The More Things Change...
As soon as I saw Dillon I acted reflexively. I pushed Sam away from me. His slightly hurt and surprised look turned into a small grin when he turned and saw Dillon too. I ignored that though. I was already running.
I also ignored all the cameras and VR equipment trained on me. Dillon had broken away from the group of people he was standing with and was running towards me as well.
If either of us had known how corny this all would look in the vids afterward, I think we both would have been too self-conscious. We would have stopped short and just shaken hands, or maybe a brief hug or something. But, I sure wasn't thinking about that. I don't think Dillon was either.
We reached each other and I swooped him into a huge hug. Dillon was hugging me back just as hard. Naturally, tears began to fall from both of us as the cameras zoomed in for a closer look.
Dillon kissed me, long and hard, then whispered in my ear, “Don't you ever do anything like that again.”
I just squeezed tighter. A response wasn't really needed.
Dillon pulled back slightly and nodded towards Sam, “Who's the cutie?”
I blushed, embarrassed all over again by Sam's impromptu kiss, “Uh, that's Sam. I'll explain later.” Then remembering what had happened after our escape I felt guilty once again. I really did have some explaining to do. But Dillon just nodded.
I finally realized I had a few more people to greet. Ricky and Mom and Dad M were waiting patiently, slight grins on their faces.
Yet again, I was embarrassed. I ran over and hugged Ricky. He too had something to say quietly in my ear. He seemed to have a bit more practice than Dillon though. When I watched it later on the vid I could barely tell that his lips moved. He said, “Quit trying to show me up, Big Brother. I'll never be able to stand on my own two feet if you keep doing that.” I felt him chuckle and he pulled away from the hug. He too looked over at Sam, then glanced at Dillon. A wry smile appeared on his lips. “You're becoming quite the player, Jeffy.” He raised his eyebrows slightly.
And again I blushed. It was turning into a serious habit.
I let go of Ricky and went over and gave Mom M and Dad M a hug. Thankfully, they didn't have any comments on Sam's kiss, though from Mom M's little smile I knew she wanted to say something.
I realized Ricky was motioning me over to where he stood behind a podium adorned with microphones.
Not wanting to stand there behind Ricky alone, I gestured to both Dillon and Sam to stand with me.
Fortunately, I didn't need to say anything. I doubt I would have been able to anyway. Ricky spoke though. His ease at doing so showed his years of practice at such things. I was barely listening, though I know he said some words about sacrifice and working together and trying times and some such.
Finally it was over. We walked towards a waiting car, ignoring the questions being fired at us. Ricky responded with a practiced smile and a wave, saying, “Thank you. Our family needs some quiet and some privacy now. And the boys need time to recuperate from their ordeal. Thank you all for your support.”
All of us, including Sam, were ushered into the large car and we finally began moving away from the helicopter landing area. I tried to calm down and catch my breath. I looked down at my hands and realized I was still holding that stupid stun gun. I set it on the seat beside me, leaned back, and closed my eyes. Dillon snaked an arm around me and I felt his head on my shoulder. I breathed his familiar scent deeply and felt the tension drain out of me.
I was looking forward to some time to talk with Dillon, not to mention Ricky and Mom and Dad M, but, at least for the time being, it wasn't to be.
Just a few minutes later, the car turned into the parking area of a hospital complex. I sighed in resignation. I suppose I should have expected that.
We parked right in front of the doors. Surrounded by security, Sam and I were whisked into exam rooms and for the next forty five minutes I was given the most thorough examination I could ever remember having in my life.
The doctor finally allowed us to leave after having us swallow some vile potion that he told me was to clean out the remainder of that drug we kept getting injected with at the prison. Apparently it stayed dissolved in fatty tissue otherwise and could cause some interesting side effects at inconvenient times.
Sam and I were then ushered into a smallish office furnished with comfortable sofas and chairs. A woman sat down across from us and turned on a portable vid screen in her hand. She looked over at me and Sam, frowning slightly at my black eye.
“I'm Dr. Melinda Delaski. I'm going to be your untangler for the next few days,” she said.
Sam and I looked at each other. I shrugged. “Untangler?” I asked. “I don't think we really need one, do we?” I could see Sam shake his head in agreement. “Now that we're out of that place I think we're okay. Besides, Mom M is an untangler.”
Dr. Delaski studied me for a few seconds, then said, “Yes, she is. However, she's not licensed in Tennessee and you're going to be here for a while.” She hesitated, then asked, “Jeffrey, can I ask you something?”
I nodded slowly.
“What happened over there, when Sam and you escaped? Why was it so important that you help rescue everyone else, even before helping yourself?”
Her question made me remember. I thought about how I messed up, and remembered my selfishness and violence. I remembered the guard, toppling to the floor. Blood everywhere. I looked down at the floor and didn't answer.
I could see her nod slightly. She turned to Sam. “Sam, I saw that kiss on the vid. Why did you do that? Why a kiss? Why then?”
I don't know what she was getting at, but from the look on Sam's face he sure did. His eyes widened, he looked, well, almost angry, and then he too stared at the floor.
Her voice was a lot gentler now. “I'm really sorry for this, boys, but one more thing. Untangling often works a lot better if the subject is fully involved and motivated, if they understand the issues at hand. I have one more question, or rather something to show you.” She tapped on her vid screen and then turned it around to show us what it displayed.
It was a simple picture of an empty specimen bottle.
I raged. My heart rate shot up and I felt a snarl on my lips. I stood up, knocking over the table in front of me. I barely stopped myself from grabbing that fucking vid screen out of her hand and smashing it against the wall.
Sam, for his part, had the opposite reaction. He had scuttled back into the corner of the couch and was now curled up tightly in a fetal position. His eyes were screwed tightly shut and his mouth was open in a silent wail.
I think it was only Sam's reaction that allowed me to get control of myself. I glared daggers at Dr. Delaski and sat down beside Sam, drawing him into my arms and gently rubbing his back, trying to soothe him.
The doctor allowed us a few moments of this and then said, so quietly I could barely hear her, “You tell me. Do you think a few sessions might help?”
I slowly turned and looked over at her.
Point taken, but I wasn't at all happy about the way she had done it. I'm pretty sure that, at the very least, it was unethical. Nevertheless, I eventually relented and gave her one curt, short nod.
She waited for Sam to finish calming down, then stood and asked, “Well then, shall we get started?”
Sam and I stared at her. Sam said, “Now?”
She simply answered, “No time like the present.”
We followed her down a hallway, into an elevator, then down another short hallway, and were soon seated in front of the equipment I now recognized. We sat down and began the procedure.
I knew I still had a ways to go, but driving towards the hotel an hour later I was feeling distinctly better. I tried, but couldn't quite muster up the same level of self-loathing I was feeling earlier when ruminating about the events.
From Sam's expression I figured he was having similar thoughts.
As we drove, a billboard caught my eye. I turned to look at it, and then stared. It had the slogan, “Freedom and Opportunity For All” emblazoned across the top. In a smaller font at the bottom was a phrase I remembered. I couldn't help remembering it. I had uttered the words myself, in front of thousands. It said, including the quotation marks, “If there's going to be any real hope.....For humanity, we need to ensure that the opportunities, rights, and freedoms of everyone remain truly equal.”
Despite all that, that's not why I stared. I stared because of the photo behind the slogans. A larger than life picture of Dillon and me, taken right after that speech, right after I told the world he was my boyfriend. We were staring into each others' eyes, grinning like fools.
I managed to tear my eyes away from the billboard and turned to Dillon, questions all over my face.
He just grinned, “Get used to it, Jeff. We're famous.”
I blinked and shook my head sadly.
By the time we arrived at the hotel I was ready to spit nails. We had passed another billboard, similar to the first, and, even worse, a large vid screen. The vid screen showed me right after getting out of the helicopter. First, there was Sam's kiss, then, in full detail with closeups and all, was Dillon and me embracing, the camera lingering over us. With Dillon in his nice suit and looking clean and fresh, and me, sweaty, dirty, black eye, blood on my face, gun in my hand. Even I had to admit that the whole effect was really striking. And I really, really didn't want any part of it.
Finally, we had some time to talk. Ricky, Mom and Dad M, Dillon, me and Sam were led into a nicely appointed sitting room somewhere in the hotel. It seemed to be a part of a rather extensive suite of rooms that I was told were all part of our rooms during our stay there.
After we got comfortable, Dad M began talking. “First off,” he said, looking directly at Sam, “you need to know your situation. Sam, with our contacts in the Underground we have tried, and failed, to contact your parents.” He paused. Sam was looking back at him stoically. “We're not sure if they know what has happened to you, or that you've escaped, or that you're no longer in the Protectorate. In any case, even once they do know, it's far too dangerous for you to go anywhere near home right now.”
Dad M paused again, waiting to see if Sam had any response, but Sam just kept staring at him with no expression. So Dad M continued, “Sam, we've arranged to have you stay with us, as another foster child. You already know Jeff, and with the attention you'll be receiving after the Enclave take-down it seems best, security-wise, that we all keep together. I hope that's okay with you.”
Sam nodded slowly, opened his mouth to ask something, but then seemed to change his mind and he closed it again.
Dad M said, “Sam, it's temporary. Only until the whole situation with the Protectorate is sorted out. You'll get home. One way or another. Either because it will be safe to do so or because we'll have your parents out of there. I promise you that.”
Sam looked a bit relieved now. He nodded again, this time with more vigor.
“We're going to be staying here, in this hotel for a few days. You boys can finish your sessions with Dr. Delaski and I can finish helping Rick with the next phase.” Ricky nodded at Dad M's words.
I perked up my ears at this. Dad M was looking right at me now.
“Jeff, your brother is a pretty important man around here right now. After you were abducted he took it upon himself to take the leadership role in dealing with the Protectorate. Right here, in the middle of Tennessee, is a pretty key geographic area. We're surrounded on three sides by the Protectorate. There are a lot of implications of this fact.
“First off, we're closer to the people who are leading the espionage and sabotage missions into the Protectorate. Second, it's easier to work with the defectors that are now flooding across the border into the state, and third, it makes it easier to manage our contacts with the Underground in the Protectorate.”
I asked, “So what about us? Other than our untangling sessions I mean.” Dillon squeezed my hand, but stayed quiet, allowing his dad to answer my question.
“I think you were starting to get the picture on our way to the hotel here,” Dad M said. “Ever since your speech in Washington, and your subsequent abduction by the Protectorate, you boys have become pretty famous. Jeff, I know you don't like the idea, but you've become a symbol for a lot of people. Now that you've escaped and are back in the NAU that's only going to get worse. And it brings with it some responsibilities.”
I groaned, but slowly nodded my head. I had already figured most of that out. He was right. I didn't like it.
“Sam,” Dad M continued, “you're going to be drawn up into this too. It would have happened anyway, but after that scene at the landing area I imagine you're going to be as much a part of this as Dillon.”
It was Sam's turn to groan.
“So, unfortunately, that means security. You need protection from your growing legion of admirers, like it or not, and more importantly you all need protection from the Protectorate.”
Sam and I sat up straighter at this. “We're not in the Protectorate anymore,” I said. I couldn't help my voice rising in fear.
Dillon squeezed my hand again.
“No,” Dad M said, “but just as we have people working in the Protectorate, they have people working here. All of us are targets. Sam and Jeff, you two more than any of us. That's just how it is. We stay together. It's safer for all of us. Rick, Dolores, and I will be able to do our jobs better if we're not worrying about all of you.”
“For how long?” asked Sam.
“A few days at least. Until the mission is over and things have settled down.”
“What mission?” I asked.
Dillon was grinning. Mom M was looking determined. Dad M smiled. But it was Ricky that spoke. “This one,” he said, turning on the vid screen.
We all turned to watch. The screen showed a shot taken from far above, probably one of those helicopters. The picture changed every few seconds, showing different scenes in different places. All of them had one thing in common though.
Ricky said, “The attack on the Enclave was only the first volley. While they were still confused about that, and before they could organize and deal with that we thought we'd send a bit of a message.”
The shots all had something in common. In each case, buildings were being raided and, much like what happened to me and Sam, people were being rescued.
“Some of those are political prisoners,” Ricky continued, “and some of those are more prisoners from some of those so-called Genetic Enclaves. There's a few other people being evacuated from other areas too. Mostly those we've been able to identify as most at risk.”
I watched the scenes in awe.
A news announcer came on, the pictures of the raids shrunk to a square behind her shoulder as she talked. She began reiterating most of what Ricky had already told us. Then the scene switched to a still of Sam and me getting off the helicopter, and the announcer started talking some nonsense about my initial escape and my campaign to start the rescue operations.
I snorted and switched the vid off.
Sam and my family all turned as one and grinned at me. I pretended not to notice.
“Let's go eat,” said Mom M, “I think we need to celebrate.”
It was almost an hour before we were ready to go. Fortunately clothes had been arranged for Sam and me. I don't think dirty coveralls would have been too appropriate for the restaurant we went to. Nor, for that matter, Sam's disheveled but still kind of cute drag outfit.
“We can't afford this,” I said, looking around the restaurant in awe. I tried to ignore the security guards following us at a discreet distance.
Ricky looked at me and smiled. “I don't think you'll need to worry about that kind of thing for a while, big brother.”
We were seated by a very formal but friendly waiter.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” said Ricky, reaching into an inside pocket of his jacket, “It's not much, but I'll get you a real present later. Happy birthday, Jeffy.”
I blinked. And thought hard.
Yeah, I guess it probably was. I hadn't even thought about that.
I'm sixteen today. And ninety-one. At the same time.
Like I said, weird.
I took what Ricky was offering. I looked at it.
It was my birth certificate. My actual, original birth certificate. I looked at Ricky.
“I figured you might need that eventually,” he said. “I've kept it all these years. Mom and Dad didn't even know I had it, before they died. Now, I'm giving it back to you.”
I didn't know what to say. I was getting a bit choked up.
Fortunately, the waiter arrived at that moment, distracting me. “What will the lady and gentlemen be having to drink this evening?” he asked.
I was struck by an evil thought.
Mom M ordered a glass of wine, and Dad M and Ricky both ordered a cocktail. I waited for Dillon and Sam to order their soft drinks, then the waiter looked at me.
I smiled, and tried to keep my voice even. “I'll have a beer please,” I said.
Sam's eyebrows shot up. Dillon started chuckling. I think he figured it out. Ricky and Mom and Dad M all looked at me like I'd lost my mind.
The waiter replied, “I am sorry, young man. We are not allowed to serve alcohol to minors. You need to be twenty-one.”
I just smiled and handed him my birth certificate.
He looked at it. I could see him working hard to suppress a smile. He looked at me and said, very formally, “Very good, Sir. One beer. Coming right up.”
He deposited the birth certificate on the table and turned and walked away.
Sam was slapping his leg and laughing much too loud for the restaurant. Dillon was snorting and giggling into his hands. Mom and Dad didn't seem to know what to do. And Ricky, well, Ricky for some strange reason looked almost proud.
The waiter returned almost immediately and placed our drinks in front of us, including a nice, amber beer in a tall glass for me, before turning and striding away once again.
Ricky raised his glass, looking at me, “I guess you've earned that, little Big Brother. Happy Birthday. And congratulations, to both Sam and yourself, on getting back to freedom.”
We all clinked glasses and I sipped my beer. It tasted wonderful.
The food was incredible. We were almost finished eating when we couldn't help overhearing most of the restaurant staff whispering excitedly to each other. Our waiter came over and whispered something in Ricky's ear. He then stood back and said, “With your permission, Sir?”
A large vid screen was now taking up a good portion of a wall. A news announcer was talking. “...seems to have spread to almost every city in the Protectorate.” Scenes, both from helicopter but now also from ground level, taken from hand-held and very shaky vid equipment, showed hordes of people in the street. Yelling, marching, and fighting the badly outnumbered police and military. The announcer continued, “The rebellion has now reached Washington. Most government buildings in Washington and other cities within the Protectorate appear to be close to being overrun. The sudden rescue operations, all starting with Jeffrey Chamberlain's rescue operation in Alabama, seem to have inspired a mass movement of the local population against the Protectorate government. It is too organized to be considered a riot. Protectorate Underground operatives seem to be leading most of the more significant movements. More details as they become available...”
“Well, I think we've started something,” said Ricky, smiling grimly at all of us. “Who knows, maybe we'll all be home a lot sooner than we thought.”
We arrived back at the hotel tired, full, and happy. Dillon, Sam, and I were directed to a large hotel suite with three single beds in it.
I looked at Sam, then over at Dillon. I couldn't help contrasting the two boys, and that made me remember everything that happened with me and Sam.
I knew it was time.
I latched the door behind me and took a few steps into the nicely appointed room. Dillon was leaning over his suitcase on his bed, pulling something out. Sam was over by the wall controls, playing with the automatic scent distribution system. I think he managed to mix watermelon with graham wafers. It didn't quite work.
I felt awful, but I finally had the chance. I had to be honest. “Dillon,” I said, “I need to tell you something...”
“Oh no you don't!” interrupted Sam before I could even get started. He left the control panel alone and turned around, much to my relief. He had added barbequed pork to the mix. “Don't listen to a word he says, Dillon. It was my fault, not his!”
Dillon was looking back and forth between us, total confusion on his face.
“Shut up, Sam,” I said. “Dillon, I need to tell you what happened. After me and Sam escaped. At Leah's. I...well...I touched...”
“No! You shut up Jeffrey!” interrupted Sam once again. He turned to Dillon, “He didn't do anything. We got out of there, and I was pissed off at everything to do with that place, and I wanted to prove I was still something, still in control of myself, and besides, look at him,” he pointed at me, “he was just standing there. Naked. What else could I do?”
Dillon was getting exasperated. He sat down heavily on one of the beds. “Will you two stop telling each other to shut up and just tell me what happened? Honestly, it's like you're trying to outdo each other in taking blame for something!”
Sam and I looked at each, both looking guilty as hell. Sam talked before I could open my mouth. I wasn't about to interrupt him this time. I'd wait for him to finish, then tell Dillon what really happened.
Sam said, “First, when we were hiding in the dark, after we escaped, when the police almost found us at Leah's, I kissed him. His cheek. Because he rescued me.”
Dillon shook his head. “So?”
I broke my promise, and interrupted, “I didn't rescue him! I almost...”
“Jeffrey, let him finish, please,” said Dillon, looking calmly at me.
I shut up.
“Well,” continued Sam, “it was weird, sitting there. All that adrenaline does weird things. I got...well...I got a boner. So did Jeffrey. I laughed and reached over and kind of...well...squeezed it.”
“Okaaaaay,” said Dillon slowly, looking at Sam like he'd lost his mind or something.
“Then, when we changed in Leah's room, we were naked. I grabbed his dick. I couldn't help it. I'm sorry, Dillon. It was my fault. I wouldn't have done it normally, but the whole thing was....”
I'd had enough. “No. Listen, Dillon. Don't let him take the blame. I'm older than him. I shouldn't have let him do it. And besides, I grabbed his too, for a couple of seconds, before I stopped all of that.”
Dillon was staring at both of our guilty faces. “So, let me get this straight,” he said, “You were locked up for weeks, humiliated and scared. You fought, you escaped, you hid, and then, while everything was still completely freak, after just escaping with your lives after living as slaves for weeks, you grabbed each other for, like, two seconds? Before you realized what you were doing and stopped? Oh, and I think there was a tiny little kiss in there somewhere? On the cheek?”
We both nodded guiltily.
Dillon fell backwards on the bed. He started laughing. No, that's not what he was doing. He was howling. He was rolling back and forth, barely breathing between guffaws. In between gasps, he managed, “You two....stupid....you thought I'd be....”
That's all he managed before he broke into another fit of laughing.
Sam and I looked at each other. He began to grin. I couldn't help it. I was now grinning back.
“I can see why you like him, Jeffrey,” Dillon managed between chuckles, “and why he likes you. He's exactly like you.”
I started to protest, but really couldn't. Since Dillon came over to me. Since he was squeezing me so hard. Since his lips were completely stopping mine from making any noises. And since his tongue was deep in my mouth.
We managed, finally, to get our teeth brushed and get ready for bed. Dillon and I pushed two of the beds together and re-arranged the sheets. Sam was studiously ignoring us and was turning back his own sheets.
Dillon looked over at him, and then at me, a question in his eyes. I hesitated, then nodded. We both went over to Sam's bed and, as one, pushed it over against the other two. Sam just looked at us, “Uh, are you sure you want to? I mean, I could...”
“Shut up, Sam,” Dillon and I said simultaneously, grinning at him.
Sam grinned back. “Okay.”
We got undressed, yes, all the way undressed, and climbed into bed. Dillon and I cuddled together, Sam on the other side of me, touching me, his leg curled around mine.
Dillon turned the far wall into a vid screen. We wanted an update on the rebellion before we went to sleep.
The newscaster was saying, “...rebellion appears to have control of most of the government buildings now. The Protectorate is falling. NAU personnel are now moving across the border and into key positions. Leon Barclay and his closest supporters appear to have made an escape. Their current whereabouts are unknown. Now, we take you to John Beech in Alabama. Where it all began.”
A roving reporter type on a street in front of what was identified as the Alabama Capitol Building came on the screen. “Rebellion and Underground personnel have ousted Protectorate personnel from the Capitol building and now have control.” He turned to face someone off-screen. “Sir? You appear to have taken control here quickly. How did you manage to get organized so fast?”
The camera panned over, and a very large and muscular man appeared on the screen. A man I recognized.
He said, “I'm just following orders. The Underground has been hard at work here for weeks, and have to take credit for organizing this. Well, them, and one other person. The person that started this whole rescue thing, and who personally got me out of there. Thanks, Jeffrey.”
I felt myself blushing as Dillon turned off the vid screen. Both Sam and Dillon were looking at me, grinning.
“My hero,” they both said simultaneously. And then they both leaned over and each kissed a cheek.
I cuddled into Dillon and Sam, and thought about everything that had happened. I looked around at the ornate furnishings of the hotel room. I looked over at my cute, naked, boyfriend on one side of me. I looked over at an equally cute and equally naked Sam lying on the other side of me.
I realized that I'm really glad that I'm alive. It's hard to believe I'd ever considered suicide as an option. Not when life has so many surprises in store. Sure, some aren't so great, but others, just when you least expect them, are wonderful.
This story is fiction. Suicide is real, and its consequences are tragic.
If you, or someone you know, is considering suicide, please, telephone one of the supports listed below or use one of the listed online supports. Like Jeffrey, everybody has a right to life. Like Jeffrey, everybody has something to offer. Everybody deserves a chance.
In the United States, if you're a teen, you can contact The Trevor Project by clicking the link or telephoning 1-866-4-U-TREVOR (1-866-488-7386). Adults can contact the national suicide hotline by dialing 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433).
In Canada, if you're a teen, you can contact The Kids Help Phone by clicking the link or telephoning 1-800-668-6868. Adults can contact their local distress centre by clicking the appropriate link at http://www.suicideprevention.ca/in-crisis-now/find-a-crisis-centre-now/ or by dialing 9-1-1.
In the United Kingdom you can contact the HOPELineUK by clicking the link or telephoning 0800 068 41 41.
In Australia you can contact Lifeline by clicking the link or telephoning 13 11 14 from anywhere in the country.
From almost anywhere in the world, you can go to Befrienders and pick your country/location from the drop-down for a hotline where you live.
A google search will certainly turn up many other local resources.
Or call your friend. Or a parent. Or your Aunt. Or anyone. Just call. Talk to someone you trust.
I want to sincerely thank my hard working editors for their help in crafting this story. They made it immeasurably better. The mistakes that remain are solely my responsibility, and the story would have considerably more if it weren't for their help.
I would also like to thank The Dude at Awesomedude.com for hosting this story, and of course for hosting all of the other wonderful stories by so many talented authors. Dude, I hope you realize how valuable a resource you provide to so many people. It can't be understated.
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