Chapter 1

"Hey! Hey! Hey!"

Blades against ice slice through the roar of the stadium, thin knives gouging the ice as deft and powerful strokes carry toned bodies across the glistening surface.

The rubber disk is flung from stick to stick. The black puck is tapped from side to side as crimson clad skaters try to dash away from white and orange clad opponents. Five crimson skaters dash across the ice. Two defensemen trail behind the double blue lines. Three forwards roam across the center of the ice, fighting against the white-shouldered men from stealing the puck.

"Back, back, Soaps!"

A player dodges two men in white before he is smashed against the glass boards. The opposing player's body is pressed against his for a hair's breadth of a moment before he skates away, chasing after the elusive puck. Another man in white whisks the puck away. His teammate, however, is not so lucky. He is hip checked by a skater in red who bends his knees and swings his hips. The skater is caught off guard and is sent crashing against the boards. The skater, in white, scrambles to right himself as the fans roar and pound their fists against the smudged glass.

Riley Fortin, clothed in a vibrant crimson Washington Capitals jersey embellished with the number forty-four, dashes to the bench and hops over the waist height boards. His teammate vaults out to take his spot on the ice.

Riley's breath comes in puffs as his dark eyes dart over the ice. Flipping the mouth guard out of his mouth with his tongue, he shouts with the rest of his teammates. The Washington Capitals forward, Soaps, takes a wrister. He rolls his back wrist briskly, thrusting the rubber puck forward with his right hand, at the goal.

The puck clips the edge of the goalie's pad, ricocheting to the left. Lars, a left-winger, swoops in to catch the rebound on the edge of his tape. Circling the ice, he loops around the defenders, looking for an opportunity to shoot the puck. Lars glides in front of the goalie, can't find a chance to shoot. He backhands it behind him to Soaps. Soaps hesitates a moment when he stops the puck with his stick.

Riley gnaws at his mouth guard. Make the shot or pass the puck Soaps! Riley glances up at the jumbotron, before turning his attention back to the ice. Got to make a move and soon. Don't hold it—

Soaps flings the puck back at Lars, who takes it behind the net. He battles with the other men ramming him into the boards and glass. One finally manages to knock him down, whipping the puck along the boards to a teammate who takes off towards the Capitals' goalie.

Glancing at the clock, Riley leans forward in his seat on the bench. Another sharp glance at the scoreboard tells him there is a minute left to play in the third. They need to keep the lead or this is going to an overtime game. And if neither team makes a goal in the overtime round, it will go into shootout. They need to shut it down, and shut down cold. Hard.

Soaps jumps off the ice and another takes his place. The teammates skates after the white figure charging at their goal.

Green, one of the Washington Capitals defenseman decked out in red, checks the speeding New York Islander onto the ice with his shoulder. His stick intercepts the puck to sling it to the nearest forward.

But an Islander steals the puck.

Riley's heart jumps to his throat… Islander takes a shot at the goal—

The puck goes wide as Bryan, the Capitals' goalie, makes the block with his pads.

"Good block! Good block!"

Lars catches the rebound and passes it off to a teammate, dashing towards the bench. Both Lars and Soaps come off the ice as Riley and Ingo dash on. Their legs propel them on the already nicked ice. The MRI line, Riley thinks with a wan smile, swiveling his mouth guard back into his mouth.

The other forward flicks the puck to Ingo who predictably takes off while Riley and the rest of the guys spread out on the ice after him. Dodging a few checks, Ingo snaps the puck back to Riley before he trips and sprawls on the ice. An Islander defender jerks back with a cross look on his face. The whistle is blown, the referee on skates motioning at the ice while Ingo gets back to his feet.

The defender gets called for tripping. The skater is escorted back to the penalty box for two minutes, snarling angry words back at Ingo. Naturally the man cheekily shoots the offender a shark-like smile, all teeth, no humor.

Five on four. Capitals on the power play with one more man on ice than the Islanders. Islanders are one man down, on the penalty kill.

Riley skates into the faceoff circle on the right of the Islander's goal crease. His body is hunched, his hockey stick braced by his knees, eyes level with the Islander participating in the faceoff with him. The Islander is snarling trash talk across the ice, but Riley doesn't bite. He wants the puck.

The ref drops the black rubber disk. Hockey sticks slam into the ice. Got to sweep the puck to the guys. The puck flies behind Riley onto Ingo's tape, and the Slovak slaps the puck to a Capitals forward. Dancing away from his defender, Riley catches the pass from his teammate on the edge of the stick. He slings it back to Ingo, who darts in front of the goal.

He shoots!

The puck rebounds off of the goal post with a clear ring! Riley sweeps in, shoving past other men, and shoves his stick at the puck.

BZZZZZZZZZZ! The red light atop of the goal lights up. The siren like wail of the goal horn dissolves into "The Wicker Man," drowned out by the roar of the cheering fans rumbling in the red sea, rolling with waves of Capital White.

Riley is swept up in the high of the goal. He throws his arms up before skidding across the ice on one knee coupled with a celebratory fist pump. As soon as he slides back to his feet, Riley is tackled by his four other teammates on ice. Ingo bellows a "Great fucking goal!" in his face while smirking at the dejected Islanders d-man skating past him.

"Let's go Caps! Lets go Caps! C-A-P-S! Caps, Caps, Caps!" The fans thunder.

Riley skates over to the Capitals side of the bench. Gliding past teammates, he fist bumps them down the line with a beatific grin. The replay is on the scoreboard, the video streaming the goal sequence in slow motion. Power play to win the game.

Coach pulls him off for the rest of the last seconds of the third, slipping Lars and Soaps back on the ice. Ingo comes off the ice as well, skidding to a halt by the bench before climbing over the boards.

"Good to be back," Ingo spits his mouth guard into his glove.

Riley can't help but agree. The cut of ice beneath his feet, the synthetic air of the rink – although not as good as a frozen pond in his parents' backyard as a kid – the trash talk from opponents and teammates alike, the rush of adrenaline that explodes after every goal, assist, celebration… it is unmistakable.

Hockey is back.


The reporters are surrounding – swarming – the locker room after the last minutes of the third period expired. Riley blinks at the multitude of faces before his stall. Some are familiar, others unrecognizable, but the recorders, the mics at least, he remembers.

"What do you think this means for the season?" The man from ESPN is asking, the labeled mic three inches away from Riley's sweaty face.

Riley scratches at the itch of sweat rolling down the side of his face before opening his mouth to reply. "I don't want to jinx the season," this gets a few twitters of laughter from the media group. "But it feels good, and I think it will pass onto the other regular season games. We've still got a ways to go, but we're connecting passes taking shots, making hits. It's a good start."

As the next reporter asks a question about a teammate's new contract as well as the trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins – Erik Johansson, Riley's closest friend on the team and right winger for quiet Vitaliy Vorobyov, a potentially great shooter. It has been a trade that is constantly speculated with tongues wagging.

"Vits is a good guy," Riley slowly rolls the words off of his tongue. He doesn't know the guy well, except the man is a demon to play against. Head coach Leblanc has the guy on the second line with Soaps. Riley has a feeling he isn't going to stay there for long. The general manager traded Erik for a new winger and Vits is likely going to take that spot. But there isn't much Riley can do to get to know Vits if the Russian keeps to himself, sour about the trade. "He's got a strong shot and he's here to play hockey. We all are."

"How does this change your relationship with Johansson?"

"We're still friends," Riley replies without hesitation. It's true. Erik let him stay until he found an apartment during his first season with the Capitals. "It is going to be fun getting to play against him, I think. But at the end of the game, he's still Erik."

"And if Bowie traded him to the Islanders?" The reporter prompts.

"We didn't." Riley rubs away the sweat dripping form his curling hair onto his face. "It makes it easier for us if he plays with the Penguins. Makes it easier to drop in on him." He smiles, unable to resist dropping in a dig on his friend. "But if he hits us hard, we're going to check him ten times harder."

"No more breakfast and sneak attack photobombs with Erik then?"

Riley laughs, shoulders shaking as he looks up at the standing reporter. "I don't know about that. The guys will get him when he visits. Probably not going to let that one go."

Out of the corner of his eye, Riley can see his alternate captain – Ingo – creeping up behind rookie Jason Green, shaving cream towel in his hand.

Ingo halts, turns and raises his eyebrows as if to ask, "Want to do the honors?"

But the reporter isn't done. "What are your thoughts on Jason Green's first goal in the second period?"

Might as well take Ingo's offer if the PR guys are giving him the open crease. Riley stands and nods at Ingo. Drawing himself up to his six feet two inches height, Riley towers over some of the media guys. Without a word, he puts his fingertip to his lips before taking the towel from his alternate's open palm. Greenie still has his back towards Riley, answering questions to his own reporter animatedly like only a rookie can. Riley almost feels bad for pranking – smashing – the kid in the face. Almost.

Looping his forearm around Greenie's neck, Riley takes the hand with the towel and smothers the rookie with the shaving cream. He rubs it for extra effect. The guys behind him hoot with laughter. Even the media guys can't suppress the smiles that break across their faces.

Greenie wrenches the towel off his face when Riley lets him go. He tries to snap Riley with the towel as soon as he can see, but Riley skitters out of the way. The kid will probably try to snap him again once the media guys leave the room. Greenie is smiling at least, rubbing away the white foam embellishing his face.

"I am going to murder you," Greenie tries to growl. The media takes this as their cue to go, gathering their heavy-duty cameras, microphones, and mini recorders.

"Leave that to the Dead Fish," Soaps drawls form his locker besides Lars.

"I'll eat you first," Ingo promises the other alternate captain on the team. Thankfully Greenie takes the chirping in stride, laughing with Riley and the rest of the Capitals when Soaps throws a sweaty sock in the Slovak's direction.

Punching the rookie in the arm, Riley shakes the kid. "We're going to make you a Cap, Greenie."

"I thought I already was?"

"Rite of passage Greenie," Lars pipes up lowly. "You pick one of the three."

"What three?" Now Greenie looks alarmed, looking at the veteran players with wide eyes.

"First you gotta stick around to find out!" Soaps yells cheerfully.

"Bag skate?" Greenie guesses, referring to the repetitive sprints and suicide laps around the ice that often end with groaning and painfully tired muscles.

"Huh." Riley pretends to ponder for a moment. "Wait. That's a given present from Coach Leblanc."

Greenie is glaring at them distrustfully now. He glances around the room as if the guys are willing to tell him the answers. Riley gives him a little shove towards the locker, and repeats Soaps' excellent hint. Maybe they can set Gatorade powder in his helmet first – the kid is already scared out of his wits.

Ingo on the other hand, has completely opposite plans. "When we get to Pittsburgh, we should set Erik on him."

"The kid is not legal in the US, Ingo. We would have to be the ones getting him drunk. And I am not watching a rookie do bag skate hung over. That's just pathetic," Riley whispers back.

"Nah, just see if he can keep his phone away from Eagle Eye."

Erik has a nasty knack of guessing passwords on phones. Without fail, Erik eventually ends up taking a heinous amount of obnoxious selfies before sending it to everyone on the contact list. Or messing around with the contact list in general (Riley himself got caught in Erik's pranks more than once, the worst when Erik switched his girlfriend's contact with his mother's. And hadn't that been awkward).

Super hacker, Erik Johansson. Thus, Eagle Eye.

"The kid is going to die," Riley says with a shake of his head.

"We had to go through Johansson. Greenie's gonna go through that at least once before we give him the lesser of the evils."

"At least the PR team isn't making him go to the community meet and greet thing." Riley shakes his head.

"Nah," Ingo disagrees. "The kid is nearly the same age, they're all wet behind the ears. We'd lose him in there."

Riley snorts and shoves his alternate captain aside to make his way to his own locker. Hockey season is back. Bring on the pranks. If anything, Riley checks his things twice before leaving for the showers. Ingo has messed with his stuff too many times – sewn his keys into his pocket, taped his dress shoes together – for him not to be wary. That said, if Ingo's hair turns from its light blond to Capitals red tonight, that isn't his doing. Absolutely innocent.


Author's Note:
Hey all! Don't forget to check out "Behind the Field" if you're a fan of baseball and romance fiction.

If you're into a more contemporary setting (ex: college) but still has some hockey, check out Snapshot.