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This Will Be Our Year

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It's an inauspicious start to the season. It feels as though whatever they do it just doesn't work out. Passes don't connect, checks miss, and shots go off target. Roope knows they can't win every game, but he hates losing like this.

Guri gets scratched for their game against the Flames and they lose again; their fourth loss of the year, though at least they'd managed to scrape a point out of it.

The team's daemons spend the game watching from their own box adjacent to the ice—carefully separated from the opposing teams as no-one wants to risk daemons fighting. Unlike the penalty box, the daemon's box is even protected from above by netting; ostensibly to shield them from stray pucks but also to prevent any avian daemons from trying to get involved in the game.

Now that the game is over, they flock into the locker room from their own separate entrance, spreading out to rejoin their player: Jamie's capybara loping straight over to rest at his feet, Tyler's capuchin jumping up to hang around his neck, Esa and Klinger's birds swooping in with perfect synchronicity to land on their shoulders. Esa's snipe is smaller and less flashy than Klinger's little egret, which is a good metaphor for how they play.

They're not the only ones on the team with bird daemons; Bish has a pygmy owl, who looks all the smaller cradled in his large hands, and Faksa's red-backed shrike is the most colorful of any of them.

Roope's lynx is the largest of the team's daemons so she usually waits until last to leave the box. When Kyllikki reaches him, Roope leans over so he can bury his face in her soft fur.

He doesn't get her attention for long. She makes a low sound and when Roope looks up Guri is standing in the doorway with Iskander around his shoulders. Kyllikki stops about a foot away—however close they are it's still taboo to touch someone else's daemon, even married couples won't even do it—and waits for Guri to let the polecat run down his arm and drop onto Kyllikki's back.

Roope shudders at the sensation and meets Guri's eyes, knowing he's feeling it too. Some of the team look away, the Americans have often mentioned how seeing two daemons touch in public feels too intimate but Roope had grown up watching his family's daemons interact so it seems normal to him. The joke tended to be that Finns were so reserved because their daemons tended not to be. It still implied a certain level of commitment to a relationship or a deep connection but he was confident what he and Guri had was serious.

Guri is tense on the drive home as he tells Roope he's being sent down. At least Nill had let Guri know about it as soon as he could so they get to have the night before he goes but that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt.

Roope understands, from the position of having gone through the process the year before, how hard it is, so he's willing to give Guri the space to process. If it’s not something Guri wants to discuss, Roope doesn't want to push him before he's ready.

They go through their usual bedtime routine without speaking more than necessary. Only once they are in bed, with the daemons' comforting weight across their feet, does Guri finally crack.

"Why can't I be good enough?" he says, burying his face in Roope's chest.

"None of us are this year," Roope says. It eats at him too and he doesn't want Guri to think it's his fault. "You just have to do so well in the A they can't help find you a place on the team."

"What if they did make a mistake drafting me so high? They could have had Barzal, or Boeser, or-"

Roope interrupts him. They've had this conversation before. "I know you can do this. You're going to be great. Some players just take longer to get there."

Guri shakes his head. "People already saying I'm a bust, just like Honka and Nicha."

"Stop reading your own press," Roope tells him. "We did great together in Cedar Park, you're going to make it. It'll be couple of weeks at most until you're back up, probably sooner."

Guri's alarm goes off early. Usually it wouldn't be a long drive down to Austin but the Texas Stars have a back-to-back in Iowa so Guri has to leave to make their flight. When Guri's Uber arrives, Roope hugs him, repeating his assurances. Even though he believes it won't be for long, he still hates to say goodbye.

Curling up around Kyllikki in bed isn't the same as cuddling Guri and watching Iskander resting on her back, feeling warm satisfaction through their bond and Roope worries about what might be on Guri's mind.

While they'd been separated last year, Guri had sent him a plush toy of Ringo, the Texas Stars mascot. Iskander didn't look that much like the ring-tailed cat but there was something about their faces and the toy wasn't much smaller than the steppe polecat. Of course, Kyllikki dwarfed both Iskander and the toy, so seeing the lynx wrapped around the plushie instead of Guri's daemon is still cute.

When Roope calls before his pre-game nap to congratulate him on his hat trick against Iowa, Denis seems distracted but Iskander brushes up against the screen, and Roope lets Kyllikki butt her head against his phone in response.

They still lose to Washington without him. Roope wants to call again but he knows the Texas Stars will be travelling after their game ended in another shootout. Instead he sends a snap of himself and Kyllikki curled up on the sofa eating potato chips.

They have a morning flight followed by an afternoon practice and then team dinner so Roope doesn't get to speak to Guri all day.

Guri calls him that evening, after Roope has settled into the hotel in Buffalo and Guri’s returned to his hotel in Austin. Guri is surrounded by pieces of notepaper what Roope considered his incomprehensible scrawl, Iskander sprawled over his shoulders like a scarf. Okay, so Roope could barely read Cyrillic anyway but it's not fair the handwritten letters looked nothing like the printed ones. "Studying hard?" he asks. Roope loves how smart Guri is, how hard he works at his law degree, at life. Roope might have never cared much for school but he can't help but find Guri's work ethic inspiring.

"I tell you when I know." Iskander nips his ear and Guri finally looks at Roope properly. "I promise, you'll be the first to know."

It's only a couple of days later that Guri rejoins them in Columbus and Roope swaps with Gards so they can share a room. "Are you going to tell me what you've been looking at?"

"After the game," Guri promises, though he looks reluctant.

They lose again, though at least Guri gets to play, and Guri is quiet on the bus back to the hotel, looking through something on his phone which is way too dense to be anything fun, Iskander peeping out from under his hoodie. Kyllikki rests her head against Roope's knee and he absent-mindedly pats her head.

They get back to their room but Roope is too buzzed to sleep. Normally their daemons would curl up together and leave them to it so when Kyllikki presses up against him again, Roope knows it isn't good. He wishes he knew what Iskander had said to her during the game.

"So? What’s so terrible you had to wait to tell me in private?"

"I think is a curse," Guri tells him.

That's bad. Roope doesn't know much about magic but he knows that much. "On who?" Roope's almost afraid to ask because he isn't sure he wants to know the answer.

Guri sighs but he also seems to relax at Roope's response. "The team."

"The whole team?"

Guri nods heavily.

That's worse. From what Roope's heard team curses are the hardest to detect and the hardest to break. They've had to rebrand or even move whole franchises for that sort of thing. "You need to tell management," Roope says. "Let them find a proper curse breaker."

Guri prevaricates and Roope worries what he's about to say. "You trust me?" Guri asks.

"Always," Roope tells him without hesitation.

Guri pulls out his research notes, explaining what he's worked out so far. Of course, Roope can't read most of it but he nods in understanding as Guri goes through each game pointing out moments where luck hadn't gone their way. On their own, each incident was minor but there was a pattern appearing and the coincidence was too much.

Roope doesn't usually bother with advanced stats but he's willing to hear out Guri's explanation of how they support his theory. Guri isn't done yet but what he has seems pretty convincing.

"How did you figure it out?" Roope asks. "Because you scored five times in two games as soon as you got back to the A?"

"Sort of, yes." Guri doesn't need to tell Roope how he'd made his offerings, dedicated his game to the hockey gods; he's had the same routine as long as Roope has known him.

"I think they need me to be out of Dallas to reach me. Well, to reach Iskander, you know what I mean." Everyone knows that daemons are how the gods deliver their messages. Guri describes how, after each goal, he could feel the momentum building, a wave of energy that came together after his hat trick. "Iskander didn't come out of the box after the game. I found him curled in a ball in the corner in a trance. When I picked him up he gave me the message. Only, you've heard people talk about messages from the hockey gods before, it isn't exactly in any language, but it didn't quite make sense."

Roope knows that daemons don't instinctively know languages but they tend to be better at picking them up. Guri only knows really basic Finnish and Roope can barely manage more than Russian swears but Kyllikki and Iskander swap between both of their languages, as well as English, and probably some Swedish and Czech with the other players' daemons too.

"So Iskander dictate it to me again and I wrote it out in Russian then I realise, you know how there are words that sound the same in other languages but actually mean something completely different? So I tried again writing the whole message out in English and that wasn't right either. I'm having to check every word."

"Can Iskander repeat it for me and Kyllikki?" Roope asks.

Iskander can and does. Roope didn't know why he'd expected it to sound like a prophecy but he's still surprised when it actually sounds more like a contract. At least Guri's the best person to figure it out with his legal education.

Their hotel room is soon covered in careful notes and Roope tries to help by suggesting Finnish or even Swedish homophones.

Guri is able to determine the curse seems to be linked to the ice surface at the AAC. The good news is that if the team are just picking up the curse from contact with the cursed ice then they're not actually all cursed. The bad news is that the caster presumably intended it to last the whole season, since the ice usually just gets covered over when they're not using it.

"Can't we just tell the maintenance folks to turn off the freezers?" Roope says.

Guri makes a face. "You don't think I tried to tell Laxy as soon as I realised? He listened and then just pat me on the shoulder and walked away like he hadn't heard anything I said. I was worried I wouldn't be able to tell you."

"So we cut off the power ourselves," Roope suggests, even though he doesn't have the faintest idea how to go about doing that.

"I don't think it would work," Guri says. "Even if it didn't set off an alarm, I know there are magical protections on the ice surface."

"There must be something we can do."

"I think it needs us to fix," Guri admits. “Look," he points out how Roope is practically the only player scoring, at eight games in he's leading the team with four goals, which suggests somehow he's less affected.

When Roope doesn't immediately object, Guri ticks the points off on his fingers. "It needs to be someone who hasn't been on the team for years, two people who are already connected, similar but different. So unless you want me to be doing this with Dowler…"

"What does this involve?" Roope asks, though he thinks he's starting to guess.

"We need to make an offering," Guri says, which isn't exactly a helpful answer. Roope had figured that much out himself.

"What sort of offering?" he presses. Roope was always taught to be careful what you gave the hockey gods but he knows Russian traditions are different, and the North American ones even more so. Most offerings are food or drinks; Roope always makes sure to bring something back from Finland every year, usually alcohol.

"We have to give the gods more power if we want them to help."

"Are you telling me we need to make some kind of sacrifice?" Roope knows he sounds dubious but he's heard bad things about getting involved in magic.

Guri rolls his eyes. ""It's not like a blood sacrifice. Just, like, a different bodily fluid."

It takes Roope a moment to parse that and then, "We need to have sex for the hockey gods?" He can't keep the shock out of his tone.

"Yes," Guri confirms, "but it can't just be any sex, anywhere. We need to do it right, and at the AAC."

"How do you know all this?" Roope never learnt this sort of thing at school.

Guri looks away, seemingly embarrassed. "My family has magic. I can't do much but I know enough to work things out."

That's definitely something Roope wants to follow up but he has a more pressing concern. "Even if we break the curse, what's stopping whoever cast it from doing it again?"

"I suppose it depends on who did it and why," Guri says, which isn't entirely helpful.

"Do you know who did it?" Roope asks hopefully.

Guri shakes his head. "But I can tell you it wasn't a Russian."

There goes Roope's first guess. Curses were usually personal issues but team curses were difficult magic. Someone had to genuinely feel wronged by the team to get it to take. When teams had hired people in the past to curse their rivals, they usually targeted the arena or even something more specific, like the goal or the home bench. Fans rarely had the right energy but a disgruntled ex-teammate… Still, even if it wasn't Nichushkin, that still left several players who'd been let go in free agency.

It won't necessarily make any difference to them in terms of removing the curse but it might well make a difference to how easily that person could do it again. Roope doesn't want to go to all this effort if the caster is simply going to redo the curse.

Then again, someone might have been able to get away with casting a curse unnoticed in the off-season, or maybe even the pre-season, that would be spotted now it is fully underway. A former team-mate or an opponent might not be back in Dallas anytime soon, and an opposing fan might not return at all.

Besides, none of that matters when Guri is still waiting for his answer. "I'll do it," Roope says. "You know I wouldn't let you do it alone."

Before they can try their breaking ritual they have two more games on their road trip. They get their second win of the season against the Flyers—Roope gets a goal and Guri an assist—but now Guri has mentioned it, Roope can feel the curse pressing down on him, making his skates feel heavy.

Roope doesn't know how the whole team can't tell that something's up. He can feel it every time he steps on the ice but Guri makes Roope promise not to tell the other Finns what's going on or what they're planning.

Roope might not have Guri's brains, but he isn't stupid enough to attempt a weird cursebreaking ritual without telling anyone where he's going. He doesn't want Esa to try and stop them though so he waits until they get to the rink and then sends a text inviting Esa to his place in a couple of hours.

