The usual disclaimers apply


by Kaz

"Hey, Amanda, what's up?" Jesse asked as he wandered into the doctors' lounge to find the pathologist staring bleakly into her coffee.

"My mother just called," she replied. "CJ's upset because I'm not going to be able to see his kindergarten Christmas play this evening."

"Why can't you go?"

"It's my night at the outreach clinic for women - the last one before the holidays. I can't just not turn up."

Jesse shot her a surprisingly stern expression. "You're not the only volunteer…"

"No, but you've been there. Some of those women I've been seeing for a long time. They trust me. You wouldn't believe some of their stories, Jesse. It's appalling how they get treated. They need someone there to talk to, as much as giving advice and providing medical care."

"I know you care about the clinic, Amanda, but you'll never get back these times with CJ. You really should go to his play."

"I know. I feel terrible. I don't want to let anyone down, least of all my own son, but he has to learn I have a responsibility to my work. My mom's going to watch, so it won't be as if he'll have no one there at all."

"Only the person most important to him in the whole world," Jesse commented, knowingly. "Believe me, Amanda, you'll regret it if you miss his performance. It's not about you seeing what he does, it's about him looking out from the stage and seeing you there to support him."

Amanda wondered how her friend had such insight, but she was torn between her obligations as a mother and those of a confidant of women often in desperate need of a sympathetic ear.

Jesse finished his drink and took his empty mug over to the sink, glancing back over his shoulder as he rinsed it out. "Look, I'm off duty in an hour, I could do your stint at the clinic, if you like."

"I don't know," Amanda pondered at length. "A lot of them rely on seeing a woman there - with what a lot of them have to put up with at home, or in their… work."

"I'm not that intimidating, am I?" he chirped.

"No," she laughed. There probably wasn't anyone less menacing than Jesse Travis. Apart from his diminutive stature, his whole persona was friendly and fun-loving. In most respects she couldn't have had a better replacement, but he still might encounter problems simply because of his gender. However, she really did feel she was neglecting her child at an important time. "Are you sure you wouldn't mind?"

"I wouldn't have suggested it otherwise. And I could take Susan. She's had a lot of experience in ObGyn and she's worked in outreach clinics before."

Amanda made a note of that information - maybe she could enlist the nurse for a few duties a month. "Okay, but don't take it to heart if some of the women still refuse to be seen by you. And don't get too involved."

"Me?" Jesse quipped, as if he had no idea what she meant.

But Amanda knew he had taken the remark on board, even if it probably wouldn't stop him plunging headlong into someone's troubles… and at the outreach clinic there were more than enough women with them. Jesse wasn't naïve, but sometimes he was just too darned kind-hearted for his own good. But if she thought too long about what he could potentially get mixed up in over there, she'd talk herself out of letting him go, so she changed the subject.

"CJ's one of the wise men. He's made his costume, complete with crown and has been learning his two lines for weeks," Amanda said, proudly.

"I bet he'll be great." Jesse looked at his watch. "What time does the clinic open?"

"Six o'clock."

"We'll go straight there, then. Enjoy the play… oh. And tell CJ from me to break a leg!"

"I don't think he'd understand what the significance of that is and I certainly wouldn't want to give him any ideas," Amanda retorted.

Jesse chuckled. "I'll see you tomorrow and you can tell me all about it. I've got to finish my rounds before I go, and I suppose I'd better warn Susan of the change of plans."

"You weren't doing anything special, I hope."

"Nah. Nothing that won't keep, anyway. I expect I'll get an ear bashing for an hour or so, but she can't stay mad at me for long," Jesse said, smiling impishly. "Amanda, it'll be fine, really. Just enjoy being a mom for a change."

Amanda got up and slipped her hands around the young doctor's waist. "And what made you so smart?" she asked, laughingly.

Quite unusually, there was no sharp, witty comeback. Instead, Jesse looked away, uncomfortably. When he did speak again, Amanda could hear the deep hurt in his voice. "Every Christmas play was the same - some emergency always came up at the last minute. I don't know, Amanda, maybe it was just unlucky coincidences. Perhaps all those times she really would have been there; if she could have found someone else to see to her patients. But it always seemed there was someone who needed her more than I did, and eventually I started thinking… maybe she needed them more than she needed me, too."

Amanda tightened her hold on her friend, drawing him into a hug. He had obviously tried to formulate an answer that wouldn't incriminate his mother and wouldn't make him seem disrespectful of his parent, but the sadness for his childhood had nonetheless won over his diplomacy. The pathologist began to realize how much she didn't know about Jesse. When he wasn't being professional, he was glib and apparently carefree. The small glimpse he had just given into his past had showed the heartbreak he kept hidden underneath his easy-going demeanor.

From the advice he had given her, he clearly didn't want CJ to grow up with the same kind of resentment. Amanda gave Jesse a kiss on the cheek, silently vowing never to forget the lesson he'd taught her that day. "Thank you," she said, warmly, and left to go home and get ready for her son's big performance.


Between them, Jesse and Susan had managed to appease most of the women that had visited the clinic that night and were perturbed to find a male doctor present, but there were a couple which hadn't let him examine them in spite of the nurse's assurances about her boyfriend, and three that had walked out without listening to a word of apology for Amanda's nonattendance. He didn't let it get him down though. It wasn't personal, exactly. He could only begin to imagine what some of these women went through at the hands of men, be it their husbands, boyfriends, fathers or pimps.

By nine-thirty, the young doctor had checked on the progress of several wanted pregnancies, arranged for the termination of a few unwanted ones, handed out contraception of various sorts, administered medication for a number of diseases of the street in general and of the hazards of certain old profession in particular, and had passed on the names of organizations and refuges for those in need of other advice and protection.

He knew in a lot of cases the situations these women found themselves in was not of their own volition, but by the time the clinic was about to shut he found himself wanting nothing more than a long hot shower to expel the images of their circumstances and to wash away the grime he felt he'd been exposed to. Here, in the rundown prefabricated unit, it all seemed much worse than seeing similar patients in the pristine hospital building they were used to, and he could see from the look on Susan's face she was feeling pretty much the same.

There was only one more patient to see before they could go and put the seedier side of LA to one side. He was certain there would still be enough time when they got home to salvage something of their original plans.

Smiling lovingly at the pretty nurse, he asked her to show in the final attendee. At least Susan didn't seem quite so cross with him now. Predictably, his alteration to their evening together hadn't gone down too well - and he'd had to be overly polite to her all through the clinic session to compensate.

"Um, Mrs Shepherd?" he called, consulting the last chart in what had been a large pile on the desk between him and the young woman who stepped cautiously into the room ahead of Susan, nervously closing the door behind her. "Can I call you Mary?"

She nodded, taking her seat in silence, maneuvering carefully and respectfully of her heavily swollen belly.

"I'm Doctor Travis and this is Nurse Hilliard. I'm sorry Doctor Bentley couldn't be here to see you tonight," he said, typically polite and affable.

Having finally been confronted with the absence of her usual medic, the woman started to rise. "I should go…"

The quick leaf through her file had convinced Jesse he couldn't let her leave without at least a check-up. "No, please don't. We're here to help. I won't do anything you're uncomfortable with, but I would like you to let me make sure everything is progressing as it should."

Clutching the arms of the chair with a white-knuckled grip, Mary shook her head, bordering on panic. "But my husband… he didn't want me to come here in the first place, I'm sorry."

"Is your husband here?"


"Then he won't know, will he? Look, it says in these notes you've had some problems with this pregnancy, and I'm sure you'll want to make sure the baby is alright," Jesse said, sensitively.

"Yes, I do want to, but if Joe finds out… especially with you here instead of Doctor Bentley…" She glanced around as if she expected the man she was so clearly afraid of to come storming in at any second.

Her agitation was infectious. Jesse found his own eyes flitting skittishly toward the door, and he had to shake himself free of the coat of edginess she'd inadvertently thrown round him. "Mary, you made the effort to come here. At least let us take your blood pressure and listen to the baby's heartbeat."

The young woman sagged back into her seat and conceded. "Alright, but please hurry. He'll be home soon and he'll expect me to be there."

Jesse smiled, comfortingly, and got up, indicating she should join him over at the examination table. "Okay, we'll do this as quickly as we can."

Jesse double-checked the readings he got from the blood pressure monitor. Concerned that the mother-to-be was heading for a case of pre-eclampsia, he wondered what her reaction was going to be when he recommended she be admitted to hospital for some rest and observation. Given she didn't want her husband to know she had even been to the clinic, he doubted the suggestion he was about to make was going to find much approval.

First though, he rested his stethoscope on the bump and tried to listen for a fetal heartbeat. If what he could hear inside was indeed the baby, his heart sank a little further, it was too slow to be considered a healthy pulse.

Suddenly, the door burst in, revealing a hulking brute, unshaven and with the filth of the dustcart he apparently attended adorning his clothes.

"There you are you little slut!" The man stormed over and grabbed Mary by the arm, beginning to haul her from the examining table.

Jesse squeezed between the man and his wife, trying to shield her from her husband. "Excuse me, but I'm in the middle of…"

"You stay out of what don't concern you." He roughly shoved Jesse aside. "She don't need no doctoring. Come on, Mary!"

"Joe… please… the baby…" Mary pleaded, tugging, trying to escape the harsh grip.

"You know I couldn't give a damn about it. Now if you don't come home with me this minute, you needn't bother coming home at all! And then what'll happen to that bastard you're carrying, huh?"

"I'm sorry, Mister Shepherd, but your wife needs to be kept calm. Her blood pressure is very high and she could endanger both her own life and that of the baby. I'm sure you wouldn't want that…" Jesse again tried valiantly to intervene, unable to stand by as an on-looker while the woman was so evilly mistreated.

"Hasn't she told you? The baby's not mine. It can die, for all I care!" Joe finally managed to drag his near hysterical wife from the room.

Jesse couldn't have been more stunned if he'd been slapped, and it was several moments before he gathered himself enough to go after the couple. Motioning to Susan to stay put, he caught up with them, only to see Joe deliver several blows to Mary's back. She cowered and stopped resisting, crying aloud.

"Mary! You don't have to go with him. There are places where you and your baby will be safe," Jesse called.

"There aint nowhere I wouldn't find her, and she knows what that would mean…" Joe responded menacingly.

"Is that a threat?"

"What if it is?" Joe took several meaningful steps back toward the young doctor, towing Mary with him. He shook her, viciously. "Who are you going to listen to, Mary? Me or this runt?"

Mary lifted her face to Jesse and sobbed, beseechingly, "Please, just leave us alone!"

As Joe once again yanked her in the direction of the door, she let out a sharp cry, holding her stomach.

Jesse was alarmed, and approached further. "Are you alright, Mary? Let me take a look at you."

"You keep your hands off her!" Joe warned, stabbing a finger at Jesse.

"I'm calling the police. You can't treat your wife like this!" Jesse declared, furiously.

Joe didn't seem to care. "We'll be long gone by the time they arrive."

But Jesse was determined to have the man face some kind of discipline for his appalling conduct. "Your address is on file here. I'll have you charged with assault."

Joe sneered, malevolently. "And I'll say you were feeling my wife up. My pregnant wife. Whose side d'ya think they're gonna be on?"

"They won't believe you," the young doctor argued. He looked over at Mary, quivering in the sadistic grip of Joe's meaty hand. As much as Jesse wanted to help her, he realized there wasn't going to be much support from her corner. She was clearly terrorized by her so-called husband.

"You gonna risk your career over it?"

Much as Jesse hated to admit it, Joe Shepherd had a point. Even with an allegation that was completely unfounded, if the papers got hold of that kind of story, mud would stick. Jesse had been the victim of bad press before. How many more times would he be able to claim foul play before further questions got asked?

"Yeah, thought not!" Joe snorted, and he hustled Mary out of the building.

Jesse released a slow breath - half relief and half frustration. He was mortified the man had gotten the better of him, particularly when he knew Mary needed medical attention. Sadly, he wondered if either she or her baby would survive the malicious treatment, on this or some other night - it obviously wasn't the first time she'd been subjected to something similar. There had to be a way to get her away from Joe's control. When he got chance he would speak to Steve and see what he could recommend.

Susan came up behind him. If she'd heard any of the altercation, she didn't let on. "I've cleared up, so we can go…"

The words registered, but Jesse didn't answer.

"Hey, are you okay?" she asked, concerned, brushing a stray strand of his fringe from his eyes.

"Hmm? Oh, yeah. I just wish I could have done something to get her away from him."

"You can't get involved, Jesse. This isn't your job. Some people just can't or won't be helped. She never actually asked you to do anything."

Susan was right. Mary had gone with Joe - although she was plainly unhappy about it, she hadn't actually said she didn't want to. In fact, she had told Jesse to stay out of it. He wrinkled his nose, sulkily. Amanda had told him not to get too close. But he still couldn't help but feel he should have taken on Joe Shepherd.

"You're right, I guess. Come on, let's go home."

When they'd locked up the clinic, they began walking to Jesse's car, but the sound of someone crying drew them to a nearby derelict shop's doorway.

"Mary? Are you alright?" Jesse asked, recognizing the woman despite the dark of the porch. She was leaning against the wall, clutching her stomach as if in pain.

"He said he'd kill me if I left him. But I… I can't go back… I can't," Mary wailed, breathlessly. "He's going to make me give up my baby!"

"Ssh, it's okay, Mary, we'll help you. Where is he now?" Jesse looked around, anticipating the monster of a man to come looming out of the shadows.

"I… I don't know. He thought he'd locked me in his truck while he went to get a drink, but I managed to get out. He knows I don't have anywhere to go, or any money. He'll find me soon enough and I'll go back. I always do."

"Well, you don't have to anymore. Come with us to the hospital and let's get you and the baby checked over properly, then we'll make some calls and see if we can get you some place to stay where you'll both be safe," Jesse said, kindly, taking the trembling woman's arm and starting to lead her to the car, while Susan came round to support her from the other side.

"Y-you'd do that?" Mary queried, sounding like she'd never been shown an ounce of compassion.

"Of course," Susan replied, sympathetically, as Jesse opened the nearest of the mustang's rear doors and they helped Mary inside and fitted the seatbelt carefully around her bump.

Jesse yawned, he had been looking forward to getting home, but now he was faced with the possibility of several extra hours at the hospital. It would hardly be worth driving back to the apartment after that, being due in early in the morning. However, he was glad that they would be getting Mary the help she so badly needed after all, both medically and to protect her from the savage man who had the gall to call himself her husband.

The mustang growled into life as he turned the key, and he pulled out into the light traffic in the direction of Community General.

None of them noticed the headlights snap on in the alley running alongside the building, nor the filthy, old truck to which they belonged join the lane a couple of cars behind them…


Susan put her hand on Jesse's knee as she noticed him yawn again and blink exaggeratedly, concentrating on the road ahead. She was well used to her boyfriend's habit of running on empty, especially when confronted with someone in trouble. He smiled tiredly back at her, but his eyes flicked between gazing through the windshield and reflection in the rear view mirror.

The annoyance of earlier when Jesse had told her of their change of plans had all but dissipated. They had only been going to spend a cozy night in, but she'd been looking forward to it for the last couple of days. Their rare time off together had recently become even more of luxury since Jesse and Steve decided to invest in BBQ Bob's. But spending the evening at the clinic had actually been quite exhilarating. It had been a while since she'd done any outreach work, and she thought it had done her soul some good - they'd not only helped Amanda, but also many people that would never willingly visit the hospital. It was unfortunate things had turned sour near the end. Still, now that Mary had actually asked them to assist her, there was more chance they'd be able to sort out the mess of a marriage she'd found herself in.

Susan regarded the young man beside her, and thought about their budding relationship. They had their disagreements, but Jesse was never mean. He was kind and loving and cared about everyone. If anything, that was the main source of antagonism between them - he was always willing to put himself out for others, and sometimes it clashed with what they might have already agreed - like tonight. But if that was the worst fault she could come up with, Susan considered herself pretty lucky to have found him.

An engine roared behind them and, sensing Jesse become tense, she glanced behind her. Two lights shone through the back window, close and rapidly getting closer.

"Jesse…" she said, worriedly.

"I know. Must be a drunk - he's been driving erratically for a while now - weaving in and out of the traffic." Jesse shook his head in incomprehension at the stupidity of some people.

Their concern caused Mary to look round as well. "Oh my god, it's Joe!" she screamed. "I told you he'd find me!"

"But how did he know where you were?" Susan asked.

"He must have been watching. You have to do something… He'll kill me!" the pregnant woman yelled.

"He can't do anything in the middle of the street," Jesse remarked.

Mary squashed herself back against the soft leather. "You don't know him - when he's mad drunk, he doesn't care who or what is in his way."

Sure enough, the words had hardly left Mary's mouth when the truck rammed their car from behind.

"Jesus!" Jesse yelled, trying to compensate for the jolt.

The truck let them pull away a little before accelerating again and slamming the mustang again. Susan and Mary both screamed, as Jesse fought the steering wheel to control the spin they'd been sent into. Joe's vehicle sped past while the car ended up sideways in the road, where it stalled.

Susan watched with horror through the window on Jesse's side as the truck slewed round and revved toward them. Jesse frantically tried to restart the mustang, but although it fired up, he had virtually no time to maneuver it out of the way of the fast approaching vehicle. He would perhaps have managed it had the manic driver not been hell-bent on colliding with them. As it was, all Susan could do was scream again as the truck smashed into driver's side.

She heard Jesse cry out at the impact, but she couldn't turn to look for the moment because her neck refused to hold her head up - whiplash, she surmised with a detached part of her mind. Mary was crying in the back, which the nurse took as a good sign, at least the woman was conscious.

There was a period of blackness, and then someone called from beside her, "Are you alright, miss?" and she realized her door had been opened.

Groaning, she tried to lean her head back against seat, and was grateful when a hand helped her. It was then she caught sight of the young doctor at her side. He had taken the full force of the collision, his seatbelt a useless safety device given the nature of the accident. The front of his side of the once beautiful convertible had crumpled inwards with the smash, crushing his legs and body within the mangled wreckage. He was slumped over the steering wheel, blood sluicing down his face from where his forehead had connected with it, and in the silence she could hear his labored, faltering breathing.

"Jesse!" she cried, shifting in alarm at the scene. The motion set off simultaneous flares of agony in her head and chest and she gasped in pain.

"Don't move," the voice cautioned.

"But I… I'm a nurse - Jesse… I… I need to take a look at him," Susan countered, but she knew there wasn't anything she could, or should, do to help him at that moment. Not only was she nowhere near alert enough to assess him properly, her own actions were restricted by various hurts and, most importantly, moving Jesse in any way could exacerbate the injuries he had sustained.

"We can't risk doing anything right now. It looks like they'll have to cut him free," the voice admonished, too clinically for Susan's liking, and although she knew the truth of the words she wanted to scream - But it's Jesse! They had to do something!

The hand came back, gripping hers. "Don't worry, an ambulance is on its way - and rescue equipment. That was some crash."

"Y-you saw?" Susan asked, shakily, the thought of what had happened diverting her thoughts from her lifeless boyfriend. She wished her head didn't feel so woolly; she could hardly remember. Then it came to her. She had to warn them in case the man tried to kill them again. "The truck driver - it was deliberate - where is he?"

"Still in the cab. He's unconscious."

Good. Susan thought, and hoped he would stay that way, preferably on a permanent basis. Normally, she would have been shocked at herself to harbor such an uncharitable notion, but one glimpse of Jesse's broken body was enough to banish any guilt. She was having difficulty in staying awake, darkness closing in again on the edges of her vision, and was, in part, glad that it robbed her of the view of Jesse's deteriorating condition. Dark, grainy liquid had begun to spill from his lips. The nurse in her recognized the signs of internal bleeding along with the more obvious injuries, and knew he was in serious trouble, while the girlfriend in her didn't want to believe she could lose him.

With a supreme effort, she gasped, "We work at Community General, they have to take us there."

"Okay, I'll tell them," the voice acknowledged.

Her own aches and pains were tugging her closer towards oblivion, and there was nothing Susan could do to help the young man she was beginning to love so much. As the encroaching void swallowed her up completely a more frightening notion assailed her - perhaps there was nothing anyone could do…


"MVA coming in. Two casualties en-route, two to follow…"

Mark wasn't supposed to be in the hospital at this hour, but he had wanted to practice a few of his magic tricks ready for the pediatric ward party on Christmas Day, and there seemed little point in taking all the stuff home from his office only to have to bring it back again. He hadn't counted on being called upon to work, but when he heard the message on the PA while out in the hall getting a coffee, he figured the ER might use an extra pair of hands.

He arrived downstairs just in time to see the first gurney came crashing through the doors.

"What have we got?" he asked, focussing on the EMT to absorb the information.

"Female, early twenties, around six-months pregnant, she has some cuts from flying glass and contusions from the seatbelt. Lucky she was in the back. They were hit by a drunk driver - from the witnesses it sounded like he did it on purpose. He'll be coming your way, as well, along with the other victims."

"Can you tell me your name?" Mark asked the young woman who was reclining on the gurney with it's back raised.

"Mary. Is my baby okay?"

"Are you in any pain?"

"No. Not really. I just want to know how my baby is," Mary said, tears brimming in her eyes.

"Well, let's get you settled in a room and give you a thorough examination, alright?"

She nodded feebly, and Mark let one of the residents take over her treatment.

A second gurney wasn't far behind, its occupant was lying very still, although Mark's attention was drawn to the chart shoved into his hand and the accompanying paramedic's spouted list of salient facts. "Female, mid twenties, front passenger in the vehicle. Whiplash and possible concussion, bruising to the chest from the seatbelt. She was aware at the scene but lost consciousness just before we got there, although she was lucid in the ambulance for a while. The driver is still being cut from the car. If he's still alive he's got to be critical. Man, that mustang was totalled, brand new, too! What a waste!"

At the mention of the make of car, Mark's insides twisted. He tried to tell himself it was irrational, there must be dozens of new mustangs on the road that night, it didn't have to be the one belonging to his young friend, and yet… Instantly, his gaze went to the young woman on the gurney and for the first time, he realized her face was familiar. "Susan…"

She started awake at the sound of her name. "D-doctor S-Sloan? Oh god, Jesse… where's Jesse?" she cried, twisting from side to side, apparently hoping to catch sight of her boyfriend.

"He's not here yet, honey," Mark told her quietly. "Come on, we'll get you checked over. Don't worry we'll take good care of you."

There was another clatter at the entrance as yet another gurney entered. Mark gave some orders to the medical staff gathered around Susan, and headed over to it. The man was in bad shape, but as soon as his eyes alighted on the figure he knew it wasn't Jesse. While his features were totally obscured by blood, the dirty clothes not quite covering the round belly and feet almost hanging over the end of the thin mattress left him in no doubt. This then, must be the drunk who had instigated the accident and had injured one of his best nurses, and was responsible for whatever Jesse was suffering. Part of him wanted to let the man go untreated. Anyone selfish enough to get behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated didn't deserve the bother of fixing him up. Especially when he had hurt innocents in he process.

"This is the DWI, skull fracture, vitals virtually non-existent," the EMT said, curtly, rushing along toward another trauma room. "You can expect the cops any second. Seems this guy deliberately rammed the other car. They're treating it as attempted murder, but I don't think he'll last long enough for questioning."

Mark wondered why would anyone be trying to kill Jesse and Susan? He could only assume it had to do with their pregnant passenger, but it still seemed surreal. "Any word on the other driver?" he asked, trying to sound nonchalant, despite the growing sense of trepidation.

"He should be right behind us. The other crew had just managed to get him out as we pulled away. I'm not sure if there'll be much you can do for him either, though. Looked like they were having a tough time trying to stabilize him." The EMT couldn't have known how devastating his words were. They thrust a wedge of pure dread through Mark's heart.

"Dad!" Steve called as he strode into the ER.

"Steve!" Mark exclaimed. He hadn't been expecting his son, and for a second he almost entertained the idea that some sixth sense had brought him to the hospital, but then he realized - if the car crash had been a deliberate action, then Steve, as a homicide detective, could well have been drafted in to investigate. It was quite possible Steve didn't know the identities of the victims yet and Mark balked at the prospect of having to impart the news.

"Has the truck driver been brought in?" Steve asked.

"Yes. He's in exam room four, but he's unconscious with a serious skull fracture. It's doubtful you'll get anything out of him," Mark replied. "Steve…"

The detective interrupted, angrily, "As far as I'm concerned it'll be better all round if he didn't wake up. You heard what happened? He smashed into a car carrying his pregnant wife…"

"Steve!" Mark cut him off and laid a hand on his son's arm, though he didn't know whether it was more for his own support than to quash the other man's rambling. Steve would naturally be enraged by the situation, but Mark was sure he couldn't know the full details, or his first questions would have been about Jesse and Susan. "I don't think you know who else was in the car, do you?"

"No. Tanis has gone to the scene. I came here to get statements from those involved, when you think they're able." Steve wound down as he finally realized Mark was trying to tell him something important.

"It was Jesse's car, Steve."

Steve paled. "Jesse? How? I mean… My God, is he okay? Where is he?"

Mark didn't want to say anything until he'd seen for himself the extent of Jesse's injuries. "He hasn't come in yet. But Susan is here. She's suffering from whiplash and some cuts and bruises. You'll probably be able to talk to her tomorrow - she's drifting in and out of consciousness at the moment. As for the other woman, she escaped with hardly a scratch, but her blood pressure is very high so we'll be keeping her in for a few days to monitor her pregnancy. I can't see the harm in you speaking with her, though," Mark commented.

But Steve hadn't even moved a step toward the exam room where Mary was situated when the last gurney came in. Aboard, the diminutive form was already intubated, one paramedic was running alongside squeezing an ambu-bag to keep the air flowing into Jesse's lungs, but more terrifying was the sight of the other EMT mounted on the speeding gurney, straddling the slender hips, pumping for all he was worth on an inactive, bloody chest.

Oh, Jess…

A look of utter desolation clouded Steve's features at the ghastly scene comprising his best friend's arrival, and Mark's own heart missed a beat or two before instinct overcame the shock of witnessing the dreadful state of the young doctor.

"In here," he said, grabbing a corner of the gurney and guiding it into the nearest available trauma room. Mark began barking orders at his staff, fear fuelling an uncharacteristic aggression as he tried to expedite the proceedings. He couldn't let Jesse die, and he wouldn't tolerate anything less than total commitment to saving their patient.

The paramedics continued their life-preserving measures until the defibrillator was ready to deliver its charge. Mark silently prayed as he expertly positioned the paddles and sent the jolt through Jesse's chest. It took several increments in voltage before the faltered heart began to beat again.

Once the most immediate problem had been countered, the EMTs rattled off their assessment of Jesse's condition, while with as much detachment as Mark could muster, he began his own examination. He'd been hoping the paramedics were being overly pessimistic, but as his fingers probed the small body he realized how chillingly accurate they'd been. On the periphery of his vision Steve was hovering in the doorway, listening to the grizzly list, his eyes never wavering from the motionless form of best friend.

Mark could not fathom how Jesse was even alive at this point, and the definition was being stretched to its very limit. If they managed to stabilize him enough to get him to the OR, the older man had already reached the conclusion that it was going to take a miracle to save him.


Jesse had made it as far as the OR. Mark insisted on being a part of the surgical team, but was under no illusions that he was going to need help, expert help, and lots of it. He had quickly made some calls, trading in a number of owed favors, and assembled a crack team the like of which had rarely been seen in Community General. It was as much a testament to Jesse's standing in the medical fraternity as Mark's comradeship that the required lineup had been filled so quickly and amply.

Steve had followed the gurney transporting his young friend to the sterile room on autopilot. He didn't really want to see Jesse so inert, so lifeless, so ruined, but he couldn't desert him in his time of need. That decision was made for him, however, when the door to the OR virtually slammed shut in his face.

After visiting briefly with Susan, who had been sedated to calm her obvious anxiety for her boyfriend, and was therefore not great company, he occupied some of his time at the hospital by interviewing Mary Shepherd. At first she had been reticent about making any kind of statement about her husband's behavior, but when the doctor who had been treating him came in and said the man had died, there was no stopping her outpouring of a catalog of abuse stretching back years.

The detective was torn at the declaration. Normally, it wouldn't have made much difference to him whether a criminal lived or died, but in this particular case, Joe Shepherd seemed to have gotten the easy way out of the situation he had caused. He had tried to kill three people - four if you included the unborn baby - and one of them was Steve's best friend, he should have had to face his culpability.

Mary had been admitted for pre-eclampsia and dehydration, and the child growing within her had already begun to respond to the rest and fluids she was getting. Although it was on the small side for its age, the ultrasound had shown it was in fairly good shape, considering all its mother had been through.

Steve was just about to leave her room when the door burst open and a long-haired, lanky young man bowled in, apparently oblivious to Steve as he rushed past to get to the bed. "Mary! Thank God you're okay!"

"Gabe! What are you doing here? How did you know where I was?"

"These three guys came into the bar and were talking about an accident round the corner. We all went out to look and when I saw the truck involved I asked the cops there if you were in the crash and if they knew where you'd been taken. Are you okay? Is the baby okay?" the new arrival asked, anxiously, his hand reaching out for the bump under the blankets.

Mary smiled. "We're both fine. Joe's dead. We can all be together - at last."

"I'm so sorry I let you down, Mary. I should have stood up to that bastard a long time ago…"

"That's in the past now, Gabe. I don't care. Everything's going to be alright now."

Steve was finding this all very interesting, but it seemed this relationship might have a bearing on his investigation. "Excuse me, sir, and you would be?"

"Gabriel Starre." Gabe held his hand out for Steve to shake.

"Detective Steve Sloan, LAPD. I wonder if you'd mind telling me how you know Mary."

"We went out together when we were at high school, but then Joe came along. He was always threatening to kill either one of us if Mary tried to leave him."

Mary chipped in with more of the story, "We got away once a few months ago, but someone told him where we were and he dragged me back." She was stroking her stomach, and it didn't take all the power of Steve's detective's brain to work out the baby she was carrying must have been a product of that time.

"Looks like you had a lucky escape, sweetheart," Gabe remarked. "What I don't understand though is why you in that car in the first place."

"I'd been to the clinic. The doctor I saw there wanted me to come into the hospital because he was worried about my blood pressure and the baby's heartbeat. Then Joe showed up. While he was off drinking I managed to get out of the truck and get back to the clinic. Doctor Travis and his nurse were just leaving, so they offered to bring me here. Joe must have been watching…" Mary shuddered at the memory of what had happened next. "No one's told me how they are."

Steve didn't know if the information had been deliberately kept from the young woman because of her own condition, but with virtually a direct question, he couldn't completely avoid giving some details away. "I've spoken with the nurse - Susan, she's a little groggy. She'll be admitted for a few days for observation, but they think it's just severe whiplash and will be okay after a bit of therapy." He gulped, hardly able to bring himself to say anything else, but he had to. "And Jesse - Doctor Travis - is… he's undergoing surgery. His condition is critical."

Mary gasped in horror. "It's my fault. I should never…"

"No," Steve said. "You weren't to blame." He tried to convince himself of this knowing Jesse would never apportion guilt on someone so obviously a victim too.

"He's right, Mary. You couldn't have known what Joe would do, and you couldn't have stopped him if you did. He was crazy," Gabe added. He turned to Steve, a steely look crossing the compassionate gaze he'd had for the woman. "I think Mary could do with some rest. Have you finished your questioning?"

"Yeah, for now. All the witnesses my partner has spoken to corroborate your story that Joe instigated the crash, so I imagine the investigation can be considered closed. But we may need to speak to you again."

"We'll be right here," Gabe said, sitting on the bed and taking Mary's hand.

Steve left them to it and went to see if there was any news from the OR.

Several hours passed before the door finally opened. He had been expecting his father to look tired and disheveled after the long surgery, but he really thought there would be an air of relief about him - the hard work well worth the effort because Jesse was finally patched up and certain all would be fine. He was sorely disappointed. Sure enough, Mark was thoroughly exhausted, but his face said, without doubt, that he didn't think anything he or his array of highly skilled colleagues had done in all that time would have initiated a happy outcome.

A dreadful thought assailed him. Perhaps Jesse hadn't made it.

Steve put all his questions into one simple word. "Dad…"

"Steve," Mark sighed. "I wish I could tell you everything is going to be okay, but to be perfectly honest I have no idea how that boy is still hanging on."

The younger Sloan couldn't recall many occasions when his father had confessed to being so downbeat about a patient's chances. But as the gurney carrying Jesse was wheeled past them on its way to the ICU, Steve had to admit the atypical negativity seemed well founded - he had seen many a corpse looking in better health than his friend did at that moment.


When Amanda breezed into Community General in the morning her first reaction bordered on a sarcastic 'Who died?' The subdued atmosphere not only enshrouded the staff but seemed to pervade the very fabric of the building and was such stark contrast to her own happy disposition, full of festive spirit from CJ's nativity play the night before. Unlike the previous few days, there was no Christmas music filling the hallways, and it felt like it had been deliberately left unplayed, rather than simply forgotten. More disconcerting, however, were the puzzled looks on the faces of anyone she greeted with a cheery 'Good Morning' on the way to her lab.

Stashing her bag and coat, Amanda set about trying to find Jesse to thank him for giving her the chance to see her son's performance. The pathologist didn't think she would ever forget the expression of sheer joy wash over CJ when he spotted her in the audience, just as she also believed nothing would dampen her mood that day because of it.

She couldn't have been more wrong.

What she didn't yet know was that the reason for the gloom encompassing the hospital was that Jesse was lying, gravely ill, in the ICU. It was almost as if the place was already mourning his loss despite the fact he was tenaciously clinging to life by a thin thread, albeit one that was relentlessly fraying.

She reached the ER to find it especially quiet - not that there was a lack of patients - but it was almost as if everyone was moving in slow motion. Amanda was about to ask one of the nurses where she might find Jesse, when she spotted Susan, though it took a few moments for her to realize there was something wrong with the picture her eyes were showing her. The nurse herself had a neck brace on, and was in a wheelchair being steered toward the elevator by an orderly.

"Susan, wait!" she called, jogging over to catch up with her. As she got closer she could see small cuts on her face and arms. "What happened to you?"

Gingerly turning her head to greet Amanda, Susan lifted big tear-filled eyes toward her, and in a wavering voice she inquired, "Hasn't anyone told you?"

"Told me what?" Amanda asked, a shiver running down her spine at the total despair in the younger woman's voice.

"Do you know Mary Shepherd?"

The question threw her for a second, but from a recess of her mind the answer came. "Mary… yes, I remember her. She's pregnant, and always nervous about her husband finding out she's been to the clinic."

Susan snorted, ironically. "Well, her husband found out where she was last night. He tried to kill us."

Amanda was shocked beyond belief. "Kill you? Oh, my God! I guessed he must be a violent man for her to be so afraid of him, but… is she alright? What about the baby?"

There was a hint of derision in the younger woman's tone as she replied, "She's going to be fine, and they're monitoring the baby. With the right care it should be okay, too."

The pathologist hadn't known the ER nurse long, but she'd seen enough of her as she went about tending patients to identify a caring nature. The disdain, however slight, currently tainting her manner was completely out of character and Amanda's inner sense of foreboding alerted her that the reason was something she was not going to want to hear.

Taking a cautious breath of one wary of sore ribs, Susan continued, "We were in the car at the time, Amanda, trying to get Mary to hospital, and Jesse… I'm on my way up to the ICU now. He's only just gotten out of surgery."

"Jesse?" It suddenly dawned on Amanda why everyone was so miserable. The young doctor was well liked around the whole hospital, not just in those areas where he usually worked. The grapevine would have transmitted the news at lightning speed, and if Jesse was injured badly enough to require an ICU bed, then it was understandable for the atmosphere to be muted.

As the elevator door opened and the orderly pushed Susan inside, Amanda began to feel the weight of guilt begin to press on her soul. This was her fault. If she had been at the clinic like she was supposed to then Jesse wouldn't have been hurt. She wondered if Susan harbored any resentment toward her for it, and she felt her face flush as she made a quiet request. "Can I come with you?"

"I'm sure Jesse will want you there," the nurse replied with a sad smile.


Weary to his very core, Mark had nevertheless supervised the transferal of his protégé onto the ICU bed and then stood watch over the life he had fought so hard to prolong. Steve had stayed until he had been called back to the police station to meet up with Tanis in order to file their report on the incident. He hoped to be back in a few hours - with the perpetrator dead, the case should merely be a paperwork exercise. Mark guessed his son would faithfully anticipate a change for the good in Jesse's condition on his return, no matter that Mark had told him repeatedly not to expect too much.

The aging doctor rubbed his hands over his face and eyes, unnecessarily harshly, as if somehow he could wipe away the image of Jesse besieged by the array of complex machinery and monitors and the various tubes and wires which tethered him to them. The awful vision remained though, taunting Mark all the more, because their presence should have assured him - supporting the young man's dreadfully damaged body while it recovered - instead the readouts were telling him of imminent defeat.

There was movement at the window and he saw Susan, looking far too haggard for such a pretty face. Despite wanting to spare her from the same gloomy prognosis he had reached, he beckoned at her to come in. When the door opened, he found two equally despairing sets of features framed by the brighter light from the corridor.

"Amanda!" Mark exclaimed. He was ashamed he hadn't even thought about getting Steve to call her, but hoped she would understand the oversight. He had been rather busy after all.

Susan wheeled herself past him, while he reached out and caught Amanda in his arms as she surged forward in shock, threatening to collapse. He could almost feel the grief assailing the pathologist upon seeing her friend in such dire circumstances.

"Oh, Mark… Jesse!" Amanda wept.

When the shuddering subsided, Mark eased up on his grip, allowing Amanda to right herself. She sniffed, and he bundled a handkerchief from his pocket into her hand.

Susan, meanwhile, had maneuvered herself next to the bed and was sitting hunched over, sobbing quietly, holding one long-fingered hand as if it was made of glass.

Mark's gaze went from one young woman to the other, and couldn't help but imagine the look of dazed puzzlement which would have adorned Jesse's face had he been able to see the extreme dismay his current state was causing them. Not that Mark felt any less devastated. Jesse remained completely unresponsive to any stimuli, and there was so little chance he could survive the mutilation his body had endured.

Glumly, Mark watched the trails of colored lights amble across the screens monitoring various vital signs. If it were too much to wish for them to show any discernable improvement, then he would accept them keeping a steady course. Every second of stability, however dire, at least offered more hope. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be.


All the way up in the elevator Amanda had tried to persuade herself that the picture of Jesse's condition could not be as black as Susan was painting it, but as soon as the door to the ICU room had swung open she realized it was every bit as bad, perhaps worse.

The visible half of Jesse's boyish good looks was marred by cuts and bruises, the rest being obscured by the bandage covering his head which was also wound down over one eye. His chest was covered in contusions and several large sterile dressings were taped across his torso, puckering the almost translucent skin at their edges. While his left arm was completely swathed, only the tips of his fingers poking out from the crepe covering. And then there were drainage tubes, IV lines, monitor leads and the respirator, all of which conspired to make him a prisoner in the bed.

Amanda swooned. It was too much to take in. The young doctor was the liveliest person she knew, perhaps even more playful than her own little boy - he couldn't be lying there completely quiet and motionless and utterly devoid of… Jesse-ness. If there was one thing in life Amanda knew a lot about, it was death. Right now she couldn't see much evidence to believe Jesse would not succumb to his injuries. Equally frightening was Mark's apparent reluctance to make any protestations to the contrary. It was as if he, too, had already accepted this as Jesse's fate, and subsequently, all she wanted to do was snatch the diminutive form from his resting place to take him somewhere safe, and she stumbled forward with that desire.

But Mark caught her, and instantly, Amanda's energy vanished. She gratefully allowed him to hold her up, for she really didn't think her legs capable of supporting her and the enormous burden of guilt bearing down upon her. Amanda cried, uncontrollably, onto her old friend's shoulder until it felt like there was nothing left inside her.

Jesse had given her the opportunity to share in something wonderful with CJ - to be a true part of his expanding life-experiences as much as he was part of hers. She was distraught to think of that generosity repaid so heinously, and it made her begin to question her faith. And she had further cause a minute or so later… when the tenuous rhythm of Jesse's heart hesitated and then stopped.


Five days had passed and it was late on Christmas Eve. Jesse was still in the coma he'd been in since the night he'd arrived at the hospital, and he remained on full life-support, his body too weak to carry out the smallest of functions without aid. His heart had arrested on several occasions, and the failures were becoming more frequent - thereby robbing his friends of any last vestiges of hope they might have harbored for his survival. The inner-well of strength he'd drawn on thus far was inexorably running dry. It seemed it was just a matter of time before the horrifyingly flat-line on the monitor became irrevocable.

Mark had only rarely visited his current destination. Medicine was his chosen form of salvation for those ill or injured, but sometimes science seemed inadequate to counter inevitability on its own, and when it came to people he loved he found himself resorting to begging for the kind of intervention he would never be able to explain.

As he entered the small chapel tucked away in quiet part of Community General, he spotted another figure sitting on one of the pews; head bowed, reverently. He would normally have given the other person some space, and was going to head for the rear benches to facilitate this, when the doctor realized he was looking at his son. The younger man's presence in the holy place was even more surprising than his own.

"Steve," he said quietly, placing a hand on the detective's strong shoulder, as he sat alongside.


They regarded each other for some time before either could gather their wits enough to speak. Steve was first, his usually robust voice markedly depleted with the regret of a loss to come. "Susan is with him, I figured she might want some time alone. But I couldn't face going home… in case… so I just thought I'd come down here and… well, you know… I mean, it can't hurt, can it?"

Mark smiled sadly. "No. It won't. In fact, I think Jesse would very much appreciate it."

Steve nodded slowly, his thoughts clearly with his best friend. In the few years Jesse had been around, Mark had come to think of him as another son, and he knew Steve regarded the young doctor as the little brother he'd never been blessed with by natural means. The week of watching Jesse slip away from them had affected them both deeply.

The detective raised his face to take in the large, wooden cross framed by the beautiful stained-glass window behind the altar. "I don't think I've been down here since mom was…"

"I have," Mark admitted. "When you got shot."

He would have liked to think his entreaties to higher beings in those dark days had initiated Steve's recovery, but it was more probable that he had Jesse's innate skill as a surgeon to thank. And now he was here to pray for that very life, because he feared whatever he might have done in that role simply hadn't been good enough.

First though, he had some good news to impart. "I've just discharged Mary Shepherd. Her blood pressure is back to normal and the baby seems to be doing well."


Steve looked appraisingly at his father. Here they were - independently lured to a place neither of them usually felt the need to frequent, apparently united to solicit something unfathomable and wondrous to save their young friend. Why would his father think he would have the slightest interest in the woman who, no matter how innocently, was at the center of what had happened to Jesse?

Another voice piped up from the Chapel doorway. "She and Gabe are going to get married tonight - they want to be a proper family in time for Christmas." Amanda went on, "If Jesse and Susan hadn't helped her that night she would probably still be with Joe. I dread to think of how he would have carried on treating her."

"Amanda, don't," Steve cautioned, suddenly feeling like she and Mark were ganging up on him to elicit some sympathy for Mary.

"Don't what?"

"Don't you dare say something like, 'At least some good is going to come out of all this.'" From Amanda's tone, he was sure she was at least thinking something like that, even if she might not go so far as to say it. He didn't think he could bear that kind of sentiment - it would sound too much as if Jesse was already dead, or might be the catalyst to condemn him to that very fate.

"I wasn't," Amanda denied.

"Good." Steve eyed her cynically. He knew Amanda loved Jesse dearly and would never actually believe his plight could be balanced in the scales of fairness by Mary's and her baby's return to health and newfound happiness. Trouble was, he also knew Jesse well enough to believe the young man would probably think it an acceptable outcome of his demise. That understanding, however, didn't make Steve feel any better about it.

The awkward silence he had created with his accusation stretched to fill a whole minute, until Amanda broke it.

"I didn't expect to see either of you two down here."

"It seemed like the right place to be," Steve commented. "I've been praying for a miracle all week, I just wondered if it would mean more if I came here." It hadn't done much good the last time, though even Steve figured God deserved a second chance to right a wrong.

"Christmas is the time for miracles…" Mark added.

"Jesse certainly needs one," Amanda agreed.

"We all need it," Steve amended, putting one arm around her and the other around his father.

Maybe they had been attracted to this place and each other for a reason. Steve could only hope it wasn't simply for mutual comfort while their young friend lost his battle.

Together, the three of them bowed their heads and made their pleas, then went upstairs to the ICU to see Christmas Day in, with whatever it might bring.


Someone, somewhere must have been listening to all the prayers for Jesse over the last few days and on that night in particular, and had decided that the unwitting facilitator of one happy ending perhaps deserved another chance at life, too.

And while the sun was just beginning to light the sky beyond the blinds in the ICU, encircled by friends who loved him, one patient's heartbeat became imperceptibly stronger, his skin regained a little color and his breathing became faintly easier.

Susan was the first to notice the minute change in Jesse's status. The cool fingers clamped between her hands fluttered briefly. Excitedly, she alerted Mark, who lifted each of the young doctor's eyelids in turn and rejoiced at the slight contraction of the pupils when exposed to the dim illumination in the room. The infinitesimal responsiveness didn't completely quell their fears, but it seemed a corner had been turned.

It was going to be a long, hard road to recovery, fraught with setbacks and compromises, but Jesse's natural tenacity and willpower had seen him through many a trial in his short life and perhaps there was still enough fight in him to conquer this journey, too - only the first step had required a miracle.


It was June, and Jesse was reclining in one of Mark's beach chairs. A small stack of medical journals lay on the sand on one side of him, and to the other he placed, with a sigh of relief, the box-file into which he had just placed the last page of the accounts for BBQ Bob's - everything up to date, at last.

He carefully breathed in the warm, salty air, mindful of his still recovering body. He couldn't do anything without thinking about it first, these days - even the simplest of things like breathing, eating and getting from one place to another, all required a mental stringency to ensure he didn't over-tax the many parts of him that had been so severely damaged in the crash last Christmas. It had taken a long time to get this far, and was going to take a while yet before he would be completely back to normal, but not a day went by when he wasn't grateful to still be alive. No one had actually told him how close it had been, but they hadn't had to. He knew. Especially in those first few weeks after the incident, his friends' expressions were too easy to read - joy and disbelief.

"Jesse, I have some visitors for you! Stay there, we're coming down!" Mark called from the veranda, and Jesse could see there were other people with him, but at that distance he didn't recognize either of them.

A young couple approached, the woman carrying a small baby in her arms.

"I'm not sure if you'll remember me," she said. "My name is Mary - Mary Shepherd, well it was, it's Mary Starre now," she added gleefully, giving a loving look toward her new husband.

Jesse's memory of the events immediately before the crash were a little hazy, but Mary's face did seem familiar, although she positively exuded happiness, whereas in the short time he'd spent with her back then, only the total opposite had been present. He had never met the man she was regarding so fondly, but Mark had told him what had happened while he'd been comatose, so he guessed this was the baby's father, Gabe.

Sure enough, alongside Mary, Gabe continued, "And this is our baby. She's three months old now. It's funny, we were so convinced we were having a boy - we had the name all sorted, and everything, but we had to amend that slightly - I hope you won't mind."

"Doctor Travis, we'd like you to meet Jessica Susan Starre - we call her Jessie for short," Mary finished.

His eyes going from one to the other of them as they bounced the proud announcement between them, it took a few moments for Jesse to realize the enormity of what Mary had said. It seemed too much of a privilege to have someone name their baby after him, he didn't really think he'd done anything to deserve the honor, except be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The Starres, however, obviously felt very differently. "If it wasn't for you and Nurse Hilliard, we wouldn't be together as a family now. We owe you such a lot. This was the only way we could think of to say 'thank you' properly."

Jesse could only smile, tears threatening to unravel the composure he'd strived to maintain at the touching speech. It seemed like an eternity ago. He'd been through hell, and still wasn't completely out of the woods yet, but somehow the torturous few months now seemed to have been worth the struggle.

"Can I hold her?" he asked.

"Of course," Mary said, offering the baby over without hesitation.

"Careful, Jess," Mark cautioned, and Jesse nodded in deference to his mentor's concern for his continued frailty in general and his left arm in particular, which had been badly crushed in the accident and was still the source of some worry over whether he'd gain full use of it again.

Holding little Jessica, he gave thanks again for being able to have this moment, and he determined no matter how tough things were at the moment, he would get back to being a doctor and a surgeon once more, for the rewards were so great.

"Thank you," Gabe and Mary said, and Jessica gave a joyful burble of her own in apparent appreciation.

"No," Jesse said, giving the baby a gentle tickle. "Thank you."


The End

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