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River for the Sea

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“Oh, uh, I think that’s how we spell it in Canada.”

Nolan grinds his teeth to keep himself from rolling his eyes. 

This sloppy ass looking dude is the exact reason Nolan quit his job at the writing center last year. It’s all helping guys in sweats and snapbacks who only give a shit about their grades so they can keep playing sports try to doctor up papers they probably wrote in like ten minutes. Usually it’s these big, brawny football players acting like they’re fucking gods because they got a scholarship, sitting back and expecting Nolan to fucking work fucking magic while they stare at him all stupid. Today it’s this smaller guy, solid looking and short, who actually seems like he’s half paying attention to the long list of problems Nolan points out in his shitty ass paper. Nolan’s only, like, seventy percent as annoyed at the whole thing as he normally is until this guy tries to pretend that fucking “definately” isn’t spelled wrong. 

Nolan starts drafting his "I’m never covering your shift again I don’t care how fucking hungover you are"  text to Carter in his head and tells this guy, Travis or whatever,  “I’m Canadian,” his voice flat.

“Wait, what, holy shit!” Travis says, dropping forward in his chair, twisting sideways to look at Nolan and giving him this huge, giddy smile. “Dude, I’m from Ontario! Where are you from?”

“Winnipeg.”

“Awesome, man! You’re actually the first Canadian I’ve met here other than these two guys on my team who graduated last year.” 

“Yeah, so, wanna talk about Kraft dinner and maple leaves, or, like,” Nolan gestures back at the computer screen. 

“Dude, yeah! I need a Canadian buddy! Hey, want to come to this party tonight and hang out? You like hockey, right?” He gives Nolan this huge grin. “I play hockey.”

Nolan is about to say no--like, is literally so close to turning down this jock-ass dude, probably homophobic, definitely stupid, pretty obnoxious--just like every athelete Nolan's ever tutored--when he realizes that maybe Travis is hitting on him. 

And, like. "Okay."

 

⊹⊹⊹⊹

 

It’s not that Nolan’s, like, hugely fucking into Travis. He literally barely knows him, but obviously he’s hot, tan and athletic with nice hair and pretty eyes and this dark tattoo just dipping out from under the sleeve of his t-shirt, wrapping around the thick muscle of his bicep. And Nolan hates going to clubs; hates Grindr, so he’ll take a swing at an easy hookup with a hot little Canadian dude with some hockey ass. It’s been, like, months, so. Nolan’s not above putting on some cologne and driving to the address Travis wrote down for him--which is all the way outside of town and down this one-lane gravel road with a pothole so big and out of nowhere Nolan bounces in his seat and bangs his head up against the ceiling of his car--for the chance to maybe get some dick. 

He doesn’t actually work at the writing center, so he’s pretty sure there’s no way this is, like, unethical, and he asked Travis how old he was and found out he was 23, actually a year older than Nolan. “I played for a while out of high school and now it’s my fifth year here,” he said after Nolan barely asked him anything, his face all lit up like having someone listen to him was the best thing in the world; like he was close to telling Nolan his whole life fucking story if Nolan didn’t stop him. 

Nolan misses his turn and goes too far down the gravel; has to make a u-ey and then turn onto a bridge over a creek to get to Travis’ address, which, yep, definitely has a party at it. 

The apartment itself is pretty raggedy looking--a walkup above a garage, the half-rotted wooden stairs missing two planks right next to each other; wooden siding painted dark green and chipping--but it’s in this big clearing surrounded by thick, dusky trees, tons of yard space that’s filled with cars and camp chairs and people drinking, fucking country music thumping, making Nolan feel like he’s gone way more than two miles outside town. 

Nolan parks and heads inside, takes a huge and honestly pretty terrifying leap up over the gap in the stairs, and then pulls open a screen door and steps into a dank smelling, messy apartment. 

The living room’s right in front of the door, with the kitchen off to the right, no wall between them. There are like six couples crowded onto a fluffy couch in the living room, all pretty straight looking and all really into PDA. 

“Patrick!” a rough, high voice yells. Nolan looks over to find Travis in the corner of the kitchen, packed in behind people, arm around this chick even shorter than him who’s smiling and looks like she’s propping Travis up. 

“Hey man,” Nolan says, stepping into the house and plopping the six pack of IPAs he brought on the counter. 

“Dude, we’ve got plenty of beer,” Travis laughs. He’s fucking drunk --red face and murky eyes, huge, toothy smile. “This is Steph,” he says, waving to the girl under his arm and practically hitting himself in the face. 

He doesn’t say “my girlfriend,” but she looks up at him all sweet and patient in this way that kind of does. 

So, like, no dick for Nolan tonight, unless one of the other dudes at this jock party is somehow into it. 

Nolan’s not, like, heartbroken, obviously. And he’s not an asshole, but, being honest with himself: yeah, he probably wouldn’t have come if he’d known Travis wasn’t available. 

Not that, like, Travis is the hottest thing Nolan’s seen or anything, but he's, like, different. Not really like the guys Nolan usually meets; more like the dudes he’d know back home. A little rough, dressed half in camo tonight, camo trucker hat pushing his long hair down, camo t-shirt a little tight against his ribs.

“So are you in a class together?” Steph asks, putting her palm flat on Travis’ stomach. 

I already got it, Nolan wants to say, but he makes himself not act like a dick. 

“No, he tutored me!” Travis says loudly. “I had to get help with my marketing paper, remember?” 

“Oh, so you’re an English major?” she asks Nolan.

“I’m a poetry MFA. I’m in grad school.” 

“I love poetry,” Steph says.  

“Hey, what do you want to drink?” Travis asks, moving on from that topic, thank God, because the worst thing in the world is getting, like, begged to read one of his poems to random people he doesn’t even know just because they think it would be fun. 

“I’ll just have one of these,” Nolan says, grabbing a bottle of beer out of his pack and twisting it open. 

“Cool, dude, hey. Come’re, I have to show you this,” Travis turns, squeezing through the crowd of people in the kitchen, gesturing for Nolan to follow, leaving Steph smiling after him. 

He follows Travis through the living room, gives the couples on the couch a judgy look, and then steps behind him into a bedroom. 

And Nolan just saw Travis with his girlfriend, probably, but he still has a little thrill of tingles down his back, thinking, maybe he’s just not out, maybe he was acting straight for his bros, maybe he’s about to shut the door and get me on my knees. 

Instead, Travis leaves the door open and leans over-- hockey ass, Nolan’s horny Canadian brain thinks, eyes sticking to Travis--to search through a suitcase that’s open in the corner of his room, for some reason. The rest of his room is a mess of dirty crumpled clothes and folded, probably clean clothes, all together on the floor. His bedside table has a tangled pair of earbuds, a huge pump-bottle of lotion, and a little wooden box that screams “there’s weed in here” so loud there’s no point in even having a box for it, and other than that, there’s basically nothing except the bed and an open window--no screen, even--facing the woods. 

Travis makes a triumphant noise from the other side of the room and stands up holding a Jets jersey. “The Jets!” he says.

“Why the fuck do you have Jets shit.” 

“It was my buddy’s and he left it here,” Travis says, then drops the jersey back down in the heap of clothes in the suitcase. “Hey, I’m, like, feelin’ it,” he says drunkly. “Will you sit with me?”

Nolan is really not following any of this. Like, if the door was closed, it would be pretty obvious that the stupid Jets jersey was just an excuse. But the door is still open and Nolan could literally turn his head and make eye contact with ten people sitting outside of it, including Travis’ maybe girlfriend.

“Do you want me to shut the door?” he asks, because, whatever, he already drove all the way out here, he might as well shoot his shot. 

“No it’s cool,” Travis says, flopping down on his mattress, his head resting on one un-cased, flattened out pillow.

Nolan eyes the bed, unmade with just dingy sheets, beige with little ducks printed on them, and a ratty quilt with a big rip in it so it shows the scraggly white filling. 

Travis doesn’t seem to notice Nolan hardcore fucking judging him, just wiggles around a little and then settles, legs spread, jeans stretching over his thighs and crotch, shirt riding up a little so Nolan can see that his abs are just as tan as his arms and face. 

Nolan lays down on the bed next to him. 

“So,” Travis says. He pulls in a big breath, and then starts talking, fast and constant and all over the place, the drone of his voice making Nolan want to just sink into the bed and stay there. “Have you ever been to hockey games here? Our team is actually pretty good. You haven’t seen them yet, but my roommates Joel and Morgan are on the team too, but they’re sophomores. Maybe you’ve heard of Jake Voracek? He’s, like, our big name player. So are you actually a Jets fan, or? I honestly don’t really watch much NHL, I’m just a big OHL guy. I play left wing, by the way.” Just this whole stream of consciousness thing, asking Nolan questions but then kind of answering them on his own, all quick and hyper, like he thinks if he pauses for one second he’s going to lose Nolan’s attention. 

Nolan tells himself, one minute, and watches the clock he can see through the bedroom door for six. Lets himself sink into Travis’ bed--which is a king, weirdly, and is actually crazy comfortable--and kind of feel the presence of Travis next to him, the way Travis’ attention feels on the side of his face. “Hey,” he says finally, cutting Travis off in the middle of a rundown of his team’s best-ever season last year, rolling off the side of the bed and standing up. Travis is wide awake and relaxed at the same time, sunk way into the bed and stopped mid-sentence, looking up at Nolan open-mouthed. “I’m gonna go grab your girl for ya, okay?”

Nolan knows he’s being so fucking thirsty. He’s basically got nothing except a fucked up first impression telling him Travis is into him. And even if Travis was, he’s too drunk for them to do anything about it now. But he’s still being a dumbass, giving Travis one more chance to tell him, “oh no, we’re not together, I’m into guys.

“Oh,” Travis says, sounding, like, actually fucking bummed. Then, sitting up on his hands, “Yeah man, you should go talk to Joel, too, you’ll love him.” 

 

Nolan finds Steph still in the kitchen where they left her, sends her in to deal with her drunk boyfriend, watches her close the door behind herself. Why the fuck are you still wondering, he thinks. He’s not going down this stupid fucking road of reading into some straight guy he doesn’t even know’s signals.

He does eventually stumble into conversations with Travis’ two roommates, who are both, like, a hundred times quieter than Travis is, but maybe that’s just because they’re clearly high out of their fucking minds. 

The whole party is pretty bro-y, just like Nolan would’ve expected a hockey player's party to be. There’s tons to drink and basically no food, a huge bonfire out in the yard, a beer pong tournament that’s way too competitive for Nolan to get involved in, even though he’s positive he could fucking smoke the guys playing.

Basically, he just wanders around. Drinks three beers and people watches a bit, ignoring the still shut door of Travis’ room. Chats with a few girls about their majors, just because they’re nice and it’s easy. Leaves a group of guys in the kitchen just starting in on the topic “what’s the worst smell you ever smelled,” stops off in the living room where all the couples on the couch are now talking about the results of their DNA test kits in exhausting detail, and finally hops down the gap in the stairs and goes to stand by the creek, surrounded by trees screaming with cicadas and smelling like rot and home. It’s muggy and clear and beautiful and rural in a way Nolan misses every single day he spends downtown.

Nolan just kind of stares into the dark of the water and listens to it trickle by. He lets himself get homesick for a while, and then jerks out of it as he hears a gag and a splash upstream and looks up to see Travis, hunched over, propping himself up with one hand on a tree while he pukes into the creek.

Steph’s nowhere he can see, so Nolan wanders over. Watches Travis wipe the back of his hand across his mouth and then take a few steps back before sitting heavily down on the soft, marshy ground. 

“I always get hungry for Harvey’s when I’m drunk,” he says, because, whatever, sometimes it does suck to talk to people who don’t get half your references and for some stupid reason think that everything Canadian is, like, hilarious. 

“Dude,” Travis says, sounding perfectly happy and not at all like he was just throwing up, twisting around to face Nolan, smiling. “I would kill for Harvey’s right now.” 

Nolan sits down in the moss next to Travis and they get into a whole thing about Swiss Chalet, and how A&Ws in Canada are so much better than ones in the U.S., and how apparently Travis has never heard of Salisbury House because apparently it’s just a Winnipeg thing, and how Boston Pizza sucks, because all pizza sucks. 

“You don’t like pizza?” Travis is asking, voice like his whole life has been ruined, when Nolan sees Steph, out of the little dress she was wearing earlier and now just wearing a huge hoodie, start wandering over in their general direction, head arched and searching like she can’t see them yet through the dark.

“TK?” she calls.

Travis turns his head towards the light spilling out of the firepit, blinking and quiet for a second that Nolan thinks is a little too long to be normal, and then yells, “I’m over here!” 

He turns back to Nolan. “You have to add me on Snap,” he says, all drunk and sincere.

“Yeah, okay,” Nolan says as Steph crosses the yard and finds them. She leans a hand on Travis’ shoulder, smiling fondly down at him.

“Looks like a party over here,” she says. 

Travis grins up at her and says, “It is,” his voice low and flirty for her. He’s still looking up at her as he hands Nolan his phone--an old cracked-screen Samsung that doesn’t have a passcode apparently, so Nolan just swipes up and goes through like six pages of apps before he finds Snapchat; types his name into the box and adds himself. 

Nolan gives the phone back and Travis pockets it, then gets onto his knees, off-balance so he ends up falling forward onto one hand, bringing his face right up to Nolan’s, practically banging their noses together. “Whoops,” he says easily, then hefts himself the rest of the way up. 

“Let’s get you back in bed,” Steph laughs, wrapping a skinny arm around Travis’ waist. Travis puts his arm over her shoulder and lets her take some of his weight, start to turn him and lead him inside.

“Bye bud,” he calls to Nolan, grinning, sloppy. “See you later!” 

Nolan watches him go for a second, looks back up at the sky. The stars always makes him feel like he’s in the middle of a poem without having to write it. 

He stands up, grass wet and cold between his toes, and heads back to his car. 

 

Travis wakes up with his face smashed against Steph’s ribs, body sticky with sweat, the conversation he had with Nolan last night already in his head like it’s just carry over from a dream or something. 

He gives himself a second to lay in bed. Checks his phone, makes sure that Nolan actually did add himself on Snap and sees that, duh, he hasn’t messaged Travis yet, and neither has anyone else between last night and this morning. 

He gets up, leaving Steph tangled in the sheets in just her underwear, grabs his wallet, and goes for a run. 

He dry heaves a half a mile down the road, then actually pukes into a ditch a little bit later. Ends up walking through the McDonald’s drive-through since he forgot to bring a shirt with him; gets himself a box of greasy, perfect little potato rounds and a bacon egg and cheese biscuit, plus a huge cup of Diet Coke, which he downs so desperate it spills down his chest, cool and sticky. 

He eats his food standing in the parking lot next to the trash can, then shoves his cup and napkins in and runs back home, feeling half-better and half-worse. 

 

He sends Nolan a snap before he gets in the shower; a mirror selfie of Travis sweaty, hair fucking nuts, face all pale and wrung out.

In the shower with nothing to focus on but his body and the dingy grout of the tile wall, Travis always gets moody. Starts thinking about G and Sean and Laughts, all the dudes on the team who Travis was best friends with last year and hasn’t heard barely a word from since they graduated in the fall.  

Travis doesn’t get what’s so wrong with him that he’s had eight different best friends in his life and now the only one he still talks to is Law. And really only sometimes; when Travis texts him first, mostly, or once in a while when Law messages him to say “I miss you” but nothing else. 

Joel and Morgan are chill, and Steph is awesome, always down to hang out. But really, right now, with all the guys he spent four years playing with graduated, his only real solid thing is his family, who he still calls all the time, who still even have a fucking landline, so that when he gets really lonely he can call and even if his parents are at work or sleeping or something, he can leave a message and at least know the house he grew up in is hearing it. 

He really needs a best friend, though. Someone who will listen to him and get what he’s saying; make him laugh; wrestle him and work out with him and shit when Travis gets antsy. Like Law or Laughts, or Nolan, kind of, even though he’d been so quiet most of the night Travis hadn’t really gotten a feel for him beyond grumpy and Canadian and patient, because he’d laid down next to Travis in bed and listened to him ramble.

Last night, Nolan’s body in his bed made him feel steady and solid in this weird way. It’s not like he hasn’t been close to other people recently. He hugs and messes around with his teammates all the time, with and without pads, and, in a totally different category, he has sex with and also cuddles with Steph pretty often, too.

Maybe it was the fact that they weren’t touching at all, but that Nolan was still so close that Travis could feel the heat of him. Like how dating his middle school girlfriend had been so hot because they could sit next to each other to watch a movie; even share a blanket, but they couldn’t actually touch, because their families were always right there in the room with them. 

Except, not like that, because Nolan’s a dude; blech. 

When Travis gets out of the shower he has a “yikes” text from Nolan. He smiles at his phone and sends back a funny Canadian meme he's had saved for like two months. Goes into his room to find Steph half-naked and yawning, and gets on his stomach between her legs. 

 

⊹⊹⊹⊹

 

Even with a full 24 hours to recover from his hangover, practice on Monday is brutal. 

Travis runs drills feeling sore and slow and sweaty; misses fucking sitters like he hasn’t done in years. When they scrimmage he falls about forty times, slipping around on the ice like a six-year-old and fucking up so many goals for his team that Jake loses his patience and screams at him across the ice, “Stop skating like a fucking fag!” 

It doesn’t bother him or anything. Hockey is macho and bro-y, but it’s got nothing on the way it gets out on the water or sitting in a blind in the woods the way Travis has been doing since he was a kid; Travis’ brother and dad and uncles all getting pissed if someone messes up their shot or misses their fish with the net; getting all intense about who shoots the most birds, talking shit to each other and then getting so focused they’re all dead quiet for fucking hours; coming back to the house and showing off whatever they killed that day like they’re cavemen providing for their tribe.

Travis likes it. Like, he loves it. He can clean a fish and gut a deer without thinking, easy and slick; scales and guts and nothing else.

And yeah, like Chase always fucking brings up, he cried ten years ago when he gutted his first doe and found a little pink fetus spilled out on the ground underneath her, but he’s not a fucking baby anymore.

He can look at blood and then just look away; can get yelled at and called all kinds of shit, whatever. It just makes him stronger.

 

Longing, because when I was born I was choking, and when they cleared my throat, a minnow flopped out.

Waves drag them up. Smooth between their legs, smelling like fish. Long hair cut off and tied on in slipknots so when fishermen grab at it they can slide away and back into the lake. They keep coming, so the priest catches them in nets; brings them into the church basement to give them last rites while he watches them drown on damp air.

Dad calls them scourge and sin; the fishermen say curse and cloud. I found one one morning and it grabbed my ankle gently, running its finger over the round of bone there, chin in the sand. I was young, and I didn’t know what to call them then but wrong, and now they’re pulled off the beach before I can see, so I decide on longing.

Chapter Text

After three days of texting Canadian memes back and forth with Nolan, Travis just really really wants to hang out with him again. It’s stupid, because honestly he doesn’t really know Nolan; doesn’t really have any reason to want to see him again as bad as he does, but he just, whatever, likes talking to him. Likes that Nolan responds to every text right away, sends these smart jokes out of nowhere, says “haha” at the end of practically every message so Travis doesn’t have to wonder about it.

He runs into Nolan on campus on Thursday after kind of looking for him when he walks to class all week. 

Traivs is on his break between classes, trying to figure out lunch, when he sees Nolan’s big shoulders and big-dick walk and hockey player looking hair across the street, heading the same direction as Travis, a few paces ahead. 

Nolan’s dressed totally different than he was at the tutoring center--skinny jeans and a t-shirt--and at the party--nice fitting shorts and a bright, short sleeve button up. He’s got on grey slacks, all fancy; no wrinkles and good, tight fit everywhere like they’re tailored or something, and a white button up shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He’s got his same hair, obviously, long and kind of messy, but he looks so put together and grown up it takes Travis a minute of looking at his back before he recognizes him. 

“Patrick!” Travis yells across the street. Nolan’s head snaps up, his eyes hidden behind sunglasses but apparently finding Travis, because he jerks his chin up at him and then glances both ways before crossing the road, reaching up as he walks to take earbuds out.

Travis gives his slacks another look--they’re cut a little high on his ankles, which are bare, but it just looks good and cool, instead of how Travis would probably look like he was wearing pants too small for him and forgot his socks. 

“What’s up!” Travis says when Nolan steps onto the sidewalk, reaching out a hand for Nolan to smack. Nolan gives it a snotty look but does it, his palm hot and a little sweaty. 

“Sup,” he says, his voice deep and quiet. 

“Heading to class?” Travis asks. 

“Lunch.”

“Oh me too!” Travis kind of fucking yells. “Wanna eat together?” 

Nolan looks at him for what feels like a long time. Kids shove past them on the sidewalk, annoyed at two people standing dead still in the middle of everything. It’s fucking hot out, the sun soaked into the cement and burning down the back of Travis' neck.

“I was gonna eat at Liza’s,” Nolan says eventually, flat and slow. Travis swallows, wishes he hadn't asked when he should've known Nolan probably already had plans with someone else. Shit I’m embarrassing, he thinks, and Nolan twists his lips to the side and says, “I guess we can go somewhere else if you don’t like it there.” 

“Oh,” Travis says. “Oh, dude, no, I’m down! I love Liza’s, yeah, let’s go!” He gestures for Nolan to lead the way back across the street and up a little hill toward the library, which Travis has been into like six times since he started school and every time it was to go to Liza’s, the little coffee shop on the top floor. 

He and Nolan step inside to a shivery blast of air conditioning and the loud buzz of fluorescent lights and otherwise just dead fucking silence. Nolan leads them to the elevator and smacks the up arrow, then crosses his arms and glares at the doors.  Travis has to suck his lips into his mouth to keep quiet, has to stare at the floor numbers counting down, four, three, big fucking pause, two, has to bounce a little on the balls of his feet, has to readjust his backpack straps so his bag his hanging way down by his ass when the doors finally ding and open.

And there’s Raff, stepping out and eyeing Travis, giving him a big eyebrow-y look. “Holy shit, Teeks,” he says, smiling and smacking Travis on the shoulder. “You’re the last person I ever thought I’d fuckin’ see here. Good boy, bud.” 

Travis laughs, says, “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” and gets a little bit embarrassed because, jeez, he doesn’t need one of his fucking teammates pointing out how stupid he is right in front of Nolan, who Travis knows without even having to think about it is super fucking smart. Like, he met him at the tutoring center where Nolan pointed out wrong things about Travis’ paper that Travis still doesn’t really get. Travis shrugs Raff away and gets in the elevator after Nolan, pushing the shut door button before Raff can say anything else.

“That’s one of our wingers,” he says right away when the doors close, because they are not going to think or talk about how much stupider Travis is than Nolan if Travis is even going to pretend that he can be friends with Nolan. “He’s, like, pretty good. You’ve gotta come to our games sometime man. Our team actually sucks, but there’s always a lot of goals.”

“I thought,” Nolan says slowly, “the hockey team here was supposed to be pretty good.”

“Last year, dude,” Travis says, sighing. “We almost won the division, but this year all our real good guys are gone and, I don’t know, our captain graduated and it’s just not the same.” 

Nolan stares blandly at the elevator doors. “Are you good?” he asks. 

“Oh, buddy, I’m amazing, ” Travis says, smiling at Nolan, trying to sound super cocky even though he's honestly having a terrible season. Nolan glances sideways at him and gives him a little bit of a laugh, which makes Travis want to pump his fucking fist. 

The elevator doors pop open at the sixth floor, and Travis has to concentrate as they walk through more of the library, grossly quiet like a stadium right after someone gets injured or something, and then finally through the glass doors at one end that lead to Liza’s.

It’s a little louder inside there, steamy noises you always hear in coffee shops for some reason and people talking with each other. 

They order up at the counter--Nolan picks up a little plastic box of sushi that’s probably been sitting in the case for a week and that Travis knows must be just fucking gross, and Travis gets himself a bagel and two extra things of cream cheese--and sit down at a tiny table by the window, looking down on the roof of an old brick church and out on the river that’s right at the edge of campus, 

“So what’s your major?” Nolan asks, which is basically how every conversation Travis has had for the past five years has started. 

“Ugh,” Travis says. “Sports Media but I fucking hate it. I’m just trying to play hockey and graduate.” And after that: Travis has no fucking clue. He’s accepted, basically-ish, that he’s not suddenly going to get drafted to a professional team when no one’s even looked at him for years and when the whole team sucks now, anyway. “You want to be, like, a writer?”

“I guess,” Nolan says. “Wanna just live in the woods and do my thing, you know? Get wasted on Miller Light and throw up in creeks and shit.” He puts a whole sushi roll in his mouth and chews, and Travis grins at him, feeling warm and fuzzy. “Is that girl I met the other night your girlfriend?” Nolan asks once he’s swallowed his roll.

“Oh no,” Travis says around a big bite of bagel. “I mean, I guess maybe we’re dating, but we don’t go on dates or anything.” Steph is awesome, but Travis isn’t going to marry her or anything. His mom’s spent his whole life joking about how he needs a wife who loves listening to him talk, which Steph is great about, but he also wants someone who will just chill out and be quiet with him sometimes, too, which Steph gets bored doing.

“Hmm,” Nolan says, looking down at his sushi. 

Their conversation gets dumber from there, which is perfect for Travis.

“If you could be any animal what would you be?” he asks Nolan at one point. He loves questions like this, and everyone he’s known for longer than a week is sick of them, so he figures he’s gotta get some in with Nolan before he gets annoyed, too. 

“A hawk,” Nolan says immediately. 

“Sweet, dude. I’d be a dog. Just lying around gettin’ petted, everyone loves you and always tells you how good you are.” 

Nolan’s cheeks get pink and Travis leans forward, grinning, attention caught by something that he can chirp Nolan about. “Dude your face is so red.” 

“Don’t,” Nolan says, glaring, like that's gonna fucking work.

They leave the library together after they finish eating and Travis gets glared at a bunch more for trying to make Nolan blush and then giving him shit about it when he does. 

They stand out on the sidewalk for a minute, awkwardly looking over their shoulders toward the opposite directions they have to go. 

“My buddy’s having a party tomorrow night if you wanna come,” Travis says, sounding only a little bit desperate and awkward. "I swear I won’t throw up again.” He smiles up at Nolan, giving him what Law always called his, “‘please love me’ look.

“Ugh I have so much grading to do,” Nolan says, and Travis is already nodding, getting ready to tell him, “no worries man, ” and then Nolan says, “We could hang out at my place if you end up not going to the party though.”

“Oh,” Travis says. “Um, yeah, man. That sounds cool.”

Nolan doesn’t nod; doesn’t respond or anything, just keeps glaring over Travis’ shoulder. “Okay, well, I'll text you my address," he says, sounding all grumpy about it like him and Travis don't both clearly know that he's the one who invited Travis over.

 

The next night, Travis drives to Nolan’s downtown apartment. It’s in an alley with a little parking lot next to it, and Travis has to text Nolan when he gets there so Nolan can come down and let him in, then lead him up a half flight of dirty cement stairs, through a tiny weed smelling hallway with four doors, and in through door number one. 

“Here it is,” Nolan says flat and mumbly like the world’s worst ever fucking real estate agent. The front door leads into a long narrow hallway. There’s flat grey carpet all over the floor that reminds Travis of an office, and the whole place smells like the apple cider candles Travis’ mom burns all winter. 

“Nice,” Travis says, and Nolan rolls his eyes and stalks down the hall.

“There’s the kitchen, that’s Josh and Roman’s room, here’s my bedroom,” he says, motioning to doors along the hall that Travis barely has two seconds to glance into before Nolan motions Travis into his room ahead of him. He shuts the door behind them, blocking out the light of the hallway so they’re in half-darkness, just a warm lamp standing next to a big bed and some dim light slitting through the blinds. Nolan’s bed is made, which is not a thing Travis thought that any guy anywhere near his age actually did. He’s got a plushy looking comforter with lines of bears and pine trees stamped across it and his bed is pushed up against the wall with like six pillows at the head of it. His room is nice, actually. Not because the apartment is nice, necessarily, but because he’s got it all clean and fancy looking. Like, he has framed fucking pictures sitting on top of his dresser.

Travis knows Nolan’s lived in this apartment about the same amount of time that Travis has lived at his place with Joel and Morgan, but Nolan’s bedroom looks like he’s settled into it, and like he takes care of it, and suddenly Travis feels like a slob. “We have to watch in here because of my asshole roommates, so.” Nolan flops down on the bed and then twists half off it to pick his laptop up off the ground. Travis doesn’t think about the fact that it’s maybe not normal to watch a movie in bed with another guy with the door closed outside of a hockey road trip until he’s in the bed, but Nolan doesn’t get weird about it; just settles down a little ways away from Travis, reclined back on the super soft mountain of pillows, and pulls up a movie on Netflix called: “Super Buddies.”

“This is my favorite movie,” he says, straight faced, and then pushes play without asking Travis for his opinion. 

Five minutes into watching little puppies in superhero costumes prance around and talk and Travis is so fucking antsy he feels like he can’t breathe. The movie is dumb, which Nolan must know, but Nolan’s just watching it with focused, intense eyes, dead silent. Travis knows most people hate talking during movies, but it’s literally Travis’ favorite thing in the world.

He goes maybe five more minutes before he literally cannot stop himself from saying, “How the fuck is mediation a power. And why is his costume like that.” Nolan just keeps watching the movie for a second, and then he lets his lips curl up in a smile and he tilts his head sideways on the pillow to look up at Travis, his eyes all, like, shiny and happy. 

“Don’t talk shit about the buddies,” he says, smacking Travis on the side, light, nothing like the way Travis has been hit on the ice a thousand times in his life, but even when he pulls away, Travis can feel the shape of his palm on his ribs.

Nolan keeps talking a little after that, pointing out things Travis misses and quoting lines of the movie along with the little talking dogs, and so Travis figures it’s okay if he talks too, gives constant commentary and makes jokes about everything he can think of, trying to make Nolan laugh.

They end up cracking up at the big fight scene at the end, quoting it back and forth to each other, fucking losing their minds, just laughing at stupid stuff the way you can only laugh when you’re feeling stupid already. 

“Nice one, Butterball,” Travis says, high and squeaky like one of the stupid little dogs, and Nolan tips his chin back and laughs, pushing his hair back off his forehead.

Man I wish I looked like that, Travis thinks. 

 

⊹⊹⊹⊹

 

So Travis has his ninth-ever best friend. 

It’s like with Law--easy and good, knowing there’s someone who Travis can always complain to and who gets what Travis says and stuff. 

The only thing is that Travis feels kind of, like, intense about it. He gets all excited when he sees a text from Nolan, always reads them and responds right away even though he’s usually the worst at replying to messages. He loves making Nolan laugh just like he loves making everyone laugh, but when he actually gets one of Nolan’s low, soft huffs of laughter, he can’t do anything but just stare at him, at how he gets all smiley and loose when usually he’s so straight faced. 

It’s because Nolan’s so much smarter than him, Travis figures, so making Nolan like him feels super rewarding, like impressing your favorite coach or teacher or some guy on your team that’s really good.

They hang out at Nolan’s apartment all the time, because it’s only a few blocks away from the downtown campus where Travis has class every day. Travis gives up on his old sketchy space in a Sheetz parking lot and starts parking in the little lot by Nolan’s place and walking to campus from there, then hanging out back at Nolan's apartment when they're both done with classes. Nolan makes grilled cheese for him basically every night, and they watch bad movies on Nolan’s laptop in his bedroom, since apparently he doesn’t have his own TV, sharing earbuds since Nolan’s bitchy roommates--two skinny little grad school douchebags--apparently have “quiet time” every night after six, what the fuck. 

After a few weeks Nolan and Travis’ whole chat is filled with so much weird shit. Quotes from their dumb movies and random stuff like “the guy in the booth behind you looks like a moose don’t look” and like a hundred weird questions from Travis and one message from Nolan (which Travis has screenshotted, for whatever reason) saying, “ask me one of your weird questions, weirdo.” 

“Would you rather be covered all over in hair or totally bald, no eyebrows or anything," was the one Travis came up with. 

“All over hairy so I could be warm,” fucking Manitoban Nolan said, what a fucking nerd. 

"No one’s gonna wanna suck your dick if it’s covered in hair,” Travis told him, but honestly, Pat actually could probably pull even with a hairy dick. 

They start going to lunch together basically every Tuesday and Thursday, when they both have a free hour at the same time (Travis from the classes he’s taking and Nolan from the ones he teaches). 

Travis is staring at his phone during his pre-lunch Thursday class a month after meeting Nolan when he gets a text from him that says “doing student conferences and these bitches are needy, I can’t come to lunch, sorry bud.”

“Ugh hate them but no prob,” Travis texts back, even though it’s kind of a bummer because last night Nolan texted him “holy shit I gotta tell you about this dumb ass dude in my class at lunch tomorrow” and Travis was really excited to casually tell Nolan how he got a fucking B plus on his history exam. 

Travis is just kind of wandering around outside his classroom after it lets out, trying to figure out what to do for lunch, when he gets the idea to bring Nolan lunch. Like, even if he can’t actually talk much to Nolan, maybe he can at least make his day a little less miserable. Nolan talks about his students like they’re the most annoying thing in the world, so he must be fucking losing it, stuck in his little office with them all day.  

Travis can't judge them too much, because he was a huge fuckup he was in his freshman comp class, turning in papers two weeks late and three pages under the limit and only barely passing with a C after like fifty emails from his coach telling his instructor how important it was that Travis didn’t fail.

So he’s just repaying the debt he owes the English department or whatever when he stops by the nice sushi place a few blocks off campus--Nolan loves sushi so much that he’ll literally eat any dank gas station shit he comes across, but he really loves Blue Fish; gets it every payday and then complains about how expensive it is--and orders a box of Nolan’s faves. He knows where Nolan’s office is, on the first floor of one of the fancy, marble floored buildings on campus, because he’s stopped by there with Nolan a few times on their way to and from lunch. 

Today, the hall outside his door is full of kids sitting on the floor, and Travis has to stand awkwardly with them, listening to the low mumbles of Nolan’s voice and another dude’s from through the half closed door to his office.

The door opens and a guy wanders out looking annoyed. Nolan's voice calls out "Okay, Cassie," way more polite and mild than Traivs is used to hearing him. 

“One sec,” Travis says to Cassie or whatever, the girl who stands up off the floor and shoulders on her backpack. He smiles at her to say sorry, and she smiles back more like, hey, but Travis is not interested at all in hooking up with one of Nolan’s students. Even if she wasn’t five super important years younger than him. Even if he wasn’t with Steph.

Travis ducks around the doorway holding up the plastic bag of sushi and grinning. Nolan glances up at him, looking bored for a second and then surprised, his eyebrows jerking up before his face settles.

“Room service!” Travis says, stepping into the office and putting the sushi on the desk in front of Nolan. “Sorry you’re so busy, man.” 

Nolan pulls open the bag and glances in. “Wow, Blue Fish,” he says in this weird slow way that kind of throws Travis.

“Yeah,” Travis laughs, feeling a little weird about it now. Like, whatever, he was just trying to do something nice. But Nolan likes library sushi just fine, so. Maybe it’s weird. He laughs again. “Well, only the best for you bud. Uh, okay, don’t wanna take time away from your students, so.” He glances at Nolan one more time--more casual than he usually is when he teaches, nice dark jeans and a t-shirt that says “Canadian Built” that Travis definitely wants to steal at some point--and steps back toward the door, giving Nolan an awkward little wave, feeling kind of pathetic and creepy.

“Teeks,” Nolan says quietly, and then he gets up, leans past Travis into the hallway and says, “Just a minute,” and pulls the door shut. He leans back once the latch clicks but he’s still close to Travis, body warm and big and right there, taller enough that he has to look down a little to stare at Travis. “Thank you,” he says seriously, looking all intense into Travis' eyes and shit. 

Travis can feel Nolan's breath on his face; has no idea why the door has to be shut for this; has no idea why the door being shut feels so fucking heavy when it doesn’t even mean anything other than that Nolan wanted a break from his weird little students. 

Travis looks away and keeps looking away. Turns to the door and fumbles with the handle and tells Nolan, “No big deal,” over his shoulder, and walks through the crowd of freshmen with his head down, his neck hot, hoping none of them fucking know who he is.

 

⊹⊹⊹⊹

 

When Travis gets back to the apartment after class and practice, Steph is sitting at the kitchen table, dressed in her running stuff, spandex and a sports bra, and she gives him this big-eyed, pretty, “let’s have a talk” fucking look as soon as he walks in.

“Goin' for a run?” Travis says, casual. He walks past her to pull a gatorade out of the fridge, then turns back to her and meets her eyes. She’s just watching him, waiting. “Steph, can we please not talk about it.”

“Travis,” she says, half-sweet half-annoyed half-hurt. “It’s not, like, normal, I don’t think.” 

Travis squeezes his eyes shut. He knows he’s not exactly the same as a lot of the other guys he knows; horny all the time, constantly looking to hook up like it’s the best thing in the world. Travis just doesn’t really get how it’s that much better than jerking off, though, and he just, whatever, maybe isn’t as into sex as some guys say they are. He just has to be in the mood for it before he can get hard. He doesn’t think that’s that weird. 

“Come on, Steph, there’s nothing wrong with me.” He pauses, breathes in and checks with his body to make sure he’s not lying when he says, “You know what, we can do it right now.” She gives him a twisted up look. “I want to, babe.”  

Steph eyes him skeptically, then sighs and slouches her shoulders, getting rid of all the annoyed and just looking kind of sad. Travis steps across the kitchen and cups her cheek, bending down to kiss her. “I’m gonna make you come so hard,” he whispers against her lips, in his dirty talk voice that she’s told him she loves, and she scoffs, pushing him away and pretending to look around the corner even though Travis is pretty sure Joel and Morgan aren’t even home. 

Travis makes her come twice; comes himself. It’s good. Close and sweaty and an orgasm, so, how bad can it be. He cleans them both up afterwards, tucks Steph, already asleep, in under his quilt, and slips out to sit on the top step of the stairs that lead up to the front door. He’s shirtless and it’s a little cold out, quiet with all the bugs asleep and no cars or anything. He thinks about calling Nolan, and then tells himself how weird that would be. It’s late, and he doesn’t have anything he needs to say. Just wants--he doesn’t even know. Nothing. 

He listens to the creek, looks up at the stars a little and then feels cheesy and dumb about it, so he just stares into the woods. 

 

⊹⊹⊹⊹

 

Travis is messing around with Morgan during warmups, trying to get him out of his head and hype him up since he still always gets nervous before games, when he sees Nolan sitting in the stands, right on the glass behind one of the goals. 

Travis blinks and cuts off in the middle of a sentence, which makes Morgan look where Travis is looking. It’s not hard to pick Nolan out. The attendance at their games has been shitty all year, so Nolan’s got an empty seat on either side of him and no one behind him for a few rows, and, also, he’s wearing a shirt with big pink and purple and yellow stripes up and down it, so he stands out. 

“Oh, your buddy from the party came!” Morgan says, banging his shoulder into Travis’. “That’s sweet,” he says, his voice sticky like syrup dried on skin. 

Travis doesn’t know what to do. He wants to skate up to Nolan, toss a puck over the glass at him like he thinks he’s some big fucking star or something and not just a dude that plays on a college hockey team with a budget so low they’ve been banned from giving away pucks. Wants to tell the guys not to embarrass him because he’s got someone watching, the same way he’s heard Jake and Nate do when their girlfriends or their parents are in the crowd. 

Instead he waits a few minutes until a puck he can chase goes down to Nolan’s end. Skates as fast as he can, which is pretty fucking fast, no big deal, and then slides to a showy stop in front of Nolan and gives a quick knock on the glass. Nolan’s blinking at him, looking unimpressed but in a happy way, when Travis hears skates behind him and gets bumped over, almost all the way down to his knees on the ice. 

“Sup Nols!” Joel screams at the glass, and when Travis catches his balance and turns around Nolan is laughing and Joel is reaching over to give Travis a big exaggerated noogie over his helmet. 

 

It ends up being the worst game Travis has played in years. It’s bad, slow ice, snowy and soft, and Travis is so warm and sweaty he feels like he’s melting a line through it with his blades. He plays sloppy, fucks up a ton, scores a lucky goal out of nowhere, and talks a ton of shit, half-hoping Nolan can’t hear him and half-kind of wanting him to. He doesn’t know what Nolan would think about Travis screaming “I’ll fuck you up, asshole,” right in some other dudes face, his own face all screwed up in viscious.

The on-ice version of himself is not the one he really usually is around Nolan. It’s not like he thinks Nolan’s suddenly going to stop being friends with him if he sees Travis being different. It’s just like. He doesn’t know. If his mom was there he wouldn’t want her to see him being mean, either, but it’s different than that.

Travis can’t stop thinking, his brain galloping so fast it makes him tired, when usually hockey is one of the only things that makes his head feel quiet. 

Travis gets a second goal in the second period and starts feeling okay about himself, starts half thinking that maybe he’ll get a hat trick and Nolan will see, will maybe even throw his nice looking snapback over the glass, and maybe Travis can pick it up and give it back to him later. It’s a stupid thing to think about.

It’s pointless anyway, because Travis doesn’t get a hattrick. 

He goes into the third period feeling it, pumped and glancing at Nolan over and over again, even as he lines up in a faceoff circle at Nolan’s end of the ice. The guy across from him is around Travis’ size, a little slower than Travis but better at puck handling. He sees where Travis is looking. Grins meanly and says, “That your boyfriend? Gonna go let him score on your ass after I do?”

Travis shouldn’t give a fucking shit about it. It’s stupid chirping, the same thing Travis has heard every game, every fucking practice, every day since he was in fucking minor league hockey. 

But his brain skips way ahead, and he’s dropping his gloves and his stick, grabbing onto the guy’s sweater and swinging a punch at his neck, his aim wild and his hit too light, and the other dude’s fists are coming back at Travis the second Travis’ hand ricochets off his chin.

 

Travis gets sent off, along with the other guy. His team loses.

Travis gets yelled at a little bit by coach, gets told "fuck yeah, TK," by Joel and Morgan and a bunch of the rest of the guys.

Nolan is slouched outside the locker room when Travis comes out, which is awful and good and Travis doesn't know.

Is that your boyfriend? he hears again. 

“Yikes, eh?” Nolan says, and then turns away and heads down the hallway, and what the fuck else is Travis going to do but follow him. 

 

Nolan drives them back to his place. Grabs an ice pack out of the freezer and wraps it in a hand towel for Travis, and then brings him into the living room, which Travis has basically never even been in before.

“Josh and Roman are gone this weekend,” Nolan tells him, spreading out on the couch. Travis sits down beside him, pulling his knees up to his chest and yanking his hood over his head, then tucking the ice pack under it, cool against the hot skin of his temple, the sore ache of bone underneath that. 

“I hate losing,” he says, and his voice sounds--fucking stupid. Wobbly and weak and dumb. 

“Aw, buddy,” Nolan says, and then brings his arm up over Travis’ shoulders, yanking him sideways into Nolan’s body, a little hug, supposed to be quick and casual.  

Travis shivers and leans all the way into it, turns his whole entire body into it, fuck, until he’s pushing his arm and his face into Nolan’s ribs, curling up small to fit under Nolan’s arm, breathing in the laundry smell of Nolan’s shirt, feeling the hard shifting muscles of his ribs, pushed up and then pulled down as Nolan takes a big breath.

Nolan pulls his arm away for a second, and then brings it back down to grab the meat of Travis’ shoulder, his big hand kneading the muscle there.

“You good?” he asks in his low, grumbly voice.

“Yeah,” Travis says, keeping his eyes closed against Nolan’s body, shrugging his shoulder into Nolan’s grip as Nolan’s fingers push into him. 

Stop being so fucking weird, he thinks, and it’s like someone yells it at him. Makes him realize how bad he fucking needs to push himself off of Nolan. 

Nolan leaves his hand on Travis’ shoulder for a second as he sits up. He turns his head sideways to watch Travis as Nolan kneads at him one more time before pulling away. 

Travis runs his hands down his face. “Sorry,” he says, letting out a rough sounding laugh. “You know what,” he says, trying to sound normal, and then pauses for long enough that Nolan finally asks,

“What?”

Travis makes himself stop being weird, stop being a pussy, stop freaking out. “I just wanna shoot shit.” 

Nolan hands him a controller. 

 

⊹⊹⊹⊹

 

Travis is, like, the least subtle person Nolan’s ever met, so it’s not a huge surprise to see him all sulky after getting beat up, split on his forehead and red bruise on his cheek and purple under his eye, his chin tucked into his tight hockey team sweatshirt, mouth working around the wet ends of the strings that trail out of the hood. 

It’s not a surprise to see Travis showing his feelings, but it is a surprise to see him just stay sad, slumped over and frowning, quiet, when the whole time Nolan’s known him he’s been loud and nonstop and fun. 

Nolan doesn’t really get it. It wasn’t a great game, and Travis’ team lost, whatever, but Travis can’t get like this after every loss, right? Nolan’s, like, pretty sure Travis wouldn’t keep playing hockey if it made him this miserable. 

Nolan fucking sucks at, like, talking about feelings and giving advice and stuff, though, no matter how many times his sisters come to him and ask him questions about boys or cry about their breakups. So he just sits there next to Travis and shoots zombies with him. Gets Travis a new icepack to stick inside the hood of his sweatshirt when his first one starts dripping down the side of his face. 

They sit on the bony, uncomfortable futon in Nolan’s living room playing video games in the dark for so long that it’s going to be light in only a few hours. Travis just stays quiet. Stares at the TV. 

“Want to go fishing?” Nolan asks when his ass is sore from sitting on a bar in the futon and his eyes are so blurred from staring at the TV that he can’t aim anymore. “There’s nothing good on this lake but we can just throw it back.” 

Travis blinks. “Yeah,” he says. He looks over at Nolan and smiles, small but better. “You have poles and shit?”

Nolan does. Pulls them out of the back of his bedroom closet and stuffs them in the backseat of his car. They have to drive all the way across town to get to the lake, but there’s hardly any cars out, just dark grey streets and ovals of streetlights and the wet smell of nighttime. 

Nolan brings Travis to his favorite dock. He wasn’t lying that there’s really nothing more than bluegill and a few catfish in this little lake, but they bait their hooks and cast, sit on the hard wooden bench on the end of the dock together, staring out at their bobbers and the moon on the water, quiet for a long time until finally Nolan catches something and makes a big deal out of reeling it in, trying to make Travis happy. Travis stays serious, watching, until Nolan pulls the fish out and holds it up for Travis to see, acting like he’s caught a great white and not the tiniest fucking bluegill he’s ever seen, and then Travis finally breaks, starts cracking up, his hair falling in his face, his eyes dark and his teeth flashy white. 

“Nice one, Butterball,” he says, taking out his phone and pointing his camera at Nolan. Nolan’s grinning in a way he usually tries not to in pictures, but no one’s going to see it but Travis, who’s probably the only person who wouldn't think Nolan smiling all the time was anything but just normal for him, so, whatever, Nolan poses with his fish and lets Travis take it. Let’s the bluegill go and sits back down on the bench, a few inches closer to Travis, his shoulder brushing the fabric of Travis’ hoodie, and then finally stops smiling like an idiot when Travis slides away, putting space back between them.

The sun rises, and Travis takes a picture of that, too. 



First moment of the day that it’s less than ninety degrees out: I suck in air, lake, fish, rot, weight. I wanna be hotter. Want to sweat and stick.

At shore, cicadas and crickets wake up and scream, "fuck me." The water’s so clear we watch crawfish on the bottom snap their claws at each other, mating dancing. 

A foot away from me he sits as still and quiet as I’ve ever seen him, no snapping no screaming. 

 

Chapter Text

Travis has been kind of thinking about Nolan's birthday lunch every day for the last two weeks, ever since Nolan, glaring at the TV at Travis' apartment while they played NHL, mumbled, "I'm gonna have a birthday party if you wanna come or whatever."

Travis blinked over at Nolan, looking all pale and grumpy, pink circles on his cheeks, jaw square as he ground his teeth, hair sticking out under his toque. "What! When's your birthday?" 

"The nineteenth," Nolan mumbled, his lips barely opening. "It's just gonna be a bunch of grad school people, you'll probably hate it." 

Nolan took a shot and scored, and Travis leaned over to mash his shoulder against Nolan's as their guys celebrated on screen. He tilted his head up and spoke right to Nolan's jaw. "Obviously I'm not gonna miss your birthday, dude. I'm fucking pumped to meet all the nerds you always whine about."

Nolan rolled his eyes over at Travis and slumped sideways, pressing their shoulders harder together.

They played a few more rounds and Travis rambled about all his favorite birthday parties from when he was a kid and how his family had always woken up early to celebrate the moment Travis was born, at 5:19 AM. “What time were you born?” he asked Nolan. “We should do a countdown.” 

“I don’t fucking know,” Nolan said. “My real birthday's the day before the party anyway, so.”

“Oh, dude! What are you gonna do on your actual birthday then?”

“Get party shit and call my family, I don't fuckin' know."

And that was just too fucking sad. 

Travis had spent his birthday a few years ago basically alone--it was in the offseason, when the guys on the team all kind of drifted apart, and plus it'd been on a Monday and during hell week. He’d talked to his family and that was nice-ish. His mom cried a little about missing him and his dad told him, "Buck up" all gruff, the same exact way Travis had heard him say it a gazillion times growing up when Travis or his dad or Chase got too emotional, teary-eyed or saying sentimental stuff or something. Chase had called him separately, said, "Don't be such a downer, bro. Go hook up, I’m gonna Venmo you money to buy chicks drinks." But even thinking about going out and picking up; spending the night with some girl who didn't know anything about him, had been so fucking depressing. 

So Travis had gone to Walmart and bought himself a whole cheesecake and a six pack, had eaten and drank shirtless and messy in bed and fallen asleep at like 9:30. 

It was pathetic, and he's made sure to have plans for every birthday since then so he doesn't feel like such a loser again.

He wasn't gonna let Nolan spend his birthday teaching his annoying students and cleaning his apartment for the party and eating fucking library sushi all by himself. "Let's have lunch on your real bday.”

Nolan glanced over at Travis and then back at the screen, and then smiled for a half a second before biting his lip. “Fine.”

 

Travis is speed walking to his car Friday after his 1:00 class lets out, typing out “omw 🥳🍣” to send to Nolan, when Steph calls him.

Travis almost just swipes to ignore the call and finish his message to Nolan without even thinking, but he stops himself at the last second, makes himself answer.

“Trav, guess what day I just realized it is!” Steph says right away, sounding excited. 

“What, babe?” he asks, jogging into the parking garage. 

“Our four-month kiss-iversary!” Steph says, laughing. She’s joking around and Travis knows that, and he should be joking back, but he’s distracted and rushed, fumbling his keys out of his backpack while propping his phone on his shoulder.

“Oh, yeah? Well happy kiss-iversary.” He makes a smacking noise with his lips. “We should go out next week and celebrate.” 

Steph snorts. “I’m joking Travis, it’s not a big deal. Let’s get lunch though? You haven’t eaten yet, right? Come downtown and pick me up.”

“Well,” Travis says. This is kind of a weird topic between them, for some reason. Steph’s met Nolan, that first night at Travis’ party and also a few times since then, when she came over just as Nolan was leaving and stuff. And Steph’s usually the nicest person; loves everyone, but for some reason she gets all weird and quiet whenever he talks to her about Nolan. “It’s Pat’s birthday, so, I was gonna take him to lunch, kind of.”

Steph is quiet for a second, and Travis can’t figure out what she’s thinking. “Can I just come with you guys, then?” she asks after a long time, her voice quiet and a little edgy. 

Travis' stomach kind of rolls, bummed and sick like he just missed a huge, easy shot on goal. 

It’s just ‘cause he kind of had his whole day with Nolan planned out--sushi and bugging Nolan at the grocery store while he got party supplies and trying to distract him from cleaning his apartment; giving Nolan the gift he bought and watching his face as he opened it. But it’s fine. It’s better if Steph comes.

Buck up, he tells himself. “Yeah, babe, of course. I’m picking up Nolan outside the Col, so--”

“Okay, see you there,” she says, and hangs up. 

Travis rolls his windows down and lets wind whip at him as he drives downtown, starts and stops through a little traffic on campus, and finally pulls up outside Nolan’s office building. 

Nolan’s standing with his hands in his pockets, wearing his favorite gray slacks and a bright white polo that, like, really fucking shows off the way he has muscles Travis would kill for, and Steph is next to him, white-knuckling the straps of her backpack. 

He thinks Nolan’s fine with Steph--he’s been super polite to her whenever they’ve seen each other--but it’s not like he’s ever really talked to Nolan about her.

Travis waves at them both, and they both don’t wave back, just climb into the car, Steph in front, obviously, and Nolan in back.

“Happy Birthday,” Travis says, glancing over his shoulder to see Nolan frowning out the window. “Happy kiss-iversary,” he tells Steph, starting to lean over to kiss her, feeling all forced and weird, like he’s posing for a prom picture in front of his fucking parents or something, feeling like Nolan’s staring at him even though Nolan probably, like, definitely isn’t, and then the car behind him honks, and so Travis jerks back into his own seat without kissing her and drives away. 

Travis realizes on the drive to Blue Fish that he doesn’t even know if Steph likes sushi. He wants to ask, wants to say fucking anything in the tense air of the car, quiet except for the weird squeak Travis’ one back wheel makes, but he feels like he should know already whether she likes it or not, so he just keeps quiet. 

Travis has never actually eaten at Blue Fish before (because he'd never really had sushi before meeting Nolan but also because it’s way too fancy a place for him). It's all dim inside, dark concrete floors, black walls with Japanese letters on them in neon yellow and blue. 

Travis tried to dress up--he’s not wearing any camo, anyway--but he’s still, like, just himself. He’s got bad fucking posture and his hair never looks nice no matter what and he can’t stop shifting his weight between his feet, and when he tells the hostess “Three,” he feels like his voice echoes all the way up to the ceiling and bangs around on all the exposed pipes. 

He feels a tiny bit better once they’re seated--in a booth in a back corner that kind of blocks them off from the rest of the customers; Steph next to Travis and Nolan across from him. He rolls his shoulders, bounces his leg a little under the table before Steph stops him with a hand on it, and looks up at Nolan. “Happy Birthday again,” he tells him, even though he already texted him this morning and just said it when Nolan got in his car like ten minutes ago. 

“Thanks again.” Nolan finally smiles a little bit. 

They order--it turns out Steph doesn’t like sushi, which, that’s great, so she gets soybeans and shrimp. Travis feels bad, but what’s he supposed to do? He’s had Nolan’s birthday lunch planned for two weeks and just learned about his, whatever, kiss-aversary with Steph an hour ago. 

They’re all quiet for a little longer before Travis finally breaks and starts talking; who gives a shit if everyone in the restaurant can hear him, if Steph and Nolan both think he’s crazy, if he makes himself sound stupid.  

He tries to come up with things that will make Steph and Nolan talk to each other a little--“Nolan likes reading, too, did you know that? Steph’s favorite book is Harry Potter, have you ever read that Nolan?” and they both give him short grumpy answers, not really even looking at each other. Steph keeps watching Travis, looking all sad and squinty. 

Travis feels so fucking lost.  

The waiter brings their food after what feels like forever, and asks them all what they want to eat with. Steph gets a fork, Nolan gets chopsticks, and then the two of them and the waiter all look at Travis. “Neither,” he says, picking up a roll with his fingers and shoving it in his mouth.

He finishes his food first after shoving it all down messy and fast, and then gulps down his water and says, “I gotta go to the bathroom.” 

The men’s room is as fancy and weird as the rest of the place, buzzing neon lights around the mirrors and shiny black toilets. Travis splashes water on the back of his neck, thinks about calling someone smarter than him and just being like, “Can you tell me what’s happening?” 

But he’s not gonna ask his mom, doesn't even know how he'd start to explain it to her, and Nolan’s right out there, making Travis confused, so he can’t call him for help, obviously.

Travis goes back to the table. Buys all their lunches. He knows Nolan would normally complain, but he’s weird and tense the whole meal, barely even looking like he’s enjoying eating his favorite foods, and he doesn’t seem to really notice when the check is dropped off and Travis puts his card in.

Travis was going to buy his food anyway, but when he thought about it before, when he thought it’d be just the two of them, he imagined them maybe fighting over the bill a little, thought about saying something like “you’re my best friend and it’s your birthday, come on,” something stupid and embarrassing but soft enough that Nolan would just blush and let him pay. 

Outside, Steph gets straight in the backseat of Travis’ car. Nolan widens his eyes and looks sideways, raising his eyebrows, all bitchy and annoyed, and gets into the front seat. Travis knows Nolan hates awkward shit like this, and he feels like shit that he’s making Nolan do stuff that he hates on his birthday when all he fucking wanted was to be nice and buy him sushi. 

“Hey, aren’t you going to give him this?” Steph asks when Travis gets in, shoving the big gift bag Travis has in his backseat up onto the armrest between him and Nolan. 

Travis was going to, before Steph was here and Nolan was awkward and everything felt so fucking messed up. “Uh, yeah. Here, bud.” He grabs the bag and holds it out to Nolan, who is blushing and glaring and avoiding eye contact with either of them as he pulls it into his lap, yanks it open, and takes out the big, plushy dog Travis got him. 

It’s a cross between a pillow and a stuffed animal Travis came across at the store one day. It’s soft and squishy and cute, and as soon as he felt it he couldn’t stop thinking about how Nolan gets migraines sometimes, and how he’d told Travis really soft pillows helped. It’s so dumb, and it’s even dumber without Travis explaining it, so he does, says, “Well I remember one time when you had a migraine you said you wanted something really soft to lay on and I found that and just thought it was, uh, soft. It’s supposed to be a Collie.” 

Nolan’s staring down at the little grinning Collie face and Steph is squinting at the side of Travis’ head and Travis is avoiding looking over at her. He watches Nolan as he squeezes the Collie, his big fingers sinking into it and then flexing back, and then brings it up to his head, pushing the side of his face into it. “It is soft,” he mumbles flatly, and then pulls it down and puts it back in the bag, glancing over at Travis for half a second and telling him, “Thanks, Teeks,” quick and impersonal.  

Travis starts his car, makes one turn toward Nolan’s apartment so he can drop him off even though, before everything, he was planning on spending the rest of the afternoon with him. “Can you bring me to my car first, Travis?” Steph asks politely from the backseat. 

“Uh, okay.”

When they get to the parking garage and Travis pulls up behind Steph’s little red Impala, she asks Travis, in the exact same voice, “Can you come with me for a sec?”

Travis swallows, puts the car in park, and heaves himself out, shutting the door on Nolan and walking a few feet away with Steph. “I’m sorry this was weird, I don’t really get--” he starts, and Steph shakes her head, puts a hand on his shoulder and steps close to him. 

“We’re breaking up, okay?” she says, in, like the nicest voice, like she’s talking to a little kid who’s crying or something. 

“What?”

“Look,” she says, glancing away and then back, blinking hard. “Look,” she says again, wobbly. “I love you.” And oh fuck does Travis have no idea what to say to that. “I know you don’t love me, right? That’s, like, fine, okay?” Steph sniffles and wipes a hand under her eye. She’s fucking crying; telling him she loves him; breaking up with him, and Travis feels like he’s suddenly in a different universe or something, like he thought he knew what was going on with his life but he was wrong, and Nolan is right there in the car, the window maybe not even all the way up. “Just, don’t say anything, okay? Can you move your car?” She sets her jaw, turns away, and gets in her Impala, starting it up and shifting gears. 

Travis doesn’t know what to do. He has no idea what’s happening to this whole fucking day.

He backs up, gives Steph room to drive away. He drives to Nolan’s, barely looking at the road. 

It’s not like he’s heartbroken or whatever. He likes Steph, always has fun with her. Loves going to parties with her, having someone to talk to the whole time, being part of a couple, a little mini team where you were just playing for each other. She was pretty, had a great body and soft, long hair. He knew he hurt her feelings when he couldn’t get it up for her, but it wasn’t anything to do with her; he couldn’t fucking get it up for himself half the time, couldn’t get hard for videos of chicks with huge tits and perfect bodies, even. 

But he never thought that he’d marry her or whatever. Never even really felt as intense about her as he does about Nolan, as he used to feel about Law, like he wanted to be around her 24/7 and got pumped when she wanted to be around him and shit. She didn’t like fishing or hockey, so. That was part of it, probably. 

He doesn’t look at Nolan until he pulls into the parking garage by his apartment and turns his car off. Nolan is looking forward at the grey cement wall, face blank. 

“Sorry your birthday lunch sucked,” Travis says. 

“Whatever.”

Travis pauses. He doesn’t know how much Nolan heard, so: “Steph broke up with me.” 

“Yeah,” Nolan says. “Sorry, man.” He kind of expects Nolan to reach over and pat his shoulder or pull him in for a sideways hug or something, but Nolan just sits still in his seat staring forward, one hand on the door, his body tense.  

“I don’t, like, have any idea what happened. Do you?”

Nolan’s quiet for a long time. “Nope, no idea about girls,” he finally says, opening his door and hefting himself and his backpack and his dumb giant gift bag up out of the seat. 

Travis watches him walk around the car, movements stalky and stiff, and then pause a few feet away, not looking back, but waiting. 

Travis  squeezes his eyes shut, tells himself to buck up again, and shuts off the part of his head that’s banging around full of feelings. He gets out of the car and follows Nolan upstairs.   

 

Yesterday, Nolan sent Travis his whole pre-party to do list: go to the store and vacuum and do dishes and bake/buy a cake and make fucking punch . "You can't distract me," he told Travis.

Travis doesn't really even try to, but still the only thing they get done is the punch.

Travis follows Nolan up to his apartment, both of them still being kind of weird and quiet. Nolan doesn’t have AC and his apartment is always crazy fucking hot, so he leaves Travis in the kitchen to change out of his slacks right away. Travis gets himself water from the sink and chugs it, then just stares out the window at the street, his head feeling the way it does when he's got a really hard test sitting in front of him, shut down and slow like he just can't think. Nolan comes back in wearing nice looking shorts cut high on his thighs. "Check out my birthday tattoo,” he says, sounding a little more normal. Travis leans over a little to look at the little grey and black angel right below the hem of his shorts, in the middle of his thigh; dark swollen ink on Nolan's pale skin.

"Cool," Travis says, voice rough. Nolan slathers lotion onto his tattoo while Travis watches, and then drags Travis to the gas station across the street to buy a ton of junk food--“breakup party,” he tells Travis, like that’s a thing--plus the cheapest collection of liquor they can find. Back at the apartment, they eat chips and dump the alcohol all together, and then agree that they’ve made the worst punch ever. 

“Well,” Nolan says as they stand over the huge pitcher of Malibu-Midori-Tropical Fruit Vodka-Sprite. “We could smoke.”

They open the window in Nolan’s room, shove a towel under the door, sit with their backs against Nolan’s bed, and share a bowl. Nolan gets hit by it right away like a huge fucking lightweight. Says, “WhoaI’m high,” all slow and relaxed.

“Yeah ya are, bud,” Travis says, smiling, taking a big hit and holding it in, trying to let it blank him out. 

Nolan keeps getting distracted and hogging the pipe, which is fine with Travis because it means he gets to watch Nolan get way fucking high, all chill and happy.  

“Hey," Nolan says after a while, eyes wide and spaced out on the wall of his bedroom, "I think we can fix the punch."

Travis tilts his head back on the bed, looking over at Nolan, loose-limbed and taking up tons of space, his knee resting on Travis’ thigh where it landed when he sprawled his legs out. Travis can’t stop staring at the fresh, stark black of his tattoo, the little patch of smooth, shaved skin on his hairy, thick thigh. 

“Okay, let’s do it,” he says quickly, standing up, then putting all his weight into dragging Nolan up off the floor, too.  

 

⊹⊹⊹⊹

 

Nolan doesn’t smoke that much anymore. He shouldn’t really have smoked at all in front of Travis, when being around Travis makes him feel high and dumb, anyway. But fuck, he fucking needed it after that shitty-ass fucking lunch.

Travis doesn't, like, get hit by the weed the same way light-ass Nolan does, but as they work on their punch, sampling and adding shit and then sampling, over and over again, he does get fucking drunk. 

It reminds Nolan of the first night he hung out with Travis, which seems like forever ago, now that he can’t imagine not knowing Travis; now that Travis feels like such a huge piece of Nolan’s life. 

Travis isn’t drunk the same way he was at the party, though. He’s mellow and easy, comfortable instead of intense, but his eyes are sloped half-closed exactly like Nolan remembers them out by the creek. 

“You’re not driving,” Nolan tells him.

“Oh no way,” Travis agrees. 

Josh and Ronan are in their room, but they’ll be annoyed if they wake up and find Travis sleeping on the couch.

And plus, like, obviously, he’d rather have Travis in his bed. 

 

Nolan bites the tag off the dog-pillow Travis got him while Travis watches, shucks his shorts off and crawls into bed in his underwear while Travis watches. Sinks his head into the belly of the pillow while Travis’ eyes rake over his face. “I really like this,” he tells Travis, low. 

Travis smiles lopsided at him. “That’s awesome. I was torn between the Collie and the Unicorn.” He rolls himself right into Nolan’s space, wriggling for a minute and then dropping his arm on the bed between them, a couple inches from Nolan's chest.

Nolan takes a deep breath, sliding his palm across the sheet, his fingers brushing the side of Travis' pinky finger. Travis doesn't move, doesn't pull away, so Nolan kind of, like, plays with Travis’ hand. Slips his hand under it and picks it up, turns it over and traces his fingertips across the lines to Travis' palm, the calluses on his fingers. Just pushes his luck and gets touchy, skating his fingers over the warmth of Travis' skin, the fine, soft hairs on the top of his wrist.

Whatever. He’s high, and he’s stupid, and he keeps convincing himself Travis is into him even though Travis had a girlfriend up until three fucking hours ago and he’s never said a thing about being into guys and he moved away from Nolan on the dock. 

But also, like, he has texts from Travis saying shit like, “you’re the best dude 🖤,” a hundred messages with questions Travis has asked him, not just shit like “what are your three top dog breeds?” but like, “are your parents still together?” and fucking “how’s grading bud? I can bring you snacks if you need a break." He had Travis pretty much fucking cuddled up against him on the couch that day after his loss, his head on Nolan’s shoulder in this way that made Nolan feel, like, big and like he knew how to handle Travis, how to make him feel better. And Travis fucking looks at him all the time, stared at his thighs all fucking night tonight.

Still, if he was sober and if they weren’t laying on his bed together and if Travis wasn’t all smiley and easy looking, Nolan would be wanting to touch Travis’ arm and not doing it. But they’re here in the dark of his room, Travis just staying still and breathing slow and steady and letting Nolan touch him.

Nolan traces a tiny scar on Travis’ forearm and asks him, “What’s this?” his voice hoarse.

“Skate blade,” Travis says, and then starts in on the story, making it hilarious even though all that really happened is Travis fell and some guy tripped over him and stepped on his arm. Nolan’s laughing already when Travis finishes his story and immediately asks, “Would you rather have dick sized nipples or a nipple sized dick?” and that makes Nolan laugh even harder.

Also makes him think, He wouldn’t be talking about dicks and nipples while we’re in bed together if he wasn’t into me, right? “I don’t know, I like my dick.”

“Ditto, man,” Travis says, his voice syrupy slow. “I guess we’ll both have to have giant weird fucking nipples.” 

“I guess,” Nolan says, sounding fucking, like, soft in a way his sisters would absolutely destroy him for. Also, in a way that has nothing to do with this fucking ridiculous-ass conversation. 

Travis rolls onto his back and folds his hands over his ribs. “I’m scared to tell my parents about Steph,” he says, and Nolan has to take a minute to straighten his head out before he can talk about serious shit. 

“They’re your family, do they really care that some random chick broke up with you?” Nolan knows it’s too harsh. There’s literally nothing fucking wrong with Steph, as far as he knows, other than the fact that she dumped Travis. And maybe not even that, because, like. Nolan's trying not to think about it too much so he doesn't get even more stupid, but if a guy he was dating spent an hour looking at someone else the way Travis had spent the whole time they were at lunch today staring at Nolan; if he had to tell the best friend of a guy he was dating, "he doesn't even actually like you, so," in the defensive, broken voice Steph used on him when they waited for Travis to pick them up, Nolan would probably dump the guy, too. 

“I don’t know,” Travis says. “Maybe, yeah. Just, they really liked for me to have a girlfriend. They kept asking me if I was going to bring her home for Christmas.” 

Nolan nuzzles deeper into the pillow. He doesn’t know what to say. His family doesn't give a shit who he dates, wouldn't say anything besides, like, "that's too bad Nolly, are you doing okay ?" if he told them he got dumped. “That sucks.”

Travis sighs. “Yeah.” He’s quiet for what feels like a long time. Nolan stays on his side, staring at the curve of Travis’ jaw, the line of his lips, the way his eyes trace over the ceiling. “I can’t imagine my parents coming down here. I feel like I have a whole different life here, you know what I mean?”

“Uh-huh.” 

“We hunt all the time, back home. That’s, like, the big thing the guys do whenever we all get together, but.” He tilts his head over toward Nolan. “I don’t really even like it.” 

Nolan can picture it: Travis’ mom and aunts and girl cousins staying back at the house and talking , which Travis loves to do more than maybe anything in the world, and Travis out in some blind, maybe by himself or maybe with a few other guys around him, but with his mouth pushed closed because he’ll get yelled at if he says a single fucking word. Travis, who flinched and got all quiet when they saw some gruesome roadkill the other day, shooting a deer, grabbing its antlers and posing with it, cutting it open.  

“That’s okay, Trav,” Nolan tells him, his voice whispery and low between them. Travis rolls his eyes and shifts on the bed, huffing and reaching up to yank at the pillow under his head.

Nolan thought he could be gentle here with Travis the way Travis has let him be a few times--the first night they hung out when he was wasted, that time after his loss when they sat on Nolan’s couch together, the other day when he pulled an all-nighter and came to Nolan’s the next afternoon, sleepy and loopy, and let Nolan feed him coffee and grilled cheese. 

But then there are times, like now, like on the dock when Travis pulled away, that Travis gets cagey when Nolan does something that's too, like, fucking soft, or something.

Too gay, Nolan doesn’t want to think.    

“I’m going to sleep,” Travis says, and closes his eyes. 

Nolan waits until he’s pretty sure but not, like, one hundred percent positive, that Travis is asleep, then scoots over closer to him, his face an inch away from Travis' arm. He can smell the musk of Travis’ sweat over the spice of his soap. Nolan's ceiling fan is whirring loudly, and some drunk guy is yelling distantly outside Nolan's open window. Travis is breathing deep and steady. 

Nolan leans forward and puts his lips on the skin of Travis’ bicep, cool and clammy.

 

⊹⊹⊹⊹

 

They wake each other up in the morning, Nolan thinks. He wakes up to a noise from Travis, feeling sore from sleeping wrong, and looks over to find Travis just blinking his eyes open, too. Nolan looks at him for a second--dark eyes unfocused and hair messy and lips sticking together at the edges as he yawns--and then he makes himself roll out of bed. Doesn’t say anything to Travis, just goes into the bathroom and takes his fucking time, because what the fuck is he supposed to say to Travis after last fucking night. 

When he finally convinces himself to stop brushing his teeth, his spit is pink on the white of the sink and his gums taste bloody. 

Travis is in the kitchen, chugging orange juice from a carton. 

“We shouldn’t have slept together,” Nolan mumbles, just to see if it annoys Travis, just to hear himself say those words. He feels dumb and fucking young in a way he hasn’t since, like, high school. 

Travis takes one more gulp of juice then pulls the carton off his lips with a suctioning noise. “I shouldn’t have drank that much,” he says, sounding a million times less grumpy than Nolan. “Sorry I had to hog your bed, man.” 

“No, like.” Nolan doesn’t know. He doesn’t want Travis to feel bad for staying at his place when he needed it, for taking up space in Nolan’s room. He doesn’t want Travis to think that, like, Nolan’s mad that he didn’t get to get off with Travis or whatever last night, because that’s not it. Travis can share his bed every night and not put out, that’s totally fucking fine, Nolan just. 

He fucking wants, and it’s killing him that he doesn’t know if Travis does too. “It’s fine,” he says. “You wanna shower here? You’re fucking gross.” 

Travis smiles at him, messy and tired and so hot Nolan wants to carry him back to bed. “Wow, that’s rough, coming from you.” 

 

⊹⊹⊹⊹

 

Nolan’s shower is nicer than the one at Travis’ place. It’s clean, pure white tile, and the water doesn’t have the metal-smell of well water Travis has gotten used to. The water pressure is so much better, nice jets of water getting right to Travis’ scalp, massaging into him.

Travis’ head still gets all tense and wild, same way it always does when he showers back at his place, or at his parents’. 

He shouldn’t have shared a fucking bed with Nolan. Just cause he was lonely and drunk and whatever else, because Nolan offered and didn’t seem bothered by it, because idiot fucking Travis just wanted to keep being close to Nolan, and didn’t think about all the fucking reasons that wasn’t something he was supposed to do. 

Like, he’s not in fucking juniors anymore. He should’ve known better than to crawl into bed with another dude and whisper about his feelings like a girl at a slumber party. 

But Travis got all the way up and out of bed just thinking about how nice it was having Nolan in bed with him, warm and big and safe feeling, like a dog when you’re sick or something; waking up and seeing Nolaan’s messy hair and sleepy blue eyes looking down at him first thing, knowing he was about to get to spend the whole day with him. 

It’s not normal, though. Obviously Nolan thought it was weird, and Travis should have realized it way before Nolan walked into the kitchen and said it. 

Travis should go home. Call Steph and try to figure shit out, change into clean clothes and play Fortnite with Morgan and Joel, go out later with the guys on the team who've been texting about picking up tonight all week.

He gets out of the shower and wraps a towel around his hips and goes to dig through Nolan’s dresser to find that "Canadian Built" shirt and some shorts that will fit him.

 

⊹⊹⊹⊹

 

It’s burning hot, fans in Nolan’s place just blowing heavy air around, people sweating and drinking and making it even hotter.

Nolan introduces Travis to everyone as they come in. Travis says his hi's and pours their gross punch for everyone, trying to be useful and also give himself something to do besides talk, so he has less chance to embarrass himself in front of all Nolan’s genius friends or whatever.

He eventually gets stuck in a conversation anyway, with this girl Grace, an MFA he knows Nolan gets annoyed with sometimes but likes more than some of the other people he has to take classes with, who asks Travis, “When’s your birthday?” the second Nolan gets pulled away from them by the doorbell. “Oh,” she says when Travis tells her. “I fucking hate pisces. What year were you born?” 

She keeps talking forever, getting into this whole thing with him about star signs and moon signs, which are a thing apparently, and also ballet, because apparently this girl is a fucking published writer and a horoscope expert and a semi-professional ballerina who has done a private performance for the governor of Virginia, whatever the fuck that’s worth. 

“Wow,” Travis says about a million fucking times.

Nolan’s across the room talking to another girl, almost as tall as Nolan which probably means taller than Travis, long dark hair that she keeps flipping around. She’s all smiley, laughing at everything he says. Nolan looks happy enough to be talking to her, face blank and polite. 

Travis thinks about the way he’s heard guys on the team talk about having threesomes. It’s better if it’s two girls, apparently, but he’s heard some of them brag about doing it with two guys. He wonders if Nolan would be into it, has a second of thinking about how Nolan would like it, what he’d do, and then immediately squeezes his eyes shut to blank that out of his head. Bleh, don’t be weird. 

Travis finally escapes his conversation with Grace and finishes pouring drinks. He walks by Nolan and the girl he’s talking to, gets introduced to her and finds out it’s Anna, Nolan’s, like, least favorite person in the program, and then smirks up at Nolan and leaves him there. He heads into the living room where most of the people are sitting around in one big circle. 

He sits on the floor next to some guy whose name he forgot right away, sips at his beer slowly so he doesn’t get sloppy like he did last night, and listens to everyone talk loudly about their thesises and professors and people who reply all to department-wide emails and good books they’ve read recently. Basically, shit Travis knows nothing about.

He feels so dumb the whole time, but that’s not that weird. Travis has been kind of fucking pumped to meet Nolan's official friends--the people he works with and shares an office with and goes to study groups with--all week. It feels special, even though that's probably dumb, like it means that Travis is part of his real life and not just some stupid jock he can hang out with when he doesn't wanna have to sound smart. But now, sitting in this circle of bougie looking people while he’s sweaty and wearing dirty underwear and Nolan’s too big clothes, he just hopes no one notices how much he doesn’t fit in. 

He keeps quiet. Nolan comes into the room and sits down right next to Travis, making the guy who was on his other side slide over. Travis smiles into his beer can.

“I’m just over academia,” one of the guys says after a while. “I just want to work with my hands, you know. Just live off the land and shit.”

Everyone else makes noises like they agree. “You should ask Travis about that,” Nolan says. “He, like, actually knows how to use his hands.”

That leads to Travis getting asked to hold up his hands; to Anna and this one guy, Matt, crawling across the circle to feel his hockey stick calluses that Nolan tells everyone are from an axe.

“Yeah,” Travis says, “we don’t have electric heating in Ontario so we have to chop all our own wood.”

Nolan smiles sideways at Travis and Travis just wants to--

He looks away from Nolan and stands up. Nolan puts a hand on Travis’ calf, his palm hot and rough, and frowns up at him, questioning. Travis glances down to give him a hopefully casual looking smile, his lips feeling tight. “I’m gonna get another beer,” he says, stepping out of Nolan’s grip. 

He walks down the hallway, one wall lined halfway down with pairs of shoes, feeling dizzy and hot.

The kitchen is cooler, empty of other people and with a breeze blowing through the window. Travis opens the fridge and stands in front of it; grabs a can of beer and holds it to the back of his neck.

He’s had a weird two days, all this complicated shit with Steph and Nolan. He’s missing Steph, probably, missing the way he would always pull her into his lap at parties, kiss the hinge of her jaw. 

He hears the heavy stomp of Nolan’s footsteps down the hall, the slap of his bare, sticky feet on the kitchen tile. 

“Hey,” Nolan says. His fingers slip around Travis’ to grab the beer can and roll it against his neck, spreading cool condensation, making Travis shiver, his neck cold and his back warm from the heat of Nolan’s body behind him. Travis makes himself chill out. Drops his arm, lets Nolan hold the can against him, keeps his one elbow propped up on the fridge door so cool, whirring air hits his front. 

“Hey,” he says back. “This is fun, man. Thanks for inviting me.”

Nolan hmphs behind him, so close and low Travis feels like it vibrates his skull. When he talks, his breath ruffles Travis’ hair. “Sorry it’s, like, all this school stuff.” 

“No, it’s chill,” Travis says, arching his neck a little. Nolan’s fingertips brush his skin as he rotates the can, sliding away the section that’s warmed from Travis’ skin and pressing a freshly cool side against him.

“Your favorite song’s on,” Nolan says, brushing his free hand over Travis’ shoulder and then off. 

"Yeah," Travis snorts and wipes sweat off his forehead, listening to the slow, nasally voice of some singer Nolan loves playing in the living room.

“We can go back in and start talking about, like, OHL prospects if you want,” Nolan says, and Travis snorts a laugh but has enough of being pathetic, like he needs Nolan to baby him instead of hanging out with his friends. He turns around, grabs the beer from Nolan and bumps his shoulder into Nolan’s chest, letting the fridge door bang closed behind him. “I’m good, dude,” he says, smiling easy. “I’m gonna find Grace again and learn more about astronomy.”  

Nolan doesn’t back away. Stays kind of, like, super close to Travis, tall and looking down at him all serious and intent for a long second, making Travis really feel exactly how drunk he suddenly is--hot cheeked and kind of swimming in his own head--and then Luke, one of Nolan’s officemates who Travis knows for a fact that Nolan hates and who he has no idea why is here, saunters into the kitchen, stupid cocky face and dumb round glasses. “Do you have any gin?” he asks, and Travis smiles sympathetically at Nolan and slips out from between him in the fridge, patting his ribs like, “ good luck, bud.

He goes back into the living room and does find Grace, asks her if she wants to dip outside quick, and they do; sit on Nolan’s front step and split a joint, which Travis figures is about the only thing the two of them have in common.  Travis is barefoot, curled up, arms crossed on top of his knees. It’s muggy out but cooling off, definitely way less hot than it is inside Nolan’s apartment full of people. 

“Have you read much of Nolan’s writing?” Grace asks, talking out smoke.

Travis frowns. He’s never even thought about it. “Uh, no. Is he good?” He can’t even imagine what kind of thing Nolan, quiet and smart but also, like, kind of the same as Travis, would write about. 

“Oh yeah,” Grace says, passing the joint back to him. “We all love when it’s his week.” She smiles at him, glazed.

“It’s, uh, poems, right?”

“Prose poetry, yeah. Really descriptive, you know, super queer.” She laughs, loud, and grabs the joint back before Travis has even taken his turn. 

“Oh,” Travis says. He would’ve thought that this liberal arts grad school chick would have gotten the same message about not calling things queer that Travis and all his buddies in juniors did, like, ten years ago.  “Sounds cool.” The door opens then, smacking into the backs of Travis’ ribs. “Mnh,” Travis grunts, scooting forward, wincing, and the door slips open into the space behind him and three of Nolan’s friends climb between Travis and Grace on the step. 

“Gracie, you want a ride?” one of them asks, and Grace says “uh-huh” and drops the joint, grinding it out on the sidewalk--which, okay, but Travis wasn’t done with it--and then heaves herself up with a hand on Travis’ shoulder. 

“Bye!” she tells him sunnily, and goes. 

More people are heading out when Travis goes back inside. He slips through the front door behind them and finds Nolan right there in the hallway, chatting with Luke and Anna as they put on their shoes. 

Nolan glances over and seems surprised to see Travis, blinking quick and then giving Travis a tiny, pleased smile, like Travis made him happy just by coming back up. Travis smiles back at him, wants to keep getting smiled at by him for as long as he can. Wants to just hang out with him and not worry about not knowing anything about star signs or fucking echocriticism or whatever.  He leans over into Nolan’s side and shrugs his way under his arm. Nolan opens himself up easily; slides his arm over Travis’ shoulders, propping some weight on him. 

He’s sweaty and hot, heating Travis’ skin after it had cooled off outside. Travis leans into his armpit, tells Luke and Anna it was nice to get to hang out with them, which is technically not a lie but only because Travis barely said three words to either of them. 

Nolan leans heavier on him when they go, smiling wide and toothy and open in a way he normally doesn't unless he’s drunk. Travis reaches over with both hands, rubbing one up and down his back and one on his stomach, steadying him. “Okay, let’s go to bed, birthday boy,” he says, steering Nolan into his room.

 

⊹⊹⊹⊹

 

“I thought you left with Grace,” Nolan says, letting Travis push him back onto the bed.

I almost threw up because I thought you left with her, he doesn’t say. I told everyone I was tired so they would leave because I thought you were fucking her. 

Travis looks taken aback. “No, dude, obviously I’m not going to leave you on your birthday."

“Oh,” Nolan says. “Well, thanks.” 

Travis rolls his eyes and sits on the edge of the bed next to Nolan. 

“Can I read one of your poems?” he asks.

Nolan, like, pretty much kind of scrambles for his phone.  

He pulls up this little piece he’s never brought to workshop or submitted to get published anywhere; not because he doesn’t think Travis would get one of those; he just. Wants Travis to read something different. 

Deep down and pretty fucking embarrassing, he wants to write a poem about Travis and show him that. Something about the way he screamed at everyone else on the ice when Nolan watched him play, something about how lying in bed last night with Travis felt, something about the way he took jello shots someone brought over earlier, pinky in and around and under, slick and easy. Something about Travis’ mouth, probably. 

He’s not gonna do that shit, because anyway, he already knows what he wants Travis to read. Something not even that good that he wrote two years ago, right after he moved down here; that makes him feel the same way sitting on that dock with Travis, quiet at sunrise, did. 

Travis takes a long time to read it, frowning down at Nolan’s phone, before he finally hands it back, looking lost in a way Travis really never should.

 

Tin canoe on cool water, heat of a sunburn before it hurts, tall, long legged spiders skating, musk and dust and summer.

I dunk my head under, press all the way down to the sand, bump my forehead against it. Open my mouth to let the lake over my tongue; earthy and loud.

Wrinkled finger-pads, muddy feet, sand between my back teeth, and my body feeling like home again. 






Chapter Text

Travis feels Nolan’s eyes on him as he reads. He feels like he takes forever, but he wants to try and make sure he understands it as much as he can, so that he doesn’t say something dumb or make Nolan think he doesn’t get it.

Travis is not a big reading guy, fucking duh, and the last time he even pretended to read a poem was probably in his first year of high school or something, getting forced to stumble through some Shakespeare shit out loud in class. 

This thing Nolan wrote is not like that. It feels like what Travis would maybe write, if he was anywhere even close to knowing how to write a poem.

It’s stupid, and he’s probably wrong anyway, but Nolan’s poem makes it seem like Nolan feels the same as him: tense and lonely when he’s stuck in a classroom or downtown in the city--except when he’s at Nolan’s place, which always smells like pine candles and has pictures of mountains and lakes and fish all over the fridge and on the dresser in Nolan's bedroom--and then finally good when he gets to go back to the woods or out on the water; like unclenching a muscle. It feels like Nolan gets him, or whatever. 

It hurts in a way Travis can’t figure out. Feels like he's looking in the mirror but instead of seeing just himself, there’s the reflection of someone else standing next to him, too. 

He doesn't fucking know. 

“Sorry, like,” Travis swallows, handing Nolan his phone back, “I don’t know if there’s something I don’t get, but. I really like it. It... kinda reminds me of the lake in my hometown, I don’t know if that’s stupid, but--”

“No, that’s cool,” Nolan says softly. “I mean, you’re, like, right on. It’s pretty literal, so, like, nothing tricky or whatever. It’s just something I wrote when I was missing Manitoba.” Travis bites his tongue. He wants to say something else and has no fucking idea how to. Something about how it makes him feel like Nolan knows him better than anyone else in the world or something, instead of just stupid fucking "I like it.” “Uh, you want another beer?” Nolan asks after Travis is quiet for way too long.

Travis wants another beer; he wants to spend the night in Nolan’s bed, wants to never have to go home, wants to not feel the same shame he did this morning when Nolan said they shouldn’t have slept together. “I don’t know if I can drive if I have another one. I’ll just chill for a little bit if that’s okay.” 

“Yeah, duh, whatever,” Nolan says, his voice rude but everything else about him--what he’s saying, how he gestures to his bed that they're both sitting on the side of like, "all yours," the way he’s smiling at Travis like he’s happy to be here with him, late at night, after all of his other friends have left--so nice it makes Travis’ chest hurt. 

Travis can’t stop thinking about how lucky he is that he randomly met Nolan, grumpy and quiet, so much smarter than Travis, so fucking Canadian, and so just exactly the kind of friend Travis has wanted for fucking years. Travis wants to tell him; wishes he was good at saying things instead of just being good at talking. 

Nolan’s bedroom lights are off, just one little lamp on his nightstand and the streetlight outside that shines right in all the windows on this side of the apartment lighting the room, shadowy and warm. He watches Nolan shift to tuck a leg under himself while the other dangles off the bed. Watches him pick up his phone and look down at it, the screen lighting up his face. He looks nice, from the side like this: hard jaw and straight nose and pretty, plushy mouth. 

“Bro,” Travis says, and Nolan tilts his head toward him. “You’re hot,” is what Travis ends up saying, which, whatever, fuck Travis’ mouth anyways. Nolan turns and blinks at him, wide eyed and probably thinking, like, what the hell am I supposed to say to this weirdo?  

Travis looks away, out the window at the gas station across the street, bright lights under a red awning. He tries to sound normal. “I’m just saying, like. Good for you, man.”

Nolan’s quiet for a long time. “I have a headache,” he finally says, sounding exhausted. 

Travis turns back to find Nolan staring at him, looking pained. He reaches up without thinking about it, fucking dumb, and rubs the pads of his fingers of one hand over Nolan’s temple.

It’s weird. Like, it’s a weird thing to do, and he and Nolan just look at each other as Travis does it, Nolan blinking hard once and then just watching him. But once Travis has his hand there, smoothing over Nolan’s skin and his hairline, he feels like it would be weirder to just pull away. 

So he says, “Wanna lay down?”

Nolan’s eyes get kind of, like, intense on Travis in this way that Travis doesn’t get, and then he nods, head moving against Travis’ hand. 

Travis scoots back on the bed and props himself up against the cool plaster of the wall. The pillow he got for Nolan is still sitting right there, so Travis puts it in his lap and pats it once, smiling at Nolan in a way that hopefully seems normal and like, bro-y, not weird and tense and drunk like Travis feels. 

 

Nolan takes in Travis, sitting back on Nolan’s bed, smiling up at Nolan, petting his lap for Nolan to lay down in it, and he wants so bad it would hurt except that he feels, more than he has since that first day he met Travis, like he might actually be close to getting

Travis is still fucking confusing--telling Nolan he likes his poem but looking like it hurts him at the same time; calling Nolan hot and then acting weird about it; just all fucking complicated like he always is--but he’s asking Nolan to lie down with him, how the fuck else is Nolan supposed to read into that? 

He crawls over to Travis. Sinks his head into the pillow on Travis’ lap, pushes his shoulder up against Travis’ hip, rests his hand on Travis’ knee. 

Travis shifts, opening his legs a bit more so Nolan sinks further down between them, and brushes his hand over Nolan’s hair, pushing it back from his forehead. 

Nolan closes his eyes and just feels it. Travis switches things up; goes from stroking over Nolan’s hair to running his fingers through it to massaging and scratching at his scalp, to just twisting the ends around his fingers, tugging at it. 

Nolan’s head feels fuzzy and tingly and cloudy. His dick is hard in his shorts. If he moved forward he could rub it on the outside of Travis’ calf.

He lays under Travis’ hand and thinks about doing it, about what it would feel like, about yanking the pillow out of the way and pulling his shorts down off Travis’ hips and burying his face in his lap, sucking Travis’ cock into his mouth.

But he just stays still under Travis’ hand; lets Travis play with his hair. Lets Travis set the pace for them. 

“Bro,” Travis says, “were you trying to get with Anna tonight or what? She was hotter than you made her sound, but I thought you hated her.” His voice is light and teasing, classic Travis; the exact same tone that’s made Nolan laugh a hundred times by now. 

It hurts Nolan like a hit. 

He jerks up out of Travis’ lap, his hair getting tangled around Travis’ hand, and it stings at his scalp as he pulls away.

“Woah, dude, what?” Travis asks as Nolan swings his legs over the side of the bed, turning away, putting his arm across his thighs to hide the fact that his dick still isn’t totally soft.

“Nothing,” Nolan mumbles, pressing the heel of one hand into his eye until he sees pink spots.  And then, because he's drunk: “I'm fucking dumb.” 

“What, no!” Travis says, shifting the mattress as he scrambles over to Nolan, settling his thigh against Nolan’s as he sits up, too. “You're literally the smartest person I've ever met--" 

“Travis,” Nolan says, too loud and harsh. He pulls his head up so he can look down at Travis, who watches him back, anxious and wide eyed, like a puppy about to get yelled at. Nolan pauses for a long time. 

He fucking knows that if Travis doesn’t like him anymore after finding out he’s gay then he’s not the kind of person Nolan wants to be friends with anyway, whatever, same lesson his mom’s been giving him since, like, middle school. And either way he knows Travis isn’t going to hit him or anything, probably isn’t going to say anything bad to him. But it’s fucking scary, in a way coming out to people hasn’t been for Nolan in a long time. 

He makes himself say it anyways, because fuck feeling like that again. “I’m gay.” Travis’ eyes jerk away and then back. “And I just keep getting--” he stops, gives Travis an up and down look that he thinks says, like, “ keep getting all fucked up over you, keep getting confused, keep wanting to kiss you ” pretty clearly. 

Travis blinks up at him, wide-eyed. “Oh,” he says. “Well, that’s nice, bud.” Nolan’s head throbs. “Like, I really didn’t... wow! So you for sure weren’t hitting on her earlier, huh? Man, dude, you totally don’t act like... I mean, seriously, you like fishing! That’s crazy!” He stops and his eyes get wider, and when he talks again he’s whispering. “Do all your friends know? Fuck, do your parents know?” 

Nolan’s cheeks are hot and he knows he’s got his bitchiest face on, but it’s either that or just look at the floor and never look at Travis again, because shit, Travis is so far from gay, so fucking far from being someone who could be into Nolan, that he thinks you can’t be gay and still like fishing. He’s so straight, apparently, that even fucking now he’s not worrying about how he shared a bed with Nolan last night or petted his hair just now, or touched him in all the other little ways they’ve touched each other over the last month and a half. 

“Yeah,” Nolan bites. “My friends and family know.” 

Travis is quiet for another second, and then his hand brushes over the cap of Nolan’s shoulder. “Thanks for telling me. That must be, like. Scary or whatever,” he says, quiet, as if he fucking gets it when obviously he has no idea.  

Nolan rolls his eyes away from Travis, and at the same time the mattress shifts as Travis twists on it and wraps one arm around Nolan’s back, pulling a little, trying to get Nolan to turn toward him. 

Nolan wants to say no. Wants to be strong and stop letting himself fall more and more for Travis when he has evidence of how bad it’s going to fuck him over right fucking here.

He closes his eyes and twists toward Travis and lets Travis wrap his arms around his waist. Hugs his own arms around Travis’ shoulders and puts his mouth against Travis’ hair, and then just lets himself be close to Travis for a minute, lets himself pretend for one more second that he can have what he wants.

Travis squeezes him, nuzzles into his neck.

He turns his face, puts his lips on the skin right above Nolan’s pulse, and opens his mouth. 

His breath comes out hot and wet, making Nolan’s throat feel clammy and tight. Nolan swallows, and he can feel the way his throat flexes against Travis’ lips. 

Travis breathes out again, and then the wet flat of his tongue slides over Nolan’s skin.

Nolan’s stomach swoops, tight and hopeful.

He pulls Travis’ face back with a palm at the hinge of his jaw and arches his neck to look down at him.

Travis’ eyes are wide and scared and all over Nolan’s face. 

Nolan wants to say honey, babe, sweetheart. “Teeks. What’s up?” His voice is so rough it hurts his throat. 

Travis kisses him. 

 

Travis has a second of Nolan’s lips big and warm and soft against his, not pulling away, just pressing into him; has a second to think, oh holy fucking shit , to feel sweaty and fast and panicked, like he sees an empty net and a puck heading toward it and he’s scrambling to block it; worse than that; like he’s shot into his own net without thinking and now the puck’s in and his head’s fucking full with a whole crowd of people, his mom and dad and his brother in it, his teammates standing up on the bench, everyone booing him, and then he yanks away, scrambles up, makes himself smile at nothing instead of looking up at Nolan, pats Nolan on the cheek, and goes to find, like, fifty more drinks. 

 

Nolan sits still for a second, lips warm and spot on his neck cool from the wet trail of Travis’ tongue over it, feeling fucking, like, just brain dead from that shit, and then he follows Travis into the kitchen. 

He finds him propped on the fridge door, beer can in his hand, the same way he found him an hour ago, when he let Nolan stand right up behind him and touch him and whisper to him. Travis has a hand in his hair, yanking at it, and he jumps when he hears Nolan’s feet on the tile. 

He didn’t turn the kitchen light on, so there’s just the cool blue light spilling out of the fridge and the streetlight cutting through the open window. 

He can see Travis’ face clearly, though. See him sucking his lips into his mouth and holding them there, tightly closed; his eyes running back and forth across the blank door to the freezer.

And then Nolan fucking gets it. Remembers Travis talking about how much he hates hunting last night, about how his family wants him to have a girlfriend so bad; rehears his voice two fucking minutes ago when he said, “do your parents know?” all quiet.

Nolan knows he has a great family; that he’s lucky he grew up with parents who told him and his sisters they would love them no matter what. He knows that not everyone’s like that--that people who live on farms in rural fucking Ontario are probably not like that.

And on the back of realizing that Travis maybe just needs someone to give him the same “it’s okay to be gay” speech Nolan got when he was like five, Nolan, selfish and horny and so fucking gone over Travis, thinks, He’s into me , his mind and, like, a little bit his dick getting all excited, because even if Travis maybe hasn’t done anything with a guy before, Nolan finally fucking knows.

He steps across the kitchen but leaves a few feet of space between them.

“TK,” he says quietly, watching Travis stare into the fridge and twist the unopened beer can around in his hand. “It's okay if you want to kiss me. I want to kiss you too.” He tries to make his voice--he doesn’t even know. Soft and hot and sweet and honest. The least bitchy he’s ever sounded. 

“I don't want to kiss you," Travis says back right away, wild and loud, spinning toward Nolan and letting the fridge slam shut, slicing out the light of it and leaving them mostly in the dark. "Don't fucking say that. I'm not a fucking--" Travis stops before the last word, gasping. “If you are," he says, quieter but just as intense, swinging his arm out in this wide arc, "that's fine for you, okay. But I'm not, so don't try and get me all--whatever."

Nolan has to breathe to stop himself from yelling back at Travis, being a dick to him for acting like Nolan’s the one fucking with Travis here when Travis fucking put his hand in Nolan’s hair and fucking kissed him.

“You don't have to be gay or bi, sometimes you're just into someone." Travis flinches, looks at Nolan all wide eyed, and Nolan pushes. Steps into Travis’ space and puts a hand on his shoulder, squeezing the firm, tense muscle there, rubbing his thumb into it to try and get Travis to relax. "Travis, you don't just randomly kiss someone because you're drunk.”

And Travis really isn’t even drunk--he had maybe three beers at the party. 

Travis steps away from him so hard and quick he trips a little and has to catch himself against the wall. "Fuck off, okay?” he says weakly, his voice tilting up at the end like he’s asking a question. Like he’s begging, Nolan thinks. “I'm not into you, okay?"

He turns towards the door and then stops, looking at the beer can still in his hand. He spins back and sets it on the table, glancing up at Nolan, looking nauseous.

“Come on, don’t drive, okay?” Nolan says, back to sounding bitchy, because he can’t fucking help it--his head hurts and he’s tired and Travis is unhappy, and this whole night is just a disaster. “Just sleep on the futon and let’s talk tomorrow.” 

Travis shakes his head, ducks away from the hand Nolan reaches out for him, and leaves. 

 

Travis can’t think, can’t fucking breathe, barely, until he gets out of the city, until the air whipping in his windows stops smelling like tar and exhaust and the road around him gets so dark he can’t see anything except the circle of his headlights, until his car starts grinding across gravel instead of cement. 

And then he can’t fucking stop thinking, which is fucking worse. 

He can’t stop hearing Nolan telling him “ you don’t just kiss someone because you’re drunk .” He knows for fucking sure that Law or Jake or Sean would never kiss another guy, no matter how wasted they were. If they somehow did, they would’ve spit afterwards, wiped their mouths off and laughed about it, not just stood and felt it and licked their lips over and over and over again. 

Travis doesn’t care if Nolan’s gay. He doesn’t even care if he’s gay, because no matter how he fucking feels or how fucking stupid he just got, it doesn’t fucking matter. 

Because Travis doesn’t want to be gay. Doesn’t want to tell his family he is; have the guys on the team know and look at him weird. Doesn’t want to even think about bringing a fucking boyfriend home to meet his family, his brother, his dad. 

He has to close his eyes for a second, sucking in air, and when he opens them there’s a split second where he sees a flash of movement in the ditch by the road.

He slams on his breaks, but the deer’s already hopping in front of him. His car slows down but not enough to keep from hitting it, knocking it sideways for a second before it pops back up into the beam of the headlight.

It’s young--maybe three months. Skinny and dull-colored and scary-still like deer always are right before they run; frozen and panicked, staring at Travis, round shiny eyes looking the exact same as Travis’ feel. The only part of it moving is it’s one front leg, broken so bad it’s swinging, blood and bone showing through skin. Travis puts his car in park; fumbles for the door handle and gets caught in his seatbelt, but before he can get out the deer flinches and runs away, awkward and pained, back into the trees. 

Travis slumps over, resting his forehead on the top of the steering wheel, his eyes wet and pathetic. He slams the flat of his palm into the wheel and yells “fuck” as loud as he fucking can. 



He fought the whole way in and then quit and just hung, heavy and beaten and vulnerable, mouthing at my finger.

“Bass are bad eaters.” 

I posed with him, held him, smiled like “ mine.”

The boat was leaking oil; a rainbow spreading out around us, shiny, and I wanted to drink it--had drank it before, stupid and thirsty and barely old enough to know what it was, and thrown it back up with fingers down my throat. 

“Let it go and let’s get off the water, come on.”

I looked at his eyes, shiny in the sun, yellow and green and wild and scared. Looked at his jaw, working underneath my hand. 

I threaded the hook from his mouth, and let him get away.

Chapter Text

Nolan slams the deadbolt shut behind Travis; fuck Josh and Roman and their shitty fucking quiet time rules, fuck Travis for being a homophobe like Nolan thought he was all those weeks ago when they first met and TK was just some random jock he knew nothing about, fuck Nolan for being so stupid and soft and embarrassing. 

He should go run, or get high and shut his brain off and go to fucking sleep, or call Maddie or Aimee or Carter. 

He gets in bed and yanks his phone out from under his pillow and starts to type out “text me when you make it home,” and then scoffs meanly at himself and deletes it. 

Travis can make his own bad fucking decisions and take care of his fucking self. He wasn’t even that drunk, he’s just being a fucking ass, acting like he had to run away because kissing Nolan was the worst fucking thing ever. Like him and Nolan haven’t been doing shit that’s pretty fucking gay for weeks already--flirting with each other and cuddling and hanging out together practically every day except when Travis is on the road for hockey. 

Nolan shoves his phone away, rolls over and shoves his face into his Travis’-sweat-scented pillow and tries to sleep for five minutes before he pictures Travis driving off the road, running into a tree, crashing into another car.

He pulls his phone out again and types and deletes and retypes, stabbing at the screen until his fingertips hurt, clenching his teeth til they’re sore. 

“Let me know you’re okay,” is what he finally sends, before turning his ringer all the way up and putting his phone back down. 

He gets like four hours of sleep; two minutes at a time. He wakes up over and over worrying about Travis; feeling Travis’ mouth on his neck; blushing and squeezing his eyes shut about the way he told Travis, “I want to kiss you,” all honest and dumb. Seeing the way Travis’ stood in the kitchen, hunched over and shaken.  

He dreams about TK hunting, blood on his hands and tears on his cheeks; about him playing hockey, getting screamed at and hit.

He should still be more pissed at Travis. It feels weak not to be.

All he can think about for the last hour he lays in bed is how it would be for Travis to come out. To say “hey I kind of like guys” to all his super fucking straight jock buddies and his dad, this tough old farmer that Travis basically never talks about except for one time when he casually told Nolan, “oh, my dad would kill me if I wore that,” when Nolan got into his car wearing a pink tie-dye shirt.

Maybe Travis actually was just drunk and stupid and confused by Nolan coming out. Maybe Nolan was wrong when he told Travis you don’t just kiss someone because you’re drunk. Maybe Travis actually doesn’t want to kiss Nolan ever again; isn’t into him; isn’t into dudes at all. But maybe he is, and maybe Nolan’s the only person he’s ever known who’s okay with it. 

 

⊹⊹⊹⊹

 

It’s still dark when TK wakes up, and for a second he’s tense and confused, thinking he’s in his room back at his parents’ house--twin bed and window facing east and walls crowded with all his hockey shit--and then he blinks and realizes he’s at his apartment, and it’s like the walls stretch out around him. 

He breathes in the cool air blowing in his open window and runs a hand down his face, relaxing for a half a second. Then he remembers last night, and then he wants to lay down and die.

He did so too many shitty things last night. Killed a fucking baby deer, probably, and said all that mean stuff to Nolan and kissed Nolan.

He was distracted with the deer and freaked out when he yelled at Nolan, and when he kissed Nolan he was--

He was just thinking, I want to put my mouth on him. 

And who knows why he’d fucking done it, instead of just trying to pretend he’d never even though it. 

And fuck he wishes it’d been bad, but it’d felt so, so good--Nolan’s lips were warm and soft and smooth, and the way he leaned into Travis makes Travis’ stomach jump just remembering it.

But the way he felt afterwards was bad. 

Travis finds his phone dead in the pocket of the pair of Nolan’s shorts he wore last night. He plugs it in and stares out the window at the dark as he waits for it to turn on.

When it powers up, there's a message from Nolan from fucking hours ago that makes Travis want to cry. 

“I’m okay,” he replies, way too fucking late, feeling wobbly and weak and just like such a piece of shit. “I’m sorry I was a dick." And then, swallowing hard, "I wish I could date you." 

And, fuck, it’s not a lie or some shit to make Nolan feel better: if TK could date a guy, he would one hundred percent go out with Nolan--his favorite person he’s ever met, funny and smart and makes Travis happy, super hot, whatever. 

It’s just not a thing Travis can do.  

Nolan texts back, eventually. After Travis has gotten himself out of bed and walked around the woods for an hour carrying a blanket and a piece of lettuce and looking for tiny, three-legged tracks from the deer he hit, when he’s finally given up and come back to the house, chilly and muddy and wet with dew. “I wish you could too,” Nolan’s message says. 

Travis’ blinks at it. His stomach clenches and his dick warms up a little bit. He gets in the shower, cold, and gets ready for practice. 

 

Coach announced their Sunday A.M. practice late yesterday night after he somehow heard that most of the team was out getting wasted. All the other guys are dragging around on the ice, groaning and trying to pretend they’re not hungover as fuck. 

There’s no way any of them are going to know about what Travis did last night instead of going out with them. Like, obviously. He knows that. He tries to make himself know that. 

Travis tries to have fun on the ice. Speeds around and does showy stops and fucks around with the puck, trying to just be normal and play hockey and not think about a hundred other fucking things. 

He skates over to Sanny. “Hey buddy, have fun last night?” Sanny yawns for like thirty seconds.

“Yeah,” he finally says, looking dazed. “Sorry bud, I’m, like.” He just stares straight ahead for a second, and then skates away all slow and pained looking. 

Travis goes over to Jake and tries to get him to race, and Jake just grunts and elbows him away. 

Moose has a few of his sisters’ kids watching up by the glass for some reason, and they have some fun with TK at least, getting all excited when he skates by them and stick-taps the glass. 

“Hey look, baby mooses,” he tells Joel and Morgan, who both look over and say “Ha” as deadpan as he’s ever heard. 

“Little moose babies,” he tries again on Raff, who just rubs his head and ignores him. 

Travis usually doesn't notice the cold of the rink, but he really feels it this morning for some reason. Soaking through his jersey, making him shiver even under all his pads and shit. 

He gets his shower hot, back in the locker room, and spends forever under it, staring straight at the brick of the wall.

Back at the house, Joel and Morgan groan about how tired they are and go back into their rooms. They do look like shit, bags under their eyes and sweat on their foreheads. 

Travis sits alone in the living room, in the recliner right by the window. Tips his head back and closes his eyes. To his left, a bug keeps buzzing and rattling against the screen, trying to get in or out. He smokes a bowl.

 

He waits until after lunch to text Nolan, but he’s thinking about it all morning.

He knows he should back off from Nolan. Give himself space to think so that he doesn’t keep doing stupid shit like fucking kissing Nolan.

But he misses Nolan, even if it’s only been half a day since they’ve seen each other. He wants to make sure they’re good. 

“Want to hang out tonight?” he texts him, all normal like he didn’t fuck everything up. 

Joel and Morgan wandered out of their rooms for lunch a while ago, so Travis sprawls out on the couch and plays COD with them.

"Sorry I was a dickbag earlier," Joel says, eyes fixed on the TV. "We went too hard last night." 

"It's fine," Travis says, staring at the screen and trying not to think about his phone and whether he felt it vibrate or just imagined it. "My night was shitty too," he says without even thinking. 

Morgan grunts and kicks Travis' leg softly from the other end of the couch. "Sucks, man," he says. 

Travis nods and shuts his mouth so he doesn't get any more closer to saying something fucking dumb. He focuses on the screen for a round until he dies and then scrambles for his phone in this way that Joel and Morgan would probably notice and give him shit about if they weren’t staring at the TV. 

He’s got a text from Nolan, which makes him unclench a little. “K let’s meet at Fishbowl at 7.”

Travis lets out a little sigh. He wraps an arm around his chest and rubs at his shoulder to tell himself, like, okay, good job, you didn’t totally fuck this up. 

And then he just has to spend the rest of the afternoon anxious for seven o’clock. 

 

Fishbowl, this dive bar on the edge of town, is basically exactly between him and Nolan’s apartment, so it wouldn’t make sense for them to drive there together, but Travis still kind of. Whatever, feels weird, for some reason, driving up and walking in alone, looking around for Nolan. 

He finds Nolan in a dark, wooden booth, arms spread over the seat behind him, taking up tons of space and looking cocky and so good Travis’ stomach lurches. 

It takes Travis a second to realize that there are two other guys sitting in the same booth as him, cuddled up together on the opposite side. 

“Hey,” Nolan says when Travis comes up to the booth and slides in next to Nolan, feeling off balance--half disappointed he doesn't get to be alone with Nolan, half glad he has someone to distract  him from, like, just staring at Nolan's mouth. “This is my friend Carter and his boyfriend Nick.” 

Oh, Travis thinks, swallowing. “Hi.”

“This is Travis,” Nolan says to the two guys, slipping his arm back where it was before Travis sat down, on the wooden edge of the booth behind Travis’ shoulders. 

“Hi man,” the guy Nolan pointed out as Carter says, smiling shyly.

Travis has heard Nolan talk about Carter before. He knows he’s one of Nolan’s better friends in his program and that he’s a few years younger. He definitely didn’t know that Carter was, like. That he had a boyfriend, or that he’d be here, sitting across from Travis and pressed right up against his boyfriend like he is.

A waitress comes over and says hi and Travis drags his eyes up to her and orders a Miller Light, then feels stupid about it as Carter and Nick ask the waitress a million questions about their draft beer selection, “Do you have any juicy IPAs?” and “What’s your darkest beer?” and stuff.

Carter and his boyfriend keep being cute or whatever as they all drink their beers and then order food and eat. 

Travis has not really been around many gay couples before. Or, okay, like, none at all. It's. Nice, kind of, in this super weird, distracting, probably stupid way, to see Carter and Nick just being all coupley together--looking at each other all sweet and sipping out of each other’s drinks and nudging each other and making eyes like there’s an inside joke going on only they get--and just acting normal about it. 

Travis is kind of fucked up by it. He knows it’s weird of him but he can’t stop watching them, and thinking about all the times he's sat in a booth with a girl he's dating and wished he felt as natural and happy and comfortable as they look.

He doesn’t really contribute much to the whole night. Just sits next to Nolan and tells stories a couple times when Nolan says stuff like, “Oh you gotta hear Travis tell about this time he caught a giant ass pike,” and switches between staring at Nolan and staring at Carter and Nick. It’s embarrassing. He’s an embarrassing person. 

When they leave the bar it’s starting to get cold out, the air tinged chilly in this way that just makes it feel like fall. Nolan leans into Travis, the hair and warmth and soft skin of Nolan’s bicep brushing against Travis’ arm for a second before he pulls away. “Can you give me a ride?” he asks Travis, looking down at him intense but nice and relaxed enough that Travis is pretty sure Nolan’s not going to tell him to fuck off or whatever, so he says yeah and tells Carter and Nick it was nice to meet them and leads Nolan to his car. 

It’s quiet most of the drive, just Nolan’s sad music muffled and soft from his phone sitting in the cupholder. “I hit a deer last night,” Travis tells him a few blocks from his apartment.

“Shit, were you okay?” Nolan says, sounding all shocked, turning in his seat to look Travis over. 

“Yeah,” Travis says, his face warm. “You were right, I shouldn’t have drove.” 

Nolan just mumbles a noise, and neither of them say anything else until Travis pulls up on the street in front of Nolan’s place and puts his car in park. 

He looks out his window, feeling shaky. 

“Look,” Nolan says seriously, and Travis turns toward him without even thinking about it. Nolan’s lit just by the streetlight outside and the blue numbers on the dashboard, his eyes reflective and dark and so wide and soft Travis feels like he’s being sucked into them. “I don’t wanna make shit weird for you, but.” He pauses and looks away, then back. “You know how you always ask me, like, fun questions?”

Travis swallows. He doesn’t know why Nolan saying that feels so heavy. “Yeah?”

“If you ever have a question about being gay I just want you to, like, ask me. Okay?”

Travis can’t breathe for a second. He looks out the window at the dark shadow of a tree. I’m good, bro, he should say. He should laugh. He swallows. “Okay,” he tells Nolan, as quiet as he fucking can. 

 

⊹⊹⊹⊹

 

Sitting next to Travis--like, right next to him, outsides of their knees touching every time one of them shifts a little--a week after Travis kissed him, Nolan wants to crawl out of his skin. 

They’ve hung out every day, Nolan’s gone to another one of TK’s game, and they’ve texted maybe even more than they did before, if that’s possible, and TK still hasn’t brought up anything about Nolan being gay, or Travis being maybe bi, or the fact that they kissed. When he told Nolan a week ago that he’d ask questions if he had any, Nolan felt giddy and happy and, like, a little bit weirdly turned on. He’d felt like maybe TK was, like, opening up to things, but now he’s back to acting like they’re just, like, bros but who text each other “good morning” and “good night.” 

So maybe he’s just not into guys, Nolan’s finally starting to convince himself. Or if he is, he’s not even close to ready to come out, so get the fuck over it and just be his friend. 

Nolan’s been in relationships before, and he’s dated a lot, but he’s never felt fucking needy the way he does with Travis. He’s always just been chill--like if it was hard to schedule a date or a hookup or if some guy he was talking to always took forever to respond to messages, Nolan would just say fuck it and move on. 

Travis isn’t some dude, fucking obviously, but Nolan should still try to stop being so fucking soft and desperate and horny and just, like, practically in love with him all the time. 

But even though he knows that; knows he should give Travis space; even though he wants to be a good guy and not freak Travis out, he brings it up again.

They’re watching an action movie with all these big muscly dudes, and when one of them takes his shirt off, Nolan shifts and, like, just shoots his shot one more fucking time. “That guy’s hot,” he says, quiet and muffled into the hoodie string he’s chewing on. 

Travis twitches so hard the metal bars of the futon shift and squeak under them. Nolan glances sideways to see Travis’ eyes fixed and wide on the TV. 

He’s silent for a long time while Nolan just watches him and feels nervous, and then he says, in this quiet, quiet voice like he’s admitting to a crime, “Yeah.” 

It’s not, like, anything. Seriously, it’s not like straight guys can’t and don’t know when other guys are hot. 

It feels so fucking important Nolan wants to write it down. 

“So, um,” Travis says ten minutes further into the movie, which Nolan has pretty much totally stopped watching. “When did you kind of, like. Start thinking maybe you were into guys?”

Nolan’s pulse thuds in his ears. “I knew when I was fourteen,” he says. “Didn’t really care about girls, so.” He shrugs, like he’s feeling casual and not out of his fucking mind about TK asking him that. 

 

Travis doesn’t ask Nolan anything else for two more days, and then, at fucking ten a.m. on a Sunday out of fucking nowhere, Nolan gets a text from him that says “Do you have any videos you like?” and then, a second later: “like porn.”

 

⊹⊹⊹⊹

 

Travis doesn’t know if it’s, like, normal, or if maybe it’s a bad thing or if its because he’s just kind of dumb or whatever, but most of the time, he just goes through his life without really thinking that much about anything.

Kissing Nolan, or maybe seeing Carter and Nick, or maybe Nolan telling Traivs he can ask questions, makes it so Travis can’t stop fucking thinking, all the time, until his brain's just worn out. 

And he still doesn’t even, like, know anything. 

Like, obviously he knows he likes Nolan, he's known that for months. They're friends.

But what he can't stop thinking about is that he's maybe never felt more good around someone than he does with Nolan, even though Nolan knows things about Travis that should make Travis feel weird--like that Travis kissed another guy and might have questions about being gay.

He knows it’s weird, but Travis likes Nolan more than any of the perfect, hot, super-nice girls he’s ever dated.

And realizing that makes Travis’s dumb head start thinking all the time about whether having sex with Nolan would be, like. Good, or something. Like if maybe he’s been so fucking shitty at sex his whole life because he’s never really felt the right way about the people he’s been doing it with.

He knows he sucked at sex with Steph, and with all the other girls he’d dated before her, and he knows he'd been a shitty boyfriend just in general, because he’d also never really gotten how to make himself fall in love with them, even though he’s always wanted to be all head over heels for someone, to have someone who’s always there for him and to be that person for someone else, too.

With Nolan he feels like it could happen without him even trying.

When he thinks about it--which he does every morning in the shower and most of the rest of  the time, too, half kind of hoping that he’s suddenly going to be grossed out by it and realize how weird he’s being--it’s so fucking easy to imagine being with Nolan; sitting in a booth with him all close like Carter and Nick did, puting a hand on his knee, kissing him again, going home with him and--like, whatever. Doing other stuff with him. 

But. It’s sort of hard to really picture that part when Travis doesn’t really even know what it would look like for two guys to have sex together.

So he sends Nolan his dumb fucking question, as if it’s even something he fucking needs to ask Nolan and not something he could find in a billion different places online on his own. 

Nolan sends back a link and nothing else, and Travis tries not to think about what Nolan must be thinking of him.

He copies and pastes the link and wishes that he could just leave it alone and never fucking find out if he’s into watching two dudes together and starts feeling hot and excited in a way sex hasn’t made him in a long time. He pushes play. 

Nolan really--fuck. Really does not pull his punches with the video he sends Travis. 

It starts off with a dick in a guy’s face right away--no set up, no stripping, no kissing. Just one guy naked on his knees jerking himself off and another guy standing above him with his dick out.  

Travis shudders out a breath and pushes the down volume button on his phone like fifty times and holds his finger tight over the little speaker on the side of his phone just to be sure. Pauses the video ten seconds in and takes his phone off wi-fi even though he has no clue if that, like, does anything. He looks up at his door and makes sure it’s still closed. 

He takes a deep breath and slides his hand over his stomach, his skin tickly and sensitive, and then he looks down and pushes play again.

The guy on his knees is cut and thick with muscle, so tall his head comes to the other guys’ ribs even though he’s on his knees. The shorter, standing up guy reaches down and runs the tip of one finger down the other guy’s nose, over his top lip, into his mouth. Travis’ dick twitches against his thigh. The guy pulls his finger out and grips his hard dick, bigger and thicker than Travis’ in a way Travis has always liked when he’s watched porn, and points it at the other guy’s mouth. The dude on his knees leans forward with his whole body and slides his mouth down the dick in front of him.

It shouldn’t feel that intense, Travis thinks. Like, he should maybe be a little weirded out by it, should maybe want to turn it off and look away, but he shouldn’t feel that worked up about the whole thing either way.

He can’t stop staring at the way the guy standing up is clutching at the short hair of the guy kneeling, fingers scrabbling to try and grip it. 

It’s just dicks and sex and whatever. Like, it’s not even that different than if a girl was sucking dick, he starts to think, but he gets distracted staring at the sharp, square cut of the guy's jaw as he swallows the other guy's dick, the short blonde scruff of his beard, the way he just, like, doesn’t fucking look like a chick at all. The way he’s jerking himself off while he sucks the other guy. 

Travis shoves his hand in his shorts and grabs his dick, sticky and pathetically hard and way too close already. 

The guy standing up pulls his dick out and taps it on the kneeling guy’s lips and Travis squeezes his eyes shut. 

He can’t fucking stop thinking about Nolan watching this video, hand down his pants, in the bed Travis slept in less than two weeks ago. He wonders which of the guys Nolan’s more into. Wonders which one of them Nolan would rather be. Which one of them he has been before.

Travis thinks, for a split second, about Nolan on his knees, lips parted, and comes, hard and wild and way easier than it's been in a long time.

He doesn’t know what the fuck to do with fucking any of it. 

“Thanks,” he texts Nolan, phone in one hand while his other is still holding his dick, wet with come. 

 

⊹⊹⊹⊹

 

So maybe Travis is weirdly into gay porn, but that still doesn’t mean he has any fucking idea what to do about it. But Nolan will know, probably, he thinks. Nolan can help him figure it out, Nolan wants Travis to ask questions about it, Nolan sent him that video without giving him shit or asking questions.

Nolan kissed him back.  

Travis washes his hands and changes his underwear and grabs his keys. He hops over the loose step on the way down to the driveway and skips around the corner of the garage so fast he almost runs into the big black car parked there, and then as he stumbles on gravel he looks up and sees his brother stepping out of the driver’s seat. 

 

Travis wants to throw up. He wants to hit the version of himself from ten seconds ago that thought he could just go to Nolan’s, kiss him or ask him things like that would make everything perfect like Travis doesn’t have a million fucking reasons why he can’t even think about being with another guy. He wants to throw his phone in the creek like it’s suddenly going to start playing the video he watched twenty minutes ago and Chase is going to hear. He wants Nolan and Chase to stay as far away from each other as possible; he wants Nolan to be with him right now so that Travis doesn’t have to be around Chase without Nolan. 

“Hey baby bro!” Chase yells, walking around the car and coming to wrap Travis in a quick hug. “Dude, why do you look scared?” He laughs his big booming laugh. “I knew I’d surprise you, but shit.” 

“Hey man,” Travis finally manages.

Chase laughs again. Smiles and slaps Travis' back, and Travis wants to be happy. He loves his brother, always has fun with him, has so many good memories with him. Chase has never done anything to make Travis feel fucking afraid of him. He’s never done anything, honestly. It’s just how he talks, Travis shouldn’t even care.

“Come on, weirdo,” Chase says, rolling his eyes happily. “Show me your place.” 

Travis leads Chase back up the stairs. Walks him through the kitchen and living room and the bathroom and Travis’ bedroom, and distantly listens as Chase talks about how he’s on his way to some expo thing for work and he got a flight with a 24 layover in town so he could surprise Travis.

Travis should be pumped. A few months ago, when he was so lonely it hurt and was just wishing he could go back home, he would’ve been psyched out of his mind to see his brother.

He knows what’s different now. He can’t let himself think about it with Chase standing right next to him, introducing himself to Joel and Morgan and slinging his arm around Travis’ shoulders and saying, “Okay boys, what’s there to do in this shit hole?”

 

Joel and Morgan fight for thirty minutes over where they should bring Chase so that he really gets “the vibe of the town,” and finally they agree to take him to swim at the river.

 

Travis just sits so quiet his chest hurts the whole time they argue, and when they finally decide, he says, “Sounds cool,” voice so flat and quiet he doesn't think it sounds like him. “Let me call my buddy Nolan to come with us.”

He’s just--too much of a baby to do it without Nolan. And maybe it’ll be good, he thinks. Maybe being around Nolan and Chase at the same time will finally get his head on straight; make his heart and his dick or whatever finally fucking realize how not an option it is to think about Nolan the way he's been letting himself.   

He steps outside and leans on the railing at the top of the steps, fingers shaky as he calls Nolan and presses his phone to his ear. 

It’s warm out but not hot, already more fall than summer, and the sky’s kind of cloudy. It’s not good swimming weather, Travis thinks absently, staring out at the trees as his phone rings.

“Hello?” Nolan’s voice is mumbly and low and grounding. 

“Hi,” Travis says. “Um, my brother’s here.”

“Oh cool! Chase, right?”

“Yeah, uh, we’re about to go to the river, if you want to--” his voice wobbles out, and then breaks as he begs Nolan: “Will you come with me?” He feels pulled open and raw like a deer being gutted. 

“Of course bud,” Nolan says right away. “Yeah, just come pick me up on your way, okay? Of course I’ll come with you.” 

 

⊹⊹⊹⊹

 

The lake in town is where tourists and families swim--shallow and calm but muddy and full of weeds--but everyone from the college swims at the river. 

Travis usually loves it. It’s always cool and the bottom’s sandy and he’s always felt good swimming in it the murky brown water, letting the current yank him around. 

There’s a big flat of rock a few miles out of town where everyone lays out on and jumps off of, soft smooth sandstone a few meters above the river.

Joel and Morgan and Chase and Travis packed a cooler full of beer and a bag full of towels before crowding into Chase’s big rental SUV and heading over to pick up Nolan.

Nolan’d come out of his apartment already shirtless, towel draped over his bare shoulder and super short, pale purple swim trunks barely covering a bit of his long, hairy legs. 

Travis couldn’t stop staring at him as he walked barefoot across the street like some fucking dream Travis would have. He couldn’t stop peeking in the rearview mirror to look at Nolan’s face, cool and even behind his sunglasses, as Chase introduced himself and Joel and Morgan chatted with Nolan in the backseat. 

He still can’t stop staring at him an hour later, after they’ve all shotgunned beers and then jumped in the water.

Travis tries to calm himself down. He keeps letting himself sink down to the bottom of the river over and over again; heaving all the air out of his lungs and gripping fistfulls of sand to keep himself under, listening to the echoey noise of the water moving around him. 

He tries to stay a little ways away from Nolan as they swim. Tries not to pay attention to all the couples swimming around them hanging off each other, all the girls getting up on their boyfriends’ shoulders, letting the guys wrap their big hands around their thighs and heft them around. 

He thinks over and over about the way Nolan’s big shoulders could shrug under Travis, shift him easily where he wanted him. About how his chest would slip over Nolan’s back, their skin slimy from the river. 

Chase is right there, he keeps trying to tell himself.

He watches Nolan pull himself up the rock, flexing arms and quick, confident toes gripping little ledges, and then climbs out after him. 

Chase is right behind him, and the three of them drop down onto their towels, Travis in the middle. Joel and Morgan come over a few minutes later. 

He still keeps looking over at the pale bare shape of Nolan’s torso, thick and sturdy, and then jerking his eyes away, to Chase, terrified that Chase will have noticed. But Chase is just checking out all the undergrads in bikinis, joking with Joel and Morgan, drinking beer. 

Travis watches Nolan sideways, hoping his sunglasses cover it up. Watches his throat work as his tips his head back and finishes his beer, watches how big his biceps flex as he leans back on his hands, watches Nolan bring his hand up to bush his hair back off his head over and over, his fingers lifting and twisting in and shifting around the wet strands of his hair. Everyone on the whole fucking rock is probably watching him, Travis thinks.

They lay around and drinking for hours. Nolan fits in perfect, talking hockey and Canada and hunting, being funny and chill and perfect like Travis knows he is, but Travis still feels tense, and then all at once out of nowhere, Joel tells Chase he’s a Avs fan and Chase laughs and says, “Cocksucker.”

Travis feels it like a slap. 

He’s heard Chase say way, way worse fucking things a fucking thousand times and he’s never felt so on edge about it before. 

He shouldn’t say anything. Nolan’s smart and confident and he can handle himself and he probably doesn’t give a shit about what Travis’ brother fucking says, and it doesn’t fucking matter, but Travis feels embarrassed and shitty and he doesn’t want Nolan to think he’s like that. He doesn’t want Nolan to know that Travis has heard this kind of shit a billion fucking times before and never said anything. He can’t not say anything again; not when Chase is talking about Nolan. 

That’s all he’s thinking about as he forces himself to say, “Don’t say that shit,” but as soon as Chase squints over at him he realizes it’s going to make Chase wonder and watch him and maybe fucking realize that Travis is so totally different than he’s been the whole time Chase has known him. 

Travis suddenly rememners that he got himself off to a video of a guy sucking cock like two hours ago. 

“What?” Chase says. “Fucking why?” 

Travis tries to come up with something casual. His mind is blanked out and buzzing like he’s underwater again, but now he wants to think, needs to figure out what to say and wishes like he does every fucking day that he wasn’t so dumb-- 

Nolan shifts next to him, his knee brushing against Travis’ once and then leaning away. “I’m gay, so,” he says casually, “it’s kind of rude.” Travis glances at Nolan once, finds him looking at Chase, face set but confident, and then he looks back to Chase. 

Chase scrunches his nose up and eyes Nolan for a long minute like he’s waiting for the joke. He looks over at Travis and Travis just stares back at him, wide eyed and hoping he doesn’t look as panicked as he feels. 

“Cool, man,” Joel says, and then goes back to talking about hockey. Chase stares at Travis for another long minute, hard and probing, and then he finally rolls his eyes and looks away to fight with Joel more. 

Travis can feel him paying attention now, though. He glances sideways and Nolan once and gives him the, like, most pathetic smile he’s ever done, and then he finally stops looking and stares forward.

This sorority girl Jenny that Travis knows from parties comes over a while later, tiny white bikini and bubbly smile, and says, “Hey, do you guys wanna come by the house tonight?” running her eyes over Travis and then Nolan and then down the line over Chase and Morgan and Joel. 

Travis really should say yes. It will get his head back on right and it will make Chase stop staring at him. But.

Nolan will hear it, and Travis just fucking can't say yes to a hookup with some random girl when Nolan’s right next to him. And also--Fuck, also: he doesn’t want to.

 

⊹⊹⊹⊹

 

Nolan has only known him for like four hours, but he already fucking hates Chase Konecny. 

Like, whatever, he could give a shit that he said some casually homophobic macho shit in front of Nolan, but he wants to punch him over the way Travis has looked all small and sad and scared all day; the way Travis sounded like he was fucking crying when he called and begged Nolan to come to the river with them. 

He hates Chase, but he fucking loves Travis, so brave and perfect, standing up for Nolan even though it made him look like he wanted to puke. 

And then Travis turns down this hot ass chick checking him out and basically saying, “hey, you and all your buddies wanna fuck me and all my buddies tonight?” and Nolan wants to puff his chest out and preen. He wants to roll over and nuzzle into Travis’ neck so everyone knows why Travis said no. 

It’s one of those days where everything feels like a poem--the river and the rock and Travis, shirtless and tan and thick with muscle, his eyes on Nolan every time Nolan looks over at his face. But Nolan's not some pining high schooler again, so he's just, like, not gonna write a love poem about some guy who might not even be into him or even into men, fuck.

So even though he got shit about writing the same thing all the time in workshop last week, he lies down and closes his eyes and thinks out another shitty poem about the river. 

 

The sky is low and grey and smells like wet rock. 

The water’s high and fast and beautiful, and fenced with signs to say don’t swim. 

I dive in and duck under and breathe in silt and sink and drift.

Watch the sun through the current, and let the river carry me

to the sea.

Chapter Text

Chase finally decides he's tired of the river after a few awkward, tense, just fucking horrible hours, and they pack up their shit and drive back into town. 

Travis tries to keep Nolan with them without being obvious about it. “You could come back to the house and we can all hang out,” he half begs as Chase turns on to Nolan’s street.

Nolan meets Travis’ eyes in the rearview mirror and says, “Okay,” and the muscles in Travis’ shoulders unclench for a second, and then Chase pulls up outside Nolan’s place and slams the SUV into park. 

He gives Travis and Nolan both this fuck that look and says, “he doesn’t have clothes” in this cold voice that Travis doesn’t want Nolan to hear ever again, so Travis gives up and looks away and listens to Nolan get out of the car. 

“Bye TK,” Nolan says, stopping outside Travis’ open window and giving him a long, concerned look. “I’ll talk to you later, okay?”

“Yeah,” Travis tells him, throat dry. 

Nolan looks at him for another second, holding eye contact that Travis should break but can’t, and then nods. “Bye guys,” He says, waving to Joel and Morgan in the backseat and pretty obviously not to Chase. He walks across the street and into his apartment building, still dripping water from his hair and his shorts. 

Chase guns the car down the road and as soon as Nolan’s inside. “Bro, did you know he was gay?” he asks immediately, like he’s been barely holding it in ever since Nolan told them an hour ago. 

“No!” Travis says too loudly, and then immediately feels like he’s betraying Nolan. He swallows. “But it doesn’t make a difference anyways, ‘cause...” He’s the best friend I’ve ever had, the other night I wanted to kiss him so bad that I did it, there’s nothing wrong with him, I wouldn’t change a single fucking thing about him. 

“Yeah, like, being gay is chill,” Joel says from the backseat, slow and syrupy and totally serious. Morgan makes a mumbly agreeing noise.

“The fuck?” Chase says, glancing into the rearview mirror to scowl at them, then shaking his head and glancing back at Travis. “Okay whatever, but dude, do you seriously wanna be friends with someone like that? Like what do you guys even talk about?” 

Travis swallows. Gay porn and the fact that I kissed him, and home and hockey and movies and how our days were. “Fishing,” he says quietly, staring out the window as they pass a rundown strip mall.

Chase scoffs. “He likes fishing?” 

“Dude,” Joel cuts in from the back, sounding more annoyed than Travis has ever heard him. “What the fuck century are you from?”

Travis’s face heats and he doesn’t know how to fucking stand being in this car with Chase and Joel and Morgan and himself and this fucking conversation. 

“Fuck off,” Chase says. “Like you’d want someone like that in the locker room with you guys?” 

Travis presses his face to the cool glass of the window and closes his eyes. 

“What do I give a fuck what the guys I play with are into?” Joel says.

“Yeah, it’s not a big deal,” Morgan says. 

Travis--can’t even start to wrap his mind around that right now. His arms are shaking with how much everything is, and he just want to shut his brain off and get high or get drunk or go back to Nolan’s and watch some dumb movie on his bed.

“Travis,” Chase says, impatient and like he can’t believe he’s hearing anyone say something about gay people that’s not terrible. Travis kind of can’t believe it either. “These are seriously the people you hang out now?” He takes a fast turn onto gravel, and they’re only two minutes away from the house. 

When Travis played in the OHL right out of high school, his coach always wanted guys to play injured, broken ankle or sprained wrist or concussion, whatever. “You can stand anything for two minutes," he told Travis once when he was sending him out for a shift with what the doctor's found out later was a torn ACL. 

Travis keeps quiet and smashes his face harder against the window and shuts his eyes as tight as he can. 

No one else says anything either. Travis can feel Chase seething, wanting to yell, can imagine Joel and Morgan making crazy “what the fuck is happening get me out of here" looks at each other in the backseat. He’s glad Nolan’s not here to see Chase being awful and Travis being so fucking weak. 

It feels like forever before Travis feels the car sway sideways and bump over the creek bridge, then finally stop. 

Joel opens the door and jumps out right away. “TK,” Morgan says from the backseat, “come on.” 

“No,” Chase tells Travis, sounding so much like their dad it makes Travis feel sick. “You stay here.” 

Travis opens his eyes and turns to look at Morgan. “I’ll be up in a sec, okay?” he says, forcing a smile at him. 

Morgan just frowns back, and then glares at Chase once before getting out and slamming the door behind him.

“Your friends are fuckheads,” Chase says right away, vicious. “Are those two gay too or what?” 

“No,” Travis says. He watches Joel and Morgan walk up the stairs and go inside.

Travis jumps out of the car as soon as the door’s shut behind them. He crosses the yard towards the creek, practically fucking running, and hears Chase’s door slam behind him. 

Travis stops on the bank and stares into the water. He listens to Chase catch up with him and then stop a few feet behind him, breathing loud and angry. “You can’t keep hanging out with people like that, man. What are the guys on your team gonna think if they see you chilling with some gay dude in purple shorts and shit?” 

“I don’t know.”

“You do fucking know,” Chase says, harsh like a hit. 

And yeah, Travis does: he knows the boys on his team would give him shit if he had a gay friend, maybe make more jokes on the ice. It wouldn’t be that much worse, though, just more of the same shit they do now. 

It would be different if they knew about Travis.

“What if guys on other teams hear, eh?” Chase’s voice is quieter, low and slow like he’s talking to a two year old.

“Nolan’s my best friend,” Travis says. 

“What about fucking Law? Or your friends here? Just get a new best friend. You don’t need to be hanging around with that bougie hipster faggot anyway.” 

Travis spins around and reaches out to shove at Chase’s chest, making him stumble back a step. Chase gets his balance back right away and gives Travis a pissed off what the fuck look, throwing his arms out. “Travis, he’s fucking gay! He’s probably just hanging around you trying to suck your dick.” 

Maybe he is and maybe I want him to. 

“Maybe I’m fucking gay, too,” Travis yells, and then has to gulp in air because, fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck he shouldn’t have said that, but Chase doesn’t even pause; he steps into Travis and wraps a hand around the back of his neck, digging his fingers in and pulling Travis away from the water, toward the car.

“No, you’re fucking not, keep your goddamn voice down.” 

Travis’ whole body shivers, his skin cold, and he twists out from Chase’s grip, ducking his head down and then pushing at Chase’s arm as Chase grabs for him again. They both still, standing a few feet away from each other, Travis’ feet sinking in mud, Chase heaving breaths and glaring at Travis.  

There’s--there’s no fucking way Travis would’ve been able to say that if he’d thought about it. Holy fuck he shouldn’t have said it.

He doesn’t even know if it’s true.

Or, maybe he knows a little, but he’s never even done anything. 

Except that’s not true, because he kissed Nolan two weeks ago and hasn’t been able to make himself stop thinking about it since. 

Chase shakes his head slowly, staring at Travis like he hates him. “Travis,” he finally says after a long beat where Travis’ stomach feels like it’s caving in on itself. “Think whatever the fuck you want, but don’t say that shit, okay? Keep it to your fucking self and it doesn’t have to be some big deal.”

Travis’ eyes ache and water. “I’m just supposed to keep pretending?” he asks, his voice high and unsteady. 

Chase makes a mean noise in the back of his throat. “Yes! You gotta buck up for once in your fucking life, man! What do you fucking think dad’s gonna say? ‘Can’t wait to meet your fucking boyfriend?’ Come on Travis, stop being fucking dumb.” 

Travis’ lip wobbles and he bites down on it, harsh and sharp and bloody. “Will you just leave? I don’t fucking want you here.” 

Travis wishes that was totally true--he wishes that he could make Chase drive away and watch him do it and actually fucking want him gone and not just feel like he was losing something.

He wishes he didn’t have to ask Chase to leave, that Chase would just hug him and tell him it was fine and say he loved him anyways. 

Chase throws his hands up, gesturing wildly at Travis and himself and everything around them. “You’re seriously gonna tell me to leave because all the sudden you want to be fucking gay? Because your new boyfriend’s so special? You’re gonna make mom and dad hate you just for sex?”

Travis’ stomach hurts, but he doesn’t flinch and he doesn’t look away from Chase. 

"Get the fuck away from me,” he begs. 

Chase takes a step back, shakes his head at Travis, curling his lip like he’s disgusted. “Travis, I love you,” he says. “I’m just trying to help you so you don’t fuck your whole life up.” 

Travis turns away and looks at the dark green ripple of the creek.

Chase scoffs. “Call me when you stop being a fuckhead, then,” he says, then Travis hears a few of his footsteps as he stomps away; hears his car door slam. It starts, and gravel scrapes against the tires, and then Travis watches it cross the bridge out of the corner of his eye.

He takes five deep breaths like he’s just come off a long shift and has to get himself ready for another one, and then he goes and gets in his car. 

He stays calm on the drive and as he backs into a parking space and texts Nolan asking to be let up. 

He keeps his mind blank and even as he stares at the door to the apartment building and waits, until it suddenly swings open and there’s Nolan, wearing sweat shorts and crew neck, his hair still half wet, blinking down at Travis. 

“What’s up?” Nolan asks, frowning and concerned looking, and then Travis fucking loses it. 

 

Nolan’s not expecting to see Travis like thirty minutes after they both said bye to each other at the river, and he’s not expecting Travis to look up at him all wide eyed and scared, and he’s fucking not ready for Travis’ lip to wobble and his eyes to get all wet and shiny and for him to step forward into Nolan’s arms and just start fucking sobbing. 

Nolan takes Travis’ weight and drags him up the stairs, his arm under Travis’ armpits, Travis' arm over his shoulders and his face not leaving the crook of Nolan’s neck. They get into the apartment and stumble past Josh and Roman who stare at him as they make it down the hallway into Nolan’s room. “It’s okay Trav, hey, it’s okay,” is all he can think to tell Travis, over and over, because fuck he sucks at this kind of thing. 

Travis just keeps his face tucked down between Nolan’s neck and shoulder, keeps taking wet shaky breaths, keeps shaking against Nolan. 

Nolan shuts the door to his room behind them and leans back against it, letting Travis lean on him.

“What happened?” he asks, sounding pissed when he needs to sound soft. 

He tucks a hand into Travis’ hair and cradles his head. Fuck, He shouldn’t have left Travis with Chase. What the fuck is wrong with him, letting Travis be alone with his homophobe fucking brother just because Chase’s shifty ass eyes on him were making him uncomfortable in a way no one Nolan had been around in years had made him. 

“I told Chase to leave,” Travis heaves into Nolan’s skin. “I told him I might be gay but I don’t even fucking know .”

Nolan’s stomach swoops and then drops, hearing Travis say what Nolan's wanted him to say so badly for fucking months, then thinking about Travis and Steph when he doesn’t even like girls, Travis and Chase when Chase said "cocksucker" like it was nothing, Travis who loves playing hockey maybe more than Nolan loves writing, having to hide who he is every fucking time he plays or practices; all the other worst-case shit Nolan’s been picturing and then hoping isn’t real ever since Travis freaked out about kissing him.  

Nolan wants to kill Chase, and he wants to fucking kiss Travis. 

“That’s really brave,” he tells Travis.  

Travis scoffs and shakes his head against Nolan’s neck. He takes in a breath, then finally pulls back, just far enough that he can tilt his chin up to look at Nolan, eyes swollen and red and lips wet and trembling. 

“How do I even know though?” he whispers. “I’ve never even done anything.” 

“You don't have to. You can go as slow--”

“I don’t want to go slow, I want to do something,” Travis says, voice just barely steady. It wobbles again when he blinks up at Nolan and says, big eyed and open, “Can we please just do something?” 

Nolan wants to do fucking everything with Travis. He wants to kiss him and get fucked by him and swallow his dick and wake up next to him, over and over and over again. 

But he doesn’t want to just do it once; doesn’t want to fuck around with Travis and then have Travis get freaked out like he did after they kissed, have Travis suddenly decide he’s not ready, that’s he’s not actually gay. 

He reaches out and runs his hand over Travis’ shoulder and Travis shivers under it, and Nolan has to take two deep breaths. 

He swallows, and takes his chance to ask the question he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about since this morning. “Did you watch the video I sent you?”

Travis jerks his eyes away. “Yeah,” he says quickly, and then nothing else.

“Uh, so.” What was your favorite part, did you get yourself off, do you want to do that with me, can I do that to you? “Did you like it?”

Travis swallows so loud Nolan can hear it, a painful, slow gulp. “Yeah,” he says, and then finally drags his eyes back to Nolan. “I jerked off to it before I replied to you.” 

Nolan lets out an unsteady breath, his dick warming. Travis’ dark eyes are on him, nervous and open and honest. There were, like, five minutes between when Nolan sent the video and when Travis texted him “thanks.” 

Nolan fucking sucks at talking about shit like this, but he can’t just let Travis keep looking all lost. “That’s good, holy shit. Fuck, Teeks, I want to do so much stuff with you. But I don’t wanna do anything that’s gonna make you feel bad about yourself later,” he says. And then, his cheeks hot and red, “And I kinda don’t wanna, like, hook up and then just forget about it, like...I mean I think it’s obvious but in case you don’t know already I’m--fucking. Super into you.” 

Travis stares up at him, unreadable, and then reaches out and slowly settles his hand on Nolan’s ribs, fingertips first, careful, and then his whole palm, hot through Nolan’s sweatshirt. “You’re being serious, right?” he asks. “Because it’s not, like, funny.” Travis’ voice is so vulnerable Nolan’s chest hurts. 

He doesn’t know what to say. He wishes he could fucking write something down, because he’s always been better at writing than talking. He puts his hand on Travis’ ribs, on the opposite side of where Travis’ hand is on Nolan’s, and presses in, firm and heavy like he wants to get inside of Travis, which he does, in literally every way. He looks at Travis and makes sure Travis is looking at him, and he tells him, “Yeah.” 

Travis heaves out a breath and Nolan feels his ribs pull in and relax. 

Travis nods and looks away, then nods more and looks back. “Okay. Me too, okay? I mean I don’t know because I always sucked at sex and maybe I’ll be really bad still, and I’m way too dumb for you, and I just don’t know how I can do anything right, because I can’t tell my family, and if I do they’re never gonna want to meet you, Pat. I know you’re gonna say they love me and he won’t care but I swear--” he cuts out to suck in a breath. 

Nolan reaches up and runs the palm of his hand over Travis’ temple, down to cup his jaw. “Don’t cry again, I believe you, we’ll figure it out, okay?” 

Travis just keeps going: “And my team, like, no way I can tell them. When the season’s over we can maybe...” he pulls back from Nolan and looks terrified. “I don’t fucking know, can we please just stop fucking talking? Can we just have sex or something?”

Nolan takes a deep breath and hopes he never has to say no to Travis begging him for sex again. “I don’t think we should when you’re like this,” he says softly, trying not to sound like he’s babying Travis.

Travis sniffles and looks away, and then just barely nods, and Nolan lets out a relieved breath. 

“Let’s just lay down, okay? We can watch a movie or talk about whatever you want or take a nap, or--” Nolan looks outside to see that the sun’s set. It’s probably around eight, he figures. “Or we can go to bed and think about it in the morning.” 

 

They don’t go to sleep. They lie on their sides in Nolan's bed, less than a foot from each other, Nolan's hand on Travis' ribs and Travis' foot tucked between Nolan's and Travis' lungs feeling like they're going to shake out of his fucking body while he tells Nolan all this shit he’s never even thought about telling anyone else before--about the way his dad swore and changed the channel whenever there were gay people on TV, the way his uncles joked about Travis being a cocksucker when he shot his first deer and cried about it and how his dad said, “no fucking son of mine.” He tells Nolan, so embarrassed he can barely talk, about how he’s never really been into sex before, has always had to force himself into it with the girls he’s been with. Tells him about the time he got shoved into his stall in juniors for looking at one of his teammates for a half a second too long. 

Nolan watches him and listens to him and says every single thing Travis has ever wanted to hear--”fuck them” and “you’re okay” and “there’s nothing wrong with being into guys.” 

After like two fucking hours of Travis rambling and Nolan being perfect, Nolan gets up to go to the bathroom, and Travis lies in the dark without him and can’t stop himself from reaching for his phone in his back pocket. 

He’s expecting voicemails and calls and texts from every member of his family telling him how they hate him now, demanding to know what the fuck is wrong with him, calling him things Travis doesn’t even want to think about, but all he has is messages from Joel and Morgan. 

Chase hasn’t told anyone, he realizes. And that doesn’t mean Chase won’t, obviously, or that everything isn’t fucked either way now that Chase knows; now  that Travis can’t keep convincing himself that he’s ever going to be able to get married to a girl and be happy the same way he is with Nolan. Not when he's finally realizing that his whole fucking friendship with Nolan and all the ways it's made him happier than he's ever been were already probably pretty gay way before today.

But at least everything in his life isn’t falling apart this exact second. At least he has more time. 

His message from Joel must’ve come right after they got back from swimming: “hey FUCK your brother.” Morgan’s, from an hour ago, says, “Dude are you okay? Where’d you go?” 

Travis texts back in their group chat: “I’m at Nolan’s, Be back tomorrow.” It’s not even close to what he should be saying to them, which is that, like, they’re two of the three people in the world right now who are keeping him from feeling like his whole world is falling apart. 

The other person, who’s really doing way more than either Joel or Morgan, is, obviously, Nolan. Solid and warm and perfect and steady. 

He wants to fucking date me, Travis keeps thinking. 

And even though he knows Chase was right and there’s no way Travis can ever bring Nolan home the way he could’ve brought Steph home; even though this isn’t what Travis was supposed to be or do or want--he just can’t get over how fucking happy he is that Nolan wants him, can’t stop thinking about how much he wants Nolan.

He knew as soon as Nolan opened the door earlier, when Travis felt like he was going to just fall into a hole in the earth and never get out. Nolan’s face made him finally feel like he could catch his breath, made him feel like maybe being gay was worth it even though Travis never fucking wanted to be and it was going to fuck up his whole fucking life, because it meant he could have Nolan and kiss him again and--and all the other stuff Travis wants to do with him. 

The door to Nolan’s bedroom creeks open, and Nolan slips inside, dimly lit from the streetlight through the window. He pauses at the door, watching Travis. Travis' pulse picks up. 

 

Nolan leans back on the door, trapping his hands behind his back to keep them away from Travis, because the whole space of the room between them isn’t fucking enough. “Do you want to go to sleep?” he asks, staring at the way Travis is still laying down on Nolan’s bed, blanket around his shoulders, head sunk in Nolan’s pillow and eyes locked on Nolan.

“No,” Travis says, his voice low and rough. 

“I’m not tired either,” Nolan says, trying to sound like there’s any little part of him that feels fucking casual; like he’s not fucking overwhelmed just from Travis’ voice. 

Travis nods and pats the bed next to him, and Nolan leans off his hands and goes. He lays down on his side, facing Travis, on his full bed that’s really too small for the two of them but that’s the perfect size to force them so close to each other he can feel the heat of Travis’ skin.

Travis takes a deep shaky breath, and then looks up at Nolan, and then reaches out and traces his fingers down the top of Nolan’s forearm. 

“Are you sober?” Nolan asks, even though he’s pretty sure. Travis drank like one beer at the river, and that was hours ago. Travis nods. 

Nolan swallows. “So,” he says, his voice croaky. “Do you still want to try?”

Travis stares up at him. “Yeah, Patty,” he whispers, quieter than Nolan’s ever heard him.

So--because, like, fuck, he only has so much self control--he kisses Travis. 

 

Travis couldn’t really wrap his mind around it the first time he kissed Nolan, and every time he tried to think about it afterwards it just felt cloudy and huge and scary, but kissing Nolan this time is--it’s like still fucking overwhelming, and he’s still fucking terrified, but it’s also just so good. 

It’s just mouths and lips and tongues, and Nolan must’ve shaved this morning because he doesn’t have any stubble or anything, so it’s not even that different than all the times Travis has kissed girls before, but it feels nothing like anything he’s ever done. 

He’s shaking and sucking in breaths from Nolan’s mouth and if Nolan stops kissing him he feels like he’s gonna lose it, and he’s so fucking turned on it hurts. 

 

Nolan tries to keep it a little, like, fucking clean at first, even though he gets hard in his shorts basically before his lips even touch Travis’. He keeps a bit of space between where they’re both on their sides on the bed and just kisses Travis, slow and deep and as gentle as Nolan can fucking make it. 

Travis keeps trying to roll on top of Nolan or pull Nolan over him, and Nolan has to keep his hands steady and firm on Travis' sides, holding him a little bit away. Travis wriggles and pushes his mouth harder to Nolan’s and tucks his hands under Nolan’s shirt and runs them all over his abs and up his chest. 

Nolan groans and pulls back a half an inch, slipping his tongue out of Travis’ mouth. Travis looks beautiful and hot and broken open and so fucking brave. His eyes are on Nolan’s, and they keep sliding away before he forces them back. His bottom lip is shaking but he bites lightly down on it, his teeth sinking into it in a way that makes Nolan feel crazy. 

He wants to just fucking tell Travis every beautiful thing about him--the dark line of his eyelashes and the joy of his smile and the sturdy strength of every inch of his body. It would take a whole long ass fucking poem to get through it all, and Nolan can barely get his lips away from Travis’ long enough to breathe, so he just goes with, “You’re so fucking hot.” 

And that’s good, because it makes Travis shift and make a shivery noise into Nolan’s mouth. 

He doesn’t want to overwhelm Travis, and at the same time he wants to make Travis feel so much that he can’t think, that this sex makes him forget all the other shitty, not right sex he’s ever had. 

“Do you want to, like, keep going?” he asks, his voice low and rough in this way that Nolan hopes Travis thinks is hot. 

“Yes,” Travis says immediately, breathless.

 

Nolan pulls both their shirts off and rolls half on top of Travis, and then all Travis can think about is the way Nolan’s chest feels against his, solid and heavy and flat with muscle, the same as Travis’ but bigger. 

Nolan keeps kissing him and Travis does his best to kiss him back, tries to do it good so Nolan will want to keep doing it again over and over. His skin is hot and burning, and Nolan’s chest is rubbing against his nipples making him want to fucking whimper. 

Travis moves his hands all over Nolan’s torso, feeling the bulk of his muscles, wanting to never stop touching him. 

Then Nolan shifts, and their hips line up, their dicks slide up against each other through their shorts. 

 

Travis gasps so loud Nolan worries Josh and Roman are gonna hear.

And, like, holy shit he fucking loves the idea of Josh and Roman, of fucking anyone, knowing that he’s making Travis feels so good he can’t keep quiet, but he doesn’t want to out Travis to them when Travis pretty clearly doesn’t want anyone but Nolan to know.  

He pulls his hips away and drops his mouth down to suck at Travis’ neck, right over his rabbit-beat pulse. 

“Shh, buddy,” he says. 

Travis makes a complaining noise and uses his thigh to hook Nolan’s hips and pull them back over his, then down. 

 

Nolan’s dick on Traivs’ is fucking unimaginable. It feels like--he can’t even figure it out. Like he’s been wearing the wrong sized skates for his whole life and is finally out on the ice with a pair that fits. 

And the fact that it’s Nolan, familiar smelling hair in Travis’ face, lips that he’s watched smile so many times on his neck, big, long arms wrapped around Travis’ body, holding him. He says Nolan’s name, and maybe it sounds stupid, but he’s out of his fucking mind with Nolan and Nolan’s body and Nolan’s dick and the way Nolan’s moving his hips up and down, back and forth, over Travis’.

 

Nolan’s shorts are fucking nothing, basically, and Travis is still wearing swim trunks, dried stiff with river water, and it’s gross and probably uncomfortable for Travis, but Nolan is just out of his mind with how bad he wants to make Travis come, fuck anything but their dicks rubbing against each other. 

Travis underneath him is all the things Nolan’s ever seen him be before--focused and intense on the ice, soft and fragile when he lost a game, walls up to his ears like he was just after they kissed, broken open like he’d been when Nolan opened the door to him tonight, kind and giving and carefully, completely paying attention to Nolan like he’d been since the second they met. 

 

Travis wants to kiss Nolan and can’t figure out how to coordinate it, he wants to take both their shorts off and feel every inch of their skin together, but it’s already too late and he can’t imagine pulling away anyway, can’t do anything but grind his hips up to meet Nolan and then drop his mouth onto Nolan’s collarbone and come, his fingers gripping into Nolan’s sides and his hips moving quick and jerky. 

Nolan shifts an inch to the side and keeps moving, rubbing off against Travis’ hip, and then he turns his head and bites Travis’ jaw and stills down, too. 

It’s not good sex. Travis knows it’s not good sex. It’s fucking dry humping , and sloppy making out, and Travis barely did anything but lay there, but-- just-- fuck. Fuck, it’s the best sex Travis has ever had. 

Chapter Text

Travis tells Joel and Morgan the next morning--after he’s talked to Nolan and they’ve agreed that Nolan’s his boyfriend , which, like, hurts Travis’ brain to even think because he loves it so much and is also fucking scared by it. 

He’s so freaked out he can’t look up from the floor to where Joel and Morgan are leaning against the counter eating cereal. They both listen to him as he stumbles through coming out to his third and fourth person ever: “So with Chase the other day it was kind of...hard or whatever, because I guess I’m. Like, I’m with Nolan, and I’m, you know.” 

“Gay?” Joel says easily, and Travis hears Morgan smack him. 

“Thanks for telling us, Teeks,” Morgan says, reaching a hand into Travis’ line of sight, fingers curled in for Travis to fistbump. Travis takes a deep breath and looks up, meeting Morgan’s eyes and bumping his knuckles against Morgan’s, trying not to lose it a little bit as their skin brushes and he thinks about the fact that Morgan knows and he’s still letting Travis touch him. “Nolan seems great, dude. I’m super happy for ya.”

“Yeah he’s way fucking out of your league,” Joel says happily, and then reaches over and yanks Travis into a headlock. “Get it, bud.” 

Even after he heard what Joel and Morgan said to Chase, he can’t fucking believe they’re so chill with it. If Travis had actually thought about dating a guy before he met Nolan, he would’ve figured it’d have to be a secret from every single person in his life.

He wouldn’t have thought he could sit in his living room with his roommates who are also his teammates and cuddle up under his boyfriend’s arm and have Joel and Morgan just be totally fucking normal about it. Wouldn’t have even known how to think about Nolan standing up and stretching after a long movie, his shirt riding up so Travis’ eyes fix on the pale muscles of his stomach, and saying, “Let’s go to bed,” soft and casual; about Travis standing up and following him into the bedroom while Joel and Morgan were right there watching. 

It makes Travis feel happy and relaxed and loved in this way he didn’t even realize he didn’t before. 

What he feels is like one of the pine trees up at this big park with an old-growth forest where Travis’ family used to go camping. There’s all these plaques along the hiking trails talking about how the forest is two or three hundred years old or whatever. The trees are super tall and thin and a lot of them are tilted over like they’re gonna fall, but they’ve been like that for fucking ever, and if you push on them or feel the bark you can tell how strong they are; how deep and steady their roots are. 

That’s how Travis feels, kind of. Like, maybe he’s tipping and maybe all the dirt around his roots is sliding away, but also, like, maybe he’s gonna be fine, because he’s got roots and he’s been through shit and he knows he can handle more, and for the first time in his life he’s finally fucking settled.  

 

⊹⊹⊹⊹

 

Being nice is not really, like, Nolan’s normal state, but with Travis it’s so easy Nolan’s fucking embarrassing with how soft he is. He does things for Travis without even thinking about it, and then blushes and feels like a dork when Travis smiles at him and says, “Aw buddy, you’re so good to me,” teasing Nolan but also all happy and genuine. 

And Travis does tons of shit for Nolan, too, like basically pushes himself out of his comfort zone every fucking day and makes Nolan laugh all the time and listens to Nolan complain about his students, talking shit about them with Nolan like he fucking knows them. 

Nolan’s supposed to be, like, tough and bitchy and hard to get to know, and being so soft makes him feel a little, like, exposed, but. It also makes Travis smile, and that's basically Nolan's fucking favorite thing now, so he keeps doing shit he thinks will make Travis happy. 

He tries to get him more comfortable with being gay by, like, playing fuck-marry-kill with random celebrities Nolan thinks of, talking about his exes, taking Travis out with Carter and Nick who are, like, the most grossly sweet couple of all time.  

And he tries to make Travis feel smart, because he so fucking is. 

Travis says shit like “Oh, sorry, I’m stupid” all the time, when he says a wrong word or has to ask about something Nolan references, but it’s so easy and casual, mixed in with Travis’ constant stream of jokes and stories and chirps at Nolan, that it takes Nolan a while to realize that Travis actually fucking believes it. 

But once they get together for real Nolan notices it more. Nolan will show Travis one of his poems and Travis will be like, “Jeez you’re way too smart for me,” or Travis will talk about a paper he’s struggling with and Nolan will offer to look and Travis will shake his head. “It probably doesn’t even make sense, you’re just gonna laugh at me,” he told Nolan a few days ago, smiling like he wasn’t saying something so mean about himself. 

Nolan wants to tell Travis that he doesn’t give a shit whether he’s smart or not. That he loves Travis for being funny and lively and loving, and that he wouldn’t even care if Travis failed out of all his classes or dropped out of school, as long as Travis was happy. 

But the thing is that Travis isn’t dumb. Like, okay, he’s not as smart as Nolan or as like most of the people that Nolan’s in school with. But Nolan fucking hates most of the people in his program, and being around Travis is like the opposite of being around them, because instead of breaking down every single word someone says or writes, discussing every possible meaning of something, analyzing shit until Nolan wants to pull his hair out, Travis is, just, like, easy. Being with him is simple.  

Nolan knows just telling Travis, “Hey you’re smart and you’re perfect how you are” isn’t just gonna change Travis’ mind about himself when his whole fucked up family have probably spent years making him feel stupid, so he just tries to get Travis talking about the stuff he knows about. Listens to all the things Travis knows, enjoys Travis’ sloppy, easy voice and listens to him talk about the things he loves. 

 

⊹⊹⊹⊹

 

Travis has known for a long time that he wasn’t as into sex with girls as everyone else, and he always just figured that meant he just wasn’t that into sex. 

But sex with Nolan is so fucking good he thinks about it all the fucking time, constantly wanting to touch Nolan, to get in bed with him, to have Nolan do things to him that he didn’t even realize were supposed to feel good. Just Nolan, like, touching Travis’ fucking nipple is better than most sex Travis has had with girls. 

They start off with just grinding, then doing it with Nolan’s huge hand wrapped around both their dicks. Then they give each other hand jobs, which Travis gets super competitive about, needing to figure out exactly how Nolan likes it, to learn all the places on Nolan’s dick where he likes to be touched.

It’s weird to stare at another guy’s dick and touch it and get turned on by it, the first time, but then after that it’s just so fucking perfect. Travis feels kind of bad for thinking it, but Nolan’s big dick, his whole big body, is so much prettier and hotter and better than all the parts of all the girls Travis has slept with without really even wanting. 

And also so fucking hot is the fact that Nolan is so into Travis’ dick. A week after they first get together, Nolan sucks his cock for the first time, all wet and slow and so fucking easy, like Nolan doesn’t even have to think about it or concentrate or keep himself from choking or whatever. Travis can’t fucking get over the sight of Nolan on his knees on the bed glancing up at Travis, seeming just totally fucking happy to have Travis’ dick in his mouth; totally confident about exactly how to take Travis apart. 

Travis comes so hard he gets loud, and the next morning in the kitchen Joel and Morgan give Nolan all these raised eyebrows and fucking winks while Travis watches and honestly just feels kind of cocky about it. Like, it takes a lot to embarrass Travis, and having his two roommates know that his fucking rocket of a boyfriend is also awesome at sex just makes Travis feel proud. 

Because even though there’s no way in hell he’s ready to tell his team or his random classmates or his fucking family, at least he gets to have someone else see that him and Nolan are perfect together; that Nolan makes him so much fucking happier than anyone else he’s been with. 

The first time Travis tries to suck Nolan’s dick is fucking awful . He can barely take like two fucking inches, gagging and pulling back over and over until Nolan’s telling him to just use his hand because he doesn’t want Travis to do this if he hates it and Travis is feeling like a failure, and by the time Nolan comes in Travis’ palm Travis isn’t even hard and Nolan is all sweet and nice about it and Travis feels like shit for two seconds until Nolan gets down between Travis’ legs and sucks Travis until he's hard again, then until he comes. 

So since Nolan has, like, a perfect dick that seems like it’s always up for Travis, and since he can give Travis tips and also demonstrations, Travis keeps practicing. He’s way fucking better now, even though he still can’t just slide down on Nolan’s cock and fucking deepthroat the way Nolan does, blowing Travis’ mind without even barely trying. 

And practically as good as getting off with Nolan is the way that after they have sex, Nolan will pull Travis’ head onto his chest and ask him to talk about something. 

“You know about salmon runs?” he asks one day, and Travis says yes into his skin and just runs his mouth about fucking salmon mating season while he comes down from his orgasm, happy and rambling. 

Maybe--it’s kind of a dumb thing to think, but maybe Nolan just likes to hear his voice after sex. Or maybe he actually fucking gets off and then immediately wonders about how to read hockey plays or what type of lure Travis thinks is best to use for trout or how to cook catfish or whatever. Either way, Travis will fucking answer any question Nolan asks him, will talk for as long as Nolan wants. 

He’s always been this weird combination of antsy and sleepy after sex, but with his head on Nolan’s chest and Nolan just giving him permission to talk about shit Travis actually knows about and not feelings and “how was that?” like his girlfriends always wanted; with Nolan’s big dick and his big body and the way he reads Travis better than the best liney Travis has ever fucking had, the way he’s patient and so good at everything they do and so easy, leading when Travis feels lost and rolling over whenever Travis gets an idea and wants to be in charge for a second; every single part of sex is perfect in a way it’s literally never been. 

 

⊹⊹⊹⊹

 

Nolan is fucking sick of Josh and Roman and he’s in love with Travis and Joel and Morgan are chill as fuck, so, whatever, he sort of lowkey moves in with Travis. 

Like, he still has tons of shit at his place, like the clothes he never wears and his silverware and stuff, but Travis’ dresser has all of his favorite pants and shirts in it, and Travis’ fridge has his soymilk in it, and Travis’ bed has his blanket on it, because after four nights of sleeping under Travis’ ratty old quilt Nolan told him, “We’re getting you a better blanket” and then just brought his own comforter over when he kept forgetting to go to the store and pick one out for Travis, because, like, why do they need two comforters, anyways. 

Nolan goes to every one of Travis’ home games, now. He hates seeing Travis get knocked into the boards and chirped at by all these huge fucking jocks, and he hates seeing Travis miss shots when Nolan knows he’s stressing out about his pointless streak, but mostly he just loves watching Travis play. 

Travis is always this big presence, alive and moving and loud, but on the ice, it’s like he’s even more of that, and Nolan feels so fucking cheesy but he could just sit in the stands and watch everything he loves about Travis all out there and obvious and loud; could watch him slide around on the ice for fucking forever. 

He was worried that him being there would make Travis, like, stressed out at first: seeing Nolan behind the glass while he was trying to be his no homo hockey self and shit, but Travis always gives him the biggest fucking smile when he spots him, always skates up to him right away in warm-ups and shows off on the ice right in front of him. Nolan rolls his eyes at Travis and blushes so hard it’s embarrassing and feels so--whatever, like, special. 

He knows Travis still isn’t gonna, like, hold hands with Nolan when they walk to lunch, but he beams at Nolan whenever he sees him on campus; he cuddles with Nolan when Joel and Morgan are in the living room with them;  he lets Nolan take him on double dates with Carter and Nick and doesn’t even seem to think about it. So if they’re eating out together and Nolan wants to kiss Travis, he’ll grab Travis’ beer and take a drink, pressing his lips to the cool ridge of the bottle he’s been watching Travis’ mouth touch all night. Travis will watch him, eyes hooded, and Nolan will feel it like a kiss back. 

It’s not, like, everything he wants. It’s not telling his whole family and all his friends that he loves Travis, it’s not watching some girl check Travis out when they’re walking and putting his hand on the curve of Travis’ back all possessive caveman. But it’s Travis, and he’s working so fucking hard, and Nolan gets to be with him, gets to listen to all the shit he knows and all his stupid jokes, gets to feed off Travis’ constant energy and joy and love, and it’s fucking plenty. 

 

⊹⊹⊹⊹

 

Travis tries to just focus on all the parts of his life that are better with Nolan in it. Usually it works, like when he’s in bed with Nolan or they’re chirping each other in one of their apartments’ tiny kitchens trying to cook something together or when they sit by the lake and fish or walk up and down the creek, barefoot, picking up trash and pointing out toads on the bank. But when he’s spacing out in class or when he’s alone in the shower, he can’t stop thinking about his family. 

He still calls his parents two or three times a week, same as he always has, except for now every time they pick up, he has to brace himself, sweaty and scared. 

But apparently, even though Chase and Travis haven’t talked in almost two months, Chase still hasn’t told them. So Travis just keeps talking to them about hockey and hunting season and class and fish he caught, trying to act normal, trying to soak up everything with them before he stops getting to have it. 

It hurts to realize that his parents don’t really know him anymore--that there’s part of himself that he can’t ever tell them about without losing them. He tries not to think about it, but on the phone with the familiar sound of his mom’s voice telling him stories about the dog he grew up with and the farm he loves; the low, rough tone of his dad’s voice talking about the work he did on one of their blinds and a new type of lure he wants Travis to try out when he comes home, Travis feels like he’s constantly bracing for a hit that he knows is going to knock him on his ass.

And it kind of sucks to not be able to talk to his parents about Nolan, too, when Nolan’s, like, the biggest and best part of his life. He told them he broke up with Steph, finally, the week after him and Nolan got together when lying about being with someone else started making Travis feel worse than the idea of telling them he didn’t have a girlfriend anymore, but they still keep asking if he’s dating a new girl, if there’s someone he can bring home during winter break for them to meet. 

He usually talks to them with Nolan in the room, he doesn’t know why--sitting quiet at the other end of the couch, working on his homework, making Travis feel so lucky to have found the perfect fucking person, so patient understanding Travis can’t even wrap his mind around it--and whenever his parents ask about Christmas, Travis’s eyes get stuck on Nolan and he has to tell himself to breathe. There’s one person he wants to bring home every year for the rest of their lives, and there’s no fucking way that can happen.

 

⊹⊹⊹⊹

 

Joel and Morgan are already gone for Christmas break, but Travis has one more late final and Nolan has a few days left of grading to do, so their flights aren’t until early next week. 

So they’re supposed to be studying and working and shit, but instead, they cram into the shower together and jerk each other off all wet and warm, then get out and eat lunch on the couch in just their underwear, Nolan’s heavy legs hanging over Travis’ lap, Travis running the tips of his fingers over the thick, curly hair on Nolan’s thighs while they eat grilled cheese and half-watch TV in the background. Their thermostat’s broken, so the heat’s always running at eighty-two degrees, so cuddling up on the couch half-naked feels warm and sweaty and summery, even though it’s getting colder outside every day. 

Nolan ends up pulling his laptop onto his chest and apparently getting a little work done while Travis just keeps running his hand over his thigh, higher and higher, watching the bulge in Nolan’s boxer briefs get bigger and just letting his mind blank out and think about nothing but Nolan’s perfect fucking body and all the ways it can make Travis feel good. 

After a long time and after Travis is so hard in his boxers that he has to hold himself back from humping up against the back of Nolan’s thigh, Travis finally just reaches up and cups his palm over Nolan’s dick, silky fabric over hard warmth, and Nolan drops his laptop onto the coffee table and yanks Travis into the bedroom. 

 

Nolan pulls his mouth off Travis’ with a wet noise and a line of spit connecting them, hefting himself up onto his elbows, which brings his hips down against Travis' and makes Travis’ dick slide into the warm, sweat-slick crease of Nolan's thigh. Travis tips his head back and breathes and Nolan huffs out warm air on Travis’ face as his dick rubs against Travis’ stomach. 

“If you ever wanna fuck me,” Nolan pants, “you can.” He looks away for a second and then meets Travis’ eyes. His hair is long and greasy, hanging down to tickle over Travis’ cheeks. 

Fuck, Travis’ mind fucking melts at Nolan offering something that Travis can’t even imagine being ready to offer so casual and easy, and then it melts even more and all he can think about is just the curve of Nolan’s ass when he bends over, the way his body under the line of his shortest shorts is even paler than the rest of him, how much bigger he is than Travis, how having Nolan’s dick in his mouth was scary and weird but made him feel like him and Nolan were like practically the same fucking person, for a second. 

Nolan blushes after a few seconds of Travis’ open mouth silence. “Like, I just thought, since Joel and Morgan already went home so we don’t have to worry about being quiet.”

Travis licks his lips. “Uh-huh, like, yeah, I’m. Sounds good to me,” he says, his dick, like, actually so hard he can’t think. 

Nolan gives Travis a tiny, pleased smile and then pushes him back, and Travis just watches, brain fucking broken over the way Nolan moves, grabbing the lube off Travis’ nightstand, kicking off his underwear where they’re still hooked around his calf and then sprawling out on Travis’ big bed and hitching his leg up behind his elbow, not an ounce of fucking shame because why the fuck should he have any when he looks like that: naked and pale, that fucking line high up on his huge thighs where his skin goes from white to white, and then his round, perfect, curvy ass. His limbs long and bent all over as he spreads himself out, all these tight angles Travis wants to stick his tongue in.  

“Holy fuck Patty,” Travis says. 

 

Fingering Patty is a little bit harder than Travis thought it would be, and about five hundred fucking times hotter. 

He’s fingered plenty of girls before, and never felt basically anything about it, but pushing the tip of his pointer finger past the fucking shocking tension and tightness of Nolan’s hole, into the soft warm fucking inside of him, is like. 

Like nothing. It’s it’s own fucking thing and not even in the same league as anything in the world.

“Fuck,” he says, one hand wrapped around Nolan’s cock, one finger barely an inch into Nolan, and his eyes just focused on where Nolan’s thighs are spread out and Travis’ fingertip disappears into the shadow of his body.

“Mmm” Nolan says, whiny, and then clenches down on Travis so hard Travis’ cock jerks enough to slap up against his stomach. 

Travis makes the most embarrassing fucking noise, this like high, shivery, “hhhh,” and yeah he doesn’t love his roommates hearing him having sex, but also, like, he’s heard the two of them get noisy with their girls enough times that it’s pretty chill, for the most part, but now he’s fucking glad they’re not here, because no matter how chill they are about this whole fucking thing, they’d give him shit about that sound. 

“Trav,” Nolan whines, bucking his hips up into Travis’ hand and then down into his finger. 

“Yeah,” Travis says, and then takes in a big breath, starts jerking Nolan off again, slow and loose, and presses his finger deeper into him.

 

He’s already fucking harder than he’s ever been and so just lost in Nolan’s voice and skin and ass and dick that he can’t fucking think, and then, when Nolan rolls over onto his elbows and knees and Travis crawls up behind him and slides on a condom, he gets hit with all his fucking feelings. 

It’s the exact motion he’s done a hundred times before, for all this shitty sex that he’s had, never fucking getting why he didn’t like it. But this time he’s got fucking Nolan, his best friend, patient and strong and bitchy to everyone but nice to Travis and smart and so good at poems, someone he’s fucking in love with curled up in front of him, curve of his spine and pale of his skin and smell of him on the sheets they both sleep on.

He’s pretty sure Nolan would do basically anything he could to make Travis happy, and he knows he’d do anything for Nolan. 

Travis tries to say okay and loses his voice. He takes a breath and closes his eyes, then opens them so he can watch himself push into Nolan’s ass. 

 

“Oh. Nolan,” Travis says, mouth open and hot against Nolan’s shoulder blade, hands shaking and sliding on Nolan’s ribs. He lets out this sloppy little sound that would make Nolan laugh if he wasn’t feeling, like, fucked in literally every way.

Nolan shivers under Travis, whines, and shifts his hips back against Travis’ where they’re still unmoving, pushed against the flesh of Nolan’s ass. He just--he doesn’t want there to be anything left that he hasn’t done with Travis, doesn’t want a single place on his body that Travis hasn’t touched.

"Nol, I love you,” Travis breathes, lips slipping on Nolan’s skin.

Nolan’s chest does this big heaving thing, tight and then loose, out and then back like a wave, so intense it hurts, and he never wants to stop feeling it.

He opens his mouth to say it back and all he can do is fucking pant, breath hot and damp against his forearms, his whole body burning and sweaty, his ass so full and stretched. He whines again, just noise, and Travis kisses the top of one of Nolan’s shoulders, then the other.

His forehead presses to Nolan’s spine and he takes a big breath, chest pushing tighter to Nolan’s back. His hands slide down Nolan’s sides and settle over his hips, squeezing. “Okay,” he says, sounding shaken. “I got it, okay?”

“Yeah, Trav, you got me,” Nolan mumbles, total fucking nonsense and so fucking what. 

 

Travis slides almost all the way out, his thighs shaking, knees unsteady where they’re sunk into the mattress, dick wet and so hard it doesn’t look like it should fit inside of Nolan, the head of it holding Nolan open, making his hole red and shiny, and then he pushes back in. 

It’s too fucking much. “Holy, Nolan. Fuck.”

“Yeah,” Nolan says into his forearms, arching his back and shifting his hips backwards, jolting Travis a little deeper inside of him and making them both moan. “You’re good, baby, fuck, good job.” 

Travis shudders and he can’t figure out how to say thank you or, like, “ you’re fucking good,” or whatever, so he just licks the back of Nolan’s neck. Goes as slow as he can and tenses all his muscles so he doesn’t come too fast and angles his hips until Nolan’s being loud and his arms are shaking where he’s trying to hold himself up on his elbows. He unwraps his arms a little and brings one down to grab Nolan’s dick, harder and hotter than Travis would’ve thought someone’s body could, like, be, and brings one hand up to cup over Nolan’s pec, palm pressed over Nolan’s nipple, rubbing at it as Travis loses his breath and his fucking self-control and starts rocking into Nolan hard enough to shift him forward.

Nolan pants so loud, and he’s so tight and close, every inch of his back pressed to every inch of Travis’ chest, his ass squeezing around Travis’ dick, his cock hot and jerking in Travis’ hand, and then he comes, warm over Travis’ fingers, tightening up around Travis’ dick in a way Travis really wasn’t expecting from a guy, and Travis heaves out a sob and comes, too. 

 

He so doesn’t want to fucking cry after. He just had the best sex of his life and he got to tell Nolan he loves him and he finally fucking knows himself, so he shouldn’t even be thinking about crying. He doesn’t know why he fucking is.

He puts himself together, face on Nolan’s neck, enough to pull out and get rid of the condom and grab a towel and help Nolan clean off. His eyes are sore and his nose is stinging but he blinks fast the whole time and gets through it, and when Nolan, rolled onto his back and smiling, holds out an arm for Travis and lets Travis crawl into him and rest his head on his big chest, Travis feels like he’s got it back together enough that, like, if Nolan will just ask him one of his questions and let Travis talk, he’s pretty sure he can stop being a baby and not fucking embarrass himself.

And then Nolan runs a slow, soft hand down his spine and says, “Where’s your favorite place to fish?” and Travis blinks and blinks and blinks, but it doesn’t stop tears from slipping out down his cheeks and onto Nolan’s skin. 

“Whoa, shit,” Nolan says, hands scrabbling over Travis’ shoulders and hair and neck for a second before settling on his jaw, tilting it up so Travis would be looking at Nolan if his eyes weren’t pressed shut. “Hey, c'mon, what’s wrong?” Nolan says, and a little kiss lands on the curve of bone underneath Travis’ eye, quick and soft.

It’s like, the whole thing. Being gay and in love with Nolan while his whole family is who they are, when he’s supposed to be who he’s supposed to be. The way Nolan accepts every single part of Travis--him loud and annoying, crying and being soft, being gay, and the way his family, who are supposed to love him no matter what, would hate him for it. He knows it for sure already--he’s been telling himself for months that it’s true, and it is. There’s no fucking version of reality where Travis tells them and they’re okay with it, and he knows that, but he still doesn’t know how to deal with it; how he's supposed to be able to tell them. 

“I don’t want to go home,” he tells Nolan. Travis should buck up and do it. He has a ticket bought and his parents are expecting him in four fucking days, and if he doesn’t come there’s probably no way Chase won’t tell them. “I can’t, okay,” he sobs, and Nolan wraps an arm around Travis’ shoulders and muscles him onto his side and down, so his head’s tucked into the shadowed space under Nolan’s chin. 

“You don’t have to, sweetheart,” he says, soft and low. 

Travis lungs tighten and he puts his hands against Nolan’s abs and just barely manages to say, “Okay.” 

He lets himself cry against Nolan, and tries to stop worrying about going home. Tries to just think about how if this is his new home--his mattress and Nolan’s soft blanket and Nolan doing everything he can to make Travis happy, maybe it’s going to be okay. 

 

⊹⊹⊹⊹

 

Lying in bed with Travis asleep next to him, Nolan realizes he never told Travis “ I love you ” back, even though he could’ve said it to Travis fucking months ago and had it be true. 

He stays up for a while longer even while his eyelids keep trying to close, typing out a poem on his phone, trying to get something down that sounds even a little bit right. He looks over at Travis every five seconds just to see him all peaceful and pretty. 

The poem is fucking embarrassing. They’d hate it in workshop and his sisters would give him so much shit if they ever read it. 

He thinks it’ll make Travis happy.  

 

Nolan wakes up early and flails his arm out for Travis automatically. It’s how they usually wake up: Nolan flopping his arm heavy on Travis’ chest, Travis huffing awake and yawning blearily over at Nolan, then one of them rolling into the other so they can kiss and wrap their arms around each others’ backs and grind together. 

This morning, Travis’ side of the bed is empty. 

Nolan pulls on sweats and a hoodie. Checks the bathroom and wanders around the apartment and then outside, thinking maybe Travis is by the creek. He finds him right away, though, sitting, elbows on his knees and head in his hands, at the top of the rickety, half rotted stairs outside, the wood dark and damp with dew. 

It’s cold out, maybe a few days away from their first snow of the winter, and Travis is wearing boxers and a t-shirt and nothing else. 

“TK,” Nolan says, reaching down to scratch softly at the top of Travis’ spine. Travis runs a hand through his hair and looks up at Nolan, smiling with just his mouth. He scoots down to sit on the second step from the top.

Nolan sits down on the top step a little gingerly because, whatever, it’s been a long time since he got fucked and Travis’ dick is, like, big . He makes a little, barely even audible hmp noise in the back of his throat as he settles his weight down on the cool wood of the stairs, and Travis somehow hears him, tips his head back onto Nolan’s shoulder to stare up at him, all big-eyed, sincere concern. It’s, like, not even a face Nolan is capable of making, he’s pretty sure.

“Feel okay? Sorry I wasn’t in bed when you woke up, I was gonna come back in in a sec,” Travis says, sounding like he’s trying to sound normal. 

Nolan drops a kiss on Travis’ temple and stretches his legs out on either side of Travis’ body, leaning against his shoulders, looping his arms around Travis’ stomach. Travis’ back is cold and tense when Nolan presses his chest against it. “I’m good,” he says, nudging Travis’ head back down with his nose and then resting his chin on the soft top of Travis’ hair. 

They sit in the quiet for a few minutes, Travis still and silent in this way he basically only ever is when Nolan’s touching him somehow, which is, like, a fucking thrill through Nolan’s system, even after weeks of noticing it over and over. 

“Are you good?” Nolan asks him after it’s been long enough that his bare feet start to get cold, that the only warm part of him is where he’s touching Travis. He tries to sound slow and soft and easy, like anything Travis says is fine, because it fucking is: if Travis is okay or isn’t, if he doesn’t want to have sex like that again, if he decided he wants to go home to his family and not tell them, if he wants Nolan to come home with him and be there for the huge ass shitshow that’ll be, whatever. 

Travis pulls in a big, shaky breath. “Yeah,” he says quietly, sliding his arm out from where it’s pressed against his side with the weight of Nolan’s leg and settling his arm along the top of Nolan’s thigh, elbow at Nolan’s hip and fingers curled around his knee. 

Nolan untangles one arm from Travis and shifts his hips up to pull his phone out of his back pocket. He opens up his poem and slides it into Travis’ hand.

Travis blinks down on lines of stark black font on white, the only way Nolan can think of to try and make Travis feel a little bit of what Travis made him feel last night with just lips on skin and Nolan’s name and three fucking words. 

“Sorry I’m, like, not good at talking like you are, but I wrote this for you last night,” Nolan says.

Travis makes a mumbly noise and brings the phone closer to his face. He reads slow, eyebrows furrowed, the way Nolan’s learned he always does when Nolan shows him a poem. After a few seconds he presses back harder into Nolan’s chest and lets out a big sigh, his shoulders relaxing down against Nolan. 

Nolan squeezes his arms around Travis’ waist. Clenches his jaw and breathes against Travis’ hair and fucking blushes about Travis reading the first love poem Nolan’s written since, like, middle school. 

Travis’ fingers tighten on Nolan’s leg. His thumb rubs across the arc of Nolan’s kneecap. “Patty,” he says, soft. He looks back at Nolan, wobbly smile and wet eyes, and then ducks his head back down, running the pads if his fingers quickly under one eye and sniffling, and looks at the poem again.

Nolan lets out a shaky, heavy breath and rubs his chin against Travis’ hair, getting silky strands of it tangled in the short scruff along his neck. He stares out at the sky, still streaked with purple and yellow from sunrise; the woods below that. A pregnant looking doe wanders out of the treeline to nose at the brown grass, slow and peaceful, and Nolan nudges his jaw against the side of Travis’ head to make him look. Travis drags his eyes up and across the yard, and they breathe and sit together in the cold and watch the deer wander down towards the creek, then dip her head to drink from it. 



Up to your knees in the creek, camouflaged in hunter green and fish scale brown like you can blend into the trees, like you’re not the only fucking thing I ever see. I can’t stop thinking about that first time I saw you out there by the water, throwing up and smiling; strong and funny and beautiful and so fucking brave.

You remind me of the lake back home. Small and shallow so it’s always warm, wild with whitecaps and then smooth and sweet. Teeming with heavy, pretty fish. So sandy on the bottom I could live down there. 

It drives you fucking crazy that there’s no fish in the creek so I’ll go upstream and pour some in for you to catch, reel in and throw back until you’re happy, and if you get hungry I’ll clean one for you. 

We could go live up by the lake. Swim every day in August and skate it in the winter and eat nothing but bluegill, grow out hair out and fucking braid it together, whatever the fuck you want, weirdo.

I just fucking love you.