Alyosha used to have different names in different places. In Moscow, he was Alyosha, or Alexei Ivanovich about as often, and in Vancouver, he was every permutation and shortened version of Alexei Konstantinovich before growing into Mr Konsistant.
With time, Alexei became Alyosha in North America as well, even if only for Julien, who had in turn become Jules. A private thing, just for them, but one that happened often enough that Alexei got used to hearing it from Jules’ lips, whether murmured into a phone, spoken out loud from another room, or whispered against his own mouth.
No matter how much Russian Jules learnt, he always said Alyosha weird. The general sound of it was different, tinted with French, but also with something else that was not what Alexei had learnt to recognise as a French accent. By that time, he already knew the something else was part of Jules’ own way of speaking that separated him from the rest of French speakers on the team, at least in his own head. Especially in his own head.
Alyosha knew better than to comment on it, but it was there nonetheless, the sounds becoming home without him noticing, where they should be a reminder of how far he was from his country, his family. How far he was veering from what he should be, what he should do, whom he should want.
When he ran away, he left Jules’ way of saying his name behind.
Moscow was supposed to sound like home, the familiar words surrounding him, his friends and family pronouncing Alyosha perfectly, each vowel spoken the way it was intended to be. It made him feel more alone than he had ever felt, the voices that were once so dear to him now unwonted, too polished.
He missed his life in Vancouver with an intensity he thought he would never feel again for anything, burning him from the inside while he smiled and talked about how good it was to be in Russia again, setting him on fire when he couldn’t sleep at night, the bed too empty, even later on, when somebody else started sharing it with him.
Once, one of those nights he was lying awake, unable to sleep on his side of the bed, Alyosha found a clip on YouTube, a French interview with Jules. He played it, listening to the rough sounds he had grown to know, trying very hard to only listen, rather than focusing on Jules’ face, the way his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down when he swallowed between question and answer. If Alyosha dared to look too close, he knew his hands would yearn to touch, to trace skin he still knew like his own, better even, every scar and birthmark familiar. He focused instead on the sounds, knowing his name would never be uttered. No reason for it to be said in a public interview about a game he hadn’t played in, that took place in a country he hadn’t set a foot on in years. He still caught glimpses of the way Jules said his name, in other words.
It made the fire, the ache, worse. He didn’t do it again.
His wife called him Alyosha once. He flinched so hard, unable to school his face when it was said in such a private setting, that he had been Alexei for her ever since.