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The ballroom was hot and crowded.

Geno had abandoned him moments before, leaving Sid surrounded by numerous people, all of whom looked at him like he was something unfavourable stuck to the bottom of their shoes and none of whom spoke any English. He tried to force a smile, but the man next to him turned up his nose and continued his conversation with his companion.

It was loud, the background noise of numerous conversations in Russian and the speed with which they were conversing made it difficult for Sid to follow the line of discussion. Despite his efforts, he wasn't fluent yet.

He felt the familiar prickle of embarrassment and shame under his collar, and he was transported back to over three years ago, fifteen years old and facing the beginning of summer, watching Geno run around with his friends--looking tall and dignified in ways that Sid knew he never would be--and leaving Sid behind.

That Summer hadn’t felt any different than any of the others he had spent in Magnitogorsk; Geno running away, Sid following.

 

-

 

Sidney Patrick Crosby was the firstborn male child of Queen Trina and the Prince Consort Troy of Nova Scotia. Sid knew, for as long as he could remember, that he was never going to rule or inherit from his mother.

It was his job to learn about political relations, how to be a diplomat, and a good match for some neighbouring king- or queendom. Sid accepted this, never questioned it. There were times when he thought he might--well, he thought that he might like to lead, but that wasn’t what the fate had cast for him, and that was fine.

Despite all that, Sid was overjoyed when Taylor was born. The first time he held his baby sister in his arms, Sid knew he would do whatever it took to help her rule be as successful and prosperous as possible.

It had been eight long years since his own birth, and there had been some serious concerns about the Queendom’s succession. At the time Sid hadn’t known or understood any of the politics behind Taylor’s birth, it gave the Queen an opportunity to begin securing her son’s spot in life. He was just happy to have a baby sister.

At nine years old, when his mother started talking about arranging Sid’s marriage, he hadn’t thought too much about it. She would find him someone in one of the Maritime Provinces, maybe Quebec. If really pressed, Sid might have imagined going to one of the Prairie Provinces, or maybe somewhere in the United Kingdoms of America. He never thought about being far away his family, because it literally never occurred to him that it might be something that could happen.

Instead, in the winter before his eleventh birthday, his mother sat him down and explained that the two of them would be travelling to Russia to meet Prince Evgeni Vladimirovich of Magnitogorsk, to see if he and Sidney would be a good match.

“Russia?” Sid asked, hating that his voice sounded small, like he might cry. He wasn’t going to cry, he was ten years old and a prince.

She nodded. “I know it seems far away,” his mother told him. “But I’ve had some promising talks with his mother, and there’s a lot the Queendom could benefit from a Russian alliance.”

Sid bit his lip and nodded furiously.

Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.

 

-

 

At thirteen, Prince Evgeni was tall and skinny. He looked imposing and serious, except when he smiled--then he looked goofy and silly.

Right away, Sid was more than a little smitten with him.

Prince Evgeni held out his hand for Sid to shake. “Pleased to meet,” he said in heavily accented English.

Sid blushed and stumbled his way through the Russian greeting his tutors had drilled into his head over and over again on the boat ride.

It had seemed long and endless while they were out on the open seas, but now that Sid was faced with his potential future husband, he couldn’t help wishing he was back on the ship, that he had more time to prepare--or better yet, that he was back in Nova Scotia, back at home where everything was familiar and comforting and safe.

Prince Evgeni smiled at Sid’s fumbling Russian, although it wasn’t unkind.

“Zhenya,” he said gesturing to himself the first time Sid addressed him as Prince Evgeni.

Try as he might, Sid couldn’t get the unfamiliar sounds to cooperate with his mouth, and the prince laughed.

“Is okay,” he said. “You call me Geno, yes?”

Sid nodded, embarrassed and relieved. They fell into step behind their mothers, and Geno did his best to point out interesting or important things to Sid as they made their way back to the Palace.

This was made difficult by the fact that Geno spoke next to no English, and Sid spoke absolutely no Russian aside from the few greetings and phrases he had been taught before they left home. He ended up smiling and nodding along to a lot of what Geno said, even when he couldn’t understand.

Geno, perhaps recognizing Sid’s lack of understanding tried harder and harder to get his point across--to no avail. Sid felt awkward, and he could tell Geno was becoming more and more annoyed with Sid’s lack of comprehension the longer the conversation dragged on. Eventually, Sid stopped responding, and they walked the rest of the way in silence.

That evening, there was a dinner prepared to celebrate their arrival. Sid was seated next to Geno, and several others close to their age. Geno introduced them all to Sid, but it was so fast, and all their names were so different than what Sid was used to, he immediately forgot them all.

At first, Geno did his best to explain what everyone was talking about, but the conversation moved quickly and Geno’s English wasn’t very good. He quickly got sucked into talking with someone, and Sid faded out of the conversation, hunching his shoulders in on himself.

Geno looked so different speaking with his friends than he had looked talking to Sid. He looked happy, comfortable, and relaxed; easy in a way Sid never really felt with so many people around him, especially if they were strangers.

He knew his mother was counting on him to make a good impression, to make Geno like him, to learn how to fit in, but Sid couldn’t see how he could do any of those things. He couldn’t understand what anyone was saying, and even if he could, he wouldn’t be able to speak to them. He was tired and lonely, and he missed home.

Suddenly, Sid felt very much like he was about to cry, and he was going to do it in front of all these strangers, and he was going to embarrass his mother, and then Geno would never want to marry him.

“Sid?”

Geno’s voice snapped him back to attention.

“Okay?” he asked.

Sid nodded tightly, and tried to smile. Geno didn’t look convinced, but Sid noticed he spent the rest of the meal with his body half-shielding Sid from view.

The rest of the dinner, and in fact much of the summer passed in a similar fashion. Sid did his best to fit in, and when that didn’t work, he tried to be unobtrusive.

Sometimes it seemed like Geno wanted to be Sid’s friend. He would make an effort to talk to him, or include him in whatever his group of friends were doing, but they were all older than Sid, and he couldn’t understand what anyone was saying. It seemed a lot of the time that everyone was laughing at him, and Sid would often slink off, shamefaced.

“Where you go?” Geno asked one night, when they were eating dinner with only their mothers for company.

Sid knew Geno was only asking him because their mothers were there. Queen Natalia had probably pulled Geno aside before they sat down to eat and asked him to make more of an effort with the Crosby prince. It wasn’t Geno’s fault he didn’t like Sid.

“Oh,” Sid said. “It just, um, seemed like you would have more fun if I wasn’t there. So you wouldn’t have to explain everything to me.”

Geno frowned but didn’t say anything else.

At the end of their four week visit when Sid and his mother returned home, he was sure they would never go back.

 

-

 

At home, Sid devoted himself to learning how to be a diplomat. Taylor was going to inherit the throne and all the responsibility that came with ruling, and Sid, although he was sure his first attempt to secure a successful alliance for the Queendom had been a failure, he was determined to help her in any way he possibly could. If that meant learning about governments and how to navigate the political world, then that was what Sid was going to do.

He took to his studies with abandon. More times than he could count someone found him asleep, hunched over a pile of books in the family library. Sid would blearily stumble to his feet and head back to his bedroom, but by the time he made it he felt awake enough to read for a little while longer.

As it turned out, Sid had a natural talent. He could easily grasp strategy, and as much as being around strangers could make him uncomfortable, he found he took easily to public speaking and media relations. It was natural to speak to the public, to say mild mannered things without giving any more away than he meant to.

When his mother came to him early the next spring and told him they were bound for another month long stay in Russia, Sid was shocked. He had done nothing to endear himself to Geno, and the way of life in Magnitogorsk. He couldn’t imagine what it was they had seen in him to make another trip worthwhile.

The visit was another experience in frustration and confusion. Sometimes Geno would act like he was Sid’s friend. Sometimes it seemed like he was actually happy to have Sid around.

Sid was watching Geno and his friends play a game that involved smacking a ball with the palm of their hand and bouncing it off the ground and wall. From what he could gather, the purpose of the game was alternate turns until the other person couldn’t hit it back in time.

There was a lot of friendly shoving and shouting, and sometimes people would jump in before it appeared to be their turn. Sid couldn’t quite follow the rules, but there was a lot of laughing and it seemed like everyone was having fun.

“Sid!”

Geno gestured him over with large, flailing arms. Sid eagerly got to his feet, pleased and excited that Geno was including him, that he wanted to play with Sid.

He began explaining the rules in slow, halting English, substituting Russian words or phrases whenever he couldn’t think of the word he needed. Between the two of them and some charades, Sid was managing to mostly follow along. Halfway through his explanation, a shouting match between the two boys on the court broke out, and Geno--along with everyone else in their group--was sucked into pulling the two opponents apart.

To call Sid’s grasp of the Russian language ‘shaky’ would be to grossly overestimate his abilities. He knew enough to pick up maybe one word per sentence, but he could often grasp the general idea of a conversation when it was spoken slowly. When the speed picked up, or several people spoke at once, he was completely lost.

Which was to say, when Geno shoved him onto the court with a smile and shouted encouragements, Sid had almost no idea what he was supposed to do. He managed to stay in the game for maybe three rounds of him and his partner hitting the ball back and forth, before he missed.

Geno shouted something at his friend, who picked up the ball and handed it back to Sid. They volleyed back and forth a few times, before more shouting broke out.

This time Sid couldn’t follow the line of conversation at all, but from the way several of Geno’s friends were gesturing angrily towards him, he guessed he had either broken the rules, or maybe they simply weren’t happy with his presence.

Sid, feeling overwhelmed and stupid, tossed the ball back at Geno before making a hasty retreat.

 

-

 

Sid’s mother tried to explain that it was frustrating for both of them, not being able to understand each other or really speak to each other, but Sid felt resolutely like the advantage was squarely in Geno’s court. He had all his friends, he understood the language, it was his home.

Sid had none of that.

He was alone, except for his mother, and he didn’t understand the language, and it seemed like everywhere he went someone was laughing at him. Geno was alternatively stepping between him and the other kids, or seemingly laughing along.

Despite this, Sid and his mother returned the following summer. Thirteen was not a flattering age for Sid. He was short and stocky, and covered with acne. At home he constantly overheard diplomats and courtiers talking about how he “would grow into his face, the poor dear.”

This was also the year his mother had him starting to attend state functions, and council meetings between his tutoring and classes. With his natural talent for politics, his enjoyment of reading and learning about other kingdoms, as well as his fantastic recall, it was easy for him to use the dry facts he absorbed and put them to use in practical scenarios. More than that, it was fun.

The first time he pointed out an error one of the senior members of council made, everyone laughed it off, chuckling about what a diligent student he was. Then it happened again. And again.

Sid began sitting in with his mother’s advisors as they discussed her speeches and appearances. Her senior advisor hated his presence, seemed to hate Sid himself, always sneering, or outright laughing at the suggestions Sid made. Every time he thought to himself, I’ll just keep quiet today. I’ll just listen, someone said something so obviously wrong that he couldn’t help himself.

He spoke up. He had to.

This made a lot of people pretty angry. Sid didn’t quite understand why, and every time someone shouted something at him on the streets of the city, or worse, in the halls of the Palace or at court, his mother and father would get these horrible pinched expressions on their face. Sid tried to ask them about it on more than one occasion, but his mother would just rub his back and tell him things would be better once he was married and living with his future spouse.

Sid didn’t want things to be better in the future, in some other place. He wanted things to be good here, now.

Which was all to say when he heard the words, “Cocksucking foreign slut,” it took a moment for Sid to remember he wasn’t back home, that English wasn’t something he was used to hearing in Magnitogorsk.

When he looked up, it was into the angry eyes of a boy he had seen hanging around with Geno on several occasions. Sid thought his name was Semyon, but he wasn’t sure.

Sid looked around.

“Yes,” the boy said. “You, shit for brains, whore.”

Sid almost wanted to start laughing. Instead, he kept walking. Semyon, before Sid could really see what was happening, reached out, grabbed the back on Sid’s shirt, and kicked his legs out from underneath him. Sid’s cheekbone caught the edge of a table on the way down, and he gasped, tears springing to his eyes.

“Stay down,” Semyon said when Sid rolled over on his back to glare up at him. He put his foot on Sid’s chest and pressed. Sid gasped with pain.

He wasn’t sure what would have happened, or how far things would have gone if they hadn’t been interrupted by loud laughter coming from down the end of the hall. Semyon spat on him, and fled.

Sid lay there for a moment, before wiping the spit off his face and rolling onto his hands and knees. His chest was sore, and he could tell already from the throbbing in his face he was going to have one hell of a black eye later, if he didn’t already.

He wanted to cry.

Instead, he got to his feet, and made his way down to the kitchens. There were several cooks there that liked Sid. They would let him hide out sometimes after formal dinners, once all the plates had been cleared and everyone was supposed to be mingling and talking. Sid hated those things more than almost anything else, because everyone stared at him, and talked about him, and he could only understand a quarter what they were saying.

Sometimes he stayed close to his mother, but he could see the way the other boys would sneer at him, and the way the girls laughed at him behind their hands. Whenever he stuck close to Geno he had to put up with conversation going fast and furious above his head.

It was easier to sneak out and spend some time in the kitchens, where things were loud and busy, but in the kind of way that Sid found soothing and relaxing. Everyone had a job to do, and they focused on doing it perfectly. No one laughed at him, or if they did, they waited until he was gone. Sometimes it felt like that was the best he could really hope for.

The head cook, Maria, exclaimed loudly when she saw him, and proceeded to despair Sid’s entire existence. She was speaking much too quickly for him to take in most of it, but he caught the words ‘face,’ ‘fight,’ and ‘hurt,’ interspersed with a lot of yelling. Still, he ended up with a cold steak pressed against his face and a hot sandwich, so he couldn’t bring himself to care too much.

He wished he paid more attention to the goings on around him a moment later, when a young cook reappeared in the doorway with Queen Natalia, clearly dispatched to bring her. Sid still holding the cold meat to his face with half a sandwich left, winced, and then hissed in pain.

“Hm,” she said, looking down at him.

Queen Natalia was a formidable ruler, a good mother, and a genuinely good person. She always had a kind word to say to Sid, and she did her best to draw him into conversation whenever she noticed Sid becoming overwhelmed by crowds, or just too much Russian.

Still, having her in front of him, the considerable weight of her scrutiny on him, was more than a little intimidating.

“Sidney,” she said, after a moment. His name always sounded rich and full when it came from her mouth. Sid had noticed the same thing about her son. “What happened to you?”

He looked down at his food, considering for a moment what he should say. “I fell?” he hazarded.

“Is that so?”

When Sid looked up at her, she had her arms crossed over her chest, one eyebrow raised.

He looked her squarely in the eyes--or as much as he could do with one of his own swollen shut--and nodded. “Yes,” he said. “I fell.”

It was, strictly speaking, the truth.

“Hm,” she said again.

There was a flurry of Russian between her and Maria. Sid mostly did his best to pretend he wasn’t there.

“I’ll see you at dinner, Sidney,” Queen Natalia said, before turning and leaving without a look back.

Maria put a bowl of ice cream in front of him, and Sidney shrugged and started in on it.

 

-

 

“You lie!”

Sid was in the library reading one of the few books in English. It’s a detailed history of Magnitogorsk--not exactly light reading, but Sid figured he had been coming here for a few years now. There was a chance this was going to be his home, and he should know something about its history.

“Huh?” he said, looking up at Geno.

At fifteen, Geno was already pushing six feet tall. He was all long, lanky limbs, with a hint of muscle on his gangly frame. Right now, his face was dark and twisted with anger.

“You,” Geno said, struggling for words. His voice was harsh, angry. “You--you lie! Why say Semyon hit? Call names?”

Sid hadn’t said either of those things. “I didn’t,” he said. He hadn’t told anyone what happened between the two of them because he hadn’t wanted to upset his mother, and he didn’t think anyone else would have believed him--clearly he was right about that one--and what good would it have done?

“You lie,” Geno said again, sounding absolutely vicious. “You tell my mother--” he broke off into a stream of angry sounding Russian. Sid was sure none of it was complimentary.

Suddenly, Sid was furious. He had done nothing--nothing-- except try to fit in, try to be a good match, try to make himself appealing and for what? Geno didn’t like him, clearly, no one here liked him, and why was he even spending his summers being miserable in this place where he wasn’t even wanted.

Angry tears pricked his eyes, and Sid blinked furiously until they went away. He stood, and without really realising what he was doing, planted both his hands on Geno’s chest and shoved.

“Shut up,” he said. “Just shut up. You don’t know anything. I don’t care what he said, I never said a--a fucking thing to anyone about what he said to me, but fuck you for believing I would.”

He stood breathing hard for a moment, staring at Geno, who looked thunderstruck.

“Whatever,” Sid said, pushed past him out of the library.

Geno sulked the rest of Sid’s visit, and although he didn’t like to admit it, Sid did too.

 

-

 

“Do you think we’ll go back to Russia this year?” Sid asked his mother at breakfast.

It was late winter, almost spring, and the snow was still abundantly present.

She looked up at him, some shock on her face before asking hesitantly, “Do you want to?”

Sid thought about it. Whenever he thought about the confrontation in the library he got hot and angry all over again. Sid wasn’t sure how the truth had gotten back to Geno in the first place, although it was likely a servant had seen them fighting and told Queen Natalia. It hurt his feelings that Geno believed he would lie about it, and even though Geno and Semyon had been friends for years, the irrational part of Sid wanted Geno to take his side.

It didn’t make sense to pursue a relationship when Geno didn’t believe him or even like him all that much.

He also remembered the night before they left Magnitogorsk to return home. It was warm and humid and Sid, Geno, their mothers, and an entourage of courtiers and security were attending a local fair.

Their mothers had physically pushed them side by side, and it was one of the few instances Sid found himself next to just Geno and none of his usual group of friends.

Geno was sullen and quiet, and Sid was angry. He didn’t want to be there, or to speak to Geno or anyone else for that matter. Despite himself, he was drawn into the sights and sounds of the fair around him. People were laughing and playing games.

There was a group of people dancing and Sid stopped to watch them.

“Celebration.”

Geno’s voice startled Sid, and when he turned, the other prince was staring straight ahead, his mouth pinched.

“Pardon?” Sid said.

“Is celebration,” Geno said. “For--” he said a word in Russian. “Get plants ready? Take in food?”

“Harvest?” Sid hazarded a guess.

“Yes.” Geno nodded and repeated the word back in Russian. Sid echoed him, trying his best with the foreign consonants. Geno smiled when he got it right three tries later.

It wasn’t an apology. It wasn’t even really an indication of anything other than Geno was bored and wanted to talk. But still, it made Sid think.

“That would be okay,” he told his mother.

 

-

 

After that first disastrous visit, Sid had sort of assumed that nothing was ever going to come from it, but then they went back each summer since then. Sid wasn’t sure whether or not to assume that their marriage was inevitable, or wonder whether or not he was still on trial.

None of this particularly mattered until the summer of Sid’s fourteenth birthday.

Jack’s parents sent him to Russia to learn diplomacy, but unlike Sid, Jack was the Prince Heir of his kingdom. Jack didn’t care that Sid was nothing more than a diplomat, unable to inherit, and Sid didn’t much care that Jack was a Prince of the United Kingdoms of America. He was just so relieved to have someone to talk to. Someone who could understand him, and who actually seemed to like him.

It was a relief.

Jack was funny and smart, and cool, and he made Sid laugh, and he didn’t act like hanging around Sid was a chore, or something that he was obligated to do.

The weird part was, the more Sid and Jack hung out together the more Geno would show up where they were and glare at them.

Sid always felt like he was the one who was trailing after Geno, trying to make a place for himself in a world where he didn’t really fit, and no one really wanted him. Now, whenever Sid and Jack went into the city, Geno would tag along with them. He always brought his same group of friends along, and despite their presence--always laughing and joking-- Geno would walk two paces behind Sid and Jack, scowling the entire time.

Maybe it was Jack’s presence, Sid felt comfortable around him. Geno’s friends who had always seemed overwhelming to deal with and unwelcoming, were suddenly less so. Slowly but surely, Sid was learning to pick up the thread of conversation around him, and while maybe half of it was still lost on him, they made due with a lot of charades. Even when he couldn’t understand what was being said, the thread of conversation seemed much less hostile than he was accustomed to.

If it weren’t for Geno himself, always frowning, a stormy expression on his face, Sid would have thought things were better than ever.

If they went to the pool to swim, Geno would be there sulkily swimming with them.

That was the worst, Sid thought. He didn’t mind that Geno trailed along whenever they went to the library, because it meant more time with him. He would have liked it more if Geno didn’t spend the entire time with a frown on his face, but even that was kind of cute, most of the time. He didn’t even mind when Geno came along whenever they went for a run, or to exercise. It was distracting to see Geno, his muscles straining with effort and sweat pouring off of him. On more than one occasion, Jack had caught Sid staring and spent the rest of the afternoon smirking to himself while Sid did his best to hide his blush.

Geno at the pool, however, was more than Sid could handle.

His trunks were tiny and slicked to his body, his hair was pushed back, and droplets of water ran down over his cheeks and shoulders. Even the ever permanent scowl on his face wasn’t enough to distract Sid from the way that droplets clung to his eyelashes, shoulders, chest.

He was obviously miserable, and Sid didn’t understand why he kept coming along with them when he clearly hated it so much.

“Are you serious?” Jack asked, when Sid posed the question to him.

The two of them were alone in Sid’s room playing cards. They were on the bed, Sid stretched out on his stomach, and Jack sitting crosslegged in front of him.

“Yes?” Sid said. “I mean, the only thing I can think of is Queen Natalia is making him, but that doesn’t explain why he’s always around. I don’t think she would force him that much if he’s that miserable about it.”

Jack stared at him.

“Sid,” he started. “You’re not joking? He’s obviously--”

Whatever Jack was going to say was interrupted by a knock at Sid’s door.

“Come in,” Sid called, shooting an apologetic look at Jack.

Geno poked his head into the room and immediately scowled when he saw Sid. Sid felt his heart sink.

“Hey, Geno,” he said trying to smile. “What’s up?”

“Need to talk,” he said. “Can come back later?”

Sid was about to open his mouth to say, yeah that would be great, but Jack jumped off the bed, and practically fled from the room before Sid had the chance.

“I was just about to leave,” he said, which was a blatant lie, they had a lot left to go in their game.

He didn’t get a chance to call Jack out on it, because he was already gone. Sid shot a puzzled look at the door where Jack had fled, before turning his attention back to Geno.

The Malkins always put Sid in the same room each summer. Sid had grown rather fond of it, and although he didn't quite think of it as a home away from home, it was a nice room. It had lots of big windows that let in natural light, a giant four poster bed, and more space than Sid ever really knew what to do with.

Still, when Geno closed the door, and it was just the two of them facing one another, the space suddenly felt small and suffocating.

"What did you want to talk about?" Sid asked, after several moments of silence.

Geno looked frustrated, and Sid wondered what he could have possibly done now.

"You like Jack?" Geno asked, after another moment.

Sid stared at him, bewildered. "Yes?" he said, then more firmly. "Yes. He's nice."

Geno's expression grew more pinched.

"You don't like him?" Sid asked, curious.

Geno crossed his arms over his chest. "No, he fine," he said. "Nice. Handsome."

"Okay," Sid let the word drag out a little, feeling more confused.

Sid supposed Jack was sort of handsome.

He thought back to all the times Geno had come along with him and Jack on outings. Sid had assumed this was because Queen Natalia was making him, but maybe it wasn’t. If Geno thought Jack was handsome that explained why he had been hanging around them all summer. It explained why he looked so angry all the time. Sid knew when he wanted to spend time with Geno and other people were butting in it was annoying and frustrating. Jack had been in Russia for most of the fall and winter, before Sid arrived in early summer. Maybe Geno had gotten to know him then, and now that Sid was always around he was getting in the way. Sid had always felt like an intruder around Geno and his friends. Of course Geno wasn't hanging around him and Jack for Sid.

It hurt to realise, not only because Sid wanted to be the one Geno wanted to spend time with, but also because Jack was his only friend in Russia, and now he was going to have to give some, if not most, of their time together up.

"So what did you want to talk to me about?" Sid asked.

Geno shook his head. "Nothing," he said. "Never mind."

He practically ran out the door and Sid was left alone in his bedroom.

 

-

 

Sid didn't get the chance to give Geno and Jack alone time before he and his mother were headed back to Cole Harbour. Jack was staying behind, studying in Russia for at least another year. Sid supposed that would give the two of them plenty of time to get to know each other without Sid getting in the way.

He didn't suppose he would be going back again after that.

Sid was happy to be home. He loved his falls and winters in Cole Harbour. He loved spending time with Taylor, and devoting himself fully to learning more about politics and diplomacy. Sometimes he sat in with Taylor and her tutors. He especially found the sessions about ruling and people management fascinating. Maybe one day when he did get married, his spouse would want his help governing. Sid wanted to be prepared.

He and Jack exchanged a few letters, but mailing times were lengthy, and Sid--if he was being honest with himself--was jealous of Jack. He wanted to be there with Geno. He wanted to be the one spending time with him, and getting to know him better. Sometimes, when he was feeling especially petulant he thought dark things about how Jack wouldn't even be able to live full time in Russia with Geno. He had his own kingdom to inherit.

Sid thought about Geno a lot. He missed him, which was ridiculous considering the amount of time they didn't spend together. Sometimes he thought about what it would be like if Geno wanted to spend time with Sid, if he put his arm around Sid's shoulders when they sat side by side, or put his hand on Sid's back as they walked together, or even held hands.

Sid thought about kissing Geno. Thought about lying together with him in bed, imagined what their wedding night might be like--not that they'd ever get there now.

He even thought about sending Geno a letter of his own, but what would be the point? Geno probably wouldn't even reply. Or worse, he would out of some kind of pitying obligation.

Halfway through February, one of his mother's advisors interrupted Sid where he was sitting in on one of Taylor's lessons, and told him his mother was wanted to speak with him.

Sid felt apprehensive when he knocked on her office door. They weren't an overly formal family, and if his mother wanted to tell him something or discuss something with him she was more likely to talk to him at dinner, or seek him out herself.

"Sid," she said smiling when he came into the room.

"Hi mom," he said. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong, sweetheart. I just wanted to talk to you."

Sid just looked at her.

She laughed. "Okay, fine. I just wanted to check in with you."

"About what?"

"Well, we've been going to Russia for a while now--four years, in fact. This would be our fifth summer visiting Magnitogorsk."

Sid nodded, still feeling wary. This wasn't exactly news. "Yeah," he said, for lack of anything else to say.

"I have a letter from Queen Natalia." Sid tried hard not to visibly perk up. "She wants to know if we're coming back again this summer."

Sid paused. "Why... wouldn't we?"

She visibly hesitated, and Sid wondered what was in the letter. "Well, sweetheart, you've been a little... you've seemed a little withdrawn the last few months.

Sid didn't think he was sulking too much, but he mustn't have done as good a job of hiding his feelings as he thought.

"I wanted to check in with you before I committed to any further visits. I didn't want to travel all that way if your... affections lay elsewhere."

Sid stared at her. "What are you talking about?" he asked.

"I don't want to force you into a relationship where you're not going to be happy. I know we've invested a lot of time and energy in this arrangement with Magnitogorsk, but it's not too late to back out if that's what you want to do."

"I still have no idea what you're talking about," Sid said. "Does Geno not want--" he cut himself off before the word me.

"Sweetheart, you spent a lot of time with Jack last summer," she said gently.

"Jack?" Sid said, wondering for a moment what his friendship with Jack had to do with anything. Then it hit him. "No, mom. Ew. We're friends, that's it."

His mom looked at him, and Sid was terrified of what she might see on his face.

"All right," she said. "If you're sure."

"I'm sure," Sid told her firmly. His feelings were the one thing he was sure about.

It wasn't until after he left his mother's office that he realised he had forgotten to ask her about the contents of the letter, or whether or not Geno wanted him to keep coming back.

 

-

 

Just like they did every year, Geno and Queen Natalia met Sid and his mom upon their arrival. The queens embraced like old friends, and Sid was startled to realise that they were. He wished he and Geno could have developed the same kind of easy friendship between them that their mothers had. Even if Geno didn't feel the same way that Sid did, they should at least be able to be friends.

"Sid," Geno said, stepping around their mothers. "Happy to see."

Sid smiled shyly.

"I'm happy to see you too," he said. He clasped his hands firmly behind his back so he wouldn't do anything embarrassing like reaching out and touching Geno.

Sid was forcibly reminded of the first time they ever met, Geno trying to explain the sights to him, and Sid feeling scared and overwhelmed at the prospect of being in a new place. He didn't feel all that much different now, more confused than scared.

Geno smiled at him, just the same as he did that first time, making him look goofy and happy, and Sid was helpless to resist.

The four of them walked together, and Sid remembered his first visit, the way the two of them had struggled to understand each other, how much that had frustrated Sid, and how disappointed Geno had seemed in him.

He wondered how much had really changed between them, aside from a better ability to communicate. Sid’s Russian had come a long way since his barely stuttered out greetings and Geno had a much stronger grasp of the English language. The two of them could have conversations, albeit slightly stilted, but Sid wondered how much they really understood each other.

Sid understood politics. Sometimes he felt like it was the only thing he understood. The more he learned about Magnitogorsk and its people and its industries, the more he realised that a strong alliance between their two countries would mean prosperity for the both of them.

Sid understood that. He also understood his own feelings.

It was just everything else that didn’t make any sense.

 

-

 

Despite the confusing conversation he had with his mother about him, Sid was still happy to see Jack again.

“So,” Sid said after what he felt was a reasonable amount of time spend on the two of them catching up. “How’s Geno?”

Jack stared at him for such a long period of time Sid started to feel uncomfortable.

“What?” he asked.

“How the hell would I know? He’s your fiance, betrothed, whatever.”

“Oh,” Sid said. “So you guys don’t--you’re not--?”

“No,” Jack said. “What’s the matter with you? You think I would do that to you? You think Geno would do that to you?”

Sid shrugged. “I don’t know. I mean, he doesn’t seem… I don’t think he likes me very much.”

“Sid,” Jack said. “I say this with the utmost amount of respect for you as a prince and fondness for you as a person--you are a fucking moron.”

“What?”

“You are,” he said. “Seriously. So dumb.”

“You’re dumb,” Sid said, for lack of anything else to say.

Jack jumped on top of him and proceeded to try to give him a noogie. Sid was laughing too hard to try and figure out what he meant.

 

-

 

After that, Sid began to hope.

Surely they had been invited back for a reason. If his mother was willing to give him an out of the arrangement with Magnitogorsk, then Sid had to assume the same was true of Geno’s. If there was someone else, or if--more likely--Geno just wasn’t interested in Sid, surely, there was no reason to keep inviting them back summer after summer.

So Sid began to hope. He began to hope that there was a chance for he and Geno to develop a deeper relationship, or at least a friendship. Perhaps they could learn to be easy in one another’s company.

Things did seem better.

Someone arranged for them to go on several outings together. Sid wasn’t sure if it was their mothers or one of their advisors. It didn’t particularly matter except that it meant Sid found himself at an orphanage, watching Geno play with toddlers, while he sat next to him crosslegged on the floor and tossed a ball back and forth with one of the kids.

Sid loved kids. He loved talking to them, and listening to them, playing with them. He believed strongly in education, and worked closely with his mother back home to help develop their schools and scholarship programs.

Seeing Geno sprawled out on the floor with kids literally crawling over his body, Sid couldn’t help himself. He reached out and grasped Geno’s fingers with his own.

Geno froze for just a moment before looking up at Sid sharply. Sid’s stomach lurched with terror and exhilaration. He could hardly believe what he had done, and his heartbeat rang deafeningly loud in his ears.

He shouldn’t have done that, he’d made a mistake, he’d--Geno’s fingers tightened briefly on Sid’s and he turned that same, happy, excited, silly grin on Sid.

It was a good day. A really good day, and maybe the first time that he felt that whatever he felt for Geno might be, maybe someday, reciprocated.

 

-

 

“Where you going?”

Sid turned at the sound of Geno’s voice.

He was waiting in the front entryway for his tutor Anton, and a small security entourage. The plan was to take Sid out to see some of the city.

“Oh,” he said. “I’m going out to--”

“I come.”

It was said quickly and determinedly. When Sid took a moment to study Geno’s face, he was struck for the first time by the hint of hesitance.

“Okay,” he agreed, and tried his best to smile encouragingly.

Sid’s tutor showed up a moment later, and the group of them were off. Sidney listened attentively as the sights and on-goings of the town were pointed out and explained to him. Geno would cut in every third word with his own take and opinion on things, looking to Anton to fill in the gaps when he didn’t know the word in English.

Sid, in turn, did his best to recite the unfamiliar words and phrases back to Geno, repeating them again and again until Geno was satisfied with his pronunciation. He even went so far as to write some of the more useful pieces down on the pad of paper he brought along for that reason.

Geno laughed the first time he caught Sid doing it.

“What?” Sid asked, a bit defensively.

Geno held up his hands in surrender, but his eyes were laughing. “Not know Sid such good student,” he said.

Sid shoved him. “I have to learn,” he said.

“Of course,” Geno nodded solemnly. “Fun trip out in city, very important have good notes.”

“Well,” he said. He brought his left hand up to rub at the back of his neck, which felt hot. He was sure his face was similarly flushed.

“Very serious,” Geno said. “Important study.”

“It is!” Sid protested.

“What you write?” Geno stepped closer and reached across Sid’s body, wrapping his fingers around Sid’s wrist and pulling so the pad of paper was in easy view.

Instinctively, Sid pulled backwards. He had written down nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about, but he felt subconscious of his rudimentary phonetic spellings of the names and words he had been recording. He still had a lot of trouble with the cyrillic alphabet, and even if he could manage to get things down accurately, it would be much harder for him to remember what they said later.

Geno was drawn closer by the force of Sid’s motion, and suddenly, they were face to face, Sid’s papers crushed against his chest, with only the smallest amount of space between them. Sid was very aware of Geno’s hand which was still wrapped around his wrist, and when he looked up, he was sucked in by Geno’s dark eyes, and his pink, parted lips.

“Well, if I’m going to live here--” He clamped his mouth shut so hard his teeth clacked together loudly. Part of him wanted to cover his mouth with his hands, or reach out and somehow pull back the words that seemed to be hanging in the air between the two of them.

They had never spoken about their engagement before.

He dared a glance up at Geno, and his eyes were wide. The hesitence Sid had seen there earlier was back, along with something he was scared to interpret as hope.

“I--” he started.

“Sid,” Geno said. His voice was low and rough, and he seemed to move impossibly closer.

“Your Highnesses!”

Anton’s voice broke the moment, and Sid startled back violently. He would have fallen, but for Geno’s steady hand on his wrist, the other arm coming up to cup his elbow.

They stared at each other for another endless moment before Sid forced himself to step back and away.

 

-

 

On the last day before Sid and his mother were to return to Cole Harbour, Sid and Geno were scheduled to have lunch with their mothers. Sid enjoyed the chance to spend some time with Geno away from the crowds of his friends, their tutors, other nobles, and the prying eyes of the court.

Of course, this didn’t get them away from the prying eyes of their mothers. He noticed more and more, whenever it was just the four of them together, the Queens were more than happy to give their sons the illusion of privacy.

Ever since that moment when Sid had accidentally brought up their engagement, when it looked like Geno was going to say something, he had been looking forward to this meal. He was looking forward for the chance to be as alone with Geno as he could in hopes of recreating that moment of honesty.

He was, however, running late.

There weren't a lot of English books in the Malkins’ library, but he had managed to find a small pocket of them, probably acquired with the purpose of entertaining English speaking guests, or perhaps someone had aspirations of learning the language.

Among the numerous more-than-slightly raunchy romance novels (he had spent more than his fair share of time in the library surreptitiously reading them and trying not to blush too furiously, sure everyone could tell what he was reading even though he removed the jacket covers) were several books on the history and industry of Magnitogorsk.

Sid loved history, and he was coming to love Magnitogorsk too. The rich and diverse history, the way its people worked hard and were devoted to their kingdom. Sid wanted to learn as much as he could before it became his home.

He was hiding in the back of the library. In front of him, he had two editions of A Brief History of Magnitogorsk laid out in front of him: one in English, one in Russian. It was exceedingly slow working though the text, but in the four weeks since his arrival, he had made steady progress.

Sid liked his hidden spot. He found out early on if he sat in one of the comfortable arm chairs the Malkins had out for visitors to read in, he was opening himself up to be mocked or harassed.

Instead, he had taken to sitting in the very back of the room, behind three of the stacks. It was quiet there, and after the first time when Sid had bothered one of the librarians for a broom so he could sweep out the cobwebs, the spot was always fresh and clean. In fact, someone wedged a large pillow between the floor and the wall, and it was really quite comfortable.

All this meant that Sid sometimes lost track of time. And sometimes he fell asleep. When he woke up and realised he was almost twenty minutes late for lunch, he jumped up and ran out of the library, narrowly missing crashing into several people in his haste.

Geno wasn't there when Sid arrived, slightly out of breath after his sprint. That wasn't surprising, Geno was almost always at least thirty minutes late.

The fact that neither of their mothers were waiting for him was a little bit stranger.

Sid stood around the hallway, hovering awkwardly for a few moments, unsure if he should wait, or go look for his mother.

Before he had a chance to make up his mind, there was a tap on his shoulder.

Sid turned to see Queen Natalia's personal secretary standing right over his shoulder.

"Your highness," he said, bowing.

"Um," Sid said. "Hello."

"Their majesties send their regrets, but they are unable to attend lunch."

Sid stared at him for a moment. "Okay," he said. "Have you told Prince Evgeni?"

He shook his head. "I haven't been able to locate him, and I really do need to get back to the meeting. Please let him know when he arrives."

Sid sighed internally. The last thing he wanted to do was hang around in the courtyard, opening himself up to who knew what kind of abuse.

"Of course," he said, knowing there was no other response he could give. "I'd be happy to."

The man looked so relieved, Sid couldn't even bring himself to be that upset about it. After thanking Sid profusely several times, he ran off, looking harried.

While he waited, Sid wondered idly what kind of meeting the Queens had been pulled into at the last minute.

After another ten minutes with no sign of Geno, Sid was about to flag down someone to pass along the message, when a loud group of young aristocrats entered the courtyard.

Sid didn't know all of them by name, but he recognized a lot of them by sight, both as being acquaintances of Geno's, and more than a couple of them from when they caught him alone and whispered nasty things in his ear, or stuck out their legs and tried to trip him.

Sid stood up a little straighter. If he left now it would look like he was running away from them, which was the last thing he wanted. Sid knew better than anyone that he couldn't let bullies get away with thinking they won. If they thought he was beat they would never let up.

He had every right to be there. Just as much right as the rest of them--more even. Sid reminded himself this fact over again, and curled his fingers into a tight fist until he could feel the bite of his nails in the palm of his hand.

"Sidney!"

Sid's name, hurled like a curse word, was followed by a long stream of Russian he couldn't understand.

Sid looked over to the group, to see them laughing at him. He felt his cheeks heat up with anger and humiliation, feeling every bit of stupid, ugly, and useless that he was sure they were calling him.

"Fucking asshole," Sid said, not particularly bothering to keep his voice down.

He wanted nothing more than to leave, just escape and be left alone, but he refused to give these jerks the satisfaction of knowing they had chased him away from a spot where he was entitled to be.

Even if he didn't particularly want to be there.

One of the boys must have heard him, and even if he didn't understand English, it wasn't hard to make out what Sid was saying from the tone of his voice alone. More than that, Sid had first hand experience picking up curse words in a foreign language.

The next thing Sid knew, there was a tall, angry Russian by the name of Valeri in his space. Sid unfortunately recognized him as one of the worst repeat offenders when it came to the everyday low level harassment he faced. His face contorted in an angry scowl.

Without thinking, Sid brought his hands up, and grabbed the front of Valeri's jacket, keeping him an arm's length away. He snarled at Sid, and swung a fist towards Sid's face.

There was a shout from somewhere across the courtyard, but Sid had no time to do anything but register the sound. Out of instinct, he released the front of Valeri's jacket and raised his forearms to block the hit. The blow came hard, and the pain rung through his entire body. Before he could lash out himself, another hit came directly on its heels, catching him squarely on the bottom of his jaw.

There was a loud cracking sound, that Sid belatedly realised was the sound of his teeth clacking together as his head snapped backwards. It was sheer dumb luck that kept Sid on his feet, and he threw his elbow out, catching his opponent in the throat.

He gasped and stumbled backwards, and Sid reflexively raised his arms in defense.

Valeri spat a few nasty words at Sid before spitting on the ground at his feet, and turning back to his group of friends.

Sid wanted desperately to take a running leap at him, tackle him, hit him, hurt him. It was only the knowledge that the information would get back to his mother and make her look bad, make Geno look bad, that stopped him.

There was another shout, and the sound of running feet. When he looked up, there were servants running over to where he was standing, others, going off--presumably to locate palace security. He wanted nothing more than to storm off, because, well there was only so much abuse he was willing to take for the sake of his pride, but the number of witnesses made this impossible.

Of course, this was when Geno made his entrance.

He must not have noticed Sid or grasped any of the commotion, because instead of coming over to him directly, Geno joined his group of friends. Sid watched the way they all greeted him, the way Geno looked happy and relaxed.

The sound of loud voices carried across the courtyard, and when Sid looked up, he could see Valeri gesturing towards Sid, and several members of the group smirking at him.

Geno's back was to Sid, but it didn’t look like he was going to come over.

Sid didn't know why it was a surprise. It wasn't a surprise, he told himself firmly. Geno stuck up for his friends, and why wouldn't he? That was just the way things were, and Sid knew that. He was going to have to accept that.

Trusting Geno would be fine, and noticing the number of guards that were about to swarm on his location Sid decided it was finally time to make a hasty exit.

"Sid!"

He turned, seeing Geno jog over to him.

"Hey, Geno," Sid said, trying not to wince. His face was sore, but it usually took a couple hours for bruises to come up on his skin.

"What happen?" Geno asked, his voice serious.

"Oh," Sid said. "Our moms couldn't make it. A meeting or something." He shrugged, purposefully misunderstanding.

Geno looked at him, before shaking his head. "No, with--"

Sid nodded. "Yeah, so you can go hang out with your friends or whatever."

He turned to go.

“No.” Geno reached out and gently, but firmly wrapped his hand around Sid’s wrist.

Sid tried to shake him off, and when they didn’t work he tried to simply brush past Geno. Instead, Geno kept his grip on Sid’s wrist, and followed behind him, effectively ushering him into the room where they would have had lunch had their mothers not been pulled away.

If they had, none of this would have happened, and Sid wouldn’t be alone with Geno.

His heart was pounding, and Sid could feel it throbbing in his cheek. His forearm was sore from where he had blocked the first hit, and his neck hurt.

He looked Geno in the eye.

Geno stepped into Sid’s personal space, and slowly reached out, brushing the back of his knuckles across Sid’s cheek. He hissed and jerked back in pain.

“Sorry, sorry,” Geno said.

Sid bit back the instinct to tell him it was all right. “You were late for lunch,” he said inanely.

Geno smiled, a small, shallow imitation of a smile, that didn’t reach his eyes. “Yes,” he said. “Sorry, Sid.” The words were heavy and sincere, far more than was merited for being tardy to a lunch date.

“You’re always late,” he said.

Geno reached out and squeezed Sid’s shoulder. “Not sorry for late,” he said. “Sorry for--”

Sid shook his head not wanting to talk about that.

“I tell Mama to banish him,” Geno said. His eyes went dark and cloudy, and the hand around Sid’s shoulder clamped down.

Sid was confused. He was tired and angry. Geno hadn’t cared the first time this happened, hadn’t believed Sid, and went to far as to call him a liar.

“Why?” Sid asked. “He’s your friend, isn’t he?”

Geno scowled. “You--you--” he broke off into a long string of Russian that was too quick for Sid to easily follow. “He hit you,” Geno said, still in Russian, but clear enough for Sid to make out. “I don’t care who he is.”

“You didn’t care last time,” Sid muttered.

“What?” he asked, still in Russian.

“You didn’t care last time. You called me a liar to my face, Geno. Why would I think this would be any different?”

“No,” Geno said.

Sid rolled his eyes. His face really hurt, and he just wanted to be somewhere else. “It’s fine, don’t worry about it.”

He moved to push past Geno and make his escape, but Geno reached out and grabbed his shoulder.

“Yes, worry,” he said. “I not know.” There was a small pause, and then, “I didn’t know,” he repeated in Russian, almost to himself.

Geno’s hand was still on Sid’s shoulder, stroking softly.

“All right,” he said.

“Sid--”

Just then, their mothers burst through the doors.

 

-

 

Sid rededicated himself to learning the cyrillic alphabet.

He was determined to return the following summer and show Geno how much he had learned, was determined to prove it to himself that he wasn't just some dumb kid who couldn't learn the language. That he wasn't just some idiot kid with a crush following Geno around blindly.

Except, that winter in Cole Harbour had been especially harsh. The people had suffered from cold and lack of resources over the long months, and Sid's entire family needed to stay home to try and recuperate the losses. That was fine, it just gave Sid more time to learn. And learn he did, not only Russian, and the history of Magnitogorsk, but about his own kingdom and how to rule, and more importantly how to feed the people.

The next year's winter wasn't as long, or as harsh, but it snowed. It snowed, and snowed and snowed, and when the snow finally did melt, the flooding was too severe for them to travel back to Russia. Taylor broke her leg before the next summer, and couldn't walk or move on her own. Sid refused to leave her incapacitated and alone despite everyone’s protests that she was fine and going to make a full recovery.

Now, at eighteen and with a working knowledge of the language, Sid had expected to finally, finally prove himself. Except, when he stepped off the boat and looked up (and up and up) at Evgeni Malkin, now twenty, standing tall and proud and with those shoulders, Sid felt like every single word he ever knew in Russian, French or English had slipped out of his grasp.

"Hello," Geno said. His hands were clasped behind his back, making his shoulders look fucking obscene, and Sid felt his mouth go dry. "I'm happy to see."

Sid nodded, and maybe he said something. He probably did? His court training must have kicked in, or maybe his mother stepped on his foot, Sid honestly was a little hazy on the details. He managed to get through that first encounter, and dinner that night, and breakfast the next morning, and everything after that, but somehow through the haze of lust and embarrassment Sid had kind of neglected to mention how fluently he had learned Russian. And then two weeks passed, and then three and then the entire first month of their visit had passed and Sid still hadn't said anything about learning Russian.

At home, Sid had been proud of the leaps and bounds he made with the Russian language. He still was. He could understand conversations around him, unless someone was talking particularly quickly, or several people were talking at once. He could read signs and books and briefings, the cyrillic letters no longer indecipherable.

The words still felt and sounded awkward and clumsy in his mouth, and although the people he spoke to were generally patient and kind, he was embarrassed that he wasn’t better, didn’t want to use the language in front of Geno until it was perfect.

It seemed kind of awkward to bring it up after that, so Sid just... didn't.

Now that Sid finally understood what Geno was saying, his voice sounded sweeter and deeper, the words rolling off Geno's tongue seductively. Or maybe Geno had just changed the things he was saying, because Sid couldn't imagine the sounds he heard at fifteen being anything like what Geno was saying now, about how cute Sid looked, how handsome.

“Sid,” Geno said at a function one night. He threw an arm around Sid’s shoulders and drawing him close to his side. “You look handsome tonight,” he whispered sweetly in his ear. “Everyone’s jealous because you’re here standing next to me, and not with them.”

He was only teasing, of course. Sid knew that. Knew that their marriage, arranged before either of them were old enough to really understand what it meant, was simply that: an arrangement. Sid could only hope that Geno either didn't notice the flush that would rise up on his cheeks whenever Geno complimented how he looked in his suit at a function, or that he brushed it off as embarrassment.

Sid spent most of the summer torn between hoping Geno would realise just how much of what he was saying Sid understood and stop pressing up against him at dinner and whispering in his ear, and terrified that it would.

 

-

 

“Sid.”

He had fallen asleep at his desk again. When he looked up, his neck and shoulders stiff and sore, his mother was standing next to him, a hand smoothing his hair away from his forehead.

“Sorry,” he said with a yawn. “Did I miss dinner?”

She smiled leaned against the edge of the desk. “You did. I asked for something to put be put aside for you in the kitchens. You can go down when you’re ready.”

He stretched his arms over his head, rolling out his neck. “Thanks, mom.”

“You’re welcome, honey.”

He was still half-asleep, his mind and body feeling sluggish. “Sorry, was there something else you wanted to talk about?” he asked after a long moment of silence.

“We haven’t just been coming here for extended vacations,” she said.

Sid stared at her. “I know.”

“You’re eighteen now,” she continued. “Natalia and I have brokered a deal that would be beneficial for both our Queendom and their Kingdom.”

“That’s good,” Sid said, because of course it was. That was the purpose of their visits, the reason they had been coming all these years, and why Sid had struggled to learn Russian. The purpose was to make a good match, not only between Sid and Geno, but between their homes, one that would help everyone.

“Do you have anything to add?” She crossed her arms over her chest, and while her face looked fond, there was a serious expression in her eyes.

“I’m happy?” Sid hazarded.

She laughed. “Oh, Sidney. Are you really? This is the time to back out, if you’re going to. Nothing has been finalized, nothing promised or signed.”

Sid thought about when he and Geno had met, just two kids who couldn’t understand each other, to the way Geno seemed to be pressing closer to Sid, and how much he wanted that. Maybe they still didn’t understand each other perfectly, but Sid didn’t want to back out.

“Yes,” he said firmly.

Shortly after, Sid wandered down to get something to eat, still in a bit of a daze. The kitchens were mostly deserted, but as promised, he was able to find something to eat.

When he was done eating, Sid thanked the lone remaining cook in Russian, and she smiled warmly at him. He didn’t feel tired, didn’t want to go back to his rooms and try to read or sleep. Didn’t want to go to the library.

The night air, when he decided to walk a bit before heading back inside, felt warm on his skin. The last streaks from the setting sun turned the sky pink and purple. It was nice here, Sid liked it for more than just what it could bring for his family and his home.

He turned a corner and spotted Geno up ahead. The other prince was unusually alone for once, and Sid sped up his pace until he was side by side with him.

“Hello,” he said in Russian, feeling more awkward than the one word greeting merited.

Geno smiled huge and warm at him. “Hello,” he said. “Nice evening.” The words were spoken much slower than Sid really needed these days, but not condescendingly.

“Yes,” Sid agreed. He wanted to say more, show off more of his language skills, but he felt shy. It was better to wait until he had a perfect grasp of the language, and then he could really show Geno.

They walked in comfortable silence for a time, their shoulders occasionally brushing up against each other. Sid wished he felt brave enough to reach out and take Geno’s hand, wished he felt confident enough that it wouldn’t be unwelcome.

“Sid,” Geno said. He pulled to a stop, and took one of Sid’s hands in both of his. “Mama speak to me,” he said, switching to English. “About join kingdoms.”

“My mom did too.”

Geno nodded like this confirmed something for him. “I tell her, want move forward, want to join our homes.”

“Me too,” Sid said. His heart was beating fast and loud in his chest, his blood rushing in his ears. There was only one place Geno could be going with this, and it was nothing Sid expected of him.

“Good,” Geno said fiercely. His hand squeezed Sid’s fingers, and he looked down to where they were clasped together. When he looked up at Sid again, there was a determined look in his eye.

“Marry me?” he asked.

“Yes,” Sid said. “Yes, I will.”

 

-

 

That was two weeks ago, and somehow Sid had made it through that night with their mothers asking them a million questions about the engagement party and the wedding to follow. He had made it through every day and night since then, and here he was now, standing alone in the middle of a crowded ballroom, only hours after his engagement had been announced publicly for the first time.

He tried not to hunch his shoulders. He could hear his etiquette tutor from home shouting in his ear about how Princes stood up straight. Princes took up space like they owned the room, Sid reminded himself, even when they wanted nothing but for the floor to open up and swallow them whole.

"--And then there's this imbecile."

Sid turned when the man standing next to him gestured rudely towards his person.

"I know," his companion agreed. "I’ve heard the Queen worked out an advantageous agreement with their kingdom, but it’s shockingly insulting to ask Prince Evgeni to marry a foreigner buffoon who can't even speak the language."

And--there it was again. It wasn't anything new, after all.

"Well, what can you expect?" the first man said. "It's not like you could expect anything better from the Prince. He's just as much an idiot, and a faggot--"

Sid didn't remember moving. He didn't even remember thinking about moving. The next thing he knew he was standing over the man as he lay on the floor with a bloody lip and Sid's hand hurt both from the impact and the tight furl of his fingers.

The commotion around them was loud and immediate, and the next thing Sid knew Geno was at his side, his large fingers wrapped around Sid's elbow as he drew him away from the people starring.

"Sid?" he said, when they had a little privacy. Geno had pulled them into an empty corridor, and it was quiet and cold compared the crowded room they had just vacated. "What happen? Why--?"

Sid wasn't sure if Geno was trailing off because he wasn't sure what to ask or because he didn't know the words in English. Suddenly he was furious all over again.

"He say something to you?" Geno asked finally, sounding confused. "About you?"

"No," Sid said, shaking his head. "No, well--yes, I suppose. Not to me, I was listening, not on purpose!" he hastened to add. "He just started talking about me, which, that's fine. I'm used to it, it doesn't bother me. But I couldn't let him--couldn't let him say--about you, Geno..." he trailed off, feeling helpless and every bit of the idiot the men had accused him of being.

"What he say about you?" Geno demanded, sounding angry.

Sid shook his head. "It doesn't matter. I'm sorry I ruined your party. Do you think my mother will make me apologize?"

Geno put his hand on the back of Sid's neck, and the other one on his chin, forcing Sid too look him in the eyes for the first time.

"What he say?" he demanded.

"Oh," Sid said, and felt his cheeks heat up. "Just--just, you know, standard stuff about how I'm... dumb." Sid couldn't think of another word to soften the blow, didn't think it would matter all that much.

"So you hit?" Geno asked, sounding angry and confused. "And what you mean, standard? Who say?"

Sid coloured again. "Well, um, everyone? No one here likes me, Geno, I know that."

Geno's eyes clouded over, angry. Sid didn't understand why Geno was so upset. Did he think that Sid didn't know that no one at court liked him? That Geno didn't like him? "I not know," he said viciously. "Not true."

"It's okay," Sid said, shrugging a little. "It doesn't bother me," he lied.

"Not okay." Geno's hands clamped down tightly on Sid, and he couldn't help the way he sort of relaxed in Geno's grip. It just felt really good. Safe, even. Like Geno cared about him. "Not true," he said again.

"Anyway," Sid said, trying to shake off the relaxed good feeling. "I don't care about that, I just couldn't let him say those things about you. I hope my mother doesn't ask me to apologize. Do you think she will? Will it cause a scandal if I don't? I don't think I can look him in the eye without wanting to hit him again, after what he said about you."

He trailed off again when he realised Geno was staring at him strangely.

"What?" he asked.

"Andrei not speak English," he said eventually. "How you know?"

"Oh," Sid said. His face must have been bright red by now, he was sure. If it weren't for the firm grip Geno still had on his chin Sid would have looked away by now. "Well, I kind of... learned Russian?"

Geno blanched. Through the haze of his embarrassment, Sid thought that was a bit odd. It wasn’t like Sid’s learning Russian was a huge secret. Geno had helped him on more than one occasion. They’d had conversations in Russian, albeit slow stilting ones.

"When you learn?" he asked.

"Um," he said. "Like three years ago?"

Geno stared at him.

"Sorry?" Sid ventured when it seemed like he wasn't going to say anything else.

"You understood everything I was saying to you?" Geno asked, switching to Russian. "All summer?"

"Yes." Even that short word felt heavy and clumsy on his tongue. Sid wished he could hide. Wished he had a better grasp of the language and the confidence to respond to Geno with it.

"Why didn't you say anything?" Geno asked. "This whole time?"

"I was embarrassed," Sid said haltingly.

"Embarrassed?"

He shifted. Sid wished Geno would let go of him so he could look away. Geno's face was entirely too open and... hopeful? Sid didn't understand.

"I’m not good enough yet, and because of the stuff you say. I know you don't mean." Russian was hard, and this conversation was confusing enough in his native language.

Geno looked angry then. "Who said I don't mean it? You? You decide my feelings for me now?"

Sid stared at him, lost. "You never..." he said, switching back to English. "I mean, all the other times I was here. I thought you were teasing me. Making fun of me."

Geno cursed under his breath, and used the hand that was on the back of Sid's neck to pull him in for a kiss. Their mouths knocked together almost violently, and Geno bit Sid's lower lip harshly, before sucking it into his mouth. His tongue was warm and hot, and he shifted his hands until he was cupping Sid's face, tilting it to a better angle to kiss.

Sid couldn't help the tiny moan he let out, couldn't help the way his arms circled around Geno's waist to pull him forward, couldn't help the way he gave into it completely.

When Geno pulled back, it was slowly. He kissed Sid's chin once, and then his nose, before dipping his head again to kiss the soft skin right below Sid's ear. He gasped.

There was the loud sound of a throat clearing behind him.

Sid jerked back reflexively, but Geno's hands were firm on the back of his shoulders, and he couldn't move very far.

Geno looked over Sid's shoulder, and groaned loudly, dropping his head into the crook of Sid's neck.

"Mama," he said.

Sid craned his head around to see both their mothers standing side by side, hands on their hips with equal expressions of pure glee on their faces.

"Hi mom," he said weakly.

Finally, Geno released Sid, and he turned around to face their mothers.

"Sid," his mother said. There was a fond look in her eyes, which he took to mean he couldn't be in that much trouble for punching a member of his future husband's court.

"Do you feel like explaining?"

Sid decided to interpret the question as explaining the fight in the ballroom. The last thing he wanted to do was have a conversation about getting caught making out with Geno.

"Um," he said. "We had a minor disagreement?"

His mother looked entirely unimpressed. “That doesn’t look very much like a disagreement, Sid,” she said wryly.

Sid flushed again. After all the blushing he’d done in the last five minutes he kind of felt like the rest of his body might deflate.

“I meant with--” he gestured vaguely towards the ballroom. In the distance, Sid could hear the continued sounds of the party: music, laughing, the sounds of people talking (about him, most likely). It was good to know he hadn’t completely ruined things.

“I’m so happy, Zhenya,” Queen Natalia said, looking at Geno and speaking in Russian. “You and Sidney seem to be getting on a lot better together, yes? This is what his mother and I have been hoping for all these years.”

She smiled sweetly at her son, and Sid looked over his shoulder. Geno still had one hand on the back of Sid’s neck, and his face was flushed from the heat of the party and the excitement.

“Mama…” Geno said. “Sid can understand you.”

Sid flinched back a little. He had assumed his mother was keeping Queen Natalia apprised of his studies. Sid himself shared a couple slow conversations with her, while she patiently corrected his pronunciation or word choice. Queen Natalia had only ever been kind, accommodating, and welcoming to him, and while no one had ever said so directly, Sid always thought she shared what she knew about him with Geno. Looking back on it, he could understand why Geno was upset Sid had kept it from him, and it felt like nothing more than a deception.

“I know,” Natalia said, smiling warmly at Sid before looking back to her son. “Isn’t it wonderful, Zhenya?”

“You knew?” Geno finally pulled his hand away from Sid and stepped around him to stand toe to toe with his mother.

“Of course, I knew,” Natalia said patiently, still speaking Russian.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I had no reason to suspect you didn’t,” she said calmly, but the look on her face suggested otherwise.

“Hm,” Geno said.

When they walked back into the ballroom, the noise in the ballroom rose to a deafening level, everyone speaking at once, before falling to a soft buzz.

Sid didn’t look around, kept his shoulders back, and his head straight. He was used to people talking about him.

Andrei, the man Sid punched, was standing off to the side of the room surrounded by a bunch of people Sid recognized by sight but not by name. He was looking smug and sure of himself, like he knew Sid was going to come over there and humble himself in front of them and everyone else. He sighed internally and squared his shoulders, getting ready to do just that.

“Wait here,” Queen Natalia said, and gestured for three guards to accompany her.

Sid watched with fascinated amazement as the Queen spoke quietly but firmly to the group, before turning her back on them. The looks of dawning horror on their faces were amazing, and Sid had to pinch his leg to stop himself from laughing. As Natalia walked back towards them, the guards she has taken with her ushered the entire group out.

Sid was stunned.

“Should we continue the party?” she asked, once she had returned. Her voice was loud and steady, and carried over the near quiet of the room, as everyone had stopped to stare.

Immediately the room burst back into life, people talking and laughing, music playing.

Geno smiled at him, and Sid, unsure what to think, smiled back.

The rest of the party passed in a daze. Sid was quite sure he danced with Geno that night. His big hands pressing flat on Sid’s lower back, the dip of his neck while he leaned in to whisper things in Sid’s ear. This time, Geno knew Sid could understand him, and the things he was saying. Whenever Sid met his eyes, there was a vicious smirk on his face, and the more flustered Sid became, the more explicit Geno became with his praise. By the time they finished their dance, Sid was sure his face was red as a tomato, and court gossips likely had one or two choice things to say about what Prince Evgeni was whispering in his fiance’s ear.

Now that Geno knew Sid could understand the things he was saying, Sid had to imagine that Geno meant them.

Between the dancing, and having to answer the question, “what happened?” over and over again, and having to greet and thank their guests, Sid and Geno didn’t have another quiet moment together the rest of the night.

In fact, between the wedding planning where Sid was constantly being pulled into various meetings asking his opinions on colours, and flowers, and cake flavours (he didn’t have much of one on the first two); and Sid’s own tutoring, in both Russian and French, there wasn’t much time for the two of them to be alone together at all.

The longer they went without talking about the kiss the two of them shared in the secluded hallway outside their engagement party, the easier it was for Sid to question the entire thing. If it weren’t for the sly looks both his mother and Queen Natalia were shooting him every time they got the chance, Sid might have thought he imagined it.

In the midst of everything else, Sid and Geno kept getting sent out on what Sid couldn’t help but privately describe as good will missions. They went to the zoo, and Sid watched, part horrified, part enamored as Geno hugged a shockingly high number of large predators. They spent an absurd amount of time visiting children--in hospitals, at schools, at orphanages, they even went to a grand opening of a new national park.

Sid could only assume all of this was for his own benefit. It was clear from everywhere they went that Geno was loved by the people of his kingdom. They all smiled and talked about what a good boy he was, what a great king he would make. He did his best to make a good impression on the people, to not stand too stiffly, tried to smile naturally and look like he was having a good time.

 

-

 

One morning, Sid awoke to his mother bursting into his bedroom, throwing a shirt at his head, and telling him to get dressed because he and Geno were going to be late for their visit to the orphanage.

“We did that last week,” Sid muttered, still half asleep.

“Well, you’re doing it again today,” she said. “Get up, before I toss your mattress.”

Sid groaned and rolled out of bed, somehow managing to get dressed and grab four pieces of toast with jam on his way to the front entrance where Geno was already waiting.

“Ready?” he asked.

Sid nodded, and they made their way out.

By now Sid should have been used to seeing Geno interact with children. It seemed whenever the two of them went out together someone was handing him a baby, smiling at him and thanking him profusely. That alone would have been bad enough for Sid’s mental well being, but Geno always took the time to speak to them in hushed tones, asking them about their day, or babbling meaninglessly to the ones too young to really speak yet.

Geno looked good with a kid on his arm, and whenever Sid saw it, he couldn’t help but wonder about what he might be like with their own children someday.

Sid and Geno had been to this particular orphanage together before, but it must have been a regular venue for Geno because most of the kids and staff were on familiar terms with him.

There was one little girl, Natasha, who lit up and shyly held her arms up for Geno to pick her up as soon as Sid and Geno walked in the door. From the look on his face, Sid guessed the feeling was completely mutual.

“She does that every time he comes,” a nurse told Sid, when he was caught staring. She had one hand over her heart, and expression on her face that told Sid she found it just as adorable as he did.

Sid was sitting at the craft table with several children. Next to him was a tiny boy of six, who was colouring. He had a look of complete concentration on his face as he selected which crayon to use next. Others were working on their own projects, and behind him there was a group of kids finger painting.

“What about this?” Sid asked holding out the purple crayon.

The boy, Pyotr, gave Sid the most disdainful look Sid ever seen on a person, let alone a six year old. “I can’t use that,” he said. “I’m colouring the sky. The sky isn’t purple.”

Sid felt very strongly that the ‘obviously’ was implied, and dutifully handed over the blue crayon instead.

Across the room, Sid heard a burst of laughter. When he looked over, Geno was sitting on the floor, with a large audience in front of him as he read a story. Natasha was sitting between his spread legs, and Sid caught a glance of him bent almost double so she could speak into his ear. Every few moments there was another smattering of laughter from the group.

Sid couldn’t hear what Geno was saying precisely, but from the pitch and tone of his voice, it sounded like he was probably doing some different voices to go along with the story. The fond, quiet smile on his face made something ache deep inside Sid’s chest.

Sid handed over the brown crayon to Pyotr to colour in the tree, and got distracted suggesting different options for the flowers in the background. He didn’t look up until a shadow fell across his field of vision. Sid craned his neck to see Geno standing directly above him.

“Hello,” Pyotr said.

Geno smiled. He was holding Natasha’s hand. “Can we sit down?” he asked seriously.

Pyotr nodded after a moment of serious contemplation, and the two of them settled in. Geno pulled out two colouring books and handed one to Natasha, keeping the other one for himself.

“You should help Prince Evgeni,” Natasha said. She was a tiny little thing with beautiful blonde curls and sweet little dimples that were almost too adorable to be real.

“Me?” Sid asked, after a moment.

She nodded. “Yes. You should help him. He’s going to be your husband.”

“That’s true,” Sid said, trying not to smile. When he looked over at Geno there was a soft expression on his face.

The four of them coloured together for a few moments in relative silence, Sid taking crayons from Natasha and colouring each section of the page as she directed.

She watched him seriously for a moment, and Sid tried wondered what exactly she was thinking about. She tapped Geno on the shoulder several times before he turned his attention to her.

“I like him,” she said.

Geno nodded seriously, and bent his head down to her ear. “Want to hear a secret?”

She nodded.

He looked right at Sid. “I like him too.”

Sid felt himself go hot all over.

 

-

 

Despite all the planning, all the meetings, discussions, and rehearsals, despite more than half of Sid's waking hours being devoted to it, he was still surprised when the night before his wedding snuck up on him.

His dad, Taylor, and a small envoy from their court had arrived a week earlier, and even though Sid knew it meant that his wedding was closer than ever, he couldn't help but enjoy the time he got to spend with his family, showing them around the court, taking them to places they had only ever heard him describe. It was exciting and bittersweet, the reminder that he wouldn't be going home again in the fall, and that any trips he did make back to Cole Harbour in the future would be just that, temporary visits.

Magnitogorsk was going to be his home now, he was going to have a husband, and responsibilities towards a whole different court and people. It hit him sometimes, just how big that reality really was.

The day before the wedding, Taylor and his mom pulled him out of the library where he was studying, too distracted and anxious to take in any of the Russian that was flying over his head.

"Come on," Taylor said. "We're going to spend the day together, and you and Prince Evgeni aren't allowed to see each other from now until the wedding."

It was silly, but as it turned out, Sid didn't have a whole lot of say in the matter. Sid and Taylor spent the day playing cards, and talking. Sid wanted to get as much time in with his baby sister.

"I'm sorry I'm not going to be around much," he said after dinner. "I'm sorry I haven't been around much."

She shrugged, but when she looked up at him again her eyes were a little glassy. He held out an arm, and she scrambled closer to him on the couch, tucking herself close to him.

"I know," she said. "I miss you when you're gone. I'm going to miss you. But you two seem like," she sighed a bit dreamily. "You seem good."

Sid laughed.

"I'm going to miss you so much," he said.

She squeezed her arms around his middle, and he held on, his own eyes stinging with tears.

Sid lay in bed a long time after they said their goodnights, thinking about all the time he had missed with Taylor, and the time he was going to miss with her now. How much he was going to miss Nova Scotia, and if he would ever come to think of Russia as his home. He stayed up thinking about Geno, and their marriage, and holy fuck, their wedding night, and what was going to happen between them tomorrow. Would Geno want to consummate the wedding? What would Sid do if he did? Or even worse, what would Sid do if he didn't.

After tossing and turning for several hours, he threw back his blankets, and climbed out of bed.

Walking around in the middle of the night was always a strange experience. Everything was dark and quiet, but Sid was familiar enough with the layout that stubbed toes weren't a danger. He decided, after some aimless wandering that maybe he was hungry.

The kitchens were dark and empty, like the rest of the palace. The dim light from the hallway was barely enough to see by, and Sid took a moment to shake his head and get used to the darkness. It was well stocked with plenty of fruits, vegetables, cheese, bread, but Sid didn't feel like eating anything overly healthy.

Leaving the hall door open for some light, he Sid rooted around until he found a tub of chocolate ice cream. He debated a bowl for several seconds before shrugging his shoulders. It took him a few tries to find a spoon, but he managed eventually. Sid took the entire carton and his spoon and sat down at the counter.

He felt a little silly, sitting in the dark eating ice cream alone, but it was the night before his wedding and he couldn't sleep, and if there was ever a time he was entitled to a midnight snack, this was it.

Sid tensed when he heard shuffling footsteps coming down the hall, but he wasn't technically speaking doing anything wrong.

He smiled when he saw it was Geno, wearing loose sleep pants, and a threadbare shirt. He didn't seem to realise that Sid was there, as he moved slowly around the kitchen, seemingly opening the cupboards at random.

"Can't sleep?" Sid asked.

Geno jumped about a foot in the air, and there was a small part--okay, not that small--of Sid that took delight in seeing him so visibly rattled.

"Scare me," Geno said.

“Sorry,” Sid said, not feeling all that apologetic, even if that made him a petty asshole.

“Is okay,” Geno said. “You share ice cream, all forgiven.”

Sid paused, pretending to consider this. “I don’t know,” he said. “That seems like kind of a big price to pay.”

Geno threw his hand over his heart, mock offended.

“Besides,” Sid continued. “I was the one just sitting here, minding my own business. Maybe you should be the one apologizing for interrupting my late night snack.”

“Is my kitchen,” Geno countered.

He was smiling, the tip of his tongue poking out from between his teeth, but suddenly Sid felt all the humour go out of the situation. Of course it was Geno’s kitchen, and Sid was just the visitor. They weren’t, fuck, they weren’t equals. Sid needed to remember that.

“Right,” he said. “Of course, I’m sorry. You can have the rest of this, and I’ll just--” he stood, preparing to go back to his room. He should sleep anyway, tomorrow was going to be a big day.

“Wait.”

While Sid had been panicking, Geno crossed around the table, and grabbed Sid’s wrist, holding him in place. Through the darkness, Sid could make out the earnest expression on his face, his wide open eyes, dark and pleading with Sid for something he could never quite figure out.

“Is joke,” Geno said, seriously. “Maybe bad joke? I’m not so funny. Tomorrow is Sid’s kitchen too. We share kitchen and ice cream?”

He looked hopeful, and just as quickly as his ire was raised, Sid deflated again.

“Sorry,” he said, sitting back down. “I think I overreacted.”

Geno shrugged once, and Sid looked down to where his hand was still wrapped firmly around Sid’s wrist. Sid sat back down and shoveled a spoonful of ice cream into his mouth.

When he returned the spoon to the bowl, Geno tangled his fingers with Sid’s deliberately for a moment, before taking the spoon from him, and taking a bite of the dessert himself. Sid watched the way Geno’s lips closed around the spoon, the way he closed his eyes as he swallowed, the bob in his throat when he did so.

Sid’s mouth had been on that spoon, and now Geno’s mouth was lingering on it, and Sid needed a minute to let his brain start up again.

“Is good,” Geno said with a smile.

Sid coughed, and nodded.

Geno offered him the spoon back, and Sid took it, helping himself to another bite, wanting to meet Geno’s eyes while he did, but too embarrassed to try.

“Yeah,” he agreed a moment later. “Really good.”

They finished the ice cream in the dark silence of the kitchen, and when it was done, Geno stood, and walked the empty bowl over to the sink.

Sid hovered awkwardly, unsure what to do or say. They were getting married tomorrow. Or, in a few hours, really.

“Well,” Sid said. “Good night.”

“Yes,” Geno agreed. He stepped close, so their chests were almost touching, and lifted one hand up to Sid’s face. He stroked his knuckle over Sid’s cheek, dragging it down to just behind Sid’s ear, and tugging briefly on the hair there.

“See you tomorrow, Sid,” he said, and gripped Sid’s shoulder once. “Sleep good.”

Sid stood there for a minute after he was gone, catching his breath.

 

-

 

The morning of his wedding dawned bright and clear, and Sid felt very strongly like hiding under his blankets.

Before long, his mother and Taylor burst into the room, hustling him out of bed, and harassing him into a bath, a haircut and shave, and a number of grooming techniques that always seemed overly excessive no matter how many times he was subjected to them, before getting him into his wedding suit.

Sid stared at himself in the mirror.

Sid would never look tall. He would probably never look handsome either. The person standing in front of him at the mirror wasn’t quite either of those things, but he definitely looked… distinguished. Dignified. Like he could be a Prince Consort.

It was fitting, he supposed, considering that he was about to become the Prince Consort of the Kingdom of Magnitogorsk.

He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders.

Getting to the church was an ordeal in itself. First Sid had to wait for Taylor and his mom to be ready. Then there was the apparently disastrous near miss of Sid and Geno crossing paths in the grand foyer. Somehow, they made it. Sid found himself standing in front of a pair of intricately detailed gilded doors.

They had rehearsed this. On the other side of the hall, Geno and Queen Natalia were waiting behind another set. All Sid had to do was wait for the doors to open, walk down the aisle and then he would be married.

It was terrifying.

"Ready?" his mother asked.

Sid turned to look at her. Something on his face must have shown his apprehension, because she grimaced.

"It's not too late to back out, sweetheart," she said.

Sid made a face at her.

She laughed. "Okay, it's too late to back out now. I don't want to have to face a bunch of very angry Russians, do you?"

He managed a weak laugh.

"But tell me," she said. She reached out and clasped one of his hands in both of hers. "Is it just nerves? Or something worse?"

She looked at him with such an earnest and loving expression on her face that Sid knew regardless of whatever she said, if he told her it was something worse than nerves she wouldn't make him go through with it. She would go in there and face their family, the entire Russian royalty and court, and call the whole thing off.

"I love you, mom," he told her seriously. "Thank you for being here every step of the way with me."

Her face softened. "I love you too, Sidney. I'm so proud of you."

His throat felt tight, and there was still a part of him that wished they could just turn around and run away, keep running until he was all the way back in Nova Scotia. Until he was home, and safe. If he did that he would let down his mother, and all the hard work she and Queen Natalia had put into creating this union.

He would also never see Geno again.

"I'm ready," he told her.

She leaned in and gave him a kiss on the cheek. She rubbed the spot with her thumb, and Sid felt--if not confident--than at least like he could do this.

The church was filled to the brim with people. They all stood when the doors opened.

On the opposite side of the room another pair of doors opened.

Queen Natalia walked out first. When she neared the altar, Sid’s mother followed.

Everyone bowed as they made their way down the long runner up to the front.

Sid watched for a moment, before stepping out himself. He walked slowly but carefully across to the middle of the room where Geno met him. He looked tall and handsome. His hair was combed back and his shoulders filled out his suit perfectly.

He smiled at Sid. "Hi," he whispered.

Sid took his arm. "Hello," he answered in Russian.

Geno grinned at him out of the corner of his mouth, and he felt something inside his chest come loose.

"Ready?" Geno asked. He squeezed the hand Sid had tucked into his elbow.

Sid nodded.

The walk down the aisle seemed to last forever. Sid was used to people staring at him. He was used to them whispering about him when he walked by. Everything rose to a loud overwhelming buzz. Sid did his best to ignore it, kept his eyes forward, and put one foot in front of the other.

When they finally made it up to the altar, Geno clutched both his hands and they stood facing each other. Everyone else, the guests, their families, fell to the background.

The ceremony passed in a blur of Russian. Sid did his best to listen and understand. He dutifully repeated his vows when he was asked and did his best to pronounce them correctly, conscious of the fact that he didn't need to give anyone further ammunition to mock him.

He felt very present in the moment, and, at the same time, almost outside of his body. When the priest finally said, "you may kiss your spouse," Geno stepped somehow even closer to him. He cupped his large hands around Sid's face, and leaned down until their noses were nearly touching.

"Sorry," he whispered.

Sid only had the briefest moment to think, 'sorry for what' before Geno pressed his lips softly and carefully against Sid's. His mouth was warm, and he shifted almost imperceptibly closer. Sid could feel the heat emanating from Geno's body, had a moment to really savour the feeling of their chests pressed together, before he was stepping back and away.

There was polite applause in the church. Sid looked around in a daze, before catching sight of his family. Taylor was beaming at him, and somehow he collected himself to smile back.

Geno grabbed his hand and squeezed his fingers tightly. Sid squeezed back, and the two of them made their way back down through the pews until they were outside, the bright sun shining down on them. Sid had to squint against the harshness of the glare.

While his eyes were adjusting to the outside light, he finally clued in to the roar of the crowd. There were people around for what seemed like miles. So many people cheering and clapping, and screaming for them.

For Geno, their prince.

And Sid had just married him.

They were married.

 

-

 

Sid talked to so many people at the reception, he lost track of nearly all their names and faces. Everyone wanted to talk to Prince Evgeni and his new husband. Even people who previously wouldn't give Sid the time of day were suddenly saddling up to him and acting friendly, congratulating him on their nuptials, and asking him about his life in Cole Harbour.

He did his best to get through the evening, the speeches, everything. By the time midnight rolled around, he had a headache from listening and concentrating on Russian all night.

"We sneak out?" Geno asked. He put his hand on the back of Sid's neck and squeezed. The pressure and weight of it felt nice, comforting.

Sid nodded. "I should say goodnight--"

"I talk to mamas," Geno said. "They say is okay to leave."

He stared up at Geno--his husband. They were about to leave their wedding reception and embark on their wedding night. He swallowed, and tried to look like he wasn't terrified. Geno's hand was warm and calloused around Sid's. He squeezed Sid's fingers reassuringly, and they walked out of the reception hall hand in hand.

After years of visiting, Sid was familiar with the grounds of the Malkin palace. He spent a lot of time wandering around, sometimes even running away from people, that he had a good idea of the layout and where things were.

The one place he had almost never been was Geno's rooms.

Geno led him there now. Once they were inside, Sid stopped and took a deep breath. Then he looked around. If he was forced to describe them, Sid would have said Geno's living quarters looked a little bit like what Sid imagined the inside of Geno's brain would be like. There were a lot of bold colours, and brash patterns on the furniture and on the walls.

By the door were two of the ugliest statues Sid had ever seen in his life. They looked almost like life-sized armed guards, dark grey with a weird metallic armour, wide, gaping mouths, and arms that were long and angular. Sid couldn't imagine wanting to look at them every day, let alone wanting to see them where he slept.

When he turned his attention back to his new husband, Sid was struck by how nervous and unsure Geno looked. Sid smiled at him.

"So," he said, breaking off into a nervous chuckle.

"Want something to eat?" Geno asked. "Drink?"

It struck Sid as a particularly ridiculous question, considering the two of them had just come from their wedding reception. Sid was hard pressed to remember a time in his life when he had been more full than he was currently.

"Water?" he said.

Geno turned and walked over to a small alcove. Sid followed, and watched as he reached into the cupboards and pulled out two glasses of water, and filled them both from a jug. He handed one to Sid.

"Thanks," Sid said.

They stood there drinking their water in stocking feet, still wearing their wedding suits. Geno had lost his vest and tie sometime since the ceremony. His jacket was tossed aside immediately upon entering his rooms, and Sid stared with some fascination at his bared forearms. His shirt sleeves were rolled up to his elbows, and the muscles in his arms jumped and bunched as he drank from his glass.

He only realised he was staring when Geno ducked to catch his attention.

Sid blushed.

"Should go to bed?" Geno asked.

His face felt like it was on fire, but he nodded.

They put their glasses onto the table, and Sid followed Geno into the separate bedroom. It was a huge space, with a gigantic four poster bed. The sheets were a deep midnight blue, the walls a lighter shade. Before seeing this room Sid wasn't sure it was possible to have so much blue in one space.

"Okay?" Geno asked.

Sid nodded. He fiddled with the cuff of his shirt, unsure what to do. Should he strip? Should he kiss Geno? Geno answered that for him by ridding himself of his clothes in short order. Sid followed suit, and then they were standing on opposite sides of the big bed in just their underwear.

Geno watched him with avid, hungry eyes, and Sid couldn't help the way his mouth watered at the sight of so much of Geno's bared skin. Geno grabbed his edge of the blankets, and Sid did the same, and together they turned down the covers.

It was a bit of a stretch to climb up onto the bed, and when he was settled, he looked over to where Geno was sitting next to him, the tip of his tongue sticking out the corner of his mouth.

"Maybe need to get, how you say? Stepstool? Make easier to get into bed?"

Sid was startled into a laugh. "Shut up," he said. "I'm not that much shorter than you."

Geno shot him a look. "Much much tinier."

Sid opened his mouth to retort, when Geno cut him off. "It’s good,” he said in Russian. “I like the way you fit next to me."

Something that had been tight inside Sid's gut unclenched, and he smiled at Geno, certain his face was bright red from blushing. He didn't know how to say he was glad that Geno was so much bigger than him. Didn't know how to express how much he liked it, how much he liked Geno's big, long body, and his goofy smile, and the way his hair curled at the edges. Didn't know how to express that he wanted to get his hands all over Geno, how much he wanted to fit nicely next to Geno, both in a physical sense, and inside his life.

Instead of saying any of those things, he scooted down on the bed, until he was lying on his back. His head rested comfortably on the pillow, and his arm was stretched out next to him. He reached out and brushed his fingers across Geno's hand, the only part he felt brave enough to touch.

Geno rotated his arm until his palm was facing up, and Sid dragged the tips of his fingers along the top of his palm, and down across his lifeline. Geno let out a tiny gasp, almost inaudible to Sid's ears.

Emboldened, he tracked his fingers down to his wrist, tracing the blue veins and the faint line of his tendons.

Geno moved down the bed until he was lying on his side next to Sid, almost half-hovering over him. Sid felt covered and protected, even though none of Geno's weight was resting on him.

His eyes searched Sid's for several long moments before he stroked the back of his fingers over Sid's cheek and brushed his hair away from his face. "Okay?" he asked.

Despite the ball of nervousness in his chest, Sid nodded.

Geno ducked his head down and softly, so softly pressed his lips against Sid's. The kiss was soft and dry, but unlike the brief embrace they shared at the church, this time Sid had Geno's hand on his bare shoulder, and their chests were nearly touching. The brief pressure of Geno's mouth on his felt so good, and Sid couldn't help the way he arched up into the touch, the way he gasped and his mouth fell open.

Geno groaned at that, and surged forward. He licked into Sid's mouth. Sid gasped again before he kissed back, rubbing his tongue against Geno's, sucking it into his mouth.

“Sid.” His voice sounded breathy. Geno ran his hands down Sid's chest, trailed his fingers along the planes of Sid's sides, and goosebumps rose in their wake. He wrapped his own arms around Geno's neck and pulled until he moved to settle more firmly on top of Sid.

Their bodies pressed together felt so good, and Sid took a moment just to enjoy it. He ran the palms of his hands up and down the planes of Geno’s back, revelling in all the smooth skin that was there, available for him to touch.

Geno’s mouth migrated along Sid’s jaw, down over the expanse of his neck. Geno’s lips were soft, and he pressed insistent kisses all over Sid’s skin, as if he were trying to map it out with his mouth. Sid spread his legs, and Geno settled firmly between them. He was already hard in his boxers, and it was easy to rub himself up against the jut of Geno’s hip.

He moaned at the friction, and dug his fingers into Geno’s hips, trying to pull him closer. Instead, Geno sat back on his haunches.

“Wait,” Sid gasped. “Where are you going?”

Geno didn’t answer. He pushed his underwear down over his hips, and Sid watched with fascinated attention as his cock was revealed. It was long and thick, and flushed red at the tip. There was already a bead of precome, and Sid licked his lips, wondering what it would feel like to get his mouth on it.

Next, Geno reached for him, and Sid helpfully lifted his hips so Geno could pull his briefs down and off.

Geno stared down at him for what felt like ages. Sid watched the way his eyes jumped from Sid’s face, to his chest, to his dick, hard and hot between his legs, and already leaking onto Sid’s stomach.

“Sid,” Geno said, and his voice sounded wrecked.

Sid lifted his arms, reaching out until he could curl his fingers around Geno’s biceps, and pulled him down to him with a sharp tug. Geno collapsed his weight onto Sid, and Sid let out a soft “oof.”

“Okay?” Geno asked.

“Yeah,” Sid whispered.

Under the cover of Geno’s canopy bed, wrapped in his dark blue blanket, it felt like it was just the two of them, that they were the only ones who existed, and that somehow between them, they would figure things out and make their lives fit together just as well as their bodies did.

Geno pressed his mouth to Sid’s neck. His stubble and his teeth scraping along Sid’s sensitive skin, in time with the rhythm he was building with his hips. Sid’s fingers were a vice grip on Geno’s shoulders, digging in so hard he was sure to leave bruises. Geno’s hips moved against Sid’s, their cocks rocking together making Sid’s whole body light up with how good it felt.

Geno alternated his kisses between Sid’s neck and mouth, and it wasn’t long before Sid found himself on the precipice of orgasm.

“Geno,” he gasped out. “Oh fuck, you feel so--I’m going to, yeah, I’m going to--”

Geno bit down on Sid’s neck in answer, and he came all over his stomach. and Geno locked his arms tight around Sid’s body, as he continued to rock his hips against Sid’s. he reached down between their bodies, fisting his own dick in a tight grip. Sid looked down between them, and if he hadn’t just come, the sight of Geno’s dick, the head red and wet, fucking through the circle of his fingers would have been enough to get him off.

“Sid,” Geno panted, before lifting his head for another kiss.

He kissed Geno through his orgasm, through the feel of more sticky wetness painting Sid’s stomach, and through the come down for both of them. Their lips and tongues moved lazily together, and Sid just wanted the moment to last. Wanted to remember every single thing about this.

Finally, Geno collapsed his weight onto Sid’s body, and they lay together panting. The rise and fall of their chests moving together, and Sid could feel the soft breath on his neck each time Geno exhaled.

They were married. They had sex. They were married and they had sex.

Sid only wished he knew where they were going to go from here.

“I’m glad we got that over with,” Sid said as he was drifting off to sleep. He felt Geno stiffen next to him, but before he could question it, or really think about it, he was asleep.

 

-

 

Sid woke up alone the next morning.

Not wanting to face the world naked, he stumbled around the room looking for something to wear that wasn’t his wedding suit. In one of the dressers on the far side of the room he found all his clothes. Geno must have arranged for them to be brought over sometime yesterday. Sid was touched by the gesture.

He pulled on a comfortable pair of pants and a plain shirt, and walked out into the sitting room. Geno was sitting at the table, a lavish breakfast set out in front of him. He looked up when Sid walked in, but didn’t say anything.

“Good morning,” Sid said.

Geno grunted, but didn’t otherwise acknowledge him.

Sid felt something thick and heavy settle in the pit of his stomach. But maybe Geno just wasn’t a morning person.

“What are we doing today?” Sid asked.

“Have meetings this morning,” Geno said. “Afternoon we take parade to meet the people of Magnitogorsk.”

Sid nodded. He filled his plate with more food than he could reasonably eat, but everything looked and smelled delicious. He opened his mouth to ask if Geno wanted him to attend the morning meetings, but before he had a chance, the legs of Geno’s chair were scraping loudly along the tiled floor, and he was standing.

“Must go. See you later, Sid.”

Then he was gone.

Geno was distant through the day, and the rest of the week. They shared a bed at night, but Geno didn’t kiss him again, or initiate any contact. Sid tried the first two nights to reach out and touch him, but each time he was gently but firmly rebuffed. During the day, Geno would hardly speak to him. He couldn’t think what he might have done to drive Geno away. They seemed to be getting along better right before the wedding, and then their wedding night was nothing short of amazing.

Sid just didn’t get it. He was hurt and confused, but between the events, his family’s preparations to return home, and Geno’s avoiding act, there was no time to confront him.

“Are you going to be all right?” his mother asked.

It was time for his family and the envoy from Cole Harbour to return home. They had stayed as long as they could, and Sid was grateful for every moment he got to spend with them, but they were needed back at home.

“Yeah,” he said. “Of course.”

“Oh, Sidney,” she said, stroking his cheek. “I don’t know how you’re going to manage on your own.”

“I’ll be fine, mom,” he said. “Besides, I’m not alone. I have Geno.”

He gestured behind him to where Geno was standing tall and proud with his parents. They all came, both royal families plus their envoys to see the Crosbys safely off.

“I know you do, honey,” she said.

He hugged his parents and Taylor one last time, and then before he really had a chance to process it, they were gone. Sid stared at the space he had last seen his family standing for what felt like ages. Geno put his hand on Sid’s shoulder and squeezed. They stood together for a long time.

 

-

 

Sid and Geno fell into married life together. It was everything and nothing like Sid expected it to be. They worked together, they went out together, ate together, came home at the end of the day together, and shared a bed at night.

It was good. Sid liked the way that Geno made space for him. His dad and sister had brought all of Sid’s belongings with them when they came for the wedding, and Sid had found his books, mementos, and several framed photographs mixed in with his clothes, and carefully unpacked next to Geno’s things.

Despite their physical proximity, there was a distance between them Sid couldn’t bridge, and he couldn’t let himself relax.

Sid tried, at first, to be as unobtrusive as possible, tried not to take up any of Geno’s space.

One night, he was carefully putting his things away before they were going to sleep.

Geno made a frustrated noise.

“What’s wrong?” Sid asked, after he gathered everything and put it in a pile by the door so he would remember to take it with him in the morning.

He climbed into bed, making sure to keep a careful distance from Geno. Ever since their wedding night, Geno shied away from touching him in private. He had no problem taking Sid’s hand when they were out together, putting a guiding touch on Sid’s back. Sometimes he would squeeze Sid’s neck, or occasionally drape his arm over Sid’s shoulders. but whenever they were alone he always kept two feet between them so Sid was careful to do the same.

“It’s your room too,” Geno said.

“I know,” Sid said. “That’s why I’m getting ready to sleep here.” He smiled crookedly at Geno, not sure why he was upset.

Instead of satisfying him, it only seemed to frustrate Geno further. “No,” he said seriously. “It’s your room. You can keep things here.” He gestured to where Sid had set his belongings aside.

“Oh,” Sid said. “I just didn’t want to be in the way.”

Geno reached out and took Sid’s hand in his. “You live here,” he said. “You’re allowed to have stuff and be messy. You don’t have to be perfect always. Guest.”

“Oh,” Sid said again. “Oh. All right.”

“Okay?” Geno asked.

“Yeah,” Sid agreed.

It was easier after that for Sid to remember that he actually lived there, and that he wasn’t just an indefinite visitor. Every time he left even the tiniest mess, Geno would beam at him like he did something amazing instead of just leaving his socks on the ground.

Shortly after they had that conversation, Geno caught Sid staring at his grotesque statues.

“You like?” Geno asked.

Sid looked at him. He was standing in the entryway of their rooms looking deliciously ruffled. Sid knew he had been in meetings for most of the day and his hair was sticking up in every which way. Sid had observed him running his hands through his hair when he got particularly bored or frustrated, and he was sure that was what had wreaked havoc on Geno’s hair today.

Sid longed to reach out and run his fingers through it, smooth the wayward strands.

“Actually, no.” Sid burst out laughing at the expression on Geno’s face, which looked half delighted at Sid expressing an opinion and half offended on behalf of his decorating skills.

“What?” Geno asked. “Why not? They best.”

“They’re really not,” Sid said. “They look like something out of a nightmare.”

Geno nodded like this was part of their appeal and Sid chuckled.

“Every time I come in here they scare the crap out of me.” He shrugged sheepishly.

“I can get rid of them,” Geno said reluctantly.

“No,” Sid told him. “They’re yours. You like them.”

“You live here too,” Geno said.

“Yeah, but…” He shrugged again. “It’s okay. Don’t worry about it.”

Geno looked troubled, but he let the subject drop.

 

-

 

Sid had a dinner that ran late. By the time they got out it was dark and most people were already asleep. He let himself into his and Geno’s rooms, expecting to find him awake, reading or maybe even exercising. Sid had noticed that Geno liked to wait for Sid to return before turning in for bed, regardless of their separate daily routines.

The rooms were dark and quiet when Sid let himself in. Geno had been up before dawn that day and Sid was glad he decided not to wait up for him.

He was so focused on keeping quiet and not waking Geno that he completely forgot about the damn statues. That would have been bad enough, he always startled when he caught sight of them even when it wasn’t pitch black in the room, but he stumbled at the last minute trying to pull off his shoes, and tripped, sending Sid and the statue crashing to the ground.

Sid cursed under his breath, as pain shot through his leg. The damn thing had fallen right on top of him and it was heavy. Truthfully, he didn’t know why he was keeping it down, if Geno hadn’t heard the racket of the crash, he certainly wasn’t going to wake up just because Sid was swearing up a blue streak.

The light came on.

“Sid?” Geno asked. “Okay?”

Sid groaned and took several deep breaths before answering. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m fine. Can you help me up? I’m kind of stuck here.”

Geno jumped into action, heaving the heavy sculpture off of Sid and throwing it carelessly to the side. Sid struggled to climbed to his feet, but his foot buckled when he tried to put even the smallest amount of weight on it.

Geno wrapped his arm around Sid’s waist, and together they hobbled towards the bed.

“I’m so sorry,” Sid said when he was comfortably seated. Geno stuck a pillow under his foot and was fluffing it for maximum leverage.

“I’m fine,” he insisted.

Geno shot him a quelling look. “Stay,” he said. “I’ll go get ice.”

“I don’t--” Sid started, but Geno was already gone.

He returned five minutes later carrying a large bucket of ice, more than Sid could possibly need or use. He wrapped some in a towel and placed it gently on Sid’s ankle, which was looking blue and swollen. Sid hissed.

“Hurts?” Geno asked.

“It’s just cold.”

Geno fussed a little with the sheets and ice, making sure Sid was comfortably situated, “Do you need a doctor?” he asked.

Sid rolled his ankle a little. It hurt, but it didn’t feel broken or otherwise seriously injured. “No,” he said. “I should be okay, I think.”

Geno looked like he was about three seconds from jumping up and tracking down a doctor anyway.

“I’m fine,” Sid insisted. “Geno, come lay back down.”

Geno hesitated for another moment. Sid patted the bed next to him.Geno gave him a suspicious look before sitting on the bed carefully next to Sid.

“Sorry I woke you,” Sid said. His ankle was throbbing, but the adrenaline pumping through his veins from the moment that statute had crashed drown on him was slowly leaving his body.

“It’s no problem,” Geno assured him.

Sid meant to stay awake. Meant to talk to Geno. Something. But Geno was lying close to him, his body practically pressed up against Sid’s for the first time since their wedding night, and he ran a soothing hand up and down Sid’s arm. The next thing he knew, he was asleep.

In the morning Geno was gone.

So were the statues.

 

-

 

“Hey,” Sid said.

Geno was in their sitting room reading some papers.

“Hi.” He smiled wide and open at Sid, looked happy to see him.

His hair was a ruffled mess, and his lips were red and shiny from the way he ran his tongue over them every few minutes. It made Sid want to reach out and touch him.

“You need something?” Geno asked after a moment. Sid shook himself out of his reverie, feeling his cheeks head up.

“No. Well, yes! I just was wondering…”

“Yes?” Geno asked.

“Can I sit here? With you?”

Geno looked stricken, and for one horrible moment Sid was terrified he was going to tell Sid no. Thanks, but no thanks. You’re not wanted here. Instead, a smile spread across his face, and it made Sid ache.

“Yes,” he said. “Of course you’re welcome.” He frowned a little. “I said these are your rooms. You don’t believe me?”

“No,” Sid said. “I believe you.” Geno still looked unhappy. “I do,” Sid hastened to assure him. “I just didn’t…”

“What?”

“I wasn’t sure you wanted,” me, he couldn’t bring himself to say.

Geno stood up and took Sid’s hand, drawing him along and forcing him into the empty seat next to the one Geno had vacated.

“I want,” he said firmly.

“All right,” Sid said.

The two of them lapsed into silence. Sid was quickly sucked into the report he was reading in the crop viability of Magnitogorsk.

Sometime later he was pulled out of it by Geno letting out an angry grunt. His neck was stiff and when he sat up straight his spine cracked all the way up.

“What’s the matter?” Sid asked.

Geno huffed an annoyed breath. “So stupid.” He gestured to his own work.

“Anything I can help with?” he offered.

Geno hummed. “Trade agreement,” he offered as an explanation.

Sid pulled his chair around so he could see over Geno’s shoulder, and Geno shifted to give Sid a better view of what he was working on.

Sid read for a moment, occasionally asking Geno to explain a word or phrase he didn’t understand. By the time he was done Sid thought he had a good idea of the problem Geno was facing.

“Look at this,” Sid said pointing to where he thought the problem lay. Geno listened as Sid explained his theory, Geno interrupting a few times to ask questions.

When he was finished, Geno looked at the report reading quickly and flipping back and forth between the two sections Sid pointed out.

“Sid,” he said after a moment, a huge grin on his face. “Best. You best.”

“Nah,” Sid said brushing him off. “I just had fresh eyes.”

“No,” Geno said firmly. He took Sid’s face gently between his large palms and placed a smacking kiss right on his mouth. “Best.”

 

-

 

Sometimes Sid would sit down next to Geno in their rooms or at meals and the two of them would read together, Geno guiding Sid through the tricker Russian and explaining anything he didn’t understand.

Sid’s grasp of the language grew in leaps and bounds. It was much easier to learn when he was completely immersed in it, surrounded by people who were constantly speaking to him.

It worked to his advantage in more ways than one. People often underestimated his grasp of the language and tried to talk over him or more quickly than they thought he could keep up with. Sid loved the look on their faces when he was able to answer them back when they weren’t expecting it. The look on Geno’s face every time he got something exactly right wasn’t bad either.

It was easy working with Geno. Easy living with him too. Even though Sid longed for the kind of physical intimacy they had shared on their wedding night, what they had now was good too. It was comfortable spending time together.

 

-

 

One morning almost four months after their wedding, Sid woke up in an absolutely foul mood.

“Breakfast?” Geno asked, when Sid finally managed to drag himself out of bed.

Sid grunted.

“Grump.” Geno poked his tongue out of the corner of his mouth.

Normally, it was a mannerism that Sid found adorable and endearing. Today, it just pissed him off. He sat down and served himself some food, not bothering to talk or even make eye contact.

“What’s on the agenda today?”

Sid shrugged.

“Sid?” Geno asked.

“I don’t know!” he said. “Nothing.”

Geno’s face clouded over and he opened his mouth, probably to yell at Sid, but instead he snapped his jaw shut. He gathered his things in silence and walked out without a backwards glance.

Sid felt like an asshole. Anger bubbled hot and thick at the pit of his stomach, but he pushed it down.

His morning didn’t improve from there. He was scheduled to give a tour to an ambassador from the Kingdom of Philadelphia. Right away they got off on the wrong foot, and by mid-morning it was all Sid could do not to punch Giroux in the mouth.

Sid wasn’t sure how she found out, but Queen Natalia appeared at his side shortly before lunch.

“Sidney,” she said smiling. “Why don’t you let me take it from here. I’d be happy to show Ambassador Giroux around.”

Sid burned with shame at being publicly chastised.

“Of course, Your Majesty,” he said, doing his best to ignore the knowing smirk Giroux was shooting his way.

“I think Zhenya is having lunch in the atrium. Why don’t you join him?”

Sid nodded stiffly. “Of course.”

He felt too angry to see Geno, and embarrassed over how he acted that morning. He wandered around aimlessly, feeling hungry and tired but not wanting to face or speak to anyone. Eventually he snuck into the kitchen and begged a sandwich before returning to his and Geno’s room.

He sat down on the couch and thought about picking up his book, or doing some work, but instead he put his head down on the pillow and closed his eyes.

Just for a minute.

Sid awoke to a gentle hand on his shoulder, shaking him softly. When he opened his eyes, Geno’s face filled his field of vision, his eyes wide and brown and open.

“Geno?” he asked.

He nodded. “Sid, okay? You missed lunch.”

Sid sat up. The light in the room had shifted and the clock on the wall behind Geno said that almost four hours had passed. Sid’s eyes felt gummy, almost sore, and he felt tired in that way that naps in the afternoon always left him, almost worse off than if he hadn’t slept at all.

“Yeah,” he said. “I guess I fell asleep.”

Geno smiled. “Hungry?”

Sid’s stomach chose that moment to let out an extended growl. Geno chuckled softly. “Hungry,” he said decisively. “Come. I’ll feed you.”

Geno pushed himself to his feet, and offered Sid a hand up. His palm was rough with calluses against Sid’s, and dry. His grip was firm and comforting, and he didn’t let go as he guided them both downstairs to the kitchens.

“Sit,” he told Sid, and practically forced him into a chair, before puttering around. A few cooks hovered anxiously, oftering again and again their services, but each time he waved them off with a shake of his head and fluttering hands. From what Sid could tell he was pulling out the ingredients for a sandwich.

A few moments later he put a plate down in front of Sid, who took a bite before looking up at Geno with wide eyes.

“Peanut butter?” he asked. He’d never had it the entire time he was in Russia.

“Mama,” Geno said.

“Where did your mom get it?” Sid asked through a sticky mouthful of peanut butter.

Geno shook his head. “Your mama.”

“What?”

“I asked her before she left,” Geno explained. “As wedding present.”

Sid was shocked. Not that his mother would do it, it was perfectly like her to do so, but that Geno would think to ask for something so small, just to bring Sid a tiny bit of comfort. As he chewed his sandwich he was ashamed to realise tears had sprung to his eyes. He brushed them away hastily, and swallowed a few times against the burn in the back of his throat.

“Sid,” Geno said. He reached across the table and grabbed his fingers, squeezing them tight. “Okay?”

Sid wasn’t. He missed his home. He missed his family, he had never been away consecutively this long, and he was homesick and tired and lonely.

“No,” he said honestly.

Geno’s face clouded over with an expression Sid couldn’t read. “How can I help?”

Love me, Sid wanted to say, but couldn’t. He bit his tongue. “You can’t.”

Geno sighed and pulled his hand away from Sid’s. He finished his sandwich, the peanut butter sticking to the roof of his mouth. If he had to swallow hard several times, he told himself it was because he was out of practice eating it.

At night, when Geno crawled into bed next to him, he hesitated for a moment before pressing his hand flat on Sid’s back, right between his shoulder blades. Sid sighed and pressed back into the touch. Geno ran his hand down Sid’s spine, and when he reached his waist, Sid felt the bed dip behind him as Geno pressed closer. He hesitated for only a moment before wrapping his arm around Sid and rubbing his nose against the nape of Sid’s back.

Sid hummed, content. It was the first time they had touched in bed since their wedding night. Sid slept heavy through the night.

 

-

 

The air had long since turned crisp and cool when Sid stumbled upon a group of children playing a game of hockey in the courtyard. He stopped for a moment to observe them, temporarily thrown back to the rare occasions in his childhood when his father took him and Taylor skating. Usually it was for some royal function, but the best times were when it was just the three of them on a crisp sheet of smooth ice.

“Your highness!”

One of the girls playing, she looked maybe ten or eleven, called out to him in Russian.

“Hello.” He smiled at her.

“Do you play hockey?” she asked.

Sidney crouched down so he was on her level. “A little bit,” he said. “Not as well as you, I bet.”

She giggled. “Do you want to play with us?”

The question, asked shyly, touched something inside him. It was easy enough to see how much the people loved Geno. Whenever the two of them went out in public together, people fawned over him. He was especially good with young children and teenage girls. Sid told himself the latter didn’t bother him, refused to let himself think about whether or not Geno would be happier with a nice Russian.

It was gratifying to have this little girl invite him to be a part of their game. Even if it didn’t mean anything on a larger scale, it made him feel, just a little bit like maybe he could be accepted, someday.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Katerina,” she said. She had long brown hair that was pulled back in a neat braid. Her face was flushed with exertion, and she just looked like she was having the time of her life.

“You know what, Katerina?” he asked. “I’d love to play with you.”

She smiled wide and reached out for his hand. Sid wrapped her tiny fingers in his larger ones, and she pulled him along behind her. She shouted at her friends that Prince Sidney was going to play with them, and “he’s going to be on my team because I asked him.”

There was some grumbling about this until Sid promised to switch halfway through.

They played, which mostly consisted of Sid passing the ball to various kids and cheering them on. They laughed whenever he forgot his Russian and involuntarily yelled out encouragements in English. Sid smiled and ducked his head, having more fun than he could remember having in a long time.

Sid was crouched down, listening to a story one of the little goalies was telling while the game went on near the makeshift goal at the other end. Suddenly, there was a loud commotion, and most of the kids ran off somewhere just out of sight.

“Should we see what that’s about?” he asked.

The boy nodded, and reached for Sid’s hand.

The fuss turned out to be Geno and his security detail. Geno was leaning against a wall, while all the kids clamoured around him for his attention. He looked up when Sid joined him, his eyes catching on where Sid still held the boy’s hand. There was an expression on his face Sid couldn’t read. He dropped his eyes from Geno’s and smiled down at his new friend.

“Do you want to go say hello?”

Instead of nodding and running off like Sid expected him to, his little friend buried his face in Sid’s side and shook his head. Sid smoothed a hand over the back of the boy’s curls and shrugged at Geno, who looked stricken. It made something ache deep in his chest, and he was glad there were several children separating him and Geno, preventing Sid from reaching out and touching him.

“Do you want to play too?” a tiny voice somewhere in the horde of children asked.

Geno looked at Sid, his eyes sparkling with mirth, and the lip of his tongue poking out the corner of his mouth.

“I don’t know,” he said. “It might not be fair if I play. Since I’m so great and all.”

As the kids chimed in with pleas and assurances that they didn’t mind, Sid watched the way Geno interacted with them, how comfortable he was with them.

Finally, Geno gave into the begging, and the group of them trooped back out to the makeshift hockey floor.

The game was fun and silly, Sid and Geno mostly content to stay to the edges and let the kids do their thing. At one point, Sid found himself across from Geno at the chalked faceoff dot. He looked up into Geno’s eyes and was thrown by the fondness there.

“Crosby sucks,” Geno muttered in English, under his breath and too quiet for anyone but the two of them to hear.

Sid barked out a surprised laugh, and Geno won the draw handily.

“Do you like hockey?” Geno asked after the game had disbanded and they made their way back to their rooms for a quiet dinner.

“I’m Canadian,” Sid told him. “What do you think?”

Geno laughed. “Russian hockey best,” he said smugly.

Sid might be Russian now, at least by marriage, but there were certain things he could not let stand.

They teased each other as they ate, Sid throwing factoids at Geno, and him completely stubborn in his stance that “Russia best.” From there it was easy enough for Sid to share some of his favourite hockey memories from growing up. In turn, Geno shared some of his own, talking about Russian winters, and all the things Sid had never had the chance to see when he went home at the end of every summer.

“You miss it?” Geno asked, interrupting a story Sid was telling about skating on the Rideau Canal on one of his visits to Ottawa. “Home,” he clarified.

“This is my home now,” Sid told him.

Geno looked--Sid didn’t know how to read the expression on his face. It looked something like longing.

“But yeah,” Sid said, glancing away. “I do miss my family, and just--obviously it’s a part of me, where I’m from.”

Geno nodded. “Mean it?” His voice sounded hoarse.

“Hm?” Sid asked.

“This is your home now?”

“Of course,” he said. “With you, Geno.”

 

-

 

Since that night with the peanut butter sandwich, it was like the physical contact barrier had been broken. At night before they drifted off to sleep, Geno would reach out, putting his hand on whatever part of Sid he could touch. Sometimes it was his shoulder or his hip, others the small of Sid’s back, or flat in the middle of his chest.

Sid tucked himself up close under the crook of Geno’s arm, and breathed in deep. Just letting himself have this. It was nice, being close to Geno, and comforting. Sid tried his best to respect what Geno was offering, and not to ask for more, but often he would wake up in the morning pressed to Geno’s side or front and it left Sid with a lot of awkward erections, and feeling uncomfortable and unsure how to handle it all.

Sid woke up one morning plastered to Geno’s back. His arm was wrapped firmly around Geno’s waist, and his face was tucked into the back of Geno’s neck. The fine hairs there tickled Sid’s nose and he breathed out harshly once before rubbing his face back and forth to quell the itch.

Geno mumbled sleepily, and pressed further back into Sid’s hold, but otherwise didn’t stir.

It was nice. Geno felt strong and solid in Sid’s grip, and he idly ran his hand in soothing circles low on Geno’s belly. It wasn’t until Geno shifted, pressing his hips backwards into Sid’s that he realised what he was doing.

When he moved to withdraw his hand, Geno clamped down his grip around Sid’s wrist, holding him there.

“Geno?” Sid whispered. “Are you awake?”

He didn’t say anything but his hold on Sid’s wrist didn’t relax. He pressed Sid’s hand back to his stomach where he had been running his hand through the light trace of hair, and tangled his fingers together with Sid’s.

“Geno?” he asked again.

“Shh,” Geno replied. “Sleeping.”

His hand guided Sid’s in a slow circle. Geno’s skin felt soft and warm under Sid’s palm, and there was nothing he wanted more than to keep touching him. To always be touching him.

What felt like only a moment later, Geno’s breath evened out and his hand on Sid’s went slack. Sid stayed where he was, not wanting to break the moment.

When it seemed like Geno was completely asleep, Sid slowly went to withdraw his hand. Instead, Geno reached out and held onto him. “Stay,” he whispered.

“Yeah,” Sid said. He pressed his hand back against Geno’s belly, wishing he could touch more, or at least know if Geno was as hard as Sid.

His question was answered only a moment later, when Geno pushed his hips back, rubbing his ass against Sid’s erection. He gasped and pushed his hips forward involuntarily, grinding his dick against Geno.

Geno groaned softly, and taking that as a sign of encouragement, Sid slowly slid his hand down and cupped his palm around Geno’s dick, hard and straining in his pants. Geno groaned again and pushed his cock into Sid’s grip.

Sid kissed the back of Geno’s neck dragging his teeth over the knob of Geno’s spine.

“Sid,” Geno said, and his voice sounded wrecked and desperate.

Emboldened by it, Sid tucked the tips of his fingers into Geno’s pants. It was his turn to moan when he encountered bare skin--Geno wasn’t wearing any underwear.

The knowledge was scorching hot, and Sid wondered how many other times Geno had come into their bed with just the thin layer of his pajama bottoms separating Sid from his naked skin. He scratched his nails through the rough hair above Geno’s dick before taking him in a firm grip.

“Is this okay?” he asked.

Geno nodded vigorously, and Sid began to stroke him. It was an awkward angle, and he couldn’t get much range of motion with Geno’s pants trapping them. He groaned, frustrated, and withdrew his hand.

Geno whimpered.

“Wait,” Sid said.

He pushed Geno’s pants down over his hips, leaving them tangled around his knees. It was easier after that to get his hand around Geno’s cock and to jerk him off, slow and lazy, like he would himself. The head of Geno’s cock was red and wet, and each time it pushed through the clutch of Sid’s fingers, it left him feeling hot and breathless. He ran his palm over the wet tip, spreading the precome around and using it to slick the way.

Geno’s breathing was harsh and fast, and he pushed his hips forward with every stroke, fucking Sid’s fist. Sid ran his hand lower, tugging gently on Geno’s balls before pressing up with two fingers behind them. When Sid ran his hand further back, brushing over Geno’s asshole, he came with a shout.

Sid kissed his shoulder and nudged his dick between Geno’s asscheeks. Geno turned his head and kissed Sid, wet and sloppy, his tongue pushing into Sid’s mouth, licking the roof. It was hot and wet, and Sid needed to get off. He pushed his pants and underwear down, nesting his cock between the cleft of Geno’s cheeks.

Sid moaned, rubbing his dick hard and fast against Geno’s body.

Geno shifted so he was lying on his front and pulled on Sid’s wrist until he was lying on top of Geno. It was easy to fuck down, hard and fast between Geno’s cheeks, the way made smooth by Geno’s come and sweat. The head of Sid’s cock caught against Geno’s hole, and Sid had only half a second to imagine what it would feel like to put his dick in the tight clutch of Geno’s body before he was coming all over Geno’s ass and thighs.

He stayed where he was, all his weight braced on Geno, the two of them breathing in sync.

After a moment Geno grunted and elbowed Sid hard in the ribs. He let out an “oof,” and rolled off, lying to the side. Geno stood and retreated to their bathroom, and Sid’s gut went cold. The last time they had sex was their wedding night, and immediately after Geno had pulled away. It had taken them months to get where they were and as fantastic as the sex was, Sid didn’t want to lose what they had worked so hard to build.

He opened his mouth to call out to Geno, not having the slightest idea what he was going to say or how to fix things. Before he had the chance, Geno appeared at their bedside holding a wet cloth that he unceremoniously dropped on Sid’s chest.

“Move over,” he grumbled, climbing back into bed. “Wet spot.”

Sid obediently shuffled so Geno could lie back down. He pressed right up against Sid’s side, laying his head on Sid’s shoulder. Against his will, Sid tensed, unsure what was happening or how he should feel.

“What’s wrong?” Geno raised his head so he could look into Sid’s face.

Not wanting to hope for something that was going to be taken away again, Sid closed his eyes for a long moment. “Nothing.”

Geno searched his face, before lying back down, the tiniest bit of space between their bodies.

 

-

 

Sid was standing next to Geno when he heard the shout. The entire royal family was preparing for a parade to celebrate Queen Natalia’s birthday. The family was making a public appearance together and Geno was holding Sid’s hand. Around them, guards and the family’s personal attendants were doing their best to mitigate the crowds.

It was noisy and chaotic. The sound of laughter and conversation was enough to drown out Sid’s own thoughts. Somehow, above the din everyone, guards, royals, citizens all turned at the sound of the shout, almost eerily synchronized. Sid wasn’t sure what happened from one moment to the next. Geno was standing beside him, his fingers gripped tightly around Sid’s. The next he was pushing his mother out of the way and turning his body so she was shielded behind him. There was a split second where Geno’s eyes locked with Sid, before Sid registered the sound of the shot, and the shock and fear on Geno’s face.

Then everything around him was panic and pandemonium.

People were screaming and running in every direction, and Geno--

Geno was on the ground. Sid scrambled to his knees, wrapping one arm around Geno’s back and supporting his weight. His other hand pressed hard into Geno’s shoulder, blood seeping out from between his fingers.

Sid couldn’t actually remember all that much of the events that followed.

There were so many people all around them all at once, and Sid couldn’t actually make heads or tails of who was there to help and who was just… there.

Through it all, Sid stayed next to Geno on the ground. Geno’s eyes were wide and scared, and there seemed to be so much blood everywhere.

Geno reached out and grabbed Sid’s hands and his fingers were cold. Somewhere in the recess of his mind, Sid knew that wasn’t good, and he looked around frantically, trying to determine how far off help was.

“Sid,” Geno said.

He gripped Geno’s hand as hard as he could. “Hold on, Zhenya.”

Geno and Queen Natalia were loaded into an ambulance.

“Your Highness,” a guard addressed him. “We need you to come with us now.”

Sid was grateful to have someone giving him directions. He noticed distantly, that his hands and shirt were covered with blood. He wiped his palms furiously on his pants, trying to keep an eye on Geno, not to let him out of his sight.

They hustled Geno inside the palace, the royal physicians coming out to speak to Sid and Queen Natalia. There was a lot of medical terms being thrown around very quickly, more than Sid was able to follow in Russian. Finally, they were able to return to Sid and Geno’s rooms to wait for Geno to come out of surgery. Queen Natalia flopped down on one of their couches, letting out a long breath.

Sid wasn’t sure how so many people were able to fit inside his living quarters. Guards, servants, personal attendants were coming in and out quicker than Sid was able to keep track. He paced back and forth a few times, feeling anxious.

“Sidney.” Queen Natalia patted the spot next to her, and Sid sat down. Sid’s body felt drained and now that he had a moment to think, it started to sink in.

Geno had been shot. He could die.

His breath came short and fast, and his vision began to grey at the edges. Geno could--he could--

Natalia put her hand on the back of Sid’s neck and squeezed. “Sidney,” she said.

He turned to look at her.

“My son is a very brave, very stupid man, but he is going to be fine.” Her eyes were red rimmed but steady, and she had never been anything less than honest with him. “Any moment now a doctor will come in here and we will go see Zhenya and yell at him.”

Sid let out a weak chuckle.

It was more like several hours, and at some point someone brought him a fresh change of clothes, but finally a doctor did appear and they were allowed to go see Geno.

He looked drawn and pale when they walked into his room, and his eyes were barely open. Natalia rushed to his side and put her hand on his chest.

“Dumb, stupid boy,” she told him, and started to cry.

Geno looked wrecked at that, small and lost. He held out his hand and Queen Natalia took it. “Mama,” he said.

Sid felt like an intruder on their moment, and was just about to back out of the room when Geno looked up and met his eyes.

“Sid.”

Sid was drawn to him, and he crossed the room quickly, wrapping his arm around Natalia’s shoulders, and placing his palm gently over their joined hands.

 

-

 

Geno was restricted to complete bedrest for a week, before he was cleared to get up and move around. His arm was in a sling, and he had strict instructions from his doctors not to exert himself physically, but otherwise he was fine.

It came out later that the would-be assassin had been aiming for Queen Natalia, although that much had been obvious from the way Geno turned his body to protect hers. Sid didn’t want to know how Geno had seen it, let alone with enough time to do anything about it, but he was grateful Queen Natalia was all right, even if he would never be okay with what happened to Geno, to seeing him on the ground and bloody.

The first time Sid helped Geno out of a bed for a short walk, left him with a faint sheen of sweat on his forehead. He looked tired and drawn from the short circuit of the rooms, and leaned heavily on Sid’s shoulder for half the distance.

“I need a bell,” he joked when Sid had him settled, a mound of pillows all around him. “I’ll get you to bring me everything.”

Sid rolled his eyes, but thought privately that he probably would.

That feeling, however, wore off quickly when it turned out Geno was literally the world’s biggest baby.

“Sid,” he whined two days later. “I’m bored.”

“Read a book,” Sid told him. He was sitting across the room at Geno’s desk, trying to get some work done. Geno had been forbidden from doing any work for at least two weeks, something he’d been absolutely gleeful about to begin with, but it had quickly devolved to nonstop complaining.

“I’m hungry, Sid,” he said.

“Call for something,” Sid told him without looking up.

Geno huffed out a breath.

Sid ignored it for as long as he could, he really did, but with Geno that was about forty-five seconds. A minute, at the most.

“What?” he asked when he looked up to see Geno pouting.

He didn’t say anything but his eyes spoke volumes.

Sid sighed and got to his feet. “Fine, you big whiner. What do you want?”

Geno rattled off his order, and Sid did his best not to look overly fond. It was probably far too late for that, but he didn’t want to encourage this kind of behaviour.

By the time Sid returned from the kitchens twenty minutes later, Geon was sacked out on the bed, his limbs spread every which way and his mouth open. He let out loud snores every other breath. Sid sat down and went back to work.

 

-

 

“Why didn’t you wake me?” Geno asked.

Sid startled from where he was hunched over the desk. A quick glance at the clock told him it had been at least two hours since he last looked up, and his neck and shoulders were stiff and sore. Geno put his good hand on Sid’s shoulder and squeezed.

“What are you doing up?” Sid asked. “You’re supposed to be in bed.”

“I hurt my shoulder, not my legs,” Geno said.

“You didn’t just hurt your shoulder, you were shot,” he said irritably. “You should be in bed.” He stood and began herding Geno back in the direction of their bed. Like hell he was going to re-injure himself on Sid’s watch.

“I’m fine,” Geno said.”

Sid scowled. “You’re not fine, you were shot. You need to rest.”

“I didn’t know you cared,” he muttered.

Sid stopped in his tracks. “What?” His voice sounded shaky and hoarse. “Say that again.”

Geno crossed his arms over his chest and looked Sid in the eye. “What does it matter?”

Sid’s jaw dropped. “It matters because you’re my husband.”

Geno looked angry now, and Sid didn’t know how they had landed here, or even what they were arguing about.

“You only care because we’re married.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.” He threw up his hands in exasperation. “Of course I care about you because you’re my husband--”

“Is that the only reason?” Geno asked.

Sid honestly had no idea what Geno was even asking him.

“I don’t understand.”

Geno huffed. “Growing up, you always stuck to yourself on your visits, always stayed away from me.”

“What?”

“You avoided me and my friends.”

“Well yeah, because you didn’t like me.”

Geno shook his head. “No,” he said vehemently. “I always liked you. I always tried to include you, and every time it seemed like we were getting along you’d run away.”

Sid didn’t remember it that way. “No,” he said. “It wasn’t like that.”

“Yes it was! Then you learned Russian and kept it a secret. You never talked to me.”

“I was--” afraid. But he could see how it wouldn’t seem that way to Geno.

“Finally, we started to spend time together before the wedding. Everything seemed to be going well, I thought we were having fun together.”

“It was, we were!” he protested, and it had been. Sid remembered those times leading up to the wedding when it seemed like they were finally, finally getting along better. He still didn’t know what had caused Geno to pull back.

“Then,” Geno said. His voice sounded hard and vicious. “We got married. Had sex.”

“Yes,” Sid said.

“Sid, you said--” he switched to English. It was the first time in a long time that Sid could remember them conversing in his native language. “You say, ‘get over with,’” he made air quotes around the words.

“What?” Sid asked. He didn’t remember that.

“You said,” Geno went back to Russian. “I’m glad we got that over with.”

Sid stared at him, honestly racking his brain, trying to remember.

“I don’t remember.”

“You said it,” Geno told him. “I remember.”

What Sid could remember was being scared and nervous but happy, he couldn’t remember saying it.

“What was I supposed to think, Sid? You’re happy to get it over with, like it’s just like another job for you, like you had to.”

And, oh. “No,” he gasped. “No, no, you never made me, I wanted to, I--” love you.

“Then why did you say it?”

“I don’t know. I don’t remember saying it. I was nervous, it was my first time, and I--”

“What?” Geno asked.

“I was nervous,” he said. “Geez.”

“No.” Geno walked across the room and put his hand on Sid’s chin. “You never? Before?”

Sid understood. “Of course not.”

Geno looked stricken.

“We were engaged. Who was I--? I wouldn’t do that.”

“Oh.”

“Why? Did you--?”

“No.” Geno said. “Never. You were the first one. The only one.”

“Oh.”

It was like the wind went out of both their sails. Sid never really thought about--never really let himself think about what Geno might be doing when Sid wasn’t around. Geno always seemed so confident and sure, it was hard to imagine him feeling as alone and nervous as Sid. Growing up, Sid always felt so wrong-footed next to Geno, and as a result, never thought about how any of the things he said or as being hurtful from Geno’s perspective.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I never wanted you to think I didn’t like you, or that I didn’t want you around. I like you,” he added.

Geno smiled. “I like you too.”

They stared at one another. Sid was sure the smile on his face looked dopey and ridiculous, but that was okay because the one one Geno’s did too.

“I’m going to kiss you now,” Geno said. His hand was still holding Sid’s chin, and he tilted Sid’s face up.

“Your shoulder,” Sid said, conscious of the sling Geno was wearing.

“My Shoulder’s hurt, not my mouth,” he whispered right against Sid’s lips.

The kiss was different from any one they had shared previously. It felt hopeful, was the only word for it. Happy.

Sid parted his lips, and wrapped his arm around Geno’s waist, careful not to jostle his injury.

Geno’s lips were soft and warm, and they moved carefully against Sid’s.

“We should go back to bed,” Geno said.

“Oh, now you want to,” Sid said, but his voice came out breathy.

“Yes, want.” Geno’s eyes were dark and his voice was heavy with desire.

Sid led them to their bed, and laid Geno out on his back with pillows supporting his neck and shoulders.

“Take good care of me, Sid,” Geno said.

Sid didn’t know if Geno was making a statement, or asking a question, but so far taking care of Geno felt like the one thing he had really failed to do. Geno had accommodated him, taught him, welcomed Sid into his home and into his life. He made space for Sid, went out of his way to make Sid feel comfortable. Sid wasn’t sure if he could honestly say that he had returned the favour, but that was what he planned to do, now and for the rest of their lives.

“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, Geno. I will.”

 

-

 

Epilogue

 

Sid was laughing as he and Geno burst through the doors to their living quarters.

“Shh.” Sid didn’t know why Geno was bothering to shush him, since the bang of their door hitting the wall when Geno had thrown it open was probably heard all the way down to the reception where the two of them had just escaped.

“It’s a little late for that,” Sid said. He wasn’t sure if he was referring to them being quiet, or the danger of them being caught, but either way their door was closed and Geno was crowding Sid up against it. No one was going to appear and drag them back down to the festivities.

Geno put his hands on either side of Sid’s head and leaned in. He ran his nose up the line of Sid’s throat before firmly attaching his mouth to the sensitive skin right below Sid’s ear. Sid’s hips jerked in reaction to the hot suction on his neck, and he ground them up against Geno’s, happy to discover his husband was already as hard in his pants as Sid.

“Bed,” Sid said. “Bed, bed, bed, let’s go.”

Geno laughed and bit Sid’s neck, but he stepped back and took Sid’s hand, leading the two of them to their bedroom. They stumbled and laughed as they shed their clothes, tripping over discarded garments and sometimes nothing at all, drunk on champagne and happiness.

They were stripped down to their underwear by the time they made it to the bed, and Sid tackled Geno, settling himself firmly in his lap.

“Hi.” He wrapped his arms around Geno’s neck and stared down at him for a long moment. Geno’s hair was mussed, wet at his temples from where he’d been sweating all night. His eyes were wide, pupils blown dark, and his lips were red and wet from where they’d been kissing earlier.

Geno settled his hands on Sid’s waist, a grin on his face. “Hi,” he said.

Sid leaned down and he kissed Geno on the mouth. The two of them kissed for a long time, getting lost in the lush press of mouths on mouths, tongues on tongues. By the time Sid slid down Geno’s body, his lips were almost completely numb, and yet he still wanted to be kissing Geno. Wanted to be kissing him always. Geno lifted his hips when Sid tucked his fingers into the waist of his pants and pulled down, freeing his cock.

His erection sprung free, flushed red and already wet at the tip. Sid heard him suck in a breath when Sid licked his lips.

He looked up at Geno and deliberately licked them again.

Geno let out a soft moan. Sid smiled. He wrapped his hand firmly around the base of Geno’s dick, and then ducked his head, very carefully licking the tip.

“Sid,” Geno said.

Sid looked up at him. “C’mon, Zhenya,” he said. “You can touch me. Touch me, please”

Geno did, settling his hand in Sid’s hair. He didn’t push on Sid’s head, but Sid could feel the way his fingers flexed.

He leaned down again, running his tongue from the base of his shaft and up, before swirling his tongue around the head. He spread his lips and sucked it into his mouth.

Geno’s hips jerked off the bed, and let out a long groan. Sid smirked, then clamped his hand down on Geno’s hip, holding him. Geno’s cock was warm and hard in his mouth, and Sid liked the way it felt, enjoyed the way his lips were spread wide around it, and spit was pooling where his hand still held the base steady. He liked the way he couldn’t take Geno all the way down, and how it felt when he pushed himself just a shade too far.

Geno’s hand was flexing and pulling in Sid’s hair, and the sharp sting of pain made everything feel that much better. He was hard and leaking in his pants, his hips shifting restlessly against the bed with each bob of his head. If he wasn’t careful, he was going to come in his pants before Geno, and alcohol or no, that would be embarrassing.

“Sid,” Geno gasped again, letting out a string of words that was more than Sid’s currently addled brain could translate.

Sid ducked his head as far as he could go, and Geno yanked on his hair. It felt so fucking good, he let out a long groan around his mouthful of Geno’s cock.

“Sid,” Geno said. “Sid, Sid.”

He pulled again, and taste bloomed on Sid’s tongue. He did his best to swallow it all down, coughing a little. He he sat up, Geno looked at him through half-lidded eyes. His cock was shiny and spent laying flat on his belly, and Sid couldn’t wait another second.

He shoved his pants down over his hips and took himself in hand, moaning loudly at how good it felt to finally have some friction. Something he could fuck into. It barely took five pulls on his cock before he was groaning around his own orgasm, his come landing in thick white spurts on Geno’s thighs and cock.

He swayed on his knees, feeling sleepy and light headed. He pulled off his shirt and used it to wipe the two of them off, and when he turned back Geno was holding out his arm.

Sid settled himself on Geno’s side, tucking up close. He lay his hand down on Geno’s heart, and felt the beat thrum steady and sure. It would be hard for Sid’s eleven year old self to ever imagine being here, content and satisfied with a husband who loved him. Hell, it would be hard for his eighteen year old self to imagine as much, but that was exactly where he was, and Sid couldn’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else.

He leaned up to press another soft kiss to Geno’s jaw. “Happy anniversary, Zhenya,” he whispered.

“Happy anniversary,” Geno said, humming happily and already half asleep.