Love is not love which bends with the remover (and other lies)
If Dean had never sneaked Sam into his house that day, maybe things would have worked out differently.
As it is, though, that’s what he does. His mom and Brian go away for the weekend, and he talks Sam into sneaking into the Geneticore residential compound with him. He wants to show Sam where he lives, wants to see him in the light of the real world. Dean loves the clearing and the tree house—it is a place indelibly marked in his psyche—but he wants to eat lunch with Sam off real plates at a table where they’re not surrounded by prying eyes like at school. He wants to have Sam in his bed with him so he can remember what that’s like when he isn’t there, wants his sheets and pillow to smell like Sam.
It’s a bit easier at the school now. He and Sam openly hang out together. The clones make up about sixty per cent of the school’s student body. According to his mother, that percentage parallels the original/clone ratio in general society. Almost all the subsidiary staff: administrators, janitorial staff etc. are clones. Everybody’s used to their presence. It’s like they’ve always been there. But close relationships between originals and clones are not allowed—it’s an unspoken social rule understood by everyone—so everything is a pretense at casualness.
They’re mostly left alone by the other original kids. Dean already had a reputation for being a loose cannon and it’s solidified when he breaks an older kid’s arm for sarcastically suggesting that Sam is able to suck Dean’s dick and simultaneously complete his homework. It’s an over-reaction, of course—the kid wasn’t being serious. Brian had to pull some serious strings to get him out of that one. The kid’s dad is a Geneticore official but luckily Brian outranks him.
He feels split in two. The Dean who pretends that Sam is his running and study buddy, a utilitarian relationship based on Sam’s usefulness; and the other Dean, who spends entire afternoons naked in a living tree house lost in a mutual exploration of pleasure and desire with a boy he is in love with.
It’s easy enough getting Sam into the compound. Dean’s not very smart when it comes to academic, abstract thinking but he’s becoming really good at finding out things he shouldn’t know and at breaking rules that require a certain type of devious intelligence. Specifically, at hacking into computer systems and manipulating data. A couple of weeks ago he hacked into the school’s database just because he was bored one day and messed with the enrollment records, reassigning originals as clones and clones as originals. The school was crawling with Geneticore men for days. Dean was pretty hysterical during the investigation but by some miracle he had managed to cover his tracks well enough to get away with it. Apparently, criminality comes naturally to him. If his mother had known about it, she probably would have said something like: “like father, like son.”
It was eventually blamed on a resistance group. There are rumors of civil unrest and sabotage in other sectors but where Dean lives it’s pretty quiet most of the time. Although there was an incident a few months ago when a fanatical, lone gunman tried to assassinate a local Geneticore official. He got caught and a public execution was held outside the old town hall. Dean had wanted to go, both repulsed and fascinated by the idea of watching a man die, but his mother banned him from going, described it as an act of voyeuristic complicity in a spectacle of sacrilegious barbarism. Of course, the reason she had an issue with it was because the man was an original. She didn’t seem to have a problem with the mass recall and incineration of a batch of teenage clones that rioted in an institution the next sector over. The official line was that it was because of a genetic abnormality (blamed on the lab they’d been created in) that led to uncharacteristically violent behavior.
To get Sam into the compound, Dean hacks into Brian’s home computer—over the past few years his stepdad has become increasingly lax about security when he’s at home, nothing like his early obsessive safety measures—and adds Sam to the visitor roster using the name of a boy in one of his classes whose I.D. card he steals. He carefully slices open the outer plastic cover of the card with a razor blade and replaces the boy’s photograph with one he takes of Sam, heats the plastic carefully to seal it again, and just hopes like hell the guards won’t take the extra precaution of a retinal scan.
On the day they do it, Dean’s astounded by the way Sam goes through this physical transformation as they pass through the checkpoint. His body language changes, just loosens up, and his expression becomes animated and open. He smiles and chats to Dean the whole time, barely glances at the guards as he hands over the I.D. card as if he’d been doing it for years. He’s mimicking original human behavior and it’s a faultless performance.
For some reason it turns Dean on so intensely that he’s dizzy with it, and he drags Sam up to his bedroom as soon as they make it through the front door of his house. Sam has this little smirk on his face as Dean pushes him onto his bed, like he knows exactly why Dean is so worked up. He allows Dean to strip off his clothes and to turn him over onto his stomach. Dean quickly removes his own clothes, takes a moment to admire the smooth lines of Sam’s back, the dip of his spine before it rises to the rounded muscle of his ass, perfect, like he came out of a mould, before he lies on top of Sam and whispers in his ear, “Can I do this?”
Sam bites his bottom lip and nods. Dean waits until he quietly says, “Yes, Dean.”
They’ve come close, but a combination of embarrassment, shyness and over-eagerness has prevented them from going all the way. Dean’s hands are shaking as he pulls out a bottle of massage oil from under his mattress. He’s been preparing for this in other ways too. Sam spreads his legs and Dean opens him up gently with his fingers—this they’ve done before.
When Sam is loose-boned, squirming against the sheet and making soft moaning sounds, Dean leans over Sam’s back again and starts gently nudging his hips forward. There’s an initial resistance, then a giving way and Dean’s halfway in. It’s too tight, too hot, and he’s concentrating too hard on not losing it before he can make it all the way in to notice that Sam has become stiff with tension. He pauses to take a deep breath, sweat drips from his nose, lands on Sam’s shoulder and he becomes aware of how absolutely still Sam is lying beneath him. In profile, he can see that Sam’s eyes are squeezed shut and that his jaw is clenched tight. His back is slippery with sweat.
Dean stops with a sharp intake of breath as guilt floods through him. He leans forward slowly to kiss Sam’s ear. “Okay,” he says. “It’s okay.” He pulls out gently, matching Sam’s grimace.
Dean lifts up and tugs at Sam’s shoulder until he rolls over. He looks upset and embarrassed. “Sorry,” he mumbles, looking up expectantly.
It’s like a hand reaches into Dean’s chest and squeezes his heart. “No, Sam, don’t be sorry. That’s just—No, just no. Shit, I’m sorry.” He leans forward and kisses him, a soft pressing together of their lips.
Dean holds back, not wanting to overwhelm him, scared that he’d been too rough, too impatient and clumsy, but Sam seems to have other ideas. He opens his mouth and slips his tongue between Dean’s lips. Dean tilts his head and Sam tilts the other way and the kiss deepens. Sam grips the back of Dean’s head, short nails digging into his scalp, locks his legs over Dean’s and turns his head to bite his cheek, his jaw and his neck, something desperately edgy and hungry about the way he does it. It’s something new.
Dean can feel how Sam starts to harden again. He pulls away and sits up between Sam’s legs, ignores a desire to physically pat and reassure him, isn’t sure whether he would be doing it for Sam’s benefit or his own. He reaches for the oil again and dribbles some onto the palm of his hand. The sight of Sam’s unruly hair against his pillow makes him breathless with desire.
He takes Sam’s dick in his hand and starts stroking him, the slick of the oil easing the movement. Sam’s mouth drops open in a silent moan and he shivers. Dean watches the flush along his cheekbones deepen. He moves lower and pulls Sam’s leg up, rubs a finger against the entrance to his body, watches a matching flush spread across his chest and up his throat, and pushes inside.
Sam arches, reaches up to clutch the pillow and rubs his face against it.
(When they’re having that other conversation late at night and years later, Sam tells him that he’d never experienced the softness of a pillow before, that he’d heard of them but was pretending not to be surprised by the decadence of Dean’s bed, the size of it, the crispness of the white sheets, the comfort of his pillow. It sullies Dean’s own memories of that afternoon when Sam talks for the first time about the cots at the institution—rows of them, pillow-less and with matching threadbare blue blankets—until Sam wistfully says that that afternoon in Dean’s bed was a perfect memory for him, something he held onto when things got really rough afterwards. They lie tightly together as they talk in the dark, men with difficult pasts behind them and dangerous futures ahead of them, the legs of a military cot groaning beneath their combined weight, Dean’s bicep pillowing Sam’s head.)
Sam keeps his face twisted to the side against the pillow, his mouth open in a long gasp as he twitches and comes, pulsing in Dean’s hand and painting his stomach with white. The smell fills Dean’s nostrils. Something possessive and primal wakens and growls inside him. It always does that to him. Acting on instinct, he leans forward and licks up a drop next to Sam’s bellybutton. Expecting shock and disgust, he quickly looks up but Sam just gives him a lazy half-smile and cards his hand through Dean’s short hair.
A shiver runs down Dean’s spine. He twists onto his side, makes himself more comfortable between Sam’s legs and trails his fingers through the wet streaks across his stomach. He looks up again and there’s some sort of underlying permission now in Sam’s expression so he covers his fingers in it and reaches down to push them into Sam’s body. He’s pliant and relaxed, still slick with massage oil, and makes a soft sound of pleasure when Dean twists his fingers slightly. Dean watches his hand, astounded by the raw intimacy of what he’s doing.
He doesn’t want to stop, wants to see if he can get Sam all the way hard again, make him come again like this, but Sam reaches down and tugs at his shoulder.
“Come up here.”
Dean complies, crawls up Sam’s body, kisses and licks his skin clean on the way up. Sam wraps his arms and legs around Dean, hugs him closer, clingy in a way that he hasn’t really been before. “Kiss me, Dean.”
He doesn’t wait, pulls Dean’s head down and kisses him roughly, his tongue exploring Dean’s mouth, tasting himself on Dean’s tongue. He arches up and Dean gets the idea, angles his hips until he can feel the give of Sam’s flesh accepting him, encasing him in tight heat. Gentle, nudging movements until he’s all the way in, then faster thrusts of his hips, encouraged by Sam’s breathy moans. It’s so hard to hold on when his orgasm starts creeping up on him but he does, holds it at bay, desperate to prolong this for as long as he can, despite feeling like he’s going to come apart at the seams and just atomize into a haze of pleasure. He feels like the borders of where he ends and Sam begins have blurred, and then he’s not really aware of anything but the rush of his orgasm matched by Sam’s clenching release.
They lie next to each other afterwards in a post-orgasmic glow, feeling like they’re the only two people on earth, bonded by an experience millions of others have had before them and many more will have after they are long gone.
“Can I show you something?”
Sam nods and gives him a little smile. Dean’s pretty sure Sam would say yes to anything he suggested right now. Not bothering to put any clothes on, he gets up and climbs onto his desk, moves the ceiling board so he can reach up and pull down the box of his father’s things. He brings it over to the bed, smirking at the way Sam’s eyes are unconsciously riveted on his naked body.
He places the box on the bed and they sit cross-legged in front of it.
Sam listens with the grave, wide-eyed attention that the sharing of something like this demands as Dean takes out each object and explains its significance to him. Sam hangs onto every word of every memory and story. They remain entranced for hours by the magic and romanticism of dead and noble fathers.
Sam looks at him with astonishment, then sadness, when Dean shows him the sonogram. He lightly squeezes Dean’s arm, and Dean knows that Sam really gets what he means when he talks about this weird absence, an empty hole in his life that should be filled by his brother.
It’s late afternoon already when they remember their rumbling stomachs and go down to the kitchen to make sandwiches.
Sam pretends not to be awed by the house but Dean can see right through his cool demeanor. Without being condescending, he guides Sam through the rooms and explains how everything works. In a strange way, it’s like showing a traveler from another planet how human beings live. Sam has never been in a real house before; the institution is all he’s ever known.
They sit on high stools at the kitchen counter, eating enormous sandwiches filled with everything Dean could find in the fridge.
After they have finished eating, Sam gives Dean this tentative smile, looks really happy in a way that he rarely shows. Dean leans forward and kisses him on the mouth, wanting to pour all his love straight into him.
They’re sitting like that, kissing, both shirtless, one of Dean’s hands on Sam’s thigh, the other in the nape of his neck holding him close, when Dean’s mother and stepfather, unheard, walk into the kitchen.
Through a chance series of events—including a missed train connection and a misunderstanding that erupts into an argument—they have cancelled their trip and come home early.
Lost in Sam, the first Dean is aware of their presence is when his mother shrieks his name. He and Sam jump apart and for a moment all four of them are caught in this ridiculous tableau of open-mouthed shock before everything starts moving again, but it’s all in slow motion, that weird underwater feeling that comes from disbelief. His mother is shouting and moving across the room towards Sam, and for some reason Dean momentarily thinks she might attack him, so he steps in front of her. She just shoves him out of the way. Brian is also suddenly there and grabs Dean’s arm, holding him back.
She’s screeching things at Dean half over her shoulder as she grabs Sam’s arm, turns it over to expose the tattoo on his wrist, evidence for what she’s saying, her long nails digging into Sam’s skin. It’s hard to follow. Dean’s in shock and his ears are ringing and everything she says is in half sentences about how she knew he would do this to her and he’s just like his father and her friend Helen had told her he was getting too close to a clone at school but she never thought he’d go this far and how disgusting and perverted he is and that he’ll go to hell for this.
Sam is pale and still, his frightened eyes on Dean.
His mother is threatening to call the guards at the checkpoint, to call the institution and the school, and holds Sam’s arm up to check the tattooed numbers and letters on his wrist when it suddenly goes silent.
“Oh, Jesus Christ.”
The softly moaned words are startling in contrast to her hysteria.
“What is it, Mary?” Brian asks sharply.
“Oh, Jesus Christ.” She’s staring at Sam’s face, her mouth open. She drops his hand like it scalded her and takes a couple of steps back.
Brian lets go of Dean and goes over to her, puts his arm around her shoulders, asks her worriedly, “Tell me? What is it, honey?”
“They promised. They promised they wouldn’t clone him. Why did they lie?”
Brian stares at her in frowning blankness, then comprehension dawns and he gasps. “It’s—he’s—are you sure?”
His mother looks over at Dean. She’s chalk-white, wide-eyed and shaking, holding onto Brian’s shoulders as if she’s scared her legs might give way under her. “What have you done?”
Dean looks away from the accusation in her voice and eyes, moves over to protect Sam—he looks so alone and frightened, despite his closed expression—and to draw some comfort from him. He feels really scared, a cold sense of dread congealing in the pit of his stomach. Something terrible is happening here. He just doesn’t know exactly what it is.
“Don’t touch him, Dean!” Dean jerks his hand back and stands next to Sam with his arms hanging heavily at his sides. His mother turns to Brian. “Get that thing out of my house. Take him through the checkpoint. We have to make sure nobody finds out about this. Oh God, why is this happening? What are we going to do?” she wails.
Coming out of a stupor of shock, Dean begs, “Mom, please just listen—”
“Go to your room, Dean!”
Dean is seventeen years old and in love. The first stirrings of independence and a genuine rebellion against adult control spark inside him. “No, I won’t.”
Brian lifts his hands up in a placating gesture, like he can orchestrate calm. “Everybody just calm down. Dean, listen to your mother. Uh, you,” he inclines his head towards Sam, “come with me.”
Sam looks at Dean. It’s the first time Dean has ever seen him hesitate before obeying a direct instruction from an original.
“Mom, let me just explain.” Dean doesn’t know how he could possibly explain anything about this situation but the words just come out on their own, weak and hesitant, even to his own ears, and it’s in that moment he knows he has no hope of having any control over what happens next.
His mother’s voice drops to a low hiss. “If you don’t do what I say, Dean, and tell that soulless thing to go with Brian, I will call the guards and let them deal with this. If you want him to live, you will do what I say.”
Dean’s heart judders in his chest. He knows she means it. When she gets really angry, into a cold rage like she’s in right now, she will destroy everything around her to get her own way, regardless of the consequences.
“It’s okay, Sam. Go with Brian.” He wants to squeeze Sam’s arm to reassure him, but that’s impossible. Sam nods. His mask of clone obedience is firmly back in place. He lowers his eyes and follows Brian wordlessly out the kitchen. Dean watches his retreating back with longing and fear, some prescient part of himself hanging on to that final glimpse of his profile as Sam turns his head slightly at the door. The sound of the front door closing behind them is quiet and final.
