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by s.a.


Charlie's a good man.

He knows this because everyone he knows has told him once or twice. Ever since he was a kid, and he somehow managed to get lucky enough to be a Duck.

He also knows that he probably wouldn't be half the man he is if it weren't for the Ducks, and for Coach. He's seen kids with single moms who are serious assholes, and it freaks him out a little that he could have been one of those guys. He could have been Fulmer, before Fulmer became a Duck.

Coach, though. Coach is at the center of it all. Coach has been more of a dad to him than anyone else, and it's an unspoken understanding between Charlie, his mom, and Coach that they're a family, but not really. Charlie figures the name Coach is close to Dad, especially in his case  because whenever Coach is in town he goes to dinner with them all the time, even though he isn't dating Charlie's mom anymore.

Charlie really hates change, even though that's all the world seems to throw at him. He likes having a routine, a way things are done. He likes going to his place and knowing his friends and how everyone's going to hang out and what the jokes are gonna be.

He can remember every single thing he felt every time one of the Big Things happened. The first was Coach leaving for the minors; he'd overheard his mom talking to Grandma one night, about how he was so attached to Coach, and he guessed he was because it hurt like hell when Coach left. Everyone left that summer, and he and Adam hung out all the time, shooting pucks and wishing it were the on-season.

The second thing was when Coach came back, and it was like it was before, only different, 'cause Coach had busted out his knee and was a lot more cautious, about everything. He made Charlie be cautious, not really by saying anything, but Charlie sort of imitated Coach, and his mom noticed Charlie's change of demeanor with a weird little smile.

The third thing was the freakin' Junior Goodwill Games. The *Goodwill Games,* man, the big honking deal that it was. It was Goodwill, and the new team members, and losing some of the old team members. Charlie remembers that half-year in a crazy haze where everything blurred together with a couple of bright spots. The first was kissing a girl for the first time. She was from England, and he never saw her again. The second was being an assistant coach, which he knows was the best thing he ever did.

And then...there was school. Prissy, uptight private school. He hated it. Like, sheer, unadulterated hate. He did well enough in his other schools to pass with straight B's, even though his mom thought he could do better. But here, he wasn't prepared for the schoolwork, or the social world, or whatever. It just wasn't his scene.

Except, they kind of made it their scene, like they always did. The team was his family, his closest friends. They made themselves fit, at least a little, and even when Charlie almost broke, they just brushed it off and dealt with it. Everyone stayed through school, and he had a girlfriend for a while, and somehow they managed to pass while kicking ass in the JV playoffs, making it to Varsity after all the assholes graduated.

So here he is, at the fifth big thing in his life. He's graduating this afternoon, and his mom has come out to see him, and Coach is out there too, and all he can do is stand in the bathroom looking at himself in the mirror, flicking that damn tassel out of his eyes.

He's a good man. Really. He takes care of his friends and his family, he's graduating, and he hasn't beaten up anyone in over a year.

He just doesn't know why he has to keep repeating over and over in his mind that he's a good man, a good guy. Well, maybe he does. Because he's gotta remember that he'll be okay, even though everything's changing again, *again,* and he can't stop it this time.

Fulmer's going into the minors, and there's a line out for the majors too. A couple of the guys have jobs lined up with some of the junior hockey teams back home; everyone else is going to college, especially Adam, whose dad is making him "do something with his life" even though all he really wants to do is go into the minors with Fulmer. And he could do it, too, if Charlie took five minutes to convince him. Which he should, but he hasn't yet. He figures he has the summer.

He's going to college in the fall. Coach and his mom helped him--well, made him--do all the paperwork, and he got into one of the few private schools in the state with a hockey league. It's the same school Adam's going to, if he goes, which will be cool, but not if he's there alone. Besides, he already knows what he wants to do, and you don't need a degree to do it. He's known since the Ducks were first named that he was going to be a coach. Like Coach. Which is kind of confusing in his head, but at least he doesn't have to say it out loud.

Deep breath. Good man. Another deep breath, and his mantra. There's a sharp rap at the door, and Charlie starts, turning to see Coach there. He pokes his head through the door and asks Charlie what the hell he's waiting for, that the seniors were about to march out to their seats, and if he didn't
hurry he might not graduate. Of course, Coach says all this with that smiling thing he did with his eyes but not his mouth, so Charlie nods and steps towards the door--but then he stops.

Coach frowns with his eyes, and Charlie knows that not a lot of people can tell the difference. He can. Coach claps him on the shoulder, and gently pushes him towards the door, moving his arm to pull Charlie into that weird shoulder-hug, and Charlie just slumps there for a second.

Charlie knows it will be okay, though, because Coach catches his eye in the mirror and reaches up to tousle Charlie's hair. Coach is a good man, too.