Nobody remembered the first following or where the goalies had come from. Not even Braden Holtby, despite the power he had received when he had officially become the vessel for Slapshot. It made him remember everything from his past lives, except for the very beginning.
Because of this power, he was responsible for helping every new goalie cope with the memories that floated outside the corners of their mind, always just out of reach, except for sudden flashes of frustrating clarity.
And of course, because nothing was ever easy with the mascots and their magic, Braden couldn’t ever outright tell them about their past lives. He always had to dance around it, shrouding it in the form of a fictional story or, if the mascots were being stubborn, a song.
It was a horrible job. Sometimes it was better not to remember the person you used to be and the mistakes you had made. But it was a job that was over now. Every mascot they knew about had surfaced and found his reincarnated goalie.
Except for one.
Carter Hart had become a goalie in 1967, when the rumors of a new mascot arriving in Philadelphia had first reached them. Braden was certain of that. He had been there, as a child, watching with awestruck wonder as Carey Price had shared his power with Carter. He had watched with fear as the young man had shaken, prophecies of doom spilling forth from his lips like wine. That was the first time Braden had become aware that they were all both mortal and immortal. Living over and over again was both a blessing and a curse.
But when the mascot had finally surfaced over fifty years later, Brian Elliot had emerged instead, alone. It wasn’t unheard of for a mascot’s vessel to be alone, Henrik Lundqvist had been alone for years, but it was unusual. When a goalie was alone, he always felt like a part of him was lost, half of his missing soul drifting through the world, close enough to feel but never close enough to touch,
So you could imagine Braden’s surprise when one day Carter, back as the same young man he’d been in 1967, rushed into Washington’s headquarters, out of breath and with a worried glance over his shoulder.
“Excuse me?” Carter asked, a seemingly forced polite smile on his lips.
“Can I help you?” Braden replied, a tinge of joy sparkling in his tired eyes. It was always nice to see one of his oldest friends again, even if he didn’t remember Braden.
“I hope so. I smashed my camera,” Carter said, casting another desperate, hunted look outside the windows.
Braden stared at him in confusion before he remembered that the building they were in always turned into whatever one needed the most. At this moment, that must have been a camera shop.
“Oh, maybe we can repair it?” He suggested like he knew how to repair a camera.
“It got smashed and lost. The pieces are all lost. Gone with the wind,” Carter chuckled awkwardly, not meeting Braden’s eyes.
This was a different Carter Hart than any version of him Braden had previously known. Quiet, nervous, and already much nicer than he had been. It made Braden feel horrible about the things he was about to tell Carter about his previous lifetimes, but it was better to hear it from a friend than learn it through your nightmares. Trying to spare people from their terrible memories had backfired on Braden last time.
“Well, I’ll get you set up with a new camera. Why don’t you sit here and rest for a bit? You need to take care of yourself,” Braden said gently, pulling out a chair for Carter.
The young man took it with a grateful smile, his eyes wandering around the room. Braden noticed his eyes stopping to rest on an ancient guitar, the wood dark with a worn white pickguard.
“That belonged to my great-grandfather,” Braden said, pulling Carter out of whatever thoughts he’d been thinking, “his name was Carter.”
“Oh, well. That’s my name.” Carter finally looked up, a faint spark of knowing in his eyes. “The color is so light, what is it made of?”
Well. If there was ever a time to tell Carter a story to bring back his memories, this was it.
“An old breastbone,” Braden replied, watching Carter closely to see if it could turn the spark into a flame...
“Creepy,” was all he said. No spark, no look of recognition.
Dammit. No getting out of telling the story, then.
“It was the breastbone of his brother. His name was Tristan. I’ll tell you the story…” Braden hesitated. Last time he’d made somebody remember their horrible past lifetimes, it hadn’t ended well.
But Gritty was demanding Carter, and Braden couldn’t send a mascot a vessel that hadn’t reached its full potential.
He took a deep breath and began to tell the story as gently as he could. “Carter and Tristan lived on a farm, harvesting their crops in the moonlight. And Carter admired a man, who lived on an island. He went to his island and Carter looked at the stars through his telescope.”
“I wanted to hold his hand…”
Braden continued, ignoring Carter’s confusion at the random sentence he had just spoken. “Carter stayed with this man and soon surpassed his idol, coming up with his own method for-”
“I’m a little confused, and more than a little frightened,” Carter interrupted him, voice trembling slightly.
“It’s okay, my dear. This is a circular story,” Braden reassured him, placing a gentle hand over Carter’s.
“But the man stole his work,” Braden continued on, “He wrote down what Carter had done and published it in his name. So Carter grew to hate him. Then Tristan caught his eye. When Carter discovered his brother had taken his place as the man’s chosen student, his fury drove him into the forest. There he discovered a great bear, who he asked to maul the Astronomer and to turn his cruel brother into a sparrow. He also asked to put the corpse and the sparrow in a cave, until the sparrow started to starve and he’d have no choice but to peck out the eyes of his mentor and eat th-”
“I don’t believe any of this,” Carter interrupted again, standing up suddenly. He grabbed the counter to steady himself, his temples suddenly throbbing.
“Don’t you remember?” Braden asked, stepping around the counter to stop Carter from leaving, “The bear named his price,”
The words had barely left Braden’s lips before Carter found himself hit so hard with a memory that it made him gasp.
A bear was standing before him in a cave, talking to him, no, demanding of him.
“One pot of honey, one piece of stardust, one secret baptism, and a photo of a ghost,” the bear rasped, looking Carter over with cold and hungry eyes.
Just as quickly as it had hit, the memory faded, leaving Carter dazed and vaguely aware that Braden was speaking.
“-stole honey from a soldier,”
He had pretended to love the soldier.
“He stole the stardust from an Ancient,”
The memory was fuzzy and vague, but Carter remembered he had only pretended to care.
“And for the baptism, he stole a baby from its father, a lonely man in a mansion. He took the child into the sea, and the child was blessed.”
Carter’s head exploded as everything that had been lingering in his dreams and around the corners of his mind burst to the forefront, overwhelming and frightening him. He had killed the soldier, he had betrayed the ancient, he had even killed his own brother.
Whenever he began to grasp onto one memory, one lifetime, another hit him like a wave, choking him. He had done bad, bad things.
He ignored Braden’s worried tone and stumbled out of the camera shop. He didn’t know where he was going. He just knew he had to get far, far away from that place and the memories he didn’t want to remember.
Carter heard a faint squeak and then, a familiar and comforting voice spoke in his head with shocking clarity. “ Philadelphia,” it whispered.
Carter knew exactly where to go now.
What Braden didn’t know was that Carter had been to Philadelphia as their vessel in 1967 when the team was new. It hadn’t ended well. He had been bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, a kid of only 17 when he arrived. He didn’t know the hardships of being the lone goalie for a following, of missing half of yourself, of hearing voices beckon you.
All of this was on top of the regular troubles that came with being a fresh goalie. The sleepless nights, the adjusting to your new abilities, the sudden flashes of the future.
To say Carter was taking it badly was an understatement. He avoided everybody in their ancient mansion, only coming out of his room to drink and never touching the food that was left outside his door.
He was haunted by an unexplainable mantra. It pounded behind his eyes and echoed in his dreams. One pot of honey, one piece of stardust, one secret baptism, and a photo of a ghost…
Carter took another swig from the bottle in his hand, disappointment settling in his stomach when he realized it was the last swig left. That disappointment was quickly replaced with annoyance when he heard Kevin Hayes thundering through the halls, screaming.
“Team meeting!” He bellowed, stopping to knock on Carter’s door. “Carter, can you come out here a minute?”
Why couldn’t he have had one of his weird premonitions about this, so he could avoid Kevin? “I don’t wanna!” he replied, wincing when he heard how slurred his words sounded.
Kevin jiggled the door handle. “Carter, it’s a team meeting.”
“I was just going to go to a concert,” Carter heard Nolan Patrick grumble. He didn’t need to see him to know he was scowling.
“No, it’s a team meeting,” Kevin snapped before trying to open Carter’s door again.
“We can all go about our business later. Just sit here for a few minutes,” Claude Giroux scolded.
Great. The whole gang was outside his door now.
“But I have to be at the concert by a certain-” Carter heard the sound of somebody slapping Nolan upside the head, cutting him off.
“We can take the car into town when we’re done,” Kevin said shortly. “Hartsy, we wanted to talk to you a bit,”
“About what? I’m busy!” Carter replied but he finally opened the door in exasperation.
“Carter!” Kevin greeted him with a smile and a hug, dragging him out of the doorway so he couldn’t disappear back into his bedroom. “Well, about Brian.”
“B-Brian?” Carter stammered, caught off-guard by the question. He hadn’t realized the others had noticed when he spoke to the voice inside his head.
“If this is just about Brian, can I go?” Nolan asked.
“Could really use your support here, kid,” Kevin shot back, keeping an arm around Carter’s shoulder to hold him in place.
Nolan huffed in annoyance but remained where he was.
“What about Brian?” Carter asked, voice soft and scared.
“Remember last spring? When we cleaned out this old dump and put a bunch of things away in the east wing?” Kevin asked, his tone light and fatherly.
Carter did remember because he had touched a book that had filled him with so much dread and guilt he had choked on it.
“Well… don’t you think it’s maybe time to kind of, put Brian away too?”
“No!” Carter cried, yanking himself violently out of Kevin’s hold. He stumbled and grabbed the wall for support. He needed another drink.
“None of us have ever even seen him so…” Nolan pointed out, earning himself another slap upside the head from Claude.
“Look, Carter, it’s okay to have an imagination. I mean… I used to play with the friends in my head when I was little, sure. But you’re 18 now and we’re afraid that Brian is holding you back from bonding with the team.”
“19,” Carter corrected him.
“Carter, it’s time to grow up,” Claude interjected.
“Oh, get over yourself, Claude!” Carter huffed, turning his anger onto him.
“Ooh,” Nolan hummed, glad he had stayed now that the drama was starting.
“Look, I know who he is. He told me, Brian told me! He’s my Soulsharer, he died when I was a baby, blah blah blah. And now he’s lonely and he wants me to cross over. And yeah, that would be sad for you, but maybe that would be great for me. We don’t even have a mascot! Why am I here? I am a vessel for nothing!” Carter took a moment to catch his breath, staring intensely at the ancient hardwood floor, “Brian says that over there they don’t have TVs or any of that shit and everyone’s mind is just fine. And it’s so much better over there than all this crap. All of this getting old, and disease, and war, and famine. And... and... and like having to be alone with your stupid mind all the time.”
“Carter-” Kevin started, but Carter quickly cut him off.
“Look, I’m sorry if this is like, sad for you. But you’re all gonna be dead in 30 years. I know. I saw it. Some of you even less if you keep pissing off the wrong people,” Carter said, pointedly looking at Nolan.
“Hey!” Nolan replied, lifting his round shades to glare at Carter, “Not cool, man.”
“-and when you meet me over there you’ll see and you’ll think, god, those 30 years of being sad was just stupid, who even cares anymore because we are all soul. It’s just an eternity of soul! So why don’t you just shut up? Why don’t you let me have another fucking drink, and shut the fuck up,” Carter jabbed his finger into Kevin’s chest to drive his point home before he turned on his heel and disappeared back into his room, slamming the door behind him.
“That sure went well,” Nolan said sarcastically.
“Shut up,” Claude and Kevin said in unison, both glaring at him.
Three weeks later, Carter was gone. He vanished without a trace into the night, not to be seen or heard from again until that fateful day in 2019 when he stumbled into Washington DC.
Carter watched with bated breath as Carey Price beckoned across the dark and musty cabin to Cam Talbot. The smoke inside was overwhelming and choked his lungs, clouding his head. All the windows were closed except for the one the telescope leaned out of and a fire flickered in the center of the room.
“Look into my telescope, tell me what you see…” Carey said softly, stepping aside so Cam could lean down and gaze into it.
“I see a red star,” he replied slowly, pulling away after a moment with a confused look.
“What else?” Carey prodded.
Cam chuckled, opening his mouth to tell Carey there was nothing more to it, it was just a star, when suddenly the flames leaped higher, turning bright red as Cam’s eyes began to glow.
“I see fire in the darkness, rage against the void,” his voice was distant and Carter watched in awe as flames danced from his fingertips, “I see every time man cried out and raised his sword against god.”
Just as quickly as it had come, it was all over and Cam slumped forward, his chest heaving as the fire returned to normal. Carey smiled and stoked the fire again, looking around the circle to see who was next.
Carter followed his every move with adoration, wishing, hoping, praying, that Carey would choose him. That he would be granted forgiveness, a smile, a meaning for all of his pain.
Carey’s gaze lingered on Tristan Jarry for a moment and in that one short moment, unexplainable jealousy exploded in Carter’s chest like a bomb, sending shrapnel into his heart and opening an old wound he didn’t even remember he had.
Just as quickly as it had come, it was over when Carey beckoned to Ben Bishop, and Carter was left dazed and confused.
He wanted to hold his hand.
On a cold, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of 1883, Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray sat outside the door of their only remaining teammate, Tristan Jarry. The bleak walls and the decaying trees of the mansion did nothing to lift the utter depression of their souls. They bitterly kept up a ghost of their everyday life, but it was becoming harder each day as their hearts sank.
For six years, Tristan had kept their spirits up as their other teammates and friends had all died or slowly faded away. But now, following the loss of his son, a sickness had taken over.
The door creaked open slowly and Matt and Marc pretended to look busy, pretended to look like they hadn’t been having a silent vigil. Tristan padded quietly down the hall, headed for the nursery again. As he passed, Matt couldn’t help but notice he was wasting away. His eyes were liquid from tears, his lips were thin, his skin was sickly pale, and his hair hung sadly like the thin spiderwebs that were overtaking the house. His lips moved soundlessly as his feverish eyes searched the room for his lost son.
The mother was long gone. She’d been an author of some renown and had returned to her career without warning, leaving Tristan with the child.
“Little boy, little boy, where’s my little boy?” Tristan came back into the hall, frantic, voice hoarse and cracked with unuse. “Why did you leave me? Why did you disappear?” He cried, tears threatening to spill forth from his red-rimmed eyes.
Matt buried his face in his hands, unable to watch but he couldn’t bring himself to move.
Marc reached out for Tristan to offer him comfort, but Tristan had already vanished back into his room, a living ghost in a dying household.
There was no life left in this mansion, only astonishment and dread.
Connor Hellebuyck had gotten so used to the stench of death and the screams of his friends that nothing bothered him anymore. Not the ghosts that moaned at him and especially not the moose that haunted his dreams every night. He knew he had his coming soon, so a moose with glowing eyes and pilots goggles were the least of his worries.
“ I think you’re lonely ,” came the voice of his old captain, drifting across the wind as Connor walked to the bar in town. He wrapped his coat tighter around him and ignored the voice. So what if he was lonely? That wasn’t any big thing.
When he entered the bar, he ordered his usual drink and took his usual spot, alone in a dark corner, away from the forced merriment and fake smiles. Connor was midway through his second drink when his captain spoke again. “ Look up ,” came the whisper.
Connor obeyed and noticed a pale young man staring at him intensely from the next table. He returned his gaze to his drink. Creepy. The thought of moving tables to get away had only just entered his mind when the young man beckoned to him.
“Come here, soldier,” he beckoned lowly, with a voice smooth like honey. Connor stared into the bottom of his glass, pretending he didn’t hear the man over the dancing happening across the room.
Instead of leaving him alone, the man moved to his table and stole a long sip from his drink. “Look me in the eyes,” he said, a threat lurking in it, a wasp under all that honey.
Connor looked up, annoyed now. “What do you want?”
“If I told you that I loved you, would you give me some honey?” the young man asked, his eyes drifting to Connor’s bag.
Connor instinctually pulled the bag closer to him. Yes, he had his coming and it was just a matter of time until he died, but that honey was the only thing he had left from home. He refused to give it to anybody, no matter how charming they were. He didn’t humor the stranger with a reply, instead, he abandoned his drink, heading for the door.
He made it two steps before the stranger grabbed his wrist tightly, nails digging into the sensitive exposed flesh of Connor’s wrist.
“Come back here, soldier. Sit down in my lap. What if I told you that when I saw you, I felt a little shock? And all the stars and moons and birds and bees, and even I, began to cry and tremble?” While this charming stranger was rambling, he slowly pulled Connor closer, coaxing him into his lap.
Connor found himself obliging, his hands unsteady and his mind unsure. His heart leaped into his throat and he could feel electric pulses in his fingertips as they trembled, resting gently upon the stranger’s shoulder.
“ I told you you were lonely,” the ghostly whisper was all it took to snap Connor out of whatever daze he’d been entranced into. He jumped to his feet, clutching his bag tightly as he crossed the bar.
The stranger crashed into him this time, throwing his arms around Connor’s neck and pressing his body close to his. Connor cast a nervous glance in the direction of the dancers, but nobody was paying attention. They were all too busy faking their happiness for the night.
“Let me suck your thumb,” the man whispered, his lips practically touching Connor’s ear. “And if I told you this was special, that love was more than chemicals, more than me and you, but we’ll transcend. We’ll rise above the ash and dust, and time will end. And baby, I could never hurt you. Because you are me. ”
Connor tilted his head back, letting the man suck gently on his neck and ignoring the dread in his stomach, the constant reminder that everything was ending for him soon.
“Would you believe me?” the man whispered, voice low and husky. He pulled away and met Connor’s eye again. Connor could see that he was being lied to, but he no longer cared. Why should he care anymore? He was going to die tonight.
“Do you believe in me? Do you believe in love?” the stranger continued.
A faint breeze drifted past Connor, bringing with it a moment of bittersweet clarity. He knew what he had to do now, what all the suffering had been for, what the moose had been asking. He was here to propel Carter’s story forward, payment owed to Carter as reparation for how he started this whole thing, how he gave them all unlimited lifetimes, how he had brought them all together once, and how he would bring them all together again one day.
Just not this day. Not this lifetime.
“I am a soldier. I don’t believe in anything,” Connor said shortly, pulling away from Carter’s tender embrace. “And if you’re going to steal my honey, please wait until I’m drunk. Then take me onto the dancefloor and let me cry against your cheek.”
Carter smiled softly and stepped out of the way, letting Connor back to his table and half-finished drink. As Connor downed the remainder of his whiskey, his captain spoke to him one final time. “ He’s going to take you out back and shoot you in the alley,” he warned.
“So let him,” Connor mumbled, offering Carter a smile and his hand as they drifted into the crowd of dancers.
He wouldn’t speak, he wouldn’t say a single word. He wouldn’t come back to haunt Carter.
He didn’t have the time.
As Tristan lay dying in his bedroom, Matt’s descent into depression began to rapidly swerve into madness. He would lock himself in the library for days on end, only to emerge with his guitar, wandering the halls and playing wild improvisations, dirges, and waltzes on it. He would wail in the dead of night, crying out that the house was alive.
Marc couldn’t help him. He was only one man trying his damnedest to keep everybody alive, an impossible task he knew, but he had to try.
On a dull and dreary day, Tristan seemed to have beat the worst of the mysterious illness that had taken hold of him. He ate the soup Marc had brought him and was well enough to have full conversations with him. Sure, Tristan was telling him things that didn’t make sense, talking of bears and honey and Starchildren.
Marc was beginning to have hope that maybe, just maybe, keeping one of his last remaining friends alive wasn’t impossible after all, when Matt entered the room quietly.
“The bear breathed fire and had acid in his-” Tristan stopped mid-sentence when he finally noticed Matt, a confused expression crossing his face as heat rose into his pale cheeks. “Where is my brother?” He asked, thin eyebrows furrowed in frustration and confusion.
“You don’t have a brother,” Matt replied, equally as confused.
Tristan turned his attention back to Marc. “Where is my little boy?”
Marc hesitated, knowing the answer would bring back the heartbreak Tristan had suffered so strongly from. Tristan looked at Marc expectantly, eyes bright with fever and face as pale as a ghost. In that moment, Marc knew this was the end.
“He’s gone,” he finally spoke, voice low.
“He’s gone?” Tristan repeated weakly, and with that, he died, a chill sweeping through the dark bedroom.
Marc looked upon the face of his last companion. There was the mockery of a faint blush upon his cheeks and a suspiciously lingering smile upon his lips that was so terrible in death. Marc forced himself to walk away, numb, and unable to look upon Tristan’s body any longer.
As he was opening the front door to get a breath of fresh air, air untainted by death and despair, he heard Matt’s wail echo throughout the empty house. “Oh, Tristan! Why did you have to die? I forgive you!”
Marc squeezed his eyes shut and slammed the door behind him. There would be two ghosts wandering the halls soon and he wanted to ignore that fact for as long as he could.
A few hours later, Matt approached him in the decaying garden, hair in disarray and eyes ringed with red. “I shall preserve his corpse for a fortnight in the vault underneath my bedroom,” he said, jaw set with a determination that told Marc it was pointless to argue. If this was what Matt needed to do to mourn, who was Marc to stop him?
He sighed and got to his feet, rolling up his sleeves.
This had all happened before…
Henrik Lundqvist was alone, abandoned by his god and by his own soul. When Igor Shesterkin had died, Henrik had expected to see him again within a few years. That was how it always worked. The person you shared a soul with came back, one way or another. But it had been twenty years and there was still no trace of him.
Henrik could feel his magic weakening the longer they were apart. Once, he had been a great storyteller, the pride of his teammates. He’d been able to rouse such great emotions it brought men to tears. Now, well. Now he doubted he could make somebody crack a smile.
To add insult to injury, one of the new mascots’ vessels was also a storyteller. A more helpful one than Henrik, he remembered everybody’s past lives. What a terrible burden for one man. Henrik should know. He not only remembered everybody’s past lives, but he had seen what would happen to them in all lifetimes before it did. From Carter Hart’s cruel quest to Ben Bishop’s kidnapping, he had told it all as stories. It had just been entertainment in those early days when they had all been so empty and new.
Henrik was empty now too, but it was far from new.
Now he sat here, waiting first for Carter to return and ask for his last piece of stardust, then for a young man in orange to come and destroy all he knew. Let him. None of it was worth a damn anymore.
Last night, Henrik had dreamed he met his younger self at a tango. All the other dancers had been ruthless and deranged, so he had asked himself for a dance. But his own self hadn’t had time for him, claimed he didn’t have time for someone so used up. So he danced alone while Henrik had sat in a chair by the wall, all alone, staring at his phone.
He was haunted by memories of who he had been long ago. He had been so gleeful, so blank, so ready. He had used to stay up all night, spinning wonderful stories, intricate webs that had kept his audience on the edge of their seat, as they stared at him in rapt amazement.
But the magic was gone now. His joy grew bloated and sick.
Henrik closed his eyes with a sigh and began to hum an old, familiar tune to himself, a tango he had danced to hundreds of times in the past. Almost as if on their own, his feet began to move, slowly tracing the steps. Henrik smiled to himself, thinking of the pretty girl he had last danced this tango with.
“Excuse me?” A voice came from the doorway, interrupting Henrik’s moment of peace.
Henrik stopped his movement and opened his eyes, smiling sadly at the young man.
“May I help you?” he asked.
“I sure hope so,” the young man replied with an uncomfortable smile, stepping into the room. “Are you… Ancient?” he asked, lowering his voice to a whisper on the last word.
“That’s not polite, child,” Henrik scolded gently.
“I’m sorry. You know,” he stammered, cheeks turning pink, “you know what I mean.”
“Yes, child. And yes, I am.”
The young man gave a triumphant smile and something in Henrik’s heart twinged. “Do I know you? You remind me of my Soulsharer…” Henrik asked, looking him over with a scrutinizing look.
“No, I’m from Philadelphia. My name’s Carter. Carter Hart.”
Henrik’s heart fell. “My Soulsharer’s name was Shesterkin.”
Carter opened and closed his mouth a few times, obviously unsure of how to reply. “Um. It’s a beautiful name.”
“He’s been dead a long time now,” Henrik sighed. “What do you need?”
Carter bit his lip, caught off guard by how abruptly Henrik had changed topics. “Uh, stardust? Just one piece?”
Henrik chuckled sadly. “I don’t know if I have any left. 1,001 is a pretty big number.”
“I always figured you could go on forever,” Carter replied, not meeting Henrik’s eyes.
“No. Not forever.” Not for much longer either, Henrik thought to himself as he took a seat. He didn’t know what story to tell Carter or where the last tiny piece of stardust was hiding in his soul.
He glanced up and noticed the expectant, hopeful way the young man was staring at him and the awe on his face. It reminded Henrik of how it had been, long ago, of how they had been. Of the first time he had met Carter, sitting around a campfire on the beach, laughing and drinking, unaware of the bond they had all formed or of the ghosts that would haunt them forever.
“I have a lot of memories. And I have a lot of sadness…” Henrik began.
“Why do you believe you’re one of the mascots chosen ones, my child?” Carey asked Ben Bishop, almost like a challenge. Carter leaned forward, curious. Carey hadn’t questioned the worth of any of the others. Why was he asking who was worthy now? Were there limited spots? Was Carter a chosen one?
“I am a Starchild,” Ben replied simply.
“And how do you know for certain you are? Anybody can claim to be a Starchild. That doesn’t make it true,” Carey questioned him, but there was fondness in his interrogation. Ben had been his apprentice ever since he’d arrived at the cabins two years prior.
“When I was a baby I was blessed in the sea by a stranger. To this day, I still don’t understand why…” Ben trailed off, his eyes lingering on Tristan Jarry, a look on his face like he knew him, but couldn’t quite place how.
“All will be revealed to you shortly. Now, look into my telescope, tell me what you see,” Carey beckoned Ben over to him, a proud smile dancing upon his lips as his apprentice knelt to look through the said telescope.
This was the fourth time Carter had witnessed this and yet, he still leaned forward to watch Carey closely, rapt.
“I see a blue star,” Ben replied, shoulders tensing as he braced himself for what was inevitably coming.
“That’s good, that’s good. What else do you see?” Carey asked as the fire's flames turned green, filling the room with a sickly light.
“I see mothers weeping in chairs, grasping their shawls in mourning,” Ben gasped, his eyes rolling back into his head as he clutched for a shawl that wasn’t there. “Everything is lost, all is gone!” he wailed in a high voice that was not his own.
Carter held his breath, struck by a deep sense of guilt like he was responsible for the mother’s mournful wails.
Ben’s eyes returned to normal and his head dropped forward. “And she tries to find the joy in life, but she is wasting away,” he whispered before passing out.
“That’s real good,” Carey smiled, more to himself than any of the others.
Carter loved the way Carey saw the world and the way his soul sang. He wished that his soul sang the same way.
He wished that he could feel things.
“But Lundqvist,” Igor interrupted his story, the flickering of the campfire’s flames casting shadows across his confused expression, “how did Carter steal the Starchild from Tristan? I mean, surely they had some sort of security system. Were they outside, in a park?”
“Why, yes. They were outside. In a park,” Henrik replied with little hesitation. Igor always found the shortcomings in his stories and always lovingly patched them before any of the others could notice.
“Oh, of course. You tell such wonderful stories, Lundqvist.”
“Thank you, Shesterkin. I sure hope Tuukka thinks so!” Henrik turned towards the cave a few yards away, raising his voice.
He laughed when he got a low grunt in return. Tuukka was such a buzzkill, but on nights like these, it didn’t matter. He was grateful for Igor and that they had met. At this point, he couldn’t imagine himself without Igor. The connection he had with him felt as old as time and went deep into his bones.
“I’m glad you’re here. It’s good to be with you,” he said to Igor, a smile on his lips. Igor gave him a smile in return as the sound of Braden playing his guitar reached their ears, drifting along with the seaside breeze.
Carter and Tristan wandered up the beach together in silence, the two newest additions to the merry group that was gathered upon this little island under the protection of their Lady. As they strolled past the small shelter Braden was playing in, Carter stopped, closing his eyes and letting the music wash over him.
He had never been anywhere as beautiful as here and had never heard anything as beautiful as what Braden was currently playing. Carter was snapped out of his reverie by the sudden trickling of raindrops against his cheeks. The clouds opened up and the brothers were quickly drenched. Carter laughed, carefree and full of joy, as Tristan pulled him inside Braden’s shed.
“Dance with me?” Tristan asked, a teasing smile playing upon his lips.
“Yes,” Carter agreed with a fond sigh.
They waltzed in silence for a few moments before Braden chuckled.
“Do you remember a time when you two weren’t brothers?” He asked, watching the duo.
Carter stopped abruptly, his cheeks heating up with a mix of embarrassment and something else, something he couldn’t place a finger on. “No, not yet,” he replied softly.
But he was getting there.
Nolan Patrick knew the risk they were taking coming here. Travis Konecny knew the consequences and didn’t give a shit. No ancient set of rules or an orange gremlin from hell was going to keep him from helping his friend. It hadn’t been hard to convince Nolan that helping Carter would be worth whatever punishment it entailed.
All he’d really had to do was promise Nolan some alone time away from the wacky eyes of Gritty and the watchful eyes of Claude Giroux.
So now, here they were, sitting across from Ben Bishop in a smoky, dark room at an old ranch. The darkness was so thick it felt like it was choking TK, sending chills up and down his spine.
Ben opened his eyes. “Go ahead. Ask me your questions,” he said, voice low.
“How did Carter lose my camera?” Nolan asked.
“He threw it on the ground, disgusted by what he had done,” Ben answered, surprising TK with how quick the response was. He thought this whole Channeling-Other-People-And-Their-Thoughts thing would take longer.
“What did he do?” Nolan followed up, pursing his lips.
“He had taken a photograph of something inappropriate.”
TK scoffed. “If he just took nudes that’s no big-”
“No, what he means is Carter took a photograph at an inappropriate time,” Anton Khudobin spoke up, scaring the shit out of TK. How long had he been standing in that corner!?
“Or rather, a photograph instead of being a hero,” Ben said, looking almost bored with this incredibly vague topic.
“Well, what was the photograph of?” TK asked, getting annoyed with this mystical bullshit and just wanting a straight answer.
“A ghost,” Ben said, eyes suddenly widening as he turned as pale as a sheet. “Or rather, a ghost,” he repeated, the last word coming out a haunted, strained wail as his eyes rolled back into his head.
TK grabbed Nolan’s hand tightly as Ben began to scream, unholy ear-splitting shrieks, telling of pain that TK couldn’t even begin to fathom. The fire in the fireplace had turned green, casting everything in a sickly light, and making the fear and dread TK felt grow so horrible he almost began to sob.
But then it was over. TK noticed Nolan was looking at him and he quickly wiped his eyes. This was his idea. He shouldn’t let Nolan see he was fucking terrified.
After a long moment of silence, Nolan spoke up. “Does the ghost haunt him?”
“He sees his eyes when he closes his eyes. His eyes looking back at him. His eyes underneath his eyelids. He is always screaming…” Ben’s breath hitched like he was about to start screaming himself, but TK was spared that horror by Anton butting in with a question of his own.
“Has anyone else ever screamed?” He asked, brow furrowed.
“His son, his lover, his father, his brother,” Ben replied softly, hanging his head. “Carter,” he called, a chorus of voices escaping his mouth, all calling for Carter.
TK shook off the heebie-jeebies that gave him and asked the next question. “Does Carter even believe in ghosts?”
“Carter believes in the restorative properties of a forest, and the importance of sharing a meal, and never drinking his morning coffee on the go. He believes in the standard model of love in which two lovers are bonded, into something greater than themselves. He believes in soul,” Ben finished breathlessly, his head dropping back to his chest as it heaved.
TK and Nolan shared a look, still unsure if Carter believed in the thing that haunted him or not.
“One more question,” Anton told them, eyeing Ben with a concerned look.
TK felt Nolan’s hand begin to tremble in his, almost imperceptibly. “How many people has Carter been?” Nolan asked, voice uneven.
Ben looked up at them and smiled, softly, sadly. “Carter is the same as anyone else.”
Late into the second night, Carey finally beckoned to Carter. Carter felt his heart leap into his throat, electric pulses in his fingertips as he took the telescope into his trembling hands.
He hadn’t slept the previous night after they had disbanded. His worries and insecurities had kept him awake, but one question haunted him the most. Why had Tristan been chosen before him? Why did that even matter? Carter had never met Tristan before two days ago and Tristan didn’t seem like a bad man. In fact, he seemed really lovely and friendly.
Carter was broken out of his reflections by his idol’s voice. “Look into my telescope, tell me what you see.”
He looked up at Carey and smiled before gazing into the telescope. “I see…” his voice faltered as a sudden wave of emotion hit him, “I see two stars.”
“Yes,” Carey said as Carter pulled away from the telescope, “Two stars, lost in time…”
Carter found his eyes traveling across the circle to rest on Tristan. That wasn’t right. He should be having a vision right now, learning to see the future, controlling flames or turning into a panther or flying, not staring at a man ( brother ) he had only met forty-eight hours ago.
Carter turned to Carey, the question of why isn’t this working on his lips, but Carey wasn’t there.
There were two men standing in the forest, in the evening, in a light rain. The older man had no expression on his face. The younger’s head hung down. They began to chant in unison, but their lips weren’t moving.
“The younger is in love, was in love, is in love, was in love.”
But, Carter felt a dagger enter his heart , the lover was in love with the older, not the younger…
Just as suddenly as he had left it, Carter was back in his body again, looking up at three worried faces clustered above him. Thatcher Demko and Jacob Markstrom, freshly bonded together by their souls, helped him to his feet and Anton Khudobin offered him a glass of water, which he graciously accepted.
As he drank the cool, clear water, Carter couldn’t help but notice Carey and Tristan were missing. He excused himself from the others under the pretense of exhaustion and exited the main cabin, wandering down the dirt road towards the woods. Officially becoming a vessel for a mascot was supposed to offer clarity, make him whole again, but Carter’s mind was more disjointed and broken than ever before. He hoped the cool night air and the quiet of the forest would calm him.
A coyote howled and he looked up. Carey and Tristan were standing in the doorway of Carey’s cabin, whispering to each other. As Carter watched, frozen in place, Tristan wrapped his arms around Carey’s neck, smiling as Carey pulled the door shut behind them.
Despair trailed up from the deepest pit of Carter’s stomach, grabbing his throat and choking him. He turned on his heel and ran, not stopping until he was in his bed with a blanket thrown hastily over him.
“I hate him, I hate him, I hate him!” Carter cried through the hot, angry tears that threatened to spill from his eyes.
Then, a long-forgotten thought drifted to him and he knew what he had to do.
One pot of honey, one piece of stardust, one secret baptism, and a photo of a ghost...
“ The dead can sing. Sleep will not come. There’s a storm tonight, there’s a storm tonight. The dead can sing…”
Marc gasped and bolted upright in his bed, struggling to untangle himself from his blankets. He had sworn he’d felt somebody by his bed, but there was no sign that anybody had been in his bedroom. Tristan was dead in the vault beneath him, there was no way he could have been here. Marc got up and splashed some water on his face, ignoring the way the terrible wind outside reminded him of Tristan’s last gasp, that horrible breath, that song of the dead.
He leaped out of his skin when a knock came at his door. Marc turned around in time to see Matt burst in, his hair and clothes disheveled as he ran for the window.
“Can you hear him? Throw open the windows. Let the storm in!” Matt laughed, throwing open Marc’s tall windows, “We don’t need moons or stars or god ! We have the wind. The terrible wind…”
In the days following Tristan’s death, Matt’s madness had grown to epic proportions. It showed on his face, in the dark circles under his sunken eyes, in his unshaven beard. However, Marc had discovered the one thing to soothe Matt. Stories, fictions, from their vast library.
When Matt turned around, the madness brighter and more aglow in his eyes than Marc had ever seen before, Marc took him by the hands and gently led him to sit on the sofa.
“Let me read you a story, let me read you a romance. I will read, you will listen, and this terrible night will pass,” he said softly, selecting a book carefully off the shelf.
(“Let me tell you a story, let me tell you a romance. I will speak, you will listen, and this terrible night will pass,” Braden whispered, taking Carter’s hands in his.)
Marc opened the book and read the title. “Book two, chapter nine: The tale of Igor and the Pusher and the Subway Driver and the Photograph.”
Igor Shesterkin wanted to say he’d learned something valuable today. Alas, his murdered remains were incapable of learning anything. How had he died? Well, it had all started with a game and bear. No, not that bear. This bear was on his phone.
Igor stood on the subway platform, playing a game on his phone. He was trying to beat the boss at the end of the level, so he could finally be free of this incredibly addicting game. His thoughts drifted as he battled the bear, thinking back to when he had first moved to New York City and how frightening and confusing the subway had seemed then.
Now, with help from Henrik, he was no longer afraid and could navigate it like a pro. He unconsciously took a step closer to the edge, ignoring the ravings of the mad man behind him. He was screaming about the apocalypse and the day of revelation, typical NYC things.
What Igor couldn’t ignore was the echo of a footstep behind him, rising above the noise of the city with perfect clarity. He glanced behind him, but nobody was close enough to have made the sound.
(As Marc was reading, he couldn’t help but hear, in the house beneath him, a footstep ringing through the halls. He bit his lip, but continued with the story, not wanting to reawaken Matt’s madness.)
Igor shook it off and returned his attention to the game on his phone. He sighed when he saw that in his one moment of distraction, the bear had killed him. He pressed the redo button and then the option menu, selecting the silver sword. He raised the sword and struck the bear over the head with it.
The bear let out a shriek that rang through Igor’s headphones, horrid and piercing.
A horrid, harsh, and piercing shriek rang out from beneath them, causing Matt to jump to his feet. “My best friend!” he cried joyfully, reaching his arms out towards the door.
Before Marc could grab him and draw him back, lightning struck deep within the house, revealing the dead standing in the doorway. Marc fell off the sofa with fear, staring with wide eyes. “Tristan?” He called, terrified. There was blood upon Tristan’s throat.
In a flash, Tristan leaped upon Matt with the rage of four generations, and Matt’s heart burst with fear, exploded within his chest. Marc did not stay to help, there was nothing he could possibly do, so instead, he scrambled to his feet, running down the stairs and throwing open the front door. As he ran across the lawn he cast one last look back at the mansion, just in time to watch the roof of the east wing collapse.
The driver can’t stop, the ghost is here.
Igor winced from the shriek but returned to battling the bear. He tapped his screen quickly, making his little character jump as the bear breathed fire. He tapped it twice more and his character rolled out of the way of the bear’s acid-filled honeypots.
The rumblings of the approaching train reached Igor’s ears, drowning out the volume of his game. He frowned, annoyed, and turned up his game volume. He needed to be able to hear when the bear was going to strike.
Behind him, the man on the platform stopped his screaming and took a drink from a flask in his pocket to steel himself. The man and the bear both smirked, but Igor only saw the bear, not the man coming up behind him. The man, this pusher, this bear, couldn’t help himself and pushed Igor off the precarious edge of the subway platform, right into the path of the oncoming train.
Carter threw open the door and found exactly what he had expected to see.
“How could you. Brother, how could you?” he demanded, heart-shattering and rage filling the void it left at the sight of Tristan in Carey’s arms.
Tristan pulled away from Carey like he’d been burned. “He likes my garden, he likes my garden, that’s all,” he had the gall to claim as if Carter hadn’t seen the way they’d been sneaking off together for weeks now.
“Wait, wait, Carter, we were never-”
“I always knew you were shallow-” Carter started, ready to lay into both of them.
“We never-” Carey tried to finish but Carter didn’t let him. First Carey stole his ideas and now he was going to try and talk over him? Not again. Never again.
“I always knew you didn’t believe in me. I always knew that I bored you. I always knew that I wasn’t pretty enough to hold you. I always knew your mind was elsewhere. I always knew you were a snob, I always knew you had your head in the stars,” Carter’s ranting got more frantic and repetitive as he tried to hold back the angry tears in his eyes.
“I always knew you and your books. You and your fucking books. I am not a puzzle. I am not some fucking logic puzzle for you to try and figure out. I am not a fucking game,” Carter jabbed an angry finger into Carey’s chest, forcing him to stumble into one of the many piles of books he had lying about.
“Why don’t you go fuck all your books? Why don’t you go fuck all your fucking books?” Carter’s voice rose to a shout as he threw the closest book directly at Carey’s face. “Then we’ll see who's smarter. We’ll see,” he spat and turned on his heel, purposefully knocking over a tower of books on his way out.
He had barely made it two steps down the woodland path before he was being yanked off of it by a strong, furry paw.
“Do you have the things I asked for?” a deep voice grumbled. “One pot of honey, one piece of stardust, one secret baptism, and a photo of a ghost.”
A smirk spread slowly across Carter’s face. “Hello there, bear. I have the things you asked for,” he said, smugly holding his messenger bag out on one finger, “I had to go through several lifetimes to get them.”
“I know, little boy,” the bear responded, annoyed, and before Carter could say anything, he was lying on the ground, the wind knocked out of his lungs and the bear towering over him. “And now I’m gonna eat you up. Eat you up like berries,” the bear smiled, baring his sharp teeth in Carter’s face.
“But will you do what I asked? Maul the astronomer and turn my brother into a sparrow?” Carter asked. He didn’t care about dying, he’d just come right back. He did care about whether or not all these lifetimes had been for naught.
The bear pulled back, morphing back into his human form and frowning at Carter. “I am not a murderer. Or a crazy person. I just like honey,” he said with a shrug, pulling the honey out of Carter’s bag. “You’ll just have to do it yourself. Now go away, little boy,” Tuukka said, waving Carter away with his free hand as he disappeared into the woods.
Carter sputtered for a moment, rage blinding him and binding his tongue.
“I hate you!” He finally managed to scream after him.
As soon as Igor hit the tracks, time slowed down and everything went a little gray. He saw the lights of the train coming towards him, dazzling him, and for a moment, he tried to climb out. A little voice in the back of his head, as ancient as him, whispered that it was pointless.
Igor stopped and listened, listened to the slow rumbling of the train that was about to be his undoing. Or perhaps the video game had been his true undoing. His mother had been right, in the end. Video games were bad for his health.
He lifted his head up, feeling as if he were moving through honey, and saw Carter, back from the dead, standing on the platform. Igor couldn’t read Carter’s expression, the upper half of his face hidden by a camera, it’s flash almost as dazzling as the lights of the subway. When Igor realized Carter was taking a picture of him, he lifted his head further and smiled for the camera.
The moment before death was always such a gift to Igor because he got to choose exactly what went through his head, what his last song would be. He could control the decades of memories, the lives he’d lived before flashing before his eyes.
Every time he chose to think of the same thing: Henrik the first time they had met in their very first lifetime. Their souls were forever entwined, always blessed to have each other and doomed to lose each other, but on that day, there had been nothing to lose.
Igor smiled to himself and closed his eyes.
Then he let the train rip through him.
Now that Carter remembered most of his past lives, all he felt was guilt and regret for all the things he had done, all the things he hadn’t done, and all the things he would do. He kept his eyes glued to the floor because every time he looked up, he saw somebody he had hurt, somebody’s life he had ruined, somebody he had killed.
And he couldn’t even say that he was better now, that he had grown, matured, somehow become a good person. No, he couldn’t say that at all. This version of him still had blood on his hands. He had seen it coming, knew what Gritty was about to do, knew a hand was about to be forced, and yet. Here he was. Dead again. All because he had chosen to do nothing.
He buried his head in his hands. Years ago, Carter hadn’t felt guilty at all. He was young and fresh and full of heart then. He was old and used up now, a bad man, a broken man. He never got the chance to be old in any of his lifetimes, perhaps because his soul had never gotten the chance to be young.
Carter wanted nothing more than to be full of heart again, to be good, to like who he was.
But a past version of him, a version he could barely remember, had ruined that all with one fit of blind and angry jealousy. And, because life was so fucking unfair, he had ruined countless others happiness too.
He remained with his head down, listening in to the others’ conversations.
“So Connor,” Marc-Andre Fleury asked, leaning against the bar, “why didn’t your ghosts go to heaven? Why did they still hang around earth?”
“Um,” Connor said eloquently, caught off guard. “Maybe they lost their way? Or weren’t aware they were dead? Soul wasn’t at peace, had unfinished work to do, wanted to watch over someone… there’s really all sorts of reasons.”
Carter looked up when he heard footsteps, seeing Braden Holtby approaching him with a kind smile.
“Are you remembering now? Coming back to you?” Braden asked, kneeling beside Carter and laying a gentle hand on his shoulder.
“I think so,” Carter responded, biting his lower lip, “Who all am I?”
“Oh, Carter,” Braden sighed, shaking his head fondly. “Well. You’re his brother,” he pointed to Tristan.
“And you’re his lover,” he pointed to the opposite side of the room, at Connor this time.
“And you’re his child,” Now to Elvis Merzlikins, who Carter didn’t remember at all yet.
“And Carter, don’t you recognize me? It’s me, your son. I’m your son.”
“Or maybe there just isn’t a heaven,” Connor finished his lengthy explanation of reasons in the silence that had fallen between Braden and Carter, “I mean that’s actually pretty likely so…”
Carter gave Braden a sheepish smile and got to his feet. He didn’t remember Braden being his son, not yet at least, but he didn’t want to break Braden’ heart by telling him that. Carter wandered aimlessly across the room, considering a drink despite the fact it would do nothing for him, because he was dead, and this place wasn’t real.
As he was passing Carey, a memory flashed back to him in perfect clarity and he grabbed Carey’s arm. “Do you remember when I used to come up to your treehouse? Look at the stars through your telescope?” he asked, excited by remembering something good for once.
“I don’t actually think that that’s happened yet…” Carey replied with a frown.
Carter let go of Carey’s arm, disappointed and embarrassed.
Carter retreated to the end of the bar to hide his embarrassment. He glanced over and saw Tristan on the barstool beside him, stirring his drink deliberately.
“Dance with me?” Carter asked, voice as soft as the blush on his cheeks.
Tristan lifted his head and stared at Carter for what felt like an eternity, his face unreadable. “Okay,” he replied, voice low.
Carter stepped carefully into Tristan’s arms and they began to dance slow, gentle circles across the room, gracefully avoiding the tables and the others around them.
As they danced, Carter struggled with words. How could he apologize for all he had done to Tristan? Could one even apologize for killing their own brother?
He took a deep breath and lifted his head, but when he met Tristan’s eyes, he realized he didn’t have to apologize. The look in Tristan’s eyes told him that this was enough, that he was forgiven, that all of their pain could finally be put behind them.
Carter smiled, his first genuine smile in decades. Perhaps next lifetime, everything would be okay.