Sid skates out onto the ice currently occupied by a few dozen kids wobbling around in Crosby jerseys. The Little Penguins are split into groups in the four corners of the rink, each group doing different drills.
He skates over to where the kids are loudest and laughing, playing freeze tag. As he arrives, the grey-haired Alpha coach leading the drill blows his whistle and says to the kids, “Okay. Switch time. You go now. See you later! Goodbye!”
The kids groan and moan. They want to stay and keep playing tag. Sid smiles as the coach manages to corral them to the next drill station. The next group of kids coming to this corner are excited. A few of them skate right up to the coach and hug his legs.
“Coach Malkin! Hi! I missed you! Will you say funny words?” One particularly precocious girl asks. A young Alpha, he gathers from her smell.
Several of the kids clamor in agreement and the older man laughs and starts speaking Russian.
The kids all giggle and one of them asks, “What did you say? What did you say?”
“I say ‘Look at so many smelly children. So stinky! Smell across rink. No bath! Never brush teeth!’” he says as he pinches his nose shut with two fingers.
The kids giggle even more.
Eventually, the coach gets serious.
“Okay, is freeze tag time. Who wants be it?” he asks.
Nearly all the kids raise their hand. The coach points to a Beta girl with ‘Bella’ written on her helmet and says, “Bella hand first. Bella, you it!”
The kids all skate off in different directions, a little shaky in their skates.
Sid’s never met this Little Penguins coach before, so he must be new. He skates over to where the Alpha is leaning against the boards.
“You’re good with kids,” Sid observes.
“Is my job, so I hope so!” the man jokes with a friendly grin.
“Sidney Crosby,” he says offering out a hand.
The man laughs.
“Yes. We in Pittsburgh, so I know. Vladimir Malkin. Nice to meet,” he says, shaking Sid’s hand.
“Pleasure’s mine, Mr. Malkin” Sid returns.
The man playfully clutches his chest like he’s been wounded.
“’Mr. Malkin’? I know I’m old, but not so old. Only 50. You say ‘Vladimir,’ yes?”
Sid smiles and agrees, “Vladimir, then. You really are good with them though. Better than most. I was watching the drills for a while before I came out here. The kids all really like you.”
Vladimir smiles, “Kids easy. Just be nice, have fun, give respect for all. No problems.”
“Well, not everyone can manage to do all three, so I’d say you’re pretty impressive. Especially with that last one. I’ve had a lot of coaches who didn’t have much respectful for Betas and girls, treating them differently than Alphas and boys,” Sid replies.
Vladimir considers him for a moment.
“And Omegas too,” Vladimir says.
Sid makes a questioning noise.
“Treat everyone with respect. Is for girls and boys, Alphas and Betas. Also for Omegas too,” he clarifies.
Sid’s cheeks turn pink, a bit embarrassed at his misstep.
“Yeah, for sure. Omegas too. Everyone deserves respect. Alphas, Beta, Omegas. Definitely,” he babbles.
Vladimir smiles at him patiently.
“Is okay,” he interrupts, saving Sid from his babbling.
The two of them stand quietly watching the kids play freeze tag.
“I’ve never seen an Omega play hockey,” Sid says after a while.
Vladimir just raises an eyebrow at him.
“I wonder if there are any that play hockey? I mean, there have to be, right? Surely a few them have tried it. I mean, I know it’s not, like, a normal thing for an Omega to do, you know. But hockey’s great. A few of them have to have tried. It’d be amazing to talk to one. Hockey is so Alpha-leaning. I bet an Omega who played hockey would have some really interesting things to say,” he rambles, thinking out loud, not really filtering his thoughts.
Vladimir stares at him for a moment before putting his whistle against his lips and blowing, calling the kids to order.
The Little Penguins session ends and Sid stays back to help the coaches clear off the ice, picking up cones and pushing nets.
“You free for dinner tonight, Sidney?” Vladimir asks.
Sid looks up, “Uh, yeah. I think so. Did you want to go get a drink or something?”
“Not quite,” Vladimir says.
Sid raises an eyebrow.
“Wonder if I can Introduce someone to you,” he says.
Sid’s shoulders tense up and he fights back a sigh.
“Introduce or an Introduction?” Sid asks, already knowing which one.
“An Introduction,” Vladimir clarifies.
Sid weakly smiles.
“Of course. It would be my honor. When should I be there?” he asks.
“7:00?” he offers.
With an anemic smile, Sid says, “Sure. I’ll see you then. Just write down the address.”
Vladimir pulls a paper from his clipboard and writes an address down, then hands it to Sid.
“This evening, then,” he says.
Sid just nods. When Vladimir has skated out of earshot, Sid sighs loudly.
He has an Introduction tonight. This really isn’t how Sid wanted to spend his evening.
At least he can tell his mom he’s still trying. He hasn’t given up yet.
He folds up the paper, puts it in his pocket, and sighs again.
Sid is something of an anomaly. An Alpha of his age and wealth is usually long bonded by now. Maybe already with a pup or two.
But not Sidney Crosby. Twenty-eight years old with no Omega and no pups. His mom worries about him, if he’s lonely. Mario and Nathalie too. And the media is starting to make implications, innuendoes about which direction his preferences lie. It’s practically unheard of for an Alpha to be unbonded at 28, so there must be a reason, they say.
And, Sid supposes, there is a reason. But it isn’t what the hockey bloggers imply. He’s just never met an Omega he wanted to bond with. Every Introduction he’s taken has been stilted and uncomfortable. He’s never met an Omega that felt right, that he thought he could make happy and who would make him happy in return.
He tries. He really does. He takes Introductions. He has dinners and talks with Omegas and their parents, scents them, finds their interests and skills. He nearly always asks for their Presentations. But it’s never right. Not for him.
And as he gets older and older, a bond seems less and less likely. Maybe he’ll always be a bachelor. The thought makes him a little sad. But he isn’t cruel enough to subject someone to a loveless bond just so he can feel a little less lonely.
Two minutes after 7:00, Sidney parks his SUV in the driveway outside a small house in Crafton. He’s dressed in one of his game day suits, the one he usually wears to Introductions. Nathalie always tells him he looks nice when he wears it. He turns off the ignition and leans his head back against the headrest. He shuts his eyes and sighs hard.
Once he swallows his moment of self-pity, he grabs the bouquet of chamomile flowers from the passenger seat and steps out of the SUV. He presses the lock button on the key fob and walks up to the door.
Vladimir answers the door a few moments after Sid knocks.
“Good to see you, Sidney. Glad you can come!” he says offering his hand out in welcome.
Sid grabs his hand and shakes it and smiles politely at him.
“Thanks for having me,” he says.
Vladimir nods and says, “Come. Meet my wife and son.”
It’s a son he’s meeting, then. Not a daughter. Sid follows him through the entryway and into a very homey living room. When he and Vladimir walk in, his wife and son both stand up to greet them.
“Sidney, this is my wife, Natalia,” he says, gesturing his wife over. She steps forward and presses a friendly kiss to each of Sid’s cheeks.
He notes Mrs. Malkin’s scent when she leans in, a surprisingly sharp smell. Very crisp and cool. Like peppermint, maybe. Or spearmint. His nose tingles a bit. The wolf in him doesn’t like it very much.
Sid smiles back at her and hands her the chamomile bouquet.
“Nice to meet you, Mrs Malkin.”
“Nice to meet, Alpha Crosby. Chamomile, very beautiful,” she says.
Sid takes a deep breath as Vladimir summons his son over.
“Alpha Crosby, I Introduce my son, Omega Evgeni Vladimirovich Malkin.”
Sid offers his hand out, palm up to Omega Malkin and discreetly looks him over.
Looking at Omega Malkin, he thinks he’s never been Introduced to an Omega this old. If he had to guess, he’d put Omega Malkin in his mid-20s.
He’s really not very pretty, Sid notices. Not like an Omega is supposed to be. He has a big nose and chapped lips. He’s tall too. Taller than Sid. Taller than an Omega should be.
And Omega Malkin doesn’t seem to be particularly demure. He’s meeting Sid’s gaze easily, and the look on his face isn’t light or welcoming. No sweet smile, no shy grin, not even a flirtatious smirk. He just looks bored. Uninterested, or maybe resigned, like he doesn’t want to be here anymore than Sid does.
“An honor to meet you, Omega Malkin. I’m Sidney Crosby.”
Omega Malkin places his hand palm down on top of Sid’s for a moment and nods at Sid but says nothing and comes no closer to Sid.
Mrs. Malkin lets out a frustrated sigh.
No scenting, then, Sid concludes from Omega Malkin’s attitude. That suits Sid just fine.
They sit down at the dinner table and Sid steels himself.
He hates this part the most.
Sitting there, listening to an Omega and their parents try to sell themselves to Sid. They try to impress him with art or music or dancing. Maybe sewing or cooking. An Omega once Presented her gardening skills to Sid, which he supposes was at least something different.
He hates Presentations. It’s nothing against the Omegas themselves. They’re all quite skilled. He’s seen some beautiful paintings, heard some incredible music, eaten some delicious desserts. But it doesn’t make him want to bond with them. They’re talented, but Sid’s never really understood why being a good musician or dancer is supposed to make him want them.
It always feels like a show. Like none of it’s real.
And Sid can’t bear the thought of having to spend his whole life performing. His professional life is a performance already. For the media and the public and the fans. Having to go home and perform for his bondmate, pretend that he cares for abstract paintings or complicated piano pieces sounds unbearable.
Unbearable for him and for whichever unlucky omega would have to deal with a bondmate who didn’t have any real interest in their pursuits.
He’s jealous, sometimes, of his bonded friends. How easy it was for them to find their bondmates. Flower bonded with Vero when they were 16 years old. Vero danced for him and he fell hard. Flower still takes her dancing twice a week. When Tanger and Catherine were 18, she Presented him with a suit she sewed. To this day, Tanger wears suits made by her to every single game.
Sid wants that. That partnership and dedication. Love . A Bond. But it feels so far away.
“Do you draw, Omega Malkin?” Sid musters the will to ask. He had noticed a few sketches on the walls when he walked through the house. Maybe Omega Malkin drew them.
“ Nyet ,” he responds flatly.
“Zhenya, English,” his mother corrects.
Omega Malkin sighs and his shoulders fall.
“No, Alpha Crosby, no drawing.”
“Music, then?” he asks.
“No, Alpha Crosby.”
Mrs. Malkin interjects, “He’s really very good with animals, you know. He volunteers at animal shelter, take care of cats.”
“Oh, really? That’s nice,” Sid offers.
The conversation lulls, and they all wade in the discomfort for a moment.
“So you like animals?” he asks.
Omega Malkin shrugs, “It’s fine. Cats are best. They’re don’t want to be nice. Do what they want. I like this.”
Sid doesn’t really know what he’s supposed to do with that, but he wants to make it through the night knowing he tried his best to make it work, so he comes up with something.
“So you like training animals? Or grooming them?” he asks, trying to give Omega Malkin an opening to Present something to him.
Even if it is as odd as training cats.
“No. Too much work. And smelly,” Omega Malkin says and the conversation dies again.
Sid stabs a few beets onto his fork and eats them. They’re pretty good.
“Did you cook dinner, Omega Malkin?” he poses.
“No. I’m just burn stuff. No good. Mama make,” Omega Malkin says.
Sid offers his compliments to Mrs. Malkin.
“What is it that you do, Omega Malkin?” Sid says eventually, tired of the guessing game.
Apparently, he’s asked a controversial question. There’s a tension in the air. Mrs. Malkin starts giving a very particular look to her son and Omega Malkin shifts in his seat and straightens his spine like he’s gearing up for a fight.
“Hockey,” Omega Malkin says evenly.
Sid’s fork slips from his grip and clatters against his plate. He looks up and across the table at Omega Malkin.
Mrs. Malkin puts her head in her hands and despairs, “ Zhenya !”
Omega Malkin meets his gaze, unflinching, daring him to say something.
Sid stares at Omega Malkin. Hockey . An Omega wants to Present hockey to him.
He’s never imagined a situation like this. He’s not nearly creative enough. Until this morning, he’d never even thought about an Omega playing hockey. He can feel his heart pounding in his chest.
Hockey . He’d never considered it, but now that he’s heard it, now that it’s an option, he’s desperate to know.
“You play hockey?” he asks seriously.
“Yes,” Omega Malkin answers.
Sid’s heart picks up speed.
“Would you show me? A Presentation? After dinner?” Sid asks intently.
Mrs. Malkin raises her head from her hands and her mouth opens just a bit as she stares at Sid. Omega Malkin looks at him too, and bites his lip, considering. Vladimir just smiles into his cup.
Sid, Vladimir, and Mrs Malkin all wait silently for Omega Malkin’s answer.
“Yes. After dinner,” Omega Malkin finally agrees.
Sid smiles at him. Omega Malkin gives him a little smile back, the first smile Sid’s seen from him all night.
“Huh,” Mrs Malkin says.
“More potatoes, Sidney?” Vladimir asks smugly.
For Sid, the rest of dinner passes in a haze. He can’t even remember what was served for dessert. He just knows he ate it as quickly as he could manage without being impolite.
Omega Malkin must have been watching him closely because as soon as Sid finishes his slice of Charlotka, he holds out his hand toward Sid.
Sid meets his gaze and places his hand in Omega Malkin’s.
They both leave their seats and Omega Malkin starts to pull him away from the table. Sid turns toward Vladimir and Mrs Malkin and offers, “Thank you for the meal. It was delicious.”
Vladimir smiles and waves him off while Mrs Malkin nods.
Omega Malkin leads him out of the dining room.
Sid takes in a nervous breath.
Omega Malkin opens the back door and leads them out to a large deck made of smooth, light wood. A hockey net sits on the far end of the deck.
“Wait here,” he says to Sid before he walks across the yard to a small shed. He pulls out a hockey stick and a bucket and then walks back over to Sid.
He places the bucket on the floor next to Sid. It’s filled with rubber roller-hockey balls.
Omega Malkin takes a deep breath and stands in front of Sid.
“Alpha Crosby, I would like to make a Presentation for you. Will you have it?”
Sid nods, “It’s my honor.”
Omega Malkin bites his lower lip and nods to himself.
He pulls a black rubber ball from the bucket and drops it on the ground in front of Sid.
He grabs the hockey stick and takes a second to settle it in his grip. He looks over at Sid nervously. Sid smiles reassuringly at him. Omega Malkin takes a deep breath and puts the blade of the stick on the deck and taps the ball.
He stickhandles the ball for a minute to warm himself up and Sid stands back and watches.
After a minute, without any warning, Omega Malkin pulls back his stick and slapshots the ball across the deck, straight into the back of the net.
Omega Malkin turns and smiles shyly at him and Sid beams back.
Omega Malkin bites his bottom lip and grabs a few of the balls from the bucket and drops them to the deck, settling them down with his stick. He walks across the deck to the net and lines up four scuffed water bottles along the crossbar.
He walks back over to Sid and scoops up one of the balls onto his stick and bounces it against the blade of his stick, keeping it in the air for a while, continually tapping it, until he finally misses a beat and it drops to the deck.
He stick handles the ball for a moment and then settles it. He snaps a quick wrister towards the net, easily knocking the first bottle off the crossbar.
Omega Malkin pumps his fist in celebration and Sid is absolutely charmed.
He taps the next ball with the blade of his stick and settles it down. He snaps another shot and the next bottle flies off the net.
He lines up two more balls on the deck and slapshots them one after the other and sends the remaining two bottles clattering against the deck.
Omega Malkin turns to Sid with a proud grin and Sid smiles back.
He wants so badly to grab a stick and join him. To take his turn to shoot down bottles or to send setup passes so Omega Malkin can slap them into the net. But that’s not what this is about, not what a Presentation is for. It’s for Omega Malkin to show off his skill, his talent and hard work. It’s not about what Sid wants to do.
So Sid stands and he watches, completely mesmerized. He watches Omega Malkin shoot and stickhandle and try trick-shots, through the legs, out of the air, from sharp angles. And it’s entrancing. He can’t stop watching, can’t take his eyes away. He wants to watch Omega Malkin play hockey every day, wants to see the proud little smirk he makes when he knows he’s done something impressive and see the shy little smiles he sends Sid’s way every few minutes.
Omega Malkin has him. Sid knows he’s completely caught. It’s only been one evening, but Sid wants him. He knows it without a doubt. It feels so right to be standing in the cool air, just watching Omega Malkin play hockey and smile.
He doesn’t notice how much time passes while they’re on the deck. But when Omega Malkin finally rests his stick against the wall and offers out his hand, Sid realizes they’ve been out on the deck for more than an hour.
Sid takes his hand.
“You Presented yourself well, Omega Malkin. Thank you for your time and skill,” Sid says, as is traditional and proper.
Omega Malkin meets his gaze.
He tightens his grip on Sid’s hand. Gently, he pulls Sid’s hand towards him, and raises it to his face. He presses his nose into Sid’s wrist and breathes in. His eyes flutter shut and he holds the breath. When he breathes out, he opens his eyes and meets Sid’s gaze. He gives Sid the slightest smile, just the corners of his lips.
He drops their clasped hands away from his face but doesn’t let go.
Sid tries hard to fight the smile working its way across his face. This is supposed to be a serious, heavy moment.
It’s Sid’s turn now. He gently pulls Omega Malkin’s hand up to his face and tucks his nose against his wrist. He takes a deep breath.
He has an earthy smell, a little bit like moss. It’s nice, he thinks. It reminds him of running through the woods, back home in Nova Scotia, his paws digging into the dirt, leaves and branches snagging in his coat. It’s a breath of fresh air, just clean and invigorating. His heart catches in his chest. He takes one more big breath in, to savor his scent, before he takes a step back.
They stare at each other for a moment, taking it all in.
“See you soon, Alpha Crosby?” Omega Malkin asks hesitantly.
Sid stops fighting his smile and beams at Omega Malkin.
“Yes. I really hope so,” he says and he reluctantly drops his hand, fingers dragging along the palm of Omega Malkin’s hand as he lets go.
Omega Malkin opens the door and leads him inside. Together, they walk through the house towards the front hallway where Vladimir and Mrs Malkin are waiting for them.
“Hope to see you again, Alpha Crosby,” Mrs Malkin pointedly says.
Sid smiles at the bluntness and glances over at Omega Malkin.
“Me too,” he says.
He turns to Vladimir and sincerely says, “Thank you for the Introduction. I hope to speak to you soon.”
Vladimir just smiles at him and nods.
“Goodnight, Sidney,” he says.
“Goodnight,” he replies. He throws one last glance to Omega Malkin, who wets his lower lip and smiles shyly at him, and he walks out of the house.
He sits behind the wheel of his SUV and stares at nothing for a minute before he is focused enough to drive himself home safely.
He pulls into the driveway and puts the SUV into park, then throws the keys into the passenger seat. He can’t think straight. He needs to run.
Sid steps out of the SUV and strips down, not even bothering to fold his clothes, just balling them up and throwing them in the passenger seat. He shuts the door, closes his eyes, and takes a deep breath.
He breaks out into a run, paws digging into the grass. He heads for the woods behind his house, his fur snagging on a few branches as he breaks through the tree line. It’s the 22nd of November and the leaves are crisp and crunchy under his paws.
He runs through the acres of forest behind his house for more than an hour trying to clear his mind, before he tires of it. He slowly prowls back to his house, breath fogging up in front of him as he walks.
He manages to slide open the back door to his house without shifting back. He climbs the stairs and noses open his bedroom door, then climbs on his bed and paces a circle before he curls up in the center.
Sid almost never sleeps in his wolf form. He knows some wolves prefer it, sleeping shifted, but Sid’s never been one of them. He’s always felt more comfortable on two legs rather than four. He spends so much time and effort as an athlete honing his human body, working to keep it in peak condition, to keep it highly capable, so it’s more familiar. It’s how he feels most comfortable.
But not tonight. Tonight he sleeps shifted. It feels right.
The next morning, Sid is in an unusual mood. Unfocused, distracted in a way he rarely is. Hockey has never had to compete for his attention before, but this morning, it really does. His mind keeps drifting.
Kuni dangles past him in the practice drill while he’s distracted.
“Someone spike your Gatorade, Sid? Maybe put a Xanax in your PB&J?” Kuni chirps as he smacks Sid on the butt with his stick.
Sid rolls his eyes and turns sharply on his edges, snowing Kuni’s feet. “Nah. Just got so bored trying to play down at your level. Started dozing off,” he jokes back.
“Ooh! Feeling feisty today, Sid,” Dales laughs.
Johnston blows his whistle and the guys line up for the next drill.
After he showers and changes in the locker room, he walks up to the main offices. He knocks on the HR coordinator’s door.
She looks up from her computer and her eyebrows shoot up.
“Mr. Crosby!” she says in surprise.
“Sid,” he replies and offers his hand.
She shakes it and asks, “Michelle. What brings you all the way up here?”
“I’m, uh, looking for a contact number for Vladimir Malkin. He’s the new Little Penguins coach? I was helping out yesterday and wanted to talk to him about something,” he asks sheepishly.
Michelle smiles and turns back to her computer.
“Sure, I can find that for you. I think I saw him today, though, if you just wanted to drop by his office?” she offers.
“He’s in today?” Sid asks.
“Yeah. He shares an office with the rest of the Little Penguins staff. Next to Jen’s office?” She answers.
“I’ll just head over there then. Thanks for the help,” he says with a polite smile.
“Anytime,” she says as he walks out the door.
He squares his shoulders as he walks toward the PR offices.
He’s nervous. Very nervous. And that unsettles him. He’s not inclined to nervousness. Things either work out or they don’t and he’s never seen the point in worrying about it. But this? He’s never done anything like this before, never really wanted a Second Introduction.
Alphas are responsible for setting up the Second Introduction. And they always take place on neutral territory. Sid has a plan for what he wants to do, what he thinks Omega Malkin will like, but he needs Vladimir’s approval. And he’s nervous.
What if Omega Malkin didn’t like him? Sid was pretty sure he did yesterday, but maybe he was wrong. What if Vladimir or Mrs Malkin don’t think Sid is good enough for their son? What if they tell him no?
He takes a deep breath and knocks on the door of the Little Penguins Office.
“Come in!” he hears Vladimir shout from inside.
He opens the door and steps in.
“Sidney! So nice to see!”
Sid smiles back nervously.
“Nice to see you, too.”
Sid stands awkwardly for a moment with his hands in his pockets.
“So, um… Thanks for dinner last night. It was delicious,” Sid states.
Vladimir smiles indulgently at him.
“Yes. My Natalia is a very good cook. It was her Presentation,” he answers knowingly, kindly giving Sid a simple opening to say what he wanted.
“Yes. Presentations. Your son…. I really liked his Presentation yesterday. And I, uh, he smells nice? And I was wondering if we could set up a Second Introduction? If you think he would like that?” Sid rambles.
Vladimir purses his lips, trying very hard not to laugh at Sid, which he really appreciates.
“I think my son would like that very much,” he says.
“Great!” Sid blurts out.
Vladimir raises an eyebrow at him.
“I was thinking the Second Introduction could be here? At Consol? I know the Second is supposed to be on neutral ground and Consol isn’t exactly neutral. It’s almost like my territory. But, I thought, since you work here too, it’s almost like your territory too. So it’s still neutral that way. If you think that’s okay?” Sid poses.
“Why here?” Vladimir asks.
“I… I want to see him skate. And I think he’d like that. I want to skate with him, on the ice. Play hockey with him. Pass the puck around. I… I think he’d enjoy it,” Sid answers.
Vladimir smiles at him.
“I think you’re right. He will like that. He likes to skate. When?”
“Tonight?” he asks.
“That’s very soon,” Vladimir observes.
“If that’s too soon, I can wait. We can do it another day, if you think that’s better?”
Vladimir considers him for a moment. Sid’s anxiety ratchets higher, and his toe taps nervously in his shoe.
“No. Tonight is okay. I bring him straight to the ice? Or meet in dressing rooms?” Vladimir asks.
Sid lets out the breath he’s been holding.
“Uh… Dressing room, if that’s okay with you. We can find him a stick and try on some different pairs of skates to see which ones he likes best.”
“He has his own skates, but I think he would like to see the dressing room and try out different sticks” Vladimir says.
Sid smiles at Vladimir.
“Great. I’ll see you guys tonight, then. 7:00 again?” he asks.
“We will be here.”
Sid stands up from his chair and offers out his hand. Vladimir takes it and shakes his hand.
Sid gives him a respectful nod and steps out of his office.
A smile breaks out across his face as he walks down the hall and out of the offices.
He has a Second Introduction tonight. He’ll get to see Omega Malkin skate. He’ll get to play hockey with him. He’s so excited, but, God, is it nerve-wracking. And it’s exhilarating too. In all the years he’s been taking Introductions, he’s only twice before taken a Second Introduction, and neither time was he very excited about them.
But with Omega Malkin, he can’t wait. For the first time in his life, it feels right.
Sid is standing by his stall in the dressing room nervously bouncing on the balls of his feet when the Malkins arrive.
Vladimir walks in and shakes his hand.
“Good to see you, Sid.”
“You too, Vladimir. And it’s wonderful to see you, Mrs. Malkin.”
Mrs. Malkin smiles at him and steps forward to kiss his cheeks.
“Nice to see you, Alpha Crosby," she says.
Omega Malkin is standing behind his parents, staring around the dressing room, trying hard not to seem too in awe, but really not succeeding. His eyes are wide and his jaw is slack as he takes in the dressing room.
“It’s really great to see you, Omega Malkin,” Sid offers gently.
Omega Malkin smiles happily at him and nods.
“Nice to see you too,” he says and offers out his hand to Sid.
Sid smiles back and takes his hand, and raises Omega Malkin’s wrist to his nose to scent.
His scent overtakes him again, a run through the woods on a damp spring day. Upheaved soil and fresh moss. All the earthy smells that make Sid think of home. It’s so welcoming, so refreshing. He can’t get enough of it. He takes one more quick breath before dropping their hands.
Omega Malkin takes his turn and seems to savor the moment as Sid did. He tries not to feel too flattered.
“I thought that we could get on the ice for a while. Skate, shoot the puck, whatever you want, really,” Sid offers to Omega Malkin once he dropped their hands.
“Sounds good. I have skates. Papa says you have the sticks?” he says, trailing off toward the end.
“Yeah. We have a whole closet full of them. I thought we could find the one you like best and trim it to size for you before we hit the ice.”
Omega Malkin nods quickly, very clearly a fan of the idea.
SId leads them to the equipment room and hands Omega Malkin stick after stick. His smile doesn’t dim once and it makes Sid’s heart clench in his chest.
Eventually, Omega Malkin settles on a CCM stick with a light flex. He holds it tight in his grip and says, “This one.”
Sid nods and takes him over to the saw where they cut the stick to the proper length.
“Ready to hit the ice?” Sid asks.
Omega Malkin nods vigorously and Sid laughs.
Vladimir hands Omega Malkin his skate bag and then grabs his wife’s hand.
“My dearest wife wants a tour. I take her on a tour of the building, you two skate. Yes?” Vladimir offers.
Omega Malkin and Sid both nod and Omega Malkin’s parents leave the dressing room.
“You ready?” Sid asks again.
“Yes. Been so long since I skate on the ice. I’m excited,” he says.
Sid leads him down the tunnel from the dressing room to the edge of the rink.
The surface is fresh and smooth and the arena is completely empty. Sid steps out onto the ice and the whirr of his skates breaking the ice echoes in the high ceiling. He turns around intending to speak, but he stops short when he sees Omega Malkin.
He’s in awe. The look on his face makes it undeniable. He’s staring up into the balconies, at all those seats, imagining how many people it would take to fill it. He looks back down to the fresh sheet of ice and the logo painted at the center and he bites his lip to keep his smile from spreading too wide.
Sid offers him a gentle smile and wordlessly holds out his hand. Omega Malkin takes it and steps out onto the ice. Sid glides backward for a moment, pulling him along. After a moment, Sid drops his hand and the two of them skate around the rink side by side.
“Omega Malkin, I know you like playing hockey. Do you like watching it too?” he asks.
“Yes. Always watch hockey. When we’re still in Russia, we watch KHL. Now, it’s NHL. Washington Capitals are very good, yes? Ovechkin is best?” Malkin teases.
Sid laughs at his chirps.
“Oh, Ovechkin’s your favorite player, huh?”
“Yes. Best at scoring, best on powerplay. And he’s Russian. Better than Canada, yes?” Malkin jokes.
“I mean, if that’s what you’re into, then sure. But why don’t you let me know when Ovechkin learns how to backcheck. Then maybe we’ll talk,” he teases.
Omega Malkin laughs in return and Sid is so hopeful about this, about Omega Malkin. He loves to tease and be teased and Omega Malkin seems to like it too. He isn’t the demure, deferential Omega society has tried to make him. He’s bold and a bit ill-mannered and, God, does Sid love it.
“You feel warmed up enough to try a bit of one-on-one?” Sid asks after they’ve skated and chatted for a few minutes.
“Yes. I’m ready. You play me, maybe you learn something. Know I’m have lots to teach you,” he says with his tongue in his cheek.
Sid shakes his head and laughs.
He drops a puck on the ice and knocks it over to Omega Malkin who stops it with the blade of his stick.
“Keep away?” Sid asks.
Omega Malkin doesn’t answer, just takes off in the other direction with the puck on his stick.
Sid smiles and chases after him.
It doesn’t take Sid much effort to strip him of the puck, but Omega Malkin doesn’t seem to mind. He keeps trying, not at all disheartened that Sid wins so easily. He just keeps trying, again and again, and Sid is enamored. Omega Malkin loves the game, loves everything about it and he doesn’t care that he’s losing. He just wants to play. And Sid understand that. It’s how he loves the game too.
And Omega Malkin isn’t bad by any means. His instincts are fantastic and he moves on the ice with a grace and an ease that Sid can’t help but admire. His long legs stride smoothly and his feet just dance on the ice. It’s lovely to watch.
The longer they play, the chippier they get. Omega Malkin is the first one to lay a real check and it knocks the wind out of Sid, mostly from surprise.
“So it’s like that, is it?” Sid asks as he pushes off the boards.
Omega Malkin doesn’t answer, just sends a wicked smile his way.
Sid starts returning his checks, a little hesitantly at first. But as the game goes on, the checks get a little harder, a little stronger.
He gets caught up in the game, trying to pry the puck from Omega Malkin’s stick, and he crashes Omega Malkin into the boards, hard enough for him to lose his footing. He falls forward into Sid and Sid’s nose lands against the side of his neck.
Sid doesn’t have a chance to think, his body just reacts on instinct. He buries his nose in closer and breathes in deep.
Omega Malkin’s scent is sharper here. So much stronger, more consuming. It’s enticing and it settles over him like a fog. He just breathes it in, a scent so natural and clean, so satisfying. The freshest scent of moss and damp earth, so perfect. He rubs his nose against the skin of his neck and Omega Malkin tilts his head slightly, giving Sid more room. He makes a small moan and it’s the sound that breaks through the fog.
He immediately takes a step back, with his eyes wide. He opens his mouth to apologize to Omega Malkin, but nothing comes out. Omega Malkin meets his gaze and smiles just the slightest at him.
“It’s good?” he asks quietly.
Sid just nods.
“Good,” Omega Malkin responds and slides a few inches away from Sid.
“We still play?” he asks, tapping the puck with his stick.
Sid clears his throat.
“Yeah. Let’s,” he agrees and Omega Malkin passes the puck to him.
They resume their game, though the tension lingers in the air between them, nearly magnetic. Sid tries to ignore it, but he can’t. It’s palpable. Omega Malkin seems to feel it too. He keeps looking at him out of the corner of his eye, keeps biting his lip and smiling at him.
Sid's caught up in him. Too caught up to notice that the Malkins have returned and are standing in the tunnel, watching, until Vladimir speaks.
“Zhenya, SIdney, it’s getting late and an old man needs his sleep,” he announces.
Sid and Omega Malkin both freeze where they are and look up.
Mrs. Malkin is smiling slyly at them and Vladimir’s lips are pursed, but the corner of his mouth is pulled back with good humor.
It takes Sid a moment to gather his wits and respond.
“Oh! I lost track of time. Sorry about that. I know it’s late. You don’t have to stay to clean up. I’ll take care of it,” he says and makes to go collect some of the scattered pucks, but Omega Malkin grabs his wrist and Sid turns to him.
Omega Malkin stares at him for a moment and bites his bottom lip.
Sid’s heart picks up pace.
“Alpha Crosby, I can Present you with something else now?” Omega Malkin asks nervously.
Sid’s freezes in place.
“Whatever you want,” Sid says.
“Present my name. You say ‘Zhenya’. It’s for you,” Omega Malkin- Zhenya offers.
Sid’s breath catches. He’s speechless for a moment before he gathers himself.
“ Zhenya?” he breathes out.
“Thank you, Zhenya. I’m really honored. You can call me by my name too. Sid,” he offers.
Zhenya smiles at him, “Sid. I like this.”
Sid can’t help but smile back.
“I’ll see you soon, Zhenya?” he asks.
“I hope so,” Zhenya replies.
Zhenya pulls off his glove and offers out his hand to Sid. Sid removes his own glove and takes Zhenya’s hand in his. He pulls it in to scent his wrist once more. It smells just as wonderful as it did before. Maybe even better now from Zhenya’s sweat. Still earthy and green, but slightly musky now too. It’s perfect.
He can’t resist rubbing his cheek against Zhenya’s wrist, marking him ever so slightly with his scent. A small little claim that says Mine .
Sid gently lowers their hands from his face and then it’s Zhenya’s turn to scent him. This time, he presses his nose directly against the skin of Sid’s wrist, and Sid inhales sharply as Zhenya gently breathes in. His eyes close as he savors Sid’s scent and he smiles. His eyes flutter open and looks Sid directly in the eyes. He doesn’t say anything as he drops their hands back down and pulls his away.
“Thank you for the Second Introduction, Zhenya,” Sid offers quietly.
“The honor’s mine, Sid,” Zhenya returns as he nods his head at Sid.
Sid nods back and Zhenya skates to the tunnel to meet his parents.
They offer their goodbyes too and all three of the Malkins disappear down the tunnel.
Sid releases a breath he didn’t know he was holding and starts collecting pucks.
It’s snowing when he gets home, small flurries covering the ground in a fine layer of pristine, white snow. He goes inside and drops his bags, then strips down, opens his back door and shifts.
His wolf loves the snow. He trots out into the yard and rolls onto his back, rubbing the snow into his coat, cold and invigorating. When he’s chilled and snow covered enough, he prowls into the woods.
It’s eerily quiet in the woods, the snow muffling the sounds of the forest. He sniffs out the trail of a doe and stalks her, all the way back to her fawns. This years’ fawn and last years’ he thinks. They’re too small to be more than a year or two old. He watches them stride through the snow, mother in front and the fawns trailing behind.
He won’t take any of them. He’s not interested. But he loves tracking in the snow, likes to see how long he can hide his dark black coat in the pure white landscape. Likes to test how quiet he can be with the snow muffling his steps.
It’s after midnight by the time he walks back through his yard and into his house.
Once he noses the sliding door shut and shakes out his coat, he shifts back onto two feet. He grabs his bags up from where he dropped them and carries them up with him to his bedroom.
He jumps into the shower, turning the knob as hot as he can take, and stands under the scalding water. He tries not to think about anything, just lets the water run over him and clears his mind.
He hops out of the shower and dries off, and slides into his most comfortable pair of sweatpants.
The kettle whistles at him and he pours himself a cup of tea. He can’t escape his thoughts any longer. The day has finally caught up to him. The thought he’s been trying run from since the Malkins walked down the tunnel at Consol: a bond.
It’s all happening very quickly. He met Zhenya less than three days ago. Even for an Alpha-Omega courtship, three days is very quick. Courtships usually last a month at least before bonding. But Sid doesn’t want to wait a month. The full moon is almost here and if they miss this one, they’ll have to wait for four more weeks. He knows it would be more proper to wait, more measured. It would give them more time to get to know each other before they bond. But he doesn’t want to wait.
He wants Zhenya. He’s absolutely sure of it. He’s more certain about it than he is about almost anything. Zhenya is his and he is Zhenya’s. He wants to bond with Zhenya. He won’t change his mind. And if he’s sure, then why wait?
Propriety is the only reason he can come up with and he doesn’t find it particularly compelling. He’s never let society’s derision about how long he’s stayed unbonded bother him, so why would he let it bother him now?
He’ll ask, he decides. He’ll ask and if Vladimir or Zhenya tell him it’s too soon, then he’ll wait and try again next moon.
Tomorrow night, he decides. He’ll ask tomorrow night.
Sid parks his car outside the Malkin’s house in Crafton. He stares at himself in the rearview mirror and heaves a deep breath, forcing himself to step out of the car.
He walks up to the door and rings the bell. Sid can hear some bustling behind the door and listens to the lock click before the door swings open and Vladimir stands in front of him.
He stares at Sid in confusion for a moment and rubs his arms to fight the brisk November chill.
“You need something, Sid? I don’t know you’re coming.”
Sid takes a deep breath.
“Vladimir. The moon is waxing. May I have Zhenya over for dinner on the 29th?”
Vladimir’s face doesn’t change as he considers Sid. Stoic.
“I know it’s fast. And if you think it’s too fast, I can wait for the next moon. But I don’t think it’s too soon. I know it’s right. I know it’s Zhenya. Would you let me?” Sid continues.
Vladimir raises his eyebrow and studies him. After what Sid is sure is an eternity, Vladimir gives him an answer.
“If my Zhenya says ‘yes’, then of course you may. The 29th will be a Blue Moon, you know? They say this is lucky, to bond two wolves on the second moon.”
Sid heaves a sigh of relief and smiles.
“I hope he will. I hope he’ll have me.”
“We’ll see,” Vladimir says and steps to the side so Sid can enter the house.
Vladimir brings Sid to the living room and leaves him on the sofa while he goes to find Zhenya.
Sid nervously taps his toe in his shoe while he waits.
Zhenya walks into the room just behind Vladimir and Sid jumps to his feet.
He meets Zhenya’s gaze and smiles brightly at him. Zhenya smiles sweetly back.
He turns to Vladimir to ask his silent permission and Vladimir tilts his head and says, “I’ll be in the kitchen.”
Zhenya bites his lip as he watches his father leave.
Sid steps toward Zhenya and offers his hand which Zhenya accepts. He pulls Sid’s wrist to his nose and breathes in deeply. He puts his hand on the back of Sid’s and presses it against his cheek, lightly scenting Sid, staking his claim on him. Sid feels like flying.
When Zhenya drops their hands, Sid pulls Zhenya’s wrist towards him and breathes. He drags his nose down Zhenya’s wrist and along his forearm. He hears Zhenya’s breath catch in his throat. Sid pointedly meets Zhenya’s gaze and presses a soft, gentle kiss to Zhenya’s wrist. He lets out a shaky breath.
Sid finally lets their hands drop from his face, but keeps holding Zhenya’s hand in his. He runs his thumb over the back of Zhenya’s hand.
“Hi, Sid,” Zhenya finally says.
“Hey, Zhenya,” Sid smiles back.
They stand quietly for a moment, just staring at each other while Sid works up the courage to ask what he came to ask.
Eventually, Sid clears his throat.
“The moon is waxing. On the 29th, it’ll be full. Would you spend the moon with me?”
Zhenya bites his lip and nods.
“Yes. I’ll spend full moon with you.”
Sid lets out a laugh of relief and smiles at Zhenya. He pulls Zhenya’s hand toward him and presses a kiss to the back of his hand.
“Thank you, Zhenya. You don’t know how happy this makes me,” he says.
“Makes me happy, too,” Zhenya replies.
Zhenya steps forward and steps forward again until he’s standing only inches away from Sid. He leans in and presses his nose against the base of Sid’s throat. He breathes in deeply and holds his breath, savoring Sid’s scent. He presses a sweet, chaste kiss just beneath the apple of his throat and steps back.
He smiles gently at Sid.
“See you under the full moon,” he says.
Sid nods and softly agrees, “Yes. I’ll see you under the full moon.”
Time seems to pass slowly for the three days after Sid gave his Invitation. The Pens play two home games and win them both, Sid tallying three goals and three assists between them. He tries to live his life normally, as if his world isn’t about to change. He calls his mom, has dinner with Flower and Vero, takes after-practice interviews. But he does it all in a haze. He’s there, but his mind feels elsewhere.
When he gets home from practice on the 29th, he leaves his driveway gate open so Zhenya and his parents can drive straight up. Sid puts a roast in the oven with potatoes and carrots and steeps tea while he sits at his kitchen island.
Fifteen minutes before 7:00, Sid goes upstairs and changes his clothes. He puts on a button-down and nice pair of grey slacks. He messes with his hair in the mirror. He wishes he could have showered to make himself look more presentable, but he knows his scent will be stronger this way, muskier and untainted by soap and hints of chlorine.
He heads back downstairs to check on the roast and five minutes after 7:00, his doorbell rings. He takes a deep breath and opens the door.
Zhenya is at the door and his parents are sitting in their car in the driveway. Sid nods at them over Zhenya’s shoulder before turning to smile at Zhenya.
“You don’t know how happy I am you’re here,” Sid admits to Zhenya.
Zhenya smiles at him and leans in to kiss Sid’s cheek.
“I’m happy too. I come in?” he asks.
Sid wordlessly steps back and lets Zhenya into his house. He goes to close the door, but Zhenya puts his hand out.
Zhenya looks at him, a little bit embarrassed.
“Sid, Mama wants to talk to you before they go,” he says.
Sid raises his eyebrows. “Oh? Okay. If you want to go into the kitchen, there’s tea and water and Gatorade, so take your pick.”
Zhenya nods and follows his nose to the kitchen while Sid walks down the stairs on his porch to approach Mrs Malkin who has stepped out of the car.
“Zhenya said you want to talk to me?” he says to Mrs Malkin.
Mrs Malkin nods and speaks, “Yes. I need to ask something. It’s only one thing.”
“What do you want to know?”
“You… you will take care of him? Be good to him? He’s… he’s my only child. And he’s good. Only good things should happen to him. You will be good?” she manages to ask.
Sid smiles at her, as kindly as he knows how.
“Yes. I’ll be good to him. You never have to doubt that. I promise. I’ll be good to him,” he says.
Mrs Malkin nods, seemingly to herself.
“Okay. Goodnight, Alpha Crosby. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow,” he agrees as she opens the car door and gets back inside.
Vladimir nods at him from the driver’s seat and Sid nods back, then they pull out of the driveway and Sid is left standing alone in the November chill.
He breathes in deep, savoring the burn in his lungs from the frigid air. He walks up the stairs and back into his house.
He finds Zhenya picking at the roast in its pan where it’s cooling on the counter. He looks up when Sid steps in the room and smiles at him.
“Looks good,” he says to Sid.
“Thanks. Let’s hope it tastes good, too. I do alright but I’m not the greatest cook,” he admits.
“If not good, it’s okay. Sidney Crosby can be bad at one thing. I won’t tell,” Zhenya teases.
Sid smiles at him.
“Do you want to eat first or do you want the tour?” Sid asks.
“Tour,” Zhenya answers quickly and smiles, “I’m big nosy.”
Sid huffs a laugh and leads him through the house, showing him the gym, the bedrooms, his office, his living room, all the little pieces of decor that he is especially proud of. Zhenya smiles indulgently at him and teases him about his nautical obsession. Sid takes it good naturedly and finally brings Zhenya to the back to show him the deck and yard.
He slides open the glass door and flips on the deck lights.
“This is the deck. I spend a lot of time out here. Grilling or reading or just lounging. If I’m shifted, I’m probably out here, too,” he says to Zhenya.
Zhenya bites his bottom lip.
“You show me?”
Sid furrows his eyebrows.
“You show me your wolf?” Zhenya clarifies.
Sid’s eyebrows raise.
“I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” he says with a little grin.
Zhenya smirks at him and pulls off his shirt.
Sid stares a little, though he tries not to, and focuses on stripping his own clothes off so he can shift.
Zhenya’s wolf has a light brown coat and he’s very tall, maybe half a head above Sid. He’s built lithely, like he was made for running, not particularly broad, but with long legs and a long back. A very different build than Sid with his broad chest and powerful legs.
Zhenya approaches and sniffs Sid from the tips of his ears, along his back, to under his tail and Sid takes his turn to sniff whatever piece of Zhenya passes by.
It takes Zhenya a minute to have his fill, and then, without warning, he pounces on Sid, tail wagging. Sid grumbles and shakes him off his back and playfully pins him. Zhenya wriggles away and the two of them wrestle in the grass for a few minutes before Zhenya yields and sits back with his tongue hanging out of his mouth.
Sid nods his head towards the house and they head back to the deck and shift back to two legs. They redress on the deck and Zhenya reaches up to brush a few blades of grass out of Sid’s hair.
Sid grabs his wrist as he reaches up and brings it to his nose. He savors the smell, even more heightened by the residue of earth and grass left on them both. He breathes a deep breath once more and looks Zhenya in his eyes.
“I should do this later,” he says, “After dinner. But I can’t wait.”
Zhenya licks his lips and shakes his head.
“Now is good,” he tells Sid.
“I know we haven’t known each other long, Zhenya, but I… I’m sure about you. Sure about this. I know it’s right. Like we fit together right from the start. I… I can’t imagine anyone better for me than you. If this is too soon, you can tell me. Or if… if you just don’t want me at all, that’s okay too. But I think you’re it for me. Will you let me claim you? Will you bond with me?”
“Yes. Claim me. Bond me. It’s good. It’s right for me too,” he says.
Sid steps forward and presses a kiss to his lips. Zhenya kisses him back and he groans.
He pulls back and rubs his hand against the side of Zhenya’s neck.
He finds a place he likes, a place with soft skin and a few tiny freckles.
He looks up at Zhenya and asks, “Is here okay?” as he rubs his thumb over the freckles.
Zhenya doesn’t speak just tilts his head to the side.
Sid places the gentlest of kisses to his neck and there, under the full blue moon, he bites.