Nolan’s cool. At least, that’s what Travis is trying to convince himself. Nobody else seems to think that there’s anything … up, with the kid. Just another player, if a bit snarkier than most rookies.
Still there’s something unsettling in the dead stare Nolan sinks into all too often. Sometimes he’s looking at Travis or at Ivan or Claude. Sometimes he’s looking at nothing at all. It’s...unsettling, yeah, that’s about the only word for it. But Travis tries to push it aside - they’re all weird, in one way or another.
It figures, then, that he gets roomed with Nolan; it’s just his luck. Not that Nolan - Pats, Patty - is the worst roommate. He’ll deal with Travis’ energy up to a point, and it’s worth it to work to get him to smile. But, sometimes, at night, Travis could swear his eyes glint in the dim light - like animal eyes in the dark. He feels crazy even thinking it, but it’s true.
And then there’s the weird energy that builds around Nolan when he’s pissy. It could just be Travis being oversensitive, sure; he’s always been kind of attuned to people's emotions, but this feels different. Fundamentally so. It’s like the moment before lightning strikes, leaving Travis’ hair standing up on end and a primal part of him whispering run . Maybe it’s not brave or whatever, but those times are when he heads off to Ivan’s room or Claude’s or - anywhere that isn’t with Nolan, really. He doesn’t really think something would happen but - well. It soothes his nerves to get out, at any rate.
“Do you think there’s like. Something up with Pats?” Travis asks as carefully as he can. Ivan just shoots him a sidelong look as he navigates through traffic.
“He’s kinda different. I told you that. Why?”
“I just - he seems -” Travis flounders, then. He can’t say hey, Provy, I think your best friend isn’t human without sounding fucking crazy. At best, Ivan would laugh at him and chalk it up to too many bad horror movies. At worst, Ivan would take it seriously and tell the trainers he’s off his rocker.
“Did you guys have a fight?” Ivan’s voice is oddly gentle, and Travis doesn’t quite know how to take that.
“No. We’re just . . . you’re going to think I’m crazy.” Ivan scoffs, but Travis launches into his explanation, studiously not looking at Ivan. He’s grateful that Ivan doesn’t say anything until he’s done.
“Trav. You know how that sounds.” Ivan turns to look at him while they’re stopped at a red light, dark eyes searching Travis’ face. “He’s just Nolan. Not anything else.”
Ivan says it with such conviction, that Travis almost believes. And then Nolan gets hurt.
Travis sees it, the way Nolan slams into the boards, is close enough to hear a sickly crunch that has to be bone. He’s there in an instant, shoving away the player that had taken Patty down, leaving him to the clutches of Sandy and only vaguely hearing the shouts for the trainer, the doctor. For a few heartstopping moments, Travis would swear that Nolan’s neck is at an odd angle and that he isn’t breathing -
There’s another crunch, a pop and then Nolan’s eyes open, flaring brilliantly blue before he realizes that Travis is looking at him.
“M’okay,” he grumbles, looking away and shifting enough to knock Jim’s hands off of him, pulling himself shakily to his feet. He’s pale and that same crackling energy is back around him, but no one seems to notice but Travis. Nolan lets himself be towed toward the bench, disappearing down the tunnel.
He’s there in the room after the final buzzer, looking sour and wincing at the loudness of the other guys now and again. Swallowing the fear threatening to climb up his throat, Travis knocks their knees gently together.
The gaze Nolan fixes him with roots Travis to the spot, the room fading to a dull buzz around them. That faint glow is back, shimmering around Nolan’s irises.
“Fine. We’re fine, right TK?” he asks, voice low and hypnotic.
Travis has to work hard to speak, hands clenched in his sweaty jersey and not a bit of him able to move. “Yeah, Patty. We’re good,” he manages at last, and - all at once - the room comes rushing back, leaving him dizzy.
“Good.” Nolan’s eyes are back to normal, and his lips curl in a tiny smile.
They ride home together in near silence, Nolan begging off to bed to sleep off the headache he’d been left with. Travis lets him go without a word, tentatively agreeing to breakfast tomorrow. He doesn’t sleep well, dreaming of that cracking sound - the sound he realizes, now, is Nolan’s neck snapping - over and over until he’s exhausted, hauling himself out of bed to shower. He downs a Redbull, shivering as the cold of it settles in his stomach and chills him from the inside.
Nolan turns up around nine, looking far better rested than Travis feels. It has to be some insane compulsion, some deep-rooted lack of self preservation that prompts Travis to speak. “Your neck broke.”
Immediately, the car feels thick with electricity, so much so that the speakers crackle before it suddenly pulls back. “DId you tell anyone?” Nolan asks softly.
“No. Nobody - no one’s going to believe me. You should be dead.”
“Yeah. I guess. You shouldn’t try again, though, okay?” The last is laced with energy, and Travis shudders before he nods, compelled to comply.
“Sorry. I hate doing that to you,” Nolan goes on as the energy fades. “I’m not gonna hurt you, Trav. But people can’t know. Nobody does.”
“Not even Ivan?” Surely Ivan has noticed, surely he knows that there’s something off about his friend and maybe he lied or was forced to keep quiet the way Nolan is making Travis, but the laugh Nolan lets out then makes Travis’ hair stand on end.
“He knows. Knew. He can’t remember and he can’t see it anymore. It’s better that way.”
Part of Travis wants to ask. The rest of him - the part that’s been screaming at him to just stop the car and get out - makes him draw back. He takes a deep breath, two, and pulls into a parking spot in the garage near their favorite breakfast place.
“You won’t hurt me?”
“Never, dude.” It sounds genuine enough, and Nolan looks the right amount of pissy that Travis believes him. “I promise. There’s nothing to worry about.” Those words are heavier and something in Travis relaxes, despite all his instincts protesting before.
Getting out of the car feels like sealing his fate, but Travis does it anyway and he finds that - by the time they’re on their way home - his worry and fear form that morning are far away and fuzzy, more like a bad dream that he shakes off automatically.
Ivan’s right, he decides that night before falling asleep. Nolan’s just different.