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"I suppose we should take care of first things first." Dodger said as he looked at the two young men holding each other for support.
"Just do what you need to do, Dodger. I know we just met, but for some reason, I trust you." Lane said bravely.
Dodger smiled at the words and said, "First of all, I suppose that I should confirm your bloodlines... at least, I think that that's what Rafe would do."
Lane and Duran looked at each other apprehensively.
Dodger noticed and chuckled at the reaction before saying, "It's nothing to worry about. It's just something we do with the new guys."
Dodger's words didn't seem to put them at ease.
"Lane, you were turned by Duran, right?" Dodger asked simply.
Lane reluctantly looked into Dodger's eyes and slowly nodded.
"Good. Then your part's done." Dodger said happily.
Both boys looked at Dodger with surprise.
"We know who made you, we know that they're not going to do it to anyone else. So, there's no problem." Dodger explained.
Lane seemed to wilt with relief at the announcement.
"Who made you, Duran?" Dodger asked pleasantly.
"I don't know." Duran said as he looked his newly discovered uncle in the eyes.
Undeterred, Dodger said, "Tell me about it."
"I went to this party. I guess someone slipped me something in my drink. I woke up the next day naked and with a very sore butt." Duran said frankly.
"Oh, that's not good." Dodger said distantly.
"What's wrong?" Lane asked as he looked from Duran to Dodger nervously.
"If we can't figure out who turned Duran... I'm getting ahead of myself. Duran, have you told anyone else what you just told me?" Dodger asked seriously.
"You mean besides Lane and the guys in the kitchen?" Duran asked cautiously.
"Yeah. Besides them." Dodger said seriously.
"When Juss found me, he asked me a bajillion questions about who I remembered being at the party and stuff. I think he might have called someone else and told them about it, but I'm not sure. I was pretty out of it right then."
"I can imagine." Dodger said sympathetically, then continued, "Do you know of any way to get in touch with this 'Juss' person? I really need to find out if anyone is looking into this before I talk to Rafe or Morgan about it."
"This is really a big deal, isn't it?" Lane asked quietly.
"Yes. If there's someone out there turning people indiscriminately, the entire community will work together to stop them, no matter what it takes." Dodger said honestly.
"If I can borrow your phone, I can call Juss on his cell." Duran said reluctantly.
"Please do that. Hopefully he'll have the answers I need and this will be the end of it." Dodger said as he picked up the cordless phone from the end table and handed it to Duran.
"And if it isn't?" Lane asked cautiously.
"Best case, we'll find the person, talk to them and they'll promise not to do it again." Dodger said with a half-hearted smile.
"And worst case?" Lane asked cautiously.
"A blood hunt. Word will be spread through the entire Shadeside and Darkside community that one of us has turned rogue and needs to be taken out of action." Dodger said regretfully.
"The Darksiders, too? You have contact with them?" Duran asked with surprise.
"Officially, no. But realistically, we know who to leave a message with so that they will get it." Dodger hedged.
"Juss? It's Julian. I'm at this guy's house and he wanted to know if you ever figured out who drugged me that night?" Duran asked carefully.
Julian's eyes went wide as he silently mouthed the word 'really?'.
Finally, he blinked a few times and said, "Hang on, I'll tell him what you said. He may have some other questions."
Dodger and Lane waited anxiously for Duran to tell them what was going on.
"Um, so it turns out that, um, I guess the whole thing was a setup." Duran said with a disturbed look.
"How do you mean?" Dodger asked cautiously.
"In school, I had this sort-of friend named David. We weren't close or anything, but we'd hang out sometimes. Anyway, David had this creepy older brother named Owen, a total rhoid-monster. Owen's the main reason I never wanted to go over to David's house, the guy creeped me out." Duran said queasily.
"So Owen's the one who turned you?" Dodger asked carefully.
"Yeah. He heard that I'd run away from home and set things up so that I'd get invited to his little party at the abandoned house. Everything that happened was just what he'd planned. I guess he figured that when I turned, I'd... want him, or something. Whatever. He wanted me, and he got me." Duran said with a look of disgust.
"What happened to Owen?" Dodger asked cautiously.
"I guess he'd turned two other people before me... pretty much the same way. Juss doesn't know for sure if Owen was a Darksider or just a dick. Either way, when Collin's people found him, they, um... took care of it. Let's just say that Owen won't be turning anyone else." Duran said reluctantly.
"Good." Lane said with relief as he cuddled close to Duran's side.
Dodger nodded, then looked at the phone in Duran's hand as he said, "Please thank Juss for the information. That was everything that I needed to know."
Duran nodded, then quickly said his goodbyes to his friend on the phone.
"Is that all you needed to know?" Lane asked cautiously.
"That was the first thing. Now that we know that no one is out there turning people indiscriminately, we can concern ourselves with more cheerful things." Dodger said with a smile.
"Anyone hungry?" Evan asked as he carried a tray of plates into the living room.
"We can go into the dining room or the kitchen." Dodger hurried to say.
"We're having appetizers for dinner. Perfect living room food." Evan said as he started handing out plates.
"Oh wow! Fresh, hot quesadillas!" Dodger said with excitement when he received his plate.
"Brian made them. Try them with the green stuff, it's really pretty good." Evan said as he handed plates to Duran and Lane.
"Do you mean the 'guacamole'?" Dodger asked with a grin.
"I guess so. I'm completely helpless in the kitchen." Evan said shyly before leaving the room.
"This is really good." Lane said with surprise.
"Please, eat your fill. You look like you could use a good meal or two." Dodger said honestly.
"I've always been a bean pole." Lane said with a shrug.
"Don't be surprised if you start putting on a little bit of weight before very long." Dodger said with a smile.
"Why's that?" Lane asked curiously.
"Since the change, your body operates more efficiently. Because of that, your muscles will tone more easily and maintain their strength without any extra work by you. In essence, your body will find it's optimum weight and maintain it without you having to do anything." Dodger said as he waited for Lane's reaction.
"So you mean that I won't be skinny and weak anymore?" Lane asked with surprise.
"Nope. If you're a naturally thin person, you probably won't grow massive muscles or anything like that, but you definitely won't be skinny." Dodger grinned.
"What will happen to me?" Duran asked cautiously.
"You seem to be of average weight, so I doubt that anything noticeable will happen." Dodger said frankly.
"Good. Because you're already perfect." Lane whispered to Duran, but Dodger could clearly hear.
"We'll be right in to join you for dinner." Evan said as he carried a plate toward Rafe's study.
"If you don't hurry, we'll be done before you get in here." Dodger called back to him.
"Brian's making more for you. He figured that was going to happen." Evan chuckled before disappearing into the office.
* * * * *
"Great food, Brian." Dodger said appreciatively. All the times Evan and Brian had stayed with them, Dodger had always done all the cooking.
"I'm glad you like it. I don't know much real cooking, but I'm a master of appetizers." Brian said frankly.
"That's better than me. I'd probably burn the house down trying to make peanut butter and jelly." Evan said honestly.
"I'll keep that in mind." Dodger chuckled before taking another bite.
* * * * *
"So, do you need to know anything else from us?" Duran asked between bites of food.
"That was the big thing. The rest is getting to know you and filling you in on the dos and don'ts on the Shadeside." Dodger said honestly.
"Like don't go out in the sunlight?" Lane asked curiously before grabbing a few more quesadillas from the platter on the coffee table.
"Your own instincts will probably do well enough at keeping you out of the sunlight. Your job is to not let brightsiders notice that you can't go out in the daytime." Dodger said honestly.
"So, how do you do that?" Evan asked curiously.
"Don't you already know?" Duran asked cautiously.
"No. Brian and I haven't been changed that much longer than you two. We've been living between here and Collin's house for a few weeks, but no one's sat us down and had 'the talk' with us yet." Evan finished with a smile.
"The answer to Evan's question varies on a case by case basis. You do your best. We can offer suggestions, but you have to make the decisions that are the best fit for you." Dodger said frankly.
"A couple weeks ago, before I got fired, I had a late night job at a video rental place. Would something like that be a good idea?" Lane asked curiously.
"An overnight job can be an excellent idea, however, I wouldn't pin my hopes on a video rental place. It's hard to believe that there are any still open for business." Dodger said honestly.
"If it weren't for the adult video room, the place would have closed years ago. All it is now is a place for old guys to get their whack-off material without visiting a real porn store." Lane said with a shrug.
"That reminds me, is it really true that no one's going to be bothered that we're gay?" Duran asked curiously.
"Nope. Shadesiders don't care who you sleep with or what you do as long as you aren't endangering the community." Dodger said simply.
"That seems simple enough." Lane said with a nod.
"Usually, it is. But there are times when protecting the Shadeside community can be kind of inconvenient. You end up having to do things that you'd really rather not, for the good of everyone else. I guess that's part of why Collin and his guys keep separate from us." Dodger said frankly.
"How is what they do different from what you do?" Brian asked curiously.
"Collin and his guys focus a lot more in personal and individual responsibility. From what I've seen, they pretty much believe the same things that we do, but we're willing to give up a little bit of our personal control over things to allow the community to help us all." Dodger said introspectively.
"Wait. So, it's something like, you and Rafe are communists and Collin and his guys are capitalists?" Brian asked carefully.
Dodger chuckled, then said, "No. I'd say we're more socialist and they're more libertarian. But what it comes down to is that when we face a problem, we prefer to tackle them collectively and Collin's bunch would rather tackle things individually. They'll only come together as a last resort."
"Do you think they're wrong?" Brian asked cautiously.
"No. They made a choice. From my point of view, it's a selfish choice. But it's their right to live the way that they choose." Dodger said frankly.
A knocking on the door caused everyone to look up in unison.
"That's probably your dad." Dodger said as he stood.
"Do you think he'll be disappointed in me?" Duran asked nervously.
"He'll be relieved to see that you're alright. I promise." Dodger said as he hurried to the door.
* * * * *
"Is he here? Can I see him? How is he?" Duncan asked frantically as soon as the door was opened.
"Hold on, Dunc. Come in. He's fine." Dodger assured his brother as he ushered him inside.
As Duncan walked further into the room, his questing eyes finally found their target and locked in on Duran, just as he stood from the couch.
"Duran! Thank God you're alright!" Duncan called as he raced across the room.
Before anyone knew what had happened, Duncan was holding his son, hugging the stuffing out of him.
"I'm fine Dad. I'm really alright." Duran said in a muffled voice into his father's chest.
"What happened to you? Are you alright?" Duncan asked as his tears freely fell.
"He got turned." Dodger said frankly as he slowly approached his brother and his nephew.
Duncan froze in place for a moment, then released his grip on Duran enough to look down into his eyes.
"It's okay. I still love you." Duncan whispered as he held his son's gaze.
Duran smiled with relief before burying his face back into his father's chest and returning the hug.
"Why don't you guys have a seat so Duran can explain?" Dodger asked as he gestured toward the couch.
Duncan guided his son to sit with him on one end of the couch.
Dodger noticed that Lane seemed uncertain about what he should do. With a gesture, Dodger indicated that Lane should take the remaining seat on the couch, so he could be beside Duran.
* * * * *
After long minutes of hugging, Duncan finally asked, "So how did this happen?"
"It's really stupid. I got lured into going to a party and when I got there, someone slipped me something in my drink. The next thing I know, it's the next day, I'm naked in the basement, and my butt's really sore." Duran said frankly.
"Of all the ways that it could have happened, that's not the worst." Dodger interjected half-heartedly.
"I'm so sorry, Duran. If I had a way to go back and undo what happened, I swear that I would." Duncan said as he held his son.
"It's really okay, Dad. I'm not, like, freaked out about it or anything. And since then, things have only been getting better for me." Duran said in a reassuring tone.
Duncan pulled back to look at his son curiously.
"Dad, this is my boyfriend, Lane." Duran said, then turned to Lane and asked, "That's okay isn't it? Do you want to be my boyfriend?"
"Um, sure." Lane said with astonishment.
"He's not the one who did this to you, is he?" Duncan asked as he looked at Lane cautiously.
"No! Lane would never ever hurt anyone. In fact, I'm the one who turned him... it was kind of an accident." Duran stammered at the end.
"I don't blame you." Lane whispered assuringly.
"I know that I never told you that I was gay, but... well, Dodger said that you've known about him for years and years and never had a problem..." Duran rambled.
"It's okay." Duncan whispered to his son, then added, "Your mother and I have suspected it for years. We did our best not to make you feel pressured to feel like you had to be something that you weren't. That's why we never asked about girlfriends or anything like that, we just wanted you to be happy."
"I overheard you talking about your gay brother one time, and... well, I got the idea that since he was gay and you didn't ever invite him over or visit him..." Duran trailed off with a shrug.
"I'm sorry about that. Since you know about the Shadesider thing, you know that it's a little more complicated than that. We did what we thought was best, but I suppose, looking back on it now, that we were cowards. We should have sat you down and told you point blank how we felt about things and that we would love you no matter what." Duncan said honestly.
Duran looked down as he slowly nodded.
"The whole family is worried about you and they miss you." Duncan said frankly.
"But... now that I'm... like this..." Duran choked out past the lump in his throat.
"You can go see them." Dodger said simply.
Duran looked at him suddenly, seemingly just realizing that he and his father weren't the only two people in the room.
"You just changed. You can go and visit with your family and spend time with them and let them know that you're just fine." Dodger said with a gentle smile.
"But... then I'll have to leave... and stay away." Duran said as his tears fell.
"Yes. But you can still have contact. Just, over time, you'll have to make it more and more indirect. I'm not saying that it's going to be easy, but other people have made it work." Dodger said frankly.
"And with your dad knowing about what's really going on, you won't have to hide stuff from him at all." Lane interjected.
Dodger nodded his agreement.
"If you're up to it, I'd really like to take you home tonight. The whole family is there and worried sick about you. It'd make everyone feel alot better." Duncan said gently.
Duran looked at Lane and seemed to be torn by his decision.
"Lane can come, too. I'm sure that everyone will be overjoyed to meet your new boyfriend." Duncan said with a smile.
Duran seemed to be about to agree, when he quickly said, "Dodger wanted to tell us some important stuff about how to be Shadesiders."
"You'll be with your dad. He'll help you keep your secret safe." Dodger assured him.
Before Duran could agree, the sound of movement caused everyone to look up.
"I thought that call was never going to end." Rafe said as he walked into the living room, rubbing his ear.
"Good evening, Rafe. How've you been?" Duncan asked pleasantly.
Rafe leaned in to shake Duncan's hand, then said, "I'll have to get back to you on that. I'm not quite sure how I feel about the things that were decided tonight."
"Sounds serious." Dodger said with concern.
Rafe slowly looked around the room before saying, "Morgan and my father have noticed an upturn in the number of new Shadesiders and Darksiders in the past few months."
Dodger seemed to be about to argue, then looked at the four boys who had been turned in as many weeks.
"It's an instinctive thing for us to increase our numbers when the Brightside population seems to be growing faster than we are." Rafe continued.
"Is it?" Dodger asked curiously.
"It's too soon to be sure if it's a ripple or a wave. But, at the moment, there is an increase in births. Unfortunately, if we react to it by increasing our numbers and their population doesn't significantly increase... that creates another set of problems." Rafe said frankly.
"Okay. So there are too many people being turned, there's not really anything we can do about it, is there?" Dodger asked slowly.
"Actually, there is." Rafe said as he looked around the room regretfully.
After a long moment to collect himself, Rafe finally said, "It isn't decided yet, we'll have to present it to the whole community before enacting anything like this, but if it passes, then each newly made Shadesider will basically have to go on trial and defend their right to exist. If the person who made them is a being of good conscience, then they will stand to defend them. And, when all is said and done, a judgement will be made."
"Are you talking about killing the new Shadesiders?" Dodger asked in horror.
"Not all of them. Only those who are judged to be a detriment to our society." Rafe said reluctantly.
"Like me." Lane said bravely.
Duran immediately took hold of Lane's hand and gave it a firm squeeze.
At Rafe's curious look, Lane explained, "I'm an unemployed video store clerk with a crap high school education. I'm nothing to look at and no one important. I'm the kind of person that you're going to decide to kill, right?"
"You're important to me." Duran whispered in a rush.
"Excuse me, but who are you?" Rafe slowly asked, then looked to Dodger with question.
"This is Lane. My nephew's boyfriend and someone who is becoming important to me as well." Dodger said as he looked Rafe in the eyes.
After a moment to consider, Rafe suddenly looked around the room and said, "Wait! No! I'm not talking about any of you. We'll have the meeting with the community and let everyone know what's going on and 'why' we feel the need to do this before anyone is put on trial. Anyone who was turned before that time won't have to worry about it."
"It still seems wrong. Most people don't have any say in their own creation." Dodger said honestly.
"I know. I hope that the community will heed the warning and that the trials will be an empty threat that we never have to resort to using. But we're doing what we think is best to protect us all." Rafe said frankly.
"I understand what you're saying, but I don't have to like it." Dodger said honestly.
"I know. I don't like it either." Rafe whispered regretfully.
"Duran, what do you say? Let's go visit with the family. I'll promise you an all night party and that no one will wake you before sundown." Duncan said with a smile at his son.
"You said that Lane can come with us, right?" Duran asked hopefully.
"Sure. In fact, Evan and his friend here can come, too, if you'd like. That way Lane won't be as likely to feel like the odd man out." Duncan said with a smile at Evan and Brian.
"And I could take the car, so we can come home whenever we want." Brian said with a look of question at Dodger.
"Have fun, all of you." Dodger said with a genuine smile.
"Thanks for everything." Lane said as he rushed over to Dodger and gave him a firm hug.
Dodger laughed as he accepted the hug, then asked, "What was that for?"
"Just now, when we were talking about trials, you kinda defended me and said that I was important to you.... thanks. I won't forget it." Lane said from the hug.
"You have a place here with us where you belong, Lane. You and Duran should think about moving up here, we have plenty of room." Dodger whispered into his ear.
Lane pulled back with surprise, then slowly broke into a smile and said, "I'll talk to him about it."
"Go on. Everyone's waiting." Dodger said as he put his hands on Lane's shoulders and turned him around.
"Thanks, Desi." Duncan said as his eyes glistened with tears of happiness.
"Have fun, guys." Dodger said as he waved at all the others departing.
Rafe and Dodger walked to the door and watched as everyone got in their cars.
"How about I start us a fire?" Rafe whispered into Dodger's ear.
"Sounds perfect." Dodger said with a smile as he closed the door.
Well, there they are again, those two awful words. I know, when it comes right down to it, they shouldn't bother me so much. After all, I have seen them before at the end of parts 1 through 4, so I should just sit back and relax. But there is a first time for everything, after all. I strongly suggest that you let Multimapper know that you have been reading his stories and that you would appreciate reading more about Rafe and Dodger. Etc.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher