"Was he in there?" Evan asked as Lane walked out of the diner.
"No. I looked through the whole place." Lane said anxiously.
"Do you want to try the mall?" Brian asked thoughtfully.
"Sounds good, but would you mind if we stopped at my apartment first? If I'm going to be spending the night at your house, I'll need to get a few things and we're in the neighborhood." Lane asked hopefully.
"Sure, just tell me where we're going." Brian said without concern.
"It's only about fifteen blocks from here." Lane said as he stopped at the back of the BMW and waited for Brian to unlock the doors.
Brian nodded, then flashed a loving smile at Evan before getting into the car.
* * * * *
"People live here?" Evan asked cautiously as they walked into the drab and neglected building.
"Yeah. If you want to call it living." Lane said with a smirk, then added more seriously, "I'm on the fourth floor."
"No elevator?" Brian asked as he looked around.
A snort of a laugh was Lane's only response as he led them to the stairs.
* * * * *
"This will just take me a minute." Lane said as they crested the fourth floor landing.
"Lane?" A voice called from down the hallway.
After a long puzzled moment, Lane hesitantly asked, "Julian?"
Evan and Brian watched as the younger teenager ran to Lane and pulled him into a fierce hug.
"After I left this morning, I realized how I must have sounded. I'm really sorry for leaving like that." Julian said in a rush, then asked, "Are you mad at me?"
Relief filled Lane's expression as he held Julian tightly in his arms and whispered, "No. I'm not mad at all. I'm just glad you're here."
"So it wasn't just my imagination, that was more than a..." Julian trailed off self consciously.
"Yeah. For me, too." Lane whispered.
"I'm guessing that this is who we were looking for." Evan said slowly, reluctant to interrupt their private moment.
Julian looked up at the sound of Evan's voice and it was obvious that he hadn't noticed Evan or Brian in the hallway with them.
"Guys, this is Julian." Lane said with a joyful grin, "Julian, this is Evan and Brian."
"Lane, what..." Julian began to ask, then panic filled his eyes. "You need to stay away from them. They're not normal."
"What do you mean?" Lane asked cautiously.
Julian forced Lane out of his arms and behind him, using himself to shield Lane.
"There's some stuff you don't know, and I'll tell you all about it later. But you need to leave now, it isn't safe for you here." Julian said firmly.
"Julian, these guys are okay. I promise." Lane said gently.
"Please Lane, just trust me... they can hurt you." Julian said desperately.
"You mean change me?" Lane asked slowly.
The words caught Julian off guard, and he turned to look at Lane with surprise.
"I think it's a little bit too late to worry about that." Lane said apologetically, then hesitantly opened his mouth and bared his fangs.
"Shit!" Julian gasped, then he threw his arms around Lane and asked, "Did they hurt you? Are you alright?"
Evan and Brian exchanged a glance and with that one look, reached a silent agreement that they would let Lane do the explaining.
"I'm fine." Lane said soothingly as he hugged Julian tightly. "In fact, now that you're here, I'm great."
"But... how? What did they..." Julian asked in a whisper as he pulled back enough to look Lane in the eyes.
"Evan and Brian didn't do anything to me." Lane said seriously, then watched Julian's expression carefully to be sure that the message had been received.
"Then how..." Julian began to ask again, but seemed to run out of steam.
"I guess in the heat of the moment last night, you didn't notice that the condoms broke... all of them." Lane said quietly.
"They did?" Julian asked with wide eyes, then seemed to pale. "Oh my God! You mean I did this to you?"
Lane nodded, then pulled Julian close to his chest.
When the silence seemed to have stretched on too long, Brian hesitantly said, "Maybe we should go into your apartment. This is kind of a public place to be talking about these things."
"My apartment is right over there." Lane said as he indicated his apartment with a tilt of his head, then asked, "Would you mind?"
Brian looked at Lane curiously, then realized what Lane meant when he held out his keys.
"Do you hate me?" Julian asked in a whisper.
"No." Lane said immediately, then added more gently, "Not at all. Not even for a second."
Evan smiled at the exchange, then followed Brian into Lane's apartment.
* * * * *
As soon as all four of them were inside, Evan decided that certain things needed to be said.
"Julian, I don't know you or anything about your situation, but considering what happened to Lane, we think it might be a good idea to fill you in on a few of the do's and don'ts to keep it from happening again."
"Huh?" Julian said as he finally lifted his head from Lane's shoulder.
"Condoms don't work on shadesiders." Brian said frankly.
"They don't?" Julian asked with confusion.
"Not at all." Brian said firmly.
"Oh." Julian said weakly, then hesitantly looked up into Lane's eyes and whispered, "I'm sorry. I didn't know."
"It's okay." Lane said quietly, then leaned down to give Julian a gentle kiss.
"I'm guessing you must not have been changed for very long if you didn't know that already." Evan said curiously.
"I... um, no. About a week." Julian said uncomfortably.
Both Brian and Evan immediately noticed Julian's discomfort.
"Listen." Brian said seriously. "There are some things that both of you really need to know. Evan and I haven't been changed for very long either, but Evan's brother-in-law has been changed for about forty years and has invited both of you to come to his house tonight so he can explain things."
"We just came from there. It's a really nice place." Lane said gently.
"You want to go?" Julian asked cautiously. "I mean, are you sure?"
"I want for us to go." Lane said soothingly, "I'm completely in the dark about what's going on and I really think that these guys will help us be able to figure things out."
After a long, contemplative moment, Julian reluctantly nodded.
"They want us to spend the night, so I need to grab a few things." Lane said, then leaned down to kiss Julian briefly, before hurrying into the bedroom.
"Do you need for us to take you anywhere so you can get some things for the night?" Brian asked cautiously.
"No. I'm good." Julian said too quickly.
Evan studied Julian's expression carefully, trying to get some sense of why he was acting so antsy.
"Julian, we just want to help you if we can. We don't want anything from you." Evan said quietly.
"Except maybe a promise not to change anyone else like you did last night." Brian interjected.
"That was an accident." Julian said defensively, then whispered, "I tried to do the right thing... I didn't know."
"I believe you." Evan said sincerely. "But if you'll listen to what my brother-in-law has to say, then you will know, and there won't be another accident."
Julian reluctantly nodded.
"I think that's everything." Lane said as he walked out of his bedroom.
"Then I guess we're ready." Evan said with a smile.
* * * * *
"Are you okay?" Lane asked Julian who was snuggled against his side, half under his arm.
A nod into Lane's shoulder was Julian's only response.
"You know I'm not mad, right?" Lane asked carefully.
Julian nodded again, then whispered, "But you should be."
Lane bent down and kissed Julian on the top of the head before saying, "I'm not very good at doing what I should."
"I guess we've got that in common." Julian said quietly.
"Do you want to tell me about it?" Lane asked gently.
Julian shook his head, still buried in Lane's shoulder.
"Okay." Lane said as he absently brought up a hand to stroke Julian's mousy brown hair. "You don't have to tell me anything."
Julian seemed to melt into Lane's side as he relaxed.
Evan was doing his best to look like he wasn't watching and listening to everything that was happening in the back seat.
* * * * *
"Oh my God! What kind of place is this?" Julian asked as he got out of the car.
"This is my brother's house." Evan said proudly.
"I've never seen a place like this for real." Julian said in wonder.
"I don't think any of us have." Evan said with a grin. "Before coming here, I was living in a dumpy little two bedroom apartment with my mom."
"How dumpy?" Lane asked with a grin.
Evan chuckled and said, "You win, Lane. Your apartment building is a lot worse than ours was."
Lane nodded with accomplishment, as if he'd just won a prize.
"Come on. I know Dodger is going to be waiting for us." Evan said cheerfully.
"Should I put the car in the garage?" Brian asked hesitantly.
"I don't think so. There's no telling how long this is going to take, so you might as well leave it out in case we need it again." Evan said seriously.
* * * * *
"We're home!" Evan crowed as he walked in the front door.
"I'm in the kitchen." Dodger called in response.
"The living room is over here." Evan said as he gestured with his arm.
He needn't have made the effort. Both Lane and Julian were standing staring at the vast, open room.
"Nice place, huh?" Evan said with a grin.
"Your brother really lives here?" Julian asked in awe as he craned his neck to look at the chandelier.
"Yup. Knowing him, he's probably still on the phone in the study. But I'm sure you'll get to meet him sooner or later." Evan said happily.
"I wasn't expecting you back so early. How did things go?" Dodger asked as he walked out of the kitchen, drying his hands on a dishtowel.
"Great. Dodger, I'd like for you to meet..."
"Duran?" Dodger asked in a gasp.
A look of panic filled Julian's eyes at the sound of the name.
Before he could respond, run or even blink an eye, Dodger was across the room, hugging Julian for all he was worth.
"Oh god, Duran! Your father has been worried sick about you. How are you?" Dodger asked, on the verge of tears.
"You... know my dad?" Julian asked hesitantly.
Dodger let out an abrupt bark of laughter at the question, then said, "Know him? Duran, I'm your Uncle Dodger. I'm your dad's youngest brother."
Julian pulled back and stared at Dodger for a moment, then said, "But you're... like me."
Dodger snickered, then said, "Yeah. It looks that way."
"And Dad... you know... knows about it?" Julian asked hesitantly.
"Yep. For about forty years." Dodger said frankly.
Julian blinked with surprise.
"Don't you know what your dad does for a living?" Dodger asked with a grin.
"He's a delivery driver." Julian said cautiously.
Dodger snorted, then said, "Whenever just about any shadesider in Columbus needs something done during the day, your father is the person they call."
"What's his name?" Brian asked curiously.
"Duncan Tribodeaux." Julian responded automatically, seemingly in a daze.
"I've met him a couple times." Brian said with surprise. "He was nice."
"Um, yeah." Julian said distantly.
"Come on into the living room and sit down." Dodger said, just noticing Julian's stupefied condition.
* * * * *
"Where's mom?" Evan asked as he looked around.
"She drove into town to get your dad when he and Morgan are finished with their meeting." Dodger said simply.
Evan nodded that he had heard.
"Would you guys like some juice?" Dodger asked as everyone seated themselves.
"Yeah." Lane said immediately.
"Why don't you let me get that. I think your nephew needs you." Evan said frankly.
Dodger looked at Julian with concern, then slowly nodded.
"I'll help." Brian said as he stood from his chair.
"Duran. Do you want to talk about it?" Dodger asked as he sat down beside his nephew, the other side from Lane.
"Not really." Julian said reluctantly, "But I probably should."
"Duran." Dodger said firmly, finally drawing his full attention. "You don't have to tell me anything. Okay? I'm here if you want to talk about it, but only when you're ready."
"Okay." Julian said reluctantly.
"Do you want me to call you Duran or Julian?" Lane asked gently.
After a moment to consider, he finally said, "Duran, I think. I just didn't want to use my real name after I ran away from home."
The sound of movement drew everyone's attention as Rafe walked into the room.
"Are you finished with your conference call?" Dodger asked happily as he ran to Rafe and gave him a big kiss.
"Just taking a break. I thought I would get some juice and try to get the feeling back in my ear." Rafe said with a chuckle.
"You should use the speakerphone." Dodger said frankly.
"No. It's a lot better when I can take the handset away from my ear when Morgan and my dad start getting excited."
Dodger chuckled at the response, then said, "Rafe, I'd like for you to meet Lane, our captive from earlier, and my nephew Duran."
"It's a pleasure to meet both of you." Rafe said formally, then added in a more casual voice, "And as much as I would like to hear the story behind that introduction, I've got two very pigheaded men waiting for me on the phone."
"I'll fill you in later." Dodger said as he gave Rafe a firm hug.
"Hey Rafe, are you done with your call?" Evan asked as he walked into the living room, carrying a tray of drinks.
"Just taking a short break." Rafe said with a smile at Evan. "Do you mind if I take one of those?"
"Hey, it's your house. You can take whatever you want." Evan said with a chuckle.
"Smart ass." Rafe said as he picked up a drink from the tray, then ruffled Evan's hair before going back to the study.
"Who was that?" Duran asked curiously.
"My husband, Rafe." Dodger said happily.
"Husband." Duran said in confirmation.
"Yep. For just about forty years now." Dodger said with a smile.
"And my dad knows about that?" Duran asked cautiously.
"Sure. We told him all about that the day that he and Rafe met. We wanted to be sure that he was going to be okay with everything before we invited him to live with us." Dodger said thoughtfully.
"My dad lived with you and Rafe?" Duran asked with surprise.
"Yeah. Right here in this house. He lived with us for about a year, until he found a good job and could support himself." Dodger said frankly.
Duran shook his head in wonder at all the things he didn't know about his father.
"Is that why you ran away? Because you're gay?" Lane asked quietly.
Duran turned and looked at Lane with surprise.
"Or was it the vampire... I mean, shadesider thing?" Lane asked curiously.
"I, um... my dad never really said anything bad about gay people, but he never really said anything good either." Duran said quietly. "I remember overhearing one time that I had a gay uncle who lived here in Columbus."
Duran looked over at Dodger and said, "I guess that was you."
Dodger nodded slowly.
"I just figured that if I've got a gay uncle who lives here in town, and we never talk to him or visit him or invite him over, then my dad must not like gay people." Duran said with an apologetic look at Dodger.
"It was a difficult decision, but your father and I decided that I wouldn't have any contact with your family because it was just too dangerous." Dodger said regretfully.
"Dangerous? How?" Duran asked in confusion.
"How long do you think it would take for you or your mom to notice that I don't age?" Dodger asked frankly.
After a moment to consider, Duran hesitantly nodded that he understood.
"Your father comes out here once or twice a month, just to visit. For the last forty years, he's been my only blood family." Dodger said honestly.
"Yeah. He's told me about how things were back on the farm before he left, and that none of his brothers or sisters will talk to him now." Duran said quietly.
"They think we betrayed our father by leaving." Dodger said with a nod.
"Yeah. That's pretty much what he said." Duran said grimly.
"Would you mind if I call your dad to let him know that you're alright?" Dodger asked hopefully, then quietly added, "He's worrying himself sick."
"If you want to call him, it's okay. But I can't talk to him yet... I don't know what to say." Duran said in anguish.
"I'll just call to let him know that you're safe." Dodger said sincerely.
Duran nodded, then watched as Dodger hurried away.
"So, how old are you?" Lane asked curiously.
"Sixteen." Duran reluctantly admitted.
"I thought so." Lane said frankly.
"Does that bother you?" Duran asked hesitantly.
"I'm not sure yet." Lane said slowly, then broke into a grin and said, "Ask me again in a hundred years."
Duran puzzled over the response for a moment, then broke into a smile.
"So, how did you get changed?" Evan asked curiously.
"I don't know." Duran said shyly.
"Um, how can you not know?" Brian asked cautiously.
"I was hanging out with some guys and some of them were talking about a party at an abandoned house, so I decided to go along. All I can figure is that someone must have put something in my drink. I woke up the next afternoon laying naked in the basement... " Duran finished with a shrug.
"How did you handle it? I mean, what did you do?" Evan asked in wonder.
"Oh, I just basically freaked out." Duran said with a chuckle. "As soon as I found my clothes, I started looking for the people I remembered from the party to try and find out what had been done to me. I really didn't have a clue about what was really going on at that point. I just thought I was drugged up or something. Luckily, I finally ended up talking to this guy named Juss. If I hadn't found him, I might have starved to death before I figured it out."
"I know Juss." Brian said with surprise.
"He explained the basics to me. You know bright, shade, dark, yada, yada, yada. Then he said that if I needed a safe place to stay during the day, I could crash at his place. So I've sort of halfway been living with him for a week now." Duran said, and finished with a shrug.
"He should have told you about the condoms." Brian said frankly.
"Yeah." Duran said, then flashed a look of regret at Lane. "The subject never came up."
"I think I'm glad it happened." Lane said quietly.
"You are?" Duran asked with surprise.
"Yes." Lane said honestly. "Otherwise, I might never have gotten to know the real you."
Duran considered for a moment, then said, "I can accept that."
* * * * *
Dodger walked into the room looking distinctly uncomfortable.
"Is something wrong?" Evan asked immediately.
"Duncan is on his way over." Dodger said with an apologetic look at Duran.
"You said he knows about you being a shadesider and about you and Rafe, right?" Duran said slowly.
"Right." Dodger confirmed.
"Then this might go okay." Duran said slowly, not sounding at all certain of it.
"Do you want us to be there with you or would you rather we leave you alone with your father?" Dodger asked carefully.
Duran looked around the room, then quietly said, "I think I can use all the help that I can get."
"You'll have it." Dodger said firmly.
The others all nodded their agreement.
* * * * *
"Is anyone hungry?" Dodger asked into the tense, quiet room.
Lane looked up at Dodger with confusion, then timidly asked, "What do we eat?"
"Food." Dodger said simply, then realized the true nature of Lane's question. "When you changed, your senses became more acute, so certain foods will be less appealing than they were. But for the most part, we eat normal food."
"Oh. I thought we just drank blood." Lane said timidly.
Duran cuddled Lane close, then said, "I don't know any more about this than you do."
"If you don't mind me in your kitchen, I'll go and make us something to snack on." Brian said quickly.
"I'll help him." Evan said immediately, then looked to Dodger and said, "While we're doing that, you can fill Lane and Duran in on some of the basics."
Brian flashed him a quick, loving glance, then nodded.
Evan got up with a smile on his face as he hurried to follow.
To Be Continued...
Well, what will Duran's dad say when he finds out what happened to Duran? Somehow, I think that his reaction will be a lot better than what Duran might expect.