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by Ann Rivers   ann.rivers@virgin.net

Completed  6 December 2001

He was sleeping now, free of the fear and pain of the virus that had so nearly killed him. Still feverish, a little fretful - but at least he was alive. Alive to stir, to mumble and dream. And for now, at least, Mark Sloan was more than happy to settle for that one simple blessing. Happy to just sit here quietly, listen to the surf breaking outside - and watch Jesse sleep.

Gradually aware of Steve’s still anxious, watchful presence, Mark looked up at him and smiled. “Still out for the count, but he’s more settled now… I think he’s dreaming…” he said softly, nodding towards Jesse’s peaceful face – so expressive when awake, even more so in sleep.

“Food, surfing and girls… though not necessarily in that order…” Steve replied dryly – sharing his father’s amusement as Jesse sighed, his nose twitching in apparent agreement. Under increasingly amused eyes, he curled his arm around one of the pillows behind his head, a drowsy smile widening across his face as he snuggled it closer and settled back to sleep.

“I’d guess it to be the latter…” Mark chuckled, patting Jesse’s shoulder before rising to his feet. “And if he is entertaining the lady of his dreams, I’m sure he won’t want us disturbing him…”

Following his father into the kitchen, Steve couldn’t help but make a slightly peeved point. “Why not…? Jess doesn’t seem to mind disturbing me when I entertain…!”

Left in peace, albeit under protest, Jesse slept on… and yes, he did have an unmissable date.Just not the kind that Mark or Steve or anyone else who knew him could ever have imagined…


Opening his eyes, Jesse winced and immediately closed them, then cautiously tried again. The room was just as he remembered it. Impossibly white and dazzlingly bright. The table that he was lying on, too, was rock hard - a far cry from Mark’s snug and comfy sofa. Above his head, softer light strobed through his body, restoring its strength and power. And while it gave him a lovely warm glow inside, Jesse knew that light meant only one thing…

“Oh, no… no, not again…” he muttered at last, watching the light complete its final cycle. Once it had finished, he carefully propped himself on his elbows and ruefully shook his head. “I shouldn’t be here… I really shouldn’t be here…”

“No, Jesse, you shouldn’t…” a deep voice, echoing around the room, agreed with him – its exasperated tone causing the young angel to roll his eyes as he sat cautiously upright.

“Aw, come on, you can’t blame me for this one…!” Jesse protested in plaintive appeal. “I – I mean, I’ve been assigned to help people, right…? To – To make a difference in their lives…how was I to know that guy I tried to help was a burglar…? Or – Or that he had smallpox…?” Rubbing at a still maddeningly itchy chest, Jesse pulled a face at the inevitable consequence. Not the best idea he’d ever had. And after so many years as a mortal, he should have known better. “A real nasty mutated strain of it, too…” he added peevishly, still scratching.

“Mutated strain…?” The voice was amused at him now rather than annoyed, almost playful. “Well now, Jesse, I’d say your mortal career as a doctor is working out rather nicely…”

Jesse started to argue, then remembered who he’d be arguing against and changed his mind. Instead he swung his legs to the side of the table and sat watching them swing idly underneath. Finally, when the silence persisted, he looked up and sighed. “Look, I – I know I keep messing up, but… well, I – I never mean to… I really am trying, and … well, I got real close this time…! If not for me almost dying, I think I’d have done it…!” When no reply came, Jesse slid off the table and started to pace briskly around it, looking expectantly around him while still addressing an apparently empty room. “Look, I – I know I can do this…! I’m really getting close to him now, both Mark and Steve… I mean, Mark even infected himself with the same virus to try and save my life, and… well, if he was willing to give his own life to save me, wouldn’t that count for something…? Isn’t that what any father would do for his son…?”

“Yes, Jesse, you’re right… on all counts…” the voice agreed in gentle, patient seriousness. “And yes, such a selfless act speaks volumes for how the Sloans have come to feel about you. But you still have much to learn on this assignment, Jesse… still much to accomplish… and intended or not, almost losing you has reopened the very wound you were assigned to heal…”

“Well, I can hardly do much about that while I’m stuck up here now, can I…?” Jesse pointed out – cringing in realisation that his opponent in this particular discussion was not one to argue with.

To his relief, laughter echoed around him, rolling off the walls like thunder from a distant storm.

Relaxing again, Jesse gratefully wiped his brow… now that had been close…

“Again, Jesse, you’re absolutely right…” the voice chuckled, warm with fatherly amusement – its next teasing remark effectively stopping all thoughts of any further irreverent smugness. “Twice in one day… my goodness, will miracles never cease…?”

Knowing better than to retaliate, Jesse remained wisely if rather indignantly silent. Instead he walked to a nearby wall, totally serious now as he brushed his hand against it. At his touch, part of it slid away, revealing a poignant scene on the surveillance monitor behind. An image of his mortal self back on Earth, lying weak and helpless - completely vulnerable. Drawn back by his subconscious mutterings, both Mark and Steve had returned to sit with him – no doubt alarmed by what, he knew, must have been to them a worryingly one sided discussion.

It had taken all of his power to keep his fragile, human form alive through the virus’ deadly attack - hence this latest in a long line of what he’d jokingly come to call his heavenly service. But there was a serious side to it too, one to which he was totally and faithfully committed. He’d been given one of the hardest assignments imaginable – to ease the loss of a yearned for child. Twenty six years earlier, Mark Sloan appeared to have it all – wife, career and two healthy children.

But the joy and excitement of his second son’s birth had been tragically short lived. After a trouble free pregnancy, the unthinkable had happened. Michael had been stillborn. And for the first time ever, the Sloan family had come dangerously close to falling apart.

Mark had mourned the loss of a son, Steve the loss of the little kid brother he’d so dearly wanted.

While they’d grieved, the Travis family in Elgin had celebrated the arrival of a hale and hearty son. Fate had decreed that he’d been born on the same day as Michael Sloan. At exactly the same time. The controllers of his destiny, and that of the Sloans, had watched him grow up with hopeful interest. They’d had to wait before they were confident that he’d meet all the necessary requirements. And it had taken quite an effort to dispel his irreverent disbelief at what was being asked of him. But the ten year old Jesse Travis had finally agreed to play host to a very special presence. And while they despaired over his knack for finding trouble, they could not doubt his commitment. The gentle, innate compassion that had drawn them to him in the first place.

Still watching the monitor, Jesse smiled then sighed and shook his head in silent frustration. If he were to be recalled now, after such a genuine effort, before his mission was complete…

“You really want to see this assignment through, don’t you, Jesse…?” This time there was no mockery in the voice that spoke to him. Only pride. Approval. Belief.

“Yes, sir, I do…” Jesse said softly, reaching to touch the faces of these friends, his adopted family. He’d known from the start how difficult this assignment would be. Tragic loss always was. Helping Rick through the death of his father had taught the young angel much about human grief. Had given him at least some idea of how to ease the pain and guilt and anger for those left behind. But to ease not just one person’s loss but two, to try and somehow fill the void in their lives –well, he just hadn’t expected it to touch so many chords, to affect him this deeply. Hadn’t expected that he’d come to love these people, to care about them, as much as he had.

A cool breeze ruffled through his hair, and Jesse felt himself smile in relieved understanding. He knew what that sensation meant. The transport beam was forming. He was going back. Closing his eyes, Jesse made one last heartfelt promise before brilliant light closed in around him. “I won’t let you down, Mark… I – I promise, I’ll see this one through…”


"I know that, Jess… you’ve never let me down and you never will… just try to rest now…” Another voice, just as familiar – worried, though, beyond the amusement that tinged it. Cool, soothing wetness came to rest across his forehead. A hand gently squeezed his shoulder.

Opening his eyes, Jesse tried to focus them on the two anxious faces that swam into view. It took him a few moments to realise where he was – that he was back in the land of mortality. True, the sofa was much easier against his back, the lighting level much easier on his eyes. But being mortal again, returning to a still sick and weakened body… well, it had its drawbacks. A moan of discomfort came remarkably easily – as did his often used, never understood, lament. “Jeez, there are times when I hate being human…”

Oblivious to its true meaning, Mark naturally took the logical approach to Jesse’s complaint. “I know, Jesse… I hate being sick too… and I know how lousy you must feel… here, this’ll help…”

The cloth on his forehead was taken away, returning moments later cooler and wetter than ever. Blinking through the water that now ran into his eyes, Jesse squinted up at Mark and grinned weakly.

Okay, so now he was cold, soaking wet and, in all honesty, not feeling that much better, but… well, it was the thought that counts…

Steve’s approach was rather more upbeat – not to mention much more appealing. “Oh, I don’t know, Jess… being human and sick has some good points too…” he said cheerfully, meeting his young friend’s sceptical look with the one thing guaranteed to gain Jesse’s approval. “For starters, you get to eat loads and loads of ice cream…”

Jesse had to smile at that – especially when a bowl of toffee fudge, complete with spoon and sauce, appeared with a flourish on the table beside him.

Being helped to sit up was fair enough, but it had been over twenty years since he’d been spoon fed – and no matter how weak and lousy he felt, Jesse wasn’t about to let anyone start again now. Knowing better than to even try, Mark and Steve traded amused if thwarted glances and left him to it.

Watching him tuck slowly but happily in, Mark then nudged his son’s knee and started to laugh. “You know, I haven’t seen someone enjoy ice cream so much since you had that tonsillitis…” Struck by a sudden thought, he then favoured his son with a shrewd, post knowledge smile. “No wonder you were always so determined not to have your tonsils out…”

“Gee, dad, I’m belatedly busted…” Steve grinned smugly back at him.

“No, son, just belatedly grounded…” Mark shot back, winking at an amused, wisely silent Jesse. Seeing the tired weakness behind his young friend’s smile, he then grew more serious – resting his hand against Jesse’s cheek, still clearly worried by the unnatural heat he found there. “Jesse, you’re still running one hell of a fever…” he went on, shaking his head in obvious concern. “Now, I don’t mind letting you recover here, but… well, maybe we should take you in…”

Jesse, however, was already shaking his head – looking up at him in plaintive appeal. “More comfy here…” he replied firmly – compelled by a sceptically raised eyebrow to try again. “No, really, Mark, I – I am, and… and if I can’t get out on the surf, at least here I can watch it…” Seeing that Mark, though amused, still wasn’t convinced, he resorted to all out, strategic cunning. “’sides, the food’s better too…”

Faced with such logical flattery, Mark couldn’t help but laugh and nod in now happier approval.

Even so, Jesse could still read concern in his friends’ eyes – and, of course, he already knew why. Still, delirious gibbering had its good points. Put down to his fever, it wouldn’t be taken seriously. “Guess I’ve been gibbering again…” he said at last with a suitably rueful, embarrassed smile.

“With a temperature of a hundred and four, Jess, that’s hardly surprising…” Mark told him – much of the concern he still felt thankfully lifted by the look of comical disgust on Jesse’s face. “Don’t worry, Jesse… now that the antigen’s kicked in, the fever should break by morning…” Now it was Jesse’s turn to raise a sceptical eyebrow – Mark’s turn to try and convince him. “Believe me, Jess, the antigen is working… trust me, tomorrow you’ll be feeling a lot better…”

“Yeah, Jess, you can trust him…” Steve chipped in, loyal as ever. “After all, he is a doctor…”

“Thanks, son…” Mark winked back at him, choosing his moment before adding dryly, “And you’re still grounded…”

“Bummer…” Steve muttered, plaintively penitent but more than happy to play along – if only to see Jesse laugh, see the amusement brighten his eyes.

The now empty ice cream bowl was another good sign – as was Jesse’s somewhat unhelpful help. “Hey, Steve, being grounded has its good points too… you get to keep me company…!”

“Thanks, bud…” Steve retorted dryly, pointedly ignoring his father’s chuckle of laughter. A sudden thought didn’t exactly help either. “Except I’m not getting any ice cream…” The sight of Jesse licking every trace of toffee fudge from his spoon prompted another wry enquiry. “Had enough there, Jess…? Or should I just bring you the carton and have done with it…?” He should have known better. However lousy he felt, Jesse would never pass up a chance like this.

“Maybe with some more sauce this time…?” he asked with a hopeful, wheedling smile – prompting great amusement from one Sloan and a playful, brotherly glare from the other. “Oh sure, like you need any more of that…” Steve muttered peevishly, rising to his feet – betrayed though by a delighted grin as he ruffled Jesse’s hair before heading into the kitchen.

Mark had watched this exchange in amused, thoughtful silence - as if touched by a past regret.

Again, Jesse already knew why. Knew this was his chance to try and do something about it. He just wished he knew what…

“Well, Jesse, you may not need any sauce, but you certainly need your rest…” Mark said at last, clearly surprised when, as he started to get up, Jesse caught his arm and shook his head.

“No, Mark, I think I’m all slept out for now…” At Mark’s doubtful look, he sighed and shrugged. “No, I – I thought maybe we could talk…”

“About what you’ve just been through…?” Mark asked, re-seating himself at Jesse’s side.

“No… I – I mean, yes, but… well, no, I - I guess I mean what we’ve both just been through…” Jesse sighed and shook his head again, frustrated once more by the drawbacks of human illness. How could he expect Mark to understand what he was trying to say when he was couldn’t himself ?

Fortunately Mark seemed to understand fevered gibberish, since he now smiled and nodded. “Yes, I know what you mean, Jesse…” he said at last, thinking for a moment before adding gently, “This is one experience that neither of us will forget in a hurry…”

“Yeah, tell me about it…” Jesse muttered, wincing slightly as he rubbed at a still rash raw chest. “Hippocratic oath or no Hippocratic oath, next time I find a surfer with the slightest case of sunburn, I’m gonna turn right around and run the other way…”

“No, you won’t, Jess…” Mark replied, forestalling the inevitable protest with a fond shake of his head.“Because helping people is such an integral part of you, not even risking your life would stop you…”

“Nor would it you, or else you wouldn’t have infected yourself with my blood…” Jesse pointed out – surprised, as Mark was, by the vehement bluntness of his words.

Still, it seemed to have done him a favour – given him an opening to thereal matter at hand.

Mark was now nodding in agreement, regarding him with a proud, fatherly smile. “And I have no regrets about doing it whatsoever…” he said, assuming this was what Jesse had meant.

The gratitude in Jesse’s eyes suggested he’d assumed correctly - but there was more to it than that. Jesse was clearly still troubled by what he’d done. The incredible sacrifice he’d been prepared to make. Not sure what more he could say or do to reassure him, Mark sighed and gently squeezed his arm. “I had to do something, Jess, I couldn’t just let you die…” he went on, his next words tellingly quiet. “I couldn’t just sit idly by and watch your life end before it had any real chance to begin…”

Too choked to continue, Mark fell silent and turned away, rubbing a tired hand across his face. When he finally looked back, Jesse was staring up at him with the strangest look in his eyes.A gentle, compassionate sadness - almost as though he understood what he’d done all along. Something else, too – compelling him to face the loss which had haunted him for so many years. “Jesse, you know how much… how deeply Steve and I have come to care about you…” he said at last, meeting still quizzical eyes with a rare sadness in his own. “What you don’t know is why…”

Perhaps it was a trick of the light, but Mark could have sworn that Jesse was smiling, ever so slightly. By the time he’d taken off his glasses, checked them and looked again, any trace of such was gone – in its place his young friend’s trademark look of puzzled curiosity. Mark sighed and shook his head in wry self mockery. The light. Definitely the light… “You see, Jess, there’s much more to it than that… much more than just friendship…” he went on. “You know how protective Steve has always been towards you… how he looks out for you… how he tries to keep you out of trouble or danger…”

“Must be why he’s so good at it… he’s had a lot of practice…” Jesse admitted, suitably rueful. As Mark laughed and nodded wry agreement, Jesse took the chance to lighten the mood a little more. “You know, if Steve ever gives up being a cop, he’d make a fortune as a professional big brother…”

“I’m sure Carol and Amanda would agree with you there…” Mark agreed, still laughing as he added, “And I’m sure when Carol finally gets to meet you… well, she is just going to love you to pieces…”

“Why…? Because I annoy the hell out of Steve…?” Jesse asked with a tired but mischievous grin.

“That’s very likely…” Mark chuckled – privately grateful that his son was safely out of earshot. When he spoke again, his voice was still quiet – but, to Jesse’s satisfaction, the strain in it had gone. “More likely she’ll see you the same Steve does… the little brother both of them always wanted…”

Serious too now, Jesse simply nodded - hiding his covert fore-knowledge behind a puzzled frown. “But never had…?” he asked quietly, smiling his thanks for a welcome glass of reviving juice.

Mark stared at him in open surprise, and for an awful moment Jesse thought he’d overstepped the line. Then, to Jesse’s relief, he recovered himself and nodded, studying his young friend with a proud smile. “You know, Jesse, this intuition of yours is becoming frighteningly much like mine…” he said at last – laughing outright at Jesse’s typically mischievous response.

“Well, I’m sure Steve will be glad to hear that… now he’ll have both of us driving him nuts…”

“Which is, after all, a father’s right…” Mark chuckled, again thoughtful though as he added softly, “Not to mention a little brother’s…”

Jesse nodded once more but remained silent this time – leaving Mark to softly and slowly continue.

“My second son was stillborn, Jesse… one of those cruel quirks of fate that no doctor can explain…” Seeing the awkward dismay in Jesse’s eyes, he then smiled slightly and shrugged his shoulders. “It was a long time ago, Jesse… and it’s true that time can heal even the most devastating pain… it’s alright, I’ve come to terms with my grief over Michael’s loss… we all have…”

Jesse smiled back and nodded – still awkward though as he fingered the edge of Mark’s bathrobe. “I can’t begin to imagine a loss like that…” he said at last, encouraged by a gentle smile to add shyly, “I mean, to lose someone who meant so much to you, knowing there wasn’t anything you could do…”

As Mark nodded in poignant agreement, Jesse looked up at him with a new understanding in his eyes. Seeing the tiredness that was creeping up behind it, Mark smiled and gently patted his shoulder. “So, Jesse, now you know why I did what I did… why I couldn’t let you die…” he explained softly. “Whatever the risk, Jess, however slim the chance of it working, I had to take that hope, that chance… I had to do whatever I could to save your life…”

Too choked now to reply, Jesse bit his lip and nodded – smiling his thanks for Mark’s comforting hug. “You know, Jesse, there was another quirk of fate that day…” Mark went on after a slight pause. “Not only do you share Michael’s birthday, you were both born at seven thirty in the morning… even when you account for the difference in time zones, you were born at exactly the same time…” If he hadn’t been so tired and drained himself, he’d have seen that curiously knowing smile again – or he may have questioned the slightly dubious innocence in his young friend’s eyes. Instead he glanced down at the coffee table beside him, to the photo of Carol he’d shown Jesse earlier. Picking it up, he sat studying it in thoughtful silence - lost once more in memories of happier times. Finally looking back into Jesse’s now gently serious eyes, Mark smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “You know, Jesse, there isn’t a day goes by that I don’t think of him… and Carol…” he said at last. “And I know Steve does too…” Pausing once more, he then gave Jesse’s arm a fond, fatherly squeeze. “And while Amanda has gone a long way to fill one void, you’ve gone even further to fill another…”

Fore-knowledge regardless, Jesse stared up at him in startled, deeply moved surprise. Whatever he’d planned to say, though, was lost in a sudden wave of overwhelming sensation – almost as though the strength that had sustained him through his ordeal had gained a new lease of life. Which, given where that strength had come from…

Hearing his soft gasp, seeing his eyes flutter under its intensity, Mark was already checking him over – the dread that he’d suffered some kind of relapse giving way to a relieved if rather surprised smile. “Well, now, what do you know…?” he said at last, winking at a now thankfully clearer eyed Jesse. “You see, Jesse, I told you that antigen was working, and… well, I’m delighted to say I was right…” Laughing at the polite disbelief on Jesse’s face, Mark showed him the only evidence he would believe. “Honestly, Jesse, it’s all there in digital splendour… congratulations, your fever has finally broken…”

“Yippee…” came the tired, still rather sceptical response – his next words, though, markedly brighter. “Hey, if you’re right, Mark, and I do feel better tomorrow, maybe I’ll get to enjoy some of that surf…”

While enjoying his young friend’s welcome enthusiasm, Mark couldn’t help but gently caution him. “Not so fast there, dude…” he warned, laughing helplessly at the plaintive dismay on Jesse’s face. “If you want any chance of catching some waves tomorrow, I suggest you catch some sleep first…”

Too exhausted to argue, knowing it was pointless to even try, Jesse grinned back at him and nodded. The thought of returning to the delights of previous dreams was one that he heartily welcomed. First, though, he had one last little matter to attend to…

Unaware of this divine conspiracy, Mark made one last check that Jesse was settled and comfortable – amused to note that his fiercely independent protégé was now far too sleepy to object to such coddling. Finally satisfied, Mark gently patted his shoulder before rising, unchallenged this time, to his feet.

Once Mark had left him, Jesse lay quietly reflecting on what had been said between them – his eyes repeatedly drawn to the coffee table next to him, to the photo of Mark’s estranged daughter.

Smiling, Jesse finally closed his eyes and allowed himself to drift into an unnaturally deep sleep - his last waking memory the photograph of Mark and his daughter, enjoying much happier times…


The light was still dazzling. The table still hard. The voice still exasperated.

“Back so soon, Jesse…? Why, you’re spending more time up here than you are down there…”

Pulling a face at all three receptions, Jesse wisely kept any sarcastic comeback to himself and sat up – ruefully thinking that even troubleshooting angels had their off days…

He soon cheered up, though, when the voice spoke again – warmly this time, sincere in its praise.

“You have done well, Jesse… completed your mission with great courage and commitment…” Before a shyly appreciative Jesse could respond, it spoke once more – voicing his unspoken concerns. “Yet you are still troubled, Jesse… not satisfied that your assignment to the Sloans is complete…”

Surprised at having his thoughts read so accurately, Jesse’s admiration of it then faded slightly. No, he shouldn’t be surprised by it – worried, maybe, but not surprised… “Yes, and… well, I – I mean, no, I guess I’m not…” he said at last, serious now as he stood upright. “I mean, I knew about Mark’s lost son, but… well, I didn’t know he’d lost a daughter too, and I…”

“Don’t worry, Jesse…” the voice assured him – apparently overlooking any less than angelic thoughts. “You of all people should know by now… no one is ever lost in our eyes…”

Before Jesse could reply, a monitor emerged from an adjacent wall, startling him into puzzled silence. A few moments later he was smiling again at the scene – or, rather, the person – it displayed. A tall, slimly elegant woman. Blonde, and far prettier in real life than even the most flattering photo.

Back in his mortal world, Mark sat beside him once more, watching protectively over him – wondering, no doubt, at what mischief lay behind such a contentedly satisfied, dreaming smile...

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