Sam jerked like he’d been given an electric shock. The face he turned up to Dean was streaked with tears, snot, and desperation. He looked like someone who had witnessed the end of the world and wished he hadn’t survived.
Fuckin’ kid, Dean muttered inside his head.
“They benched me,” Dean said, flashing a grin he hoped wasn’t too joyous.
Sam stared at him wordlessly for another minute, then shook his head. “What?”
“Yeah,” Dean slid to his knees in front of Sam, then scooted into the almost-non-existence space next to him, so that they were pressed together from shoulder to ankle. “I guess I’m not good enough to leave this place. They want me to stay.”
I want you to stay, Dean wished Sam would say, but Sam didn’t. Instead, he scrambled to his feet, away from Dean, his face full of confusion and anger.
“You – you can’t be serious,” Sam choked out, struggling to get some control over whatever the fuck had just happened. “That never happens.”
“Yeah, well, I guess it did, for once,” Dean said, fighting his sudden self-doubt. Maybe the Guardians had made a mistake. Maybe he wasn’t really supposed to stay.
Then Dean recalled Sam’s earlier emotional reaction to his leaving and he lost all self-restraint.
“Sam,” Dean said, trying to convey his joy, his sheer pleasure in Sam’s presence. “I think this was the way it was supposed to be. I think you and me were supposed to stay together. Maybe – maybe my real purpose is to watch over you.”
Sam clenched his fists, shifted from foot to foot. “Till when, Dean?” he demanded. “Till I leave here? What then? Are you supposed to come with me? Because that’s never happened, either. Students never leave with any other classmates but their own. So what then? I’ll go with Jake and Lily and Ava and you’ll just, what? Tag along?”
“You’re going to college, Sam,” Dean reminded him. “So you can come back here as a Tutor.”
“Even Tutors donate eventually,” Sam snapped. “You know that.”
“Yeah, but not for a long time,” Dean insisted. “Longer than anybody. John and Mary have been here almost ten years.”
Sam shook his head, sucked in a breath and clenched his teeth, fighting against his own frustration. Dean wished he could hug him, make him feel better. He was still feeling high from his assignment and he wanted Sam to feel it, too. This was good for them. It was.
“You don’t get it,” Sam said, wiping new tears from his face with an angry gesture. “You just don’t get it, Dean.”
“What don’t I get, Sam?” Dean was getting irritated. This was not going the way he thought it would. “I thought you didn’t want me to go. Did I get that wrong? Cuz you sure made a scene in assembly, in front of everybody. But if that’s not what you meant, then my bad, Sam. Guess I got the wrong assignment after all.”
“No,” Sam shook his head. “No, that’s not what I mean.”
“Then what the hell do you mean, Sammy? What the hell’s going on with you?”
Sam took a deep breath, lifted his eyes to Dean’s face, and smiled. It was the saddest thing Dean had ever seen.
“You know, when I woke up this morning and I knew you’d be leaving today? All I could think about was, ‘now I’ll never get to kiss him.’ How selfish is that? Here you were, going off to some holding center to wait till you were old enough to donate your vital organs and die in some hospital somewhere, and all I could think about was that I’d never know what it felt like to kiss you. How lame am I, huh? How stupid.”
Dean’s chest flooded with warmth. Before he could second-guess himself he rose smoothly to his feet in front of Sam, holding his gaze as the boy’s eyes widened. Dean reached for him, cradling his face carefully, and Sam held perfectly still, parting his lips a little as Dean kissed him. Sam’s mouth was salty with tears, his cheeks smooth and damp. Dean kissed him softly, chaste and tender, and when he felt Sam’s tongue flicking against his lips he pulled back, breaking the kiss. He left his hands on Sam’s face another minute, long enough for Sam to open his eyes.
“Okay?” Dean said, swiping his thumb across the apple of Sam’s cheek, wiping the tears away.
Sam was trembling, blinking up at Dean with shining eyes, but he managed to nod. Dean smiled, reassuring, although he was feeling a little unsteady as he stepped back, let Sam go.
“Okay then,” Dean said. “Let’s get you cleaned up and back to class or wherever you’re supposed to be.”
Dean couldn’t stop thinking about the kiss.
He’d kissed dozens of girls hundreds of times, but he never thought about it afterwards.
Of course, Sam wasn’t just another girl. Dean had already acknowledged to himself that Sam was the most important person in his life. He loved Sam. Even though the Guardians had subtly insisted that clones couldn’t feel strong emotions, that they were only capable of living life in a muted, faded way, Dean felt intensely where Sam was concerned. He just did.
Ruby had known. It was what made her so jealous and spiteful, Dean realized. It wasn’t that Dean didn’t care for Ruby as much as he did for Sam. It was that he could feel so strongly about anyone. Ruby had been jealous of Dean’s ability to love.
For the next month or so, Dean was absorbed with his new duties as school mechanic. He fixed the Guardians’ cars, kept the air-conditioners in their offices working, replaced parts in the old stoves and refrigerators in the kitchen. Ms. Emily wanted him to learn to drive, so he could run errands into town for them, so John became his driving Tutor. Dean and John spent every afternoon for a week practicing before they went into town to get his driver’s license.
After passing the test on his first try, Dean began making regular trips into town, first just for parts and tools, but within the month Dean was running other errands as well. He liked getting out on the open road, even if just for the thirty minutes it took to drive into Lawrence. It gave him a feeling of freedom he’d never known.
“You like to drive,” Sam accused when he met Dean returning from one of his errands, plastic bags of groceries and other sundries hanging off his fingers.
“Yeah,” Dean nodded, grinning because he couldn’t help himself. “I do.”
Sam had been running, playing soccer with his classmates, and his cheeks were flushed, his hair wild and sticking to his forehead. He was beginning to grow some muscle, and his arms and legs were getting tan in the Kansas sun.
He looked beautiful.
Dean was a little startled by that observation; he’d never associated beauty with a boy before. He wasn’t sure why his stomach was fluttering at the sight of Sam all sweaty and panting from exertion, but there was no mistaking the little twitch in his pants that told him it had been too long since he’d had sex.
Now that his classmates were gone, the only options for sex were younger students, and Dean had never found that idea palatable. He felt like a big brother to all of them.
Sammy was different.
“Take me for a ride later?” Sam was asking, and Dean realized he’d been staring. Maybe salivating. He slammed his mouth shut and looked up. Of course Sam had a little smile tugging at the corners of his lips, dimples showing adorably. Like he knew, the bitch.
“Yeah, sure,” Dean said, his voice coming out breathy and stuttering, making him blush.
Sam is not a potential sexual partner, he scolded himself.
But Dean’s body had other ideas.
“Cool,” Sam nodded. “I’ll go shower and change.”
And now Dean was thinking about Sam naked. Great.
Dean chickened out and hid in the shed for the rest of the afternoon, working on the lawn-mower. He knew Sam was out looking for him, saw him through the shed window, standing over by the garage, looking around with a puzzled look on his face.
Dean knew he should man up and admit he couldn’t stand to be near Sam right now. He needed to figure out what the hell was going on. He couldn’t have sex with Sam; sex was something Dean had only ever had with people he didn’t care that much about. It was only for kicks. Sam was special. Sam was important. Sam could get hurt and it would be Dean’s fault and Dean couldn’t stand for that.
He managed to eat his dinner in the kitchen that night, with the kitchen staff, all clones like himself but from different growing centers. That’s what the staff called them, anyway, glancing nervously at Dean as he ate alone in a corner. None of the clones from other places ever spoke to the students. They didn’t seem to know what to make of Dean; former students never stayed on at Seven Gables, and although he was now technically one of them, they clearly thought of him as part of the school. Privileged. Special. The staff were just grateful for their jobs, as much as they resented and feared the students and Tutors. The Guardians were beyond reproach, of course, being originals.
Dean had tried to befriend one or two staffers during his first week, but he’d been met with stony silence followed by giggling and rustling whispers when he finally gave up and turned away.
“Don’t bother,” John had told him during Dean’s driving lessons. “They come from the worst possible places. Usually, clones from their centers end up donating first, sometimes as children, when they’re needed. They just want to be here as long as they can. They won’t talk to you because they’re afraid of drawing attention to themselves. It’s useless to try to get them to say anything, even harder to get any of them to trust one of us.”
So Dean ate his meals alone most of the time, since he no longer belonged in the student dining room.
After dinner he snuck up the back stairs to his room and almost stumbled headlong into Sam, who was standing quietly in a corner of the hallway outside his room.
“Jesus, Sam! What are you doing here?” Dean backed into the wall as Sam emerged from the shadows, the angles of his face in sharp relief. Dean was struck again by Sam’s natural beauty; how he’d never noticed it before when it was right there in front of him he’d never know.
“You said we could go for a ride,” Sam pouted. “You said you’d take me.”
“Jesus, Sam, I didn’t think you meant today,” Dean lied. “I meant, sometime I’ll take you, sure. Although you know it’s against the rules, right? You’re not supposed to leave the school grounds.”
“So?” Sam frowned. “Why should I follow their rules anyway? They just want to keep us in line until it’s time for us to die.”
“That’s not right, Sam, and you know it,” Dean shook his head. “What we do is the most important thing in the world. We save people.”
“You believe that?” Sam scoffed, advancing on Dean so that he found himself pressed flat against the wall, watching Sam with a mixture of dread and anticipation. “You really believe what we do is a good thing?”
“Yeah,” Dean breathed, his voice shaking only a little. “Yes, I do. We’re heroes, Sam, just like Ms. Emily says.”
Sam was so close now, their chests were almost touching. Dean had nowhere to go, and the problem wasn’t that he needed to get away. The problem was, he needed to be closer.
“Let’s get out of here,” Sam said, his eyes shining fever-bright in his thin, angular face. “Let’s just do it.”
Dean swallowed hard, trying to push his ass into the plaster behind him in a last-ditch effort to hide his raging erection. “Okay,” he choked out, reaching behind him blindly, grasping the doorknob to his room. “Come on.”
Sam’s eyes widened, then darkened as he figured out that Dean had misunderstood him completely. But Dean was already too far gone, too committed. He lurched awkwardly into his room as Sam crowded in behind him. They were on each other almost before the door closed, grabbing at each others’ bodies, mouthing at each other’s faces, desperate to do what Dean now realized he’d been waiting to do all his life. He needed Sam like he needed air; he couldn’t even remember a time when that wasn’t true.
Sam was whimpering, moaning and whining and shoving his hands under Dean’s shirt, biting his jaw, his collarbone, trying to drop to his knees in front of Dean but Dean wasn’t having it.
“No,” he gasped. “No, Sam. You don’t need to do that.”
“Want to,” Sam whined, grasping handfuls of Dean’s back through his shirt, kneading his ass through his jeans. “Want you to fuck me, Dean. Want you to own me.”
“Fuck,” Dean groaned, tipping his head back to get some air, to try to clear his head.
This boy is only fourteen, his brain told him, and he wanted to cry.
“It’s okay, Dean,” Sam sobbed against his neck, sucking and licking at his collarbone. “I want this. I’ve always wanted this. Only you, Dean, I swear. I only ever wanted you like this.”
“Ah, fuck,” Dean moaned.
“I’m still a virgin, Dean,” Sam babbled. “I waited for you. You’re the only one I ever wanted.”
“Heard you the first time,” Dean groaned, running his hands through Sam’s lustrous hair because how could he not? The boy was made for him. It was so obvious Dean could feel the tears slipping down his cheeks. How had he never understood this before? How had he not seen it?
“I never wanted a boy before,” Dean gasped as Sam sucked on his collarbone. Jesus.
“I know,” Sam drew in a shuddering breath as he slipped his hands up, cupping Dean’s face tenderly. “It’s okay, Dean. This is how it’s supposed to be for us. It’s okay.”
“You’re only fourteen.” Dean’s eyes widened as he looked down at Sam. The boy’s cheeks were flushed and wet with tears, and Dean dipped his head to kiss them without even thinking about it.
“With you, I’m older,” Sam said softly. “I swear. I don’t understand it, but I’m so old with you.”
“Okay,” Dean said, seeing something in Sam’s beautiful face that convinced him. “Okay. But I’m not going to hurt you. I can’t hurt you.”
“I know,” Sam nodded, desperate and wise simultaneously, so that Dean felt like he was looking at a soul that had lived before, many times before, although later he couldn’t remember where that thought came from.
“Okay,” Dean said again, cupping Sam’s face carefully, gently. He swiped his thumb along Sam’s soft lower lip before leaning in to kiss it. “Okay.”
Sex with Sam was a revelation. Dean had read about characters who “made love” in books, but he’d never experienced it before.
Of course, the first time, it was over before it started. They were too hot for each other, and they were teenagers. But after they took off their soiled clothes and washed, they laid down on Dean’s bed together and took their time. Dean kissed down Sam’s hairless chest, pushed his arms up over his head and kissed along the underside of each one, where the skin was particularly soft and tender. He kissed up the long column of Sam’s throat, sucking on his adam’s apple like it was a ripe fruit. He smoothed his hand down Sam’s belly to cup his balls, gently rolling them between his fingers as Sam moaned and writhed and got hard again.
It felt strange to hold another boy’s dick. It was like doing it to himself. Dean knew what he liked, knew how to touch and pull and twist just so, and when he lowered his mouth to the leaking head of Sam’s dick, he knew how that felt, understood exactly how unbearably good it was. Sam whined and cried out and came hard a second time, muttering, “Sorry, sorry,” as he released a mouthful of salty fluid into Dean’s mouth.
Dean swallowed like a champ, wondering what the fuss had been when Lisa made a face and refused to do it.
He let Sam push him over onto his back so Sam could return the favor, all sweet inexperience and desperation. Sam rolled him over and licked tentatively at his hole, then stabbed his tongue inside as Dean moaned and shivered. No girl had ever done that before.
“Touch yourself,” Dean gasped, wrapping his hand around his own dick.
They came simultaneously with Sam’s tongue in Dean’s hole, and Dean didn’t want to think too hard about why he liked that so much. He’d heard of anal sex before, of course, but never read or seen anything explicit about any other kind of sex than the traditional heterosexual missionary style kind. It wasn’t forbidden, exactly, but Dean had the feeling it was one of those practices that was discouraged because of the potential for disease or damage. The Guardians were so careful about that.
Although, since they were all checked regularly for any sign of anything wrong, the possibility of sexually transmitted diseases or even simple infection was practically zero.
Maybe the Guardians were simply prudes. They were old. At least forty, most of them. Maybe they didn’t have sex.
“They don’t know what they’re missing,” Dean mused as he lay with Sam later, sated and sleepy. He pushed the hair back from Sam’s forehead so he could study his face better, memorizing every line and angle, his constellation of beauty marks. The slope of his nose and curve of his lips. The slant of his eyes and curl of his eyelashes.
Dean was well on the way to obsession, but somehow it wasn’t a bad thing after all. Being in love wasn’t what the books said. It wasn’t something that hit him suddenly, out of left field, the first time he laid eyes on Sam. It had grown naturally, gradually, over the years since that first day. His love for Sam had evolved, had changed and grown as Sam grew.
“Hmmm,” Sam cuddled closer, turning his face into Dean’s palm, keeping his eyes closed so that he seemed asleep, trusting, like when he was the small child Dean used to comfort after a nightmare.
“Nothing bad’s gonna happen to you,” Dean promised, just as he had back then. “Not while I’m around.”
"You should stop taking the pills," Sam said one morning as they were getting dressed.
It was almost a month later, and Sam and Dean were a couple. The Guardians seemed to accept it, allowing Sam to sleep in Dean's tiny bedroom over the garage. The other students shunned Sam anyway; Dean caught their jealous glares from time to time, but they seemed to know to leave Sam alone.
Which was a good thing, since Dean would have punched their little sixteen-year-old noses if they'd laid a finger on his little brother-turned-lover.
But mostly, Dean was happy. Probably the happiest he'd ever been, in fact. Except that Sam kept saying things that were a little disturbing.
"What are you talking about?" Dean shook his head.
"The pills make us docile," Sam explained.
"In English, nerd-brain."
Sam sighed. "The pills make us more cooperative," he said. "They dull our emotions so we can't get angry and rebel against them for what they're doing to us."
"How do you know?" Dean demanded. "I thought they were just vitamins."
"Ms. Kim told me," Sam said. "She told me what they were, what they do. So I looked it up, anshe was right. I stopped taking mine over a year ago."
"So that's why you're such a pain in my ass," Dean quipped with a wink as he tied his shoes.
"It's not funny, Dean," Sam protested. "You should stop taking them."
Dean glanced up at the bottle of little white pills on his bedside table. He'd been taking one every morning for as long as he could remember, since he was so little an adult caregiver had to hold the water cup for him.
He looked up at Sam, dressed in his school uniform with his unruly dark hair brushed carefully so it lay almost neatly, temporarily tucked behind his ears. Dean knew it would fall back into his face before the morning was half over, and the thought of Sam sitting at his school-desk with his hair framing his sweet face made Dean's chest warm.
"Okay," he said, surprising himself. Sam had him wrapped around his little finger, but he didn't mind. He liked it that way.
“We should just keep driving,” Sam said the first time Dean took him out in the car. “Never turn back.”
It had taken some doing to convince Ms. Emily to allow Sam to ride along when Dean drove into town for supplies. She didn’t trust Sam, Dean could see it in her eyes. She knew he had been close with Ms. Kim, and Dean imagined that had something to do with it. Sam had always been a challenge. From Ms. Emily’s perspective, Sam was the brilliant, difficult rebel child she could never quite control. She counted on Dean to keep Sam grounded, to keep him from flying off the handle.
Or from flying out the door.
“That’s a great idea, Sam,” Dean snapped. “And when they catch us and send us to the closest holding center? Separately and behind bars?”
“I’m going to find a way to deactivate our bracelets,” Sam answered firmly. The Guardians made them all wear bracelets that monitored their vital signs at all times. The bracelets automatically kept track of them, registered when they entered or left their assigned living quarters, followed their movements by satellite. “When I figure it out, we’ll deactivate everybody at the school. We’ll save them all.”
Dean didn’t doubt for a minute that Sam could do that. It was only a matter of time.
“We’ll have a boat,” Dean said dreamily one rainy afternoon when they lay in his bed, lazy and rested after sex and a nap. “We’ll sail around the world.”
Sam smiled against his shoulder. “I’ll be the captain.”
“No, you’ll be my first mate, bitch,” Dean corrected, shifting slightly so that Sam was tucked under his arm, against his chest. “We’ll fish for our food and stop over for days at a time on tropical islands. There’ll be beautiful topless women with long black hair, all eager to make us feel welcome. Maybe I’ll let you have one.”
“Jerk,” Sam turned his face into Dean’s chest and took his nipple between his teeth, making Dean hiss.
They talked about escaping, running away, living on the road together, almost every day. It was their favorite shared fantasy, and one of Dean’s favorite things to do on lazy mornings when they didn’t have to get up to go anywhere. Lying in bed, fingers twined, watching the sun filter into Dean’s cramped little room, talking about their imaginary future together – this was fast becoming one of Dean’s best memories.
Part of him knew it couldn’t ever come true, of course.
Part of Dean understood that eventually, he would be lying in a hospital recovering from a donation, waiting until he was well enough to donate again, maybe for the last time. When that happened, he wanted to remember those moments when he lay quietly with Sam, dreaming about a future they could never have.
Dean also understood that for Sam, the fantasy was much more serious. He had spent the past two years researching ways to get them out, learning everything he could about the system that held them captive. Sam was on a mission, and he couldn’t be stopped, even if Dean told him to stop, which he had no intention of doing anyway.
“I won’t watch you die, Dean,” Sam told him when Dean first teased him about it. “You’re older than I am so they’ll take you first, and I can’t let that happen.”
Dean never doubted that Sam could figure out a way to escape. He just didn’t think it could happen. He believed in Sam, just not in his own salvation. They were clones, created for one purpose, and ultimately their purpose would be fulfilled. It was just the way it was. At least Dean wouldn’t be around to see Sam make his first donation. Maybe that was selfish of him, but he didn’t care. He was helping Sam buy as much time as any clone could ever hope for. Sam becoming a Tutor was Dean’s mission in life. It was the best he could do.
For Sam's fifteenth birthday, Dean took him into town for a birthday dinner at Pat’s Diner, just the two of them.
"When we hit the road, we'll eat at these kinds of places all the time," Dean said as he studied his menu. "These places are classic. They used to make them out of old railroad cars."
Sam scowled at the menu and bit his bottom lip, making Dean want to kiss him.
"This food has enough grease in it to clog every artery in your body fifty times over," Sam complained.
“I thought you gave up on keeping yourself healthy,” Dean reminded him, and Sam made a face.
“I’m not giving them my organs.” Sam rolled his eyes. “I’m keeping them. I want to live to be eighty, the way people used to do.”
“Eighty’s old, man.” Dean shook his head. “Better to die young, leave a beautiful corpse.”
“Ew! No! God, Dean, you’re so gross,” Sam complained as the waitress arrived to take their order.
“I’ll have a bacon-double-cheeseburger, extra onions, with curly fries,” Dean told her. “He’ll have a salad with a side of self-righteous, please.”
Dean had had a little experience ordering food since that first nerve-wracking performance four years before. He’d gotten good at it, and after the first few times blushing and stammering through his order, he’d come to understand that most waitresses couldn’t tell he wasn’t human. They were too busy noticing how good-looking he was.
It gave him confidence. Then it made him cocky.
Being able to pass as human in the outside world was a kind of drug, he realized. It made him high.
It also made him horny. He couldn’t help flirting with the waitress, despite the cloudy look it put on Sam’s face. Sam was cute when he pouted, and even cuter when he scowled and rolled his eyes. Getting a rise out of Sammy was definitely Dean’s favorite sport.
“When we go on the road, we’re heading south first,” Dean announced as the waitress left to fill their order.
“Why south?” Sam frowned.
“We were both born in Texas, Sammy. If we want to find our originals, that’s the best place to start.”
They had had several conversations about finding their personal originals, the men they were modeled on. It was a topic that caused Sam more than a little anxiety.
“I don’t think my original was a very good person.” Sam shook his head. “I don’t want to meet him.”
“Sure you do, Sam,” Dean teased. “And I definitely want to meet him. I want to see what you’ll look like when you’re old.”
Sam rolled his eyes. “We don’t even know if he’s still alive,” he said. “Originals die eventually, too.”
Dean shook his head. “He’s still alive,” he said confidently. “You said the cloning project only started about sixty years ago.”
“Yeah,” Sam said. “But if he was already old then…”
“Sammy, your original is a brilliant man. I’m sure he’s figured out a way to keep himself alive. He’s probably fabulously wealthy, successful, maybe famous…”
“Not famous,” Sam shook his head. “I’ve looked for his face in every book and magazine in the library. He’s not famous.”
“Gorgeous, though,” Dean winked, and Sam blushed and grinned bashfully as Dean kicked him lightly under the table.
The waitress arrived with their food and they dug in, each lost in his own thoughts for a few moments.
“Don’t you wonder about yours?” Sam asked finally. “Your original, he’s somebody special, I bet.”
Dean recalled the way Mister looked at him on the day he visited Seven Gables. It occurred to Dean, not for the first time, that Mister had recognized him. Dean had looked like somebody Mister had known. That’s why he’d stared at Dean with so much love and sadness.
“I think Mister might know him,” Dean said tentatively, and Sam looked up sharply.
“Really? What makes you say that?”
Dean shrugged, suddenly shy. “I don’t know,” he said, keeping his eyes on his food. “Just instinct. Mister looked at me funny the last time, that’s all. It’s probably nothing.”
“How come you never told me about that?” Sam seemed genuinely surprised, and Dean could tell his brain was already working the problem, considering all the possibilities.
“I just did,” Dean shrugged. “Didn’t think it mattered before. At the time, I was kinda hoping it meant he’d let me take care of his car.”
“His car?” Sam frowned, then nodded as the memory came back to him. “Oh yeah. That classic car he drives. She’s a beauty, all right.”
Dean nodded. “Yeah. I wouldn’t mind getting a look under her hood, that’s for sure.”
Sam’s mouth fell open. “Did you just threaten to cheat on me? On my birthday? With a car?”
Dean laughed out loud as Sam pretended to scowl and the tension between them dissipated.
“How about some dessert for you boys?” the waitress interrupted, and Dean had to appreciate her timing.
Sam shook his head. “Nothing for me, thank you,” he said shyly. Being out in the world, ordering food at a diner, was still new to Sam, still made him blush and squirm nervously.
Dean loved him for it.
“I’ll have a big ol piece of your best pie,” Dean said, winking at Sam, which made the boy blush harder.
“You got it,” the waitress smiled, then frowned playfully at Sam. “You sure you don’t want anything, honey? I could bring you a fork so you could share your brother’s pie.”
The look on Sam’s face was priceless. “How does she know we’re brothers?” He hissed as soon as she left to fetch the pie.
“She doesn’t,” Dean chuckled. “She’s just guessing.”
“Huh,” Sam nodded thoughtfully. “You know, only rich people get organ transplants. People who make minimum wage or don’t have health insurance are out of luck.”
They both watched the waitress as she moved around the room, filling coffee cups and smiling at customers.
“She’s just like us, then,” Dean shrugged, taking a sip of his water. “Shit out of luck.”
“Not really,” Sam shook his head. “Being human means you have options. She can marry someone who has health insurance, or she could inherit a million dollars, or just go back to school and get a degree and a better job.”
“I guess,” Dean shrugged again.
“She won’t, but that doesn’t mean she couldn’t. She’s grateful she lives in a land of opportunity where she can get the best health care if she just puts her mind to it. She would never vote to have that option taken away. None of them would. Even the ones that never get to benefit from it.”
Now Sam was being morbid again.
“I’ll bet she never goes to college,” Dean said, suddenly needing to burst Sam’s bubble. “I’ll bet she ends up pregnant, without a husband, and she has to raise the kid by herself because she has a sister who let her boyfriend abuse her kids and she won’t let that happen. So she’s alone forever, raising the kid, investing everything in it. She works at the diner, she takes double shifts at the gas station. Eventually, she gets cancer but she can’t afford treatment. She doesn’t tell the kid because she doesn’t want him to worry, since he’s almost eighteen and ready to live on his own. She uses every ounce of strength to make it to the day he graduates from high school, and she’s right there, in terrible pain because she can’t afford the pain meds, but she’s there. She tells him she loves him. Then that night she dies in her sleep, age forty-five.”
Sam stared, shaking his head a little. The waitress arrived at that moment to put the pie in front of Dean, and when she handed Sam a fork and winked at him, he actually smiled back, dimples making his whole face light up.
“You boys need anything else?” she asked, and Dean shook his head, giving her his warmest smile.
“No, we’re fine,” he said. “Thank you.”
“You’re a poet, Dean,” Sam said after Dean took a bite of the pie, relishing the taste on his tongue before swallowing it. Food like this was forbidden at Seven Gables, and he’d quickly developed a taste for it now that he had the freedom to eat in town. On his meager pay, it wasn’t like he was going to get sick on fried food and high calorie desserts, but it was a treat he looked forward to more than he could admit to anyone except Sam.
“What?” Dean frowned. “No, I’m not. I couldn’t come up with a line of poetry if you held a gun to my head.”
“You just did,” Sam said fondly, shaking his head. “You do it all the time.”
Dean shook his head dismissively and set his sights on his pie.
The rest of that year passed remarkably well. Sam took his SATs and scored so high the college applications began pouring in. Dean helped him complete the applications, selected with help from John and Mary, who had both attended the local university right there in Lawrence. In the spring just before Sam’s sixteenth birthday, acceptances started coming in from colleges and universities all over the country.
“You’ve got your pick, Sam,” Dean crowed as they poured over the acceptance packages. “You can go anywhere you want.”
“Well, not anywhere,” Sam reminded him. “It’s got to be somewhere the Guardians will approve.”
“Of course they’ll approve, Sam!” Dean was floored. “You’ll go wherever you want! How about Harvard, huh? They want you! Stupid big expensive East Coast Ivy League school thinks you’re the bee’s knees, Sammy boy! What do you say?”
“I’m not going to Harvard,” Sam shook his head.
“Why not?” Dean was genuinely surprised. It hadn’t occurred to him that Sam would say no to the top school in the country.
“The Guardians will never allow it,” Sam said quietly. “It’s too conspicuous.”
“What?” Dean stared. “It’s prestigious, Sam! Good for Seven Gables! One of our own gets into Harvard, gets a Harvard degree…”
“That’s just it, Dean,” Sam said, looking sad and defeated. “They’ll never let me go.”
Now it was Dean’s turn to stare. It was late in the evening, after they were done with work and chores and school, and Dean had put off the opening of the envelopes because he thought it would be a happy occasion. He thought it would put that beautiful dimpled smile on Sam’s face that Dean loved more than life itself.
“Of course they’ll let you go, Sam,” Dean said, but Sam wasn’t looking at him anymore.
Later, when they made love, Dean was tender, appreciative. Sam was more amazing than all those colleges could possibly understand. Dean was sure the Guardians would see the value in that. Sam was their shining star, a beacon of brilliant hope for all their kind.
And wasn’t that what Seven Gables had been founded for? Wasn’t that what the school aspired to?
Dean didn’t realize until later that those were their golden times, those months and years before Sam was admitted to Harvard, and Yale, and Stanford. Everything that came later was a dim reflection of the future Sam could never have.
Years later, Dean realized that was the turning point. That night was the end of everything he’d always believed in.
It was also the beginning of something new, something he and Sam forged together, apart from Seven Gables. It was the year when Dean first began to believe that Sam was right.
They had to get the hell out.
The University of Texas at Austin was over a day’s drive from Lawrence. John assured them it was a good choice, one that the Guardians could easily approve. It made sense, since Dean and Sam had both started their lives in Texas, so it was essentially their “home” state. The university was a big place where they could stay easily under the radar, mostly unnoticed.
Of course, Sam would ace every class and graduate with honors at the top of his class, but it was better to do it at a state school than at Harvard or Stanford. Less noticeable. Less outstanding.
When Dean saw the defeated expression on Sam’s face after he left Ms. Emily’s office it almost broke him. He wanted to march into Ms. Emily’s office and demand she let Sam go to one of those top schools, just to take that look off Sam’s face.
Sam had been looking forward to this moment all his life. He had worked hard for it, actually accomplished the impossible, done something no clone had ever done, yet he was being deliberately held back. It was deeply unfair, and Dean felt the sting of Sam’s disappointment as if it were his own failure, as if it was somehow his fault that this had happened to Sam.
“It’s really for the best, guys,” John assured them. “If Sam went to Harvard, he’d draw too much attention. The school could get closed down.”
To make matters worse, Sam’s admission would be deferred for a year, so that he wasn’t noticeably younger than the other freshmen. He would need to “pass” at college, and John was assigned to teach him exactly how to do that, to make sure Sam could lie with the best of them.
“I had a whole backstory about my life,” John explained when they sat together in the teacher’s lounge the day after graduation. Neither Sam nor Dean had ever been in that particular room, since it was off-limits to students and most staffers except the cleaning crew. Now that school was out, many of the Guardians had gone home to their families for the summer. Summer school hadn’t yet started, so the students were left mostly to themselves.
Sam had waved goodbye to his classmates that morning, watching Ava and Jake and Jessica and the others as they boarded the vans that would take them off to holding centers all over the country, never to be seen again.
“Did you make it up?” Dean asked.
“No, Ms. Emily fed it to me,” John explained. “I was supposedly born in Seattle, which was easy because that’s where my infant center was. They sent Mary with me, since we were already a couple.”
“Didn’t Mary go to college, too?” Sam seemed surprised.
“No,” John shook his head, smiling. “They couldn’t afford for both of us to go. Mary learned right along with me, though. She read the same books, read my notes, snuck into lectures and sat in the back. She was a better student than I was, to be honest.”
“So they’ll send Dean with me,” Sam clarified, as if there had been any question.
Dean could see now that Sam had doubted that, and it made his chest hurt.
John glanced at Dean, then back at Sam. “I’m pretty sure they will, yeah,” he nodded. “They’ll want you to keep to yourself while you’re there, not get too close to any originals. It can get damn lonely, to be honest. You’ll be glad he’s with you. Plus, he’ll be your excuse not to form other attachments. They really don’t want us mixing too much. They’re afraid we’ll slip up and give away what we are, and that’ll be the end of the whole program.”
“But the program isn’t very big to begin with, is it?” Sam asked. “I mean, we’re the only school that sends graduates to college, aren’t we?”
John’s gaze turned dark and he lowered his voice, speaking softly and carefully, as if he was afraid of being overheard. “We’re the only school, period, Sam. The other growing centers are just farms for underaged clones. Most originals don’t want to know about us. They don’t like to think about us.”
Sam and Dean exchanged glances, and Sam said, “How do you know?”
“There are libraries and databases at college,” John said. “You can research the hell out of the whole cloning project, if you want. I can only tell you because you’re going to college, but the fact is, this school is an experiment. There’s growing controversy about its mere existence. Originals don’t want to think about clones who are smart and educated, maybe smarter and more educated than many of them. They already fear us. Finding out some of us actually go to college might be the last straw.”
Dean felt a shiver go up his spine. He couldn’t help asking the question had been bothering him for a while now. “Why did Mister found this school, if there was so much opposition to it?”
John smiled. “There wasn’t, in the beginning. There were all kinds of schools and care-centers, when the cloning project first started. Originals lined up to volunteer as caregivers, teachers, foster parents. Some families even adopted baby clones to raise as their own. Mister was one of the first big supporters of the project.”
“But now our school’s the last one, and Mister is getting old,” Sam said, keeping his voice soft to match John’s.
John lifted his eyes to Sam and regarded him silently for a moment before he nodded. “That’s right, Sam. We’re the last bastion. The final beacon.”
The next morning, John and Mary were gone.
It took Sam and Dean a while to figure out what had happened. At first they didn’t notice, since in their daily chores they rarely crossed paths with the Tutors. It was nearly the end of the day when Sam came running into the garage where Dean was working under one of the Guardians’ cars.
“They’re gone,” Sam gasped, short of breath and overwhelmed with emotion. “The van came and took them this morning, before we got up. They’re gone!”
“What are you talking about?” Dean scooted out from beneath the car, grabbing a rag to wipe his greasy hands.
Sam was shaking, his tall, lanky body positively quivering with energy and anxiety. “John and Mary,” he said. “They’re gone.”
Dean felt cold suddenly, like he’d walked into a freezer. It was a warm day, but somehow Sam’s words sucked all the heat out of it. He reached a hand up and Sam hauled him to his feet, and Dean stared straight into Sam’s eyes, struck again by how much Sam had grown over the past two years so they were now practically even in height. Sam was sixteen but getting taller every day. Dean didn’t doubt he’d be the tallest beanpole Dean had ever met one day.
“Okay,” Dean nodded, blinking a little too rapidly because it suddenly felt like he’d gotten something in his eye. “It’s just their time, Sammy, that’s all. They’ve been here almost ten years, longer than all the other Tutors. It’s just their time.”
Sam drove his hands into his hair, grit his teeth and made a low guttural sound that was more like an animal in pain than a human being. “I hate them!”
“Sammy…” Dean stepped forward as Sam clutched his hair and pulled hard, forcing another low, guttural sob from his throat.
“I’m gonna kill them all!” Sam sobbed, tears spilling forth, down his cheeks. “I’m gonna take a gun, and I’m gonna learn how to use it, and them I’m gonna start killing every goddamn one of them!”
“Sammy, shhh,” Dean grabbed Sam’s shoulders, shook him a little to make Sam look at him. “Stop that. You need to stop talking like that, Sam. Listen to me. It’s just the way it is, see? It’s the way it is for us. Nobody gets special treatment.”
Even as he said it, Dean felt another chill go up his spine. John had been his friend, his mentor, someone he looked up to and admired. It was more of a shock than he could admit to lose him.
“He was supposed to be my Tutor this year,” Sam growled, still sobbing but calmer now that Dean’s hands were on him, steadying him. “He was supposed to teach me how to pass.”
“I know,” Dean murmured, ignoring the tightness in his chest. His grief. “I know, Sam. It’ll be okay. They’ll assign somebody else.”
“I don’t want anyone else,” Sam wailed. “I want John!”
“I know,” Dean yanked the younger boy in hard, tangling one hand in his hair while he rubbed Sam’s back with the other. “I know, Sammy.”
Dean could feel his chest loosening, Sam’s huge hiccups threatening to make the tears flow down Dean’s own face, so he held Sam tight, pressing his face against Sam’s damp cheek.
Sam sobbed uncontrollably for another moment, then quieted, taking deep, shaky breaths as he clung to Dean, hands clutching reflexively in his shirt.
After a minute or two, Dean released him so he could fetch a clean rag for Sam and a couple of water bottles. They sat on the bench against the wall, staring at the dust motes that floated in the light from the setting sun, each lost in his own memories.
“I remember when he first came here,” Dean said. “He and Mary. They seemed so happy.”
Sam nodded. “They were in love,” he said.
“I never saw them argue,” Dean agreed. “Maybe they did. Probably they did. But I never saw it. I remember thinking I’d like to have that, one day.”
“Yeah.” Sam smiled despite himself, and a little of the tightness in Dean’s chest loosened up.
“They lived well,” Dean said. “I think they would both say they lived good lives.”
Sam frowned, and Dean caught the flash of anger in his eyes. “It’s not fair, Dean,” he said. “It’s not fair for them not to have longer. If anyone deserved a deferral, they do.”
“There are no deferrals,” Dean reminded him, and Sam nodded, clenching his jaw.
“We have to get out of here,” he said fiercely, his voice so soft it was almost a whisper. “I can’t lose you, Dean. If they come for you, I’ll make them take me, too.”
“Sam.” Dean sighed, shaking his head. “We’ll figure it out, I promise. We’ve still got plenty of time.”
The Guardians assigned Victor to be Sam’s private coach, now that John was gone. They reassigned all the Tutors, to make up for the deficit after John’s and Mary’s departure. Sam was assigned to teach a class of fifth-graders who were transitioning into the middle school next year.
“Tell them what you know, Sam,” Ms. Emily instructed. “Inspire them.”
After the first week, Sam collapsed on the bed and slept for twelve hours straight.
“Teaching is hard,” he complained to Dean when he woke up, hair in a bed-tousled mess around his flushed face. He looked exhausted.
Dean gave him a blow job just to help him relax, since he obviously needed more sleep.