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Part 2: Rancho de la Noche

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Chapter 13

"Looks like you and the Doc had a good sleep." Sam said with a knowing grin.

Dodger tried to hide his blush as he walked to the coffee pot.

Sam chuckled at Dodger's reaction and waited for him to fill his cup.

Once Dodger had settled into a chair at the kitchen table, Sam quietly asked, "So, how's the boy doin?"

"You'd have to ask Rafe to be sure, but I got the feeling that he's going to be fine. It's just going to take a while for him to heal."

"Him and Justus seem to be gettin along real good. When I got up, I saw 'em in the livin room just yakin' an jawin' like old friends." Sam said with a smile.

"I'm glad. Being hurt is bad enough, but having to lay still is akin to torture when you're Jimmy's age. I think he'll need all the support from friends that he can get." Dodger said frankly.

Sam slowly nodded his agreement to the assessment, then looked Dodger in the eyes and quietly asked, "What about you?"

Dodger puzzled over the vague question for a moment, then hesitantly asked, "What about me?"

"Well, I figure that since you just changed the day before y'all got here that everything is probably just now settling in. I imagine that you might be feeling kind of uprooted and like you don't have any control. You know, kind of like you're just following along whichever way the wind is blowin at any given moment."

Dodger thought about the words, then slowly nodded before saying, "I hadn't really thought about it like that, but yeah. I do kinda feel that way."

"There ain't much I can do to help, but if you ever need someone to talk to about it, I'll always have the time." Sam said frankly.

Dodger considered the offer, then slowly said, "Since this is one of those things I can't talk to Rafe about, I may just take you up on that."

"Why can't you talk with your doctor?" Sam asked curiously.

"Because, if I ever told him that I was feeling uprooted, then he'd start feeling all guilty about bringing me here."

Sam slowly nodded, then said, "Folks say that being completely honest is the best way to keep a marriage happy."

Dodger slowly nodded as he thought about the words.

"Them people are damned fools." Sam said frankly.

Dodger looked at Sam with surprise.

"Listen, Son. You should never lie about the important things, but sometimes it's best to stretch the truth or flat out lie to the person you love, just because you care about them."

Dodger looked at Sam with confusion.

Sam smiled, then said, "If I woke up one morning and looked over at Mavis and she looked like the ass end of hard times, me telling her that wouldn't make either one of us feel one bit better. But if I tell her that she's the most beautiful thing in all of God's creation, well, she knows how she looks, and she appreciates that I love her enough to look her in the eyes and lie to her."

Dodger couldn't restrain a chuckle at the absurdity of the advice he was being given.

Sam smiled, then said, "Since you and the Doc are just starting out, I thought I'd go ahead and share with you what I wish someone would have told me." Sam said frankly.

"Thanks, Sam." Dodger said with a warm smile, then added, "I've always been told that honesty is the best policy. But I never considered that nothing in life is ever that simple or straightforward. I suppose that if you really love someone, then you should show it by telling them what they need to hear. And sometimes, the LAST thing they need to hear is the truth."

"I couldn't have said it better."Sam said, appreciating that Dodger understood what he was trying to say.

"It looks like it'll still be a while before breakfast, I think I'm going to go in and wake up Rafe." Dodger said as he went to get a mug of blood.

Sam smiled and nodded with approval.

"Good morning, Mavis." Dodger said with a smile as he passed her in the doorway on his way out of the kitchen.

* * * * *

"Good morning, Doctor. How are you doing today?" Sam asked casually as Rafe walked into the room.

"Better than I ever imagined possible." Rafe said as he took his seat.

Sam noticed Rafe's unusually happy expression and looked at Rafe curiously.

Finally, Rafe noticed his speculative gaze and quietly confided, "Dodger woke me up this morning and told me that I was the most beautiful sight in all of God's creation. It's just impossible to feel anything but wonderful when your day starts off that way."

"I've always thought so." Mavis said with a knowing smile at her husband from her place at the stove.

Sam grinned at her, then said to Rafe, "That boy loves you more than life itself. If you're interested, I've got a piece of advice about how you can keep him happy."

Rafe looked at Sam with surprise, then quickly said, "Yes! Please!"

"The best way I know to make someone like Dodger happy is to accept his help, accept his love, and allow him to make you happy. Allowing him to love you is one of the most powerful ways to show your love." Sam said as he looked Rafe in the eyes to convey his sincerity.

"And telling him that you love him every now and then wouldn't hurt either." Mavis said from the stove, still with her back to them.

"Telling him is nice. Showing him is even better. Especially when it's spontaneous and for no other reason than because you love him." Sam said seriously.

"Where is Dodger, now?" Mavis asked as she turned to look at Rafe curiously.

"He's taking a shower." Rafe responded, then noticed her raised eyebrow.

"We might be a few minutes late to breakfast." Rafe said with a grin as he stood.

"Don't you worry about that, none. There'll be food here when you're ready." Mavis said with a smile.

Rafe nodded as he rushed out of the room.

Mavis walked to Sam, then urged him to sit back so she could sit on his lap.

"The most beautiful sight in all of God's creation?" She said with an inquisitive smile.

"They're just starting out. I just want to get them goin in the right direction so that maybe someday they'll be as happy as we are."

Mavis smiled at her husband, then moved in for a long, slow kiss.

* * * * *

"You look like you're a million miles away." Chet said as he passed by the stall where Dodger had been working.

Dodger looked up and realized that he had stopped and was just staring off into space. As he scooped up the soiled bedding to make way for the fresh, he quietly said, "Yeah."

"Is it something you feel like talking about? I'm a good listener." Chet asked curiously.

"It's nothing bad. In fact, I guess I'm just kind of amazed at how wonderful my life is right now." Dodger said with a dreamy smile.

"Since you're shovelling horse shit, I'm guessing that you're speaking of 'now' in more general terms." Chet said with a grin.

Dodger chuckled, then said, "Yeah. I'm thinking of how wonderful my life is since I met Rafe."

"The sun'll be up in a few minutes. Why don't you head inside when you're finished with that one?" Chet asked with a tender smile.

"Don't you need help getting the horses in?" Dodger asked as he worked to finish clearing the floor.

Chet laughed, then asked, "How many miles away are you? All the horses are in except for Minerva, and she's waiting right outside for her stall to be ready."

Dodger looked around and was surprised to find that Chet was right.

He hurried to move the wheelbarrow out of his way, then started spreading fresh, clean straw.

When he had finished, he noticed that Chet had already taken the wheelbarrow away to empty it. He glanced at the false dawn overtaking the sky and hurried to the house.

* * * * *

As Dodger walked into the kitchen, something immediately caught his attention. A very low hiss could be heard coming from across the room.

Dodger blinked his eyes as a strange dizzy feeling washed over him.

Before he could think about what he was doing, Dodger hurried outside and found that the sun was already peaking over the horizon.

His skin began to burn and tingle as he ran around the side of the house and turned off the cutoff valve to the large propane tank.

As the burning on his skin was reaching the point that he could hardly bear it, he finally made his way back into the house.

The first thing he did was throw back the heavy drapes and started opening the windows.

"HELLO! IS ANYONE AWAKE? CAN ANYONE HEAR ME?" Dodger called out frantically as he felt the dizziness washing over him again.

After a moment, Sam hurried into the kitchen followed almost immediately by Mavis. They stopped in the doorway when they saw the early morning sunlight coming in the open windows.

"I don't know what happened, but I think there was a gas leak or something. I turned off the gas outside, but I wasn't sure if you might have already been overcome by it." Dodger hurried to explain. He noticed that his thoughts seemed to be getting sluggish and his voice didn't sound right.

Sam blinked his eyes a few times, then said to Mavis in slightly slurred speech, "Sweet thing, would you go check on the boy and the Doc?" I'll check on Justus and Bruce."

* * * * *

As Dodger found himself alone in the kitchen, he decided that it was probably safe to close the windows. The sunlight was likely to hurt them worse than any lingering gas at this point.

"Dodger? Are you alright?" Rafe asked as he rushed into the kitchen.

"I'm fine now that I know you're safe." Dodger said as he hugged Rafe desperately.

"What happened?" Rafe asked curiously.

"A gas leak, I guess. I could hear it, and it made my eyes sting."

"You look like you got some sun. Do you need anything for the pain?"

"Another kiss." Dodger said shyly.

Rafe smiled lovingly at Dodger, then very gently and tenderly kissed him.

* * * * *

"Near as I can tell, the pilot light got blown out and one of the burners was turned on." Sam said frankly.

"How could that happen?" Rafe asked suspiciously.

Bruce nodded, then turned his attention toward Sam, awaiting an answer.

"Dunno. But Dodger swears that he never went near the stove and one of the burners was turned on. And if the pilot light were lit, the room wouldn't have filled with gas. At some point it would have ignited.

"I haven't cooked anything for hours. I haven't even been in the kitchen since dinner. I've been working on the laundry most of the night." Mavis said seriously.

"It don't much matter at this point. But there's a gas cutoff behind the stove. Until I can check it out, we'll just turn the gas off when we're not using it." Sam said firmly.

Mavis nodded at her husband.

It took a moment before Bruce also nodded.

Dodger shared a concerned look with Rafe as they nodded their reluctant agreement.

"Doc, you'd better take that hero of yours to bed and give him a proper 'thank you' from all of us. If not for Dodger, we'd likely all be dead right now, either from the gas or from an explosion." Mavis said as she looked Rafe in the eyes.

"You can count on me. I'll take care of it." Rafe said as he turned his loving gaze on Dodger.

* * * * *

Within a few days, the incident with the gas had been mostly forgotten. Sam checked out the stove and declared that there was no gas leak and it appeared to be in perfect working order. Someone must have accidentally bumped the knob and blown out the pilot light without noticing.

