Actions

Work Header

You'll Learn How to Howl

Work Text:

Geno knew that a lot of things would be different in North America. Everything, almost, down to the size of the rink and the way they wanted him to skate. Still, what startled him the most when he arrived were the rules around wolves.

In Russia, and most of Europe, bondwolves had legal personhood. The bond was a partnership between equals. In North America, wolves were considered the possession of their bonded. There was a legal differentiation. A hierarchy.

They handed him paperwork when he got off the plane, and he didn’t understand it at all, why they expected him to give them this information about Grom, why they expected him to take responsibility for anything Grom might or might not do, why they were charging him to control his wolf. How on earth could he be expected to do that? He couldn’t control Grom any more than he could control the weather.

“Is how it works here,” Sergei told him when he finally was allowed to speak with someone who would do more than strictly translate. “Don’t worry about it. Just paper.”

“It said if I don’t control him, I could be jailed and separated from him.” Just the idea made Geno feel cold, and stirred up an anger in the pit of his stomach that wasn’t just his own.

“Never happens,” Sergei said firmly. “Don’t worry so much.”

Sergei was unbonded; on the team at the time, only two players had wolves. That was different from Russia, too. Bonded kids got preference at home. They were supposed to be more competitive, have more testosterone, push harder. Geno wasn’t sure if it was true or not, he’d never really thought about it. Meeting Crosby, though, such a strong player and unbonded… well, it was something to think about.

Grom laughed at him in his head for thinking so much about it. Things were the way they were. Human insistence on trying to find patterns and rules was a waste of time.

“So glad to have your opinion,” Geno told him, and Grom laughed again, flirting his tail and trotting off to get one of the heavy chews Geno bought him to keep his teeth clean and strong.

**

Geno had bonded when he was thirteen. He came out of hockey practice and a half-grown pup was sitting on the sidewalk outside the rink, ignoring the other children and the parents pushing them toward it. He had black fur and huge paws, and Geno knew him as soon as their eyes met.

He always thought of that moment as hockey bringing Grom to him. The two most important things to his life being woven together right at the heart.

Grom grew into his paws and tail, standing nearly as tall as Geno’s waist at the shoulders and weighing nearly eighty kilograms. His fur settled at a deep iron gray with black at the points. He was beautiful and perfect.

Geno knew he would never love anything in the world more than his wolf. That was what bonding meant; part of each other, never alone.

He wondered sometimes if it would have been harder or easier to leave Russia without Grom at his side. He knew, because he knew himself, that he would have left anyway. He just wondered if he should be even more grateful to his bonded than he was anyway.

**

It didn’t occur to him to check how the league handled wolf-related things that had an impact on play. His agent had told him to review the CBA, but he didn’t bother. It was long and dense and boring even in translation, so he just threw it onto a pile of papers on his desk and forgot about it.

That was a mistake, but he didn’t find out until Sasha Ovechkin’s wolf went into heat the day of the Pens-Caps game and Grom climbed out of the wolf box to get to her. Geno drew three penalties for overaggressive play before he realized why he felt so out of control. In Russia, they would have been waived and he could be a belated healthy scratch and leave the ice right away. Here, he had to sit on the bench until the end of the period, fuming and thinking about his record being all fucked up, while Grom chased Romashka up and down the hallways under Consol.

When the period finally ended and he could leave, an assistant coach came over from the Capitals’ side to tell him that Ovechkin’s girlfriend was at the game and would be accompanying him through the heat. Geno bit back the impulse to punch the guy—not his fault, not his fault at all—and just nodded before going into the locker room.

Fucking Sasha, he must have felt this coming for a few days, but did he give Geno a call? No. Did he even send a text, maybe just saying heads up, brother, Romashka will heat soon, better see if anyone can come to the game in case you need it? No, of course not. Sasha only ever thought about himself. Fuck Sasha. He and his lady could go off to the quiet room or a hotel suite or something while Geno had the locker room shower and his hand and Grom in his head, chasing the chubby hind end of Sasha’s wolf and trying to corner her long enough to hump away at her like a fool.

Grom didn’t have much attention to spare for Geno at that point, but he pushed stern disapproval at him for that. Humans didn’t understand anything and Geno should mind his own business. And if perhaps Romashka was slightly overfed by her person, it just meant she would have strong, healthy pups.

Yes, pups. Put lots of pups in her, Geno thought back at him. A big litter. Take Sasha off the line with a long, difficult pregnancy.

Grom was ignoring him again already, his attention elsewhere and dark, heavy clouds of hunger and desire coming across the bond. Geno sighed and turned the shower up as hot as he could stand it. Bondmate to a male wolf and no partner of his own meant that his hands were never idle, because his dick was never down. Such an embarrassment.

**

There was no litter from that mating, which was probably for the best. Geno tried not to be too disappointed. Pittsburgh and Washington were just close enough that Geno would have wanted to visit and check in on how Romashka was carrying, and Sasha wouldn’t have liked it. Sasha didn’t think any of the old-fashioned stuff was necessary. Romashka didn’t need Grom’s assistance, and Sasha certainly didn’t need Geno’s.

Geno didn’t think it was a matter of need at all. It was a matter of puppies, and family. He couldn’t wait to have a family, and that included Grom’s babies, too, all of them.

But the question didn’t come up at all, and Geno firmly told himself he didn’t feel cheated about that. Grom was a healthy, handsome wolf, and Russian, as exotic to the females of his species as Geno was in Pittsburgh. There would be litters in good time. There had to be.

**

The next season, Grom mated Cygne, Letang’s wolf, in the middle of morning skate the day they played the Stars in Dallas. Letang was more conscientious than Sasha, and charted his wolf’s heats on a calendar, so his girlfriend had come to Dallas with them to manage things. Good for him. Wonderful. Geno was so happy for them, and for Cygne and Grom, who were having a wonderful time in a parking lot outside the arena.

Geno, of course, was once again in a shower by himself jerking his dick until it wanted to fall off. Life was unfair and terrible.

“Find a real mate,” he told Grom that night in the hotel. He’d turned the air conditioner as cold as it would go, and Grom was lying on top of him, a big furry blanket with a cold nose tucked against his neck. “A partner. You’re terrible.”

Grom sent him a wave of smug self-satisfaction and Geno sighed. The wolf had no intention of settling down any time soon. Available to all lady wolves in need for as long as possible.

“Terrible to me.” Geno ran his fingers through the heavy fur at Grom’s ruff. “At least let me find someone next time, yeah? Give me a warning.”

The thought/feeling burst Grom sent to him was philosophical and complex, but Geno could sort it out easily by now. The wolf would do his best, but sometimes it was just impossible to know in advance. Wolves didn’t put much stock in the idea of the future. There was only life in the moment, being open to the whims of fate and the universe and lovely, eager lady wolves.

Geno rolled his eyes and shifted under Grom’s weight. “I hate you.”

He didn’t, and Grom knew it.

**

So it went on, years and years of life in Pittsburgh fall-winter-spring and Russia in the summers. Olympics and World Championships and Cup playoffs and years with none of those. He became a better player, closer with his teammates, a fixture and face of the league. He got injured and he healed. He skated, and skated, and skated, always.

And Grom made his way through half the female wolves in the league, or so it seemed. If Geno actually sat down and made a list, he would be ashamed of his wolf.

Cygne was a frequent partner, and Dupuis’ Alouette. The bird-wolves, Geno called them, rolling his eyes, but really it was nice when Grom mated wolves with partners whom Geno could trust. Grom was close with both of them; the three often napped together in the wolf box during practices and games, all curled up in a knot of fur and stern opinions about their silly bondmates playing like puppies on the ice.

Grom never properly partnered with either of them, though, and of course Letang and Dupuis had their own partners and no interest in sharing heats with Geno. Geno didn’t blame them, exactly, it wasn’t their fault, but—well. Sometimes he was lucky enough to be dating someone who happened to be on the right continent at the time of mating. Sometimes he was able to pick someone up and have what North Americans called a “wolfie.” He’d been told some of those people had put the stories up on websites devoted to tracking celebrity wolf encounters. He never went looking.

And sometimes another teammate would be interested and available, which was always nice. He didn’t have to worry about his teammates. He trusted them, especially Lazy, who was always up for helping him through a heat, and would even stick around afterward, and eat dinner with him or watch a movie and laugh. Grom liked Lazy, too, even rubbed against his legs to mark him with scent, and Geno thought maybe, maybe they were moving toward something, maybe after another season or so he could ask carefully, casually, if Lazy wanted to maybe stay at the house on a more full-time basis, or—

Well. The front office moved faster than he did, with that. His own fault maybe.

But there were plenty of matings where he was alone in the shower, too. It was the way of things with bondwolf. They did what they wanted to do, and whether their person kept up or not was really not their most pressing concern. It just wasn’t.

Only one litter of pups, in all those years, which worried Geno at first—what if something was wrong with Grom, medically, what if he was missing something?—until Duper sat him down and showed him the numbers. To keep the population in check, female wolves had pups only every third or fourth mating, and not all of those came to term. Since Grom didn’t have a proper mate that he bred consistently, only one litter taking was really very normal.

That mating had been while they were home in Russia, so Geno never got to see the pups anyway. They were all bonded and scattered across the country by the next time he went home. It didn’t bother Grom in the slightest, but sometimes Geno felt it like loss in his chest.

He couldn’t make things happen, though. All he could do was train, and wait, and care for his wolf, and let Grom care for him in return.

**

Time kept going by, one hockey season after another, and it began to feel like he was waiting for something. Him and Grom both, though the wolf was patient and cheerful about it and Geno sometimes felt like his skin was crawling off.

“You should see a witch,” Sid told him one morning outside the rink, waiting for the cars to come around and take them to deliver season tickets.

Geno shook his head. “They’re all frauds.”

“You don’t know that. They might be able to tell you something.”

“All the ones here are frauds. In Russia, maybe get good advice. Not here.”

Sid rolled his eyes and shoved his hands in his pockets. “You want me to call Taylor?”

Sid’s sister was bonded to a big male wolf with a truly magnificent tail. Grom was jealous of King’s tail, actually, and behaved very badly whenever Taylor came to visit.

“What does she know I don’t? I’m bonded longer than she is.”

“Still, it’s a different perspective.” Sid shrugged. “Do what you want, but try to keep it off the ice, eh?”

“Fuck you,” Geno said, and got into the car. Keep it off the ice. Sid trying to captain him.

Grom laughed at him in his head. The wolves stayed at the rink ever since the incident back in Mario’s time, where his Caesar pissed in the living room of a very wealthy ticket holder. Public relations and all. Geno didn’t like being separated, but he would follow the rules.

Help me, Geno thought at Grom. Don’t make my life harder.

Grom was mildly sorry for his troubles, but not at all apologetic.

I will skin you and make a rug.

Grom didn’t even dignify that with a response. Geno was not his most personable for ticket-distribution day.

**

Things didn’t settle at all when the season began, but at least he could push it all aside to focus on his game. Playing well was more important than vague and mysterious wolf troubles. He made a promise to himself that if things still felt strange at the All-Star break, he would consult a witch, even if he had to go to New York to find a proper Russian one. With that plan made, he set it aside and put his energy toward winning.

And all was not well, exactly, but it was fine, until the game against Florida. The Panthers, not the other ones. There was no reason for there to be two teams in Florida, anyway. It annoyed him.

At the start of the second period, he realized it wasn’t the existence of two Florida teams that was annoying him. He wasn’t actually annoyed at all. Grom was, and it wasn’t even proper annoyance, but rapidly building response to a female wolf in heat. One in close proximity, too, probably somewhere in the building.

Geno pushed as firmly as he could at Grom, ordering the wolf to stop immediately, calm himself, and leave the other wolf alone. Someone else could satisfy her, and Grom could stay in the fucking box and not ruin Geno’s game.

Grom told him, in not so many words, to go to a dick.

Geno was trying to watch the ice and argue with him at the same time, which was impossible, and so the hit caught him completely unprepared. It came from the right, a body hitting him full-on and at top speed, spinning him across the ice. Geno reacted on instinct, shoving back and going to drop his gloves, but the other person was moving again, slamming him up against the boards. Geno caught a glimpse of the number on the jersey—5, Florida’s rookie defenseman, the one who had gone first in the draft—before he realized two things. One, the whistles were blowing and the refs were headed their way. Two, the rookie wasn’t trying to hit him anymore, but to press against him, full-body-length, and grind on him.

Oh, fuck, he thought, as the hot burst of Grom’s lust hit him in the pit of the stomach. This one?

The refs pulled the rookie back, and the kid snarled at him. His face was sweaty and flushed red, his eyes glazed. Definitely most of the way gone with heat. The referees were trying to stay between them, breaking off their eye contact, and Geno knew he should skate back to the bench and remove the temptation of proximity. Still, he just stood there, leaning on the boards and breathing hard, Grom’s pulse throbbing in his head faster than his own.

Florida’s coach called for a time-out, and both captains came out to the ice to claim their wolf-bothered teammates. Sid dragged Geno back to the bench, talking in a constant low stream, trying to hold his attention. Geno didn’t want to take his eyes away from the rookie, though. Florida’s captain was cupping the kid’s face in his hands, talking to him intently, trying to drag him back to himself with sheer force of will.

It wouldn’t work, Geno wanted to call out to him. It was too late for that, too far along. He could feel it; things were starting to rise toward a peak.

He looked up at the scoreboard as Sid shoved him down onto the bench. Number five was named Ekblad, and they were both taking a wolf-related penalty and being dismissed for the rest of the game.

“No!” Geno shouted down the bench toward Coach Johnson. “No, I’m stay in game!”

“Stop it,” Sid said sharply, grabbing Geno’s wrist. “Don’t pick a fight. Just go back to the locker room and… deal with it.”

Geno glared at him and then at Coach, for good measure, making sure everyone on the bench knew exactly how unhappy he was with this. He had Grom’s emotions backing his own, heightening everything, and part of him wanted to throw his head back and howl, maybe even bite. Instead he stalked down the tunnel, flinging his stick to the side for someone else to pick up.

A pale-faced woman with a Panthers badge stopped him outside of the locker room. “Mr. Malkin?”

“What?” He was too hot under his pads, suddenly; too hot and rapidly growing hard.

“Mr. Ekblad doesn’t, ah, doesn’t… there’s no partner to accompany the heat. Do you…?”

Geno stared at her for a moment, trying to sort out her uncertain speech. “He’s alone?”

“Yes. Are you?”

Geno nodded, dropping his helmet as well. “Where?”

She led him to one of the small conference rooms under the area, one that had been repurposed as a lounge with couches and tables and a small refrigerator in the corner. Ekblad had already stripped out of his pads and was pacing the length of the room, his fists clenched at his sides, his eyes wild. Geno’s whole mind went blank at the sight of him, his instincts merging with Grom’s for a moment in a surge of desire to take.

He struggled out of his pads, growling something wordless at the assistant. She shoved something into his hand—crinkly foil packet, condom, right—before she hurried back into the hallway and closed the door behind her. Nobody else would bother them, he knew. Nobody would dare step into the middle of a mating heat, on either the wolf or the human side.

Ekblad backed into the far corner of the room, trying to push his sweaty hair off his face with hands that had gone clumsy. Geno knew the feeling; caught halfway between his own body and the wolf’s, not sure if he had fingers or paws, wanting to get on all fours, unable to keep from showing his teeth and growling. The kid was holding on pretty well, sniffing the air frantically but not on the floor. And he still had his briefs on. Better than Geno had been able to hold on at his age.

Now that Geno was here, though, there was no need for that. Geno stripped to his skin and stalked toward Ekblad, giving him room to slip away down the long wall if he wanted to. Geno could chase him for a while. He could feel that outside, in one of the parking lots, Grom was chasing Ekblad’s wolf still, weaving back and forth through the cars, savoring the joy of hunting prey that wanted to be caught, as soon as she was good and ready.

Ekblad didn’t bolt, though, just pressed his back against the wall and took a shivering breath. He rolled his head back, showing his throat, his eyes darting back and forth. “F-fuck,” he breathed. “Thank god.”

“I’m not leave you alone.” Geno leaned in, pressing his body against Ekblad’s, growling a little in his throat at the heat of skin on skin. “Take care of this.”

“It’s… it’s a lot. She’s so…” Ekblad closed his eyes tightly and rolled his hips, grinding his dick against Geno’s thigh. “I don’t know what to do.”

That didn’t make sense, to the part of Geno’s mind that was still thinking rationally, but that was a very small part by now. “Take care of you,” he said, and pressed him harder to the wall, easily taking control of the rhythm of grinding against each other.

It was hard to tell how long that lasted; their bodies were both so hot, dripping sweat, running at wolf temperatures and giving in to systems that they didn’t even actually have. Geno fumbled and pushed Ekblad’s briefs off his hips, not caring if he got them all the way off or if they got ripped in the struggle. Ekblad bit him on the neck, high enough up that he must have been going for the jugular. Geno retaliated with a bite to the curve of his shoulder, grinding teeth against bone through the delicate barrier of pale skin. He would take what he wanted, as soon as Ekblad let him, as soon as his wolf let Grom catch her and surrendered.

He knew when Ekblad’s wolf made up her mind to be caught; the kid’s eyes widened and his body bucked under Geno’s, his hands clutching frantically at Geno’s arms. “God,” he whispered. “God, fuck, fuck, oh my god, I need—”

“I know.” Geno hauled him away from the wall, pushing him toward one of the tables. “Got you.”

“It’s so much. So…” The words broke off in another shuddering breath, and then he moaned, bracing himself on the table with both hands, his back arching. “Please.”

Geno still had the condom, and by some miracle hadn’t torn it in manhandling Ekblad. It was the pre-lubricated kind; smart, since he barely had the patience and coordination to put the condom on at all, much less handle a bottle of lubricant.

Ekblad was grinding his cock against the table now, groaning in pain and need. Geno could feel Grom’s anticipation, the female within reach, and he let it sweep him away, giving up his grasp on himself to press up against Ekblad, force him open, and push himself inside.

Relief surged through him, rightness, the hot satisfaction of doing what he was supposed to do here and now. Ekblad was moaning continuously now, hungry and eager, pushing back against Geno like he wanted him as deep as he could be. He was swept away with his wolf, too, her instincts taking away his body’s resistance and opening him up for Geno, letting him take Geno’s thrusts easily. It was good, so good, to be able to let himself go with Grom completely, to fuck into tight heat and take as much as he wanted. Ekblad was begging, demanding more, deeper, harder, and Geno didn’t try to sort any of it out, just gave it to him.

By the time Geno could pull himself back from Grom again, he had left fingerprint bruises up and down Ekblad’s sides and along his hips, a row of bite marks across his shoulders, and the table had bitten an additional bruise low across his torso. Geno didn’t see that until Ekblad groaned and turned over, blinking dazedly at the ceiling.

“Fuck,” Ekblad said. “What…”

“Relax.” Geno walked to the refrigerator and took two bottles of water, handing one to the kid and opening the other to drain himself.

Ekblad drank, watching Geno for a moment, then cutting his gaze away. “Was that normal?”

There it was again, the nonsensical thing that Geno had ignored before. “You should’ve done this by now. Many times.”

Ekblad shrugged and finished his water. “No. First time.”

“You old enough, she old enough.”

Ekblad raised his eyebrows at Geno and took the empty bottle to the recycling bin by the door. He couldn’t walk a straight line, Geno noted with satisfaction. “Nope.”

Geno wanted an explanation, but fuck this boy if he thought he was going to hint for it. “Well. Not bad for first time, then.”

That at least earned him the satisfaction of Ekblad blushing red. “Uh. Definitely not… bad. No.” Geno smirked at him, enjoying watching the blush deepen, and after a moment Ekblad looked away, his hands settling at his hips. “Now what do we do? Do I just go get my stuff and get a cab to the hotel, or what?”

“Depends on them.” Geno tilted his head and closed his eyes, reaching for Grom and enquiring with exaggerated politeness if the grand duke of fucking was on his way back to the arena yet.

He was most certainly not, and had no plans to be anytime soon, and Geno should feel free to entertain himself any way he liked, accompanied by images of very obscene suggestions.

Ekblad made a flustered noise and Geno opened one eye to look at him. “Yours, too?”

“She’s never that rude.” Ekblad took a breath and dragged his fingers through his hair. “Okay, same question, what do we do?”

The problem with heat virgins; Geno had to explain everything to them. “Not coming back, means they want to go two or three more times. We should go somewhere.”

The kid’s face was pretty funny. Geno wasn’t rude enough to actually laugh, but it was close. “Two or three more times?”

“Mm. Your girl must want to get pregnant this time.” Geno walked to the door and opened it a crack. A very bored-looking intern with a Pens badge was sitting a discreet distance away, reading on his phone. “Excuse me,” Geno said. “Clothes?”

Two sweatsuits were provided immediately; both Penguins, which someone was going to get shit for, but good enough. Geno took them and handed one to Ekblad. “We can go to hotel or to my house.”

“Two or three more.

“Yes.” Geno started getting dressed. “Did you never read a book or anything?”

“I didn’t know it was like that. I don’t know if I can do that three more times.”

Geno looked at him for a moment. Still wouldn’t be right to laugh. “Don’t worry.”

The kid stared at the clothes and finally started getting dressed himself. “Your house, I guess,” he said after a moment. “If I show up at the hotel wearing this I’ll never hear the end of it.”

His hands shook, a little. Geno was going to have to be careful. “Your team knows better.”

Ekblad shook his head and didn’t answer. Geno went back to the refrigerator for more water, giving him his space for the moment. He wasn’t going to lie, but he didn’t have to bully him, either. It didn’t feel funny right now. Maybe in the morning, when the heat would be over. Much easier to take some chirping if it didn’t come with more fucking promised behind it.

When they opened the door again, the intern was standing up and looking marginally more professional. “A car is on its way,” he said. “It will detour and pick up dinner for you on the way back to your house.”

Geno eyed him. “What did you order?” The rattled-off menu was acceptable, and Geno squinted at his name badge, trying to memorize his name or something close to it so he could mention him as competent. Kevin. “Good. Thank you.”

Ekblad was lingering in the doorway to the lounge, his arms crossed over his chest and his face uneasy. “Can I at least get my phone?”

“Oh!” The intern nodded and produced both of their phones and wallets from his jacket. “Sorry, here you go.”

“You went through my locker?” The kid sounded miserable. Nobody had told him anything at all about this.

“Just your phone,” Geno said, hoping he sounded more reassuring than impatient. “They don’t mess with things. In the old days it was wallet only, now wallet and phone. It’s okay.” He pulled a fifty-dollar bill out of his wallet and handed it to the intern. “For your help. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Mr. Malkin. Mr. Ekblad. The car will be waiting for you in the usual place.”

Geno started off down the hallway, and Ekblad fell into step behind him, an uncomfortable sensation that made Geno check his step and let him catch up. “I know it’s strange,” Geno said after a moment. “But it’s okay. All this, normal.”

“It’s just embarrassing.”

“No one told you what to do?”

Ekblad let out a sharp laugh. “They all assumed I’ve done this before. Like you.”

“You are old for it.”

“I bonded young.” Ekblad shrugged, pushing his hair off his forehead. “I was eleven. So when she was ready, I wasn’t… I mean, physically I was, but not, um. Emotionally. I guess. Or she didn’t think I was. So she suppressed herself. She just decided not to do it until I was ready.”

Geno nodded. That was a good wolf, taking care of him. He opened a door and gestured for Ekblad to go through it. “But you’re ready before now.”

“I think she kind of got stuck. Or it was harder to start up again than it was to stop. The vet said they could do hormone shots to jump-start things, but she didn’t want to, so I didn’t let them.” He sighed softly as they walked into the pick-up area. “I guess I should’ve talked her into it so I could at least have scheduled this better.”

“It happens how it happens.” Geno approved of a wolf taking such good care of her person. In the back of his head, he knew Grom did, too, and that it added to a rapidly increasing fondness for the wolf he was escorting through Pittsburgh to their house.

Really? Geno thought at him. Show off, show her your den, all of that? Is that necessary?

Grom’s reply was a mishmash of emotions with a suspiciously high level of fondness and something Geno would even call tenderness, if he wanted to lose some fingers the next time he fed his bondmate.

Don’t do that, he told Grom, meaning both the finger-biting and something else, which he wasn’t going to put a word on right now, but they both knew it. Not this one.

Fondness, tenderness, dens and puppies and a pack.

He’s too young. They live too far away.

Grom was indifferent to the geographic reality of Pittsburgh and Sunrise. Distance didn’t mean much to wolves. They would run until they were tired, and then rest, and then continue until they reached where they wished to be.

Geno sighed and climbed into the car, nodding at Ekblad to follow. Things happened how they were going to happen. But maybe he could talk Grom out of it once the heat-lust wore off.

**

Kevin the intern had ordered their food from a good steakhouse, one that Geno was very fond of. He would have to tip him again next time he saw him. The food wasn’t at its best as takeaway, but they were both hungry enough not to care, and they ate off their laps like teenagers on the ride back to Geno’s house.

The car dropped them off at the front gate, and they walked up the driveway to the house. “This is nice,” Ekblad said, looking around.

Geno made a vague noise and dug in his pocket for the key fob to disarm the security alarms. He had the first hint of a headache starting, and it would be best for both of them to have water and anti-inflammatories before the wolves decided to mate again.

“Do you know where they are?” Ekblad asked, hesitating at the edge of the porch. “The den, I mean? I’d just like to check in with her.”

Virgins, Geno thought with a sigh. “Yeah. Follow me.”

Grom’s den was dug in under some pine trees along the east edge of the property. It wasn’t very deep, more of a depression under the branches than a hole, and Geno could see both wolves peering out of it as they approached. The female hopped up and hurried over to greet them, her tail curled up over her back. She was small and a pale, tawny grey, with a long muzzle. Very cute.

Ekblad knelt down to meet her, cupping her head in his hands and resting his forehead against it. “Hey, babe,” he said softly. Geno looked away, meeting Grom’s eyes where he was still under the tree branches. Grom felt warm and content, with just a slight shivering edge of anticipation. All was well for him.

“What’s his name?” Ekblad asked. When Geno looked back, he was sitting cross-legged in the grass, his wolf in his lap. “What she thinks of him is pretty unpronounceable.”

“Grom.” Geno smiled at his wolf’s smug contentment. “It means thunder.”

“That’s cool. She’s Katie. It… doesn’t mean anything.”

Geno nodded at her. “Zdravstvui, Katya.” She lolled her tongue at him and wagged her tail, and the burst of satisfaction from Grom made more sense.

She’s very sweet, he agreed. You still shouldn’t.

Grom cheerfully suggested that he go away and take the other human with him, so Katie could be coaxed back into being receptive of Grom’s advances.

Geno sighed. “Come with me. We need water before they go again. And you need painkillers.”

“I’m okay.”

“Preemptive.”

“Oh.” That made him get a little paler, and Geno felt bad about it, he did, but… there wasn’t anything to be done. He’d be as careful as he could.

“The extra times aren’t as intense,” he offered as they walked back to the house. “More yourself. Not so desperate.”

“Okay.” He took a breath and squared his shoulders. “You’re an old pro, huh?”

“Not old. Just older than you.”

Ekblad seemed to think that was a joke. Geno let him.

**

The second time was almost as desperate, but Geno had lubricant at home and enough self-control to use it properly, so that was easier on both of them. They got a nap in before the third time, and he just used his fingers for that, then pushed his cock into the kid’s mouth to finish himself once the wolves were done.

Either Katie took pity on her person or was just as tired as he was, because there wasn’t a fourth go-round. Geno half-carried Ekblad into the shower, rinsed them both off, and deposited him in the guest room with a water bottle and more painkillers. There. Done. A more or less successful mating night.

When he woke up in the morning, Grom was curled up at his feet on the bed, waves of smug satisfaction radiating from him into Geno’s brain.

“When did you come in?” Geno patted the mattress next to him and Grom crawled up to be petted.

Grom’s jumble of thoughts sorted out to the idea of late at night, when Katie had decided she wanted to be with her person and Grom had escorted her back to the house. The wolf door needed greasing, by the way, it was loud.

“Hmm.” Geno would forget about that immediately and they both knew it. He scratched behind Grom’s ears slowly. “You still want to mate-bond to her?”

As far as Grom was concerned, it was already done. Geno bit back a sigh and pulled a pillow over his face.

There was no point being annoyed about things that were already done, Grom thought sternly. And Geno should eat something before his stomach began to hurt. While he was in the kitchen, he could feed Grom and Katie, too, they had exerted themselves intensely the night before.

“That was your choice,” Geno told him, and Grom sneezed on him. Fair enough.

Geno climbed out of bed and walked downstairs to the kitchen, where Ekblad was standing in front of the refrigerator, shirtless, with one hand down the front of his sweats scratching at himself.

“Good morning,” Geno said, and the kid jumped, slamming the refrigerator closed. “No, help yourself, it’s fine.”

“I’ll grab something at the hotel.”

Geno glanced at the clock over the stove. “Doubt it. Going to be tight to make your bus call anyway.”

“Fuck.” Ekblad groaned and took his phone out of the waistband of his pants. “Fuck. I hope they got all my stuff last night.”

“Someone took care of it,” Geno said, waving his hand irritably and moving to the coffee maker. “Don’t worry so much.”

“I don’t want to get fined.”

“Blame the wolf. Or blame me if you want. Can’t fine me.”

That made the kid smile, a little bit. Geno put a pod in the coffee maker and stared at it grimly. He needed caffeine and something to eat and to get Ekblad back to his hotel and to go to the arena to get his car and this was all just so inconvenient and it was Grom’s fault, like everything else.

Grom laughed at him in his head and suggested he take a dick in several unlikely places.

“Does Katie need to eat?” Geno asked, deliberately leaving Grom out of the option.

Ekblad was rubbing at his face and texting rapidly. “Yes, but she can wait til we get back to Florida, it won’t kill her.”

“She is making puppies. Needs to be fed.” Geno opened the refrigerator and pulled open the bottom drawer. “Beef or pork? Out of venison, sorry.”

“She likes pork, but you really don’t have to—”

“Take care of Grom’s puppies.” Geno unwrapped a slab of pork and set it on the rubber mat in the corner where Grom ate. Katie bounced into the kitchen and wagged at him cheerfully before digging in. She had none of her person’s concerns about manners, thank god. Otherwise they would be even more behind than they already were.

“Okay, Willie says they got my stuff. Uh. My captain.” Ekblad gestured vaguely at his phone. “And he can buy me like half an hour on bus call. And he wants me to give you the phone so he can call and tell you some things, which I’m pretty sure means yell a lot, so I’m not going to do that.”

“Why yell? Nothing to yell about.”

Ekblad shrugged, typing again. “He doesn’t like you. Since, like, 2006 or something, when he was in Vancouver.”

“Oh.” Geno remembered now. “Wasn’t a dirty hit.”

“Yeah, I’m not gonna argue with him about that.” Ekblad tucked the phone back into his waistband and stretched his arms. The bite marks across his shoulders and chest looked good, Geno thought. Nice and settled into deep bruises. “You think we’ve got time to drive through somewhere, then? With an extra half-hour? I’m really hungry.”

Normally the morning after matings, if a heat partner stayed over, Geno made blini. He always had for Lazy, and it was… nice, sitting together, eating, putting a quiet end on the whole thing. But an extra half an hour wasn’t enough time for that. “Yeah. We have to take a cab, but we can ask the driver.”

“Great.” Ekblad nodded and half-smiled at him. “Do you by any chance have, like, a plain t-shirt, because if I show up in a Pens hoodie they’re going to fucking destroy me.”

Geno laughed. “Yeah, okay.” His laundry was stacked on the dining-room table, where the delivery woman from the service had left it. “Help yourself.”

**

Geno didn’t think much about it over the next few weeks. Ekblad sent back his t-shirt with a thank-you note, which was strange but polite. He got Geno’s phone number from somewhere—Geno suspected Ovechkin, who gave phone numbers away like candy—and texted him when Katie’s pregnancy was confirmed.

Geno gave Grom an extra round of ground beef that night, because becoming a father deserved a celebration. Grom didn’t give any further signs of having mate-bonded, and Geno put the idea out of his head as something to worry about later.

Ekblad texted him a picture of an ultrasound, with the message 3 heartbeats!!! attached. Geno grinned at it right in the middle of the locker room, breaking the plausible deniability that he was paying attention to the coach’s speech and earning himself a fine. Worth it.

He didn’t pay much attention to discussion about other teams during the season, beyond the one they were playing in the next game. The rest of the league didn’t matter until they got to the playoffs. But he heard some assistants talking about the Panthers’ hotshot rookie while he was leaving practice one day, and that got his attention long enough to listen.

“He’s off,” one of them said with a shrug. “Last night’s game, he could barely keep the puck on his stick. Couldn’t skate a straight line. It was a mess. They had to bench him halfway through the second.”

“What could fuck him up like that?” asked the other. “Did he get concussed recently?”

“Nope, nothing. My guess is it’s wolf-related.” He shook his head. “I tell you what, sometimes I think if they’re bonded they shouldn’t be allowed to play. They let it get in the way of everything. Look at Malkin, taking all these game penalties so his wolf can fuck. It’s irresponsible.”

Geno pushed down his flash of anger and went to his car, settling behind the wheel and taking his phone out. First he checked the calendar: four weeks, four days since the mating heat. Then he texted Ekblad.

Heard you had a rough game.

He tossed his phone in the passenger seat and started for home, checking it at a stoplight halfway there.

Yeah. It’s Katie.

Hard pregnancy?

He hit all greens, which never happened, and couldn’t check again until he got home. Ekblad’s reply was what he expected.

She’s fine. All healthy. I can’t handle it right. All fucked up. :(

Geno sighed. Very normal. Sorry.

That’s what they tell me. Not your fault. Good luck in Philly tomorrow.

Geno looked at his phone for another moment, then sighed and shoved it in his pocket. There wasn’t anything he could do. He shouldn’t worry about it.

**

Another week went by, and he found a text from Ekblad on his phone when he came out of morning skate in Montreal.

Call me when you have a chance? Thanks.

Geno called him from his hotel room, stretching out on his back with his feet on Grom and staring out the window at the city. “Hello? Ekblad?”

“Hey.” The kid sounded exhausted. “Sorry to bug you.”

“It’s okay. Is something wrong with the puppies?”

“No, no. They’re fine. I should’ve said that, sorry.”

Geno exhaled slowly in relief. “What’s wrong, then?”

“Um.” He cleared his throat. “I’m on injured reserve. Until she has them. I can’t… I can’t keep up, like this. I can’t do it.”

Geno folded his arm across his eyes. He’d suspected as much. It was easy for the line between the bodies to blur with a big change like this. With Katie’s center of gravity changing, her body accommodating the puppies and preparing to whelp them, her bondmate would feel the ghost of all of it. “Sorry to hear.”

“My hips hurt, like, all the fucking time. I can’t balance. I can’t focus. It’s awful.” Geno realized that some of what he’d thought was exhaustion was the kid on the edge of angry tears. “So they’re writing me off for the duration.”

“You’ll get back once they’re born.”

“Yeah, well, so much for the fucking Calder, eh? Taking weeks off at least in the middle of the season—” He cut off, breathing hard, and Geno stayed silent, digging his toes into Grom’s fur. There was nothing he could say.

“Can we come to Pittsburgh?” Ekblad asked. “She wants to be with Grom, to like… nest or something, I don’t… she’s really insistent and I can’t just stay here, watching everybody else do the work while I—”

Geno pressed his arm tighter to his eyes. “You don’t have a workout program, meetings, team things?”

“They’ll sign me off if it’s better for Katie. I can skate somewhere in Pittsburgh, if you don’t want me going around Consol. I’ll get a hotel, obviously, I won’t impose on you, Katie just wants her mate and I don’t want to be here if I can’t play.”

I told you not to bond with her, Geno thought at Grom, who rolled onto his side and heaved a breath of complete indifference.

“Please?” Ekblad said quietly, and Geno realized he’d never answered, and had been silent for a long time. “I know them being mated doesn’t mean you have to want anything to do with me, but it would… it would help a lot. If we could come up there.”

Grom sent Geno an image of the puppies being born in the den in the yard, at Geno’s house, where he could see them and hold them as much as he wanted. His wolf knew his soft points. “Of course you can come. Stay at my house, train at Consol. I’ll talk to everyone. Make it happen.”

“You don’t have to let me—”

“I’ll take care of everything. Send me your flight when you have it.” Geno hung up and dropped his phone onto his face. Well. He was doing this.

Grom crawled up the length of the bed on his belly and licked Geno’s neck and shoulder. He was, apparently, a good human.

“I love you,” Geno said, grabbing him by the ruff and shaking him lightly. “Damn lucky for you.”

**

Ekblad arranged to come to Pittsburgh at the end of the week. Geno doubled his order at the butcher’s, left a note for his cleaning service to please make sure the guest bathroom was fully stocked, and talked to the assistant coaches and trainers about letting Ekblad have rink and weight-room time.

“Just enough to maintain,” he said. “Only a few weeks.”

They made noise about not letting him see the Pens practice, but Geno tuned it out. He didn’t care what the schedules looked like. The kid could drive, for fuck’s sake. He just couldn’t skate at the competitive level. Neither could half of their team, it seemed like. Injuries were bad this year.

The night before Ekblad was due to arrive, Geno’s phone rang with a number he didn’t recognize. He answered warily, in English, in case it was a mistake. “Hello?”

“Malkin?”

Still maybe not someone he wanted to talk to. “Who is this?”

“This is Willie Mitchell. Florida Panthers. The captain?”

Oh. Mitchell. Who didn’t like him. “Did Ovechkin give you my number?”

“What? No. I got it off Aaron’s phone.”

“He doesn’t lock it?”

“No, even though I’ve told him—” Mitchell stopped. “That’s not why I’m calling.”

Geno didn’t really give two shits, but okay. “Everything all right? The pups?”

“Yeah, they’re fine. Katie’s about the size of a horse.”

That didn’t seem likely, but Geno wasn’t going to argue. He sat silently, waiting for Mitchell to make up his mind and either say what he called to say or hang up.

“Look,” Mitchell said finally. “I just wanted to make sure you knew that just because he’s coming up there doesn’t mean we’re washing our hands of him.”

Geno blinked. “Okay.”

“I’m still going to be keeping an eye on things and you’d better not fuck with him.”

Oh. This. Geno leaned back in his chair and rolled his eyes. “What you mean? My English not so good.”

“What I mean is—wait, you’re fucking with me, aren’t you.”

Geno smirked at Grom, who rolled over and showed his belly. “Not going to mess with anybody who travels with a wolf, Mitchell.”

“She’s pregnant, she can’t exactly defend his honor.”

“Pregnant wolves not like pregnant women. They can defend fine.” Not that he would hurt the kid anyway, but if people wanted to assume the worst of him, Geno wasn’t going to waste his time arguing with them. “Anything else?”

“Just… just go easy on him.” Mitchell didn’t sound so angry, suddenly. “He’s got a lot of pressure on him and he’s starting to wobble a little bit. Let him have a little bit of a break, eh?”

“Yeah,” Geno said after a moment. He was missing something here, he knew it, but… he would just answer what was on the surface. “Yeah, of course.”

“Thanks.” Mitchell was quiet for a moment, then cleared his throat. “Well. That’s all.”

“Tell him to lock his phone,” Geno said, and hung up, tossing his own phone to the floor beside his chair.

Grom flopped over on his side and cocked an ear at him.

“I’m not babysitting,” Geno told him. “That’s not my job.”

**

Ekblad arrived with a duffel bag of clothing and one of gear, plus a smaller bag of supplies for Katie. The cab driver unloaded it all in the driveway, and Geno watched from the window while Ekblad balanced it all to bring inside and Katie took off for the den under the pine trees. Geno let Grom out the side door to join her before he went to open the front door for Ekblad.

“Thanks.” The kid was definitely walking funny. “Where can I put all this?”

“Gear can stay here. Same guest room as before for the rest.” Geno took the larger bag from him. “Give you a hand.”

Ekblad flushed red, but followed him upstairs. “Thank you again for letting us stay here.”

“It’s nothing.” Geno dropped the bag at the foot of the bed and looked out the window. From this room he could see the den, and Grom and Katie frolicking in front of it. “She looks good. Very round and healthy.”

“Yeah. The vet says everything’s perfect. I’m the one who’s fucking up.”

Geno glanced at him. “Very normal. Not your fault.”

“I should be able to control it better.”

“How? You’ve never done it before.” Geno shrugged. “Takes practice, like everything.”

Ekblad almost smiled. “I guess.”

“It’s true.” Geno tapped the window frame and stepped away. “Need to go pack, we leave for New York tonight. Make yourself comfortable.”

**

It was almost a week before Geno happened to be at the rink when Ekblad had his block of time to skate. He came out of a meeting with Sid and the coaches to find Duper and Letang watching the kid, standing back by the doors where they weren’t so obvious.

“He’s not doing so bad as long as he stays slow,” Duper said as Geno walked up to them. “It’s when he tries to pick up speed, you can see it, he loses his center of balance and just falls all over himself. Hey, Geno.”

“I just want to grab his shoulders and show him how to hold himself,” Letang said. “Once he feels it he’ll be able to correct it himself, you know? But when you have to find it for yourself it takes forever.”

“You’ve both done this,” Geno said, jerking his chin toward Ekblad. “Right?”

Duper rolled his eyes. “Well, yeah. I’ve had three litters. I know all about it.”

“The first one’s hard,” Letang agreed. “The second one you pretty much figure it out. And I hope you know better than to say that in front of your wife, man.”

“I’m not stupid.” It was funny, watching Duper get worked up and start performing instead of just talking. One of Geno’s favorite things. “I know the difference between human pregnancy and wolf pregnancy. Two and a half months vs. nine months, for one thing. Human bodies not being designed right for birthing human baby skulls, for another. Wolf pregnancy is easy compared to that shit. Carole-Lynn knows I understand that.”

“How does Alouette feel about you calling it easy?” Letang was grinning. “Because Cygne would bite my ass.”

“We understand each other,” Duper said loftily. “Anyway, Geno, tell the kid to relax, it’ll get better.”

“Why don’t you tell him?”

Duper and Letang glanced at each other. “It’s… that would be rude, man,” Letang said. “Just walking up to him and telling him stuff. We’re not his teammates.”

“But you know things, and he needs to learn them. This isn’t team secrets.”

Duper frowned. “It just wouldn’t feel right to ambush him here.”

It was Geno’s turn to roll his eyes. “Stupid bullshit. We come to your house tomorrow, okay? You both be there. You cook, we talk hockey for a while, then you fucking help him. Don’t be so selfish.”

“Look who’s all protective and giving orders,” Letang said dryly. “Aye-aye, captain.”

“Alternate,” Geno said, glaring at him for good measure. He could hear them both laughing while he walked away.

Grom sent a questioning feeling at him, and Geno shrugged it off. No, there wasn’t any reason to be protective, but there wasn’t any reason for Duper and Letang to withhold help, either. Geno was just balancing the scales, that was all.

**

Geno and Ekblad arrived just as Carole-Lynn and the kids were leaving. “So you boys don’t have to watch your language,” she said, kissing Geno’s cheek. “Enjoy, loves.”

Ekblad looked terribly uncomfortable as they went inside. Geno didn’t know why; the Dupuis house was much more of a family home than a showplace. He liked visiting here.

Letang and Duper were talking in the kitchen, with their wolves, who came over to greet Katie. She stood wagging happily, her tongue spilling out, while they sniffed at her rounded belly. Geno could tell even without Grom translating that she was ridiculously proud of herself, and that Cygne and Alouette were telling her nice things.

Grom, similarly, could tell perfectly well that he had no part in this right now, and went over by the windows to flop down in the sun.

“Hey, good to see you,” Duper said, switching from French and hitting Letang with a spatula. “I got some swordfish steaks.”

“Not sustainable,” Letang said, dodging another swing from the spatula.

“They are, I ordered them special, fuck you.” Duper nodded at Geno and Ekblad. “Take your shoes off, grab a chair. I’ll put these on. This jerk can get us all some wine.”

“Swordfish and wine,” Letang said. “So much for a casual afternoon at home, eh? You were expecting burgers and beer, right, rookie?”

Ekblad turned bright red. “Um. I didn’t really think about it?”

“He totally expected burgers and beer.” Letang easily turned back to Duper. “Like a normal person, you freak.”

They bickered back and forth while Duper put the steaks on the grill top of the stove, and Ekblad watched them in confused fascination. Geno smiled and slouched low in his chair, accepting a wineglass from Letang when he finally got around to pouring. This was normal. Relaxed and good.

The conversation wasn’t expanding to include Ekblad, though; mostly it was just swirling around Duper and Letang, occasionally drawing Geno in as referee. He shot them a few meaningful glances, and eventually Letang seemed to notice, because when he came over to refill their glasses he stopped next to Ekblad’s chair and said, “So you and me, we’ve gotta find a time to skate together and do some decent D exercises, okay? I’m bored and that shithead won’t play D with me.”

“I am a winger,” Duper said. “Don’t expect me to downgrade myself for you.”

“Fuck you, man.”

“In my own house, Kristopher? Get your own food.”

Letang rolled his eyes, turned to Ekblad, and started talking about defensive drills that Geno didn’t care about. What mattered was that the kid was starting to relax, and not staring anxiously at the wolves like he was afraid Cygne and Alouette were going to bite his girl. They were, actually, curled up in a pile together, nuzzling each other and tucked in close to keep Katie’s belly full of puppies warm. Wolves knew how to behave.

Geno tuned it all out to focus on his wine, not paying attention until Duper brought the steaks to the table. By then, they had turned the subject to where it was supposed to be anyway.

“It’s like riding a bike,” Letang was saying. “Once you find your true balance point, you’ll be able to cut through the phantom feelings and find it again every time. Don’t worry.”

Ekblad nodded, fidgeting his plate back and forth in front of him. “What do you do about the…” They waited patiently, staring at him, and he turned red all over again. “Uh, when you can feel them squirming around inside you?”

“Oh!” Duper nodded and took a bite of his steak. “That’s weird, it’s true. If you can, drink something very hot or very cold. That kind of reminds your body where it actually begins and ends.”

“If you can’t drink something, breathe deep,” Letang added. “Like, as deep as you can, fill your whole belly with air. Does the same thing.”

“Okay.” Ekblad took a bite and chewed slowly. “I hope that helps, because it’s really freaking me out. And when I get upset, she gets upset, you know? It just spirals.”

“It works,” Duper said. “The important thing is to stay relaxed as much as you can. Remember that none of this is actually happening to you. She’s designed for it. She can handle it.”

Alouette lifted her head and sneezed at him. Geno smiled, watching a blush rise in Duper’s face. Apparently his wolf had opinions.

“I didn’t say that,” Duper told her. “I just said you were designed for it. Better than humans.”

Ekblad frowned. “What do you mean?”

“The human head is actually basically too big to be born,” Letang said. “That’s why people giving birth hurts so much. Wolves are shaped better. It goes easier.”

“Oh.” Ekblad slumped in his chair. “Oh, thank god. I was really worried about how much it was going to hurt.”

“It’s fine,” Duper said. “I’ve had three litters. You’ll be fine.”

Geno laughed. “You always brag about that.”

“It’s true!”

“Three litters, three litters.” Geno shook his head. “Ridiculous.”

“You don’t know my life, Geno.” Duper stood up and started clearing the plates. “You feel a little better, kid? You don’t look quite so green.”

“Yeah.” Ekblad smiled and looked over at the wolves. “She’s pretty happy, too. She’s glad I’m not being such a, um, dumb puppy about everything.”

“Ha! I bet.” Duper went into the kitchen and Letang followed along, saying something in French that Geno ignored in favor of watching Ekblad finally relax in his chair.

“Thanks,” Ekblad said softly. “For setting this up, and stuff. It really… it was helpful. A lot.”

“No problem,” Geno said, finishing his wine and wondering why his own face felt so warm. “Is fine.”

**

That night Geno lay in bed trying to read the Russian news on his tablet, Grom sprawled across his legs, but it was hard to concentrate. He got distracted by little things—a fly buzzing in the corner, lumps in the pillows behind him, a nagging ache in his knee that refused to ease. Also the news was boring. Nothing but politics.

Grom huffed softly just before a knock came on the half-open door. Geno looked up, as if it could be anyone other than Ekblad. He was the only other person in the house, after all. “Da?”

Ekblad leaned in the doorway, a tentative smile on his face. “Not bugging you, I hope?”

“Is fine. You need something?”

“I just. Uh.” He cleared his throat. “I wanted to thank you for setting that up today. It was really… so helpful. It was great. And it wouldn’t have happened without you setting it up, so…”

Geno frowned. “You already thanked me.”

“I know. I just wanted to say it again? Like. So you knew for sure. That I really mean it.”

Geno knew he was probably frowning too much; the kid was starting to look nervous. But this made no sense. “No problem. Really. Like I said before.”

“Right. Of course.” Ekblad straightened up and rubbed the back of his neck, glancing down the hallway. “So here’s the thing…”

Okay. That made more sense, if there was more to it. “Yeah?”

Grom huffed softly and jumped off the bed, pushing past Ekblad and vanishing down the hall. Geno sent a question after him, but got nothing back but amusement. Wolves were so strange sometimes.

“I’ve been, like, kind of wanting to… to talk to you since I got here. Or, not really talk, but…” Ekblad exhaled sharply. “God, Katie keeps telling me to just bite your face and get you to chase me, no matter how many times I tell her that’s not what humans do. She just refuses to listen to me and that is making this so much harder than it has to be, I swear.”

It took Geno a moment to sort through that, but the imagery was pretty clear once he isolated it. “Bite my face and chase you.”

“Yeah.” Ekblad rubbed his hands on his thighs. “You know.”

“Kissing and fucking.”

“That’s the short version.”

Geno set his tablet aside and looked at him. “Thought you didn’t do this before.”

“What?”

“In the heat, you said you didn’t know what to do. You were scared.”

“I was nervous. I’d never gone through heat before. I’ve had sex! I’ve had tons of sex! Just not all… with her all mixed up in it.”

“That’s very different than I thought.”

Ekblad groaned, his face red. “Well. I guess I fucked this one up.”

Geno watched him for a moment. Grom was in his head again, full of cheerful encouragement and suggestions that didn’t really translate from wolf physicality to human. “You want to?”

“I want to what?”

Geno shrugged. “Bite my face. Find a way to get me to chase you.”

“I… yeah. I do. I wouldn’t have come up here otherwise.”

Geno leaned back against the pillows. “Bet you can come up with something.”

Ekblad looked at him for a moment in puzzlement, then started to grin. He straightened up and tugged his t-shirt off over his head, then ran his hand down over his abs, posing for a moment for Geno’s view.

“Good start,” Geno said.

“You’re not chasing me yet.”

“You not bitten me yet.”

Ekblad crossed the room to the bed, leaning down to brace his hands on either side of Geno’s shoulders and kiss him. It was slow and deep, exploratory, not at all the exuberant face-biting the wolves would advocate for.

“What if, instead of chasing,” Ekblad said quietly, “I sucked your dick?”

Geno laughed and pulled him down against himself. “Better than chasing.”

“A lot better.” Ekblad kissed him again, then moved down the length of Geno’s body, pulling Geno’s sweatpants off his hips and making a low sound of approval when he saw Geno didn’t have any underwear beneath. “Fuck, I forgot how big you are.”

“You forgot?”

“Not on purpose! Just, you know. Heat.” Ekblad grinned up at him and then lowered his head, taking Geno in slowly. Part of Geno wanted to push the issue of him forgetting, heat or no, but not nearly enough to stop him.

It was different than when Geno fucked his mouth during the heat; wet and messy and eager, and erratic, like Ekblad kept getting excited and speeding up, then remembering it wasn’t a race and trying to slow down again, only to lose his focus. Geno finally couldn’t take it anymore and curved his hand around the back of Ekblad’s head, holding him in place and rolling his hips up in a steady rhythm.

Ekblad laughed around him, muffled and hot, the vibrations making Geno shudder all the way down to his knees. This was good, really good, maybe he should’ve expressed an interest sooner, made his own move. It was hard to tell what was meant sometimes, though, and what he was reading wrong. He didn’t like to make assumptions.

This, though, this wasn’t an assumption. This was just good. He thrust deep in Ekblad’s mouth, groaning in anticipation as his stomach tightened. “Close. You swallow or no?”

Ekblad pulled back, pressing his head against Geno’s hand until he released it. “Not my favorite,” he said, his voice rough and husky. “You can come on me, though, if you want.”

Fuck, Geno did want, that was dirty but impossibly hot. He caught his dick in his hand, stroked tight and fast, and came across the rookie’s face. His mouth, his cheeks, even in his eyelashes. It was a mess.

Ekblad laughed again, ducking his head and wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. “Holy shit.”

“You said,” Geno reminded him, sinking back against the pillows again.

“Yeah, I know. It’s cool.” Ekblad sat back and looked at him. “You want to touch me or am I on my own?”

Geno huffed and reached for him. “I’m not rude.”

“Awesome,” Ekblad said fervently, letting Geno draw him in and then turn him onto his back. “Do whatever you want.”

Ordinarily Geno would take that as a challenge to be creative, but he was a little tired and his brain was still slow from his orgasm. He kissed Ekblad to shut him up, tasting himself on his mouth, and took him firmly in his hand to jerk him off.

Ekblad made good noises, groaning and muttering while Geno worked him. He moved too much, as the only flaw; Geno almost had to pin him to keep him still once he got close. “You need to be tied up,” he said, slapping lightly at Ekblad’s hip while he tried to get him to finish. “Don’t know how to hold still.”

“Are you offering?” Ekblad’s muscles tensed and he shuddered all over. “Fuck. If you are…”

“Maybe.” Geno slid his free hand down and squeezed at Ekblad’s balls.

“Fuck. I-if you did that I might…”

Geno didn’t find out what he might do, because Ekblad came all over his hand and flopped back against the mattress. It took Geno a moment to pull himself together and realize that his hand was messy, the sheets were wet, and Grom was radiating smugness into his head.

We are not mated, he thought at his wolf, wiping his hand on the sheets. They needed to be washed anyway. Humans don’t work that way.

Grom was not interested in human semantics. He sent images making it very clear that since he and Katie were mated, and Geno and Ekblad were mated, the four of them would spend the rest of their lives together in a warm den, surrounded by pups and tall trees, with lots of fresh air and maybe a lake nearby.

We stay in Pittsburgh, Geno reminded him flatly. They go back to Florida.

Katie had apparently told Grom that the trees in Florida were terrible and the air never smelled right.

You are northern wolves. It’s a different climate. That’s all.

Grom didn’t care. Of course.

Ekblad nudged Geno in the ribs. “You okay?”

“Wolves do nothing but argue,” Geno muttered. “Constant headache.”

“Don’t I know it.” Ekblad made a face and pressed his hand against his stomach. “The puppies are moving around again.”

“Remember what Tanger said. Deep breath.”

“Yeah. I’ll try. It’s just… it’s so weird.” He closed his eyes and breathed in slowly. Geno watched his hand rise as his torso filled with air. “Oh yeah. That’s better. I still feel it a little bit, but it’s not so…” He opened his eyes and grinned. “Now I just need to figure out finding my balance and I won’t be such a wreck on the ice. It’s embarrassing.”

“First time at anything is hard.” The kid didn’t need his reassurance; Geno didn’t know why he was offering it. It made the kid turn that smile on him again, but that wasn’t a reason why.

“That’s true.” Ekblad cleared his throat and glanced around. “Guess I should head back to my room, huh? Let you get some rest.”

Geno shifted, rubbing his fingers against the sweaty sheets. He shouldn’t sleep in the mess anyway. “Guess so.”

Ekblad’s smile faded a little, but his body didn’t tense as he got out of the bed and walked to the door. “See you tomorrow.”

“Goodnight.”

Geno sat there for a while before getting up and stripping the bed. Strange things were happening, but he wasn’t going to give in and let them take control. He was still in control, and would stay that way. And Grom could feel free to stop fucking laughing, any time now, if he didn’t want to find the bedroom door locked with him outside.

**

Ekblad came to Geno’s room not every night, but with no more than two nights between visits. Geno’s mental protests of being fully in control started wearing a bit thin.

It wasn’t a problem from a logical point of view. Having sex with the partner of your wolf’s partner was normal. It encouraged healthy bonds all the way around. Resistance was the enemy of healthy bonds; acceptance helped them flourish. Everyone knew this. It was part of the most basic lectures on bonding and life with a wolf.

Geno didn’t see how he was supposed to accept this without resistance, though. It wasn’t possible for them to form a tight little core family. It just wasn’t.

I want a family, he thought to Grom, when the wolf’s frustration began to spike. He sent images of a pack, curled up together in their den with trees and snow.

Grom blinked at him from the foot of the bed and sent images of a pack running through an open field, with more wolves than Geno’s image had allowed for, all bound to each other in some way but not directly and reciprocally in all directions. He could smell the bonds, through Grom’s mind in his own.

He pulled away from the thought reluctantly. Humans are not wolves.

The sense of obviously that returned was acrid and sour, like a rotten orange.

It’s not that simple.

Grom rolled over with a sigh, turning his back on Geno and closing him out of his mind. It was rude, but unmistakable.

“So sorry to be a disappointment to you,” Geno muttered, getting out of bed and grabbing a pair of shorts from his dresser. If he couldn’t sleep, he could get on the exercise bike. No point wasting time thinking too much, when thinking never solved things anyway.

**

One afternoon Geno woke up from an after-sex nap to find Ekblad still in the bed and Katie sitting on the foot of the mattress, watching them with bright-eyed curiosity.

“Shto delat, devushka?” he muttered, rubbing at his eyes.

She wagged her tail at him, then lowered her head and deliberately licked the bottom of his foot.

He cursed and kicked, laughing, and Ekblad stirred awake beside him, smiling blearily.

“She likes you,” Ekblad said. “She says you’re a good part of the pack.”

“What pack?” Geno wiggled his toes at Katie.

“Oh, you know.” Ekblad shrugged. “They think of things in terms of packs. A hockey team is a funny pack. My family and my friends, that’s another funny pack, one that’s spread out all over the place and only sees each other sometimes. She doesn’t totally approve of it, but it’s the way it makes sense to her.”

“Grom doesn’t think that way. Or at least he doesn’t tell me.”

“Does Grom treat you like kind of a silly puppy? That’s how she thinks of me.”

Geno shook his head. “More like a brother, I think?”

“Huh. They’re all so different.” Ekblad smiled and held his hand out, and Katie crawled up the bed to him, her tail wagging furiously. “But yeah. You and I are in a pack now, as far as she’s concerned.”

Geno stared at them for a moment, then looked away, reaching for Grom with his mind. He was drinking water downstairs, not close. “Not the kind of pack I want.”

“What do you mean?”

“I want a real family.” It came out harsher than he meant, but he didn’t know how to fix that; the words were what they were. They were the truth. “Want a partner, and children. Not… not a spread-out pack everywhere. That isn’t real.”

Ekblad’s shoulders hunched a little. “I guess it’s as real as you make it. I mean. Life’s not always clear-cut and simple.”

“I know. But I know what I want, too.”

Ekblad was quiet in response, and after a minute Geno got up and went into the bathroom to wash himself. He meant all of that, but not the way he’d said it. And it wasn’t all that he meant.

But there was no point trying to explain all those things.

**

The puppies were born early in the morning, in the middle of Katie’s ninth week of pregnancy. Grom woke Geno up with his curious, smug interest in the goings-on, and Geno got outside to the den just as the first pup came into the world.

Ekblad was holding Katie’s head in his lap, crooning gently to her while she labored. The strain of her contractions showed in his face, but Duper had been right; he certainly wasn’t in pain. Geno sat down a few feet away, careful to give them their space. Grom sat next to him and rested his chin on Geno’s shoulder.

You did well, Geno thought at him, watching Katie turn from her person to lick the pup clean.

Grom’s return thoughts were a swirl of contentment and a sense that the pup smelled healthy. Katie was doing very well, too.

“Molodetz, Katya,” Geno said softly, and her tail wagged a bit before she set herself for the rest of her work. There were two more puppies to come, after all.

The wolves declared all three to be healthy and strong by the time Katie settled in to nurse them. “I guess I should call the vet to come check on them,” Ekblad said, staring at them near starry-eyed. “She doesn’t want me to, but it’s the right thing to do, right?”

“Call and tell him come later,” Geno said. He didn’t want to look away for long, either. Babies, just like he’d wanted for so long; Grom’s, not his, but Grom was part of him, so good enough. “Let her have time with them first. She worked hard.”

Katie wagged at him again and closed her eyes, heaving a big sigh that almost dislodged her babies from their nursing.

“You need coffee,” Geno said finally, getting to his feet. His knees were stiff from sitting out here in the cold. They shouldn’t stay longer. “And food. Come.”

“I’m okay. I just want to watch them.”

Geno sighed and caught him under the armpits, hauling him up. “No.”

“But—”

Geno couldn’t carry him to the house, but he could more or less drag him, so he did. “Coffee. And I make blini, to celebrate.”

“I don’t know what blini is.”

“Nice surprise, then.” Geno opened the side door and groaned in relief at the wave of warm air. “Much better, without fur.”

Ekblad laughed a little. “Yeah, you’re right about that.”

“Go wash up.” Geno pushed him a little in the direction of the bathroom. “Babies are messy.”

“Yeah.” Ekblad hesitated a moment, then leaned in and kissed Geno quickly on the mouth. “Congratulations.”

“Congratulations you too.” Geno closed his eyes and kissed him back. It was a dangerous thing, but he couldn’t help it. There were many things he couldn’t help, anymore.

**

The CBA allowed for four weeks of nursing time before a player on wolf reserve could be required to come back. Ekblad wanted to only take two weeks.

“Eyes will barely be open,” Geno objected. “Not ready to go on a plane.”

“I need to get back. I’ve already missed a month. If I miss another month I might as well just quit.”

Geno rolled his eyes and held a bit of meat out to Katie. She and Grom had carried the pups inside after the first day, when a snowstorm threatened. Geno appreciated it; it was much nicer to be able to sit and watch the puppies at any time without needing a coat and scarf first.

“You’ll be fine,” he said, letting her lick his fingers clean. “Need to think about what’s best for the puppies.”

“Believe me, Katie won’t let me do anything to hurt them.” Ekblad sighed. “I’m just going crazy doing nothing.”

Geno understood that. He did. But the idea of the puppies being bundled up and taken away… he didn’t want that.

Grom sent a wave of skepticism at him, and Geno silently told him to be quiet. No, he didn’t want Ekblad to leave, either, but there wasn’t any meaning to it. He’d just gotten used to having another body around.

Grom made a low noise and sent some very rude images. As if sex was all Geno cared about.

“They could stay here with me,” he said. “Katie and the puppies.”

“What?”

Geno shrugged. “Grom and I take care of them.”

“I can’t leave Katie. Are you serious?” Ekblad looked offended, which… well, it was a rude thing to suggest, but he was talking about making the pups travel before they were ready, so it was even.

“We take care of her,” he said again, setting his jaw.

“No. No way.” Ekblad shook his head. “I’m not leaving her ever.”

“Then stay here, too.”

Ekblad sighed, dragging his hand through his hair. “Three weeks.”

“Three weeks three days.”

“Oh my god.” Ekblad closed his eyes tightly. “Fine. Three weeks and three days. I can do that.”

“Good.” Geno reached out to touch one of the puppies, rubbing gently at the top of its head. “Better to give them more time.”

“And you’ll make it worth my time, too, right?”

Geno looked up, surprised, to find the kid looking at him with an expression was half teasing and half… very not. “What?”

“Never mind.” Ekblad smiled tightly and knelt down to fuss over his wolf. “Thanks for letting us stay.”

**

When they did go back to Florida, the house was too quiet. It was… lonely. Geno hated it.

Grom was calm enough. He missed the pups, but there wasn’t a proper pack to raise them in anyway, and so they would be fine with their mother. And he would see her again at her next heat, the next fall.

Don’t count on that, Geno thought at him. It’s complicated.

Grom was unconcerned. They were mate-bonded, they would find a way to each other.

Hockey doesn’t work that way.

Grom did not give a single shit about hockey. He thought Geno would be used to that by now.

Geno thought that he probably should be, too. But it was harder to reconcile the loves of his life than he’d ever expected it to be. He wanted too many things, and they couldn’t line up. They never would.

And the house was quiet.

**

Ekblad sent him pictures of the puppies almost every day, so at least Geno could watch them grow. Their baby fluff settled into something closer to fur. They got big enough to play and to travel to and from the rink with Katie, and then on road trips with the team. The Panthers had never had a litter traveling with them before. They made a cute video about it, which Geno watched many times and saved to his phone for when he couldn’t sleep.

She’s weaning them, Ekblad texted him when they were six weeks old. So much crying.

Geno frowned at his phone. That’s terrible.

Has to be done. But they won’t go looking for their bondmates for months.

Geno didn’t want to think about that. They need to be bigger.

Much bigger. There was a pause, then another message. You should come visit them when the season’s over.

Geno stared at the text for a moment. I’m go to Russia in the summer.

Right. Of course.

Geno had spent enough time with Canadians to know that there was meaning beneath the bare text. Worlds?

I don’t know if I’ll make the team or not. And maybe we’ll be in the playoffs.

Geno laughed, but only because he was alone. Us too.

But if we’re both there, yes. Definitely.

Thinking about it made Geno smile, a little. He heard Grom’s tail thumping against the bed in shared pleasure.

**

Geno didn’t pay much attention to trades unless they affected him directly, which barely any did. They were a lot of noise and media fuss, distractions that he didn’t need as the playoffs got closer and his team continued to slump.

So Ekblad’s text didn’t make sense at first. Finally got another wolfbond on my team!!!

Geno stared at it in puzzlement, then thought to check the trade news. He texted back, Jagr? Real?

Yes!!!! Jagr and his Valechnik! I think I spelled that wrong.

Geno didn’t understand why Jagr wouldn’t just die already. Die or retire. Good for your first line.

Very good. And I can ask him all my wolf questions instead of bothering you.

Geno almost dropped his phone. Not a bother.

I keep imposing on you. It’s not cool.

Not imposing. Taking care of the babies.

They won’t be babies forever. I don’t want to keep you from getting what you want.

Geno groaned in frustration, dropping his phone next to him on the couch. Apparently he hadn’t done a good job of hiding his ambivalence. Or the kid felt the same way all on his own.

Either way, if they had the same feelings, then the right thing to do was to let it go.

He didn’t answer, and the pictures of the pups stopped coming.

**

Being able to go to Worlds was not what Geno wanted. Playing for his country was good, getting to play with a different group on different ice was good. Being out of the playoffs early and having to endure another fucking round of listening to the press speculate on whose fault it was and who will be traded next… not good. Not good at all.

He took Grom to a hunting preserve for bonded wolves and lost himself in the bloodlust for a few hours. It helped. Not as much as punching reporters would help, but good enough.

Sid would be at Worlds, too, of course, captain for his country. They wouldn’t see each other much except to play against each other, but it was always good to know he was there.

Geno didn’t pay much attention to the rosters for the other countries, but Sid made a point of telling him that Ekblad would play for Canada. “Good for him,” Geno said, not allowing himself even a twitch in his face. Sid knew him too well to slip at all. “Big honor at his age.”

“Uh-huh.” Sid didn’t even bother pretending to believe him. Sid was so rude. “He’s bringing his wolf but couldn’t get clearance to bring the puppies. Fortunately they’re already weaned.

Geno frowned. “Who’s going to take care of them? Need to be fed and looked after.”

“I don’t know, Geno. Maybe you should call him up and ask him.”

Geno gave him a look that he hoped conveyed clearly how much he was not going to do that. Sid rolled his eyes.

“I guess you’ll just have to wonder, then,” he said.

“Not my business.”

“You’re an idiot,” Sid said, in that way that meant he wanted Geno to do better.

Geno didn’t want to do better. He didn’t want to think about this at all.

**

Geno liked Prague. It felt not quite like home, but close enough that he could breathe deep and appreciate the differences instead of them turning into sharp points digging at his skin.

Everyone in charge of the Russian national team continued to be an idiot, of course, but that was the way of national teams. There was no point complaining. He would do his best and his teammates would do their best and with a little luck something would come of it. They were all there to focus on hockey.

And he probably would have focused perfectly well, except wolves took things over again.

His phone went off after dinner, when he’d gone back to his room to pretend to look at the playbook and actually to think about how much he wanted to punch the entire Russian national hockey organization in its collective face. Grom was grouchy and irritable, too, for some reason, which wasn’t helping his mood. The distraction of a call was welcome, especially when he saw that it was from Sid.

“Privyet,” he said, lying back on the bed. “All good with Team Canada?”

“No.” Sid’s voice was clipped in the way that meant he was either extremely annoyed or holding a difficult situation together with his fingernails. “You need to come over here.”

“Me?” Geno blinked. “Don’t think so.”

“You. And your wolf. His presence is required, yours is requested.”

“Sid, what’s going on?” He couldn’t imagine what could require Grom, except… fuck. “Ekblad’s wolf?”

“She’s going into heat.”

“She can’t. Hasn’t been long enough.”

“Apparently if they’ve suppressed for a long time, they can have an erratic heat afterward. It’s very medically interesting. He’s flipped over a vending machine and punched Seguin in the face. Please get over here.”

“I don’t know.”

“Geno, I don’t have time for this.”

Now that Grom knew the source of his own agitation, Geno knew there was no point trying to keep him away. “Grom will come. Can you help Ekblad?”

“No, I will not.” Sid’s voice left no room for argument. “I don’t get involved in that side of things and you know it.”

“Someone else, then.”

“He asked for you.” Sid’s voice got even more clipped, if that was possible. “But fine. That’s fine. I’ll tell Segs to help him.”

“Thought you said he punched Segs in the face.”

“I’m sure it’s not the first time Seguin has had sex with someone who punched him, and it probably won’t be the last.”

Geno rubbed his free hand over his face, squeezing the bridge of his nose hard. “Someone else.”

“I don’t have time for this. He doesn’t have time for this. Is Grom on his way?”

Geno lifted his hand enough to see that Grom was sitting by the door, staring fixedly at him. If Geno took much longer, the wolf would leave without him, but for now he was still waiting. “Not yet.”

“Well, at least get him over here if you can’t make up your mind. That damn wolf is stressing out everyone over here and Segs isn’t going to be able to keep Razor away from her for much longer.”

Geno felt Grom’s spike of anger at that idea. It was enough to make him sit up and swing his legs over the side of the bed. “We’re coming.”

“Thank god,” Sid muttered, and hung up.

Geno couldn’t say why he was going, except that Grom’s anger had lined up with something of his own, deep inside where he kept things he didn’t want to think about. If he had to admit it was there, though, well—well, then he would deal with it. Because it was the right thing. And because Sid had asked.

**

The Canadian set of rooms was a tense place. The flipped vending machine was still lying in the lounge area with a handful of players standing in a circle around it like they could resurrect it with their minds.

“Pick it up,” Geno advised them. “Not going to fix itself.”

He didn’t have to ask where Ekblad was; Grom hurried off down the hall in a flash and Geno followed, unzipping his jacket as he went. Sid was standing in the hall by an open door, his hands shoved in his pockets, talking in a low voice. Geno only had to get halfway down the hall to hear Katie growling from inside.

“…here he is,” Sid said, stepping back so Grom could peer around the doorframe. “See? I told you. Go let him chase you around for a while, and Geno will take care of your person, and I’ll go away somewhere else, and everything will be fine.”

“She mad at you?” Geno asked, joining him in the doorway. Katie was lying halfway under the bed, still growling, a chewed-up puck between her paws. “Can’t be good for her teeth.”

“I don’t think she cares. She’s mad at everything.” Sid bumped Geno with his shoulder. “Aaron? Geno’s here.”

A vague noise came from the bathroom. Geno looked at the bathroom door, then at Sid, raising his eyebrows.

“He went in there after he lost his temper,” Sid said quietly. “He’s upset and embarrassed and Katie isn’t helping.”

Katie growled and bit at the puck. Blood was running down her teeth from the gumline. Grom whined at her from the doorway and she growled again, her ears flicking up.

“Still not helping,” Sid muttered. “I’m going to go clear the other guys out of here. Please… handle this. I don’t care how. Just handle it.”

“Is fine, Sid.” Geno patted him on the shoulder and stepped into the room. “I’m got it from here.”

Sid left, and Geno waited by the bathroom door, keeping still until the voices from the lounge faded into silence. Katie crept out from under the bed, shooting him a nasty look and then scooting past Grom into the hallway and taking off at a run. Geno took a breath and tapped on the bathroom door.

“Ekblad.”

There was a pause, and the door opened a crack. “What?”

“Get out here.”

“You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.”

“I’m here.” Geno dragged his hand through his hair and shuddered as Grom’s emotions hit him. “Come on.”

Ekblad stepped out of the bathroom slowly. He was naked, and wet from the shower, shivering enough that Geno was pretty sure that shower had been set to cold. “I know you don’t like me.”

“Not time for this.” Geno took him by the arm and tugged him in close. He needed to be warmed up, and to relax, to stop fighting the instincts flooding him. If he kept fighting Katie would have a harder time relaxing into her heat and doing what her body needed.

Geno pulled Ekblad in close, rubbing his hands up and down Ekblad’s back, trying to warm him with proximity and sheer force of will. It wasn’t doing much. “On the bed,” he said finally. “Lie down.”

Ekblad did as he was told, his eyes unfocused. Grom and Katie were running now, somewhere with space and underbrush. Geno settled his body over Ekblad’s, holding him still while the heat kindled in his blood.

After a moment Ekblad sighed, his body arching a little under Geno’s weight. “You should take your clothes off.”

“You ready?” Geno hesitated, then kissed him, clumsy and dry-mouthed. “Feel ready?”

“I feel fucked up. But I’m ready for it this time.” He licked his lips, then pulled Geno down to kiss him again. This time it was hungry, dangerous. Geno could feel heat singing through it and knew it was time to go forward; any other talking about things would have to wait until the wolves were done.

Somehow, Geno got his clothes off, even though Ekblad’s hands were everywhere, scratching and holding and trying to keep him close, possess him until Ekblad got what he needed. Not that Geno minded; Grom’s mind was overlaid with his, pushing the need to be possessed, and to provide.

They didn’t have condoms, so Geno used his fingers, working Ekblad open facedown on the bed, his hand splayed over Ekblad’s neck to keep him still. It wasn’t perfect, but it was still good, fucking him roughly until he came and hearing the hungry sounds he made against the mattress.

He moved faster than Geno expected, after, turning over and around and pushing Geno down to the bed and dragging his hands down his body, his face flushed and sweaty with need. “I’m gonna suck you off,” he said, his voice thick in his throat. “Tell me no now if you don’t want it.”

“Yes,” Geno said, nodding, and Ekblad moved down his body, his fingers digging painfully into Geno’s hips as he took him in his mouth. It was fast, and deep, with teeth every time he pulled back, and Geno knew he would find scratch marks from his hips to his knees, inside and out, when they were done.

They lay tangled together for a few minutes, breathing hard. Geno carefully pushed his mind toward Grom. “Think they’re done, maybe? Since not a breeding heat this time.”

Ekblad shook his head. “One more, I think. She’s not… it’s not gone yet.” He closed his eyes tightly, then opened one, peering up at Geno. “Thanks for coming to help. I know you didn’t have to, and you didn’t want to, but… I really wanted somebody I knew a little better, somebody I could trust.”

Geno caught Ekblad’s chin in his hand. “I wanted to.”

“You made it pretty clear you didn’t want anything with me.”

“No. Not what I meant.” Geno sighed, still holding Ekblad with one hand and rubbing his own face with the other. “It’s… complicated. It’s difficult. I reacted badly. I needed time to think. I’m glad… I’m glad you asked for me.”

Ekblad was quiet for a moment, long enough that Geno moved his hand to look at him again. “I’m glad you were here. I still don’t really get what’s difficult about all of it, but… well, um, if you need more time to think, maybe tell me that? And I’ll know it’s not forever.”

Geno nodded. “Okay.”

Ekblad broke into a grin. “That was easy, huh?”

“I’m hope it stays that easy.”

“Me too.” He seemed about to say something else, then shivered. “I think round two’s about to start. Any requests?”

“Less biting. We have games coming up.”

“Got it.” Ekblad leaned down to kiss him. “Let’s go.”

**

When it was really over, and the wolves were curled up half-asleep under bushes in the park, Geno poked Ekblad in the shoulder. “Who’s taking care of the puppies?”

Ekblad’s eyes were half-closed. “Megan and Willie.”

“They don’t have wolves.”

“No. So the pups will be a little behind on wolf stuff when we get back, but Katie will bring them up to speed. It’s fine.”

“You should have brought them with you.”

“I wanted to. The paperwork didn’t get done in time.”

Geno shook his head. “In Europe wolves have personhood and right to cross borders.”

“Well, in North America they don’t.”

“You should’ve called me. Have the Russian consulate do the papers, no problem, they get right through.”

Ekblad raised his eyebrows at him. “As far as I knew, you weren’t talking to me, so…”

Geno sighed. “Well. Next time we know.”

“Next time. You think there’s going to be a next time with this particular situation?”

Geno shrugged, reaching out with his mind to the familiar feel of Grom’s contentment. “You never know with wolves.”

**

The Panthers’s second game of the season was in Philadelphia, on a day the Pens had off. Which was fortunate, since it let Geno and Grom drive to Philly in a big hurry first thing in the morning.

Geno left Grom in the hotel lobby and followed the Panthers intern upstairs. “He needs to be at the arena in three hours,” she said. “So if you can keep this in a timely fashion, that would be…”

“Up to the wolves,” Geno told her. The elevator door opened for them, and he stepped aside as Katie darted out of it. “Good mating, devushka.”

She wagged at him quickly and ran off to meet Grom.

The intern sighed. “Fourth floor, he’s in 416, if you’re going to be late have him text us or something so we can plan. Thank you for coming, Mr. Malkin.”

Geno nodded and hit the button as the doors closed. Of course he was here. That’s what pack was for.