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In hindsight, it was maybe a little embarrassing that it took them at least 3 weeks to notice.

In Zhenya’s defense, it’s not like he and Sid have normal boundaries anymore, after 14 years of playing together.


January 14, 2020 - vs. Minnesota

Sidney Crosby coming back from injury is always cause for fanfare in Pittsburgh, and today was no different. The crowd was absolutely buzzing, audible even before they go down the tunnel. Playoff atmosphere.

Their routine clicked back into place, step by step, as they progressed through each one of their pre-game rituals: two-touch, warm-up, Zhenya's stretches and Sid's stickhandling around the McDonald's symbol, all of them well-worn and familiar. Finally, right as their helmets touched for their special handshake, the team's Link flared to life with Sid's voice, warm and steady in the back of their minds.

Missed me, boys?

Good to have you back, Captain.

Yo Sid, what took you so long? That ass weighing you down?

Thank fuck, any longer and G would've made us all speak Russian in here!

The team explodes into a chorus of jeers and cheers, both in the Link and out loud in the hallway, and Zhenya can't help the grin on his face, excited and a little relieved. It's not the first time he's had to carry the team's Link in his mind - as the Alternate Captain, the duty falls on him whenever Sid is out of the lineup - but it's been a while since he's had to carry it for so long a stretch.

And, well, it's a little like conducting interviews in English. Sure, he does them, and pretty well, but it still takes work and why make things harder on himself when Sid is happy to answer for both of them?

It's going to be a good game; he can already feel it.

***

The game was an absolute blowout, 7-2 against the Wild at home. Sid was playing on fire - four points, including one ridiculous assist where he banked a pass to himself off the back of the net. Zhenya was in the zone too, if he does say so himself, especially on that no-look pass to Rusty that ended up being the game-winning goal. They're developing good chemistry, and there are moments where Zhenya feels like he's ten years younger with James Neal on his wing, now with fewer dumb penalties.

They don't go out as a team as much as they did back then, but nights like these practically demanded celebration. Soon enough, they found themselves crammed into a bar, talking over each other and recounting the goals as if they weren't all there to see them in person.

 Zhenya doesn’t drink during the season anymore, so he was still nursing his first lime and soda when Sid appeared at his side.

"You weren't gonna let me show you up, eh? Gotta, gotta get your couple of goals in too, huh G?" Sid said, smiling wide and ears already pink at the tips.

Zhenya grinned back. Sid has a pretty low threshold for humour at the best of times, and it becomes practically non-existent as soon as he starts drinking. Zhenya could probably say any old thing and get him laughing like an idiot.

"Yes, I'm have to work so hard, keep you humble. Can't let go to your head, think you score four points every game."

It wasn’t even funny, at least not by Zhenya's standards, but Sid giggled anyway, eyes squished up until they've practically disappeared. Predictable.

"Oh yeah, that'll keep me in check. That Rusty goal though, what a beauty, eh? Two guys on you, and you didn't even look, just tape to tape, makes it look so easy. That one's going on the highlight reels for sure."

 "Is great goal", Zhenya agreed, "you buy me drink, make up for take fire helmet from me."

Sid giggled again and reached for his beer on the table.

"Alright big guy, let's get you that drink. I mean, for a play like that I'd probably blow you in the bathroom if you wanted."

Zhenya choked on his drink a little, but Sid was already heading to the bar. Zhenya shook himself off and turned to follow. Better keep a closer eye on him then, he's clearly drunker than he looks.


January 21, 2020 - vs. Flyers

Turbo is a good kid, but he really, truly lives up to the name. Lots of guys did weird things on the bench to stay hyped, from drinking soda to sniffing ammonia – ugh, gross – but this kid's energy level was way off the charts. Zhenya would worry he's on coke or something, except he's been around Patric Hornqvist long enough to know better... some guys are just like that.

Case in point – there they were, deep in Flyers territory, waiting for puck drop after an icing. Turbo had been yelling non-stop since the game began; a jarring contrast to the calm, methodical plays he’d been outlining in the team Link.

"Gotta help him!"

"Play fast!"

"Go kill it!!!"

What was that even supposed to mean? It's almost as bad as Sid's constant "skate! Skate!", which over the years had morphed into the even more bewildering "wheel wheel wheel!". Even the broken nose he sustained in the second period appeared to have no effect on the volume or frequency of his comments.

And now, for absolutely no reason that Zhenya could fathom, the kid has got his hands on the bench wall and was bouncing so high off his skates that his ass actually cleared Zhenya's eye level.

Enough is enough. Zhenya reached out and put a hand on his back, pressed him down and kept him there.

Stop, you already have broken nose and we not need second one.

Turbo complied, thankfully, and-

God, I bet you could put him down just like that, huh? That's so fucking hot.

Zhenya looked up in surprise, but by the time he managed to spot Sid he's already lined up to take the face-off.

Zhenya glanced around to see if anyone else was taken aback by Sid's comment, or at least willing to back him up on a fine, but everyone was carrying on as if there was nothing unusual about it.

Weird.

Ever since his return to the ice, Sid had been talking to him more often. Or, actually, Sid had been talking at him more often, little drive-by comments here and there, gone before Zhenya could reply. Zhenya had initially chalked it up to some kind of new-age leadership method, because if you leave Sid without hockey for long enough, he'll eventually find himself in a pile of self-improvement books. The man just can't help himself. They've mostly been praises about his hockey, praises about his character, or inane little comments that weren’t really important enough to be said out loud but is supposed to help him appear more relatable or something. It fit the bill.

Sometimes though, like just now, the comments cross the line, and Zhenya couldn't help but wonder.

Whatever. He had bigger things to worry about. The Pens lose after an anemic performance, shut out 3-0 by Elliott. Whatever Sid was trying to do can be future-Zhenya's problem, to be dealt with after bye week. For now, the plan is to hop on a plane to Miami at the first opportunity and spend the entire break not thinking about the Flyers, hockey, or Sid.


January 31, 2020 - vs. Flyers

Bye-week came and went, and Zhenya returned to Pittsburgh feeling refreshed and just the right amount of sun burnt. As he stepped into the locker room, he knew to expect the usual comments about his tan lines the second his pants came off.

"Wow, is this what they mean by European style?"

"When's the Speedo ad coming out?"

"You shopping in the children's section again? You know you're a millionaire, right?"

Yup. Predictable.

Zhenya grinned and wiggled his moon-pale ass in the team's general direction.

"They want sponsor Sid but can only afford half his ass, so have to choose me!"

The room exploded into laughter, followed by another round of rowdy chirps, now aimed at Sid.

"Way to throw me under the bus there, eh G?" Sid said over his shoulder, grinning. He deliberately bent down to retrieve something from his bag, giving everyone a good long view and inciting another wave of raucous noise.

My ass is just big, but damn if yours doesn't want me to put my whole face in it.

Zhenya paused in the process of pulling on his under layers. He could have sworn that came through the team Link, but that's impossible. None of them are even done dressing, and the Link won't activate until just before they're ready to take the ice. Across the room, Sid was still laughing at something Horny said, and there's no way he could have spoken so clearly to Zhenya across all that noise. 

A terrible suspicion was forming in the back of his mind.


"Well," said Dr. Vyas, "it's certainly unusual."

Zhenya manfully resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Unusual his ass, this was literally unprecedented in the history of the NHL.

"So, let me get this right," Sid said slowly, like he was having trouble believing what's about to come out of his mouth. "You're saying that... when I started playing again and took over the team Link, a piece of it just... what, got stuck?"

Dr. Vyas spread his hands in a helpless gesture.

"It's the theory we're working off of now, but like I said, we don't really know. I'll have to talk to my counterparts on the other teams to see if any of them have heard of this happening before, but I’m not holding my breath. For now though, we’ll just have to go with the facts we know - you have a one-sided pair bond."

"We still play?" Zhenya asked, the same time Sid said, "do you think it has to do with my concussion?"

"Yes, you can still play, and no, I don't believe it has anything to do with your prior concussion." Dr. Vyas narrowed his eyes a bit. "Have you been experiencing any symptoms?"

Sid shook his head vigorously.

"No no, no symptoms. It's been fine for years now. I was just throwing ideas out there." He turned his eyes on Zhenya. "C'mon G, this affects both of us. Haven't you got any ideas?"

"No!" Zhenya said, indignant. "If doctor not know, how I'm know?"

Sid jumped a little, looking startled by his outburst.

A beat of awkward silence passed.

When they turned back to Dr. Vyas, he looked contemplative and maybe just a little amused.

"It happened again just now, didn't it?"

Now that he thought about it, Zhenya realized that Sid's mouth didn't actually move.

"Fuck." Zhenya said, with feeling. Sid actually put his face in his hands and groaned, which Zhenya privately thought was not very captain-like. Luckily for him, Sid couldn’t hear his thoughts, at least.

***

Dr. Vyas sent them home with too many links that Zhenya wasn’t going to read and instructions to “spend some time thinking about it”. Talk about an understatement. He could think of little else in the coming days.

Zhenya received less leakage from Sid now that he knew Zhenya could hear any thoughts involving him. It wasn’t perfect, of course – unlike a complete bond, Sid wasn’t able to control and direct his thoughts, so the best he could do was to avoid thinking about Zhenya altogether.

The horny asides stopped immediately. Gone, too, were the breathless appreciation of his backhand and the disparaging remarks about his shark pants, and Zhenya was surprised to find himself missing them. He hadn’t realized just how often Sid thought about him. That, even more so than the knowledge of Sid’s sexual interest, was a revelation.

Would Zhenya like to have sex with Sid? Sid is handsome, objectively speaking, having grown into his face over the years. He also had a pro athlete’s body and an ass that wouldn’t quit. Zhenya could admit that he’d had the idle fantasy or ten, over the years, but the thought of sleeping with Sid now required a level of intent he wasn’t ready for. Would Zhenya like to have sex with Sid if it meant bonding with him forever?  

When Zhenya thought of the future, he had always assumed he’d eventually retire in Moscow, the perfect city that offered both the comfort of his boyhood culture and all the sophistication and amenities he’d grown used to as a member of the elite. He had vague imaginings of charity work and bit parts in movies, maybe hockey programs with Max or owning a minor team like Jagr.

Bonding with Sid would shatter all of those half-formed plans. They would have to stay in North America. He could forget about the movie parts and the team ownership. Maybe he would help out with the Sidney Crosby hockey school in the summer, as some kind of weird special guest/meddling spouse combo. Would that be enough? Would Sid even want that?

Zhenya wasn’t used to not knowing the shapes of his own desires, and it left him with a strange, uneasy feeling.


February 2, 2020

Since leaving Dr. Vyas’ office a couple of days ago, Zhenya had spent most of his time avoiding Sid and spinning the hamster wheel of his own thoughts. It got him nowhere fast and left him anxious and exhausted.

Still, Sunday was the Super Bowl, and skipping out on Sid’s annual party would raise more questions than Zhenya was willing to answer. Which was why he had spent the past hour parked on Sid’s massive couch in the TV room, devouring guacamole from tiny tortilla chips shaped like bowls. The ingenuity of American junk food never ceased to amaze him.

He was about to investigate the chicken wings when Kris tapped him on the shoulder.

“Come upstairs, Sid wants to show us something”.

That something turned out to be a massive painting of the three of them, hung in pride of place right above the upstairs landing. They were obviously celebrating a goal, and although Zhenya couldn’t name which game it was from, their Pittsburgh Gold home jerseys meant it was probably from more recent years.

“Unreal, right?” Sid said admiringly, looking pleased as punch.

Kris nodded in agreement. “It’s a really nice piece.” He had his arm folded across his chest and a hand on his chin, looking like a real connoisseur. What a snob, Zhenya thought fondly. As if any of them knew the first thing about paintings. “I like the way he did the splatters. You said he’s doing another piece for you?”

“Yeah, I’ve got him working on another one with Flower.” Sid said.

Zhenya squinted at the painting. The style does look a little familiar, actually. “Is same guy paint at gala last year?” Zhenya asked.

“Yeah, that’s the guy!” Sid said, brightening. “I met him a couple of years ago. He painted a bunch of Pittsburgh athletes. He also did the one for-“

"Oh my god!"

They were interrupted Kris’ laugh. He was looking at his phone.

“Sorry guys, Cath says she’s about to lose our mortgage to Malin. I better go help her." He patted Sid on the shoulder and pocketed his phone. "See you guys downstairs.” 

Just like that, Sid and Zhenya were left alone in the empty upstairs. Zhenya mentally cursed Kris to a year’s worth of bad luck at cards. Sid stuffed his hands in his pockets.

“So um, did you like the smoked salmon bites this year? I used a gluten free cracker.” Sid asked, staring resolutely at the painting.

Zhenya hadn’t even seen, let alone tasted, these supposed gluten free smoked salmon bites. Mostly because he intentionally avoided the games area where he knew Sid was circulating.

“They’re good.” Zhenya lied. He wasn’t about to admit any of that.

“Good, that’s good.” Sid said. He rocked back on his heels a little, then straightened up. Zhenya couldn’t remember the last time they were so awkward with each other.

“So um, did you have a chance to think about what Dr. Vyas told us?” Sid lowered his voice, even though there was nobody else there. “You know, about the bond?”

Oh great, they’re going to talk about it right now. At Sid’s Super Bowl party. Zhenya decided that Kris was entirely to blame for and amended the curse to three years' worth instead.

“I’m think about.” Zhenya said. He was not above playing dirty. “What you decide?”

Sid frowned, annoyed that Zhenya turned the question back at him. Zhenya was unrepentant. It’s what Sid got for bringing it up.

“Well, I had a couple of days to think about it,” Sid swallowed thickly and nodded, seemingly to himself, “and, well, I think it’s a good idea.” Zhenya turned to him sharply. “I think we’d be good together, you and me. What do you think?”

Zhenya was stunned.

Sid is a creature of habit. For all that he is willing to try new things, Sid didn’t enjoy change, and for him to not just dip his toe in but to commit to a wholesale change going forward, the results had better be worth the discomfort. Hockey was the exception that proved the rule – he was constantly adjusting his play on the ice, because every incremental inch of performance gain was worth the pain of practicing over and over until it became the new normal.

As a result, major decisions – whether that means a new stick, a new car, or, God forbid, a new house – always involved extensive research, non-stop canvassing of everyone in his orbit for an opinion, and months (if not years) of agonizing pro/con lists and endless trials.    

Zhenya, on the other hand, had always made decisions with his heart. He knew what he wanted, and while he sometimes deliberated on the best route to achieve them, the end goals themselves never wavered. The biggest decisions he’d made in his life – coming to the NHL, his last contract with the Penguins – have all turned out to be the right in the long-term, which made him more confident than ever in his methods.

Sid would come and eat sushi if that’s what you wanted, but it would never be his go-to restaurant. Zhenya decided it was going to be his new favourite cuisine before he even finished swallowing his first roll.

The sudden role reversal was disconcerting.

Zhenya had expected a plea for more time. Or maybe more links to resources he wouldn’t read, or a list of people they should talk to. A life-changing decision after only two days of consideration? That would be surprising for most people, and basically unheard of for Sid.

Zhenya was not prepared for this. Shit, he’d been silent too long.

“Sid, I…” He wasn’t ready to turn Sid down. But he’s not ready to say yes right now, either. Shit, shit. “Sid, I don’t know. Is new for me, you know? I only start think about two days ago. I’m need more time for decide.”

Zhenya exhaled. It was probably a bad answer, but it’s the truth.

Sid nodded again, and finally turned to look at him. Zhenya wasn’t sure what expression he expected, but Sid looked… fine? Confident, even. What?

“I get it, it’s a big decision.” Sid said with a smile. It’s not one of his crinkly-eyed grins, but it didn’t look fake. “Take all the time you need. I just thought, you know, since you asked.”

He straightened his shoulders.

“Since you’re asking me, you know,” Sid started again, and Zhenya knew better than to point out that technically Sid was the one to ask first, “I think we should do it. Uh, not like… I mean I think we would make a good bond pair, if that’s what you’re asking.” Sid started to turn pink, and Zhenya couldn’t help grinning at him.

Sid pouted like a disgruntled cat. “Stop laughing at me, you asshole,” he said, and Zhenya wanted to pinch his cheeks. “You already know that I’m, uh, attracted to you. I don’t know if you feel the same, I hope you do. But I think we get each other, you know? . I’ve never had to worry about you being on my side, and I think that’s already more than a lot of people have.”

Sid took a deep breath. He appeared to be gaining momentum.

“And if you’re worried about the team stuff, I don’t think you need to. We’ve played here a long time and we’ve both had bigger problems than this, eh? I think we’ll figure it out. Even if you decide no, I think we’ll be fine. We can break the bond over the summer, and I’ll try not to bug you too much in the meantime. We’re solid, eh? We’re gonna be solid.”

Sid’s face was fully pink now, but his gaze held steady. Zhenya surprised them both by cupping his upturned face with both hands. The skin of his cheeks radiated warmth under his thumbs.

“I understand. Sid, I’m not say no, ok? Just need more time. Have lots to think about.”

Sid held his gaze for another breath. Then he exhaled noisily with a soft laugh and batted Zhenya’s hands away.

“Okay, okay. Come on, let’s get you one of those smoked salmon bites, eh? I knew you were avoiding me so I saved some for you. It’s got those weird pickle you like.”


For the next couple of weeks, things remained surprisingly normal. He and Sid still talked at practices and games, and Sid still invited him to all the same things he would have before. If anything, it felt like Sid had become less vigilant in not thinking about Zhenya, and he was once again receiving the innocuous little tidbits of commentary he had gotten used to before. The sexual stuff remained strictly under lock and key, however.

If Zhenya spent a lot more time staring at Sid when he wasn’t looking, neither Sid nor the rest of the team seemed to pick up on it.  

***

They went on a road trip to Florida, to play the Lightning followed by the Panthers. The morning of their departure Zhenya found Sid waiting for him at the bottom of the airstairs holding a couple of coffee cups. He wordlessly handed one to Zhenya as they proceeded with boarding. Zhenya thanked him, Sid nodded, and they both settled into their usual seats and didn’t attempt conversation. Business as usual.

It wasn’t until the plane was taxiing and Zhenya took a sip that he realized the contents weren’t his usual. He pried open the cup to peek and sure enough… steeped tea sweetened with jam. Sid must have grabbed their drinks from the airport diner instead of the café, and then raided the condiments section for the jam packets. That was considerate of him.

In Tampa, the team held their morning practice on the beach. Half the guys went shirtless but Zhenya kept his rash guard on, thanks to vivid memories of that disastrous first Florida road trip with the Penguins, when he got burnt so badly he could barely put his pads on. Even still, his legs were a little pink by the time they got back to their hotel, and Zhenya resigned himself to an evening of unpleasant sock chafing. Just as he was about to settle down into his pre-game nap, there was a knock at his hotel room door. No one was the hall when he looked through the peephole, but a plastic bag fell onto the ground when he opened the door – it must have been hanging on the handle. Inside was a bottle of aloe vera gel.

Make sure you use it before going to bed or it won’t have enough time to do its job.  

Zhenya smiled to himself. Sid must have also remembered Zhenya in all his cooked lobster glory. He made a note to thank Sid later.


It took a few more days of similar behaviour before Zhenya finally caught on.

Sid was wooing him, the sneaky bastard.

Zhenya debated exposing him but ultimately decided against it. Never mind that he had already made up his mind by the time their return flight landed in Pittsburgh - he enjoyed the treats and the attention, and if Sid believed his efforts were making a difference then maybe he’d keep doing these things forever, an idea that Zhenya found increasingly agreeable.

Nevertheless, the nebulous shape of his future plagued him. Even as it became easier and easier to picture himself waking up to Sid’s grumpy face, and harder and harder to hold onto the ideal of some amorphous Russian spouse, Zhenya could not get the rest of his future to crystallize. Stuck in North America without hockey, what would he do to fill his time while Sid no doubt occupied himself with the pick of the litter of post-retirement opportunities? 

Zhenya recognized that he was having his post-retirement identity crisis years ahead of schedule, but knowing it didn’t make it any easier. Still, it wasn’t fair to make Sid wait forever and, if all goes according to plan, they should still have a good few years of hockey ahead of them. Some risks were worth taking.


February 14, 2020

Zhenya woke up from his pre-game nap filled with giddy, nervous energy. Today is the day he will inform Sid of his decision. Unlike Sid’s quiet little favours, Zhenya’s idea of romance tended towards grand, cliched gestures that were impossible to miss. And what could be more romantic than getting together on Valentine’s Day?

He knew better than to disrupt Sid’s pre-game routine though, so the plan was to corner Sid afterwards and get him to come home with him. Zhenya eyed the massive bouquet on his dinner table critically: 158 red roses, 71 + 87, surrounding a picture of them holding their last Cup together. It looked perfect, but the bouquet was uncommonly fragrant and ran the risk of spoiling the surprise if Sid figured out the smell before he entered the room.

Oh well, too late now. Zhenya would just have to hope that years of broken noses and freezing rink air had rendered Sid less than discerning.   

***

Zhenya had just finished taping his stick when he overheard Reeser and Turbo talking about going over to Sid’s place for some kind of sad singles guys Valentine’s Day cryfest. He set down his sticks and sighed. That wouldn’t do; although Zhenya was glad that they at least knew better than to try to invite him.

He knew exactly where to find Sid, an hour and forty-five minutes before puck drop - in the staff kitchen, diligently spreading peanut butter on a listless piece of gluten-free toast. He looked up and smiled when Zhenya entered.

“Hey G, you grabbing something?”

Zhenya shook his head and leaned against the other side of the island.

“No, not need here. Need you cancel plans with Turbo, Reeser. You come over to my house after game.”

Sid frowned. “Tonight? Did we have something…?”

“No,” Zhenya said, “no plans before, I’m tell you right now. You come over, and we talk.”

“I-“ Sid paused, and sat his knife down on the plate with a soft clink. “Is this about the bond?”

“Yes,” Zhenya said, quickly. He wanted to end the conversation before he gave away too much. “You come over and we talk. Don’t go out with rookies.”

“Oh,” Sid said. He stared at his hands beside the plate. “Ok, I can do that. But G, I hope that means you’re going to give me good news… I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s Valentine’s Day, and it’d be kind of a dick move if you made me cancel my plans just to tell me no.“

“No, is not – is good news.” Shit, this is exactly what Zhenya wanted to avoid getting into. He had a plan! He even had a bit of a speech prepared, but he couldn’t remember a word of it now that he’d been put on the spot.

“Oh,” Sid said again. The apples of his cheeks were raised, like he’s trying to suppress a smile. “That’s… I’m glad. I uh, I’m looking forward to it.” He turned a bit pink, and that grin finally broke the surface. “That didn’t take you too long, eh?”

“Me?” Zhenya yelled, outraged. “You decide in two days! I’m at least think for two weeks!”

“I guess I had a bit of a head start,” Sid admitted, “I mean, you knew I was already into you. And bonding just made sense, you know? I guess there wasn’t too much to think about.”

“Not much think about?” Zhenya repeated, incredulous. It hadn’t ever occurred to him until now that maybe Sid wasn’t taking this seriously as he was, and Zhenya was suddenly furious. Was that why Sid didn't need to undergo the extensive Sidney Crosby Major Decision Making Process? Was this all casual to him?

“Is big decision! I stress so much about where we live, what happen if we break up, where we stay after retire. You think is no big deal?!”

Zhenya took a deep breath. He wondered if his face was turning red, the way it sometimes did when he got really worked up. Are they really having their first fight before they even officially got together?

Sid put his hands up, clearly shocked by his reaction. “Hey, no, that’s not what I meant. Geno – of course it’s a big deal. I just mean I didn’t focus too much on the details, you know?” He came around the island and gently pried one of Zhenya’s hands off the counter edge, then held it loosely in both of his. “I figure we can worry about that stuff later. We can live at your place, or my place, or get another place together. Whatever you want. I’m not picky.”  

Zhenya raised an eyebrow at him, disbelieving. “Sid, you most picky. You live with Mario for years! Take forever to find house!”

“Bonding with you isn’t like buying a house!” Sid exclaimed. He took a half-aborted step forward, and then thought better of it. He didn’t let go of Zhenya’s hand.

“You… I don’t know what you want me to say.” Sid said. He rubbed his thumbs lightly across the back of Zhenya’s hand. “Is it really the house you’re worried about?”

“No,” Zhenya said. Here it was, the fear he hadn’t even realized he’d been carrying: that he’d be giving up all his comfortable dreams of a familiar future only for Sid to regret it later, because he had underestimated the magnitude of change Zhenya would bring. Instead, he challenged, “what if I’m want coach KHL, after we retire?”

Sid shrugged. “Then you do. Maybe I’ll go there with you and try to find something similar – I know they’ve hired Canadian guys before. Or I’ll work in Canada and we’ll spend the off-season in Miami or something.” Sid took another step towards him. They’re standing very close, now. ”Look, I mean… nothing is for sure, eh? But I think we have a pretty good track record of figuring stuff out together.”

Sid took a deep breath. His hands, wrapped around Zhenya’s, were starting to get sweaty. His eyes, huge and pleading, remained fixed on Zhenya’s face. The intensity level was unbelievable, and Zhenya was pretty sure he had stopped blinking.

“You know, Tanger chirps me all the time about how I’m gonna die alone because nobody sane would try to measure up to you, and I think he’s right. G, you’re already my best friend. Having you in my life has only ever made it better. I think we’ve got a better shot than most, eh?”

The realization was like flipping on the bathroom light in the middle of the night: familiar surroundings made clear with a sudden, searing sensation, and for a split second it felt like the world had changed when it really hadn’t at all.

Because for Sid, bonding with him wasn’t the life-altering change Zhenya had thought it was, but rather the natural progression of an already profound relationship. Zhenya was the old, established favourite; the standard by which all new relationships were measured against. He couldn’t fathom when or how he managed to worm his way into such an esteemed position within Sid’s life, but he’s not about to question it now.

Zhenya used the hand Sid was holding to pull him flush against his body, and his other hand cupped Sid’s sweet, anxious face. His heart pounded like he was about to take a penalty shot, even though he knew he'd score.

“Yes, Sid. I kiss you now, ok?”

The kiss was the most tender Zhenya could ever remember. Sid’s lips were as soft as they always looked, and when Zhenya flicked his tongue along the seam, he opened his mouth with a soft, dreamy sigh.

When he pulled back, Sid was flushed all over, blotchy pink from his forehead down to his chin. His hands had hooked onto Zhenya’s beltloops, and they didn’t let go. Zhenya felt like he was flying.

“I wait until after game tell Kris I’m best friend, ok, or he’s cry during game, take penalty.”

Sid let loose a ridiculous giggle, muffled from where he’s buried his face in Zhenya’s shoulder. It was the best sound he’s ever heard, right up there with the first time they sounded the goal horn for him on home ice. And just like the goal horn, Zhenya wanted to spend the rest of his life hearing it, over and over.  

His heart had led him to the right choice, once again.