Story:Step Back, Step Up
Step Back, Step Up
Written by IllaRouge, Kinto, and JWolfman
There wasn't much that would frighten the people of Tallahassee, but crossing the threshold of the coach of the Typhoons was the stuff of brave men. Even the paparazzi dared not scope her out, after a particularly suspicious van fire and the resignations of a few FMZ members under mysterious circumstances.
Franz Volker didn't figure himself a brave man. He saw the well-kept facade of Hildegard Tetreault's home like any other. Well, 'well-kept' in the sense that it would pass for decent. No flowers, no adornments, nothing of the sort that flaunted anything of what Hildegard had achieved or earned. That was reserved for anyone whom she thought worthy enough to enter her home.
"Herr Volker!" Hildegard reached out and embraced the Doberman with one arm, Franz equally having only one arm to spare. His other hand held the cream-white hand of his daughter, Elsa. Hildegard clapped his shoulder before kneeling down to see the little pup. "Und you. It is gut to see you, wenig Liebe."
"Ha!" She ruffled the girl's head fur and stood back up. "You've been teaching her the gut language."
Franz smiled. "Much to my wife's annoyance." Hildegard stepped aside and let the two in. "She's got nothing against Deutsch. She just doesn't have the time to learn it."
Hildegard closed the door. "She's a busy woman. I respect that."
Franz headed for the couch and set his bag down. Elsa toddled around and touched whatever she could before her father called her over. She crawled onto the cushions. The Doberman pulled out some headphones while Hildegard brought them some mint lemonade. She set his down on the coffee table. He plugged the headphones into an oPad and handed it to Elsa. Some kids' movie played on the screen while he took his seat. He looked up at Hildegard. "I don't like to rely on it, but I could use a little time to talk with you."
Hildegard took her own seat apart from the couch. "Ja, I suspected this wasn't just a friendly visit."
They sipped their drinks. Franz set his down. "I know this comes at a bad time with Mr. Arango leaving."
She tapped her claws against the glass. "If I had my way, we'd never say his name again." She groaned and took another sip to keep herself from unleashing a deluge of bad blood. "That man has been a thorn in my side since he took his position."
Franz nodded. He didn't want to dwell on the obvious. "But in any case, I know this isn't coming at an opportune time."
"Spuck es aus, Franz."
He sighed. "I'd like to step away as co-captain of the Typhoons."
Hildegard furrowed her brow, but she didn't give him the tirade he expected. She just took another slow sip.
"You're not planning to retire, are you?"
"Oh no, not for a while. I don't want a trade either." He looked at Elsa. "If possible, I'd like to be a one-team player for my career. I'm a creature of habit."
She nodded. "I can guess, but why?"
"My family," he said simply. "You're more hands-on than other coaches, but being captain has a lot of responsibilities. I'm starting to feel the pull toward home." He ran the back of his index finger down Elsa's arm, and the pup squirmed a little, still attentive to the movie on the screen. "We have a lot of rising talent on this team. I think it's time for them to shine."
Hildegard huffed a little. Franz couldn't read what was going through her mind. She put her hands on her knees and pushed herself to standing. She stepped away from the chair and looked out of a window at the far end of the room. "I agree."
Franz's relief was overshadowed by his curiosity. "You do?"
She turned back to him. "What? I'm so inflexible that I can't see the benefit in something new?"
Hildegard glowered, before letting herself chuckle. "That's why I respect you, Herr Volker." She returned her gaze to the window. "Maybe Fraulein Tawner is right. Maybe I am growing soft."
Franz shrugged. "I've got sore muscles and a few bruises that would suggest otherwise."
They both laughed at that. "This team is nothing like what I inherited. The former head coach is my assistant. The general manager is gone for sticking his dick in someone he shouldn't. And getting caught." She smiled to herself. "And now one of my captains is resigning his position." She nodded and turned back. "This is exciting, Franz."
"You think so?"
"Let's make it a full switch." She paced in front of the Doberman. "You and Vance are still some of my best players. You both are what remains of that pack nonsense. I'm thinking we need two new captains."
"Oliver won't be happy about that."
She shrugged. "When have I ever cared about that?" Franz couldn't disagree. "That's my decision. If you're stepping away, I want you to focus on your playing twice as hard. Einverstanden?"
This pleased the hybrid. "I'll let Vance know the news."
"No. Let me. He'll take it better."
"Fine." She stopped by the table and took up her drink. "But don't tell the rest of the team. I'd like to select two new captains before we spread the news."
"You want to do this now? I figured doing this after the playoffs would be best."
"When have I ever been about playing it safe?" She sucked down the rest of her lemonade in one gulp. "We'll bring back confidence in this team. We'll show them that nothing will stop us. New playoffs, new team."
Franz grinned. "If that's how you want to play it, I have a suggestion for the new captains."
"If I know you well enough, Franz," setting down the glass, "we have just the two players in mind."
Hildegard approached the conference room of Merrill Palace, a room she rarely used, both of her players in tow. With the season over and the postseason on the near horizon, the only sounds were those of preparation from the building's crew. With Filippo gone, she was called to pull double duty in overseeing sprucing up the arena, but she loved it. There was still a silence to this part of the building that she craved.
Twirling the keys to the room around her finger, she stopped in front of the door. The tumblers clicked into place as she shoved the key in. Opening the door, she saw the clean white room, the glass oval table suitable for about two dozen people, the black office chairs carefully crafted and arranged to impress anyone the team entertained and deemed worthy enough for a meeting, the appropriately kitschy Typhoons paraphernalia arranged on the walls and preserved behind locked glass. Today, she had just two other people important enough for the conference room.
Rosalie Smoot followed close to her coach. Always an early riser by nature, she was a regular sight in the early morning at the arena. Coach Tetreault's invitation - more like an ultimatum than an invitation, really, Rosalie thought - was typically terse. The bison didn't know what this was about, but with a playoff run looming a coach calling a meeting with one of her starters was not unexpected. She poured herself a cup of coffee from the carafe on the side table and took a seat in one of the plush seats.
Narkissa Kassius huffed softly as she walked with her coach toward the conference room, the ring-tail lemur silent with an expression of anxiousness on her face. She's not used to being in this part of the Merrill Palace; she is just a player for the team, not some valued suit that would be more fitting for the VIP suites and corporate board rooms. She brushed back several strands of her red hair that fell along her face and her tail dragged along behind her, barely touching the floor. The news of Filippo's departure surprised her, but she has more direct and personal matters to deal with, namely the playoffs and their upcoming series against the Moonshiners. She stopped by the door to the room. "What are we doing here?" She entered the room without waiting for a response however and sup-nods at Rosalie before taking a seat to sit on.
Hildegard stood at the end of the table with her hands on her hips. "Well, guten Morgen to you too." She donned her usual knowing smile and headed for the coffee herself. She poured herself a cup of dark roast and put nothing into it. Each of the mugs were plastered with more Tallahassee propaganda that made the hybrid chuckle. She wore a black pantsuit today, a color she didn't normally go for. "What you are doing here is hearing a proposition I have, that's what." She remained standing as she looked to her players.
"A proposition?" Narkissa's tail curled up a bit in response, and she leaned back on her seat while crossing her arms. She looked back at Hildegard, wondering what her coach has planned this time. Hopefully not involving that tank.
Rosalie eyed her coach suspiciously. All year long, Hildegard had been pushing her harder with every day that passed. The hybrid had driven Rosalie to depths even she didn't know she had, and she was proud she had risen to meet every challenge. "What kind of proposition?"
She sipped once more and set the mug down on the table with a heavy clunk. "I think it is safe to say that in the last five years, few teams have had the same kind of personnel shift as we have, wouldn't you agree?"
Rosalie snorted. "That's one way of putting it." The circumstances of Arango's resignation were something she preferred not to think about; it only made her angry.
Hildegard chuckled. "I didn't come to this team under good terms either." She began to pace. "Tallahassee is certainly not the team it used to be, and I think that is a good thing." She stopped behind Narkissa. "You two are some of the best decisions to come about in these past few years."
Rosalie's expression remained mostly impassive, but inside she beamed. That was high praise coming from Hildegard.
Narkissa's left ear twitch and even though Hildegard's behind her, she kept facing forward as she listened. "No, the Dawg Pack is pretty much no more."
"Und that is something I have worked toward." She stuck her chin up a little. "I expect to be at the top of the pack, but I realize this isn't something that has been helpful. I've tried to relent a little." She walked back to head of the table. "There is one more shift in management the rest of the team hasn't heard yet."
Something itched at the back of Rosalie's mind. "Another change?" Something that important ought to be shared with more than herself and Narkissa. "Why are you telling us before the rest of the team?"
"For gut reason." She crossed her arms. "Franz und Oliver are no longer the captains of this team."
Rosalie sat bolt upright. "What? Franz has been captain since...heck, it's been years."
This time, Narkissa's ears didn't twitch but rather perked up along with her expression. Her tail flicked in surprise, hitting one of the other chairs. She looked up and at Hildegard, her eyes widening. "Wait, what?" She tensed up, confused and not exactly connecting the dots of their presence in this room just yet. "But Franz is the face of the team!"
"Yes, something that both he and I have talked about at length. He has been a poster child for many years, and quite frankly, he is tired." She went to pick up her cup but stopped. "Franz has always been a man to promote the team before himself, and with his new family, he's felt the pressure of that spotlight."
"He's not retiring, is he? I think he still got a few years left in him." Narkissa's ears pinned back.
"No, he's got much playing left in him," Hildegard said.
Rosalie sat back a little. She could certainly sympathize with the pressures of a young family. She knew how much Franz loved Tanya and Elsa.
Hildegard continued, "With Franz stepping back his role, I thought it favorable to take Oliver out of the picture as well to focus on his playing." Her smile crept back onto her dark muzzle. "Und that is why you two are here."
Narkissa blinked her eyes a few times, the gears inside her mind whirring loudly as realization sunk in.
The itching in Rosalie's mind grew. Franz and Oliver were out. The team would need a new captain, or two. And Hildegard had called them in to speak to them privately.
The bison and lemur said in unison, "You want us to be captains?"
Hildegard just smiled in response, letting her sharp teeth glimmer.
The two players shared the excitement. "Why us?"
"The most driven player on the team and the best sixth fur in this league? Why wouldn't I pick you two?" She pointed out to the court. "Who on this team is more suited for the job than you two?" She didn't sound angry, though her words were direct. "You two know this team better than most, und you have not been here as long as others have. You're adaptable, strong. You do not take losses kindly."
Rosalie was buzzing. Captain! Her normally stoic expression was gone, her face in a delirious smile. Already she was thinking of plays and drills and ways to shore up the defense, but she was afraid of getting too far ahead of herself. "Starting when?" she asked cautiously.
Narkissa went silent again, but she digested in Hildegard's words carefully, realizing that she was right. "I assume you want us to take those roles immediately."
"Ja. You start now," she said simply. She finally picked up her coffee cup and took a long drink. "Wir made it to the playoffs. You two will lead your teammates."
Rosalie thought about what her new role would mean. It would be a big responsibility, but it was the recognition she yearned for, and a big fat middle finger to all the detractors from the empty ranges of Wyoming and Biloxi to boot. She had worked harder than anyone to get where she was, fought every step of the way, and never taken chips from anyone. Hell yeah she had earned it!
But it would also mean more time working, less time with Eleanor and Bart. Yet in the same moment that thought occurred to the bison, she knew with certainty she didn't even have to ask to know their opinion. They'd call her crazy for even considering NOT taking the role. Eleanor would remind her she was almost 10 and that Rosalie didn't have to worry about her all the time - not that that would ever stop Rosalie, of course. Bart would laud her with praise and reminders that this was the potential he'd seen in his wife from the day they met, all the while smiling that maniacal hyena smile.
Rosalie had never been one to back down a challenge, and she knew that was what Hildegard was counting on. She stood up, her bulk looming over the table. "You can rely on us."
Narkissa huffed loudly, but it was a more dragged out sound than her usual. She had been playing from the bench for so long that she struggled to ease her mind into having the responsibilities of being not just a starter but also as a co-captain. Her rookie year in the FBA was more than rough. It was torture as she was reserve filler and didn't break out until late in her second year after her long-term knee injury. She looked back at Hildegard and wondered if this was her plan all along, why she placed her as starting shooting guard or point guard and then putting her back on bench, rinse and repeat. It was to prepare her. She looked at Rosalie and admired her confidence, and finally she nodded and stood up also. "Let's do this."
Hildegard laughed loudly and slapped the table. "That is why I chose you two!" She scooped up her cup and held it out. "To Tallahassee!"
Rosalie raised her cup as well. "To the Future!"
Narkissa looked around a bit awkwardly since she didn't have a cup, but she shrugged and grinned. "To the Typhoons!"
They all drank their coffee down, except Narkissa. "This coffee is awful." Hildegard set her cup down. She thrust her hands in her pockets and again felt the keys. They signified something important to her, but she kept that out of her mind for now. "You two, we are going out to celebrate."
Rosalie looked at her mug. She hadn't thought it was that bad, but Bart often accused her of having an unrefined palate.
Narkissa finally beamed with a smile. "Awesome! We'll do our best and earn that championship ring."
Hildegard nodded. "Our hands are light. We could use those rings, ja?"
"Absolutely!" Rosalie boomed.
"Yeah, heh." Narkissa went from rookie reserve fodder to co-captain. Not bad, she thought to herself.
"When do we tell the rest of the team?" Rosalie said.
"At the playoff party at my house." Hildegard had a habit of throwing get-togethers when there was something worth celebrating. "But tonight, just the three of us." She looked at Rosalie. "I called Bart und told him you would be busy, but you have to tell him the good news yourself."
"Believe me, I will." More than anything else, Rosalie could not wait to share the news with Eleanor and Bart.
Hildegard ushered them out; she seemed keen on celebrating the good news. Moreover, she felt happy that they accepted their new roles. It didn't feel like a complete package without the two and their unique playstyles. She stopped at the door before exiting. "You two earned this. Verstehen? I made this decision because it is what the team needs."
"We won't let you down, coach." If someone like Hildegard has this much confidence in them, then that said volumes about how much they should have confidence in themselves. Narkissa walked out of the room, her tail more active than it was just minutes ago.
Rosalie followed, letting Narkissa's strobed tail guide her on autopilot. Already her mind was far away, thinking about the playoffs to come. Things were looking bright.
"Gut!" She locked the door and caught up. She clapped her hands on their shoulders and dug her flawless, painted claws into them a little. "Because you will not believe how many laps you two will be running if I don't get that ring."
The new co-captains collectively groaned.
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