The team is floundering, and it's largely Chernyaev's fault. The Russian goalie needs to be punished for his misdeeds before he can get back on track. It's the kind of punishment only L�ska can dish out -- and he needs Bessette's assistance.
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Copyright ©2013 Elizabeth Jewell
"I'm not paying you to stand there with your head up your ass." The coach's voice had reached a decibel level comparable to standing on the tarmac while a jet took off directly over your head. "How the fuck are you managing to let in everything?" A short pause followed this question; then the coach burst out, "Are you following me, Chernobyl, or do I need to get your fucking interpreter?"
Bessette barely heard Chernyaev's mumbled reply, not clear enough to make out the words. The goalie certainly wasn't living up to his nickname in this encounter -- he was cowed and submissive, not angry and spewing. Bessette glanced sidelong at L�ska, in the stall next to him, who was lacing up his skates. The Slovak's teeth were clenched, his normally pale complexion flushed red to the tips of his ears. He moved one shoulder, as if acknowledging Bessette's regard, but didn't turn or even look up. Bessette wondered why he was so angry.
Chernyaev didn't present marked improvement during practice. Bessette could tell he'd hit bottom -- that awful, black place where you couldn't get anything to go your way, and you couldn't figure out why. Bessette had been there. Fortunately, when he'd been snakebit, there were other forwards to put the puck in, and he'd been able to console himself with the occasional assist until he finally managed to pot a goal after what had felt like an eternity of failure. Chernyaev didn't have that. He either stopped the puck or he didn't. And if he kept not stopping it, he'd very likely lose his spot as starting goalie, possibly permanently. The only reason Coach was still putting him in the net was that the backup goalie hadn't performed much better.
Normally cocky and more than a bit of a smartass, Chernyaev seemed smaller, shaking as he skated off the ice after practice. He'd stopped pucks, yes, but without his usual flair, and Coach was screaming at him as he tried to escape to the locker room.
"Do I have to call up another fucking goalie?" Coach's volume wasn't quite as intimidating, mostly because he'd literally screamed himself hoarse through the course of practice. "That Speltke kid is burning up the AHL right now. Should I give him a ring?"
Chernyaev muttered something in Russian as he pushed past Bessette. Under the tipped-back cage of the goalie mask, Bessette saw something burning in the Russian's eyes. Not quite pure anger. Despair. Disgust. Fear. It was intense enough that it almost hurt Bessette to meet his eyes.
In the locker room, Chernyaev hunched in his corner stall. Stripping off his gear made him look even smaller, more drawn into himself. He undressed with a taut precision that looked like he was desperate for whatever control he could muster.
Bessette kept looking at him sidelong, but flicked his gaze back to his socks, his skates, anything else, when Chernyaev seemed about to meet Bessette's gaze. Finally Bessette stacked the last of his hockey armor in his stall and headed for the showers.
When Bessette emerged, damp with water now rather than rancid sweat, Chernyaev was still in his stall, but L�ska had joined him. They were talking together quietly; all Bessette could make out was the occasional sibilant or half-coughed H that told him they were speaking Russian. After a time, during which Bessette shrugged back into his suit pants and dress shirt, L�ska said, "Vecherem. Sem si chas," firmly, clapped a hand on Chernyaev's shoulder, and headed back to his own stall.
Bessette wondered what exactly they'd decided was going to happen tonight, but a large part of him -- probably the more sensible part, knowing what he knew about L�ska -- didn't want to know.
That part of him was apparently not going to be appeased. L�ska paused by Bessette's stall on his way to his own, leaned into Bessette's space, and said quietly, "Tonight. Seven. My place."
Bessette drew back, frowning. He could read nothing in L�ska's slanted, ice-blue eyes other than the cool determination that told Bessette L�ska expected Bessette to agree without question.
"Why?" Bessette snipped.
L�ska tipped his head slightly toward Chernyaev. "He needs us. You'll be there."
"Fine," Bessette shot back. He shook his head as L�ska gave him a companionable slap on the back.