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A Cord of Three Strands (Is Not Quickly Broken)

Chapter Text

Kathy disappears from the WAG group chat shortly after the Pens are eliminated from the playoffs. No final message with an explanation (not that she owes them one, Anya reminds herself), just a small line of text: Kathy Leutner has been removed from this chat. She and Anya were never particularly close, but Anya knows Catherine and Veronique will miss the camaraderie that comes with being the significant other of an athlete for their entire career, or close enough. Anya texts a question mark to Vero, and turns off her phone, frowning. Kathy hadn’t given any indication of growing conflict between her and Sid, despite being quick to poke at small disagreements or altercations. And Zhenya hadn’t mentioned anything about Sid being over-invested or clingy, as he had been in the past when he and Kathy were fighting. But this wasn’t just a fight, Anya sighs. Kathy had asked to be removed from the group chat.

Couples break up all the time. Anya has been around long enough to know that not everyone can handle what amounts to a semi-permanent long-distance relationship. But Kathy and Sidney had been together ten years, and they really did have such a solid relationship. Anya knew they truly loved each other, so why-

Zhenya drops into the seat beside her, handing her a glass of wine. “You’ve got your worried face on,” he says carefully. “Should I be worried as well?”

“Have you heard from Sidney, lately?” Anya asks, equally carefully. She takes a sip from her glass; a sweet blend, rather a dry. “I haven’t heard much from Kathy.”

Zhenya sighs, setting his own glass on the coffee table. “Not in a few days,” he admits. “But- I’m sure you know why,” he says drily.

“Yes,” Anya says quietly. “I honestly never thought- they had been together so long, Zhenya. And so suddenly, with no warning-“ Zhenya looks guiltily at his hands, folded in his lap. “Or not so suddenly. Zhenya, what do you know?”

“Sidney loves children,” Zhenya says slowly. “You know this. Everyone knows this.”

Anya has a sinking feeling in her gut. “Of course.”

“He has been- expressive, these past few months, about wanting children.” Zhenya shakes his head. “And you’re right, they have been together so long, so I assumed they had already had this particular discussion, but.” He shrugs, picking up his wine glass, while Anya sets hers down.

“She didn’t want children, and so she-" two people make a relationship, Anya says to herself, firmly, “they ended their relationship.” Anya shakes her head. “Oh, Zhenya, he must be devastated.”

“He won’t let it get in the way of his training, though,” Zhenya says wryly. “Or his Little Penguins.”

Anya has the thought formulated before her husband is finished speaking. “Invite him to stay with us.”

“Anushka,” Zhenya starts.

“I’m serious, Zhenechka,” she insists. “Just until his hockey school. He can train with you here, can’t her?”

“He- he’s got his family with him, Anya.” But Zhenya has that look on his face that means he’s at least thinking about it.

“His parents were likely hoping that he would settle down with Kathy. I know they’re his family, but does he really need that right now?”

“What would do here, Anya? He barely knows enough of the language to get by.”

“Then he and Nikita will get along splendidly.”

“He can’t spend his whole time here with Nikita, Anya!”

Anya clenches her jaw. “Why are you so opposed to this, Zhenya? You’ve been trying to get him to visit for years, but now you’re so suddenly against it? What is going on?”

Zhenya doesn’t meet her eyes. “Do you remember,” he says haltingly. “When we first starting dating. And-“ he breathes in deeply, bracingly. “And I told you that sometimes, I like guys, too?”

Anya can see where this is going. “How long,” she says quietly. She tries to swallow around the lump in her throat. “How long have you felt this way about him, Zhenya?”

“Almost since I met him.” He tries to laugh, but it comes out choked, and his eyes are starting to fill with tears. “I’m sorry, Anna, I’m so sorry I kept this from you.”

“Zhenya, sweetheart,” Anya moves to kneel in front of her husband. “Darling, look at me, please.” She takes his face in her hands and waits for him to meet her eyes. “I love you,” she says quietly, fiercely. “I love you so much, and I don’t love you any less, for having a big enough heart to love Sid too.” She gently pats his right cheek. “Okay?”

Zhenya breathes in raggedly. “I love you so much.” His voice wobbles. “I’m so lucky to have you.”

Anya laughs softly, blinking away her own tears. “You really are,” she teases carefully, reaching up to kiss his forehead. “Now, it’s been a long day, we are both tired, so why don’t we go on up to bed, hm?”

“We’re still going to pick this up in the morning, aren’t we,” Zhenya sighs, resigned, helping Anya stand up.

She kisses the corner of his mouth and smiles; “Of course.”

Chapter Text

Sidney knows his body pretty well at this point; he’s lucky to have gotten away with only a mild concussion, and even more lucky that the symptoms didn’t stick around for too long. He’s not going to kid himself into thinking he can play NHL hockey forever. So he starts really thinking about- starts letting himself really think about kids, after the end of the regular season.

He starts bringing it up more in conversation, little comments, like how they’d have to put a lock on the liquor cabinet or wondering if he should have a fence built in around the backyard at the house in Nova Scotia. Kathy just gives him little, pinched smiles and redirects the conversation, and Sid should pay attention to those looks, but he’s on a roll now, looking at their house, and thinking about which bedroom would be best to repurpose into a nursery, making a list of everything that would have to be babyproofed.

It all comes to a head less than a week after the Caps knock them out of the playoffs in game six. Sidney has been so busy with hockey and baby brain that he doesn’t realize that most of Kathy’s things are packed away in the second garage until he goes down one morning to find a suitcase to pack his clothes away for the flight home to Halifax.

He doesn’t touch the boxes. Doesn’t throw them out into the driveway in a fit of rage; doesn’t passive-aggressively unpack and put everything where it belongs, where it’s been for the past nine years. He doesn’t even send the many, increasingly frantic texts that run through his mind. He grabs the suitcase he was looking for and goes back upstairs to pack. He thinks he might be in shock.

And it’s a testament to their relationship, to how well they know each other, that when Kathy comes home from her workout, they only have to make eye contact once, and she knows that he knows. Her shoulders slump, and she looks apologetic and almost heartbroken, but she maintains eye contact, and he knows that even though they’re standing on a fault line, they’re going to be okay. Maybe not immediately, maybe not even for another ten years. But someday, they will be okay.

“When were you going to tell me?”

“Before you left.” Kathy leans against the table. She sighs. “We should have talked sooner, but you’ve been busy with playoffs, and I guess-“ she gives a sad, tight-lipped smile. “I guess I just wanted to pretend everything was still fine.”

“But you still packed,” Sid says. That’s what he doesn’t get. “If you wanted to- to pretend everything was fine, why did you pack?”

“Because I had to do something!” Kathy says helplessly. “You were talking about kids and babyproofing the house and which bedroom would be best for a nursery, and I just- I had to do something, Sidney.”

His mouth is dry, his heart is beating so rapidly he can heart it in his ears, and-

“I don’t want kids,” Kathy says softly.

He can feel his heart fracturing, but this can’t be it, they’ve been together for ten years, he has to-

“That’s okay,” Sid says quickly. “And I don’t- they don’t have to be ours, not like- biologically. There’s always adoption, or fostering-“

“Sidney,” Kathy interrupts, her mouth downturned and flinty, her eyes gentle and sympathetic. “I don’t want to be a mother. And it’s not fair to you, to either of us, to keep this going if we don’t want the same thing.”

“Oh,” he says. And that’s- “Oh.”

Kathy bites the inside of her bottom lip, and Sid can see she’s starting to cry, and he knows- he knows, that even though she’s breaking up with him now, that it doesn’t mean the last ten years never mattered, of course-

He steps forward in one moment and in the next they’re crying in each other’s arms, holding on to each other so tight and it hurts, that this might be the last time he’ll ever have her in his arms again, in their- in his house, and so-

It’s still so easy, falling into bed with her. It’s not desperate, even knowing this is the last time, but it’s heavy and full of more emotion than any post-loss sex they’ve ever had because- it’s the last time. And- he always wants it to be good for her, always has, since he was twenty and clumsily, (“Adorable,” Kathy had said, giggling, and kissing his cheek) inexperienced- so even now, he makes it good for her, doesn’t want to let her go with bad breakup sex- doesn’t want to let her go at all, but he has to, so he does what he knows second-best, right behind hockey, and takes care of Kathy.

After ten years, Sidney knows Kathy’s body almost better than he knows his own. He knows her right shoulder still twinges sometimes from a lacrosse injury back in high school, and the right place to dig his thumb in to relieve the pain. He knows she had an appendectomy at fifteen, and that she always gets a scared, pinched look on her face when the scar is uncovered, but also that the look softens when he kisses it. He knows which spots to kiss, which ones to bite and nip, which ones to suck gorgeous red-purple bruises into that will last for days. He knows that while her breasts and nipples are still erogenous, that he can’t spend too long on them or she’ll end up either shoving his head farther down or kneeing him in the ribs. That the dip just under her ribcage is ticklish, but her bellybutton will make her gasp and tug at his hair.

He knows every square inch of her body, just as she knows every square inch of his.


He doesn’t cry when Kathy declines one of the guest rooms and goes to stay with one of her friends. He doesn’t cry when she’s finished loading her things into the rental truck and she gives him back both sets of house keys. He doesn’t cry when he realizes he’s going to pack up everything of hers in the lake house. He doesn’t let himself cry until he’s on his parent’s porch and his mother takes one long look at him and reels him into a tight, comforting hug.

“I’m gonna be right here, baby,” she whispers. “Whenever you’re ready.”

He doesn’t think he’s ever going to be ready, but he nods anyway, trying not to smear snot all over her shirt.

“Come on, now,” his mom says, pulling away. “Let’s get you inside, okay?”

He nods again, breathing in deeply, raggedly. He’s afraid that if he tries to speak he’ll just start crying again. 

He follows her into the house, doesn’t even try to put up a fight when she takes his suitcase from him, and hugs her again when she’s about to go back downstairs.

“You’re always going to be my baby,” she says softly. “So it’s always hard to see you hurting when I can’t just fix it with a band-aid and a glass of juice.” She smiles at him sadly and reaches up to kiss his cheek. “Dinner will be ready in a few hours. Go ahead and shower, then take a nap, okay?” She waits until he nods to descend the stairwell, leaving him in the open doorway of his childhood bedroom.

Chapter Text

Evgeni doesn’t want to get out of bed. He knows he has to; he has training with Kadarov later, and he has to make sure that Nikita gets his breakfast. But right now he’s comfortable, lying in a patch of sunlight, curled around the warm body of his beautiful wife. His beautiful awake wife, he amends, feeling Anya shift, hearing her breathing change. He moves his hand slowly down from where it rested on her stomach to tease at her cunt over her sleep shorts. Anya hums, shifting her legs to accommodate his fingers, and Evgeni barely brushes against the folds of her inner labia when the baby monitor crackles to life.

Evgeni and Anya groan in unison. Nikita isn’t crying or screaming yet; they could still make the most of however much time they have left. But Anya sighs and gets out of bed, patting Evgeni’s thigh as she goes.

“We’re already awake, we might as well start the day.”

“I was starting our day,” he grouses. “It was going great, too.”

Anna tosses him an amused look over her shoulder as she heads for the bathroom. “I’m sure you’ll find a way to make it up to me. In the meantime, why don’t you go check on our son?”

Evgeni grumbles and rolls his eyes, but it’s a weak façade, so he goes to retrieve Nikita, only lingering for a moment to cast a longing glance toward the master bathroom.

Nikita’s sitting quietly in his crib, gnawing on his tiny fist, and he starts making grabby hands at Evgeni when he walks into the room. “Papa,” Nikita calls and pulls himself up to stand by the crib railing, trying to reach his little arms over. “Papa, out!”

“Oh, you want out?” Evgeni teases, standing just out of reach. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay in a little longer?”

“Papa,” Nikita whines. “Out. Eat!”

“Well, if you have to eat,” Evgeni sighs. He hefts Nikita out of the crib, exaggerating his groan to hear him giggle. “But first,” he holds Nikita up to eye level. “Do you have to use the potty?”

Nikita frowns, clearly putting a lot of thought into the question. “Yeah,” he says at last. “Gotta potty.”

“Okay then,” Evgeni says cheerfully. “Let’s get you to the potty so we can have breakfast with Mommy.”

“Mommy,” Nikita repeats, maybe in agreement. He wriggles in Evgeni’s arms, making noises to be let down, so Evgeni does, and watches as his son promptly trip over his own feet.

“Daddy,” Nikita whines, turning over to lay on his back. “I falled.”

“You fell,” Evgeni corrects lightly, crouching down. “Are you hurt?”

“No. Daddy,” he pouts, his lower lip trembling. “Daddy, I pottied.”

Evgeni does his best to hold back his laughter. “Oh my. Let’s go get you cleaned up, okay?”

“Bath, Daddy?”

“Yes, Niki, let’s get you in the bath.”

He undresses Nikita there in the bedroom, tugging the laundry hamper out into the hallway to remember to get it all washed later in the day. He knocks on the bathroom doorjamb as a warning and leads Nikita over to the tub. “Stay,” he instructs, tapping Nikita’s nose to make him giggle. “I’m going to let mommy know we’re in here, then I’m going to help get you cleaned up, okay?”

“Kay,” Nikita says, curling his toes over the tile. Evgeni’s glad they decided on the warming tiles for the bathroom, and that the steam from Anya’s shower is filling the rest of the room, so he doesn’t have much of a chance to guilt himself for not remembering to wrap Nikita in a towel or something while he waits.

“Hey,” he taps his knuckles against the glass of the shower door. “I’m going to give Nikita a bath.”

Anya sticks her head out the door, frowning slightly. “He shouldn’t need a bath yet. Did something happen?”

“Nothing big, just peed his pants a little.” Evgeni tweaks her nose, laughing when she scowls tries to shove him away, her wet hand slipping against his bare shoulder.

“Go clean your son,” she mutters, closing the shower door.

Evgeni grins, turning around to wiggle his eyebrows at Nikita. “What do you think, little man? Are you ready for your bath?”

Nikita grins back toothily, which Evgeni takes as a ‘yes’, so he turns on the bath faucet and adjusts the temperature so that the water is warm but won’t be uncomfortable to a toddler. He lets Nikita sit and splash around in the tub while it fills and keeps an eye on him while he gathers the kid bath wash and a washcloth and hangs a towel on the warming rack for later. He shuts the water off when the tub fills just below the overflow and flicks the water off his fingers.

“You good?” He checks in with Nikita. “Not too hot?”

Nikita shakes his head. “Good,” he says and slams his hands flat onto the surface of the water, sending a small wave of water over the edge of the tub, a significant amount landing on Evgeni’s shirt. There’s a pause where Nikita realizes what he’s caused, then the bathroom is filled with the bright, bubbling laughter of a child who has discovered something he deems utterly hilarious.

“Yes,” Evgeni says drily. “You think you’re hilarious, don’t you, making a big mess.”

“Daddy’s wet,” Nikita giggles, holding his hands together over his mouth.

“I am,” Evgeni agrees, trying to keep a straight face. “And that looked very fun for you, but playtime is over now. Let’s get clean, okay?”

Nikita scrunches up his face and shakes his head wildly. “No.”

“But we want to smell nice and clean so we can get hugs from Mommy,” Evgeni cajoles. “Mommy won't hug you if you smell stinky.”

Nikita shakes his head again, but he looks less resistant, so Evgeni leans closer, making a mental note to really make it up to Anya later, and plays his trump card.

“If you’re good and take a bath now,” Evgeni whispers, “we can watch cartoons with breakfast.” He quickly holds a finger up to his mouth when Nikita’s eyes go wide. “You need to be quiet though, okay? Can you stay calm for Daddy?”

“Okay,” Nikita whispers from behind his hands. “Okay, Daddy.”

Evgeni grins and ruffles Nikita’s hair. “Good boy. Now, what should we wash first, your hair or your body?”

_/.\_

Anya is not, predictably, impressed with Evgeni’s persuasion tactics, and is only slightly mollified when he gives her a preview of his apology- a deep, toe-curling kiss (while Nikita is otherwise occupied with his cartoons) that leaves both of them breathless.

Anya smacks his chest lightly when he frees her, her face flushed a nice pink. “Be decent, will you? Nikita’s barely five feet away.”

“He’s not paying attention!” Evgeni leers, half-heartedly trying to reel her back in. “He’s too invested in his show.”

Anya laughs, incredulously, and like she’s trying to hold it in. “And whose fault is that, hm? You had to bribe him to take a bath!”

“It worked though, didn’t it?” Evgeni smiles sweetly, giving the semolina a quick but thorough mixing.

“And now he’s going to ask for it every time he needs a bath.” Anya slides the eggs from her pan onto plates and switches off the burner. “And it’s fine this one time, Zhenya, but it cannot become a pattern. It won’t be good for him.”

“I hear you,” Evgeni says, tasting a small spoonful of the semolina and tries not to make a face. “Do we have any more berries, or did we finish them off yesterday?”

Anya hums, plating the toast next to the eggs. “There should be some raspberries left in the fridge. If not, we can just use the honey.”

Evgeni does make a face at that, but he also finds half a clamshell of raspberries on one of the shelves, so he figures their plan to get Nikita more accustomed with denser solids won’t be a grand failure. Maybe just a small mess. He scoops the semolina into bowls and distributes the rest of the raspberries between them. Anya’s already gathered the silverware and the plates, so Evgeni follows her with the bowls, and they set them on the coffee table in front of the couch that Nikita is doing his best to become one with.

“Hey, little lion,” Anya coos, shaking one of his little feet. “We’re going to eat breakfast, and then Daddy and I want to talk about something with you.”

“Nothing bad,” Evgeni interjects. “Just something big and important. Okay?”

Nikita blinks at them, nods, and slides off the couch to sit at the coffee table. He doesn’t make too much of a fuss over the semolina, thank god, but he’s slow to eat it, thanks to the kid’s television in front of him. Evgeni avoids Anya’s eyes; she’s already radiating that I-told-you-so smugness and he’s not eager to feed into it. When Nikita’s eaten half of his bowl, and the TV gives way to commercials, Evgeni mutes it and turns to the side to face Nikita.

“So,” he starts and looks to Anya, who rolls her eyes. She pulls Nikita into her lap and makes a ‘go on’ gesture. He sticks out his tongue, which earns him an unamused stare from his wife and an infectious giggle from their son.

“Mommy and I were talking,” Evgeni starts again. “About one of my friends coming to stay with us for a bit. He plays hockey with me in America.” Nikita looks a little more interested at that, sitting up a little in Anya’s lap. “His name is Sidney,” Evgeni continues. “Would that be okay with you, little lion?”

Nikita looks like he’s either thinking really hard or he’s about to fill his diaper. “Play hockey,” he asks, and Evgeni and Anya breathe twin sighs of relief; no one likes changing a poopy diaper.

“Yes,” Evgeni agrees. “I’m sure Sidney would love to play hockey with you.”

And with the nod of a two-year-old, it is decided: the Malkin house is ready for Sidney Crosby.

But, Evgeni thinks, filled with trepidation and excitement, is Sidney Crosby ready for them?

Chapter Text

Anna is the one to pick Sidney up from the Domodedovo airport. Zhenya tries to hide his pout, but she’s known him for years now, and they have a two-year-old son; she knows what a disgruntled, “I’m not getting my way but I’m acting like I don’t care” face looks like. She arrives an hour before his plane is due to land, partly because it’s routine now, after so long, but also because she’s nervous, and this is a way to help herself regain control. She plays a game with Nikita in one of the waiting areas, where she points at things and counts how many he can name properly. She keeps a close eye on the arrivals board, listens for Sid’s flight from Geneva, and gives Nikita markers to color the welcome poster she made.

“Flight LX 1336 from Geneva International is now arriving at Terminal Eight. Please allow time for passengers to go through Customs.”

“Nikita,” Anna says, tapping the back of his hand. “Uncle Sidney’s plane is here.”

Nikita looks up from what Anna assumes is a drawing of a bear. Or a really big dog. “Sid?”

Anna smiles. “Yes, baby. You remember Uncle Sidney, right? He’s Daddy’s best friend.”

Nikita frowns at his markers and points to the yellow one. “Shoes,” he says, and Anna bites the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. “Yes, Nikita, Uncle Sidney has yellow shoes. Do you want to go see him?” she stands up, holding out her hand. “We need to put the markers away, and then we can find him, okay?”

“See Sid,” Nikita says decisively, and unceremoniously throws the markers into the diaper bag. He very carefully picks up the poster and shakes his head when Anna tries to take it.

“You want to show Sidney what you colored?”

“Yeah,” Nikita says. “Sid.”

“Okay,” Anna smiles. “Let’s go!”

#

Zhenya wants to invite Sidney over the phone, which Anna vetoes as soon as he voices the thought aloud.

“Where we can’t see him, and he can’t see us?” She doesn’t scoff, but she does roll her eyes. “Don’t be ridiculous; we’ll Skype, of course.” She nods decisively. “Nikita will be with us too, obviously.”

“Obviously,” Zhenya repeats, bemused. “What? Anya, it’s okay, I can do this on my own.”

Anna covers his hand with her own. “I wasn’t trying to imply that you couldn’t,” she says quietly. “You can talk to him on your own if you really want.” The left corner of her mouth ticks up. “But you don’t have to, either. I love you, Zhenya. I want to support you, and this is a way that I can. A way I know how to.” She quickly wipes away the tears gathering at the corners of her eyes. “I want you to be happy,” she emphasizes. “Truly happy. And if this is something you need to do, to finally lay all your cards on the table, then.” Anna takes a deep, steadying breath. “Then I want to be by your side through as much of it as I can. If you’ll let me,” she adds, her gaze finally breaking with his to stare, lip quivering, at their still-joined hands.

Zhenya presses a firm, dry kiss to her forehead. “Thank you,” he says quietly, his voice rough. “I know this can’t be easy for you-“

“I said always,” Anna interjects. “I meant it three years ago when we married in front of God and everyone else. I mean it now, Zhenya, sitting here alone with you.”

#

They have to wait another twenty minutes for Sidney to get through Immigration and Customs, but Nikita is easily entertained by the luggage slugging around on the belt so Anna can put most of her focus on watching out for Sidney through the crowd of travelers. She sees him, finally, walking with an older couple. He looks like he’s listening very patiently to the woman, who is gesticulating wildly, narrowly hitting Sidney several times.

Anna waves a little when they get closer to the luggage belt. “Sidney,” she calls, and kneels next to Nikita. “Sidney’s here,” she whispers. “Let’s show him your sign.” She stands up and reaches to brush her knees but is by a wall of well-defined pectorals. “Oh,” she breathes, startled. “Excuse me, sorry, I-“

“No,” the man says, in awkward, halting Russian. “I’m sorry.”

Anna lifts her head up, inhaling sharply through her nose. “Sidney,”

“You-“ Sidney wrinkles his nose. “K- ho- I’m really sorry,” he says in English, laughing a little. “Are you okay? I didn’t mean to startle you; I shouldn’t have stopped so close.”

“I’m okay,” Anna says slowly, enunciating the syllables. “How was your flight?”

“The plane?” Sidney clarifies, making a motion with his hand Anna recognizes as a plane lifting off. She nods. “A little cramped,” he admits, rolling his shoulders. “I’m really glad I’m done with flying for now.”

Nikita tried to wrench his hand out of Anna’s, consequently dropping the colorful poster board, and the sudden movement caught Sidney’s eyes. “Oh, wow,” he says, his lips stretching wide, a blush starting to set in over the apples of his cheeks. “Did you make this, bud?”

“Nikita,” Anna says softly. “Sidney would like to see what you colored for him. Will you show him?”

Sidney crouches down under the watchful eye of Anna’s two-year-old, smiling gently as he slowly reaches out his hand. “Hey bud,” Sidney says softly. Anna feels her chest tighten and can’t help smiling down at them. Nikita cautiously takes Sidney’s proffered hand and giggles when Sidney shakes it. Anna feels her chest tighten and her cheeks heat and she knows she should tear out the roots before it grows further, but with the bright smiles Sidney and Nikita are giving each other, she’s not sure she’ll be strong enough to.

#

Anna sets the laptop up at the table at the breakfast nook. It’s right off the kitchen, so either of them has the excuse to grab something from the fridge or the pantry if they need it, and the living room is in view so if Nikita gets bored she or Zhenya can let him go play but still have him in eyesight. She’s just finished putting together a platter of snacks and waters when Zhenya walks in, carrying Nikita like a lifeline.

“Honey,” she greets, kissing both of her boys on their cheeks. “How was naptime?”

“He’s still a little tired,” Zhenya murmurs, punctuated by Nikita grumbling and hiding his face in Zhenya’s chest. “We’re going to talk to Sidney, Nikusha. And look, Mommy got out snacks. Do you want some grapes, or a cracker, maybe?”

“Cracker,” Nikita mumbled, turning his head and reaching out with his hand. Zhenya sits them down at the table and hands Nikita a cracker from the plate. He’s deliberately not looking at the laptop, as though ignoring it means he can put off having this conversation. Anna sits next to him and takes his hand. “We don’t have to invite him if you really don’t want to.”

Zhenya sighs. “It’s not that I don’t want him here. It’s just…” he looks at her from the corner of his eye, his hand clenching. “Are you really okay with this? With me…having a relationship with someone else- with a man?”

Anna looks at her reflection in the dark screen of the laptop. “I can’t say it will be easy,” she admits, “seeing you with someone else. Even though I know Sidney, know he’s a good man.” She takes a deep breath. “I just want you to be happy,” she whispers. “And I know that if you don’t at least try to make it work with Sidney, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.” She laughs, a little harshly, and runs her finger under her eyes, making sure her eyeliner is still intact. “I will be fine, Zhenya,” she murmurs. “I will be courteous, and I will be happy for you when Sidney accepts our invitation.” She looks him in the eyes, holds it. “Because he will accept, Zhenya. I’m sure of it.”

#

It happens about a week into his visit. Anna wakes from her nap to find Sidney in the kitchen, a recipe book propped open on the counter, balancing Nikita on his hip as he pulls ingredients from the fridge and cupboards, and she feels a familiar tightening in her chest as she sees how comfortable Sidney is in her kitchen, in her home. She watches quietly from the entryway as Nikita speaks a mix of simple Russian and typical baby nonsense, and bites her lip when Sidney responds in his own choppy Russian. Oh, she thinks. So this is what it’s like to love him.

Anna knocks on the doorjamb, stomach fluttering when Sid and Nikita turn to beam at her. “Good afternoon, boys,” she says, smiling back.

“Good afternoon,” Sid returns, his cheeks flushing a lovely shade of pink at clunky pronunciation. “Sorry the mess.” He’s biting his lip, looking sheepishly at the full counter behind him. Anna blinks, looking up from where she’d been marveling at how full Sidney’s bottom lip was, and if it was as soft as the internet proclaimed it to be.

“Sorry for the mess,” she corrects automatically, moving to stand with them. “What are you making?”

Sidney opens his mouth, bites his lip again, and frowns. He turns back to the recipe book, adjusting Nikita’s place on his hip. “I think it’s a dessert,” he explains in English. ‘’I wanted to-“ he shrugs, his face pinking up again.

“Wanted to what?” Anna feels like her heart is going to beat out of her chest. Before she can overthink it, she reaches up to curl her hand around as much of his bicep as she can.

Sidney meets her gaze, intense and warm. “I wanted to thank you,” he says softly.

“For what,” Anna breathes. Her neck is starting to cramp from looking up at him so closely, but she’s afraid that if she steps away, it’ll break whatever moment they’re having.

“For inviting me over, letting me stay.” He smiles, shrugs as much as he can with Nikita falling asleep on his shoulder. “I know it’s probably bad timing because you’re usually in Miami for a while, and I know how stubborn Geno gets when he gets something into his head, and I just-“ Sidney grimaces, and Anna’s heart hurts.

“Sidney,” she says, her hand tightening around his arm. “Sidney, it was my idea to have you here.” She watches him process that, sees the bob of his Adam’s apple and suddenly, desperately, wants to lick it, to taste his skin, bite at his pulse. He breathes in sharply and her eyes flash up to meet his and they’re wide with shock and so dark, and if Anna isn’t careful, doesn’t keep herself in check, she’s going to-

“I’m home,” Zhenya warbles, the front door slamming shut behind him. Anna lets go of Sidney’s arm like it burns her, and instead grips the edge of the countertop, trying to will her heart to slow down. “Anna-“ Sidney starts, biting his lip when she holds her hand up. “I’m sorry,” he says quietly, in his charmingly stilted Russian. Anna’s chest warms, and she screws her eyes shut. “We’re in the kitchen, Zhenya,” she calls, once she’s sure her voice isn’t going to give her away. “Sidney’s trying to make vareniki.”

“Really?” Zhenya slides into the kitchen, kissing Anna hello. He turns to Sidney, beaming. “You make vareniki, Sid?”

Sidney finally takes his eyes off Anna to smile, almost bashfully, at Zhenya. “I haven’t really made anything yet,” he demurs. Nikita snuffles in his arms and Anna watches her husband melt at the sight, just as she did. “Here,” she says, stepping back into Sidney’s orbit to gently take her son. “Let me take him to bed.”

“I don’t mind holding him,” Sid murmurs, his hands tightening imperceptibly before relinquishing his hold. With another tightening of her chest, Anna is reminded why he’s here to begin with: because he wanted kids so much, and Kathy didn’t. Anna meets Sid’s eyes and caresses her thumb over where it’s overlapped with the back of his hand. “Well,” she swallows. “If you really don’t mind.” She can deal with a few more awkward moments if it means Sidney, for only a little while more, can have a taste of what he wants- what he deserves.

#

When Sidney accepts the call, his only outward sign of surprise at seeing Anna sitting next to Zhenya is a slight widening and blink of his eyes. The corner of his mouth ticks up a little and he nods, and Anna sits still as Sidney’s whole body seems to relax at the sight of her husband. “Hey guys,” Sidney greets. “What’s up?”

Zhenya clears his throat, dips his head to hide his face in Nikita’s hair. Anna can’t help smiling, and from the corner of her eyes, she can see Sidney smiling as well. “You want to come to Russia?” Zhenya sprints out. “Stay with us?”

Sidney inhales sharply. His eyes are wide, his mouth barely parted. His eyes turn downward, and the slightest wrinkle appears between his brows. He shifts a little in his seat. “I don’t think that’s a good idea right now,” he says softly.

“Maybe not,” Anna says, feeling a little smug when Sidney blinks thrice in succession. “But is maybe what you need, I think.”

“I have the hockey school,” Sidney says, the barest of protest. Anna refrains from rolling her eyes. “In July,” she says, not unkindly.

“Can take few weeks off,” Zhenya wheedles. “Just a little bit. We take you sightseeing, do tourist things. Maybe see Mama and Papa.”

Sidney bites his lip, looking torn. Anna looks at Zhenya’s pleading face, still focused on Sidney, and deploys her secret weapon. “Was thinking,” she says slowly. “Maybe we get Nikita on ice this summer. Would be good to have two best hockey players teach him, not just one, no?” She knows it’s won Sidney over the minute he ducks his head to smile at his hands. He looks up at them, eyes shining just a little. “Yeah, okay,” he laughs. “You’ve got me.”