"Aren't the boys going to eat with us?" Dr. Killian asked as he entered the kitchen.
"I thought it would be best to take them their meals downstairs, so that they can stay and watch over Devin." Dodger said simply as he gave his husband a quick hug.
"Be sure that you send enough for Devin to have some too. Juice doesn't take the place of food and the last thing Devin needs is to starve."
"Don't worry. There's plenty."
"What's going to happen to Devin?" Agent Roberts asked as he took his seat.
"It's too early to say. But whatever happens, we'll make sure that he has the best possible quality of life." Dr. Killian promised.
"What's going to happen to me?" Agent Roberts asked more quietly.
"Our priority is the protection of the Shadeside community. If we can achieve that goal without causing you harm, of course we'll do that." Dr. Killian answered simply.
"Is that a threat?"
"No. That's a fact." Dr. Killian stated impassively, then continued, "If you'll be willing to work with us, I'm sure that we'll be able to come to some sort of an understanding."
"He's already told me that he'll do what he can to protect Shadesiders that he encounters in the course of his duties." Dodger quickly interjected.
"Before I agree to anything, I'd like a little better idea of what my 'help' will entail, in practical terms."
"If you're interviewing a witness who happens to be a Shadesider, arrange to speak to them at a time and place where there's less of a chance of them being endangered or found out." Dr. Killian suggested.
"So you're not asking me to look the other way or to hide what might end up being relevant evidence because a suspect is a Shadesider?"
"No. But I'm asking that you look at the situation as a thinking, feeling person with inside knowledge, rather than as a 'by-the-book' agent. Make the decision that will allow you to look at yourself in the mirror and see a decent person in the morning."
"What happens if I have a Shadesider in custody and can't do anything to help them?"
"In a case such as that, you can call me." Dr. Killian said simply, then explained, "In extreme emergencies, there are people that I can call upon for help, but I can't compromise them by giving you their names."
Agent Roberts slowly nodded that he understood.
"By the same token, I won't give them your name, either. There might come a situation where I might have cause to pass some sensitive information to you, but I wouldn't put anyone in contact with you without discussing it with you first."
"You're talking like I've already agreed to something." Agent Roberts said in a warning tone, then said more firmly, "I haven't."
"I understand that. We're just telling you how things could be. You haven't committed to anything." Dr. Killian explained.
"Agent Roberts, you have inside knowledge that the people who make and enforce the laws don't have access to. That gives you a unique opportunity to do something good and make a real difference." Dodger urged him to understand.
After a moment to process that, Agent Roberts quietly said, "I'm still not agreeing to anything, but maybe if you told me some more specifics about what happened to Devin, it might make it more clear to me how my help might be needed."
"We don't know everything, but I'll tell you what we've been able to come up with." Rafe said carefully.
Agent Roberts took another bite of his food as he waited.
"A Darksider named LeGrue had an unhealthy fascination with Devin. I have no idea if LeGrue was his real name or a pseudonym that he adopted after he was turned. I suppose it doesn't matter now.
"From what I've been told, LeGrue was 'turned' in Connecticut, so it seems likely that he knew Devin, or knew of him, in his former life there. Regardless, after he was turned, he came to Columbus with the Darksider who 'made' him. By the spotty accounts that I've been told, LeGrue couldn't get past his obsession with Devin and one night he disappeared.
"About a month later, he arrived in Columbus with Devin. It wasn't clear if Devin had been turned at that point because LeGrue was very possessive of him and wouldn't let others get near him.
"When the Darksider community found out that he had kidnapped Devin, they gave him an ultimatum. Give up the boy or leave their community.
"That's when they sent a message through the grapevine to us, letting us know to be on the lookout for LeGrue. They called for a blood hunt. Although the Darksiders stand in direct opposition to just about everything we stand for, we have a common desire not to be found out. LeGrue's actions had the potential to draw attention to us and endanger both our communities.
"This morning the Darksiders sent word that they had eliminated LeGrue, but they weren't able to locate his 'childe' due to the impending daylight. They know that we have Brightsiders who help us during the day, so they warned us to be on the lookout for Devin and told us that he was probably hiding in the park."
"I assume that if they had gotten to Devin first, they would have killed him." Agent Roberts said slowly.
"Yes. Eventually. But I'm sure they would have engaged in some sort of depraved 'entertainment' with him first. It's their way."
"What I don't get is why would LeGrue kidnap Devin in the first place? Is it just so that he could bite him and turn him to be a companion?"
"No. Darksiders aren't typically worried too much about companionship. It's more likely that LeGrue lusted after Devin in his Brightsider life and when he lost his humanity, he became obsessed with Devin for purely sexual reasons."
"That's it? He went through all that just for a sexual thrill? What a depraved monster!"
"Most Darksiders are. But as long as they restrict their activities and stay within certain boundaries, we overlook their transgressions as much as we can. It's a tenuous balance that we've achieved, but it mostly works."
"So to keep that peace, the Darksiders let you know what was going on?"
"That's the way it was presented to me, but they do what they do for their own reasons. I won't make the mistake of ever fully trusting them."
"So now that you have Devin, the Darksiders are pretty much out of the picture?"
"Probably. There's always a chance that they might demand to have Devin returned to them, claiming that he's theirs, since he was 'made' by one of them. But they know as well as we do that we won't give him back. If they decide to take that path, it would just be to stir things up... probably for a lack of anything more interesting to do."
"So he's staying with you. What happens to him next?"
"We'll do what we can to get him stronger and start him on his vitamin therapy. Once he's ready, we'll introduce the advanced transformative and... hope for the best. No one's ever attempted anything like what I'm planning. There is literally no way of knowing what will happen to him."
"Would it be better to leave him the way he is?"
"That is not an option." Dr. Killian said firmly, then explained, "Left as he is, Devin would have no meaningful life to speak of. If we can bring him back to any level of human consciousness, even if it's that of a young child, it would be better than leaving him as an animal."
"I'm glad that you have a clear idea of what's the right thing to do for him because I don't think I could keep from second guessing myself in a similar situation."
"I've had centuries to contemplate what it's like to exist without any concept of decency or good. That's where Devin is now. He's a 'thing'. He's no longer a person by any meaningful definition of the word. I'm going to do everything in my power to restore his ability to function as a person. I don't know if it will be possible to restore who he was, but if not, then we'll start anew with him and teach him how to love and be loved and participate in the world as a person who can make a difference."
"I hope that you're able to do that. I think that after what he's been through, he deserves that much."
"I don't know about that. I'm wary of wishing that anyone get what they 'deserve', but essentially what I want to give Devin is a chance at life."
"What do you think I can do to help you with that?"
"Well, when you go back to your job they're going to be expecting a report about what you found out about Devin. It's my hope that you will find a way to put them off his trail... maybe permanently."
"That's going to be difficult without a body."
"I know. The next best thing I can think of is if you report that you didn't find anything. Maybe you could report that you found his 'nest' but he either wasn't there or he escaped."
"As detail oriented as the bureau is, it might be difficult to fabricate a report. But when you think about it, even a half-assed lie has got to work a lot better than the truth in this case. There's no way that anyone would believe it."
"It doesn't hurt that there has been a recent resurgence in the popularity of vampires... especially the sparkly ones."
Dodger groaned and visibly cringed at the mention of them.
Dr. Killian laughed at his reaction and Agent Roberts couldn't help but smile a little.
"Thanks to those types of movies, the suggestion of actual vampires is looked upon as nothing but fantasy."
"The thing is, if I tell them that I found Devin's 'nest', I don't see how it's going to help us."
"It won't help us. It will help you." Dr. Killian said seriously, then explained, "If you can show them the location where Devin was taken with evidence that he had been there, then it will verify that you have been doing something productive with your time. Although you weren't able to rescue Devin from his captor, you at least picked up his trail and tracked him to his hiding place."
"And the assumption will be made that since they knew that I had discovered them, that they moved to another place... which we will mysteriously not be able to find."
"While it's not the ideal situation, realistically, I think it's the best we can come up with under the circumstances."
"I would feel a whole lot better about it if we could provide some kind of resolution for his poor family. They must be worried sick about him." Agent Roberts said thoughtfully.
"Well, short of finding a child to kill in his place, then mangling the corpse beyond all possible recognition or identification, I can't think of any way we can definitively close the case." Dr. Killian said frankly.
"You wouldn't do that, would you?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"I've had occasion to do many things to protect myself or my community that you would look upon as being 'evil'. Sometimes you get backed into a corner and there's no easy way out. Choices have to be made, whether you like them or not. But to answer your question, I have not, nor would I, sacrifice one child for the benefit of another."
"That's good to know. But I still feel that there should be something more that we can do for Devin's family. If we leave things like they are, they might continue on for years or decades, always expecting Devin to appear on their doorstep at any moment."
"Maybe you should talk to Lane and Duran about this. They have more recent experience with this sort of thing and might be able to come up with some ideas that we haven't." Dodger interjected.
"I don't understand. How do you mean?"
"Duran and Lane both turned fairly recently. They've both chosen to withdraw from their families slowly, over a period of time..."
"Because we don't age like Brightsiders do. The longer we have contact with them, the more apparent it becomes that we're not aging. For Shadesiders who have families that they're close to, there is sometimes the option to take the opportunity to build up a nice collection of memories before they finally have to break away completely."
"What does that have to do with Devin?"
"I don't know. Maybe nothing. But Lane and Duran have turned more recently and have had contact with their families. I think that gives them a completely different perspective."
"I've learned to trust in Dodger's instincts about such things. If he thinks that you should talk to the boys, I suggest you do it."
Agent Roberts looked down at his plate and realized that he had already finished his meal.
The food had been good, but that was not the thing at the forefront of his mind at that moment.
"Should I go downstairs and talk to them now?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously, in case there were some other business that they needed to discuss first.
"Hold on for a minute and I'll make up plates for them. You can take them down with you." Dodger said simply.
"I still have a few more tests that I need to run." Dr. Killian explained, then looked to Agent Roberts and said, "I won't be doing anything particularly sensitive at this stage of things, so please feel free to stop in if you have any questions for me or if you come to any decisions."
"I will. Thank you." Agent Roberts said sincerely, then watched as Dr. Killian left.
"It's a shame that it took Devin's tragedy to bring you out here. It kind of automatically puts us on opposite sides of things. I would really rather that it wasn't that way." Dodger said as he placed four empty plates on the table before him.
"It's looking more and more like I'm going to be on your side, at least in some things."
"We'll do our best to make you not regret that. I promise that we do as much as we can to make sure that things turn out for the best for as many of the people involved as possible."
"I believe that you do. But sometimes there just isn't a right answer. You end up having to choose from the least wrong ones."
"Yes. I suppose that is what we're doing, isn't it?"
"I just wish that there were more that we could do for Devin. It kills me that he's had his life taken away from him before he ever really had a chance to live it."
"I would like to give you some assurance about that, but all I have to offer is a glimmer of hope. No one knows more about the transformative than Rafe. If there's a way to restore Devin, he'll find it."
"And if there isn't?"
"Then there isn't. At a certain point we sometimes have to accept that certain things aren't possible. If it comes to that, we'll do what we have to do to give Devin the best quality of life that we can."
"Yeah. Tell me about it." Dodger wearily chuckled as he started loading the filled plates onto a serving cart.
Agent Roberts watched and was about to offer to help when he realized that he'd just be in the way.
"Would you mind taking this down to the boys? I need to clear up after dinner."
"Will you come down when you're finished?"
* * * * *
When Agent Roberts stepped off the elevator, he noticed the aura of peace that radiated throughout the room.
"Thanks. I was starting to get really hungry." Lane said with a smile.
"He's always hungry." Duran said with a loving grin at his husband.
"How are things going down here?" Agent Roberts asked as he brought the serving cart nearer.
"We've been able to get Devin calmed down and cleaned up. I think that's pretty good, considering how he was when he first got here." Duran answered for the group.
Agent Roberts looked at Devin and could once again see him as a lost boy instead of as an insane animal.
"Do you think Devin will be able to eat something?" Lane asked curiously as he took one of the plates of food, then sat cross legged on the floor.
"Well, Dodger must think so, because he made a plate for him." Duran answered with a smile as he also took a plate.
"How are things going upstairs? What did we miss?" Lane asked curiously between bites of food.
"Just some talk... Actually, Dodger suggested that I ask you guys about something."
"Well, nothing's for sure yet. I haven't agreed to anything. But it's been suggested that when I write my report that I tell them that I found Devin's hideout in the park, but say that he was long gone by the time I got there. The thing is, that leaves the door open for him to return. That gives his family hope that he'll be found... Dr. Killian says that that can never happen."
"If I'm understanding it right, even in the best best case scenario, Devin being able to have contact with his family is still a remote possibility." Duran said thoughtfully.
"Yeah. So Dodger suggested that maybe you two could help me come up with something that might be able to give them some closure. It kills me to think of them having Thanksgiving and looking at his empty place at the table or Christmas with presents for him waiting under the tree." Agent Roberts tried to explain.
"Why does this bother you so much?" Duran asked curiously.
"I guess because of my younger sister Shelly. All of this made me think about how it would affect her if something like this happened to me. I wouldn't want for her to have to go through the pain of grieving over losing me, but I also wouldn't want her to be saddled with the unrealistic hope that I might return someday." Agent Roberts said carefully.
"So you're trying to come up with something that you can put into your report that will give them a reason to accept Devin's loss without providing a body as evidence." Lane asked cautiously.
"Yes. That would be nice."
"If they want to believe that Devin's alive, they will. Nothing you can do will change that. All that stuff you imagined about Thanksgiving and Christmas, it could all happen. In fact, it needs to happen. With any luck, they will eventually accept it and move on with their lives." Duran said seriously.
"Yeah. And if Rafe does pull off some kind of miracle and is able to completely restore Devin to like he was before, then you haven't closed the door on his old life." Lane added.
Kevin nodded slowly, then said, "Keep your story simple and straight to the point. If you need for me to back you up on anything, just let me know so I won't contradict you."
"I entered the park, did some investigating, stumbled onto a trail which led me to the place where Devin had been living. He was already gone when I got there and I didn't see or hear anything." Agent Roberts said cautiously.
"If you can get back to the scene where we fought Devin, there might be some evidence that he had been there." Duran said thoughtfully.
"There might also be evidence that you had been there." Agent Roberts reminded him.
"You said something about a 'nest' didn't you?"
"Yes. It just stands to reason that Devin and his captor would have a base of operations of some sort." Agent Roberts said reasonably.
"The clearing where we caught Devin was nothing like that. It's possible that there's another place where he actually did live for a while." Kevin said thoughtfully, then quickly added, "I can call Bruce and see if he's come across anything like that."
"He works for Rafe. As soon as the sun went down, he took a team to investigate the park, to make sure that LeGrue or Devin haven't turned anyone else that we hadn't heard about yet or left any evidence about who and what they are." Kevin explained as he took out his cell phone and dialed.
Before Agent Roberts could respond, Kevin was walking away with a cellphone pressed firmly to his ear.
"It sounds like you may be going back to the park tonight. If you do that, you need to know that the park is considered neutral territory for Darksiders and Shadesiders." Duran said seriously.
"Yeah. In the middle of downtown it's a place where those with animal instincts can run free and prowl for a while." Lane added.
"Do you do that?" Agent Roberts asked curiously, having difficulty imagining such a thing.
"Not at the park. Here at Rafe's house we can just step into the back yard and we have all the wilderness we need." Lane responded with a smile.
"Besides, I think we look at the park as being part of our 'job'. Since we can go out in daylight, we walk the park once every day or so to see if there's anyone there who accidentally got stranded in the daylight or anything like that."
"Does that happen a lot?"
"No. Not a lot, but it happens."
"We actually helped a stranded Darksider once. That was awkward." Lane said with a smile at the memory.
"But what we were saying is that while the Shadesiders and Darksiders all recognize the park as being a neutral zone where we won't fight each other, you're a Brightsider... our prey. In other words, it's still possible that there might be weak-willed or weak-minded individuals who will attack you. If you go back to the park, make sure not to go off on your own." Duran said firmly.
"Is that why the homeless avoid the park?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"Well, duh!" Lane said with a roll of his eyes.
"There's no disputing a well-reasoned argument like that." Duran said with a loving grin at his husband."
"Agent Roberts, are you ready to go?" Kevin asked as he walked back to the group with purpose.
"To the park?"
"Bruce has already run across the 'nest'. I'll drive you over there so we can be sure that there's nothing to incriminate anyone else or evidence about the transformative. If you're planning to use the nest as evidence in your report, we need to get over there quickly."
"I'm just about ready. I just want to go upstairs and tell Dr. Killian something before we go."
"That's on our way. Come on."
* * * * *
"Did you tell Rafe that you're going to help us?" Kevin asked as they pulled away from Dr. Killian's house.
"I told him that I would evaluate each situation on a case by case basis and make my decisions accordingly. I didn't agree to be an 'operative' of the Shadeside, but I won't go out of my way to cause them harm."
"I'm sure he appreciates that. Every time they expose themselves to a Brightsider they put their entire community in danger."
"Given what little I know of them now, I don't know if I'd even recognize a Shadesider if I encountered one in my daily life."
"You probably wouldn't. They go out of their way to hide their difference from Brightsiders. But in that circumstance, it doesn't really matter if you know about them or not. It's usually only in an emergency situation that it's an issue."
"I suppose not."
"It's sometimes possible to spot Shadesiders if you know what to look for. The most obvious thing is their aversion to direct sunlight or harsh lighting. They are also susceptible to loud noises and strong odors. None of those things 'proves' that someone's a Shadesider, but once you suspect, you can be on the lookout for more signs."
"I wonder how many Shadesiders I've come across and never noticed that anything was off about them."
"Probably not very many. They're very careful about controlling their numbers. That's one reason that the Darksiders were so upset with LeGrue. He made a 'childe' without permission. One instance of that wouldn't necessarily cause a problem, but if he got away with it without any consequences, that would be like putting out a message to the whole Darkside community that the Brightsider buffet is open for them to enjoy."
"So the Darksiders do have some sort of rule of law?"
"Yes. It's fairly straightforward and savage; the minimum to protect their society."
"Speaking of savage, what's up with Lane and Dodger? One minute they're like best friends, the next they're being rude and insulting to each other."
"It took me a while to figure that one out too. But as far as I can tell, it has a lot to do with how Lane can accept affection... something to do with his mother. If Dodger was openly and unreservedly affectionate toward Lane, it wouldn't feel genuine to him. In Lane's mind, he has to earn it for it to be real."
"That's pretty messed up."
"Shadesiders are people too. They have hangups and baggage just like anyone else."
"But they also have longer to work things out."
"True. But just because someone has the time, doesn't mean they'll do anything with it."
"Duran doesn't seem to have any issues."
"I think he still has some growing up to do, but I haven't noticed him having any issues beyond that. Duran tends to be a lot more socially comfortable than Lane. Although I think that Lane is a lot more level headed in a crisis."
"You seem to know them pretty well."
"We see a lot of each other. We all work for Duran's father... well, we actually work for the entire Shadeside community, but Duncan signs our paychecks."
"Right, because direct sunlight doesn't bother them..."
"It still bothers them to some degree, but not nearly as badly as it does the others." Kevin corrected simply, then quickly said, "We're almost there. As soon as we arrive, Bruce is going to take us to the site. While we're doing that, his people are going to be working on clearing everyone out of the park, so there won't be any issues when you call in the police and the FBI."
"Do you think that they disturbed the site? Because if they did, that might raise some questions."
"You can ask Bruce about that when we get there. I'm sure that he probably did his best to preserve the site for you."
"So once we're at the scene, everyone's going to leave?"
"We'll have to see where it's located. Most likely we'll leave you at the nearest park entrance where it's relatively safe so that you can conduct your people to the scene on your own."
"That sounds like a good way to go."
"I'm glad, because we're here."
* * * * *
"Agent Roberts, this is Bruce, he works for Rafe."
"It's a pleasure to meet you." Agent Roberts said as he offered his hand to the tall, ruggedly attractive man.
Bruce looked at the hand, then at Kevin uncertainly.
"We haven't had time to fill him in on everything yet." Kevin said simply.
After another moment of hesitation, Bruce took hold of the offered hand and shook it firmly.
"Your hand is freezing!" Agent Roberts exclaimed with surprise.
"Shadesiders have lower body temperatures than Brightsiders." Kevin explained simply.
"We should get moving. I've already given the word for our people to pull out."
Agent Roberts and Kevin followed along as Bruce led their way.
* * * * *
The cross country trek was less stressful than the one earlier. They traveled at a reasonable pace and sometimes took a less direct route that was easier to traverse.
"Do you think that you'll be able to find your way back here on your own or would you like for me to stay with you to help?"
"I don't know how we'd explain your presence."
"I'm sure that we could come up with something reasonable, but I'd rather not have to talk to the authorities if you can handle it on your own."
"I think that I'll be able to manage."
"Good. It's just up ahead." Bruce announced.
Agent Roberts took a moment to quickly scan around with his flashlight before continuing on.
* * * * *
"The first thing you notice when you enter this clearing is the animal carcases, but I think the more interesting thing is the ripped up clothes over there. Devin probably ripped them off when he was in transition." Bruce said as he gestured around.
"I'm curious to know what explanation the Brightsiders will be able to come up with for that, since they won't consider anything to do with vampires or werewolves." Kevin said honestly.
"Has Rafe been able to confirm that Devin is a werewolf?" Bruce asked cautiously.
"Yeah. He seemed to be pretty sure about it." Kevin said gravely.
"Does he know if it's a new variant of the transformative?"
Kevin seemed to be at a loss for how to respond, so Agent Roberts said, "He thinks it's something to do with Devin's biology, some sort of nutritional deficiency. He never mentioned anything about the transformative in Devin being different from anyone else's except to mention how it had changed itself to adapt to Devin's unique biology."
"Good. The last thing we need is another form of the transformative going around." Bruce said with relief.
"Agent Roberts is concerned that when he brings his investigators in, that there might be some evidence that someone other than Devin and LeGrue had been here. Have you noticed anything like that?" Kevin asked cautiously.
"I already thought of that. We've done our best not to touch anything here. I think the scene is as pristine as you could want. I asked Cherish and Bellamy to do a careful sweep of the area where you captured Devin, there shouldn't be anything left there to incriminate anyone when they're done."
"Those are the people who helped Lane and Duran catch Devin." Kevin said to Agent Roberts in a low voice.
"So, is there anything else that you need to do before I call in the reinforcements?" Agent Roberts asked Bruce carefully.
"Not that I can think of. My people should be mostly gone by now and the last of them will be out of here before your reinforcements arrive."
"All that's left is to go back to the park entrance and set everything into motion." Kevin quietly added.
Agent Roberts scanned around the gruesome clearing one last time with his flashlight before indicating that he was ready to go.
* * * * *
"I don't know how you did it Rookie. But it looks like you found what you were looking for." Agent Simmons said as he looked around the 'nest'.
"What I was looking for was Devin, alive and well. So no, I didn't. But hopefully this is a step in the right direction."
"Are you sure you didn't see or hear anyone else while you were out here?"
"No. I just followed what looked to be a recent path through the woods. I didn't come across anyone else."
"Well, these are the clothes that the boy was wearing, or what's left of them." Agent Simmons said as he pointed, then continued, "And it looks like we've found the missing pets... good call on that one, by the way. There's no doubt that they were taken for food."
"Since you have more experience with things like this, maybe you can tell me, what are we supposed to be doing right now? With the investigators on the scene, I just feel like I'm in the way."
Agent Simmons laughed, then with an evil glint in his eye he responded, "Now we write reports."
* * * * *
"I'm Senior Agent Medville, director of this office."
"I'm sorry that I didn't get a chance to meet you before. I was called out on a mission as soon as I arrived. We just got back."
"Yeah. Well, you're not going to get a chance to meet me now, either. You're being transferred out."
"You'll be expected to report for duty in two days. Here are your new orders."
"I didn't request a transfer. They can't just relocate me without notice."
"Actually, if you'll read the fine print of your employment contract, you'll find that they can." Agent Medville said frankly, then added, "You'd better clear out your desk and start packing. Two days."
Agent Roberts watched in astonishment as Agent Medville walked out of the room.
"Do you think that this has anything to do with your report for the Devin Barnes case being classified and closed so suddenly?"
"I know that they don't have to explain their reasoning to me but I'd really like to know what that's all about. I mean, there wasn't anything of a sensitive nature in that report. And we didn't even find Devin or his kidnapper. Honestly, I still have no idea what it is that I'm supposed to know that I'm not allowed to talk about."
"Welcome to the bureau." Agent Simmons said with a weary chuckle, then asked, "Where are they transferring you to, anyway?"
Waxell Kentucky, Hmmm, something about that place seems familiar to me. I don't know why, but I somehow suspect I'll find out soon enough. I'm sure Detective Roberts will find out soon enough as well.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher