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No Burden Is He to Bear

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The first time Jordie was aware of the bond, he was eight years old, in the emergency room with Mom and Jenny while Jamie shivered and sobbed, cradling his probably broken arm in his lap while they waited for the doctor. Mom made soothing noises and rubbed his back, but Jamie kept crying and crying. It made Jordie feel awful too, like Jamie being hurt or sad always did, and he felt like he was going to puke. He wished Jamie wasn't hurt, that he could do something to make the pain go away. It wasn't fair that Jamie needed him and there wasn't anything Jordie could do to make it better. The tears that he'd been trying so hard to hold back threatened to spill over. He thought as hard as he could about Jamie being happy and safe, the way he was when he curled up next to Jordie on the couch on sleepy Saturday mornings, and something small and warm uncurled under his ribs.

Jamie's crying faded a little and Jordie didn't feel quite so much like throwing up anymore. By the time the doctor finally came, Jamie was just sniffling, and the pink had come back into his chubby cheeks. The warm spot under Jordie's ribs had gotten bigger and warmer, like his own personal sun beaming right at Jamie, and Jordie knew that was why Jamie felt better. His arm was definitely broken, the doctor said, but only a little bit, and it wouldn't be very long before he was good as new. It felt really good, knowing that he'd helped his brother, even if nobody else knew, not even Jamie. Jordie didn't know how he'd done it, but that didn't matter, as long as Jamie was okay.

*

It happened a lot after that. Jamie scored lots of goals when Jordie turned that warm glow under his ribs on for him and when he was sad, sometimes Jordie could make him feel better with a hug or a piece of candy and a little bit of the glow. It wasn't hard or anything, so Jordie did it whenever it seemed like Jamie needed it. And it made Jordie feel good too.

But once, Jordie didn't share his glow with Jamie. It was the end of Jamie's Mite season, the very last game. Instead of turning that warm glow under his ribs on for Jamie, he'd kept it for himself, just this once, because he had a game too and it was really important.

Jamie didn't score any goals. Jordie thought he still played okay, you couldn't score goals every game, but Jamie's team lost. That happened sometimes, but Jamie was still really little and didn't understand that it wasn't his fault, even after Mom and Dad and Jenny and Jordie all told him they were proud of him. Jamie was trying really hard not to cry, but he sniffled into Jordie's shoulder when Jordie gave him a big hug, and his eyes were red and wet all through dinner. It was Jordie's fault, for being selfish. He should have shared with Jamie, but he didn't, and now Jamie was miserable because Jordie hadn't looked out for him the way a big brother was supposed to. All of the sad and guilty feelings felt like a rock in the bottom of Jordie's belly.

He wouldn't ever let Jamie down like that again, Jordie promised silently. He'd do the right thing from now on and be there for Jamie, like he was supposed to.

*

Jordie never tells anybody about how he helps Jamie, but by the time Jordie is twelve and Jamie is ten, it's pretty obvious that they're bonded. Nobody acts like it's a big deal; sibling bonds happen all the time. Jordie kind of thought only married people got things like the glow he can turn on for Jamie, but maybe not. He's not about to ask.

"Does it make you sad that me and Jamie bonded without you?" Jordie asks Jenny. He doesn't think it does, but there's obviously no way he can be sure, not like with Jamie.

Jenny shrugs. "A little, I guess. But you guys have been bonded practically since Jamie was born, you know? And I've got plenty of social bonds at school already, and I'll make more when I go to college. I'm not really ready for an upper level bond right now, anyway."

Jordie doesn't get that, because it's not like his bond with Jamie was something either of them had had to be ready for, but maybe it's different when you're not bonded with your brother. He's just glad that their bond doesn't make Jenny sad.

"You're still my favourite sister," he tells her, and she grins and wraps her arms around his head in an octopus hug.

*
In grade 10, Jordie's health class does a Relationships and Sexuality unit. He goes in prepared to enjoy the parts that are about tits and doze through the rest of it, but it turns out they don't talk about tits very much at all. They mostly talk about condoms and pregnancy and the clap, which is gross and kind of scary on top of being boring. Jordie tries tuning into the quiet background noise of Jamie's mind brushing up against his own, but Jamie's in math class, and all Jordie gets is a wave of frustration followed by an impatient longing for it to be time for hockey practice already. Jamie is no help at all.

The second half of the unit is the part about bonds. Jordie's textbook has a little pyramid diagram explaining the three bond levels. The bottom of the pyramid has a picture of a hockey team, to represent social bonds. First level bonds are the most common, like the ones Jenny has with her friends at school and like Jamie and Jordie have with their own hockey teams. Ms Wicksted calls on one of the guys who plays on Jordie's team to share his experiences with social bonds.

"It's like I can tell who's ready for me to pass him the puck and sort of where he is," he says. "And when one of the guys is hurt, sometimes I can tell before the refs. All of our feelings get mixed together, which is really good if we're winning, but not so good if some of the guys are fighting or if we're mad about a dumb penalty."

"That's how it is with my soccer team too," one of the girls says. "But my social bonds with my team are different than my other ones. They're more focused; something really big has to be going on for me to pick up on it off the field."

The pictures in the middle of the pyramid are kind of dumb. There's one of a couple of girls painting their nails and another picture of a couple of guys looking at trading cards. They're supposed to represent second level bonds, like the ones Jordie's seen in plenty of buddy cop movies. His bond with Jamie is a second level bond. Jordie tunes in to what Ms Wicksted is saying about those, because the only movies that talk about anything like the glow he can turn on for Jamie are the sappy romances about star-crossed third level bondmates that his mom and Jenny watch on their girls nights, and Jordie's always kind of felt like he was missing something. Jamie's never mentioned it either, so Jordie mostly just doesn't think about it. That's just how things are, and it works fine for them. Most of the other kids in his class don't have second level bondmates yet--just Kelley McQuaid and her best friend and a couple of other sibling bondmates like him and Jamie. Nothing Ms Wicksted says is anything new to Jordie, though, and she doesn't mention anything that sounds like him and Jamie.

On the very top of the pyramid is a picture of those little statues that people put on top of wedding cakes. Jordie gets a weird, anxious feeling in his stomach, looking at it. Ms Wicksted doesn't say much more about third level bonds than she did about the others, just that they're the kind people form with their spouses and--

"--third tier bonds also trigger the phenomenon described as Non-specific Bond Enhanced Psychophysical Immune Response Capacity, commonly known as 'perks.' Third tier bondmates, in addition to emotional transference and low-level telepathy, generate a shared store of additional physical and mental energy, able to enhance mood or improve physical performance or well-being."

The anxious feeling in Jordie's stomach tightens into a big knot. That's what he and Jamie have. Jamie's his third tier bondmate. He's not going to bond with a girl and settle down and have kids, at least not the way that he's supposed to. And what girl would take coming in second to his brother all the time, anyway? Jordie's heart is beating too fast and he's breathing hard, like he just finished a bag skate. He feels like he might pass out.

In the back of his mind, Jamie picks up on it, worried little flutters against Jordie's own emotions. Jordie absolutely cannot deal with that on top of everything else. Jamie's worry pushes in harder, scared, and Jordie shoves him away, trying to breathe. How could he have missed something this huge? And...why hadn't Jamie ever noticed? Why hadn't he ever shared any of their perks with Jordie?

"Historically," Ms Wicksted continues, "the traditional role of women in third tier bonds has been to allocate most or even all of their share of perks to further their husbands' careers. Of course, this has changed in modern times, and it is generally expected that most third tier bondmates will share their perks evenly."

Jordie can't sit through another twenty minutes of this. He gasps some excuse about being sick and bolts. It's not Jamie's fault their bond is so one sided. Jamie'd been so little when they'd bonded, just a kid, he couldn't possibly have known. And it's not like he'd ever really had a chance to learn. It's Jordie's job to take care of him, to make sure he's safe and happy; that's been his job since day one. It's not like Jordie needs the perks, anyway; he's good enough, but he's not going to the NHL, and he thinks Jamie could, if he wanted to, if Jordie helps him.

Jamie finds him in the equipment room.

"You're supposed to be in class," Jordie says.

"So are you," Jamie says, wrapping his arms around Jordie and shoving his face against his collarbone. "What's going on?"

"Nothing," Jordie says immediately, and Jamie lifts his head to pout at him accusingly.

"You're such a liar," he says.

"I'm getting sick or something," Jordie mumbles. "Don't feel good."

"Jooor-diiie," Jamie whines, his eyes big and worried. "You're still lying, I can tell. Something's wrong." He pushes at the edges of Jordie's mind, like a puppy nosing for a scent. "Are you--did I do something?"

Jordie shoves Jamie out of his head, hard, and wraps his arms around him. "No. I just don't feel good, I told you. Tell Coach I had to go home."

"I'm skipping too," Jamie says, giving him a mulish look, and Jordie is too tired to argue.

At home, Jamie lets Jordie pick the tv channel without even chirping him and does the washing up after dinner, even though it's Jordie's turn. It's not the same as perks, but Jamie's trying really hard, and it makes Jordie feel warm and loved anyway. Jamie's still his brother, his bondmate, and they're fine how they are.

*

Jordie goes undrafted, to nobody's surprise. He's happy staying close to home--close to Jamie--and waiting until Jamie figures out if he's going for hockey or baseball and where he's gonna end up. Wherever that is, Jordie's going to find a way to be there.

Jamie's terrified on his draft day. Jordie can feel Jamie's fear echoing hollow and queasy in his own belly. What if no one wants me. The bond doesn't work in words and sentences, but Jordie doesn't need that to know exactly what's running on a loop through Jamie's brain. He tries to crowd it out with a noogie and an obnoxious push of his own confidence and pride in Jamie. That gets him a wan smile, but then Jamie goes right back to stewing in his own anxiety.

Jordie's been planning ahead for this day for weeks, so there's plenty of energy to fuel the steady flow of perks that he turns on for Jamie. Good thing, because Jamie doesn't go until the fifth round, 129th overall. When he's chosen, Jordie's tidal wave of proud joy crashes through the bond into Jamie's own emotions, and it feels like he's going to explode, he's so happy. The way Jamie's face lights up as he pulls on his Dallas Stars jersey is the best thing Jordie's ever seen.

When it's all over and Jamie's practically falling asleep on his feet, he slings an arm around Jordie's shoulders and slurs, "I wouldn't have made it here without you. Thanks for--for everything."

"Any time," Jordie says. "I'm proud of you, bud." He lets it pour through their bond, and Jamie beams at him.

It only lasts a few seconds before Jamie's giddy pride dips nauseatingly into fear, and Jordie's belly cramps with it.

"You're coming with me, right?" Jamie asks.

"Duh," Jordie says, giving him a facewash. "Just because you're an NHL hotshot now doesn't mean you don't need your big brother to keep an eye on you."

"'kay," Jamie says through a yawn, snuggling up against Jordie's shoulder. "Can't wait til we're playing in the NHL together."

Jordie's not sure that's ever going to be his reality, but Jamie's faith in it pours through the bond and makes him feel like maybe one day, he could find himself out on the ice with Jamie again, playing at the top of their game.

*

Two years later, Jamie makes the roster in Dallas and Jordie goes with him. The thirty minutes from Dallas to Allen are the first time they've ever lived apart. Jordie hates it. Jamie does too, but he's got playing for an NHL team to distract him. Whenever he can, Jordie drives down to Dallas, and they talk on the phone when he can't and lean heavy on the bond the rest of the time, and they get through it. When Jordie makes the Texas Stars it's a step closer to the dream of them playing in the NHL together, but in the short term it pushes them even further apart. It's a lot harder to make the three hour drive up from Cedar Park, and Jordie's a lot busier now. He loves hockey, but now his year revolves around their summer break, when he and Jamie go home together to train. Being so far away from Jamie during the season feels like missing a limb.

"It'll get better," Jamie says. "You're tearing it up down there. They'd be crazy not to call you up soon."

"Plenty of time to worry about that when the season starts back," Jordie says. There's nothing he can do but play his best and hope it's good enough, and he doesn't want to waste his time at home stewing over it. Jamie nods agreeably, but the bond is loud with his feelings on the subject.

It turns out that Jamie's right, sort of. Halfway through the season, Jordie does get called up. He's on the ice with Jamie for the first time since Jamie was drafted, and they're playing in the NHL. The forty-two seconds of that shift are the best of Jordie's life.

Jamie's got a great bond with the team, can feel them up and down the ice, so clear that Jordie's picking up on it too, even though he barely knows any of these guys. And his bond with Jamie is damn near electric--he can feel Jamie's excitement at every chance to get his stick on the puck, the fierce need to prove himself now that he's here. Jordie knows exactly where Jamie is, passes connecting with solid ease. Jordie's face hurts from grinning by the time he returns to the bench.

There's three guys between him and Jamie, but Jamie pokes him in the leg with his stick and beams at him, and Jordie's so warm and happy and proud he could explode. That shift would have been enough, but Coach gives Jordie a second one, back on the ice with Jamie again. The other guys learn quick and this time they make space for Jordie to get to Jamie, snapping the puck to him. Jamie whips it forward to Eriksson up by the crease, and he puts it hard into the back of the net. For a second, everything goes still, and Jordie feels like he's forgotten how to breathe. Then Loui throws his arms up in triumph, crashing into Jamie, and Jordie flings himself on them both.

"Attaboy, Benns! " Loui yells, slapping them both on the back. "Those beauty moves must run in the family."

Jamie's scored plenty of points up here, but the only time Jordie remembers this kind of joy coming through the bond was his very first NHL goal, Mike Modano telling him was gonna do big things in Dallas.

Jordie's going to do whatever it takes to make this part of his life for as long as he can.

*

The lockout fucks everything up. Jamie goes to Germany, and Jordie had thought the Dallas to Cedar Park separation was hard, but it was nothing to the entire Atlantic ocean. He can still feel Jamie in the back of his mind, knows when games are going well or when Jamie's frustrated by the language barrier, but it sucks not being able to even talk to him without having to jump through time zone hoops. Jamie does something to his knee at practice, and Jordie jerks awake at 4am, hating that he's too far away to make sure Jamie and the trainers are taking it seriously. The three months of the lockout are the longest he's ever gone without seeing Jamie.

Just when Jordie's starting to worry that there's not going to be any season at all this year, he gets the phone call that the lockout is finally over. It's the middle of the night in Germany, but Jordie's giddy excitement wakes Jamie up anyway, and ten seconds later his phone goes off.

"It's over," Jordie says, laughing in relief. "Time to come home, Jamie. I'll see you on the ice."

There's no question of Jordie getting his own place once he goes to Dallas; he takes over the guest room of Jamie's condo and starts making himself at home.

"We're not living off takeout this season," Jordie says after he's officially moved in. "Mom would kill you if she saw the inside of your fridge right now."

 

"I just got back from Europe!" Jamie says.

"Don't even pretend that it looked any better last season," Jordie says. "I can't believe you've been living down here on your own for three years and you still can't feed yourself."

"That chirp'd work a lot better on somebody who didn't know that it took you twenty-two years to learn how to do laundry without turning your undershirts pink every time," Jamie grumbles. But they both know that the only reason Jamie never had that problem was because Jordie taught him how washing machine cycles worked, once he'd finally learned, so Jordie doesn't bother with a retort.

"I'm serious about the take-out," he says instead, and starts making a list of all the kitchen stuff he's going to make Jamie buy.

*

Front office tells Jamie about the Seguin trade before anything gets released to the media.

"They want you to babysit him?" Jordie asks. "Sounds like the kind of thing the Captain should be doing." Jamie's the only guy in the locker room who refuses to see that he's going to be the one wearing the C this season.

Jamie shrugs. "It'd be a big change for anybody. He's gonna need somebody to help him get settled, might as well be you and me."

Nobody's said anything to Jordie about babysitting party boy superstars, but Jamie never stops to consider them as anything but a package deal.

"Good thing I've got plenty of experience keeping you in line," Jordie says, resigned.

Tyler greets them in the airport with a charming grin that Jordie recognizes right away as a carefully practiced media expression. That's fine, he didn't ask to be sent here; Jordie doesn't expect him to be excited. But it turns out that he's trying; he's watched tape of their games, and over dinner he has intelligent things to say about Jamie's play, and Jordie's too.

"I think we're gonna be good together," Jamie says, grinning at Tyler. "Just wait til you start connecting with the rest of the guys."

"I can't bond," Tyler says abruptly, the smile dropping off his face.

"Huh?" Jamie says, confused by the sudden change of topic and Tyler's demeanour.

"I can't bond," Tyler says again. "The B's were pretty good about keeping it on the down low, but I know they told your front office. I guess they didn't pass that on." His jaw is tight and his fingers are clenched white knuckled on his thighs.

"No-o," Jamie says, clearly searching for the right response. "But there's lots of unbonded young guys on the team, you know? It's not a big deal."

Tyler lets out a bark of bitter laughter. "I can't bond at all," he says, real slow, like maybe Jamie's dumb. Jordie's hackles go up instinctively, but Jamie's not giving off anything but confusion and sympathy. "No social bonds, no team bonds," Tyler continues. "No bonds at all. Total fucking null."

Jordie's heard of people who only form social bonds, but Tyler's the first person he's ever met that can't bond at all, not even with the team he won the Stanley Cup with. It sounds unbearably lonely. He pokes awkwardly at his steak, not sure if he should say anything.

"Okay," Jamie says slowly. "I don't know what it was like in Boston, but I've watched your tape. You play good hockey, and that's what matters. We're all excited to have you here and see what you're bringing to the team."

This kind of thing, Jordie thinks proudly, is why Jamie's going to be their next captain. Tyler gives him a stiff nod and tones the aggression way down after that. He chuckles at Jamie and Jordie's locker room stories and tells them about his sisters and his boys back home in Toronto and his dog, waiting for him with a friend back in Boston. Other than that, he doesn't talk about Boston at all, and neither one of them says anything to bring it up.

"I gotta find a place so I can bring my dog down here," Tyler says. "I miss him like crazy." He pulls out his phone and shows them a couple of videos of a big brown Lab that he clearly loves like it's his own kid.

There's the emotional equivalent of an "awwww" from Jamie's end of their bond, and Jordie has to work hard not to snicker out loud.

"He seems like a great dog," Jamie tells Tyler, pointedly ignoring Jordie's reaction. "You should come check out our building. It's pet-friendly, and the location's great, right downtown."

"Sure," Tyler says. "That'd make your babysitting duties a lot easier." He doesn't sound angry, just resigned.

Jamie sighs. "I'm not your babysitter," he says. "I'm just your teammate, and your friend, if you want me to be."

Sometimes it's hard to believe that Jordie's awkward baby brother grew up to be so good at being a real person.

"We've got beer and MarioKart at the house," Jordie chimes in. "You could come hang out, see if you like the feel of the place."

The smile Tyler gives them is small, but genuine. "Thanks," he says. "Sounds like fun."

He winds up spending the night on their couch because he's got a competitive streak to match Jamie's and refuses to relinquish his controller until he actually falls asleep. In the morning, Tyler accepts the proffered coffee and bowl of cereal, and then goes immediately to talk to the realtor. An hour later, he gleefully texts Jamie that he's just signed a lease for a place on the fifth floor.

Jordie blinks. "I guess he's settling in okay?"

"Gotta start somewhere," Jamie says with a shrug.

The first thing Tyler does when he moves in is have his dog put on a plane to Dallas. He brings him straight from the airport to visit Jamie and Jordie.

"Hi puppy!" Jamie coos, and flings himself on the floor for the dog to sniff and lick.

"Aw, my baby loves you," Tyler says. "Don't forget to say hi to Uncle Jordie too, Marshall." And that's weird, but it makes Jordie smile anyway.

*

Jordie likes Tyler. He buys better beer than Jamie and compliments Jordie's cooking, and he kicks Jamie's ass at video games. He's fast on the ice and fun in the locker room and Jordie mostly doesn't even notice the empty spot in their team bond where he isn't. It definitely doesn't affect his play--he and Jamie are lighting it up.

Probably Jordie's favourite thing about Tyler, though, is how much he likes Jamie. He's got some kind of pact with him about getting to the Olympics, and even though he has his own apartment, he pretty much lives at Jamie and Jordie's place. His dog even has bowls and a bed there, and Jamie buys him a ridiculous number of toys and treats from the fancy dog boutique downtown.

Tyler fits right into their lives, settles comfortably into the corner seat of their couch, shoved up against Jamie with Marshall draped over all three of them. It's nice, easy, and Jordie's glad he's here. He thinks he and Jamie have been good for Tyler too, a little bit of a steadying influence after everything that went wrong in Boston. Jamie seems to think the same thing; he's all smiles around Tyler, on and off the ice.

They're out celebrating a third win in a streak, and everybody's maybe had a little bit more than they should've, but it's a day off tomorrow and they deserve to have a little fun after that game. Jamie's grinning wide and happy, unsubtly sneaking Val sips of his fruity cocktail while Val gazes longingly at Eakin's neat row of vodka shots. Segs is dancing drunkenly with a pretty girl in a sparkly cowboy hat. Jordie's expecting him to pick up--he's been on his best behaviour all season, but nobody would fault the kid for getting some tonight. Plenty of the other guys have already headed off to do the exact same thing.

Jordie's debating getting up for another round, or maybe seeing if he can get lucky himself, when the girl comes over to their booth, towing Segs behind her like a puppy.

"He says he belongs to y'all," she says, sounding amused as she pours Tyler into the seat next to Jamie. "Make sure he drinks plenty of water when he gets home."

Jordie hopes one of the other guys thanked her for looking out for Tyler, because when she said that first bit something hot and possessive zinged through the bond from Jamie, followed immediately by a sad little ripple of resigned disappointment, and Jordie's too busy processing all of that to be the good Canadian boy his mama raised before the girl walks away.

"Told her what good care you've been taking of me," Segs slurs, listing hard against Jamie's shoulder. "You too, JoBenn. 'm really--you know. Thanks."

"Any time," Jordie says, pulling himself together and stepping up, because Jamie is too drunk to deal with his emotions and formulate words right now. Jordie reaches over to squeeze his shoulder and turns on a little bit of their perks, to help take off the rising edge of panic he can feel coming up in the very back of the bond.

"Need some help getting the kids home?" Fidds asks, hip checking Jordie's shoulder lightly.

Jordie looks at Jamie's sad, hopeless pout, and Segs snuggling happily against him. The room is shimmering a little around the edges.

"Yeah," he says. "Some help would be good."

*

Jordie doesn't remember getting home or dealing with Jamie and Segs--he has a feeling Fidds handled most of it--but he wakes up in his own bed with Jamie's hangover pounding in the back of his head behind his own. There's a groan from the living room. Apparently it had gone above Fidds' pay grade to get Segs all the way up to his own apartment.

By the time Jordie stumbles out of bed, Jamie's flopped onto the couch next to Tyler, clutching a blue gatorade in one hand.

"Ordered breakfast," Segs croaks. Jamie makes a distressed noise, and Jordie swallows hard against a swell of nausea; he's not sure if it's from him or Jamie. Probably both.

"Thanks, Seggy," he says anyway, and steals Jamie's gatorade.

Tyler eventually drags himself upstairs to let Marshall out, then comes back and collapses into the same indent his ass left in the couch. Marshall bounces happily along behind him, coming over to lick Jamie's face in greeting. He groans and rolls over to bury it in Tyler's lap. Jordie winces.

It takes about five seconds for Jamie to realize what he's doing, and he sits up so fast that it makes Jordie's head spin. The bond is pretty much hemorrhaging embarrassment and longing, and Jordie's rush of sympathy in response gets him a glare from Jamie.

After breakfast, Tyler and Marshall go back upstairs, and Jordie sits on the couch pretending to watch tv and letting his concern flood the bond until Jamie snaps, "It's nothing."

"Okay," Jordie says. He reaches over to ruffle Jamie's hair and lets some of their perks shine through the bond, breaking up some of Jamie's unhappiness. "Wanna watch Tattoo Nightmares?" They both get a kick out of how awful it is, but it stresses Tyler out so they don't watch it when he's around.

Jamie nods. He drags a blanket down off the back of the couch and curls up against Jordie, like he used to when they were little. The bond glows with a little trickle of gratitude, and Jordie puts an arm around him and squeezes, letting his own affection flow back towards Jamie. There's only so much perks can do to make this better, and it's not really enough to make much of a difference.

"Sucks, bro. I'm sorry. I wish I could do something to help."

Jamie shrugs, shoving his face into Jordie's shoulder. "This is helping," he mumbles.

Jordie gives him another squeeze, and cranks up the volume on the tv.

*

In January, Segs' and Jamie's Olympic pact pays off. Jordie's there when Jamie gets the phone call, and feels the rush of giddy joy before Jamie can even open his mouth to tell whoever's on the other end that he's honoured to be included and is looking forward to joining the team at camp. He's barely hung up before Jordie wraps him in a hug, so tight that Jamie squeaks.

"Knew you could do it, Jay," Jordie says. "Proved them all wrong, just like you said you would."

Jamie's practically glowing, his pride and excitement lighting up their bond like a neon sign. He gets on the phone with Mom and Dad, and Jordie calls Jenny so Jamie can tell them all at
once on speakerphone.

"Do you think you guys could, uhm. Stay here? In North America?" Jamie says. "Not go to the Olympics?"

"But baby, why?" Mom sounds like she's about to start crying again. "We want to support you."

"I know!" Jamie says quickly. "It's just, it's a lot of pressure, and I don't want to lose focus."

"We understand, son," Dad says. "Go play your best game. We're so proud of you."

"Come back with a gold medal or just stay in Russia," Jenny says, and then ruins it by sniffling.

By the time they hang up, Jamie's eyes are wet too, and Jordie wraps him in another hug. "You're gonna be great," he promises. "Tell Sidney Crosby I said hi."

Jamie laughs and socks him in the arm. "I'll get him to sign a puck for you."

Three weeks later, Segs tags along when Jordie drives Jamie to the airport.

"Score lots of goals and slap Sidney Crosby's butt for me," Segs says when he hugs Jamie goodbye.

Jamie laughs, and the bond is crammed so full of emotions that Jordie can't even begin to unpack them all, fondness and yearning for Segs, pride and fear and hope looking forward to Sochi, sadness that he's going alone. Jordie's already started conserving their perks, because it's a long way to the gold medal, but he lights up the bond with just the smallest bit, just enough to lift Jamie a little above the tangle of emotions.

"Not too late for me to go with you," Jordie says, just for Jamie to hear. Jamie bites his lip, tempted for just a second, but then he shakes his head.

"Gotta do this one on my own, Darth," he says. "You'd better watch all my games, though."

"Like I'd start missing them now," Jordie says, and sends Jamie off with a noogie.

He watches every single game, even the ones that are stupidly early in the morning. Sometimes he calls Jenny or their parents and they watch together as Jamie takes the ice, his whole face shining with joy each and every time. Jordie can feel it, bright and hot in the back of his mind, and he knows his own pride is shining right back, no matter how hard he tries to tamp it down so he doesn't distract Jamie.

Segs is taking advantage of the break to party it up with his bros down in Cabo, but Jordie gets emoji-filled texts from him during and after most of Jamie's games. He comes back in time for the semifinals and shows up at Jordie's door with a case of beer, the shitty kind that Jamie likes, saying it's for good luck. And it must be, because Jamie scores a fucking beautiful goal, the only one that makes it by Quick, and it wins the game. Tyler lets out a triumphant yell and flings himself across the couch to hug Jordie, who's practically suffocating under the weight of Jamie's own reflected happiness and the rest of team Canada's too, funneled in through Jamie's social bond with them.

Segs has had enough beer that he pulls out his phone while he's still sprawled over Jordie's lap and calls Jamie, even though he's had his phone turned off since he left Dallas--no distractions.

"Benny!" Tyler crows. "You fucking did it, man! I knew you'd show them, you're the best." His voice drops down low, intimate, like he's forgotten Jordie's even there. "The very best. And I'm just--I'm so fucking proud of you, Jamie. You're amazing." Which is true, Jamie's totally the best, but Tyler doesn't sound like somebody praising his bro's hockey. He licks his lips, hesitating, like he wants to say something else, but then he just hangs up, gazing wistfully at the TV, where Jamie's still celebrating with his teammates.

"Good news, dude," Jordie says, flicking Segs in the forehead. "Jamie's totally into you too."

Tyler sighs. "Yeah. It's been killing me not to make a move on that."

Jordie is going to kill him.

"What the fuck, Seguin?" he shouts, shoving Tyler off his lap. Tyler yelps, landing on the floor with a thump. "I thought you just weren't into him, or maybe you were too much of a dumbass to realize how he felt about you. But no, you've been making him miserable for months on purpose, why the fuck haven't you said something?"

Tyler crawls back up onto the couch, and Jordie heroically resists the urge to shove him off again. "I can't bond! And his bond with you is so important to him, it makes him so happy. How could I ask him to give up the chance for something even better than that? He deserves to be happy."

Jordie wants to shake him. "Well, this whole thing where you just let him pine after you sure is making him sad, so good job fucking that up. You ever think maybe he deserves to decide for himself if he wants to give it a try?"

Tyler's whole face crumples into a dejected expression. "But there wouldn't be any point--it doesn't matter how I feel about him, Jamie deserves somebody who can really be there for him. Who can give him perks so he can up his game."

"It's not like you're asking him to marry you! And anyway, Jamie's already got perks, he's--"

Jordie's brain catches up with his mouth, and he cuts himself off with a snap. Shit. He's not having this conversation with Tyler before he has it with Jamie. It's private, it's theirs, and Jamie deserves to hear it and hear it first, from Jordie.

Jordie's starting to freak out thinking about that conversation, and if he doesn't get it under control, Jamie's going to pick up on it even through the aftermath of scoring the game-winning quarterfinals goal, and Jordie's not about to do that to him two days before a gold medal game. He takes a deep, shuddery breath, and thinks about Jamie's face when that goal went in, trying to bury his panic and guilt under happiness and pride.

"Look, I can't talk about this right now," he says. "I have to talk to Jamie first, okay, as soon as he gets back. And then you need to man the fuck up and figure this out."

Tyler's jaw is hanging open. "What the fuck, dude?"

"I can't talk about it!" Jordie yells, before forcing himself to take a few more deep breaths. "You need to leave, okay? Just until after Jamie gets back."

Tyler looks hurt, like he's the injured party here somehow, but Jordie ruthlessly ignores that and muscles him to the door, still trying to keep his breathing steady and his emotions under control. The next two days are going to be longest forty-eight hours of his goddamn life.

*

Jamie comes home with a gold medal and a hockey puck signed by Sidney Crosby, addressed specifically to Jordie. "He says hi," Jamie says with a smirk.

"You're such a brat," Jordie says as he pulls Jamie into a hug. "Congratulations on the bling."

He feels Jamie grin against his shoulder and in a starburst of happiness through the bond. "Thanks. I could feel you cheering me on every game."

Jordie's probably not going to get a better in than that. He takes a deep breath, and feels Jamie tense up.

"I'm glad," he says. "Did you--was there anything else you picked up on?"

Jamie chews on his lip, pulling back to look at Jordie. "I don't think so? Maybe you seemed kinda stressed the last couple of days, but I just assumed it was, you know," he waves his hands around. "Maybe bouncing off me, because of the game."

"A little, maybe," Jordie agrees. "But, uhm. Mostly it was because I talked with Tyler? About you." Jamie pulls back a little further, frowning. "And you should definitely talk with him," Jordie barrels on. "But I have something to tell you first. I should probably have told you already. Like, a long time ago."

Jamie's getting really worried now, and it's feeding into Jordie's own anxiety, and making this about a million times harder. "Segs is super into you." There's a gleeful little thrill all through their bond, and Jordie really wishes he could just stop there. He grits his teeth and continues, "But he's afraid you won't be happy with him because he can't bond, and he doesn't, like, want to cheat you out of your third tier bond. Only, uhm. I sort of already did?"

Jamie blinks at him. "I don't get it. We've just got a really good second tier sibling bond. It's probably the best thing in my life, and you're definitely not cheating me out of anything."

Jordie huffs a frustrated sigh, trying to set aside how good it feels to hear out loud that Jamie feels that way about him and their bond, because this is really important. "It's the best thing in mine too, Jay. But that's probably because it's a third tier bond."

Jamie shakes his head, still confused, but it's starting to shade a little into frustration. "It's not, though. We don't have perks or anything."

"Yeah, we do," Jordie says, practically whispering now. "You score lots of goals when we use them, and when you were little they used to make you stop crying." They're running kinda low, after Jordie'd poured everything he had into those last two Olympic games, but there's just enough to light up that familiar glow under his ribs and direct it towards Jamie. "See?"

That's more evidence than even Jamie can deny. It cuts off after a few seconds. Which is unfortunate, because Jordie doesn't think he's ever seen Jamie this upset or angry before, and he really wants to fix it.

Jamie's so angry he can't even talk, but it's not like he needs to, because Jordie can feel all of it painfully clearly, thrumming through his body like electricity.

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you," Jordie says. "I didn't know until high school, and by then it was just how things were, you know? And...I wanted you to go to the NHL."

"Me too, but not because I stole it from you!" Jamie yells. "I can't believe I didn't notice. Shit, I should've--" There's a heavy thread of guilt tangled up with his anger now.

"Dude, we bonded so early you can't even remember what it was like before," Jordie retorts. "You didn't steal anything from me--I did it because I wanted to take care of you, for you to get what you wanted."

"You should have told me! I want to take care of you too, asshole!" Jamie's eyes are wet, and his breathing is heavy and uneven. "Don't do it any more, I don't want it."

That feels like a punch in the gut. Jamie might as well have said he didn't love Jordie any more, the way he'd screamed at dad once when he was a kid chafing against some rule.

"I can't fucking believe you," Jordie says, a sudden burst of fury overriding his distress at seeing Jamie so upset. "I've been busting my ass my entire life to look out for you, to make things as good for you as I possibly can, and now you're just going to throw that back in my face? Fuck you."

"You don't get to use your martyr complex as an excuse!" Jamie says. "You should have just told me."

"I already said I was sorry!" Jordie's head hurts, and he feels like he might just break apart under the onslaught of Jamie's emotions against his own. For the first time in his whole life, he wishes he could just turn off their bond. "Yeah, I should have told you. But I still wouldn't have done things any differently."

"Look, I can't talk about this any more right now," Jamie says, all the fight going out of him. The waves of anger and guilt and betrayal are still there, though, heavy and painful through the bond. "I'm gonna go stay with Tyler or Fidds or somebody for a couple days. I'll see you at practice."

He doesn't go far enough away to be anywhere but at Tyler's. Jordie does his best to push the bond away, but it's not easy, and he can still feel the way Jamie's anger ebbs and flows, presumably as he talks to Tyler about what just happened. Jordie pulls out his phone and texts Dills.

Call of Duty tournament, your place?

You're on, Dills shoots back immediately. He's a good guy, and Jordie and Jamie are both taking up a lot of space in the team bond right now, so he can probably tell something's up. He doesn't push, though, just gets Jordie a beer and lets him have the better controller when Jordie slumps down onto his couch. The alcohol makes it harder to keep Jamie's feelings at a distance. Their bond is still a mess, but Jordie thinks there's something hopeful in there.

He's on his fourth beer, and is pretty sure Dills is just letting him win at this point, when he feels Jamie just light up, like fireworks all through the bond.

"Get it bro," Jordie cheers quietly, and he can't help the wave of affection and annoying older brother pride that rolls back towards Jamie. Whatever, he can deal.

"The Captain picking up?" Dills asks. Some of the guys are still a little weirded out by how in each other's heads Jamie and Jordie are, but it's never bothered Dills. He reaches over to steal a slurp of Jordie's beer.

"He'd better be making sweet, sweet love," Jordie says, helpfully tipping the bottle up for him. It spills down the front of his tshirt.

"Oops," Jordie says with a giggle. "Sorry, man." Dills gets him back by snaking Jordie's beer bottle and draining the rest of it. He leaves a friendly arm around him afterwards, and Jordie sinks deeper into the couch, enjoying the happy, loose feeling of the booze, the warmth of his buddy next to him, and the quiet hum of Jamie's happiness and amazement in the back of his mind. He remembers being angry and hurt, fighting with Jamie, but it seems so far away right now, and he's going to enjoy this while it lasts.

*

The next day at practice, the whole team's figured out that there's something going on with him and Jamie, and it takes Coach threatening bag skates to get them to get their heads out of their asses and pay attention to drills. He doesn't say anything to Jamie or Jordie, but the glare he gives them speaks volumes: sort your shit out, or I'll sort it out for you. That's definitely not a prospect Jordie looks forward to.

He's cooking lunch--making enough for Jamie and Tyler out of habit--when there's a little anxious push in the back of his mind, followed by the same feeling that accompanies Jamie getting ready to go out on the penalty kill, to just grind through it and get it done and do his best. Jordie's not surprised when the door opens.

"Hey," Jamie says softly. "So we should talk."

Jordie nods and fills up a bowl of pasta for him.

The corners of Jamie's mouth lift, a ghost of his normal pudgy smile. "Thanks."

Jordie fills a bowl for himself and sits down next to Jamie, giving him time to sort through what he wants to say, not pushing.

"You've always been there for me," Jamie says. "And I'm grateful for everything. I'm sorry I acted like I wasn't." He runs a hand through his hair, looking down at the countertop. "I just wish I'd known, so that I could've made my own choices. So you could've gotten something out of it too."

"I get plenty out of it," Jordie says. He reaches out to grip the back of Jamie's neck, shaking gently until he gets Jamie to give him eye contact. "Listen, every single day was worth it, okay? I'm sorry, I fucked up not telling you, but I'm not sorry that it got us here."

"Me neither," Jamie admits, a little coil of shame running through the bond, like he thinks Jordie's going to get mad at him, when it's the only reasonable response. "I just hate that you had to work twice as hard."

Jordie shrugs. "I didn't, though. It's not like perks are magic, dude. They just help what's already there. You would have worked every bit as hard without them, and it's not like I would have slacked off if I'd had them."

Jamie takes a little while to think that over, then nods. "But listen, from now on, it can't be like that, all one-sided. You've gotta help me learn how to use them, so I can share with you. That's the whole point of being brothers."

He's so earnest that Jordie fights down the urge to chirp him, and pulls him in for an octopus hug instead. "You got it, Chubbs."

"'Sorry I never thought maybe it could be a third-level bond," Jamie says, his voice muffled against Jordie's bicep. "'Cause, you know, in all the movies and stuff it's always all sappy romantic shit."

Jordie rolls his eyes and squeezes Jamie's head a little tighter. "Pretty sure we're a special case, bro."

Jamie wriggles around until he can look up at Jordie's face. "So we're okay?"

"Duh," Jordie says. "Brothers forever." He jabs the tattoo on Jamie's forearm for emphasis

Jamie beams and scoots his barstool over til they're pressed together from shoulder to knee, digging his chin into Jordie's shoulder. Their bond is warm and bright with affection and gratitude.

On the bar, both of their phones buzz with incoming texts. The picture of Segs asleep with Marshall on their couch flashes up on both screens.

did you guys make up yet? gonna order thai want anything?

Jordie rolls his eyes. "Wanna invite him down for dinner? Felt like you guys worked out your issues, with the whole--" he makes a jerking off motion "--last night."

"Jor-die," Jamie groans, covering his face. The bond is a mess of embarrassment and blurry satisfaction from his sweet, sweet loving with Tyler. "Yeah, we, uhm. Anyway, it's a work in progress. But I think it's gonna be good."

Jordie smirks, and texts Tyler that there's food and beer and cuddles with Jamie waiting for him.

:) :) :) :) :) Tyler texts back.

*

Jordie feels the sunshine bloom of Jamie turning their perks on for him as soon as he steps onto the ice, matching the warmth glowing under Jordie's ribs for Jamie. The puck comes down into their zone, on the stick of a Ducks forward, and Jordie knocks him off it in a beautifully timed hit. He sends the puck down the ice, right to Jamie, who's exactly where Jordie knew he'd be.

Jamie skates right through three opposing players, and even though nobody can feel Tyler on the ice, Jamie knows right where he is, and the perfect angle to get the puck on his tape. Tyler sneaks it past Hiller, short side, and slams into Jamie so hard Jamie lifts him off the ice.

"Love me some of that Benn to Benn magic!" Tyler shouts as Jordie crashes into their hug. He laughs giddily as Jamie and then Jordie bump his helmet with theirs.

It's not magic, it's just hard work and brain chemistry, but here, surrounded by his team and thousands of cheering fans, with his brother lighting up their bond brighter than any goal light, it feels pretty damn magical to Jordie.