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Travis’ mark doesn’t die overnight. It takes the whole summer for the bright colors to go mute and for Travis to end up with a dull dark grey strip just above his wrist.

He checks it the first second he wakes up, heart going haywire when his eyes still haven’t adjusted to the light of day and it seems like the band is gone altogether. Sometimes, he stares at it for so long it almost feels like he can see the actual opacity going down, vibrant tones a distant memory.

His mom tells him to put on his wristguard because you’re hurting yourself, honey, she says when she catches him staring at his forearm. Travis has never worn a wristguard except on occasions where it was mandatory for him to do so. He’s not putting on anything.

It eats his sanity, for sure. He smiles at the shades of happy green and then he remembers, his whole mood going sour. There is this one night where he had a little too much to drink and he’s lying in bed, sad and miserable, when he catches the sad marine blue strip on his skin. Travis doesn’t think, just snap a picture of it with the caption saying hey bb, ‘m stil not broekn, lets fix htis, i can still manke u hppy. He wakes up the next day with a hangover and a text that reads please Travis, don’t. He’s not sure the reason he throws up the next minute is solely alcohol-related.

Travis’ mark goes grey the Monday of the week he’s taking a flight to go back to Philly for training camp. He spends long minutes shifting his forearm under the sun, natural light, water. He tries to scratch, wash, carefully caress his right thumb over it. No matter what Travis goes, the band doesn’t move, no light catching on it, no nuance of anything.

His eyes begin to burn and Travis feels the warm tears as they start to stream down his face. There is no mistaking the state of his soulmark and what it means. It’s the exact same picture Travis had to face when Law came up to him one week into the pre-season, pulled up the sleeve of his hoodie, and explained to Travis that he wanted to break up with him.

 

-

 

Just like other sciences, the one behind soulmates is complicated, always progressing, filled with controversies and different opinions. Polls are frequently made and societal studies are constantly being conducted and the beliefs vary much depending on the region of the World where you are, come from, were raised.

Oftentimes, people will compare the idea of soulmates with religions, something where people put their faith in an entity they can't exactly prove the existence of.

Opinions differ over Canada and the US but people tend to believe in soulmates and value the bond. Some groups are known for how they try to "open people's eyes on the mascarade in front of them" and some people shame others for not trusting the process. It's a whole spectrum.

Travis was taught soulmates history and basics at school. His parents raised him with the guideline of respecting everyone's opinion and the idea that it would be okay to never find his soulmate or to build a life without them.

In the meantime, Travis grew up surrounded by soulmates: his parents, his two sets of grandparents, his uncles and aunts, you name it. He was the witness of his mother smiling at her wrist and kissing his father's soulmark so many times, the memory imprinted in his memory in a thousand different shades.

In theory, Travis understood that soulbonds didn't have to be the norm and everything, but he always his parents and relatives so happy. He always thought that it was what he needed for himself.

And like, it's not like his friends and classmates didn't spend time gossiping and speculating about soulmates too. Travis had just— set higher expectations for himself, gotten a little more intense about the whole thing. It was easily manageable when he was 10, with older kids teasing him and adults finding it cute. Today, with his new situation, it might as well fuck up the entire way he envisioned his life.

 

-

 

Travis is not a good actor. When he was younger, he liked to be in plays because it was another way for him to let go of his energy and while learning the lines wasn’t his favorite part, he thrived on impro and the clapping of the audience when they had their attention on him. It felt nice and rewarding and like, maybe he wasn’t good at things like maths and history but theatre? He could eat that bitch. He no longer had time for it when he got into high school because of hockey but before that? Yeah, he was good

22-years-old heartbroken Travis is not good at pretending. Out in the real world, Travis wears his emotions on his sleeve. He’ll talk too much and chirp everyone’s mother to hell so people can focus on that and not his stress. It’s a brand, one that mostly protects him from any serious conversation he doesn’t want to have.

Second-year in the NHL soulmate-less Travis is not good at hiding. His teammates tell stories about their summers and the only memory Travis’ brain can bring up is the one afternoon Law crushed his soul. The coaches talk about hockey tactics and Travis’ eyes will inadvertently catch the guard on his wrist, and his head will dive down the wrong path. His friends discuss their soulmates and Travis listens, the spike of jealousy so bad it makes his throat burn and his head hurt.

Travis plays hockey for a professional team so of course, he gets chirped about it. He hears everything there is to say about his big mouth having been left out in Ontario, the rookie bravado all gone, the having been hurt in the head while hunting this summer, how he’s just sad because he still looks like a teenager and girls still aren’t into that. It’s not bad— he’s not exactly mad about it, just pissed off he has the worst comebacks to give them.

 

-

 

Of course, G corners him to talk two weeks into the pre-season when he’s organizing a barbecue at his place for everyone to keep catching up and the rookies to get acquainted with the older guys. Travis came because he didn’t really have a choice but when he manages to find a quiet corner to stay in while everyone’s outside, he settles down there with his phone, gets to have about fifteen minutes of peace before his captain finds him.

“You know you’re still a kid and your presence in rookies activities is practically mandatory?” G says, his tone semi-serious. He’s not mad but Travis can see the little frown between his eyebrows and fuck, that’s not good for him.

“Sorry, the air’s getting a little chilly and I forgot to take a sweatshirt with me, so,” Travis shrugs. He’s so full of bullshit the eye roll he knows the eye roll he gets from G is 100% deserved.

G sits down on the comforter in front of him and seems to think for a minute before offering to Travis one of the two opened but still full beers he has in his hands. “Was gonna give it to Coots but he can get one on his own,” G explains when Travis frown at him. He accepts the drink with a nod of his head.

Travis takes a few gulps down. It’s only his second of the day, not really feeling like drinking today, G mirroring him. They stay quiet for a while before G finally breaks the silence, probably calmer than Travis has ever seen him. “Look Teeks, you know you can tell me whatever you want to, right?” Travis feels his heart speed up at the question, he suddenly feels too sober for this conversation. “Like, I’m not saying you have to tell me if something’s wrong and I know you’re no longer a rookie but I’m still here to listen, yeah? Nothing’s too stupid or anything.”

Travis has to swallow past the lump in his throat, his fingers tight around his beer bottle. The thing is, he does know that he can tell anything to G because G is the only one he trusted with his Law secret last year.

When he got drafted to the Flyers, one of Travis’ first crises had been about the fact that he was going to be playing for Claude Giroux’s team and holy fuck, that guy is impressive and Travis’ will probably need to die if he embarrasses himself and makes it so his captain hates his guts. Obviously, it didn’t happen because Travis is a good kid apparently (a really fucking annoying one most of the time, but it’s the Flyers spirit, per G’s words) and while G can seem though from afar, he’s a really nice person and he cares for his boys and it didn’t take much for Travis to trust him.

So, Travis told G about having a soulmate who had been drafted 11 spots before him and who now lived in Arizona for a team they would only meet twice during the season. It had lifted a weight from Travis’ chest, to be able to share his secret with someone else. 

Travis’ eyes go to G’s wrist, the vibrant green attesting to the fun Ryanne must be having right now downtown with her friends.

“I’m gonna guess it’s about Law?” G suggests quietly. It makes Travis feel like a scared animal, a little, like he needs to be babied to not hurt his feelings. He knows it’s coming from a good place but it kind of stings. Grow up, Travis.

“I—” Travis starts after a nod, putting his beer on the ground so his right thumb can move over his wristguard. He raises his head to make sure no one’s around and— fuck it. He unclasps the piece of plastic, baring his mark for G to see.

He hears the small sound coming from the back of G’s throat and Travis doesn’t know if he wants to hysterically laugh or cry.

“Is Law o—”

“We broke up.”

Travis cuts G because he doesn’t need him to worry while furiously wondering why he hasn’t heard about it if something really bad happened to Lawson Crouse.

Pure black is the mark you get when your soulmate dies. Dark mat grey? Well, according to the internet, it’s pretty rare but it could mean that while both soulmates are still healthy, the soulbond has died. It’s not something people talk about and Travis had to dig in some really weird and dark places to find some information on the phenomenon. It’s more of a rumor than anything, really.

Losing your soulmate because they passed away? Super sad, have people being very sympathetic with you. Losing your soulbond, this blessed thing that you should have cherished and taken care of with all your energy? Shameful, embarrassing, very wrong.

Travis puts his wristguard back in place. “Well, he broke up with me just after the end of the season because his mark already looked like this,” Travis starts, the echo of his heartbeat pounding in his head, hands a little damp. “And uh, he said that he loved me, always would. That I was his first love and his best friend and that I should never forget that because hey, that’s really the thing to focus on when you’re blowing up the most important thing in my life, right Law? But apparently, it was going to be truly hard to make this work with our jobs, which, sure long-distance was hard and maybe we weren’t the best at it but we were supposed to figure it out, together, because we’re fucking soulmates.” Travis is not going to cry. Travis is in the living room of his captain’s house and all of his teammates are outside and fuck, he’s going to fight the current burning sensation behind his eyes. “Were soulmates, I guess, apparently. Fuck.”

His eyes are on the ground in front of him but Travis does feel the hand G lay on his knee, firm and grounding. It feels… Probably better than he would have expected. Besides their family and some of their common friends, not a lot of people knew about him and Law -because, well, apparently the fact that gay soulmates existed wasn’t enough to phase all the homophobia out of hockey- so not a lot of people know about what Travis is going through right now. G is actually the first person he tells besides his parents and his brother, Travis realizes, and while his family obviously supported him, they’d known Lawson for years. G is 100% on Travis’ side, which, does make Travis feel better, somehow.

“I’m just a useless fuck-up now,” Travis concludes because the self-hatred is just that bad today, the hurt just raw all over his body.

“Travis,” G starts and Travis nods to the ground, of course, it has to be a full first name statement now. G squeezes his knee and Travis takes it as the cue it is, lifts his eyes to meet G’s concerned face. “You’re not useless. You’re a pain in my ass and you talk too fucking much for your own good but you’re nowhere near a fuck-up, alright? This team loves you, your family and friends love you, the fans adore you. I know how much you loved him and I’m sure you still care about him a lot but he doesn’t get to define you. I can’t imagine what you’re going through but it’s gonna get better, I promise.”

Travis has to snort at that last part. He’d chirp G for how cheesy that was except maybe the words felt good to hear and made him even more emotional. Fuck, he should get home before he really starts crying, that’s bound to happen at this point.

“Now, I won’t hold it against you if you don’t want to stay but the rookies aren’t that bad and the guys do miss your loud mouth. Might help you change your line of thought and distract you a little.”

Travis blinks a couple of time, passes one hand over his cheeks and find them dry. He takes one big breath, a second one, and then finishes the beer he had abandoned by his feet.

“Let’s go.”

 

-

 

Turns out, G wasn’t wrong. Well, obviously things don’t get better in one day and Travis keeps having meltdowns when something reminds him of Law or his current situation. That said, he does try to make an effort to be more sociable. 

The guys lay down on the chirping and Travis knows that his captain has something to do with it but whatever. Coots does tell him that it’s nice to have you back, kid one day when he’s leaving the locker room and Travis had been particularly vocal while everyone had been gearing down and dressing up post-practice. Travis doesn’t make any comment on it, accepts the words with a shrug and a half-smile.

The rookies aren’t bad. They’re a little stressed and a little too eager and weird and awkward sometimes but Travis chirps them nicely about it, remembering what it was like for him to be in their shoes. He sure wasn’t so terrible, no matter what the vets want to say with all their eye rolls and their you’re basically still a rookie TK.

Now that he’s moping only half of his days, Travis gets to find out about Nolan Patrick. It’s not that he hadn’t noticed that the kid was with them for the pre-season, Travis had just not been paying attention to him.

The thing is, Travis knows about Nolan Patrick. He watched the draft in June, he had heard all there was to know about Hischier and Patrick, Nico and Nolan. Who would go first. Who would get the Devils and who would end up in Philly. Travis thinks he read somewhere that Nolan was supposed to go 1st for a while and then an injury happened. Whatever. In the end, it’s not Nico Hischier that Travis has in his locker room now and that’s what matters anyway.

Travis remembers the rosy cheeks from the draft. Law had laughed about them and Travis had reminded him that he wasn’t doing so much better for their own draft. Law had rolled his eyes in answer and that had been the end of it. Fast forwards a few months and Travis gets to see them rosy cheeks in action on a daily basis. He doesn’t make comments on them -he’s got better game than that, thank you very much- but he notices them, when Nolan just had to do sprint across the length of the rink or whenever he has the attention of a journalist focused on him. It’s kinda cute, to be honest.

Nolan is a pretty quiet guy, Travis learns. He gets this very intense look when he’s out on the ice and he has this very dry sense of humor when he dares grace them with the sound of his voice, and it has Travis snickering on more occasions than he would admit to. Nolan doesn’t care when TK’s in a mood and silence is all he wants to give. Travis starts to naturally hang around Nolan and they have breakfast together on the road and sometimes they watch a movie together during flights because they both enjoy horror comedies. It works.

 

-

 

“TK, how come you’ve got no game? You should ask Patty to give you a lesson or two.”

Travis thinks that his cough barely covers the fact that he almost just spit out his mouthful of beer, cheeks on fire, and murder vibes in his eyes. Provy’s looking at him all smug and innocent and Travis starts to consider how to kill him.

“Fuck you, I don’t need any advice from the rookie. Or anyone else’s, for the matter,” Travis shoots back once he gets a working throat back. It’s a weak comeback and he’s very much aware of that fact.

Provy raises his hands, the fucker, “Don’t be mad at me baby Flyers, just here to help.”

Travis rolls his eyes and the conversation gets thankfully diverted to something else, possibly the girls at the bar that some of the single guys have their eyes on, whatever.

The issue here isn’t Travis’ game, he’s pretty sure he still got some. The issue is it’s December and Travis is still recovering from his break-up that happened seven months ago. Things aren't nearly as bad as they were this summer or even at the beginning of the season when G had to do his little intervention. Travis has been so focused on the soulmates part of things and how fucked-up it was that he managed to break his soulbond that he kind of overlooked the breaking up side of things and the losing your best friend part of it. It was actually Ryanne (because Travis trusts Ryanne by extension and he spent some big nights at his captain's place back in September to talk things through between one or three bottles of beer) who made him realize when she told him about how she got over her worst break-ups in senior year of high school and college.

Bottom line is, two months and a half into the season, Travis is still recovering from the end of his six years-long relationship and he is nowhere near ready to date again, or even have sex with someone else, the thought alone making him feel all weird and disgusting.

He gets hit on by girls, sometimes, because he guesses he doesn't look that bad and the hockey thing can do wonders to even the ugliest mug. It used to make him smile when he was with Law but now, it's just awkward because he doesn't even like girls.

Guys, though, it's a whole other story. The occasions are rarer (again, Travis still has a hard time understanding how homophobia can stand against the concept of soulmates, besides the fact it's just fucking stupid and why the fuck are people being shitty human beings anyway) but he does get the hands on his forearm when he's at the bar, the fingers at his hips on the dancefloor, the words whispered close to his ear — some offers kind of cute and others way cruder. These moments are the worst because sometimes, Travis thinks, oh, this guy looks good and oh, this touch feels nice, I want more, and then some part of his brain catches up and he immediately feels ill to his stomach and hates himself for a varying length of time.

So, Travis doesn't need any fucking tips.

His beer finished, Travis finds himself looking for Nolan. It doesn't take long to notice him at the bar, two gorgeous (gay, not blind) blondes, probably in college, laughing with him, apparently suspended to his words. Travis doesn't even understand how Nolan can score so much when the only place he can legally offer anyone a drink in Canada and they aren't up there that much.

Tonight, Nolan's wearing black jeans and a simple white t-shirt. It's the most basic of outfits but Travis can't deny that it works for him. Nolan plays hockey and he got muscles in his thighs and his ass and his arms. His clothes are currently hugging him in all the right places. In the fact department, Travis can't say Nolan hasn't been gifted with nice features. He's not sure the lights of the bar can hide his rosy cheeks but the girls probably dig them anyway. Travis kind of does.

So Nolan looks good. He's not the first good-looking teammate Travis has had (finding out he was into guys and having a boyfriend from a pretty young age made him pretty self-aware of his tastes, no matter what the hockey douche bros would like to say about it) but the realization still makes Travis stops for a second. He looks at Nolan, focuses on the fingers of the first girl wrapped around his forearm, the long hair the other one is flipping while smiling up at him.

An elbow thrown against his ribs stops his session of spying. "Not needing any lesson, eh?"

Raff.

Travis will commit murder among his team one day, and no one will have the right to lock him up for it, his excuse will be just enough.

 

-

 

"Hey Patty, what do you think about soulmates ?"

The air is deadly silent for a moment and Travis starts to think that maybe Nolan fell asleep, until he hears some grumbling and ruffling from the other side of the room. Fuck, maybe he should have stayed fucking quiet and slept like he told Nolan he was going to some ten minutes ago.

"Sorry bud, couldn't hear you," he still whispers back because he can't back up now. He can handle Nolan being mean to him in the morning, wouldn't be the first time or the last.

The thing is, they're set up to play Arizona tomorrow and while Law has been sent down to Tucson a while ago (and he was there when the Yotes came to Philly in October), Travis can't help but think about him. The fact that Valentine's Day is coming up the next week and he's been swamped with commercials and PR stuff about love for the last few days also hasn't been helping.

He isn't even supposed to room with Nolan but they had to change things up because of injuries and there is probably no one else Travis would dare ask the question to. He'll bring Nolan coffee in the morning for a couple of days, it's okay.

"I said, I'm not sure you're going to like my answer," Nolan mumbles, his voice deep and unintelligible half of the time.

Travis grew up to be an expert of that tone in the last few months. He's an expert now, understood Nolan perfectly, which probably explains why his heartbeat quickens, loud to his ears in the quiet of the room.

"Uh," Travis starts with. He tries to discern Nolan's features on the other bed but no lights are filtering from the windows to help him, the slim beam coming from under their entry door just enough for Travis to be relatively sure that Nolan is at least facing him. "What do you mean ?"

There is a sight, that Travis can decipher too, and then: "Teeks."

Travis answers with a huff of annoyance. Some people don't like to talk about soulmates, Travis knows. Nolan always wears his wristguard and Travis is pretty sure he hasn't dated the same girl twice since the beginning of the season. Which, for the record, he doesn't judge at all. Travis also knows that Nolan is very good at telling him to fuck off when he doesn't want to talk about something so that I'm not sure you're going to like my answer is fucking bullshit.

"Oh come on, don't tell me that you're scared of hurting my feelings, what the fuck."

Another sight and Travis is about to get up and turn on his side bedside lamp when Nolan finally caves. "Look, I just— I mostly think that the concept of soulmates is really dumb, alright?"

His ears decide to ring a little and Travis has the passing thought that this probably wasn't an easy question to tackle in the dark on a stupid hotel room in Phoenix, the two of them tired and unable to see each other. What the hell, Travis.

"Sure, some soulmates are really good together and the whole color thing seems to be accurate but there's no explanation behind it and it shouldn't be everyone's norm. Soulmates are given much more credit than they deserve and I'd rather live in a world where they didn't exist."

Ta-dum. Ta-dum. Ta-dum. Oh, that's Travis' heart, right in his throat. And there is a whole hurricane in his stomach now too. And the worst thing is, he brought it on himself.

It's not the first time Travis has heard this type of opinion on soulmates and usually, he doesn't honestly care. He wasn't prepared for how much different it hits coming from Nolan.

"I know that's not your opinion. The guys told me that you really value soulmates and that's fine."

Yeah, sure, Travis did mention to the guys last year that he kind of dug the concept of soulmates and he'd been called a sap but some of his teammates had also agreed with him and now Travis regrets everything.

"And maybe you've found your soulmate and that's why you won't pick-up when we're out or maybe you're still waiting for them and you're preserving yourself and that's fine too. You do you bud, if that's not the case already, I'm sure you'll find them and have a very happy life together."

Travis feels like the ground has just been swallowed from under him and his eyes barely have the time to start burning before tears are starting to pool there, running down his cheeks horizontally. Fuck.

"Trav'?"

Fuck.

"Good night."

Nolan calls for him again and Travis manages to hear an umpteenth sigh from him. For a wild minute, he's afraid that Nolan is actually going to, like, turn on the light or worse, get up and reach for Travis, but he does neither.

"Good night Travis," are the last words Travis hears from Nolan.

He doesn't fall asleep until the early hours of the morning.

 

~

 

He takes a shower first thing in the morning, waking up an hour before his alarm but unable to fall back asleep. Travis knows he still looks like shit, his eyes still a little red and dark circles marking his skin.

He's not one ounce surprised when G comes up to him and lays what Travis has now labeled the firm and grounding hand on his shoulder. "Hey, you're good? Law still in Tucson, no?"

Travis blinks, having completely forgotten they were in Phoenix and actually not expecting G to check that kind of thing. He truly doesn't deserve him as his captain. He nods in answers and G still looks suspicious.

"You'll come up to me if you need to, yeah?"

"Yes, Dad," Travis does put some energy and half a smile in there. It makes G roll his eyes and squeeze his shoulder before leaving the breakfast room.

He has exactly two minutes of quiet to enjoy his omelet before Nolan sits down in front of him with his own plate of eggs.

"You didn't wake me up."

"Woke up before my alarm, thought you could use the beauty sleep."

Nolan actually frowns at that, which Travis finds pretty stupid considering Nolan's down there earlier than he would have if they had waited for Travis' phone to wake them up.

"I'm sorry."

Hearing Nolan's apology, Travis' eyes go up from his plate to Nolan's face and he barely has the time to look into Nolan's baby blues before he's focusing on his food.

"Not sure what you want to apologize for."

His heart is starting to get excited again. Travis wasn't expecting to have this conversation in the morning, or at all, to be quite honest, and he would like it to get over already.

"Teeks."

"You didn't hurt my feelings. I asked you a question and you answered. We... Do have different opinions on the matter and it's whatever. You told me months ago that you believe that watermelon is better than melon and yet, we're still friends. It's called, like, free will or something. We're cool."

Nolan looks at him very dubiously. "We're cool ?"

He's mocking him but it's going to get Travis what he wants, so.

"Yeah, bud, 100%. Now, do you want to be the best rookie and get us some coffee?"

Nolan keeps up with the weird stare and then comes the usual roll of eyes before he gets up. Thank fuck he can get things back to normal and just forget everything about last night.

 

-

 

Travis goes home for the summer, his dad picking him up from the airport on the fourth day of May.

While last year he'd taken the first plane available after locker room cleanout, this time he'd stayed a little more in Philly. He wasn't dreading going back to Canada but this time, nothing was urging him to come home.

It's not lost on him that he gets back on his break-up anniversary. Travis refuses to make a big deal out of him. He gets black-out drunk with his brother around a fire in the backyard and they talk about everything but hockey and that's just the way Travis wants things to be.

The last year of his life has been a huge rollercoaster, he won't deny that. The whole Law thing aside, he played a full NHL season, all 81 games under his belt. He scored 47 points, which: not bad. He played NHL playoffs hockey for the first time. Travis wasn't stellar at it and they had to be eliminated by the fucking Penguins, of all people, but it had still felt like an accomplishment anyway.

The team's group chat gets pretty quiet during the summer, the odd fishing or baby pic coming through once in a while. G checks on him now and then, Travis ignores him and answers Ryanne's texts instead just to bother him.

Travis has been back for two weeks when he receives a message which makes his heart skip a bit upon reading.

Law

5:12 PM hey, heard you were back, I was wondering if we could see each other maybe?


He thinks he's hallucinating for a second. The likeliness of this being a dream in the middle of his afternoon nap not entirely unlikely. Except Travis spent hours with his thumb hovering over the Delete button of the contact but he never got to actually press it. It is indeed Law's name at the top of his screen.

Law

5:12 PM hey, heard you were back, I was wondering if we could see each other maybe?
5:15 PMnot pressuring you or anything, just thought that could be nice


Eyes go to his bare wrist. He's with his family 95% of the time so he doesn't bother with his guard most of the time. He grew accustomed to the sad grey shade a while ago and yet, it stings a little when he looks back between his arm and the phone in his hand.

Travis leaves him on read.

G gets married in early July and Travis wouldn't have thought he'd be so excited to see the guys months after leaving Philly but he truly is. He hovers from conversation to conversation, catching up on everyone's break with a glass of champagne in his hand.

He takes Nolan there as his date because they were both going to go alone anyway. Nolan rolls his eyes positively hard when Travis tells him that he's still allowed to hit on the bridesmaid but whatever.

They've been keeping in contact since the season ended. Travis sends his favorite memes and Nolan shares his best sessions of fishing and they both talk about the dumb stuff their siblings do. They never mentioned again what happened in Phoenix that one night and their friendship is just as cool and easy as it was before that.

Travis gets a little teary-eyed when G and Ryanne exchange their vows —soulmarks the same exact vibrant green—, and then again when they have their first dance and he hasn't been sober in hours. Of course, he gets chirped about it but he doesn't honestly care, he'll get them back harder once he gets his bearings back, probably at training camp.

The truth is, Travis is really happy for Ryanne and G. They love each other so much and they've been the best people to him for the past year and they truly deserve to be happy and to have everyone they love celebrating their love for one day. It's just hard to not get sad at some point because, yes, weddings make Travis emotional but they remind him of what he'll never be able to have even though he's dreamed about it since he was a kid, and that sucks, more than he can battle when it's 2 am and he's been a witness of it for more than twelve hours now.

G finds him on a bench outside. He lost his bow tie somewhere along the way, the top button of his shirt undone. He looks really happy and Travis hates the fact that his captain's face turns a little concerned when he takes a good look at him. God Travis, stop ruining everything.

"Hey buddy, you good ?"

Travis nods, trying to convey the most positive energy he can. "Yeah. You clean up real nice, I didn't know you could do that."

Not his strongest chirp but it does make his captain laugh, Travis will take it.

"You and Ryanne looked really good out there. I'm really happy for you two, you really deserve this. Obviously, you're the luckiest one in this marriage but I think Ryanne did pretty well too."

G smiles at that, soft and private, the kind of expression he never throws in the locker room, too intimate for that. "Thanks, Teeks, means a lot."

It's been two years now and Travis swears he no longer needs his captain's approval but the moment still feels nice. He did good as a friend, and that's pretty cool too.

Travis is about to leave, his mood much better than when G joined him when a hand lands on his knee. "Hey, you know you'll get to have that too one day, yeah?"

Travis feels the familiar burn in his throat and he blinks, tries to smile to will the possible tears away. He's silent for a while and he thinks G is about to speak again when Travis cuts him off.

"Law contacted me, at the beginning of the break. Said he wanted to see me. I... Might be considering it."

The news seems to leave G pensive, and Travis tries to focus on the noise coming from inside rather than the jitters in his free leg.

"Okay."

"Okay?"

"Yeah, I mean, I never know what's happening in that stupid head of yours the majority of the time but I think you've thought this one through, didn't you? Do I think it might be awkward? Probably, better to do it now than on the ice in a couple of months."

Of course, Travis should have expected the most pragmatic of answers. He's pretty sure he feels both happy and disappointed, some part of him really wanting to do this and the other part scared shitless. Shit.

Travis nods, mostly because he's not sure what else to do, and then G speaks again, squeezing his knee before getting hum. "Alright, now come on, I think you should take some videos of your date's moves on the dancefloor, have some material to blackmail later. I think he's scaring a couple of Ry's aunts."

Travis laughs at that and he's quick to follow G inside where they find Nolan being absolutely silly with the rare cousins still up. Travis does snap a couple of pictures and a video or two, for the memories.

It's past 4 when Travis' body hits his mattress, Nolan's going down the next second in the other queen bed. His head is swimming more than enough and he already knows he'll have a killer headache in the morning but that's what bubbles do to you and they were all worth it.

With his last ounce of energy, he has the mind to put his phone to charge on his nightstand. The last thing Travis does before falling asleep is snap Lawson a picture from the reception earlier today with the caption bet ur future cap won't have such a cooool recption. Stupid but with no feelings at all. Might regret it later. Or not.

 

-

 

Surprisingly enough, Travis' snap at the wedding isn't a complete disaster and it does restore the dialogue with Law. They don't meet during the summer. Travis would love to say it's circumstantial but the truth is, the occasions arose and Travis never felt ready.

They did text more or less frequently. They never grazed what probably should be the elephant in the room (aka their relationship) but Travis thinks it's for the best. If this ever has to happen, he's pretty sure his text messages and Snapchat application aren't the most adequate places for it.

So things are a little awkward at times but it's okay. They catch up on what they've been up to this summer, Travis talks some more about G's wedding, Law tells him what his sisters have been up to, they talk hunting together and how nice the weather is right now to have their workout sessions outside.

It's superficial and yet so easy sometimes, it's nice. Travis was kind of afraid he was going to be set back in his break-up recovering process if he was in contact with Law again but he thinks he feels pretty good about it.

When training camp comes around, the guys don't fail to notice he's in a much better place than he was a year prior and they do voice these notes, the matter of a day or two in the locker room until they find something better to focus on, like the awful hickeys all over Nolan's body.

The text comes up right after their game against LA.

 

Law

7:28 PM come have dinner with me before we play each other? I'm buying


 

It's not that Travis had forgotten that they were playing in Phoenix to close their 4 games road trip in the West (and then three days later the Yotes will come to Philly because the NHL schedule is ridiculous like that) but maybe he had been kind of occulting the fact that it implied seeing Law in the flesh again.

Better not to do it on the ice, G had said a couple of months ago. Did it change the situation much that Travis and Law had been texting for a while now? Probably not. Only in Travis' ideal world.

And the thing is, they fly out directly from San Jose after their game and they have a full day off in Phoenix before having a morning practice and their game the next day. The timeline works well for them and it won't be an excuse Travis can use to get out of it.

Law

7:28 PM come have dinner with me before we play each other? I'm buying

sure, good for me on the 4th

👍 I'll text you the address

 

Travis is a wrecking ball of nerves during their off day. He goes to lunch outside with the guys and since Phoenix isn't exactly the most exciting city, they get back to the hotel early and Travis plays some rounds of video games with them until it's too much and he needs to hit the gym before he vibrates out of his own skin.

He does end up spending way more time than he would prefer to staring at his reflection in the mirror of his hotel bathroom. It's pointless because there's not much to do about his hair anyway and he's not going out to seduce, this is not a date. This doesn't keep the small (probably animalistic and still a little bit bitter) part of Travis' brain who just needs him to look good, proves to Law that he's doing well (show him what he's missing out on). Travis doesn't google the restaurant Law texted him but after changing shirts five times, he figures plain jeans and a navy blue button-down can't be too much or not enough for whatever place they're dining in.

When he gets off his uber, Travis learns that they're meeting at a Peruvian place if the words on the facade are to be trusted. He's still busy reading things that he will probably get to take a look at on the actual menu when he hears a voice that makes him freeze on the spot.

"Hey, sorry I had some issues finding a parking spot, I didn't make you wait for too long?"

It probably takes a second too long for Travis to turn around, his heart already beating wildly against his ribcage, but then he's face to face with Law and Travis doesn't melt immediately. Law has a tentative smile on his face and one hand light on Travis' forearm. It might feel less surreal than Travis was preparing himself for.

Fuck, let's go, they're doing it now. "Hi, no I just got there. Food looks good from here."

Lawson's smile does brighten at that and maybe Travis feels warm when he notices but it is what it is. He follows him inside and doesn't say anything about the hand that stays at his elbow's height to guide him in.

They get settled in a quiet corner in the back, a pitcher of water and two menus delivered in their hands in a matter of a couple of minutes. Watching Law interact with the waitress, it's obvious that he must come here often and Travis doesn't miss the Hola and the por favor and the muchas gracias coming from Law's mouth.

"You should have the ceviche de pato or the ceviche de pescado, depends if you'd rather have fish or meat, I think you would enjoy either one of them," Law suggests when Travis has been looking at his menu for maybe too long.

"Since when do you speak Spanish?" he asks and it might come out a little harsher than he meant to.

Law actually blushes at that. "Uh, I mean, we're close to the border and I come here often and, well, Teresa has been teaching me stuff here and there."

He doesn't elaborate on who Teresa is and Travis just nods and settles his menu down.

"You're looking good," Law continues. "Always thought Mom did a great job when she picked that color."

Travis doesn't think the lights in the restaurant can do much to hide the way his cheeks go up in flames when he both hears the compliment and realizes he decided to wear the shirt Law's mom had gifted him for Christmas three years ago. Oh fuck.

He's saved from truly having to answer when the waitress comes back to their table the next second. God bless her.

Law places his order and when both sets of eyes are directed in his direction, he just says "I'll have the same thing" even though he has no idea what will be on his plate. He still trusts Law with that (and way too many other things, like his life, probably).

"So, uh, how's Chase?" Law asks once their waitress is gone and that, Travis can answer.

The thing is, they haven't physically seen each other since they broke up but they've been texting for a few months and they grew up together so it's easy to tell Law about what his brother has been doing lately and it's equally easy to ask Law about the painting classes his mom has started taking that Law was telling him about a few days prior.

They talk about their family and they talk about hockey. Travis tells Law about his new rookies and life in Philly, Lawson does the same while they enjoy their food (which, Travis has to admit, is supremely good).

They haven't seen each other in a year and a half but Travis can't say he hasn't seen more recent pics of Law online. After all, they still have some friends in common and Travis never managed to unfollow Law on insta. In-person, he does notice how Law has grown into his face, jawline sharper, beard looking a little better, fuller. He looks good, that's simple for Travis to recognize.

Law is hot and still very much Travis' style. If you'd asked Travis a couple of hours ago if he would have gone home with Lawson had his ex-boyfriend/soulmate asked him to? He probably would have answered with a maybe that could have been a yes. He knows he's made a whole lot of progress since last year but has he entirely moved on? Travis is not 100% sure.

There is a part of him that wanted to believe Law wanted to see him because he wanted Travis back. That would prove that Travis had been right all along and that maybe they could just fix things and all his dreams could still come true. Except now, sitting in front of Law and having this flowing discussion and those shared laughs together, as friends, it no longer feels like something Travis can have or truly still wants to have. His emotions are kind of all over the place right now but yeah.

They have alfajores for dessert (which: pretty nice too) and then Law hits him with: "So, hm, I wanted to see you to catch up but also kinda because there is something I want to tell you."

Ah.

So much for his heartbeat that he had managed to calm down. Travis truly does not deal well with his emotions for someone who lowkey has to manage high-intensity stress for a living.

"O-kay," Travis answers, not keeping the little hesitancy out from his voice.

Law is nervous too. It shows in the creases on his forehead and the way the fingers of his right hands are tapping quickly against the table.

"I met someone," Law starts and pauses, apparently thinking Travis needs time to process the three little words.

"Teresa," Travis answers immediately because he can take cues and it makes sense for Law to have finished moving on quicker than him. He was the one who decided they were no longer functioning, after all, he might have well have been ready for someone else the day after he broke up with Travis, for how much he'd been thinking about it beforehand.

(This is wrong, Travis knows, mostly. Doesn't prevent the news from hurting a little.)

Law honest to god blushes at the name, his lips turning into this stupid smile Travis used to be the recipient of when they were teenagers first confessing their love to each other and making dumb promises together. Wow.

"Yeah, she's a junior at UOP, she studies geology. Sometimes we go to the desert just so she can get excited over rocks, it's kind of cute."

Travis actually smiles at that. He can't deny his jealousy but seeing Lawson so happy— it kind of makes him happy too. "How did you two meet?"

"At a bar downtown during pre-season last year. We were out with the prospects and rookies, Clayton asked me to wingman for him and Teresa was the friend of the girl Clayton had his eyes on so, it got us talking. I swear I wasn't looking for anything, sure didn't feel ready yet, but she was nice, and discussing with her was really easy. We just talked all night and she offered her number when she had to go, to stay in touch if I wanted to. I spent most of last season in Tucson but we kept texting and Tucson's not that far from here, I made the drive every now and then. We only got together in early February."

When they broke up, Travis kind of figured out that Law wouldn't have a hard time moving on and that he had the discussion with Travis early because then he could have his hot girl summer and fuck a different guy every night of the week. That was the drastic version of it but also the one he would revert to when he was really sad and angry. Even if his anger towards Law has decreased since, Travis never really revised this idea. Learning that it's not how things went down might be creating a whole lot of thoughts he doesn't exactly have the time to deal with right now.

"Congratulations?" Travis tries after a moment because he probably can't keep staring at Law forever. "I'm happy for you." Travis is almost sure it's not a lie.

"You don't have to lie, it's alright. I'm not asking for your blessing or anything." Uh, since when can Travis lie anyway? Hasn't Lawson known him long enough to be aware of that incapacity of him? It's not like— "Your face Trav', it's doing the telling for you." Yeah, right, that's fair.

"Sorry," Travis apologizes, taking a look around them. It's probably a good thing that they're doing this in a public space. He doesn't feel like he wants his emotions to get the best of him right now but it might be helping— to know that he can't just explode and scream at Lawson that he no longer knows him, anyway. "I'm happy that you told me." That's not a lie, for sure. "I swear."

Law lets a smile slip at the corner of his lips and somehow, it looks like a truce Travis wasn't even aware they needed but feels relieved to have anyway.

"Alright."

"Alright."

Travis isn't sure how long they look at each other until he notices Law's left forearm laying on the table, palm down, tan lines from years wearing a wristguard obvious and screaming for attention.

Uh.

"Please don't freak out."

Law turns his arm palm up before Travis has the time to question him.

The ringing in his ears starts immediately, the sounds of the restaurant distant and not a few feet from him.

His pulse feels harsh, beating too fast against his temples.

The mint stripe might imprint on his brain for how hard and how long Travis stays staring at it.

"Hey Trav', you're okay? You're looking a little white, maybe you should drink something."

He's looking a little white. Maybe he should drink something. He's— oh my god.

Travis feels the fingers on his hand and he closes his eyes, tries to focus on his heart, remembering the breathing exercise Ryanne explained to him around the same time last year.

Law has both hands on his lap when Travis comes back up, still a little shaky but better, he thinks.

"Wow."

"Uh, yeah."

Travis gulps down the water in his glass and refills it immediately, lowkey regretting they hadn't gone with wine. Law's arms come back on the table, he's got his watch back on his left wrist.

"I didn't want to show you to rub it in your face. It didn't feel right for you not to know. And— I wanted you to know that it was possible, to have a second chance at this. We don't have to be broken forever."

Travis is still feeling a little feverish, the situation surreal, and he doesn't even know if it's more because Law gained a new soulmate or because they can have a new soulmate after they broke their bond. It's a thing, which was vaguely mentioned on the internet but very badly documented. It's a miracle, that Law got to have and that could happen to Travis too.

It's— basically reshaping 92% of the line of thoughts he's had for the past year and a half about his situation and his future.

Oh fuck.

One, two, three, four. Fucking breath, Travis.

"I don't believe that whoever or whatever is arranging the whole soulmates thing fucked-up with us. I think they just missed the fact that in the long run, I can't do long-distance and I need someone to come home to. That's what I can have with Teresa now. But you and me, Teeks? We can be so good for each other. I still believe that you're my best friend and I consider myself so lucky to have had the chance to grow up with you and have all those experiences and first times with you. I love you. I know it used to be romantic love and it no longer is but it still matters and I'll probably always love you in some sort of way."

Travis isn't sure if someone just crushed his heart or if a weight has actually been lifted from his chest.

Only Law to do this in the fucking Peruvian restaurant where he comes regularly, Travis idly thinks when a new pitcher of water is deposited on their table.

"Now I— I understand if you don't want to keep seeing me because it hurts too much or for whichever reason you don't have to disclose to me. I'll respect your decision and stay away, I promise."

Travis wants to cry. Travis wants to scream. Travis wants to skate the fastest he can and crush his body against the boards. Travis needs his emotions to calm the fuck down or leave his body in the very near future.

He goes for the only solution he has on hand right now.

"Did you have that whole speech memorized in your head? First Spanish and now a whole functioning memory? Fuck Law, Arizona is truly doing a number on you."

Law had been looking all serious and anxious ever since he'd shower his soulmark to Travis but this makes him laugh. A big laugh which makes the people at the table closest to them turn around and have Travis joining him.

Travis is still smiling when he continues. "I think I can't really escape you with our families being friends and shit. Your sisters will curse me if I don't show up at their weddings."

"You're absolutely right. And I'm sorry but there's nothing I'll be able to do about that."

What Travis gave back might not be what Law was hoping for with his big declaration but Travis didn't bolt out or start a crisis in the middle of the restaurant, so, it's whatever, Law should consider that a victory.

Law offers to drive Travis back to his hotel once he's taken care of the check and Travis sees no reason to refuse so he ends up on the passenger side of Law's SUV, staring at the side of his face while Law fiddles with his phone to get the address and put it on Google Maps.

The thing is, it's been so easy to make Law the bad guy, the one who didn't try hard enough, the one who wasn't willing to make more efforts for them, the one who didn't think they were worth the struggles.

Travis remembers how it was after the draft. The first year was easy because they both stayed in the OHL, they were relatively close geographically, the seasons were short and they had that routine down to a notch. The year after that, though, when Law moved to Arizona, Travis to Philly, and they ended up separated by 2000 miles and 3 time zones, shit truly hit the fan.

Finding time to facetime each other was hard, they were both drained from giving their whole energy out into their rookie NHL year and they never really aligned, in their schedules or what they wanted. Travis missed Law, of course, he did. Except things weren't easy for Law in Phoenix and Travis never found the words to make it better. They spent more time arguing about the other not being available to talk than actually making the most of what they had.

Travis never thought things were that bad. He still woke up with his good morning ⭐ texts and the I love you and I miss you and you looked good out there and wish you were there stayed easy to find in their chat thread. He just never noticed how rarer they became, how sometimes he didn't want to answer Law's calls because he knew they were going to fight. Seeing sad blue stripes instead of happy greens on his wrist never stopped hurting him though, especially when the color turned to that ugly dark purple that means Law was both sad and aching.

Travis remembers the way Law's voice trembled when he tried to answer Travis' pleas to stay with him. He remembers the tears that had streaked down Law's face, how sad he'd looked before leaving.

Fuck.

No longer considering Law as the big bad guy might be an option in the long run but it's going to ask a lot of rearrangements in Travis' head.

"Hey, can I do something? I just need five seconds and I swear it'll be a one-time thing."

Law has a huge frown between his eyes when he raises his head from where he was looking at his phone. "Yeah? Sure."

Inhale. Exhale. Go.

Travis places one hand on Law's cheek, thumb against his jaw, and then he leans across the console to kiss him.

Law barely moves, his reaction on the light side of noticeable. It's a close-mouthed kiss, Travis didn't expect Law to kiss back and it's probably a good thing that he doesn't.

He draws back after a couple of seconds, buckles his seatbelt, and turns his head to stare straight outside.

"Did that give you the answer you were looking for?"

They've already driven half a mile when Travis says: "Probably."

He catches Law's nod and the rest of the ride stays silent except for the music coming out from the radio.

 

-

 

When they get home from the road trip, they have another day off and Travis uses the night before that to get black-out drunk with Nolan.

He shows up at Nolan's doorstep with a twelve-pack and a bottle of vodka. Nolan makes a wry smile when he takes him in and in the following minutes, he already has the bottle opener, the shots, and the Chinese takeout menu out.

They eat in front of a dumb reality tv show that Travis actually manages to easily laugh at, proof that he's already a little loose after his couple of drinks.

Nolan offers some game of Fortnite and they're both pretty bad at it, Travis' coordination shitty and Nolan completely unbothered.

There's a "You okay?" mumbled in his direction in between games, when Travis has his cheek mushed against Nolan's shoulder, knee resting on his thigh because that's a comfortable position to play, somehow. Travis just nods, not raising his head to meet Nolan's eyes, and there are no other questions asked during the whole night.

They fall asleep melted together on the couch, because yeah they drank that much, and Nolan wakes up in the middle of the night because he's got to pee or his back hurts -Travis isn't sure, doesn't really care in that instant- and he forces Travis to his guestroom (" your back will thank me tomorrow, come the fuck on please ").

Travis wakes up in his underwear with a killer hangover. Nolan has clean sweats ready for him at the corner of the bed and pancakes in the kitchen.

"You good?" Nolan asks from his spot behind the cooking pans, trademark smirk on his face.

"Never been better," Travis answers while plopping himself down on a stool, coffee already down in front of him.

 

-

 

It takes Travis an entire week before he finds the mental energy to text Lawson again.

 

Law

10:53 AM sorry about the radio silence

and how I ended the night

you just gave me a lot to think about

lot of shit to process

don't worry about that, I'm not mad

still glad you accepted to meet and listen to me

yeah ok

maybe don't tell your gf I kissed you?

oh she already knows

she's not mad, she says it probably was about closure, idk

...

wtf dude

idk bro, I think she's onto something, she's smart

so she knows about me, uh?

yeah, told her everything

she wants to meet you actually

she wants to meet your ex bf, also officiating as former soulmate on the side?

wants to meet the important people in my life

did I tell you she was smart?

The second to last text sends a punch to Travis' gut. He just wanted to apologize and try to be a good friend, not embark on a small rollercoaster. He still has the emotions from last week to finish processing.

Law

11:24 AM I'm not saying no but just, not now?

still need some time

The admission feels a little weird to type and send, not the kind of thing he would have been able to do a year and a half ago (Ryanne and G did some good work with him, mentally-wise).

Law

11:24 AM I'm not saying no but just, not now?

still need some time

of course Teeks, take your time

I'll stay just one phone call away

-

 

Nolan never talked to Travis about his idea of moving into one of the apartments at Travis' building complex. He just texted him in the middle of the summer telling him he'd just signed a lease. End of the non-discussion.

Travis would say that he got hijacked into it and Nolan would say that he volunteered himself but the bottom-line is, they furnished Nolan's place together, using their free time the few weeks before the beginning of the season.

Turns out it's way funnier to pick furniture and elements of decoration for an apartment that isn't yours. Nolan rejects three-quarters of his ideas and he looks ridiculous when he spends long minutes just staring at frying pans before deciding on a specific brand.

("You know they're all the same, right?" "I need quality, I'm not buying that shit again in six months." "Like you couldn't afford it." "Oh come on Teeks, don't you ever think about our dear planet?")

Watching them bicker in IKEA was probably worth more than a true comedy show but in the end, they got Nolan a pretty decent place to live in, so.

It just makes sense for Travis to then spend half of his time there. It's close to his own apartment, it's convenient, he's a little in love with the couch (which he was the one to choose, by the way) and the company is not that bad. Most of the guys will want to disagree but Travis actually thinks Nolan is funny. You just got to understand the layers and be ready to humble him from time to time, it's not that hard.

Sometimes they just eat take-out and nap before going to the rink together. They start a billion shows together that feel wrong to then watch on their own and they have the dumbest conversations which drag on late and have Travis going back to his place with his shoes in his hands, yawning every ten seconds before he hits his bed. Some days, they just hang out quietly, Nolan reading and Travis on his phone in his spot on the couch. 

Travis rarely ever thing about Law or soulmates shit when he’s there. It's pretty great.

 

-

 

Hartsy, their rookie goalie, makes his debut at home against Detroit in mid-December and they manage a 3-2 win so the guys decide that they should go out to celebrate. Travis isn't sure he's in the mood to go out but soon enough, he finds himself in a car with JVR, Raff, and Laughts, and there's not much he can do about it.

To be fair, the first part of the night isn't that bad. He buys Hartsy a shot, watches the rookies being really lame at flirting, listens to Jake and Coots debating about which Jersey Shore season is the best.

Travis spots Nolan at the bar when he's ready to leave and he goes to him to tell him so. He doesn't have the time to open his mouth before it's too late.

"Hey, Trav', doing good? Meet my new friends, Kayla and Jeremy."

Nolan moves to the side and reveals two people: a girl in a black dress and high heels and a guy with a plaid shirt over a white t-shirt and a nice smile. They look to be closer to Travis' age than Nolan’s, of age to actually buy Nolan a drink. They seem nice, too. It's hard not to notice the girl's hand resting on Nolan's forearm.

"Guys, Travis," Nolan introduces him too. "We were about to go sit down, want to join us?"

The words sound more like a recommendation than a true question and while Travis is aware that he does not want to join them, he still orders a new beer and sits down next to Jeremy while Kayla and Nolan take the seat on the other side of the table, quickly getting engrossed in a discussion not meant for the rest of the assembly.

Jeremy isn't a bad guy. He tells Travis about his classes in college and his football team, the game he's got coming in two days. They're done comparing workout sessions when Travis notices that Nolan and Kayla are gone. Jeremy smiles when he also turns his head in direction of the empty seats.

"I really should try your routine, seems to really be working out for you," Jeremy says to catch his attention back and oh fuck, that's his eyes deliberatingly traveling over Travis' arms and chest and shoulders.

Oh god. Travis must be more tired than he thought he was if it took him so long to notice he was being flirted with.

That's when he realizes how close they'd gotten over the last twenty minutes or so. Jeremy's face is right there and the truth is, he looks good. He's got a pretty smile and he doesn't sound like a complete douche, managed to genuinely make Travis laugh over interests they have in common. He smells good and sounds like he would treat Travis the right way, even just for one night, even just for one kiss.

The decision should be easy to make.

Travis recoils the second he feels the hand on his thigh. Jeremy immediately looks apologetic.

"Sorry, didn't mean to go too fast. Do you want me to buy you another drink? We can go dance a little if you’d prefer?"

Travis wants neither of those things. His heart rate is nowhere near under control and he lowkey feels like he's going to throw up. He tries to look around but Nolan's nowhere to be found.

Of course, Nolan's nowhere to be found. He's too busy with his new blonde friend that he can hook up with because nice innocent Travis took care of her friend for them. Fuck.

"Sorry I need to leave."

He doesn't stop to tell any of the guys that he's leaving. He's working on pure instinct from the moment he walks outside to the moment he gets into an uber.

Travis hops under the shower the second he's home. He still feels a burning hole on the surface of his leg when he settles down to lie in bed.

He falls asleep being angry at a thousand different things, Nolan being one of them. Travis doesn't know if it's really fair. His brain absolutely doesn't care.

 

-

 

Travis feels like he hasn't slept his alcohol consumption away yet when he gets woken up around 10 the next morning. He thinks about not going to answer his door except he knows who's on the other side and the chances of that person giving up are pretty slim.

He truly hates the fact that Nolan is an early riser, even after a night out. Nolan doesn't seem to be an actual human being half of the time anyway (which might be why he almost went 1st overall to be fair).

The truth is, Travis is barely awake and he's still a little mad at Nolan for last night and he's not exactly sure he's in the right mood to see him right now.

He probably should have held on more to that thought before opening his front door to his teammate.

"Thanks for not answering my texts yesterday, I thought we were going home together."

Nolan's voice's a little rough, deeper than usual from the night before, and the fact that he probably just woke up. For a second, Travis thinks he misunderstood him.

"What? You were busy with that blonde. I would have thought she'd still be in your bed by now."

Nolan takes the time to roll his eyes before reaching the kitchen and grabbing a Gatorade from the fridge, leaning against Travis' island counter to down it in quick gulps.

"Nah, we hooked up in the bar's bathroom, she had early classes to attend today. I thought that maybe you'd gone home with her friend but I saw him flirting with another guy at the bar and you were nowhere to be seen and not answering your phone. Which: not cool Teeks."

Travis' blood freezes. There is so much to unpack here and he isn't sure where he's supposed to start, where he wants to, even.

"You didn't let me with that guy because you needed me to wingman for you so you could bang that college chick? You thought you were doing me a favor and that I was going to go home to fuck him? I—"

Nolan actually has the decency to look a little embarrassed by Travis' outburst. He didn't yell, exactly, but he did raise his voice and Travis knows his face is getting hotter. Nolan's rosy cheeks are making an apparition too. They're nowhere near cute in this context.

"Eh, don't be mad at me for no reason? I just— I don't know Travis, you never pick up girls and I thought it was a soulmates thing or whatever but whenever soulmates are brought up you shut down so I guessed it might be something else. It's not like I forced you to bang him or whatever. Yeah it did help me with that girl but maybe you could have made the most of it too and that would have been even better."

His heart, ever the traitor, is going haywire inside Travis' chest. Idly, he thinks that the veins on his forehead might pop up any second now. Nolan is leaning against his island counter looking all bashful and half-innocent with his Gatorade in hand and Travis is in the middle of his living room wearing only boxers and a sweatshirt with his hands in fists at his sides. It's— underwhelming to say the least.

"Fuck you," he starts with because that feels like two words that can encompass a lot of what's going on inside his head right now. "I don't need you to have an opinion on my sex life and I certainly do not need your help to get laid. I know you're used to having everyone falling at your feet but stop being so pretentious."

Nolan closes the bottle and rolls it a little between his hands, eyes still on Travis. For how easy Travis usually finds him to read, Travis is not sure what to make of the storm starting to form behind Nolan's eyes. "It's okay to be gay, you know."

Travis is going to have an aneurysm.

"I am. I mean, I'm bi, if we want to get into the specifics."

Travis is going to have two aneurysms.

The short nervous laugh comes out of its own will. "Great, that means that there are even more people you can bang. I don't even know where you find the time at this point."

In the otherwise silent apartment, the crunched plastic makes some noise when Nolan's hand tightens around the Gatorade bottle.

"Slutshame me a little more, will you?"

"Yeah, maybe I should do just that actually. Thank god we get to go out when we travel and new students arrive in Philly every year. Otherwise, it's only going to be a matter of months before you've fucked the whole adult population of Philadelphia, eh?"

Nolan visibly recoils, his back straightening, making him tower over Travis even from the small distance there is between them.

"So much for telling me that it was all cool and whatever for us to have different opinions, right? I don't know what your fucking issue is Travis but obviously, it makes you think that everyone around you should be miserable too and that's so much bullshit. Stop victimizing yourself already."

Travis— has never seen Nolan so angry. He's seen him pissed during games, cursing after opponents and refs' decisions. He's watched him boiling in the penalty box after a stupid call and he'd been a witness of Nolan having to deal with really shitty drivers on Philly's streets. It never prepared him for the sight in front of him right now. He probably would be fuming if they were in a cartoon.

"Get out of here."

"Oh, you've got nothing to defend yourself? You always have something to say, Trav'. Please enlighten me on where I'm wrong."

It's mean. And Travis' eyes are starting to burn, the weight in his throat making it hard to breathe properly. He's not sure he fully understands how they got there but he knows they've hit the point of no return.

Inhale. Exhale. Steady voice.

"Nolan, get the fuck out of here."

His voice is shakier than Travis would have liked. The quiet of his apartment feels sickening when the front door bangs shut. Travis rushes to his toilet to throw up.

 

-

 

While he's usually pretty bad at holding grudges, Travis does not cave with this one. He exchanges murder glares with Nolan in the locker room in front of the whole team and he doesn't give a single fuck about it.

Travis is enough of a professional to not let it mess with hockey. He's barely put on a line with Nolan anyway but they still have to run drills together and breathe relatively the same air on the ice, share planes and buses and team meetings and shit. Travis can be cordial. Or, well, better: Travis can be very good at avoiding Nolan and only occasionally staring at his back when the mere sight of Nolan reminds him of what happened and anger him all over again.

He still fights for Nolan and gets put in the penalty box for it when a dumb Bruins put a bad hit on him. As he said, Travis is a pro.

Travis does his best to not think about Nolan but it's hard not to notice all the places where he usually fits in his life when Travis has to drive alone to the rink or when he has to click on the Forgot your password? button on Netflix because he's not used to using his own account. It feels wrong to keep catching up on the shows he was watching with Nolan. Travis starts new ones.

It takes G exactly ten days before he ambushes Travis in the parking garage after practice and asks him what the fuck is up between the two biggest idiots of his team (Travis protests the term and gets punched meanly in the shoulder for his troubles).

"Ouch, nothing, stop bullying me."

"Stop bullshitting me first."

Travis huffs a long breath and G just crosses his arms over his chest. Travis suddenly feels like he's 6 and getting scolded by his mother.

"Look, I swear it's not a big deal. It's not interfering with my game and it's not like we have to be together all the time anyway."

"No you don't, but hockey's not the only thing which matters, Travis. Sure, I've seen you more miserable but don't tell me you've been at your happiest the last two weeks. Nolan hides easily because he wears a goddamn mask all the time but sadly for you, whether you want it or not, you wear your emotions on your sleeve and you're being stupid if you think the team hasn't noticed and doesn't care."

Travis' eyes go to the ground in the middle of G's speech. He kicks at a small rock with his foot, watches it ricochet over the concrete.

"This didn't need an intervention. I don't even know why I'm the one being yelled at anyway."

G sighs. Travis knows that puff of air, it's the one he uses when he wonders why he accepted to captain a team of assholes. Travis wouldn't bet against G not getting white hair in the five following years.

"Patty will get his "intervention", don't worry about it. Nothing's ever all white or all black and I know you wouldn't be making that face if Pats had done something really bad and or if you didn't have some guilty part in the matter."

Travis truly hates when his captain is all smart and shit.

"Right," he mutters, for a lack of a better answer to give.

"Right, be the grown-up here, TK, yeah?"

He does roll his eyes at that and Claude does the same thing right back. God, this is so stupid.

Travis gets the right to reach his car door after a "Sure thing Dad, see you tonight" which earns him another punch in the shoulder, lighter than the first one, and a "Behave Travis, see you".

 

-

 

Somewhere in the first week of January, Travis figures he wasn't ready to hook up because it didn't happen on his own terms. Jeremy had been nice, a good-looking guy Travis probably could have pictured himself kissing if he hadn't freaked out at the poor skin on jean contact.

He just hadn't been ready for it. He'd been stupidly ambushed by Nolan and he hadn't been in the right mindset then.

It's been close to three weeks now and Travis can't say they've fixed their situation with Nolan. He did hear what his captain had to say and like, Travis made an effort to keep his face neutral when Nolan was involved and Nolan did the same and they even sat together a couple of times on the plane (spent the whole flight with their iPads and not exchanging a word but, details).

Travis still hasn't started the new Bates Motel season and his stomach goes into a loop for a brief moment when he passes Nolan's floor in the elevator. It's whatever. Travis wouldn't mind being the grown-up, he's aware that he basically called Nolan a whore but on the other end, Travis is not playing the fucking victim. Nolan can be the adult here and apologize first.

 

Anyway, Nolan was wrong and Travis doesn't need any help to get laid. He's going to prove it tonight.

 

Travis uses the Incognito mode to google gay clubs in Philly and he spends way too much time between his dresser and the mirror of his bathroom to try to decide on an outfit, nursing a beer through the whole process to try to take the edge of his stress off.

 

He's still a little nervous when he steps foot inside the building and makes his way to the bar to order himself a drink and take a look at his surroundings.

This is Travis' first time in a gay space and he would be lying to say he didn't feel a little underwhelmed. That and the fact that he never really flirted with anyone else in his life because Law figured themselves out when they were teenagers so, yeah.

Again, whatever, Travis is good-looking under the right light and he got jokes. It can't be that hard.

It takes about fifteen minutes for Travis to get another guy to approach him. He uses a pretty lame You're new? Haven't seen you here before line that Travis internally rolls his eyes to. He doesn't like that much of a tool. He's tall, taller than Travis (yeah, yeah, not hard but still), built with the material of his t-shirt (which Travis suspects might be a size too small) stretching around his shoulders.

He looks good, Travis will give him that. That's probably why he answers "TK" when he's asked for his name, what feels like the good middle between too personal and an outright lie, and he nods when he gets back a "Nice, I'm Matt, let me buy you a drink?".

Matt— Matt isn't the most interesting person Travis has ever met. He's from Iowa, came here for college and he's currently interning for a tech company doing digital marketing or something just as blurry for Travis, he didn't exactly get the gist of it.

Matt thinks fishing is boring, considers himself more of an indoors guy, shooting the shit on Fortnite with his buddies and watching the Knicks. He loves basketball, sometimes watches football but finds hockey too violent ("it's like dumb hetero masculine shit you know, that need to throw punches when you're just supposed to shoot the puck in the net"). Travis focuses on his drink instead of arguing, he's not there for a long-term thing and it just enhances the chances of Matt never recognizing him so it's whatever, really.

"Wanna go dance a little?"

Travis has this one second of hesitancy, his guts not exactly sure of the route to take here, but the alcohol-induced courage is kicking in and Travis thinks about Nolan standing in his kitchen, basically telling him that he was a little pathetic with his absence of sex life. He takes the hand Matt offers him and follows him to the dancefloor.

It's early enough for the space to not be completely packed but there are enough people present for Travis to be bumped around a little and soon enough, he finds himself in very close proximity with Matt. The first two or three are fairly strong, squinting a little they could almost be mistaken as friends sharing a good time, and then Matt uses his hands on Travis' hips to make him turn around, plasters himself against Travis' back.

Lips hover above his nape, catching on his skin every other beat, and Travis can feel the growing physical proof of Matt's arousal grinding against his ass. He tenses for a second before realizing he's actually into it, warmth spreading in his belly, making him move against his partner.

His heart is beating along the rhythm of the music's booming basses and Travis almost feels a little high. Matt's a little taller than him and when Travis leans his head back and bares his neck, it's easy for him to reach and his mouth is hot and slick against Travis' skin, sending thrills all over his body.

Travis couldn't stay if they stayed like that for one song or four but at some point, he's facing Matt again. The lights of the club make it hard to discern his features but Travis thinks he's smiling, eyes hooded, focused on Travis like he's the most desirable thing in the room.

The hand gripping his hair is the only small-signal which Travis gets before Matt leans down to capture his lips into a kiss.

Travis doesn't freeze. His time of reaction might as well be shorter than the release of his wrist shot. Matt's tongue teases and Travis opens up under him, hands at his waist, fingers reaching for skin under his shirt and bringing them even closer.

Law has kissed him a hundred different ways before —hot, urgent, tender, playful, sweet, you name it— but this feels new and foreign. Almost like the first kiss of his life, all over again.

Thirteen-year-old Travis didn't have Law's dick rocking against his when they kissed for the first time but today, Travis is 21 and he feels good, ready. He even has, for a crazy second, this thought of wish Nolan, G and Law could see me, prove to them how I don't need help and how well I am doing now. The thought disappears, Travis' mind basically going blank when Matt kisses him all over his jaw, reaching his neck again, biting lightly, the rolls of his hips constant.

A particularly well-timed combo of his actions makes Travis moan and arch against him. Matt laughs against his skin before dragging his mouth against Travis' ear, loud enough to be heard over the music. "Wanna move this someplace else?"

 

Travis doesn't think twice before nodding vigorously and following Matt into a taxi, Matt's hand caressing his thigh and keeping him all keyed-up during the whole ride.

 

The moment they're through the door of Matt's apartment, Travis gets pinned against a wall, Matt's mouth back on his, kissing him deep, hungry.

Matt's hands are on his hips, his grip on the edge of too painful. Matt's lips feel good where they are biting and kissing on his jaw and his neck but the pressure at his waist is a little too much. Travis really doesn't mind being the smaller guy (his ex-boyfriend did have six inches on him) here and he's still into the whole situation but when it feels like it's a little hard to breathe, Travis whispers: "Bed, please."

"Someone's eager, eh," Matt says against his ear and Travis almost thinks he's gonna have to ask again before Matt kisses him one last time and grabs his hand, leading him to his bedroom and pushing Travis' back to the bed without any preamble.

"Now who's eager, eh ?" Travis says with a smirk as much to flirt than to get his bearings back.

"Oh, you wanna play it like that?" Matt answers in a low voice, and then Travis' shirt is gone and one of Matt's big hands is pushing his arms up, gathering Travis' wrist between his fingers.

At first, Travis isn't sure about how he feels being so exposed but then Matt busies himself with exploring more of Travis' neck with his mouth and that feels good, has Travis arching up against the contact.

Matt's second hand is back at his hips, pinning him down, and Travis tries to not focus too much on it. He's doing an okay job at it until Matt's other hand catches on his guard and it takes a couple of seconds for Travis' a little hazy brain to realize that Matt is trying to detach it one-handed.

Travis trashes against him, getting his arms back to his side and pushing Matt's chest with one flat palm. "What the fuck are you doing?"

"Sorry, baby, it was in my way. Don't worry, I don't mind seeing your mark. I know most hook-ups want to forget about soulmates but I really don't care," Matt explains. Travis feels very cold and definitely too exposed under him. "You won't even have to see your own mark and it's gonna be more comfortable for the two of us. I'm gonna make you feel so good."

Travis is almost surprised that he doesn't meet any resistance when he rolls from under Matt and gets to his two feet. "Sorry, I can't."

From the corner of his vision, Travis can see Matt move to sit at the end of the bed when he grabs his shirt on the floor. "I'm sorry, dude, I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. I won't insist anymore, come back. We were having a good time, yeah?"

Travis puts his shirt on and shakes his head. And then, again: "I'm really sorry."

The apology feels acidic in his mouth and Travis almost thinks that he's going to throw up. Matt doesn't follow him out of his bedroom but Travis still waits to be in the hallway to put on his shoes.

"You're okay, man?" his uber driver asks once he pulls in five minutes later. It doesn't look like he recognized him and Travis nods a "Yes" and his driver takes that as a cue to let their travel be done in silence, save for the music coming out of the radio.

Travis is distantly aware that's his whole body is trembling, probably not only because of the cold, but his brain can't really think, filled with too much static. Once he's in the elevator of his building and has to push on a floor button, Travis hesitates less than he would have thought.

It doesn't take long for Nolan to open the door (which should mean that he wasn't already asleep, at least) but Travis would have no idea how to describe the myriad of expressions that go over his face once he gets to take him in.

The truth is, Travis doesn't know exactly what he looks like right but it must not be a pretty picture. He's got his arms around himself, goosebumps on his skin, and a shiver going through all his body since he forgot his jacket at the guy's place (when he realized in the uber drive, Travis idly thought it was a good thing that he kept his valuables in his pants pocket, not sure he would have had the force to go back for his phone, wallet, and keys). His hair is all askew, his t-shirt wrinkled and a little dirty. Travis feels stone-cold sober but he knows someone spilled their drink on him when he was dancing, material all sticky on his right side.

Travis must reek of sweat and sex and alcohol. He feels dirty, lowkey wants to crawl out of his skin. He's not able to maintain eye contact with Nolan for more than a short second.

"Travis? Come on, let's get you changed."

There's Nolan's hand at his elbow, making him actually get in his apartment, and Travis idly feels like he missed Nolan's first words here.

Nolan takes him to his room, opens his drawers to grab fresh underwear and a t-shirt.

"Do you want to shower?"

Travis wants— Travis wants to disappear. Forget everything that has ever happened and let people continue their lives without him. Which: yeah.

In a more realistic fashion, he wants to lie on a bed and get swallowed by covers, getting warm and turning off his brain. That might be achievable, Nolan seems to want to help him do that, somehow, even if Travis showed up at his place at 2 am while he still hasn't apologized for slut-shaming him and everything.

Travis nods and Nolan follows him to the bathroom even though Travis knows the way, has been there dozens of times before.

"You're going to stay?" Travis half-mumbles half-asks. He's still having a hard time meeting Nolan's eyes but there's something reassuring about his presence. It's stupid but Travis doesn't really want him to go.

"Gotta make sure you don't drown," Nolan answers with the hint of a smile and a touch of hesitancy in his voice. Travis is pretty sure Nolan's still offering an out there when he leans on his shoulder against the frame of the door, eyes going to his phone to give Travis some privacy while he undresses.

The hot shower feels good, scorching hot but cleansing at the same time, washing away all his mistakes of the time. No soap is going to erase the hand-shaped bruises at his hips, though, and Travis feels nauseous when his eyes travel to that part of his body. He lets his forehead bang against the wall and he hears Nolan making an inquiring noise but Travis is out of the tub the next minute.

He probably looks ridiculous with a t-shirt riding almost to the middle of his thigh but Travis feels almost human when he follows Nolan to the guest room and accepts the pill and the bottle of Gatorade Nolan hands him.

"Want me to stay?"

The question takes Travis by surprise and half of his brain wants to answer back fuck you, I'm not a baby who needs to be coddled and the other half wants to scream yes, please. Travis settles for "No, I'm good, thanks" and he nods when Nolan says he can find him next door if he needs to, before leaving.

Once he is under the covers, Travis recognizes the scent of the sheets because Nolan uses the same laundry detergent for the plaids on his couch. It takes him a shockingly short amount of time to fall asleep.

Travis wakes up feeling... More rested than expected. There's a faint burning sensation anchored behind his eyes and a dull headache in the back of his skull. He tries to look for his phone, finds it with a dead battery on the bedside table, and that's when the events of last night come back to him.

His stomach lurches when he relives flashes of pictures from the club, Matt's house. Travis shivers at the ghost feelings of Matt's fingers on his skin and he can't help but raise his shirt, see the imprint of them still present, light bruises an unnecessary physical proof of the decisions he made last night.

Fucking hell, Travis.

There are sweatpants and a fresh t-shirt on the desk. The new shirt is just as ridiculously long as the one he slept in and the extra fabric of the sweatpants pool at his ankles, bottom elastic holding them on and keeping them from making Travis trip when he walks.

Travis thinks things are going to be awkward but when he settles himself down at the island in the kitchen, Nolan just sets a mug of coffee in front of him and says "Milk and cinnamon are already in."

They're mostly quiet through breakfast, Nolan catching him up on the results from last night's games and serving him avocado toasts. Travis frowns at the food and Nolan just rolls his eyes with the hint of a smile. Convincing Nolan of the power of avocado has been one of Travis' recurrent fights since he met him, having eggs and guacamole on bread in Nolan's kitchen shouldn't feel so surreal and yet. What's Nolan even doing with avocados in his cabinet? Did he buy them for Travis? Did he go grocery shopping this morning just for that, the morning riser freak he is? What time is it exactly, actually?

The clock on Nolan's microwave lets Travis know it's half past 10. He's not sure what time it was when he knocked on Nolan's door but he may have overslept, even for his standards.

Any normal day, before their fight, Travis would have settled himself on Nolan's couch, picked up an Xbox controller or the TV remote to browse through Netflix. He's fully aware that it's not an option right now. He still finds himself sitting in the living room, Nolan on the couch too, the space between them small and comfortable. Travis grabs a pillow to keep his hands busy.

Alright. Fuck. Let's go.

"I'm sorry you had to see me like that," Travis more mumbles than says, tone closer to Nolan's usual voice than his own.

He risks a glance at Nolan and doesn't find him mad, just— concerned, Travis thinks, with a furrow between his brows and one side of his mouth drawn to the side.

"Don't apologize for that. You obviously needed it, I'm glad you came to me."

Oh.

It made sense with the way Nolan acted last night but actually hearing the words makes Travis' stomach flutter a little.

"Teeks, I— I'm sorry about what I did. I promise I didn't mean to hurt you, I shouldn't have assumed anything, that was pretty stupid. And like, you're the toughest guy I know, I shouldn't have called you a victim." Nolan takes a break, head turned to the ceiling for a few seconds while his hands absently play with the drawstrings of his sweatpants. Travis guesses it means Nolan isn't done. "I was just lashing out at you because usually, I don't care what people think of me. I'm a high draft hockey player and I know my every move on the ice and my every word under a mic will be scrutinized and analyzed by everyone and their mother and I made my peace with that but the personal shit? It's what I get to do while the opinions of everyone else don’t matter. And yet, I apparently care about yours and what you said hurt me so I decided to hurt you back."

Travis should have known this discussion would give him a whole new lot of emotions and thoughts to process. That doesn’t mean he knows how to answer right about now. He'll try, though, they both deserve it.

"Uh, thank you? For what it's worth, I might be more sensitive to everyone else's opinion of me but I do value yours highly. Like, it did well for my ego that you hung out with me so much while being an asshole with the rest of the team. I feel superior knowing you're not as cool as you pretend to be. Someone who's actually scared by the Paranormal Activity movies and sometimes sleeps with his socks can't be cool, sorry."

"Yeah, yeah, shut up." Nolan seems to be surprised by his own snort and Travis chuckles, proud of himself for being the source of it. Nolan's cheeks have colored into a dark crimson and Travis idly wonders if he could touch them, find out how hot they are exactly.

 

"Look, I'm sorry. I was wrong too. Of course, you should bang everyone you want to hit. The city of Philadelphia should actually be glad of your decision. A stud like you? Must be the best lay of anyone's life. Go get it Pats."

Nolan groans at that, his head hitting the back of the couch before turning to Travis to be sure he catches the obnoxious roll of his eyes. Whatever, Travis apologized and meant every word he said, Nolan can make all the stupid noises he wants now.

The air feels a little lighter now, breathing a little easier when the truce is out there and he can share a smile with Nolan, letting their knees bang together lightly.

"You want to tell me what happened last night?"

Travis automatically squeezes the pillow against his chest, dipping his chin into the soft material before taking a deep breath and sitting cross-legged on the couch with his hands together, pushing down the pillow on his knees. That's when he notices his bare wrist, realizes he didn't put his guard back after his shower yesterday (or this morning when he woke up).

He probably looks like a deer caught in headlights in the middle of the night. Except then he gets to follow Nolan's eyes, the surprised but not at all horrified face he makes when he takes the sight in.

If Nolan doesn't freak out at this and let Travis go with whatever he wants, he might be able to do this.

Inhale. Exhale. Come on Travis, you got this.

"I— I'm not sure where to start, to be honest. This might get chaotic and not make much sense, I'm sorry."

Nolan reaches out to squeeze his knee quickly, comforting. Travis kind of misses the contact once it's gone. "Got nothing else to do all day, bud. Completely yours."

Travis does chuckle at that and then, he closes his eyes, trying to figure out the best way to go about everything.

He realizes he might as well start with the beginning.

Travis tells Nolan about his family. Not just his parents but all the relationships that surrounded him and participated in creating this idealism around soulmates in his head.

Once he's launched, it's easier than Travis would have thought to keep going and tell Nolan about Law. He explains what it was like to grow up knowing his soulmates was barely a few months younger than him (his parents never gave him the date of the appearance of his soulmark to keep some of the magic), thinking it could be any of his classmates or any of the kids he was playing with on the street, in parks, at the rink.

His parents had told him that his soulmate could be a boy and that some people could be really mean to him because of that, but Travis, from his six years of age, had bravely said that he would fight every homophobe on the planet if that meant he could be with his soulmate.

(That one part makes Nolan smile very fondly at him, Travis thinks he blushes under the attention.)

Travis mentions the adventures he had with Law as a kid, how they figured their shit out later on. Two nervous teenagers eager to be good together when they had to figure out life as future junior hockey players.

He can see the wheels turning in Nolan's brain when Travis tells him about Law breaking up with him in May 2017, the maths being done in Nolan's head.

"So, yeah, there was the gay thing but the main reason why you never saw me go home with someone was that I was still trying to get over Law."

"God, I was so stupid. You should have told me." Nolan looks a mix of angry and disappointed and Travis' instincts tell him those feelings are not directed towards him. "Did you not trust me enough?"

Travis immediately shakes his head. "I'm really sorry, bud, but it had nothing to do with you. G's the only one besides my family who knows about all of this." Nolan's features might lightly relax at that, but there is still a big worried furrow between his eyes. "Look, you know how you said I was victimizing myself? Well, you were right and I was fucking stupid.”

Nolan grimaces and for a second Travis thinks he's going to protest but he just keeps his frown on, arms crossed over his chest, body turned towards Travis.

"So, uh, like I said, I've always been, like, in love with the idea of having a soulmate and having this incredible love story with them. Destiny or whatever chose us to be together, it had to work and be amazing, bla, bla bla. Well, joke on me because we fucking broke the system somehow," he glances at his wrist before hiding it again against the pillow. "I spent my whole life thinking I was going to be with my soulmate forever and don't be wrong, I had genuine feelings for Law that had nothing to do with the colors on our wrists, he was my best friend way before we figured the soulmate situation out, but I guess I just always trusted the process to know what was better for me."

Travis makes a pause, snorts at how stupid his words may sound now, his blindness and limitless trust in something no scientist in the history of the World had ever been able to explain probably sounded very lame right now.

"And just like that, I ended up being like if my soulmate doesn't want me, what's the fucking point and it got me all miserable and annoying in the worst kind of way, which you witnessed. I made a victim out of myself and I never even realized, that's so fucked up."

Saying it out loud reminds him of all the stupid shit he said to the guys, his mood they had to suffer through. It makes him want to crawl under the couch and disappear for like, a couple of months or something.

"Hey, no need to be so harsh on yourself, bud. That's how I got you hanging out with me to begin with, didn't I? Quiet Nolan who didn't mind a teammate unable to be nice or try for a smile most of the time. What a beautiful duo we made."

Travis does smile at that, knocking his knee against Nolan's once again. "Don't say that, I'm sure I would have bullied my way into becoming your friend anyway, with or without my loud mouth."

Travis had practically gone back to his normal self somewhere in the previous calendar year, if not all the time with everyone, at least with Nolan in the privacy of his car or Nolan's apartment, where everything felt safe, somehow.

"God, you truly are sentimental enough for half the team, no wonder you can barely function."

It is zero percent Travis' fault if his pillow ends up being thrown in Nolan's face, that one is all his. "Yeah, yeah, I know you're jealous because the day you have one emotion you'll panic and die on the spot."

Nolan throws the pillow back to him. "Not taking lessons from you anyway. Never occurred to you that maybe you were like that not only because you lost your soulmate but because you lost the relationship you'd been in for like, half your life?"

Uh.

"I mean, maybe? I don't know. I guess... Yeah, for sure."

Like, of course no longer having Law by his sides had fucking hurt, every time he would see him on a screen or do something cool or read something funny that he would have sent him if things had still been good between them. Even just thinking about Law made him want to either tear up or break a stick, those first few months. But did it have anything to do with not being able to even just hook up with another guy? Probably not? Did it?

"Right," Nolan says after Travis feels like he's been given an overly long break to have a crisis over Nolan's last question. "You were with someone last night, yeah?"

Travis freezes. Somehow he'd kind of forgotten that he still hadn't answered Nolan's first original question and he's fairly sure he didn't say anything when he arrived the night before but he also guesses there were clues in the state he was in and what he just said. Nolan can be a moron but he does know how to put two and two together from time to time.

Travis nods, eyes unable to stay on Nolan, finding a darker spot on the ground instead.

"When you left me with that guy in December, we talked and it was nice, he was a cool guy, no problem with that, but the moment he put his hand on me I freaked out and left. It was all instincts and I felt so stupid and so mad at the same time. As you know, I directed that anger at you the next day. Last night, I needed to prove to myself that I freaked out only because I wasn't expecting him to make a move. Also, lowkey wanted to prove to you that I didn't need your help to hook up with someone."

"Teeks, that's not what I meant when—" Nolan starts and Travis nods, quickly cutting him off.

 

"I know, I know. I didn't say that to guilt trip you or whatever. It's on me and my bruised ego, don't worry."

 

Nolan doesn't seem very convinced by that, his mouth half-open, probably still deciding on what to say to further his protest. Travis doesn't want an apology, now that the wrong has been done, it's easy for him to recognize how he's the only one at fault. He's also unsure of what he can tell Nolan to make him understand, so, he'll just— keep with the story, for now.

"Look, I know I was a mess last night but it wasn't that bad. I went to a gay club, flirted with a guy, we made out while we were dancing, he offered to take me home, I said yes."

Nolan looks genuinely upset by that but Travis doesn't stop to examine the feeling. He can already sense his cheeks getting red hot and he needs to get the rest in one shot if Nolan ever wants to know the whole thing. It shouldn't be embarrassing, he listens to the guys walking everyone through their hook-ups in way too crude details all the time in the locker room, but this is very different, no matter how much Travis would like for it to not be. 

"We got to his place and we just, you know, kept making out and undressing, got to his bed at some point. I just— I guess I just freaked out again, he didn't do anything bad but suddenly I felt sick and unable to breathe so I panicked and I left, ordered an uber and got here."

The high sound coming from Nolan's throat doesn't escape Travis' attention. Nolan still looks upset but also concerned, worry expressing itself in his next question. "Did he hurt you? Trav' you shouldn't have—"

"I shouldn't have what? Gone on my first one-night stand? You have them all the fucking time Pats, don't try to give me a lesson. And I know I'm not a fucking giant like you but I think I know how to defend myself, thank you very much."

Nolan huffs. He truly can be the most stubborn motherfucker when he wants to and in moments like this, it's probably a wonder how they managed to be friends for so long already.

"Look, Teeks, of course you're a big boy, not denying that. It's just— I don't think you realize what you looked like last night. I'm not saying I assumed the worst but you worried the fuck out of me."

Hearing the admission feels a little like being crushed against the boards, not the kind where you fall on your hands and knees but the one where you need a moment to catch up your breath.

Travis is not the biggest guy out there but he's still a hockey player packed with muscles, one that fights every other game. He might have been drunk at some point last night but he never fully lost control. He for sure would have gotten out if Matt had refused to let go of him.

Travis never worries when he knows Nolan's going to spend the night with a stranger. There's truly no reason for Nolan to hurt his brain and guts with Travis' adventures.

"I'm good, I swear. I probably should have left earlier but it wasn't that bad, believe me. It just wasn't my best moment and I thank you for being there for me."

Nolan looks very dubious, still somehow upset and worried at the same time too. Travis has never seen so many emotions on his face and for once, he would like the usual blank face Nolan back. That one he knows how to deal with.

Travis thinks Nolan is going to protest some more but after a minute or so, he just moves to collect the remote on the table, set the TV on Netflix, and hand the remote to Travis.

It takes three episodes of House of Cards and a Thai lunch order for Nolan to ask another question, surprising Travis from where he's been lying on the couch, his feet lightly tucked under Nolan's thighs.

"You're still in love with Lawson?"

The question catches Travis off guard but surprisingly, the answer comes to him quite easily.

"I— I don't think so. I saw him in November when we played the Yotes in Phoenix. We talked a lot, he has a new soulmate now, don't ask me how it works. It was the first time I'd seen him since we broke up and I think it helped me a lot, to realize some more shit."

Nolan's left hand settles on Travis' ankle, squeezing firmly once.

"There's something you're not telling me."

And when did Nolan learn how to read him exactly?

"Uh, it's kind of embarrassing but I guess we're past that now, so. I kissed him because I wanted to know how it'd feel and the truth is, not like much. It had nothing to do with that, like, soft stupid warm fluttery thing I had in my chest back when we were together. And I checked my mark when I got back to the hotel and it was still the same dull grey. It was a lot to take in but I guess it helped me for my whole moving on process."

Not having sparkles in his stomach when he'd kissed Law had been... Weird and heart-wrenching at the same time. Half of him had wanted the sparks to still be there to keep his residue of hope alive and the other half, the smarter one probably, had been thinking it could finally convince his brain that it was truly time to move on.

Well, at least his body's reaction hadn't left any room for doubts.

"And you're done?"

"Uh?"

"Moving on."

Oh. And if that isn't the million-dollar question.

"I mean, I'm not sure I can date yet. I don't even know how the fuck I'm supposed to do that while being a gay professional hockey player, for the matter. But like, I've accepted that I'm not gonna spend the rest of my life with Law and I should find someone else at some point. In the meantime, if I can find a way to deal with the freak-outs," Travis shrugs before pointing to himself. "Might let Philly get a taste of that beauty."

Nolan rolls his eyes at that but doesn't spare him a comment, merely squeezes Travis' ankle again before starting their next episode.

Travis will admit his focus is not exactly the best for the next hour or so, his own words rummaging through his head. He doesn't want to relive what he went through last night but he did have a good time in the beginning and, to be fair, he does miss having sex. And the dating thing? Well, maybe he could find his way around it but there's no way he can find someone that will be patient enough for his unable-to-go-to-second-base-yet ass, so. He just needs to practice. And to find the right guy for it.

 

-

 

G looks both surprised and suspicious when he sees them arrive together in the locker room for practice the next morning. Travis purposely smiles and hip checks Nolan -who barely moves, the sturdy motherfucker-, merely getting two sets of eye rolls for his trouble.

Travis also gets hit by his captain during a drill, light and innocent, just the time for G to grumble "Fucking finally" and leave.

Things are all good.

 

-

 

The bomb drops about a week later while they are chilling at Nolan's place (because when aren't they, to be honest) after a 7-4 win against the Wild. Travis had expected Nolan to want to go out to celebrate his 4 points night but he'd just shrugged, mumbled "I'm tired, let's just go home and order Mexican" and that had been it, the two of them on his couch, empty take-out containers on the small table.

"Do you want to kiss me?"

Technically the bomb is a question. It might disqualify it of its bomb status but it has just the same effect on Travis, so.

Travis raises his head from where he was browsing his insta feed on his phone, voice a little strangled when he reacts. "What?"

"You should kiss me, I'm a good kisser," Nolan continues in the flattest tone possible. He hasn't even moved his eyes from the TV, the voices of ESPN journalists feeling the silence in the room.

"Good for you? That's pretty reassuring considering all the practice you've had," Travis tries to chirp but his voice probably betrays his confusion a little.

Nolan rolls his eyes, lowers the sound of the TV, and turns his head in Travis' direction. "You said you wanted to get more comfortable with guys, physically, yeah?"

Travis can't help his blush. That's one way to put it. "I mean, yeah," he says back when it appears that Nolan's waiting for an answer.

"And you haven't found anyone yet." That's more a statement than a question but Travis doesn't have the time to be offended, Nolan's already offering more nonsense. "So, what I'm saying is I'm here, and I'm willing. Let's do it already."

"Are you fucking kidding me?"

"Look, like I said, I'm a good kisser. I already know you're a gay hockey player and I'm never going to out you. You know you can trust me with the boundaries you want to set, I'm here right now, it's convenient."

Convenient. Oh god, Nolan.

Travis' phone slips from his fingers to the floor and he doesn't have the presence of mind to pick it up just now.

"You're offering to be my what? Personal prostitute? Do I need to pay you at the end? Or is it at the beginning?" Nolan shakes his head, rolling his eyes even harder than before. "What's even in it for you?"

Nolan actually blushes at that. Travis can see the splotches of red even with the blue and yellow TV hues covering Nolan's face.

"It's just a kiss. Friends can kiss just for the sake of it, you know. It's called— whatever," he makes a wavy motion with his hand. "I like guys and you're not that ugly. It's not like it will be a hardship for me."

Not a hardship for him? God, Nolan's lucky he's pretty, Travis has no idea how he would land so many people otherwise.

The thing, it kind of works.

The rosy cheeks are glowing from here even if Nolan is trying to pretend he's all chill, eyes leaving Travis to go for the TV. He just put himself in a vulnerable position for Travis, didn't he?

Travis is aware that his nerves are all over the place, hands a little clammy, heart rate a little above his usual but he still gets up and quickly crosses the space to reach Nolan, installing himself on his lap, one knee snug against each hip.

This might be a touch too much but Travis is not a teenager and it's not like he was going to awkwardly kiss Nolan standing in the middle of the room, so.

Travis thinks Nolan's cheeks get a shade darker when he settles himself, his surprise showing on his face. It barely takes him a second to put his hands on Travis' hips anyway.

"So I'm pretty, uh?"

"Shut up."

"Make me."

"For that line alone I should make you get out of that apartment right now," Nolan groans -which Travis deserves, he'll admit to it.

Travis grins and doesn't waste any more time on his decision-making. He leans forward, inadvertently rocking his hips a little and Nolan moves too, meeting him in the middle.

And oh, just like that, Travis is kissing Nolan Patrick, #19 of the Philadelphia Flyers, second overall of the 2017 NHL draft. In Nolan's living room, hot sauce on his t-shirt, a Tuesday night at 11 pm.

At the start, it's just a simple press of lips, pressure barely there, contact a little dry but warm, but Travis needs a little more than that. Travis truly needs a little more than that so he probs his tongue out and Nolan opens up under him.

Travis feels the hands at his hips tightening their grip and he decides to move his own hands to Nolan's neck, fingers gripping at the hair on Nolan’s nape. Nolan tastes spicy, remnants of what they ate earlier, but he feels good as they explore each other, barely taking a break to breathe.

They do pause at some point, except Travis makes the most of the occasion to nip at Nolan's bottom lip and it earns him a breathy sound that spurs them both into a more heated kiss. Travis' fingers guide Nolan's head backward, his body rocking himself even closer to Nolan, diminishing the space between them.

Travis is breathing hard when they eventually break apart. He's too stunned to say anything about Nolan's very rosy cheeks.

"Good?" Nolan asks, whispers, almost.

"Yeah."

"You're pretty good at this too."

"You know I'm not a virgin, right? Like I've only ever had one boyfriend but we kissed the hell out of each other. I do have experience," Travis says, honestly more amused than anything. "Maybe I should be the one charging you if you enjoyed it so much."

Nolan barely completely his eye roll before tossing Travis on his back on the couch beside him, getting up to grab the remote on the table and turn off the TV. "Come on it's late, time for bed. You're staying? The sheets are clean."

Travis snorts from where his head is now hanging over the edge. Of course he knows that the sheets from the spare bedroom are clean, he changed them himself when he came by after practice this morning.

Going back to his place should be the easy solution, it's only three floors away, a mere two minutes’ journey. Except the sheets here are clean, Travis has a toothbrush dedicated to him in the bathroom, Nolan will make breakfast in the morning.

It makes more sense for him to stay.

It always does.

 

-

 

Surprisingly enough, nothing changes. Nolan doesn’t mention the kiss and there is no awkwardness between them and it’s just— exactly what Travis needed.

Travis does think about it once or twice. One day he gets distracted by Nolan eating a lollipop (and like, where the fuck did he get one of those anyway), his lips wrapped around the plastic tube. Another time he gets stuck watching Nolan putting tape on his stick, hands deft and focused while Travis remembers how cool and gentle they had felt laying on his thighs, holding onto his hips. Coots has to throw balled socks at him to get him out of his reverie. Travis immediately has to duck his head to hide the heat on his cheeks.

Overall, he’s still handling it well. Maybe friends might practice kissing each other more often than Travis would have thought (probably more when they’re teenagers rather than 20 and almost 22-years-olds but, details).

It only takes about a week for things to change.

They’re making dinner in Nolan’s kitchen (or rather: Travis is cutting the vegetables while Nolan is fucking around on his phone, which: kind of leaning away from their habits there, Nolan is probably staying in the room to make sure Travis isn’t setting anything in fire) when Nolan huffs a strangely strangled laugh that has Travis raising his eyes from the chopping board.

“Are going to share this with the class ?” he asks when Nolan still has his head down. That does get his attention.

“It’s nothing, keep your eyes on the knife please, I don’t want to go to the hospital tonight.”

“Pats.”

An eye roll and then a pause, the smallest frown that means Nolan is actually pondering his options.

“Remember that bet I lost against Sarah?”

It takes a second for Travis to find the context but yes, he does remember Nolan explaining to him why he was particularly sulky after a pointless game against the Caps, because of his bet with their head of PR. 

Travis nods.

“She made me promise to give her some baby pics of me, for some video or whatever, and  I had to ask my mom for some, which she just sent.”

“Ohhhh,” Travis immediately coos, already getting closer to Nolan. “I’ve never seen baby Patty, I bet you were super cute, show me,” he says pushing his face in Nolan’s space.

Nolan’s phone screen turns black, one hand pushing Travis’ shoulder away. “No.”

And the thing people don’t always know about Travis is that he can be extremely stubborn and competitive when he puts his mind to it. And he really wants to see Nolan’s baby pictures.

That’s why he gets even more into Nolan’s space and tries to reach for his phone even though Nolan hides it behind his back. “Travis, you’ll see them in the video anyway, stop.”

Sure, but Travis wants them now. And he’s sure some gems won’t make the cut and that’s just sad.

The thing people do know about Nolan is that he has four inches and 25 pounds on Travis. And sure, Travis is the scrappy one who always fights on the ice but Nolan does know how to hold his own and be hella strong.

This is how, after a scuffle that might last two minutes top, Travis ends up pushed against the kitchen counter, both his arms behind his back, one of Nolan’s big hands holding his wrists together.

“I said no,” Nolan repeats in the quiet of the kitchen. He’s pressed all against Travis’ front and Travis gets very aware of how hard he’s breathing right now.

It feels like a moment, suspended in time, where Travis’ eyes travel from Nolan’s eyes to his lips and back until a high comes out from the back of his throat, an unexpected roll of his hips.

Nolan kisses him. Travis responds immediately.

This has nothing to do with the approach they took about a week ago on Nolan’s couch. There is nothing soft and gentle in the way Nolan’s tongue pushes to ask for entrance or the way Travis’ lower back is digging against the counter.

Travis opens up immediately, with all the leverage entirely in Nolan’s possession, it can’t do much but take it, let himself be kissed. Which doesn’t prevent him from tilting his head just right and nipping at Nolan’s bottom lip, Nolan’s groan sounding even better than the last time Travis got to do this.

Nolan’s free hand —the one not busy holding Travis’ arms behind his back, Travis reminds himself and immediately feels hot— bunches up his shirt, keeping them even closer, however impossible that seems to be right now.

When Nolan draws back, Travis thinks they’re done and he’s about to protest when Nolan starts pressing kisses on his jaw, then down his throat. 

Travis wasn’t exactly ready. Travis thinks the blood in his brain might be starting to travel downwards.

Nolan’s mouth keeps moving until it settles in the space where Travis’ neck meets his shoulder, and he bites.

The whine that escapes Travis’ mouth is downright embarrassing. He can legitimately feel the smirk Nolan has hiding against his skin. “See, you’re not the only one who knows how to use his teeth.”

And for good measure, he nips at Travis again, softer this time, before kissing the exact same spot.

" Patty. "

Nolan raises his head, levels his heated stare with Travis', and Travis kind of feels weak in the knees at that exact second.

He almost expects some kind of check-up, worst case an apology or a rejection, but what Nolan comes up with is a "Yeah?", rasped in that voice of his that truthfully has no business being that deep.

Travis leans his head backward, baring his throat. "Do my other side good? Might as well have some symmetry going one if I'm gonna get chirped for this."

It made sense, in his head.

Nolan snorts but goes to work, sucking Travis' skin between his teeth, thoroughly licking the spot with his tongue afterward.

"All done," Nolan announces with one last swipe of his thumb over what should become a glorious hickey in the following hours.

Travis nods and he's saved from any embarrassing answers that could have come out of his mouth when both their stomachs start to grumble at the same time.

The vegetables end up a little overcooked (because focusing after a make-out session with Nolan turns out to be pretty distracting, oh, surprise ) and Travis doesn't get to see Nolan's baby pics but, as he falls asleep in Nolan's guestroom feeling the throb just above his collar bone, Travis thinks tonight had a pretty nice overall outcome.

 

-

 

Some of the guys wolf-whistles when Travis peels off his t-shirt in the dressing room before practice the next days. He blushes under the "finally getting some TK, eh" and "things got wild for someone yesterday" but it's not that bad. If it makes them believe that Travis does hook up and doesn't need any of their advice, it's all for the best.

Travis waits until the room has moved on to another subject to steal a glance in Nolan's direction, finds him as cool and collected as ever. He does send a smile in Travis' direction when he catches him.

Maybe Travis' blush comes back a little at that. It's just because of the memory of last night, no big deal.

 

-

 

They're watching Sense8 episodes and— how to put this into simple words, well, now that Travis is a little more in touch with his libido, the on-screen sex scenes do make him a little horny.

He's lying with Nolan on the couch, legs tangled together and head on Nolan's chest, high enough that he has to make a minimal effort to move and kiss him and when he wants to. Because that's what they do now, make out at random times (mostly in the kitchen when they're making food or in this exact spot on the couch) and cuddles. They're friends who cuddle and make out, it's their new thing.

Travis couldn't say what spurs him on, but at one point he kisses Nolan for a longer time, whole body dragging against Nolan's side. One of his hands is dead by his side due to their position and the other is in Nolan's hair, gripping at the strands that usually peak under his helmet. On the other side, Nolan's fingers have been traveling over Travis' back for the most part of the episode, light but present, making Travis shiver from time to time.

One of Nolan's hands goes down to his ass, squeezing the tender skin over his sweatpants, and Travis whines. Nolan immediately draws back from the kiss, moving his fingers away. "Sorry," he apologizes against Travis' lips.

Travis immediately feels disappointed and his one reflex is to roll his hips into Nolan's side, making him groan in a second.

"Teeks," Nolan reacts, not quite breathless but obviously affected.

"Put it back," Travis orders simply before diving into a heated kiss. He's feeling all hot and bothered and he just— wants that.

"You're sure?"

Travis pushes his hardening dick against Nolan's leg in answer and that seems to do the trick. Nolan's hand slips under the elastic of his sweatpants, staying on top of Travis' boxers, and Travis can feel the heat pooling in his stomach.

The action on the TV has been completely dismissed. The characters might have moved into dying or running for their lives for all Travis knows. Now, he's lying entirely on Nolan, both of Nolan's hands accompanying his movements as he grinds down, kisses getting messy, Travis' mouth ending buried against Nolan's neck instead at some point.

"Shhh, I've got you, c'mere," Nolan soothes when Travis lets out a long whine, the overall pressure good but not enough, too much fabric in the way.

Nolan makes them move around, get his back propped straight against the back cushions, and just like the first time they kissed, Travis ends up kneeling over Nolan's thighs, except now both their shirts are gone and things are much more heated than they were a few weeks ago.

Travis groans when Nolan places both his palms against the fabric of Travis' sweats, mere inches away from his dick which outline is oh so visible now. "I'm really gonna need you to touch me now, bud."

"So romantic, bud," Nolan rolls his eyes and Travis is about to protest some more when Nolan's fingers push his sweatpants and boxers now, chill going up Travis' body when his naked dick meets the air of the room.

"Pretty thing you got here, eh."

Travis should laugh, tell Nolan that he's ridiculous and it's a true wonder how he gets laid so easily, except then Nolan's wraps one deft hand around Travis' length and Travis has no other choice but to stare, his eyes eventually going back and forth between Nolan's fingers and the smile on his face.

The first drag of Nolan's fingers is too dry and Travis might make a small hiss, which has Nolan licking his palm and added to the precome that's starting to pool at the top, Nolan's movements are way smoother and they have Travis moaning in the open air.

The way he's sitting, Travis as his ass directly pressing against Nolan's dick and when he grinds down a couple of times, Nolan's moves get a little uncoordinated, and Travis just decides to keep riding his wave of self-confidence and horniness. "Come on, I want to see you too," he says with his hands at Nolan's waistband.

They have to shuffle around a little, Travis moving back so they have some room to get Nolan's pants and underwear off enough for his dick to spring free. And then it's here, hard, right under Travis' nose, sending a wave of electricity down Travis' body when it casually bumps against his own length.

"Good?" Nolan asks against Travis' lips when he gets one big hand around the two of them. Travis sure hopes that the energy he brings in his kiss answers Nolan's question well. He also links one of his hands with Nolan's fingers and the noises he gets back are magic to his ears.

The situation should probably be overwhelming, and it kind of is, in some way. Travis knows he's flushed all over, incoherent and all but trembling on Nolan's lap. It's the first time in almost two years that he has someone touching him like that, the first time he has sex with someone who isn't Law, and given the last months, it should be a huge thing but— Travis just feels good.

Travis comes first, shouting Nolan's name before he has any real control over his mouth, and Nolan follows suit, his orgasm adding to the mess between them.

Most of the come landed on their hands or over Nolan's chest and the picture is downright sinful, one Travis wants to commit to memory.

"Strong O-face game here, babe."

An explanation for the success of Nolan's flirting method is once again requested at the front desk.

"Is that how you treat all your hook-ups?" Travis asks, almost regretting his words the moment they're out of his mouth. He doesn't need to be thinking about Nolan with anyone else right about now.

In answer, Nolan shakes his head, his hands linger over Travis' abs. He's probably collecting some of the cooling come there, which: kind of gross. That said, the touch is not unpleasant and Travis can't get it up again the next second but the mere idea of a second wave sends heat from his cheeks down to his chest.

Nolan's thumb reaches up for his mouth, lightly caressing his bottom lip, and Travis' feels his heart missing a beat or two. "Just meant to say that you're hot, Teeks. You could pull anyone with say, the right shirt and decent facial hair, don't doubt that."

Oh.

Travis finds himself dumbfounded, blinking at Nolan in search of an answer to give him. Nolan gives him an out himself, swiping his thumb along Travis' cheek once before patting him on the hip. "Now c'mon, I'm fucking dirty and I'm gonna lose feelings in my thighs any second. I'll grab a shower while you set the episode back up?"

Just as if a button had unmuted the TV, Travis finally notices the noises from the show they never paused. Maybe it takes Nolan pushing him around for Travis to finally react accordingly and get up but like, it's not that much of a deal.

Nolan directly goes to the bathroom while Travis uses a minute to get his brain back together before using the kitchen sink to clean up and find out where they left off earlier.

When Nolan comes back, all clean and fresh, he settles down next to Travis and they resume their Sense8 episode. Travis sleeps in the spare bedroom, Nolan makes breakfast in the morning. The routine hasn't changed.

(Gun to his head, Travis couldn't for the life of him tell anyone what happened in those remaining 20 minutes of the episode, but like, that's a detail in the grand scheme of things.)

 

-

 

Nolan's grandparents come to town in early March. They're doing this trip to Pennsylvania to see some friends and it's just mandatory that they spend a couple of days in Philly to see their favorite grandson, or so Nolan tells Travis over lunch after practice.

"You're requested at my place for dinner tomorrow night," Nolan announces while they're buckling their belts on the plane back from New York.

"Uh? I'm requested? You know I was probably going to come anyway, right?"

Nolan sighs like he's already done with the conversation. Travis is going to need a little more details here.

"You remember how I told you my grandparents were coming soon? Well, they're here now. They're staying in a hotel because it's easier and better for them but Grandma wants to cook at my place tomorrow. And they want you there."

"They want me there? You're sure you got that right?"

Travis honestly expects an eye roll from Nolan but he just shrugs instead. "They want to meet my friends, you were going to be there anyway, you might as well be the lucky guest."

Travis can't help but eye Nolan suspiciously for an instant because, okay Nolan is better ( way better, most people would say) than Travis at hiding things but Travis is pretty sure there is some stuff Nolan isn't saying there. Like, they spend most of their time there, wouldn't be inconceivable for Nolan to have actually told his family about Travis? Not the whole sex aspect of their relationship obviously but— you know.

Maybe Travis, in particular, was requested and it kind of makes him feel warm all over. He's met Nolan's parents already a couple of times when they were in Winnipeg and when they came to see Nolan play in Philly but grandparents feel like a different kind of honor. Travis feels the tiniest wave of stress wash through him. He can't mess this up.

"Alright, okay, I'll be there. Henry and Frances, from your father's side, right?" he eventually asks. They've talked about each other's family before, on multiple occasions. Travis can do this.

"Yeah."

"They still live in the 'Peg area. They're both retired. Your grandfather was an accountant in a car company and your grandmother was a teacher in high school. They—"

"Travis, what the fuck?" Nolan interrupts him.

Travis answers with a frown. "Your grandma taught literature, right? The other day when I told you about the dumb shit I used to do in high school you told me she would have had my head for it."

Nolan legit blinks at him, like he's surprised that Travis listens to him when they talk (which: insulting, to be honest). Travis just looks at him patiently, which seems to eventually do the trick.

"Yeah, I did say that and she was a lit teacher in high school. Please don't try to impress her with your Shakespear knowledge, it will be painful for all of us." 

"I'm pained at your distrust Patty, really."

Nolan rolls his eyes and hands the iPad to him with an expectant look. Time for their movie, discussing over. Right.

No matter what fears Nolan has, Travis is going to prove them wrong. And not think about it until he's in front of his mirror, trying to figure out if the vertical lines shirt or the grid pattern shirt looks better on him with his dark jeans.

Nolan is silent for a couple of seconds when he opens his door to Travis and that gives Travis too many seconds to wonder if he's too early or too late.

"You look good."

"Thank you?"

Nolan seems a little unsettled, Travis isn't sure if it's just the stress from dinner or if he's genuinely surprised that Travis made an effort and dressed nicely to meet his grandparents. He'd be kind of offended if it was the latest.

"Can I come in?" Travis eventually decides to break the silence, feeling way too awkward standing still in the hallway of the apartment complex.

It seems to do the trick, snapping Nolan from his trance, a rapid blush flashing on his cheeks while he accepts the bottle of wine Travis had brought with him and invites him inside.

Henry and Frances greet him with a "Nice to meet you, Travis, we've heard a lot about you" which makes him oddly happy and proud.

"Only the good stuff, I hope," he jokes while sitting himself down on the armchair. "Don't trust him on the rest, I promise I'm a nice Canadian boy through and through".

That earns him a laugh from both grandparents and Travis is pretty sure Nolan is rolling his eyes from where he can hear them near the hotplates in the open kitchen.

Nolan had told him stories from his childhood, the summers he would spend with his sisters at their grandparents' house. Fishing with his grandpa, cooking a mean apple pie with his grandma, running with Aimée and Maddy in the fields.

While he discusses with the two of them, Travis can add them easily in the pictures he made in his mind to imagine Nolan's memories. Henry has Nolan's smile and Frances has the same ease Nolan has returning chirps when she banters with her husband.

When Nolan is done with the cooking, they move the discussion to the table where words flow just as easily. Travis gets asked about his family and his childhood, what he likes so much about Ontario and Clachan, what's his brother like.

Travis has a fishing poles debate with Henry and he has this almost gossiping moment (that has Nolan groaning from his side of the table) with Frances where he confirms that Nolan only tidied up his place from them and he still needs Travis to knot his ties ( but it's okay, I actually do like doing that for him, he adds almost confessionally like, with one hand hiding his mouth from Nolan, it makes Frances laugh, Travis thinks he did well).

It all goes smoothly for him until dessert when Frances looks at him and asks: "So Travis, have you found your soulmate?"

Travis might stay silent with his mouth half-open for a couple of seconds here.

It's not— it's not a taboo question or something considered impolite in the general culture, especially with the elderly population. Travis just wasn't ready for it at all.

He has a moment of panic and he quickly touches his left wrist, feeling better when he realizes that yes, he did lock his guard in before coming down here. He's been so used to having his wrist bare around Nolan, it could have been an easy mistake.

Glancing at Nolan, Travis can see that he tensed up and it takes some of his willpower for Travis not to reach out for Nolan's hand, squeeze it to reassure him that he's okay.

"I— No, I haven't," he finally starts with, trying to ease the beginning of a smile back on his face. "To be honest with you, I hope that one day, I will find the person that— completes me, I guess. I've been told that I'm a romantic and I want to be good to someone, have what you have here with your husband for myself one day." His throat feels a little dry and Travis pushes past the lump there to finish. "Right now, though, I'm focusing on myself. I had a rough patch and my friends helped me get back on track. Nolan helped. A lot. That's a good grandson you got here," Travis pauses to risk another look at Nolan, finds him beetroot red on the other side of the table. "But yeah, for now, it's me time. My soulmate can wait."

Frances is nodding, seeming a little pensive, assessing what Travis just said, and Henry has a very neutral expression on his face. Travis' heart isn't really a big fan of the situation and it's making Travis aware of it.

"Nana, please," Nolan says.

He sounds a little... Stressed and annoyed. Travis isn't sure what to do about that.

"I was just getting to know your friend, Nolan, don't worry. I know it's important to care about oneself," she answers calmly and turns to Travis for the end of her sentence. "I'm glad that you're doing that, Travis."

Travis catches the weirdly tense exchanged looks happening around him and he knows that there is something he's missing here. He's also very aware that he can't press the matter in any way, not now. "Thank you, ma'am."

"What did I say about calling me ma'am?"

"Sorry. Thank you, Frances."

"Great. Now Nolan, can I have another piece of pie? It's delicious."

And just like that, the moment snaps and they mostly go back to the easiness they had before, moving the discussion into the Flyers’ upcoming games and what Nolan's grandparents are going to do in Pennsylvania.

"I didn't too bad, did I?" Travis asks once they're cleaning up after Henry and Frances have left for their hotel.

"No Teeks, you were perfect, don't worry."

"Alright, do you want to watch something or?"

"Not really? Practice's early tomorrow and I'm kind of tired, to be honest."

Travis nods. Nolan's not being distant, per se, but Travis knows something is moving around and bothering him in his brain, he'd bet his whole salary on it for how well he knows Nolan and the telltale signs of his emotions.

There's no invitation for Travis to stay for the night. Not that he truly needs one or ever ask but, Travis can read a room.

After a quick pause to think, Travis hangs up his rag on the oven's door before walking to Nolan and stepping between his legs, lacing his arms behind the small of Nolan's back. He always feels exceptionally small when they're close like that. He found out a long time ago that he didn't really care.

He feels it when Nolan takes a breath in preparation to question or protest and Travis beats him to it, raising himself on his tiptoes to place a kiss against Nolan's cheek while he gently squeezes around his middle. "Alright, I had a great night and I'm really happy you trusted me with this. Text me if you need anything, yeah?"

Nolan's frozen for a second or two but then he eventually nods, brushing his thumb against Travis' shoulder when Travis disentangles himself from him.

"Good night, Patty."

 

-

 

They go out with the boys and Travis tries to look at other men, gauge his interest in them and whether or not he'd feel comfortable making a move, if he could know with 100% certainty they could be an option for him. He's not going to hit on anyone while he's with the team but he can still try to project himself, work on his confidence some more.

One day at lunch, Nolan offers to hit a gay space with him if he wants to. The idea makes Travis' stomach roll and he rejects the proposition immediately. He does try to think about it some more later but the idea keeps making him uncomfortable. He'll manage something without Nolan wingmanning for him.

They're in one of their favorite bars in Philly after a regulation loss against the Caps which broke their little point streak, and Travis is drinking his beer and listening to Raff and JVR' debate when he notices Nolan with a girl, her head thrown back in a laugh.

It's a scene he's seen hundreds of times before, he knows the smile currently on Nolan's face, can probably guess what dumb sweet thing Nolan is whispering to her to make her fall into his arms. He's aware of what it will be like when Nolan will move closer, put one hand on her waist and one hand against her cheek, leaning in and waiting, teasing for a second or two before finally kissing her. Travis knows what those fingers feel like when they linger delicately on skin and he can attest to how good Nolan is when it's a matter of pleasuring his partner.

An elbow to his guts takes him out of his reverie. "TK? Earth to Travis Konecny? What are we supposed to do to get your attention? Have tits or be a tall bitch who also plays center for the Philadelphia Flyers?"

Travis is going to kill Raff one day. He's sure he could get the help of some of the other guys. He wouldn't even be missed.

"Oh, you're gracing us with your attention again, how nice. Your turn to buy the next round, bud."

Yes, Travis does get up and heads to the bar but he takes the time to flip Raff off before leaving, so, there's a victory here somewhere.

When he comes back, Nolan's sitting in Travis' previous spot. His surprise must be showing on his face because JVR says "Wonderboy here wasn't feeling it tonight, I think he just got rejected and don't want us to hurt his ego some more".

Travis looks at Nolan who just shrugs while moving to the side to give Travis some room to sit. Travis feels the long arm that Nolan throws around the back of the booth, close to the back of Travis' shoulders. If Travis leans back and if they go home together, it's all about saving space and cash.

 

-

 

“I want you to fuck me,” Travis mumbles against Nolan’s neck one night where they’re making out on the couch after dinner.

“What?” Nolan asks back. Travis isn’t sure if Nolan didn’t hear him right or if he can’t believe Travis just said that.

“Come on, don’t make me spell it out again,” Travis answers, already feeling himself blush red and hot.

“I—” Nolan starts, brows a little pinched, looks like the second solution then. He’s got one of his thumbs caressing Travis’ jaw and he momentarily takes a break to place a loose strand of hair behind Travis’ ear. “You’re sure?”

Travis has been thinking about this for a while now, it’s easy to immediately nod vigorously. “It’s not like I’m a virgin, you know. Law and I used to fuck all the time when we were in the same place.”

Nolan instantly groans, dipping his head until his forehead digs into Travis’ collarbone.

Right, this might not have been the smartest thing that has ever gotten out of Travis’ mouth.

"Sorry," Travis apologizes, pressing a kiss against the crown of Nolan's head, one hand going up and down Nolan's back gently. "It's just... We've been having a lot of fun this last couple of months, yeah? Because I've been enjoying this a lot, in case you hadn't noticed."

Nolan laughs against his chest before levering his head up, eyes meeting Travis'. "Me too Trav', me too."

"Cool," Travis says and doesn't stop to feel dumb about it. "So now it'd be pretty nice of you if you could stick your dick inside of me. Rail me hard. Fuck my brains out. Make—"

"Teeks," Nolan cuts him, hand against Travis' mouth.

"I'll do you too if you want, but like, dibs for me today, if that's okay?" Travis mumbles pretty intelligently behind Nolan's fingers.

Nolan's face is hard to read even though his interest in the situation seems pretty alive against Travis' leg. While the silence drags, Travis thinks that he messed up but then Nolan is getting up and extending a hand to him and oh, that looks good.

They hold hands for the whole twenty-five seconds it takes them to reach Nolan's room.

It's when Travis' back hits the mattress that he really realizes where they are. He's been in Nolan's room before (mainly to steal clothes from his closet) but they've always kept their making out and getting off sessions either in the living room or the kitchen, occasionally in the entryway when they were really horny or eager getting home.

This feels much more intimate. Which, considering the situation, is probably right, Travis guesses.

When he sees Nolan dump a bottle of lube and a couple of condoms beside him, Travis almost says that they don't need them. He's had tests done since that night with Matt and he hasn't even kissed anyone else but Nolan since then. He catches himself when he remembers that's probably not the case for Nolan. Can't be the case for him. It's a train of thoughts Travis needs to put aside, imagining Nolan with someone else the last thing he should be doing right now.

"A little help here babe, please," Nolan's voice takes him back to Earth, his hands trying to take Travis' shirt off where it's blocked by the arms Travis eventually raises.

Kissing Nolan and taking his clothes off does get Travis back on track.

They fuck with Travis on his back because when asked, Travis says he wants to look at Nolan and the news seems to please him, red of his cheeks darkening and chin ducking just a little, tell-tale sign that he wants to hide something away.

In the build-up, Travis thinks he's going to explode, the experience a little unreal. After his orgasm, he believes he's never felt so good in his life.

Not to be dramatic or anything.

Travis sleeps in Nolan's bed for the first time, wrapped around him like an octopus with four limbs, falling asleep to the faint feeling of Nolan's fingers playing with his hair.

They would have gone for a complete round two in the morning if they didn't have practice to attend and a wise Nolan who cut things off before they got too far for them to back down or not get yelled down by their coach for being late.

Nolan's vision of time management still has them getting each other off in the shower, so, it's not a bad thing overall.

Law

9:41 PM hey, I think I'm over you

thought I should let u know

thanks?

does that mean you met someone? started dating again?

uh, nope, not really

I just feel ready for it

"not really", uh?

but thanks for telling me, I'm happy for you

you deserve to find someone good for you babe

🧡

I promise I'll tell u if something comes up

might take a few months but it's not like you didn't take your time too, so, u know

🙄

yeah yeah, I do know how you work

but you're bad at secrets so I'll be calling you soon anyway

yeah, you do that

tell Teresa I said Hi

sure, maybe you can tell her Ontario is not that exciting, she's had her expectations high since we decided she'd come for a while this summer

pretty sure anything gotta be better than AZ

I'm sending you pics of alfajores and chimichangas every day for the next week

careful buddy, that can't be on your meal plan

isn't it like 1 in Philly? go to sleep Teeks

can't believe that's what I get for sharing my feelings 😔

'night Law

💛

 

-

 

Scotty throws a party at his place when he gets engaged and of course the whole team gets invited.

Looking at how glowing Scott and Camille are when they’re together, love so obvious in the way they look and smile at each other, Travis is only, like, 10% jealous and 90% super happy for them.

Of course, looking at what he dreamed about for a major part of his life hurts a little but it’s not that bad. He keeps a beer in one hand at all times, looks at Bee making a fool of himself with one of Camille’s cousins, and does alright.

“I just really can’t wait to find mine you know, Laughts has practically been on a cloud all night, this is the dream.”

Of course, he finds himself in the middle of a conversation about soulmates with the young guys, Frosty telling everyone about the wedding details and the dream life he already imagined for his person and him. He looks at his mark from time to time and looks so wishful. Travis is drunk enough to not burst his bubble. He can just listen, it’s fine.

“And you Patty? Still enjoying life until you find yours?”

Travis tries very hard to not look in Nolan’s direction. Most of the guys in the locker room know that soulmates are not a subject Nolan wants to touch but Frosty has only been around for a couple of games and it’s no wonder he doesn’t know about that yet.

“I’m doing just fine with the way things are right now,” Nolan answers, his voice deep, a little too calm to not stress out the rookies a little. His eyes find Travis and Travis just fucking freezes.

Frosty’s moving one hand through his hair, eyes a little too big, before he starts nodding vigorously. “Yeah, of course, that’s good too. Happy for you, man.”

And Travis would have laughed (he never got scared by Nolan’s attitude and the fact that some of the younger guys can easily be will always bewilder him a little) if he wasn’t having a micro crisis about the whole thing.

It’s probably a minute -or maybe five- of him staring into empty space before Nolan is by his side, hand at the small of his back and mouth close to his ear making him startle embarrassingly. “You might want to start moving before the kids think you’re having a heart attack or something.” And Travis barely has the time to open his mouth, not having enough time to form words before Nolan rolls his eyes, pokes him in the back, and says “Tell me when you want to go home, yeah ?”

Travis manages to nod before Nolan leaves, just barely.

 

-

 

“You should come with me to Winnipeg,” Patty says the day of locker room cleanout, when they’re hanging at Patty’s place, half packing, half taking care of a pack of beers.

“Uh?” Travis asks from his place on the couch, feeling like he’s missing something here.

“Like, for a week or so. To meet my sisters, fish in a proper lake. Doesn’t have to be now, I’m sure you’ve got plenty of stuff to do at home first.”

“We’ve got plenty of proper places to fish in Ontario, let that be stated,” Travis starts with, which obviously earns him an eye roll from Nolan. “When’s your plane ?”

The thing is, yeah, Travis has stuff to do at home and he knows his brother and his parents are eager to see him but it’s nothing that can’t wait another week or two. Let them imagine what it would have been like if the Flyers had made it into the playoffs.

Turns out there are seats left in Nolan’s flight and just like that, Travis finds himself in Winnipeg for the beginning of his postseason. 

Technically, he’s met everyone before at least once but he never had the occasion to drink beers with Maddy or hunt with Nolan’s dad or cook with his mom. He can’t mess that up. He can deal with some keyed-up nerves in the first days.

On his third night, when Nolan is done blowing him (yes, Travis has a hard time believing they’re having sex in Nolan’s childhood home, with his parents under the same room, his sisters down the hall, but Nolan promised it’d be worth it and you can bite on a pillow if you’re afraid you’re gonna be too loud), he settles himself being Travis, assuming his big spoon role with one strong arm around Travis’ middle, and nuzzling quietly Travis’ nape, he says “You’re doing good, Teeks.”

And obviously, Travis’ first instinct is to think about his sexual performances, except they’ve been hooking up for over three months now and Nolan knows he no longer needs the reassurance (didn’t need it for long, to be fair). Maybe he’s been really good at keeping quiet (needing to bite his own thumb to strangle a moan or two but like, that’s pretty great considering his standards) but that feels off. He answers with a non-eloquent “Uh”.

Travis can feel Nolan’s smile against his skin before he presses a kiss against the back of his neck. “You’ve got the perfect Canadian boy act down. Pretty sure my parents already want to adopt you. Aimée’s in awe in front of you and Maddy can see through your shit but she says she likes you anyway, so.”

The wave of heat starts in his cheeks and Travis quickly feels warm all over, content. He does squirm a little and it takes him a second to answer. “Nice. Told you I was good with parents and like, people, in general. I’m still an Ontario guy through and through though, promise I won’t steal your spot in the family.”

Nolan snorts against his back and Travis knows he would shake his head if Nolan had the room for it. Instead, he nips lightly at Travis’ nape. “Easy with your ankles here. Now sleep, I’ve got big plans for us tomorrow,” he whispers before squeezing Travis’ middle once and dropping one last kiss on his shoulder.

Travis falls asleep in under two minutes.

The big plans end up being taking the boat to spend the day on the lake, dock ready with their fishing poles, beers, and a huge number of sandwiches.

“Did you take care of all that this morning?”

“People can have a life when they don’t wake up at 10 am on their off days. You should try it sometimes.”

Nolan can troll him all he wants, he’s still the one who needs to nap even on their off days (and what nerd calls any day of the postseason an off day, come on Nolan) and Travis will never let him get away with that.

They get a decent amount of fishes to cook on the grill with everyone that night and Nolan tell him even more stories about growing up here. Sometimes, Travis feels like he already knows all there is to know about Patty and then he’ll come up with a new random fact about his life or some weird habit or idea Travis had never heard of before and being on the other end of that confession, it’ll be like receiving a treat, every single time.

A week later, the day before Travis has to take his plane home, the Patricks have a big family reunion.

“You’re sure it’s okay for me to come?” He asks Nolan when they’re getting ready that morning. He’s trying to look for the nice shirt he’s like 70% sure he packed. “I really don’t mind spending the day here alone, I swear.”

Nolan rolls his eyes the way he does when he thinks Travis just asked a very stupid question. Travis thinks it’s pretty uncalled for. “Don’t be dumb. My grandmother practically begged me to bring you when I told her that you were here.”

There is not much Travis can protest after that, his nerves still high but a little tempered down by Nolan’s words (always here for any kind of approval, no matter what Travis would like people to believe).

The event turns out to be two dozens of aunts, uncles, and cousins gathered under the same roof. Henry shakes his hand with some force but a smile that feels genuine and Frances welcomes him with a hug and words that do confuse Travis for a hot minute. He does manage an “Always” to answer to the “Glad that you’re still in the picture”.

Travis is at a point where he’s not even sure there is more he can learn about Nolan’s life and yet, everyone’s pretty happy to provide. Photos albums are retrieved from drawers, equally cute and embarrassing stories are told, Nolan’s cheeks stay rosy for the major part of the afternoon, it’s a nice program overall.

Travis thinks it does well until it’s time to go.

“Oh my god, you two are so cute it’s actually disgusting.”

When he raises his head from where it was leaning against Nolan’s shoulder and sees Maddy looking at them, Travis feels like a deer caught in headlights. 

They managed to escape the main table around 5 and they had about half an hour to themselves before Nolan’s little cousins joined them, climbing on their laps and leaning against their sides, a book smuggled into Nolan’s hands so he had no choice but to read them stories after stories.

Travis might have been the tiniest bit wine drunk and with his cheek mushed against Nolan’s shoulder and his eyes closed, he might have been falling asleep a little here.

The point being, he hadn’t been doing anything wrong but it still felt like it when Maddy intervened.

“Shut up,” Patty mumbles with a frown on his face.

“Patty, the kids,” Travis hisses with a punch to his shoulders that have everyone moving and giggling around.

Maddy’s laughing when she tells them that they’re leaving so please, hurry up to say goodbye and join us at the car.

It’s fairly early when they make it home but Travis feels drained, all the stress he had in the morning gone, his energy consumed by trying to be good and please with his social interactions, his body going through the amount of food and alcohol he ingested.

Nolan bosses him around so Travis at least grabs a shower and a light dinner made of sandwiches before they fall into bed. It hits him when Nolan turns off the lights, that this is their last night together before a good while. 

For a second, Travis almost feels bad that he’s too tired to do much of anything, make the most of this precious moment where they still share the same time and space.

Nolan pulls Travis into him, strong arm around Travis’ back. He presses a long kiss to the top of Travis’ head when he tells him good night, and Travis falls asleep within his next breath.

 

-

 

Travis has about one week on his own in Ontario before Law gets back from his trip to Peru and Travis gets invited out to finally meet Teresa.

He’s had over six months to digest the news and they’ve actually seen each other on Skype so seeing Teresa and Law together is… Kind of an underwhelming experience.

It’s not like Travis expects to be sick or to get hit by a huge wave of jealousy except he kind of does, and then it doesn’t happen.

Teresa’s cool. She’s nice and she’s comfortable enough to gently bully Law, a fond smile on her face when she tells Travis about how Law asked about condoms instead of preservatives at a restaurant with all her grandparents. Law flushes bright red when Teresa adds that she almost saw him disappear under the table and Law tries to mumble that Travis would have done so much worse (which: probably true even if not the point).

Obviously Lawson is the common ground here but Travis tries his best to ask Teresa about her life, watches intently the pictures she shows him of her little brothers and sisters, he does the same with the most recent picture he has of Chase. The discussion flows quite easily, so much better than Travis would have thought.

All in all, Travis thinks Lawson is the most stressed out of them all. His telltales are still the same and Teresa is probably learning them too, if the fond smile she throws at him when she catches his twitching hands between hers is any indication. Lawson looks just as smitten, a look Travis has only known directed at him but it doesn’t really hurt, to watch it born from his love for someone else. It itches Travis’ chest a little and his throat feels tight more than once during the whole afternoon but it’s not bad, exactly.

People hang out with their ex’s new significant other sometimes, it’s a thing, Travis knows. Maybe it can also work with ex soulmates, no matter if they’re the first of a kind.

Travis thought he was done getting over his relationship with Law and preparing himself for a new one but seeing him with Teresa feels like slotting the last piece of a puzzle into place (no matter if the puzzle was already supposed to be completed).

Sounds cheesy as fuck to think about but, what has Travis’ life become anyway.

Because this meeting is full of surprises, he blinks for a second too many when at the end, Law comes up to him and says: “So, uh, what do you think?”

“What do I think?”

“How do you feel? I don’t know, work with me here Teeks.”

And the furrow of Law’s brows is so funny, Travis has to let out a big laugh that earns him a punch in the shoulder (which: deserved, it’s okay). If he needed anything more to determine had been the most nervous of all of them.

“I’m not sure it’s really my place to approve or disapprove of your new girlfriend. Or anyone else’s, for the matter.”

Travis watches as Lawson worries his bottom lip between his teeth, eyes going between Travis and Teresa, cleaning the table on the patio.

Lawson shrugs. “I know but, you know, too.”

“Oh buddy you were far better at this big words thing back in that restaurant in Phoenix, I knew that speech had to be rehearsed,” Travis smiles and then decides to put Lawson out of his misery. He does feel a little awkward too but they can do this. “I’m fine, Teresa’s fine, you two look really great together for real.” The satisfied smile that settles on Law’s lips is a little blinding. God, there’s no way they don’t stay connected in some way for the rest of their lives. He puts his hand on Law’s shoulder for emphasis on his last words. “I’m really happy for you, you both hit the jackpot here.”

And when Law engulfs him into a big hug (damn, these six inches he has on him are still a lot), Travis doesn’t add that he’s sure that Teresa is the one, that there is no way things will get messed up again, that he fixed things and now he’ll get his happy ending for sure. That’s too many statements he doesn’t really know the veracity of and they’re frankly too sad for the mood right now.

“Thanks, it really means a lot, you know,” Law confesses once he has finally let go. Travis can feel his throat doing the tightening thing again. He’s good, it’s fine.

“Yeah yeah, enough feelings for today, please,” he laughs and gets Law to laugh softly with him. “We should hang out more, though. I miss my favorite fishing partner.”

When he’s in bed that night after his shower, Travis almost thinks that this was all a dream, that there is no way things went so smoothly. And then, there is a text from Law telling him that he’s coming to get him at 9 and he’s taking care of the food, but can he please get the drinks? So, not a fever dream then.

 

-

 

Travis almost fucking dies the day his life takes yet another 180.

Well, like, he would have died if his hands had gripped his sink a second too late.

It goes like this: Travis wakes up early (yes, it happens sometimes) and goes for a run. When he’s back, he hops into the shower and everything goes smoothly.

A fact to know about Travis is: he stopped wearing his wristband around his family because they all know and he never has it on when he showers anyway.

When he gets out of his shower, looks at himself in the mirror and has a band of teal staring back at him, right above his left wrist, Travis blinks, looks down and realizes he saw correctly, freaks out and almost slips on his wet floor in his panic.

The grey he’s been staring at for over two years now has been replaced with color, and when Travis dares to touch, a thrill goes up his body and he knows this is for real.

He’s dimly aware that his ears are ringing and his heart is beating too fast, his hands are a little shaky when he quickly puts on underwear, a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.

Travis probably shouldn’t be driving in this state. He’s still at Law’s door fifteen minutes later.

Lawson’s mom is very happy to see him when she opens the door for him and he nods his thank you and doesn’t run in the stairs after she says “Lawson is in his room, we haven’t seen him yet”.

Law barely looks awake, pillow’s crease on his cheek and hair all haywire, when he answers to Travis’ knock, frowning at him. “Did we have something planned? I’m pretty sure we didn’t. Did I miss something?”

Travis stares at him. He opens his mouth, closes it, opens it again. Fuck, how is he supposed to go about this?

"I'm fixed. Or I got fucked up again, I don't know, I'm pretty sure it's a bad idea to give me a new soulmate,” he eventually blurts out.

Lawson keeps looking at him with bleary eyes and Travis thinks he might be dreaming it all, after all. He thrusts his wrist under Lawson's face, probably a couple of inches too close judging by how his best friend draws back one step, frowning at him.

"So it looks like your soulmate is sleeping pretty quietly. Good for him, I could be doing that too, you know? Did you even text me?"

Since when do I text you before coming over, Travis doesn't say because there is a more urgent matter at hand here. "Law!"

Law's frown deepens and he focuses on Travis' mark some more. Travis can see the moment it finally hits him.

"Oh my god," he almost shoots, grabbing Travis' wrist and dragging him forward to take a closer look. When his thumb sweeps gently over the teal band, Travis feels a wave of jealousy, his brain screaming mine mine mine, and he not so carefully tugs on his hand to get his limb back.

Law's eyes are just looking at him all huge and stunned and it makes Travis feel antsy, he sits down on the bed, bouncing knee betraying his nerves, and he's quickly joined by Lawson.

"How lo—"

"This morning, found out about it after showering, immediately came here."

"Oh."

"Yeah."

The room falls silent and Travis lets his eyes roam over the walls. The place hasn't changed much since Travis was a teenager, he knows every single one of the posters, possesses most of the same medals and trophies Law has on his shelves. This is the bed where Travis had his first time, the one where so many of the big conversations of his life happened. Maybe it should be weird that they're here for this new one, or it makes the most sense, coming full circle.

Travis doesn't protest when Law lays a calming hand on his jiggling leg.

"How do you feel ?" Lawson asks, probably the calmest Travis has ever known him.

"I—" Travis starts and then there are no words to follow. The truth is, he has no fucking idea. His mindset regarding his soulmate situation went through so many stages since his mark turned grey and Law broke up with him, it's kind of a mess to figure out how he feels right now. "Before you told me about Teresa, I had accepted that I was broken forever and that was it. Then... I'm not saying our discussion didn't open a door for me, letting me know that there was this option that maybe one day I'd get a new soulmate too, but oddly enough I rarely ever thought about it? It's like, if I had a soulmate, it had to be you. If I wasn't going to build my life with you, it didn't really matter whether my new partner was my soulmate or not, they weren't you and that was a huge thing to get over with in the first place."

Travis works through his thoughts as he talks and he's not sure if he makes a lot of sense but Lawson nods anyway, takes his hand away from Travis' skin. At least his knee has stopped moving.

"I'm sorry."

"For what? Being hard to move past? Careful with your ankles here, you weren't that great. We've known each other forever and I'm an idiot who always thought I could only have one true love in my entire life. It was bound to be shitty afterward, tell my brain or my heart to be sorry."

Lawson does laugh at that and they both turn to smile at each other. Travis lightly jostles Law's shoulder with his own.

“Is this about the guy you haven’t told me about yet?”

Travis can feel his cheeks heating up, what. “What?” He definitely doesn’t stutter.

“The guy who helped you get over me. The one you weren’t really dating and said you would tell me about at some point. Don’t think I don’t remember, I still have your texts for proof.”

And Travis remembers that conversation but that’s not— he needs to clear things up here.

“I’m not dating Patty. We’re just friends. Friends with benefits, if you really want to be specific about it. It’s no big deal. I don’t even know what that has to do with me apparently having a soulmate again.” 

Lawson huffs at that and Travis wants to hit him again. Out of the two of them, he’s the one who should be annoyed by the turn this conversation is taking.

“So, Patty, uh? Guess I should have seen that coming. That’s great. He knows what it’s like to be closeted in the league, shares your schedule, gets you. I’m happy for you,” Lawson smiles at him and Travis thinks it’s a little surreal.

“Do I need to explain friends with benefits to you? We’re sex friends, Law. I was so fucked up I couldn’t even go past first base with someone new and when I really gave it a try it was a fucking disaster and the worst idea I ever had so Nolan offered to help and now I enjoy sex with someone that isn’t you, so, the plan worked. There is no dating there.”

Sure, Travis hasn’t done any of the dating this was supposed to prepare him for yet but that’s not the point. He has all summer ahead of him. He can surely find one night to go out and pick up, no big deal. The thoughts sit a little uncomfortably on his stomach but that’s just nerves.

When Travis turns his head, Lawson is frowning hard and flexing his fingers. Concern. Uh.

“What do you mean by the worst idea you ever had? Did something happen?”

Travis can feel the wheels turning inside Lawson’s head and no, he doesn’t want his best friend to go imagine the worst scenarios but he’s not telling him about Matt either. Law would be able to find the guy just to beat him up even if he didn’t do anything wrong.

“It’s— No, please Law, drop it, I swear to God it was fine. Not my finest moment, for sure, but I went to Nolan’s and he took care of me and then… I don’t know, we talked a lot and he offered to help and things just fell into place.”

“Right,” Travis can see the moment Law drops the fight and agrees to listen to him. “So there have been other people after Nolan got you back on track?”

“No, but—” Travis doesn’t get to finish, Law taking over.

“And this has been going on for months, while you spend most of your time at his place and you went to Winnipeg at the beginning of the break, where you were with most of his family.”

The heat on his face hasn’t gone down. Travis would like for his body to understand that he did nothing wrong and the feeling of being caught has no right to be there.

Travis turns his forearm over, eyes going to his mark, still a peaceful teal. He runs his right thumb over it and feels a small wave of calm wash over him.

“What does that have to do with my soulmate situation?”

Law’s touching his own mark and the air feels too heavy. The temperature isn’t too high yet but Travis thinks he could be on the lake in the middle of the afternoon right now, for how he feels, brain having a hard time catching up.

“I didn’t have my colors back until months after I got with Teresa, so an even longer time after I met her. She had a healthy mark her whole life but mine adjusted later on, probably around the time I realized I was in love with her but I’m not sure I would bet my life on the exact correlation there.”

Pause.

“Are you saying that I’m in love with Nolan or that Nolan is my soulmate? Because they’re both bullshit ideas, for real. Please stop that train of thoughts.”

Inevitably, Travis’ mind goes to Nolan. Nolan who has a very tender face when they wake up together and Travis just wants to kiss him (morning breath be damned) or snuggle even closer (he told Patty it was super weird to watch people sleep but the truth is, he kind of likes it). Nolan who always keeps avocados in his kitchen even if he hates them and constantly prepares Travis’ breakfast, because Travis isn’t very operational in the mornings. Nolan who took him to Winnipeg and Travis felt so at ease around his family he thought he could easily get used to spending more time there.

Travis’ heart is going too fast right now, that’s not— fuck. Law’s hand is back on his knee.

“Hey, I didn’t say that. I just think you’re freaking out because you think there is this new person you could meet and build a relationship with and you’re not sure if you actually want to meet them or if you’re happy enough already with your current situation. And all I want you to know is: maybe there is no choice to make and you can have it all anyway.” A pause, to squeeze Travis’ knee, not exactly easing his nerves but a valid attempt, Travis guesses. “And maybe Nolan is not your soulmate and maybe what you want is someone else entirely, soulmates thing be damned, and that’s okay. Just remember our situation — your current situation— obeys no discernable rules and that’s why you should go for what feels better anyway. You do you, Teeks, only thing that matters.”

Travis goes for a big breath, kind of fails, tries again. Law’s hand is squeezing his knee again.

For all the people who think he’s an idiot who needs to be surveilled at all costs or else disasters would happen, Travis is actually really good at knowing what he wants and planning what he needs to do in order to reach his goals. I’m going to be a pro hockey player in the NHL. I’ll have a happy life with Law. I’ll never disappoint my family and will always make them proud

(yeah, he failed that second one but he would like to think he’s doing pretty great with the other two)

When Lawson told him about Teresa, it took a couple of weeks but yes, Travis eventually began to think that this meant he could have a new soulmate too, get a new go at the whole soulmates thing, start again and do better this time, reach his original goal with a different person. And then Jeremy and Matt happened and Nolan happened and— for the first time in his life, Travis didn’t care about his soulmate situation. Having this discussion with Lawson right now makes him realize how relaxing it was when his head was free of these thoughts, just fuck soulmates, I’m gonna do things my way and still be happy. It might not have been conscious, per se, but it had been the mindset he’d settled for anyway.

The thing is, he can’t —he can’t keep this mindset now, not with this new development. He owes it to this person, whoever they are, to find them and to try something. Doesn’t he? And if that means that what he has going on with Nolan has to stop, well, it was the plan all along anyway— no matter what the unpleasant mass in his chest says.

“You’re sure about that?”

Right, made sense that he would talk through his thoughts for this. 

So is he sure?

Nolan bringing him back against his chest when they watch thrillers and scary movies. Nolan forcing him to drink a full bottle of water before he goes to bed after a night of drinking. Nolan getting two orgasms out of him consecutively and then bitching for Travis to get out of his dazed state to take care of him.

“Yes.”

 

-

 

Contrary to what Chase is trying to say to everyone when they arrive, Travis did not have to be forced to go out. He’d been meaning to have a real night out with his buddies ever since he got back to Canada and yes, maybe he was feeling tired earlier and had lost some of his motivation to come out that night in particular but that doesn’t mean anything.

After a couple of beers, one very fruity cocktail (he’s pretty sure it was vodka), and a shot or two, Travis is doing fine.

The previous summer had been a little awkward because that’s what happens when a couple in your childhood group of friends breaks up. He hadn’t wanted anyone to take sides (and he knows some of them kind of still did) but back then, he also made it clear he didn’t want to see Law, so, he did miss the number of gatherings because of that.

Anyway, they're past that now. Law couldn’t be here tonight but if he appeared out of nowhere right now, Travis would be happy, he has all of his shit together now. Truly.

“Hey Teeks, gonna do something about the hot blond who’s been eyeing you for the last half hour?” Jamie calls, sliding in the booth He’s so out of your league, you gays have weird tastes sometimes, I swear.”

Travis almost chokes on his cocktail (yep, definitely vodka). Against any sense of mind he could have, Travis risks a glance towards the bar, obviously meets the eyes of said blond (yep, hot) and blushes when he realizes he got caught.

He kicks Jamie’s foot under the table.

“What? That wasn’t homophobic. Right?” Jamie frowns and Travis doesn’t know if he should laugh or roll his eyes to heaven and back. Sometimes he has a hard time understanding how he and Law got themselves hockey bros who were okay and supportive about the whole gay thing. They had to distance themselves from a couple of people back then when they dared come out a little but when Travis looks around at what he has now, he feels grateful.

Of course, he has to get the stupid (but never in a mean way) comments once in a while. Small price to pay, really.

“Take care of your own ass, Jay,” Travis answers. “I think you would have a much better chance to score if you actually spent your time eyeing the ladies. Unless you’ve got something to tell me? We can talk, being bisexual is a thing, you know.”

He’s mostly joking and it’s so worth it for the way Jamie’s cheeks go beet red and he mutters a comeback Travis doesn’t really get because he’s too busy laughing while he watches his friend go.

That leaves Travis on his own and of course he makes the mistake of looking at the bar again, sexy blond meeting his eyes once again, except this time he also makes a gesture with his head, clearly inviting Travis over.

Travis bugs. Hard. And then he’s shaking his head from left to right way too hard before doing a 180, eyes going to the ground and then to his phone once he manages to fumble it out of his pocket. 

His cheeks are burning hot, all ashamed, and Travis would really like for the ground to swallow him right there right now.

The thing is— Travis didn’t lie to Law. He truly thinks that Nolan fixed him and now he’s ready to date and hook up with strangers, no biggie.

Except for how he kind of doesn’t want to. Travis really thought he did but being in that club, looking at attractive guys, being looked at by guys way out of his league, he doesn’t feel one ounce of envy to go talk to them.

He’s not even thinking about the possibility of his new soulmate being out there for him to meet. Travis can’t look at his mark right now but he doesn’t need to in order to know his person isn’t here.

Earlier in the night he would have probably said that it was just the night, he wasn’t feeling like going out so obviously he’s not in the mood to pick up. Hours later and super comfortable with his friends, Travis is very aware that it has nothing to do with the date.

He would use time as an excuse except it’s been over 2 years since his break-up with Law and almost six months of his thing with Nolan and— it’s not a question of time. Add that to the list of things Travis just knows

The list stops after that. The rest of his questions needs a train of reflection Travis isn’t sure to be ready to have.

 

-

 

Nolan picks him up from the airport, face hidden under sunglasses, greasy hair under a backward baseball cap that Travis is pretty sure belongs to him.

Travis would be lying if he said he hadn’t been excited about getting back to Philly. Right now he’s a little stressed with all the talks around his future new contract but when he spots Nolan and burry his head against his chest, arms snug around his middle, Travis feels perfect.

He might hold on a second too long because Nolan has to groan for Travis to accept to disentangle himself but he uses his fond voice and has already forgiven Travis about it after a good eye roll Travis can guess even behind the sunglasses, it’s all good.

Nolan chirps him about the sunburns on his nose the second they’re in his car and Travis does nothing but smile, resigning Nolan to shake his head and remind him to not touch the radio (as if Travis is going to listen, already reaching for the aux cord).

Travis is backed up against his front door the second they get in, Nolan crowding against him with one hand on the back of his neck, the other firmly holding Travis’ hip.

He doesn’t mean to moan into the kiss so quick except it’s been a while and Nolan is already pushing one thigh between his leg, hand going up to hold onto his hair— Travis can only be weak in front of that.

“Missed me, eh?” Travis breathes when Nolan decides to put his attention on his neck, biting his way down along his jaw first.

Nolan dares to pause to roll his eyes at him, the fucker.

“Didn’t miss that smell, for sure. You reek, buddy.”

“Hey,” Travis punches him lightly in the shoulder. “Don’t be mean, I just spent hours between airports and regular people's airplanes.”

Nolan laughs, kisses the pout on Travis’ mouth before ordering him around. “Come on, go shower, it’ll be a true win-win situation, I promise.”

Travis doesn’t have anything to add to that so he just punches Nolan again and goes on his way to the bathroom. He would have tried to pull Nolan’s face down against his sweaty armpits or something but his size and his state of fatigue aren’t exactly playing for him there.

He does feel better when he gets out, hair still wet but fresh clean clothes on. There’s food waiting for him in the living room, Nolan already installed on the couch, the TV turned on.

The picture feels kind of odd, in the sense that they literally never hang at Travis’ place and spend their time at Nolan’s, but putting the details aside, this truly does feel like coming back home.

“Where did that come from ?” Travis asks as he settles down next to Nolan, picking up the chopsticks and opening up the first container.

“Leftovers from what I ordered last night. Since it’s almost 3, I figured we could snack now and have a real dinner tonight. I put some stuff in your fridge so you can probably survive at least a couple of days without groceries.”

Travis pauses at that, his brain catching up on the attention. If not willing to go out he would have just used one of the three delivery services apps on his phone or he would have gotten down to Nolan’s place and stolen food from there but this is still a little different. “Thanks,” he answers, probably a moment too long.

Nolan has already redirected his attention to the TV, browsing around on the Netflix menu. He merely shrugs and Travis still feels a little stuck, he agrees to the first thing Nolan proposes to watch, not even looking at the screen to check what it’s about. 

Turns out it doesn’t really matter what Nolan chooses because Travis falls asleep before they hit the ten minutes mark. He’s not sure how long he stays out but when he wakes up, it’s to Nolan running his fingers through his hair, an old episode of The Office going in the background.

They go out for dinner. It’s not something they often do in Philly but Nolan wanted to check that new Italian place so Travis follows along and greatly appreciates his risotto.

When they get back, Travis almost has a brain pause when they’re in the elevator, wondering if he should hit his floor button or not, but he doesn’t really have time to think about it. Nolan already has a light hand at the small of his back when they reach his floor.

Preparing himself for the night between Nolan’s bedroom and bathroom, borrowing a shirt from Nolan before falling into bed with him, feels as natural as it ever did.

Travis has always referred to Clachan as home, but there, between the couch they picked together and Nolan’s arm snug around his middle, Travis knows he’s right where he should be.

Maybe there is no choice to make and you can already have it all.

God, fuck life for giving Law a grasp on life and feelings.

 

-

 

Travis is playing 2048 on in phone in the player lounge, waiting for Nolan to be done with his medical check, when a chill goes through him and he realizes he forgot his sweatshirt in the examination room earlier.

When he doesn’t get an answer after knocking, Travis gets in and finds Nolan sitting on the examination table in only his boxers. It may sidetrack him from his original goal.

“Missing me already? I shouldn’t be long.”

Travis smiles, walking slowly to Nolan, settling himself between Nolan’s legs with his hands on Nolan’s thighs.

“Always missing you, baby,” Travis whispers and Nolan rolls his eyes before leaning in to allow Travis his kiss.

Travis smiles into the kiss before leaving Nolan’s mouth to press kisses against his jaw. He doesn’t really have the time to reach Nolan’s neck before Nolan is pushing him back with the palm of his hand against Travis’ forehead.

“Easy, Murphy’s gonna be back soon.”

Travis rolls his eyes but doesn’t move. Since his mouth has been forbidden to act, he uses his eyes and the trail of his fingers to take in Nolan’s body. The pale skin, the scar on his clavicle, beard burn from last night above his sternum, soft stomach with abs hidden by the way Nolan is sitting.

When he’s done with Nolan’s upper body, Travis moves on to his thighs, the tattoos he knows by heart, has traced with his fingers and tongue so many times.

Resting on the edge of the examination table, Nolan’s hands, gripping the edge. Gently, Travis turns them both over, finds more pale skin, veins a stark blue against white, no wristguard in sight, which Travis doesn’t immediately react to because he also had to take off his for his exam, standard procedure. 

It takes five solid seconds and Travis’ eyes going back and forth between both bare wrists several times before his brain catches up and Travis feels his heart drop.

Travis drops Nolan’s hands and take a step back like he’s been burned. “Travis?” Nolan asks, confusion obvious in his voice until he looks down, realizes and: “Oh.”

Oh. Travis can’t breathe. He takes another step back, sees Nolan’s arm reaching for him but he moves again, now in the middle of the room. “Wait Travis let me talk, I can explain.”

Travis being able to leave the room and drive his car back to his place is the pure doing of the auto-pilot mode of his brain.

He realizes his hands are trembling when he goes for a cold glass of water and almost drop the thing in his sink.

Nolan hid his absence of soulmark from Travis.

Nolan let Travis believe he was the only one with a weird unconventional soulmark situation when Travis showed him his grey wrist.

Nolan doesn't have a mark to match with Travis'.

Trying to work the water past his tight throat, Travis isn't sure what hurts the most.

Going for a run right now would be more stupid than helpful so Travis decides to try the shower option, water on the edge of too warm usually good at emptying his head.

Shredding his clothes is mechanical and so is taking off his wristguard. When Travis peaks a look at his mark against his will and sees the colors of stress, worry and regret, he feels like he is in a fever dream.

Under the head of his shower, hot spurts of water beating on his back, Travis has to reevaluate the last two years of his life.

Nolan always wore his guard around the team. That wasn't something odd, considering it was mandatory within the arena and practice facilities and Travis himself had been wearing his wristguard around all of the time (because he had something to hide, Travis' brain supplies).

Some people like to keep their mark for themselves, mostly out of privacy or because they don't want anyone else to spy on their soulmate like that (it's overall considered very rude in society but people are assholes, so). Travis— Travis never really stops to consider Nolan's situation.

Travis progressively stopped wearing his guard around Nolan after he told him about what happened with Lawson. He went wrist-free when he was with his family, in a safe space, so it just made sense to do it with Nolan too (because Nolan was safe and he wouldn't betray Travis, right).

As he rubs soap on his body with a little too much force, Travis remembers the times his hand inadvertently touched Nolan's wristguard when they were being intimate, remembers how Nolan froze the one time he held on for too long, remembers how Nolan would often redirect his attention somewhere else. It didn't feel like a big deal back then but now, fuck, he's been so stupid.

His doorbell rings when Travis is pushing his t-shirt over his head. He stays still for a moment, thinking maybe Nolan will think that he went out but then there's knocking and the muffled sound of his name being called out. Travis can also make out a "please" in there.

Travis can't really explain what makes him move instead of ignoring Nolan but he does get himself out of his bedroom, stops by the bathroom to grab his wristguard, and goes opening the front door of his apartment.

"Hey, you forgot this when you left," Nolan says while handing over the forgotten sweatshirt that had ended up causing the whole revelation. "I'm really sorry, can we talk?"

Travis fixes Nolan with a stare, right there with Nolan still in the hallway, before caving in, grabbing his sweater and motioning Nolan to come in.

He hesitates for another second, unsure of where he wants them to have this conversation, and eventually goes for the kitchen when Nolan sits himself on a barstool. They can see each other while having this physical object between and that's just what Travis needs right now.

“I should have told you sooner,” Nolan says, voice echoing in the quiet of the room. “I wanted to, I’m sorry.”

Travis scoffs. “Oh yeah? And what were you waiting for exactly, for me to give you even more of my life and feelings? Because I can’t, Nolan, I’ve already shared all my deepest secrets with you but you somehow decided to keep your biggest one from me.”

And I was hoping you could be my new soulmate but now you obviously can’t be so I might be dealing with a case of a broken heart but whatever.

“I’m sure you had your reasons,” Travis continues, tone a little mean. “You always do.”

Nolan looks pained and Travis doesn’t even feel good about it. He never feels good when Nolan’s not fine so arguments fucking suck, worst of lose-lose situations.

“I did, have my reasons to keep this for me. And it wasn’t fun, believe me. I don’t want to hide things from you, Travis. I— I love the fact that you felt good opening up to me and I love to learn more about you every day and trust me when I say no one besides my family knows me better than you do.”

Travis didn’t expect that. Nolan’s words make him feel warm for a second before he catches back on the situation.

“And yet .”

Travis doesn’t miss Nolan’s sigh, his arms tightening around himself while he fixes Travis with a stare. “Please, let me explain ?”

Nolan has never sounded so eager to want to be heard and there would have been something to say about it, in another context. The hurt part of him wants to say No, be stubborn for the hell of it, find satisfaction somewhere in that exchange. Except Travis opened his door to Nolan for a reason and deep down, he does want to know what Nolan has to say. Probably needs it for his own sanity, too.

Travis tilts his head, eyes boring into Nolan, who’s smart enough to take that for the go-ahead that it is.

“Look. We don’t have the same background. My parents weren’t soulmates. They both had a mark that they knew was for someone else but they settled together anyway, had Mads, me and Aimée, and now they still love each other. All my life I was exposed to the perfect example of how you didn’t have to find your soulmate to fulfill your life and it freed me from that fear or anxiety most people have about meeting their soulmate. I always figured that if I ended up with mine it would be great but if my life went another way, it wouldn’t be a big deal.

You’ve met my grandparents. You know how they’re more old school and truly believe in the faith of soulmates and how it should guide us. I know they’ve always resented my mom a little for marrying my dad, which I’ve always hated, of course. It’s better now but I heard them argue about it when I was little. It's still used sometimes when my parents have a fight during a family reunion, no matter how small. I had this big talk with my mom when I was a teen, about the family drama and about how I should only do what makes me happy, no matter what everyone else says.

It felt nice to hear. I know people think I’m a moody bitch who doesn't care about people’s opinions and the soulmates stuff, but I do.”

Travis swallows. It's not the longest he ever heard Nolan talk —he roped him into confession nights and got him to tell lengthy stories before— but it’s the most exposed Nolan has ever been in front of him. Travis is still mad, can feel the tingles of anger vibrating right under his skin, but it has smoothed out a little, frequency lower.

“People don’t say much about your absence of soulmark when you’re a kid because you still have time to get it. I started wearing a wristguard 24/7 when I was 14 because I couldn’t deal with the questions and people staring. I never was able to decide if it was worse when they were surprised or sad. And like, no offense to couples with a big age gap but if I meet my soulmate, it’s not gonna before twenty years from now or it’s gonna be sooner and it’ll be really creepy, no thank you.”

Nolan obviously looks bitter retelling the memories and Travis feels for him for a second. He knows he got it lucky when he was a kid, mark appearing when he was barely three months. Travis always wore his soulmark with pride, showing it off easily; with more discretion once he found out for sure that it was Law’s but still with a quiet smile on his face.

Travis has always been aware that some people were too extreme about the whole soulmates thing but he also has always fitted the mold, up until his breakup with Law. He can’t say he fully understands what Nolan went through but he can recognize it must have sucked.

“I’m sorry Nol’,” Travis says because it feels like the right thing to do. “Why didn’t you tell me, though? Did you think I was gonna judge you or something?” He’s not exactly good at keeping the accusatory tone away from his voice. “I showed you my broken mark, what could I have even said without appearing like the stupidest idiot out there ?”

Nolan ducks his head, chin almost tucked against his chest, eyes on the counter. He uses his right hand to tuck a stray strand of hair behind his ear before tightening his arms back around himself.

It’s the defensive position Travis has only seen Nolan in the most vulnerable occasions (receiving a harsh talk during a losing game in the locker room with the rest of the team, being reprimanded by his dad, being asked about his migraines and his health in general).

It’s odd to see Nolan like that when it’s only Travis. It’s odd to see Nolan in Travis’ kitchen. It’s odd to be having this kind of tense conversation with him.

Nothing about the current situation is what Travis expects of them. He was thinking about showing his new colors to Nolan tonight. So much for irony.

“It’s not you,” Nolan starts. Travis sees him wincing at his own words. “You know I don’t trust people easily and I didn’t lie when I said you’re the person I trust with the most things besides my family. I thought I could get to the point where I’d feel comfortable telling you and when I did it just... “ Nolan trails, shrugging his shoulders, still avoiding Travis’ eyes. “It wasn’t an option anymore.”

Travis frowns. “What do you mean it wasn’t an option anymore? I can’t deal with you being all secret and not using your words right now.”

“Why does it matter, Teeks?” Nolan finally gets his eyes back on Travis. “Look, I’m sorry I withheld that information from you but you know now. I don’t have anything else to hide if that can comfort you.”

If that can comfort him? God, Nolan, please.

“What changed?”

“What?”

“You said that when you felt ready, it no longer was an option to talk to me. What changed?”

Nolan raises his head to the ceiling for a second. Travis can see where his shirt is bundled by his fisted hands holding on too tight. More nerves.

“It’s just a blank wrist. I have two of those instead of the usual one. It’s not that big of a deal.”

Travis takes a deep breath. He can’t believe Nolan’s gonna be enough of a stubborn asshole to really pretend it was nothing and that Travis is being unreasonable. Fuck him for that.

They don’t fight a lot, never like that. In that instant, it’s easy to be thrown back into a memory from almost a year ago, in that exact same place, almost to the spot.

The way Nolan had looked at Travis and recoiled after being called out for his sleeping around habits was still burned into Travis’ memory. The anger on his face so ferocious Travis had flinched internally, still wanting to hurt more.

This argument truly brought out some of the worst in him and Travis can’t go there again. He can feel his frustration at Nolan bubbling under his skin, stretching him thin. He knows he could make Nolan actually say something meaningful if he stung him with the right words but that’s not— that’s not how he wants things to go today.

Discreetly, Travis unclasps his guard before pocketing it. Keeping his arm against his side, he makes his way to Nolan, perpendicular to the bar, up in his field of vision.

Nolan. Tell me what happened.”

Nolan huffs before looking at him and Travis holds his ground, making his voice strong, just barely pleading, when he says, “Please.”

“I caught feelings, Travis. That’s what happened.”

That’s not the revelation Travis expected and he feels pinned to the spot, mere feet away from Nolan, his arms hanging by his sides, heart starting to race inside his chest. He might be staring a little. Somehow, that prompts Nolan to keep going.

“You think there is anyone else I make love to in the first hours of the morning? Anyone I want to share my fears and dreams with the way I do so openly with you? You’re the only person I want to have in my space like that. I haven’t hooked up with anyone else since March, before my grandparents came.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” is what Travis’ mouth decides to go for. He’s also failing to see the connection between that and Nolan hiding his blank wrist from him but that’s in the back of his head now.

Nolan loves him.

Fuck. Nolan loves him.

Nolan laughs, humorless. It sounds pained. “We started hooking up because you needed to get your sex bearings back. That’s why you accepted my help and we both know that was the contract there.”

Travis winces. It’s strictly the truth if you study every word of the sentences but it still hurts a little, to hear it like that, no matter how much Travis actually agrees with Nolan’s definition.

“And don’t misunderstand me, I enjoyed every single second of it. I offered because you were my friend and you were hot and I kept doing it because it was you. Fucked myself over when I caught feelings because I know you just wanted to prepare yourself for other guys and I’m sure you scored plenty during the summer, which I should be glad about, actually, would mean I played my part right. Shouldn’t be long until you find the right person for you.”

Nolan’s bitter tone probably goes right with how sour Travis’ face turns at that.

“Right. And that person can’t be you, because?”

“Because I’m not the right person for you, Travis. Because I do listen to you when you talk and I know how much Lawson being your soulmate meant to you and I don’t really see this kind of stuff the same way you do. You deserve someone who thinks like you, I can’t do that.”

“Oh, I do?”

Nolan nods. Travis is so close he could count Nolan’s eyelashes if he put his mind to it.

“Because you know me, that’s right?”

When Nolan raises his chin, answering to the challenge in Travis’ voice, it’s not the usual ice Travis meets in Nolan’s eyes. There’s a storm there, agitated and a little desperate.

(To be truthful: ice is reserved to everybody else, Travis always gets warmth when Nolan looks at him, he noticed that a while ago.)

Travis lays his forearm palm down on the counter next to Nolan, half boxing him in, closing the distance between them.

“Sure, you do know me, Nolan. But that only means you can assume shit, like, what I’d want for Chinese takeout, not how I feel about you and my soulmate situation, you dumbass.”

Travis turns his arm over. Watching for Nolan’s reaction feels like witnessing a scene in slow motion. He pales a little, skin so white under the lights of Travis’ kitchen, and his mouth opens, no sound escaping. His right hand moves forwards, getting closer until it stops a couple of inches away from Travis’ wrist, staying there.

Nolan hasn’t been shy about Travis’ mark for a while. He used to be, at the very beginning when they started to hook up. He would blush whenever he caught sight of it, as if he’d done something forbidden, and it was easy to notice how his fingers always avoided the zone when they traveled Travis’ skin.

“It’s yours,” Travis says, quietly. “I mean, I can’t know for sure 100% but I think it is.”

Nolan actually startles at that. He seems even whiter, if that’s even possible, red spots on his cheeks prominent, stark contrast on his skin.

“It can’t be,” Nolan mumbles. Travis can’t remember the last time he heard him sound so small. Nolan doesn’t do small. Quiet and reserved? For sure. Small? Never.

“Why? Because you don’t have a mark for me and that’s not along with the soulmates rules we’ve always been taught? Well, I’ve also always been told your soulmark only ever dies with your soulmate. And yet,” Travis shrugs. “Don’t mind me if I go around thinking the usual rules don’t really work with me.”

Nolan huffs. He still has his eyes fixated on Travis’ wrist, mark showing yellow and crimson, light purple on the sides. Fear, excitement, stress. 

It’s hard not to read into it and Travis hates that he can’t find a way to prove himself to Nolan. Although, it did take him weeks and being confronted with the reality of Nolan’s feelings and the state of their relationship for him to get over his doubts.

“It has to belong to someone else,” Nolan answers. He’s still not looking at Travis, the hard set of his jaw meeting him instead of Nolan’s eyes.

Travis hasn’t been so sure about something in a good while. He puts all the confidence he owns in his next words.

“Sure, maybe it belongs to someone else. I still want you anyway.”

Nolan turns his head so fast Travis feels second-handed whiplash.

Travis takes a deep breath, makes sure Nolan’s looking at him for his next words. “I love you too. Feeling’s mutual.”

“What if—” Nolan’s question turns into a muffle when Travis plasters his hand against Nolan’s mouth.

“Stop. I thought this through, alright? Some part of it is still hella confusing but this feels right. You’re everything I need in a partner right now in my life. Being in your place more than mine, sharing all my deepest secrets with you, spending entire days on your couch, falling asleep with you. I want you as much when you bring the best orgasms out of me as when you’re being your bitchy self.”

Nolan snorts, the first real sign of amusement since they began their conversation, and Travis feels light. “Maybe in the future we can do more sex and less sulking but I’ll take the whole package, any day,” he adds to earn the beginning of a smile. Nolan still looks upset and Travis is not saying he was planning to solve everything with that big declaration but maybe he also kind of did.

“I need space.”

When Nolan gets up, high chair making a high noise while it scrapes against the kitchen tiles, Travis feels like a bucket of iced water has been poured over his head.

“It’s a lot, Trav’. I just need some time on my own to think about everything, okay?”

Travis doesn’t say anything to that but he does manage a tiny nod when Nolan asks him if he can drive himself to the rink tomorrow. Then Nolan hesitates for a second before leaning down to press a kiss against Travis’ forehead. Travis closes his eyes on reflex and when he opens them, the front door is closing behind Nolan.

It takes Travis a full minute to move again.

 

-

 

Claude looks at him skeptically when they arrive separately to practice the next day.

“What did you do this time?” he asks Travis while they’re waiting in line together for a drill.

Travis groans. “Nothing.”

Claude looks unimpressed. Travis hates that he probably has grounds to be.

“I swear. It’s just— a thing, we have to figure out. We’re dealing with it like adults.”

The judgment in Claude’s eyes is so plain Travis can’t find anything else to do but check his captain and steal his spot to go score a shootout on Hartsy.

He misses the net by a whole foot.

Travis does his best to give Nolan space, tries to not look at him so much (does mildly well at that), leave earlier or later than him so they don’t run into each other in the elevator (well-executed save for that one morning they left at the same time, habits will excuse him).

It takes six days until Nolan comes to him after practice and asks, “Thaï to go and lunch at my place?”

They came in with separate cars so that’s also how they leave, Nolan going to their fave Thaï place while Travis first swings by his place to drop his stuff and change into his comfiest clothes. Oddly enough, even if the conversation to come has the potential to be Nolan officially breaking up with him (before they even were an official thing), Travis felt good about it, high hopes, positive thinking even if his heart was kind of going crazy. 

If everything went wrong, at least he’d have his clothes to comfort him.

He hesitates before letting himself inside Nolan’s place but Travis eventually uses his key. He’s finishing setting up gatorades and cutlery on the living room table when Nolan arrives.

“Chase accidentally flirted with his econ TA on his first day of school,” Travis finally says when they’ve been eating in uncomfortable silence for three full minutes. “He was waiting outside of the classroom because it wasn’t open yet, she was there and well, you know Chase. I wish I could have seen his face when she properly introduced herself, sounded glorious.”

Nolan laughs and it eases something in the room, snapping the tension that was palpable in the apartment. Then, it’s easy to catch up on Aimée and Maddie’s return to school and the other Konecny shenanigans of the last week. It carries them until they’re done eating their food and the lull in the conversation has Travis’ heart rate picking up a little.

This is the moment of truth. Handling this like adults , he’d told G. I love you, Nolan had told him. They can figure this out.

“Look,” Nolan starts and Travis focuses intensely on his face. The soft frown between his eyebrows, the pink circles up his cheekbones, the fading red line on his jaw from where he cut himself badly while shaving the week before. “I want you. I want to build something with you, I really do.”

Travis heaves a sigh of relief even though the tone of Nolan’s voice doesn’t exactly equal 100% good news.

“If we move forward with this, I need you to make me a promise. I know it sucks but I need it and—”

“Anything you want.”

“No Travis, listen. I don’t think you can promise what I need to ask of you and it’s— it’s okay, alright? I won’t be mad at you.”

Travis frowns. “You really need to stop assuming stuff for me. I got my own brain and heart for a reason.”

Nolan huffs and Travis fixes him with a stare.

“Okay, yeah, sorry. I just— I know you said that you think this is my mark but I’m scared that if it’s not and you one day meet your new soulmate, you’re gonna leave me for him.” Travis swallows at that. It’s not that he is exactly surprised by Nolan’s words but actually hearing them is still a lot. “And I can’t make you promise me that you’re not gonna do that, it’s unfair but at the same time I know it’ll just keep nagging me in the back of my mind and it’ll drive me crazy at some point.”

Travis nods and starts chewing on his bottom lip, wishing he had something with him to occupy his hands. He thinks back on everything he’s ever said to Nolan, every secret, every confession that led Nolan to have this conviction about Travis. 

He kind of wants to be mad at Nolan for… Twisting his words, misunderstanding his feelings into giving him intents he doesn’t have. It’s not exactly fair and Travis knows that, deep down. That’s why instead of being accusatory, he takes a deep breath and clears his head as well as he can.

“Do you trust me?” Travis asks because he doesn’t think they can truly move forwards if they don’t have this to start with.

“I do.” The answer is quick enough for Travis to be relieved for a second. He’s also smart enough to recognize the but that’s coming. Nolan juts his chin at Travis’ wrist. “I’m just scared this is bigger than— well.”

“Bigger than my feelings for you,” Travis completes for him and Nolan nods, looking guilty.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about it this summer, had all those long discussions with Maddie and Tanner about you. I always thought I’d spend my life having flings or would eventually find someone who also didn’t care about soulmates stuff and we’d be happy together. Then you happened.” Nolan’s traits soften for that part and Travis feels a warm wave move through his chest. “I want to be all in with you. For a second I thought maybe I could maybe just make the most of our relationship until the day I could no longer be in the picture but that sounded too self-destructive, even for me.”

“You know there are tons of other reasons why we could break up? I know I’ve only been in one romantic relationship before but people can cease to work together because of so many things. You’re scared about those too?”

Nolan shrugs. “Not really? They feel more manageable. I feel like I’d be able to work through them with you.”

And so they’re back to the soulmates square. Travis almost wishes Law was there to talk some sense into Nolan. It feels like he became some kind of weird soulmates and general feelings master ever since he got together with Teresa, it’s weird. They did have a lengthy phone call the night after Nolan said he needed space and Travis remembers what he half rehearsed with Law. Adults. Time to get to the bulk of things then.

“I didn’t show you my mark to be like hey Nolan, look, we should be together. I was going to show you and I’m pretty sure the feelings talk would have also happened but they’re not connected, I swear.”

“You want me to believe that your confession of feelings has nothing to do with the fact that you think I’m your new soulmate?”

“Yes,” Travis says. “Yes I do and I sure hope you’ll find a way to believe me because you said you trusted me and I’ve never lied to you once in my life.” Nolan opens his mouth and Travis raises his hand to signify he’s not done. “You think that I’m lying to myself? Because no I’m not. I— I get where you’re coming from. I know being soulmates with Law has been one of the biggest things defining me for more than half of my life and yes, having that connection with him was thrilling and I was happy to fit within the model I’d been taught and which most of society valued, I’m not denying any of that.”

Those last words are a little tough to admit but Travis can’t not use them. He wishes he hadn’t found so much relief in there ( I’m a gay hockey player but at least I have a soulmate who loves me ) but it’s just one of the facts he carries with him. He’d still been in that state of mind those first few months after the breakup ( I’m broken and no one’s ever gonna want me again ) but he’d done a lot of growing up since then.

“I’ve learned and changed so much in the last two years. I’m not the same guy you met when you got here. Sure, at the core I’m still me, but I worked through a lot of stuff mentally and I know now that there is so much more to romance than colors on a strip of skin that fate or whoever decided to put there. I wasn’t ready to accept that back then but I do now, thanks to G and Ryanne and Law and you. Most of all, thanks to you.”

Nolan ducks his head at that, blush deepening into a darker red. His guilt has turned into more of a kind of embarrassment. Somehow Travis thinks it’s a good sign.

“I love you, Nolan. I do and I will tell you every day if you need me to. I probably will even if you don’t. I can’t promise I won’t have some kind of reaction if it turns out you’re not my new soulmate and I meet the actual one. That’s out of my hands and yeah, it’s probably a little unfair to ask that of me. What will happen is we’ll deal with the situation together and I’m not leaving you, ever. I know that’s not exactly the promise you wanted me to make but that’s what I can offer.”

And I hope that’s enough for you.

“Yes.”

“Yes?”

Nolan’s nodding with his gaze back on Travis’ face. “Yeah. I— I can’t say I’m gonna stop being scared overnight and that’s something I’m going to need to work on and it will probably suck for a while but, you’re worth it. I love you and I really want to give you my best.”

It’s probably a full-on miracle that Travis doesn’t break any tooth or nose when he launches himself at Nolan, almost knocking him off the sofa.

“I love you, babe. We’re gonna be so good together. I’ll be so good to you,” Travis whispers between two kisses on Nolan’s skin. 

He doesn’t need to look at his mark to know that Nolan is still feeling anxious about the whole situation but Nolan still tightens his arms around Travis, looking him in, and for once, Travis feels good about the future.

 

-

 

Travis is going down on Nolan one morning in the shower in early November when he first sees Nolan’s mark, catching a glimpse of color when he opens his eyes to peer up at Nolan and almost fucking choking on Nolan’s dick.

Nolan doesn’t get it at first. He just pulls Travis off his cock, says “Someone’s eager this morning, eh?” and wipes the tears from under Travis’ eyes.

Travis thinks he turns a little white because Nolan frowns and gets him back up, out from under the spray.

“Trav? You good?”

The lavender laced with a touch of crimson is beautiful. It’s excitement mixed with shock, fear, and happiness. It’s everything Travis is feeling transcribed right there on Nolan’s skin.

Travis sees the lines of Nolan’s face change live, his amused grin turning into a perfect O of surprise when he finally follows Travis’ eyes to his own wrist.

“It’s yours,” Nolan states, voice a little in awe when he turns back to Travis’ face.

Travis nods. He looks down to his own mark, vibrant hues identical to Nolan’s tones. There’s also an added tint of pink that Travis has seen before but never got the translation for. His already speeding heart misses a heartbeat when his brain for the first time tells Travis loud and clear that it’s here to signify his soulmate’s love.

"It's mine," Travis echoes back after a while. He probably has the stupidest smile on his face, can feel where his mouth is stretched on his face. Right until a huge shudder goes through his whole body and that's only then that Travis dumbly realizes he's been out from under the spray since he got up after the interrupted blowjob.

The next thing he knows, Travis is being pushed against the tiles wall, another wave of cold hitting his back until he gets heat from Nolan's body when Nolan presses against him, hands cupping his face before kissing him deeply. "I'm your soulmate, Trav'," Nolan says against his lips. He sounds a little awed and Travis thinks that somehow, his heart finds a way to beat even harder inside his chest.

"Yeah, Nol, you're my soulmate," Travis grins back before pressing his lips against Nolan's again, putting all his feelings in the kiss. "I love you." Another kiss, his hands traveling Nolan's sides. "I mean, I loved you before that and it's not—"

"Travis, don't start."

"But—"

"I know. And I love you too. Do you want to finish that BJ job now?"

Travis gets back on his knees. Then, they get out of the shower, barely taking the time to pat a towel down their body before tumbling into bed, Travis fucking Nolan on his back, long and slow with Nolan's hands pushed above his head, soulmark and its vibrant colors on full display under Travis' eyes.

Travis’ orgasm is hot pink with a tinge of ruby. 

 

-

 

“I can’t believe I can just— read them, you know? It’s weird.”

It’s been close to two weeks and Travis often catches Nolan looking at his mark. He’d said he didn’t want to do it often because it felt like “cheating or whatever” but Travis still gets to see him smile at his wrist every now and then and it makes his heart swell every single time.

There had been a lot of staring at both of their wrists that day after the shower and what probably had to be the most romantic sex Travis had ever had, skin all wrinkled and emotions sky high. Travis admits he still looks too, sometimes. At his mark and Nolan’s. He’s not afraid that’s either of them are gonna disappear but it still feels a little surreal.

“Just works like that,” Travis answers with a smile.

“It’s still weird,” Nolan says again while turning his forearm around.

“You want to know why we got them when you can’t physically do anything when you’re away from me but know I’m sad and how you can just ask me how I feel anyway if you want to know? Well good luck, people way smarter than us have been working on those questions for centuries. Wanna go help them with their research?”

Nolan rolls his eyes and Travis laughs. He pinches Nolan’s thigh and continues with a softer voice.  “You know the hues are very unique to us? Like, they give us the usual guidelines in class. Red for anger, blue for sadness, green for happiness, etcétera, but we’re all different after that.”

“Even different than what you had with Lawson?”

Travis nods. “When I was with Law, happy and calm was a very vibrant green. Ours is a cold mint,” he says while turning his left wrist towards himself. They’ve been chilling at home all afternoon, Nolan currently on the other side of the couch with his feet tucked under Travis’ thighs. Of course the color is there. It’s just tinged with some orange with Nolan’s mild annoyance at not being able to completely understand the process. “I think it’s my new favorite color.”

Nolan blushes hard and soon enough, Travis is wrestled in a lying position on the couch, arms and lap full of a Nolan supporting himself with the forearms caging Travis’ head.

“Shut up.”

“Don’t hurt me. Then your mark will be an ugly burgundy and you’ll just feel guilty.”

“Oh my god.”

Travis snickers and Nolan hides a groan against Travis’ neck. He scrapes his teeth on the tender skin and Travis turns his head, making more room for him.

“Love you, babe.”

The huge smile Nolan presses against his skin where Travis can’t see feels as much as an I love you back as the words do when Nolan whispers them against his ear that night in bed.

 

-

 

Law says they’re both glowing when they meet up for dinner at Law’s Peruvian place when the Flyers come to Phoenix in early December.

Travis blushes furiously while he tries to deny it but he also notices how colored Nolan’s cheeks are and it makes him feel good, no longer really caring about how happy they both are about the new evolution of their relationship.

The situation that night should probably be awkward, Travis having dinner with his former soulmate and his new one. His ex and his current boyfriend. Except it works. It works because Travis has been through a lot for the past couple of years and he learned a fair share of things and he grew up as an adult human being. 

Now, Travis can tease Law about the surprise he’s preparing for Teresa while holding Nolan’s hand under the table, and he couldn’t ask for more.

 

-

 

Then it’s the end of the season and they’re both packing suitcases in Nolan’s apartment, almost ready to go spend their first weeks of the off-season in Winnipeg before heading back East to Ontario.

Travis is in the middle of trying to decide which socks he wants to take with him when Nolan calls him over from the living room.

Nolan hands him an envelope once Travis sits down next to him on the couch, no further explanation given.

Travis can't deny that he's a little confused when what he finds after opening the envelope is a square card, one side white and the other presenting a drawing: black lines stark against the paper, two rows of numbers with a line of flowers laced in-between.

"What is it?"

"Design for a new tattoo. My tattoo artist back home emailed me a new version last night and I think that’s the one I want to settle on."

"Oh, sick dude. You're going to keep the thigh collection going?"

His eyes go to Nolan's leg on instinct, skis of his ghost peeking from under his shorts. Travis has mapped Nolan's body so many times, traced all his tattoos with his eyes, hands, mouth. He could probably draw them by memory, if only he had any artistic fiber in him.

When he gets his attention back on Nolan's face, Travis realizes Nolan hasn't answered yet. He's blushing (the rosy cheeks he'd lowkey fallen in love with before even meeting his teammate on full display), eyes on the card.

"Patty?"

"The first row of numbers corresponds to the local coordinates of this building. It felt like the most logical thing considering this is where most of our big moments happened," Nolan says with maybe the softest smile Travis has ever seen on him. Travis blinks his eyes between the drawing and Nolan's face, processing Nolan's words and, oh . "The second row has the date where we first truly said I love you to each other and most importantly, the day we decided to give this," he gestures a hand between the two of them, "a chance. And then there is lavender because I wanted flowers and on top of being your favorite ones, you use so many lavender-scented candles around the place, I'll have the scent associated with you until the day I die.  I also had your initials get hidden in the line of flowers."

Travis can feel his heart going all haywire in his chest but for once, he thinks it's for all the right reasons.

"Look, this," Nolan points to his soulmark, the band of cold mint and pink almost sparkling under the ray of sunshine from Nolan's huge windows. "You know how I feel about it. You know what my opinion on soulmates was for the first 20 years of my life and you were there all along to see it change. And like, yes I was skeptical at first but I do enjoy checking on you and thinking of you every time I catch a random look at my mark, I'll never deny that."

 

Nolan catches Travis' hands with his, both thumbs rubbing at the tender skin of his wrist, one highlighting Travis' mark and the other his blues veins, the quick pulse inside them.

 

"The truth is, and I never want you to forget that; my feelings for you are not conditioned. I loved you before the colors appeared and I'll keep loving you even if they decide to vanish out of thin air one day. Good for the universe if it decided we were good for each other but no offense, I don't need anyone's approval. You're the best thing that ever happened to me and no soul marks or absence of them are ever gonna change that."

"You know I like to have something on my skin to remember the important people in my life, with the kind of ink that won't ever change," Nolan pauses with a smile and Travis lets a small laugh escape. "I won't be mad at you if you don't want to do it, I promise. I won't do it either if you don't want me to do it. I can postpone the appointment if you need time to think or I can cancel it, it won't be—"

"We're doing it," Travis cuts him, nodding along with his words.

"Yeah? Because I swear—"

Travis lurches forward to kiss his boyfriend silent. He knows how to do the big words and huge declarations too but for now, he'll just pour all his feelings into this kiss, the way his lips will worship every square meter of Nolan's skin, his hands tender and possessive where they roam everywhere he can touch.

 

-

 

Nolan's thigh collection doesn't extend that day. They both end up getting the design on their inner right wrist, mirror position to their soulmark on the left. The symbolism should make Travis gag on how sappy the placement is except he doesn't care enough for that. He'll get sappy for Nolan any day of the week.

Travis won't even care if the universe decides to cancel them at some point. The universe is too dumb to understand them anyway. Travis is a scrappy motherfucker who thought he was no longer worthy of being loved and Nolan's a tall bitch who changed his mind even though he himself basically thought love was bullshit.

They should do fine on their own.