Hopefully he'll be there to meet him and they will have good news to share. Less good would be having to explain Esa what they'd tried if it fails in a damp squib. But in the worst case scenario that something goes wrong and he can't make it, Roope's left a note outlining their plans. Esa has access to his phone location information. He should be able to track them down.

Their daemons run around them, glad to have the space for a change. Sometimes at practice they get to come out on the ice but not everyone's daemon is suited to it or enjoys the cold, and for games they are limited to their own box.

The only time daemons are allowed on the ice during a game is if their player is injured and staying down. No-one can forget incidents like Yzerman's marten rushing over to him when he took a puck to the face but, back when bench-clearing brawls were common, there were cases of daemons being injured and there were always rumours of fights in lower leagues where daemons actually got badly hurt.

Guri leads the way. They need to go to the hockey gods' shrine first and then he hopes they will be told where they need to perform the ritual. Roope just hopes it isn't going to be too near the ice. The Mavs season hasn't started yet and so they can't even hope for the ice surface being covered over.

The arena is dark and daemons don't trigger the automated lights so Kyllikki, coat halfway to turning winter-pale despite the lack of snow in Texas, and Iskander, fur frosted with his winter undercoat, appear as flashes in the hallway ahead of them.

There is a public entrance to the team shrine, where fans can go to leave their offerings on game days, and a private room for the team's more personal offerings. There are no electric lights in here, but the room is never dark.

Guri pours out a glass of a deep-brown alcohol and sets it down on the altar. Roope lays his own offering beside it and steps back.

They aren't waiting long before both daemons stiffen. Kyllikki cocks her head as though she's listening, with her hackles up. Roope thinks he hears something too, at the edge of his hearing and when he glances over at Guri he's gone pale. Roope reaches out to hold his hand as their daemons shake themselves out of their trances.

"I'll lead the way," Kyllikki says, but something in her voice doesn't sound right. Even though Roope knows they have a task to do, he wants to bury his face in her fur and have her tell him everything will be alright.

As they are led down winding corridors Roope's never seen before, he wonders if anyone will be able to find them if there's a problem. He even considers if he should be leaving some kind of trail, like in Hansel and Gretel, and makes a point of propping doors open behind them. Roope had hoped their daemons could at least show anyone looking for them the way but he hadn't expected them to be as involved as they seem to be.

Both daemons finally stop outside a door marked 'Maintenance.' Guri opens it and gestures for Roope to follow him in. It's chilly, with concrete walls and floors, and pipes running along the walls, one of the technical rooms. Roope realises there's a good chance it's the room where the curse was cast and can't help shuddering.

"Can we at least get some cushions or something soft to lie on?" he asks, to distract himself from that thought. "If that's not going to disrupt the ritual?"

"I think we passed some of the therapy rooms. Why don't you see if you can find some blankets?" Guri suggests.

Roope leaves Guri carefully setting out candles and chalk and grabs a couple of blankets and an armful of towels from the first room he finds, not wanting to leave Guri alone too long.

By the time he gets back the room looks warmer, more welcoming with the candles spread around.

Guri shows him where to put the bedding and Roope lays the towels out on the concrete floor, then layers the blankets over the top. He turns back around to find Guri stripped out of his top.

"How do you know all this stuff?" Roope asks. "You didn't learn this at law school."

Guri laughs. "From my grandmother, for the ritual part. Like I tell you, my family has magic. Now come on, take your clothes off."

Roope really needs to follow up on the magic thing but that's definitely a subject for later. While Roope strips, Guri sprinkles something over the bedding. It smells familiar and looks a little like lavender, though it doesn't smell like it.

"For purification," Guri explains. Then he takes a jar of a clear liquid. "Moon water."

"Not vodka?" Roope teases.

That finally gets Guri to smile. "We save that for after."

He frowns again as he focuses on laying out the ritual and Roope thinks to ask, "Is this going to hurt you?"

"No, it's okay. I still have all my own teeth."

It seems like a non-sequitur but Roope figures Guri knows what he means and stops distracting him.

Guri gestures for Roope to sit down on the bedding pile and then pulls off the last of his own clothes before kneeling down beside him. He has a green ribbon in his hand, which he wraps around Roope's left wrist, leaving a long end trailing, then ties another ribbon around Roope's right ankle.

