Baby picture, baby picture, Andryusha holding a blue penguin sculpture. Zhenya liked them all and kept scrolling. Max posting a picture of Katya. Another baby, cuter than the first two. Zhenya replied with a baby bottle emoji and closed out of Instagram. He was ready for his nap.
He looked up from his phone and scanned the hotel lobby. Jen usually distributed the room keys, but she was talking to Sid near the check-in desk, frowning as she gestured with her phone. Zhenya tucked his own phone into his pocket and ambled over. Sid never minded Zhenya interrupting, and Jen might mind but she liked Zhenya more than he deserved and rarely told him no.
“—straightened out by tonight,” Jen said. “Yes, Geno, what is it? I know you want your room key, I’m working on it.”
“Jim let an intern book the hotel rooms,” Sid said to Zhenya. “We’re one short.”
“Never trust an intern with anything important,” Jen said, shaking her head. “Jim! It doesn’t matter. We’re getting it sorted out.”
Zhenya grinned. “You should make Sid do. Hi, I’m Sidney Crosby, give me room. It’s Canada, so they give him whole hotel, make everyone leave.”
“That’s definitely not how it works,” Sid said, as if Zhenya hadn’t personally witnessed the national paroxysm of near-religious fervor after the Vancouver Olympics.
“We’ll save that as a backup plan,” Jen said, giving Zhenya the look that meant she thought he was funny but was trying not to encourage him.
Sid rocked back on his heels, watching Zhenya for a moment. “Geno and I can share for now,” he said. “No big deal.”
“Huh?” Zhenya said. He hadn’t shared a room in years. He wasn’t a rookie. “Why me?”
“Because you’ve got the A, and you’re the impatient fucker who came over here to bug Jen about it,” Sid said with a shrug. “Saddle up, bud.”
Jen was laughing. “Thanks, Sid. Problem solved. You’ll have the room to yourself by tonight, I promise.”
“Happy to help.” Sid clapped Zhenya on the shoulder and started pushing him toward the elevator.
“I don’t like this,” Zhenya said in Russian, because he knew from experience that Sid would have no sympathy for his plight, but he still wanted to voice his objections.
“Uh-huh,” Sid said.
Zhenya was only whining, really. He had spent years with road roommates, and before that, growing up, he and Denis had shared a bed for a long time. Sid talked in his sleep, but aside from that, he was by all reports a low-key and considerate roommate. One nap wasn’t a big deal.
The room only had one bed, but that wasn’t a big deal, either. A king size had plenty of room for both of them. And maybe it was a little odd to share a bed with someone you weren’t related to or screwing, but Zhenya had been friends with Sid for twelve years, and he knew they would just laugh it off. It would become a funny but not particularly interesting story: that time they had to share a hotel room in Toronto.
Zhenya had showered at the rink after skate, so there was nothing to do but drop his bags and piss and wash his hands and get in bed. When he came out of the bathroom, Sid had his shirt off. “You got a preference about which side of the bed?”
This wasn’t a big deal. One nap. “No, I don’t care. Maybe close to door so it’s like, near to bathroom.” The bed was too neatly made. Zhenya tossed a decorative throw pillow onto the bench at the foot of the bed. “But if you want this side, it’s fine. I take other side.”
“Okay,” Sid said slowly, eyeing him. “But it won’t screw up your routine?”
Right. Sid didn’t need the full rundown of Zhenya’s bed opinions. “No, I’m not superstitious.”
“Uh-huh,” Sid said. “Sure you aren’t.” He moved his hands to his belt. “Mind if I sleep in my underwear?”
Zhenya shrugged. Not looking was second nature. “No, it’s fine.” He turned away to take off his pants and change into a sleep shirt. Sid’s belt buckle clinked as he set it on the nightstand. The sheets rustled and the lamp turned on. Zhenya closed the blackout curtains. When he turned to the bed, Sid was curled on his side with the covers pulled up to his chin, a white lump with a dark head. Zhenya climbed in on the other side, facing away from Sid.
The lamp switch clicked. The light went out. “I set my alarm,” Sid said.
Zhenya punched his pillow into a better shape. “Okay. Sleep, Sid.”
“Night, G,” Sid said into the dark.
He wasn’t cold, though. A large warm object was crammed against the front of his body. He patted at it muzzily, still not fully awake. Geoffrey? But Geoffrey had died years ago, and Zhenya was in Canada, and that was Sid curled up against him, and Sid’s bare torso he was pawing.
Fuck. Zhenya froze, not sure what to do. Jerking away would be an overreaction and turn this incident into a bigger deal than it was. And also probably wake Sid, who seemed to still be asleep. Slowly, carefully, Zhenya removed his arm from around Sid’s waist.
Sid stirred despite his efforts. “Mm, Geno?” Then he mumbled something incoherent and snuggled back against Zhenya’s chest.
This wasn’t how Zhenya had expected to wake up. The curve of Sid’s back fit against him just right. Sid’s hair smelled like coconuts. Zhenya was afraid to move. Stupidly. Of course it was awkward to wake up spooning, but Zhenya hadn’t done it on purpose, and he knew Sid; he knew Sid would laugh it off.
Sid’s alarm went off, a gentle chiming that Sid reacted to at once. He tensed in Zhenya’s arms and reached to grab his phone from the nightstand to turn it off. The silence in the room afterward filled every corner and every bit of the space between Zhenya’s body and Sid’s.
Zhenya rolled onto his back. A sliver of sunlight crept beneath the curtains. “Sorry, Sid.”
Sid turned on the lamp. The mattress shifted as he sat up. Zhenya risked a glance; Sid was rubbing his face and eyes. The moment stretched. Finally, Sid said, “Can’t say I’m shocked you like to cuddle.”
He didn’t, usually. He was a bad, restless sleeper and woke at the slightest disturbance; even when he slept with a partner he preferred to keep to his own side of the bed. But he wasn’t about to quibble with Sid about it, not when Sid seemed so willing to defuse the situation with some good-natured chirping.
Of course it was no big deal. Sid wasn’t the kind of guy to flip out.
Zhenya let out a shaky breath and said, “I think you my dog when I wake up.”
Sid laughed. “Smelly and hairy? Nah, I’m not Tanger.”
“I tell him you say.” Zhenya watched as Sid got up and went around the foot of the bed to open the curtains. Sid glanced at him, and Zhenya redirected his eyes to the ceiling.
“Well. Better get dressed,” Sid said.
Zhenya lay there until he heard the bathroom door click shut. Then he got up to put on his pants.
As promised, Jen had finagled a room for him, and she gave him the key before he boarded the bus back to the hotel. He had already taken off his shoes and dress shirt before he remembered his bags were in Sid’s room, and he spent a few moments seriously thinking about calling down to the front desk for a toothbrush and leaving his bags where they were until morning. But he wanted his e-reader and his pajamas. Fine.
Sid answered the door at the first knock, still fully dressed aside from his shoes and socks. Why he liked to go barefoot in hotel rooms was beyond Zhenya’s comprehension. “Want your bags?” he said, scrubbing a hand through his hair, jittery and alert from the game, too wired to sleep right away.
Zhenya nodded. Would they talk about the napping thing? Maybe not. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe not at all.
Sid let him in. Zhenya picked up his duffel from the floor and took his garment bag from the closet rod. Should he say something?
“Good to have a bed to yourself tonight, eh,” Sid said.
Zhenya turned to look at him. He studied Sid’s face for a moment, searching for any cracks in that bland façade. If any existed, they were too small to detect with the naked eye.
“See you tomorrow,” he said, and Sid smiled and said goodnight and showed him the door.
He spent those four days in Banff not thinking about it. There was enough to do—sightseeing, team meals, hanging out with Seryozha, a couple of practices—that he could put it to the back of his mind. And Sid didn’t bring it up, even when they had lunch together and Zhenya expected he would at least mention it. Instead it was just like any of the other lunches they’d had in the past year: ostensibly about the team, but they talked serious hockey business for maybe five minutes and spent the rest of the time discussing Sid’s podcasts, Zhenya’s favorite esports team, various ridiculous anecdotes passed on from their hometown friends, and gossip from around the league. Sid usually laughed so hard he cried, because Zhenya was hilarious. Sometimes they ordered a second round of beers and lingered after their food was gone. More often than not, really. They had always been friends, but it was different now, since Flower left.
Maybe Sid was willing to let the napping thing fall by the wayside. He’d gotten a point against the Leafs, but only a secondary assist on one of Zhenya’s goals; he hadn’t scored himself, and sometimes that wasn’t enough, in his complicated internal calculus, to demand a new routine.
Zhenya decided that he would let it slide, too. Napping with Sid would be inconvenient, embarrassing, and more than a little gay, and maybe Zhenya was a little gay, but he didn’t need to advertise it. He wasn’t superstitious. He could let it go.
Only he lay awake for a while in his hotel room in Edmonton, the night before they played the Oilers, and thought about how badly Sid had wanted to three-peat last year, and how disappointed he had been when they couldn’t manage it. Zhenya had tried so hard to get it for him, but then he hurt his knee, and the Capitals outplayed them, and that was that. It was important to get off to a good start this year, and play hard and well and win and go all the way. He wanted to win the Cup again, with Sid. Did he value his pride so much that he would pass up a chance to start the season the right way?
Zhenya still hadn’t made up his mind by the time he got back to the hotel after lunch the next day. He went up to his room and took off his shoes and sat on the bed to check his messages. Phil wanted to go get coffee before the game. ok $$ Zhenya replied. His mom had sent him a picture of his dad and one of his uncles. His friend Alyosha had sent him a meme about a parakeet. What would Sid think if Zhenya asked to nap with him again? He would probably agree without any fuss. He would probably think it was a good idea. Zhenya put his shoes back on and went down the hall to Sid’s room.
Sid didn’t answer the door. Zhenya knocked again and waited. “Sid,” he called softly. Finally the door opened. Sid was wearing sweatpants and no shirt, and patting at his damp face with a hand towel.
“Geno,” he said. “Hey, uh.” He lowered the towel. His eyes met Zhenya’s. After a moment, he smiled, and the warm habitual light in his gaze made Zhenya’s stomach clench, the way it always did. “You wanna come in?”
Zhenya shuffled into the room. The nightstand closest to the door held Sid’s usual assortment of water bottles, spare change, gum, headphones, and a hardcover book. Without saying anything, Sid went around the far side of the bed and turned down the covers.
Zhenya’s heart stuck to his ribs. “Sid—”
“I set the alarm for 3:30,” Sid said. “Is that cool?”
What could Zhenya say? “Okay, yes.”
Sid went back into the bathroom. Zhenya took off his shoes and got in bed in his sweats and T-shirt. The sheets were cool and smooth. He swept his feet in a broad arc, burrowing in. His oncoming nap was weighing on him; he was ready to sink down into the bed and close his eyes and maybe fall asleep at once, the way he had the last time he napped with Sid. And sleep until the alarm, dreamless and restful.
Sid re-emerged and took off his sweatpants, his back to Zhenya as he faced his suitcase. Zhenya watched through slitted eyes as Sid lifted one foot and then the other. Sid’s ass got a lot of attention, but Zhenya thought his thighs were vastly underrated.
He averted his gaze as Sid turned toward the bed. He would stay on his own side of the bed this time. He wouldn’t wake up nuzzling Sid’s hair. It wouldn’t be weird.
Sid turned off the lamp. “Night, G.”
“Geno,” someone said. “G, come on. We’ve gotta get up.”
That was Sid’s voice. Awareness poured in all at once. He’d done it again.
“Fuck. Sorry,” he mumbled, releasing his death grip on Sid’s torso and pulling away. His face was hot. He didn’t want to be embarrassed, but he was. Once was a silly mishap, but twice meant something, didn’t it?
He sat up and rubbed his face, giving himself a few moments to pull it together. The room flooded with light as Sid turned the lamp on. When Zhenya cast a cautious glance at him, Sid was sitting up, too, and maybe he looked a little pink. Zhenya squinted. No, he was probably just warm and flushed from napping.
“Sorry,” Zhenya said again. God, he had slept so well. He felt great, aside from wishing the mattress would swallow him whole.
“It’s fine.” Instead of getting out of bed, Sid ran a hand through his hair and looked at Zhenya, sidelong. “You, uh.”
Zhenya waited, trying to look politely interested in whatever it was Sid had to say. He regretted ever leaving Magnitogorsk. Maybe a convenient asteroid would plummet from the heavens and turn the hotel into a smoking crater, ending his humiliation.
“Never mind,” Sid said. He pushed the covers away and climbed out of bed. “I’m gonna shower.” He thumbed on his phone and scrolled down, his eyes skimming over the screen. “You taking the first bus or the second?”
Zhenya shrugged. “First.” That was what he always did. He liked to get to the arena early and have ample time for his pre-game routine.
“You going for coffee before you head out?” Sid asked, his eyes still on his phone.
“Yes, with Phil,” Zhenya said. Didn’t Sid want to shower? What was up with the interrogation?
“Oh. Okay.” Sid glanced quickly at Zhenya and then back at phone. “I’ll catch you at the rink, I guess.”
“Yes,” Zhenya said. He watched for another moment as Sid tapped at the screen a few times. Surely he hadn’t gotten that many messages while they were asleep. He was just waiting for Zhenya to get out.
Zhenya rolled out of bed and put on his shoes. By the time he knotted the second lace, Sid had disappeared into the bathroom and shut the door.
“Bye, Sid,” Zhenya said to the empty room.
“This would be a dumb thing to make into a routine,” Sid said to Zhenya after the game, when Zhenya was trying to take a shower and not look at, talk to, or even think about Sid. “Right? We don’t need to.”
Zhenya turned his face into the spray and pretended he was rinsing suds out of his eyes. Sid always referred to his superstitions as ‘routines,’ like he was fooling anyone. “Yes. Dumb.”
“It’s just a coincidence,” Sid said. “Right? We don’t have to turn it into a thing.”
“No chit-chat in the showers,” said Cully, standing at the next showerhead over. “That’s a fine, boys.”
“Yes, pay me,” Zhenya said, immediately seizing on this as a way of getting Sid to leave him alone. “Fifty bucks, Sid.”
“What? I’m not gonna—we’re just having a conversation. I’m not gonna pay you.” Sid looked too pink for Zhenya’s peace of mind and entirely too earnest for a man wearing nothing but a pair of shower slides.
“Oh, you think you’re above the law, huh?” Cully said. He raised his voice and looked around the shower room, gathering attention. “You boys hear that? Sid thinks he’s too good to pay fines!”
Cully was Zhenya’s new favorite person. He used the ensuing commotion to finish his shower in peace and escape to the change room, abandoning Sid to defend himself. He didn’t feel bad about it at all. Sid liked the teasing.
They were going directly to the airport that night to fly to Calgary. Zhenya was a creature of habit and was ready to go long before their scheduled departure. He claimed his usual seat on the bus to wait it out. At least the bus was quiet and dark, and no one would talk to him. Bus silence was one of the strictest unspoken rules of hockey. Guys made a ruckus on the plane, but everyone put their earbuds in on the bus and barely made eye contact. Zhenya had no explanation for it. That was just the way things were.
He scrolled through Instagram, liking every picture indiscriminately. Whenever someone boarded the bus, Zhenya glanced up, just checking, until the fourth time he looked up and it was Sid.
Sid was never on the bus this early. Press always slowed him down, and then he liked to sit around and talk, sometimes until the equipment guys came in and shooed him away from his locker. There was only one explanation for this anomaly. Zhenya slouched down in his seat, but Sid had already spotted him and was coming in hot, and the trouble with the bus was that there was nowhere to run. Zhenya put his phone away and braced for impact.
Sid shoved his bag in the overhead luggage rack before he sat down, which was a bad sign. He was ready to camp out for the duration. He took the seat beside Zhenya and smiled at him. The cold night air clung to his jacket, invisibly steaming off. “Good game tonight, eh?” He pitched his voice low, barely above a whisper in the silence of the bus.
“It’s good you win for us,” Zhenya said, delighted to talk about hockey instead of anything more fraught. “Sid, that goal,” and he whistled quietly between his teeth. Sid’s overtime winner had been all him, doing magic behind the net, embarrassing two hapless defenders, and then lifting the puck backhand for a truly beautiful goal. Zhenya always loved watching him play, but sometimes he was so good that Zhenya hardly believed it.
Sid grinned. “Yeah, that was pretty good, wasn’t it?”
There weren’t many people who got to hear Sid brag. He was painfully modest when talking to reporters. Everything was a team effort. Sid was just out there putting pucks on net, and sometimes you got good chances. Zhenya had heard him say exactly that, with minor variations, for years. But sometimes, when they were alone, Zhenya got to witness Sid being pleased with himself.
He loved it. Being someone Sid trusted that much. Getting to share in Sid’s private joys, no less sublime for being secret. That was an old feeling, the smug pleasure of Sid’s friendship, but it had a new sharp edge to it now.
He shifted to sling an arm around Sid’s shoulders: a casual thing that friends did, to prove to himself that nothing had changed. “It’s so good, Sid. It’s for highlight reel.”
Sid laughed and leaned against him, which made Zhenya’s heart thump. “Yeah, maybe. Listen, uh. I know what I said earlier, but. It’s working, right? The napping, I mean.”
“I guess,” Zhenya said cautiously. It was true they had won both times. In a life with fewer complications, he would nap with Sid before every game until they lost and neither of them got a point. But he felt weird about his ulterior motives. He probably shouldn’t keep napping with Sid and smelling his hair.
“I know it’s making you kind of uncomfortable,” Sid went on. “But I think it’s helping, you know? But if you don’t want to, we won’t do it again.”
Making Zhenya uncomfortable? He wasn’t the one who kept being spooned without his consent. “No, it’s fine. You don’t make uncomfortable.” He cringed internally to hear himself fumbling that word. “It’s just stupid, like. It’s a little bit weird, you know? But it’s fine.”
“Great non-answer there, G.” Sid poked him in the ribs, which made Zhenya yelp, and Olli turned around in his seat to glare at them. Sid gave him a little wave and lowered his voice to a whisper, leaning so close that his breath was warm against Zhenya’s neck as he spoke. “Let’s give it one more shot and we’ll see how it goes, eh? Third time’s the charm?”
If it was Sid’s idea, Zhenya wasn’t taking advantage. He wasn’t being gross or creepy. He was just indulging Sid: going along with one of Sid’s absurd superstitions. He wasn’t doing anything wrong.
“Okay,” he said. “If you want, we try again in Calgary.” He was the good guy here. Just helping out a friend.
“Great.” Sid turned a smile on him that was unfair in every way: too big, too earnest and sweet. “We’ll give it a shot.”
He passed Sid’s hotel room on his way back to his own room after dinner and stopped there in the hallway. Sid’s road trip routines had changed had changed when Flower left for Vegas. By the end of last season, he and Zhenya had developed a habit of hanging out after dinner on the road, watching TV and talking about whatever. This season was only a few weeks old, but they had fallen right back into that same pattern after training camp. Zhenya wanted to knock on Sid’s door now, but the thought of sitting together on Sid’s bed to watch hockey was charged in a way it hadn’t been before.
Sid wasn’t the kind of guy to flip out. Even if he knew about Zhenya—if he had guessed—he wouldn’t be a dick about it. One of Sid’s childhood friends was gay, and he had always talked about it like it was no big deal, casually mentioning the guy’s boyfriend if the subject came up. Zhenya could probably come out to him at any time and Sid would accept it with his usual equanimity.
But thinking about Sid earnestly making the appropriate noises of support turned Zhenya’s stomach. He had kept it to himself for too long to start telling people now. He had only ever told Ksyusha, after they broke up for the final time, and she had seized on it as an explanation for Zhenya dumping her, which had suited him fine. He only slept with guys in Moscow, where it was easy to be discreet. It wasn’t an important part of his life. He didn’t want to watch Sid try to show that he was cool with it, really, that’s awesome, G, glad you told me.
He didn’t go to Sid’s room the next day after skate, either. If Sid wanted to nap together, he was free to initiate. Zhenya changed into his pajamas and ignored his phone buzzing a few times on the nightstand. But he didn’t ignore the knock at his door, when it came. He went to answer with his pulse beating in his temples, terrified of nothing in particular: the whole unknowable interiority of Sid’s thoughts and responses, the mysterious future that unspooled with each passing second.
Sid smiled at him from the threshold. The expression didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Hey. You weren’t answering your phone.”
“Sorry, I don’t hear,” Zhenya lied. The light from the bank of windows along the outside wall caught Sid’s eyes, turning them the color of weak beer. Zhenya’s guts took a miserable downward slide. He didn’t want to feel like this.
Sid came in and shut the door behind him. “You set your alarm already?”
So casual. But of course they had already settled the matter. Zhenya had agreed. “Yes, for 3:30. It’s okay? Or you want later—”
“No, that’s fine.” Sid turned on the bedside lamp and closed the curtains. He stood beside the desk and took off his T-shirt and draped it over the back of the desk chair, and took off his shoes and socks and then his pants. Zhenya watched dumbly. He wasn’t supposed to notice that Sid was hot, but even a saint would crumble in the face of Sid’s broad pale back.
Zhenya was no saint. He turned away to set his alarm. He never set it when he napped alone, because he didn’t sleep deeply enough to need it. A forty-five minute doze was all he typically managed. Sid was the magic sleeping pill he’d needed all along.
Sid climbed in bed and fussed around with the pillows, dropping a couple on the floor and stealing one from Zhenya’s side. “Just right,” he said, smiling at Zhenya.
“You take best one,” Zhenya protested, although he didn’t actually give a fuck. “How I sleep now, Sid—”
“Oh, I think you’ll manage.” Sid tugged the blankets back on Zhenya’s side of the bed. “Come on, let’s get this show on the road.”
“Impatient,” Zhenya said in Russian. Well, he was delaying unnecessarily. He climbed in and pulled the covers into place. Sid turned off the light. Zhenya closed his eyes.
He woke to the sound of the alarm chiming, a sweet three-note trill that repeated again and again. Sid was cradled against Zhenya’s chest, his head tucked under Zhenya’s chin and his arm draped over Zhenya’s waist, and not moving.
Surely he was awake. Surely he had heard the alarm. He shifted against Zhenya, his fingertips skimming along Zhenya’s spine through his T-shirt. Zhenya unstuck his frozen tongue and said, “Sid.”
“Mm,” Sid said. He rubbed his face against Zhenya’s neck, a gentle scrape of stubble that woke all of Zhenya’s nerve endings. He sighed softly, warm against the hollow of Zhenya’s throat.
“Sid,” Zhenya said again. His heart was racing. “I need—it’s alarm.”
“Yeah, I hear it.” Sid shifted again and finally rolled away. Zhenya rolled in the other direction to silence his phone.
He lay curled on his side, pretending to check his messages, as the mattress shifted and Sid got out of bed. He only sat up once his blood pressure returned to normal and his face didn’t feel quite so painfully hot. He didn’t want Sid to see him blushing.
Sid was already dressed, down to his shoes, and standing in front of the mirror near the door to poke at his hair. “So, see you later,” he said, leaning forward to inspect his reflection.
Zhenya wanted to demand an explanation, because what the fuck? But he couldn’t think of any way to do it that wouldn’t betray his private thoughts. He watched Sid watch his reflection and avoid making eye contact with Zhenya. He didn’t know what the hell was going on.
“G? I’ll see you later,” Sid said, a note of impatience creeping into his voice.
He was so annoying. Zhenya would never understand him. What did he want? He wanted Zhenya to confirm an obvious fact of their existence? Of course Zhenya would see him later. It wasn’t like Zhenya would bail on the game.
But Sid had turned around now to frown at Zhenya, and he looked—was he embarrassed? Were his cheeks pink, was he blushing the way Zhenya was again, with one hand on the slight tenderness of his neck where Sid had rubbed his face?
“Yes, I see you at the rink,” Zhenya said. Sid’s gaze dropped to Zhenya’s hand on his throat. Oh, he was pink for certain, thinking his unknowable thoughts and looking at Zhenya. Maybe not entirely unknowable.
Sid cleared his throat. “Okay. So. Bye.”
“Bye, Sid,” Zhenya said, but a few more tense airless moments passed before Sid turned and let himself through the door.
“We fucking won!” Zhenya yelled at him in Russian, and Horny yelled something back, dripping with sweat and grinning, and Zhenya was grinning, too, fired up, and then he glanced over and met Sid’s gaze and felt that eye contact sizzle all the way through him, like lightning going to the ground.
He jerked his head away. His neck still burned impossibly. He had been bowled over by the whole encounter that afternoon and still was; he didn’t know what to make of it. He was willing to believe that he had broken a lifetime of habit and suddenly become a sleep clinger, but he didn’t see how they had ended up in that position, chest to chest, without some assistance from Sid.
“Fuck,” he swore under his breath, yanking at his skate laces.
Zhenya wasn’t doing anything wrong. If Sid wanted to nap with him, if Sid wanted to come to his hotel room and climb in his bed and snuggle up with him as they slept, and look at him like that in the locker room—
He glanced over at Sid’s stall. Sid was taking off his gear and laughing at something Guentzy was saying, not paying attention to Zhenya at all.
They flew to Vancouver that night. Between the short flight and eating dinner on the plane, there wasn’t time for a card game. Seryozha was at the front of the plane with the rest of the coaching staff, all of them watching game footage and being horribly serious. Zhenya sat by himself and watched Sid also sitting by himself, a few rows up, his dark head bent over his book.
Sid lowered his book after a while and stretched: arms over his head, bending from side to side. Zhenya rose from his seat and walked down the aisle to join him. He didn’t have a plan. He just wanted to see what Sid would say.
Sid looked up as Zhenya leaned over him with one arm braced on the seatback in front of him. His eyes searched Zhenya’s face. After a moment, he shifted over to the empty window seat to make room for Zhenya to sit down.
“Hi,” Zhenya said. He reached up to turn off the overhead reading light. Sid didn’t need to see every microexpression glaringly downlit.
“Hey.” Sid’s eyes were dark in the low light, and fixed on Zhenya’s face. He settled into the corner of his seat and folded his arms across his chest, not so much a defensive gesture as getting comfortable. “What’s up, G?”
His voice was soft. Zhenya’s heart was abruptly pounding. He didn’t know what was up. Some intern hadn’t booked enough hotel rooms, and now Zhenya’s entire life had gone off the rails. He’d seen this movie: it was a black comedy, and everyone died at the end. Death by naps.
He wet his lips. “What you reading?”
Sid didn’t react for a moment. Then he reached into the seatback pocket in front of Zhenya and pulled out his book and handed it over. On the cover, two men in vintage military garb ran toward the viewer. About what Zhenya had expected, in other words.
“You’re interested in World War I nonfiction now, huh?” Sid said. His eyes crinkled. He took the book from Zhenya’s hands and returned it to the pocket. Their fingers brushed, and Zhenya bit the inside of his cheek to keep from reacting. “Geno—”
“It’s good game tonight,” Zhenya said, the safest topic he could come up with on short notice.
“It really was.” Sid was still looking at him. Even in the dim interior of the plane, Zhenya felt that he was pinned in a searchlight, shining through every empty place in his skull and projecting his most secret longings, like shadow puppets on a wall. The eye contact was killing him. Sid said, “You wanna sit here? For the rest of the flight?”
Zhenya did. He shrugged.
“Uh-huh,” Sid said. He bent down and rustled in his bag for a moment, leaning against Zhenya’s leg, and came up with a single individually wrapped Reese’s cup. Zhenya knew that orange wrapper. “You want half?”
“I tell Andy,” Zhenya said, even though Andy absolutely knew about Sid’s candy habit and didn’t seem to care too much. “Yes, give me some.”
Sid unwrapped the cup and split it in half. The chocolate was a little melted and left smears on his fingers. Zhenya wasn’t big on peanut butter desserts, but he took his half of the cup from Sid’s hand and had never tasted anything sweeter.
“Good, huh?” Sid said, sucking chocolate from his fingertips. He had to know what he looked like. The soft pink flash of his tongue.
“Good,” Zhenya said.
Sid knocked again. Zhenya got up to let him in.
“Hey,” Sid said. The door swung shut behind him. He reached up to adjust Zhenya’s glasses, pushing them up a little higher on the bridge of his nose. “I like these.”
There went Zhenya’s blood pressure again. “Thanks,” he said. He’d been wearing his glasses a lot on this road trip because his contacts were bothering him; he needed to go see the optometrist when he was back in Pittsburgh. He hadn’t thought Sid had noticed.
“They look good,” Sid went on, crushingly, laying it on really thick. “Nice, uh. Shape.”
“Sid,” Zhenya said.
“So, let’s sleep,” Sid said.
Zhenya closed the curtains and climbed in the far side of the bed, facing away from Sid, so he wouldn’t be tempted to watch Sid undress. He listened to the quiet noises of Sid taking off his shirt and pants. The light clicked off. The mattress shifted. Zhenya tugged the blankets up around his ears and closed his eyes.
“Hey. Geno?” The mattress shifted again as Sid moved closer. Sid’s hand brushed Zhenya’s hip and then settled there, squeezing gently. “Can I…” He trailed off.
Zhenya’s heart hammered. He hadn’t ever wanted this because it had been impossible. But Sid was offering now, or asking, and of course Zhenya did want him, this dear friend he had known and loved for so long. He wrapped his hand around Sid’s and tugged.
Sid moved in closer and curled up against Zhenya’s back, his bent knees slotting in behind Zhenya’s, his arm sliding around Zhenya’s waist. He groaned softly as he settled in, a sound of deep satisfaction. “Hey, G,” he whispered.
“Sid,” Zhenya whispered back. His hot fierce blood coursed through his body. He was too old to feel so new and raw, but he did, like no one had ever touched him before this moment.
Sid nosed at his hairline, sending a quiver down Zhenya’s spine. Sid’s hand pushed beneath the hem of Zhenya’s T-shirt to splay over his belly and drag them closer together. That was a lover’s touch, too intimate to be passed off as anything else. Hip to hip, chest to back, and Sid’s face pressed to the nape of Zhenya’s neck, his mouth opening in a slow kiss.
“We should sleep,” Sid said, a murmur of breath against Zhenya’s skin.
How could Zhenya possibly sleep now? But Sid was warm behind him, warming the bed, and the room was cool and dark, and somehow he did.
He woke before the alarm, with no clear idea of how long he had slept. Sid hadn’t moved. His hand rubbed small circles on Zhenya’s abdomen, so he was awake, or mostly. Zhenya leaned over to check his phone on the nightstand. Still another ten minutes before they had to get up.
“Don’t,” Sid said. Awake, then. “It isn’t—we’ve still got some time.”
Zhenya sighed and settled back into Sid’s arms. He’d been dreaming something that escaped him now, but it had been a nice dream, peaceful, and the feeling lingered.
He didn’t fall asleep again, but he drifted for a while in warm contentment, held close against Sid, with Sid’s hand on him, touching him in a way that a friend never would. Zhenya didn’t know what had changed to bring them here and he was afraid to ask, like talking about it would break the spell.
“We gonna win again tonight?” Sid asked after a while.
“I score for you,” Zhenya said recklessly.
Sid laughed against Zhenya’s nape. “For me, huh.” He sounded pleased, which was a lot to deal with. His hand stopped moving on Zhenya’s stomach and simply held him, close, safe, warm, and breathing together.
“Yes,” Zhenya said.
If this was happening—if Zhenya wasn’t completely off base—it was a big deal. Life-changing. Like grabbing your bags at customs and leaving for a different hemisphere.
Maybe too much of a change. Sid sat with some of the younger guys at breakfast and smiled across the room at Zhenya the whole time, which seemed excessive. Zhenya’s eggs were overdone and rubbery; he only finished half of his meal before he abandoned his plate and went back upstairs to finish packing. They were leaving for the airport soon, to fly home to Pittsburgh.
Sid texted him that night, when Zhenya was puttering around his house before bed, making a halfhearted grocery list and seeing what had gone bad in the fridge. Lunch tomorrow?
Lunch after practice happened every week: a normal part of their routine. There wasn’t anything strange about Sid asking him. Only everything was different now.
Zhenya stared at Sid’s message for a long time, touching the screen when it started to dim, trying to think of what to say. In the end, he didn’t reply.
He dragged into the rink the next morning feeling like a re-animated corpse. The time difference coming from the West Coast always messed him up; he hadn’t slept well and wanted to still be in bed. He wasn’t equipped to handle Sid looking so bright-eyed and perky and smiling at Zhenya during the captains’ meeting before practice. They had napped together a few times: so what? Sid didn’t have any right to look at him like that.
He had worked himself deep into a foul mood by the time the meeting ended. Sid came over to where Zhenya was slouched in his seat with his arms folded, ignoring all of Zhenya’s obvious Keep Out signals, and said, “Hey, you get my text? About lunch?”
“I go see Max today,” Zhenya said. Max wouldn’t mind him dropping by, so Zhenya wasn’t even necessarily lying. “Sorry.”
“Okay, well.” Sid shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Say hi to him for me.”
“Okay,” Zhenya said. Were they done now?
Sid drew a breath. “So, uh, tomorrow, before the game—”
“Maybe we don’t,” Zhenya said. He looked down at his folded arms as he said it, so he wouldn’t have to watch Sid’s face.
“Oh,” Sid said. “Okay. Sure.”
“Maybe it’s, like. It’s just road trip, you know?” He risked a glance at Sid, but Sid had already locked down hard, and there was nothing to see in his expression. “Now we back, so we don’t need.”
“Okay,” Sid said. He nodded a few times.
“It’s just trouble,” Zhenya said, fumbling onward. “It’s like, I go to your house, you go to my house, it’s change routine. I think we don’t need.”
“Sure,” Sid said, nodding. “Yep. I agree.”
“Okay,” Zhenya said.
“Okay,” Sid said. “Gonna go get changed.”
They lost their next game. Zhenya and Sid both scored, and that was what mattered, surely. Zhenya told himself he hadn’t ruined their luck, and that there was no reason to feel guilty when he met Sid’s gaze in the locker room after the game. It wasn’t like he had broken Sid’s point streak.
Sid didn’t smile at him at practice the next day or even really look at him. They flew to New York that afternoon and Zhenya got himself kicked out of the card game fifteen minutes in, which wasn’t even his fault; Phil cheated outrageously, and someone had to call him out on it. But then Zhenya spent the rest of the flight sitting by himself and staring out the window at the fat clouds hanging motionless in the sky as the plane passed. Everything inside him hurt, top to bottom, like a full-body internal bruise.
He went to dinner that evening with Phil and Cully, and Sid was there, too. He sat across the table from Zhenya and ate a steak and drank a glass of wine and seemed like himself, all of his normal Sid behaviors on full display. Cully started razzing him about fantasy football and Sid laughed a lot and took out his phone to defend himself with statistics.
“Geno thinks the Steelers are going all the way this year,” Sid said, grinning at him from across the table, inviting him into the conversation. Sid wouldn’t let this be awkward. He was showing Zhenya the way back to normal life. No need to ever think about the napping again.
“You think they don’t? You Canadian, you don’t know about football,” Zhenya said.
Sid grinned harder, his eyes creasing up. Zhenya had already forgotten his old life.
“Thought you didn’t want to do this anymore,” Sid said. He let the door swing shut.
Zhenya shrugged. He wasn’t in the mood to talk about it.
“Okay.” Sid exhaled and ran a hand through his hair. “Okay. Sure. Which side of the bed do you want?”
Zhenya took the far side. He hoped it would be like the last time, with Sid sliding in behind him and kissing his neck and holding him until the alarm. But the light turned out and Sid shifted around to get comfortable and then stilled, settled in and ready to sleep all the way on the other side of the bed, as far from Zhenya as possible.
Zhenya turned onto his back. The big artery in his stomach beat a throbbing pulse. He never got any wiser, only older.
“Sid,” he whispered. Sid didn’t move. Zhenya rolled toward him, reaching for him. His hand found Sid’s bare back under the covers and slid to curl around Sid’s hip. Sid was stiff and unmoving as Zhenya spooned behind him. Zhenya dropped a kiss to his shoulder, choked with pounding blood. “Please, Sid.”
Sid sighed and relaxed all at once. He took Zhenya’s hand from his hip and brought it to his chest, holding their hands clasped together against his collarbones. “You’re kind of fucking me up with this, G.”
“I know,” Zhenya said, and suddenly his throat closed over, and he had to swallow a few times before he could say, “Me, too.”
“Oh—hey, are you—” Sid said, trying to turn in Zhenya’s arms.
Zhenya tightened his grip. He didn’t want Sid to see his face.
“Okay.” Sid squeezed Zhenya’s hand. He sighed again. “We should probably get some sleep.”
“Sid, I’m sorry,” Zhenya said. He kissed Sid’s neck, right below his ear. Sid smelled good. Like coconuts. “I’m so… I don’t know.” Churned up, he wanted to say. Dredged.
“Yeah. I, uh.” Sid let out a long breath. “It’s been a lot, huh?”
“I don’t know you feel,” Zhenya said tentatively, really not at all sure he wanted to talk about this. But he couldn’t imagine any better time than here in the dark, curled together.
“Since last spring, I guess,” Sid said. “You remember—you went out for lunch with Brass and Tanger in South Side, and you drank too much—”
“And I call you come get me,” Zhenya said. “Yes, I remember.” Sid had done it instead of telling Zhenya to fuck off or call a car. They’d gone back to Sid’s house and Sid had put him in the pool and let him float around drunkenly while Sid grilled salmon on the patio. It was a good memory. A good afternoon.
“I started thinking, like. Who else would I drive an hour out of my way for like that? And I could have taken you home, but. I didn’t.”
“And I’m in swimsuit,” Zhenya said. Sid’s swimsuit, to be exact.
Sid’s back moved against Zhenya’s chest as he laughed softly. “Yeah. That didn’t hurt.” He was quiet for a moment. “How about you, uh, when did you—?”
“Since we nap.” Zhenya kissed Sid’s neck again, with as much tenderness as he could manage. “Maybe it’s longer, but. Sid, I don’t think you like guys.” He had hoped, maybe, once or twice in the past year, as their friendship transformed. Furtively, unacknowledged. But he would admit it to himself now.
“Oh.” Sid was quiet again, maybe working through the implications, maybe just trying to think of something to say. Then he said, “Kind of a surprise to me, too.”
Zhenya groaned and pulled Sid against him, snuggling in as close as he could. He buried his face in the crook of Sid’s neck and kissed him there vigorously and rubbed his mustache stubble against Sid’s skin until Sid laughed and squirmed. “Sid, Sid,” Zhenya muttered, in active emotional pain, that same bruised feeling, only sweet this time.
“We’ve gotta sleep,” Sid said at last, with warm laughter still in his voice.
“Okay.” Zhenya gave Sid’s neck a final nuzzle. They would sleep, and wake up together, and go play the Islanders, and hopefully win. And then?
Sid ducked his head and pressed a kiss to Zhenya’s knuckles. “I set the alarm.”
He slid down the bench to Sid’s stall after Guentzy went off to the showers, before Jen let the press into the room. “You come nap with me before next game?”
“At your house,” Sid said, his raised eyebrows making it a question.
“Yes,” Zhenya said. Two days from now, which would give them both time to decide whether they really wanted to. Zhenya was firmly on the rollercoaster of terrified lust and denial, but maybe he would be able to disembark by Saturday.
“All right.” Sid returned his attention to his shin pads, but there was no mistaking his pleased smile.
On the appointed day, at the appointed time, Zhenya sat at his kitchen table eating an apple and watching through the window for Sid’s car. Maybe Sid wouldn’t come. He had texted Zhenya that he was about to leave the house, but maybe he had driven partway and then changed his mind. Maybe—
But then he heard a car pulling into the driveway, and looked out and saw Sid’s Range Rover. So. It was happening.
He met Sid at the door. Sid’s huge smile faded and then bloomed again, even bigger. Zhenya had no idea what his own face was doing, but it was probably terrible.
“Hi,” Zhenya said. He pulled Sid’s hat off to get the full heart-stopping effect. His heart did stop for a moment, or at least it felt like it did, from the earnest joy on Sid’s face, bright as the summer sun.
Zhenya took him upstairs. Sid had never been in his bedroom before, but he didn’t poke around or look through the nightstand the way Zhenya would have in his position. He just undressed and climbed beneath the covers, scooting toward the middle of the bed to make room for Zhenya.
Zhenya undressed, too, all the way down to his briefs. When he came out of the walk-in closet after dumping his clothes in the hamper, Sid’s eyes tracked him the whole way as he crossed the room to the bed.
“Stop,” Zhenya said, entirely pleased.
“I’ve been trying not to look at you all season.” Sid turned onto his side, smiling, as Zhenya joined him in the bed.
Zhenya lay on his own side, facing Sid, keeping a careful half meter of space between them. “I try not to look at you for twelve years.”
Sid’s face did something fascinating before he visibly reined it in. He moved closer, his eyes on Zhenya’s, and then closer again, until their bent knees brushed. He laid his hand on Zhenya’s cheek. His thumb stroked Zhenya’s cheekbone. “Geno…”
Looking at him was physically painful. Zhenya tore his gaze from Sid’s bright, hopeful eyes, but then he was looking at Sid’s mouth, which was possibly even worse. There was no safe spot. Even Sid’s big nose filled Zhenya with a tender ache.
“G,” Sid said quietly. Zhenya closed the last distance and kissed him.
That was a mistake, too, because Sid’s mouth was so soft and he kissed Zhenya so eagerly. Zhenya had expected some hesitation, maybe, as Sid figured out how he felt about kissing a man, but if Sid had any reservations, they didn’t show. Sid kissed him again and again, his thumb stroking Zhenya’s cheek, eventually opening his mouth to let Zhenya deepen the kiss.
The careful glide of Sid’s tongue lit a small fire in Zhenya’s belly. He slung his leg over Sid’s hip, nestling them together. He hadn’t meant to start anything, but he was half-hard now, and Sid’s noise of pleased surprise as Zhenya pressed closer only served to encourage him. He cupped the back of Sid’s head and turned the kiss filthy, a hot messy slide.
Sid broke away and buried his face in Zhenya’s shoulder. “I thought we were gonna nap,” he said, audibly breathless, to Zhenya’s smug delight.
“We can,” Zhenya said. He had no expectations. He still didn’t actually believe this was happening.
Sid was quiet for a minute, clutching at Zhenya’s arm. “I need to sleep for an hour.” He pushed up onto his elbow to squint at the clock on Zhenya’s nightstand. “So we’ve got ten minutes.” He looked down at Zhenya, devastatingly flushed and wet-mouthed. “Think you can manage?”
“I’m so fast,” Zhenya promised, and dragged him down.
Feeling Sid grow hard as Zhenya kissed him and rubbed against him was one of the top ten sexual experiences of Zhenya’s life. He stopped trying to hold back and let himself grope Sid everywhere he could reach, his back and ass, one hand down the back of Sid’s shorts to really fully explore the territory. Sid made a lot of wonderful noises and squirmed in Zhenya’s arms and in general seemed like he was deliciously on board with anything Zhenya wanted to do to him, even when Zhenya gently and very experimentally rubbed his fingertips over Sid’s hole.
“Let me see,” Sid murmured at last, tugging at the waistband of Zhenya’s briefs. Zhenya pulled back far enough to let Sid take his dick out. Sid touched him with curious fingers, glancing up at Zhenya’s face to see his reaction, and then grinning at Zhenya’s expression. “Oh yeah?”
“Shh, you know I like,” Zhenya said, piqued by Sid’s smirk.
“I mean. I didn’t actually know that,” Sid said. His hand wrapped around Zhenya’s shaft and gave a careful squeeze. “But you’re pretty hard, huh?” His thumb rolled over the tip. “Wet.”
Zhenya groaned. Sid knew very well what a dick looked like. Zhenya was going to fully lose his shit if Sid kept touching him like that, so gentle and cautious. He reached down to take Sid’s cock from his shorts, and it was—perfect, hard and pink, the perfect shape for Zhenya’s hand.
“Yeah. See?” Sid said quietly, and Zhenya had to lean in and kiss his smile.
Jerking each other off was great in theory, but in practice, Zhenya was terrible at using his left hand. He gave up before long and wrapped Sid’s hand around both of them, guiding Sid through a few strokes to give him the idea.
“Oh,” Sid said, glancing down, and then back up at Zhenya’s face. “Like that?”
“Yes,” Zhenya said, kissing his cheek and his mouth, pushing his hips into Sid’s hand to feel how they rubbed together, the hot length of Sid’s cock against his own.
“Easy,” Sid said, kissing him, smiling against his mouth.
Zhenya helped how he could, running his fingers over the heads of their dicks, reaching down to toy with Sid’s balls. Sid took a minute to get the hang of the angle and the wider grip, but then he had it, his hand tight and confident, his kisses losing coordination as they rocked into each other; perfect.
Zhenya had promised he would be fast, and so he didn’t try to slow down when he felt his orgasm building. He gave up on kissing altogether and tucked his face into the crook of Sid’s neck, clutching at Sid’s ass to grind their hips together. He wasn’t a moaner, but he let himself make a few quiet noises against Sid’s skin, because he needed to let it out somehow, all of the million things he was feeling.
“Are you gonna?” Sid asked, and Zhenya nodded and said, “Yes, keep—” and Sid didn’t stop. He kept moving his hand until Zhenya shuddered against him and then went limp, spent.
Sid kissed his face gently in the aftermath, waiting until Zhenya stirred. Zhenya rolled onto his back and drew Sid with him. “Up, sit,” Zhenya said, and Sid straddled him and sat on his hips. Sid’s hard cock twitched as Zhenya dragged his fingers along the shaft, and Zhenya grinned.
“Don’t laugh at me,” Sid said, smiling down at him. “C’mon, don’t—don’t tease. I’m close.”
“I never tease,” Zhenya said, which was a lie, but Sid didn’t need to know that yet. He started jerking Sid off, fast and tight. He rubbed his free hand up Sid’s thigh, drinking in the sight of Sid’s bare flushed body, still feeling horny even though he wouldn’t get it up again. Sid looked so good, just—he looked really good. “You so hot,” Zhenya blurted stupidly.
“Oh, yeah?” Sid said, like he had no idea. His eyes kept drifting closed. “I’m gonna—Geno. Geno—”
“Shh, okay,” Zhenya said, and moved his hand faster.
Sid knocked his hand away at the very end to finish himself. His back arched and his hips jerked forward, his mouth opening in a silent moan as he striped Zhenya’s chest with come. Zhenya wanted to memorize the sight but also didn’t, because he hoped to see it in person again and again, until it wasn’t remarkable anymore but just an ordinary cherished part of his everyday life.
“God.” Sid slumped down, flushed and grinning, to kiss Zhenya’s mouth. “That was good, eh? Was that—was it good?”
It was the best. Zhenya curled an arm around Sid’s neck to keep him there, so Zhenya could kiss him some more. “It’s good, Sid.”
“Good,” Sid whispered. He lay fully on top of Zhenya and made a huge mess as they kissed. Zhenya didn’t mind.
He rolled away long enough to silence his alarm, and then rolled back into the warm cradle of Sid’s arms. “We go soon,” he said. But first he wanted a few more minutes to cuddle.
Sid ran his hand through Zhenya’s hair, fluffing it up and then smoothing it back into place, no doubt making a frizzy ruin out of it. Zhenya let him. He needed a quick shower before they left for the arena anyway, to wash the dried come from his stomach.
“You know, I’ve never done that before,” Sid said after a few minutes. “You probably knew that.”
“I figure out,” Zhenya said. He kissed Sid’s cheek a few times, deliberately wet and sloppy, to make Sid smile and turn his head just so and bring their mouths together.
Sid only gave him a single dry kiss before he pulled back. “Have you, uh. Ever—?”
“Yes. Lots,” Zhenya admitted.
“Oh.” Sid’s eyes searched his face. Zhenya forced himself to hold Sid’s gaze. He wasn’t ashamed. Then Sid grinned, and Zhenya relaxed. “I’m in good hands, then.”
“I can deepthroat,” Zhenya said: one of the first words he’d learned in English, courtesy of Mr. Maxime Talbot.
Sid’s eyes widened. “Jesus. So, uh, you’re gonna demonstrate for me, right?”
“Show you best,” Zhenya said. God, he would do everything to Sid: all the things he liked best, and he would find out what Sid liked, and do those things, too.
“I should have known you’d be trouble,” Sid said, as if he wasn’t the biggest possible trouble, with his pink mouth and the way he looked at Zhenya, with a smile always lingering in the corners of his eyes. “Geno, listen, uh. I get the feeling that you’re working through some stuff. And that’s fine, I mean, you can have as much time as you need. I’m not gonna push you. But I want you to know that I’m not taking this lightly. It’s not just fooling around.”
Had Sid ever fooled around in his life? Zhenya couldn’t cope with his earnest face and wished he hadn’t turned the lamp on. He didn’t know how to respond. He took Sid’s face in his hands and kissed him until they really did need to get up or they were going to be late.
They had played so well out west, and now they were playing so poorly. Only one thing had changed.
He profoundly broke the speed limit on the way home and felt a little calmer by the time he pulled into his driveway, like approaching the sound barrier on the freeway had shaken all the dark thoughts from his head. He wasn’t superstitious. He would have to be an idiot to blow this chance with Sid.
He texted Sid a few yellow hearts, affectionate without being too declarative. When he checked his phone in the morning, Sid had sent him a smiley face, and then, Lunch?
Business as usual. Zhenya didn’t know how to interpret that and decided not to try. He would see Sid at practice and could figure it out then.
Sid was solemn at practice—understandable, after three bad games in a row. But he smiled at Zhenya and skated by a few times to let Zhenya tap him with his stick, and after practice, before Zhenya could head down the tunnel, Sid pulled him aside and said, “You wanna do lunch at my place?”
Zhenya let his face show how surprised he was but also how happy. “Lunch?”
“Just leftovers,” Sid said. “But I thought, uh.” He raised his eyebrows and grinned.
“Sid,” Zhenya said, pretending to be shocked, and actually kind of shocked. Shouldn’t Sid still be freaking out about touching Zhenya’s dick? Zhenya had expected at least a week of that, and probably longer. Time enough for him to finish his own freakout.
“Thought you were gonna teach me,” Sid said, his smile dimming.
This was a big deal: life-changing. If Zhenya wanted it, he was going to have to let it change him. All of his old habits of denial, not talking about it, barely thinking about it, he would have to let them go. He didn’t want Sid to ever look so unsure.
“You always so calm,” Zhenya said accusingly. “Why you don’t freak out?”
Sid shrugged. “I spent all summer freaking out. Guess I got it out of my system.” He scratched at his jaw, watching Zhenya with a guarded expression. “Look, do you wanna have lunch or not?”
“Of course lunch,” Zhenya said. “I just think, like, what we do first. When I teach.”
Sid’s smile came back even brighter. “I’ve got some ideas.”
Sid met him at the door. The look on his face when he saw the flowers was exactly what Zhenya had hoped for.
“Geno,” he said, obediently accepting the foil-wrapped pot when Zhenya pressed it into his hands.
“It’s nice for kitchen,” Zhenya said. “What’s lunch?”
Sid had heated up some chicken thing that looked extremely beige but tasted amazing. He’d turned into a great cook. Zhenya realized a few bites in that he would probably get to eat Sid’s cooking all the time now, and had to set his fork down as the possible future unfolded before him. Lunches and napping, the full season together, the offseason, the next five years, the next ten. Terrifying, but he wanted all of that. Children. Hockey and what came after: a well-lived life with Sid.
“You don’t like it?” Sid asked. He poked at his chicken with his fork. “Maybe not enough salt.”
Zhenya cleared his throat. “No. I think it’s good.”
Sid kissed him at the sink as they cleaned up, his wet hands on Zhenya’s shirt. Zhenya gripped the back of Sid’s neck and kissed him again and again, feeling everything, wanting everything, awake in his own skin. Sid wasn’t his first love, but Zhenya hoped he would be his last.
Sid tugged at the hem of Zhenya’s shirt and smiled up at him. “You brought me flowers.”
“You like?” Zhenya asked. “Don’t like? Maybe chocolate—”
“Don’t bring me chocolate,” Sid said. “I’m already, like. The black hole of acquiring chocolate. You don’t need to bring me stuff.” Then he started laughing. “Geno, I’m—you look like I said you can’t ever eat sushi again. You can bring me stuff if you want to. I just don’t need it, that’s all.”
“Maybe you bring me,” Zhenya said.
“You want flowers?” Sid said, and then his expression softened and he said, “You do, huh. Okay, I can make that happen.”
Zhenya kissed him some more. Outside, a gentle rain had begun to fall. Sid had put the chrysanthemum on the windowsill, right where Zhenya had pictured. It looked nice there.
Sid pulled back after a while. “What kind of flowers do you like? Roses, I bet.”
Zhenya couldn’t believe they were still talking about flowers. “Sid, listen. You’re most important to me, okay? It’s not just fool around. Like you say.” He swallowed. “I don’t want to fuck up.”
“You’re doing okay so far,” Sid said, emitting happiness like a Klieg light. He went up onto his toes to press a kiss to Zhenya’s mouth. “Let’s go upstairs. I want a nap.”
“You want to screw,” Zhenya said.
“I want a nap, and then we can screw,” Sid said. He grinned. “Or screw first and then nap. Either one.”
“I sleep so good with you,” Zhenya said. “I don’t know why.”
Sid took his hand. “I bet I do.”