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"My name's Bill Burton and I'm looking for Jesse Travis."
"I'm Jesse Travis." The doctor in question turned at the mention of his name and found himself confronted by a middle-aged man in a tailored suit, who looked vaguely familiar. "How can I help you?"
"You can start by telling me what the hell happened to my brother," Bill snarled, with sudden aggression.
Jesse took a half step back, trying to figure out who the man was and why he was so angry. His first instinct was that it was an irate relative - he'd faced hostility in his chosen career before. Patients died; it was a sad fact of life. But there were always those who would insist on apportioning blame for any fatality - and often, the doctor was the easiest target.
"I'm sorry," Jesse answered, trying to hold onto his professionalism and diffuse the situation. "Perhaps if you told me your brother's name "
"Wayne Burton. And don't pretend that you don't know what I'm talking about." He stabbed his finger into the young doctor's chest for emphasis. "The way I hear it, you were one of the last people to see him alive."
"Wayne " Shock robbed Jesse of his breath and his vision tunnelled until all he could see was the man in front of him. "Uncle Wayne That was almost twenty years ago."
His eyes unfocussed as a sudden, powerful memory assailed him. Lying on his back, with damp grass soaking through his clothing; a man towering over him, looking impossibly tall to his young eyes; pain.
With a gasp, Jesse forced his attention back to the present. This wasn't Wayne Burton standing before him and he wasn't in Elgin any more. And he was no longer twelve years old and helpless. He forced a note of calm authority into his voice: "I think it might be better if we go somewhere more private."
Jesse took the man into the doctors' lounge. Wayne Burton belonged to
a part of his life that he'd thought to be closed forever - an infinitely
painful part of his life - and he didn't want those memories stirred up
in public. He had no idea as to how he might react. Offering friendliness
in an attempt to keep Bill's hostility at bay, he got them both a coffee.
"I don't understand," he said, softly. "Your brother's been dead for close to twenty years. Why are you here now?"
"I can tell from your expression and your tone that you remember Wayne now," Bill answered, his own expression giving nothing away. "The last time I spoke to him was two years before he was killed. Nobody in my family has had any contact with him since. He disowned himself completely."
"So why now?"
"My mother died last month." Genuine emotion flared in the man's eyes, but it wasn't grief. It looked disturbingly like greed. "And my father changed his will. He left half of his estate to Wayne and half to me - provided that I find some way to resolve the feud. Otherwise the whole lot goes to charity."
"But Uncle But Wayne is dead." Jesse silently cursed his childish slip. "Surely there must be some proviso "
"Yes, Wayne is dead," Bill snapped. "And I should get all of the money. But that's not good enough for my father. He wants details and I don't have them. All I know is that when I was trying to track my brother down, I heard some disturbing things."
Jesse swallowed dryly, but didn't respond. He wasn't at all surprised by the statement; it had been a disturbing time.
"Like the fact that my brother was murdered and that nobody was ever even arrested, much less punished for his death." He leaned forwards intensely. "You wanna tell me why that is, doc?"
Getting to his feet - needing to put some distance between himself and this reminder of his past - Jesse again allowed his mind to return to Elgin. He'd been all of twelve years old and his father had just walked out of his life. He had barely recovered from the shock of that when the first of his 'uncles' had moved into his mother's bedroom. Wayne Burton was by no means the only one, but he was the most memorable - for all the wrong reasons.
"It was a long time ago," he whispered.
"I tried to track your mom down first," Bill said, causing Jesse's head to snap up in alarm. "Another Doctor Travis - funny that. But it seems like she spends a lot of time in Europe. Must pay well this doctor business."
Jesse felt a surge of relief that - for the time being at least - his mom was being kept out of this. Whatever 'this' was.
"I still don't understand what you want from me," he confessed.
"My brother was shacked up with your mom when he died." Bill grabbed hold of Jesse's shoulder and whirled him round to face him. "I don't care what else he might have been, I don't care that I didn't speak to him for almost twenty years. He was my brother - and I want answers. My father wants answers."
A startled shout from the doorway interrupted the potentially ugly scene and Jesse looked up with undisguised relief as Steve Sloan stepped into the room. The look that he aimed at Bill Burton was nothing short of murderous.
"Everything okay, Jess?" The detective's tone was heavy with suspicion.
"Yeah, Steve." Released from Bill's grasp, Jesse smoothed down his white coat. "Yeah, everything's fine. This is Bill Burton. He's " A ghost - or the relative of a ghost. Jesse paused, wondering how he could introduce the man.
"Doctor Travis knew my brother." Bill offered the explanation, and then his eyes fell to the badge attached to the newcomer's belt: "You're a cop," he said, stating the obvious.
"Lieutenant Steve Sloan. Homicide." Steve didn't proffer his hand to be shaken and his eyes were still narrowed.
"Homicide, huh?" Bill ignored the thinly disguised hostility. "You got many unsolved murders lying around here, Lieutenant?"
"There's always one or two think they can slip through the net," Steve answered, guardedly. "We don't stop looking."
"I guess you wouldn't in a city the size of LA - what with all those resources." His eyes returned to Jesse. "But I guess it's different in a small town like Elgin. Lucky for you, hey doc?"
Bill took that opportunity to make his exit and it coincided with Mark
Sloan's arrival in the doctors' lounge. Mark's eyes followed the stranger
through the door and then he turned to greet the occupants.
"Steve, Jesse. Do you..?" He trailed off as he picked up on the somewhat strained atmosphere. "Is everything alright?"
"I don't know, dad." His son answered, his eyes fixed on the youngest man in the room. "I was just about to find out. Is everything alright, Jesse?"
"Yeah." Jesse forced a smile. "Yeah, everything's just fine."
Father and son exchanged a glance - both recognising the lie for what it was. As Mark headed over to the coffee pot, Steve began his careful interrogation.
"So, who was that guy?" he asked, his tone deceptively conversational.
"I told you. His name's Bill Burton and I " He fell back on the explanation that Bill had used. "I used to know his brother." Jesse's tone was guarded and he glanced frequently towards the door, as though weighing up his chances of escape.
"Wayne," the young doctor whispered, his eyes again losing their focus. "Wayne Burton. He was a friend of my mom's."
Neither of the other men missed the hesitation and another look was exchanged behind the oblivious doctor's back.
"I don't remember you mentioning him before," Steve prompted.
"He doesn't belong here." The words were spoken softly, almost to himself.
"Jess " Steve had his next question already formed in his mind, but was cut off as his father held up a warning hand.
"What do you mean, Jesse?" The older Sloan took over the questioning. "What do you mean 'he doesn't belong here'? Where does he belong?"
"It was a long time ago," Jesse murmured, with unmistakable tears in his voice. "It was such a long time ago. I don't remember. I don't want to remember."
"Jesse!" Mark's tone had gone from inquisitive to concerned and, as Jesse's eyes refused to regain their focus, he grabbed hold of his arm. "Jesse, son, sit down." He guided him towards the table. "It's okay, Jess."
The soothing tones got through to Jesse and he blinked rapidly, giving himself a mental shake.
"Um, sorry," he mumbled, ducking his head so as not to see their worried gazes. "I guess I kinda got lost for a minute there."
Mark could see that his son was itching to ask more questions, but he silenced him with a simple shake of his head. Jesse was still looking shaken and he knew that any further explanation would have to wait. He pushed the young man's coffee mug closer to him.
"Drink this, Jesse. It'll do you good."
Jesse's responding smile wasn't overly bright, but he did as Mark requested. However, it was not long before he made his excuses and exited the lounge. Mark stared thoughtfully at the door as it closed behind him.
"Do you have any idea what that was all about?" he asked.
"No, but I fully intend to find out," Steve answered, his eyes following his father's pensive gaze.
When Mark arrived home that evening, it was to find Steve already there.
He was seated in the lounge with a handful of photos and files scattered
across the coffee table before him and Mark just had to smile at the expression
on his face. The detective was glowering at the papers, as though that alone
would make them give up whatever secrets they might have contained.
"New case?" Mark asked, putting his bag down and wandering over to where his son sat.
"Old case," Steve responded. "Very old case."
Intrigued, Mark picked up a stray photograph. The face that stared back at him was shockingly familiar, even though he'd only met the woman once. It was undoubtedly Jesse's mother - a good few years younger, but her all the same.
"Steve " There was trepidation in his voice as he stared at the picture.
"I know, dad." Steve sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "But that guy really got to me this afternoon. So I called Elgin and got them to fax over everything they had on Wayne Burton. There wasn't much of it."
"So, does Jesse know that you've been prying into his personal life?" Mark asked, completely without rancour.
"No, but he soon will." Steve's tone was grim. "I've been over all this a thousand times and I keep reaching the same conclusion. Wayne Burton was murdered seventeen years ago - and Jesse's mom is the prime suspect."
"Oh, Steve, be careful," Mark breathed, as the full implications of that shocking revelation sank in. "Do you have any idea what this could do to Jesse?"
"I know." Steve sighed again and pinched the bridge of his nose - feeling a headache threaten. Sometimes his natural curiosity - and his natural detective skills - could be a curse. And it was a curse that he'd inherited from his father.
"What happened?" Mark couldn't help but ask.
Across town - and completely unaware of events at the beach house - Jesse slept badly. Bill Burton's visit had reawakened feelings that he'd thought to be long buried. Tossing and turning in a futile attempt to get some rest, the young doctor found his thoughts drifting back down the years.
It was a familiar position for him: sprawled on his back, cowering and terrified as his 'uncle' rained blows down on him. He didn't even know what he'd done to deserve the beating this time. It didn't matter - it never mattered. Wayne Burton was a monster, preying on those who he perceived to be weaker than him. Jesse's slight stature and gentle nature made him an easy target.
"I'm sorry!" His voice was a strangled sob and the apology did little to appease the man.
Jesse raised an arm to ward off the belt that had lashed towards his face and tried to squirm out of the way. His shirt came free from his pants, exposing the flesh there and, the next time it fell, the belt connected with his bared ribs. He screamed, but even that wasn't enough to stop the torture.
"You will listen to me," Wayne murmured, almost to himself. "God help me, if you were my kid..."
The rest went unheard by the boy. All he knew was the pain - not only from the beating that he took, but also the agony of betrayal. He couldn't understand how his mom could be so blind as to what was happening.
Jesse let out a low moan, lost in a nightmare all the more terrifying because it was a memory.
"It seems that Wayne Burton was a real prince." Steve's voice
was laden with sarcasm. "Pretty handy with his fists, by all accounts."
"Jesse?" Mark asked, sombrely.
"Yeah." Steve's face was tight with anger. "The cops were called out a couple of times, by a neighbour, but no complaint was ever filed against him. It must have gone on for months, dad."
"And Jesse wouldn't speak out against him - probably because he was too scared. What about his mom?"
"In the statement she made after Burton's death, she claimed that she never knew what was happening." The expression on his face eloquently portrayed exactly what he thought about that statement.
"Maybe she chose not to see it." Mark wasn't trying to defend the woman, but he did think he could go some way towards explaining her lack of action. "I'm guessing that this happened not long after the divorce?" At Steve's assenting nod, he continued: "She was a single mother in a small town. It can't have been easy for her." His son didn't look convinced, but Mark didn't give him time to dwell on it. "How did Burton die?" he asked.
"His head was caved in with a shovel." Steve picked up the relevant file. "Hardly the sort of thing you could pass off as an accident. Jesse's mom claimed that there had been trespassers on their property and Burton was killed in a fight."
"Is there any chance that might be true?"
"Dad, her statement's so full of holes I could drive my truck through it. She had no alibi and there's nothing to suggest that the supposed trespassers ever existed."
"That's hardly damning evidence, Steve," Mark cautioned him, even as he felt his own unease stir.
"I just want to know why this was never investigated." The detective admitted, knowing that he could never resist a mystery. "Nobody was ever arrested, the case was never closed. It's just sat on file for all these years. It's like the cops in Elgin took Jesse's mom's word for what happened - and then just left it alone."
"Maybe that isn't such a bad idea." Another photo had caught Mark's eyes. It was a picture of a child - a sombre, unhappy looking child. But the brooding eyes were unmistakably Jesse's.
Jesse woke up to find his apartment still in darkness. The digital display
on his alarm clock told him that it was almost three a.m. With a muffled
groan he sat up, rubbing one hand wearily over his face. He was still exhausted,
but knew that further sleep was out of the question. The beating of his
nightmare had been the last one that Wayne Burton had inflicted on him and
he didn't want to risk dreaming about the events that had followed. He snapped
on the bedside lamp in a futile bid to chase away shadows that existed solely
in his head.
The young doctor wandered into the bathroom hoping that by sticking to his routine - even if he was more than three hours early - he would be able to distract himself from the dangerous places his thoughts threatened to lead him.
"Oh God, my poor baby. I didn't know, Jesse. I swear, I didn't know."
Jesse flinched as his mother's voice sounded suddenly, shockingly in his mind. So much for routine. Events of a generation ago were being replayed as if they'd only happened yesterday.
He stared down at the corpse with terrified eyes. He had never seen a dead body before and he felt a scream bubble in his chest, rise up his throat and then emerge as little more than a whimper. Suddenly he was being held in his mother's almost suffocating embrace, his face pressed into her bosom as her tears soaked his hair.
"I'm sorry, baby. I'm so, so sorry," the normally composed woman sobbed. "He's never going to hurt you again. I promise you Jesse, nobody's ever going to hurt you again."
Suddenly realising that his ribs were aching, Jesse unconsciously reached down to touch the tender area where the belt had bitten into his flesh, raising ugly welts. He could feel only smooth skin beneath his fingers and he muttered a curse, shaking his head to try and dispel the memory.
He turned on the shower and stepped under the scorching spray, allowing the noise of the water to drown out the voices that he couldn't fully silence.
"I'd love to leave it alone, dad, but I don't think I can."
It was the early hours of the morning, but the father and son still pondered
the case. "When I contacted Elgin, they told me that I'm not the only
one who's been asking after Wayne Burton recently."
"You're thinking about the brother." Mark surmised.
"Yeah," Steve answered on a sigh. "To be honest with you, this information was hardly classified and if he finds out what a shambles the investigation was "
"He might start trying to find the answers for himself," his father concluded, grimly. "Where was Jesse when all this happened? Did he actually witness the murder?" He hadn't taken the time to read the files, trusting his son to fill him in on the important details.
"Nobody even took a statement from him." The exasperation in Steve's voice was unsurprising. He was a good cop and expected everyone privileged enough to carry a badge to be the same. "Even if he wasn't there when Burton was killed, they should have at least talked to him."
"He was a confused and frightened child," Mark answered, striving to find reason. "Maybe they didn't see his testimony as important."
"Any testimony from a potential witness is important," Steve snapped - unable to help his reaction. "He could have had that one detail, that missing clue "
"I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that the clue might still be there - in Jesse's head. But it was seventeen years ago, Steve," Mark could hardly believe that they were sitting there so calmly, discussing putting their mutual friend through such trauma.
"There's no Statute of Limitations on murder, dad," Steve responded - but his eyes betrayed his torment.
Let it go. Let the past stay dead. No good will ever come from this.
Unaware that Jesse had suffered the same fate - and for the same reasons
- Steve found it impossible to get any rest when he did finally succumb
to his body's need to sleep. Digging up the past is only going to hurt
Jesse. What kind of a friend would that make you?
But not digging would let a murderer go unpunished. What kind of a cop would that make you?
Steve punched his pillow, but it did little to ease his frustration and he silently cursed having walked in on the confrontation that afternoon.
Oh yeah? And let that guy beat him to a pulp? He sneered to himself. Didn't he have enough of that when he was a kid? That thought led him, inevitably, back to his dilemma. It was one hell of a motive for murder, to see your own child abused in such a way. He didn't believe for one minute that Jesse's mom couldn't have known what was going on - surely any parent would.
And surely any parent would do something about it. He had seen people do some shocking things in defence of their offspring - his own father had been accused of the same. Jesse's plight was rudely pushed from his mind by the memories of the time he'd been shot and almost killed. And of his father being condemned to Death Row. It had been a nightmare time for all of them but they had eventually emerged relatively unscathed. The truth had won out - as Steve liked to believe it always would. Slowly, his eyes drifted shut.
It's going to destroy Jesse.
"Dammit!" Steve couldn't prevent himself from cursing out loud. He was exhausted and yet he knew that, until he made a decision - one way or the other - about what he was going to do, he was destined not to sleep.
Be a good friend or be a good cop. The choice was stark and simple; because there was no way that he could be both.
"So, have you decided what you're going to do yet?"
Steve almost jumped out of his skin at the sound of his father's voice. Having given up on the pretence of sleep, he had crept around the house as silently as he could in an attempt not to disturb the older man - only to discover that his efforts had been in vain. Mark was already up - though still wearing his robe - and was pottering around the kitchen.
"Dad, what are you doing?" Steve asked, frowning.
"I'm thinking about making breakfast," Mark replied, nonplussed. "Would you like some?"
"It's only five a.m. and it was long after midnight before you went to bed."
"And you'd know that because you retired at exactly the same time I did." Mark paused long enough to pour freshly brewed coffee into two mugs. "I think we're both here now for the same reason. We still have some very difficult questions to answer."
"I've been trying not to think about it." Steve sipped at his too-hot coffee, grouchy due to the unearthly hour and his need for caffeine.
"And failing miserably from the looks of it." There was sympathy in his father's voice - and understanding. "But I also think that you know what you've got to do. Talk to Jesse, son."
"Wait a minute." Steve was genuinely surprised by those words. "Last night you were trying to talk me out of doing this."
"No, last night I asked you if you'd considered the consequences." Mark looked at him sadly. "Since then, we've both had the time to do just that. And I had to ask myself not only what it will do to Jesse, but what it will do to you. You can't ignore your instincts here, Steve - any more than you could stop the sun from rising in the morning. A crime has been committed and, at this moment in time, you're the only one who can find out the truth."
Steve could only stare at him open-mouthed. His father was always finding new ways in which to amaze him. But, in all honesty, he shouldn't have been surprised to find he understood what a terrible position he was in. If anybody knew Steve - almost as well as he knew himself - it was Mark.
"Just talk to him," the older man reiterated. "It's the right thing to do."
Steve shook his head, tightly, in spite of the logic of what he'd just heard: "What am I supposed to do? Just walk up to him and say: 'hey Jess, do you think your mom killed that guy who was beating up on you all those years ago?'"
Mark snorted humourless laughter: "You're a good cop, Steve. And he's your best friend. You'll find a way."
"So I talk to him." He wasn't about to start going easy on himself. He hated everything about the situation. "That would make me a slightly better cop than those back in Elgin who allowed things to come to this."
"It's a start, Steve. And it's better than jumping in with both feet before you know all the facts. Nobody's ever heard Jesse's version of events. Maybe he can corroborate his mother's statement. Maybe he can tell you the truth."
"And if he can't - or won't?"
"Let's just take things one step at a time," Mark advised him with typical sagacity. "There's no point in looking for problems, they can happen all by themselves."
After breakfast and a reviving shower, Steve drove straight to the hospital.
His dad had told him that Jesse had an early start and he figured that he
could catch him before things got too hectic. He wasn't the type of man
to put off a task - no matter how unpleasant it might be.
He used the drive to try and figure out exactly what he would say to his friend, but it was futile. There was no easy way to broach the subject and so he was left with no choice but to play it by ear.
He found Jesse in the doctors' lounge, slumped over the table and nursing a mug of coffee. Steve merely observed him for a long moment - the younger man being completely unaware of his presence - before knocking lightly on the doorframe.
Jesse looked up and the detective winced. If he'd thought that he or his father had looked rough, they had nothing on the young doctor.
"Are you okay? You look tired " How was that for an understatement? Steve thought to himself. Half-dead wouldn't even come close.
"Yeah, I'm good." The younger man's response was far from convincing, nor was the little smile he offered as reassurance. "Late night, you know?"
"Burning the candle at both ends, huh?" Steve forced levity into his tone when inwardly he wanted to scream. He couldn't remember ever having felt so awkward around his best friend.
"Something like that."
"Jess, are you busy?" The time for pleasantries was over and Steve got straight down to business. "I need to talk to you."
Jesse looked away and tried to force the sudden tension from his shoulders. He wanted nothing more than to run away; to not talk about events that, in a just world, would have remained in the past where they belonged. But he knew that, having witnessed the scene with Bill Burton, the detective wouldn't simply let the matter drop. He took a swallow of his coffee, stalling for time.
"Um sure. What's uh, what's on your mind?" His attempt to sound casual failed miserably.
"Jesse, I " He paused, seeking the right words - but they weren't there and he had no option but to come right out and say it. "I know what happened in Elgin."
"What?" Jesse whispered in utter disbelief. He'd been trying to think of a plausible lie to explain away Bill Burton's behaviour, but Steve's words made that unnecessary. "You You know..? How..?"
"There was something about that guy yesterday and well after I left here I made a couple of calls." Steve felt vaguely guilty as he made that confession.
"You checked up on me?"
The detective winced at the raw betrayal that was contained in those few words and sought some way to explain his actions: "Jess, Bill Burton looked like he was threatening you yesterday. Then he went on to drop some pretty heavy hints about an unsolved murder - a murder that you might be involved in." Steve had to force himself not to look away as every trace of colour faded from his friend's face. "What did you expect me to do?"
"You " Jesse could only stare at him, with eyes that were wide and held more than a hint of fear. The trouble was that he'd expected this to happen. He knew his friend too well, knew that he wouldn't be able to resist the mystery. He just hadn't expected him to unearth those events so quickly. "It was a long time ago," was all he could think of to say.
"Yes, it was." Steve studied him thoughtfully, wondering how far he should push. "But that's not the sort of thing that you just forget about. Wayne Burton was killed in your back yard. I can't believe that you've never even mentioned it to us."
"There was nothing to tell." Jesse mumbled his response and kept his eyes fixed firmly on his coffee mug. His mind was racing, seeking to find a satisfactory explanation that would appease the other man - and stop him from digging any deeper.
"Jesse, he was murdered!" The detective could hardly believe that his friend could try to just brush him off. "How can there be nothing to tell?"
"It wasn't like that," Jesse protested half-heartedly, still not looking at the other man.
"Then what was it like?" Steve couldn't help but continue with his questioning. Jesse's behaviour was only reinforcing his suspicions as to what had actually happened. "Jess, that man put you though hell and then he was murdered. But in all the years that I've known you, you've never even mentioned his name."
Hearing the persistence in the older man's voice and knowing that he was never going to leave things well alone, something inside Jesse snapped. He surged to his feet: "What did you want me to say, Steve? What did you want me to say? Did you want me to tell you how he used to take his belt to me, no matter how hard I tried not to do anything wrong? Or how about the time he locked me in the cellar and left me there all night? Huh? Is that what you wanted to hear?" His face was twisted with anguish at the pain of his memories. "Have you ever had your mouth washed out with soap, Steve? It makes you sick."
"Don't, Steve." Jesse fought to hold on to his anger, knowing that to hear sympathy from his friend would make him cry. Then his humiliation would be complete. "Don't tell me that you understand. Not you who grew up with a father who was there for you, who didn't walk out on you and leave you to Leave you "
He was close to losing control and he wasn't about to do that. Steve had already learnt too much and, if he continued with the interrogation and with his own emotions in such turmoil, he was afraid of what he might inadvertently give away. He was left with no choice but to flee.
Mark found Steve still sitting in the doctors' lounge a short time later.
Unwittingly copying his son's own actions, he paused in the doorway before
entering. He could see from the detective's body language that the talk
with Jesse hadn't gone well. He scowled to himself, belatedly wondering
if he should have tagged along.
Mark started in surprise. He had been certain that Steve had been unaware of his presence. With a rueful smile, he entered the lounge.
"I take it you spoke to Jesse." Mark didn't even pour himself a coffee before getting straight down to business.
"Yeah." Steve answered on a heavy sigh. A frown settled on his brow as he remembered the conversation. "You know, I don't think I've ever heard Jesse curse. I mean, really curse. I've hardly ever even heard him raise his voice."
"Steve?" Mark didn't try to hide his puzzlement at his son's words.
"Jesse told me that Burton once washed his mouth out with soap and that it made him sick." The detective looked up at his father. "Why would he do something like that? I mean, Jesse was just a little kid, but I can't see him cursing at the man. I can't see him defying him at all."
"People like Wayne Burton don't need reasons for what they do." As a doctor, it was only too easy for him to imagine the hell that Jesse must have gone through. He'd seen victims of such abuse all too often in his long career. "Did he say anything else?"
"Oh, he said plenty more, dad, plenty more. Unfortunately, not about the murder." He sighed again. "He still blames his dad, you know."
"I thought he and Dane had things all patched up." The revelation that Jesse's father was a government agent and not the accountant he had always believed - and that he had walked out on them to keep them safe all those years ago - had gone a long way towards rebuilding their relationship. At least that's what Mark had thought.
"Maybe on the surface," Steve shrugged. "But, at the end of the day, Dane moved out and Wayne Burton moved in. That's a lot to forgive."
"Do you think it would help if I talked to him?" Mark didn't doubt his son's abilities, but he did want to help. And Jesse made no secret of the fact that he looked on Mark almost as a surrogate father. A different approach might be enough to get their friend to open up to them.
"You can try," Steve answered, but he didn't sound overly optimistic.
Jesse leaned back against the wall of the storage closet and closed his
eyes, heedless of the tears that ran down his cheeks. Inwardly, he cursed
his lack of control. He hadn't meant to yell at Steve; hadn't meant the
bitter outpouring that, once started, wouldn't be stopped. And he certainly
hadn't meant to mention the incident with the soap.
His cheeks burned with humiliation at the memory. Unlike the final beating that he'd received he knew exactly what his 'sin' had been on that occasion.
Hunched over the table, his brow furrowed with concentration, Jesse tried to make some sense of algebra. Then a shadow fell over him and he looked up fearfully.
"You think dinner's going to fix itself?" Wayne snarled at him.
Jesse's eyes strayed to the clock on the wall. It was almost six o'clock, his mom would be home any minute and she would fix dinner. That was their routine.
"My mom " he tried to explain.
"Your mom called and said she's got to work late." His words were cut off as soon as they emerged. "So I'll ask you again: do you think dinner is just going to fix itself?"
"I didn't I didn't know."
With one violent sweep of his arm, Wayne sent the homework scattering across the floor. "Are you answering me back, boy?"
"N no "
"That's not what it sounds like to me."
Jesse cringed as a hand reached towards him but, instead of striking him as he'd expected, it buried itself in his hair. His eyes watering with pain, Jesse was dragged to his feet and propelled into the kitchen.
"I'll show you what happens to kids with a smart mouth." Wayne muttered, forcing Jesse towards the sink. "I'll teach you to respect your elders."
Almost paralysed by terror, Jesse couldn't find his voice to protest that he'd done nothing wrong. Wayne used the brutally tight grip on his hair to force his head back and his mouth opened in a silent scream. Then he was gagging and choking as a bar of soap was forced into his mouth.
"You'll think twice before you smart-mouth me again." Wayne easily ignored the strangled gasps that the boy emitted and the froth that ran from the side of his mouth as Jesse's own saliva worked the soap into a lather. "You speak only when you're spoken to and then you show some respect."
Jesse wretched helplessly, but could not dispel the bar. It tasted like flowers and smelled like his mom.
Jesse moaned softly and slid down the wall into a crouch, hugging his knees to his chest. What had possessed him to tell Steve of that painful, humiliating episode? Steve, he knew, would be bound to tell Mark and then he would have to endure their pitying looks - or worse, their well-intentioned attempts to get him to talk about it.
"Doctor Travis to the ER! Doctor Travis to the ER!"
The voice over the tannoy reached Jesse even in the storage closet and he looked up sharply, having been rudely jerked back to the present. Utter mortification washed over him. He was on duty, he had patients to tend but, instead of being where he was needed, he was hiding in a closet like a frightened child. The irony of that thought was not lost on him and he gave himself a mental shake. He wasn't a child any more; he was a fully qualified doctor and head of a busy ER. In spite of everything that he had endured, he had gone on to fulfil his dreams. No matter how many times Wayne had belittled him - striking blow after blow to his fragile confidence - he had somehow bounced back.
Though his mom had been blind to a lot of things, she had always recognised his potential. On the rare occasions that they spent any time together, she encouraged him to dream. She was the one who told him that he could do anything if he just put his mind to it. And she had been right. They had survived Wayne Burton and the aftermath of his death and, for a short while, it had drawn them closer. It had been something that they alone had shared - and that only they could understand.
But his mom was a busy woman - building her own medical practice - and after a few short months he was left alone again with his dreams.
Taking a steadying breath, Jesse wiped away the last of his tears and grasped the door handle, preparing to go back out and face the world.
No, he was not a child any more.
Seventeen years had passed and if he thought he could still taste the soap then it was only in his imagination.
There was a feeling of urgency in the ER that set Jesse's pulse racing
and pushed all thought of Wayne Burton out of his mind. People were moving
purposefully, making preparations for what looked like a major incident.
The tannoy was blaring, paging all available staff and the young doctor
stepped effortlessly into the middle of it all.
"What have we got?" he demanded of a passing nurse.
"Tenement fire - and a bad one. The first of the ambulances should be here any minute."
Jesse winced inwardly, mentally running through the types of injury he would inevitably encounter. Burns - obviously - but also smoke inhalation, shock and broken bones from where people had tried to escape. There would be dozens of casualties and he was the first point of contact. He would perform triage, ensuring that help was given to those who needed it the most. Then he would spend the rest of the day in the OR.
The young doctor froze at the sound of Mark's voice and he took a moment to compose his features. Fixing a smile onto his face, he turned. The look that his mentor levelled at him almost proved to be his undoing; it was so filled with sympathy and compassion. Tears pricked at the corners of his eyes and his smile faltered.
"Jesse, son, are you alright?"
Don't do this, Mark. Jesse silently prayed. Please, not now. I don't have time to deal with it right now.
Thankfully, he was saved from the need to answer when the doors crashed open behind him. The first of the casualties had arrived.
Steve went back to the hospital on his way home that evening. He was
worried about Jesse and wanted to know if his father had had any luck in
talking to their young friend.
However, the first person he encountered on his arrival was not Mark but a much less welcome face. Bill Burton sat on a chair in reception, looking bored. His eyes lit up when he saw Steve and he was on his feet in an instant.
"So, have you come to talk to your buddy about my brother?" he demanded - albeit with considerably less belligerence than he'd used towards Jesse.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Steve retorted, making no attempt to hide his dislike of the man.
"I've been waiting to talk to Travis for over an hour, but they reckon there's some kind of an emergency."
"This is a hospital. Emergency's do tend to crop up every now and then." Steve's voice dripped sarcasm. "What do you want with Jesse?"
"I want to know exactly what happened to my brother." Burton regarded the other man appraisingly. "You should be able to understand that. Didn't you say that you never stop looking when there's an unsolved murder?"
The detective returned his steady gaze, wondering how to best handle the situation. Given Jesse's fragile emotional state the last time he'd seen him, he didn't want Burton going anywhere near him.
"So that's how it is, huh?" Burton misinterpreted the lengthening silence. "You say you keep looking, but you soon stop when there's a chance you won't like what you might find."
"I asked some questions." The unmistakable slur got to Steve and he couldn't keep the defensive note out of his voice. "I looked. Your brother was killed by "
"My brother was not killed by some thugs who just happened to wander onto his property." Burton laughed humourlessly. "And if you really believe that, then I don't know how you ever made Lieutenant. Friends in high places, Sloan?"
Steve bit down on his instinctive, outraged response. He knew when he was being goaded. Slowly, a smile spread across his face - a smile that would have had Burton seriously worried if he'd known the detective better.
Grabbing hold of Burton's arm - and leaving him with no choice but to comply - he dragged him into an empty room.
"You really wanna do this?" he snarled, tightening his grip on the other man's bicep. "You really want the whole world to know what happened all those years ago?"
"Your buddy " Burton tried to hold onto his bluster, but Steve never gave him the chance.
"My buddy was twelve years old at the time." Steve was being deliberately intimidating; enjoying the way that Burton shrank away from him and figuring that it was at least a little payback for the way he'd treated Jesse. "He was a twelve year old kid who your brother was beating the crap out of on a regular basis."
Burton's lips were pressed into a thin line, but Steve knew that he hadn't been shocked by the revelation. His anger increased another notch.
"And that's what the whole world will know." The detective smiled grimly at the look of disbelief that flashed across the other man's features. "You don't think so? You don't think the media will be interested when I start digging up a seventeen year old murder? The body would have to be exhumed, another post mortem performed. Do you really think that's not going to attract some attention? And what about the cops involved at the time? They'd have to be investigated - allegations of police corruption - the tabloids would have a field day. And how do you think they'd react when they found out that the whole circus was for the sake of one lousy child abuser?"
"My father wants to know the truth - he has that right."
Steve's eyes narrowed at the unexpected response. Burton had not leapt to his brother's defence - had shown no concern for the dead man's rights - but had only been interested in appeasing his dad. Old suspicions were replaced with new and he knew that he did, in fact, still have some more digging to do - and not only into Wayne Burton's death.
"You know what you should tell your father?" he snarled. "You should tell him that your brother got justice. He got exactly what he deserved. And you know something else? If I'd been around back then, I might have been the one wielding that shovel."
"You " Burton's voice failed him as he realised that the detective meant every word he said.
"So, from now on, you stay well away from Jesse Travis," Steve continued, relentlessly. "You leave him the hell alone and let the past stay buried." He leaned in closer, his voice a low growl. "Because if you don't, then I will start digging. I will drag your brother's - and your family's - name through so much mud that it will never come clean. You might want to think about how your father would react to that."
Steve finally released his grip on Burton and allowed him to flee, but he didn't immediately follow him from the room. His mind was still in overdrive, his conscience nagging away at him. Burton had implied that he wouldn't investigate the murder simply because Jesse was involved. But then, Burton had already proved that he didn't know the detective very well. He had no intention of simply letting the matter drop. His dad had been right about that. First and foremost he was a police officer - and a good one too.
While he had meant what he said about Wayne Burton getting exactly what he'd deserved, he had made his threats against the family simply to keep the man away from Jesse. But, in his heart, he knew that he would not be able to rest until he discovered exactly who had meted out such swift justice.
He would investigate it quietly and he would spare Jesse from as much hurt as he possibly could. And when he did eventually learn the truth - well, then he would decide what to do with it.
Jesse hadn't intended to fall asleep but after eight long, gruelling
hours - during which not every casualty had survived despite his efforts
and his skill - sheer exhaustion had driven him to seek out coffee before
he could even consider trying to drive home. Then, once he had arrived at
the doctors' lounge, he had collapsed onto the couch and closed his eyes.
Too tired to even fear his dreams, sleep had swiftly followed.
That was the sight that greeted Mark when he stopped by the lounge after his own lengthy stint in surgery. He smiled down at his slumbering friend before creeping over to the coffee pot.
"Hey, dad. Can I..?" Steve's voice came from the doorway.
"Sshh." Mark gestured towards the couch, holding one finger to his lips for emphasis. "I came in here to talk to him, but now I don't have the heart to wake him."
"When I saw him earlier, he looked dead on his feet. It's best to leave him be." Steve felt a fierce surge of protectiveness at the sight of his friend - who always looked so much younger than his years when he slept. Only now Steve could also see a vulnerability that he had never fully acknowledged before. "I don't know how he does it."
Mark smiled at his son's wry tone and glanced sidelong at him: "You're wondering how he can look so innocent when he's asleep and yet cause so much chaos when he's awake."
"No - although that is true." A brief smile touched his lips, but swiftly faded. "I was wondering how - after everything that he went through - he could still turn out to be the man that he is."
Mark didn't answer - somewhat surprised by his son's quiet words. He knew that Steve looked upon Jesse as more than a friend; he looked on him as the younger brother that he'd never had. But it was rare for him to openly admit to those feelings.
"I mean, he was beaten from pillar to post and then some." Steve's low voice barely even carried to Mark and there was no danger of it waking Jesse. "The things that that monster did to him " He shook his head. "He could have been scarred for life and yet "
"Oh, he was scarred, Steve - he was bound to have been." Both men's eyes were trained on the slumbering figure. "He's just very good at hiding it from us."
Further conversation was out of the question as Jesse began to show the
first signs of stirring. Both Mark and Steve cursed inwardly. The last thing
they had wanted to do was disturb their clearly exhausted friend.
However, it soon became obvious that their muted voices hadn't been responsible for the young doctor's awakening when his nose twitched appreciatively.
"Man, I could sure use a cup of that coffee," he mumbled, without opening his eyes.
"You look like you could use more than just a cup," Mark chuckled, moving to fix another cup of the restorative brew.
Steve hovered indecisively. He wanted to make some crack, some jokey remark, but was unsure how it would be received. The last time they had spoken, Jesse had been upset and had probably revealed far more about his childhood than he'd ever intended to. Steve knew his friend well and it was highly likely that the young doctor would be horrified that he had so lost control; even more so that it had been his best friend on the receiving end of his outburst.
Though the detective still had a myriad of questions that he was almost bursting to ask - particularly after his most recent confrontation with Bill Burton - he was wise enough to recognise that now was not the right time.
It would be for the best if he just quietly left and quelled his curiosity until a more suitable time. Leaving now would also save his friend from any further distress on what had clearly been a traumatic day. With a smile and a nod of farewell to his father, he exited the room.
With a cat-like stretch, Jesse sat up and cracked his eyes open. Mark
couldn't help but smile at the sight. He placed the two coffee mugs on the
table and closed the door before taking his seat.
Jesse's eyes narrowed at the action, but he said nothing and the aroma of the coffee was too tempting for him to even consider just leaving. But there was still an unmistakable wariness to his movements as he joined his mentor.
"Well now, Jesse, hasn't it been one heck of a day?" Mark closed his eyes and rotated his neck, trying to relieve some of the tension that was building there.
Jesse merely smiled noncommittally, heedless of the fact that the older man couldn't see him. He wasn't sure whether he'd just been talking about the fire.
"I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted." Mark tried again, wincing and reaching up to massage his right shoulder as a muscle spasmed. "But, you know what? You can say what you want about the coffee in here, but at least it gives you that kick when you need it most. I think it's a special blend that's only available to overworked doctors."
"Yeah." Jesse felt the need to say something - Mark seemed to be expecting it of him - but he couldn't find any words that would remotely resemble a natural conversation.
"I think it might be the beans " Mark mused, seemingly to himself.
"Mark, stop." As Mark's eyes finally opened, Jesse offered him a fleeting smile. "You didn't close the door so that you could talk to me about the coffee."
"No, Jesse, I didn't." He wasn't about to insult his young friend's intelligence by feigning ignorance. "I closed the door because I thought you might want someone to talk to - a friend. That's all."
The tormented young man forced himself to meet his mentor's eyes and he saw only compassion reflecting from them. At another time, he would have simply smiled and tried to convince Mark that everything was fine; that he could take care of himself like he always had - like he'd always been used to. But Mark had caught him at his most vulnerable. Upset, hurting and having just woken from insufficient sleep he simply lowered his eyes and said: "Then I guess Steve told you "
"About your stepfather?"
The words were softly spoken, but had the most alarming effect as Jesse suddenly leapt to his feet.
"No!" he cried. "No, don't call him that! He never married my mom. He was never related to me!"
"Jesse, I'm sorry." Mark held out a supplicating - and hopefully calming - hand. This was not the start he'd been hoping for. "I didn't mean "
The eruption swiftly subsided, leaving Jesse feeling thoroughly ashamed of his behaviour. He rubbed his hands over his face and slid back into his chair. "No, I'm sorry," he murmured. "I shouldn't have yelled at you. You weren't to know." Jesse shivered, but the chill that he suddenly felt had nothing to do with the temperature of the room. "I don't know why I never told you " he continued, without looking at his mentor. "I mean, I don't why I never mentioned Uncle W I mean, Wayne Burton "
"I think we all have incidents in our past that it's not easy talking about," Mark said, carefully. "You don't have to explain."
"I guess " Jesse cleared his throat and blinked rapidly to fight back sudden tears. "I guess if Steve told you then he told you what he did."
"I know that he used to hit you."
"Yeah." Jesse wrapped his hands around his coffee mug and stared into its depths. "Then I guess I guess you know that he was that he, um I mean, you must know how he that he was "
"I know that he was killed, Jesse." Mark cut in, compassion prompting him to halt the stumbling flow of words. "And I know that it was murder."
"Oh." Jesse's voice was small and lost. As had so often recently been the case, he drifted back into the past: "The men the men, they came and they killed him. It was the men "
What? Mark mentally backtracked over what he had just heard. Those hadn't been the words of a grown man approaching thirty years old - they had been the words of a child. Words, it seemed, that had been learnt by rote - just in case anyone ever decided to question him. He had seen it many times before: a speech so carefully rehearsed that it almost sounded like the truth - but he had rarely experienced such complete regression.
"Jesse?" Mark was at something of a loss, concerned by his friend's mental state. This really wasn't his field of expertise.
The young doctor blinked, a shudder suddenly wracking his frame and then he seemed to return to something resembling his normal self. He pinched the bridge of his nose as though fighting off a headache: "I'm fine," he murmured, unreassuringly. "I just I don't like to It's not something I like to talk about."
"You didn't talk about it back then, did you?" Mark saw the opportunity and took it. "At least not to the police."
"Did you talk to anybody? It must have been a nightmare for you. Did you get any help? Any counselling?"
"I " Jesse tried a smile and felt it fail miserably. "My mom took care of me."
Mark had to bite his tongue against his angry response as to what he thought of Mrs Travis's actions and simply said, with a kindly smile: "I'm sure she did, Jesse."
"I wasn't even supposed to be there that summer," Jesse murmured, a faraway look in his eyes. "I mean, it wasn't all that long after the divorce and I was still seeing my dad quite a lot back then. I was supposed to be spending the holidays with him."
"Did he cancel on you?"
"Not even that. He just never showed up. I guess he had someplace more important to be." There was an underlying note of bitterness in his voice that confirmed to Mark what Steve had already told him. Jesse still laid a lot of blame at his father's feet. "That was when Wayne " He swallowed hard. "Well, I guess I'd ruined his plans for the summer. He um, he " Jesse fought back a fresh onslaught of tears, turning his face away from his mentor - not wanting to see the pity that would be on his face. "He beat me up real bad. Took his belt to me I didn't even know what I'd done wrong "
Mark ignored his instinct to offer a sympathetic response, even though his heart was hurting for his friend. He guessed that this was quite possibly the most that Jesse had ever said about what had happened and he didn't want to risk saying the wrong thing and bringing a halt to the faltering words.
"The next day " the younger man continued, still in that same distant voice. "The next day he was gone."
Though Mark was feeling his way carefully through the situation, instinct told him that now was the right time for another careful question: "Did you see it happen, Jess?"
"Huh?" Jesse started violently, having been so lost in his memories that he'd forgotten that he wasn't alone. He stared blankly at Mark - knowing that he had been spoken to, but having no idea as to what might have been said.
"Were you there when Wayne Burton was killed?"
"Oh um, no. I was I was in my room." Mark's heart lurched at the loneliness that was encompassed in that one simple sentence. He guessed that, as a boy, Jesse had spent a lot of time alone in his room.
"Was your mom there?" he pressed, still keeping his tone infinitely gentle.
"I don't I don't know where she was." The young blonde's voice had diminished again, making Mark strain to hear him. "She was there afterwards."
"Afterwards?" he prompted.
"She found him. She " Jesse frowned at the vivid image his own words conjured in his mind. "She tried to keep me away, but but I saw him."
Mark pursed his lips thoughtfully. The young man's hesitant words were doing little to shed any light on the mystery, but he was reluctant to push him too hard given his obviously fragile emotional state. He tried to find a delicate way of phrasing his next question - as to whether Jesse actually knew who had killed Wayne - but before he could say another word, the door opened.
Amanda Bentley had just spent four days in Detroit at a conference. As
was habit with her, she had called into Community General on her way home,
to catch up on what she had missed during her absence. She had arrived not
only to the usual plethora of gossip, but also to the news of the fire.
Though she ached to go home and see her two sons, she couldn't resist a
quick visit to the pathology lab to collect some files. It was her intention
to read them that night, although she knew that - after her absence - she
would most likely spend most of the time just watching her boys sleep.
Still a little jet-lagged, Amanda called into the doctors' lounge on her way across the hospital, seeking enough coffee to sustain her during the final leg of her journey home. Her mind was filled with a thousand other things and she didn't immediately pick up on the somewhat strained atmosphere in there.
"Hi, guys." Focussing only on the coffee pot, she barely spared a glance in their direction. "Do either of you want a refill?"
"Hey, Amanda! How was Detroit?" It was Jesse who responded, with typical - though somewhat forced - enthusiasm.
Mark silently cursed as the younger man's entire demeanour changed. It was as though their recent conversation had never happened and, while he too was pleased to see their mutual friend, he deeply regretted her timing.
"All I can say is that it's good to be back." Amanda answered, with a rueful smile. "It was " She didn't even complete the sentence. Turning, with coffee in hand, she belatedly realised that something was wrong with the situation that she found herself in. Mark was not smiling. He hadn't even spoken to her. "Is something wrong?" Sudden worry made her voice overly shrill. "Has something happened?"
Mark's tone was grave and did little to allay her fears, but Jesse's reaction was even more worrying. He got quickly to his feet, his chair scraping noisily across the linoleum and the bright smile that he had greeted her with - that she now recognised to be false - had gone.
"I have to go." The words came out in a rush and he flashed Amanda an apologetic look before bolting from the room. He didn't even bother with any excuses - knowing that they would both see straight through his lies.
Mark opened his mouth to call after Jesse, but then realised that it
would have been futile. He offered Amanda what he hoped was a reassuring
smile as she took the seat that their friend had just vacated.
"What's going on?" Amanda asked, totally lost by the sudden turn of events and wondering what she had just walked in on. There was still an unmistakable tension in the air and her stomach churned at the thought that mentor and protégé might have had a serious falling-out. "I mean, I'm sorry if I interrupted "
"It's okay, honey," Mark answered, his voice laden with weariness. "I think I was on the verge of losing him anyway."
"Mark?" There was no need for her to even ask the question. Her raised eyebrow was sufficient to demand an explanation.
"I'm sorry, Amanda." He was genuinely regretful. He could have used someone to talk to after what he had just been through with Jesse. "But it's a personal matter."
"Mark, I have been in this hospital for a little under an hour and, already, three people have told me that there was some guy in here threatening Jesse yesterday."
Mark shook his head in bemusement. The hospital grapevine never ceased to amaze him - and, on occasion, the speed with which rumours circulated bordered on frightening. He should have known that Bill Burton's visit would have set tongues wagging.
"It was a face from the past, that's all," he hedged. "It just brought back some unpleasant memories for him."
"A face from the past?" Amanda echoed. Then compassion flashed in her eyes, before she hastily averted them. "Oh "
"Amanda?" Mark was somewhat perturbed by her answer, wondering just what that insidious grapevine was saying. Though the gossip could be incredibly efficient, it wasn't always totally accurate.
"I, um " She hesitated, not knowing what to say and unwilling to betray a confidence. "I know that it wasn't easy for him."
"Jesse told you?" Mark was quite simply amazed and he also felt a brief surge of jealousy that it had been Amanda and not him who Jesse had chosen to confide in.
"He didn't tell me anything," she began. "Well, not a great deal. It was more in what he didn't say."
"So, what exactly didn't he say?" Mark asked slyly, neatly manoeuvring her into the trap. He wasn't asking her to break a promise; wasn't asking her to repeat words that were spoken in private. Those were things that he knew she would never do.
Amanda sighed in exasperation. She should have known better than to verbally spar with Mark, but she was still hesitant about offering an explanation.
"Amanda, please." His look turned grave. "I'm really worried about him."
Forward to part two
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