A/N: So this is it. All good (and appallingly bad) things must come to an end, so we can all now give a collective sigh of relief that it's Defiance is a Hard Game's turn. Thank you to all my stoical readers that have put up with me over the year plus this story's seventeen chapters have taken me to write.
Dedication: This chapter is for all the Adam supporters out there, but especially for BanksiesBabe99, who's been reading from the very beginning and has been rooting for a Charlie/Adam reconciliation for about the same amount of time. :-)
And special thanks to Ice Cube. I blame her and her rather amusing pestering for this story being completed. Love you, dearest, and thanks.
This is the first time I've ever completed a multichaptered story (I'm sure you all would never have guessed), so before I get too emotional to manage it, here it is. Chapter Seventeen, in all it's melodramatic glory!
Charlie cheered hoarsely as Julie the Cat just managed to save a goal and shifted slightly, grimacing as pain shot up through his right ankle. He had taken his skates off and had propped his leg up on the bench next to him, cautiously pressing an icepack to his injured foot, desperately trying to keep an eye on the game whilst still casting the injury that prevented him from playing critical glares.
Typical. It was absolutely typical. First game of the season and he was already out of it. An illegal check which the bastard hadn't even been called up for by the blind ref, and his throbbing foot was "only twisted". Charlie cast Bombay a sulky glance. His ankle certainly didn't feel "only twisted", though Bombay, after much excruciating prodding and turning, had casually decided fit to call it so, unceremoniously throwing Charlie the icepack after helping him off the ice and back to the stands.
So here he was, helplessly watching his team lose from the rink side, and a stupid "only twisted" ankle to blame for it all. But still, Charlie was happier than he had been in a long time, though that wasn't much to go by, past events taken into account.
The police hadn't got John Reily, the man having vanished into thin air by the time they had arrived on that Friday morning, but that was a mere technicality. Even a week later, the fact that the man was out of his life forever couldn't fail to bring a small smile to Charlie's face. The Ducks enjoyed the return of their freedom with renewed vigour and the whole situation was made doubly sweet by Bombay's agreement to stay on as temporary coach until a new one could be found.
Of course, there were still painful reminders of Reily's time spent at Eden Hall, reminders which would take time and patience to disappear completely. The bruise which marred Charlie's face had only just begun to fade, and it was still an uncomfortable point of gossip around the school. He was stared at in the corridors, in the dining hall, in the classrooms, and he knew that they were talking about him, teachers and pupils alike, and he could only hope that he wouldn't be forever known as the boy that was abused and pitied for it. Already his grades had inched fractionally higher – something he certainly hadn't asked for – and, looking around now, he had never seen the ice rink so packed full of people for just an ordinary league game, all cheering for the Ducks, all cheering for him. It rankled him: he hadn't deserved this recognition before being hit, so why should Reily's animosity towards him make things change? It was as if he was benefiting from his old coach, indebted to him, and the very thought made Charlie want to throw up.
The sound of the half time bell cut through his thoughts and he jerked his head up as his friends made their way off the ice, immediately regretting the quick action as his foot shifted slightly, causing a sharp stab of pain to resonate up his leg.
"Hey, dude." Fulton skidded up to the boards and leant his big body over them. "How's the ankle?"
A pause. "You sure?"
Charlie shut his eyes and nodded once in affirmation, biting back an angry retort. Fulton didn't mean anything by his query, but it just highlighted another thing that had changed. A week ago, Fulton wouldn't have pressed, wouldn't have asked again, wouldn't have questioned his Captain's words. But now he did, they all did, and Charlie didn't know whether it was because of some vestige need to protect him, or whether it was because they simply didn't trust him anymore – couldn't, after his silence concerning Reily's actions towards him.
The only one who didn't do it was Banks – but he hardly spoke to him at all anymore, so it didn't really count. Banks just stared at him, an undecipherable emotion in his blue eyes. Occasionally, when Charlie looked at him pointedly, eyebrows raised, the other boy would open his mouth as if to say something, then shut it fast and look away. But not for long. Whenever Charlie would next glance his way, the blue eyes would always be fixed on him again from across the room. It was unsettling and Charlie just wanted to yell at him, or hit him, or hug him, or… or something. Maybe talk to him? He simply didn't know, was only aware of the fact that whatever it was between them would have to change. And soon. He couldn't take the awkward silences in their dorm room anymore. Maybe one of the other guys would swap with him?
It was strangely painful having to sit through the halftime pep talk without actually having to listen because he wasn't playing. It wasn't even like the time in the Goodwill Games when he had been Assistant Coach, though that had been secretly bad enough. This time, he didn't even feel capable of giving any directions, though Bombay covered pretty much everything anyway.
Slowly, wincing slightly, he stood up and hobbled his way to the door, careful not to trip up over any discarded hockey equipment.
"Charlie, are you okay?"
He stopped and leant against the plexiglass, gritting his teeth slightly. "I'm fine," he replied shortly. "Just going to the bathroom." He didn't need to turn around to know that they were all staring at him.
A long pause, the shouts and calls from the crowd ringing in his ears strangely muted, then a hand tentatively touched his shoulder.
"Let me take you. You don't want to do anymore damage to your foot, Spazway. Come on, lean on me."
Charlie turned his head slightly and regarded the other boy. Adam had a determined set to his jaw, his gaze strong and steady, but the quaver in his soft voice belied him and revealed his fear of rejection. Charlie could simply ignore him and walk – hobble – on, but he didn't. Instead, he sighed and allowed his right arm to be manhandled over Adam's neck, and together they exited the team box, making slow but steady progress towards the changing rooms.
When they reached the blue painted doors, Adam pushed them open, allowing Charlie to move in front of him, then stood in the doorway, watching his Captain with an unsure expression on his face. Charlie ignored him and went into the walled off toilet section, relieved himself, then limped back out into the main area and sat down at one of the benches, bringing his foot up and pressing at it tenderly.
"Yeah?" He didn't look up.
"We need to talk."
He nodded slightly. "We do."
There was an awkward silence, then Adam, still in his skates, clomped his way over and sat next to him.
There was a long pause. Then: "Charlie, I've done some stuff I haven't been proud of over the last few weeks. Said some stuff to you that perhaps came out in the wrong way and I…"
"Don't." A fierce whisper.
"What?" Adam was confused and removed his eyes from where they had been firmly fixed on his hands to glance up at his Captain.
"Don't apologise to me. Too many damn people have been doing that over the last few days."
"Because of him?"
Charlie could have screamed his frustration. "Him? Whose him, Cake Eater? Do you mean John Reily?" he spat the words. "Our old coach? The guy who hit me? That him?"
Adam was still for a moment. "A lot of people been doing that too?"
Charlie let out a harsh laugh. "You might say so. With all the conversations I've had with the Dean since Friday, I don't think I've heard him say John Reily once. Why don't we just call him he-who-must-not-be-fucking-named and be done with it?"
Adam shook his head sadly. "You haven't talked to anyone about this, have you?"
Charlie paused, his anger leaving him. "Who do I have left to tell?" he asked softly, his eyes finding the floor.
"'Who do you…?' God, Charlie, you have the entire team! You have Bombay! You have the school shrink, if you're that desperate!" He paused and drew in a deep breath. "You have me," he finished, quietly.
Charlie looked up at him, their eyes meeting for a long moment; Adam was the first to look away.
"Things haven't been that great between us for a while now, Banksie, in case you hadn't noticed," Charlie remarked, wryly. He turned to inspect his foot again, his voice coming out muffled. "And things are hardly any better with the team. They act like they're scared I'm going to break if they say the wrong thing, or if I go unescorted to a classroom." He laughed slightly, then sobered once more. "And I've talked to Bombay… sort of. I just can't seem to…" He sighed. "It's difficult."
"But what if you…"
The sound of a whistle sharply blown interrupted them and they both looked towards the door. There was a heavy pause.
"Go," Charlie intoned, returning to his foot. "I'll be back to watch in a moment."
Adam hesitated, torn. "Charlie, listen, I…"
"It's okay," Charlie said, wondering if the statement sounded as false to Banks as it did to him. "Go." A slight smile. "We're losing remember."
Adam slowly got to his feet and looked down at his Captain once more, before nodding and making his way to the door. "I'll see you out there," he said, unhappily.
And the door swung open and Adam was gone, leaving Charlie alone with his miserable thoughts once more.
"Alright, Banks, Portman, Fulton, Germaine and Russ. You're up."
Adam sat on the team bench, his eyes focused on the door to the changing rooms. It had been five minutes and still Charlie hadn't shown up like he'd said he would. Adam had an inexplicable churning ball of worry in the pit of his stomach, and whatever rationale he put to it (Charlie's ankle was hurting him, Charlie had lost track of time, Charlie'd got fed up and had gone back to the dorm), it still refused to budge.
Adam's head jerked up, looked from his Coach to the ice, then back again, nodded, and got up, shaking the thoughts of Charlie from his head. They were two goals down after all, and he needed all his concentration on the game if they were going to have a hope of winning it.
Out on the ice though, things didn't get any better. More often than not, his eyes were fixed in the direction of the changing rooms instead of on the puck. His shot was off and his single attempt at a steal had gone so badly that it was embarrassing. Where the hell was Charlie?
Bombay signalled for timeout and the whistle was blown. The other Ducks on the ice began skating towards their Coach, but Adam didn't move, his eyes flickering nervously from his team to the changing room doors, then back again, unable to shake the feeling that something was terribly wrong. His heart was thudding uncomfortably loudly in his chest and the blood was roaring in his ears, and, with a moment's contemplation, he knew what he was going to do. Knew how utterly foolish he was being, but didn't care. Knew that he couldn't stop himself.
"To hell with this," he murmured, and slipped his helmet off, casting an apologetic glance at Bombay who was watching him with a bemused expression on his face, then began skating full speed towards the exit, ignoring the confused shouts from his friends.
Once off the ice, he didn't stop, momentum and an insane panic carrying him forwards, shoving bodily through a couple of people, jogging in his skates until he was at the changing room doors. Pushing through them, he paused, his gut twisting painfully when a quick survey of the room told him what he had been dreading: no Charlie.
"Spazway?" he called loudly, panting, hoping against hope that the other boy would answer, hoping he was in the toilet, or hidden in a damn locker… anything. But there was no reply.
Hurriedly, Adam sat down on the bench he had left Charlie sitting on and began pulling off his skates, not fully understanding the cause of the fear which was almost choking him. Then, clad only in socks, he ran out of the room and into the foyer, disconcerted to find it empty and void of human life. Of course, everyone would be at the game.
Slipping and sliding across the polished floor, he exited the ice rink house and stared about him with wide eyes, his hands shaking almost imperceptibly.
"Charlie!" he yelled. An awful silence greeted his call. "Charlie!" he choked out again, his image blurring.
He began running again, this time to the main building, his wool clad feet soaking up the mud and dampness from the ground beneath him, incomprehensible panic eating away at him. As he passed the car park en route to the dormitories, a flicker of movement caught his eye and he paused, chest heaving, sucking in needed oxygen to his lungs, surveying the area in a glance.
Then he froze, and looked closer, a gasp escaping his lips as dreaded understanding of what he was seeing flickered through his mind. He stood still for a couple of heartbeats, arms dangling loosely at his sides, mouth opened slightly in disbelief, unable to compel his numbed limbs into moving, helpless to do anything about the drama unfolding below him. Then, suddenly, feeling returned with a rush and he was immediately sprinting down the grassy slope, heart thudding dully in his mouth, fear and adrenaline threatening to consume him.
"Stop!" he gasped, still running, his call almost entirely masked by the fevered shouts and sounds of struggle which got steadily louder the nearer he got to the centre of the car park. "Let him go!"
There was an awful pause as Adam skidded to a halt, stubbornly ignoring the cramp in his side, eyes fixed steadily on the two people in front of him. "Let him go!" he spat, grinding out the repeated words with such fierceness that the man in front of him looked slightly taken aback.
Then Reily smiled cruelly, the arm he had around Charlie's chest tightening, making the boy struggle weakly and gasp in protest. "Why should I?" he asked softly. "Your Captain and I need to have a little talk, so why don't you go back to the game like the good little boy you are, Banks?"
Adam stood staring at his old coach, disbelief and anger and fear and worry and confusion all battling inside of his tired mind. He didn't know what had possessed him to run down here without even considering what he was going to do about the situation first. All he had seen was John Reily forcing his best friend towards a dark green car, one large hand around his throat, the other arm locked around his body, effectively strangling any protests, and he had known immediately that he'd have to act fast. Charlie was pale and sweating, his blue eyes wide with insurpressable fear, his injured leg dragging over the tarmac uselessly and the other scrabbling to get some sort of purchase, his nails digging in to the hand about his neck, his knuckles white with tension.
"Adam –" Charlie managed to choke out before he was jerked backwards into his old Coach's chest, the painful movement effectively shutting him up.
Adam held his friend's eyes for a moment, then straightened, hands clenched into defiant fists at his side, teeth gritted in hatred of the man before him. "Let him go, Coach."
Reily's face darkened and he smiled. "Are you going to try and make me, Banks?" he asked, dark humour coating his words. He dragged Charlie another couple of steps, then threw him against the side of the dark green BMW, eliciting a muffled cry of pain from the boy who immediately tried to struggle out of his reach. Reily growled slightly and encircled his neck with a large hand again, keeping him pinned, the other hand groping in his pockets for what Adam very much feared would be his keys.
Adam took a step closer. "I'm not going to make you, no." He drew a deep breath and recalled the clichéd line from every bad action movie he had ever seen. "But the police will. They told us all to keep an eye on Charlie and if he ever disappeared without saying, then we were to call them immediately, even if it ended up being a waste of their time. They're already on their way."
The hand stopped its rummaging through his jean pockets, and Reily stiffened, the fingers around Charlie's neck biting into the flesh. "You're lying," he whispered harshly.
"Care to wait another few minutes to make sure?" Adam asked quietly, his eyes locked with his old coach's. "The penalty for kidnap is a lot worse than child abuse, I'd reckon. Especially if you're caught."
Reily growled, his eyes flashing dangerously, and for one awful moment Adam thought the man had seen through his lie and he was as good as dead. But Reily paused, cast him a long, critical look, then, instead of reaching out for him like he feared, turned to Charlie instead.
"Well, Conway," he hissed, forcing the boy's body viciously into the car at his back, his mouth at his ear, his breath hot against Charlie's clammy skin, "it seems like I won't be having that little chat I promised with you quite yet."
Charlie flinched and tried to turn his head, but his neck was still gripped by the iron vice of his old coach's right hand. "Get off me," he choked.
Reily ignored him, absentmindedly rubbing his calloused thumb over the boy's frantically beating jugular, a faint smile slashing his features. "Of course," he mused softly, "I reckon I have time to teach you one last little thing before I leave." He paused and drew back slightly. "A parting gift, if you like."
And, still smiling, he raised his left hand, balled it into a fist, and smashed it into Charlie's stomach, eyes gleaming at the boy's sharp expulsion of air and grunt of pain, Banks' gasp of surprise going unrecognised behind them. Slowly, he loosened his fingers and released Charlie's neck, leaving white imprinted strips on the smooth flesh, which slowly began colouring red as the blood rushed back to fill them.
He stood back and critically eyed the boy in front of him with satisfaction, hungrily taking in his haggard expression, his slightly hunched over posture, the way he was unable to keep his hands from trembling, then turned his back on him and moved to the car door, casually digging for his keys in his back pocket.
"Sooner or later, Conway, I'll be back for you," he said, matter-of-factly. He pitched a single glance over his shoulder at Adam. "And if your rich friend here insists on interrupting again, I may just take him too."
"Fuck you!" Charlie spat from behind him, his voice a little strangled by the pain encompassing him.
John Reily just laughed, pulled out his keys, opened the car door and got in, then pulled away from the two boys standing on the concrete, one hunched over and gasping, the other silent, and drove smoothly around to the exit of the car park and disappeared without a backward glance.
Charlie made a slight sound in the back of his throat, limped slowly to the nearest car, then slid down painfully next to it, resting his back against the polished metallic paintwork and shutting his eyes.
"Fuck," he groaned quietly.
Adam was immediately at his side, down on his knees, his eyebrows drawn into a worried frown. "Jesus, Charlie," he murmured quietly. "Are you okay?" He hesitantly reached out a hand to touch his best friend's shoulder.
Charlie flinched slightly at the unexpected contact but didn't pull away. Instead, he took in a single deep breath and cracked open one of his eyes, surveying the other boy hazily.
"I've been better," he stated quietly, truthfully. "If my damn ankle was only twisted before…" he winced and shifted slightly on the rough ground, swallowing hard against a gasp of pain, "I reckon it's sprained now." He paused for a moment. "My neck's on fire and my stomach feels like it's been driven into by a tank, but apart from that…" he paused, breathy, hysterical laughter on his lips, his stomach convulsing, sending shockwaves of pain through his entire body, "…apart from that," he gasped out, "it could have been a lot worse."
He took a moment to regain control of his scattered, pain-numbed thoughts, then opened both eyes and focused solely on the other boy's face, his own expression deadly serious once more.
"Thank you, Adam," he whispered. "If you hadn't come then… then Reily would have…" He trailed off, struggling for words, and Adam saw the fear he had been concealing so well shine through his damp eyes.
"Just… thank you."
Adam nodded once in understanding and squeezed his shoulder reassuringly. "What are friends for, Charlie?" he asked lightly, but his choice of words held an undisguised meaning.
They sat in silence for a while, both wallowing in their own take of the same thoughts, the cold gradually soaking up into their bodies from the ground beneath them.
When Adam noticed that Charlie had begun shivering, he shook himself out of his reverie and stood, stretching slightly. "Come on, we better get you back. They'll be wondering where we are and you should probably get some sort of medical attention whilst we're at it."
Charlie nodded half-heartedly, and Adam bent down to help him struggle up, the cold that had settled into his joints doing nothing for his injuries and making the process even more painful. Finally, though, he was up, and the blond boy carefully draped his Captain's arm over his shoulder, taking the majority of his weight as they began making painstakingly slow progress back towards the ice rink.
"So how did it happen?" Adam asked, breaking the silence, the question he had been worrying at in the back of his mind finally breaking to the foreground. He felt Charlie stiffen slightly in confusion and hastened to explain. "Reily, I mean. How the hell did he get to you? And where? And how did he manage to get you out by the car park without anyone noticing?"
Charlie shrugged slightly. "I don't know how he got into Eden Hall. I assumed that the gate guard would be checking everyone but…" he trailed off and shook his head. "I just don't know." He paused for a moment, trying to focus his pain befuddled mind on what had been asked of him. "He found me in the changing rooms, just after you left. Covered my mouth and dragged me out the fire exit." He frowned, and looked down at the floor moving beneath their feet, his gaze dizzy. "I tried to fight him, Banks," he swallowed painfully. "But he was just so fucking strong. Maybe if I hadn't done my ankle in…" He paused again. "And I yelled. But nobody heard me. The game was too loud."
Banks nodded and they continued onwards with their awkward, hobbling walk, starting up the slight incline which led to the ice rink. It wasn't far now.
"How did the game go anyway?" Charlie ground out, desperately trying to take his mind off the various aches in his body and mind which were only sharpened by the increase in gradient. "Did we win?"
Adam made a non-committal sound in the back of his throat. "I don't know. I left the ice five minutes after half time. I knew you hadn't come out of the changing rooms and I had this really weird feeling that something was wrong. So I went looking for you."
There was a stunned silence from the other boy at his side who was looking up at him in shock.
"You left the ice? What, like, mid-game?" he asked, incredulously.
Adam blushed slightly under the intense scrutiny he was receiving. "It was timeout and it wasn't that big a deal," he protested. He grinned slightly, "Though I think Bombay was perhaps a little put out by my sudden exit."
He paused and sobered quickly, coming to a sudden halt on the road. He turned and looked at his best friend, their blue eyes meeting and locking. "I'm guessing we lost, Charlie," he said, quietly, "but I want you to know that that's the last thing on my mind at the moment. I was just so worried when you didn't turn up at the game, and when I saw you and that bastard in the car park, and when he hit you, I just…" He sighed unhappily and shook his head.
"I know you didn't want me to apologise for what I did a couple of weeks back, so I won't. I'm just going to say now how fucking wrong I was. I'm not asking you to believe me, Charlie, but I just want you to know something I only really truly realised today." He took in a deep breath and smiled. "What you mean to me and what hockey means to me aren't even comparable. I couldn't live without hockey, no, but I wouldn't want to live without you being my best friend." He paused, unable to look away from Charlie's blank face. "So, I mean, if you'd consider it and everything, do you think that we could, well, like, possibly, be best friends again?" he finished, nervously, looking hopefully up at the other boy.
Charlie just stared at him, struggling for a response.
Adam shut his eyes and turned his head away, his heart sinking rapidly in his chest. "Okay," he said, softly. "Don't worry about it. I'm sorry I even thought…"
But his words were cut off by the arms that were suddenly flung about his neck, gripping onto him tightly, their owner's damp cheek pressed against his, a flurry of indecipherable emotions flooding between them.
"Shut up, Banksie," Charlie whispered, choking back the delighted tears which were threatening to steal his words. "Just shut up."