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Zhenya’s been playing island hermit near Miami for three weeks when Sid sends him a snap from Italy. It’s still early, early morning where Zhenya is, sky muted violets, and the sea breeze coming in through the open bedroom window in the house he stays at. He likes to wake with the heat, but thumbs open the message anyway when he sees who it’s from.

Sid’s eating at some brightly colored Roman trattoria, his knees bowed together visible through the cast-iron grate of the table top covered in several shared plates; a picked-apart misto affettati, some crepe-thin pizzas with fat globs of mozzarella, breaded eggplant croquettes, a pitcher of water with several slices of citrus sweating, half-full. He’s tagged Taylor, whose chacos are also visible in the shot looking directly down.

BIG cheat day, Geno types, because he has no self control. He should just go back to sleep; maybe when he wakes up, Sid will have sent him more pictures of whatever he’s up to an ocean away. It’s a nice thought.

Sid messages him back, eating for two, then after a few minutes, a smiley emoji with sunglasses.

Oh. Huh. Well, Zhenya thinks, before rolling over and going back to sleep. That’s Sid’s decision to make. Good for him.

When he wakes up a few hours later, he realizes he hasn’t responded at all and that could look weird, so he sends a quick congratulation!!, followed by thumbs up, firework, baby. Then he goes for a run and makes a smoothie with a whole avocado and too much apple juice to be healthy and doesn’t check his phone at all for three more hours. He misses a few calls, and fifteen texts and twenty thousand e-mails from people who have been trying to get a hold of him for a lot longer than the past day, and also another message from Sid on snapchat that says: dont congratulate me yet. but thanks.  

His heart does something complicated in his chest that feels like going through the shift during the peak of Ursa Major, almost out of his control. The wild thing that lurks inside him is curious and confused and otherwise indifferent, but there’s something primal in the human side of Zhenya too, knowing on the other side of the planet Sid is walking around desperately trying to nurture something small inside him, make his own body a home to something Zhenya gave him. There’s a pride blooming up his throat; there’s a stupid, human need fluttering around his stomach, wanting to find meaning in Sid’s choice.

He hates how close his human feelings rise to the surface of himself, sometimes. His bear doesn’t understand how uselessly complicated human feelings are, even if his bear likes Sid and wants to make Sid happy in its own, more fleeting, intense way. 

He takes a nap. He drinks a beer. He takes his boat out to see what’s biting in the afternoon and comes back with enough grouper for at least three nights and leftovers to freeze for a night when it cools enough to shift.

Bears are solitary creatures. He’s good at being alone, and he’s been good at being alone his entire life. His lifestyle, his career attracts its fair share of pack animals and humans that give him more than enough face time during the season that he can decompress on his own during the summer without craving much of anything, or anyone.

It doesn’t feel right or usual, the way he’s craved Sid his whole life the way most bears crave solitude. Zhenya imagines Sid with one cub, two, months from now in the den Sid’s had underneath his house since the beginning, and he yearns. It isn’t the first time he’s thought about coming home after a bad day and shedding his skin and hiding away from the world with someone, climbing into the den where he’s got a family he loves with his entire being waiting for him.

He does a beer batter crust for the grouper and makes fish tacos with too much sour cream, sending a picture to Sid. Haha I’m also cheat!! he writes, instead of the laundry list of terrible, needy emotions calcifying against his ribs. He eats the tacos, too greasy with oil running down his wrists, as he tries to play some CoD to distract himself.  

Bears are solitary creatures, but Zhenya has human emotions; his feelings are so loud, they fill up every room he enters like a gas. Sometimes he feels like he’s suffocating.

Sid sends him a picture of his hand holding a pastry, fingers coated in powdered sugar that Zhenya can taste if he just closes his eyes.

It isn’t the worst day he’s had, but it also is far from the best.

He falls asleep alone listening to the waves lick up the shoreline outside, pretending not to think about Sid across the world planning to have his baby.

 


 

He finds out a few days later that Sid’s apparently taking Taylor on some Eurotrip to celebrate her graduation. Zhenya doesn’t think Sid told him about it, just like he didn’t tell Zhenya he was planning on having his cub when Zhenya fucked him through his heat two weeks ago. Zhenya hears that Sid and Taylor are doing the Eurotrip thing from Olli when Olli sends a picture of them meeting up with his group in Barcelona three days later.

Zhenya shamelessly hounds him for the information. Tell me everything, he types, sunscreen fingers greasing up his phone screen and making him type like he’s drunk.

Olli is useless though. He texts just met up and did tourist things, going to camp nou tomorrow, as if Zhenya was even asking about him. But he follows up a few minutes later with a picture of the seven of them eating ice cream, and Sid’s in the very center with vanilla melting down his fingers, eyes wincing away from the sun, face red with it. Zhenya loves how he looks at his absolute worst, so maybe Olli isn’t completely worthless. He saves it to his phone.

