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Dodger awoke to the most glorious feeling of being surrounded in warmth and love.
He slowly opened his eyes and found Rafe holding him tenderly in his arms.
"You're warm." Dodger said with a smile.
"Actually, you're cold. At least, compared to what you were." Rafe said gently.
"Well, whatever happened, it's nice." Dodger said as he snuggled in Rafe's embrace.
"How are you feeling?" Rafe asked quietly as he looked into Dodger's eyes.
"I feel perfect." Dodger said joyfully. "I understood what you were saying before about my body working more efficiently, but I never imagined how it would feel. It's like my body was sluggish and bloated before. Now I feel... I can't even find the words. I just feel like I could do anything right now."
"I guess I'll have to take your word for it. Since I was born a shadesider, I've never known what it feels like to be without the transformative." Rafe said frankly.
"So, shadesiders can have kids." Dodger said slowly, then looked at Rafe and said, "For some reason, I didn't think they would be able to."
"It's the vampire myth. People think we're dead." Rafe said dismissively. "But truth be told, it is exceedingly rare for a shadesider to be born. They're usually made."
"Why is it so rare?" Dodger asked curiously.
"I suppose from an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense because we're so long lived. If a female shadesider could become pregnant as easily as a brightsider... let's just say that that would cause it's own set of problems." Rafe said frankly.
Dodger slowly nodded that he understood what Rafe was saying.
"To answer your question from a medical perspective. The fertility cycle in a female shadesider can go dormant for decades or even centuries. Then one day it will awaken, the next it will be gone and it may be a thousand years before it happens again. There's just no predicting when it will happen." Rafe said casually.
"A thousand years." Dodger said with a shake of his head.
"Please try not to worry too much about it. You're here, now. Live in today. If you try to figure out what you'll be doing a thousand years from now, you'll drive yourself crazy." Rafe said with a grin.
"I already know what I'll be doing a thousand years from now." Dodger said with a smile.
At Rafe's curious glance, he said, "I'll be loving you."
"I like that plan." Rafe said with a grin.
Dodger smiled, then his look slowly became thoughtful.
"Is something bothering you?" Rafe asked curiously.
Dodger thought for a moment, then quietly asked, "Am I always going to look like I'm sixteen?"
"Probably not." Rafe said casually. "But Shadesider aging is kind of a tricky thing to predict."
"How do you mean?" Dodger asked cautiously.
"In a way, it's like the fertility. You might go two or three hundred years looking like you are right now, or you might age normally for a few years then stop. No one has figured out what causes it to start or stop."
"Does that mean that eventually we'll grow old and die like brightsiders?" Dodger asked quietly.
"I don't think so." Rafe said thoughtfully. "At least, I've never known of that happening to anyone."
Dodger nodded that he had heard.
"When you meet my parents, you might ask them about it. They would know better than I would." Rafe said seriously.
"How do you think they'll react when they find out about me?" Dodger asked hesitantly.
"If I were going to guess, I'd say that they'll absolutely love you." Rafe said tenderly.
"But what if they don't?" Dodger asked with concern.
"Why wouldn't they?" Rafe asked curiously.
"Well, I'm a sixteen year old dirt poor hoopie. Oh, and I'm a guy. I doubt that I'm what your parents were dreaming of for their only son." Dodger said defensively.
"I love you." Rafe said as he looked into Dodger's eyes. "That's all that matters to me, and it's all that will matter to them. I promise."
Dodger didn't look convinced, but didn't seem to want to pursue the topic further.
"I would love for us to stay in bed and make love all day, but I have some phone calls that I have to make to get things arranged for us to get to New Mexico as soon as possible." Rafe finished regretfully.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Dodger asked hopefully.
"Yes. If you wouldn't mind, you could make us breakfast while I make my calls." Rafe said seriously.
"Is there anything special you'd like for breakfast?" Dodger asked gently.
"Surprise me." Rafe said with a grin.
"I think I'll take that as a challenge." Dodger said with a chuckle.
"One kiss, then we'd better get started." Rafe said lovingly.
Dodger slowly moved in to give Rafe a kiss filled with all the love he was feeling.
