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nature of incident: non-injury fall

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Nolan is nervous. Far more nervous than he thought he would be, for this. He knew he'd be nervous, like, in general, he just didn't anticipate the way his palms are so sweaty and cold as he rubs them against his jeans. Claude and Wayne are right next to him, talking quietly to Andrea, and they both seem as calm as can be. They've both done this kind of thing before, though, these extra special meetings. Claude in particular is good at it. Good at being soft and gentle and fatherly, making anybody around him feel safe. Nolan has no experience with these kind of things though, and knows he isn't going to be good like Claude is. Sure, he's met kids before, but never like this. And it's been a long time, okay, he was out for a long time. Nolan can barely stand to meet fans now as it is. He knows he just kind of glares at them and bitches his way through it, comes out looking like an asshole. He has been told by Andrea and AV both that he needs to "unclench" and "not swear in front of a three year old, no matter what his dipshit dad just said about your stats." That shit is bad, annoying, but never makes him nervous. But this? Fuck this.

A few days ago, a couple people from management had sat all three of the currently assembled Flyers down at a table with a rep from Make A Wish to explain the situation. They'd been told, this kid is dying, will be dead very soon, like it wasn't a big deal. That had taken even Claude by surprise, who has done Make A Wish meetings twice since becoming captain. Apparently they didn't normally say shit like that. Usually the MAW people kept it as optimistic as possible, don't bring up prognosis like that. Which meant that this kid is way more bad off than the kids Claude has dealt with before. They weren't told what she was dying of, just that she was on hospice, and would be accompanied by a nurse "just in case." Nolan knew what hospice meant, had heard his grandmother whisper about it a couple of times on his grandpa's worst days. Which means that this shit is serious. So, yeah, Nolan is nervous.

Wayne slaps a hand down on his shoulder suddenly, and Nolan snaps his head up from where he had been staring intently at the floor between his shoes. He jerks upright, standing straight and blinking at Wayne dumbly. Nolan rushes quickly through his grounding exercises, forces his mind to be present and not floating off in nerves. He is aware of his feet on the floor, the weight of Wayne's hand on his shoulder, the soft whistling sound that Claude makes every time he inhales through his busted left nostril. Looks around, takes in the random staff, the PR guy with a giant camera, Andrea, Mike from Make A Wish, a few people Nolan doesn't know. Nolan watches them move around quietly. Shuffling out of the room dejectedly is Dave, the guy who normally wears the Gritty suit. He'd been in the suit half an hour ago, until someone from MAW informed them that actually this kid is shit-your-pants terrified of Gritty and meeting him is not on the agenda. Nolan thought that was pretty hilarious, actually. He's never seen Dave climb out of the suit so fast in his life, had actually laughed out loud when he'd got his arm stuck in the suspender and almost toppled over. Nolan feels Wayne's hand tense against his shoulder, and he follows his gaze to look down the hall. He sees people coming, then. He sees what he assumes are the kids parents first. Dad in a weirdly formal buttoned shirt, mom in a not-ice-appropriate dress. They look stiff, uneasy. Like they would rather be anywhere else in the world right now. 

Nolan squints, and sees a man just behind them, carrying a kid on his hip. A tiny kid. Nolan racks his brain, remembers that this kid is ten years old. She doesn't look it, and Nolan would be able to tell, even if he didn't already know, that she's very sick. Nolan notices that the man carrying her is in soft gray scrubs, has a heavy badge hooked onto his chest that Nolan can't read from this distance, can just make out the bright red RN on the bottom of it. He's got, like, three different bags draped across his body, and an oxygen machine strapped to his back, tube leading to the kid. Nolan's eyes flit briefly across the way the guy's shoulders and arms are flexed under the weight of all that, thinks holy shit, that dude must be strong as hell, before looking over at the kid instead.

"Gentlemen." Mike is saying then, pushing gently on Nolan and Wayne's backs. "This is Mr. Park and Mrs. Choi, and their daughter Katie."

Katie is looking right at Nolan, with big, bright eyes, and the nurse carrying her helps her lift her hand in a wave. She starts to tear up, mouth forming words too soft for Nolan to hear. The nurse chuckles, turning toward her to whisper something. The kid's eyes get wider, and she giggles, which turns to a cough. It's only then that Nolan notices that she is in a tiny little jersey. Notices the number 19 on her arm. Oh. He's so fucked.

"She says you're all taller than she thought you'd be." The nurse says, stepping up closer, right up in Wayne's space so Katie can look up at him. Up, up, since the nurse only comes to Wayne's chest, apparently.

"Well, all but the captain here, eh?" Wayne says, voice soft and gentle, like they'd been told to be. He reaches out his fist to Katie, slowly. She looks at it, eyes wide, and grins. She lifts her arm up, with the nurses help, and bumps her tiny, fucking tiny, fist against Wayne's. 

Claude leans in, says something to her that makes her tuck her chin and blush. Nolan kind of spaces out for a second, then, clenches his jaw and tells himself that he is not, under any circumstances, about to cry. She's just so tiny, tucked against the nurse's chest. He looks away as Claude and Wayne talk to the kid, not wanting to see the way Claude's comparatively giant hands hover around her tiny legs, not touching her for fear of hurting her. Nolan looks at Andrea, who is looking at her phone, looks at the camera for about half a second before flinching away from it. Then he accidentally meets the mom's eyes. She's looking at Nolan like he's doing something wrong. Which, he realizes he might be. The kid is wearing his number, and he's basically ignoring her. Nolan knows his face, okay, knows he got the resting bitch thing. God, from the outside he probably looks annoyed. He catches himself before he glares at the mom, because, holy shit, her kid is dying, she has every right to scowl at Nolan. He can't be a dick. He is being a dick. Fuck.

"G could probably use a few pointers." Wayne is saying when Nolan tunes back in. Katie makes a sound like a laugh, and the nurse snorts back his own laugh. Nolan gets the feeling he's being quieter than he wants, only because Katie is, like, right under his chin.

"Probably won't do any good." Nolan says, taking a step closer, trying not to loom as he very much looms over Katie and the nurse. Katie looks up at him, face a little open book of shock and awe. Nolan feels something catch in his throat as he meets her wide eyes.

"Be nice, Patty." Claude laughs.

"What? I'm her favorite." Nolan says, reaching out and pinching Katie's little jersey as gently as he can, smiling at her. Reigns it in a little at the last second, remembers Maddie telling him once that he has a "serial killer smile."

"Oh, you have no idea." The nurse says, shifting Katie on his hip so she's facing Nolan more. Her arms come out from around the nurse's neck, and she looks like she wants to reach for Nolan. He absolutely does not panic about it.

"She's always liked hockey, only became obsessed with it after you started." her dad says, the first thing either parent has said so far. He doesn't sound happy about it, doesn't look happy when Nolan glances over at him. Nolan sees the mom, too, still glaring at him, and feels himself tense up defensively. 

"Good taste, Katie." Nolan says, swaying away a little when her hands twitch towards him, scared she's gonna try and grab him. 

"Kat, honey, you gotta hold on, remember?" The nurse says, quietly, bringing the kid's arms back up around his neck. She pouts, says something into the side of the nurse's face. This close, Nolan can hear her voice, what little of it there is. She sounds worse than Nolan's great aunt who smoked for 60 years. He watches the nurse pinch his eyebrows as he tilts his head, listening. He wonders if he has a hard time understanding her. Nolan watches his face for any clues to what the kid might be saying. 

"I think she should sit down for a bit." her mom says, walking over and putting her hand on Katie's back. If Nolan hadn't already been paying such close attention to the nurse already, he might have missed the way he tenses up. His eyes squinted in annoyance, and he seemed to tilt just so to pull Katie away from her mom's hands. Which is weird as fuck, right? Nolan frowns, watching the way the nurse shifts his hold around Katie's hip and leg, pulling her into himself protectively. Like he was defending her from her own mother. 

"Oh, we can head to the locker room, she can sit in the captain's stall. We can take some pictures there." Andrea sweeps in, then, once she seems to realize everyone has paused awkwardly for a second. Her phone is in her hand, pulled up to the Flyers' Instagram page. God, Nolan's probably already been tagged in something. He just hopes it's not a shot of him, like, glaring at a dying kid.

"Oh perfect, then we can get ready for the skate." Mike from MAW says, and Nolan had honestly forgot that the dude was, like, standing right behind him. Nolan has kind of been just blocking him with his big dumb body. Oops.

"Oh, awesome." Claude says. "You gonna skate with us, Katie?" 

"She can't skate." the nurse says, shrugging a little. Which, seems kind of obvious, when Nolan looks at her little legs. 

"Oh, I guess uh, Patty can hold her?" Claude asks, caught up for a second.

"No." is all the mom says, scowling at Claude now. 

"No offence." the nurse says, eyes still looking annoyed, but also kind of embarrassed, like he feels apologetic on the mom's behalf. "I'll hold her. I brought my skates for a reason."

 

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Twenty minutes later Nolan is sitting patiently while Wayne tightens up the laces of his skates for him, watching as the nurse, whose name he should probably learn at some point, struggles. The guy is sat down on the goalie bench seat with Katie in his lap, trying to get the bags off himself without disrupting the oxygen pack. It's a small pack, like it's made for someone Katie's size to wear it. Nolan wonders why the nurse has it instead, seems kind of impractical to be tethered to the kid by a tube like that. Besides, between the bags and the whole ass human child, the guy has to have been lugging well over a hundred pounds around like it's nothing all morning long. Nolan is kind of impressed with his upper body strength, but he does not look at his chest when the nurse swings the heavy sports bag off his back.  The guy finally gets all his bags on the ground, begins digging around in the biggest one. Pulls out a little pink hat and yellow mittens for Katie, along with a big orange Flyers scarf. He wraps Katie up quickly, efficiently. He doesn't even look at what he's doing, but Nolan guesses helping her get dressed is part of his job, after all. He digs back into the bag and comes up with a pair of skates. Not hockey skates, not ones like Nolan is familiar with. Figure skates, nice ones. They're well worn, look like they used to have something painted on the side. One of the little toe picks is clearly ground down, like they've been getting more use than maintenance.

"You get the feeling like Mr. and Mrs. Park want to burn down the Farg with us in it?" Wayne asks, inclining his head to where the Park parents are sitting, thirty feet up the stands, glaring at the back of Claude's head as he glides out onto the ice to spread a few pucks around. 

"Pretty sure they've been glaring at their own nurse like that, too." Nolan says, tapping his feet on the ground as Wayne finishes his laces. "I guess they might lock him in here with us when they set the blaze."

"Oh, I bet you wouldn't mind that." Wayne says, out of the blue, before he takes off to join Claude on the ice. It takes Nolan a second to figure out what he means by that, and he feels himself flush once he gets it. Fucking Wayne. This is what Nolan gets for trusting Wayne fucking Simmonds, of all people, with his sexual preferences. Nolan glances back over at the nurse, squints at him a little, actually looks at him. His hair, long enough to curl at the edge of his shirt collar, his maybe blue maybe hazel maybe something else eyes. The nurse smiles at Katie, then, and it's a little bit crooked. Nolan watches as the nurse slides his skates on, watches him hold his foot up in front of Katie, watches her smile, reach out weakly like she's gonna help him tie them up. The nurse laughs softly, says something quietly. Nolan has to look away. Somehow it had occurred to Wayne that this guy was Nolan's type before Nolan himself even really let the thought settle. Wow. He's nervous again.

It takes Nolan a minute to gather himself, then, and by the time he has the brain power to stand up, he ends up moving onto the ice just a step ahead of the nurse. Nolan pushes off to the left, towards his team mates, and the nurse fucking glides to the right. Step, step, one blade on the ice, one toe pick trailing behind him as he floats over the ice. Holy shit.

"I don't know how much you can really maneuver while holding her, I'll defer to you on how we should play this." Claude says, taking a stick from a rogue staff member who is floating around out here with them.

"Practice around us." The nurse says, slanting to a stop around the center line. "Maybe two of just do what you'd normally do without getting too close to us, one of you can skate along with us, bounce a puck for Kitty Kat." 

"Sounds good." Wayne says. "Patty can bounce pucks for you." He says. Nolan hears the way his voice pitches, like it's a chirp. He hopes the nurse misses it because, fuck, that's inappropriate. Nolan glares at him, hopes the not the time, asshole, is clear on his face. Wayne just smirks at him.

"She says, duh, of course she wants to skate with Patrick." The nurse laughs, and Katie tucks her face into her giant orange scarf like she's embarrassed.

"My honor." Nolan says drifting up to them. The figure skates aren't as tall as hockey skates, so he's looming even more now, and Katie's face is basically at his elbow. He reaches a hand out, takes hers gently. Her whole hand, even in the bulky mittens, barely takes up his palm. He glances at the nurse to make sure that's okay, that he holds her hand, and just gets a smile in return.

Nolan feels it again, suddenly. The urge to cry. This tiny little girl who looks up at him like he's the love of her life, her handsome nurse who cradles her gently against his side. It's almost too much for Nolan, too much when he remembers the people from MAW saying she's going to die, very soon. He pushes off slowly, holding Katie's hand, and refuses to let his mask drop.

 

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Nolan stands awkwardly in the doorway to the parking lot, watching as the nurse hands Katie's oxygen pack to her father. The guy holds it out with one hand, like it's offensive to him. Katie had already been buckled gently into the backseat of the family's car, hooked up to a different, bigger oxygen machine, and patted on the head by the nurse. Patty watches as a tense conversation happens between the men, before the oxygen pack is thrown into the truck without care and the nurse storms off, back towards the Farg.

"I grabbed your bags, so you didn't have to go all the way back to the locker room." Nolan says, gesturing down to the bags at his feet, as the nurse approaches him.

"Shit, thanks, bud." The guys says. Nolan sees a change, then. Sees the guy go from whatever face he wears to work, to who he is outside of it. His shoulders sag, his frown deepens, and when he looks at Nolan with a scowl, he looks suddenly way too young to be a nurse.

"No problem." Nolan says, watching as the nurse bends down, but instead of picking up his bags, he just digs through one. He curses quietly to himself, pulls a handful of things out to drop carelessly on the ground before he finds what he's looking for. Nolan can't do anything but laugh when he comes up with a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. What the fuck?

"I literally dare you to find someone who works in hospice who doesn't smoke. Every fucking nurse I know, dude. Stressful fucking job." He says, slapping a cigarette out with his palm, sliding it between his teeth. He chomps down on it, which seems gross, and lights up right there, with the door propped open against Nolan's hip and everything.

"Shouldn't a nurse, like, know better." Nolan says, angling his body away, so he's not breathing in what the guy exhales.

"One thing working in the medical field teaches you, my man, is everybody fucking dies anyway. Dying sucks no matter how you do it." He shrugs, suddenly looks so exhausted. Nolan catches some lilt to his voice that wasn't there before, an accent that sounds way too familiar to be local.

"You're uh, really good with her. A good nurse." Nolan says, just to try and make conversation. He wishes he hadn't, though, as he watches the guy's face fall like he's just been given bad news.

