Disclaimer Diagnosis Murder and its characters belong to CBS and Viacom
No profit is being made from their use in this fanfiction story


by Ann Rivers

He woke slowly, to blinding bright light that painfully dazzled his eyes.
Instinctively he tried to raise his hand to shield them from it but couldn't.
As awareness returned, and in rising fear and panic, he realised why.
He was lying on his back, his hands tied behind him, digging into his spine,
his shoulders aching from being forced into such an unnatural angle.
His legs were tied too, less tightly, to a grille at the end of the bed.
Instinct was near yelling at him to call out for help. Pure terror prevented him.
He tried to move instead, to at least take the strain away from his shoulders
only to fall back, crying out from the jolts of pain which his struggles provoked.
Almost at once he could sense movement beside him, a shadowy presence.
A presence that was far from friendly.
Three figures stood over him, their faces cast in shadow from the blinding light.
One of them spoke, with a coldness that sent a chill through their prisoner's spine.
"I am ready for him now" As he turned away, his next words were just as clinical.
"Make sure he is adequately controlled, then bring this meddlesome boy to me"
His companions nodded, one moving away while the other bent menacingly forward only to recoil with a curse of fury as the seemingly helpless captive kicked out at him.
"Little runt tried to kick me!" he muttered, glaring down into defiant blue eyes
anger fuelling already superior strength as he struck him viciously hard across the mouth, with such force that his knuckles came away stained with blood.
"Won't be trying that again, will you, kid?" he growled in brutish satisfaction meeting the other's quizzical glance with a smug grin as he shrugged his shoulders.
"The boss wanted him controlled didn't say how"
"He meant with these" the other argued, nodding towards the small tray in his hand.
Handing it to his companion, he bent over their still dazed, whimpering captive roughly restraining him while looking across at his cohort with the same brutish grin.
"Give him your best shot"
His partner smirked and nodded, making a show of deliberating over his choice.
Lifting one of several preloaded syringes, he stood and studied it for a moment,
before holding it in front of his victim's now wide, terrified eyes.
"Aw, doc, you must do this all the time don't tell me you're scared" he gloated,
unmoved by his struggling victim's terrified cries as he slid the needle slowly home.
"Don't worry, doc this won't hurt a bit"
"No! No, please don't! No, let me go! Let me let let me go"
As the drugs took effect, so those struggles and cries grew steadily weaker and fainter.
Within seconds they stopped completely, the brutalised body falling limp and silent

Steve Sloan woke with a start, trying to work out what had broken his sleep.
Then he heard a familiar voice cry out once more from the guest room down the hall.
Jesse's voice, muffled at first, but now rising into an all out scream of terror.
"Damn it, not again" he groaned, grabbing his robe as he scrambled out of bed.
Running out into the hall, he almost collided with his equally dishevelled father -
both sadly shaking their heads as they rushed together towards Jesse's room.
By the time they reached him he was seemingly asleep again, albeit still fretfully.
Even so, father and son knew better as they took now familiar places at Jesse's side. Both knew that their young friend's nightmare wasn't over. Far from it.
In fact, it was just beginning

Again he woke to the same dazzling brightness, the same pain, the same terror.
Except he could taste blood this time, although he had no idea of how it had got there.
He was tied down differently too, still stretched flat on his back, but spread eagled now.
Cold steel circled his wrists and ankles instead of those earlier chafing cords, unyielding metal behind his back instead of the relatively softer bed from before.
His entire body was aching, his stomach pulled painfully taut as he fought to breathe.
His head was throbbing too, both from that relentless light and worsening nausea.
Whatever his captors had used on him to quash his defiance, it was certainly working.
More terrified than he'd ever been in his life, Jesse laid his aching head back again - nausea swamping him once more, terror rising within him as his captor reappeared.
Except God, no ! This was a nightmare, it had to be! This just wasn't possible! The face that looked impassively down at him was still half hidden in shadow.
But it wasn't human
It was a face like nothing on earth, thin and grey, out of proportion to its body -dominated by massive black eyes that seemed to reach right down into his soul.
Paralysed with terror, Jesse could only stare back into that face in mute disbelief.
Even when it touched him, with spindly hands that were just as unearthly cold,
Jesse could do nothing except look up into the hypnotic blackness of those eyes.
His instinct to fight, to resist - his very will itself - seemed to be drawn up into them.
Finally it nodded, as if in approval, before resting its hands on the collar of his shirt.
Still paralysed, it took Jesse several seconds to realise what those hands were doing.
Unbuttoning his shirt, tugging it open with the same slow, clinical purpose.
Then it started a droning whine, growing in volume until it flooded his mind.
Unyielding steel clamped against his temples, holding his head in a vice like grip.
Something hard and cold slid down the bare skin of his chest, pressing and probing.
Inhuman fingers followed, tracking down his body in painfully intimate thoroughness.
A hand pressed down on an already aching stomach until it forced him to gasp with pain.
Needles pricked his arm, drawing blood while abrasive steel scraped his skin.
And in this unimaginable terror, Jesse finally found his voice in a horrified scream.
"Oh God, no! No, please, stop it! Let me go! Oh God, please stop! No!"

"No! Let me go, you you can't do this to me! Oh God no, you can't do this!"
Firm hands gripped his shoulders, holding him as Jesse struggled wildly against them.
A voice, distant and vaguely familiar, gradually filtered through his terrified cries.
"Whoa, Jesse easy now, it's alright, you're safe now easy now, it's alright" Another hand settled on his side. Another voice - just as familiar, just as worried.
"It's alright, Steve, he's coming out of it that's it, just keep holding him"
As recognition finally dawned, Jesse stopped struggling and gingerly opened his eyes, trying to focus them on the blessedly familiar though anxious face beside him.
"M Mark?" he whispered, his voice still faint from the terror of his nightmare.
Calmer now, though still dazed, he then looked around for that other comforting face.
"Steve? Is Is that you?"
"Right here, Jess" Steve assured him, wrapping his still visibly shaking friend in a long, comforting hug as he added gently, "Easy, Jesse, it's alright, you're safe now you're safe now, it's all over"
As Jesse nodded and clung onto him, father and son traded grim, worried glances.
"Dad, he can't go on like this" Steve said at last, his voice terse with concern.
"No, he can't" his father agreed, watching his young friend with sad, anxious eyes.
Huddled in Steve's arms, Jesse was still shaking from the terror of his nightmare, clinging onto his friend as though his life depended on it.
With his own apartment still out of bounds, they'd brought Jesse home with them,
hoping the familiar surroundings would help convince him that he was finally safe.
Physically and mentally drained, he'd spent that first safe night in a flat out sleep
one so deep and so sound that neither dreams nor nightmares could reach him.
But for the past two nights, and now this third, the nightmares had broken through. Flashbacks from his ordeal, memories of pain and terror that refused to connect.
And instead of finding the healing rest that both body and mind so desperately needed,
his physical and mental state were giving both Mark and Steve grave cause for concern.
Watching Steve try to comfort his friend, Mark knew that his son was right.
Someone had to break this cycle of terror, and quickly otherwise
Jesse's voice broke into increasingly worried thoughts. Still faint, choked with fright.
"I I'm sorry, Mark, I don't know what the hell's wrong with me"
Masking his worry behind an encouraging smile, Mark drew him into a comforting hug.
"I do" he said softly, reaching to gently brush Jesse's hair back from his eyes.
"Jesse, you've been through a horrendous ordeal, both physically and mentally.
To be honest, I'd be more worried if you weren't having nightmares from it"
Seeing that Jesse wasn't at all convinced, he smiled and tried again to reassure him.
"Jesse, what you're going through with having these nightmares is perfectly normal.
Frightening for you, I know, but perfectly normal"
"And I'm ruining your sleep too because of it" Jesse went on, still clearly upset.
Still disoriented, he threw off the bedclothes and, to Steve's astonishment, tried to get up.
"I'll I'll go home now, let you guys get some sleep"
"Oh no, you won't" Mark told him, gently but firmly pushing him back again.
"Apart from the fact that its four thirty in the morning, you're in no state to drive.
No, Jesse, you're staying right here with us until you get your strength back.
Besides, forensics are still checking and clearing your apartment, remember?"
"But Mark, I can't keep disturbing you both like this" Jesse continued to argue,
his eyes widening as, instead of arguing back, Mark grinned and nodded at Steve.
"Jess, believe me, if I'd had a dollar for each time this one kept me up all night,
I would never have had to work!"
That won him a shaky smile from his young friend and a playful glare from his son. Jesse's smile, though, hadn't quite reached his eyes as he settled back into bed.
"Next thing you know, I'll be checking under my bed for Cylons" he muttered,
rubbing a now thankfully steadier hand across his eyes before adding peevishly,
"And twenty nine is a little old to be having nightmares, don't you think?"
"Not after what you've just been through, Jesse" Mark replied with a gentle smile -
one which, like that of his son, grew in relief as Jesse frowned and shook his head.
Tempered by tiredness it may have been, but that stubborn tenacity was a good sign.
The old and much missed Jesse Travis was making a welcome comeback.
"Except they aren't nightmares, Mark" he went on after several moments thought, rubbing his eyes again and so missing the smile that passed between Mark and Steve.
"They're more like flashbacks, you know? Like scenes from a movie, only
some of those scenes are missing, and why am I having them in the first place?
I mean, I know now that there were never any aliens, but"
Pausing for breath, Jesse then sighed and shook his head, as though trying to clear it.
When he spoke again his voice was still calm, but the words were still tellingly quiet.
"God, Mark, it just seems so real every time I close my eyes, they're all I see
all I feel is those things touching me, and and, God, it feels and seems so real"
Throughout this time Mark had been nodding in thoughtful consideration.
Finally he looked up to regard Jesse and Steve with a slight, almost playful smile.
"Boys, if we're to get to the bottom of this, we need to feed our minds" he said,
winking back at them before rising to his feet and heading briskly for the door.
"And I always think better on a full stomach"
Watching him go, Jesse looked up at Steve with a still slightly awkward grin.
"At four thirty in the morning?" he asked, raising a sleepily quizzical eyebrow.
"Look on it as a real early breakfast, Jess" Steve grinned, winking back at him.
As he moved down the hall, Mark allowed himself a relieved chuckle of laughter never more grateful as he was now to hear Jesse giggle, even if it was at his expense.
By the time he returned with a tray of snacks and the ever reliable pot of coffee,
Jesse was looking a little happier enough, at least, to return his smile more easily.
Enough, too, for him to lay claim to an entire bowl of tortilla chips.
Watching him settle contentedly with his favourite snackfood, Mark and Steve grinned.
Okay, so the corn chips were out of commission, but neither of them minded.
Jesse's appetite, for both food and answers, was returning. Things were looking up
Before he could find those answers, however, Mark had to pose a gently asked question.
"Alright Jesse, now I know both Steve and I have asked you this several times already,
but what's the last thing you can freely remember? Take your time now, Jess
that's it, close your eyes if you think it'll help just try to remember"
After thinking hard for several moments, Jesse opened his eyes again and shook his head.
"It's no use, Mark, it's still just a total blank" he said at last, clearly frustrated.
"Apart from me waking up in Utah, the last thing I remember is Steve leaving the cabin"
Feeling Steve tense beside him, Jesse looked up at him with a gentle, blameless smile
a gesture of both trust and reassurance, reciprocated in a grateful, brotherly hug.
Taking a long drink of reviving coffee, Jesse then frowned a little as he added thoughtfully,
"Funny thing, though, is that well, this time I think I started to dream about the truth
I wake up in this cell of some kind, and these two goons give me a shot of something, and
well, from then on, I'm way out there with Mulder and Scully"
Mark and Steve both smiled, clearly relieved by the return of that wry sense of humour.
"So why do I keep dreaming about things that never happened to me?" Jesse went on,
holding out his mug for a refill of what was clearly high octane coffee.
"Because those memories are what Quinn Trask wants you to remember" Mark replied, trading an amused grin with Steve as Jesse nodded then frowned quizzically up at them.
"The creep you shot in the cabin" Steve explained, pre answering the inevitable question trading glances with his father before giving a now rather subdued Jesse a gentle hug.
"It's okay, Jess I know it must have been one of a shock for you to do it in the first place but well, considering he was behind all this, you did us all one hell of a favour by shooting him"
"Especially me" Mark agreed, giving Jesse's arm a gentle squeeze of heartfelt gratitude
sharing a relieved smile with his son as Jesse smiled more easily back at him and nodded.
"So who was he?" Jesse asked, frowning again with the first of many unanswered questions.
"Why did he kidnap me, and and take me God knows where to put me through all this,
then follow me back to Community General pretending to be my new best friend?"
Now it was Mark and Steve's turn to look confused, before Mark nodded in realisation.
"I'd guess he was that mysterious visitor you saw outside your hospital room" he said at last, refilling Jesse's mug with fresh coffee while offering his young friend an almost apologetic smile.
"As for why he kidnapped you, and put you through all this well, we're still checking into that
what we've gathered so far is that it had something to do with Paris pharmaceuticals"
"Well, that would explain how he kept me doped up to my eyeballs" Jesse said quietly,
clearly appreciating two gently encouraging hugs as he glanced up at Mark and Steve in turn.
"So is he still controlling me? Controlling what I think or remember or do?"
"No, Jess, he isn't can he, dad?" Steve chipped in, adding before his father could reply,
"I mean, it was Jesse's water supply that Trask doctored, not ours"
"Oh, I know that, Steve" Mark nodded, thinking for a moment before he went on,
"And yes, the control of those drugs over Jesse will certainly have worn off by now but to set and then maintain something so totally outlandish in his mind would"
"Would have taken something much more intense, such as hypnosis" Jesse cut in,
his eyes widening slightly as he noticed Mark smile at him and nod his agreement.
"And that's why I still can't remember what really happened to me, isn't it?
Why I can still only see those aliens in my head instead of what really happened
why I can't remember anything after Steve left and Trask's men grabbed me
why I believed all that crazy stuff I was told at that supposed support group
and why I went to that two bit rag with my story he must have hypnotised me"
"That's right, Jesse and very effectively too" Mark replied, patting his shoulder.
"I mean, to look back on it now, you were acting so totally out of character that
well, there's no other way to explain it your actions were being controlled by Trask,
both by those drugs in your water supply and extremely powerful hypnotic suggestion.
That's why you still can't remember what really happened after you were kidnapped
I mean, from what you said just now, parts of it are starting to filter through, but
well, for now everything that Trask forced into your mind, all those false memories,
from the moment that you were taken to when you woke up next to that road in Utah,
is blocking all memory of what really happened to you"
As Jesse nodded in quiet but thankfully calm agreement, Mark smiled gently back at him, feeling much of his earlier worry lift on seeing the quizzical curiosity in Jesse's eyes
the calmness with which he now faced the horrors of what had been done to him.
"You see, Jess, he had two reasons for planting that alien abduction idea in your mind.
Obviously, it was the ideal way for him to discredit you, and also"
"Yeah, you're not kidding" Jesse cut in, pulling a face as he added plaintively,
"I mean, of all the rags for me to make front page news on, it just had to be that!"
"It's okay, Jess, they've printed a full retraction to clear your name" Steve chipped in his reassurance not entirely successful if the look on Jesse's face was anything to go by.
"Don't worry, Jesse, no one believes the stuff they print anyway" Mark tried instead,
he and Steve finding it impossible not to laugh as Jesse eyed both in comical scepticism.
"Try telling that to my mom" Jesse retorted, adding with a plaintive wince,
"I shudder to think what's on my answer machine"
"Don't worry, Jesse, I'm sure I'll be able to explain all this to her" Mark assured him,
sharing a wry wink with Steve as Jesse cast him a look of pure, unbridled incredulity. "You've never met my mom" he muttered with a rueful but very welcome grin.
The laughter around him was too contagious to ignore too welcome not to join in.
Eventually though, Jesse grew more serious as he glanced up at Mark.
"Okay, so he wanted to discredit me, I can kinda understand that" he said at last.
"But what's the second reason? I mean, with everything he was doing to me,
I was hardly in a fit state to threaten him"
"Oh, but you were, Jess" Mark replied, more serious too as he went on to explain.
"Even with such a well executed operation, he had to make a contingency plan.
If any of us had realised what he was doing and you survived to testify against him well, if all you could remember as evidence against him was that you'd been kidnapped by aliens"
"I'd have been laughed out of court and locked up in a padded cell" Jesse nodded,
pulling another face as he sighed and shook his head before adding with a rueful grin, "Suddenly making front page news on that third rate rag doesn't seem quite so bad"
"And at least you won't need to testify against Trask after all" Mark agreed,
smiling too but his next words spoken with total seriousness. "And it's over, Jesse.
You're safe. And where he is, Trask won't be going anywhere for a very long time"
"I know that, Mark I know all of that" Jesse replied, his voice tellingly quiet.
"But I know this sounds crazy, but I have to know what really happened to me.
I need to remember all of it, Mark, not just what Trask wants me to remember"
As Mark and Steve nodded their understanding, Jesse sighed and shook his head.
"For one thing how did I end up in Utah looking like something the cat dragged in?
What happened to me in those five days that I was missing? Really happened?
That's what I want to remember that's what I need to come to terms with"
He'd spoken quietly, but with a determination in his eyes that brooked no argument.
A calm determination which both Mark and Steve gratefully welcomed.
"Well, Jess, there is one way that you could be allowed to remember" Mark said not minding in the slightest when Jesse nodded and cut in before he could continue.
"I could do what you suggested, Mark, and let myself be hypnotised to remember
well, de-hypnotised first then put under again by the good guys to"
His initial enthusiasm then faded slightly as Mark sighed and shook his head.
"I'm afraid that Dr Chilesk is away at a conference, Jess for the whole week"
As Jesse's face fell, however, so Mark's was lifted by a slight, encouraging smile.
"Would you trust me to try instead?" he asked, gently squeezing Jesse's shoulder.
As both Jesse and Steve stared back at him in open surprise, so the smile widened.
"I took psych rotation at the same time" he explained, shrugging his shoulders.
"I mean, I know it was a long time ago, and I took a different specialty, but"
To his relief, both personal and professional, Jesse was already nodding agreement both to Mark's offer and the consequences of accepting it.
Finally he looked up and smiled with a welcome trace of his usual spirit.
"There's no one in the world I trust more than you, Mark" he said softly
blushing a little as, glancing up at Steve, he added shyly, "Except you"
"Good save, Jess" Steve grinned, winking back at him before glancing at his father.
"Count me in too, dad just tell me what to do and how I can help"
Now it was Mark's turn to look surprised as he looked from one to the other.
If truth be told, he'd wanted Jesse to get some more rest before they attempted it.
As if sensing his thoughts, Jesse's smile faded into a slightly awkward wince.
"But not now, right, Mark? I - I mean, I've lost you enough sleep as it is, and"
"No, Jess, we can try now so long as you feel up to it" Mark assured him, smiling now as he winked at Jesse before nodding towards a now empty coffee pot.
"With so much caffeine inside us, I doubt that any of us will get back to sleep"
Regarding Steve, and Jesse especially, with a fatherly proud smile, he got to his feet.
"Okay, boys, I'll restock on the coffee and munchies and then we'll make a start
Steve, do you think you could give me a hand?"
His son looked surprised for a moment, then caught the hint and rose to his feet.
Leaving Jesse to his thoughts, both then left his room both slightly troubled.
As they moved down the hall, Steve finally sighed and shook his head.
"You really think Jess is strong enough yet to face this, dad?" he asked softly.
"In all honesty, Steve? No, he isn't" Mark replied with the same concern.
"But you can see what these nightmares are doing to him, and they're getting worse."
Thinking for a moment, Mark then looked up at his son and shrugged his shoulders.
"Hard and harsh as it sounds, son, for Jesse's sake this is the lesser of two evils"
Steve nodded, both in understanding and agreement as they entered the kitchen.
"So what can I do, dad?" he asked, shrugging as he refilled the coffee pot.
"I mean, I know I can't be of any help on the medical side, but"
"You don't have to be" his father replied, smiling back at him as he went on,
"You heard what Jesse said to you just then he trusts you just as much as me
and I'm going to use that trust to help Jesse once he's able to remember what happened. Although those aliens were purely in Jesse's mind, his physical injuries weren't.
If the extent of those injuries is anything to go by, he had one hell of a rough time"
Steve just nodded, still haunted by his own memories of that cruelly battered face.
"So your idea is for me to be there to let Jesse know that he's safe?" he asked,
nodding again but at least smiling now as his father nodded and patted his shoulder.
"You'll be Jesse's gateway, Steve his link back to safety" he explained.
"Before we start, I'll tell Jesse to take a hold of your hand, or you can hold him.
There has to be some physical contact that he can feel to keep that gateway open.
That way, whenever he's distressed or remembering what his attackers did to him,
he'll know that he's safe do you follow me?"
"All the way, dad" Steve replied, adding coffee to a growing assortment of snacks.
Seeing his quizzical amusement, Mark smiled back at him and went on to explain.
"Remember, Jesse said he had no food or drink the whole time he was imprisoned.
So this will be another way to remind and reassure him that he really is safe now.
We'll give him food and drink when he needs it, let him rest when he wants to,
and give him all the reassurance we can to keep reminding him that he's safe now.
In other words, the complete opposite to what his captors put him through, okay?"
"Okay, dad, let's do this" Steve nodded, struggling slightly to lift a now laden tray.
Watching him, Mark thought for a moment before removing one of the coffee mugs.
"That help?" he asked with a smile one part innocence to three parts mischief.
"Oh yeah, dad big help" Steve shot back with a rueful grin as they moved away.
They found Jesse pretty much as they'd left him thinking what he was about to face.
To the relief of both of them, the determination hadn't diminished in their absence.
If anything, the resolve in those expressive blue eyes had grown even stronger.
Placing their respective loads on the bedside table, father and son traded proud grins. Both knew that, once Jesse Travis set his mind on something, very little stopped him.
As Mark had once wryly remarked, to try was like telling the tide to turn around.
"Well, we're all set with the supplies" Mark said at last, patting Jesse's shoulder.
"How about you, Jess? Do you still feel up to doing this?"
The response was all he'd hoped and expected to see a calm and resolute smile.
"Yes, Mark" Jesse replied, echoing Steve's earlier determination as he added softly, "Okay, let's do this"
Trading another proudly knowing smile, Mark took his place next to Jesse's shoulder, Steve at his other shoulder, next to the food tray prompting a slightly nervous grin.
"Guess I'm the meat in the sandwich, right?"
"Complete with corn chips" Steve grinned back, lifting the appropriate bowl taking this chance to go through the rest of the menu. "Not to mention cheese puffs,
various nuts, some weird looking twirly things and whoa, even ice cream"
"And coffee" Mark chipped in, laughing at the quizzical surprise on Jesse's face.
"Well, that should do for me" Jesse quipped brightly, glancing at each in turn.
"What are you guys having?"
"The leftovers, as usual" Steve zinged right back at him, joining both his father and Community General's human food disposal in what was still slightly nervous laughter.
Beyond all the jokes and banter, all three knew the serious task that lay ahead.
"Ready, Jess?" Mark asked, placing a gently encouraging hand on Jesse's shoulder.
"As I'll ever be" Jesse replied, taking a deep breath before he added quietly,
"Okay, Mark, what do you want me to do?" A pause, then a promisingly wry grin. "Apart from shutting up and going to sleep"
"Actually, Jess, I don't want you to do either at least not yet" Mark grinned back. Giving him a fondly proud hug, his smile widened as Steve instantly followed suit.
"No, before we start I'm going to tell you what's going to happen while you're under. Then, once you're ready, I'll start to regress you back okay?"
Again the calm smile, strengthened by the relief that his nightmare would soon be over.
Proudly patting his young friend's shoulder, Mark then nodded across to Steve.
"Okay, now Steve is going to be your gateway, your link between what you experienced during your abduction and the fact that you're now safe and home again.
He's going to be right beside you the whole time, holding onto your hand.
Now, Jesse, whenever you want to take a rest, or if you become frightened or upset,
just squeeze Steve's hand and he'll bring you straight back to safety okay?"
"Okay, Mark" Jesse nodded and smiled back at him before glancing up at Steve. Even so, he couldn't quite hide the apprehension in his voice as he added softly,
"Okay, Mark, I'm ready when you are"
Mark smiled and hugged him in gentle encouragement before reaching in his pocket.
Drawing out his father's old fob watch, he then placed it in Jesse's hand.
"I'll be using this to help you go under" he explained with another reassuring hug. Although he'd tried to make light of it, he knew Jesse was understandably nervous. Knew that familiarisation to the unknown was a lot more productive than fear of it.
"It's beautiful" Jesse murmured, studying it with all due reverence and curiosity.
To Mark's amused approval, every inch, inside and out, was studiously inspected.
When he handed it back, the smile was easier - the nervousness in his eyes was gone.
Winking back at him, Mark then gently patted the heap of pillows behind him.
"Alright, Jess if you're ready, just get yourself settled that's it, nice and comfy.
Now, I'm going to start to take you under just try to relax, okay?"
Jesse nodded, managing a slightly less nervous smile as he glanced up at Steve.
"See you on the other side" he said at last, taking a deep breath before adding softly, "Okay, Mark I'm ready"
Glancing across at his son, Mark gave Jesse one last hug then moved to his side.
Once Jesse had settled again he started to slowly spin the watch in front of his eyes.
"Okay Jesse, you can probably guess what you need to do now" he said at last.
"Take a few more long and deep breaths and then concentrate on this watch
listen to my voice try to relax imagine yourself lying somewhere warm, Jess enjoying a week's leave out on the beach, maybe watching the waves break
somewhere real warm and exotic the Caribbean, maybe, or even Waikiki"
"On a resident's salary?" Jesse sighed, adding with an already drowsy smile,
"Thanks, Mark, but I think I'll stick to Malibu, it's it's cheaper"
Another quiet sigh, followed by a drowsier grin and an even sleepier afterthought.
"'sides, then I'll be near the house and you, and Steve and and home"
"Whatever you say, Jess" Mark chuckled, winking at Steve before adding softly,
"Okay, Jesse, you're lying on the beach near the house you're the only one there
you can feel the sun's warmth on your face, and there's just the trace of a breeze"
The tiredness from those three disturbed nights actually worked in Jesse's favour now that, and Mark's soothingly familiar voice, was already taking effect on him.
"Yeah, I I can see the waves now it's really really nice" he mumbled sleepily.
His eyes were still open but only just, now totally focussed on Mark's watch.
Seeing this, Mark glanced across at Steve and smiled before he turned back to Jesse.
"Okay, Jess, Steve's going to take your hand now and I want you to close your eyes"
Jesse nodded and closed his eyes, his breathing still steady but now noticeably slower.
Steve could feel Jesse relax against him as he settled into a lightly hypnotised sleep.
"How's he doing?" he mouthed, not wanting to break Jesse's trance.
"He's going under he's just fine" Mark assured him before turning back to Jesse, keeping his voice pitched low, calm and soothing as he gently coaxed him to sleep.
"That's it, Jess, you're doing just fine just let Steve take your hand now, that's it
let all the fear and tension roll out of your mind, let yourself become totally relaxed"
Watching Jesse's face, Mark glanced back at Steve and smiled before he went on,
"That's fine, Jesse, just let yourself relax and keep listening to the sound of my voice
keep watching those waves break over the beach, feel that warm sun on your face
attaboy, Jess, you're doing just fine just keep listening to the sound of my voice feel yourself relaxing feel yourself start to drift to sleep attaboy, Jesse, that's it
you're drifting more deeply now, drifting and falling into a deep and sound sleep
don't be afraid of the sleep, Jesse, or try to fight against it just let yourself sleep
even when I stop speaking, you'll still be falling into a deep, complete sleep"
Mark then fell silent for several moments, his eyes trained on Jesse's face
nodding in satisfaction as the nervous tension within it gradually disappeared.
With great care and gentleness, he placed his hand on Jesse's wrist to check his pulse, smiling in both relief and approval as Jesse's head slowly lolled back onto Steve's shoulder.
After a few more moments, and another gentle check, he met Steve's eyes and smiled.
"That's it, Steve, he's sufficiently under now here we go" he said softly,
reaching into his pocket to take out his portable tape recorder. Setting it to play,
he then turned back to address Jesse in a still quiet, pleasantly businesslike voice.
"Jesse? Can you hear me?"
"Yes, Mark yes, I can hear you" Jesse replied, just as calmly and steadily
his voice normal but for a slight, barely noticeable drowsiness.
"That's good, Jesse" Mark said gently. "Now, can you tell me where you are?"
"Here" Jesse sighed with a sleepily contented smile. "I'm here, on the beach
lying in the sun, watching the sea"
"Even better" Mark chuckled, enjoying Steve's amusement too as he added gently,
"Okay, Jesse, so you're lying on the beach enjoying the sun and watching the sea
is there anyone with you?"
"No, just me" Jesse said softly, frowning a little before the drowsy smile returned.
"No, wait Steve's here too he's taking care of me"
"Yes, that's right, Jesse Steve's there to take care of you" Mark agreed quietly. "And you know that Steve won't let anything hurt you, don't you, Jess?
You're about to face something frightening, but you're not worried by it, are you? Because Steve is there with you, and he's going to protect you and keep you safe" "No, I'm not worried" Jesse replied, closing his fingers around Steve's hand.
"Steve's with me he'll protect me keep me safe"
"Yes, Jesse, that's right he'll keep you safe" Mark assured him once more, trading a brief smile with Steve before, taking a deep breath, he returned to Jesse.
"Alright, Jesse, now you know that you're about to re-live a frightening ordeal.
But you'll be experiencing that ordeal purely as pictures in your mind, Jess.
You're safe now, with Steve right here beside you whatever you're about to see, whatever you're about to remember, Jesse, it will not and cannot harm you.
Do you understand that? Nothing you're about to experience is going to hurt you.
Nothing is going to hurt you, Jesse because Steve won't let it okay?"
"Yes, Mark, I understand" Jesse replied, smiling as he fingered Steve's hand.
"Steve won't let anything hurt me"
"That's right, Jesse that's right" Mark told him, motioning for Steve to get ready. "Alright, Jesse, now you're going to start to remember what's causing these nightmares
but you'll be seeing and remembering what's causing them just in your mind now
so now I want you to go back to what you've been experiencing in these nightmares you've been kidnapped and now you're waking up wake up in your mind, Jesse
tell me what you can see"
Jesse remained still and silent for a few moments, his eyes twitching under their lids. Then he frowned and started to speak, his voice softer the words slightly hesitant.
"I I'm waking up with this this real bright set of lights shining into my eyes
want to get away from it, but I I can't move I I'm tied up can't move"
The frown deepened into a wince before Jesse swallowed and doggedly continued.
"There's someone with me now, standing next to me, but but it's too dark to see
I can't see his face, but I can hear him talking talking about me"
"Okay, Jesse, you're doing fine and you're still perfectly safe" Mark soothed him. "Now just take your time and tell me what he's saying can you do that?"
Jesse nodded, his fingers tightening slightly across Steve hand as he slowly continued.
"He He's saying that he's ready for me, that I I have to be controlled"
As Mark and Steve looked at each other in growing disquiet, Jesse winced once more,
stirring restlessly now as his nightmare came back to shockingly vivid life.
"There's someone else over me now, real huge reaching out to grab hold of me"
Jesse tensed, trembling slightly but refusing to yield to his terror at least not yet.
When he spoke again, however, there was no hiding the fear and shock in his voice.
"I I tried to kick him away, but he just just hit me back hit me real hard
I can taste blood in my mouth, and oh God, no, he - he's got hold of me again
he's holding me down again, and he he's going to inject something into me
I I can't get away! Can't stop what he's doing to me!"
Under Steve's dismayed eyes, Jesse struggled for a moment, whimpering in fear.
Within those struggles his fingers clenched around Steve's hand and he stiffened,
before he sighed softly and relaxed again, the terror thankfully leaving his face.
In the shaken silence that followed, Steve glanced at his father with sad, tense eyes his only comfort as he looked anxiously back at Jesse was how quickly he'd settled.
"Is he back now, dad?" he asked softly, finding more comfort in his father's smile.
"Yes, Steve, he's back" Mark replied, still watching Jesse as he added quietly,
"This must be that partial memory of the truth that Jesse said he remembered earlier.
With Jesse mentioning control just then, and the fact that he was forcibly injected,
Trask must have used powerful drugs to force that alien kidnap idea into his mind"
Mark then thought for a moment before rubbing his hand across suddenly tired eyes.
"I'm going to have to take Jesse through all of that first to release his mind from it,
then take him deeper to find out what really happened to him"
"Then he'll be free of this damn thing for good, right?" Steve asked just as quietly,
clearly appreciating his father's heartening squeeze on his shoulder.
"Yes, Steve, he'll be free of it free of this nightmare" Mark replied with a gentle smile.
"Don't forget, that's why Jesse wanted me to do this, Steve he wants to be free of all this,
all the fear and uncertainty free to put this behind him and get on with his life"
With Jesse's welfare at stake, Steve dismissed his own fears in a nod of agreement
finding enough strength in Jesse's now calm, untroubled face to return his father's smile.
Winking proudly back at him, Mark then turned back to gently call Jesse's name.
"Jesse? Jess, can you hear me?"
"Mm" Jesse mumbled vaguely, before his voice cleared. "Yes, Mark, I hear you"
"That's good, Jesse now, tell me where you are"
"Waking up again" Jesse sighed, frowning as he brushed a hand across his eyes.
"Bright light still there head hurts" A pause, before the frown deepened in fear.
"Still tied up but on a table now, a real hard table just can't move"
"Alright, Jesse, I know you're scared but you don't need to be" Mark went on,
glancing across at Steve before adding gently, "Can you tell me why, Jess?"
The frown gradually gave way to a drowsy smile as Jesse fingered Steve's hand.
"Steve's here" he said at last, calm now as he added softly, "He'll protect me"
"That's right, Jesse, you know that Steve's going to keep you safe" Mark smiled,
moving to sit at Jesse's other shoulder before gently taking Jesse's other hand
offering him his own comforting support and encouragement for the trauma to come.
"And I'm going to keep you safe too, Jesse just like Steve okay?"
"'kay" Jesse agreed in a drowsy sigh, resting his head against Mark's shoulder.
Smiling to see him enjoying such comfort, Mark then gently rubbed his hand.
"Alright then, Jesse once you're ready, I want you to tell me what's happening
and remember, Jesse, this is all happening in your mind you're safe now,
and Steve and I are both going to keep you that way the whole time okay?"
As Jesse sighed and nodded, Mark took a deep breath himself before adding gently,
"Now, remembering you're safe and that nothing you're about to see can hurt you,
I want you to tell me what's happening what you can see and hear around you"
"A shadow no, a figure" Jesse replied, frowning once more as he went on,
"Can't see his face, though strange noise too, like a dentist drill near my head"
Glancing at Steve, receiving a tense nod in return, Mark nodded then added softly, "Alright, Jesse, you're doing just fine you're still safe and you're doing just fine now, keep that in your mind, Jess, and tell me what's happening to you now"
"I I can see his face now" Jesse replied, his own stricken once more with fear. "Oh God, Mark, this this can't be real! Just can't be real!"
"No Jesse, it isn't real" Mark quickly reassured him, squeezing his hand.
"None of this is real, Jess, all that you're seeing has been forced into your mind
forced into your mind against your will and now you're reliving it, in your mind
I know you're scared, but you're not facing this alone you know that, don't you? Steve and I are right here, and we're not going to let anyone hurt you okay?"
It took some moments, but eventually Jesse grew calm again and nodded.
"It It isn't human, Mark" he said at last, his voice still soft but a little calmer now. "It's an alien, like you see in the movies standing and staring down at me with with these huge black eyes it's those eyes, just looking straight through me
just can't seem to stop looking up into them just can't seem to look away"
As he fell silent again, Mark traded a glance of silent fury with Steve
both sickened by the thought of Jesse being subjected to such a terrifying ordeal.
Both knowing, too, that far worse was to come.
Jesse knew it too, since he was frowning as he stirred fretfully against Steve's side.
"Noise now" he went on, the frown deepening as that dull whine invaded his mind.
"Near my head sounds like a dentist drill, just going on and on into my head"
As he grew more restless and agitated, Mark cast his son a warning glance.
"I'm on it, dad" Steve said softly, already tightening his hold on Jesse's hand.
In spite of Mark's assurances, Jesse was struggling now, fear rising in his voice.
"Oh God, now it's touching me! Unbuttoning my shirt and and pulling it open touching me and and examining me with all these instruments and and
I can feel needles going into me, over and over again things going into me, and God, Mark, it can't do this to me! I can't make it stop!"
Jesse continued to toss and struggle, crying out helplessly against the terrors of his mind.
Then suddenly, with a final cry of protest, he fell back into Steve's arms, whimpering softly.
Mark and Steve stared at each other, shocked and shaken by what they'd just seen.
They knew this was the worst of Jesse's nightmares, one that caused him the most terror. Now, for the first time, they were starting to realise why.
"Oh God" Steve whispered at last, looking up at his father with sickened eyes.
"God, dad, what the hell did that bastard do to him?"
Mark just shook his head, still too shocked to reply as he tried to comfort his young friend.
"He had to make this brutally real" he said at last, still gently stroking Jesse's forehead -
sharing a relieved smile with Steve as Jesse squeezed his hand in weak acknowledgement.
When he spoke again, though, his voice was still quiet, sharing his son's shock and outrage.
"And he clearly knew how to make Jesse's abduction and torture terrifyingly accurate
from rigging the cabin right down to subjecting him to this horrendous examination"
"And forcibly drugging him during that time was all part of it" Steve cut in softly feeling a sudden need to hold his now thankfully calm friend protectively closer.
"I'd imagine so" his father replied, shaking his head with the same quiet fury.
"Trask had to make Jesse believe that he really had been physically violated.
By drugging Jesse so brutally and so frequently while he was being examined, he was
well, both maintaining that suggestion of torture in Jesse's mind and ensuring control"
Pausing for a moment, he then met Steve's eyes with fury still in his own as he added softly,
"Whenever Jesse woke up, he was probably drugged and put through all this again to
well, both to keep him quiet and to keep his mind under Trask's control"
Steve just nodded, still shaken as the full extent of Jesse's ordeal grew horrifically clear
his face paling in horror of how intimate that violation of Jesse's body may have been.
As if reading his thoughts, Mark quickly reached to give his son's arm a heartening shake.
"Steve, there was no sign of any interference" he went on, forestalling his son's response.
"Yes, I know what that rag said, but there was no sign of internal or indecent assault
at least that part of Jesse's nightmare was based purely on Trask's own suggestion"
Steve nodded, though still not trusting himself to speak as he watched his friend
lying so still beside him, silent now except for an occasional mumble of sleepy protest.
"Dad, he's gone awful quiet" Steve said at last, anxious concern clear in his eyes.
"Yes, Steve, I know" Mark nodded, watching Jesse too before smiling back at him.
"Jesse knows there's no point in struggling any more no point in trying to fight instead he's doing the only thing he can to spare his body and mind further torment he's submitting"
Steve stared at him, shocked, before he finally nodded in grim understanding.
"So what do we do now?" he asked, holding Jesse gently closer for mutual comfort.
"What we do best, Steve" his father replied with an easier, encouraging smile.
"We put an end to Trask's terror and lies and we help Jesse get to the truth"
Again his son nodded, happier now with the prospect of seeing this nightmare end.
Grinning back at him, Mark then turned back to very gently squeeze Jesse's hand.
"Jesse? Jesse, can you hear me?"
Too exhausted to reply, Jesse's eyelids flicked for a moment then he weakly nodded.
"Alright, Jesse, I know you're getting tired, but you're doing well really well
we're going to take a little rest now, let you get some of your strength back
maybe have something to drink too, would you like that?"
Jesse nodded again, a little stronger this time in anticipation of such welcome comfort.
Mark and Steve enjoyed it too, near emptying the coffee pot between them.
And for Jesse, two glasses of orange juice would never be more thoroughly enjoyed.
"I don't think that juice even touched his throat" Mark observed with a wry smile, eyeing the drained glass for a moment before replacing it on the tray.
"Neither's this ice cream" Steve retorted, nodding towards a rapidly emptying bowl of cherry vanilla before gently wiping the remnants from Jesse's mouth.
Seeing the mischievous amusement on Mark's face, he stopped and frowned. "What?"
"Oh, nothing" his father replied, still grinning though as he shrugged his shoulders.
"No, I just thought while watching you feed Jesse that well, you're a natural
the next time Amanda phones asking us to sit for CJ, I'll know just who to call"
All too used to that mischievous streak, his son glared at him or at least tried to.
It was, after all, tricky to be miffed at him when you were enjoying the same joke.
He was already grinning as he gave a now clearly contented Jesse a fond, brotherly hug.
"Thanks, dad, but this sweet little bundle of mischief is about all I can handle"
Mark had to laugh at that knowing that his son had made an amusingly valid point.
Not that he ever meant any harm from it, of course, but Jesse was quite a handful
Fortunately he had Steve to keep a big brotherly eye on him, to keep him out of trouble.
Well, Mark reflected in wry afterthought, most of the time, at least
Still laughing, he then nodded in wry agreement before he turned back to Jesse.
"Well, Jesse, how are you feeling now? Do you want anything more to eat, or?"
"No, I'm I'm okay" Jesse replied, pushing away Steve's final spoonful of ice cream.
"No, don't want any more full up now"
"Yes, I imagine you are" Mark chuckled, trading grins with an equally amused son.
Placing a devoured carton beside a growing pile of empties, he then added gently,
"Okay, Jesse, now before we go on, I just want to go over what we've done so far,
then we'll be on the home stretch okay?"
"'kay" Jesse murmured, his voice stronger now, calm once more as he added softly,
"Almost home?"
"Yes, Jesse, you're almost home almost free" Mark said gently, patting his hand.
"You're doing just fine, Jesse you're almost home"
"Good" Jesse sighed, curling up against Steve's side with another contented sigh.
"Be good to be home"
"Yes, I know, Jesse it'll be good to be home" Mark agreed with a slight smile, thinking for a few moments before he took Jesse's hand again and gently held it.
"Now, Jess, you know that what you've just seen was all in your mind, don't you?"
"Yes, Mark all in my mind" Jesse sighed in drowsy, well sated compliance.
"That's right, Jesse" Mark said approvingly, sharing another wry grin with his son.
"And you also know that you were never really kidnapped by aliens, don't you?
That although you really went missing for five days, it wasn't because of aliens
There never were any aliens, Jesse you know and accept that now, don't you?"
"Yes, Mark, I know that now" Jesse echoed, stronger this time more determined. "I know and accept that"
"That's right, Jess yes, you were kidnapped and kept prisoner for five days
but not by aliens you can accept that's a false memory now, can't you, Jesse?"
"Yes, I can" Jesse replied, his voice now strong and clear - firm with belief.
"That's good, Jesse that's very good" Mark went on with clear pride in his voice.
"Now that you've accepted that, Jesse, I want you to release that false memory
release it from your mind so relax now, Jess, and simply let that memory go
let all the flashbacks and the terror and pain of those memories just drift out of you feel those memories slip away, so that they can never hurt or torment you again
just let them flow out of your mind, Jesse like waves slipping down the beach"
Jesse nodded, frowning slightly now but in concentration now rather than terror.
For several minutes that frown deepened, lessened, then deepened once more
still closed eyes twitching as those brutal and horrifying memories left his mind.
Finally Jesse's face relaxed, settling into a calm and totally untroubled expression.
And as they watched this, Mark and Steve exchanged a smile of pure, grateful relief.
"That's the hardest part over for him, Steve he's almost there" Mark said at last, casting Jesse a proud, admiring glance while giving his hand an encouraging squeeze.
"Now all we have to do is release the memories of what really happened to him,
let him confront and come to terms with them, then he'll be home free"
"Free to sleep in peace" Steve agreed with the same quiet pride in his voice
whatever he planned to say next then lost in a sudden, cavernous yawn.
"Want me to talk you to sleep as well?" Mark asked in playful amusement.
"Only if I get to eat ice cream too" his son shot back with a just as wry smile,
watching Jesse for a moment before regarding his father with the same proud admiration.
"Great job, dad"
"Thanks, Steve, but it's this little fella here who's done all the work" Mark smiled, clearly appreciating his son's words though as he gently straightened Jesse's hair.
"Okay, let's get the rest of this resolved for him, then he can really enjoy that sleep"
"Amen to that" Steve agreed, thoughtful once more as he met his father's eyes.
"But that's the worst over for him, right?"
"Well, Jesse has yet to remember what really happened to him" his father replied, still watching his young friend as he thought for a moment before adding softly,
"But I can't imagine it to be worse than what he's just had to confront"
"No, neither can I and at least then he'll finally be free" Steve murmured
unable to keep the lingering bitterness, the grim satisfaction out of his next words.
"Which is more than can be said for Quinn Trask"
"I couldn't agree more" Mark agreed quietly with the same depth of feeling
both then brightening once more as they studied Jesse's now calm, peaceful face.
"Okay, let's get our boy onto that home stretch" he went on after a slight pause,
giving Jesse the benefit of a few more moments' rest before gently stroking his hand.
"Jesse? How are you doing?"
"'kay" Jesse sighed, wincing slightly at the painful dryness inside his mouth.
"Just kinda thirsty"
"Yes, I'd imagine you are" Mark sympathised, reaching for the orange juice.
With the benefit of post-knowledge, he poured several more glasses than needed, keeping one for himself before passing two others across to Steve.
After the harrowing efforts of the past half hour, the trauma of recalling and listening, it was hard to tell who enjoyed that welcome break from it the most.
Still held firm in a deep, entranced sleep, Jesse looked most contented of all.
"You almost don't want to disturb him" Mark said at last, glancing at Steve
a slight, regretful smile acknowledging he had no choice but to do just that.
"Jesse? You okay to go on now?"
Jesse sighed once more and nodded with a grudging weariness that wasn't lost on Mark.
"Alright, Jesse yes, I know you're tired" he said soothingly, rubbing his shoulder.
"But you're nearly there, Jesse just a little while longer, then we're done okay?"
Drawing strength from that thought, Jesse managed a more resolute smile and nodded.
"Alright, Jess now, can you tell me why we're doing this?"
"I want to know what happened to me when I disappeared" Jesse replied quietly.
"That's right, Jesse, that's good" Mark continued to gently encourage him.
"And you've now released all those memories that you've accepted to be false
so now you can remember what really happened what you want to remember
what I want you to do now, Jess, is go back in your mind beyond those memories
that's it, just let yourself relax again now and feel your mind taking you back
feel yourself falling back into an even deeper, even sounder state of sleep
falling as deep as you can go can you feel yourself falling now, Jesse?"
"Like I'm falling down a well" Jesse replied, adding with a slightly uncertain frown,
"Make that a real deep well..."
"Alright, Jess, don't worry the deeper you can go the better" Mark assured him.
"Now once you reach the bottom of that well, Jesse, you'll start to remember
you'll be able to remember everything, and tell me what really happened to you
and don't forget, Steve and I are still right here with you, so you're perfectly safe"
"Perfectly safe" Jesse sighed, settling more snugly between them just to make sure prompting another exchange of fondly indulging glances over the top of his head.
A few moments later he frowned, and both Steve and Mark could feel him tense.
"It's okay, Jesse, you're still safe with us" Mark assured him with a gentle hug.
"Just try to relax now, it's alright just let yourself relax and try to remember"
"Light outside the cabin real weird shade of green" Jesse said, still frowning.
"Everything's shaking, like an earthquake volume on the radio's gone haywire
the cabin door's opening, must be Steve coming back before the quake gets worse"
Subconscious relief then gave way to confusion, then onto startled, rising fear.
"Oh God, it it isn't Steve it's two guys with with masks over their faces
one of them, he - he's pointing a gun at me, firing some kind of dart into my leg"
As he grew more agitated, Mark had to reassure both Jesse and a grim faced Steve.
"Easy now, Jesse, it's alright remember, you're safe now, nothing can hurt you
that's it, try to relax now, you're doing just fine just let your mind remember"
As Jesse quietened, Mark cast his still grim faced son a gently heartening smile.
"You need to remember something too, Steve something Jesse reminded you of earlier"
"That he doesn't blame me for what happened to him after I left him" Steve agreed, able to return his father's smile but still compelled to hold Jesse just a little bit closer.
That gesture of reassurance looked to be well timed, as Jesse had grown restless again.
"Waking up now" he murmured softly, though with less fear in his voice as he went on,
"Tied up on some kind of bed head's hurting, must be from whatever was in that shot"
Breaking off again, Jesse brushed a hand across his eyes his voice now very faint.
"Head just hurts so much like it's gonna burst just can't get away from the light"
"Seem to remember we've been here before" Steve said quietly, glancing at his father.
Nodding his agreement, Mark looked up from where he'd been sponging Jesse's forehead.
"Yes, we have only now Jess is in control of what he remembers, not Trask" he replied, his smile widening as Jesse turned his face towards the source of this soothing comfort.
"There now, Jesse, does that feel better?"
Jesse sighed, nodding with a depth of exhaustion that wasn't lost on a still anxious Steve.
"Trance or no trance, dad, he's totally beat"
"I know, son but Jesse knows he's too close to resolving this to stop now" Mark said gently, nodding to where Jesse was trying to sit up a little, as if bracing himself for one final effort.
"Besides, you know as well as I do how stubborn this boy of ours can be"
"Yeah, like the proverbial mule" Steve retorted, nodding as he smiled in his own realisation.
"And if he's about to remember what he's already covered, what Trask did to him"
"Then hopefully we're just talking minutes" Mark finished for him with a gentle smile.
Jesse too seemed to sense how tantalisingly close he was to finally resolving his ordeal
his voice stronger now, fuelled by the stubborn streak that, as Steve and Mark wryly knew,
could give an entire herd of mules a fair run for their money.
"They're back again, the guys who grabbed me in the cabin someone else with them too,
must be Trask himself, deciding what to do with me yeah, I can hear his voice now
can't see his face but I can hear him talking"
Jesse then frowned slightly, as though somehow realising that he'd covered this ground already.
And with the horrors of that ground safely behind him, he could face it this time without terror.
True, his voice was still quiet and slow, with a tiredness that bordered on all out exhaustion.
But that voice was now calm, indifferent almost, as that terror finally relinquished his mind.
"He's saying something about controlling me and they're going to use drugs to do it"
A wince followed, not as Steve had dreaded, by frantic struggles but a peevish complaint.
"Damn it, these guys sure as hell aren't doctors"
While such flippancy took Steve by surprise, his father seemed to be half expecting it.
"No, Jesse, I don't suppose they were" Mark agreed with a clearly relieved smile
watching and waiting for Jesse to settle again before explaining to a still puzzled Steve.
"Jesse knows he's faced this already and while Trask was in control then, he isn't now Jesse is. and he's remembering things on his terms now, not Trask's"
Steve nodded in thoughtful agreement while casting Jesse a glance of pure pride.
"Make that a whole pack of mules" he sighed at last, grinning wryly across at his father.
Nodding in equally amused agreement, Mark then turned his attention back to Jesse.
"Okay now, Jesse, you've remembered that Trask used drugs on you to keep you quiet
now I want you to wake up in your mind again, just like you've been doing for me already wake up in your mind, Jess, and tell me what's happening"
"Feels like I'm waking up with the world's worst hangover" Jesse replied after a slight pause,
his forehead creasing in both imagined discomfort and the effort of real concentration.
"Tied onto a table now a real hard one, too and I can hear someone talking now too"
Pausing once more, Jesse then tilted his head, as though answering some unseen, unheard call.
"It's Trask's voice yeah, it's definitely his voice, coming from somewhere behind my head
telling me there's no point in struggling, no use trying to resist what they're going to do to me that I can't stop what they're about to do to me, except except"
"Except what, Jesse?" Mark asked, trading glances with Steve as Jesse shook his head.
"I I don't know, Mark, it's it's just changing" Jesse replied, frowning in concentration.
"I I mean, it's still Trask's voice, but it sounds real weird like it's being synthesised"
"To disguise his voice" Steve murmured to himself, glancing at his father for confirmation.
"Trask must have disguised his voice to call the shots while he set his goons loose on Jesse"
As his father nodded, Steve stared back at Jesse, horrified by what his imagination pictured -
Jesse, tied down and helpless, screaming in agony and terror under the torment of his captors.
Not trusting himself to speak, he just shook his head before taking a deep, steadying breath
releasing it slowly, hoping to lose at least some of his fury and bitterness along with it.
A squeeze on his shoulder, returned with a grateful smile, dispelled much of what remained.
The sight of Jesse, now finally safe and lying snug in his arms, took away the rest.
Smiling back at him, Mark then gave Jesse's hand a gentle, rousing squeeze.
"Okay, Jesse, you've remembered Trask's voice, even though he disguised it" he said at last.
"Now, can you tell me what he's saying?"
"The same thing, over and over again" Jesse murmured, frowning as he tried to remember.
"That That this will be the last thing I'll ever remember the last thing I'll ever see"
"And there's our mental block" Mark sighed, shaking his head before meeting Steve's eyes.
"With Jesse's mind under his control, all Trask had to do was command him not to remember
and Jesse had no choice but to believe whatever Trask forced into his mind"
Steve just nodded, watching Jesse for a moment before glancing questioningly back at his father.
"But he has a choice now, right?"
"Yes, Steve, he does and he's choosing to remember the truth" Mark smiled back at him,
nodding to where Jesse's head now rolled across Steve's shoulder in silent, vehement resistance.
"Not Not real" Jesse said at last, still shaking his head as he took a deep, steadying breath.
"Must be Trask's goons doing this to me yeah, it must be them, made up to look like aliens"
"That's right, Jesse well done, Jess, that's exactly right" Mark praised him, clearly relieved.
"That's it, Jesse, you've done it you've broken the block that Trask planted in your mind"
"Great is that why my head hurts so much?" Jesse asked with a sleepily plaintive wince - one which, oddly, brought both Mark and Steve some very welcome amusement.
"Well no, Jess that's more likely because you're getting so tired now" Mark said at last,
growing more serious as he noticed how alarmingly pale and drawn Jesse's face had become.
Pouring a large glass of juice, he stirred in some sugar before holding the glass to Jesse's mouth.
"Okay, Jess, just rest now and try to drink some of this see if this helps you feel better"
Some became all as Jesse gratefully sipped the juice down, savouring every delicious mouthful.
As a trace of healthier colour returned to his face, Mark smiled in relieved approval.
"That's better, Jess" he said softly, giving him a gentle hug before glancing up at Steve.
"Okay, Steve, we're nearly there but whatever Jesse remembers next will be new ground"
Steve didn't need to be prompted further he was already holding Jesse gently closer to him,
as though bracing both of them to whatever terrors this new ground would bring.
Smiling proudly back at him, Mark then turned back to a now quietly resting Jesse.
"Okay, Jess, how are you feeling now? Ready to go on?"
It took some moments for him to find the strength, but eventually Jesse managed a weak nod.
"Happening again same as before oh, God, what they're doing to me" he whispered,
the helpless despair on his face again conveying the horror of Trask's brutal torment.
Mark and Steve could only stare at each other and shake their heads in grim dismay
Jesse's weak moan confirming what neither of them had wanted to hear.
Before either could respond, however, Jesse then swallowed hard and shook his head.
"Not real no, not real" he went on, gritting his teeth against the terrors of his mind.
"Have to remember that it it's not real none of this is real"
"Well done, Jesse, that's right that's it, you're seeing the truth now" Mark enthused,
giving his young friend a gentle hug of both pride and encouragement as he added softly,
"Well done, Jesse yes, that's just what you wanted to achieve from doing this
you're back in control of your mind again now, Jess remembering what you want to"
As Jesse's eyes twitched in weary but delighted relief, Mark smiled and hugged him once more. "Yes, I know that's just what you wanted to hear, Jesse what we all wanted to hear
but we're not quite there yet try to keep going, Jesse come on, you're almost home"
Jesse's head nodded against his shoulder, part in agreement but mostly in sheer exhaustion.
"Moving" he said at last, frowning again as fresh images flooded into his exhausted mind.
"I I'm waking up somewhere, somewhere moving tied up too, can't move"
"Alright, Jesse, you're doing just fine" Mark continued, hugging him once more.
"You say that you're moving do you mean a car, or maybe a van of some kind?"
"Don't know" Jesse murmured, still frowning. "There's something over my eyes
covering my head, a hood or scarf or something can't see, can't see where I am
keep trying to call out, but I I can't something in my mouth, too gagging me"
Still wincing but, to Mark's relief, still calm, Jesse then sighed and quietly continued.
"Can't see, but yes, still moving real fast too, I - I can hear the engine running
traffic going by I can feel myself rolling around can't hold onto anything"
"Alright, Jesse, that's good you're doing really well now, Jess doing just fine
now, I know you can't see, but can you hear anything else apart from the traffic?
Voices, maybe? The voices of the people who have kidnapped you?"
"Voices" Jesse frowned, shaking his head before he tensed once more and nodded.
"Yeah, I can hear someone talking now saying that I I'm waking up again"
The frown then deepened into a wince, followed by a jerk as Jesse gasped in pain.
Then, to the grim realisation of both Mark and Steve, he slumped back against them.
"Jesse? What's wrong?" Mark asked already knowing the sickening answer.
"D Don't know, they they've given me a shot of something" Jesse whispered, his voice even fainter now as his mind took him back into a deep, drugged sleep.
Even though he'd expected this, Mark still had to work hard to keep anger out of his voice.
"Alright Jesse, now your mind was telling you that you've been forcibly drugged to sleep
now it's telling you that you're waking up again wake up in your mind now, Jesse
just try to relax and tell me what's happening to you now can you do that?"
"I I'm trying to" Jesse whispered, shaking his head while fretfully rubbing his eyes.
"Just so tired, Mark so tired just want to sleep"
"I know, Jesse but you're almost there, Jess almost home, just a little further then you'll be home again and you can sleep for as long as you want okay?"
"'kay, I'll try" Jesse murmured, his voice still faint but not quite so subdued.
"Waking up again now still tied up, but stopped now not moving anymore"
He shuddered for a moment, trying to edge himself further into the bedclothes.
"Cold now, like I'm outside no, not outside, more like a door's just opened letting cold air in from outside can smell something too, like a barbecue"
Jesse then fell silent, shifting uncomfortably before he winced and shook his head.
"Feel sick so hungry that it hurts, but they they won't give me anything to eat
I I can hear them laughing, smell something being held in front of me, but
they won't give me anything so hungry, but they won't let me eat"
"Oh, Jess" Steve said softly, outraged that Jesse had been so cruelly tormented.
Gently brushing Jesse's hair from his temple, the wince grew into a disgusted frown - the remnants of a heavy bruise reminding him that Jesse's torment hadn't ended there.
"Just to have five minutes with those bastards" he said softly, his eyes livid in fury.
"Yes, Steve, I know" Mark agreed with a sympathetic squeeze on his son's arm.
"And I know there's nothing we can do about what they did to torment Jesse then
but we can do something to stop that torment now"
Steve nodded, already reaching for a bowl of corn chips while Mark comforted Jesse.
"But you can eat now, Jesse because you're safe with us again now, aren't you?"
Jesse remained piteously uncertain, torn between reality and the horrors of his mind.
Then, as Steve guided his hand, the anguish on his face way to a tentative smile
one that grew in both belief and strength as his subconscious hunger was finally sated.
"Corn chips" he said at last, much happier as he settled back against Mark's side.
"Safe now not hungry any more"
"Yes, that's right, Jesse, you're safe" Mark chuckled, eyeing a rapidly emptying bowl.
"And you just love your corn chips too, don't you?"
Jesse nodded his next words causing Mark and Steve some welcome amusement.
"Ice cream was better"
"Okay, Jess, we'll remember that for next time" Mark chuckled, shaking his head relieved to see that Steve was laughing too, releasing the anger and tension of before.
Except Jesse was growing uneasy again, his return to comforting reality all too brief.
Feeling him tense, Mark and Steve were instantly alert, trading uneasy glances.
Although the torment of Jesse's hunger was now over, another seemed about to begin.
Steve was already holding Jesse closer, leaving his father to ask the inevitable.
"Jesse? What is it, Jess? What's happening?"
"They're taking me outside" Jesse whispered, his voice then rising in fear.
"Keep trying to get away but I I can't, they're too too strong can't get away"
Suddenly he stiffened, in pain and fear as his mind relived his continuing torment.
"They've pushed me to the ground now, I I can feel them holding me down"
Then he gasped, struggling weakly for a moment before he whimpered in telltale pain.
"No, please, stop, let me go! Please, I - I won't try anything, just stop please!"
No stranger himself to rough and brutal treatment, Steve could only watch helplessly - he and Mark both visibly shaken as this bizarre, brutal abuse of their friend continued.
Before either could say or do anything to save him from it, Jesse cried out once more, in terror and agony as yet another kick slammed into his body.
Then, abruptly, he fell silent, his subconscious taking him into a deep, merciful faint.
In the shocked silence that followed, Mark and Steve could only stare at each other their only consolation was such a brutally one sided contest had been mercifully brief.
It was Mark who eventually, and quietly, broke that stunned and shaken silence.
"This is what he wanted to remember, son what he needs to come to terms with"
Steve said nothing, still too shocked and angry to speak as he studied Jesse's face
its calmness, and a gentle smile from his father finally eliciting a nod of agreement.
As though sensing this for himself, Jesse was now starting to stir against them
his still calm, settled expression causing Mark's smile to widen in proud relief.
"And by the looks of things, that's just what Jesse's doing right now" he went on, nodding to where Jesse was now murmuring softly, as if in quiet debate with himself.
While Mark and a now visibly happier Steve watched, he sighed and then fell silent,
just the trace of a satisfied smile settling on his face.
Glancing once more across at his son, Mark then gave Jesse's arm a gentle shake.
"Jess? Jesse, can you hear me?"
The reply came back, stronger and clearer than it had been for a very long time.
"Yes, Mark, I can hear you"
"That's good, Jesse just rest now" Mark then glanced up at Steve and grinned. "He's home free" he added softly, sharing his son's obvious delight as he went on, "Alright Jess, you're almost there almost home you know it too, don't you?"
Jesse nodded, his own smile widening as he curled himself snugly against Steve's side.
"Almost home" he murmured with a deep, contented sigh. "Almost home"
"That's right, Jesse, you're almost home" Mark agreed, gently patting his hand.
"Now, Jesse, can you tell me where you are? What's happening around you?"
"Alone now" Jesse replied, frowning in concentration as he added slowly,
"Not tied up any more, but hurts no, don't want to move hurts too much"
"Alright Jesse, don't try to move" Mark told him, sobering as he met Steve's eyes the cause of Jesse's pain, both real and imaginary, still all too raw in both their minds.
"Just rest easy now, Jess, and look around you instead tell me what you can see"
"Desert no, not desert, but real hot ground" Jesse replied after a slight pause.
"Yeah, I'm lying on ground now dry, cracked ground sun's real strong"
He fidgeted for a moment, wincing slightly at the unbearable heat within his mind,
his legs now shifting under the bedclothes, re-enacting slow and painful movement.
"Trying to crawl" he whispered, the strain of his efforts all too clear in his voice.
"Have to find shelter someone to help me have to get out of this heat"
Imaginary as he knew that heat to be, Steve couldn't sit by and do nothing about it.
Taking a cloth from the tray beside him, and with his father's proud approval,
he then dampened it slightly before holding it gently across Jesse's forehead
dismay giving way to delight as Jesse sighed and smiled in sleepy relief.
"Waking up again must have passed out" Jesse went on after a short pause.
He tilted his head a little and frowned, as though alerted to some distant noise.
"I I can hear traffic now fairly close too, must be near to a road"
More subconscious wanderings, followed by a sudden jerk and a faint, shaken whisper.
"Oh God, that truck was close!" Another pause, then a just as frightened question.
"Utah? What the hell am I doing in Utah?"
As Jesse fell silent once more, Steve glanced at his father in once more grim faced anger.
"Utah HP told me when they found Jesse he was lying by the roadside in ninety degree heat,
delirious and so severely dehydrated that they needed two IV's to get him stable"
Pausing to regain his composure, he then shook his head his next words tellingly quiet.
"After what they put him through for those five days, it's a miracle Jess survived"
Nodding in sad agreement, Mark then looked up to offer his son a heartening smile -
a gentle squeeze on his son's shoulder releasing the rest of his anger and outrage.
At Steve's grateful smile, Mark then nodded to where Jesse lay quietly between them.
"Well, son, I guess that's it Jesse knows everything he needs to from now on"
The smile then widened, both in relief and anticipation, as Mark then added softly,
"Time to bring our boy home"
"Amen to that" Steve agreed, recovered enough from his anger to grin back at him, holding Jesse gently closer as he watched his father gently rouse Jesse one last time.
"Okay, Jesse, that's it, we're all done time for you to come home now, okay?"
As Jesse nodded in vehement agreement, Mark smiled and gently rubbed his hand.
"Alright, Jesse yes, I know you'd rather be home than way out there in Utah
so let your mind bring you home, Jess come on, it's time for you to come home"
Jesse didn't reply but then again, as Mark and Steve gladly noted, he didn't need to. The smile on his face, weary and exhausted as it was, spoke for itself.
"No place like home" he said at last, in a sleepy quote from his beloved movies.
"He'll be tapping his heels next" Steve observed with a dry, delighted smile
his father sharing both his relief and amusement as he turned back to Jesse.
"That's right, Dorothy yes, there's no place like home"
Amusement then gave way to outright laughter as Jesse moaned in plaintive dismay.
"Oh no, don't don't tell me you Mickey Finned me again!"
"No, Jesse trust me, that was purely a one off" Mark assured him, still laughing.
Pausing a moment to bring his amusement under control, he then added gently,
"Okay now, Jesse, I want you to squeeze Steve's hand and tell me where you are"
Doing as told, Jesse frowned for a moment before the sleepy, happy smile reappeared.
"I'm back on the beach again, just like you said I'd be I'm here, on the beach"
"That's right, Jesse, you're home again back on the beach, just like I said"
"Home" Jesse murmured, his smile widening in spite of his obvious exhaustion.
"Good to be home like the beach, and the water, and and like to be home"
Mark and Steve shared an amused glance before Mark returned his attention to Jesse, dropping his voice into the same persuasive lilt that he'd used to coax him to sleep.
"Except it's getting dark now it's time for you to come back inside now, Jesse back inside before you catch cold so now I want you to come back into the house and as you walk back up the beach, you'll be slowly waking up from your sleep
by the time you reach your bedroom, Jesse, you'll be fully awake and alert again"
As Jesse sighed and nodded in sleepy obedience, Mark then spoke once more
slowly and steadily guiding his young friend home.
"That's it, Jess, you're walking up the beach now, coming back into the house
and all the time you're waking up, you can feel yourself slowly waking up again
that's the way, Jesse, up the steps, through onto the sundeck and then inside
down the stairs on into the hall that's it, Jesse, you're almost there
you're opening the door to your room, and now you're back in your bed"
Throughout this time, Jesse had become increasingly restless as he started to wake up.
As Mark finished speaking, his eyelids began to twitch and flicker more rapidly.
Then his eyes opened, slowly and cautiously, blinking as they tried to refocus.
The first two sights that met those eyes were two familiar, relieved, very proud faces -followed by a joint hug from both sides that prompted a somewhat rueful protest. "Whoa, guys! Oxygen becoming an issue!"
Duly chastised, Mark and Steve released him with all due if slightly amused speed.
"Sorry, Jess" Mark chuckled at last, ruffling Jesse's hair as he asked gently,
"Well, Jesse, that's it all over, and you did just fine how do you feel?"
Jesse looked thrown for a moment, before realisation brought a broad, elated smile.
"Free" he said quietly, glancing at each in turn with now clear, grateful eyes.
"I I don't know how else to describe it, Mark, other than well, just free"
"Free sounds just fine to us, Jesse" Mark assured him with a proud smile
guessing from the nervous uncertainty in Jesse's eyes what he was going to ask next.
"And you did just fine, Jesse you achieved everything that you wanted to"
"I did?" Jesse's eyes widened slightly then he shook his head in open puzzlement.
"To be honest, I don't really remember much, apart from eating a lot of ice cream, drinking a lot of juice and well, falling asleep on the beach"
"Eating, drinking and falling asleep no change there then" Steve chuckled, meeting the inevitable if still helplessly amused glare with a far from innocent grin.
While clearly enjoying this exchange, Mark knew that Jesse still needed answers.
And the sooner he had those answers, the sooner he'd get some much needed sleep.
Us too, he thought wryly, watching Steve try in vain to stifle a yawn.
"Don't worry, Jess few people remember being under hypnosis" he explained, smiling reassuringly at his young friend while placing his tape recorder in Jesse's lap.
"That's why sessions are usually recorded to make sure everything is dealt with"
Jesse nodded absently, his eyes still fixed in nervous curiosity on the small machine. The answers to all his fears, the end of his nightmare resting, literally, in his hands.
Seeing the need in his eyes, Mark smiled at him and gently took the recorder back, giving the surprised Jesse a reassuring hug before pressing the device to `play'.
Jesse listened to the tape in thoughtful, occasionally startled, but mostly calm silence - his only reaction, a shaken wince, coming as he realised how lucky he was to be alive.
"So it was a sheer fluke that I survived for Trask to discredit me" he said at last uncannily echoing how Steve had reacted earlier.
As Mark and Steve traded slightly surprised glances, Jesse sighed and shook his head -
his next words astonishingly calm, but expressing every ounce of his bitterness.
"Apart from the fact that he nearly killed us both, Mark, I'm damn glad I shot him"
"Here's to that, Jess" Steve agreed quietly, having his own reasons to be grateful.
Hugging Jesse, receiving an appreciative smile in return, he then glanced at his father.
"So what now, dad?"
Since the question was mostly asked in a yawn, Mark had no difficulty in replying
the only difficulty he had was keeping a straight face while doing so.
"Well, I'll make a real leap of logic here, boys, and suggest we all get some sleep"
While Steve pulled a suitably rueful face back at him, he then smiled gently at Jesse.
"Sound good to you, Jess?"
"Just so long as it's unaided" Jesse agreed, casting Mark with a sleepily meaningful glare
Enjoying the resulting laughter, Jesse thought for a moment, before he shyly caught Mark's arm.
"Thanks, Mark" he whispered, clearly wanting to say more but now too exhausted to do so.
Fortunately he didn't need to, since Mark was already smiling back in gentle understanding.
"You're welcome, Jess" he said softly, giving Jesse's hand a gently heartening squeeze.
"Believe me, you'll be fine now no Mickey Finns, I promise and no more nightmares"
Too exhausted to argue any further, Jesse grinned back and nodded in now happy agreement -
unable to resist one last quip as he rolled over and burrowed happily under the bedclothes.
"Okay, but if I wake up tomorrow clucking like a chicken, I'll know who to blame"
In the time it took for Mark and Steve to stop laughing and look fondly back at him,
Jesse was happily lost to the world, curled up in a snug huddle of blankets and bedclothes.
As he tried to get more comfortable, an arm dropped to dangle down the side of his bed
his only response to this disturbance a muffled snore into a tightly hugged pillow.
Somehow keeping his face straight, Mark gently tucked the errant arm back under the covers.
Straightening up, he then saw the mischief glint in Steve's eyes - and knew what was coming.
"Don't even think about it" he chided, wagging a finger at him in mock reproach
still chuckling though as he bent at Jesse's shoulder and fondly stroked his forehead.
"Sweet dreams, Dorothy" he said softly, making sure that Jesse was snugly tucked in.
Noticing Steve's mildly accusatory grin, guessing the cause of it, he tried in vain to ignore it.
He should have known better. His son was, after all, so much like him. Too much like him "Out like a light and not a pill in sight" Steve grinned, raising a meaningful eyebrow.
"Funny, you never did tell me if Mickey Finning your interns is standard medical practice"
"Only the cheeky ones" Mark retorted, the grin widening as he cast his son a fatherly glare. "Of course, that goes for cheeky sons too"
Wisely choosing not to pursue the point, Steve held up his hands in good natured surrender.
Parental respect more or less restored, both gave Jesse one last gentle pat on his shoulder, enjoying his now peacefully untroubled expression, before leaving him to sleep in peace.
Left undisturbed, Jesse slept peacefully and soundly for the rest of that day.
Nothing, not the sound of Mark and Steve getting up and moving around upstairs,
or their increasingly amused checks that he was still asleep came close to waking him.
When he finally surfaced, late that afternoon, it was to Steve's typically playful insult.
"Hey, Dorothy's finally made it back to Kansas!"
Jesse's response was all he could have hoped for a sleepily flung pillow flew past his head.
"Yeah, how do I know you haven't just woken up too?" Jesse shot back defensively noting, in wisely unspoken relief, that his voice was still reassuringly human.
"Ah, that's for me to know, and you to wonder about" Steve grinned smugly.
He didn't know what amused him more the rueful glare that he received in return,
or the tousled haired, stubble faced scamp who was doing the glaring.
Somehow straight faced, he tossed Jesse his robe and nodded towards the bathroom. "Up and at `em, Jess you've just got time to shower before the game starts"
As Jesse stayed snugly and stubbornly put, Steve then played a failsafe trump card.
"Of course, you could stay in bed, Jess, and watch the game here in your room, but well, then you'd miss dinner and dad's done his big game special"
Faced with such incentive, Jesse was already clambering eagerly out of bed
awake enough now to give back as good as he got as he shuffled into the bathroom.
"You know, instead of tormenting me, you should be upstairs helping your dad
or at least getting me a mug of coffee not to mention warming my chair for me" With that the bathroom door swung closed one final demand following from behind.
"And I've got dibs on the corn chips"
Rolling his eyes, Steve shook his head with the same wry relief and headed upstairs -
meeting his father's quizzical look with a broad, thoroughly happy smile.
"He's back, badder and madder than ever" he reported, adding with a wicked grin,
"And you might want to stock up on whatever was in that Mickey Finn of yours
something tells me Community General doesn't know what's about to hit it"
"Good" Mark patted his shoulder, adding with the same delighted anticipation, "You know, the place has been much too quiet lately"
Half an hour later later, showered, shaved and looking human as well as sounding it,
Jesse headed upstairs to join Mark and Steve for an evening of fun, food and football.
There he was greeted by relieved hugs, hot coffee and some unexpected news.
His apartment was now fully cleared by forensics, and ready for him to move back in.
"Jess, you know you're welcome to stay as long as you want" Mark assured him,
guessing why Jesse's initial delight at this news had suddenly and awkwardly faded.
"Yeah, Jess, at least stay till tomorrow" Steve agreed with a persuasive grin
one that grew as he nodded towards a table laden with trays of delicious looking food.
"Your seat's all warm, just like you asked and I've even left you the corn chips"
"Well, in that case" Jesse grinned, all nonchalance as he flopped onto the couch meeting two patiently amused grins with his patented look of puzzled innocence.
Laughing too much to reply, Mark and Steve took their places alongside him.
Soon all three were laughing as they settled down together to cheer on the Lakers
as, no doubt, thousands of other families were doing across Los Angeles.
After another blessedly untroubled night, Jesse was fit and strong enough to go home.
Waving back at him from the doorway, father and son traded proud, relieved glances.
"He'll be okay now right, dad?" Steve asked, a broad smile answering that itself.
"He'll be just fine" Mark replied, patting Steve's shoulder as they went back inside.
Proof of that arrived at lunchtime, when Steve answered a knock on the door.
Opening it, he found the porch empty except for a small, well wrapped parcel.
"What, some late mail?" Mark asked, checking his watch as he came to join him
further intrigued by the broad grin which had appeared on his son's face.
"Not exactly it's a parcel from Jesse" he replied, pulling off a small envelope.
"He's left a note" his father went on, reading it over his amused son's shoulder.
"I owe you both so much more than this thanks for everything love, Jess"
Puzzlement then turning to delighted laughter as Steve reached into the open parcel
and drew out one of many cartons of cherry vanilla ice cream.
Trading fond, clearly touched glances, both then grinned and headed for the kitchen.
"Well, dad, I guess that settles what we're having for lunch"
"Apparently so"
"I'll get the bowls"
"And I'll get the spoons"

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