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"How's he doing?" Dodger asked as Rafe walked into the room.
"I think that the examination might have disturbed him. You may need to be a little extra gentle with him until he's calmed down."
"I will, but that's not what I was asking. How is Devin doing as far as being ready for you to try the treatment on him?" Dodger asked firmly.
"I'll have to check his latest bloodwork to be sure, but I think he's achieved the best, most nutritionally rich state that he's going to be able to. His body just naturally rejects certain nutrients. There's nothing else I can do to compensate for that."
"Do you still think the treatment will help him?" Dodger asked cautiously.
"I just don't know. It's so close that I can't predict if it will provide any benefit for him." Rafe said gravely.
"But you still don't think it will hurt him?" Dodger asked to be sure.
"Unless something completely unexpected happens, he's already as damaged as he's going to get. I can't be sure that this is going to help him in any measurable way, but I'm reasonably certain that it won't make matters worse."
"When do you want to do it?" Dodger asked cautiously.
"Soon. But if possible, I'd like to wait until Lane and Duran are back. Not only would it be better to have more people to help us, just in case there's an adverse physical reaction, but they've also formed an emotional attachment to Devin. It seems right that they should be included in what could be an important event in his life."
"Have you heard anything about when we can expect them back?"
"Not precisely. From what little I know of it, they could be done already. However it goes, I'm reasonably certain that they'll be back before this weekend."
"So, is that when you want to do it?" Dodger asked speculatively.
"Possibly. We'll just have to wait and see what situation Lane and Duran are in when they return. We may have to deal with something of theirs before we can turn our full attention to Devin."
"Do you think that Shawn's going to make a habit of calling us for help?" Dodger hesitantly asked.
"I doubt it. From what little I know of it, Shawn was backed into a corner and if he couldn't get Lane and Duran's help, then some drastic things were going to happen to some undeserving people. I think that if he could have found any way to handle it without us, he would have."
"That does sound more like him. I just worry that someone who finds out about us is going to start depending on us to solve all their problems for them."
"I think that between the thrall and our sheer ferocity that we should be able to encourage someone to regard us as a last resort for help." Rafe said frankly.
"Don't underestimate stupid people who feel entitled. Their minds don't fold the same as normal people. Their subconsciouses can justify all kinds of insane things and they can subvert even your most straightforward commands." Dodger said grimly.
"You're more knowledgeable on that subject than I am. I've always assumed that people were basically the same. Of course there were some variations due to wealth and privilege, or lack thereof, but at the core I've always seen the essence of human minds being the same. The way you talk about it, society is actually changing the way the human mind functions." Rafe said slowly.
"I know it seems like kind of an 'out there' theory, but Leila and I have both been monitoring the progression over the course of decades. Not only is the phenomenon observable and repeatable, but it's also accelerating. It may not be long before the thrall becomes too dangerous and unpredictable to use." Dodger said gravely.
The sound of the phone ringing stopped any further exploration of the subject.
Dodger picked up the phone and calmly answered, "Killian residence, this is Dodger."
After a few seconds, Dodger smiled as he said, "What a coincidence. We were just talking..."
A look of concern overtook his expression, then he placed a hand over the mouthpiece as he quietly said, "Leila wants to talk to you. It sounds important."
Rafe accepted the phone from Dodger and cautiously asked, "What's wrong, Leila?"
Dodger watched and waited anxiously as Rafe listened without expression.
"I'll have to talk to Dodger about it." Rafe finally said.
Dodger waited to be asked a question, but instead Rafe continued, "Yes. I remember what I promised, but things have changed since then. I'm not saying 'no', I'm only saying that I need to talk to Dodger about it first."
There was a long silent moment as Dodger puzzled over what Rafe might be talking about.
"If that's what you think is best." Rafe said quietly, then hung up the phone.
"Ask me what?" Dodger immediately asked.
"It would probably be better if I told you a little of the story that led to the events of today.
"Ask me what?" Dodger demanded.
"I'm pretty sure you'd be more comfortable if I took the time to build up to it."
"Ask me what?"
"If you would object to me impregnating Leila so that she can bear our child." Rafe said simply.
Dodger stared wide-eyed for a moment and eventually realized that his jaw had gone slack.
