Chapter 23: Get Back [Slapshot!]
Gabe had been on the ice when Zdeno took Ty into the boards. He’d just gotten off the bench, so he’d twisted he head and watched in horror as his captain, with his 6′-7″ body, had plowed the eighteen-year-old rookie into the boards.
It wasn’t meant to be a vicious hit, but it was—and Ty was in the wrong spot. He smashed forward into the post, and his head snapped back awkwardly. He buckled like a doll, then crumpled to the ice, blood seeping into the white surface.
Even Zee looked shocked as he looked up, meeting Gabe’s own slack-jawed gawping.
The whistle shrilled, forestalling any conversation. The refs rushed over, as did a couple of Stars players. Leo grabbed Zee by his sweater, took a swing at him, tried to start a fight. The next thing Gabe knew, there were about fifteen guys all swarming near the downed player, buckets and gloves flying everywhere as everyone tussled.
The refs broke that up right quick, and attention turned to Ty, who wasn’t moving. He was lying face-down on the ice and the puddle of red under him was getting bigger. The arena went silent.
Someone escorted Zee off the ice. He was getting a game misconduct. He might even get suspended. He kept looking back over his shoulder at Ty, fear in his eyes. Gabe knew he was always afraid of seriously hurting someone—he was a big guy, a goon. But he was a gentle giant—sometimes. Most of the time.
Gabe skated closer, hanging back. It wasn’t his place to get too close; Ty’s teammates would get in there. Mike Robinson was standing right there, asking the refs about something. One of the refs was down on the ice; one of the Stars’ trainers were there. Ty wasn’t responding though.
Gabe felt sick.
Two paramedics were crossing the ice now, a gurney with them. The arena was still so quiet, eerily silent even with fifteen thousand people watching.
They checked Ty’s vitals, rolled him over. They put him on a board. They figured his neck was broken. Gabe looked away, unable to stand the red, so much red everywhere, soaking into the red of Ty’s jersey.
His breath wobbled.
They got Ty onto the gurney, strapped him down. He was going to the hospital—he was still out, flopping around like a doll despite their best efforts to stabilize him. Gabe gritted his teeth.
They were about to wheel him out, when Mike leaned over, saying something—Gabe couldn’t read his lips—but Ty lifted his hand in response, and the arena erupted in cheers, a volcanic explosion of sound, raining down from the rafters as the paramedics wheeled Ty off the ice.
Gabe watched them go, then glanced over his shoulder at the red ice. He turned away, swallowing down sickness, and skated into his own end to take a face-off. It would be a few minutes yet—they had to clean that blood off the ice—but it was better than standing right there.
They took a penalty and the Stars evened it up, but Gabe was gone. The game seemed to happen in slow motion around him, but he could do nothing to change the course of action. Even if he touched the puck, it seemed to sail right on by, straight to someone else’s stick.
“The fuck are you doing?” one of the assistant coaches hissed in his ear when he sat down on the bench. “Get with it—get your head in the game.”
But he couldn’t. He’d checked out; his mind, his heart had left the building, been put in the back of an ambulance, and gone to Boston General. His heart was pumping pure worry; he was inhaling pain.
He couldn’t bring himself back, not even for overtime. He floated through it, and Coach screamed at him, but he just looked at him, looked through him, and wondered if Ty was at the hospital, if they had him stabilized, if they had cleaned up the blood, stopped the bleeding.
They won anyway.
Gabe drifted through victory celebrations, through the press conference. He put his shirt on inside-out three times before he got it right.
What was an inside-out shirt? Surely nothing.
He … couldn’t explain it, really. He’d played Ty once or twice before the playoffs—kid was a rookie, his first year in the league. They’d met up in a couple of regular season tilts, and Gabe had scarcely even noticed him. He was unremarkable, really—mousy brown hair, brown eyes, pale complexion. He wasn’t stunning. He wasn’t beautiful.
Even out of his gear, he was most definitely average; Gabe didn’t even know what had attracted him to the rookie in the bar the other night. Maybe it was the way he laughed, or how he hunched his shoulders and leaned over his drink because he was nervous.
He was … cute.
That, of course, had been good enough for a one-night stand, but cute didn’t really warrant leaving strange voicemails or asking for a second chance. Cute didn’t really warrant the way his heart felt like it was being wrung out, all his own blood draining out of him onto the ice as Ty had lain there bleeding, unconscious. It certainly didn’t justify his fear, his wondering, that Ty might be paralyzed. That he might not play again. That he might even be a vegetable or die.
“Any updates?” he asked Shawzy as he headed out.
The young defenseman glanced up from his phone, eyebrow lifted. “Well, we won,” he sneered, “although I did think you were here for that—but maybe not.”
Gabe sighed. “I meant …”
Shawzy just gave him a look. “Never mind,” Gabe muttered. He’d forgotten that, much as they all worried, it wasn’t really appropriate to ask for updates about an injured player on the other team. They’d be told when there was more to know. It was understood that these things affected all of them, but there was also an unspoken rule that you didn’t ask.
Gabe thought it was a stupid rule, so he wandered over to the visitors’ dressing room.
The Stars had mostly cleared out—except for Dima Mironov, who was lurking around near the stairs, as though he were waiting for someone or something. Gabe frowned at him, but approached.
“Hello,” he said.
The Russian sniper whirled on him, eyes narrowed. “What do you want?” he asked sharply.
“You could say hello,” Gabe mused.
Dima just stared at him.
Gabe rocked a bit on his heels, sucked at his teeth. “Well, anyway, how is your teammate?”
Dima considered him for a moment, then said, “Which teammate? I have several.”
Gabe thought Mironov was particularly dense—who else would Gabe inquire about? Certainly not the man who was severely injured during the tilt. “Beckham,” Gabe said, careful to use Ty’s last name, rather than his first or, worse, his nickname.
“I do not know,” Dima said, “we have not heard. He is in hospital.”
“I know,” Gabe said.
“No thanks to you brutes,” Dima huffed.
Gabe gritted his teeth. “Zee will be very sorry this has happened. He is big, yes—but he does not intend to hurt people.”
Dima scowled at him, as though he didn’t believe it—and maybe he didn’t. But Gabe had seen it—there was no venom in Zee’s actions on the ice. He was just playing hockey, and then it had gone horribly, horribly awry.
But if Mironov didn’t want to believe that, it was his prerogative. Gabe glanced around. “Well,” he said, “we send our best to him.”
“Huh,” the Russian sneered. “If it is anything like what you did on the ice, you can keep it.”
Gabe nodded once. “I will go,” he said, “you are clearly bothered by me.”
“That would be best,” Dima replied, then whirled away as a door squealed open, then crashed shut again.
Gabe frowned. “I must go,” Mironov said, then took off in the direction of the noise. Gabe lifted an eyebrow—then decided to leave the Russian to his own devices. They were heading back to DC for two games—four days. Anything Mironov did here would be of no consequence.
Dima rounded the corner, glad of the excuse to get away from that annoying Swede—god, even Swedish accents infuriated him—but even more excited to see Aleks.
Maybe excited wasn’t the right word. His stomach tied itself in knots, choking his other innards, wending its way around his lungs, his trachea, strangling him.
Aleks yanked a string through the doors, stumbling as he nearly fell backward as it popped free. He straightened up again, just in time to see Dima. “Privet,” he said.
“Hello,” Dima said, “you make an awful lot of noise.”
“I am not exactly one to skulk around in enemy territory after hours,” Aleks replied haughtily, lifting his head imperiously.
Dima lifted a brow. He was pretty sure there had been a few times—possibly more than a few—that Aleks had been doing exactly that at the Telefira Center.
Nonetheless, it was better to let that lie, especially if he wanted Aleks’s help. Although, he wasn’t sure. “I am not sure,” he said, echoing his own thoughts, “with all this noise and clumsiness, are you good at seducing people?”
Aleks grinned. “Dima, there is no one better.” He clapped a hand on the Russian’s back. “Now, let us get a drink and talk business.”
Katya pulled another tissue out of the box and handed it to Linnea, never taking her eyes off the television. Linnea blew her nose loudly, then went on sniffling and sobbing. Katya frowned, then popped another piece of popcorn into her mouth.
Linnea sniffled loudly, then all but yelled, “Don’t you think it is sad, Katya?! Why aren’t you crying? The movie is so sad!”
Katya paused with another handful of popcorn halfway to her mouth. “It is not so sad,” she replied, then shoved the popcorn into her mouth.
Linnea stared at her for a moment, then shook her head. “I do not understand you,” she murmured. She blew her nose again.
The phone started ringing, startling both of them. Katya hit pause on the movie. Linnea blew her nose again, then headed for the washroom, probably so she wasn’t heard in the background.
Katya leaned over and picked up the landline. “Privet,” she said.
“Hello, sister,” Dima replied.
“Hello brother. I see you have lost again.”
“You are infuriating, you know this?”
There was laughter in the background, and Katya sat up straighter. She knew that voice. “Where are you?” she snarled.
“In Boston still,” Dima said, “at a bar.”
“Who is with you?”
“Do not lie, Dimitry.”
A scuffle and then, someone else’s voice, saying, “He is right—it is no one. No one you are concerned with, Katyushka.”
She bristled, her shoulders lifting to her ears as she ground her teeth. “Volkov,” she snarled. Then she barked, “How many times must I tell you not to call me that?!”
Linnea stepped back into the room, her eyes questioning. Katya glowered at her, then turned away. “Give the phone back to my brother—I will not speak to you.”
“Oh, that is a shame. I have sent him to the bar to get drinks—you will have to talk to me until he gets back.”
She pressed her lips together tightly, then ground out, “I will not talk to you.”
“Then you will have to listen.”
She growled, but said nothing more.
“You see, Katyushka, your brother has asked me to help him with a small … favor. He wants me to help him seduce this Luke.”
“What?!” Katya raged, leaping to her feet. “No, this is a terrible idea—where is Dima, give the phone back to him, I will speak to him, I will speak to him now—”
More of that infuriating laughter. Katya balled her fists. “So help me, Aleksandr Volkov …”
“Do not worry,” Aleks chortled. “Dima is in good hands—and your little friend will get her omega.”
“Your hands are not good,” she snarled.
“Hm, there was a time when you thought they were.”
“Prick,” she seethed, “prick, may your mother rot in hell for birthing demonspawn like you. Where is my brother?”
He laughed again. She hated him; she hated him so much. She had never hated anyone more in her life.
“He is coming back with the drinks now. I will let you talk to him in a moment.”
“Aleksandr Volkov, you leave Dima alone. Do not rope him into one of your crazy plans—”
“He is roping me into one of your crazy plans, Katyushka. Now, Dima is going to seduce this Luke, and then he will sweet-talk him …”
“And this is a terrible idea,” Katya huffed. “Let me talk to Dima now.”
More scuffling. “Hello, sister.”
“Dima, you are an idiot,” she spat. “Do not involve him in this—tell him to go back to Russia now, where he belongs. Tell him to camp in Siberia—maybe he will die. But do not listen to him, he is full of terrible ideas and lies, nothing but lies—”
“Oh, my, Katyushka …”
She paled with anger. “Dima!”
“You are on speakerphone, sister, yes. We thought this would be easier.”
“I have asked him to help. I think this is the easiest way. I am not very good at seducing people—but I think this is the best way to convince Luke to sleep with Linnea.”
“You are insane,” she snarled.
“So are you,” he retorted and then hung up. She stared at the phone for a moment, before hurling it into the wall.
Linnea cowered against the wall, and Katya remembered her suddenly, turning to her. “I am sorry,” she murmured.
“What is happening?” the Swedish girl asked.
Katya groaned. “Only stupidity, Linnea,” she moaned, “only stupidity! We have left boys in charge of our little plan—and now look at what they are doing.”
“What are they doing?” It was a genuine question. Unlike the boys, Katya had not put them on speakerphone, so Linnea had not heard much except Katya’s outbursts.
She lifted her head and glared at the blonde. “They are going to seduce your omega.”
Linnea’s eyes got wide. “What—”
“Dima is taking tips from Aleksandr Volkov on how he can do this thing. And he will seduce your omega, to convince him to sleep with you. He thinks this is easiest, this is best.”
“That is …”
“Idiotic,” Katya murmured, shaking her head. “They are so foolish.”
She frowned, then glanced at her own phone. She glanced back at Linnea. “Do not worry,” she said, her tone sickly sweet, “I will put a stop to this nonsense.”
“And we will still get your male omega. I have a better plan.”
Sy was not exactly impressed to hear his phone go off at two in the morning, although he expected it might be Mike telling him that they’d got in safe from Boston. He’d watched the team blow their chance in overtime, going down by one to the Bears after two intense periods of overtime.
He was less than impressed. He itched with the need to be back on the ice with his team, to captain them. They were floundering without a leader. They needed him.
He’d also seen the horrible incident with Ty, when Kovac had smashed him into a stanchion near the bench. Maybe someone was updating him on the rookie’s condition.
He was still awake because he was waiting for updates on his team, but that didn’t mean he’d be impressed to get the notifications.
He was even less impressed when he picked up the phone and realized it wasn’t from anyone on the team, nor was it any update on his team. It was from Katya.
He gritted his teeth and set the phone aside again. He could deal with her in the morning.
The phone buzzed again, lighting up. He rolled his eyes, then picked it up. Another message from Katya.
‘may I call’ it asked.
‘fine,’ he replied, hoping it conveyed all of his exasperation.
The phone rang seconds later. He answered, placing it next to his ear as he stared up at the ceiling above the bed. “This had better be good,” he snapped at her.
“Syoma, you are so cranky,” she whined.
“It’s two in the morning. Why are you even up?”
“I may ask same thing,” she replied.
“I’m in bed,” Sy snapped, “I was sleeping.” Or trying to, at least.
“You could have not answered. Or said no, do not call, if you do not want to talk.”
“I am just saying.”
“Get on with it. What do you want to talk to me about? What is so damn important that you had to call me now, at two in the morning, that you simply could not wait until morning?”
“I need you to talk sense to Dima,” she said.
“He is hanging out with Aleks Volkov,” she continued.
Sy sat up. “What?”
“Yes,” she said, “it is true. He thinks this is good—but Aleks is dumb and full of bad ideas.”
“Yeah,” Sy muttered, “he is.”
“So Dima must not be with him. Must not listen to him. You are his captain—you will talk sense to my dumb brother.”
Sy exhaled softly. “Katya, I don’t think he’ll listen to me—”
“You must,” she begged, “you must talk to him, Sy, please. He will listen. He is a good boy—dumb, but good. Aleks will just get him in much trouble.”
Sy shook his head. “Katya, I—”
“Please! Just speak with him. He will not listen to me.”
“You had to ask me to do this at two in the morning?” Sy asked.
“Yes,” she said, “he is out with Volkov now. They are drinking in Boston.”
“What? He’s out drinking with Volkov?”
“Right now?” He glanced at the clock. The team should have left about an hour ago, maybe earlier. “He’s not on the plane?”
“No,” Katya replied. “I think he and Sanja plan to come to DC tomorrow. Separately.”
Sy could have sworn. Instead, he sighed heavily, shaking his head. “All right,” he murmured, running a hand through his hair, “I’ll call him.”
“Thank you,” Katya murmured, and she sounded so sincere.
“Thanks,” he replied, then hung up. He dialed Dima’s number, frowning as the phone rang.
Dima looked surprised when his phone started ringing. He glanced up at Aleks, then grabbed it up. “Hello?” he inquired, lifting a brow.
“Katya?” Aleks whispered to him.
“Sy,” Dima breathed, and Aleks froze, frowning. What the hell was Syoma doing, calling Dima? He knew they were on the same team and all, but …
“No,” Dima said, blinking furiously, “no. I am not on—yes. I missed it. No! Who told you this? That I am with Aleks Volkov in Boston? This is ridiculous, Sy. I missed the team flight. I am waiting for plane now, will come back to DC in the morning.”
He paused, pressing his lips together. He stared at Aleks as he listened to whoever was on the other end of the line chattering away. Aleks stared back, trying to read the younger man’s dark eyes.
“No,” he said, “Katya is lying to you. I did not—I am not. I missed the flight. That is all.”
Another pause. “We can talk about this tomorrow. But there is nothing to talk about—I missed flight. Is all.”
He glanced down, licking his lips. His fist was curling slightly. “Yes. Yes. I will try harder. Okay. We will talk tomorrow.”
He hit the end button, tossed the phone down on the table. He glanced up at Aleks. “Katya told Sy.”
Aleks’s gaze narrowed. “Why would she do such a thing?”
Dima snorted. “To get us in trouble, why else? She thinks she is so smart, running to Sy … just because he is my captain, and she thinks he is her lover …”
Aleks’s blood froze; a chill washed over him. “Excuse me? Katya thinks Syoma is her lover?”
Dima glanced at him quizzically. “Oh yes,” he said, “she is quite fond of him.”
Aleks nodded. “And what does Syoma think of this?”
Dima almost laughed; a smirk crept across his lips, lifted into his eyes, making their dark depths dance with mirth. “You know Syoma,” he said, “he thinks very differently than Katya.”
Aleks nodded again, tapping his fingers on the tabletop. He glanced toward the bar, the enormous clock hanging over it. “Well,” he said, “I think it is time to get some sleep. We will catch an early flight, yes?”
He tossed some cash on the table, glanced about. “I will see you at the airport at five.”
“Of course,” Dima said, rising slowly. They shook hands over the table, and then the younger man walked away, allowing Aleks to sit and brood at the table a little longer. Dima, of course, had no idea that Aleks hadn’t made a move to follow him; it was simply courtesy that the younger would leave the table first, when Aleks called an end to the meeting.
He watched Dima disappear into the crowd, wending his way to the doors, then stepping out into the night. Aleks waited a few moments, then flagged down one of the waiters, ordering another drink. He needed it.
He’d had no idea that Katya even knew Syoma—although it made sense, since Dima was the Canadian player’s teammate. He’d been stupid to think that she wouldn’t—of course she knew Symon Tremblay. Who didn’t? And when your brother was one of his teammates …
But that made Aleks wonder, what did she really know about Syoma? Did she actually like him, or did she know? It wouldn’t be beyond her, he knew; he had never underestimated just how clever Katya could be, nor how vindictive.
But did she know about Syoma? Did she know about the trysts he and Aleks had shared, in hotel rooms all around the world, between games, after games—the Olympics, World Championships—did she know all of that? Did she know that in the depths of the night, Aleks would invite Syoma back to his room, and they would drink brandy together, not vodka, never vodka, not unless they were in Moscow and Aleks knew he could get the finest? Did she know that they had been doing this for years, having these clandestine meetings?
Worse, did she know how much Aleks felt about Syoma? It wasn’t hard to see if you knew the signs—and Katya would know them very well. Aleks was a passionate person, and he wore his emotions on his sleeve. His mother had once told him he could be read like a book. And when he was passionate about something, it showed on his face, in his eyes.
And he was passionate about Syoma. He didn’t know if it was hate or love, some kind of awe or envy. But he knew every time he saw the Canadian, his heart beat faster; his mouth went dry; and he was overcome with the wretched urge to puke.
It was an intense reaction, one that no one else riled in him, and he would have avoided it if he could. But something drew him back to Syoma, like a moth to a flame, every time.
And Katya, Katya would see that. Even watching on television, she would see; she would see it on his face, in his eyes, that he was passionate. Every time he mocked Syoma on the ice, every time he elbowed him, checked him into the boards. Every time they battled for the puck, trash-talked at center ice, jawing at each other as the refs pulled them apart …
She would see it. After all, once upon a time, she had been the object of his passion. So she would know what to look for; she would see it without really looking.
And that was worrisome—what did she know, how much did she know? And was she using that knowledge to run after Syoma, trying to get to him to get back at Aleks?
They’d been horrible to each other—Katya had cheated on him as much as he’d cheated on her. There were no innocent parties in that relationship, only plenty of bad blood between the two of them. It had been no surprise to him that Katya had bawled Dima out for even talking to him.
But now he wondered: Had she called Syoma, not to get Dima in trouble, not to stop this whole thing, but to show Aleks that she had the Canadian in the palm of her hand? That she held sway over him, that he was under her control?
He couldn’t be sure. He frowned down into his drink, rolling the ice cubes around in the clear liquid, watching the alcohol melt holes through them.
He left the glass half-full and caught a taxi back to one of the hotels near the airport. It was going to be an early morning.
But Katya was an idiot. She wasn’t the only one with a sibling in DC.
The flight home was quiet; the air itself was still and the weather calm. They didn’t hit any bumps—it was one of the smoothest flights Sebby had been on in a while.
They were all exhausted, worn out by double overtime, drained by the loss. A few of the guys were sleeping. Those who were still awake were bleary-eyed, focused on some invisible point a thousand yards away. They let their heads loll side to side as they listened to music or the soundtrack of some TV show they weren’t really watching. A few others were staring out the window; Timmo was trying to read something. Crazy Finn.
Sebby nudged Brenden, who rubbed at his eyes, yawned, then slipped off his headphones. “Yeah?” he asked, turning to Sebby at last.
“How’re you doin’?” he asked.
Brenden covered his hand to hide another yawn. “I was sleepin,’” he drawled.
“Mm,” Sebby said. “I’m tired too.”
“Then get some sleep,” Brenden murmured.
“Can’t,” Sebby replied. “Y’know how you get tired, but then your brain kicks itself into overdrive and you’re so tired, but ya can’t stop thinking about this one thing and you just can’t go to sleep?”
“I’m not sleepin’ ‘cause yer yappin,’” Brenden shot back.
“’m worried about Ty.”
Brenden sobered, then slumped in his seat. “Yeah. Me too.”
“Do you think he’s okay?”
“I hope so,” Brenden murmured. “Maybe we should text Gabe, ask him to go check on him …”
Sebby tented his brows in confusion. “Gabe? Why would we ask him?”
“I think he would,” Brenden mumbled, hitting pause on his movie finally. It wasn’t like he’d been watching it anyway. “He seems like a good guy. I think he genuinely likes Ty.”
Sebby shook his head, trying to clear the cobwebs out of his head. “Huh? You aren’t makin’ any sense, B-man. What does Gabe liking Ty have to do with anything …”
Brenden finally looked at him. “I mean, like, I think he’ll be concerned. They hit it off the other night, and I think he’s like … actually invested.”
Sebby’s frown deepened. “I don’t … they hit it off?”
Brenden nodded. “Yeah.”
Sebby shook his head again. “I don’t … remember that, really.” It hadn’t seemed like they’d hit it off, really. They’d scarcely talked.
“Oh yeah,” Brenden said. “Him and Ty went home.”
“Went … home …”
Sebby thought about that for a long moment. Then it hit him, like turbulence, bouncing him off-course, jolting him to attention. He was suddenly wide awake. “They hooked up?” he hissed, leaning in close to Brenden.
Brenden nodded solemnly. “Didn’t you smell it on Ty?” he asked, his brow creasing. “When he came back in the morning?”
“Of course not,” Sebby snarled, “I’m scent-null, you asshole.”
Brenden’s eyes went wide. “Oh yeah,” he murmured. “Sorry, I keeping forgetting.”
“I don’t,” Sebby grumbled. How could he? Idiots like Brenden were always asking him shit like that—didn’t you smell that? He reeked like that …
But Sebby couldn’t smell a damn thing, not even if he tried.
“But they hooked up?”
“Yeah, Ty reeked like sex when he got back—and like Gabe.”
Sebby didn’t know why, precisely, but he felt like he’d been dropped into a pit of acid and was now slowly dissolving. He slumped in his seat. “Huh,” he murmured.
There was a kick to the back of his seat, and he whirled about, glaring. Mike glared back at him. “Some of us are tryin’ to sleep,” the blond D-man muttered.
Brenden sighed, leaning forward, tucking his headphones away. “Not much point now,” he mumbled, “we’re coming down.”
As he said it, the plane started to drop. The intercom crackled. “Gentlemen, please take your seats. We’re beginning our descent into Dulles now, and we’ll be landing in about twelve minutes.”
“Thanks, boss!” Mike hollered to the front. The pilot gave them the finger. They dropped again.
Brenden smacked Mike. “Don’t antagonize him, for the love of Christ, Mike. I like my stomach where it is—not in my throat.”
Another smack. “Maybe Mike should just go back to sleep.”
They bounced into the airport ten minutes later, and the team came back to life. There was suddenly hustle and bustle as they collected their luggage. They said their goodbyes, dispersing from the airport, back to their own homes, their own beds to get a good night’s sleep.
Tomorrow was game time, after all.