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yours to hold it high (from failing hands)

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Carey likes to take the window seat on road trips.

Partly this is for the sake of looking out, and seeing the world pass quietly by.

On short trips, he loves to look out the bus windows and watch the traffic flashing past, the cities bustling, bursting with people, normal people with normal concerns and normal lives, whom he feels simultaneously connected to and distant from, the contradiction sparking tingly little breaths from thoughts he doesn’t feel meant to have. He loves when their travels take them outside the cities, through the lush green trees in spring, bursting with animal life he can only ever get brief glimpses of, and count himself lucky; the fall forest, aflame with more colours than seem real or possible, the voiceless rage of the coming slumber conveyed in a riot of protesting reds and yellows; the winter woods, silently covered in snow, playing dead and biding their time, the occasional pine flashing innocuously through his field of view amongst the deathly twisting branches, full against the barrenness.

On longer trips, it’s a plane, but he loves it the same way. Flying west in the daytime, watching green and lakes and rivers turn to circular fields, corners dead and crying out for sprinklers; mountains, huge and textured, cradling cities whose skyscrapers are just specks on the landscape; desert, dry and empty and strangely magnetic. Flying east towards dawn, when the condensation between the panes of plexiglass gradually freezes into crystal spikes as the sky brightens all around them. Flying south at night, watching the gold and silver and bronze of the city lights fade in and out over land, ruby-studded glitter disappearing behind them and replaced with new; searching for the tiny lights of ships over the ocean, gazing up at the stars and naming the constellations like old friends.

He doesn’t have many old friends left on these road trips now, which is part - maybe a lot - of the reason he prefers to sit by the window. There, he can look out at ever-changing scenes, the beauty of nature and of strangers he’ll never meet, and he can ignore the ugliness inside with him, his own disappointment and the strangers he’s supposed to come to like. He can be entranced or fake it, and it’s an excuse to ignore anyone who tries to talk to him, to turn his back and give the coldest shoulder to deter anyone from sitting next to him.

He wasn’t always this way, but Montréal has worn at him, embraced him and beaten him down and embraced him again, until he no longer knows which he’s expecting, only that both are inevitable. For that matter, he’s not sure anymore which bothers him the most.

There was a time that on the ice he had friends, and life, and fight. Now all he has on the ice is technical precision: his life is at home with wife and daughter and dogs; his friends are gone, through no fault of his own and with nothing he could do; the fight has gone out of him, the passion, the want, the need. What’s left feels empty, barren as the desert, and he knows enough to be sure that he doesn’t have the courage to face that head-on anymore.

The team gave him a chance and they give him a paycheck that’ll keep his family comfortable for a lifetime, but they’ve wasted him at every opportunity. Bad coaching, bad rosters, bad trainers, bad luck, and now all the feeling he has left is for the fans and Madame Béliveau. Sometimes this kindles something in him that he thought was lost long ago, but it always fades again in time, looking out of windows, silent and unapproachable.

Still, on the ice it’s something. Seeing her there, vibrant and unshakable, takes him back to 2014, when the team was unstoppable and the world seemed fresh and new with every season. Carey was valued as a person, then, not only as a player, and when Dryden handed him the torch he raised it to everyone, to management, team, fans, and especially Madame Béliveau, vowing fiercely to never let any of them down.

Some of them have let him down, now. But maybe that was always going to happen.

PK would have been able to keep Carey together, maybe, with his intense love for the city and its people and the team, with his intense determination to win at least once for them all, with his vitality and his charm and his constant high spirits. But PK isn’t here anymore. And Webs is a good captain, strong and steady and unassuming, but he can’t help Carey - if he’s even noticed Carey needs help. Being a goalie is a blessing and a curse that way; people will never try to get close to him if he doesn’t invite them.

Patches, too, might have been able to do something for him, calm and cool and kind as he is, but he’s not here either. And Tatar is already getting along with the fans, but he’s still uncertain in the locker room, feeling out the place where he belongs around the edges of his nameplate.

Carey is shaken from his reverie by someone sitting next to him, sighing heavily. He wants to ignore this but he knows who it is. He turns away from the window.

Gally looks at him with dark-circled eyes, choking on years’ worth of words, the sting of another loss warring with the bitter ache of loneliness across his face. This isn’t the Gally that Carey knows so well, the quick-witted prankster who’s never been able to confine his pestering to their opponents. “I’m so tired, Pricey,” he says. In his voice there’s a heart that’s re-broken so many times it can never quite be whole again.

“Me, too,” Carey says, quietly, and the two of them lean on each other the rest of the flight, desperate to keep their torches lit just a little longer.