Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
A/N: I'm Canadian and this where it shows. I love hockey. I don't play but I watch. Where I differ from the typical Canadian hockey fan is that I could care less about pro hockey. I'm a Major Junior Hockey fan, so I don't cheer for the home team when I watch NHL games but rather I cheer for the teams that feature players who played for the local Major Junior team. And that my friends, is the inspiration behind this fic. Junior players are treated like demi-gods up here, they have their own fan bases and do interviews for newspapers and newscasts. Most of the players range from age 16 to 19 with a few 20 year olds. Players are drafted into the league at 14 and are allowed to play an allotted amount of games at age 15 before being able to be placed full time on the roster at 16. They go to school and play a season of 72 games (I believe it's 72). Now that the background info it down, let's get started!
Summary: A hockey team of cocky boys encounter a spectacular goalie. How will they react when they find out the face behind the mask is that of a girl? The timid Hyuuga heiress to be exact.
Behind the Mask
CHAPTER 1: What Lay Behind The Mask
"Uzumaki races down the right wing on a 3-on-2, Uchiha and Hyuuga following closely behind him. They enter the offensive zone, just barely on side. Uzumaki passes to Uchiha right on the tape, he takes a shot but it's blocked easily by the goalie!" There were roars of the crowd echoing through the arena as the broadcaster's voice bellowed through the radio speakers. "HUGE rebound pops out to the left faceoff circle, Hyuuga picks it off, fakes a shot… slides the puck through the defenders skates to a waiting Uzumaki who shoots and scooooores Konoha is now up 1-0."
The girls cheered and clapped, "turn it up," one of them said while another turned to dial to increase the volume.
"That was a phenomenal play" the colour commenter added, "they got the 3-on-2 and took full advantage of it. Uzumaki did a great job getting the puck in and landing a tape to tape pass to Uchiha who took a shot that resulted in a huge rebound for Hyuuga who faked and got the goalie to go down and then passed it back to Uzumaki who had the gaping net for the goal… these three are marvellous to watch."
"You hear that Hinata? Your cousin's marvellous," TenTen said dramatically with an overdone sigh.
"What are you talking about TenTen? He's your boyfriend," Temari interrupted.
"Yea, he's great isn't he?" she said with a bright grin.
The girls laughed but immediately stopped when the blare of the radio ceased. Standing in the doorway was a frustrated Anko.
"C'mon girls! We're only up 2-1," she shouted, spit exiting her mouth and making the girls closer to her wince, "TenTen! I know you can play better than that! You could have taken out that girl but you didn't!"
"She was huge," TenTen replied with emphasis on the descriptive, "I would've been called for charging."
"I don't care, just don't let up," their hockey coach then turned to Hinata who sat timidly in the corner of the dressing room, "Hinata, you're playing excellent but you should have had that goal."
"She was interfered with," Ino came to her shy friend's defence, "the ref just didn't take note of it."
"What the ref calls or doesn't call is irrelevant," their coach said wisely, "they aren't suppose to dictate the game. We are the ones that dictate the game so let's go out there and finish off the third period with a victorious effort!"
"YEA!" the girls cheered enthusiastically and stood to exit the dressing room to play out the last period.
They stepped onto the smooth ice surface and skated around the defensive zone to warm up. Hinata skated straight to her goalie net. She scraped away at the ice with her skates to better the traction for her movements and clanked her heavy goalie stick on either side of the net's iron bars for good luck, a routine she picked up when she started playing. The players left the ice to take their seats on the bench and the only ones remaining were those set to play the first shift.
TenTen lined up at centre ice with her opponent. The referee blew the whistle and dropped the puck. The brunette promptly won the faceoff and the puck sped back to Ino who had lined up perfectly. The girls raced up into the offensive zone swiftly with grace and finesse to spare.
After the strenuous twenty minutes of the third period and many tiresome battles for the rubber disk, Konoha High's girls' hockey team came out victorious as always. They were tired from battling along the boards, in front of the net, and everywhere else on the sheen surface until they were completely out of breath, but in the end it was all worth it. These girls lived and breathed hockey, it was their escape from the everyday stresses of school and life in general. Their second home was on the frozen lakes they practiced on as children and the rinks their parents drove them to at unnatural hours of morning. This was what they had been working up to all year long.
"We're going to the finals!" Hinata's teammates yelled excitedly as they skated over to her. Hinata giggled as they jumped her and seconds later the girls were a large mound of hockey players celebrating while Hinata struggled under the weight.
Eventually they let up and released the petite Hyuuga heiress. She got to her feet and skated off to the dressing room with her teammates who were still as ecstatic as ever and they hadn't even been crowned champions… yet. They had merely qualified for the final championship game, but that was reason enough to celebrate.
Konoha High's girls hockey team was nearly cut last year because of funding issues and their lack of success, but in the face of adversity the girls pulled together and the results were beyond satisfactory. It was with the help of Hinata that they were able to turn their dismal record into that of an elite team. She had only recently transferred to Konoha at the end of last year's season when her cousin, Hyuuga Neji, was traded to the Konoha Heat of the Major Junior Hockey League. Her cousin had been dubbed a hockey prodigy that would likely go professional one day; there was no doubt in anyone's mind that he'd end up at least playing in the Major Juniors. So when he was traded away from home, Hinata's father and legal guardian of Neji, picked up and moved the entire family to Konoha.
Neji was originally drafted into the league by their hometown team, the Kumo Thunder but the team had depleted their roster of talented players and at the trade deadline of last season they decided to trade away their star player for younger prospects. Looking to the future, some would say. Neji was a star in Kumo but what was the point of having a star when you didn't have decent players to support him? Besides he only had another year or two left in the league before he went professional and they knew that as well as everyone else did.
And that was how Hyuuga Hinata, top goalie of the High School girls' hockey circuit ended up in Konoha. She was a remarkable goalie… she had to be since she practiced all her life with the Hyuuga prodigy after all. She had under her belt the longest shutout streak in all of Konoha High's history, which in turn meant she had registered the most shutouts, and she also held a GAA of 0.35 (Goals Against Average), spectacular statistics for a relative newcomer to competitive hockey.
Before moving to Konoha, Hinata had never taken part in competitive sports, not even hockey. As a toddler, she had picked up to goalie pads because Neji had convinced her to let him shoot frozen rubber at her. Being as timid as she was, Hinata obliged and willingly threw herself in front the hard objects. As she grew up, her skills were refined just as Neji's were. She would practice with him every waking moment they had as children. Neji's father, at the time was a professional hockey player in the national league, he would occasionally make stops to give the cousins pointers and he'd even end up sending a few shots her way. Hinata's father played in goal in his younger years just like she did but he never made it to the big leagues. In a sense, you could say hockey ran through Hyuuga blood. But even with that, Hinata had never desired to play competitively until she saw Neji play in the Major Juniors. Unfortunately for her, Kumo High didn't have a girls' team.
The girls continued to cheer and chant as they undressed and showered. Hinata removed her goalie equipment expertly and showered before dressing in a pair of faded jeans and a grey hoodie. She met up with Temari, TenTen, and Ino and the four exited the arena together, hockey bags in tow and sticks in hand. They loaded the equipment into Temari's trunk and took their respective seats in her car before the dirty blonde drove them home.
Hinata waved 'good bye' to her teammates when they dropped her off. She stuck the key into the door of the mansion-like home she and her family resided in. When the door swung open, she was greeted by the happy face of her younger sister, Hanabi, who tackled Hinata to the hardwood floors; the sound of her goalie sticks hitting the ground drew the attention of her parents who smiled.
"Did you win?" Hanabi asked expectedly.
"Yea." Hinata nodded with a soft smile.
"So you made it to the finals!" the younger Hyuuga exclaimed excitedly.
Hinata nodded and pushed her sister off. She stood in the foyer of the mansion and removed her shoes prior to inquiring, "did Neji win his game tonight?"
Hanabi nodded furiously. "They got a 5-0 shutout! Neji got two goals, Uzumaki got one, and Uchiha got two as well."
"That's sounds about right," Hinata replied with a satisfied smile. Konoha's stars always pulled through. "Do you know when he'll be back?"
"Uh… it's the last game on their road trip so… probably tomorrow afternoon," Hanabi answered while curiously eyeing her sister, "why do you ask?"
"Oh, I was going to ask him to help me practice for the upcoming final next Friday."
"That's a good idea."
"Yea," Hinata said through yawn, "I'm going to head off to bed; I'm dead tired."
Hanabi got the message and muttered a 'good night' before running up the stairs ahead of her sister. Hinata followed after her but more lazily.
The Hyuuga heiress rolled over in her bed and fluttered her eyes open. Glancing over at her digital clock, she read that it was noon already. She hated days when she slept in too late; it always felt like the day was wasted, especially Saturdays since the weekend was so short as is. She regretfully pulled off her comforter and trudged across her room. She quickly brushed her teeth in her adjoining bathroom before heading down in search of people… no one in particular, just people.
There was a note on the fridge from her parents that stated that they'd be back later. Hanabi was in the living room watching TV. There was a jingling sound of keys at the front door as Hinata walked through the foyer and towards the living room. The door swung opened to reveal her cousin.
"Neji!" Hinata greeted him with a hug, "congratulations on another win."
"Thanks," he answered as he hugged her back, "tell me you made it to the finals."
"We did!" she answered proudly as they pulled apart.
"I knew you would. Congratulations little cousin," he praised with a pat of her shoulder.
"Thanks!" she stated gratefully, "actually… I wanted to ask you a favour… I know you've been really busy and all with school and hockey… but…"
"Just spit it out, Hina."
"Will you practice with me to help prepare for the final game?" she finally mustered and gazed up at him pleadingly, "we haven't practiced together in a really long time, Neji."
He sighed tiredly and ran his hands through his long hair as he answered, "all right… uh… our team is practicing tomorrow at two so meet me at the rink at 12:30 and that'll give us an hour and a half."
"Great! Thanks Neji!" she exclaimed as she hugged him gratefully again before pulling away and sprinting up the steps.
He sighed loudly and followed her up. He needed sleep, because sleeping in a cramped chartered bus was less than ideal.
Hinata was up bright and early Sunday morning. She was meeting Neji later that afternoon and then meeting up with the girls after that to watch the Konoha Heat practice. There would be an open practice today which meant they allowed spectators. It wasn't something she particularly enjoyed doing but only tolerated it because TenTen liked to support Neji; Ino and Temari liked to pick up tips from watching the boys for their own purposes. Hinata never felt like she had anything to learn from watching them, she had Neji after all. The four girls would occasionally get berated by other fan-girls who would call them 'puck bunnies' when in actuality it was those fan-girls that came to ogle the teenage boys.
The Hyuuga heiress stretched in her seat and smiled as she wrote out the answer to the last question of her homework assignment. There, she was done and now she had the rest of the weekend to concentrate on preparing for the final game. She showered and dressed quickly before grabbing a quick snack from the kitchen. It was noon and Neji was already gone. He was always a keener which meant she probably had less than half an hour to meet him because he would probably be there already and dressed. Why he didn't wait for her, she could never understand.
She gobbled down the bagel then downed a large glass of milk before heading for the door with all her heavy goalie equipment. She was glad that her equipment bag had wheels to roll it, otherwise the walk to the arena that the Konoha Heat played at would wear her down before she even set foot on the ice.
It was exactly 12:30 when she arrived at the back entrance designated for players. There was a security guard stationed at the door as usual.
"H-hi…I'm h-here with Hyuuga N-Neji," she stuttered nervously.
The man snorted and eyed her up and down. "You puck bunnies never let up do you?" he scoffed.
"N-no, it's n-not like that," she defended.
"Just leave, the players aren't scheduled to practice until two and when they do, you can watch from the stands."
Hinata grimaced at the stubborn man and opted not to argue with him, so she pulled out her cell phone and speed dialed Neji's number.
"You're late," he said into the receiver. His lack of a proper greeting would seem rude to a stranger, but somewhere along the way Hinata had grown immune to his occasionally brash way of speaking with her.
"The guard won't let me in," she informed him.
"Ok, I'm coming," he then promptly hung up. Again she didn't mind how he so hastily hung up on her.
A minute later the door behind the security guard opened and Neji walked out fully decked in his equipment minus the skates.
"My cousin." He pointed to the pale eyed girl and motioned for the guard to let her through.
"Oh, sorry about that, I didn't know," he defended before moving aside to let Hinata pass. What was he pulling? He could've easily known had he given Hinata a moment to get a word in before shutting her out completely.
Hinata muttered a weak 'thanks' before following Neji into the underbelly of the arena. Neji had been playing at Leaf Arena for nearly a year and she had never seen any other aspect of it than what the public had access to. This arena was where the major big shot musicians performed when they came to town and having access to the otherwise unavailable part of the building made her feel somewhat special.
"You can get dressed in here." Neji led her into the dressing room whilst giving her the necessary instructions, "when you leave just take a right and you'll see the archway that leads you out to the players' bench and onto the ice."
"All right," she replied as she let the heavy bag drop to the floor.
He nodded his acknoweledgement and grabbed his skates before granting her much needed privacy.
Hinata exited the room later with all her goalie equipment on. She hobbled down the narrow hall until she reached the archway Neji had mentioned. Looking through the cage of her goalie mask she saw Neji skating laps while dribbling the puck. She smiled in anticipation of practicing with her cousin and walked down the archway and around the bench to exit through the small swinging door.
Hinata skated over to the closest net and got settled in. Neji noticed her and skated over to the blue line that marked a third of the ice. He dumped the bucket of rubber disks, "the usual?" he asked.
Neji nodded behind the visor of his helmet and skated forward with the puck at an incredible speed, going towards his right. He abruptly stopped when she went down and deeked her, pulling the puck back, he slid it past her other side but it went wide and missed the open net.
"You went down early but you managed to take the angle away," he half complimented her. "Ready?"
Hinata got back into her net and nodded.
They went on like that for the next hour; Neji taking shots on her while she managed to save about three quarters of them. Against most people Hinata would be able to save nearly all the shots but Neji was a genius and had figured her goaltending style out a long time ago.
"The guys are going to arrive soon," Neji stated stoically, "I'm going to go get a drink, so you can practice for about another fifteen minutes if you want." It was always the case that time would fly by so quickly when Hinata was finally graced with a bit of cousin bonding. But time was time, and that's all she asked for.
Contented, she replied happily, "okay."
Neji skated away towards the bench where three figures stood. Hinata resumed her practice by working on her positioning and agility. She got down into 'the butterfly' position, laying the goalie pads flat along the ice, then getting up and moving over, and then repeating the steps. The faster she could go down and get back up the better; in case players passed the puck across the crease then she'd need to get to the other side to block the shot.
"Who's that?" the silver haired man asked Neji as the Hyuuga prodigy walked around the bench towards the archway.
"My cousin," Neji answered in a somewhat irritated tone and walked away.
"He's so rude to me and I even made him team captain," whined Kakashi behind his mask. He was head coach of the Konoha Heat. Beside Kakashi stood a brown haired man that went by Yamato, he held the position as assistant coach. On the other side of Yamato was one of the team's assistant captains. He was a tall boy with jet black hair and eyes that matched.
"Sasuke, let's see how talented this cousin of Neji's is," Kakashi subtly instructed with a glint in his eyes before he motioned for Sasuke to test out the foreign goaltender.
The Uchiha nodded and skated out onto the ice. He stood at the pile of pucks on the blue line and waited for the goalie to notice him. The Konoha Heat had two goalies; one was lazy and the other seemed more interested in food than hockey. The only other exposure to goaltenders Sasuke received was the byproduct of playing their season's games. Even then it was a mere portion of the entire game that Sasuke got to play, despite being one of the team's most talented players. The anticipation of being able to assess his skills against a new prospect thrilled him to no end.
Hinata looked up when she saw some movement from the corner of her eye. Uchiha Sasuke… That sight of him alone was shatter her reverie. Breaking out of the groove she had formed while practicing her positioning, Hinata graced him with her attention, laying her ivory eyes to look anxiously at his contrasting ones.
"You mind?" he asked while dribbling a puck with his hockey stick nonchalantly. How he and Neji carried such a confident swagger about them baffled Hinata. She was a paradox of the two, timid to the very core of her being. But there was one thing she learned from being a Hyuuga it was that she needed to be proud of who she was. Even if she lacked the confidence she was never ashamed of whom she was, and she repeated the same words to herself repeatedly. If she was knocked down, she would use all her power to pull herself back up even if it meant she had to claw her way back. At least that was how she liked to believe she was, but sometimes fear, to everyone, leaves an individual vulnerable.
She shook her head to indicate a 'no' then got into her position. He came at her with blazing speed that was even faster than Neji. She came out to take away the angle he had to shoot. He zigzagged and then sent a wicked wrist shot that she would have missed if not for her lightning fast reflexes. They went for another fifteen rounds of shots and Sasuke didn't manage to get any past the mysterious goalie.
"How did the scouts miss this little gem?" Kakashi asked rhetorically from his place over the bench as he watched one of his best players miss all his shots.
"You think he's a free agent?" Yamato asked about the goalie.
"We'll have to ask" Kakashi watched intently, "if he is then we'll definitely have to sign him."
Just as the two men finished their short exchange, Neji appeared through the archway and walked past them without the slightest bit of acknowledgement.
"Hina! We're starting practice soon so why don't you go and meet up with TenTen and them?" he shouted to his cousin who nodded but motioned for Sasuke to take one last shot.
"Hina?" Kakashi and Yamato asked incredulously.
"Yea, I call her Hina for short" he blinked at the men and their odd expressions, "her name's Hinata."
"Her?" they asked simultaneously.
"Yes" Neji wondered why they were so surprised.
Over on the ice surface, Sasuke and the mystery goalie were skating side by side towards the bench.
"I think you're better than Choiji" he complimented, "and he's one of the best in the league."
"T-thank y-you, b-but I'm s-sure Akimichi Ch-Choiji is m-much better" she stuttered meekly.
"What?" Sasuke had barely heard a word that was uttered.
Hinata sighed and reached up to remove her mask so she could speak more freely. She pulled it off and let her indigo hair pool around her neck while her bangs framed her feminine face. She was slightly shocked when she met Sasuke's face which held an expression somewhere between disbelief and annoyance. They finally reached the bench.
"Come on Hinata" Neji grabbed the fabric of her practice jersey and dragged her through the archway.
"So, that superb goaltending was by a girl all along" Yamato said in awe.
"I couldn't get a goal pass a girl?" Sasuke seethed.
"Yamato, what are the league rules for girls playing?" Kakashi smirked and asked his partner.