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Northern Storms

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Heating in the Madison Square Academy dorms has always been questionable at best; it’s an old school, with old buildings that had to have modern amenities threaded around unagreeable architecture.

When Brady and Jimmy moved in during the fall, the smell knocked him back to Christmas-and-Easter trips to his grandparents' church. Brady couldn’t place the source of smell—old wood, old books, old air—but it hadn’t taken long to fade into normality. The fact they didn’t have air conditioning, on the other hand, left them prying at their windows, overloading power strips with fans (all forced upon them by their mothers’ foresight, to their endless gratitude,) anything to get the heavy New York summer air to move. Jimmy spent a lot of time lying on the floor, bare chest heaving slowly, face red.

Their windows didn’t seal. The old wooden sills hung loosely to its frame, and chunks of it would come off when either of them put to much force into opening or closing them. The draft almost seemed like a benefit at first, another tool to utilize when trying to balance uneven autumn temperatures, then as another source of blessed cool air when their radiator kicked in before the cold truly settled.

Well, the cold has certainly hit now. And their radiator barely more than sighed a warm breath, presumably out of spite. It's customary for students to complain, our parents pay how much for us to live in these shithole dorms—but the school gave Brady a really nice scholarship package, so it seemed ungrateful to complain too much.

They’d dawdled too long to do anything about it. The maintenance crew slapped on some band-aids, but there wasn’t much they could do on short notice, so, here they are.

Across the room, Brady can tell that Jimmy is still awake, holding himself too still and not snoring at all. Brady, at least, has the interior wall, and he’s still so cold that most of his body aches a little. His stupid heart aches worse as he watches Jimmy squirm beneath his quilt, curled up on himself.

An idea pulls together in his head. Not exactly a new one, but that doesn't keep him from saying, “Jim, you awake?”

It comes out quiet and halting, even though Brady knows, and he holds his breath as Jimmy’s head pokes out and he peers over. Or at least, Brady thinks he does. The room’s been dark for a while now.

Even the probability of Jimmy’s eyes on him makes Brady flustered, and his tongue feels fat and stupid as he asks another dumb question—”You cold?”

“I’m fucking freezing,” Jimmy replies, soft but clearly not close to sleep.

It’s maybe against their nature, to show weakness to any winter weather systems outside their respective home states, but cold-blooded bragging rights aren't worth much on nights like these, when that bone-chill follows you to bed. So it’s with kindness and sympathy and good problem solving skills that Brady says, “C’mere.”

Brady holds his breath for as long as it takes Jimmy to process that request. His bed creaks. For a second, Brady worries that Jimmy is going is just going to roll over and let the moment dissolve. Then Jimmy slides onto his feet, blanket still wrapped around his shoulders. He hesitates in front of Brady’s bed, who just pulls back his covers instead of risking his voice again.

“Seriously?” Jimmy asks.

Brady swallows, prays he sounds casual as he responds, “You want to warm up or not?”

Jimmy hesitates again. It’s a long, nerve-wracking couple of seconds until Jimmy unwraps himself, throws the quilt on top of the two Brady already has, and starts to slide onto the bed next to Brady. Up close, Brady can make out the Rangers’ seal on the chest of Jimmy’s hoodie, the sleeves tight from where they’re pulled down over his hands. Their team gear is well insulated; Brady’s wearing his, too.

Traditionally, their beds being too small for comfort has been a steady source of complaints, along with general quality-of-life within the dorms. Neither of them are small guys. Both of those facts seem highlighted, underlined, and astricked in bright pink as Jimmy settles next to Brady. He wonders if Jimmy is balancing on the edge, if he should force his back up against the icy wall behind him.

Before Brady can move, a hand glances over his hip, so cold it’s painful, shocking, makes him hiss.

“Sorry,” Jimmy murmurs, but before he can jerk back, Brady is rolling closer, holding him close.

“No, it’s—it’s fine,” Brady rushes to say. This is why Brady called him over, after all. Slowly, carefully, they fit together, legs slotted for comfort, hands tucked in warm places, until they’re so close Brady isn’t sure if it’s Jimmy’s breath or his own blood heating his face.

“Cannot believe our parents are paying for us to live in an icebox,” Jimmy jokes. It’s quiet, too, like he still sees sleep in their near-future. Brady hasn’t felt this wired in forever. He knows it’s a joke, because Jimmy is on full scholarship, because he’s so smart and good that MSA wanted him that bad. Jimmy is going to go to Harvard, and Brady is probably going to back to whichever Minnesota school takes him, and it hurts his stomach a little bit to think about. He might have miscalculated.

His response, as rote and safe as the complaint, goes, “It’s an honor to live, learn, and represent an institution as historical as the Garden—”

“Oh my god, shut up,” Jimmy huffs, and Brady can feel his laughter in his own chest. It warms him more than anything else.

They’re pressed so close together. Brady feels like they’re in a cocoon or nest or some sort of inverse snowglobe. It’s hard not to make something of the way Jimmy’s hands are tucked even further under his sweatshirt, sliding against his back. They’re still a little cool. Brady likes the thought of being there for Jimmy, someone who he can rely on to make things better. Even if it’s just an oversized hand warmer.

Jimmy shifts, getting closer, somehow, and Brady wonders if it was on purpose or just more comfortable, if he’ll ever know peace again—

“Brady?” Jimmy says. Brady’s fairly sure he’s hallucinating the feel of Jimmy’s lips just barely moving against his neck. “Thanks.”

Of course, Brady should say, but instead he asks, “For what?” because he wants to hear it, wants some glimpse into what Jimmy’s thinking about.

“You know. Taking care of me.” It’s almost teasing, and that’s enough to make Brady choke, but it’s strained, too, because it’s Jimmy, and maybe Brady shouldn’t have pushed. Even in the heavy darkness, Brady can perfectly picture the pained press his face gets when people—Brady—make things weird. Probably he’d be walking out of the room if Brady hadn’t, like, entrapped him. It feels like there isn’t an inch of them not touching.

“Anytime,” Brady responds with forced ease. There isn’t far for Brady to go, but he still tries to detangle them slightly, feeling guilty and awkward. Jimmy must have the same idea, though, because he’s moving, too—

At first, Brady thinks their lips brushing is a mistake. A mistake he will hold in his heart and turn over and over forever, but—

Jimmy follows, even as Brady jerks and makes a stupid little noise. He’s never thought of his mouth being particularly sensitive, but it feels like his entire body sets on fire when Jimmy’s tongue just barely brushes the seam of his lips.

Brady can’t breathe. Maybe he’s too obvious about it, can’t quite pull off act like you’ve been there before , because Jimmy pulls back and asks, hesitantly, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Brady wheezes. “Perfect. Just—”

Brady wants to put his hands on Jimmy, so he does, cups his jaw with one hand and twists the other into Jimmy’s barely grown-out curls. He’ll cut them off soon, but Brady’s grateful for them now, loves the softness of it even as Jimmy’s teeth just barely dig into his bottom lip. Their noses bump painfully when they move too quick, and it’s perfect, because it’s just more of Jimmy, kissing Brady, like he can’t get enough either.

Wind rattles against their window, sending a harsh draft into their room.

Jimmy swears. “It’s too fucking cold, oh my god. How is this Earth?”

Brady laughs, breathless, and pulls the blankets further over their heads.

 

° ° °

 

They wake up slow and sluggish, somehow overheating. Their shirts had ended up on the floor at some point, and Brady kicks off another layer of blankets to delay the inevitable. They just lie there for a long moment, not pretending to be asleep but not committing to being awake, either.

Brady’s not sure what he really ever thought would happen after; some were stupidly fantastical, them playing on the same NHL team and getting married and making a family, a picture so perfect it’d put his own parents to shame, others so anxiety-inducing they kept him up at night. This just felt… normal. Like another day. The threads tying him and Jimmy together in that little bed still felt fragile, but the morning sun just seemed to steady them. Brady didn’t want it to end.

Of course, the peace couldn’t last. The doorknob clicking is the only warning they get before Kevin is barging in. He has his backpack, and it’s stuffed past school supplies in a way that implies he isn’t going to leaving for awhile, even before he opens his mouth.

“Next year we’re living in the same building, this is fucking ridiculous,” Kevin says, throwing off his jacket and making himself comfortable on Jimmy’s empty bed. “My house counselor tried to rope me into hiking when I was trying to leave, like, please. No.”

It takes another oddly mundane moment for Kevin to look up sharply, somehow doing a double and triple take without ever looking away. He starts a couple times, “Why are you— when did— what— is that a hickey?”

Brady’s hand automatically jumps up to cover a sore spot on his next, and, well, that’s probably pretty incriminating. Kevin just snorts and says, “You know what? Can’t even say I’m surprised.”

He’s still muttering about housecest when Brady slides back under the covers. Soon, they’ll get dressed, brush their teeth, maybe start working on their own homework, but right now—

Jimmy’s smiling, but Brady still asks, “You good?”

“Yeah,” Jimmy says. “Great.”

“Great,” Brady echos, and it is. He could get used to this being their new normal.