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Spring

Jordy busts him coming out of the bathroom, leaning against the far wall with his arms crossed over his chest and looking like he’d been there a while. Sidney tries not to react too obviously, though he knows that he freezes for a minute before heading over to wash his hands at the sink and splash water over his face, catching a glimpse of his red, sweaty face in the mirror.

“Rough night?” Jordy asks when Sidney shuts the water off and drips over the sink for a few moments. “Partying it up, eh?”

Sidney snorts, meeting Jordy’s narrowed eyes in the mirror. “Oh yeah, that’s me.” He frowns, thinking about it. “Okay, will you buy that, though? Maybe skip giving me a hard time about this?”

“Not a chance,” Jordy says immediately. Sidney groans, leaning his elbows on the sink and bending over it. He thinks very seriously about throwing up again.

“It’s really not what you’re thinking. I’m better.

“Sid,” Jordy says, plaintive and pitying. Sidney wants to punch him and then throw up again. “Come on, man. You’ve been sneaking off after practice for a bit now, and if this is what you were doing—”

“Don’t you think I know the difference between concussion symptoms and not concussion symptoms by now?” Sidney snaps out, quickly losing his patience. There’s a reason he’d been sneaking off to do this and this is absolutely it. “It has nothing to do with—it’s not my balance. It’s not from dizziness. It just comes out of nowhere and—I think it’s a stomach bug. And if I didn’t think so I’d tell my doctor, you know that.”

Jordy looks pained, simultaneously very old and very young. “You know that, right?” Sidney presses, and Jordy looks like he wishes he hadn’t volunteered to follow Sidney into the bathroom. Maybe he didn’t volunteer; maybe he’s someone’s spy, a certain someone who always has the good of the team in mind and uses that justification to pull all kinds of shit that Sidney has to keep pushing out of his head, too.

“I know,” Jordy says finally, still just as pained; he looks like he broke a tooth on a piece of hard candy, all pouty about it. Sidney can practically see him warring between loyalty and duty, and he thinks this might be the most thinking Jordy has done in ages. “But I would really feel better if you went—”

“Are you gonna rat me out?” Sidney asks. Jordy winces hard but Sidney doesn’t stop looking at him, until he slowly shakes his head.

“Of course not,” Jordy tells him, leaning back against the wall and letting his head thump there. “I would never—I won’t tell the trainers anything you’re not comfortable with. I wouldn’t do that.” Sidney nods firmly and grabs some paper towels, wiping his hands off. He tosses them in the trash bin decisively and starts to head for the bathroom door, considering the matter finished.

“But I’m gonna tell Flower.”

Sidney kicks the trash bin without really thinking about it, making Jordy jump and fold his arms defensively over his chest again. “Jordy, come on—”

“He already knows something’s up and it’s not like I can lie to him now that I know,” Jordy says, eyes wide. “He’ll just—he always knows. It’s impossible to lie to him. And I’m a terrible liar anyway, he’s going to ask me what’s wrong and I have to tell him. Sorry.”

“A stomach bug,” Sidney says through gritted teeth. “You tell him it’s a stomach bug. That’s the truth.”

Jordy just keeps looking at him with those wide eyes, his version of a stare-down. Sidney feels that familiar rush of irritation at being pushed around by teammates who think they know better than him. Sidney is so, so sick of people who think they know his body better than he does, that they know what’s best for him, and to his horror he feels his throat tighten up to think of it, to consider telling his doctor and having to go through all of that again.

“Geez,” he says, disgusted with how his voice breaks and laughing bitterly at it. He clears his throat and ignores the stinging in his eyes, focuses instead on the growing, mortal terror on Jordy’s face as he starts to suspect that Sidney’s close to tears. “Starting to think you guys don’t want me back.”

“That’s not fair,” Jordy says immediately. He still looks terrified but also a little angry now, the kind of angry that when it happens on the ice, he starts swinging his stupidly huge body around for both good and bad purposes. “We want that so much, you’re our—”

“Really, don’t,” Sidney says. His voice breaks again and he looks down, his hands clenched at his sides, his stomach rolling.

“Okay,” comes Jordy’s softened voice, cautious. “You’re my friend, though. And I care about you, right? And so does Flower, and Brooksie and Geno and Kuni and—”

“I get it,” Sidney cuts in, shaking his head. “Just stop. I get your point. But what part of me through this whole thing has been—I’ve been sitting out for months, right? It’s not like I’ve been reckless. Why can’t you trust me on this?”

“You’re my friend,” Jordy says again, very firm and resolute, like he’s arguing a call and absolutely knows he’s right. “And I do trust you. But yeah, you’ve been sitting out for months. And I don’t want to see you be reckless now, not when you’re so close to doing it all right.”

Sidney squeezes his eyes shut, thinking until he can grasp his own righteous indignation again. It’s hard in the face of Jordy’s simple earnestness, the honest, clear blue of his eyes making their appeal. He doesn’t want to think about the sense of Jordy’s words, or the idea that trusting himself and his instincts about his body could somehow be wrong. All throughout the concussion, throughout sitting out and then coming back and then sitting out again, all he’d had were his instincts. He doesn’t want them challenged now, doesn’t want to know that there’s another part of him that’s wrong.

“I have to tell Flower because he’s really scary,” Jordy says, voice light until Sidney doesn’t react. His tone drops into seriousness again when he adds, “Especially about you. Come on.”

“Tell him,” Sidney croaks, forcing his eyes open again and returning Jordy’s stare. “Whatever. Neither of you are going to stop me from coming back, so do whatever you have to do to make yourself feel like you’ve done right by the team.”

“It’s not about the—” Jordy starts, but Sidney is already walking out.

Usually Sidney tries to hang around after practices, trying to soak up as much of the team as he can. It’s not the same as being back completely, but just being around them makes him feel more like himself, more centered. And he knows, thanks in part to Jordy and a few others, how important it is to the team that he be around, not just because of what it looks like, but because of how it makes them feel.

Today, though, a lot of guys have already cleared out, and Sidney wouldn’t really bother anyway. He doesn’t want to keep going with Jordy, doesn’t want to catch Tanger or TK or Flower, God forbid, because they’d all take one look at him and know something’s wrong.

Sidney passes Geno and Nealer in the equipment room, badgering Dana about something and messing with their sticks, their voices carrying down the hallway before Sidney has gotten to the open doorway. For a moment, he thinks about catching Geno’s eye, getting him to walk with him for a bit—if anyone can call Jordy off, it’s Geno. But he doesn’t know how to ask him, doesn’t know how to put it into words either of them would actually understand.

So he passes them without saying anything, is mostly down the hall when he hears Nealer calling, “Hey, see ya, Sid!” He thinks if he looked back, Nealer would be sticking his head out of the doorway, waving at his retreating back, but he doesn’t. The last thing he hears before he’s out of earshot is Geno barking at Nealer to pay attention, the two of them settling back into their own business.

Sidney drives himself home alone, the radio on but mostly ignored, his regular route through the suburbs blurring by. He makes himself a sandwich once he’s home, settles down with a book for a little while before he gets back up and makes a few more.

He pushes down the weird guilt he feels, similar to when he goes for an extra cookie in the offseason. He’s practiced at ignoring it, would rather eat the cookie every time, and he hates that it’s cropping up here and now, when he’s back in the groove of regular workouts and physical activity.

It feels like a victory when there’s no nausea, and Sidney pats his own stomach in thanks. After practice, it had been a protein shake that set him off—just thinking about it makes him wince again, his mouth watering as if remembering the sensation of retching.

He shakes it off and turns on his TV, reveling in the fact that he can track just about anything with no dizziness, at any speed or brightness. Sidney used to watch TV when he wanted to, when it was a preferable activity to something else. Now he watches TV because he can, because he couldn’t for a long while.

When Sidney was concussed, he could eat anything, though he’d been careful once he started gaining weight. The nausea was always about sudden movements, or dizziness, looking down a flight of stairs and feeling like he was just going to tip down the whole way. It happened when he pushed himself too hard in the gym, or if he had a headache he was ignoring for too long, as if to remind him: you’re not okay. You think you might be okay but you’re not, not yet.

This nausea isn’t like that. It’s mostly about smells and tastes, strange but less worrisome reactions to otherwise innocuous things. Sidney can live with the fact that he’s suddenly unable to tolerate the smell of bananas if it means he can still skate as fast as he wants without seeing double. The concussion taught him to appreciate every victory, big or small.

Sidney declines a few dinner invitations, flirting with the idea of getting some time in in his own exercise room and then deciding to eat dinner in front of the TV instead. Tomorrow is a game day, so he’ll be with the team most of the day, will join them for team meals. He can be alone for a night and let that be okay.

He tries not to dread morning skate the next day. It’s optional around this time of year but he always goes early to meet with Kadar, and it’s the first time in a long time Sidney’s even thought about not going when he didn’t have a better reason. He can’t let Jordy and Flower’s worry be that reason, that’s counterproductive.

He’s wary of his nausea on his drive to the rink, though it’s spared him for the morning so far. And though he’s the first one there, it only means he gets to watch Jordy trickle in later, his stomach dropping as Flower follows and looks straight at Sidney.

Sidney takes line rushes with the scratches, stands in on the second powerplay unit and tries to shoot on Flower without really looking at him. He skates by the crease and Flower smacks him in the back of the legs with his stick, says something low and sharp that Sidney purposefully doesn’t hear.

His routine is to be the first one on the ice and the last one off, but today he can’t scramble off fast enough. The problem is that Flower’s not far behind, making the gathering of beat reporters titter a bit wondering if Thiessen’s getting the start until Dan confirms that he is. Sidney watches him coming, swallows hard, and sees exactly how this is going to go, understands the inevitability of the play before it’s even fully in motion.

Kadar is still by the bench, so Sidney takes his glove off, holds his hand up pleadingly in front of Flower, and then leans in as close as he can to Kadar. “Hey,” he says, smiling brightly, big enough that anybody watching them could see it. “Can you get Stewart to meet me in the exam room in like five?”

Kadar freezes, his eyes going wide and flickering up and down Sidney’s strained face until he finally catches on. He laughs, shaky but loud, and pats Sidney on the arm. “Sure thing. No problem. And Coach?”

“Stewart,” Sidney says again, patting Kadar back. “Just Stewart. I’ll fill Coach in later. Thanks, buddy.”

“Awesome,” Kadar says. He squeezes Sidney’s arm rather tightly, enough that it twinges, and his teeth are gritted together in an awful smile, but Sidney knows that Chris Stewart will be waiting for him in an exam room in five, and Dan won’t know a thing yet.

“There,” he mutters to Flower as he heads back towards him, shuffling forward fast enough that Flower has to hustle to keep up. “I’m doing it. Both of you back off.”

“Sid—” Flower starts, but Sidney speeds up so much he nearly trips into the dressing room, Sully grabbing him by the shoulder and laughing at him.

He gives himself exactly five minutes to change, keeping his head down while everyone around him chatters about the game. Sidney’s included—people direct talk at him as easily as they ever do, and at one point DJ nudges his foot as he’s putting on his watch and asks, “We on for rummy tonight, Sid?” which is a joke about the press box that Sidney usually laughs at.

Now, he’s too distracted, dreading seeing Stewart too much to say anything but, “What?” and then get up before DJ can answer. “I’ll see you guys later,” Sidney says to anyone who might be paying attention to him, and the hallway between the dressing room and the exam room is blessedly empty when he steps out into it.

It stays empty, though Sidney takes a winding route halfway past where he needs to go so that nobody realizes where he’s going. He meets Kadar outside the room, who nods grimly at him and gestures at the door. “It’s just Chris inside, but if anyone stops by I’m gonna say he’s busy with Tanger,” Kadar says. “Give you some privacy.”

“It’s not a huge thing,” Sidney says, though his voice sounds strained to his own ears. Kadar gives him an unimpressed look, but also a small, kind smile.

“Just go in, Sid. I’ve got your back.”

“Thanks, Kades. Just—thank you, really.”

“Keep me posted,” Kadar says. He lets Sidney into the exam room like a bouncer, closing the door behind him.

Stewart is sitting at the desk, clicking around a game of solitaire. He looks nervous when Sidney walks in, and Sidney feels abruptly awful about it, hating that familiar look of foreboding pity.

“Are you sure you want to see me?” Stewart asks, mouth lined with worry. “I can have Dr. Burke in here in like—”

“I have my own doctor, if I wanted a doctor I’d see one,” Sidney says, and then he closes his mouth and makes himself regroup. Stewart isn’t the enemy, he just wants to help, just like everybody else. Sidney has to remember that. “Sorry. It’s just not a big deal, okay, and I don’t want to freak everybody out.”

“I get that,” Stewart says, nodding slowly. “So what’s up?”

Sidney leans against one of the exam tables, tucking his hands under his armpits and thinking about how to say it without freaking Stewart out, too. “I really don’t think this is what you think it is, but I’ve been getting sick lately. I think it’s a stomach flu or something, just—random smells and tastes make me want to hurl, out of nowhere. I wasn’t even going to tell you but some of the guys found out and I don’t want to scare anyone so—yeah. That’s what I needed to tell you.”

Stewart frowns thoughtfully, though he no longer looks as worried as he did before. “Did Kades weigh you this morning?” he asks, and when Sidney shakes his head he makes him strip down to his underwear and get on the scale. “Okay, well you’ve gained some, which is kind of weird if you’ve been throwing up a lot. Have you felt dehydrated at all?”

“I’ve been pretty hungry,” Sidney admits, honestly so relieved to not to be immediately thrust into concussion testing that he’s fine copping to the rest of the weirdness he’s been feeling. “But I’m drinking like normal? I don’t feel dehydrated ever, just sick.”

“Is it hard to keep anything down, or just some things?”

“Just some things,” Sidney says. “I ate a really big breakfast this morning and I feel fine. But the other day I went to grab a banana for a snack and I just—I could barely make it to the bathroom in time.” He thinks back for a minute. “And I was starving about ten minutes later.”

“And how long has this been going on?” Stewart asks. His voice is calm and practical, zero judgment now that he’s just in focused, impartial Head Trainer mode, but Sidney still feels guilty, flushing hot when he mumbles out his answer.

“A week, I guess. Maybe ten days? Really not long at all, and it’s not like it’s happening all the time.”

“Right,” Stewart says, frowning thoughtfully. He keeps looking between the scale and Sidney, then looks at his file as Sidney slips his pants back on. He pulls himself up onto the exam table, letting his feet swing as he watches Stewart think. “This date is when we last weighed you, correct? It looks right to you?”

He shows Sidney the file and points, and Sidney looks and thinks back, feeling startled when he sees how much weight he’s gained so fast. He tries to keep his weight steady, especially now, and while Kadar is always assuring him that fluctuation isn’t strange in his situation, this kind of fluctuation can’t be what he means.

Sidney is thinking about that extra sandwich as he nods. Stewart keeps frowning, then sets the file down and stands up. “I’m gonna feel around your abdomen, tell me if anything feels tender or sore,” he says, and Sidney nods again but stays silent through the exam, shrugging when Stewart checks in with him. “Nothing?”

“Nope.”

“Huh. Okay, let’s talk about your diet. I’d get Kades in here but he’s on guard duty, so you’ll have to make do with me, sorry.”

Sidney talks Stewart through everything he’s eaten in the last week or so, trying to note what sets him off. There’s no pattern to it that either of them can derive, though, and Stewart keeps frowning thoughtfully, flipping through Sidney’s file again. At one point, he makes Sidney pause so he can grab what looks like a medical desk manual, flipping through it and gesturing for Sidney to go on.

“And it’s nothing—it’s not motion sickness or vertigo-induced, right?” Stewart asks at the end, finally looking up from the manual. Sidney hears what he’s saying—are you sure it’s not a PCS symptom?—but when he just shakes his head, Stewart accepts that plainly. “Okay. Look, it could be a stomach bug—”

“See? Geez, I kept you in here for nothing—”

“—except stomach bugs don’t generally last ten days,” Stewart finishes, giving Sidney a quieting look. “Now, I have a theory, but you’re not gonna like it. And if I’m wrong it means there’s something wrong with you that Dr. Burke will have to look into, because it goes beyond my capabilities.”

Sidney mulls that over, hunching his shoulders. He wants to put his t-shirt back on but he doesn’t want to look like he’s hiding from Stewart or his theory. So he squares his jaw and meets Stewart’s eyes, forcing himself to ask, “How do we test your theory?”

Stewart opens a drawer by the sink and pulls out a little plastic, sealed container in a clear baggy. “Pee test,” he says, and Sidney has taken the container from him before the theory suddenly becomes clear to him. He drops it and it hits the floor with a clatter.

“Oh, fuck no.”

“It’s a theory, Sid,” Stewart says. He passes over Sidney’s file again, waving at the open page. “Look, you’ve disclosed that you have the capability, you disclosed your sexuality years ago, and your symptoms literally sound like morning sickness.”

“You can’t be serious,” Sidney says, totally aghast. “There’s no way—I’m not pregnant, Jesus Christ! I’m not even with anybody right now, and there’s nobody—no. No way.”

“Morning sickness usually pops up five, six weeks in,” Stewart says. Now he picks up the desk manual again, flipping to a page and humming at it. “But it’s the weight gain, really—five or six weeks is about when males start putting on weight fast. Unless you have some kind of real digestive illness—which, again, Dr. Burke would have to diagnose—this fits.”

“It doesn’t fit,” Sidney insists. “There’s no way. It’s not possible.”

“Really?” Stewart asks, tilting his head to the side. He still looks calm and unflappable, always a steady, comforting face when one of them ever needs something, but now Sidney’s kind of regretting coming to him instead of one of the doctors or his own doctor. Dr. Burke is the one prone to speculating on worst case scenarios and sticks to a diagnosis through thick and thin; Stewart is more balanced, and if he didn’t think this was a possibility, he wouldn’t put Sidney through a freak-out by mentioning it. “Think back like, five, six weeks—”

“Oh God, shut up,” Sidney says, closing his eyes. “I’m not talking about my sex life with you.”

“Oh please, it’s not like you’re asking for a special cream or anything, this isn’t embarrassing,” Stewart tells him, waving his hand and smirking. “You realize that I was once Ryan Malone’s trainer, right? I’ve seen things, Sidney. Don’t be stupid.”

“There’s really no one, though,” Sidney says, and he’s being honest. There hasn’t been anyone since before Christmas, a guy he’d been seeing very carefully and quietly for a few weeks. When he got put back on IR, Sidney had avoided phone calls from mostly everyone, and that included David, who took it personally and gave up before Sidney was ready to talk to him again.

“I broke up with my last boyfriend in December,” Sidney tells Stewart very steadily, keeping his tone even and sure. “There’s just no way—and I haven’t dated anybody since, I haven’t even—”

And then he breaks off as he realizes that I haven’t even hooked up isn’t true, as easy as it would be to pull on his careful media façade and spit out that sentence like a statistic. He feels heat rise in his face and he knows his mouth opens a bit, but Stewart doesn’t keep looking at him, glancing down at his file and nodding slowly.

“There it is,” he says softly. “January-ish, maybe?”

“Fuck,” Sidney says, his breath coming ragged. “It was one time.”

“It only takes one time, bud,” Stewart says with a grim smile. He reaches down and scoops the plastic container off the floor, holding it out to Sidney again and waiting patiently for him to take it. “Just humor me. If we do it like this, it can stay between you and me for longer, and we don’t have to bring Dr. Burke or anyone else into the loop unless you want to.”

Sidney slowly takes the container, staring down at it in his hands. He wants to drop it again, or throw it at Stewart’s head. “What if I don’t take it? What if I don’t want to know?”

“Well, you’re gonna find out sooner or later if, you know, you get a baby bump,” Stewart says placidly, and Sidney seriously thinks about throwing the container at him. “You have to know, Sid. There’s no way in hell Burke can clear you if you might be pregnant, I can’t let him.”

“Fuck,” Sidney says, squeezing his eyes shut. “Fuck, this is—fuck! This can’t be happening.”

“Maybe it’s not. Maybe I’m crazy. But go pee in that cup and prove that I’m crazy, then we can move on to another theory once the results get back.”

“And you—you won’t tell anyone until we know, right? It’s my decision?” Sidney’s mind is racing, his stomach suddenly in knots, and he doesn’t know if he wants to throw up or cry or both, but either option is out of the question right now. He is one of the few active Penguins that hasn’t thrown up or bled all over poor Stewart; he’s not to going to embarrass himself further, not now.

“Of course not. I’ll run the sample over to the lab myself and have my buddy check it, get back to you privately. This is between us until things are definitive, then it’s up to you how to proceed.”

That makes him feel a little better, his mind latching onto the fact that this is Stewart trying to make things easier on him, keep him in control. It’s a kindness that Sidney has come to appreciate dearly through his concussion—the ability to make his own decisions about his health has never felt so important before now. “Thanks, Stew,” Sidney says quietly, squeezing the container in his fingers and meeting Stewart’s eyes.

Stewart gives him a light punch in the arm, shrugging. “Just doing my job.”

“No, you’re risking your job, and I appreciate it. Really.”

“Not a problem, really.” Stewart grins at him, sly and yet still companionable. “Name the kid after me and I’ll call it even.”

“Christ, don’t even joke,” Sidney says, feeling like Stewart just grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him.

“Come on, get to it so Mike can still cover for me when I leave,” Stewart says, brisk and businesslike. He checks his watch. “It’s a game day, you know, it’s not like I just sit around all day.”

Sidney tries to be quick about getting Stewart the sample, feeling both guilty and nervous at the same time. His heart pounds a little as he hands the container back to Stewart, kind of wanting to snatch it away again and run as far from Consol as he can, forgetting any of this conversation ever happened.

“I’ll ask him to put a rush on it, but you know how slow they can be, could be a few days,” Stewart tells him kindly as Sidney gets redressed. Sidney nods, the stretch of days before him making him sweat a little. He doesn’t feel better when Stewart adds, “You can try a home test in the meantime—I don’t have any, um, on hand, but—”

“No thanks,” Sidney says hastily, waving at the sample. He doesn’t need another reminder of why Stewart wouldn’t have any home tests on hand; he’s well aware that male hockey players don’t get pregnant, not so that their teams can find out. He kind of wonders if he’s an idiot for trusting Stewart, and then immediately feels guilty for thinking that way. “Is that—that’s accurate, right?”

“Yes,” Stewart says. “I’ll take care of it. And—look. You’re not going to like this.”

“Fuck. What now?”

“The white helmet has to go back on. No contact unless we know what we want to do here, okay?”

Sidney groans loudly and doubles over with his hands on his knees. If he had a stick in his hands right now he’d break it over something. “How,” Sidney starts through gritted teeth, “am I supposed to explain that?”

“I’ll talk to Mike, think of something. Um, I won’t tell him about this, but maybe you pulled your hammy a little, want to rest it just in case,” Stewart says. “You looked a little stiff walking in here, come to think of it.”

Sidney rubs at the back of one thigh, sighing and giving Stewart a helpless shrug. “Yeah, I guess. Fine.”

“Go home and relax for a bit. Try to take your mind off this. Remember, if you’re pregnant, it’s not PCS. You’ll get back to playing whatever you decide.”

He thinks about how close he is, though, thinks about how even if he’s not pregnant, no contact will set his timetable back a week or so. Sidney thinks of the just past trade deadline, Shero insisting that the best acquisition will be getting Sidney back, and feels a familiarly oily feeling cropping up in his stomach again. He leaves Stewart to talk with Mike, barely makes it to another bathroom in time, and doesn’t bother to check if anyone’s around.

When he’s finished, there’s only Dana in the hallway, not looking at him, not asking him any questions, and Sidney wants to hug him. Instead he holds himself to a nod and leaves hastily, dreading the time he has to kill before the game, but also dreading sitting up in the press box tonight, thinking about the test.

It’s every bit as dreadful as he imagines, made worse by how DJ keeps glancing at him and then looking away guiltily. Sidney sighs and forces his gaze away from the stoppage in play, realizing he’d been a dick to him for no reason. He tries not to do that, as a teammate and as a captain, and he’s still a captain.

“Hey,” he says to DJ, nudging his shoulder and nodding towards the ice. “Did you see Jordy on that odd man rush there? What did he do wrong, d’you think?”

DJ lights up, chirping, “Looked for a pass that wasn’t there,” like he’s just delighted to get the chance to talk. Sidney tries to grin back, and they talk through the stoppage and through Jordy’s next shift. Sidney starts to relax.

He tenses up again when Johnny kicks the back of his chair and offers him nachos, looking personally offended when Sidney refuses. “Since when are you one to turn down press box food?” Johnny says, aghast, and Sidney colors and tries not to think about how he wants to snatch the nachos out of Johnny’s hands and eat them in two bites.

“I ate a big dinner,” Sidney says, which is not actually a lie. Johnny rolls his eyes and crunches at them himself, kicking Sidney’s chair once more for good measure, and though he leaves Sidney alone after that, Sidney can feel the weight of the weird looks he must be sending Sidney, the kind of look that DJ is trying to hide as he quickly changes the subject to Duper’s goal.

It really is weird for Sidney to turn down food, but he keeps hearing Stewart talk about guys putting on weight fast, and he doesn’t—he doesn’t want that to be true, not about him. He never really cares about putting on weight, fast or not, because it always comes off eventually, it’s inevitable. There is no inevitability about this.

That doesn’t stop him from joining the team for their dinner after the game, everyone happy and chipper with the win, because that would be even weirder than turning down food, and probably troubling.

Duper is smug and glowing over his two goals, sitting next to Sidney with his arm over the back of his chair. When he catches Sidney toasting his amazing goal-scoring prowess with iced tea, he gives him the same weird look that Johnny had.

“Where’s your beer?” Duper asks loudly. Sidney groans and thinks it’s going to be a miracle if he and Stewart can keep this quiet even until the results are in, never mind through whatever comes after.

It’s important that he keep the team involvement down as much as possible right now, though—and that hurts a lot, because all Sidney wants is to be involved with the team again; he hates the thought of having to push them away—because if Stewart’s theory is true, things with the team are really, really complicated. Much too complicated to think about right now, so Sidney just tells Duper he’d had two during the game already and doesn’t want to pile on.

Duper, at least, leaves him alone, though he’s getting looks again from Jordy and Flower. Sidney tries not to look as miserable as he may feel, tries to appear as involved in the conversations around him as he wants to be. He wants them to be the distractions, not to be distracted from them.

Over the next few days, though, nothing really works as a distraction from the bigger, gloomier picture. He watches the team’s collective faces fall when the white helmet goes back on, when he takes it easy at practices and broods in the press box again, but this time everyone backs off about it. Jordy seems horribly guilty and tries to corner Sidney once to—apologize, possibly, though Sidney doesn’t let him.

The local and national media is attracted to the white helmet like a horde of lowly buzzing moths, just waiting for the info that will set them back into the frenzy they’d been working in during the past 14 months. Sidney doesn’t want that info to exist, never mind for them to have it, and he knocks wood every time he passes some, crosses his fingers until they tingle because he doesn’t know how else to hope anymore.

He talks to Dan and to management because he has to, parrots Stewart’s hamstring story and agrees that they’re right to be cautious—caution can’t hurt. Sidney hopes that it’s all for nothing, that better isn’t just a wish anymore but his reality.

But the results come in, and Stewart calls Sidney while he’s having lunch with Kuni and Duper. He’s thinking about how he never realized how much he drank until he started avoiding it, and thinking about how much he hates that Kuni and Duper have stopped giving him shit for ordering iced tea.

Then he’s staring at his phone, taking a really deep breath, and tuning out Kuni and Duper’s gentle ribbing of each other as he takes the call. “Sid, hey,” Stewart says quietly, and Sidney closes his eyes. “You want me to just—”

“Just tell me,” Sidney says through gritted teeth. Kuni and Duper have gone quiet, but Sidney keeps tuning them out anyway, ignoring the feel of them looking at him.

“Okay. Well, my theory was right, man. Test came back positive.”

Sidney hisses through his teeth, squeezing his phone hard. He hears Duper saying, “Sid?” but doesn’t answer him, instead just tries to think about breathing.

“I can make you an appointment with someone who can talk to you about options,” Stewart says calmly. “You don’t have to involve the team if you don’t want to, depending on what you decide.”

“I don’t know what I’m going to decide,” Sidney snaps. He’s been thinking about it for days, weighing the pros and cons, and so far all he can see are cons on both sides. That’s no way to decide on anything.

“Okay. Take your time. Maybe not too much time, though, because depending on what you decide, we can clear you fairly quickly. But if we’re not clearing you, we have to—”

“—disclose to the team,” Sidney finishes, flicking his gaze over at Kuni and Duper for the first time. “Yeah. I get it. Look, make the appointment for whenever, I have to talk to—to some people, you know, my agent, in case I’m—yeah. Text me the appointment time.”

“You got it. Let me know if you need anything else, okay?”

“I will. Thanks, just—thanks, really.”

“Anytime,” Stewart says, and Sidney knows he means it. It’s a bright spot in all this, the kind that makes him feel hopeful—there are more people in the Penguins organization like Stewart than there are people unlike him. That bodes well for a specific choice he could make, even if the choice itself makes his stomach do flips and his heart pound.

Sidney keeps staring at his phone for a few moments, feeling Kuni and Duper staring at him. He knows they’re waiting on him, and he has no idea what he should tell them: that’s another decision, one that could affect the other decisions, and all of it gives him a headache.

At the same time, he can’t help remembering the worst of his concussion, and the worst of it always happened because he made himself feel alone. He doesn’t want that anymore. He doesn’t want this to be like the concussion, because it’s not, not really, no matter what decision he makes.

It’s better than the concussion, Sidney realizes. It’s complicated and kind of surreal, has felt surreal for days, but it’s so much better than being injured. He gives a short, choked laugh as actual relief washes over him, and laughs harder when Kuni and Duper give him twin looks of worry.

“Uh, hey,” Kuni says carefully, reaching a hand cautiously across the table, as if to touch Sidney’s arm. Sidney stops laughing, letting it peter off into chuckles, but he puts his hands in his lap, too, looking at Kuni bravely.

“Hey,” Sidney says, just as careful. And then there’s nothing careful in the way that he adds, “So, I’m pregnant.”

Shit,” Duper says loudly. He looks around as if for his kids or his wife, then stares at Sidney with wide eyes. “Oh my God, that’s why no contact. Christ, Sid, we all thought—”

“I know what you thought,” Sidney says, shaking his head. He gives a weak, tremulous smile. “This is—this is better, right? Better than that. Except that I have no fucking clue what I’m going to do, and I have no idea if I should disclose to the team, I mean, look what just happened to Carter in Columbus—”

“Those were rumors, you know better,” Kuni says, trying to look stern. He actually looks just as freaked out as Duper, though, and that makes Sidney want to take back his last few sentences and then maybe run out of their booth. “And it’s not—we’re not Columbus. You’re not to the Penguins what Carter was to Columbus, come on. I can’t believe you’d even think about not disclosing to the team.” His gaze softens a little, brows raised and eyes wide in that imploring way he gets when he’s trying to make peace in the room. “And it’s better, Sid. It’s way better.”

“If you think about it, it’s wonderful,” Duper says. It’s quiet this time, like he’s trying to cushion a jab. Sidney laughs a little, but Duper’s expression doesn’t change. “It is. It’s wonderful to have children.”

“God,” Sidney moans, incredulous. “I haven’t even been thinking about it like that.”

They both smile at him, and Sidney feels himself flushing, warmth spreading out to the tips of his fingers. He wriggles them in his lap, folding them on top of the table as he absorbs this new blow.

He’d never imagined this happening, though he’d always imagined kids in his future. The knowledge that he could get pregnant had been superfluous at best when he was a kid—with hockey, it wasn’t ever going to be something he could embrace. It was another thing that made him different, and not in a good way. Sidney didn’t want something else he had to confess to his agent, another twist in his personal life that he would have to tell any team that signed him.

The Penguins treated it as a nonfactor, though, along with his sexuality, and that was how Sidney liked it. Theoretically, pregnant male hockey players have rights to paternity leave, but there’s no precedent for anyone taking advantage of it, no public examples of male pregnancy in hockey to follow. Nobody wants to be the first. Sidney definitely doesn’t want to be the first.

Now it’s a factor, but it’s more than that, Sidney’s realizing that now. His hands shake a little, and he breathes out slowly—“I’m going to have a kid,” he says breathlessly. Duper slips out from his side of the booth to slide in next to Sidney, rubbing his back. “Jesus Christ, you guys. A baby.”

“Congratulations,” Kuni says, smiling widely. Duper repeats the sentiment in soft, happy French, close to his ear, and Sidney swallows hard.

“Wait, no. It’s too soon for that. I don’t know—I don’t know what I’m going to do yet.” He has to talk to his family, talk to Pat, talk to—as if reading his mind, Kuni’s eyebrows go up, and he looks a little awkward.

“Do you know who the dad is?” He starts to make a sour face and then quickly stops himself, looking guilty. “Um, is it David?”

“No, God, definitely not David,” Sidney says, but part of him kind of wishes it was David. That’s so much less complicated than the truth. “Look, I know who it is, but I can’t—I can’t think about that right now. It’s way too complicated.”

“Okay,” Kuni says after a moment of quiet. He looks very thoughtful, but backs off easily. “That’s fair. Just know that we have your back, okay? And anything you need—if or when you want to tell everybody, we’ll help you and we’ll support you no matter what.”

“That goes without saying,” Duper says loftily, but he squeezes Sidney tight against his side and pats his back.

Sidney leans into him for a moment, head spinning with all he needs to think about. “Telling the guys is complicated,” Sidney says, and he thinks they get it, then—telling the guys would mean telling the dad, and Sidney just feels too overwhelmed right now to consider that.

Kuni nods slowly. “Okay. I get that. But—if you’re having a baby, that’s a good thing. And the guys should know, otherwise the baby is missing out.”

“Right,” Sidney says, steady like he doesn’t suddenly feel the need to put his head down on the table and laugh until he cries.

“And it’s not like—dad or no dad, neither you nor the baby is going to be alone in this ever,” Duper adds, very stern. Kuni nods, and Sidney wants to put his head down again but for a totally different reason. “So it can’t be that complicated, no matter what. Remember that, okay?”

“Okay,” Sidney says, not nearly as steady, but somehow more honest. “Okay,” he says again, closing his eyes and taking a deep, shuddering breath.

 

 

Sidney’s mom cries on the phone when he tells her, which is absolutely horrible until he realizes they’re happy tears. Then it’s horrible in a different way, because she’s talking about being a grandma and he has to rush out, “Mom, I don’t—I don’t know what I’m going to do right now.”

“Of course,” his mother sniffles. “I understand, sweetie. You have decisions to make. But—oh, my baby is having a baby,” and Sidney feels like a teenager again when he moans, “Mom.”

“I know, I know. Talk to your father.”

His dad is a bit steadier, though his voice wobbles a few times, too. Sidney wants to ask him what he should do—he keeps starting to, laying out the options, stressing the fact that he’ll have to miss more time, but he stops because he’s afraid of what his father might say, what he might be holding back.

All that he actually does say is, “Whatever you decide, you know we can all handle it together. Should we come down now? We’d been planning to make the trip for the first game you were cleared anyway, so it’s no trouble.”

“No, that’s—” Sidney gathers the words that feel like they’re tripping over themselves and gets them out carefully, deliberately. “That’s a bad idea if I’m not getting cleared, you know? Maybe I’ll—” He breaks off again, because the truth is that he wants to go home, wants the simplicity of his parents’ house and the warmth and smells of his mother’s cooking. But that would be running away, and he doesn’t want to do that, not now and not again.

In the silence, his father clears his throat nervously and says, “Really, your choice. I get it. But, let me just say—having you and Taylor was the best thing that ever happened to me. Hockey is hockey, but you—you’ll get hockey back, Sid. Think about it that way.”

Sidney has been thinking about it that way. He thinks about it that way when he goes to the appointment that Stewart sets up for him, alone and in sunglasses and a hat, tense as he waits in the office.

Dr. Pearson is young but very matter-of-fact, laying out options that Sidney had already researched for himself, agonized over for days as he thought about his decision. Sidney kind of tunes the doctor out, transfixed by the printed giraffes on his tie, hysterically thinking that Geno would wear a tie like that.

Then he’s stuck thinking about how Geno and Dr. Pearson might have to meet, and he laughs in a silent lull, staring down past his hands folded between his knees, at the speckled tile floor. “Is everything okay?” Dr. Pearson asks. Sidney nods, bringing one fist up to his mouth and gesturing for Dr. Pearson to keep talking, but he just gets narrowed eyes and a concerned frown that is now starting to look familiar to him.

“You don’t have to make any decisions today, obviously,” Dr. Pearson said. “There is some time. But now that you have more information, do you have any idea of what you want to do?”

Sidney just looks at him kind of helplessly, because he hasn’t thought about wanting, only about what he should do.

He’s not sure what he wants, not now. A few months ago, the answer would’ve been so simple: Sidney wanted hockey back. And now he’s so close to having it back, but the truth is that during those months, he’d had to learn that he couldn’t just want hockey all the time, that there had to be other things in his life for him to want and work towards.

Without hockey, Sidney had been alone, and he can’t ever be alone like that again. He can’t ever put himself in the position of being that alone again.

Dr. Pearson takes pity on him, gesturing towards the exam table. “We can take a look, if you’d like that,” he says, and when Sidney just keeps staring, he adds, “At your baby, we can look at the baby and then talk about things from there.”

Sidney says yes before he quite knows what he’s saying. There is a weird, breathless excitement in his voice that sounds foreign to him, like it’s coming from someone else. But it’s definitely humming through his veins, making the tips of his fingers and toes tingle, and it only gets more intense as he undresses and gets on the exam table. He shakes as Dr. Pearson sets up the ultrasound machine and spreads cold jelly over his bare stomach.

He has no idea what he’s looking at on the screen once the image comes up, though he’s staring, eyes straining like they’ve never had to before. Dr. Pearson points, and his voice is soft when he tells Sidney where to look, tracing the outline of a very small blob. “You’re about six weeks along,” he tells Sidney, and points to dark spots that he says are the eyes and nose forming.

It still doesn’t really look like anything to Sidney, and he worries about that. But he thinks about what it could look like, what it actually is and what it will grow to be, and he—Dr. Pearson tells him, “Like I said, you have some time, though the time limit for the easiest procedure is coming up soon, so—”

“It’s fine,” Sidney says. His voice is croaky and the words stick a little, but he forces them out. “I—I’m gonna—should I make another appointment, for another checkup? And you said something about, uh, vitamins before, sorry I wasn’t really listening.”

Dr. Pearson just nods stoically, his face devoid of judgment. “Absolutely. Marie can help you with the next appointment out front, and you can stop at the pharmacy on the way out. Do you have any other questions?”

Sidney feels like he has a billion questions, but they all kind of stick in his head with a dull buzz. Now Dr. Pearson smiles very minutely and tells him, “Think about them, write them down, and bring them to the next appointment. You can also call me any time, I always answer my cell phone.”

“Thank you,” Sidney says. It’s pretty much all he can get out as he gets dressed again, waits by Dr. Pearson’s desk when he gestures for him and shakily accepts a photo printout of the blob on the screen, staring at it numbly until Dr. Pearson hands him an envelope.

He thanks Marie, and the man at the pharmacy, and he shakes himself out of his fog in his car, pulling the printout from the envelope and looking at it again. Someone beeps at him, wanting the spot, and Sidney starts and puts the printout back, slips it into the envelope and then into his glove compartment, and starts to drive.

He realizes he’s been smiling when he catches a glimpse in the rearview mirror.

 

 

Pat flies in to join Sidney for his meeting with the team.

“You know it’s going to be fine, right?” he tells Sidney, looking at his phone while Sidney checks his hair in the mirror in his front hallway. He looks as unconcerned and unruffled as he ever looks, and as always, it’s a blessing—just looking at Pat calms Sidney down a little.

“Right,” Sidney says with a nervous laugh, shaking his head at his own wide-eyed, pale-faced reflection. He eyes Pat in the mirror, waits until he looks up and gives him a disbelieving look. “I know, okay! I believe you, I guess.”

“Would it make you feel better if I reminded you you’re not the first client of mine to get pregnant?”

Sidney wrinkles his nose, shaking his head. Pat had told him that right away on the phone, meaning it to comfort, but all Sidney could think of was how that client had never gone public, and he can’t know how he’d ended up. “Am I the first client to keep the baby?” he asks, and then he shakes his head quickly. “No, don’t answer that. I don’t want to know, it doesn’t matter.”

“Would it make you change your mind if you were?” Pat asks, and he grins a little when Sidney’s nose stays wrinkled. “I thought not. Relax, Sid. And for what it’s worth, I’m really excited for you. I think the team is going to be excited too.”

“Yeah, I’m sure they’ll be excited about how they stood pat at the deadline expecting me back for playoffs, and now I’ll miss at least the first few months of next season,” Sidney says. “Should make my contract negotiations interesting for you this summer, eh?”

Negotiations,” Pat repeats, snorting. And then he starts a little and stares at Sidney, very unimpressed. “Oh, you’re serious? Right, because the Penguins have always treated you like a soulless sack of hockey-playing meat just meant to make cash for them, they don’t care about you as a person or anything.”

“Are we going to have this whole conversation in sarcasm?” Sidney asks, picking up his car keys and sighing when Pat slaps them out of his hands and holds up the ones to his obnoxiously lavish rental.

“Are you going to keep being stupid?”

“Are you going to keep answering my questions with questions?” Sidney feels like he’s 12 as soon as the words leave his mouth, but Pat just pats him on the shoulder, tosses his head back, and laughs like Sidney had just told a very funny joke.

“Let’s go, smartass. Do you want to be late to your last ever meeting as a Penguin?”

Sidney barely manages a sarcastic chuckle, and that earns him a swat to the back of the head as Pat shuffles him along to the garage.

He’s quiet on the ride over, hungry and nervous and trying not to gag every time he catches a whiff of Pat’s aftershave. Pat lets him be silent and tortured in the passenger seat for a little while, but eventually he glances over and says seriously, “What do you think is going to happen?”

When Sidney stays silent, unable to articulate that while he can’t imagine the bad things the team could do to him, he can’t imagine any good things either, Pat sighs and quietly adds, “And what do you think I would let them do to you?”

Sidney’s heart swells a little, once again feeling guilty for underestimating the people who care about him. He clears his throat and speaks past the too-common lump there, hating how emotional he keeps getting over what are really ordinary acts of loyalty. “I know, it’s not—I know. I’m not being rational.”

“You’re right, you’re not,” Pat says. He gives him a quick grin, though, a flash of white teeth and confidence. “It’s okay, though. You pay me to be rational for you. I just need you to relax and be brave, I know you’re good at that.”

“Thanks,” Sidney says. It comes out dry and a little harsh, but Sidney means it genuinely and finds it easier to say like that.

Pat nods and reaches over to squeeze his knee comfortingly, and the rest of their silence isn’t quite so tortured.

The meeting goes as well as Pat had promised. There are a whole slew of Penguins front office people there, but Sidney focuses on Mario and Shero, making eye contact with them as much as possible, using Shero’s open and kind face as an anchor because it never quite changes over the course of Sidney’s revelation.

At one point, Mario’s eyes flicker to Pat, and he quickly blinks away what might be hurt, so fast that Sidney can’t be sure. When Sidney takes a breath and looks at them both, waiting for comments, Mario looks down at the table and clears his throat.

“I really, really hope you weren’t afraid to come to us with this, Sid,” he says quietly, and there is that guilt again. Sidney opens his mouth to—admit it? Deny it? He’s not sure but he is grateful when Pat answers instead.

“This all happened very fast,” Pat says calmly. “Sidney’s only just made his decision, and I think you can understand him wanting to make that on his own.”

“Of course,” Mario says, but there is a touch of ice to his voice, like he’s not talking to a longtime friend but rather just a random, pain in the ass agent. “But considering he looks like he’s in front of a firing squad, I wanted—”

“You know that you have our support,” Shero cuts in, looking directly at Sidney. “I think that’s what Mario’s trying to say. If you didn’t know that already, you know that now, so let’s talk about what you need from us and what we can do for you.”

“Yeah,” Sidney says, breathing out slowly. “Of course I know that. Uh, I don’t really need anything, just—”

“Discretion,” Pat says, shooting Sidney a look that lets him know exactly how useless he’s being right now. “We won’t be going public with this. I think that’s in Sid’s best interests and in the best interests of the team.”

“If you want to go public, we’ll go public,” Mario says, speaking directly to Sidney again, with a much softer tone to his voice. Sidney manages eye contact with him long enough to know he means it. “We can handle that. We would never ask you to hide something like this for the sake of PR.”

I can’t handle it,” Sidney says honestly. He’s uncomfortable, as he always is, with the team reminding him of his special status—he’s pretty sure Mario just wants him to know that he’s being prioritized, and he’ll never like that. “I’d rather read a billion articles about what a concussion-faking terrible captain I am than let them into my private life like that. There’s no way.”

“Okay,” Mario sighs. He sounds like when Sidney used to apologize for falling asleep in front of the TV, or dripping pool water in the kitchen when he would run in to get a drink: frustrated and fond and like he didn’t quite understand Sidney, but liked him anyway. It makes Sidney smile slightly, ducking his head.

“That’s fair,” Shero says. “What else can we do? How are you doing with doctors, do you have your own guys or can we set you up?”

“I have a doctor,” Sidney says, not adding that the team did set him up. He definitely doesn’t want to get Stewart in trouble. “I’ve scheduled some checkups, I have vitamins, I have a—” His hand twitches towards his wallet, where he’d slipped a copy of the sonogram and has been pulling it out at various points to show Pat, Duper, Kuni, his mom over Skype. He stops, because he’s not sure that’s appropriate—last year he’d shown Shero his pictures from Cancun, but that had been private, over coffee, and there are all these people here.

“He’s got a bump, kind of,” Pat finishes, poking Sidney lightly in the side of the stomach and getting his handed smacked away. “I think he’s good. Healthy. Eating plenty.

“Oh geez,” Sidney groans, putting his burning face in his hands while Shero and a few others chuckle pleasantly. “Why did I bring you here?”

“Moral support and comic relief,” Pat tells him briskly, voice airy like he’d just won some game nobody else was smart enough to be playing. “We should talk about the team, though.”

“That’s a good point,” Shero says, frowning a little, more thoughtful than accusatory. “When you say you don’t want to go public, who do you include in that?”

“I—I need some time before I tell the team,” Sidney says. Then, because the lie of omission tastes bad in his mouth when they’re being so nice to him, he adds, “The dad, um. The other dad, he’s on the team.”

Mario, at least, looks utterly unsurprised, just nods, but everybody else looks a little shell-shocked, enough that Sidney feels a bit of panic stirring up in him again. “It’s obviously not a situation where we’re, you know, in a position to—we’re not together. So that’s complicated. And it’s really complicated for him, so I’m going to try and make it as simple as possible.”

“Whoever it is hasn’t disclosed their sexuality to the team yet,” Shero says slowly, and Sidney nods. He knows that he’s the only one that’s been open with the front office, though obviously not the only one with something to tell. He’d seen it as necessary years ago, but he understands that not everybody feels that way, and he always respects that. “Okay. Understood. But if you need—Sid, this is obviously a very delicate situation. If you need help with this—really, anything, or if you think it’s not going to go well, you have to—”

“I think we can trust Sid to take care of this on his own,” Mario says.

Sidney sags with relief, nodding eagerly. He can tell that not every face in the room is satisfied with that, that Shero might not be satisfied with that, but there’s really nothing else to be done. He’s not going to make this any harder than it is, because it’s already going to be very, very hard.

It stings when they all conclude that in the meantime, the team will just have to have the same information the media will get: that Sidney has an undisclosed upper body injury that is being monitored. He hates shutting them out again, hates the thought of them worrying that Sidney’s concussion is back and will keep him out indefinitely.

This isn’t indefinite, Sidney has to keep reminding himself of that. That night, he contemplates the telling that he still has to do, looking at the sonogram again until he’s too tired to keep his eyes open. He sets it down on the nightstand and settles with his hands over his own stomach, fingers spread, and hopes the team will trust him for just a little longer.

Before he can talk to Geno, though, Geno texts him to say he’s coming over the next night, not a question. Sidney huffs and irrationally thinks to complain that he might’ve been busy, an instinctual response to Geno’s familiar bossy booty call language, and the only one he can render textually. When he was still playing, and Geno would mutter at him in the locker room that he’d be over that night so don’t bother with underwear, Sidney used to giggle like an idiot, like Geno was joking.

He can’t giggle at Geno over text, which is probably a good thing, and he shouldn’t bitch at him either, it would be for no rational reason. He just answers ok and changes his sweatpants, laughing at himself when he forgoes underwear even though he knows nothing’s going to happen.

Sidney meets Geno at the front door, watching him lope up the driveway looking down at his phone the whole time. “Hey,” he says, and Geno looks up and gives him a smirk, an exaggerated wink.

“Hello, strange man. Nice to see.”

“Sorry no one told you being a team leader means babysitting the flakey captain,” Sidney says. Geno rolls his eyes and leans all the way into Sidney’s space. He’s wearing cologne and it’s Sidney’s turn to roll his eyes, surprised and a little baffled that the smell doesn’t turn his stomach.

“Whatever. Move, big ass blocking the whole door.”

“Why did you want to come over?” Sidney asks, just in case. He really doesn’t want to hear that Mario sent him.

Geno gives him a look like he is being very stupid, and Sidney feels relieved, even though he’s still positive nothing’s going to happen. “Why you think? Get out of my way, come on.”

“Why?” Sidney says again, giggling nervously. It’s so stupid, Geno makes him so stupid, and this is why he can’t figure out a strategy for telling him. Sidney’s never been able to predict how he’ll act around Geno.

“So I don’t kiss you out on front porch in front of neighbors,” Geno says slowly and clearly.

“The neighbors can’t see, I have privacy bushes,” Sidney says, but he backs up quickly when Geno makes a frustrated noise and leans in to kiss him, ducking through the doorway and leaving space for Geno to follow.

Geno mutters to himself as he stalks through Sidney’s front hall, shucking his shoes and jacket and looking cross and insulted. “You in annoy mood tonight,” Geno tells him when Sidney just watches from the archway that leads into the sitting room, arms folded across his chest. “Bitchy. Great for me. Best timing.”

“We’re not going to do anything,” Sidney answers. Geno snorts, loud and insulting. “No, we’re really not. I have to talk to you about something.”

“Better talk,” Geno says darkly. “Have lots to explain. But we can fuck after, make you feel better.”

“You’re definitely not going to want to fuck after,” Sidney says, though he can’t be totally sure about that. There had been many, many times over the course of their very casual and undefined relationship when Sidney had been sure Geno never wanted to do it again, and then they’d wound up doing it again.

Even when they broke it off for what Sidney considers the final time, it hadn’t properly stuck in the strictest of terms. There had still been that night in January, months after deciding things were too serious for what they could each handle.

It could’ve been enough to give Sidney hope about the future, their future, but it had actually made it seem bleaker. Nothing changed in January; Geno still wasn’t ready to be open with his family about his sexuality, about risking the life he has in Russia for a relationship with Sidney he wasn’t even sure was viable.

Sidney understood that. He tried to keep from ever making Geno feel guilty about it, understood the serious lack of practicality in fucking his teammate and fellow face of his franchise, or pursuing some kind of real relationship with him. No matter the feelings he’d inevitably developed over the course of the relationship, that was always true.

It’s still true that there is no practicality in having a baby with Geno, and just remembering that makes Sidney’s hands kind of sweaty. He wipes them off on his thighs and remembers Pat’s instructions to be brave, taking a big breath.

“Come on,” he says, tilting his head towards the sitting room. “I made tea for you.”

Geno doesn’t even have the grace to look surprised, which makes Sidney blush. He’d always had a bad habit of civilizing their hookups, adding in a meal or conversations that weren’t always about sex—boyfriend stuff. Geno humored him, once telling Sidney he’d make a good wife someday, snickering at his own joke before he’d even finished it.

Now, Geno makes himself comfortable on Sidney’s sofa, spreading his legs in a lazy sprawl as if he’s been here dozens of times. He hasn’t, Sidney hasn’t lived here very long, and the last time he’d been here was the last time they had sex. That was the last time they’d been alone in a room together.

He sips at tea, which isn’t really hot anymore because Geno had been late. Sidney sits on the opposite end of the sofa from him, legs drawn up because he swears what little stomach he has is more visible when he’s sitting down. Duper swears there’s something about the way he stands but Sidney has spent enough time in front of the mirror looking at his stomach to know that sitting is the worst, the most obvious.

He faces Geno, who is watching him with narrowed eyes, a little amused and maybe a little nervous. Sidney has no idea how to start, and he’s thinking about it when Geno loses his patience and sighs, tilting his head back.

“You gonna tell me why you disappear again? Hard to have your back when your back not around, Sid.”

“You don’t have to have my back,” Sidney says nonsensically. At least the unimpressed and slightly incredulous look that Geno gives him is gratifying; it makes him flush a little, pleased.

Geno’s loyalty and devotion to Sidney as a teammate is something no one’s ever been able to question, and while it never stops making Sidney feel a little warm, a little bit loved, it might actually work against him here. “Really,” Sidney continues, trying to build on his somewhat stupid point. “I’m doing okay on my own. I just have some stuff to tell you.”

“Tell,” Geno says, taking a big gulp of tea and then setting the cup down on the coffee table. He turns, too, so that he’s facing Sidney, one leg crossed under him on the sofa.

“Okay,” Sidney says. He steels himself. “Okay. So, you know I can get pregnant, right?”

Geno rolls his eyes. “Yes, I know, you think I’m deaf at Flyer games? Why it matter?” He’s reaching for the tea again when it very clearly occurs to him, his eyes going wide and his arm freezing, stretched over the table. “Oh!”

“Oh,” Sidney echoes, laughing a little, high and reedy. “Yeah, I’m having a baby. I’m out for the season and a little bit into next season, too.” While Geno looks like he’s trying to form words of any kind, Sidney feels compelled to add, “Sorry.”

The words Geno first manages are Russian, and they sound like swearwords. Then he says “Sid,” and his eyes are still very wide.

“Yeah,” Sidney says. His voice is weirdly soft, and strange to his own ears, like he’s involuntarily happy again. That keeps happening. “It’s crazy, I know.”

Geno is quiet, looking shell-shocked. Then he starts to look awkward, fidgeting a little in his seat and picking at the inside seam of his jeans. “What?” Sidney says, nervous laughter bubbling up until he swallows it down.

“Have to ask,” Geno says, and he cuts himself off, his face contorting until it lands into what Sidney can only describe as a pout. It’s a familiar look, and now Sidney knows what Geno’s going to ask. “Is—is baby with David?”

“God no,” Sidney says, and Geno lets out a big breath. Then he looks distinctly embarrassed, pink in the cheeks, and his eyes are wide again when he looks at Sidney.

“Is mine?” His voice is hushed, and he looks hopeful, and Sidney’s head is spinning.

“Yeah, Geno. The baby’s yours. Of course it is. David—he hasn’t been around in a really long time. But—” And he has his whole speech on the tip of his tongue, the one about how Geno doesn’t have to feel obligated, how he doesn’t owe Sidney anything and how he knows how complicated this is all is. He’s so ready to say that.

But Geno leans all the way across the couch and pulls Sidney into a gentle, careful hug, as best he can with Sidney’s knees between them. He laughs, bright and happy, and it’s familiar to Sidney because it sounds how he feels.

Sidney rests his chin on Geno’s shoulder for a moment and laughs, too, soft and breathless. Geno rubs at his back a little, then lets out another huge breath and leans back. He looks like he’s just had his bell rung, a bit dazed, but his face is so open, more than Sidney’s seen in a long, long time with Geno.

“We have a baby?” Geno says carefully. His voice breaks. Sidney swallows hard and nods, then has to drum up all his courage again to spit out his speech.

“Yeah, but. I need you to know that I don’t expect anything.” When Geno just blinks at him, Sidney gently clarifies, “From you. You don’t—I know what this means for you. I know about the situation with your family, back home, I know you’re not—I don’t expect this to change anything for you, and you don’t owe me anything.”

Now there are lines forming in Geno’s forehead as his brow draws together. He frowns, and Sidney hates it, hates that he put that there, but he’s always going to hate that. “What you mean, you think I’m—you think I don’t help you? I leave you alone?”

“I’m not alone,” Sidney says, shrugging. “You don’t need to help me, Geno. This could really mess things up for you.”

“Not mess up for you?” Geno asks. Sidney hesitates, because it’s true that it could mess up a lot for him—he knows his hockey career is safe and he knows that the people that he loves will love him back regardless, but his life is still going to change, and he’s had to start coming to terms with that.

“It’s not the same,” Sidney tells him, because that’s the truth. Geno doesn’t necessarily have the same guarantees back home that Sidney does; that’s really why they’ve never had a real relationship work out between them. “I’ve talked to the front office already, talked to my family, and—and they’re the only ones who are going to know. I’m going to keep the baby a secret as long as I can.”

Geno is wilting slightly, the lines in his forehead going slack as he gets sad. “You let everyone think it’s your head again?”

Sidney nods, and Geno looks like he’s going to hug him again. Instead, he takes a big, wet breath and shakes his head, biting his bottom lip.

“Sid, is my baby. Already happen, I’m already in this. Whatever mess—whatever happen next, it just happen, not gonna change the truth.” Geno screws his face up again, looking determined and mulish, and Sidney knows his next protest isn’t going to do anything, that this is something that Geno’s going to dig his heels in about. He was afraid of this. “Maybe I—I keep baby secret too. But secret is not the same as I’m leave you alone. Not gonna do that, ever.”

“That’s gonna be really, really hard,” Sidney says, his voice gone rough. Geno heaves a big sigh, but sets his jaw when Sidney tries to add, “You don’t have to—”

“We have baby,” Geno says insistently. And then he breaks out into a huge smile, shocking Sidney into smiling back. “Just because secret baby doesn’t mean no baby. You know when he come?”

“October,” Sidney says, laughing a little. “But I don’t know if it’s a boy or girl yet. The doctor said I can find out in a few weeks.”

“We find out,” Geno says. He reaches out like he wants to touch Sidney again, and he hesitates, which is so strange from him that Sidney is moving immediately, shifting so that he can lean into Geno’s side, wrapping Geno’s long arm around his shoulders. Geno squeezes him, tips his forehead into the top of Sidney’s head briefly, and then smiles into his temple. “I bet is boy.”

“There’s no way to know yet.”

“Little girl good too,” Geno tells him, and Sidney wants to pinch himself. He just laughs, shaking his head and peeking up at Geno’s face, open and happy again. “We have baby, Sid. I can come see doctor?”

“Of course. But you don’t have—”

“Make appointment for day off. I come, keep secret.”

“I’m gonna tell the guys,” Sidney says, relaxing a little into Geno’s hold. It’s been a long, long time since he’s been held like this, and he’s pathetically grateful that it’s Geno. “We don’t have to tell them it’s—it’s yours, but—”

“I want to,” Geno interrupts. “I want them know. Can’t tell—maybe have to keep secret for long time, don’t want to be secret with them.” His chest puffs out a bit. “Want them know I’m best.”

“You? I’m the one that’s pregnant,” Sidney says. Geno squeezes him and huffs in faux offense.

“Yes but I’m get you pregnant. I’m best.” Geno’s smirking, Sidney can hear it in his voice, and it never really bothers him but especially not now, when he’s feeling faint with relief and happiness and just a little bit of worry, lingering at the edge of his consciousness.

“You’re okay. Hey, do you want to see?” Sidney shifts around, reaching into the kangaroo pocket of his sweatshirt, and Geno stares at him like he’s expecting him to lift his shirt and show his belly. Sidney rolls his eyes and pulls out the sonogram.

He usually keeps it on his bedside table up in his bedroom now, having decided that carrying it around in his wallet is too dorky, but he’d thought—if things went well with Geno, and so far they have, Sidney could show him. He holds the picture up in front of Geno’s face and lets him take it, leaning back so he can point out the outline of the blob that he sometimes loses track of.

“Look, that’s the baby. Cute, eh?”

Geno’s face is screwed up, and he’s staring at the picture with the kind of concentration that makes Sidney feel less stupid for constantly losing his baby in the picture. “Yes,” Geno says eventually, but he sounds unsure, exactly like he does when he’s using English words he doesn’t really understand, just heard repeated somewhere. “Very cute, yes.”

“Not much yet,” Sidney says, but he traces the outline as best he can, feeling his breath hitch a little. Geno’s chest moves steadily behind him, and his arm is still solid around his shoulder. “But that’s the baby, it’ll look more like a baby soon.”

“Hi baby,” Geno whispers, and Sidney shivers. He holds on to Geno’s arm.

 

 

Part of Sidney expects Geno’s happiness to have really been a dream, something his subconscious made up from hoping for it. He’s surprised to wake up the next morning to a few different texts from him, asking Sidney how he is, if he wants breakfast, apologizing because Geno needs to go to morning skate and Sidney is too lazy and slept too long for breakfast.

i send lunch Geno texts with a string of eyeless smileys. Sidney rolls his eyes and gets dressed not expecting anything, but his doorbell rings as he’s contemplating the light exercise he’s allowed.

Sidney manages to get rid of the Jimmy Johns delivery guy without even signing anything, and wonders what Geno had paid them to pull that off, but happily eats his sandwich and texts Geno his thanks. tell guys tonight Geno texts back, and Sidney swallows his sandwich carefully as nervousness bubbles up around it. That means he has to go to the game tonight, which he’s been avoiding, but it’s not something he’s going to take away from Geno, not when he’d been so excited about it.

Going to the game isn’t so bad, even when his dress shirt is a little hard to button so he has to wear his loosest jacket. It’s nice to see the guys and he hangs back in the locker room as they walk out, wishing them luck and trying to avoid their worried eyes, letting himself be a little excited that he should be able to change that soon, at the very least.

The press is kept at bay and Sidney’s getting dirty looks about it, but he ignores it for the most part and plays cards with DJ in the press box, trying to enjoy it.

He’s not even a little guilty for getting distracted from the card game, though, by what Geno’s doing on the ice, god mode casually engaged like five-point nights are just part and parcel of the Evgeni Malkin experience. Geno always tears it up against the Jets, even before they were the Jets; Sidney tries to rationalize it like that, to remind himself of that.

But Geno is so happy, and Sidney can’t deny that anymore. He certainly can’t deny it in the locker room, when Geno is sweaty and half-undressed and beaming at Sidney, practically bouncing on his heels, his eyes clearly asking if they can tell everyone now.

“You do it,” Sidney says, feeling too stiff in his suit, too far removed from the loose and bare nature of the locker room. This is their safe place and Sidney always has his place here, but it’s Geno’s room right now and Sidney wants him to have this.

Geno doesn’t even ask Sidney if he’s sure, just yells for everyone’s attention and takes a big breath by his stall. Sidney thinks about going over to him, standing beside him, but Geno makes the decision for him and comes over to him, stands next to him with one large, sweaty hand hanging close to his, bumping their knuckles together before he faces the room.

“Hey,” Geno says. He clears his throat and looks around, still smiling dopily. Sidney smiles at him instead of looking at everyone else staring. “Have good news with Sid, everyone listen.”

Kuni drops a bunch of his sticks with a loud clatter and swears, but everyone else just stares, hopeful enough to make Sidney’s chest hurt a bit. “We have a baby,” Geno says. He points at Sidney’s stomach, of course. “Me and Sid, you know? We have together, so.” He shrugs, a little awkward, like he’s run out of words to explain, or like he’s not sure what else is necessary, and Sidney just nods at the questioning, slightly confused looks he’s getting.

“We’re pretty excited,” Sidney says. He shrugs, too, while Geno just starts grinning again. “Due in October, so y’know, that’s why I’ve been out, but—it’s gonna be good. We’re gonna have a kid together.”

“Gonna be a papa,” Geno adds, and the slightly stunned silence breaks then, the guys rushing them for hugs and handshakes. Geno goes pink with pleasure as he gets congratulated, beaming at Sidney over every hug.

Jordy hugs Sidney tight enough to knock his breath out of him, telling him, “This was your stomach bug, eh? See, good thing I caught ya!” And Sidney doesn’t want to thank Jordy, doesn’t want to encourage him, but he feels a stupid rush of emotion in the pride in Jordy’s voice, the fierce and bubbly joy shining out of him. He’s not even mad that Sidney has to stay out, nobody is, and Sidney is a little faint with relief over that.

Nealer makes loud and boisterous plans for them all to go out and celebrate once the rounds of hugs are through, and Sidney agrees with a surprising eagerness. He can’t drink, and at the bar Cookie orders him a Shirley Temple to be a dick about it, but it’s good to be with them, for this to be wholly good news for them all to talk about together. They haven’t had that in a while.

They don’t talk details. Geno doesn’t talk about anything but how excited he is, even though it’s a secret. They don’t talk about why it is has to be a secret.

But Duper slings an arm around Sidney on his way to the bar and says, “Since when are you and G back on?”

“Do the math,” Sidney says, but he hurries to add, “And we’re not, really not. It was just a one night thing, nothing else is happening.”

“A baby is happening,” Duper says pointedly. Sidney shrugs under his arm.

“Yeah but we don’t have to be together to do that.” He swallows hard before he says what he’s known for a long time out loud. “We’re never going to be together. Not like you’re thinking.”

Duper swears softly, and hugs Sidney tight. Then he buys him a plate of mozzarella sticks, just for him, and tells the table Sidney doesn’t have to share. He slaps Nealer’s hand away.

“I can share,” Sidney says reluctantly, but Geno joins Duper in glaring at anyone who tries to take any.

It’s a good night, all things considered. He’s happy when he goes home alone, happy when Geno follows him to his car and gives him a tipsy, earnest “Goodnight, Sid. Goodnight baby,” and a squeeze of his arm around Sidney’s waist, just a brief moment, but it feels good. His heart is kicking a fast, happy beat when he goes to sleep, and he’s happy that Geno’s happy, that it’s real and it’s lasting.

It’s going to have to last a long while, Sidney knows. He flattens his hands over his stomach and hopes things can stay exactly like this.

 

 

Though he’s had over a year of practice by now, sitting out is still hard. Sidney is taking advantage of the fact that he’s not really showing yet, can still weave in and out of the team without raising any suspicions.

He’s around the guys as much as possible, going to games again, doing his light workouts in the team facilities under the watchful eyes of Kadar and Stewart, who always make sure he doesn’t push himself. Sometimes it’s embarrassing, going through his light jog on the treadmill and fielding questions about his balance or dizziness, whether his feet are swelling yet, especially when guys drift in and out to say hi to him.

But more often than not, the embarrassment goes away when Nealer flops on a mat nearby and moans about muscle soreness and exhaustion, or when Tanger drifts in eating his fifth meal of the day at noon. At this point, the entire team is worn out and down to little or no exercise, trying to shore up energy for the playoffs, and while Sidney is still uncomfortably aware of the difference in circumstances, he can’t help but feel like he’s fitting in better now.

And none of it’s worse than the concussion, when it was a bad thing if Sidney fit in with the guys because it meant some of them were injured.

Sidney doesn’t think Geno’s around any more or less than he had been before he knew about the baby, though he still sends Sidney food sometimes and texts him fairly often to see if he needs anything. The morning sickness is still a thing and one morning in April, Geno brings over jelly donuts and then stands around looking very perturbed when Sidney has to run to the bathroom because the sweet smell suddenly turns his stomach.

“Sid?” he calls from the hallway while Sidney’s bent over the toilet. “Okay?”

Sidney can’t answer for a bit, and when he does it’s weak enough that Geno at least comes closer to the bathroom. He doesn’t go so far as to look in, and Sidney knows Geno can be squeamish about vomit, so he doesn’t really blame him. He doesn’t particularly want Geno to have a front row seat to this, anyway.

“I’m throw them away,” Geno says eventually. “Sorry they smell bad. I don’t bring that kind again.”

“It’s okay,” Sidney tells him once he’s washed his face and brushed his teeth, feeling stupidly self-conscious about how he must look. “It’s just my nose, it’s weird. Don’t worry about it.”

Geno’s shoulders slump in relief when Sidney comes out, though, and he’s wringing his hands, the box of donuts nowhere in sight. He shakes his head, frowning. “No, the baby doesn’t like.”

Sidney laughs a little, putting his hands on his stomach and then dropping them when Geno’s eyes follow the movement closely. “I’m hungry now, though,” Sidney says, trying to get over the inherent weirdness that’s still lingering in Geno coming over for stuff other than sex.

“I cook,” Geno says, which makes Sidney laugh again, so Geno squawks at him. “What! I cook. Go sit, I do it.”

“We can go out,” Sidney tells him, and though Geno huffs, he dutifully follows Sidney out to his car, goes with him to a diner, and makes a big show of grabbing the bill at the end like that’s ever been a big deal with them.

“Baby likes waffles, and pancakes, and lots of potato,” Geno says, pretending to take notes on a napkin. Sidney kicks him under the table and leans back contentedly in their booth. “I’m remember this. Bring you lots.”

“Okay,” Sidney says, practically sighing it out. He thinks he’ll take a nap when he gets home. He likes that it feels okay to do that, that there’s less guilt in it or oily wrongness than there’d been when he was sick. It’s closer to game day naps. He’d like Geno to stay with him, more comfortable and familiar with him now that he’s teasing Sidney again, like things are more normal. But he doesn’t think that would be normal, so he makes himself be okay with waving Geno out of his driveway a little while later. They’re not together, even if they’re ostensibly doing this together. He’ll remember that.

He takes Geno to the next doctor’s appointment just before playoffs are about to start, almost six weeks after his first visit and right before his parents are due to arrive for a visit. Geno is all nervous excitement, clamming up when the receptionist says hello to him, his knee bouncing up and down when they have to wait a bit in Dr. Pearson’s office.

“I think it’s too early to know the sex yet, so don’t be disappointed,” Sidney says, trying to calm him down a little. Geno nods vigorously, rubbing at the back of his neck and then folding his arms back around his waist, bent over in his seat.

“I know. Look it up on my phone this morning. But.” He pauses, a little breathless, the way he gets when he’s talking too much or too fast or too happy. “Maybe hear heartbeat today?”

“Maybe,” Sidney says. “I hope so. That would be nice.”

“Yes,” Geno says. Sidney leans down far enough that he can peek at Geno’s face, catching his lips turned up in a small, hopeful smile.

That smile is nothing compared to the smile on Geno’s face when they do get to hear the heartbeat. Sidney knows he looks equally dopey and feels better about it, less self-conscious of the stinging in his eyes because Geno’s eyes are glassy and wide, too.

It’s a little overwhelming to be faced with the fact of a human growing inside of him, their human baby that’s getting bigger at a nice pace and will change their lives forever. It makes Sidney’s chest tight, makes him first hesitate with twitching hands, wanting to grab for Geno’s, and then rolling his eyes at himself and grabbing the hand anyway, squeezing Geno’s fingers tightly in his.

Geno jumps, sniffles a little, and then gives him a squeeze back. “Thank you,” he says in a slightly hushed voice. “For let me come, let me hear.”

“Of course,” Sidney says roughly. Six weeks ago, he wasn’t ready to expect Geno to be here, wasn’t equipped to muddle through the complications of having a baby with someone who doesn’t want to be with him. But it’s more than he hoped for, so much better, and Geno has made it simple in a way that only he could.

Dr. Pearson reminds them that he’s there by awkwardly clearing his throat, and Geno pulls his hand away and gets shy again. He has trouble meeting Dr. Pearson’s eyes and doesn’t ask him any questions, letting Sidney do all of the talking, but when the visit is over he shakes the doctor’s hand and thanks him, too.

He’s a little pensive on their way out, clutching his own copy of the new sonogram in his hands like it’s something precious. Sidney glances over at him, drawing his mind away from what they should eat for lunch to wonder if he’s okay, but they’re in the car before he has the courage to ask, watching Geno sit and stare at the steering wheel.

“Okay, Sid,” Geno says, sighing a little. “Really—happy. Excited for baby. Can see fingers now.”

The baby is certainly less of a blob, though Sidney still has trouble making out all the details and keeping track. He wishes they could just listen to the heartbeat all the time; he’s good at that.

“I’m happy too,” Sidney says. “And I’m happy you came.”

“I come to all if I can,” Geno tells him, and Sidney is gearing up to repeat that he doesn’t have to, to ask him how this summer is even going to work—none of that is stuff they’ve really talked about, and it feels to Sidney like they’ve left some boxes unchecked. “Happy see baby. But—I want to tell my parents.”

“Oh,” Sidney says, and then he winces.

Geno’s parents have always liked Sidney. They are kind, warm people that have always treated him well, get along nicely with his own parents, and sent him soup once during the worst of his concussion. Sidney likes them a lot.

He also knows that they have ideas about the kind of person Geno is going to make a life with, have a family with, and he absolutely knows he doesn’t fit in to any of those ideas. He knows that’s true for Geno, too, that Sidney is nowhere close to his ideal partner, which is why so much of Geno being around right now is baffling. On the rare occasions they’d talked about stuff like this, Geno had told Sidney that his parents mostly ignored the more fluid aspects of his sexuality, and Geno never felt comfortable bringing it up with them.

They certainly wouldn’t have approved of whatever Sidney and Geno were, and Sidney knows that’s a huge part of why they never became anything else. He can’t imagine that they’ll approve of this, grandchild or not, and he doesn’t blame Geno for his hesitance in telling them.

“Want to tell them but can’t,” Geno says, and Sidney nods in sympathy. He has no clue what to say, never really knew how to respond when Geno talked about this, because he can’t relate at all: there are things he doesn’t bring up with his own parents, issues he’s okay with keeping to himself, but his sexuality had never been one of those issues. His parents had taken it in stride just like they’d taken the fact that he can get pregnant, and he’d never felt like he couldn’t talk to them about it, even if he preferred not to.

“I’m sorry, G,” Sidney says kind of helplessly, wishing he had a better solution. He’s wary of overstepping bounds, understands that Geno can get defensive and surly about the issue when prodded at, and it’s really only marginally any of his business now. “Maybe—maybe you can, someday? So they can know their grandkid, I think that would make them happy no matter what.”

“Think so too, but can’t be sure,” Geno says, and Sidney hears the unspoken words there: what if they’re not happy? “Can’t think they never meet grandkid, but what if—what if they don’t want?”

“I don’t know. I can’t tell you for sure either way, I’m sorry.”

“Not your fault,” Geno tells him, a little snappish. He looks up and immediately looks apologetic, looking at Sidney’s hands folded over his stomach. He does that a lot, staring in a way that makes Sidney feel huge, even though he’s just barely showing. “I’m just—so happy, want everyone else be happy. Want to ask Papa questions, want to know things. I—I don’t know anything about this, Sid.”

“Well that makes two of us,” Sidney says. A familiar, tiny flare of terror rises up in him, as it does every time he thinks about the fact that he’s going to have a kid and he has next to no clue about how to be a parent, but he tamps it down as he usually does, by assuring himself has plenty of time to figure that out. That’s what he assures Geno of now, hoping it’ll comfort them both. “But it’s way too early to worry about that, or any of this. You have months to decide about telling them and to ask questions and—look, the baby’s not going to be here any time soon. At least we know that.”

“Yes,” Geno says solemnly, straightening up in his seat a little, punching his ignition to finally start the car. “I know that. I know too you want French fries.”

Sidney thinks about that, ignoring the heat he feels in his cheeks, and then nods. “Good thinking. A lot of French fries, probably.”

“Always want French fries,” Geno mutters, but he sounds perkier when he adds, “Baby like potato, I tell you.”

“We’ll have to remember that when we’re thinking of names,” Sidney says, and he laughs when Geno squawks an outraged “What!” as he pulls the car out.

Sidney feels almost guilty that night when he talks to his mother, confirming their travel arrangements and then filling her in on the details of his doctor visit. He has to pause every few minutes so she can relay what he’s saying to his dad, and then listen while his dad shouts questions or concerns in the background, wishing they could just put the phone on speaker.

“How is Geno?” his mother asks with some ice in her voice, and he can hear his dad grumbling at her to be nice. As far as they know and just for simplicity’s sake, Geno had been a one-time thing, and his mother is a little offended on his behalf that it won’t be anything more than that, as much as Sidney had assured her that he’s okay with that, had expected it.

At least everyone could agree that Geno was preferable to David. Sidney never had a clue that David was so disliked before now.

“He’s okay,” Sidney says. And then he thinks about the kind of inherently decent and sympathetic person his mother is and adds, “A little sad about his parents, you know. He wants to tell them but he doesn’t know how they’ll react.”

“Oh, dear,” his mother says, and there’s not a trace of ice left, just soft sadness. Sidney smiles and rewards himself later with second dinner; his mother is probably going to bake Geno cookies as soon as she touches down in Pittsburgh now.

Sidney can’t keep anything down the day his parents arrive, so he’s late and a little green when he goes to pick them up. It therefore takes him a while to notice that his father’s not with his mother, and he frowns as he lugs her bag into his trunk.

“Where’s Dad?”

“He grabbed a cab,” his mother says. She’s looking him over carefully, frowning a bit. “He’s getting dropped off at Geno’s. Should I drive?”

“No, I’m fi—wait, what?” Sidney stares at his mother with his hand up on the door of his trunk, dread suddenly making his stomach twist familiarly.

“Sid, really, you don’t look well. Are you taking your vitamins?”

“Why is Dad going to Geno’s? Oh, God, what is this?” He has terrifying visions of some sort of shotgun wedding being planned behind their backs, his father strong-arming Geno up to the altar. He might throw up again.

“Stop that,” his mother snaps, putting her hands on her hips in a way that immediately makes Sidney feel guilty. “Don’t stress about silly things. Your father is taking Geno out for a steak and just having a talk with him, but more importantly lending him an ear. You mentioned that he wanted someone to talk to, and they’ve been friendly before. I don’t see the harm.”

“Mom, I told you that it’s a complicated situation, we’re not together and Geno’s in a tight spot with—”

“You don’t have to repeat any of that.” His mother takes his hand, squeezing it gently, and then reaches up to the press the cool back of her hand against his sweaty cheek. “Dad’s not going to say anything that will spook Geno or upset him, I promise.” Her voice goes softer. “Give me your keys, I can do the drive.”

“You’ll get lost,” Sidney mumbles, but he passes her the keys and closes the trunk. He smiles in spite of himself when she swats lightly at the back of his head.

Despite his mother’s words, and her friendly, comforting chatter as the day wears on, Sidney can’t help but worry. Geno is pretty easily spooked in situations like this, and he’s at the very least uncomfortable for sure. Sidney tries texting him surreptitiously, but Geno never answers, and Sidney thinks that’s probably a good thing in the long run: his father is a stickler against phones at the table.

His mother catches wind of the fact that he’s having a nauseous day and makes him try to nap, which he fails at, and then makes him tea that’s supposed to settle his stomach. “Decaf,” she tells him when he opens his mouth to check, and for a moment she looks so proud and pleased with him that Sidney has to duck his head to hide his blush. “Sip this and lie down again.”

It stays down, which is the most important thing, and as the afternoon stretches into early evening, Sidney is brave enough to try crackers. “Soup later, I’ll put together something plain,” his mother says, and Sidney tries to argue, to say that she’s his guest and that this isn’t what her visit is for, but she shushes him without leaving room to argue.

He’s distracted by the sound of a car pulling up in his driveway, and he looks out his window to see his dad climbing of Geno’s car. Like Geno, he looks humongous pulling himself out of it, and his mother, peeking over Sidney’s shoulder, clucks disapprovingly.

“He’ll have to get something bigger when the baby comes, something safer,” his mother says thoughtfully. “I’m sure Dad said something.”

“My car is big enough,” Sidney says distractedly. He’s watching Geno climb out of the car, too, walking around to shake Sidney’s father’s hand. He’s smiling kind of shyly, his cheeks a little red and his shoulders up around his ears, but he looks up at the house and smiles big before he gets the bags out of the back and then gets back in the car.

“See? I told you it would go fine,” his mother says, but Sidney’s heart is clenching too hard to really hear her.

His father confirms his mother’s claim, though, giving Sidney a big hug once he clears the front door and telling him, “He’s a good guy. We had some good steaks, good talks. Nothing huge, but I’m satisfied. He’s coming over for dinner tomorrow.”

Sidney blinks against a ridiculous swell of emotions and channels them into hugging his father again, very tight. His father laughs a little, ruffling Sidney’s hair. “Yeah, get them all out of the way now, eh? In a few months you’ll be too big for me to hug.”

“Troy!” his mother scolds, coming up behind and giving Sidney a hug, too. “He’ll never be too big to hug, don’t be ridiculous.”

“You guys are the best,” Sidney says. He really, really means it.

He’s too happy with his parents to be really worried about Geno coming over the next night, and in the end he’s glad for that, because it’s a really nice night. Geno relaxes over the course of the evening until he’s cracking jokes and making them all laugh. He helps Sidney’s mother load the dishwasher. He’d brought flowers and wine, and chocolate for Sidney, his tongue poking out of his mouth, apologizing that Sidney can’t have any wine.

“Look at you,” Sidney says when he’s walking Geno out to his car. “Killed it tonight, G. Way to go.”

“Parents love me,” Geno says smugly, but then his face goes soft and he looks at Sidney with frank, bare earnestness. “Thank you, Sid.”

“For what? Running out of condoms?” It’s just once, he’d thought at the time. What could happen?

“No, no,” Geno says. “For—for share parents. Make me feel better. Your papa give me his number, say I call and ask him anything, anytime. Very nice.”

“It was really all them,” Sidney says, shrugging, warm again. “I’m happy to share them, though. They’re the best.”

“Best,” Geno agrees. He gives Sidney another gentle hug, so much more careful than his hugs used to be. Part of Sidney misses those bone-crushers, being squeezed and held as if Geno could possibly pick him up. But this is really nice, too. He tucks his face into the crook of Geno’s neck and breathes him in a little, until Geno lets him go.

“I’m glad they—I’m glad they helped,” Sidney says, and he frowns a little. “I was afraid maybe—I mean, because we’re not together, I was afraid they didn’t understand, might be mad at you. But you won them over somehow, of course you did.”

Geno shrugs. “I’m just tell them truth, not gonna leave you.” He frowns, too, pushing his hands into his pockets. “Maybe not together like—like husband and wife. But we team. We always team. Now we just team for baby, too.” He grins, and Sidney grins too, loving the thought of that, stupidly grateful to have Geno on his team, even if it’s the only way he’s ever going to have him. It’s enough, he thinks. It’ll have to be enough.

“We make a good team,” Sidney says. Geno leans in and bumps their foreheads together, lighter than if they were wearing helmets. Sidney closes his eyes and breathes again.

He keeps them closed as Geno whispers, “Night, Sid. Night, baby.”

It’s going to have to be enough.

 

 

If Sidney thought watching the last few regular season games from the press box was hard, watching the first round of the playoffs blows that out of the water.

The Flyers always get Sidney’s blood boiling, even when he’s not actually playing. He’s tense leading up to the games, wary of the matchup, stressed to the point where he’s glad his parents have left because he doesn’t want to keep snapping at them.

“Stress really isn’t good for the baby,” his mother reminds him before she leaves. “It’s probably why you’re still having trouble keeping food down.”

Sidney had been promised by his doctor that the morning sickness would get better pretty soon, but no one had warned him that first it would get worse. He’s told that it’s hard to predict, that everyone’s pregnancy is different, but he doesn’t like hearing that because it reminds him too much of the concussion.

Stewart weighs him the last day he’s in the weight room before the playoffs, and gives him a grim sort of smile. “Well, you’ve lost some weight, which would be great news if you were playing on Wednesday.”

“Great,” Sidney sighs. He’d have killed to be losing weight this time last year, or even a few weeks ago.

Stewart is looking at his phone now, scrolling around, and when he speaks again Sidney realizes he’s reading off some website.

“It’s not totally out of the ordinary at this stage, though you’re going to start feeling some fatigue if you can’t eat more. How’s your appetite?”

“I’m starving all the time,” Sidney says. “Nothing stays down. Potatoes, I guess, this week I like them mashed.”

“So eat a bunch of potatoes. Can’t hurt.”

“Oh yeah, is that what WebMD says? I can just Google for myself, you know.”

“Right, but then you’d miss out on my beautiful face,” Stewart tells him, and Sidney laughs in spite of himself, shaking his head.

With all things considered, he’s fairly miserable in the press box, especially once the Penguins start losing. It’s a bit like watching a car wreck, and Sidney feels wretched because he should’ve been there to direct traffic.

Geno kind of avoids him in between games, oozing frustration and unhappiness all over the place. Sidney wants to avoid him, too, kind of wants to stay the hell away from the locker room because he feels useless and guilty, but he’s not going to leave his team alone. He tries talking to Tanger, who seems more worried about Flower than himself, and then talking to Paulie, who doesn’t seem to want to hear it, and keeps feeling helpless when none of it does any good. It’s worse than last year, because it’s the Flyers, and because Flower seems totally lost, mentally beaten-down.

By Game Two, with an oily, foreboding feeling in his stomach, Sidney can’t handle the press box anymore. He watches the game in the dressing room with some of the black aces, holds his uncomfortable dress shoes in his lap and puts his aching feet up on a folding chair. He tries to eat a hot dog and pukes during first intermission.

Losing Game Two means they’re heading to Philly down 2-0 in the series, and Sidney doesn’t know what to say about that.

Geno stays pretty late in the locker room, hands pushing through his hair. He’s the last one in there by the time Sidney has said goodnight to everyone, has repeated, “Take it one game at a time, boys,” over and over again. There are reporters lingering, too, diligently shooed away, and Sidney thinks that’s the only good thing, that he doesn’t have to talk to them now, that nobody expects him to.

Everyone expects Geno to, though, and Sidney wishes he could protect him like he usually can.

Sidney doesn’t say any of the usual stuff to Geno when it’s just the two of them left in the locker room. He stays silent, stepping just outside the room to put his shoes on again, leaving the laces untied and tucking them into the sides because they’re more comfortable that way.

“Hungry?” Geno asks from his stall, finally looking up.

Sidney snorts. “I’m always hungry. But I’m just gonna get sick again.”

“Have to eat,” Geno says gravely.

“It’s not like I’m not trying,” Sidney says. He can tell by the whine in his voice that at least one of them is trying to pick a fight, possibly both of them. They’ve done that to each other any number of times and it always ended in them stalking off to separate corners, freezing each other out until they had to put it all aside because being teammates dictated that.

He sighs, gathering the words to make a quick exit before this can escalate, but Geno stands up then, looking determined. “We go get food,” he says. “I’m buy, so you don’t get sick, don’t want to waste my money.”

“Yeah, my stomach’s going to think that way,” Sidney says, rolling his eyes. Geno just smirks at him knowingly as he changes into his suit, and Sidney would walk in and punch him on the arm if it wasn’t such an effort to take his shoes off again. By the time Geno’s outside the room, where dress shoes are acceptable, Sidney’s over it.

Geno takes them to a McDonald’s drive-thru and gets Sidney several orders of French fries, tacking on some food for himself, and they eat in Geno’s stupid little car in the McDonald’s parking lot. Sidney isn’t exactly comfortable, drops his chair back as far as it can go without him lying down, and Geno laughs and drops his chair back too.

“Fries good?” is all Geno says in the first ten minutes or so that they spend eating. “Feel sick?” They have the windows rolled down, both because it’s a nice spring evening, a gentle breeze on their faces, and because Geno had told him that if he has to puke, he has to do it out the window so nothing gets in his car. He’s also fairly sure that Geno’s squeamishness will have him bolting from the car if Sidney gets sick, so the fact that he’s checking in makes sense.

Sidney thinks about it, but he feels okay. He eats more fries experimentally and nods. “Yeah, so far so good.”

Geno looks pleased for the first time that evening, maybe the first time in days. He takes a hearty bite of his Big Mac and then looks at it for a bit, frowning thoughtfully as he chews. “You want try burger?” he asks, holding it out towards Sidney. “Can’t just eat French fries, can’t be good just eat potato.”

Sidney eyes the burger. It looks disgusting, kind of oozing and half-eaten, squeezed in Geno’s big hand. His mouth waters anyway, even as he says, “I don’t think that Big Mac has the nutrients the baby and I really need, though.”

He eats the Big Mac in like four bites. Geno doesn’t even bitch at him about it, just smiles like he finally won something and steals some of Sidney’s fries.

 

 

When they lose Game Three, they’re down 3-0, and Sidney still doesn’t know what to say about that. Now taking it one game at a time is a necessity, and it’s the only thing to say, but it sounds awful, dull and hollow. He doesn’t try it after the first time.

Back at their hotel, Duper checks on him at night, and Sidney feels stupid for hoping his knock is actually Geno’s. Geno has pulled away again and Sidney still doesn’t blame him, even though he misses him. And he wishes he could attribute all of these conflicting feelings to being pregnant.

Duper asks him if he needs anything, which Sidney resents on principle, and then he says, “Is there any way you can tell Geno he’s gonna be a dad again? I don’t know, make up a twin or something?”

“What?”

“He really tears it up when he hears that,” Duper says, and he smiles grimly. “We could use that right now.”

“You’re the worst, please get out of my room,” Sidney says. Duper laughs at him because he’d said “please”, of course, but he leaves Sidney thinking about how happy Geno is to be a dad.

“Hey,” he tells Geno at breakfast the morning of Game Four. “I think I’ve been feeling the baby, ah, move? It’s really weird, like butterflies, but I Googled it and—”

Geno drops his fork and reaches forward, before he blinks and freezes with his hands close to Sidney’s stomach. Sidney blinks back at him and realizes that all this time, Geno has wanted to touch him there, and that’s—it should feel weird. That’s a weird place to touch someone. But Sidney takes Geno’s hands and puts them on his stomach anyway, even though there’s barely anything to feel, even though the baby’s not moving and usually the butterflies happen at night when he’s trying to go to sleep.

“You probably can’t feel anything,” Sidney says, but Geno shushes him, like he’s listening. They’re alone at their table but Nealer is staring at them from not very far away, and Duper is mouthing twins and giving him a thumbs up. “It’s cool though, right? Something’s moving inside of me.”

“Growing,” Geno says. His voice is kind of choked.

The Penguins score 10 goals that night, leveling the Flyers. Geno whoops when he returns to the locker room and sees Sidney waiting, presses his hands to Sidney’s stomach with just the barest hint of hesitation, and says, “Thank you, baby! Bring us luck!”

For Game Five, every player pats Sidney’s belly on the way out to the ice, at Sidney’s insistence, once they’re assured there are no cameras around. Sidney has to fight back a ridiculous giggle every time, uncomfortable and weirdly happy at the same time. Geno goes last, gives him a quick rub, and says, “See you, baby.”

“Just win,” Sidney says, covering Geno’s hand with his. “One game at a time, right?”

“Right,” Geno says. He bumps Sidney’s forehead lightly with his helmet and walks out.

They do win, though not in the same overwhelming fashion as they had in Game Four. Still, it’s enough for some hope, enough for Nealer to come in and crouch down to talk to Sidney’s stomach, like that’s at all welcome or acceptable from anyone but Geno.

“Thanks, Baby Crosby. Look at you, winning hockey games as a fetus. Typical.”

“Yeah, definitely get away from me,” Sidney says, and Geno tugs Nealer away with an arm around his neck, hugging him and yelling into his ear about the win.

“Magic hockey baby,” Geno tells everyone. “When he born, I give him lunchbox. Best little Penguin already.”

“Or her,” Sidney says. “We don’t know the sex yet. Maybe it’s a magic hockey baby girl. Who knows?”

“Maybe,” Geno says, nodding solemnly. “Important part is magic hockey baby, boy or girl.”

Unfortunately, the magic doesn’t last another game. The Flyers take it in six, and Sidney toughs it out in the press box again and then buttons his suit jacket and goes through the handshake line.

It sucks. Sidney hates losing more than almost anything, hates losing from the press box almost as much, and hates losing to the Flyers more than the two of those combined. He’s in a horrid mood on the trip back to Pittsburgh, and though Geno avoids him like the plague, Sidney follows him home from the airport.

He’s looking to pick a fight—Geno is just as much of a cloud of misery as Sidney feels, and he lets Sidney in with a tired, world-weary sigh—but Geno doesn’t seem receptive to joining one, and the fight goes out of Sidney.

Geno doesn’t offer him food this time, or anything really; they just kind of stand in the kitchen until Sidney’s feet hurt too much. He heads into the living room and it takes a little while for Geno to follow him. He has water bottles and tosses one to Sidney as they both sit on the couch.

Sidney feels awkward about it but he puts his feet up on the coffee table, sighing gratefully. His back has been hurting, and Duper says he definitely stands like he’s pregnant now, no matter how much his clothes still hide. He won’t be able to hide for very much longer; he’d gained two pounds this week, finally able to keep food down.

“Do you think I made the right choice?” Sidney asks after a few more moments of silence. He’s kind of horrified with himself, and his hand goes to his stomach instinctively, and this time he barely notices Geno staring at it.

“What you mean?” Geno asks in a low, rumbly voice. His eyes are very dark.

“I mean—I could’ve come back. I could’ve played again. My head, everything—I was cleared for contact before I found out about this. I could’ve helped you guys.”

Geno’s nodding slowly, closing his eyes for a second, before his mouth sets into a stubborn thin line. “Maybe. Or maybe you mess everything, mess lines, mess chemistry, make it worse. Who knows? Maybe the same thing happens, except—except no baby.”

Sidney’s throat tightens up a bit. “Yeah. And that—”

“We sad now for—for a few weeks, maybe. Get over it, start over again next season. Just like every year. But baby—we have baby for rest of our lives.” Geno laughs lowly, breathing out harsh and wet. “Shit. We have baby forever. We have always, and—”

“I know I made the right choice,” Sidney says. “I just hate the fucking Flyers so much.”

“Me too,” Geno says. He laughs again, scooting a little closer on the couch, putting his feet up near Sidney’s.

“What if it is a boy?” Sidney asks in a hushed voice. Geno nudges their toes together, then reaches out his hands in a grabbing motion. “What?”

“Feet still hurt? Give me.”

Sidney shifts so his feet are in Geno’s lap, sighing when Geno cups them with his hands and rubs experimentally. “You don’t have to,” Sidney says, as he keeps his feet where they are.

“Hush. Give me something to do.”

“But what if it’s a boy and he plays hockey?” Sidney asks, leaning back against the couch cushions, getting comfortable. Geno’s hands feel like—he bites his lip and lets his eyes flutter shut.

“So? Good, he play hockey best. Better than you or me because both of us make him.”

“But what if he gets drafted by the Flyers,” Sidney finishes, biting his lip again.

Geno’s hands still on his feet, three of his fingers stuck digging into the sole of one foot. Sidney wiggles his toes until he gets moving again. “Disown,” Geno says, resuming the massage, running his fingers down the path of Sidney’s arch. Sidney laughs, a little because it tickles, and also because Geno sounds so serious that he’s clearly joking. “We throw out. No magic hockey baby for the Flyers.”

“Geno! We wouldn’t.”

“Yes we would. Be shame forever, have Flyer in family. Not have it.”

Sidney laughs again, shaking his head against the cushion. When he peeks up, Geno’s tongue is sticking out of the corner of his mouth; he looks like he’s fighting a smile. “We’ll love him anyway,” Sidney says as his laugh trails off. “Or her. Right? Even a Flyer.”

Geno sighs heavily, and gives his feet a pat. “Fine. Maybe we keep. Still—still love.” He’s looking at Sidney’s stomach again, and Sidney sits up enough and takes Geno’s hand, putting it on his stomach again.

“You can do that, you know. It’s okay, I’ll tell you if it bothers me.”

“Not touch you so much since—” Geno breaks off, and Sidney swallows hard, feeling a little warm. The air suddenly feels charged and heavy, and Sidney remembers what they used to do on this couch, the bed upstairs, the floor in the media room. That’s not—they’re not like that anymore, and Sidney wonders if that’s why Geno’s uncomfortable sometimes. Maybe he thinks Sidney needs reminding.

“It’s okay,” Sidney says again, his voice small. “It’s—it’s for the baby. You’re not really touching me for me, it’s for the baby.” The only reason he’s here is for the baby. This is the most clothed off-ice time that Sidney and Geno have spent together in years, and Sidney knows it’s only for one reason. He can’t lie to himself and say he’s not grateful.

Geno spreads his fingers out over the highest part of Sidney’s stomach, the part that’s most like a small beach ball. But he looks at Sidney’s face, frowning a little, and then he turns his hand up and takes Sidney’s hand, squeezing it once.

“Stay here tonight,” Geno tells him. “Make you breakfast in the morning.”

“You don’t have to keep feeding me,” Sidney says. He flops back on the couch because he’s uncomfortable sitting like that, and Geno holds his feet again. “I don’t know if I trust you to make breakfast.”

“Hey! I’m good at breakfast. You see.”

“Yeah,” Sidney says, staring up instead of looking at Geno. “I guess I’ll see.” He can’t believe he’s going to get to.

 

 

Sidney doesn’t technically have to talk to the media on getaway day, though Geno does. Sidney gives a few quotes to the nicer reporters anyway, dressed in his baggiest clothes, and cuts things off the first time someone says the word “retirement”, because he doesn’t have the energy to lie convincingly.

He tries not to listen to the way his teammates snap and snarl at reporters, the way Geno looks like a cornered, unhappy animal by his stall. And he tries not to listen to the interviews in general, hanging back, keeping his own visuals down as much as possible.

He catches bits and pieces: when Geno is asked if he’s going to Worlds and he spits, “Don’t know,” the words “penalties”, “discipline”, and “Couturier”. Sidney stops listening when the word “retirement” pops up again, walking out to find Stewart, almost fast enough to miss Geno’s surly, stubborn tone as he starts to say whatever it is he thinks can defend Sidney’s still unexplained absence.

“Sorry,” Sidney tells Geno when Geno finds him sitting on an exam table, listening to Stewart and Kuni argue about how you can tell the sex of the baby without an ultrasound.

Geno scowls at him, jumps on the exam table next to him with enough force to nearly knock him off, and says, “Shut up,” with very firm gruffness in his voice. “I’m say it hundred times if I have to. You coming back, I know.”

“You shouldn’t have to keep saying it,” Sidney says, his shoulders slumping. Geno knocks into him again.

“Don’t care. Not your fault we lose. I’m say that million times. So shut up.”

“Shut up,” Kuni echoes, and Sidney makes a face at them but shuts up.

They’re getting ready to head out when Dana pops in, smiling when he sees them still there. “Good, I caught you. I have something for you guys.”

“Dana,” Sidney starts, guilty politeness kicking in, but he shuts up again as soon as Dana pulls out two infant-sized onesies from behind his back, the Penguins logo proudly emblazoned on the front of them.

He lays them out on the adjacent exam table and starts to explain while Sidney and Geno look on in stunned silence. “I know you guys don’t know the sex yet—soon, right?”

“Tomorrow they find out for sure,” Stewart says when Sidney and Geno are still too dazed to speak. “But I can tell you right now, this website said—”

“Right, okay, I figured black is kind of neutral, if not super baby-friendly, plus I figured you’d appreciate the team coloring,” Dana says. He traces the Vegas gold lining of the onesies and smiles, flipping them to show the backs. Sidney sucks in a breath. “One 87, one 71. Too small for nameplates though, and I wasn’t sure—”

“Dana,” Geno says roughly. His voice is very thick. “Thank you.”

“Don’t be silly, I have to outfit the newest member of the team. I was going to save them for if you have a shower but—I made them last week and I just couldn’t wait all summer. Do you like them?”

Yes,” Sidney says, and he’s glad Geno surges forward to pull Dana into a bear hug, because Sidney can take the opportunity to hide his face.

He’s emotional all through hugging some of his teammates goodbye, wishing them a good summer. A disconcerting amount of them tell Sidney that they’re going to be around, possibly because they know he is: after he spends some time at home while he can still be there without showing too much, seeing Taylor and catching up with his parents again, he’s going to hide out in Pittsburgh for the summer.

Sidney doesn’t have any clue about Geno’s plans, except that he’s going to Worlds and then to Vegas eventually for the awards. They don’t really talk about it. Sidney doesn’t want to ask Geno because he doesn’t want Geno to feel obligated to come back and keep him company or something. He’s pretty sure Geno wants his summer to go as usual, and he’s fine with that, ignoring the part of him that will miss Geno. A part of him misses Geno every summer, really.

The next appointment they go to is the last one Geno will go to for a long while, and Sidney’s beyond excited to find out the baby’s a girl. “That makes picking paint for the nursery easier,” Sidney says when they’re driving back to his house, Geno’s eyes suspiciously rapt on the road. “It’s supposed to be pink for girls, right? Or is that too traditional? I think Taylor had lilac in her room. Lavender? Do you know the difference? My designer probably knows.”

Geno is silent, letting Sidney babble. His hands are tight on the steering wheel, two hands, which Sidney has never seen him do before.

“Hey, everything okay?” Geno nods without looking at him, and Sidney folds his hands over his stomach, worry inching in. “Were you really hoping for a boy?”

“No,” Geno finally says. His voice is very gravelly, and Sidney knows he’d cried a little in the doctor’s office, but he’d seemed really happy, too. “Happy with little girl. Just—so much to think about now. Nursery, clothes, have to buy things, have to learn things.”

“There’s still a lot of time,” Sidney says, trying to sound reassuring. The prospect is still terrifying, but if Geno wants to take his turn being terrified today, Sidney will let him. They can always trade off.

“Not feel real before,” Geno says quietly. “Now it’s—so much. Need to think, Sid.”

“Okay,” Sidney tells him. “That’s fair, it’s fine. And you know, just to remind you, there’s nothing you have to do, you don’t owe me—”

“Enough,” Geno says. He looks over and his eyes are flaring with annoyance, that fierce determination again. “Stop say that. I have to do. I’m already do.”

“I know none of this is ideal,” Sidney says, gesturing at himself. “I get it. But I’d rather you back out now than decide down the line that you don’t want to do this, once the baby’s born and maybe attached.”

“I’m not back out!” Geno breaks hard, sharply enough to jolt Sidney forward in his seatbelt. “Why you think I’m back out? When I’m back out on you before?”

Sidney stares at him, and Geno snorts and shakes his head. “I mean important things, Sid. Not—not sex.”

He tries to ignore the way that stings, the way his heart clenches in his chest to hear how unimportant their relationship, or lack thereof, had been to Geno. “Okay. I know. But I’m just saying that if you want to back out—”

“Don’t want to back out! Stop!”

Sidney stops. He knows he did something wrong but can’t really understand at this point why it’s wrong; all he’s ever wanted was to make sure Geno knows he has every out available. And now they’re separating, who knows for how long, and Geno is going to leave pissed at him.

“I’m sorry,” he tries once they roll to a stop in Sidney’s driveway. Geno sighs heavily and doesn’t turn the car off, which means he’s not staying. Sidney’s stomach drops. “I just don’t want—you don’t have to—”

“I know, Sid,” Geno says, tightening his hands on the steering wheel. He still looks frustrated.

“You’ve been really good to me, okay?” Sidney says. “I appreciate it. I—if this had to happen with anyone, I’m glad it was you, because you’re a good guy.” He swallows hard, unbuckling his seatbelt. “I just don’t want to ruin your life.”

Geno doesn’t say anything, just lets out a long, slow breath. He finally nods, and Sidney takes it as the dismissal it likely is and gets out of the car, climbing out unsteadily. He thinks about saying goodbye and decides it’ll be less awkward to text later.

Have a good summer Sidney sends a while later, when he’s eaten and made the rounds of calls and texts to tell everyone the baby’s a girl. He’s happier, having listened to Taylor squeal about having a niece and Kuni crow about how he was right, Stewart owes him a steak.

And it’s a while before he gets back I drive you to airport on Wednesday. Sidney doesn’t need a ride to the airport. He doesn’t want to say anything else that’s stupid, that’ll piss Geno off. He comes very, very close to texting back you don’t have to before he deletes it and goes with ok because it’ll probably be easier.

As soon as Sidney gets into the car on Wednesday, Geno says, “You not ruin my life,” like they’re just continuing the conversation from a few days ago.

Sidney blinks and says “Oh.” He has no idea what else to say.

“It’s my life. Complicated, yes, maybe—I have to think about lots. And every time I’m think about, I’m little bit scared, too. But you not—you not do this. It’s not you.”

“Okay,” Sidney says. “But—I’m the one that got pregnant.”

“And I’m make you pregnant,” Geno says. “Argue about fault is stupid because two people make baby, two people fuck and two people make decision. I’m make decision just like you. Stop think you have to protect me.”

“I’m not—” Sidney starts, but he stops because he thinks the truth of what he’s doing is worse. The truth is that only part of him hates that Geno feels obligated for his sake; mostly, he hates it because he wants more than obligation. He thinks that’s a worse situation to be in than pregnant, single and hiding it. “Okay,” he says again, and he bites down on one more apology because he doesn’t think it would be very welcome.

“And I’m promise—” Geno says, and he breaks off, swearing in Russian. “I’m promise that, I go and I think, but I come back. I’m not back out. Promise.”

“Okay,” Sidney says one last time, and then he laughs at how dumb he sounds. He’s grateful when Geno laughs too, a little forced, like he doesn’t quite get the joke but wants to laugh because Sidney is.

Geno doesn’t walk him in with his bags—Sidney insists he can handle it himself, and Geno concedes it easily, clearly trying to keep peace. He says goodbye to the baby in the car, cupping his hand over Sidney’s stomach and saying something that sounds really sweet in Russian.

“I’ll take good care of her,” Sidney says, and he goes warm at the thought, the reality that he has a pronoun to use now, can finally picture a little girl. He’s starting to think about what she’ll look like, what they could possibly name her, which of them she’ll take after. Geno was right; it’s real now, frighteningly so, and he has to keep telling himself there’s a lot of time, because otherwise terror grips him and doesn’t let go.

Geno looks happy finally, smiling soft and fond. He looks a bit like he’d just woken up, Sidney’s favorite look, reminding him of mornings when one of them had crashed after sex and they got to wake up in the same bed. Those were Sidney’s favorite mornings and he wishes he could have them again.

The way Geno’s looking at him is close, though. And when Geno says, “I know,” and leans all the way over to kiss Sidney on the forehead, dry and gentle, his large hand still cupped over Sidney’s stomach, Sidney knows it has to be close enough. It’s all he’s ever going to have.

 

 

Summer

Despite everything, despite keeping in touch and how they’d ended, Sidney is still surprised when Geno turns up on his doorstep late in June.

“Fuck,” Geno says when Sidney opens the door and stands there, blinking at him. “Sid, you huge!”

Tanger snickers from somewhere in the living room, and Sidney throws a glare over his shoulder before turning back to Geno. “I am not. What are you doing here? When did you get back?”

“Told you I’m come back,” Geno says. Sidney steps aside to let him in, but Geno stays where he is. He looks excited and impish, practically bouncing on his feet, and staring at Sidney’s belly like he’s never seen it before. “Get back one day ago, sleep for long time. Then I’m buy this.”

He steps back and gestures excitedly at Sidney’s driveway, and Sidney leans out far enough to look.

It’s his turn to exclaim, “Fuck!” and then, when Geno just beams proudly without offering any explanation, he adds, “You bought a Volvo? Really?”

“Kadar and your father tell me I should,” Geno says. “More space, safe, dependable. I’m get biggest one.” He sounds like he’s reciting from a Troy Crosby lecture and Sidney stifles a loud groan.

At least it’s not a minivan, he decides, and he’s grateful for it when he hears Tanger coming up behind them, probably having heard Sidney yell. “I’m get endorsement in Russia so Volvo give me car there,” Geno tells them when Tanger pokes his head around Sidney’s shoulder and starts laughing. “But here I want bigger. Good for baby.”

“Aww, G,” Tanger says, beaming. “You will make such a good hockey mom.”

“Go away Tanger,” Geno says. “Not here for see you.” He lights up even more then, looking at Sidney’s stomach again, raising his hands. Sidney rolls his eyes and grabs his hands, putting them on his stomach, and he’s only a little surprised when Geno drops to his knees to say hello up close.

“Hello baby,” Geno says. “I’m back.” The rest of it is in Russian and Sidney stands there patiently while Tanger snickers in his ear, heart pounding a little because Geno’s back and June isn’t even over yet.

When Geno stands up, he says, “I’m back,” again and gives Sidney a long hug, laughing when Sidney’s belly knocks him in the gut. “You get so big,” he says, and Sidney punches him on the arm and clings tighter to him. “Good job. All you supposed to do.”

“It’s all I can do,” Sidney complains, and he leads Geno inside to where he and Tanger had been playing video games. “And I’m not that big, geez.”

“Watch this,” Tanger says, and he balances a bowl of pretzels on Sidney’s stomach as soon as he sits down.

Sidney starts pelting him with them, aiming to get them stuck in his hair, and Geno flops back in an armchair and watches them with a soft look on his face that makes Sidney both happy and nervous.

The pretzel war peters out and Sidney munches on some instead, watching Geno make himself comfortable, like he’s planning on staying a while. He tells them a bit about his summer so far, that Vegas was good though Helsinki was obviously better, and that he’d gotten to go home in between.

When he asks Sidney and Tanger about their summers, Sidney gives him the highly edited version, not mentioning how he feels about being too big to go to Jordy’s wedding, and hating that even more since Jordy got traded. He’ll probably be too big to go to Flower’s, too, though Tanger’s been working on him, trying to convince him to wear a great big coat.

He doesn’t mention that he could only go home for so long before it was too risky, that he wanted to stay for longer and never really leave again. “Home was good,” is all Sidney says, smiling weakly. “Kind of a food tease, though.”

“You stay away from seafood?” Geno asks sternly, knowing what Sidney’s thinking of, and Sidney laughs and promises that he had, though it hadn’t been easy. “Good. When you have baby I’m get you biggest lobster I find, that’s your prize.”

“The baby’s kind of my prize,” Sidney says, though his mouth is watering. Geno gets a dopey look on his face, like Sidney just said something wonderful, and Tanger laughs and stands up, stretching.

“Okay, I have to get back to my baby mama, you take care of yours, Geno.” Sidney laughs and takes a swipe at him as he walks by, but Geno nods solemnly and walks Tanger out.

They talk pretty lowly in the front hallway, but Sidney can still hear Tanger asking Geno how long he’s going to stay, voice devoid of any laughter. Geno says, “Whole summer,” and Sidney’s eyes go wide.

They’re still wide when Geno comes back, and Geno looks sheepish. “Nosy,” Geno says, but Sidney keeps staring at him.

“You’re really here for the summer? Why?”

“So Tanger don’t choke me,” Geno says, going for a joke, but he looks serious when he adds, “I tell you I’m not leave you alone. Don’t want to keep saying, Sid. Kadarov here for train, all I need. Don’t make it a fight, please.”

Sidney’s instinct is definitely to make it a fight, to remind Geno again that he doesn’t have to—that Geno loves his summers home, that they’re important and necessary for him—but Geno looks pleading for a second, and still very serious. Sidney knows that sometimes the more polite and less selfish thing to do is to just accept what’s being offered without arguing.

“Okay,” Sidney says eventually. He looks down at his empty bowl of pretzels and then starts the lengthening process of getting up from the couch again. “I’m gonna get ice cream. Do you want ice cream?”

“Yes, okay,” Geno says. He sounds relieved.

 

 

Sidney doesn’t see Geno every day, but he sees him enough that it’s strange, a complete change in his summer routine.

There really isn’t anything about this summer that’s part of his routine, though. Not the teammates who dip in and out of the city to see him, or dinner at Cookie’s place every few nights, playing very clumsy and careful ball hockey with the Cooke kids in the driveway. Duper invites him over daily, telling him he should get some baby care practice in with Lola. And while Sidney normally loves hanging out with Lola, with all of the Dupuis kids, the prospect is a little terrifying.

It’s equally terrifying when Geno shows up at Sidney’s house with all of them in his stupid Volvo. He lets them loose on Sidney’s yard and says, “See, I fix. No black cat here and we still get practice.”

Sidney picks Lola up before he can wonder if he should, and tries to be annoyed with Geno for doing this without asking. But Lola hugs him around the neck and tucks her head under his chin and he really can’t be annoyed at all.

He thinks they do okay. He’s babysat these kids before, though he’s never considered it a practice run for his own kids, just part of being a good friend. But he knows that Maeva likes strawberry jam and Kody is allergic to strawberries so his PB&J can’t touch hers, and Zoe still hasn’t grown out of her habit of drawing on her siblings given half the chance, so he watches her whenever she has a marker in reach.

Geno spends most of the time chasing the kids around the yard, wrestling three of them at the same time, and then collapsing in a heap underneath them when they refuse to tire. “They’ll crash in like an hour,” Sidney tells him from where he’s been reading a picture book with Lola in a lawn chair.

Geno glares at him in disbelief. He has grass stains all over his shorts, his bare feet, and dirt smudged on his cheek. He may have something to say to Sidney but Zoe jumps on his chest and knocks all the breath out of him, so he’s mercifully quiet. Sidney smiles and goes back to Lola’s book.

As predicted, the kids all crash in various cozy spots around the living room, and Geno lies down on the floor. “Please don’t stain the carpet,” Sidney says, stepping over him to toss a throw blanket over Kody, who’s hugging himself in sleep like he might be cold. He’s happy because he’d done well, that looking after them was just like always, and if he can still handle this, maybe his own kid won’t be so bad.

“How you so good at this?” Geno asks, a groan in his voice. He ignores Sidney completely about the carpet. “You cheat.”

“I’ve done this before. Before Fluffy came around I was at their house all the time, I picked up some stuff. It’s not that hard.” He’s probably milking it a little bit, and rationally he knows that infants are harder—he has little to no practice with that, though it’s not like he can just find someone’s infant and rent them out or something.

“Not that hard,” Geno echoes faintly. He winces and rubs at his chest. “I think Maeva punch hole in my lung. What Duper feed them, they so strong?”

“Well they’re Duper’s kids, of course they’re mutants,” Sidney says, standing over him and nudging him not super gently with his foot. “Come on, you big baby. Help me put their toys away.”

“Cheat,” Geno says, still grumbling, but he climbs to his feet and follows Sidney dutifully, picking up whatever’s too far on the ground for Sidney to bend and reach. “Stay with baby all day, the nice one.”

“Well, this baby is going to be a lot harder than that one,” Sidney says, patting his stomach and trying to sound practical. “She’s going to cry a lot, and keep me awake, and maybe get sick, and that’s—that’s different than babysitting. I can’t give her back at the end of the day, you know?”

“Us,” Geno says quietly, picking Nerf darts out of the grass and dropping them into Kody’s backpack. When Sidney gives him a questioning look, Geno’s just frowning, and he adds, “She keep us awake, Sid. Me too. We take turns?”

Sidney really wants to be off his feet for this. He wants to drink a beer for this, and for the first time in a while hates that he can’t. “Are you going to move in with me?” he asks before he can talk himself out of it, his breath suddenly quickening in his chest.

Geno zips up the backpack and sighs, sitting down on the edge of a lawn chair. Sidney thinks about joining him, but—getting up from the chair last time had been a feat he doesn’t really want to repeat right now. “I don’t know,” Geno says. “Not think about yet. But—I should. So I’m help.”

Instinct has “you don’t have to” on the tip of his tongue. Sidney fights his instinct. “But—how is that going to work, Geno? What if your parents visit? What if you—what if you meet someone, a person you can do this for real with?”

“Is real,” Geno says, brow creased in consternation. He narrows his eyes at Sidney’s stomach. “Very real baby getting bigger every day. Is real I do this with you now, we worry about what happen later.”

“But what if I meet someone who actually wants to date me?” Sidney asks. He regrets it a second after he says it because Geno looks shocked and winded, like Sidney had spoken in an alien language and then punched him. They both stare at each other, Sidney trying to work out how to backtrack, Geno’s face slowly creasing again, this time in what might be confusion.

He doesn’t know what would’ve happened next, because Duper calls to say he’s on his way with some dinner, and Sidney goes inside to get the kids awake. Geno stays outside for a long time, as the sunlight starts to fade and the fireflies pop out, and when he comes in for food he’s quiet and thoughtful.

They let the kids run the show at dinner, though Duper looks curiously between Sidney and Geno a few times.

Nothing gets resolved anyway, because Geno leaves when Duper and the kids do. He looks like he wants to talk to Sidney and, as always, doesn’t really know what to say, so he just hugs him goodbye and gets in his car and waits for Duper to let him out. Sidney watches them go and then heads to bed, wishing he could just know how this is all going to work out, that he could finally have a plan for it.

He doesn’t see Geno again until after he’s sure of his plan for his hockey career: Sidney has a 12 year contract extension with the Penguins ready for him to sign on July 1st. He invites the guys in Pittsburgh over for dinner to celebrate, and that includes Geno, and he invites Pat, Dan, Shero, Kadar and Stewart, too, so it’s kind of like a party.

Everyone’s happy for him, even if Geno’s a little cautious, too. He brings over a few boxes of pastries, helps himself to a few beers, and spends most of the night talking to Kadar and Duper, shooting Sidney sidelong looks every once in a while but otherwise giving him space.

“Your daughter will be 13 when that contract’s up,” Pat says, joining Sidney by his deck railing. Sidney lets out a long, shuddering breath. “Crazy to think about. You’ll be chasing boys off your lawn.”

“At 13? That young? No way,” Sidney says. “No way Taylor was that young. 15, maybe. 17? 30. 30 is good.”

“Relax,” Pat says, laughing and patting his back. “You’ve got a ways to go before you have to worry about that.”

I wasn’t chasing boys at 13,” Sidney says. Pat laughs again, shaking his head and grinning at him.

Geno’s hesitant about joining them, looking warily at Pat even though they’ve always been friendly. Pat just clinks his beer bottle with Geno’s and gives him a nod, making room for him to stand between him and Sidney. “We’re talking about what a heartbreaker your kid’s gonna be,” Pat says, and Geno gives a weak smile.

“Only she look like Sid. Get the pretty looks.”

“We don’t want that, Geno,” Sidney says, feeling and hating the fact that he’s blushing and people can see. “I don’t even want to think about boys being after her. Boys are terrible.”

“It’s true,” Geno says, looking very grave. “Keep her away from hockey players.”

“Don’t even joke,” Sidney says through gritted teeth.

“She’s gonna grow up around hockey players, though,” Pat points out. “I mean, 13 years, right?”

“Right,” Sidney says, watching Geno’s face do something complicated and unclear to him. “The Penguins are stuck with me, yeah.”

“Stuck with me too, then,” Geno says. He’s talking to Pat but looking at Sidney, and Sidney feels warm all over.

“Well,” Pat says, smiling with all of his teeth. “That should make next summer easy for us, Geno. Good to know. Maybe don’t tell Ray that quite yet, or J.P. will be very sad he has nothing to argue for next summer.”

“No argue,” Geno says, shrugging. He finishes off his beer and wipes at the back of his mouth, then looks at Sidney again. “Family here, so I’m here. No question.”

Sidney doesn’t know what he makes up to excuse himself, but in that moment he really needs to. His knees feel wobbly and his heart is beating a little too fast, and he takes calming breaths in the bathroom off the kitchen, close enough that he can still hear the chatter from out in the yard.

But the door is closed and it gives Sidney some time to get his emotions in check, to think rationally through the haze of love and shaky relief he feels. He can practically feel Pat thinking at him to be brave from outside, and that’s why he doesn’t shrink back when he steps out into the kitchen and sees Geno waiting for him, fidgeting nervously with the hem of his t-shirt.

“Okay?” he asks, and Sidney nods.

“Yeah. You’re—you’re going to move in with me, after the baby’s born?”

Geno nods, setting his jaw. “Yes. Not if you don’t want, but—I want. I think is better.”

It is and it isn’t, but Sidney makes himself nod again. “Okay. That’s—okay. And what if—what if you or I—”

“I don’t know, Sid,” Geno says, sighing heavily. “Don’t know what’s gonna happen. Can’t—can’t tell you future because I don’t know it. Can’t make plan yet except I’m promise to be here for you. To still be team.” He smiles, still a bit weak, but sweet, too. Sidney’s heart races, and he thinks agreeing with any of this might be the stupidest thing he’ll ever do. “Still be team anyway, baby or no baby. But very much now, because baby.”

“Good reason,” Sidney says, joking so he doesn’t do something really embarrassing like blurt out I love you.

“Best reason,” Geno says. He seems totally serious. He tilts his head to the side and gestures out back. “Let’s celebrate more, everyone here for you.”

“Yeah,” Sidney says, following Geno. They definitely have reason to celebrate.

 

 

Half the time Sidney spends with the Penguins left in Pittsburgh is passed by them trying to convince him to go to Flower’s wedding.

“Come on, you can barely tell,” Cookie tells him over one of their regular dinners. Geno, joining them for the first time, takes a break from pulling faces at Jackson to snicker into his pasta, giving Cookie an incredulous look.

“He look like he hide basketball in his shirt. Big basketball. Can tell, Cookie.”

“I’m sitting right here, and the baby can hear you calling her a basketball,” Sidney says. Geno just shrugs, totally shameless, secure in his observation. Sidney thinks it looks more like he’s hiding a beach ball, really.

“And so what? You won’t be the only preggo there, you can keep Michelle and Catherine company,” Cookie continues. Michelle, trying to sneak salad onto Jackson’s plate, looks up to glare and say, “Matt,” a little sharply, giving Sidney a gentle smile.

Sidney appreciates her loyalty. “I can keep them company here. I already do.” Michelle, the only one of them with any pregnancy experience, had been the one to tell him that the terrible ache he gets in his ribs every night is from the baby moving around, trying to stretch. Catherine bought him some pregnancy clothes, correctly assuming he was embarrassed to buy them but convincing him pretty thoroughly that they were necessary. Sidney had bought them both the comfiest slippers he could find in thanks, and has his mother knitting them baby blankets. He thinks they’ve got a good system going.

“Come on, Sid,” Cookie says. He sounds half-sincere and half-trollish, eyes sparkling as always. “Nobody’s going to say anything. You can take Geno and just make him stand in front of you the whole time.”

Geno nods with his mouth full. “I can do this.”

“Do you really think I want to miss my best friend’s wedding?” Sidney asks sharply, and both Geno and Cookie deflate a little. “Do you think I want to be here all summer instead of with my family, my dog? Pat had to get Reebok to agree to shoot me above the neck only and sign a nondisclosure agreement; Gatorade hung up laughing when he talked about it with them. So yeah, maybe I’m too fat to even keep my endorsements, never mind social commitments.”

“Sid,” Geno says, frowning deeply. “You not fat.”

Sidney very seriously debates the merits of throwing his glass of cider on Geno, then maybe stealing Cookie’s wine and throwing that too, but he doesn’t think he could withstand the temptation to lick the wine off him. “The point is that this isn’t—it’s not ideal and it’s not how I planned this summer to go and I’d like it if you could stop making me feel bad about it.”

An awkward silence descends over the table, and Sidney almost feels guilty that he made Cookie look guilty. But then Michelle says, “I need to check on the pie, can you give me a hand, Sid?” and he escapes into the kitchen with her gratefully. He’s pretty sure Geno, Cookie, Jackson and Gabriela are looking at him like he’s about to spit nails at them.

“The pie is from Trader Joe’s,” Michelle says. As he watches, she cuts two gigantic pieces and sets one down in front of each of them, passing Sidney a fork. “Key lime. Eat as much as you want, because I don’t think my husband deserves any.”

“He deserves some,” Sidney says loyally. “Maybe just a little.”

“He doesn’t deserve you, either, but that still doesn’t make him shut his mouth,” Michelle says. She digs in, and they sit in a much more comfortable silence in the kitchen. They can barely hear the conversation picking up again in the dining room, the sound of Jackson’s laughter, and it’s nice again after a little while.

Cookie apologizes to him as he’s leaving, wary and cautious, practiced in pregnant irrationality and trying not to step in it again. “It’s okay,” Sidney says, patting Cookie on the shoulder. “Just have a couple of drinks for me at the wedding, okay? Steal me the bouquet.”

“You got it,” Cookie says, breaking into a relieved smile.

Geno treats Sidney with the same kind of caution as he drives him home. Sidney keeps stretching his legs, wriggling in his seat, so unused to having this kind of room in a car that belongs to Geno, that he barely catches Geno looking at him instead of the road a few times.

“What?”

“Should do something tomorrow,” Geno says quietly. “Think you go crazy staying home, hiding all the time.”

“I have to hide, Geno,” Sidney says. He doesn’t want to yell at Geno, too, has done more than enough of that, so he tries to tamp down on some of his frustration, but he’s feeling attacked again. “That’s the whole point of staying here: to be near my doctor and to keep a low profile. I have to do that or else everyone’s gonna know.”

“We go somewhere just you and me,” Geno tells him, firm but patient, like he knows Sidney’s on the verge of throwing a fit and thinks he can handle it. “Fishing, maybe.”

“Am I supposed to be on a boat?” He’s literally just arguing to argue, but it feels good, somehow, a little satisfying. “Isn’t there a balance issue there? What if I fall out?”

“I save you,” Geno says. It’s disconcertingly earnest and Sidney tries not to feel a thrill, because that’s ridiculous. “You wear safe vest, look very cute.”

“Ugh. You’re such a dick.”

“Try to be nice! Get you out, help you with cranky.”

“I’m not cranky,” Sidney says. Geno laughs out loud and then tries to cover it with a cough, and Sidney clenches his fists in his lap. “I’m not.”

“Maybe not fishing. Maybe we go see Bucs, hide in box, hm?”

“You can’t hide at a baseball game. We can’t hide at a baseball game. There’s way too many people.” He also really doesn’t want to be at a baseball game and not allowed to drink beer. The thought makes him seethe with jealousy already.

“See a movie,” Geno says, because he is actually the most stubborn man alive. Sidney crosses his arms over his chest and then uncrosses him when they bump his sore nipples. “Wear big rain coat Dan get you, sit in the back, in the dark, no one see.” He sounds proud of himself, stupidly so, and Sidney wants to argue just on principle now.

“But there’s—I mean—is there even anything good out?”

This time, Geno does nothing to disguise his laugh, because he knows he’s won. “I’m pick you up at dinner time,” Geno tells him as they pull up into Sidney’s driveway. “Buy you dinner, then movie. Get you popcorn and two kinds candy.”

“Only two?” Sidney says before he can stop himself. Geno gives him the most thrilled, fond look Sidney’s seen from him in a long time; when they were still having sex, that was the kind of look Sidney would get before Geno kissed him.

Geno doesn’t kiss him now, but he unlocks the passenger door for him and leans over to hug him quickly, pressing his cheek to the side of Sidney’s head.

“Family come visit,” he whispers, staying where he is even though it has to be uncomfortable for him. “Bring dog, friends. Bring Nova Scotia to you.”

“Sam doesn’t like to fly,” Sidney says, sniffling a little. It’s stupid, really, how much he misses home—he’s never gotten this homesick during the season, and even in other summers, he’s always traveled more and never really stayed in one place throughout. Last summer, he’d mostly stayed in Pittsburgh or Atlanta, but he’d gotten to go home for a whole month, too, and had spent time there during the season. He thinks it’s the fact that he’s never been in a position where he can’t go home that bothers him so much.

And then he feels foolish, because Geno has been in that position, has probably felt it more acutely than Sidney ever has. With the baby coming, Geno is probably afraid of never being able to go home again, and he feels like an ass that Geno’s the one doing the comforting here.

He tries to bring that up, but Geno deflects him smoothly and then just says, “I’m get you dog that like to fly,” and Sidney has to scramble to stop that.

“Oh God, don’t get me a dog. Geno, no.” He has to be firm. Geno doesn’t make idle threats about animals. “I have a baby coming, I can’t train a dog too!”

“Big dog, already train. Take care of you more than you take care of him.” Geno sounds happy with the thought; when he finally pulls back, he’s smiling softly. Sidney makes a low noise of panic—this is exactly how Kuni’s kids wound up with three cats.

“I’m not lonely,” Sidney says, and Geno looks startled by his vehemence. But Sidney realizes as he says it that it’s the truth, that he might not have his friends from back home and his family and his dog, but he has still has so much of his team, a chunk of whom are still in Pittsburgh simply because he is. He has Tanger, who has never spent an offseason outside of Montreal before now, and who was the first to understand and back off about Flower’s wedding, to tell him solemnly that Flower understands.

And he has Geno, sacrificing his own precious time at home to be with him. The team has always been a version of home during the season, and Sidney feels incredibly lucky that that’s stretched into the offseason, too.

“I don’t need a dog,” Sidney says seriously. Then he smiles. “I’ve got you, don’t I?”

Geno laughs, tipping his head back with the force of it. He tries to make a barking sound but can’t stop laughing enough to do it, and Sidney joins him, putting his face in his hands. It feels good, like he can feel his muscles loosening with it.

“Woof,” Geno finally manages softly, breaking off into a giggle. Sidney puts his hand over his mouth to keep from losing it again. Geno reaches over to pat his knee and then breathlessly tells him, “Go get sleep, take care of the puppy. Pick you up tomorrow.”

“First she’s a basketball, now she’s a puppy,” Sidney says, getting out of the car and grinning back at Geno, who grins back. “Nice, Geno.”

“Goodnight, puppy!” Geno calls, and then “Goodnight, Sid!” with equal delight in his voice. Sidney keeps grinning even as he gets into bed.

True to Geno’s word, the two of them wind up in the back row of a very dark movie theater the next night, sharing an embarrassing amount of snacks and bickering softly over them as the previews roll. Sidney concentrates very hard on his Sno-caps so he doesn’t have to keep noticing how cute Geno looks in 3D glasses, but of course Geno makes that difficult, putting his arm around Sidney and whispering in his ear, “Pass me M&Ms.”

Sidney doesn’t know what it says about him that that sentence makes him squirm a little. He hopes he can blame it on the pregnancy.

“This is where the teenagers usually sit to make out,” Sidney whispers as yet another preview starts playing. “We screwed it up for them.”

“We can make out,” Geno whispers back. He’s smirking, Sidney knows it because he darts a quick look at him and then quickly looks away.

“Shh,” Sidney says. “The movie’s starting.” He stares straight ahead as Geno snickers softly and then reaches around to steal Sno-caps.

He’s a little keyed-up and edgy when Geno takes him home, spooking a bit when Geno follows him inside and helps himself to iced tea, pouring it in two glasses like it’s a nightcap after a date. Too much of this felt like a date, but Geno looks so relaxed, happy that he made Sidney happy, accomplished and proud. Sidney relaxes, too, and thanks him.

“It was good to get out. That movie sucked, though.”

Geno just rolls his eyes, looking fond. “You just picky. Like to be grump. I see you laugh at movie, don’t lie.”

“I wasn’t laughing!” But he’s laughing now, unable to help it, and Geno beams at him.

“Like when you laugh. Like your laugh.” He sounds so sincere and warm that Sidney shivers with it. He wishes it were a year ago, that he and Geno could end tonight like they would’ve all those other nights they slept together. But this night wouldn’t be exactly like those; they had never dated like this, never laughed like this outside of bed.

It feels good but bittersweet. He’s wondering what’s compelling Geno to say shit like that, to take care of him the way he’s been. Sidney thinks it might be too much to hope for more than obligation, but he can’t help hoping anyway.

It’s stupid to hope. Geno seems to blink at that point, give his head a little shake, and then laughs more sheepishly. “Getting late,” he says, rubbing at the back of his neck.

Sidney almost asks him not to go, but he chickens out the way he always used to when he wanted to ask Geno for more. He knew it wasn’t possible, that Geno couldn’t give him more. And he should know it’s not possible now—this is Geno being dutiful and taking it a little too far, mixing his signals.

“Thanks, Geno,” Sidney says again, quiet and sincere. Geno gives him another small smile.

“Anytime, Sid.”

So Sidney gets out more with Geno. The guys back off about Flower’s wedding and Sidney feels a little better about it then. He’s feeling better in general, trying to keep active with Geno, talking to his parents almost every night, thinking about things to buy for the nursery.

He thinks things would be totally perfect if he didn’t suddenly want to have sex all the time.

He’s too embarrassed to ask Michelle or his doctor about it, but Googling at least ascertains that it’s a pregnancy thing and not him going totally crazy. Sidney has always had what he considers a healthy sex drive: happier with regular sex, satisfied and capable when he had to handle it himself. He can point to gaps in his regular hookups with Geno and say he wanted sex then, was unhappy doing without, but he doesn’t think he ever felt like he does now, like he’s going to crawl out of his skin if he doesn’t get some soon.

It’s irritating. July feels like it’s boiling within him, his body flushing with heat at the most random and inopportune moments. Sidney’s looking through paint swatches and talking to his designer one day when he pops wood; he gets a boner in Whole Foods and sweats in his baggiest sweatshirt. Reading military history gets him going, and simply thinking about a hockey stick is enough to make him bury his face in his hands and groan in frustration.

Taking care of it himself doesn’t work as well as it always did. Sidney just feels awkward and ungainly most of the time when he’s using toys or even just fucking his own fist. When he comes, he feels like a kettle still whistling on a stovetop, the heat turned off but bubbling away.

People notice his crabbiness, and Sidney thinks they’re all chalking it up to Flower’s wedding drawing near and general pregnancy woes. At least, he hopes so. He doesn’t want anyone knowing that he stays mostly indoors not just to hide his baby bump but also to avoid incidents of public indecency.

He’s generally uncomfortable, not enough that it’s ever debilitating or truly painful, but just small irritants that add up and make the sex thing even more annoying. Sidney’s not even sure he could enjoy sex if he were having it, but he wants it anyway.

Geno has never really been the best at handling Sidney’s crabbiness in the past, though the pregnancy has made him indulgent. He comes over to Sidney’s one day after training, still sweaty and pink from a workout, and finds Sidney on his couch, glaring senselessly at Ice Road Truckers.

“Show chirp you?” Geno asks, plopping onto one end of the couch and pulling Sidney’s feet into his lap. Sidney considers telling him to go shower, or fuck off, but instead flexes his toes against Geno’s palm and relaxes a little bit when he starts rubbing them. His sore feet are usually so far down on the list of pregnancy things that bug him that sometimes he forgets how good this can feel.

It might feel too good, actually. Sidney squirms into his couch cushions and makes himself stare at the TV. “I’ve just seen this one before,” he tells Geno. “I never remember until I’m halfway into it.”

“Mm,” Geno says, like he’s not really listening. Sidney would bitch at him for it but he’s rubbing Sidney’s feet carelessly, watching the show like he’s actually interested in it. His mouth is open a little, his cheeks flushed and his hair curly-damp with sweat. Sidney can smell him from across the couch.

Sidney squirms again, and while Geno’s occupied, tries to glare down at his dick, which is choosing now to take interest. He can’t see it over his belly, though, not while lying on his back, which he’s not supposed to be doing anyway but does because it’s a more comfortable position on his couch. He closes his eyes and groans a bit, and Geno taps his ankle with a loose fist, a comforting sort of thump. Sidney groans again.

It’s almost worse with his eyes closed. Geno smells stronger like this, and it should be gross—he needs a shower, Kadar always works him hard—but Sidney’s dick doesn’t get that message. He wriggles around and curls his toes and Geno thumps him again, then strokes over the knob of his anklebone, gentle.

“Okay?” His voice is soft, like he thinks Sidney’s trying to nap. The TV volume is lower. Sidney wishes more than anything that he could nap.

“Not really,” Sidney says, which is not what he usually says. Usually he tells Geno “I’m fine” or “My back hurts a little” or “I’ve peed three times in the last few hours and I have to pee again”. He wishes one or all of those were an option.

Geno doesn’t press him for details, just makes a wordless sort of sympathetic noise and rubs the bottoms of his feet a little harder.

He’s think he’s hard enough that it’s noticeable—all he’s wearing are basketball shorts and an overly large t-shirt—but it still takes Geno a while. When Sidney peeks, he’s watching the show again, intent.

Sidney rolls his eyes. Geno is the type that can walk into a room and become engrossed in whatever’s on, even if he’s seen it a million times or doesn’t understand a word of it. He notices Sidney looking at him first, during a commercial, and smiles at him. Then he looks down at his belly and, inevitably, his crotch.

“Oh,” Geno says. Sidney closes his eyes again and thinks about covering his face with a couch cushion, but he opens them when Geno’s hands still on his feet and keep ahold of them.

Geno just looks confused and slightly put-out, and Sidney kicks his wrist lightly. “What?” he asks, because it’s not like he’s never seen Sidney with an erection before. Geno just frowns at him.

“Didn’t know you into feet.” He sounds insulted, like this is information he should have already had and was deprived of.

Sidney lets out a startled laugh and shakes his head. “Not even kidding, I’m into everything lately. Anything. It’s really not the feet.”

Geno’s face clears and his eyes widen. “Oh! Duper tell me this happen, tell me watch out—”

“Oh my God,” Sidney groans, putting his hands on his face. “I hate him. So much. Did he say I was going to jump you?”

The responding silence is telling, and Sidney kicks Geno hard enough that he yelps and jumps a little. “Ouch, Sid,” Geno says, wounded. “He just tell me you want sex! And tell me be careful, good position and bad position and—”

“Please stop,” Sidney says. He thinks his entire body is bright, glowing red; it feels that way. His dick hasn’t been deterred by his humiliation in any way, unfortunately. “I don’t want to hear about you talking about this with Duper. Next you’re gonna tell me you called my dad for advice on how to do me, right?”

There is another terrifying silence that has Sidney scrambling to sit up, forgetting that that’s difficult when he’s on his back like this. He makes a few aborted flailing motions, uncomfortably aware of his resemblance to a turtle, and is rescued by Geno’s deep, rumbling laughter and his hands grabbing Sidney’s arms and helping him up.

“No, Sid, crazy,” Geno says, pulling Sidney across the couch until they’re seated very close together, Sidney’s legs still folded over Geno’s lap. “Don’t have to ask anyone how to do you. I know.”

He looks terribly smug. Sidney thinks if it were physically possible for him to come from that look alone, he’d do it right now, harder than he has from ages of jerking off.

“Do you now?” Sidney asks, just to watch Geno’s chest puff out and his eyes narrow. Sidney tries to pull one of his hands away to put it on his aching dick, but Geno keeps his hold firm and tugs Sidney even closer.

“Yeah,” Geno says, lifting his chin. “I know. And you say everything, you make easy.”

Anything,” Sidney says, his voice cracking. He opens his mouth to say something else, but he’s not sure what it was going to be because Geno leans in and kisses him hard, swallowing it up with a flick of his tongue into Sidney’s mouth.

Sidney tries to climb into his lap. It doesn’t exactly work—his belly bumps into Geno’s flat abdomen hard enough to nearly hurt, and when Geno draws him in closer it’s an uncomfortable squeeze, his thighs already straining under him. But Geno’s hot mouth on his is enough to make any of it worth it, his arms folding around Sidney and holding him the way he used to, the way they always loved. Just because Sidney doesn’t fit as well now doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel just as good.

“Fuck,” Sidney says when they break for air. “Geno, hey, fuck—” He knows that whatever that sentence was going to be was never going to be articulate, and he’s fine with Geno stealing it in another kiss, wet and filthy.

“Shh,” Geno says into the kiss. Sidney just squirms, already panting a bit, restless and overheated—he needs a hand on his dick and for Geno to never stop kissing him and he thinks he’ll finally feel okay when both of those things happen. “Got you. I know.”

Geno.” Geno moves his hands down and squeezes his ass, and Sidney whines into his mouth, vibrates in his hold. He tries to thrust his hips against whatever part of Geno he can reach and can’t because the stupid belly is in the way, so he tries to change positions without breaking the kiss.

Geno doesn’t let him get very far, but Sidney tries, dragging Geno with him, trying to lie on his back again and drape Geno over him. He wants to smell him more, to be overwhelmed by Geno instead of the heat still boiling in him, but Geno makes a noise of dissent and breaks the kiss completely, stopping Sidney from moving further.

“No, no good,” Geno says. His mouth is swollen and that’s all Sidney can focus on. “Stop, not supposed to on your back. Here.” He settles Sidney so he’s seated upright on the couch, grabs a cushion and shoves it behind his back, and drags him to the edge of the couch. Then he moves away and Sidney grabs for him, making an angry noise of frustration. “Relax,” Geno says, chuckling.

He reaches for another cushion, tosses it on the floor. Then he goes to his knees and spreads Sidney’s legs far enough for him to settle between them, tugging at Sidney’s shorts, pushing him to lean back against the other cushion.

In the next minute, when Sidney is naked from the waist down and Geno is breathing on his dick, everything goes away. His feet stop throbbing, his back doesn’t hurt at all, and he’s not even thinking about having to use the bathroom. All that matters is Geno’s mouth sliding down his dick, not teasing but just sucking at exactly the pace Sidney likes, the one he needs.

It probably lasts all of a few minutes, but Sidney doesn’t really track the time. He melts into his couch cushions and groans continuously for however long it takes, and thinks he was crazy for doubting that he could enjoy sex like this. Sex feels amazing. He feels better than he has in months, and when he comes he forgets that he’s pregnant, forgets that Geno won’t date him, and that he was concussed or upset about anything ever.

It feels like he comes forever, too, and Geno swallows everything, rubbing Sidney’s dick with his cheek when he’s done and kissing it. Sidney blinks his eyes open and looks at Geno, blurred and still on his knees, and comes back a little when Geno presses a gentle ghost of a kiss on the part of his lower belly not hidden by his shirt.

Geno stands up, red-cheeked and sweaty again, his dick tenting his sweatpants. He cracks his neck and looks very pleased with himself as he looks down at Sidney. He puts his hand on his dick over his sweats and rubs himself lazily, and just like that Sidney’s mouth is watering.

It’s nothing to tug down Geno’s sweats just far enough to pull his dick out and get his mouth on it. Sidney has to hunch uncomfortably and his jaw hurts in a short while, unused to the stretch of how big Geno is after so long, but Geno still takes long enough to get off that Sidney’s own dick is plumping again, his thighs hot and itching with arousal once more. He idly wonders if the pregnancy has actually turned him into a sex addict.

Geno puts a gentle, reverent hand on the crown of Sidney’s head and pets him through the blowjob. He seems to know that Sidney is getting off on it, and he’s radiating smugness over it, letting soft groans and grunts roll out of him. He wipes Sidney’s spit-slick chin for him and strokes his fingers over Sidney’s cheekbones. Sidney breathes in deeply through his nose, reveling in the powerful smell of Geno’s workout and his arousal.

He’s hard again and a little achy when Geno comes in his mouth, though not as desperate as before, simmering instead of boiling over. Sidney wipes his mouth and collapses back against the couch, and Geno folds himself in next to him, his pants still around his thighs, his mouth open in hot, panting breaths.

Sidney curls into his side and buries his face into his neck, licking at the sweat there until Geno giggles and pushes at him a little. “You so gross,” Geno says, and when Sidney looks utterly unashamed this time, adds, “It tickle. Want shower with me?”

He kind of wants Geno to fuck him, however that’s possible—maybe Geno knows, and Sidney tries not to think about how he might know—but the shower can get them there, probably. He nods eagerly and lets Geno haul him up.

Geno steps out of his sweats and leaves them in the middle of Sidney’s living room, and they both walk up to the master bathroom bare from the waist down.

There’s a moment when Sidney hesitates to take off his t-shirt—Geno’s only seen his full belly at the doctor’s office, and not since it’s been this big. The difference between four months and five months has felt staggering every time he glimpses himself in a mirror, and as he edges closer to six it’s even worse. Sometimes he can’t believe that it’s him, and though he’s pretty good at keeping his eye on the end goal (the baby), he still gets uncomfortable.

Geno just looks confused when Sidney hesitates, stripped naked in the bathroom and reaching in to turn on the shower. He frowns and says, “You change mind?” and Sidney shakes his head, still fingering at the hem of his shirt. There’s Geno, skinny but solid, his upper body rippling with strength as he moves and the muscles in his flat stomach jumping. He’s golden from lying out on Sidney’s deck in his shorts after training most days, but even when he was peeling and pink he’d looked good to Sidney.

Now he looks good enough to make Sidney harder, to make his throat ache a little to remember Geno’s cock in it, and he uses the arousal as motivation to take his shirt off. He tries not to look at Geno looking at him, but can’t help noticing the way his chest moves in a heaved breath, his mouth hanging open again.

“Come here,” Geno says quietly. Sidney moves in and takes Geno’s hand when he reaches out, and he suppresses a shudder when Geno’s other hand goes to his belly, finally without asking first. “Fuck, Sid. Look at you.”

“Come on,” Sidney says. He presses his face into Geno’s sun-freckled shoulder. “We’re supposed to shower, you stink.”

“Your favorite,” Geno tells him, kissing his temple. He walks them into the shower, though, not really letting them separate, drawing Sidney to stand under the warm water with him even though that means neither of them really get too wet.

Being close seems to take precedent over getting clean for Geno, though, and he kisses Sidney even as Sidney gropes blindly for soap, rubbing it perfunctorily over Geno’s back before it slips out of his hand and is lost to him. Geno keeps kissing him, kisses his neck, turns him around and kisses the tops of his shoulders, and Sidney relaxes again, melting back into him.

There’s nothing hurried about anything in here. Sidney thinks that’s the best part. Geno’s arms go around him and his hands cup Sidney’s belly and it all feels too good to be uncomfortable. It feels better when he feels Geno getting hard again, pressing it into the flesh of Sidney’s ass.

He manages to maneuver Geno more under the shower spray, and Geno chuckles against his neck. He says something in Russian that sounds fond and indulgent and he runs his fingers lightly over Sidney’s cock, never holding it or really stroking it, but just acknowledging it, telling Sidney he knows it’s there and will want more attention soon.

Geno’s hands drift upward, and Sidney is so blissed out that he doesn’t think to warn him off until his hands rub over his nipples. Sidney hisses and shakes his head, turning in Geno’s arms. “Don’t do that.”

Geno presses his frown into Sidney’s forehead and looks down at him with wide, blown pupils. “Why? You always like.”

“They’re sore now,” Sidney says. He flushes when Geno just keeps looking skeptical, eyeing Sidney’s nipples pointedly. “It doesn’t feel good anymore, it’s too—” He can’t describe it and doesn’t really want to, and Geno thankfully lets him off the hook, kissing his forehead and sighing into his wet hair, rubbing his back.

“Where you put the soap?” he asks lowly, and Sidney laughs.

“I dropped it, don’t ask me to pick it up.”

“Why not? Good view for me.” He turns around and grabs for body wash, ignoring the bar of soap at his feet, and gives both himself and Sidney a thorough enough scrubbing. Sidney assists with a washcloth while Geno just uses his hands. He doesn’t touch Sidney’s nipples again.

They towel themselves off after they’ve rinsed and stepped out of the shower, and then wander into the bedroom. Sidney turns down the covers mostly so he can get under them, cover up a little, overly aware of being naked now that Geno’s not touching him, but that doesn’t really last long, because Geno kisses him as soon as they get into bed together.

He kisses Geno as long as he can before want and need spurs him into whining for something more. Geno smacks a loud kiss on his lips before pulling back to ask, “Where you keep lube in here?”

“Same place as last time,” Sidney says, a little huffy. He reaches over Geno—of course Geno took Sidney’s usual side of the bed—and pulls it out of his bedside drawer, where it sits with a handful of condoms. Last time, of course, those condoms hadn’t been there, and now they’re not even necessary, but Sidney sometimes still winces to think of how they hadn’t used them, just that one time, just because he hadn’t thought he’d need them. He likes to be prepared.

“I don’t know,” Geno says back, equally huffy. He takes the lube from Sidney and squeezes some onto his fingers, then immediately reaches down between Sidney’s legs, rubbing it around his hole. Sidney hisses at the cold and tries to spread his legs for more, hooking one knee over Geno’s hip. “Maybe you move it. Maybe you run out, like condoms.”

“I have condoms!” Sidney says. It’s pretty difficult to sound defensive when Geno’s fingers are circling his hole, the tip of his index finger just starting to ease inside.

He manages it enough that Geno laughs, though, and it’s a weird feeling as he coaxes his finger in deeper, going careful and slow but still firm. “We don’t need,” Geno says, waggling his eyebrows, beaming down at Sidney’s belly between them. He sounds excited by the prospect and Sidney flushes, tries to relax around his finger.

Geno takes maybe a little too much care in fingering him open, edging into teasing him, achingly slow in fucking his fingers in and out and stretching him. Sidney loses his patience quickly, clenching around Geno’s fingers, urging him for more until he has three fingers pumping in and out and Geno smiling fondly at him.

“See?” he says, leaning in to kiss Sidney again. “You easy, I know.”

“I still want you to fuck me,” Sidney says, though he thinks he could come like this if Geno kept going, if one of them got a hand on his cock. “Come on, Geno, just—” He breaks off because he’s not sure how it’s going to work; they can’t fuck like this, he’ll have to turn around.

Geno hums and pulls his fingers out, then stretches out on his back, patting Sidney’s hips. “Get on,” he says, which makes Sidney laugh at his sheer ridiculousness.

“Oh sure, you get to lie on your back. Way to rub it in.”

“I’m rub you in,” Geno says, which makes no sense whatever. He still looks proud of himself, hair drying fluffed-out against the pillow, waiting for Sidney to climb onto his dick. “Come on, you look so good like that.”

Sidney has his doubts, but he moves over Geno easily enough and sinks down on his cock with little discomfort, really. His doubts are chased as soon as he’s fully seated, blinking with the force of it, the stretch hitting in all the right places.

Geno groans loudly, scrubbing a hand over his face and then looking up at Sidney with dark, dark eyes. He looks hungry. “Look at you,” he says, and Sidney flushes, ducking his head until Geno pats his hips and makes a frustrated noise. “You look like—like dream. Feel so good.”

When Sidney meets his eyes again, he looks fierce and honest, and Sidney nods eventually, because it seems like Geno wants him to agree. He starts moving, reveling in the fact that he can, that this works—he’s heavier now but he still has his thighs, he can still ride Geno with all of his old strength.

That’s immensely satisfying. Even more satisfying is Geno losing it under him, throwing his head back and groaning loudly as Sidney fucks himself on his cock. He doesn’t really move much, letting Sidney control the pace, slow at first as he adjusts—it’s been a while and Geno’s big, and he knows it, looking up at Sidney with as much of a smirk as he can manage.

Sidney speeds up, groaning at the stretch, the pleasure of being filled to his satisfaction again. In moments like these, he wonders how he ever goes without it, and he could almost feel embarrassed for thinking that if he didn’t feel so fucking good.

It’s gratifying that it seems equally good for Geno, who is quickly coming apart beneath Sidney. He has his hands alternating between grabbing his hair and reaching for Sidney’s hips, rubbing over Sidney’s flexing thighs with his fingertips. Sidney shakes with every small touch, feeling like he’s on fire again—his thighs are starting to burn but he wants Geno to come, wants to come again, so he doesn’t slow down.

Geno seems to know, though, or maybe he just loses patience, thrusting up into Sidney at an angle that nails his prostate on the first try. Sidney cries out and Geno grins, still aware enough to be proud of himself, leaning up just enough to take Sidney in hand and spread his precome all over his dick.

Moving together, Sidney starts tensing up to come very fast, but Geno beats him to it for a change, his hand loosening on Sidney’s cock and his upper torso falling back again as he groans out harshly. Sidney feels wet warmth inside of him and rocks frantically on Geno’s cock, crying out when Geno’s hand tightens on his cock and coaxes his orgasm from him.

He tries to collapse forward onto Geno and groans once more when his belly gets in the way. Geno just smiles at him and puts his hands on it, cupping the top and stroking gently as Sidney stops shaking.

He’s almost reluctant to move, as uncomfortable as he is maintaining this position for much longer, as Geno’s cock softens within him. His hands are so gentle on him, reverent, and Sidney flushes to think of Geno fantasizing about this, dreaming of it.

Sidney tries to be careful in moving out from under Geno’s hands, over his waist. He maneuvers himself sideways to lie next to Geno, shoving in on his proper side and making Geno laugh as he shifts to give Sidney room. “Never change,” Geno says, grinning at Sidney from the other pillow. Sidney grins back, and presses the grin into Geno’s arm when he curls it under Sidney’s head, drawing him to rest on his shoulder.

Geno kisses the crown of his head, and Sidney sighs happily. “That was—yeah. That was really good for me.”

“Of course,” Geno says, but not graciously; he sounds like Sidney’s giving him old news, a matter of fact. “We know I’m best.”

“I don’t know why I even bother,” Sidney says. He tries to smother his laughter into Geno’s chest but that doesn’t do much, and he can hear the smirk in Geno’s voice.

“You like be honest. I know, it’s okay. I like about you.”

“Whatever.” He squirms around until he’s as comfortable as he thinks ever gets while he’s pregnant, snuggling into Geno even though they’ll probably get too warm soon. “I need another shower now,” he says drowsily, a little grumpy.

“Nap first. I’m put in hard work today, first for Kadarov, then you.”

“Something you want to tell me about you and Kadar?”

Geno’s laugh is soft and comforting, his breath tickling Sidney’s forehead. “Nap with me,” he whispers, his voice low and just as drowsy as Sidney’s.

Sidney thinks about thanking him, or sitting up and asking a bunch of questions about what they just did, which could be the wise thing to do or a very stupid thing. He doesn’t decide on anything, though, before he goes to sleep, lulled by the steadiness of Geno’s breathing and the warmth of his skin under Sidney’s cheek.

 

 

They never really get around to talking about having sex again, and Sidney isn’t really surprised. He wakes up willing to ignore it, to not ask questions and just enjoy it, and shuffles it into that pile of considerate things Geno keeps doing for him because he’s pregnant. It’s easier to think about that way.

Maybe it’s not the smart way to think about it, and one night, when Tanger spots a hickey on his neck, he looks around Sidney’s living room as if to make sure Geno’s not lurking around naked and asks, “What are you doing, Sid? Honestly.”

Sidney shrugs, hoping he doesn’t have to go into the fact that he spends half his days panting for it. That’s the embarrassing part. The rest of it he can’t really be ashamed of—if the baby hadn’t happened, and things were normal, and he and Geno had just fallen back into hooking up, it would pretty much be the status quo. “It’s just kind of like before,” Sidney says. “It worked out okay then.”

Tanger raises his eyebrows and stares pointedly at Sidney’s stomach, and Sidney puts his hands over it defensively.

“Hey! This is working out, right? We’re doing okay.”

“Yeah, of course,” Tanger says. He sounds tired. Sidney wonders if Catherine’s milkshake cravings are still coming in the middle of the night. “It’s good right now, but—think about the future. You and Geno will have a baby to think about, you can’t fuck around anymore.”

“We’re not fucking around, we’re just—” Sidney doesn’t exactly know what to call it, and Tanger doesn’t look impressed at all.

“Oh, so he told his parents?” Sidney glares at Tanger. “What about any of his friends, hm? I think he told them he was staying in Pittsburgh for Kadar, but maybe he told them the truth now.”

“You know it’s not that easy,” Sidney says through gritted teeth.

Tanger shakes his head, face drawn and grim. “I know. But it’s only going to get harder once the baby comes. He won’t hide from his parents here forever—he’s going to have to tell them or choose.” He looks more sad than angry now, face softened in sympathy, and Sidney doesn’t like that. He also doesn’t like the thought of Geno having to choose; either choice feels horrible.

He hadn’t really thought about Geno hiding from his parents here, really from his entire life in Russia, but of course that must be part of why he’s staying. Sidney can’t imagine keeping something so huge from his family and friends for so long, with the added pressure of being around them. The thought nags at him, distracting him through most of the time he spends with Geno.

The only time he really stops thinking is when they have sex. He’s happy to leave the thinking up to Geno in those situations. Geno appears to have endless ideas for comfortable positions for them to do it and has a weird enthusiasm for trying them out, trying to figure out which ones Sidney likes best. Sidney doesn’t quite have the heart to tell him that everything pretty much does it for him, that Geno does it for him.

They usually get off pretty quickly, Sidney always too worked up to be teased and Geno so determined. The only misstep they ever really take is anything involving Sidney’s nipples; there’s a night when Sidney kneels on the bed, holds on to the headboard, while Geno takes him from behind, and Geno grabs his chest unthinkingly when he gets close.

Sidney slaps his hands away just as unthinkingly, nearly toppling forward when Geno jolts against him. “Sorry,” Geno mumbles breathlessly against his neck, kissing him there. Sidney grunts back and forgives Geno much more thoroughly once he gets a hand on his dick.

When they’ve both come, they curl up under the sheets and stretch out. Sidney rolls onto his back, rolls his eyes when Geno gives him a disapproving look, and tells him, “Just five minutes, geez. I’ve been sleeping on my back for 24 years, give me a break.”

“Use me like body pillow, remember?” Geno says, squirming around onto his back and then opening his arms.

Sidney sighs and rolls in on his side, curling up against Geno. Geno keeps shifting around, arranging pillows on Sidney’s other side so he doesn’t move again overnight, and it takes him a while to settle. When Sidney looks up at him, he’s lying down with his phone in one hand, hovering over his face.

“You’re gonna fall asleep and drop it,” Sidney says, smiling. Then he thinks of something and feels a little awkward. “Hey, are you staying?”

Geno looks awkward, too. A hint of pink stains his cheeks and he gives Sidney a sheepish look. “Yeah. Okay? I think—maybe paint tomorrow?”

Tomorrow is Flower’s wedding. Sidney had been planning to Skype with Tanger during the reception and then eat cake he’d stashed in the fridge with the wedding day in mind. He supposes they can paint the nursery first, though.

“Okay,” Sidney says. “But we should talk to Denise, we never settled on a—”

“I know what you like, I’m buy,” Geno says, impatience edging into his voice. They have had more than a few exhausting and pointless arguments about paint colors, and Sidney doesn’t think Geno will ever go to Home Depot with him again in his life. He at least sounds amused when he adds, “You like French Lilac, I know.”

Geno thinks paint names are hilarious. He’d spent his first and only meeting with Sidney’s designer giggling every time she pointed out a swatch. He’d lobbied hard for a pink called “Little Princess” because he thought the name was awesome.

“Wait, did you get everything?” Sidney asks, thinking about sitting up and then remembering not to squander comfortable positions. “The drop cloth and the primer and the—”

“Yes, Sid,” Geno says. He seems like he’s trying to sound bored, but he’s smiling at whatever he’s doing on his phone. “Have it all in my car. Think maybe we start tonight but then you jump me after dinner.”

“I didn’t jump you,” Sidney says, squeezing his arm around Geno’s waist. He’s tremulously, achingly happy. “You grabbed my ass! You initiated. Did you get the small brushes for the trim?”

“For trim I have to do? Yes, I get.”

“I can’t bend like that.”

“You can, you just like work me,” Geno says. Sidney pokes him hard in the side and Geno’s smile widens. He still doesn’t look away from his phone, obvious that he’s doing it to be a dick now, but Sidney leans in anyway to try and catch a look.

“What are you even doing? Who are you texting?”

“Nosy. Not texting, Google.” He tilts the phone just a bit in Sidney’s direction, but it’s enough to give him a glimpse that has him gasping and grabbing for it.

“Geno! God! I don’t have boobs, I can’t make milk. You’re unbelievable.” He’s mortified at the same time that laughter is bubbling up in him, and he tries to suppress it because Geno should never be encouraged.

Geno pouts at him a little, trying to look wide-eyed and innocent. “What, I want to ask about nipples but you never tell me. Going to wait for doctor but you yell at me if I do, can’t ask Duper—”

“If you ever talk to Duper about my nipples, I’ll—”

“See! Have to Google.” Geno settles in against his pillow, kissing Sidney’s lined forehead primly. “Now I know, no milk. We use formula?”

“I guess,” Sidney says, frowning to think about it. He puts Geno’s phone down on his stomach and hides his smile when Geno grumbles lowly and puts it on the nightstand. “I know some guys use wet-nurses. Like, women they pay to breastfeed. We could do both?” There’s still so much he doesn’t know, questions he doesn’t think to ask until they come up. He thinks out of the both of them that Geno is actually the more curious one; Sidney feels like he’s learning by experience, but in about three months learning on the job probably isn’t going to cut it anymore. That feels scary. “What if you’re not supposed to mix them, though? What if—”

“Shh,” Geno says, correctly identifying the panic in Sidney’s voice. “We ask doctor. Think about later.”

“But—” There’s so much. They don’t have anything. They have a little more than three months left and they have no bottles to put the formula in, no clothes or crib or diapers to put the baby in—Sidney tries to sit up and Geno slings his other arm around him, turning onto his side and facing Sidney. They’re close enough that Geno can touch their foreheads, Geno’s body curved in a bow over Sidney’s belly between them.

“I say shh. Have time. Tomorrow, we paint nursery. Good start.” He cups one hand over Sidney’s shoulder and strokes down, repeating it in exactly the same pattern over and over again and Sidney starts to calm and loses some tension.

“Okay,” Sidney says when he feels like he can breathe again. He gives Geno a tremulous smile, and Geno smiles back. “Good start. But I can’t use you like a body pillow like this.”

Grumbling again, and sounding much too cheerful about it, Geno kisses Sidney’s forehead one last time and then turns onto his other side, letting Sidney snuggle up as much as he can against his back, his arm slung around his waist again. “Good?” he asks, and Sidney nods into his neck, his belly pressed lightly into the small of Geno’s back. “Good. Tell baby don’t kick me.”

“You know elbowing’s more her thing,” Sidney says contentedly, letting his eyes flutter shut.

Geno snorts. “Should name her Cookie.” He hand circles Sidney’s wrist at his waist, stroking over his pulse point. “Don’t start talk about name. Sleep.”

“I think I know what I want to name her,” Sidney mumbles. He falls asleep in the next thought.

 

 

They paint the nursery a light, creamy lilac, show Sidney’s designer through phone pictures, and listen to her squawk on speakerphone about how she thought they were going to go with a more grayish purple, and why didn’t they consult her first?

“I like it,” Sidney tells Geno, sitting down in the center of the drop cloth and leaning back on his palms. Sidney had managed to mostly avoid getting paint on his clothes, with only a smudge of eggshell on his cheek from where Geno had dabbed him while doing the trim, but Geno is basically covered. He has white paint in his hair somehow, drying in clumps, and Sidney’s idly wondering how they’re going to get that out.

“Me too,” Geno says, dropping down behind him with a satisfied sigh. “Perfect for little girl. We get white bed, white chair, pretty picture for wall. Easy.”

“Well you two seem to have it all figured out,” Denise says, huffing. Sidney jumps, having forgotten about her a little, lost in imagining it—a white rocking chair right by the big window, where they can read to her in the sunlight.

He scoops up Geno’s phone and says, “Sorry, Denise. Can we call you back later?” She sounds amused and fond when she agrees, and they hang up on good terms, but Sidney almost doesn’t want to call her back. This is the only room in his house he’d painted on his own.

“Look so good,” Geno says, leaning against Sidney’s back. A damp spot of paint sticks to Sidney’s shirt, but he doesn’t really mind. “I’m think maybe not, maybe pink better, but you pick best, Sid. Of course.” He pokes his tongue out of the corner of his mouth. “I’m bring back Little Princess paint.”

Sidney shoves him, laughing. “You’re such a dick. No, keep it. We’ll paint her a playroom or something. It’s not like I don’t have the room.” He leans back against Geno’s shoulder. “Maybe she can have her own library.”

“Pink Little Princess library? I like.”

Sidney likes the thought of that, too. He likes the thought of her having space, thinking of Taylor’s tiny childhood bedroom, the little table he’d squeezed at for tea parties. He uses about four rooms consistently in this house and he loves the thought of the rest of them being filled for her, used and wrecked with love. It’s the future he had imagined for this house when he finally finished it, though he had never imagined it would come this soon or exactly like this.

They Skype with Tanger after dinner, Geno trying to shove into the webcam, Sidney successful in fending him off so only the corner of his head is really visible. “How is it?” Sidney asks, trying not to sound too wistful. “Is Talbot drunk yet?”

“Talbot was drunk halfway during the ceremony,” Tanger says, huddling over his MacBook. “He sobbed through the whole thing, of course.” Tanger’s eyes are also a little red, though Sidney doesn’t call him on it. He looks so happy. “Everyone says hi. Um, what is on your face?”

“Oh geez,” Sidney says, remembering the paint on his cheek and covering it up with his hand. “This idiot tried to paint my nose white, that’s what’s on my face.”

Geno pushes in, more of his head filling up the screen and much too close. “No! I try to paint whiskers. Where is Flower?”

“Hold on,” Tanger says, cracking up. He leaves the screen and Catherine and Heather both lean in and wave, Jordy’s loud voice heard asking, “What’re you looking at? Why does he have a laptop out at a wedding? Can we play games?”

Sidney feels something ache inside of him, and it only gets worse when Flower and Vero appear onscreen, both pink-cheeked and radiantly happy. “Sidney!” Flower says. His grin is blinding. “And Geno’s hair! Hello!”

“Hey guys,” Sidney says. His throat feels a little tight. “Congratulations. How’s the party?”

“Better if you were here,” Flower says, and there’s nothing but earnestness in his voice. Sidney still feels wretched, and he’s grateful when Geno shoves back in and says, “Of course better we there. Next time get marry in Pittsburgh, yes?”

“Not gonna be any more times, my friend,” Flower tells him. He gives Vero a ridiculously sappy look, and she laughs brightly, tilting her head to the side. Sidney fights not to sigh out loud.

“How do you feel, Sid?” Vero asks, and when he tells her he’s okay, her eyes sparkle. “Did you tell Cookie to catch the bouquet? He almost knocked my sister over!”

Geno loses it laughing and Sidney groans, but there’s nothing but laughter coming from the screen, enough to draw attention from Jordy and Colby, who pile in to say hi. Sidney can’t possibly see everyone, but his jaw aches from smiling at them all with their heads pressed together, and when they disconnect the Skype session a long while later, he’s exhausted, drained, and happy in a way that really hurts.

“I’m gonna lie down,” Sidney tells Geno, leaving him in the living room. He means to get to his bedroom, means to curl up on his side in his nest of pillows and count his breaths until he stops feeling the sharp, bittersweet ache of how much he loves and misses his friends, but he stops at the doorway to the nursery first, looking in.

Geno finds him there, coming up behind him and kissing the crown of his head. He thumbs at the dried paint smudge on Sidney’s cheek and looks in at the room over his shoulder.

“Not great smell, probably not good to breathe in so much,” Geno says quietly. Sidney knows he’s right—he has a bit of a headache pushing at the back of his eyes, and the paint smell isn’t helping, but he hums and takes a few more minutes.

“I just wanted to see it again, just—remind me why this is worth it.” He has to remind himself of it every time he thinks of Flower’s wedding, or Jordy’s, or of Sam back home, lying on his deck by the water while she naps by his side and Taylor blares pop music from the house, singing along as she defrosts burgers.

His father told him that in a few months, there’s nothing and no one in the world he’s going to love more than his daughter. The thought of that is terrifying and exhilarating and as he thinks of it then, Sidney’s glad that Geno is behind him. He leans against him.

“Last wedding you miss,” Geno says with promise in his voice. “Next summer, we take baby to all the weddings. Bring her in prettiest dress, everyone pay more attention to her than bride.”

“Yeah,” Sidney says, looking up at him with a watery smile. “Sounds good. I mean, besides the whole secret baby thing. Who’s getting married next summer?”

Geno thinks about it, resting his chin on Sidney’s shoulder. “Don’t know. Tanger? Should marry Catherine, is good thing.”

“Do you really want to go there?” Sidney says, gesturing down at his stomach and then back between the two of them. He means it as a joke, but Geno lets out a big breath and puts his hands on Sidney’s hips.

“Yes,” he says simply.

Sidney stiffens and then slowly turns to look at Geno, positive he’s not understanding right, or that Geno hadn’t understood. Geno looks very serious, a little nervous, chewing on his bottom lip until he realizes that Sidney isn’t going to say anything, needs him to explain a little more.

“I want, you know?” Geno says, tripping over his words a bit. He winces. “Would marry you. Do the good thing, right thing.”

“Why?” Sidney asks, before he can stop himself. He’s terrified as soon as he says it, but he has to keep going now that he’s started. He has to be brave and finally ask. “Because you want to? Or because it’s the right thing?”

Geno just shrugs at first, but when Sidney gives him a pleading look, he winces again. “I—I want. Think I want for a long time, but—seem so impossible until we have baby. I always think someday I do this, I have family, and it’s with girl I bring home to Mama and Papa. Russian girl, good cook, you know? But now—” He rubs the back of his neck, looking frustrated and anxious, and when he spits out his next sentence, he sounds angry. “Now I can’t think that anymore. Can’t imagine I do this with Russian girl, just you now.”

Sidney sucks in a wet breath, choking on it. Immediately, Geno looks worried, peering down at his face, biting his lip again. “Know you don’t mean for this to happen,” Geno says softly. “Maybe you don’t want with me. Maybe easier with David, you know? Can be normal. Parents like you, know about you, maybe not have to keep secret forever.”

“It wouldn’t be easier with David, for fuck’s sake,” Sidney says through gritted teeth. His vehemence shocks Geno, who looks at him with wide eyes. “I’d be stuck having a kid with someone I don’t love. How is that easy? It’s only hard with you because I thought—I thought you didn’t want me.”

Geno still looks shocked, and now angry again. “How I not want you? How I see you all the time, take care of you, team with you—how I do that and not want you? Not possible. You my only future now.”

Sidney’s breath leaves him in a swoop. For a second, all he can hear is rushing in his ears, and he can’t think of a single thing to say. When he does speak, all that comes is a raspy, disbelieving, “Sorry,” that makes Geno laugh, bitter and sad.

He still looks sad when he speaks again, even though he’s smiling a little, too. “I’m sorry too, Sid. Sorry I can’t—all I want is to fix, talk to parents, tell them okay, this is future. And then it’s okay, I have you and I have family and I have Russia and everything—everything okay. But I can’t do that. What if it not fix? What if I lose—I can’t. Too afraid.” Geno’s smile turns rueful. “Not brave like you.”

“I’m not brave,” Sidney says immediately. Geno huffs at him. “I’m not. I get scared all the time. I’m fucking terrified right now, Geno.”

“But you still keep baby,” Geno says softly. “That’s bravest thing. You tell me, you tell team. You do everything right, because is right, even though you scared. Wish I’m like you, from the start. Longer I hide, more afraid I get.”

“It’s different for me,” Sidney says. Because it is, and he’s sure that rationally Geno knows that. It’s always been different for Sidney, and he absolutely hates the thought of Geno trying to measure himself against Sidney when Sidney’s in a completely different situation. “It’s not—you’re not being fair, Geno.”

“It’s not fair.” And Geno shrugs again, this time not evasive but just kind of helpless, a little pleading. “But it’s life. And at least I know—know my future. Have you and baby, and I’m sure. Is just—how I fix, if everything else fix. Don’t know what I’m lose. And I don’t know, maybe you find someone better, more free, not complicated. Maybe better for you.”

“That’s not going to happen,” Sidney tells him very firmly. And just in case Geno needs it spelled out, he adds, “There’s no one better for me. You’re my future, too.”

Geno completely lights up. His face goes pink and his eyes are shiny and Sidney has to reach up and cup his face because he looks beautiful and sweet and everything that Sidney loves about him, right in that moment. “Sid,” Geno breathes out, like he can’t believe what he just heard.

Sidney decides he needs proof and kisses him, as softly as his racing heart will let him.

 

 

Though nothing in their situation has changed in a practical sense, it feels like something very fundamental has shifted between them. They’re more careful with each other, or maybe Sidney just starts to notice how careful Geno has been with him all along. They were never careful like this before, and Sidney can’t say it’s just for the baby anymore. It doesn’t feel that way.

Their life starts to fill up with the baby anyway, as they start shopping for clothes and furniture and getting the nursery completely set up. Sidney likes that things are moving now, as scary as the prospect is. He likes progress and likes to be prepared and loves how diligent Geno is about it, how he’s treating the baby like getting ready for the new season.

Geno’s also still training for the new season, even as the likelihood of it starting on time starts to dwindle as the summer wears on. Pat has kept them both in the loop on CBA negotiations and made excuses for Sidney’s absence from them, so they’re aware of what’s looming. He knows that Geno has been asked by his agent about the KHL, knows he’s been dodging the issue for a while, and while they carefully piece together life for the baby, Sidney is content to put the rest of their lives off for now. He thinks of it like the playoffs, being down in the Flyers series again: all they can do is take it one day at a time, figure out what they can figure out now.

In the meantime, Sidney makes other plans. Geno’s birthday crops up fast after Flower’s wedding, and Sidney scrambles to make it good for him. He has his own family flying in for his birthday, reasonably sure they’ve planned a pseudo baby shower with Duper, too, and he doesn’t want Geno overlooked.

He’s recruited Cookie and Duper to take Geno out for dinner and then to get drunk, which is what Geno told him he’d be doing in Russia. Of course, he’d be doing it with people he’s closer to than Cookie and Duper, surrounded by family and lifelong friends, but Sidney tries not to think about what Geno’s given up for him this summer.

Sidney can’t eat sushi, nor can he drink, so he’s planning to make Geno breakfast the morning of instead of going out with them. First, he wakes him up with an attempt of a blowjob, except he can’t get the angle quite right. He tries bending awkwardly over Geno under the sheets, but his belly gets in the way. When he goes on his hands and knees, it’s a little better, even with some pressure on his belly, but all the maneuvering wakes Geno up while he’s getting harder.

Geno smacks his lips together and blinks in confusion, then sees what Sidney’s trying to do and starts laughing. “Hey!” Sidney says, sitting up with the sheets wrapped around him. “Look, why don’t you sit on the end of the bed and I’ll go on my knees and—”

“Come here,” Geno rumbles, his voice low enough to make Sidney shiver. He crawls up the bed as gracefully as he can, which isn’t very graceful at all, and settles down on his side next to Geno, who simply leans in for a kiss.

Sidney is happy to oblige, though half his mind is racing to think of positions that could still work. Geno chuckles against his lips, as if reading his thoughts, and he leans back and gives Sidney a soft, sunny smile. “Morning,” Geno whispers. He has awful breath, and Sidney sighs.

“Good morning. Happy birthday.”

“Very happy,” Geno says, wriggling his hips a little. Sidney presses in tight and gives him another kiss, then kisses his cheek and speaks against it.

“Do you want my hand instead? I’m sure I can do it on my—”

“Give me.” Geno takes Sidney’s hand in both of his and kisses the palm. Then he starts licking, which isn’t fair, and Sidney whimpers and tells him so.

“I want to do that. I haven’t blown you in forever, Geno.”

Geno just sucks two of Sidney’s fingers in, his eyes sparkling. As always, he seems delighted by Sidney’s pout, and Sidney lets himself get distracted by the sight of his plump red lips drawing his fingers in.

He doesn’t release Sidney’s hand until it’s spit-slicked, and then he starts guiding it under the sheets. “You offer hand, I want hand.”

“I’m pretty sure I offered my mouth first,” Sidney says dryly, but he dutifully takes Geno in hand and strokes him carefully, happy with the length of him in his palm.

Jerking Geno off generally takes a long time unless he’s really worked up, and Sidney is content to settle in and coax his orgasm out. He feels dully aroused, too, the feeling mixed in with the fact that the baby is leaning on his bladder and his back is aching because his pillow nest got out of whack during the blowjob attempt.

It goes faster once he can convince Geno to move enough to grab the lube, now permanently on his side of the bed for some annoying reason. He sucks on Sidney’s fingers again before he gives him the lube, his cheeks hollowed out and pink with his arousal, and Sidney squirms against him.

“Stop cheating,” Sidney says. Geno pulls Sidney’s fingers away to laugh incredulously, and Sidney takes the opportunity to snatch the lube from him with his other hand. “Seriously, let me concentrate.”

“Of course,” Geno says, putting his hands up and then behind his neck, relaxing against his pillows. Sidney takes him in hand again and gives him faster, firmer strokes, watching Geno’s face as he starts to get closer to the edge.

It still takes him a bit to get there, and Sidney starts to squirm for a different reason—the baby is really not in an optimal resting position for this—but it’s worth it to watch Geno’s face go lax, his mouth hanging open and releasing rough, panting breaths. He comes over Sidney’s hand with a low groan, dropping his head back and letting his eyes flutter shut.

Sidney holds out as long as he can, trying to enjoy the lovely, sleepy sight of Geno’s afterglow, how liquid and sweet he looks like this. His face and mouth are both pleasantly puffy and Sidney kisses his cheek again, the corner of his mouth, and his nose, unable to help it.

He wants to make a show of cleaning his hand off with his mouth, sucking his fingers like Geno did. But in the end, he can’t wait for that—Geno’s just barely blinking his eyes open again, starting to rumble out, “Come here, let me—” when Sidney has to scramble out of the bed as fast as he can.

“Sorry!” he calls, dashing to the bathroom.

He hears Geno swear and tumble out of bed much too fast, ruining Sidney’s true plans for the morning. He’ll have to steer him back once he’s finished in the bathroom. But Geno tries to barge into his en suite, swearing again when Sidney blocks the door and says, “Uh, I’m kind of busy in here.”

“You okay? You sick?”

Sidney rolls his eyes and finishes, letting go of the door to tuck himself away and flush, heading over to the sink to wash his hands. “I’m fine, I just really had to pee.”

Geno pushes his way in, frowning deeply. “Sure?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure, Geno.” He dries his hands and turns to face Geno, who still looks a little freaked. “Come on, that’s happened before. I have to pee like 80 percent of the time. Why don’t you go back to bed for a bit?”

“Think something happen,” Geno says. Now he seems to be frowning at himself, like he knows how ridiculous he’s being and can’t really reconcile it yet. He crosses his arms over his chest, then appears to change his mind and opens them again, a clear signal for Sidney to step into them. Sidney does, a little gentle, both for Geno’s sake and the sake of his bladder.

“Sorry for worrying you,” Sidney tells him, just as gentle, even as he hides a smile in Geno’s shoulder.

Geno kisses his head and says, “Weird be that worry. Over nothing. So weird. Duper say—”

“We mention Duper way too much when sex is involved,” Sidney grumbles. Geno swats him lightly on the ass, shutting him up.

“Duper say this happen, that I’m worry all the time about crazy things with baby. First time for me.” Geno’s heart is actually beating pretty fast, and Sidney squeezes him, feeling warm and a little touched.

“I’ll try to make it easy on you. Why don’t you get comfortable again? I’m gonna cook some breakfast.”

Geno doesn’t let Sidney go downstairs until he’s tugged him back into bed and made him come, too, using his hand, like he really wants them to be even. That’s not really a nervous expectant Geno thing, he’d always liked symmetry when they used to have sex, keeping the playing field level between them.

But he looks more satisfied and settled when he relaxes back under the covers after Sidney is a melted, come-drunk mess post-orgasm, slowly gathering the will to get up again. He looks pleased with himself, and looks that way even when Sidney finally gets up and gets his pants back on.

And even though Geno’s still upstairs when Sidney goes down to the kitchen, he doesn’t stay there, because he’s a jerk who never really does as he’s told. He stands around stealing bits of whatever Sidney happens to be chopping, laughing when Sidney tells him he’s going to lose a finger that way, and makes tea after Sidney sternly tells him not to do anything.

“At least drink the one with caffeine,” Sidney says, sighing when Geno goes for the decaf. “It’s your birthday, you don’t have to do the solidarity thing with me today.”

Geno just waves at him dismissively and smiles his most charming smile by the kettle. “Birthday, drink what I want.”

He smiles all through breakfast together, through Sidney informing him of his plans for later, his eyes crinkled and kind over his mug. “What I’m do until sushi?” Geno asks once his plate is cleared, and Sidney starts. He hadn’t really thought about it, and he goes a little warm to think of how it looks like he’s planned out Geno’s whole day for him.

“Whatever you want. I was gonna make burgers for lunch, but if you want something else just let me know. Do you want to go somewhere? I can’t—” He gestures at his stomach, though Geno knows he doesn’t get out much, even when he’s willing to chance it in baggy clothes. “I can’t do the zoo or anything, but we can take a drive?”

“No thanks,” Geno says. He leans back in his seat, legs sprawled under the table. “Hang out here okay.”

“Do you want to invite people over?” When Geno shakes his head, Sidney frowns a little. “Do you want to have more sex?”

Geno laughs at that. He finishes off his tea, shaking his head again. “No. Hang out here, relax. I talk to family back home for bit, maybe, but you and me, lay on deck and read. Like we do.”

That’s stretching it; Geno doesn’t really read, Sidney thinks he plays games on his phone. But sometimes Sidney reads to him. Geno calls it practice.

“But that’s what we do all the time, that’s what we’ve done all summer.”

And Geno shrugs. “So? I like.”

Sidney thinks that’s stretching it, too, but if there’s one thing he’s learned this summer, it’s that arguing with Geno really goes nowhere.

So the day unfolds exactly as Geno laid out, passing in the lazy way most of Sidney’s summer has. If there’s any boredom, it’s a companionable boredom, and neither of them complain. Geno’s countenance remains cheery unless he’s just spoken with his family. Then he draws in on himself and Sidney has to distract him.

The baby, like she can tell, tends to kick at opportune moments, and nothing really delights Geno more. He relaxes, curls himself around Sidney as if he doesn’t want to be far enough away to miss anything, and Sidney fits his hand over Geno’s on his stomach.

“I’m sorry you’re not home for this,” Sidney says as he watches Geno get ready to go out. Geno grunts and narrows his eyes in the mirror where he’s messing with his hair. “Not—I’m not sorry you’re here, because being with you is great, but—it would be better for you. I’m not trying to start a fight, just saying I get it if today was a bummer.”

Geno shrugs, his face a little tight, like they’re on the edge of starting a fight anyway. He doesn’t say anything until Duper is pulling up in Sidney’s driveway, blasting club music from his SUV while Sidney walks Geno out.

“Not sorry I’m here,” Geno says. “Where I want to be.” And just as Sidney’s ready to call bullshit for what feels like the hundredth time, Geno kisses him on his front step, deep and sweet and pretty convincing.

They kiss long enough that Duper starts leaning on the horn and yelling at them. Then they kiss a little longer. When they break apart, Sidney smiles at Geno, grateful and relieved and still just a little disbelieving. He doesn’t know how he got so lucky.

“Have fun,” he tells Geno, hoping they sound like captain’s orders. Geno grins at him and promises.

When he gets home much, much later that night, he certainly smells like he had fun, and Sidney grins into his pillow. The smell of alcohol suffuses the air as he listens to Geno shucking his pants and shirt, crawling into bed behind Sidney and spooning up behind him.

“Good night?” Sidney whispers.

Geno says, “Shh,” a little too loudly, tucking his face into the back of Sidney’s neck. “Should sleep. So late, past baby bedtime.”

“The baby’s definitely not asleep,” Sidney says, fitting Geno’s hand over the part of his stomach where he thinks he can feel the baby rolling around. Geno releases a happy sigh into Sidney’s hair, stroking his fingers over the fabric of Sidney’s t-shirt.

They stay like that for a while, quiet. Sidney’s not quite comfortable enough to be sleeping, which is why he’d been awake—he has heartburn on top of the baby’s somersaults, and can’t stop thinking about eating sunflower seeds. But Geno near him is a comfort, warm and solid, and even his smell helps Sidney, as powerfully drunk as it is. The sloppy, wet kiss he presses to the nape of Sidney’s neck also helps.

He knows Sidney is still awake, because soon he’s speaking, still in that too-loud whisper. “Everything change for me,” Geno tells him. He sounds thoughtful. “Talk to Cookie and Duper more. Talk about future. Everything different soon.”

“Yeah,” Sidney says softly. “Really different.” He waits for Geno to say more, and it’s a while; he’s still moving his fingers slowly over Sidney’s stomach, his thumb making soothing, regular circles.

“I’m happy,” Geno whispers. It’s the softest he’s spoken since he got home, and Sidney’s chest goes tight with the honesty in it, the simple frankness.

“Me too,” Sidney whispers back. And then he twists around, pulls himself into the position Geno allows where he’s used as a body pillow. He settles easily, folding himself into Geno’s arms, tucking his face into Geno’s chest, but he looks up. And because his heart might burst with it if he doesn’t let it out, Sidney says, “I love you a lot.”

Geno’s face splits into a grin. “Love you too. A lot. Very much.”

Sidney smiles into Geno’s chest.

 

 

As long as the summer has felt, once Sidney’s birthday passes, it seems to slip by very quickly. There are suddenly issues cropping up that they can’t ignore, and the increasing inevitability of the lockout starts to weigh on them.

For the first time in a very long time, Sidney wants time to stop passing, to just freeze. He doesn’t think he wants that in a practical sense; he doesn’t want to be pregnant forever, wants to move on from constant indigestion and backaches. He wants more exercise than a powerwalk around his property twice a day if he’s not feeling too crappy. He wants his baby, wants to see her as a real little person that makes noises and listens to him when he talks to her.

But Sidney knows that change is coming, and like Geno, he’s happy about the ones that have to do with the baby. He is excited to be a father, as terrified as the prospect still is. He just doesn’t want change between him and Geno, doesn’t want anything to disrupt the peace they’ve found in the summer.

Any change between them has been good so far, some slow, some fast. When they say goodnight, they add “I love you” to it because it feels good; it always makes Sidney smile. Geno has all but moved in with him, joins him on his powerwalks, brings Kadar around for pool or table tennis after training. It’s comfortable, maybe the best routine Sidney’s ever fallen into, and he doesn’t want it to go away.

The lockout looms, though. While July dragged, August slips through their fingers until training camp is on the verge of being cancelled, and Geno is ducking calls from his agent constantly.

“Want to stay here,” Geno tells him every time it comes up. “Train with Kadar work, better than ever. Whenever hockey start, I’m ready, and here for you too.”

“You’re not going to be able to train with Kadar soon,” Sidney says. He has an understanding of what the lockout’s going to be like, the division between the two sides. It sounds horrible.

Geno just sets his jaw. “Kadar, Cookie, TK, who cares. I train myself. I know what to do, I be coach.” He flexes a bicep to make Sidney laugh and start teasing him, to change the subject. Neither of them have really gotten any better at confronting this kind of stuff for long, and Sidney wonders if that’s something else that will have to change once the baby comes.

They can’t stop September from coming, no matter how little they talk about it, and talks are scarce as August dwindles. Sidney gets texts from some players, nobody that knows him and what’s going on, but a few that are annoyed he’s sat the talks out. It’s not a good look for him in the press, who continue to speculate on his injury, despite Pat releasing the same bland, forceful statement every few weeks: Sid is focused on his health and is committed to returning to the ice as soon as possible.

He supposes it does seem hypocritical in a way; they’re not sure there will be any ice for him to return to any time soon, and Sidney is doing nothing to help the situation. He’s never liked being the face of hockey, never liked the pressure or microscope that came along with it, but he feels terribly guilty for bucking it now.

Sidney feels even guiltier as the pressure mounts on Geno. September arrives, tense and cool and quiet, and now Geno isn’t just dodging his agent’s calls, but also his family’s.

It’s not sustainable, Sidney knows. Geno always seems a heartbroken face away from cracking, and he wilts as the days pass. He’ll only talk about it at night, when the lights are out and Sidney has his face tucked into Geno’s chest, not looking at him.

He tells Sidney that his family thinks he’s mad at them, that they did something wrong. He sounds like he wants to cry, and Sidney has no idea what to tell him. Part of him knows the right thing to do is to tell him to go—or, at least, to talk to his parents, his mother, and probably get guilted into going—but the selfish part of him doesn’t want that. Because after September comes October, and on October 20th, Sidney is having the baby. He’s huge, and terrified, and after weeks of telling Geno he doesn’t have to stay, months of promising him that he shouldn’t feel obligated, he wants to take that all back and insist Geno stay.

So Sidney doesn’t say anything, just holds Geno very tightly, holds his hand. He tells Geno he loves him every time it crosses his mind, thinking of how he says that to his own family members every time they get off the phone with each other. He aches to think that Geno’s not getting that from his family in Russia, is depriving himself of it out of fear, and he wants to make up for it.

It breaks one day when Geno’s brother calls him, shocking him into dropping his controller and answering fairly quickly. Sidney pauses the game they’d been playing and waits, listening to the stream of Russian that erupts from the other end of the line, watching Geno’s shoulders droop.

Sidney doesn’t know much about Geno and his brother, only that their relationship isn’t the greatest and they never talked much to begin with, even before Geno started avoiding everyone. It’s big that he’s calling, Sidney knows that, and he also knows the inevitability of what’s going to happen, watching it play out across Geno’s shadowed, pained face. September is here, and it doesn’t seem to care that October is only weeks away.

Geno barely speaks, but when he hangs up he looks awful. He excuses himself to the bedroom and stays there for a long, long time, and Sidney knows he must finally be talking to his parents again. Maybe he’s talking to his agent.

Sidney stares at the paused game screen and considers getting up to check on Geno, but then he remembers how difficult getting up on his own has been lately. His throat goes tight.

When Geno comes back, Sidney speaks first, wanting very much to rip the Band-Aid off. “You have to go to Russia,” he says dully. Geno doesn’t say anything, but he comes around the couch and goes to his knees in front of Sidney, looking up at him. His eyes are very red.

“Don’t want to,” Geno says insistently, but Sidney shakes his head.

“I get it, Geno. You have to go, it’s your family. It’s—I would go, too, if I were in your shoes. I would’ve gone sooner, I think.”

“Yes,” Geno says. He smiles a grim, sad smile. “We say this already. You brave. I’m so—so hard to be with them, talk to them, and not tell them secret. But so hard to tell them secret. I’m so scared, Sid.”

“Just go and play hockey,” Sidney tells him, keeping his voice very steady and even. “Don’t worry about anything else. Tell them you’re not mad at them, that they didn’t do anything wrong, and be with them. And then—” He breaks off, because he has absolutely no clue what happens next.

“I come back,” Geno says fiercely. When Sidney goes to shake his head, Geno squeezes his thighs and looks pleading. “No, I’m talk to my agent. We gonna put—put clause in contract, not just NHL clause. He call it personal clause, I can leave for personal. They agree, they want anything for me there. I go there, play for month, make Mama and Papa happy, then I’m back before October 20th. Maybe quicker, if lockout end.”

“You don’t ha—” He barely gets it out before Geno cuts him off angrily, his brows drawing together.

No. I have to. Think I go through all this and not be here for baby? Leave you for good? I love you, Sidney, tell you all the time, you think I lie?”

Sidney rubs at his suddenly itchy eyes. “No, I believe you.”

“You lie? Not want me back?”

“No! Of course not. I—I don’t want you to go.” Geno’s face softens. He rests his cheek on Sidney’s thigh and Sidney fits his hand in his hair, stroking through his curls gently.

“Don’t want to go, either.”

“But you have to,” Sidney says. He thinks he’s managed to say it without choking on the words, feeling them punch him in the gut. “And—and you have to come back.”

He feels Geno’s smile against his thigh. “Yes. Have to come back. Because I love you and we do this together.”

“Yeah,” Sidney says. He smiles ruefully. “And because I—fuck, it’s really hard for me to get up off this couch without help.”

Geno laughs, the sound choked up and rough. He stands up and hauls Sidney to his feet carefully; his gentle strength always makes Sidney shiver a little. Sidney presses in tight, holding onto Geno, and Geno wraps his arms around him in that way that feels like if he could wrap them around him twice, he would.

“Thank you,” Geno whispers. “You help me brave. I go, I play hockey. I come back, we have baby. Okay?”

“Okay,” Sidney says.

They’re quiet for a while. And then Geno adds, “Tanger gonna choke me,” and Sidney buries his strangled laughter in Geno’s shirt.

 

 

Fall

For the first few days, it almost feels like Geno isn’t even gone, because they call and text so much.

The time difference sucks, but Geno doesn’t seem to care. He won’t stop worrying, asking Sidney how he feels, how the baby is, what she had done that day.

Sidney rarely has anything to report beyond the usual achy back and feet, the middle of the night somersaults and kickboxing tournaments with his bladder, the elbows that poke him. “You were right,” he tells Geno. “We should name her after Cookie. She can’t get that elbow down, gonna get suspended one of these days.”

“Ask Mario talk to her,” Geno says solemnly. “Not raise her in garage league.”

“Good idea,” Sidney says drowsily. It’s the middle of the day for him, but Geno sounds so tired that it makes Sidney feel tired. “We’re not naming her Cookie though, really.”

“I know,” Geno says through a yawn. “I like Christina. Make Kuni and Tanger happy.”

“She’s not named after them,” Sidney huffs, though they’re already convinced of it. “It’s for Stew, I told you.”

“I know,” Geno says again. He sounds like he’s nodding off, but when Sidney starts trying to coax him off the phone so he can sleep, Geno sounds energized again, very insistent. “Okay, but remember, text me anything—”

“I know, Geno.”

“Anything happen, doctor say anything, you feel bad, need help off the couch—you tell me and I come back quick as I can.” Neither of them talk about how the quickest he can come back is about 9 hours or more, but Sidney promises as he hangs up.

They don’t talk about much on the phone, for how many calls they both make. Geno doesn’t mention a single thing about his parents, just that he’s staying with them. He talks more about Jeffrey, about Gonch, who is mad at both of them for staying so out of touch over the summer, aware that there’s a big Pittsburgh secret he’s been left out of and not happy about it.

“Good to be home,” Geno says gruffly whenever Sidney tentatively asks him how things are with his family. That’s all he ever says, and Sidney stops asking.

As Sidney had told Geno back in the summer, he’s not alone in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is full of Penguins now, and Sidney gets them ice time at Southpointe and hosts after practice dinners when he’s feeling up to putting something together.

The first time he meets Brandon Sutter and Tanner Glass in person, he’s picking Flower up from the rink. They come over to his car to say hi, shake his hand, and he rolls the window down too far.

“Holy shit,” they both say at the same time. Then they look at each other and start laughing nervously. Sidney is tense in his seat and Flower has his hand on the door handle, ready to pop out and do what, Sidney doesn’t know. So he laughs along with them and shrugs; they’re team now. They would have to find out eventually.

“Way better than a concussion,” Glass says, grinning hard. “Good for you, man.”

“Can’t believe you managed to hide it,” Sutter says. His eyes are very wide. Sidney knows he looks about ready to pop, and is kind of beyond feeling too embarrassed about it. Nearly nine months in, it is what it is at this point.

“Would like to keep hiding it,” Flower says. He’s grinning widely but looks very severe, and Sutter puts his hands up.

“Oh of course. I don’t spill team secrets, don’t worry.”

“Same for me,” Glass promises. “I’ll start helping right now—I think, uh, Shelly’s not too far on the other side of the parking lot, so you should probably get your windows up.”

“Thanks,” Sidney says hastily, nodding to both of them. He’d already texted them with welcomes to the Penguins over the summer, but he throws out another, “Welcome to the team! Great to have you!” as he rolls his tinted windows back up and hunches over the steering wall, in case any media members decide to accost him from the front.

They make it out of the parking lot and on the road without incident, and Sidney’s heart stops beating quite so fast. “That went well,” Flower says, voice clipped and chirpy. He gives Sidney the kind of searching, sidelong glances he’s been giving him since he came back and found Geno missing, checking in while trying not to be obvious about it. “They’re good guys, I think.”

“I think so,” Sidney says, keeping his eyes on the road. “I’m fine with them knowing. Team’s gonna have to know, there’s no way around it. And that’s the way it should be, probably.”

“Right,” Flower says. He ducks his head, his grin a flash of vivid white. “We have a good team, yeah? The baby will love it.”

“Yeah,” Sidney says. Then he smiles really big. “So will yours.”

He imagines his baby growing up with Flower’s, and Tanger’s, and Duper’s kids and Cookie’s kids and all of them—when he imagines that, his heart starts beating fast again, but in a good way. It’s exactly the future he’s always wanted, and now he feels so close to it. It’s hard not to feel breathless with happiness again.

The practices continue, though when they attract reporters, Sidney stays away. When they have closed days—when Adams or Benny have managed to put a media ban on the rink with a difficulty that makes them all miss Jen—he sneaks in to watch from the stands, wrapped in his biggest coat that really hides nothing now. He knows it’s risky, knows it’s stupid, and this isn’t even the whole team. But it feels worth it to be near them, and it makes it easier to go back to his house alone.

Being alone in his house never really bothered him before Geno started spending all his time there.

Nights are the hardest. Sidney arranges his pillow nest every night but can never get it as well-built as Geno did. He rolls onto his back more often than not, or wakes up with pain flaring in his back. He wakes up a half dozen times to pee anyway, but getting in and out of an empty bed is somehow more difficult than getting in and out of a Geno-occupied one. Sometimes, he sleeps in a recliner in the living room, so he doesn’t have to deal with the stairs for a snack or drink, and because it’s not as depressingly big as his bed.

Geno asks him how he’s sleeping, and Sidney tries for some semblance of honesty. “It’s tough,” Sidney says, and he can practically hear Geno frowning very deeply. “It’s just hard to be comfortable ever.”

He hopes he doesn’t sound as whiny and pathetic as he feels, but in any case, Geno doesn’t call him on it. He says, “Sorry, Sid,” and then Sidney has to spend the rest of the call convincing Geno that his discomfort isn’t strictly his fault.

He must not do a great job of that, because one day later a very long, squishy body pillow gets delivered to Sidney’s house, and Geno emails him a drawn, scanned diagram of what the pillow nest is supposed to look like. Sidney kind of wants to sit down and cry a little when he looks at all of it at once, and he feels that way again that night, when he tries to arrange everything and hugs the body pillow as if it were Geno, and none of it works. He winds up back in the recliner, the body pillow squished into his side.

“How it do?” Geno asks the next day. Sidney doesn’t have the heart to tell him that it didn’t work, so he tells him he slept great, and not to worry about it.

“Always worry,” Geno says. He laughs, nervous and rueful. “Sergei say I’m lose my hair fast like this, always worry. He not know—you know. He think I’m worry about lockout.”

Sidney’s stomach drops, though he feels less guilty about lying now. There is so much that Geno won’t tell him about how things are back home, enough that Sidney is starting to resent it a little bit. Either he’s miserable and doesn’t want Sidney to know it, or he’s happier with his family and all of his friends than he’d thought he would be. Maybe he’s realizing what he’s been missing all summer, what he could be giving up to go raise a baby with Sidney.

“You really shouldn’t worry,” Sidney says. “Just don’t even think about it too much. Think about hockey, right? I wish I had hockey to think about instead of—of all this.”

Geno doesn’t sound too happy with that, but he gives Sidney a shaky promise on it as he hangs up. And if Sidney starts calling less—starts seeing Geno’s calls and sending a text that he’s napping, or telling Geno to get more sleep—it’s not because he misses him any less.

He misses him a lot, and nights are the hardest.

 

 

October shuffles in with the preseason eaten up, and four days in, the first block of regular season games gets cancelled. Sidney stays far away from practice that day, far away from everybody, but a half dozen players show up at his house that night anyway.

Nealer has beer, which makes Sidney want to throw him out just on principle, but he stifles that urge and lets them all in. “Look, it’s not like I’d have been playing anyway,” Sidney says, gesturing at his stomach. He’s glaring at Nealer’s beer, and Flower has to poke him in the forehead to get his attention away from it.

“No, but Geno would be,” Flower says, and everyone in Sidney’s living room except for Sidney and Nealer start glowering quietly. Sidney sighs.

“We’re not talking about this again. I am really sick of talking about this.”

“Talking about what?” asks Nealer. Tanger throws a cushion at his head.

Sidney hastily changes the subject to Thanksgiving, which is a mistake, because all he gets out is, “So I’ve been trying to find a smaller turkey to make for myself here, and—”

Duper and Kuni both makes noises like he’d just punched them, and Flower looks furious. Even Nealer narrows his eyes, and he starts the round of invitations off by saying, “You should come to Paulie’s with me in November, if you’re going to spend real Thanksgiving like a sad sack.”

Everyone starts arguing over whose house Sidney’s going to for real Thanksgiving. More cushions are thrown, Sidney tries to defend his own sad sack plans as just more convenient, and Kuni gets more vicious than Sidney’s ever seen him off the ice.

“I’m not letting Sid and my namesake spend Thanksgiving anywhere but—”

“What’s namesake? Like the same name? Because she’s mine, too!” Tanger says.

“For the last time,” Sidney groans. “She’s not named after either of—”

“You barely even celebrate it! And the spelling’s all wrong for your name!” Kuni yells.

It does come down to Tanger or Kuni’s house, and they play rock-paper-scissors while Sidney groans into his hands. He agrees to go to Kuni’s in the end, though, feeling pleased and loved and embarrassed with it.

“I’m really glad you guys are all here,” Sidney says as people start drifting off to their own houses. Nealer is the last to leave, drowsy with his stupid beer, and he tells Sidney, “Not going anywhere, man, so don’t even worry about it.”

Sidney sleeps well in the living room that night; his house doesn’t feel quite as empty as it is.

The night before Thanksgiving it feels cavernous. Sidney can’t sleep and can’t figure out why, beyond the usual reasons. He’s just barely drifting off when he feels a sharp tightness in his stomach, and his eyes flip open.

“Fuck,” Sidney breathes out to his empty living room. “Oh fuck, no.”

He waits for another one, his heart pounding, wanting to be sure of what he’s feeling. It didn’t hurt even as much as his back, but it’s something he’s never felt before, and definitely close to what his doctor had described a contraction feeling like. He waits a long while—it feels like an eternity, though his mind is racing too fast to time it properly—but another flare comes, just as tight, sharp enough to take his breath away.

Sidney forces the recliner all the way up as soon as he feels like he can move again. His breathing sounds shallow and fast in the dark, and he turns on one of the lamps nearby, hoping the light will calm him down. It doesn’t, and it’s still a few more minutes before he can gather his wits to grab for his phone.

It takes yet another few minutes to decide who to call. Instinct has his thumb hovering over Geno’s name in his call list, but rationality takes over in another second and Sidney scrolls down to Dr. Pearson’s personal number and wakes his doctor up instead.

To his credit, Dr. Pearson seems to go from sleepily confused to wide awake and alert in an instant. “Okay,” he says calmly when Sidney tells him he thinks he’s having contractions. “I need you to take a very big breath for me, then let it out when I say.”

Sidney follows those directions. He’s remembering when he sprained his ankle, Stewart telling him to count his breaths instead of focusing on the pain, to concentrate on his voice. He feels a little calmer when he finishes exhaling.

“Good, Sid. Now tell me what you’re feeling, as best you can. Do the contractions hurt?”

Sidney thinks about it. It’s not really pain, just a lot of discomfort, like the muscles in his stomach are knotting all at once and then unknotting a few moments later. “It feels like a really bad cramp, but in my stomach,” Sidney says. “It doesn’t hurt, though.” Everyone keeps telling him that labor hurts a lot, and he knows it’s way worse for women, who don’t always go the surgical route that men have to. But if this is the hurt, he thinks he’s better off than he’d been afraid of.

Then his stomach tightens up again, and his breathing goes ragged and panicked once more. He lets out a high whimper and Dr. Pearson gives a soothing sort of hum.

“Deep breaths, remember. Try and count in your head. Let me know when it passes.”

That one lasts longer, but when it’s done, and Dr. Pearson talks him through counting his breaths, calming his nerves, and trying not to panic, a long while passes without any more of the contractions happening. Dr. Pearson hums again when Sidney shakily tells him so, and his voice is gentle when he says, “I think this is false labor, Sid. You’re early for the big show, and actual contractions hurt a lot more than what you’re describing. The important thing is to stay calm and not panic.”

“How do you know?” Sidney asks. His voice doesn’t even sound like his own, high and trembling. “What if the baby’s coming? It’s way too early, can she even—”

“Sid,” Dr. Pearson says firmly. “Listen to me. You’re going to keep an eye on these, they’ll probably come and go for a while. Walk around for a little bit, or try and get some sleep. Get as comfortable as you can and try not to panic. Give it a few hours and if they haven’t stopped, we’ll bring you into the hospital.”

“But what if—”

“Are you alone?” Dr. Pearson asks abruptly.

Sidney squeezes his stinging eyes shut. It’s a little while before he can choke out, “Yeah.”

Dr. Pearson is quiet on the other end, until he says, “Would you like to take a cab into the hospital? I can meet you there in 20 minutes. I just really think you’ll be more comfortable waiting these out at home; bringing you in for no reason will just cause unnecessary stress.”

Sidney wipes at his eyes and considers for a minute. The hospital has always been a terrifying prospect to him, though—so many people, and hospitals have never had good associations for him before. The thought makes his skin crawl right now, so he tells Dr. Pearson that he’ll stay home in a wobbly voice.

“Would you like me to stay on the line with you, or is there someone that you can call to keep you company?”

He wants to call Geno again, and that’s what has him letting Dr. Pearson off the line, accepting his promise to check in again in a few hours. But once he’s off the phone and staring at it in his hand, Sidney rethinks Geno, considering how Geno’s going to feel halfway around the world and hearing Sidney like this.

It’s about noon where Geno is; he’s probably at an early practice anyway. Sidney puts his phone down and ignores it until another contraction hits and makes his heartbeat pick up again, his throat tightening up with his stomach muscles.

When it passes, Sidney picks up his phone again. He scrolls past Geno’s number, refusing to let himself linger on it and make the temptation worse. His mind is racing with options, and he certainly has options, but so many of them have families of their own already, people they’re supposed to be taking care of, kids that will wake them up at the crack of dawn tomorrow.

Tanger isn’t in that position just quite yet though, about a month off, and Sidney calls him before he can talk himself out of it, clearing his throat as the phone rings and rings before Tanger sleepily answers in French.

“Hey,” Sidney says, swallowing hard and trying not to sound as upset as he feels. “Can you—I know it’s really late but—”

“Sid? You okay?” Tanger still sounds a little bit asleep, and Sidney bites his lower lip. He shouldn’t have done this.

“I’m okay, just. I’m having contractions, the doctor said—”

What?” Tanger’s loud enough that Sidney can hear Catherine waking up in the background. “Contractions? You’re—the baby is coming?”

“The doctor says no,” Sidney says. “It’s, ah—he called it false labor, like fake contractions. It doesn’t really hurt, just, they might be happening for a while and I—” He breaks off because he has no idea what to say, suddenly feels really stupid for calling. Nothing is happening, the baby’s not coming—the baby can’t be coming, Geno’s not here and it’s too early and Sidney’s not ready for this yet. And he’s not even really in pain. He’d called Tanger because he was scared, over nothing, and he shouldn’t have done this.

“Sorry,” he says eventually. “Never mind, I—”

“Give me 10 minutes,” Tanger says sharply. “I will be there. Talk to Catherine while I put on my clothes, okay?”

“Tanger,” Sidney says, his throat tightening up again. But he’s already passed the phone to Catherine, who sounds sweet and sleepy and calm and makes Sidney feel better. She doesn’t ask him any questions, just talks about their holiday, that she made fudge to bring over to Flower’s tomorrow. “I have a little container for you,” she tells Sidney. “Kris will bring it now, it will cheer you up. I hope it’s good.”

“I’m sure it’s great,” Sidney tells her. His stomach knots up again and he doubles over, trying to breathe through it, and Catherine’s voice comes soft and gentle, coaxing him through.

“I’m sorry,” he says when it’s done, and Catherine huffs.

“Sorry for what? I can share Kris, no problem. He’s a little bit yours anyway, just a different kind of team than we are.”

He knows he has Geno on his team that way, both ways, but right now that doesn’t feel like it matters much. He thinks that’s making his chest go tight as much as the fear still bubbling up inside of him, irrational and fluttery. He hugs his body pillow and keeps the phone pressed tight to his ear.

It feels like an eternity between when Tanger takes his phone back, tells Sidney he’s on his way, and then turns up at Sidney’s front door with a container of maple fudge and a very serious, determined expression on his face. In reality, it’s about 10 minutes, and Sidney feels just as stupid for getting Tanger over here as he does for feeling grateful that he’s here.

“I’m really sorry, this is dumb, I just panicked and I didn’t know—” He doesn’t want to be alone and he doesn’t know how to say that, but Tanger just shakes his head, pushes the fudge at him, and then guides him back into the living room.

“Don’t tell me sorry again. This is fine, Sid. I talked to Catherine’s mother and she said this happens sometimes and it is really scary, and it’s good that I practice with you so I know it when Catherine has it.”

Tanger turns on all the lights in the room so it could be the middle of the day if they didn’t look out the window. He sits down on the couch, gives Sidney a look until he joins him, and then turns on the TV, flipping through channels until he settles on a bright, loud animated movie and leaves that on.

“Thanks,” Sidney manages to croak out eventually. Tanger just bumps their shoulders together, puts his feet up on the coffee table, and cracks open the container of fudge, taking a piece before pushing it towards Sidney. “I think I’m good for now,” Sidney says; no part of him is interested in eating, for probably the first time in months.

Tanger shrugs and takes a bite, then makes a face. “Ugh. Good call.”

“That’s not nice, Tanger,” Sidney tells him, pressing his lips together so he doesn’t smile. Tanger valiantly chews and swallows but puts the bitten piece back in the container, putting it on the coffee table. “Gross.”

“You don’t want that,” Tanger says, pulling a more exaggerated face. “She used like all the sugar in the bag. I love her so much, but that’s not good.” He fits on a small, smug grin. “Flower will pretend he likes it tomorrow.”

“Are you guys doing a turkey?” Sidney asks. He feels like another contraction is coming, and he tries not to make it obvious when it does, but Tanger notices the shift in his breath and gives him a sidelong glance. He scoots a little closer and doesn’t say anything until it passes.

“No. If you come over, we’d do a turkey. But Vero wants pizza, so we have pizza.” He smiles a little at the container, fond. “And fudge, I guess. I’m gonna stop and buy a pie on the way, I think. Sneak it.”

“You can take one of my pies, I bought two for Kuni’s house,” Sidney says. Tanger grumbles, muttering something dark in French under his breath.

Sidney’s marveling over the difference in just a little while of company, just a few moments outside of his own panicked head. He wants to tell Tanger that he can go, that he should get some sleep and be with Catherine, but he doesn’t get any of it out because he wants Tanger to stay with him more.

“Thank you,” he says after some more time has passed, and he’s only had two contractions and none of them feel anywhere near as bad. Tanger waves at him, eating cereal he’d retrieved on multiple expeditions to raid Sidney’s kitchen. “No, really. This wasn’t even a big deal, it doesn’t even hurt. I just thought—I panicked.”

“Stop, Sid. It sucks to be alone like this,” Tanger says, shaking his head quickly when Sidney immediately opens his mouth to begin his customary defense of Geno. “No, I’m not—we don’t have to fight about Geno. I understand. I want him to be better but I understand why he had to go. It sucks anyway. The situation sucks.”

“It does,” Sidney says, and it’s a relief to admit it. It really fucking sucks. He wonders if it would’ve been better if he hadn’t had that whole summer of Geno, if he didn’t know that Geno loves him and wants to stay with him. Knowing all that makes his absence sting harder, makes him more afraid that none of it’s going to work out anyway, and all he got was a taste of how good his life could be. “Sometimes I think—I just—”

He can’t spit out his worst fear, mostly because he hates that it’s a fear now. Months ago, he thinks he could’ve done this alone, and it would’ve been fine. But a few weeks before he’s due, still getting over a labor scare, he doesn’t think that he can anymore. The thought of having the baby without Geno is absolutely terrifying, and it still makes his heart pound, his palms sweaty.

“It’s okay, no matter what,” Tanger says, and Sidney finds in it him to argue because it’s not anymore.

“What if he doesn’t come back, Tanger?”

“Oh, he’s coming back. If he doesn’t come back I will go and get him and drag him to you by his hair.” Sidney can’t even laugh, partly because he knows Tanger’s really not kidding, and partly because the fear has gripped him again. “I won’t have to do that, though. He’s coming back because he loves you a lot. He loves us. So don’t be afraid of that.”

Tanger looks very serious again, his eyes very big and locked on Sidney’s. Sidney repeats his words to himself over and over again, and he’s been doing that all along, but it feels good to hear them out loud. He nods, slowly, his throat too tight to speak, and Tanger nods too and picks up his nearly empty cereal bowl, mostly milk.

“Ah,” Sidney says, his voice rough. “Don’t do that, come on.”

“Has to be done,” Tanger says solemnly. He drains the milk from the bowl and then gives Sidney a big, milk mustached smile.

“You’re so gross,” Sidney tells him. The laugh he lets out feels helpless and great.

 

 

After Thanksgiving, time slips by again. The false labor contractions stop and start up again but never for very long, and Sidney knows not to freak out about them. He goes in for a planned checkup the day after Thanksgiving and everything seems fine. Sidney calms down, doesn’t tell Geno what happened, texts him that all is well, and tries not to stress about the 20th too much.

And then Geno disappears four days after Thanksgiving.

Sidney usually wakes up to a text from him every morning, sometimes a question or something substantial, other times a textual heart or smile. There’s no text on the morning of the 12th, which Sidney thinks is odd but mostly dismisses. The false labor contractions are back that day and TK brings lunch over to try and distract him. He’s also trying to get him to commit to seeing Justin Bieber at Consol with him in November, which Sidney refuses to do.

“What, am I gonna bring the baby? You could be playing by then!”

“Bring her! We’ll get her headphones. Come on, you gotta do stuff when you’re not preggo anymore, you’ve gotta be going crazy doing nothing all the time.”

“Yeah, I’m so disappointed I can’t make it to a Bieber concert,” Sidney says, rolling his eyes.

After lunch, when TK has slinked off in defeat and Sidney is left to rub at his belly and hope the stupid contractions will go away, Pat calls him. “So, Geno’s missing,” Pat says, and Sidney’s hand freezes on his stomach.

What?”

“He has a game tomorrow, should’ve traveled to Yaroslavl today with the team, but I’m hearing he’s not with them now. I haven’t been in touch with Barry yet, seems like he’s avoiding the world, but I just wanted to give you a head’s up.”

“Jesus Christ, Pat,” Sidney says, letting out a big breath. “You can’t just open with Geno’s missing like that! It could be anything, maybe he got hurt and stayed behind.”

“Ah, no, I don’t think it’s that, I’m hearing this from O’Reilly’s agent, who apparently wants to know where the fuck Malkin is,” Pat says. “I think he’s probably heading stateside.”

“Well,” Sidney says faintly. He suddenly feels lightheaded with both hope and dread—that could actually be a good thing, a great thing, because Geno’s back. But it also means he’s back early, and that can’t be for any good reason. “He has an out clause, so he can do that. I’m sure he’s—I mean, he has his reasons, I bet. We’ll see what happens.”

“You gonna be okay?” Sidney must sound wretched, because Pat rarely babies him, but now he sounds like he’s handling someone on the verge of a breakdown.

“I’ll be fine,” Sidney says. “It’s Geno, not an escaped prisoner. If he comes here that’s—that’s good.”

“I’ll let you know if I find out anything for sure,” Pat tells him. “Don’t stress too much, okay?”

“Okay.” Sidney hangs up, stares at his phone, and tries very hard not to stress.

He doesn’t do a very good job. He paces for a while, picks a dinner of cold leftovers out of the fridge, sends a few texts that Geno’s on the move and then ignores all the exclamation marks he gets in response. He reads, until he realizes that he’s reading nothing, then paces again.

The contractions don’t help. They come intermittently, slowly getting more intense in a way that has Sidney glaring down at his stomach every time one hits. Worse, he keeps feeling like he has to go to the bathroom but can’t, and blames that on the contractions, the stress of wondering where Geno is and what had driven him to disappear.

The only update Pat gives him is that Geno definitely used his personal out clause, and Metallurg is definitely not happy about it. It’s not a helpful update because Sidney’s just waiting, then, hoping Geno shows up at the same time he’s dreading it. He wants him back and doesn’t want to hear what he may have given up to come back.

He stays up later than he usually does, partially because of the contractions, which are coming with shorter periods of relief in between and continue to really bother him. They’re close to hurting now, which is just his fucking luck, and Sidney chalks that up to the stress he keeps promising Pat he doesn’t have, he’s fine, he’ll just see what happens.

Sidney attempts some sleep around midnight, curling up around his body pillow in the recliner and dozing between contractions. He jolts awake a few times when they start up again, and then another time when there’s nothing, and he can’t figure out what woke him up until he hears his front door snapping shut.

The breath he lets out is ragged and wet, and he listens to thumps: Geno taking off his shoes, dropping his bag, feeling his way around the front hallway. He has to walk past the living room doorway to get to the stairs, and Sidney says, “Hey,” quietly when he sees his shadow slink by.

Geno jumps and swears, knocking into the doorway. Sidney turns on the lamp and Geno finds him, his eyes heavy-lidded but big. He looks exhausted and pale, but his face splits into a grin when he sees Sidney, and Sidney can’t help grinning back.

“Sid,” Geno breathes out. Sidney doesn’t know why he’s not scrambling out of the recliner to go to him, to hug him and breathe him in, but then the point is moot because Geno is coming over quickly, sliding onto the arm of the recliner and rolling sideways into Sidney’s open arms. “Hey. What you do in here?”

Sidney doesn’t want to explain, just wants to hug Geno very tightly and not stop hugging him for several weeks. He buries his face in Geno’s neck and breathes deeply for a few moments, and Geno strokes his fingers through Sidney’s hair and murmurs in Russian, his voice gravely and low.

“You’re back,” Sidney says eventually. Geno nods against him. “Fuck, I missed you so much. You weren’t even gone that long but—”

“Feel like forever,” Geno says. He sounds so tired, draped over Sidney but not so much that too much of his weight is on him. “Miss you too. Like I’m there, but—not really there. Everyone notice. Wasn’t right, I’m different now.”

“You came back,” Sidney says. It’s nonsensical and stupid, and maybe a little hurtful, because he sounds wondrous even to his own ears, and Geno makes a wounded noise.

“Of course came back. Came back early, I—” He swallows hard and Sidney feels it, clutching at Geno harder. “I tell my parents.”

Sidney was afraid of that. His stomach drops, and it’s almost worse than the contractions, but he forces himself to ask, “How—how’d it go?”

Geno laughs, the sound hollow and ugly. “Not so good, I think.”

He thinks he’d rather have a contraction than this awful, oily feeling in his gut, a bit of guilt, a bit of anger, more feelings that make him cling. “I’m sorry, I’m so—”

“No, it’s—I hurt them, keep secret. I make Mama cry. Was worst thing I ever—and Papa yell at me for leave you. He tell me this is not right thing, not good to do to you, not person I am. He tell me to go and—” He laughs again, shakier now. “Do right thing, he say. Be good to you. He doesn’t talk about you being boy, doesn’t say anything. Maybe it’s okay? But I don’t know because I—I do what he say. I leave.”

Maybe it’s okay, Sidney thinks. Maybe—“I guess it could be worse,” Sidney says, and Geno nods slowly.

“I think. Feel terrible, like bad son, bad father already, but—they don’t say anything. Don’t know what to say next. Just know Papa right, have to come back to you and be with you, is right.” He smiles into Sidney’s hair, leaning down to kiss the crown of his head. “And because I want. Miss you too much. Love you.”

“I love you too,” Sidney says. He never really knows what to say when they talk about this, never has. He’s trying to gather more words, to give Geno more hope—he sounds hopeful, or maybe like he wants to be hopeful and doesn’t dare to be. It’s not totally okay yet, but if a maybe is all they’re going to get for now, with the due date near, Sidney will take it. Especially because it brought Geno back to him.

Geno takes a big breath. “Sid—”

He cuts off whatever he was going to say because Sidney yelps, a contraction hitting him with actual, searing pain now. It travels up his back and seems to vibrate through him, and he curls around it, trying to remember to breathe, dimly aware of Geno frozen against him.

When it passes, Geno swears softly again and sits up a little, lifting Sidney’s chin to look at his face with wide, frazzled eyes. “Sid! Okay? What happen?”

“It’s okay,” Sidney says, rubbing his belly again, getting his breath back. “It’s just false labor, like fake contractions. I’ve been getting them for a while, it’s not a big deal.”

Geno doesn’t look convinced at all. He looks totally freaked, body taut like he’s the one cramping up. “How you know is fake? Always hurt like that?”

“I talked to the doctor when I first had them,” Sidney says, ignoring the last question. They don’t always hurt like that, they’ve definitely never hurt that badly, but he doesn’t want to freak Geno out more. “It’s really okay, it’ll probably be a while before the next one.”

“You not tell me,” Geno says, frowning. Sidney sighs.

“I didn’t want you to worry! It’s not like you could do anything.”

“Yes I do something! I come back.”

“You’re here now,” Sidney says. He tries to yank Geno back in to snuggle more, deeply disliking the distance between them, but Geno stays put.

“Can’t believe it’s fake and hurts. Should call doctor.”

“It’s late,” Sidney argues. “We’re not going to call the doctor this late for nothing. Come on, relax.” He should move them to the bed, he thinks, but he’s so warm here, he doesn’t want to move.

Geno doesn’t relax, though he does snuggle in again, wrapping his arms around Sidney and stroking his back. He tries to bring his arm back to slip his phone out of his pocket and Sidney slaps at him. “I want to Google!”

“Trust me,” Sidney says, closing his eyes. “It’s okay, Geno. You’re here now.”

The noise Geno makes in response to that is wounded again, and he resumes stroking Sidney’s back. His hand is there when Sidney tenses up, tries to smother his groan by biting his lip and burying his face in Geno’s arm, but a whimper escapes anyway.

He whimpers again when Geno leaps off the armchair, looking up at him with bleary eyes. “Geno, hey—”

“That was 10 minutes,” Geno says, pointing to his watch. Sidney realizes he’s been keeping time over his shoulder. “Too fast. You say is long time between them, yes?”

“Yeah, but—” He still feels like his breath is gone, like someone is wringing him out from the inside. Geno is shaking and Sidney realizes that he is, too, a little dazed. “It’s okay.”

“Not okay!” Geno tells him. “Take you to hospital.”

“What? No! I’m telling you, it’s fake—”

“Hurt you too much, Sid. No way is fake. I’m get your stuff, be fast.”

“Geno!” Sidney yells, but Geno is tearing off, skidding into the hallway in his socks and thumping around in there. “Stop, okay, the baby’s not coming yet.”

“Maybe,” Geno calls. “Or maybe she is. Take you to hospital anyway.”

“I don’t want to go to the hospital! It’s too early, she’s not coming.” He struggles out of the recliner, and he has to walk slow—it feels like he does everything slow—but it’s still not enough time to make it to the hallway before another contraction hits. He cries out and grabs the wall, and Geno barrels in, looking totally crazed, wrapping one arm around Sidney’s waist and letting Sidney grab and squeeze the other.

Geno’s right, they’re coming too close together now, but Sidney still shakes his head when he looks up at Geno, a ridiculous, terrible fear bubbling up in him. “No, I don’t want to go.”

“Have to go,” Geno says gently. He also looks terrified. “Sit down, I put on your shoes.”

“No, fuck, you’re not listening. The baby can’t be coming yet, okay? It’s too early.”

“I think she’s coming, Sid, so have to go to hospital,” Geno says. He’s guiding Sidney slowly back to the couch, sitting him down and telling him, “Stay,” before he runs back into the hall.

“I’m not a dog!” Sidney yells. He doesn’t get up simply because he’s not sure he can; every part of him feels sore and he thinks his heart might beat out of his chest. “We’re not going to the hospital, the baby can’t be coming.”

“It’s okay,” Geno tells him, coming back in with Sidney’s sneakers clutched to his chest. He kneels down in front of Sidney and starts to grab at a socked foot, narrowing his eyes when Sidney tries to kick away. “Sid, stop. It’s okay, we go hospital, doctors help you, and then baby here.”

“No,” Sidney says again, and Geno stares at him. “She can’t—it’s after midnight.”

“What?”

“It’s the 13th! She can’t—I’m not having the baby on the 13th.” He recognizes the hysteria in his own voice, high and reedy, shaking a lot.

“Sidney,” Geno says softly. He leans all the way up, presses his forehead to Sidney’s, and then gives him a quick kiss with trembling lips. It makes Sidney want more, want to just keep kissing Geno and forget about this whole having a baby business, but Geno breaks it fast and cups Sidney’s face. “Listen. It’s okay. We go hospital. We have baby. Take baby home and take care together. We have whole plan, remember? We do this.”

“I’m not ready, I’m—”

“Okay be scared,” Geno says before he can blurt it out in desperation. “I’m scared too. But I promise we be okay, because we do together.”

Sidney looks at Geno—exhausted, terrified Geno, his sweet, open face and his warm brown eyes begging Sidney to trust him. And Sidney does, really, more than he thinks he’s ever trusted anyone. Because Geno came back, not just because it’s right, but because he loves him. And he wouldn’t promise that they’d be okay if he didn’t mean it.

“Okay,” Sidney breathes out.

Another contraction hits him when he’s on his way out, stopping him in his tracks. Geno is right behind him, crowding up against his back, holding him through it. He’s warm and strong and his heart is beating very fast but his breath is steady. Sidney concentrates on the regular rise and fall of his chest until he can move again, and he moves on to Geno’s car.

Geno makes it so easy to be brave.

 

 

“Hi,” is the first thing Sidney says to the baby when they place the small, pink bundle of her in his arms. For the very first moment, he is aware of nothing but her tiny face, her squalling, reedy cry, her little fists wrestling out of the blanket. He feels a weight beside him and Geno leans in, his face wet, touching his temple to Sidney’s.

“Hi baby,” Geno whispers. Sidney leans into him, tears his eyes away from her to look up at Geno, sees his face crumple a little when he adds, “Hi Christina,” and then repeats it in Russian.

They don’t get very much time with her right away. Sidney passes her to Geno, tries to stay awake to watch him hold her carefully. She looks so tiny in his arms. Sidney’s vision blurs and he doesn’t know if it’s from tears or not until he’s already fallen asleep.

When he wakes up, Geno’s holding her again, talking to her softly in the chair next to Sidney’s bed. Sidney doesn’t understand what he’s saying, but he listens as he drifts out from his drugged fog. His voice is so soothing and full of so much feeling that Sidney wants to listen to him forever.

He shifts before long, the feeling in his abdomen coming back in a strange way, and Geno looks up quickly. He grins at Sidney, beaming, and says, “Hi, sleepy. How you feel?”

“Okay,” Sidney says. He tries to sit up a bit, and Geno puts Christina down in a little bassinet and comes over to help him, kissing his forehead and his nose and finally his mouth, soft and lingering, when he’s settled. “She’s too far away,” Sidney complains when Geno pulls back, and Geno laughs and picks her up again, putting her very carefully in Sidney’s arms and then squeezing onto the bed with him, taking Sidney’s weight against his chest.

“She so beautiful,” Geno says. “Look just like you. Perfect.”

“That chin’s all you,” Sidney says, and Geno’s laughter is soft and tinkling. “And the mouth, a little bit.”

“Maybe,” Geno says. His arm is warm around Sidney’s shoulders, and it feels like he’s holding both of them. “Maybe,” Geno says again, and Sidney can hear him swallow. “I take picture for Mama, show her, she tell me how she look.”

“Yeah,” Sidney says, looking up and smiling at Geno warmly. “That’s a good idea.”

“Maybe,” Geno says one more time. He rests his cheek on the top of Sidney’s head. “Should take picture three of us.”

Sidney sighs and strokes Christina’s cheek with his finger, very lightly. He wouldn’t care if Geno took a picture of them, but he doesn’t want Geno to move. Geno doesn’t seem conducive to moving, either.

“Should go out to waiting room again,” Geno continues. “Half team out there, want to meet her. Family on the way.”

“Yeah,” Sidney says. He wants them to meet Christina, wants her to tug on Tanger’s hair and spit up on Duper’s shirt, to snuggle into Taylor’s arms and look up at his dad like Sidney used to as a kid. He wants her in her Penguins onesie, in her French Lilac nursery, wants hockey back so he can score goals for her.

He wants the future Geno promised him they’re stuck with, and it’s so close that he can taste it, can feel it spread out before them. It’s only a few moments away.

But now, Sidney’s content to lean back against Geno so he doesn’t leave the bed just yet. They have a whole world of future waiting for them, and Sidney’s happy for a few more moments of just this, he and Geno and their daughter, right now.

“Stay a little bit,” Sidney whispers. Geno hums and stays.