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Seas Between Us

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Zhenya stared out the window as they descended into Incheon International, watching the landscape come into view. Beside her, Petya was reading with one hand—some crime novel that she’d bought him last New Year—his arm warm against hers on the seat divider, their fingers still tangled up from sleep.

Zhenya rubbed her hand back and forth over his knuckles. She was feeling pretty nervous, now that they were so close. Once they landed, Pyeongchang was just a short train ride away, and then she would be there, everything waiting for her: hockey, the hope of national glory, Sid.

Sid’s message still sat open in a tab on her phone, burning a hole in her pocket: excited to see you in korea, text me when you get in.

She couldn't bring herself to answer it, not when she had decided, finally, to end things. It felt like things had ended three years ago, the last time they'd played each other at Worlds. Now, Zhenya had a family, and her spot back on the national team, and a text chain on her phone that proved that even with all that, she hadn't truly been able to let Sid go.

Maybe Zhenya could just ignore her for a while, until she mustered up the nerve to call it off. Would it be weird if the first time they saw each other was across the face-off dot? Well, probably.

They would see each other in the Village somehow, walking to the training center, or the cafeteria. Zhenya would smile and wave, like she would for any of her international acquaintances, and eventually she would work up the nerve to end things—at the right time, preferably after they were done playing each other. She certainly didn’t want it to weigh on her, the idea that she’d tipped the scales one way or the other because of someone’s broken heart.

She definitely wouldn't get distracted by Sid’s arms in her t-shirt or her answering smile. That was something for the past Zhenya, fond memories she could look back on someday, reminders of one of the failed loves of her life.

Right now she would think of her family, her mother asleep behind her, Petya peering at his book over the tops of his glasses, Niki perched in her father’s lap across the aisle. They were watching episodes of Nu Pogodi with the sound turned off; Niki loved to get very close to the screen, nearly close enough for his nose to touch. Her heart swelled to see it, her beloved and curious son.

Next to her, Petya turned their palms over, smothering Zhenya’s nervous hand.

It was decided. She would end it. Everything would be fine.

—-

Zhenya wasn’t terribly good at keeping her promise. Sid texted her again after the opening ceremony: missed you at the opening! see you soon? And Zhenya tried to steel herself, but she was only so strong.

She lay in bed that night staring at the ceiling, trying not to think about how she had seen Sid through the crowd, beaming and laughing with the rest of the Canadian team, her dark hair shiny under the flashing lights. There had been a time when Zhenya dreamed of standing beside her, sharing a team with her; but it was just a pipe dream, one that she was trying hard to keep in the past.

But maybe it would be cruel of her to not even reply. Sid had hurt her, sure, but some part of Zhenya still loved her. She didn’t want to be merciless; she just wanted Sid to understand.

opening ceremony very nice! busy tomorrow? Zhenya sent, and then she promptly turned her phone over on the nightstand and breathed deeply around her racing heart and went to sleep.

Sid was not, in fact, busy tomorrow. She found Zhenya at the training center, in between squat sets, and smiled big and bright, her eyes crinkled up at the edges.

“Hey, stranger,” Sid said, coming over to lean against the corner of the cage. Her expression was a little tentative, a little hopeful. She wanted this to go well.

“Hey,” Zhenya said, as she added another ten pounds to the end of the bar. Sid tracked her movements, eyes flitting between Zhenya’s hands gripping the plate and her sweat soaked thighs. Zhenya tried very hard to recall all of the reasons that she was ending things, to dredge up some of that painful hurt, but she couldn’t--she was so, so fucked.

“Catch me before you leave, eh?” Sid asked. Zhenya nodded and didn’t look Sid in the eye and slid her shoulders under the bar.

Sid wandered off to the rowing machine and left Zhenya to finish her squats. Zhenya stared at herself in the mirror as she lowered herself down. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to talk for awhile—she could try to keep things casual, keep Sid at an emotional arm’s length. They could talk about training, which Zhenya had done plenty of in the past year. Sid probably wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to talk hockey.

Except when Sid caught back up with her in the change room, she invited Zhenya back up to her dorm. Zhenya was skeptical, but when she tried to suggest otherwise, Sid brushed her off. “It’s too loud in the cafeteria today, I can barely hear myself think,” she said.

An Olympic cafeteria always had rush hour, and they were firmly in the middle of it. Zhenya didn’t have a ton of arguments otherwise.

In the elevator, Zhenya felt like she was going to vibrate out of her skin. Maybe there was a chance that no one would recognize her—swaddled up in her sad grey down coat, no emblem of her country in sight. Hopefully no one would think anything about it, too busy with their own first few days in the Village to pay much mind to Sidney Crosby taking foreign girls up to her room.

Some guy in a Team Canada hoodie got on at the sixth floor and looked them up and down. Sid was standing so close that Zhenya could feel her fingers brush against the outseam of her jeans. Zhenya watched as he and Sid exchanged some type of acknowledging nod, and she felt her stomach curdle uneasily. If he could really see right through her, hopefully he’d know to keep his mouth shut.

“Welcome to my place,” Sid said, gesturing around once they’d gotten past the door to her suite.

“You think he—“ Zhenya said, stomach still burning a little. She felt stupid for being so paranoid. They were allowed to spend time together, they were just friends, no one had ever stopped them before.

Sid just looked up at her, her eyes soft on Zhenya’s face, and put her hand out like she might grab Zhenya’s own, where it was worrying the chain of her necklace. The hand landed on her own neck instead, scratching nervously through the base of her hairline. “What are you worried about?” she asked, as self-assured as she always was that they could get away with things completely under the radar. “C’mon, come in, sit.”

Zhenya felt like she wasn’t ready to talk yet, maybe, not here in this private, silent space—not about pleasantries and certainly not about anything else Clearly they should have gone to the busy cafeteria, where the noise around them would cut their conversation blissfully short.

She lingered where she stood for a moment, and then when Sid looked back at her, she asked, a little nervously, “Show me around, first?”

Sid laughed a little. “You want the tour?” she asked. “Isn’t your set-up the same?”

“Mmm,” Zhenya said, and pulled her mouth up in a small smirk, her tongue stuffed against her cheek, “maybe less Canada flag.”

Sid gave her the barest and most cursory tour, the bathroom, the kitchen, the separate closets for gear and clothes. In the kitchen, Sid spent a good two minutes babbling on about the weird South Korean snack foods they’d been provided—as if Zhenya didn’t know all about them and hadn’t already eaten her way through a couple bags of the tako chips. Zhenya leaned against the counter and just looked at her—memorizing every fond, familiar detail of her body like it was the first time. Sid was wearing a t-shirt with the Canadian crest—the maple leaf stretched bold and white across her chest. Her arms were ropier and more tan than Zhenya ever remembered seeing them. Zhenya wondered if she had maybe gone somewhere sunny over the holidays, finally, if maybe it went further than just the warmed skin of her cheeks and elbows.

Zhenya had only been able to bring herself to respond to Sid’s texts and emails a few times over the past year, after she’d decided. Just here and there, nothing too personal. Maybe Sid was the type of person who loved the beach now—it felt a little painful to think that maybe Zhenya had no idea anymore.

They settled into the couch, sitting far enough away that another person could squeeze between them. Sid had a leg curled up on the cushion, body turned towards Zhenya, her posture open, inviting. Zhenya sat with both feet on the floor, hands clutching her thighs.

“I really missed you, Zhenya,” Sid said, her voice sweet and rushed, like maybe she had been waiting to say it. “So much has happened and I—I feel bad that I wasn’t there to see it, or help out.” She was a quiet for a second, and Zhenya looked around the room, the messy coffee table, the sun coming in through the slatted blinds, her own feet. “I got the picture you sent me—of your son. He looks a little like you, eh?”

Zhenya didn’t know how to even begin to enter this conversation. How much could she speak about it without breaking down? Sid was so sweetly curious, tentatively feeling out the missing details of Zhenya’s life, and Zhenya wanted only to be a wall, keeping Sid out to protect herself.

“Maybe a little,” she agreed, because everyone had been telling her so. She thought he looked mostly like Petya, but she didn’t want to hurt Sid by saying it.

“I’m glad you came back,” Sid said, and scooted closer and put her hand on the cushion by Zhenya’s leg, her fingertips brushing Zhenya’s knee. “I’m sure it was hard, with the baby and, well—with everything.”

“Very hard,” Zhenya said, “I work very hard, very strong now—you should be worry I beat you.” Maybe now was when she could steer this conversation to a more appropriate topic, by appealing to Sid’s competitive fire. She smiled at Sid with all of her teeth and narrowed her eyes. She didn’t feel very confident, but she wanted Sid to think she was deadly serious.

Sid just smiled at her, without meanness, without challenge. Zhenya wasn’t sure what to do with it, this sensitive, intimate Sid. Zhenya hadn’t seen her in three long years, had buried her far away. Her heart clenched to remember.

“I wanted to see you in Kamloops,” Sid said, and Zhenya’s stomach dropped. Sid was rarely this forthcoming with her feelings, and each and every time left Zhenya helpless. It was all that she ever wanted, and too much to deal with now, Sid spilling all over the living room, all of these things Zhenya used to want her to say. Zhenya couldn’t let herself get excited about them now, when she knew she had to end things before the tournament was decided.

“I wanted to make it up to you,” Sid continued, “because I know we left Malmö on, well—on shaky terms—” It was an understatement. Zhenya had left one morning, on a flight back to Moscow, without even telling Sid goodbye. “But I can make it up to you here—I want to.”

Zhenya closed her eyes and breathed in and out a few times. After a moment, she felt Sid’s hand move to rub over her knee. This was all too much. No wonder that they had always spent so much time sleeping together and going out for breakfast and not talking about what it all meant. Clearly the time away had given Sid too much time to think about it, about her feelings.

Zhenya didn’t want to fight with her now. Or tell her that maybe nothing could make up for it, when Zhenya’s mind was already made up, her future lying solely with her family. She had thought that maybe she would be cooly kind to Sid for the next two weeks, and it was true now that maybe that was too much to ask, that now that she had let Sid in at all, she would need to indulge herself a little, a selfishly drawn out goodbye. But she didn’t need to spend the whole time crying about it, cracking open each one of her too many feelings.

Zhenya opened her eyes and looked at Sid, the strong shape of her face, her hand warm on Zhenya’s knee. The space between them had shrunk considerably.

There were other ways they could say goodbye.

Zhenya put a hand over Sid’s, and turned it over until their palms were cradled together. “Maybe we don’t talk yet,” Zhenya said. “I’m little tired, we have time later.” She shifted closer and ran her hand up Sid’s outstretched arm and watched Sid’s face scrunch up with soft confusion until Zhenya cupped the hand over her jaw.

“Come here,” Zhenya said.

Sid slid into Zhenya’s space, guided by Zhenya’s hand, and pressed their mouths together, tentatively at first. Her skin was warm under Zhenya’s hand, and Zhenya could feel her pulse racing at the side of her neck. She felt like she could barely move, trapped between Sid’s mouth and her own complicated emotions.

“God, I really did miss you,” Sid said, when they pulled back. Zhenya felt turned out, remembered all the times she’d whispered “miss you, miss you” through her tinny computer speakers over the years. Sid’s face had been shrouded in the warm dreamy glow of a bedside lamp, then—fuzzy with sleep and with the impermanence of their Skype connection. Here, it was painfully clear, the new wrinkles around her eyes, her full, chapped mouth. Somehow even better than Zhenya had remembered.

“I’m good to miss,” Zhenya said, instead of telling Sid just how terribly much she had missed her, or how much it had hurt. She wanted to think about the good times, the easy times, to just revel in the shape of Sid’s body next to hers for a little while.

“Spoons is walking the grounds with her mom, I think,” Sid said, leaning back and scratching at her arm. “She said she’d be gone for awhile.”

“Maybe I stay?” Zhenya asked, smiling openly, her eyebrow raised, and looked over at the bedroom door.

“Maybe you stay,” Sid agreed.

—-

The following morning, Zhenya tried to think of something—anything—else, but her thoughts kept turning to Sid. Sid awkwardly baring her feelings in the middle of her living room, Sid on her hands and knees, looming over Zhenya in bed. Zhenya had felt momentarily five years younger, lying there under Sid on her cherry red bedspread, her underwear half down her legs. Sid had been generous and a little rough, exactly as Zhenya had remembered.

Zhenya was still feeling it a little, pleasantly sore from Sid’s fingers, squirming around in her hard plastic chair. She moved her food idly around her plate, stirring lazily through her bowl of congee. She wasn’t feeling terribly hungry this morning, but if she didn’t eat before practice, she’d sorely regret it.

“I’m getting real sick of people asking me where I’m from,” Katya said, out of the haze of Zhenya’s thoughts, gesticulating with a slice of mango. “They all read the news, I don’t need their stupid jokes.”

“Hypocrites,” Masha mumbled. Zhenya shoveled another spoonful of the porridge into her mouth. It tasted like wet sand. “You know they all dope, they just weren’t stupid enough to get caught.”

Zhenya wasn’t sure that it mattered. It wasn’t as if their 6th place finish at Sochi had been anything to write home about—doped up or not. Sometimes she thought that it might be nice for everyone to just forget about it. She wanted to win every tournament, and she knew that maybe the team wasn’t good enough to go all the way, but to lose so terribly on home soil, well—there was no use in reopening old wounds.

Sid had left a voicemail on her phone the day after the reports came out about Katya Smolentseva and the rest who had been charged and banned. “I always knew you wouldn’t,” she had said, and then, “It’ll all work out.” Zhenya hadn’t called her back. Who was Sid to say that Zhenya wasn’t that type of person. Sid didn’t have the heavy weight of national guilt bearing down on her shoulders. She’d never really understand.

“You think the power play gets better with your complaints?” Zhenya snapped, and maybe the rookies at least would be afraid of her. She heard them talking during training camp, calling her the ‘Red Mother’—she’d had a child and dared to come back. What did they know; she could still skate circles around them. “Shut up and eat. Coach is expecting you.”

—-

“Are you bringing him tonight?” Zhenya asked, setting her mug of tea down on the coffee table and scooping Niki up into her lap, pressing down the back of his hair.

“As long as your mother doesn’t tut at me too much over it,” Petya said, but they had the earmuffs; he would be fine. For all the nonsense that Zhenya and Denis had managed to get into as children, their mother could be a little overbearing, not that Zhenya would ever let on that she thought that.

“Just let her hold him,” Zhenya said, as Niki wiggled in her lap. “She’ll forget all about being mad.” She wiggled her knees, bouncing Niki up and down for a few moments—he was mostly sedate and it was probably time for a nap. Maybe Petya wouldn’t mind if she took Niki with her to bed just this once; life was busy in the Village and she wouldn’t get a lot of time to visit.

“What time are you headed to the rink?” Petya asked. He was bent over his tablet, scrolling through client emails. She looked at him for a moment—his wrinkled shirt, the hair greying at his temples. He was a good husband—driven and kind, understanding of Zhenya’s split allegiances between sport and family. It wasn’t entirely his fault that his generosity tied Zhenya firmly and forever to home, a home she shouldn’t have ever wanted to leave in the first place.

“Rink,” Niki parroted, one of his three favorite words.

“Maybe five?” Zhenya said, hauling Niki up into her arms and toting him up the stairs to bed. When they were settled in—Niki softly breathing with his fists brushing against her chest—she lay awake and stared at the ceiling, the sunlight through the window filtering across it in wide stripes. Downstairs, she could hear Petya talking softly on the phone, and she let the sounds and the warm inside air wash over her and closed her eyes and hoped for a restful sleep.

She woke up around four, her body too keyed up to sleep any longer. She and Sid hadn’t played against each other in over two years, since the prelims at Worlds in Malmö, a 4-0 blowout of a game. Russia hadn’t been able to make it out of the Semifinals, and then they’d dropped the bronze medal game against Finland. Zhenya had spent the gold medal game in Sid’s hotel room freshly showered and in her underwear, watching the game on TV.

She walked through her routine, a little out of sorts in the unfamiliar space, taking deep breaths to calm her racing heart. Teeth got brushed, hair scraped up into a fat bun, Niki deposited under a throw blanket next to Petya on the couch. She ate a slice of thickly spread peanut butter toast and kissed Petya and Niki both in turn and took the elevator downstairs to call a car.

By the time she got to the arena, the majority of the team was already in the locker room and half undressed; only Lera was later, leaning against the loading door outside on her phone.

“You pumped?” Sveta said, leaning into Zhenya’s space as she dropped down into her stall. Zhenya knew what she meant. Zhenya was always pumped up for hockey, but she was feeling pretty keyed up about squaring off against Sid again, after all this time. She didn’t exactly have a glowing track record of not letting her emotions get a leg up on her.

She cruelly hoped that Sid would be on the ice for every goal she scored tonight.

The problem, in the end, was that she didn’t score any goals—none of them did. Canada spanked them five to nothing and everyone was sour and silent in the showers afterward, washing briskly, shoving themselves back into sweatpants and cutting quickly out the door.

Zhenya stayed behind, letting the water stay just hot enough to sting the skin at the back of her neck. She spent an extra indulgent amount of time staring at the tiled wall and washing her hair. When she walked back to the locker room, the room was deserted except for a couple of the equipment guys and someone from the cleaning staff, wiping down the white boards and emptying the trash. On her phone, there was a text from Sid i’m still at the rink. wait for me?. It had been sent fifteen minutes before, while Zhenya was still soaking. Surely Sid wasn’t still here.

Except when Zhenya was dressed and pushing open the door to leave, Sid was waiting on the other side—leaning up against the wall in her Team Canada track jacket and typing away at her phone.

“Why you wait?” Zhenya asked, clicking the door closed behind her and leaning herself against it. “I not even say I’m here.”

Sid shrugged, her shoulder brushing warm against Zhenya’s through their coats. “Force of habit,” she said, “you know how we always used to—“

Zhenya knew exactly what they used to do. Meet up late at night after games, walk the grounds, sneak back to someone’s room. During Worlds they used to walk around the city with their hats pulled low, the two of them virtually invisible, just two friends out for a routine midnight snack. That had always been Zhenya’s biggest weapon—it wasn’t a crime for women to be friends.

All of that seemed so terribly far away now. The last time Sid had pulled her into a dimly lit bus enclosure and kissed brazenly across her neck had been in Malmö, nearly three long years. So much had changed; Zhenya had changed.

Not that it made it any easier to look at Sid, the flush of exertion still coloring her cheeks, the chapped skin of her lower lip, her hair in a thick damp braid. Zhenya knew all of her so intimately and it was terrifying how easy it was to imagine that they were both still young, on the better side of thirty, just two girls playing amazing fucking hockey and messing around. The thought of it was like a poisonous vine wrapping its way around her heart—she knew better, now, but still it gleamed at her from its place in her memory. She couldn’t help but linger on it, just a little, just sometimes.

“You play good game,” Zhenya said, even though they both knew she didn’t want to talk about it. “Goal was pretty—Lera not have chance.”

Sid fidgeted a little under the attention, balancing back and forth from foot to foot. “Thanks, I—“ she said, rubbing at the back of her neck, right where Zhenya knew she liked to be kissed. “Actually, you wanna get out of here?”

Zhenya hesitated for a moment, but Sid didn’t wait for her answer, just pocketed her phone and walked toward the loading door, confident that Zhenya would follow, or at least otherwise unbothered to find out. She wasn’t wrong.

Outside, Zhenya could see people milling about just out of earshot, a group of Finns huddled together under a lit awning. Sid turned to curl around the side of the building, and Zhenya followed, tucking her face further into the neck of her jacket to ward off the chill. She hoped wherever Sid was taking them wasn’t terribly far—it was cold here when the sun went down and Zhenya had never gotten used to it.

“Where we going?” Zhenya asked, when they’d circled around the arena and turned toward the direction of the Village.

