Nolan is nervous. Far more nervous than he thought he would be, for this. He knew he'd be nervous, like, in general, he just didn't anticipate the way his palms are so sweaty and cold as he rubs them against his jeans. Claude and Wayne are right next to him, talking quietly to Andrea, and they both seem as calm as can be. They've both done this kind of thing before, though, these extra special meetings. Claude in particular is good at it. Good at being soft and gentle and fatherly, making everybody around him feel safe. Nolan has no experience with these kind of things though, and knows he isn't going to be good like Claude is. Sure, he's met kids before, but never like this. And it's been a long time, okay, he was out for a long time. Out of the game, out of the spotlight, out of people's favor. Nolan can barely stand to meet fans now as it is. He knows he just kind of glares at them and bitches his way through it, comes out looking like an asshole. He has been told by Andrea and AV both that he needs to "unclench" and "not swear in front of a three year old, no matter what his dipshit dad just said about your stats." That shit is bad, annoying, but never makes him nervous. But this? Fuck this.
A few days ago, a couple people from management had sat all three of the currently assembled Flyers down at a table with a rep from Make A Wish to explain the situation. They'd been told, "this kid is dying, will be dead very soon," like it wasn't a big deal. That had taken even Claude by surprise, who has done Make A Wish meetings twice since becoming captain. Apparently they didn't normally say shit like that. Usually the MAW people kept it as optimistic as possible, didn't bring up prognosis like that. Which meant that this kid is way worse off than the kids Claude has dealt with before. They weren't told what she was dying of, just that she was on hospice, and would be accompanied by a nurse "just in case." Nolan knew what hospice meant, had heard his grandmother whisper about it a couple of times on his grandpa's worst days. Which means that this shit is serious. So, yeah, Nolan is nervous.
Wayne slaps a hand down on his shoulder suddenly, and Nolan snaps his head up from where he had been staring intently at the floor between his shoes. He jerks upright, standing straight and blinking at Wayne dumbly. Nolan rushes quickly through his grounding exercises, forces his mind to be present and not floating off in nerves. He is aware of his feet on the floor, the weight of Wayne's hand on his shoulder, the soft whistling sound that Claude makes every time he inhales through his busted left nostril. He looks around, takes in the random staff, the PR guy with a giant camera, Andrea, Mike from Make A Wish, a few people Nolan doesn't know. Nolan watches them move around quietly. Shuffling out of the room dejectedly is Dave, the guy who normally wears the Gritty suit. He'd been in the suit half an hour ago, until someone from MAW informed them that actually this kid is shit-your-pants terrified of Gritty and meeting him is not on the agenda. Nolan thought that was pretty hilarious, actually. He's never seen Dave climb out of the suit so fast in his life, and Nolan had actually laughed out loud when poor Dave got his arm stuck in the suspender and almost toppled over. Nolan feels Wayne's hand tense against his shoulder, and he turns to follow his gaze down the hall. He sees people coming, then. He sees what he assumes are the kids parents first. Dad in a weirdly formal buttoned shirt, mom in a not remotely ice appropriate dress. They look stiff, uneasy. Like they would rather be anywhere else in the world right now.
Nolan squints, and sees a man just behind them, carrying a kid on his hip. A tiny kid. Nolan racks his brain, remembers that this kid is ten years old. She doesn't look it, and Nolan would be able to tell, even if he didn't already know, that she's very sick. Nolan notices that the man carrying her is in soft gray scrubs and has a heavy badge hooked onto his chest that Nolan can't read from this distance, he can just make out the bright red "RN" on the bottom of it. He's got, like, three different bags draped across his body, and an oxygen machine strapped to his back, tube leading to the kid. Nolan's eyes flit briefly across the way the guy's shoulders and arms are flexed under the weight of all that, thinks holy shit, that dude must be strong as hell, before looking over at the kid instead.
"Gentlemen." Mike is saying then, pushing gently on Nolan and Wayne's backs. "This is Mr. Park and Mrs. Choi, and their daughter Katie."
Katie is looking right at Nolan, with big, bright eyes, and the nurse carrying her helps her lift her hand in a wave. She starts to tear up, mouth forming words too soft for Nolan to hear. The nurse chuckles, turning toward her to whisper something. The kid's eyes get wider, and she giggles, which turns to a cough. It's only then that Nolan notices that she is in a tiny little jersey. Notices the number 19 on her arm. Oh. He's so fucked.
"She says you're all taller than she thought you'd be." The nurse says, stepping up closer, right up in Wayne's space so Katie can look up at him. Up, up, since the nurse only comes to Wayne's chest, apparently.
"Well, all but the captain here, eh?" Wayne says, voice soft and gentle, like they'd been told to be. He reaches out his fist to Katie, slowly. She looks at it, eyes wide, and grins. She lifts her arm up, with the nurses help, and bumps her tiny, so fucking tiny, fist against Wayne's.
Claude leans in close, whispers something to her that makes her tuck her chin and blush. Nolan kind of spaces out for a second, then, clenches his jaw and tells himself that he is not, under any circumstances, about to cry. She's just so little, tucked against the nurse's chest. He looks away as Claude and Wayne talk to the kid, not wanting to see the way Claude's comparatively giant hands hover around her tiny legs, not touching her for fear of hurting her. Nolan looks at Andrea, who is looking at her phone, looks at the camera for about half a second before flinching away from it. Then he accidentally meets the mom's eyes. She's looking at Nolan like he's doing something wrong. Which, he realizes he might be. The kid is wearing his number, and he's basically ignoring her. Nolan knows his face, okay, knows he's got the whole resting bitch thing. God, from the outside he probably looks annoyed. He catches himself before he glares at the mom, because, holy shit, her kid is dying, she has every right to scowl at Nolan. He can't be a dick.
He is being a dick. Fuck.
"G could probably use a few pointers." Wayne is saying when Nolan tunes back in. Katie makes a sound like a laugh, and the nurse snorts back his own laughter. Nolan gets the feeling he's being quieter than he wants to be, only because Katie is, like, right under his chin.
"Probably won't do any good." Nolan says, taking a step closer, trying not to loom as he very much looms over Katie and the nurse. Katie looks up at him, face a little open book of shock and awe. Nolan feels something catch in his throat as he meets her wide eyes.
"Be nice, Patty." Claude laughs.
"What? I'm her favorite." Nolan says, reaching out and pinching Katie's little jersey as gently as he can, smiling at her. He reigns the expression in a little at the last second as he remembers Maddie telling him once that he has a "serial killer smile."
"Oh, you have no idea." The nurse says, shifting Katie on his hip so that she's facing Nolan more. Her arms come out from around the nurse's neck, and she looks like she wants to reach for Nolan. He absolutely does not panic about it.
"She's always liked hockey, only became obsessed with it after you started." her dad says, the first thing either parent has said so far. He doesn't sound happy about it, doesn't look happy when Nolan glances over at him. Nolan sees the mom, too, still glaring at him, and feels himself tense up defensively.
"Good taste, Katie." Nolan says, swaying away a little when her hands twitch towards him, scared she's gonna try and grab him.
"Kat, honey, you gotta hold on, remember?" The nurse says, quietly, bringing the kid's arms back up around his neck. She pouts, says something into the side of the nurse's face. This close, Nolan can hear her voice, what little of it there is. She sounds worse than Nolan's great aunt who smoked for 60 years. He watches the nurse pinch his eyebrows as he tilts his head, listening. He wonders if he has a hard time understanding her. Nolan watches his face for any clues to what the kid might be saying.
"I think she should sit down for a bit." her mom interrupts, walking over and putting her hand on Katie's back. If Nolan hadn't already been paying such close attention to the nurse, he might have missed the way he tenses up. His eyes squint in annoyance, and he seems to tilt just so to pull Katie away from her mom's hands. Which is weird as fuck, right? Nolan frowns, watching the way the nurse shifts his hold around Katie's hip and leg, pulling her into himself protectively. Like he was defending her from her own mother.
"Oh, we can head to the locker room, she can sit in the captain's stall. We can take some pictures there." Andrea sweeps in, then, once she seems to realize everyone has paused awkwardly for a second. Her phone is in her hand, pulled up to the Flyers' Instagram page. God, Nolan's probably already been tagged in something. He just hopes it's not a shot of him, like, glaring at a dying kid.
"Oh perfect, then we can get ready for the skate." Mike from MAW says, and Nolan had honestly forgot that the dude was, like, standing right behind him. Nolan has kind of been just blocking him with his big dumb body. Oops.
"Oh, awesome." Claude says. "You gonna skate with us, Katie?"
"She can't skate." the nurse says, shrugging a little. Which, seems kind of obvious, when Nolan looks at her little legs.
"Oh, I guess uh, Patty can hold her?" Claude asks, caught up for a second.
"No." is all the mom says, scowling at Claude now.
"No offence." the nurse says, eyes still looking annoyed, but also kind of embarrassed, like he feels apologetic on the mom's behalf. "I'll hold her. I brought my skates for a reason."
