Title: Lax Games

Author: Sparkle Itamashii

Please respect this story's rating. The characters, settings, and plot (if it can be called so) of this story are mine. Please do not copy, alter, distribute, or archive without my permission.

This one's for you, my lovely alley-cat.

Lax Games

The boys dragged themselves wearily inside, muddy, exhausted and bruised. Almost the entire team crammed into the little outhouse of a locker-room and someone had the foresight to prop the door open with the cement block by the entrance, to let in a cool breeze. They settled themselves noisily in place, not all of them quite making it inside the building. In the distance the sounds of someone shouting could faintly be heard, but the words were not distinguishable.

The lacrosse players that did not fit into the room, those who spilled out onto the gravel, parted to allow their coach entrance. He did not look happy at all, hand gripping his clipboard, eyes searching over his boys as though he expected to be able to single out only one of them to blame for the poor performance on the field.

When it had fallen silent, when the last rustle of adjustment faded, the coach spoke. "I assume you've all noticed how we're getting our asses handed to us out there?" A mumble of agreement fluttered across everyone's lips and the coach's nose wrinkled. "Davis, what was that? Coach Garrek told you to keep 9 covered and where were you? Dinking around by 23." His glare shifted. "Karlovsky, if someone calls the ball, you're going to let them have it and I'd better see you making sure the other team lets them have it, too. None of this bullshit competition between you and Johnson; I don't want to ever see the other team lay a stick to one of my players like 7 did to Johnson today."

The boys were shifting uncomfortably now, not daring to drop their eyes to the ground but not wanting to stare the coach in the eyes anymore lest he single them out next. There was a scuffle toward the entrance and the coach didn't have to turn to see who it was- there was only one kid on the entire team that dared to come to the halftime meeting, or any other meeting for that matter, late.

"Hathaway," the coach growled. "Take a seat."

Any other player might have been reprimanded with laps to run after the game, but the captain only gave him a sullen look and remained where he was. He was strangely drenched, despite how sunny it was outside and water dripped slowly from his fingertips and clothes. It looked like someone had gotten him with a hose or a bucket of water. No one breathed a word of inquiry, not even the coach. There was another stony moment of silence before the coach collected himself and sighed tiredly.

"All right boys, listen up." The team seemed to relax a little at the words; they had weathered the reprimand time and it hadn't been as bad as they expected. "I want all of you to watch out for 7, he's on that field to hurt. The ref's already called him out on it twice, and I don't want to see him have to call a third. Avoid him or hit him first. That 28's fast, so I want Dulche on him as soon as we're back out there. He's their only fast player. Hathaway?"

"Yes, sir?"

The coach's eyes flickered briefly from the captain to one of the other players, Johnson, who was paying more attention to his staff than the conversation. Most of the boys had stopped paying attention to the conversation with their eyes, turning instead to making sure their equipment was in order for the end of halftime. The motion did not go unnoticed by the captain, however, and he nodded ever-so-subtly in understanding. "Keep your team together out there. They elected you for a reason; don't let them down."

"Yes, sir."

"You boys have got five minutes. I'll see you back on the field." With that he was gone, shuffling his way through the boys and disappearing around the edge of the door.

Silence fell amongst the other players. This had been and would continue to be their worst game of the season. The other side was brutal and bigger, but only one of their players was faster. The footspeed of their own middle players was their only saving grace, but it was a poor one; more often than not the evening found their players down on the ground. Technically it was illegal to check like the other team was checking, but the refs were awful and assumedly biased. No one wanted to stand again or head back to the field, but they solemnly rose and shifted anyway, filtering out of the changing rooms slowly.

"Johnson," the captain said before the other player could get too far away from him. "We need to talk."

The other kid came to a halt and sidestepped out of the way of his teammates as they left. "About?" He had thought the halftime lecture would be over when the coach departed.

He received no response until the locker room was completely empty. "I saw what happened out there," Hathaway said stonily. It wasn't clear whether he was angry or upset.

"So?" Nicholas shifted nervously, grip tightening on his stick. "It wasn't a big deal. Happens a lot in this game."

"Come here." It wasn't a request, although it was not quite a demand, either. Not quite. Not yet.

"The game's about to start." Weak, but true.

Mick sighed and gave him one of his classic, charming smiles that held nothing but sugar-coated venom. "You've got a choice, Johnson. You can take one step farther away from me and sit the rest of the game out, or you can take one step closer."

Face twisted in an angry scowl, Nicholas took a hesitant but deliberate step toward his friend and captain. "You can't take me out of play. You're not the coach, Mick."

"We'll see," was the reply. He signaled with two fingers in an upward beckoning motion. "Shirt up, Johnson. That guy cross-checked you pretty hard."

Nicholas stayed rooted to the cement upon which he stood, giving the other boy a glare that should have done more than kill him. "No." There was a pause and Mick was nearly given enough time to offer another ultimatum, but he was interrupted. "I know my way home so don't hold the game over my head, Captain."

"Get your ass over here, now."

Moving with the tension of a dog which knows it is in for a beating but dares not disobey, Nicholas took another few steps until he stood before his captain. He was just barely in arms reach. The two stared at one other for a moment, blankly but not dully, each waiting for the other to move first. It was Hathaway who finally raised one eyebrow at the other boy, a silent inquiry as to why his earlier order had not yet been obeyed.

Hesitantly, but with a noise of contempt, Johnson curled fingers under the hem of his jersey and peels the material upward. The motion revealed bare skin, still slick with the sweat of a hard game played. It also revealed a stripe of purple and green bruise reminiscent of a lacrosse staff shaft. It was laid diagonally across the left side of his ribcage and it didn't appear to be getting any better.

Hathaway's eyes moved from the abused skin to the eyes of the other boy, who stared sullenly back without moving. "Number 7 did that?" he asked quietly.

"It doesn't matter. It's not that bad." He looked away, up to the ceiling of the locker rooms.

Gentle fingers laid along one side of the bruise, tracing it. The sensation shivered across Nicholas' skin, raising goosebumps. Mick looked askance at him, taking care to be ever-so-subtle in doing so. Nicholas' eyes were closed and his jaw was clenched the tiniest amount. The bruise wasn't even being touched, not more than feather-light, but it clearly hurt him. "Not that bad? You're a fucking liar, Johnson."

"It's fine." The words hissed through teeth.

In one sure movement Hathaway tightened his fingers into the flesh of Johnson's sides and pressed his thumbs down on the edges of the bruise. The boy's body tensed tight enough to snap and his gasp caught in his throat as his free hand shot to Mick's. His first instinct was to pry the boy's hands away from his ribs but he controlled the urge. Mick knew better already.

"It's not fine," he said softly, tone gentling. "You might have broken ribs."

"What, are you a doctor now?" Nicholas asked, though his words held less spite as rough hands were smoothed so carefully over his skin. He released the edge of his shirt but the hands remained.

"I'm pulling you from the game."

"Like hell," Nicholas replied stonily. He bit off a hiss of pain as Mick's fingers twitched against the bruise to prove the point. He turned the noise into a growl. "I'm not getting off the field until I've kicked that kid's ass.

"And gotten the team another penalty." Mick slipped smoothly to his feet from the bench, the motion pushing the other boy backwards a step by default. "What happens if someone hits you there again and you get hurt worse? Coach saw you go down and he's been watching you since. If I don't pull you, he will."

They were so close, enough to feel the touch of breath and the whisper of jerseys against one another. Nicholas kept his head bent, glaring sullenly, angrily downward. He knew Mick was right; he was going to get pulled from the game one way or another. But this was an important game, one that mattered when it came to determining how far their team went by the end of the season. If he played, even hurt, they had a better chance at winning but if he stepped out the game was so close it could be lost.

"I'm pulling you from the game," Hathaway repeated, breath feathering across the other boy's cheek. "I can't let you back out there, but that doesn't mean he won't pay."

But Nicholas only shook his head and attempted half a step backward. The hands on his waist halted the motion, trapped him painfully where he was. "I can take care of it myself. Find someone else to defend."

Lips to sensitive ear. "Only you," he breathed.

Johnson's eyes fluttered almost closed for a second at that and he turned his face away once more. They stood still just then, their quiet breathing the only noise in the locker room. The sounds of the game beginning out on the field filtered into their silence, muffled and dull. Nicholas startled the tiniest amount when the other boy raised a hand to his jaw, the ghost of a touch, enough to make him look forward once more. Green searched brown and foreheads touched as Hathaway sighed.

"Which is it, Johnson," he said softly. "You always say no but you don't mean it. You don't stop me." Green eyes shuttered closed as his voice dropped. "You never even try."

"It wouldn't make a difference if I did," Nicholas responded hotly, though he made no further move to leave. "You'd do what you want anyway."

Frowning, he slipped his hands out from underneath the other boy's shirt. "Then what do you want?" Though it could have been a threat, his tone spoke of honesty. "Do you want to leave? I'll give you a chance to walk away, right now. The door's right there."

No response, no struggle. Johnson remained glued to where he stood, eyes narrowed and throat tight. A part of him wanted to leave, to run from the situation before it escalated. It was the part of him that told him that the game was starting and that they would be missed by the rest of the team. The part that told him that standing there in the locker room with Hathaway so close, with his ribs hurting so badly, was a bad idea. It was the part of him that said 'no'.

It was the part most easily silenced.

Knowing the decision had been made but would not be voiced, Mick moved fluidly, slipping hands into Johnson's damp hair, threading his fingers through and down until he could run them along the boy's jaw. Chin lifted, lips brushed, breath caught as a lacrosse stick clattered noisily to the cement beneath their feet. Nicholas made only a small noise of protest in the back of his throat before surrendering to the moment, before pressing into the sure but careful touch.

Neither of them noticed the lull of noise from the game or heard the footsteps of their team mate approaching. They didn't notice him standing in the door way or see the way he watched them intently for a minute before making a gentle knock at the door neither heard. It was only when a throat was cleared and a greeting issued that they startled like deer and turned to see.

"Miller," Hathaway said smoothly, not bothering to pull away from Johnson. "How can we help you?"

"You're the only one who can make 'how can we help' sound like 'how would you like to die today' without blinking." He eyed them impassively for a second longer, gaze raking over both their tousled forms. "The game's starting again. Coach wants you on the field, oh Ca-pi-tan."

"Thank you, Miller," Hathaway said coldly. "You may tell him I'll be there momentarily."

Miller only raised one eyebrow as Johnson writhed his way free of Hathaway's grip, a pained look flashing across his features. "You're lucky coach sent me and not one of the others."

"He knows better," Mick said dispassionately, staring after the way Johnson snatched up his belongings and moved for the exit. His attention drifted lazily back to the interrupting player. "Go on then."

"One of these games, you're going to get caught by someone who doesn't know," Miller said carefully as he turned to leave. "One of these days someone isn't going to turn a blind eye."

"One of these days I'm going to kick your ass for not leaving fast enough," Hathaway growled.

Nicholas shoved past them both with his gear. "Don't worry about it," he said to Miller as he passed. He shot his captain a glare. "He's an ass to everyone."

Miller raised an eyebrow as he followed his team-mate out of the locker-room, leaving their captain to finish gathering the appropriate gear to play. "He's going to get you in trouble, you know."

"I'm already in trouble," Johnson replied, stuffing loose articles into his bag. He wasn't going to wait around to hear Hathaway tell the coach he wasn't going to finish the game. He didn't want to be cornered again, no matter how much he… He shook his head and unconsciously traced fingers to his ribs. "Anyway, it doesn't matter. I'm going home."

"Home?" Miller questioned, stopping mid step and turned swiftly to face his friend, stick cradling automatically in his hand despite that there was no ball in his net. "Already?"

"Yeah. I think 7 busted a rib when he hit me. I… I should probably get it looked at soon." It needled him to admit that Hathaway was right, but broken ribs weren't something to leave alone. There was enough adrenaline from the game and… other things, that the edge to the pain was dulled. It wouldn't stay that way long.

"A'right," Miller said apprehensively. "See you at practice?"

Nicholas nodded. "Whether or not I'm playing, I'll be there." He turned away and began the dirt path that lead to the parking lot. Miller watched him go for a moment before looking back in the direction of the locker-rooms. Hathaway leaned tiredly against the doorframe, green eyes glued to the boy's receding form to the exclusion of all else. Shaking his head, Miller turned away and began to trot back to the field alone.