Jake had barely sat down when Aisha stormed up and stood in front of him, hands on her hips and eyes flashing dangerously. "I told you to pass the puck to me," she said, words snapping hard enough to make Jake flinch. "Do you even know how?"
"Of course I know how!" Jake retorted, but surreptitiously he looked around for Cougar or Pooch to hide behind. Hell, right now he'd gladly hide behind Clay, even if the Coach was probably as mad at Jake as Aisha was. But there was no sign of any of them -- the traitors. Leaving him in here to Aisha's tender mercies, alone.
"Then why do you not pass me the puck when I am clearly open?"
Jake opened his mouth to tell her he had meant to, or point out that she hadn't looked opened with Rotherson bearing down on her like that. But he knew what she'd say: she could skate circles around that jackass and next time Jake had damn well better send her the puck.
He glared back at her for a long moment, trying desperately to think of some excuse that wouldn't just convince her to eat him. Before he could think of anything she huffed and stomped away. "Next time, Jensen. Pass the fucking puck to someone who can shoot."
He scowled, crossing his arms before deciding that look childish and petty, and unfolded them again. It wasn't like he'd missed the goal on purpose or anything. Not to mention the fact he had nine goals this season already, and a total goal count of 268 -- not that much less than her 281 if you ignored the fact she'd joined the team a whole year after he had.
Jake didn't say any of it, because he might be offended but he wasn't stupid. Instead he just slid off his left skate and picked it up, flipping it over to take a look at the blade mechanism. Sighing, he pulled out a small screwdriver and opened the small access hatch.
He wished they could afford a real equipment manager, or even a half-time engineering student. Pooch did the best he could -- and Pooch was really fucking amazing at anything that had an engine, from the shuttle he kept running for their transport to the tiny electric-mag blade generators that let them skate over the metal surfaces of the arena. But the New Pittsburgh Miners -- aka the Losers -- weren't a rich team. Hell, the fact they played four-person hockey in a small, outer sector league was enough to tell anyone that. But even for a tiny league on the rim of civilization, the Losers were a small, poor team. Hell, now that Roque had run off and joined a real team they didn't even have an extra player in case one of them couldn't play.
What they lacked in resources, though, they made up for with cunning and brains. Pooch kept them playing with the few parts they could afford -- and with the greater number of parts they stole and scavenged as they traveled from station to station. Cougar had the unnatural ability to beat any living creature at poker, so he supplemented their coffers whenever he could, sometimes being the only reason they had fresh food or real beer to celebrate with after the game.
Clay did his best, scrounging up public appearances and endorsement deals, but out on the rim no one had much of anything, so even a two-week contract for posing with the hottest fad in shoes, bingrooms, or fruit juices didn't bring in much. Jensen's off-ice role amounted mostly to keeping himself from being killed by Aisha, being the handsome face that everyone (more or less) wanted selling their gear, and helping Pooch with the finer detailed work of keeping their equipment working.
Pooch had the knack with the hardware, but Jake was the one who could convince the sensors that yes, indeed, the blade were within regulation power, strong enough to keep in contact with the metal floor but weak enough to let them fly across it like they were skating on ice. It was illegal to lose contact with the metal at any time, which meant of course the Losers were known for their tendency to score from shots taken from (very, very near) the walls, in mid-air (or so it might appear), and on one very memorable occasion, the ceiling.
Jake was still paying off his fines for that one, because the newsvids had caught it and it wasn't like he could claim his blades where perfectly within regulation parameters when his entire body was defying gravity for five full seconds as he sailed past the opposing team. Fucking Oilers deserved it, anyhow, Jake thought, and even though they'd forfeited that goal, the Losers had won in the end by two.
The last few games, however, Jake had been off his game. Not much, but enough that every time he tried to send the puck to Aisha, it seemed to veer off. Sometimes it looked like he was deliberately passing it to the other team, which not even Aisha would accuse him of doing on purpose. But he got her frustration, and he would have yelled back at her except a) she was a scary-ass woman and b) he was just as mad at himself since he couldn't seem to fix it.
"Hey." There was a nudge at his arm, and Jake looked up at Cougar. Their goalie was already back in street clothes, hair wet and pulled back from his shower. "Forget it," he said, quietly. "Let's go get drunk."
"I wish I could, Cougs. But I feel like someone's replaced my hands with alien parts and they're controlling them remotely. Do you think that's possible? Would the Bears send somebody in to steal my hands and insert a computer chip so they could fuck up my passes?"
Cougar just gave him a look, one Jake was completely used to. As if Cougar was the only long-suffering one in this relationship, Jake wanted to say. But his heart wasn't in it, because they'd lost five games in a row and they weren't called The Losers because they actually lost games. Hell, last year they'd won the Tinners Cup, which might not amount to much when the league was ten teams strong and half of the players had real jobs to allow them to pay rent and feed their families. But it was a championship regardless, and Jake knew everyone expected more from them -- and from him.
Something was wrong, and Jake didn't seriously think it was his hands being stolen and replaced, but he couldn't really figure out what it could be. Cougar nudged him again, and gave him a softer look, and Jake just nodded, and sighed.
"Let me get changed, and can we just go home and get drunk?" The shuttle wasn't luxurious, but it had three rooms they'd long since turned into personal quarters, him and Cougar sharing and Clay in with Aisha. Pooch often as not slept in the pilot's deck, claiming that Jolene understood him better than anyone and was far better company than a bunch of sweaty, drunk hockey players.
Privately, Jake thought Pooch was a little crazy, but he'd been that way ever since Jake had known him, so he probably wasn't ever going to get more normal. Of course Jake knew perfectly well that Pooch claimed Jake was the crazy one, but Jake figured that was a sign of insanity, not being able to tell who was crazy and who wasn't.
He felt Cougar's hand on his shoulder, and he jumped a little, then nodded. He slung his skates into their case, then yanked off his clothes, throwing them into the bag with the others. A quick shower -- and Cougar was totally watching, Jake knew he was -- then he got dressed and followed Cougar out of the tiny locker room that had been turned into such from a janitor's closet for the day of the game.
Outside the arena in the walkway was a small group of kids, waiting with plasties in hand. Jake's grin was real enough as he greeted them, asking each kid's name and agreeing to sign whatever was handed to him. Beside him Cougar did the same, and then they posed for a half a dozen photos, answering a million questions the entire time. Finally the kids ran off, shouting at each other about who was going to play who in their next pick-up game.
Jake watched them go, glad that no matter what else was going wrong, at least they still had fans. None over the age of nine, it seemed, but still -- fans. He glanced at Cougar and found the other man watching him with a smile. "What?"
Cougar just shook his head, then reached down and tugged on Jake's hand. "Home."
"Do we even have beer? Or are we drinking some of Clay's moonshine? And if so, can we skip the hangovers tomorrow and just go back and have sex sober?"
The corner of Cougar's mouth quirked at him, and Jake knew it was because Jake was the only one of them who couldn't hold his liquor when it was Clay's evil home-distilled brew. Jake just stuck out his tongue and opted not to explain that Clay's liquor couldn't actually be metabolized by normal humans. He was pretty sure it just meant his teammates were all aliens, or cyborgs -- and how could that possibly be fair that they got to be cyborgs and he didn't? Usually when he got off on one of his rants about how unfair life was, the others just laughed at him and Cougar made Jake give him a blowjob to prove he was human.
Not that Jake really minded, but he could think of a dozen ways to make a cyborg ejaculate like a real person. He glanced over at Cougar, wondering again.
Cougar glanced back then rolled his eyes, tugging his hat down over his face. "Su loco," Cougar said.
"You don't even know what I was thinking!" Jake protested, and Cougar just gave him a small, evil grin and holy shit. Jake stopped in his tracks. "If you're a mind-reading cyborg that is so not fair."
Cougar kept walking for a few steps, then he stopped and looked back at Jake. He waited, but Jake just pouted at him because, seriously, not fair. Cougar shook his head. "Do you want me to prove again how human I am?"
"Can I blow you in the hallway?"
"No. Home. La cama."
"He will kill you. Not in the engine room, either, because Aisha will kill you. Not here because the media will get photos and Clay will kill you. Home. Bed."
Jake tilted his head. "Why I am the only one getting killed in these scenarios? You'll be having inappropriate sex, too."
Cougar just smirked at him, then turned and continued walking. Jake hurried to catch up with him, and realised as he caught up, that he wasn't feeling nearly as depressed about sucking at hockey anymore.
He brushed his arm against Cougar's, and gave him a smile. "I guess it's possible you're human. I mean, who would make a cyborg goalie? That's about as redundant as it gets."
Cougar just shook his head, and they headed back to the shuttle, and Jake almost nearly avoided getting killed by Aisha and Clay the next day when they discovered Jake's underwear in their shower stall.