Travis rented a car in Toronto the morning he left the bubble - not even thinking about Game 7 the night before or the Cup - and started west. He drove ten hours the first day, slept in the car for a few hours, and then drove another ten hours until he reached Winnipeg. He checked into a hotel and showered for the first time in two days, watching the grime wash down the drain as the scalding hot water pounded down on his back.
He was exhausted but he headed back out, using the GPS in his rental car to find Nolan’s neighborhood. It was after midnight so he turned off his headlights as he turned onto Nolan’s street, easing his foot off the gas. There was Nolan’s house, all the lights off except for the upstairs bedroom light. As Travis’s car cruised quietly past the house, it was like he couldn’t breathe.
In March, everything went to shit and there wasn’t going to be a season for Nolan to get back to. Travis didn’t want to leave Philadelphia, didn’t want to stop the team’s momentum. He wanted to keep rolling up to Kevin’s house with Wawa coffee for him and Nolan. He wanted to spend all spring with Nolan, playing video games and napping on the couch in Nolan’s sweatshirt.
At the Philadelphia airport in March, Travis wanted to tell Nolan that everything was going to be okay but he honestly didn’t know. He wanted to pull Nolan into a hug, press his mouth to that soft place at the base of Nolan’s neck, and ask him to come to Ontario with him. He wanted to say I love you. He wanted to do so many things that he was too afraid to do.
After they went through security, they stood there awkwardly. Travis fiddled with his backpack, adjusting the straps again and again, not looking at Nolan.
“It’s not too late for me to switch my flight,” Nolan mumbled. His knit cap was pulled down low on his head. “If you want to be quarantine buddies.”
Travis hadn’t asked - didn’t have to ask, now that Nolan had offered, only had to say yes - and he still couldn’t make it happen. “Nah, I’ll see you,” Travis interrupted. “Have a good flight, man.” Travis waved and turned quickly, his face burning. He knew Nolan was still standing there, his backpack held in one hand, shoelaces untied. He knew Nolan was watching him walk away. He was young and stupid and he couldn’t tell Nolan how much he loved him.
Later, in the bubble, Travis was lonely. He clung to Kevin, followed him around the hotel and the arena like a puppy. He wanted to win the Cup with these guys, but he couldn’t stop missing Nolan. The first night in his hotel room in Hotel X, he fell asleep wearing Nolan’s sweatshirt and dreamt of the sweet vanilla scent of Nolan’s hair. Travis chased Nolan through his dreams all night.
After their first round-robin win against the Bruins, the Flyers gathered in Claude’s suite and drank beer sent up by room service. Claude kicked them out eventually and a small group of them ended up sitting in a circle on the floor at the end of the hallway, a bottle of Jim Beam between them.
“Never have I ever,” Kevin said, pointing around the circle at Travis, Laughts, Beezer, Ivan, Carter.
“I’m not playing this,” Carter said. He moved to get up but Laughts grabbed his arm and kept him in place.
“I’ll start,” Beezer says, his heavy-lidded eyes swinging around the circle to land on Travis. “Never have I ever...fucked a teammate.”
Kevin handed the bottle to Travis, who rolled his eyes and passed it to Ivan next to him without drinking. His thing with Nolan wasn’t a secret but he didn’t talk about it in the locker room. He didn’t make a game out of it like this.
When the bottle reached Beezer, he glanced up at Travis. He quirked an eyebrow and took a drink.
Travis watched Joel the rest of the night, wondering if Joel’s hair was as soft as it looked, the strawberry blond waves falling over his forehead as he got progressively drunker. When he went to bed that night, Travis didn’t dream at all.
He and Nolan had been together for months, ever since that night in October outside the bar in Old City when Travis got drunk after a home win and Nolan held his hair back as he puked onto the cobblestone street. Travis’s face was damp with a sheen of sweat and it shone under the streetlight. He wiped his mouth and looked up at Nolan, grinning. “You do like me.”
“What are you talking about,” Nolan gritted out, looking put out as he tried to keep Travis from falling into traffic.
Travis leaned up against a parked car and let his head fall back against the door. He and Nolan had been circling each other all night. Every time he looked up, Nolan was staring at him, a seltzer gripped tight in his hand. Then Nolan had followed Travis as he tripped out into the street, his hand warm on Travis’s lower back. If Travis hadn’t thrown up, he was sure Nolan would have taken him home. “You hate puking.”
Nolan rolled his eyes. “Our Lyft is going to be here in 2 minutes. Are you done?”
“You like me,” Travis slurred as Nolan helped him into the car, where he promptly fell asleep.
Travis woke up in Nolan's bed the next morning, Nolan’s face pressed into his hair. Travis smiled as he traced his fingers down Nolan’s arm and closed his eyes to fall back to sleep.
“Shut up,” Nolan murmured, not even opening his eyes.
They didn’t talk about it that day, or the day after. They kept circling each other, both wary, until one night when they got lost in the parking garage of their building. Nolan was driving Travis’s SUV and they were stuck in the lowest level. They screamed at each other about whose fault it was until Nolan put the car into park with a frustrated groan and leaned over to kiss Travis, changing his whole life in an instant.
As the Flyers waited for their first round opponent to be set, they practiced every morning. That Sunday, Travis lingered in the locker room and was the last one to leave. He walked slowly from the arena to the hotel, trying to draw out the meager time outside. With nowhere to go and nothing to do, he knew they’d end up shut in someone’s room playing video games all afternoon.
Travis heard a cartoonish beep behind him and turned to see Beezer - Joel - zooming up to him in a golf cart, shit-eating grin on his face.
“Get in Teeks, let’s drive,” he shouted, driving the golf cart in a tight circle around Travis.
“Beez, what the fuck,” Travis laughed. “Did you steal that golf cart?”
Joel brought the golf cart to a sudden stop. “Borrowed, my man. I borrowed it. Now, get in.”
Travis hesitated for a moment. “Where are we going?”
Joel grinned wolfishly. “I wanna show you something.”
Travis got in and held on as Joel quickly accelerated down the sidewalk toward the arena. He wound through the loading dock area and steered the cart down the ramp into a warren of narrow hallways under the area, whistling tunelessly the whole time.
Finally, Joel pulled up to a stop in a dim storage area and hopped out. “C’mon,” he gestured to Travis, like a figment of Travis’s worst intentions come to life.
“Where are we?”
Joel disappeared behind some large storage containers with Maple Leafs logos on them and emerged dragging two large cardboard cutouts. “Can you believe the Leafs just left these here?” Joel grinned. He propped up the cutouts against the storage container and Travis laughed when he saw who they were - Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews.
“What are you going to do?”
“We are going to get in a little target practice,” Joel said, emerging again with two hockey sticks and a few floor hockey balls.
“I don’t know,” Travis said, taking a stick and shifting his weight uncomfortably. “I sort of know Mitch so-”
“What about Matthews,” Joel said, pointing at the cutout of Auston with his stick. “That guy is 100% a douche. Don’t you want to nail him with this ball?” Joel juggled the ball on his stick and flicked it toward Travis.
Travis paused, looked at Auston’s terrible mustache, and ripped a shot straight at his crotch.
“Yeah!” Joel yelled, delighted. “Fuck yeah! Okay, my turn.”
Travis watched Joel aim a shot at Matthews’ head and felt a curl of want and dread in his stomach. This could only go one way.
There were times in those last months - tough months where Nolan was plagued by migraines and spent half of his time in a darkened room, holding on to Travis’s hand - when Travis thought Nolan could be his whole world. He didn’t know what to say to make sure Nolan knew, so he’d just stroke his hand down Nolan’s back under his vintage tee.
“You should just go,” Nolan would whisper into the dim light of his bedroom, squinting at the pain caused by the sound of his own voice.
“Nope,” Travis said, kissing Nolan’s hand.
“You could be with anyone,” Nolan sighed. “You don’t have to be with me.”
Travis frowned. He didn’t know why Nolan always said this, as if he wasn’t the only person for Travis. As if I love you wasn’t on Travis’s lips every morning he woke up next to Nolan. “But you’re my favorite,” Travis said. He laid down next to Nolan on the bed and held him gently until Nolan fell asleep. As he left, he grabbed Nolan’s sweatshirt off of the floor and held it to his face, inhaling Nolan’s sweet vanilla scent. He pulled the sweatshirt over his head and quietly tiptoed out of Nolan’s room.
Travis ended up in Joel’s bed that night, drunk on Joel’s sleepy eyes and the bottle of red wine they shared, drinking out of the plastic hotel bathroom cups.
For how difficult things could be with Nolan - endless silences leading to unresolved arguments, Nolan’s moods as unpredictable as the weather - things were easy with Joel. Joel let Travis tumble him back onto the bed, his red lips and legs opening with a sigh, like he was just waiting for Travis to ask. He let Travis skate his hands all over his body, let him push his fingers inside rougher than Nolan would allow, let him use his mouth everywhere. Joel just nodded sweetly when Travis asked if he could fuck him, mumbling “never done this before” with a wicked smile on his face as Travis worked his way into him, Joel’s body pliable and inviting.
After, Joel fell asleep easily with his arms curled around Travis’s torso, like they hadn’t just crossed an uncrossable line together. Travis laid awake for an hour, listening to the a/c click on and off, until he fell into a light sleep. He was sleeping next to Joel but he dreamed of Nolan all night long.
Travis had kept quiet about Nolan - as quiet as he could when he spent all of his time following Nolan around like a lost puppy - and he kept quiet about Joel. All August long, he palled around with the team, only occasionally sitting next to Joel at dinner or playing ping-pong with him in the rec room. When Claude had parties in his suite, Travis would arrive and leave separately from Joel and tried to keep his drunken eye-fucking to a minimum. No one had to know that he crept down the hall and into Joel’s bed most afternoons when they were supposed to be napping, or that he slept curled around Joel every night.
Travis certainly didn’t tell Nolan, not when he commented in all emojis on Nolan’s finsta or when he texted late at night - night after night of texting hi that Nolan ignored. There’s knowing that you fucked up and admitting that you fucked up. Those are two very different things.
So when Nolan suddenly blocked Travis from his finsta late in August, Travis went straight to Kevin. For all that Travis knew Nolan, Kevin was the true Nolan Svengali. He lived with him, knew how to decode his silences. Plus Kevin was the biggest gossip on the team, even if you couldn’t believe a word he said most times.
This time, though, the rumors were true.
“I don’t know what you want me to tell you, Teeks,” Kevin said the next morning at the breakfast buffet. “He asked.”
“He asked-” Travis started and then pulled Kevin away from the omelette station, lowering his voice. “He asked if I was hooking up with Beezer?”
“Not in so many words, but I’m not going to lie to him, Teeks. He’s my friend too.” Kevin clapped his hand on Travis’s shoulder and gave Travis a sad look, like Travis had disappointed him.
“How,” Travis stuttered, shrugging off Kevin’s hand. “How did you know?” His mind whirred - had Kevin seen them sneak out of Claude’s suite, Travis’s hands grabbing Joel’s ass? Or maybe he caught them in the rec room after everyone left, Joel backed up against the wall as Travis kissed him and then jerked him off with his hand over his mouth?
“Don’t hurt yourself,” Kevin chuckled at Travis’s pained expression. “Beezer told me.”
“Well, Patty blocked me so,” Travis said, exasperated.
“Sucks, man. Can’t help you with that one.”
By the end of August, Travis had almost completely convinced himself that this was all Nolan’s fault. He’d rewritten his memories. He focused on every time he had seen a text from Nico on Nolan’s phone, or that time Nolan flirted with the waiter when they went out for Travis’s birthday, or the one time that Nolan forgot to pick him up from the airport. It wasn’t particularly clever, but Travis was willing to fool himself if he could avoid dealing with the fact that he didn’t know what to do about Nolan when the world was falling apart. Anything so he wasn't the one who acted like an asshole.
Or maybe he was too used to getting his way, Nolan always there to forgive his flaws and his mistakes. Nolan, calm and long-suffering, never pushed to the edge no matter how much Travis pushed. He had taken advantage, knowing that he could always charm his way back into Nolan’s good graces.
Maybe he had gone too far this time.
Travis fucked Joel the night before Game 7 because Joel begged him to. Travis got him ready and then laid on his side with Joel’s back pressed to his chest, Joel’s leg hooked up over his arm. Joel sighed out long as Travis pressed into him.
Travis’s breath came out in a groan as he bottomed out. Slowly he started moving his hips, rocking into Joel, picking up the pace and finding a rhythm that had Joel moaning. Joel turned his head to kiss Travis, his mouth desperate. Instead, Travis pushed Joel over onto his stomach and fucked into him harder, Joel pinned to the bed beneath him.
After, as they laid twisted in the bed sheets, Travis stared past Joel and out the window at the lights of Toronto at night.
“So,” Joel whispered, looking young all of sudden, “tomorrow.”
“Yeah, tomorrow,” Travis said, softly placing a kiss on Joel’s back.
“After this?” Joel started. He licked his lips and paused, staring straight at Travis. “There isn’t an us, is there.”
“I don’t think so,” Travis said. He traced his fingers along Joel’s back. “I don’t think I can-”
Joel reached out to touch Travis’s face. “You should tell him that you love him.”
Travis huffed out a laugh. “Suddenly you’re so smart?” Travis rolled onto his back. “What about you? Are you going to tell Morgan how you feel?”
“He doesn’t take me seriously,” Joel turned to cuddle against Travis’s side.
“You are here with me.”
Joel groaned and tried to roll away but Travis tightened his arm around him. “You should talk to him,” Travis said quietly.
“I will if you will.”
Travis had planned it out for days. He laid in the bed in his hotel room in Winnipeg, the a/c on full blast, and thought about how August had slipped away like a moment in time, regrets fading as he thought about Nolan. It was finally sinking in that he was going to see him again.
He drove to Nolan's house and parked out front, dismayed that there seemed to be a party going on, a bunch of Nolan’s stupid friends lounging on the porch. Travis stood on the front walk, the sleeves of Nolan’s hoodie pulled over his hands, and realized that this was the last time he could dream about what Nolan’s face would look like when he finally saw Travis again. In all of his dreams though, Nolan was never so silent or stone-faced when he saw Travis.
Nolan’s friends stared at them as Nolan came out onto the front walk and stared at Travis. “I knew you’d come back to me,” he said bitterly.
“Patty-” Travis started.
“What the fuck were you doing?” Nolan’s face hardened into anger, hurt shimmering behind his eyes. Travis was ready for Nolan to tell him to go fuck himself but he didn’t think it would punch him in gut like this.
“It was just a summer thing. I don’t know what I was doing,” Travis said, miserable. When Nolan didn’t cut him off, he reached out for Nolan, who stepped away. “I don’t know anything but I know I missed you.”
“You only missed me because you’re sick of your thing with Beezer,” Nolan said, staring down at his feet, his shoelaces untied. “You can’t just come back because August is over.”
“That’s not what this is,” Travis said. He could hear Nolan’s friends talking among themselves and the buzz of bugs bumping up against the front porch light. “The only thing I want to do is make it up to you.”
“You don’t deserve that,” Nolan said. He paused for a moment and then turned away.
“I don’t,” Travis nodded. “I should have said,” Travis called out. Nolan paused, listening. “In March, I should have told you how much I love you.”
Nolan looked back over his shoulder, his expression softened almost imperceptibly. “You can try again tomorrow,” he said, walking away.
“Yeah?” Travis said. He thought about following Nolan up the walk, pushing and pushing until Nolan gave in. But then he thought about the opportunity Nolan was giving him, the chance to show up day after day, make it up to him through dedication and time. He could do that. The worst thing Travis had ever done, he had done to Nolan. But now he could make it better.