Doing chores, helping Mavis and watching out for Jimmy shifted Dodger's focus to other things. He was delighted to find that the boy was showing signs of improvement every day.

"What's wrong?" Dodger asked as he rushed down the stairs.

When he had heard the sounds of Jimmy's sobs from the top of the stairs, he couldn't get down them fast enough.

Rafe's troubled gaze met Dodger's worried eyes as he whispered, "He remembered."

"Let me." Dodger said as he hurried to Rafe's side and scooted onto the edge of the bed.

Rafe carefully shifted the crying boy from his chest and into Dodger's waiting arms.

"I know, Jimmy. I know." Dodger said gently. "I know it's horrible. Just let it all out."

Rafe stood and watched for a moment, appreciating Dodger's sympathy for the distraught boy.

"My mama and daddy was good! They should be alive, not me!" Jimmy cried as Dodger held him close.

"I'm sure that if your mama and daddy could have had only one wish in all the world, it would have been for you to survive." Dodger said gently.

After a few minutes of nonstop crying, Jimmy finally managed to say, "Those men, they... they hurt me!"

"I know, Jimmy." Dodger said softly, "Those men had a disease that made them crazy. That's the disease that Rafe is trying to cure."

Dodger didn't know if any of his words were actually getting through to the boy, but he felt like he had to say them, nonetheless.

The sound of Jimmy's hitching breaths caused Dodger to realize that Jimmy's heavy sobs were putting stress on his injuries and that the boy was also in physical pain.

He looked up at Rafe desperately, hoping that he had some idea of what more they could do.

"Although I hate to do it, I'll get him a sedative." Rafe said decisively.

Dodger reluctantly nodded.

As Rafe walked away to prepare the injection, Dodger pulled away from Jimmy enough to look him in the eyes.

The despair and hopelessness in Jimmy's expression broke Dodger's heart and he felt tears welling in his own eyes as he whispered, "I'd do anything to take this pain away from you."

"Dodger!" Rafe barked.

The sound took him completely by surprise and he turned suddenly.

"You were enthralling him." Rafe said seriously.

Dodger realized what Rafe meant, then looked at Jimmy with concern.

The boy's eyes were wide and filled with wonder, but the tears had stopped.

"How are you, Jimmy?" Dodger asked cautiously.

"You're really pretty." Jimmy said distantly.

Dodger smiled, then responded, "You're kinda cute, yourself."

Jimmy chuckled, then looked around the basement curiously.

"Are you feeling better?" Rafe asked cautiously as he approached.

Jimmy slowly nodded, then quietly said, "I remember... all of it, I think."

"But how are you feeling?" Rafe asked curiously.

"It doesn't hurt anymore." Jimmy said with surprise, then looked at Rafe and Dodger with question.

"Jimmy, why don't you lay back and get some rest now. We can talk about it later and try to figure things out." Rafe said gently.

After a moment of hesitation, Jimmy nodded his agreement.

Dodger gently helped him to lie back, then made sure that he was comfortable.

Within a minute, Jimmy was fast asleep.

* * * * *

"I'm sorry, Rafe, I didn't know I was doing it." Dodger whispered as he walked to the other side of the room.

"I know, and it takes time to get control of it. I was just worried about what you might cause to happen by enthralling Jimmy without knowing what you were doing." Rafe said honestly.

"He seems to be better." Dodger said hesitantly.

"Yes. He seems that way." Rafe said quietly, then added, "But I'm not sure if we just made matters better or worse for him."

Dodger pulled Rafe into a hug, then said, "I'm not sorry it happened. He was too weak and hurt to be dealing with all of that at once."

After a moment, Rafe reluctantly said, "I think maybe you're right."

"Would you guys mind if I took Jimmy upstairs now?" Justus asked from the bottom of the stairs.

Rafe and Dodger looked at him curiously for a moment before Rafe answered, "No. That would be fine."

"I just thought that this way, we could all have dinner and we'll be nearby if Jimmy needs us for anything." Justus said frankly.

"Alright, but just be aware that Jimmy's especially fragile right now. Just a little bit ago he remembered what happened to him and his family." Rafe said gently.

"Oh god! That poor little guy." Justus said with a pained look that momentarily erased his usual grin.

"Yeah. But I'm not sure if he'll even remember it now. Dodger accidentally enthralled him and... we'll just have to see what happens. But, in any case, I thought you should know in case he has problems."

"I'll take good care of him." Justus said with his smile firmly back in place, then added, "He's my little buddy."

Dodger smiled at the comment, then watched as Justus gently picked up the sleeping boy and carried him up the stairs.

When they were finally alone, Dodger quietly said, "I think Justus is the perfect person to spend time with Jimmy, right now."

"Why is that?" Rafe asked curiously.

