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The Best Chance to Win

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“Teams need two great players to win (the) Stanley Cup. With Sid here, I always have (the) best chance to win. If [Sid] wins trophies I am glad. I think, ‘I help him win.‘… We (can) share the big trophy. The Stanley Cup. That is (the) trophy we will share, and be glad. I understand now how hard it is for Sid. He does such a great job. It is hard. I get it.” - Evgeni Malkin, about how he'd like to remain a Penguin because of Crosby.

Sidney wakes slowly, his eyes gritty and his mouth so dry he has to work saliva into it to be able to swallow. He feels like he got run over by a truck, his body struggling to surface from the strong undertow of sleep.

He and Geno got home from the NHL Media Tour last night, the 2015 season looming after a long summer. Sidney must have been tired, more tired than he thought.

He pushes himself carefully upright. “Fuck,” he slurs, and the sound of his voice in his head makes every hair on his body stand on end.

He blinks hard at his lap, the waffle pattern of the deep blue throw coming into focus. He doesn’t own a throw like this. And he doesn’t use an extra blanket in Pittsburgh in September, his body constantly overheated until deep into December.

Around his wrist is Geno’s rubber Lokomotiv bracelet.

His wrist.

Geno’s.

Sidney leaps out of bed—Geno’s four poster, which is higher than Sidney’s own—too fast, all the blood rushing from his head. He instantly sits down again, waiting for the stars obscuring his vision to pass. When he can see again, he fumbles for the phone he knows Geno keeps plugged in next to his bed. It’s there on the nightstand, on a stack of books, the top one a historical romance with a Cyrillic title.

He keys in Geno’s passcode and his texts come up. There’s Sidney’s name at the top, and Sidney hesitates a second before clicking on it.

My place? the last one reads, what Sidney texted last night, sitting in his car in the airport parking lot.

Geno showed up ten minutes after Sidney got home, still wearing the awful t-shirt he had changed into for the plane ride home from Toronto, and he looked good: looked good in his awful t-shirt, looked good standing on Sidney’s front step.

He looked even better from the shag rug at the foot of Sidney’s bed, Sidney on his knees between Geno’s spread thighs, looking up the long length of him before blowing him the way Geno liked it, quick and dirty.

Geno put his hand on Sidney’s chest when Sidney crawled onto the bed over him and jerked himself off, trying to keep his eyes open when he striped Geno’s belly and dick with come.

They didn’t talk after, not about anything important; just small talk as Geno got dressed, Geno gently chirping him about his performance for the Media Tour. Sidney felt off-balance and queasy. There was something not right, the same something that Sidney suspected hadn’t been right the entire time they were in Toronto, even though things seemed normal, easy, like they always did.

Sidney didn’t say anything. Because Sidney wanted things to be normal, wanted things to go back to the way they had been: before the summer, before Worlds, before the first round, before the entire shitty season when Geno had showed up to camp with a deep tan and clear eyes and Sidney couldn’t stop looking at him because, he repeated to himself over and over, this year would be different. This year they would win.

His hands—Geno’s hands—are shaking.

Sidney clicks into the keypad and dials himself three times before he gets an answer.

“The fuck?” Geno says in Sidney’s voice when he picks up. “Sid, what the fuck?”

Sidney sighs. “Where are your keys?”

*

Sidney jumped once before, when he was sixteen. He arrived at World Junior Selection Camp, and there was Marc-Andre Fleury: nineteen, lean and tall and chirping him, smirking at him, an ever-present backwards hat tucking his hair away from his dark eyes. At the end of that first practice, where Sidney was very aware he was being judged by more than just the selection committee, Fleury snatched a puck out of the air, laughing wildly, and Sidney’s heart did a funny thing, getting all tangled up with his stomach.

He found himself on his ass in the net, blinking up at his own body.

“Need a vacation?” Fleury asked, and then laughed slightly hysterically at, he would tell Sidney years later, Sidney’s accent.

Sidney looked up at himself—at a first overall pick, a Pittsburgh Penguin, at someone who made it in his body—and he shrugged. “Yeah. You?”