She was a little miffed that Sid was just leading her around seemingly without end. Did she think that Zhenya didn’t have practice in the morning? But Sid had always been like that—a forward-moving train, putting idea to action, reflection not needed. She’d been steamrolling around inside Zhenya’s head and heart for the better part of a decade.

“Not far,” Sid said, and then she reached back to grab Zhenya’s hand and tugged her into a dimly lit space between two information booths. “C’mon, Zhenya.” She pulled Zhenya in closer, close enough that their thighs were touching, hot through two layers of polyester. “Kiss me.”

Sid’s back was against the wall of one of the booths, and Zhenya peered down at her—her lip caught in her teeth, her eyes almost black in the dark—and thought that she looked terribly young in that moment, like the woman that Zhenya had fallen in love with. Sid had been sweet to her once--kind and generous, understanding--and here she was, years later, being sweet to her again. ‘Making up for it,’ she had said. Even through her anger and her hurt, it was hard to forget. Zhenya had always been weak for it, and she could feel the idea creeping into her head, the tiniest possibility that Sid might get her way.

—-

In the prelim against the US, they were shut out again. Zhenya was already beginning to feel weary of it, frustrated that she had worked so tirelessly to come back and yet—surely she hadn’t lost her hands so quickly, after all that. There was no message on her phone from Sid this time when she pulled her phone out of her duffel, just a photo of Niki that her mother had sent sometime during the third, smiling wide under a thick red hat and sound-dampening earmuffs. Zhenya’s heart felt tight.

Canada had beaten Finland handily a few hours before while Zhenya had looked on from the locker room monitor. She hadn’t exactly expected a text, or even for Sid to stay and watch—but, well. Sid had done an awfully good job of reeling Zhenya back in, and Zhenya had wanted it, just a little.
When Sid texted her the next morning it just said can i see you today?. Zhenya was in the middle of listening to Lera tout the benefits of regular meditation as they did their pre-practice stretches, but she was finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate at all, let alone follow along.

Zhenya almost wanted to tell her no, just because she’d gotten Zhenya’s hopes up. Not that Zhenya had anything to do after practice, but maybe Sid deserved it a little, for tempting Zhenya so kindly to stray from her own plans, now, after everything..

yes, ok, Zhenya replied, because she was predictable, and wound up with remembered emotions.

Sid found her in the cafeteria while Zhenya was at the beverage station, debating between putting one or two sugars in her tea. She shouldn’t have any, but what the trainer didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.

“Go for two,” Sid said. Zhenya turned to her and narrowed her eyes.

“Oh, you life coach now?” Zhenya asked, and Sid just smiled back at her—lopsided, her crooked upper jaw so obvious, amusement written clear all over her face. Sid was never that funny, but she sure loved to think so—Zhenya was absolutely doomed.

“I just think you should indulge yourself, eh?” Sid said, bumping her arm against Zhenya’s side.

Zhenya grabbed one just to be petulant, and then they went to sit at a small table in the corner of the room, mostly secluded by a large swath of hung banners. The space wasn’t terribly full in the lull between lunch and dinner, for which Zhenya was thankful. She wasn’t planning to say anything revealing out here in the open, but, well. It didn’t hurt to have privacy.

“You going get your own?” Zhenya said, gesturing at her drink. Sid was just sitting there with her hands folded together on the tabletop, worrying the fingers of her right hand over the knuckles of her left.

“I’m fine,” Sid said. She fixed Zhenya a look like she was trying to see right through her, like Zhenya was some complex third period trick play she could try to diagram out. Zhenya felt naked, and tried to slump a little further into her jacket to compensate.

Maybe Sid was just trying to replicate the mornings they used to spend together in the cafeteria in Sochi, babbling on while Zhenya made her try at least one bite of every Russian specialty on the menu. Zhenya remembered them with a painful fondness. But it wouldn’t work for her to just sit there and watch Zhenya drink her tea, saying nothing, that pitying look on her face. They couldn’t talk about hockey because Zhenya was sore and playing like shit, and Zhenya wasn’t yet ready to get into the other thing, so what could they say?

“Sid?” Zhenya asked, trying to pry Sid open even a little. She took a sip of her tea and hissed as it burned her tongue.

“I thought we could actually talk today,” Sid said, her fingers still fidgeting, “you know—catch up.”

“You think we not catch up other day, Sid?” Zhenya asked, smirking knowingly, one eyebrow raised as she blew across the top of her tea.

Across the table, Sid’s face was flushed red across her cheeks, smiling a little in the direction of her hands. “I don’t know that that counts as,” she said, trailing off. As if they hadn’t always been better at communicating with their bodies rather than their words.

When Zhenya set her tea down, Sid reached forward brazenly to take a sip, seemingly diverted from her goal of making Zhenya open up about the past. Zhenya just leaned back in her chair a little and laughed. “Typical Crosby move,” she said. Sid was nothing if not endlessly predictable; Zhenya hoped she could use that to her advantage, sweet talk Sid with cafeteria foods and get her out of her clothes and keep their conversation strictly above board. “Let’s take food out, go back my room.”

“I thought you didn’t want to just stay in,” Sid said, tossing back the rest of Zhenya’s tea like she knew Zhenya would just let her.

“I have date with Petya, parents tonight—“ Zhenya said. “What you think I stay out all day? No, c’mon—I need take nap, you want hang out with me you come nap too, we eat, maybe I let you watch speed skate on TV.”

Sid snorted an undignified laugh at her, and then they got up and went to the buffet and filled their plastic trays up—cold noodle salad and veggies, a few salmon fillets, some unlabelled Korean dessert that Sid insisted they should try. Zhenya stuffed the bag into Sid’s arms and they walked back to the Russian dorms, Zhenya typing away at her phone, texting her mother an updated dinner time, melting appropriately at a picture of Niki that Petya had forwarded her from the previous night’s game, double checking with Sveta to make sure that she was still on her way to spectate at the mountain.

Zhenya was thankful that her room wasn’t on the same floor as the lounge. Not that they didn’t know who Sid was, or even that they didn’t know that they were friends, but— Zhenya had promised herself before this week that she wouldn’t let Sid invade her head or her space. She was already breaking the rule; she didn’t want the rest of them to get any ideas. Zhenya could feel shameful about letting Sidney Crosby tie her in knots just fine on her own.

Sid set their takeout down on the coffee table when they got into Zhenya’s dorm, and then stripped off her zip-up and turned around to face Zhenya, her hands tucked in her pockets, a soft smile on her face.

“Hey,” she said, but didn’t move. Zhenya was quickly forgetting whatever original objections she’d ever had to letting Sid in here, standing amongst the mess of Zhenya’s stuff and life like she’d been plucked straight from Zhenya’s most painful dreams.

Sid had put on some muscle—Zhenya had noticed the bulk of her shoulders the other day in bed. Zhenya hadn’t forgotten how her thick thighs felt bracketing Zhenya’s head—not for the first time, she wished she could. Life would be so much simpler if Zhenya could just be a good woman who loved her husband and loved her sport and didn’t have any complex feelings about Sidney Crosby.

Maybe if she’d just gotten the memo. Maybe Zhenya shouldn’t have answered the texts, the email here and there, the damned video chat when Petya had been gone. No one was going to award Zhenya for her perseverance in the the face of hardship, that was for sure. Certainly not now, when she had made up her mind to end it and yet, well, here she was wondering again if maybe it wouldn’t be so awful to let Sid back in.

“You want watch mountain game? Ski?” Zhenya asked, rifling through the kitchen for some silverware and then dropping down onto the couch. She sidled close enough to Sid that their thighs were touching and tried not to think about how she wanted to tug Sid down and curl up together, cramped on the couch, the same way that Petya always held her.

“This okay?” Sid asked. She’d turned the channels to one of the local broadcasts. The Austrians were dominating the men’s ski jump—Rehrl a good five or six points above everyone else so far. Zhenya was glad she had the excuse of being down on the coast to get her out of spectating these events in person—she’d much rather catch up from the heated interior of her own dorm.

“Is fine,” Zhenya said, plucking open one of the containers they’d brought back from the cafeteria. “C’mon, let’s eat or food is get cold.”

She shoved a stack of napkins in Sid’s direction and then they settled in to eat, opening and splitting items up between their two makeshift plates. Zhenya wanted a little extra of the fish. Sid kept trying to sneak more than her fair share of the noodles, and eventually Zhenya gave in and just handed them over.

“Greedy,” Zhenya said, snickering a little. Sid looked—objectively—kind of funny, her mouth half full of food, her eyes crinkled up. Zhenya thought she looked beautiful, but she wasn’t about to say it aloud.
When they’d finished most of the food, Sid put her containers in a stack on the table and then turned her body toward Zhenya, one leg tucked up underneath of her, and said, “Zhenya, listen, I—“

Zhenya dropped her fork slowly into her empty container, swallowing hard against the last bite of food in her mouth.

“I wasn’t kidding about missing you, you know? I know I didn’t try to visit, but I—” Sid said, and Zhenya didn’t even want to think about that, about the possibility that maybe Sid would have shown up in Moscow, after all that time, how terribly awkward it would have been, and how hard for Zhenya’s bruised heart. Probably Sid wasn’t so naive as to think that that would have been a good idea at all. Sid had known about Petya for a while, and knew that Petya didn’t know. A part of Zhenya’s heart would have soared to see Sid standing in the entryway to her apartment, apologetic and hopeful, but it would have only blown up in her face.

Maybe there was some world in which they wouldn’t ever have to talk about it, maybe they could just go on as if everything was much the same: Zhenya with her double life, her family and her duty at home, the childish freedom of Sid on the side, the two halves of her heart, somehow peacefully coexisting again. “I wish you hadn’t gone so quiet,” Sid continued. “I feel like I don’t really even know you now—“

The truth was that Zhenya had missed her, terribly even, but she’d been hurt and angry and in some ways she still was—the dull twinging hurt of a scar. What was she supposed to say? Sid hadn’t given her much incentive to stay around then, so Zhenya could surely be forgiven for not sending her a card to detail every milestone that had passed in the years since.

“I’m still hockey player, Sid,” Zhenya said, futzing with the rubber bracelet around her wrist. “I’m mother, yes, and wife, but—I don’t stop being Zhenya.”

Sid just looked back at her, her eyes dark. Zhenya couldn’t look straight at her. “I didn’t say you weren’t still—” Sid said.

“No—“ Zhenya said, cutting her off. “I work so hard this year, Sid, like you say—Olympics is my dream, always, you know? And we never win, and I think to myself maybe I made mistake, I’m so angry, have Niki, maybe I can’t play.” She was sweating a little just from dredging up the memories, her heart pounding in her chest. Maybe she’d have to go ride the bike before dinner to release some of this excess energy, as much as she hated it.

“You can play, though,” Sid said, reaching a hand out to rest on Zhenya’s knee.

“Can I?” Zhenya asked, and she scoffed. She certainly hadn’t done anything to show it on the ice.

“C’mon, Zhenya—you know it’s not your job to win for them,” Sid said. “The defense is lacking, what can you do—play back end on the side?”

Zhenya didn’t really want to hear Sid’s dissection of her team’s play, her breakdown of their deficiencies, the sharp observation of her keen eye. God, why had Sid even wanted to talk in the first place?

“Never mind, Sid,” she said, “I know, not my fault, it’s fine.” She reached forward to shove the takeout containers back into their bags and then got up to deposit them all in the trash. While she was in the kitchen, she ran her hands under the tap and splashed some water across her face. Zhenya really didn’t need to let this all blow up today, or maybe ever. She wanted to beat Sid on the ice fair and square—she didn’t need either of them to be hampered by this stupid heartache.

“Let’s just watch ski,” Zhenya said, dropping back onto the couch, her arm across the back and draped over Sid’s shoulder. Sid just looked up at her for a moment, like maybe she was surprised by Zhenya’s easy affection after her outburst of frustration, but she settled in stiffly after a few beats, tucking her neck into Zhenya’s armpit. During one of the breaks, Zhenya could feel Sid relax against her, and when she looked over, Sid was smiling softly to herself, her fingers running along the hem of Zhenya’s shirt.

“You like spending lunch here?” Zhenya asked, reaching down to brush her thumb over Sid’s fidgeting hand. “Sometimes go to events too loud for me, you know—but don’t tell anyone, is secret.”

Sid looked up at her, her eyes smiling and creased, “I’m calling the Moscow tabloids immediately—I can see it now: ‘Zhenya Malkin Hates Olympics’” She snickered a little, her face all scrunched up. Zhenya tried very hard to scowl, but she was so fucking cute. “It’ll be a real piece of cake to beat you at the next Olympics when you’re benched for this kind of international slander.”

“Hate you,” Zhenya said, and turned back to the TV with an exaggerated huff. Beside her, Sid was still grinning, her teeth huge and white, her palm pressed to Zhenya’s cheek. Zhenya still loved her so fucking much.

“We both know that’s not true,” Sid said. Zhenya turned to look at her full on—it was the truth. Zhenya might want with all her might to hate Sid—for putting all these cracks in her heart, for being so fucking good at this sport that they both loved, when Zhenya was forced to oppose her—but she didn’t, and she probably never could.

—-

Zhenya lay in bed that night staring at the ceiling. Sveta was snoring across the room, shifting around in her bed. Outside the window, Zhenya could hear the faint sound of laughter floating up from the windows in the floors below. Maybe the Finns were having another lounge party; she hoped that maybe they’d be too hungover tomorrow to put up a fight.

Zhenya just felt itchy. By the time the ski jump made the transition into cross country, Sid had rucked up Zhenya’s shirt and sucked a bruising kiss on her ribs, right under the curve of her bra. Zhenya could feel it all during dinner, and she brushed her hands over it absentmindedly in between courses.

“Hard check?” her father asked, pointing at where her palm was cupped over her ribs. She moved her hand away immediately, her fingers and the skin of her cheeks burning with embarrassment. She’d been hiding Sid from her parents for years now, and it still made her feel on edge. Maybe she should have grow out of it by now, she thought. She was a married woman, settled down; there would be no excuse anymore for childish mistakes, in her parents’ eyes.

“Just got caught up during practice,” she said, and hoped that her laugh sounded genuine enough to cover for the lie. Her father laughed along, giving her a look like he knew just what kind of bumps and bruises a life of hockey had forced her to endure. Thank god.

The rest of the dinner had gone by without incident. Her mother had gotten pleasantly tipsy on a few glasses of wine. When they’d all parted ways at the end of the night, Niki had clung to Zhenya’s neck, his fists knotted in the back of her hair. Over the top of his head, Petya’s smile was fond and warm, and Zhenya smiled back—her little family.

Zhenya felt a little guilty about her split allegiances. She’d come back to the Olympics for them, yes—and for her team, for herself—but she’d also come back for Sid. She wanted to come back here and win gold to spite Sid, and to prove herself, and maybe she didn’t really need to do either of those things, but it was fine. Petya and Niki could forgive her; the next time that she and Sid would face each other across some international ice surface, maybe they wouldn’t even be friends, if everything went sour.

For now she just needed to get her head on straight. They had a game tomorrow against the Finns, and she wasn’t about to let them get shut out again. She would play defense, goal—anything—if that’s what would get them through.

She settled further into bed, curled on her side with the blanket pulled up to her chin, trying to calm her racing heart. After a while, she heard Sveta get up—the tap in the bathroom cutting on, the mechanical whirr of the overhead fan—and she clamped her eyes shut and thought of the smooth slide of skates against ice, the wet press of Sid’s head tucked against her neck in the showers, and let it drag her down into sleep.

—-

During the men’s game versus Slovenia, Zhenya bounced Niki up and down on her hip. They were standing off to the side in the bustle of the main concourse, waiting for Petya to return from concessions, and Niki wasn’t dealing with the stimulation very well. He whined a little—babbling into her shoulder the way he liked to when he was upset—and clutched so hard at Zhenya’s coat that she could feel the pinch and she felt bad. She wanted him to be able to enjoy this, even if he might not remember it, but maybe he was just too young.

She readjusted the hat on his head, pulling it down to fully cover his ears, and when she heard a familiar voice calling her name out of the crowd, she looked up to see Sid coming toward her and waving, Szabados trailing along behind.

“Hey,” Sid said, when they’d pushed their way through the crowd. Her smile was too wide for Zhenya to look at straight on, her hair thick and loose, fanning out over the hood of her sweater. Zhenya wanted to sink her fingers in, and she shifted Niki around in her hands to curb the itch.

“You seeing game?” Zhenya asked. They both looked a little flushed, like they’d come straight from practice.

“Catching the rest,” Szabados said, and then clapped her hand a few times against Sid’s shoulder. “Woulda made the first, but this one lost track of time on the bike.” She smiled at Zhenya like she knew that Zhenya was well aware of Sid’s single-mindedness. Sid just laughed a little and shrugged her off, distracted by the sight of Niki in Zhenya’s arms, looking moments away from reaching out to touch.

“Eh, don’t worry,” Sid said, shaking herself out of it and looking Zhenya straight in the eye. “If our men’s team was playing I’d be right on time.” She smirked a little, her mouth twisted up to one side.

A loud shout rang out from the direction of one of the bar carts, and Niki began to squirm a little in her arms, pressing close.

“No,” he said, and then went off again into his familiar babble, muffled against Zhenya’s sleeve.

“This his first?” Sid asked, careful to keep her voice level. The automatic consideration for her son’s comfort made Zhenya’s heart pound.

“He see practice back home, some game here already,” Zhenya said. “Petya very good with him, say he like, but—“ She cupped a hand around Niki’s head. It was true that Petya was probably better at this, endlessly patient with Niki’s changing moods. Zhenya had always felt a little sour about it, but she promised herself she had years ahead to make up for being so consistently preoccupied with re-igniting her own dream. Maybe Niki would grow up and find her brave instead of selfish.

“Nikita, right?” Sid said, looking up at Zhenya for confirmation, her eyes a little cautious, and bent forward to peer at Niki where he was peeking out from Zhenya’s jacket. “Hey little guy,” she said, taking her hand out of her jacket pocket to wiggle it a little in front of his face, her smile small and warm. Zhenya could hardly breathe.

Right after he’d been born, Zhenya had itched with the urge to send pictures to Sid—Niki bundled up in his winter coat that looked more like a sleeping bag than a jacket, or repeatedly pushing a puck Zhenya had displayed off the counter and onto the floor. She settled for sending them off to Sveta instead, who had cooed and laughed appropriately, soothing the ache a bit. Sid had emailed her a few months in with a congratulations, no doubt when the news of his birth had reached the North American media. Zhenya had only been able to send a single picture in return, and then had let any other replies get buried in the depths of her inbox.

She’d never seriously entertained the thought of a family with Sid, in part because they’d been young and because she had probably known deep down that it was never going to be an option. But she had dreamed about it a little, late at night in her own bed, thinking of a child running rampant across the floors of Sid’s apartment, the three of them in the summer walking along the canal. She knew that Sid loved children, and had assumed that probably meant she wanted some of her own. It had been painful then to think about how there was no circumstance under which Zhenya could really have that with her.

Even now, it was painful—seeing Sid so easy with him, but a little cautious, like she didn’t want to step her foot into Zhenya’s other life without permission. It was strange to witness, after all this time—Niki turning his head to watch Sid’s face as she prattled on to him, babbling back at her like they were locked in deep conversation—the two distinct halves of Zhenya’s heart converging in this surreal way.

“Sorry,” Sid said, straightening up, her smile a little bashful as she stared after him, looking no doubt as sweet as he always did nestled up in Zhenya’s grip. “He probably doesn’t understand English.”

Zhenya laughed. “He not understand difference probably, just know you talk sweet.” She flushed at hearing the words come out of her mouth. It was how she felt but—well, she didn’t need to put it out there so brazenly in front of god and everyone in Gangneung Hockey Centre.

Zhenya let the silence drag on for another minute, trying not to watch Sid watching Niki intently, Szabados standing at Sid’s side, texting in a way that Zhenya could only interpret as trying to look distinctly uninvolved.