He does the same for himself on the opposite side then uses a complicated knot to tie them together, wrist to wrist and ankle to ankle. The ribbon is long enough that it shouldn't restrict their movement for the purpose of the ritual. Roope is a little anxious about what comes next but Guri just pulls him to lie down beside him and kisses him.

Kisses turn into soft touches, with Guri slowing him down anytime Roope tries to move things along, telling him, "Energy needs time to build."

When Guri decides it's the right time, he moves to lie on top of Roope, pressing their bodies together. It’s a little awkward at first but it isn’t like they haven’t done this before. They rut against each other, feeling their daemons wrapped around each other too.

Roope feels his orgasm dragged out of him and there is a burst of light, growing stronger until Guri follows. He must black out for a moment as he comes back around to their daemons prodding them anxiously. The ribbon has disappeared, leaving only a green smudge around their wrists and ankles.

It's clear something happened especially when Roope discovers his phone is dead. His watch has stopped too so they can't even tell how much time has passed.

"We should check if it worked," Guri says.

"Can't it wait until the morning?" Roope asks, yawning.

"I can give you my keys so you can wait in car," Guri offers.

Roope shakes his head immediately. It doesn't feel right to be separated. He trails after Guri, Kyllikki pressed into his side, helping him walk in a straight line. By the time they get to the locker room, it's clear neither of them has the energy to investigate further.

Making it back to Guri's car feels like it takes as much effort as a whole game and Roope is tempted to sleep there but Kyllikki nudges him to plug his phone into the car.

It rings almost as soon as he turns it on and Roope knows it's going to be Esa before he even looks at the caller ID.

"Where are you?" Esa demands. "I've been trying to call you for an hour?!"

"In the parking lot of the AAC," Roope tells him, too tired to come up with any kind of convincing lie.

"Is Guri with you?" Esa asks.

"Yes," Roope admits. Looking at Guri's drawn face, Roope doesn't trust him to drive, so when Esa says he's going to come and collect them, Roope doesn't argue.

It's the right choice since Guri is practically asleep by the time Esa arrives, and Roope is struggling to keep his eyes open.

Esa's daemon, Helke, reaches them first, landing lightly on the hood of Guri's car and bending his neck to look at them through the front windscreen.

Esa crosses his arms across his chest as Roope and Guri stumble out of the car. "Are you going to tell me what you were doing?"

Roope doesn't want to lie to him but he isn't ready to admit what they'd done. Also, it’s kind of unfair that Esa’s using Finnish when Guri doesn’t speak it. "We went to make an offering…" Roope starts, switching to English.

"In the middle of the night." It's not a question but Roope knows Esa's still expecting an answer.

"Had to be at right time," Guri says. He meets Esa's gaze and Roope wishes he could copy that guileless expression.

Roope knows Esa doesn't believe them but he doesn't have enough information to guess what they'd actually been doing.

Esa takes them back to his place and it's clear he was hoping to interrogate them further but Roope and Guri are both dead on their feet, and Kyllikki snaps at Esa when he tries to direct them into the kitchen rather than a bedroom.

Roope passes out the moment he gets horizontal. Fortunately, by the morning, Klinger has distracted Esa until it's time to go to practice. Except they arrive to learn there's not going to be any on-ice practice that day because apparently half the ice melted overnight.

Esa narrows his eyes at Roope, who does his best to look innocent. He doesn't think Esa's convinced but he won't say anything without evidence.

They get a morning skate before the Sens' game and Roope can feel the difference the moment he steps on the new ice. He feels lighter as he races down the ice, receives a pass from Guri straight onto his tape, and taps it in behind Dobby. Even though it's just a scrimmage, they celly together like it's a real game, certain in the knowledge their efforts had worked.

Roope had only been conscious of the presence of the curse for a few days since Guri had made him aware of it but he hadn't realised how heavy it had been until that weight was lifted.

They win that night against the Senators, then a couple of days later against the Ducks. They get shut out by the Pens, but even that feels good because it's a regular loss, their own mistakes rather than the curse turning their efforts against them. And after that they win and win.

When Guri has his first multi-goal game, Roope kisses him in the middle of the locker room to a chorus of catcalls. The rest of the team don't know how much they owe him for saving their season but Roope's happy to keep Guri all to himself.