They had walked down to the ice in their shoes, stopping and pouting things out to Katie along the way. Now Nolan is sitting on the bench patiently while Wayne tightens up the laces of his skates for him, watching as the nurse, whose name he should probably learn at some point, struggles. The guy is sat in the goalie's seat with Katie in his lap, trying to get the bags off himself without disrupting the oxygen pack. It's a small pack, like it's made for someone Katie's size to wear it. Nolan wonders why the nurse has it instead, seems kind of impractical to be tethered to the kid by a tube like that. Besides, between the bags and the whole ass human child, the guy has to have been lugging well over a hundred pounds around like it's nothing all morning long. Nolan is kind of impressed with his upper body strength, but he does not look at his chest when the nurse swings the heavy sports bag off his back. The guy finally gets all his bags on the ground, begins digging around in the biggest one. Pulls out a little pink hat and yellow mittens for Katie, along with a big orange Flyers scarf. He wraps Katie up quickly, efficiently. He doesn't even look at what he's doing, but Nolan guesses helping her get dressed is part of his job, after all. He digs back into the bag and comes up with a pair of skates. Not hockey skates, not ones like Nolan is familiar with. Figure skates, nice ones. They're well worn, look like they used to have something painted on the side. One of the little toe picks is clearly ground down, like they've been getting more use than maintenance.
"You get the feeling like the Park's want to burn down the Farg with us in it?" Wayne asks, inclining his head to where Katie's parents are sitting, thirty feet up the stands, glaring at the back of Claude's head as he glides out onto the ice to spread a few pucks around.
"Pretty sure they've been glaring at their own nurse like that, too." Nolan says, tapping his feet on the ground as Wayne finishes his laces. "I guess they might lock him in here with us when they set the blaze."
"Oh, I bet you wouldn't mind that." Wayne says, out of the blue, before he takes off to join Claude on the ice. It takes Nolan a second to figure out what he means by that, and he feels himself flush once he gets it. Fucking Wayne. This is what Nolan gets for trusting Wayne fucking Simmonds, of all people, with his sexual preferences. Nolan glances back over at the nurse, squints at him a little, actually looks at him. His hair, long enough to curl at the edge of his shirt collar, his maybe blue maybe hazel maybe something else eyes. The nurse smiles at Katie, then, and it's a little bit crooked. Nolan watches as the nurse slides his skates on, watches him hold his foot up in front of Katie, watches her smile, reach out weakly like she's gonna help him tie them up. The nurse laughs softly, says something quiet. Nolan has to look away. Somehow it had occurred to Wayne that this guy was Nolan's type before Nolan himself had even really let the thought settle. Wow. He's nervous again.
It takes Nolan a minute to gather himself, then, and by the time he has the brain power to stand up, he ends up moving onto the ice just a step ahead of the nurse. Nolan pushes off to the left, towards his team mates, and the nurse fucking glides to the right. Step, step, one blade on the ice, one toe pick trailing behind him as he floats over the ice. Holy shit.
"I don't know how much you can really maneuver while holding her, I'll defer to you on how we should play this." Claude says, taking a stick from a rogue staff member who is floating around out here with them.
"Practice around us." The nurse says, slanting to a graceful stop around the center line. "Maybe two of just do what you'd normally do without getting too close to us, one of you can skate along with us, bounce a puck for Kitty Kat."
"Sounds good." Wayne says. "Patty can bounce pucks for you." He says. Nolan hears the way his voice pitches, like it's a chirp. He hopes the nurse misses it because, fuck, that's inappropriate. Nolan glares at him, hopes the "not the time, asshole" is clear on his face. Wayne just smirks at him.
"She says, duh, of course she wants to skate with Patrick." The nurse laughs, and Katie tucks her face into her giant orange scarf like she's embarrassed.
"My honor." Nolan says drifting up to them. The figure skates aren't as tall as hockey skates, so he's looming even more now, and Katie's face is basically at his elbow. He reaches a hand out, takes hers gently. Her whole hand, even in the bulky mittens, barely takes up his palm. He glances at the nurse to make sure that's okay, that he holds her hand, and just gets a smile in return.
Nolan feels it again, suddenly. The urge to cry. This tiny little girl who looks up at him like he's the love of her life, her handsome nurse who cradles her gently against his side. It's almost too much for Nolan, too much when he remembers the people from MAW saying that she's going to die, very soon. He pushes off slowly, holding Katie's hand, and refuses to let his mask drop.
Nolan stands awkwardly in the doorway to the parking lot, watching as the nurse hands Katie's oxygen pack to her father. The guy holds it out with one hand, like it's offensive to him. Katie had already been buckled gently into the backseat of the family's car, hooked up to a different, bigger oxygen machine, and patted on the head gently by the nurse. Patty watches as a tense conversation happens between the men, before the dad tosses the oxygen pack into the trunk without care and the nurse storms off, back towards the Farg.
"I grabbed your bags, so you didn't have to go all the way back to the ice." Nolan says, gesturing down to the bags at his feet, as the nurse approaches him.
"Shit, thanks, bud." The guys says. Nolan sees a change, then. Sees the guy go from whatever face he wears to work, to who he is outside of it. His shoulders sag, his frown deepens, and when he looks at Nolan with a scowl, he looks suddenly way too young to be a nurse.
"No problem." Nolan says, watching as the nurse bends down, but instead of picking up his bags, he just digs through one. He curses quietly to himself, pulls a handful of things out to drop carelessly on the ground before he finds what he's looking for. Nolan can't do anything but laugh when he comes up with a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. What the fuck?
"I literally dare you to find someone who works in hospice who doesn't smoke. Every fucking nurse I know, dude. Stressful fucking job." He says, slapping a cigarette out with his palm, sliding it between his teeth. He chomps down on it, which seems gross, and lights up right there, with the door propped open against Nolan's hip and everything.
"Shouldn't a nurse, like, know better." Nolan says, angling his body away, so he's not breathing in what the guy exhales.
"One thing working in the medical field teaches you, my man, is everybody fucking dies anyway. Dying sucks no matter how you do it." He shrugs, suddenly looks so exhausted. Nolan catches some lilt to his voice that wasn't there before, an accent that sounds way too familiar to be local.
"You're uh, really good with her. A good nurse." Nolan says, just to try and make conversation. He wishes he hadn't, though, as he watches the guy's face fall like he's just been given bad news.
"Shit." is all he says, blowing smoke out of the side of his mouth, away from Nolan. They stand in silence for a moment, Nolan just watching his profile as he smokes, watches as he seems to sag into himself, like he's crumpling. Nolan is way out of his depth, suddenly.
"What's your name? I've been calling you Nurse all day." Nolan asks, feeling stupid. The guy just laughs and taps his badge, which makes Nolan feel even stupider. Right, how the fuck hadn't he thought to read his very obvious badge?
Vista Hospice, Outpatient Care. Travis Konecny RN.
There is a faded little smiley face sticker on his badge, and a smudge of dark ink where it looks like somebody tried to draw something and it got wiped away. He also has a pin on his badge pull, some purple ribbon. Nolan tries to think, but doesn't remember what purple is for. He knows the ones they had worn for Lindy were yellow, though, so it's not Ewing Sarcoma.
"Travis." Nolan says his name, just to try it out. It suits him.
"You're wrong." Travis says, and Nolan frowns, thinking he somehow managed to mispronounce the name Travis. "I'm fucking shit at this job."
"Oh." Nolan frowns deeper. "You seem to really care about Katie."
"Yeah." Travis laughs, humorless. "That's the fucking problem, bud. I work in hospice, my literal job is to watch people die. I can't go around giving a shit about my patients like this, or I'll loose my god damn mind."
"I," Nolan starts, but doesn't know what the fuck to say to that. He really hadn't expected Travis to say something like that. Aside from it being way too emotionally vulnerable for Nolan to handle, it's like, really unprofessional. Nolan guesses Travis is technically not working now that Katie is gone, but it still feels weird. Like, the MAW people are still around, back inside, talking to Andrea about the video that is going to go up on YouTube about the day. Nolan doesn't know what to think.
"I'm just glad it's only for another week." Travis says, mostly to himself. Nolan feels the way his eyes get big.
"She only has that long?" Nolan asks, in a whisper. He thinks about how Katie had clung to his hands on the ice, eyes full of wonder as Nolan and Travis worked together to help her hold a stick to bat a puck around. She'd scored on Wayne, had gone home with the puck.
"What?" Travis looks at him blankly. "Oh, shit. Dude, no, not like that. I'm just quitting. I put in my notice last month, already took a job in a memory care facility."
"Oh." Nolan says.
"Probably, though. She doesn't have long." Travis puts his cigarette out on the bottom of his shoe, tucks the butt back into the pack. Nolan notices there is a black spot worn into the rubber sole of his shoe, where he must do that all the time.
"Oh." Nolan says again, feeling himself deflate.
"Her fucking parents, dude." Travis spits. "I told them this was a bad idea. Probably cut a fucking month off her life." Travis runs his hands across his face, and when he looks back up at Nolan, he looks suddenly furious. "You know, they haven't even told her that she's sick? They refuse to. She thinks she's fine, thinks this is normal. Thinks she's gonna come out on the other side all better, thinks all kids go through this, like puberty. She doesn't know she's fucking going to die.
And you know what's the worst? The worst, is that her dickhead parents want to act like it's not even happening. Bad enough they lie to her, they want to lie to themselves too, Just keep making it worse. Like, yeah, let's take her out of her bed and drag her to a fucking hockey rink so she can catch walking pneumonia and tap out that much quicker, cause fuck forbid we tell our daughter what is happening to her own fucking body."
"Oh." Nolan says again, suddenly the only word he knows, and watches something flash across Travis' face.
"Dude, you are," Travis says, cutting himself off before telling Nolan what, exactly, he is.
"I mean, like, isn't that the point?" Nolan asks, cringing at himself. "Like, Make A Wish. One last awesome thing?"
"She doesn't know. Her parents aren't honest with her. Maybe if she knew she was dying, she'd make a different choice. That's informed consent, you know? You can't really make a choice if you don't know the side effects of what you're choosing."
"She was happy though." Nolan says, dumbly. Maybe a little defensively. He doesn't really like how Travis is implying that, like, it wasn't worth it. Like what he and Claude and Wayne just did was worthless.
"Fucking hell." Travis says, kicking one of his own bags, where they are still kind of pressed against Nolan's shins.
"It's gotta count, dude." Nolan says, staring down at the back of Travis' neck. "You gotta make it count."
"I shouldn't have even agreed to come today, I knew it was just gonna piss me off." Travis grumbles, looking down at his bags on Nolan's feet.
"I mean, she needed her nurse, dude." Nolan says, hand twitching at his side like he wants to do something stupid like reach out and touch Travis.
"Could have been a caregiver, she's got pretty good ones." Travis sighs, scrubbing at the back of his neck, right where Nolan's itchy fingers were thinking about brushing. "Usually the nurse only gets involved for, like, incidents, or delegable tasks. Her parents only asked me because they know I can skate."
Right, Nolan thinks. You can fucking skate .
"Did you get his number?" Wayne asks, elbowing Nolan in the ribs way harder than necessary.
"Fuck you, Simmer." Nolan grumbles, sinking deeper into the booth seat he's crammed into. They're in a shitty bar, drinking shitty beer together. Claude is here somewhere too, but he had fucked off to video call his wife. Claude and Wayne may not have been quite as emotionally fucked up about the events of the day as Nolan, but they certainly all needed a drink after that. Something about spending the day with Katie had really gotten to them, in a way that none of them had really expected. Nolan is pretty sure Claude only rushed to call Ryanne so he could look at Gavin's little face, remind himself that his son was okay.
"Did you see the way he skated, bro? I almost asked for his number." Wayne laughs, slaps the table hard enough to make their beers slosh in the glasses.
"He called me a sasquatch and said he hoped I tripped on my shoelaces, so, you probably have a better shot." Nolan grumbles, not pouting at all.
Somehow his conversation with Travis ended, not on a bad note, but on a really weird one. Travis seemed to calm down pretty quick, like he just needed to let his anger burst and fizzle and then smoke a second cigarette. Nolan got it, a little. He doesn't think he could literally watch children die for a living, can't imagine how stressful Travis' life must be. Travis had explained the difference between the job he does now, and the one he'll be doing after he leaves. It all seemed to boil down to "be a nurse" to Nolan, but Travis had sounded excited about it. Nolan hadn't really learned any more about Travis, aside from the fact that his accent was from Canada like Nolan thought, and he didn't seem to have a brain to mouth filter. He'd made fun of Nolan's untied laces, had bounced up and down on his toes and told Nolan he was "way too tall, that is just, too much boy at once." He was bizarre, but Nolan had maybe kind of liked the guy.
They had talked more about Katie, too. Shit. Sweet little Katie with her yellow mittens and big cute eyes. She adored Nolan, specifically, for whatever reason. Loved hockey even though her parents hated it, always got Travis to put the NHL Network on when he came to see her. Shit, she used her one fucking Make A Wish to meet the Flyers, even though she was blatantly disobeying her parents by picking that. Travis told him they wanted her to go to Disneyland, but she put her tiny little foot down and said "I want Patrick and Giroux," until she got her way. The MAW people took the kids vote first, and the nursing staff backed up Katie anyway. Disneyland would have been too hard on her. A few hours in a hockey rink was bad enough, according to Travis. He hadn't wanted her to leave her room at all, had tried to get the MAW guys to bring the Flyers to her. Nolan wishes he could see her again, knows he's gonna miss her for the rest of his life.
Nolan puts his head down on the sticky bar table, feels a familiar throb behind his left eye, and wonders if maybe he should have asked Travis for his number after all.