Chapter 1: can't go around giving a shit
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.
Chapter 2: you might have a hellstorm coming to your team
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.
Maddie 12:18PM : Holy shit Lan you actually smiled in an interview!
Maddie 12:19PM : This kid is cute as hell.
Maddie 12:20PM: Helloooo nurse. 🥵
Nolan has spent the past twenty-four hours focused solely on the whole, like, get on a plane, fly to Pittsburgh, play in the fucking playoffs, thing. He'd been busy, okay, so it's really not his fault that he had forgotten. Nolan had forgotten. Shit. Forgotten about the Make A Wish video. Had forgotten about the fact that there had even been a camera, forgot the posing, the fucking interview he'd done standing in the locker room. Forgot Travis saying "I just can not get used to that thing" after the third time the camera had gotten in his face. Fuck, how could Nolan have forgotten something like that? Nolan sits down hard on the shitty hotel couch, staring down at his phone like an idiot. He doesn't know how he feels about Maddie seeing him like that, seeing him with Katie. God, the world seeing him with Katie. He had thought about that day he spent with Katie and Travis pretty much every second of every day since then, but he'd somehow completely forgotten that there was going to be a whole ass Flyers TV Original about it.
Nolan drops his phone on the couch, ignoring his sister's continuing texts, and turns on the hotel's fancy TV. He navigates to YouTube, bounces his knee as he waits impatiently for the homepage to load. It's Ivan's account that's logged in, for some damn reason, and Nolan has to wade through a truly worrying amount of like, survivalist videos, before he finds the episode in Ivan's subscriptions. Flyers TV Original: "Wish Upon A Star." Nolan felt his eyes burn aready. The thumbnail is all of them in the locker room, looking just slightly offside at where someone else had been taking a picture. Katie is sitting in Claude's stall in the shot, not yet wrapped up in her little hat and yellow mittens. Nolan stares blankly at his own face in the thumbnail where he's smiling, wide and genuine, as Katie leans into his space. He feels sick to his stomach as he presses play.
The video opens with Travis, because of fucking course it does. A slowed down shot of him walking down the hallway with Katie in his arms, when they'd first approached the Flyers. The camera pans up from his legs, up to Katie's wide eyes and shy smile. Travis has his face ducked down, looking at something on his smart watch, but Nolan can see how his head is tilted towards Katie, always paying close attention to the kid. The soft music fades out, and Nolan almost startles when he hears his own voice overlaid on the shot.
"I think it's important, to, like, connect with people we might not expect." Nolan says in the video, just as the Travis and Katie on screen reach the Flyers. Nolan is glad the angle is from behind his own shoulder, that the camera hadn't caught his face in that moment. He's pretty sure it would have been obvious how close to pissing his pants he'd been. He watches Katie fist bump Wayne, watches her smile brightly at Claude as he leans in to tell her a joke. Nolan is stuck staring at the way that Travis is looking at her, watching her like she's the best thing he's ever seen. Nolan can relate to that feeling, and it's like a puck to the chest.
The shot changes suddenly, and it's them in the locker room, Claude talking about who-knows-what as Travis holds Katie up so she can brush her fingers against the sweater that's hanging in front of Nolan's stall. Nolan had tugged it down at the end of the day, signed it with a big heart and a smiley face and handed it to Katie as she was leaving. In the video, Nolan is hovering just at the edge of the shot, lingering back as Claude does all the heavy lifting of showing Katie around, pointing things out to her. Nolan watches as Travis smiles softly down at Katie, and he feels his breath catch. Nolan figures that the people at Flyers TV were probably ecstatic when the nurse who showed up turned out to be an absolute fucking rocket, and they realized that people would definitely enjoy watching a too-close shot of his arms flexing under his thin scrubs as he lifted Katie up so she could peak at the gear on top of the stalls. Holy hell. Whoever edited this video is a real piece of shit.
The shot changes again, and it's Travis lowering Katie gently to sit in Claude's stall. Nolan watches him reach up to gently remove the cannula from Katie's nose, talking gently to her as he loops the hose around his neck, turning so his back is to the camera. Nolan remembers Travis saying, a bit awkwardly, that was was going to try and stay out of the shot as much as possible, so he didn't distract from Katie. Like, he had to know, right? That he was distracting. God, he was so sweet, too. It pissed Nolan off a little bit. He watches on screen as Travis steps back, running his fingers through Katie's hair before sliding out of frame. Nolan hadn't caught, at the time, the way Katie had reached out for him as he pulled back.
"Okay, Katie, you want a couple pictures with the boys?" Andrea's voice asks, just off camera. Katie nods her head slowly, looking up and to the right, where Travis had disappeared out of shot. Nolan watches himself and his team mates step up, crouch down around Katie. Nolan watches Claude hover his hand behind Katie's back, without actually touching her. Nolan remembers how he'd, like, almost completely panicked for a second when Travis had first let go of Katie. He had been so sure she was just gonna topple right over without him, that they'd have to watch her go splat on the locker room floor.
The shot cuts, and it's Claude sitting alone in the locker room, giving an interview.
"Obviously our fans are important to us. And when kids like Katie, who are facing such hardships, choose to share their time with us, it just means so much to all of us." Claude says. He keeps talking, but there is a ringing in Nolan's ears for a second, and he doesn't catch it. Just stares at Claude's face on the giant TV and tries to ignore the way he's having a heard time breathing suddenly, like his nose is plugged up.
The shot cuts again, and it's them on the ice. Fuck, it's Travis on the ice. Nolan is next to Travis and Katie, bouncing a puck as they move slowly towards the goal that Claude and Wayne are messing around in. Nolan watches the way Travis skates, seeing him from this far off angle for the first time. He had never gotten around to asking Travis about the figure skates, about the way he skated, the way he seemed to float on the ice. It was fucking breathtaking. He didn't move like a hockey player, didn't move like any man Nolan had ever skated next to. Nolan can't hear what he says in the video, but he watches Travis tip his head back and laugh, watches Katie tuck her face into the side of his neck as her shoulders bounce up and down. The shot cuts, and then it's Nolan pressed up close to Katie, practically against Travis' back, as he reached out to help her get her little yellow mittens around the hockey stick. Travis had one hand bracing Katie under her bottom, the other hand guiding Katie's hand around Nolan's. Nolan remembers that, the feeling of Travis' warm fingers against the back of his hand.
"You ready for this heat, Simmer?" Nolan in the video calls to Wayne, who is standing between the posts, pretending like he's getting ready to try and block the shot.
"Oh, you know there's no stoppin' the Wayne Train." Wayne calls back, making Travis duck his face into the side of Katie's head. You can't hear it in the video, but Nolan remembers Travis saying "Wayne Train, oh my god" under his breath as he tried to stifle his laughter.
Nolan watches, tears on his cheeks, as the three of them move towards the goal, dribbling the puck gently. Oh. Huh. Wait. When had Nolan started crying? He reaches up, touches his cheeks and feels his fingers come away wet. As soon as he realizes he's crying, it's like his brain just let's go. All of a sudden, he's sobbing. Loudly, painfully. He tries to draw in quick breaths as his shoulders start to shake. He just keeps weeping as he watches himself and Katie score the world's slowest goal on Wayne, hears the too-loud whoop Travis had let out. He watches Travis turn, out of Nolan's arms, and swing gracefully around the back of the net, dropping carefully to one knee in a celly as Katie clings tightly to his neck, a wide, bright smile on her face. Nolan watches himself and Claude drift slowly over, reaching out to pat Travis on the back, since they couldn't do it to Katie herself.
The shot changes, and Nolan is looking at himself, alone in the locker room, hands on his hips but looking the least pissed he's ever looked in front of a camera.
"It's good to make those connections, you know, to let certain people see a little bit more than just what we show on the ice." Nolan in the video is saying, something Nolan in the present hates himself for saying. Watches himself be like, open and honest and hates it. He brings his legs up, hugs his knees to his chest as sobs continue to rush out of him. Nolan watches his idiot past self smile, wants to punch himself as he says "she's an amazing kid, it was really an honor to spend time with her."
The shot changes again, to Wayne and Katie sitting side by side on the bench, Travis standing protectively behind the kid, Wayne opens his mouth to say something to her, and Nolan reaches out and slaps the remote. He has to slap it a couple of times, but he finally hits one of the buttons, and the video disappears as the main menu pops up. Nolan just tips himself to the side, buries his face in the couch cushions, and lets himself keep sobbing. He just can't bring himself to watch any more, to look at Katie's little yellow mittens and wonder if she's even still alive.
Kevin flicks the light on when he gets back to the room, flicks it right back off when he sees Nolan curled up on the couch with red cheeks. He's quiet, shuffling his feet slowly instead of his usual stomping, as he comes to sit down. He perches just on the edge of the seat, his thigh pressed almost to the top of Nolan's head. He's come to know how to handle Nolan when he's like this, a perfect balance of helping Nolan, without babying Nolan. He's good at it. Nolan wants to reach out to him, but that seems stupid. If it were someone else, Ivan or Wayne, he wouldn't hesitate to latch onto them. He doesn't just grab Kevin, though, that's not how they work. He knows Kevin wouldn't mind if Nolan grabbed him, but it's not something he does. He's just being stupid. He's been being that a lot lately.
"One of Provy's witches get'cha?" Kevin asks in a whisper, reaching out gently and brushing the hair out of Nolan's eyes. Nolan is pretty sure it's just so that Kevin can see him better, but the action feels comforting anyway.
"Little one." Nolan tells him, honestly. It's not a migraine, barley even a headache. He'd just cried too much, too long, and he always got a little bit of a headache after a good cry. His mom was the same way, crying just drained them so much, left them dehydrated and empty.
"You gonna be good for the game tonight?" Kevin asks, just gets a scowl in response. "Okay, okay. You need any pills?" Kevin leans over so he can look into Nolan's eyes. Nolan has always thought that Kevin has to have the dumbest face he has ever seen, so open and expressive all the time. Nolan can see the worry in his eyes, the was he's holding his mouth closed tight, like he's afraid it'll run away from him and make too much noise for Nolan's broken head.
"Just the acetaminophen, maybe." Nolan says, closing his eyes so he doesn't have to look at Kevin's giant, earnest face anymore.
"Gotcha. Be right back, Patso."
Nolan takes stock of his body, then, feels his clothes against his skin, the way his phone is digging into his hip where he's laying on it. Feels his shoulders, left one cramped up a little where he's been laying on it for who-knows how long. No tension, no pinching. Focuses on his neck, the way it itches a bit where his hoodie chord is draped across his throat. No tension, no pinching. The base of his skull, which feels normal, no migraine worming in. He leaves his eyes closed, feels no throbbing, no pulsing. Behind his left temple, there is a dull, sustained ache. It doesn't pound with his pulse, doesn't flare and move. It's just there, reminding Nolan that his brain isn't his friend most of the time.
Kevin is quiet when he comes back, the rattling of the pill bottle the only thing that gives him away as he sets it down on the coffee table in front of Nolan. He doesn't say anything else, just brushes a hand against Nolan's hair again, and leaves him to it.
Nolan scowls down at his phone like it, personally, has offended him. He's about to have it snatched out of his hand by staff, about to walk down the tunnel and onto ice for their first playoff game, against the Penguins. He's not even paying attention to what Claude is saying to amp up the team, is just glaring down at his screen.
New DM request.
t.kon: did you mean to follow me??
npatrick19: Is that okay?
t.kon: pretty sure you don't actually want to see the kind of shit i post
npatrick19: Are you a furry or something?
t.kon: or something
Nolan navigates back to Travis' profile, like he thinks something will be different. Nope. There it is. The little "Follow" button. Last night it had said "Requested", but now it had changed back. Nolan may not be the most active person on social media, but he still knew what that meant. Travis had rejected his follow request.
Nolan breaths through his nose, refuses to let himself look as out of breath as he feels, and stares at Sidney Crosby in open volatility. It's not Crosby's fault, but Nolan still wants to fuck him up a little bit, on like, principal or something. Three faceoffs in a minute of play, fucking hell. Nolan doesn't know why he hasn't be swapped for Claude, yet. He had expected to be, his whole line had started towards the bench and everything. They're tired. He's tired, okay. He's been out here for like two fucking minutes, only pausing to do these fucking faceoffs. He can't win one if his vision won't stop swimming, and his vision won't stop swimming if they don't let him off the fucking ice. Jakub and Nic seem just as pissed as Nolan is that they're still out here. Maybe he should just stand out of his stance and slap Crosby across his handsome fucking face, get himself off the ice by heading into the box. At least then he'd get to sit the fuck down.
He loses the faceoff, isn't surprised when the puck flies between his feet. He turns, tries to follow it, but honestly can't even see where it went for a second. He scans the ice, sees something glint off to his right. Before he can turn towards it, though, his eye throbs suddenly, and he has to blink harshly. Not now, not fucking now. Nolan grinds his teeth. He spins, looks at the bench. Finally, finally they're being called in. He moves slower than he should be, clenching his fists as he tries to ignore the not so gentle throbbing that has picked up just behind his left eye. He hadn't had an aura, hadn't been around anything that was a blue trigger. It just happened. What the fuck? Bullshit, this is bullshit. The last migraine had been the day he met Katie, triggered by Travis' second hand smoke. That one had made sense, he'd seen it coming. Plus, it had started slow, built up over the night and tapered off easily with the right pills and some rest. This one was just an icepick, driven into his eye for no reason and intensifying rapidly as Nolan tries to blink the black spots out of his vision. Nolan makes it to the bench weakly, basically tips himself into it, grunts at whoever pats his back on their way out. He knows the guys can see that something is wrong, but he also knows they will just assume it's because he was out on the ice too long. Way too fucking long. Nobody should be left on the ice like that, okay, they can't all be Ivan.
Nolan collapses onto the bench, feels Jakub collapse next to him. He spits his mouthguard out, breathing heavily through his mouth. He glances at the little timer they keep on the floor, sees that his line just played around 2:50 ice time. Holy shit. Nolan squeezes his eyes shut, leans against Jakub maybe a little more than appropriate. His eye keeps throbbing, each pulse sending the pain deeper into his skull. Nolan is pissed now. Pissed. He missed playoffs last year, he's not missing them again. Fuck, he should have known. Nolan's eye throbs again, shooting pain all the way back into the base of his skull, and he should have known. The migraine is shooting out from the same exact place he'd had a headache this morning. What a joke. Nolan feels breathless, feels the migraine pulse again, back, back and down into his spine. The lights are so bright, the tint on Nolan's face shield isn't helping at all. Why now, why? He'd been telling Kevin the truth this morning, he'd been fine. His headache had been gone, after a bottle of water. He'd been so sure it was just from crying. This is bullshit.
Suddenly there is a hand on his neck, pulling. Jakub's voice in his ear, and Scott coming towards him from the ice. Shit. Nolan blinks, feels himself going ice-blind, and swings his body weakly onto the ice anyway. He's stupid, stupid. This is a bad idea, he cant do this. He needs to turn around, tell AV what the fuck is going on. He needs to go back, sit in the dark room with the trainers. He knows he can't play like this. He needs to get off the ice. That's what he needs to do, but instead, Nolan pushes off from the wall, following Jakub even though that's not his job. He doesn't know what his job is, anymore, can't think of what he's supposed to do, and he can't see passed the white, white, blinding ice. He closes his eyes, jerks his body to the left, forces himself to not just skate in a straight line after Jakub. He moves in what he's pretty sure is the general direction of the Penguins' goal, and pushes himself. His stick hits the boards and he opens one eye, sees the blurry splotch of yellow sweaters in front of himself and moves that way. White zips by him, but his eyes are unfocused and he can't tell who it is. Fast and lean, probably Sanheim. Nolan pitches towards him, pushes himself forward as his whole head throbs, his vision blacking out for a second as it does.
Jakub's voice comes just a second before Nolan feels something crack against his face. He hears himself cry out as something gives in his mouth, feeling his throat fill instantly with blood. Fuck. In his migraine induced haze he'd never popped his mouthguard back in, it was still sitting on the bench. His eyes fly open in time to see the puck drop onto the ground in front of him. A split second before he see's Jakub, eyes wide with an emotion Nolan can't read, dropping his stick like it's burned him. Oh, that's what that was, Jakub's stick. Nolan spins, the momentum of the hit sending him tailspinning. He hits a wall, hard, slides down it and crumples to a stop on the ice. He lands on his back, the back of his head bouncing off the ice, and he thinks he might be crying out. His brain is screaming, rattled around in his stupid fucking skull by Jakub's stick. He clutches his head, trying to force his fingers up under the helmet to claw at his skull as it pulses, angrier than ever.
"Patty, Pat, shit." Jakub is there, leaning over Nolan. "Why the fuck didn't you get out of the way?"
Nolan looks up at him, whines weakly as Jakub's face swims into focus. Someone skates to a stop next to his head, showering snow into his eyes. He sees the moment where Jakub realizes that Nolan is clutching his temples, and not at his bloody mouth where he'd just taken a high stick from a fucking viking. Sees the guilt and anger evaporate, replaced by panic. Jakub is yelling louder then, but not at Nolan anymore. Nolan's whole body throbs in pain, and he closes his eyes as there are suddenly way too many hands on him.
Bullshit. This is such bullshit.
Nolan doesn't have time to think of any further expletives before he loses consciousness.
Travis has never followed hockey. Had actively avoided it, to be honest. Which was a feat and half, being from Canada and being an ice skater. Hockey had been shoved in his face constantly as a kid. He'd just done a very good job of ignoring it, until recently. The only reason he even knew the names of the guys on the Flyers was because of Katie. She'd talked so much about them, Claude Giroux this and Nolan Patrick that, wearing down her little voice just so she could tell Travis about how cool Ivan Provorov had been in the last game. She'd been a little bit in love with those guys. Travis had indulged her, had sat and pretended to watch the games with her while he silently counted her respirations and put in endless requests for changes to her care plan. Then, of course, he'd met the infamous Nolan Patrick, had skated with him, had stood around and talked at him for twenty minutes for no other reason than Travis really hadn't wanted to get in his car and drive home. He had then promptly blocked that entire day, the last day he had ever seen Katie Park, from his memory. Travis hadn't thought any more about the Flyers, until he started his job at Blanchet Gardens Memory Care, and the director, who he shared an office with, had a bright orange Flyers mug holding pens on her desk. Simone was an avid hockey fan, followed the Flyers as obsessively as Katie had. Despite that, she was easy to get along with, had become something of Travis' friend in the past few weeks. So this morning, when she'd stormed into the office and screamed at him for not telling her he'd met the fucking Flyers, Travis had been confused for a second. Then he remembered signing a form that gave the Flyers PR people permission to publish a video with his image and name. Simone had watched the video that morning, had recognized Travis and been very angry at him for never mentioning anything. Travis sure as shit wasn't going to tell her that npatrick19 had tried to follow him on Instagram, had responded to his DM's literally split seconds after Travis had sent them, like he'd been waiting for them. Travis resoundingly refused to think any more about Nolan god damn Patrick or his ridiculous high cheekbones than he absolutely had to.
Which is why, when Simone had put on the Flyers game, which was apparently a very important game that Travis was a terrible person for not knowing about, he'd mostly ignored it. It was playing on Simone's phone, which she had propped up under her computer screen. It was quiet enough, wasn't really disturbing Travis too much as he went through the stack of patient chart notes on his desk. It was only when Simone let out a loud curse in French, and then a shocked gasp, that Travis looked up. Simone had her hands clasped over her mouth, eyes wide in shock as she looked at whatever was happening on the little screen. Travis couldn't see from here, but he could hear the commentator's voice.
"He is not getting up from the ice. He's clearly been hurt bad. Oh my god." the guy sounds like he's genuinely concerned. "He doesn't appear to be moving. This looks bad, folks."
"What's going on?" Travis asks, watching Simone shake her head in disbelief.
"Voráček just destroyed Patrick." Simone says, tilting the phone so Travis can see. There is a cluster of people on the rink, standing around where, sure enough, Patrick is laying on the ice on his back with the lower half of his face drenched in blood. One of the medical staff is easing his helmet off his head, and they've got a clamshell stretcher and a gurney waiting. Just like the commentator said, Patrick isn't moving. One of his team mates, too little on the screen for Travis to read his jersey, is crouched down next to him, clutching at his hand where it lays limp on the ice.
"I know hockey is literally the dumbest sport in the world, but it still seems unproductive to destroy your own guy." Travis says, watching as they usher about ten dudes in white jerseys away from Patrick so that they can get the clamshell around him.
"He didn't to it on purpose, enculé." Simone says, the annoyance in her voice overridden by her clear and obvious worry for Patrick.
Travis just watches quietly as they take Patrick off the ice, listens as the commentator talks about how they're going to postpone the game until that night, and tries not to feel any kind of way about it.
He just hopes Katie didn't see that.
sračka (Czech) - shit
enculé (French) - asshole
Chapter 4: just go around teasing people
Nolan feels too big for his body, out of place where he's sitting in Claude Giroux's shiny kitchen, holding Claude Giroux's tiny baby, trying not to spill juice on what is definitely Ryanne Giroux's fancy dishtowel. The team have been home for less than twenty-four hours, but Nolan has been in Philly for two days already. The team will be getting ready to play a game tomorrow, while Nolan gets ready to watch from the press box. He tries not to think about that, like he tried not to think about how guilty he had felt when Claude had pulled him into a too-tight hug earlier, had whispered "god, you really scared the shit out of me, kid." Claude is standing over the stove, now, stirring some soup that Nolan just knows is going to taste like socks, despite the assurances that it'll be both good and good for him. Nolan can't chew very well right now, and canned soups tended to have shit that was on Nolan's magenta or orange trigger list, so here he is. Claude insisted that he had a good recipe for French bone broth, but Nolan has been watching him this whole time, and he is pretty sure Claude has just dumped the entire contents of his spice drawer into some hot water and called it good. Nolan thinks he saw him put dried orange peel in it. Fuck, he's really going to have to eat that, isn't he? God, the things Nolan does for his captain. Uck.
Nolan looks down at Gavin, who is playing with the strings of Nolan's hoodie, and tries to come up with a way to tell Claude the truth. He keeps telling himself that he needs to just have some balls and tell him, but he's struggling with it. Cause, see, the thing is, nobody had any idea what had actually happened out there that day. Everybody, even the trainers and doctors, were under the impression that the migraine had only come after Nolan had gotten his jaw busted. Nolan knows that Claude had yelled at Jakub for it, had jumped to Nolan's defense like the great captain he is, as if poor Jakub hadn't felt guilty enough. Nolan had heard whispers of "should have known better, has been playing long enough to know, what a rookie mistake." Nolan hated himself every time someone spoke about the accident as if Jakub had done anything wrong. Jakub had looked so small and miserable when he'd come to see Nolan in the trainer's room after he'd woken up, had apologized way too many times for something that wasn't even his fault. Nolan is torn, is the problem. If he admits that the only reason his face and Jakub's stick collided is because he'd been trying to do what he had literally signed papers saying he'd never do because it was a liability, he has no idea how AV and Chuck will react. He can't just say "oh, actually, I wasn't going after the puck like everyone thinks, because I was actually on the ice with a migraine, which is, like, a totally fineable offence, and I literally had my eyes closed at the time so didn't even know the puck was there, isn't that funny?" He's already out for at least two games as it is, and Nolan doesn't want to push that. He just can't stand the knowledge that when Jakub had stepped on the ice to finish the game later that night, the few Flyers fans in attendance had booed him. Flyers fans didn't even like Nolan most of the time, what the fuck. It was Nolan's fault.
"Don't let him put that in his mouth." Claude says, jerking Nolan out of his thoughts suddenly. Nolan looks down to see that Gavin had managed to extract Nolan's cellphone from his hoodie pocket when he was distracted. Fuck. When did babies get so dexterous?
"Shit, little thief." Nolan mumbles, snatching the phone from Gavin's little hands and setting it down on the island next to him. Nolan can barely open his mouth thanks to his bruised jaw, lisps a little around his four missing teeth and swollen tongue, so he knows he can barely be understood, so Claude can, like, stop with the pinched dad face, okay? Gavin isn't gonna pick up the bad word Nolan just said.
"The soup is almost ready." Claude says, tossing a kitchen towel over his shoulder, acting as if he looks like he has any idea what he's doing with that soup. "If that's still why you're pretending you're here."
"I literally can not wait for your soup." Nolan says, staring intently down at the top of Gavin's little head.
"Clearly, since when I offered to text you the recipe, you showed up at my door instead." Claude says, leaning across the island so he's in Nolan's personal space.
Nolan doesn't say anything to that, just keeps looking down at Gavin. Nolan has one hand on the baby, holding the little guy against his stomach to keep him from falling, while the other tangles nervously around the hem of his hoodie. Nolan has, obviously, been like, aware that Gavin is small. He just doesn't get to hold him very often, doesn't get to see how his hand spans the entirety of his torso. He's so small. Jesus, how do babies handle being that little? Nolan is pretty sure he was never that little. Sure as hell guys like Zdeno Chara were never fucking hand-sized. Nolan had never really thought about the concept of kids, too much. Like, maybe abstractly, as a super far off in the future kind of thing. He had been around kids, obviously, not just Katie. All of his team mates who had kids brought them around enough that Nolan got, like, used to children. He still remembers the first time he'd held Gavin, though. Had looked wide eyed at Ryanne as she deposited the little guy into Nolan's arms, like she trusted him with her literal child. It was insane. He'd looked down at his little face, not even that cute back then because, hey, newborn. Still, Nolan had looked at him and thought, oh, okay, that's why people make these. Gavin wasn't even remotely Nolan's, Claude doesn't even call him Gavin's uncle the way he does with guys like Jakub and Wayne. Still though, Nolan let's Gavin wrap his little fist around his thumb, and knows he would burn cities for this baby. Can't imagine if something ever happened to him. God, if he ever got sick. Ever needed a breathing tube and a nurse. Nolan forces himself to stop that train of thought.
"It just gets lonely." Nolan tells Claude, instead of bringing up the actual reason he'd come here. It's not a lie, anyway. Nolan mumbles down towards Gavin, instead of looking up at his captain.
"I know, Pat. Getting hurt is terrible, especially when the team is away." Claude says, reaching out and tapping the island in front of Nolan, but not crossing the gap to actually touch him.
"I don't mean now, G. I mean always." Nolan looks at Claude's hand, tracks his eyes up to his shoulder. Doesn't meet his eye though.
"Shit, kid." Claude sighs.
"Being hurt makes it worse, obviously. Going through this alone." Nolan shrugs, sliding his free hand against the top of the island, so that just the tips of his fingers push against the tips of Claude's. Neither of them acknowledge the contact.
"You're not alone, Pat. just because we're not here in Philly doesn't mean you're alone." Claude tells him, his voice taking on that fatherly quality he gets when he's talking to one of the guys, the voice that reminds Nolan just how much Claude actually cares.
"That's not what I mean." Nolan says, tugging Gavin closer against his stomach, for comfort. "You have Ryanne, like, your family. If you get hurt you have someone who loves you. No matter how much the team is there for me it's not the same, I don't have to tell you that."
"You're young, Pat, you'll find," Claude starts, but Nolan cuts him off.
"No, I won't. I can't, you fucking know that." Nolan is harsher than he means to be. He's not angry at Claude, obviously. He knows his captain knows him well enough to know that, at least.
"Things, change, kid. We're trying to make them change. Me and James didn't become You Can Play ambassadors for fun, we actually want things to be different." Claude says, finally breaking the seal and wrapping his hand around Nolan's.
"Shit doesn't just change." Nolan says.
"Really? Cause there was a time when men like Simmer thought the same thing. It wasn't even that long ago that he wouldn't have even been allowed to play in the same rink as us." Claude sounds a little annoyed now, and Nolan wants to shrink into himself. "Now he's probably one of the most beloved guys on my team."
"That's not the point." Nolan says, even though he doesn't really know what the point is anymore. This is why Nolan doesn't like to talk about his feelings, it always gets him in trouble. He should have stuck with his original train of thought, told Claude the truth about the migraine. Then Claude would simply be pissed at him, not acting all emotional and shit.
"Okay, kid. Tell me what the point is, then." Claude says, squeezing Nolan's hand. Nolan remembers, long before he'd met Claude, someone saying that Claude Giroux failed as a captain because he made it personal. Nolan doesn't even remember who had said that, just that they had seemed to think that how fiercely Claude cared about his team mates as people, was somehow a flaw. Nolan hadn't thought much if it then, but it made him mad, now. Claude was the best captain Nolan could have ever asked for because he stuck his nose in everybody's personal business. He gave a shit, not just on the ice, and it made Nolan feel safe in a way he hadn't expected, going into the NHL. Nolan had been a captain, once, had held himself tightly and kept his distance from his guys, had tried to make himself look like he had everything figured out. Claude was nothing like him, and everything a good captain needed to be.
"I'm just tired of going through all of this without someone there who isn't just there because we work together." Nolan says, wiggling his fingers under Claude's until he can hook their pinkies together.
"I promise you, kid, you'll get there. Maybe not openly, maybe not even before you retire, but you will. You're a good man, Patty, you'll find someone." Claude tells him, and Nolan finally looks up at him. Claude is smiling gently, looking at Nolan with a look he's seen him give Gavin before. It makes Nolan's chest swell up with something.
"Doesn't make me less alone right now."
Nolan hates going to actual doctors, outside of the NHL. He wishes getting his teeth knocked out of his skull was something the trainers could just fix in some back room at the Farg. Instead he has to sit in the too-cold waiting room of Dr. Arakawa, DDS, and wait to get his jaw and gums assessed for implants. His jaw still aches under the giant purple bruise that covers most of his chin, and he still has bumps along his tongue where his canines had sliced through it. Nolan pokes the tip of his sore tongue against the empty space at the front of his mouth, and waits.
The little bell over the door jingles as someone comes in, a woman pushing a stroller, and Nolan can hear her speak in a hush to the receptionist, but he doesn't pay much attention. He pulls his legs out of the way when she passes in front of him, though, not in a bad enough mood to just be rude for no reason. He doesn't think much of it at all until she sits down in the chair right next to him, knocking his elbow off his armrest with hers.
"You could always just rock the Coots' look." she says, and Nolan whips his head around to stare dumbly at Ryanne Giroux as she smiles at him.
"Not even Coots rocks it." Nolan tells her. He doesn't have to ask why or how she's here.
Fucking Claude, man.
Nolan bites down on the little piece of cotton in his mouth, and walks quietly beside Ryanne down the street. His remaining teeth were apparently filthy by dentist standards, and Arakawa had poked and prodded enough to get his gums bleeding pretty steadily. Only to then tell him that the damage to his mouth and jaw was bad enough that he probably couldn't get implants for another month. Nolan would just have to not open his mouth in front of a camera for a while, which he was pretty good at anyway. Nolan doesn't know where Ryanne is taking him, but she'd said something about lunch, and Nolan trusted her judgment as first lady of the Flyers so he's pretty sure she won't, like, make him eat something terrible. Though he doesn't think anything would be as terrible as Claude's so-called soup. Nolan is pretty sure half of what Arakawa had found in his teeth was the dried herbs he'd had to chew his way through just to down a cup of that stuff. Nolan grimaces at the memory, just as his phone buzzes in his pocket.
Hartsy 11:14AM : I can't believe you left me alone with these animals.
Outgoing 11:15AM : You could always come back and chill with me and baby G instead.
Nolan snaps a quick shot of Gavin, snuggled up in his stroller, and sends it along to Carter.
Hartsy 11:17AM : How did Giroux make such a cute baby?
Outgoing 11:17AM : His cute has nothing to do with the cap, trust me.
Carter reads the text but doesn't respond. Nolan isn't bothered by it, knows the guy is probably busy doing whatever bat shit insane goalie shit he does before games. Nolan tucks his phone back into his pocket, and Ryanne bumps him gently in the side with Gavin's stroller, herding him towards the cafe they're passing. It's only a couple blocks from the medical plaza that the dentist was in, seems to be full with people on their early lunch breaks and coffee runs. Nolan just opens the door, lets Ryanne push the stroller in before he follows her.
Eating at a new place is always a fun game. He has a pretty big white board up on the wall in his bedroom, three colorful lists that seem to grow each and every day. Magenta for the foods that will give him a migraine every time no matter what; beef, sugar substitute, gluten, etc. Orange for the foods that would cause a migraine if he had them in excess; chocolate, raw fish, soy, etc. Blue was for non-food triggers; prolonged sun exposure, second hand smoke, the smell of bleach, etc. Remembering every thing on the list at all times and cross-checking menu items was a pain in the ass, so Nolan just usually avoided new places or unknown foods. He knows that Ryanne knows this, though, knows that she has a condensed version of the list herself, for when Nolan comes around for team dinners. Nolan stands behind her as she talks to the person behind the counter, asking them about allergens and cross contamination on Nolan's behalf. He feels soft about it, soft about the idea of someone giving a shit. It just leads to making him feel worse, though, in that deep down lonely spot. Ryanne isn't his person. She's Claude's, cares about Nolan as an extension of her husband.
Nolan looks around the shop so he doesn't have to think about Ryanne Giroux and her big heart. The decorations are pretty mish-mashed, not following any sort of theme besides maybe "pretty". Lots of flowers, dried and living alike, lots of lace and pink and soft looking fabrics. It's cluttered, a little. Shelves taking up all the wall space, filled with little knick knacks and books Nolan is sure people don't actually read. It seems like a popular place, though. There are people around, people in suits with work badges, college kids on their laptops. There is a group of people in one corner wearing scrubs, obviously having walked down from the medical plaza for their break. It's just loud enough to feel crowded, but not obnoxious.
"Are you still testing dairy?" Ryanne asks him, and Nolan shakes his head. Dairy had gone on the metaphorical green list a while ago. "Okay, they've got gluten-free protein bowls, you want to try the vegetable and feta one?" and Nolan nods his head. Shouldn't be too hard to chew. She orders for them all, even getting a little cup of sliced apples for Gavin, sending Nolan off to get them a table. Nolan looks around again, sees that most of the tables are actually full. The one in the back corner though, the people there seem to be standing up to leave. A woman in a weirdly bright yellow suit and a guy in scrubs are picking up their trash as they stand, so Nolan heads that way to get their table as they leave. They look up at him as he approaches, and he feels his stomach do a strange swooshing thing he's never felt before as they all freeze.
"Oh my god." the woman gasps, lifting her hand and straight up pointing at Nolan. "Holy shit, you're, uh. Wow."
"Hi." the guy says, looking at Nolan in much the same way that Nolan knows he's looking back, like he's the last thing he expected to see today.
"Hey, oh, hi." Nolan says, words tripping over his still-swollen tongue. Fuck, he still has a literal piece of cotton in his mouth, what an idiot.
"You're Nolan Patrick." the woman says, still staring.
"Last time I checked." he shrugs, and it earns him a snort of laughter from her companion.
"You look like shit, bud." Travis says, finally unfreezing and scooping the last napkin off the table. The woman turns and shoots Travis a glare, says something under her breath in not-English.
"Pretty much feel like it, so, yeah." Nolan tells him, watching the way Travis' hands clench and unclench around his empty coffee cup, squashing the paper a bit more each time.
"Are you okay?" Travis asks, stepping around the table and up into Nolan's space. He'd done this last time, too, gotten closer than seemed necessary, even though it made him have to tilt his head back, look up at Nolan.
"I will be." Nolan says, looking down into Travis' face, noticing that he's grown a goatee since they last met. Which is good for Nolan's sanity because it's fucking hideous, makes Travis much less of an absolute fucking rocket and more just normal levels of hot. So, that helps.
"Saw you get taken out in a fucking gurney, my dude." Travis says, eyes scanning Nolan's face like he's trying to assess the damage. He might be, actually. Dude is a fucking nurse after all. Nolan can hears his sister's stupid voice in his head, suddenly. "Hello nurse." Yeah.
"Thought you didn't watch hockey?" Nolan teases. Teases him. Fucking hell, why did he do that? You can't just go around teasing people.
"I don't, she does." Travis gestures to the woman who was at the table with him, and Nolan actually looks at her for the first time. Pretty, black, taller than Travis even though she's in flats. Seems like she might usually be bubbly, if she wasn't so openly flabbergasted by Nolan's presence. She's still just, like, staring at Nolan. Nolan notices the badge hanging on her hip is from the same place as Travis'. Coworker then. Nolan doesn't let himself think, "oh, cool, probably not a girlfriend" like his stupid little brain wants him to. That's, like, totally not relevant.
"I'm a, uh, really big fan." she says, gesturing to Nolan's self. She has an accent, much thicker than his and Travis' own Canadian.
"Thanks." Nolan says, giving her a nod. "You work around here?" he asks Travis.
"Yeah, uh, the facility I was telling you about? It's right across from the medical plaza." Travis says, holding up his badge, which is shiny and new. Blanchet Gardens SCF, Travis Konecny RN, Head of Nursing.
Travis looks like he's about to say something else, but then Ryanne is there, balancing a little basket of food on the handle of Gavin's stroller. Travis looks slowly between her and Nolan, and then down at Gavin. Nolan sees his face do something funny, cross through about ten different emotions before landing on a bright smile down towards the baby.
"Wow. How old is the little guy?" Travis asks Nolan, like he's supposed to remember something like that.
"Eighteen months." Ryanne says. "Say hi, Gavin." she coos, and Gavin lets out a happy little noise and what might pass as the vague sounds of the word hi in response.
"Hey, buddy." Travis says, slipping into baby talk a little bit. Nolan feels light headed all of a sudden, watching this hot ass dude that he like, maybe, kind of, sort of, has a tiny little bit of a crush on, fucking giggle down at his captain's baby. Fucking hell.
"Nolan, take this." Ryanne says, shoving the basket of food into his hands. Nolan grunts in response, cradling the basket to his chest. Why the hell does this place give you food in a basket, instead of on a tray like a normal cafe? Ryanne steps around the stroller, reaches out to start undoing Gavin's seatbelt, or whatever it was that holds babies into strollers.
"He's precious as hell. Or, uh, sorry." Travis winces, but Ryanne just laughs.
"Don't worry. Gavin has already heard plenty of bad words, thanks to Nolan." she tells Travis as she lifts Gavin out of the stroller. "You guys known each other, right?" she gestures between Nolan and Travis.
"Yeah." Nolan says, at he exact same time as Travis says,
"Oh." Nolan says.
The woman in the yellow suit just keeps staring.
"I uh, gotta get back to work." Travis tells them, after a second of painful silence. "It was nice to met you."
Nolan stands there, awkwardly clutching a basket of healthy snacks, and watches as Travis and his coworker walk away.
4 days ago.
npatrick19 : WTF.
3 days ago.
npatrick19 : Seriously?
npatrick19 : Lol k.
t.kon : im not trying to be a dick
t.kon : sorry for being weird
t.kon : gavin is really cute tho. congrats bud.
Travis stares at the stained ceiling of his office, and questions every single one of his life decisions. When Travis was eighteen years old and left his life behind to move to America for school, he had thought it was going to be great. Philadelphia was decent enough after he got used to it, and school had been mostly survivable. He'd taken a double load his first year, to get through the prerequisites as fast as possible and get into the nursing program before his financial aide ran out. He'd still needed to work, though, had gotten a job as a caregiver in a memory care facility a lot bigger and fancier than the one he is at now. It had been good, and Travis had fallen in love with the work, with senior care in general, and with every single little old lady with Parkinson's in the world. He'd watched the hospice workers come in and out and thought that was what he wanted to do. Then he finished school, got his license, and started to work. He'd been the youngest nurse at Vista Hospice, had taken a lot of pride in it. For two years he told himself he was finally where he needed to be. Had believed it, too, for a while. Then one day he got a new patient, a man who had been emergency-admitted to Blanchet Gardens following a stroke. Travis had come a few times, gotten him set up, gone over the end of life kit with the med techs, and as he always did, tried to force himself to distance. He had done a pretty good job of it, actually. The guy's wife had been an absolute nightmare to deal with, and the patient himself couldn't talk, so Travis didn't have a chance to get too into his feelings about it before the guy died two weeks later. Travis had already been on his way to do a check-in when it happened, had walked onto the unit just in time to see one of the caregivers rush out of the room and towards the med tech's station. The med tech, Jak, a skinny woman who wore a hijab, had just followed Travis into the room, looked at the guy and said, completely monotone, "oh yeah, that's sure as shit a dead dude" and startled a laugh out of Travis despite the situation. Now that Jak works for Travis, he realizes that's just how she is, but at the time, he'd felt like it meant something, some kind of sign for him.
The next time after that day that Travis got a call about Katie Park and he felt his heart sink into his stomach in fear, he realized the difference between what he was doing, and what he wanted to be doing. Very little living happens in hospice patients. Being with someone at the end of their life was something that Travis had found meaningful, something he took pride in being a part of. When he thought back to his time as a caregiver, about how he got to watch people actually live out the end of their lives, he realized what he was missing, what was keeping him from being really happy. It was like with Katie, the sweet little girl who just wanted to grow up and play hockey, who didn't even know that was never going to happen. She had a lot of life she wanted to live, but wasn't ever going to be able to. Nothing Travis did could change that. In long term care, maybe he could change something, at least a little bit. He could change medications, order PT, help someone feel better and live longer. He could actually watch people live, instead of just watching them die. He'd sat next to Katie's bed that day, listening to her talk about how she was going to marry Nolan Patrick when she grew up, and he realized he'd made the wrong choice somewhere. He put in his notice later that night, had found out about Make A Wish shortly after. Everything in him had wanted to say no when he'd been asked to accompany her. He had been so angry that it was even happening, that they were risking Katie's life for some dumbass hockey bros. He had been about to say no, until Katie had looked up at him and rasped "you have to come too, so then we can ice skate together" and his resolve had crumbled to dust.
Now Travis is here. Sitting in his cramped office with it's stained carpet and weird smell, trying not to look over at the window to the unit where the guy from room 8 has been trying to bust out for twenty minutes. Every once in a while the little whoop-whoop alarm that indicates someone is trying to push the door without putting in the code to disengage the lock goes off, and Travis hears Jak yell from deeper into the unit. Travis snorts a quiet laugh to himself, knows that a good boss would reprimand her for shouting "knock that shit off, old man" at a patient. Room 8 just responded "kiss my ass, candy striper" back, though, so Travis figured he could handle himself. As long as she didn't do it in front of a DPH auditor or a family visitor, Travis just let her be. The patients all loved her anyway. Not like Travis. He hasn't been around long enough for him to stick into any of their minds, so he's always a new person. A new person with too many questions and a wound care kit full of shit that hurt. He'd been bitten twice just this morning, trying to change the bandage on room 16's leg. Jak had laughed maniacally at that, said "yeah, you tell him, missy," and done nothing to help Travis in any way.
Whoop-whoop goes the door alarm, and Travis needs a cigarette.
"Your boy is back." Simone says, blowing smoke out of her nose in a way that is somehow elegant. Travis is a little jealous of how cool she is, sometimes. She turns the phone so Travis can see the game he'd been trying to ignore the sounds of. He only has ten minutes to smoke, he's not going to waste it thinking about the slope of Nolan Patrick's nose, okay. Or Nolan Patrick's pretty wife and admittedly adorable baby. Certainly he's not going to waste any time thinking about how Patrick hadn't responded to any more of Travis' DMs. He hadn't even read them. Travis had fucked up, somewhere, and whatever friendliness he'd earned that made Patrick want to be his Instagram buddy was clearly gone. Which was fine. It's not like Patrick owed him anything, it was fine. Just because Patrick had been nice to Travis, subjectively, it didn't mean anything. It certainly didn't mean that Travis could look at Patrick's stupidly pretty face and feel attraction. Not for a straight hockey player. He knew better.
"Ew." Travis says, glancing down at the phone just long enough to see someone with a big orange 19 on their back step onto the ice and be met with a roaring crowd. Travis couldn't tell if the crowd sounded happy or not, but they were certainly enthusiastic.
"I can't believe you can just casually strike up a conversation with Nolan god damn Patrick out of nowhere, but you can't even get me tickets to a game. You're literally the worst, I should fire you."
"Yeah right, then you'd have to take over the RN duties again." Travis scoffed. Simone and Jak had tried to fill in the roles the RN was supposed to play for a few weeks after they had to fire the one Travis had replaced. She had been really, really bad at her job. Travis had come into months and months of unfiled patient reports, outdated service plans, and a building that was one DPH audit away from being shut down. He'd been working his ass off getting the paperwork to look at least somewhat in compliance, and he hadn't even made a dent in the service plans. The woman in room 3 hadn't had her service plan updated since 2018, and it still listed her very dead husband as her first contact. Lot of good that guy was gonna be in an emergency. Travis already needed a vacation. Somewhere far away from Philly, and the fucking Philadelphia Flyers.
"Oh, look, he got a goal." Simone says, shoving her phone into Travis' face. Travis tries not to look at it, but he still catches a glimpse as the camera closes up on Patrick's face, still purple and swollen in some kind of fishbowl contraption, as he hugs his team mates tight.
Travis pulls on his laces harder than he needs to, lifts his whole foot off the floor with it. It makes a thunking noise as he drops it back down, and Travis is too annoyed to even care. He usually ended up with the rink to himself when he showed up at Skate Time at 10PM on a Wednesday, and that's how he liked it. Tonight there is a group of three boys, a lot younger than Travis, probably in high school, fucking around on the ice in their big dumb hockey skates. Travis wants to ignore them, he really does, but they are extremely loud. Travis doesn't look at them as he steps onto the ice, but he can feel at least one set of eyes follow him as he swizzles to the other side of the rink from them. He'd wanted to practice some axels, since he'd gotten out of form for them, but there is no way in hell he's going to do that with these guys here. Instead he just skates, keeps to one side of the ice and moves in circles, trying to ignore the urge to bring his leg up as he turns. He knows he still moves differently from them, knows it's still obvious that he's not like them.
He remembers the first axel he'd ever properly landed, the joy and pride flooding through his chest for a split second before one of the guys on his brother's pee-wee hockey team had shouted "fucking fairy" across the ice at him. Remembers the way his own brother had laughed, had told Travis "figure skating is for fags, if you don't like it just play hockey like a normal boy" with no sympathy. He thinks about the years spent sharing a rink with hockey teams, even after his brother quit the sport. Remembers how the hockey players had looked at him, before they even knew he was gay. Remembers the verbal attacks, the rare physical ones before they realized Travis could throw a punch better than they could. He thinks about the look on his brother's face a few years later, when Travis came out and his brother clearly got caught thinking about the way he'd talked to Travis about his figure skating since they were kids. He remembers his parents pulling him out of his figure skating, firing his coach, his dad's mutters of "no kid of mine," remembers chucking one of his skates at his dad, the looks of horror on everyone's faces as blood dripped from his shoulder. He'd moved out after that, and never spoke to another hockey player again until the Flyers.
"That's not what I said, bro!" one of the boys shouts, loud enough that Travis can't ignore it, stumbles a little out of his stroke as it disturbs his thought.
"Bullshit, Erik." someone laughs. "You're just pissy because your little boyfriend got scratched."
Travis feels his breath pick up speed, the familiar urge to run off the ice and put as much distance as possible between him and some hockey players sneaking up on him. He just grinds his teeth, forces himself to keep skating and ignore them.
"He's not my boyfriend!" someone, presumably Erik, yells. His voice goes high pitched, a little angry. It's not the disgust that Travis had expected though, something more like embarrassment.
"Of course not, that's why you've got his picture as your lockscreen, bro." someone laughs, and Erik shrieks in annoyance. Travis looks over at them, sees two of them pushing each other around while the other laughs.
"We're just friends, shut the hell up." Erik, who is apparently the tall blonde one, shouts as he manages to topple his buddy onto the ice.
"Erik and Gomez, sitting in a tree," the boy on the ground starts to sing, the other boy joining in with a laugh.
"Fuck you guys, see if I ever tell you anything again." Erik says, red faced and pouty.
Travis looks away, focuses on his breathing, and starts into a waltz eight. Maybe he'll practice his axels after all.
Nolan tumbles into his hotel room way too late at night, sober for the sake of his brain, but a little high on victory and getting two goals tonight. Playoff goals. One of which he'd stolen straight off Kris Letang's tape. He's beside him fucking self with joy. He trips over someone's pants on the floor, whines about it, and crashes into his bed. Something moves under him, and he shifts around enough to see Ivan, stupid flow a mess as he peeks over the blanket to glare at Nolan.
"Why are you in my bed?" Nolan croaks, ignoring the sixteen year old version of himself living in his lizard brain that says hell yeah, Ivan Provorov is in our bed. It would have been a dream come true back then, but now it was just an inconvenience. It's like three in the morning, Nolan just wants to get some sleep.
"Simmer has like eighty people in our room, I need to get some rest." Ivan says, rolling over and tucking himself back against Nolan's pillows like he belongs there.
"Go sleep in Carter's room, he has an empty bed." Nolan says, shoving uselessly at Ivan's back. The bastard doesn't even budge, just pulls Nolan's blankets tighter around his head and sighs like Nolan is the one who is being a pest.
"Tried that, Hartsy threatened to eat me." Ivan grumbles
"Kinky." Kevin pipes up from his side of the room, where he is lounging blissfully in his own bed, by himself, with no Russian interlopers hogging his bedding.
"Gross." Ivan says, wrinkling his nose.
"I don't know, I'd probably let Carter eat me." Nolan says, just to see Ivan's face go even more disgusted. Nolan wouldn't actually touch Carter Hart with a ten foot pole, no matter how good looking the guy is. He was a goalie, ugh. Nolan just knew the image was in Ivan's head now, which was funny as shit.
"Gryaznyy." Ivan repeats himself in Russian, sometimes, for the sake emphasis. It's adorable.
"Carter's pretty cute." Kevin mumbled sleepily. "If I had to pick a dude, you know."
"Wow, man, coldblooded. Nolan is right here." Ivan says, giggling a little.
"I wouldn't let Kevin eat me." Nolan says, finally giving in and just sliding under the covers next to Ivan.
"What? Bullshit, I'm fucking hot." Kevin sniffs.
"Oh, please." Nolan snorts. "Lucky Charms lookin' ass."
"Hey!" Kevin shouts, sending Ivan into a fit of laughter. The sound of his quiet giggling makes Nolan laugh too, and it isn't long before Kevin lets out a snort of laugh of his own.
"Everybody shut up, I'm sleeping." Ivan says, and they all settle pretty quickly.
It's warm under the covers, Ivan's body heat sinking into Nolan's skin despite the gap between them. Nolan hadn't bothered to get undressed, still has his hoodie and sweats bunching around his stomach and calves a little uncomfortably. He's tired though, and the feeling of someone laying next to him is a comfort he hasn't felt in a long time. He drifts off to sleep before Kevin even has a chance to start snoring.
Nolan spends breakfast scrolling through his phone with one hand, eating unsweetened oatmeal with the other. He thumbs through his socials lazily, ignoring the DMs piling up. He knows they're probably all just from fans, women telling him he's hot or men telling him he's bad at hockey. He never looks at his DMs, anymore. Doesn't look at his comments either, on the rare occasion he actually posts anything.
Nolan just opens Safari, searches for something he's been thinking about for a few days now. It doesn't take long for him to find what he's looking for, there is only one Blanchet Gardens in all of Pennsylvania. Nolan clicks through to their website, which is pretty simple and kind of outdated looking. Like they had picked a webpage template from 1990 and just stuck with it. Nolan scrolls down the front page, looking at the little picture of a building he vaguely recalls seeing once, skimming over whats written there.
"If you need to find a memory care community in the Philadelphia area, you’re in the right place. Blanchet Gardens Memory Care is a Special Care Facility that feels and functions like a private home, so your loved one feels a sense of belonging as soon as they arrive. With everything from a kind and compassionate care team that provides gentle guidance and reminders throughout the day, to programs designed specifically for seniors living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, you can rest easy knowing your family member will have every opportunity to thrive and blah, blah, blah."
Nolan scrolls back up to the top of the page, clicks on the little menu button. Mission statement, services, daily tours, meet our staff. Bingo. Nolan clicks through to the staff page, waits for it to load on the shitty hotel WiFi that every other guy on the team is currently also using.
The first picture is of the woman Nolan had met that day in the cafe. Dark skin, long box braids piled neatly on top of her head. The picture is from the shoulders up, but Nolan gets the feeling that weird, oddly colored suits is her go to, if the lime green paisley in the picture is any clue. "Simone Clérisseau is our Executive Director. Simone has been working in senior care for over ten years. Starting out as a caregiver, Simone has worked her way up through compassion and hard work. Simone holds a degree in Medical Administration and runs our blah, blah blah."
The next picture is a very large, very grim looking man with pink cheeks and a chef's hat. "Dawson Settle is our Dining Services Manager. With many years of food service under his belt, Dawson had perfected our in-house menu to suit the needs of any special blah, blah, blah."
The next picture is of a woman who looks way too happy for how fried her bleach blond hair is. "Maryalice Sandavol is our Activities Director. Maryalice is blah blah blah."
Finally, the last picture is Travis. It looks recent, if his terrible little goatee is any indication, and he's smiling bright and wide in his purple scrubs. "Travis Konecny is our Resident RN. Travis has years of experience in memory care, and has worked along side us through outpatient hospice for the past two years. Travis heads the nursing department, which consists of our medication aides and caregivers. Travis is the newest member to our team, and has shown great care and commitment to making Blanchet Gardens the perfect home for all who come here."
Nolan looks down at the little picture of Travis, the way his eyes are crinkled up in obvious joy, and feels himself ache in a way that has nothing to do with his busted jaw.
Travis' phone beeps in his bag just as he's about to step out his front door. He's running a little late for work, and he fumbles a bit with his phone in his haste to get it out.
Diana Moore 5:54AM : this is technically a hipaa violation since you don't work here anymore so you didnt hear this from me. she kept asking for you at the end so i feel like you deserve to know. katie park passed away a few hours ago. i just wrapped up postmortem.
Diana Moore 5:54AM : sorry man i know she was your favorite
Diana sent a picture then, a shot of a framed picture on Katie's bedside table. At some point, someone had printed out one of the pictures from the day they met the Flyers. In it Travis sees himself, holding Katie, while she looks up lovingly at Nolan Patrick. In her weak little chicken scratch handwriting, Katie had scrawled across the bottom of the picture in pink glitter gel.
"me and my favorite boys. best day ever!"
Travis feels his phone slip out of his hands and crash to the ground, barley registers the sound of the screen shattering over the ringing in his ears
gryaznyy (Russian) - nasty
Nolan sits breathless in his stall, eyes closed against the bright lights and loud noises, as Wayne gently undoes the straps of his gear for him. Nolan doesn't have any witches in his head, doesn't even have an aura, he just can't move. It's happened once before, now, and Nolan still doesn't know why. He just feels broken. Can't move, can't breathe, can't focus on anything but the feeling of Wayne's hands tugging at him. Nolan hadn't even had to ask Wayne to help, today, hadn't been going to ask, but Wayne had just stopped halfway through taking off his own gear to drop down in front of Nolan. It's how Wayne was, he paid attention to Nolan. Nolan is absolutely certain that if Wayne had been on his line that day he'd been hit by Jakub, he'd know exactly what had happened. That kind of terrifies Nolan. A lot of things terrify Nolan now days, it's pretty shitty. Wayne coaxes him to lean forward, so he can pull Nolan's chest plate over his head, and Nolan winces when Wayne's knuckles brush against his jaw. Wayne doesn't apologize, probably because he knows Nolan doesn't need him to. Wayne is always quiet when he does this, gentle and light in a way that he isn't any other time. It's easy, sometimes, to forget that Wayne Simmonds is big and scary, when he's kneeling on the cold ground to help Nolan take his sweaty gear off. He's never big and scary to Nolan, he's always just this. This kind and gentle guy. At some point Nolan had realized with horror that Wayne, along with some of his other team mates, knew him. Knew him in a way nobody else did, saw him wholly, in a way only Maddie had ever seemed to manage. It felt cheap to call Wayne his best friend, the team were all his best friends, but Nolan didn't really have the words for it. Especially not now, when his body was betraying him and his mind was swimming with worry.
"You doing okay, lapachka?" Ivan drops into Wayne's empty stall, wafting the scent of lavender with him. Ivan was always the first one out of the showers after a game, always smelled like the fancy shampoo he brought from home, a smell that Nolan liked a lot. Nolan just nods in response to the question, doesn't open his eyes to look over at him.
"Think we can all use a vacation about now, Provy." Wayne grunts, tugging on Nolan's sock garter.
"Let's all go to Hawaii. There is no ice in Hawaii." Ivan hums, reaching over and placing his cold fingers over Nolan's eyes. Ivan always has cold hands, no matter what he did to try and warm them up. Nolan loves him for it.
"Nah, Jamaica." Wayne says, sliding Nolan's shin pad off.
"Cabo." Ivan says.
They keep going, listing all the warm places they can think of. Nolan cracks his eyes open under Ivan's hand. The light peeks through, but it doesn't bother Nolan. He's starting to catch his breath, and he manages to wiggle his toes when Wayne tugs off his sock, so he figures he can start moving his body again. He realizes that now that whatever this is has happened twice, he should probably talk to the trainers about it. Suddenly losing all motor function after a normal game in which he played only 9:57 ice time? Probably not a good thing to become a pattern. Whatever is happening might be connected to his migraines, or might be a whole new problem making itself known in Nolan's stupid, traitorous body. It scares the shit out of Nolan. He knows he has to tell the trainers about it. He has to. That doesn't mean Nolan is going to tell the trainers about it, he's just acknowledging to his own idiot self that he, like, definitely should.
There is a lot of things he should tell people, that he just never does.
Nolan doesn't know why Kevin has to take literally ten fucking years after each game saying bye to every single person he sees, including the fucking Penguins' staff, but he's getting impatient. He's been standing next to Kevin's car for at least five minutes now, his wet hair making him cold in the night air. Annoying. Nolan is tired, and hungry, and very, very bored. Bored enough that he digs his phone out of his pocket.
Outgoing 10:14PM : You want a roommate?
Hartsy 10:15PM : Might be nice. Who?
Outgoing 10:15PM : Me.
Hartsy 10:16PM : No ❤️
Nolan switches over to Instagram, contemplates posting a picture of his cold feet with a rude caption about Kevin making him wait out in the damp parking lot after a long and exhausting game 6 overtime. He decides that them beating the Pens and tying the series is enough to leave him in a slightly good enough mood to not do that, though. The little red dot in the upper right hand finally annoys him into clicking on it. He has 145 requests for DMs from people he doesn't follow, which he's going to ignore. He has a few unread from existing conversations though, so he skims those.
barzal97 : ALMOST WITH THE PATTY HATTY.
barzal97 : nice game baybayy!
Nolan doesn't say anything back, since the message is a few days old anyway, just smiles fondly. He backs out, and looks through the rest. He gets to the bottom of the little list, and his smile drops from his face suddenly. He feels his heart rise into his throat.
t.kon, 8 new messages.
What the fuck? How had Nolan missed that?
4 days ago.
t.kon : im not trying to be a dick
t.kon : sorry for being weird
t.kon : gavin is really cute tho. congrats bud.
3 days ago.
t.kon: i was blackmailed into watching part of your game today.
t.kon: does gavin have a little patrick jersey? that would be cute af
t.kon: i like the fucking diving helmet they have you in lmao
2 days ago.
t.kon: did you know fish have taste buds over their entire body?
t.kon: i wonder what they think humans taste like
t.kon: your profile pic holding that fish like that? he was TASTING you, bro
npatrick19: What the fuck are you talking about?
"You need to tell Claude." Kevin says, out of nowhere, as they're standing in their kitchen eating cold leftovers.
"Tell Claude what?" Nolan asks, glaring at Kevin over his spoonful of egg drop soup.
"Whatever the fuck has been going on with you since the first game in Pittsburgh. " Kevin says, not looking up from his own food. Nolan should have seen this coming. Kevin had been quiet, lately, which was unusual. Nolan should know him well enough by now to know that Kevin being quiet means Kevin wanting to talk. Ugh. Fucking Kevin.
"I don't know what you're talking about." Nolan mumbles, mouth full of egg.
"You had a headache." Kevin says, like that explains everything. He sighs when Nolan just keeps glaring silently. "You had a headache that morning, and then you somehow just run face first into Jakey's stick? Funny coincidence."
"Don't." Nolan growls, slamming his takeout container down on the counter. He doesn't want to talk about this. Shit. He'd been so sure nobody knew, that nobody had noticed. He doesn't give Kevin enough credit, apparently. It had been over a fucking week since that game, though, so he doesn't know why Kevin is bringing this up now.
"Wayne had to undress you tonight, Pat. Something is wrong, and don't blame it on Jake hitting you, cause we both know that's not fucking fair." Kevin says, setting his own container down next to Nolan's, a hell of a lot more gently. "This is older than that hit, I'm not stupid."
And that's the problem, isn't it? Kevin isn't nearly as stupid as Nolan had needed him to be. Seems like Wayne isn't the only one who sees Nolan.
Nolan is laying on the floor, forcing himself to feel his body. Kevin is right, annoyingly. Something is wrong. Nolan hadn't even told Maddie about the migraine that day, had put up with her laughing down the phone line for ten minutes about how funny he had looked getting hit in the face by Jakub. Now he just makes himself listen to his body. It's not telling him shit, though. He feels his head, which is sluggish because it's the middle of the night after a game, but doesn't hurt. Feels his shoulders, the right one a little sore from how many times he'd slammed it into an opposing player tonight. No tightness, no pinching. He feels his spine, the way it's freshly popped from laying on the ground, but there is no pain, no stiffness. He focuses lower than he usually does, makes himself feel his legs. There is a little knot at the base of his left calf, which isn't unusual, doesn't seem connected. He wiggles his fingers, pushes the tips of them against the fluffy rug he has by his bed. They just feel like his fingers, but, like, he doesn't really know what he's looking for, anyway.
Nolan is pulled from his thoughts by his phone. For a second Nolan is scared that Kevin's patience snapped and Claude has been sicced on him. Claude's ringtone is Gee by Girl's Generation, though, a joke which still makes Nolan giggle every time his captain calls him. His phone isn't singing "gee gee gee gee" right now, though, so it's not Claude. Nolan doesn't think he's heard his phone make that noise before, actually. Which makes sense, when he finally picks it up, and he sees that he has a request for a video call on Instagram.
What the fuck? Instagram can do that?
t.kon requesting video chat.
Oh. Oh, holy fuck.
Nolan sits up quickly, hitting the accept button before he lets himself think about it too much. The screen is split half and half, not like a FaceTime. Nolan sees his own chest on the bottom, a black screen on the top.
"Patrick?" Travis voice comes, slurred.
"Yeah. Uh, what's going on?" Nolan asks, squinting at the screen. He can't tell if Travis' camera is turned off, or if he's just holding his hand over the lens.
"This is stupid." Travis mumbles, seemingly to himself, before sighing. Something rustles against the mic, and suddenly Nolan is greeted with the site of Travis' bare feet. It looks like he's sitting on the edge of a bed, a house slipper sitting just at the edge of the frame.
"What's going on?" Nolan asks again. He feels like his heart is about to beat out of his chest. He has no idea what's going on. He'd tried not to think about Travis recently, and now his head is spinning.
"I gotta, I just." Travis hisses, and the camera flips, showing Nolan his collar. He's wearing a black hoodie, his chin tucked into the neck of it. Nolan can just make out the bottom of his jaw, which is even scruffier than last time Nolan had seen him, like he's making the horrible decision to grown out his goatee.
"Travis." Nolan says, wondering if maybe he passed out while Wayne was undressing him and everything since then has been one long, terrible nightmare. That would certainly explain Kevin.
"You were there, with me, the last time. So, I don't know." Travis isn't making any sense, and the camera starts jumping around like he's shaking. "She fucking loved you, dude. She loved you so much."
Nolan realizes, is horrified to realize, that Travis is crying. He can hear it in his voice, and he can see a tear drop slowly from his chin. It takes him a second to register what Travis is actually saying, but it isn't too hard to figure out what it means once he does. He forces himself not to let it hit him as hard as it tries to, in that moment. Katie. Fucking Katie. Shit.
"Fuck, Travis. Fuck." Nolan says, biting back his own tears. It doesn't seem right, for him to cry while Travis is. It's not his turn, Nolan can break down later.
"She had a picture, of us, you and me. God, this is so fucking stupid." Travis laughs, and it's a terrible sound. Nolan's ears are ringing, and he can feel himself getting breathless, again.
"What happened?" Nolan asks, which just earns him more of that awful laughter.
"This morning. I wasn't there, I don't know." Travis says. "God, I wasn't there. Why wasn't I there?"
"Don't do that to yourself, Travis." Nolan says, his voice breaking halfway through.
"I should have been with her. She wanted me there. She trusted me, and I just, fucking, just, left her alone. Because I couldn't deal. So fucking selfish." Travis sucks in a breath, and it sounds painful to Nolan's ears.
"Why did you call me?" Nolan asks, partially to distract Travis from getting angry at himself, and partially because he just really wants to know.
"You're the only person I know, who knew her, that I can legally talk to." Travis says, and the camera tips up. Nolan wasn't prepared to look at Travis Konecny's face tonight. God, he doesn't know how he's supposed to react. Travis looks like shit, clearly has been crying for a while, awful little goatee, flushed cheeks like maybe he's been drinking his feelings. Still hot enough to make Nolan feel a little weak about it, unfortunately. Nolan shifts his own camera too, so its both their faces. Side by side on the little screen, Nolan takes in how they look together.
"What do you mean, legally?" Nolan asks, watching as Travis sniffles a bit, reaches up to wipe his nose on the sleeve of his hoodie. Gross.
"I'm not even supposed to know, she wasn't my patient anymore. I'm not allowed to stay in touch with families I don't work with." Travis says, eyes flicking up and down like he's looking between himself and Nolan. It's fucking awful for Nolan, to sit here on his bedroom floor and watch Travis watching him. It feels like something he's not allowed to have.
"That's stupid." Nolan says, doesn't know what the fuck else to say.
"HIPAA law." Travis shrugs.
"Very stupid." Nolan tells him.
"Yeah," Travis sighs. "Yeah, well, I'm stupid."
"You're like nineteen years old and you're a nurse, you gotta be kind of smart." Nolan teases, just to see Travis make any face other than the sad, broken one he's making now. It works, a bit, when Travis scrunches up his nose in annoyance.
"I'm twenty-four, bonehead." Travis says, scratching the side of his nose.
"No way you're older than me." Nolan says.
"Shut up. God, you're a dick, you know? Even for a hockey player." Travis says, and then ruins Nolan's train of thought by flinging himself back to lay down. His hair spreads out on the bed, which Nolan tries not to pay attention to. Fails at that though, like, spectacularly. Travis has black sheets, silky looking. Fuck, what the hell? Nolan should probably stop looking at Travis in his bed, before he looses his mind.
"I'm a nice boy." Nolan says, ignoring the way his throat is dry as he speaks.
"No, you're a hockey player." Travis snorts. "Fucking hate hockey players."
"What did we ever do to you?" Nolan asks, trying not to be obvious as he tracks the movement of Travis' mouth.
"I'm drunk, shut up." Travis says. Nolan is just glad he's not crying anymore.
"I figured. That's not an answer." Nolan tells him.
"Jesus, how much time you got? Any bad shit you can think of, bud, been done to me by hockey players." Travis shifts, tucks his chin back into his hoodie. Nolan has a feeling that this is, like, about to be a way worse conversation than talking about a little girl dying. Maybe he shouldn't have tried to change the subject.
"Travis," Nolan trails off, isn't sure what he can possibly say to that.
"They weren't very nice to me." Travis says. "After they found out that I'm gay."
Nolan went ice fishing, once. His dad had a buddy with a shack for it, and a bunch of them had gone up when Nolan was about eighteen. His dad's friend had a son his age, and Nolan had spent most of the time with him, maybe trying to get a feel for if he and Nolan had anything in common. The guy had dared Nolan to dunk his head into the hole his dad had drilled, and Nolan had been dumb enough to think it would be funny. It was like nothing he'd ever felt, the pain of freezing water flooding into his ears, the fear that even though his entire body was out of the ice, he might drown from the shock. His dad had been so angry, he'd rubbed a towel across Nolan's dumb head hard enough to actually pull some of his hair out. Nolan will never forget the feeling of that, of holding his head under ice. That's how he feels now, suddenly, when Travis says that.
"You mean," Nolan cuts off again, tipping his camera away so Travis can't see whatever is crossing his face. He can feel himself flushing, at the very least.
"I shouldn't have said that." Travis grumbles.
"I'm sorry, Travis." Nolan says, means it. "They didn't," Nolan doesn't know how to ask this. Doesn't think he has a right to, Travis isn't really his friend. Travis is just some guy Nolan has gotten weirdly attached to, for reasons outside his control. A guy who is hot, and sweet, and had called Nolan crying about a dead girl who Nolan hadn't stopped thinking about since he saw her little yellow mittens for the first time. A guy who had just come out to Nolan while drunk. Fuck.
"What?" Travis asks. At some point when Nolan was avoiding looking at Travis he'd dropped his phone, and Nolan is just looking at the nurse's ceiling, now.
"Nothing, I'm sorry." Nolan stops himself from asking, knows that he doesn't need to know. They didn't hurt you, did they? It's none of Nolan's business.
"Whatever. Like I said, I'm drunk. You don't need my whole Dua Lipa New Rules list." Travis sighs.
"I don't know what that means." Nolan says.
"My rules." Travis says, draws the s out like a hiss. "No guys from Jersey, no closet cases, and no fucking hockey players."
That, Nolan really doesn't have an answer for.
Outgoing 2:15AM: Are you awake? I need to talk to you.
Captain My Captain 2:17AM : It can't wait until practice tomorrow?
Outgoing 2:19AM : I can't feel my feet.
Incoming call, Captain My Captain.
Gee gee gee gee baby baby baby
Gee gee gee gee baby baby baby
lapachka (Russian) - lit. "little paws", a term of endearment.
"Run that all by me again, in order this time." Claude says, clenching his fists around the edge of his kitchen counter hard enough to make his knuckles go white. It's a granite counter, but Nolan swears he can see it about to shift under Claude's weight.
"G, I told you," Nolan starts, fidgeting nervously where he's perched on the island stool. He knows the only reason he isn't being screamed at is because Ryanne and Gavin are asleep upstairs. Small mercies.
"God damn it, Nolan." Claude snaps, which is how he knows he's really in trouble. Nolan. Ouch. "Just, explain it to me. You had your first migraine in months after we did that Make A Wish bullshit, then what?"
Nolan flinches, at that. At Claude calling it bullshit. Travis had thought it was bullshit, too. There is a little part of his dumbass brain stuck on trying to jump over to thoughts of Katie, but he's shutting it down hard. Half the reason he's here in the first place is to avoid having to feel what he's inevitably going to feel when he processes that Katie has died. Easier to come talk to Claude and maybe get himself kicked off the Flyers, than it would be to let himself break down about the best little girl he'd ever met.
"Right." Nolan sighs, staring at Claude's white knuckles. "I had a migraine after standing too close to Travis when he smoked. Ten days later, after the Devils game, my body did this numb thing for the first time. Then three days after that, I had another migraine, during the, uh, the Pens game. Then nothing until tonight, when I went numb again, which makes it ten days after the migraine. So, maybe that's, like, a pattern."
"Un petit imbécile." Claude mutters. Nolan knows just enough French to know when Claude is calling him stupid.
"I'm sorry, G." Nolan says, folding himself over in his chair, trying to make himself as small as he feels. Probably not possible, right now. He feels minuscule. Nolan knows that Claude is pissed about him trying to play through a migraine, but he's definitely, like, way more pissed that Nolan didn't just tell him.
"I know you are. And I can tell that you're also scared shitless about this, which is the only reason I don't have the coaches on the phone right now fining your ass." Claude tells him, finally letting go of the counter so he can step around it, getting up into Nolan's space. He stands there, breathing steady in a way that tells Nolan it's purposeful, that Claude is forcing himself to be calm. Nolan just stares at his chest, bare because it's three in the morning and Claude had been sleeping before Nolan brought this on him. Nolan wishes it were a different situation, so that he could chirp Claude about his pajama pants, which have little croissants all over them.
"I'm sorry." Nolan says again, tipping his head forward and resting it against Claude's sternum. Claude tenses under the contact, like he's thinking of pushing Nolan away. Nolan doesn't think Claude has ever pushed him away before, so it hurts a little, the thought that he might. He lets him stay, though. Any other time Claude would probably bring his hands up, give Nolan a hug. Right now though, he just stands there, lets Nolan hide his face.
"This is what you wanted to tell me, that day you showed up for soup. You pussied out, though, huh?" Claude sighs, and Nolan just nods against his chest. "Alright, câlice. Here's what we're gonna do. First things first, I don't want you driving all the way back home, so you think you can get some sleep in the guest room?"
"Probably not, but it's as good a place as any to cry for a few hours." Nolan shrugs.
"Don't waste your tears on this yet, kid." Claude says.
"I've got plenty of other shit to cry about." Nolan sighs. Katie, and her little yellow mittens. Nolan doesn't tell Claude about her, though. He's not sure why, but he doesn't want to tell anybody about her. The only person he wants to talk to about Katie, is Travis.
"You're going to sleep, okay?" Claude pauses, waits for Nolan to nod. "In the morning we will go in early, talk to AV before practice. We'll do it together, I'll be there with you, okay? And I won't tell him about the migraine during the Penguins game, only because I like you a hell of a lot more than I like him. You tell him everything else, though. Got it?"
"Got it." Nolan says, even though he hates this plan. He doesn't want to talk to AV, damn it. He knows it's more than he deserves though, for Claude to have his back on this. Nolan didn't expect that he'd leave the whole migraine on the ice thing out, but he's grateful.
"Then you're going to get down on your knees and beg Jake to forgive you." Claude says, reaching up to slap a hand down on the back of Nolan's head.
"G, no. Just fire me." Nolan whines, finally lifting his head and looking up at his captain. "He will disembowel me."
"Have you ever in your life seen Jake be guilty?" Claude scowls. "He feels like he has to be careful, he barley gets his stick off the ice around the team. You fucked with his head, and you're going to fix it."
Nolan knows there is no getting out of it. He doesn't know what he looks forward to less; telling AV about his bodies new trick of being paralyzed for no reason, or the fact that he's going to get hit in the face by a viking for the second time, this time on purpose.
He says a silent goodbye to the rest of his teeth.
Trainers are familiar to Nolan, but that doesn't mean he'll ever be comfortable around them. He's used to the feeling of hands on him, twisting and prodding and shining lights in his eyes. He's pretty sure they've checked every part of him, short of, like, a cavity search. He's grateful they skip that part, at least. Nolan just sits still and lets the trainer poke at his feet with a little wire, nods his head every time he feels the sensation. He answers ten thousand questions, told them it wore off just like the first time, that he hadn't been paying enough attention to it to really give them a good chart about it. He maps his migraines pretty thoroughly, has a little pocket journal where he marks down triggers and symptoms. He feels a little bad when he hands it over, knowing that it says trigger; high stick to the jaw on his last migraine log. He knows it's not true, and he feels like maybe it's a big deal that he actually didn't have a trigger, that it came out of nowhere for no reason. That scares him, but not as much as the idea of getting suspended for lying to everyone, for breaking a pretty major stipulation on his contract. Everything about this scares him.
"We're going to send you for scans, brain and spine." the trainer tells him, and Nolan just nods. "It's not completely unheard of for feelings of numbness or limits to range of motion to occur with migraines. It usually happens during the episodes, though, so we need to be sure."
"You think there is something wrong with my spine?" Nolan asks, sitting still as the trainer slips his socks and shoes back on for him.
"I just want to rule it out. You wouldn't be the first hockey player to injure his spine, Nolan." the trainer says, fixing Nolan with a look of sympathy that he can tell is fake. Nolan is positive this dude has been practicing the look in a mirror. What was it Travis had said? Can't go around giving a shit about your patients. Yeah, fair enough.
"Can I go do the rest of practice?" Nolan asks, pretending like he doesn't already know the answer.
"You're gonna be off the ice, at least, until those scans come back."
Now for the hard part.
Nolan stands next to Jakub's fancy fucking car, and tries to ignore the way Claude is glaring at him from across the parking lot. It had been easier this morning to just let Claude drive him in, but now he wishes he'd protested, so he didn't have to look at his captain's disappointed face any more today. Nolan knows that the ride back to Claude's house to get Nolan's car is going to be tense.
Oh, shit. Here we go. Game time.
"Patty!" Jakub smiles, opens his arms like he is gonna come in for a hug when he sees Nolan standing there. Nolan doesn't know what AV had told the rest of the team about why Nolan won't be getting on the bus to Pittsburgh with them tomorrow morning, but he can tell that Jakub is happy to see him. God, this is really gonna fucking suck.
"Jake, hey." Nolan lets himself be hugged, tries not to sink into the feeling of Jakub's giant arms squeezing him. It's hard though, because, like, it's Jakub. He gives good hugs. Nolan knows he's about to piss the guy off though, so he can't help but savor this kindness while he still gets it. Jakub lets go too soon.
"Are you okay?" Jakub asks, popping the trunk of his car and throwing his bag in haphazardly, like he doesn't have a care in the world. Nolan glances over at Claude, wondering how much trouble he'll get in if he just turns and bolts. He gets a even colder glare, like Claude can read his mind. Ugh.
"I need to talk to you about something." Nolan says, shuffling his feet awkwardly.
"Coach said you are having head problems." Jakub says, reaching up and tapping his fingers gently against Nolan's temple. "I'm sorry you got to miss games, I know that is terrible." There is something in the voice then, maybe a little bit of guilt, and Nolan feels like the worlds biggest piece of shit.
"Jake, man, it's not your fault. That's not," Nolan breaks off, has like, no fucking idea how to say this.
"Come on, son, your whole chin is still purple and yellow. No teeth." Jakub says gesturing to Nolan's bruised jaw like it's news to him. Nolan knows, okay, has to look at it every day and feel like a fucking monster about it.
"Jake, just, give me a second. I have to tell you something, just, be quiet, okay? Until I'm done?" Nolan kicks the ground, looks down at his feet and pointedly not at Jakub. Or at Claude, who he can feel staring at him. Nolan just breaths for a second, and Jakub reaches out, touches Nolan's elbow, cradles it in his hand like Nolan is something fragile. Which, like, honestly, Nolan is pretty god damn fragile right now.
"Okay, Patty." Jakub says, clearly confused but willing to listen. Nolan feels nauseous.
"The morning of the first game in Pittsburgh I, uh, I had a headache." Nolan feels Jakub's hand tense around his elbow, as he keeps talking. "Kevin was with me, brought me some meds, and I thought it got better. I thought it was just a little witch, you know? It came back, though. I was facing off with Crosby, the second to last shift, and it just, came back. Big witch, that time. It was really bad and I, uh, I couldn't see. I was skating blind, so I didn't see the puck, or anything. I didn't even see you. I didn't even know you were there until I ran into your stick. It wasn't your fault, like, at all. None of it, it was all on me."
There is silence, when Nolan is done talking. Jakub's hand is tight around Nolan's elbow, bordering on painful. Nolan doesn't look up from his feet, because he's a coward. He just stands there, let's Jakub's silence stretch out.
"You owe me three thousand dollars." is all Jakub says after a time, letting go of Nolan's elbow.
"What?" Nolan blinks, looks up at Jakub as the man steps out of his space. Jakub's face is purposefully blank.
"What I was fined for hitting you." Jakub tells him. Which Nolan hadn't known about. They fined him for accidentally running into his linemate? What bullshit.
"Yeah, of course." Nolan says, kicking the ground a few more times. "I really am sorry, Jake. I shouldn't have put you in that position."
"Don't be fucking stupid." Jakub sighs. "I'm not angry at you because of the hit. I'm angry because you shouldn't have been out there. It's not just yourself you put in danger when you can't see what you are doing. And what if it hadn't been me, huh? What if someone had hit you on purpose?"
"I know, I just," Nolan feels tears forming, but wants nothing less than to cry right now. He had done way too much crying last night, his eyes still ache from it. Besides, he doesn't want to cry while apologizing to Jakub, that feels cheap.
"Come here, little one." Jakub says, grabbing Nolan roughly by his shoulders, slamming him against his chest. It's pretty violent, as far as hugs go, but Nolan just let's it happen, closes his eyes against the tears that still want to spill. He's reminded, suddenly, that Jakub is a father, is a really good father.
"I'm sorry, Jake. I'm sorry for lying to you." Nolan sniffs, tucks his face into the side of Jakub's unruly hair.
"I don't care, hlupák. But if you ever put yourself at risk like that again, I'll knock you out on purpose, okay?" Jakub kisses Nolan on his temple, then. The left one, right where his migraines always start.
Nolan doesn't look at Claude when he gets into the car, just does up his seat belt and looks out the window at where Jakub is driving away.
"Do you think Ryanne will come with me to get my scans? I hate doing that shit alone." Nolan mumbles.
"I'm sure she will." Claude says, patting Nolan on the thigh gently.
"It's no problem."
"I mean for all of it, Claude. Everything you've done for me."
Claude's hand tightens, briefly, on Nolan's leg.
"Yeah, well, despite my good judgement, I love you, kid."
Nolan still doesn't look at him, but he feels a weight lift off his heart.
t.kon: thought you might want this
npatrick19: She had this on her nightstand?
t.kon: yeah. i told you bud she really loved you
npatrick19: She must have loved you, too.
npatrick19: I'm sorry.
t.kon: fucking shit bro
t.kon: im not handling this very well
npatrick19: Neither am I, and I only met her once. You're fine, Travis.
npatrick19: I think it's pretty normal to not handle something like this well.
t.kon: man shut the hell up
t.kon: jocks aren't allowed to be emotionally intelligent
npatrick19: We're pretty fucking emotional.
npatrick19: Thank you for the picture.
Nolan looks down at the picture. It's nice. Katie looking at Nolan, while Nolan was looking at Travis.
"me and my favorite boys. best day ever!"
un petit imbécile (French) - stupid kid
câlice (French) - fuck
hlupák (Czech) - dumbass
Chapter 8: ride or die from the day he was born
Nolan has seen more scans of his body than anyone should ever have to see. He's pretty sure he could, like, pick his own skull out of a lineup at this point. Yes, officer, that's my shity ass head, right there, book 'em. Nolan doesn't have to be told that this time, this image, something is wrong. He's seen his own C1 - C2 vertebrae often enough to know the tissue around them didn't look like that, before. He stares at the pictures, feeling what might be a phantom throbbing at the base of his skull, and lets what the specialist, Dr. Duffie, is saying wash over him. It's not uncommon, she says. It is worrisome, however, she says. It's not something they can actually prevent, or treat in any significant way at this stage, she says. It will most likely happen every time, now, she says. It will likely increase in severity as time goes on, she says. Nolan stares at the pictures of his swollen spinal tissue, and listens to the specialist say, basically, that he's fucked.
"When are you due for you next Emgality injection?" Duffie asks, forcing Nolan so actually, like, engage.
"Uh, it's soon." Nolan says, tearing his eyes from the scans still up on the screen, shifting his ass on the crinkly paper he's sitting on.
"Let me look." she frowns, rolling her little stool back over to the computer. She turns the screen a little, and then switches the page over. Nolan is grateful, a bit, that he doesn't have to look at that anymore. His stupid, bullshit, swollen fucking spine.
"I have, like, a lot of meds to keep track of." Nolan shrugs, shifting his big body around on the dumbass crinkly paper again. Why he has to sit up on the exam table and not in the chair is beyond him, but he hates it.
"Let me just make sure this list is up to date, okay." Duffie glances at Nolan, waits for him to nod. "Okay, I'll read them off, just tell me yes or no, if you're still taking something. Verapamil, that's your beta blocker, 180mg, once a day?" Nolan nods. "Effexor, your antidepressant, 25mg, twice a day?" Nolan nods again. "Naratriptan, pathway blocker, 2.5mg, as needed for migraine episodes?" Nod. "Prednisone, anti-inflammatory steroid, 10mg, twice a day?" Nolan shakes his head, no, not taking that anymore, not since he started playing again. She hums, clicks a couple things on the computer. "Okay, then, looks like we have Ergotamine-caffeine, migraine blocker, 1-100mg as needed for migraine episodes?" Nods, winces. Nolan hates that one. "Acetaminophen, pain killer, 500mg, as needed for pain?" Nods. "Oxycodone, narcotic pain killer, 5mg, as needed for pain?" Nods, even though he hasn't taken those in months, he still has a bottle on the bathroom counter. He hates those too. "Alright, and then your Emgality injection, migraine blocker, 120mg once a month. Looks like you're due in eight days, for that."
"Okay." Nolan says, not sure what else he's supposed to say.
"I'm bumping your injection dose up to 300mg before that. The only thing you can do at this point is try to prevent the migraines themselves, reduce the episodes." she says, clicking a bunch of things, typing as she talks. Nolan can still see the screen, but he can't really focus much, to see what she's typing.
"How do I prevent them if they come out of nowhere?" he asks, shifting his weight again and wanting to scream when the paper crinkles loudly under his ass.
"From what you told me you have a pretty good tracking system, seems that you know what your triggers are." Duffie says, and it sounds like a question.
"Usually, but there was, uh, one. The most recent one. It came out of nowhere." Nolan tells her, flinches a little. He hopes that little tidbit doesn't get back to the trainers.
"What were you doing when it happened?" she asks, crossing her legs and leaning towards him. Her hair is loose, Nolan had noticed. He's never seen a doctor with their hair loose, like that. It falls over her shoulder, and Nolan wonders if it's colored to look blonde or if she was just lucky, had really pretty hair all on her own.
"I was playing hockey." Nolan says, watching the way her brow furrows.
"Which is something you do quite often, I'm guessing." Duffie says, pushing her hair back. It stays in place for a few seconds, before falling back over her shoulder again. It looks shiny, silky in a way Nolan could never dream of achieving for himself.
"I had cried that morning, which always gives me a low level headache, so it might have been that. I don't know." Nolan shrugs.
"Why were you crying?" she asks, and Nolan just stares blankly at her for a few seconds. "Mr. Patrick, you are on an antidepressant, and experiencing a drastic change in condition. I have to ask."
"I had a, uh, there was a little girl, she was sick, she actually passed away day before yesterday. I was crying because of her." Nolan tells her, feels a part of his brain screaming at him about it. Katie, sweet little Katie. Man, fuck this entire appointment.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Patrick." the doctor says, rolling her little stool forward so she's in his space. It's a little awkward, since he's still up on the exam table, but her hand is gentle and comforting when she pats his knee gently. "I imagine that has been a source of stress for you. Stress can cause migraines, I'm sure you know that."
"Yeah. Fair enough." Nolan sighs, hadn't really thought about that. Playoffs, crush on Travis, Katie and her yellow mittens? Yeah, maybe he's had a few things to stress about.
"I'm sorry for your loss. I know there are things in your life that you can't control, but the only thing you can do is try. Every time you get a migraine, your spinal tissue is going to swell. The more it swells, the worse these feelings of numbness and lethargy will become. The more often this happens, the more likely it is to cause lasting damage." she rolls away again, out of his space, and the comfort is gone. Bedside manner, hell of a drug.
"So what do I do?" Nolan asks, watches her as she pulls up a different page on his profile, starts typing again.
"If I tell you to quit playing hockey, are you gonna listen?" Duffie asks, doesn't even wait for Nolan to reply before charging on. "I'm not going to recommend that officially. It's your choice. For now, I want you to do what you've been doing, just more. More mindfulness, take up actual meditation if you can. Limit stress, keep track of your triggers and your symptoms. Like I said, upping the Emgality might help. Talk to your trainers about exercises for your spine and neck, yoga maybe, work on your spines flexibility and make sure you keep blood flow to the area."
"Yoga." Nolan deadpans, shifts on the table again, feels the paper tear a little under his left ass cheek. He is officially hating this.
"If you want to keep playing hockey, then your life will be reduced to one thing, and one thing only." she says, fixing Nolan with a very pointed look.
"Which is?" Nolan asks, forcing himself to meet her gaze.
"Every second of every day of your life, Mr. Patrick, will be dedicated to making sure you don't have a migraine." she tells him.
"And playing hockey." he reminds her.
"No. Hockey will just be a risk you take, not the life you live."
Day to day. Nolan looks down at the email on his screen, and almost wants to laugh. It's playoffs, they're actually fucking winning, and they're putting him on day to day. Nolan thinks he might puke. Part of him would probably be cool with that, with puking on the table right now. To be fair, AV would have every right to, actually, like, suspend him, seeing as how Nolan had waited what AV had called a "dick stroking waste of time" to tell anybody about his problem. AV'd had a few choice words for both him and Claude when they'd told him what was going on. Nolan doesn't know how to feel about all of this, actually.
Nolan closes the app, ignores the feeling of dread in his stomach, and mutes his email notifications before the staff can try and say anything else to him.
"Give it to me straight, how long do I have to plan your funeral?" Maddie asks, as way of answering the video call. Nolan gets a nice up close shot of her nostrils for a few seconds.
"Ten days, you better get to it. I want a parade." Nolan tells her. She finally gets the camera settled, propping it up against something so she has her hands free. She's sitting at her vanity, clearly in the process of putting on makeup. Nolan just lays down, props his phone on the pillow next to him, resting his head on his arm so he can watch her.
"Nobody likes you enough for that, you'll get an orthodox Ukranian wake like every other Patrebka boy and you'll enjoy it." Maddie snorts, leaning close to the mirror so she can attack her eyebrows with a pencil.
"Do not let people put fruit in my casket, Maddie. If I have to spend the rest of eternity covered in moldy orange juice I will haunt you, I swear." Nolan grumbles, "And people like me just fine."
"Not on twitter." Maddie shrugs, glancing down at the phone and doing something weird with her face that it probably supposed to convey something to Nolan, but he's just not getting it.
"They like me in Winnipeg." Nolan says, because it's true. He was loved in the Peg, in Brandon. People in general had liked him a lot, before the migraines took him out. The Peg still didn't hold his brain against him, at least.
"Should have been a Jet." Maddie says, tossing her eyebrow pencil onto her vanity, where she'll inevitably lose track of it and get pissed off.
"Disgusting, now I'm going to just die right here and now. How could you say that to me?" Nolan scowls, as Maddie just laughs at him.
"If you go on another tangent about how the Flyers have the most handsome players in the league," Maddie starts, but Nolan cuts her off with a shout.
"We do! We are statistically the best looking team, by like, average rate of looks." Nolan tells her.
"Pretty sure that's the Stars, first of all, and second of all, you're still a bitch." Maddie says, brandishing a tube of something at the camera like a threat. Nolan just snorts, can't really argue with that because, like, Seguin, and watches her open the tube and put whatever it is on her eyebrows. Nolan had spent a lot of time as a teenager sitting on his sister's bedroom floor, watching her get ready for school, or dates, or parties. Something about watching her do her makeup, scowl at her reflection and try to get her eyes even, made Nolan feel calm and happy. He loved his sister, and watching her do little things that made her, you know, her, was something Nolan cherished.
He realizes, annoyed, that he's getting sentimental. Which is fair, since his like, entire fucking life is crumbling down right now.
"They put me on day to day. Assuming the guys win tonight, anyway." Nolan says, watches Maddie glance away from her eyebrows long enough to shoot him a worried look.
"So they did find something, then? Your spine?" Maddie asks, capping the tube of eyebrow whatsit, and leaning towards the phone instead, studying Nolan's face.
"Swelling of my spinal tissue, due to the migraines. Which are, like, you know, a thing." Nolan says, watches her face pinch up in worry.
"Bad, again?" she asks, shifting around in her chair to bring her knees up, resting her chin on them. Nolan knows her, knows this pose. She's concerned.
"Two in the last month. You know about the one from the Pens game." Nolan hopes his face doesn't betray how much she doesn't really know about that. He still hasn't told her the truth, for some reason.
"Lan," Maddie speaks softly, which means she's upset, "two in a month is bad, you haven't had that in a while."
"The other one was my fault. Travis was smoking, I shouldn't have stayed with him. That one was on me." Nolan says.
It's quiet for a little bit, after that. Maddie just tilts her head and looks at Nolan, and Nolan watches her. She worries, probably more than anyone else. Obviously his parents worry about him as their son, as a kid who moved to another country super young, as their baby boy that they never see. And Aimee is, well, honestly, she's just kind of Nolan's little sister. He loved her, and he knew she loved him, but they were never as close as him and Maddie. His big sister was his ride or die from the day he was born, and they were super connected. Nolan remembers their babysitter, when they were very young, who had thought for a good year and a half and Nolan and Maddie were twins.
"Wait," Maddie says, lifting her head from her knees and giving Nolan a look that spells trouble. "Sanheim doesn't smoke."
"Uh." Nolan says, very intelligently.
"Lan, who is Travis?" Maddie perks up, feet dropping back onto the floor.
"He's, just, the nurse," Nolan starts, stutters, and Maddie cackles.
"Nolan! You slut!" Maddie shrieks.
"It's not," Nolan tries to cut in, but Maddie hasn't stopped laughing.
"I knew he was your type!" Maddie slaps the vanity top, hard enough to jostle her phone, which tips up so he's looking mostly at her forehead and the ceiling.
Right. Nolan hadn't told her about any of that yet.
Travis should really get in the habit of looking at his phone before he answers it. He gets a lot of work related phone calls, and not all of his employees are saved in his contacts yet, so it's not completely absurd to get a call from an unknown number. He probably should have looked a little bit harder at this one though, paid attention to the fact that it's a Canadian number.
"What the fuck do you want?" Travis hisses, standing in the med room, keys clutched in his hands hard enough to hurt, hoping like hell that Jak doesn't need to get in here any time soon. He'd just sort of frozen as soon as he answered the phone, still has the cabinet open, staring blankly at the syringes he was coming to get before his phone rang.
"I wanted to see how you're doing, Travis." his brother says, voice painfully neutral.
"I'm doing just fine, fuck you." Travis says.
"Do you have to be like this, Travis? I'm trying, here." Chase sighs.
"Trying to what, exactly?" Travis turns on his heel, paces the little three foot space as much as he can. He's aware he's mostly spinning in circles, he's just suddenly too angry to care.
"To have a relationship with my only brother." Chase says, like it's obvious.
"Oh, you have got to be fucking kidding me." Travis tosses his keys, and they slap against the whiteboard on the wall hard enough to scratch it, and rub off some of the words there. What used to be a reminder of room 6's insulin expiration dates now just says "roo 6 hum ex". Travis would feel bad about that if he wasn't so off balance right now.
"How long are you going to punish me?" Chase asks, sounding like he's hurt about it. Which is complete and utter bullshit.
"I don't know, bud, remind me, how long did you say I was going to burn in hell for? How about that long." Travis laughs, angry and sarcastic.
"You're still my brother. Your choices, you'll answer for them, but that doesn't mean I don't care about," Chase gets cut off by Travis scoffing.
"You don't care, you're just guilty. You should be, you son of a bitch." Travis says, stopping his spinning paces, leaning forward against the counter, smacking his forehead on the upper cabinets, hard enough that he's sure Chase can hear it.
"I am sorry that you felt like you had to run away from your family." is what Chase chooses to say then, and Travis grips his phone so hard he's sure the screen is about to crack. Which would really just piss Travis off even more, because he just got it fixed literally yesterday.
"You knew." Travis says, cold.
"What?" Chase asks, voice still bordering on complete indifference.
"You knew, about the bullying." Travis says, and it's an accusation. He's positive that his brother knew, but he's never confirmed it.
"What happened between you and your peers was none of my business." Chase tells him, like that's an excuse.
"You’re my big brother, you bastard, you were supposed to look out for me." Travis spits.
"Travis," his brother tries to cut him off, but Travis is really pissed now.
"They were fucking monsters to me, and you knew." Travis punctuates his statement by throwing his phone, as hard as he can, at the wall.
The guy at metroPCS is gonna judge Travis so hard, when he comes to get this phone fixed two days in a row.
Chapter 9: like a gas stove flicking on
t.kon: do you want to come to the cemetery with me?
t.kon: i know i've been a dick. sorry.
t.kon: i really don't want to go alone.
t.kon: you can bring your girl if you want. little man too.
t.kon: usually it's me leaving you on read. what gives?
t.kon: oh are you playing fucking hockey right now?
t.kon: simone just growled "fucking penalty kill" at her phone. you must be playing hockey
t.kon: ok yeah you're not playing hockey cause now she's bitching about you getting benched or whatever
t.kon: well whatever let me know if you want to come to the cemetery with me.
t.kon: ew did you know lungfish can live out of water for years at a time?
t.kon: fucking NO thanks
t.kon: imagine seeing a fucking fish just walking around
t.kon: yo your guys must have won simone just busted a fucking lung.
t.kon: she literally screamed so loud i think one of my patients heard it even though his hearing aides are in his mouth instead of his ears
t.kon: oh shit i should go make him stop trying to eat those hold on
t.kon: anablep fish have four fucking eyes wtf WHY??
The entire team had decided that, upon returning to Philly, the only appropriate place to throw a party was Kevin's house. So, Nolan had spent a good six hours just reveling in the joy and celebrations of knocking the Pens out of the playoffs in the seventh game before he let himself think about Travis. He just listened to Kevin sing the words to One Direction's Rock Me over the karaoke track for Queen's We Will Rock You. He drank exactly one beer, ignored Wayne's eyebrows as someone made a joke about the fuckability of Sidney Crosby, and helped the team make the truly terrible and self-sabotaging decision to get Carter to do a keg stand. Carter survived, and the team only picked up in idiocy and volume as that apparently proved their invincibility. Sometime around one in the morning Claude decided it was time to start drunk dialing Crosby. The first call went to voice mail, and Claude left a very garbled message in French while the team screamed in the background. The second call Crosby answered with a sleepy grumble of "Claude, is everything okay?" that seemed so vulnerable that Nolan actually felt a little bad for a second. Nobody else seemed to feel the same way, though, and the team shrieked obscenely in response before getting hung up on. The third call was sent straight to voicemail, which was treated to another colorful message. The fourth call was answered, not by Crosby, and they were met with a string of low, angry Russian that made Ivan yelp and run from the room. Half the team seemed to choke on their tongues, and Claude just laughed happily and chattered away until he was hung up on again. After that none of the calls connected, so Nolan was pretty sure that Crosby's phone had been turned off.
It's only hours later, when he was pouring himself into his bed alongside a drunk Wayne and an irrevocably fucked up Carter, that Nolan thought to finally take the time to message Travis back. He ignores all of his nonsensical jabbering, and just answers his question.
npatrick19: I'm assuming you mean the cemetery to visit Katie? I'd really like that. Just send me the address and when you want to meet.
It takes Nolan forty-five minutes to get to Han Shin Kwan Catholic Church, and another forty-five to figure out how to get to the cemetery out back, because all the signs are in Korean. He ends up just parking his car in front of the main building and walking around in circles looking for a gate. He finds it only because Travis Konecny is just fucking standing in it. He's leaning against the open gate, kicking at the patch of unevenly mowed grass under his feet. Nolan's breath catches at the sight of him, and his dumb feet slow to a stop without his permission.
Nolan hasn't, like, forgotten that he has a crush on Travis, or forgotten the way that Travis' body fits into his clothes, or how even with his ratty little goatee there is just something about him that makes Nolan feel weak in the knees. It's impossible to forget. It's just totally a much different animal to think about him, than it is to fucking see him standing in the middle of a cemetery, a black button up tucked into slacks, holding a bouquet of flowers that's almost the size of himself. Nolan can remember, with annoying clarity, what it had felt like when he'd had a crush on Ivan, the way his breath caught at how handsome he was. Ivan had sometimes cut across Nolan on the ice, smirked over his shoulder and made Nolan's heart flutter. It had felt like a quick little jolt under his skin, like a gas stove flicking on. It had left him, like, maybe a little breathless and flushed sometimes, like he'd been doing bag skates. Travis, Nolan is horrified to realize, feels absolutely nothing like Ivan. Nolan looks at Travis, and feels a crawling sensation up the back of his neck. Feels like when, the first time he'd bottomed, his partner had kissed the base of his spine when he'd bent over. Feels like when he's getting changed and his under layer sticks to his cold sweat, dragging against the skin of his back gently. Nolan looks at Travis and feels something, big and horrifying, that he's never felt before in his life. Nolan stands there and stares, watches Travis shift his weight, tug gently at the petal of one of the flowers.
The flowers are all mismatched, roses and lilies and a bunch of things Nolan doesn't recognize, all shoved together. Nolan think Travis must have just gone into a florist shop and picked every single flower they had in that color.
The color yellow.
Light, pale yellow.
Just like Katie's little fucking mittens.
Nolan is busy trying to force himself to just fucking breath like a sane person, when Travis must finally feel someone staring at him and glances up. He doesn't smile at Nolan, probably couldn't if he wanted to, but he nods his head, and his posture seems to loosen. Nolan's feet feel like lead weights as he finally walks over.
"We're going to have to walk around a bit, I don't actually know where she is." Travis says, voice tight as he turns on his heel and walks through the gate.
"They didn't tell you?" Nolan asks, falling into step next to him.
"They didn't tell me shit." Travis scoffs. "I have a pretty good memory even when I don't mean to, or want to. Her funeral arrangements were laid out in her care plan, so, I just stalked the church's website."
"It's in Korean." Nolan says, not sure how to respond to the rest of that. Doesn't really elaborate on how he'd just admitted to having searched up the Han Shin Kwan church himself, done maybe a little bit of stalking of his own. Whatever.
"I just looked for a time when the church was closed for a funeral, and waited for after. I know she's here somewhere." Travis shrugs, looking around at the headstones. He doesn't linger too long on trying to read them. Nolan knows, they're just looking for a fresh grave.
"You didn't, uh, want to go?" Nolan asks, immediately realizes that it was a dumb fucking question. Way to put his god damn foot in it, seriously.
"Of course I wanted to fucking go. I wasn't invited." Travis says, sounding more wounded than pissed off. "I wasn't going to crash her funeral. Even though, honestly, Katie would have probably found that fucking hilarious."
"I'd have crashed it with you. Her parents would have loved that." Nolan says, squinting at a gravestone in the distance that looks particularly shiny. The ground seems undisturbed though, so it must just get polished regularly.
"Her parents fucking hated you, bud." Travis laughs, knocks the bouquet of yellow flowers gently against Nolan's hip.
"They didn't seem overly fond of you, either." Nolan says, reaching down and grabbing the bouquet before Travis can damage it. He realizes, a micro second too late, that it ends with him just sort of wrapping his fingers around Travis' hand. His first instinct is to jerk his hand away like he'd been burned, but he's pretty sure Travis will take it the wrong way if he does. Travis telling him that hockey players hadn't been very nice to him flashes through Nolan's head. He's promised himself, secretly, to always be as nice as he can to Travis. He's still him, though, so he's probably still going to be a bit of a bitch.
"Oh, no, her parents despised me. I called them on their bullshit, told them exactly how their actions were hurting their daughter." Travis says, and Nolan can feel his fingers tense around the flowers, skin flexing hot under Nolan's palm.
"Good." Nolan says, rubbing his thumb gently against the side of Travis' had before finally pulling away. His skin tingles where it had touched Travis, and he, like, totally does not think about it.
"Oh." Travis says, coming to a stop suddenly at Nolan's side.
Nolan doesn't have to ask, just follows Travis' gaze off to the side, where a fresh grave is marked with a shiny white stone that reads Park Kyung-Mi 2011-2021. Nolan doesn't ask if that's right, just follows Travis as he walks over to it. There is a picture embedded on the stone, above some Korean writing that Nolan can't read. The picture was clearly taken long before Nolan had met her, before she had become so visibly ill. She's smiling brightly, missing a couple of teeth. Still, obviously the little girl Nolan had played hockey with, what felt like much longer ago than it was.
"Hey there, Kitty Kat." Travis says, voice gentle like it had been when he was talking to Katie in person. "I brought you your favorite guy."
"Nah, I brought you your favorite guy." Nolan says, and watches Travis suck in a harsh breath at that. Travis shakes his head, and reaches down to set the flowers at the foot of the stone. His hand is trembling, and Nolan struggles not to reach out and curl their fingers together when he straightens up.
"I'm sorry I wasn't there for you, in the end." Travis says. Nolan thinks about telling him it's not his fault, but he realizes that it's not his place. Travis is talking to Katie, now, and Nolan needs to just let him. "I know I wasn't supposed to, but, god, I really loved you, Kat. You are honestly the most amazing person I've ever met. Fuck, you'd have been such a wonderful woman." Travis' voice breaks, and Nolan feels his eyes well with tears. He takes a step back, out of Travis' line of sight, and lets him have this moment. "I know you'd have been an incredible hockey player, shit. I finally looked up that lady you always talked about, Manon Rhéaume. Kat, baby, you'd have been better than her. You'd have played for the Flyers, like you wanted, I know it. First female on an NHL roster, that's what you always said. God, Kat, you deserved so much fucking better. You," Travis cuts of, voice finally cracking too much to keep talking. He just sniffs, rubbing at where tears have started to flow down his cheeks
"We'd have picked you." Nolan says, and Travis turns towards him. "I'll be captain by the time you'd have been draft eligible, and I'd have pushed for you."
"Oh, captain, huh?" Travis asks, laughing wetly as he wipes his eyes on the sleeve of his shirt.
"Yes, captain. Katie'd tell you, I've got it in the bag." Nolan lies, just to watch the way Travis' eyes crinkle around his tired smile.
"You'd have made quite the pair, you two." Travis says.
"First forward line; me, her and Simmer." Nolan says, stepping back up to rest his hand on the top of the stone. He doesn't know the etiquette of a Korean cemetery, but he remembers his grandma telling him that you had to touch someone's headstone, to share your warmth with them.
"She used to say she wanted to get to the NHL so she could fight that guy Malkin, just to prove she could." Travis says, and Nolan can't help but laugh.
"Do you have any idea who that is, Trav?" Nolan asks, not sure Travis really understands the gravity of Katie's statement.
"I'm assuming he's big." Travis shrugs, smiling even though his eyes are still wet.
"He's literally called the Russian Bully." Nolan tells him, crouching down so he's eye level with Katie's picture. "You could have totally kicked Malkin's ass, Katie."
Nolan lays on the couch later, while Kevin is making lunch, and tries his best not to think about the way Travis' hand felt under his.
Outgoing 1:14PM: I forgot to ask you something.
Travis 1:15PM: whats up bud?
Outgoing 1:16PM: You're a really incredible skater.
Travis 1:17PM: not a question lmao
Outgoing 1:17PM: Did you do figure skating?
Travis 1:20PM: for twelve years. started when i was six. did a couple competitions, got a few medals.
Outgoing 1:20PM: Holy shit, Travis, that's amazing.
Travis 1:21PM: yeah i used to be pretty good, lol.
Outgoing 1:22PM: You're still a really amazing skater.
Travis 1:23PM: hold on a sec
Travis 1:31PM: [link]
Travis 1:31PM: that's my performance at the last competition i did, the year i quit
Outgoing 1:42PM: Travis that's the fucking World Junior Figure Skating Championships.
Travis 1:42PM: yep
Outgoing 1:42PM: You won the fucking silver.
Travis 1:42PM: yep
Outgoing 1:43PM: Travis WTF. Why did you quit?
Outgoing 1:51PM: Sorry. That's none of my business.
Travis 1:52PM: don't worry about it
Travis 1:52PM: maybe one day i'll tell you :)
Nolan wonders if turning up at Claude Giroux's house uninvited is a pattern he should be worrying about. He might feel bad, if he didn't walk in to find Wayne and Jakub sitting at the kitchen island eating a horrifying looking plate of nachos. He hears two babies shrieking happily from the other room, which means that Matěj is here too, playing with Gavin.
"If you are here to give me any more bad news I am going to have to insist you wait until after we finish our lunch." Claude says, flopping onto his seat between the other two with a scowl.
"First of all, what you call lunch is fucking disgusting and definitely not on any of your meal plans," Nolan is cut off by Jakub saying something undoubtedly rude in Czech and throwing a chip at Nolan's face. "And second of all, it's not bad news. Not for you, anyway."
"Well, what is it, then, Patty?" Wayne asks, leaning back and raising his obnoxious eyebrows at Nolan in question.
"I'm pretty sure I'm falling in love with the Make A Wish nurse." Nolan says.
Wayne's eyes go big, Claude chokes on his chips, and Jakub actually, genuinely, jerks back so hard he overbalances his stool and falls over.
So, this is going to go well.
Chapter 10: the perfect time to open your sacral chakra
Nolan watches Carter do an overly complicated headstand with his legs twisted up like a pretzel, and just lets out a groan as he flops back onto his borrowed yoga mat. His goalie is, quite fucking literally, standing on his head right now. What the fuck. Carter was the obvious, and only, option when it came to learning yoga, but Nolan doesn't think even Carter's goalie magic could help him. He was, like, totally flexible, okay, all hockey players were. He was an athlete, he was just also a human being with joints, unlike Carter fucking Hart. Nolan just closes his eyes so he doesn't have to see whatever advanced Yogi shit Carter is doing, and lays on the floor like a sad sack. Nolan decides to just do his grounding exercises, since he's failing so spectacularly at yoga. He relaxes his body, makes himself take stock of his head first. Heavy, from restarting the Prednisone that Dr. Dorshimer had cleared him to start taking again after his meeting with Dr. Duffie. Nolan didn't like it, knew that some media person somewhere would probably find out and shout "steroids!" without looking at what the drug actually did. Probably fucking Carchidi, ugh. They helped, though, would help even more with the swelling in his neck when it inevitably became a problem again. Nolan focuses on his neck, now, feels the way it's tight up at the top, where Ivan liked to dig his thumb in when Nolan was having a bad day. That was the new normal, now, a tenseness in the soft tissue that Nolan was supposed to be using yoga to kink out. He moves on, feels his temples, which are normal, no pounding or pinching. He cracks his eyes open to look at Carter, who has moved on to a different, even more complicated pose. There is no fuzziness to his vision, no black spots, no swimming. He closes his eyes again, doesn't want to look at Carter's flexibility any more than he absolutely has to. Nolan feels his jaw, which still aches under the fading bruise. He pokes his tongue into his empty lower gums, which are only sore now when he tries to eat something too hard. His tongue was completely healed, and it feels normal in his mouth, no swelling or dryness. Nolan opens his jaw wide, feels it pull and hurt as he works it. The right side pops loudly when he rotates it, and it shoots pain through his remaining teeth. Nolan laughs out a breath through his nose, and closes his mouth. It's almost a comfort, sometimes, to have pain outside of the migraines. To know his body still exists outside of his disorder.
"You're supposed to be listening to the music." Carter says, voice suddenly right up against Nolan's face. Nolan jerks away, looks up to see Carter hovering over him, smiling down at him creepily.
"Were you just staring into my open mouth, dude?" Nolan asks, scooting away from Carter, as far as he can get without sliding off his little yoga mat and onto the hardwood.
"Fascinating stuff." Carter nods his head, sitting back and crossing his legs, fixing Nolan with a look that feels way too calculating for Nolan's liking.
"You're supposed to be teaching me, not just putting on ambient music and leaving me to suffer." Nolan tells him, pushing himself to a sitting position. He crosses his legs too, and Carter scooches forward happily across the floor until their knees touch.
"You need to follow along with what I'm doing, Nols." Carter says, gesturing to the TV where it's playing a calming soundscape. Nolan follows the gesture, looks at the little spring that is trickling on screen. It's been playing for like an hour, and Nolan hasn't noticed a loop if there is one.
"I couldn't do anything you were doing after like, the first two poses." Nolan tells him, watching the trickling stream and not acknowledging the way Carter has started poking at Nolan's thighs. It's like he's looking for something, pulling at Nolan's skin and pushing into the muscle. It's weird, but it's Carter, so Nolan just lets him do it.
"You don't have to do exactly what I do, you just have to try and match it as best you can." Carter shrugs, digging his thumb into the muscle under Nolan's heart tattoo, rubbing in a circle. "I warned you I might not be a very good teacher."
Carter had warned him of that, when Nolan first asked. There was just nobody else Nolan trusted enough, to go to them and tell them how bad his shit was, how careful he needed to be. Claude knew everything, of course, and obviously the coaching staff and trainers knew. Other than that, the team just thought he was having his same old migraine issues. Carter knew about the spinal tissue because Nolan needed his help, and because Nolan wanted to feel, like, at least a tiny bit less alone in all of this. Carter was a good person, a good friend, and he'd agreed to help Nolan even though he hated doing yoga with other people around, and especially hated having to try and teach anybody something. Carter's general approach to things was, "well, if you don't know how to do that on your own, then that sucks for you." He was making an exception for Nolan, and it made Nolan feel something heavy in his chest. The same thing he felt when Ryanne came with his to doctor's appointments, or Claude smiled at him in that one particular way, or when Wayne puffed up his chest and glared because someone made a comment about Nolan that he didn't like. Nolan realizes, a little appalled, that this might be what it's like to feel protected. Nolan just sits there, letting Carter push and prod at the skin of his thighs, and wonders about the ratio in his life of fucked up shit, and people who take care of him through fucked up shit. If he really thinks about it, it's a little disproportional, a little too heavy on the people who would go to bat for Nolan. Who do go to bat for Nolan, every single day. The team, holding him together through his injuries and medical problems. The guys who he's out to, who love him anyway, and who make sure he knows he's safe and supported.
Well, most of them at least.
Nolan glances over at the ridiculous poster of Jakub that Carter has never taken down, despite how this is his home now. Nolan doesn't really want to think about last night, about Jakub picking himself off the floor while Claude and Wayne laughed, refusing to meet Nolan's eye as he brushed invisible dust off his pants. Wayne had shouted something about "that guy was a rocket, so out of your league, dude" and Jakub had actually flinched. Nolan had just stood there, watched helplessly as Jakub left the room, going into the living room where his son was. He'd kept half his attention on the chirps Wayne and Claude were throwing his way, and half on trying in vain to listen to what Jakub was saying to Ryanne in the next room. Wayne had eventually stood up and pulled Nolan into a hug, asked him if he needed a wingman, and Nolan had been so appalled at the idea of Wayne Simmonds hitting on Travis for Nolan, that he'd let Jakub slip to the back of his mind. Nolan had pointedly asked Claude, who he actually trusted to give him an answer, how he should handle things with Travis, and blatantly ignored any suggestion Wayne threw out. He'd only seen Jakub for a second after that, when he'd walked through the room with Matěj in his arms and didn't even glance in Nolan's direction. Nolan doesn't know how he feels about Jakub's reaction to finding out Nolan likes men, because he hasn't really let himself fully process it yet. Although, maybe, if Nolan was being a little honest, he could have picked a better time and place to let the cat out of the bag. Maybe actually told Jakub that he's gay, instead of just lumping him in when telling Wayne and Claude about Travis.
"Hartsy." Nolan says, tearing his eyes away from Jakub's poster, and looking at his goalie.
"Hm?" Carter doesn't look up from whatever he was doing with Nolan's legs, just clamped his tongue between his teeth and scowled down at the tattoos on Nolan's thighs like he was handling a puzzle box. Like, if he pushed just the right way, Nolan would spring open.
"I want to tell you something." Nolan says, leaning back on his arms, wanting to put some distance between their faces.
"About your head?" Carter asks, digging his finger into a spot just below the hem on Nolan's shorts that sends a weird buzz down his leg, like Carter had pinched a nerve. Maybe that's what he was trying to do, now that Nolan thinks about it.
"No, just about my general self." Nolan swallows around the lump in his throat, watches Carter's hands work with more purpose now that he's apparently found what he's looking for. He pushes against the inside of Nolan's leg with his knuckles, and Nolan's leg twitches, his knees jumping where they're still pressed against Carter's. It feels strange, but also really good, almost like when Nolan uses a Tens unit on his abs.
"Okay. I'm opening your root chakra." Carter says, like that is supposed to make any god damn sense, and pulls at the skin of Nolan's leg like he's trying to exfoliate him with bare hands. Nolan's skin goes white under the pressure, then quickly red when Carter lets go. He repeats the process, blood flowing in and out of Nolan's skin as his muscles and nerves jump around under Carter's touch.
"Is that a good thing?" Nolan asks, and Carter just hums, clamping his teeth around his tongue again. "Right. Well, uh, okay." Nolan pauses, wonders for a second if the right moment for this conversation is really when Carter has his talented hands shoved up under the hem of Nolan's admittedly short shorts. He'll probably just chicken out if he waits though, so he pushes on. "Hartsy, look at me."
"I am looking at you." Carter says, staring very pointedly at Nolan's legs.
"Look at my face, just for a second." Nolan tells him, forcing himself to look up too, to look at Carter's face.
"Okay." Carter grumbles, flicking his gaze up like it's a very troublesome action.
"I'm gay." Nolan says, the second their eyes meet.
Carter's eyes go a little wide, but his hands don't miss a beat where they're working on Nolan's legs.
Nolan just looks at him.
Carter just looks back.
Staring, now, really.
He can feel Carter thinking
"Kevin?" is what Carter finally says, after a way-too-long pause.
"What?" Nolan scowls, legs twitching when Carter pushes against those nerves again.
"You and Kevin?" Carter asks, tilting his head, still staring into Nolan's eyes.
"No, gross, what the fuck, Hartsy?" Nolan sputters. "You literally watched him go home with a girl last week!"
"That doesn't mean anything." Carter shrugs. "Is there someone, though?"
"Uh, not really." Nolan says, wincing as his leg jerks particularly hard against his will, knocking his knee hard into Carter's.
"So, that's a yes." Carter smirks.
"No." Nolan says, glaring as Carter's smug expression just deepens.
"So, that's a no, but you want there to be." Carter laughs. "Oh, who is it?"
"Shut up, Hartsy." Nolan grumbles.
"Is it Provy?" Carter asks, because he's more perceptive than the rest of the chuckle-fucks he calls a team, apparently.
"Not anymore, not since Brandon." Nolan shrugs, sees no reason to be dishonest with Carter when he's being, once again, a really fucking good friend.
"That's so cute." Carter laughs. "Okay, now lay down, now is the perfect time to open your sacral chakra."
Carter doesn't wait for Nolan to respond, just shoves him onto his back, and sticks his hands even further up Nolan's shorts.
Well, at least Nolan doesn't have to wonder if Carter is comfortable with being physically affectionate with a gay man.
Really, very affectionate.
t.kon: you trying to follow me again?!
npatrick19: I gotta find out what kind of furry art you're into.
t.kon: shut UP
npatrick19: Or is it suits? You a fursuiter, Travis?
t.kon : NO
npatrick19: I'm going to just assume you really are a furry unless you prove me wrong.
t.kon: maybe i don't want a famous hockey player following my private insta, bud
npatrick19: Aw. You think I'm famous?
t.kon: you have a wikipedia page!
npatrick19: You have a silver medal!
t.kon: oh my goooooood. whatever. you can follow me but if even ONE of your shitty little fans tries to talk to me i'm blocking you forever.
npatrick19: They ARE kind of shitty.
npatrick19: Oh, hey there.
Travis makes himself scroll all the way to the first post on his Instagram page, and tells himself he has nothing to panic about. The video from two weeks ago that his friend took of him landing a double salchow is actually pretty impressive, so he doesn't mind Patrick seeing it. The post right before that, though, of Travis doing a shot from between a drag queens' chest plate makes him flush. Travis isn't embarrassed about his sexuality, he's just very protective of it. So far Patrick hasn't done anything to make him think he's gonna try and knock Travis' teeth out for being gay, but that doesn't mean he won't decide not to be Travis' friend over it. Travis actually panics and deletes a picture from last year, one where he was standing naked with his back to the camera, his friend Lawson crouching next to him with his hands on Travis' ass. It was a picture Travis almost hadn't posted in the first place, a little shy about being buck ass nude on the internet. Anybody who looked at that picture could probably tell that he and Lawson had fucked, like, ten minutes after the picture was taken. That's not really the kind of image of himself he wants in Patrick's brain. Also the fact that, unlike Travis, Lawson had never given up figure skating, and had a Wikipedia page of his own after making it to the actual Olympics. He doesn't know if Patrick has ever been to the Olympics, but if he had, that would mean Laws was technically his teammate on Team Canada. Uck.
Travis looks at a hundred pictures of his own god damn face, and wonders what the hell he's thinking, trying to be friends with a hockey player.
Nolan is talking to Wayne, is looking, like, directly at the man's face, when he feels someone else's fingers start tugging at his skate laces. So, obviously, he knows it's not Wayne. It's not Ivan, either, because he'd already fucked off home practically before everybody else even got a chance to get off the ice after practice. It's not Claude, because no matter what kind of friend he was, he was not the kind of captain to get on his knees and help someone out of their boots. Kevin is being boisterous by the showers, shouting obnoxiously about trying to convince Dave to let him use a hair mask on the Gritty suit, so it's not him either. That narrows the list down to one person who would deem it necessary to start undoing Nolan's skates for him, and Nolan doesn't really want to look at him right now.
Not after the shitty practice they'd just had.
Not after the last two days of silence and discomfort.
Certainly not after the word "zbabělec" had been hissed at him earlier on the ice. Nolan didn't necessarily know what that word meant, but he'd only ever heard it used against opposing teams in the middle of scrums. So, it's probably not, like, an endearment.
Nolan just leans back in his stall, closes his eyes, and lets Jakub take off his skates. He's slow about it, unnecessarily meticulous. It's obviously a stalling tactic, and Nolan just sighs to himself, listens to the rest of the team heading out one by one while Jakub takes ten years to undo a single foot. Nolan isn't surprised, had expected Jakub to try and get him alone after the truly disastrous way their line had just played out there. Jakub was Nolan's right wing, they had to mesh together. They were second god damn line, for fuck's sake, they had to play well. There wasn't any way they could afford to let themselves fold, the first fucking game of their series against the Islanders. They needed to play like themselves tonight, needed to play the way he and Jakub had played against the Penguins, the night Nolan nearly got a hat trick and Jakub had finished with a five point game.
"You coming, baby cat?" Kevin calls out to him from the doorway.
"I'll drive him." Jakub calls back, and Nolan can feel Kevin raising his eyebrows in shock. Jakub has literally never given anybody a ride home in Nolan's entire career in Philly.
"See you at home, big cat." Nolan grumbles, knowing that he probably won't see him before it's time for them to leave for the game, that Kevin will probably be halfway into his pre-game nap by the time Nolan gets there.
"Alrighty, then. Bye bitches!" Kevin calls. Nolan waits until his and Wayne's voices disappear down the hallway, until he knows that he and Jakub are alone, before he opens his eyes.
Jakub is just sitting on the floor at his feet, one of Nolan's skates cradled in his hand.
"Okay, so I'll start, I guess." Nolan sighs. "You don't like that I'm gay."
"I don't know." Jakub says, turning the skate over in his hand in a way that makes Nolan worry for the safety of his fingers.
"Fuck you mean you don't know?" Nolan scoffs.
"I have no idea how to think. It's just, not something I ever thought about before." Jakub shrugs.
"Me being gay?" Nolan reaches out and snatches the skate from Jakub's hand before he can slice himself open on it.
"Any of the team being gay." Jakub sighs. "It just, changes what I thought I knew about you."
"Oh, fuck off with that bullshit." Nolan hisses, dropping his skate into his stall so carelessly that he's pretty sure the equipment managers would have shouted at him if they'd seen it.
"It's just strange, to me, Patty." Jakub tells him.
"Jesus christ, okay. Here, tell me, Kevin has a type, right? What's his type?" Nolan asks, reaching out and kicking Jakub in the shin pad with his socked foot.
"Redheads." Jakub flinches away from Nolan's foot, and Nolan just kicks him again. If Jakub is going to flinch when Nolan touches him now, then they really might have a problem.
"Right. And if he came to you tomorrow, and told you he had feelings for a black woman, would you throw a fucking temper tantrum about him being with her?"
"I am not a fucking racist." Jakub hisses.
"But you are a homophobe?" Nolan scoffs, reaching out to kick Jakub again, a little more heat behind it this time.
"That's not the same fucking situation." Jakub says, slapping Nolan's foot away.
"We all know Kevin's type, we'd all be surprised if he switched it up. Fine. You thought you knew my type, but you didn't. It's that fucking simple, Jake." Nolan tells him, planting his feet on the floor and leaning forward so he's looming a bit over Jakub. "Get over yourself."
"Jdi do prdele." Jakub snaps, pushing himself to his feet suddenly. "I'm not trying to be the homophobe here, Patty. I'm just trying to reconcile this."
"Okay, well then listen to me." Nolan stands, his chest bumping into Jakub's. They're the same height, but Jakub has width on Nolan, and more than a few pounds. "I'm telling you, that it doesn't fucking change anything. I've been gay the entire time you've known me, nothing is fucking different about me, you're just being an asshole."
"How the fuck do you think nothing is changed?" Jakub shouts, flings his arms out to the side, gesturing to the room at large. "Jesus fucking christ Patty, the things you let them say about you!"
"Let them?" Nolan shoves Jakub then, pushing him out of his space. Jakub stumbles, trips a little over Nolan's other skate that he'd left on the ground. Jakub looks surprised. Which is, like, completely fucking fair. Nolan is surprised he just did that. Shit.
"The way they talk, the words they use, you do know they mean you?" Jakub growls, suddenly looking far angrier than Nolan had been anticipating when he'd shoved him. Oops. Nolan wonders if he should be prepared for a fist fight.
"We're a fucking hockey team." Nolan says, rolling his eyes in the face of Jakub's anger. "I've been hearing that shit my entire life, you think I'm having a mental breakdown every time Beezer gets pissed off and calls Marchand a faggot? For fuck's sake, Jake, I've said shit like that in the heat of the moment. They're not saying it to me, not saying it to hurt me."
"And if they got around Simmer and called someone else a," Jakub, thankfully, cuts himself off before finishing that sentence. If he hadn't, well, then they would definitely have a fist fight.
"Then Simmer would be perfectly capable of handling it himself. And Jake, I know you don't get this because you're white and straight, but there will always be a difference between someone being careless and throwing around a word they don't think about, and someone actively choosing to use a slur against a person they know it's made to demean." Nolan shrugs, trying to force himself to calm down, in the hopes that Jakub will calm down too.
"Fuck, Patty. The shit I've said about you, not even knowing it was about you." Jakub laughs, empty and bitter. "How can we just be friends, after that shit?"
Nolan gets it, suddenly. The anger from Jakub. It's guilt.
"Would you actually fucking listen to me, Jake?" Nolan waits for Jakub to meet his eyes. "Just you acknowledging that the shit you've said is fucked up is good enough for me. Jake, we all say shit. I literally called Crosby a cocksucker, to his face, like three days ago. I just need you to understand, that nothing about me is different just because you know now. Do you see Kevin and Vanya treating me any differently just because they know I like dick? No, so you shouldn't either. Do you hate me?"
"What?" Jakub asks, looking truly lost at the question.
"Do you hate me, now that you know I'm gay?" Nolan asks.
"I don't hate you, little one." Jakub sighs.
"Do you want me off the team? Out of your locker room?" Nolan asks, reaching out and touching Jakub's chest, to drive his meaning home.
"Jesus. No." Jakub doesn't flinch away from his touch this time, at least.
"Do you think you can get your head out of you ass long enough for us to beat the Islanders tonight, even with a gay man centering your line?" Nolan asks.
"Yes." Jakub says, scowling.
"Then that's it. That's all that matters." Nolan smacks Jakub's chest, a little harder than friendly. "I don't need you to like the fact that I'm gay, I just need you to play good hockey."
"I don't want to not like it, Patty. I think I just need to get used to it." Jakub shrugs, taking a step back, out of fighting distance.
"Well you better get used to it pretty damn quick." Nolan says. "Hartsy activated like four of my chakra yesterday, shit's about to get wild."
Outgoing 1:15PM: Does Simone have to work tonight?
Travis 1:16PM: she works whenever she wants bud, she's the boss
Travis 1:17PM: why??????
Outgoing 1:17PM: We open our series against the Islanders tonight, you think she'd like tickets? I know it's last minute.
Travis 1:18PM: BRO
Travis 1:19PM: bro if i score her tickets she will literally never be able to fire me
Travis 1:20PM: you really about to bag me employee of the month!!! dude!!!!!!!!
Travis 1:21PM: gimme gimme gimme!
Outgoing 1:22PM: LOL. Employee of the month a big deal, eh?
Travis 1:23PM: you get a 50 dollar gift card to dunkin!!
Outgoing 1:24PM: Well if THAT'S whats on the line.
Outgoing 1:24PM: Tell her the ticket office will have two tickets under her name. Puck drops at 4.
Travis 1:29PM: you're the best!!!!!!
Nolan is fucking around with Nic during warm-ups, taking turns stealing the puck from each other, when Wayne skates up next to him, showering their skates in snow. Nolan looks up to glare at him, and Nic swipes the puck from him and rushes the net for a shot. Nolan doesn't even have time to feel annoyed about it, since Carter just gloves it down without even looking at it.
"I know Claude told you to take it slow, this doesn't seem slow." Wayne says, grinning maniacally.
"What are you talking about?" Nolan asks, scooping up some snow with the tip of his stick and tossing it at Wayne.
"That's fast as hell, my man." Wayne laughs, slapping Nolan's hip with his stick, using his free hand to gesture to the stands.
Nolan looks where he pointed, to the seats right behind the net Varlamov is in. He sees Simone, right where he knew she'd be sitting. She has a 28 sweater on, is staring wide eyed off towards center ice where Claude is stretching way deeper than necessary. Nolan almost laughs, at the shocked expression on her face, like she can't believe she's actually here. It takes Nolan a distressingly long second to realize she isn't what Wayne is talking about.
He's not even wearing orange, is in a solid black hoodie that he has pulled tight around his neck, and his posture makes it clear that he'd rather be anywhere else in the world, but he's here, slumped in his seat next to Simone.
Travis is here.
Maddie 4:14PM: Look at you go baby bro!
Maddie 4:29PM: That goal was FILTHY! Fuck yes! Big ups to the Beeeezeerrrr 😘😘😘😘😘😘
Maddie 5:02PM: Do NOT tell him I said this but that beard honestly wooooooorks for Provy.
Maddie 5:03PM: Lan! Don't hit your friends! Tell Mat your sorry!
Maddie 5:05PM: Joel Motherfuking Farabee! The one and only Flyer!
Maddie 5:36PM: Lmfao did you just trip on your own feet?
Maddie 5:55PM: Carter! Fucking! Hart!
Maddie 6:00PM: There is this little game, it's called ice hockey, you ever heard of it?
Maddie 6:10PM: You tripped on AIR! Again!
Maddie 6:12PM: G G G G BABY BABYYYYYYYYY
Maddie 6:25PM: Is Carter about to get a shutout??!?! Our little baby!
Maddie 6:36PM: We poppin' the BIGGEST BOTTLES!!!!!!
When someone grabs his arm and says his name, his first instinct is to just fucking punch them. He's pretty glad he doesn't follow through with that, though, when he looks up to see some guy with a lanyard badge, declaring him as a member of the Flyers' staff. The guy talks at him, gesturing to him and Simone, and Travis is so busy trying to astral project himself out of the Wells Fargo Center that he doesn't even realize what is happening until he's being physically dragged by Simone, into the depths of the arena. He passes way too close to the horrific mascot on the way into a tunnel, and he's pretty sure he hears someone muttering to themselves in Spanish from inside the suit, which somehow makes the whole vibe even more demonic.
"Holy shit, holy fucking shit." Simone is saying, mostly under her breath, as she speed walks after the staff guy.
Travis is a second away from trying to duck out of a side door when his phone buzzes in his pocket.
Patrick 🏒 7:06PM : I'm sending a runner to bring you guys to the player lounge so Simone can meet the guys.
Patrick 🏒 7:06PM : If that's okay?
Outgoing 7:07PM : too late bud we've already been kidnapped
Patrick 🏒 7:08PM: Oh, cool. I'll see you in a minute then.
Only, Patrick isn't in the room when they get there. The big guy, the Wayne Train, who Travis had met during Katie's MAW day is there, smirking at something on his phone, along with some other guys Travis doesn't recognize without their names written across their backs. Simone had threatened bodily harm to get him to even come to the game, being stuck in a room full of hockey bros he didn't know wasn't part of the deal. Travis is straight up not having a good time, right now.
"Putain de merde." Simone says, as soon as they step into the room. Whatever she just said makes one of the guys look up and laugh.
"Ravi de vous connaître." the guy says, standing up and coming towards them.
"Sean Couturier." Simone squeaks, which makes him laugh even harder, as he reaches out to shake Simone's hand. Travis thinks she looks like she's about to faint when he touches her.
"Oui-da." the guy, Sean, says, and then him and Simone are chatting away in French like they're best fucking friends.
Travis starts scooting away, wondering if he can just slip out without anybody noticing. He will have to just walk home, since Simone drove them, but he doesn't even care right now. He's hoping against all odds that this whole night has actually just been some wretched nightmare that he's about to wake up from any second. A month of free Dunkin' is so totally not worth all of this.
Nolan is very much not running, shut the fuck up Kevin, but he might rush a little tiny bit on his way to the lounge. Nolan had spent the entire game distracted as fuck by Travis presence. He'd played like shit, a little. Enough that Claude had reprimanded him on the bench, told him to get his head out of his ass. At one point, playing desperate and pissy, Nolan had slammed Barzal into the glass directly in front of Travis, and made the mistake of looking up and meeting his eyes. Travis had looked annoyed, and just a little sleepy. He'd just raised his eyebrows at Nolan, giving him a look that was so utterly unimpressed that Nolan had felt like he was back in pee-wee. Nolan had spent the remainder of that period playing mean, to the point that even Morin told him to chill out. Nolan had probably just played his worst hockey of the season, all because he was flustered.
Nolan almost skids to a halt, when he finally makes it into the player lounge. He's just in time to see Claude shaking Simone's hand while the rest of the assembled guys laugh hysterically.
"I'm sorry, holy shit, can you please say his name again?" Scott is actually clutching his stomach, leaning against Joel as they both chuckle in delight.
"Uh, Giroux?" Simone says, tentative, hand still clenched tightly around Claude's.
"What's so funny? She's from France, she actually says the name correctly." Claude chastises the guys, shifting his hand around so that he and Simone are doing some weird thing that looks like they're about to arm wrestle.
"Yeah, exactly. Your name is pronounced like Zero, and I never even knew." Joel giggles.
"It is not!" Claude says, red tinting the tips of his ears suddenly. It actually is, when Nolan thinks about the way Simone just said it, in her thick French accent. Nolan will absolutely be chirping him about it later.
"There you are, you fucker." Travis is there, suddenly, right at Nolan's side. He's standing too close like he likes to do, looking up at Nolan. He looks ruffled, pissy, and like the most incredible thing Nolan's ever seen. His little lizard brain is latching onto the idea that, like, it could totally get used to coming off the ice and finding Travis there, waiting for him. Nolan takes a second, just looks at him, at his angry little face, and feels his heart swell up in his chest. The guys around them pick up volume, arguing about the differences between Quebecois and actual French and whether or not Simone should apply to be a sports commentator.
"Hey, Trav." Nolan says.
"Seriously, Patrick, I'm going to loose my entire god damn mind if I have to hear someone say the words defense or goal one more fucking time." Travis huffs.
"I'm sorry, I really didn't think you were going to come." Nolan says, smiling down at Travis because he just can't help it.
"Neither did I, bud. I was hoodwinked." Travis says, which makes Nolan choke out a laugh. "Whatever, asshole. I was hoping I'd at least get to see Gavin, here. That little man is seriously adorable."
"Oh, sorry. Ryanne doesn't come to the bigger games, they overwhelm Gav, a little bit, still. Gotta wait 'till he's older to really get him on his cheerleading grind." Nolan says.
"Does he at least have a jersey to match his dad?" Travis asks, beaming a cheesy smile up at Nolan.
"Oh, are you kidding? He has like ten, Ryanne cleared out the team shop's baby section ages ago." Nolan laughs.
"Fucking cute. You gotta send me a picture." Travis says, just as someone across the room shouts something in French that gets half the guys laughing loudly. "Okay, seriously, though, take me somewhere I can smoke a cigarette before I commit a whole ass felony in this room."
Nolan is trying to think of a socially acceptable way to tell Travis that he can't go with him to smoke without literally risking his health and wellness and entire career, when somebody grabs his elbow gently. Nolan turns to see Jakub, who is looking at him in a way that's both amused and extremely guarded. Right. Nolan had almost forgotten, for like half a second, that there were people in this room who absolutely knew about his feelings for Travis. Jakub being the most concerning of those people. Nolan had warned him, with some very specific physical threats, to watch what he says around Travis. Being a dick about Nolan's sexuality was bad enough, but if he so much as thought some stupid shit to Travis, Nolan might actually kill him, at least a little bit. Nolan can see Jakub steeling himself to say something, and holds his breath for it.
"This is your friend?" is what he eventually asks, eyes flicking between Travis and Nolan.
"Yeah. Travis, this is Jake Voráček." Nolan feels Jakub's hand clench around his elbow, in a strange moment of déjà vu, as he introduces them.
"Jak se máš, Voráček?" Travis says, stepping around Nolan and offering Jakub his hand.
"Jsem potěšený!" Jakub softens, suddenly, letting go of Nolan's arm to shake Travis' hand roughly. "You didn't tell me he was Czech, Patty."
"He's Canadian!" Nolan says, which makes Travis laugh.
"I'm a Konecny, bud. My dad's from the Czech Republic, his whole family still live in Prague, I used to spend my summers there." Travis tells him, smirking a little.
"Jsem z Kladno." Jakub says.
"Oh, I've been there!" Travis laughs. Then he says something else in Czech, and Nolan feels horrifically out of his depth.
Simmer 9:14PM: even jake liked the boy!
Simmer 9:15PM: congrats man he's team approved.
Outgoing 9:17PM: Jake only likes him because they can talk shit and nobody else knows what they're saying.
Simmer 9:19PM: idc! get you some of that figure skater ass, baby boy!
Outgoing 9:19PM: Doesn't matter whether you guys like him, anyway.
Simmer 9:20PM: ??????
Outgoing 9:21PM: I don't have a chance in hell, dude.
zbabělec (Czech) - coward
jdi do prdele (Czech) - fuck you
putain de merde (French) - fucking hell
ravi de vous connaître (French) - nice to meet you
oui-da (French) - indeed
jak se máš (Czech)- how are you
jsem potěšený (Czech) - I'm pleased
jsem z Kladno (Czech) -I'm from Kladno
Chapter 12: we'll win without him
Travis is sitting on the floor behind his desk, papers strewn all around him, giant patient chart binder in his lap, highlighter in his mouth and sharpie hooked into his pocket while he juggled two colored pens in one hand. He's supposed to be doing a chart audit, but mostly he's just staring blankly at yet another outdated physician fax that should have been archived in 2016 and wondering how this facility had functioned as long as it did, before him. He's only on the third patient chart out of the full twenty they have, and he's been at it for six whole hours. He is absolutely on the verge of a breakdown, when his phone starts ringing where it's sitting on the floor next to him.
Incoming video call, Patrick 🏒
Oh, huh. Travis sits up straighter, spits the highlighter onto his lap, and gapes at the screen for a second. He knows, logically, that this whole friends with a hockey player thing is all his own fault. He started it, by sending those DM's, by making that horrific video call. Patrick just had to go and not be a complete piece of shit about all of it, and throw Travis for a loop. Travis had intended to hate Nolan Patrick, but the guy was making it really hard. He'd promised himself like ten times now that he was going to just avoid Patrick, but then shit just kept happening. Little things, like the messages, and Simone making him watch the games. Then he hadn't wanted to go to visit Katie's grave by himself, and, well, Patrick had kind of been his only option. Then everything just kind of backslid from there, and now here Travis is, hitting accept on a video call from Nolan fucking Patrick, despite his best judgment.
"Patrick, hey man." Travis answers, sighing loudly. "You're just in time to help me shirk my responsibility on company time."
"Hey, Trav." Patrick smiles, and then immediately tilts the camera down to show his lap. "Check it out, thought you'd like to see."
"Oh my god." Travis beams, looking at where Gavin is perched in Patrick's lap, wearing not only a little Flyers jersey, but also a tiny little Flyers hat with a gigantic pom-pom, and little orange booties. Patrick has got his big hand wrapped securely around his son's little tummy, holding him close while Gavin looks wide eyed at the phone, and it is, without a doubt, the cutest thing Travis has ever seen. Oh, man, does that fuck with his heart.
"Ryanne got him all dressed up just to come visit us at practice, today." Patrick laughs, pulling the phone further away when Gavin makes a grab for it. Travis can see most of Patrick now, from his eyebrows down. He's still dressed in hockey gear, jersey off but pads still on, base layer clinging to his ridiculous body. He's sweaty and flushed, and Travis can tell that he's sitting in the locker room. Travis can make out voices in the background, but they're quiet, distant, like Patrick had waited for most of the team to clear out before calling Travis. He doesn't know why that thought makes his heart sink into his stomach. Patrick is just smiling at the phone, clearly watching Travis' reaction, waiting for him to say something.
"Hey there, little man. Remember me?" Travis asks Gavin, even though he knows there is no way this baby remembers the five seconds he spent in Travis' presence, however long ago.
"Say hi to Trav, buddy." Patrick prompts, bouncing his leg a little. Gavin just giggles, leaning into the bounces and grasping uselessly for the phone. Travis' heart hurts, a little bit, watching Patrick and his son be so fucking adorable.
"Did you get to see your dad practice?" Travis coos, and gets himself an excited shriek in response. "He's so cute, bud, what the fu-uh, heck." Travis stumbles over his words, a bit.
"You can say fuck in front of him, dude." Patrick chuckles.
"No, you can't! Any word but that one, you know the rules." comes a voice from off camera. Patrick's cheek flare pink, and he turns to scowl.
"He doesn't even know what we're saying." Patrick grumbles.
"He knows a lot more than you think, Nolan." Ryanne comes into frame then, leaning over Patrick's shoulder to squint at the phone. Her hair falls over Patrick's chest, and Gavin reaches up immediately to try and grab at it.
"Hey, nice job on the outfit, he looks super cute." Travis tells her, which nets him a smile.
"Hey, thanks. Travis, right? I think we've met before." Ryanne says, reaching up to push her hair out of Gavin's grasp. Travis catches a glimpse of her ring then, which he hadn't noticed last time, and his eyes threaten to bug out of his head. Marrying an NHL player has its perks, he guesses.
"Yeah, nice to see you again. You have genuinely the most adorable son in the world." Travis tells them, looking away from Ryanne and focusing back on Gavin, who has taken to chewing on Patrick's fingers for entertainment.
"Oh, obviously. Of course, everyone on the team insists their baby is the cutest Flyers baby." Ryanne laughs, reaching down blindly to pry Patrick's fingers away from Gavin's mouth.
"Well they're all wrong, because it's Gavin, for sure." Patrick says, smiling fondly down at the baby in his lap. "He does look pretty damn cute in his little 'fit."
"Did you show Travis the back?" Ryanne asks, tilting her head to look at Patrick, her hair falling forward again, nearly ending up in Gavin's clutches as he darts his little hands out for it.
"Oh, no, hold on." Nolan hands the phone to Ryanne, who takes it and holds it out so Patrick can wrap both his hands around Gavin, lifting him up under his armpits gently. "Look at this, isn't this the cutest?" Patrick spins Gavin around, so his back is to the camera. Travis was expecting it to read PATRICK, 19, but instead it says GAVIN, 1. His own custom little jersey, that's outrageously precious.
"Damn, Patrick, that's awesome." Travis says, watching as Gavin kicks his little feet, stomping on his dad's leg in a way that has to be at least a little bit uncomfortable, but Patrick just lets him do it.
"Right?" Patrick sets Gavin back down on his lap, and there is some jostling of the camera as Ryanne passes the phone back. When it settles, he's looking mostly at Patrick's terribly symmetrical face, just the top of Gavin's little pom-pommed head in the frame.
"I brought you some of that weird pomegranate tea Claude got you, by the way. You want it?" Ryanne asks Patrick, voice coming from way off camera now.
"Oh, god yes, thanks." Patrick groans, tipping his head in her direction. Ryanne says something else then, but she's too far away for Travis to make out. Travis just watches the way Patrick smiles at her, and tries not to think too much about how nice it must be, to be smiled at by someone who just genuinely loves you. Travis doesn't have any other friends who are married, hasn't really spent a lot of time around happy couples. It looks nice, and Travis ignores the lump in his throat when Patrick turns back to the camera, and his smile changes.
"Do you guys have a game, tonight?" Travis asks.
"Tomorrow. Back-to-backs in the playoffs would murder even the best team." Patrick shrugs.
"Are you guys not the best team?" Travis teases, and watches Patrick scowl and laugh at the same time. It's actually kind of impressive, that his face can pull that off.
"I guess we'll find out, eh?" Patrick says.
"Babe, come help me with these bags!" Ryanne calls out, loud enough for Travis to hear clearly. Patrick just keeps smiling at his phone screen, clearly ignoring her. "Babe!" she calls again, and then someone else shouts something in French, but Patrick just keeps ignoring her.
"Sounds like she," Travis starts, but he gets cut off by the sound of the emergency alarm blaring through his office. It's so loud, it makes even Patrick jump.
"What the fuck is that?" Patrick asks, as Travis springs to his feet.
"Gotta go!" Travis tells him. He doesn't even take the time to actually end the call, just shoves his phone into his back pocket as he slams his body into the unit door at a sprint. Jak shouts down the radio for the receptionist to call for emergency transport, and all Travis can think is, well, it's better than chart audits.
Unfortunately, the charts are still sitting right where Travis left them, when he gets back to his office an hour later. Travis glances at his watch, head a little fuzzy when he realizes he's been at work for eleven hours, now. The last hour of which he'd spent covered in blood and frustrated. It's almost five at night, and Travis can hear the kitchen carts rattling around as they get ready to serve dinner, which makes him realize suddenly that he's starving. He collapses into his desk chair, drops his head into his hands, and lets out a pathetic little whine that he's very glad nobody is around to hear. It's a little cold in his office, now that Travis is just in his under-scrubs. He's annoyed as hell that he had to bag his scrub top, it had been one of his favorites, hot pink and covered in little cartoon raccoons making cute faces. One of the best parts of this job over working for Vista Hospice, was honestly the lack of uniform. He could wear whatever funny scrubs he wanted, and nobody was gonna write him up for a dress code violation. Now, though, he's just got his boring gray under-scrub, which is wet from him being hosed off in the shower room, and too thin to keep him warm anyway. At least he had it better than Jak, though, who'd had blood on both of her shirts and her pants, and had to stand in her conservative full length underwear in the shower room while Travis laughed at her for how knobby her legs were in her compression leggings. Jak had told Travis that he wasn't supposed to be looking at her anyway, and that looking at her in her underthings meant they had to get married now. She hadn't kept a straight face about it, though, so Travis figured he was off the hook. They were both just glad no blood had gotten on her hijab, that she hadn't had to try and craft a makeshift one from the vinyl pillowcases they used for bedridden patients. Simone had come and splashed them both with rubbing alcohol, checked for open wounds that might have been contaminated, and then joined in laughing at Jak's skinny little legs while she stood petulant under the disinfectant spray. Now Jak's out there in a too big under-scrub that Travis kept in his car for times just like this, and a pair of ugly yellow pajama pants they'd dug up from the bin of deceased patient's clothing they kept for spares. Travis think it's hilarious, and Jak thinks that Travis is an asshole.
Travis pointedly ignores Simone when she comes into the office and slumps into her own chair, and she is kind enough to just leave him alone. Travis digs his phone out of his pants pocket, and unlocks it after three tries to get the fingerprint sensor to recognize his chapped fingertip. It opens to his recent calls page, and he has to double take when he sees that his video call with Patrick had apparently lasted almost an hour. He knows their conversation about Gavin's little outfit hadn't lasted nearly that long. Which means that, for some reason, Patrick had left the line open, looked at the inside of Travis' pocket, and had sat around to listen to Travis tend to room 12 after she fell and cracked her head open. Listened to him try and keep her calm, while he and Jak sat on the floor and let her gush blood all over them. Listened to him shout at one of the caregivers when she brought him the wrong thing from his wound care kit, which he had felt immediately guilty about.
God, what the fuck. he'd just sat there and listened?
That's fucking weird.
Travis feels his face heat.
Why hadn't Patrick hung up?
Travis focuses on panicking about how that it was technically a violation of HIPAA, instead of panicking about wondering why Patrick hadn't wanted to hang up.
Nolan just barley bites back from saying "this isn't fair." His ears ring, and he blinks rapidly as he almost literally sees red at the edge of his vision.
"You're welcome to stay for the game, you can watch from the press box, as always." the trainer says, patting Nolan on the knee gently, like that's supposed to be soothing. It just kind of makes Nolan want to kick him in the face.
"I'm going to go find AV." Nolan hops down from the exam table, already heading for the door before the trainer can say anything else to him.
It doesn't make a difference, anyway.
AV tells him the same thing.
Nolan can't say shit, he agreed to the terms, he knew he was day-to-day.
One fucking split second of Nolan losing focus, missing it when the trainer touched the bottom of his foot with the little wire, and they pack him up and send him home.
Nolan actually feels a little sick when he overhears AV tell Claude "don't worry about Patrick's line, Jake will move to center, Twarynski will take the right wing, they work damn good together."
Basically, "don't worry, we don't need Patrick, we're fine without him, we'll win without him."
This isn't fucking fair.
Outgoing 3:15PM: Scratched.
Maddie 3:17PM : BOOOOO!
Maddie 3:17PM : Your brain okay?
Outgoing 3:18PM : It's fine. Try telling the trainers that, though.
Maddie 3:19PM : Well whatevs I wasn't gonna watch the game anyway so jokes on them
Jake 3:36PM: r u ok little one?
Outgoing 3:37PM: I'm okay. Good luck tonight.
Jake 3:38PM: going 2 need it w/o u on my line
Outgoing 3:39PM: Be nice to Carsen.
Jake 3:39PM: y shud he get special treatment?
Jake 3:40PM: promis me ur rlly ok?
Outgoing 3:42PM: I'm really okay. Go kick some Islander ass.
Jake 3:45PM: ok. 4 u!
Outgoing 5:42PM : Are you working?
Travis 5:42PM : it is my SINGLE day off this week!
Outgoing 5:43PM : Oh, nice. What are you up to?
Travis 5:46PM : bout to go skaaaaaate. can't wait, been ages.
Travis 5:48PM : wait aren't YOU working rn bud?
Outgoing 5:50M : Where do you skate?
Travis 5:55PM : little shithole in chelsea called skate time that is literally the worst but that means nobody else ever goes soooooo it's all for me
Outgoing 5:58PM : Can I join you?
Travis 5:59PM: uhhhh?
Travis 6:00PM: i guess you can come if you really want, bud. won't be all that fun for you though.
Travis has just landed a toe loop, is gliding backwards towards the wall for a turn, when he spots somebody standing across the ice, watching him. He thinks maybe he should be unnerved about being snuck up on, but when he comes to a stop and sees Patrick staring at him, it somehow feels completely normal. Patrick is wearing a dark suit without a tie, top few buttons of his shirt undone, pants short enough that his bare ankles are visible over his shiny dress shoes. Shoes which he should absolutely not be wearing on the ice, but there he is. He's just standing there by the wall, hands shoved into his pockets, shoulders up by his ears, looking at Travis like he's been caught doing something wrong.
"I watched that video again." Patrick calls, voice hesitant, when Travis begins making his way towards him.
"What's that?" Travis does a pointless little waltz eight, just to show off, before he comes to a stop, purposefully slinging ice at Nolan's bare ankles.
"The video you sent me, your competition." Patrick shrugs. "How old were you in that?"
"Seventeen, my last year." Travis says, using his toe pick to kick up more ice, showering Patrick's stupid shoes with it.
"You were really fucking good. Still are, actually." Patrick shrugs, going a little pink. Well, a lot more pink, he's always a little bit pink.
"How long you been standing here watching me, bud?" Travis asks, freeing a pretty significant chunk of ice and pelting Patrick's ankle with it.
"Just a few minutes, I didn't want to interrupt." Patrick looks down at their feet, at where Travis is still pestering his ankles with ice, and lets out a pissy little huff.
"Why are you here, exactly?" Travis asks.
Patrick just sighs, glares down at their feet harder like that's not a totally fair question.
It's a totally fair question.
It is, actually, a very fair question. Nolan just watches Travis' feet, lets him continue to be a menace even though Nolan's ankles are wet and itchy and his shoes are starting to feel uncomfortably wet.
"The number eleven you used to paint on your skates, what does it mean?" Nolan asks, catching sight of where the little smudges of paint are still marked on the outside of Travis' skates. In the old video, they were clear. Bright red numbers, on each foot.
"It doesn't matter." Travis says. "Answer my question."
"Sorry, I guess it isn't my business." Nolan says.
"Patrick, why are you here?" Travis asks, finally ceasing his kicking at the ice, and the silence that fills the rink after Travis' skates stop making noise actually hurts Nolan's head a little bit.
"I just wanted to see you skate." Nolan says, unable to articulate exactly what it was that had compelled him to drive all the way to Chelsea, to what Travis accurately described as a shithole skate rink, just to punish himself by watching his crush figure skate.
"Right. And why aren't you playing? I know you have a game tonight." Travis asks. "Your jaw still bothering you?"
"My jaw hasn't bothered me since, like, the day after it happened." Nolan laughs, hard enough that he throws his weight back, and almost falls down. Loafers aren't exactly made for the ice.
"Patrick, what the fuck is going on here?" Travis asks, gliding further into Nolan's space, forcing himself into Nolan's eye line.
"I just want to see you skate, Trav." he shrugs, not sure what else to say, at this point. I can't stop thinking about you, I want to see you all the time, when they told me I couldn't play tonight the only person I wanted to comfort me was you, you're driving me fucking insane.
"You're not in for much of a treat." Travis sighs, after a significant pause. Nolan can tell, clearly, that Travis has a lot of questions that he's forcing himself not to ask, as he skates back out of Nolan's space and heads towards center ice. "I'm super out of shape."
"Uh," Nolan says, dumbly, raising his eyebrows. Travis seems to get what he means by that though, because he just laughs, raises his arms and flexes a little bit. Which, holy fucking shit, what the hell? Not cool, totally unfair.
"I know, I'm a beefcake. Which is the problem, actually. I'm like eighty pounds too heavy for the type of skating I used to do. I can barley get my thick ass a foot off the ice anymore, my jumps are baby shit." Travis chuckles, and then just glides off and starts doing some complicated twirls and things that Nolan doesn't know how to name.
It's true, that Travis is way bigger than he'd been in the competition video. Nolan hasn't seen him in anything too form fitting, but he's seen those arms, that fucking ass, and he knows that Travis is built. He'd been thin in the video, before, strong but slim. Nolan only gives his asshole little brain a two second free pass on trying to picture what Travis would look like now if he put on that skin tight little sparkly blue outfit from the video. Jesus fucking christ, is that a bad idea.
If Nolan's cheeks are turning red, it's just because the ice rink is, like, really fucking cold, okay?
Chapter 13: might love his boys a little bit
Travis focuses on the burning in his thighs, and tries not to shout in annoyance as he lands his lutz wrong and almost falls to the ice. He's skating like shit, tonight, and he doesn't know why. Maybe it's just because he's skated two days in a row, and he doesn't usually do that. At least he'd done well yesterday, when Patrick had been his solitary audience. They'd hung out here for nearly an hour, Patrick watching him, mostly silent, as Travis fucked around. At one point, Patrick had let out a shriek, and Travis had glanced over to see him on his ass on the ice, his dress shoes finally giving up and taking him out. It had been hilarious, and Travis had laughed so hard he'd had to sit down too, right there. They'd sat on their cold butts for a few minutes, until Travis started to feel weird again, feel like he had to ask Patrick a bunch of questions that he knew he wouldn't get answers to. There was a lot Travis wanted to ask. Why he hadn't hung up the phone the night before, why he was here, why he hadn't just left Travis alone in the first place. It all feels strange, and like Travis is missing something that he should be seeing. Travis really, really didn't understand that guy. Patrick had gotten a phone call shortly after that, probably from his wife, and had basically ran away out of the rink with ice chips on his dress pants. It had been so weird, and now Travis was skating like shit.
Travis is jerked from his thoughts when he hears the rink door clang shut suddenly and before he can turn to see who has joined him on the ice, he hears someone shout his name. Three voices chorus out, high pitched and hysteric, just a second before a body slams hard into him. Travis yelps, flails for a second before arms are wrapping tightly around him, steadying him roughly. Travis lets out a sound of shock as the boy who grabbed him cackles in delight. Their bodies go sliding across the ice, and Travis clings on for dear life, watches in horror as the wall comes flying at them at high speed. Luckily the boy spins them at the last second, so he hits the wall, and Travis just hits him. They're the same height, unfortunately, so their foreheads knock together painfully, but the boy is just laughing, still clinging to Travis and shaking him back and forth a little bit.
"Holy shit, Skeet, are you trying to kill him?" hands are shoving between them, forcing Travis away from Skyler.
"Guess who finally grew some fucking balls, TK?" Skyler shouts in his face, his voice echoing around the empty rink harshly.
"Shut up, I wanted to tell him myself." the other boy hisses, and then Travis is being spun around again, but more gently this time. Hands hold his shoulders, and Travis looks up at the tall blonde boy who is staring at him with wild eyes.
"Tell me what, Rik?" Travis can't help but laugh, at the boys' obvious excitement.
"I asked Gomez to go out with me." Erik says, and it's nearly drowned out by Skyler and Coover whooping loudly, someone crashing back into Travis and squishing all three of them into a hug.
"Your little gay baby is growing up so fast." Skyler says, sniffing dramatically in Travis' ear, like he's about to cry.
"I'm a year older than you, you jerk! I'm seventeen!" Erik shouts.
"I'm very happy for you, Rik, but I can't breathe." Travis says, face smushed a little into Erik's chest.
"Oh, sorry." Erik says, pushing back and away. Skyler just stays draped over Travis' back, smacking his palms on Travis' chest enthusiastically, tapping out a rhythm.
"You should have seen him, TK, he had a literal spreadsheet on how to do it. He took actual god damn notes on everything you told him." Coover laughs, skating in to view over Erik's shoulder.
"Aw, buddy, I'm honored." Travis laughs. He makes an attempt to skate out of Skyler's grasp, but the teenager is persistent, and just holds on to get dragged behind Travis as he makes his way across the ice.
"Yeah, but then he totally beefed it." Skyler laughs, and then he jumps up, forces himself into a piggy back. Travis just grunts, reaches out on autopilot to grab the boys' legs so he doesn't fall. Skyler has taken to leaping onto Travis every time he's seen him ever since they met, so Travis isn't surprised anymore. The first time he'd done it they had ended up in a heap in the parking lot while Erik and Coover laughed at them. Travis had gotten road rash on his face, and had told Simone that one of his terrible new children tried to murder him when she asked about it the next day at work.
"I did not beef it." Erik insists, scowling.
"You yelled at him in the middle of a game of street hockey." Skyler laughs, dropping his chin onto Travis' head, like he belongs up there. Travis just skates around in lazy loops, twining around Erik and Coover like they're traffic cones.
"Yeah, and he said yes." Erik tells Travis, nodding sagely like that's the most important part. Well, Travis guesses it kind of is, actually, in the long run. Travis skates passed Erik, close enough that Skyler reaches out to smack him in the face on the way.
"You got sent off for delay of game." Skyler laughs. "Seriously, TK, man, it was hilarious. Gomez made a fancy shot, and it didn't even fucking go in, and Erik just stops in the middle of the road and screams at him, be my boyfriend! Everybody was so shocked we all just froze, Coov swooped in when the goalie wasn't looking and got a goal and nobody even noticed. Then Gomez just says, uh, okay? Like he didn't know what else to say. It was funny as hell."
"I really had a plan, and everything." Erik whines. "I just really like him, I didn't want to wait anymore."
"I think that's nice, Riky. I'm glad you finally asked him." Travis says, trying very valiantly not to laugh at Erik, because the visual of him just shouting at his crush in the middle of the street is genuinely hilarious.
"Are you proud of your little gay baby?" Skyler asks, drumming on Travis' chest obnoxiously, again.
"Very proud, now get the fuck off of me so I can get some actual skating in before I have to go face my adult responsibilities." Travis says, gliding to a stop so Skyler can climb down. He does, and then immediately scrambles up on Coover instead, who huffs at him and shoots Travis a look like it's somehow his fault.
"Fuck responsibility. Sucks to suck, TK." Skyler says, squawking as Coover takes off like a shot to the other side of the rink.
Travis watches them go, and wonders how the hell his life got to the point where hockey was such a huge part of it, again. The first time he'd seen these boys at the rink, he'd been angry that they were there, had wanted to stay as far away from them as possible. Now, after just a few weeks, they were latched onto him like loving little parasites. Travis hadn't meant to get involved, but after the third time in an hour he'd heard Erik whine about how he couldn't possibly just ask Gomez out, no way, he'd intervened. Skyler had immediately taken Travis speaking to them to mean that he could speak back, and then he hadn't shut up one time since then. Travis had been very disturbed the first time he realized that Skyler reminds him shockingly of himself at that age, even though it's Erik with the boy trouble. Coover had been the one to make the "you're our gay dad now" joke, and the rest of the boys just ran with it. Travis jokingly called them his children, and privately felt really fond about the idea. Travis might love his boys a little bit, and the boys definitely loved him back, big and boisterously. "Fucking love you, man, best gay dad on the planet" Skyler had said. Travis sometimes wonders what their actual parents think about him, since he knows he gets talked about. The only interaction he's had was with Coover's single mom, when Coover had reluctantly shoved his phone at Travis one day, on his mother's insistence. Sandra Jacobson had just told him she was grateful that the boys have someone they can look up to who isn't a total meathead.
Travis doesn't know about being someone for them to look up to, but he's more than happy to have them in his life. Especially happy he can relieve some of Sandra's burden, by watching out for the boys when she can't.
He's glad he's got them, now.
Even if they are aspiring hockey players.
"Hey, TK?" Erik asks, skating up and hovering at Travis' elbow.
"Sup, Riky Ticky Tavy?"
"Can you teach me an axel?" Erik asks, earnest and adorable.
"No, but I can teach you a beginners crossover." Travis tells him, rolling his eyes. Travis couldn't count how many times he's had to tell these kids that, no, he's pretty sure doing a triple salchow won't get you "points for flare" in a hockey game.
Oh, wait a second.
"Hey, boys." Travis calls, loud enough for Skyler and Coover to hear him where they've taken to playing chicken across the rink. "I can't believe I've never asked you this, but do you guys like the Flyers?"
Travis actually flinches at how loud it is when they all start screaming at the top of their lungs at the same time, the sound bouncing around the empty rink.
Right. Well, that's birthday presents sorted, at least.
Nolan gets an alert sound on his phone that he's never gotten before, because he's never set up for post notifications before.
t.kon has posted a new photo.
Well, okay. Nolan glances around, even though he's alone in his bedroom, and opens up the app. It takes a second to load, and then he's looking at a picture of Travis at the ice rink they'd been at the day before. Travis is on the ice in his workout clothes, hunching backwards in laughter. Mouth opened wide, eyes scrunched up, genuine joy splashed across his handsome face as he stands over a frowning teenager who has clearly just fallen down, and is glaring at whoever is taking the picture. It's a repost, from an account that apparently belongs to a teenage student from Chelsea High School when Nolan clicks through to investigate. He backs out of the page immediately, not about to creep on a child. Just goes back to the picture, looks at the way Travis' face splits in happiness.
- • • • • •
"when gay yoda asks you to jump, you say how high? then if you're @29e_skinner you fail to jump at all🤣"
Nolan comes out of his room when Kevin calls for him, and finds half his god damn team in his living room, sitting around like the most obvious group of schemers he's ever seen. Kevin, Claude, Ivan, Carter, Wayne, all just trying and failing to look casual as they take up space in Nolan's house. Then Jakub comes wandering out of the kitchen with a bottle of beer in his hand, and, ah, okay, now it clicks with Nolan, what all these particular team mates have in common.
"Oh, you've got to be kidding me." Nolan groans, turning on his heel and planning to go right back into his bedroom. Nolan only makes it about two steps before Kevin grabs him around the waist, lifts him up into the air, and walks him directly back into the living room. Nolan doesn't fight it only because he knows he wouldn't win, even if he really put his back into it. Kevin deposits him into an armchair, and then perches on the side of it to block him in with his legs.
"Yeah, same. I wish they were kidding." Jakub grumbles around the neck of his beer.
"Watch it, buddy, you're already on thin fucking ice." Wayne snaps at him, pointing a very angry finger at the man. Yeah, good old Wayne. Would absolutely beat the shit out of his own team mate and friend of almost ten years, just for Nolan.
"Hey, Patty's not even mad at me, what the fuck?" Jakub shouts, sounding petulant as hell.
"Patty doesn't stand up for himself enough!" Wayne shouts back.
"Patty is perfectly capable of standing up for himself, gentlemen." Claude says from his spot next to them on the couch, where he's just relaxing like this is a normal day for him.
"Patty is right god damn here and would like to know what this intervention is about?" Nolan says, not pouting at all, thank you.
"This is not an intervention." Claude says, which earns him a snort of laughter from Wayne and a scoff from Jakub.
"You literally made heart eyes at that guy for an hour the other night, and then you tell Wayne you're not even going to go for it? You gotta go for it, we're gonna help." Ivan says, leaning across from the other arm chair to smack Nolan on the shoulder.
"That is none of your business. You really all gathered at my house just to give me shit about a guy?" Nolan scoffs. He wants to just get up and walk away, but Kevin's long ass legs are blocking him in.
"Actually, Kevin told us it was a very important team meeting." Carter shrugs, not even looking up from the book he has in his hands. It's Nolan's book, which he had left on the coffee table. If Carter loses his place, he's going to be really fucking pisses.
"It is a team meeting. Team Get Patty Some Dick." Kevin laughs, and Jakub chokes on his beer, spitting it all over his own hand.
"Do we have to call it that?" Jakub grouses, cursing under his breath in Czech.
"Watch it, old man." Wayne says, shifting away from where Jakub's flinging beer off his fingers.
"I'm younger than you, and get off my case, already. I'm here, aren't I?" Jakub says.
"I, for one, am here completely against my will." Claude says cheerfully.
"Well, I would love to see Patty get some dick." Ivan shrugs.
"I hate this team. I'm going back to the fucking Blue Jackets." Jakub says, glaring at Wayne.
"Don't be a bitch, support our little Pattycakes in his dick quest." Wayne says.
"I don't want to think about Patty with dicks!" Jakub says.
"I'm surrounded by dicks right this very second." Nolan says, even though he knows that nobody is actually listening to him.
"We just want Patty to be happy." Claude says.
"Getting dick is happiness!" Wayne shouts.
"Thank you, G, not everything is about about sex." Jakub says.
"Why are you so offended by Pat getting dick, Jake?" Carter pipes up.
"I already told you!" Jakub says.
"I think Patty deserves the best dick, all the dick he wants." Kevin laughs.
"Does anybody care what I think?" Nolan asks, is ignored once again.
"Why am I the only one who doesn't seem to want to think about Patty having sex? Why does that make me the asshole?" Jakub grumbles.
"I'm not saying we're gonna watch!" Wayne yells.
"I might get stuck having to listen, if this Travis guy is as loud as he looks." Kevin says.
"Who the fuck said anything about watching?" Ivan mumbles.
"I don't want to even think about watching that!" Jakub shouts.
"Hey! You're toeing that thin fucking line, again, motherfucker." Wayne shouts back.
"Because I don't want to watch our friend getting fucked by some man?" Jakub shouts, even louder than before.
"What's wrong with seeing two men together?" Wayne stands up, then, towering over Jakub where he's still sitting on the couch.
"Nobody is going to see anything, would you all just," Nolan starts to protest.
He's about to start really yelling at them, then, but he's cut off by hands grabbing his face. He has just enough time to turn and look at Ivan, before their faces are crashing together, and the room goes suddenly silent. Nolan is sure that it only lasts for about a second, but his brain seems to shut off for that entire second, and time slows to a crawl. He had spend a good chunk of his teenage years thinking about this, imagining how it might happen. He'd stayed up late at night, head swimming, wishing he could get a chance at this. Now he's actually doing it, actually kissing Ivan Provorov, and all he can think is what the fuck? Ivan's mouth is wet, and his hands are a little sweaty where they're gripping tight against the sides of Nolan's head. It's a very bland kiss, since neither of them are actually into it. It's just there, Ivan's lips on his, and Nolan doesn't really know what to do with himself.
Ivan pulls away slowly, hands still against Nolan's cheeks, and looks entirely too smug about the whole thing.
"Yo, what the fuck? Did I miss something?" Wayne asks, carefully.
"I thought we were trying to set Patty up with Travis, not with Provy." Claude says.
"I was just proving a point." Ivan says, sitting back in his own chair. "There is nothing wrong with seeing two men together, and Jake needs to get over himself."
"Are you gay?" Wayne asks, point an accusatory hand at Ivan, like he'll be offended if Ivan hadn't let him in on that secret.
"No. If I were this would all be a moot point, because I'd have Patty locked down." Ivan smirks.
"You fucking wish." Nolan says, but gives himself away by blushing furiously.
"I'm telling Madison you did that." Claude laughs.
"Wait, hey." Kevin suddenly whines. "That's not fair, I want to kiss Patty too."
"Absolutely not." Nolan snaps, when Kevin makes a move like he's about to lean in and do just that.
"Aw, come on. You kissed Provy." Kevin whines, wiggling around and dropping into Nolan's lap.
"He kissed me, first of all. And at least he's actually hot." Nolan argues, squirming away from Kevin's wandering hands. "Get off me, you pervert."
"So I was right." Carter giggles from his corner of the couch, and every body turns to look at him.
"Right about what?" Claude asks, narrowing his eyes at their goalie.
"Nolan and Kevin. Also about Provy. I was right." Carter smirks.
"Shut up, you're the worst." Nolan groans. He pushes at Kevin, trying desperately to just dump him on the ground. "This is all your fault, Hartsy, you're the one who turned on my sacral chakra or whatever."
"You fucked Hartsy?" Kevin shrieks, pausing in trying to get his hands in the collar on Nolan's shirt to stare at him in horror.
"Oh my god." Wayne cries.
"At least Hart doesnt have a girlfriend." Claude says, and Ivan flips him off.
"No, what the fuck? Where the fuck did you get that?" Nolan asks, shoving at Kevin again, nearly managing to dislodge him in his surprise.
"You just said he did something to your sexual chakra!" Kevin sputters.
"Sacral!" Nolan corrects him.
"Yeah, which literally means sexual!" Kevin laughs. "Bro, did Hartsy or did he not put his hand on your dick?"
"Did not!" Nolan shouts.
"A little bit." Carter says, sounding bored about it. "He didn't even get hard though, I was a little insulted."
"We were doing yoga!" Nolan shouts. He's distracted enough that Kevin finally gets his hands down Nolan's shirt, and he pinches Nolan's collar bone, hard. Which, hey, is really fucking rude, okay. Nolan has, like, scar tissue there, that fucking hurts.
"I hate this fucking team." Jakub says, again.
"Can we get back on track, please? We're trying to get Nolan his man." Wayne says.
"Doesn't look like he needs our help being slutty." Jakub says, voice pinched.
"Alright, I've had it with that tone, I'm beating your ass." Wayne snaps.
The sounds of Wayne wrestling Jakub to the floor overlaps with the sounds of Nolan finally succeeding in toppling Kevin to the floor too. Only Kevin is still tangled up in Nolan's shirt, so he ends up just following him down, and he takes the opportunity to punch him for setting this whole shit show in motion to begin with. Everyone starts shouting again, as two fights start escalating on the living room floor. The four of them roll around enough that they just kind of end up in a pile all together, elbowing each other indiscriminately. It goes on until Nolan takes a smack to the temple, and Kevin calls a party foul for hitting the guy with brain problems. Then they all just kind of roll away from each other and lay there seething while the other three guys talk calmly over their heads about the game tomorrow, and what they're gonna do about the lines when their four best forwards end up benched with upper body injuries.
They never do end up talking about Travis, and Nolan is actually a little grateful.
Chapter 14: not remotely baby proof
They did it. They fucking did it, for the first time in years. They beat the Isles in five games, and they were moving on to the semifinals. Nolan is pretty sure Carter has never been so loud in his life, where he's been flung like a sack of potatoes over Morin's shoulders and is singing We Are The Champions at the top of his lungs. Nolan would probably be loud too, if he wasn't busy holding ice to his jaw, where Cizikas had caught him with an elbow in the third period. It was probably an accident, and, honestly, Nolan should have listened when they tried to get him to keep wearing the jaw protector, but it still kind of irked him. It hurt like a son of a bitch, but at least he hadn't lost any more teeth.
"Baby cat, I want a fucking kiss, I got the game winning goal!" Kevin shouts, suddenly crowding against Nolan, shoving him back into his stall and straddling his thighs.
"Careful, Kevin, you might turn back into a toad." Scott laughs, flinging his wet towel at Kevin's head.
"That's not how that works!" Kevin cries, incredulous. He leaps out of Nolan's space, to go chase Scott, at least.
"Patty is a prince, toads like you don't get to kiss the prince!" Scott is shouting, sprinting around to room to avoid Kevin's grasp.
Nolan feels good, feels fucking amazing. Even as his jaw throbbed with a fresh bruise, he felt on top of the world. He had, right in this moment, nearly everything he needed.
Outgoing 7:14PM : We won.
Outgoing 7:15PM : We're going to the semifinals.
Travis 7:16PM : nice! tell everyone i said congratulations.
Travis 7:18PM : also hey, whats like the max number of tickets you can get for me?
Outgoing 7:19M : You want to come to another game?
Travis 7:19PM : oh absolutely the fuck NOT. i want to give them to someone else
Outgoing 7:30PM : You know you can BUY tickets, right?
Travis 7:31PM : i refuse to support the blood sport you call a game with even a dime of my money
Travis 7:32PM : if i hafta put up with your ass i should at least get something out of it
Travis 7:41PM : don't worry about it if you really don't wanna give me more tickets its all good
Outgoing 7:42PM : Nah, sorry. I was just trying to find out. I can get four at most.
Travis 7:44PM : oh nice thats exactly the number i wanted
Outgoing 7:45PM : I'll get them for our first semifinal game at home.
Travis 7:36PM : thanks dude i really owe you one
Outgoing 7:37PM : Yeah. How about this, are you busy tonight?
Travis 7:38PM : oh no.....
Outgoing 7:39PM : We always do our post game celebrations at my place. A lot of the other guys are gonna bring dates. You wanna come?
Travis 7:41PM : how bad are you gonna whine if i say no?
Outgoing 7:41PM : Oh, SO bad, bud.
Travis 7:42PM : lmao. send me the address i'll swing by after work.
"Hey, little one." Jakub says, slipping into Nolan's room and shutting the door behind him. The sounds of the party become muffled.
"Jake." Nolan says, eyeing the man as he just keeps going about brushing his hair, plastic teeth getting caught in the endless knots. He is putting probably too much effort into his hair, but he wants to look good for Travis.
"You know that, uh, I really do want you to be happy, yes?" Jakub asks, shifting his weight from foot to foot, looking about as small and fragile as he had after he'd smashed Nolan in the face and knocked out his teeth.
"I know, man." Nolan says, wincing when he catches a particularly stubborn knot.
"If this Travis guy is gonna make you happy, then, ah, I want it to work out between you." Jakub sighs, and he finally moves away from the door, coming over to sit on the edge of Nolan's bed, next to him. "I've been an asshole, eh?'"
"Oh, yeah." Nolan laughs, smacking Jakub on the arm with his hairbrush. "I don't hold it against you, though, old man. I know you're trying, which is a lot more than some people."
"Is that why you haven't told the rest of the guys? You think they'll react like me?" Jakub asks.
"There are a lot of guy who would be much, much worse." Nolan shrugs. "I've only told the people I trust, or who found out on their own like Wayne and Ivan. I didn't question telling you, Jake."
"And I let you down pretty spectacularly, huh?" Jakub sighs.
"You didn't mean to hurt me, Jake." Nolan says. "A lot of people would mean it, I'm not going to hold it against you when I know you're doing your best."
"I really don't, uh, get it. I don't think I ever will but, I love you, okay, kid? No matter what." Jakub says, resting a hand on the back of Nolan's neck gently, fingers tangling in the hair Nolan had just brushed.
"You just don't want to have to see it?"
"Patty, you telling me if me and Markéta started making out in the middle of the room, you'd enjoy seeing it?" Jakub asks, and Nolan can only laugh, because he kind of has a point. "I don't want to see any of those animals doing anything with anybody."
"Fair enough." Nolan tells him.
"Are we good?" Jakub leans over, bumps his shoulder into Nolan's gently.
"We were always good, Jake." Nolan smiles, bumps Jake back.
"Wonderful." Jakub slaps his thighs as he stands. "Now, will you tell Simmer that, before he kicks my ass for real?"
Outgoing 8:03PM : You see my goal tonight?
Maddie 8:03PM : LMAO you mean that freak bounce that Varlamov basically put into his own net??? Yeah baby bro I saw it.
Outgoing 8:04PM : You suck.
Maddie 8:04PM : Whateverrr you love me. And I AM proud of you assholes anyway.
Maddie 8:05PM : You know who you're playing in the semifinals yet?
Outgoing 8:05PM : Depends on whether the Canes or the Bolts win tonight.
Maddie 8:08PM : Okay looked up their season highlights and you can take either of those flop ass teams.
Outgoing 8:09PM : Let's hope.
Maddie 8:09PM : Party tonight right? How fucked up they planning to get??
Outgoing 8:10PM : I invited Travis so I hope they don't embarrass me too badly.
Maddie 8:11PM : OH HELL YEAH! GET SOME HOT NURSE ASS LAN!
Outgoing 8:12PM : Ugh.
Maddie 8:13PM : Gettin LAID tonight!!!
Outgoing 8:14PM : Stop it.
Maddie 8:13PM : 🍆🍆🍆🍆🍆
Outgoing 8:14PM : BLOCKED.
Kevin is so blitzed when Travis shows up that he spends a good five minutes trying to shove twenty dollars into his hands for the pizza that he very clearly is not delivering. Nolan rescues him about a second before Kevin bursts into tears, and herds him towards the kitchen just as the doorbell rings again, and Kevin sobs all over the actual pizza delivery guy, asking "why do you hate me, what did I do wrong" as the guy tries to hand him the boxes.
"Having a good time, eh?" Travis laughs, looking around at the kitchen, clearly being nosy. Nolan just lets him, is so god damn beside himself about Travis being in his home that he's pretty sure he'd let the guy do anything he wanted, right now.
"Some of us are, anyway." Nolan snorts, digging into the back of the fridge where they hide the good beer.
"Semifinals is a big deal, I guess." Travis smiles when Nolan hands him a can of Asahi.
"Flyers haven't gotten to the finals in about ten years, so the closer we get the more belligerent these assholes become." Nolan tells him, watching contentedly as Travis starts poking around the cabinets, frowning as he finds a few empty ones. Kevin and Nolan don't do a lot of cooking beyond rice and chicken, so there isn't much for Travis to find.
"This kitchen is not remotely baby proof." Travis tsks, poking at the magnetic knife strip on the wall.
"Kevin is a dipshit but he's not, like, a danger to himself or anything." Nolan frowns, wondering what Travis is so worried about.
"Kevin?" Travis asks, frowning at the cleaning supplies under the sink, like there is any other place Nolan should have put those.
"The guy who looks like the Lucky Charms mascot, who just cried all over you. My room mate." Nolan says, gesturing to where Morin is carrying the pizzas into the living room, a crying Kevin slumped under his arm.
"Oh, shit." Travis looks up, then, shooting Nolan an apologetic look. "Do you and Ryanne not live together?"
"Why the fuck would I live with Ryanne?" Nolan says, feeling like he's maybe missing a chunk of this conversation. Or maybe Travis is. Either way, it's not making, like, even the tiniest little bit of sense. He is pretty sure he's straight up scowling, at this point.
"Are you separated?" Travis winces. "Jesus, I shouldn't just assume. It seemed like you at least had, like, joint custody."
"What the fuck are you talking about?" Nolan asks, loud and pissy enough that it apparently draws the attention of the guys standing near the kitchen doorway. He tries not to feel crowded as Claude and Jakub step through into the room, clearly keeping an eye on the conversation.
"Uh, I thought you guys seemed like you were still together? I'm sorry." Travis says, looking like he wants to bolt from the house as his eyes flick from Nolan to his team mates. Nolan reminds himself that Travis would probably love an excuse to dip out of here, and that yelling at him would be a super bad idea for a lot of reasons. He just takes a few deep breaths before he talks.
"Travis, I genuinely don't know what you're talking about." Nolan asks, as measured as he can.
"I'm sorry, bud. I know it's not my business, your relationship with Ryanne." Travis asks.
"Excuse me?" Claude snaps, then, taking a few more steps into the room to hover at Nolan's side.
"Ryanne?" Nolan gapes. "Are you talking about Ryanne Giroux?"
"Uh," Travis just stares at him, mouth open in shock.
"What the hell is he talking about?" Claude asks Nolan, looking like he wants to throw the beer in his hands at Nolan's face. Which isn't fair, okay, this is not Nolan's fault.
"Your son is just so young, I just assumed you were still a couple." Travis says, voice small.
"I'm sorry, whose fucking son?" Claude asks. Right then, Jakub starts cracking up from his spot by the door, which just makes Claude scowl harder.
"Oh, oh my god." Nolan groans, as it clicks. "Travis, my dude, holy shit."
"What? I'm so confused, right now." Travis frowns.
"Gavin is Claude's son. He and Ryanne have been married for years." Nolan tells him, watching the way his eyes go wide.
"Oh." Travis says, blinking slowly. "Okay, yeah. Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure." Claude snaps. "Stay away from my wife." Claude mumbles to Nolan, before scurrying away out of the kitchen.
Nolan can't help but crack up, then. Jesus, he'd literally asked this guy here on a date, and Travis'd been under the impression that Nolan had a wife and son. What a fucking nightmare, that really was just his god damn life, huh?
Ivan and Nolan are the only Flyers not black out wasted, by ten o'clock at night. Ivan by virtue of being Russian, and Nolan because he can only drink one beer at a time without risking the integrity of his spine. A few guys are passed out on the floor, and Nolan knows at least one guy has commandeered his bed, again. Him, Ivan, and Travis are pressed together on the couch, Travis in the middle, and Nolan is ignoring the meaningful looks that Ivan keeps sending him over the top of Travis' head. He'd thought he was making progress, okay, with Travis. Then it turns out that he and Travis were on wildly different pages. Travis thought Nolan was married, had totally missed how tonight was supposed to be Travis coming as Nolan's date. It's all falling to shit, basically, and Nolan kind of wishes Cizikas had hit him harder, earlier, put him out of his god damn misery.
Now he's just sitting on his own couch, in his own house, watching the game on his own TV, and wishing he could get out of here.
"So, whoever wins this overtime thing is who you guys play next?" Travis asks, poking at Nolan's wrist to get his attention.
"Yep." Nolan says, shifting his arm so it's more on Travis' thigh than his, to encourage the poking.
"They have any good players?" Travis asks, wrapping his hand around Nolan's wrist. It's just like the way Nolan had held Travis back at the cemetery, and it shoots electricity up Nolan's arm. He takes a second to have the bizarre thought that maybe he's got a chakra there he should be worried about, and misses the moment where he was supposed to answer Travis' question.
Ivan starts talking, then. Answers the questions that keep spilling out of Travis’ mouth. Nolan just looks down at their hands, at the way Travis tanner skin and softer fingertips rest against his.
He’s really, totally, super fucked.
Travis 11:25PM: still hate hockey
Travis 11:26PM: but i guess you guys aren’t so bad
GroupChat; 4 users.
29e_skinner: These tickets are right behind the net! What the hell!!
skeetpeters87: daaaaaad!!! 😭 you really DO love us
c.jacobson13coovy: HOW did you get these?
c.jacobson13coovy: thats CARTER HART ! right theree ! right in front of my eyes!
skeetpeters87: AHHHHH 😩
t.kon: lol i take it you guys are happy?
29e_skinner: How the HELL did you get these tickets??
t.kon: i know a guy
c.jacobson13coovy: what fucking guy???
skeetpeters87: OMG are you fucking a flyer?!?!??!?!
29e_skinner: which one?!?!
skeetpeters87: Hart obviously
t.kon: i'm not sleeping with anybody!
c.jacobson13coovy: lol suuuure. can you get me carter harts autograph?
t.kon: i'm not getting you little shits anything ever again
skeetpeters87: ahhhh come on dad
29e_skinner has added gomez_a17 to the GroupChat
skeetpeters87: sup loverboiiiii
gomez_a17: I just wanted to thank Travis myself for getting me a ticket!
t.kon: you're welcome bud.
gomez_a17: I appreciate you thinking of me. 🙂
t.kon: lol wth your so nice
t.kon: you are clearly way too good for riky
gomez_a17: I think Erik is pretty great!
skeetpeters87: ugh no romantic shit in the gc assholes
skeetpeters87: bad enough i have to watch you guys be gross in person
t.kon: your a man of great wonder gomez
29e_skinner: isn't he?!
t.kon: yes son
skeetpeters87: these tix are really amazing tho thanks a lot
t.kon: idk how to take you being so sincere
29e_skinner: he wants you to venmo him for snacks
t.kon: buy your own snacks you fucking gremlin
skeetpeters87: rude af see if i take care of you when you get old
skeetpeters87: gonna put yo ass in a home
t.kon: youre threatening me with what i literally do for a living??
skeetpeters87: oh lol yeah i forgot
c.jacobson13coovy: omg shut up the game is about to start
t.kon: have fun boys
29e_skinner: thanks dad!
c.jacobson13coovy: ttttyyyyy dad!
skeetpeters87: love you dad 😗
gomez_a17: Thank you again, Travis!
skeetpeters87: gross just call him tk. lol who tf is travis? dont know her
gomez_a17: Thank you, TK.
t.kon: shut up, kids.
Nolan sits in his stall, just before the game is about to start, and knows he only has a few seconds for this. He doesn't use a video call, doesn't want Travis to have to see whatever conflicting emotions are sure to be on his face.
"Patrick?" Travis answers, clearly still at work if the sounds in the background are any indication.
"I have a migraine disorder, it's public knowledge." Nolan says in a hush, not wanting anybody to butt in.
"Okay." Travis says, voice carefully neutral.
"My jaw isn't what has me day-to-day. They found swelling in my spine, and when I get a migraine it flares up, cuts off some of my nerves or whatever. Paralyzes me, for a minute or two." Nolan tells him, rushing through it all before Travis gets a chance to respond. "Eventually it will get bad enough that the damage could be permanent. You're a nurse, I'm sure I don't have to really explain it, you probably get it better than I do, anyway. It's bad, Trav. Every migraine could be the one to end my career, and it's just a matter of when, not if. So, every day they check to see if I have signs of a migraine, and if I do, I don't play. I go out on the ice with a migraine again and it could get me killed."
"Jesus christ, Patrick." Travis mutters, when Nolan finally pauses.
"That's one of my secrets, okay? Only two of my team mates know that, my captain and my goalie. Nobody else. My parents don't even know." Nolan tells him.
"Patrick, god, I don't know what the fuck to say to that. Why are you telling me this?" Travis laughs, humorless.
"I know you hate hockey, but I don’t want you to hate me.” Nolan says. “I want you to know you can trust me. I’m in this, bud. I care about you.”
Travis takes a breath like he's going to say something, but then a staff member is in Nolan's face, and he barely has time to say goodbye and hang up before he's being shuffled out into the hall. Nolan looks at the picture on his lockscreen, the picture of him, Travis, and Katie.
Yeah, Kitty Kat, Nolan thinks, I think he's my favorite, too.
Nolan has just hopped the boards when it happens. Carter is out of his net, has just come from behind, passing the puck easily to Ivan, and is taking his time getting back to the crease because he knows his team has got good control of the puck. Nolan sees someone in white skate passed him, passed Ivan, and all the way passed the crease. Nolan swears he hears the entire arena collectively suck in a horrified breath when the hit happens. Nolan, by virtue of just having stepped into the game, is the only Flyer on the ice facing the direction of the net when it happens. He shouts, wordless and angry, and pushes off without thinking about it. Ivan turns to look just as Nolan passes him, and curses angrily in Russian when he sees what happened.
The crowd is furious, screaming, angry and bloodthirsty at the sight of the hit.
Nolan makes it to them just as Carter crumples, the Lightning player who hit him bent over him.
"You motherfucker!" Nolan screams, grabbing the player by the back of his sweater, ripping him away from Carter. He throws the guy back, toppling him onto the ice. He skids a few feet back, hissing with the impact to the ice.
Ivan is there at Nolan's side before the whistle even goes, having abandoned the puck as soon as he saw that their goalie had been checked.
Nobody fucks with their god damn goalie.
"You okay, babe?" Nolan drops to a crouch next to Carter, who is laying stunned against the boards.
"I've never been boarded before." Carter says, dazed. "It really hurts." Carter frowns up at Nolan. His mask isn't on, is nowhere near, actually. It obviously got knocked of when he got fucking checked. Nolan seethes.
"Marš, ty kurvo jedna!" there is Jakub, hauling the Lightning player, who Nolan now recognizes as Maroon, up to his feet. The linesmen immediately separate the two, knowing full well that Jakub is about to start punching. It wouldn't really be a fight, if he did, since the guy had been down on the ice when Jakub first touched him. It'd get Jakub suspended if he hit him, right now.
"Let me see him." the trainer pushes Nolan gently, away from Carter. He goes easily, wants to make sure Carter gets taken care off. He stands up, skates gently back and out of the way. He bumps into Ivan, who has picked up Carter's mask.
"He hit him hard." Ivan says, glaring blankly at where Carter is still laying on the ice. It's only then that Nolan notices how quiet the arena has gotten, deathly silent as they all wait to see if Carter is okay.
"Who checks a fucking goalie?" Nolan growls. Ivan just shakes his head, looking down at the mask in his hands. Jakub skates up then, followed closely by Claude and Lindy.
They watch quietly for a little bit, as the trainers get Carter laying flat on the ice, instead of bunched up against the board. Brian skates up, hovering over Carter for a few seconds, tapping him gently on the foot before he moves to the crease. The only sound in the entire arena is Brian's skates as he grinds up his crease the way he likes it, tapping his stick gently against the posts to say hello.
"Maroon knows he's dead meat, right?" Lindy asks, breaking the quiet. "You don't hit a goalie. Especially not Hartsy."
"Don't do anything stupid." Claude says, voice cold. "We have a chance at the cup, don't throw it away because Carter got checked."
Nolan wants to be pissed at Claude, a little, but he knows he's right.
So is Lindy, though.
Maroon is dead fucking meat.
Nolan hadn't planned it this way, hadn't even been thinking about it really. He's just situated where he's meant to be, close to the line while Nic tries to dig the puck from Stamkos against the boards. He isn't thinking about it at all, until he hears the sound of the handle rattling, and the door to the penalty box that is mere feet from him swings open. He doesn't even really think about it then, more than "okay, here we go." Maroon gets a skate on the ice, the crowd erupts into furious boos, and then Nolan is moving quick, flinging his gloves off and wrapping his hand into the collar of Maroon's sweater.
"God damn it." Maroon sighs, flinging his stick away and dropping his gloves. "Fine, let's do this then."
Nolan's hand collides with the guys jaw before he even finishes talking. He feels a satisfying crunch as Maroon's mouthguard fails to protect his bottom molars. The crowd cheers, and Nolan swings again without pausing. His pinkie knuckle clips the edge of Maroon's visor, and he feels pain shoot through his hand, all the way up to his elbow. He thinks it might have just broken, actually. He ignores it. Maroon's skates slide a bit, and Nolan uses all his strength to keep him up, to haul him back to his feet so the fight doesn't end too soon. It's been a while since Flyers fans got to see red ice, and the intensity of their excitement pulses through Nolan's bloodstream.
Maroon gets a hit in, glances his knuckles off Nolan's left temple, and his head swims for a second. They spin, then, and Nolan almost loses his footing, which is probably what Maroon wants. Nolan just grits his teeth, swings again, cracks his swollen and painful knuckles against Maroon's nose. Blood blooms, dark and heavy, and splatters onto Nolan's sleeve. The crowd picks up, and the linesmen start to close in, getting ready to pull them apart. Nolan swings, what he knows is going to be the last time, and really puts his weight behind it. Maroon swings at the same time, anger fueling his punch now that Nolan's busted his nose. He hits Maroon in the cheek, right as Maroon catches him in his still bruised mouth and chin, and pain shoots through Nolan's skull. He hisses in frustration, and they both go toppling to the ice.
The linesmen waste no time, quickly grabbing the back of Nolan's sweater and pulling them apart. Nolan gets to his feet, trying not to let anybody see how wobbly he feels. His ears ring, a combination of the hits to the head, and the sheer volume of the crowd as they scream all at once.
"Patrick, Patrick, Patrick, Patrick!"
Nolan would beam if his jaw wasn't throbbing in pain again. He lifts a hand, blows a kiss to the crowd and is met with cheers for it. He goes to the box easily, sits down and looks across to his teammates. Claude is clearly furious, giving him a look that makes his insides turn. Nolan just gives them a little wave, and looks back out to the ice. He catches Brian looking at him, and their eyes meet. Brian gives him a nod, barely perceptible, which Nolan returns.
"Philadelphia Flyers, number nineteen, Tampa Bay Lightning, number fourteen, five minutes for fighting."
The crowd roars.
Travis doesn't know how long he's been sitting on the steps of Patrick's house, waiting for him to come home, but he's getting a little cold. And a lot uncomfortable. He's got his elbows resting on his too-high knees, and his ass has started to go a little numb. The street is dark and quiet, and it's only Patrick's conveniently placed motion sensor that's keeping Travis from being completely encased in darkness. He has to wave his hands every few minutes to keep it on, but beggars can't really be choosers. The cigarette butts at his feet tell him that he's gone through half a pack, in whatever time it is he's been here. He bites down hard on the menthol capsule in his filter, only cracking it now even though his cigarette has already burned down halfway. He doesn't bother to look up when the car pulls up on the street. It idles there, for a minute, before the door clicks open. He hears Patrick's voice, low and exhausted, sounding a little forced. Probably an Uber then, which is probably good. Travis doesn't want to have this conversation in front of Nolan's friends.
"Travis?" Patrick sounds shocked to see him.
"Did you win?" Travis asks, looking up. Patrick is standing on the sidewalk in front of his little gate, hoodie sleeve cupped over his nose and mouth, staring big eyed at Travis.
"Can you put that out?" Patrick asks, miming stubbing out a cigarette.
"Sure." Travis stands, knees cracking loudly in the quiet night air. He pulls the cigarette from his mouth, lifts his foot to stub it out on the bottom of his shoe. It’s a bad habit, he knows. He’s ruined more than a couple pairs of shoes like this. He stands there awkwardly with the butt in his hand, realizing he’ll have to gather up all the ones he left on the ground before he goes. He doesn’t want to be rude.
“Did you use those tickets? I didn’t see Simone." Patrick says, shoulders coming up around his ears like he's embarrassed.
"There is a group of kids who skate at the same rink I do, the tickets were for them." Travis shrugs. "They play hockey, one of them is actually really good, good enough to get drafted probably, after college."
"I see." Patrick says, and the awkwardness of the situation kind of peaks then. Travis moves away from the steps, crossing the pathway towards Patrick.
"I need to know something." Travis practically mumbles, shuffling down the little pathway to the gate. "When you said that you care about me, what did you mean?"
"I mean that I care about you." Patrick says, dropping his hand so Travis can see his mouth. It's all bruised up again, swollen and painful looking.
"Jesus, what happened this time?" Travis asks, reaching across the gate between them to tilt Patrick’s chin, trying to get a better look. The last big injury to the chin had barely even healed, from what Travis could tell.
"Got into a fight." Patrick says, looking a little embarrassed about it.
"You shouldn’t do that." Travis tries to step closer, but he bumps into the gate. It presses into his stomach as he leans up to try and stay eye level with Patrick, to keep assessing the damage in the dim light.
"He checked our goalie." Patrick shrugs. “You’re not supposed to mess with the goalies."
"You still shouldn’t be getting into fights when you’re already hurt." Travis tells him.
"Well, someone had to." Patrick shrugs.
"What about the Wayne Train? Pretty sure he could throw down. Or, your goalie is that handsome guy I met at the party, right? Carter? I could kick someone's ass for him, he seemed sweet." Travis sees Patrick's eyes go wide, like that surprises him. "Oh, what? Think I can't throw a punch because I'm gay?"
"No. I think you don't go around punching people because you're a nurse." Patrick says, and his mouth twitches into a soft smile.
"I can fight, bud." Travis laughs. “Had to learn how to throw a punch to survive sharing a rink with asshole hockey players like you."
"Hey now." Nolan laughs. “I keep telling you, I’m a nice boy.”
"I’ve yet to see it." Travis snorts a laugh, the sound reverberating down the empty street. "Anyway, quit avoiding the question. Tell me what you meant, because I’m starting to realize I’ve missed some pieces of the puzzle here."
"What puzzle?” Nolan asks.
"The puzzle of you.” Travis laughs. “Of why you keep coming around, why you tracked me down on social media, why you showed up at my ice rink. Especially why you didn’t hang up the phone when my old lady fell down.”
"I was worried about you!" Patrick blushes, steps closer to the gate, crowding into Travis' space. "I just heard an alarm go off and you freak out, I just wanted to know you were okay."
"Alright. And the rest of it?" Travis looks up at him, his hand still resting on Patrick’s fucking chin after all this time. They’re practically pressed together, the gate digging into their stomachs between them.
"I want to be around you." Patrick says, like that's an explanation.
"What does that even mean?” Travis huffs.
"I really don’t know how you aren’t getting this." Patrick says, reaching up and taking the hand Travis is touching him with, tangling their fingers together.
"I think I get it, now, actually, but I need you to say it, Patrick." Travis laughs, reaching down to fumble with the gate latch. He has to step back to swing it open, and it puts space between them again.
"Travis, I," Nolan starts, and Travis cuts him off by stepping back into his space.
"Please just say what you mean, this time." Travis says, looking up at him. "Cause if I’m right, I need to hear it, bud."
Patrick looks at him, for a while then, just letting his eyes flit across Travis face, like he's trying to take him all in. Travis remembers when they first met, when he'd stood, just like this, in Patrick's space. He was a huge man, big and broad and clearly strong in a way that was useful, worked for to meet an end. He smells like sweat, right now, and like generic body wash that you can get at Dollar Tree, and Travis doesn't know why that stands out to him. Why anything about Patrick stands out like it does. A lot of men tower over Travis, but for some reason, with Patrick, it's never felt wrong. Never made Travis feel small, or weak, or any of the shit guys try to make him feel all the time. Patrick just felt safe, and Travis doesn't know what to do with that.
"I asked you to come to my house that night as my date, I thought you understood that." is what Patrick finally says, and Travis' heart skips a beat. "Then I realized you thought I was married, and I felt stupid."
"Patrick." Travis says, not knowing what the fuck he means to follow that up with.
"I probably am stupid. Because if you let me, if I let me, I could love you so easily, Travis." Patrick says, brushing his swollen knuckles across Travis' cheek. "Because I think I'm really fucking close already."
"Well, fuck." Travis says, swallowing around the lump in his throat.
All of a sudden, a whole lot of shit makes so much more sense.
Travis is a fucking idiot.
Kevin is really, extremely glad he stayed in the Uber to look at pictures of the driver's puppy.
Marš, ty kurvo jedna! (Czech) - get away, you bitch
Chapter 16: the shame of losing a corn toss
Travis was taking his time, packing his bag at the end of the day. He's finally gotten about halfway through the chart audits, by sheer force of trying not to think about anything else. Avoiding your thoughts was a hell of a motivator, and Travis had a lot of shit to avoid thinking about, right now. If he kept finding his traitorous little hand brushing against his cheekbone where Patrick had touched him, well, that was between him and his cheekbone, thank you. Travis doesn't have anything to focus on, right now, though. Just gathering up all his shit, throwing it haphazardly into his bag, and wondering if there will ever be a point in his career that he gets out of this building before nine at night. That is, of course, when Jak steps into his office, blowing the bubblegum she's not supposed to be chewing when she's on the unit, and looking entirely unapologetic at making him stay even later. She couldn't have just waited five minutes, waited until Travis was out the door, and then it would have been an EMS problem, and not a Travis problem. He already knows what's happened before she tells him, since there is no alarm going off, and the only time they don't pull a code is if they find someone after the fact. Travis just follows Jak dejectedly to room 14, trying not to let his face give away what was going on to the other patients who are milling about, refusing to go to bed.
"Was he hospice?" Travis asks, looking down at the dead guy on the floor, wishing that he'd at least died with his mouth closed, saved Travis from this particular view.
"You really gotta get caught up on those charts, boss man." Jak snorts, popping her bubblegum obnoxiously. "Not hospice, sorry, this ones all yours. He wasn't even end of life, my dude, I've got no idea why he kicked the bucket."
"Pretty sure he died of being ninety-four years old, Jak." Travis says.
"Room 2 is a hundred and three, and she won the corn toss yesterday." Jak laughs.
"That was a fluke, she didn't even know she was playing a game, she just hates corn." Travis mutters.
Since room 14 wasn't hospice, it's up to Travis to declare time of death and fill out the fucking mountain of paperwork that comes with a dead body. He goes about the deceleration process mechanically, pulling his stethoscope from around his neck, barley touching it to the guys chest because Travis has seen a lot of dead people in his career, and he can tell this is one of them. He calls it, writes down the time on the back of his hand, and waits as Jak leans out of the door and shouts for two of the caregivers. Travis walks them through postmortem, and reminds them that the guy is probably going to groan when they roll him over, and to please not scream as it will disturb everyone. They just look at him with wide eyes as Jak laughs quietly behind them. They assure him they can take care of it, and Travis just shuffles off sadly to his office. He wants nothing more than to go to bed, right now.
"You want me to take the family or the coroner?" Jak asks, trailing after Travis to his office.
"Wife or kid?" Travis asks, throwing himself into his office chair dramatically.
"A son, you've met him. He's the guy who stormed in here and said he was gonna sue us because his dad was wearing someone else's pants. Not a happy man, really not gonna be happy that his dad just bit it for no apparent reason." Jak says, plopping her ass down on the edge of Travis' desk, already reaching for his office phone.
"Fuck, that's him? This sucks." Travis groans, rolls over the options in his head. "Call the funeral home directly, we'll let them deal with calling the son. They have to call him to get permission anyway."
"Don't you think that's kind of fucked up? Is that even legal?" Jak raises her eyebrows at him, phone in her hand, finger poised over the keypad.
"I don't know what you're talking about." Travis grumbles, scowling at her.
"Cold blooded, my guy." Jak snorts, but just pulls up the dead guys chart on her tablet and does as he tells her. He listens to her explain the situation to the funeral home while he pulls his phone out of his pocket.
Outgoing 9:31PM: Room 14 passed away, TOD 2122.
Simone Clérisseau 9:32PM: Did you inform family?
Outgoing 9:32PM: In the process.
Caregiver Sarah 9:32PM: What happened?
Outgoing 9:33PM: Unclear.
Kurt the Med Tech 9:33PM: He just came off alert for med change, maybe complication with new Quetiapine?
"Shit." Travis hisses. "Jak, when did room 14 start Quetiapine?"
"Uh, Monday?" Jak says, tucking the phone into her neck. "Why?"
"He was only on alert for twenty-four hours after starting a fucking psychotropic?" Travis asks, pulling up his MAR is disbelief.
"That's how your predecessor taught us." she shrugs.
"Well, at least now we know why he fucking died." Travis scowls, staring at the order that was put in by Kurt less than forty-eight hours ago, only three chart notes attached. What a fucking nightmare.
Outgoing 9:35PM: I need all med techs to come to an emergency mandatory meeting tomorrow 1000.
Outgoing 9:35PM: Please acknowledge.
Kurt the Med Tech 9:35PM: Got it.
MT Corin 9:36PM: Got it!
davide medtech 9:36PM: Got it, boss.
"Hey, asshole, acknowledge." Travis says, kicking at Jak's leg where it's dangling off the desk.
"What?" she hisses, kicking him back.
"The group text, respond to my message." Travis demands.
"I'm sitting right fucking here." Jak says, still holding the phone against her neck.
"Fucking acknowledge me, you little shit." Travis tells her.
"Fine, you fucking freak." Jak grumbles, pulling her phone from the front of her scrubs.
Lead MT Jakani 🤡💩 9:38PM: Got it.
Kelly the caregiver 9:38PM: Should I come too, since I'm in med training?
Outgoing 9:38PM: Yes, might as well.
"Hey, boss." Jak says, kicking Travis hard in the knee.
"Don't call me that, I'm fucking quitting. This place is a hell hole." Travis grumbles.
"Yeah, well, it's about to get worse." Jak laughs. "Your predecessor never filed his paperwork, so the funeral home has no file on this guy. We're gonna have to call EMS for transport."
"Fuck." Travis says.
"Mhm. And since it's a non-hospice death, they'll send cops." Jak says in a singsong voice.
"Fuck." Travis whines, dropping his head down onto his desk.
"You really think the Quetiapine killed him?" Jak asks, patting Travis on the back of the head like she's soothing a dog.
"Either that or he really did just drop dead for no reason." Travis mumbles.
"Maybe the shame of losing a corn toss to a hundred year old bitty was too much for him." Jak laughs. "He really said goodbye cruel world, my corn hole shame was too much for my feeble mind, I must leave you now."
"You're a terrible person, you know that?" Travis turns his head to squint up at her, at her dumb smile.
"You know how many old coots I've watched die in the six years I've worked here? Cause I don't, I lost count around a hundred." she snorts, blowing another bubble with her gum.
"Whatever. You found the body, so you're talking to the cops." Travis says.
"I can't talk to the pigs, dude, I'm Halal." she tells him, and Travis almost laughs along with her about it.
"Shut up and call nine-one-one already." Travis sighs.
Jak laughs at him openly, but does as she's told.
@t.kon do you realize this is the face you make when the firemen show up? #thirsty
Liked by madamclerisseau, and 27 others.
t.kon: @jakdealsdrugs delete this or your fired.
Nolan lays on the floor in Kevin's room, listens to the sounds of the ambient music Carter sent him, and takes stock of his body. He focuses on his head, and he's tired, drowsy but pain free and clearheaded. His jaw, aching and swollen, damaged three times over, upper left canine a little loose. He focuses on his neck, which feels tight at the top, a little sore from the stretches he and Kevin had done earlier, following along with a lady on YouTube that Carter swore by. His shoulders are loose, relaxed, no sighs of pinching or swelling. His right hand throbs, his dislocated pinkie raw and angry where it's taped up. He digs his remaining fingers into Kevin's sheepskin rug, focuses on the way it feels against his skin. He breathes steadily through his nose, counts his breaths. He looks up, passed where Kevin's head is hanging off the bed above him, up to the ceiling. His vision is clear, no spots, no fuzzing. Some floaters, which he can never seem to get rid of completely, but nothing out of the ordinary.
"I can't believe I don't have a migraine." Nolan says, which makes Kevin burst out laughing.
"Honestly, me neither, Patty. You got one after Jakey hit you, I thought for sure a fight would do it." Kevin tells him, flipping over onto his stomach so he can stare down at Nolan. His face is hovering right over Nolan's, and his too-long hair is hanging down in waves.
"I did get my Emgality injection just a few days ago, I guess it's doing it's job." Nolan shrugs, looking up at Kevin's dumb face, wondering how he's gotten so lucky these past few days.
"You know the game tomorrow is gonna be a nightmare, right?" Kevin asks.
"We beat their asses in the regular season, we can do it again." Nolan smirks.
"You know what you need?" Kevin asks, very seriously. "A kiss for luck."
Then Kevin is rolling himself off the bed, and directly onto Nolan. He doesn't actually try to kiss him but he does jam his fingers into Nolan's armpits and start tickling him.
Nolan really needs a new room mate.
Outgoing 11:23PM: Good news is, no migraine.
Travis 11:24PM: is there bad news??
Outgoing 11:25PM: [img129.jpg]
Outgoing 11:25PM: Yeah. Going to bed alone.
Travis 11:26PM: jesus fucking christ
Travis 11:26PM: you cant just DO THAT
Travis 11:26PM: is that whats its gonna be like now?
Travis 11:26PM: cause my dick cant take it if its gonna be like this now.
Outgoing 11:27PM: I'm sure I could help it out.
Travis 11:28PM: UGGGHHH
Travis 11:28PM: no. nope. youre not allowed to flirt with me when i'm too tired to do anything about it.
Travis 11:28PM: selfies need to have shirts in them for now, thanks
Outgoing 11:30PM: [img130.jpg]
Outgoing 11:30PM: Is that better?
Travis 11:31PM: on your BODY. YOU BITCH
Outgoing 11:32PM: [img131.jpg]
Outgoing 11:32PM: This part of my body?
Travis 11:33PM: i'm blocking you
Travis 11:34PM: i cant do this i preferred when you were straight
Outgoing 11:35PM: I've never been straight, Trav.
Travis 11:36PM: well TRY
Travis 11:36PM: youre killing me
Outgoing 11:36PM: I have an easy fix.
Travis 11:38PM: me blocking you???
Outgoing 11:39PM: Or you could just come see me.
Travis 11:40PM: i literally have to wake up for work in like five hours don't do this to me you stupid sexy bastard
Outgoing 11:42PM: You think I'm sexy 😊
Travis 11:42PM: i think you SUCK
Outgoing 11:43PM: Oh, definitely. I'd show you, but apparently you're too tired.
Travis 11:45PM: i hate you
Travis 11:45PM: now if you dont MIND i am going to sleep and you are going to STOP trying to ruin my life
Outgoing 11:46PM: [img132.jpg]
Outgoing 11:46PM: Sweet dreams
Travis 11:47PM: FUCK
The extension on Travis' desk rings while he's in the middle of finishing up the state report regarding the death of his patient. They'll have to wait for the coroner's report to know how he died, which will determine whether Blanchet Gardens is at fault, and whether or not Travis will have to be firing Kurt for a medication oversight. He really hopes that it was actually corn toss shame that killed the man, because they really can't afford to be down a med tech. Not to mention how badly they do not need DPH up their ass, now that Travis had just barley pulled them into compliance. The med techs still need work, need to be broken of the bad habits the old nurse gave them. Which reminds Travis that he's meeting all his med techs in just a few minutes, so he hopes whatever this phone call is goes quickly.
"Travis Konecny, RN, how can I help you?" Travis answers, tucking the phone into his neck so he can keep typing.
"Philadelphia, huh?" the voice on the other end says, and Travis feels his blood go cold. It's only by virtue of his body going still with shock that he doesn't just drop the phone.
"How the fuck did you get this number?" Travis asks, ignoring the look that Simone shoots him from across the room.
“Travis Konecny isn’t exactly a common name." Chase says. “The place you work put you on their website.”
"What the fuck do you want?" Travis hisses.
"I want you to unblock my number so I can talk to you, Travis.” Chase says.
"Stay the fuck away from me." Travis says.
"Would you just listen?” Chase snaps. He sounds angry, and it catches Travis off guard. He’d gotten so used to his careful monotone.
"Just say whatever you want, then." Travis says, and it's only when the phone makes a rattling noise that he realizes how badly he's shaking.
"You’re going to be an uncle.” Chase says. “If you can get your head out of your ass long enough to give a shit about your family again, you know how to call me.”
Chase punctuates his statement by hanging up on Travis.
The sound of dead air has never made Travis feel sick to his stomach, before.
Travis spends the entirety of the emergency meeting that he, himself, called, wishing he had some way to get out of it. He tells the med techs that he doesn't blame them for them being shit at their jobs, in much nicer words than that. He reminds them that the nurse who came before him was a fucking dipshit, without actually calling her that. He tells them that they will be having mandatory in-service training sessions to fix the areas of failure he's found. He makes sure they know the gravity of this current situation, that if they are found at fault for their patient's death, that they could be looking down the barrel of DPH putting the building in stop placement, and the possibility of some of them losing their jobs and licenses. He reminds them that this particular patient has a son with a grudge, who hated them all on a good day and is already threatening to sue them for neglect as it is. He rushes through explaining to them how the alert system is supposed to work, that the legal minimum is seventy-hours, and that they've been fucking up med orders for years. After stripping them of the ability to enter new orders at all, and telling them that any new physician orders have to go through Travis himself, he tries to reiterate that he's not mad at them. Based on the looks he gets from everyone but Jak, and the fact that Kurt looks like he's about to cry, he thinks he was probably coming off as a lot angrier than he intended.
Well, Travis is angry, right now, it's just got nothing to do with work, and he's trying his best to put a lid on it.
Travis has tried, very hard, to maintain a level of professionalism with his employees. Jak didn't count, because as the lead med tech, she was technically management, and only a small step below Travis in hierarchy. She had the power to eject caregivers from the schedule if she deemed it necessary, and was one of only two people who could put the unit into lock down, the other being Travis himself. He felt comfortable being himself around her, because he needed her to be his equal, and because she was also so god damn annoying that she brought out the bitchy side of him anyway. The rest of the med techs, though, didn't get to see that side of him. They saw the hard ass nurse who came in and tried to whip the building into shape. They saw a boss, who was tough on them and didn't let them get away with slacking like the previous RN had. Travis wants to keep it that way. Letting them see him sweat it out up at the front of the conference room because he just found out his asshole homophobic brother is having a baby and he doesn’t know how he’s supposed to feel about it? Not gonna happen.
"Any questions?" Travis asks, closing his tablet and sliding it into the bag he already has slung across his body.
"How are these in-service sessions going to work with my schedule?" Corin asks, as she too is halfway ready to leave.
"I'll figure the schedule out later this week and let you know." Travis says, already milling it over in the back of his mind. Corin is the flex schedule med tech, fills in the gaps that the other med techs leave when they take their days off. It's a batshit schedule that gives her a full twenty-four hour stretch every Saturday, and Travis actually has no idea how he can work around that without pushing them all into overtime.
"Travis?" Kurt is there, right in the path between Travis and the door. Travis looks up at him, into his pinched, sweaty face. Kurt is about twice Travis' age, balding and slow moving, but in this moment Travis feels like he's looking at a scared kid. He feels shit about it. Kurt really was good at his job, had a way with the patients that Travis had never seen. He is absolutely their favorite, and most of them even remember his name and face, which is unusual. Travis really, really hopes he doesn't have to fire him.
"Talk to Simone." Travis tells him. "Give her a detailed report. You were just following what you've been taught, nobody can hold that against you."
"Okay, thanks, boss." Kurt nods sadly, shuffling off.
"What's up your ass?" Jak asks, falling into step with Travis as he rushes out of the room.
"I'm going to lunch, I'll be back in an hour." Travis says, not slowing his pace as she has to powerwalk next to him.
"It's still morning, and we're having a crisis." Jak hisses.
"I'm having a fucking crisis, alright." Travis says, swiping his badge to get out the front door, and feeling sick to his stomach when it shuts behind him.
He thinks, just maybe, his priorities are a little skewed, right now.
Nolan probably should have seen it coming, but he hadn't expected it to be like this. At morning skate before the second game, he makes a joking attempt at a Michigan that Carter, who is unhurt and starting tonight, bats down with a curse and laugh. Then as he swings around the net, his brain splits in two. His left eye throbs, and the pain shoots so quickly across his skull, faster than it ever has, down and down, into his spine. His head spins, and he feels like his whole existence warps sideways. He bites back a groan, closes his eyes against the sudden pain, and just keeps skating. He takes a deep breath, which catches in his throat as nausea swims through him as he tries to swallow it down. His whole head throbs, and he drops his stick in a fumble, his hands just losing the strength to hold it anymore. He opens his eyes, looks down at his feet where he's gliding over the ice, forcing himself to just keep moving, get away from the net where pucks are still flying. The white of the ice blinds him, and his vision swims as his eyes fill with tears that he doesn't let fall.
Bullshit, it isn't supposed to happen like this. He'd been fine, he'd been doing just fucking fine.
Maybe Travis, with his cigarette the other night, had been too close?
Nolan doesn't know, but his neck pulses with pain, slumping as his head is suddenly too heavy for him to hold up. He shakes out of his gloves, reaches up and unclips his helmet with shaking hands. He pushes at it weakly, and just manages to get it askew but not all the way off.
He breathes deep, focuses on not throwing up on the ice as his eye and temple throb, and his vision blacks out completely in his left eye. He forces his head back up and it's agony, crippling, and he almost pukes because of it. His vision is blurry, black spots swimming, but it's not hard to pick out Wayne's familiar shape on the ice, and Nolan pushes weakly towards him. He closes his eyes again, lets himself drift lazily, doesn't worry too much about where he’s going as long as it's towards Wayne.
"Oh, fuck." Wayne says, gently, as Nolan skates bodily into him. Nolan doesn't respond, just whines weakly and tucks his face into Wayne's neck. He hates this, fucking hates this. This is bullshit, this is so fucked up, not fucking fair.
"Patrick, you alright?" comes one of the coaching staff, voice piercing against his ringing ears, so loud and painful that Nolan can't even tell who it is.
"Quiet." Wayne hisses. Wayne had already dropped his stick, wrapping one hand around Nolan's ribs, the other one reaching up to push his helmet the rest of the way off. It clatters to the ice noisily, and pain shoots through Nolan again, all the way down his body, radiating out from his skull and burying into his feet.
"Get him out of here." the coach says, and Nolan's tears finally fall at the tone he uses. It's not concern for Nolan that prompts that.
"Man." Wayne clicks his tongue, and Nolan can tell he wants to snap at the coach, but holds himself back. He just settles his big hand over Nolan's eyes, and skates slowly away. Nolan doesn't even try to help, just cries into Wayne's shoulder and lets himself be dragged along as his head and neck pulse in angry, throbbing agony.
Time seems to blur, as Wayne coaxes him into actually walking at one point, props him under his big arm, and speaks softly to him. "I got you, it's okay, I'm here, I'll take care of you, I got you." Nolan loses time between that and getting to the shower, but Wayne is washing his hair as Nolan's brain swims back to clarity. His big hands are so careful, rubbing gently against his scalp as Nolan sobs, the sound of his own distress piercing through his head. His whole mind throbs, and he does end up throwing up, right there down the shower drain. It makes him cry even worse, feeling useless and exhausted, part of him wishing Wayne would just leave him to suffer.
His head swims, and he loses some time again, because next thing he knows he's in his stall and Wayne is shoving a sweatshirt over his head. It was warm out today, so Nolan had come to practice in a t-shirt, and he doesn’t know how to communicate to Wayne that this isn’t his sweatshirt. His vision is gone, useless, so he can't make out anything when he tries to look down. He gets hit with a wave of nausea again though, so he just tucks his head and focuses on breathing deep. Then he notices the smell of the hoodie, lavender shampoo and a bit of sweat, the bite of a familiar all natural deodorant made from sage leaves and vanilla. Nolan doesn't know when he stopped crying, but he starts again when he realizes that Wayne has dressed him in Ivan's clothes to comfort him. Fucking Wayne Simmonds, too god damn good. Too good for this world, and certainly for the likes of Nolan. His head throbs again, deeper this time, and his whole body starts to shake, and he wishes, violently, that he were anybody else in the world, in a different body, a different life, where he didn't have to experience pain like this. This is such fucking bullshit.
The next thing he knows he's being lowered into a car, and voices are muttering gently around him.
"I have to film that stupid Gritty thing, I can't go home with him." Kevin says, sounding grief stricken about it.
"He can't be alone." Wayne says. Nolan wants to protest, because he's a grown fucking man, and he's suffered through plenty of migraines alone at this point, but his eye throbs and pain shoots through his spine, and he must let out a sound of pain because someone puts their hand on his head, brushes his wet hair back gently. It feels like Wayne, but Nolan can't really be sure at this point. He’s hit with a wave of pain, the origin of which he can't pinpoint, and it makes him arch his back off the car seat behind him, press into the hand on his head and whine in distress.
"Oh, Nolan." Kevin says, and the sound of his real name in Kevin's mouth just makes him feel worse, somehow.
"He can't come with me, he needs to go home, where his meds are." Wayne says.
"I have his meds, in my bag, hold on." Kevin says, and, wait, what? Nolan knew that Kevin carried his spare meds on roadies with them, in case Nolan's luggage got lost, but he didn't realize he just did it all the time. Nolan feels nauseous again, and just leans back in his seat, lets Wayne, or whoever, pet his hair gently as pain courses through him.
Some time must pass again, because the car is moving now, and Nolan has to throw up. He must make the need clear, somehow, because a plastic shopping bag is shoved into his hands. The act of throwing up hurts, radiates pain through his chest, threatens to suffocate him.
"Tellement désolé, mon petit." someone says, which makes no sense, because Wayne and Kevin don't speak French.
Sometime later, that Nolan doesn't know, he's in a bed, the scent of Ivan amplified as someone had raised the hoodie of the sweatshirt for him, and tucked him into bed loosely.
"Nolan, come on." someone is prompting, tone indicating it's not the first time they've said it. "Hey, yeah, here, come on, you gotta take this pill, okay?"
"Can't." Nolan croaks, rolling away from her as his stomach twists angrily again.
"You gotta try." Ryanne says, pressing her hand to his mouth, trying to get him to open up. He's seen her do that to Gavin, when he won't eat a vegetable, and it makes him want to cry. His head is pulsing too much, though, he doesn't think he has enough energy even for that.
"Wayne?" Nolan asks, trying to blink open his eyes. It's dark in the room, and he recognizes vaguely that he's in the guest room at the Giroux house, the one downstairs that's behind the bathroom and has only a small vent window. His vision isn't good enough to make anything out, really, just the vague blur of Ryanne where she's leaning over him on the bed.
"They're playing, Nolan." Ryanne says. "I'm so sorry." and she really sounds like she is, and it makes Nolan feel terrible. His left eye throbs in annoyance at him, and he closes his eyes again.
"Dying." he tells her, because he genuinely feels like it. A migraine hasn't hit him this hard in a long time, and he feels it through his whole body.
"I know, baby, I know." Ryanne says, sounding like she's the one in pain, like she wants to cry. "You gotta take this pill, okay, please?"
Nolan lets her put the pill on his tongue, but shakes his head when she tries to get him to drink water. He just lets it dissolve in his mouth, and hopes he doesn't puke it up.
"Don't leave me." he begs, tears threatening again.
"Okay, Nolan." she says. "Okay, I've got you."
He hears her shuffling around, probably kicking off those hideous fuzzy house slippers she always wears, and then she's climbing onto the bed with him. She stays on top of the covers, but curls up around him gently. He rolls over towards her, tucks his head up under her chin and lets her throw her leg over him, wrapping him up in warmth. She smells like her usual perfume, and a little bit like breast milk, and a lot like safety. She runs her fingers through his hair, with so much care that it makes Nolan feel fragile and weak.
Tears start all over again, and Nolan has just enough time to think about how much he wishes Travis were here, before he falls asleep.
Nolan wakes up when the bed dips, but he doesn't open his eyes. His migraine is still there, throbbing behind his left eye, pulsing at the top of his spine. He feels a lot of shuffling around going on, bodies shifting around him on the bed. Ryanne climbs over his body to get out, and then someone is climbing over him the other way, settling against him in her place.
"Did you get him to take the medicine?" Claude whispers, voice rumbling where his chest is pressed up against Nolan's arm.
"Yeah, finally. He's been asleep since." Ryanne whispers back. "Are you okay?"
"I'll be fine, go take care of Gavin." Claude sighs.
"Got it. You keep an eye on our first born son, then." she says, chuckling softly. It makes something warm bloom in Nolan's chest, when she says that.
Pain stabs pretty significantly through his left temple, then, and the brief glimpse of happiness vanishes. He curls up, pushing into Claude's space with a whine, seeking comfort. His captain's arms come up around him, and he shushes him gently. He mutters something in French, pressing the words against Nolan's sweaty hairline.
Claude begins to hum, one of those old sad French songs he likes, and Nolan slips back into sleep.
Nolan wakes up fully this time, because Claude is talking right above his head. It takes him a second to swim to consciousness, and his head still hurts, but it's a little witch, now. His body aches all over, but the pulsing of the pain has receded for the time being.
"We've still got the rest of the series. I'm sure you'll cry about it if we lose two more." Claude is saying, quietly, laughing a little.
"If we weren't gonna get the cup, you know I'd rather it be you." someone says, and the tinny quality of their voice tells Nolan it's coming from Claude's phone.
"I'm sure there are plenty of teams you’d like to see with the cup before the Flyers." Claude scoffs.
"It's not about the team, Clo. It's about you. You're an old man, now, you're gonna run out of chances at the cup." the guy says, and Nolan strains to place why his voice is familiar.
"Fuck you, ennemi juré." Claude says, without any heat at all.
"I'm serious, you deserve the cup." the guy says. "Well, if I can't have it again, anyway." then he laughs, weird and honking, and it registers to Nolan who it is. He must be, like, concussed and hallucinating, or dead and in some frozen-over Hell, to be in the world where Claude is just having this phone conversation so casually.
“So we lost?” Nolan asks, mumbling into Claude’s side.
“Hey, Patty." Claude says, gently. "Yeah, we're oh and two, now. We’ll worry about that in the morning, though. Did Sid’s duck laugh wake you up?”
"That laugh hurts my head on a good day." Nolan mumbles, tucking his face further into Claude's armpit, where he'd apparently settled at some point during his sleep.
"Isn't it just the worst noise you've ever heard?" Claude chuckles. He wiggles the arm that's under Nolan around enough that he can tuck it around Nolan's head. He rests his thumb on Nolan's temple, rubbing gently.
"You feeling okay, Nolan?" Crosby asks, ignoring Claude's insult entirely. Nolan imagines that he's probably used to them, by now. Nevermind that them being friends apparently is, like, the most mind boggling thing Nolan's ever witnessed.
"Fraternizing with the enemy." Nolan grumbles, wincing when his head throbs under Claude's hand.
"Yeah, well, when he gets in his head he wants to talk to someone, he just calls every thirty seconds until they pick up. He's a pest." Claude yawns, stretching his body in a full body shudder that Nolan can feel through his own, where they're pressed together down to their overlapping ankles.
"Claude mentioned you're having some issues with your head, when he answered, told me to be quiet." Crosby says. "I didn't ask for details, not my business. If you want, though, I have some remedies that really helped me out, you know? Stuff the trainers might not think of."
"Freaky Russian voodoo." Claude laughs, and Crosby makes an annoyed little sound.
"It's holistic. I told Claude I'd send him some things for you, if you'd like. A lot of it is Russian, but that's beside the point." Crosby says, sounding both annoyed with Claude and like he's got some genuine concern for Nolan. He supposes if anybody understands his frustration, his pain, it's Crosby. Like, hey, here's a guy who knows what it's like when his body betrays him, what it's like to have your brain torn in half with pain.
"That'd be nice, actually. Can't hurt to try everything, eh?" Nolan says, hoping Crosby can hear him from where his face is still smashed into Claude's ribs.
"I'll get some stuff together, for you." Crosby says.
"Might solve one of my problems." Nolan sighs. "Too bad you can't do much about the rest."
"I can try?" Crosby laughs, quieter this time, like he's reigning himself in now that he knows Nolan's awake and listening.
"I'd never admit it, but Sid ain't the worst person to get advice from." Claude shrugs, the motion actually making Nolan wince as it jostles his head around. Claude just rubs his temple in apology.
"You literally just admitted it by saying that." Crosby snorts.
"Don’t know how much advice you'd have for this." Nolan laughs, finally picking his head out of Claude's armpit so he can look up at his captain. The room is still dark, the only light coming from where Claude's phone is resting face down on his chest.
"I've been through some shit, Nolan." Crosby says, startling a laugh out of Nolan.
"Alright, well. I'm basically in love with this dude, and he seems to like me back but nothing has come of it. Which shouldn't matter, because it's not like I can date him anyway." Nolan mumbles, mostly into Claude's shirt, rushing his words since his own voice hurts his head as he talks.
"Why couldn't you date him?" Crosby asks. Nolan can just picture him, the tilt of his head and furrow of his brow.
"Don't be stupid." Nolan mumbles.
"He can't help that he's an idiot, Patty." Claude snorts. Nolan tries to make out his expression, but he can't tell. Can just see the vague shape of his nose and beard.
"Nothing from you, Clo, shut it." Crosby says. "And Nolan, please elaborate, just for the sake of it."
"I'm an NHL player, Crosby. And I have no interest in being outed." Nolan tells him.
"Nobody said you have to come out in order to date this man." Crosby says, like it's some obvious statement. "You might just end up like dozens of men before you, a carefully guarded open secret that nobody really talks about." Crosby laughs. "Or maybe you'll be braver than the rest, make history."
"Either option sounds like shit." Nolan grumbles, giving up on trying to see Claude's face and tucking his still-hurting head back into the man's armpit.
"Yeah, but if you're in love, if you've got someone to share your life with, sometimes that's enough." Crosby says, and Nolan can practically hear him shrugging.
"It doesn't really seem worth it." Nolan says. Something makes a clinking sound over the phone, loud enough to bother Nolan a little bit. Crosby laughs then, loud and honking again, and then Nolan hears the sound of a chair scraping against the floor.
"Wrong." is what is said, then, by someone who isn't Crosby.
And oh, oh.
Wow, okay. That voice is instantly familiar.
"Is worth it, is most important." Malkin says.
"Oh." Nolan says, lifting his head back up to blink dumbly at Claude. His nose and beard appear entirely unfazed.
"Yeah." Crosby says, a smile in his voice. "It's hard, Nolan, I won't lie to you."
"No, not hard." Malkin says. "Is easiest thing in world, be in love."
"Don't lie to him, Geno." Crosby snorts. "It's not easy, and sometimes it seems impossible, but it is worth it."
"Easy for me, but I'm always best." Malkin says.
Nolan has to admit, he thought the most shocking revelation he'd have about Sidney Crosby today was that he was on friendly phone call terms with Claude Giroux.
"Make them go away." Nolan sighs, shoving his face deeper into Claude's side. "Big witch is coming back."
Big Cat 💕 1:14PM : chestnuts!
Outgoing 12:19AM : WTF?
Big Cat 💕 12:19AM : i always watch what u eat to make sure i know if something is bad for u and both today and pens game u had provys wierd russian toast but the bread never bothered u before so i asked provy nd he put chestnut butter on the toast so its chestnuts!
Big Cat 💕 12:20AM : nd before u try and tell me the pens game migraine was bcuz of jake remember what i kno u patty and i luv u anyway
Outgoing 12:22AM : Thank you.
tellement désolé, mon petit (French) - I'm so sorry, baby
ennemi juré (French) - arch nemesis.