The week before training camp, Reims gets a call from someone he never expected to hear from again.
"Reims, I need your help," Bernie says, voice full of worry. Reims isn't sure why this call is coming to him, of all people, after the whole thing with the Leafs - but none of that was Bernie's fault, and Reims is never one to turn down someone in trouble anyway.
"If there's anything I can do, I'd be happy to try," he says, and he can feel the tension melting away from the other end of the line.
"Thank you," Bernie says, in an all-too-familiar tone of voice. "It's like this..."
Bernie, it turns out, is going to die. Oh, he's hale and hearty and whole; mentally, physically, and emotionally, he's in perfect shape. Even so, opening night is destined to be his last.
"I woke up yesterday morning, and there it was, squatting in my brain like one of those parasites off that gross television show. It's supposed to make it look like an aneurysm."
"Alright, get yourself a flight and I'll pick you up when you get here."
"Well, actually," Bernie says, embarrassedly, "I'm already outside your house."
Reims has never actually laid hands on anyone whose curse he was breaking before, but it feels right this time. The fuzz under his palms calls to mind those faith healers who claim miraculous cures. It makes him wonder, for a moment, whether any of them might have started out cursebreakers like him before getting a little over their heads.Then he realises he's standing there like a lump with his hands on Bernie's head, and focuses.
Actually it really is like one of those parasites. Reims projects a little sliver of magic into Bernie's brain, and the curse follows it out of his head like one of those grub things follows light. It's incredibly simple, once it's out, to squash the curse between two fingers and soak up the raw magic it gives off as it disintegrates. Start to finish, it only takes Reims five minutes.
Honestly, it's a little disappointing. It's good to help, of course, and it's fantastic that Bernie isn't going to die. But, all the same, Reims had hoped for a little more of a challenge.
Still, he smiles as Bernie thanks him, the picture of politeness, and nods when Bernie says, "I really owe you one, Reims."
He doesn't think he'll ever have to cash it in.
The season starts pretty badly. Okay, it's not Coyotes bad, but it's definitely 'Lundqvist would murder all six of his defensemen right there on the ice' bad. It certainly doesn't help that Lu goes down 6 games in either.
So Reims is pretty happy to get a call from Marchy on Halloween, just to take his mind off things.
Unfortunately, Marchy sounds furious.
"You said goalies couldn't be cursed," he says without even acknowledging Reims' hello.
"No, Lu said that," Reims tells him, "but it's mostly true, I guess. Why?"
"Do you not pay attention? Danser went down last night."
"Well, that's very unfortunate, but-"
"It was his fourth game. Do you know who else played four games?"
"Subban and Fleury. This is a pattern, just like with the Panthers. I think it's a curse, Reims."
"And Lagace is playing his second game tonight? Well, better safe than sorry; I'll look at the tape tonight and call you in the morning."
"Thanks," says Marchy, and switches to filling Reims in on how Smitty's been doing.
It's a curse, alright. The way it used someone else to take out Fleury was pretty characteristic. But Subban and Dansk weren't touched; their leg injuries appeared self-inflicted. It's an alarming thought, that there might be a curse strong enough to affect even goalies, and Reims is worried.
First, though, he has to double-check that neither Subban nor Dansk is a cursemaker or a wardscrafter and thus potentially vulnerable to the curse for a totally explicable reason. He really doesn't think they are, but flying into a panic before finding out for sure just seems silly.
When he gets their numbers off Marchy and calls them, they both deny it; time to panic. But he takes a deep breath and still doesn't, because he remembers, suddenly, the first Latin phrase from his magic lessons:
In cauda venenum. The sting is in the tail.
"I need a wardshatterer," Reims says to himself, and calls Bernie.
"I still owe you," Bernie says as the three injured goalies lead them into the depths of the arena. The hallways are busy, full of folks in chaps. The smell of bulls permeates the air, and there's dirt where the ice should be, but for now they have the floor to themselves.
Reims feels his way towards where the home crease should normally be, and stops dead. Bernie comes up beside him and does the same.
"You were right," he says, quietly, looking at Reims with respect. "In cauda venenum."
The curse, to Reims, is a sword, massive and shining, with poison in the hilt. He doesn't ask if Bernie sees something different. All he can do is admire its construction.
"Sorry," Fleury says from behind them, projecting irritation, "but is either one of you going to explain how this happened? I was always told I would never have to worry about curses."
"It's not a curse," Reims says. "Or, at least, not only a curse. This is what happens when a wardscrafter and a cursemaker work together."
"I don't understand," says Dansk. "I thought that was impossible?"
"Just rare," says Bernie. "And thank goodness for that."
Reims adds, "Your magic defends you from curses, but it embraces wards. So when a foe comes dressed as a friend, your own magic works against you. It opens the door to welcome it in."
"So can you two fix it?" Subban asks.
"I can't say for sure until Bernie gets through the ward, but probably. There's a reason this doesn't happen very often - curses and wards tend to weaken each other over time."
Reims can feel Fleury's curiosity, but he's pretty curious himself as they watch Bernie carefully kneel in the dirt. He traces a spiral with his index finger. Within the spiral he outlines a square with his ring finger, and within that a pentagon with his pinky. He concludes by tapping the centre with his thumb, and steps in, taking care not to disturb any of the lines. Bernie slowly lifts his arms.
The ward melts.
It's extremely alien to Reims, this method of destruction. Maybe it's normal for wardshatterers, maybe not. All he knows is that where his magic is based in water, this is fire. Molten magic evaporates away as Bernie continues to raise his arms. His eyes are closed and his breathing is even. Reims has no idea how he can stay this calm in the centre of that heat.
Suddenly, Bernie brings his hands together over his head in a thunderous clap, much louder than he could make with his hands alone, and the ward is completely gone. The curse falls to the floor, boneless. Bernie opens his eyes.
"Your turn," he says, scuffing at the dirt to erase the lines.
Reims begins the slow and steady task of scooping up handfuls of magic from the puddled curse as the other goalies start to laugh and joke behind him. It's not hard, but it does require some level of focus, and it makes him feel a lot calmer than he has in weeks. At last, he's done, and he turns to face the group just in time to catch Bernie as he passes out.
With Subban's help carrying him, Dansk to clear the way, and Fleury chuckling deviously behind them, Reims manages to get Bernie to their rental car. This, of course, is the exact moment he chooses to come to.
"Sorry about that," he says, yawning. "I think I just overexerted myself a little. It was fun, though."
Fleury's disappointment washes over them, but Reims is pleased. The airport is enough trouble without having to shepherd a semi-conscious man through to a different gate. Just to be safe, he pushes a little of the excess magic in his system towards Bernie, hoping he'll perk up some more.
As they go through the TSA checks at McCarran, Bernie is completely back to normal. This is a good thing, because their flights are taking off from completely different terminals, and Reims hadn't wanted to have to backtrack. So they get through security and have to part ways.
Bernie turns to Reims once more, smiling.
"Now I owe you two," he says, and winks.
Reims thinks maybe he'll cash them in after all.