Fleury laughed again. “Fuck yes.” He twirled the stick in his hand. “You wanna?”

Sidney’s—Fleury’s—heart thumped hard. “Fuck yes.”

They messed around for a half hour, and, looking back at it now, Sidney can see that he did need it. He had forgotten what it felt like to just play, to not have to worry about who he was and where he’d go. He could just concentrate on the the smell of the ice, the humidity of his breath trapped in his face-cage, the sound of the skates as Fleury barreled down on him. Sidney poke-checked him, laughing wildly, his knees rattling under him as his pads hit the ice and his stick hit the puck, sending it skittering away.

Fleury snowed him as he came to a hard stop. “Hey,” he said, breathing hard, and unsnapped his chinstrap. His deep gaze shaded Sidney’s eyes to almost black, and his trademark smirk curled the corners of Sidney’s mouth as he tilted his head towards the locker room. “You wanna?”

Sidney grinned back, heart pounding with exertion and adrenaline. He had never touched a boy like that, even though he thought about it pretty much all the time. But kneeling on the ice, his borrowed dick pulsing in his cup, it felt unreal. Like, if ever he could be selfish, maybe this was the time. “Fuck yes.”

He fell back into his own body in the showers, with his hand on Fleury softening dick.

They giggled about it for days, years, and Sidney never jumped again, not during losses or wins or concussions or when Geno showed up on Mario’s doorstep. Geno, whose tape Sidney couldn’t stop watching, who Sidney had been waiting for and who he thought about all the time. In person, he looked a little soft and a little sad, but he had eyes that seemed to see everything, seemed to know Sidney when their gazes caught.

“Evgeni,” Geno said, very seriously, his big warm hand around Sidney’s, and Sidney felt his stomach try to do the thing, leap up and grab his heart and tug him off balance.

But he wasn’t a rookie anymore; he was a first overall, a Pittsburgh Penguin, someone who had made it. He didn’t need anything. He couldn’t. That’s not the way it was supposed to work.

“Sid,” Sidney said, and his ears popped, the pressure against the inside of his skin suddenly gone. “Just Sid.”

*

Geno, of course, has no idea where his keys are, and no idea where to tell Sidney to even start. “Ten minutes,” he says, and Sidney bites his tongue against an argument, rummaging in the junk drawer in Geno’s kitchen. It’ll take at least forty-five minutes for Geno to navigate whatever the fuck is going on; he can barely leave the house in under a half-hour on a normal day.

“No coffee,” Sidney says, when he hears the telltale muted thump of his own pantry door on the the other side of the line.

Geno makes a noise, what would be his usual annoyed tetching, but it sounds so funny in Sidney’s voice that Sidney can’t help but laugh. His entire body goes hot at the sound of Geno’s pleased little snicker, lower and rounder-sounding inside Geno’s head rather than through his own ears, a pavlovian delight curling through him. The world tilts for a second, and Sidney has to hold onto the edge of the counter.

“Did you eat anything last night?” he says, out of breath. “I think your blood sugar is out of whack.”

“Is fine, Sid,” Geno says, obviously trying to handle him. “You know where power bars are.”

“Ten minutes,” Sidney stresses, and Geno repeats it before he hangs up.

The junk drawer doesn’t have keys. Well, it has some keys, none of them for a car: what looks like a spare set to Geno’s house, and one for a padlock that Sidney thinks must be for the banya, even though Geno doesn’t ever actually lock it. Another jingle, and Sid digs out a set on a pewter Stanley Cup keychain, a Pens logo front and center and the years 1991,1992, and 2009 engraved underneath.

They’re Sidney’s keys. He recognizes the little color-coded caps he put on them to denote the top and bottom locks, his tiny mailbox key, the key to his PO Box.

He rubs his thumb over the little Stanley Cup crest, dulled by the patina of six years knocking around in a drawer full of odds and ends.

It seemed so easy at the time, because they were young, and they had won, and next to Sidney watching Geno lift the Cup, all the anger and frustration of the previous three seasons was just a blip. It was easy, later, to tilt his head back and let Geno kiss him, easy for them to stumble up the stairs to Sidney’s bed, easy to not talk about it and keep letting it happen, whenever it was convenient, because they were winners, it was destiny: they had done it together, and they had their whole career ahead of them to do it again.

Sidney carefully puts the keys back in the drawer and pushes it shut.

The protein bars are in a basket in the pantry. Sidney grabs two, fills a glass with water from the dispenser in the fridge, and goes into the backyard to wait for Geno.

*

Geno shows up with two cups from Starbucks. Sidney squints at him and says, “Did you talk to anyone?” and Geno frowns, rolling his eyes.

“Everyone love you, Sid, they don’t notice if you take a shit on Beaver Street.” He waggles one cup. “You want or no?”

“Yeah, sorry,” Sidney says. He definitely feels a headache pressing behind his eyes.

“You remind me to take care of your body, but you don’t take care of mine.” Geno tsks, Sidney’s tongue caught between his teeth, and it looks so strange and familiar all at once that Sidney feels the ground move under him again.

He really needs the caffeine.

He tries to get in on the driver’s side and Geno hip-checks him out of the way, arguing that Sidney wouldn’t want to mess with his seat configuration. It’s true, of course, so Sidney begrudgingly gets into the passenger seat, much to Geno’s radiating delight.

“Am I like this in the morning?” Sidney asks, once they’re on I-79.

Geno glances at him quickly, craning his head to look behind him before he changes lanes. “Yeah, very cheery, very annoying.”

Sidney laughs. “Fuck you, just set the coffee maker before you go to bed!”

Geno shrugs a little, tilts his head cheekily. “Dana make best.”

“You’re an idiot,” Sidney says, feeling instantly better now that he’s with Geno.

“I’m do great! Drink protein shake right away, bring you coffee, get here,” he takes one hand off the steering wheel and tilts it back and forth, “mostly on time—”

“You’re fucking forty minutes late!”

“—I’m best captain.”

There’s a weird little hiccup in the mood, and they both fall quiet. Sidney sneaks a glance at Geno, who’s driving with his hands firmly at 10 and 2, staring straight ahead. His face—Sidney’s face—looks completely blank, giving away nothing.

“I already texted Vyas,” Sidney says after a long, dense moment. “He’s expecting us first thing.”

Geno hums, and no one speaks for the rest of the ride.

*

Flower, in only his leg pads and nothing else, flops down next to him when they get out of Vyas’s office with the prognosis: a standard swap that they need to wait out for it to resolve itself. Dana had switched all their gear before they got in so they could sit in their usual stalls, the training and equipment staff phone tree as efficient as ever.

“Needed a vacation?” Flower says, pushing their shoulders together companionably.

Sidney pulls Geno’s skate laces as tight as he can. “You’d think this summer was long enough.”

Flower squints at him a little; Sidney can see the wheels cranking in his head.

“Geno’s taking this well.”

“Yeah. I mean.” He looks across the room at Geno, dressed only in Sidney’s base layers and laughing with Horny and Phil Kessel.

He wonders how people see Geno, like this, easily drawing Phil into the joke, bonding with Horny even though it meant Geno losing Nealer. He wonders if people understand that even though it’s Sidney’s body, Sidney’s jersey in Sidney’s hands, it’s all just dressing for Geno: taking it on himself to make guys feel at home, introducing them to his team.

Worlds feels like a lifetime ago. But the memory of how mad Geno was, the guilt and anger that’s been gnawing at Sidney’s gut for years, seems ever-present. He hadn’t wanted to ever talk about it, but he couldn’t keep it in, needed to know that he had said it, that Geno didn’t need to feel beholden to him.

Sidney’s borrowed heart contracts.

Sidney swallows. “Why wouldn’t he?”

Flower puts a hand on his shoulder and squeezes. “You don’t have to pretend with me.”

“I know.” He looks up at Flower, whose eyes are dark and too serious, and tries to find something to lighten the mood. “You just want to be special, the only one who’s swapped with me.”

Flower pinches his mouth inward, quick, like he’s going to dig in. But he relents, gives Sidney’s shoulder one last squeeze before standing. “You should be so lucky, I’m a national treasure.”

A wad of tape bounces off Flower’s head. “Leave the man alone, ” Duper says from across the carpet. “He has enough to deal with. Don’t you know he’s afraid of heights?”

Flower cracks up. “He just came from Vail, he should be used to the higher altitude.”

“What about me?” Geno says. “Can barely fit through doors like this.” He grabs Sidney’s ass and gives it a shake, and a bunch of cat calls go up around the room.

Sidney can’t help but laugh, something easing in his chest. “We’ve all seen you in your compression shorts, G, come on.”

“You know,” Beau pipes up, “speaking of asses, there’s a way we’d fix stuff at DU, if you wanna give it a shot.”

Geno doesn’t look at Sidney. “No one care what boys do, Sunshine.”

“I mean sex,” Beau clarifies loudly, kicking off another round of hooting.

Flower puts a firm arm around Beau’s shoulders, getting his neck into the crook of his elbow. “Did the adults say you could have an opinion?”

Beau twists under him. “Fuck you, old man.”

Tanger wades in to help when they’re dragged down by the awkwardness of Flower’s pads, both of them contorting themselves to avoid the logo on the carpet. Over the fray, Sidney catches Geno looking at him, a peace-offering of a smile quirking the corner of his mouth.

Sidney nods at him, and after a long moment Geno shakes his head and turns back to his stall to finish kitting up.

*

After practice, it’s overcast, but warm, so Sidney takes Phil to a rooftop bar for lunch.

“Standard onboarding?” Phil says, tilting his beer at Sidney in a half toast, a local IPA Sidney insisted he try.

“Yeah,” Sidney laughs. “But when people ask, make sure you say it was Primanti’s.” He raises his glass towards Phil, then takes a sip. It’s so bitter it makes Sidney’s tongue curl. Geno’s tongue. Fuck.

Phil laughs. “Never done this before, huh, bud?”

Sidney takes a long drink of water. “Once,” he says, reluctantly.

Phil nods, picking at a dish of tater tots. “The more you do it, the more you know the drill—the list of stuff to eat and to avoid and whether or not you need coffee or eat breakfast or how much sleep to get. My first time I think I just wandered around and poked through all Bozie’s shit, then blew his diet for three days.” Phil’s eyes crinkle a bit as he smiles down at his napkin, an expression on his face that makes Sidney wish they were talking about literally anything else. “He was so pissed.”

“Did you—” Sidney clears his throat, picks up the beer, and then puts it down again. “Did you and Bozak always swap?”

“Nah. Just the once. I went through the whole team last year, one day each.” He smiles, a little sardonic and a little sad. “Got to do a lot of snooping.”

“Oh.”

Phil is quiet for a second, looking past Sidney’s shoulder. “I think it was to say goodbye.” His eyes catch on Sidney’s. “Maybe it’s horseshit, docs all said no one knows why it happens and there’s no point trying to figure it out, but.” He shrugs. “I knew my time was up, y’know? So who the fuck knows.”

The server comes by with their burgers, and points to Sidney’s beer. “Too bitter?”

Sidney nods and tries on Geno’s sheepish grin. “Sorry,” he says.

“It’s fine!” The server laughs. “I didn’t want to say anything when you ordered it. You want your usual?”

Sidney laughs, too, a little weird bubble of feeling caught in his chest, and nods. “Please.”

He winks and leaves, and Sidney watches him go, wondering.

“So listen, I know I’m new but can I ask—what do you think it is? What do you need?”

Sidney opens his mouth, then closes it. He thinks of Flower asking if he needed a vacation, but he doesn’t, not now. Physically he feels better than he has in years, and he’s got a new gold medal in his trophy case. He feels restless and ready to go, he doesn’t want any more time away, ever.

He thinks of Worlds, of Geno left standing on the ice by himself as Canada celebrated and the rest of the Russian team went back to the dressing room. He thinks of Geno’s blotchy cheeks, his bloodshot eyes never quite meeting Sidney’s, his shaky smile when Sidney hugged him. Sidney had wanted to hold him.

Phil smiles into his beer. “You know, the kid was right, there is one surefire way to get back.”

Sidney feels his cheeks heat, thinking about his first time, with Flower: a first in all the ways. “Did you, uh. The whole team?”

Phil laughs so hard that a few heads turn at the tables on the other side of the bar, and then do double-takes. “Oh, my god, no!” he says. “Damn.” Chuckling, he takes a huge bite of his burger.

“Oh,” Sidney says, and doesn’t ask who.

As he’s paying the check, a mother and her young son approach them hesitantly. Sidney smiles automatically, as he usually does when he gets recognized, and watches both their faces transform into grins, as though they’re looking at an old friend.

Sidney has literally never had that look directed at him. Usually everyone looks slightly manic and slightly shell-shocked. And not that Sid is comparing himself to Gretzsky, but he knows that feeling, remembers being fourteen and meeting him for the first time but nothing much past that, adrenaline having dulled the details over the years.

Phil looks back and forth between them, smiling delightedly through the last tater tot.

“I hope it’s okay,” the mom says, the little boy, maybe seven, leaning into her hard. “He really wanted to meet you, Mr. Malkin.”

“Of course,” Sidney says and pats his pockets before remembering these aren’t his jeans, and he has no sharpie on him. “Uh…”

“No, no,” the mom says, “We don’t need an autograph or anything.” She looks at her son. “Go ahead.”

“Good luck this year, sir,” the little boy says solemnly, holding out his hand.

Sidney shakes it, gently, and he beams at him before letting go.

“We’re all just proud of you boys,” she says. “No matter what, we’re just real glad to have you in our city.”

“Thank you,” Sidney says. “Me, too.”

They thank him again and leave, and Sidney looks after them. No autograph, no picture. He’s never seen Geno get approached except at the gate to CONSOL, so maybe this is normal. It feels really important in a way that Sidney can’t put his finger on.

“That’s what you look like, by the way,” Phil says, after a moment, “When you look at Malkin.”

Sidney stares at him and says flatly, “What were you saying about being new?”

Phil raises his eyebrows and finishes the dregs of his beer as Sidney aggressively signs the check.

*

Sidney walks Phil to his car, then keeps going, decides to walk over to that coffee shop that Olli is always talking about. Geno usually has a second cup around this time of day, and if Sidney is going to drink coffee it might as well be the good kind.

He’s so used to gazes skittering off him, bouncing off some forcefield so people’s eyes never meet his, that the first time someone smiles at him he’s actually startled.

“Sorry,” the guy says and puts his head down.

It keeps happening. People smile when they see him. They don’t interact, but they look at him, and seem happy to see him in a way they don’t when they see him as Sidney, just like the little boy had been.

The coffeeshop is smaller than Sid had thought, looking at it from the outside. Three tiny tables with tiny chairs, and a wall of coffee equipment that Sidney can just about parse as coffee equipment. The girl behind the counter is leaning on her elbows reading a book, and when she looks up, her smile is for a regular customer, not a celebrity.

“Oh, hey!” she says. “Back for the season?”

“Uh,” Sidney says, looking around. There’s one other customer at the small table in the window, focused on his laptop. “Yeah. Just got in.”

“Cool.” She starts spooning espresso into the filter. “We just made a huge jar of vanilla sugar, if you want to try it? I read that was the new thing to try in this, at least in Moscow.”

Sidney has no idea what she’s talking about. “Sounds good,” he says, and she smiles as she fits the filter into the espresso machine.

“We put it on the menu last month,” she says, and points to the chalkboard behind the case with all the fancy danishes. In among the stuff he vaguely recognizes as coffee, it says RAF with a small Russian flag next to it, done in colored chalk.

“I hope you don’t mind. We sell a lot of them.”

Sidney blinks and works saliva into his mouth. “Well,” he says, and smiles at her the way he knows Geno smiles at people he likes. “Russia best.”

She laughs and mixes everything in a small metal pitcher, steaming it for a few seconds before pouring it into an espresso cup.

He pulls out his wallet, tilting it away from her so she can’t see his driver’s license.

“I tell you everytime you don’t have to,” she says and Sidney puts a twenty on the counter.

“It’s…” he pauses, and has no idea how to articulate what he’s feeling. He has a crazy moment where he imagines it, pouring the entire story out to this girl just to feel the words in his mouth. “I just really appreciate it.”

She ducks her head. “It’s my pleasure.”

“Thank you,” he says, and she looks him in the eye.

“You’re welcome.”

Back in his car he thumbs through his text thread with Geno, takes an absent sip of his drink.

It’s creamy and sweet and exactly what he imagined it would taste like.

My place? Sidney texted last night. Above it, a few texts from the NHL Media Tour while they were coordinating schedules, and then, three months ago, another from Sidney: My room, if you’re feeling up to it?

He scrolls back, and it’s mostly just Sid asking if Geno is around, asking if he’s up for it, asking if he needs some company. Always hedging, trying to make himself as neutral as possible.

It’s just hard to remember now, having spent a day in the city he loves as the person he loves, why he thought that was the way it needed to be.

*

They didn’t fuck on the road, Sidney knew that. But this was different. Prague wasn’t the road, and Worlds wasn’t the NHL. Sidney felt like he was existing on two separate planes, vibrating against each other: the one where he captained a team to a gold medal, and the one where his chest cracked open looking at Geno across the ice after Canada won.

My room, if you’re feeling up to it? he texted when he got back to his room.

Geno wasn’t, probably, but he came anyway.

“Geno,” Sidney said, when he opened the door, but then realized he didn’t know what else to say. So he just didn’t, and neither did Geno. Instead he shoved Sidney against the closed door and kissed him, both of them struggling out of their clothes.

On the bed, Sidney palmed his dick while Geno opened himself up; he gripped Geno’s hips as Geno rose up and let the head of Sidney’s bare cock slip against his stretched hole.

They’d never—Sidney hissed a breath in through gritted teeth as Geno slowly sank down on him, head tilted back, looking at Sidney with slitted, glittering eyes.

Geno rode him hard, pressing his palms into Sidney’s chest. He was slick inside and hot, tight around Sidney’s dick. Geno rose up, clenching his hole around the head of Sidney’s cock, and then took him all the way in again, his mouth forming an ‘o’, opening like he could feel Sidney’s dick in his throat, against the back of his tongue.

It was too much, too much pressure, something huge clawing at Sidney’s lungs as he gasped for air against the weight of Geno’s body, crushing him into the mattress.

“Geno,” Sidney breathed, trying to hold back.

Geno ground down on him. “Yes,” he said, and that was it.

Sidney let go, jerking his hips up and up and up until he came.

“Wait,” he said, as Geno unsteadily and frantically jacked himself, twisting his hips against Sidney’s softening dick. “Wait.”

He tugged Geno up until Geno fell forward, all his weight on Sidney’s chest, Sidney’s dick slipping out. Sidney felt for the rim of Geno’s hole, sloppy and stretched, and shoved two fingers in, the slick of his own come easing the way.

Sidney fucked Geno through it, until he shot all over Sidney’s belly and chest, screwing his eyes shut and making a high, pained sound that lit up all of Sidney’s nerve endings.

Geno rolled to the side, his face mashed into Sidney’s shoulder, and Sidney realized, suddenly, that his shoulder was wet, Geno’s cheek slipping against it as his breath sobbed out of him.

“G,” Sidney said, and carded his fingers through Geno’s hair until his breathing evened out.

“Sorry,” Geno said, miserably, and Sidney shook his head minutely.

“No, it’s...Maybe I shouldn’t have asked you to come over.”

Geno propped himself up on an elbow; his eyes were bloodshot but glittered with his trademarked annoyance. “Why you say this?”

Sidney sighed and scrubbed his hands over his face. “I dunno. I should have known you wouldn’t be up for it.”

“If I’m not up for, I say.” Geno frowned. “I come over, don’t come over, I still feel the same. And you ask, so.”

It felt too close to what Sidney was thinking, too, and Sidney brain scuttled around it, unwilling to be so selfish when Geno needed him to be strong.

“You don’t always have to do what I say,” Sidney said. They were dangerously close to a thing they didn’t talk about, a thing that Sidney could barely let himself think because then he’d have to confront it.

“I don’t.” Geno eyed him. “If I do, you yell at me less for being late.”

It was a peace offering, a way out. Sidney could laugh, and then maybe they would make out a little, and then Geno would go back to his room and by the time they were back in Pittsburgh, things would be basically back to normal.

Instead, Sidney said, “You know what I mean.”

Geno tested his tongue against his left canine, Sidney could see it behind his gapped mouth, and turned his gaze to the ceiling.

“Come on, G,” Sidney said. “I know Dallas made you an offer two years ago. I know you were thinking about going.” Geno’s first media scrum after his contract signing has played against the backs of Sidney’s eyelids too often over the last two years, his insides caving in every time Geno talks about him, about wanting to play with him.

Geno sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, his bare back—skinny at the end of a long season—rounded.

“I’m not mad,” Sidney said.

“Sound mad.”

Sidney laughed a little. “I’m mad you didn’t go.”

Geno looked back at him, shocked.

“Come on, G. It’s been a rough six years. It’s understandable.”

Geno stood and started jerkily getting dressed. “You don’t know what you say.”

“I know you’re a 1C. I know you’re a fucking captain in Russia. I know you want to win a Cup again. I know you signed in good faith and we keep fucking up.” Sidney swallowed. “I know you think you have to stay for me.”

Geno turned on him. “For you? How I do for you? You never ask me!”

“How could I?” Sidney almost shouted. “Why would I ask you to do that?”

Geno clenched his jaw but didn’t speak.

Sidney took a breath. “Don’t you want to win?”

“Want to win with you, Sid.”

“Don’t say that,” Sidney said, guilt washing over him in a panicky wave.

The truth is that if Sidney were Geno, he would have left. But it’s not an option for him, he’ll live and die by Pittsburgh, even if it means retiring a failure. That’s what that pick meant all those years ago, that’s what making it meant. But Geno, Geno could get out, he could have his pick of twenty-nine teams, he could be a captain, could finally get the respect he deserves; Geno could win.

He knew in that moment he should say it, tell him he should go, or ask him to stay. But he couldn’t bear the shape of the words in his mouth, torn between selflessness and selfishness, his love for Geno, suddenly so overwhelming when he looked at his devastated face on the other side of the ice, encompassing both.

Geno stood. “Okay, Sid.” He went to the door. “I won’t.”

He opened it, and then he was gone.

*

Sidney wanders aimlessly when he gets home, the quiet less of a comfort than it usually is after the warm buzz of the city. He opens the pantry and pulls out each drawer, not hungry, looking for something that he’s craving but can’t name. He designed the kitchen so he would never need a step stool, and it’s disorienting to see everything from even a few inches taller, the counters not quite the right height, pictures hung on the walls looking strangely misplaced.

He takes a slow turn through each room, contemplating everything like he’s a stranger. The room with the glass coffee table that he only uses for guests, the specific wear on one side of his leather sofa, the overly large oak dining room table, the photo thing Taylor had made for him: pictures of her and mom and dad, their dog Samantha, Sidney and Jack, Sidney and Estelle, Flower and Vero, Sidney and Geno and Flower and Duper, Sidney and Geno and the Cup, Sidney and Geno, Sidney and Geno.

In the media room, Sidney finds himself staring at the team Cup photo from 2009 that he had blown up and hung over the couch. They’re all beaming, giddy, invincible with the certainty that this photo is the first of many, that next year they’ll hold up two fingers, then three. That this group is the group of destiny.

Geno is sitting in front of Sid, his hand on the Cup. Unseen by the camera, Sidney’s hand was on Geno’s arm, clutching it tightly behind the Cup, a little secret that only he knows.

They thought it would be easy, but it wasn’t. It was long and hard and sometimes the entire team felt cursed. But they told each other it was easy, they told each other they wouldn’t have it any other way. And so many of them stayed.

Geno stayed.

Upstairs, he strips down to his boxers, takes a piss, shoves a toothbrush into his mouth mechanically. He watches himself as he brushes, leans forward to spit into the sink.

When he stands up, Geno is blinking back at him from his bathroom mirror, soft and rumpled, looking at home here. The Geno in the mirror lives here, in Sidney’s house, getting ready to climb into Sidney’s bed. And Sidney wants it to be real, so suddenly and so acutely that it’s almost a physical pain. He fumbles for the light switch and stands in the dark, listening to his breath.

Outside, he hears the rumble of his front gate.

Two minutes later, just as Sidney gets to it, there’s a knock at the front door, and Geno standing on his front step when Sidney opens it.

“Can I come?” Geno asks, and Sidney steps back to let him in.

Geno stands and just looks around the foyer for a second, like he’s never seen it before. “Everything look different, you know?”

“Because I’m so short,” Sidney says, almost breathless, his heart pounding. “Yeah, I get it.”

Geno turns and looks at him, looks up at him. “No. You don’t.”

Sidney swallows hard. “I do. I never understood how much you loved the city, how much the city loved you.” He laughs, shuddery and thick. “They fucking love you.”

Geno laughs, too, his eyes shiny with unshed tears. “Why you think I stay?”

“I…I didn’t know.”

Geno tugs on his ear, and it’s such a Geno movement, so strange to see his own body doing it, that Sidney makes a noise and steps towards him.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m sorry I didn’t know how much you love it.” Sidney takes a deep shuddery breath. “How much you love me.”

Geno makes a high, broken sound, and puts his hands over his face as tears slip down his cheek. He just breathes for a second, the scrubs the tears away with the heels of his hands. “I’m so mad,” he says. “You tell me I should have gone and I’m so mad.” He puts a hand over his chest. “You break my heart.”

“I’m so stupid,” Sidney breathes. “I’m a fucking idiot.”

“Yes!” Geno laughs wetly. “Very stupid.”

Sidney looks at his face, his own face, crumpled with grief. It’s terrifying, the emotion he’s never let himself feel, there for anyone to see. "I was trying to do what was best for you. What I thought was best."

"You're best for me, Sid."

Sidney covers his eyes for a second, tears suddenly pressing against the backs of them.

“Maybe I’m stupid, too,” Geno muses. “I thought I knew you, but seeing things with your it eyes, maybe not.”

”Geno,” Sid says, miserably, and Geno shakes his head.

”I mean, maybe I understand you better now. And maybe I should ask you what I want, because you never ask me.” He tilts his head. “Maybe you don’t know I want.”

"I should have..." Sidney thinks of Flower's words. "I should have taken better care of you. You shouldn't have to ask.

"Sid." Geno smiles, thin and sad but hopeful. "Don't have to do everything perfect. Just have to try."

“I love you,” Sidney blurts. “Stay with me. Please.”

Geno steps close, so close they’re sharing breath when he tilts his head up. “Yes,” he says, and touches his cheek. “Stay with me, too.”

The hot tears he’s been struggling to keep back fall and he closes his eyes in relief. “Yes.”

Geno beams and pulls Sidney down to meet him.

*

Sidney blinks awake, squinting against a stripe of light across his eyes. He grunts and rolls over, and for a second, it’s like time stops. There’s Geno: Geno’s face, his real face, slack with sleep, in Sidney’s bed.

Sidney laughs, putting his hands over his face. When he pulls them away, Geno is looking at him, one eye blinking blearily above the pillow. A grin rounds the cheek Sidney can see.

“Hi, Sid,” he says in his own voice.

Sidney traces the curl of his mouth, the shell of his ear, the cap of his shoulder where it crests the edge of the sheet, and he takes a shaky breath.

“Hi, Geno.”



*