Petya saved her by coming up from behind her with one arm full of concession haul and the other one warm against Zhenya’s back.

“Sorry it took so long,” he said, and then nodded his head at Niki. “He wasn’t too fussy, was he?”

“He doesn’t love the crowd,” Zhenya said, “but he’s better now; he made some new friends.” Zhenya gestured to Sid and Szabados and watched as Petya turned his head to look them over, calm and appraising. Petya and Sid had met exactly once before, after the Opening Ceremony in Sochi. Zhenya had watched them shake hands then and been unashamed to know that later that night she would be sneaking Sid into her bed.

Sid stuck out her hand now, her publicity smile pasted carefully across her face, a smile that betrayed no emotions or insecurities. “I’m Sid,” she said, “I’m not sure if you remember me.”

Petya was pretty exclusively involved in European hockey, but she was sure he hadn’t forgotten. He shook her hand and then Szabados’ as well, his grip firm. “You’ve played well,” he said, and offered them a look that Zhenya couldn’t quite read, “but you should hope, maybe, we don’t see you in the Semi.” Sid and Szabados shared a laugh; Zhenya could see Sid just barely biting back a reply, hanging back a little now that Zhenya’s new life had fully intruded. She could sense it now, the thick divide between the two halves of her life, and some sick part of her almost wanted them to square off a bit, but she knew Sid was probably too polite to get into it, here in the middle of everyone.

“Leave gold for Russia,” Zhenya said, and then the horn sounded to signal the start of the second, the people around them milling back in streams to the section gates.

“It was nice to see you again,” Petya said, and Zhenya hoisted Niki higher on her hip and tried not to focus on the complex look on Sid’s face as they waved their goodbyes and drifted into the moving crowd. Petya kept his hand on Zhenya’s hip as they made their way down the stairs, a firm and familiar pressure.

When they were all seated and situated—Niki deposited back in her mother’s lap, where he squirmed around and grabbed her hand to direct her attention to the ice—Petya leaned in to Zhenya’s side. “I didn’t realize that you and Crosby were still friends,” he said. Zhenya’s mouth felt dry, and she stared straight ahead, focused intently on the drop of the puck. She felt foolish, thinking of all of her childish daydreams, watching Sid play with her son like he was their own, wanting it. How had she thought she could fit them together, when her life had changed so much? It had felt so easy before to play the girlfriend and the lover on separate ends of the world, but how could she do it now? Her heart longed to make room, but her life was irrevocably full.

“Yeah,” she said, and she could feel the warmth of Petya’s gaze on the side of her face, his hand rubbing back and forth against her knee, comfortable, easy. “I guess we are.”

—-

Before the Quarterfinals against Switzerland, Zhenya’s stomach roiled. She wasn’t sure if it was from anxiety, or from shoveling far too much rice in her mouth at breakfast this morning, well before 9 am—probably a bit of both. Whoever invented noon hockey was on Zhenya’s shit list, but being righteous about it wasn’t going to get her a better result.

She tugged her gear on stiffly, almost pinching a finger putting on her garters, catching her sports bra on her bun as she yanked it over her head. She wondered if Sid would be in the crowd today—for what very well might be Zhenya’s last game of the tournament, if luck continued to thwart her—but maybe the team would be resting, or out group bonding in some way that didn’t, for once, involve hockey. The Canadians had a bye all the way to the Semifinals and wouldn’t play for another few days. What Zhenya wouldn’t give for that kind of relaxation.

When they played the Swiss anthem before puck drop, Zhenya stood on the bench with her eyes clenched shut and clutched at her chain and pretended that her own anthem was playing. The only time she’d been able to hear it this whole tournament had been through the tinny speakers of Katya’s phone in the lounge late at night. She’d always thought of herself as decently patriotic, and the absence of it felt like a huge gaping hole.

Zhenya let the wave of that hurt carry her through her first shift, and the first period, and the second, and by the time the third period was a about to start they were up, somehow, 3-2. She skated out for the opening face-off in the third and stared at Stalder across the dot and just—she wasn’t going to let this be her last period of Olympic hockey. Who knew where she would be in four more years—four years older, with no guarantees.

They won the game handily, 6-2, and the locker room afterward was an explosion. Sveta jumped on her out of the middle of the chaos and rubbed her sweaty hair against Zhenya’s cheek and Zhenya burst out laughing.

“You fucking beast,” Sveta shouted, crushing her arm around Zhenya’s shoulders. “That goal in the third was insane.”

“You’re insane,” Zhenya said, and tugged at Sveta’s braid as she flopped back over into her stall.

Zhenya tore her gear off and put her slides on and flopped her way to the shower, soaking herself under the hot spray. When she got out, Olya was corralling a group together to head out to a restaurant nearby, somewhere off the Olympic grounds where they could eat and get a little drunk in peace.

“C’mon, Malych!” a few of them shouted, as Zhenya was sorting through her gear bag in her stall. What the hell, she thought. She’d been planning to pour herself straight into bed for the afternoon, a nap well earned, but a few hours out probably couldn’t hurt.

At the restaurant, she sat sandwiched between Sveta and Lera, eating her fair share of spicy kimchi and drinking soju straight out of the bottle. Around her, the team was laughing, and Zhenya felt pleasantly warm, high off the drink and the lasting relief of having won a game. They had a tall hill to climb in the Semis against Canada, but they weren’t going home just yet.

The taxi dropped them off at the entrance to the Village and Zhenya let herself lean a little on Sveta as they walked the winding sidewalks to their building, tipsy and happy—mental and physical energy sapped. A couple of French speed skaters shouted at them across the quad, and Zhenya hadn’t ever picked up much French, but she’d assume it was kind. Who cared if it wasn’t.

When they got inside the lobby, she was surprised to see Sid standing with a couple of girls from Team Finland, waiting their turn for the elevator. She threw her head back and laughed and Zhenya was just drunk enough to keep staring, watching her eyes crinkle up in that way that Zhenya had always loved.

“Hey,” Zhenya said, as they stepped up to the elevator doors. Sid turned her smile on Zhenya, her face open, happy. Zhenya felt a little like a band was constricting tighter and tighter around her chest.

Some stroke of terrible and wonderful luck plastered them together at the back corner of the elevator after everyone had filed on, and Sid leaned close to Zhenya’s shoulder and said, “Congratulations are in order, I hear.” Sid had always been a close-talker, and Zhenya could feel her breath warm against the skin of her arm, smell her deodorant—the same spicy men’s scent she’d been using for the past eight years. Zhenya didn’t want to think about what kind of things Sid could do to congratulate her, here in this elevator where someone might see right through her.

“Getting ready to beat you, yes,” Zhenya said. Sid just laughed, and it shook the side of Zhenya’s body.

“You busy tonight?” Sid asked, voice even softer now. Zhenya knew what that tone of voice implied, and she needed to be get out of this fucking elevator right this moment, before she did or said anything stupid in the presence of God and everyone.

“Nap, you know—maybe I sleep all tomorrow morning,” Zhenya said, playing with her a little. She was sure Sid would press; she wasn’t about to provide her any encouragement.

“Mmm,” Sid said, as the bell chimed, and the elevator doors slid open. “See you later then.” She circled her fingers around Zhenya’s wrist for a quick moment, and then followed the Finns out the door. Zhenya just stared after her, more than a little confused.

Whatever. It wasn’t like she needed the mess anyway, now that any illusion of hope had been shattered. She knew she was in too deep to say no to Sid’s attempts to make nice, that she would drag this thing out as long as possible, but she felt certain now in her initial plan to end things once the tournament came to a close. She couldn’t fool herself with the possibility of her lives coexisting again. There wasn’t room for Sid in this new life, as much as it hurt her to admit.

Back in the room, she stripped naked and fell dead-weight into bed, tossing her leggings at Sveta’s head when she started whistling. She fell asleep almost immediately, and by the time she woke up, the light outside the window had gone purple with signs of dusk, Sveta’s bed empty and unmade.

Zhenya pulled on a pair of shorts, padding around the apartment to brush the tang of sleep from her teeth and plug in her near-dead phone. When she leafed through her messages, she had a few from her mother and from friends back home—congratulations. A group of her old teammates from Moscow had filmed a video message of good luck for the upcoming round and she watched it two times through. It was sweet of them—she hadn’t played with them for a couple of years now, but they would always be her team.

Once all of that was cleared, the only unread message was one from Sid—sent a few hours ago—text me when you wake up. God.

Zhenya’s fingers hesitated over the screen, but she didn’t have much excuse. Petya and her parents were out exploring the city tonight, and her teammates were mostly scattered until conditioning in the morning. up, she texted and then threw her phone on the bed and padded her way to the shower to calm her fucking heart under the cold spray.

There was a knock on the door while Zhenya was toweling her hair, and maybe there was a possibility that it was someone from the team trying to lure her back out, but she knew it wouldn’t be.

She opened the door with a towel wrapped tight around her waist, her hair damp against her back, her tits bare. Sid just gaped at her from across the threshold, mouth hanging open, not stepping in.

“Um,” Sid said. Zhenya just grabbed the collar of her t-shirt and tugged her in. She was so fucking stupid.

“You let whole hall see me?” Zhenya said, and reached around Sid to shut and latch the door, fully aware that she was draping her tits in Sid’s face. She could deal.

“I’m not the one who answered the door butt ass naked!” Sid said, ducking down to pull off her shoes.

“I’m have towel!” Zhenya said, gesturing to the length of her. “Why, you don’t like?” She leaned back against the wall, crossing her arms under her chest, and smirked. She knew very well that Sid liked it, she just liked to complain.

When Sid stood back up, she stepped toward Zhenya until she was boxing her in, one hand coming up to rest on the knot of Zhenya’s towel. “Of course I like it,” she said, her fingers tucking in against Zhenya’s skin. “I don’t have anyone else greeting me like this, eh?”

Zhenya unfolded her arms, and tucked them against the sides of Sid’s ribs. It felt a little like a mirror of their first night here, dumb and laughing in the bed in Sid’s dorm. But Zhenya was more certain of the end now, and she knew each touch would be weighted with it.

