Smells Like Team Spirit by Zadien

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Story notes:

An Ice-Hockey High School AU that's near and dear to my heart but needs a revamp since I wrote the early chapters when I was 17 and knew no better. 

Chapter notes:

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. 


Kai Hiwatari sat on his bed in the dark, illuminated only by the light of the TV. On-screen, he watched the players from the second and third rated teams in the district: the Tigers and the Warriors.  As captain of the Clonmel Sharks, the top team in the district, it was his duty to study the rival teams, regardless of how he personally felt about their talents. Still, as he watched the Tigers, the second-rated team, he grimaced. 


Lots of talent, no doubt about it and they had cultivated some players of note, but as a team, he could see the flaws. A lack of discipline; a bunch of players too busy amusing themselves with no focus on the end goal; too arrogant. It resulted in sloppy passes, sensational attempts at the goal that any goalie worth their salt would block, and equally embarrassing cellies. 


And they had a goalie of worth, he noted skimming the document he'd compiled. Arista Belyaev. Good position, fantastic awareness of space and her percentage of shots saved had to be the reason the Preston Tigers had climbed the ranks. Too bad she'd suffered an injury in the last game and wouldn't be present for their next game, that would leave the Sharks facing down Mariah Wong. He didn't know as much about her.


His attention snagged on a player in pale blue and navy streak through the crowd. They cradled the puck with their stick, and they ducked, twirled and dodged around their opponents. Those who could intercept were quickly intercepted by the defensive duo of Bryan Kuznetsov and Spencer Petrov. Both of whom were intimidating, not just in size, but in ability.


The player skidded to stop in front of the goalie, spraying ice. Whipping the stick back in an exaggerated move, they blasted the puck towards the net. It flew through the air in a blurry streak of black. The goalie lunged for it. For a moment, it seemed as though time stopped.


The lamp lit. The fans erupted with cheers, the noise carrying up to the rafters of the arena. The home band burst to life, playing a fast tempo piece. As the referee called out the score, the player skated off to meet their celebrating team. Bowing with a flourish, they removed their helmet like a top hat and Kai shook his head. Yet another flashy player, he mused, as the girl shoved strands of dark hair from her face and cheerfully accepted the praise of her team. He hoped she tried that in the upcoming game against the Sharks, he'd enjoy stealing the puck out from under her nose when she wound up for the strike.


The Tiger coach called for a line change and breathless, face flushed with exertion and clammy with sweat, the girl shuffled off the ice, knocking a gloved fist with another player heading onto the ice.


Kai turned his attention from the screen to his book and flicked the page.


Amber Benson.


B student, hockey lover, pseudo-Irish and, per the surname, related to half the team. He knew of her, the one with the sharp tongue, the bright smile and the chill in her gaze whenever she encountered the Sharks. She had a temper, he remembered, had a problem keeping her mouth shut and was easily provoked. It was a weakness shared by a lot of hockey players, and it was one he could play on. Still, it was another reason to be ready for them, he mused, glancing over at the empty bed across from him.


He turned back to the ice as Benson leapt to her feet, shouting something at the ice as a boy not much taller elbowed her in the ribs. Kai's attention fixed on the player on a breakaway. He straightened. Rei Kon: the captain of the Tigers. Good feet, fast but methodical, never a sloppy pass, never in the wrong place, and if he got near the net, the puck would go in. The problem was that Kon spent more time closing up the holes the rest of his linemates left him, playing more defence than a centre should. He also spent a ridiculous amount of time mediating fights his teammates got involved in.


More movement on the ice and, when one of the Warriors managed to find some space around the net, the puck flew only to be deflected by the stick of a defenceman. Not one that Kai knew. He recognised the surname emblazoned on the back of the shirt, Kinomiya, since it was shared by a leftwing player, but he didn't remember playing against him. He made a note to follow up on this player just to be on the safe side. The Sharks didn't need any surprises, and while his father, Nicolai Hiwatari, assistant coach of the Sharks, was extremely diligent with his research, Kai knew his mind was elsewhere these days.


Tala would know, but Tala had left.


He put that thought to the side and focused on the remaining minutes of the game, including one more goal scored by a Johnny McGregor and a last ditched attempt by the Warriors to claw back a chance. It was too late though, and the Tigers scraped a win.


Kai closed his laptop, setting it aside and he shifted to lie back on the bed, one arm bent behind his head. His gaze travelled to the empty bed again, and he frowned.


It would be weird getting ready without Tala beside him. For the past two years, they'd attended every game together, roomed together during the school year and spent portions of their holidays together at various training camps. They both had the drive to be the best, to achieve their dreams of playing pro. They'd put up with Boris Balkov's tyrannical method of teaching because it had made them better players and because they knew Kai's dad would step in.


However, after Nicolai announced his intention to leave at the end of the school year, Tala had seen the writing on the wall and fled the sinking ship. Kai couldn't blame him. When Nicolai left, Kai would go with him. His father had offered him the choice, but Kai wasn't a martyr. He couldn't stay at Clonmel, risk becoming persona-non-grata, just to take advantage of Balkov's contacts. The man would make Kai's life a misery.


And without Kai or Nicolai, Tala had no reason to stay. Not when he had the option of going back to his old team.


So no, Kai couldn't resent him for getting out while he could. Kai would do the same thing, though he hoped Nicolai would choose a good team, somewhere where Kai could improve. There were enough teams out there looking for a coach of Nicolai's calibre.


A knock on the door had him stirring from his thoughts.


His father eased open the door and popped his head inside the room, letting in the sounds of boys talking and doors closing. 


With the same dark eyes and hair shades darker than Kai's, Nicolai was a good indication of what Kai would look like in a few decades, or so his mother always said. Cut from the same cloth, mini-me, words he'd heard most of his life. He might have found them annoying, if he didn't appreciate all the sacrifices his father made for him, from early morning drives to the ice rink to long Sunday's out by the lake practising drills over and over until Kai was ready to collapse. 


"You nearly ready?" Nicolai asked, scanning the room. "The team needs to be downstairs in an hour. Have you seen Stuart or Carlos?"


Kai raised a brow. "No. Try Trevor." 


Nicolai exhaled loudly, sliding his hands into the pockets of his khaki slacks. "Kai, you're the captain, you need to take more interest--" 


"So you keep saying." Kai rolled onto his side. "They'll show up." 


Not like he cared where they were, but he could guess. They were always stirring up some kind of shit, never quite happy unless they were causing issues. And by now they'd probably heard the rumours, that Tala had run back to the Tigers. They would want to confirm that for themselves. Didn't matter that Valkov couldn't possibly play in this final match, that he wouldn't be registered to play. Stuart, Trevor and Carlos shared one brain cell, and it tended to reside in Carlos, so whatever stupid plan he came up with, the other two would follow. 


Not his problem. He just wanted to play hockey. He was no one's babysitter, no captain C was worth that hassle.  


"Look, if you see them, tell them to keep their heads down, Boris is on the warpath. And if you see Brooklyn, tell him the same. I need to run to a meeting before the game and won't be there to run interference." 


With a sigh, Kai sat up. He couldn't do anything about the disappearance of Carlos and Stuart, they'd return whether he wanted them to or not, but he could at least find his remaining vice-captain. After all, they had a game to play that evening and they were already down a player. 


Chapter end notes:

To be continued...

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