Usual disclaimers apply!

Warning. This story contains references to a violent act.


by Ann

At any other time, they might have laughed about it. Teased him over such a momentous event.
But watching their young friend staring listlessly at his untouched breakfast, no one was laughing.
No one was laughing at all.
Painfully aware of the worried glances being traded around him, Jesse Travis finally raised his head - the gaunt paleness in his face causing the concern of three already worried friends to markedly deepen.
"I - I'm sorry, Mark… I - I mean, this all looks great, but… but I'm just not hungry…" he said at last, offering his anxious mentor a smile that barely had strength to lift his mouth, let alone reach his eyes. Even the attempt to quip his way past his awkwardness and embarrassment sounded woefully forced. "Guess I left my appetite back in the pokey…"
Even as he smiled back at his young friend, Mark Sloan could feel his concern for him deepen.
That appetite, he knew, hadn't been lost in that pokey at all. It hadn't even existed in the first place. In the four weeks that he'd spent in prison, Jesse had barely eaten enough to keep a sparrow alive. Weight that he could ill afford to lose had inevitably dropped away from an already slender body, leaving him pale and gaunt, sapped of his usual boundless energy.
Mark had assumed that, once Jesse had been released and allowed home, that appetite would return. He'd been wrong. Since coming home with them, two days ago, Jesse had yet to eat a decent meal.
Now the feast of breakfast treats that he'd lovingly prepared that morning had also gone untouched. Not even a stacked plateful of his very best pancakes had tempted his young friend to eat. If anything, Jesse had become even more withdrawn… and now Mark was really worried. If the boy didn't start eating soon, he'd be confined all over again - this time in a hospital bed. Pushing that last resort thought to the back of his mind, Mark smiled gently back at his young friend - hoping to lessen the awkwardness that weighed so heavily on those slender shoulders. "No, Jesse, it's me who should be sorry…" he replied, giving Jesse's arm a gentle, fatherly squeeze. I should have realised that… well, that all this would be a bit much for you…"
Too unsettled to speak, Jesse simply nodded as the group fell back into another uneasy silence -
a silence that was beginning to grate on Steve Sloan's already frayed nerves.
"Let's go for a walk, Jess…" he said at last - mentally kicking himself as Jesse stared at him,
the memory of when he'd last heard those words still painfully raw in his eyes. Offering his friend an apologetic smile, Steve then nodded over his shoulder towards the beach. "Who knows, maybe we'll find your appetite somewhere along the way…"
The return smile was just a trace easier as Jesse nodded, before he glanced uncertainly back at Mark. "Is - Is that okay, Mark…?" he asked, still clearly feeling awkward over that uneaten breakfast. "I - I mean… well, it looks so good, and - and you've put so much time into it for me, and…"
Casting his son a glance of pure admiration, Mark then turned back to Jesse, smiling his reassurance. "Don't worry, Jess, I'll keep some warm for you… no, you go on with Steve, and enjoy your walk… Steve's right, the fresh air will do you the world of good…"
That won him a slightly more convincing, stronger smile as Jesse nodded and rose from his seat - having to quickly grip its back rim as the movement caused the sun-deck to spin blurrily around him. He'd hoped that no-one had noticed - a gentle but strong arm around his shoulders told him otherwise. Welcoming that protective support too much to push it away, Jesse glanced up at Steve and smiled. It was still a pale shadow of its usual breeziness - but it was a smile. For now, that was enough.
Watching them descend the steps to the beach, Amanda glanced at Mark, still clearly upset.
"Oh, Mark, he - he just looks so lost…!" she said at last, tears of concern and sympathy in her eyes.
"I know, honey… I'm as worried about him as you are…" Mark replied, reassuringly hugging her, then nodding to where Steve now led his other surrogate child through their gate and onto the beach. "But if anyone can reach him, and bring Jess back, it's going to be Steve…"
As Amanda nodded and smiled back at him, he then glanced back towards the slowly walking figures. He didn't doubt his son's ability to reach the troubled friend who was currently lost to them - but it was a task that Mark Sloan didn't envy him for taking on.

If truth be told, Steve Sloan didn't need anyone to tell him just how much was riding on this walk.
The past month had been tough on all of them - on Jesse most of all, of course, but on Steve too.
Captain Bryant's gentle suggestion that he brought Jesse in had seemed a good idea at the time, but… well, now Steve wasn't so sure. Part of him wished he'd left that gut-wrenching task to someone else.
The expression of utter shock on Jesse's face as he'd read him his rights still sorely haunted him.
And when he'd seen those handcuffs being clipped around his wrists…
Steve swallowed hard, not wanting his anger to transmit itself to the silent figure that stood beside him
They'd stopped now, a short distance from the house, while Jesse stared out at the sparkling ocean.
It was a long running joke between them, that this 'little landlubber' was so fascinated by the sea.
When he wasn't working, you could always find Jesse Travis standing here, as he was now,
on the sand dunes in front of the house, seemingly mesmerised by the unending cycle of rolling waves.
He seemed to find the movement of the water calming - soothing him if he was upset or angry.
And to Steve's relief, the shoulder beneath his hand now felt slightly easier, not quite so tense.
Not enough, though, to enable Jesse to open up to him and start talking. Not enough. Not yet.
Knowing better than to try, Steve remained silent too, keeping his hand on Jesse's shoulder -
maintaining that precious contact while allowing his own thoughts to drift back to that fateful day.
The day he'd walked a shellshocked, handcuffed Jesse Travis past his equally stunned colleagues. Steve had strategically placed his jacket over his friend's wrists, covering the cuffs that bound them - hoping this would enable them to leave the hospital with as little unwelcome attention as possible. But the news had swept through the hospital's notorious grapevine long before they reached the lobby. Unthinkable news that Jesse Travis - sweet, shy, gentle Jesse Travis - had been arrested for murder. Many had offered Jesse encouraging smiles and words of encouragement as they'd strode past. Not surprisingly, though, his young friend had been too deeply in a state of shock to notice.
Steve had remained at his side throughout the equally harrowing ordeal of being booked into custody - keeping his hand protectively on Jesse's shoulder, offering him silent support and encouragement. Knowing what Jesse still had to face before he reached the cells had made him determined to stay put. But then fate had cruelly intervened. One of his ongoing cases had needed his immediate attention. And under his captain's orders, Steve had been left with no choice but to leave his young friend.
So Jesse had faced those indignities, of being strip searched and examined for body lice, alone.
Taken through the shower, alone. Sprayed with disinfectant, alone. Marked with tracer scent, alone.
By the time Steve had re-joined him, later that afternoon, Jesse had been totally de-humanised.
Mark had arrived too, sitting next to Jesse on his bunk, trying to reassure and encourage him.
But Jesse had shown no reaction, either to Mark's words of comfort or Steve's return to his side.
He'd simply sat between them, saying nothing - staring at the opposite wall out of blank, glassy eyes. The only response he'd shown, a poignant one at that, had come when Steve touched his shoulder - a stifled sob, the sight of him flinching away only cutting deeper into Steve Sloan's conscience.
And so it had started - the nightmare which, as Steve surfaced from his musings, still continued.
His only comfort, albeit a slight one, was that Jesse hadn't flinched away from him this time.
He was still standing beside him, staring out to sea - accepting the silent comfort of Steve's hand.
Yet for all their physical closeness… well, Jesse Travis might just as well have been on Mars.
And it was this distance, this inability to reach his friend, that was now fraying Steve Sloan's nerves.
Over the past four weeks, he'd seen his adoptive kid brother undergo a worrying transformation.
The bundle of seemingly unstoppable energy had retreated into a shell of silent, almost fearful anxiety. His natural yearning to 'get the hell out of here…' had quickly risen into a near hysteria to escape. Ben Matlock had needed to physically stop his young client from making an agitated bolt for freedom, and Amanda's account of how he'd stood, scared and sobbing, in her arms, still cut Steve to the core - prompting him to wrap his arm just a little protectively tighter around Jesse's shoulders. When not even this elicited a response, Steve could feel his frustration and concern simmer up to boil. Someone had to make the first move - to make the first attempt to clear the air between them. And with so much of his conscience to absolve, Steve quietly reasoned, it might as well be him.
"I'm sorry, Jess…" he said at last, ruefully thinking how trite and hollow those words sounded.
After everything Jesse had just been through - and two little words were supposed to make it all better. Trite sounding they may have been, but at least they'd prompted Jesse to glance briefly up at him.

Before Steve could build on that, though, Jesse then shrugged while glancing down to study his boots. "It wasn't your fault, Steve… you… well, you couldn't have known what was going to happen…"
Forgiveness had come softly and easily, yet it did little to ease Steve Sloan's troubled conscience. He was getting the distinct impression that he was apologising for something he knew nothing about. Oh, this is just great…! he thought irritably, running his free hand through already wind tossed hair. On top of everything else, now I've got another damn mystery to try and solve…!
Even in his deeply withdrawn state, Jesse Travis could read faces like other people could read books - the irritated confusion on the face of his best friend causing his own to drop in dismayed realisation. "Oh, God, Steve…! I - I thought that… I - I mean, I thought you'd been told…" he said at last, his face, if anything, turning even paler, stricken with anguish as he stared up at his friend. "I - I just assumed you knew, that… well, that - that sergeant you told to take care of me told you…"
Normally Steve would be losing his patience about now, telling Jesse to stop riddling him around.
Something about his friend's tone of voice, though, his shattered expression, warned him otherwise.
Whatever this 'happening' was, whatever Jesse had seen or experienced, had clearly traumatised him - which, as Steve thought about it, would explain a hell of a lot about his current, deeply troubled state. "Told me what, Jess…?" he asked at last, taking care to keep his voice calm, gently encouraging.
That seemed to count for nothing, though, as Jesse turned away again, staring back out to sea.
"I wonder where they're going…" he said at last, nodding towards a large, cruise-bound yacht.
Thrown by this sudden change in subject, Steve felt himself wince in helpless frustration.
"Somewhere as far away as you are right now, Jess…" he murmured softly, sadly shaking his head. To his surprised relief, the change in tack worked - striking a chord in his troubled friend's conscience There was still a turmoil of emotions in his eyes, but at least Jesse was looking up at him again. Keen to build on this progress while it lasted, Steve placed his other hand on Jesse's other shoulder - turning Jesse round to fully face him, so that his young friend could see the concern in his eyes. "Jess, you're scaring me here…" he said at last, taking great care to keep his voice gentle. "Something's obviously happened to you, something really serious… and you need to talk about it… Jesse, we've always been able to talk about everything… you know you can always come to me, but… Jess, I can't help you if I don't know what's wrong, so… please, Jess, just talk to me…"
For several moments, Jesse said nothing. He just kept staring up at him, out of stricken blue eyes - and for an awful moment, Steve thought he'd blown the best chance he'd had so far to reach him. At last, though, after taking several deep, nerve steadying breaths, Jesse nodded and began to talk - slowly at first, then stumbling and stammering in haste, as though a mental dam had suddenly burst.
"I - I was in that cell, waiting to go up for those procedures, when - when these bikers came in…they were real rowdy, and - and one of them, this real ape of a guy, I - I think he was their leader… well, he - he got me cornered up against the wall, and he kept saying he had this thing for doctors… 'specially ones that weren't broken in yet, and - and what a cute little thing I was, and - and…"
The stammering tumble of words died into silence as the horror of those memories overwhelmed him.