“You want this off?” Sid asked, shaking Zhenya’s towel where it was clutched in her hand. Her eyes were roaming Zhenya’s body, her eyes and goose-pimpled arms and pebbled nipples, and Zhenya felt herself flushing under the attention, so exposed while Sid was still wearing all of her clothes.

“You first,” Zhenya said, tugging at the hem of Sid’s shirt. Sid reached back to pull it off and then she was bare to the waist, no bra, jeans a little loose around her waist, a palm sized bruise purpling her side. Zhenya put her hand against it and rubbed up and down, soft at first and then more firm, pressing her fingers against Sid’s ribs until she hissed.

“Stop it,” Sid said, but Zhenya didn’t really want to. She wanted to ruin Sid, just a little, leave some lasting scar, just in case Sid tried to forget.

Sid didn’t press further, just tugged Zhenya’s towel loose and then cupped her hand over Zhenya’s pussy, two fingers pressing in against her clit.

“You played so good today,” Sid said, “I can’t wait to finally play you.” Her fingers kept up a steady circular rhythm, just enough to make Zhenya twitch on every turn. Zhenya didn’t really want to think about Sid getting off on competing against her—the game was two days out and she was nervous as hell. Canada had been dominating the tournament, and Zhenya believed in her team—she did—but there was no way to argue that they weren’t going into this the underdogs.

Zhenya put her hand on Sid’s chin and tilted her up into a kiss; she really didn’t want to think about the game, or anything after it.

They didn’t make it much further than the hallway before Sid knocked them both to the floor and got her mouth on Zhenya’s hip, laughing and biting down. She was such a little shit, sometimes. “This how you’re reward?” Zhenya asked. “I’m sure your coach love to hear you so focused on boosting enemy morale.” Sid just looked up at her and smirked a little and then moved her mouth down to cover Zhenya’s clit. At the touch of her tongue, Zhenya clenched down and then thunked her head back against the wall, and fuck.

Zhenya just dropped her hands into Sid’s hair and let her go to town, trying to narrow her focus to just that. She was still a little groggy from drinking, but it had always been good—Sid’s fat tongue slow over her clit, her fingers back and forth in Zhenya’s pussy. Sometimes Zhenya still thought about it when she got off, lying guilty in bed next to Petya, or in her hotel on the road.

There’d been a particular time in Montreal where they’d come home drunk from dinner and Sid had bent her over the kitchen island and tongued her ass until she cried. She’d let Sid ride her fingers once they made it to bed, and they’d stayed up whispering until Zhenya was too tired to stop herself from succumbing to sleep. It had been her first real visit to Montreal, playing tourist with Sid as her guide, going on bike rides along the canal every morning, never really figuring out how to order in French.

It was weird to think about now—the memory a world away. Zhenya would probably never go back to Quebec, but she didn’t think she’d forget the weird way the light came in through the gap in Sid’s curtains, or the particular timbre of her accent in French. Hopefully someday the memory would feel again like something fond, instead of a painful, lingering ache.

Sid’s ministrations got Zhenya off in short order, and when Zhenya bullied them into her bed and got her own hand down the front of Sid’s jeans, she wondered if maybe they could just carry on in limbo, stuck here in this room forever, unbothered by the quickly approaching reality that Zhenya would inflict upon them.

“C’mon,” Sid said, impatient, her hips moving up into Zhenya’s hand. Zhenya looked at her wild hair against the pillow and her breasts flattening a little to either side, and thought that there was no way she’d forget this—she tried to for three long years, but her brain was stubborn, and Sid had left a mark on her, for better or for worse.

Zhenya worked her hand over Sid’s clit and up and down the crease of her groin, pressing in hard the way she liked. Eventually, Sid’s chest started moving up and down dramatically, taking in deep, diaphragmatic breaths, and Zhenya knew she was close and pressed up to kiss her, working her fingers through the wet slick until Sid bit down hard on her lip and sagged back into the bed.

They lay there for a few minutes, Zhenya’s head pillowed in Sid’s neck, breathing slowly until Sid laughed, quiet, and said, “Zhenya?”

Zhenya closed her eyes, rubbing back and forth over the sweaty skin of Sid’s shoulder, like maybe if she didn’t say anything, Sid would just forget it.

“Hey,” Sid said, soldiering on. “It was nice to finally meet your son—I was right, he really does look like you.”

Zhenya swallowed thickly. It had been nice—Sid was sweet with him like Zhenya had known she would be—but it had been hard not to feel strange about it, and it had only been a glaring reminder of how they’d fallen apart. In some ways, Zhenya had been hoping that they’d never meet. It would make it easier to let go of it all, all of the childish daydreams of her past with Sid—a clean break.

“Yes,” Zhenya said, around the lump in her throat. “You very good with him, crowd probably too much.”

Zhenya felt like her body was squirming all over, waiting for the other shoe to drop, and then Sid said, “I wish you’d let me meet him sooner.”

Zhenya was certain that Sid could feel her body tense up, the air in the room still and cold. What was she supposed to say? Sid couldn’t be so terribly dense as to not know how much Zhenya had been hurt, or the myriad of reasons that made her stay away.

“Sid, please don’t,” Zhenya said. Her voice was surely shaking; she’d lulled herself into thinking she had more time, until after they played each other, at the very least.

“Don’t what?” Sid said, sitting up suddenly and knocking Zhenya off-kilter. “C’mon Zhenya, you keep shutting me out, don’t—“

Zhenya felt incensed. “What I’m supposed to do?” she asked. Sid looked so defensive, weight up on her arms, face drawn, her jeans still hanging open. Zhenya couldn’t believe that they were about to have this argument naked, of all things.

“You could have talked to me more, for one,” Sid said.

“Why I say?” Zhenya said, getting up and marching over to her open suitcase. “Oh sorry, we not talk much because you break up—surprise! I have family now!” She tugged a pair of sweats up her legs and tied the waist in a tight knot, nearly catching her finger in the bow. “You find out just fine on your own.”

“I didn’t—“ Sid started, and then lowered her voice, “I didn’t break up with you.” She looked so small in a way she didn’t basically ever, leaning back half naked on Zhenya’s tiny twin bed, rubbing at her arm. But Zhenya just felt anger, looking at her.

“Right, of course, yes—“ Zhenya said, spitting the words as she tugged a tank over her head, “I forget, nothing to break up.” Even the memory of it stung—some other hotel room some amount of miles away, laying with her head in Sid’s lap and saying it, that she wanted to be serious, and. Sid had just gone still, frozen, her hand paused in Zhenya’s hair. Sid hadn’t thought—she really loved their relationship the way it was. Sid was just afraid to lose her.

Well—Zhenya could read the signs. They’d been dancing the same dance for five years and Sid hadn’t changed, had been stupid and sweet and yet stubbornly, undoubtedly Zhenya’s girl on the side. And maybe what Zhenya had felt then hadn’t really been love, but.

Zhenya almost wanted to laugh. The irony of Sid being so ready to open up now, to make amends after every door had closed, made her ache. Sid hadn’t wanted to lose her, but she had anyway.

“I hardly said anything to you!” Sid said. She raked a hand back through her hair, and just from looking at it Zhenya could feel how hard her hails were scraping her scalp. “You never let me—how could I explain myself?”

“What you say enough Sid,” Zhenya said. Sid was so infuriating sometimes. She thought that she could just work her way around something, throw just the right turn of phrase to make it okay. But Zhenya wasn’t a thirsty mob of microphones just hanging off her every word. “I think about move to Canada, you know? I love you and I think, well—maybe it’s okay, I play hockey there, I have you, I figure it out.”

“You thought about leaving?” Sid asked. She looked confused, like maybe the idea had never crossed her mind. Zhenya cruelly hoped that she was sad for the lost opportunity.

“Of course,” Zhenya said. “I know it’s hard, and I never think to do before, not really option like NHL, but—“ She rubbed at her face, embarrassed to admit it now, thinking about how hopeful she’d been. “I think maybe okay, if I’m have you.”

Silence filled the room for a moment, everything sinking in, Sid staring at her hands in her lap like they might soon provide some answer. Zhenya pulled a sweatshirt on over her top to help make up for how exposed she felt, laying out so plainly all of these old hurts.

“You still could,” Sid said, after Zhenya sat down next to her on the bed, careful to keep a few inches between them. Sid had her arms crossed over her naked chest.

“Still come to North America? Bring my family?” Zhenya said. If Sid really believed that, then she was much more of a fool than Zhenya thought. “It’s different, now.”

Sid didn’t respond—and Zhenya suspected that she knew deep down that it was true. She had been valiantly trying to make amends, and Zhenya had let herself revel in it a little—the familiar shapes and sounds of their relationship, letting them make her feel like maybe. But Zhenya knew now that it wouldn’t last, and here they were.

“I go to sleep soon,” Zhenya said, like they didn’t both know that she had whiled away the afternoon in bed. “Practice early, tomorrow.”

Sid knew what that meant. “That’s it?” she asked, getting up to gather her shirt and shoes. Zhenya pointedly didn’t watch her, and focused her gaze on the corner of the window where a little bit of paint was beginning to chip away from the frame. She could admit that she was a bit of a coward, just cutting their conversation off before the painful punchline, but she didn’t have it in her and maybe it would hurt less to not have to lay out everything in such excruciating detail just a couple of nights before their big game.

“See you around?” Sid said, after she’d pulled on her clothes. She was standing against the doorway, looking pissed off and beautiful, her shoulders rolled back like she was trying not to appear hurt in any tangible way, but Zhenya knew better.

“Yeah,” Zhenya said. Part of her wanted to pull Sid back to bed, and the other wanted a little bit to scream, or to cry, or to just stay here suspended in time, staring after Sid forever. Zhenya really needed to get a fucking grip. “Yeah, see you.”

