The first thing that Sasha is aware of when he wakes up is that everything smells weird - not weird, but different. And the second thing he’s aware of is that his knee is killing him, which is weird, because it was fine when he went to sleep the night before. When he opens his eyes and actually sits up, he understands why.
He’s not in his bedroom, even if the bedroom is familiar. The reason it smells weird is because he’s not in his house, not in his bed, and the smell is someone else’s cologne. It’s not Sasha’s cologne, it’s Zhenya’s cologne, Zhenya’s soap, Zhenya’s bed.
He’s in Zhenya’s body, not his own. That’s why everything is different, how he went to sleep in his own bed and woke up here, and it’s why his knee hurts.
He rolls over onto his side and reaches for the phone on the nightstand - the wrong way, no phone, nothing. Zhenya sleeps on the opposite side of the bed from Sasha and his nightstand and phone are on the other side, of course. Sasha groans and heaves himself back across the bed.
At least he knows Zhenya’s phone passcode, he thinks for a split second, before realizing that he is Zhenya, that he could open it with his fingerprints or the face ID. He unlocks the phone and dials his own number, waiting as it rings and rings.
He pulls the phone away from his ear and checks the time. His alarm should have already gone off to get him to practice with time to spare, so he has to hazard a guess that Zhenya has already woken up, figured out that he’s a squatter in Sasha’s body, and started freaking out. The least he could do is answer Sasha’s damn phone call.
When he finally picks up, he’s out of breath. “Sasha,” he says, in Sasha’s own voice. “Please be Sasha.”
“What did you do to your knee?” Sasha asks him, stretching it gently as he lays on the bed. “It hurts so bad.”
“There’s painkillers in the nightstand,” Zhenya says. It’s weird to hear his own voice coming down the line. It’s weird to hear Zhenya’s voice coming out of his mouth. But it’s technically Zhenya’s mouth. “Why the fuck am I in your body? Sasha.”
“I was kind of calling to ask you the same thing,” Sasha says. He rolls over again to tug the nightstand drawer open, to rummage through condoms and a container of lube and other odds and ends until he finally finds the pill bottle. He reads the label, then swallows one dry.
“You gotta put us back, I don’t want to run your team,” Zhenya says.
“They’re a good team,” Sasha says. “Better than your team. Work on your leadership skills.”
“Fuck you,” Zhenya says. It has a little bit of an edge to it, and Sasha flops back onto the bed, closing his eyes. “My leadership skills are fine.”
“Yeah okay,” Sasha says.
“You have to go to the rink today too,” Zhenya tells him. “And get my knee looked at.”
“How bad is it?” Sasha asks. For once, Zhenya won’t be able to lie to him about how bad the injury is. Zhenya’s been lying to him about how bad his injuries are for years, telling Sasha that they’re not as bad as they really are, but this time Sasha knows better. Sasha can feel it.
“It’s not good,” Zhenya says. “Probably gonna be out for a while.”
“Were you planning on telling me?” Sasha asks.
“No,” Zhenya says.
“You know I’d figure out eventually when you were out for weeks,” Sasha says.
“I can play through a little pain just as well as you can,” Zhenya tells him.
“That’s stupid,” Sasha says.
“That’s hockey,” Zhenya says. Sasha makes a disgruntled noise. “Make sure you put the brace on under your pants so no one can see it.”
“Please be nice to my boys,” Sasha says.
“Try and figure out how to change us back while I’m at practice pretending to be you,” Zhenya says. “Since you’ll just be sitting while they prod your knee. There’s crutches in the coat closet if you need them.”
“Do you need them,” Sasha asks, suddenly concerned.
“I’m tougher than you are,” Zhenya says.
“Oh, fuck off,” Sasha tells him. “Don’t be late to practice and get me in trouble.”
“Same,” Zhenya tells him, then disconnects the call.
Not thirty seconds later, a text comes through to Zhenya’s phone. don’t be late because you spent too much time in the shower playing with my dick, the text reads.
it’s not like i’ve never seen it before, Sasha shoots back, and gets out of bed to hobble to the shower and head to the Pens practice facility.
Zhenya is used to Sasha’s body. Zhenya’s known Sasha for years and years, and loved him for at least half of that time. He knows every inch of Sasha’s skin, all his scars and freckles and moles. Unfortunately, it turns out that there’s a huge difference between knowing Sasha’s body and being inside of it.
Sasha’s body doesn’t quite move the way Zhenya’s used to. It’s nice that his knee doesn’t ache, but Zhenya’s not looking forward to going to practice and pretending to be Sasha. They’re not remotely the same, and Zhenya thinks he might be able to passably pretend to be Sasha, but he’s sure that someone - Backstrom, he thinks, maybe Holtby or Carlson, too - are going to know something is off.
They don’t skate the same, they don’t shoot the same. Zhenya knows that the locker room isn’t run the same way; he knows the rookies on the team treat Sasha like a dad in ways that none of Zhenya’s rookies would ever dare. Sasha loves Zhenya, but he loves his team.
Zhenya doesn’t know what the fuck he’s going to do.
First, he has to look up the address of the practice facility, then he has to use the damn GPS to get there. He texts Sasha again just to be irritating, because all of the times Zhenya has visited Sasha in DC and Moscow, Sasha has never, ever allowed Zhenya to drive any of his cars.
driving your precious baby, Zhenya texts, sending a selfie of himself behind the wheel. It’s weird to take a selfie and have it be Sasha’s face. He sticks Sasha’s tongue into the gap in Sasha’s teeth for the picture.
He manages to get there without getting lost and he’s not even late. It feels like a victory, even if he doesn’t know where the fuck he’s going and texts Sasha three times before he even gets out of the car for specific instructions on how to get to the locker room without getting lost and oh, is there anything specific he needs to do? At the least, he knows how to tape a stick like Sasha, and how Sasha tapes his stupid socks. He texts Sasha his own instructions, a list of what he needs to do and who he needs to talk to and where he needs to go and how to get there.
He figures that Sasha will be honest with the trainers about how shitty Zhenya’s knee feels, probably more than Zhenya would.
He is not ready for the cacophony of the locker room. He’s used to a certain level of noise, but he’s pretty sure that every single person inside the Capitals’ room is screaming. And he’s supposed to get dressed and herd all of these cats out onto the ice? It’s going to be a miracle if he can even remember their names - and of course, they’re not wearing fucking names on their practice jerseys.
The universe is testing him.
Sidney Crosby spends a lot of time smiling at his phone.
It’s not something he was particularly aware of, but any time he realizes that Crosby is looking at his phone he’s fucking grinning at it. Sasha doesn’t hate Crosby the way the media makes him out to - they aren’t friends, but they have mutual friends. And still, Sasha doesn’t think of Crosby as a guy with much personality, and he’s definitely more reserved than anyone else Sasha knows.
“How’s your knee?” Crosby asks him - well, he’s asking Zhenya, really, because he doesn’t know that Zhenya is now Sasha.
“Not good,” Sasha tells him, and stretches it out in front of him. It just aches all of the time, in spite of the painkillers. Sasha’s had knee injuries, and in the scheme of things, this one’s pretty bad. Crosby frowns at him.
“You get it looked back so you can get back out there, yeah?” Crosby says. Sasha leans back in Zhenya’s stall and looks up at Crosby.
“I will,” he says. And then, “who are you smiling at on your phone?”
“No one,” Crosby says, but he’s blushing as he turns away.
Sasha pushes himself up and tries to keep the hobbling to a minimum as he heads to see the trainers. It’s all sort of meaningless - they want to take the time to let swelling reduce a bit more before they send him for an MRI. It sucks, and he tells Zhenya as much via text, knowing Zhenya won’t see it until after practice.
Sasha spends some time Googling, because he needs to try and figure out what’s going on and why he and Zhenya have switched bodies. When the internet ends up being useless, he calls his mother.
She is, understandably, pretty confused. “Mama,” he says. “Don’t freak out, but something weird happened.”
“Who is this?” she asks, because of course - he’s dialed her number from memory on Zhenya’s phone, and she doesn’t have Zhenya’s number. And it’s not like Sasha sounds like himself.
“Sasha,” he says. “But Mama, I’m - I’m in someone else’s body. Not my body.”
“Ha ha, very funny,” she says. “Put Sasha on the phone now.”
“I am Sasha,” he tells her. “I know I sound different, it’s because I’m borrowing Zhenya’s body right now.”
“Zhenya?” she asks. “Zhenya who?”
“Malkin,” Sasha says. “He’s - well, he’s in DC at practice right now, and I’m in Pittsburgh. Or wherever their practice facility is. That’s not the point. I need help because I want to change back.”
“Well obviously one of you needs something in your life that the other can sort out,” Tatiana tells him. “That’s why these things happen.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Sasha says. “How is he supposed to fix anything?”
“Maybe he doesn’t need to fix something,” Tatiana says. “Maybe you do.”
“Yeah, maybe I need to make sure he actually lets his knee heal,” Sasha says. “Because it is fu-messed up.”
His mother sighs at him. “I don’t know,” she says. “You’ll figure it out. Maybe it will just take time.”
“That’s unacceptable,” Sasha tells her.
“That’s life,” she tells him. “Let me know when you get back to normal.”
“Of course, Mama,” he tells her.
Backstrom corners him after practice. They’re alone in the hallway and he knew that someone would catch on and stop him eventually. He even expected it would be Backstrom.
“You’re off. What’s going on?” Backstrom asks him, and Zhenya has to admit that his best Sasha impression on ice was maybe not all that passable. Zhenya just sighs.
“Nothing,” Zhenya lies. Sasha’s a terrible liar, and Zhenya as Sasha isn’t any better. Besides, Backstrom has known Sasha too long to buy it.
“Sure, you just practice like you completely forgot how to play hockey, then expect me to buy that?” Backstrom asks, raising one eyebrow. Zhenya frowns, because he hates the idea that anyone knows Sasha that well, maybe better than Zhenya does. Zhenya doesn’t want anyone to know Sasha better than him.
“Okay fine,” Zhenya says. “I’m not Sasha.”
Backstrom laughs in his face. It’s a loud bark of a laugh and Zhenya remembers why he doesn’t like Nick Backstrom, other than because he thinks the only reason Sasha isn’t in love with Backstrom is because Sasha knew Zhenya first.
Zhenya likes to think that he’s above such a petty, ugly feeling as jealousy, but he knows what the truth is. Sasha has assured him that there’s nothing between he and Nicke but friendship, to the point where Sasha has stopped bothering, telling Zhenya that there’s no way he can force Zhenya to believe it if he doesn’t want to.
Zhenya’s allowed to be insecure about this one thing.
“Then who are you,” Backstrom asks him, once he’s done laughing in Zhenya’s face. “And why do you play hockey so shitty?”
“I’m not play hockey shitty!” Zhenya hisses. Backstrom is smirking at him. “Sasha’s body just ... different. Don’t move like mine.”
“And yours is…?” Backstrom asks him.
“In Cranberry,” Zhenya says. “Probably. If he don’t go home yet.”
“Where the - “ Backstrom breaks off and shakes his head. “Look, just tell me who the fuck you actually are if you’re not Ovi so we can deal - oh fuck, you’re Geno, aren’t you.”
Zhenya thinks maybe the universe is also testing Nick Backstrom, a little.
“Yes,” Zhenya finally says.
“Fuck,” Backstrom says, and raises his hands like he’s going to run them over his hair, but gets only his touque instead. “That explains… a lot, actually. About the hockey, and about why you seem like you’re - does it make sense if it tell you it’s almost like you’re playing at being Ovi and not actually Ovi.”
“Yes,” Zhenya says. “Because that’s what I’m doing.”
“I can tell,” Backstrom says. “I don’t suppose you’d… I don’t know, click your heels real fast and change back?”
“You think I’m stupid?” Zhenya asks. “Like I’m not doing that this morning first thing?”
Backstrom shrugs, and Zhenya has a brief, vivid fantasy of choking him out. He figures that Sasha would probably be pretty upset if he did it, not to mention the rest of the team who, it turns out, really like Backstrom in spite of his actually being some kind of chaos demon.
“I’ll run interference with the kids,” Backstrom says, and there’s a brief moment where Zhenya is confused before he realizes that Backstrom really means the rest of the team. Like he and Sasha are raising them like their own children.
“Thanks,” Zhenya says, because he doesn’t know what else to say. He needs to talk to Sasha and see if he’s figured anything out.
“Taking time is not an acceptable solution,” his own voice bellows out of the phone’s speaker.
“Okay,” Sasha says patiently. It’s weird for someone to be yelling at him in his own voice. He hopes that he never has the time to get used to it. “That’s what my Mama said. So how about you call your Mama, explain why you’re stuck in my body, and see if she has any better suggestions!”
“Don’t yell at me,” Zhenya says.
“You’re yelling at me!” Sasha says, his voice going higher in pitch. He takes a deep breath. “Call your Mama. And tell her that your knee is messed up and you’re going to be out because they can’t even tell you if you’re going to need surgery on it because they can’t do the MRI until the swelling goes down.”
“I’m not telling my Mama that,” Zhenya says.
“What if I call your Mama and tell her that,” Sasha says.
“Don’t you fucking dare,” Zhenya says. “She’s not gonna believe you.”
“I’m calling from your number with your voice,” Sasha says. “She’s gonna believe me before she believes you.”
The noise that comes out of the phone then is genuinely pretty funny, but Sasha knows he’s got to stop pissing Zhenya off. Pissing Zhenya off is one of his favorite games, because he’s so easy to tease, and he’s always a little more fun in bed after Sasha’s wound him up. This is a little bit more of a touchy situation, and he knows he has to lay off.
“Look,” Sasha says. “I want to get back so I can get back to my team. So talk to your mother so we can sort this out.”
“Backstrom knows,” Zhenya says. “That I’m you. Or that you’re me. Or that you’re not you? Whatever the fuck - anyway, he knew because I wasn’t. Well, because we don’t play the same way, so I practiced like shit today when I was you.”
“So Nicke is gonna help you,” Sasha says. “To be more… me. Until we can sort this out.” Sasha pauses, thinking. “Do you think Crosby knows?”
“You didn’t practice, so unless you were really odd I doubt it?” Zhenya says. “I don’t know. Do you want to tell him? Would it be easier if you had him to cover for you?”
“No offense,” Sasha says. “But I don’t think Crosby is a great co-conspirator for this. Or for anything, really.”
“Then who?” Zhenya asks. “You want me to talk to Tanger? Maybe Horny? You tell Phil, the whole team is gonna know in the next ten minutes and there won’t be a point in keeping it a secret, and then it’s all, why are you and Ovi swapping bodies? What’s going on with that?”
“Okay,” Sasha says. “A few things. First of all, I just realized that I don’t like anyone on your team. Second of all, do you know what horny means in English?”
“What?” Zhenya asks.
“What, you don’t know, or - ?” Sasha asks.
“No, I fucking know, Sasha, can you stay on task for thirty seconds?” Zhenya says, irritable.
“If anyone gets to be in a bad mood about this, it’s me,” Sasha tells him. “Out here, unable to play and having to suffer through being in pain with your fucking knee.”
“Okay,” Zhenya says. “Okay. I’ll call my Mama. You tell Sid what’s going on. He’ll be able to help with the team stuff.”
“Can I ask him who he’s talking to when he’s smiling at his phone all the time?” Sasha asks.
“Do not fucking ask him about that,” Zhenya says. He hangs up on Sasha.
Sasha texts him a luv u 2 and a middle finger emoji.
So of course the next thing he does is flick through Zhenya’s phone until he finds Zhenya and Crosby’s old conversation thread. He back-reads a little, being nosy. It’s dead boring, mostly about team stuff and hockey stuff. It’s exactly how he expects Crosby to be.
so who u text that make u smile so much, is what Sasha ends up texting, because he’s never listened to Zhenya a day in his life and he’s certainly not going to start now. He sends the text and then goes to putter around the kitchen to pull together something to eat.
It doesn’t take long for Zhenya’s phone to ding in return, and when Sasha looks at the screen, the message back is from Crosby.
it’s none of your business, is all the text says, but Sasha’s not about to leave it at that.
i’d tell u, Sasha sends back, because honestly, he would. Crosby knows about him and Zhenya anyway.
you and ovi are basically an old married couple, comes back, and Sasha snorts. Another text comes through immediately after. especially when you fight.
never really fight, Sasha sends him. It’s sort of true.
except that one time, and, yeah, there it is. anyway, I’m not telling you.
i tell u secret if u tell urs, Sasha tells him.
yeah sure. you go first.
Sasha stands at the kitchen counter, balanced on Zhenya’s good leg, his dinner forgotten as he tries to think of a good way to explain to Crosby that he’s not actually Zhenya, he’s just Zhenya’s body, he’s really Sasha. He’s not sure he has the words to explain it in English, but he’s going to try.
i’m not zhenya, he finally sends. we switched. i’m sasha.
switched phones? Crosby sends back, which yeah, Sasha guesses that’s confusing. A second quick text: sasha who?
switched bodies. sasha ovechkin.
Time stretches on. Sasha finishes his dinner while he’s waiting.
well, that’s not going to get me to tell you anything, the text says when it finally comes through.
true tho, Sasha says.
bullshit, Crosby sends back.
no. i’m wake up this morning and zhenya’s knee hurts like a bitch Sasha tells him.
okay, now i believe you. geno would never say anything hurts
bc he stupid
so u tell me secret now
geno doesn’t even know
well, i’ll tell him
ugh. does he have beer? I’m coming over.
This is not what Sasha wanted or expected but it’s what he’s getting. Who knows, maybe sitting down and actually making friends with Crosby is the thing he’s supposed to sort out.
He doubts it, though.
Trying to follow the Capitals’ group chat gives Zhenya a headache. It’s not at all like the Pens one, which actually talks about hockey. He’s pretty sure he sees at least two booty calls set up and three more games of Fortnite.
do your teammates really set up booty calls in the group chat? he sends to Sasha, bewildered.
who is it this time? And yes., Sasha responds. A few seconds later, a photo message comes through, showing Sid sitting on Zhenya’s couch with a beer and a video game controller. i know about crosby’s secret boyfriend now.
what?! Zhenya nearly drops Sasha’s phone. Forget about which of Sasha’s teammates are hooking up, they can come back to that. He calls his phone from Sasha’s.
“Hello Zhenya,” Sasha says, sounding warm and happy and like he’s having a much easier time of this than Zhenya is, in spite of the knee injury. “Say hello to Crosby.”
“You can call me Sid, you know,” Sid’s voice filters through. “I think we’re there.” Sasha makes a grunting noise and Sid’s voice comes from much closer to the phone. “The beer in your fridge sucked so we drank your vodka.”
“You climbing over Sasha?” Zhenya asks. “You drank vodka?”
“It seemed like the thing to do,” Sid says.
“You never drunk,” Zhenya says.
“We’re having a sleepover, Geno,” Sid says. “We’re stealing your liquor and talking about boys.”
“Yeah,” Sasha says. “Tell me who is arranging sex in group chat.”
“Wait,” Zhenya hears Sid say, and then there’s some shuffling as Sid clearly takes the phone away from Sasha. “Your teammates are arranging sex in the group chat?”
“They think they subtle,” Sasha says. “Rookies never subtle.”
“Eller definitely not a rookie,” Zhenya says.
“What?” Sasha says.
“Lars Eller?” Sid asks.
“I’m call to ask about Sid’s secret boyfriend,” Zhenya says. “Not talk about your weird teammates propositioning each other.”
“But who,” Sasha says. “You tell me then we tell you.”
“Here, I’m send you screenshot,” Zhenya says. He takes a shot of the screen and sends it over to Sasha and Sid. He knows when they get it, because they start laughing. “See? They planning sex.”
“That’s definitely new,” Sasha says. Sid is still laughing. “Is other booty call Whip and Burky or Mads and V?”
“Is you team just having orgy?” Zhenya asks. Somehow, this makes Sid laugh even harder.
“No,” Sasha says. “Not whole team.”
“This is way less subtle than me and Nate,” Sid says, his voice a little wheezy.
“Nate?” Zhenya asks. “As in - “
“MacKinnon,” Sid says. “And yes, it’s just. It’s new but it’s kind of a new thing and I didn’t want to tell you but Ovi made me tell him and now I’m telling you, and I really like him so don’t you dare fuck this up for me Evgeni, I - stop laughing!”
“Sid, you so drunk,” Geno says.
“So drunk,” Sid repeats to him.
“Sid loves Nate,” Sasha says, and he’s laughing.
“I do,” Sid says. “And him being in Colorado sucks but like. You guys have been dealing with this way longer and you’re fine. Mostly fine.”
“Except that one time,” Sasha says.
“Except that one time,” Sid says. “Which was kind of stupid, like. You love each other. You’re stupid in love with each other. So - why?”
Sasha sighs. “I’m tell you later,” he says.
“No,” Zhenya says. “Don’t.”
“I’m tell him now, then,” Sasha says.
“Sasha, I swear to God, if you - “ Zhenya starts.
“Zhenya always thinking that I’m in love with Nicke,” Sasha says. “No matter how many times I’m telling him, no, you stupid, I’m love you, big idiot. And Nicke have boyfriend besides! They gonna get married one day!”
“Oooh,” Sid says. “I’m gonna marry Nate one day.”
Sasha starts giggling delightedly and Sid joins him. Zhenya thinks maybe if he were in Pennsylvania he’d murder them both. He waits until their giggles die down.
“Sasha,” he hears Sid stage whisper after a moment. “Are you gonna marry Geno?”
“Maybe,” Sasha says. “If he wants to.”
“He wants to,” Zhenya says.
There’s silence over the line, then Sid says, “did you just, like, get engaged?”
“No,” Sasha says. “Maybe?”
“Maybe,” Zhenya says. “I’m going to bed. Have skate in the morning.”
He disconnects the call without saying anything else.
Crosby is looking at Zhenya’s phone in his hand, the call disconnected. He looks up at Sasha then, his eyes a little bit wide.
“Do you think he’s mad at you?” Sid asks. “He seemed mad when he hung up.”
“I don’t know,” Sasha says. “Should I propose again? Do it different? Big grand gesture for Zhenya.”
“Probably,” Crosby tells him. “I mean. He likes grand gestures. And also it just kind of slid out on the phone. But you’ve also been dating for like, twenty years or whatever.”
“Not twenty years,” Sasha says.
“Or whatever,” Crosby says, waving Zhenya’s phone through the air. He hands it back to Sasha. “Is it weird that your other teammates are like. Hooking up? It’s kind of like. Not done.”
Sasha shrugs. “People do what makes them happy. You do what makes you happy,” Sasha says. He shifts slightly. “Zhenya’s knee is really bad, you know.”
“What are they going to do?” Crosby asks.
“Wait for swelling to go down,” Sasha says. “Trainers couldn’t say if it needed surgery because they couldn’t send for an MRI until swelling went down.”
“Would he ever have been honest about how much it hurts or how bad it is if you guys hadn’t switched bodies?” Crosby asks him.
“No,” Sasha says. “Not honest with me, not honest with you, not honest with trainers.”
“We’re so bad to ourselves, you know,” Crosby says. He slumps down on the couch next to Sasha, his drink in one hand and Zhenya’s phone in the other, his body generating more heat than Sasha would expect from one person Crosby’s size. He’s fucking warm.
“I know,” Sasha says, and finds himself with an arm around Crosby’s shoulders as Crosby slumps against his side. Crosby and Zhenya probably do this all the time. They’re actual friends. Sasha might be friends with Crosby now. Sidney.
“We get hurt and we pretend we’re not hurt and that makes us more hurt,” Crosby says. “And we pretend that we’re something we’re not and we’re not who we are and - you know, I’ve always liked that you just - you just don’t give a fuck. You’re Ovi and you’re not going to be anyone but Ovi no matter how much stupid shit Don Cherry and assholes like him say about you.”
“Thanks?” Sasha says, a little confused.
“I know I’m the worst offender, too,” Crosby tells him. “I know I am, because I’m trying to fit whatever mold so they just stop talking about, you know, me, and just talk about hockey. I don’t want them to talk about whether or not I hate you or I’m better than you and sometimes I can’t help myself because I kind of love the drama of it all, but that isn’t really who I’ve painted myself to be, is it?”
“You really just saying shit to make people talk sometimes,” Sasha says, a note of wonder in his voice. He’s always wondered why Crosby always pretended to be so straight-laced, and then all of a sudden he’d come out and stir the pot.
“Ovi,” Crosby says, pushing himself up until he can look Sasha right in the eye. “You know I could say the sky is green and they’d fall all over themselves to agree or justify why I’m right.”
“I know,” Sasha says, not sure where Crosby’s going with this.
“It’s stupid! I’m just a person!” Crosby says. “They should be treating you and Zhenya the same as me and - and Nate, fuck. Nate deserves the world.”
Crosby goes to put his hands over his face and realizes that he’s still holding his glass and the phone. “Fuck,” he says. “I need to go to sleep.”
“You need water,” Sasha says.
“That too,” Crosby says. “I’m gonna drink some water and I’m gonna call Nate and tell him how much I love him and … and how he’s really good at hockey and everyone deserves to know that and - hey, is the Avs game still on?”
Sasha actually laughs at that, and reaches out for the remote.
The locker room is quieter before morning skate, Zhenya thinks. More focused. He’s spent more time in Sasha’s body, now, and thinks he understands better how Sasha moves, but he knows that it’s going to be a rough game that night if he and Sasha don’t switch back.
Nobody says anything to him about how off he seems. He wonders if there’s another group chat he doesn’t know about, or if there’s some way Backstrom has told them all to lay off him. Either way, as long as no one’s hassling him about how un-Sasha-like he’s being, Zhenya’s fine with it.
Skate is better than practice was the day before, and Zhenya’s more acutely aware of how lovey-dovey the whole damn team is around him. He remembers Sasha saying that it’s not a full team orgy, but he feels like it’s maybe because Sasha is taken. Everyone else is grouping up and leaving together as far as Zhenya can tell.
He needs to talk to Backstrom.
Zhenya catches him in the room just before Backstrom heads out, one of the last guys to leave the locker room.
“Can we talk?” he asks, his voice quiet. Backstrom looks at him for a second, then shrugs.
“Sure,” Backstrom says. “What’s up?”
“I think Sasha ask me to marry him last night,” Zhenya says.
Backstrom opens his mouth, then closes it. He presses his lips into a line. Then he opens his mouth again. No words come out.
“He talking about how he don’t want you, you have boyfriend you gonna marry one day, Sid gonna marry Nate, and Sid ask Sasha, because Sid a terrible drunk, if he gonna marry me, and he said yes, and I said yes, and I -”
“Not to interrupt,” Backstrom says slowly. “But I have some questions.”
Zhenya huffs a breath and says, “fine,” and waits for Backstrom to ask his questions.
“First of all, when you say Sid, you can’t possibly mean Crosby, because I can’t imagine him being drunk or in love with anyone,” Backstrom says. Zhenya just makes a face, and it must get his point across. “Do you want to marry Ovi?”
“I’m not want Sid to ask for him,” Zhenya says. “You really don’t love Sasha?”
“Why - why will you not fucking believe either of us about this?” Backstrom asks. “Here.” He pulls his phone out of his pocket and unlocks it.
His lock screen photo is of him and another guy, someone vaguely familiar to Zhenya, but for whatever reason Zhenya can’t pull a name to mind. Backstrom flicks to another screen and opens his Instagram. It’s set to private, and a lot of the pictures feature the same guy as on his lock screen.
“You’ve met Mike,” Backstrom tells him. “At parties at Sasha’s, before he signed with the Red Wings. You’ve played against Mike.”
“Green,” Zhenya says, making the connection.
“Yes,” Backstrom says. “Geno - Evgeni - what do you want me to call you?”
“Geno is fine,” he says.
“Anyway, I love him. We bought a house here, in DC,” Backstrom explains. “We’re going to retire here. I don’t know if we’re going to get married, like Ovi said, but I see myself spending my life with him. Ovi’s my brother, and it’s not like that at all. I don’t think you should ever worry about anything, because it just isn’t that way. I don’t know how to explain it any more clearly than that.”
“It’s just - “ Zhenya sighs. “You so close. I’m not think I’m close to anyone like that.”
“That’s because Crosby’s a robot with no personality,” Backstrom says, and Zhenya opens his mouth to say something but Backstrom keeps going. “Except, apparently, he gets drunk with Ovi and talks about marrying his boyfriend and facilitates - when you say Nate do you mean Nate MacKinnon?”
“Yes,” Zhenya says. “Sid not a robot.”
“He’s kind of a robot,” Backstrom says. “Also, I hate him, but that’s not the point. You love him. You guys are close. How would you feel if Ovi asked and asked if you were in love with Crosby, and if you were going to leave him for Crosby, and would never take no for the answer?”
“Like shit,” Zhenya says. And he gets it. He truly gets it. He’d be pissed at Sasha for asking over and over the way he does it himself to Sasha. He doesn’t know why he accepts it more readily coming from Backstrom than he ever did coming from Sasha, but maybe he needed to hear it from Backstrom all along.
Backstrom looks so happy in all of the pictures of him with Green. He looks the way Zhenya feels when he’s with Sasha.
“Stop asking him and just trust that he loves you,” Backstrom says. “Besides, if I were going to steal him from you, I would’ve done it a long time ago. I’m definitely better looking than you are.”
“Next time we play, I’m crush you into the boards,” Zhenya tells him.
“Yeah, okay,” Backstrom says, and grins at him, all teeth. “You try that.”
“Sid hate you too!” Zhenya calls after Backstrom as Backstrom leaves the room. Backstrom gives him a finger as he departs. Sid probably doesn’t hate anyone. Probably.
He sends Sasha a text after that, not sure what Sasha is doing at quite that moment. The Pens have the day off, or Sid never would have gotten drunk. He doesn’t want to wake them if they’re still sleeping in, even though it’s almost noon. Sid is pretty rigid about his routines, but it’s a day off.
i’m sorry i’ve been so shitty to you about backstrom for so long. I love you, though. he texts, then heads out to Sasha’s car to go home.
i love you too, Sasha sends back after a while.
tell sid to send me a picture of him and nate, i want to see if they look like they’re in love, Zhenya sends.
stop being weird and go take a nap, Sasha sends back.
A photo message comes through from an unknown number to Sasha’s phone, but Zhenya recognizes the number anyway. When he opens it, he recognizes the background as Sid’s place in Nova Scotia. Sid is smiling, and Nate’s kissing him on the side of the head. They look happy.
Zhenya is smiling when he tosses his phone onto the seat of Sasha’s car and starts it.