"A long time ago..." Rafe began to say, but was interrupted.
"You and she are both 'born' shadesiders. The two of you are the absolute best chance to produce fertile shadesider offspring." Dodger stated seriously.
"Well, yeah." Rafe reluctantly agreed, then added, "Apparently, she's ovulating."
"How soon do you need my answer?" Dodger asked cautiously.
"The sooner the better. She's on her way here." Rafe said frankly.
"Okay. Just give me a few minutes. I need to make a call." Dodger said emotionlessly before getting up and taking the handset of the phone with him.
"Do what you need to do." Rafe said anxiously as he watched his husband hurry away.
* * * * *
"Have you reached any decisions?" Rafe asked cautiously, not able to even guess at Dodger's mood from his lack of expression.
"Yeah." Dodger reluctantly responded.
"So, what have you decided?" Rafe finally asked.
"Rafe, in the end, this is something that is between you and Leila. It's really rare and important and if you want to do it, you should." Dodger quietly responded.
Rafe slowly nodded his acceptance of the verdict.
Before he could think of what to say next, Dodger quietly continued, "But I'm about to ask something that maybe I don't have a right to."
"You can ask me anything."
"If you and Leila have a child, what relation will that child be to me?"
"I suppose, like most relationships on the Shadeside, that it will be whatever we decide it is."
Dodger slowly nodded.
"What would you like for it to be?" Rafe asked curiously.
"I want to be one of the baby's parents."
"I see no problem with that."
"But do you think Leila would mind? I mean, since I'm not the one who's going to..."
"I know that Leila won't mind at all. But we'll ask her just to be sure." Rafe said peacefully. "Besides, you're my husband, so it makes perfect sense that you would be one of the parents."
"I feel so selfish asking."
"Dodger, you're wonderful. You would have every right to feel jealous or resentful for me even asking. But the only thing you can think of is that you want to be sure that you'll be considered a father to our child." Rafe said lovingly.
"I love you. Of course I want to share this with you." Dodger said, clearly astonished that Rafe would think otherwise.
"Do you want to be there for the conception? I'm sure Leila wouldn't mind." Rafe asked hesitantly.
"Um, no. But thanks for offering." Dodger said as he fought to hide his discomfort at the thought.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. And I'm also sure that I could never look Leila in the eyes again if I saw her... muffin."
Rafe chuckled, then said, "The whole time I'm doing it, I'll be thinking of you."
"I'll be thinking of you, too."
* * * * *
A knock on the door finally broke the silence that had fallen between them.
As much as he didn't want to, Dodger disentangled himself from Rafe to allow him to answer the door.
"I'll get something together for us to snack on." Dodger said quietly before hurrying into the kitchen.
Rafe looked after him with concern, as he dutifully made his way to the front door.
* * * * *
When the door opened, Rafe was left speechless.
"Is Dodger alright?"
"Yes. He's in the kitchen. Please, come in." Rafe stammered.
"We decided to come over so that we could stay with Dodger and help keep his mind off things while you're... otherwise occupied."
"Have a seat and I'll let Dodger know that you're here." Rafe said as he motioned toward the living room seating area.
"Did you get a new living room set?"
"Yeah. A month or so ago." Rafe said distractedly, then added, "Make yourselves comfortable and I'll be right back."
* * * * *
"Ernie and Blake are here. Apparently they want to be here to help you deal with..." Rafe trailed off, not entirely sure how to describe the act he was intending to perform.
"...the love of my life being intimate with someone else?" Dodger suggested as he turned to look at Rafe inquiringly.
"If you don't want me to, I can just say 'no'." Rafe immediately responded.
"No. I agree that none of us want for you and Leila to miss out on this opportunity. You might never get another one. But I think that having Ernie and Blake here to keep me company through it might make it a little easier. Not only are they some of the smartest people I know, but I couldn't ask for better friends." Dodger finished with a smile.
"They're waiting in the living room. I'll carry that in when it's finished." Rafe assured him.
"I love you." Dodger whispered, then gave Rafe a quick but ernest kiss before hurrying away.
* * * * *
Rafe silently contemplated what he was about to do as he waited for the coffee to finish brewing.
He took down one more cup and saucer and added them to the tray as he considered the path that he was about to embark upon.