Five noxiously fetid bodies jostling around him, grabbing him, spreadeagling him on a nearby bunk. The sound of their drunken, mocking laughter as he'd struggled frantically to break away from them. The helpless terror he'd felt as, gagged by a meaty hand, he'd felt others tugging at his clothes. The horror of realising what these five massive, leering perverts were about to do to him.
Steve had listened to this bombshell in horrified silence, struggling to believe what he was hearing.
In spite of his specific instructions, Jesse had been left, alone and unprotected, in a holding cell -
at the mercy of a gang of drunken bikers who'd only had one sickening thought on their minds.
Fighting down a rising tide of anger, Steve then placed both hands back on Jesse's shoulders -
struggling to keep his voice level and steady as he asked the next, potentially devastating question. "Jess, did - did anything happen…?" Horrified by the lack of response, he then shook Jesse's shoulders, his voice rising in sheer panic. "Jesse…? Jesse…! Jess, did anything happen…?"
The next few seconds seemed to last an eternity, but finally Jesse bit his lip and shook his head.
"No…" he whispered, staring up at Steve with eyes every bit as stricken as his next shaken words. "It - It was about to, though… one - one of them, he - he'd gotten to sit on top of me, and… the - the way he was touching me, I - I knew what he was going to do to me, and then… then…then before he could… could… the - the sergeant came back, and - and they let me go, and…"
Suddenly Jesse couldn't continue - and not just from the fact that he was now too shaken to do so. His face was now buried into the left side of Steve's chest as his friend pulled him into his arms - wrapping him into a long, tight, possessive hug that was as much for Steve's benefit as it was for Jesse's.
"Oh, dear God…!" Steve whispered, still too shocked by what he'd just heard to say any more.
Then again, he now realised in shaken dismay, Jesse was in no state to respond to him anyway.
The physical dam had burst too now, allowing torrents of emotion to come flooding out of him.
Flooding was right. Still huddled in Steve's arms, Jesse was crying as though his heart was breaking - his entire body shaking from the trauma of re-living what had happened to him.
If not for the tightness with which Steve was holding onto him, he would probably have collapsed. In fact, Steve now realised in mounting alarm, that collapse still looked dangerously likely. Comforting Jesse as best he could through his own turmoil of emotion, he stared back behind them - suddenly wishing that they hadn't walked past that last dune, and so out of view from the house. If ever he needed, and wanted, his father's expertise and calming reassurance, it was now. But no. Until he could get Jesse back to the house, and that reassuring expertise, it was up to him.
Jesse was still huddled in his arms, crying uncontrollably, releasing four weeks of suppressed terror. Until he calmed down, there was nothing else that Steve could do except hold his young friend close, trying to comfort him as best he could while struggling to come to terms with what he'd just heard.
On top of everything else, those de-humanising procedures, Jesse had been threatened in custody - and had come within minutes, perhaps even seconds, of being brutally raped.
He'd dealt with other victims of rape, of course, but to think that Jesse… his adoptive kid brother… to think he'd so nearly joined the ranks of those victims made Steve's blood run cold.
Again he wished that his father was with him, to tell him what to do... how to react... what to say.
It didn't seem enough to whisper words of comfort to a friend too distraught to understand them.
To Steve's surprised relief, though, he gradually realised he'd been managing just fine on his own.
The tears were finally subsiding, the tremors that had been shaking Jesse's body also ebbing away. A fidgeting movement across his chest then broke into his thoughts, prompting him to look down - the reassuring normality of that movement causing him, to his astonishment, to smile.
The tousled head had moved from a now sodden left side of his shirt to a more comfortably dry right - foraging for a few moments, before burrowing itself into the snug, dry folds of his jacket.
Still soothingly rubbing Jesse's back, Steve allowed that relieved smile to indulgently widen.
Even in the midst of so much emotional trauma, it seemed Jesse Travis still enjoyed his comforts.
That trauma had thoroughly drained him, though, taking away what little strength he'd had -
the warning faintness in Jesse's voice causing Steve's amusement to instantly vanish.
"S - Steve…? I - I don't feel so good…"
Instinctively releasing his friend to give him some air, Steve gently tilted Jesse's face upwards - needing just a glimpse of his dazed expression to see how much of an understatement that was.
What little colour there'd been in Jesse's face was now completely gone… and those eyes…
He'd seen that expression before, on that fateful day when he'd left Jesse alone in that holding cell. At least this time he was able to say the words that he would… should… have been able to say then. Words that would have spared his young friend from the brutal, undeserved trauma he'd suffered. "Easy, Jess, it's okay… I've got you… okay, buddy, let's get you back home…" he replied gently, wrapping Jesse back into another supportive hug while walking him slowly back to the house.

By the time they'd reached it and climbed up the steps to the deck, Jesse's strength had run out.
His head lolling against Steve's shoulder, he could barely manage to put one foot in front of the other. Little wonder, then, that Mark Sloan's cheery smile of greeting rapidly turned into a shocked frown, before he instinctively rushed to help his son as Steve carried a barely conscious Jesse into the den. The whys and wherefores would, he realised, have to wait. Right now, Jesse urgently needed his help.
Laying Jesse onto the couch, Mark gently checked him over while Steve hovered anxiously nearby - offering advice which, if he'd not been so shaken, his father would have found highly amusing. "Shouldn't we take him in…? Or at least give him a sedative, or get him something to drink, or…?"
Wryly wondering when his son had gained a medical degree, Mark finally met his eyes and smiled - shaking his head, gesturing for Steve to be quiet while motioning for him to sit at Jesse's shoulder. "All he needs is you, Steve…" he replied softly, very gently lifting Jesse into his son's arms - nodding to where Jesse had already curled himself against Steve's side, his eyes already closing. That friend's solid, comforting warmth was all his exhausted body and tormented mind needed. Within seconds, Jesse had slipped into a deep, sound sleep that not even nightmares could reach.
Allowing himself a relieved smile as he watched Jesse settle, Mark turned his attentions to Steve - that smile fading back into a frown as he saw the bitter, barely suppressed fury on his son's face. Mark Sloan knew that expression well enough by now to know what it meant - and how to react to it. Concentrating instead on gently tucking the couch's throw around Jesse's shoulders, he sat quietly, waiting for his son to calm down sufficiently to compose himself and start talking.
Aware of the increasing concern beside him, Steve finally raised his head to meet his father's eyes - holding Jesse gently closer as he quietly dropped the bombshell he could still barely believe himself. "Jess was assaulted, dad… by a gang of bikers, after I - I left him to co-ordinate that stakeout…"
There was much more to it than that, of course, but Steve couldn't bring himself to say just how much. Luckily his father was used to piecing together cryptic clues, an expert at putting two and together. This latest puzzle was painting a truly horrifying picture - one that Mark Sloan had to gently verify. If Jesse had been raped… well, the consequences of such a brutal act were, he knew, just beginning.
"Steve…?" he prompted at last, reaching across Jesse to place a rallying hand on his son's shoulder - softly asking the same question which Steve himself had been forced to ask, less than an hour before. "Steve…? Son, did anything happen…? Was - Was Jess raped…?"
Not wishing him to suffer the same agonising wait for a reply that he'd done, Steve shook his head. "No, but it - it was about to happen… Jess was pinned down, and one of them was on top of him… the custody sergeant came back before… before…" Again he couldn't bring himself to continue - but then, this time at least, he didn't need to.
The shocked outrage and horror beyond the relief on his father's face silently said it all.
For several moments neither spoke - both sitting in silent shock, watching their young friend sleep.
In a strange twist of irony, it was Jesse himself who, albeit temporarily, didn't have a care in the world. Both Mark and Steve knew, though, that carefree calmness would end as soon as Jesse woke up. It was Steve who finally voiced the concerns and dismayed realisation that both of them shared. "No wonder Jess flinched away from me in that cell… it - it must have been just after it happened…"
"Yes, it would certainly explain why he's become so withdrawn…" Mark agreed with a rueful sigh - mentally kicking himself for not pursuing his concerns sooner while Steve softly voiced another of his.
"He's going to need help with this, dad… real help, I mean… professional help…"
Nodding agreement, Mark then offered his shaken son the most reassuring smile he could manage. "There are rape trauma counsellors at the hospital… I can call them if we need to…" he said at last - meeting Steve's stunned, wide eyed glance with another gentle, heartening squeeze on his shoulder. "The shock of almost being raped can be every bit as traumatic as that from the act itself, Steve. Now I'm not saying we'll necessarily need them… let's just see how things go once Jess wakes up…" Sensing that his son needed something positive to hold onto, Mark smiled, nodding towards Jesse. "My hope is, though, that we won't need them… he's come through the hardest part already, Steve… he's told you what happened… now he needs someone he trusts to help him come through the rest… and of the three of us, Steve, you're the one he trusts the most… you're the one he opened up to… you're the one he's trusting to hold him… so you're the one he'll trust to talk this through with…"
Even as he nodded agreement to his father's quiet words, Steve couldn't quite fully believe them.
There was still a turmoil of fears and doubts tumbling through his mind as he watched Jesse sleep - thoughts of anger and guilt which niggled relentlessly at an already stricken conscience.
His best friend, his precious Jesse, had, albeit in shock, thought he'd touched him to hurt him -
images of him flinching in terror in that cell returning to haunt Steve Sloan even more deeply.

After such a traumatic morning, Steve had hoped for some peaceful quiet to gather his thoughts.
The arrival of a concerned, well meaning friend, however, put paid to those hopes.
"That'll be Amanda… she said she'd come back once she settled CJ in daycare…" Mark explained, quietly hurrying to the front door and so missing the frustrated scowl that had settled on Steve's face.
As expected, he found Amanda waiting patiently outside. So, to his surprise, was Ben Matlock.
"Amanda told me the little guy's still feeling pretty rough…" Ben explained to his startled friend.
"So I thought I'd drop by and… well, just see if you and me can't cheer him up a bit…"
As touching as this gesture was, Mark knew Jesse was in no state at the moment to appreciate it. It would, he knew, be a long time before his young friend could appreciate a banjo playing lawyer. Amanda had sensed this too, her own expectant smile fading as she saw the strain in Mark's eyes. "Mark, what is it…? Has Steve found out what's wrong…?"
Sighing, Mark nodded while slipping an arm around her, in readiness for the bombshell to come.
"Yes, honey, he has…" he said at last - dropping that devastating bombshell as gently as he could. "Jess was assaulted in custody… and… well, I'm afraid it was an indecent assault… a serious one… from what Steve's managed to tell me, it was certainly close to being rape…"
It was as well he'd slipped that arm around Amanda, or else she may well have collapsed from shock. As it was, her eyes grew wide in horror, staring up at him in utter devastation as this news sunk in. "Oh, dear God, no…! Mark no, not - not Jesse…!" she finally whispered, tears welling in her eyes. "I - I mean, he's so gentle, and trusting, and… oh God, no, this - this can't have happened to him…!"
Unable to say any more, she allowed Mark to gently draw her in a reassuring, comforting hug.
"I know, honey, I know… I can't take it in either…" he said at last, trying his best to comfort her. "But he's alright, Amanda… he's in shock, obviously, but he'll be okay… he's going to be alright… at least now we know what's caused him to become so withdrawn, and we can help him through this… we'll bring him through, this, honey, as all families do… we're going to bring him through this…"
Gradually regaining her composure, Amanda nodded, wiping at her eyes, trying to smile back at him. "Is he still here…? I - I mean, you've not had to take him in for treatment, or - or anything…?"
"Yes, honey, he's still here… and he's getting the best treatment he needs…" Mark assured her.
"He's sound asleep, where he knows he's safe, and Steve's keeping a real close eye on him…"
"Yes, I can imagine…" Amanda nodded once more, her smile fading with a new cause for concern. "And how is Steve…?"
"As devastated as Jesse…" Mark admitted quietly, in the same concern for his shocked, outraged son.
Amanda didn't need to hear any more. Giving Mark a final hug and smile, she then hurried inside.
Watching her go, Mark turned back to Ben who, not surprisingly, was no longer grinning. Or smiling. Thinking for a moment, as though trying to decide whether or not to continue, he then asked quietly, "That wasn't just for Amanda's benefit, was it, Mark…? I mean, it was indecent, not rape…?"
"To be honest, Ben, I just don't know…" Mark replied quietly, rubbing a weary hand across his eyes. "Jess told Steve there was no penetration… and even in the state he's in, he'd never lie to Steve, but… the severity of the assault, the fact that it was so close to… yes, Ben… yes, it could be classed as rape. And when Jess is strong enough to let himself remember…oh dear God, Ben, when that happens…" Pausing for a moment to regain his composure, Mark then cursed, giving up an impossible task. "Damn it, this should never have happened…! What the hell was he doing in there to start with…? There isn't a malicious bone in that boy's body, he's the last person in the world who deserved…" Unable to continue, Mark then sagged against the wall, shaking his head in utter, helpless despair. "Oh, dear God… Jesse… why Jesse…?"
"I know, Mark… I know…" Ben replied softly, placing a supportive hand on Mark's shoulder,
sharing his obvious bitterness and anger as they followed Amanda into the house.
They found Steve still at Jesse's shoulder, his free arm wrapped around a still visibly upset Amanda. His annoyance at the timing of her arrival had vanished the moment he'd looked up and seen her - the tears of shock in her eyes moving him to leave Jesse's side and wrap her in a comforting hug.
Now he greeted his father, and an equally grim faced Ben Matlock with a slight, still shaken smile. As Mark came to offer him a heartening pat on his back, all eyes turned to the figure beside him - friends and family united in silent, shocked concern as they watched Jesse sleep.

Steve had expected Jesse to just sleep for a few hours, in keeping with his two previous fretful nights. No stranger to disturbed nights himself, he'd not even had to ask if Jesse was getting enough sleep - the pale face and those dark circles beneath his eyes told their own worrying story. He'd heard him a couple of times too, passing by his room as he'd made his usual 'turning in' checks. They hadn't been nightmares as such, just vague mutterings as he'd stirred restlessly under the covers. By the time Steve had padded to his bedside, he'd settled again, into what passed for him as sleep - and not wishing to disturb him, or startle him if he'd woken up, Steve had padded away again.
Knowing now what those mutterings related to, Steve wished he hadn't left quite so quickly.
The thought of Jesse re-living that brutal assault, even subconsciously, just didn't bear thinking about. So it was to his combined relief and concern that, eight hours later, his friend was still deeply asleep. In fact, Steve noted in some surprise, he'd not moved, not even fidgeted, in those whole eight hours. He was lying in exactly the same position as he'd been in when he'd fallen into this depthless sleep - curled up on his right side, his head on Steve's chest, gripping a fold of his friend's shirt in his hand. Gently brushing Jesse's fringe back from his face, Steve now smiled at its peaceful expression. He was still totally out for the count… beyond, thankfully, the reach of even the worst of nightmares. That peaceful expression had benefited Steve too, dissipating much of his earlier guilt-ridden anger. Now, carefully shifting Jesse's weight to ease the cramp in his arm, Steve looked up at his father, smiling his thanks for the coffee he'd brought him, yet with tension and concern still clear in his eyes. Not even this movement had brought any trace of reaction from the still, silent figure beside him. "He really is out of it, isn't he, dad…?" he said softly, glancing back to the huddled bundle in his arms "I mean, I've seen him tired before, even to the point of collapse… but never as wiped out as this…"
"Yes, son, I know… but sleep is the best thing for him right now…" Mark replied with a gentle smile. "It's allowing his body to rest completely, enabling it to recover from everything it's been through. And this is probably the first decent spell of sleep that Jesse's had since this nightmare started, so… well, I hope you're nicely comfy there, Steve…because you're probably going to be there all night…"
"Yeah, I figured that…" Steve agreed, carefully hunkering further back against the couch's armrest - clearly deciding that if he had to bunk out on the couch all night, at least he'd do so in comfort. He'd be well fed too, he noted, watching in some surprise as Mark set a tray on the table beside him.

"My very own special babysitter's survival kit…" his father explained with a grin, indicating the tray. "Sandwiches, munchies, the obligatory donuts… and, most importantly, the TV remote control…"
That won him the easiest smile of the day as Steve nodded, helping himself to the nearest plateful. Grateful for the lift in his son's mood, Mark winked at him before crossing over to turn on the TV.
If truth be told, there was little on to hold Steve's interest - but then again that didn't really matter.
Turning back to wryly comment on night time television, Mark then felt himself proudly smile instead. In between bites of his sandwich and sips of his coffee, Steve's concerns were predictably elsewhere - namely the hibernating bundle that lay curled snugly asleep against him.
"You know, dad, I'd just like to know what's so good about this half of the couch…" he said at last - meeting Mark's puzzled glance with a welcome if slightly exasperated grin as he nodded downwards. "There's enough room on here for Jess to go hiking, so he could at least stretch into the other half…"
Fussing over Jesse once more, Steve didn't see the unease that flickered briefly across his father's face He was unaware or, Mark noted sadly, just choosing not to see his words' more serious significance. The real, devastating reason why Jesse now slept so tightly huddled against him. Mark had recognised it though… the tightly curled fetal position that Jesse had coiled himself into. The defensive, self-comforting position of a rape victim too terrified to sleep in any other way.This wasn't the time to tell Steve though - not if he wanted his son to get some much needed rest. So instead he just smiled, keeping his reply carefully casual while shaking out another blanket. "Well, son, I expect Jess enjoys his comforts as much as the rest of us, especially when he's asleep… and he clearly finds you much more comfy than some lumpy set of cushions…" Watching Steve yawn and nod his agreement, Mark smiled once more while patting his shoulder. "I know it's been one hell of a day, Steve, but try and get some sleep yourself…" he added gently -noting in both relief and amusement that his still yawning son was already half way there.

Even when Steve gave in to his tiredness, Mark continued to quietly watch over his sleeping boys. Huddled together on the couch, the incredible bond between them had never shown to be stronger.
Over the next few days, that bond would never be more vital…
Throughout that night, Jesse stayed held firm in a deep, healing sleep, in a safe haven of dreams.
On the few occasions where he stirred fretfully out of those dreams, it was always to a soft voice - one that soothingly assured him that he was safe now, that nothing more could hurt him.
The one time he trembled awake and it wasn't there, another gentle voice soothed him instead.
"Now, Jesse, you're really much too warm and comfy to be awake just yet, so go back to sleep now… it's alright, son, you're safe now, everything's going to be alright… but just sleep now, Jess… that's my boy… that's it, Jesse… it's alright, you're safe now… shhh, just go back to sleep…"
Too exhausted to argue, Jesse nodded, allowing that warmth and comfort to lull him back to sleep - but not before he'd glanced upwards, and recognised the source of that warmth and comfort. And the weary smile that now settled on his face was the most welcome sight Mark had seen in days. It was a smile that quietly told him that, in time, Jesse Travis really was going to be alright. More welcome still was the sight of him uncurling slightly out of that tight, defensive huddle. The terror that had traumatised him so deeply was finally beginning to loosen its grip.
There were still difficult issues to face, though - many awkward questions still to be answered.
And for Steve Sloan, there was the more personal matter of why his orders had not been followed.

Jesse was still sleeping peacefully when Steve returned from the precinct later that morning -
which, given the way that he stormed through the den into the kitchen, was nothing short of a miracle.
Mark wasn't so lucky though - looking up in startled surprise as Steve strode through the door,
anger radiating from him like a lamp while he hurled his jacket onto a nearby worktop.
"Well, if that doesn't beat all…" he seethed, tossing his keys down with the same degree of fury.
"If that doesn't put the icing on this whole damn mess…! Damn it, what the hell was he thinking…?"
Still startled, Mark watched his enraged son snatch down a coffee mug in silent, concerned confusion. He'd seen his son angry before, of course - but rarely had he seen him as livid with fury as this. It was, he knew, going to take something pretty dramatic to defuse that alarmingly violent anger. Mark Sloan managed it in four urgently whispered, gestured words. "Shhh…! You'll wake Jesse…!"
It worked like a charm as Steve followed the direction of his father's guiding nod towards the den - his protective concern over his young friend instantly replacing his anger. "Oh, damn…" he said at last, wincing in realisation as he crossed quickly back to the kitchen door. Peeking through it for a few seconds, he turned back to offer his father a relieved, sheepish grin.
"It's okay, he's still sleeping…"
With the tact he was famous for, Mark simply nodded while passing his son a calming mug of coffee - rebuking his ill timed show of temper as only Mark Sloan could. "Now, you throw this across the kitchen, you've got to clean it up…!"
That won him another sheepish grin as Steve nodded, thankfully calmer now, regaining control.
He was still clearly upset, though, prompting Mark to place a steadying hand on his shoulder.
Even when he finally tried to apologise for his outburst, Mark persuaded him more wisely otherwise. "No, son, get that down you first…" he said gently, nodding towards a still fiercely clenched mug. As hoped and expected, by the time Steve finished drinking his coffee, he was calm enough to talk.
Even when he did so, however, there was no missing the tension beyond his carefully softened voice. "I'm sorry, dad… guess I should have stayed in the gym a little while longer before I came home… taken this out a bit more on a punching bag instead of you and Jess…"
Mark felt his eyes widen, in both surprise and sympathy for what that punching bag had suffered.
If this was his son after whacking the stuffing out of a punch-bag, what had he been like before…?
Steve must have seen his reaction, since he now offered his father a rueful, much more familiar grin. "Remind me at the end of the month, dad… I owe Lenny a new punch-bag…"
Sensing it was now safe enough to lighten the mood a little, Mark grinned back at him.
"Another one…?" he retorted dryly - smiling at the 'ha ha' face that Steve pulled in response.
Yet beyond the humour, Mark knew his son must have been really angry to have needed that workout. With that anger now more or less punched out of his system, he now needed to talk out its cause. So when Mark spoke again, still with his hand on Steve's shoulder, it was with the utmost gentleness. "What happened, Steve…?"
Steve's smile faded, his eyes darkening once more as he nodded towards a plate on the worktop. "A donut, dad… a lousy donut…" he said at last, picking up one of his favourite breakfast treats - studying it with uncharacteristic disgust before, shaking his head, he placed it back with the others. Guessing from a puzzled frown that he wasn't making much sense, he then sighed and added softly, "When I left Jess to join that stakeout, he was… well, not surprisingly, he was still pretty shaken up. So I asked Larry Jenkins, the sergeant responsible for booking him in, to keep an eye on him for me. That's all I asked of him, dad… just to keep an eye on Jesse, to - to make sure he was okay…"
Mark had already guessed where this conversation was heading, but he let his son continue anyway -knowing this was the best, and only, way for him to fully release the anger that lingered within him.
"So what does he do in his infinite wisdom…?" Steve continued after several more moments -
feeling fully justified in adding some derogatory sarcasm to the still visibly seething mix.
"Against my instructions, and more importantly violating regulations, he leaves the custody area.
Not for an emergency, or for anything the regulations allow for… no, he takes his ten minute break. He'd missed his break because of booking in those bikers, so he decided he'd take it afterwards. And since he really needed the men's room, he didn't bother finding someone to cover his absence. He was only going to be 'round the corner', and… well, things looked 'nice and quiet…'"
As Mark stared back at him, Steve nodded, silently mirroring his father's appalled realisation -
that an irresponsible violation of orders had left Jesse open to a violation of a far more brutal kind. "My God…!" Mark said at last, slowly shaking his head in utter disbelief at such outright stupidity. He could understand his son's anger now - some of his own betrayed in his next equally soft words. "And this Jenkins… I - I mean, surely he'll face some kind of disciplinary action…?"
"Yeah, I guess so…" Steve replied distractedly, regarding his father with a cynical, humourless smile. "Though from my experience of LAPD paperwork, it'll probably get buried in a file somewhere… nothing actually happened to Jess, apart from an assault he can't prove, and the bikers are long gone… so the chances are Jenkins will get an official warning from Bryant, perhaps a suspension…" Clearly thinking the punishment didn't fit the crime, he then sighed once more, shaking his head. "If it were down to me, I'd personally kick that moron off the force…!"
While not one to seek vengeance, Mark Sloan had to admit that his son had a fully justified grievance. It was left to him, though, to make a more rational suggestion to ensure that grievance was dealt with. "I'd imagine Captain Bryant is just as angry, Steve… maybe when you go in tomorrow, you can…"
"I'm not going in…" Steve cut in sharply - meeting his father's startled glance with a still terse reply, "I told Bryant while I was there… I'm taking some personal time until Jess is back on his feet… "
Recognising that no nonsense tone of voice, Mark simply nodded and stayed sensibly silent - imagining that any protest the captain may have raised over Steve's request hadn't lasted long.
Uncomfortably aware of the concern in his father's eyes, Steve then took a deep steadying breath - his next words thankfully calmer but still conveying every ounce of his anger and bitterness. "I - I could understand it if Jenkins had been called away for something official, or urgent, but… my God, dad…! Jess came within seconds of being raped because the guy went to get a donut…?!?" Doing to the worktop what he no doubt wanted to do to Larry Jenkins, Steve took another deep breath, rubbing a shaky hand across his eyes as the sheer enormity of what he'd just said began to sink in. "A donut…" he whispered at last, shaking his head in utter disbelief at the man's selfish stupidity. "My best friend is practically raped because some moron of a sergeant wants a damn donut…!" His voice then rose, the guilt of his conscience finally breaking free in a stricken, furious outburst. "Oh dad, if I'd just stayed with him, this would never have happened…! I could have stopped this…! I should have stayed with him, dad… made sure Jess was okay… been there for him, protected him… the one time he needed me to keep him safe, and… damn it, dad, I wasn't there for him…! How can I expect him to trust me now, dad…? I should have been there for him, and I wasn't…! I should have been there… I - I could have prevented this… so how can Jesse ever trust me again…?"
"Who says I won't…?"
The voice from behind them was quiet - but the words it had spoken were set with determination.
And it provoked a two way double take that could have come straight out of a slapstick movie.
Both Mark and Steve now stared at the shyly expectant Jesse Travis as though they'd seen a ghost - which, given the hollow eyed paleness of his face, wasn't perhaps so surprising.
The first to recover, Mark Sloan was now fighting a losing battle to keep his face straight.
Still cocooned in blankets, frowning sleepily back at them, Jesse had de-aged by two clear decades.All he needed was a teddy bear, or to start sucking his thumb, and the time warp would be complete.

While Jesse had reverted to toddlerhood, Steve had transformed too - into all out big brother mode. "Jess…? What are you doing up…?" he demanded anxiously, hurrying across to Jesse's side - not giving his startled friend a chance to reply, let alone protest, as he gently hustled him onto a stool. "You shouldn't be up yet… you should be resting… shouldn't he, dad…? He should be resting…"
Ruefully wondering when he'd been volunteered to referee, Mark held up a placating hand.
"I'd imagine Jess got up because he was hungry…" he replied, offering Jesse an encouraging smile. "How about it, Jess…? Think you can manage something to eat…?"
It was the same question he'd asked for almost three days now - met each time with little success. This time, though, to his and Steve's open relief, Jesse smiled wanly back at him and nodded. Recognising where he'd gone wrong the previous day, Mark kept the options healthily simple - trading a happy grin with Steve while they watched Jesse cautiously tuck into a small bowl of cereal.
And rarely had a shy request for a second helping been met with such delighted agreement.
By the time Jesse had downed two glasses of subtly sugared orange juice, Mark was even happier. His face had finally regained some healthier colour, the blue eyes regaining some of their focus.There was still turmoil in those eyes, though, as Jesse glanced awkwardly across at them.
"I - I'm sorry, Mark… you too, Steve…" he said at last, fretfully picking at the edge of his shirt.
"I should have told you earlier… I - I wanted to tell you, so much, but I just didn't know how to…then the trial started, and I guess that kinda took my mind off it, or made me blot it out, and…"
"Jess, you were in traumatised shock… it's okay, we both understand…" Mark assured him,
his arm joining that of his son in a reassuring hug around Jesse's shoulders as he added gently,
"And yes, my guess is that you went into complete denial, blocking out what those bikers did to you. That couldn't last forever, though, and as you began to remember what had been done to you… well anyway, you're going to be alright now, son… that's all that matters…"
Jesse nodded in hesitant agreement, clearly thinking he still had much to explain, to apologise for -another gentle two way hug across his shoulders assuring him that neither was necessary.
Having been chivvied out of his own guilt trip, Jesse now sought to chivvy Steve out of another.
"Did you really think I blamed you for what those bikers did to me in that cell…?" he asked at last, looking up at Steve with a trusting loyalty that relieved and dismayed his friend in equal measure. He'd prayed so much to see that trust in Jesse's eyes again - but just wasn't sure he still deserved it.
"To be honest, Jess, I didn't know what to think…" he finally replied, sighing as he shook his head. "I wanted so much to stay with you, to… well, be with you through all those procedures, but…"
"You were needed on that stakeout…" Jesse cut in softly, casting him another calmly trusting glance. "Did you catch him…? That suspect you were after…?" Caught off guard by such quiet directness, Steve nodded - staring in surprise at what Jesse asked next. "And how many women did you suspect that he'd raped and murdered…?"
"Three… possibly four…" Steve replied, still frowning even as Jesse smiled gently up at him.
"So you caught a serial killer… you were doing your job… how could I ever resent you for that…?"
If it had come from anyone else, those words might have sounded woefully hollow and clichéd.
Coming from Jesse, though… seeing the complete, unquestioning, unbroken trust in his eyes -
well, Steve could only smile back… marvel at the depth of that trust… and gratefully accept them.
Mark was smiling too - grateful, as he so often was, for the calming influence Jesse had on his son. Steve's anger, justifiable as it had been, had also been unsettling, his disillusionment even more so. There'd been several times when that disenchantment had nearly led to him leaving the force - but, Mark suspected, this latest brush with a colleague's incompetence had been the closest call yet. He didn't know how much of Steve's tirade Jesse had heard, but he'd clearly heard that last part - and had realised that Steve was heading for an irrational decision he would live to sorely regret. Steve didn't know it yet, of course, but he wouldn't quit the job he loved. Jesse would see to that. And, as Mark knew, once his young friend set his mind on something, very little could stop him.
Watching his two boys heading into the den, Mark felt his smile proudly, and knowingly widen.
For the moment at least, Jesse wasn't protesting over the brotherly arm that rested across his shoulders Still recovering from his ordeal, he seemed almost to be welcoming Steve's protective mother-henning But Mark knew this truce would only last until Jesse's stubbornly independent streak returned. And when that happened… well, it promised a highly entertaining two way battle of wills…

By breakfast time the next morning, things were showing reassuring signs of returning to normal.
Mark rose early, as usual, and headed for the kitchen to fix his boys another feast of eggs and bacon - only to find, to both his surprise and relief, that one of those boys had beaten him to it.
From where he stood at the stove, watching over a batch of pancakes, Jesse smiled shyly back at him. "I kinda wanted to… well, to say thanks for everything you've done for me…" he explained softly - his smile fading a little as he noticed Mark staring in wonder at the various pots and pans before him.
"Aww, yeah, I guess I kinda got carried away, but I'll clear everything up afterwards, and…"
The explanation cum apology skidded to a halt as Mark placed his hands on Jesse's shoulders -
the best, and only, way he knew to bring that irrepressible torrent of chatter to a standstill.
"First rule of cooking in this house, Jess…" he grinned, casting his puzzled young friend a sly wink - gesturing for Jesse to listen for the telltale sound of Steve coming upstairs to join them for breakfast. "He who gets up first cooks breakfast… he who gets up last…"
"Clears up the mess…?" Jesse supplied, his eyes regaining a trace of their usual, much missed sparkle.
"Exactly…" Mark agreed, laughing outright at Jesse's especially welcome mischievous afterthought.
"Hey, in that case, I'll make a bit more…"
As he entered the kitchen, Steve could only wonder why his arrival was greeted with such laughter - his detective instincts, and past experience, warning him that he was better off not knowing. Not that he minded though - not when Jesse was joining in that laughter so easily and freely. That laughter had always been contagious, and in his relief at seeing Jesse looking so much happier, Steve found himself joining in, dropping his arm in a playful hug across Jesse's shoulders. Then he saw the pile of greasy pots in the sink, and that brotherly affection faded into a rueful wince - one that deepened as Jesse, grinning sweetly, added another grungy pan to an already sizeable pile. "Okay, wise guy…" Steve muttered at last, directing his very best glare towards a still smirking Jesse. "Tomorrow I'll make sure I'm up first… and trust me, Jess, I can make twice the mess you can…!"
Jesse's reaction to this light hearted threat was all that Steve, and his father, could have hoped for. Blinking innocently back at his friend, Jesse then grinned, shrugged - and took down yet another pan.
Beyond all the teasing and joking, though, far more serious matters had yet to be fully resolved.
To the trained eyes of Mark Sloan, it was obvious that Jesse still had much on his mind to talk through. At several times over breakfast, he'd grown suddenly quiet and subdued, rubbing the back of his hand. Steve's protective fussing was also still going unchallenged, another sign that Jesse was still upset. So for once, the first rule of cooking was allowed to bend a little as Mark nudged his son's arm. "I'll take care of this, Steve…" he said gently, nodding to where Jesse stood outside on the sundeck - hands in pockets, seemingly oblivious to the chilly breeze around him, staring pensively out to sea. "You take care of Jesse…"
Nodding his agreement, Steve passed the washcloth to his father with a doubly grateful smile, returning Mark's heartening pat on his arm with another slight nod before heading outside.
Jesse's surprise at seeing him so unexpectedly soon was obvious - as was his unspoken gratitude.
Watching them descend the deck-steps, Mark felt an eerie sense of déjà vu from the previous morning. Under Steve's gently supportive arm, Jesse looked so tiny in comparison, so small and vulnerable. But at least his smile came slightly easier this time, knowing that the worst of the crisis had passed. Knowing, too, that his surrogate son couldn't be in safer, more caringly protective hands. They were certainly finding a lot to talk about, Mark noted, watching them vanish behind the dunes. Enough to take them right out onto the beach, much further than they'd walked the previous morning.
And with such clear, fresh sea air to whet their appetites, they were bound to come back hungry - that thought prompting Mark to glance down, somewhat ruefully, into his pan laden sink.
"Take your time, boys, I'm… uh, going to need it…" he sighed at last, setting resignedly to work.
He was smiling as he said it though - smiling very proudly…

Mark wasn't the only one who felt as though he was going through his own Groundhog Day.
Amanda and Ben also felt a strange sense of déjà vu when they arrived for dinner later that evening.
Mark, again, met them at the front door - just as he'd done when he'd dropped that terrible bombshell. Except this time, to their relief, his smile came much easier - his news happier, albeit rather puzzling. "We may have to wait a while before we can eat, the… um… kids are still asleep…" Seeing the surprise on their faces, Mark then chuckled softly, nodding his own amused agreement. "Yes, I know… pretty odd to have them napping at this time of day, but… well, both of them need it. They were out walking and talking on the beach for most of the morning… this afternoon, too, and… well, I think with all that fresh air and exercise, plus a couple of decent square meals inside him, Jess felt ready for a nap when they got back… Steve had some sleep to catch up on too, so…"
"So Jesse's eating again…?" Amanda cut in eagerly, unable to hide her relief at this welcome news.
"Well, not as much as usual, but yes - at least he's eating…" Mark nodded, sharing her open relief. "In fact, he was even up before me this morning, cooking us breakfast to… well, you know Jesse… if there's a thoughtful way for him to say thank you, or to show his gratitude, that boy will find it…"
Nodding in proud agreement, delighted by these signs of returning normality, Amanda headed inside - that delight only increasing at the sight which greeted her as she entered the living room.
Under a snug huddle of blankets, Jesse and Steve were the study of peaceful brothers in arms.
And to Mark's happily relieved eyes, his young friend now stretched a little further along the couch. She'd been too upset to enjoy it on her previous visit, but Amanda could certainly appreciate it now - the expression of total contentment on Jesse's face as he smiled through a happily carefree dream. "Oh, Mark, I'd forgotten how adorable Jesse looks when he's all tucked up asleep…!" she said at last, an already broad smile becoming broader still as, unable to resist, she nodded playfully towards Steve. "So does Steve, of course… I mean, I'd hate to be accused of favouritism…"
"Well, at risk of showing favouritism too, honey, I'd have to agree…" Mark grinned, winking at her- shelving the potential of his next words for whenever he needed a favour from his long suffering son. "You think he looks cute when he's asleep now, you should see some of his baby pictures…"
Grateful that a blissfully oblivious Steve wasn't awake to see, or hear, the amusement around him, Mark then reached down the back of the couch to gently straighten two tousled blond fringes - Jesse's drowsy sigh as he snuggled further against Steve prompting a wry chuckle from Ben Matlock.
"That is one contented little fella…"
"Yes, our Jesse's never happier than when he's hanging around with his big brother…" Mark agreed, glancing across at Amanda, trading with her a shared smile of past memories, before he added wryly, "Mind you, when he first came to us… well, I don't really think Steve quite knew what hit him…! Jess followed him round like a puppy, driving Steve crazy with his questions and eagerness to help…" Haunted by a still painfully raw nightmare, Mark's smile then faded, his voice growing even softer. "Then four months ago, Jess was infected with smallpox… we came damn close to losing him, Ben… by the time Steve tracked down the antigen and got it back to us, Jess was in a deep coma, and… well, you can imagine, everything changed after that… it was one hell of a wake up call for all of us. Suddenly we realised how much this boy means to us… and no one felt that more than Steve…"
"Yes, close calls like that tend to do that to you…" Ben agreed quietly, glancing back towards Jesse - nodding to where his head rested against Steve's shoulder, in a silent gesture of brotherly attachment. "No need to ask who this little fella belongs to now, though…"
Smiling broadly once more, Mark nodded while reaching down again to fondly stroke Jesse's cheek. "He belongs to all of us, Ben…" he replied at last, enjoying his young friend's drowsily contented sigh "Between the three of us, we can usually keep him out of trouble… well, most of the time, anyway… and Jess knows that if he's upset or worried about anything, he can always come to us for help, but… well, whenever he needs to feel safe, protected… no-one keeps him safe quite the way Steve does…"
"Those are the times when only a big brother will do…" Ben agreed, smiling back at his friend -
his next words summing up not just Mark's feelings, but those for Steve and Amanda as well.
"You really love this kid, don't you…?"
"He's an easy kid to love…" Mark agreed softly, casting his adoptive son a fatherly proud glance, before leading Ben and Amanda into the kitchen, leaving Jesse and Steve to sleep on in peace.

Not surprisingly, that peaceful sleep lasted only until the delicious aromas of dinner reached the den.
And for Mark, there was twice the amusement this time as first Jesse then Steve entered the kitchen -the latter proving he could de-age to tousled haired childhood every bit as cutely as his little brother.
Beyond her own amusement, Amanda's reaction at seeing him was as predictable as Jesse's response. "You're certainly looking much better, Jesse, but… well, how are you feeling…?" she asked gently, her attempts to straighten his fringe prompting a much missed, heartily welcomed groan of protest.
"Aww, jeez, Amanda, don't you start on me too…!" Jesse pleaded, jerking his head towards Steve. "I've already got Mary Poppins here nannying all over me…!" He was smiling as he said it though, giggling helplessly at the face which Steve pulled at him in reply.
Never to be outdone, Steve just grinned - choosing his moment before taking his favourite revenge. As expected, the giggles rapidly stopped, to be replaced by a baleful, conveniently ignored glare. Jesse hated having his hair ruffled - which, needless to say, was why Steve delighted in doing so. And of course, he then had to endure another session of having his fringe motheringly straightened. Yet beyond all the teasing, there was also seriousness in Jesse's eyes as he glanced back at Amanda, offering no protest against the relieved, possessive tightness with which she now hugged him - just as she'd done when he'd broken down in her arms, only ten days earlier. There were no tears of despair this time - just whispered apologies for causing her so much worry, and gentle assurances that no apologies were needed as she kissed his cheek before letting him go.
From where he'd stood watching this exchange, Steve now glanced across at his father and smiled - sharing with him a proudly relieved hope that the crisis which had rocked them was finally easing.

As far as Jesse was concerned, though, one aspect of that crisis still hadn't been fully resolved -
his pensive, oddly subdued quietness during dinner not lost on the ever watchful eyes of Mark Sloan.
Steve had noticed it too, trading a concerned glance with his father as Jesse glanced up at them,
with an awkwardness in his eyes which neither had expected to see again.
"Mark, it's kinda hard for me to ask you this…" Jesse said at last, toying nervously with his atch.
"I - I mean, you've done so much for me already, with getting me out of there, and everything, but… well, if the board decide to fire me… well… I - I mean, would you mind giving me a reference…?"
"Reference…?" Steve echoed, just pipping his father and Amanda to the same stunned, startled post. "Jess, why would you need a reference…?"
"Well, for… I - I mean, for my next job…" Jesse replied, now clearly as puzzled as everyone else. "I mean, if the board terminate my contract, I'll have to start applying to other hospitals to… well, you know, continue my residency, and… well, that's assuming they'll accept me, and… well…"
"Jess, when the time comes for you to move on, I'll gladly give you a reference…" Mark cut in softly, smiling at the curious astonishment on Jesse's face as he reached to gently squeeze his shoulder. "But trust me, son, you're not going to need that reference for a long, long time…"
In spite of these reassurances, though, Jesse remained uneasy - yearning uncertainty clear in his eyes. "Are - Are you sure, Mark…?" he asked softly, glancing uncertainly between Mark and Steve. "I mean, now that I have this record of being arrested, especially for murder, and doing time, and…"
"Jess, that arrest record was nullified as soon as Jeri was arrested at your trial…" Steve replied gently, reaching across the table to slip his arm across Jesse's shoulders, trying to reassure and settle him. "As far as the police are concerned, and anyone else for that matter, you've been proven innocent…"
"Steve's right, Jess… you've been completely exonerated…" Mark agreed, his voice equally gentle. "I know you're still suspended, but there's no reason now for the hospital to terminate your contract. Once your re-instatement goes through admin, we'll be thrilled and delighted to have you back…"
Even as he enjoyed the smile of relief that lit up Jesse's face, Mark Sloan remained quietly uneasy. That smile had been welcome but, as Mark had noted, it still hadn't quite reached Jesse's eyes. For all their reassurances, the stigma of his arrest and imprisonment was still clearly upsetting him.
A glance to his right confirmed that both Steve and Amanda shared the same concerned realisation. Jesse hated fuss and attention at the best of times, and with everything he was still going through - well, the surprise party his colleagues had planned to welcome him back needed a discreet re-think. There would be a party, of course - but only when Jesse was recovered enough to enjoy it.

Early the next morning, Jesse sat on the end of his bed, staring pensively at his mirrored reflection.
This was the Jesse Travis which his colleagues at Community General would see in a few days time. A Jesse Travis who, on the outside at least, hadn't changed from the last time they'd seen him. The tawny blond hair was still tousled on top, that wretched fringe seemingly with a life of its own. His face was still smooth and boyish, healthily tanned from all those walks on the beach with Steve.
On the inside, though… well, his eyes betrayed the anguish that, Jesse knew, would never fully leave. Physically he hadn't changed at all, but mentally… ever since those bikers had grabbed hold of him… touched him, felt him, handled him… stroked him in ways that had both terrified and thrilled him…
Mark's cheery shout that breakfast was ready broke, mercifully, into the turmoil of Jesse's thoughts. Taking a deep breath, he rose to his feet, offering his reflection a now familiar, private, daily promise. "I will get through this… damn it, I won't let those perverts ruin my life…"
Steve's brotherly yell that 'the washing up's waiting, shortstop' caused his smile to gratefully widen. Whatever those bikers had done to him, whatever demons he'd face in the days and weeks to come - well, at least he wouldn't be facing those demons on his own. And when they came, he'd be ready.
Fate, however, was about to make Jesse confront those demons a lot sooner than he'd expected…

In another twist of destiny, it was Jesse who spotted her first as they cleared away the breakfast dishes.
A lone figure, her clothing as tangled as straggly blonde hair, wandering aimlessly along the beach. "Mark, wait…! That - that girl over there, I think she's in trouble…!"
Following his young friend's guiding arm, Mark nodded his agreement, frowning as he did so.
That dazed expression and dishevelled state of her clothing seemed shockingly, worryingly familiar.
Before he could reply, though, or warn him against it, Jesse had descended the sun-deck steps - compelled by a feeling he couldn't explain to walk slowly towards the stricken figure who now sat, collapsed into a tight defensive huddle on some sandbanks in front of the house.
Steve was already setting out to follow - staring in surprise as his father gently caught his arm.
"No, son, leave him for a second… I think Jess needs to do this on his own…"
Knowing better than to question his father, Steve nodded while still anxiously watching Jesse.
He'd reached her now, crouching next to the girl who, not surprisingly, still cowered away from him.
"Hi… my name's Jesse…" he said at last, keeping his voice as soft and unthreatening as possible.
Although the fight had been brutally punched out of her, there was still a danger that she'd bolt.
Her terror, one that Jesse recognised all too well, was both haunting and pitiful for him to see.
She'd clearly struggled desperately to escape the brutes who'd assaulted her - just as he had done. And while he'd been mercifully spared the full horror of those bikers' sickening intentions,
it was obvious that this terrified girl, no older than he was himself, had not been so lucky.
More than anything else in the world, Jesse wished he could take her into his arms and hold her - to reassure and comfort her, protecting her… just as Steve had done for him, only a few days earlier. But Jesse knew that, for the moment at least, such intimate contact was totally out of the question. Until he won her trust, all he could do was talk to her - try to persuade her that he meant her no harm. "It's okay, I'm a doctor… I'm not going to hurt you… it's okay, don't be scared, I won't hurt you…"
A gang of rowdy bikers had told her the same thing, of course - promising that they wouldn't hurt her. They had, of course. They'd hurt her, and violated her, in the most brutal, degrading way possible. This Jesse's voice, though, the gentle compassion within it, compelled Ellie Parker to look up at him - enabling her to look into his eyes, and see the sympathy and regretful understanding within them. An understanding that could only come from someone who'd suffered the same brutal violation. They were kind eyes too, a striking blue - every bit as gentle as the voice that still softly spoke to her. The face they were set into was equally striking - cute rather than handsome, but so gentle. So kind. And he really had the sweetest, gentlest smile.
To her astonishment, and his relieved delight, Ellie found herself smiling tentatively back at him - accepting the offer of his hand, leaning on him for support as Jesse carefully helped her to her feet.
Watching him gallantly drape his jacket around Ellie's shoulders, Mark turned to Steve and smiled. "That's our Jesse…" he said softly, giving his equally pride filled son a gentle pat on his shoulder, before they both set out to help Jesse bring Ellie into very protective custody.

The medical tests were horrendous - every bit as invasive as the violations she'd already suffered. Her only comfort, one she fiercely clung onto, was the hand that shared every jerking clench of pain. When the pain and the shock proved too much, he'd even sat at her shoulder, holding her in his arms - shyly explaining that, when he'd been assaulted, a very special friend had done the same for him.
It had comforted him then, Jesse had told her softly, just as he hoped it comforted her now.
That same friend, Steve… the lieutenant she'd met on the beach, had then gently questioned her.
His sensitivity had impressed her, as had the patient calmness with which he'd taken her statement. That calmness had only slipped once, when she'd described the gang of bikers who'd assaulted her. Then his eyes had hardened in anger, glancing in shocked concern towards an equally shaken Jesse. She'd guessed from the glances exchanged between them that Jesse had suffered a similar ordeal - the smile with which Jesse finally responded as much for Steve's benefit as it had been for Ellie. I've survived… I've come through this… and you're going to be okay too… Ellie had been the first to smile back, acknowledging the reassurance which he'd silently given her. Steve's acknowledgment had come a few moments later, in a brotherly hug across Jesse's shoulders - re-affirming a bond which, Ellie had already realised, went far beyond any usual friendship.
Once Steve had left, she'd inevitably broke down again, clinging to him as he held her close -
accepting the comfort which only another violated soul could provide, share… and understand.
"I just wish I'd done more to stop them, Jesse…!" she whispered at last, helplessly shaking her head. "I - I tried so hard to get away, but - but they were just too strong, I just couldn't stop them…!"
"Yes, Ellie, I know… I know…" Jesse replied softly, lost in his own memories of helpless terror.
He'd not said anything in front of her, waiting until she was asleep before he'd shakily told Steve - but from her description, he'd realised that he and Ellie had been assaulted by the same gang of bikers. To see her now, to see what they'd done to her… to think what they'd so nearly done to him… He didn't regret helping her, but… oh God, seeing what they'd done to Ellie was bringing it all back. He'd fought so hard, as Ellie had done, to get away from them, but he'd been hopelessly outnumbered. And, of course, his frantic struggles had only given his tormentor the sickening thrill he'd wanted. I wonder if I gave that bastard the ride he wanted… he reckoned I'd be better than Space Mountain… Then he'd been touched… fondled… squeezed… and all the strength to fight had sagged out of him. And what the hell would they have done to me if that sergeant hadn't come back when he did…?
A fetid tongue had slithered across his cheek, smirking words taunting him with the horrors to come.
And the pain. God, the pain. The horrendous, nerve-splitting, excruciating pain…
He must have started to tremble… sobbing, crying again, since Ellie now hugged him gently closer. Just as she'd done on him, just moments before, Jesse clung onto her as though his life depended on it. He'd thought he'd put the nightmare of that day behind him, but no… how wrong he'd been. The nightmare wasn't over yet… for either of them… not by a long way…
"It was them, wasn't it…?" Ellie said at last, drawing away a little so that she could see his face -
the shattered expression she found there confirming the horrific truth she'd already suspected.
"The bikers that raped me, they - they raped you too…"
Still dazed from his breakdown, Jesse stared at her for a moment, then took a deep breath and nodded. After what'd he'd just told her, his senses still reeling from it, he didn't feel up to telling her any more. Except something was telling him that he had no choice… something struggling to escape his mind…
He couldn't breathe…! Not just from the hand that clamped so smotheringly across his mouth, but…oh God, with this hulking mass of muscle sitting on top of him, he just couldn't breathe…!
The massive weight shifted again, calloused hands pushing up his scrub top, exposing his stomach. Groping fingers found him again, and as they did so, Jesse Travis felt his body, mind and soul shatter. Tears of utter despair, of helplessness, of shame, streamed from under still tightly closed eyes.
It was over. Done. Finished. There was, he knew, no point in fighting any more.

Now, as then, Jesse Travis felt his senses reeling, His spirit shattered. His world collapsed.
"Oh God…!" he finally gasped, paling as the brutal truth he'd been privately denying finally hit him. "He - He raped me…! He - he may not have got inside me, but… oh, dear God, he - he raped me…!"
Ellie didn't know what distressed her more, the admission he'd just made or the sight of him shaking - but her reaction, both to that admission and the fresh anguish it had brought to his eyes, was the same. "Oh, Jesse…!" she whispered, wrapping him back into a tight hug of mutual support and comfort.
They were both crying now, each of them sharing and, in doing so, starting the slow process of healing.

From where he stood, unnoticed, behind a semi-open door, Mark Sloan now eased it silently closed. For a moment he toyed with the idea of going to his young friend, in case he or Ellie needed his help, but then thought better of it, realising that, however difficult it was, he had to leave them alone. This was a time for them to have privacy, to give each other comfort only they could understand. To intrude on them now - well, it would only cause them both more upset, more distress. In spite of the dismay he felt for his distraught, broken Jesse, Mark also felt relief as he moved away. Thanks mainly to Steve, their young friend had made a remarkable recovery from his horrific ordeal. But that recovery had barely touched the surface of the healing, the real healing, that Jesse needed. It had taken his meeting a fellow victim to bring him the acceptance he'd been searching for. The final, vital acceptance of what had been done to him that, until now, he'd been unable to admit.
He had, after all, been raped.
With that acceptance, he could finally begin the long, slow process of finding true peace of mind.

Not surprisingly the tears flowed again, at home, after Steve found Jesse crying alone in his room. Jesse hadn't needed to speak as Steve rushed to his side. The utter despair on his face had said it all. And as Steve pulled his shaking, sobbing little brother into his arms, they'd both cried together - two hearts shattering under the truth which two traumatised minds had struggled so hard to deny.
And this time Mark Sloan did intervene, with the strongest sleeping tablets he could find.
Only when they'd succumbed to carefully doctored drinks had Mark Sloan surrendered himself - giving in to his own anguish as he'd sat on Jesse's bed, cradling his two sleeping boys in his arms.
"God, help us…" he'd whispered, part of him wondering if that God he was praying to even existed. "Please, dear God, help us get through this…"
With morning came reality - and one of the most difficult tasks that Mark Sloan had ever faced.
"She'll be able to help you, son… and… well, at least you already know her…"
Staring at the card in his hand, Jesse tried to force his eyes to focus on what was printed on it.
Maggie Devlin, MD. Community General Hospital. Psychiatric Unit. Rape Counsellor.
Rape Counsellor… Finally he raised his head, staring up at Mark out of empty eyes, before he finally nodded. "Okay…" he whispered at last, his voice every bit as broken as those haunted, anguish filled eyes. "Okay, Mark, I'll - I'll go… I'll try…"

The first session was horrendous, much of it spent crying helplessly in Maggie Devlin's arms.
Slowly, though, as his strength started to return, as his trust in her grew, it became easier.
Three days later, he could finally manage to get through its hour duration without breaking down.
By the end of that week, having cried out all his terror, he felt comfortable enough to really 'talk.'
At first the thought of lying on a psychiatrist's couch had almost sent him screaming, but -
well, her softly lilting Irish accent as she'd gently coaxed him into talking had proven oddly hypnotic. And it was being compelled 'to do things…' that was taking up much of this latest session. "It - It just seems so surreal, Maggie… that - that I was actually enjoying it…" Jesse murmured, glancing over so that he could find guidance in the counsellor's sympathetic, gently encouraging eyes. Finding strength in the understanding he found there, he then smiled back, regaining his determination. "I mean, I knew what he was doing to me… I - I could feel his hands on me, touching me, but… as he started to touch me, the way he was making me feel, I - I know how crazy this is gonna sound… but he was making me want to please him, to - to do the things he wanted, however sick they were…"
"It isn't crazy at all, Jesse… in fact it's the rapist's most common weapon…" Maggie told him gently, smiling at the puzzled, relieved stare she received in return as she passed him a fresh drink of water. "Rape is the most extreme form of bullying, it preys on its victim's terror of being hurt, even killed. To a rapist, control is paramount. Forcing his victim to submit, however he does it, is all he wants. That's what a rapist is looking for, Jesse… the complete control of his victim's body and mind. In some cases, that even extends to bringing pleasure to the victim too, as your rapist did to you. Once you come down from that high, though… well, sadly, that's the familiar face of a rape victim. The shame, as you've just talked about, for remembering the pleasure he brought you… the disgrace… the self loathing of actually enjoying, even contributing, to the violation of their own body. And that leads to the anger, again self directed, and self destructive, at not doing more to stop it…"
Jesse nodded thoughtfully, mentally ticking off each of these emotions that he'd felt since the attack.
He'd gone through them all, to varying degrees - except the anger. That had yet to fully hit.
But at least when it did, Jesse knew he'd have the strength and understanding now to deal with it.
Maggie Devlin knew it too.
Watching his eyes, seeing the progress of this latest private healing within them, Maggie smiled.
It was a smile of both personal and professional satisfaction. Personal and professional relief.
She'd been appalled to see a broken Jesse Travis come to her as a patient rather than a colleague. Finding out that he'd been raped had shaken her deeply, and it had taken time to coax him to talk.
But at least he was talking now. Listening. Understanding. Accepting. Healing.
He still had a long way to go, of course, but he was getting there. Jesse Travis was getting there…

The news came two days later - and left Steve Sloan struggling to believe what he'd just heard.
Finally aware of expectant concern beside him, he then turned to face his father, his face ashen.
"That was Bryant…" he said at last, needing to take several deep breaths before he could continue. "They've been caught, dad… the gang that attacked Jess and Ellie, they've been arrested in Oxnard…"
Beyond his open relief, Mark Sloan knew from his son's expression that this news had come at cost.
Breathing deeply, Steve then delivered that news as gently as his shock and anger would allow.
"Three college students, raped on campus… one girl's dead, her boyfriend's critical in ICU…
the third was able to give a description, and the license plate of the bike she'd been attacked on… the bastards must have gotten sloppy… either that, or they were too damn high to notice…"
Too shocked to rebuke his son's language, Mark just stood staring at him, dazedly shaking his head. "My God…!" he whispered at last, the full horror of what he'd just been told finally sinking in. They'd been a gang of serial rapists, preying on whatever vulnerable victim that they could find.
Male or female - to their sick, perverted, bestial minds, it hadn't mattered.
The longer they'd gone uncaptured, the more violent they'd become - violent enough to kill.
And even as he grieved for the dead girl and her family, Mark couldn't escape his own private horror.
Jesse… dear God, what if that had been Jesse…? What if they'd been so violent with him that…?
He didn't even need to look up to know that Steve was sharing the same, unthinkable thoughts.
Mark could feel the fury emanating from him, see the same tears of shock and outright fear in his eyes.
"Phil reckons that Jess was lucky…" Steve said at last, casting his father a bitter, humourless smile. Swallowing hard, still haunted by the horrific alternative, he then nodded in shaken agreement. "I guess he was… considering what those maniacs might have done to him if…"
Not trusting himself to speak, Mark simply nodded while absently massaging his son's shoulders.
It was several minutes before he quietly broke the shocked silence between them.
"They need to know, son… both of them, and… well, it'll be easier for Jesse if it comes from you…"
Haunted once more by the last time he'd heard those words, Steve just nodded in subdued agreement.
Dear God, hasn't he suffered enough…? he thought bitterly, following his father to the door.
Damn it, when the hell is this nightmare going to end…?

Jesse didn't even have to ask the cause for Steve's unexpected arrival. It was written all over his face.
For Ellie's benefit, though, and in many ways his own, he asked it anyway.
"They've been caught, haven't they…?" he said softly with, all things considered, remarkable calm.
Glancing briefly at his father, receiving a 'go ahead' nod in reply, Steve then turned back to Jesse - placing a protective hand on his young friend's shoulder, preparing him for the tragedy to come.
"Yes, they've been caught, Jess… in Oxnard…"
Just as Mark had known, Jesse had already sensed that there was worse, much worse, still to come. "Another attack…?" he asked softly, the expression in his eyes defying Steve to leave anything out.
Knowing better than to even try, and prompted by another nod from his father, Steve nodded too. "I'm afraid so, Jess…" he replied quietly, slipping his other arm around Ellie's shoulders -
needing to hold both her, and Jesse especially, protectively closer for the news he now broke to them. "Three college students, attacked on campus… one of the victims, she… uh… didn't survive…"
The reaction was just as they'd expected - horror mirrored on two stunned, suddenly paling faces.
And for Ellie, raped and left for dead on a remote part of the beach, the horror was even greater. If those surfers hadn't driven past when they did, laughingly suggesting that they 'take it to a room…' "Oh, my God…!" she whispered at last, casting a stricken glance towards an equally shaken Jesse - both realising, in a shared moment only they could understand, just how lucky they were to be alive.
They'd both been brutally violated… but at least they'd survived…
Recovering first, Jesse then pulled a visibly shaking Ellie into his arms, trying to comfort her.
Even when she finally started to calm down, Jesse continued to comfort her, refusing to let her go. She still needed him. And, God knew, he still needed her. "Shh, it's okay… easy now, it's okay, it's going to be alright, it's over now… it's all over…"
That wasn't strictly true, of course. Their attackers still had to come to trial and be brought to justice.
And for that, witnesses and survivors would need to come forward to give evidence.
With Ellie still too upset to do so, it was left to Jesse to quietly voice the inevitable question.
"Will we need to testify…?"
"To be honest, Jess, I don't know yet…" Steve replied softly, giving Jesse's shoulder a gentle squeeze. "From what Captain Bryant told me, the victim who identified them has already said she'd testify. We're waiting to hear about Joey Davis, the other survivor, he's… well, he's still on the critical list…"
Steve then fell silent, furious with himself for not breaking that news with more sensitivity.
He could only imagine what Jesse must be thinking now… that there but for the grace of God…
So it came as little surprise when Jesse simply nodded, his thoughts now inevitably elsewhere.
The doctor in him had already guessed the horrific injuries which Joey Davis had probably suffered.
Physically shaking unspeakable images out of his head, Jesse then glanced up at Steve.
His mind was still reeling, bile still choking his throat - but he knew what he had to do.
"I want to see them…" he said at last, his voice quiet but, to his surprise, still steady and level.
Staring at his friend, Steve then shook his head, his big brother protectiveness hitting hyperdrive.
"Jess, you don't have to do this… you've been through enough already, without…"
"I know that, Steve, but I - I want to see them…" Jesse cut in softly, his eyes silently pleading.
"I need to do this, Steve… even if I don't have to testify, I have to do this… please, Steve… let me…"
One of these days, Steve would manage to say no to those big, plaintive blue eyes. But not today. Besides, he'd now realised, and understood, why his young friend needed to confront his tormentors. He had to bring himself that closure, that proof, by seeing for himself that they really had been caught. "Okay…" he said at last, dryly wondering if he'd ever get to unwind himself from Jesse's little finger.
The answer came as soon as Jesse smiled that welcome, much missed, kid brother smile back at him. That, Steve reflected, trading a proudly wry glance with his father, was just never going to happen…

Even though they all knew what to expect, the drive up to Oxnard was understandably tense.
without the usual banter that made life in the Sloan household a real, if often taxing, pleasure.
The usual source of that mischievous chatter sat quietly in the back seat, staring out at the ocean.
Recognising this familiar form of therapy, Mark and Steve left him in peace to prepare himself -
each sating their concern by keeping a discreet study of their young friend in the rear view mirror.
Once in the ID room, Steve guided Jesse to a chair, quietly reassuring him as he stood alongside.
"Now Jess, this is a one way mirror… they can't see you or hear you, so you're perfectly safe…" Jesse knew this, of course - but that didn't stop him from flinching slightly as they were led in.
He'd forgotten just how huge they were. Even in handcuffs, they still exuded menace. Chilling evil.
He'd come here hoping that seeing them would lay the terror they'd inflicted upon him to rest.
Yet, somehow, seeing them still wasn't enough. He wanted more. He needed more. "Their - their names, do - do you know what they are…?"
Frowning in surprise, prompted by Steve's assenting nod, the sergeant then consulted his notes.
Jesse merely nodded as each was read out, filing them away as part of his own healing process.
Four of them had simply restrained him, subduing his cries and struggles, pinning him down.
But the fifth… the fifth…
The aptly named BoneCrusher.
Memories filled his mind once more - the smell, the sweat, the unyielding weight on top of him.
His terror and agony, the shame of his helpless response each time those fingers had found their target.
His tormentor's sniggers of approval as he'd squeezed him harder, forcing him to gasp. Jerk. Submit.
Now, as then, Jesse tried to disassociate himself from the horrors of what this brute had done to him. His whispered voice, when he finally found it, matched his expression… flat, empty, void of emotion.
"That - That's him, he - he's the one that… that… raped me…"
Gentle words of soothing comfort barely registered as Jesse's tortured mind refused to release him.
He could still feel the scramble to tidy him up after Snake's urgent hiss that someone was coming.
Feel the massive bulk on top of him crawl clear from his body, with a speed impressive for its size.
By the time Jenkins had reached them, to take Jesse up to the de-con unit, it was all over.
Five grinning bikers stood, just as he'd left them, slouched idly against the furthest wall of the cell.
His 'special charge' lay sprawled untidily on the cell's bunk, moaning softly, his body twitching -
carefully re-arranged clothes and a strategically draped blanket hiding a multitude of sins beneath.
As one violation had ended, another had started. An ordeal as degrading as the one he'd just suffered.
And it was as he'd gone through those de-humanising procedures that the realisation had hit him.
Halfway through, Jesse Travis had started, without warning, to shake. Then he'd started to scream.
When the doctor had arrived, his patient sat whimpering softly, rocking himself against the wall.
By the time Mark arrived a short time later, he'd withdrawn completely into a silent, insentient husk - saying nothing, responding to nothing... simply staring blankly at an opposite wall.
Just as he was doing now, Mark realised in silent alarm, watching the life seep away from Jesse's eyes. Fighting to keep calm himself, he then quickly set to work to bring him back from a dangerous brink. If Jesse were to fall over that brink, Mark honestly doubted whether he'd be able to get him back. "Okay, Jess, it's alright now, it's all over… deep breaths now, son… no, Jess, don't fight me… just concentrate on my voice, and your breathing… now breathe, Jess… slow, deep breaths…"
It took several anxious minutes, but finally Jesse blinked dazedly back into the land of the living, staring in utter confusion as Mark draped yet another hastily fetched blanket around his shoulders. Once he'd recovered enough to manage it, he gratefully drank down a glass of reviving water - offering them a still shaky smile as both Mark and Steve continued to worriedly hover over him. "I'm - I'm okay…" he insisted, although his still dazed expression betrayed that he still far from it.
And while Steve fully sympathised with his anxiety to leave, he knew it was too soon to do so yet. "No, Jess, we need to wait here while the guards get them back in their cells…"
A few minutes later, signalled that it was finally safe to leave, Steve guided Jesse to the door -
too busy reassuring his friend to notice the scuffle at the far end of the room… until it was too late.
It was the scenario that Steve Sloan had silently dreaded - the reason he'd not wanted Jesse to do this.
His young friend now stood, face to face, just feet away, from the brute who'd raped him.
There were no coated mirrors to protect him this time - nothing to protect his identity.
And in contrast to Jesse's frozen terror, his tormentor was sickeningly thrilled to see him again.
"Hey, cutie…! Wanna give me another ride…?" he gloated, smirking even more as he noticed Steve. "Aww, and ya brought me a friend this time…! One fine lookin' friend…!"
As the implications of this repulsive proposal sunk in, Steve's shocked face grew livid with fury.
But it was Jesse's self control that snapped first, in truly spectacular fashion.
His terror vanished - to be replaced by a tide of anger that surged, uncontrollably, through his body.
To Mark's astonishment, and Steve's utter shock, Jesse pulled away from their protective embrace, moving instead to confront his tormentor in a modern day version of David against Goliath.
If they'd been able to see his face, Mark and Steve would have been shocked by the anger there - the cold, bitter, dangerous fury that had turned gentle blue eyes into glittering cobalt.
As it was, their shock came from the bitter, coarse words that were so totally out of Jesse's character. "So you want to get up my butt again, do you…? You want another ride off me…?"
Taken equally aback, the massive biker then grinned and winked in lascivious approval.
"Aww yeah, cutie… you ride soooo good…" he purred, swivelling his groin in sick anticipation.
What happened next happened so suddenly, so unexpectedly, that no one could quite believe it.
"Ride this…!"
Without warning, Jesse then lashed his right foot hard and high between the biker's legs -
with a force that brought his tormentor no form of perverted pleasure, only excruciating pain.
As the biker staggered, howling in agony, the advantage of his height over Jesse was tellingly lost.
Another kick found its target with even more ferocity, sending him collapsing bonelessly to the floor.
Breathing hard, Jesse studied the writhing, moaning heap in front of him in utter contempt.
"With love from Jesse and Ellie…" he snarled, casting his fallen tormentor a final seething glare,
before he spun on his heel and strode past the dumbstruck Mark and Steve towards the door.
He didn't slow his stride, didn't look back, just kept going until he was right the way through it.
By the time Mark and Steve recovered themselves and caught up with him, Jesse was outside - standing beside the car, slumped forward to lean on its trunk, his head bowed between his arms.
They'd reached him just in time, since the adrenaline that had fuelled his outburst had dissipated, leaving him dazed and disoriented, visibly shaking as Steve and Mark rushed up to his side.
"M - Mark…? What - What happened…? How did I get out here…?" Recognising the signs of hypoglycaemia, Mark gently coaxed his young friend to sit on the ground, motioning for Steve to keep his head tucked between his knees while he retrieved his medical kit. By the time he'd found some sugared drinks and a blanket, Jesse's eyes had cleared a little - the confusion of before now replaced by still dazed disbelief as he remembered what he'd done. "I - I can't believe I just did that…!" he murmured, staring up at them out of wide, frightened eyes.
"Oh God, Mark, what - what the hell got into me…? I - I've never freaked out like that before…!"
To his surprise, Mark was smiling slightly as he pressed a carton of orange juice into Jesse's hands. "Jesse, you've never been under so much stress as this before…" he replied, patting Jesse's shoulder - trading a relieved glance with Steve as the juice brought some welcome colour back into Jesse's face. "You've been through a hell of a lot during these last few weeks… under tremendous stress, and… well, son, the anger that's been building up in you in that time just had to find a way out…" Seeing the doubt and shame that lingered in Jesse's eyes, he then gave his young friend a gentle hug - saying the words he knew Jesse needed to hear, praying he still had the self respect to believe them. "I don't think I'll ever be more proud of you, Jess, than I am right now… I'm so proud of you, son…"
"That goes double for me, Jess… that was one of the bravest things I've ever seen…" Steve agreed - gently hugging him closer as Jesse blushed, embarrassed and appreciative in equal measure. "Come on, buddy, let's get you home…"
Nodding in unresisting agreement, Jesse then turned to glance back at the building behind him.
Beyond its walls, the pervert who'd raped him was now safely behind bars, joined by his cohorts.
And with murder charges now hanging over them too, they'd never see daylight again.
He was still watching it as they drove away, right up until it had vanished completely from view - taking with it the final reminder, the remaining memories of what had been done to him.
Settling back against Steve, he then rested a still aching head back against his friend's shoulder.
"It's over…" he whispered, closing his eyes in submission to the tiredness that was rushing over him. Then, to Mark and Steve's open relief, that final smile of closure and acceptance finally appeared. Oh boy…! Jesse thought, the smile widening as he drifted, unresistingly, into the comfort of sleep. Wait till Maggie hears about this…!

The journey home was just as quiet as the one they'd made to Oxnard, although for different reasons. They'd been in the station for less than half an hour, but the toll on Jesse had been inevitably heavy. So it came as little surprise to Mark and Steve to find that, within minutes of getting back onto PCH, their young friend had curled up against Steve side, catching up on the previous night's fitful sleep.
He was still out for the count when Mark pulled up in his driveway, posing a tricky problem for Steve. Bunking on the couch was one thing… spending the night squashed in his father's car quite another. Fortunately for Steve, that wise and greatly amused father had a far more appealing alternative. "Steve, he's totally out for the count…" Mark chuckled in reply to his son's anxious concerns. "Believe me, we'll get Jess into the house and tucked into bed, and he won't know a thing about it…"
He was right, of course, for which Steve was eternally grateful. To the shared relief of them both, Jesse remained soundly asleep throughout the patient task of extricating him from the car,
lifted back into Steve's arms, carried into the house and settled, gratefully by Steve, into bed.
Easing stiff kinks from his back, Steve then studied the huddled bundle in brotherly exasperation.
"That's it, Jess… starting tomorrow, you're going on a diet…!"

To Steve's dismay, that light hearted prediction came worryingly close to the mark the next day - that notorious appetite faltering as Jesse struggled to come to terms with this latest trauma.
By the following morning, though, after a thankfully untroubled night, the appetite returned. And how.
If anything, the closure which those events had brought him had only made Jesse hungrier -
as that brimming plateful of food, and Mark's shrewd 'I told you so' grin happily testified.
Gradually aware of the amused glances around him, Jesse raised his head, frowning back at them. "What…?" he asked, blue eyes wide in that patented expression of total, highly dubious, innocence.
Recalling a time, not long ago, when he'd despaired over the loss of that appetite, Mark just smiled. "Nothing, Jess… just thinking…" he said at last, sharing that quiet reminiscence with Steve - sharing his son's long suffering head shake as yet more rashers found their way onto Jesse's plate. "Just thinking, I… uh… should have bought more groceries…"
Yet beyond that bottomless appetite, Jesse was still troubled by what had happened at Oxnard - hence another walk with Steve, just to the sun-deck this time, to stand and watch the ocean.
"I still can't believe I kicked him like that…" he said at last, thoughtfully studying his glass of juice.
"That anger I felt going through me… oh God, Steve, it - it was scary to lose control like that…!
I - I guess when I saw him, the way he was looking at you, and what he said about you, that…
well, something just snapped… I - I just couldn't stand the thought of him doing that to us, and…"
"I know, Jess… but as dad said, that anger had to come out…" Steve cut in softly, gently hugging him. "Besides, if you hadn't flattened him, I would…! No, Jess, you had every right to feel that anger… and believe me, buddy, that anger was far better coming out of you than staying bottled up inside…" Thinking for a moment, waiting until Jesse nodded agreement, he then sighed in mock disapproval. "You've been overdosing on Buffy again, haven't you…?"
That was all it took. Jesse stared at him. Then his mouth twitched. Then he collapsed with laughter.
Equally helpless, Steve then wrapped the giggling heap into a long hug of pure pride and loving relief.
After several minutes, Jesse drew away, staring up at his friend with eyes bright not just from laughter. "I - I couldn't have come through this without you, Steve…" he said at last through a shaky smile. "Without you, and your dad, and - and Amanda… well, I - I don't know what I'd have done, and…"
Looking down into those depthless, idolising blue eyes, Steve felt a surge of relief rush through him. At long last, he had his Jesse, his precious little brother, back again. Really back again. Back for good.
Knowing Jesse's hatred for all things mushy, he then smiled while pulling him back into another hug - resting his chin on top of the tousled blond head so that Jesse wouldn't see the tears of joy in his eyes. "You know something, shortstop…?" he said at last, pausing for effect, before adding, totally deadpan, "You make a terrific chin rest…"
Muffled giggles and a retaliatory poke came from the centre of his chest, and Steve's smile widened.
Turning his head slightly against Jesse's, Steve then met the eyes he knew would be watching them - sharing with his father a broad smile, a nod of agreement - an exchange of their own private closure.
It was over. Really over this time. The nightmare was finally, undoubtedly, over.
Well, almost over. There was one continuing aspect of his recovery that Jesse Travis still had to do.
One which, for all their support throughout his ordeal, Mark and Steve had left him to do on his own.

Eyes wide, mouth open, Maggie Devlin stared across at her deeply blushing patient in utter disbelief.
"You kicked him where…?!?"
The blue eyes of Jesse Travis dropped, suddenly finding the state of his boots of enormous interest. When they finally raised again, peeking sheepishly at her from under that tousled blond fringe, it was all she could do to keep from laughing. The expression on his face was priceless.
"Guess that anger finally hit…" he murmured at last, clearly unsettled by that anger's violent intensity.
Seeing this, Maggie then grew serious again as she passed him a reviving glass of water.
"Far better to direct that anger at him, Jesse, rather than yourself…" she replied, smiling back at him. "As I said before, the anger suffered by a rape victim is often self directed, fuelled by self loathing. What I told you before, about rapists craving control…? Well, sometimes their victims fight back. They turn that anger back against the person who violated them, usually by testifying against them. By seeing them brought to justice, they regain control… their self respect… their pride…In your case, someone you loved was threatened by the same person who'd brutally raped you. I'm guessing that's what triggered it, Jess…? When BoneCrusher made that remark about Steve…?"
"I - I guess so…" Jesse nodded, recovered enough now to meet her eyes again, shrugging agreement. "I know how irrational it was… I mean, the guy was handcuffed and surrounded by guards, so… well, I knew he couldn't get anywhere near us, but… God, just the way he was looking at us… grinning at me, reminding me what he'd done to me, it… aww jeez, Maggie, I just totally lost it…!"
"No, Jesse, you found it…" Maggie corrected him, smiling at the puzzled stare she received in return. "Or rather you took it back - the control that was taken away from you while you were being raped. From being Jesse Travis, rape victim, you became Jesse Travis, rape survivor…"
It was only a change of a single word - but that change, Maggie Devlin knew, made all the difference. She could see that difference now in Jesse's eyes, in their expression of strength and determination. Encouraged by the gleam of pride and satisfaction she'd seen there too, Maggie then grinned. "There are extremes, of course… sometimes the payback goes a little too far…" she said at last - hastening to explain, to reassure him once more, as some of that precious pride faded from his eyes. "You'll have seen it on the news, Jess… women going after their attackers with guns and cleavers…" As he relaxed once more, nodding his understanding, Maggie allowed her grin to mischievously return "And a damn good kick, preferably two, where all that abuse came from, works pretty well too…"
The proof of her point was good to see as Jesse blushed once more, dissolving into sheepish giggles.
"You know, I still can't believe I did it…" he finally admitted, shaking his head in wry disbelief.
"I don't think Mark and Steve could quite believe it either… and the look on BoneCrusher's face…"
"I can imagine…" Maggie chuckled, knowing it was now safe for her to lighten the mood again.
"Not that I blame you, of course, but I guess the Hippocratic Oath took a few seconds vacation…?"
Left with very little in the way of defence, Jesse pulled a face back at her, trying to look indignant - failing miserably as a twitching mouth finally surrendered to a full wattage mischievous grin.
"Just a few…" he shot back, easing himself back into the cosiest couch he'd ever encountered.
Not even Mark's brown leather snuggler came close to this beauty for outright comfy pleasure.
"I'm going to have to get myself one of these…" he said at last, slouching into luxurious softness.
"Just what this doctor would order after a forty eight hour shift…"
"I'll see what I can arrange from my supplier…" Maggie retorted dryly, grinning back at him - waiting for the right moment before quietly, and seriously, asking her next appraising question.
"Speaking of which, how are you sleeping…?"
Realising there was still work to do, Jesse grew serious too before he relaxed again and smiled.
"Pretty well… I mean, I've not had nightmares, which is… well, kinda surprising…" he said at last. "I would have expected to… well, you know, have some kind of disturbed sleep, but so far so good…"
Maggie nodded, noting in careful, practised discretion that her young patient was telling the truth.
Under its mop of forever tousled hair, the face was well rested, bright eyes free of telltale dark circles. "That's probably because of the support you received before you came here to me…" she concluded - noting with even greater satisfaction the broad, untroubled smile which now spread across Jesse's face
"Yeah, Mark and Steve have been great to me… I couldn't have got through this without them…" Realising what he'd said, and who he'd said it to, he then stammered out a sheepish afterthought. "I -I mean, you've been great too, Maggie, with helping me understand all this, but… well… uh…"
As she remained seemingly unimpressed, Jesse then winced before trying the failsafe plan B.
Out came the glacier melting smile.
To his relief, she was now smiling back at him, the pretence of hurt indignation hopelessly crumbling. "That's alright, Jesse, you've known the Sloans a lot longer than you've known me…" she grinned, wryly thinking those big, puppy dog eyes of Dr Jesse Travis could be classed as lethal weapons. She appreciated now why very few people, least of all Steve Sloan, could resist those eyes for long. Thoughts of the detective who'd become Jesse's oversize shadow caused her inward smile to widen. Physically, and in terms of personality, they were as different as chalk and cheese… night and day. But the incredible bond between them had made the many differences between them non existent - bringing the psychiatrist, smiling outwardly too now, onto her next point of discussion. "And how is Mary Poppins…?"
If he'd not been laughing so much, Jesse might have tried an appallingly bad Cockney accent.
Even as those giggles continued, there was no mistaking the grateful affection in his reply.
"Nannying me to distraction…" he muttered, trying hard to look exasperated - and failing dismally.
Even if he had managed it, Maggie Devlin knew too much about her young patient to be fooled.
Beyond all the light hearted griping, she knew just how much Jesse Travis enjoyed being cared for. And no one cared for him, protected him and loved him as devotedly as his adoptive big brother. He would, she knew, be loitering somewhere in the hospital, waiting to check in on 'his' Jesse. The talent for mind reading was clearly contagious - a quiet, serious voice breaking into her thoughts. "I - I was so scared this thing would wreck our relationship… I mean, you hear about these things… friends and family scared to be around you… touch you… hold you…"
"But that hasn't happened with you and Steve…? Or Mark and Amanda…?" Maggie asked gently - relieved by the broad, if rather shy, smile which spread back across Jesse's face as he shook his head.
"No, they've been great… I don't think I've felt more loved in my life…!" he admitted quietly.
"I've never been hugged so much either, they - they just seem to know when I need them to hold me. I came home from work last night and found Amanda had completely restocked my kitchen.
Steve's changed into a magical nanny… don't tell him that, by the way, or else he'll throttle me, and… well, Mark seems determined to shovel food down me at every opportunity…"
"And needless to say, he's met with fierce resistance…?" Maggie asked with a mischievous grin.
She'd seen that appetite in action some months earlier, during the hospital's charity fundraiser.
Jesse had only needed a glimpse of that mouthwatering buffet, and that had been it.
It was a good thing he loathed hospital food so much, otherwise the patients wouldn't get fed at all…
Grinning sheepishly around a handful of peanuts, Jesse then offered the best defence he could think of. "Well, he's such a good cook, it seems impolite to say no… and I'd hate to hurt his feelings…"
She wasn't buying it - even with his most melting smile, Dr Maggie Devlin was not buying it.
Pulling a face back at her, Jesse then found something of enormous interest on his name badge -
the open relief at its return prompting another gentle enquiry over his continuing recovery.
"And how's work…?"
"Great…" Jesse grinned, his eyes lighting up like beacons, glowing with relief and happiness.
"I was kinda… well, you know, kinda nervous about coming back here, after what happened, but… everyone's been so good around me, just like Mark and Steve and Amanda… so supportive, and… aww, Maggie, I'd forgotten just how much I love this place…! It's just so good to be back…!" The familiar trill of a beeper broke suddenly into the conversation, prompting another sheepish grin. "Sorry, Maggie, guess duty calls… I'm needed for an inbound RTA, but I'll be back later, okay…?"
Nodding her agreement, Maggie Devlin's smile widened as she watched him trot out of her office.
Not all of her patients were success stories but, to her relief, Jesse Travis would be one of them.
He still had a way to go yet, of course. You didn't recover from being raped overnight, but -
well, he was back where he belonged, doing the job he loved, surrounded by the people he loved.
Yes, Maggie thought, still smiling, Jesse Travis would be one of the lucky ones. He'd make it.
Two days later, he came to his first group meeting. And, to Maggie's delight, he brought a friend.

Ellie had initially balked at the thought of telling total strangers of the ordeal she'd gone through.
But then Jesse had reminded her, in that gently encouraging way of his, that she'd already told him - stunning her with the calm, unfaltering revelation that he'd already been going to private therapy.
She'd felt awful refusing him, but if he'd been disappointed, his eyes certainly hadn't betrayed it.
Instead he'd just smiled that wonderful, non judgmental smile as he'd gently kissed her forehead.
"Okay, honey, but… well, just think about it, okay…?"
Her already conscience-struck resolve had buckled completely when he'd smiled that smile at her - causing her to chuckle as she'd silently recalled Amanda Bentley's wry, openly fond advice.
"If Jesse unleashes that poor lost puppy dog look on you, honey, then you'd better watch out…! He's pulled that stunt on me, and even Mark, more times than we can remember, and as for Steve…"
That 'lost puppy' look was, indeed, beyond resistance. Within seconds, Ellie had changed her mind.
Now, watching the rest of the support group take their seats, her doubts and unease began to return . "Jesse, I - I don't know whether I can do this…!" she said at last, agitatedly shaking her head."I mean, I didn't realise there'd be so many people here, and we - we don't even know them, and…"
"I know, Ellie… any first session of counselling will always be the toughest…" Jesse soothed her, taking one hand into his while slipping his other arm in a reassuring hug around her shoulders - drawing on the memory of one friend's support and encouragement to offer comfort to another.
"But it's okay, you're safe now… nothing more can hurt you, you're not facing this alone.
I'll be right here beside you, and… hey, if I go first, you can just follow my lead… okay…?"
Smiling back at him, Ellie nodded - finding the strength she needed in his own determined courage.
Glancing around them, Ellie was surprised, and grateful, to see a whole circle of encouraging faces. She'd never met any of these people before, yet there was an unseen, unspoken bond between them. They were victims too, she realised, rather than the strangers she'd seen them as only moments before.
Feeling slightly guilty over those uncharitable thoughts, Ellie smiled tentatively back at them.
But her eyes were only for one person as, prompted by Maggie Devlin, Jesse rose to his feet.
Still holding Ellie's hand, to both give support and receive it, he then quietly introduced himself.
"My name is Jesse… this is… um… my first time…" he said at last, glancing shyly around him - smiling slightly as he felt the supportive strength he found there lift a massive load from his shoulders.
I'm going to be okay… I really am going to be okay…
When he spoke again, his voice was strong. Determined. Free of the shame that had plagued him.
"My name is Jesse… seven weeks ago, while wrongly in prison custody, I was raped…"

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