It’s still too hot for fur on the beach, even in the house with air conditioning, even at night, and Zhenya didn’t get any time for a full shift between the Pens’ second round loss to the Caps and him flying down south, all the time in between spent buried inside Sid and feeling not as sad as he was expecting to be. Now his body feels too tight, and his human feelings excessive and unnameable and unavoidable all at once.

Olli texts him again, a picture of Jamie in front of the Sagrada Familia like Zhenya fucking cares (okay, he does, a little), and Zhenya throws his phone in the sand. Underneath his skin, the bear does not understand or care for nuance. It wants to claw its way up to the surface where it only knows instinct and impulse and not much else.

He goes on another run, barefoot up and down the shoreline. If he exhausts himself, he thinks, maybe he’ll be too tired to obsess over human things.

The sand wears him down, but it doesn’t stop his brain going a thousand miles a minute; he’s thinking about Sid and Taylor in Europe, and how Sid’s entire family situation has always been one huge foreign concept to him.

Bears aren’t like humans, and they aren’t like most other shifters; they’re independent, strong, sturdy things with simple pleasures and straightforward feelings. It’s what his mother told him when he was young, when he asked about the human kids at school, and the wolves and the foxes and the occasional beavers who all had parents, large, intimate families, with abrasive and loud personalities that didn’t fit into his worldview. Bears don’t need those things, his mother had said over her shoulder while she boiled his socks in a large pot on the stove, they get in the way of what’s important.

“Bears don’t need those things,” he repeats out loud to the too-bright sky from where he’s collapsed in the sand. But what if he wants them anyway?

Sid had grown up a bear in a family of bears trying to be human. He had a mom and a dad and a sister, and he had a hard time living alone when he moved away. He’s had one or two long-term relationships, which Zhenya always thought had failed simply because Sidney wasn’t human enough, because Zhenya grew up thinking that falling in love with someone would just be too much work at the end of the day, unsatisfying. But Sid has always been different; he’s a role model shifter, entirely vulnerable and good when he’s human, embracing things that Zhenya’s never taken the time to understand.

He’s also spent dozens of shifts with Zhenya rolling around in the Lemieux backyard, blanketed by starlight when they were younger, gnawing at each other, climbing the fence and getting into the neighbor’s trash. The most affection Zhenya’s ever felt for someone else in his entire life was the morning after that first time, when they both had stomach aches and Zhenya was shitting McDonalds wrappers, and Sid had looked over him so tired and sick and fond from the other end of the couch they were recovering on together like they were sharing some big inside joke. More than once, Zhenya’s wondered if that had been real, human love that morning.

It’s weird that Sid’s having his cubs, is what it comes down to. It’s the text on the marquee in his brain running over and over and over again behind his eyes: Sid is having his cubs, and it’s weird, because Sid comes from a human family that does things the human way, and Sid having his cubs on his own and leaving Zhenya as an afterthought or a footnote is such a traditional, unexpected bear thing, that Zhenya feels--what? He feels something, that’s for sure, and he doesn’t like that either.

He takes a lukewarm shower in the outdoor unit installed off the patio of the house while drinking a beer straight out of the can until his senses are clouded with bitter salt and bar soap. Then he goes inside, naked, and lets the heat dry his body. He pulls the rest of the grouper he didn’t freeze out of the fridge and makes ceviche with it, eats it on the couch with a basketball game on.

If he were human, he would probably admit to feeling a little lonely in the moment. But he isn’t, not fully, so he doesn’t.

 


 

Sid sends more pictures. Sometimes they’re snapchats to whoever’s got his number, but sometimes they’re just for Zhenya. No full body shots from him personally, which makes Zhenya an uneasy kind of anxious. Sid always bulks up in the summer, but if he’s trying to get his pregnancy to take, it’s going to be a different kind of bulk. Sid’s never shied away from carbs or sweets, so it shouldn’t really be a problem, but Zhenya still worries. He shouldn’t. He has no ownership over Sid’s body or his baby.

He can’t tell which part of his brain, if it’s the animal or the person, that keeps getting hung up on imagining Sid coming back in the death throes of summer looking softer and easy in a way he was the first week they met, when Sid still had baby fat that desperately clung to his cheeks. His mind stutters like a film reel catching on the memory of Sid looking the way he had the first time he let Zhenya fuck him through his heat after they had taken the Cup almost a decade ago; Zhenya had suffered for weeks during the Carolina series and then through the Red Wings as Sid had played every second like a challenge, like a promise, fertile scent all over the ice heat-ripe so everyone who could smell him would, thick at the back of their throats until the Penguins won, and finally, finally, he came to Zhenya like Zhenya had earned it. His hair had curled sweaty at the nape of his neck and Zhenya held it in sweat-streaked, greasy fistfuls when he came.

He imagines Sid like that now, but even softer, the swell of his belly tight in Zhenya’s big palms. His fantasies are all Sid filling out his largest, most well-worn sweats and keening into Zhenya’s touch. Under his fingers are signs of life. Sid lets him touch wherever he wants and loves it, lets Zhenya feed him, lets Zhenya suck his nipples through his tight shirt to encourage sweet pre-milk to seep through to his tongue.

He imagines the last months, when the pregnancy takes and Sidney tucks himself away in the den he’s had built and maintained under his house ever since he moved in; the Penguins will be in the middle of their season, and after good games or hard losses, Zhenya will seek out Sid sleeping and smelling like earth, groggily letting Zhenya curl up against his bear form for warmth. Zhenya imagines the rise and fall of Sid’s fur against him, slow, even breaths until the cub comes.

He imagines cubs of his own, cubs who claim him as theirs, and what people back home would say. He doesn’t even care, he realizes, he wants so much. He just wants and wants and wants.

 


 

Zhenya spends two more days running the beach and drinking cold beer and exhausting the three good fish recipes he knows until he’s willing to acknowledge his usual off-season routine isn’t working. He goes out to the baths with Ilya and his family, a bunch of wolves, and it's absolutely the wrong thing; Ilya's family means his kids, and while he drinks beers with Zhenya, he brushes their coats out on the shaded patio. Zhenya ends up leaving by himself and drinking too much in some Hollywood bar and half-shifts, eating Kuro out of sushi with bear paws, ravenous and wasted between forms.

When he was younger, when he first came to the NHL, he thought he was going to retire in Miami or somewhere nearby. It was a new kind of a heat, and vibrant, and the smell of each city overwhelmed him in a way he thought he could let himself get lost in and discover something different every day for the rest of his life. As he’s grown older he’s realized he misses the cold, and Florida makes him feel like he’s splitting at the seams, and if he was going to be lonely somewhere he would rather it was somewhere more than a handful of people could speak the same language he does or a place where he doesn’t have to speak at all, because he’s too busy being a bear or playing hockey, which are in themselves two languages on their own.

Sid texts him, why do people think you’re off the grid right now? and Zhenya doesn't have the strength to tell him it's because he only responds to Sid. As a point he doesn't text Sid back immediately until he’s got a ticket to Moscow, and then he sends a screencap of the itinerary from his phone. 

When they were young, before Zhenya reluctantly learned English, they spent a lot of time as bears together. It felt like an indulgence every time; no one else on the team was a bear, and Sid didn’t just shift around anyone. Sid’s bear was a girl and his family was unconventionally human in a way you didn’t see in Russia, and if it were Zhenya he would have maybe been ashamed to be seen so openly by someone else who knew what those things meant. But Sid’s always laid himself out in terms that Zhenya could understand, whether it was animal or pictures or hockey. 

For the first time ever between them it feels like Sid’s keeping something from Zhenya, even though he continues to send pictures. Or maybe the pregnancy revelation was thrown out like bait, the way Sid used to sometime used to throw out intermediate English in conversation and watch for Zhenya’s reaction and see if he should take a step back or a step forward.

Zhenya’s not sure. All he knows is he’s getting out of here so he can disappear into himself for awhile. 

maybe u come visit on big vacation? He sends from the plane, hours later.

:), Sid replies, which isn’t a no, but it isn’t a yes either.

 


 

He takes the hint when Sid never takes him up on the offer. It isn’t the first time that Zhenya’s asked him to come, or suggest it to him in passing, albeit most of the time it’s been an off-hand comment. Zhenya will mention a restaurant or a park, vacationing near Bannoye lake in the summer and getting lost in the wilderness, the ice sculptures that decorate Magnitogorsk’s central square on New Years, what it's like playing hockey on his home ice, and Sid will express interest and Zhenya will always tell him that someday Sid will come to Russia and they’ll do those things together, and Sid will smile and say, “sounds good, G.”

The lines that Zhenya has drawn in the sand waiting for Sid to step over, if he put them all together, would reach the moon.

He spends the rest of the summer amping up his conditioning to prepare for a season where his team might not have their captain, with off-days where he lets his muscles rehabilitate in the sauna or take a new shape in an old form. He tries to bleach his brain clean of cohesive thoughts, because whenever he lets them take shape, that shape inevitably changes back to Sid. He lets the bear take over as much as he can allow in the late summer, eating rotten fruit and getting drunk on it, letting his feelings turn molten hot and rearrange themselves into something abstract until his human self can no longer make sense of them, until he sweats them out completely.

Sid’s text messages slow until it’s only the group snapchat. He returns to Canada without extending his trip into Russia, and then there are too many pictures of close friends and family in the absence of Sid himself in the pictures. Zhenya stops opening them out of self-preservation with a sense of discipline he only knows from being a professional athlete. 

