Disclaimer : All the usual stuff ... don't own them, etc etc etc...


By Cass

Jesse didn't do well in small, cramped spaces with no escape route. It was too reminiscent of his incarceration during the time he had been jailed on trumped up charges of murder.
He could feel panic setting in. His palms were starting to sweat, his breathing was becoming irregular and his heart was racing out of control. Valiantly, he tried to quell the rising hysteria. It wouldn't help and he'd be damned if he'd allow his captors the pleasure of knowing they'd turned him into a gibbering wreck before they'd even done anything to him.
He tried not to dwell on that particular thought. Unfortunately, imprisoned here as he was, in a room smaller even than the bathroom in his apartment and with no way out, it was all that occupied his mind. That and the fact that it was dark and oppressive and he was pretty sure that the walls were closing in around him

"Where's Jesse?" enquired Amanda, arriving on time and suitably attired in a pretty, flowing dress for the small dinner party that Mark had arranged in honour of Jesse's promotion to Director of Research at the new Biomedical facility at Community General.
It was a role that the younger doctor had taken on with some reservation and only after being convinced by his closest friends that it would not interfere too much with his day to day job as ER Chief a role he loved.
Mark had beamed with paternal pride on the day they had received the news that Jesse had easily beaten every other candidate for the job. He had known from the first day he had met the young, fresh-faced, eager young intern that he was destined for great things. In the ensuing years, Jesse had surpassed all his expectations and then some. He had been Senior Resident in each year of his residency, rising to Chief Resident in his final year. Then he had become ER Chief. He was a brilliant, accomplished surgeon, respected and admired as such by both juniors and his peers. He could have worked anywhere and indeed had been head-hunted several times during his career but he had told Mark once, during his internship, that he hadn't wanted to work anywhere else, with anyone else and that had never changed.
It wasn't just as a clinician that he was held in such esteem. His well-written articles for several highly-respected surgical journals had been universally lauded and he was also an excellent teacher. Patient, kind and with an instinctive understanding of each individual's needs, he was much-liked by interns and junior doctors alike.

Mark remembered once commenting to him that he was a `chip off the old block'. He had been both amused and pleased by the blush that had suffused his protégé's face. It proved as if there was a need that Jesse hadn't lost his innate desire to please the older man, nor his humility.
The young surgeon had gained in confidence and maturity over the years, but he had never outgrown the qualities that made him so endearing. Still present was the infectious grin and equally infectious giggle and he still retained his youthful exuberance and zest for life. The bubbly personality had certainly been tempered somewhat by events and his growing list of duties, but it had never completely disappeared and Mark hoped that it never would.
Certainly, he had many responsibilities, and he took them very seriously. He forgave tardiness in his ER staff once, or perhaps twice if there were extenuating circumstances, but anyone taking advantage of his good nature soon found out to their cost that they had gravely underestimated him. But despite his increase in self-assurance, he had never grown arrogant. It just wasn't in him. Deep down inside there was still a part of him that had never been entirely convinced that he was as good as everyone said he was and that one day everyone would realise they were mistaken.
With all his responsibilities as teacher, writer, Head of ER, surgeon and trialling new drugs and surgical procedures, it was a miracle that he even found time to sleep. In fact, his friends were pretty sure he didn't. He also co-ran `BBQ Bob's the restaurant he, Steve and Mark had bought some years previously and could often be found behind the counter, serving food or mixing up some of the famous `BBQ Bob' sauce. He put his remaining energy into helping Steve and Mark solve the murders that seemed to crop up on a regular basis prompting people who didn't know him to wonder if he was actually two people!
Mark was inordinately proud of him and on his promotion had wanted nothing more than to throw a huge celebratory party in his honour. But Jesse had discovered the secret plans for the proposed event and had begged his friend and mentor to abandon it, telling him that he would be far too embarrassed and would be far happier just being with his friends, barbecuing at the beach house.
A compromise had been reached. Dinner for all four of them plus Norman at a fancy restaurant with Mark footing the bill.
Only the guest of honour was a little late turning up.
"I'm sure he'll be here soon, honey," he reassured Amanda as he led her over to the couch and handed her a drink. They were going in style to the restaurant a stretch limo had been hired (something which Jesse was unaware of) so that they could all make merry without the need for one of them to be the designated driver. It also meant they could have drinks at Mark's before setting off. They might as well start the evening off as it as they meant to go on!
She smiled at him as she sipped at the cocktail he had given her, then her eyes widened as the liquid slid down her throat. "Wow!" she exclaimed. "This is wonderful, Mark! What is it?"
"It's something I concocted in honour of our friend," he said, pleased by her reaction. "You like it?"
"Like it? I love it!" she said, enthusiastically.
"Well, that's good." He sat down next to her and they clinked their glasses together. "Steve said he'd rather stick to beer if I didn't mind."
"Well, you are talking about the man who prefers plain old beefburger to a la carte!" she pointed out, her tinkling laughter echoing through the room.
"Did I just hear my name being taken in vain?" asked the man himself as he entered the room. Both he and Mark had dressed in their best for the evening and Amanda couldn't resist a wolf whistle.
"Wow!" she breathed. "Someone looks very spiffy!"
He bowed mockingly. "Well, thank you ma'am," he retorted. He glanced around. "Jesse not here yet?"
"Yes, we're hiding him under the couch cushions," said Mark, dryly.
"Well, he's small enough, I'll grant you," countered Steve with a grin.
"Don't let him hear you say that!" the pathologist warned him darkly.
"Why, what's he gonna do swing a left hook against my knee?"
"Oh, okay, okay," he relented, laughing as he helped himself to a beer from the fridge. "I'll behave."
"You'd better," Mark told him, sternly. "This is Jesse's night. We're celebrating for him, don't forget."
"I haven't forgotten," replied Steve. "But it wouldn't do to let him get too big headed about it."
"I don't think there's any danger of that," his father pointed out. "I don't think he has it in him."
"Oh, I don't know, though," mused Amanda. "Don't forget about the time when he was hired as a scriptwriter for `Doctor Danger'. He did get a little bit too big for his boots then."
"And what about when `Bob's' was mentioned in that arty restaurant magazine and there was that picture of him as `Doctor Bob' with the sauce?" added Steve.
Mark chuckled. "All right, I'll grant you, he does have a tendency to get a little carried away but it's never happened with his medical career."
Amanda nodded. "You're right. You know, I remember him telling me once when he was an intern that everyone wondered if they were doing stuff right even him. I think he meant `especially him', although I have to admit that I wasn't really listening at the time that was when Troy was killed."
Mark patted her hand comfortingly. "I remember, honey. It was a tragedy. I'm only glad that we found the murderer and he paid for his crime."
Steve sniggered. "Yeah, and so did Jesse whatever made him think he could take up rugby as a career?"
"He seemed very keen," said Mark, smiling reminiscently as he recalled the young man sitting at his desk, holding an ice pack to his badly bruised knee. "I seem to remember suggesting golf as a safer hobby."
"Well, at least the ball is smaller," said Steve, spluttering with laughter. "I have a feeling those players were using Jesse as the ball!"
"Speaking of whom " Mark's voice trailed off as he consulted his watch. "It's getting late," he reflected, anxiously. "Where is he?"
"He would have phoned if he'd been running late," Amanda said, trying to tamp down her own worry about Jesse's non appearance. "He's not this thoughtless. In fact, he's not thoughtless at all."
"I'll try his apartment," said Steve, moving off toward the phone.
"And I'll try his cell," said Mark, removing his own cellphone from his pocket action suiting words. "Don't worry. I'm sure it's nothing."
But even as he uttered the words he knew in his gut that something was desperately wrong.

An hour later after many fruitless calls and with no sigh of their younger friend, Mark reluctantly called the restaurant to cancel their reservation. He then called Norman to let him know. The hospital administrator was both understanding and worried. His apprehensive queries as to what he could do were met by Mark's calm reassurance that they were doing everything and that he was pretty sure that everything would sort itself out.
Of course, the older surgeon had been lying through his teeth but an agitated, neurotic Norman Briggs was more than he could handle at that moment. The man was a sweetheart, really, but there was enough apprehension between the three of them about Jesse's disappearance to be going round. They didn't need more.
"Oh god, Mark, what do you think's happened to him?" demanded Amanda, her voice filled with dread. She was pacing nervously around the living area, unwittingly mirroring Steve's movements as he prowled the floor, phone in hand, calling in favours from colleagues and getting an APB put out on one Jesse Travis.
Mark bit his lip. He wanted nothing more than to put Amanda out of her misery, tell her everything was going to be all right, but he couldn't. Jesse was in danger. He knew it as instinctively as he knew that a new day would dawn tomorrow. Possibly a new day without their young friend. "I don't know, honey," he said, quietly. "But we'll find him. Wherever he is, we will find him."
He just didn't want to contemplate the alternative or, worse that they would find a dead body.

Amanda refused to go home that night. Her boys were being taken care of by her mom because of the party she had been attending anyway so it didn't matter if she stayed at the beach house.
The three of them didn't get any sleep. They were constantly on edge, waiting for a phone to ring. They didn't dare tie any of the instruments up by phoning to check if the APB had found anything yet although Steve did try ascertaining that on his cellphone as the hours wore on and they had no news about their missing friend.
No-one had seen Jesse. That was the consensus of opinion. His neighbours had been questioned by Cheryl, who had practically demanded she be allowed to help in the search she was fond of the young doctor, too. They had heard nothing. They had seen nothing. His car was still parked outside his apartment block. The apartment itself yielded no clues it had been in pristine condition, with no evidence of a struggle of any kind. That led them to believe that he had been abducted outside as he left his car, before he had even made it though the apartment block door.
But why?
Who would want to harm him?
All three of his friends were sick with fear as the answer came to them.
Some weeks prior to this, Jesse's apartment had been ransacked. Nothing had been taken. It had been as though someone had been searching for something although Jesse himself couldn't understand what that could be.
He had stayed at the beach house with Mark and Steve for a week, as his apartment was processed and then released as a crime scene. That had only taken a couple of days. The extra five had been at Mark's insistence, knowing that his young friend had been unnerved at the intrusion and wanting to give him a little extra recovery time.
His locker at Community General had been the next target. His possessions had been strewn on the locker room floor, the door forced open and hanging by one hinge. Again, nothing seemed to have been taken.
Someone was quite definitely looking for something.
And now those same people undoubtedly had Jesse. Not content with the futile search for whatever it had been, they had kidnapped the man whom they believed could tell them what he knew.
But Jesse had had no idea what anyone was after. How could he tell them anything if it was indeed the same people who had taken him?
And what would happen to him if he couldn't?

Jesse sat hunched up on the floor in the corner of his prison, miserably contemplating the future he was slowly convincing himself he no longer had.
Hours had passed since his abduction. He remembered arriving home, getting out of his car and moving towards his building, ready to shower and change before meeting Mark, Steve and Amanda at the beach house before going to dinner. Then nothing. A worrying blank resided in his mind where that particular memory should have been.
He had woken up in this room, alone, cold and with a blinding headache. The lump he could feel at the back of his head explained both the headache and his inability to recall how he had got there, but he didn't actually remember the blow that had obviously rendered him unconscious.
Panic was settling in again. He couldn't give in to it. He wouldn't.
Problem was, it was so damned hard not to. He was all alone, held prisoner god knew where, by god knew whom, with no window to even tell him what time of day it was. There were no sounds no merry chirping of birds, no rustle of nearby trees, or even the rumble of traffic. He was beginning to wonder if this was what sensory deprivation felt like.
He was also speculating on whether his captors would come back. The thought of being kidnapped then just left there to rot away dying a slow, agonising death of dehydration and starvation was terrifying. Equally so was the prospect of his kidnappers returning. Because he had no idea what they had in store for him. He couldn't imagine it was anything pleasant, that was for sure. In fact, his all too fertile imagination had no trouble envisioning all the ways someone could make another person suffer. The human body was a veritable paradise to someone who enjoyed inflicting pain and he swallowed hard as images of torture victims came unbidden into his mind. He had not seen many of that ilk at Community General, of course, but he read the papers. He watched the news when he wasn't working or helping the guys with one of their murder cases. Besides, he had seen enough of the damage done by bullets, knives and other implements used by the everyday thug to have a clear idea of what could be in store.
Torturing himself with these thoughts was not a particularly good idea, he recognised this, of course. But there was little else he could do, unless he wanted to focus on the fact that there was a little matter that needed attending to urgently and there was no bathroom.

Not satisfied with the way things were progressing or, in this case, not progressing Steve left the beach house in the early hours of the morning to search the area round Jesse's apartment block himself.
Cheryl met him there, her solomn expression sending a shiver down his spine. "Tell me," he grated out.
"Over here," she said, leading him over to Jesse's car. Shining a torch on the ground, she crouched down next to the driver's side. There, glistening in the beam of light was a tiny spot of liquid.
"Blood?" choked out Steve.
She nodded. "Forensics has taken a sample," she told him. "They have a sample of Jesse's blood from the hospital. They were kind enough to open the lab to provide us with one."
Well, Jesse was one of their own. He was highly respected at Community General, not to mention popular. His engaging personality and easy smile had won him a lot of friends. Steve nodded, his throat tightening with fear.
Now they had proof that something bad had definitely befallen his friend. Up until now, they had only had theories and suppositions - plus the knowledge that had he been able to, Jesse would have contacted them by now.
The confirmation of his worst fears put Steve's protective instincts into overdrive. Unfortunately, it also had the same effect on his guilt complex. There should have been something he could have done, dammit! He should have been here! He should have offered to pick Jesse up from the hospital and take him to the beach house. Had he done so, his best friend would be safe, well and alive.
He shuddered, not wishing to dwell on that particular thought. He tried to stem the rising tide of self-reproach that was fast consuming him. Berating himself for what might have been, what he could have done to prevent this, was futile and was only going to drive him crazy. He needed to focus his energies into doing something to remedy the situation to find Jesse and fast, before the worst could happen to him.
If it hadn't already.
No! He refused to believe that. Jesse was still alive. He knew it. He felt it in his gut. He would know if he wasn't.
He hung on to that thought, comforted himself with it, completely unaware that his every emotion was being broadcast on his mobile features and that Cheryl, who could read her partner like a book, was witnessing it.
"I want this whole area cordoned off," he snarled, glancing around, peering into the darkness, as though it might suddenly offer up the answers he so desperately sought.
"Done," she replied. "Steve ?"
He faced her. Anguish and determination warred for dominance on his face. "Yeah?"
"We'll find him. Don't worry."
Easier said than done. Still, he appreciated the effort to cheer him up. "Thanks," he said, softly.

Daylight yielded no new clues. The lab called, however, confirming that they had a match on the blood. It was, as they had already suspected, Jesse's. Steve called his father and Amanda to pass on the grim news. The conversation was stilted, thrumming with emotions they dare not express. As he snapped his cellphone shut, his partner approached him from the cordon, where she had been speaking to one or two of the onlookers who had gathered, like vultures at a kill, to gawk and stare and spread gossip. Steve hated it.
"Guy over there," she said, gesturing to an older man who seemed distinctly uncomfortable and out of place amidst the seething, excited throng, "said he saw a black SUV around the time Jesse was supposed to have arrived home."
"Why didn't we get his statement before?" demanded Steve.
"He's a night worker," she said, evenly. She had seen Steve in this kind of mood before. "He's just got home, heard about what happened and came down to see if he could help."
Steve swallowed the anger and frustration he was feeling. There was no point taking it out on Cheryl. She was only trying to help as was the witness. "Number plate?" he ground out.
"Partial," she admitted. "I sent it off. They're running it now."
The Lieutenant rubbed his hands over eyes gritty with lack of sleep. "Let's hope that come up with something," he said, dismally. "Because so far, we have squat."
The edge in his voice was not lost on Cheryl. She knew better than to try to pacify him, however. This was Steve's best friend, his partner in BBQ Bob's and someone about whom he cared very deeply. There weren't that many people in his life he had allowed himself to care about afraid of getting hurt, more than likely, but that was only her theory. To lose one of them now
He wanted answers and he wanted them now. Unfortunately answers were one commodity on which they were very short.
And time was running out.

Utterly desperate to relieve himself, Jesse had finally, reluctantly, started to rise to his feet to do just that in another corner of the room when, without prior warning, the door to his prison burst open. Before he even had the opportunity to react, he found himself hauled to his feet and slammed against the wall hard. The impact sent pain shooting down his spine and threatened to empty his bursting bladder.
He bit back a groan. He wasn't going to give these people the satisfaction of knowing that they had hurt him.
They already had the advantage over him, of course. One, they had taken him and now held him prisoner god knew where and two, they were bigger than him if the goon holding him by the neck so his feet dangled off the ground was any indication. And three, they had succeeded in scaring him half to death.
But he would be damned if he'd let them know that. His father was a CIA agent, his best friend a tough homicide cop. He had learned from the best Besides, he could hear Mark's voice in his head. "Don't worry, Jesse, we're coming," he was saying. "Just hang in there, son. It'll be okay. We'll find you."
It was almost as though his mentor was in the room with him. But the words bolstered his waning courage.
Jesse never saw the blow coming. It arrived with all the force the bastard holding him could deliver and then some, slamming into his solar plexus and knocking all the air from his body. His head spun and he felt sick as he was let go and fell inelegantly to the ground, curling around the pain. He was totally unprepared for the hard kick which caught him in the lower back, sending spikes of fresh agony spiralling through him and, finally, cruelly, emptying his bladder.
Whimpering softly from the pain and the humiliation, he rocked to and fro, waiting for the next part of the assault. It never came. There was raucous laughter from two no, three men then the sound of receding footsteps and the slam of the door.
He was alone again.

Mark smiled affectionately down at Amanda as he gently placed a blanket over the slumbering young woman.
Already exhausted after a long, hard shift at the hospital the day before, it had been inevitable that she would lose her battle against sleep. Noticing she could barely stay awake, Mark had urged her to lie down on the couch `just for a while.'. She had reluctantly agreed, begging him not to let her doze off. She wanted to be alert should any news come through about Jesse.
Sleep had overcome her moments later as her eyes fluttered closed and her breathing evened out and Mark had simply watched from his vantage point on the stool at her side, doing nothing to stop the process. His friend badly needed her rest and it was enough that one of them was able to find some peace in temporary oblivion.
Despite the fatigue pulling at him, Mark himself couldn't relax.
He was worried sick.
Jesse had been missing for nearly sixteen hours. Sixteen hours in which he could have been beaten up, brutalised, stabbed, shot or worse.
Mark didn't even want to contemplate the kinds of punishment whoever had him could be meting out to his young friend. Unfortunately that didn't prevent his mind being filled with images none of them pleasant.
Jesse alone and imprisoned.
Jesse cowed and terrified.
Jesse, bruised, beaten and bleeding.
Little did he know how accurate the pictures flashing into his mind truly were.

Steve stormed into the precinct. His mood had worsened the more time dragged by with no clue as to his friend's whereabouts or who had him, or why.
Cheryl had stopped trying to get a civil word out of him. She just hoped he wouldn't do something stupid like tick off Captain Newman or, worse, encounter Chief Masters and scream at him instead.
Although she would pay good money to see the winner of that particular confrontation!
Stomping to his desk, ignoring the startled looks his behaviour was garnering, he rifled irritably through the paperwork on top of it, muttering inaudibly to himself.
After a few minutes of seemingly fruitless searching, Cheryl couldn't stand it any longer. "Is there something in particular you're looking for?" she demanded, sweetly. "Or is tearing your desk apart supposed to be some kind of therapy I don't know about?"
That earned her a glower. She'd never seen him this furious before and she nearly backed down.
But Cheryl was nobody's fool. She'd faced street thugs, mafia hitmen, ruthless murderers of all descriptions and even the odd wolf or two when she was hiking the trails. Steve Sloan didn't scare her.

He wasn't sure at what point he reached the conclusion that he wasn't going to intimidate his partner into leaving him alone. It was probably when, after several moments of him levelling his most malevolent glare at her she remained where she stood, feet planted slightly apart, arms folded across her chest, her deep brown eyes issuing a fiery challenge.
Steve couldn't take it any more.
Suddenly deflating, he sank into his chair, dropping his head into his hands. "I'm sorry," he mumbled. "God, I have no idea what " He lifted his head, meeting her steady gaze. She had never seen anyone look so anguished. "I don't know where to look, Cheryl," he moaned. "There are no clues, nothing that tells us where he is or what's happened to him or even if he's still alive."
God, those words had hurt him to say. She flinched at the hoarse and painfilled voice. It had barely even sounded like the Steve she knew.
If anything had happened to Jesse if, god forbid, he was dead. Then it would just about kill him.

Huddled in a corner of the room, Jesse slept. Several hours had passed since the vicious, wordless assault. He had been no closer after their abrupt departure to knowing what they wanted with him than he had been before they had arrived.
He had been in a lot more pain, though.
They had left him writhing in agony, his pants soaked with his own urine, struggling to catch his breath and trying desperately not to throw up.
It had taken some time for the searing white heat in his gut and spine to diminish to a level he could tolerate without feeling like he was going to pass out or burst into tears or both.
There had been no further visits and, finally, hurting, terrified and exhausted by his ordeal, he had succumbed, his eyes fluttering shut as he curled in on himself, unconsciously protecting the most sensitive parts of his body from further abuse.
He whimpered softly as he dozed, the persistent ache in his stomach and back reaching him even in the confines of sleep. He was oblivious to the sounds he was making, however, lost in dark dreams of nameless, faceless men doing unthinkable things to him as his friends stood by and watched.

His friends were still trying to find him. Dread gnawed at the pit of Steve's stomach as he waited for the results of the partial plate. He tried to concentrate on the paperwork in front of him, staring at it as though a clue might jump out and grab him by the throat. But the words on the report remained stubbornly one-dimensional and equally, offered up no solution.
Cheryl studied him from across the desk, biting her lip pensively. "You know, you're too close to this, Steve," she remarked, gently.
Wounded blue eyes rose to meet hers. "What?"
"You're too close," she reiterated. "And this isn't a homicide." `Yet,' she added, silently. "And you're exhausted. You're not firing on all cylinders."
"What are you saying?" he demanded in a rough voice. "That I should turn this case over to someone else? Someone who doesn't care? Someone who might miss something important?"
She shook her head. "No," she replied, evenly. "What I am saying is that we have to approach this from a different perspective, another angle; step back and try to view this as an ordinary `missing persons' case."
"Jesse isn't just any `missing person'!" he growled.
"And that's the problem." She sighed, deeply. "Look, the Captain knows you're not going to stay away from this and that's why he assigned us to it. That and the fact that we're under staffed because of the flu," she added, with a quirk of her lips.
He cast her a wan smile of his own, thereby conceding the point. "Okay," he said. "So what do you suggest?"
"Well, we need to establish a timeline," she said. "And we need to discover everything about Jesse's movements over the past week, or month or several months, if we have to."
A frown deepened the lines of strain that had appeared overnight on his face. "I already know his movements."
"Do you?" she challenged him. "Do you really know everything he does? Can you account for his whereabouts every single minute of every single day?"
"Yes!" he retorted, stung by the implication that he didn't know his own friend as well as he thought he did.
"And what does he do in his time off?" she asked.
He snorted disdainfully. "Which time off? Jesse works harder than anyone I know. Between his hospital duties, BBQ Bob's and the time he spends helping Dad and me, he doesn't have any time off!"
Cheryl suppressed the urge to strangle her partner. He certainly wasn't making this easy. "I thought you once told me he likes to surf?"
"He does." He regarded her quizzically. "What does that have to do with anything?"
"Well, are you sure that's where he is when "
"What are you implying?" he interjected, angrily. "That my friend lies to me? To us?"
"Not exactly, no. But maybe there are things he keeps from you. Maybe there are things he doesn't want you to know."
"Jesse is the most honest person I know," snapped Steve. "He would never keep anything from us."
"Well, let's just say, for the sake of argument, that he does for now," suggested the female cop, amiably. "Because like it or not, Steve, something got him kidnapped and if we discount Community General and `Bob's' which of course we haven't, yet then it must be something else he does. And somehow, I don't think surfing is gonna entice anyone to do this."
Steve stared at her, wordlessly. He had to admit, she had a point. With a sigh borne of frustration, he tried to recall all the times when his friend had told them that he had been partaking of his favourite form of relaxation, only to discover, much to his alarm, that they had always just assumed that was where Jesse was. The young doctor had never actually either confirmed or denied it. God, what if Cheryl was right? What if Jesse had become mixed up in something something that would lead to him being kidnapped or killed?
"Okay," he said, at length. "You're right. But how do we find out where he's been?"
She shrugged. "Well, we're cops," she said, with a smile. "Let's do what cops do. Investigate."

Jesse had been subjected to another brutal assault. This one had left him with what he was pretty sure were cracked if not broken ribs. Then there was the source of the searing pain that still resonated in his abused body.
It hurt to move. It hurt to breathe. Every time he inhaled, it was accompanied by a sharp, biting agony that brought tears to his eyes.
This time he had been asked questions. No, one question. "Where is it?"
He had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. He had tried to tell them that, between strangled gasps of pain as they pummelled him. It had only earned him another series of staggering blows. His midsection had taken most of the punishment, but he didn't think there was an area of his body that had fully escaped. The throbbing agony in his back had intensified partly because of the fists that had pounded him there.
When he wasn't able to tell them what they wanted to hear and god knew, he wanted to, if only to stop the battering he was receiving, they had taken great pleasure in dispensing another, more ferocious trouncing, terminating in a vicious kick to the groin. Nothing in his entire life could have prepared him for the agony that had produced. It had been immense and excruciating and he had found himself vomiting helplessly with the shock and severity of it.
They left him there, curled up on the floor in the dank, cold room, his senses eroded by pain and the nauseating stench of his own bodily fluids.
Little sounds of pain made it past his bruised, bloodied lips. His eyes tightly closed, his hands clutching his private parts protectively, willing the pain to go away, he rocked slowly from side to side.
He wanted to go home.
He had never wanted anything so badly in all of his life.
He wanted to be home, safe, with his friends.
Tears finally seeped out from behind the firmly shuttered lids, sliding down the pallid, grime-streaked, bruised cheeks.
`Help me!' he screamed, silently. `Please, please help me! Please I just want to go home please '
There was no-one to hear him.

Amanda stared disconsolately at the telephone, willing it to ting.
Four days!
Four days and still no sign of Jesse.
The only clue, Steve had told Mark and herself, when he had telephoned them three days ago from the precinct, where he appeared to live now or at least had done so for the duration of the investigation had been a partial licence plate and the make and colour of vehicle a black SUV. The cops were running the plate even now, slowly eliminating names on a list of possible owners.
How many black SUV's with that partial were there in LA, anyway, dammit?
Of course, their witness hadn't said it was an LA plate. They had to cross check with other cities, other counties, other states. God, it could take forever.
Jesse could be anywhere by now!
The lack of communication from whomsoever had taken him was terrifying. In fact, Amanda could come up with only one reason for such an ominous silence.
She had more or less convinced herself that, by the time he was found and there was certainly no guarantee that he ever would be. Some people went missing and were never ever seen or heard from again Jesse would be dead.
They had probably killed him not long after abducting him.
They were all only fooling themselves by thinking and hoping otherwise.
`Jesse '
Fighting back tears, she hoped that it had been quick and painless. As much as she didn't want him to be dead `dear, sweet, irritating, endearing Jesse ' she couldn't bear to think of him being harmed, tortured, before they finally put him out of his misery.
She was tormenting herself with this morbid line of thought when Mark entered the pathology lab. She glanced up, wincing at his appearance. Fatigue hung around him like a shroud, his pale blue eyes dulled by it, the weary smile he barely cracked for her benefit merely accentuating the haggard expression which had become his habitual look since that night.
He looked like hell.
She knew he probably hadn't slept since Jesse's disappearance. Mark had reserved a very special place in his heart for the younger doctor. Jesse, with his boyish enthusiasm and infectious sense of fun, had wormed his way in there on their very first meeting and had never left. He wasn't just another colleague or even just a friend to Mark he never really had been.
He was a surrogate son.
And Mark looked the way any father would when his son was missing.
Despairing and anguished, hopeless and lost.
Yet a fierce sense of determination drove him on, spurring him forward, not allowing him the rest he needed so very badly, nor permitting him to submit to his deepest, darkest fear.
Mark wasn't your normal every day father, worried about a missing offspring.
He was also a consultant with the police department.
And in that capacity, he had been helping Cheryl and Steve with their investigation, running down his own leads, working tirelessly, his utter resolve frightening in and of itself.
He couldn't see beyond his goal that of finding Jesse.
Single minded, resolute, staunchly defending his every action, refusing to admit to his own body's weaknesses in his desire to do what had to be done.
Someone had messed with his family.
And if they had hurt Jesse, then they would pay.

Steve drove like a maniac.
Cheryl, seated beside him, hung on, closing her eyes as the car darted in and out of other traffic, coming dangerously close to collision several times.
Someone had called in a sighting of the black SUV the only one they had been unable to trace. It was on lease from a car hire firm and the owner had reported it stolen.
Five days into Jesse's disappearance, they had received an anonymous tip off. The SUV was parked outside a house in a suburban district of large houses set in their own grounds.
Steve hadn't wasted any time. Barely pausing to replace the receiver or even to wait for his partner, he had literally sprinted out of the precinct and jumped into his car. Cheryl had only just made it to the vehicle before it pulled out of the forecourt.
Now she sat, gritting her teeth, whilst her partner risked life and limb in his effort to reach his friend.
She didn't want to remind him that this might be a wild goose chase. That, whilst they may have located the car, it didn't necessary mean they had found Jesse.
And there remained the distinct possibility that it may be too late.
The Lieutenant's face was set in grim lines, his eyes hooded and intent on the road ahead.
She hoped, for his sake, that they would find his friend alive.
The alternative would utterly destroy him.

Mark and Amanda sat in grim silence in Mark's car. Whilst the older man's vehicle wasn't reaching the suicidal speed of his offspring's, it wasn't exactly leisurely, either. Steve had called him shortly after receiving the tip off. If the call led them to Jesse, they would need medical assistance.
Mark didn't even question how he knew that. He wasn't stupid, nor exactly inexperienced in matters such as these. Jesse had been taken by a person or persons unknown for a purpose over which they could only speculate. What was the likelihood that he would be unharmed after this many days?
No-one wanted to voice the other question the one that plagued them more than ever now that they may be about to get the answers they had so desperately sought.
Mark had grabbed his medical bag and Amanda had insisted on coming with him. Trying to dissuade her had been an impossible and ultimately time-consuming task. He didn't have enough of that precious commodity to spare not if he wanted to be there to help Jesse. So, with grave misgivings, he allowed her to accompany him, hoping against hope that what they found would not traumatise her for life.
Amanda may be a pathologist; she may have seen the worst death had to offer up. But this was her friend, practically a younger brother. Mark could only guess at the kind of condition in which they would find him and even the least sickening scenario would be difficult to take.
But it was too late now.

Steve and Cheryl reached the house first, by virtue of his reckless driving. They parked round the corner from the building, not wanting to tip off anyone inside.
Other cops were there sharpshooters, uniforms and the Captain, with a loudhailer, just in case. Steve wondered vaguely how Newman had got there so fast, then remembered that his superior officer lived close by and had obviously heard the call over the police wavelengths.
He was shaking, he realised. He didn't know whether it was nerves, or fear or relief that this all might be over soon. It could even be a combination of all three.
What he did know, for certain, was that if they didn't find Jesse here then he wouldn't stop searching. Ever.
Except a gut feeling told him that his friend was close.
Very close.
And he was still alive.
He had learned to trust that instinct over many years as a cop and as Jesse's best friend.
He just wanted to storm through the doors, rescue Jesse and get him the hell out of the clutches of the bastards who had taken him.
Common sense prevailed.
Doing something so utterly irresponsible would only succeed in the outcome he was trying so desperately to avoid.
And he didn't know what he would do if his own actions got Jesse killed.
"All right, I want you men round the back, and the three of you round the front. I want you to cover every exit. If anyone tries to leave, stop `em." Newman's directions were being followed almost as soon as he got the words out. Steve was impressed at the loyalty the man inspired and his take on the situation. Everything was under control.
Newman turned to him. "Steve, I want you and Cheryl to go the front door. We have to give these people the benefit of the doubt before we start anything. We need to establish just what is going on in there and who lives there. Don't do anything stupid."
The warning was well-timed but not needed. Steve had no intention of further endangering his friend's life. He nodded, silently, then gestured for Cheryl to follow him.
The walk up the driveway was one of the longest Steve could ever remember taking. He had the distinct feeling that they were being watched and he half expected to be cut down by gunfire at any moment.
Nothing happened, however, and they reached the front door safely.
The doorbell was overloud in the oppressive silence of their surroundings and it seemed to reverberate through their brains.
They waited.
No-one came to the door.
They rang the bell again, and rapped loudly on the solid oak.
Still nothing.
Pushing the door, Steve discovered that it was open. Drawing his gun and watching his partner do the same, he indicated silently that she should follow him.
Cautiously, they stepped inside, their attention riveted on any sound that might intimate that they were not alone.

They searched the place from top to bottom.
They couldn't find anyone.
Waves of disappointment and frustration washed over the senior detective.
He had been so sure.

Then there was a yell and a burst of gunfire from the back.
Sprinting through the seemingly deserted house they discovered that someone had tried to escape through the garden at the back. He hadn't made it. He was lying spread-eagled on the ground, glancing frantically around as several police officers trained their weapons on him. His own was clutched in his hand but, even as Steve and Cheryl watched, he dropped it onto the dew-damp grass.
Steve had hauled him to his feet and was practically choking the life out of him before anyone could stop him. "Where is he?" he ground out, shaking the other man for good measure. "What have you done with him?"
The man struggled in the cop's hold, pointing desperately to his airway, which Steve was closing off with the hand he had round the guy's throat.
"Steve, he can't breathe, much less talk," Cheryl cautioned him. "Loosen your hold a little!"
Steve complied by pushing his prisoner backwards to pin him against the wall. His face was dark with rage, blue eyes flashing fire and promising vengeance. His captive looked around, saw the impassive faces surrounding him, realising very quickly that no-one was about to tear this guy off him. He didn't want to look into that face, nor those eyes and yet he couldn't draw his gaze away.
"I I " he gasped. "What what're you talkin' about?"
Bad mistake.
Steve tightened his hold, a vulpine grin making him look even meaner than before. "You don't wanna co-operate? Fine," he hissed. "I don't want you to. I feel like extracting a little revenge today and you'll do just fine."
"You you can't do that " It was barely audible. His windpipe was being slowly, inexorably crushed. Wildly, his eyes darted around again. There was to be no help forthcoming. A couple of the cops were nodding approvingly. Others just watched as the scene played out. No-one was going to stop Steve from extracting the information he needed.
The man sagged in his grip. "Okay, okay," he rasped, barely able to get the words out. "Up upstairs secret room panic room he's in there."
Steve had one more question. "Is he alive?"
A slight nod. "He was "
Panic and fear and hope and desperation warred for dominance. Thrusting the prisoner toward two of the other plainclothed cops, he rasped out an order to `take care of this guy' then he ran for the house, whipping out his cellphone on the way. "Dad!" he practically screamed into the instrument. "Dad, where are you?"
"I'm here, Steve," came the breathless response. "I just arrived. What's happening?"
"Jesse " Steve could barely get the words out. "They have him locked in the `panic room'. He was alive "
"Was?" Mark seemed to choke on the word. "Steve !"
"Meet me upstairs!" Steve ordered, then shut off the phone, racing up the stairs two at a time in his rush to get to his friend.

The panic room was located at the far end of the hall, behind a closet. It had been well concealed.
Taking a huge, sustaining breath and praying harder than he had ever done in his life before, Steve turned on his flashlight and pushed open the door.

The stench that assailed his nostrils was unbelievable. A combination of sweat, urine and vomit hung in the air, fetid and nauseating. Steve swallowed the gag reflex that was threatening to overcome him, directing the torchlight onto the tightly coiled figure on the floor.
The name emerged as a half-whisper, half-prayer.
In two strides, he was beside his friend, reaching out a trembling hand to the carotid artery on the pale neck.
For several heart-stopping seconds, he didn't feel anything, then, as tears of rage and grief sprang into his eyes, the faintest of beats pulsed beneath his fingers.
He exhaled, almost toppling over in relief.
The torchlight, however, revealed some of the damage the young man's body had sustained.
He was devoid of clothing, save for his boxers, and they only partially covered his modesty. Steve hitched in another breath, not daring to contemplate what that signified.
His hand settled gently on Jesse's arm. The skin was cold and dry but he wasn't shivering. He was barely even moving.
They had beaten him to a bloody pulp. There were deep lacerations on his arms and bruises of differing shades and age covered the back of his torso, most looking like bootprints and the black imprints of a hand were all too visible on his upper arms as though he had been restrained whilst he had been beaten. The image enraged the increasingly distraught detective.
Turning the small, pathetic bundle over very gently, Steve was appalled to see the same collection of slashes and contusions on the young doctor's chest and abdomen. One deep, dark bruise lay directly over the region of his liver and other vital organs and his belly was slightly distended.
His breathing was ragged and irregular and blood and more bruises marred the boyish face, red stains around the nostrils and mouth further testament to his suffering.
He made no sound, not even a whimper escaping those dry, cracked lips. His eyes were tightly shuttered, deep dark rings having taken up residence beneath them. If not for the fact that he had a pulse of sorts, and that he was breathing, even though it was laboured at best, Steve would have thought him dead.
The stray thought wandered through his mind that perhaps it would have been better if he was
Furious at himself for even entertaining that vile idea, he raised his eyes, to meet the shocked gaze of his partner, crouched on the other side of Jesse.
"Steve " Her voice was low, reverent, in deference to the mutilated body between them.
He shook his head in shocked silence, swallowing hard. He wanted to cry, scream, rage against the world or whoever had done this to someone so undeserving.
But he didn't dare disturb the status quo.
And he didn't want to scare Jesse.

Mark's arrival prompted him to start breathing again.
He reflected sardonically that he really shouldn't stop quite so often. It was just that the oxygen didn't seem to want to make its way into his lungs and he was too busy being horrified and scared to notice.
Mark was the epitome of professionalism as he knelt beside his young friend. He strove to keep up that mask for both his son's sake and his own. He knew if he allowed it to crumble then they would both be lost.
But it was so hard.
Especially with what was directly in front of him.
Opening his medical bag he directed Amanda, subconsciously watching her reactions even as he got a good look at Jesse. She was holding together pretty well under the circumstances, but he could see the tremor in her hands as they examined their young friend, cataloguing his injuries and verifying what needed to be done as a matter of priority.
Firstly, he needed fluids. He was dehydrated to the point of near-death. His mutilated skin was like thin paper, wrinkled and dry. He had obviously not been given anything to drink since his arrival here or, if he had, then it had been very little.
His gut was slightly distended beneath the large contusion which covered it. Mark suspected internal bleeding but without a diagnostic peritoneal lavage kit, he couldn't tell for sure.
Turning him slowly, he inspected Jesse's back and was alarmed to discover another large bruise over his kidneys.
They needed a urinalysis to test for blood. He wasn't entirely sure they were going to get anything at all, however. His urine output had obviously diminished over his days of captivity if the colour of the patches on his boxers was any indication.
He didn't want to do the final exam, but forced himself to do so anyway.
Reaching for the filthy underwear, he eased it down, examining Jesse's genitalia and anus. There was some testicular and penile trauma obviously the result of a deadly blow to that area. There had been some bleeding but until he got him back to Community General he wouldn't be able to tell how serious it was or if there would be any lasting damage.
What he found on the visual rectal exam disturbed him greatly.
There was definite sign of some interference there.
There had been some bleeding not much but sufficient for him to recognize that his captors had brutalised Jesse in the worst way possible.
He could only hope and pray that Jesse had been unconscious at the time although he suspected not because helping him to recover from an assault of that nature was going to be hell on all of them.
Although there was no question but that they would do it and willingly, for as long as it took.

The slightest of sounds caught at his attention. He glanced up to see Amanda, biting her lip, shaking uncontrollably, silent tears rolling down her cheeks. Steve's arm was around her shoulder and he too looked devastated. There was no sign of Cheryl. Mark was to find out later that she had discreetly taken her leave as he had started his evaluation of his friend's condition to stand guard outside, not allowing anyone else to intrude on the young man's privacy. He was absurdly grateful for her absence. It was fitting that it be just the four of them this was not something that needed to be shared with anyone else not yet.
A flurry of activity from behind him indicated that the paramedics had arrived. The ambulance had been a few minutes behind them, even as they had been praying that they would not need the coroner's van.
As the two men entered, bearing the equipment that would stabilise Jesse's precarious condition, he quickly pulled the stained boxers back up, concealing the dreadful injuries that had shattered their world.

The wail of the siren was giving Steve a headache.
But that was nothing, compared to the ache in his heart.
If he hadn't seen the evidence with his own eyes
`Oh god, Jesse '
Cheryl, seated beside him, offered silent support. She had seen enough before prudently taking her leave of the scene to know what had happened to the young doctor. She hadn't needed to witness it firsthand. And even if she hadn't recognised the signs, Steve's reaction would have told her everything she needed to know. His gaze was transfixed on the road ahead, the blue eyes haunted. He was utterly traumatized.
Amanda and Mark had worn remarkably similar expressions on their respective faces when they had finally emerged with the gurney bearing the broken body of their friend. Mark's hand had been placed casually on one blanket covered arm, his other wrapped around an obviously grieving pathologist. Steve's face had been ashen, the knowledge of what he had been unable to prevent having seared his soul. He had barely spoken since. They were now following the ambulance, which held his best friend and his father; Amanda, still in shock, following on behind them in Mark's car, which was being driven by one of the uniforms.
Cheryl stared at her hands, clenched into fists in her lap. Jesse Travis didn't deserve this any of this. And, whilst she may not be a part of the little family to whom he was so important, it still hurt her in ways she had never dreamed of that he had been subjected to such vile treatment.
She had no idea if he would ever recover from this. She did know, however, that his family would rally round him, that he would be shielded from prying eyes and any potential gossip; protected from the world for as much time as it took. He would not want for anything. That family would give it in spades and then some.
And she would do her part.
She would not stop until she and her partner found the men responsible.
And she would be hard pressed to prevent her partner from meting out his own brand of justice.
Because she understood exactly how he felt.
And she wanted nothing more than to administer exactly what they had given to Jesse and then some.

The trauma room into which the gurney containing Jesse had been rushed was a hive of activity. Mark had called the hospital from the ambulance, priming them for its arrival, and asking for one or two specific people to assist.
He had had no intention of allowing all and sundry to find out the exact nature of Jesse's injuries. The young man's standing as a well-respected doctor was not going to be jeopardized if he could do anything to prevent it. It would be difficult enough for people to face him without pity creeping into their behaviour or their facial expressions. There was no need to make it more difficult for all involved.
He didn't once even entertain the notion that Jesse would be far too traumatised emotionally to ever return to the job he loved.
He was going to be fine.
They were going to make sure of it.

Steve watched from beyond the glass as Mark, Amanda and a couple of the older, more experienced nurses who had always doted on Jesse in a motherly fashion which had exasperated him bustled around the young man. His one remaining item of clothing had been stripped from him; a thin sheet now pulled up to his thighs.
Mark had performed a diagnostic peritoneal lavage and two bags of saline had been hung, replenishing the liquids and salts Jesse had lost. Scans had been ordered CT, angiography, plain x-ray for true abdomen and intravenous pyelogram and he had been placed on IV antibiotics. Urinalysis had shown large volumes of blood and little else which was no surprise. A nasogastric tube had been inserted and Mark had ordered up the usual tests, including CBC's and a Chem 7. Jesse had also received blood.
"DPL positive for 15mls of grossly blood aspirate," reported one of the nurses, grimly.
"Belly distended and tender on palpation," muttered Mark. "Amanda, tell OR we're coming down."
"What about the genital injuries?" asked the other nurse, eying her young patient with sorrowful eyes, although her face was a mask of true professionalism.
"I know," Mark said. "We need to determine the severity of where's those scans?" he demanded, interrupting himself, as the readings on the machine monitoring Jesse's vitals began to dip and an alarm sounded.
Steve's arms were folded tightly across his chest, as though to hold in all the emotions that were threatening to burst out of him at any minute.
Cheryl stood beside him, one hand on his shoulder. He could barely feel it, his entire attention riveted on the activity in front of him.
Tension radiated from him almost a living thing. His fists were clenched beneath his armpits, nails digging into calloused skin, drawing blood. The pain acted as a counterpoint to the agony in his soul.
Then his father and the rest of the ER team were rushing the gurney toward the door, the clattering of wheels on linoleum echoing hollowly in his racing mind. He ran forward, being pushed out of the way by one of the two nurses. Her warning look was clear, although he could see empathy in her brown eyes. "We'll let you know," she promised, breathlessly as Mark screamed at them to hold the elevator and the small party headed toward it.
The next instant, the elevator doors had closed and they were gone.
Steve could only stare in their direction, unable to focus properly because of the film of moisture that was clouding his vision. He wondered vaguely how it could be raining in the ER as he felt the wetness on his cheeks then a sob was torn out of him and he fell to his knees.
"No!" he screamed, oblivious to the curious stares he was receiving.
"God, don't!" he begged, silently. "Don't let him die now! Please!"

Mark worked diligently over his young friend, trying to stop the internal bleeding that had shown up in the tests they had run. Jesse was oblivious to the surgical procedure, deeply unconscious, his traumatised subconscious having retreated to where nothing could harm him.
He had not only suffered from internal injuries, including the bleeding, three fractured ribs and bruised kidney, but had sustained scrotal trauma. Fortunately, although the area had looked swollen and painful and horribly bruised, the testicles had not sustained any major damage. Mark had been concerned about epididymitis and testis rupture but Jesse had been lucky.
`Lucky' reflected Mark silently, bitterly. `Right.'
Rectal tearing indicated that Jesse may well have been raped, not `just' sodomised with some kind of implement although recent articles had stated that non consensual sodomy was really rape by another name. The older man blinked back the tears that filled his eyes at this finding. One would be bad enough. The other . He didn't know how his friend would ever get over something like that.
Knowing they had to ascertain the facts didn't make his task any simpler as he performed the procedure to establish once and for all whether Jesse had been subjected to that most depraved of acts.
He had had a rape kit brought into theatre and now placed the equipment back on the tray. He would give it to Amanda. He knew of no-one else he trusted so much and for the moment, he wanted to keep it in-house.

Jesse's vitals had risen by the time he was finished. They were still some way off being normal but he was stable and would recover physically from his ordeal.
As for mentally, emotionally some men never got over the trauma of being victimised by another man. And that aside, he had been systematically beaten over the course of several days. That in itself required a huge amount of psychological healing.
There were rape counsellors at Community General, of course, although convincing Jesse to see someone would be a battle in and of itself. And they still had no idea why he had been taken captive in the first place, subjected to the most contemptible abuse and then left to die. The men who had taken him would discover, eventually, that their prisoner had been rescued and they would track him down. Jesse was going to have enough to contend with without the knowledge that his tormenters his torturers were still on the loose and still after him.

Forward to part two

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