“Don’t even talk to me!” Her tight face twists into an ugly sneer. “They should have taken you instead. You’ve been nothing but trouble your whole life.”
She’s said stuff like that to him before, about him being a burden and more trouble than he is worth, but never with such cold, wounding finality. He’s too hurt by it to try and work out what she means by them taking him away instead.
She turns her back on him and walks out of the kitchen. Dean stands there, feeling icy-cold, like his life just imploded in on itself. He’s in a black hole and doesn’t know how he’s going to climb out of it.
He makes his way heavily up the stairs to his room and lies down on his bed. It smells like Sam and sex. He’d cry if he could remember how to do that but he hasn’t cried since he was about fifteen. Immobile under a weight of despair, he lies there on his back, head flooded with emotion, until he finally manages to work through it and his brain kick-starts into thinking again.
They’ll run away, that’s what they’ll do. Sam will come with him. He doesn’t doubt that. They will need some money and maybe fake I.D.s and travel documents. He’ll need time to figure it out. Until then, he will just pretend remorse, fake a conversion. Sam will stay safe. They’ll publically ignore each other until Dean’s got all the details organized and then they will just disappear.
Relieved and vaguely elated, he goes downstairs to start the process. It needs to begin with him getting his mother on side, on convincing her that he has seen the error of his ways and wants to return to the family fold.
It’s dark already. None of the lights have been switched on. He walks through the house, past Brian’s study and pauses when the light from the computer screen catches his eye. There’s a photograph on the screen. Dean goes into the room and the image comes into focus. It’s Sam. His heart clenches in fear. He sits down behind the desk and looks at the photograph. It makes him smile briefly. Sam’s hair is combed flat and he’s wearing this disarmingly simple expression, like the camera caught him at an odd angle and captured him differently. Photographs can do that.
He reads the column of information next to the image. It doesn’t make any sense so he has to read it again, and again. Confused, he follows a link to another document, a birth certificate, information that seems to be about Sam’s original stored in the Geneticore database. He understands the information, the words, but it’s too impossible to be comprehensible.
And then a gear changes in his head, the fog of incomprehension lifts and everything shifts, like some massive, global earthquake just tilted the earth onto a new axis. He wheels the chair back and gasps in shock, feels like he’s going to be sick. Thick, salty saliva collects in his throat and he has to swallow hard. He stands up, wanting to rush to the toilet to throw up, but forgets what he was going to do by the time he’s up on his feet, dizzy and disoriented, looking frantically around the room. He thinks he’s going to pass out and grips the edge of the desk. He sits back down again, not even aware that he’s done it.
Dean has no idea how long he sits there, his brain trying to absorb everything and adjust to what he has just read. He becomes weirdly calm, an eye-of-the-storm tranquility, and goes back through all the information again, reading it closely and carefully, unaware of the way he’s biting the insides of his cheeks, copper in his mouth and cold, liquid metal running through his veins.
When he’s done, he looks up and notices that Brian is leaning against the doorjamb watching him. “Come into the living-room, Dean. Your mother needs to talk to you.” He sounds almost kind.
Dean nods his head and calmly follows him.
His mother is sitting on the couch, her face red and blotchy from crying, a tissue clutched in her hand. She watches him warily as he sits in a chair opposite her. Brian sits down next to her on the couch.
“So my brother’s alive.”
“Yes,” she says.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Brian answers the question for her. “Because that’s not how it works, Dean. It’s better to make a clean break. Adopted children start a new life somewhere else. They never know about their other family.”
“Stop looking at me like that,” his mother says. “It’s not my fault. All second children have to be reassigned. There aren’t enough new babies. He was given the best possible opportunities in life. We have to make sacrifices for the greater good of society.”
“You handed him over to a Geneticore executive?”
She clenches her jaw, her lips thinning.
“Were you paid?”
“Dean, that’s not fair,” Brian barks out.
Dean ignores him. Brian has never counted.
“You sit there judging me, but what about you, Dean? What were you doing with that empty vessel?” It’s the first time she has ever spoken to him like he’s actually a grown up. There is some sort of understood adult meaning in the way they’re looking at each other.
“Aren’t some of the clones bred for sex clubs? I heard you can even have sex with a clone of yourself or one of your parents. What’s a little unknowing brotherly incest in comparison with something like that?” Dean’s so angry he doesn’t care what he’s saying.
“Dean!” Brian looks shocked.
“You didn’t—” she seems incapable of finishing the sentence. “You didn’t actually—”
“No,” Dean lies.
“Good.” She makes an obvious sigh of relief, but Dean can see the lack of certainty in the back of her eyes. “Look,” she starts. It’s her conciliatory voice. “You were probably just confused, thought you were attracted to him, but of course you’re not. There’s probably some sort of connection, something genetically coded. But nobody needs to know. The clone won’t say anything.” She turns to Brian and places a hand on his knee. “It will be alright, won’t it?” It’s really irritating when she does that voice, wheedling and girly and manipulative.
Brian nods reassuringly and pats her hand. “It would be better if nobody else ever finds out about this. It won’t do anybody any good. We can get through this.”
His mother turns back to him. “See. It will be alright.”
She’s doing what she always does, brushing everything under the rug. Out of sight, out of mind. Dean hates her in that moment with a hatred that is absolute and pure. She chased his father away, sold his brother to the highest bidder (he saw the figure in the file), and now she has ruined the only thing that is important to him.
“It wasn’t real,” she says persuasively. “You’re not like that.”
“No, it wasn’t real,” he says mechanically, hating her.
“We should get some sleep,” Brian says, standing up. “We can talk tomorrow about what needs to be done about the clone. I’ve got work in the morning and you’ve got that meeting, honey.”
“Yes.” She stands up. “We’re all exhausted and emotional. We’ll deal with this tomorrow.”
She kisses Dean on the cheek and they have this moment of really seeing each other as they look away and surreptitiously glance back again. Her dislike and disappointment, and his hatred, solidified in that moment.
“Sleep tight, baby.”
“You too, Mom.”
Brian’s eyes flick uncertainly between them before he finally smiles, satisfied that they have been reconciled. People can convince themselves of anything.
What is and what should never be
Of course Dean doesn’t go to bed. That’s not who he is. Helpless against a burning, desperate urge, he sneaks back into Brian’s office and accesses the information he was looking at earlier. His brother lives eighty-five miles away in a sector called Lawrence. That blows his mind briefly. All these years and he was just eighty-five miles away.
It takes him six hours to bypass all the security systems on the national travel regulator to falsify a pass for him to get to Lawrence the next day.
It’s not hard to pretend to be sick the next morning when his mom wakes him up. His eyes are dry and gritty from a lack of sleep and he’s slightly feverish with nerves and excitement. She tells him to go back to sleep and says they’ll talk over dinner that night. She looks like she might drop a kiss on his forehead but thinks better of it and gives him an airy wave from the doorway of his bedroom.
As soon as he hears them leave, Dean jumps out of bed and pulls on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. He quickly washes his face, brushes his teeth and flattens his hair with some water, wishing he had something to smooth it into some sort of style. In the kitchen, he drinks orange juice from a carton at the fridge and grabs some fruit on his way out the door.
He cycles to the station on his bike and locks it up in the shelter outside the front. The grey concrete of the building is imposing and non-descript. He used to sometimes hang out at the small park opposite the station when he was younger, watching the high-speed, armored trains pulling in and out, fascinated by the magical aura of possibility surrounding the place.
Forbidden adventure lies outside the sector’s electrified fences and the only way out is through that building.
It’s busy inside and security men are everywhere. Dean’s pulse is pounding in his ears and he has to keep wiping sweat off his face. Who knows what sort of trouble he could get in for what he’s doing right now? He passes through two checkpoints and a body-scanner, terrified that they’re somehow going to pick up on his nervousness through the pounding of his heart. But somehow he manages to end up on the train.
It takes exactly fifteen minutes to the next station. Lawrence. Surprised at the announcement, Dean quickly gets up and follows a handful of people out of the train, watches the way they slide their I.D. cards through the reader at the door and pretends not to be a kid who has never left the sector he was born in.
Lawrence looks a lot like home when he gets through the security in the station and out on to the street. He starts walking, pretending to know where he’s going until he really does know where he’s going, the map memorized from Brian’s computer safely stored in his head and turning into a visual reality of streets and buildings around him.
The gates of his brother’s school appear in front of him. Dean takes a deep breath. He made it. He really thought it was going to be whole lot harder. And then, as if on cue, his brother appears out of a building, a moving figure, familiar in profile, appearing and disappearing between the metal bars of the gate. Dean doesn’t think about it, just joins a group of students moving through the security check at the side entrance, grinning and nodding and pretending involvement in unheard conversations.
He separates from the group of students as they get through the gates, scanning the school grounds for that familiar figure. His brother is sitting casually on the lawn with a pretty girl in a short skirt, long blonde hair cascading over her shoulders.
Dean licks his dry lips and swallows hard. Even at this distance there’s something different about him. He looks identical to Sam but weirdly dissimilar. He’s definitely heavier and maybe taller. It probably comes down to a better lifestyle and diet. But it’s his posture too, the way he’s lounging back, his attention focused on the girl. It’s not something Dean has ever really thought about before but Sam is constantly aware of his environment, conscious of some possible threat in his periphery. His brother looks oblivious to everything around him, completely carefree.
It finally hits Dean: this is his actual flesh-and-blood brother.
His brother, whose clone Dean is in love with. The clone that was in Dean’s bed just yesterday. A day when everything still made sense. Thinking he might throw up, Dean leans forward with his hands on his knees. He feels simultaneously hot and cold, a clammy sweat oozing from his pores. He needs to take bigger breaths: in through his nose and out through his mouth. In and out. In and out.
“Hey, are you feeling alright?”
The voice is uncannily familiar, but again, there is something not right about the intonation, something off-center or just adjacent to the clear and definite delineation of Sam. Dean straightens quickly, meets his brother’s bewildered gaze and mutters something about not having breakfast, running in the heat etc. He backs away a couple of paces.
There’s a small, familiar frown etched between those eyebrows. “Maybe you should come and sit down with us in the shade. You look kind of pale.”
He would be the sort of person who treats a stranger with compassion.
“Yeah,” Dean agrees. “I should definitely do that.”
He follows his brother back to where the girl is waiting for them. “Hi,” she says with a friendly smile. She’s wearing one of those 20th century cartoon character t-shirts. “Are you okay? We thought you were about to pass out there. Do you want a drink?” Dean nods and she offers him a carton of juice, which he takes and swallows quickly. “I’m Jess and this is Sam.”
The name is a shock. Dean doesn’t know why but he thought his brother would have a different name, maybe something Biblical, like Adam, the first man. Adam One. Sam One and Sam Two. Some of the originals and their clones are numbered in that way. It takes a couple of beats before Dean realizes that he’s just standing there and staring at them. They’re looking back at him expectantly, awkward smiles wearing thin. He plasters a grin on his face and drops down to sit with them on the grass. Laughing, he tries for rueful self-mockery, “Sorry. I’m Dean and I’m seriously not normally this weird. Too much virtual reality porn last night. Thanks for the juice. I’m feeling okay now.”
The smiles become even more awkward. Porn definitely wasn’t a smart way into a conversation. “I’m kidding. I was studying. Trying to get into the Tech Access Exam, you know?”
The awkwardness eases. “Sam just got into the training center in the capital,” Jess says. Her hair glints in the sunlight. She reaches out and strokes his brother’s hand. The matching promissory rings on their fingers pick up the golden light filtering through the trees. It means they’ve been tested and they’re both fertile, promised to each other.
And this Sam, Sam One, is on his way to the very selective inner core of the Geneticore training facility in the capital. Dean has never even met anyone who has been selected. He wants to dislike both of them and the privileged, easy perfection of their lives, but it’s impossible. They look so happy. So uncomplicated.
Sam is blushing and smiling. “Jess, stop doing that. You can’t tell complete strangers that I got in.”
“Hey, that’s totally okay. Congratulations.” Dean reaches out to shake his hand. It’s more about wanting to have some physical contact with him than anything else.
His brother’s hand is warm and dry, his grasp strong without being competitive. In those few seconds that their hands are clasped together, Dean is cascaded with possibilities. His brother there when Dean first heard his dad had disappeared and he punched the inside of his cupboard door so hard he thought he might have broken his hand. His brother there all those times when his mom had been so cold or blankly sunken into her depression. His brother there when Sam had been so distant and cut off. Somebody to talk to and to be on his side.
Dean holds on for too long and Sam has to pull his hand away. “Are you sure you’re feeling okay, Dean?” He’s so warm and open and generous, his forehead furrowed in concern for somebody he has never even met before. Part of Dean knew this was how it would happen when he was hacking through the layers of the travel regulator, that he would love his brother instantly—how could he not—and that he would lose him again even in the moment that he found him.
“Yeah, Sam, I’m fine.”
Dean is so grateful that his response to his brother is nothing like the way he feels about Sam. It’s not there, that desperate physical desire. This is a different person. He wants to tell him that they’re brothers, to claim him, another Sam of his own, to not be altruistic, but it’s very difficult when he’s being presented with so much flushed and dimple-cheeked happiness. Telling him would only complicate his life and cause him pain. Dean can’t do that to him. It’s easier if he never knows that Dean—and all his attendant complications—even exists.
(How was he to know that Sam would die three years later in a strike on a Geneticore facility? One of thousands of lives lost during the civil war. The future is a cold and unknowable place.)
“That’s my mom.” Sam waves at an attractive blonde-haired woman talking to some other people at the gates. She smiles and waves back. “Do you want to meet up for lunch tomorrow, Dean?” He’s still wearing a little frown when he looks at him.
Jess laughingly says, “Careful, Sam, you’re in danger of being sociable. Don’t you have some studying to do?” She turns to Dean and whispers in mock conspiracy, “He neglects me all the time.”
Dean wants to commiserate. He knows how hard it is being in love with someone as smart as Sam.
Sam rolls his eyes and puts an arm around her shoulders. “She’s only saying that because she knows it’s completely impossible for me to ignore her.” She pouts prettily and Sam kisses the tip of her nose. “What would I do without you?”
“You’d crash and burn. Obviously.”
Dean watches them, desperately envious of their casual intimacy and shared clarity about the future.
“So, lunch tomorrow?” Sam gives Dean a tentative, hopeful half-smile. Jess glances at him. She seems amused and puzzled at his insistence.
Dean wants to say: It’s because there’s something about me. He knows that. He can sense the connection between us.
“Seriously, Dean, say yes. Sam’s actually a lot of fun when he’s not hidden in a book. Don’t be fooled by this dorky exterior.”
Dean joins in their laughter. “Sure, Sam. I’d like to meet you for lunch tomorrow.” Saying it out loud briefly makes it a real possibility.
Sam grins. “Great. I’ll meet you here at midday, okay?”
“Bye, Dean. See you around.”
“Sure, Jess. Nice to meet you.”
As they walk away—Sam’s arm around Jess’ waist—Sam turns and gives Dean a little, self-conscious wave. Dean returns the gesture. When they get to Sam’s mom at the gates, she reaches up and ruffles his hair and kisses Jess’ cheek. They’re a snapshot of happiness, an alternative reality that Dean’s excluded from. He doesn’t belong here. The world they live in makes it impossible for him to have a relationship with his brother. Dean’s mother, his love for his own Sam, his brother’s happiness all make it impossible.
(Later, when he’s so tired of the fight, of loss and of washing blood from his hands, he remembers this moment, that there’s a reason for believing the world can be different and renewed, even if it’s born out of war and bloodshed and anguish.)
“Bye, Sam,” he says under his breath.