Chapter 20: Starve the Fire Adam's POV

      Charlie skates up to the centerline. Coach blows the whistle for the face-off. He gets the puck, but I quickly steal it after he passes to Russ. I skate towards Goldberg, who is the goalie for the other scrimmage team. I'm about to take my shot when Fulton checks me into the boards. He passes the puck to Luis, who skates at breakneck speed to my team's goal. Julie saves it, and sends it back out to Guy. Guy brings it down my way, and fakes once. He passes to me. I fake once…twice…three times…it's in! I've finally perfected Charlie's triple deke.

      "Banks in, Robertson you're on." Coach calls from the bench. I skate in and take a swig of my water. Averman is sitting a good two feet away from me on the bench, and keeps glancing at me with an odd look on his face.

      It's been like this for two days.  Two days of awkward silence in the locker room, two days of vicious checking at practice.  Two days that our lunch table has been divided, and two days that the uneasy wondering of the fate of the Ducks has been hanging over our heads.

      I don't know what I want. I guess I just want the Ducks to be like we were after the Junior Goodwill Games. It shouldn't matter who is dating whom- private lives should be kept private. I mean, no one objects to Luis and his cheerleader, or Connie and Guy, or Julie and Scooter…and nobody (except me) objected to Charlie and Linda during the brief period that they were together. Fulton and Portman and Charlie and I should be no different.

      What amazes me is the way that nobody seems to know. The Ducks actually kept quiet. I know that if one person had told someone else, it would be all over the school, and Varsity would be on our tails. When I was part of that team, I'd watched them torture this gay guy Will. Will was a senior. How bad would they be to a bunch of freshmen? I don't want to know.

      Charlie's more hurt by the Ducks' intolerance than I am. With good reason, too. I'm used to being the outcast and a scapegoat. I was the Hawk, and the Varsity player. I think that for a lot of them, I still am. But Charlie…no. He's the real Minnesota miracle man, as he had told me Bombay called him. He still wears the "C" on his jersey, but it's lost all meaning for him. He says it stands for Charlie.

      I'd heard Connie make a more derogatory remark about it's meaning today, but I'm never going to repeat it to anyone.

      Charlie scores and his team cheers. All but Averman. On the bench next to me, he stays silent. I lower my head. Some of the stuff that you learn about people that you care about really sucks.

      Coach Orion calls us onto the ice. We gather around him in a circle.

      "Okay, Ducks. I don't know what's going on today, but I don't like it. You've had a hell of a practice today, but there's no communication. Usually, you're all talk and no play. We're going to work on that tomorrow."

      He puts his hand into the center of our circle.

      I look up at Charlie. We had managed to avoid this yesterday, but it looks like we won't be that lucky today.

      The thirteen of us put our hands in. Mine brushes Goldberg's, and he quickly snatches it away. He gives me a mortified glance. I return it with an icy glare and set my hand on top of Fulton's.

      "Quack, quack, quack…" The Coach starts the chant.

      I reluctantly go along with him. We're much quieter than usual.

      "Quack, quack, quack, quack…"

      Charlie looks as if he's going to cry.

      "Gooooo Ducks!" Coach Orion is the only one to yell the last bit.

      Our team breaks apart, skating towards the locker rooms. Portman pats Charlie on the back. I can hear our Captain sniffling as he passes me.

      I know Charlie won't give up. I won't let him.

      Because Ducks never say die.

- + - + -

Author's note: Yes, this is the end of our epic fic. But don't worry, dedicated fans! (Ha) Star and I have had so much fun working together, we're going to write a sequel! Also, we can't leave the end like this...that would be evil. Anyway, look for the sequel, it should be hitting your computer soon.

Another note:  The sequel is called "Snow" and is uploaded by Victory Thru Tears.  Go look for it!