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"Here you go, Dodger. I suppose you'll want to look these over." Morgan said as he pushed a file folder across the desk to Dodger.
As Dodger opened the folder, Morgan continued, "Remember to come back to me when you need to update those. Time slides past you when you're not paying attention. If you're not careful, one day you may find yourself trying to explain to a police officer why you look 16 and your ID says that you're 35."
"I'll remember." Dodger said quietly, as he looked over the documents, trying to be sure that he was familiar with all of them.
"So is there anything he needs to know about all of this?" Rafe asked cautiously.
"No. Everything there is as close to the truth as possible. If Dodger is honest about his history, this documentation should prove that everything is as it should be." Morgan said seriously.
"Thank you, Morgan. I think that will work best." Rafe said gratefully.
"I'm sorry that took so long." Claudia said as she rushed into the room. "Here you go, Dodger. Take a look and see what you think."
Dodger held the photo ID and passport out so Rafe could look at them with him.
"Perfect." Rafe said happily, then noticed that Dodger had an unusual expression.
"Is something wrong?" Rafe asked cautiously.
"No." Dodger said as he looked at Rafe and revealed that he was fighting back the beginnings of tears.
"I just saw this with my name on it and your address and I..." Dodger trailed off shyly, then quietly added, "It just makes me happy."
Rafe smiled warmly at Dodger, then turned to Morgan and asked, "Is that everything?"
"Yes. Just be sure to call in with updates. I want to know how things are going with your work." Morgan said seriously.
Rafe chuckled, then said, "I doubt that this rancher is going to have anywhere near the lab equipment that I'm going to need. So expect to be hearing from me as soon as I've taken inventory." Rafe said frankly.
"I'll be standing by." Morgan said with a nod.
"Hopefully, the next time I see you we'll have good cause to celebrate." Rafe said sincerely as he stood.
"I'll settle for not having a reason to grieve." Morgan said frankly.
"I'll do what I can." Rafe said seriously, then broke into a grin and added, "Dodger will help."
"Then I won't worry." Morgan said with a fond smile at Dodger.
* * * * *
"I was hoping we could go to the club for a while, but I don't think we have time. We should probably go to the airport." Rafe said as they walked out to the car.
"What should I do with these?" Dodger asked as he indicated the folder of documents.
"Put those in your carry-on bag. Chances are that you won't need them, but it's better to be safe." Rafe said casually, then opened Dodger's car door.
"I feel like I'm never going to get used to all of this." Dodger said quietly.
"It's been less than a day. Just give it time." Rafe said before getting into the car.
* * * * *
"That light hurts." Dodger said as he squinted at the brightness of the light inside the airport.
"I know, you'll just need to put up with it long enough for us to get our bags checked in." Rafe said uncomfortably. "Remember to keep your carry-on with you. They'll be putting the rest of our luggage in the belly of the plane."
"I'm sorry I snapped at you in the department store at Christmas. I didn't have any idea that it could be this bad." Dodger said as he fought the urge to shield his eyes.
"You had no way of knowing." Rafe said gently, then gestured toward the check-in desk.
"Good evening, how can I help you?" A pleasant young woman asked from behind the counter.
"I should have two pre-paid tickets waiting for Dr. Raphael Killian." Rafe said professionally as he held out his ID.
After looking around her desk, the woman smiled and said, "Yes, Dr. Killian. Everything is here and seems to be in order."
Rafe accepted the tickets from the woman, then handed one to Dodger.
She motioned to someone nearby and a moment later he was taking their luggage away.
"We'll be in the captain's club when our flight is ready." Rafe said quietly, trying to keep the strain out of his voice.
"We'll contact you there when your flight is ready to board. I hope you have an enjoyable flight." She said cheerfully.
"Thank you." Rafe said, then motioned for Dodger to follow.
Dodger picked up his carry-on bag and quickly followed.
"I hope it's darker in the club." Dodger said in a pained voice.
"Yes, but there's another obstacle to overcome before we'll be able to relax.
Dodger glanced at Rafe, but didn't ask.
* * * * *
"I can't breathe." Dodger gasped as they walked into the dimly lit, loud, smoke filled room.
"I know." Rafe said as he quickly led the way to the bar.
Dodger followed along as best he could with his eyes watering and feeling like he was suffocating.
Rafe waited for a moment for the bartender to acknowledge him, then said, "I'm supposed to be meeting Mr. Tenebrous."
"Yes sir, you're expected. Right this way." The bartender said quickly as he gestured toward the end of the bar.
Dodger followed Rafe, hoping that wherever they were going would be someplace that he could breathe.
* * * * *
"I'll return in a moment. I hope you enjoy your evening." The bartender said before withdrawing from the small lounge.
Dodger looked around and smiled. It was quiet. The air was clean. The lights were low and the blinds had been opened, giving a beautiful view of the runway.
"Who is Mr. Tenebrous?" Dodger asked as he followed Rafe to a table.
"That's sort of a code name that we use to identify ourselves as shadesiders." Rafe said as he sat down.
"So the bartender knows that we're shadesiders?" Dodger asked carefully.
"Yes. He may have a friend or family member that's a shadesider. People who already know about us and can be trusted are sometimes enlisted to work in positions where they can help us." Rafe said as he relaxed.
The bartender walked into the room with two glasses of juice, then asked, "Would you like a menu?"
"Yes. Thank you." Rafe said with a smile.
The bartender placed an open menu before each man, then said, "I'll return shortly to take your orders."
Rafe nodded, then looked at his menu carefully.
After looking over the menu selections, Dodger quietly asked, "What are you going to have?"
"I don't know. I think I'll probably have something fairly substantial since it's going to be a long flight. Overnight flights typically don't offer a dinner service." Rafe said thoughtfully.
Dodger nodded, then looked at the menu again.
"What are you thinking of having?" Rafe asked casually.
"This fried chicken dinner looks good to me." Dodger said slowly.
Rafe looked at his menu again, then said, "You know, that does look good."
The door to the lounge opened and the bartender walked in with two other people.
"I'll return in a moment, I hope you'll enjoy your evening." the bartender said to the young looking couple, then walked to Rafe and Dodger's table and asked, "Are you ready to order?"
"I'll have the fried chicken dinner." Rafe said, then flashed a smile at Dodger.
"Me too." Dodger said, then closed his menu and handed it to the bartender.
"I'll have your salads in just a moment." the bartender said pleasantly before withdrawing.
"Are you two headed to LA?" the young man asked from the next table.
"Albuquerque." Rafe answered casually.
"Why in god's name would you want to go there?" the young man asked with a chuckle.
"Business." Rafe said with a shrug.
"I should have known. There's no other reason to go to that barren wasteland." the man said frankly, then added, "I'm Toby and this is Alice."
"I'm Rafe and this is Dodger." Rafe said with a friendly smile.
Toby looked at Dodger curiously, then asked, "Just changed, huh?"
"Yesterday." Rafe said with a nod.
"Welcome to the shadeside, Dodger." Toby said with a cheerful smile.
"Thanks." Dodger said timidly.
Before the conversation could continue, the bartender returned with drinks for Toby and Alice and salads for Rafe and Dodger.
"How does everyone know that I've just changed?" Dodger asked quietly.
"Your scent." Rafe said frankly.
"Does that mean that I smell funny?" Dodger asked anxiously.
Rafe chuckled as he shook his head, "No Dodger, it's just that brightsiders have a distinct scent. I think it has something to do with the higher body temperature. It's going to take a few days for that to fade from you."
Dodger slowly nodded that he understood.
"You don't smell funny." Rafe said quietly.
Dodger smiled at the assurance.
* * * * *
Their dinner was surprisingly good and Dodger vowed that when they finally got back home, he was going to try making some fried chicken that was at least as good.
After their meal, they enjoyed some polite conversation with Toby. And, at one point, Alice even spoke.
"Dr. Killian?" The bartender asked quietly.
"Yes." Rafe responded.
"Your flight is ready to board." the bartender said gently.
"Thank you." Rafe said with a smile.
The bartender nodded, then hurried out of the room.
Rafe took out his wallet and placed two $20 bills on the table.
"The meal cost $40?" Dodger asked with surprise.
"No. I'll be billed for the meal. This is a tip for the bartender. He took good care of us." Rafe said seriously.
Dodger thought for a moment, then nodded his agreement.
"You headed out?" Toby asked cheerfully.
"Yes. Our flight is boarding." Rafe said with a friendly smile to the outgoing young man.
"Ours too. I think we're on the same flight." Toby said cheerfully.
"It must land in Albuquerque, then continue on to Los Angeles." Rafe said speculatively.
"If you don't mind the company, we'll walk down with you." Toby said with a smile.
"Sounds good. Maybe we can work together to get everyone through the fog." Rafe said seriously.
"I used to smoke before. I just wish I could show those smokers the crap I hacked out of my lungs after the change. Maybe they'd think twice about what they're doing to themselves." Toby said as they started walking as a group.
"I doubt it." Rafe said frankly.
Dodger and Alice fell into step, side-by-side, as Rafe and Toby continued to talk.
* * * * *
When the group reached the departure gate, there were about two hundred people waiting to board the plane.
"Dr. Killian? Mr. Dubois?" A flight attendant asked as they approached.
"Yes. That's right." Toby answered for all of them.
"If you'll follow me, we're ready to begin boarding." The flight attendant said, then ushered them past the waiting passengers.
Dodger took in a deliberate deep breath, then nearly gagged at the stench of so many people gathered in such a small area.
Rafe glanced at Dodger with a knowing smile, but didn't comment.
* * * * *
Once they were seated, Dodger leaned over and whispered to ask, "Why did we get to go before everyone else?"
"Because we're first class passengers. We pay the most, so we get to sit down and relax until boarding is complete." Rafe said pleasantly.
"Oh, I thought somehow, because we're... um, you know, that they were treating us different." Dodger said carefully.
"No. First class ticket, first class treatment. It's that simple." Rafe said with a smile.
Dodger nodded, then looked up when a stewardess approached with four glasses of juice.
"Something to refresh you before we take off?" She asked pleasantly as she offered the drinks.
"Yes. Thank you." Rafe said with a smile as he took a glass.
"Thanks." Dodger said as he also accepted a drink.
"I can't get enough of this stuff." Toby said with a chuckle.
"If any of you need anything, my name is Audra, and I'll be taking care of you this evening." the stewardess said pleasantly.
"You're doing a great job of it so far, Audra." Toby said happily.
"Would anyone like some headphones?" Audra asked curiously.
"Yeah. That sounds good." Toby said immediately.
"Us too." Rafe said casually.
Audra handed out the headphones, then left the cabin.
"What do you do with these?" Dodger asked curiously.
"You plug them into the arm of the seat so you can listen to music while we're in flight." Rafe said as he pointed to the radio controls.
"Oh. That sounds like fun." Dodger said with a smile.
There was a sound of movement behind them as four more first class passengers took their places in the forward cabin.
"I feel like we're being herded like cattle." a portly man grumbled as he took his seat.
"Can I get you a drink to relax you before we take off?" a stewardess asked cheerfully as soon as he was seated.
"Scotch, neat." The man said tersely.
Dodger noticed Rafe flinch at the sound of a lighter lighting. A moment later, he could smell the unmistakable smell of a cigar.
"I'll take care of it." Rafe said under his breath, then turned to look at the piggish man, puffing on his cigar.
Rafe didn't say a word or move a muscle, he just seemed to be staring at the man.
Finally Rafe moved to face forward and smiled to himself.
Dodger looked back in time to see the portly gentleman put out his cigar.
"Thank you." the man said as he accepted his drink and sounded sincerely grateful.
"Thanks." Toby said from his seat across the aisle from Rafe.
"Glad to do it." Rafe said with a grin.
* * * * *
Although the boarding process seemed to take quite a while, the captain did finally announce that they were ready for take-off.
Audra walked through the first class cabin and made sure everyone was belted in.
"Just relax." Rafe said gently. He could almost feel Dodger's nervousness vibrating out from him.
"I'm trying." Dodger whispered.
"Here." Rafe said as he offered his hand.
Dodger took the hand and held it firmly.
"I can 'help' you, if you want." Rafe said quietly.
At Dodger's uncomprehending stare, Rafe made a casual gesture with his head to indicate the rotund gentleman in the row behind them.
"No. But thanks." Dodger said nervously.
Just then, the sound of the engines increased and Dodger grabbed onto Rafe's hand tightly.
"It lasts for less than a minute. Just hang on and you'll be fine." Rafe said gently.
"I'm okay." Dodger said past gritted teeth as he could feel the plane leaving the ground.
Rafe looked down at Dodger's white knuckled grip on his hand and was grateful that he healed quickly.
* * * * *
Once the flight had leveled off, Dodger seemed to relax completely.
After a few minutes of conversation, both men put on their headphones so they could listen to some music to pass the time.
Rafe heard an unusual droning sound and took off his headphones to investigate.
It took a moment for the sound to repeat, but when it did, Rafe had to fight to keep from breaking into laughter.
"Dodger." He said quietly as he shook Dodger's arm.
After a moment to get the headphones off, Dodger looked at Rafe curiously.
"While you're wearing headphones, you can't hear yourself, but everyone else can hear you." Rafe said quietly.
"What?" Dodger asked in confusion.
"You were humming along with the music." Rafe explained quietly.
"Oh." Dodger said with sudden comprehension, then quietly added, "Sorry."
"I think everyone has done it at one time or another." Rafe said with a gentle smile.
Dodger nodded, then put his headphones back on.
* * * * *
A while later, Rafe felt a hand on his arm and looked at Dodger with question.
"I was just thinking..." Dodger trailed off, obviously rethinking what he was going to say.
"Thinking about what?" Rafe asked gently, wanting to put Dodger at ease so he would feel free to continue.
"I was thinking about Ernie and Blake and Manna... you know?" Dodger asked hopefully.
"What about them?" Rafe asked curiously.
"They're married, the three of them. And I was thinking that if they can do that..." Dodger trailed off again.
Rafe nodded, encouraging Dodger to continue.
"I was just wondering, can we, I mean, is it somehow possible for us to get married?" Dodger asked nervously.
"Would you like to be?" Rafe asked with a smile.
After a moment of thought, Dodger quietly admitted, "Yeah. I would."
"Then we are." Rafe said simply. "The moment you asked me to commit to you and I accepted, we became husbands in the eyes of the shadeside community."
"But isn't there a ceremony or something we should do?" Dodger asked slowly.
"People sometimes choose to have a ceremony to announce their wedding, so they can share it with all of their friends." Rafe said seriously.
"Since we're leaving all our friends back in Ohio, I guess we can't do that." Dodger said thoughtfully.
"Dodger, we're married. That's the important part. But if you want a ceremony, just let me know when you're ready and we'll have one. I would be honored to publicly declare my love for you." Rafe said with a loving smile.
"I think I"d like that too." Dodger said as he looked into Rafe's eyes.
Rafe leaned in and gave Dodger a quick kiss, then put his headphones back on.
Dodger smiled at the incredibly sweet action as he went back to listening to music.
* * * * *
"Excuse me, Dr. Killian." Audra asked quietly.
"Yes?" Rafe responded as he took off his headphones.
"Are you a medical doctor?" Audra asked cautiously.
"Yes, I am, is there a problem?" Rafe asked with concern.
"A passenger just passed out in the aisle and we were wondering if you'd have a look at him." Audra asked hopefully.
"Of course." Rafe said, then took his carry-on bag out of the overhead compartment. "Be just a moment."
"What's wrong?" Dodger asked as he took off his headphones.
"A sick passenger. I'm going to see if I can help him." Rafe said as he extracted a smaller black case from the bottom of his carry-on bag.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Dodger asked cautiously.
"Not right now, but I'll let you know." Rafe said with a quick smile at Dodger, then looked at Audra, indicating that he was ready to go.
* * * * *
"We've been told not to move someone who fell, in case they hurt their neck or back." Audra explained as they approached the man lying in the aisle.
"Yes. That's probably best." Rafe said as he moved awkwardly over the young man and began to assess his overall condition.
"Do you think you could clear this seat so I'll have some room to work?" Rafe asked Audra hopefully.
Audra nodded, then indicated for another stewardess to come to her.
The young man began to stir. After a moment, he blinked his eyes, then tried to sit up.
"Hold on. You fell, I need to see if you've hurt yourself before you get up and move around." Rafe said gently, then asked, "What's your name?"
"Little Joe." The young man said slowly, then added, "That's what my family calls me."
"I hope that means that there's also a Big Joe." Rafe said as he noticed the clamminess of Little Joe's skin.
"Yeah. My dad... I think I'm going to be sick." The young man said past heavy breathing.
"Do you have any pain in your back or neck?" Rafe asked firmly as he gently probed.
"No. But I'm gonna throw up." Little Joe said insistently.
"Come with me." Rafe said as he helped the young man to stand.
Audra and the other stewardesses helped to clear the aisle as Rafe led the young man to the forward lavatory.
"Leave the door open. You don't look good and I don't want to have to break it down if you pass out." Rafe said seriously.
Little Joe barely stepped into the lavatory, when his stomach let loose.
The stewardesses backed up and grimaced at the sound.
"How are you doing?" Rafe asked gently as he patted Little Joe's back.
"Better." He said past heavy breathing.
"Wash your face, then I want to have a look at you." Rafe said seriously.
Little Joe paused for a moment, apparently not sure if he was done vomiting, then moved to wash his face.
* * * * *
"Come with me." Rafe said as he led Little Joe into the first class cabin.
"Have a seat, I need to have a look at you." Rafe said seriously then turned to Audra and quietly said, "It was too crowded back there for me to work."
Little Joe looked around the first class cabin briefly, then sat down beside Dodger.
"This is Little Joe, he's not feeling well." Rafe said as he got out his stethoscope.
"Hi Little Joe, I'm Dodger."
"Hi." Little Joe said, then turned his attention to Rafe who was holding a stethoscope to his chest.
"Breathe in for me." Rafe said quietly.
Little Joe took in a deep breath, then released it slowly.
"Good." Rafe said gently, then asked, "Will you tell me how you're feeling?"
"Bad. I was okay when I got on the plane, but all of a sudden my eyes started going weird and then I started feeling sick to my stomach." Little Joe said seriously.
"Have you been around anyone who has had the flu recently?" Rafe asked cautiously as he took a small flashlight out of his case.
"No. I've been visiting my grandparents in Eastern Ohio for the past two weeks. They're both fine." Little Joe said, and started blinking his eyes, like he was trying to clear his vision.
"Are you having trouble seeing?" Rafe asked curiously.
"Yeah. I see two of you. You're double." Little Joe said as his breathing started becoming more labored.
"Rafe, this kinda looks like what my brother Danny had when I was a kid." Dodger said carefully.
"What was that?" Rafe asked as he shined his flashlight on one of Little Joe's pupils and moved it away quickly.
"Um, I don't remember what it was called, but it was because he got into the cellar and ate a few jars of ma's home canned pears. The doc said that the seal must've gone bad." Dodger said carefully.
"Was it botulism?" Rafe asked with surprise.
"Yeah. I think that's what they called it." Dodger said with a nod.
Rafe paused for a moment, then started moving quickly.
"Little Joe, can you tell me what you had for dinner today?" Rafe asked as he dug through his case.
"Some kind of beef and mushroom casserole that my grandma made." Little Joe said with confusion and seemed to be having more difficulty breathing.
"Audra." Rafe barked, not looking away from Little Joe.
"Yes." She said as she hurried to his side.
"I need you to write something down." Rafe said absently.
Audra took out a small notepad and a pen from her pocket.
"Little Joe, where do your grandparents live and what are their names?" Rafe asked gently.
"Um. Cadiz, Ohio and their names are John and Hester Luyster." Little Joe said and seemed to be fighting to breathe.
"Little Joe, this is going to be uncomfortable for a minute, but it's going to make it easier for you to breathe." Rafe said, then said to Dodger, "Help me hold him so he doesn't fight me."
Dodger stood from his seat and leaned in to hold Little Joe's arms down.
Rafe opened a package then started forcing a long plastic tube down Little Joe's throat.
Little Joe was gagging and trying to turn his head.
"That's got it." Rafe finally said with relief. "One more minute and it wouldn't have gone. His throat was closing up."
"What do you want me to do with this?" Audra asked, still holding the notebook.
"We're going to need to call to check on his grandparents and to make sure that there's an ambulance waiting when we land." Rafe said as he stood.
"What can I do?" Dodger asked quickly.
"Stay with Little Joe and try to keep him calm. Send someone to get me if he's having any problems." Rafe said seriously, then started walking toward the front of the plane.
* * * * *
"Try not to worry, Little Joe. Rafe is a good doctor. In fact, he's so good that he's making a house call all the way from Ohio to New Mexico." Dodger said with a grin.
Little Joe looked at Dodger with wide, terrified eyes.
Dodger took Little Joe's hand and held it firmly.
Little Joe's frightened look became curious as he looked down at their joined hands.
"You know what they say, 'cold hands, warm heart'." Dodger said with a smile.
Little Joe blinked, then slowly nodded.
"Rafe is going to figure this out. I mean, think about what he just did. He must have known what was about to happen, so he asked you about the things he needed to know from you before he stuck the tube in your throat. So that means that he knows that you're going to be fine or he wouldn't have left your side." Dodger said gently.
Little Joe seemed to be considering the words for a moment, then reluctantly nodded.
Dodger smiled, then said, "So, you've got a 'great' doctor looking out for you, you're able to breathe, you're not alone. I guess if you're going to be sick, this isn't the worst situation to be in."
The look in Little Joe's eyes showed that he wasn't quite convinced of that.
Dodger chuckled, then said, "Okay. Maybe this is pretty close. But you're going to get through it."
Little Joe's eyes widened as he stared at Dodger in awe.
"Please believe me. You're going to be fine." Dodger said and could almost hear his own words echoing back to him.
"You're glowing." Toby whispered in a tone of warning.
Dodger puzzled over the words, then realized what Toby meant.
Dodger reigned in his emotions, then smiled shyly as he said, "Sorry, I'm new at this."
Little Joe stared at Dodger for a moment longer, then seemed to calm down.
"Good. I think that if you can just relax, there's not going to be anything to worry about." Dodger said with a smile.
* * * * *
"How's he doing?" Rafe asked as he hurried back to Little Joe's side.
"He's calmed down." Dodger said quietly.
"Little Joe, listen to me." Rafe said seriously.
"I called the ground and had someone call your grandparents. They're both feeling sick, but an ambulance has been called and they're both going to be fine." Rafe said firmly.
Little Joe slowly nodded that he understood.
"Until we can get a lab test back, we can't confirm that this is botulism, but the symptomology and what you've told me all seem to point that way." Rafe said seriously. "Even if I were seeing you in the hospital right now, there wouldn't be much more that I could do for you until the lab test came back."
"So an ambulance and a doctor are going to be waiting on us when we arrive in Albuquerque. The moment that the lab report from your grandparents comes back, they'll begin administering treatment and you'll be just fine." Rafe said gently.
"I told you." Dodger said as he squeezed Little Joe's hand encouragingly.
Little Joe looked at Dodger, then gave a squeeze in return.
Editor's Notes: I would have to say that Dodger is going to do just fine, especially once he gets a little better control of his gifts.�He is obviously a very bright person, and he picks things up very quickly.�
Of course, the fact that he has Rafe to help him become accustom to his new life, will also make things a lot easier on him. I am sure that the love they share is going to be a very important factor, too.�
I can't help but wonder if Little Joe will play a further part in the story. Somehow, I have a feeling that we will see him again.� I hope so. He seems very nice.
As always, I am ready for more.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher