchen table, eating leftover Chinese food straight from the carton.

Max had a key, and had lived with Zhenya for years and didn’t have any compunctions about letting himself into the house; but he usually at least texted before he dropped by.

“Oh, uh,” Sidney said, bumping into Zhenya’s back as Zhenya came to an abrupt halt in the doorway.

“Zhenya,” Max said, and his eyebrows went up. “Sid.”

Max had met Sidney at practice a few days before, but there was no reason for Sidney to be at Zhenya’s house, and Zhenya was agonizingly aware of how weird it probably seemed to Max.

“I didn’t know you were coming by,” Zhenya said.

“I texted you,” Max said, and Zhenya checked his phone then, and okay: Max had texted. “I wanted to talk about New Year’s, but—maybe this isn’t a good time?” His gaze flicked to Sidney, peeking out now from behind Zhenya’s shoulder.

“It’s fine,” Zhenya said. He forced himself to unfreeze and continue into the kitchen. He was making lunch. They could have sandwiches. And vodka, for Zhenya. “We were at the rink.”

Sidney lingered in the doorway, looking back and forth between Zhenya and Max. Zhenya knew it was rude to speak Russian when Sidney couldn’t understand a word of it, but Zhenya’s English wasn’t capable of the nuance this conversation required.

“It’s nice of you to spend time with him,” Max said hesitantly.

The lie came to Zhenya fully formed, and he opened the refrigerator as he spoke to mask the guilt of lying to Max. “He’s staying with me for a few days. Sid went home for Christmas, and Sidney doesn’t have a passport. He tried Flower and Tanger first, but they both pleaded Christmas, so I guess I’m third on the list.”

“Wow, ahead of Kuni?” Max asked, but he was smiling now, the edge of uncertainty cleared from his expression.

“Kuni is probably the least likely to put up with Sid’s bullshit,” Zhenya said. He switched to English, and said, “Sid, you want sandwich? How you like? Turkey, mayo?”

“Yeah, I—onions, but no pickles,” Sidney said, and that was easy enough: Sid still liked his sandwiches the same way.

Max left at last after polishing off the rest of the lo mein and grilling Zhenya at great length about the specific type of caviar he should serve at New Year’s. It seemed like something that could have been handled over the phone, or ideally not at all, but Zhenya knew that Max got bored easily when he wasn’t skating every day and had simply been looking for an excuse to hang out.

“Sorry for Russian,” he said to Sidney, when Max was gone, and he was cleaning up in the kitchen while Sidney drank another protein shake.

“It’s no big deal,” Sidney said. He set down the shaker bottle and licked the chocolatey mustache from his upper lip. Zhenya wasn’t staring. “You and Max are really good friends, eh?”

“Yes, I know him for long time,” Zhenya said, not sure where this was going.

“But he doesn’t know about you and Sid,” Sidney said.

“No,” Zhenya said. Sidney always managed to be both oblivious and painfully observant.

“Okay,” Sidney said. “Does anyone know?”

Zhenya scrubbed harder at an invisible spot on the counter. “No.”

“Not even my parents?” Sidney asked, because he had never known when to let anything go, then or now.

Zhenya huffed and tossed the sponge into the sink. “No. Only me, and Sid. And you.”

“Okay,” Sidney said. “Well—”

“No,” Zhenya interrupted. “I don’t care what you think. You eighteen. You don’t know.”

“You’re kind of condescending,” Sidney said, making a face like he had just smelled something unpleasant.

“Yes,” Zhenya said. “I’m asshole. Shouldn’t like. Don’t wear little shorts, walk around—”

“You like the shorts,” Sidney said.

Zhenya had made a grave tactical error. “I’m busy,” he said. “Go away.”

“Sure,” Sidney said, and licked his lip again, and grinned.

+ + +

Zhenya managed to avoid Sidney for the rest of the afternoon—by hiding in his bedroom watching Russian soaps, and he wasn’t ashamed of it—but then there was dinner to be cooked and eaten, and Sidney was lying in wait. He had pants on, but they were sweatpants, a pair of Sid’s that Zhenya recognized as being very old and very thin, and it became very apparent that Sidney wasn’t wearing underwear.

“Go set table,” Zhenya said finally, to get Sidney to quit lounging against the countertop like that.

Sidney behaved himself during dinner. He asked Zhenya a lot of questions about growing up in Magnitogorsk, stuff that Sid had never expressed any interest in, and Zhenya’s stomach rolled queasily with the thought that Sid had never asked him because he already knew.

“What?” Sidney asked, taking in Zhenya’s expression.

“It’s weird,” Zhenya said. “Talk with you, and I think—Sid knows we talk about, but he’s not here.” He shook his head. “Flower tells me, can’t change past, can’t make different. But Sid says we can. What’s my choice? Maybe I don’t have choice, only stuck, like—like actor.”

“Oh,” Sidney said. “I don’t really know. You mean like, uh, determinism versus free will? We learned about that in high school. But that’s just philosophy, isn’t it? Does it really matter which it is?”

It mattered very much to Zhenya, but he could see that Sidney didn’t understand his concerns, and it was too difficult to discuss in English.

“I guess there’s no way to know,” Sidney said, when Zhenya didn’t reply. “If you try to change something on purpose, then that would change the whole timeline, and you would forget that you changed it.”

Well, that was fucking depressing.

They finished eating and cleaned up. Zhenya was restless from two days spent largely at home. He rarely had so much free time during the season, and he wanted to call Max or Seryozha and force one of them to entertain him, but that wasn’t an option with Sidney in his house.

He wanted to call Sid. He hadn’t expected to miss him so much.

“You play chess?” he asked Sidney. Sid always refused to play with him, but that didn’t mean he didn’t know how.

“I could learn,” Sidney said, and Zhenya got up to bring his chess set in from the living room.

Sidney was a good student: every bit as attentive and thoughtful as he was on the ice, and he learned from his mistakes the same way. Zhenya gave him hints when he did something particularly dumb—“Sure you want do that?” and Sidney would frown at the board for a minute and move his piece back to where it had been, and his next attempt was better.

“Okay, you can stop going easy on me now,” Sidney said after a while, and Zhenya rolled his eyes and won the game in ten moves.

“Oh,” Sidney said, and Zhenya smirked at him. Sidney scowled and reset the board. “I guess you should go a little easy on me.”

Zhenya let Sidney win the next game, and Sidney was happy then, leaning back in his chair and smiling.

“That wasn’t so hard,” Sidney said.

Zhenya got up from the table and went over to the island to open the bottle of wine he had set out earlier. As soon as he his back was turned, he rolled his eyes. It didn’t do any harm to let Sidney think he was mastering chess, but Zhenya was too competitive to be a gracious loser, even in false defeat.

“Can I have a glass of wine?” Sidney asked.

“One glass,” Zhenya said, remembering Sidney’s hand sliding up his thigh.

They started another game. Zhenya could tell right away that Sidney’s attention was wandering. He made two stupid moves in a row, and fell for a trap that Zhenya had already demonstrated to him in their previous game. Zhenya was about to suggest that they call it quits for the night when Sidney said, “Why do you think I’m here?”

Zhenya blinked. “My house?”

“No, I mean, in Pittsburgh,” Sidney said. “Right now.”

“Sid thinks, because concussion,” Zhenya said. “So you know don’t give up.”

“Yeah, he said,” Sidney said. “But why now?”

Zhenya had been wondering that, too. Why this particular point in time? If the idea was to reassure Sidney about the future, it seemed like a piss-poor choice on the part of the cosmos. The team was at a low point, Sid was floundering—surely there was a better time.

“I don’t know,” he said.

Sidney sipped at his wine and picked up one of his bishops. Zhenya narrowed his eyes, but Sidney put the bishop down again and went for one of his knights instead. Then he set the knight down and said, “Are we going to be friends? Once you’re here? Or there, I guess. Once you join the team.”

They certainly hadn’t been friends, at least not for the first couple of years. Sid had tried, but Zhenya had been—he had wanted things from Sid that he hadn’t understood, and that combined with his homesickness and flimsy English had led him to reject most of Sid’s overtures. It got better over time, or at least different; but at first they were only teammates.

“I won’t know you,” he said. “Don’t remember. Sid doesn’t ever tell me about time travel, not until you come.”

“Yeah, I—I know that,” Sidney said. “But are we friends?”

He looked so hopeful. Zhenya wished he didn’t know why this mattered to Sidney, but of course he did. It would be easy enough to tell Sidney the blunt truth, but Zhenya found that he wanted to protect that wishful anticipation in Sidney’s eyes, the fragile hope of a boy who’d had a hard year.

“I don’t speak English, when I come,” he said. “Hard for me, with team. I’m like you very much,” Christ, much more than he should have, “but we don’t—hang out, talk. Not until I learn English, you know?”

“Oh,” Sidney said. He picked up his knight again and moved it—not a terrible move, but he could have done better. “Of course. That makes sense.”

“You have friends on team, when I come,” Zhenya said. “Colby, Max. And Flower’s there.”

“Well, sure,” Sidney said. “It’s just that—” He broke off, and took another sip of wine. “It would be nice if I could be friends with you.”

Sidney was killing him. Lately, half the time Zhenya felt like Sid didn’t even notice or care if he came around, and here Sidney was plaintively talking about how much he wanted to be friends with baby Zhenya. It was, frankly, everything Zhenya wanted, for Sid to be so open and sweet with him, but it was coming from the wrong version. He wanted it from his Sid, the real Sid, the one he—his Sid.

Well, wanting it didn’t mean he got to have it.

He slid his rook forward. “Your move.”

+ + +

He woke the next morning when his bedroom door creaked open. The wood had swollen over the summer while he was away, and it was warped now and tended to stick a little in the jamb. He rolled over to see Sidney standing in the doorway in his boxers, scratching at his pale, hairless belly. He was sleeker than Sid, more body fat and less muscle. Zhenya refused to think about what Sidney would feel like under his hands.

“What,” he croaked out, still baffled by sleep.

“I’m making breakfast,” Sidney said. “Do you want anything? I thought maybe we could go work out at the rink.”

“Oatmeal,” Zhenya said. “Please,” and possibly he looked at Sidney’s ass, just for a moment, as Sidney went away.

The rink was deserted. It was the day before Christmas. He and Sidney hit the ice for a brutal workout, endless laps back and forth, racing each other. With such a long break between games, Zhenya knew he needed to keep his conditioning up, but he spent the back half of the workout praying for death.

“Okay,” Sidney said, when they finished and went to sit on the bench for a few minutes, sweating and out of breath. “We’re going to hit the weight room now, right?”

Zhenya groaned. He hated the weight room, and he was exhausted and hungry and wanted to take a shower and go home. But as he got older he was being forced to admit that regular strength training cut down on both injuries and nagging aches and pains. And Sidney would probably mock him if he threw in the towel now.

“You can spot me,” Sidney added, and Zhenya levered himself off the bench instead of dignifying that with a response. He was certain Sidney’s version of spotting would be far more hands-on than necessary.

They changed out of their gear and went into the weight room in their base layers. Zhenya was all too aware of how form-fitting his compression shorts were, but changing into basketball shorts would show his hand and give Sidney encouragement he didn’t need. But the hot glide of Sidney’s eyes down his body as they walked through the corridor gave Zhenya some belated second thoughts about that decision.

Sidney left him alone in the weight room, mercifully. Zhenya tasked himself with some of the exercises Andy had assigned him to help with his knee—lateral moves, for stability, and Zhenya had to admit that his knee was bothering him less than it had the season before.

He was coated in a thin layer of fresh sweat by the time Sidney abandoned his box jumps and came over to cast a critical eye at Zhenya’s form.

“What, Sid,” Zhenya said. He bent down to extract himself from the resistance band looped around his knees.

“Nothing,” Sidney said. He was flushed with exertion, temptingly pink. His leggings weren’t quite as snug as they were on Sid, but Zhenya was still getting an eyeful.

“You done?” Zhenya asked.

“No, I thought—we could do some split squats,” Sidney said. His gaze dipped down and then back up, and down again. His flush deepened.

Christ. Zhenya wished more than anything that he could time travel, back in time twenty minutes to change into less revealing shorts, or possibly a tent.

“Maybe we go home,” Zhenya said.

Sidney frowned. “Well, I’m not done yet, so—do you mind waiting for me?”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Zhenya said, and added in English, “Fine, we do squat.”

Sidney went first, balanced on one foot with his other kicked up on the bench behind him, a dumbbell in each hand. Zhenya watched him idly, keeping his eyes carefully above the waist. When Sidney wobbled a few reps in, Zhenya reached out without thinking and put a hand on his hip to steady him.

Sidney sucked in a breath and froze, balancing there. Zhenya glanced down without meaning to. Sidney was—

Well.

The leggings didn’t hide much.

“Sorry,” Sidney said. He sat on the bench and set the dumbbells on the floor, and stayed hunched over, trying to conceal his erection. His face was bright red. “Sorry. I just—”

“You eighteen,” Zhenya said, trying desperately to keep cool. “It’s okay. It happens.”

“No, it’s, uh—it’s you,” Sidney said. He looked up, defiant, still so red. “Sorry. I’m just, uh.” He rounded his shoulders more, tucking his forearms between his knees. “I’m really attracted to you.”

Sid had said as much, but it was infinitely worse to hear Sidney admit it. What the fuck was Zhenya supposed to do with this knowledge? What made Sidney feel like this was something he needed to confess?

“You go shower,” Zhenya said after a moment, when nothing else came to mind. “I stay here, ride bike. Come shower in ten minute. Okay?”

“Okay,” Sidney said.

When he was gone, Zhenya put the dumbbells away and then turned on the television as loud as it would go, to drown out any possible thoughts of what Sidney might be doing to himself in the shower.

+ + +

He needed groceries, and an excuse to get out of the house, so he left Sidney at home that afternoon and drove to the store. He hated that he was falling into Sidney’s gravity well, just as Sid had predicted. Maybe there was no free will, only fate. The whole course of Zhenya’s life had been determined by—what? The universal laws of physics? God?

He was unable to believe that God had ever taken that much of an interest in him. Zhenya was vaguely religious, but mostly he thought of God as a distant and preoccupied elderly relative, off somewhere contemplating the mysteries of deep space and much too busy to bother with the misadventures of a wayward hockey player.

The grocery store was largely deserted. People were at home, spending time with their families, and Zhenya felt a painful twist of loneliness. He wouldn’t see his parents until April, when they came out for the playoffs. Assuming the team even made it to the playoffs, which was looking horrifyingly unlikely.

He lingered in the aisles, studying nutrition labels with far more care than usual. Soft music was playing, a slow and melancholy Christmas carol that fed Zhenya’s unsettled mood. He missed Sid. He took a picture of his full cart and sent it to Sid, and immediately felt pitiful, but there was no undo button in real life.

Sid started typing right away, but then the bubble disappeared. Zhenya stood frowning at his phone in the cereal aisle, gripped by a sudden desperation for Sid to respond to him. He needed it, he wanted so badly for Sid to reply.

Looks like you’re having fun, Sid texted at last.

Miss you, Zhenya replied. He and Sid never said that type of sentimental thing to each other, but Zhenya wanted to say it now.

The typing bubble popped up and disappeared again. Zhenya gave up and moved on.

He was waiting in the checkout line when his phone buzzed with Sid’s reply: Maybe next year we can do Christmas together.

That topic was so fraught that Zhenya couldn’t begin to imagine how to respond. Together meant with Sid’s family, and that was the whole miserable bedrock of it, their most irreconcilable difference. Sid had left it alone for six months, so thoroughly refusing to talk about or even acknowledge it that Zhenya had begun to think they would never discuss it again, and now here it was as he waited in line at the Giant Eagle, his shopping cart full of pasta sauce and frozen steamer bags of broccoli.

“Paper or plastic?” the cashier asked.

Zhenya texted Sid a Christmas tree emoji and put his phone away.

When he got home, Sidney came down to the garage to help Zhenya carry the groceries upstairs. He was wearing the East Coast Lifestyle hoodie that Sid kept at Zhenya’s house, and smiling, and he chattered all the way up the stairs about nothing Zhenya could make any sense of. He felt cored, like an apple.

“I thought we could watch a movie tonight,” Sidney said, perched at the island while Zhenya shoveled produce into the crisper drawers. “If you want to?”

Sidney wanted to snuggle on the couch again; Zhenya wasn’t a fool. He put the eggs away instead of responding.

“My family always watches a movie on Christmas Eve,” Sidney said, which was outright emotional manipulation and completely unfair. Zhenya straightened up to give him a narrow look, and Sidney grinned.

“What movie,” Zhenya said.

“Well, we usually watch Home Alone,” Sidney said. “But maybe there’s something you’d like to watch instead?”

“I think about,” Zhenya said. Really what he would think about was how to get out of spending any time on his couch with Sidney.

He made dinner again that night. He didn’t take any pleasure in cooking, not the way Sid did, but he could follow a recipe and throw together a decent meal. And he was trying to eat more vegetables and less takeout, after Sid had wordlessly pinched one of his love handles a few weeks ago and then smirked.

Sidney sat at the kitchen table with Zhenya’s laptop and did—something. Zhenya wasn’t monitoring him that closely. He put the salmon in the oven, and then he filled a glass with the remaining wine from the bottle he’d opened the day before, and brought it over to Sidney.

“Oh,” Sidney said, looking up at him and blinking. “Thanks.”

“Work hard today,” Zhenya said. Sidney smiled at him. Zhenya succumbed to the soft hopeful welcome in Sidney’s gaze, and ran his fingers through Sidney’s hair. Sidney shivered and closed his eyes. Zhenya gripped the back of his neck and squeezed, and then forced himself to step away. His resolve was crumbling. Sidney wanted it, and—

Perfect, Sid had said.

Zhenya was no good for Sid, and he knew it. He was astonished that Sid hadn’t broken up with him yet. It had been a long time since he felt like he was doing a passable job at making Sid happy. Not since last season. But Sid had said perfect like that, with that wistful, gentle expression on his face, like he was reliving a treasured memory, and Zhenya was sharply envious of the version of himself who could make Sid feel that way. The Zhenya he would be, if Sid were to be believed, at some point within the next week.

Why was he fighting it? What was the harm?

He dumped some greens in the salad spinner. Across the room, Sidney looked at him over the rim of the wine glass and smiled.

After dinner, they settled in the den with cognac for Zhenya and vodka and orange juice for Sidney, who even still, as Sid, wouldn’t request the orange juice but was pleased to have it.

Zhenya dug out his DVD of The Irony of Fate. “Russian holiday movie,” he told Sidney. “It’s long, three hours.”

“That’s okay,” Sidney said. “It’s still early.”

Zhenya sat down beside him: not too close, but not all the way at the other end, either. He was sort of hoping—well, it had been nice to sit with Sidney tucked up against him the other evening. He wasn’t totally opposed to that happening again.

By the time the plane landed in Leningrad, Sidney had shifted over far enough that their knees were touching, and by the time Nadya’s fiancé arrived, Sidney had his head resting on Zhenya’s shoulder and Zhenya had an arm around him, holding him close. The tiny shorts were appealing, and everything they represented—Sidney’s shameless horniness, his eagerness for whatever Zhenya was willing to give him—but what Zhenya longed for most was only this: simple closeness, and Sid sweet and content at his side.

Sidney got up after a while and returned with a glass of water. He settled on the couch on his knees, turned to face toward Zhenya, and staring so intently that finally Zhenya reached for the remote to pause the movie.

In the ensuing silence, Sidney said quietly, “Will you kiss me?”

Zhenya dropped his head back to rest against the back of the couch. He stared up at the ceiling, washed in a blue glow from the television screen that highlighted the uneven plaster.

“Sid,” he said.

“Sid told me you would,” Sidney said. “That you were going to.”

That wasn’t all Zhenya was going to do, if Sid was right; but if Sid hadn’t told Sidney about that, Zhenya certainly wasn’t going to open his big mouth.

He shifted on the couch, turning, stretching his legs out along the cushions, bracketing Sidney’s knees. “Come here,” he said, and drew Sidney down and arranged him so that Sidney was lying between Zhenya’s splayed legs, his back against Zhenya’s chest, his head tucked beneath Zhenya’s chin. Sidney was big and pretty heavy, and Zhenya had always liked it. He wrapped an arm around Sidney’s waist, holding him there, and reached for the remote.

“Watch movie,” he said, and ducked his head so he could press a kiss to Sidney’s ear.

Sidney shivered against him. On the screen, Nadya went to open the door.

+ + +

His creaky door woke him again in the morning. From the light in the room, it was very early. Zhenya squinted blearily as Sidney approached the bed with a blanket draped over his shoulders. A pale sliver of his chest peeked through the folds.

“I feel weird,” Sidney said, and he did look a little pale. “Can I—”

“Get in, sleep,” Zhenya said, too tired to wonder whether this was a ploy. The mattress dipped as Sidney climbed beneath the covers, and Zhenya closed his eyes again and sank back into sleep.

When he woke again, the sun was well up. Sidney was sitting cross-legged on the bed beside him, eating a slice of peanut butter toast—mercifully over a plate. Zhenya refused to tolerate crumbs in his bed.

“Want some?” Sidney asked.

“Yes,” Zhenya said.

They shared the rest of the toast, leaning against the headboard and passing the plate back and forth. Having Sidney in his bed was bad for Zhenya’s self-control, but at least Sidney had put on a T-shirt and a pair of shorts. They were the tiny shorts, but it was better than nothing.

“Sorry that I, uh. Came in here,” Sidney said, when the toast was done. He leaned over to set the plate on the bedside table. “I just felt a little—” He frowned. “I woke up, and I wasn’t sure where I was.”

It could have been bullshit, but the worried line between Sidney’s eyebrows seemed genuine; and Sidney hadn’t tried anything untoward. “It’s okay,” Zhenya said. “Happy Christmas.”

Sidney smiled at him, and then, to Zhenya’s dismay, snuggled down beneath the covers, resting his head on a pillow and pulling the duvet up to his chin. He looked like he was prepared to camp out. “Can I ask you something?”

Zhenya sighed. Here it was, whatever it was. “What.”

“How did you and Sid get together?”

Zhenya slanted him a disapproving look. “Maybe you ask Sid about this. I can’t say, ruin timeline.”

“I think Sid is full of shit,” Sidney said. “He shouldn’t have, like, exiled me here if he didn’t want us talking to each other. Anyway, I don’t think that’s how it works, I don’t think you can ruin the universe or whatever he thinks.”

“Maybe not universe,” Zhenya said. “He thinks we ruin…” He trailed off. He wasn’t sure what Sid thought they might ruin. ‘The timeline,’ but what did that mean? What was Sid so desperate to preserve?

“Well, I think he’s an idiot,” Sidney said.

“Maybe he know more than you,” Zhenya said.

Sidney gave him an unimpressed look. He was cute like that, just his round face peeking above the blankets. “He hasn’t learned anything about time travel that I don’t know. Are you kidding? He doesn’t know about anything except hockey.”

Zhenya had to smile at that. Sid knew about meal planning, golf, fishing, three or four very stupid sitcoms, hockey, and not much else. “You make fun of Sid, it’s make fun of self, too.”

“I know I’m boring,” Sidney said. “That’s okay. I’ve accepted that about myself.” He wrinkled his nose at Zhenya. “Are you going to tell me or what?”

Fine. “I kiss him,” Zhenya said. “At end of—not last season, but season before.”

“Come on, that’s not how you do it,” Sidney said. “You’ve got to tell me the whole story, okay?”

Zhenya absolutely did not want to talk about this, largely because the whole story painted him in a pretty terrible light. He was the bad guy, without question. But Sidney was looking at him so expectantly, and—well, if Sid was right, if things could change, maybe Zhenya should change them. If Sidney knew what he was getting into, maybe he would never give Zhenya the time of day.

He took a deep breath and turned his head aside, looking over toward the window so he wouldn’t have to look at Sidney. The sun was shining through a thin layer of clouds. “Sid, when you—when you meet me in fall. I’m not like this, you know? I’m twenty, I’m—have big crush on you, but can’t admit, not even for me, you know? I don’t want like boys, pretend for long time I don’t like. And maybe I’m not nice to you.”

“What do you mean,” Sidney said softly.

Zhenya swallowed. He was ashamed now to remember his own behavior, the way he had blown hot and cold, alternately ignoring Sid and flirting with him so outrageously that Duper had actually pulled him aside at one point and told him, in effect, to put up or shut up. For years, he had done that, long past the point of explaining it away as mere youthful confusion.

“I know you like me,” he said. “And I like, uh, attention. Flirt, play game, but not serious. I’m too scared, you know? I don’t want to like you. But—I break up with girlfriend, and I feel—maybe it’s time. Maybe I’m ready. So I kiss you.”

“And then?” Sidney asked.

“We don’t talk, all summer,” Zhenya said, although Sid had sent him a few text messages that he ignored. “And I, uh. I go to clubs, in Moscow.” This part he hadn’t ever told Sid, and he felt too exposed, sitting upright in bed, to say it now. He wormed his way down to join Sidney under the covers, and tentatively turned to face him, taking in his expression. Sidney was intent, watching him calmly.

“You can tell me,” Sidney said.

“I go to clubs,” Zhenya said again, “and I meet—I have sex with two men, that summer. It’s first time for me.”

“It was a big deal for you,” Sidney said. He reached out, beneath the covers, and wrapped his fingers around Zhenya’s wrist.

That careful touch was the only thing holding Zhenya together. “Yes,” he said.

“It’s been scary for me,” Sidney said. “Realizing, uh. That I like guys. But it’s helped me a lot to see you and Sid, like—it doesn’t really seem to be a big deal for either of you. So if it was a big deal for you, then that kind of—I guess that helps me, too. You know? Like, you came to grips with it, so I can, too.”

“It’s still big deal for me,” Zhenya admitted.

“Oh,” Sidney said. He squeezed Zhenya’s wrist. His other hand brushed lightly against Zhenya’s forehead, like a benediction. “Well, that’s okay, too.”

Zhenya looked away from him, fighting the crushing sensation that he was letting Sidney down.

“So you didn’t talk, then what happened?” Sidney asked.

Christ, Sidney was going to drag every last detail out of him. Fine. “We come back to Pittsburgh, we talk some, I say—let’s try. So then we’re together.” He closed his eyes, remembering that golden season. A lot of not-great hockey-related things had happened, but Sid had been so happy, smiling all the time, so much that Tanger and Flower developed a conspiracy theory that he’d picked up a brain parasite. Zhenya had felt struck dumb by it, the sheer force of Sid’s joy, towed along and giddy and drowning in it.

And then the Rangers knocked them out of the playoffs in the first round, and Zhenya ruined everything.

“Sid wants to tell people,” he said, forcing out the words. It was the thing he was least proud of, one of the worst moments of his adult life: watching Sid’s hopeful expression fade into hurt, and then, at the end, into careful, blank neutrality. “At end of last season. And I say no. I don’t like if anyone knows.”

“Oh,” Sidney said. “Is that what’s going on with you guys? That makes a lot of sense.”

Zhenya hesitantly opened his eyes. “Sid doesn’t tell you?”

Sidney didn’t look angry, or disgusted. If anything, he looked sympathetic. “No. I mean, I could tell he’s unhappy for some reason,” and wasn’t that a cleaver directly through Zhenya’s heart, “but I didn’t know why. He kept telling me I was imagining things.”

That sounded like Sid. “He doesn’t like talk,” Zhenya said.

“Well, of course not,” Sidney said. “Talking sucks.”

“I ask him,” Zhenya said. “If he wants to break up. And he says no. But I think—” His chest ached. His throat felt raw. “I think maybe we break up.”

“Oh,” Sidney said, frowning. “Do you want to?”

“No,” Zhenya said. He didn’t want to break up with Sid ever, he wanted—he didn’t want to break up. “But he’s not happy. You know.”

“Well,” Sidney said. He squeezed Zhenya’s wrist again, and then released him and sat up. “I’m gonna make some more toast. Do you want any?”

“Okay,” Zhenya said, and when Sidney was gone, he lay in bed with his hands over his eyes and prayed for a different timeline, a second chance.

+ + +

They stayed in that day. Nothing was open on Christmas. They could have gone to the rink—Zhenya’s key card worked no matter what—but all the lights would be off; everything would be shut down. And Zhenya didn’t feel like going anywhere or doing anything.

Merry Christmas :) Sid texted him mid-morning, and Zhenya went to the basement and did intervals on the exercise bike until his lungs and his legs both burned with exertion.

Sidney was in the kitchen when he went back upstairs, still in his pajamas, his hair in wild fluffy curls around his face. He had Zhenya’s laptop again, and he was perched with one foot drawn up on the chair, his chin resting on his knee. “Hey,” he said, when Zhenya appeared at the top of the stairs. “Can I borrow your phone? I want to call Sid.”

“Okay,” Zhenya said, and handed Sidney his unlocked phone, and showed him how to operate the touchscreen, and went upstairs to shower so he wouldn’t have to listen to that conversation.

Sidney was still on the phone when Zhenya went downstairs again, showered and dressed. He didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but as he approached the kitchen he heard Sidney saying, “—really want to come with you, I don’t want to stay here by myself. It’s boring.”

Zhenya paused in the doorway, stung. He’d been trying hard to keep Sidney entertained.

“Well, I know, but I can just stay in your hotel room,” Sidney said, and Zhenya realized that Sidney was talking about the upcoming road trip, and hated himself both for caring about Sidney’s boredom and for hoping that Sidney would come on the road trip. He wasn’t ready to be alone with Sid.

“Okay,” Sidney said. “Yeah, okay. Thanks. I guess just text Geno. Or you can email me. I’ve been using his laptop.”

Zhenya moved into the room, heading for the refrigerator and the leftovers from the night before.

Sidney glanced over at him and smiled, and said, “Actually, he’s—do you want to talk to him? He’s here now.”

Zhenya did not want to talk to Sid, and tried to convey that to Sidney with a meaningful widening of his eyes, but of course Sidney was either oblivious or pretending to be. He came over, still smiling, and proffered the phone.

There was no getting around it. Zhenya sighed and held the phone to his ear. “Hi, Sid.”

“Hi, G,” Sid said. He sounded a little breathless. “Sorry, I can’t talk long—I need to pack and head to the airport, and Sidney’s already been chewing my ear off for half an hour.”

“He has lots to say,” Zhenya said, staring resignedly at Sidney’s ass as he returned to the table.

Sid huffed. “Yeah. Well, he’s trying to get himself invited on the road trip. I mean, it’s going to happen, but I need to text Sullivan about it, and I guess Jim and Jen. I’m getting in pretty late, so I’ll come by tomorrow morning to pick him up. I mean, if that’s okay with you.”

“Yes, it’s fine,” Zhenya said. “What time, 7:30?”

“7:15,” Sid said. “I—has it been okay? Having him there. I know you weren’t, uh. Thrilled about it.”

Zhenya gazed at Sidney, back on the computer now, chewing on his lip and staring intently at the screen as he scrolled down. Zhenya had grown fond of him, of course he had—how could he not? He was Sid, but Zhenya hadn’t poisoned the well with him yet. There was no shadow in any of his smiles. He wanted nothing from Zhenya but his attention, and Zhenya couldn’t stop himself from responding again and again.

“It’s fine,” he said to Sid. “No trouble.”

“Okay,” Sid said. “Good. Well.” He paused. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yes, text,” Zhenya said, and they hung up.

He Skyped with his parents after lunch. It was late evening in Magnitogorsk, and his mother was drinking her final cup of tea of the day and yawning. His father told a long story about Zhenya’s uncle, who had bought a new car, sold it, acquired another one, wrecked it, and now was driving an old military vehicle that he had retrofitted.

Men,” Zhenya’s mother said, and his father laughed and kissed her cheek.

They didn’t know about Sid—about Zhenya, and what he did with Sid. He had never told them. The thought of telling them made his stomach feel tight and hard, the way it always did right before he vomited.

Sid wanted to tell his own parents, and Zhenya wasn’t even sure if they knew he liked men. How did Sid feel about it? Was he terrified the way Zhenya was?

Even at eighteen, Sid had been braver than Zhenya was now, as a grown man. Sidney knew what he wanted and asked for it—maybe awkward, maybe uncertain, but so willing to take that risk. It was all new to him, but he wanted to try, and Zhenya was ashamed of his own fear and wavering in the face of Sidney’s bull-in-a-china-shop courage.

He and Sidney watched Die Hard after dinner that evening. “It’s totally a Christmas movie, it counts,” Sidney said, and stood there expectantly until Zhenya tucked himself into the corner of the sofa and let Sidney lie down in his arms, just like the night before.

Zhenya had seen this movie many times, the product of years of road roommates and a general male predilection for action flicks. He thought the plot was fairly stupid, but Sidney was enjoying himself, and Zhenya was enjoying holding Sidney close and nosing at his hair and, after a while, tucking his fingers beneath the hem of Sidney’s T-shirt to stroke along the waistband of his sweatpants.

He wasn’t trying to start anything, but Sidney’s breathing grew increasingly shallow, and finally Sidney shifted in his arms and said, “Geno.”

Zhenya looked down. Sidney was hard, straining at the front of his pants, and Zhenya felt a swift gut-punch of arousal.

“Okay, up,” he said, sitting up and gently pushing Sidney away from him. “I go get water, you go, uh. Take care.”

Sidney turned around to stare him. The room was lit only by the television, and Sidney’s eyes looked black and bright. “You’re telling me to—what, go jerk off in the washroom?”

“Yes,” Zhenya said, and went into the kitchen to give himself a breather.

He lingered there for longer than he probably needed to, drinking a glass of water and then part of another. He wanted to text Sid, but he had nothing to say. He had been three heartbeats away from sticking his hand down Sidney’s pants and trying to make him moan.

“Geno,” Sidney said, and Zhenya turned to see him standing the doorway. His cheeks were pink. The front of his shirt was damp, like maybe he had dried his hands on it.

Zhenya set down his glass and leaned back against the counter. “Come here,” he said roughly.

Sidney came to him and put his arms around Zhenya’s waist and tucked his face into Zhenya’s neck. Zhenya slid his hands down Sidney’s back to his hips. He wasn’t Sid, but almost. He felt almost exactly the same.

“You jack off?” he murmured.

“Yeah,” Sidney said. He exhaled a hot breath against Zhenya’s skin. “But I could go again.”

Zhenya wasn’t going there, although Christ it was tempting—maybe stroking Sidney through his sweatpants until he got hard again, and then keeping at it until Sidney came in his arms. “Sid,” he said, and tipped Sidney’s head back, one hand cupping Sidney’s jaw. He watched Sidney’s pupils dilate.

“Are you gonna kiss me?” Sidney asked.

“You want?” Zhenya asked. He dipped his head and kissed Sidney’s flushed cheek.

“Geno,” Sidney whispered. His lips were parted, and so pink and soft. He didn’t look anywhere near as scared as Zhenya felt.

“Yes,” Zhenya said. He wasn’t even sure what he was responding to. He turned his head that last small bit and pressed his mouth to Sidney’s.

Sidney made a low noise in his throat. His hands flexed against Zhenya’s back. He leaned into the kiss, his mouth opening, and suddenly there was a lot of tongue, just way too much, like Sidney was trying to devour him whole.

Zhenya pulled back. “Sid,” he said. He stroked Sidney’s cheekbone with his thumb. “Hold still. Let me do.”

“You’re so fucking bossy,” Sidney said. He licked his lips, and they were shiny on top of being full and pink, and Zhenya needed to get a grip.

“Not bossy,” Zhenya said. He was experienced, he knew how to kiss, and Sidney was just—there was a method to it. You couldn’t just flail your tongue around and hope for the best. “Hold still,” he said again, and put his other hand on Sidney’s face, too, holding him right there, at the perfect angle, and he bent to slide their mouths together, stroking his lower lip against Sidney’s.

Sidney sighed a little and fisted his hands in Zhenya’s shirt.

That was better. Zhenya gave him a few gentle kisses, delighting in the way Sidney leaned against him with the full weight of his body. Sid was never this pliant. He always wanted to be in charge, he wanted to get naked and get down to business as quickly as possible, and Zhenya rarely got to linger the way he liked to. But Sidney would let him, because Sidney didn’t know any better.

Once Zhenya’s own lips felt tingly from kissing, he deepened the kiss and gave Sidney just the slightest hint of tongue. Sidney responded eagerly, opening his mouth and letting Zhenya dip inside, gently stroking their tongues together. Sidney tasted just like Sid, as carnally familiar as the musky scent of his armpits or his groin. Zhenya felt his dick taking a profound interest, and he forced himself to draw back and take a few breaths.

Sidney’s eyes opened after a moment. He was very pink now. He licked his lips again.

“Kiss me,” Zhenya said, and Sidney pushed up onto his toes and did.

He was learning already, mimicking Zhenya’s movements. Zhenya closed his eyes and melted into the slow heat of the kiss. He let himself palm Sidney’s ass through his pants, and Sidney made an encouraging noise and pushed back into the touch, and if Zhenya didn’t stop this now he was going to suck Sidney off on the kitchen floor.

“Okay,” he said. He put his hands on Sidney’s shoulders and moved him away. “Maybe bedtime now.”

Sidney looked a little glazed. “Yeah?” he said, and gave Zhenya a onceover.

“Not together,” Zhenya said sternly. “We have early flight. Set alarm.”

“Okay,” Sidney said, and Zhenya went upstairs before he could let his self-control falter any more than it already had.

+ + +

Zhenya was ostensibly awake and fumbling blearily around the kitchen the next morning when Sid arrived, dressed in one of his eighty-seven navy suits and looking entirely too well-rested and perky for someone who had been in a different country the day before. Zhenya stood there with the carton of eggs in his hand and watched Sid take a seat at the table and smile at him.

“Hey,” Sid said.

“I don’t see you in four days, that’s all you say? I don’t get kiss?” Zhenya asked, and set the eggs on the counter.

Sid’s face shifted through a few different expressions. He got up and crossed the room and Zhenya gathered him in, tugging gently at the lapels of Sid’s jacket, and kissed him. Sid smiled against his mouth and shoved his hands down the back of Zhenya’s pajama pants to grope him. It was perfect.

Sid pulled back with a final kiss to Zhenya’s chin. He didn’t take his hands out of Zhenya’s pants. “You kissed Sidney last night, didn’t you.”

Zhenya tensed, guilty. “How you know? He say?”

“No, I just remember,” Sid said. “It was good, huh?” He looked pleased, and kind of wistful—like it was a happy, well-worn memory for him, and not something shameful that Zhenya had done because he couldn’t control himself.

“Yes,” Zhenya said. “It’s good. But I like kiss you better.”

Sid’s smile stretched a little wider. “Well, kiss me again, then.”

Zhenya did, very thoroughly, and then diverted to pay some attention to Sid’s neck and ear. “I miss you,” he said softly, “look at baby Sid, think how he’s not you. Wish you’re here with me, not him.”

“I—Geno,” Sid said. He slid his palms over Zhenya’s ass. He sounded surprised, and he had reason to be: they didn’t say these sweet things to each other. But maybe it was time for that to change.

Zhenya gave him another kiss, really lingering over it. He cast an eye at the clock on the oven, wondering if they had time to fool around a little, and Sid pulled back and said, “I know what you’re thinking, and we definitely don’t. Go get changed, I’ll make something for you to eat. And make sure Sidney’s up, he’ll sleep forever if you let him.”

Zhenya went, grumbling.

But Sidney was awake, brushing his teeth in the hall bathroom, and they were all dressed and fed and out of the house in plenty of time, even by Sid’s standards, and waiting for the plane in the lounge as the rest of the team straggled in.

“Shit, G, how come you’re here so early?” Phil asked, clutching his coffee like he thought someone might try to steal it from him.

“Sid tells me wrong time for plane is leave,” Zhenya said. “Sneaky.”

“Well, someone’s got to make sure you show up on time,” Sid said placidly.

It was a long day: the early flight, and then directly to the arena for skate. Minneapolis was an hour behind Pittsburgh, and Zhenya knew he would be exhausted by the end of the game; and then they would fly to Winnipeg that night, to play the Jets the next day. He was entirely ready for his pre-game nap when they took the bus back to the hotel after skate.

Sidney plopped down beside him on the bus, and Zhenya gave him a narrow look. He liked to sit alone on the bus, and he knew without a doubt that Sidney had ulterior motives.

“Come nap with us,” Sidney said, very quietly. “After lunch.”

The thought of any of their teammates catching Zhenya sneaking into or out of Sid’s hotel room made him want to die. “It’s bad idea,” he said.

“Sid says it’s fine,” Sidney said. “Nobody sees you. He says it’s important.”

Sid thought everything was important, but Zhenya was too tired for an argument about time travel. “Fine,” he said. “After meal.”

Sidney slipped him a key card during lunch, and after the meal, Zhenya went to Sid’s room and let himself in. The hallway was empty, as promised. Nobody would know.

They were both in bed already, sitting up against the headboard in a mound of pillows. Sid looked like he was naked, or at least wearing only boxers, and Sidney had on an ancient, stretched-out Rimouski shirt. One of his arms was flung around Sid’s shoulders. They looked very cozy, cuddled up there together, and Zhenya felt that he was being tested by God, or possibly punished for his sins.

“Take your pants off,” Sid said, and yawned.

Zhenya waggled his eyebrows, because he couldn’t resist. Sid rolled his eyes; Sidney giggled.

“You so cute,” Zhenya said, meaning both of them, individually and together.

“Hurry up, I’m tired,” Sid said, and Zhenya took off his shoes and pants and shirt, aware that they were both watching him intently, and then he climbed on the bed and crawled up the mattress to wedge himself between them, forcing them to make room.

“Oof,” Sidney said, laughing, as Zhenya flopped onto his back and maybe accidentally elbowed Sidney in the gut.

“Fuck, Geno,” Sid said, squirming away from him, and Sidney was still laughing, loud and ridiculous, until Sid started laughing, too, and reached across Zhenya to plaster a hand over Sidney’s mouth. “Shut up,” Sid said, “you fucking—you’re so loud.”

Sidney wrenched his head away. “You’re smothering me! Geno, he’s trying to kill me—”

“Yeah, I’m really gonna kill you now,” Sid said, and they started grappling with each other with Zhenya trapped in the middle, and Zhenya yelped and struggled upright and said, “Stop, you kill me—”

“I can’t kill you, you’re—eighteen feet tall,” Sidney said, and Zhenya rolled and pinned him, pinning Sidney’s wrists above his head, and Sidney stopped laughing then.

“Sorry,” Zhenya said, and released him.

“He likes it,” Sid said. He shifted closer. “Will you kiss him?”

“Sid,” Zhenya said.

“I know, you’re tired,” Sid said. “I’m not trying to—I just want to see you kiss him.”

Zhenya turned onto his back again. They were both watching him, one on each side, but Zhenya only had eyes for Sid. He reached up and touched Sid’s cheek. His chin was different, after breaking his jaw. Zhenya had never noticed it, before Sidney arrived.

“First time we’re together, I think, you kiss nice,” Zhenya said. He moved his fingers across the soft plane of Sid’s cheek. “And now I know it’s because I teach you.”

“You didn’t teach me,” Sidney said from his other side. “I’ve kissed people before.”

Zhenya ignored him. “Sid, what’s us, now? What’s only fate?”

“Fate doesn’t exist,” Sid said.

“No?” Zhenya asked. “Then why you so worried?”

Sid seized Zhenya’s hand and pulled it away from his face. He pressed a rough kiss to Zhenya’s palm. “Just kiss him. Come on, G. You have to.”

“I don’t do because you say,” Zhenya said, but Sidney pushed up onto one elbow and bent over Zhenya and kissed him, and Zhenya didn’t care what Sidney claimed: he had clearly learned a thing or two.

“Slower,” Sid said, and Sidney slicked his tongue across Zhenya’s upper lip, very slow. Zhenya brought one hand up to tangle in Sidney’s soft hair.

When Sidney broke away at last, he was flushed and smiling. “Pretty good,” he said.

Zhenya hadn’t been aware he was being subjected to a referendum on his kissing. “We sleep now?”

“Yeah,” Sid said. He leaned in and gave Zhenya a quick kiss, there and gone before Zhenya could react. “You can go to sleep.”

Zhenya fell asleep lying belly-down between them, Sid on one side and Sidney on the other, his face buried in the crevice between two pillows. He listened to them talking softly to each other. After a while, one of them began stroking his hair.

+ + +

They won the game that night, and then flew to Winnipeg to lose to the Jets, and then home to Pittsburgh that same night: a very long day, but everyone wanted to get home, and they would have a full day off to recover before practice on Tuesday.

“Come home with me,” Sid said to Zhenya as they were leaving the plane, and Zhenya hadn’t been alone with him since before Christmas. It had been far too long.

“Yes,” he said, and he waited for Sid to get in his car with Sidney, and followed them home.

It was the middle of the night. They all went straight upstairs to bed, and Sidney very politely went to his own room, and Sid and Zhenya stripped down and got in bed together. Sid held Zhenya in his arms and gave him a few sleepy kisses.

“I want to have sex with you, but I’m too tired,” Sid said. He slung a leg over Zhenya’s hips.

“Me too,” Zhenya said. “In morning. We sleep in, then fuck.”

Sid huffed. He kissed Zhenya’s jaw. “Okay. Night, G.”

“Goodnight, sweetheart,” Zhenya said in Russian.

He woke once, barely, when Sid got out of bed, probably to piss, and woke again when Sid came back. He reached out to pull Sid against him without opening his eyes, and Sid made a pleased noise and let Zhenya spoon him. He was warm and naked. Zhenya very contentedly rubbed his morning wood against Sid’s ass. Sid made another noise and shifted back against Zhenya until there was no space between them at all.

“Sid,” Zhenya murmured. He slid his hand around from Sid’s hip to grope him a little, and smirked when he found Sid already hard. He nosed at the back of Sid’s neck, the soft curls there, the—

He froze. Sid’s hair wasn’t that long. It hadn’t been that long for years.

“Why did you stop,” Sidney said.

Zhenya rolled onto his back and rubbed his eyes, partly to wipe away the crust and partly to avoid having to look at Sidney in his bed, naked and turned on. “You very sneaky,” he said. “Not okay.”

“Sorry,” Sidney said, not sounding very sorry. The mattress shifted. He stroked a hand down Zhenya’s arm. “Sid told me to see if you were awake. He’s going to make breakfast.”

Sid had known exactly what he was doing. Zhenya was convinced of it. He lowered his hands. Sidney had turned toward him, and the covers were shoved down far enough that it was clear, even if Zhenya hadn’t already known, that he wasn’t wearing a stitch of clothing. His pink nipples were tight with arousal, and Zhenya wanted to look away, but he also wanted to lean in and bite down until Sidney cried out.

“Please,” Sidney said. He shifted closer and draped one thigh across Zhenya’s hips, exactly as Sid had done the night before. Zhenya could feel Sidney’s hard-on hot and thick against his belly.

“You—breakfast,” Zhenya said.

“Please,” Sidney said again, and tucked his face into Zhenya’s neck and kissed him right below his ear. “I really want you to touch me.”

Zhenya was mere mortal flesh. There was only so much of this he could take.

He groaned and rolled on top of Sidney, crushing him into the bed, and gave him the harsh messy kiss he deserved, more teeth than tongue. Sidney immediately got his hands on Zhenya’s ass and rolled his hips up in a dirty grind, and Zhenya had known that Sidney was trouble but he certainly hadn’t understood the full extent of it.

He was abruptly, absurdly furious: with Sid, for being such an ungodly fucking cipher; with himself, for letting it all continue for so long; and with Sidney, for unwittingly dropping into the middle of their domestic misery and teaching a masterclass on how to drive Zhenya out of his mind. None of it was fair, and Zhenya still cared about fairness. You scored more points, you won: that was how you played the game. But there were no points here, and he never knew how long he had until the clock ran out.

He went up onto his knees. “Move,” he said, his hands rough at Sidney’s hips, shoving him over onto his side.

“What? Can’t we—I liked you on top of me,” Sidney said, but he let Zhenya arrange him and spoon up behind him again, wrapping an arm around his waist and tugging him close.

“You want, you hold still, let me do how I like,” Zhenya said into Sidney’s ear. “Okay?”

Sidney shuddered against him. “Yeah, I—okay.”

Zhenya buried his face in Sidney’s soft dark hair. He smelled like Sid’s shampoo, a faint orange-peel scent. “You be good?”

Yes,” Sidney said, squirming a little, twisting his hips like he was trying to get Zhenya’s hand back on his cock. “I promise, will you please—”

“Shh, don’t whine,” Zhenya said, deliberately a little mean—because he felt mean. He wanted to corrupt Sidney.

He slid his hand down Sidney’s hip, down the thick muscular curve of his thigh to hook around the inside of his knee, parting his legs just enough for Zhenya to tuck his erection into the tight hot space there. This was a favorite position for him and Sid: almost like fucking but far less work, and Zhenya loved the closeness and the way Sid’s thighs would clench around his dick as his orgasm approached.

“Are you going to, uh,” Sidney said. The head of Zhenya’s cock nudged at Sidney’s balls, and Sidney twisted again with a startled noise.

“Only touch,” Zhenya said. He ran his hand back up Sidney’s body to splay over his soft belly. “First time for you.”

“I’m not a virgin,” Sidney said, turning his head over his shoulder to glare at Zhenya. “You can do anything you want. I know I’ll like it.”

Zhenya groaned and set his teeth in Sidney’s shoulder. He wanted to leave a mark, a huge purple bruise, and he couldn’t. He settled for pinching one of Sidney’s nipples—pretty hard, the way Sid liked it—and Sidney arched against him with a yelp.

“Too hard?” asked Zhenya, who knew it wasn’t.

“I—do it again,” Sidney said.

Zhenya twisted his fingers, and the noise Sidney made was just—unbelievable, raw and shocked. There was no doubt in Zhenya’s mind that Sidney had never had sex with anyone who knew his body as well as Zhenya did. Zhenya fully intended to blow his mind.

He played with Sidney for a few minutes, until his nipples were as red and swollen as the head of his dick. He dragged his nails over Sidney’s belly, digging in hard and leaving pink trails in his wake. Sidney clasped Zhenya’s wrist and panted and he was just so fucking sweet.

“You very good for me,” Zhenya said, pressing sucking kisses to the back of Sidney’s neck. He was in heaven, Sidney warm and slightly sweaty against him beneath the covers, and his own dick trapped in the hot pressure between Sidney’s thighs.

“Oh, God,” Sidney said. “I’m—do you—do you tease Sid like this?”

Zhenya smiled against Sidney’s skin. “No, he won’t let. Too bossy. Always hurry up, don’t play.”

“Okay,” Sidney said, and flinched as Zhenya dipped a finger into his navel. “Well—hurry up.”

Zhenya’s smile widened. Sidney was trying to sound commanding, but he mostly sounded desperate. Zhenya didn’t have any particular need to be in charge in the bedroom—that was usually Sid’s role—but he was having fun now, and Sidney seemed to like it, judging by the way he was squirming constantly and grinding his hips backward.

But Zhenya wasn’t really trying to tease, only enjoying himself with Sidney’s body. He kissed Sidney’s nape again and slid his hand down to stroke the base of Sidney’s dick. “You want?”

“Yeah, I—please,” Sidney said, and Zhenya curled his hand into a loose fist and dragged it lightly up the hot length of Sidney’s hard-on.

He started slow, jacking Sidney’s foreskin over the head. Sidney gripped Zhenya’s forearm and rolled his hips into the touch, which had the pleasant side effect of working Zhenya’s cock between his thighs, starting to get slick now with Zhenya’s precome and Sidney’s sweat. Zhenya closed his eyes and held Sidney close and wallowed in it, Sidney’s thick delicious body and his small choked-off moans.

He heard Sidney make a noise in his throat, maybe a little surprised, and then Sidney stopped moving and said, “Hey.”

Christ, of course.

Zhenya opened his eyes and met Sid’s gaze as he worked his hand over Sidney’s dick. Sid was leaning in the doorway, arms folded, wearing sweatpants and Zhenya’s goddamn cardigan.

“Hi, Sid,” Zhenya said, and ducked his head to kiss Sidney’s shoulder.

“Hey, G,” Sid said, his voice a little rough.

Zhenya took his hand off Sidney long enough to twitch the covers back, showing Sid the full flushed length of Sidney’s body and exactly what Zhenya was doing to him. Sidney’s dick was leaking steadily now, easing the way, and Zhenya stroked his thumb over the head and stared at Sid and felt darkly triumphant. Sid was getting what he wanted, and Zhenya hoped he was fucking happy.

Sid cleared his throat. “You, uh. You both need lube.”

“Okay, you help,” Zhenya said, and gave Sidney a squeeze just to feel him shake.

Zhenya watched Sid intently as he crossed the room to the bedside table and opened the drawer. Sid fished out the lube, but he didn’t open the bottle like Zhenya expected. Instead he stood there at the side of the bed and laid his free hand on Sidney’s face, his palm cupping Sidney’s cheek.

“Does it feel good?” Sid asked quietly.

Sidney drew in a shaky breath. He arched into Zhenya’s grasp. “Yeah.”

“He knows just how to touch you, doesn’t he,” Sid murmured. His gaze darted to Zhenya for one searing instant and then focused back on Sidney. “Are you getting close?”

“I don’t know,” Sidney said. “Yeah.”

“Good,” Sid said. He took his hand away and bent to kiss Sidney’s cheek, and then shifted to kiss Zhenya’s mouth, soft and chaste.

Sid straightened up and opened the lube. He lifted Sidney’s leg out of the way, baring Zhenya’s cock, and slicked Zhenya up with brisk efficiency. Zhenya offered his hand, and Sid drizzled a small puddle of lube into his palm.

And then Sidney’s thighs were slick and tight, and Zhenya rocked against him and slid his fist down the full length of Sidney’s erection, and Sidney shoved his hips forward and moaned.

“Good,” Sid said. “Just like that.”

Sid perched on the mattress, his hip by Sidney’s head, and stroked Sidney’s hair and stared at Zhenya. His gaze was piercing. Zhenya couldn’t look away, even if he had wanted to. He had already been feeling fairly overwhelmed, and having Sid there with them, watching all of it, upped the ante in a way that Zhenya almost couldn’t handle. It was Sidney in his arms, Sidney’s cock in his hand, and Sid in his heart.

“You’re being so good,” Zhenya said in Russian, and kissed the back of Sidney’s neck and held Sid’s gaze. “I love the way you feel.” He worked Sidney with a tight firm grip, much less careful now with lube to ease the way. Sidney made a lot of delightful noises and it was easy to enjoy him, and it should have been easy to stop thinking and slide his dick between Sidney’s legs and let go. But he couldn’t stop watching Sid.

And Sid was watching him right back, intent on Zhenya even as he ran his fingers through Sidney’s hair and bent over from time to time to kiss Sidney’s forehead. Zhenya almost felt guilty for having so much of his attention diverted away from Sidney, but—well, Sidney would get off, and he would grow up and in ten years would have as much of Zhenya’s attention as he wanted.

“He’s going to come,” Sid said at last, as if Zhenya couldn’t tell from the way Sidney was going tense against him, all coiled up, and panting harshly with each movement of Zhenya’s hand.

“Is that so,” Zhenya said, and he did look away from Sid then to nose at Sidney’s ear and pull him even closer. “You’re going to come for me, sweetheart, let me feel it—”

“Oh,” Sidney gasped out, sounding surprised, and he shook hard and spurted into Zhenya’s cupped hand.

God, he was sweet. Zhenya nuzzled the back of his neck and held him as he trembled through it.

“Now you,” Sid said to Zhenya.

Zhenya wiped his wet hand on the sheets and grasped the crest of Sidney’s hip, rotating him slightly forward for a better angle. He thrust carefully and Sidney twitched and moaned, oversensitive, but Zhenya knew he liked it because Sid liked it.

Sidney covered Zhenya’s hand with his. “Are you gonna come on me?”

“Yes,” Zhenya said, and Sidney squeezed his thighs together as Zhenya rolled his hips again, and Zhenya couldn’t bite back his groan.

“That’s it,” Sid said, and slid his hand into Zhenya’s hair.

Zhenya closed his eyes and rutted between Sidney’s legs, mouthing at the back of Sidney’s neck as he felt his orgasm crest and peak and finally spill over.

When it was done, he carefully slid his dick out and flopped onto his back, panting.

“You killed him,” he heard Sid say, amused. The mattress shifted. One of them made a startled noise, and Zhenya managed to open his eyes in time to see Sid turn Sidney onto his back, kneel between his legs, and gently, very slowly, start licking Zhenya’s come from his skin.

“Holy shit,” Zhenya breathed.

He was afraid to blink. It was probably the most erotic thing he had ever seen—repeated pink flashes of tongue over Sidney’s balls, his soft inner thighs, the base of his soft dick, which didn’t stay soft for long. Sid never did anything by halves, and he was thorough about this, too, holding Sidney down with both hands on his hips and licking until he was clean and shiny with spit.

Sid sat up and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “There,” he said.

Sidney turned his head to look at Zhenya. He was hard again, and he looked pretty out of it. “Geno—”

“Geno needs to get in the shower,” Sid said. “You can take care of that yourself.”

“You’re so fucking mean,” Sidney said, but Sid was already dragging Zhenya off the bed and over toward the bathroom, and Zhenya’s last glimpse before Sid shut the door behind them was of Sidney scowling and wrapping his own hand around his dick.

“Mean, Sid,” Zhenya said, a little bewildered by Sid’s behavior but mostly amused. Jerking off wouldn’t do Sidney any harm.

Sid was stripping rapidly, his mouth a thin line. “Shut up,” he said, and dropped his sweatpants on the floor, and herded Zhenya into the shower stall.

“Hey,” Zhenya said. He cranked the water a little hotter, and then drew Sid against him, holding him there beneath the spray. Sid was hard, and Zhenya slid a teasing hand down his back to grab his ass.

“He doesn’t get to have you,” Sid said fiercely. His fingers dug into Zhenya’s hips.

Zhenya blinked, taken completely aback. “He’s go home soon—few days. Then it’s just us.” He stroked Sid’s wet hair out of his eyes and cupped Sid’s jaw.

Sid wouldn’t meet his eyes. He stared stubbornly at Zhenya’s chin. “You’re mine.”

Zhenya’s heart did a somersault. Sid never talked like that. “Sid—”

“Shut up,” Sid said. He leaned forward and tucked his face against Zhenya’s chest. “You’re mine.”

“Sid,” Zhenya said. He wrapped his arms around Sid. He felt fizzy as a shaken bottle of champagne. “Sid, I’m yours.”

+ + +

Sidney was pink-cheeked and smiley over breakfast, in sharp contrast to Sid’s brooding silence and Zhenya’s cautious, baffled hope. Sidney talked a lot about—Zhenya wasn’t even sure what, too focused on the way Sid kept shooting him quick little glances and then looking away again. His face was slightly flushed. Zhenya wasn’t sure what was going on, but he liked it.

When breakfast was finished, Sid pushed back from the table and said, “I need to run some errands. Geno, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Zhenya rolled his eyes to be so summarily dismissed, but Sid still wouldn’t look at him straight on, and Zhenya was charmed, because Sid was embarrassed. He had revealed too much, and now he was going to turtle for a while. Zhenya knew how Sid worked.

He didn’t mind getting evicted. He had things to do at home. He bent over Sidney’s chair to give him a long, deep kiss, and when he straightened up, Sidney looked so pleased that Zhenya had to kiss him again.

Sid was watching all of this with an inscrutable expression. Zhenya flashed him a shit-eating grin, his mouth still wet from Sidney’s tongue, and Sid blinked at him a few times and said, “Let me, uh. I’ll walk you out.”

Sid walked him out. He kissed Zhenya in the entryway, his arms around Zhenya’s neck, his body pressed all against Zhenya’s. Zhenya curled his hands around Sid’s hips and kissed him as sweet as he knew how.

“See you at practice tomorrow,” Sid said, when they broke apart at last, and Zhenya drove home smiling.

Sid texted him a picture that evening, a selfie: him and Sidney curled up on the couch together, the TV a bright blur in the background. They looked cozy.

Wish I’m there, Zhenya replied, and received a whole array of smiley faces in return, and then, This is Sidney. I hope you’re having a good evening.

He was much too fucking adorable. Zhenya snapped a picture of himself sprawled on his own sofa and sent it off. Then he saved the picture of Sid and Sidney to his phone. He knew he would want to look at it again, in weeks and months to come.

He was possibly a little bit on the late side for practice the next morning. By the time he changed into his base layers and went across the hall to the locker room, most of the team had already arrived and gotten dressed. Sidney was talking to Flower, who had taken a shine to him, for some reason; and of course Sidney was happy to interact with someone he knew. Sidney spotted Zhenya and waved and turned vaguely pink, and it was a good thing he was leaving soon because Zhenya could feel himself getting way too invested.

Sid was taping his socks very intently. Zhenya watched him as he strapped on his own pads, until Sid glanced up and wrinkled his nose; and then Zhenya looked away. He had been pretty invested for a long time.

Practice was good. The team was clicking at last. Zhenya liked Sullivan more and more, and he could tell from Sid’s small pleased smile that he approved as well. And why hadn’t they talked about this already? Why didn’t he know Sid’s exact thoughts on Sullivan? Sidney was a distraction, but that was no excuse. Sid was supposed to be his—his—Zhenya should know what he thought.

Horny skated past and whacked at Zhenya’s ass with his stick. “Look alive!”

“Your mother fucked a goat,” Zhenya yelled after him.

“Were you cursing at him?” Olli asked. “Will you teach me?”

“No, too hard, you too slow,” Zhenya said, and instead taught Olli his favorite joke about Finns.

He wandered over to Flower’s stall after practice. Murray had already changed and left, but Flower had lingered on the ice for a while to talk to Sullivan, and Zhenya plopped down in Murray’s empty stall and said, “I have question.”

Flower wiped his towel over his face and smiled at Zhenya. “Of course. What is it?”

“I want ask about time travel,” Zhenya said.

“Oh,” Flower said. He had talked about his experience some at the time, but not in great detail, and Zhenya had the impression that he was reluctant to discuss it. Flower glanced across the room to where Sidney was sitting in the empty stall beside Sid.

“I know you don’t like talk about,” Zhenya said. “So you tell me fuck off, it’s okay.”

Flower laughed. “Maybe I will. But it’s okay to ask.”

“When old Flower comes, he’s only here two days,” Zhenya said. “But baby Sid is here so long.”

“Ah, well,” Flower said. He wiped his face again and tossed the towel toward the bin at the middle of the room. He missed, and it fluttered to the floor. “Old Flower told me—that things will be hard for me for a while, but it will all work out for the best. And to stay hopeful, you know? To keep smiling. And that was one conversation. It didn’t take very long. He didn’t need to be here for long, because that was all he needed to tell me.” He cocked his head at Zhenya. “Whatever reason Sidney is here—it must take longer than one conversation.”

“I don’t know reason,” Zhenya said.

Flower shrugged. “Why don’t you ask Sid? I’m sure he knows.”

Sid didn’t know. He thought he knew, but he was wrong; the concussion was a one-conversation topic, and that couldn’t be why Sidney was still here. Or maybe he knew the true reason, and simply didn’t want to share it with Zhenya.

“Sid won’t say,” Zhenya said. “Keep secret.”

“Well, it can be a personal thing, you know?” Flower said. “Private. And you know how Sid is.”

“Yes,” Zhenya said. “Thanks for tell me. Sorry you have hard time.”

“It’s all in the future,” Flower said. He nudged Zhenya with an elbow. “Nothing to worry about yet.”

+ + +

Zhenya drove to Sid’s house that evening, after a nap to catch up on some of the sleep he’d missed during the road trip. Sid was in the kitchen, arranging chicken breasts in a baking dish. Zhenya gave him a kiss and a pat on the ass and then sat at the table with a couple of tangerines and started peeling one onto a paper towel.

“Where’s baby?” Zhenya asked.

“I can’t believe you’re still calling him that,” Sid said.

Zhenya would never admit that the term had transformed from a pejorative to a pet name, or that he had called Sidney baby, in Russian, several times while they were in bed together. “Fine, where is Sidney.”

“I think he’s upstairs,” Sid said. “If you want to go get him—”

“No, want talk with you,” Zhenya said. “Alone, private.”

“Oh,” Sid said, and he looked far too pleased about that, and Zhenya was the world’s worst boyfriend if Sid could think even for a single second that Zhenya preferred Sidney.

“What you think about Sullivan?” Zhenya blurted out, which wasn’t what he had planned to say; but it was a good thing for them to talk about.

“Oh,” Sid said. “Well, I’m pretty happy with him. I think he’s good,” and they talked about that for a little while, as Zhenya finished his first tangerine and peeled the second, and then got up to toss the refuse in the trash. Sid was washing his hands, the chicken ready to go in the oven, and Zhenya leaned against the counter and waited for him to finish.

Sid turned off the tap with the heel of his hand and wiped his hands on his pants. “There. Just needs to bake for a while.”

Zhenya offered him a single segment of tangerine. “You want?”

Sid squinted at him for a moment, and then grinned. “Sure.”

Zhenya fed it to him, his fingers brushing Sid’s lips more than they really needed to. He watched Sid chew and lick the corner of his mouth.

“That’s good,” Sid said, and opened his mouth expectantly.

Jesus. Zhenya swallowed, and fed him another slice, and then leaned in and kissed him, Sid’s mouth still full of sweet pulp.

Sid laughed into the kiss, his hand at Zhenya’s waist. He was everything Zhenya wanted, strange and stubborn and generous and kind, and he had waited for Zhenya for years, through all of Zhenya’s mixed signals and indecision, through Zhenya kissing him and then ignoring him for months, and even still through Zhenya’s fear about revealing their relationship to anyone. Zhenya didn’t deserve him, and never would.

“What?” Sid asked, peering up at him. “What is it?”

Zhenya opened his mouth, closed it. Tried again. “Sid, I—when you here before. First time. How it’s like?”

“What do you mean?” Sid asked. “Being here? I told you it was a good experience for me.”

“I know you say,” Zhenya said, “but—” He sighed, frustrated. For once, English wasn’t the problem; he just didn’t really know what he was trying to ask. “You say you like me, very attract, but it’s not only me, it’s—us, you see us together, and—you want that?”

“Well,” Sid said. He tugged gently at the hem of Zhenya’s T-shirt. “Yeah. We seemed really—well, I was a kid, and of course it’s always different from the outside. There was this one day—I came downstairs, and we were slow-dancing in the kitchen, and it was just really—that was what I wanted. And I knew I would have it with you, someday, if I waited long enough.”

Zhenya wanted to die. He was Sidney’s dream, and now Sid was trapped in the stark reality of it. Zhenya was nobody worth waiting for.

“Sid, I’m not good for you,” he said quietly.

Sid scowled at him. “Shut up, Geno. He hasn’t left yet, I still have—there’s still time. And it’s all the same so far, so I haven’t—we just have to wait and see, okay?”

Zhenya lowered his head and rested it on Sid’s shoulder. He felt weary. He didn’t know what Sid still hoped for.

He felt Sid’s hand on the back of his head, scratching gently at his scalp.

“Slow-dance,” Zhenya said. “Like—” He straightened up and took Sid’s left hand in his right, and extended their arms to the side. He set his other hand on Sid’s hip. “Dance?”

Sid gave him a considering look, his chin tipped up. “Oh yeah? What do you know about dancing?”

Zhenya knew how to dance in a club, but that was mostly ungainly flailing. He set his jaw and dragged Sid a few steps to the right, and then spun them around, and Sid laughed at him and said, “Come on, you can’t try to lead like that—”

“What you know about dancing,” Zhenya said.

“Taylor took lessons for a while,” Sid said. “I got roped into practicing with her whenever I was home.” He smirked at Zhenya. “I know how to lead.”

“Fine, you show,” Zhenya said, and Sid arranged Zhenya’s hands and arms and then guided him into a few shuffling steps toward the table.

“No, wait—stop that,” Sid said, and stumbled over Zhenya’s foot, laughing, and he squeezed Zhenya’s hand and looked up at him, bright-eyed and grinning. “You’re too tall. You’re terrible at this.”

“Too old for learn how to dance,” Zhenya said. “Only know one kind.” He moved Sid’s hands to his waist and draped his own arms over Sid’s shoulders. “Like this.” He bent to kiss Sid’s cheek.

Sid sighed, and rested his head against Zhenya’s shoulder. “I guess this kind is okay.”

They swayed together, Sid tucked so perfectly in Zhenya’s arms. Fear and desperate tenderness wrestled inside Zhenya’s rib cage. He kissed the top of Sid’s head a few times and tried to memorize every detail: the breadth of his shoulders, the constant reliable warmth of his body. Sid had his cherished memories of these two weeks, and Zhenya knew this moment would become one of his.

They turned through another slow circle. Zhenya glanced up and saw Sidney in the doorway, watching them, just as Sid had said.

Zhenya hadn’t really believed it until that moment, not viscerally, but he understood now. This had all happened before. Sid remembered because he had lived it. Present and past were the same, overlapped like a fold of cloth pinched together.

It hurt.

If everything was predestined, what was the point? He couldn’t make anything worse, or better. It would all continue on just as it had, an endless dysfunctional spiral, Sid unhappy and refusing to admit it, and Zhenya baffled and helpless. The universe would keep on mechanically ticking through its unknowable processes. Zhenya couldn’t change a thing.

But that was bullshit. It had to be. He refused to believe in destiny, or any fixed incontrovertible path. There’s still time, Sid had said, and Zhenya didn’t really understand what he was talking about, but he would take it as a sign. He wasn’t out of chances yet.

+ + +

He took Sid to bed early that night, abandoning Sidney with only the television to keep him company. But Sidney didn’t protest, only watched them leave with a soft smile.

Alone in Sid’s bedroom, they took off their clothes and slid under the covers, and Zhenya spent a long time kissing Sid’s perfect pink mouth and stroking his hair back from his face and gazing at him. Sid responded to him at first, kissing him back and clinging to him, but after a while he squirmed away and said, “Will you—are we going to fuck?”

“Okay,” Zhenya said.

Sid put Zhenya face-down over his lap and fingered him until Zhenya more or less lost his mind and came all over Sid’s thighs; and then Sid turned him over and straddled his hips and jerked himself off, and Zhenya stroked his legs and played with his balls and Sid striped him with come from neck to navel.

“You’re a mess,” Sid said, breathing hard, smearing a hand down Zhenya’s belly.

“Your fault,” Zhenya said, and Sid laughed and said, “Yeah, I suppose that’s true.”

They cleaned up, haphazardly, with some tissues from the box on the nightstand. Sid turned on the television and curled against Zhenya’s side with a contented sigh. The Islanders were playing the Leafs; it was the beginning of the third, and the Leafs were down 6-2.

“They lose,” Zhenya predicted.

“You never know,” Sid said. “A lot can happen in twenty minutes.” The Leafs scored a few minutes later, and he elbowed Zhenya in the ribs. “See.”

“Still lose,” Zhenya said.

Sid made a soft noise and didn’t argue. After another few minutes, he said, “Almost 2016.”

“Yes,” Zhenya said. “You do—how you call, goal, change—”

“A resolution? I don’t know. Maybe.” Sid shifted against him. Zhenya felt his chest rise and then fall again.

“I do resolution,” Zhenya said. He slid his hand down Sid’s arm and tucked him in a little closer. “Take good care, make you happy.”

He felt Sid go tense. “What are you talking about?”

Zhenya rolled his eyes and kissed Sid’s head. “Sid, I know you not happy. Even baby notice. He say to me.”

Sid sat up and turned to stare at Zhenya. “What?”

“What?” Zhenya said. “You forget? We talk about you and me, how you—that you want, uh. Tell people. And he—”

“We never talked about that,” Sid said. His face was very pale. “We didn’t have that conversation.”

“You forget,” Zhenya said. “I tell you about, uh. Men I sleep with, in Moscow—”

“No,” Sid said. He brought his hands to his face and covered his eyes. “We didn’t talk about that. We didn’t—who did you sleep with? You mean last summer?”

No,” Zhenya said, stung. “I don’t cheat. How you’re not remember?”

“Because we didn’t fucking talk about it,” Sid said. He lowered his hands to glare at Zhenya. “You think I could forget a conversation like that? I thought you—I thought I was your first guy. But I guess not.”

“Sid,” Zhenya said.

“No, I don’t care about that,” Sid said. “It doesn’t matter. I just mean that I wouldn’t have forgotten that, I—oh, Christ.” He rolled off the bed and went into the bathroom. The light turned on, and after a moment, Zhenya heard the faucet running.

“Sid,” he called.

“Just give me a fucking minute,” Sid called back, and he didn’t sound normal at all.

Zhenya got up and went over to the bathroom. Sid was bent over the sink, gasping, his hands gripping the edges of the vanity.

“What the fuck,” Zhenya said in Russian, alarmed. He pried Sid’s hands loose and hauled him upright. In the mirror, Sid’s face was white as paper, and Zhenya hastily wrapped an arm around his waist in case he passed out.

“I ruined it,” Sid said, high and shocky. “I fucked up, I ruined the timeline.”

“What?” Zhenya said.

“Something’s changed,” Sid said. “We never talked about that, so I must have—done something differently, and now—” He sucked in a shuddering breath. “Oh, God.”

Zhenya had no idea what was going on. “It’s not ruin, Sid. Maybe change, but it’s okay. Baby here, we still here.” He turned Sid around and let him sag against Zhenya’s chest. “Is not ruin.”

“You don’t understand,” Sid said. His arms hung limply. “Everything has to be exactly the same.”

Why,” Zhenya said. He hated the timeline, he wanted to nuke the timeline. “Maybe it’s need to change. Maybe it’s no good, how it is.”

“I don’t want to talk about this,” Sid said. He straightened up and pulled away from Zhenya. He still looked pretty terrible. “Can we just go to bed?”

“You don’t ever talk,” Zhenya said. “How we fix if you won’t talk?”

“What’s there to talk about?” Sid asked. “I wish you would quit acting like I have these—mysterious desires that I won’t share with you. I told you exactly what I want. I even used small words, so you couldn’t pretend not to understand me. You just don’t want to do it.”

“Then why you stay,” Zhenya bit out. “You leave me, find someone else, tell whole world—”

“I don’t want to!” Sid said, and then exhaled hard and looked away. “Fuck. Let’s just go to bed. We have a long day tomorrow.”

“Fine,” Zhenya said, after another moment.

The game was over. Zhenya had been right: the Leafs lost.

+ + +

He woke in the morning before the alarm. Sid was still deeply asleep beside him. Zhenya slipped out of bed and went down the hall to Sidney’s room, where Sidney was sleeping in almost exactly the same position, flat on his back with one arm stretched above his head.

Zhenya sat on the edge of the mattress and ran a hand through Sidney’s hair. “Sid, wake up,” he said quietly.

Sidney stirred at once. He opened his eyes and blinked a few times, and then his face broke into a wide, happy smile. “Hi, Geno.”

“Hi,” Zhenya said. He bent down to kiss Sidney’s smile. “You come for skate?”

“Yeah, I was planning to,” Sidney said. He stretched, then rolled onto his side and rested his head on Zhenya’s thigh. “Why, is it time to go?”

“No, still early,” Zhenya said. “Sorry for wake you, but—I need say something.”

“Oh,” Sidney said. “Uh, that sounds kind of bad, but go for it, I guess.”

“It’s not bad,” Zhenya said. “But—last night, I talk with Sid, and he say he’s not remember we talk about—about how he wants tell people. You remember we talk? But Sid says no, it doesn’t happen, he’s not remember. And now he’s very worry about everything is different.”

“Huh,” Sidney said. “Well, okay. Well, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

“I talk with Flower,” Zhenya said, “you know, about time travel, and I think about why you here. It’s not concussion, too long for that. So I think maybe you here because—to change timeline. You see me and Sid, how it’s no good, so then you make change, do different, make better—”

“No, I don’t think that’s it,” Sidney said. He turned onto his back again and gazed up at Zhenya. “I don’t think I’m here for me, or for Sid. I think I’m here for you.”

Zhenya stared at him. “What?”

“Well, think about it,” Sidney said. “You’re the one who needs to change, right? I mean, you don’t have to, but if you don’t, you and Sid are probably going to split up. So I guess ultimately I’m here for Sid, so that he doesn’t lose you, but really I’m here to help you get your head out of your ass, or whatever.”

Zhenya tugged a strand of Sidney’s hair, hard enough to make Sidney wince. “Head is not in ass. It’s complicate. Two men, two—same team, it’s not easy. And—my country—”

“I know,” Sidney said. “I get it. But I think you’re making it way more complicated than it needs to be. You’re scared. And I get it, I mean—I get it. But I think maybe you’re more afraid than you need to be.”

Of course Zhenya was scared—he was fucking terrified. It was terrifying to think of anyone knowing about him and Sid. But he knew Sidney was right.

“How you know so much,” he said, looking down at Sidney’s soft cheeks, the soft curve of his mouth.

Sidney snorted. “I’m eighteen, not stupid.”

That was debatable. Zhenya traced his thumb along the curved rim of Sidney’s ear. “How you change me, then?”

“I don’t know,” Sidney said. “It’s a lot of pressure, eh? Do you feel any different?”

“I’m not sure,” Zhenya said.

“Well, you can think about it,” Sidney said. “I’m here for a few more days. Maybe the important part hasn’t happened yet.”

“Maybe,” Zhenya said. “Let’s go eat. We make breakfast for Sid, bring in bed.”

“He’ll like that,” Sidney said, and they went down to the kitchen together to make pancakes.

They flew to Detroit that night after the game. Everyone was tired, and disappointed after the loss. Zhenya was glad for an excuse to put on his headphones and glower at anyone who looked like they might try to start a conversation with him. He wasn’t in the mood to talk.

He thought about it on the plane, and during skate the next day, and on the bus back to the hotel, and on the plane home again after they beat the Red Wings. It was New Year’s Eve, and his friends were celebrating without him.

He slid the window shade open and watched the tiny points of light passing by far below. What did he want for the next year? Another Stanley Cup, of course. But beyond that?

It had been a long and very difficult process for him to accept that he wanted to have sex with men. He had ignored his first adolescent stirrings of desire, and tried for years to ignore his feelings for Sid. He still found it frightening. He didn’t want to talk about it; he didn’t want anyone to know.

But why did he feel that way? He didn’t look down on other men like him. He certainly didn’t think less of Sid, who had mostly dated women in the past, but had admitted to Zhenya that he was more interested in men.

Zhenya could blame his upbringing, maybe, or just something innate about the way he was. And there were certainly people who would feel differently about him, if they knew—strangers and friends alike. Teammates; maybe his family.

But maybe some of them wouldn’t care, and anyway Sid wasn’t asking him to shout it from a mountaintop. He wanted to tell his parents and sister, Mario and Nathalie, and maybe, if that went well, some of the guys on the team. And Zhenya hadn’t even considered it. He had told Sid no, in no uncertain terms, and three days later he was on a plane back to Russia.

Sid had been so happy at first, last season, in those months after they first got together.

He wanted Sid to be happy, and he wanted Sid to be happy with him. It was more important to him than shame or fear.

The year was ending. He could start again.

+ + +

He went home that night without more than a wave to Sid and Sidney across the parking lot. In the morning, he called his parents and Denis to wish them a happy New Year, and texted all of his friends. Then he texted Sid, and invited himself over.

We’re up, just finished a workout, Sid replied, because he was constitutionally incapable of taking the day off.

Zhenya made a weak effort at combing his hair, gave up and put on a hat, and drove over to Sid’s.

He let himself into the house and did a loop through the downstairs. There were no signs of life. Upstairs, the door to Sid’s bedroom was closed. Zhenya tapped on it with his fingernails and went inside. Sid was standing in front of his dresser, stepping into a pair of sweatpants, and Zhenya took a moment to admire his bare ass and the shadowed heft of his balls.

“I told you I’d be downstairs in a minute,” Sid said, and then turned around, and Zhenya watched his expression soften for a moment before it smoothed over into blankness once more.

“I say come over,” Zhenya said.

“No, it’s fine,” Sid said. “I just didn’t hear the gate open. I was in the shower.”

Zhenya crossed the room to give Sid a kiss and slip his fingers beneath the hem of Sid’s T-shirt. Sid always put his pants on last, which Zhenya found unnatural.

“Happy New Year,” Sid said. He kissed the corner of Zhenya’s jaw.

“Happiness and health,” Zhenya said in Russian, a well-worn phrase that he meant more now than he ever had.

Sid wrinkled his nose and smiled. “Do you want to do something? I’m going to make lunch, but we could go out later.”

Zhenya shrugged. “Don’t need. Only spend time, be together.”

“Oh,” Sid said. He ducked his head down. He looked pleased. “Well, we could—watch TV and see if Sidney will bring us lunch in bed.”

“Baby can’t cook,” Zhenya said, “but okay.”

In bed, Sid sat stiffly beside him. Their shoulders brushed. Zhenya let him be. After a minute, Sid reached over and took Zhenya’s hand, and played idly with his fingers as they watched the television.

“Sid,” Zhenya said. There was so much he needed to say.

“Hmm?” Sid asked, his attention fully absorbed by the dumb medical drama he had turned on.

Zhenya heard footsteps coming down the hall, and sighed. Well, it would keep until later.

Sidney came into the room, wearing nothing but a pair of basketball shorts. His bare torso was flushed pink from the shower. His damp hair curled around his face.

“Oh! Hi, Geno,” he said, and got a little bit pinker.

“I’ll make lunch in a little while,” Sid said. There was an edge to his voice that put Zhenya on high alert. Something was going on that he didn’t know about.

“Okay,” Sidney said. He shifted his weight. “What are you guys watching?”

Sid sighed heavily. “Just get in bed.”

Sidney grinned and scrambled onto the mattress, plopping down heavily at Zhenya’s side. He sank down into the pillows and rested his head on Zhenya’s shoulder. On his other side, Sid still barely conceded to hold Zhenya’s hand.

“This show sucks,” Sidney said, all snuggled up and warm and so pleased to be in the bed with them.

“This is what Geno wants to watch,” Sid lied shamelessly.

“Oh,” Sidney said. “Well, that’s okay, then.”

Zhenya rolled his eyes. He slipped his arm around Sidney’s waist and tucked his hand inside the waistband of Sidney’s shorts. If Sidney was going to look like that and lean against Zhenya like that, Zhenya was going to enjoy himself.

It wasn’t difficult to get Sidney worked up even when he wasn’t actively trying. Zhenya stroked the soft ridge of Sidney’s hip, the thin soft skin of his lower abdomen, and Sidney’s breathing went ragged. Zhenya tugged carefully at a wiry tuft of Sidney’s pubic hair, and Sidney’s breath caught and held.

“You got him all excited,” Sid said, after a few minutes of this.

Zhenya followed his gaze. Sidney was hard in his shorts, and when he tipped his head up to look at Zhenya, his mouth was red and wet like he had been chewing on his lips.

Zhenya pressed his thumb to Sidney’s lower lip. “You easy,” he said, and watched Sidney turn red.

“Jesus,” Sid breathed.

Zhenya turned to look at Sid, who looked back at him with studied calmness. Zhenya felt split clean through by the agonizing contrast between Sidney, so eager for Zhenya to understand him and to care for him, and Sid, whose walls were so high that Zhenya had only the vaguest idea of what lay inside.

“It’s now, we do?” Zhenya asked.

“Yeah,” Sid said.

Zhenya slid his free hand around the back of Sid’s neck and squeezed. “We do how you say. So it’s just like first time.”

Sid let out a shaky breath. “Okay.”

+ + +

Zhenya stripped off his clothes and then stripped Sidney, with Sidney’s very enthusiastic assistance. Zhenya worked the shorts down over Sidney’s hips as Sidney arched helpfully, and Zhenya bent to kiss the soft inside of his thigh, nearly hairless.

“Are you gonna fuck me,” Sidney said.

Zhenya turned to look at Sid, still leaning upright against the headboard.

“Yeah, he is,” Sid said, and Sidney flung his arms above his head and looked at Zhenya with hot eyes, and Zhenya almost couldn’t believe this was actually happening.

He kissed Sidney, lying on top of him with Sidney’s legs wrapped around his hips. Sidney’s mouth was wet and open and he still didn’t kiss exactly like Sid but it was so good anyway, the soft noises he made and the way he rubbed his dick against Zhenya’s belly.

“Come on, quit fooling around,” Sid said, after far too short a time.

Zhenya dragged his mouth away from Sidney’s and turned his head to give Sid the most incredulous look he could muster. He watched Sid’s eyes drop to his lips and hang there for a moment.

“He’s going to backseat drive the whole time, isn’t he,” Sidney murmured against Zhenya’s throat.

“I heard that,” Sid said. “You’re an idiot, and Geno doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

Zhenya frowned, and opened his mouth to object, but Sidney beat him to the punch. He reached out and took Sid’s hand.

“Hey,” Sidney said softly. “Come on.”

Sid gazed down at his and Sidney’s clasped hands. Then he looked up and met Zhenya’s eyes, and God, he was Zhenya’s—whatever he was, his—he was Zhenya’s, the only person Zhenya wanted.

“You know what you’re doing,” Sid said.

Zhenya never had any fucking clue what he was doing, but he said, “Yes, I take care.”

Sid squeezed Sidney’s hand and then let go. “Okay. I know you will.”

“He’s more nervous than I am,” Sidney said to Zhenya.

Zhenya frowned at him. “You nervous?”

Sidney turned his face into Zhenya’s neck, hiding. “A little bit. But I trust you.”

“You’re going to like it,” Sid said. He shifted onto his side more and burrowed down into the pillows. “I really liked it.”

None of this would ever stop being weird. Zhenya gave up on trying to sort through his emotions and focused his attention on kissing Sidney until he squirmed.

“You ready?” Zhenya asked, when Sidney was clinging to him and rolling his hips constantly. “Take my dick—”

Sidney sucked in a lungful of air and nodded, his wet mouth dragging along Zhenya’s jaw. “Yeah, I’m—I want it.”

“Sid, lube,” Zhenya said, without looking away from Sidney’s flushed face, his damp hair sticking to his forehead.

He got Sidney’s leg hiked up, one hand behind Sidney’s knee to keep him spread open. Sidney put his arms over his head again, his wrists loosely crossed, hands sinking down into the pillow: all of him splayed open, the picture of submission. Sid was never submissive, and Zhenya thought it was deceptive now. Sidney would lie there so sweetly only as long as he was getting what he wanted.

Zhenya licked his thumb and reached down to stroke across Sidney’s hole. He felt the long muscles of Sidney’s thigh jump under his palm. Sidney stared at him with dark eyes. His tongue smeared over his upper lip.

“You do?” Zhenya asked. “Try?”

“A few times,” Sidney said. “It was kind of weird. But like, in a good way.”

Christ. “Hold. Here,” Zhenya said, and waited for Sidney to hook a forearm around his leg, holding himself open. The lube had a screw cap, and Zhenya needed both hands to open it.

He glanced at Sid. Sid’s eyes were half-lidded; if Zhenya didn’t know better, he might have thought that Sid was sleepy.

Okay.

He squeezed a generous drizzle of lube over Sidney’s hole and watched it contract. He was determined to make this good. It would be so good, he would make Sidney come so hard he felt like he was dying.

He started with a single finger, circled carefully over Sidney’s rim. He pushed in with just the tip, and Sidney pulled his leg closer against his chest, opening to Zhenya’s touch.

Zhenya pushed in a little further, dumbfounded as always by the soft blood-hot clutch of Sidney’s body. “It’s good?” he asked. “Feels good?”

“Still a little weird, but—really good,” Sidney said. He wriggled a little, adjusting the position of his hips. “Keep going.”

Zhenya exhaled slowly. His cock bobbed between his legs, fat and heavy. He was ready to fuck, but Sidney was so tight, and Zhenya was going to do everything his power to insure Sidney enjoyed himself. He didn’t want to disappoint Sid.

He stroked carefully in and out with that one finger, sliding deep and letting Sidney adjust to the sensation. When Sidney started rocking into it, Zhenya gave him a second finger, and then he angled his fingers just so and rubbed firmly at Sidney’s prostate.

“Ohhh,” Sidney breathed, and Sid made a soft noise and shifted on the bed.

Zhenya was familiar with Sid’s reactions, knew what he liked and how he responded, and Sidney wasn’t so different. He squirmed, his shoulders and upper chest turned pink, he let out soft little breaths through his wide-open mouth. But there was something wholly new and shocking, like an electric shock, in watching Sidney and knowing he had never felt like this before. Sid and Zhenya had done this dozens of times, but Sidney had never had Zhenya’s fingers in his ass, two and then three, stretching him open—getting him ready for Zhenya’s dick.

“Oh, God,” Sidney said, back arching, and Zhenya knew what that meant. He didn’t want Sidney to come before he was inside. He drew his fingers almost all the way out, holding Sidney spread open, and glanced over at Sid again.

“Sid, condom?” he asked quietly. They had quit using condoms at the beginning of the season, at Zhenya’s suggestion, and he had taken Sid’s agreement as a tacit admission that neither of them had slept with anyone else over the summer. But he didn’t know how Sid felt about it in the context of Sidney.

Sid was pink enough that Zhenya was certain he was hard, but he was still tucked under the covers just as calm as you please, like nothing that was happening was all that exciting. But Zhenya knew him. He knew better.

“You can fuck him bare,” Sid said, and Sidney’s hips jerked sharply, fucking up onto Zhenya’s fingers.

“I’m ready,” Sidney said, panting, ruined. “Geno—”

“Turn him over,” Sid said.

“Okay,” Zhenya said. He knew he wasn’t in charge here.

He helped Sidney turn over onto his hands and knees. Sidney was shaking a little, so wound up. Zhenya slid his hands up the backs of Sidney’s thighs and tucked his fingers into the crease just below Sidney’s ass. He would never get over that ass, not ever.

“Open,” Zhenya said, and Sidney shifted and spread his legs, so easily, drawing his knees up beneath him. His hole was shiny and soft and worked open. Oh, God.

Zhenya drizzled a little more lube onto Sidney’s ass and gave himself a thorough coating. There was no such thing as too much lube, not when it came to this. He was so hard his dick felt swollen. Maybe he should use a condom just to help him hold out longer—but the thought of sinking his bare cock into Sidney’s untouched ass was too appealing to resist.

He hooked his thumb in the rim of Sidney’s hole, pulling him open the slightest bit. “You ready?”

“Yeah, yes,” Sidney said, his hands fisting in the sheets, and Zhenya pushed forward until the just the head was inside.

Sidney had gone very still.

“Sid,” Zhenya said. He stroked Sidney’s lower back, his hips, his right hand slippery with lube. “Okay?”

“It’s—keep going,” Sidney said. The muscles in his upper back bunched and released as he repositioned his hands.

Zhenya ran his hands down Sidney’s thighs. “Come on. You do, move—do how you like.”

Sidney drew in a few deep breaths before he responded. “I—what?” His voice sounded shaky.

“He’s telling you to fuck yourself,” Sid said. “Take what you can handle.”

“I can’t,” Sidney said, but he inhaled again and pushed back a little, and then went down on his elbows and pushed back again. “Oh,” he said, “oh, fuck, oh fuck,” and worked himself onto Zhenya’s cock in agonizing increments until Zhenya was all the way in, the crest of his hips flush against Sidney’s round ass.

Jesus. That was a sight.

“Okay?” he murmured, smoothing his hands over every part of Sidney he could reach, his thighs and back and the sides of his ass. “Maybe—come up, up on hands,” because that was a better angle for Sid, when they fucked in this position.

Sidney pushed up onto his hands again. The motion shifted him on Zhenya’s dick, and even just that slight friction had Zhenya gritting his teeth and grabbing at Sidney’s hips. This position was a bad idea. He loved the visual, Sidney spread wide and filled with Zhenya’s dick, and it felt way too fucking good, and Sid was sitting there watching all of this with a knowing look on his face, like he wasn’t affected at all.

But Zhenya knew he was. Perfect.

“Fuck,” Sidney said on an exhale. He rocked forward a tiny cautious fraction before pushing backward again.

“How does that feel?” Sid asked, with the rasp to his voice that meant he was really turned on.

“Good,” Sidney said. He moved his hips again, a little less tentatively. “It feels—he’s so—”

“It feels like it’s almost too much,” Sid said. “But you still want it. You’re so full. You don’t want to move too much because you feel like you’re going to explode.”

“Yeah,” Sidney said, nodding. He rocked back. He was so tight. He worked himself so carefully on Zhenya’s dick, back and forth just the smallest bit, over and over, and Zhenya dug his fingers into the soft meat of Sidney’s hips and fought the urge to thrust.

“Hold still, Geno,” Sid said sharply, and Zhenya focused on drawing in calming breaths through his nose.

Sidney fucked himself slowly, experimenting, learning what he liked. But after only a few minutes, he stopped, his head hanging down between his shoulders, and said, “I can’t, I’m—it’s too much.”

That—didn’t sound encouraging, and Zhenya frowned and moved to pull out, but Sid stopped him with a hand on his arm.

“Keep going,” Sid said, his voice soft. “He’s okay. He likes it.”

“He says no,” Zhenya said, dubious.

“He means he’s going to come,” Sid said, and Zhenya did the reach-around and—okay, Sidney was hard, and he bucked into Zhenya’s grasp, groaning.

“Come on, Sid,” Zhenya said, stroking him encouragingly. “You come, it’s okay, feels good. I want,” and Sidney groaned again and fucked back onto Zhenya’s cock, a rough grind, and shook against him. Zhenya rubbed his thumb against the base of Sidney’s dick, and Sidney twisted and cried out and started to come, clamping down hard on Zhenya’s cock and then a series of strong pulses, his back arching, his head thrown back. He felt so good.

“That’s right, you’re doing great,” Sid said, and when Zhenya glanced down, Sid’s hand was at Sidney’s nape, stroking through his tangled, sweaty hair.

“Oh God,” Sidney gasped out, his voice peaking and breaking as he spurted all over the sheets.

Zhenya held still and let Sidney work himself through it. When Sidney finished, trembling, Zhenya said, “Sid, move over,” and carefully pulled out, and eased Sidney down onto his back, away from the wet spot.

Sidney’s mouth was wet and red, chewed on. His cheeks were flushed. He smiled up at Zhenya, dazed. “Kiss me,” he said, and Zhenya lay down and covered Sidney’s body with his own and did.

After a moment, he felt Sid’s hand running along his sweaty back, and he turned his head and Sid was very close, watching him with a serious expression.

“Geno,” Sid began, and Zhenya leaned in and kissed him before he could say anything else. “I—Geno,” Sid said against his mouth, and then a few blissful seconds of silence as Sid sucked on Zhenya’s tongue, and then, “Geno, come on, I’m trying to—Geno—”

“Okay, yes,” Zhenya said, busy nuzzling at the tender spot behind Sid’s ear. “I’m listen.”

“You’re heavy,” Sidney complained, and Zhenya rubbed their hips together, his hard-on against Sidney’s sensitive soft cock, and Sidney gasped and clutched at his shoulders and shut the fuck up.

Sid turned his head to give Zhenya better access, and Zhenya sucked Sid’s earlobe into his mouth. “He’ll come again, if you do it right,” Sid said. “I can’t really go twice in a row anymore, but I used to—yeah. I used to be really into it.”

“Jesus Christ,” Zhenya said.

“He might cry,” Sid said. “If you get him off again.”

Zhenya pulled away and pushed up onto his hands to assess the situation. Sid looked sly. Sidney looked pink all over, all the way down, limp and wanton, and he could—maybe he could. Maybe Zhenya could—

Sidney drew his knees up, and planted his feet on the bed. He cradled Zhenya in the bowl of his hips.

Sidney’s eyes were dark and direct, fixed on Zhenya’s.

“We could try,” Sidney said.

Zhenya swore under his breath and reached between Sidney’s parted thighs to feel at his hole. It was warm and wet and a little bit swollen, but Sidney didn’t flinch away at Zhenya’s touch. He pressed into it eagerly, and Zhenya slipped his finger just barely inside and Sidney arched toward him, and that was the end of any hope of resistance. Zhenya was going to have him.

He sank down again to Sidney’s warm welcoming body. Sidney tilted his chin up for a kiss, and Zhenya kissed him gladly, and ran his hand along Sidney’s side to his hip. Sidney was soft and sweet and yielding and Zhenya was so fucking hard and he wanted to come in Sidney’s ass and listen to him moan.

Sidney wrapped his legs around Zhenya’s waist and tugged at his shoulders. “Come on, I want it,” he said, and so Zhenya reached down and took himself in hand and pushed once more into Sidney’s tight perfect hole.

“Ah!” Sidney cried out, and scrabbled at Zhenya’s shoulders. His head dropped back onto the pillow. His lips peeled away from his teeth.

“Sid,” Zhenya said, a little concerned.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Sidney panted, and when Zhenya thrust tentatively, he jerked and cried out again, so sensitive; but he clung to Zhenya and said, “Please, please, Geno,” and wouldn’t let go.

Zhenya fucked him with long, slow rolls of his hips, braced on his elbows with no space between them at all. Sidney wrapped his arms around Zhenya’s back and kissed Zhenya’s neck, scraping a little with his teeth. He twitched and trembled every time Zhenya pushed inside, like it was too much for him to bear. But then he started to get hard again. Zhenya could feel it against his hip. He knew he was nailing the angle.

Sid readjusted on the bed, sliding down beneath the covers to lie next to Sidney, curled on his side. “You’re doing great,” Sid said, and Sidney reached over blindly and Sid took his hand, and held it cradled against his chest.

Sidney made tiny shocked noises and clutched at Zhenya’s back with his free hand. His nails bit in. He started moving with Zhenya again before too long, rocking into each thrust, his knees clamped to Zhenya’s ribs. He felt incredible, slick and soft, and Zhenya breathed carefully and focused on keeping the same steady rhythm.

“Geno, Geno,” Sidney panted out, over and over. Zhenya kissed his open mouth and his hot face and felt his own chest filling up with longing. There was no innocence left in him or in Sid by the time Zhenya finally allowed himself to stop being afraid. But this was how it could have been, all those years ago, if he’d let himself accept any of Sid’s wordless invitations: the two of them learning something new together, joined in that mystery.

Sid was up on one elbow, stroking Sidney’s hair, his other hand still holding Sidney’s. Zhenya could hear him murmuring something indistinct and infinitely tender.

Zhenya needed this to end. He worked his hands under Sidney’s ass to tilt his hips up a little bit, changing the angle just so, and the next time he pushed in, Sidney sucked in a huge breath and rubbed up desperately against Zhenya’s belly.

“I can’t,” Sidney started saying again, and Zhenya knew it meant he was about to come.

Sid was still yapping away, maybe half in French and either way too quiet for Zhenya to make out, and he used it as cover to press his mouth to Sidney’s ear and say a lot of shamelessly sweet things to him in Russian.

“I—oh,” Sidney said, “I can’t,” his voice cracking, and Zhenya squeezed his ass and said, “You can, you’re so good, you’re perfect, let me feel it,” grinding in and holding Sidney in place until he seized up and came, hot and wet where their bodies were pressed together.

Zhenya fucked him through it, and kept going. Sidney’s thighs fell open, splayed wide on the mattress. His arm hung loosely around Zhenya’s neck. He was shaking continually, fine tremors running through his hips and legs. He moaned weakly with every thrust, and when Zhenya lifted his head to investigate, he saw that Sid hadn’t been exaggerating: Sidney’s eyelashes were wet, his eyes squeezed tight in pained ecstasy, his mouth open.

“Come on, G,” Sid said. His hand slid down Zhenya’s back and dipped into the crease of his ass. His fingers rubbed at Zhenya’s hole. “He’s had enough.”

Zhenya didn’t come on command, and he tried to say so, but Sid pushed in with a dry fingertip and that was it. Zhenya fucked in hard a few final times, making Sidney cry out, and drove in as deep as Sidney would take him, and let his orgasm roll through him, wave after wave.

+ + +

It took him a few minutes to muster the energy to pull out. Sid was talking quietly to Sidney and stroking his hair, still curled on his side. Zhenya sat back on his heels and lifted one of Sidney’s legs to check his hole. It was pink and puffy, and leaking Zhenya’s come. He would be sore, but no worse than that.

“Admiring your handiwork?” Sid asked, low and amused.

Zhenya ignored him. “Sid, how you feel?” he asked, gently lowering Sidney’s leg back to the bed.

Sidney smiled up at him, a little dopey. “Good. Really good. I don’t think I can move just yet.”

A job well done, in that case. Zhenya leaned down to give him a lingering kiss. Sidney wrapped his arms around Zhenya’s neck and opened his mouth obediently. He was so fucking sweet.

“Geno,” Sid said, and Zhenya shifted over to kiss him, shoving the covers out of the way and rolling Sid onto his back. Sid was much less sweet than Sidney, but Zhenya would pick him every single time.

Sid was hard, and Zhenya pulled back to examine him. There was a wet spot on the front of his sweatpants, the fabric dark and soaked through. He had been waiting for a while.

“What you want,” Zhenya said, and Sid’s gaze dropped, tellingly, to Zhenya’s mouth.

Zhenya slid down the bed and rubbed his cheek against the bulge of Sid’s hard-on. Sid jerked against him, and Zhenya turned his head and sucked on the wet patch. The noise Sid made was nothing short of fantastic, but pre-come didn’t have much of a flavor, and Zhenya wanted to taste him.

He yanked down the waistband of Sid’s pants and took the head of Sid’s dick into his mouth. He kept his lips and tongue soft and wet, the way Sid liked it, and sucked gently.

Sid let out a sigh. His hands settled on Zhenya’s head, one at his nape and the other resting on the crown. “This isn’t going to take long.”

It didn’t. Sid gasped a few times and tugged on Zhenya’s hair and came in his mouth, and Zhenya swallowed it down and then pulled off to rest his head on Sid’s thigh and catch his breath.

“That was so hot,” Sidney said, a little breathless.

Zhenya rolled his eyes. If Sidney was hard again, he was going to have to deal with it himself.

Sid ran his fingers through Zhenya’s hair and scratched gently at his scalp. “Are you going to fall asleep?”

“No,” Zhenya said, but he did close his eyes and drift for a few minutes. Sidney had worn him out. And Sid’s hand in his hair felt nice. He would stay there as long as Sid let him.

Eventually he heard Sidney groan, and then the mattress shifted. “I’m gonna go clean up. And maybe pass out for a while.”

Sid laughed softly. “I’ll wake you up when it’s time for lunch, eh?”

“Sure,” Sidney said. The mattress shifted again, and Zhenya felt a hand on his shoulder. Sidney bent down and kissed his cheek. “Thanks, Geno,” he whispered.

Zhenya patted him without opening his eyes—some random part of him, probably his arm by the feel of it. He felt the bed move again as Sidney slid off, and then the door closed gently after another moment.

Zhenya turned his head and kissed Sid’s hip.

“Hey.” Sid’s thumb stroked his ear. “You okay?”

“Yes,” Zhenya said. “It’s how you remember?”

“More or less,” Sid said. “I didn’t remember every detail. It was a while ago.” He paused. “Or, you know, ten minutes ago.”

The time travel would never stop being weird. “Okay for baby be alone now? He’s not sad?”

“No, he’s fine,” Sid said. “He really is going to sleep for a while. He’s, uh. Happy as a clam.”

“Good,” Zhenya said. He was pretty happy, too. He would think about getting up in a minute, and seeing what they could rustle up for lunch.

“You were saying a lot of stuff to him,” Sid said. His hands cradled Zhenya’s skull, wrapped around the big lumpy dome of it. “It was all the—I recognized some of it. It was the same stuff you always say to me.”

Zhenya tensed. Sid’s tone was very mild, but this wasn’t a safe topic. “So?”

“I always thought it was dirty talk,” Sid said. “But when you said it to him, it was—it sounded. I don’t know. Sweet.”

Zhenya sat up and folded his legs beneath him. He needed to be looking at Sid for this.

Sid looked—terribly uncertain. He stuffed his soft dick back into his sweatpants and turned his head away.

“Sid,” Zhenya said. He waited until Sid looked at him again. “Of course it’s sweet. You think I don’t say nice things to you?”

“I guess,” Sid said. “It doesn’t matter. I just—it doesn’t matter.” He sighed and stared up at the ceiling. “We’d better clean up.”

“No,” Zhenya said, because something was going on here, and he wasn’t letting Sid wiggle out of talking about it this time. He took Sid’s hand and brought it to his face, arranged the fingers and palm to cup his cheek. “Sid. Why you think I’m not sweet?”

Sid glanced at him briefly and then again at the ceiling. He drew in an uneven breath. “You can’t look at me like that,” he said. “Like you feel—”

“I do,” Zhenya said. His heart pounded. He was coming down the tunnel for the very first time, about to go out on unfamiliar ice. “I do feel.”

Sid made a choked noise and pulled his hand away. “You can’t say that to me. Fuck.” He covered both eyes with his hands and took another breath. “Geno. You can’t.”

“Why not?” Zhenya demanded. Wasn’t this what Sid wanted? He wanted to tell people, he wanted them to be together—all of it, the real thing. And Zhenya wanted it, too, and he wasn’t scared now.

“Okay,” Sid said. He sat up, and that was his captain face, stern and sure. He knew best, and he would lead them through. “I guess I might as well. I can’t make it any worse than it already is.”

“Sid,” Zhenya said. His stomach plummeted, nauseatingly fast.

“Shut up and let me talk,” Sid said. He glanced up at the ceiling again and blinked a few times, and Zhenya had the horrifying realization that he was trying not to cry. “When I was here before—the first time. We had a conversation, right before I left. And you told me—you said: I love you, be patient with me.”

Zhenya stared at him, shocked.

“You asked me why I waited for you,” Sid said. “Well, that’s why. I knew that I was—if I waited long enough, and if I did everything just right, you would love me one day. And I thought—but then you didn’t want to tell anyone, and we only talked a few times all summer, and it’s—and then all season, it’s been—so then I thought, maybe I had fucked it up. I ruined it.” He drew a shaky breath and pressed his hands to his eyes again for a moment. “And you had that conversation with Sidney that I didn’t remember, and then I knew for sure that things had changed.”

Zhenya didn’t know what to think. He couldn’t begin to know what to say.

Sid shrugged and offered him a rueful smile. His eyes were damp. “That’s how it goes, I guess. I did my best. But it didn’t work out. So I think—maybe you should tell Sidney something different. Maybe tell him to give up.” He looked down at his hands, and folded them together in his lap. “And then everything will change, and I won’t have wasted the last decade of my life waiting for you to decide I’m good enough for you to love.”

Zhenya couldn’t bear it. He climbed off the bed and went into the bathroom. His white, stunned face stared back at him from the mirror. Almost ten years, and Sid had been holding this inside the entire time, waiting for Zhenya to grow into the man Sidney had met. How disappointing, how totally crushing must it have been, for the deadline to grow closer and Zhenya to remain stubbornly himself?

If God had a sense of humor, it was a cruel, twisted humor, and He was laughing at Zhenya now.

He couldn’t bear it.

But he couldn’t change the past. He was pretty certain that nobody could do that, not even Sidney, no matter what Sid thought about it. Zhenya controlled nothing but the present, but he wasn’t a helpless bystander. He could change himself, like Sidney had said. And with some luck, he could shape their future.

He went back into the bedroom. Sid was sitting where Zhenya had left him, cross-legged in the center of the bed. He was crying silently, the same way he had over Duper, like it was something that was happening to him rather than something he was doing, and if he ignored it hard enough, it would go away.

“Sid,” Zhenya said, his heart shattering, and he climbed back onto the bed and took Sid in his arms.

Sid turned into him at once, pressing his wet face against Zhenya’s neck. “Sorry, I’m sorry,” Sid muttered. “Fuck, this is so embarrassing.”

“No, don’t say sorry,” Zhenya said. He kissed the dark cap of Sid’s hair. “You’re very stupid, wait for me so long. But I’m stupid, too. Sid, I do love, very much. I want to fix, I want to—keep you, stay together. So we’re happy, you and me.”

Sid was quiet for a minute. “I didn’t think you felt like that,” he said at last, his words muffled against Zhenya’s throat. “You never—you never said.”

“You don’t say either!” Zhenya said. “You only say, let’s tell people. But I know you feel, because I’m not stubborn—”

Sid sat up, outraged, as Zhenya had known he would be. “Me? You are the most stubborn fucking person I’ve ever met, you gigantic Russian asshole. I can’t believe you didn’t—”

This could go on all afternoon. “Sid,” he said. He cupped his hands around Sid’s angry, tear-streaked face. “Tell me you know. Say you know how I feel.”

He watched as Sid’s expression changed. The anger faded. Sid met his gaze and held it. Zhenya smiled at him, encouraging, and stroked his thumbs along Sid’s cheekbones.

Sid had the most beautiful eyes.

They sat there for several minutes, looking at each other. Zhenya felt himself tear up after a while, for no real reason, just the gut-wrenching intensity of watching Sid watch him.

“You do,” Sid said at last, soft, wondering. “You love me.”

“Yes,” Zhenya said. He watched Sid smile at him, the one side of his mouth pulling up higher than the other. He leaned in and kissed Sid’s cheek, and spoke the words against his skin. “I do. I do love you.”

+ + +

When they made it downstairs finally, after a shower and some humiliating clinging on Zhenya’s part, Sidney had made lunch: grilled cheese sandwiches with some of the fancy tomato soup Sid bought in bulk from a local deli and froze. From the discarded crusts on his plate, Sidney had already finished one sandwich and was working on his second.

“Oh,” Sidney said, when they came into the kitchen. “Is everything okay?”

“Yep,” Sid said. He was still holding Zhenya’s hand.

Zhenya sat at the table with Sid on one side and Sidney on the other. The sandwiches were pretty good. Sid always skimped on the butter, but Sidney hadn’t been beaten into submission yet by the team’s nutritionist. Sidney finished eating and leaned against Zhenya’s side, and Zhenya put one arm around him and ate with his other hand.

“How are you feeling?” Sid asked. He leaned over to snag one of the sandwich crusts from Sidney’s plate. “Did you sleep?”

“A little,” Sidney said. “I feel pretty good.” He glanced at Zhenya and grinned. “Sore.”

“You like,” Zhenya said with certainty.

“He complained for two days the first time I fucked him,” Sid told Sidney. “Lots of whining.”

It had been more like three days, but Zhenya wasn’t about to correct Sid’s faulty memory. He took a big bite of his sandwich and smacked a loud kiss to Sidney’s temple. Sidney pinked up and leaned into him more. He was a delight.

Sid was watching all of this with a soft look on his face. When he realized that Zhenya had caught him looking, he glanced away and smiled, the way he did when he thought he was revealing too much but couldn’t stop.

After lunch, Sid took Zhenya’s hand again and led him into the den. He turned on the television but then lay down on the couch with his head tucked under Zhenya’s chin, one arm around Zhenya’s waist and one leg draped over his thigh, his back to the screen.  
 
Zhenya slid his hand under Sid’s T-shirt to stroke his lower back. The TV didn’t interest him at all.
 
“Geno,” Sid said quietly, and Zhenya held him as close as he could.
 
He fell asleep for a while, and woke up with Sid still crammed beside him on the couch, propped up on one elbow and gazing down at him as he floundered up out of the remnants of a dream. Zhenya wiped some drool from his face and tried to look alive.
 
“How long I sleep,” he rasped out.
 
“Maybe an hour,” Sid said. “You probably needed it.” He bent down to kiss Zhenya’s forehead. “You were laughing in your sleep a little. I wonder what you were dreaming about.”
 
“Good things,” Zhenya said. He reached up and touched Sid’s face. “You.”
 
“You’re a fucking sweet-talker,” Sid said, but he looked pleased, and Zhenya was certain then that they were going to be okay.

“Sid, I have question,” he said, skimming his fingers along Sid’s cheek.

Sid a year ago would have laughed and said, “Do I need to be worried?” Sid a month ago would have looked at him blankly and said, “Okay.” Sid now bent to kiss Zhenya’s forehead again and said, “I’m all ears.”

Zhenya struggled for a moment, trying to articulate his thoughts. “You still—want this? Be with me? I know you’re not happy, all fall—”

“Well, come on,” Sid said. “I told you why. I was—freaking out, I was trying to prepare myself for the worst. It was so good last season, but then—and we only Skyped over the summer, what, four or five times? So I thought for sure you were going to break up with me once we got back into town, but instead you told me you wanted to stop using condoms, and I didn’t know what the fuck to think.”

“You don’t talk,” Zhenya said. “You never say.”

“Sidney’s spoiled you,” Sid said. “He’s got a crush the size of Jupiter and he wants you to know the color of his belly-button lint.”

Zhenya laughed and pulled Sid down against him and tucked him in against his chest. “Baby is easy. He say what he thinks, what he wants. You, I never know.”

“I don’t think I’m that complicated,” Sid said. He pushed his face into the hollow of Zhenya’s throat. “I want to tell my parents, and I want you to love me. That’s basically it.”

“Oh, Sid,” Zhenya said, and wormed his way down the couch so could kiss Sid’s face until he was pink and grinning.

Sidney wandered in, holding a bottle of Sid’s weird green juice. “Oh,” he said, when he saw them tangled together on the couch. “I was—sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Zhenya said. He held out his hand, and Sidney came over and took it, smiling.

Sid turned over onto his back, elbowing Zhenya in a few critical places. The couch was big, but it wasn’t that big. “Quit groaning, you giant baby,” Sid said, which was unfair, but then he stroked his knuckles along Zhenya’s jaw and gave him such a sweet affectionate look that Zhenya decided he didn’t mind at all.

He drew Sidney’s hand to his mouth and kissed the palm. “What you need?”

“Oh, uh,” Sidney said. “I was just going to watch some TV.”

“Okay, good,” Zhenya said. He kissed Sidney’s hand again, and then released him and started nudging at Sid. “You sit with Sid, I go home.”

“You could stay,” Sid said.

He could, but they all needed some time to process, and he thought it would do Sid some good to talk with Sidney in private. He extricated himself from the couch and then stood and waited until Sidney took his place, lying there with Sid spooned up behind him. Zhenya didn’t really understand their relationship, the way Sid was alternately doting and derisive, half lover and half scornful older sibling. But it seemed to work for them.

“See you later,” Zhenya said, and bent down to kiss each of them in turn.

And then he went home, to watch his own television and make Sid’s favorite lasagna, the one with the artichoke hearts. He didn’t see Sid again until the next morning at the arena. Sidney, already changed, was talking with some of the Wilkes-Barre guys, flushed with the attention and laughing his dumb laugh, and Zhenya plopped down beside Sid and said, “He skate today?”

Sid was bent over, taping his socks. He glanced up and raised his eyebrows. “Yeah? Doesn’t he always?”

“Not, uh. Sore?” Zhenya asked.

Sid smirked at him. “Your dick isn’t that big. He’s fine.”

Zhenya couldn’t believe he was being slandered in this manner. “Make you sore,” he muttered, and Sid laughed at him, the way he always did; but it was different now, because he knew Zhenya loved him. Zhenya could see it in the way he held his head, angled slightly in Zhenya’s direction, like he was waiting to be told what came next.

Later, after skate and the team meeting, Sid came up to him in the change room and said quietly, “After the game tonight, I—can I come over?”

Zhenya looked up. Sid’s hair was wet from his shower, and he was still pink all over from practice, and wearing nothing but his underwear. Zhenya’s tongue felt too big for his mouth. “You bring baby?”

“No,” Sid said. “Is that okay? I’ll take him back to my place first.”

“Of course is okay,” Zhenya said. He narrowed his eyes. “When he’s leave?”

“Tomorrow,” Sid said. “I’m pretty sure it’s tomorrow. In the evening.” He touched Zhenya’s shoulder, just for a moment. “You’ll have a chance to say goodbye.”

“That’s not why I ask,” Zhenya protested, even though it mostly was.

“Hey. I know you like him,” Sid said, and smiled. “You think I’m jealous? He’s me.”

“Go put clothes,” Zhenya said, because the alternative was kissing Sid until he squeaked, and there was probably a more tactful way to break the news to the team.

They won that night, with three assists for Zhenya and two goals for Sid, and Zhenya was in a great mood as he drove home and reheated the lasagna, absolutely on top of the world. Sid arrived twenty minutes later, and he had changed out of his suit into Zhenya’s favorite pair of jeans, old and soft and faded and a little too tight through the ass and thighs. He looked good, and when he came over to give Zhenya a hi-how-are-you kiss, Zhenya held him in place and deepened it to more of a well-hello-there kiss.

Sid started laughing after a minute, and Zhenya pulled back to smack his ass. “Why you’re laugh? Sid!”

“I’m just happy,” Sid said, and before Zhenya could even start to process that, added, “The food smells really good.”

“I make lasagna you like,” Zhenya said, and he got to watch Sid smile at him like maybe he was never going to stop.

+ + +

There was an off-ice workout in the morning, followed by a team meeting, and when all of that was done, Zhenya ate lunch at the rink and then drove to Sid’s.

Sidney met him at the front door, freshly showered and beaming. He pushed up onto his toes to give Zhenya a kiss. Zhenya realized, with some surprise, that he would miss Sidney when he was gone. He wished he could keep both of them—a miniature harem of Sids.

It would probably kill him. They were both insatiable.

“Where’s Sid?” he asked, kissing wetly at Sidney’s ear to make him giggle.

“He went to the store,” Sidney said, and looped his arms around Zhenya’s neck.

Sid was so predictable. He had left them alone so they could talk. Well, it was a kindness, and Zhenya would take full advantage.

He took Sidney into the den and tugged at him until Sidney joined him on the sofa, straddling his lap. Sidney was too big for the position to be particularly comfortable, but Zhenya wanted the closeness, and he wanted to rub his face against Sidney’s neck and kiss him a few times, and feel Sidney’s hands running over his upper back.

“You talk with Sid?” Zhenya asked. He curled his hands around Sidney’s thighs and squeezed.

“Yeah,” Sidney said. “He told me what happened. I’m really—I’m super glad.”

Zhenya kept his face hidden, so that he could say what he needed to. “He says, last time, I talk with you, say: I love you, be patient. Wait for me. But I think maybe that’s not so good.”

Sidney slid his hands into Zhenya’s hair and tugged, forcing him to look up. He was smiling.

“Sid waits too long,” Zhenya said. “Doesn’t ask, doesn’t say. Only waits for me, and I’m, you know, I’m never say, too scared. Maybe I say this to you and everything changes, maybe I lose Sid,” and he had to stop and swallow hard. He understood Sid’s obsession with the timeline, now. Joy was so fragile. What if Zhenya had never scraped together the courage to kiss Sid? What if Sid had rejected him then, instead of kissing him back? Each choice, each turn led to a thousand other choices. How many times had Zhenya ruined it before he finally got it right?

“Geno, hey,” Sidney said, and leaned down to kiss his cheek. “It’s all worked out, right? I mean, I told you why I think I’m here. I’m not going to go back home and—and decide to do everything differently.”

“No?” Zhenya asked. He ran his hand through Sidney’s hair. He liked the curls. Maybe he could convince Sid to grow his hair out again.

Fat chance of that happening. Sid never listened to him.

“No,” Sidney said. “You love him, right?”

“Yes,” Zhenya said. Saying it was still so new and thrilling.

“Then it’s worth it to me,” Sidney said. “I’ll wait. I know parts of it will suck, and I’ll probably worry a lot about ruining the timeline, even though I know I probably can’t, but it’s—shut up, don’t argue with me,” and he pressed his fingers to Zhenya’s mouth. “If you want to do things differently, you need to make your own time travel arrangements.”

“Sid,” Zhenya said, really struggling now, because he was a selfish bastard, but he also wanted what was best for Sid, and that probably wasn’t him.

Sidney dragged his thumb along Zhenya’s lower lip. “You’ll just have to make sure you’re worth the wait, eh.”

And that—okay, that he could do. “Take good care,” he said. “I make him most happy.”

“You’d better,” Sidney said. His fingers were still on Zhenya’s mouth. “Suck him off every day—”

“Now you greedy,” Zhenya said. “Wait for Sid gets home, ask nice, maybe he say yes.”

“You want me to ask his permission?” Sidney said incredulously, which was a great look on him, and Zhenya had to kiss him just a little bit.

“I’m leaving soon,” Sidney said, when they broke apart.

“I know,” Zhenya said. “Sid thinks today, this evening.”

“Yeah,” Sidney said. He chewed on his lip for a moment. “Sid told me I’ll feel really weird for about a week and then things will go back to normal.”

“Next season is good for you,” Zhenya said. “I’m there, show you how to play good hockey.”

Sidney rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I didn’t have a clue until you came along and taught me how to hold a hockey stick.”

Zhenya laughed, and pressed his smile against Sidney’s neck. He would miss Sidney, but he was ready for his own life to get back to normal. The new normal. Sid had woken him that morning with repeated soft kisses to his face and mouth, light sweet kisses all over his cheekbones and eyebrows and the bridge of his nose, and Zhenya wanted to shout it from every mountaintop. He was going to learn how to be brave.

“I’ll miss you,” Sidney said.

Zhenya pulled back to study his face. Sidney smiled at him, but it looked a little wistful. Zhenya said, “You have good life. Fuck lots of hot boys, beautiful girls. Play good hockey. I wait for you here. In ten years, you see me again.”

“Okay,” Sidney said. His eyes were a little wet. “I’m going to hold you to that.”

+ + +

Sidney left after dinner. They were all watching TV on the couch, and Zhenya got up to piss and refill his water glass, and when he went back into the den, Sid was alone, standing beside the coffee table and frowning.

“He left,” he said to Zhenya plaintively. “Just—I looked away for a second, and I looked back and he was gone.”

“Oh, Sid,” Zhenya said. He set his glass on the end table and took Sid in his arms. “I know you miss.”

“It was weird,” Sid said. He rested his head against Zhenya’s shoulder. “But it was kind of nice.”

Zhenya had to smile. That was a pretty good summary of the past two weeks.

He spent the night in Sid’s bed, dreaming about fishing. He was out on the open water, the sun round as a lemon slice overhead, and the ocean fathoms deep below him. He had a big fish hooked on his line, something feisty, maybe a marlin, and it was fighting hard, tugging at his arm—

“Come on, sleepy,” Sid said, shaking him gently.

Zhenya groaned. “Sid, no.”

“We have practice,” Sid said. The shaking stopped, and his hand went away.

Zhenya rubbed his eyes and turned over. “You big fish,” he said. “Huge.”

Sid squinted at him. “What?”

“I have dream,” Zhenya said. “It’s not important.” Sid was sitting up, his hair sticking out in a sculptural cowlick at the front. Zhenya reached up and touched his chin. “Hi, Sid.”

“Hi,” Sid said. He stared at Zhenya for a moment, and then he started grinning. “You’re here.”

“Yes?” Zhenya said. “Where else I be?”

“I don’t know,” Sid said. “I mean. We fucked up the timeline pretty bad. I guess I thought maybe everything would be different.”

Zhenya sat up too, and leaned in to kiss Sid’s mouth. They both had terrible morning breath. Sid needed to shave. Zhenya wondered if he could convince Sid to move in with him, and if so, how soon.

“Sid,” he said. “It is.”