They did it. They won. They beat the Devils, scraped by with just one more point than the Rangers, and they were going into playoffs. They fucking did it. Nolan collapses after the game, just sits in his stall with his head between his legs, and tries to tune out the team as they make a ruckus around him. He doesn't move, feels like he can't move. He knows Nico is going to be outside waiting for him, knows he shouldn't keep him too long or he'll get pissy and call Nolan mean names in German. Nolan just can't move. He's a few seconds away from panicking about it. He can feel the sweat cooling between his thighs, feel where his chest plate is chafing against his armpits. He wants to undress, wants a shower. Needs a shower. He'd pulled his sweater off, but hadn't gotten any further before he felt like his strings had gotten cut, and he'd collapsed into his stall next to Wayne's. And now he can't fucking move.
"You planning on going home in your gear?" someone says, pressing cold fingers to the back of Nolan's neck. He recognizes the feel of them before he even registers the voice.
"S'cold, Vanya." he grumbles, even as he presses into the contact. His neck feels hot, flushed. The fingers wrap around his nape, squeeze a little bit. He feels Ivan dig his thumb into the muscle right at the top of his spine, where they both know his migraines sit when they travel that far back on his skull. Nolan flinches at the contact, and Ivan hums to himself, steps to the side so the light is behind him, not shining on Nolan's face.
"Big witch, or little witch?" Ivan asks, and Nolan shakes his head. Migraine or a headache? Ivan can't just ask like a normal person, because he's Ivan. Nolan wasn't sure if Ivan is actually as superstitious as he acted, or if he just thought it was funny to watch the teams eyes go wide when he started sentences with, "you know, in Russia, we believe." He's pretty sure that at least half of the so-called Russian folk lore Ivan had told them was just being pulled out of his ass. Nolan knows for a fact that he got the "big witch, little witch" thing from a Stephen King book, even though he insisted to anyone who would listen that it was from an old Russian fairy tale about witches cursing sinners with headaches.
"No witch. I'm just tired." Nolan says, straightening up slowly so that he can squint up at Ivan, who is already showered, wet hair dripping onto his hoodie. There are still guys being loud, still laughing as Carter dances around in the player of the game robe. Nolan can tell by Ivan's face that he doesn't believe him. Nolan is pretty sure he is just tired, though. He doesn't know why he can't seem to be able to, just like, summon up the energy to get the fuck up out of his stall, but he doesn't think that he's got a migraine coming.
"You need Simmer?" Ivan asks, pinching the back of Nolan's neck in a way that's more annoying than comforting now.
"I can undress myself." Nolan says, finally shrugging out of Ivan's grip. Ivan just raises an eyebrow, looking at Nolan with an annoying twinkle in his eyes. Nolan can, ninety-nine percent of the time, undress himself just fine, thank you. Sometimes he just needs, like, a tiny bit of help, when there is actually a big witch in his head. Wayne had always been the one to help Nolan with the laces, after he'd had his spot blown up in regards to how he, maybe, hadn't ever learned how to do it himself. He could make a passable attempt, but he never got them quite right. It was just easier to let Wayne do it. Like it was, sometimes, easier to just let Wayne gently pull his pads and gear off for him, let Wayne cover his eyes with his big hand and lead Nolan into the showers. Right now though, Nolan doesn't want to bother him. Doesn't want to bother anybody, with the team high on victory, with Wayne doing his best to lift Carter onto his shoulders without braining the kid against the ceiling. Nolan just has to figure out how to move his own body again, and then he can do it himself.
Nolan isn't being creepy, despite what Kevin had to say about it when he'd peeked over Nolan's shoulder earlier. It was normal, okay? You meet someone, you talk to them about how much they hate their job, and then you look them up on social media to try and find out more about them. Travis Konecny RN doesn't have Twitter or Facebook, but he does have an Instagram which is annoyingly set to private. From what Nolan can see, Travis' profile picture is a mirror selfie of himself in bright purple scrubs in some public bathroom somewhere. Nolan squints at it, contemplates screenshotting and zooming, and then hears Kevin's voice in his head saying "you creepin' on your boy?" and makes himself exit out of the app. He hasn't decided yet if it would be weird to request to follow Travis. Kevin tells him it would be weird, but what the hell does Kevin know. Dude is from Boston.
Nolan pulls up Safari, types "purple awareness ribbon meaning" into the search bar. He frowns when he realizes that one color of ribbon can mean, like, forty different things. Purple is apparently for epilepsy, chronic pain, lewy body, chron's, alzheimer's, seizures, vitiligo, and a seemingly endless list of other things. He wonders what it means to Travis, specifically. Nolan drops his phone down onto the bed, stares up at the ceiling of his room, and does his grounding exercises just to have something to do.
He makes himself aware of his bare skin on the sheets, aware of the loose boxers around his thighs. He can see the curtains flutter gently from the air conditioner, but he can't feel it. The vent in his room was tilted almost completely shut, and his bed had been moved to the opposite wall after he'd realized that sustained cold air blowing on him was a migraine trigger. Nolan listens to the sounds around him, the ticking of the clock in the hall outside his open bedroom door, the music coming from somewhere deeper into the house, Kevin turning on the ice dispenser in the kitchen. He takes stock of his body, focuses on his shoulders first, tries to feel if they're tight, forces them to relax fully. His neck, which is sore from the game last night, but not tense, not knotted. The base of his skull, which feels like a normal every day skull right now. His temples, which he can feel the blood pumping through, but no pain, no pinching. He makes his eyes unfocus, lets himself just feel them, finds no pain. Nolan sighs, rubbing his hand down his face, scrubbing at the stubble under his chin. He's drawn out of his thoughts by his phone, vibrating on the pillow next to his head.
"Yeah?" he answers, pressing the phone against his shoulder and flopping his arm back across the bed.
"Congrats, baby bro." Maddie says around a laugh, voice excited and too loud in Nolan's ear. Oh. Right. Playoffs. Fuck, he'd meant to call his sister last night.
"Well, we'll see how far we go before we break out any balloons and streamers." Nolan says, hears Maddie scoff.
"They've got you this time around, you'll do fine." Maddie says, even though they both know that's kind of bullshit. Nolan isn't arrogant enough to think like, oh, maybe if he just hadn't been out with migraines last year the Flyers might have taken the cup. If they ever do win the cup, Nolan is pretty sure it'll be because of Claude and Carter, before anybody else.
"Does it make me sound insane to say I have barley even thought about it?" Nolan asks, shifting around so he can swing his legs out of bed, suddenly wanting to be doing anything besides laying in his bed like a sadsack.
"What, you, not getting wrapped up in your head like your whole worth as a human being is hinged entirely on how well you hit a rock with a stick?" Maddie laughs. "I guess, yeah, that doesn't really sound like the Lan I know."
"Fuck you." Nolan grunts, making his way out of his room to see if he can convince Kevin to make him lunch. Or at least to see if he can steal Kevin's lunch.
"Whatever bro, as long as you have your shit even a little bit together." Maddie says, just as Nolan rounds the corner into Kevin's chest.
"Baby cat!" Kevin yells, far too boisterously for a guy who just, like, ran into his room mate in the hallway of their shared home. Kevin is always like that, though. Always a little more dialed up than the situation really calls for. Fucking Boston, dude, seriously.
"Hi Kev." Maddie says, loud enough for Kevin to hear through the phone.
"Mads, my favorite Patrick!" Kevin says, leaning down and squishing his cheek against Nolan's so he can talk into the phone, instead of, just, you know, taking the phone from Nolan. "How are you?"
"I'm good. I watched the game last night." Maddie tells him, and Nolan feels Kevin's grin against his face. Gross.
"You see that fucking beauty of a goal I got the assist on?" Kevin asks.
"Sure did. Congrats on the qualification, big guy." Maddie tells Kevin.
"Thanks, doll." Kevin laughs, taking a step back and out of Nolan's personal bubble, just a second before Nolan was going to push him away anyway.
"What's for lunch?" Nolan asks Kevin, eyeing the bowl of rice and veggies the guy has in his hands.
"Whatever you make for yourself, Patso." Kevin tells him, tugging the bowl into his chest like he thinks Nolan is about to swipe it, and fixing Nolan with a look which tells him that no matter how high he notches up the puppy eyes, Kevin will not be sharing food with him.
They have a couple of days to get ready for their first playoff game, and Nolan spends most of the time he's not scheduled to be on the ice, on the ice anyway. He skates around the empty rink, trying to ignore the way he can feel the zamboni driver's gaze boring holes into the back of his head. He knows he probably only has another minute or two before one of the trainers comes and kicks him out. For now, he just glides around in lazy circles, focusing on the way his skates sound against the ice, trying to let his mind go blank. He's not even practicing, had dropped his stick to the equipment manager as the rest of the team had filed off the ice. He was just lingering, trying not to think.
It had been a week since the Make A Wish meeting, and Nolan had been on the ice at least every other day since then. Still, sometimes he catches himself glancing over at the bench, like he thinks he'll see little yellow mittens reaching out for him. He knows he needs to get out of his head about it, but he can't. He has come to understand what Travis had meant, about not giving a shit. Nolan kind of wishes he could stop giving a shit. Stop thinking about it, about Katie. He doesn't get why he's stuck on it, really. He knows that even Claude has moved on, has let it go. Nolan didn't know what had gotten into him, but he couldn't stop thinking about the kid.
Or her nurse.
Nolan skids to a stop at center ice, scowls down at his skates. He feels so dumb about it. He doesn't even know the guy, probably wouldn't have even thought twice about how hot he was if Wayne hadn't chirped him about it. Fucking Wayne. Nolan's never just, like, met a guy and been stuck on him like this before. He's had crushes, sure, but they always took time. Didn't just happen because some cute guy made him laugh one damn time. Nolan didn't buy into any love at first sight bullshit, truly believed it took work to develop feelings for someone. Nolan is pretty sure if he'd met Travis under any other circumstances, he wouldn't care. He's pretty much convinced himself that it's just because of the kid, the way Travis is all tangled up with Katie in Nolan's head. Either way, it's pissing Nolan off that he can't just shut it off. Nolan huffs down at his feet, pretends like he isn't thinking about figure skates, and makes himself walk off the ice. The tunnel is empty and quiet as he makes his way to the locker room, but he can still hear a few voices off in the distance, the stragglers still hanging around. Wayne, Kevin, and Joel are the ones he finds in the room, sitting in their stalls as Kevin dries his hair with a towel.
"Patty, help me out here." Joel says, gesturing to Kevin like he's the bane of Joel's existence. "Zendaya is way hotter than Bella Thorne, like, no contest."
"I like redheads." Kevin argues, setting off Joel into more rebuttals. Nolan tunes them out, turns to his stall to start changing out of his practice gear.
It's not that Nolan has ever been dumb enough to forget that he's different than the rest of these guys. Sometimes he just forgets how heavy it feels to be reminded. Nolan can feel Wayne staring at the side of his head where he's sat next to him, but refuses to turn and look at him. He knows the look Wayne will have, the same look he always has when one of the guys says something that could even remotely pertain to Nolan's sexuality in any way, shape, or form. All worried and protective, like he's ready to jump if Nolan asks. Nolan appreciates it, secretly, but he would never admit that out loud. Sometimes he kind of wishes Wayne would chill out a little bit, though, let Nolan take care of himself. The only reason Wayne even knew about Nolan was because he happened to be the nosiest bastard on the planet. Nolan hadn't even told him, Wayne had just hit Nolan with a "I know you're gay" one day in the middle of trying to get the Xbox set up on the road, and Nolan had thrown a controller at his face about it. They hadn't really talked about it after that, not for lack of trying on Wayne's part. Nolan got the point though, Wayne had his back, Wayne was cool, Wayne would absolutely body any son of a bitch who ever tried to mess with Nolan. Wayne just needed to shut the hell up about "hey, Nolan, look at that guy over there" sometimes. Motherfucker was a little too supportive.
Wayne wasn't the only one who knew, though there weren't many. Ivan knew only because Nolan had maybe, stupidly, had a little bit of a thing for him back in Brandon, back when he'd first realized he liked boys and had a little bit of a crisis whenever a guy so much as looked at him while he was figuring it out. Nolan had probably blushed just a little bit too hard every time Ivan pushed his dumb hair out of his obnoxiously handsome face. Ivan had noticed, had called him on it, had been nice and supportive and had let Nolan down easy. The thing had faded pretty quickly after that, and by the time Nolan got to Philly, he barley even noticed that Ivan was objectively the hottest guy on the team. Which was a blessing, because Ivan met Madison shortly after, and still gets chirped about how hard he fell for her. Kevin knew because he'd been so open and welcoming when he'd asked Nolan to move in with him, that Nolan had mumbled, "uh, you know I, like, am into dudes, right? Is that cool? You still want to live with me?" before he could think twice about it. Kevin had looked genuinely surprised at first, opened his mouth like he was about to say something stupid, and then just clapped Nolan on the shoulder and told him he could start moving his stuff in whenever he was ready. It had gone off with only one or two hitches, but Nolan knew that Kevin had taken the whole, living with a gay dude thing way less seriously than he would have expected from a professional athlete. Claude only knew because the dude was his captain, was a good captain, and Nolan figured he deserved to know. Nolan doesn't often let himself think about how much shit will hit the fan if people find out, if he's outed, but he knows his career will be over. He tries not to think about the way people will look at him, the things opposing players will say about him, to him. Fucking hell. He gets called "pretty" with a sneer often enough as it is. Getting outed would be fucking miserable. So, he just does not think about it. Sometimes he can't help it though, gets in his feelings about it. It was when he was in said feelings that he'd told Claude. He felt he owed it to Claude to let him know that like, hey, you might have a hellstorm coming to your team one day if I fuck up astronomically. Claude could literally not have cared less, has said maybe five words total in his life about Nolan's sexuality after "thank you for telling me." He's not like Wayne.
Oh, yeah. Wayne. Who is still sitting next to him and still staring at Nolan like a weirdo.
Nolan doesn't acknowledge Wayne until the moment he kicks his feet up into the man's lap, asking him silently to unlace his skates for him. Wayne huffs like he's annoyed, but starts tugging at Nolan's laces anyway. Nolan listens with half an ear as Joel and Kevin continue to argue, picking up volume after Kevin tells Joel he has terrible taste in women and Joel says something about Kevin's mother.
Nolan goes home that night, collapses in his bed, and refuses to second guess himself anymore as he requests to follow t.kon on Instagram.