Like so many other problems in Sid's life, this one starts with the media.
("Sid," says Dupuis, "your problems aren't with the media. It’s all in your head," and half the locker room slaps their knees, laughing, and the other half reach out to ruffle Sid's hair, laughing; and Sid does his best to school his features into something that would say, I am your captain and thus too dignified to bitch you all out for this even though I totally should, you assholes.
This is the problem with concussions, see. Your teammates think that they're all hilarious and that crazy-jokes are now the best things ever, both of which are blatantly untrue. Sid is sure somewhere PR agents are clawing their faces at how "inappropriate" and "insensitive" the jokes are. Sid is sure, mostly because he'd tried to make one of those jokes with his agent--y'know, haha, I'm doing better, the symptoms are gone, insert a bit of humor to lighten the atmosphere--and she'd gone off for a good half hour about how inappropriate and insensitive that joke was and how if he cared even a little to stop her from committing ritual suicide, he would never ever ever say anything of the sort again, especially within recording distance of any media.
Since Sid is sort of terrified to death of his PR agent (he suspects she crushes clients' balls as morning grip exercises)--he'd done one better, and resolved to purse his lips disapprovingly at anyone on the team who tries to make such jokes. Thus far, it's not been a terribly effective deterrent, but Sid's working on it.)
Anyway, the media woes started like this: apparently, one of the players' wives' cousins or whatever went off to become a contestant on The Bachelor; the wife casually mentioned this to some news group at a booster event and the media, like usual, took a little anthill and made Mt. Everest out of it; everything became completely convoluted and subsequently misunderstood and the story in the papers the next day was about how the team, for their next charity function, planned to hold some sort of bachelor auction. Maybe all still could have ended well, but the Wives and Girlfriends Association had seized on the idea. Then it was all a terrible, negative cycle of BAD BAD DO NOT WANT, and the fall out of the whole thing was Sidney Crosby & Co. getting fitted for matching suits so as to be auctioned off for a date night with the highest bidder.
"There has to be laws against this sort of thing," gripes Lovejoy, during the rehearsal run through, as the Skates and Plates Charity Event organizers fuss over how to arrange the players up on stage. The organizers are currently huddled off to one side of the stage, being less discrete than they think they are in shooting covert looks at the team. "They're selling us, aren't they? That's like, very local human trafficking?"
"Mm, yes, yes; I see why you want them in order of who's being first presented," says one of the organizers, going for quiet, but the acoustics of the Convention Center makes it difficult not to overhear. "But with the publicity, there will be so many pictures being taken, especially when they're all in a group like this. The height differences, it'd make them all look so raggedy, don't you think?"
"Raggedy," murmurs Cooke, from a little further down the line.
"Fair point,” agrees another organizer. “Shall we have the tallest in the middle? Be a nice, clean--"
"Oh," says a third, "but. Crosby--"
"Oh," says a fourth. "Oh, that's right."
The whole organizing group sort of crane their heads around to stare at Sid, who is 5'11", thank you, and not the shortest on the team--
"Doubled up, then," sighs the first organizer. "That's worked in the past. We'll get risers in the back if we have to; see to that, will you, Jules?"
"I miss the days when all we had to do for charity was to go bowling," says Jordy, after practice one day.
"Yeah," agrees Sid, not looking up from where he's picking at the taping on his hockey stick. "And we could wear jeans."
There's a snort of laughter from Flower, who says smiling, "But your jeans are like your suits--both tailored, no?"
"Or even hospital visits," continues Jordy. He slants a look at Sid, says, "We could wear jeans then, too."
Flower is giggling again, "Ah, yes; but the seats were not tailored to Sid's--"
"Fuck you both," says Sid. He flicks a bit of tape at Jordy. Jordy bats it away, and retaliates by chucking a balled up sock at Sid.
"Oh, gross," says Sid, just as Geno comes wandering past--and casually takes the towel draped over his neck and snaps it at Jordy.
"G," says Jordy, apparently used to this sort of casual abuse (which, brothers; right). “You're not siding with Sid, are you?"
"Is two against one," says Geno, settling down at his spot on the bench. "Not fair."
"But Sid is captain," says Flower. "He has more power, no?"
"Still losing," says Geno, good-naturedly. He turns to Sid. "But since I here, maybe still not fair? Like, we five, them three, power-play." He smiles at Sid, slow and wide, one of those Geno smiles that says, I am laughing at you, in large part because you deserve to be laughed at, but don't feel bad; it's just that I find you amusing and would not be averse to keeping you around for a long time. They're rather lovely smiles.
From further down the bench, Neal gives a whoop and calls, "Oh, them's fighting words, Staalsy. You going to take that?"
"Fuck you, Neal," returns Jordy. "Go comb your hair."
As it turns out, those are fighting words, and Jordy and Neal promptly descend into a squabble over the mutual failure of both parties to grow any sort of respectable beard. Geno tilts to the side and bumps Sid's shoulder with his own, sliding him a quiet smile. "Yours still worst," he tells Sid.
"Really?" Sid tries to squint down at his upper lip. "It's pretty full, though, I think it's quite successful."
"Like dead thing," replies Geno. "Died on lip, now rotting. Smell bad?"
"You smell bad," replies Sid, shoving at Geno, who laughingly obliges by slumping over onto the bench at the shove.
It's still a little surprising for Sid, laughing now too; it's still a little surprising how easy this all is, with Geno.
It's not that Sid's never seen Geno in a suit or tux or non-hockey gear before. And it's not like Sid's unaware of how flattering a well tailored suit is on Geno: all his long gangly limbs become elegant, and his inexplicable fondness for dove gray and baby blue when manifested in waistcoat and neckties rather than grandfatherly cardigans give him a certain quirky charm. Sid's never quite been able to articulate all this, of course; his general feelings when seeing Geno at formal events have always been a confusing mix of appreciation and faint envy. (Sid, for all his abilities to grow mustaches, remains too baby-faced to really pull off suits. Rather: "They make you look fat," Taylor tells him, snapping her gum over the phone. She reconsiders, "Actually, it could just be that you are. I saw the roster stats today, Sid. Geno weighs less than you and he's like, four inches taller. What the hell?"
Sid vacillates between "Geno's just too skinny" and "It's all muscle, all right, it's all muscle" and, most worryingly, "Am I really? Do you think I need to talk to the trainer about it?"
Taylor cuts him off before he gets any of those out: "Actually, never mind. Geno's legs would probably snap if you looked at them wrong. Do you not feed him or anything?"
What does that even mean? "It's not the captain's job to...?" tries Sid.
Taylor's disdain is clear over the phone. She says, "That's not what I said, Sid. God, you stalk him enough; pay attention," and then she snaps her gum at him again and hangs up.)
Geno looking dapper isn't the problem. Geno looking dapper on a stage under a flood of spotlights isn't a problem either, nor the announcer going on about how number 71--form for the silent auction on the second table to your left, ladies and gentlemen--likes cooking, sangria, and long meanderings through the zoo. (Shit, who on staff fills out these trivia forms? Geno doesn't like meandering through the zoo; Geno's all about the cuddling with exotic animals.)
In the wings, standing a little behind from where Sid is peeking around the curtain, Neal is grumbling something about "always fucking knew they'd whore us out eventually."
"Okay," says Kunitz, "But not actually prostitution--like, we're a little classier, right? Escorts, at least?"
"No," says Neal, sounding pensive, "offering money for our persons, that's--"
Dupuis, walking past, says, "What do you think the draft is? It's just there's more ladies bidding tonight."
"Is your wife making you sleep on the couch yet, Duper?" Neal calls after him.
Geno’s introduction ends and he comes wandering back to the stage wings, as Paul Martin takes his turn to be introduced. "Too hot," says Geno, pulling at his tie. He looks at Sid, who's still half-craned around the curtains. "You nervous?" he asks.
"Hmm? Oh, no," says Sid, pulling back. "Just--curious, I guess. Or. I don't know, I wanted to see what it was like. What's it like? Did you get a look at the people out there? Who's bidding?"
"Not started yet," replies Geno. "Finish intros first." He raises his eyebrows at Sid, as if to indicate the general nature of hence why we are here, Sid, in the wings on stage.
"Oh," says Sid. "But--I mean, were there a lot of girls out there, in the audience?"
Geno says again, "You nervous?" this time on a breath of laughter. He adds, "Lights too bright, but not see many girls." Geno pats Sid on the shoulder, surprisingly gentle for how large his hands are. "Is all right," he tells Sid. "More guys want have dinner with Sidney Crosby. Can talk hockey whole time."
Which--okay, a little bit, Sid had worried about that. Not so much, "Oh no! Girls!" because he's twenty-four now, okay, and mostly kind of living by himself sometimes. It's more, what does he talk about with girls who don't call him fat, ie not Taylor? (The PR agent voice in his head is frothing at the mouth about how he is never to vocalize any of this, not if he doesn't want a media shitstorm of gender stereotyping of conversational topics; the fact that Sid can put a subject label on this is kind of worrying, as a general indicator of how much time he is spending with his PR agent.)
"You...too?" Sid tries. "Guys would love to talk about hockey with you too," he offers, one of those mutual compliment things that's half-reflexive at this point, except it gets kind of caught on his tongue and then between his teeth and ends up emerging all mashed up and mangled. It's a difficult sentence to get out, rubbing his throat raw, hurting a little.
"No," says Geno, with one of his Very Serious This Is A Russian Joke faces, "Am more handsome than you; girls bid for me. Lots of money."
"Screw you," says Sid, and feels something loosen in his shoulders. That’s all right, then. Geno gets a lot of girls; he gets offered girls by their mothers on national television sometimes. They all end up being tall and thin and blonde, pale and icy and sharper than Siberian winters. Geno likes his girls cooly distant, and Sid likes them that way too. They just suit Geno better, when they don't distract him from his hockey game.
It’s not stalkerish to keep track of Geno’s hockey game: that’s just part of the captain’s job description. Sid keeps track of everyone’s hockey game on the team. Just--Geno plays a lot, and often comes through at crucial moments, and picked up a lot of slack That Season Sid Couldn’t Play, so it’s only natural that Sid pays a little more attention to Geno. Sid and Geno are linemates, after all, the Two-Headed Monster; Sid needs to attune himself to Geno’s quirks and habits, just as Geno attunes himself to Sid’s.
Besides, it’s just hockey things. Sid knows all about Hockey-Geno: the tilt of a head to indicate where he wants Sid on the ice and the difference in the set of his shoulders between when he’s passing and when he’s shooting and how he laces his skates and how he tapes his stick and the order he likes to put pads on and how he never wants a five-o’clock PB&J with Sid and his fondness for their pre-game two-touch soccer ritual and the slight curve of his spine as he knock helmets with Sid right before each game. They’re all little details that make up the Evgeni Malkin Sid plays hockey with; it’s important to know them, because it’s important to know Geno. It’s not like Sid’s keeping track of Geno’s private life--that would be creepy. Sid doesn’t know the brand of shampoo Geno uses (when not at the rink, or on road trips); Sid doesn’t know what Geno eats for breakfast in the mornings (when not at the rink, or on road trips); Sid doesn’t know the color of Geno’s bedsheets (when not on road trips); Sid doesn’t know what pictures line the hallways of Geno’s house. Sid actually doesn’t know anything about Geno’s house, really; except the street address and where it is. Sid drives past there, days when he goes to the rink, which is totally normal, since they both live in Sewickley; and it’s hard not to notice Geno’s house when you’re driving past. His is the red brick one with the huge sprawling lawns and the always young-looking grass, and the woods in the back that turn brilliant hues in autumn. It’s actually a great view. So Sid passes it like, twice a day. It happens.
Geno is a lying liar who lies, Sid thinks, seated next to a doctor who’s Director of some Very Important Shit at UPMC and her husband and three daughters, the middle of whom is very scrappy looking and plays defense on her middle school hockey team.
“I got boarded last week,” Kat announces proudly. “My nose bled a lot.”
“Oh, yeah?” asks Sid, because that’s actually pretty cool. Not the blood part, but--the kid’s pretty baller.
“Yes, it did,” agrees Very Important Director, benignly.
“But I kept playing! The ref called penalty of course--”
So, it’s not terrible. The food’s all right. He gets to talk hockey. It’s obviously more for the kids than the parents; Sid’s okay with that.
Two tables to the left, Geno’s eating dinner with some young venture capitalist who spends half the year in New York and Sid wonders what the fuck the guy’s doing here. He’s all rosy cheeked and sort of plump looking, like the sort of pheasants you hear hunter’s reminiscing about or the sort of milkmaids Vikings used to tumble or whatever.
It doesn’t look like they’re talking about hockey. Are they talking about hockey? Pheasant guy is miming something in the air, all circular and round and-- Sid squints a little bit, but then Kat has gotten absorbed in the chocolate beignets for dessert and Maddie takes advantage of the lull in conversation to ask Sid for his thoughts on Mulan.
After dinner, there is dancing, and Sid takes his turn with all three daughters. They all do the Macarena and then Vivien The Youngest wants to do the Bunny Hop; and then Kat wants a turn around the room but doesn’t know the steps, so Sid offers to let her stand on his shoes, because that seems to be what older brothers offer on those holiday family specials on TV. Afterwards, Sid pretty much can’t feel his toes; but the girls are tired and sleepy and want to go home, anyway. So Sid waves them goodbye and then limps his way over to the bar. He does a quick tally of the chicken parmesan and the stuffed mushrooms and the butter on the bread rolls that had been dinner and resigns himself to water.
A few minutes later, as Sid sits at the bar sipping his tumbler of ice water, Geno materializes at his elbow, asking for a beer.
“How was date?” asks Geno. “Good dancers, I saw.”
“Yeah,” agrees Sid. “Kat played defense. Dinner was all right.”
“You talked hockey,” says Geno, sounding amused. “So it turn out all right.” He takes the foaming glass from the bartender. “And me. I was wrong ago. Maybe Sid prettier, so more girls like?” He slants a look at Sid, smile crooking into sly territory.
Sid feels a dull warmth flush his cheeks. He says, “That’s...really sexist. I mean, guys can like me for being pretty. Or. I mean.”
Geno is laughing openly now. “Is true; we friends only because you are good-looking. How you call it? Arm-sweets? For decoration.”
“I am not your arm-candy,” says Sid. He feels like maybe the conversation has gone somewhere weird. Sid’s not too great a judge of that, though; so maybe not. Geno doesn’t seem bothered.
In fact, Geno leans closer, conspiratorial. He says, “I tell secret, yes? I hate hockey-talk. Only endure because arm-candy is very sweet.”
“I am not your arm-candy,” says Sid again, because the other part, about the hockey-talk and hate thereof, doesn’t even bear thinking about. “You--how come you’re not my arm-candy? Maybe that’s how it is.”
“Could be, could be,” agrees Geno. “Could be guy before pay a lot because I am very handsome?”
“You guys have a good time?” asks Sid, suddenly sore-throated again.
“Eh,” says Geno with a shrug. “Was in English, but all right. Talk about--ahm, big balloons? Hot balloons? Or something. Not hockey.” He shrugs again.
“Ah ha.” says Sid. “See. See. You’re disappointed. You missed the hockey-talk. You love hockey-talk.”
“All right, yes,” laughs Geno. “Is why I talk with you, yes? We talk hockey always.”
“That’s...” Sid thinks about it. “No, we talk like. About stupid things too.”
“Sid,” says Geno, laughing again. “Not-hockey is stupid things?”
“Whatever, you know what I meant,” says Sid. “We talk about a lot of stuff.”
“Is good talks,” agrees Geno. He looks past Sid’s head, says, “Date guy back from bathroom. See you later.”
“Oh,” says Sid, feeling sort of wrong-footed. “Okay. Bye.”
Geno ducks away.
Two minutes later, Geno comes back, to say, “Oh, forgot first time. You can drive me home?”
“I drink a little,” says Geno, sounding not at all apologetic.
“Oh, sure, yeah,” says Sid, though Geno’s had maybe half a glass of beer, unless he’d had wine with dinner. Which Sid hadn’t seen, but--he hadn’t been watching that closely, really.
“Thanks. Tell me when leaving.” Geno disappears into the crush of bodies again.
Letang, hassled looking, comes by the bar for “Jesus fuck, something strong” and spends the next half hour regaling Sid with stories about the aunt and nephew pair he’d been bought by. Neal drops by as well, suit starting to wilt a little but his hair as sculpted as ever; and they’re huddled at the bar when Dupuis comes trawling through. He gives Sid an exaggerated stink eye, and nags a bit, the way only a father of four can, something about Sid corrupting his underlings with his anti-social ways. “C’mon, boys,” he claps his hands, “mingle, mingle,” and hustles Neal and Letang away.
A little later, Fleury stops by, bright eyed with Jordy close on his heels. “The question tonight,” says Flower, “of course is how much we’re worth.”
“Like--our contracts?” asks Sid, because just baldly saying 8.7 million a year is sort of crass. He picks absently at peanuts, which had been consolation for the ice water. “What?”
“How good a lay you are,” clarifies Jordy. “How much a date with you is worth.”
“I haven’t laid with anyone yet,” says Sid, and then replays that sentence, before quickly backtracking, “Er. Tonight, I mean. That wasn’t like--a general statement or anything; I just. I wasn’t planning on taking anyone home tonight...?”
“Sid,” says Jordy, “One, you should. Two, don’t ever actually tell me the generalities or specifics of your sexual history. Three, how much did your people buy you for?”
“Eh?” Sid doesn’t really know; he hadn’t asked.
“How do you pass up what is pretty much flat out a dick-measuring contest?” Jordy moans.
“Uhm,” says Sid.
Flower looks up from where he’d been fiddling with his phone. “Jordy,” he says, “Matt got it.”
“Eh?” says Sid again.
Jordy tells Sid, as Flower goes back to his phone: Cooke is apparently the worst sort of gossip under all that bluster, and after making “an excruciating amount of” casual talk with some of the event coordinators, had gotten a look at the final tally sheets of the auction and then promptly sniper-photo’d it with his phone camera.
“And sent it to me,” says Flower, waving his phone. “Want to see?”
They crowd around the display.
“Ahh,” says Flower, “not bad, not bad.”
Jordy wrinkles his nose.
Sid skims over his own, because--well, all the endorsement people hire like, focus groups or something to measure this for him, his marketability or whatever. There are reports about it faxed back to him. He’s more curious about Geno’s, so he takes a look and thinks, the fuck. That is criminally underpaying for him.
“What?” laughs Jordy, “did Geno make more than you, is that why you are looking so constipated?” He peers down at the display again, and says, “Nope, he--Holy shit, Sid, who the fuck shelled out that much for you?”
“Don’t remember their names,” says Sid. “They left. Had three girls?”
Flower shakes his head, one of those Oh, Sid shakes.
“Still, pretty decent for Geno,” says Jordy, tapping at Flower’s phone display, before Flower bats his hands away. “What with the Russian and all.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” frowns Sid. “Geno’s fine. He talks fine with us.”
“Yes,” agrees Flower. “But we talk all hockey stuff. It’s--not everyone’s favorite subject.”
“Why would the guy bid for a hockey player then?” says Sid. Then Sid remembers, We talk hockey always, and wonders a little. Geno sounded satisfied with that, but Sid gets tones wrong sometimes. Maybe it had been a complaint? “Well. Probably, Geno...talks about other stuff, I guess.”
“Uhmm,” frowns Jordy, looking dubious. “I don’t know. He’s almost as bad as you, sometimes.”
“What do you guys talk about anyway?” asks Flower. “Plays? Strategy?”
Sid thinks, arm candy and dead mustaches and three on five like a powerplay. He shrugs, and doesn’t really know how to explain. Hockey’s not so much the subject, really, if Sid’s being honest; hockey’s the language. They talk about other stuff, but like. In hockey. It all comes back to hockey.
Some commotion up front gets their attention; the MC is making an announcement. A moment later, Geno slips through the crowd and drops into a vacant seat. “Hey,” says Sid.
Geno looks at Flower and Jordy. “Is last dance,” he tells them. “You free?”
“Ah, fuck,” says Jordy, “I lost my--they were with your people, weren’t they, Flower?”
“By the wall,” Flower points. Jordy goes.
“You’re done?” asks Sid.
Geno shrugs. He says, “I guess,” strangely ambivalent. He swings his legs a little; the bar stools are high enough for that. He looks--unbuttoned suit jacket and loosened tie and all--pretty much the same as ever; loose dark hair starting to curl a bit, the full mouth and high nose and the weirdly soft eyes, smiling slightly and looking pretty much five years old. (Though Sid probably has no room to talk.)
Geno points up, says, “Is Canadian?”
He means the song streaming through the speakers. Sid listens, some guy crooning about last dances and pale moonlight and sparkling wine or something. It’s a bit familiar. “I don’t know,” says Sid. “Sounds like it?”
“Sid is an idiot,” states Flower. “It’s Buble. He co-owns the Vancouver Giants, Sid.”
“Oh, right,” agrees Sid, not quite sure. Flower rolls his eyes, and looks like he’s about to say something else, but then is interrupted by Cooke skulking behind a pillar, making furious ‘come here’ gestures. Sid closes his eyes and turns away, because definitely no good is about to come out of that, as Flower heads over, and Sid wants plausible deniability.
Then it’s just Geno and Sid. They’re quiet for a minute, watching people. Sid swings his legs a little bit, too. It’s never quite awkward with Geno, who mostly takes everything in stride, who speaks silence about as well as he speaks hockey. Sid pushes the little bowl of peanuts over in offering. Geno takes a couple.
He says, “I have your hoodie in house. Come by, pick up?”
“From last week, on plane. So,” Geno tilts his head. “You come inside, I go get it.”
Sid could probably just wait in the car, when they get back to Geno’s house. He could idle in the driveway. He could go inside. He wonders what Geno’s hallway looks like.
“Sure,” says Sid.
“Okay,” says Geno. “We leave?”
“After the song,” says Sid, because it’s sort of catchy, all brass and strings in strange complement.
“Okay,” agrees Geno, with one of his quiet smiles. “After.”
So don’t forget who’s taking you home
And in whose arms you’re gonna be
So darling, save the last dance for me.