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Jack is three years old the first time a puck criticizes his shot. “C’mon, kid,” it scolds as it bounces gently off the boards. “Put some oomph into it, huh?”

Jack figures it’s his dad talking through the puck somehow, like he talks through the phone. It’s definitely something Papa would say. He tries to shoot harder. The puck kindly cheers him on (just like Papa) and sounds disappointed when he gets tired and goes inside (just like Papa).

It’s weird, but then so is the whole world. Talking pucks are nowhere near the top of the list of weird things Jack needs to figure out.

*

He’s six when he figures out he shouldn’t tell people about it. He overhears Maman worrying to her friend about how much time he spends focused on hockey, how he’s out on the ice for hours and hours every single day, and he’s not interested in books or movies unless they’re about hockey, and he even talks to pucks instead of other children. She’s just not sure it’s healthy. Jack obviously has to do something to stop her from messing with his hockey, and he sure as heck isn’t about to spend less time skating or pretend he cares about Star Wars.

His pucks grumble at him from their mesh bag for ignoring them, but he sneaks the bag into his room when Maman isn’t looking and whispers to them about his backhand aim until long after his parents have fallen asleep.

*

“If pucks could talk I bet they’d just be constantly screaming,” Kent muses through a mouthful of chips. “Like, shit, what a life, always getting banged around like that.”

Everyone laughs, but Jack shakes his head. “They love it,” he says quietly.

“Masochistic little fuckers,” Kent proclaims, and the conversation moves on to BDSM and whether pain during sex is fun or not. Jack stays out of it, like he usually does. He knows better than to tell them that it’s not masochistic, that pucks don’t feel pain, that being scored is just as much of a rush as scoring.

Jack sleeps on the floor of Kent’s billet room that night. He’s almost asleep when Kent whispers, “I think you’re right. Pucks like being banged up.”

Jack thinks about keeping his mouth shut, but with just Kent there, it doesn’t seem so necessary. "Remember this morning when your shot hit the crossbar and the post and then went in?”

“Do I remember it?” Kent rolls onto the floor next to Jack. “Fuck, if that’d happened in a game the video would have gone viral. No way I’m forgetting anytime soon.”

“It was laughing,” Jack says, his voice barely above a whisper. “The puck was laughing and whooping. And the other pucks were so jealous they were cussing at you.”

“Yeah?” Kent whispers. Jack can feel his breath. “They always do that?”

“No. Usually they act all cool. Like, yeah, I’ve been scored like that a dozen times. They don’t lose it like that unless the shot was really incredible.”

He’s certain that Kent is going to burst out laughing any moment, start making fun of him, get back in bed, but it doesn’t happen. Kent just lies there quietly for a long time, and then he says, “I love you, man.”

“I love you too,” Jack says, and for the first time he isn’t terrified that Kent will realize he means it.

*

anything you want me to bring with me? Kent texts.

Jack stares at the wall for a long, long time before he texts back, yeah. the puck under my pillow.

It’s the Memorial Cup-winning puck. It’s a cranky one, meaner than most pucks, but Jack is okay with that. Everyone’s been tiptoeing all the time, talking around the important things, acting like everything is normal when they’re visiting him in fucking rehab. He needs a little vulcanized honesty.

“There’s no ice here,” the puck complains the second Kent puts it down on the bedside table. “What are we gonna do without any ice?”

Well. That’s the question, isn’t it.

*

No one at Samwell thinks it’s weird that Jack keeps a collection of a half-dozen pucks in his room, and two more in his bag. They probably wouldn’t even blink if they caught him talking to them, though he’d rather not test that. But Johnson does weirder shit before breakfast, and nobody really cares.

The only one who asks about them is Bittle, and he's not rude about it. “Were they special goals?” he asks, trying to read the smudged logo on one sitting at the top of Jack’s unzipped bag.

“Some of them,” Jack says. Only two are actually from goals--the rest are ones he particularly got along with. One of them is always commenting on people’s hockey flow. He thinks it has a crush on Shitty.

Bittle doesn’t pry further. Jack almost wishes he would. He hasn’t talked about it since that night on the floor with Kent, and Bittle seems like he might understand.

*

“Oh, please don’t,” says Jack’s first NHL goal puck as he picks it up. “This is my favorite rink. Come on, put me back. I want to live here forever.”

"I can definitely understand that,” Jack assures it, and drops it back into the bucket.

"Wait, you didn’t get the puck?” Bitty asks later that evening, after a long and sweaty celebration at Jack’s condo.

Jack takes a deep breath. Bitty won’t make fun of him, he tells himself. “It wanted to stay at the rink," he says.

Bitty squeezes his hand. “Well, you know you can go visit it anytime.”

Jack kisses him. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Bitty murmurs, and for the first time Jack isn’t terrified that he doesn’t mean it.

*

“More butter,” says the Memorial Cup-winning puck.

“There’s way too much butter in there already,” objects Jack’s first Samwell goal puck.

“None of these lunkheads ever listen to Bitty,” says Bitty’s Frozen Four-winning goal puck. “There’s no such thing as too much butter.”

“More butter or Bitty will be disappointed in you,” warns the Memorial Cup-winning puck. Jack hastily adds more butter.

“Is it time for practice yet?” whines Jack’s first NHL game puck.

“Shut up and focus,” snaps the Memorial Cup-winning puck. “You’re not creaming that right. No, harder. Put some fucking oomph into it, huh?”

It’s weird, but then so is the whole world. Talking pucks are nowhere near the top of the list of weird things Jack needs to figure out.