—-

That night, Zhenya slept like shit, and in the morning it took her twice as long to shower and dress and she squeaked into the rink at 10 on the dot. During practice, Sveta took one look at her drawn face and started throwing pucks into a bucket, dishing them out for Zhenya to slap at the empty net. It felt good, at first—throwing all of her weight behind it, feeling her stick like an extension of her arm—but it didn't last. After a while she felt like the only thing that would make her feel better is if the puck blasted all the way through the netting and the glass, lost somewhere in the rows of seats beyond.

Zhenya’s sour mood carried her through practice and conditioning, and at dinner she nearly bit her own tongue she was chewing through her food so hard. The distracting feelings that she thought she could eradicate had instead grown into a full body tenseness, and her coach in Moscow had always told her that she played better a little bit angry, but she wasn’t sure she even remembered how.

During pre-game on the night of the Semis, Zhenya pulled up the video that her team had sent her and watched it on loop, worrying her pendants between the pads of her fingers like maybe it might bring her some last minute luck. Her stomach was knot upon knot of nervous energy, and when she looked around the room at her team, she knew they would need it. They were determined and talented, proud, but Zhenya knew what they were up against.

Zhenya locked eyes with Sid across the opening dot and felt Sid’s gaze pierce through her. She looked focused, wolfish, her eyes a deep, molten brown. Zhenya hoped, not for the first time, that her own emotions could be so easily corralled into something more than just a wild and reckless drive.

Sid won the face-off; Canada won the game.

Afterward, Zhenya wondered if maybe she’d been the one to blow it—letting her emotions get the best of her. Maybe if she hadn’t said anything, or hadn’t answered Sid’s text, or hadn’t ever let her inside her heart at all. But it was futile—there was no way to know that the outcome wouldn’t end up exactly the same. For all her pride, Zhenya wasn’t her entire team. It was selfish to think that she could have been the difference, for good or for ill.

The locker room stunk of disappointment, and Zhenya stripped herself of her pads and her under clothes slowly, and didn’t even bother with a shower. It was late and all she wanted to do was pour herself into bed. She pulled her street clothes on jerkily, tripping a little getting into the leg of her sweats. Katya offered a hand to steady her as she passed by, and when Zhenya looked up at her face it was pressed into a sad attempt at a smile.

“We won’t come away empty handed,” Katya said. They had another chance to play for the bronze in a couple of day’s time, but it felt like the promise of empty achievement. Zhenya had wanted to win it all.

Zhenya loitered around until everyone had cleared out, and when she walked out into the back hallway, Sid was standing a few lengths away, chatting casually with one of the equipment managers. Zhenya froze, unsure of how to react, and tried to calm her racing heart. When Sid looked up and noticed her, Zhenya felt about two feet tall.

Zhenya hoofed it in the opposite direction, and threw open the door to a rush of cold air across her face, and tried not to think at all about Sid’s yard-long stare or the bag pulled across her thick shoulders or how her mouth had looked standing in the door of Zhenya’s bedroom, drawn and stone-like.

—-

At the hotel, Petya met her in the lobby in his lounge pants and enfolded her into a hug. She felt small in his arms like she almost never did, and she let her body sag into him, scraped clean, defeated.

Petya helped her through her nighttime routine, pouring her a glass of water for her pain pill, rifling through Zhenya’s suitcase for her sleep clothes and laying them out on the bed. Once she scrubbed her face clean, she went to check on Niki, rubbing a hand back and forth over the crown of his sleeping head.

In the bedroom, Petya sat on top of the covers, bare chested and thumbing through his phone. When Zhenya came in, he looked up and Zhenya was surprised to see that the expression on his face was far from pitying. He knew how it was.

“You’ll get them next time, Zhenka,” he said, setting his phone aside and climbing under the sheets. His face was painted with the soft brush of care, the color of familiar love.

He was a good man, fond and kind. Zhenya did love him, and he had given her everything—family, loyalty, the space to pursue her fraught and fruitless dreams.

She lay in bed in the dark that night and couldn’t stop thinking about how she probably didn’t deserve it—her little family that loved her so much, a man who had put up with whatever split allegiances she’d been running for the past five years. A year ago, she had thought to herself that maybe someday she would be able to forget Sid, but even though it would soon be over, she knew that it would not be so simple. She couldn’t forget a whole part of herself; she would just have to push it aside and move on.

It felt strange—when she had only just returned—to think about this tournament as one of lasts—her last Olympics, her last time with Sid. Petya had seemed so sure that she would get some chance of redemption, but she was nearly thirty-two now. Her future in sport was far from certain, and it was part of why she had worked so tirelessly to return.

The worst part of it was knowing deep down that her son’s only chance to see her play for gold had been wasted. Maybe in another four years, they’d take pity and offer her a staff position, and she could tow Niki around behind her and show him the rinks and pretend it was at all the same. Maybe he would grow into a hockey player all on his own, and Zhenya could sit in the stands and watch him bring home gold. Or maybe he’d become a doctor, or an architect, and spare Zhenya the heartbreak.

She thought about him, small and quiet and sleeping just a room away, his tenderly soft skin, his wide curious eyes, and breathed in and out deeply until her body felt ready for sleep.

Maybe tomorrow she would wake up with a clear head, in the bright light of day, but the promise of a bronze medal felt hollow. She knew that she should be ready to win for her country at all costs, but third place wasn’t what she had wanted.

And maybe, after all this, she just didn’t have it in her anymore.

—-

They suited up against Finland a couple of days later, an afternoon game that Zhenya felt terribly unprepared for. She had tried to clear her mind, but it felt even more cloudy. She had come all this way just to show herself that she was probably not ready to be back, just to spend a last couple weeks indulging herself in Sid, who wasn’t even talking to her now. She had thought that maybe cutting their conversation short would feel better than this, but it felt awful.

She felt resigned to her fate—they would lose this game and be done, and they would play tourists and spectators while they waited around for the closing ceremony, like good patriots were expected to do. Zhenya entertained a small hope that maybe if they lost tonight she could just hop the next flight back home, curl up under a blanket in her room, and never come out. Sid could just infer that it was over, really over, based on the breadth of Zhenya’s silence.

But she couldn’t. She was too old to keep being that kind of coward.

The game was closer than she had maybe expected, but they lost, just as she had predicted. She felt almost out of her body on the bench, watching her teammates claw and press for the win while she just went through the motions, seventy-five percent of the real Zhenya Malkin. She felt stupid for it, after. Maybe if she had been able to just get over herself, she could have scored one goal, taken it to overtime, given them a chance.

But she hadn’t.

“Wanna get out of here?” Sveta asked her, a cold hand against Zhenya’s shoulder in the change room. Sveta’s hair was dripping wet down the side of her cheek, and she looked at Zhenya like maybe she understood, just a little. Zhenya wanted to be alone, but maybe being alone with Sveta would be close enough.

They drank alone in their dorm room, passing back and forth a bottle of gin between their beds. Zhenya wasn’t sure where Sveta had even gotten her hands on it. Maybe it was meant for celebration. Zhenya laughed a little, the gin sickly bitter in her stomach. She hated the taste, but she would rather get drunk than feel like shit all evening.

“I don’t want you to pity yourself, Zhenya,” Sveta said, screwing the cap back on and tucking the bottle back into the depths of her backpack. Zhenya laughed darkly. It was in her nature to pity herself, even just a little. But she would stew and get over it, eventually. Maybe she would ask Petya to take her to Italy again, or the islands of Greece, where she could tan her feelings away.

“I’m ending things,” Zhenya said, “with Sid.” She’d told Sveta about Sid a number of years ago in a fit of weakness—partly because she was itching all over from the secret and partly because she didn’t have a terribly good excuse for why she needed Sveta to take care of her dog for a whole three weeks while she jetted off to North America. Sveta was her oldest and closest friend on the team, and Zhenya had, at the time, hoped that even if she didn’t approve, she would at least not rat Zhenya out to the National Team over it.

It was nice to have a confidant, but Zhenya hadn’t felt much like confiding since things blew up in Malmö. As far as Sveta knew, everything was much the same and she hoped that Sveta wouldn’t mind too much having to take on Zhenya’s sorrows. She needed to tell someone—to make it feel real, to drum up the nerve.

Sveta looked at her, brow knotted up. “Ending things?” she asked. “I can’t say that it’s not a wise decision, but I thought you were happy with things, with,” she paused for a moment to gesture largely at Zhenya with her hand, “whatever you two have going on.”

Zhenya took a deep breath. “It’s been fucked up for a while,” she said, because she didn’t really want to go into all the gritty details, the hotel room, Sid’s dark eyes, all the stupid stinging tears that Zhenya had cried over her. “Maybe it’s my fault, I love her too much, you know? Selfish to want everything, and now, well—“

Sveta looked at her, intently, pityingly, and came to sit next to Zhenya on her own bed. Zhenya hated that look. She closed her eyes so that she wouldn’t have to feel trapped by it. She was the only one allowed to pity herself.

“You don’t have nothing,” Sveta said. “You have your team, your family. Don’t forget.”

It was true. She loved them, her dysfunctional team, filled with all of her sisters, playing with heart and obligation; her family, which she often felt, guiltily, wasn’t entirely enough. But she wanted them to be enough, and they would be, someday, once she was past this.

Back in her apartment in Moscow, the sights and sounds of home around her instead of the strange false reality of Olympic hope, everything would feel like enough.

—-

Zhenya met Petya and her parents at the rink the next morning, extra large coffee still cooling in her hand. Each of them smiled at her and hugged her in turn, her mother and father with words of encouragement, the same ones they’d said to her after every loss since childhood. She felt herself warm in their arms.

Petya was holding Niki with one arm and the both of them were smiling when Zhenya turned to them, Petya’s wide handsome smile, his kind eyes. Niki’s face was a bit like his, even now, under the fluff of his zipped-up coat. Zhenya was nervous to see the gold-medal game today, but her heart swelled to have them with her, her little family.

The rink inside was a madhouse, national pride swirling around her like a living thing. All over the place was red and white and red and white and blue, the colors of North American hockey, so like the colors of home.

During the pregame, her stomach wrapped itself into a deep, solid knot, sitting there on the edge of her seat, Petya’s hand on her knee. When she watched Sid skate out for the opening face-off, she wondered briefly if it might be the last time.

It felt a little strange to watch, imagining herself there, battling for gold in front of the net. Maybe things could have been different, in some other timeline of Zhenya’s life. What it must feel like to have the hopes of your whole country come down to one riveting, final game. Zhenya might never know.

When a silver medal was slung around Sid’s neck, Zhenya felt a conflicting swirl of emotions. She had come here in part to beat her, after all. It felt darkly satisfying that Sid hadn’t been able to reach that final goal either, in some ways. Even if she had come farther, maybe she didn’t truly hold the upper hand.

Zhenya felt more certain, then, that she could come to Sid on even footing, the two of them joined in their shared disappointment. They would both lose here, in Korea—the gold, each other. Zhenya hoped that it would all be for the best.

sorry you don’t win Zhenya texted her at dinner that night, but silver look okay on you.

Sid didn’t reply until late, when Zhenya was climbing into bed. All it said was sorry to you too.

—-

There were a few days before the closing ceremony, and Zhenya spent them wandering the grounds of the Village, stuffing her face in the cafeteria, taking in a few ski events up on the mountain. She stuffed her time so full that maybe she could just avoid it—this whole stupid conversation she needed to have. Sid was smart; she would get the picture.

And maybe someday she would forgive Zhenya, for doing to her what she had done.

It worked until the very last morning, when Zhenya knew that she couldn’t put it off. Maybe Sid had broken her heart years ago, and maybe Zhenya wouldn’t ever get over it, but Sid deserved this, at least, an explanation.

She saw Sid in the cafeteria, surrounded by half of her team, laughing with her head thrown back. Zhenya felt her own heart clench uncomfortably in her chest—she looked so beautiful, just like everything that Zhenya had ever loved about her. She was so sorry to give her up, even if it was for the best.

you busy this afternoon? she texted, sitting at her own table only half paying attention to Sveta talking and fully paying attention to Sid holding court across the room.

??? was all that Sid sent in reply. Zhenya watched her type it, pecking at her keyboard under the table.

i can come over after lunch?? Zhenya sent. She wasn’t going to explain the whole thing over text message, but she hoped that she hadn’t waited too long and lost her chance after all.

Sid waited a while to respond, and Zhenya swirled her spoon around in her congee like a nervous child, drawing Sveta’s questioning glare. Zhenya hid her face behind her hand when Sveta looked up and saw Sid sitting there, the clear object of Zhenya’s attentions. Fuck.

Sveta only gave her a small, sad smile. “You want to get out of here?” Sveta asked. “I need to head to the gym for a bit.”

Zhenya’s phone buzzed in her hand, and when she looked down, Sid had sent a short message: you can.

“Sorry,” Zhenya said, looking up again. “I think I’m gonna get some sleep.”

—-

After she and Sveta parted ways at the training center, Zhenya veered back toward the Canadian dorms, walking slowly. She was a little nervous about it; she knew she would cry and Sid didn’t need to see it. She’d already cried so many tears over Sid, these past few years.

Sid had still been eating when Zhenya had left the cafeteria, so Zhenya lingered by the building’s entrance, people watching over the top of her sunglasses. The walkways were littered with families just like hers, pointing and smiling at the various sights and sounds of the Village on its very last day. It was funny to think that this would all be gone soon, the Olympic city left dormant and empty once they all returned home, as if no one had ever been here.

Maybe they would turn the Village into a hotel—someone would stay in Zhenya’s room there, and hopefully not feel what she felt. She hoped that someday she would be able to look upon it with fondness, her last Olympic run, but right now she just felt sorrow for the wasted opportunity.

She spotted Sid after a few minutes, walking toward her alone, her hands stuffed in the pockets of her jacket, her face turned to the side. Zhenya allowed herself a good, long look—the small smile on her face, the shape of her—and breathed in slow and steady.

“I didn’t realize you were waiting,” Sid said, when she came close enough to see Zhenya leaning up against the wall. “You should have said something.”

Zhenya shrugged. “It’s okay,” she said, because truth be told, she probably needed the extra time.

When they arrived in Sid’s room, she walked in ahead of Zhenya and went straight into the kitchen. “Do you want anything to drink?” she asked, rummaging around in the fridge, as if they had not both just come from the cafeteria. Zhenya wondered for a moment if maybe she suspected something was up and was stalling, nervous. She wasn’t stupid; she had to know.

“I’m fine,” Zhenya said, and settled herself into the couch. She thought for a moment about sitting down on Sid’s bed, but she didn’t want to remember all the things they had done there, or give in to her stupid selfish heart.

Sid came in after a moment with a water bottle in hand, twisting the cap on and off. “What’s up?” Sid asked, and sat down next to Zhenya on the couch. Zhenya looked down at where their thighs were touching and felt warm all along her side, her stomach curdling.

“I’m, uh—“ she said, and rubbed over her chest, where her heart wouldn’t calm down. She couldn’t look Sid in the eye. “I’m come to say, like—I’m come to say goodbye, wanted to do alone.”

She looked up, expecting to see confusion on Sid’s face, but Sid just looked fond, a little sad. “I’m gonna miss you, you know—two weeks wasn’t enough time,“ she said, “and I wanted to, actually—I wanted to apologize for the other day. We didn’t need to dredge up old wounds.”

Zhenya felt like her mouth couldn’t work or move. What was she supposed to say? Sid clearly thought she just meant for now and well—maybe Zhenya wished that was true, but.

“And I was thinking—“ Sid continued, “I know we didn’t get to see each other so much before and it was probably my fault, so like—I thought maybe I could visit, or something, like I said.” She looked away for a moment, and then back up into Zhenya’s face. Her gaze was painfully hopeful. “I want to—I know you have a family now, but I want to be part of it.”

“Sid,” Zhenya said, placing a hand on Sid’s arm. Maybe it would be easier to chicken out, to admit that she wanted that too, somewhere deep down. But it felt like a different her saying it, before all of this, and she knew there was no way it would work. They had been playing with fire for so long, even before Malmö, and it wasn’t ever—it hadn’t ever been built to last.

“Sid, I—“ she said again, unsure how to even say it, staring at her hand on Sid’s arm. “I’m not say goodbye like see you soon, I say like—like it’s over.”

Sid was silent, and Zhenya couldn’t bear to look at her. She looked away, at the TV and the pile of gear bags in the corner, and only looked back when she felt Sid raise her arm to her face, her own hand falling back between them.

Sid’s face was red behind the shield of her arm, and Zhenya could hear her trying not to make any sound, crying angrily into the skin of her wrist. “I thought I—“ Sid said, muffled, “I told you I didn’t mean to, I didn’t break up with you on purpose, Zhenya.”

“I know,” Zhenya said, because she did know. Sid had been too caught up to realize, maybe, the breadth of Zhenya’s feelings. But it had hurt her deeply all the same. She couldn’t—she couldn’t just rearrange the past.

“Then why can’t we just—“ Sid said, pushing her hand up into her hair. “I missed you so fucking much, and it’s been so nice to feel like—I thought maybe we were fixing things, I was trying to fix things.”

“I was just—“ Zhenya said. She hadn’t expected to feel her heart freshly breaking, but there it was. “It’s so easy to just feel for you, Sid, so easy just say yes, like old times, pretend everything just the same, but—“

“I don’t know how you can be so okay about this,” Sid said, the words sharp. She pulled herself up from the couch, looming over Zhenya like she never did. Zhenya could see the gleam of tears at the corners of her eyes. She knew that Sid was feeling vulnerable, that she wanted the upper hand. “I don’t understand why you didn't just tell me two weeks ago. Did you really think drawing it out like this wouldn’t hurt me?” Sid wiped at her eyes again, and then crossed her arms over her chest.

“I know it does, okay—“ Zhenya said, “and maybe I want you to hurt, little bit, like I do. But I don’t say no, because I need it—I need whole time to say goodbye.” She felt her eyes stinging, and realized she was about to cry. Fuck.

She had made up her mind, but it didn’t mean it didn’t hurt. There weren’t any winners here.

“I hope you know I love you,” Sid said, a little quiet, facing down toward her arms. Zhenya’s chest felt tight—she almost wanted to laugh. Had she known that, maybe none of this would have happened. “I loved you then.”

“Maybe you should tell me,” Zhenya said, because it was true. It had done them no good to keep it from each other. Zhenya had been so fucking sure in that moment, and if Sid had been so sure, she hadn’t let Zhenya know even a little bit. Maybe she hadn’t been sure. Hindsight was, as always, painfully clear.

“Would it have made a difference?” Sid asked, and sat down again, a little farther away. Zhenya knew that she knew the answer, but she was hurt. Zhenya could forgive her for being a little petulant.

“Of course it does,” Zhenya said. It had been all she wanted to hear then, even if it wouldn’t have saved them. She had still been with Petya, and maybe she never would have been brave enough to leave him, or her team, or her life at home in Moscow—the parks she liked to read in, the comforts of her favorite cafe. For all of her secret dreams, she and Sid couldn’t really have children, a family, a real, open life, and maybe it would have brought them right back here, in the end—saying this painful goodbye. She wouldn’t ever really know.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, listening to the sound of the Village outside, the hum of the air conditioning in the hall. After a while, Sid dropped her head to Zhenya’s shoulder.

“I don’t want to miss you again,” Sid said, her voice small. Zhenya raised a hand to brush across the top of Sid’s hair, memorizing the feel of it beneath her palm, feeling terribly tender and yet terribly, awfully sure. When she removed her hand, she leaned down to drop a kiss where it had been, breathing in, breathing out. “It’s gonna suck without you.”

“You do before,” Zhenya said, “and maybe I see you Worlds, maybe we say ‘hello,’ ‘good luck,’ you know? Maybe next Olympics we friends.” What she didn’t—and couldn’t—say was that she didn’t even know if she would be at the next Olympics, or maybe even at the next Worlds. Probably they wouldn’t even get the chance.

Sid breathed in and out, and when she turned her face against Zhenya’s shoulder, it was freshly wet.

“Yeah,” Sid said, “friends.”