"I'm not sure." Dodger said as he put one arm around Rafe and guided him to walk slowly toward the stairs. "I've noticed that Justus is always up and happy, and never seems to take anything too seriously. I think that maybe after what Jimmy's just been through, spending time with Justus will be kinda like a vacation from his worries."

Rafe smiled at the observation, then said, "You may very well be right."

* * * * *

A knocking on their bedroom door woke Rafe and Dodger from their sleep.

"Come in?" Dodger said quietly.

Bruce cautiously poked his head in the bedroom door, unsure of his welcome, then hesitantly said, "The Doc's supplies are in. And I was wonderin if y'all would like to go with me to pick them up."

"It'd be better if I stayed here, so I can be ready to work as soon as the equipment arrives." Rafe said frankly, then looked at Dodger with question.

"Yeah. I'll go with you." Dodger said with a smile, happy at the prospect of being able to leave the ranch for a while.

"As soon as you're ready, we'll go. The sun's almost down." Bruce said, then withdrew.

"Good morning." Dodger said as he turned to look at Rafe with a smile.

"Good morning, Dodger." Rafe said in return, then added, "I love you."

"Yeah. I know. I still can't get over that." Dodger said with a giggle.

Rafe chuckled at the words.

"I love you, too." Dodger finally said, then moved in to give Rafe a full, deep kiss.

* * * * *

The trip into town went without incident, and they were even able to stop at a restaurant in town and get something to eat before their trip back.

Dodger didn't have a clue what fajitas were, but he absolutely loved them.

When they arrived back at the ranch, Bruce and Dodger worked steadily until the truck had been completely unloaded.

When he was finished, Dodger stopped to see how Jimmy was doing.

"I remember." Jimmy said quietly.

Dodger nodded, then waited for Jimmy to ask about what he wanted to know.

"The men that killed my daddy, they... they sucked his blood out." Jimmy said in a small voice.

"Yes. Those men were vampires." Dodger said softly.

Jimmy's eyes went wide, he obviously recognized the word.

"There's a whole lot to it, and not all of it's nice. But I promise not to lie to you. If you want to know something, I'll tell you what I know." Dodger said honestly.

"Are those men, the vampires, are they dead, now?" Jimmy asked hopefully.

"Yes. Bruce and some of the others found them and killed them all." Dodger said honestly.

Jimmy nodded, then quietly asked, "So, what you were saying before, about rabies, does that mean that my mama and daddy are vampires now?"

"No, Jimmy. If a vampire bites you and doesn't kill you, then you might become a vampire, but, as far as I know, your mama and daddy were killed." Dodger said softly.

"Am I going to become a vampire?" Jimmy asked weakly.

Dodger leaned in to give him a hug, then said, "No, Jimmy. Like I told you before, for some reason, you were bitten, but you didn't change. That's why Rafe is working so hard and taking so many blood samples. He's trying to figure out why you didn't become a vampire, so he can make a cure to use on other people who get bitten."

Jimmy thought about that for a few minutes, then finally nodded that he understood.

"There's more to know about vampires, if you want to hear it." Dodger said cautiously.

Jimmy looked up at Dodger, then slowly nodded.

"Not everyone who gets bitten by a vampire will turn mean, like the vampires that you saw. Some of them will turn out to be nice." Dodger said carefully.

Jimmy looked at Dodger with confusion.

"Vampires are stronger than regular people. They can hear and smell better and they can run a lot faster." Dodger said carefully.

"Okay." Jimmy whispered.

"Well, there are some people, we call them shadesiders, who are like that, but they're not mean and evil like vampires. They're strong and fast, but they're nice, too." Dodger said carefully.

"So they're sick like the vampires, but they're not bad?" Jimmy asked slowly.

"That's right." Dodger said with a smile.

"But vampires, they can't go out in the day." Jimmy said thoughtfully.

"Right." Dodger said with a nod.

Jimmy looked around the basement, then up at Dodger with sudden realization.

"That's right, Jimmy." Dodger said gently.

"You... you're a..." Jimmy stammered as he started to scoot away in fear.

"I'm a shadesider." Dodger said softly, then added, "And I'd never, ever hurt you."

Jimmy stopped and stared at Dodger with wide eyes.

"Just think about it, Jimmy. If any of us wanted to hurt you, we could have done it at any time." Dodger said honestly. "Me, Rafe, Justus, Arturo... all of us want for you to get better."

"Are you gonna make me like you?" Jimmy asked in a quivering voice.

"No, Jimmy. In fact, we couldn't change you, even if we wanted to. You're immune, remember?" Dodger said gently. "The only thing we want is for you to get better."

"And you want to find out how to make a cure." Jimmy added, a little bit challengingly.

"Yes. That, too. But we'd never hurt you. If we can make a cure, we may be able to change vampires back into regular people again, so what happened to you and your family will never have to happen again." Dodger said honestly.

Jimmy thought about it for a moment, then slowly nodded that he understood.

"Why don't you lay back and rest for a while? If you need anything at all, either Dr. Rafe or I will be here to get it for you." Dodger said softly.

Jimmy slowly nodded, then wriggled down in his bed to get comfortable.

* * * * *

"You handled that well." Rafe said, as he put a hand on Dodger's shoulder.

"I just thought that it was important that he know." Dodger said distantly.

"After all he's been through, he deserves to know." Rafe said with a nod.

"And maybe knowing the whole truth will help him to be able to deal with what happened." Dodger said, hopefully.

"Maybe it will." Rafe said gently.

* * * * *

Dodger spent the next few days dividing his time between sitting with Jimmy, helping Mavis in the kitchen and doing chores around the ranch.

And, of course, each night was spent wrapped in the loving arms of his husband.

"Don't come down!"

Dodger stopped at the top of the stairs and cautiously asked, "Is there a problem?"

"No. But my patient would prefer to keep a few things between just him and his doctor. Give us one minute and we'll be finished." Rafe called out casually.

"Okay." Dodger said with a smile, then thought to ask, "Would anyone like a drink or a snack while I'm up here?"

There was a long quiet moment as Dodger waited for a response, then Jimmy called out, "Dr. Rafe says that if I'm hungry, I can go upstairs and get it myself."

Dodger was excited by the answer, and quickly asked, "Can I come down, now?"

"Yes, all the naughty bits are put away. You can come down." Rafe said happily.

Dodger raced downstairs and to Jimmy, who was standing beside his bed.

"Now remember, you're still not completely healed. You can walk around, but if you get tired, you need to lay down and get some rest." Rafe said firmly.

"I will, I promise, Dr. Rafe." Jimmy said, then gave Rafe a joyful hug.

Rafe shared a smile with Dodger, then said, "Why don't you two go upstairs so I can get back to my work, now."

"Can we get you anything while we're up there?" Dodger asked curiously.

"I'm fine. You two just have fun." Rafe said gently.

"Come on, Jimmy. How would you like to go for a walk outside?" Dodger asked happily.

"Yeah!" Jimmy answered, with excitement.

Rafe watched with a tender smile as Dodger and Jimmy walked up the stairs.

* * * * *

"Isn't this nice?" Dodger asked as they walked out into the cool night air.

"I can't see where I'm going." Jimmy said as he stopped just outside the door.

"I know where there's a flashlight. If you'll stay here for just a minute, I'll go get it." Dodger said quickly.

"Yeah." Jimmy said quietly.

Dodger could tell that Jimmy was blinking his eyes and trying to get them to adjust to the near total darkness.

The sky was overcast, so there wasn't the usual moon and starlight that Dodger had become accustomed to.

There was still enough light for Dodger to see well enough, but apparently not enough for Jimmy.

Just inside the door of the barn, Dodger found the flashlight that he had noticed earlier in the week.

As he hurried back to Jimmy, he said, "I found it."

Jimmy jumped at the sound and Dodger could see him looking around blindly, trying to find the source of the voice.

"Here you go." Dodger said as he pressed the flashlight into Jimmy's hand.

After a moment of fumbling, Jimmy was able to find the switch and turned the flashlight on.

"Aggh! Not in the face." Dodger said as he squinted his eyes.

"Sorry." Jimmy said with a giggle, then pointed the flashlight out toward the barn.

"Come on. I'll show you around." Dodger said as he guided Jimmy down off the porch.

"You can really see in the dark?" Jimmy asked curiously.

"Well, not in complete dark. But on a night like tonight, I can see pretty well." Dodger said honestly.

"It must be nice to be a shadesider." Jimmy said thoughtfully.

"Sometimes it is, sometimes it's not." Dodger said frankly. "It's just like anything else in life, there's good and bad."

"Were you bit by a vampire?" Jimmy asked as he pointed the flashlight ahead of him to see where they were going.

"No. I was lucky. I fell in love with a shadesider and decided that I wanted to become like him." Dodger said happily.

"Are you talking about Dr. Rafe?" Jimmy asked curiously.

"Yeah. That's right." Dodger said happily.

"So if he didn't bite you, then how did you become a shadesider?" Jimmy asked cautiously.

"That's a grownup thing that I don't think we should talk about until you're a little older." Dodger said frankly.

"Oh. You had sex!" Jimmy said in realization.

"Yeah. That's right. I just didn't think you needed to know about that, yet." Dodger said quietly.

"I grew up on a ranch like this. I got to see the horses and cows and dogs and cats doing it." Jimmy said seriously.

Dodger chuckled, then said, "Well, seeing that and thinking about people you know doing it can be very different things."

"Yeah. I guess." Jimmy said thoughtfully.

They walked for a few minutes, then Dodger quietly asked, "Do you want to talk about something?"

"When those vampires bit me... they did other stuff too." Jimmy said quietly.

"Yeah." Dodger said as he looked at Jimmy with concern.

"It hurt... I mean, it still hurts a little. Is that what Dr. Rafe did to you?" Jimmy asked with concern.

"No Jimmy." Dodger whispered. "What they did to you is something called 'rape'. It's a horrible thing. In fact, it's so bad that the people who do it who are caught are put in jail for a long long time, just the same as if they murdered someone."

Jimmy didn't respond, but Dodger got the feeling that he understood, at least a little.

"What Dr. Rafe and I do is making love." Dodger continued quietly. "It's loving and gentle and something that we both enjoy."

"But it hurts." Jimmy said as he looked up at Dodger, even though he couldn't see him.

"When you're careful and go slow, it doesn't hurt, it's wonderful." Dodger said gently.

"Is it the same with a girl?" Jimmy asked curiously.

Dodger thought about it for a moment, then said, "I don't know from personal experience, but I think so. If you're careful and make sure that she's enjoying it, then it's wonderful for you both."

Jimmy didn't give any reaction and seemed to be lost in thought.

"I think we'd better head back to the house, now. We don't want to go too far on your first walk." Dodger said gently.

"Yeah. I'm getting kinda tired." Jimmy said quietly.

"Would you like a piggy back ride back to the house?" Dodger asked with a smile.

"I can walk." Jimmy said frankly.

"I know you can." Dodger agreed. "But would you like a piggy back ride?"

Jimmy considered for a moment, then broke into a smile as he said, "Yeah."

"Then climb on!" Dodger said as he squatted down.

Jimmy immediately climbed onto his back and held on firmly.

"I tell you what, why don't you point the flashlight ahead of us and I'll take us for a little run before we go back inside." Dodger said happily.

"Okay." Jimmy said as he fumbled with the flashlight.

As soon as Jimmy was ready, Dodger took off running at full speed.

Jimmy began to giggle with excitement as he felt the wind rushing past his face and the sense of flying.

* * * * *

"What's wrong?" Dodger asked with concern as he walked into the basement and found Rafe sitting with his head resting in his hands.

"Nothing's working." Rafe said distantly, not raising his head.

"The tests aren't going well?" Dodger asked sympathetically.

"I haven't had even a single slow growth pattern. According to the law of averages, I should have at least had a 'false' positive by now." Rafe said despondently.

"So what does that mean?" Dodger asked quietly.

"I think it means that Jimmy's immunity only works for him. I can't duplicate it in a culture, using his blood. None of the standard vaccine techniques yield anything that has any effect on the transformative." Rafe said, then finally raised his head and looked Dodger in the eyes.

"What do you do, next?" Dodger asked carefully.

"I'm going to start at the beginning, just to make sure that I didn't miss anything. And if none of my tests come back positive, then... I'm done." Rafe said quietly.

"Done? As in, we can go home?" Dodger asked cautiously.

"Yes. If I can't isolate the problem, I honestly don't know of anything else to try." Rafe said regretfully.

"Come with me." Dodger said as he held out his hand.

"I can't. I have to get started." Rafe protested.

"You can get started, later." Dodger said firmly. "You warned me about not letting the work consume me. Now it's my turn to warn you."

Rafe thought about the words, then put his hand in Dodger's.

* * * * *

When they crested the stairs, Rafe had assumed that they would be heading to the bedroom. Instead, Dodger led him through the kitchen and outside.

"Where are you taking me?" Rafe asked curiously.

"I think you need to get away from your work for a little while. I'm going to saddle some horses for us, then we're going to take a nice long ride." Dodger said seriously.

"Horses don't like us." Rafe said cautiously.

"These have been trained to ignore it." Dodger said, as they walked into the barn. "Come over here and let Chloe get to know you, while I get the tack we'll need."

"You look like you're pretty familiar with where everything is." Rafe said as he cautiously walked up to the horse.

"Yeah. This is one of the things I do when I come out to help." Dodger said frankly.

Rafe thought about that for a moment, then quietly said, "I should have asked about what you were doing."

"You were busy doing something very important, to help a lot of people. I was never the least bit bothered because you were concentrating on your work." Dodger said honestly, then opened Chloe's stall and stepped inside.

Rafe watched with admiration as Dodger expertly saddled Chloe.

"I'm surprised to see you out here, Doc." Bruce said as he walked into the barn.

"Dodger thought that I needed a break." Rafe said a bit cautiously.

"Well, I've noticed that Dodger has some pretty good instincts about such things, so he's probably right." Bruce said frankly.

Rafe nodded and watched Bruce carefully.

His mind wandered over the times that Dodger mentioned that he was going with Bruce to do this or that and he suddenly had an idea of how much time they had spent together.

"You don't mind if we take the horses out for a ride, do you? I didn't think you had anything going on with them, tonight." Dodger asked curiously.

"No. That's fine. We're busy getting the tractor and everything ready for planting." Bruce said cautiously, noticing Rafe's wary gaze directed at him.

"Great! Because I think we really need this ride." Dodger said honestly.

"Y'all have fun." Bruce said before turning to leave the barn.

