There is nothing easy about coming to America. From journey to destination.
Zhenya doesn’t know the language and he doesn’t know a single person. His idol worship for Mario and Sid doesn’t do anything to help him as he stands in the foyer and uses the translator who met him at the airport to say hello.
It’s tense and awkward. He doesn’t need to understand english to know that. His back aches from the way he’s been sitting. Ramrod straight in his chair, every muscle in body holding all of his nerves as the translator quietly tells them what everyone is talking about.
“I think you’ll like Gonch.”
Zhenya stares at the translator. It takes him a minute to realize that it was actually Sidney who said it.
Sid’s cheeks are pink and his eyes dart between him and the translator as he continues.
“You’ll meet him tomorrow, he couldn’t be here tonight. I think you’ll like him.”
Zhenya doesn’t know what to say or who to say it to so he just nods and gives Sid a tired smile.
He’s just so so so tired.
He eats his meal in a daze. He stops listening to the translator halfway through and tunes everyone else out.
The feeling of wanting to be home is overwhelming. When he leaves here he’ll have to go back to an empty hotel room and he just wants someone to be there with him.
As much as he wants to be close to someone he still jumps when a hand lays on his shoulder.
He can hear the apology in the tone of the words that are falling out of Sid’s mouth.
“He says he’s sorry for startling you,” the translator says. “He wants you to know if there’s anything you need that you should come to him. He’s excited that you’re finally in Pittsburgh. He’s been waiting for you.”
Sid already said that when he first walked in the house but it’s always nice to hear.
He looks like he’s waiting for a response so Zhenya nods and in the best English he can muster says “thank you.”
Sid lights up and tightly squeezes his shoulder before he lets him go.
Zhenya feels the loss immediately.
He does like Gonch. Just as Sid said he would.
They shook hands when they first met, polite and professional, and an hour later they were shaking with laughter over their own separate stories of home and Gonch was clapping his hand on Zhenya’s back and promising that this would all work out.
His heavy hand doesn’t make him feel like Sid’s did at all.
“It’s all so much,” Zhenya says and Gonch nods.
“I know. It will take time. You’ll feel better when the season starts. Travelling might help.”
“I don’t ever want to see the inside of an airplane ever again. Or a hotel room.” He’s getting sick of the sound the keycard makes when he shoves it into the door at the end of every day.
“Can’t help you with the travel,” Gonch says. “But I might be able to help you with the hotel.”
It’s a good fit, living with the Gonchar’s.
It feels a bit like being at home again even though there’s still a sharp pain in his heart each time he thinks about his family all those thousands of miles away.
The noise of the house is a comfort. Ksenia and Sergei in the kitchen at the end of the day talking softly and the girls running up and down the stairs in the morning as they get ready for school.
It’s easier to pick up on English with them around. The television seems to be on a constant loop of kids programming; brightly colored cartoons and puppets slowly spell things out for him.
“The guys would give you so much shit if they knew how religiously you watched Sesame Street,” Gonch tells him on a lazy Sunday morning.
The girls have woken up and promptly fallen back asleep across Zhenya’s lap still in their pajamas. “Good thing they’ll never know, right?”
Gonch makes a show of zipping his lips. Zhenya rolls his eyes but feels better than he has in a long while.
Still, for all the noise and warmth and the family there isn’t a time that he feels more relaxed and comfortable then he does when he’s on the bench with Sid pressed tightly beside him.
Sid is a year younger than him but it already looks like he’s carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. He’ll get the A and then the C, everyone knows it, and it always seems like he’s ready to step into that leadership position at any moment.
He has a boyishly handsome face and a mess of black curls and the best hands Zhenya has ever seen.
In Zhenya’s mind you’d have to be a fool to not be attracted to him, to crave his attention and his touch and to absolutely melt when you get both of them.
But no one else on the team seems to act like that.
They don’t crowd around him or linger. They don’t treat him like he’s anything special.
He doesn’t understand it. He also doesn't understand why he can’t seem to feel this way about anyone but Sid.
He takes his turn with each of his teammates, sitting with a different person on the bus or on the plane each time. He’ll press their arms together on the rest between them and bump their shoulders together.
Usually they just shove him off or give him a weird look and Zhenya sits there beside them in discomfort until the bus stops or the plane lands.
It’s not strangers either.
Zhenya stumbles his way through conversations with countless people until something clicks.
He’ll follow them home or, if they’re on the road, bring them back to his hotel room and he’ll try to feel something.
But it never happens and he’s left longing for the next time Sid slams him into the boards after a goal or when he pats his hand against his back when in sympathy and support when they lose.
Or when they bump their fists against each other’s chest then tap their helmets together before a game.
“Are you going out with us tonight?” Gonch is leaning halfway through the hotel room door. He’s dressed nicely like they’re going out to dinner instead of a bar and Zhenya frowns as he looks down at the ratty sweatpants he has on. Gonch notices them as well. “Guess not.”
“Too young to be tired. You and Sid.” He shakes his head and Zhenya lifts his off the pillow.
“Sid’s not going?”
“No. Young and boring.”
“You know what room he’s in?” Gonch narrows his eyes.
“Maybe we’ll be young and boring together,” he says as he gets himself off the bed and jams his bare feet into his shoes. “You have to come with me so you can tell him.”
“You can probably manage the english yourself.”
Zhenya doesn’t meet his eye line as he picks his room key out of his wallet.
“He’s not going to make fun of you, you know. If there’s one person on this team that won’t it’s him.”
Zhenya sticks his key into his pocket and grabs his sweatshirt off the back of the desk chair. “Lets just go.”
Sid’s dressed almost exactly the same as he is when he opens the door only his sweatpants pool at the feet just a bit.
Zhenya only picks up on every other word Sid and Gonch say to each other but after a moment Sid’s smiling and nodding and opening the door for him.
“Sid’s going to watch a movie,” Gonch says to him, “he says you’re welcome to join.”
Zhenya slips through the door and Gonch speaks slowly and clearly when he says to Sid, “he knows more than he lets on. Have a good night.”
The door closes and the room is plunged into silence.
“Didn’t feel like going out?” Sid says and Zhenya shoves his hands into his sweatshirt pockets.
“Movie,” Zhenya asks and Sid nods and hands him the remote.
“For sure. You can pick if you want, I’m just going to take a quick shower, okay? Did you get any of that?”
He got most of it. Enough that he knows Sid will be wet and naked with only a wall separating them very shortly.
“Okay,” he says and Sid gives him a bright smile before he disappears into the bathroom.
Zhenya’s hand sweats around the remote as he hears the water turn on and then the sound of it hitting the tile differently when Sid gets in.
There’s a bed and a couch for Zhenya to choose from and he only thinks about his options for a moment before he settles back onto the bed and flips through the movie channels on the tv.
Sid comes out much sooner than he was expecting. The bathroom isn’t even fogged up behind him but his hair is wet and pushed back and he’s wearing a different pair of sweatpants. These ones seem to fit him better.
“Oh.” He stops when he sees him in his bed and Zhenya tenses. “Okay.”
“Move?” “No, no, no, it’s fine.” He climbs onto the bed and leans against the headboard. They’re not touching anywhere and Zhenya bites back a frustrated sigh. “The couch has a shitty view anyways. Did you find something to watch?” The last thing he settled on was a big budget action movie that starts off with a car blowing up.
It takes both of them well into the introduction of the main characters to relax but after that Sid slumps into the pillows and Zhenya tips towards him.
Their shoulders touch first and then slowly their thighs and knees and soon their ankles are pressed together.
Zhenya sighs happily now and stops paying attention to the movie in favor of focusing on the feeling of Sid’s shoulders rising and falling with every breath he takes.
On screen the hero kisses his pretty love interest and Zhenya thinks wouldn’t that be nice before he rests his head on Sid’s shoulder and dozes off.
It feels like he’s only out for a moment before Sid is shaking him awake but when he opens his eyes the movie is over and local news is on and there are footsteps in the hall.
“Sorry,” Sid says as he springs off the bed so quickly that Zhenya has to catch himself before he topples over. “I’m sorry but if the guys come back and see….” He waves his hand at the bed. “That, they’re never going to let us hear the end of it. So I think maybe….you should probably….” He tips his head towards the door and Zhenya hunches in on himself at the thought of Sid being embarrassed that they’d be seen together. “It’s getting really late anyways. We have to get up early anyways and there’s practice and then the game.” He trails off, eyes darting to the door. He looks desperate and Zhenya rolls off the bed.
“I’ll see you in the morning, okay, G?”
Zhenya mumbles a good night before he opens the door and steps into the hall.
Sid is sweaty and only half dressed when he steps in front of his and Gonch’s stall after practice the next day.
“I need you to tell him something,” Sid says to Gonch and Zhenya busies himself by untying his skates.
Gonch blinks up at him until Sid throws his hands up. “Well.”
“Have to tell me what to say, Sid.”
“Oh! Tell him I had fun last night. You know, watching the movie.”
Gonch doesn’t say anything and Sid kicks at him with his socked foot.
“You only want me to tell him that? I can remember more.”
“Just tell him I had fun and if he wants we should do it again sometime. I know I’d really like that so if he wants to….tell him. Ask him. Please.”
Gonch rolls his eyes but turns to Zhenya anyways. “Did you understand that?”
“He had fun last night. He thinks you two should do it again.”
Zhenya finally looks up. Sid has his thumbnail between his teeth and he’s bouncing on his toes. He raises his eyebrows when he catches Zhenya’s eyes.
“Did you tell him,” Sid asks and Gonch sighs.
“Did you not just hear me speak?”
“I don’t know Russian. You could have told him anything.”
“I told him. It’s not my fault he’s not answering you.”
“When,” Zhenya asks. He pulls on Gonch’s arm. “When does he want to do it again?”
“He asks when.”
“Whenever. When we get back home. He should come over to my place- to Mario’s place- and I’ll order food or something.” He taps his foot against Gonch’s shin. “Tell him.”
“He said when we get home you should come over. Now you nod or shake your head at him. This is ridiculous.”
Zhenya nods and Sid smiles.
“Good, that’s good. I’ll see you then, I guess. I’ll see you before that, obviously but you know what I mean. Don’t tell him I said that, okay?”
Gonch waves his hand and Sid turns on his heels to head back to his own stall.
“What did he say?”
“Nothing important. He’s just a nervous boy trying to make a friend. And you, you have to start speaking English around here. Especially to Sid. I’m not going to be setting up playdates for you two forever. I won’t be the go between. You’re going to have to figure out a way to communicate.”
“A lot of things are but we all make do.”
Gonch complains the entire drive but he drops Zhenya off at Sid’s apartment with a six pack of soda and some words of encouragement.
“Have fun and talk, please talk, it can only help you.”
Sid seems excited to see him when he opens the door and only mildly surprised to see the soda.
“I guess we are too young to drink legally,” he says as he takes it into the kitchen. Zhenya follows behind him. “America, right?” He smiles over his shoulder.
Zhenya smiles back and it’s a nice little moment until the silence becomes too loud and Sid clears his throat.
“Anyways, I got food; pizza and Chinese but if you don’t like that we can get something else. It’s no big deal. I didn’t know what you liked. Oh, I also got these.” He grabs a couple of thick books off the counter and holds them up. “English to Russian and Russian to English. All the words are spelled out phonetically so that should make it easy. Or easier I guess. If that doesn’t work we can always look it up online.”
He passes one of the books across the counter to him and Zhenya traces his fingertips over the Cyrillic writing on the front. It’s achingly familiar and it will always be a part of him but it’s not all there is anymore.
There is America and Penguins hockey and this boy standing in front of him.
“Thank you,” he says slowly. “Very nice of you to do this. Pizza is good, stupid we can’t drink.”
Sid is staring at him, lips parted slightly in disbelief, and Zhenya doesn’t know what else to say so he tacks on “thank you for inviting,” just to wrap things up.
“That was really good,” Sid says and Zhenya can feel his face flood with heat. “That was really, really good. Have you been able to understand me this whole time? Ever since you got here? Have you always known how to speak English?”
“No. No, not at all. Still learning but slow.”
“You’re doing a great job. You should talk more.”
“Sound like Gonch.”
“Well he’s right. You always have good ideas when Gonch translates for you. Don’t be afraid to be the one to say them.”
“It’s.” He presses his lips together and searches for the word in English but he can’t find it. “People might laugh.”
“You’re embarrassed,” Sid asks and yes, that’s the word. “Don’t be. You speak better English that most of the American’s on this team. Definitely better than the french Canadians,” he says with a teasing smile like it’s already an inside joke between the two of them. “C’mon.” He grabs an unopened bag of chips from the cabinet and points towards the living room.
Sid’s couch is oversized and there’s more than enough room for each of them spread out in their own corners but they both settle in the middle instead, right next to each other.
Sid presses their shoulders together and knocks his knee into Zhenya’s before he reaches for a slice of pizza and the remote.
It becomes less of a habit and more of a calling.
After a long roadie or a bad game or a great game or in the middle of a three day break they’re drawn to each other in Sid’s apartment.
It’s dinner and a movie and sitting side by side on the couch the same as it’s always been until one afternoon Sid puts his arm around the back of the couch and lets Zhenya get even closer.
From there it’s Zhenya’s feet in Sid’s lap after grueling back to back games or his head resting on his thigh with Sid’s fingers running through his hair.
It’s Sid leaving his hand on the middle of Zhenya’s back as Zhenya writes out english words or reads aloud from one of the sports magazines Sid has around the apartment.
It’s Zhenya wrapping his long arms around Sid to hug him goodbye or Sid picking up Zhenya’s hand during a break from the game they're watching to rub his thumb against the soft skin of his inner wrist.
Sid likes to watch the goosebumps spread across Zhenya’s arm and Zhenya just likes Sid.
They fall asleep together on a snowy night in mid-February.
The game they were watching was on west coast time and when it went into OT they both slouched over and nodded off.
Zhenya wakes up to Sid’s body draped over his own and highlights from the game playing in the background and this is all he could ever want in life.
He’s content to stay there forever, pressed into the couch cushions as he runs his fingers through Sid’s curls.
Sid wakes up eventually looking adorable and disoriented and blinks down at Zhenya in the dim light of the room.
“It’s late,” he says and Zhenya nods.
“Very late. Gonch going to be mad.”
“It’s too late to call him,” Sid says as he leans into Zhenya’s touch. “You can just stay here tonight.”
Zhenya is thrilled until Sid pushes himself up and off of him and if he’s going to be sleeping alone on Sid’s couch he might as well just walk back home.
But then Sid sticks his hand out for Zhenya to take.
“The bed is more comfortable and there’s more room.”
Zhenya knows that extra space doesn’t matter as he takes Sid’s hand. It’s not like they’re going to use it.
Because of his size Zhenya is used to being the big spoon in bed. It’s easy for people to be held by him than it is for them to hold onto him.
It’s nice but it’s not what he needs and Sid seems to know that as he slides up behind him and throws his arm around his waist.
“Do you need anything,” Sid asks, breath warm against the back of Zhenya’s neck. “More blankets? Pillows?”
“I’m fine,” Zhenya whispers back like he’s afraid raising his voice just a little will burst this bubble they’ve created for themselves. “Good.”
“Good,” Sid says back and Zhenya can feel him drift off between one breath and the next, his arm going slack across him.
They’re in the same position hours later when the sun comes streaming through the curtains.
Sid squeezes his hip and says “breakfast,” lips close enough to his ear to be a kiss but not quite.
Sid’s already given him everything he’s wanted but hasn’t asked for. He can’t expect that too.
“You’ve been spending a lot of time at Sidney’s lately,” Ksenia says one night over dinner.
Zhenya freezes with his fork above his plate.
“Why are you looking at me like that,” she asks. “It’s a good thing. I’m glad you’re making friends. Not that I worried but, you know, I worried.”
“Sid’s a good friend,” Zhenya says evenly. This morning he woke up in Sid’s arms, again, and then Sid made him scrambled eggs and bacon while he was draped over Sid’s back.
They ate with their ankles crossed beneath the kitchen table.
“Yes, I’m sure he’s a very good friend,” Gonch says. He’s grinning and Zhenya shifts in his seat. “I’m sure there are plenty of benefits of being his friend.”
Ksenia looks back and forth between them. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” Zhenya says quickly. “Nothing’s going on. Sid’s helping me with English.”
It’s true and Gonch hums.
“Sergei thinks we’re doing more than watching movies.”
“We are,” Sid says as he clicks at the controller in his hand. He’s concentrating on the screen with his tongue peaking out between his lips. “We’re playing video games.”
Zhenya pauses the game and Sid swears.
“Think we’re doing more.” He looks over Sid’s shoulder down the hall to the bedroom. “I don’t come home at night.”
“Oh. Oh.” Sid shifts in his seat. “What did you tell him?”
Zhenya locks eyes with him and refuses to look away as he says “tell him he’s crazy.”
A complicated look crosses Sid’s face but it clears as quick as it came. “That’s good,” he says as he leans forward for his water bottle on the coffee table. “I mean. That’s for the best.” He fiddles with the cap for a moment before he says “do you want to keep playing or what?”
He’s not tired yet so he nods.
“Hey. Turn over.”
Sid pats at his stomach and Zhenya heaves a sigh before he flips over to face him.
It’s too dark to really see him but his eyes adjust quickly and he can make out the shape of his face and the way his bottom lip is caught between his teeth.
“Not really. What is this?”
Zhenya furrows his brows. “What?
“What is this? What are you doing? Why me? Why not someone else?”
“Lots of questions. One at a time, maybe?”
“What am I to you?”
Everything is the first thing that pops into his head so it’s what he says.
“You everything to me. So lucky I met you.”
“So what is this?”
“When I come here was all alone. Still alone sometimes but when I have you like this.” He touches Sid’s arm. “It’s not so bad. Nothing is so bad with you.”
“So it just me, then? No one else? I’ve seen you out in bars before-.”
“When was last time?”
“I don’t know.”
“Before this with you. No one but you.”
Zhenya can see that Sid’s still working through something. He can feel it.
“Have more questions you can ask.”
Sid worries at his bottom lip. “Gonch said he thought there was morning going on with us and you said he was crazy. Do you actually think that’s so crazy?”
Zhenya slides his hand up to the side of Sid’s neck. “No. Not crazy.”
“And do you think you want more? Because I want more.”
“More?” Sid hesitates and then leans forward. He brushes his lips against Zhenya’s, careful and sweet, before he pulls back.
“More,” Zhenya says, like that one word is the only one he’ll ever need to say. He squeezes the back of Sid’s neck and pulls him in for another kiss. “Always want more.”