It’s a story, more than anything else, less a fairy tale and more the kind that starts religions.
It’s a story his mother told him when he was little, about the gods who woke up back when the world was newer and humans were just beginning to want things. Nobody knows if they were there from the beginning, or if they were born out of the things people wanted, but they’ve been there regardless.
It’s a story Zhenya doesn’t believe so much, not like some of the other guys on the team, but sometimes it’s a little too real to ignore, like the woman who lived in the apartment block he grew up in who was just a little too bright and beautiful to be human. All the birds in the area flocked to her, and no one said anything outright, but everyone knew.
It’s like the days he spent praying to anyone who might be listening that he’d have to chance to play in the NHL, like the day after he signed the contract with Metallurg, exhausted and shaking.
Please, he’d begged out into the universe in case anyone was listening.
Even if he didn’t really believe in it, it would be stupid not to try, and he’d been thrilled and terrified the entire time he’d been hiding in an airport bathroom, thinking maybe, maybe but hardly daring to hope.
Maybe he wasn’t the kind of person who was fated to ever meet the gods, but he had been blessed by them enough anyway.
He’d ended up here, somehow miraculously on the Pens with Sid who believed enough for both of them, and that was enough for him.
There were gods of hockey of course, because there were gods for everything, and maybe one of them was who had listened to him. Maybe there were a few of them and they traded off listening, who knew.
Sid was old school and prayed at the beginning of every game, before practice, and any other time beside. He left trinkets at the small shrine right outside the dressing room more regularly than anyone else, little things that seemed important enough to give up, flowers or chocolate or even just a penny that he’d found on his way in.
Sid had caught him the first time, quietly leaving a small offering, and had smiled at him like sunrise breaking over the mountains.
“It’s not much,” Zhenya had said, halfway protesting, because it wasn’t. It was just a small yellow flower he’d seen growing in the grass by Seryozha’s driveway like any of the other weeds that shouldn’t have been growing there but stubbornly held on anyway. He wasn’t sure what had drawn him to pick it and carry it carefully with him to practice, but it’d seemed important, so he’d laid it carefully amidst the tidy mess of pucks and wilted flowers and other trinkets on the table of the shrine.
“It’s the faith that matters,” Sid had said with a shrug, and left him to it.
He didn’t believe, not really, but it was one of those things that was important, and besides there was the small part of his heart that said maybe, maybe, and that was the same part of his heart that had gotten him here to begin with.
The gods were around, everyone knew, even if some people were more skeptical than others, and most people didn’t really know if they’d ever met one, even if they suspected.
Hockey was different, of course, because meeting the gods wasn’t so much an exception as an expectation. No one talked about it too much and some of the guys thought it was more of a metaphor than a reality, but still. It usually only happened once someone had settled into a roster spot, but there had been a few guys who he was pretty sure had met the gods even though they’d ended up getting sent down again.
Most guys didn’t talk about it, but it was always pretty obvious from the way they seemed to glow a little, radiant and settled and calmer. He was pretty sure sex was involved, but no one ever said that kind of thing outright.
He’d never been called to meet the gods, even with his position solidified on the team, but it didn’t bother him. They’d looked out for him once in getting him here, and that was more than he could’ve hoped for.
“Does it bother you?” Sid had asked once, quietly in the stillness of a late night watching hockey at his house. “That the gods haven’t called you?”
“No,” he’d said, halfway melted into the couch, and meant it. “You believe for both of us.”
Sid had smiled, soft and more relieved than Zhenya would’ve expected, and dropped it, and that was the last of it.
He had Sid and the team, and he trusted that if the gods wanted to call him, they would, and until then he was happy to keep following Sid as far as his skates would take him.
Sid sees the gods more than anyone else on the team, he’s pretty sure. He’s never said as much to anyone so far as Zhenya knows, but there are days where he’ll come in bright and cheerful and just about glowing. Those are the days when he’s at his best, making impossible shots during games that shouldn’t quite go in but do anyway.
Those are the days when people whisper loudest that Sidney Crosby must be blessed by the gods, that he of anyone clearly has the gods’ favor. No one will say it out loud, but everyone on the team knows that he talks to the gods, more than anyone else.
It’s one of those things that’s always been the captain’s job, across teams and as long as anyone’s been playing hockey and thought to pray about it, but Sid seems to take it further than most.
Zhenya’s still skeptical, though, because the gods may favor him but few people saw him like Zhenya did during the worst of his concussions, when he seemed greyed out and as dimmed as his house.
He’d prayed then, even if he didn’t always believe, and if Sid seemed a little brighter the next day then it was worth it, even if he’d never admit as much out loud. It was easier to be brash and tell people it didn’t matter, and not tell anyone how much he begged during those days, when Sid was out and then he was out with his knee and it had all seemed horribly dire.
He left flowers at the shrine every day that he could, even when it was a struggle to get around on his own busted knee, but he never told Sid. Maybe the gods would tell, but he didn’t really care as long as they took care of Sid.
Sid slowly got better by degrees, and perhaps he would’ve anyway but Zhenya can’t help but hope that they listened and helped him.
He can’t help but believe sometimes, when every time they’ve won the Cup Sid has been so bright that he was sure everyone must have seen it.
“Sid,” he’d breathed the first time, breathless and giddy and soaked in champagne, Sid laughing as he tugged him in close enough to kiss. He hadn’t dared, neither then nor years later when they won again and Sid shone as bright as the Cup.
Sid was so beautiful after the win, scraggly with his terrible playoff beard but beautiful nonetheless. He was halfway ready to pledge himself then and there to any god that would take him, just for the chance to keep him that way, for one more time even though that would never be enough.
He’s not sure how anyone could miss it, the times when Sid or any of the other guys glow like that, even if Sid was always the brightest.
But seeing and understanding were two different things, maybe, because he’d gotten drunk enough to ask Flower once and Flower had just looked at him like he hadn’t quite understood.
“You know,” he’d said again, making sure it was in English. “Like someone just bright, like glow?”
“Maybe ask Sid?” Flower had said, frowning into his beer. “He knows more about that stuff and I can’t say I’ve seen anyone actually look like that.”
He’d asked Tanger later, but he hadn’t been any more helpful.
“Sid talks to the gods, ask him?” was all he’d said, and Zhenya had dropped it after that.
It’s a normal Tuesday after practice when he was slow to get off the ice, when he comes in to find one of the priestesses waiting at his stall. The room is empty, and he’s not sure if they saw her and left, or if she waited until no one else was in the room.
“Geno,” she says, uncommonly solemn. “You’ve been summoned.”
She leaves without saying anything else, without giving him a chance to think.
He strips off his hockey gear and showers on autopilot, relieved and apprehensive all at once. He’s been waiting years to meet the gods, he feels like, but now that it’s here he’s not sure what to think.
He could’ve gone the rest of his career without meeting them and never missed it, and that’s an odd realization to have right when he’s going to finally meet them.
There’s a plain white robe hanging up in his stall when he gets back, the kind of simple terrycloth one you could find anywhere, so he puts that on and heads back out to the ice. The practice arena is quiet and empty and warm with mid-day light, empty but for a carpet laid out at center ice, one with the Penguins logo identical to the one in the dressing room at Consol.
Someone’s sitting in the middle of the logo, cross-legged, and as Zhenya steps on to the ice, he’s somehow not surprised at all to realize that it’s Sid.
His bare feet are surer than he would have expected on the ice, and it’s no time at all to cross to the carpet and sit down across from Sid.
Sid’s glowing, brighter and surer than he’s ever seen him, Penguins’ gold shining out around him like a halo. He’s brighter than any of the times they’ve won the Cup, wearing the same kind of white robe as Zhenya.
“Hi Geno,” he says, and it’s his voice but there’s a note to it that’s brighter and deeper and vaster, something that he’s not sure he could describe even if he wanted to.
“Sid?” he asks, uncertain, but at the same time it’s all terribly clear and he’s not sure how he could’ve ever missed it even if it’s hard to understand. Sid doesn’t talk to the gods, he is the hockey god, and maybe there’s a part of Zhenya that’s known it the whole time, even if he didn’t quite comprehend it.
“Yeah,” Sid said, “it’s just me.”
Sid reaches forward and touches his face then, cupping his hand gently, like he’s something precious and fragile.
“This can be whatever you want it to be, we can just sit and talk, or it can be more.”
“I’m want,” Zhenya says, mouth dry with years of wanting, and he’s not sure which of them moves first but then Sid’s lips are on his, soft and careful and so wonderful he could drown in it. He makes a noise and surges forward, grabbing at Sid and pulling him into his lap.
Sid laughs against his mouth, startled and delighted, and kisses back, deepening the kiss and making it filthy. Zhenya gets a hand under his robe to grope him and finds naked skin.
“I’m always want,” he says when they pull apart to breathe, and then fumbles at the tie at Sid’s waist to unknot it, pulling open his robe to reveal bare skin. Sid pulls his apart more deftly, pushing it off his shoulders, and then they’re both naked. He should feel exposed, out here on center ice, but he feels cherished and protected instead with Sid in his lap, glowing and surrounding him.
“What you want?” Zhenya asks, smoothing his hand down Sid’s side. Sid is always beautiful but even more so like this, biting his lip and looking down at Zhenya, eyelashes a soft smudge over the gold of his eyes.
Sid laughs. “I’m supposed to be asking you that.” Zhenya sighs and dumps him over on the carpet, ignoring his squawk of protest, and pushes him until he’s settled on his back and Zhenya can climb over him. He settles on top of Sid, skin to skin, and dips down to kiss him.
“What you want?” he asks again, and begins pressing kisses down Sid’s neck, then switching over to mirror it on the other side.
“This is nice,” Sid says, closing his eyes.
He trails kisses down Sid’s chest, stopping to mouth at his nipples, though Sid doesn’t seem sensitive enough to make that too interesting, and stops at his rib cage. He starts up at the top again to press kisses down his left shoulder, to his arm and forearm, then picks up his hand and presses his lips against the back of it and each of his fingers. He presses a kiss to the palm of his hand and Sid curls his hand closed like he wants to keep it.
He moves to Sid’s other hand and repeats it all, in reverse, until he’s back up at Sid’s shoulder and can’t help but move over to drop a kiss on his mouth, too. Sid reaches up then and grabs at his shoulders, pulling him close and deepening the kiss.
“God, Geno,” he says, eyes bright and beautiful. He pushes his leg up between Zhenya’s and grinds up, dick hard against his hip, and Zhenya feels like he’s been hard since Sid first kissed him but it’s still a shock to rub his dick against Sid’s thigh.
“Fuck me?” Sid asks, breathless, and then he’s pushing a bottle of lube into Zhenya’s hand.
“Okay,” he says, feeling slightly overwhelmed. He pours a little into his palm and dips shaking fingers into it.
Sid spreads his legs and he feels a little bit like he’s dreaming when he reaches between his thighs, presses in between the cleft of his ass. Sid’s already wet and open when he goes to press in, so he presses two fingers inside him just to feel.
“I, uh, got ready earlier,” Sid says, sounding breathless. “I didn’t want to presume, but I was hoping.”
“Okay,” Zhenya says, laughing a little. He pushes a little more lube into Sid’s ass anyway, just to be sure, then uses the rest to slick up his dick. Sid wraps his legs around Zhenya’s waist and tilts his hips up, and this would maybe be easier in a bed but he’s not going to complain.
He braces himself over Sid, catching his mouth again in a brief kiss before guiding his dick to press in at Sid’s hole. Sid pushes up to meet him and then he’s sliding in, the grip of Sid’s body warm and tight and breathtaking. He stills when he bottoms out, taking a moment to savor the sight of Sid like this, the bright light of him surrounding them and spreading across the ice’s surface.
“C’mon,” Sid says, reaching up to cup a hand around the back of his neck and tug him down into a kiss. He lets himself be pulled, overwhelmed, and rocks his hips a little, testing. Sid makes a gratifying noise against his mouth.
“Sid,” he says, and starts up a rhythm, trying to keep his thrusts steady.
“Just like that,” Sid gasps, shuddering under him and rocking up into his thrusts. He’s gripping Zhenya so tightly that he’s sure he’s going to bruise, but he can’t find it in himself to care.
He gets a hand between them to wrap around Sid’s dick, satisfyingly hard and wet in his hand, and Sid makes a desperate noise as he starts jerking him off. He’s so bright and beautiful Zhenya can hardly look at him, but he can’t help but stare because he’s the same beloved Sid he’s always known.
“Fuck, Geno,” Sid gasps, grasping at him, and then he’s arching under Zhenya and clenching around him and the light is so bright he has to close his eyes. He comes almost like an afterthought, sharp and sudden and overwhelming, shoving his hips in deep and grinding through it, clutching tightly at Sid.
He reopens his eyes as soon as he’s sensible again, just in time to see the ice glowing with the last of the light, sinking down into it in beautiful swirling patterns that don’t quite make sense.
Sid’s still glowing, though not as brightly as before, and he pulls Zhenya back in to kiss, deep and clinging.
They pull apart eventually, and end up settling next to each other on the carpet. Sid’s tucked into his side, unashamedly cuddling, and he’s pulled one of the discarded robes over to cover them.
They’ll have to leave at some point, and everything will go back to normal, but he’s not ready to give this up yet.
“You okay?” Sid asks, gently.
Zhenya takes a moment to think about it before he answers. “It’s a lot, but good, you know?”
“Yeah,” Sid says. “It’s definitely a lot, eh?”
“Why Pittsburgh?” he asks, feeling sleepy and warm all over.
“Because it would’ve taken a miracle for the Pens to be successful, so,” he shrugs, and it’s so normal and everyday-Sid that it’s almost jarring for everything that’s happened.
“That why you bring me here?”
“No,” Sid laughs, and then he is normal Sid again, smaller and more human, even if he hasn’t changed at all. “I heard you praying, you know?” He sits up, stretching a little, and Zhenya’s caught by the thick strength of him, as always. “The gods help those who help themselves, but you didn’t really even need it, eh?”
“Why me?” he asks instead of any of the other questions rolling through his mind.
Sid laughs and pinks up. “You have so much faith,” he says. “Maybe not the same kind of faith as the priests or anyone else who prays all the time, but you believe in me, you know? And I think you’ve always seen me, even when you didn’t quite know that’s what you were seeing.”
“Well,” Zhenya offers. “Sid best, you know. Anyone see that.”
“Not the way you see me. You know, everyone else thinks it’s a god talking through me, they don’t realize it’s just me.”
“Makes sense,” Zhenya says, thinking to all the conversations he’s had over the years that make a little more sense now. “You tell them, some day?”
“Maybe,” Sid shrugs, “but who would believe it?”
He stands up, then, naked, and Zhenya can’t do anything else but follow him off the ice.
“C’mon,” Sid says, “let’s go home.”