Jamie’s used to the roar and hush that follow a bad hit. He doesn’t pay conscious attention to the crowd during a game, but it’s impossible not to have it in the back of his mind, keeping up a constant commentary on how things are going. And after a bad hit on anybody, home or away, there’s always that roar and hush.
He tells himself that. That it’s always the same, and that nine times out of ten it’s not as bad as it looks, and that he just has to be cool and wait for the medical staff to signal that everything’s okay. Nothing special about this hit compared to any other.
Except that that’s his brother out there, lying on the ice, his helmet knocked off and the refs kneeling beside him. That’s Jordie.
The crowd shouted when he hit the wall and fell to the ice, but now they’re very, very quiet, and Jamie can hear himself breathe, and it’s not. It’s not right. Not at all.
They’d had a fight earlier, before morning skate. That’s what Jamie keeps thinking about, through the rest of the second period. It was a stupid fight, too; he can’t even remember what started it, really, or why it had turned into the two of them jostling for dominance in the middle of the kitchen, shoving each other back and forth and body-checking until Jordie’s elbow caught Jamie under the eye and Jamie hit him hard, enough to send Jordie stumbling back toward the stove and putting his arm out to catch himself.
It was just a little burn, on the heel of his hand. Yeah, it probably hurt like hell, but it wasn’t that big a deal. It definitely wasn’t worth Jordie saying Sometimes, Jamie, I wish I didn’t have to deal with your shit every goddamn day. I wish I didn’t have to see your face.
Jamie thinks about that through the second, and through the intermission while Coach gives them their plan for the third and nobody comes back with a report on Jordie. He thinks about it through the third, when they allow two goals but hang on to pull out the win. He thinks about it through post-game press and his shower and right up until the head trainer comes to find him.
I wish I didn’t have to see your face.
Zeis sits down next to Jamie on the bench. “We took Jordie to the hospital for a CAT scan. He’s still there.”
Jamie nods and reaches for his water bottle, focusing on that for a minute while he lets the words filter in. “Concussion, then?”
“Yeah. Pretty solid hit. He was unconscious for a few minutes, out there.”
Jamie understands why the medical staff talks around things. Well, he kind of understands. They need to be careful, they don’t want to scare people. They hedge their bets, and usually he can be cool about that. Right now, though, he wants to punch Zeis in the face until blood runs everywhere and someone fucking tells him what’s going on.
“He’s not…” Zeis stops and clears his throat. “He’s still pretty disoriented. Kind of out of it. Do you want to go see him tonight or wait until the morning?”
It’s such a stupid fucking question, Jamie kind of can’t believe it. “I want to see him tonight.”
“Okay.” Zeis looks past him for a minute, and Jamie follows his gaze to find one of the PR kids standing there, looking uncomfortable. “Okay. I’m gonna go give them an update that there’s no update, and then you and I will head over there, all right?”
“I can drive myself.” Jamie stands up and reaches for his jacket. “I know what hospital guys go to, Dave. I’ve been there. I can go see my brother without somebody holding my damn hand, you know?”
Zeis has this weird look on his face, like he wants to say something but he’s afraid to. Usually people get like that around Jamie because they think they’re going to make him mad and he’ll just, like, lash out or something, like he’s a barely-trained dog instead of a human being. That makes him angrier than whatever they actually say, most of the time. Fuck people.
“He’s not quite himself,” Zeis says finally. “You should just know that going in.”
“He’s got a fucking concussion. Of course he’s not himself.” Jamie knows about concussions, Jamie has seen Jordie with concussions, Jamie has had concussions. Zeis knows all of that, and the fact that he’s being this weird about it anyway is making Jamie’s stomach knot up in ways he doesn’t quite understand.
Something is really wrong this time.
He has to get past two more team medical staffers and what feels like a whole defensive line of nurses before he finally gets in the same room with Jordie. Jordie is sick-pale beneath his beard, his skin looking almost grayish. Maybe that’s the shitty fluorescent light; Jamie decides it is, because he doesn’t want to think about Jordie looking that bad for real. It makes his stomach knot up worse.
Jordie’s eyes are closed, the machines beeping in calm and steady patterns. Jamie’s no doctor but he knows calm and steady patterns are good. Frantic beeping and flashing lights are bad. Pretty straightforward.
“Hey, Darth,” he says softly, pulling a chair up to the bed. “You sleeping?”
Jordie opens his eyes slowly, blinking at the ceiling, then turns his head and looks at Jamie. A chill runs down Jamie’s spine, because—that’s Jordie, but it’s not. Like Zeis said, not himself, not even in the eyes.
He swallows and tries again. “Hey, man. You scared the hell out of me out there.”
Jordie’s still staring at him, face blank, eyes unreadable. Then they narrow a little. “Jamie?”
“Yeah.” Relief and fear mingle in Jamie’s throat, threatening to choke him. “They couldn’t keep me away.”
“They all told me you were gonna come.” Jordie sits up a little, wincing. “They all kept saying Jamie’s gonna come see you, soon as the game is over, Jamie’s on his way.”
“Well, yeah. Where else would I go?”
“See, it’s weird.” Jordie goes to rub the back of his neck, stopping when one of the monitor wires pulls him up short. “Fuck. Um. That’s weird, to me. That you’re here.”
“Dude, I know we had a fight but I’m still—”
“It’s weird,” Jordie goes on, like he doesn’t even hear Jamie talking, “because I play for the St. John’s Ice Caps, so I’m not sure how I got knocked out in a Stars game in Texas.”
Jamie’s breath stops, his heart stops, everything just—it stops. “Jordie.”
“And even weirder? I’m not sure how my brother Jamie is here playing hockey with me, because Jamie died when he was eight years old.” Jordie’s eyes go to Jamie’s face again, steady this time, like he can see all the way into his heart. “You think you can explain any of that to me? Cause I’d love to hear it about now, I have to tell you. I’ve got no fucking idea what’s going on.”
They keep Jordie overnight for observation and release him in the morning. Jamie comes back to pick him up without any more idea what to say than he had the night before. The rest of the conversation had not gone well; Jamie kept asking if Jordie was sure, and Jordie got more and more pissed off until he finally just told Jamie to go home and leave him alone.
Jamie had been up most of the night thinking about it. And now here he is, standing in the lounge down the hall from Jordie’s room, waiting for someone to wheel him out.
If that even was Jordie. Maybe he should think of him as something else. Not-Jordie. Other-Jordie. Start calling him Phillip, maybe. The person my brother turned into after his concussion…
Jamie’s stomach hurts. He stands there in the lounge like an idiot, clutching his jacket to his chest, until finally a nurse brings Jordie out with his paperwork and a couple of prescriptions.
They ride downstairs in silence, the nurse glancing back and forth between them. Jamie tries his best to smile at her, but it probably comes out weird. Jordie--whatever-- Jamie can’t shake off calling him Jordie in his head--just sits and stares straight ahead, lines of pain furrowed around his eyes and mouth.
He levers himself into the truck okay, at least, and the nurse takes the wheelchair and walks away after getting Jamie’s assurance that he’ll make sure Jordie does his follow-up appointments. Then it’s Jamie’s turn to climb into the truck, frown at the dashboard, and finally break the silence.
“You got prescriptions? We should get those on the way home.”
“Yeah.” Jordie shuffles through the pile of papers and picks a few out, laying them on the seat between them. “She said they called them in to the pharmacy they have on file for me.”
“Great. Should be ready when we get there, then.” Jamie puts the truck in drive and steers out of the lot, silently cursing Jordie’s fondness for this oversized, hard-to-navigate piece of shit.
“I had time to think about it,” Jordie says once they’re safely on the road. “I mean, I couldn’t do anything else except lie there and think, you know?”
“Yeah.” Jamie glances at him from the corner of his eye. “Think about what?”
“How I got here. With you.”
Jamie takes a careful breath, opening his mouth to ask Jordie if he’s sure again, then shuts it and nods, hitting his turn signal instead. No point starting a fight in the middle of traffic.
“It’s just like on TV,” Jordie goes on, gripping the aw-shit handle tightly even though Jamie’s barely doing thirty. “Or, like, the movies. But it’s a real thing, too, you know? I’ve seen documentaries on it. String theory.”
Jamie nods again. “I’ve got no fucking idea what you’re talking about.”
“Alternate universes. Like, alternate timelines? You know? Every decision you make, everything that happens, there’s an alternate version where things went another way. They just, like, go out forever.”
“What does that have to do with strings?”
“I don’t know. It’s just what they call it. Anyway, that must be what this is. I hit my head and it knocked me from my timeline into yours. Where you’re… alive, and shit, and we both play in Dallas.”
“So… so this universe’s Jordie is in your universe? In Newfoundland?”
Jordie shrugs and looks out the window. “I don’t know. Maybe. Or maybe it was, like, a domino effect and he’s fifteen universes down the road. I don’t know how it works for stuff like this.”
“You don’t know how it works at all. You’re just making all of this up.”
“Do you have a better idea?”
“No.” Jamie doesn’t have any ideas at all. He switches lanes again. “So how do we get things back where they belong?”
“I’ve got no fucking idea.” Jordie drags his free hand through his hair. “Maybe I’m here forever.”
Jamie has to stop for a red light, stomping down hard on the brakes and sending them both lurching toward the dash. “Shit.”
“Watch what you’re fucking doing, Jesus.”
“Sorry. Just. That was a hell of a thing to say, you know?”
“What difference does it make to you?”
Jamie stares at him. “It makes a big fucking difference. I want my Jordie back.”
“Your Jordie.” Jordie’s lip curls a little. “Well isn’t that sweet.”
“Fuck you.” Jamie puts the truck into park and turns to face him. “He’s my brother, and that might not mean anything to you but it sure as hell does to me.”
Jordie watches him, that blank look on his face, then glances out the windshield. “Light is green, dumbass.”
Jamie stomps on the gas and the engine screams. “Put it in drive,” Jordie snaps, and Jamie feels his face go hot and red. So much for not looking like an idiot. Even his actual brother would have yelled at him for that one. Nobody gets away with abusing Jordie’s truck.
They ride the rest of the way to the pharmacy and then to the house in sullen silence, until Jamie pulls into the driveway and Jordie mutters, “Holy shit.”
“What?” Jamie parks and rubs his face, trying to relax the tension out of his neck and shoulders through sheer force of will. It just makes things worse.
“You live here?”
“We both do.” Jamie shrugs and gets out of the cab, shaking the key ring out to find the fob to disarm the lock. “C’mon, you’re supposed to rest.”
“This place is huge. And, like… nice. This neighborhood and everything is really…”
“Well, yeah, I guess.” Jamie looks around and shrugs again. “NHL contracts aren’t so bad, you know?”
“What do you play? Like… you’re not a fourth-line grinder, are you?”
Jamie stops and finally looks at him. Jordie’s eyes are wide and he’s just staring at the house, like he can’t believe it. It softens something in Jamie’s chest; his Jordie had come with him to look at the house, had smiled at him big and proud and told him he’d earned it, but he wasn’t impressed by it.
“I’m, uh. I’m a forward, yeah. I’m a starter. I’m sort of the captain.”
Jordie’s eyes go to his face and get wider still. “No shit.” Jamie shakes his head. “And me?”
“You’re a d-man. Solid third and fourth pair.”
Jordie’s face changes again, his jaw tightening and then things going into that blank expression Jamie can’t get a read on at all. “Oh. So you’re… wow.” He laughs, a surprisingly harsh sound, and comes up to the porch. “Wow, little brother’s the big star. The other me must just love the fuck out of that.”
“Dude.” Jamie quickly swipes the fob before Jordie reaches for the doorknob. “It’s not…”
“You own this place, right? And he, like, rents a bedroom off you?”
“It’s not like that.”
Jordie laughs again and makes his way through the foyer to the living room. “I bet it’s kind of like that… wow, everything in here is beige.”
“That was the decorator, not…” Jamie takes a deep breath and drops his keys on the side table in the foyer. “I’m gonna let the dog out.”
“There’s a dog?”
“Yeah. He’s Jordie’s… well. Um. Yeah.” Jamie goes back to the laundry room, silently asking any higher beings that might be listening to help him out with all of this. What a fucking mess.
Juice is wiggling all over his place in his crate, huffing happily until Jamie lets him out. “Go easy, buddy,” Jamie mutters, catching his collar before he can jump up. “Be a good boy. This is gonna be pretty weird.”
Sure enough, Juice sprints across the room toward Jordie, then skids to a halt, his hackles going half-up and his tail dropping.
“Hey, you,” Jordie croons, squatting down a bit. “You’re a handsome boy. What’s your name?”
“Juice.” Jamie clears his throat and nods when Juice looks back at him and gives a cautious wag. “Good boy. He’s okay. Don’t have to protect me from him.”
Jordie shoots him a look, then turns his attention back to Juice, talking in a low voice until Juice creeps forward and allows himself to be petted. Jamie can tell Juice is confused and not really comfortable, but at least he’s not freaking out. And he’s such a soft touch, he’ll accept Jordie being different in a day or two.
Jamie’s less confident about himself.
“I have a dog at home,” Jordie says, rumpling Juice’s ears. “Her name’s Bear.”
“Yeah?” Jamie tries to smile and doesn’t quite make it, but Jordie isn’t looking at him anyway. “What kind?”
“Rottweiler. She’s a sweetheart.” Jordie pats Juice’s neck and sits back on his heels. “I hope your brother’s taking good care of her.”
“Jordie would cut his arm off before he’d neglect a dog.”
The corner of Jordie’s mouth twitches. “I guess that makes sense, that we both like dogs. And hockey. I’m not sure if it works that way for everything, but at least the important stuff is covered.” He stands up slowly and looks around. “Can you show me where my room is? I think I do need to lie down for a while.”
“Oh. Yeah, for sure, this way.” Jamie leads him upstairs and shows him down the hall to Jordie’s room. “Bathroom’s through there. There’s a laptop and an iPad but I don’t know his passwords, sorry.”
“Not supposed to be using screens anyway.” Jordie shuffles over to the bed and sits down, resting his head in his hands. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” Jamie hesitates in the doorway, watching him. He looks really… small. It doesn’t feel right. “Do you need anything else?”
“Not for now. I’ll come find you if I do.”
“Yeah. I’m right down the hall, the second door.” Jamie stands there another moment, then nods to himself and steps back, retreating to his own room. Juice follows at his heels, wagging hopefully. “Sure, come hang out with me, bud,” Jamie mutters, holding the door open for the dog and closing it behind him. “We’ll stay in here and pretend everything isn’t fucking weird for a while, eh? Good plan.”
Jamie hears Jordie go downstairs at one point, and when he goes down himself an hour later there’s a plate with crumbs on it in the sink and Jordie’s prescriptions are gone from the counter. He checks a few worries off his mental list, makes a meal for himself, and eats it on the patio while Juice runs around and takes care of his business.
The next morning. Jamie gets up, takes care of the dog, eats breakfast, and gets dressed for practice, all without a peep from inside Jordie’s room. He stands outside the door for a few minutes, torn between knocking and being afraid of what he might find. It’s really quiet in there.
He hesitates until his stomach hurts and his pulse is pounding behind his eyeballs before he finally gives up and calls out, “Hey, Jordie?”
There’s a moment of silence before he hears footsteps and the door opens a fraction. “Yeah?”
“Glad you’re still alive.” The words fall painfully flat and he rushes to cover. “Uh. I’ve gotta go to practice. Are you gonna come in and… I dunno, hang out, or do you want to stay here?”
Jordie blinks at him. “I think I’d better stay here, don’t you? Trying to have a conversation with people could go real bad.”
“Oh. Yeah.” Jamie clears his throat. “Okay. I wasn’t sure about you staying here by yourself.”
“I’m not gonna steal your stuff, dude.”
“That’s not what I meant. That’s not even what I said.” Jamie doesn’t know what the fuck to do with a Jordie who wants to fight with him all the time. “I just wasn’t sure you’d be okay all alone.”
Jordie’s expression softens slightly. “I’m okay. Probably just gonna sleep, honestly. My head’s still pretty fuzzy.”
“Okay.” Jamie glances down the hall, where Juice is lying at the top of the stairs with a hopeful expression. “If you feel up to walking him, could you take him around the neighborhood? If not, just let him out back for a while. He’s pretty low-maintenance.”
“Got it. We’ll hang out.”
“Great.” If this was his Jordie, Jamie would give him a quick hug, a punch in the arm, and go. With this Jordie, he just… goes. It feels weird and unfinished and leaves him off-balance all the way to practice.
It seems like the whole team crowds around him to ask about Jordie. Jamie forces a smile and lies. “He’s good, guys, he’s fine. Just needs to keep quiet for a while. Sleeping a lot. You know. I’ll tell him you all say hi.”
“Tell Darth the blue line loves him,” Oleksiak says, throwing a towel at Jamie’s head. “We miss him. We long for his embrace.”
“I am not telling him that. Get dressed.”
Cracknell leans around Nemeth and throws a wadded-up t-shirt. “Tell him to answer his texts.”
“Stop throwing things at me. I fucking hate you guys.” Jamie turns away to fumble with his gear, hoping it hides how much Adam just rattled him. Jordie’s texts. His phone. He’s got to get Jordie’s phone. There’s nothing the Jordie at his house can do with it, since he doesn’t know who any of the people texting him are, but…
But it’s Jordie’s phone. Jamie’s Jordie. It has his pictures and his schedule and… and everything. Jamie’s not going to let anything happen to it until he gets his brother back.
He sends a fast email to the equipment staff, asking what they did with Jordie’s stuff when they cleaned up at the AAC after the game, then puts his phone away and hurries to change and get on the ice. He just barely avoids being late, and Lindy’s annoyed, so practice is pretty intense right from the start. He’s glad, honestly; it means he has no time or energy to spend worrying about anything but hockey.
He sits at his stall after practice, too tired to focus on anything but stripping the tape off his wrists. The guys are talking and bullshitting, arguing about lunch and going shopping or something else, he doesn’t really pick up on that part. He unwinds the last strip of tape and starts on the underwrap, watching his tattoos get sharper and clearer as he uncovers them.
The same wave of panic washes over him as when he thought about the phone. Jordie’s tattoos. It hadn’t occurred to Jamie to even look or notice if his tattoos had changed. The medical staff wouldn’t have noticed, either, they were worried about his brain, not his skin.
Jamie heads for the showers, digging his fingers into his wrist just below the brothers forever tattoo. He needs to hurry up and get home, he needs to look at Jordie’s skin and know. He can’t change anything, he’s aware of that even though the panic, but he needs to know. He can stand almost anything if he knows what he’s dealing with, but walking around with questions in his head, that’s too much.
“Hey, Chubbs,” Spezza calls across the showers. “You coming to lunch with us?”
“Nope.” Jamie closes his eyes and ducks his head under the spray, hoping Spezz will take the hint and not ask follow-up questions.
Eaves saves him, by being a dick but he gets a pass for it this time. “He’s gotta get home and check on Darth. You know they’re joined at the hip, man.”
“Oh, yeah.” Spezz frowns and turns his shower off. “That was a bad hit. Make sure he’s not pushing himself too hard.”
Jamie nods, focusing intently on his shower gel. “He’s still in the sleeping a lot stage, but yeah, I’ll be keeping an eye on him.”
“Good man.” Spezza slaps him on the shoulder and leaves the room, Eaves trailing after him a minute later, and Jamie forces himself to take a deep breath. The guys aren’t suspicious. Everything is fine.
Fuck, everything is so far from fine. He can’t even see fine on the horizon. Fine is somewhere up around Victoria right now.
When he gets home he finds Jordie and Juice lying on the couch, a baseball game on the TV.
“Thought you weren’t supposed to be looking at screens,” Jamie says, stopping at the end of the couch.
“I’m just listening, not looking at it.” Jordie blinks at him and then pulls himself up into a sitting position. “How was practice?”
“All right. All the boys were asking about you.”
Jordie raises his eyebrows. “What did you tell them?”
“That you’re still mostly sleeping but doing okay.” Jamie stares at Jordie’s arms, trying to see if all the ink is where he remembers it.
“What are you looking at?” At least Jordie sounds more confused than pissed off; Jamie really doesn’t want to fight any more.
“I was wondering earlier, if you’ve still got the same tattoos, or if they changed.”
“It’s the same body. We just swapped brains, I guess.” Jordie holds his arms out and turns them over and back again, letting Jamie see. “That was one of the first things I noticed, actually, when I had time to think about it. This body hurts a hell of a lot less than mine. I don’t know if your brother is just luckier than me or what, but he’s broken a lot fewer bones.”
Jamie tries to smile. “Yeah, I dunno.”
“I hope he’s not going through all my painkillers. That would suck.” Jordie catches himself and makes a face, one that Jamie can tell is supposed to be apologetic. Jordie doesn’t say anything, though, just clears his throat and rumples Juice’s ears. Not that Jamie wants to pursue that topic much further anyway.
“Did you have lunch yet?” he asks instead, folding his arms over his chest. “I’ve gotta make something for myself, I can make two, if you want.”
“I made something earlier, but I could eat again.” Jordie glances up. “Speaking of tattoos.”
“What does this one on my arm say? Never Quit, I get that, and the rest of them are mostly just flash, but I can’t figure this one out.”
Eventually maybe every third sentence won’t hit Jamie like a punch in the gut. Maybe. “Oh. Um.” He holds out his own arm, tracing his fingers over the ink first one way and then the other. “It’s… brothers, forever.”
“Oh.” Jordie’s face reddens. “You’ve got one too. That makes sense, then. Brothers forever. That’s…”
“We got them when Jordie got signed down here in Texas. We were… you know. We were glad to be playing together.” Jamie’s chest hurts. “We went to the shop and asked the guy if he could do something matching for us and he said he’d done an ambigram like that before, so we just…”
Jordie stares down at his own arm, his face set in that blank, unreadable expression that Jamie already has come to hate.
“So you guys are close,” Jordie says after a moment, right when Jamie’s about to turn and leave the room. “You and the other Jordie.”
“Yeah. Yeah, we’re… we’re brothers.” He knows it’s the wrong thing to say as soon as he says it. “I mean…”
Jordie looks past him at the TV, then winces and turns his head away again. “That’s, um. That’s cool. Me and Jenny have matching tattoos, actually. Back home.”
“Yeah?” Jamie’s heart jumps. “Jenny’s there? I mean, you have a Jenny, too? She’s okay?”
“She’s great, she’s…” Jordie laughs. “She’s fantastic. She’s got all her shit together, you know? All the time. She’s a hell of a lot to live up to.”
Jamie smiles; grins, really. It feels like it’s been longer than a couple of days since he’s done that. “Here, too. She’s the boss. But she doesn’t like tattoos, here.”
“It’s her only one. Mine’s on my arm,” he gestures at a stretch of skin on his inner forearm. “She got hers on her hip, so it’s covered up.”
“What is it?”
“Nothing fancy. Kinda Gothic lettering, you know, it just says JB3.” Jordie’s expression dims a little, his smile fading.
Jamie touches his own arm, picturing it. “Three?”
“Yeah. It’s sort of a memorial, too, I guess. For Jamie.” The smile’s completely gone now, Jordie’s face back in that blank mask and anger creeping into his voice. It’s like Jamie can hear a bell ringing, telling him this round is over.
“I’m gonna go start lunch,” he says, turning away toward the kitchen. “Think I’ll make sandwiches, is that okay?”
“Yeah,” Jordie says. He still sounds pissed, but he doesn’t push. Jamie will take that as a win for now.
After lunch Jamie naps and then goofs around online, hiding in his room longer than really necessary to try to avoid any more weirdness. He knows he can’t keep this level of avoidance up forever, but for now he’s sticking with it. He can’t deal with arguing all the time.
His phone buzzes with an email notification, which turns out to be a reply from Jeff on the equipment staff.
We got 24’s stuff inc. his phone after the game. Can pick it up in the equipment office tomorrow or Sarah says she can bring it by tonight. She’s going over to 91’s to fraternize. Let me know.
Jamie smiles a little and answers that yeah, Sarah bringing Jordie’s stuff by the house is fine. Fraternizing. That’s hilarious.
He drags himself out of bed and goes downstairs, finding the living room quiet and empty. His pulse jumps, worry twisting his stomach, until he glances out the glass doors into the yard and sees Juice romping around while Jordie sits on the patio.
“Hey,” Jamie says cautiously, going out to join them. “What’s up?”
Jordie squints up at him and shrugs. “Just getting a little sun.”
Jamie bites back the urge to tell him he shouldn’t be out in bright light like this. “Yeah, it’s nice out.”
“It always is down here, right? That’s the big selling point?” Jordie grins and tilts his face to the sun again. “I can’t argue with it.”
“Me either.” Jamie grabs one of the other lounge chairs and sits down, groaning a little as he stretches out his legs.
“Sore?” Jordie angles himself halfway toward him. “What’d you guys work on today?”
Talking hockey ought to be neutral. Jamie kicks himself for not thinking of that sooner. “Lots of drills. We spent, like… I dunno, felt like a fuckin’ hour on power-play stuff. It was good, we needed it, but I caught an edge at one point and my hip’s feeling it.”
Jordie just nods, and Jamie remembers too late that this Jordie doesn’t know about his problems with his hips or the surgeries or anything, and doesn’t have any reason to particularly care. “Uh, anyway, the D was running pretty standard drills, I think, like… basics. A back to basics day. You probably could’ve fit right in today.”
“Other than not knowing anybody’s name?”
“Right.” Jamie rubs his hands on his thighs. “Do you want to learn the guys’ names? I can grab a roster. Just, like, so you know while you’re here.”
Jordie chews at his lip for a minute, then shrugs. “Sure, why not? Something to do. I’m gonna be bored out of my fucking mind before too long.”
“Jordie’s got, like, a couple boxes of car magazines. If reading doesn’t bug your head.”
That earns real laughter. Jamie wants to punch the air in victory. “I can always look at the pictures, right?”
“Definitely.” Jamie quits while he’s ahead, going inside to grab a roster and some bottles of water for both of them. He wants to grab some baseball caps, too, because it’s bright outside and Jordie’s gonna start pinking up soon if he keeps sitting out there, but--well. He would hand his Jordie a hat without even thinking about it. This Jordie is different. He has to be careful.
Jordie thanks him for the water, though, so that’s something. He drinks and pores over the roster while Jamie leans back on his lounge chair and watches Juice sniff around the back fence.
“Tyler Seguin,” Jordie says after a few minutes. “How’d he end up here?”
Jamie takes a gulp of water and almost chokes. “Uh. Traded here from Boston.”
“Wow. At home they traded him to San Jose.” Jordie’s brow furrows. “I wonder why that’s different?”
“Well… well, uh, the office here, they thought he’d be a good matchup with me.” Jamie shrugs, feeling his face go painfully red. “We’re a pretty solid top two. Most of the time. Not always. But that was the idea, anyway.”
“Oh.” Jordie blinks at the pages of the roster. “With the Sharks he kinda got adopted by Thornton and Burnzie, you know, they helped him settle in and taught him how to be a grown-up and they all got a bunch of bad shark tattoos together. He’d take a bullet for those guys, it’s a whole… media thing and everything.”
Jamie tries to smile but he definitely can’t. “That’s crazy.”
“Anybody do that for him here? Or did he just kinda go feral?” Jordie flicks to the next page, not looking up.
“Um, well…” Jamie’s mind flinches back from the whole idea of trying to explain it to Jordie. It’s not something that can be explained. It’s something he should just… know. “Nah, he just kinda settled in like anybody, I guess. He’s fine. Good guy. We’re good friends. Um. He and Jordie are friends, too.”
Jordie takes another drink. “So if I see him I better be cool. Good to know.”
Jamie edges a little closer and points to the page. “This is Cracknell, he’s one of Jordie’s buddies on the team.”
Jordie glances at him. “So pay attention to that one.”
“Yeah, definitely. All the D-corp, but Cracknell and Eaves and Rous… I mean. Everybody likes him.”
“Good to know I’m popular.” Jordie goes back to studying the pages closely. “Wow, Patrick Sharp? How’d he end up down here?”
“Just a trade. You know. He’s a good guy, too. All of them are.”
“It’s good to have a good locker room,” Jordie says vaguely, turning another page.
“How’s yours? In St. John’s?”
Jordie’s mouth twists a little, half a smile and half not. “It’s good. We’re a pretty tight unit. I mean, there’s not much else to do in St. John’s, so we hang out together, you know?”
“I miss my guys.” Jordie closes the roster and pushes it away. “I hope your brother isn’t freaking them out too bad.”
Jamie looks away, tracking along the fence until he finds Juice again. “I hope so too.” Thinking about Jordie alone and in pain and trying to convince strangers that he’s someone he isn’t--he can’t keep that up very long. “I’m gonna go run some laundry, I think. You need anything else?”
“Nah, I’m good. Think I’m gonna come in and lie down again. Fuckin’...” He gestures at his head. “Probably shouldn’t have stayed out in the sun so long.”
“I should’ve said something, sorry.”
“Not your job.” Jordie stands up and stretches, then offers his hand to Jamie. It feels right to take it and let Jordie pull him up to his feet. They stand there for a minute, hands still clasped, looking at each other in the too-bright light.
Jordie breaks first, letting go and stepping back. “C’mon, Juice,” he calls, turning toward the house. “Let’s go, eh?”
Sarah knocks on the door just about when Jamie is thinking about starting dinner. He lets her in and takes Jordie’s duffel bag from her, checking the front pocket to find the phone there. It’s stone dead, of course, but just having it makes him feel better.
“Thank you so much,” he says, giving her a quick hug. “Things have been a little hectic, sorry I didn’t come pick it up sooner.”
“No problem.” She tucks her hair back behind her ears and smiles up at him. “How is he doing?”
“Good, good. Pretty good.” He slips the phone into his pocket and sets the duffel aside. “So you’re going over to Segsy’s for fraternizing, huh?”
“Oh geez.” She rolls her eyes. “Thanks, Jeff. It’s just poker night, he’s hosting this week. How come you aren’t going?”
“Because I’m bad at it.”
“You’re not that bad.”
“How much did you win off me last time I played?”
She grins. “Five hundred dollars.”
“Exactly. I’m bad at it. I’m not going anymore.”
“You could just come and hang out.”
“Maybe next time.” He hears the click of Juice’s nails on the floor and the slower beat of Jordie’s footsteps coming down the hall and turns to look, just as Sarah pushes past him.
“That you, Darth? Hey! You had us all worried about you!”
Jordie steps into the foyer and smiles at her, then shoots Jamie a blank, terrified look. Right. Gotta bail him out, help him with this so Sarah doesn’t go over to Tyler’s and tell everyone that something’s wrong.
Luckily Juice is there. He runs up to Sarah, wagging frantically, giving Jamie an opening to say a little too loudly, “Hey Juice, who’s that? Is that your buddy Sarah? Say hi to Sarah!”
Jordie nods quickly and turns back to them. “Sorry, Sarah, didn’t mean to worry anybody.”
She smiles up at him from rubbing Juice’s ears on the floor. “I won’t hold it against you as long as you get better and get back on the ice soon, deal?”
“I’ll do my best.” He leans back against the wall for a minute, then looks at Jamie again. “I’m gonna start dinner. Sarah, you want to stay?”
He’s going too far the other way, saying her name too much, but she doesn’t seem to notice and Jamie doesn’t want to screw anything up by trying to cover.
Sarah straightens up and brushes the dog hair off her clothes. “I’d love to, but I’m heading over to the poker game at Tyler’s. You guys should come.”
“That’s a little much for us tonight,” Jamie says quickly. “But tell everybody hey for us.”
Jordie frowns, but nods to Sarah. “Yeah, I’m still not quite up to it. Gonna be back as soon as I can, though. Tell everybody that for me.”
“Got it.” Sarah laughs and gives them each a hug before she goes, and Jamie lets out a slow, tense breath as he closes the door behind her.
“You were freaking out,” Jordie says.
“I just didn’t want her to go over there and tell everybody something weird was going on.”
“What would they do about it if she did tell them?”
“Make things more difficult?” Jamie shakes his head and goes over to the phone charger by the side table. He plugs Jordie’s phone in and stands there staring at it, waiting for it to pull enough power that he can turn it on.
“That’s gonna take a few minutes,” Jordie says. “Come help me make dinner.”
Jamie blinks. “You want me to help?”
“Yeah? Why wouldn’t I?”
“Usually you just kinda do it. Like. You don’t want help.”
Jordie stares at him for a moment, then laughs out loud. “Wow. Your brother is a wuss. You’re gonna help tonight, bud. That’s all there is to it.”
“It’s not…” Jamie sighs and follows him to the kitchen. “I help plenty. He just doesn’t ask me to most of the time.”
Jordie’s quiet for a moment, and when he speaks it’s guarded, distant. “Was he a good brother? I mean, growing up. Did he do all the older-brother shit like in movies and whatever?”
“You mean protecting me from bullies and teaching me how to talk to girls and that kind of stuff?”
Jordie opens the freezer and stares at the contents. “Sure.”
“Yeah. I mean… well, I was totally hopeless with girls, so not that, but he always had my back and he ran off bullies when he had a chance, and he always just, like, believed in me. No matter what.” Jamie swallows hard, trying to push back the lump in his chest.
Jordie closes the freezer again. “That’s… that’s good. I’m glad. Not that it matters, I guess, but I just wondered.”
“I remember stuff from when I was little. And he was good then, too. So you were a good brother too, I bet.”
Jordie’s mouth twists into a smile, but his eyes don’t change. They’re just really fucking sad. “So what are you hungry for? I’ve got zero ideas.”
Jamie lets him have the change of subject. “There should be some pre-made stuff in there. Just goes in the oven for a while. Meal plan shit.”
“Works for me.” Jordie turns away and Jamie goes back to check on the phone. He can turn it on now and scroll through Jordie’s missed calls and texts while it charges.
Most of the missed texts can safely be ignored; enough of Jordie’s friends have been checking in with Jamie that news will have spread through the whole crew. Jordie’s agent will be getting stuff direct from the front office, so that check-in can wait until this Jordie can do a more convincing portrayal of Dallas Jordie.
The bigger problem has made eight calls and four texts, in addition to the ones to Jamie directly.
“Hey,” Jamie calls down the hall. “You’ve gotta talk to Mom and Dad.”
“Mom and Dad.” Jamie puts the phone down and goes back to the kitchen. “They’ve been blowing up your phone. And mine. I can’t put them off forever.”
Jordie brushes his hair off his forehead and stares at him. “I can’t talk to them.”
“I’m pretty sure they’ll pick up on the fact that I’m not their son.” Jordie shakes his head and turns back to the stove. “Just keep putting them off as long as you can. Unless they’re, like, actually going to get on a plane and come down here.”
“They really might do that, you know.” Not even might; they will. How can Jordie not get this? “Just talk to them for a few minutes. Let them hear your voice. If you’re weird, blame it on the concussion. That’ll keep them calm a lot better than avoiding them will.”
Jordie’s fists clench at his sides and Jamie takes a step back despite himself. “They’re not my parents. How am I supposed to talk to them?”
“Is there really going to be that much of a difference? Come on.”
Jordie shakes his head. “You don’t get it.”
And no, Jamie doesn’t, but--not getting it feels a million times worse with Jordie looking at him like that. Disappointed.
“Call me when the food is ready,” Jordie says. “I’m going upstairs.”
Jamie lets him go and leans against the counter. How long is he going to be stuck feeling this sick, all the time? Sick and just… just really fucking alone, with his brother here and gone at the same time.
By the time dinner is ready and Jordie comes downstairs again, Jamie has had time to come up with a plan. He’s not used to having to have a plan to deal with Jordie, but--well, things are different right now. He is used to making plans for other people sometimes, so he can work with this.
“Okay,” he says once they’re both on the couch with their food and TV trays, and Juice is shut away in the back room with his own dinner to keep him from begging. “Tomorrow.”
Jordie glances sideways at him, wary but listening. “What about it?”
“You’ve got a follow-up appointment in the morning. Can’t skip it.”
Jordie sighs and rubs his face, but nods. “Guess not. Okay. Wake me up in time to get ready.”
“Got it.” Jamie visualizes the list he made on his phone. Next item. “After the appointment I’m gonna call Mom and Dad, and you’ve got to at least say hi to them, okay? I’m telling you now so you can, like, prepare or whatever.” Jordie draws a deep breath, and Jamie puts his hand up to cut him off. “The thing is, tomorrow afternoon I’m leaving on a road trip. Three days. So I’m not gonna be able to run interference as well, and they seriously will freak out and fly down here if they don’t hear from you.”
He can tell Jordie doesn’t like it, but after a slow exhale and a nasty stab at his plate, Jordie nods. “Fine. Okay.”
Small progress, but it counts. Jamie lets himself take a couple breaths before he goes on. “Are you gonna be okay by yourself while I’m gone? Or do you want, like, people to check in on you?”
“How’s that going to work?” Jordie shakes his head. “I won’t know who they are, and if they know your Jordie well enough to want to stop by and check on him…”
“I can figure out some people who won’t make it too weird, if you think you need it.”
“No.” He stabs his fork down again, making the plate shriek. “I’ll be fine.”
“Okay.” Another breath, another visualization of his list. “Uh. Usually, when one of us stays home from a roadie, Tyler leaves his dogs here instead of having his sitter come out. Do you think you feel up to two more dogs? They’re good boys, they get along great with Juice, but if you don’t think you--”
Jordie actually smiles. “I never turn down having dogs around. That would be great, actually. What kind of dogs does he have? Little fluffy things?”
Picturing that is enough to make Jamie laugh despite the tension. “Labs, big chunky Labs. They’re sweet, they love everybody. Won’t give you any trouble. I’ll tell him we’ll pick them up on the way back from the doctor, and we can get everything set up before I leave?”
“Sounds like a plan.” Jordie’s still smiling, and it’s at Jamie now, like… he’s looking right at Jamie and everything. It loosens some of the unhappy knot in Jamie’s chest. “Who are you gonna be playing? Tell me about it.”
The appointment goes fine, or at least that’s what Jordie tells him afterward. Jamie spent the time sitting in the waiting room alternating between a copy of Sports Illustrated and his phone.
“I told ‘em what they wanted to hear,” Jordie says once they’re in the car. “You know how it is.”
Jamie does know. He’s taken his share of hits to the head followed by sitting in the quiet room gaming the concussion-check questions. If you had it together enough to game them, you were okay to play, went the logic. If you couldn’t remember how to fake your way through then yeah, you shouldn’t go back on the ice.
Jordie was carried out of the arena on a stretcher, though. That seems like it should change the rules.
He doesn’t press an argument, though, just drives them to a kolache place, buys them a bag to share and two coffees, and then heads for Tyler’s. Part of his brain is worrying about Jordie, part is thinking about everything he still needs to get together before the roadie, and there isn’t a whole lot left to pay attention to driving the truck. Good thing he would know this route in his sleep.
“Is there a reason you’re trying to get us both killed?” Jordie shakes his head and brushes some bits of crust out of his beard. “For a guy who drives a big truck, you’re not real good at it.”
“It’s your truck. Jordie’s truck.”
“That makes more sense.” Jordie looks out the window at Dallas’ undifferentiated sprawl. “Some of it feels right, you know? The dog, the truck. They’re not familiar, but I can see myself picking them out. Some of the clothes, they’re the sort of thing I would like. The tattoos. The flash ones, I mean, not the...”
Jamie’s stomach hurts. He can’t even blame the kolaches, it’s not them, it’s… everything being fucked. “That’s good, right?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think good or bad comes into it. It’s just… I guess something that’s really part of me. The stuff that every me shares, like red hair and freckles and whatever.”
“Maybe.” Jamie swallows down more unease and takes the exit toward their neighborhood, and Tyler’s. “You sure you’ll be okay while I’m gone?”
“I’ll be fine. Hang out with the dogs, eat, sleep, hopefully my head will fix itself so I can focus.”
“On what?” Jamie hits the turn signal hard. “You going to try to come back to the team?”
“What else am I supposed to do?”
“It’s not your team. You don’t know our plays or anything. You might play a totally different style. How is this gonna work?”
“I don’t know, but I can’t just hide out at your house forever, can I?”
“Shouldn’t we be trying to figure out how to switch you back?”
“How the fuck can we do that?”
“I don’t know!” Jamie brakes hard for a stop sign, sending both of them surging forward against the seatbelts and then falling back. “Shit.”
“Jesus Christ, you’ve gotta watch what you’re doing.” Jordie adjusts his belt across his shoulder, wincing, then rubs at his face. “Does the other Jordie even let you drive at all?”
Jamie fucking hates his life. “He drives most of the time.”
“Thought so.” Jordie turns to look out the window, his shoulders setting in the closed-off line that Jamie’s getting to know too well for his taste. If this keeps up, he’s going to get used to it.
His stomach still hurts. He turns his attention back to the road.
Tyler is as far from ready as Jamie is, so he doesn’t come out to the truck, letting Jamie avoid the awkwardness of navigating another person talking to Jordie for a little longer. When they get back to the house, Jordie takes all three dogs out to the back to run around while Jamie puts their bowls and crates up and throws some extra blankets on the couch.
Then he goes upstairs to get his stuff together for the road. The process is automatic by now; he puts the right things in his suitcase, zips a suit into a bag, tosses his bathroom stuff into a dopp kit. He doesn’t really have to think about any of it, which is good, because he’s mostly thinking about Jordie.
Both Jordies, actually. His brother, somewhere else, alone and maybe not even with as much of a made-up idea of what’s going on as Jamie has. And the Jordie who’s currently downstairs with the dogs, who keeps getting mad at him and doesn’t seem interested in changing that.
Jordie’s phone is lying on Jamie’s bedside table, plugged into a spare charger. Texts and missed calls are piling up; Jamie doesn’t want to read or listen to them, because that would be invading Jordie’s privacy, but the idea leaving the phone turned off and silent feels too much like he’s allowing the idea that his Jordie might not come back.
He unplugs the charger, wraps the cord carefully around the phone, and tucks the whole little bundle into his bag. Leaving it behind would feel even worse than turning it off.
He surveys his room, tosses his tablet in the bag, too, and carries it downstairs. He leaves it at the front door and goes back to the patio, his own phone in his hand.
“Hey.” He holds the phone up at Jordie. “I’m calling Mom and Dad now.”
Jordie’s eyes narrow, but he nods. It’s a pretty small victory, Jordie not going back on what he agreed to the night before, but Jamie will take it.
Their mom answers the phone, breathless and immediately launching into a mile-a-minute monologue. Jamie edges closer to Jordie, trying to get a word in where he can.
“Yeah, Mom, he’s doing okay--yeah, this morning--I don’t know, you gotta ask him--well, I will, if you let me--yeah, get Dad, too.” He closes his eyes, breathing slowly through his nose while Mom fumbles to put the phone on speaker and get their dad in close. They both always yell at the phone when it’s on speaker, Jamie doesn’t get it, he tells them every time that they don’t have to.
“Jamie? You still there?” Mom asks.
“Yes, I’m right here.”
“And Jordie? He’s there? Let us say hi to him, okay, honey?”
“Of course, I was trying to.” He shoves the phone at Jordie, raising his eyebrows and trying to put a lot of meaning into his eyes, so Jordie will know to just be cool and let Mom and Dad do all of the work.
Jordie’s face is pale, but he takes the phone and steps away, half-turning from Jamie. “Hey, it’s me. Yeah. No, I’m okay, I’m sorry I worried you.”
Jamie is pretty sure he should move away, or at least look away, and give Jordie privacy for this. He can’t seem to do it, though, just keeps watching as Jordie’s tense, unhappy expression gradually eases, his eyes getting wider and his skin flushing a bit. He’s not saying anything deep or important, or even really telling them anything the doctor said, just mumbling reassurances that he’s okay.
I told you that was all they wanted, Jamie thinks a little spitefully, but Jordie isn’t paying any attention to him at all. If it was his Jordie here, they would be having a whole conversation with their eyes and tiny changes of facial expression while trading the phone back and forth. It sucks not to have that, it just… it just really sucks.
He finally looks away then, walking over to the edge of the pool. He needs to have someone come out and check the filter, it doesn’t look so great. The number for the pool guy is probably in Jordie’s phone. He always takes care of stuff like that at the house.
Jamie’s throat feels thick and closed up. He clears it roughly and kicks a pebble off the tile into the water. Going on the road will either be a relief or total fucking torture and he has no idea which.
“I will. I promise. Yeah. I’ll tell him.” Jordie’s voice cuts through his distraction, and Jamie looks over at him as he drops his chin and stares down at his feet in the grass. “I--I love you, too. Yeah. I promise. Bye.”
He looks at the phone like he’s never seen one before, rubbing his thumb over the edge of the case. Jamie watches him for a minute before he manages to force himself to speak, because Jordie looks like he could easily stand there all day.
Jordie nods slightly, curling his fingers around the phone. “Yeah. Um. Everything’s fine.”
“You look kind of freaked out.”
“Not exactly.” Jordie’s brow furrows, his eyes still fixed on the ground. “They sound so… they’re different.”
Jamie frowns. “Different how?”
“Just…” Jordie shakes his head and starts toward Jamie, holding the phone out. “They sound so happy.”
“They’re not happy where you’re from?”
“They are. It’s just… it’s different.” Once Jamie takes the phone, Jordie shoves his hands in his pockets, fabric bunching as he clutches at it from inside. “Losing a kid changes you.”
The phone almost slips out of Jamie’s hand and into the pool. “Oh.”
“I didn’t… I mean, I never thought about that.”
“You don’t have to.” Jordie shrugs and brushes past him, whistling high and sharp at the dogs. “You better get going, eh? The plane won’t wait for you.”
The roadie is okay; just okay, they split the games and Jamie takes a hit that leaves him achy and pissed-off for the whole second half of the trip, but they don’t lose anybody long-term and it’s still four points.
He keeps Jordie’s phone in his bag, plugging it in every night and checking the inflow of texts and alerts. He doesn’t answer them, that would be intruding, he just--it’s like a reminder that his Jordie was real, and still is real, just somewhere else. And he’ll be coming back. He has to come back, to answer all these stupid messages, if nothing else.
The last hotel night, he scrolls down through the text conversations until he finds Jordie’s thread of messages with him. Obviously the exact same conversation is on his own phone, but reading it flipped to Jordie’s view of the conversation is that same kind of reminder. He had a brother, he talked to him, they had stupid jokes and they bitched at each other about buying toilet paper and sometimes they said I love you.
Rereading all of that is dumb, but it’s comforting. He’s glad he brought the phone with him, that he’s keeping it close.
Unfortunately it also means that he doesn’t have any way to call and check in on the other Jordie, the one currently living in his house. That was bad planning.
He blows off going to lunch with the guys when they get back, mumbling excuses until Sharpy rolls his eyes and says, “We get it, Chubbs. Go check on your brother and we’ll see you tomorrow.”
Nobody even chirps him about it, which has to mean they’re really worried about Jordie. Jamie’s going to have to make him come see the team soon, kicking and screaming if necessary, just like calling their parents. This Jordie doesn’t seem to get that trying to keep incognito isn’t going to work here.
All three dogs meet him at the door when he gets home, wagging and dancing in circles and jumping up on him, leaving dirty pawprints on his shorts. “Quit it,” Jamie says, trying to pet them and push them down at once. “No jumping. Just. Be good dogs. Ow.”
Jordie whistles sharply from the kitchen and the dogs wheel and run off. It gives Jamie enough of a breather to toss his bag in the corner, run his hands through his hair, and psych himself up to see how Jordie and the house survived the last few days.
It looks like all of the blankets and pillows from the linen closet are now on the couch in a giant nest, and there are more empty cups and plates lined up on the coffee table than there were when he left, but otherwise everything is fine. He finds Jordie in the kitchen with the dogs at his feet and a good-sized lunch spread on the table.
“Hey,” Jordie says, grinning at him. “Hope you’re hungry.”
“Where’d all this come from?”
Jordie points a spoon at a pretty impressive-looking brisket. “I made that. Found it in the chest freezer. The rest of it, Mrs. Spezza and Mrs. Eaves brought over for me day before yesterday. This is what’s left after I’ve been eating it for two days. Those women are intense.”
Juice shoves his nose into Jamie’s hand and Jamie pets him dazedly, staring at Jordie. “Jenny and Katie brought you food? But I didn’t ask them to. You told me not to, so I didn’t.”
“Apparently they thought you just forgot.” Jordie shakes his head and starts dishing himself a plate. “So they show up, and it’s crazy awkward because I have no idea who they are, but they just kinda steamrolled over me and started taking care of things. They went through the kitchen and made a refill list. They yelled at me for not doing the laundry. Then they invited me to go rock climbing with them when I feel better.”
Jamie blinks again. “Rock climbing?”
“Not on actual rocks. They go to a climbing gym, apparently.” Jordie grins down at his plate. “I guess I’m more charming than your Jordie, if he never got invited.”
“I never got invited either!”
“Well, I know you’re not charming.” He laughs at Jamie’s rude gesture and heads for the table. “Come on, boys. Come watch me eat and maybe I’ll let you lick the plate.”
“Tyler’s gonna kill you. Spoiling them.”
“They've been taking good care of me. Keeping me company.”
Jamie frowns a little as he fills his plate. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah. Fine. Pretty boring really.” Jodie's voice is clipped, pretty clearly intending to brush the topic aside. Jamie could push him on it, but it's easier to just let it slide and bring his plate to the table. He digs in to the brisket first, groaning in surprised pleasure. “Holy shit.”
Jordie grins. “Good?”
“What did you do to this?”
“Secret recipe.” He's still grinning, looking at Jamie with real delight, and Jamie instantly knows he'll do anything to keep Jordie looking at him like that for as long as he can. “Your Jordie doesn't make it like this?”
“His is good, but this is… this is another level.” Jamie takes another bite and closes his eyes, savoring it. “Wow.”
“Quit trying to flatter me.” It sounds playful, not angry, so Jamie can still breathe through the rest of his meal.
When they finish they both lean back on their chairs, watching the dogs orbit the table in hopes of magically finding some dropped bit of food. Jamie's just opening his mouth to suggest that they head to the couch and see if any games are on when his phone goes off in his pocket.
“It's Mom and Dad,” he says once he fishes it free. “You've gotta talk to them too, once I'm done, okay?”
Jordie takes a breath and looks like he wants to argue, but instead he stays still and silent, watching Jamie as he accepts the call and let's their parents start shouting at him over the speakerphone. Jamie doesn't realize for a moment that that's Jordie giving in; he's still braced for an argument right up until he finishes recapping the road games and Mom asks for Jordie.
Like the last time, Jordie listens more than he talks, making vague noise of agreement while staring down at the table with wide eyes. Jamie still can't read the emotions there, just knows that they're deep and strong and make Jamie's stomach ache in sympathy.
“Love you too,” Jordie says, and hangs up, squeezing the phone in his hand for a moment before setting it on the table.
Jamie folds his hands in his lap, trying to stay calm and nonchalant. “That was okay?”
“What's…” Jamie hesitates a beat but Jordie doesn't react, just waits. “What's different about them? What feels different?”
Jordie shrugs, his eyes still focused on something distant. “Like I said before. Losing a kid changes people.”
“Changes them how?”
Jordie wipes his hand over his mouth, his eyes settling on Jamie's face finally. There's a momentary flash of annoyance, and Jamie tenses, but then it fades and Jordie starts to talk softly.
“They're… they're sad. My parents are, I mean. Not, like, actively sad every minute, but it's there, in the background, all the time. It's like… a piece of you never leaves the moment you see the body.”
Jamie barely speaks above a whisper. “You? Not them? Like, all of you?”
“Yeah. All four of us are… but it's harder for them. Their kid, you know? You're supposed to protect your kid from everything.” He runs the back of his neck, his gaze drifting to where Juice and Cash are nosing at the trash can. “Me and Jenny, we're still sad but it's not the same.”
“Is that how you guys got close?”
“Yeah. You know. The police investigation and the funeral, that was all… everybody worrying about Mom and Dad, so me and Jenny stuck together. And then they were going to a lot of grief groups and stuff, so we hung out after school and did our homework together and just… It was different at school for a while, too. We weren't Jordie and Jenny Benn anymore, we were the kids whose brother died. So we just kind of… we had each other's backs.” He stops and shrugs, clearing his throat and looking down at the table. “Probably more than you wanted to know.”
“I asked.” Jamie stares down at his hands for a moment, trying to think of anything else he can possibly say. “Thanks, um. For telling me. I mean, for not just telling me to fuck off or something.”
Jordie smiles the slightest bit. “Sure.”
Jamie wants to ask more--he wants to know how the other Jamie died, what Jordie meant when he said the moment you see the body, but he's definitely pushed far enough for one day. They sit in silence for a few moments, watching the dogs wander in circles around the room.
“I should text Tyler,” Jamie says finally. “Find out when he's coming to get them.”
“They're great. I kind of don't want to give them back.” Jordie smiles again, a little more solid than the last one. “I miss Bear, but these guys are good company.”
“They keep Tyler sane. He's bad at being alone.”
“What about you?”
Jamie blinks. “What about me what?”
Jordie’s watching him closely. “Are you bad at being alone?”
“I…” Jamie shrugs, folding his arms over his chest. “I'm not really alone very much to say.”
Jordie looks like he wants to ask something else, but instead he clears his throat and stands up. “Gonna take these guys out one more time before Tyler comes to get them, I guess. I bet he'll come over as soon as you text him, if it's like how you say.”
Tyler does come right over, greeting his dogs in the foyer with hugs and kisses and moving right into hugging Jordie before he has a chance to avoid it.
“Goddamit, Darth,” Tyler says, his voice thick with emotion and his arms wrapped around Jordie as tightly as he can. “You scared the shit out of all of us. Where have you been?”
Jordie isn't hugging him back the way Jamie's Jordie would, but he's trying, he's patting Tyler's back gently, and Tyler's worked up enough that he doesn't seem to notice the difference. “I've been right here, dude.”
Tyler pulls back enough to glare at him. “You've been fucking invisible and radio silent. We thought maybe this was, you know. The bad one.”
Jordie gets it; of course he does, he's a hockey player, he's seen guys get the bad one. “No, man. Not like that. A bad one, but not the bad one. I've just been trying to take it easy.”
“He's not as young as he used to be,” Jamie says. He means it to be a little-brother joke, teasing and dumb, but they both shoot him a look like it was really inappropriate.
He shuts up and goes to get Cash and Marshall’s crates. Fine. Of course Tyler can connect with a different universe's Jordie without even knowing what's going on. That's the most Tyler thing ever.
He expects Jordie to retreat to his room after Tyler leaves. He's prepared for going back to feeling weird and haunted in his own house, afraid to make noise and constantly thinking about what's missing.
But Jordie doesn't go. He sits down on the couch, hugs a pillow to his chest, and looks at Jamie with real interest. “Can you give me a, like, 101 class on this Jordie's life?”
Relief and horror race through Jamie at once. Jordie actually trying will make things a million times easier--but it also feels a lot like admitting a possibility that his Jordie isn't coming back.
“101?” he asks, trying to buy himself a minute. “Like, from childhood, or…”
“Here, mostly. His life in Dallas. Who he's friends with, girls he's dated, routines.” He shrugs. “If I'm going to try to blend in with the team, it's stuff I need to know.”
“So you do want to try? To come back, I mean. To play.”
“What else am I going to do? I can't hide here forever. If the other guys are getting suspicious, and their wives are too, then the coaches and doctors aren't far behind.”
“I just didn't realize you'd come around about it.”
Jordie doesn't smile, but his shoulders relax a bit. “I didn't have anything to do but think about stuff while you were gone, you know?”
“Makes sense.” Jamie drags both hands through his hair, forcing the fear back down into his stomach. He can freak out later. Always later, when he goes to bed, then he can panic himself sick if he wants to. “Where do you want to start?”
They review Jordie's relationships with just about everyone on the team, as far as Jamie knows them. And he knows a lot, really; he and his Jordie are close, they talk about everything. He knows this stuff, and realizing how much he knows it makes him ache with missing his brother even more.
When they finally call it a day and go to bed, Jamie has added a headache to his general unhappiness, which at least means he can't focus enough to get swept up in panicking. He takes some aspirin and chases it with half a Vicodin for luck, then crawls under his blankets and locks out the world for a while.
He wakes up groggy and disoriented, fumbling for his phone on reflex before he realizes that it wasn't his alarm that woke him up. It was Juice, half-on the bed and whimpering, his tail lashing frantically.
“What the fuck,” Jamie groans. “What is your problem? Fuck off.”
Juice whines again, higher and sharper, bouncing more onto the bed to paw at Jamie's arm.
“Get off me, what the hell.” Jamie reaches to seat at him, then stops as he sees that the door is open, and his head clears enough to realize he's hearing sounds from down the hall. From Jordie's room.
He scrambles out of bed and down the hall, choking on his own breath. The sounds from Jordie's room aren't cries for help or anything clear, but muffled thumping and hoarse, wordless groans.
Jordie's door is open a gap, where Juice must have squeezed in and then out again to run and get Jamie. Good dog, Jamie thinks dazedly as he pushes it the rest of the way open and goes inside.
Jordie is thrashing on the bed, his body twisting in a seizure. Everything Jamie has ever heard about what to do in this situation leaves him at once, and he just stands there staring until Jordie gives a particularly raw moan. Then he moves on instinct, still not remembering a thing but desperate to touch, to help, to at least make it stop.
He throws his body on top of Jordie's, weighing him down with simple pressure, pinning his arms and legs with his own. Jordie shudders under him and there are a few moments of unthinking struggle, before Jordie suddenly goes very still.
Jamie's face is an inch away from Jordie's, his breath harsh and rough, when Jordie's eyes open. It's just like the moment in the hospital, when he met those eyes and realized it wasn't his Jordie, not the brother he knew, only this time it's the opposite. This is his Jordie, staring up at him, scared and still under his body.
“Jamie?” His voice, too, it's just… it's right, it's his Jordie. “Jamie? You're here?”
“Yes! Yes.” Jamie grabs for Jordie's hands, squeezing them and trying to shift back so he's not crushing him without breaking body contact. “It's me. You're back.”
“Oh my god. Jamie.” Jordie clings to his hands, frantic pressure that's almost too much. “You're here, you weren't before, and I thought--”
“I'm here. I'm here. I'm not going anywhere, I swear, Jordie.” Forget going anywhere, if he has his way he won't even ever let go of Jordie's hands.
Jordie looks up at him, his eyes so wide and unguarded that Jamie thinks he might be able to see right into his soul. “I'm sorry.”
Jamie shakes his head, squeezing harder. “Don't be sorry. No. Just stay. Stay here with me, Jordie, please.”
“I--” A shudder runs through Jordie's body, and then he arches up off the bed, his head tipping back. Jamie lets go of his hands to grab at his shoulders, settling his weight and pinning him again as Jordie starts to seize.
“No, no, no.” Jamie doesn't realize he's saying it out loud until Juice’s frantic whining rises into barking. “Jordie, no, please!”
It seems like Jordie keeps thrashing under him forever, but it can't be very long, really. It's probably only a few minutes before he goes still again and opens his eyes, and Jamie sees the other Jordie looking back at him.
Jamie sits back on his heels slowly, trying to catch his breath. “Shit.”
Jordie curls in on himself and turns on his side, still gasping.
“Are you okay?” Jamie reaches for him, then hesitates, his hand dropping awkwardly to Jordie's shoulder. “Did you… I mean, Jordie was here, my Jordie, so we're you…”
Jordie nods, rubbing at his face. “I was at home, yeah. Bear was in my face, she was barking, and I was in my bedroom at home in St. John's.”
“Why didn't it stick? When you guys switched, you just… you switched! Why didn't switching back stick?”
“I don't know.” Jordie's voice is dull, cutting through Jamie's angry confusion with apathy. “I don't… I don't know.”
Something clicks in Jamie's head, pieces tumbling together without any input from him. “It happened before, didn't it? While I was gone. That's why the dogs were being clingy.”
Jordie nods. “I was only there for a minute that time, though. This one was longer.”
“So maybe… maybe it's working up to switching you back.”
“I don't know.”
Jamie gets off the bed. “Come on. I'll make coffee. I think we both need it.”
Jordie follows without arguing, collapsing on the couch with Juice beside him while Jamie starts the coffee maker and tries to pull himself together.
When he comes back to the living room, Jordie seems calmer. His eyes are red and wet around the edges, but his hands are steady on Juice's fur and he looks at Jamie directly when he talks.
“I guess the universe is trying to put things back where they belong, but that's harder than moving things in the first place.”
“Makes as much sense as anything.” Jamie hands him his coffee and sits down at the other end of the couch.
Jordie looks at him for a moment, then takes a drink, closing his eyes before he swallows and speaks. “You can sit closer. If you want. You don't have to keep, like, a border zone.”
“I didn't want to bug you.”
“You're not. Honestly I'm a little…” Jordie laughs, a weak unsure sound. “All over the place.”
Jamie moves closer, craving the contact more than he's been able to admit to himself. Jordie half-falls against his shoulder, leaning on him heavily, and Jamie sucks in a breath.
“Fuck,” Jordie mutters. “What a fucking night.”
“Yeah.” Jamie can't forget seeing his Jordie back in his face, looking up at him with so much panic. “Do you need something to eat, too, or anything? I could…”
“No, just… just stop a minute. Let me sit for a minute.” Jamie obediently shuts up and they sit in silence, Jordie's body heavy on Jamie's arm and Jamie slowly, slowly relaxing into the contact, just enough tension leaving him that he can take deep breaths.
“I'm glad you're back,” Jordie says, so softly that Jamie isn't sure he really heard him for a moment.
“Yeah?” he asks after an awkward beat. “I'm glad, too.”
“I missed you.” Jordie draws a slow, deep breath that hisses between his teeth. “That's pretty dumb, eh?”
Jamie can't think of anything to say. “I'm the only person you know here, I guess.”
That earns a soft huff of a laugh. Jordie lifts his head and Jamie winces, bracing himself for mockery.
Instead, Jordie just looks at him, something searching and unguarded in his eyes.
“I don't really even know you,” Jordie says after a moment. “But I feel like I do. Or, like, I know enough. I know the big pieces and I can fill in the rest. I don't know how I know it, I've never…”
He falls silent and Jamie twists in his seat to look at him, a hundred questions rushing through his mind and none of them sticking. Before he can sort any of it out, Jordie lunges toward him, pushing him down on his back and holding him there.
Jamie's mind goes white and he just freezes for a moment, everything dissolving into disjointed pieces that make no sense. Jordie's mouth is on his, kissing him, rough and demanding and with teeth, scoring at Jamie's lips and his cheek while Jordie's beard burns the surrounding skin. Jamie manages a reflexive sound, just a huff of air carrying a questioning hmph?, but Jordie doesn't stop, doesn't even pause.
His hands are on Jamie's shoulders, holding him pinned, tightening when Jamie arches up. He bites again, pain blossoming through Jamie's skin, which sparks something in his mind to start pulling the pieces together. They don't click, though, not until Jordie's knee shoves between Jamie's thighs, forcing them apart.
“Wait,” Jamie gasps, twisting under him. “Wait!”
It's not stop or no and they both know it, the awareness hovering between them. Jordie pulls back enough to look down at him, waiting.
“Just… just slow down, okay?” Jamie gets one hand out from under himself and pushes his hair back off his forehead. “Slower.”
Jordie watches him for a moment, and Jamie knows what he’s waiting for. He expects Jamie to change his mind and tell him to stop. Jamie doesn’t know why he isn’t doing that. It’s just… it’s not what he wants.
“Slow,” he says again.
Jordie leans in and kisses him, more gently this time. His teeth scrape at Jamie, but he doesn’t bite, just licks into his mouth deep and slow. Jamie closes his eyes and gives in, letting Jordie have his way. It seems like it lasts for a long time, but he doesn’t know, he can’t tell, his brain is racing and the only thing that seems to be real or make any sense is the pressure of Jordie’s body on his.
He has to concentrate on not missing a breath, especially when Jordie drags his mouth away from Jamie’s and down his jaw to his neck. He bites again there, more gently but still enough that Jamie jerks under him. Then Jordie’s hands are moving, finding Jamie’s wrists and curling loosely around them, pinning them down while his knee nudges between Jamie’s thighs again. It’s slower, like Jamie asked, but relentless, slowly and steadily opening him up.
He’s still in his boxers but he feels exposed, his legs spread apart and Jordie holding him down like this. Jordie’s gone still, panting against Jamie’s neck, and Jamie’s almost painfully aware of every inch of skin that’s touching him, and of how fast his pulse is going, fluttering in his throat under Jordie’s breath.
Jordie pushes his knee forward just a fraction more, enough that it’s pressed tight to Jamie’s dick. “You’re so hard,” he mutters, and it’s true, he is, Jamie’s body is a half-dozen steps ahead of his racing mind as usual. “Slow, right? You want slow? Just like this.” Jordie’s voice is low, hypnotic, choked back like he’s trying to be careful. “Okay? Let me feel you like this?”
He can see every freckle across Jordie’s cheek, up his temple, into his hairline. He can’t see Jordie’s eyes like this, with Jordie’s face still turned into his neck, but he can see those freckles and the deep red flush under the skin, the only sign he has that Jordie is aroused, too, that Jordie is in this. He can’t see or feel Jordie’s dick with their bodies at this angle. He can’t sort out Jordie’s heartbeat from his own. But Jordie moves again, shifting so it’s not his knee grinding against Jamie but his thigh, and that’s--
“Fuck.” Jamie’s eyes fall closed, his mouth open, and he lets go. He gives in. Whatever it is, he does it, he falls, he becomes a body and a want instead of a mind and a fear.
And Jordie’s kissing him again, on his mouth, his beard leaving a new set of stinging marks while he gives Jamie the pressure and friction he needs through the worn-thin fabric of his boxers. It’s harder than Jamie would normally expect to like, rougher than he is with himself, but it’s working for him, it’s--it’s really working, maybe because he isn’t thinking, not at all.
“Jesus,” Jordie whispers, his mouth sliding over Jamie’s cheek again, leaving a slippery-wet trail of spit that feels cold as the air meets it. “You feel so… does it feel good? Do you like it?”
Jamie’s out somewhere beyond words, but he nods, twisting his wrists in Jordie’s grip until Jordie lets go. Jamie reaches for him, pulling him closer and then getting his hands on his hips, tugging and pushing until Jordie figures out what he wants--a change in angle, a variety in the pressure--and gives it to him.
“Fuck, I want to feel you come,” Jordie says, right in Jamie’s ear, and that’s--that’s it, he’s done, something breaks in his chest and deep in his stomach and he comes in his boxers against Jordie’s thigh, making a noise that’s half a moan and half crying out.
Jordie’s moving before Jamie’s head quite clears, pulling his leg back and shifting on top of Jamie, getting his own dick in his hand and out of his boxers. He’s hard and flushed dark, and Jamie watches half-dazed as he thumbs at the head, pushing the foreskin back, and starts stroking himself fast and rough.
He comes on Jamie’s stomach and the already-wet front of his boxers, the warm spatter making Jamie’s body jerk again in surprise. Jamie still can’t quite come up with words, or deliberate movements; all he can do is keep breathing and staring as Jordie ducks his head and licks his own come off Jamie’s skin.
He rests his forehead against Jamie’s chest, after, and they lay frozen for a moment, both breathing hard and shaking in the fallout.
Finally Jordie stirs, taking a deep breath and sitting upright. “Fuck.” His voice is hoarse, wrecked; he clears his throat and rubs the back of his hand over his mouth. “That was…”
“Yeah.” Jamie nods mechanically, wiping his hand over his stomach. It doesn’t accomplish anything, of course, just transfers the mess to his hand. He blinks at it, then wipes again on a dry patch of his boxers. He needs to throw them in the laundry hamper. He needs some water. He needs to… be somewhere else for a few minutes, alone, so he can think, because he is not doing any thinking at all as long as he’s here.
“Hell of a night.” Jordie clears his throat again. “Maybe we should both crash and, um. Talk about this tomorrow.”
“You want to talk about it?” Jamie can’t imagine what talking about it would even involve. What is there to say, really? We had sex. Yes. We sure did. End of conversation.
Jordie looks at him, a little of the familiar impatience in his eyes, but there’s also something closer to what Jamie remembers from his Jordie, the one who gets him. A hint of affection, maybe. “I think we have to, don’t we?”
“I guess. But in the morning, yeah. Or, no.” Jamie rubs at his face with his clean hand, trying to pull his thought together. It’s barely easier now. “I’ve got morning skate. So… when I get home from that, I guess. Before the game.”
Jordie snorts. “We can’t talk about stuff like that before a game, are you kidding? You need to focus before a game. We’ll talk about it tomorrow night. After.”
Stuff on the other side of a game might as well be on the far side of the moon. It’s a relief to mentally put this stuff there, away from him, in a safe place he doesn’t have to look at yet. “Okay. That sounds good.” Jamie stands up carefully, blushing as his boxers cling to his skin when he moves. “Um. Goodnight, then, I guess.”
He can feel Jordie watching him cross the room, but he can’t quite bring himself to look back and see what Jordie’s face might be saying. His voice doesn’t help, doesn’t give anything away. “Goodnight.”
It’s not a normal gameday.
On the road trip Jamie had been able to push it all to the back of his head and drill his focus down. He’d forced himself into his routine until it started to feel natural, and then actually helpful, like the routine was gonna hold him together if he couldn’t do it himself. Today, though, that’s not working. Nothing is working, including his hands trying to tape up his sticks and his mouth trying to give pre-game quotes.
Part of it is being tired--he didn’t get nearly enough sleep, tossing and turning for hours after he went back to bed, staring into the black space in his bedroom and trying to unknot the feelings racing through his head and his chest and deep down in his belly. Every time he thought he had them even a little untangled, they twisted around each other worse. By the time his alarm went off he was more exhausted than he’d started out.
Jordie stays out of his way when he goes home to eat and nap, but somehow that’s actually worse. Like having a ghost in the house, a presence he’s aware of lurking around the edges but that won’t let him look at it directly. It puts him even more on edge, and his pregame nap is basically a pregame lie-down-and-jitter.
He feels like shit when he gets to the arena, and from the startled looks the guys give him when he walks in, he looks like shit, too. Tyler and Sharpy start toward his stall in unison and Jamie shakes his head, putting his hands up to fend them off.
“Not now,” he says. “I gotta get my head right.”
“Nobody died, right?” Tyler asks. “Cause you kind of look like somebody died.”
Jamie almost smiles. Almost. “Nobody died. I’m just a little off. I’ll get it together by the drop, I promise.”
Sharpy raises an eyebrow at him. “You don’t have to promise us, man. But don’t let Ruff see you either.”
“Don’t I know it.” Jamie turns to his stall and starts stripping out of his suit, silently grateful that Tyler and Sharpy trust him enough to let him have his way a little longer. It won’t last much more than this, he knows; their suspicion and worry is going to overcome the leeway they’re willing to give him, and then he’s going to have to either cough up some answers or throw punches.
Or let them find out that Jordie isn’t Jordie right now. And he can’t let that happen.
“Goddamn it,” he whispers, pulling his pads out of their places. “Goddamn it, Jordie, just… just hurry up and fucking come homeWe’re gonna talk tomorrow. I’m buying you lunch. Stop being an asshole.
At least there’s some time to prepare. He can get home and look in the mirror and practice saying “Nothing’s wrong” until it’s believable.
Jordie’s waiting for him at the house, with food and, mercifully, the DVR’d Canucks-Flames game instead of the lowlight reel of the Stars fizzling around the ice. Jamie fills a plate and chews silently through the Flames kicking the Nucks up one side of the ice and down the other. It doesn’t really make him feel better.
He feels even worse when he finishes eating and Jordie turns the TV off, though. Jamie swallows down his last bite and puts the plate on the coffee table, then folds his hands in his lap, hoping desperately for a last-minute reprieve from this conversation, like maybe the house catching on fire.
No luck. “Okay,” Jordie says, setting the remote down between them. “So. Last night.”
Jamie nods, keeping his eyes on the blank screen. “We had sex.”
“Yeah.” He knows Jordie’s watching him, can feel the pressure of his eyes. “Is that a problem?”
“Um.” Jamie needs a drink for this conversation. He needs three. “It was… unexpected. I mean, we’re… you’re my…”
“But we’re not. I’m not.” Jordie takes a deep breath. “That’s the thing.”
Jamie sits with that for a minute to see if it starts to make sense. No. “What?”
“My brother died when he was eight.” Jordie gestures at him, up and down his body. “You are… not eight. You’re this grown adult, a really attractive guy, who has the same name as him, but my brain can’t make you be him. You just aren’t.”
It feels like everything is moving really fast, or maybe his brain is just moving way too slowly. “If you’re gay, shouldn’t my Jordie be gay, too?”
“I’m not gay. I like both.”
“Okay, then shouldn’t my Jordie like both, too?”
“How do you know he doesn’t? Maybe he just doesn’t act on it. A lot of guys don’t. What about you?”
Jamie opens and closes his mouth a few times. “I don’t know.”
“Right.” Jordie takes another breath and shakes his head. “Anyway. We’re not really brothers. We didn’t grow up together, we’re not… we don’t know each other like that. And I think that makes it different.”
“I… I guess that makes sense.” It does, more or less, as much as anything does right now. “But… but, like. Your body. That’s the same, um, that’s the body I grew up with, and stuff, it’s… it’s his, right? My brother’s?”
“The body’s just a wrapper, you know? I don’t think that part really matters.”
“Oh.” That makes sense, too, pretty much. “Okay, so… so there’s no problem?”
“Assuming we both want it.” Jordie looks at him for a minute, intense and expectant, and Jamie knows he’s supposed to respond but he’s tired and overwhelmed and it’s… it’s a lot to think about.
“Do you want it?” he asks.
“Yeah. Yeah, I do.” Jordie’s frowning now, his arms wrapped around himself protectively. “I thought you did, too, but you’re kind of acting like… not so much, right now.”
“It’s…” Jamie swallows and shrugs. “It’s been a really long day. I think I need a drink and maybe to lie down.”
“Oh. Yeah, of course.” Jordie gets to his feet and shoves his hands in his pockets. “I’ll take Juice out. Get out of your way.”
“You’re not in my way. I just need, like…”
“It’s fine.” Jordie’s already heading for the door, Juice tagging along at his heels. “Don’t worry about it.”
Jamie’s left sitting alone, staring at the dark TV and his plate on the coffee table. He takes that to the kitchen and leaves it in the sink, pours himself a couple fingers of bourbon, and takes them up to his bedroom. The window faces the front of the house, so he can’t see Jordie and Juice, just the empty street. He drinks and waits for a car to go by before he turns the lights out and climbs into bed, where maybe his head will shut the fuck up and he’ll just pass out.
That does not happen.
Jamie doesn’t like to think about his feelings too deeply. He knows what they are, he recognizes them, but dwelling on them never seems to help. It’s better just to push them out of the way and let them fix themselves. Right now, though, he feels like he’s choking on lonely and scared and… and cold, not physically cold but cold inside, all the way around his heart.
He remembers this Jordie asking him, when they were talking about Tyler, if he was bad at being alone. He hadn’t known the answer then. But now he does. He is very bad at being alone. He feels like he’s falling all the time, or drowning, or something else where he’s powerless and out of control and cold everywhere.
He just wants it to stop.
He’s lying on his stomach, arms wrapped around a pillow, one knee drawn up and twisted to the side to relieve the tension in his lower back. It’s an awkward position, but comfortable for the moment, and it lets him hide his face against the bed for long moments until he runs out of air.
He hears the bedroom door open and turns his head, dragging in a slow breath. “Jordie?”
“Hey.” Jordie leans in the doorframe, silhouetted against the hall light. “Look, I know…”
Jamie shakes his head and sits up. “It’s okay.”
“It was a big jump to make, I kind of threw a lot at you, and I--”
“Stop.” Jamie waits until Jordie’s mouth closes and his eyes focus on Jamie’s face, then touches the mattress next to himself.
Jordie looks at his hand, then his face again. “You’re sure?”
Jordie crosses the room, leaving the door open behind him. It lets enough light in that Jamie can see Jordie’s face when he climbs on the bed, when he crawls up it to Jamie’s side, when he leans in to kiss him and press him slowly back down to the mattress.
Hands on him, a body against his body, raw and simple contact; he feels like it’s soaking through his skin, filling his lungs with air and helping his heart beat. It’s grounding him, settling him in the world. It’s not quite like how it would be to have his Jordie here, the brother he knows like himself, not like leaning on Jordie on the couch or a quick pat on the shoulder or even one of those half-serious shoving matches over chores.
But it feels good, and it’s warm and real, and it’s so much better than being left alone.
Jamie wakes up alone, the bedroom door closed. He turns onto his back and stares at nothing, organizing flashes of memory into some kind of a sequence of events from the night before.
(It’s not much, really--their hands on each other, desperate kisses and fumbling out of their boxers and wrestling a little for advantage until Jamie gave in and let Jordie sweep him away.
Jordie broke away from kissing him once to ask, “Have you ever been with a guy before?”
Jamie tried to catch his breath enough to sound calm in his answer. “You know, stuff in juniors.”
“So messing around, not fucking.”
“I guess.” Jamie felt heat racing under his skin, knew he would be turning bright red if there was more light to see by.
Jordie kissed his throat, then let his teeth graze over his collarbone. “Ever successfully sucked a dick?”
“Jesus.” Jamie closed his eyes and shivered. “Define successfully.”
Jordie laughed against his skin and reached down between them, dragging his fingers along Jamie’s cock in a teasing stroke. “So we’ll save that for another time, then.”)
His phone chirps with a calendar reminder and he almost knocks it off the bedside table fumbling for it. A doctor check-in for Jordie and then morning skate right afterward, then hopping a plane for St. Louis. Shit.
Maybe it’s a good thing, actually; he doesn’t have time to worry about anything right now. He has to get moving.
Jordie’s downstairs when Jamie gets there, and he has coffee, which counts as a miracle in Jamie’s book. “Thanks,” he says, taking the mug Jordie offers him and dropping his suitcase to the floor. “I should’ve set my alarm for earlier, sorry about that.”
“It’s fine. We’ve got time.” Jordie turns away to fuss over Juice and Jamie gulps at his coffee, almost welcoming the distraction of burning his tongue. He still doesn’t know this Jordie well enough to know if he’s being so deliberately calm and neutral to put Jamie at ease or because he’s covering up being pissed about something. Not knowing is going to have Jamie on edge all day.
They drive to the doctor’s in silence and Jamie sits in the waiting room again, playing stupid games on his phone and watching the clock anxiously. If the doctor runs over, he’s going to have to leave for morning skate and leave a message with the desk for Jordie to take a cab home. He doesn’t want to do that, the idea of just leaving Jordie like that makes him feel a little sick, even though it isn’t his Jordie. It’s still abandoning. Still wrong.
Jordie comes back from the exam rooms just as Jamie’s working himself up to a real panic. “Let’s get Starbucks on the way back, eh?”
“I don’t think I have time.” Jamie gets to his feet and shoves his phone into his pocket. “We gotta hurry or I’ll be late.”
“Shit. Why did you wait? I could’ve called a cab or an Uber or something… well, not an Uber, I don’t have a phone. I need a phone.” Jordie’s walking out the door as he talks, Jamie falling in behind him. “Why don’t you just give me his phone?”
“Uh.” Jamie misses a step. “It’s locked and shit. I don’t know his password.”
“I bet it’s not hard to figure out.”
Jordie’s phone is in Jamie’s suitcase, turned off and tucked away neatly so he can carry it around like a creep. “I dunno, I tried everything I could think of and it didn’t work.”
Jordie’s password was the address of the house they grew up in. Jamie had cracked it on his first try. He knows he’s a bad liar and he expects Jordie to call him on it, but instead he just keeps walking toward the car. “Maybe I’ll go buy a new one while you’re gone? I’ve got a credit card or something, right?”
“Yeah, his wallet’s in my room. I just kinda…” Jamie stumbles again, hiding it by stopping to get the keys out of his pocket. “Um, I held on to it after we got back from the hospital.”
“Driver’s license in there, too? I’m gonna go stir crazy if I just sit around the house this whole trip again, dude.”
“Yeah. Yeah, his license is there.” Jamie climbs into the truck, concentrating on starting it to keep from letting too much show on his face. “I guess you can drive my car. The keys are just by the door.”
“Why have we been using his truck the whole time if you have your own car, dude?”
He definitely can’t admit that driving the truck makes him feel closer to his brother, so he shrugs and tries to smile as he backs out of the parking spot. “Because this thing is awesome and I never get to drive it usually.”
“Ha. Yeah, I guess I wouldn’t let you drive it either.” Jordie grins at him, a flash of white teeth and warm eyes that make Jamie’s breath catch in his throat.
“Is everything…” Jamie stops and hits the brakes as they approach a light. “Um. Is everything okay? After last night, I mean.”
The smile and warmth fade and Jordie shifts in his seat, twisting slightly so he’s leaning against the door and looking at Jamie. “You tell me.”
“I asked you first.”
“Asshole.” Jordie sighs and looks out the window. “Everything’s okay with me. I can’t read your mind, though.”
That stings. Jamie tries to lean into the pain of it instead of flinching away; he knows his Jordie can’t actually read his mind, either, but it feels like it can, it always has. That’s led to some of their fights but also been a constant comfort through his life.
He can’t have it with this Jordie. It can’t happen. But he can have this other thing, the big amorphous thing that’s just out of sight and that he can’t quite put words to. It’s there, though. It’s there and it’s something he can have while nothing else makes sense.
“Everything’s okay with me, too,” he says, turning his eyes back to the road.
They lose the first game, badly, and everyone gets on the plane in a sullen, shitty mood. On the other end, they go straight to their hotel and nobody even talks about going out. Jamie raids his room’s mini-bar instead, drinking his way steadily through the little bottles until he starts to feel heavy and blurry. It’s a relief.
He sits in the armchair by the window and scrolls through his phone, checking texts, Instagram, his email, and then finally ending up with his thumb hovering over the icon to actually make a call. If he’s on the road and Jordie is at home on IR, he always calls him after a game. They talk about the game, then they talk about nothing, and finally, when Jamie’s stirred out of a bad mood or soothed into sleepiness from a good one, Jordie tells him to go to bed.
Jamie wants that, right now. He doesn’t need it--he’s a grown adult who can take care of himself--but he wants it, so much. He misses his brother. God, he misses Jordie.
He hits the button, goes to his most frequent calls list, and hits Jordie’s number. Jordie’s phone is in his suitcase, turned off. He knows that. But he pretends, while the connection whirs and before the voicemail alert comes up, that maybe Jordie will answer.
You’ve reached the voice mailbox of-- “Jordie Benn.”
That is Jordie’s voice, warm and light, and Jamie gasps a little, dropping the last bottle onto the floor.
The phone beeps, and he reacts on autopilot, dragging in air and then just talking, without thinking, the alcohol carrying him along.
“Hey. It’s… it’s me. Fuck. I didn’t… I didn’t mean to leave a message, I was just going to… shit.” He takes another breath, wishing he had another bottle, a large one, of something strong. “I miss you. I know you can’t… you’re not anywhere that you can get this message. And I’ve got your phone. I mean. This is stupid. But I miss you.”
He can hear the hiss of his own breath against the receiver. “Things are just… I’m kinda fucked up. Without you. It’s hard. And I know that’s stupid, too, you can’t be around all the time. I do okay when you’re just not around but I know you’re…” He trails off, staring out the window. “I know you’re at least in the same fucking universe.”
He doesn’t know what else to say, but he can’t hang up yet. He can’t.
“He doesn’t love me.” The words come out all on their own, like someone else said them for him. They don’t feel like his, even though they’re true. “But he… he wants me. You know? I can’t… you would never. Want me. I think… I don’t know if it’s wrong, still. He’s you but he isn’t you. I just… I just don’t…”
He closes his eyes tightly, fighting back the sting in them that wants to break through into tears. Maybe the problem isn’t that he didn’t have enough to drink, after all. “I love you, and I want him, and he doesn’t… he can’t… but he wants me, too, and that’s… that’s enough, right? It’s enough to make it okay?”
He chokes back a sob, less successfully than the tears. “I miss you and I want you to come home. Please. I don’t have anyone I can talk to, you’re the one I could talk to, but if you were here I wouldn’t have to talk about it anyway. Just please come home, Jordie. Please.”
He hangs up and throws his phone away from him, letting it skitter across the floor, and crawls into the bed, pressing his face against the pillow and fighting to get his breaths even and under control. He’s going to be up all night, he can feel it, and he’s going to pay for it in the morning, but right now there’s nothing he can do.
The road trip ends up a wash; they split the points and lose two guys to injuries, but the top line is really gelling and Jamie feels good about how the team is working together. They need more polish, but the core is there. They can do this. They can almost do this.
Tyler corners him when they get off the plane in Dallas, actually grabs him by the arm and drags him away from everybody else. “You have managed to avoid me this whole trip, Jamie, and I gotta give you credit for that. You were very slick. But now we’re going to talk.”
“There’s nothing to talk about, dude.” Jamie watches the rest of the team walking away toward the buses. “We need to get going.”
“They’re not going to leave us here.” Tyler squeezes Jamie’s arm again, hard enough that Jamie hisses and frowns at him. “What is going on?”
“You look like shit. You’re all distracted all the time. Jordie’s still not talking to any of us. I’ve got this weird feeling that all of that fits together, you know? It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.”
“That’s good, cause you’re sure not one.” Usually going for easy bait like that will sidetrack Tyler, but not this time. He just shakes his head and steps in even closer, getting right up in Jamie’s space.
“You’re coming with me when we get back to the arena, okay? We can do this the easy way or the hard way.”
Jamie scowls at him. “What’s the easy way?”
“We go to lunch, we talk like grown-ups, I pick up the check.”
“And what’s the hard way?”
“I come over to get my dogs and make a scene in your front lawn, and then I tell Lindy that you’re all fucked up and it’s impacting your game.”
That’s over so many lines, Jamie can’t even count them. “What the fuck, Tyler?”
“Hey.” Tyler puts his hands up. “You can make sure that doesn’t happen, just come to lunch with me and tell me what’s going on. Fair deal?”
It’s not a fair deal, it’s a fucking stupid and really manipulative deal, but Jamie is hungry. And tired. And the idea of being able to talk to someone about some of the stuff--not all of it, god, no, and he’ll probably have to be sort-of lying about the stuff he can talk about--might ease some of the pressure in his chest and panic in the back of his brain. Maybe.
“Okay,” he says, stepping around Tyler and starting after the other guys. “The easy way. Lunch. Whatever you want.”
They go to Tyler’s favorite Tex-Mex place, where he orders more tacos than seems reasonable and Jamie plows through fajitas without really tasting them. “So,” Tyler says when they’re both done with the first rush of eating and one and a half margaritas in each. “Tell me what’s going on. What’s really going on, not whatever Darth is telling the doctors.”
“It’s not that.” Jamie pokes at his rice and then pushes the plate away. “It’s really not.” Tyler still looks skeptical. “Look, I know that’s the most obvious answer, but…” Right. He’s got to start lying here, because there’s no way to explain the truth. “But it’s really not a physical thing. Physically he’s fine. He’s coming back to practice tomorrow, I think, and I’m not worried about that at all.”
“Then what the fuck is wrong? If he’s fine, then why haven’t any of us talked to him, and why do you look like a fucking zombie?”
God, Jamie should not have agreed to this. Getting out of it is going to be like wading through quicksand. “It’s… it’s the other thing. You know. The personality thing that can happen with concussions.”
Tyler sits back in his chair, his frown deepening. “He’s not himself?”
“The basics are all there. It’s just… some stuff. Is weird. It’s not enough to worry about.”
“If he’s not himself, then the physical stuff isn’t okay. That’s, like. Part of the physical stuff. Or linked to it. You know, it’s… it’s his brain! It’s all connected!”
“It’s not as bad as you’re making it out to be.”
“Then why do you look so fucking worried!”
Jamie’s body moves on its own, ignoring his fight for control and curling in on itself, until he’s hunched over the table. “Because he’s my brother.”
There’s a minute of quiet, where Jamie can’t bring himself to look up, just stares down at the mess that’s left of his fajitas. He can’t guess what Tyler’s face looks like. He doesn’t want to know.
Tyler’s hand on his shoulder startles him out of his daze. “I get that, dude,” Tyler says softly. “I totally do. Hey, how about I come over and hang with Darth for a while so you can get some rest?”
It’s tempting to say yes, to let Tyler take on some of this. But he can’t do anything without asking Jordie first; everything’s too unstable to bring in somebody else. It’s too easy to fuck up. “He’s gonna try coming to practice tomorrow. Maybe we can go out after? Or you can come over after? That might be good.”
Tyler watches him for a minute before he nods; it’s a really long minute, one that kind of makes Jamie want to break down and cry. He’s bad at this; keeping secrets and dealing with hard stuff on his own and not having Jordie to talk to. He’s really bad at it and it makes his stomach hurt all the time.
“You know,” Tyler says suddenly, and Jamie blinks at him. “You know, everybody cares about you so much, dude. All the guys on the team, and the staff, and--just everybody. I know we don’t say shit about loving each other, but… we do. We all love each other, and we all love you, and, like… dude.” He glances at Jamie and then sighs, frustrated-sounding, and Jamie realizes his face must just be blank and confused. That’s better than the growing total freakout he’s on the edge of inside.
“You only have to feel alone if you want to, Jamie.” Tyler finishes his drink and shakes his head. “Nobody’s gonna make you be alone. Anybody would be here for you if you ask. If you need us. You don’t have to deal with stuff alone.”
It’s hard to get the words out; Jamie has to concentrate really hard, staring down at his plate. “I know. I do know, I get it. It means a lot. It’s just… it’s really hard.”
“I get that.” Tyler falls quiet again, and they both just sit there for too long to be comfortable and not long enough to Jamie to get his control back, before Tyler pats him on the shoulder and they head home.
Tyler comes in to pick up Cash and Marshall, but there’s no sign of Jordie downstairs. Juice wags at Jamie when he shuts the door behind the Seguin crew, and Jamie scritches behind his ears, glancing around the entryway.
The car is in the driveway; the keys are on the table. Jordie must be asleep.
Jamie gives Juice a treat to chew on and goes upstairs, tossing his bags into his own bedroom before making his way down the hall to Jordie’s. The door is open just enough for the dogs to go in and out, and Jamie looks through the crack to find Jordie lying on the bed with a stack of car magazines.
Jordie looks up after a moment. “Hey.”
“Sorry. I heard you and Tyler and I just… wasn’t up to…” Jordie shrugs.
“I get it.” Jamie clears his throat. “Mind if I come in?”
“Course not. Come on.” Jordie puts the magazine down and watches him walk across the room. The attention is weird; Jamie doesn’t know where to put his hands, he’s hyperaware of every step, it suddenly feels like his shirt fits wrong and he’s… exposed, somehow.
“You want to talk about the trip?” Jordie asks, still watching him. It makes Jamie’s brain clumsy and slow. He definitely can’t hold up a conversation, so maybe… it might just be easier to…
He wants it, so much. It’s easy to just give in.
“Jamie?” Jordie prompts, and Jamie shakes his head, moving to the foot of the bed like he’s in a dream. He looks up the length of the mattress at Jordie, following the line of his body slowly to his face, and finds Jordie watching him with a mix of confusion and amusement. “What’s up?”
Jamie licks his lips. “Can I…”
It takes a minute for Jordie to get it, but Jamie can see the exact moment he does; his eyes soften and he smiles, his body going relaxed on the bed as he nods. “Yeah. Yeah, you can… whatever you want.”
Jamie gets on the bed and crawls up between Jordie’s legs, bracing his arms on either side of Jordie’s shoulders and leaning down to kiss him. He takes his time, keeping the kissing slow and lingering, just tasting him. It feels important to find his way back step by step, to not just fling himself forward frantically and grab on with both hands because he’s falling and he doesn’t understand anything that’s going on.
“Hey,” Jordie says softly, his voice rough with concern. “Hey.”
Jamie shakes his head and seeks Jordie’s mouth again, not sure how else to get across that he can’t talk right now, he really can’t, he needs to just… do this. Taste him. Make contact. Make his head stop spinning.
Jordie must get it, because he stops trying to divert him and relaxes into the kiss. His hands settle on Jamie’s sides, wandering up and down from his hips to his ribcage and back. He turns his hands on one downward stroke, brushing his knuckles against the sides of Jamie’s ass, and Jamie bites back a low, helpless grunt. Yeah, he wants that, wants more. Maybe it’s falling but he wants it anyway, and his head has slowed down enough that he isn’t quite as afraid anymore.
He shifts back and settles between Jordie’s legs, ducking his head to rub his cheek against Jordie’s dick through his boxers. He keeps his eyes down, focused on Jordie’s body, lingering on one piece at a time as disconnected abstractions. He can’t look at Jordie’s face quite yet; he needs his brain to slow down just a little more.
Touching should do the trick, body on body, skin on skin. Warm and real and grounding. He slips one hand under the waistband of Jordie’s sweatpants, fumbling around until he finds his dick and then rubbing at it slowly. Jordie gets hard in his hand so easily, filling out with just a little pressure and the play of his fingers.
Jordie’s hand settles on the back of his head, rubbing slow circles against his hair. “You sure you want to--”
Jamie nods and pushes Jordie’s sweats down, getting his dick free so he can get his mouth on it. Sucking cock is the kind of thing he can concentrate on without thinking, just losing himself in his body and letting his brain shut up for a while. Jordie comes in his throat and Jamie swallows him down, eyes closed tight and his free hand down his own sweats, jerking himself off awkwardly. It’s not the most satisfying orgasm, but he gets there, and then Jordie pulls him up the bed and kisses him.
“I would’ve done that for you, you know,” Jordie mumbles.
“It’s okay. I mean, it’s okay if you’re okay.” Jordie takes a deep breath. “Are you okay?”
“I am. Yeah. Just… it was a rough trip.” Jamie sighs. “You hungry? I could make something.”
“No, I’m okay.” Jordie lets go of him when he moves to sit up. “I didn’t switch while you were gone, if you were wondering.”
Jamie’s stomach twists unhappily. “I was gonna ask.”
“Didn’t happen.” Jordie shrugs a little. “Sorry. I didn’t get a copy of a schedule or anything.”
“I know that.” Jamie rubs at his face. “Let’s not fight.”
“We’re not fighting.”
“Okay.” Fine. Whatever. “Everything okay around here while I was gone?”
“Yeah. I went running, did some lifting. Played with the dogs. Mrs. Eaves came by again with food.”
“You’re more popular than I am.”
Jordie smirks and stretches his arms out. “Can’t help that.”
“Shut up.” Jamie sighs and scoots up to lean against the headboard. “Fuck, I’m tired.”
“Should eat before you go to bed or you’ll feel like shit in the morning.”
“‘S true.” Jamie doesn’t move, though. He stares up at the ceiling, and when Jordie reaches over to take his hand and rub slow circles on it, he lets him. “Can I ask you something?”
“What’re you going to do when you get back to your own life?”
Jordie’s quiet for a moment, and when Jamie glances over at him, he’s frowning. “Get back on the team and keep playing, you know?”
“Well, yeah. Of course, that. I guess I meant more… long term.”
“Finish out my contract. Get another one.”
“Right.” Jamie bites back his frustration. This Jordie is never going to fucking talk to him. “Guess I’ll go get something to eat after all.”
“Wait.” Jordie tugs at his hand. “What are you actually asking? I’m not trying to be an asshole, I just… I don’t get it.”
Oh. Jamie’s kind of the asshole here, then. “Just, like. After hockey. What are you going to do?”
Jordie huffs softly and drags his free hand through his hair. “That, right. Well. I mean, I don’t have solid plans. I want to keep playing a while longer. But one of my buddies and me, we’ve talked about going out to the oil fields once we’re done, getting jobs up there and making some more money.”
Jamie blinks. “The oil fields?”
“Yeah. You know, they pay pretty well, if you’ll go out in the middle of nowhere and stay there for a while. Why not, right? I don’t have anything keeping me anywhere else.”
“I… I guess not.” Jamie can’t imagine anything more awful than how that sounds. “Good to have a plan, I guess.”
“What about your Jordie? And you? What are you gonna do?”
“Me? I don’t know yet at all.” He shrugs and lets his head thump back against the headboard. “Maybe coach? Or GM? That stuff’s all… out there. But Jordie, he’s got a plan. He wants to coach kids, either juniors or little kids. He’s gonna be so good at it.”
“He’s good with kids?” Jordie’s voice is odd, that little catch in it that Jamie’s learned to watch out for, that means they’re wandering close to painful stuff.
“He likes them. He wants some of his own, but if that doesn’t work out, coaching will let him be around them a lot. He likes teaching. He’ll be good at it.”
“Huh.” Jordie squeezes Jamie’s hand again, slow and firm. “That’s… that’s great for him.”
“You don’t think you’d like to do that?”
“Shit.” Jordie laughs a little and shakes his head. “Being responsible for kids? No way. That’s… no. Not my thing, man.”
Fuck. Jamie’s so… fucking stupid, not thinking about that. “Maybe juniors then? Not the little kids, but… you know, in juniors they’re already basically people.”
“That’s true.” Jordie closes his eyes. “I’ve never thought about it.”
“Well. Maybe.” Jamie wants to grab him and shake him, to tell him to go home instead of running off to the oil fields and hiding from everything. But what the fuck does he know, anyway? This Jordie is different. Maybe going home would be awful for him. Maybe being alone is better.
Jamie gets out of the bed. “I’m gonna go eat. And then crash. I’ll see you in the morning?”
Jordie nods and rolls away from him, pulling the blanket up over himself. Jamie hurries downstairs, going to the drawer in the far corner of the kitchen instead of to the fridge. That’s where his Jordie keeps his stash.
Jamie doesn’t smoke as much as Jordie does, because it mostly just makes him sleepy, but that’s exactly what he’s going for tonight. Getting sleepy and shutting his brain up, so he can be functional in the morning.
He takes the lighter and bag of joints and goes out to the yard, sitting down on the air-conditioning condenser to light up. It’s hard to think, so he lets himself not do it at all, just stares at the fence and smokes until he feels quieter.
He takes his phone out and looks at it, scrolling through Twitter and Instagram a little before he sighs and gives in to what he really wants to do. He clicks back over to the dialer and calls Jordie’s phone again, drawing the last bit of smoke deep in his lungs and holding it until the voice mail connects and prompts him to speak.
“I think you’ll be back soon but I don’t know. You guys haven’t switched again and I thought you would by now. Maybe we got the whole thing wrong. Maybe you’re never coming back. I don’t like thinking about that, though. That… fucking sucks. I hate it.”
He tosses the end of the joint into the grass. “I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know if I’m trying to make him be you, or… or what. I sucked his dick, and he’s touched me, and I still don’t… I don’t know what I’m doing, or if any of it’s the right thing, and I’m fucking…” He takes a breath and lets it go, feeling the shakiness of his whole body in the simple movement of air. “I’m scared. I’m so scared.”
He’s pretty sure he’d be crying if he hadn’t smoked. Thank god for pot, then. “I’m scared of myself, because I do want it. I like it. It makes me feel… not scared. And if you do come back, you’re gonna hate me for it.” He has to stop to breathe again, his stomach clenching so hard it hurts. “You’re gonna hate me, and I’m gonna lose you. I’ll get you back just to lose you. And I don’t… I don’t know how to do this. But I don’t know how to stop.”
The phone beeps softly, the message time filled up, and Jamie hangs up, tossing the phone away into the grass. His stomach is still clenched tight, and his head is swimming, like he’s gonna puke.
He goes back into the house and goes straight to bed, writing everything else off to deal with in the morning. Things have to make more sense in the morning. They just have to.
The next morning is when Jordie is coming back to practice. Jamie had forgotten about that. It makes the whole day weird--well, that and the fact that he has to sneak outside and find his phone out by the condenser before they can get going at all.
The whole locker room cheers when Jordie walks in. Jamie’s torn between wanting to cheer, too, and wanting to scream at all of them that they’re being tricked, this isn’t the real Jordie, it’s some other guy from a totally different place, where Tyler plays for the Sharks and Jamie isn’t even alive.
He plasters a smile on and lets everyone clap and catcall and give Jordie hugs for a while before he barks out for them to get moving and hit the ice. They’ve got a lot to do, big games coming up, all the boilerplate captain crap he’s learned to say without thinking about it. He’s pretty sure they’ve learned to tune this stuff out from him, too. When he’s actually saying something important, they all know it.
Tyler already had his clothes off when the Benns got to the locker room, so he’s one of the first ones dressed. He makes his way over to Jamie and sits down on the bench, nudging his foot against Jamie’s ankle until he looks at him.
“What?” Jamie pulls his pads over his head. “We gotta skate, dude.”
“Just wanted to see how you’re doing.”
“Yeah? Doing better than you were the other day?”
Sometimes Jamie hates Tyler. Not a lot, and not often, but… sometimes. A little bit. “Yeah. I’m fine. Jordie’s doing good, he’s gonna skate, it’s… it’s all fine.”
“That’s cool. Because you still kind of look like you want to throw up. But you’re sure everything’s fine.”
“Dammit, Tyler.” Jamie puts his head down between his knees. “Don’t do this.”
“I just want to make sure you’re okay!”
“I won’t know til I see how this goes, you know?” Jamie makes himself breathe deep and slow, in and out. “If it goes good then I guess I’m okay. If it doesn’t, then… then I don’t know.”
Tyler’s hand lands on his back and starts rubbing little circles. “It’s gonna be okay. You’re gonna be okay. Just… just don’t freak out, dude. You’re making yourself sick freaking out over this.”
“I can’t stop.” It’s as close as he can come to confessing everything, all of it, how hard everything is right now. He can’t stop. He can’t control anything. Everything is spiraling away from him and he’s falling and it’s just…
Bad. It’s just bad.
“Deep breaths.” Tyler’s voice is low and coaxing, his hand still making circles. “C’mon, Benny, you can do this. You can pull it together. Somebody’s gonna notice soon if you don’t, okay? You don’t want everybody over here asking questions, right? You’re Mr. Private. So lock it up now. C’mon.”
Jamie drags in another breath and grips the edge of the bench hard enough to make his fingers ache. “Yeah. Yeah, okay. I got it.”
“Good.” Tyler rubs a little more, then slaps him on the back instead. “I knew you could.”
Jamie straightens up, taking a quick look around the room and reaching for his practice jersey. He can tell right away that Tyler was right, because a few guys are still looking at him and frowning. Sharpy’s looking, Eaves is looking.
Worst of all, Jordie’s looking, with worry in his eyes like he’s the real Jordie, like how Jamie feels matters to him.
Jamie looks away first, breaking off eye contact before he starts to panic again. “Let’s get out there, eh?” He can be cool about this, be normal, be the captain. For a couple of hours, anyway.
Practice actually goes really well. Jordie skates fine, even with the long break; Jamie thinks this Jordie might even be faster than the regular one. He’s physical in a different way from Jamie’s Jordie, but Jamie isn’t sure if anyone else is catching on to that. They all just seem really happy that Jordie’s there at all.
When the coaches send them to the showers, Jamie’s whole body sags with relief. They made it through, it went okay. For a minute his head slows down and clears up and he could think, if he had to, but he doesn’t--he just kind of feels light and floaty. Things are gonna be okay.
He catches himself just as he reaches his locker, which is good because he can sit down instead of falling down. Shit, he did it again, feeling okay and thinking that things can possibly be okay when his Jordie isn’t here. What is wrong with him, why does he keep forgetting, and practically being okay with replacing Jordie? Maybe it’s because of the sex, maybe he’s just shallow and stupid and--
“Chubbs.” He looks up and Tyler’s standing there again, looking patient and concerned at once. “Shower, dude. C’mon. You smell.”
“You smell,” Jamie mutters, but he gets up and tugs his gear off, then follows Tyler to the showers.
Hot water and getting the sweat off his skin help. He can breathe easier afterward, anyway. He knows Tyler’s still watching him closely, and Kari gives him a one-armed hug on his way out of the showers, which is the kind of thing that only happens when everyone thinks something’s wrong.
Tyler appears again when he’s putting his shoes on. “Good, you’re ready to go.”
“Yeah, ‘m gonna head home.”
“Nope, you’re gonna come with me.”
“You’re gonna come have lunch with me and then take a nap, dude. You look crazy tired.”
“I can sleep at home, can’t I?”
“I don’t know. You’re obviously not.” Tyler moves in close, tugging at Jamie’s arm until he gives in and stands up. “Look, just come over and eat and take a damn nap, and then I’ll be satisfied and leave you alone. Yeah? That’s what you want, right?”
Jamie sighs and reaches for his bag. “It would be nice.”
“Cool. I promise, lunch and sleep and then I’ll let you go home. Scout’s honor.”
“When were you ever a scout?”
Tyler wiggles his eyebrows at him. “I’ve worn the uniform once or twice.”
“Gross.” Jamie gets up and follows him to the door. “I gotta tell Jordie I’m not riding home with him. I’ll meet you in the lot.”
“I already told him. Come on already.”
Jamie’s stomach hurts again--Tyler talking to Jordie when Jamie can’t listen and supervise and make sure everything’s okay is alarming--but there’s nothing he can do about it now, so he falls in step, walks to the garage, and climbs into Tyler’s stupid giant car with him.
He closes his eyes when they come out of the garage and into the sunlight, then just kind of… keeps them closed, all the way back to Tyler’s house. When he feels the engine turn off, he slowly opens them again, blinking until Tyler’s garage comes into focus, and finds Tyler smirking at him like the jerk he is.
“Yeah, you’re not tired at all, buddy.” Tyler shakes his head and takes his seatbelt off. “C’mon. Food, and then you get the fancy guest room with the nice sheets. Cause I like you that much.”
“You’re a good dude, Seggy.” Jamie follows him into the house and lets the dogs jump up on him without putting up a fight. It’s kinda nice, honestly. They’re so happy to see him. He can’t help but smile back at their faces, all big dumb dog grins and drool.
Tyler goes off to cook and Jamie sits down on the floor to cuddle the dogs while he waits. Being still lets his exhaustion catch up with him, somehow; by the time Tyler comes back to get him, he's dropping against Marshall's side, pressing his face against warm brown fur.
“Lunch,” Tyler says, nudging Jamie with his foot. “Then you can sleep. I bet the boys will even nap with you.”
“'s nice of them.” Jamie drags himself to his feet, his body aching like he's been doing bag skates. He doesn't even taste his food, just chews and swallows automatically until his plate was empty.
Tyler shoos him upstairs and Marshall does tag along, wagging slowly when Jamie reaches down to scritch behind his ears. “Good boy,” Jamie mumbles, leading him into the guest room and throwing himself down on the bed.
He feels the bed dip when Marshall jumps up and curls into a circle at his feet. He's dimly aware of Tyler coming down the hall a few minutes later and then carefully closing the door.
Then he's out, deep and dreamless.
When he wakes up, the room is dark. He sits up, disoriented, his feet bumping against Marshall, who's stretched out on his side now.
“Fuck.” Jamie scrubs his hands over his eyes. “What the fuck, Marsh, how long were we asleep? Why didn't your dad come get us?”
Marshall doesn't seem to have any answers. He jumps off the bed and leads Jamie to the door, though, wagging hopefully.
“You must have to pee as bad as I do.” Jamie heads to the bathroom and Marshall runs down the stairs, where with any luck he'll tip Tyler off that Jamie is awake and going to want an explanation for this.
“You needed the sleep,” is all he says when Jamie comes down. “Don't even pretend you don't feel better.”
“It's after six, dude, I'm not going to sleep tonight at all now.”
Tyler is unrepentant as ever. “Bet you will. You want to hang out?”
“I gotta get home and see how Jordie's doing.” Jamie rubs his face again. “Thanks, Seggy.”
“You're welcome.” Tyler gives him a hug, thumping him on the back extra hard, and wanders back to his TV, the usual signal that Jamie can let himself out and walk through the neighborhood back to his place.
He’s groggy enough that he doesn’t think on the walk home, doesn’t work himself up into a fresh state of agitation. He just rubs at his eyes and walks, punches the code into the door and lets himself in, reaches automatically to pet Juice when the dog runs into the entryway to say hi.
Suddenly there’s a body against his, pushing him up against the wall, and he just has time to draw a breath and say “What--” before he realizes that it’s Jordie, and that Jordie’s kissing him.
Jordie pulls back after a moment, laughing a little, his cheeks red. “Sorry, I guess that was kinda weird. Just, like. I thought maybe you took off or something.”
“No.” Jamie shakes his head, trying to pull his brain back online and catch up to the moment. “No, I didn’t, I just… I fell asleep. At Tyler’s.”
“Oh.” Jordie laughs again. “You must’ve been tired.”
“Yeah. I was…” He can’t think of any way to explain it that won’t make Jordie feel bad, or angry, so instead he just says it again. “I was. Sorry I worried you.”
Jordie shrugs. “Not worried, exactly.” He isn’t looking at Jamie anymore, his eyes moving around the entryway like if he just keeps moving, that moment of grabbing Jamie and holding on, revealing too much, might just go away. “I just wondered.”
“Well. I’m here now.” Jamie tries for a smile of his own. “Did you get lunch and stuff?”
“Yeah, yeah. I went out with some of the guys, actually. The other defensemen.”
The spike of panic makes Jamie a little dizzy, but luckily he’s still leaning on the wall. “Oh, wow. How did that… go?” How much did you say?, he thinks. What did you give away? Shit. Shit.
“It was good.” Jordie bends down and rubs Juice’s ears, pitching his voice like he’s talking to the dog instead of Jamie. “They’re good guys, yeah? Nice guys. Kept it light. No big deal.”
Jamie nods stupidly, just like Juice. “That’s great. Glad it went okay.”
Jordie looks up at him and frowns. “Hey, are you okay? You don’t look so good.”
“I am. I’m okay.” He doesn’t sound convincing even to himself. “I just…” He can’t think, he just reaches out, and thank God, Jordie gets it, he comes to him. He moves close enough that Jamie can catch his wrists, and then he lets Jamie pull him in, until they’re pressed together again, Jordie’s weight just enough against Jamie to hold him to the wall.
Jordie kisses him more carefully this time. Not quite gently, but--careful, his tongue exploring Jamie’s mouth, his lips soft on Jamie’s. Jamie closes his eyes and loses himself in it, falling back into the remaining shreds of sleep-fog in his mind, the racing thoughts and fear fading out under the way Jordie makes him feel. He doesn’t have to think like this. He can just fall apart.
Jordie’s hands slide down his body, rucking his t-shirt up and fumbling at the front of his pants, finally getting the button and zipper popped and the fabric parted and pushed aside. Then he’s touching Jamie, fondling him through his boxers warm and slow, capturing Jamie’s little gasps with his mouth so nothing breaks the air around them.
Jordie makes a soft questioning noise, not quite asking with words but asking, and Jamie doesn’t even know what he’s asking for but he nods anyway. He just wants it. Wants Jordie. Wants this.
Then Jordie’s sinking down to his knees and Jamie’s mind goes white, because he didn’t--he didn’t realize, he didn’t mean, but Jordie is guiding his boxers down and his cock out, and his breath is hot against Jamie’s most sensitive skin, and his tongue--
Jamie lets his head thump back against the wall and just tries to keep breathing. Jordie’s hands are on his thighs, heavy and solid, grounding him. He rocks forward, rolling his hips in little thrusts, and Jordie takes it easily, making a noise low in his throat.
Jordie’s so good, so good, his mouth moving and his hands pressing down hard, drawing heat to the core of Jamie’s stomach and shivering tension to the base of his spine until he shakes and comes. Jordie keeps sucking at him until he’s soft, then pulls back, looking up at him with dark, wild eyes and stickiness settling into his beard at the corners of his mouth.
“Jamie.” His voice is hoarse. “Can I…”
He cups his hand against Jamie’s dick, his fingers angled down first to stroke against sensitized skin, making Jamie shiver, then to push back between his legs. Two fingertips press to Jamie’s opening and he shivers harder, his mouth opening in a rough gasp.
“Can I?” Jordie says again, and Jamie nods, lost in it, his stomach trying to tighten again but not quite able to yet. Jordie’s hands are easy on him, guiding him around to face the wall, tugging his clothes down out of the way, guiding his thighs apart. Jamie rests his forehead against the wall, taking hungry, shaky gulps of air while Jordie spits on his fingers and works them against his entrance.
Jordie’s other hand rests on Jamie’s lower back, stroking slowly. “You’ve gotta relax or I might hurt you.”
“‘m fine. Just do it.”
“That’s not really how I like it to go.” Jordie kisses the back of his neck and pulls away. “Wait here. Don’t move.”
Jamie does as he’s told, grinding his forehead against the wall and listening as Jordie’s footsteps run up the stairs and fade out. He doesn’t want to wait too long, doesn’t want to be alone with his thoughts here, half-naked and splayed open against the wall. He wants Jordie to be touching him again, making this real, so Jamie knows it isn’t just a hallucination coming out of loneliness and fear.
Jordie comes back and presses against him again, spit-wet fingers opening Jamie up again until the blunt head of his cock takes their place. Jamie can feel slick latex, easing the slide of Jordie’s cock into his body. He dizzily remembers his Jordie grabbing a box of condoms at the store, the kind that’s pre-lubricated inside the packet. Jamie had given him shit about it and Jordie just rolled his eyes at him. He owes Jordie for that now, with this Jordie fucking into him slow and steady, taking him up against the wall in the entryway of his own house.
Jamie closes his eyes and lets the sensations take over, the slide and pressure inside him, the rough stretch of his body to accommodate it, the burn and sting that gives way to not-quite-pleasure and fullness and then finally something close enough to feeling good that he can understand it that way.
Jordie gasps against the back of his neck when he comes, burying himself deep and leaning on Jamie heavily enough that his thighs shake and he can feel his cheek bruising where it’s pressed to the wall.
“God, Jamie,” Jordie whispers. “God.”
Jamie nods, over and over again, not able to find any words. Jordie pulls away slowly and Jamie turns around, leaning back against the wall again and watching Jordie peel the condom off and pull his own boxers up one-handed.
“I’ll take care of this,” Jordie says, breaking the silence. “And grab some beers? You probably wanna…” He gestures at Jamie, and Jamie nods.
“Clean up,” he manages to say. “Yeah. I’ll do that. Meet you upstairs? Your room.”
He wipes himself down in the bathroom and then climbs into Jordie’s bed, pulling the blanket over himself and staring up at the ceiling. He expects to feel--weird, or different, but he doesn’t. He’s the same. Calmer, as his heart slows and his adrenaline drops. Calmer and a little tired, but that’s all.
Jordie comes in with beers, Juice trailing at his heels. “Okay if I join you?”
“Yeah, of course. Please.” Jamie shifts over so Jordie can lie down, too, and sits up to drink. The silence is wary at first, Jordie watching him closely, but Jamie still feels calm and okay. After a few minutes Jordie seems to get that and settles in, the two of them drinking in silence. It isn’t tense or weird like it’s been before. Jamie feels okay right now, like this. Just being together. It’s not quite like it is with his Jordie, but it’s okay.
Jordie finishes his drink first and sets it on the bedside table, then rolls onto his side to face Jamie. “That was good, right? Downstairs.”
Jamie blinks. “Yeah. Yeah, of course.”
“Okay.” Jordie looks down at his hand, splayed on the sheets. He’s blushing a little, and Jamie realizes with a start that he’s not looking at Jamie because he feels shy. “I just wanted to be sure. I figured you hadn’t done that before and I didn’t want it to be bad, the first time.”
“It was good. I promise.” Jamie reaches out to trace Jordie’s jaw, slowly and carefully, the hair of his beard oddly soft under Jamie’s fingers. “Everything we’ve done has been good. You’re good to me.”
Jordie blushes even more, but he smiles, too. “Good. I know I’m not your Jordie and it’s not… but I care about you.”
Jamie’s chest feels tight, like his heart is swelling up. “I care about you too.”
“Okay.” Jordie leans into his touch, just a fraction. “Sorry for making this weird.”
“You’re not. I swear.” His chest is so tight it hurts, and the only way he can think to make it better is to let words escape. “Can I ask you something?”
He won’t sound so gentle when the question’s out there. Jamie knows it. “How did I die?”
The question is too harsh, the silence that follows too sharp, and Jamie scrambles to soften it. “I mean, your Jamie. How did he die? I know it’s hard to talk about, you don’t have to if you really don’t want to, I just--I’ve been wondering. A lot. I just wanted to ask.”
“I get that.” Jordie rubs at his face and sits up slowly, hunching in on himself. “I guess… yeah, okay. I guess you should know, as much as anybody. The other you, after all.”
Jamie sits up, too, not wanting to leave Jordie alone. “You said it was when I was eight?”
“Yeah. That summer. We used to go camping every summer, the whole family, out in the woods by the lake. Did you do that here? That same campsite, every summer?”
Jamie nods, twisting the sheet between his fingers. “Yeah, definitely. The beginning of August, after my and Jordie’s birthdays.”
“Right.” Jordie’s quiet for a moment, and Jamie makes himself wait, doesn’t let himself push. “I guess I was ten and Jenny was twelve. I remember Mom and Dad saying this was the last year we’d have a kids tent and an adults tent, that next year would have to be a boys tent and a girls tent, because Jenny was getting too old to share with me and Jamie. Jamie got really upset about that, because he didn’t get it, and we distracted him by taking him down to the lake at sunset. Watching the fish come up to the surface, you know?”
Jamie’s chest feels tight again, and his throat, too, like he can’t breathe or swallow right. “Yeah. It’s really peaceful and quiet then, and kinda… kinda magic.”
“Magic. Yeah.” Jordie rubs his face again, pinching at the bridge of his nose. “The next day was really fun. More magic, I guess. We went hiking and swimming and Jenny found a nest of baby bunnies, we watched them for like an hour. It was great.”
Jamie can feel the heartbreak coming, like when the music changes in a movie. “What happened?”
“Ah.” Jordie clears his throat. “Fuck. Um. Well, that night, I guess, sometime. Sometime in the middle of the night. Jamie got out of his sleeping bag and out of the tent and he went down to the lake. I guess. I mean, when we woke up in the morning we realized he was gone, and Dad went looking and calling for him, and he found… down by the lake.”
Jamie leans toward him, resting his forehead against Jordie’s shoulder. “Oh my god.”
“He didn’t let any of us go down there. Didn’t let us… see. He called the cops and it was an hour before they got out there and then just… hours, of all that, the cop stuff, the lights and everyone talking and we just had to sit by the tents and wait. Me and Jenny, we just…”
He trails off and ends in a choked sound, and Jamie leans into him harder. “I’m sorry. Jesus. I’m sorry.”
“They asked us if either of us woke up, if we noticed him leaving the tent, if we woke up even a little bit. We didn’t. If we knew he was leaving the tent we would’ve done something, gone with him or--”
“Hey. Hey. Of course you would’ve. It wasn’t your fault. Jordie.”
“I know.” Jordie presses one hand over his eyes, hard enough that Jamie can see the skin blanching white under the edges of his fingers. “Nobody ever said it was our fault. But you can’t. You can’t, like, forget. You can’t stop wondering what if. You can’t. Neither of us, not ever, we’ll never stop wondering, what if we had woken up, what if we stopped him.”
“I’m sorry.” Jamie puts his arms around him, pulling Jordie against his chest. “I’m so sorry.”
Jordie doesn’t speak for a few moments, just breathes and shakes in Jamie’s arms. When he asks the next question, it doesn’t make sense for a moment, just hits Jamie like a slap. “What about you?”
“What do you mean?”
“What happened here? That night must’ve been the turning point, right? What made here different than where I come from. So what happened? Did your Jordie stop you from going to the lake? Did Jenny? Had Mom and Dad already switched the tents? What was different?”
He’s still shaking, his fingers curling around Jamie’s wrists and pressing in hard. Jamie forces himself to breath evenly, to think. He needs to answer carefully and correctly. He can’t make this worse than it is.
“I don’t remember ever trying to do that,” he says finally. “I don’t remember ever getting up and going down to the lake. I don’t know.”
“Are… are you sure?” Jordie sounds bewildered.
Jamie closes his eyes and rummages back through his memories, fumbling for the parts that tie into this, the times that are close and correct. “I think… okay, if I was eight, that was probably… yeah, I think that was the year we didn’t go camping. Jordie got sick. He got bronchitis, he was a mess, Mom said we couldn’t go. She took us to some preseason Canucks games instead, to make up for it. Jordie and me got warm-up pucks.”
Jordie goes still, his breath hot against Jamie’s shoulder. “You didn’t go?”
“No. That must have been the year, yeah. We didn’t go to the lake at all.”
“I thought… I thought he must have saved you.”
“I guess he kinda did? I mean, he’s the reason we didn’t go.”
“He got sick.” Jordie pulls away slowly, staring down at his hands again. “He didn’t…”
“I don’t think so,” Jamie says as gently as he can. “I’m pretty sure.”
“He saved you but he didn’t rescue you.” His hands come up to cover his face again, and his shoulders start to shake, and Jamie is so braced for more tears that it takes a minute to realize that Jordie is laughing. Painful laughter, but real, shocked and dazed.
“I hated him so much for being better than me.” The words hurt to hear, they hurt in the air. “But it was just dumb luck.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Jamie says again. He doesn’t know what else to say. He doesn’t know if Jordie will really hear him. But he has to say it.
“He was a good brother? He is? He’s good to you?”
“He’s great,” Jamie says, trying to put as much of his heart in his voice as he can. “He’s wonderful.”
“So… so if that’s where things changed, then if it hadn’t happened, I would probably have been a good brother, too.”
“Yes.” Jamie doesn’t hesitate. “You would’ve been great. I know it. The other me… he would’ve been lucky to have a brother like you.”
“I guess you would know.” Jordie slowly pulls his hands away from his eyes and meets Jamie’s gaze. “It’s… it’s really going to suck to lose you again.”
Jamie’s heart freezes in his chest. Maybe it cracks a little. There’s no other way to explain the pain. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m gonna miss you. But… but at least I’ll know. That if it hadn’t happened, I would’ve been good to him. He would’ve turned out like you.”
“Jordie, I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah.” Jordie slowly lowers himself to the bed, pulling Jamie along with him. “Let’s go to sleep, huh? This is… I’m wiped out. It’s so much. Can we just sleep, now?”
Jamie isn’t sure he’s going to sleep at all, maybe ever again. But he nods, and he closes his eyes, and he holds Jordie closer.
Practice the day before a game isn’t as easy as a gameday skate, but it isn’t as intense as a regular day, either, for which Jamie is profoundly grateful. He’s not at 100%, but the practice is around 80, and he can manage that.
Jordie has a good practice, too, from what he can see of the d-line drills. He can’t watch too much, because Tyler and Sharpy and Lindy are all watching him now, day in and day out, like they’re just waiting for him to fuck up enough to justify saying something. He keeps his head down and keeps it together well enough to hold them off for another day. It can’t last forever; he’s pushing the boundaries of what they’ll put up with already. But he’s going to drag out every moment he can before he has to come up with an explanation for why he’s so fucked up lately.
Maybe he should just say fuck it and tell them the truth. He thinks about that while he strips out of his gear and heads to the showers. Hey, Coach, yeah, I’m off my game because Jordie isn’t Jordie. And we’re fucking. It’s not as weird as you think, because he’s not Jordie. But it’s still pretty weird. And I think it’s more than fucking, I think there’s, like, love. Not brother love. Different love.
Or maybe Yeah, Sharpy, I know, you’ve seen it all, you know everything, Chicago, blah blah blah. You ever had a universe swapping concussion before? You know how that works? Oh, you don’t? But I thought you knew fuckin’ everything.
He can’t think of what he’d say to Tyler. Maybe just I’m tired. And I’m fucked up. And Tyler would say I know how that feels. And then he’d let Jamie sleep it all away again.
“Fuck my life,” he mutters, turning his face into the blast of water from the showerhead. He has to snap out of this. Has to get over it. Let whatever’s going to happen, happen. Just keep skating. A bunch of other clichés.
Jordie’s waiting for him at the locker-room door after he gets dressed. Jamie’s heart picks up speed a little, looking at him. He slouches more than Jamie’s Jordie, holds his body a little differently, and his clothes hang on him differently. Jamie can’t take his eyes off him.
“Hey,” Jordie says, straightening up from his lounge against the wall. “You ready to go?”
“Yeah. All set.” Jamie has to brush past him to go through the door, and the little bit of contact sends a shock all the way through him, a fucking zing like biting on foil.
Jordie watches him closely the whole way to the parking lot, and Jamie’s so aware of it he fumbles his keys trying to get the truck door open. “You need me to drive?” Jordie asks.
“No, I’m fine.” He finally hits the right button to unlock the damn thing and climbs inside. “You looked good out there today.”
Jordie buckles his seatbelt and stretches his legs out. “You looked a little rough around the edges.”
“I’m fine.” Jesus. Everyone is a damn critic.
“When we get back to the house I’ll help you relax.” It takes Jamie a minute to get what Jordie means--he says it all matter-of-fact, like it’s no big deal--and when he finally clues in, Jordie’s grinning at him. “There you go, dude.”
“You’re doing innuendo at me right in the middle of the parking garage, in front of God and everybody?”
Jordie glances out the window. “I think we’re mostly in front of Seguin’s Rolls, and the windows are rolled up anyway.”
“Fair enough.” Some of the tension eases in Jamie’s chest, and he gets the truck out of the garage and on the road. If Jordie isn’t still feeling weird about last night, maybe he doesn’t have to, either.
They’re most of the way home and Jordie’s talking about making tacos for dinner when suddenly he stops and lurches forward, grabbing for the dashboard.
“Jord?” Jamie swerves the truck, then pulls over to the side of the road, ignoring the drivers honking from the next lane. “Jordie, hey, what’s up?”
Jordie shakes his head slowly, still bracing himself on the dashboard. “I…”
His body seizes again, falling forward toward the dash, and Jamie throws the truck in park so he can grab Jordie by the arm and haul him backward before he hits his head. Jordie’s eyes are unfocused, his body trembling under Jamie’s hand. His head snaps back, then falls forward again, and Jamie fumbles to undo his seatbelt so he can climb across the seat and hold him down.
Before he manages it, though, Jordie’s head comes up and he looks at Jamie, his eyes wide and clear. “Jamie?”
“Jesus Christ.” Jamie slumps back, letting his head thump against the driver’s-side window. His Jordie, again. Another switch. “Good thing I didn’t let you drive.”
Jordie looks out the window. “We’re on our way home?”
“Yeah. Yeah. Are you okay? How do you feel? Did you hit your head again?”
“I’m okay.” Jordie reaches across the length of the seat and Jamie doesn’t think, just grabs his hands and pulls him close. “Oh my god. Jamie.”
“I’m here. I’m here.” He squeezes Jordie tightly, until he feels him grunt in pain. “Sorry.”
Jordie laughs a little, shaking his head against Jamie’s shoulder. “Don’t let go.”
“Is this… are you back for good? For real? Is it over?”
“I don’t know.” Jordie’s voice cracks a little. “It doesn’t feel like it, if that makes sense? I can’t explain it, it just doesn’t… feel like it’s over.”
“Dammit.” Jamie wants to punch something, but he can’t while he’s holding Jordie. “You’re here now, though. That’s important. Let’s… let’s get home, if you can stay til we get there, you can see Juice and everything, we can talk?”
“I don’t know if I can or not. I don’t know how long it’s gonna last. I hope so? But I don’t…” Jordie shakes, and Jamie’s pulse jumps in panic, but this is shudder of frustration, not changing bodies again. “I don’t know. I don’t know fucking anything.”
“Let’s try.” Jamie gently sits him back up and fumbles his own seat belt back on. He barely checks over his shoulder before pulling the truck back into the lane, and someone blasts their horn, swerving around them and speeding past.
“Don’t get us both killed.” Jordie’s white-knuckling the passenger door. “Take it easy, Jay.”
“Sorry.” Jamie still speeds all the way home, but he manages not to wreck them. It’s the best he can do; all he wants is to get home, get out of the truck, and be able to hug Jordie for real. Touch him, see him face-to-face, talk to him. Prove to all the scared doubting parts of himself that this is really Jordie, that they’re together again.
Jordie doesn’t resist at all; he just lets Jamie pull him out of the truck right in the middle of the driveway, and wraps his arms around him so tightly Jamie can hardly breathe. “Fuck, I missed you,” he mumbles against Jamie’s neck, and Jamie nods, hiding his face in Jordie’s shoulder.
They stand there for what feels like a long time before Jordie pulls back, keeping his hands on Jamie’s shoulders and looking him up and down. “How are you? Are you okay? Taking care of yourself? Not taking dumb chances on the ice?”
“I’m fine! I’m fine.” Jamie wants to hug him again. “Everybody’s watching me all the time, and the other you gets on my case. And we’re playing okay.”
Jordie nods and lets go of him, rubbing his face. “Let’s go inside. You must be hungry. I know I am.”
Jamie hurries into the house, trying to remember what they have that he can put together for Jordie quickly. He’s gotta be the one doing the caretaking this time, Jordie’s been away and it’s up to Jamie to make sure he settles back in here, even if it’s only for a little while.
Thinking about that makes his stomach hurt, so he shoves the thoughts aside and heads for the kitchen, calling back over his shoulder for Jordie to sit down at the table. He steps into the back room and opens Juice’s crate out of habit, reaching down to ruffle the dog’s ears, then almost gets taken off his feet by Juice rushing past him to get to the dining room.
He’d forgotten that Juice can tell the difference, too. Juice leaps into Jordie’s lap without breaking stride, licking his face all over and wagging so hard his whole body shakes, writhing around so he nearly falls onto the floor again.
“Juicey, Juicey,” Jordie croons, hugging him as best he can. “I missed you too, buddy.”
“There’s a dog over there too, right?” Jamie can’t bring himself to go into the kitchen, can’t take his eyes off Jordie even for a minute. “He said he has one, too.”
“Yeah, a big Rottie, she’s really sweet. Good dog. But she’s not my Juicey.” Jordie hugs Juice’s neck and presses his face against his fur. It takes a minute before Jamie sees the hitch of his shoulders and realizes he’s crying.
“Jordie, hey. Jord.” Jamie goes to him, leaning against the back of the chair to get his arms around both of them. “You’re okay. It’s gonna be okay.”
“I know.” Jordie wipes his eyes with the back of his wrist. “Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize to me. Jesus. You’re the one… you’re the one this is fucking with. I’m just here.”
Jordie nods, his head still down, his eyes fixed on Juice’s fur. “You’re not alone.”
That hits Jamie harder than he expected; not only is he not alone, he’s indulging in the other Jordie’s company. He’s taking things that shouldn’t be his.
He carefully brushes his hand over Jordie’s hair as he steps back. “You’ll feel better after you eat. Wait right here.”
It’s hard to concentrating on making lunch while half his attention is tuned toward the other room, trying to hear if Jordie cries out or hits the table. He can’t take it if Jordie switches back yet. Jamie needs at least a few more minutes with him, not even to talk about anything in particular but to see him, touch him, just have his brother here.
It’s still his Jordie when he gets back with the plates, though. He pulls up the chair next to him and they eat with their knees brushing against each other under the edge of the table, Juice perched in Jordie’s lap and his tail slapping against Jamie’s thigh.
“Is he weird?” Jordie asks suddenly. “I mean. Not weird-weird. But him being me but not really me, is that weird?”
Jamie chokes on his next bite and has to cough and swallow before he can answer. “Uh. Yes. Very.”
“In some ways is he like me?” Jordie rests his chin in one hand, the other moving restlessly over Juice’s ruff. “We’ve got some stuff in common?”
“Yeah, I mean…” Jamie shifts to face him, resting his hands on Juice’s back to keep himself from reaching for Jordie directly. “You both love dogs, right? And he likes your truck. And just, like, the kind of jokes you laugh at. The kind of beer you go for. Little stuff like that, that’s the same. He said your tattoos seem like the kind of thing he would get, they seem right.”
Jordie nods. “The ones he has, too. I mean, I get them. And his apartment, it feels like a place I could live, the way it’s set up and stuff. The books and movies.”
“He’s not you, though. The differences are important.”
“I looked up stuff about him. His team bio and articles and stuff. I needed to know what to say to people, right?” Jordie hugs Juice closer. “I read about what happened to--his brother.”
Jamie feels cold, like ice ran down his spine. “He told me. We don’t have to talk about it.”
“It must’ve been awful. I can’t… I can’t really imagine it.”
“Don’t think about it, seriously.” Jamie carefully covers Jordie’s hand with his, on top of Juice’s collar. “He’s close with Jenny, though. He’s not all alone.”
“Yeah, she’s called me a couple times. I think I weirded her out.” Jordie sighs and shakes his head, but doesn’t pull his hand away. “I don’t know. I can’t wrap my head around any of it.”
“Are you back on the ice? Are you playing?”
“Practicing, not playing. I couldn’t… it took me a while to figure out what was going on, how I needed to act. They’re pretty worried about me. Taking it slow.”
“Maybe that’s better. You don’t want to get hurt.” Jamie has no idea how that would work, or which Jordie would have to live with the consequences. He doesn’t want to have to find out. “The guys on the team are nice? He said he has some good buddies.”
“Yeah, they’re all really… they’re good. Blue-collar guys. Grinders. They bring me food and stuff, and hang out. The dog loves all of ‘em, so you know. They’ve gotta be good.”
“I’m glad. I’d hate you to really be all alone.”
Jordie smiles, a little bit. “Apparently I played a couple of years at college, over there. Fairbanks.”
“That’s cool. Drafted?”
“Nah. Worked my way up, just a different way.” Jordie finally looks at him for real, meeting his eyes. “I hate… I really hate not having you there. Knowing why, I mean. If you were just somewhere else, like if we’d ended up playing different places, I could take it, I would be okay. But knowing you’re… you’re not out there, somewhere in the world, it fucking tears me up, all the time.”
“Jordie.” Jamie barely gets the word out as he pulls Jordie into a hug. “It’s gonna be okay. You’re gonna get back here. We’re gonna be okay. We’re gonna keep playing, and keep… we’ll be together, it’s gonna be the two of us. I’m here. I’m gonna be here.”
Jordie slumps against him, shaking his head. “I hope so. God. I feel like I’m falling apart.”
“You’re not. I’ve got you. Let’s… let’s go sit on the couch, huh? You and me and Juice. We’ll just be together.”
Jordie frees one hand to knuckle at his eyes. “And wait for me to switch back again.”
“No! Well. I guess. But not waiting like wanting it to happen.”
That at least gets him a smile--a small, wobbly one, but a smile. “Yeah, I guess. Okay. C’mon, Juicey, let’s go.”
They watch TV together for an hour, leaning on each other and talking about nothing. When Jordie shudders and falls forward, curling in on himself, it’s awful, like it has been every time, but it’s the slightest bit less awful because Jamie knows his brother is there, and misses him, and wants to come home. Even while he’s holding Jordie’s body close to keep him from hurting himself while the other mind settles in and takes control, he holds on to that. It helps a little.
The other Jordie opens his eyes and blinks at Jamie’s face from an inch away. “F-fuck.”
“You okay?” Jamie shifts one hand from holding on to his arm to rubbing circles on Jordie’s back. “That one lasted a long time.”
“Yeah, it did. I was home.” Jordie leans into him, resting his forehead against Jamie’s shoulder. From the corner of his eye, Jamie can see Juice slink to the far end of the couch, curling up small as whatever thing he recognizes as his Jordie instead of the other one changes. Jamie knows the feeling. He wishes he could make himself smaller, too.
Instead he rubs Jordie’s back for a long time, while they sit there in silence, the TV still going in the background.
“I’m tired,” Jordie says finally. Jamie nods and moves to let him go, but Jordie shakes his head and holds on. “Come with me?”
“Of course.” Jamie presses his mouth against Jordie’s temple, not quite kissing him. “I’ll be right up, just let me let Juice out.”
Jordie nods and gets to his feet, slowly untangling himself from Jamie and dragging his hands through his hair. “That was the last one, by the way. At least I think so. It feels like it.”
“The last what?”
“Switch.” Jordie shrugs. “I can’t explain it, but it’s just… I feel it. That next time is going to be going back for good.”
“Oh.” Jamie’s glad he’s still sitting on the couch; his knees wouldn’t hold him if he tried to stand now. “When?”
Jordie shakes his head. “I don’t know. It’s just a feeling. But you’ll have your real brother back, so that’ll… that’ll be good for you.”
“And you can go home.” He means it to sound positive, hopeful, but from the twist of Jordie’s mouth he doesn’t quite manage it.
“I’ll see you upstairs.” Jordie walks away and Jamie and Juice both follow him with their eyes, Juice’s tail wagging slowly and his eyes wide in a way that makes him look like Jamie feels. Like he doesn’t know if he’s happy or sad, or which one is the right answer anyway.
Jamie takes him outside, and stands there watching the half-moon track against the stars. It’s a quiet night, not even the sound of cars drifting through the neighborhood. It feels like if he screamed up at the sky, something that matters might hear him.
The next few days are a whirlwind: the usual round of practice, eating, sleeping, games, with the addition of sex. Like, more sex. A lot of sex. Frantic, desperate sex, until Jamie is sore and chafed all over, his skin red and hot to the touch. From the way Jordie’s moving, he feels the same.
Knowing they have a hard-stop deadline, but not knowing when it is, is a mindfuck. They only have a little bit of time left together, every fuck could be the last one. But it also could just be the next one. There’s no way to know.
It makes them both a little crazy.
Jamie holding on to the back of the couch with both hands, bent double over the armrest, every exhale carrying a rough noise like it’s being punched out of him. Jordie’s fucking into him hard, gasping hot against the back of his neck, whispering things Jamie can’t quite make out because half the words are swallowed back again.
Jordie on his knees at the foot of the stairs, Jamie holding the railing to keep himself upright while Jordie sucks him deep and hard, his beard scratching at Jamie’s inner thighs and his fingertips leaving white marks on pink skin that fade into deep purple bruises.
Both of them tangled in the bedsheets, then kicking them away because they’re sweat-damp and twisted, grinding against each other in a mindless, helpless third round of the night, because maybe, maybe, they don’t know, they can’t know.
And then the walk through the locker room, the steady back and forth across the ice in drills, the heat and electricity of the games, the careful silence in the showers. Everybody’s watching them both with confusion. All of their teammates know something isn’t right, but nobody can put a name on what it is.
They’re both playing well. There’s no reason for them to look like they’re waiting for a bomb to drop, all the time.
Tyler corners Jamie after practice on Friday, their last skate before they leave on a four-day roadie in the morning. “You’re coming home with me again. I already told Jordie.”
Jamie doesn’t bother to argue, just nods and goes along, his hand slipping down his own side to find the bruises Jordie left above his hip the night before. Fingerprints, and teeth over them, blooming deep red, not quite black. He knows Tyler saw them in the shower, and he’s pretty sure Tyler’s going to ask; he doesn’t know how to answer without making Segs even more confused than he already is. How can he say it’s okay, they’re out of love, they’re from so much love we can’t say it, we can’t ever say it, so it’s just… it has to be bodies, it has to be this way, bodies are all we are.
He can’t say that. He won’t. Tyler wouldn’t know how to hear it, and that’s not his fault. Nobody can know how to hear it, because they’re not in this. They’re not standing at the bottom of a lake looking up, through a barrier of space and time and one fucking germ that settled in and bloomed like a flower in Jordie’s ten-year-old lungs one late July. They can’t be.
When they get to Tyler’s house, Jamie follows him inside and sits down on the couch, looking at his hands while Tyler goes to let the dogs out. He listens to Tyler’s voice down the hall, baby-talking to his boys, and something cracks.
The dogs run to see him first, climbing on the couch and licking him frantically. By the time Tyler gets there, Jamie’s got his face buried in his hands, and he’s crying so hard he thinks his heart might break.
Tyler sits with him, patting his back in slow circles, and never asks him to explain anything at all. Jamie knows this kind of broken show of emotions scares the shit out of Tyler. Thank god for these years in Dallas, when he learned that just because he’s scared doesn’t mean he has to run. He can wait it out, and not say anything, and that’s okay.
Once he’s cried himself out, Tyler lets him go upstairs to wash his face, then hands him an ice pack for his eyes and turns HGTV on. “Sit down and chill for a while,” he says. It’s another hour and a half before either of them say anything at all.
Tyler speaks next, too. “Are you gonna make it through this trip?” he asks, flipping the remote slowly between his hands.
Jamie exhales slowly through clenched teeth. “Yeah. Of course.”
“Now convince me.”
“I’m okay. Just needed to… to vent off steam, or whatever.”
“That was a hell of a way to vent.” Tyler picks up the melted ice pack off the couch cushion and tosses it onto the coffee table. “Look. It’s not my business, or whatever? But I’m not stupid. None of the guys are stupid. We can tell that you and Jordie are acting weird, and if you won’t tell us what’s going on, we’ll just jump to conclusions.”
For some reason it’s easier now to come up with an answer that hides the truth but isn’t quite a lie. Maybe because he really did just vent off everything at the top of his brain and he’s too exhausted to be nervous. “We’re waiting for one more thing. Should find out soon. Once that’s past, everything’ll be back to normal.”
Tyler’s forehead furrows. “What kind of thing? Like a medical thing?”
Close enough. “Yeah.”
“But he’s playing, they wouldn’t let him play if he wasn’t cleared.”
“Right. Right.” Somehow even this isn’t sending him into a panic. Maybe he should cry himself sick every day. “It’s not, like, a thing that’ll mess up his playing. Another thing. We don’t want to talk about it unless it’s gonna be a thing thing, you know? Hopefully it won’t. It’ll just go away and we’ll be normal again.”
“What if it doesn’t?” Jamie just shrugs, and after a minute Tyler shakes his head and sighs. “You’re fucking impossible, Chubbs, and if you weren’t my friend I would kick your ass for this. But okay. Fine. Let me know when whatever it is is over.”
As road trips go, Chicago’s a good one. Great food, a fun city to walk around, fancy-ass hotels. Jamie and Jordie break off from the team and get some drinks on their own after dinner. They don’t talk much, just watch the games on the TV over the bar and enjoy their beers. Jamie’s stomach is warm and tight with anticipation the whole time; he knows what’s going to happen back at the hotel, once curfew’s past and they’re all checked in as snug in their beds.
They haven’t talked about it, he just knows. Jordie’s little glances at him, the way Jordie’s hand keeps brushing against Jamie’s hip while they stand there and drink, and just the last few weeks he’s spent with this Jordie, how he’s learned to read him. It’s weird how fast that’s happened, if he thinks about it, but right now he doesn’t care. He just wants to get back to the hotel and count down to when Jordie will come join him.
He grabs another beer from the minibar while he waits in his room, trying to keep a little bit of a buzz going so he doesn’t fall into thinking too much.
He’s down to the last inch or so in the bottle when the knock comes at the door. He swallows it down fast and goes to let Jordie in, smiling when Jordie takes hold of his arms and walks him backward to the bed.
“Took you long enough.”
“Didn’t want to be obvious.” Jordie meets his eyes for a long moment, his gaze dark and hot and still such a mystery to Jamie, no matter how much he thinks he knows, now.
Jordie pushes him down on the bed and climbs on top of him, kissing hungrily, his hands moving over Jamie’s body and fumbling his clothes out of the way. Jamie lets him take charge, just surrenders to Jordie’s hands. It feels like what Jordie wants, and it’s what Jamie wants anyway. He just wants to let tonight happen. Hotel rooms are otherworldly, weird, even though they’re his second home during the season. Nothing ever feels real there.
He lifts his hips and helps Jordie get his sweats down out of the way, leaving him naked on the bed. Jordie pushes his legs apart and Jamie goes easily, making room for him. He wants to make it easy for Jordie, to let Jordie take him.
Jordie takes him in his mouth, instead, settling in between Jamie’s thighs and sucking him down tight and hot. He’s not in a hurry, he lets Jamie float and drift in the sensation, shivers running through his thighs and his toes curling tightly enough that a cramp threatens while Jordie works him over.
Jordie’s hands are tight on Jamie’s hips, leaving red marks that aren’t quite bruises. Jamie tangles his fingers in Jordie’s hair, wishing he could leave marks of his own, not on this body but the one on the other side, so this Jordie will still have them when he goes back. Something to remember him by.
He doesn’t want to think about sad things right now, though. He just wants to fuck into Jordie’s mouth, panting roughly and choking back words so he doesn’t break the moment. He wants to come in Jordie’s throat, and kiss him afterward to taste himself. He wants to lie back and let Jordie crawl up his body and straddle him and fuck into his mouth next, faster and rougher, shutting everything out of Jamie’s mind and field of vision except himself. And then he wants to lie there together, sweaty and flushed, touching all along the length of their bodies, breathing in time.
He gets all of that, somehow. Maybe the universe has figured out that it owes him, a little. Or maybe he just knows this Jordie, every Jordie, well enough to know how much to let himself want so it lines up with what he’s going to get.
Jordie presses a kiss to his neck, breathing deep. “Fuck, Jamie.”
“Yeah.” Jamie runs his hand down Jordie’s chest, tracing the defined muscles and soft flesh over them. “You don’t have to go back to your room yet, right?”
“Not yet.” Jordie covers Jamie’s hand with his, holding it still. “Hey, can I ask you something?” At Jamie’s nod, he squeezes a little. “You asked me, a while ago, you asked me what I’m gonna do after hockey.”
Jamie nods again, looking at Jordie’s fingers over his. “Yeah. You said you and your buddy were gonna try the oil fields.”
“You didn’t really like that idea.”
“It’s not really my business.”
“I know, just…” Jordie sighs. “Can you tell me why you don’t like it? I’m asking.”
Jamie stares more intensely, like if he manages to see through to the bone this will be easier. “It just sounds really lonely. Going out there by yourself.”
“I’ll have my buddy with me.”
“Right, see? It’s not my business. I’m being dumb. You should do what you want.”
“What do you want me to do instead? I’m not saying I’ll do it. I’m just asking.”
Fuck. “Um. I guess, like… go home?”
“Yeah. Or… where do you go in the off-season? Where do you train?”
“I stay in my apartment in St. John’s, mostly. Train around there. But I do go back to Victoria for a while, I guess. A week with Mom and Dad, a couple weeks of fishing and golf with Courts and his brother and his dad. A week with Jenny and her husband.”
“Yeah? What’s that like?”
Jordie smiles a little. “It’s good. Jenn and I hang out. Her husband’s a nice guy but we’re not, like, friends, I guess. They have a mother-in-law suite off the side of the house, and Jenny always says that’s my place if I ever want it. It’s on reserve for me.”
Jamie wants to punch him in the face and hug him at the same time. “Then why don’t you go there when hockey’s over? She’s saving it for you!”
“Just because she says that doesn’t mean she really wants me living there, Jay. And even if she does, I bet he doesn’t.”
“It’s a separate suite. The whole point is you wouldn’t be in each other’s way.” Jamie shakes his head. “And at least my Jenny, this Jenny, she wouldn’t say it if she didn’t mean it. That’s, like. Not her way of doing things.”
“That’s probably true for mine, too, I guess. She’s pretty honest.” Jordie’s quiet for a moment, then looks at him with wide eyes that threaten to show more than Jamie knows how to cope with. “Why are you so worried about what I’m gonna do after hockey? I’ll be gone, you’ll have your Jordie back. You don’t have to care.”
“I do care, though. I’m always gonna wonder how you’re doing. If you’re okay. I’ll be thinking about you the rest of my life.”
Jordie looks away, but Jamie saw the tears flash in his eyes before he did. They can both pretend he didn’t, though. It’s so important to be able to pretend. “You don’t have to.”
“I do. And I’m gonna keep doing it. I want… I want you to get home to your own life. I want my Jordie back. But I’m always gonna care about you, and I’m always gonna wonder.” Jamie shrugs. “I just am.”
Jordie reaches for him and Jamie yields, letting himself be drawn into Jordie’s arms, against Jordie’s body. He relaxes there, settled in close, and they breathe together for a long time in the dark quiet until Jamie drifts off to sleep.
He wakes up to the mattress shaking and Jordie’s body jerking next to his. He rolls away instinctively, then sits up as his mind catches up to what’s happening. “Jordie? Shit.”
It’s horribly familiar by now, the way Jordie’s body shakes and twists. It goes on longer this time, though, and maybe that’s because this really is the last time and both of them are going back to where they belong, but--but maybe it isn’t, maybe this is something bad and there’s nothing Jamie can do about it, no way to help.
He reaches for Jordie, taking hold of his shoulders and pressing his body on top of him to weigh him down, trying to keep his movements to a minimum so he can’t hurt himself. “Jordie, Jordie, it’s okay, I’m here. Come on, bud. Come back to me.”
It feels like forever before Jordie’s body stills and his eyes open, but when they do, Jamie swallows back a sob. That’s his Jordie looking up at him, his real brother, sweaty and flushed and scared but real and maybe, hopefully, back for good.
“Yeah. Yeah, it’s me.” Jamie scrambles off him, both to let him breathe and so that he can really see him, all of him, reassure himself that this is real. “You’re back.”
“Jamie.” Jordie sags against the mattress, pressing his hands over his eyes. “Oh my god.”
“Is it the last time? Do you feel… whatever? Are you back for good?” He’s asked the question enough times now, he should stop, but his stomach is tight and frantic and he can’t. “Is it over?”
“I think so? I… I think so.” Jordie rubs his face hard and then sits up, looking around the room. “Where are we?”
“Chicago. We’ve got a game in…” He looks at the clock and does the math in his head. It’s a good distraction from grabbing hold of Jordie and never letting go. “Fifteen hours.”
“Shit.” Jordie shakes his head and pulls the blanket up over himself. “I don’t think I’m gonna be much good for that.”
“You’ll be fine. You’ve been… I mean, he was skating, doing well, you’re all set.”
“My brain isn’t. I’ve been doing this whole different…” He trails off and shakes his head again, his shoulders hunching. “Can I have some water?”
“Yeah! Of course.” Jamie scrambles to get a bottle of water from the minibar, tripping over his discarded sweatpants as he goes. A shock of realization makes him stumble--they’re both naked, and they’re in the same hotel room, the same bed. Jordie’s going to notice that eventually, if Jamie can’t act fast and make things cool.
He pulls his sweats on quickly, hoping Jordie’s still too shaken up to notice, and brings the water back to the bed, clearing his throat loudly. “Here you go. Drink slow, you don’t want to choke. Just take your time. It’s four AM, we’ve got hours til breakfast.”
“We both probably need more sleep.” He does drink slowly, though, stopping for deep breaths between swallows. He’s staring straight ahead at the wall, his face blank; on the one hand, Jamie’s glad he doesn’t seem to be noticing the weird stuff about what he’s come back to, but on the other… this isn’t how his Jordie acts. Something’s wrong.
Jordie sets the bottle aside and tugs at the blanket again. “I’m cold.”
“I’ll turn the heat up.” He almost trips again going to do that. “It’s okay, Darth. Just lie down and relax, okay? You’re safe.”
Jordie makes a weird sound, one it takes Jamie a minute to realize is a laugh. “Am I?”
“I’m not gonna let anything happen to you!”
Jordie makes another sound--maybe a sob, it’s soft enough that Jamie isn’t sure--and lies down, pulling the blanket all the way up to his neck. “It was just… it’s been really…”
Jamie comes back to the bed and sits awkwardly on the edge of the mattress, fighting his instinct to get close with the awareness of how uncomfortable Jordie seems. “It’s okay.”
“I was really alone.”
“You’re not alone now. I’m here.”
“Scared you might disappear.”
“No!” Jamie gives in and reaches for him, grabbing Jordie’s hands in his and holding on tight. “I’m not going anywhere. I missed you.”
“You had the other me.” Jordie’s face twists. “The other guy. You weren’t alone.”
That hurts, physically hurts like a hard check into the boards. “He… he wasn’t you. He couldn’t be you.”
“Was he better than me?”
“Of course not!” Panic spikes in Jamie’s stomach, a sharp pain. Fuck, how does Jordie know? “I don’t even know what you mean! Better how? But he wasn’t.”
“Like… I don’t know. Nicer. Smarter. Better at hockey. I don’t…” Jordie looks at their hands; Jamie’s still holding on tight. “I don’t know. I guess my head isn’t right yet.”
“It’s okay. Take your time.” Jamie can’t stand the distance anymore and moves in closer, pulling Jordie into a hug. “Take all the time you need, okay? I’ll make sure nobody gives you any shit. I’ve got your back.”
He feels Jordie exhale, shuddering and weak, his body relaxing a little afterward. “Thanks. Thanks, Jamie.”
“Get some more sleep, okay? We still have a few hours.”
“Yeah.” Jordie doesn’t pull away, though. He turns his head a little to look around the room, still leaning heavily on Jamie. “Is this your room or mine?”
“How come we’re both asleep in here?”
Jamie’s pulse spikes again and he struggles to keep his voice calm. “Fell asleep watching TV. Talking. You can stay here if you want, I don’t mind.”
“Yeah?” Jordie’s frowning, but he settles back against the pillows and pulls the blanket up. “Yeah, okay. If it’s cool. I’m really just… exhausted.”
“It’s definitely cool. I’m just gonna use the bathroom, I’ll be right back.”
The bathroom gives him a private minute to panic and throw punches at the wall that he doesn’t allow to connect. Shit. Hopefully Jordie is too tired to put anything together. Jamie just has to get through the rest of today, through the game and the trip back to Dallas, and then everything can go back to normal and be okay. That’s all he has to do. He can manage that. Anyone should be able to manage that.
He splashes water on his face and goes back out, finding Jordie lying on his back, eyes still wide open and fixed on the ceiling. “You gotta sleep,” Jamie says softly.
“I will. Just. Waiting for you to come back.”
“Didn’t go anywhere. Just the bathroom.”
“I know.” Jordie rubs at his face. It takes Jamie a minute to realize in the dim light, but he’s blushing. “Sorry. Just… I’m kinda fucked up, right now. I’ll get over it soon.”
Jamie’s heart feels so full it hurts. “Like I said, take your time.” He comes over to the bed and climbs in on the empty side, tugging some of the blanket back from Jordie to cover himself. “I’m right here. Not going anywhere else til the alarm goes off, okay?”
“Thanks,” Jordie whispers. He doesn’t reach for Jamie, but he stays close, touching here and there along the lines of their bodies, and Jamie knows neither one of them is going to move until the morning.
The game isn’t great. They’re both exhausted, and Jordie is all over the place, bad enough that Lindy benches him in the third. They’re going to have to scramble for an excuse to cover this up, and thinking about that distracts Jamie more than it should.
He gets an assist and a fight, at least, so everyone chalks it up as a normal game for him. He only has to come up with excuses for Jordie.
Tyler snags him in the locker room, though, demonstrating once again that he’s been paying way too goddamn much attention. “Did you get the news? Was it bad news? You’re both being weird.”
Jamie busies himself in his locker for a moment before he answers. “It’s good news. Things are gonna be okay. We just found out kinda late at night, so we didn’t sleep so good.”
“That’s why Darth was skating weird? Nothing else is wrong?”
“Nothing at all.” Jamie makes himself look at him, really see the worry in Tyler’s eyes, really give him something honest. “It’s going to be okay, Segs. It really is. We just need to, like, get used to not worrying anymore, you know? It’s a worry hangover. We’ll be okay soon.”
Tyler rolls his eyes, but Jamie knows him, can tell how relieved he is. “Okay. Good. Now pull yourselves together, for fuck’s sake. We’ve gotta get our record up.”
“Yeah, yeah. On it.” And mercifully it ends there. He bought them another couple hours and a flight back to Dallas, where they really can get everything back to normal.
By the fourth day back, he has to admit that normal isn’t quite the right word. Everyone’s in the right universe as far as he knows, and they’re settling back into their regular routines, but normal just doesn’t ring true.
They’re both clingier than they were before, Jamie’s certain of that. When they come off the ice they look for each other, not just a quick glance but a panicked moment of searching that, for Jamie, feels like he’s falling until he finds Jordie. He imagines Jordie feels the same way, but he can’t ask. They haven’t been talking about it; they stay in sight of each other, in the same room, as much as they can, but they’re quiet.
Jamie sleeps with his door open, and every night he wakes up at some point to the sound of Jordie walking around the house. The first night he stayed in bed, just listening, but since then he gets up, too, and goes to find him. They hang out together for a few hours, quiet and close, and every time Jamie has fallen asleep on the couch and woken up to find that Jordie put a blanket over him and is asleep in the armchair.
He catches Jordie in unguarded moments every now and then--frowning at himself in a mirror or window, touching a spot where the other Jordie must have had pain, staring down at his own hands like he’s never seen them before. Jamie wants to go to him, tell him it’s okay, reassure him that he’s really back and that Jamie knows it, knows him like he knows himself. But he can’t. There’s a string of tension running through the space between them, keeping them apart even as they stay as close together as they can. Jamie doesn’t know how to bridge it.
The rest of the team is watching them constantly, serious eyes tracking them both around the ice and the locker room. It seems like every time Jamie turns around he trips over Tyler, always looking at him expectantly, hopefully, like he’s asking something.
Jamie’s pretty sure the question is Is everything okay now? Are we all good? He doesn’t have an answer, so he just does his best to smile and wave Tyler off.
He wants to reach out to Jordie; wants to cross this weird space and touch him, hug him close, tell him nothing has changed. Except something has changed, but only for Jamie. It’s not something he can explain or even make much sense of. It’s just a creeping shadow accompanying him around, making everything look twisted and weird.
He comes out of the shower on the fifth day after Jordie came back, thinking vaguely about their schedule. It’s an optional skate day, Jordie’s going to skate and Jamie’s doing weights and massage therapy, maybe they should take separate cars in case Jamie ends up staying late talking to the coaching staff…
He tugs his sweats on and steps into the hallway, tapping on the wall of Jordie’s room. “Hey, you think we should drive separate?” There’s no answer, and he walks the rest of the way down the hall to Jordie’s doorway, frowning. “Jord? What’s up?”
Jordie’s sitting at the foot of his bed, Juice curled up next to him. Jordie’s staring at a piece of paper, his brow furrowed deeply. He doesn’t look up until Jamie says his name again and steps into the room, making Juice look up and wag.
“Oh. Sorry.” Jordie folds the paper carefully in half, then hesitates and unfolds it again. “Just… got distracted.”
“Jordie, c’mon. Don’t.”
Jordie sighs and smooths the paper out on his lap. “I found it on my desk. It’s my handwriting, but I didn’t… the other guy must’ve left it.”
Jamie’s heart and breath stop for a minute, leaving him frozen and dizzy. “What… what is it? Like a note? What does it say?”
Jordie rubs the paper again. “It says ‘How much do you think you love him? Love him more.’”
Relief and horror crash against each other in Jamie’s stomach. “That… that doesn’t make any sense.”
“Did you guys talk about me?”
“Not like that!”
“Do you think I don’t love you, Jamie?”
Jordie’s voice breaks in the middle of asking, and that makes Jamie’s heart break too. He throws himself at Jordie, grabbing hold of him and clinging tight. “No! I know better than that, Jesus, Jordie. Don’t even think that. This is… this is just him, okay? He didn’t get it. He was confused, I guess. He doesn’t know us.”
“But why would he think that? Why would he write it down and leave it for me?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know.” Jamie is afraid to think about the question too much, to dig too deep and expose things that he can’t. “He was confused, that’s all. You and me know better. We’re okay. That’s what matters now, yeah? You’re back, and we’re okay, and… and he’s back in his world.”
Jordie’s still holding the note in one hand, but the other is gripping Jamie’s hand tightly. “Alone.”
Jamie doesn’t want to think about that. “He has friends. He has his Jenny. He’ll be okay. I… I talked to him about finding people. He still has Courts!”
That makes Jordie blink and look up, breaking his attention away from the paper. “Yeah. Courts called me, a couple times. Over there. He was worried, and I kept fucking up but he… he was still Courts.”
“See? He’ll be okay.” Jamie wants to believe that so much. “Just focus on getting you okay. We can’t do anything for him.”
Jordie’s mouth twitches, like he’s close to smiling. “Don’t try to captain me.”
“I’ll captain you as much as I want. One thing about being back here with me, that’s gonna happen.”
“It’s worth it,” Jordie mumbles, and they stay there together for a while, holding on tight, until Jamie realizes they have to leave or they’ll miss the player meeting.
He doesn’t bring up driving separately, though. He doesn’t want Jordie out of his sight any longer than he has to be.
They keep going. Another week goes by, with late-night talks and sleeping on the couch. Jamie’s sure it must be catching up with Jordie, because it’s definitely catching up with him. He’s exhausted and achy and a step off all the time. The consequences of that are inevitable.
It’s a game against Vancouver, in Dallas so at least he doesn’t humiliate himself in front of his whole extended family. But he’s that step off, and Gudbranson hits him like a freight train, and he just can’t catch himself and stay up. He crashes down to the ice, distantly aware of that roar and hush from the crowd, and then the linesman is standing over him, asking him if he can move.
“‘m all right,” Jamie says, checking that his hands and feet move and then going to sit up. “Dirty fucking hit, eh?”
That gets a stern look, though the guy carefully helps him back onto his skates. “No, son, it was clean. You put your head down.”
Fuck. “Oh. Sorry.”
“I think you ought to go down the tunnel and take a few minutes.”
Linesmen can’t make him do anything, Jamie knows that, but he feels shaky and weird enough that when he gets to the bench he shakes his head at Lindy and follows the trainers back to the quiet room. Mostly he just wants to sit down for a few minutes, let his head stop spinning and his stomach settle down. He knows he’ll be back on the bench by the end of the period.
He is, to a round of stick taps and slaps on the back from everybody. He knows that Jordie and Tyler are watching him closely, though, and that all of them are going to try to shield him out on the ice. Rous already fought Guddy while he was in the quiet room.
He knows that after the game he’s going to get lectures from Lindy, Jordie, Tyler, and the head trainer, and that they won’t even team up, they’ll make him sit through all four separately.
When he comes out of the shower, though, Sharpy is talking to Lindy, gesturing and talking fast, and somehow at the end of the conversation Lindy leaves instead of cornering Jamie at his stall. Sharpy winks at Jamie and walks over to him instead, reaching out to slap him on the back.
“I just burned one of my get out of jail free cards on you, Benn. He’s gonna leave you alone tonight, and the trainers will, too. But you’re gonna get it tomorrow, nothing I can do about that.”
“You’re a prince, Shooter.” Jamie means it with his whole heart. “Thank you.”
“No problem. But there’s a flip side.”
Jamie sighs. Of course. “Just tell me.”
“I’m driving Darth home and you’re getting Segsy’d.”
“Yep. He called dibs.” Sharpy grabs his shoulder and shakes him a little. “Pull it together, man. I know it sucks, but you’re killing yourself and it’s not good. Okay?”
Jamie’s not quite able to fight back his annoyance. He’s fine. Everything is fine. He just needs to sleep, and calm down. Remember how to calm down. All of that in some kind of order. “I don’t need another dad.”
“You’re not getting one. You’re getting… whatever Segs is.” Sharpy step back, though, making finger-guns at him as he walks away. “Get it together.”
Segs is Segs. Jamie knows how this goes by now, Segs’ caretaking routine. Jamie gets dressed slowly, keeping an eye out for when Tyler comes to collect him. Before Tyler can get to him, Jamie gets up and makes a pass around the room, checking in with each of the guys, trading fist-bumps and low words.
They all look him in the eyes, and he can see their concern, their worry. They care about him, like Tyler said over and over again through all of this. Jamie knew they did, really, in some part of his head, but now… well, now he’s letting himself really see it, really feel it, and it’s almost too much.
He makes it all the way around the room, though, checking in with every single guy, even Jordie, who gives him an odd look and a pat on the shoulder, and Sharpy, who smirks at him and pulls him into a hug.
“That’s my boy,” Sharpy says in Jamie’s ear. “You definitely need an extra dad.”
“No daddy jokes.” Jamie bumps him with his elbow. “I mean it.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Sharpy turns back to his stall and Jamie goes over to Tyler, who’s waiting patiently for once in his life and smiling like Jamie just scored a hat trick. All kinds of happy and proud.
“Don’t be proud of me,” Jamie says. “I fucked up all over the place tonight.”
“Yeah, I know, but you’re leaning on people, not locking yourself in a punishment box. That’s so good for you, dude.”
“I’ve never locked myself in a punishment box.”
“It’s not a literal box, my friend.” Tyler throws his arm around Jamie’s shoulders. “Let’s go. We’ll get to my place, I’ll feed you, you might or might not break down crying on my couch, the usual.”
Jamie flinches away from him. “Don’t say that out loud in the middle of the locker room.”
“Whatever.” Tyler’s quiet for the rest of the walk to the car, though, not speaking again until they’re backing out of the parking space. “Jordie’s doing good, right?”
“Yeah. He is. Things are really… really getting back to normal.”
“Then what was going on out there tonight?”
Jamie exhales slowly and bounces his head against the car seat. “I am having trouble getting back to normal.”
“What kind of trouble?”
Jamie stares out the window, watching the white lines race by. “Anxious. My head’s going fast all the time. I can’t calm down.”
It’s so hard to pick his way through phrasing, how he can talk about this without giving things away. Tyler can’t know everything. But if Jamie doesn’t get some of it out he’s going to explode. “I… I did some stuff wrong, while Jordie was sick. Handled some stuff badly. I don’t know how to fix it.”
“Is he upset at you about it?”
Jamie has to laugh, shaky and painful. “He doesn’t know about it.”
“Then what’s the problem? No harm no foul.”
Jamie shakes his head. “I know it. Even if he doesn’t. And I can’t… I can’t get it out of my head.”
Tyler sits there for a minute, frowning down at the floor. Jamie knows that face; that’s Tyler’s look when he really, desperately wants to say the right thing and not fuck up. Jamie should break the moment, give him an out, but he just can’t. He doesn’t have anything left.
“Jordie loves you,” Tyler says finally. “I think… whatever it is, you’ve gotta talk to him about it. Tell him. You won’t feel better until you do, it’ll just keep eating you up and making you sick. And after the last couple weeks you don’t really have any room to be sick, you know? I don’t know if you’ve looked at yourself, but you look like shit. You’ve lost tons of weight. The internet thinks you’ve got cancer or something.”
“Yeah, whatever. You need to talk to Jordie. Be honest and let him tell you it’s okay. And then believe him.”
“What if it’s not okay?”
“I can’t think of anything you could do that Jordie wouldn’t forgive you for. Not a single thing.”
Jamie can, though. He tries to smile through the sick feeling in his stomach; he doesn’t want Tyler to have to figure it out. “Maybe you’re right.”
“I’m definitely right. I’m always right.”
“You’re never right.”
“Well, Sharpy and Spez agree with me, and they’re always right, so there.”
Jamie’s smile slips away from him. “You guys have been talking about me?”
“Did you miss the part where you look like you’re dying? We’re worried about you.”
“Still. I don’t like people talking about me behind my back.”
“Then talk to Jordie and fix this and get better. That’ll make us stop.”
It’s such Tyler logic, completely unrelated to anything Jamie could come up with on his own, that he kind of has to believe it. “I… okay. I’ll try.”
“You’ll talk to him?”
Tyler sighs, looking annoyed now instead of serious, which at least means the painful tense moment is over. “I guess that’s the best I’m gonna get. Let’s eat, then you can nap. Look, no crying today. That’s awesome.”
Jamie flips him off and leans back on the couch, closing his eyes. Talk to Jordie. Right. That used to be the easiest thing in the world. He can probably do it again.
He doesn’t nap for as long as the last time he was at Tyler’s, but still, it’s been hours by the time he gets home. It’s the longest he and Jordie have been apart since Jordie came back, and Jamie’s heartbeat picks up when he realizes that, driving him forward fast enough that he fumbles the lock code on the door and stumbles in the entryway.
“Jordie?” he calls out, trying to keep his voice steady. “I’m home.”
He comes into the main room and sees Jordie sitting at the table in the breakfast nook. Just… sitting. Staring down at his hands. Juice is curled up in a tiny ball at his feet, not moving an inch away from his person even when Jamie steps closer.
“What’s wrong?” Jamie chokes on the words. “What happened? Jordie?”
“You were gone a really long time.”
“I know. Sorry about that. Just, you know. Tyler.”
“You left me all alone over here.”
“I thought Sharpy was taking care of you. Getting you home and stuff.”
“He did. But then he left and I just…” Jordie takes a breath and pushes his chair back from the table. “Forget it.”
“Dude, come on. I was just over at Tyler’s. I just needed… I needed a little break, that’s all, it wasn’t a big deal.”
Jordie laughs sharply. “Oh, you needed a break.”
“Yeah, I fucking did!”
The look Jordie gives him is so angry, Jamie misses a beat. It’s almost how the other Jordie looked at him at the beginning, like a stranger. “Because this was all so hard for you, Jamie? Really?”
“You don’t know.” He’s waiting for his own anger to surge up—it should be here by now, he should be pissed as hell instead of feeling this hollow—but it isn’t coming. “You have no idea what it was like here. What it was like for me.”
“You were still in your own life. You weren’t ripped away and thrown somewhere else, where you had to be on your toes all the fucking time in case they decided you were crazy and fucking put you away. And you didn’t have a goddamn concussion. So tell me again how hard it was for you! Tell me all this stuff I apparently don’t know!”
Jordie’s yelling, really yelling, and Jamie can’t seem to find his own thoughts, or any reaction that isn’t staring blankly across the breakfast nook.
The silence and the staring stretches out a little too long, until it cracks around the edges and Jordie looks away, blinking. Jamie knows the look on his face, the way it’s crumpling in confusion. Jordie’s trying to figure out why Jamie isn’t reacting right, why he isn’t yelling back. Because this is his Jordie, the one that’s known him his whole life, who knows how to get Jamie to lose his temper. When they were kids, Jordie did it to get Jamie to look dumb or get in trouble. Now, he does it when there’s something Jamie’s avoiding. Fighting is how they clear the air.
But Jamie’s not playing along, and that’s enough to put up a big red flag.
“I’m sorry.” It’s all that Jamie can think to say, and he has to say something, he has to get control of the moment before Jordie does, because if Jordie does, he’s gonna start digging and not stop. “I—I shouldn’t have gone over to Tyler’s, I should’ve talked to you. I shouldn’t have left you alone so long. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”
Jordie shakes his head. “I don’t care about that.”
“Still. It won’t.” Jamie swallows and rubs his hands on his thighs. “I love you, and I’m glad you’re back, and I won’t… I won’t fuck up again. I won’t. I promise.”
“Jamie, what the fuck is going on?”
“Nothing! Nothing’s going on! This is just… this is hard, okay? Getting back to normal is hard.”
Jordie’s staring at him, eyes dark and suspicious, in a way Jamie’s not used to. Jamie knows he’s doing this wrong, he isn’t saying the stuff he promised Tyler he would say. This is not talking it out.
But he can’t. He can’t do it.
“What aren’t you telling me?” Jordie asks.
“He wasn’t you,” Jamie says. That’s the best he can do. As close as he can come to saying any of it, even though it’s not enough. It’s barely anything.
Jordie keeps looking at him, and Jamie has to walk away, has to go upstairs to his room and shut the door. He has to be here, in the house with Jordie, but he can’t be here, looking him in the eye, not until Jordie stops asking.
The next few days are bad. The things they’re not saying open up a space between them, one that scares Jamie to even think about. This isn’t like the physical space between Kelowna and Victoria, or Dallas and Cedar Park. It isn’t like the… the soul-space, or whatever it was, when Jordie was in the other universe. This is having Jordie here, seeing him and hearing him and knowing that it’s really him, the brother who knows Jamie inside and out, and still having to hold back, hold himself away. And knowing that it’s his own damn fault, because he can’t tell the truth and there’s no way to lie about this. All he can do is pretend there’s nothing there at all.
It isn’t working.
When his Jordie was gone, Jamie had divided things up into his brother loving him and the other Jordie wanting him, and the one being a substitute for the other. It made sense. It let him put his feelings into orderly boxes and keep everything under control.
It’s more complicated now that everyone is back where they belong and the fear of being left is gone. Things are blurrier. Being loved and being wanted, feelings that are directed toward him—those are one thing. But loving and wanting. His own feelings that he has to figure out.
It turns out those are a lot harder.
At this point in the season, maintenance days are amazing, but sometimes they also leave him twitchy and wired by evening. He’s not tired enough. His body hasn’t done enough. It needs the break but it also needs to move.
He wants to go for a run, but he makes himself settle for a walk. A long, slow loop around the neighborhood, then again, just for good measure. He’s not tired, but it took the edge off, and he can almost think normally on the walk back up the driveway to the house.
Jordie had gone out to run errands earlier in the day, and wasn’t back by the time Jamie had left, but his truck is in the driveway now. Jamie winces at the sight, and hates himself for it. He needs to get it together and make his feelings behave and fix this distance, not just run away from it. He’s a grown adult and an NHL captain. He doesn’t run away from things.
He lets himself inside and clears his throat. “Jord?”
Jamie walks down the hall, stopping just long enough to kick his shoes off before he goes in. Jordie’s sitting on the couch, his feet stretched out in front of him under the coffee table, where Juice is curled up, too. It would be domestic and cute, if not for how tense and miserable Jordie looks.
Jamie can feel matching tension crawling up his own spine. “What’s up?”
Jordie puts one of his hands flat on the table, next to--his phone, next to his phone. The other Jordie got the new phone weeks ago and this Jordie picked it up when he got back. That’s not a big deal. But the look on his face and the way his hand frames the thing, like he’s afraid it’s going to go up in flames at any minute, those are enough that Jamie’s heart takes off again, racing so fast he can hardly breathe.
“I was talking to Courts while I was out.” Jordie sounds distant, and his eyes don’t stray toward Jamie at all. Just the phone. “I texted him, I mean, we were just bullshitting. I chirped him and he said I should go through my voicemail and delete all the nice things he said about me when I was sick.”
Jamie’s heart stops, and that’s worse, that’s so much worse, a stabbing pain in his chest.
“And like, this is a new phone, right? New number and whatever. So I found a store for the carrier and I went in and asked them if they could get me into my old voicemail. We never turned off the account, you know? The other guy didn’t. He just bought a whole new plan.”
Jamie wants to scream, or run, or just close his eyes, anything to keep this from happening. He can’t, though. He’s a captain, he doesn’t run. So he nods, and Jordie keeps talking.
“The girl at the store showed me and I called into the voicemail thing and I started going through all the messages. It was like… kinda crazy, you know? How many messages I had? People worried about me? I mean, there was shit from my agent and the team and the doctors, too, stuff I probably should have followed up on or whatever, but… I kinda skipped through those and listened to the stuff from my friends and Mom and Dad and Jenny.”
He looks up, finally, meeting Jamie’s eyes. “And those two from you.”
“Jordie.” Jamie can barely force the air out of his lungs. “Jordie, I--”
“I know you’re gonna say it was the other guy, it wasn’t me, but that was… that was my body, Jamie.”
“Jordie, I don’t--”
“My body that did that to you.”
“It wasn’t like that.” Jamie feels like he’s falling. The only way to hold himself up is to fight, to argue, but he can’t seem to pull his thoughts together enough. “It wasn’t about the body, I wasn’t confused.”
“He… he hurt you, forced you, he used me to do that, I can’t…”
“No!” Somehow he does find the air for that, he yells that. Jordie jerks back in his chair and Juice whines from the floor, scrambling to get farther under the table.
“You said you listened to the messages,” Jamie says, wrapping his arms around himself, his hands scrambling at his own torso for purchase, pinching down hard on his skin. “I said, I know I said. It wasn’t forcing, it wasn’t hurting, it was… he wanted me and I needed…”
Jordie stares at him, his face twisted in confusion. “You said he wanted you but he didn’t love you.”
“Yeah! Maybe by the end he did, a little, I don’t… but he wasn’t you. He wasn’t my brother. He didn’t love me, just…” Something’s cracking inside him, and he doesn’t know what’s going to be left when it’s done. “He wanted this person he didn’t know, the person he saw me as. He didn’t know me. But it was as close as I could get.”
“You kept saying you wanted me to come back.”
“Of course!” He digs his fingers in harder, forcing his focus through the pain. “You’re my brother, you’ve been there my whole life, we’re part of each other. I need you!”
“I need you too.” Jordie’s voice breaks and he ducks his head. “I kept remembering what I said that day, before the game.”
“It doesn’t matter. I didn’t even think about that. I know you better than that, Jordie.” Jamie makes himself move, crossing the room to Jordie. He crouches next to the couch and tries to make Jordie look at him. “I’m sorry.” It sounds like a lie. It is a lie. He isn’t sorry, not like he should be. He’s selfish, and he’s an asshole, and he’s not sorry.
“You’re sorry it happened? You’re sorry I found out? Or… what, Jamie?”
Fuck. Jordie can read him too well. “I’m sorry you’re freaked out, I guess. I wasn’t going to tell you. It was going to my thing to, like. Deal with. I was going to let you stay safe from it.”
“You don’t have to keep me safe. I’m an adult.”
“I know that!” Jamie closes his eyes, resting his head on the edge of the cushion for a moment. “I know that. But this isn’t the kind of thing we can just forget about, is it?”
Jordie’s quiet for a long time before he whispers, “I don’t know.”
Jamie’s chest aches. “I know… I get it if things can’t go back to how they were. If you can’t see me the same way. If you need… if you need to get away from me, I…”
He chokes on the words as the feelings he’s been running from all hit him at once. This is it, what he’s afraid of and what he knows to be true. He has to give Jordie, this Jordie, his Jordie, the chance to walk away from him and never look back. Because he did that. He was scared and desperate and he crossed lines and there are consequences. He has to accept the consequences, even if it ends everything and they both are left alone.
Hands touch his shoulders, gentle and clumsy about it. Jordie rubs his shoulders slowly, and when Jamie doesn’t look up he moves one hand to tilt his chin.
“I’m not going to leave you.”
Jamie sobs, tears finally breaking free and spilling down his face.
“Things… things got tangled up. I don’t think any of the rules apply, you know? You were… you were scared and you needed.”
Jamie manages a rough whisper. “I needed you.”
“I know. I know. I needed you too.” Jordie’s eyes are bright with tears, but he doesn’t look away from Jamie, and Jamie can’t look away either. They can’t flinch from each other, not now. Not like this.
“You are part of me,” Jordie says softly. “You’re part of my heart, the actual literal blood-bumping heart that keeps me alive. I know because over there it hurt all the time, in my chest. Knowing you weren’t out there somewhere, that you were gone. I couldn’t stand it.”
“He was here but he wasn’t you. I couldn’t make him be you.”
Jordie leans in and rests their foreheads together. Jamie can feel his breath on his skin, can smell his beard oil and sweat and the scent that’s just Jordie.
“It’s going to be okay,” Jordie says, just as softly, but with strength to it. Like he means it. “We’re going to be okay.”
“How? How will we be okay?”
Jordie leans into him harder. “I don’t… I don’t know what to do with this, exactly. I need to think about it. I need time. But I’m not going anywhere and I’m not losing you. I’m not ever going to lose you, Jamie. Not again.”
“You’re not going to leave?”
“Neither one of us is going anywhere. I promise.”
Jamie nods and they both fall silent, the moment turning into a cautious, brittle spell neither of them wants to break.
After a while Jamie climbs up onto the couch to lean against Jordie’s shoulder instead of head-to-head. Jordie closes his eyes, his hand finding Jamie’s between them and squeezing gently. It still isn’t safe to speak, so Jamie lets himself close his eyes, too. His breathing falls into synch with Jordie’s and he counts the exhales, slow and constant until he falls asleep.
When he wakes up, Jordie has shifted more onto his back in his sleep, so Jamie’s half-lying across his chest instead of his shoulder. He’s still asleep, his mouth open just a bit, a soft whistle coming on each inhalation.
Jamie spreads one hand open, over Jordie’s heart, feeling the steady rhythm of its beating. Things aren’t the way they were; they probably won’t ever be. He doesn’t know where this is going to go next. Everything could change, or nothing. It’s all in Jordie’s hands, and for one of very few times in Jamie’s life, he doesn’t know what Jordie’s going to do.
But he trusts him not to leave. He trusts that he can wait.
Jamie’s own pulse beating in his ears is a roar and a hush. He believes—he thinks he’s believe—he has to believe—that it’s going to be okay.