“This is a terrible idea,” Crosby is saying.
Sasha is the king of terrible ideas, and Crosby certainly isn’t doing anything to stop him. Not that there’s anything Crosby could do at this point, short of hijacking the plane they’re on and turning it around. Crosby didn’t stop him when he booked the flight, or when he bought the ring, or when he realized that Sasha meant for him to tag along.
That’s why they’re flying from Pittsburgh from DC. Because Sasha’s going to make a grand gesture, because he’s still trapped in Zhenya’s body, and because somehow at least part of this is Crosby’s fault. At least, the grand gesture part is, because if Crosby had never brought up Sasha and Zhenya getting married, they wouldn’t be on the plane at all.
They land in DC with only a little time before the game, and it’s not like they can go into the game particularly incognito. Everyone in DC knows their faces, probably as much as they know the faces of their own team’s stars. And DC hates Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
“Let’s just get something to eat,” Crosby finally suggests.
“So I can throw up on Zhenya when I’m ask him?” Sasha asks.
“I’m hungry,” Crosby says with a shrug. “Take me somewhere good.”
The game has already started when they get there, which is fine. Watching Zhenya try and play hockey as Sasha is agony for Sasha to watch. Everything he sees makes him cringe, every move that Zhenya makes that’s so Zhenya and not at all Sasha.
The Capitals win in spite of “Ovi” playing like trash, and through a roundabout way, Sasha has managed to get them into the locker room area. They burst into the locker room, Crosby in Sasha’s wake.
“Zhenya,” he bellows, and Zhenya’s voice is loud, so loud, maybe louder than his own. He actually sees Kuzya jump, looking confused and a little scared, and Sasha remembers that he doesn’t know, that Kuzya is the only Zhenya in the locker room.
But Zhenya stops, still trapped inside Sasha’s body, and turns. “What the fuck?” he asks, the words coming out in Russian. “Why the fuck are you here?”
“That’s what I want to know,” Kuzya says, and the rest of the locker room is frozen, transfixed.
“I want you to marry me,” Sasha says. “Not maybe, definitely. If you want. I bought a ring and I came here and I want you to say yes.”
He gets down on the good knee, gasping sharply as he bends the other. Gasps and murmurs ripple through the locker room then, as everyone realizes what is going on in spite of Sasha and Zhenya speaking in Russian. Although, Sasha is relatively sure that Kuzya and Dima are translating quietly for the people nearest them. Sasha - well, Zhenya’s body - down on one knee is a gesture that’s loud and clear for all of them.
Zhenya is frozen, not moving, not speaking.
“Please,” Sasha says. “Say something, because this is really painful for your knee.”
“I already said I would,” Zhenya says, and reaches out to pull Sasha to his feet. “I told you I would yesterday.”
“I thought you would want a grand gesture,” Sasha says.
“Proposing to me in front of your team is a grand gesture?” Zhenya asks.
“I came here from Pittsburgh on your shitty knee and -” Sasha starts, but Zhenya cuts him off by bringing their mouths together.
The room bursts into applause.
When it happens it’s like a snap.
Suddenly Zhenya feels the ache spreading through his knee again, and he knows even without opening his eyes that he’s back in his own body. When he does, he sees Sasha’s team applauding, and Sasha smiling at him.
He turns and looks over his shoulder. Sid is leaning against the locker room door, grinning. He holds out the box in his hand.
“Ovi got this for you,” he says.
The box is the ring - the fucking engagement ring, every bit Sasha being ridiculous and ostentatious. But the ring isn’t ostentatious. It’s heavy and practical, and it fits perfectly on Zhenya’s finger. It looks like a wedding band more than anything.
“Also I have to be back at the airport,” Sid says.
“Do I?” Zhenya asks, turning back to Sasha.
“I didn’t buy a ticket. Just one way,” Sasha says, shrugging.
“Bold of you to assume I’d say yes,” Zhenya says.
“You just told me you already said yes!” Sasha says. Zhenya grins and kisses him again.
“Okay, well, bye,” Sid says.
“Wait,” Sasha says, then actually moves around Zhenya to hug Sid. Sid looks a little bewildered by it at first, but he grins and hugs Sasha back.
“I really have to go,” Sid says.
He's barely out the door before someone in the room says, “how much does Ovi owe for hugging Sidney Crosby?”
Someone else responds, “not as much as he owes for proposing to Geno in the locker room.”
Sasha gives them all the finger and kisses Zhenya again to the cacophony of their laughter.