The Ice in RussiabyMugsyB©
This story is for PennLady, a supportive fan who has a crush on a certain Russian hockey player, who shall remain nameless... except that he's the star of the story!
Just like my other "Ice" stories, I am not naming actual names. I'll also restate that I don't have any idea what these guys are like in real life and I'm merely a hockey FAN, not a know-it-all stats guru. I also know absolutely no Russian. The words that appear below are courtesy of PennLady, but there was no way I was about to write entire conversations (either internal or external) in Russian.
As always, happy reading!
His game didn't start to suffer immediately following the break-up. It happened very gradually; a few extra penalties here, a missed shot there. The rest of the team, if they noticed, didn't say anything to him about it. They just carried on as usual, skating their best and trying to win games. Eventually, Anatoli's on-ice antics began to cost them victories, and he knew it.
When Coach pulled him aside to talk to him about it, he hung his head, feeling terrible for causing his team grief.
"I know it can be hard to focus on the game, Anatoli," his coach said. "But you've got to try to put her behind you now."
"I'll try," he said, his accent coming out thicker in his distress.
"You know, there's a winter break is coming up. Maybe you should think about going home for a bit, be with your family."
Anatoli nodded mutely, feeling inexplicably tired and worn down all of a sudden. Traveling home to Moscow would tax him physically but maybe it would be a good trip for him, as Coach suggested. Coach dismissed him and Anatoli headed off to the locker room for a shower. As he lathered up his hair, he tried to keep his mind off of her but he just couldn't. They'd been so in love, or so he'd thought. Instead, she'd ripped his heart out a month ago, telling him that he just wasn't right for her.
How can I not be right for her? he wondered, tipping his head back and letting the water rinse through his hair.
She'd definitely been perfect for him. A hockey fan, funny, good-natured, and gorgeous. He admitted that it wasn't ideal with him spending most of his year in America playing for the NHL, while she was working back in Russia. She'd known that about him when they met. For her to throw it back in his face as a reason to not be together, it hurt him very much.
"I don't understand why you'd rather spend more time playing a game than being with me," had been her parting remark.
He'd been stung, to say the least. As a few days had passed and he'd had some time to process it, he felt even more like a failure than when she'd first ended it. That's when his game had started to take the hit. Maybe it was his subconscious way of making amends for not being there as she'd accused him. He shook his head at the thought, sending warm droplets of water everywhere.
It didn't matter now. What mattered was getting his head back in the game before he was permanently sent home.
Lena Jamieson was beside herself with excitement as she went to catch the plane to Moscow. This was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream and she had her great aunt Agnes to thank for it. Tired of listening to her youngest niece go on and on about the culture and architecture, Agnes had given her a plane ticket.
"Go on and go, already, Lena," the elderly woman had ordered and then cackled wickedly. "Enjoy the weather!"
The flight left on December twenty-third.
Lena hadn't been too thrilled about missing Christmas with her family, but she also knew this was the chance of a lifetime. The ticket must have cost her aunt a fortune and there was no way she could turn it down.
So the 23rd rolled around and she dragged her ass down to Dulles International Airport around the dinner hour. She wandered through the bustling airport and tried not to let melancholy take over as she observed families traveling together, or reuniting. Stopping at a concession stand, she bought several trashy magazines and some chocolate bars before heading for her departure gate.
If she couldn't be with her parents and sisters for the holiday, she would channel their spirits with celebrity gossip and fattening treats.
"I'm on vacation," she told herself firmly as she took a seat in the waiting area surrounding her gate. Then she blushed when she realized several people were looking her way.
She settled herself in the seat and tried to relax. She was so excited about this trip. It was the first time she'd be traveling on her own. Aunt Agnes had arranged for her to stay with a family she knew in Moscow, so Lena at least wouldn't be a young woman traveling abroad, alone. Apparently the family was well known, and they were genuinely looking forward to having a guest, even over the holidays. Although, it wasn't technically their Christmas time; Russian Orthodox calendar put Christmas sometime in early January. The family would make sure to take her to see the sights and ensure her safety.
Even the lingering memory of her boyfriend dumping her three weeks ago wasn't enough to dampen Lena's mood.
She scowled as she flipped through a newspaper that someone had left on the seat beside her. Thoughts of Eddy usually led her to this state and she hated him even more for it.
What does he even see in Tracy? she wondered, flipping a page of the newspaper so hard that it tore. Flushing, Lena kept her face down as she felt more curious stares turn her way.
After another hour, she began to grow restless. She set the paper down and stretched her legs out in front of her while lifting her arms over her head. Glancing around, she watched a few of the other people nearby. There was an elderly couple near the gate counter and a young family next to them. A few single travelers and some other couples of varying ages. Her eyes drifted across the faces until she saw the man sitting directly across from her.
He was quietly reading a book and she could see with another glance that it was a Russian novel. His frame was too large for the seat but he managed to keep himself from crowding those on either side of him. He had broad shoulders and long legs that he held crossed in front of him at the ankles. His brown hair was shaggy and un-styled; or maybe he was just one of those guys who went for the unkempt look. His eyelashes were uncommonly long and dark, and she found herself wishing he'd look up so she could see the color of his eyes.
Even as the thought crossed her mind, his face lifted and his eyes met hers. God help her, his eyes were a startling crystalline blue.
Her heart leapt within her chest and she felt a flush creep over her face. She looked away, hoping he didn't think she'd been staring, which she clearly had been. She heard a deep chuckle and felt her blush practically scalding her cheeks.
Thankfully the airline employee behind the gate counter picked up the microphone and announced that boarding would begin shortly. Lena lifted her bag into her lap and fished around until she found her passport and boarding pass. A few minutes later they announced boarding for those requiring assistance and Lena cheated, getting up and all but running away from the man sitting across from her; the man she was pretty sure was still laughing at her.
Her luck didn't hold.
Barely twenty minutes after she'd settled herself in her seat, a tall, broad shadow fell across the row and she glanced up to see the handsome stranger from the waiting area. Her face turned instantly pink and she looked away, praying that he wasn't sitting next to her. The plane had two seats along each side, plus a section of four seats in the middle. Against her wishes, the handsome stranger with the messy brown hair and piercing blue eyes sat down next to her.
"These seats are kind of small, huh?" he said to her, his Russian accent apparent.
"Mm," she replied with a nod, avoiding looking at him. She couldn't believe her luck - whether good or bad, she couldn't figure out - that he was sitting down beside her, absolutely dominating the tiny space.
"Good thing it's a short flight," he went on.
She laughed in spite of herself. "Short flight?" she repeated and dared a glance in his direction. "I'd hate to find out what you think is a long flight."
He chuckled again, the sound deep and warm, and Lena felt her body heat up from the inside out. He reached between them and pulled the seat belt across his body. She watched out of the corner of her eye and bit her lip at the sight of his long fingers working the silver buckle.
What the hell is wrong with me? she wondered, covering her smile with her hand and turning towards the window. She'd been stewing about Eddy just a short while ago and now here she was, imagining a stranger's hands on her body.
"I am Anatoli," he said after another minute and she looked back at him to see him holding his hand out towards her.
"I'm Lena," she replied and barely stifled a sigh as his warm fingers closed around hers.
"Nice to meet you, Lena," he said. His accent turned her name into something else entirely; something not unpleasant.
She went to remove her hand from his and was surprised when he held onto her fingers for a moment longer. He released her in another few seconds and she sat back, smiling and blushing and wishing she could stop it.
"I think I will like this flight," he said and grinned broadly.
She smiled back and nodded, speechless. The voice of a flight attendant came over the speakers and Lena looked away from Anatoli; handsome, Russian Anatoli with the warm, long fingers.
Anatoli couldn't believe his luck. He'd spotted the young woman in the airport terminal and had been about to speak to her when they'd started boarding the plane. He'd then been pleasantly surprised to find out that she was in the seat next to him. He'd have the entire ten hour flight to speak to her.
She can't even get past me unless I let her, he thought as the flight attendants went through the safety and emergency procedures. He exhaled and stretched his legs out in front of himself, reclining as much as he could in such cramped quarters.
As much as he missed his family, he hadn't been looking forward to this trip,. Now that he had this beautiful woman beside him, with her chocolate brown hair and rosy cheeks, he couldn't imagine being anywhere else.
They didn't speak again as the plane pulled away from the gate and taxied down the runway. It wasn't until after the seatbelt sign flicked off and people started moving around the cabin that he decided to try talking to her again.
"You are American?" he asked.
"Yes," she said, that pretty blush staining her cheeks again.
He grinned when he realized she wouldn't even meet his gaze. Well, he'd just have to try harder. "So why are you going to Russia?"
"For vacation," she replied, still not looking up.
His eyebrows lifted. He'd been expecting to hear her say that she was visiting family or something. "Vacation? In December?"
She lifted her face, meeting his eyes at last and nodded with a smile. "It's sort of a joke from my aunt."
"A joke, Moscow in winter? Yeah, not a popular time for sight-seeing."
"I think it'll be wonderful," she said enthusiastically. "To see everything covered in snow, all crystalline."
He blinked at the word she used, trying to place it. He'd become quite proficient with English but there were still some words that stumped him. She must have recognized the blank look on his face because she turned in her seat, speaking more directly to him.
"Crystalline... like, everything will be covered in ice, all white," she elaborated.
"Ah," he nodded, understanding now. "Like a crystal."
"Yes!" she exclaimed, reaching a hand towards him. She seemed to realize at the last moment and pulled her hand away.
He grinned at her, glad that he'd worn his mouth piece that day. Most of the time he didn't bother with it, letting the gap in his front teeth show, but this morning he'd decided to put it in. He was reminded of how Natasha would demand that he put it in before they went anywhere. She'd hated the gap in his teeth. His smile vanished and he looked away from Lena before she could see his expression.
"Are... are you traveling home for the holidays?" she asked after a moment, the first time she'd initiated conversation.
He looked back at her and saw her nervously twisting her fingers in her lap. He smiled and nodded. "Yes. My family is in Moscow."
"That's nice to be able to get home to see them."
"It is. I haven't been back since the summer."
"Do you work in the States?"
"Yes," he answered and was about to elaborate when the flight attendant appeared at their row, asking if they wanted anything to drink.
Anatoli sat back and gestured for Lena to order first. She flushed and asked for a soft drink. He asked for a soda water and handed Lena her drink as the flight attendant finished pouring it. An unexpected jolt ran up his arm as his fingers brushed against Lena's and. from her expression, he guessed that she'd felt it too.
Then she blushed crimson and turned away from him, setting her drink down shakily on the tray before her.
"So you are traveling to Russia alone?" he asked and regretted the question when he saw her turn her head to give him a nervous look.
"Not exactly, no," she replied stiffly.
"No, I didn't mean..." he started and stopped, searching for the words. "Excuse me, I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. I'm not a bad man or dangerous." He coupled these words with a grin that he hoped looked friendly.
He must have convinced her, because she relaxed and gave him a tentative smile. "You don't look dangerous," she agreed. Then she exhaled and lifted her drink to her lips. "I'm flying to Moscow on my own but I'm staying with a family who lives there," she told him.
"Oh? What is their name? Maybe I know them."
She nodded as she leaned forward to pick her purse up and fish through it. "I have their name in here somewhere," she said as she searched. "Forgive me if I don't get this right, but I'm terrible with new languages."
He smiled encouragingly at her and she smiled shyly in return, pulling a slip of paper out a second later.
"Their name is Oborotenski," she read it off and wrinkled her forehead at the name. She tried it again and looked up to his face with a shrug. "Or something like that. Once I meet them, I'll get them to teach me the proper pronunciation."
Anatoli nodded, trying to keep his face neutral. He was very familiar with the name, but he wasn't about to let her know yet. A slow smile spread across his face as he thought it over. "It sounds familiar," he said out loud. "But I don't think I know anyone with that name."
She shrugged and sipped at her soft drink. "Not surprising. I mean, that would be like asking if you know Sergei Federov, right?" she asked with a light laugh.
He chuckled, wondering what she'd say if he told her he did know Federov. He studied her for a moment while she turned her head to look out the window. It was surprising that she hadn't recognized him, but he decided that he liked that about her. It was refreshing to be around someone who didn't know who he was, or what he did for a living. Natasha had been the one to seek him out when they'd first met, and he'd always suspected it was because of his career, not because of who he really was.
"So you don't know this family you are staying with?" he asked, curious about how she'd managed the arrangement.
"I don't," she said, turning back to him with a smile. "My great aunt made all the plans. She knows this family from a student exchange she did years ago."
"Is your aunt from Russia?"
"No, but I think someone on her side of the family was from Russia," she said. Her forehead wrinkled in that attractive way that had Anatoli shifting nervously in his seat, trying to keep his lower body reactions from becoming too obvious. "I don't know much about all my family's history. Isn't that terrible?"
He shook his head. "No. I don't think so."
"You know all about your family history, don't you?"
"Only because they are all from Moscow. It's easy to know that."
She laughed and nodded. "I guess so." She paused, smiling at him. Something about the way her dark brown eyes sparkled gave him a twinge. He lifted his little plastic cup of soda water, downing it in a single gulp to hide his instant reaction to her.
She's so pretty, he thought as he set the empty cup down on the tray.
"What made you want to leave Moscow?" she asked after the brief silence.
He blinked at the unexpected question and his eyes slid past her face for a moment, gazing out the little window to the dark sky beyond. It wasn't that he'd wanted to leave. It had been the best option for him at the time; to be able to do something he loved, in a place that supported the sport so well. It also helped that his older brother had always encouraged him, right up to his sudden death when Anatoli was still a child.
Out loud, he said, "I had the chance to work my dream job and so I did it." He was feeling comfortable with her, and found her attractive, but he wasn't ready to share everything with her just yet.
"How wonderful," she breathed, leaning her head back against her seat and smiling at him. "I'd love to be able to work at my dream job."
"What is it?"
She flushed and shook her head with a little laugh. "Oh, it's stupid."
"No, tell me," he replied with a smile, hoping he didn't sound too commanding.
Relenting, Lena leaned forward and met his gaze. He was captivated by the sparkle in her brown eyes and felt himself leaning forward as well.
"I want to be a librarian," she confessed in a soft voice.
"You want to work in the library?" he asked a second later, a little confused at the less than familiar word.
"Yes," she said with an enthusiastic nod. "I love to read and I think it would be wonderful to be able to share that with everyone."
He found himself nodding even though he didn't share her excitement over books. He didn't read much, but he kept a few Russian novels and magazines around at all times. That was just so he'd have something around with the familiar language, in case he was feeling homesick. "It's not stupid, Lena," he assured her.
She flushed prettily and Anatoli had to sit back, readjusting his position again to hide what was rapidly becoming a full-fledged hard-on.
They chatted quietly for a long while after that, speaking in low tones to keep from disturbing those around them in the plane. It wasn't until Anatoli felt his eyelids growing heavy and he saw Lena open her mouth on a wide yawn, that he looked at his watch.
"Oh, it's late," he said and stifled a yawn himself.
"I'll bet," she replied and leaned forward as he held his arm out for her to look.
She tipped her face down to read the face of his watch in the dim light of the cabin. Her dark head was so close to his face. He couldn't stop himself from leaning his head closer, close enough that he could smell her fresh and floral shampoo. He breathed her in, savoring the scent, and not caring how hard he now was.
"Oh wow, no wonder I can barely keep my eyes open," she murmured.
"You are going to sleep now?"
She nodded and they tried to arrange their blankets and pillows to get more comfortable. Anatoli found himself struggling to find a good position. These seats were so narrow and he wasn't able to stretch his legs out all the way without blocking the entire aisle. After a few frustrating attempts, he lifted his head to find Lena watching him with a smile on her lips.
"Can I suggest something?" she asked.
He nodded. He'd agree to just about anything she said at this point. Whatever she'd done, in these few short hours, she'd managed to hook him.