"Shit." is all he says, blowing smoke out of the side of his mouth, away from Nolan. They stand in silence for a moment, Nolan just watching his profile as he smokes, watches as he seems to sag into himself, like he's crumpling. Nolan is way out of his depth, suddenly.

"What's your name? I've been calling you Nurse all day." Nolan asks, feeling stupid. The guy just laughs, taps his badge, which makes Nolan feel even stupider. Right, how the fuck hadn't he thought to read his very obvious badge.

Vista Hospice, Outpatient Care. Travis Konecny RN. There is a faded little smiley face sticker on his badge, and a smudge of dark ink where it looks like somebody tried to draw something and it got wiped away. He also has a pin on his badge pull, some purple ribbon. Nolan tries to think, but doesn't remember what purple is for. He knows the ones they had worn for Lindy were yellow, though, so it's not Ewing Sarcoma.

"Travis." Nolan says his name, just to try it out. It suits him.

"You're wrong." Travis says, and Nolan frowns, thinking he somehow managed to mispronounce the name Travis. "I'm fucking shit at this job." 

"Oh." Nolan frowns deeper. "You seem to really care about Katie."

"Yeah." Travis laughs, humorless. "That's the fucking problem, bud. I work in hospice, my literal job is to watch people die. I can't go around giving a shit about my patients like this, or I'll loose my god damn mind."

"I," Nolan starts, but doesn't know what the fuck to say to that. He really didn't expect Travis to say something like that. Aside from it being way too emotionally vulnerable for Nolan to handle, it's like, really unprofessional. Nolan guesses Travis is technically not working now that Katie is gone, but it still feels weird. Like, the MAW people are still around, back inside, talking to Andrea about the video that is going to go up on YouTube about the day. Nolan doesn't know what to think.

"I'm just glad it's only for another week." Travis says, mostly to himself. Nolan feels the way his eyes get big.

"She only has that long?" Nolan asks, in a whisper. He thinks about how Katie had clung to his hands on the ice, eyes full of wonder as Nolan and Travis worked together to help her hold a stick to bat a puck around. She'd scored on Wayne, had gone home with the puck. 

"What?" Travis looks at him blankly. "Oh, shit. Dude, no, not like that. I'm just quitting. I put in my notice last month, already took a job in a memory care facility." 

"Oh." Nolan says. 

"Probably, though. She doesn't have long." Travis puts his cigarette out on the bottom of his shoe, tucks the butt back into the pack. Nolan notices there is a black spot worn into the rubber sole of his shoe, where he must do that all the time.

"Oh." Nolan says again, feeling himself deflate.

"Her fucking parents, dude." Travis spits. "I told them this was a bad idea. Probably cut a fucking month off her life." Travis runs his hands across his face, and when he looks back up at Nolan, he looks suddenly furious. "You know, they haven't even told her that she's sick? They refuse to. She thinks she's fine, thinks this is normal. Thinks she's gonna come out on the other side all better, thinks all kids go through this, like puberty. Last week she likened it to a fucking Pokemon evolution. She doesn't know she's fucking going to die. 

And you know what's the worst? The worst, is that her dickhead parents want to act like it's not even happening. Bad enough they lie to her, they want to lie to themselves too, Just keep making it worse. Like, yeah, let's take her out of her bed and drag her to a fucking hockey rink so she can catch walking pneumonia and tap out that much quicker, cause fuck forbid we tell our daughter what is happening to her own fucking body." 

"Oh." Nolan says again, suddenly the only word he knows, and watches something flash across Travis' face.

"Dude, you are," Travis says, cutting himself off before telling Nolan what, exactly, he is.

"I mean, like, isn't that the point?" Nolan asks, cringing at himself. "Like, Make A Wish. One last awesome thing?"

"She doesn't know. Her parents aren't honest with her. Maybe if she knew she was dying, she'd make a different choice. That's informed consent, you know? You can't really make a choice if you don't know the side effects of what you're choosing."

"She was happy though." Nolan says, dumbly. Maybe a little defensively. He doesn't really like how Travis is implying that, like, it wasn't worth it. Like what he and Claude and Wayne just did was worthless. 

"Fucking hell." Travis says, kicking one of his own bags, where they are still kind of pressed against Nolan's shins.

"It's gotta count, dude." Nolan says, staring down at the back of Travis' neck. "You gotta make it count."

"I shouldn't have even agreed to come today, I knew it was just gonna piss me off." Travis grumbles, looking down at his bags on Nolan's feet. 

"I mean, she needed her nurse, dude." Nolan says, hand twitching at his side like he wants to do something stupid like reach out and touch Travis. 

"Could have been a caregiver, she's got pretty good ones." Travis sighs, scrubbing at the back of his neck, right where Nolan's itchy fingers were thinking about brushing. "Usually the nurse only gets involved for, like, incidents, or delegable tasks. Her parents only asked me because they know I can skate."

Right, Nolan thinks. You can fucking skate.

 

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"Did you get his number?" Wayne asks, elbowing Nolan in the ribs way harder than necessary.

"Fuck you, Simmer." Nolan grumbles, sinking deeper into the booth seat he's crammed into. They're in a shitty bar, drinking shitty beer together. Claude is here somewhere too, but he had fucked off to video call his wife. Claude and Wayne may not have been quite as emotionally fucked up about the events of the day as Nolan, but they certainly all needed a drink after that. Something about spending the day with Katie had really gotten to them, in a way that none of them had really expected. Nolan is pretty sure Claude only rushed to call Ryanne so he could look at Gavin's little face, remind himself that his son was okay.

"Did you see the way he skated, bro? I almost asked for his number." Wayne laughs, slaps the table hard enough to make their beers slosh in the glasses.

"He called me a sasquatch and said he hoped I tripped on my shoelaces, so, you probably have a better shot." Nolan grumbles, not pouting at all. 

Somehow his conversation with Travis ended, not on a bad note, but on a really weird one. Travis seemed to calm down pretty quick, like he just needed to let his anger burst and fizzle and then smoke a second cigarette. Nolan got it, a little. He doesn't think he could literally watch children die for a living, can't imagine how stressful Travis' life must be. Travis had explained the difference between the job he does now, and the one he'll be doing after he leaves. It all seemed to boil down to "be a nurse" to Nolan, but Travis had sounded excited about it. Nolan hadn't really learned any more about Travis, aside from the fact that his accent was from Canada like Nolan thought, and he didn't seem to have a brain to mouth filter. He'd made fun of Nolan's untied laces, had bounced up and down on his toes and told Nolan he was "way too tall, that is just, too much boy at once," like they'd been friends for years. He was bizarre, but Nolan had maybe kind of liked the guy.

They had talked more about Katie, too. Shit. Sweet little Katie with her yellow mittens and big sweet eyes. She adored Nolan, specifically, for whatever reason. Loved hockey even though her parents hated it, always got Travis to put the NHL Network on when he came to see her. Shit, she used her one fucking Make A Wish to meet the Flyers, even though she was blatantly disobeying her parents by picking that. Travis told him they wanted her to go to Disneyland, but she put her tiny little foot down and said I want Patrick and Giroux, until she got her way. The MAW people took the kids vote first, and the nursing staff backed up Katie anyway. Disneyland would have been too hard on her. A few hours in a hockey rink was bad enough, according to Travis. He hadn't wanted her to leave her room at all, had tried to get the MAW guys to bring the Flyers to her. Nolan wishes he could see her again, knows he's gonna miss her for the rest of his life.

Nolan puts his head down on the sticky bar table, feels a familiar throb behind his left eye, and wonders if maybe he should have asked Travis for his number after all.

 

Chapter Text

They did it. They won. They beat the Devils, scraped by with just one more point than the Rangers, and they were going into playoffs. They fucking did it. Nolan collapses after the game, just sits in his stall with his head between his legs, and tries to tune out the team as they make a ruckus around him. He doesn't move, feels like he can't move. He knows Nico is going to be outside waiting for him, knows he shouldn't keep him too long or he'll get pissy and call Nolan mean names. Nolan just can't move. He's a few seconds away from panicking about it. He can feel the sweat cooling between his thighs, feel where his chest plate is chafing against his armpits. He wants to undress, wants a shower. Needs a shower. He'd pulled his sweater off, but hadn't gotten any further before he felt like his strings had gotten cut, and he'd collapsed into his stall next to Wayne's. And now he can't fucking move.

"You planning on going home in your gear?" someone says, pressing cold fingers to the back of Nolan's neck. He recognizes the feel of them before he even registers the voice.

"S'cold, Vanya." he grumbles, even as he presses into the contact. His neck feels hot, flushed. The fingers wrap around his nape, squeeze a little bit. He feels Ivan dig his thumb into the muscle right at the top of his spine, where they both know his migraines sit when they travel that far back on his skull. Nolan flinches at the contact, and Ivan hums to himself, steps to the side so the light is behind him, not shining on Nolan's face.

"Big witch, or little witch?" Ivan asks, and Nolan shakes his head. Migraine or a headache? Ivan can't just ask like a normal person, because he's Ivan. Nolan wasn't sure if Ivan is actually as superstitious as he acted, or if he just thought it was funny to watch the teams eyes go wide when he started sentences with, "you know, in Russia, we believe." He's pretty sure that at least half of the so-called Russian folk lore Ivan had told them was just being pulled out of his ass. Nolan knows for a fact that he got the "big witch, little witch" thing from a Stephen King book, even though he insisted to anyone who would listen that it was from an old Russian fairy tale about witches cursing sinners with headaches.

"No witch. I'm just tired." Nolan says, straightening up so he can squint up at Ivan, who is already showered, wet hair dripping onto his hoodie. There are still guys being loud, still laughing as Carter dances around in the player of the game robe. Nolan can tell by Ivan's face that he doesn't believe him. Nolan is pretty sure he is just tired, though. He doesn't know why he can't seem to be able to, just like, summon up the energy to get the fuck up out of his stall, but he doesn't think he's got a migraine coming.

"You need Simmer?" Ivan asks, pinching the back of Nolan's neck in a way that's more annoying than comforting now.

"I can undress myself." Nolan says, finally shrugging out of Ivan's grip. Ivan just raises an eyebrow, looking at Nolan with an annoying twinkle in his eyes. Nolan can, ninety-nine percent of the time, undress himself just fine, thank you. Sometimes he just needs, like, a tiny bit of help, when there is actually a big witch in his head. Wayne had always been the one to help Nolan with the laces, after he'd had his spot blown up in regards to how he, maybe, hadn't ever learned how to do it himself. He could make a passable attempt, but he never got them quite right. It was easier to let Wayne do it. Like it was, sometimes, easier to just let Wayne gently pull his pads and gear off for him, let Wayne cover his eyes with his big hand and lead Nolan into the showers. Right now though, Nolan doesn't want to bother him. Doesn't want to bother anybody, with the team high on victory, with Wayne doing his best to lift Carter onto his shoulders without braining the kid against the ceiling. Nolan just has to figure out how to move his own body again, and then he can do it himself.

 

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Nolan isn't being creepy, despite what Kevin had to say about it when he'd peeked over Nolan's shoulder earlier. It was normal, okay? You meet someone, you talk to them about how much they hate their job, and then you look them up on social media to try and find out more about them. Travis Konecny RN doesn't have Twitter or Facebook, but he has an Instagram which is annoyingly set to private. From what Nolan can see, Travis' profile picture is a mirror selfie of himself in bright purple scrubs in some public bathroom somewhere. Nolan squints at it, contemplates screenshotting and zooming, and then hears Kevin's voice in his head saying you creepin' on your boy? and makes himself exit out of the app. He hasn't decided yet if it would be weird to request to follow Travis. Kevin tells him it would be weird, but what the hell does Kevin know. Dude is from Boston.

Nolan pulls up Safari, types "purple awareness ribbon meaning" into the search bar. Frowns when he realizes that one color of ribbon can mean, like, forty different things.  Purple is apparently for epilepsy, chronic pain, lewy body, chron's, alzheimer's, seizures, vitiligo, and a seemingly endless list of other things. He wonders what it means to Travis, specifically. Nolan drops his phone down onto the bed, stares up at the ceiling of his room, and does his grounding exercises just to have something to do.

He makes himself aware of his bare skin on the sheets, aware of the loose boxers around his thighs. He can see the curtains flutter gently from the air conditioner, but he can't feel it. The vent in his room was tilted almost completely shut, and his bed had been moved to the opposite wall after he'd realized that sustained cold air blowing on him was a migraine trigger. Nolan listens to the sounds around him, the ticking of the clock in the hall outside his open bedroom door, the music coming from somewhere deeper into the house, Kevin turning on the ice dispenser in the kitchen. He takes stock of his body, focuses on his shoulders first, tries to feel if they're tight, forces them to relax fully. His neck, which is sore from the game last night, but not tense, not knotted. The base of his skull, which feels like a normal every day skull right now. His temples, which he can feel the blood pumping through, but no pain, no pinching. He makes his eyes unfocus, lets himself just feel them, finds no pain. Nolan signs, rubbing his had down his face, scrubbing at the stubble under his chin. He's drawn out of his thoughts by his phone, vibrating on the pillow next to his head.

"Yeah?" he answers, pressing the phone against his shoulder and flopping his arm back across the bed.

"Congrats, baby bro." Maddie says around a laugh, voice excited and too loud in Nolan's ear. Oh. Right. Playoffs. Fuck, he'd meant to call his sister last night. 

"Well, we'll see how far we go before we break out any balloons and streamers." Nolan says, hears Maddie scoff.

"They've got you this time around, you'll do fine." Maddie says, even though they both know that's kind of bullshit. Nolan isn't arrogant enough to think like, oh, maybe if he just hadn't been out with migraines last year the Flyers might have taken the cup. If they ever do win the cup, Nolan is pretty sure it'll be because of Claude and Ivan, before anybody else. 

"Does it make me sound insane to say I have barley even thought about it?" Nolan asks, shifting around so he can swing his legs out of bed, suddenly wanting to be doing anything besides laying in his bed like a sadsack.

"What, you, not getting wrapped up in your head like your whole worth as a human being is hinged entirely on how well you hit a rock with a stick?" Maddie laughs. "I guess, yeah, that doesn't really sound like the Lan I know."

"Fuck you." Nolan grunts, making his way out of his room to see if he can convince Kevin to make him lunch. Or at least to see if he can steal Kevin's lunch.

"Whatever bro, as long as you have your shit even a little bit together." Maddie says, just as Nolan rounds the corner into Kevin's chest.

"Baby cat!" Kevin yells, far too boisterously for a guy who just, like, ran into his room mate in the hallway of their shared home. Kevin is always like that, though. Always a little more dialed up than the situation really calls for. Fucking Boston, dude, seriously.

"Hi Kev." Maddie says, loud enough for Kevin to hear through the phone.

"Mads, my favorite Patrick!" Kevin says, leaning down and squishing his cheek against Nolan's so he can talk into the phone, instead of, just, you know, taking the phone from Nolan. "How are you?"

"I'm good. I watched the game last night." Maddie tells him, and Nolan feels Kevin's grin against his face. Gross.

"You see that fucking beauty of a goal I got the assist on?" Kevin asks.

"Sure did. Congrats on the qualification, big guy." Maddie tells Kevin.

"Thanks, doll." Kevin laughs, taking a step back and out of Nolan's personal bubble, just a second before Nolan was going to push him away anyway.

"What's for lunch?" Nolan asks Kevin, eyeing the bowl of rice and veggies the guy has in his hands.

"Whatever you make for yourself, Patso." Kevin tells him, tugging the bowl into his chest like he thinks Nolan is about to swipe it, and fixing Nolan with a look which tells him that no matter how high he notches up the puppy eyes, Kevin will not be sharing food with him. 

Rude.

 

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They have a couple of days to get ready for their first playoff game, and Nolan spends most of the time he's not scheduled to be on the ice, on the ice anyway. He skates around the empty rink, trying to ignore the way he can feel the zamboni driver's gaze boring holes into the back of his head. He knows he probably only has another minute or two before one of the trainers comes and kicks him out. For now, he just glides around in lazy circles, focusing on the way his skates sound against the ice, trying to let his mind go blank. He's not even practicing, had dropped his stick to the equipment manager as the rest of the team had filed off the ice. He was just lingering, trying not to think.

It had been a week since the Make A Wish meeting, and Nolan had been on the ice at least every other day since then. Still, sometimes he catches himself glancing over at the bench, like he thinks he'll see little yellow mittens reaching out for him. He knows he needs to get out of his head about it, but he can't. He has come to understand what Travis had meant, about not giving a shit. Nolan kind of wishes he could stop giving a shit. Stop thinking about it, about Katie. He doesn't get why he's stuck on it, really. He knows that even Claude has moved on, has let it go. Nolan didn't know what had gotten into him, but he couldn't stop thinking about the kid. 

Or her nurse.

Shit.

Nolan skids to a stop at center ice, scowls down at his skates. He feels so dumb about it. He doesn't even know the guy, probably wouldn't have even thought twice about how hot he was if Wayne hadn't chirped him about it. Fucking Wayne. Nolan's never just, like, met a guy and been stuck on him like this before. He's had crushes, sure, but they always took time. Didn't just happen because some cute guy made him laugh one damn time. Nolan didn't buy into any love at first sight bullshit, truly believed it took work to develop feelings for someone. Nolan is pretty sure if he'd met Travis under any other circumstances, he wouldn't care. He's pretty much convinced himself that it's just because of the kid, the way Travis is all tangled up with Katie in Nolan's head. Either way, it's pissing Nolan off that he can't just shut it off. Nolan huffs down at his feet, pretends like he isn't thinking about figure skates, and makes himself walk off the ice. The tunnel is empty and quiet as he makes his way to the locker room, but he can still hear a few voices off in the distance, the stragglers still hanging around. Wayne, Kevin, and Joel are the ones he finds in the room, sitting in their stalls as Kevin dries his hair with a towel.

"Patty, help me out here." Joel says, gesturing to Kevin like he's the bane of Joel's existence. "Zendaya is way hotter than Bella Thorne, like, no contest."

"I like redheads." Kevin argues, setting off Joel into more rebuttals. Nolan tunes them out, turns to his stall to start changing out of his practice gear.

It's not that Nolan has ever been dumb enough to forget that he's different than the rest of these guys. Sometimes he just forgets how heavy it feels to be reminded. Nolan can feel Wayne staring at the side of his head where he's sat next to him, but refuses to turn and look at him. He knows the look Wayne will have, the same look he always has when one of the guys says something that could even remotely pertain to Nolan's sexuality in any way, shape, or form. All worried and protective, like he's ready to jump if Nolan asks. Nolan appreciates it, secretly, but he would never admit that. Sometimes kind of wishes Wayne would chill out a little bit, though, let Nolan take care of himself. The only reason Wayne even knew about Nolan was because he happened to be the nosiest bastard on the planet. Nolan hadn't even told him, Wayne had just hit Nolan with a "I know you're gay" one day in the middle of trying to get the Xbox set up on the road, and Nolan had thrown a controller at his face about it. They hadn't really talked after that, not for lack of trying on Wayne's part. Nolan got the point though, Wayne had his back, Wayne was cool, Wayne would absolutely body any son of a bitch who ever tried to mess with Nolan. Wayne just needed to shut the hell up about hey, Nolan, look at that guy over there, sometimes. Motherfucker was a little too supportive.

Wayne wasn't the only one who knew, though there weren't many. Ivan knew only because Nolan had maybe, stupidly, had a little bit of a thing for him back in Brandon, back when he'd first realized he liked boys and had kind of had a little bit of a crisis whenever a guy so much as looked at him while he was figuring it out. Nolan had probably blushed just a little bit too hard every time Ivan pushed his dumb hair out of his obnoxiously handsome face. Ivan had noticed, had called him on it, had been nice and supportive and had let Nolan down easy. The thing had faded pretty quickly after that, and by the time Nolan got to Philly, he barley even noticed that Ivan was objectively the hottest guy on the team. Which was a blessing, because Ivan met Madison shortly after, and still gets chirped about how hard he fell for her. Nolan thinks they're cute. Kevin knew because he'd been so open and welcoming when he'd asked Nolan to move in with him, that Nolan had mumbled, uh, you know I, like, am into dudes, right? Is that cool? You still want to live with me? before he could think twice about it. Kevin had looked genuinely surprised at first, opened his mouth like he was about to say something stupid, and then just clapped Nolan on the shoulder and told him he could start moving his stuff in whenever he was ready. It had gone off with only one or two hitches, but Nolan knew that Kevin had taken the whole, living with a gay dude thing way less seriously than he would have expected from a professional athlete. Claude only knew because the dude was his captain, was a good captain, and Nolan figured he deserved to know. Nolan doesn't often let himself think about how much shit will hit the fan if people find out, if he's outed, but he knows his career will be over. He tries not to think about the way people will look at him, the things opposing players will say about him, to him. Fucking hell. He gets called "pretty" with a sneer often enough as it is. Getting outed would be fucking miserable. So, he just does not think about it. Sometimes he can't help it though, gets in his feelings about it. It was when he was in said feelings that he'd told Claude. He felt he owed it to Claude to let him know that like, hey, you might have a hellstorm coming to your team one day if I fuck up astronomically. Claude could literally not have cared less, has said maybe five words total in his life about Nolan's sexuality after "thank you for telling me." He's not like Wayne. 

Oh, yeah. Wayne. Who is still sitting next to him and still staring at Nolan like a weirdo. 

Nolan doesn't acknowledge Wayne until the moment he kicks his feet up into the man's lap, asking him silently to unlace his skates for him. Wayne huffs like he's annoyed, but starts tugging at Nolan's laces anyway. Nolan listens with half an ear as Joel and Kevin continue to argue, picking up volume after Kevin tells Joel he has terrible taste in women and Joel says something about Kevin's mother.

 

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Nolan goes home that night, collapses in his bed, and refuses to second guess himself anymore as he requests to follow t.kon on Instagram.

 

 

Chapter Text

Maddie 12:18PM: Holy shit Lan you actually smiled in an interview!

Maddie 12:19PM: This kid is cute as hell.

Maddie 12:20PM: Helloooo nurse. 🥵

Nolan has spent the past twenty-four hours focused solely on the whole, like, get on a plane, fly to Pittsburgh, play in the fucking playoffs, thing. He'd been busy, okay, so it's really not his fault that he had forgotten. Nolan had forgotten. Shit. Forgotten about the Make A Wish video. Had forgotten about the fact that there had even been a camera, forgot the posing, the fucking interview he'd done standing in the locker room. Forgot Travis saying "I just can not get used to that thing" after the third time the camera had gotten in his face. Fuck, how could Nolan have forgotten something like that? Nolan sits down hard on the shitty hotel couch, staring down at his phone like an idiot. He doesn't know how he feels about Maddie seeing him like that, seeing him with Katie. God, the world seeing him with Katie. He had thought about that day he spent with Katie and Travis pretty much every second of every day since then, but he'd somehow completely forgotten that there was going to be a whole ass Flyers TV Original about it.

Fuck.

Nolan drops his phone on the couch, ignoring his sister's continuing texts, and turns on the hotel's fancy TV. He navigates to YouTube, bounces his knee as he waits impatiently for the homepage to load. It's Ivan's account that's logged in, for some damn reason, and Nolan has to wade through a truly worrying amount of like, survivalist videos, before he finds the episode in Ivan's subscriptions. Flyers TV Original: "Wish Upon A Star." Nolan felt his eyes burn. The thumbnail is all of them in the locker room, looking just slightly offside at where someone else had been taking a picture. Katie is sitting in Claude's stall in the shot, not yet wrapped up in her little hat and yellow mittens. Nolan stares blankly at his own face in the thumbnail, where he's smiling, wide and genuine, as Katie leans into his space. He feels sick to his stomach as he presses play.

The video opens with Travis, because of fucking course it does. A slowed down shot of him walking down the hallway with Katie in his arms, when they'd first approached the Flyers. The camera pans up from his legs, up to Katie's wide eyes and shy smile. Travis has his face ducked down, looking at something on his smart watch, but Nolan can see how his head is tilted towards Katie, always paying close attention to the kid. The soft music fades out, and Nolan almost startles when he hears his voice overlaid on the shot.

"I think it's important, to, like, connect with people we might not expect." Nolan says in the video, just as the Travis and Katie on screen reach the Flyers. Nolan is glad the angle is from behind his own shoulder, that the camera  hadn't caught his face in that moment. He's pretty sure it would have been obvious how close to pissing his pants he'd been. He watches Katie fist bump Wayne, watches her smile brightly at Claude as he leans in to tell her a joke. Nolan is stuck staring at the way that Travis is looking at her, watching her like she's the best thing he's ever seen. Nolan can relate to that feeling, and it's like a puck to the chest.

The shot changes suddenly, and it's them in the locker room, Claude talking about who-knows-what as Travis holds Katie up so she can brush her fingers against the sweater that's hanging in front of Nolan's stall. Nolan had tugged it down at the end of the day, signed it with a big heart and a smiley face and handed it to Katie as she was leaving. In the video, Nolan is hovering just at the edge of the shot, lingering back as Claude does all the heavy lifting of showing Katie around, pointing things out to her. Nolan watches as Travis smiles softly down at Katie, and he feels his breath catch. Nolan figures that the people at Flyers TV were probably ecstatic when the nurse who showed up turned out to be an absolute rocket, and they realized that people would definitely enjoy watching a too-close shot of his arms flexing under his thin scrubs as he lifted Katie up so she could peak at the gear on top of the stalls. Holy hell. Whoever edited this video is a real piece of shit.

The shot changes again, and it's Travis lowering Katie gently to sit in Claude's stall. Nolan watches him shrug the oxygen pack off his back and set it down, pushing it under the stall slightly, turning so his back is to the camera. Nolan remembers Travis saying, a bit awkwardly, that was was going to try and stay out of the shot as much as possible, so he didn't distract from Katie. Like, he had to know, right? That he was distracting. God, he was so sweet, too. It pissed Nolan off a little bit. He watches on screen as Travis steps back, running his fingers through Katie's hair before sliding out of frame. Nolan hadn't caught, at the time, the way Katie had reached out for him as he pulled back.

"Okay, Katie, you want a couple pictures with the boys?" Andrea's voice asks, just off camera. Katie nods her head slowly, looking up and to the right, where Travis had disappeared out of shot. Nolan watches himself and his team mates step up, crouch down around Katie. Nolan watches Claude hover his hand behind Katie's back, without actually touching her. Nolan remembers how he'd, like, almost completely panicked for a second when Travis had first let go of Katie. He had been so sure she was just gonna topple right over without him, that they'd have to watch her go splat on the locker room floor.

The shot cuts, and it's Claude sitting alone in the locker room, giving an interview. 

"Obviously our fans are important to us. And when kids like Katie, who are facing such hardships, choose to share their time with us, it just means so much to all of us." Claude says. He keeps talking, but there is a ringing in Nolan's ears for a second, and he doesn't catch it. Just stares at Claude's face on the giant TV and tries to ignore the way he's having a heard time breathing suddenly, like his nose is plugged up.

The shot cuts again, and it's them on the ice. Fuck, it's Travis on the ice. Nolan is next to Travis and Katie, bouncing a puck as they move slowly towards the goal that Claude and Wayne are messing around in. Nolan watches the way Travis skates, seeing him from this far off angle for the first time. He had never gotten around to asking Travis about the figure skates, about the way he skated, the way he seemed to float on the ice. It was fucking breathtaking. He didn't move like a hockey player, didn't move like any man Nolan had ever skated next to. Nolan can't hear what he says in the video, but he watches Travis tip his head back and laugh, watches Katie tuck her face into the side of his neck as her shoulders bounce up and down. The shot cuts, and then it's Nolan pressed up close to Katie, practically against Travis' back, as he reached out to help her get her little yellow mittens around the hockey stick. Travis had one hand bracing Katie under her bottom, the other hand guiding Katie's hand around Nolan's. Nolan remembers that, the feeling of Travis' warm fingers against the back of his hand.

"You ready for this heat, Simmer?" Nolan in the video calls to Wayne, who is standing between the posts, pretending like he's getting ready to try and block the shot.

"Oh, you know there's no stoppin' the Wayne Train." Wayne calls back, making Travis duck his face into the side of Katie's head. You can't hear it in the video, but Nolan remembers Travis saying Wayne Train, oh my god, under his breath as he tried to stifle his laughter.

Nolan watches, tears on his cheeks, as the three of them move towards the goal, dribbling the puck gently. Oh. Huh. Wait. Fuck, when had Nolan started crying? He reaches up, touches his cheeks and feels his fingers come away wet. As soon as he realizes he's crying, it's like his brain just let's go. All of a sudden, he's sobbing. Loudly, painfully. He tries to draw in quick breaths as his shoulders start to shake. He just keeps weeping as he watches himself and Katie score the world's slowest goal on Wayne, hears the too-loud whoop Travis had let out. He watches Travis turn, out of Nolan's arms, and swing gracefully around the back of the net, dropping  carefully to one knee in a celly as Katie clings tightly to his neck, a wide, bright smile on her face. Nolan watches himself and Claude drift slowly over, reaching out to pat Travis on the back, since they couldn't do it to Katie herself.

The shot changes, and Nolan is looking at himself, alone in the locker room, hands on his hips but looking the least pissed he's ever looked in front of a camera.

"It's good to make those connections, you know, to let certain people see a little bit more than just what we show on the ice." Nolan in the video is saying, something Nolan in the present hates himself for saying. Watches himself be like, open and honest and hates it. He brings his legs up, hugs his knees to his chest as sobs continue to rush out of him. Nolan watches his idiot past self smile, wants to punch himself as he says "she's an amazing kid, it was really an honor to spend time with her."

The shot changes again, to Wayne and Katie sitting side by side on the bench, Travis standing protectively behind the kid, Wayne opens his mouth to say something to her, and Nolan reaches out and slaps the remote. He has to slap it a couple of times, but he finally hits one of the buttons, and the video disappears as the main menu pops up. Nolan just tips himself to the side, buries his face in the couch cushions, and lets himself keep sobbing. He just can't bring himself to watch any more, to look at Katie's little yellow mittens and wonder if she's even still alive.

 

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Kevin flicks the light on when he gets back to the room, flicks it right back off when he sees Nolan curled up on the couch with red cheeks. He's quiet, shuffling his feet slowly instead of his usual stomping, as he comes to sit down. He perches just on the edge of the seat, his thigh pressed almost to the top of Nolan's head. He's come to know how to handle Nolan when he's like this, a perfect balance of helping Nolan, without babying Nolan. He's good at it. Nolan wants to reach out to him, but that seems stupid. If it were someone else, Ivan or Wayne, he wouldn't hesitate to latch onto them. He doesn't just grab Kevin, though, that's not how they work. He knows Kevin wouldn't mind if Nolan grabbed him, but it's not something he does. He's just being stupid. He's been being that a lot lately.

"One of Provy's witches get'cha?" Kevin asks in a whisper, reaching out gently and brushing the hair out of Nolan's eyes. Nolan is pretty sure it's just so that Kevin can see him better, but the action feels comforting anyway.

"Little one." Nolan tells him, honestly. It's not a migraine, barley even a headache. He'd just cried too much, too long, and he always got a little bit of a headache after a good cry. His mom was the same way, crying just drained them so much, left them dehydrated and empty.

"You gonna be good for the game tonight?" Kevin asks, just gets a scowl in response. "Okay, okay. You need any pills?" Kevin leans over so he can look into Nolan's eyes. Nolan has always thought that Kevin has to have the dumbest face he has ever seen, so open and expressive all the time. Nolan can see the worry in his eyes, the was he's holding his mouth closed tight, like he's afraid it'll run away from him and make too much noise for Nolan's broken head.

"Just the acetaminophen, maybe." Nolan says, closing his eyes so he doesn't have to look at Kevin's giant, earnest face anymore.

"Gotcha. Be right back, Patso." 

Nolan takes stock of his body, then, feels his clothes against his skin, the way his phone is digging into his hip where he's laying on it. Feels his shoulders, left one cramped up a little where he's been laying on it for who-knows how long. No tension, no pinching. Focuses on his neck, the way it itches a bit where his hoodie chord is draped across his throat. No tension, no pinching. The base of his skull, which feels normal, no migraine worming in. He leaves his eyes closed, feels no throbbing, no pulsing. Behind his left temple, there is a dull, sustained ache. It doesn't pound with his pulse, doesn't flare and move. It's just there, reminding Nolan that his brain isn't his friend most of the time.

Kevin is quiet when he comes back, the rattling of the pill bottle the only thing that gives him away as he sets it down on the coffee table in front of Nolan. He doesn't say anything else, just brushes a hand against Nolan's hair again, and leaves him to it. 

 

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Nolan scowls down at his phone like it, personally, has offended him. He's about to have it snatched out of his hand by staff, about to walk down the tunnel and onto ice for their first playoff game, against the Penguins. He's not even paying attention to what Claude is saying to amp up the team, is just glaring down at his screen.

New DM request.

t.kon: did you mean to follow me??

npatrick19: Yes.

t.kon: lol

npatrick19: Is that okay?

t.kon: pretty sure you don't actually want to see the kind of shit i post

npatrick19: ?

npatrick19: Are you a furry or something?

t.kon: or something

npatrick19: ?!

Nolan navigates back to Travis' profile, like he thinks something will be different. Nope. There it is. The little "Follow" button. Last night it had said "Requested", but now it had changed back. Nolan may not be the most active person on social media, but he still knew what that meant. Travis had rejected his follow request.

npatrick19: WTF.

 

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Nolan breaths through his nose, refuses to let himself look as out of breath as he feels, and stares at Sidney Crosby in open volatility. It's not Crosby's fault, but Nolan still wants to fuck him up a little bit, on like, principal or something. Three faceoffs in a minute of play, fucking hell. Nolan doesn't know why he hasn't be swapped for Claude, yet. He had expected to be, his whole line had started towards the bench and everything. They're tired. He's tired, okay. He's been out here for like two fucking minutes, only pausing to do these fucking faceoffs. He can't win one if his vision won't stop swimming, and his vision won't stop swimming if they don't let him off the fucking ice. Jakub and Nic seem just as pissed as Nolan is that they're still out here. Maybe he should just stand out of his stance and slap Crosby across his handsome fucking face, get himself off the ice by heading into the box. At least then he'd get to sit the fuck down

He loses the faceoff, isn't surprised when the puck flies between his feet. He turns, tries to follow it, but honestly can't even see where it went for a second. He scans the ice, sees something glint off to his right. Before he can turn towards it, his eye throbs suddenly, and he has to blink harshly. Not now, not fucking now. Nolan grinds his teeth. He spins, looks at the bench. Finally, finally they're being called in. He moves slower than he should be, clenching his fists as he tries to ignore the not so gentle throbbing that has picked up just behind his left eye. He hadn't had an aura, hadn't been around anything that was a blue trigger. It just happened. What the fuck? Bullshit, this is bullshit. The last migraine had been the day he met Katie, triggered by Travis' second hand smoke. That one had made sense, he'd seen it coming. Plus, it had started slow, built up over the night and tapered off easily with the right pill and some rest. This one was just an icepick, driven into his eye for no reason and intensifying rapidly as Nolan tries to blink the black spots out of his vision. Nolan makes it to the bench weakly, basically tips himself into it, grunts at whoever pats his back in the way out. He knows the guys can see that something is wrong, but he also knows they will just assume it's because he was out on the ice too long. Way too fucking long. Nobody should be left on the ice like that, okay, they can't all be Ivan. 

Nolan collapses onto the bench, feels Jakub collapse next to him. He glances at the little clock they keep in the floor, sees that his line just played around 2:50 ice time. Holy shit. Nolan squeezes his eyes shut, leans against Jakub maybe a little more than appropriate. His eye keeps throbbing, each pulse sending the pain deeper into his skull. Nolan is pissed now. Pissed. He missed playoffs last year, he's not missing them again. Fuck, he should have known. Nolan's eye throbs again, shooting pain all the way back into the base of his skull, and he should have known. The migraine is shooting out from the same place he'd had a headache this morning. What a joke. Nolan feels breathless, feels the migraine pulse again, back, back and down into his spine. The lights are so bright, the tint on Nolan's face shield isn't helping at all. Why now, why? He'd been telling Kevin the truth this morning, he'd been fine. His headache had been gone, after a bottle of water. He'd been so sure it was just from crying. This is bullshit.

A hand on his neck, pulling. Jakub's voice in his ear, and Scott coming towards him from the ice. Shit. Nolan blinks, feels himself going ice-blind, and swings his body weakly onto the ice anyway. He's stupid, stupid. This is a bad idea, he cant do this. He needs to turn around, tell AV what the fuck is going on. He needs to go back, sit in the dark room with the trainers. He knows he can't play like this. He needs to get off the ice. That's what he needs to do, but instead, Nolan pushes off from the wall, following Jakub even though that's not his job. He doesn't know what his job is, anymore, can't think of what he's supposed to do, and he can't see passed the white, white, blinding ice. He closes his eyes, jerks his body to the left, forces himself to not just skate in a straight line after Jakub. He moves in what he's pretty sure is the general direction of the Penguins' goal, and pushes himself. His stick hits the boards and he opens one eye, sees yellow sweaters in front of himself and moves that way. White zips by him, but his eyes are unfocused and he can't tell who it is. Fast and lean, probably Sanheim. Nolan pitches towards him, pushes himself forward as his whole head throbs, his vision blacking out for a second as it does.

"Sračka!" 

Shit.

Jakub's voice comes just a second before Nolan feels something crack against his face. He hears himself cry out as something gives in his mouth, feeling his throat fill instantly with blood.  Fuck. In his migraine induced haze he'd never popped his mouth gaurd back in, it was still sitting on the bench. His eyes fly open in time to see the puck drop onto the ground in front of him. A split second before he see's Jakub, eyes wide with an emotion Nolan can't read, dropping his stick like it's burned him. Oh, that's what that was, Jakub's stick. Nolan spins, the momentum of the hit sending him tailspinning. He hits a wall, hard, slides down it and crumples to a stop on the ice. He curls onto his side, and he thinks he might be crying out. His brain is screaming, rattled around in his stupid fucking skull by Jakub's stick. He clutches his head, trying to force his fingers up under the helmet to claw at his skull as it pulses, angrier than ever.

"Patty, Pat, shit." Jakub is there, leaning over Nolan. "Why the fuck didn't you get out of the way?" 

Nolan looks up at him, whines weakly as Jakub's face swims into focus. Someone skates to a stop next to his head, showering snow into his eyes. He sees the moment where Jakub realizes that Nolan is clutching his temples, and not at his bloody mouth where he'd just taken a high stick from a fucking viking. Sees the guilt and anger evaporate, replaced by panic. Jakub is yelling louder then, but not at Nolan anymore. Nolan's whole body throbs in pain, and he closes his eyes as there are suddenly way too many hands on him. 

Bullshit. This is such bullshit.

Nolan doesn't have time to think of any further expletives before he loses consciousness.

 

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Travis has never followed hockey. Had actively avoided it, to be honest. Which was a feat and half, being from Canada and being an ice skater. Hockey had been shoved in his face constantly as a kid. He'd just done a very good job of ignoring it, until recently. The only reason he even knew the names of the guys on the Flyers was because of Katie. She'd talked so much about them, Claude Giroux this and Nolan Patrick that, wearing down her little voice just so she could tell Travis about how cool Ivan Provorov had been in the last game. She'd been a little bit in love with those guys. Travis had indulged her, had sat and pretended to watch the games with her while he silently counted her respirations and put in endless requests for changes to her care plan. Then, of course, he'd met the infamous Nolan Patrick, had skated with him, had stood around and talked at him for twenty minutes for no other reason than Travis really hadn't wanted to get in his car and drive home. He had then promptly blocked that entire day, the last day he had ever seen Katie Park, from his memory. Travis hadn't thought any more about the Flyers, until he started his job at Blanchet Gardens Memory Care, and the director, who he shared an office with, had a bright orange Flyers mug holding pens on her desk. Simone was an avid hockey fan, followed the Flyers as obsessively as Katie had. Despite that, she was easy to get along with, had become something of Travis' friend in the past few weeks. So this morning, when she'd stormed into the office and screamed at him for not telling her he'd met the fucking Flyers, Travis had been confused for a second. Then he remembered signing a form that gave the Flyers PR people permission to publish a video with his image and name. Simone had watched the video that morning, had recognized Travis and been very angry at him for never mentioning anything. Travis sure as shit wasn't going to tell her that npatrick19 had tried to follow him on Instagram, had responded to his DM's literally split seconds after Travis has sent them, like he'd been waiting for them. Travis resoundingly refused to think any more about Nolan god damn Patrick or his ridiculous high cheekbones than he absolutely had to. 

Which is why, when Simone had put on the Flyers game, which was apparently a very important game that Travis was a terrible person for not knowing about, he'd mostly ignored it. It was playing on Simone's phone, which she had propped up under her computer screen. It was quiet enough, wasn't really disturbing Travis too much as he went through the stack of patient chart notes on his desk. It was only when Simone let out a loud curse in French, and then a shocked gasp, that Travis looked up. Simone had her hands clasped over her mouth, eyes wide as she looked at what was happening on the little screen. Travis couldn't see from here, but he could hear the commentator's voice. 

"He is not getting up from the ice. He's clearly been hurt bad. Oh my god." the guy sounds like he's genuinely concerned. "He doesn't appear to be moving. This looks bad, folks."

"What's going on?" Travis asks, watching Simone shake her head in disbelief.

"Voráček just destroyed Patrick." Simone says, tilting the phone so Travis can see. There is a cluster of people on the rink, standing around where, sure enough, Patrick is laying on the ice on his back with the lower half of his face drenched in blood. One of the medical staff is easing his helmet off his head, and they've got a clamshell stretcher and a gurney waiting. Just like the commentator said, Patrick isn't moving. One of his team mates, too little on the screen for Travis to read his jersey, is crouched down next to him, clutching at his hand where it lays limp on the ice. 

"I know hockey is literally the dumbest sport in the world, but it still seems unproductive to destroy your own guy." Travis says, watching as they usher about ten dudes in white jerseys away from Patrick so that they can get the clamshell around him.

"He didn't to it on purpose, enculé." Simone says, the annoyance in her voice overridden by her clear and obvious worry for Patrick. 

Travis just watches quietly as they take Patrick off the ice, listens as the commentator talks about how they're going to postpone the game, and tries not to feel any kind of way about it.

He hopes Katie didn't see that.

Chapter Text

Nolan feels too big for his body, out of place where he's sitting in Claude Giroux's shiny kitchen, holding Claude Giroux's tiny baby, trying not to spill juice on what is definitely Ryanne Giroux's fancy dishtowel. The team are home for less than twenty-four hours before flying back out, but Nolan has been in Philly for a day already, and will be here for a few more after the rest of the guys leave. He tries not to think about that, like he tried not to think about how guilty he had felt when Claude had pulled him into a too-tight hug earlier, had whispered god, you really scared the shit out of me, kid. Claude is standing over the stove, now, stirring some soup that Nolan just knows is going to taste like socks, despite the assurances that it'll be both good and good for him. Nolan can't chew very well right now, and canned soups tended to have shit that was on Nolan's magenta or orange trigger list, so here he is. Claude insisted that he had a good recipe for French bone broth, but Nolan has been watching him this whole time, and he is pretty sure Claude has just dumped the entire contents of his spice drawer into some hot water and called it good. Nolan thinks he saw him put dried orange peel in it. Fuck, he's really going to have to eat that, isn't he? God, the things Nolan does for his captain. Uck.

Nolan looks down at Gavin, who is playing with the strings of Nolan's hoodie, and tries to come up with a way to tell Claude the truth. He keeps telling himself that he needs to just have some balls and tell him, but he's struggling with it. Cause, see, the thing is, nobody had any idea what had actually happened out there that day. Everybody, even the trainers and doctors, were under the impression that the migraine had only come after Nolan had gotten his jaw busted. Nolan knows that Claude had yelled at Jakub for it, had jumped to Nolan's defense like the great captain he is, as if poor Jakub hadn't felt guilty enough. Nolan had heard whispers of should have known better, has been playing long enough to know, what a rookie mistake. Nolan hated himself every time someone spoke about the accident as if Jakub had done anything wrong. Jakub had looked so small and miserable when he'd come to see Nolan in the trainer's room, had apologized way too many times for something that wasn't even his fault. Nolan is torn, is the problem. If he admits that the only reason his face and Jakub's stick collided is because he'd been trying to do what he had literally signed papers saying he'd never do because it was a liability, he has no idea how AV and Chuck will react. He can't just say oh, actually, I wasn't going after the puck like everyone thinks, because I was actually on the ice with a migraine, which is, like, a totally fineable offence, and I literally had my eyes closed at the time so didn't even know the puck was there, isn't that funny? He's already out for at least two games as it is, and Nolan doesn't want to push that. He just can't stand the knowledge that when Jakub had stepped on the ice to finish the game later that night, the Flyers fans had booed him. Flyers fans didn't even like Nolan most of the time, what the fuck. It was Nolan's fault.

"Don't let him put that in his mouth." Claude says, jerking Nolan out of his thoughts suddenly. Nolan looks down to see that Gavin had managed to extract Nolan's cellphone from his hoodie pocket when he was distracted. Fuck. When did babies get so dextrous?

"Shit, little thief." Nolan mumbles, snatching the phone from Gavin's little hands and setting it down on the island next to him. Nolan can barely open his mouth thanks to his bruised jaw, lisps a little around his four missing teeth and swollen tongue, so he knows he can barely be understood, so Claude can, like, stop with the pinched dad face, okay? Gavin isn't gonna pick up anything Nolan just said.

"The soup is almost ready." Claude says, tossing a kitchen towel over his shoulder, acting as if he looks like he has any idea what he's doing with that soup. "If that's still why you're pretending you're here."

"I literally can not wait for your soup." Nolan says, staring intently down at the top of Gavin's little head. 

"Clearly, since when I offered to text you the recipe, you showed up at my door instead." Claude says, leaning across the island so he's in Nolan's personal space.

Nolan doesn't say anything to that, just keeps looking down at Gavin. Nolan has one hand on the baby, holding the little guy against his stomach to keep him from falling, while the other tangles nervously around the hem of his hoodie. Nolan has, obviously, been like, aware that Gavin is small. He just doesn't get to hold him very often, doesn't get to see how his hand spans the entirety of his torso. He's so small. Jesus, how do babies handle being that little? Nolan is pretty sure he was never that little. Sure as hell guys like Zdeno Chara were never fucking hand-sized. Nolan had never really thought about the concept of kids, too much. Like, maybe abstractly, as a super far off in the future kind of thing. He had been around kids, obviously, not just Katie. All of his team mates who had kids brought them around enough that Nolan got, like, used to children. He still remembers the first time he'd held Gavin, though. Had looked wide eyed at Ryanne as she deposited the little guy into Nolan's arms, like she trusted him with her literal child. It was insane. He'd looked down at his little face, not even that cute back then because, hey, newborn. Still, Nolan had looked at him and thought, oh, okay, that's why people make these. Gavin wasn't even remotely Nolan's, Claude doesn't even call him Gavin's uncle the way he does with guys like Jakub and Wayne. Still though, Nolan let's Gavin wrap his little fist around his thumb, and knows he would burn cities for this baby. Can't imagine if something ever happened to him. God, if he ever got sick. Ever needed a breathing tube and a nurse. Nolan forces himself to stop that train of thought.

"It just gets lonely." Nolan tells Claude, instead of bringing up the actual reason he'd come here. It's not a lie, anyway. Nolan mumbles down towards Gavin, instead of looking up at his captain.

"I know, Pat. Getting hurt is terrible, especially when the team is away." Claude says, reaching out and tapping the island in front of Nolan, but not crossing the gap to actually touch him.

"I don't mean now, G. I mean always." Nolan looks at Claude's hand, tracks his eyes up to his shoulder. Doesn't meet his eye though.

"Shit, kid." Claude sighs.

"Being hurt makes it worse, obviously. Going through this alone." Nolan shrugs, sliding his free hand against the top of the island, so that just the tips of his fingers push against the tips of Claude's. Neither of them acknowledge the contact.

"You're not alone, Pat. just because we're not here in Philly doesn't mean you're alone." Claude tells him, his voice taking on that fatherly quality he gets when he's talking to one of the guys, the voice that reminds Nolan just how much Claude actually cares.

"That's not what I mean." Nolan says, tugging Gavin closer against his stomach, for comfort. "You have Ryanne, like, your family. If you get hurt you have someone who loves you. No matter how much the team is there for me it's not the same, I don't have to tell you that." 

"You're young, Pat, you'll find," Claude starts, but Nolan cuts him off.

"No, I won't. I can't, you fucking know that." Nolan is harsher than he means to be. He's not angry at Claude, obviously. He knows his captain knows him well enough to know that, at least.

"Things, change, kid. We're trying to make them change. Me and James didn't become You Can Play ambassadors for fun, we actually want things to be different." Claude says, finally breaking the seal and wrapping his hand around Nolan's

"Shit doesn't just change." Nolan says.

"Really? Cause there was a time when men like Simmer thought the same thing. It wasn't even that long ago that he wouldn't have even been allowed to play in the same rink as us." Claude sounds a little annoyed now, and Nolan wants to shrink into himself. "Now he's probably one of the most beloved guys on my team."

"That's not the point." Nolan says, even though he doesn't really know what the point is anymore. This is why Nolan doesn't like to talk about his feelings, it always gets him in trouble. He should have stuck with his original train of thought, told Claude the truth about the migraine. Then Claude would just be pissed at him, not acting all emotional and shit. 

"Okay, kid. Tell me what the point is, then." Claude says, squeezing Nolan's hand. Nolan remembers, long before he'd met Claude, someone saying that Claude Giroux failed as a captain because he made it personal. Nolan doesn't even remember who had said that, just that they had seemed to think that how fiercely Claude cared about his team mates as people, was somehow a flaw. Nolan hadn't thought much if it then, but it made him mad, now. Claude was the best captain Nolan could have ever asked for because he stuck his nose in everybody's personal business. He gave a shit, not just on the ice, and it made Nolan feel safe in a way he hadn't expected, going into the NHL. Nolan had been a captain, once, had held himself tightly and kept his distance from his guys, had tried to make himself look like he had everything figured out. Claude was nothing like him, and everything a good captain needed to be.

"I'm just tired of going through all of this without someone there who isn't there because we work together." Nolan says, wiggling his fingers under Claude's until he can hook their pinkies together.

"I promise you, kid, you'll get there. Maybe not openly, maybe not even before you retire, but you will. You're a good man, Patty, you'll find someone." Claude tells him, and Nolan finally looks up at him. Claude is smiling gently, looking at Nolan with a look he's seen him give Gavin before. It makes Nolan's chest swell up with something.

"Doesn't make me less alone right now." 

 

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.

 

Nolan hates going to actual doctors, outside of the NHL. He wishes getting his teeth knocked out of his skull was something the trainers could just fix in some back room at the Farg. Instead he has to sit in the too-cold waiting room of Dr. Arakawa, DDS, and wait to get his jaw and gums assessed for implants. His jaw still aches under the giant purple bruise that covers most of his chin, and he still has bumps along his tongue where his canines had sliced through it. Nolan pokes the tip of his sore tongue against the empty space at the front of his mouth, and waits.

The little bell over the door jingles as someone comes in, a woman pushing a stroller, and Nolan can hear her speak in a hush to the receptionist, but he doesn't pay much attention. He pulls his legs out of the way when she passes in front of him, though, not in a bad enough mood to just be rude for no reason. He doesn't think much of it at all until she sits down in the chair right next to him, knocking his elbow off his armrest with hers.

"You could always just rock the Coots' look." she says, and Nolan whips his head around to stare dumbly at Ryanne Giroux as she smiles at him.

"Not even Coots rocks it." Nolan tells her. He doesn't have to ask why or how she's here. 

Fucking Claude, man. 

 

.

.

 

Nolan bites down on the little piece of cotton in his mouth, and walks quietly beside Ryanne down the street. His remaining teeth were apparently filthy by dentist standards, and Arakawa had poked and prodded enough to get his gums bleeding pretty steadily. Only to then tell him that the damage to his mouth and jaw was bad enough that he probably couldn't get implants for another month. Nolan would just have to not open his mouth in front of a camera for a while, which he was pretty good at anyway. Nolan doesn't know where Ryanne is taking him, but she'd said something about lunch, and Nolan trusted her judgment as first lady of the Flyers so he's pretty sure she won't, like, make him eat something terrible. Though he doesn't think anything would be as terrible as Claude's so-called soup. Nolan is pretty sure half of what Arakawa had found in his teeth was the dried herbs he'd had to chew his way through just to down a cup of that stuff. Nolan grimaces at the memory, just as his phone buzzes in his pocket.

Hartsy 11:14AM: I can't believe you left me alone with these animals.

Outgoing 11:15AM: You could always come back and chill with me and baby G instead.

Nolan snaps a quick shot of Gavin, snuggled up in his stroller, and sends it along to Carter.

Hartsy 11:17AM: How did Giroux make such a cute baby?

Outgoing 11:17AM: His cute has nothing to do with the cap, trust me.

Carter reads the text but doesn't respond. Nolan isn't bothered by it, knows the guy is probably busy doing whatever bat shit insane goalie shit he does before games. Nolan tucks his phone back into his pocket, and Ryanne bumps him gently in the side with Gavin's stroller, herding him towards the cafe they're passing. It's only a couple blocks from the medical plaza that the dentist was in, seems to be full with people on their early lunch breaks and coffee runs. Nolan just opens the door, lets Ryanne push the stroller in before he follows her.

Eating at a new place is always a fun game. He has a pretty big white board up on the wall in his bedroom, three colorful lists that seem to grow each and every day. Magenta for the foods that will give him a migraine every time no matter what; beef, sugar substitute, gluten, etc. Orange for the foods that would cause a migraine if he had them in excess; chocolate, raw fish, soy, etc. Blue was for non-food triggers; prolonged sun exposure, second hand smoke, the smell of bleach, etc. Remembering every thing on the list at all times and cross-checking menu items was a pain in the ass, so Nolan just usually avoided new places or unknown foods. He knows that Ryanne knows this, though, knows that she has a condensed version of the list herself, for when Nolan comes around for team dinners.  Nolan stands behind her as she talks to the person behind the counter, asking them about allergens and cross contamination on Nolan's behalf. He feels soft about it, soft about the idea of someone giving a shit. It just leads to making him feel worse, though, in that deep down lonely spot. Ryanne isn't his person. She's Claude's, cares about Nolan as an extension of her husband. 

Nolan looks around the shop so he doesn't have to think about Ryanne Giroux and her big heart. The decorations are pretty mish-mashed, not following any sort of theme besides maybe "pretty". Lots of flowers, dried and living alike, lots of lace and pink and soft looking fabrics. It's cluttered, a little. Shelves taking up all the wall space, filled with little knick knacks and books Nolan is sure people don't actually read. It seems like a popular place, though. There are people around, people in suits with work badges, college kids on their laptops. There is a group of people in one corner wearing scrubs, obviously having walked down from the medical plaza for their break. It's just loud enough to feel crowded, but not obnoxious. 

"Are you still testing dairy?" Ryanne asks him, and Nolan shakes his head. Dairy had gone on the metaphorical green list a while ago. "Okay, they've got gluten-free protein bowls, you want to try the vegetable and feta one?" and Nolan nods his head. Shouldn't be too hard to chew. She orders for them all, even getting a little cup of sliced apples for Gavin, sending Nolan off to get them a table. Nolan looks around again, sees that most of the tables are actually full. The one in back corner though, the people there seem to be standing up to leave. A woman in a weirdly bright yellow suit and a guy in scrubs are picking up their trash as they stand, so Nolan heads that way to get their table as they leave. They look up at him as he approaches, and he feels his stomach do a strange swooshing thing he's never felt before as they both freeze.

"Oh my god." the woman gasps, lifting her hand and straight up pointing at Nolan. "Holy shit, you're, uh. Wow." 

"Hi." the guy says, looking at Nolan in much the same way that Nolan knows he's looking back, like he's the last thing he expected to see today.

"Hey, oh, hi." Nolan says, words tripping over his still-swollen tongue. Fuck, he still has a literal piece of cotton in his mouth, what an idiot.

"You're Nolan Patrick." the woman says, still staring.

"Last time I checked." he shrugs, and it earns him a snort of laughter from her companion.

"You look like shit, bud." Travis says, finally unfreezing and scooping the last napkin off the table. The woman turns and shoots Travis a glare, says something under her breath in not-English.

"Pretty much feel like it, so, yeah." Nolan tells him, watching the way Travis' hands clench and unclench around his empty coffee cup, squashing the paper a bit more each time.

"Are you okay?" Travis asks, stepping around the table and up into Nolan's space. He'd done this last time, too, gotten closer than seemed necessary, even though it made him have to tilt his head back, look up at Nolan. 

"I will be." Nolan says, looking down into Travis' face, noticing that he's grown a goatee since they last met. Which is good for Nolan's sanity because it's fucking hideous, makes Travis much less holy shit what a fucking rocket and more oh that guy is kinda hot. So, that helps.

"Saw you get taken out in a fucking gurney, my dude." Travis says, eyes scanning Nolan's face like he's trying to assess the damage. He might be, actually. Dude is a fucking nurse after all. Nolan can hears his sister's stupid voice in his head, suddenly. Hellooo nurse. Yeah.

"Thought you didn't watch hockey?" Nolan teases. Teases him. Fucking hell, why did he do that? You can't just go around teasing people.

"I don't, she does." Travis gestures to the woman who was at the table with him, and Nolan actually looks at her for the first time. Pretty, black, taller than Travis even in flats. Seems like she might usually be bubbly, if she wasn't so openly flabbergasted by Nolan's presence. She's still just, like, staring at Nolan. Nolan notices the badge hanging on her hip is from the same place as Travis'. Coworker then. Nolan doesn't let himself think, oh, cool, probably not a girlfriend, like his stupid little brain wants him to. That's, like, totally not relevant. 

"I'm a, uh, really big fan." she says, gesturing to Nolan's self. She has an accent, much thicker than his and Travis' own Canadian.

"Thanks." Nolan says, giving her a nod. "You work around here?" he asks Travis.

"Yeah, uh, the facility I was telling you about? It's right across from the medical plaza." Travis says, holding up his badge, which is shiny and new. Blanchet Gardens SCF, Travis Konecny RN, Head of Nursing.

Travis looks like he's about to say something else, but then Ryanne is there, balancing a little basket of food on the handle of Gavin's stroller. Travis looks slowly between her and Nolan, and then down at Gavin. Nolan sees his face do something funny, cross through about ten different emotions before landing on a bright smile down towards the baby.

"Wow. How old is the little guy?" Travis asks Nolan, like he's supposed to remember something like that.

"Eighteen months." Ryanne says. "Say hi, Gavin." she coos, and Gavin lets out a happy little noise and what might pass as the vague sounds of the word hi in response.

"Hey, buddy." Travis says, slipping into baby talk a little bit. Nolan feels light headed all of a sudden, watching this hot ass dude that he like, maybe, kind of, sort of, has a tiny little bit of a crush on, fucking giggle down at his captain's baby. Fucking hell.

"Nolan, take this." Ryanne says, shoving the basket of food into his hands. Nolan grunts in response, cradling the basket to his chest. Why the hell does this place give you food in a basket, instead of on a tray like a normal cafe?  Ryanne steps around the stroller, reaches out to start undoing Gavin's seatbelt, or whatever it was that holds babies into strollers.

"He's precious as hell. Or, uh, sorry." Travis winces, but Ryanne just laughs.

"Don't worry. Gavin has already heard plenty of bad words, thanks to Nolan." she tells Travis as she lifts Gavin out of the stroller. "You guys known each other, right?" she gestures between Nolan and Travis.

"Yeah." Nolan says, at he exact same time as Travis says,

"Not really."

"Oh." Nolan says. 

The woman just keeps staring.

"I uh, gotta get back to work." Travis tells them, after a second of painful silence. "It was nice to met you."

Nolan stands there, awkwardly clutching a basket of healthy snacks, and watches as Travis and his coworker walk away.

 

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.

 

4 days ago.

npatrick19: WTF.

3 days ago.

npatrick19: Seriously?

npatrick19: Lol k.

Just now.

t.kon: im not trying to be a dick

t.kon: sorry for being weird

t.kon: gavin is really cute tho. congrats bud.

Chapter Text

Travis stares at the stained ceiling of his office, and questions every single one of his life decisions. When Travis was eighteen years old and left his life behind to move to America for school, he had thought it was going to be great. Philadelphia was decent enough after he got used to it, and school had been mostly survivable. He'd taken a double load his first year, to get through the prerequisites as fast as possible and get into the nursing program before his financial aide ran out. He'd still needed to work, though, had gotten a job as a caregiver in a memory care facility a lot bigger and fancier than the one he is at now. It had been good, and Travis had fallen in love with the work, with senior care in general, and with every single little old lady with Parkinson's in the world. He'd watched the hospice workers come in and out and thought that was what he wanted to do. Then he finished school, got his license, and started to work. He'd been the youngest nurse at Vista Hospice, had taken a lot of pride in it. For two years he told himself he was finally where he needed to be. Had believed it, too, for a while. Then one day he got a new patient, a man who had been emergency-admitted to Blanchet Gardens following a stroke. Travis had come a few times, gotten him set up, gone over the end of life kit with the med techs, and as he always did, tried to force himself to distance. He had done a pretty good job of it, actually. The guy's wife had been an absolute nightmare to deal with, and the patient himself couldn't talk, so Travis didn't have a chance to get too into his feelings about it before the guy died two weeks later. Travis had already been on his way to do a check-in when it happened, had walked onto the unit just in time to see one of the caregivers rush out of the room and towards the med tech's station. The med tech, Jak, a tall woman who wore a hijab, had just followed Travis into the room, looked at the guy and said, completely monotone, "oh yeah, that's sure as shit a dead dude" and startled a laugh out of Travis despite the situation. Now that Jak works for Travis, he realizes that's just how she is, but at the time, he'd felt like it meant something, some kind of sign for him.

The next time after that day that Travis got a call about Katie Park and he felt his heart sink into his stomach in fear, he realized the difference between what he was doing, and what he wanted to be doing. Very little living happens in hospice patients. Being with someone at the end of their life was something that Travis had found meaningful, something he took pride in being a part of. When he thought back to his time as a caregiver, about how he got to watch people actually live out the end of their lives, he realized what he was missing, what was keeping him from being really happy. It was like with Katie, the sweet little girl who just wanted to grow up and play hockey, who didn't even know that was never going to happen. She had a lot of life she wanted to live, but wasn't ever going to be able to. Nothing Travis did could change that. In long term care, maybe he could change something, at least a little bit. He could change medications, order PT, help someone feel better and live longer. He could actually watch people live, instead of just watching them die. He'd sat next to Katie's bed that day, listening to her talk about how she was going to marry Nolan Patrick when she grew up, and he realized he'd made the wrong choice somewhere. He put in his notice later that night, had found out about Make A Wish shortly after. Everything in him had wanted to say no when he'd been asked to accompany her. He had been so angry that it was even happening, that they were risking Katie's life for some dumbass hockey bros. He had been about to say no, until Katie had looked up at him and rasped "you have to come too, so then we can ice skate together" and his resolve had crumbled to dust.

Now Travis is here. Sitting in his cramped office with it's stained carpet and weird smell, trying not to look over at the window to the unit where the guy from room 8 has been trying to bust out for twenty minutes. Every once in a while the little whoop-whoop alarm that indicates someone is trying to push the door without putting in the code to disengage the lock goes off, and Travis hears Jak yell from deeper into the unit. Travis snorts a quiet laugh to himself, knows that a good boss would reprimand her for shouting "knock that shit off, old man" at a patient. Room 8 just responded "kiss my ass, candy striper" back, though, so Travis figured he could handle himself. As long as she didn't do it in front of a DPH auditor or a family visitor, Travis just let her be. The patients all loved her anyway. Not like Travis. He hasn't been around long enough for him to stick into any of their minds, so he's always a new person. A new person with too many questions and a wound care kit full of shit that hurt. He'd been bitten twice just this morning, trying to change the bandage on room 16's leg. Jak had laughed maniacally at that, said "yeah, you tell him, missy," and done nothing to help Travis in any way. 

Whoop-whoop goes the door alarm, and Travis needs a cigarette.

 

.

.

 

"Your boy is back." Simone says, blowing smoke out of her nose in a way that is somehow elegant. Travis is a little jealous of how cool she is, sometimes. She turns the phone so Travis can see the game he'd been trying to ignore the sounds of. He only has ten minutes to smoke, he's not going to waste it thinking about the slope of Nolan Patrick's nose, okay. Or Nolan Patrick's pretty wife and admittedly adorable baby. Certainly he's not going to waste any time thinking about how Patrick hadn't responded to any more of Travis' DMs. He hadn't even read them. Travis had fucked up, somewhere, and whatever friendliness he'd earned that made Patrick want to be his Instagram buddy was clearly gone. Which was fine. It's not like Patrick owed him anything, it was fine. Just because Patrick had been nice to Travis, subjectively, it didn't mean anything. It certainly didn't mean that Travis could look at Patrick's stupidly pretty face and feel attraction. Not for a straight hockey player. Not again. He knew better.

"Ew." Travis says, glancing down at the phone just long enough to see someone with a big orange 19 on their back step onto the ice and be met with cheers.

"I can't believe you can just casually strike up a conversation with Nolan god damn Patrick out of nowhere, but you can't even get me tickets to a game. You're literally the worst, I should fire you."

"Yeah right, then you'd have to take over the RN duties again." Travis scoffed. Simone and Jak had tried to fill in the roles the RN was supposed to play for a few weeks after they had to fire the one Travis had replaced. She had been really, really bad at her job. Travis had come into months and months of unfiled patient reports, outdated service plans, and a building that was one DPH audit away from being shut down. He'd been working his ass off getting the paperwork to look at least somewhat in compliance, and he hadn't even made a dent in the service plans. The woman in room 3 hadn't had her service plan updated since 2018, it still listed her very dead husband as her first contact. Lot of good that guy was gonna be in an emergency. Travis already needed a vacation. Somewhere far away from Philly, and the fucking Philadelphia Flyers.

"Oh, look, he got a goal." Simone says, shoving her phone into Travis' face. Travis tries not to look at it, but he still catches a glimpse as the camera closes up on Patrick's face, still purple and swollen, as he hugs his team mates tight.

 

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.

 

Travis pulls on his laces harder than he needs to, lifts his whole foot off the floor with it. It makes a thunking noise as he drops it back down, and Travis is too annoyed to even care. He usually ended up with the rink to himself when he showed up at Skate Time at 10PM on a Wednesday, and that's how he liked it. Tonight there is a group of three boys, a lot younger than Travis, probably in high school, fucking around on the ice in their big dumb hockey skates. Travis wants to ignore them, he really does, but they are extremely loud. Travis doesn't look at them as he steps onto the ice, but he can feel at least one set of eyes follow him as he swizzles to the other side of the rink from them. He'd wanted to practice some axels, since he'd gotten out of form for them, but there is no way in hell he's going to do that with these guys here. Instead he just skates, keeps to one side of the ice and moves in circles, trying to ignore the urge to bring his leg up as he turns. He knows he still moves differently from them, knows it's still obvious that he's not like them.

He remembers the first axel he'd ever properly landed, the joy and pride flooding through his chest for a split second before one of the guys on his brother's pee-wee hockey team had shouted "fucking fairy" across the ice at him. Remembers the way his own brother had laughed, had told Travis "figure skating is for fags, if you don't like it just play hockey like a normal boy" with no sympathy. He thinks about the years spent sharing a rink with hockey teams, even after his brother quit the sport. Remembers how the hockey players had looked at him, before they even knew he was gay. Remembers the verbal attacks, the rare physical ones before they realized Travis could throw a punch better than they could. He thinks about the look on his brother's face a few years later, when Travis came out and his brother clearly got caught thinking about the way he'd talked to Travis about his figure skating since they were kids. He remembers his parents pulling him out of his figure skating classes, his dad's mutters of "no kid of mine," remembers chucking one of his skates at his dad, the looks of horror on everyone's faces as blood dripped from his shoulder. He'd moved out after that, and never spoke to another hockey player again until the Flyers.

"That's not what I said, bro!" one of the boys shouts, loud enough that Travis can't ignore it, stumbles a little out of his stroke as it disturbs his thought.

"Bullshit, Erik." someone laughs. "You're just pissy because your little boyfriend got scratched."

Travis feels his breath pick up speed, the familiar urge to run off the ice and put as much distance as possible between him and some hockey players sneaking up on him. He just grinds his teeth, forces himself to keep skating and ignore them.

"He's not my boyfriend!" someone, presumably Erik, yells. His voice goes high pitched, a little angry. It's not the disgust that Travis had expected though, something more like embarrassment.

"Of course not, that's why you've got his picture as your lockscreen, bro." someone laughs, and Erik shrieks in annoyance. Travis looks over at them, sees two of them pushing each other around while the other laughs.

"We're just friends, shut the hell up." Erik, who is apparently the tall blonde one, shouts as he manages to topple his buddy onto the ice.

"Erik and Gomez, sitting in a tree," the boy on the ground starts to sing, the other boy joining in with a laugh.

"Fuck you guys, see if I ever tell you anything again." Erik says, red faced and pouty. 

Huh. Interesting.

Travis looks away, focuses on his breathing, and starts into a waltz eight. Maybe he'll practice his axels after all.

 

.

.

 

Nolan tumbles into his hotel room way too late at night, sober for the sake of his brain, but a little high on victory and getting two goals tonight. Playoff goals. He's beside him fucking self with joy. He trips over someone's pants on the floor, whines about it, and crashes into his bed. Something moves under him, and he shifts around enough to see Ivan, stupid flow a mess as he peeks over the blanket to glare at Nolan.

"Why are you in my bed?" Nolan croaks, ignoring the sixteen year old version of himself living in his lizard brain that says hell yeah, Ivan Provorov is in our bed. It would have been a dream come true back then, but now it was just an inconvenience. It's like three in the morning, Nolan just wants to get some sleep.

"Simmer has like eighty people in our room, I need to rest." Ivan says, rolling over and tucking himself back against Nolan's pillows like he belongs there.

"Go sleep in Carter's room, he has an empty bed." Nolan says, shoving uselessly at Ivan's back. The bastard doesn't even budge, just pulls Nolan's blankets tighter around his head and sighs like Nolan is the one who is being a pest.

"Tried that, Hartsy threatened to eat me." Ivan grumbles

"Kinky." Kevin pipes up from his side of the room, where he is lounging blissfully in his own bed, by himself, with no Russian interlopers hogging his bedding.

"Gross." Ivan says, wrinkling his nose.

"I don't know, I'd probably let Carter eat me." Nolan says, just to see Ivan's face go even more disgusted. Nolan wouldn't actually touch Carter Hart with a ten foot pole, no matter how good looking the guy is. He was a goalie, ugh. Nolan just knew the image was in Ivan's head now, which was funny as shit.

"Gross. Gryaznyy." Ivan repeats himself in Russian, sometimes, for the sake emphasis. It's adorable.

"Carter's pretty cute." Kevin mumbled sleepily. "If I had to pick a dude, you know."

"Wow, man, coldblooded. Nolan is right here." Ivan says, giggling a little.

"I wouldn't let Kevin eat me." Nolan says, finally giving in and just sliding under the covers next to Ivan. 

"What? Bullshit, I'm fucking hot." Kevin sniffs.

"Oh, please." Nolan snorts. "Lucky Charms lookin' ass."

"Hey!" Kevin shouts, sending Ivan into a fit of laughter. The sound of his quiet giggling makes Nolan laugh too, and it isn't long before Kevin lets out a snort of laugh of his own. 

"Everybody shut up, I'm sleeping." Ivan says, and they all settle pretty quickly.

It's warm under the covers, Ivan's body heat sinking into Nolan's skin despite the gap between them. Nolan hadn't bothered to get undressed, still has his hoodie and sweats bunching around his stomach and calves a little uncomfortably. He's tired though, and the feeling of someone laying next to him is a comfort he hasn't felt in a long time. He drifts off to sleep before Kevin even has a chance to start snoring.

 

.

.

 

Nolan spends breakfast scrolling through his phone with one hand, eating unsweetened oatmeal with the other. He thumbs through his socials lazily, ignoring the DMs piling up. He knows they're probably all just from fans, women telling him he's hot or men telling him he's bad at hockey. He never looks at his DMs, anymore. Doesn't look at his comments either, on the rare occasion he actually posts anything.

Nolan just opens Safari, searches for something he's been thinking about for a few days now. It doesn't take long for him to find what he's looking for, there is only one Blanchet Gardens in all of Pennsylvania. Nolan clicks through to their website, which is pretty simple and kind of outdated looking. Like they had picked a webpage template from 1990 and just stuck with it. Nolan scrolls down the front page, looking at the little picture of a building he vaguely recalls seeing once, skimming over whats written there. If you need to find a memory care community in the Philadelphia area, you’re in the right place. Blanchet Gardens Memory Care is a Special Care Facility that feels and functions like a private home, so your loved one feels a sense of belonging as soon as they arrive. With everything from a kind and compassionate care team that provides gentle guidance and reminders throughout the day, to programs designed specifically for seniors living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, you can rest easy knowing your family member will have every opportunity to thrive and blah, blah, blah. Nolan scrolls back up to the top of the page, clicks on the little menu button. Mission statement, services, daily tours, meet our staff. Bingo. Nolan clicks through to the staff page, waits for it to load on the shitty hotel WiFi that every other guy on the team is currently also using. 

The first picture is of the woman Nolan had met that day in the cafe. Dark skin, long box braids piled neatly on top of her head. The picture is from the shoulders up, but Nolan gets the feeling that weird, oddly colored suits is her go to, if the lime green paisley in the picture is any clue. Simone Clérisseau is our Executive Director. Simone has been working in senior care for over ten years. Starting out as a caregiver, Simone has worked her way up through compassion and hard work. Simone holds a degree in Medical Administration and runs our blah, blah blah.

The next picture is a very large, very grim looking man with pink cheeks and a chef's hat. Dawson Settle is our Dining Services Manager. With many years of food service under his belt, Dawson had perfected our in-house menu to suit the needs of any special blah, blah, blah.

The next picture is of a woman who looks way too happy for how fried her bleach blond hair is. Maryalice Sandavol is our Activities Director. Maryalice is blah blah blah.

Finally, the last picture is Travis. It looks recent, if his terrible little goatee is any indication, and he's smiling bright and wide in his purple scrubs. Travis Konecny is our Resident RN. Travis has years of experience in memory care, and has worked along side us through outpatient hospice for the past two years. Travis heads the nursing department, which consists of our medication aides and caregivers. Travis is the newest member to our team, and has shown great care and commitment to making Blanchet Gardens the perfect home for all who come here.

Nolan looks down at the little picture of Travis, the way his eyes are crinkled up in obvious joy, and feels himself ache in a way that has nothing to do with his busted jaw.

 

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.

 

Travis' phone beeps in his bag just as he's about to step out his front door. He's running a little late for work, and he fumbles a bit with his phone in his haste to get it out.

Diana Moore 5:54AM: this is technically a hipaa violation since you don't work here anymore so you didnt hear this from me. she kept asking for you at the end so i feel like you deserve to know. katie park passed away a few hours ago. i just wrapped up postmortem.

Diana Moore 5:54AM: sorry man i know she was your favorite

Diana sent a picture then, a shot of a framed picture on Katie's bedside table. At some point, someone had printed out one of the pictures from the day they met the Flyers. In it Travis sees himself, holding Katie, while she looks up lovingly at Nolan Patrick. In her weak little chicken scratch handwriting, Katie had scrawled across the bottom of the picture in pink glitter gel.

me and my favorite boys. best day ever <3

Travis feels his phone slip out of his hands and crash to the ground, barley registers the sound of the screen shattering over the ringing in his ears

Chapter Text

Nolan sits breathless in his stall, eyes closed against the bright lights and loud noises, as Wayne gently undoes the straps of his gear for him. Nolan doesn't have any witches in his head, doesn't even have an aura, he just can't move. It's happened once before, now, and Nolan still doesn't know why. He just feels broken. Can't move, can't breathe, can't focus on anything but the feeling of Wayne's hands tugging at him. Nolan hadn't even had to ask Wayne to help, today, hadn't been going to ask, but Wayne had just stopped halfway through taking off his own gear to drop down in front of Nolan. It's how Wayne was, he paid attention to Nolan. Nolan is absolutely certain that if Wayne had been on his line that day he'd been hit by Jakub, he'd know exactly what had happened. That kind of terrifies Nolan. A lot of things terrify Nolan now days, it's pretty shitty. Wayne coaxes him to lean forward, so he can pull Nolan's chest plate over his head, and Nolan winces when Wayne's knuckles brush against his jaw. Wayne doesn't apologize, probably because he knows Nolan doesn't need him to. Wayne is always quiet when he does this, gentle and light in a way that he isn't any other time. It's easy, sometimes, to forget that Wayne Simmonds is big and scary, when he's kneeling on the cold ground to help Nolan take his sweaty gear off. He's never big and scary to Nolan, he's always just this. This kind and gentle guy. At some point Nolan had realized with horror what Wayne knew him. Knew him in a way nobody else on the team did, saw him wholly, in a way only Maddie had ever seemed to manage. It felt cheap to call Wayne his best friend, the team were all his best friends, but Nolan didn't really have the words for it. Especially not now, when his body was betraying him and his mind was swimming with worry. 

"You doing okay, lapachka?" Ivan drops into Wayne's empty stall, wafting the scent of lavender with him. Ivan was always the first one out of the showers after a game, always smelled like the fancy shampoo he brought from home, a smell that Nolan liked a lot. Nolan just nods in response to the question, doesn't open his eyes to look over at him.

"Think we can all use a vacation about now, Provy." Wayne grunts, tugging on Nolan's sock garter.

"Let's all go to Hawaii. There is no ice in Hawaii." Ivan hums, reaching over and placing his cold fingers over Nolan's eyes. Ivan always has cold hands, no matter what he did to try and warm them up. Nolan loves him for it.

"Nah, Jamaica." Wayne says, sliding Nolan's shin pad off. 

"Cabo." Ivan says.

"Brasil."

"Oh, Thailand."

They keep going, listing all the warm places they can think of. Nolan cracks his eyes open under Ivan's hand. The light peeks through, but it doesn't bother Nolan. He's starting to catch his breath, and he manages to wiggle his toes when Wayne tugs off his sock, so he figures he can start moving his body again. He realizes that now that whatever this is has happened twice, he should probably talk to the trainers about it. Suddenly losing all motor function after a normal game in which he played only 9:57 ice time? Probably not a good thing to become a pattern. Whatever is happening might be connected to his migraines, or might be a whole new problem making itself known in Nolan's stupid, traitorous body. It scares the shit out of Nolan. He knows he has to tell the trainers about it. He has to. That doesn't mean Nolan is going to tell the trainers about it, he's just acknowledging to his own idiot self that he, like, definitely should. 

There is a lot of things he should tell people, that he just never does.

 

.

.

 

Nolan doesn't know why Kevin has to take literally ten fucking years after each game saying bye to every single staff member, but he's getting impatient. He's been standing next to Kevin's car for at least five minutes now, his wet hair making him cold in the night air. Annoying. Nolan is tired, and hungry, and very, very bored. Bored enough that he digs his phone out of his pocket.

Outgoing 10:14PM: You want a roommate?

Hartsy 10:15PM: Might be nice. Who?

Outgoing 10:15PM: Me.

Hartsy 10:16PM: No ❤️

Rude.

Nolan switches over to Instagram, contemplates posting a picture of his cold feet with a rude caption about Kevin making him wait. The little red dot in the upper right hand finally annoys him into clicking on it. He has 145 requests for DMs from people he doesn't follow, which he's going to ignore. He has a few unread from existing conversations though, so he skims those.

barzal97: ALMOST WITH THE PATTY HATTY. 

barzal97: nice game baybayy!

Nolan doesn't say anything back, since the message is a few days old anyway, just smiles fondly. He backs out, and looks through the rest. He gets to the bottom of the little list, and his smile drops from his face suddenly. He feels his heart rise into his throat.

t.kon, 8 new messages.

What the fuck? How had Nolan missed that?

4 days ago.

t.kon: im not trying to be a dick

t.kon: sorry for being weird

t.kon: gavin is really cute tho. congrats bud.

3 days ago.

t.kon: i was blackmailed into watching part of your game today.

t.kon: does gavin have a little patrick jersey? that would be cute af

2 days ago.

t.kon: did you know fish have taste buds over their entire body?

t.kon: i wonder what they think humans taste like

t.kon: your profile pic holding that fish like that? he was TASTING you, bro

Just now.

npatrick19: What the fuck are you talking about?

 

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.

 

"You need to tell Claude." Kevin says, out of nowhere, as they're standing in their kitchen eating cold leftovers.

"Tell Claude what?" Nolan asks, glaring at Kevin over his spoonful of egg drop soup.

"Whatever the fuck has been going on with you since the first game in Pittsburgh. " Kevin says, not looking up from his own food. Nolan should have seen this coming. Kevin had been quiet, lately, which was unusual. Nolan knows him well enough by now to know that Kevin being quiet means Kevin wanting to talk. Ugh. Fucking Kevin.

"I don't know what you're talking about." Nolan mumbles, mouth full of egg. 

"You had a headache." Kevin says, like that explains everything. He sighs when Nolan just keeps glaring silently. "You had a headache that morning, and then you somehow just run face first into Jakey's stick? Funny coincidence."

"Don't." Nolan growls, slamming his takeout container down on the counter. He doesn't want to talk about this. Shit. He'd been so sure nobody knew, that nobody had noticed. He doesn't give Kevin enough credit, apparently. It had been over a fucking week since that game, though, so he doesn't know why Kevin is bringing this up now.

"Wayne had to undress you tonight, Pat. Something is wrong, and don't blame it on Jake hitting you, cause we both know that's not fucking fair." Kevin says, setting his own container down next to Nolan's, a hell of a lot more gently. "This is older than that hit, I'm not stupid."

And that's the problem, isn't it? Kevin isn't nearly as stupid as Nolan had needed him to be. Seems like Wayne isn't the only one who sees Nolan.

 

.

.

 

Nolan is laying on the floor, forcing himself to feel his body. Kevin is right, annoyingly. Something is wrong. Nolan hadn't even told Maddie about the migraine that day, had put up with her laughing down the phone line for ten minutes about how funny he had looked getting hit in the face by Jakub. Now he just makes himself listen to his body. It's not telling him shit, though. He feels his head, which is sluggish because it's the middle of the night after a game, but doesn't hurt. Feels his shoulders, the right one a little sore from how many times he'd slammed it into an opposing player tonight. No tightness, no pinching. He feels his spine, the way it's freshly popped from laying on the ground, but there is no pain, no stiffness. He focuses lower than he usually does, makes himself feel his legs. There is a little knot at the base of his left calf, which isn't unusual, doesn't seem connected. He wiggles his fingers, pushes the tips of them against the fluffy rug he has by his bed. They just feel like his fingers, but, like, he doesn't really know what he's looking for, anyway. 

Nolan is pulled from his thoughts by his phone. For a second Nolan is scared that Kevin's patience snapped and Claude has been sicced on him. Claude's ringtone is Gee by Girl's Generation, though, a joke which still makes Nolan giggle every time his captain calls him. His phone isn't singing gee gee gee gee right now, though, so it's not Claude. Nolan doesn't think he's heard his phone make that noise before, actually. Which makes sense, when he finally picks it up, and he sees that he has a request for a video call on Instagram. 

What the fuck? Instagram can do that?

Wait.

t.kon requesting video chat.

Oh. Oh, holy fuck.

Nolan sits up quickly, hitting the accept button before he lets himself think about it too much. The screen is split half and half, not like a FaceTime. Nolan sees his own chest on the bottom, a black screen on the top.

"Patrick?" Travis voice comes, slurred.

"Yeah. Uh, what's going on?" Nolan asks, squinting at the screen. He can't tell if Travis' camera is turned off, or if he's just holding his hand over the camera. 

"This is stupid." Travis mumbles, seemingly to himself, before sighing. Something rustles against the mic, and suddenly Nolan is greeted with the site of Travis' bare feet. It looks like he's sitting on the edge of a bed, a house slipper sitting just at the edge of the frame.

"What's going on?" Nolan asks again. He feels like his heart is about to beat out of his chest. He has no idea what's going on. He'd tried not to think about Travis recently, and now his head is spinning.

"I gotta, I just." Travis hisses, and the camera flips, showing Nolan his collar. He's wearing a black hoodie, his chin tucked into the neck of it. Nolan can just make out the bottom of his jaw, which is even scruffier than last time Nolan had seen him, like he's making the horrible decision to grown out his goatee.

"Travis." Nolan says, wondering if maybe he passed out while Wayne was undressing him and everything since then has been one long, terrible nightmare. That would certainly explain Kevin.

"You were there, with me, the last time. So, I don't know." Travis isn't making any sense, and the camera starts jumping around like he's shaking. "She fucking loved you, dude. She loved you so much."

Nolan realizes, is horrified to realize, that Travis is crying. He can hear it in his voice, and he can see a tear drop slowly from his chin. It takes him a second to register what Travis is actually saying, but it isn't too hard to figure out what it means once he does. He forces himself not to let it hit him as hard as it tries to, in that moment. Katie. Fucking Katie. Shit.

"Fuck, Travis. Fuck." Nolan says, biting back his own tears. It doesn't seem right, for him to cry while Travis is. It's not his turn, Nolan can break down later.

"She had a picture, of us, you and me. God, this is so fucking stupid." Travis laughs, and it's a terrible sound. Nolan's ears are ringing, and he can feel himself getting breathless, again.

"What happened?" Nolan asks, which just earns him more of that awful laughter.

"This morning. I wasn't there, I don't know." Travis says. "God, I wasn't there. Why wasn't I there?"

"Don't do that to yourself, Travis." Nolan says, his voice breaking halfway through.

"I should have been with her. She wanted me there. She trusted me, and I just, fucking, just, left her alone. Because I couldn't deal. So fucking selfish." Travis sucks in a breath, and it sounds painful to Nolan's ears.

"Why did you call me?" Nolan asks, partially to distract Travis from getting angry at himself, and partially because he just really wants to know. 

"You're the only person I know, who knew her, that I can legally talk to." Travis says, and the camera tips up. Nolan wasn't prepared to look at Travis Konecny's face tonight. God, he doesn't know how he's supposed to react. Travis looks like shit, clearly has been crying for a while, awful little goatee, flushed cheeks like maybe he's been drinking his feelings. Still hot enough to make Nolan feel a little weak about it. Nolan shifts his own camera too, so its both their faces. Side by side on the little screen, Nolan takes in how they look together. 

"What do you mean, legally?" Nolan asks, watching as Travis sniffles a bit, reaches up to wipe his nose on the sleeve of his hoodie. Gross.

"I'm not even supposed to know, she wasn't my patient anymore. I'm not allowed to stay in touch with families I don't work with." Travis says, eyes flicking up and down like he's looking between himself and Nolan. It's fucking awful for Nolan, to sit here on his bedroom floor and watch Travis watching him. It feels like something he's not allowed to have.

"That's stupid." Nolan says, doesn't know what the fuck else to say.

"HIPAA law." Travis shrugs.

"Very stupid." Nolan tells him.

"Yeah," Travis sighs. "Yeah, well, I'm stupid."

"You're like nineteen years old and you're a nurse, you gotta be kind of smart." Nolan teases, just to see Travis make any face other than the sad, broken one he's making now. It works, a bit, when Travis scrunches up his nose in annoyance.

"I'm twenty-four, bonehead." Travis says, scratching the side of his nose.

"No way you're older than me." Nolan says.

"Shut up. God, you're a dick, you know? Even for a hockey player." Travis says, and then ruins Nolan's night by flinging himself back to lay down. His hair spreads out on the bed, which Nolan tries not to pay attention to. Fails at that though, like, spectacularly. Travis has black sheets, silky looking. Fuck, what the hell? Nolan should probably stop looking at Travis in his bed, before he looses his mind.

"I'm a nice boy." Nolan says, ignoring the way his throat is dry as he speaks.

"No, you're a hockey player." Travis snorts. "Fucking hate hockey players."

"What did we ever do to you?" Nolan asks, trying not to be obvious as he tracks the movement of Travis' mouth. 

"I'm drunk, shut up." Travis says. Nolan is just glad he's not crying anymore.

"I figured. That's not an answer." Nolan tells him.

"Jesus, how much time you got? Any bad shit you can think of, bud, been done to me by hockey players." Travis shifts, tucks his chin back into his hoodie. Nolan has a feeling that this is, like, about to be a way worse conversation than talking about a little girl dying. Maybe he shouldn't have tried to change the subject.

"Travis," Nolan trails off, isn't sure what he can possibly say to that.

"They weren't very nice to me." Travis says. "After they found out that I'm gay."

Oh.

Oh.

Nolan went ice fishing, once. His dad had a buddy with a shack for it, and a bunch of them had gone up when Nolan was about eighteen. His dad's friend had a son his age, and Nolan had spent most of the time with him, maybe trying to get a feel for if he and Nolan had anything in common. The guy had dared Nolan to dunk his head into the hole his dad had drilled, and Nolan had been dumb enough to think it would be funny. It was like nothing he'd ever felt, the pain of freezing water flooding into his ears, the fear that even though his entire body was out of the ice, he might drown from the shock. His dad had been so angry, he'd rubbed a towel across Nolan's dumb head hard enough to actually pull some of his hair out. Nolan will never forget the feeling of that, of holding his head under ice. That's how he feels now, suddenly, when Travis says that.

"You mean," Nolan cuts off again, tipping his camera away so Travis can't see whatever is crossing his face. He can feel himself flushing, at the very least.

"I shouldn't have said that." Travis grumbles.

"I'm sorry, Travis." Nolan says, means it. "They didn't," Nolan doesn't know how to ask this. Doesn't think he has a right to, Travis isn't really his friend. Travis is just some guy Nolan has gotten weirdly attached to, for reasons outside his control. A guy who is hot, and sweet, and had called Nolan crying about a dead girl who Nolan hadn't stopped thinking about since he saw her little yellow mittens for the first time. A guy who had just, roundabout, come out to Nolan while drunk. Fuck.

"What?" Travis asks. At some point when Nolan was avoiding looking at Travis he'd dropped his phone, and Nolan is just looking at the nurse's ceiling, now.

"Nothing, I'm sorry." Nolan stops himself from asking, knows that he doesn't need to know. They didn't hurt you, did they? It's none of Nolan's business.

"Whatever. Like I said, I'm drunk. You don't need my whole Dua Lipa New Rules list." Travis sighs.

"I don't know what that means." Nolan says.

"My rules." Travis says, draws the s out like a hiss. "No guys from Jersey, no closet cases, and no fucking hockey players."

That, Nolan really doesn't have an answer for.

 

.

.

 

Outgoing 2:15AM: Are you awake? I need to talk to you.

Captain My Captain 2:17AM: It can't wait until practice tomorrow?

Outgoing 2:19AM: I can't feel my feet.

Incoming call, Captain My Captain.

Gee gee gee gee baby baby baby

Gee gee gee gee baby baby baby

Chapter Text

"Run that all by me again, in order this time." Claude says, clenching his fists around the edge of his kitchen counter hard enough to make his knuckles go white. It's a granite counter, but Nolan swears he can see it about to shift under Claude's weight.

"G, I told you," Nolan starts, fidgeting nervously where he's perched on the island stool. He knows the only reason he isn't being screamed at is because Ryanne and Gavin are asleep upstairs. Small mercies.

"God damn it, Nolan." Claude snaps, which is how he knows he's really in trouble. Nolan. Ouch. "Just, explain it to me. You had your first migraine in months after we did that Make A Wish bullshit, then what?"

Nolan flinches, at that. At Claude calling it bullshit. Travis had thought it was bullshit, too. There is a little part of his dumbass brain stuck on trying to jump over to thoughts of Katie, but he's shutting it down hard. Half the reason he's here in the first place is to avoid having to feel what he's inevitably going to feel when he processes that Katie has died. Easier to come talk to Claude and maybe get himself kicked off the Flyers, than it would be to let himself break down about the best little girl he'd ever met.

"Right." Nolan sighs, staring at Claude's white knuckles. "I had a migraine after standing too close to Travis when he smoked. Ten days later, after the Devils game, my body did this numb thing for the first time. Then three days after that, I had another migraine, during the, uh, the Pens game. Then nothing until tonight, when I went numb again, which makes it eight days after the migraine. So, maybe that's, like, a pattern."

"Un petit imbécile." Claude mutters. Nolan knows just enough French to know when Claude is calling him stupid. 

"I'm sorry, G." Nolan says, folding himself over in his chair, trying to make himself as small as he feels. Probably not possible, right now. He feels minuscule. Nolan knows that Claude is pissed about him trying to play through a migraine, but he's definitely, like, way more pissed that Nolan didn't just tell him

"I know you are. And I can tell that you're also scared shitless about this, which is the only reason I don't have the coaches on the phone right now fining your ass." Claude tells him, finally letting go of the counter so he can step around it, getting up into Nolan's space. He stands there, breathing steady in a way that tells Nolan it's purposeful, that Claude is forcing himself to be calm. Nolan just stares at his chest, bare because it's three in the morning and Claude had been sleeping before Nolan brought this on him. Nolan wishes it were a different situation, so that he could chirp Claude about his pajama pants, which have little croissants all over them. 

"I'm sorry." Nolan says again, tipping his head forward and resting it against Claude's sternum. Claude tenses under the contact, like he's thinking of pushing Nolan away. Nolan doesn't think Claude has ever pushed him away before, so it hurts a little, the thought that he might. He lets him stay, though. Any other time Claude would probably bring his hands up, give Nolan a hug. Right now though, he just stands there, lets Nolan hide his face.

"This is what you wanted to tell me, that day you showed up for soup. You pussied out, though, huh?" Claude sighs, and Nolan just nods against his chest. "Alright, câlice. Here's what we're gonna do. First things first, I don't want you driving all the way back home, so you think you can get some sleep in the guest room?"

"Probably not, but it's as good a place as any to cry for a few hours." Nolan shrugs.

"Don't waste your tears on this yet, kid." Claude says.

"I've got plenty of other shit to cry about." Nolan sighs. Katie, and her little yellow mittens. Nolan doesn't tell Claude about her, though. He's not sure why, but he doesn't want to tell anybody about her. The only person he wants to talk to about Katie, is Travis. 

"You're going to sleep, okay?" Claude pauses, waits for Nolan to nod. "In the morning we will go in early, talk to AV before practice. We'll do it together, I'll be there with you, okay? And I won't tell him about the migraine during the Penguins game, only because I like you a hell of a lot more than I like him. You tell him everything else, though. Got it?"

"Got it." Nolan says, even though he hates this plan. He doesn't want to talk to AV, damn it. He knows it's more than he deserves though, for Claude to have his back on this. Nolan didn't expect that he'd leave the whole migraine on the ice thing out, but he's grateful.

"Then you're going to get down on your knees and beg Jake to forgive you." Claude says, reaching up to slap a hand down on the back of Nolan's head.

"G, no. Just fire me." Nolan whines, finally lifting his head and looking up at his captain. "He will disembowel me."

"Have you ever in your life seen Jake be guilty?" Claude scowls. "He feels like he has to be careful, he barley gets his stick off the ice around the team. You fucked with his head, and you're going to fix it."

Nolan knows there is no getting out of it. He doesn't know what he looks forward to less; telling AV about his bodies new trick of being paralyzed for no reason, or the fact that he's going to get hit in the face by a viking for the second time, this time on purpose. 

He says a silent goodbye to the rest of his teeth.

 

.

.

 

Trainers are familiar to Nolan, but that doesn't mean he'll ever be comfortable around them. He's used to the feeling of hands on him, twisting and prodding and shining lights in his eyes. He's pretty sure they've checked every part of him, short of, like, a cavity search. He's grateful they skip that part, at least. Nolan just sits still and lets the trainer poke at his feet with a little wire, nods his head every time he feels the sensation. He answers ten thousand questions, told them it wore off just like the first time, that he hadn't been paying enough attention to it to really give them a good chart about it. He maps his migraines pretty thoroughly, has a little pocket journal where he marks down triggers and symptoms. He feels a little bad when he hands it over, knowing that it says trigger; high stick to the jaw on his last migraine log. He knows it's not true, and he feels like maybe it's a big deal that he actually didn't have a trigger, that it came out of nowhere for no reason. That scares him, but not as much as the idea of getting suspended for lying to everyone, for breaking a pretty major stipulation on his contract. Everything about this scares him.

"We're going to send you for scans, brain and spine." the trainer tells him, and Nolan just nods. "It's not completely unheard of for feelings of numbness or limits to range of motion to occur with migraines. It usually happens during the episodes, though, so we need to be sure."

"You think there is something wrong with my spine?" Nolan asks, sitting still as the trainer slips his socks and shoes back on for him.

"I just want to rule it out. You wouldn't be the first hockey player to injure his spine, Nolan." the trainer says, fixing Nolan with a look of sympathy that he can tell is fake. Nolan is positive this dude has been practicing the look in a mirror. What was it Travis had said? Can't go around giving a shit about your patients. Yeah, fair enough.

"Can I go do the rest of practice?" Nolan asks, pretending like he doesn't already know the answer.

"You're gonna be off the ice, at least, until those scans come back." 

Fuck.

 

.

.

 

Now for the hard part.

Nolan stands next to Jakub's fancy fucking car, and tries to ignore the way Claude is glaring at him from across the parking lot. It had been easier this morning to just let Claude drive him in, but now he wishes he's protested, so he didn't have to look at his captain's disappointed face any more today. Nolan knows that the ride back to Claude's house to get Nolan's car is going to be tense.

Oh, shit. Here we go. Game time.

"Patty!" Jakub smiles, opens his arms like he is gonna come in for a hug when he sees Nolan standing there. Nolan doesn't know what AV had told the rest of the team about Nolan missing practice and being pulled from the game tonight, but he can tell that Jakub is happy to see him. God, this is really gonna fucking suck.

"Jake, hey." Nolan lets himself be hugged, tries not to sink into the feeling of Jakub's giant arms squeezing him. It's hard though, because, like, it's Jakub. He gives good hugs. Nolan knows he's about to piss the guy off though, so he can't help but savor this kindness while he still gets it. Jakub lets go too soon.

"Are you okay?" Jakub asks, popping the trunk of his car and throwing his bag in haphazardly, like he doesn't have a care in the world. Nolan glances over at Claude, wondering how much trouble he'll get in if he just turns and bolts. He gets a even colder glare, like Claude can read his mind. Ugh.

"I need to talk to you about something." Nolan says, shuffling his feet awkwardly.

"Coach said you are having head problems." Jakub says, reaching up and tapping his fingers gently against Nolan's temple. "I'm sorry you got to miss games, I know that is terrible." There is something in the voice then, maybe a little bit of guilt, and Nolan feels like the worlds biggest piece of shit.

"Jake, man, it's not your fault. That's not," Nolan breaks off, has like, no fucking idea how to say this. 

"Come on, son, your whole chin is still purple and yellow. No teeth." Jakub says gesturing to Nolan's bruised jaw like it's news to him. Nolan knows, okay, has to look at it every day and feel like a fucking monster about it. 

"Jake, just, give me a second. I have to tell you something, just, be quiet, okay? Until I'm done?" Nolan kicks the ground, looks down at his feet and pointedly not at Jakub. Or at Claude, who he can feel staring at him. Nolan just breaths for a second, and Jakub reaches out, touches Nolan's elbow, cradles it in his hand like Nolan is something fragile. Which, like, honestly, Nolan is pretty god damn fragile right now.

"Okay, Patty." Jakub says, clearly confused but willing to listen. Nolan feels nauseous.

"The morning of the first game in Pittsburgh I, uh, I had a headache." Nolan feels Jakub's hand tense around his elbow, as he keeps talking. "Kevin was with me, brought me some meds, and I thought it got better. I thought it was just a little witch, you know? It came back, though. I was facing off with Crosby, the second to last shift, and it just, came back. Big witch, that time. It was really bad and I, uh, I couldn't see. I was skating blind, so I didn't see the puck, or anything. I didn't even see you. I didn't even know you were there until I ran into your stick. It wasn't your fault, like, at all. None of it, it was all on me."

There is silence, when Nolan is done talking. Jakub's hand is tight around Nolan's elbow, bordering on painful. Nolan doesn't look up from his feet, because he's a coward. He just stands there, let's Jakub's silence stretch out. 

"You owe me three thousand dollars." is all Jakub says after a time, letting go of Nolan's elbow. 

"What?" Nolan blinks, looks up at Jakub as the man steps out of his space. Jakub's face is purposefully blank.

"What I was fined for hitting you." Jakub tells him. Which Nolan hadn't known about. They fined him for accidentally running into his linemate? What bullshit.

"Yeah, of course." Nolan says, kicking the ground a few more times. "I really am sorry,  Jake. I shouldn't have put you in that position."

"Don't be fucking stupid." Jakub sighs. "I'm not angry at you because of the hit. I'm angry because you shouldn't have been out there. It's not just yourself you put in danger when you can't see what you are doing. And what if it hadn't been me, huh? What if someone had hit you on purpose?"

"I know, I just," Nolan feels tears forming, but wants nothing less than to cry right now. He had done way too much crying last night, his eyes still ache from it. Besides, he doesn't want to cry while apologizing to Jakub, that feels cheap.

"Come here, little one." Jakub says, grabbing Nolan roughly by his shoulders, slamming him against his chest. It's pretty violent, as far as hugs go, but Nolan just let's it happen, closes his eyes against the tears that still want to spill. He's reminded, suddenly, that Jakub is a father, is a really good father. 

"I'm sorry, Jake. I'm sorry for lying to you." Nolan sniffs, tucks his face into the side of Jakub's unruly hair.

"I don't care, hlupák. But if you ever put yourself at risk like that again, I'll knock you out on purpose, okay?" Jakub kisses Nolan on his temple, then. The left one, right where his migraines always start.

 

.

.

 

Nolan doesn't look at Claude when he gets into the car, just does up his seat belt and looks out the window at where Jakub is driving away.

"Do you think Ryanne will come with me to get my scans? I hate doing that shit alone." Nolan mumbles.

"I'm sure she will." Claude says, patting Nolan on the thigh gently.

"Thanks." 

"It's no problem."

"I mean for all of it, Claude. Everything you've done for me."

Claude's hand tightens, briefly, on Nolan's leg.

"Yeah, well, despite my good judgement, I love you, kid."

Nolan still doesn't look at him, but he feels a weight lift off his heart.

 

.

.

 

t.kon: thought you might want this

t.kon: [download35.jpg]

npatrick19: She had this on her nightstand?

t.kon: yeah. i told you bud she really loved you

npatrick19: She must have loved you, too.

t.kon: dont

npatrick19: I'm sorry. 

t.kon: fucking shit bro

t.kon: im not handling this very well

npatrick19: Neither am I, and I only met her once. You're fine, Travis.

npatrick19: I think it's pretty normal to not handle something like this well.

t.kon: man shut the hell up

t.kon: jocks aren't allowed to be emotionally intelligent 

npatrick19: We're pretty fucking emotional. 

npatrick19: Thank you for the picture.

Nolan looks down at the picture. It's nice. Katie looking at Nolan, while Nolan was looking at Travis. 

me and my favorite boys. best day ever <3