* * * * *

As soon as they were out of the yard, Dodger led them to a well worn path and let the horses walk at a casual pace.

Fortunately, there was enough moonlight that it was safe for the horses to walk without needing a lantern.

They rode in silence for a while, just absorbing the beauty of their surroundings.

The air was crisp and clear, the sky was alive with infinite stars and a slight breeze rustled the grass and low bushes along their path.

"As soon as I'm done with my tests, I'm going to make the call and arrange for us to go home." Rafe said distantly.

"How long will the tests take?" Dodger asked curiously.

"If I start tonight, right after I wake up... I should have all the results by tomorrow night." Rafe said thoughtfully.

"Rafe, there's something I've been wanting to talk to you about, but you were always so busy and it never seemed to be the right time." Dodger said quietly.

Rafe felt a knot tighten in his stomach, but forced himself to ask, "What is it?"

"Jimmy." Dodger said nervously.

Rafe didn't know exactly what he had been expecting, but that wasn't it.

"What about him?" Rafe asked curiously.

"When the tests are all done... what happens to him?" Dodger asked with concern.

Rafe realized what Dodger was asking, and quietly said, "I'll have a talk with Sam about it. I promise that before I make any travel arrangements, I'll know if it's going to be for two or three."

Dodger looked at Rafe with surprise, then broke into a smile.

"I already promised you that things would work out well for him. I always try to keep my promises." Rafe said seriously.

"Yes. You did." Dodger said happily, then added, "So I'm not going to worry."

"I think that if Sam decides to let Jimmy stay here, that it could be really good for him." Rafe said thoughtfully.

Dodger smiled, then said, "Yeah. Everyone here is really great."

Rafe glanced at him, then in a controlled voice he hesitantly said, "I've noticed that you've been spending a lot of time with Bruce."

Dodger thought for a moment, then said, "Yeah. I guess I have. He's one of those people who's just really easy to talk to."

Rafe nodded slowly, not particularly assured by Dodger's words.

"You know, Bruce is really a fantastic foreman. He's encouraged me to try new things and I can see why everyone around here looks up to him. The guy's a natural leader." Dodger said thoughtfully.

"Really? I guess I went with my first impression. I've thought he was kind of cold and standoffish." Rafe said honestly.

Dodger chuckled, then said, "It's the suit. He's got some insecurity about stuff like that. He says he's never done anything but work on a ranch. So I guess when he saw us all dressed up and buttoned down, he didn't know how to relate to us."

Rafe considered for a moment then said, "I guess I can see that."

"I told him that if he ever gets in the mood for a change, to call us. Even though he's never done anything but ranching, I think that with his good sense and good nature that he'd do well in Columbus." Dodger said with a smile.

"Are you attracted to him?" Rafe asked cautiously.

Dodger laughed at the thought, and quickly said, "Bruce? Not even for a second!"

Rafe let out a gust of breath in relief.

"Were you worried about me being attracted to Bruce?" Dodger asked in wonder.

"I've been consumed with my work lately and you've been spending time with him... and I could tell that you liked him." Rafe ended with a shrug.

"I love you so much!" Dodger said with delight.

"Then, you're not mad?" Rafe asked quietly.

"Mad? I'm flattered!" Dodger said with a broad smile.

"I love you, too, Dodger." Rafe said gently, then quietly added, "More and more every day."

* * * * *

Dodger sat nervously and waited for what he knew was coming.

"I just finished my last test and there's no doubt. There is absolutely no way to make a serum from Jimmy's blood." Rafe said frankly.

"Well, I don't have as big a stake in this as you do, so it don't really bother me much." Sam said frankly. "It would've been nice if we could have a way to save people who was bit or to turn the critters back. But we're no worse off than we were before."

"Thanks for taking us in, and letting us try. You've been really good to us and we really do appreciate it." Rafe said seriously.

"It was no hardship. Hell, Mavis has been on cloud nine having help in the kitchen and someone to talk to. Y'all are really gonna be missed." Sam said honestly.

"Thank you for saying so." Rafe said quietly, then continued, "That only leaves the question of what's to be done with Jimmy."

"I figured he'd stay here with us." Sam said as though it were obvious.

"I didn't want to make any assumptions. I mean, taking him in to raise is a commitment of at least ten years." Rafe said quietly.

"To hell with that. We're adopting him!" Sam said frankly. "As soon as he's well and truly up on his feet again, we'll get it worked out so he'll be our son, by their law and ours. That way, no matter what Jimmy decides to do later on, he'll always have a family." Sam said firmly.

"You and Mavis are going to be great parents!" Dodger said quickly. He had been trying to keep quiet, but just couldn't hold back.

"What would you think of being, sort of like god parents?" Sam asked cautiously.

"Sure. What would we have to do?" Dodger answered immediately, then thought to look at Rafe to see if he was in agreement.

"Sometimes things have a way of turning bad, especially for folk like us. So, if y'all agree, I'm going to let Jimmy know that if he's ever in trouble, to go to you, where he'll be safe." Sam said seriously.

Dodger was about to respond, then turned suddenly when he heard something outside the door.

"Of course." Rafe said for both of them. "We'd be honored."

"Yeah. I thought you would." Sam said with a casual smile.

Dodger listened carefully for a moment longer, then decided that it must have been his imagination.

* * * * *

"Did you get all the travel arrangements made?" Dodger asked as he reached the bottom of the stairs.

"Yes. Justus and I just got back a few minutes ago. And I have a message for you." Rafe said absently as he wrapped a small piece of equipment in several pieces of newspaper.

"For me?" Dodger asked with surprise.

"Manna said that when we get back, that Ernie and Blake would probably enjoy spending some time talking with you." Rafe said as he carefully placed his newspaper bundle into a cardboard box.

"Why would they want to talk to me?" Dodger asked cautiously.

"Apparently, they always wanted to be a cowboy." Rafe said as he met Dodger's gaze with a tender smile.

"Well, I don't know how much of a cowboy I am, but I'll be happy to tell them about our time at the ranch." Dodger said past a grin.

"I know they'll enjoy hearing about it." Rafe said warmly.

"Are you about done packing everything up?" Dodger asked quietly as he looked around the lab area.

"Yes. I just finished. I'm leaving anything that Sam might possibly be able to use, so there wasn't that much." Rafe said as he looked around, then asked, "Are you ready to go?"

"I will be, soon. I just need for you to do something for me, first." Dodger said with a secretive smile.

Rafe grinned, then quietly asked, "Is it something naked?"

"No. In fact, I need for you to put on your suit." Dodger said frankly.

"My suit? For what?" Rafe asked cautiously.

"I just think you should look nice for our wedding." Dodger said with a smile.

"You want to have the wedding here?" Rafe asked with surprise.

"Yeah. We've been here long enough that I think of all these people as my friends. It feels right that we do it now." Dodger said seriously. "That is, if you still want to marry me."

"Don't ever doubt it." Rafe said gently.

"I didn't." Dodger said with a grin, then quickly added, "We need to get dressed, now."

"Now? As in 'right now'?" Rafe asked with surprise.

Dodger seemed to consider the question for a moment before answering, "Yeah, someone mentioned to me that 'now' can be used as kind of a general term, but that's the now I was thinking of. Come on, everyone is going to be waiting on us."

"Everyone?" Rafe asked in astonishment.

"Yeah. I told everyone while you were making your calls." Dodger said, then coaxed Rafe to walk toward their bedroom.

"I guess you didn't have a doubt." Rafe chuckled.

"Not even one." Dodger said with a grin.

* * * * *

"I've already claimed Jimmy as my best man. So who do you want to stand with you?" Dodger asked happily.

Rafe looked around, then smiled as he said, "Bruce."

"Be nice." Dodger said with a grin.

"I'm always nice." Rafe said with an answering smile.

Dodger waved at Bruce to get his attention, then summoned him over with a gesture.

"I'm going to get Jimmy. When Sam nods at you, walk down the aisle." Dodger said seriously.

"I've got it." Rafe said assuringly, then looked at Bruce who was now by his side.

"Will you stand with me?" Rafe asked seriously.

"Oh, sure." Bruce said with surprise.

"One thing before we start." Rafe added, "Dodger and I talked and... if you ever feel like you're ready to try doing something else for a living, there will always be a place for you in Columbus."

Bruce stared at Rafe with disbelief for a moment, then smiled as he said, "Thank you."

Rafe was watching carefully, and when Sam nodded in his direction, he said, "Let's go."

* * * * *

"Friends and beloved family, Rafe and Dodger haven't been here with us long. But I suppose it's been long enough. Because they've decided that they want to share their joy with all of us by having this here ceremony. By our laws and way of thinking, they were married as soon as they agreed that they were. But many of us choose to have a ceremony, because sometimes a love is just so dang big that you've got to declare yourself and let the world know. So, that's what we're doin here now. Rafe, do you love Dodger? Do you trust him? Do you RESPECT him?"

Rafe looked Dodger in the eyes to convey his sincerity, then reverently said, "I do."

"What about you, Dodger. How do you feel about this here doctor of yours? Do you love him? Do you trust him? Do you respect him?"

Unformed tears glistened in Dodger's eyes and small smile of the joy he was feeling slipped out as he nearly whispered in an amazed voice, "I really do."

"Well, good! Because if you didn't, this would've been one hell of a big waste of time. Y'all git on in there and kiss. You're married, ain't ya!"

The End of Part 2

Editor's Notes: Don't worry, there is lots more of this story. I can hardly wait. Grin!

Actually I don't have to wait nearly as long as you do. I get to edit the stuff before you get to see it.

Seriously, Now that he has finished this part of the story, I think he is going to set it aside for a little while, and concentrate on some of his other projects, but I know for certain that there will be much more to come.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher