Growing up, when Zhenya thought of werewolves, he thought of Fedorov’s deep-set eyes and Yzerman’s thin, severe mouth. He thought of people with hardened, sinister features that gave the impression of being not-quite-human.
Sid, the camera zooming in on his face on the flat screen bolted to the wall, looked nothing like that.
Zhenya said as much out loud.
Lying on the soft pile carpet next to him, Sid smiled. “Oh yeah? What am I supposed to look like, then?”
Zhenya waved a hand at the close-up. It showed Sid leaning in to take a faceoff, sweat gleaming at his temples and in his patchy, uneven facial hair. “Supposed to have better beard than that, for one thing. Look so sad next to Zetterberg.”
“Hey,” Sid protested. “I got rid of it the day after we won.”
“Don’t look much like werewolf without it either,” Zhenya pointed out, slanting a sideways glance at him.
He had lost most of the baby fat he had when Zhenya first met him, the cut of his jawline cleaner now, but there was still something about his full mouth and wide eyes that made it impossible to imagine his wolf. He had never shifted out in front of the team before either, always refusing to indulge their curiosity.
Sid shrugged. “Well, maybe someday I’ll show you.”
Zhenya sucked in a quick breath, surprised. “Really?”
Sid took so much heat from the media and from other teams’ fans, even if he was far from the first wolf in the League; even if there were more than a dozen active players in the NHL who were shifters. They said he shouldn't be allowed to play. He was too good. It couldn’t be natural. It was all bullshit — being a werewolf didn’t give you enhanced speed or strength, didn’t jack up any senses besides smell; all the research said so — but it still came up from time to time. Zhenya didn't blame Sid for being wary about shifting in front of other people.
“Maybe,” Sid said after a beat. “Now shh, we’re about to score.” He redirected his focus to the screen, eyes going sharp.
They had stumbled back to Zhenya’s house around midnight, after dinner and drinks with the whole team to celebrate the Parade, when Sid said he wanted to watch Game 7. They had all been given copies by the video guys. Max had declined and chosen instead to pass out in Zhenya’s guest room, but Zhenya and Jordy had agreed. They were watching in Zhenya’s game room because it had the biggest television, and he and Sid were recumbent on the floor because Jordy had called dibs on the couch. He had fallen asleep somewhere in the middle of the first period though, and was now snoring lightly behind them.
“Don’t think I even remember how first goal happen.” The game was a blur in Zhenya’s mind, everything hazy through the long, champagne-soaked hours that followed. Now, four days out from winning the Cup, they were still day-drinking heavily and going out every night, but things had calmed down to the point where Zhenya was no longer worried he would start pissing tequila.
“It happened because of that pass,” Sid said, as onscreen, Zhenya took the puck in his skates and fed it to Max, who flipped it into the net. He shook his head, sounding disbelieving and amazed, and Zhenya felt his face heat.
He turned his head again, letting his cheek rub up against the carpet. Sid looked almost eerily pale in the stark, flickering light from the television. He had his arm raised above his head, pillowing his neck, with the sleeves of his dark button-down uncuffed and pushed up to his elbows. His thigh, thickly-muscled and warm, was pressing up against Zhenya’s, a solid line of heat. He looked good like this, loose and flushed from drinking, always such a fucking lightweight.
Zhenya blamed the shots he had let Max talk him into earlier for the way his stomach swooped.
He had never thought about Sid like this, except maybe to notice, in passing, that Sid was attractive, but right now he wanted, and if his sharp intake of breath was any indication, Sid could smell it on him.
His eyes snapped to Zhenya. “You — really?”
Zhenya shrugged. His face felt hot again. He had never struck out with someone he wanted to take to bed before, but he thought he might here, because Sid hadn’t said yes, was just watching him with dark, assessing eyes, which was just unfair when Zhenya hadn’t even had a chance to work up a proper proposition.
Sid pushed up to his elbows. Slowly, eyes sliding shut, he leaned down to slant his mouth over Zhenya's. It was a light, close-mouthed kiss.
He pulled back. “Okay?” he checked.
It was better than okay. Zhenya reached out and curled his fingers into the front of Sid’s shirt. He tugged until Sid came back down, and this time when they kissed, it was hot and demanding, Sid licking into Zhenya’s mouth, Zhenya’s hand still fisted in his shirt, trying to get him that much closer.
“Wait,” Sid said, breathless, pulling back again. Already his mouth was redder than usual, spit-slick and swollen. Zhenya bit back a groan. “If we do this, it won’t be weird after, right? We’re team. I don’t want to mess that up.”
“Why it —” English felt even clumsier in Zhenya’s mouth than it would on a sober day, buzzed on beer and shots as he was. The feel of Sid breathing, warm and uneven into his ear, was hardly helping him concentrate. “Why would it be weird?”
Sid shrugged. The line of his shoulders was tight. “I made out with Bergy once and he wouldn’t look at me for the next week.” He hummed, thoughtful. “Although I guess that could have been because I threw up on him afterward. We never really talked about it.”
Zhenya was startled into a laugh. “What?”
“I was sixteen,” Sid said. “I was really drunk.”
Zhenya leaned up to kiss the embarrassed look off his face. “You don’t throw up on me, we be fine. Promise."
They went back to exchanging deep, messy kisses until Sid curled a hand around Zhenya’s hipbone, tips of his fingers brushing the feverishly warm skin of Zhenya’s lower back.
It was Zhenya’s turn to break away and say, “Wait.”
“Upstairs.” He nodded to where Jordy had his face mashed into a couch cushion. “Jordy right there.”
Sid huffed out a laugh as they pulled themselves to their feet and headed for the stairs, hands tangled together. “Oh, so you can have sex with him, but you can’t have sex near him?”
Zhenya stumbled on the bottom step. “How you know about that?”
“You guys smelled like each other for days," Sid said matter-of-factly, grinning.
Zhenya sighed. “No secrets with you on this team.”
He started stripping as soon as they hit the landing and by the time he fell back onto his bed, he was naked. Sid, meanwhile, had managed to lose his shirt and nothing else. He was standing at the foot of the bed, eyes gone dark and hungry as they ran down the length of Zhenya's body.
"Sid?" Zhenya prompted.
Sid seemed to shake himself. He unbuckled his belt and stepped out of his nice, dark jeans. He paused with his thumbs hooked in the waistband of his briefs, the first real sign of uncertainty Zhenya had seen from him all night.
"There’s —” He cleared his throat. “I have a knot," he said, wary.
"Yes, Sid, I know,” Zhenya said patiently. “We share locker room, remember?"
Sid always dressed quickly after showers though, like he was self-conscious. Zhenya knew there was a knot, but he had only ever caught glimpses of it. Sue him for being curious.
"Right," Sid said, brow furrowing. "Sorry. Guess I'm just used to letting people know beforehand." He took a deep breath and pushed his briefs down.
Zhenya swallowed hard. Sid's cock was thick, and wet at the tip, and there at the base of it was his knot, Sid's hand curled around it loosely. He still looked nervous, which wasn't right at all.
“Come here,” Zhenya said roughly.
Sid scrambled to get on the bed. "Not freaked out?"
Zhenya shook his head. “Not freaked out.” He reached into the nightstand and fumbled out the lube. "Want you to fuck me."
Sid inhaled sharply. "Yeah? You’re sure?”
Zhenya nodded and then gasped into the quick, biting kiss Sid pressed to his mouth.
He was achingly hard, dick leaking by the time Sid had worked three fingers inside him. He fucked Zhenya with them, slow and deliberate, until Zhenya was shaking with loose-limbed pleasure and anticipation. “Sid,” he said. His voice sounded like he had sand lodged in his throat. “Sid, I want —”
Sid nodded. His eyes had gone so dark, you couldn’t see the green in them at all anymore. They were fixed on Zhenya’s hole, stretched wide around his fingers. "Condom?"
Blindly, Zhenya shoved his free hand in the nightstand again, freezing when his fingers found the bottom of the drawer. “Fuck,” he groaned, head thumping back on the pillow. “Fuck, I forget to buy —“ He was so fucking stupid. He’d run out before the playoffs began and hadn't remembered to stock up again.
Sid exhaled and pressed his forehead to Zhenya’s stomach. “It’s okay,” he said. “We’ll do something else.”
But Zhenya didn’t want to do something else. “Just do it,” he gritted out, rocking a little on Sid’s thick, blunt fingers, stilled at his rim, keeping him slick and open and so, so full.
Sid’s head snapped up. His mouth worked but no sound came out.
“You ever do with anyone else bare?” Zhenya asked him.
Slowly, Sid shook his head.
“I never either.”
Really, that was their only problem sorted. Zhenya wasn’t a wolf; Sid couldn't bond with him. And — “Can't get me pregnant, Sid,” he said, losing his patience with Sid’s deer-in-headlights expression and the way he kept failing to move. “Come on.”
Sid went red across his cheekbones at that. It startled Zhenya into a laugh, which faded to breathlessness when Sid twisted his fingers, rubbed up against Zhenya’s prostate one last time, and eased them out.
He fumbled for the lube with wet, shaky fingers, slicking his cock and lining up carefully. He leaned down to tongue at the stretch of skin above Zhenya's nipple, the barest edge of teeth, before pressing inside in one smooth thrust.
“God,” Sid breathed on a full body shudder that shook Zhenya too, with Sid stretched on top of him like this. He didn’t move, just held himself inside Zhenya for a second. “You feel —” He broke off.
Zhenya slid one hand around the back of Sid’s neck and pulled him into a broken kiss. “Move,” he begged, mouth moving under Sid’s, and felt Sid shiver again.
Sid fucked into him with deep, hard thrusts, one hand curved around Zhenya’s hipbone tight enough to bruise, the other curled around Zhenya’s cock, and it felt like less than a minute before Zhenya was coming between with a low groan, dripping around Sid’s fingers.
Sid’s thrusts went uneven and arrhythmic, hips rocking into Zhenya hard. When he came, it was on a grind that bordered on vicious, and Zhenya's world narrowed to the feeling of Sid’s knot swelling up inside him. It was so different — the pressure, the stretch — and for a split second, he panicked it was going to edge over into too much. But then it was over and Sid was shushing him, trailing warm, reassuring kisses along his throat, and Zhenya turned his face into the pillow, just trying to catch his breath.
He shifted slightly, trying to get comfortable, and nearly cried out at the feel of Sid locked up inside him, filling him up. It was shockingly good, the long, thick drag of Sid’s cock in his ass, the relentless pressure against his prostate, and he couldn’t help rocking his hips up into it — fucking himself on Sid’s knot.
“Fuck,” Sid swore, staring down at him with wide eyes. “Are you going to —“
Zhenya reached down to cover Sid’s fist, still wrapped around his dick, and jerked himself with it. He used their tangled hands to make himself come for the second time, his back arching up off the bed and his hole clenching tight around Sid’s knot.
“Maybe we didn’t think this all the way through,” Sid said thoughtfully, trying to angle himself so that Zhenya’s hipbones — sharp enough to cut glass, he complained — weren’t digging into his stomach.
“You think?” Zhenya said, voice heavy with sarcasm. He was pretty flexible, always diligent about stretching before and after games, but Sid was so fucking wide in the torso and it was starting to hurt, having him cradled between Zhenya’s thighs like this.
“Maybe if we — here.“ Sid turned them on their sides, still locked together, but now with less pressure on Zhenya’s hips.
Zhenya sighed, arching his spine in the new position. “Why you not think of this before? So much better.” He reached over the side of the bed, fumbled through the mess of linens he'd pushed off it earlier, and found the corner of a comforter. He tugged it up and over them.
“Sorry,” Sid grimaced. “Haven’t done this a lot.”
“No. Usually I pull out. I don’t want to be stuck entertaining someone I don’t know for, like, an hour every time I have sex.”
Zhenya laughed. He couldn't help it. Trust Sid to refrain from knotting his one night stands because he didn’t want to talk to them. He poked Sid in the ribs. “Entertain me.”
Sid smiled at him, warm and indulgent. “How should I do that?”
“Tell me something.”
Sid thought for a moment. “I’m thinking of redecorating my house in Halifax this summer,” he said, idly pushing his fingers into Zhenya’s hair. “Maybe buying a shuffleboard.”
“Don’t care about shuffleboards.”
Sid laughed his dumb goose laugh, rocking them back and forth. “You said to tell you something. I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“Tell me about …” Zhenya thought for a moment. “Shifting.” There was lazy warmth curling through his stomach. Sid looked equally content, a small smile curving his mouth into a sweet bow. Zhenya figured that if ever there was a good time to ask him about werewolf stuff, it was now.
Sid raised his eyebrows. “Shifting?”
Zhenya nodded. “Curious.”
“What about it?”
“Anything. Just talk.”
“Okay, how’s this: you ask me questions and I’ll answer them if I can, deal?”
“Deal,” Zhenya said happily, and started with the most obvious and important one: “You only shift on full moon?”
“Myth," Sid smiled. "I can shift out any time.”
“Yeah. I don't. But. I could.”
“You not like it?”
“It’s not that. I’ve just never done it in Pittsburgh. My house in Halifax ... it backs up onto the woods. I like running there.”
Zhenya hummed, processing the information that Sid’s wolf was a creature of habit, just like Sid. “Super fast healing?” he asked next.
“Myth. I wish it was real.”
“Born wolves better at hunt than bitten wolves?”
Sid cocked his head. “Huh. I’m not sure, actually. Bitten wolves aren’t really that common.”
“You don’t just bring anyone into your pack. And —” Sid’s mouth went thin. “The bite doesn’t always take.”
Zhenya nodded. Everyone knew the horror stories: people dying from the bite, bleeding out from gruesome-looking puncture wounds in their skin. He had other questions, lots of them, but Sid’s knot had gone down enough for him to pull out, which he did gently, an arm sliding around Zhenya’s waist. Zhenya meant to suggest they share a quick shower, but it had been a very long, very exhausting day; he was out like a light within seconds.
Zhenya was the first to wake up the next morning and he took a shower first thing, the sore knots in his back and thighs feeling less so under the scorching hot water. Soaping up, he touched his fingers to his hole. He still felt slick, and just slightly swollen, sloppier and looser than he usually was after getting fucked. Just thinking it made his face burn, and he had to press his forehead to the cool tile of the shower wall while he finished rinsing off.
He smiled at Sid sleeping open-mouthed in his bed as he walked past to get downstairs.
He was in the middle of making enough breakfast to feed a small army when Jordy shuffled into the kitchen. He was going to be no help with the actual cooking, but Zhenya put him to work on the orange juice. They moved around each other easily, just like they always did, talking and joking and making plans for the day.
Max came down next, digging into the food like he was starving.
Sid was last, walking in just as Zhenya got up to pour himself some coffee.
He came over with his own mug, hovering beside Zhenya. “You showered,” he said, low enough that Jordy and Max wouldn’t hear. His voice was almost accusatory.
Zhenya blinked. “So did you,” he laughed, ruffling a hand through Sid’s still-wet hair. “Probably should have last night,” he added in equally low tones. He had woken up with his face mashed into Sid’s bicep, skin tacky with sweat and come. Not exactly pleasant.
Sid was frowning to himself when they sat back down with their coffee.
Jordy, who was finished with his breakfast, edged his way into Zhenya’s space and began eating off Zhenya's plate, laughing when Zhenya tried to push him away.
“Go get more if you still hungry,” Zhenya told him. There was still plenty of bacon left in the pan on the stove.
“Why?” Jordy hummed. “I can just share yours.” He reached for Zhenya's coffee and took a sip.
Across from them, Sid set down his mug with a loud clank, porcelain rattling the glass tabletop.
Jordy draped himself across Zhenya's arm. "Seriously, feed me. You let me sleep on your couch all night. 's the least you can do."
Zhenya wavered. He did feel kind of bad about that. Sighing, he pushed his plate over, so that it was sitting between them. Jordy tucked in with a grateful groan.
“What’s with you?” Max asked Sid, whose brow was furrowed as he shoveled bacon and eggs into his mouth.
“Nothing,” Sid said shortly.
“Yeah? Because you look like you want to tear someone’s throat out.”
Sid stilled with his fork halfway to his mouth. He looked first to Max, then to Jordy, and then finally to Zhenya with wide, shell-shocked eyes.
Max's phone buzzed then, probably Flower and Tanger wanting to coordinate schedules. It seemed to shake Sid from his reverie, because he set down his knife and fork and stumbled to his feet.
“I’m gonna — I have to go,” he stammered, rushing out of the kitchen. The sound of Zhenya's heavy front door slamming shut behind him could be heard from all the way in the kitchen.
“What was that about?” Jordy wanted to know in the echoing silence that followed.
Zhenya shrugged. Fuck if he knew.
Sid was squirrelly later that day too, meeting them at the bar when Zhenya sent out the group text with the time and place, but refusing to look anyone in the eye and quietly but resolutely drinking everything Flower set down in front of him.
In the middle of Tanger’s hour-by-hour explanation of what, precisely, he planned to do on his day with the Cup, Sid set down his glass, swiped the back of his hand across his mouth, and, shoulders set, made a beeline for a pale, redheaded girl sitting at the bar. She was a wolf, or so Zhenya gathered from the tattoo on her exposed forearm: claw marks in the shape of three slanting, rough-edged black lines. Carey Price had a similar image painted onto the back of his helmet.
In his three years in Pittsburgh, Zhenya had never seen Sid go home with another wolf. Flower said he had hang ups about bonds: namely, he didn’t want to risk accidentally getting stuck in one with a strange wolf. He didn’t go home with humans nearly as often as he could either. Sid worried about appearances and people taking pictures and other things Zhenya had been reliably informed he himself should care more about. Yet here he was, openly and obviously chatting up the girl at the bar, leaving with her in less than five minutes flat.
Good for him, Zhenya thought sincerely.
He shifted in his seat, bit his lip when residual soreness from last night made itself known, and let himself be drawn into describing his idea of the perfect day with the Cup.
The guys heckled Sid about hooking up the next time they saw him, which was at the barbecue Sergei hosted two days later. It was the sort of nosy chirping reserved for embarrassing rookies but which was occasionally still directed at Sid, who was private in the extreme — with the media, yes, but with the team too. He usually took it good-naturedly, ducking his head and shrugging off any questions with a smile.
Not this time, apparently.
“Fuck off,” he snarled when Max asked him if they’d gone back to her place or Mario’s attic, and if it was the latter, wasn’t that awkward for her?
He looked like shit, peaky and scowling and hunched into the hoodie he was wearing in mid-June. It was out of character. He usually loved team get-togethers. He’d admitted once that spending time with the team reminded him of pack — of his family back in Cole Harbor.
It was a testament to his moodiness that Max didn’t keep chirping him, just raised his eyebrows and said, “That bad, huh?” under his breath before wandering off to find a drink.
Zhenya was sitting cross-legged in an Adirondack chair on Sergei’s deck, minding Victoria while Ksenia was inside getting the sides ready, when Sid broke away from the long wooden tables set up at the far edge of Sergei’s yard and walked over.
He dropped into the free seat beside Zhenya. “Hey,” he said, squinting a little in the sunlight.
“Hey yourself.” Zhenya rearranged Victoria a little higher on his shoulder so he could see Sid properly.
“Victoria, right?” Sid said, smiling a little when she flailed out a hand towards him. He was meeting her for the first time; she was born just three days before last year’s team Christmas party, which Sergei and Ksenia had subsequently skipped.
“Yes. You want to hold?” Zhenya offered, thinking it might help to pull Sid out of his dark mood, distract him from whatever had gone wrong with his hook-up.
“Uh, no. No. I actually wanted to — I was wondering if we could talk.”
“Talking right now,” Zhenya said blankly.
“Right.” Smiling weakly, Sid took a deep breath. “About the other night —”
“There you are!” Natalie came tearing out of the house like a tiny tornado. She wedged herself into the small space between Sid and Zhenya’s seats, frowning crossly. “You said you would come and play ages ago.” None of the guys with kids had brought their families today and she was getting bored and antsy, all these people at her house and no one to play with.
“Just a little longer,” Zhenya told her, in Russian. “Maybe you could sit with me and Sid for now, help look after your sister?”
“I don’t want to sit,” she said, crossing her arms and glaring balefully.
“No? So then maybe you don’t want to sit with me on the plane tomorrow either. I’ll have to sit alone.”
“No!” she said, startling. “I want to sit with you tomorrow. Just not right now.”
When Zhenya didn’t say anything, she uncrossed her arms. “If I sit now,” she said slowly, “we’ll sit together tomorrow?”
Zhenya nodded and watched, biting down on a smile, as she dragged over a chair and settled next to him, swinging her feet.
Zhenya leaned over to kiss the top of her head. He had moved out mid-season because he hadn’t wanted to get in the way with a newborn in the house. He’d still visited often — Ksenia wouldn’t have let him get away with anything else — but he missed living with Sergei’s family, and the thing he missed most was definitely spending time with Natalie.
“You want to play with my phone?” he offered, even though the last time he let her do that, he got it back with sticky chocolate fingerprints all over his screen protector. It was an offer made partly out of guilt, but mostly out of the affection welling up, warm and effusive, inside his chest.
When she nodded, he opened up the Fruit Ninja app on his phone and handed it over.
He turned back to Sid, whose scowl had disappeared entirely and had been replaced instead with a soft expression. Absently, Sid rubbed the heel of his hand over his chest.
“Sid?” Zhenya prompted. Sid had been saying something, before they were interrupted.
Sid swallowed hard, Adam’s apple bobbing as he did. “You’re leaving?” he said quietly, having followed the English half of the conversation. “Tomorrow?”
Zhenya nodded. “Miami first, stay with Sergei for a few weeks, then Russia.”
Natalie leaned over the arm of Zhenya’s chair. “We’re going to go to Disney World,” she added excitedly.
“That — that sounds like it’ll be fun,” Sid told her, smiling wide. He looked to Zhenya again. The smile seemed to dim just a bit, but he sounded no less sincere when he said, “I hope you have a really great summer, G.”
“Not gone yet,” Zhenya told him. “After lunch, we go inside, I kick your ass at ping pong.”
“Well, you can try,” Sid agreed, ducking away when Zhenya tried to poke him in the ribs where he was most ticklish.
Zhenya succeeded only in jostling Victoria, who started fussing then, an ominous prelude to imminent tears. He shot Sid a dirty look. “All your fault.”
“My fault?” Sid demanded, indignant. But he did join Zhenya and Natalie in their attempts to distract Victoria, in desperate hopes of staving off the tantrum, which made him okay as far as Zhenya was concerned.
“It’s going to be Canada,” Jordy insisted. “It’s always Canada.”
Logically, Zhenya knew that he’d won the Stanley Cup last season and that his back-to-back humiliations at the hands of Canada when it came to World Juniors tournaments didn’t matter anymore. But he was competitive enough that on some level they still rankled, and he shoved Jordy harder than he usually would when they jokingly roughed each other up in practice.
“Russia’s gonna win, you see.”
“Uh huh, okay, G,” Jordy said, in the tones of someone humoring a small child.
“We bet,” Zhenya snapped. “Hundred dollars when Russia wins.”
“And what do I get if Canada wins?” Jordy asked, skating in close and trying to leer but mostly looking like an idiot. Laughing, Zhenya shoved him back with so much force he almost careened right into Sid, who had just stepped onto the ice.
It was stupid, pointless flirting, carried over from when Jordy and Zhenya used to hook up during their shared rookie season and then on and off the season after that. They stopped when Jordy started dating Heather for real.
“No, but seriously, what do I get?” Jordy called, skating wide circles around the net now, just to annoy Flower.
“What do you get for what?” Max wanted to know.
“World Juniors,” Jordy told him. "When Canada wins gold sixth year running."
“Can I get in on that?” Max asked, and then of course the others wanted in too.
All the Canadians did except Sid, who was by himself at the other end of the ice, methodically shooting puck after puck into the open net, skating over only when Dan gathered everyone in for shootout practice.
His jaw was tight as they waited in line. Every shot he put on net went in with pinpoint accuracy.
Flower swore so fluently and so often, it was a blessing it wasn’t an open practice.
"Hey," said Sid, skating over with a beaming smile on his face.
"Hey yourself." Zhenya leaned forward, letting his elbows rest on the boards. "Look good out there." He nodded to where the rest of Team Canada was milling around at center ice. He'd caught the last few minutes of their practice, stepping into the rink out of curiosity on his way to lunch. He hadn't meant to distract Sid, but he'd been spotted, and now Sid was hopping over the boards to talk to him instead of going to shower.
"You think?" Sid said, flushed from skating. He pulled off his gloves, and then his helmet. His hair was damp and curling with perspiration. "Thanks."
They hadn't spoken since landing in Vancouver and splitting up at the airport, which felt strange as hell, even if logically Zhenya knew they went consecutive off-days in Pittsburgh without talking to each other all the time. It was odd to think that the last time he played in the Olympics, he hadn't even met Sid yet.
"Nice shirt," Sid said. He reached out, brushing the back of his knuckles across the center of Zhenya's chest — across the huge block letters spelling out 'Russia'.
"Nice jersey," Zhenya countered. It was just a practice one though. It didn't have Sid's 'A' on it, which was a shame. Zhenya bet it suited him.
Sid opened his mouth and then let it fall shut again. His spine snapped straight as the sound of footsteps came down the walkway behind them.
It was Fedorov. "There you are," he said, in Russian, when he caught sight of Zhenya. "Everyone's waiting. They sent me to look for you."
Next to Zhenya, Sid went unnaturally still.
"Sorry," Zhenya told him, hastily standing up. "Have to go. Lunch with team, then sight-see. Already late."
"Wait." Sid caught Zhenya's wrist. "You don't play tomorrow, right? Have dinner with me."
"Can't tomorrow. Promise Sasha I have with dinner with his parents."
Sid's mouth turned down at the corners. "What about —"
Fedorov clamped a hand around Zhenya's other arm. "You can talk about this later. We have to go or else they'll leave without —"
He broke off at the noise coming from Sid. It wasn't quite a growl, but it was threatening and low and sounded like it had been torn from the back of his throat. Zhenya had only heard it once before: when Richards ran Flower in last year's playoffs. Zhenya stared at Sid, at the way he'd stepped forward like he wanted to position himself in between Zhenya and Sergei Fedorov, like there was any need.
Fedorov raised his eyebrows, whether in surprise or amusement, Zhenya couldn't tell. He let go of Zhenya's arm. "I'll just wait for you outside," he said in an undertone.
Face set, Sid watched him go, eyes tracking his every movement until he disappeared from view. "So. Dinner?" he said again, mildly, like nothing had happened. Apparently, they weren't going to talk about the fact that Sid didn't play well with other wolves, even ones Zhenya knew he'd been a big fan of as a kid.
"Have time tonight," Zhenya offered slowly.
"Okay. You and Flower text me, Sergei and Brook —"
"No," Sid interrupted. "I meant just us."
Zhenya shrugged. "Okay, just us," he said, and watched Sid's smile turn pleased and soft, a far cry from his glower from just moments before.
Zhenya shivered as they stepped out of the restaurant. It wasn't very late but the wind was picking up, strong and biting and chilling Zhenya through the sweater he was wearing.
"You're cold?" Sid asked. "Here." He shrugged out of his jacket and held it out.
He was wearing two sweaters underneath it, Zhenya was reasonably sure, but he still felt bad. "Don't want sweaty jacket. You keep."
"My jacket is not sweaty," Sid said, affronted, and refused to retract his hand until Zhenya accepted the jacket with numb fingers.
"Thanks, Sid," he sighed. He burrowed into the soft wool lining, pulling the sleeves down over his hands.
He tried to give it back in the cab, and then again when they were going their separate ways in the Village.
"Keep it," Sid shrugged, straightening the collar with an inscrutable expression on his face. "It suits you."
Zhenya wore the jacket to practice the next morning, because it was warm and smelled comfortingly like Sid and had been close at hand.
Fedorov coughed when Zhenya and Sasha entered the locker room. It sounded suspiciously like a laugh.
"What?" Zhenya asked, because he wasn't nineteen years old and starstruck anymore.
"Nothing," Fedorov smiled. "Nothing at all."
Jordy took Subban’s skate to the foot in the first game of the second round of the playoffs and right away, everyone knew it was bad. He was still in with the team doctors after the game.
Zhenya, who had carpooled with Sergei that morning, nominated himself to be Jordy’s ride home. He was waiting in the hallway outside the training room when Subban rounded the corner.
The guy was freshly-showered, wearing a nice suit and a contrite expression on his face. “Oh. Hey man,” he said, stopping up when he saw Zhenya.
They had never been introduced before. Subban was a rookie, called up from Hamilton for the playoffs. He was also a wolf, just like Price, the third to ever suit up for the Habs, and it turned out he wanted Zhenya to pass along an apology to Jordy.
“I’d do it in person, but I’ve got to get back,” he shrugged, stilted.
It was brave of him to stop by, Zhenya guessed. It was more than Zhenya himself had done for Del Zotto after nearly slicing his chest open. And he certainly sounded more sincere about his apology than Cookie, for example, ever did. In any case, it wasn’t Zhenya’s place to accept or refuse it.
He nodded mutely.
“Thanks,” Subban said. He stepped forward like he was going to shake Zhenya’s hand and then drew back almost comically, like he’d walked into an invisible wall. He stared at Zhenya, head cocked, eyes narrowed.
But all he said was, “See you Saturday,” before heading back towards the visitor’s locker room. He threw one last bemused glance over his shoulder as he went.
When Sid showed up fifteen minutes later — the media monopolized even more of his time than usual after playoff games — Zhenya was sitting on the floor, back propped up against the wall, legs stretched out beside his gear bag.
“He still in there?” Sid asked, nodding at the closed door.
“You good to get him home?”
“Yes. Just stay at his place tonight. Take him to doctors tomorrow if he needs.”
“Okay.” There was a beat of silence. “Need me to wait with you?”
Absently, Zhenya shook his head. He felt preoccupied, out of sorts, an uncomfortable, niggling itch under his skin. He couldn’t stop thinking about the way Subban had stared at him, like he was a singularly fascinating science experiment.
Sid peered down at him carefully. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
Zhenya hesitated. “Nothing,” he said, and shook it off.
Probably it had been nothing. Probably he was just imagining things.
“I brought food,” Sid said, when Zhenya opened the front door.
He was shifting his weight from foot to foot, carrying several bags of takeout in one hand and balancing a cakebox on the other. On top of the cakebox sat a DVD case — Transformers — with the price sticker still on it.
“I’m already have copy of that movie,” Zhenya said blankly, stepping aside to let him in. He hadn't even told anyone he was back in Pittsburgh. He wondered how Sid had found out.
“Oh,” Sid said as he led them into the kitchen. He set everything down on the island and shrugged. “Well, now you have two.”
He popped the disc into the DVD player while Zhenya grabbed two beers from the fridge and two plates from the cabinet.
“You go to Russian restaurant?” he asked, opening up the food containers.
Sid was trying to find the remote, lifting up throw pillows and couch cushions in his search. “Yeah. The place you took your parents to in April. You said it was good, right?” He paused and looked up, expression flickering with uncertainty. “Right?” he checked.
Zhenya swallowed. Sid didn’t even like Russian soups, but he had bought three different kinds. He'd bought half the dinner menu, it seemed like. There was so much food, and both of them ate like hockey players, but Zhenya didn’t think they’d be able to finish it all tonight.
“Right,” he nodded.
They managed to get through about half of everything, sitting cross-legged on the floor of Zhenya’s living room, before giving up. Zhenya couldn’t even look at the Napoleon in the cakebox without feeling sick. Tomorrow, maybe.
“So,” Sid said, muting the credits when they started rolling. “How are you doing?” He ducked his head to meet Zhenya’s eyes and there was no way for Zhenya to pretend he didn’t know why Sid was asking, or why Sid had come over in the first place.
He shrugged. There was a tiny hole in the knee of his sweatpants and he picked at it absently. “Okay,” he said at last. “They find good house to rent. Ottawa good city. It’s — good.” He hugged his knees to his chest, toes curling in the carpet. His throat felt tight.
“G,” Sid said, voice thick.
Zhenya shook his head roughly. “Being stupid. Have other Russian friends here. Have whole team.” He was luckier than most. People in Pittsburgh still liked him and still supported him even if he hadn’t been able to give them his best hockey last season. And anyway — “Will see them all the time in summer. Stupid to miss.”
Sid bumped their shoulders together. “I don’t think it’s stupid at all.”
“What if I tell you I buy apartment in Moscow, next to Sergei’s?”
Sid’s eyebrows went up. “You did what?”
Zhenya ducked his head. “Just kind of happen.” He had been more than a little upset when Sergei sat him down and told him that he’d received an offer from the Penguins but a better one from the Senators, and he was taking that one instead.
“Like, you knew it was being sold and bought it?”
“Like, I ask owners if they willing to sell to me,” Zhenya admitted.
Sid choked on a laugh. “Wow. That’s — wow, G.”
That was pretty unfair coming from the guy who hadn’t lasted six months on his own, in Zhenya’s opinion. “Morehouse move into your house yet?” he asked pointedly.
It made Sid laugh even harder, goofy and loud and pulling a reluctant smile out of Zhenya.
They moved on to other things, then. Happier things. Their summers — Zhenya’s vacation to Turkey and the UAE, Sid’s training in Montreal; training camp and the new season; the upcoming Winter Classic. Sid was really excited about that.
They stood to clear up and Zhenya bumped their shoulders together again. “Thanks, Sid."
Maybe he wasn’t going to have Sergei this season, but he really was lucky, to have friends like this, to know that whatever else happened, Sid would always be in Pittsburgh, always a steady, sure thing.
It was the first time any of them had seen Sid in a fortnight.
For one wild, hopeful moment after Zhenya walked into the locker room and spotted him chatting to Kuni and Duper, Zhenya thought maybe, miraculously, he would play tonight. But there was no gear in his stall and he wasn’t wearing one of his game day suits. Watching from the press box, then.
Sid’s head snapped around when Zhenya entered the room, face lighting up, and he excused himself from his conversation so he could come over and say hello. That was helpful, because Zhenya was nearly vibrating out of his skin with the need to talk to Sid, ask him how he was feeling, ask if there was anything he could do.
He pulled Sid into a careful, one-armed hug, which he submitted to easily.
“Hi,” he said. He was looking at Zhenya almost wonderingly. Then again, this was Sid, and Zhenya imagined him looking at the whole team like that today, missing them as much as they missed him.
“Look good,” Zhenya told him, and he wasn’t lying. Although, quite honestly, it wouldn’t take much for Sid to look better than he had when Zhenya saw him last, swaying on his feet as he headed into the quiet room during that game against Tampa.
“Thanks,” Sid said. He hadn’t moved away after Zhenya let him go, and he sounded a little wondering too. “I’ve been doing better lately.”
“Wanted to visit, but didn’t know if you want to see people,” Zhenya said, because it was true, and because he was feeling like a bad friend for not having done it when Sid looked this happy to see him. He had asked Kadar for news about Sid’s progress, but that wasn’t the same as checking in for himself.
Sid hummed. “I would’ve liked to see you.”
“Have to get ready now,” Zhenya said, watching the last of the guys trickle into the locker room. “See me after game?”
Sid nodded and rocked up on his toes slightly, hands stuffed into the pockets of his slacks. “Do you want to do something tomorrow?” he asked. “Breakfast, maybe? Or lunch?”
“Can’t,” Zhenya said, grimacing in apology. “Friends from Russia coming to visit, have to pick from airport.” They weren’t staying with him long though, just a quick stop in their vacation. They’d be gone by the weekend. “What about Saturday? You free?”
Sid looked disappointed, but he said, “Yeah. Sure. I’m free Saturday.”
Zhenya felt a pang in his chest. He didn’t like to think about Sid, concussed and alone and confined to his room in the evenings, which was when the headaches hit, according to Kadar.
On impulse, he led Sid through their handshake. “Miss that,” he told Sid, pressing their foreheads together gently to finish. “Make sure you come back soon.”
“I’m trying,” Sid murmured, leaning into him just a little.
"Dana, where's my shirt?"
"What shirt?" Dana asked, fussing with Zhenya's discarded jersey after the game.
"My shirt," Zhenya said, rooting through his gear bag. "My 71 shirt. The one you give me." He'd been wearing it before the game, just like always, but now he couldn't find it anywhere.
Dana frowned. "I haven't seen it." He leaned over, as if to help Zhenya look. "It has to be around here somewhere. Do you need it right now?"
Zhenya hesitated. He had already changed back into his suit. And he didn't want to waste Dana's time. He shook his head. "No. Just. If you see —"
"I'll let you know," Dana nodded reassuringly. "And if we can't find it, I'll have some more made."
"Thanks, Dana," Zhenya said, relieved.
When Zhenya went out to his car the next morning, he found it unlocked. He could’ve sworn he’d locked it the night before, but he’d been bringing in his bag and thinking about how the sheets in his guest bedrooms needed to be changed if he was having people over and wondering if there was enough food in his fridge. He must have forgotten.
He shrugged and resolved to be less forgetful.
The month that followed was comprised of games, practices, and meeting up with Sid — whose headaches refused to abate as the season wore on — as often as he could.
He was heading out one freezing morning in mid-February for practice when he opened the door of his Range Rover to find someone curled up in his backseat, face and torso covered by a dark, lumpy overcoat, just their jeans and shoes visible.
Instinctively, Zhenya shouted and jumped back, and then the figure sat up and he realized it was Sid, blinking at him with wide, red-rimmed eyes.
Zhenya startled forward again. “Sid? What happened? You hurt?” He panicked a little until it dawned on him that Sid didn’t look injured, just tired. The Steelers fleece Zhenya kept in the backseat — the unwashed Steelers fleece Zhenya kept in the backseat — was shoved under his head. “You sleep here last night?”
Sid flinched. He cleared his throat and said, “I like it here.”
“You like — sleep in backseat?” It was a big car, but Sid had curled himself up to fit and Zhenya couldn’t imagine that being very comfortable.
“It smells like pack,” Sid said quietly, like an admission.
“Mario’s house not smell like pack?”
“The kids are loud. It makes the headaches worse. But I didn’t want to —“
Tell them to be quiet, Zhenya mentally filled in.
Sid bit his lip. “Is this — do you mind? I didn’t really know where el —“
Zhenya cut him off. “How long you do this?”
“Just a few days.” He declined to meet Zhenya’s eyes though, which was how Zhenya knew that was probably a lie. Zhenya remembered finding the car unlocked — almost a month ago, fuck. “I can find somewhere else if it’s not okay, honestly —”
“Of course is okay, Sid.”
Sid looked up hopefully. “Really?”
“Really,” Zhenya confirmed. “Can do you one better, actually.” He held out his hand. Sid took it carefully and allowed himself to be tugged out of the car. “Come inside, okay? More comfortable. And I’m make breakfast for us.”
“You have morning skate.”
He almost wanted to suggest that Sid go up to his parents in Cole Harbor, if the headaches were so unbearable that he had taken to breaking into teammates' cars for the slightest bit of relief. But Sid was adamant about not throwing in the towel on the season, even as it slipped further and further out of reach.
"You use spare keys to get inside car?" Zhenya asked instead, carrying armloads of ingredients from the fridge to the stove. He'd given Sid a spare set of his keys after Sergei and Ksenia left, figuring someone in Pittsburgh ought to have them.
Sid ducked his head, the tips of his ears pink. "Yeah. Sorry."
"Good you use," Zhenya said firmly. “But from now on, your head hurt, you want to come over, you use key for front door. No more sleeping in car.”
Sid blinked at him from the kitchen table.
“Welcome any time, okay?” Zhenya reiterated softly.
Sid watched him closely, as if checking for any sign of a lie. At last, he nodded, clutching his coat to his chest so tightly his knuckles turned white. "Okay."
Being on crutches was a horrible time. Being sidelined was even worse, but it was slightly more bearable for having Sid around all the time. Zhenya declined his parents' offer to fly out and stay with him, because he knew that Sid would worry about ridiculous things like intruding or wearing out his welcome and stop coming over.
The morning after his knee surgery, Zhenya woke to find a huge, blue-black wolf curled up on the other side of his bed. He sank his fingers into its scruff, marveling at the thick, unbelievably soft fur there. It whined in the back of its throat and pushed into his hand, watching him intently with eyes that were still green-brown. Zhenya was too out of it to feel pleased that Sid had shifted in front of him, or wonder at the fact that it took shredding his knee for Sid to finally do it.
Later though, when he was more lucid, he remembered the way the wolf had padded anxious circles around Zhenya's bed through the night, and whuffled when Zhenya was sliding in and out of sleep, miserable and low like it was hurting too.
“Come out tonight,” Max said after lunch, the first Zhenya and Sid had attended in a while. Neither one of them had been cleared to play yet, and in all likelihood, they wouldn’t be in time for the playoffs. But the Penguins had traded for Neal and Niskanen three days before, and welcoming new guys was still something they could do.
Lunch was about all Zhenya felt up to though. “Maybe another time,” he told Max, who looked exasperated.
“G, when was the last time you picked up?”
Zhenya honestly couldn’t remember. Obviously before his knee. Maybe even before Sid’s head.
For whatever reason, his eyes went to Sid, who was staring resolutely at his glass of water, using the tip of his index finger to draw tracks in the condensation. He had more or less moved into Zhenya's smallest guest bedroom, going back to Mario's rarely, even though Zhenya had been cleared to begin PT with Kadar two weeks after surgery and wasn't even home most mornings anymore. He was comfortable shifting in Zhenya's house now too, sprawling out on the carpet by Zhenya's feet in the evenings, letting Zhenya rub his ears or trail careful fingers over his muzzle.
“Don’t feel like it,” he said eventually, and watched Sid’s eyes, wide and surprised, fly up to meet his. “You have fun,” he told Max, without looking away from Sid.
Max sighed and clapped a hand on his shoulder as he left.
“Why don’t you feel like it?” Sid asked quietly, when it was just them.
Zhenya licked his suddenly dry lips. He didn't know how to say that he'd been feeling kind of anxious lately, with his PT going well and the off-season quickly coming up on them, or that he wanted to keep coming home to Sid in the afternoons — wanted Sid in his house next season too, except maybe not in his smallest guest bedroom.
He looked down. Sid's left hand was resting on the table. Purposefully, Zhenya let his own hand fall, coming to rest beside Sid's so that their pinkies brushed together. Instead of giving Sid a real answer, he said, “Let’s go home.”
Then again, from the way Sid’s eyes seemed to light up, maybe it was answer enough.
It was the morning of the first day of the playoffs, and Zhenya, whose knee was still tricky at times, didn’t feel as bad about that as he expected to. It was easy to put it out of his mind, making lunch while Sid sat at the island, watching tape from Tampa’s final regular season game, taking notes to pass on to Dan, and occasionally tugging Zhenya in for sweet, absent kisses.
Zhenya was in the process of mandoline-slicing potatoes when his left hand slipped, and the tips of his index and middle fingers caught the edge of the sharp metal blade.
Zhenya hissed as, at the very same moment, Sid cried out in pain, clutching his own left hand. Zhenya was close enough to see that his hand was fine, nothing wrong with it. Zhenya’s, however, was bleeding freely. He stuck it under the faucet, letting the water sluice away the blood. He didn’t think the cuts were too bad. Thankfully no need for a visit to the emergency room.
Which meant the most pressing issue at hand was — “What happen?” he asked Sid, who was hovering anxiously at his elbow, still nothing physically wrong with him as far as Zhenya could tell.
“I —“ All color had drained from his face.
“Sid,” Zhenya said firmly. “Explain. Now.”
“I will,” Sid promised. “Let’s just deal with this first.”
He came back from Zhenya’s bathroom with Neosporin, gauze pads and adhesive tape, and had both of Zhenya’s fingers dressed in less than five minutes.
When it was done, he sat back, swallowing hard. “Do you remember after the Cup Parade, when we —”
“Fuck,” Zhenya supplied, confused by the turn this conversation was taking. They had never really discussed that night. Not even now, when he and Sid were together together instead of just living together. It was like they had decided by mutual unspoken agreement to pretend it had never happened.
“Yeah,” Sid said, tipping his chin up. “I bonded with you that night.”
Zhenya frowned. Was this a bad joke? “Wolves don’t bond with humans.” Everyone knew that.
“Apparently we can. Apparently it happens more often than anyone thinks, go fucking figure.” Sid sounded bitter. “I only worked it out for sure when I tried to fuck somebody else and couldn’t.”
“What you mean you couldn’t?”
“I mean I physically couldn’t do it," he said. “The bond wouldn’t let me.”
Zhenya remembered the tattooed, redheaded girl from what felt like forever ago, Sid going home with her but bristling when asked about it later. “So in two years between me then and me now, there’s … no one?”
Sid shook his head.
Zhenya boggled. “How come not like that for me?”
“Aren’t you listening? If you were a wolf and this was a proper, equal bond, these things would go both ways. But you’re not and I’m the one that’s bonded. Just me.”
“So how this work? What happens? For just you.”
“I can tell what you’re feeling, obviously.” He nodded to Zhenya’s bandaged fingers. “Pretty much all the time. I can block it out if I try hard enough, but sometimes it still comes through, like when you were in surgery or when you were down about Gonch not signing with us again. Sometimes I get migraines in the summer, I’m assuming because you’re not there. And —“ Sid’s jaw clenched. “I really don’t like it when you smell like other people.”
Everything he was saying sounded awful, like Zhenya had been leaking his worst feelings at Sid for two years and in return, Sid had been completely beholden to Zhenya against his will.
“Anything good about this bond?” he asked desperately.
“When I’m hurt, I feel a little better when you’re around,” Sid offered.
“Why you sleep in car?”
That was one upside in a sea of downsides. Zhenya shook his head. “Has to be some way to break it.”
Zhenya startled. “Why you not do it yet?”
Sid went very still. “I asked around. God, I talked to so many people about this. And all anyone could suggest was one thing.” He grimaced. “Well, other than one of us dying, I guess.”
“What is it?” Zhenya encouraged.
“But in summer, we not —”
“Prolonged distance,” Sid corrected. “It’s partly why I never said anything. I didn’t want you to think you had to leave Pittsburgh to make things better for me. The team needed you. You were my friend. I didn’t want you to leave.”
“So what you plan to do, Sid? Wait until I retire and go back to Russia ten years from now? Let yourself hurt for that long? Stupid!” He tugged Sid forward, let Sid press his miserable face into Zhenya's collarbone. “Don't want you stuck in this alone,” he murmured. He didn’t want Sid taking the brunt of his every shitty emotion, or feeling it when he got hurt on the ice, or battling migraines when they spent the summer apart.
“Well, there's no other option because you're not leaving.” Sid's voice was fierce.
But he’d misunderstood. Zhenya couldn't even imagine going back to Russia for good, playing out the last legs of his career in the KHL. Not anymore. Not for a while, if he was being honest with himself. “There is other option. You could — bite?”
"No," Sid said right away. "No, it's not safe."
"Won't go wrong, Sid. I trust you." Sid would never hurt him, that much he knew. And the more he thought about it, the more the idea appealed. He wanted to make the bond reciprocal, wanted to shift with Sid, and run with him through the woods behind his house, and feel everything he was feeling in his bones. "Not alone in this now. We fix it. Together."
He could see Sid faltering, maybe because he could feel that Zhenya absolutely meant it, maybe because he knew Zhenya to be even more persistent and bullheaded than he was.
Sid tangled their hands and brought them to his mouth. He didn't say yes and he didn't say no, but Zhenya felt the sharp edge of a canine as he brushed a kiss across Zhenya's knuckles, and it felt like a promise.