If Sid doesn't want Zhenya to be a part of his kid’s life, that’s Sid’s choice to make. And it’s what’s accepted for their kind, it’s normal, it shouldn’t be something that leaves Zhenya awake at night. If Sid had wanted a human family, he would have done things the human way, and he would have had someone he loved bring him through his heat, and he would have asked them, and he would say human things to them like I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you, and we should have a kid, and when are you coming back to Pittsburgh?, and I miss you. Zhenya’s seen romantic comedies, he knows what love is supposed to look like, even though he doesn’t know it first-hand.

Maybe the thing that’s shaken Zhenya up so much is that Sid is being so traditional about this, doing what’s expected of him.

Zhenya decides what he’s really feeling toward the end of the summer isn’t loneliness, or heartbreak, or other several other intangible feelings he’s heard in passing but never known; it’s disappointment.

It’s disappointment.

 


 

Of course Zhenya realizes he’s been lying to himself the second he sees Sid at the end of August. Feelings, complicated or not, have weight, and Zhenya’s been carrying a lot of them around poorly defined and unaddressed since May. Some of his feelings are still about their playoffs loss, about being better as a hockey player and a teammate, but most of them are about Sid, and they’re all just like any other injury he would try to play through until being incapacitated completely.

The team slack has a channel where everyone leftover from the previous season has been posting their arrival dates, and the general chat is full of back and forth indecisive bickering about the when and where of a barbecue. Zhenya arrives several hours later than the time he had given the group, grumpy and fucked up on sleeping meds after a three-hour delay at JFK. His defenses are at an absolute low. 

Sid texts him you’re back today, right? And Zhenya replies yes without thinking, knowing full well that Sid’s been back in Pittsburgh for three days now probably trying to put out fires as they start within the organization over his plans to be pregnant through the first half of the season, and Zhenya’s firmly not thinking about it at all, because he can’t let himself, and he hasn’t been letting himself, so he continues not to think about it as a company car comes through the arrivals roundabout to pick him up and take him the familiar, well-worn route home.

Sid texts him again as the car pulls into the neighborhood: did you change your gate code?

Zhenya did before he left. He always does as a security precaution. It takes him a second to realize that the only reason Sid is asking is because he is at Zhenya’s gate trying to get in.

And just like that, his chest feels wrenched open, and all of the things he’s let weigh against it for months flood through until he’s choking on them. The pain comes on like the pain of the shift, his ribcage trying to expand to accommodate everything all at once, It feels impossible. There is so much, feelings from his toes up to his eyes, and it’s blanketed in a general fear that makes him want to run into the woods and never take up a human form again.

He texts Sid the gate code and tries not to die in the five minutes that separate them.

He smells Sid before he sees him. The driver rolls down the window to put the code in when they get to Zhenya’s address, and Sid’s smell rolls in like the second wave in a tsunami, even more terrible and worse than the first wave of feelings. Zhenya is sweating in the same clothes he’s been traveling in for two and a half days. Sid can probably smell him too. Sid can probably smell the fear on him, the dirt underneath his fingernails, the overpriced sandwich he ate for lunch and washed down with champagne and an Ambien over the Arctic ocean.

The last time Zhenya saw Sid was when he was ragged and worn out at the end of his heat. Sid always let his heat last through the entirety of the post-season until they either won or were kicked out of the playoffs, and he’d looked across the room on locker cleanout day leaking between his thighs and impatient and charmingly clean-shaven, jaw so sharp that Zhenya thought he’d split his mouth open pressing kisses into it. The last time Zhenya saw Sid was all five days after that, when he was well-fucked and hollow-cheeked and humming some Top 50 song he shamelessly liked while he was putting on his shoes in Zhenya’s foyer, wearing a pair of Zhenya’s pants and a dirty t-shirt, while Zhenya wore a pair of Sid’s sweatpants rolled three times at the waist just to keep them up until they looked like capris. The last time Zhenya saw Sid he had mayo at the corner of his mouth from a sandwich Zhenya made him before he left, and he was holding two big shopping bags from Safran’s full of perishables from Zhenya’s fridge, because Zhenya was flying to Miami the next day and had to get rid of them; Zhenya’d thumbed away the mayo on his mouth, but then leaned down to kiss him again on instinct, and Sid’s mouth had been so swollen and stubble-burned that he’d moaned into it and sank like his knees were going to give out. The last time Zhenya saw Sid was from his doorway while Sid got into his Range Rover and gave him a peace sign like thanks for the free food and the good fuck, see you in a couple of months, casual and routine like the previous years, just another unspoken thing between them.

His car pulls through the gate, and there in the drive is Sid’s Range Rover, and there at the door is Sid looking between his phone and the overhang above the door confused, and then toward the car. 

“May I bring your bags up, Mr. Malkin?” the driver asks, and at this point getting out of the car feels impossible, and Zhenya wants to ask to be carried in too. Is this hard for Sid? Sid makes everything look so effortless.

“Please,” he replies, mouth dry.

Through the tinted car window, Sid waves from the front of the house around his phone. Zhenya takes a breath and closes his eyes and then he gets out of the car.

“I was just calling you!” Sid shouts, and Zhenya looks up at him, taking him in clearly for the first time. He’s wearing an oversized 412 hoodie, brand new as far as Zhenya can pick up with the way the wind is blowing, and when he smiles, his eyes disappear under his hat, with the fat of his cheeks meeting the brim. The curve of his chin has rounded out, the pull of the shorts he’s wearing are tighter across his thighs, more than they’ve ever been before. He looks incredibly soft in a way Zhenya’s never known him to be, but had imagined all summer, and Zhenya feels so incredibly wrecked in his shadow.

“Hey Sid,” he says, voice cracking with unconditional fondness. It’s almost a whisper, but he knows Sid can hear him.

“G,” Sid replies. He won’t stop smiling. His teeth are so goddamn white. Zhenya wants to bury his face into the curve of Sid’s neck, and his bear wants that too, urging him to use his stupid human legs to take the steps forward if just to collapse into him. "Welcome home."

The driver walks between them up to the door with two of Zhenya’s duffles in his hands, and one more over the shoulder, and Zhenya needs to get his shit together. Sid waits, lets Zhenya come to him, walk up the steps to greet him properly.

“Long summer, eh?” Sid says, and Zhenya does give into every instinct then telling him to reel Sid in with his too-long arms and feel how different he is for himself. Sid leans into him like he always does.

“Sid, you have belly?” Zhenya asks, because he can’t help himself. Sid’s usually stacked like a cheese grater this time of year after letting Andy try to murder him through increasingly punishing workouts, and that clearly isn’t the case right now.

“Uh, yeah, I mean,” Sid says into Geno’s clavicle, where he’s pressed his face. “The doctors told me last week it’s gonna be um, probably another month for any eggs to attach if they're going to, so it’s just fat. It’s important to keep putting the weight on though, you know, otherwise they might not at all.”

“Must be so hard, eat so much food, can’t skate million hours a day,” Zhenya says teasingly despite himself.

“Hey, it is hard,” Sid replies, shoving into him, but not pulling away out of his arms. “I’ve seen you eat seven burritos in a sitting and still lose weight.”

Zhenya hums and lets his hands run up Sid’s back, feeling all the ways he’s become new through the thick fabric of the hoodie. He wants to get hands on Sid’s skin for real, pinch at it, rub his fingers over Sid’s stomach lovingly. It’s like Sid’s nesting, but with his entire body, and Zhenya wants to nurture that despite whatever is in his DNA that says he shouldn’t.

The driver puts the last of Zhenya’s bags at the door, and Zhenya tears himself away from Sid before he can get too handsy and expose himself more than he has. “Jealous?” he asks, turning around to unlock his front door.

“Maybe a year ago,” Sid says, and he follows Zhenya inside and takes in the space while Zhenya turns off the alarm. He’s never needed an invitation. “Now I can eat as much pizza as I want, and it’s like a super power.”

“You order too many anchovies, not good for baby,” Zhenya says, taking a few crisp twenties from his wallet and folding them into his driver’s hand.

“God yeah, I’m gonna have to cut that out,” Sid says, watching Zhenya start to bring his bags into the foyer from the porch. “You want help with those?”

Zhenya waves him off. “And no pineapple with ham, or baby get same weird taste as papa.”

“Hey,” Sid says defensively, but there’s mirth to his voice; when he’s happy, his words sound carbonated, bubbly like soda. It’s sweet. Zhenya is thankful no speech coach could ever work it out of him.

He gets the last of his bags in, and closes the door. His housekeeper came by a few days ago to air the place out, but she scrubbed everything a little too much for Zhenya’s liking, and it’ll take a couple days of scenting to make the place feel completely like a home. The idea is never inviting to his bear, who always feels caged up during the homecoming process, and with Sid here, it feels even worse to think about prowling his big, empty halls all alone.

“Why you here, Sid?” he asks, leaning back against his door, hands folded behind him.

Sid stops smiling so wide. He looks up at Zhenya, and his eyes are wide like fat slivers of almond. He’s beautiful. Zhenya aches. Sid says, “you mean, uh, here ?” and Zhenya knows what he means by his tone.

He means Zhenya’s house, but Zhenya could also be asking why are you here, in Pittsburgh? He could mean, you’re not playing, so why are you even here? But Zhenya doesn’t mean that, even if a small part of him wants to ask.

They usually run into each other at group get-togethers, late summer meetings with the Pens organization, maybe grab a dinner or two before official appearances doing season ticket holder delivery and training camp. But they don’t do this, whatever this is. Not for the first time, Zhenya wishes either of them knew how to communicate like real people.

“You went all radio silent this summer,” Sid says, kind of accusingly, which is stupid because, 

“I’m always quiet,” Zhenya replies, and he says it soft just to prove a point.

“Not always,” Sid tells him, eyebrows raised, and it’s the wrong thing. Zhenya doesn’t want to joke about fucking right now. It must show on his face. “Sorry.”

He’s bad with words too, when it’s something he really feels and hasn’t practiced with a coach a dozen times, and Zhenya softens. “Just tell me why you come over, Sid.”

“I wanted to see you,” Sid says.

Zhenya wants to tell him something stupid like how Sid’s not allowed to miss him when he won’t make the effort to see him, even if he is right here. “You see me anytime you like.”

“I wanted to see you in Russia,” Sid says, and he says it so fast, all at once, almost too fast for Zhenya to catch it. “Moscow, or wherever you were staying. Taylor and I almost got on a train in Berlin, just like that. But it had been over a month, and I could still uh, I could still smell you on me. I didn’t want to come and have everyone just know , you know?” 

“You don’t want people to know?” Zhenya asks, heart skipping like a stone over water before sinking completely. 

“Fuck, no,” Sid says, scrubbing a hand over his face. “That’s not what I meant. I thought you might not want--we didn’t really talk about it.” 

“You want talk about it?” Zhenya asks.

“Do you ?” Sid replies.

“I want lots of things,” he says honestly after a heavy pause. He presses himself back more into the door, letting the cold surface anchor him.

“Oh,” Sid says, because he realizes. He got good at reading between the lines back when Zhenya had half the arsenal of English he does now and was desperately trying to express himself.

“Maybe I’m taught when little, you know, human wants go away,” Zhenya continues, slowly.  He’s trying to put himself piece by piece on a line for Sid, so he can be easily understood, and he hopes that Sid won’t leave him like this. “I’m wait all summer for want to go away, but don’t stop wanting. Still want.”

“Tell me what you want,” Sid says. He’s got that same look in his eye that he does on the ice, serious and dark and focused, considering fifty different paths all at once.

“You, Sid,” Zhenya says, feeling awful about it. He’s had broken bones that hurt less. “Want you. Want family, babies. Maybe it’s complicate, I don’t--I don’t know how, it first time, you know? Russia think it weird, two bears raising kid together, being parent, falling in love, but I’m still want so badly. You say you having cub, and I know I want with you. Want you ask me to stay, want me too, want family with me.”

“Oh,” Sid says, and he turns his big eyes down to the floor in a devastating swoop. “Because, I mean, if you’re saying that just because you think you have to, just because I called on you for my heat--”

“No,” Zhenya says, but before he can continue, Sid cuts him off saying, “because I already decided I was going to do this, because I wanted to do this for me, and--”

--and Zhenya tells him, “look, I’m tell you how I feel! You feel same way, ask me. You want with me, ask me--”

--and Sid says, “fucking Christ, Geno, do you want to have a baby?” so seriously and suddenly that it shocks a laugh out of Zhenya, who says, “yes!” and Sid stiffens, before every line of him relaxes unbelieving, and Zhenya says, “you idiot,” in Russian, then English, and then Russian again, lovingly because he can.

“I know what that word means,” Sid says, but his voice is muffled, because he’s pushed himself against Zhenya and buried his face in Zhenya’s neck to take a big, grounding breath of him. “Don’t make fun of me. This is scary.”

“Not make fun,” Zhenya tells him, and kisses the sweaty cotton of his baseball cap. “Just really like you. Spend all summer thinking why I’m feel so shitty, why I’m feel so mad at you, but I’m just mad at self, mad at self for thinking I’m bad bear because I’m want so much.”

“I’m sorry I assumed you wouldn't,” Sid says.  Zhenya can feel the way he wrinkles his nose against his skin. “I’m bad at this too.”

“Then maybe we bad together,” Zhenya offers, and it feels like the beginning of something.

“Worth a shot,” Sid replies, and it sounds like I love you.

 


 

Sid’s already got a full fridge and is keeping a strict 10,000-calorie diet that would put Michael Phelps to shame. Zhenya must give him a look, because he says, “it’s mostly smoothies,” like that makes a difference and then, “I need the weight, I’ve got a delicate biology,” which is so stupid that Zhenya kisses him to shut him up.

Neither of them have any true talent in the kitchen, but Sid can at least follow a recipe without hurting himself, and has had a life-long love affair with pasta that is finally coming in clutch as he tries to put on enough weight for a pregnancy to take. He makes gnocchi mac and cheese with spinach and baby portobellos while Zhenya watches him from the bar like he’s watching a porno.

“I’m apex predator, what you want,” Zhenya says when Sid makes a comment about how he can feel Zhenya’s eyes track him around the kitchen. Sid responds by flinging a mushroom at him and hitting him square in the face.  

They have more talking they need to do. There’s no recipe for having a kid or a functional relationship, and both until this afternoon were conceptually nice but unrealistic as far as Zhenya was concerned, and now they’re supposedly the rest of his life. But first he needs food, and second he needs sleep. He eats two bowls of gnocchi and Sid eats three and a half, and Zhenya watches him, fat lips dark red and smeared with oil, a piece of spinach in his teeth when he smiles, and Zhenya feels helplessly in love, and excited, and terrified.

He sleeps in Sid’s bed that night, and they don’t have even half a second to even rub off on each other before Zhenya crashes. He wakes up too early, sun coming up the same shade of violet it had been in Miami all those weeks ago when he had stranded himself on an island with all of his confused pining.  But Sid is next to him this time, a landscape of warm skin, familiar freckles, soft stomach. Zhenya curiously takes one of his puffy nipples into his mouth to see if he even stirs, the sour-salty tang of it overwhelming his senses.

“You’re a menace,” Sid says, eyes still closed, heartbeat picking up as Zhenya sucks on him and teases the nub with his teeth. Months from now, Sid will be full with milk, and Zhenya will want his share.

“‘Menace’? Not know this word, must mean ‘handsome,’” Zhenya replies, kissing the shallow dip between Sid’s pecs, and Sid sighs and brings an easy hand up into his hair. His nails are rough against Zhenya’s sideburns, and he thinks with hot, sudden clarity of Sid marking him like a tree, dragging a claw down him to let everyone know he was there.

And he thinks of the way he had marked Sid. A whole month later and Sid said he could still smell Zhenya on him. God, what Zhenya wouldn’t do so Sid never stopped smelling like the place he lived. He licks a mean stripe up Sid’s neck to the soft patch of skin under his ear, and listens to Sid hum to life beneath him. His pulse sounds like a train engine leaving the station. His grip tightens in Zhenya’s hair.

“Eat so much sugar, can taste in sweat,” Zhenya says against his neck, licking there again and letting his teeth catch rough on Sid’s earlobe. His hands slide down Sid’s torso, so he can feel where Sid has rounded out over the summer, the soft swell of his stomach.

Sid squirms underneath him. Defensively he says, “hey,” and when Zhenya pulls away to look at him, he sees Sid’s eyes open, dark and wide in the low light of dawn.  

“Sid, is fine,” he replies, and he reaches his hand lower to squeeze the fat on Sid’s thighs hungrily. “Don’t you know? Love you like this. Get so big so you can have my cubs, turn me on so much.” 

He squeezes Sid again, a big fucking handful of Sid warm in his palm that promises so much.

“Jesus,” Sid says, and he blinks slowly with the feeling, sluggishly thrusting upward to grind his piss-stiff morning wood against the sharp vee of Zhenya’s hips. Sid always has liked being manhandled through his heats, liked having Zhenya hold him down and touch him everywhere like he was starving for it. Sex has always been a language they’ve been better at speaking than English too. 

“When you pick me for heat, I’m so proud every time,” Zhenya tells him, because he was, still is. He lets the back of his knuckles drag against the underside of Sid’s dick experimentally, just for the pleasure of seeing his whole body shiver. The head of Sid’s dick has a bead of pre-come dewing at the slit, and Zhenya catches it on his hand and brings it to his mouth. Sid tastes so fucking sweet. “Always think of what it look like, you getting so big for me, just me. Think of you getting bigger, make me so hot.”

“Fuck, Geno, shut up,” Sid says, pulling him back down roughly so he can say into Geno’s mouth, “c’mere.”

He’s one to talk. Sid never shuts up during sex, but it’s always indecipherable noises getting punched out of him, needy whines, inane begging that sounds like a prayer. He moans as Zhenya lets his body weigh down on him, lets hot, huffy noises escape as he shifts his hips with his dick tight between them. It’s all praise to Zhenya’s ears, a high for Zhenya to chase.  He wants Sid as loud as he can get. He wants to make Sid cry.

“Turn over,” he says, pushing himself up just enough to still get the friction of Sid writhing underneath him. “Wanna taste you.”

Sid scrambles to comply, cursing sleepily, and Zhenya feels so smug. Sid smells ripe, like the apples Zhenya’s bear loves to get drunk on, and he can’t wait to bury his mouth between Sid’s perfect ass cheeks and lick away the sweet, gritty mess dripping down the backs his thighs.

It’s not like Sid’s fertile now. He’d called it, what, his delicate biology. If Sid wants the pregnancy to take, all he has to do is keep fattening himself up through the first flush of autumn, and time will tell. But Zhenya’s got an imagination that’s saved him thus far, and he can use it now. Sid is still so eager, Zhenya can tell by his splotchy, full-body flush and the fact that he’s leaking everywhere, and Zhenya can breathe in his scent and pretend he’s in heat and asking him this time, telling him to fuck a cub into him.

He nips at the pink rolls of skin at Sid’s lower back, the dimples above his ass as he gets his thumbs under the fat underside of his cheeks and pushes them apart so he can lay a filthy  kiss against Sid’s hole. Sid is going to beg for it.

Sid keens into the wet heat of Zhenya’s mouth and groans as Zhenya laps over the cute little pucker of his hole. Zhenya could eat Sid’s ass every morning, just like breakfast, he loves it so much. Sid wouldn’t even have to ask. His only regret today is that he didn’t choke on Sid’s dick first, really get the thick spit going so he could make Sid extra wet, make him ready with just his mouth like he wants.

Well. There will be a next time. Zhenya is so sure. He can’t wait.

He tries to keep Sid’s hips down with his hands, big hands that can still barely contain Sid’s ass, and teases Sid’s rim with his tongue, bites at the soft curve of his cheeks until Sid is making nonsense noises that have no language.

“What you want?” he asks, mouthing idly downwards at Sid’s taint.

“Fuck me, God,” Sid says, and Zhenya smiles into his skin.

“Fill you up? You want?” Zhenya’s barely acknowledged his own erection, but it’s been wanting in on this since before they woke up.

“Uh huh,” Sid says, weak, absolutely useless.

“Okay baby,” Zhenya tells him. “I fill you up.”

The lube is easy enough to find, doesn't even require getting out of bed, just rolling over and digging around for it in a bedside drawer where Sid’s got several toys looking pristine and smelling like soap. He must use them enough though, because he opens so readily for Zhenya’s fingers.

“You can fuck me now,” Sid says after Zhenya’s curled two inside him for maybe a fraction of a second. Fine.

“Not romantic,” he whines jokingly anyway, and Sid laughs. He gets more lube on his dick, jerking himself to full mast and then wiping his hand on his stomach.

Zhenya’s always liked sloppy sex best, and this is no exception. His dick slides in and out of Sid like nothing, a grainy wet heat that just sucks Zhenya in, and as he fucks into Sid faster, their thighs slapping together, Zhenya can feel how messy Sid is from the hair at the back of his thighs reedy and slick. Sid’s saying, “fuck, please, please, please,” and Zhenya thinks he can’t actually help it, and he loves Sid so much. They’re going to have a family together. It’s everything he’s wanted and thought he was never allowed to have. 

When he comes, he comes enough that a thick glob leaks out as Sid’s hole sputters, and Zhenya pushes it back in with his thumb, and Sid groans. Zhenya had promised.

“Get me off,” Sid says, and rolls over like nothing, and Zhenya rolls his eyes.

“Of course,” Zhenya says, and he kisses Sid’s mouth until his lips are swollen again, letting him taste himself. “Best for last.”

Sid comes with Zhenya’s hand on his dick and Zhenya’s mouth around his nipples again, sucking needy and practically chubbing up again with the way Sid whines through it.

“God, you’re ridiculous,” Sid tells him. He sounds so satisfied, and Zhenya thinks stupidly: good. “You hungry?”  

“Maybe toast and eggs,” Zhenya replies. “You cook?”

“Yeah,” Sid tells him. “Now go take a shower, you smell like plane.”

 


 

Sid’s in the press box for all their games until December, and then he goes full bear in the den underneath his house just like Zhenya had imagined he would. Sid’s bear is smaller than his own, a cute little lady bear that Sid promises will rip his face off if Zhenya is too loud and wakes him up while he’s hibernating.

Bears don’t usually hibernate together. Zhenya’s too afraid if he goes down in bear form, he’s going to end up waking up in the Spring cozy against Sid’s side. But he does go down in human form most nights, very quietly, and presses his face into Sid’s fur and relaxes into the slow rise and fall of his body. Just like he dreamed a thousand times over in the summer.

Maybe years down the road, Zhenya thinks, they can do this again, and Zhenya can stay with him then. They can try to hibernate together, and hopefully they won’t wake up and try to murder each other. It’s good to hope, Zhenya has found, and he hopes for this.

Sid gives birth in late January. Zhenya doesn’t know until he hears the cries of a cub, and he goes down under the house to see Sid in his human form for the first time in a long time, looking tired and incredibly pleased with himself. The cub is a little girl, pink skin and patches of dark brown hair, eyes pinched shut. Just one, and she’s perfect. 

“Hey papa,” Sid says with a yawn, holding the cub against his bare chest; their pretty little girl.

“Hey papa,” Zhenya replies, and he steps into the small hole to join his family.