Caitlyn hadn’t totally seen it, which is how she knew it was dirty. You didn’t lay out another skater like that, moving that fast with your body that bunched, and not attract attention. Not if it was a clean check. She had the sensation of moving fast between the blue lines, wheeling in one half circle with the puck on her stick, the dying seconds of the penalty expiring. Her eyes flicked to Vi - already standing, helmet adjusted over the pink undercut, standing at the sin bin door with a look of determination on her features.
The thing about Vi, Caitlyn knew, was that she was good . Great hands, great feet, and played with pure passion, a complete joy that elevated her above her peers. But Vi was also built , and mean looking, and could throw a left hook, and that had Coach Radford sticking her on the sidelines, an overqualified enforcer.
But moments like this, when Vi was about to leave the box, was when she shone. Vi jumping on the ice with fresh legs meant she could skate like the devil, and best of all, Vi had soft enough hands to handle Caitlyn’s hardest pass.
Caitlyn deked left, bought an extra second, and as soon as the penalty box door crashed open, she was firing a no-look, an extra spicy rocket off of her stick that could be confused for a slapshot if anyone but Vi was reaching for it. She didn’t even need to look to know the other girl had it at the opposing blue line, had a clear line of sight for the net, a breakaway.
Caitlyn wheeled, rushing to follow up for a rebound, arms and legs pumping.
The next thing she knew, she was face down on the ice, two pieces of a broken stick around her head, a thrumming pain in her eyebrow. Her momentum carried her towards the goal and she rolled with it, trying to figure out what happened, who had hit her.
Vi was at center ice, face contorted with rage, helmet and gloves missing. In front of her, doubled over and cupping her face and chin was a Narwhal player, black jersey reading 49, blood seeping from between her fingers.
“The fuck are you doing,” Vi was bellowing as two refs snagged each of her arms, “chopping wood with that lumber?”
“It was an accident,” another Narwhal piped up, earning him a icy eyed glare.
“I want you to speak, I'll stick a copper in you, fuckbird. Hey, asswart. You - fuck off me, zebra - you keep raising that stick up and I’ll show you how to pogo.”
“You broke my nose,” called the Narwhal, still dripping and cupping her face.
“And what did we learn?” Vi fired back, “I’d be happy to keep teaching. Fuck off me.”
Caitlyn regained her skates, shaking her head to clear the cobwebs. The remaining eight skaters were in twos and threes, bunches of Owlbears and Narwhals holding each other back, keeping the tilt to Vi and one victim. Idly, Caitlyn skated towards Vi’s gloves, scooping them up with her stick to loosely hold in her left hand.
“What happened?” she asked Claggor, a big lug who was the Owlbear’s best defensive player.
“She whacked you in the head with her stick,” Claggor responded, “Vi… objected. Refs kept it from being a proper tilt.”
Nodding, Caitlyn cycled back towards where Vi was being muscled further away from the Narwhal player. The girl was skating to the dressing room, nursing a gash that ran from lip to nostril, courtesy of Vi’s left hook. A few other Narwhals were barking, tiny little chirps that Vi responded to with a low, dangerous growl.
“Ain’t on me that homegirl can’t take a love tap,” Vi was saying to the Narwhal captain, “put her back in and I’ll give her a tattoo.”
“Vi,” Caitlyn said, and the girl’s gaze snapped over, expression immediately softening.
Tamping down the usual under-the-skin itch that flared up whenever Caitlyn met Vi’s fierce blue gaze, the taller girl lifted Vi’s gloves, holding them out. Vi took them with a nod, loosening up enough to stuff her hands in them as the refs finally let her go. The head linesman headed towards the scorers table as Vi let go of a long, shuddering breath.
“You okay?” the shorter girl asked, her eyes flitting around Caitlyn’s face, head, neck.
“Just got my bell rung,” Caitlyn responded, shrugging narrow shoulders. It wasn’t totally true - she could feel blood sliding down her temple from where the stick had made contact. It didn’t escape Vi’s gaze either, as the other girl leaned forwards, caught some of it with her gloved index finger.
“You-” Vi began.
“Black 49, Red 7, ejections,” the head linesman said, referring to Vi and the bloodied Narwhal’s numbers. Vi let out a held breath, shook her head hard.
“It’s okay,” Caitlyn said, “we’ll find a way to win without you.”
Vi gave a tight, lopsided grin. Caitlyn could read her - every crinkled line behind her eyes, her worried glance towards the opposing bench, her twitching left glove. Vi didn’t want to leave - didn’t want to ditch the team, not now when they were down a goal with less than five to play.
Caitlyn wanted to reach out and take her wrist. Wanted to act on every stupid impulse she’d felt for the past two years when she saw Vi at team parties, late practices, hanging out in the stairwells at the rink. She wanted to grab her jersey, tug on it until they were close, and-
“Pitter patter,” said Vi, the grin widening, becoming more cavalier. A brave face. An encouraging face.
“Let’s get at ‘er,” responded Caitlyn.
Vi turned and skated to the dressing room.
The Owlbears lost by two goals.