Rafe's hands drifted down Dodger's back, seemingly of their own accord.
Dodger responded to the faint touches and began to slowly grind his growing erection against Rafe's hip.
"I'd rather do this than have breakfast." Dodger whispered against Rafe's lips.
"I think we can do both." Rafe said, then moved in to kiss Dodger in earnest.
* * * * *
"Something smells good." Rafe said as he walked into the kitchen.
"Well, I was thinking that if we're going to be leaving, we might as well use up some of this food." Dodger said as he moved from the stove to the electric griddle.
"Can I help with something?" Rafe asked curiously.
"Sure, take over the griddle and I'll check on the biscuits." Dodger said happily.
"You made biscuits? I haven't been in there that long." Rafe said cautiously.
"Not your forever-and-a-day biscuits." Dodger said with a grin, then peeked into the oven. "My mama's drop biscuits."
"'Drop' biscuits?" Rafe asked cautiously.
"Yup. You just mix it up, scoop up a clump of dough, then drop it on the pan. They ain't pretty, but they get the job done." Dodger said frankly.
"I can't wait to try them." Rafe said with a grin.
"I'm thinking we got about a minute left and everything will be finished." Dodger said as he hurried to the cabinet to grab two plates. "Oh, and we're just about out of juice."
"No problem. I have some more in the shop." Rafe said casually.
"The shop?" Dodger asked cautiously.
"Yes. The shop behind the garage. I have a refrigerator full of juice in there." Rafe said as he moved strips of bacon to a towel to drain.
"I guess I never went behind the garage. I didn't know it was there."
"There's not much to it. It's just a big tool shed with a few work tables in case I get the urge to do something creative with wood." Rafe said casually.
"Do you get that urge often?" Dodger asked curiously.
"Only when I'm exceptionally bored." Rafe said with a grin.
"70% hash, 30% brown." Dodger said as he placed hashed browns on one of the plates.
"Just the way I like it." Rafe said with a grin.
"I just hope you're hungry."
"We have to do something to replace the amount of energy we spent last night." Rafe said as he took the first plate and added scrambled eggs and bacon to it.
Dodger pulled a pan of biscuits out of the oven and set them on top of the stove.
"Those look funny." Rafe said with a smile.
"You told me to surprise you." Dodger said with a cheeky grin.
"Well, you managed to do that." Rafe said as he looked at the odd, misshapen biscuits.
"Don't worry, they'll taste good." Dodger chuckled.
"I can't wait to find out." Rafe said as he picked up the plates and carried them to the table.
Dodger quickly moved the biscuits to a large bowl that was lined with a towel, then picked up the bowl of biscuits with one hand and a pan of sausage gravy with the other.
"I almost forgot the grits." Dodger said as he dashed back to the stove to grab the small saucepan on the back burner.
Rafe placed butter and syrup on the table and took his seat just as Dodger sat down.
"This looks wonderful. Thank you for cooking breakfast this morning." Rafe said sincerely.
"You're welcome. I'm always happy to cook when I know it's appreciated." Dodger said frankly.
"If I ever forget to tell you, I'm counting on you to let me know." Rafe said seriously.
Dodger shook his head, then said, "Even if you never said it, I'd still know."
Rafe smiled at the statement, then took a bite of his breakfast.
"So, were you able to get the travel arrangements made?" Dodger asked between bites.
"Not exactly." Rafe said seriously. "I don't really have the experience to plan something like this. I called Portia and told her what I needed. She's going to call me back."
"Is she a travel agent?" Dodger asked curiously.
"No. She just travels a lot and knows who to go to for shadeside accommodations." Rafe said frankly.
"What's that?" Dodger asked curiously.
"She'll just arrange things so that we can travel comfortably. If worse comes to worse, I can charter a plane to get us there." Rafe said casually.
"That sounds expensive." Dodger said hesitantly.
"It is." Rafe said simply. "If there's a commercial option available, we'll take that. If not, we'll still manage to get there."
Dodger slowly nodded.
"I've also arranged to get you some documentation. We're going to need to hit the road as soon as the sun sets." Rafe said seriously.
"Documentation?" Dodger asked cautiously.
"Birth certificate, a driver's license... you know, things like that." Rafe said simply.
"But I was born at the farm. I don't think I have any of that stuff." Dodger said anxiously.
"It's all being handled." Rafe said with an assuring smile. "You'll go and get your picture taken and then you'll be done."
"Is this legal?" Dodger asked cautiously.
"Sort of. All the documents that you'll be receiving will be genuine. But the way you're getting them isn't entirely legal by brightside standards." Rafe admitted somewhat shyly, "But by shadeside standards, it's just what you have to do to get your daily business done."
Dodger didn't look convinced, so Rafe continued, "If you wanted to get your birth certificate, what would you do?"
"I don't know. Probably go to some government office and fill out a whole bunch of forms." Dodger said thoughtfully.
"At what time of day would you do that?" Rafe asked slowly.
"Oh. I see what you mean." Dodger said with a nod.
"Right. There are things that are very difficult for us to do. For those things, we turn to the shadeside community." Rafe said happily.
"Okay. So who gets us official documents?" Dodger asked carefully.
"You haven't met him yet. His name is Morgan." Rafe said seriously. "And if you went into the state building in the middle of the day, he'd probably be the one that you'd talk to."
"How can he go out in the daylight?" Dodger asked curiously.
"Just like the rest of us. Some days he goes in around sunrise and leaves at around sunset. On overcast days, he can leave at a more decent hour. But either way, while he's inside, under fluorescent lights, he's safe. Office work was made for shadesiders." Rafe finished with a grin.
"The summer must be really tough with the days being so long." Dodger said with concern.
"Yes. But we do what we have to do." Rafe said simply. "And sometimes that means braving the sunlight to make a mad dash to the car and hope that no one notices."
"How bad is it when you do that?" Dodger asked quietly.
"The skin inflames immediately, blisters start forming within a minute or two. It's agony." Rafe said with resignation.
"When that happens, what do you do?" Dodger asked curiously.
"You get home, or someplace dark, as quickly as you can. Then you drink some juice, put a cold wet towel on your burns and wait for about ten to fifteen minutes for your skin to heal." Rafe said frankly.
"At least we've got the rapid healing going for us." Dodger said with a weak smile.
"We'll avoid testing your healing abilities for a while if at all possible." Rafe said gently.
"As long as that includes both of us." Dodger said seriously.
"I'll do what I can." Rafe said with a smile.
* * * * *
The day was filled with running around, packing, phone calls and the occasional break to kiss or cuddle.
"When do we have to meet Morgan?" Dodger asked curiously from his chair.
"Not for a while, yet. He knows we can't leave until sunset, so he'll have a good idea of when we'll arrive." Rafe said thoughtfully.
"And then we go to the airport?" Dodger asked cautiously.
"Yes. But we may stop at the club or at a restaurant if there's time. We'll be taking the last flight leaving for Albuquerque." Rafe said seriously.
"I'm going to miss this place." Dodger said, as he looked around the huge living room.
"You'll be able to come back whenever you want." Rafe said honestly.
Dodger shook his head and said, "It wouldn't be home without you."
Rafe nodded his agreement.
"Did you call Mrs. Lewellyn?" Dodger asked absently.
"Yes. She said that she'll clear the food out of the cupboards and stop by to check on the place occasionally." Rafe said quietly.
Dodger nodded as he stared at the fireplace, feeling that the absence of a fire was somehow appropriate.
"How are you feeling?" Rafe asked cautiously.
Dodger smiled at the question, then said, "I feel better than I have in my entire life."
Rafe nodded, then asked, "And how are you feeling about us going to New Mexico?"
"As long as we're together, I'm not worried about it." Dodger said frankly.
"I know that I'm going to be really busy when we get there. I don't want to neglect you." Rafe said in a worried tone.
"Rafe, I understand that. I'm just happy that I'm going with you." Dodger said gently, then added, "And that I'm alive."
"I'm kind of happy about that, too." Rafe said with a chuckle.
"We'll be fine." Dodger said quietly.
"I love you, Dodger. Forever."
* * * * *
"600 years?" Dodger asked out of nowhere.
"More or less." Rafe responded absently.
Dodger nodded, then watched the countryside passing by outside the car.
"Did you remember your sunglasses?" Rafe asked quietly.
"They're in my chest pocket." Dodger said absently.
"What about your gloves?" Rafe asked cautiously.
"They're in the pocket of the little suitcase you gave me." Dodger said as he turned to face Rafe more fully.
"That's a carry-on bag. The airline will let you take a small case aboard with you. I just wanted to be sure that you had what you needed to protect yourself if we find ourselves in daylight at some point." Rafe said frankly.
"Thank you. I don't have a clue of what I'm going to need, so I appreciate you double checking." Dodger said quietly.
They rode in silence for a few minutes, then Dodger suddenly said, "I've got a question."
"I bet you're going to have a lot of them." Rafe said with a smile, "What do you want to know?"
"Well, it's about the blood." Dodger said slowly.
"I guess my first question is kind of based in the whole vampire mythology. Do we need blood to live... or the blood substitute?" Dodger asked slowly.
"In the short term, no. In the long term, yes." Rafe said carefully.
Dodger thought for a moment, then said, "The blood gives us something that we can't get in regular food."
"Not in adequate amounts to sustain us." Rafe said with a nod.
"So I guess that leads to my next question. If we have blood, or your substitute, do we even need to eat food at all?" Dodger asked seriously.
"That's difficult to say." Rafe said thoughtfully. "We do gain nutrition and building materials from regular food. I think it's healthier for us to have a varied diet, but I can't say for certain that we absolutely need to eat food."
Dodger nodded, seeming satisfied with the answer.
"Besides, I enjoy a good meal. It makes me happy." Rafe finished with a smile.
Dodger saw the smile and grinned back at him.
"So what else have you got? I can see that something else is bothering you." Rafe said frankly.
"Well, I know it's going to sound silly, but I've never flown before and I'm kind of excited and nervous about that." Dodger said shyly.
"There's nothing silly about that at all. I'm a little bit in awe of it myself." Rafe said frankly.
"You are?" Dodger asked in wonder.
"Yes. Think about what travel was like when I was your age. To go someplace we had to travel at night and hope that we could find adequate shelter during the day. If it was someplace farther away, we usually had to be shipped as cargo to our destination." Rafe said frankly.
"Cargo?" Dodger asked hesitantly.
"In coffins." Rafe said timidly.
"You traveled in a coffin." Dodger confirmed.
"It was really the only way to get to someplace distant." Rafe said seriously. "I remember the first time I traveled that way. I was about 13 and I was traveling with my parents. We feasted before we got into our coffins, then we forced ourselves into torpor."
"What's that?" Dodger asked cautiously.
"It's like hibernation. You meditate really deep and it slows your body down so you can exist on very little blood for a long journey." Rafe said distantly.
Dodger nodded that he understood.
"So I was laying there, minding my own business, looking as dead as I could be. When someone opened up my coffin." Rafe said slowly. "Being in torpor, I didn't react immediately, it takes a minute or two to really wake up. So this guy, he was one of the ship's crew, had me pulled half-way out of my coffin and had my pants around my ankles before I knew what was happening. Let's just say that if I had slept one minute longer, you wouldn't have been the first man to have me back there."
"What did you do?" Dodger asked in wide eyed wonder.
"I did what my instincts told me to do." Rafe said quietly. "I bared my fangs and bit into his neck. I sucked and sucked as hard as I could until he was dead."
"Good." Dodger said quietly.
"It was the first time I had ever killed anyone." Rafe admitted shyly. "Up until then, my parents had always given me animal blood."
"So what did you do next?" Dodger asked curiously.
"I went to my dad's coffin and opened it." Rafe said distantly. "By the time his eyes were open, I was crying hysterically. I don't think I was ever so scared in my life."
"What did your dad do?" Dodger asked quietly.
"He took me into his arms and held me until I stopped crying." Rafe said with a smile. "Then, when I was settled down, he asked me what happened and I told him. He said he was going to deal with it and asked me if I wanted to help him."
Dodger smiled at the way Rafe's face lit up at the memory.
"He'd never really asked me to help him with anything before. So, of course, I went with him." Rafe said with a distant smile. "We tangled the crewman in the rigging with a rope wrapped around his neck and did our best to make it look accidental. Then we went back to our coffins and finished our journey."
"Did they ever find out that it wasn't an accident?" Dodger asked slowly, barely able to imagine how he would have reacted in a similar situation.
"Not that we ever heard." Rafe said quietly. "But I must have stayed awake for two days in that coffin, worrying if they were going to come after me at any moment."
"It sounds like it was tough." Dodger said honestly.
"You think that was tough? After I went through all of that, I stopped growing for almost a hundred years. Think about it. One hundred years as a thirteen year old." Rafe said, then shook his head in wonder.
"That doesn't sound like too much fun." Dodger admitted as he tried to restrain his chuckles.
"Yeah. Persia in the 14th century wasn't a lot of fun for a thirteen year old foreign boy who couldn't go out in the daylight." Rafe said frankly.
"How long did you stay there?" Dodger asked with a smile.
"Only about six years. My parents could tell that I was miserable, so they cut their trip short." Rafe said warmly. "Years later, after I was out on my own, they returned there several times. In fact, it's entirely possible that they're there now."
"Really?" Dodger asked with surprise.
"The last time I heard from them, they were in that general area." Rafe said thoughtfully. "They love ancient cultures."
"I guess that would make sense." Dodger said with a nod.
"For them, maybe. I don't like to dwell too much on the past." Rafe said frankly.
"I know. That's one of the things I love about you." Dodger said with a grin.
"As much as I would like to hear about some of the others, we're almost there." Rafe said regretfully.
"Then I'll tell you later." Dodger said with a smile.
* * * * *
Dodger followed Rafe into the office, feeling uncomfortable in the impersonal gray government building.
"Rafe, it's good to see you." A man said with cheer.
Dodger didn't know what he expected, but this man certainly wasn't it.
The man appeared to be about 40 years old, possibly older. The thing that immediately drew Dodger's attention was the man's huge mustache. It looked like it would be more appropriate on a walrus.
"Morgan, I'd like for you to meet Dodger." Rafe said warmly.
"It's a pleasure to meet you Dodger." the man said as he approached and offered his hand.
"Yes. It's nice to meet you, too." Dodger said shyly as he shook the offered hand.
Morgan looked at Dodger curiously, then cautiously said "You haven't been changed long, I'd wager."
"No. It's been less than a day, but he came through it without any problems at all." Rafe said proudly.
"Good for you." Morgan said with a grin, then said, "Come back here and let Claudia take your picture, then we can get everything else going."
Dodger followed along silently, feeling completely lost.
* * * * *
"Claudia, this is Dodger. Are you ready for him?" Morgan asked pleasantly.
"Yes. Everything is ready." She said efficiently, then turned to Dodger and said, "Stand over there with your toes on the tape and face me."
Dodger looked around and saw a strip of tape on the floor. He went to the proper place and faced Claudia.
She looked into the machine, then shook her head.
"Is there a problem?" Rafe asked with concern.
"It's his skin tone. I think I'm going to need to put some makeup on him." She said seriously, then began to absently mutter, "Foundation... some blush..."
Dodger's eyes went wide with surprise.
There was a flash of light that blinded him, then Claudia said, "Perfect."
Rafe and Dodger shared a questioning look, then Morgan explained, "Claudia is a professional at this. She needed for your photo to look like a typical ID picture."
"Everyone looks horrible or unprepared in their pictures. If I were to take a picture of you looking normal and relaxed, it might give someone cause to look at it more closely."
"She knows her business, trust her judgement." Morgan said with a nod.
"Dodger." Claudia said to gain his attention. As soon as he looked at her, there was another flash.
"That should be all I'll need to get started." Claudia said happily.
Dodger blinked his eyes, trying to get the glowing orbs to dissipate from his field of vision.
"While Claudia is processing your ID, I need for you to come in here and look at what I've prepared." Morgan said as he gestured back toward the main room.
Dodger hurried to Rafe's side and walked with him into the next room.
* * * * *
Have a seat and I'll tell you what I have for you." Morgan said happily as he took a seat behind his desk.
"Since Rafe mentioned that you've already received your High School Equivalency, I talked to a friend in the school administration and got a copy of your records, so that the rest of what I've created for you fits into what's already been established." Morgan said seriously. "Here we have a Certificate of Live Birth, a social security card, a full vaccination and immunization record, and Claudia is finishing your passport."
"Passport?" Dodger asked quietly.
"They can be a bitch to get in a hurry, and it never hurts to have one." Morgan said frankly.
Dodger looked at Rafe and found him nodding his agreement.
"Now, here's something that I thought might be good for you to have since you're planning to cross state lines." Morgan said as he slid a piece of paper to Dodger.
"Emancipation?" Dodger asked as he tried to make sense of the legal document.
"This just says that, in the eyes of the State of Ohio, you're seen as an adult. You can speak and act for yourself and don't need any parent or guardian's permission to do a damned thing." Morgan said happily.
"Don't you need to go before a judge to get one of these?" Dodger asked slowly.
"Yes. And if anyone asks, that's exactly what you did." Morgan said firmly.
Dodger slowly nodded that he understood.
"This is just one of those things that's necessary for us to interact on the brightside." Rafe said quietly.
"I understand that." Dodger said slowly. "It's just hard for me to get used to the idea that I'm going to have to lie all the time to be around people."
"It's a fact of shadeside life." Rafe said regretfully.
The look in Rafe's eyes caused him to lose his train of thought. It looked as though Rafe was regretting changing him. Probably feeling that he had taken something away from Dodger.
"I'll get used to it." Dodger said as he forced a smile. "It's just going to take time."
"The first fifty years or so are the worst. After that, you have trouble remembering it being any other way." Morgan said frankly.
"I've noticed that every generation seems to want the government to have just a little bit more information about them." Rafe said distantly. "I can't say that I'm very comfortable with things the way they are now. It used to be that a man could just pick up and go away and start a new life whenever he wanted. Now... I just don't think that's possible anymore."
"It's getting harder." Morgan said with resignation. "But, as the brightsiders develop newer and more ingenious ways to strip away our anonymity, we'll come up with bigger and better ways to stay ahead of them."
"It's good to know that you're on the job." Rafe said with a smile.
"Speaking of which, do you have any initial thoughts about your immunity case? I have to confess that I don't know what you're planning." Morgan asked seriously.
"First thoughts... this could be a cure." Rafe said frankly.
"Cure!? There's nothing wrong with me and if you or anyone tries to cure me you'll be wishing for death before I'm through with you." Morgan said in a threatening tone.
"A cure for those who are suffering." Rafe said gently. "A cure for those who were changed against their will. A cure for those who lost their souls. This could be a humane way to deal with those monsters that we're forced to exterminate."
"Rafe, mark my words, I'm not the only one who's going to feel this way about what you're trying to do. You'd better watch your back." Morgan said seriously.
"I'll be watching his back." Dodger said firmly.
Morgan grinned at Dodger, then looked at Rafe and said, "When I talked to that ranch owner, he seemed like he didn't know if he was doing the right thing by inviting you. You say one wrong thing and he could turn on you."
"I'll keep that in mind." Rafe said somberly.
"But..." Morgan said, then let out a long breath before continuing, "...science is always coming up with things that we don't expect. I just wish I knew if you were going to find the salvation of our people, or the destruction."
"All I can do is ask you to trust my judgement and know that if it turns out to be too dangerous, I'll deal with it." Rafe said honestly.
"I've known you for a long time Rafe, I know I can trust you." Morgan said as he looked at Rafe warmly, then in a slightly cooler voice he said, "But these people where you're going, they don't know you. They never heard of you until they needed a doctor who knew about immunity and they contacted me asking if I knew anyone."
"I understand." Rafe said slowly.
"Then that's all I'm saying. I gave my warning, you listened, it's done." Morgan said simply.
Rafe nodded but didn't say anything.
Editor's Notes: There seems to be a bit of a controversy concerning the idea of "curing" people. This could get complicated. I sure hope that Rafe and Dodger are careful and take whatever precautions are necessary to protect themselves, and anyone else that needs their protection.
Of course, I am ready for more, as always.
Darryl AKA The radio Rancher