When the last little gurgle and hiss indicated that the coffee maker was finished, Rafe took the insulated carafe and added it to the serving tray.
* * * * *
"Rafe, do you think that Devin is up to having visitors yet?" Dodger asked as Rafe carried the tray into the living room.
"I think that as long as you're there he should be fine. He especially likes you and you have exceptional control with the thrall." Rafe said as he placed the tray on the coffee table.
Before he could begin serving, there was another knock on the door.
"Go ahead. I'll take care of this." Dodger assured him.
Rafe gave Dodger one last appraising look to gauge his sincerity before going to answer the front door.
* * * * *
"How are you? Is everything alright?" Rafe asked with concern.
"What did Dodger say? Are you willing to go through with it?" Leila asked quickly.
"Yes. Dodger understands what a rare and precious opportunity this is." Rafe assured her.
"I hope you realize just how rare and precious he is. I have some idea of how much he loves you. No matter what he's telling you, I know that this has to be tearing him apart." Leila said honestly.
"I know that on some level it is, but he's got Ernie and Blake here to help keep him from dwelling on things. I think he's handling it better than I would have imagined." Rafe said honestly.
"Then, if you have no objection, we could get right to it. I mean, there's no way of knowing just how long we have." Leila said honestly.
"Yes. I understand that. But before we begin, I just wanted to be sure that we agree on what our expectations are... assuming that everything goes to plan." Rafe said carefully.
"I've been thinking about that too. Before you start, let me go ahead and tell you what I've been thinking. Maybe it will make what you were going to say a little easier." Leila suggested.
"I'm all for that. Go ahead."
"I was thinking that if everything works the way that we hope and I end up having a girl, then we could give her my last name and she would live with me. Of course you can do weekends and vacations and all of that whenever you like, but in essence she would end up being my daughter for whom I make the decisions." Leila said seriously.
Rafe slowly nodded his understanding as he processed what she was saying.
"Okay. Now this is only if you agree, but I was thinking that if it's a boy, then we could do the same thing, only with you. He could have your last name and you could raise him according to your culture and values and beliefs." Leila continued.
"When I asked Dodger, he made a point of asking if he could be considered to be one of the child's parents. While I doubt that he'll want to give the child his last name, what with it being mostly unpronounceable, whether it's a boy or a girl he's going to want to play a significant role in the child's life."
"I think that Dodger will be a wonderful parent. I'll make a point of letting him know that no matter how things end up going, he'll be as much a parent as any of us." Leila said passionately.
"I'm glad you think so." Rafe said sincerely, then added a little more gently, "Let's go make Dodger a daddy."
* * * * *
"You might want to hang back for a minute while I calm him down. He gets excited when we have visitors." Dodger said as the elevator started down.
"I'm still not sure that I'm clear about his situation." Ernie said honestly.
"When Devin came into contact with the transformative he didn't change in any of the typical ways. Instead, he turned feral. Due to him gaining spontaneously growing body hair and his fangs dropping when he's agitated, Rafe believes that what he is, might have been classified as a werewolf." Dodger explained as the doors opened.
The sound of soft whimpering cries caused Dodger to launch himself out of the elevator at top speed.
"Devin? What's wrong boy?" Dodger asked as he hurried across the room to the mattresses and pillows that Devin had been using as a bed.
Ernie and Blake shared a look with each other, then silently decided to remain in the elevator until Dodger had a chance to assess the situation.
"What's a matter boy? What's wrong?" Dodger gently asked as he knelt at the crying boy's side.
As soon as Devin noticed Dodger's presence, he scrambled around so that his head was in Dodger's lap.
"Guys, he's okay! You can come in!" Dodger called as he shifted himself to sit on one of the mattresses.
"What's wrong with him?" Blake asked with quiet concern.
"I think he's missing Lane and Duran." Dodger said as he gently petted the teenage werewolf to soothe him.
"Didn't you say something about Rafe finding a cure for him?" Ernie asked cautiously.
"So far he's come up with one possible treatment. He has no way of knowing how much it will help Devin, or if it will help him at all. But he doesn't have anything else to try."
"If that's the case, then there's no good reason to hesitate, is there?" Blake asked cautiously.
"Rafe theorizes that the reason this happened to Devin at all is because of some nutritional or enzymatic deficiency that Devin naturally has. Since Devin's been living with us, Rafe's been working to help Devin recover from his malnutrition. That's what's been keeping him from trying the treatment up to now."
"Does that mean that Rafe's going to be ready to try the treatment soon?" Ernie asked cautiously.
"We'd like for Lane and Duran to be here to support Devin through it. If everything goes to plan, we'll probably do it this weekend." Dodger said thoughtfully.
"Will Rafe's other situation... the thing with Leila, will that have any effect on your timetable?"
"I can't imagine why it would, but I suppose that it's possible." Dodger said honestly.
"What's going to happen to Devin if the treatment doesn't work?" Blake asked hesitantly.
"I suppose we'll keep him here with us." Dodger said uncertainly.
"Is that really fair to him?" Ernie asked hesitantly.
"What else would you propose?"
"Listen, I'm not telling you what you should do with him, but you need to consider whether or not you honestly believe if it's more merciful to keep him as he is, or relieve him of the burden of living without living." Ernie answered reluctantly.
"Are you saying that you think we should put him down?" Dodger asked as he slowly rubbed the wild boy's shoulder.
"No. Not exactly. I'm just saying that you should take his quality of life into account in your decision making." Ernie said regretfully.
"Who do you think has the right to make a decision like that for someone else?"
"You do. You and Rafe and anyone else who might be willing to devote the next few centuries of your lives to caring for someone who can't care for himself on any level. But I don't see it as a right. I see it as an unfortunate responsibility that someone is going to have to take on. I guess that you won't have to decide it today, but you'll have to face up to it sooner or later." Ernie said frankly.
"Do you think being like this is hurting him?" Dodger asked quietly as he gently stroked Devin's hair.
The boy's eyes were drifting closed with the combination of gentle touches and gentle words.
"I honestly don't know." Ernie answered, then explained, "I don't see any evidence of consciousness in him. He doesn't appear to have a 'soul'."
"Neither do you, at least, not at the moment." Blake told his brother frankly.
Ernie smiled at his twin, obviously not taking the harsh words to heart.
After a long moment of stroking the boy's unkempt hair, Dodger finally said, "I don't care what condition he's in after the treatment, I'll make sure that he has a life worth living."
"Good." Ernie said sincerely.
Dodger looked at him strangely for his apparent change of heart.
"I didn't want you to do anything to hurt Devin, I just wanted for you to be sure, deep down, about what you were doing before you committed to it." Ernie explained.
"Yeah. Thanks for getting me to think it through. I guess that I'm just too close to the situation to be able to see all sides of it like that." Dodger said honestly.
"That's what you've got us around for." Blake said with a smile.
"Besides, I don't get to be the 'evil twin' very often. Manna keeps me on my best behavior." Ernie said with a smile that was the mirror opposite of his brother's.
"Where is Manna? I'm surprised you didn't bring her with you." Dodger asked curiously.
"She's in... Montreal?" Ernie answered uncertainly, then looked to his brother for confirmation.
"Anchorage, I think. She's been working with some people to set up an event at a resort in the arctic circle for the 'thirty days of night'." Blake said slowly.
"The last time we talked to her, it sounded like she wasn't going to be able to pull it all together, but she's still got a few more things to try."
"If there's any way to make it happen, I'm sure that she'll find it." Dodger said warmly.
"She's nothing if not tenacious." Blake chuckled.
Ernie nodded his wholehearted agreement.
"I appreciate that you're here helping to keep my mind off what's going on upstairs." Dodger said quietly.
"How's it working?" Ernie cautiously asked.
"There's no way that I'm going to be able to forget what Rafe's doing, but I appreciate the distraction. It really is helping." Dodger said gratefully.
"Would one of you mind getting two juice bags out of the mini-fridge? Devin has me pinned down." Dodger asked, obviously not at all bothered by the fact.
"Yeah. I'll get it." Blake immediately answered.
"Thanks." Dodger called after him as he went.
"If everything goes well with Devin's treatment, what condition do you expect him to be in?" Ernie asked seriously.
"According to Rafe, he'll never go back to being who he was. That person is gone forever. I suppose the best that we could hope for would be that Devin ends up being a mostly normal teenage boy with a somewhat foggy past." Dodger said thoughtfully.
"It's locked." Blake called from across the room.
"The combination is thirty-three twelve." Dodger called back.
"If he's never going to be Devin again, you might consider changing his name before doing the treatment."
"Why is that?" Dodger asked curiously.
At the sound of the mini-fridge opening, Devin scrambled to get up, then ran across the expansive room to the small lounge area where the mini-fridge was located.
"If you give him a bag of juice he won't jump on you." Dodger quickly called.
"You could've warned me!" Blake said as he rushed to get a juice bag before the young werewolf tackled him.
Dodger and Ernie chuckled as they watched Blake scrambling as Devin approached.
"Good boy! That's right Devin. Be nice! Good boy!" Dodger called across the room as Devin accepted the juice bag from Blake without molesting him.
After a moment to be sure that Blake wasn't going to get jumped, Ernie quietly asked, "Isn't Devin listed as a missing person?"
"Missing and presumed dead, I think." Dodger cautiously answered.
"Calling him by his real name is just another way that his past might come back to haunt you." Ernie said gravely.
"I suppose that's true." Dodger reluctantly agreed.
"Do you know if his family is still looking for him?"
"I don't know. Possibly."
"And as far as they know, Columbus was the last place that he was spotted, right?"
"Then you might want to seriously consider altering his appearance, just in case his family wants to blanket the area with his picture."
"I guess that I've been putting off doing anything like that because I was still hoping that things would somehow work out that Devin could be restored to his former self."
"And maybe he still could. The treatment is a big unknown. All I'm saying is that you need to consider what you're going to do if Devin isn't restored. Whatever level of functioning he ends up with, I'm pretty sure that it's going to be easier for him having the new name from the beginning, rather than having to relearn it at some point after the fact."
"How are you doing over there Blake?" Dodger called across the room.
"We're doing fine. He's my buddy. Aren't you? You're a good boy." Blake said warmly as he watched the young werewolf slurp his juice.
"He can have another one if he still seems hungry. It'll be a while before he gets his dinner." Dodger said seriously.
"I'm not sure..." Blake began to say when Devin suddenly sprang up and started running toward the back of the room.
Recognizing Blake's look of question, Dodger told him, "That's where we keep Devin's sandbox... you know, his toilet."
"Oh. Well, I guess he must be finished with his juice then." Blake said uncertainly as he started back across the room to where Ernie and Dodger were talking.
"I was just telling Dodger that it might be a good idea to retire Devin's old name and work on making a new identity for him." Ernie said frankly.
"Between the ever present danger of Darksiders and the possibility of Devin accidentally wandering away, having a new brightsider identity set up for him could end up being the difference between losing him and getting him back if something unfortunate were to happen." Blake said soberly.
"I hadn't thought of it that way, but that's a really good point. I guess that when Rafe gives Devin the treatment I'll call Morgan and get things started." Dodger said thoughtfully.
Blake and Ernie shared a significant look, then Ernie quietly said, "I know it's not really my place to say so, but even with Morgan's help, doing anything 'official' takes forever. Waiting until the last minute is never a good idea."
"I thought you were going to say that it's a good way for Dodger to distract himself from what's going on upstairs." Blake said frankly.
"Yeah, there's that too." Ernie agreed.
"I suppose that since there's no possible way that Devin will be returning to his family or using his former identity, that talking to Morgan about creating a new identity wouldn't hurt anything." Dodger said slowly.
"Right now?" Ernie asked cautiously.
"Why do you care so much?" Dodger asked curiously.
"I don't, really. I just think that this is something that you can do to improve Devin's situation as well as help distract you." Ernie said honestly.
"Even so, I think you're right. This probably is something that really needs to be done. Actually, I probably should have thought of it earlier." Dodger finished thoughtfully.
"It's no good focusing on that. Right now, just think about what's going to be best for Devin in the long term." Ernie said frankly.
"I wish Lane and Duran were here. They're supposed to be responsible for Devin, they should be the ones here making life decisions for him and taking action on his behalf." Dodger said sourly.
"Why aren't they? I mean, where are they?" Blake asked curiously.
"They got called out of town for a few days on some important business. I can't really talk about it." Dodger finished apologetically.
"Well, it seems to me that it might be for the best that they are. This gives you the chance to step up and be the 'older and wiser' person in their lives who can take responsibility and do what needs to be done. If you play your cards right, they'll never have to know that you had a moment of indecision about what was the right thing to do for Devin. As far as they'll ever know, you just naturally took the next step that needed to be taken." Ernie quietly explained.
Dodger seemed to be thinking about that, then smiled as Devin brushed up against him, strategically positioning his head under Dodger's hand.
"Okay. Yeah. I like the sound of that." Dodger finally admitted as he began gently petting Devin's mop of hair.
"We can stay down here with Devin if you need to make a call." Ernie quietly offered.
"Yeah. I guess I should. If you look over by the mattresses you should be able to find some knotted rope. He loves to play 'tug'." Dodger finished with a smile.
"Sounds like fun. We'll keep him entertained while you take care of business."
* * * * *
"Claudia? It's Dodger. I was just wondering if Morgan might have a few minutes to talk to me about something." Dodger asked into the phone.
"Oh? Yeah. I guess so. Do you already know about what's going on with Devin?"
"Yeah. He's a werewolf. From what Rafe said, there are other types of werewolves in the world that have nothing to do with us, but it's just the most descriptive and universally understood term to use to describe his condition."
"He's fine." Dodger said shortly, then continued, "The reason I called is to find out what we'll have to do to get Devin's identity changed."
"Well, 'officially' Devin is listed as a missing person. Although I think he's presumed dead, he still exists on the books and there might be a way that they can trace the person we have with us back to his former identity."
"No. We don't have a new history in mind for him. As soon as we thought about it I called you so that we could get the process started. I really don't know what needs to be done and I can imagine that some of it could take time."
"Um, okay, let me think. I know they told it to me..." Dodger said slowly.
After a moment to consider, he finally continued, "Devin Matthew Barnes, I'm pretty sure that's it."
"Fifteen. Although I'd say that he could probably pass for older if he needed to."
"Oh? I didn't realize that you could look someone up that quickly... that's kind of scary." Dodger said honestly, then quickly added, "Before you try to change anything, remember that the FBI was involved in this."
"Good. I didn't want to take a chance of you or Morgan getting in trouble." Dodger responded with relief.
"Honestly, whatever's easiest for you. I don't see any reason that he should have to be legally related to Rafe or me... I mean, maybe it's possible that after he's had his treatment he might have some concept of family and want to feel like he's a part of ours, but even so, I think it's as likely as not that he'll end up forming a familial relationship with Lane and Duran instead of me and Rafe."
"Yeah... seventeen's fine."
"No. No preference."
"No. There's no reason that we would have to wait. You can put it into effect as soon as possible."
"Considering the way that he is, we need to make sure that it's noted that he's developmentally disabled or emotionally disturbed or something. That way, no matter how the treatment works on him, there's a way to explain his current state and also why he hasn't attended public school." Dodger said thoughtfully.
"Good. That'll work just fine. I just didn't want for him to have a reference to a grade school history that couldn't be substantiated."
"Okay, Claudia, it's really scary how fast and easy that was. If I didn't know better, I'd think that there might be scores of people in Columbus who aren't who and what they pretend to be." Dodger said with a smile.
"Right. Thanks for all the help. If you need anything else from me, you know where to find me. There's a possibility that we'll be in town after Devin's treatment, depending on his temperament."
"Right I need to get out of the habit of calling him that."
* * * * *
"How did it go?" Ernie asked as Dodger stepped off the elevator.
"It was easier than I would have imagined. As far as I know, everything is in the process of being taken care of."
"So Devin's new identity is all set up?" Blake asked with surprise.
"That's right. And I suppose that we should all get into the habit of calling him by his new name."
"What's that?" Ernie asked as he smiled at the teenage werewolf rolled onto his back, begging for belly rubs.
"From here on out we're going to call him Beau, which is short for Beauregard Jonathan Geisel."
To Be Continued...
Well, it really is nice to see progress with our shadeside friends.
It's like we are getting in touch with old friends. And some of them are pretty darned old, too. I hope to see more soon. Thanks, MM for another fine chapter.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher