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by Ann Rivers

Mark Sloan liked to think that he was a gentle man, free of malicious vindictiveness.
He had, after all, taken an oath to heal the sick, to help those in need. To do no harm.
But in the case of Quinn Trask, he felt little compassion, or concern for his injuries.
Only bitterness, furious outrage towards the man who had caused Jesse such torment.
And judging by Steve's grim expression as he came running hard into the cabin,
his son's feelings were following pretty much the same path.
"Damn road was blocked had to come most the way by foot" Steve said at last,
looking anxiously around him while he caught his breath. "You okay, dad? Jess?
Only I heard a gunshot as I got here, and"
"We're both fine, Steve" his father assured him with a still tense, tight smile sparing Trask the briefest of glances before he nodded to where Jesse stood nearby.
"He was about to kill me but Jesse shot him first"
Steve's eyes widened, shocked and astonished by what his father had said
that shock changing swiftly to anger as he turned to regard Jesse's fallen tormentor.
Before that anger boiled over, though, he felt his father's hand settle on his shoulder.
"He isn't worth it, son" Mark said, their eyes meeting in shared understanding, before they turned as one towards someone who was.
Jesse, though, seemed oblivious to both their concern and everything else around him.
Haunted blue eyes stared back at them, with a blankness that set alarm bells ringing.
There was barely enough time for Mark and Steve to reach him before they slid shut, his knees buckling as Jesse collapsed into a startled Steve's arms.
"It's alright, Steve he's okay, he's just fainted" Mark hastened to assure him,
smiling up at his anxious son as he knelt at Jesse's side and gently checked him over.
"Considering Jesse's been living on adrenalin and not much else these last few days, I'm surprised he hasn't done so before now"
Seeing that Steve wasn't quite convinced, he reached over to gently pat his shoulder. "Don't worry, he'll come round in a secondnow, let's get him more comfortable
Can you get him onto the couch for me while I get him something to drink?"
His son nodded, still grim faced though as he gently lifted his friend onto the couch.
Although the threat to Jesse was now gone, and in spite of his father's assurances,
Steve still felt compelled to keep watch over his young friend until he recovered.
By the time Mark returned from the kitchen with some juice and a dampened cloth,
Jesse was starting to stir, roused still more by the damp cloth's soothing coolness.
Finally his eyes opened, slowly and gingerly, blinking up at them in blank confusion.
"What What happened?" he asked at last, trying instinctively to sit upright
only for Steve to pull him gently back down again.
"Take it from me, Jess, you really don't want to try that just yet" Steve warned him, winking back at him as Jesse managed a weak smile of agreement.
Mark too was smiling now, in both pride and relief as he sat carefully at Jesse's side.
"Easy, Jess it's okay, you just fainted" he explained gently, pouring some juice.
Seeing the tremors that still shook Jesse's hands, he passed the glass to Steve instead.
"Here now, try and drink some of this down slowly now, that's the way"
While he'd been speaking, he'd poured two extra glasses for Steve and himself
but on seeing the thirst in Jesse's eyes, neither had the heart to deny him theirs.
"Bet you're kinda hungry too" Steve said, offering his friend a sympathetic smile one that faded slightly as Jesse looked up at him out of once more haunted eyes.
"I I just want to get out of here just want to to go home" he whispered,
almost in tears as the full shock of his ordeal began to sink in.
"I know, Jess" Mark agreed, gently squeezing his arm before rising to his feet.
Motioning for Steve to stay put with Jesse, he then headed into a nearby bedroom.
Returning a few moments later with an armful of blankets and a woollen comforter, he met his son's quizzical gaze with an oddly cynical smile as he sat down again.
"After what he's put Jesse through, the least he owes him is some comfort" he said, nodding to where a still dazed and shaken Jesse sat slumped between them.
Gently draping the blankets and comforter around him, he then nodded back at Steve.
"Okay, Steve slow and steady with him, but let's get him out of this nightmare"
Not needing to be told twice, Steve nodded and carefully rose in time with his father.
Supporting Jesse between them, they made their way outside to Mark's car.
If anything, Jesse's exhaustion worked for them as they gently settled him into it
his sleepy docility making it easier for Steve to manoeuvre him inside.
By the time Mark settled behind the wheel and Steve took his place at his other side, Jesse was more or less asleep, his head lolling against the first support it could find. Steve's left shoulder seemed the pre-destined, not to mention most comforting choice.
"Right, let's get our boy home" Mark said at last, guiding the car onto the road having to stop almost immediately, though, as he felt Jesse stir restlessly beside him.
"Go Go home now?" Jesse whispered, staring up at Mark out of barely open eyes.
"Yes, Jesse, we're going home now it's okay, try to rest now" Mark soothed,
his voice dropping to a slow, persuasive lilt while he gently massaged Jesse's shoulder. "How'd you like to stay with us tonight? Or the next few days too, come to that?
I mean, your apartment still needs to be cleared and checked out by forensics, and
well, I'd guess you've not got much in the way of food at your place either, so
well, if you stay over with us, at least you'll be guaranteed a real good night's sleep.
And you'll be sure of a real good breakfast the next morning how's that sound?"
As he'd hoped, both suggestion and question were answered by a drowsily mumbled "'kay" before Jesse curled up against Steve's side and closed his eyes.
Still stroking his shoulder, Mark met his son's quizzical look with a fatherly wise smile.
"The most comforting thing to a frightened child is touch and a familiar voice" he said softly,
continuing that gentle, calming comfort until he heard the telltale steadying of Jesse's breathing.
Once Jesse had settled, Mark returned his son's admiring smile before resuming the journey home.
Steve remained thoughtful for several moments while he studied his now soundly sleeping friend.
He may have said it lightly, but his father had made an increasingly significant point.
Under its tousled mop of blond hair, the boyish face was pale. Gaunt, but thankfully peaceful.
Yet even with several days' stubble across it, that face still looked so young. So very vulnerable.
"Yeah, that's just what he was back there a terrified child" he said at last, half to himself - gently shifting Jesse to hold him more comfortably before returning his father's approving smile.
"With the way he runs things in the ER, you tend to forget just how young he is"
"Yes, I know" his father nodded before casting his son a comically meaningful glance. "Lucky for you that Jesse didn't hear that, or else you'd be his next customer!"
Realising what his father meant, Steve grinned back and nodded in rueful agreement.
Jesse Travis was one of the most even tempered, easy going people he'd ever known.
Yet while his skill as a doctor was beyond question, other factors stood against him
his age, for one thing, and the many stupid prejudices that such youthfulness brought.
Then again, as Steve and Mark and the rest of his colleagues had proudly witnessed,
Jesse was more than capable of treating such prejudice with the contempt it deserved.
Of all the people they'd seen who had cast any doubt on the young doctor's abilities,
none had been allowed to hold that opinion for very long.
Struck by a sudden thought, he met his father's eyes again with tension in his own.
"Speaking of which, won't he need to be checked over before we take him home?
I mean, those drugs that Trask used on him"
"Are actually doing us a favour" Mark smiled, nodding towards his young friend. "They're helping Jesse do what he needs to most sleep, letting his system recover
and as Jesse said himself, he's had enough people poking and prodding him lately.
No, Steve, the best thing for him now is to get him back to familiar surroundings someplace where he knows that he's safe, where he can recover in peace"
"And where we can both keep a real close eye on him" Steve cut in softly watching Jesse for a few moments before he sighed and glanced back at his father.
"Even now I can't stop thinking about when I first realised that he was missing
at first I was well, just so mad at him not just for wandering off, but
well, dumb and stupid things, like bringing the wrong brand of beer"
Pausing for a moment, he sighed once more his next words tellingly quiet.
"But by the end of that first day, and the others that followed, none of that mattered
all I wanted to do was to find him to know that he was safe"
Pausing for breath, he sighed once more, lost in thought as he watched Jesse sleep.
His father watched him in quiet sympathy, reaching to gently squeeze his shoulder.
Having been through it himself, he knew the fear and helplessness of a missing child -
just as he knew how fiercely protective Steve was towards his young friend.
Those five days that Jesse was missing had been a worrying time for all of them
but for Steve especially, alone in his search, they must have seemed like an eternity.
Simple it may have been, but that gesture of encouragement looked to have worked Steve's voice was at least a little easier as he finally glanced across at his father.
"Just don't want to let him go, dad just don't want to let Jess out of my sight"
"Yes, son, I know" Mark smiled, nodding towards the still soundly sleeping Jesse.
"But he's safe now, Steve. It's all over now, and Jesse's going to be just fine
we've got him back now, son for good this time and we're taking him home"
Steve nodded once more, his eyes easier too now as he hugged Jesse gently closer.
"Where Amanda can spoil him rotten" he agreed with a knowing smile
too absorbed in watching Jesse to hear the amused response this drew from his father.
"She'll have to get past you first"
With little traffic on the road, the journey home passed easily and without incident spent for the most part in silence in consideration for their sleeping friend.
As it turned out, and to their relieved amusement, they needn't have worried.
Jesse was still deeply asleep when, as dawn broke, the car pulled up at the house.
Not even the tricky task of carrying him down to the spare room came close to waking him -
prompting a wry look between father and son while they gently settled him into bed.
"Well, here's one baby that won't need any rocking tonight" Mark said at last, straightening from where he'd been tucking the bedclothes around Jesse's shoulders.
"Some sized baby you're talking about there, dad" Steve grinned back at him,
enjoying and sharing his father's amusement as they studied their sleeping friend
or, as both now saw him, a five foot six inch, soundly sleeping bundle of mischief.
"Imagine trying to get a diaper on him" Mark chuckled with a fond, fatherly smile.
From where he now sat by Jesse's shoulder, Steve looked up at him and shook his head.
"He'd never keep still long enough one of us would have to sit on him"
The grin then widened as he glanced back to where Jesse still slept peacefully in his arms.
"What I'd like to know is how someone who can look so innocent when he's asleep can cause so much mayhem when he's awake"
"Take it from someone who knows, son lots and lots of practice" Mark chuckled, his smile widening as whatever reply Steve had planned was lost in a massive yawn.
"You want to be tucked in too? Only you're kinda big for me to rock you"
Pulling a face back at him, Steve then grinned and shook his head while carefully settling himself more comfortably into the pillows behind him.
"No, that's okay, dad I'll stay here with Jess for a while before I turn in, just
well, you know, just in case he wakes up and wonders where he is"
His father just smiled and nodded, sensing the seriousness behind the casual levity the real reason why Steve was still holding Jesse so possessively close to him.
He'd have to let Jesse go eventually, of course pretty much as soon as he woke up, if Jesse's fiercely independent streak had anything to do with it.
But with the shock and worry of Jesse's disappearance still all too raw in his mind,
he wasn't ready to let him go just yet.
Still smiling, his father then diffused that lingering tension as only he could.
Enjoying Jesse's now calm, untroubled expression, he then glanced up at Steve and smiled.
"Well, after all those years of nagging me for one, you've finally got yourself a little kid brother"
Pulling a face back at him, Steve then grinned and happily rose to the bait.
"Reckon we could well, you know kinda unofficially adopt him?" he asked dryly.
"With the amount of time he spends here with us, I'd say we already have" his father chuckled,
still laughing as he gently tucked the bedclothes back around Jesse's shoulders.
Heading towards the door, he then turned back as a thought belatedly occurred to him. "We'll have to go back tomorrow for Jesse's car not to mention yours" he went on,
his eyes widening slightly as Steve grinned airily back at him and shook his head.
"Already on it, dad I've got a couple of my team to save us the trouble"
"Being a lieutenant clearly has its privileges" Mark observed, totally deadpan -
laughing helplessly at the smug face that Steve pulled in response.
"Wait till I make captain" he shot back, about to comment further but distracted instead as Jesse stirred against him, the first time he'd moved in several hours.
Under two pairs of watchful eyes he wriggled fretfully for a moment then rolled onto his back.
"It's alright, Steve, he's still asleep" Mark assured his suddenly anxious son,
his smile widening as he nodded to where Jesse was enjoying a long, cat like stretch.
"Like all rescued prisoners, he's enjoying his freedom that's it, just let him settle again"
"I know the feeling" Steve retorted, taking advantage of his own spell of freedom to shake the cramp out of his arm before casting his father a slightly rueful smile.
"Next time you tell me to move my arm before Jess hijacks it and uses it for a pillow, remind me to actually do so"
Before his father could reply, or warn him, Jesse sighed and rolled back again
and his newly de-cramped arm was trapped once more, more firmly than ever.
"Oh great" Steve muttered, rolling his eyes while his father tried in vain not to laugh.
"You realise, by the time Rip Van Travis here decides to enjoy his freedom again,
my arm will be as sound asleep as he is?"
Laughing helplessly now at the martyred, exasperated expression on his son's face,
Mark just shrugged in belated agreement before suggesting some welcome consolation.
"Well, to try and keep the rest of you awake, you want some coffee?"
"Sounds good" Steve yawned, easing himself into the nest of pillows behind him.
Mark couldn't help but smile as he watched his son's eyelids start to tellingly droop.
Something told him that Steve would be asleep long before that coffee had brewed.
Yawning himself now, Mark rubbed his eyes and headed back into the kitchen.
Unless he got some caffeine inside him soon, he'd end up sleeping against the wall.
He managed to stay awake long enough to make the coffee but only just.
Before he could check if Steve had managed to do the same, the sundeck door opened.
It was Amanda forewarned by his earlier phone call not to use the front doorbell.
"I wasn't expecting you back so soon" she said, careful to keep her voice down. Following him inside, she looked around expectantly before asking the inevitable.
"Safe and sound and sleeping like a baby" Mark assured her, adding with a smile, "And he's even got his very own babysitter"
"Yes, I can imagine" Amanda chuckled, shaking her head as they went downstairs.
"And I'd imagine that Steve"
"Is playing big brother to his heart's content" Mark replied, laughing as he added,
"I don't think he's stopped fussing over Jesse since we left Trask's cabin"
"While he's safely asleep and can't argue, right?" Amanda asked with a wry grin.
"Right" Mark agreed, laughing also as they headed towards Jesse's room.
On reaching the doorway, both stopped to enjoy the peaceful scene within.
Jesse was still asleep, curled up in a snug huddle of bedclothes against Steve's side.
To Mark's surprise, his son was still awake, still maintaining a protective vigil over his friend
his undeniable tiredness inevitably addling a normally razor sharp mind.
"Sh! He's still asleep!" he warned, indicating the gently snoring bundle beside him.
Somehow keeping her face straight, Amanda glanced at Mark and rolled her eyes.
"I can see why he made lieutenant so quickly" she observed, admirably deadpan.
"I'm very proud" Mark agreed just as dryly loving the mock glare he received in response.
All bantering aside, there was genuine relief as Amanda came to stand beside Steve,
returning his albeit tired hug while she gently brushed Jesse's hair back from his eyes.
Coming to join them, Mark then wearily expressed the relief that all of them felt.
"Thank God we got to him in time thank God he's finally safe"
"Amen to that" Steve agreed, his reply becoming lost in a cavernous yawn.
Seeing this, Amanda then favoured both Mark and Steve with the same air of concern.
"And now that he is, I suggest you both get some sleep yourselves" she said firmly
noting in some amusement that Steve was still yawning too much to do anything else but nod.
Returning to an equally amused Mark, she then smiled back at him while hugging his waist.
"You're way overdue for some sleep too get to bed now, Mark he's in safe hands now"
Smiling back in weary agreement, Mark allowed himself to be gently steered to the doorway.
Both then paused to glance back and enjoy one last glance at the peaceful scene behind them.
As they continued to watch, Jesse stirred in his sleep, mumbling through a restless dream
instantly settling, though, as Steve's arms closed gently and protectively around him.
"The safest, Amanda the safest" Mark said at last, hugging her in grateful return
both enjoying one last, proud glance before they left Jesse and Steve to sleep in peace.

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