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When Geno was small, well before he was Geno, when he was Zhenechka, six of them lived in an apartment with just two bedrooms. Zhenechka and Denis had the small one, bunk beds up against the wall and a bright polyester rug with a road map on it.

His parents had shared the other bedroom, two beds with a screen between them. There had been four small dressers on wheels, and every morning they were wheeled about the cramped space, hands steadying the wobbling piles on top of them, mirrors and ties and powder compacts and small change. Every morning, even if they rose before dawn, the first thing they did was swap two dressers according to the familiar routine.

"It's important," his mamochka said. Zhenechka curled in her arms, head beside hers on the pillow. They watched his mamulya tidy her dresser, placed neatly beside his mamochka's in what was now, for a day, their bedroom. "The most important thing. We are four people and four marriages, Zhenechka, that is how you make a sedoretu. We should - it used to be that everyone in a marriage would have their own room, but times change and now we live differently. But we don't forget how to be married."

Zhenechka found it hard to imagine the kind of home that would have so many bedrooms, but his mamochka knew many things, so he believed her. His mamulya came to the bed and stooped to kiss the top of his head, and there the memory fluttered away into nothingness.

 

Olli was bright as morning, but there were twilight shadows in his eyes and the duck of his head; you might confuse him in a photograph, but never in person. Evening all the way through, like Geno. Flower often said your boy-toy to Sid, light and easy, and Sid laughed and Olli didn't roll his eyes but looked patiently amused. He was astonishingly self-possessed, seemed as if nothing could knock him off-course, and that's why it was such a goddamn body blow to Geno when Max told him Olli had cancer.

He should have guessed, really, as soon as Max grabbed his elbow and steered him down the passage. They always got Max to break this shit to him, so when he stuttered out a question in Russian Max could answer him.

"He's playing with cancer?" he asked, after learning it was thyroid cancer and highly unlikely to kill him. Geno found it hard to believe in a mild case of cancer, but it was also hard to believe Olli had been playing through it. Max shrugged.

"He wanted to keep things as normal as possible, but he's going out for surgery next week. Good prognosis, should only miss a few weeks."

Geno walked up and down the corridor, beat his closed hand gently against the rough wall. There was an air conditioning unit right above him, blasting cold air and noise directly into his brain.

He wondered if Max had steered him here so the unit would drown him out if he yelled.

"Fuck," he said, and shook his head, hard. It was still overwhelmingly loud.

"He doesn't want to make a big deal of it."

"Of course not," Geno said. "You know where Sid is?"

"In the player lounge," Max said, and Geno grabbed his shoulder as he passed, gave him a brief shake of thanks before heading to find Sid.

He was sitting side by side with Flower on the couch facing the door. Flower leaned against his shoulder, their hands linked, his thumb working busily over Sid's silver engagement ring. Sid was waiting for Geno, and his mouth pulled up at the corner when Geno came in and sat down on his other side, in the seat left empty for him.

"How long you know?" Geno said quietly, and Sid smiled his crooked smile.

"Couple of weeks. I went with him to his MRI." He turned over his empty hand, fingers beckoning, and Geno took it and squeezed it quickly before letting go. "He's going to be okay, G."

Geno kept his lips sealed on his fears. Cancer summoned up enough ghastly images for all of them. Useless to complain that Olli was too young, when every year they visited the paediatric wards.

Skate was optional, and Geno had planned to skip it, go bug one of the trainers about the vague ache under his right shoulder blade. Now, though, he wanted to feel the ice under his skates, stretch himself before they had to shut themselves in for video review.

"Come on," he said, and grabbed a handful of Sid's hoodie before standing, dragging him up. "Get ready, going to skate. Flower, come on, you play shit last game."

"Fuck you, I got a shutout," Flower said, but he let Sid pull him to his feet. "I was third star."

"And who's second star?" Geno demanded. "See, you need skate."

"That makes no fucking sense."

"You guys go on," Sid disentangled his hand from Flower's, and gave him a little push. "I'm gonna - in case anyone, you know." Geno would needle him for thinking the team needed him to hold their hands, but Geno come straight to him, so. "Anyway," Sid added, straight-faced. "I was first star, so - "

"Oh, fuck you all," Flower said, and flounced out. Geno followed at his heels, chiding him for his lack of goal-scoring, and even waited in the locker room the extra minutes for Flower to get his pads sorted out.

"Don't forget ring," he said as Flower reached for his blocker, and Flower cursed and slipped it off, leaning over to drop it into his sneaker. "You're lose, Sid go mental."

"Crisse, don't say that." Flower used his blocker to shoo Geno along. "First year, I lose three times, I think he's going to break up." Geno had heard this story before, but it was always soothing, and a little bit strange, too, hearing himself described from the outside, the new Russian kid showing up saying there was a ring in his cereal, was it a prank?

"You were giving Jordy the shitty eye and I was trying to get it off you before Sid saw and knew I'd lost it again - how the fuck did I lose it in the granola? Someone must have done it, there's no way." Flower's voice descended to a hum as they clattered onto the ice, and he skated off towards Tanger, who was doing silent loops with Olli.

Geno watched sideways throughout skate as Olli smiled at every player and coach who sidled up to say something awkward and heartfelt. He was patted on the head, back, ass and shoulder, and got three helmet bumps and two fistbumps.

He didn't like being awkward but he couldn't ignore it, so when they were filing off the ice, he pushed his glove into Olli's face and said, "You're better soon."

"Yes," Olli said, and Tanger shoved Geno in the back, hustling him out of facewash range. "Thanks."

"Welcome," Geno said, and tried to wrestle Tanger into a headlock, staggering them both into the wall while Olli's cheeks dimpled and his mouth twitched.

Tanger herded Olli like a sheepdog all the way to video review, where he settled him next to Sid and took up post on his other side. Sid handed Olli a cup of coffee, and Olli said, "Guys, I'm really okay."

"Of course you are," Tanger said, with an undertone of I will fight anyone who says otherwise.

"Fuck," Flower said, and leaned on Geno for balance while he took off his sneaker. He tipped his ring out into his hand, and Sid looked pensively at the blank projector screen. Olli hid his smile in his coffee.

 

Olli kept smiling, and the team kept racking up goals and wins. Geno's points were coming, but in his opinion, not enough of them were five on five. Sid got first pick of the wingers, which was fine, he was the first line, and it wasn't even like he picked them himself, Coach did that.

Still, in a better ordered world, Geno would have wingers who could finish. So maybe he should have been happier when Coach decided to shift Patric Hornqvist down to his wing.

Horny was morning, and unlike Sid, he was every stereotype of a morning guy. Sid was the soft haze of dawn, gentle but inexorable. Horny blazed like the noonday sun, always reaching out to people, drenching them in warmth.

He also took his shirt off a lot. You couldn't be in hockey and have hang ups about nudity, but some days it seemed like Geno couldn't turn around without getting an eyeful of Horny's nipples.

It took a little longer than it should for Geno to realise Horny was doing it on purpose.

"Coming out, G?" Horny nudged his knuckles against Geno's shoulder, and Geno looked up. Horny was standing between Geno's knees, which was pretty close even given the length of Geno's legs. He still smelled of game sweat, and his tight black shorts didn't hide much. "C'mon, you're not done already?"

Geno wiped his face with his towel and shook his head. He didn't fuck around with team. Lots of guys did - some of them just fuckbuddies, some of them making a night marriage like Sid and Flower, waiting for their day marriage to show up and complete them. But Geno kept it out of the team.

"Tired," he said, finally, and then forced a chirp. "Have to do all skating, you on my wing. No wonder you're energy."

Horny laughed, and patted his cheek - more of a slap, really, like he was cuffing Geno into wakefulness. Geno pushed him away and buried his face back in the towel. It had been a while since he'd had to let someone down gently. Hornqvist had the sort of broad build and wide grin he liked in a guy, and thinking like that meant he was way overdue to get laid.

Two days later Horny cornered him for a kickabout after morning skate, and Geno shrugged agreement. It was that or go hang out at the coffee machine listening to gossip, and listening to everyone not talk about Olli. Sid took his phone out every two minutes just in case he missed a message, and Geno was already feeling the urge to rip it out of his hand and drop it in the water cooler.

Soccer seemed the healthier option. At least Horny was wearing a shirt, although it flipped up to show his sculpted abs every time he bounced on his toes.

They managed five minutes or so, Horny heckling and Geno grumbling, and then Geno got a bad bounce, tried to catch it with his ankle, and sent it trickling off through a doorway. No one yelled, so the room was probably empty.

"Bored of play," he said loftily, and Hornqvist laughed at him, face cracking into dimples and creases.

"You lose, G. Gonna pay a forfeit?"

"Fuck you," Geno said, and Horny shrugged.

"Works for me," and he was right in Geno's space, one hand folding around his wrist. 

Horny was loud, and energetic, and really he was just Geno's type. He also itched against Geno's skin like a fucking sunburn, which was why instead of shrugging it off, Geno twisted and pushed his shoulder into Horny's chest, driving him back against the wall.

"Always with the dumb penalties," Horny said on a short breath, and Geno leaned a little harder. Horny grinned, and blew in his ear.

Geno laughed, which was definitely a mistake. He pulled away, twisting his wrist out of Horny's loose grasp. "Go bother Sid, he likes you," he advised, and Horny shrugged.

"He's not as cute, though. Okay, okay, hint taken." Like a shoulder to the sternum was a hint.

Horny collected his ball, and loped off towards the lounge, where Sid would no doubt be keeping an eagle eye out for despondent faces, ready to apply some unfounded optimism while checking his phone like a nervous tic. Geno still wasn't ready for that; Sid should have heard something by lunch, so Geno would see him there.

After consideration, he decided Dana could always use a little more Geno in his life, and turned his steps towards the locker room.

Dana wasn't there. Too efficient, clearly, because the room was already swept clean and empty, awaiting the game time setup. But Duper was there, sitting in his stall.

"Why you here, old man?" Geno said. Duper stared right through him for a second, glassy eyed, and then he smiled. There was something manic about it.

"Hey, Geno, Geno, how's the guy?" He bounced up and flung his arm round Geno's shoulders and squeezed, hard enough to be uncomfortable.

"Good," Geno said. That look boded nothing good. "What's up?"

"Nothing," and Duper turned him towards the door. Geno cast a suspicious glance over his shoulder, but it wasn't like anyone had left gear in the room to fuck with. Whatever was up with Duper had to be something else. "So, when are you coming to babysit again? Maeva's threatening hunger strike unless you come by soon."

"I'm busy guy, Duper, but for pretty girl I make time," Geno said graciously. "They have nice tea party for me again?"

"We'll bake a cake," Duper said, and then he clapped his hand to his pocket. Somewhat theatrically, Geno thought, and the suspicion rushed back as Duper pulled out his phone and excused himself, eyes wide with conviction.

Fuck, sometimes this team drove him up the wall. He made for the equipment room, where Dana would let him eat candy til his teeth were stained with artificial colour.

 

Geno was due in for an 8am meeting, which meant he locked his car at five-to and thought about grabbing a coffee. When he got to the heavy glass door, though, Sid was on the other side of it, lying in wait. Geno made a face at him through the glass and seriously considered jogging round the building to the other entrance. Sid pulled the door open for him, and Geno submitted to his fate.

"Coach asked me to make sure you were on time." Sid took his arm, ignoring his whine. "Come on, G, you can get coffee after."

"I'm thirsty," Geno said, and waved away the bottle Sid offered him. "Coffee, Sid." But Sid was insistent, and there was a little crease between his brows Geno didn't like, so he let Sid pull him along.

They made it through the door right on the hour, and Flower and Tanger and Duper and Kuni were already there. And Max.

Geno stopped in the doorway, a chill settling in his belly.

"What now?" he said in Russian. Max shifted his weight, and looked at Duper. Geno searched for the English. "Is - cancer? Or, or - stroke?" That was what Tanger had had last year. Duper laughed, ragged. Sid's fingers dug into Geno's arm, so tight above the elbow Geno's pulse throbbed painfully.

"Thanks for the perspective, Geno. No. It's just a blood clot. Six months."

Sid let go and dropped into a chair. Then he popped right out of it to go and crouch beside Duper, putting one hand on his hunched shoulder. Geno looked to Max for a translation, for an idea of just how bad this was.

"A blood clot. Like Vokoun had, remember? Pascal had one while he was out with his knee, so this is his second. He has to go on blood thinners, which means he can't play."

"But he's going to be all right," Geno said, the pressure in his chest easing. Max nodded. "He'll play again?"

"Maybe not this season," Max said. Duper wasn't young. Next season - who knows.

Still. It wouldn't kill him, thank God. Geno touched his saint medallion and tried not to feel bitter about how often the axe fell against his team.

Sid excused himself when Tanger folded Duper into his arms, choking something in French. Geno glanced at Flower, who was rubbing Tanger's back, and then he went after Sid himself. He was just standing in the passage outside, and he turned wide, lost eyes on Geno.

"It's my fault," Sid said, and Geno took hold of Sid's shoulders. "It was me that fucked up his knee, and if he hadn't - "

"Accident," Geno said, and shook Sid, gently, and then harder. "Sid, it was an accident." He dragged Sid closer, and Sid took a shuddery breath and then pressed his face into Geno's shoulder. He was shaking.

"Sometimes it feels," he began, and then stopped. Geno shook his head.

"Don't say."

"It's just. One thing, then another, then another - "

"Shh, shh," Geno muttered, hiding his stinging eyes in Sid's hair. It wasn't fair, he wanted to say. Wanted to think that protesting loudly enough would make the universe take notice and correct itself.

Flower came out next, and threw his arms around the pair of them. His eyes were red-rimmed, and his face kept cracking down into despair like new ice.

"Crisse," he muttered, and Geno sighed agreement. "Come on, move, not here."

There's a couple of hours til the press conference. They'll all be there, to show support. Like that'll help, like a row of sad faces will mean something. So reporters can dutifully write down how sad they are and how much Duper means to them.

"He had such a great start to the season," Sid said, and Flower murmured something sweet-sounding in French and hurried him along. "He came back so strong. He worked so hard."

They settled on a pile of mats in a storage room, the fluorescent tubes in the hallway casting a sickly orange light through the thick pane of glass in the door. Sid hiccuped and rubbed his face with the cuffs of his hoodie. Geno squeezed his shoulders, and Flower squeezed his waist.

"Don't, don't, mon amour," Flower said, voice scratchy. "He's okay."

"He's not playing," and Geno sighed, because - yeah. Duper had been so happy to play again, and now - "He felt the clot in Winnipeg."

Winnipeg?

"That two weeks," Geno said, something like anger, but sadder, clogging his throat. Had he seen Duper's hand go to his chest more often, these past weeks? Or was that just his imagination filling it in, Duper pale and bright-eyed, fidgeting and breathing too shallow - "Could have - could have died."

"Fuck," Sid breathed, and then he sat up straight, scrubbing at his face, lips set in a hard line. "Okay. Right. I'm going to - go do some things, okay, thank you." He patted Geno's knee and kissed Flower, and then wriggled free and made for the door.

Geno held out his arm, and Flower scooted under it with a deep sigh.

"He's going to bother Olli," Flower predicted, and Geno nodded.

"Tanger too." They sat silently, not speaking the thought that Tanger would almost certainly ignore warning signs. Maybe Sid on a health-check rampage wasn't the worst thing that could happen to the team.

 

They should have been used to injuries by now, but maybe you never got used to them. Maybe you just finally broke down under the strain of them, like a chair eaten away by woodworm.

They fall prey to the mumps epidemic, and Geno can't summon a second's surprise.

They almost give mumps to a ward of immuno-compromised children, which makes Geno's chest cramp with fear every time he thinks about it. There, they were lucky. How could they ever have played on after that?

They scrape into the playoffs in their last game of the season, and Geno tries not to wince at the thought of another series against the Rangers.

"We made playoffs," Sid said when it was just them in the tunnel, lingering. He took his gloves off and slapped his hands together. "We're gonna go as deep as we can, and come back fresh next year. I like what we've got going, okay, I think we can start something good. That was - that was my goal, this year, I wanted to make playoffs."

Geno knew full well that in Sid's gym there were pictures of the Cup winners since they raised it. He knew that every year, Sid wanted the Cup.

But this year, it was almost a relief when they bowed out. Sid's beard was still a sandpaper scratch on his cheeks. They didn't get swept. That's something, and he hates himself for how small his ambitions have become.

 

They had a subdued little end of season gathering at Sid's house. It wasn't so bad, really. Sid talked to them all, working his way steadily through the team, fixing every player with that earnest stare and telling them how the new season would be a fresh start, they'd all be rehabbed and rested. Except the players on one year contracts, of course. They got the same earnest stare, and a promise that however it worked out, Sid wished them well and enjoyed playing with them. Even Lapierre got that, and Geno was still of the opinion he could go fuck himself.

Geno wandered to the den, and found Flower and Tanger there, sprawled out on the couch, ankles entangled on the ottoman. Perry was curled against Tanger's side, asleep. He considered shouldering his way into the mix, but the other couch was empty and he could stretch his whole length out there.

"Hell of a year," Tanger said finally. Geno grunted. It wasn't over yet.

The door opened, and Horny's head poked round it.

"This a private pity party?"

"Did you bring beer?" Tanger said, and Flower waved him in.

Horny had cider, which Geno waved away but Flower pounced on happily. Geno already felt slightly unmoored from sobriety, and with an international flight in the cards, there was no point in cultivating a hangover.

He was tipsy enough to put his socked feet in Horny's lap when he sat at the end of Geno's couch. Horny grinned at him, and rested his palm on Geno's shin.

"How's the ankle?" he said. Geno shut his eyes.

"Shit."

"Gonna rest it up?"

"Worlds," he said, and Flower groaned.

"You're going to fuck yourself up," he scolded, and Geno shrugged. Times like this, he really missed Gonch; none of the Canadians understood. He cracked an eyelid to contemplate Hornqvist's profile, cheekbones sharper than they had been at the start of the season. No, a Swede probably wouldn't get it either.

Horny rubbed his palm up and down Geno's shin. It was nice, and his expression was distracted enough it probably wasn't on purpose. Geno let it slide.

 

watch out for Sid for me said Flower's text, and Geno blinked at it, gummed up by jetlag, until he realised what Flower must mean.

in Ostrava. Sid goes to prague

Fucking great. Still, at least they weren't in the same group; he'd only have to play Sid once, if that.

Maybe he should have been excited about testing himself against the best player in the world, but the season had been hard on them both and he didn't want either of them to lose again.

Inevitably, they played Canada for the gold and lost. There was no one he'd rather lose to, of course, but -

He went to find Sid afterwards, to apologise for leaving the ice early.

"No, it's okay, G," Sid said earnestly. There was champagne sticking his curls down on his forehead. Geno couldn't look at the gold medal around his neck. "I know you would have stayed if you could have."

Geno could have stood there alone, while Kovy hissed at him from the door and the anthem played on and glance after curious glance was shot at him. He just took the easier option of leaving. He shrugged, and Sid touched his arm.

"You want to get lunch tomorrow? Season wrap-up, just for us?"

"You have team," Geno said. He could hear the whooping and the sound of popping corks. Sid smiled.

"Worlds is done. Tomorrow, you're my team again."

It wasn't really true; Sid was always Team Canada, just like Geno was always Team Russia. But they were always Penguins too, and so Geno nodded.

 

"Next year we'll do better," Sid said, and Geno agreed. They almost had to be, although it seemed like tempting fate even to think it, inviting some worse disaster on the team. "So, uh, Datsyuk coming back for another year?"

"He's contract," Geno said, playing dumb just to watch Sid's conflicted face. The late morning sunshine lit his eyes pale gold. There was parsley stuck between his teeth.

"Yeah," he said, and visibly thought out a number of gambits before kicking Geno's good ankle. "You're still happy, right?"

"Still happy." Concern melted into a smile, eyes creasing up like a happy cat. Geno had to smile back. "Better if we win more."

"I hear that." Sid tapped his fork on the edge of the plate. There was more, and Geno waited for it. "You haven't dated in a while."

"No," Geno said. "Maybe look, this summer."

"Yeah?" Sid looked pleased. He liked people to be happy, and Geno had occasionally thought he wasn't quite happy enough for Sid's liking.

"Going back to Canada?" he said, turning the subject, and Sid brightened and began to talk about Cannes, a place he had a baffling fondness for.

Geno would have liked to forget the whole conversation, but it came back to him in the small hours of the morning, when every disappointment and regret liked to line up.

There had been other people. It wasn't like Geno had pined. But. Every morning, the sun comes up, and it's always Sid. Maybe you never forgot the first time you fall in love. Not when you spend a decade side by side, in joy and grief.

If it hadn't been for Flower -

He could't even wish that, because a world where Sid and Flower didn't love each other was a world without Flower, and Geno would never, ever wish him away. Flower was the night-brother Geno had always wanted, whenever he fought with Denis, older and Morning. He could breathe the same air as Flower the rest of his life.

If Flower were a woman -

If Flower were a woman, if Sid had a delicately boned girlfriend with a huge smile and lanky body -

Geno pushed his face into his pillow, and tries not to think of how easy that would be, how people would tease Sid about his taste in lovers, tall and dark and pushy, how he and Flower would exchange knowing looks when Sid got huffy. And then they'd just find a day woman, perhaps Flower would meet her doing - whatever Flower would do, as a woman -

It fell apart there. He could almost picture Flower as a woman, but there was no use to it anyway. And the morning woman was just a flash of short golden hair and a smile.

God, they could be so happy.

 

Pre-season wasn't great, but they had a lot of players to bed in. Then they lost the season opener, and then they lost the home opener. They lost more than they should, and they would have lost more if Flower weren't stealing games for them. He was having a great season, and they were giving him nothing.

It was like a nightmare; every morning, Geno rolled over and hoped to remember something better. The brief spark of hope Gonch's recruitment brought was soon smothered.

There wasn't any reason for it. They were just bad. Even Sid was bad, and that felt like a betrayal to even think, but he was floundering, trying to pull the weight of the whole team under the harness of the defensive system.

It was brutal to even think it, but Duper's retirement came as a relief. Geno hadn't known just how scared he'd been until he was scrolling through the headlines on his phone, and he realised Duper wasn't going to collapse and die on the ice, it wasn't going to happen, they were safe from that.

He had to put his phone away and go breathe deeply in the bathroom for twenty minutes. He was late for video review, but no one said a word.

An overtime loss was still a loss, of course, but it was less disheartening, especially in a high scoring game against a good team like Tampa. Anyway, a point was a point, and Geno had almost convinced himself when he turned a corner and almost ran into Tanger, standing frozen in the hallway.

"Pylon," Geno started to chirp, and then caught sight of Tanger's face, and his stomach swooped.

"Perry's going," Tanger said, and Geno winced, and wrapped his arm around Tanger's shoulders. Going was better than a host of options. "I thought - "

It's hard to be sure of anything, in hockey.

"We miss him," is all Geno could say, and Tanger nodded.

"Alex is going to miss him," he said, dismally. "And Cath."

There wasn't much to say to that. Alexander was growing up sweet and smart, but he needed four parents; Uncle Sid was a constant, of course, but it wasn't the same as having a morning father. He and Perry had adored each other.

"Maybe see him summer," he said, inadequately. "You - are you," he glanced down at Tanger's hands. Only Catherine's slim gold ring.

"We never even talked about it," Tanger said with a sigh. "I thought we'd have more time, you know? He felt like he was part of us." Us the team? Us the family? It didn't matter, really. They shuffled their way to the player's lounge where Sid was determinedly texting with his captain face on.

"We're going to have a moving party tonight. I'm buying pizza," he said. "Maybe beer, if you're good."

"We're always good," Tanger said, wanly, and Sid's smile wavered a little. He managed to hold it until Tanger had shuffled his way back out, and then he let it go, sitting down on the couch with an exhausted-sounding sigh.

"You always good," Geno told him, fiercely. "You playing defence now, no wonder points down."

"Geno," Sid said, rubbing at his eyes, and Geno wanted to - wanted to smack him, for his stubborn inability to see how much he is. "Good isn't enough. I've got the C. I've got a big contract. I've got to do better than good."

"You will," Geno insisted, because he knew Sid was still as good as ever, if he didn't have to fetch the fucking puck from Flower's skates every goddamn time he wanted to take it up the ice. "It's come soon."

"We're lucky we have you and Flower to clean up after us," Sid said, and Geno breathed deep through his mouth so he didn't snap at Sid.

If anyone else talked about themselves the way Sid was, then Sid would soon get them straightened out. Geno had the A, so he supposed it was his job. He put his hand on the back of Sid's neck, and squeezed.

"You carry team before," he said, and felt Sid's shoulders stiffen. "No, shh. Is our turn, okay. You already play better this month, you know that."

"Yeah," Sid said. He didn't look up.

"It's not too late. We're go better, everyone's better." The hand wasn't enough; he crouched to hug Sid, awkwardly, and Sid grabbed onto his shirt and held tight.

"You give the shittiest pep talks, G."

"Lucky you don't need often," he said. "Got to do better, I don't want do again."

 

Sid spent the first hour of the moving party talking up Anaheim, gushing about Getzlaf, and speculating on the imminent improvement in the Ducks' playoff chances until Horny threw a balled up paper towel at his head.

"Can it, Sid, or I'm going to pack myself in Perry's luggage and go to Anaheim too."

"Fine, fine," Sid said, nose crinkling in disgust. There was pizza sauce smeared on his forehead, and Geno grabbed a clean paper towel to wipe it off before Sid managed to smear it into his hair. "I was just trying to help," he told Geno, who hummed agreement.

"Helped, Perry look happy now." That wasn't exactly true, but he'd seemed more cheerful after Sid's explanation of how well he'd fit their system. "Don't tell him Getzlaf bully and Perry jerk."

"They're not that bad," Sid said, with his charming attachment to every person he'd ever played on a team with.

Horny brought them beers, possibly as an apology but more likely because he thought they needed them. Sid thanked him politely, and wandered off, probably to put it back in the fridge; he'd had his two beers for the evening. Geno cracked his open, because he needed all the help he could get for wrapping a huge collection of tiny plastic hockey figures in socks and stuffing them into a cardboard honeycomb insert. Horny watched him for a bit, and then went to fetch more socks, and they packed in silence.

"Want to get lunch tomorrow?" Horny said after a bit, and Geno shrugged.

"Sure, who's come?"

"Just you and me."

Geno squinted at him. Horny looked back, half-smiling, until Geno caved, and asked, "Why?"

"What, you don't want to hang?"

"We don't," Geno said, and Horny broke into a full-on grin.

"No, but I wish we did."

"Horny," Geno said, and wished Hornqvist rolled off his tongue easier. Horny was a terrible name to be serious with.

"C'mon, I've seen you look."

"Look isn't touch."

"It could be." Horny waggled his eyebrows, and Geno looked down to hide his smile. It would be easy. Horny was easy, and fun.

"No, thanks. Go get lunch with Tanger, he's be lonely now Perry's gone."

"Tanger comes with a morning marriage," Horny said, and Geno cocked an eyebrow at him.

"Not like you fuck?" he said, a little lost. Morning didn't fuck morning, evening didn't fuck evening.

"No, but it means Tanger likes girls. And I don't." They packed a little in silence, and Horny nudged Geno with his foot. "Shocked?"

"No." A little surprised, maybe. In Russia, you didn't say that. Maybe some people only liked women, or only liked men, but that was a private thing to work out in your sedoretu, not something to go around telling people. Except - "But you still have to marry girls, so - "

"Nope," Horny said, still smiling. And okay. That did make a difference.

"Well, is your own business," Geno settled on. "And is not mine."

"Okay," Horny said. "Matter closed."

Hagelin was fast. Geno knew that, of course, had raced him for the puck and eaten his snow more than a few times, but having him and Kessel on his wings felt like, well, wings. They were't firing on every cylinder yet, but Geno could feel the shape of something good. The whole team could feel it, and it was like the cloud had - not lifted, but gone from thunder to showers. They were getting wins.

They closed out January with three wins in a row and a five day break, and that meant they were going out.

Geno was working on picking up a strawberry blonde with quizzical eyebrows and a sparkling choker that makes him want to leave hickies all around it. He could just see Flower over her shoulder, gesturing with his long fingers at the barman. The bar was dark, but not so dark he could't see that Flower's lips looked a little used; Sid was tipsy enough to sneak kisses in the back of their booth, then.

He touched the girl's bare shoulder, just a graze with his fingertips, and she gave him a coy smile before another girl, an evening girl with straight heavy bangs, came to pull her away.

The strawberry blonde looked back over her shoulder, direct and interested, and Geno was going to find her again later. Another body crammed into the space she left, gel and untucked shirt on an evening guy who didn't give him so much as a look. Geno stepped away, planning to join Flower and make him buy them shots.

Hornqvist had come up behind Flower, and was draped over him like a cape, whispering in his ear. Flower was grinning, head cocked to listen to him. Something about it sent a prickle of unease down Geno's spine. 

If Flower had a girl hanging over him, making him smile like that, Geno would toast his success and go back to the booth to tease Sid. A girl would be looking for someone for their marriage, someone for them, a sister for Sid.

A guy? A guy's cheating. Flower had a guy, and everyone in Pittsburgh knew whose ring he wore.

Geno went back to the booth. Sid was leaning his chin on his folded arms, looking half-asleep, lips very red. He hated getting caught in PDAs, complained about the dumb face he was making in the picture of him kissing Flower over the Cup.

Geno had advised him it was no dumber than his usual faces, and Sid had refused to talk to him for almost an hour, which was a lot at a post-Cup win party. Geno had been drunkenly desolate, and they'd ended up cuddling on the couch exchanging promises of eternal Penguin-ness.

One thing Geno doesn't miss about being young is how fucking dramatic everything was.

"Tired," Geno told him, touching Sid's cheek to catch his attention. "Go get Flower, take you home."

"He's having fun," Sid said, peaceably. "Come hang out with me."

"No, you most boring." But Geno sat with only a wistful thought about the girl in the sparkling choker. Maybe she'd be here another day, or maybe she wouldn't, but Sid was his captain.

Flower didn't come back for another hour, and he was exuberant and bubbling over with energy. He combed his fingers through Sid's hair, leaving it standing all on end, and called him a series of sweet names in French that made Sid laugh before getting up and beginning to sort their coats from the pile. He looked much more awake, suddenly, and Flower leaned in close to whisper something, probably a filthy promise by the shade Sid's cheeks turned.

Flower didn't look at all guilty. Geno was probably just imagining things.

 

Geno's stupid fucking ankle gave way on the stairs, and he almost flattened Sid. Fortunately, Sid's balance was about as good as you'd expect, and he took two fast steps down and steadied himself on the handrail, Geno almost horizontally propped on his shoulders.

"Sorry," Geno said, from between gritted teeth, and Sid glared back over his shoulder.

"We're going to the doctor right now," he said, and Geno would protest, but.

"Have to wait a few minutes before I can put foot down," he said, meekly.

Sid gave him a piggyback to the exam room, which would have been hilarious any other day.

Geno hadn't been hiding his injury, so he was saved Sid losing his temper, but he had been downplaying the pain, which earned him a tight-lipped scold. Geno bore up stoically, with the assistance of some high-calibre painkillers.

Three weeks of rest seemed completely unreasonable, as he'd been playing on it just fine, but doctors were so often unreasonable.

"Get better faster then," Sid said, not very sympathetically. He stopped the car, and Geno fumbled for the door handle. "Don't move. I'll help."

His house was peacefully empty; Gonch would still be at the rink, trying to hammer his skills into the heads of d-men. Next year, he hoped, the whole Gonchar sedoretu would move back to Sewickley. It would be almost like old times.

Sid got him settled in the big recliner, fetched him water and a bag of jerky, and then hovered over him, frowning. Geno blinked up at him, unable to summon any worry. He felt vague regret for their season, but mostly he just felt tired.

"Sorry," he said. "Every time we're getting better - "

"It's not your fault," Sid said, and he bent over to kiss Geno's forehead, warm and a little damp. Geno made a note to think about the why of that later, because kissing wasn't exactly their thing. Right now, he just enjoyed the lingering sensation of it on his brow. "We're still going to be in the mix when you get back. I promise."

Sid shouldn't make promises he could keep. He shouldn't feel like he owed Geno this anyway. But it was hard to say that to Sid's face, serious and hurt-looking.

"I know you do," he said instead, and Sid's tight lips eased a little. "Go home, Flower worry. Gonch home soon."

"Go to sleep," Sid said, which wasn't an agreement. Geno closed his eyes anyway, because arguing with Sid was a fool's game even when you were healthy.

 

Being out with an injury, especially a lower body injury, was boring, frustrating, and generally a trial to the nerves. Geno did his best not to make it a trial for everybody else's nerves, but patience had never been one of his many virtues. They played at home a lot, at least, so he didn't have to deal with endless planes and hotels. And he had Gonch to drive him around, and help him out at home.

It still sucked. He took to ensconcing himself in the corner of the lounge with his tablet, and sending texts to whoever he wanted to come and talk to him.

And he watched Hornqvist make increasingly obvious advances to Flower, while Sid carried on oblivious.

Hornqvist never stopped touching him, hands on his shoulders, catching his wrist, settling on his hip or at the small of his back. And Flower liked it. Geno had known him long enough to recognise his tells, and he leaned into Hornqvist's touches and and gave him silly grins and generally acted like Hornqvist was Sid. Sometimes they did it right in front of Sid, and there wasn't so much as a flicker of hurt or confusion on his face.

It wasn't any of Geno's business, he knew. He knew.

But there were fucking limits, and watching Hornqvist kiss Flower in Sid's fucking rink was way beyond.

He was pretty sure they'd forgotten he was even there; the room was empty otherwise, and Hornqvist just caught Flower's wrist on his way out, reeled him in and kissed him half a dozen times, Flower laughing and letting him. Geno set his tablet down carefully, in case he cracked the glass with his grip, and Flower had already made his escape when he could be sure his voice was steady. That was fine. He didn't want to yell at Flower.

"Horny," he called out, and Hornqvist halted, glancing around in surprise.

"Hey, G," he said, wariness in the lines of his body, and Geno didn't let him say whatever excuse he was going to come up with.

"I'm tell him," Geno said, standing up, glaring. Horny cast a glance at the door, and moved closer to Geno. Afraid of eavesdroppers; too late to be careful. "I'm - I'm tell management, you think you're stay when try and break Sid and Flower?" 

"Fuck off," Horny said, easily enough, but there was a flash of anger in his eyes, one Geno could latch onto.

"Find grinder anywhere," he spat, weeks of frustration bubbling over. "You're trade easy, flip you for younger, better."

"But you're not, huh, that's why you get to make eyes at Sid?" Horny said, and for a second Geno couldn't say a word, too startled at the insinuation. Horny took advantage of that second, driving in like he was going for the net, crowding into Geno's space.

Geno had been a hockey player too long to give way easily, but that just meant Horny's breath was hot and onion smelling on his face. He straightened his spine with a jerk, just to remind Horny who'd got the fucking size advantage here.

"You jealous?" Hornqvist said. "Flower's got what you want." That - Geno could feel an angry blush building along his neck, because that was not true, and fuck Hornqvist anyway.

Geno went to push past him - mostly. His shoulder smashed against Hornqvist's, but Hornqvist was used to getting hit and coming up with a smile, and he pushed Geno right back and grinned at him, only the savage set of his teeth suggesting this was anything other than a bit of fun.

They knew better than to injure each other, even to throw a punch, but Geno couldn't help the way his hand locked round Hornqvist's bicep, fingers digging in, and probably Hornqvist felt the same about the way he shoved the heel of his hand against Geno's hip, making him rock back, off-balance.

But Geno had been running drills with Sid for almost a decade, and compared to him Hornqvist was easy to swing round, slam against the wall. Although Sid never slid his thigh between Geno's like that, opening his legs, and the way they slotted together sent fire up Geno's spine.

He tried to pull back, but Hornqvist was holding his belt and, to be honest, Geno didn't try very hard. The rough sound of their breathing, the warmth of Hornqvist's skin, the strung-up tension of his muscles - it all felt like fucking, and he was pretty sure if they didn't stop this, now, they were going to be fucking, maybe right here against the wall.

Geno could be an idiot, but he wasn't that stupid. He let go. He put his hands flat on the wall and stared past Hornqvist's ear. After a long moment, Hornqvist let go of him, and Geno turned and limped out of the room. At least he didn't fuck his ankle up any worse. 

 

Sid was eating a bowl of pasta salad the size of his head, eyes half shut as he contemplated the infinite, or more likely, hockey. Geno stole one of his bread rolls, and then tore a bit off and dipped it in the pasta sauce.

"Get your own," Sid said, but he was smiling sunnily, like Geno showing up and stealing his lunch was all he needed to make his day perfect. He was still wearing his workout gear, sweat soaked and smelling pretty rank.

There was sweat gleaming in the hollow of his throat, and Geno thought about lapping it up, getting down between Sid's huge thighs, pressing his face into Sid's groin.

When he looked back up, Sid was looking back at him, chewing patiently at his lunch. He didn't say anything; he never had, when Geno looked at him like that.

If Geno told him about Flower and Horny, he'd think -

Ultimately, Geno decided, it doesn't matter. Flower loved Sid, Geno knew he did, and Horny wasn't going to get anywhere - not really - and Sid never needed to know his friend was trying to steal his husband. 

He hadn't even for a moment thought that Flower leaving Sid would mean Sid could be his. He supposed he should be pleased that he didn't think of that, that he wasn't selfish. But the thought of Sid and Flower splitting up fucking ached, a dull fire under his sternum like every disappointment he'd ever felt in his life. If Sid and Flower weren't for keeps, he didn't know a single fucking thing about love.

 

Getting clearance for higher intensity workouts was a blessing. The team hadn't sunk without him the way some had predicted, but they hadn't exactly thrived. Sid had kept his promise, a point streak keeping the team afloat, and now Geno needed to get back and help him out.

"Hey," Sid said, leaning on the handlebars of the stationary bike, and Geno grunted. He was soaked through with sweat, and he ccould't spare breath to talk. And Sid had to know that, so Geno narrowed his eyes in silent suspicion. "Horny talked to me - "
Geno stopped so fast the pedals flew out from under his feet, and he caught one in the shin and swore viciously.

"You should use the straps," Sid said sanctimoniously, while going to fetch ice from the machine. If he weren't so nice he'd be a real asshole.

They sat on the mat, Geno with his legs sprawled and Sid between them, down by his ankles. He didn't seem changed, not like Hornqvist said anything - 

"What?" he said, because he wasn't great at waiting. "What Horny say, you come bother me?"

"I wanted to tell you it's okay," Sid said, and Geno made a go on gesture because his mouth was dry. He swiped a sliver of ice from Sid's towel parcel and slipped it into his mouth. "I know it's a bit weird, but it's a thing in Sweden, and some people do it in Canada now, it's - I mean, it's not legal, but - I mean, it's not illegal, you just can't get married, but there's, you know, non-discrimination laws."

"What," Geno said, impatiently, because what the fuck are they doing? Drugs? Was Horny giving them weird Swedish performance enhancers?

"Horny's dating Flower," Sid told his knee, and Geno grabbed his wrist and wrenched it up. Flower's ring still sat in its place, with the shiny patch from Flower's nervous rubbing, and Geno blew out a breath of relief. "Uh, ow, G. Don't be a bully."

"How's he date, you're still," and he ran his thumb over the ring. Like Flower did, he realises as Sid flushed, and he hastily dropped Sid's hand.

"In Sweden you don't have to have two guys and two girls," Sid said. "You can get legally married and everything, even if you're all guys."

"But not - " he managed not to say not people like us, because Sid would purse his lips disapprovingly. Still, it was true. There were people who lived like that, and Geno didn't care or anything, but - not people like them. "What about moiety, they - "

"You have to have at least one morning and one evening," he said, like that wasn't crazy talk, "And of course no one - they don't, uh, it's all - normal." Nothing within the moiety, he meant, but who knew what happened when they started disrupting the traditional pattern of a sedoretu.

He didn't have any right to tell Sid that, though. And Sid, for all his sweetness, was as stubborn as a sheer rock face and Geno might as well argue with rock.

"Surprised you do," he said finally, because it was true and it wouldn't hurt Sid. "You always like same." 

"Flower and I talked about it for ages," Sid said. "And, uh. He was more for it than me, and he said." Sid stopped. He bit his lower lip, and he was holding it between his teeth when he looked sideways at Geno. Geno waited, watching the way he worried at it with detached appreciation. Sid's lips always looked so soft. He let go of it, leaving asymmetric dents, and said, "Flower said I should ask you out."

They sat quietly for a bit while Geno turned that around. He understood, but he felt like he shouldn't, that it shouldn't make any sense to him. But Horny had sniffed around him before moving on to Flower, and he knew - he was almost sure - that the way Sid felt about Geno was the same way Geno felt about him.

"You don't like women?" Geno asked his feet, and when he looked up, Sid's eyebrows were politely raised. "Horny says, doesn't like women, wants only men, you and Flower don't pick up..."

"Flower likes women," Sid said. "Sometimes he finds a morning woman, but he's never found anyone serious."

"But you," Geno insisted, and Sid shrugged.

"I don't really." He rubbed at his mouth while Geno tried to parse that. "I don't - want people, often. Or at least, new people."

"Sidney only like same old? Call Potash, have scoop," Geno said, chirping easy, and the way it unhunched Sid's shoulders familiar.

"I always thought one day there'd be a woman, you know. I'd look at her, like you and Flower, and I'd just know she was the one. But. I guess I don't want anyone else to marry me and Flower, not when I could have you."

Have you. Not a hook up, not fucking around, not some temporary thing. Sid was thinking about making a sedoretu with him.

There were all kinds of fairy tales about getting things you wanted in ways you didn't want them. This was really quite a harmless way, but it still hurt like pulling out a sliver of glass to say no.

"Okay," Sid said, and patted Geno's knee, damp from melting ice. "I get it, I do."

He looked like he was telling the truth. He'd always been good at understanding Geno.

Geno made it a grand total of two weeks before being fucked up again, and this time it hurt even worse, because they were jockeying for the wildcard. It was tight, sure, but they could have made it.

And now Geno was out for the season and just, fuck everything. The media acted like it was a done deal and their season was dead in the water.

Sid hadn't make him any promises this time, but he'd set his jaw in a way that meant he was thinking about it.

Geno really should have been happier that he came through. Instead, he was trying not to sulk because his line was tearing shit up with Bones as centre.

Not that he didn't like Bones. Bones was awesome. But.

"Was my line," he said mournfully to Horny, who for inexplicable reasons had been hanging around. He was sitting next to Geno while he checked over his sticks, now, despite all his own sticks being lined up neat and perfect. Geno's were perfect too, just like they had been yesterday, but he checked them anyway.

"They'll give you your line back," Horny said, and Geno jabbed him in the ribs, making him yelp. "What? They will! You're Evgeni Malkin, it's not like Nicky can measure up."

"No," Geno said, because that was quite true. "But line's good without me. You think I'm want mess up chemistry? Because I'm 2C, give me?" He was ready to do what was best for the team, but he'd damned if he wasn't going to mope. All this time him and Sid had been crying out for good wingers, and now Nick Bonino had their two best. It had been so much fun to fly down the ice with them.

Horny drummed his fingers on Geno's thigh. It was nice. He was probably trying to be friends, if he was going to be with two of Geno's best friends. It made sense.

"Matchups are going to be killer," he said, and Geno hummed agreement. "Who you gonna shut down? Crosby, Malkin or Kessel?"

It was a nice prospect. Maybe he could get Beau back on his wing, and one of the new kids. They weren't as fast as Hags and Phil, but they weren't bad.

"Gonna be dangerous next year," he said, and Horny pulled a face.

"We're killer this year. We're going to make it long enough for you to come back, okay?" Geno touched the thick-varnished wood of the bench they sat on, and Horny wrapped his fingers round Geno's, squeezing hard enough to be uncomfortable. "We're going to fucking do it, Geno."

"People keep making me promises this year," Geno said, thoughtfully. "Good record so far. We see." He squeezed back.

 

Horny slid his hand into Flower's hair, just behind the ear, and he tugged, a sharp jerk that had Flower's head rear back and then dip, his eyelashes dropping before he looked up into Horny's eyes. Geno looked down at his laces, loosening them with unnecessary focus. There was a wrongness to seeing Flower with a man who wasn't Sid, and for all he knew it wasn't cheating, it felt like cheating.

He'd have to get over it. And soon enough, they'll find another evening man for Sid, and he'll have to watch that guy put his hands on Sid. He just hopes to God it isn't a hockey player, so he doesn't have to watch them making eyes all over the rink.

come over he texted Sid later, wondering if Flower gone home or he was out with Horny - or maybe Flower and Horny were upstairs while Sid was curled up downstairs, or maybe they were getting kinky and doing Flower together, moving with the same confident teamwork - 

Sid's reply came quick enough to jerk him out of that train of thought, just OK. Want me to pick up dinner?

I cook

He went to check the freezer, stocked by his Russian meal service, and picked out stroganoff to keep Sid sweet. He gave up matchstick potatoes as too much hassled, and put a couple into bake instead.

Once it was in the oven, he roamed around the house restlessly, unable to keep still. Gonch had gone back to his family for the weekend, and Geno's house was too big and too empty. He went upstairs, to his bedroom.

The master suite was beautiful, even compared to the rest of his very nice house; a full four bedrooms and four bathrooms, arrayed on the first floor around the atrium. He hadn't gone quite as far as having traditional Russian frescos all over the ceiling, but there were framed versions on the walls, suns and stars and moons dancing through skies of violet and black, gold and cerulean.

He'd always slept in the room decorated for the Morning marriage, where one day he'd have a morning woman with him. It was bright, facing east, full of pale pearly colours that glowed around him on the days he had to wake early. He thought of Horny stretching in the morning light, glowing, and instead of thinking about it he walked through the right hand bathroom into the Night marriage room. He didn't go into it often, because it was where he was going to fuck a morning man who wasn't Sid. He knew that he'd love that stranger, but knowing wasn't the same as believing.

"It's very dramatic," Sid remarked, and Geno almost jumped out of his skin. He'd come up the stairs silently, having taken off his shoes at the door like a good Canadian boy. Geno had forgotten, and there were probably dusty footprints on his pale rug. Here, it didn't matter, because the carpet was black and the walls were black and only the silvery white ceiling and woodwork and the flood of light from the huge windows kept it from being unabashedly gloomy.

It almost looked like mourning, it suddenly occurred to Geno, and he hoped to fuck that didn't occur to Sid, because that definitely wasn't what was going on, Geno wasn't morbid about it.

"I like," he said, hoping his dismay didn't show. "I don't buy furniture yet, because maybe they want choose." Sid grinned at the dig; his master suite was fully furnished with identical boring bedroom sets, and he and Flower cycled between two of them so the cleaning service could do their worst. It was a crazy system in Geno's view, but no one asked him.

"You look good in black," Sid said, and he didn't seem to think that was a weird thing to say so Geno didn't chirp him in case it made it weird. "So are you cooking?"

"How's Horny?" Geno said, and Sid's eyes squinted up. He was so obviously trying to work out what was going on in Geno's head that Geno felt obliged to tell him. "Weird see Flower and him."

"That's not a big deal, G. What if I'd met an evening woman and she'd brought a morning brother along? He'd fuck Flower."

"That hardly ever happen now," Geno objected. "Hick," he added after a moment's cogitation. "You tease Jordy about it." Sid giggled, nose screwing up. Jordy had hopefully courted Geno for all of three weeks of firm rejection, and Gonch had translated every single joke about being the fifth Staal brother, because he was an asshole. 

"Yeah, but it's not that weird, we were just messing with Jordy. Anyway. Flower and Horny seem happy," Sid said, and then added, "I feel happy, too. I like having him around. If it keeps being okay, we're gonna ask him to move in next season."

"Just him?" Geno checked, and Sid's eyes widened a little.

"Do you want - "

"No, no, I mean maybe you look for fourth," he babbled, too quick, and Sid flushed.

"Oh, yeah. I mean, yeah, no, we'll want a fourth, but there's no rush, me and Flower waited a long time for Horny, and I guess we can wait longer - I mean, it's not..." he trailed off, and then added very quietly, "And I think we're all still hoping that you'll change your mind. I'm sorry. I don't want to push you, but it's going to be a while before we can put someone else where we want you to be."

"Can't do it, Sid," Geno said, throat tightening. "Four night marriages? Isn't a sedoretu." Sid smiled, but it looked as forced as Geno felt.

"Also, the house would be so dark," Sid waved a hand at the dark walls to illustrate, and Geno snorted out an unexpected laugh. 

"Isn't joke," he said feebly, because that was actually one of Sid's better efforts, and he felt like he should encourage it.

"I like tradition," Sid said, which was an understatement. "But I touched the Prince of Wales trophy because it's not more important than my happiness."

"But now you just have new tradition," Geno objected, remembering obediently wrapping his hand around the trophy, and when Sid smiled, eyes going narrow and contented, he realised - 

"Yeah," Sid said. "I can make my own traditions if I want. And I'm really happy, G. I could be happier, but you should do what makes you happy, too."

That was unanswerable, so Geno didn't even try; just glanced at his watch and declared it almost time for dinner.

 

Geno did what he didn't do often enough; he called his parents.

"Mamochka," he said when she picked up, so happy to hear from him, and like always he resolved to call more often. They talked for a while, about family and the strangeness of the Penguins season, how they might even have a trip to make for playoffs, before he dared to broach the subject. "Some friends of mine are talking about a sedoretu, only they have - " his courage fails, and he mouths nothingness. His mama hummed inquisitively. "They are two night marriages," he said, which was far enough from the truth they shouldn't suspect. They know he had had only morning loves since he came to Pittsburgh.

His mamochka clucked her tongue. "These Americans," she said, but she didn't sound disgusted, just disapproving. "This is why they divorce so much, you know - they think, oh, it doesn't matter, the important thing is that we love each other. Like love fixes everything." There was murmuring on the other end; then the phone changed hands and his mamulya came on the line, his birth mother who gave him his moiety.

"Maybe they'll be happy," she said. "You be happy for them, Zhenechka, because love is important, but remember that it probably won't last. But maybe it's enough that it lasts a while." There was a scuffle and some whispering, a laugh.

"You wait," said his mamochka, winning out as she so often did. He can picture them on the couch, heads close together so they can both hear him. "Four men all together, and no women? That's no marriage, that's a fraternity house. They'll soon tire of living like that. Men need women like morning needs evening. Well, you can't teach fools in love." His mamochka's voice turned wistful, and he shut his eyes, his heart pounding uncomfortably in his chest. "What it is to be young and in love. And you, Zhen'ka? Are you looking for a dawn?"

"In the summer," he said, swallowing. "I'll meet someone nice in Moscow." Moscow teemed with the young and beautiful, and he could have, if not his pick, at least a good chance of it. He could speak Russian to them and be understood, instead of always grasping for English or worse, asking Sid to translate his awkward words into French for Flower's benefit. At least Horny's English was excellent, but a sedoretu with four different mother tongues was a foolish idea. Probably worse than one with four men.

He went so far as to walk into the Night room that evening, but there was no furniture and Geno wasn't about to sleep on the floor for symbolic purposes. He went to sprawl out in his own oversized bed, and thought about Sid there beside him, Horny and Flower in one of the other rooms. 

He thought about telling Sid that what makes you happy now wasn't what would always make you happy, that you had to build a marriage on firm foundations or otherwise it would break apart in the winds.
 
He thought of his mamochka's voice when she said young and in love, and of thirty rushing up at speed. It seemed such a short time ago he came to Pittsburgh, and yet so many years he's spent not being in love.

He thought of Sid, seeming a little bit surprised by just how happy he was.

 

The team were winning, and winning, and winning. It was the season they'd dreamed of. Geno was missing it, but now he was sure his season wasn't over, and the post-season loomed like his first sight of Pittsburgh, strange and bright and full of promise.

It felt like anything could happen, and Geno hadn't felt that way in a long time.

"Maybe," Geno said, dropping down into the chair beside Sid. He watched Sid twitch, going alert like a dog smelling a treat, even though he didn't look up from his oatmeal. "Maybe I - " he couldn't say it, his mouth was pressed shut, he didn't know how to say it. Sid ate, silently, and his body slowly relaxed.

Geno felt like a jerk, like he was yanking Sid's chain, and that finally got him to blurt out, "Maybe try."

Sid took a deep breath, and let it out, and set his spoon down. For a vertiginous moment Geno thought he was too late and Sid was preparing to let him down, but then Sid turned to look at him and he had such expressive eyes. His mouth was set in a mild smile, but his eyes were wide and lit up with hope.

"Would it make you happy?" he said, and his voice cracked a bit. He was used to it now, and didn't try to cover it like he used to in the first year Geno knew him, when he was trying to be older all the time.

"I think," Geno said, and shrugged. "I'm try."

 

Sid kept that same lit-up look all day, and Flower grinned every time he saw Geno. It was honestly startling to know himself the cause of such obvious, radiant happiness, and he was reluctant to leave the rink when he could stay and watch it.

Still, he thought good things would happen if he did. It wasn't really a surprise when Horny pulled into his driveway behind him, and Geno eyed him in the rearview. Just because he was trying this didn't mean Horny got to push him around, and the sooner he learned that, the better.

As soon as they were through the door Horny tried to crowd him up against the wall, and Geno straight-armed him away. Horny shook his head and actually whined.

"You are the hardest fucking work," he said, and Geno jerked his thumb at the door. "No, fuck you, you're gonna be worth it, I know."

Geno had to turn sharply away to hide his pleased smile, making for the kitchen where there was a huge bowl of pasta and chicken waiting. There was enough for two, because he'd been sure someone was going to come.

He was glad it wasn't Sid, he thought. That might have too much, after so long wanting. The way Horny made him feel was intense, but it was shallow-rooted yet. Sid was wrapped tight round his heart.

Horny was behind him, breathing against his neck. Geno stayed where he was, fingers tightening on the edge of the counter. He was so tense he could claw at his own skin, but - he thought he could settle for Horny's. 

Horny bit him, sharp, in the hollow under his shoulder blade, and Geno used his elbow to drive a grunt out of him.

"You're so fucking tall," Horny said, and put his hands on Geno's hips. His thumbs slipped up, over the waistband, and it had been a long time since Geno had been touched so possessively. "Your legs. I have to warm up with my back to you since every time I see your legs in the air I want them over my shoulders."

"Fuck," Geno said. He turned his head, and Horny went for his mouth like he was starving.

Food, for once, could wait.

 

He invited Sid over for dinner, because Sid liked to do things in an orderly fashion and would almost certainly prefer a date before they fucked. Then he bought a new bed. He didn't bother asking Sid about it because Sid's dreadful sense of humour and conservative streak would probably lead to yet another of the same bedroom set. He bought a mattress to Sid's tastes, a little firmer than Geno preferred but not too bad, and a set of matte silk sheets in deep black and a black velvet bedspread speckled with crystals like stars.

It looked like a Gothic movie set. Sid would find it hilarious, and Geno would look great in it.

He was in bed when Sid arrived; it was so quiet he could hear the front door open and close, and then almost-silence as Sid moved about, looking for him. The sound of the fridge door opening and shutting. Finally, the light sounds of socks on carpeting, and Sid shuffled through the bathroom and found him there. He was holding a bottle of water, which he set carefully down on the black glass nightstand.

"No waiting, huh?" he said, and then he touched the sheets and laughed out loud. "Oh, G."

"Feels good." Geno stretched under the sheets, feeling them slide over his skin. "Come here, Sid."

Sid felt almost as good on top of him, between his thighs, pinned under him while Geno sweated and rode him and swore in Russian and English mangled together. The sheets were shiny and clung to their skin after, and Geno groaned and rolled out of bed, dragging Sid with him. They wiped down in the bathroom, and curled up in the Morning room. The sheets were cool, but they warmed up fast with the two of them there.

"Good?" he said, and Sid hummed softly. Geno prodded him. "Hey."

"You know it was," Sid said, kicking his ankle. "I'm so glad..." he took a deep breath, and let it out in a sigh of contentment.

"Yeah," Geno agreed, because they weren't trying it out any more; he could't let go of this now he's had it. He thought of Flower, of Horny, of having what he wanted instead of just wishing for it.

"Weird to be cussed out in Russian instead of French," Sid said, voice drowsy. "Have to learn." A long pause. "Does Horny swear in Swedish?"

"Just grunts," Geno said, and Sid sighed. He was asleep.

 

 

The crowd was chanting for Tishy, and he was glowing under the spotlights, waving up at them. Flower was smiling down at them, a wry curl to his mouth. Geno hooked their little fingers together, and gave him a gentle shake.

"I remember that," Flower said, not looking away from the ice.

"Because you so old now," Geno teased. "All washed up?" He means it as a joke - Flower carried them half this season - but Flower's thin lips twisted into an indeterminate shape.

"Who know?" Flower shrugged. "You never know when it's going to be your last shift, right?"

"You don't play shift," Geno said, because Pittsburgh without Flower in the net was a strange imagining. "You never know when luck turns, either. You think December, we're here?"

"Shit, in March I didn't think we were going to make playoffs," Flower flashed his grin. "When you went down, I thought we were done for the season."

"Not done for a while yet," Geno decided, and Flower laughed and made a little gesture, miming throwing salt over his shoulder. "No, is true. Sid's got this."

"We should go find him, tell him he's still got it," Flower said, slipping off his stool carefully. There was no line of pain between his brows, but Geno picked up the water bottle and handed it to him, because Sid and Horny weren't there to fuss.

Flower was injured, he was injured, the future was uncertain but offered much. Right now, Geno figured, he was happy. That would do.