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Sid’s used to keeping a cautious eye on the new prospects when they go out during training camp. It’s nothing new. It’s just being a good captain and also figuring out how they’d fit in with the team if they ended up staying instead of being sent down to Wilkes-Barre.

Sid has looked at tape too, of course. It was one of the first things he did after the Draft and celebrating Canada Day. Tristan Jarry looks promising. He can see why Shero took him as their first pick, 44th overall in the 2nd round. The guy had good stats playing for the Edmonton Oil Kings, and they really did need another back up goalie. He could easily find a niche for himself in the Penguins if he plays well and works hard enough.

So, yeah, Sid’s watching the kid every so often. Between rounds and talking with Geno and Flower and Tanger. He hasn’t seen a lot of these guys all summer, and it’s always great catching up with them. So he’s watching, and his brow creases slightly, not sure that he likes what he sees. Tristan is at the bar about 10 metres away clearly talking to another male patron. Except…it looks to Sid more like flirting than talking. His brow furrows even deeper and he’s up and out of his seat, walking toward the bar.

Just as he’s walking up, Tristan throws his head back in laughter and touches the other man’s arm in clear invitation. “Hey, sorry to interrupt, but I need to talk to this guy for a sec,” says Sid as he nods towards Tristan.

The man’s eyebrows go up at first in confusion and then in recognition. Pittsburgh is a pretty big hockey town. “Oh, hey, oh my god, you’re Sidney Crosby!”

“Yep,” says Sid who plasters on his generic smile for fans.

“Sure, of course! Um…I’ll just be over there?” He motions to the other side of the bar and looks questioningly at Tristan, who nods.

“I’ll meet up with you later, dude.”

Sid turns to him when the man is out of earshot, and hisses under his breath, “What are you doing?”

Tristan whispers back in confused anger, “What do you mean? With that guy? What do you think?”

“Come with me,” orders Sid.

“What?? No…why?”

“Now,” says Sid, the full weight of the “C” behind it.

Tristan bows his head a little, clearly upset, but unwilling to go against his captain. “Fine,” he snaps, as he follows Sid out of the bar. Geno catches Sid’s eye as they leave, and Sid just shakes his head, mouthing “Later.”

Sid leads them into the parking lot and his car and motions for Tristan to get in the passenger seat. Once the doors as closed, he turns and asks, “Okay, you’re going to explain to me what was going on in there.”

Tristan explodes in anger. “What was going on in there was that I’m gay and I was trying to hook up! I didn’t expect… Especially from you! What, are you going to tell me I can’t have a good time like Guentzel or Segalla? Who are doing the exact same thing I was just trying to do, except with girls? Because…why?”

Sid puts his hand over his face. Rookies. Most of them have more sense than this, though. “Listen, I know it’s unfair, but-“

Tristan interrupts him. “No, you don’t understand. I’m not going to be closeted. I’m planning on being out. From the beginning. I already wasn’t hiding things in Edmonton. My coach, my teammates knew. My family knows.”

Sid takes a deep breath and tries again. “Well, juniors are a bit different, maybe.” They weren’t for him, but things change over almost 10 years. “But here in the show-“

“Well, they’re not going to be different for me,” Tristan interrupts again. And what the hell, thinks Sid. “I’ve already had a meeting with Mario and Ray and Dan. I’ve told them everything. Actually, I told them everything in the interviews before the Draft. They all know.”

“What?” Sid just stares at him, uncomprehending. “And they…what? Approve?”

Tristan throws up his hands. “Yes! Jesus, they’re fine with it, okay? Like, yeah, there was some conversation over being the first guy out in the league or whatever, but they were nothing but supportive, okay?”

“But they didn’t tell me…or the rest of the team…anything.”

“I asked them not to,” says Tristan who stares out the window and not at Sid; his shoulders slumped against the seat.

“Why?”

“Told them I wanted to tell the team myself, and they respected that.” He shrugged. “Which I was planning to do soon, obviously. And they kind of…” he sighs. “Nevermind. I guess they were wrong.”

“They kind of what?” asks Sid.

Tristan turns and looks at him. “They kind of gave me the impression that you would be fine with it. That you would have my back, even. Which I sort of already had a feeling about…” He pauses, the expression on his face almost betrayed. “I mean, you too, right?”

Sid sighs and grips the steering wheel. Fucking rookies. “You’re not wrong. I am. Gay. But for me it’s always been hockey first. Hockey is more important. The team is more important. That and I like my personal life to stay personal.”

There’s a pause, and then Tristan says, “I get that. I really do. But I just don’t want that kind of life, I guess.” He shrugs. “I want hockey, obviously. So, so much. I worked damn hard to get here, and I’m going to keep working hard. But I don’t want to always hide a part of myself. I just want to be me, you know? Just like the other guys on the team.

“And listen,“ he turns to look at Sid. “I don’t think it’ll be the end of the world. I mean, it might, who knows? But management’s behind me. I’m hoping the team will be, too. And with You Can Play… I guess I’m just hoping for the best.”

Sid looks back at him and sees the earnestness in his eyes. Was he ever that young? Naïve? Brave? He’s going to be eaten alive by fans, by the press… Here he is at the very beginning of his NHL career willing to risk it all. And of course he empathizes. He’s done enough fantasizing of his own. Marrying Geno after being together for almost three years. Kids. Not having to worry about being careful, making sure no one sees… But he always thought it was impossible. Hockey came first, and then maybe once he retired… But how long would that be?

“You don’t have to worry about the team,” says Sid.

Tristan exhales and noticeably relaxes. “Thanks, man.”

“Obviously I was surprised when I saw you in there. It’s just, all the gay guys I know – hockey guys, I mean – we’re all on the down low. I’ve never seen anyone…” He shakes his head. “…do that in public before. But yeah of course I’ll have your back, just like I would with any other teammate for any other reason.” Sid hesitates before asking. “They were- I mean, Mario and them, they were supportive?”

“Yeah, completely. Haven’t you, I don’t know, talked to them about it?”

“Not really. With Mario a little. I had to. But just enough to make sure he knew it wouldn’t fuck up the team, fuck up hockey. Mario’s talked to management and Dan just in case…but,” Sid shrugs, “I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.”

Tristan leans over and places a hand over Sid’s on the steering wheel. Normally Sid hates it when unfamiliar people touch him, but he allows it. “Maybe you should? It’s your decision, obviously, but maybe it’s time? Or at least think about it.”

Sid doesn’t say anything, but he also doesn’t move his hand away, lost in his thoughts. “Listen, man,” says Tristan. “I’m gonna go back in, okay? See if that guy’s still around. I’ll…see you at training camp tomorrow?”

“Don’t drink too much or stay out too late,” Sid admonishes.

Tristan laughs. “I’m not gonna fuck up my chances at getting to the show, I promise. And the other guys will take care of me.”

Sid groans. “Don’t trust anything Flower puts in front of you and if Tanger tries to get you on the dance floor, run the other way.”

“Sure thing!” says Tristan. “And…thanks. For your support. I was maybe holding off telling the team before I got the chance to talk to you.” He gives Sid’s hand one more pat as he opens the passenger door and leaves for the bar.

Sid sits there for a minute, a million thoughts running through his head. He’s brought out of them abruptly by a text message alert from his phone. It’s Geno.

where r u???? Jarry back but no sid ((((((

Sid texts back, parking lot in my car. join me? need to talk.

sounds serious, Geno responds.

yeah, agrees Sid.

be right there

They do need to talk. About what Tristan plans to do if nothing else. Come up with a strategy, because he may not be ready himself, but he’ll be damned if anyone – on or off the team – is a homophobic douchebag. But Sid thinks maybe it is time. Or maybe they can at least start talking about it. Staying closeted was a mutual decision, but Sid always sensed that Geno was never really happy about it, that Geno would shout their love from the rooftops if he had the chance, even though he has more to lose. Like probably losing his place on the Russian Olympic team, nevermind his popularity in his home country.

But if he’s willing, it might be worth a conversation with Mario. And then with Shero and the rest of management. Maybe. Part of him, too, knows that he’s the face of hockey, and that coming out would mean so much for so many people. People like Tristan and those like him coming up through the system. Ironic that Tristan turned out to be a role model for him.

He starts a bit when the passenger door opens, and Geno slides into the car.

“Hi,” says Geno with a goofy grin, happy from being reunited with his teammates, reunited with Sid after the summer.

Sid leans over and presses his forehead to Geno’s. “Hi,” he says before quickly kissing him deeply over the console.

Geno’s eyebrows shoot up when Sid leans back in his seat, and he can’t blame him. Sid’s always been very particular about public displays of affection, even in darkened parking lots. “Yeah, um, so I have an idea…”