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Evan watched as a man, who looked to be about sixty years old, walked into the room.
Dodger carefully closed the door, then pulled the man into a joyful hug.
"It's been ages since I've seen you. What are you doing here?" Dodger asked happily.
"Duran's gone." The man, Duncan, said as tears welled in his eyes.
"Gone? What do you mean 'gone'?" Dodger asked with immediate concern.
"I think... he ran away." The man said in a whisper.
Dodger froze for a moment, then glanced at Evan.
"Duncan, this is Evan." Dodger said quietly, "Evan, this is my brother, Duncan."
"It's nice to meet you." Evan said as he offered his hand to the distraught man.
"Yeah." Duncan said as he shook Evan's hand with a firm grip. "Shadesider, huh?"
Evan quickly brought a hand up to his mouth, but found that his teeth were normal. Finally he hesitantly asked, "Does it show?"
Duncan chuckled, then said, "The cold handshake kind of gave it away."
Evan smiled and nodded.
"Why don't you two go into the living room and get comfortable while I get us something to drink?" Dodger said as he gestured at the couch and chairs.
Duncan nodded, then led the way.
Evan cast an uncertain look at Dodger, but followed Duncan into the living room.
* * * * *
Evan sat in uncomfortable silence as he looked at the older man on the couch who looked nothing short of miserable.
Dodger hurried into the room carrying three glasses and it looked to Evan as though he didn't have a very good grip on them.
Before Evan could stand, Dodger easily placed the first glass on the coffee table before Duncan, then extended his hand and offered the second to Evan.
"Thanks." Evan whispered as he accepted the glass, which he noticed was filled with the orange/yellow liquid that he and Dodger had enjoyed earlier.
Involuntarily, Evan glanced at Duncan's glass and noticed that it was brown and fizzy, probably a cola of some sort.
"I'm sorry that I'm interrupting you like this. I just... I didn't know where else to turn. I've already filed a missing persons report with the police." Duncan said as his eyes filled with tears.
"That's fine. Just tell me what happened." Dodger said as he sat next to his brother on the couch.
"Duran's been kind of quiet and stand-offish for a while now, but I just chalked it up to him being the youngest and trying to adjust to his brother and sisters all moving out of the house. It's been a difficult adjustment for all of us." Duncan said quietly.
"Did he leave a note?" Dodger asked gently.
"No. But he took some of his things." Duncan said gravely.
"How long has he been gone?" Dodger asked with concern.
"About a week." Duncan muttered.
"And you're just telling me about it now?" Dodger asked with surprise.
"I thought that after he got a taste of what it's like out on his own that he'd come home. Desi, he's only sixteen! How can he survive out on the streets all by himself?" Duncan asked in anguish.
"If you'll remember, I lived on the streets for a few months when I was that age. It's possible that he's just fine." Dodger said as he looked his brother in the eyes.
"Why did he do it, Desi? I gave him everything he could want. Why would he just up and leave like that?" Duncan asked desperately.
"I don't know, Dunc. I think the only person who'll be able to answer that question is Duran." Dodger said regretfully.
"Is there anything you can do to help? I'm out of places to look and things to try." Duncan said in a low voice.
"Rafe has a lot of connections. He's kind of in the middle of something at the moment. But just as soon as he's free, I'll talk to him about it and he can make a few calls. With the police on the Brightside and the underground network on the Shadeside both looking for Duran, I'm sure we'll find him in no time." Dodger said soothingly.
Evan watched the entire scene and felt the desire to do something to ease Duncan's anguish, but knew there was nothing he could do.
"I'd better get home. Dennie and Donny came home to help in the search. Duronda can't get away from college, she's bogged down with her studies, but she's going to come home as soon as she can break away for a few days." Duncan said distractedly.
"Go on. As soon as Rafe gets in I'll let him know what's going on and we'll spread the word." Dodger said seriously.
Duncan stood and hesitated for a moment, seeming to be uncertain of what he was doing.
Dodger also stood, then pulled his brother into a firm hug.
It took a moment for Evan to realize that Duncan had broken down into tears.
Dodger held Duncan close until the tears subsided.
Once Duncan got himself back under control, Dodger quietly said, "Go home and be with your family. They need you to be strong for them right now. But when it gets to be too much, come back out here and I'll have a shoulder ready and waiting just for you."
"Thanks, Desi." Duncan whispered.
Dodger guided Duncan to walk with him as he headed for the front door.
Evan took a long, slow drink from his glass as he tried to calm himself after seeing the emotional display.
* * * * *
"Evan, I need to make a quick phone call. I'll be back in just a minute." Dodger said after seeing his brother off.
A nod was Evan's response, then he took another drink of his juice.
For the first time since the attack, Evan found himself alone.
Unbidden, the memories of the attack returned.
Grief threatened to overwhelm him as he could picture the look on his mother's face as the insane beast... the darksider, bit into her throat and tore it open.
"It's okay." A voice intruded into his thoughts.
Evan looked up through watery eyes to see Dodger looking at him with concern.
"I know it hurts. But I'm here for you. If you need to talk or just to be held, whatever you need, just know that you're not alone." Dodger said seriously.
"Thanks, Dodger." Evan whispered as he tried to get his emotions back under control.
"I just called a woman named Leila. She's sort of the local expert on helping people through their transition. I wanted to know if she'd ever had anyone get through their transition as quickly and easily as you did." Dodger said as he took his place on the couch.
"What did she say?" Evan asked as he picked up his glass to take another drink.
"She just confirmed what I already told you. She didn't seem to think that it was anything to worry about. But I just wanted to make sure that it wasn't the indication of some sort of a problem." Dodger said frankly.
"Thanks for checking." Evan said slowly, then looked up suddenly at the sound of a knock on the door.
"No guests for weeks at a time, then two in one night? What are the chances?" Dodger asked with a chuckle as he got up and walked to the door.
Evan remained sitting, and heard as Dodger asked, "Come in. What's wrong?"
Dodger walked back into the living room and Evan saw two men following him.
It took a moment, but all of a sudden there was a flash of recognition. Evan's breath caught in his throat as he realized that the two men were the people who had saved him from his attacker.
"I didn't... I'm sorry..." One of the men said when he spotted Evan.
"Please, come in and sit down." Dodger said as he gestured toward the couch.
"I'm so sorry about your mother." One of the men said to Evan and seemed to be one second from breaking into tears.
"We did everything we could. I swear." The other man said more calmly.
With a little effort, Evan was finally able to force himself to say, "Thank you for trying."
"What's going on?" Dodger asked curiously as he took a seat in the chair beside Evan's.
"For the past few months, we've been assigned to protect Janice and Evan. The Darksiders must have been watching and planning this for a while and found just the right time and place to get to them before we could intervene." The second man said regretfully.
There seemed to be a million thoughts swirling in Evan's mind at once, but one forced it's way to the forefront and Evan suddenly asked, "You were protecting us? Why?"
"Rafe told us that he thought there might be a darksider targeting you. That's all we were told." The first man said quietly.
"Rafe?" Evan said in astonishment.
"That's really all we know. Is Rafe here? We need to talk to him." The second man said seriously.
"No. As far as I know, he's still out trying to find who did this." Dodger said frankly.
"He's probably with Morgan." One of the men said.
The second nodded and they stood to leave.
Before they could go, Evan quickly said, "Thank you for trying to help me and my mom."
Both men stopped in their tracks and turned to look at Evan in unison.
"I only wish we had arrived a few seconds sooner. We might have been able to save her." The first man said quietly, then they both turned and left.
Evan looked at Dodger, not even knowing which of many questions he wanted to ask first.
"You'll need to ask Rafe when he gets back. I've told you everything I know." Dodger said regretfully.
Evan slowly nodded, then felt Dodger's arms encircle him in a tender hug.
* * * * *
"I'd better get something started for supper. I'm betting that Rafe's gonna be starved when he gets home. You can come into the kitchen and keep me company if you like." Dodger said as he held Evan in a loose hug.
"I don't know. I feel like I should be doing something..." Evan said in a lost voice.
"Well, I know that there are things that will need to be done. Certain arrangements and decisions should be made. But I don't think it would be a good idea to start in on doing any of them until Rafe gets back. Everything is pretty much up in the air until he can tell us what's going on." Dodger said honestly.
Evan thought about the words, then slowly nodded.
Dodger had just guided him into the kitchen when there was a knock on the door.
"We haven't had this many visitors in years." Dodger said as he left to answer it.
Evan stood in the kitchen, his thoughts and emotions swirling and twisting, making him feel off balance.
"Hello." He heard Dodger say cautiously in the next room.
"Excuse me for visiting so late, but I heard that Evan Delgado might be here." A man said cautiously.
The man's voice struck a familiar chord with Evan and, without thinking, he raced out of the kitchen and ran to the front door.
"Uncle Kevin!" Evan said as he ran to the man to hug him.
Dodger watched the scene and to him it seemed that the distraught teenager he had been talking to moments before had suddenly disappeared and been replaced by an energetic five year old.
Dodger's smile faded when he noticed the anguished look on the man's face.
"How did you find me? Where have you been? It's been almost two years!" Evan rambled as he continued to hug the man.
"I've been working on some important things, but I've done my best to keep tabs on you. As soon as I heard about what happened to Janice, I went to the hospital to see you." Kevin said quietly.
Dodger gestured for Kevin to follow him to the living room.
It took some doing, but Kevin was finally able to coax Evan to adjust his grip enough so that they could walk.
Once they were seated, Kevin continued, "When I arrived at the hospital, they told me that you were already gone, that you'd been taken to be seen by a specialist."
"So how did you find us?" Dodger asked cautiously.
"I had just about given up on finding Evan when someone mentioned that the doctor who took him was Dr. Killian. That's when everything fell into place. Up until that point, I had held out the hope that what happened to Janice and Evan was just a 'normal' mugging or attack. As soon as I knew that Rafe was involved..." Kevin ended with a shrug of one shoulder.
"You know Rafe?" Dodger asked cautiously.
"Yes. For many years. But I can't really tell you about that. I only know my part of the story and it would really be better if Rafe explained it to you." Kevin said reluctantly.
Dodger slowly nodded, then quietly said, "With any luck, Rafe will be home before very long. I was just about to start on supper, if you'd like to join us."
"You know I'm not..." Kevin started to say.
Dodger nodded that he did, then waited expectantly.
After a moment to consider, Kevin quietly said, "Yes. I haven't had dinner yet, so thank you."
Dodger smiled, then left the room.
* * * * *
"You're not a Shadesider?" Evan asked hesitantly from Kevin's warm embrace.
"No. But I'm guessing that, since you're here, that now you are." Kevin said slowly.
Evan reluctantly nodded, then said, "I'm sorry if that bothers you."
Kevin gave a weary chuckle and renewed his hug before saying, "It bothers me that you had to go through the pain of losing your mother. I've heard a little about what the transformation is like and I hate that you had to go through that. But I'm not at all bothered by what you've become."
Evan pulled away enough to look Kevin in the eyes, sensing that there was something that the man was withholding.
"I suppose you could say that it's 'in my blood' not to be bothered by it." Kevin said with a slight grin.
Evan's confused expression intensified.
"I'm a thirteenth generation Behilflicher. My family has been the daylight protectors of... I guess you call them Shadesiders now... we've been taking care of them for centuries." Kevin said frankly.
Pieces started slipping into place as Evan thought about what Kevin had just revealed.
"You've been with us since I was a baby... the whole time, you've been protecting me, us... you've been protecting me and my mom for my whole life." Evan said speculatively.
Kevin looked uncomfortable, but slowly nodded.
"Who asked you to protect us?" Evan asked slowly.
"You really need to talk to Rafe about this. I know some things, but I don't know everything and I really wouldn't want to cause problems by telling you only half of what you should know." Kevin said imploringly.
"Did Rafe ask you to protect us?" Evan asked directly.
"Yes." Kevin reluctantly answered.
"Why?" Evan asked seriously.
"I don't know. My father first introduced me to Rafe when I was a small child. I've known him all my life. When Rafe asked me to do this for him, I agreed." Kevin said simply.
"So all that time you spent with us, helping us and taking care of us, that was all an act?" Evan asked as his eyes filled with tears.
"No. I cared for you... I care for you very much. That's why I'm here, now." Kevin said frankly.
"Then why did you leave us?" Evan asked angrily.
"I left because I thought it was what would be best for you and your mother. With me always being around, she wasn't getting on with her life. I wanted her to find love, for you to have a 'father'." Kevin explained gently.
"You were already my father." Evan whispered.
Kevin shook his head as he said, "You deserved so much better. I did as much as I could for you, but I could see that it wasn't enough. I wasn't really a part of your family, I was a friend of your mother's. As you were growing older, I realized that you needed someone that you could call 'dad'."
"So you stepped back and watched from a distance, so mom would have the chance to fall in love and have the life that you couldn't give her." Evan said thoughtfully.
"Yes." Kevin said simply.
"If you loved her that much, then why didn't you marry her?" Evan asked in a soft, curious voice.
"Our whole relationship was based on a lie. That's probably the worst possible foundation for a marriage. Add to that the fact that I'm gay, and I think you can see that it would have been a disaster waiting to happen." Kevin said frankly.
Evan slowly nodded.
"How is everyone in here doing?" Dodger called from the kitchen doorway.
Dodger looked at Kevin and asked, "Do you guys need anything?"
Without hesitation, Kevin shook his head.
After a moment to consider, Evan finally said, "We're fine."
* * * * *
As Evan and Kevin sat quietly in the living room, not really talking about anything, but silently reassuring each other, they heard a strange sound.
It took a moment for Evan to identify the sound as being the garage door opening.
"Rafe's home!" Dodger called from the kitchen.
Evan looked at Kevin anxiously, not knowing if he should be happy, angry or afraid.
"He's a good man." Kevin said softly, and there was absolute conviction in his eyes.
Evan slowly nodded, but still couldn't get his roiling emotions under control.
The pair on the couch heard movement in the kitchen, then a long silence.
Evan strained to hear with his improved 'shadesider' hearing, and finally barely heard Dodger whisper, "I missed you."
From the tone of Dodger's voice, Evan was sure that if he walked into the kitchen right then, he would find Rafe and Dodger in a tight embrace.
* * * * *
"Kevin, it's good to see you again. I'm glad that you're here." Rafe said as he walked into the living room.
"It's always a pleasure, Rafe." Kevin said as he stood.
Rafe shook Kevin's hand for a moment, then gave up control and pulled the man into a surprised hug.
"How are you doing, Rafe?" Kevin asked from their embrace.
"It's a mess, Kevin. Morgan's ten different kinds of pissed off, right now." Rafe said frankly.
"Because of me?" Evan asked cautiously.
Rafe released Kevin and turned his attention to Evan before saying, "No, Evan. Because of me. I had promised to keep you and your mother safe. So Morgan is holding me responsible for all of this."
"Why does he care? Why were you watching us and protecting us?" Evan asked slowly.
"Sit down, Evan. I was hoping that you'd grow up and have a normal brightsider life and I'd never have to tell you about this, but now... you need to know."
Evan took a seat on the couch with Kevin right beside him, then looked at Rafe expectantly.
"I guess that the easiest way to explain this is to explain about your father." Rafe said as he settled into one of the wingback chairs.
"My father? You knew him? Tell me about him! No one's ever told me anything about him." Evan said desperately.
"I know." Rafe said regretfully, then started to tell the story.
"Your father's name was Jimmy Maldonado. He was a really good, decent man and someone that I was proud to call my friend." Rafe said quietly.
Evan felt like he had a million questions that he wanted answered, but couldn't think of anything to say as he waited expectantly.
"When Jimmy was... I don't know, eleven or twelve maybe, his family was attacked by a group of darksiders. His mother, father, aunts and uncles were all killed in the attack. Jimmy was bitten several times, but for some reason, he wasn't turned." Rafe said carefully.
Evan wasn't sure if that was something unusual or not, and couldn't really tell anything by Rafe's distant expression.
"That's when Dodger and I were called in. As you know, I'm a doctor. I specialize in immunity and infectious diseases. I was summoned to try and find out why Jimmy was immune to the transformative agent. It was my hope that if I could discover why he was immune, that I might be able to fashion some sort of a 'cure'."
"So you could make Shadesiders back into Brightsiders?" Evan asked cautiously.
"Yes. If they wanted to be. But I was also hoping that I'd be able to change Darksiders back so that they could regain their humanity and we wouldn't be forced to kill them anymore." Rafe said calmly.
"Well, since I got changed and there wasn't any antidote, I'm guessing that it didn't work out." Evan slowly reasoned.
"That's right. As near as I could tell, what made Jimmy immune was some genetic... difference. It was something that I couldn't duplicate. When I was finally sure that there was no way to make a cure, I came back here to Columbus. But I kept in contact with Sam and Mavis, the Shadesiders who adopted Jimmy, and I did my best to make sure that he had a happy life."
"What happened to him?" Evan asked with dread.
"Jimmy grew up among Shadesiders, but he was a Brightsider. As he grew older, he became a valuable person at the ranch. He would go out and handle things during the day."
"On one of his 'day-trips' away from the ranch, he met a young woman who knocked him off his feet. Sam and Mavis called to tell me about it because they could tell that Jimmy was head over heels in love."
"With my mom?" Evan asked to be sure.
"Yes. When Jimmy met your mother, for the first time he talked about leaving the ranch. He talked about finding a job and moving away and having a wonderful 'normal' life with a house and kids..." Rafe trailed off regretfully.
"What happened?" Evan asked cautiously, and was afraid that it might be something that he really didn't want to know.
"Well, all the dreams that Jimmy had for him and Janice were just that, dreams. He hadn't really made any plans yet. Then, one day, Janice came out to the ranch and told Jimmy that she was pregnant."
"Jimmy was so happy that he told everyone at the ranch. You would have thought that he was the first man to ever be a father, from the way I heard it."
Evan sadly smiled. It soothed something deep inside him to know that his father had wanted him.
"So, in light of the new development, Jimmy and Janice were making plans to be married as quickly as possible. They were planning to live at the ranch until Jimmy could find a job on the Brightside and give his new family their own home." Rafe said sadly.
Evan braced himself for what he knew was coming. He knew that his mother and father never got married, so he knew that the bad thing he was expecting was close.
"To this day, none of us know exactly how it happened. But some darksiders found their way onto the ranch. We can't be sure if Jimmy was their target, but somehow they got into the ranch house, took Jimmy, and got away with him without ever alerting anyone else on the ranch."
"It was just before dawn when they smelled the smoke. One of the men, you met him tonight, his name is Bruce. Even though it was almost daylight, he drove the truck out to find the source of the smoke. What he found was Jimmy, tied to a tree and set on fire." Rafe said as tears started sliding down his cheeks.
"He took Jimmy's body back to the house, and it was obvious that he had been bitten several times. From the look of him, he was completely drained and was already dead when his body was set on fire." Rafe said sadly.
Evan suddenly realized that Kevin was holding him firmly, trying to comfort him through the emotional revelation.
"When Sam called to tell me, he and I were having the same thought. If it wasn't a coincidence and Jimmy was their intended target, then you and Janice could likely be targeted as well."
"And that's when the plan to protect you was born. I contacted Kevin and asked him to go to New Mexico to give Janice a 'convenient' way to get away from the bad memories of losing Jimmy. Sam and Mavis talked to her and encouraged her to try to start a new life somewhere else, and they happened to mention that they had friends in Columbus." Rafe finished quietly.
"Kevin and I arranged a few things. He got you a place to live. I arranged a job. He took care of you while your mom was working... It seemed to work well for a while."
"Then, about six months ago, Kevin noticed some things that concerned him. He called me and said that he thought that there might be darksiders watching you and your mom."
Evan looked quickly at Kevn and saw him nod.
"That's when I arranged for you to be watched. Fortunately, the darksiders are as limited as we are during the daylight hours. It pretty much leveled the playing field as far as protecting you. But on a day like today, as overcast as it was, both darksiders and shadesiders could go out with only minimal protection."
"From what little I've learned about the events of today, whoever was watching you noticed a breach in our security. When you and your mother walked home from her work and your school, you went through the park."
"One man was following you at a distance, and the other was waiting for you to emerge. But, as you know, the Darksider was already in the park, waiting just off the path, laying in wait. By the time my men got to you, it was already too late to save your mother. Although they were able to keep you from being killed, while they were saving you, someone else had already called the police. They retreated so they wouldn't have to talk to the police and answer any inconvenient questions." Rafe said regretfully.
"So my father's dead. My mom's dead. And I've been turned." Evan said distantly.
"Yes. That's it." Rafe confirmed.
"Why? Why did you protect me? Why did they go through all this to try and kill me? What do they get out of it?" Evan asked suddenly.
"It's because of your father's immunity. They're afraid that your blood can be made into a vaccine that will restore their souls." Rafe said frankly.
"Their souls?" Evan asked in confusion.
"It doesn't matter. You were turned, so you obviously don't have your father's immunity." Rafe said honestly.
Evan slowly nodded as he tried to process all of what he'd just been told.
Dodger silently got up from the second wingback chair and hurried into the kitchen.
Kevin held Evan close, trying to comfort the boy he had known since the day he was born.
Rafe watched the scene before him sadly, not knowing of anything that he might be able to do to make things better.
* * * * *
"Rafe!" A man called as he ran into the house.
Rafe and Evan turned suddenly as Dodger hurried out of the kitchen.
"We almost had him, Rafe. We were just about to take him down when we got jumped. It was an ambush. Judith and Hirsch are dead."
Dodger returned to the kitchen as Rafe seemed to be stunned into silence.
Evan looked at the man and realized that he was the other man who had flown with them in the helicopter.
"I saw about fifteen of them before I got out of there, but there could have been more." Bruce said in a rush, then gratefully accepted the drink that Dodger was pressing into his hand.
"Someone must be organizing them. Your run of the mill darksiders aren't capable of anything so complex." Rafe said distantly.
"Rafe, I saw Laramie there, he was leading them."
"Laramie from the ranch?" Dodger asked with astonishment.
Bruce nodded, then said, "He's got to be a darksider, a high level one, a demon."
"He'd have to be to pass himself off as a shadesider." Rafe said thoughtfully.
"He's got to be the one who's been behind all of this. He was there, he knows all about Jimmy. And I'm sure he was there when Jimmy told us that Janice was pregnant." Bruce said frankly, then a look of regret ghosted over his face as he noticed Evan.
"But why did he wait all this time to make his move?" Dodger asked curiously.
"Maybe he didn't know where to find Evan. When Janice left, no one at the ranch was talking about what happened to her. I didn't even know she was here until I came to work for you." Bruce said seriously.
"Bruce, call the ranch and fill them in on everything you know and everything you suspect. If Laramie is behind this, he might have some operative there who could cause trouble." Rafe said decisively.
Bruce nodded once, then dashed off to the study.
"Kevin, you're our guest and I hate to put you to work."
"Anything you need, Rafe. You know that." Kevin said firmly.
"We need to beef up security around here. You're familiar with the whole operation, so pull anyone you need and put them where you need them. Protecting Evan is our top priority."
"Consider it done." Kevin said before rushing to join Bruce in the study.
* * * * *
Rafe, Dodger and Evan waited for long moments in the living room, waiting for any reports about what was going on.
"It's not good." Bruce said grimly as he walked out of the study.
"What now?" Rafe asked with dread.
"When Kevin started contacting people, they told him that there are darksiders gathering. And it looks like they're not trying to be careful about hiding what they're doing." Bruce said frankly.
"What does that mean?" Dodger asked as he looked from Bruce to Rafe anxiously.
"I think it means that they're planning to storm the place. They know that they've got us penned in." Rafe said thoughtfully.
"If they're gathering an army, then we should probably do the same. We're not going to have enough time. Who do we even call?" Bruce asked in a slightly panicked voice.
"I'll call Morgan. He's been preparing for something like this for decades. I guess it's not paranoia if they really are out to get you."
"Why do they want me? It's my father who was immune. I got bit and I changed, see?" Evan said, then bared his fangs.
"Even so, they... wait... you were only bitten five hours ago. You shouldn't be anywhere near ready to do that." Rafe said suddenly.
"You must have inherited a variant of your father's immunity. Rather than making you immune, it's made you able to bond with the transformative and accept it... this could be significant. This might be what we were looking for, after all." Rafe said distantly.
"What are you going to do to me?" Evan asked cautiously.
"When we have more time, I'll sit down with you and explain everything. Then, only if you agree, I'll use a sample of your blood to try to develop a treatment that can be used on the darksiders to possibly regain their humanity."
"So they'd become shadesiders?" Evan asked slowly.
"Possibly. It's all just a guess until I've had a chance to look at your blood and see how it interacts with the transformative. But there is a chance that this could be the beginning of the end of the darksiders. With their souls restored, we could all finally live in peace."
"Can we do it now?" Evan asked quietly.
"No. I think I should stay focused on other things. There's not much we can do at the moment but wait for the reinforcements to arrive."
"Evan, I bet that after the day you've had, you're about ready for dinner." Dodger said gently.
"Yeah. Thanks. I'm really getting hungry."
"How about you, Rafe?" Dodger asked gently as he looked at Rafe with love.
"Yes. But what I'm most hungry for will have to wait until tonight." Rafe said with a shy smile.
Dodger giggled with delight, then tried to restrain his smile as he said, "I'll just check to see that the roast is done and I'll call you when it's on the table."
* * * * *
Everyone was silent, not wanting to possibly miss something that could be a warning of impending danger.
When Dodger called them in to dinner, nearly everyone in the living room jumped a foot in the air.
Just as the five of them took their seats, the phone started ringing.
Before anyone else could react, Bruce jumped up and grabbed the kitchen extension.
"Yeah." Bruce said by way of greeting.
Everyone stopped eating and listened carefully to his side of the conversation.
After a moment of listening, Bruce held out the phone to Kevin.
With a look of apprehension, Kevin accepted the phone and said, "Kevin, here."
He nodded as he listened, then quietly said, "Good."
Dodger and Evan exchanged a look before looking back to Kevin with concern.
"Got it. Thanks." Kevin said seriously, then hung up the phone.
As Kevin turned toward the table, he was met by everyone's expectant gazes.
"The men are in place. If anyone tries to make a move on the house, we'll know about it." Kevin said as he took his seat again.
There was a long moment of silence, before Dodger slowly said, "Somehow, that doesn't make me feel that much better."
"This doesn't mean that anything is going to happen, we're just trying to be prepared, just in case." Rafe said reassuringly, but something in his expression said that he wasn't completely believing his own words.
No one seemed to have much of an appetite after that. All any of them could do was think about what might be laying in wait for them.
* * * * *
Dodger was standing by the window, holding the drapes back with one hand as he watched.
One of Kevin's lookouts had called ahead to inform them that the first of their 'reinforcements' had arrived and were on the way up to the house.
"There they are." Dodger said as he saw the headlights coming up the driveway.
"Bruce, would you show them where to park? I don't want to have the driveway blocked off by the first few cars and force people to have to hike up the hill." Rafe asked hopefully.
Bruce's only response was to hurry for the door.
"Dodger, would you stay inside with Evan while I take care of things outside?" Rafe asked hopefully.
"No. No way." Dodger said firmly. "Whatever happens to you, happens to me."
Rafe looked like he was about to argue, then seemed to think better of it and said, "Kevin. Would you please take Evan down to the basement and stay with him, there?"
"You need me up here, I've been trained to deal with things like this." Kevin said frankly.
"Yes, I'm sure you would be of help to us outside, but if one of them gets past us and gets to Evan, then... what's the point of any of this? You're our last line of defense. We're depending on you and trusting you with Evan's safety." Rafe said imploringly.
Before Kevin could respond, his cellphone rang in his pocket.
"Yes?" Kevin asked as he opened the phone and put it to his ear.
After a moment, he closed the phone and put it away.
"The darksiders are heading this way." Kevin said with dread.
* * * * *
"I know that you'd rather be out helping the others. If you want to go, I won't mind." Evan said as soon as the elevator doors closed.
"No. Rafe was right. The only reason any of this means anything is if you survive."
"But, if you let them have me, there'd be no reason to fight at all." Evan said cautiously.
Kevin stared at Evan with horror at the statement, then said, "Evan Russell Delgado! If I ever hear you say anything like that again, I'll take you over my knee. I swear to God, I'll do it."
"No buts. The only way they get to you is through me. And that's the last I'm hearing about it." Kevin said with absolute conviction.
Evan didn't resist as Kevin pulled him into a hug and walked him off the elevator.
"Thanks for protecting me, Uncle Kevin." Evan finally whispered.
* * * * *
As Dodger walked outside, he noticed that there were now about a dozen people gathered on the front lawn, all of them armed for battle.
One figure stood out to him and he walked over to greet her.
"Thanks for coming, Leila." Dodger said as he took in the sight of her dressed in a skin tight leather body suit and carrying something that looked like a sickle on a chain.
"Morgan's been planning for something like this for years. As soon as he called me, I called the rest of my group, then drove out here as quickly as I could.
Dodger was about to respond when he noticed Rafe approaching with a scabbard in his hand.
"I know you don't have much experience fighting, but I thought that this might be the best weapon for you." Rafe said nervously as he handed the short sword to Dodger.
"I'll just stick close to you and I know that I'll be fine." Dodger said confidently.
"Actually, you might consider working with your strengths." Leila interjected into their conversation.
Dodger and Rafe both looked at Leila with question.
"You've probably got the strongest talent with the thrall of any of us. You should use that, rather than depending on close contact fighting." Leila said frankly.
"You're a lot stronger than I am." Dodger said honestly.
Leila shook her head and said, "I have more experience and control, but your raw talent is greater than mine. When you're confronted, set it free and convince your enemies to either lay down their weapons, or to fight each other. Then, only if any of them are strong enough to resist you, will you need to use that sword."
"Listen to Leila. She knows what she's talking about." Rafe said quietly, then hurried away as another group of reinforcements approached from the parked cars at the side of the house.
"Listen, everyone. Be on guard. I just got word that a large group of darksiders have entered the woods and are heading this way on foot." Bruce called suddenly.
"Dodger, over this way. I want you to guard the North face of the house." Rafe called a moment later and gestured toward where he wanted him.
As Dodger started walking that way, he noticed that Ernie, Blake and Manna were also heading in that direction.
"I've been feeling like I've been domesticated. A good fight is just what I've been needing." Manna said to her husbands as they walked.
Dodger didn't want to intrude on their conversation, but couldn't help but admire the love and devotion that the three of them openly displayed for each other.
Once he was in place, Dodger noticed that Rafe had taken a position at the Northwest corner of the house, the next fighting position nearest him.
"Just about everyone is here. I hope it's enough." Morgan said as he walked up to Rafe.
"It's going to have to be." Rafe said nervously.
"I called on some extra help, but... there's no way I can predict if or when it's going to arrive." Morgan said as he kept his eyes focused on the treeline.
A sound in the distance caught Dodger's attention and as soon as he could see movement, he called out, "There!" as he pointed.
Everyone around him got into their battle stances, ready to fight and hold the line to defend the house.
The first wave of fighters was clumsy and weak.
None of them got anywhere near Dodger, so he was able to watch and assess their fighting technique.
Basically, the Darksiders seemed confident that they would be able to 'hack and slash' their way to the house without too much effort.
The defenders disabused them of the notion with ruthless efficiency.
* * * * *
The second wave of fighters was more of a challenge.
Their fighting technique was nearly as primitive as the previous wave, but the number of them was such that they posed a legitimate threat.
Dodger glanced over in time to see Leila spring into action.
As a group of darksiders approached her, obviously trying to overwhelm her, Dodger saw a magnificent aura of golden light radiate out from her.
Dodger turned his gaze forward, to watch for approaching fighters, but could clearly hear her voice on the wind seductively saying, "I want only the best. Who among you is best? Step forward and you'll be mine."
The sound of grunts and growls from her direction caused Dodger to glance over to assess the situation.
He found Leila standing with her sickle in hand, ready to make a move as over half a dozen darksider men and women fought amongst themselves.
When Dodger looked forward, he saw a band of ten men coming directly for him with full vampiric speed and intensity.
Rather than panic, he drew on the love and concern for all his friends to keep him focused.. While drawing his sword, he felt as his fangs dropped into place.
"Dodger!" Rafe called out anxiously.
"I'm fine, Rafe." Dodger called back and was surprised to realise that he meant it.
As Dodger let the power of the thrall flow unchecked, he said, "We don't have to fight their battle. There's no reason for us to do this."
All but one of the darksider men slowed their advance and seemed to be carefully considering his words.
"What's the point of dying for nothing. You're free. You don't have to do this." Dodger said as his words floated and hung in the air.
One of the darksiders advanced, and Dodger could see a deep purple aura begin to flare out from him.
The dark thrall seemed to take on the form of massive wings that lightened to nearly blue at the tips.
"We fight to protect our own." The darksider, the demon, said firmly.
"You fight because others tell you to. They command you. They control you. That's contrary to the essence of what you are." Dodger said as he tried to make his thrall intensify.
The demon didn't seem to be swayed, but those behind him seemed to have lost any desire to fight and stood, waiting to see what their leader would do.
"You have someone immune to the bite in there. He's a threat to us." The demon said firmly.
"No. His father was immune. The boy, his name is Evan, he was bitten today and he was turned. He's not a threat to you... and neither am I. By the way, my name is Dodger."
"I am Hellfire!" The demon boomed fiercely.
Dodger didn't give the slightest acknowledgement to the announcement.
'Hellfire' seemed to be at a loss at the non-reaction and finally said, "But I used to be known as Wade."
"I'm sure that you've noticed that I have your men completely in my thrall. I think I could command them to attack you before you could gain control of them again. But what I'm saying isn't some kind of a mind trick. It's the truth. We have no reason to fight." Dodger said with conviction.
Wade considered the words for a moment, and seemed to be having difficulty forming a response.
"I don't want to kill you, but I will if I have to." Dodger said honestly, then quietly added, "Please don't make me have to."
The other darksiders that grouped around Wade were obviously waiting for his decision before doing anything more.
Dodger looked Wade in the eyes and said, "When I look at you, it's like looking into a mirror. You're what I might have been. I suppose that I could hate you for that, but I don't. All I want is for you to be able to live free in the dark and be what you were meant to be."
"We don't do mirrors, but... you know, you're probably going to regret this." Wade said honestly.
Knowing that the decision had been made, Dodger smiled slightly as he responded, "Probably. But regret is a part of life."
Wade gave a smirk as he said, "Not for me. Not anymore."
"If you go now, I'll make sure that no one follows you." Dodger said as he glanced around.
"I wouldn't do the same for you." Wade said as he motioned for his men to retreat.
"I know." Dodger said as he watched the band of fighters hurry back toward the trees.
* * * * *
A laugh drew Dodger's attention and he turned in time to see Leila throw her sickle at the last remaining fighter.
The sickle missed by a mile and the fighter seemed amused by the poor throw, then Leila jerked on the chain on the sickle's handle and brought it back on perfect trajectory.
The darksider turned just in time to catch a glimpse of the sickle before it bit into his neck.
With another jerk on the chain, Leila brought the bloody sickle back to her. She hadn't managed to take the man's head off, but she had certainly dealt him a lethal blow.
Dodger looked around to see how everyone else was doing while defending his position.
To his right, Ernie and Blake were fighting in flawless unison. They used their swords to hack and slash at their opponents until their defenses were down, then stood aside to allow Manna to deliver the killing blow.
Beyond Ernie, Blake and Manna was Imelda, the dainty, frail, snip of a girl who always took his coat at the club. Tonight she was dressed in a flannel shirt and faded jeans and was holding a machete nearly half as long as she was tall. Her fangs were bared and the gleam in her eyes spoke of ruthlessness and a desire for blood.
Dodger very nearly missed another defender, standing back, out of Imelda's way. It was Rene, the head waiter. He was dressed as immaculately as ever, and was holding a foil in perfect position, obviously ready for a fight, should Imelda be overpowered.
After checking to be sure that no darksiders were coming toward him, Dodger looked to his left, past Rafe and Leila to find Lily fighting hand-to-hand as fierce as any beast in the wild. She was using nails and fangs to take her opponents down as viciously as possible. Behind her was Portia, holding an ax and staying alert for anyone trying to attack Lily while she was enjoying her prey.
As Dodger turned his attention forward again he saw more fighters emerging from the treeline.
Everyone seemed to be holding their own so far, but he was becoming concerned by the sheer number of opponents coming toward them.
Suddenly, a loud 'CRACK' sounded. Dodger dropped his sword as he brought his hands up to protect his super-sensitive ears.
Most everyone had stopped fighting and were doing the same.
The darksiders seemed to collectively decide that the interruption was the perfect time to fall back to reassess their strategy.
Seeing that it was safe for the moment, Dodger looked around for the source of the loud sound that had stopped the fighting.
Almost out of sight around the corner, he caught a glimpse of George, standing with a smoking sawed-off shotgun in his hand and a headless darksider at his feet.
* * * * *
"Oh God!" Leila gasped when she saw the enemy forces advancing from the treeline.
Dodger's eyes went wide when he realized that before him were over a hundred darksiders.
"They must have brought every darksider East of the Mississippi in for this." Portia called from past Leila.
"Rafe, I hope you have a plan B because plan A isn't looking too good at the moment." Leila said in an anxious voice.
"Morgan is in charge of plan B, this is all I've got." Rafe said nervously.
"Morgan! Tell me you have an idea of how to deal with this." Leila called toward the front of the house.
"Yes. I do. And here it comes." Morgan said as he looked toward the driveway.
A black limousine slowly drove up the drive.
The darksiders moved out of it's way, allowing it free movement.
When the door opened, there was silence.
A tall man with the most breathtakingly beautiful golden blond hair stepped out of the back of the car. Even though it was dark, he seemed to radiate his own luminescence. His presence was awe inspiring.
Dodger looked at Rafe and saw that he was smiling.
The tall man reached a hand back into the car and received a small, delicate hand in his.
A stunningly beautiful woman, with milk pale skin and long flowing black hair, elegantly stood from the car.
The darksiders drew back from the couple, either out of fear or respect.
"Raphael." The man said as he escorted the delicate woman away from the car. "Would you care to tell us what is happening here?"
"Yes." Rafe said nervously. "But first, father, mother, I'd like for you to meet Dodger. Dodger, I'd like to present my mother, Ariadne and my father, Michael."
"It's a pleasure to meet you." Some automated part of Dodger's brain said, since his entire consciousness was enthralled by the breathtakingly beautiful couple.
"I'm so glad to finally get to meet my son's one true love." Ariadne said gently.
Dodger felt her voice caress him, and embrace him. He blushed from his toes to his hairline.
"Now son, perhaps you could tell us why we were called here." Michael said seriously.
"Yes Father." Rafe said quietly. "You see, the darksiders attacked a boy and his mother this morning. She died and he was changed. Now they're attacking, hoping to get to him so they can finish what they started."
Michael looked at his son for a moment, then out across the sea of darksiders, who were all watching intently.
"Who speaks for you?" Michael called out in a voice that carried on the wind. The sound of it felt like a physical presence.
* * * * *
"Is the boy here?" Ariadne asked Dodger gently.
"Yes, he's inside." Dodger answered immediately.
"Would you please get him?" Ariadne asked hopefully.
Dodger nodded, then dashed away.
* * * * *
After a moment of rustling in the crowd, a man walked forward.
"By what name are you called?" Michael asked politely.
"Dupree." The man answered coldly.
"Would you tell me the source of your conflict?" Michael asked reasonably.
"This 'doctor', is trying to make a 'cure' so the world can be rid of people like me." Dupree said with a snarl at Rafe.
"Raphael? What say you to this?" Michael asked as he turned to look at his son.
"About forty years ago, a twelve year old boy named Jimmy was attacked by a group of darksiders. He was bitten at least a dozen times, but he didn't change. I tried to identify what it was about his blood that made him immune to the transformative, so that I could possibly make an antidote or an inoculation." Rafe said cautiously.
"And what about the boy today?" Michael asked slowly.
"His name is Evan, he's Jimmy's son. He seems to have bonded with the transformative, I think he was only partly changed. He may be the key for restoring humanity to the darksiders." Rafe said as he looked his father in the eyes and implored him to understand.
Michael closed his eyes and shook his head for a moment.
"Dupree, please accept my apologies for the actions of my son. I'm sure he did what he felt was best within his limited frame of reference." Michael said quietly.
"But what about him?" Dupree asked as he pointed at Evan, who was approaching with Dodger on one side and Kevin on the other.
"Allow me a moment and I'm sure I can find a resolution to your dispute." Michael said calmly, then beckoned Evan to come to him.
Ariadne immediately walked to Michael's other side, then the three walked away slowly, talking in hushed whispers.
Dupree looked at Rafe with disgust and growled, "Before the end of this night, I will feast on your blood."
Ariadne turned slightly and flashed Dupree and Rafe a warning glance, and they both stood a little straighter.
Dodger watched Evan carefully, hoping to get some sense of what they were talking about.
A surprised smile crossed Evan's face, then he grinned and nodded happily.
Ariadne smiled at his answer, then whispered something to him and gestured toward Dodger.
"Dupree, please accept my assurance that Evan will pose no threat to you and your people. I will see to it that no further research of this type will be done and that any existing research will be destroyed." Michael said seriously.
"You give YOUR word?" Dupree asked cautiously.
"Yes. I swear my solemn vow, here before all assembled, that this threat to you will be eliminated." Michael said in a voice that carried deep into the night.
"Then, if there is no other business, I will leave." Dupree said respectfully.
"There is one other matter." Ariadne said firmly.
Dupree looked at her curiously.
"Who is responsible for the death of this boy's mother?" Ariadne asked, and her words seemed to resonate in the air.
"I am." Laramie said as he stepped forward, to stand at Dupree's side.
"You ordered her death?" Ariadne asked as she looked him in the eyes.
"Yes." Laramie said as he met her gaze.
In the blink of an eye, there was a flash of silver in the moonlight. Before anyone could register that she had moved, her hand was back at her side, holding a razor sharp silver rapier.
Laramie looked at her with disbelief for a moment, then his head fell back... then off.
"Killing this boy's mother was completely unnecessary and NOT acceptable behavior." Ariadne said as she looked around the assembled crowd. "THIS is the consequence of unacceptable behavior."
There was a long moment of silence for everyone to absorb the words, then Michael said, "Dupree, you and your associates may leave."
Dupree glanced at Rafe, then reluctantly turned to leave.
"Raphael." Michael said firmly.
Rafe stood a little straighter at the tone.
"In the house. NOW!" Michael commanded.
Dupree glanced back over his shoulder and smirked before continuing on his journey into the dark.
"Dodger, please thank everyone for coming." Rafe said before following his father into the house.
Dodger hugged Evan around the shoulders as he nodded.
* * * * *
"Everyone, before you go, Rafe wants me to let all of you know that we appreciate you coming to help." Dodger said loudly.
Several nods and friendly waves were the responses from most of the assembled crowd.
"Let Rafe know that I'll see that this is taken care of before morning." Morgan said as he gestured to one of the bodies on the front lawn.
"Thank you, Morgan... For everything." Dodger said sincerely.
Morgan gave a single nod, then walked away.
"Evan, come over here, I'd like for you to meet some people." Dodger said gently to the boy at his side.
Ariadne watched with a gentle smile, then followed the pair silently.
"Leila, this is Evan." Dodger said quickly.
Evan stared at the exotic, beautiful woman in skin tight leather and high heels.
"It's nice to meet you Evan. I'm so glad that things worked out so that you'll be safe." Leila said warmly.
"Thank you." Evan said past his amazement.
Leila giggled at his reaction, then said, "Excuse me, but I need to catch up with Lily and Portia before they leave."
"Thank you for all your help. You were amazing... you're always amazing." Dodger said with a smile.
Leila giggled again, then gave Dodger and Evan each a kiss on the cheek before hurrying away.
"Wow. She's beautiful." Evan said in a whisper.
"Yes. In many ways." Dodger said with admiration, then quickly said, "Come over here, you need to meet these guys."
Evan stayed close to Dodger's side as they walked to a small group of people.
Ariadne followed at a distance, apparently pleased by what she was witnessing.
"Evan, I'd like for you to meet Manna and her husbands, Ernie and Blake." Dodger said happily.
"It's nice to meet you." Evan said hesitantly, then looked at Dodger with question.
"Evan, these are some of the smartest guys I know. If you ever have a problem, and I'm not around to help you, talk to them." Dodger said warmly.
Ernie and Blake had identical blushes at the statement.
"I'm glad someone besides me has noticed." Manna said from between her husbands, looking back and forth at them adoringly.
"Once things have settled down around here, I'd really like it if you three would come up for dinner. We don't get to visit nearly enough." Dodger said sincerely.
"Consider us there." Ernie said with a grin.
"We would love to." Blake said with his mirror opposite grin.
"It looks like everyone else is leaving. Evan and I should get inside, Rafe may need us." Dodger said with a worried look back at the house.
"If there's anything we can do..." Ernie began.
"...be sure to call us." Blake finished.
"Count on it." Dodger said warmly.
"It was nice to meet you." Evan said quickly.
"It was very nice to meet you too, Evan." Manna said gently.
Ernie, Blake and Manna started walking toward the driveway as Dodger and Evan started walking toward the house.
Before they reached the door, Ariadne had joined them.
* * * * *
Dodger and Evan shared a concerned look. They couldn't make out all of the conversation that was taking place in the study, but occasionally they would hear Rafe say, "But Daaaad."
"Don't worry about Raphael. Michael understands that he was trying to do the right thing as he understood it." Ariadne said as she casually put a hand on Evan's shoulder and gave him the gentlest of hugs.
"I don't understand what he did wrong?" Dodger said frankly.
"He was trying to create a biological weapon to destroy his enemies." Ariadne said frankly. "Genocide is wrong."
"But they're evil." Dodger said slowly.
"They're predators. They do what they were made to do. Just as you do what you were made to do. You have different states of being from them, but seeking to destroy them isn't the answer. Perhaps they're the other side of the coin, but they are part of you. Darksiders and shadesiders are the same people, they just turned out differently."
"But they kill people." Dodger said in confusion.
"Brightsiders kill people. Shadesiders sometimes kill people. You think it's different because your reasons are right and their reasons are wrong?" Ariadne asked simply.
"But... what are we supposed to do?" Dodger asked slowly.
"Basically, the shadesiders need to do what they've been doing. Keeping the darksiders from getting out of control and keeping the brightsiders from finding out what's really going on in the night... They're so fragile."
Dodger giggled at the statement and nodded his agreement, then thought to ask, "Why did the darksiders do as you said and believe Michael when he gave his word?"
Ariadne smiled at the question, then answered, "All the young ones recognize the ancients, it's carried in their blood. The knowledge is entwined in their instincts."
"How old are you?" Dodger asked cautiously.
"Dodger!" Ariadne scolded playfully. "Hasn't anyone told you not to ask a woman her age?"
"I'm sorry." Dodger stammered quickly.
Ariadne giggled, then said, "I understand. But I'm afraid that I don't have an exact answer to your question."
Dodger looked at Ariadne curiously, but didn't ask why.
"Let's just say that the modern calendar wasn't in use when I was your age." Ariadne said with a glowing smile.
Dodger's eyes went wide as he realized what she was saying.
After a moment, Ariadne gently asked, "Do you love my son?"
"Yes. With all my heart and soul." Dodger answered immediately.
She smiled at the answer, then said, "That's all I ever wanted for him."
"I thought you wanted him to be with Leila." Dodger said cautiously.
"I wanted him to find true love. Leila is a lovely girl and I thought with the proper encouragement, that it could work." She said gently. "It didn't, but not fifty years later, he found you. I'm not disappointed at all in the way things turned out. My boy is happy, that's all that matters."
"I agree." Dodger said with a smile, then noticed that Evan was asleep, snuggled up against Ariadne's side.
"I wonder what's going to happen to him?" Dodger asked quietly.
"Michael and I have already promised him that when we leave, he will be going with us." Ariadne said gently, then leaned down to place a kiss on top of Evan's head.
"He hasn't had time to grieve for his mother yet. And now he's found out that his father is dead too." Dodger said with concern for the innocent looking boy.
"It will be difficult. Life sometimes is." Ariadne said quietly. "In time, he's going to have to make some decisions about what he wants to happen next. After that, Michael and I will help him make those dreams into realities."
"Whatever he decides, I just hope he's happy." Dodger said with a tender smile at Evan.
"We'll see to that." Ariadne said assuringly, "He will be."
* * * * *
Dodger looked up to see Rafe and his father walk out of the study, side by side.
"It looks like everything is okay." Dodger said hopefully.
Rafe looked at his father, then said, "I guess you're never too old to need some good advice."
"With age comes a certain perspective." Michael said as he hugged his son fondly. "It doesn't occur to the young that it might be of value until times like this."
Kevin walked into the room, then looked around, uncertain of his welcome.
When Dodger noticed, he made a summoning gesture and said, "Please, join us."
Kevin reluctantly walked into the room, then took a seat in one of the chairs, opposite the sofa.
"Is something wrong?" Dodger asked hesitantly, noticing something like apprehension or guilt in Kevin's expression.
"I did something... I invited someone to come here tonight. I hope that's okay." Kevin said cautiously.
"Of course it is." Rafe said immediately. "Although, I didn't know you were seeing anyone."
"No. It's nothing like that." Kevin said uncomfortably. "You see, after I found out that Evan was here, I called a friend of a friend to extend the invitation. It's one of Kaplan's people."
Rafe looked at Kevin with surprise.
"Kaplan?" Michael asked curiously.
"He leads a small group of shadesiders that believe in living completely in the brightside world. They avoid the Shadeside community as much as possible." Rafe said, then noticed Kevin's stooped posture and look of anxiety. "I'm sure you had a good reason to invite him. So it's fine."
"I just..." Kevin began to say, when there was a knock at the door.
"I've got it." Bruce said as he hurried from the library, toward the front door.
At Dodger's look of question, Rafe said, "He just want's to make sure it's someone friendly."
"If they weren't friendly, do you think they would knock?" Dodger asked frankly.
"They might, just to throw us off guard." Rafe said with a gentle smile.
"I'm sorry." Evan said as he straightened at Ariadne's side and blinked his eyes. "I must have fallen asleep."
"That's fine, Evan. I'm sure you've earned your rest today." Ariadne said gently.
Evan looked embarrassed, but then relaxed under her loving gaze.
"Raphael, I'm sorry to intrude on your home, but I was told that we were needed here." A man said as he entered the room.
"That's fine Collin. Kevin told us that he invited you, so you're welcome here." Rafe said as he stood.
The man looked behind him to usher a timid boy to come fully into the room.
"Brian?" Evan asked with surprise at the sight of the teenager, then stood quickly to run to his side.
"Evan? You're here?" Brian asked with astonishment.
Everyone watched as Evan pulled Brian into a firm hug.
"This is Brian." Evan said happily as he guided his friend to walk into the living room.
"It's nice to meet you Brian. You're welcome here." Rafe said gently, recognizing the anxiety in the younger boy's eyes.
Brian seemed to be about to say something when his gaze fixed on Michael and Ariadne.
"Please be at ease, Brian." Michael said with a radiant smile.
"Come and sit with us." Ariadne said warmly.
Evan guided Brian to sit with him on the couch beside Michael and Ariadne.
Collin walked into the room more slowly, still looking unsure of his welcome when he saw Michael and Ariadne.
"The ancients!" He gasped, then bowed and said, "Please forgive our intrusion, eldest and most honored."
"Be at ease. As my son has said, you are welcome here." Michael said gently.
Dodger got up and went across the room to grab one of the wingback chairs by the fireplace.
When Bruce saw what he was doing, he hurried over to grab the other one.
"Please have a seat, Collin." Rafe said, sounding to be much more at ease with Collin's presence.
"Thank you." Collin said nervously, then took the seat that Dodger had vacated.
"So Evan, I'm guessing that Brian is a friend of yours." Ariadne said gently to Brian and Evan at her side.
"Yes. I thought that I'd never be able to see him again." Evan said as he held tightly to Brian.
"And why would that be?" Michael asked curiously.
"Well, when I got bitten and... um, changed. I thought that it would mean that I couldn't have any normal... I mean, brightsider friends." Evan said nervously.
"That's what a lot of your people think." Collin said frankly, then seemed to regret his words.
"We've never told anyone that they can't befriend the brightsiders, only that it sometimes causes stress when you have to hide certain things." Rafe said seriously.
"And it can be a problem if things move beyond friendship." Dodger added quietly, with a significant look at Rafe.
"Well, from the look of it, Brian and Evan won't have to worry about that." Ariadne said with a smile at the boys.
"But you said that I needed to go with you." Evan said suddenly, looking worried.
"Yes. I think that would be best." Ariadne said gently.
"But I don't want to leave Brian. I... I really like him." Evan finished in a whisper, then looked at Brian to see his reaction.
"I really like you too." Brian admitted shyly.
"Collin, we know nothing of your situation. Could you tell us if this development poses any insurmountable problem?" Michael asked seriously.
"Brian is free to stay or go as he pleases." Collin said frankly, "Since his change, he has been living as my nephew, and has been searching for a place to fit into the brightside world."
"I've finished high school, but I look too young for anyone to give me a decent job or anything." Brian said shyly, then turned to Evan and continued, "That's why I was hanging around the park the night that I met you. After that, I kept going to the park hoping to talk to you again."
"Can Brian come with us?" Evan asked hopefully, looking from Ariadne to Michael hopefully.
After a moment of thought, Michael said, "Brian, it appears that Evan is of unique heritage. There are those, both darksider and shadesider, who would use him for their own purposes. We know that he would be safe in our company. If you would care to join us in our travels, you would be welcome."
Brian looked at Michael, then at Collin with question.
"Follow your heart, Brian." Collin said gently. "If things don't work out the way you want, you'll always have a place in my home."
"That goes for you too, Evan. If you decide that you want to settle down, you'll always have a place here with us." Rafe said honestly, then added, "Both of you."
"Yes. Both of you." Collin agreed.
"And there's a ranch in New Mexico where I know that you'd be welcomed." Bruce said seriously. "Everyone there loved your father as if he was their own kid. They'd take you in and love you as one of their own if you'd let them."
"What is this ranch?" Michael asked curiously.
"It's a group of shadesiders who live on a ranch on the continental divide, completely away from brightsiders." Bruce said frankly.
"Separatists." Collin said in a slightly disgusted tone.
"If their choice allows them to lead happy and fulfilled lives, then it's the right one for them. Just as Raphael's is right for him and yours is right for you." Ariadne said simply.
"And we would be doing Brian and Evan no favors if we tried to shelter them from differing points of view." Michael added seriously.
"Yes. I can see that." Collin admitted reluctantly.
"I think enough decisions have been made for one day." Ariadne said seriously. "Raphael, would you have room for us to stay the night?"
"Of course, Mother." Rafe said with a smile. "And we have a room for you too, Evan."
"And a room for Brian, if he would like to spend the night." Dodger added quickly.
"I... um." Brian stammered, but after a nod from Collin, said, "Yes. Thank you."
"Kevin, do you think you could arrange to retrieve Evan's clothes and things?" Rafe asked hopefully.
"Yes. I'll have them here by morning." Kevin said, then smiled at Evan's happiness.
"I'll bring Brian's things too." Collin said seriously.
"I don't know about anyone else, but I was so nervous that I didn't eat very much dinner." Dodger announced to the room in general. "I'm going to get the food back out so we can try again. All of you are welcomed to join us."
"Thank you, but I have things that I need to do." Kevin said, sounding slightly regretful.
"As do I, but thank you for the invitation." Collin said as he also stood.
"I'm hungry enough to eat the ass end out of a moose, so I'm not going anywhere." Bruce said frankly, then blushed at Michael and Ariadne's matching surprised stares.
"Sorry." He whispered.
"Quite alright." Michael said with a grin, then turned to Dodger and said, "But I hope that won't be an indication of what's on the menu."
"No." Dodger said with a chuckle, "We're fresh out of moose. But I'll come up with something."
"We don't visit the colonies often. I'm never sure what to make of your cuisine." Michael said hesitantly.
"We've been a country for over two hundred years, Dad. I think it's time that you accept that we're not going to change our minds." Rafe said with a grin at his father.
"Old habits..." Michael said with a shrug.
"Would you boys like to help me in the kitchen?" Dodger asked hopefully.
"Sure." Evan said immediately, then looked at Brian with question.
"Yeah." Brian said shyly, then walked with Evan to join Dodger at the kitchen door.
* * * * *
"Is it going to cause you a problem, having Evan and Brian with you?" Rafe asked cautiously.
"No." Michael said immediately. "In recent years we've been feeling somewhat adrift... lacking purpose."
Ariadne nodded agreement to her husband's words, then said, "This may be just what we've needed to draw us back into the world that seems to have moved on without us."
Rafe nodded slowly, then quietly said, "Evan has a lot to deal with. He's going to need a lot of support."
"Dodger told us that he lost his mother today, and only just found out about his father. " Ariadne said seriously.
"Then the violence of the attack and the change that he went through... I just don't know if he's strong enough to handle so much at once." Rafe said with concern.
"I think that with encouragement from all of us, that he may come through the experience." Michael said thoughtfully.
"I'm really glad you're here. How did you get here so soon?" Rafe asked curiously.
"We were on our way to Brazil when we got the call. It was simply a matter of diverting a flight." Michael said casually.
"The other passengers seemed to be a bit upset to find themselves landing in Ohio." Ariadne said distantly.
"But Morgan called and said that you needed us. So we came." Michael added as he looked into Rafe's eyes.
"I always need you." Rafe said quietly. "I would really like it if you could visit more often. It's been almost a hundred years since the last time I've seen you."
"We wanted to give you space, my angel." Ariadne said tenderly.
Rafe glanced over to see Bruce trying to hide a smile at the pet name.
"I think I've had enough space, now I'd like to spend time with my family." Rafe said honestly.
"We would like that, too." Michael said with a smile.
"And we would love to get to know Dodger. He seems like a wonderful boy." Ariadne said warmly.
"He's the best." Rafe said happily.
"You know," Michael said to his wife slowly, "I think Buenos Aires could get through one carnival without us."
Ariadne nodded, then said, "And Evan should really have some time to adjust to his new circumstances before we whisk him away from everything he has ever known."
"You're welcome to stay as long as you want." Rafe said happily.
"Thank you, Raphael. We would be honored to accept your gracious invitation." Michael said formally.
* * * * *
"What do you need for us to do?" Evan asked as he walked into the kitchen with Brian at his side.
"Would you go to the basement for me?" Dodger asked seriously.
"Um, sure. What do you need from down there?" Evan asked slowly, remembering that the basement only had a little bit of furniture in it.
"I just got the feeling that you might like it if you were away from the crowd of people." Dodger said as he pulled the roast from the refrigerator.
"Don't you need our help?" Evan asked with confusion.
"Evan, you've been through a lot today. Brian, you've had to hide who and what you are from Evan since the day you first met." Dodger said frankly. "I think the best thing for the two of you will be to have some time to yourselves. Talk. Share. Cry if you need to. Hug if you need to."
Evan seemed to be lost in thought, but Brian was nodding his agreement.
"Go on. Come back up when you're done and I'll have dinner waiting for you." Dodger said with a smile at Brian.
Evan looked at Dodger appraisingly for a moment, then whispered, "I love you, Dodger."
"I love you, too, Evan." Dodger said warmly, "Now go."
Evan smiled, then led Brian away so they could talk.
I can't believe I am seeing those dreadful words, "The End."
I am pretty sure that there is, indeed, more to this story.
I am not sure if I mentioned what I am about to point out at the end of the last chapter, forgive me if I did.
Here It comes; This chapter, and the last chapter were actually what started this whole saga.
The story was originally all about Evan and his difficulties. Rafe and Dodger were not the main characters, at all. Evan was, and this was his story.
After we met Rafe and Dodger, we realized that they were far more important than just being the supporting cast. We wanted to know all about them and how they met, etc. So MM, with a little help and inspiration from me, looked back forty years, and began creating what you have read so far, telling all the background information, and bringing you up to date.
So, after fourteen chapters, of the first part of the story, and now two chapters of the second part, do you honestly think we could stop here? Not if I have anything to say about it, and I think I have a little bit of Dodger's Thrall abilities as far as getting an author to continue, and make a story longer.
Just think about some loose ends, for example, Duncan shows up at the door, right at the beginning of the chapter and announces, "Duran's gone." The man, Duncan, said as tears welled up in his eyes.
What have you heard about Duran, since that first statement?
Rafe's parents are really special, aren't they. It is not easy to put an end to a battle as large as that one was. And they did it so easily.
Honestly, I think anything else I could add here would be redundant. So that's it for now, and we can hope that MM will find it worthwhile to write more on this.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher
The End... of Part 4.
Yes. There will be more.