"You know, you don't have to do this, Steve. It was just a birthday, not even a special birthday like my 30th or anything. It's just another day, you know."
Steve Sloan glanced down at the shorter man trying to keep pace with his long legged stride and slowed down before he replied. "I know I don't *have* to do it, Jesse. But, I want to do it. Anybody'd think you'd never been taken out for dinner for your birthday before. It's no big deal, taking you out for a meal, I mean."
"Thanks, Steve, it's just birthdays, mine particularly, were never a big deal in my family." Jesse shrugged, but Steve heard the hurt behind the studied casualness.
Steve knew that the young doctor had never had a very close relationship with his own father. It probably explained the friendship that had sprung up so quickly between Jess and Steve's Dad, Mark, when the two first met. Now, the friendship included Steve as well, and as time had gone by he'd begun to feel more than simple affection for the young doctor. Feelings he hadn't acted on yet though there were times he felt it was all he could do not to tell Jesse how he really felt about him.
"Well, in my family, birthdays were a big deal," he said finally, smiling with the memories. "Sometimes, I think Dad actually got more fun out of them than we kids did. And Christmas, man "
"Yeah, it would have been cool having Mark for a dad when you were a kid," Jesse said softly, almost wistfully.
"Well, that's why we're doing this tonight. It was actually Dad's idea but then when that emergency came in and with Amanda out of town for the weekend, he insisted that I take you anyway. He knows where we're going. If he can finish up before it gets too late, he'll come join us. He's got something for you," Steve replied, as he pulled out his wallet. "Damn!"
"Sorry, Jesse, I just need to stop at an ATM. My credit card's maxed out, so I need to get some cash out to pay for dinner," Steve answered, looking up the street and spotting a bank machine a few hundred yards down the road.
"Hey, I can pay " Jesse interrupted.
"Uh uh, no way. *Your* birthday, remember, as in people buy you stuff, not the other way round. Besides, Dad's going dutch with me on this and I'd never hear the end of it if he found out you'd bought your own birthday dinner because I forgot to pay my credit card bill this month. Believe me, I really don't need that lecture." Steve laughed as he spoke but there was some truth to his words. Steve tended to live life on the spur of the moment, while Mark was disciplined and organised, and despite the fact his son was well over the age of twenty one, the elder Sloan was more than capable of delivering a lecture that always resulted in Steve promising to mend his ways. Not that he ever really did. It was probably that impulsive, instinctive nature that made Steve Sloan such a good detective, as much as his father's habits of thinking things through in a reasoned way, made him such a good doctor. Opposites, yet almost like two halves of one whole.
Steve stopped as Jesse's hand hooked his elbow and pulled him to a stop. He'd been so caught up in his own thoughts that he'd almost walked straight past the cash machine. "Sorry, Jess, just thinking." He slid the card in and keyed in his pin number then froze as something sharp bit into his side. He heard a gasp from behind him and tried to turn his head to see where Jesse was.
"Don't move, man. Not unless you want this knife to go all the way in. Your buddy's just fine, for now, but one wrong move from you and my pal will blow him away in a heartbeat. You got that?" growled the voice at his ear.
Steve nodded slowly. If these guys just wanted cash, he'd give it to them. He had his gun on him, but his years of experience as a cop had taught him not to take on anything until he knew for sure what he was up against, and he had no intentions of risking Jesse's life just for money.
"Good. How much money you got in there, man?" the voice asked again. The knife bit a little deeper and Steve winced, feeling a warm trickle of blood running down his side.
"Just over $500," he answered, truthfully. Saving had never been one of his strong suits. Another side to his impulsive nature, he thought grimly. For once, it was actually a good thing.
"Not bad. Withdraw it all," the man at his side instructed.
Steve momentarily thought about telling him there was a limit on his card but a pained choked off sound from behind him changed his mind. Money could be replaced, Jesse couldn't be, so without further ado he punched in the amount and took the cash from the withdrawal slot.
The man next to him reached over and grabbed the money, then after stuffing it into his pocket, began to pat Steve down.
*Dammit* Steve thought, *if they find out I'm a cop * The thought was interrupted as the perp found his gun.
"Well, what do we have here? A cop? Yep," he continued as he dragged Steve around, so his back was up against the wall, "I think we got us a cop." He reached for Steve's wallet and opened it so his badge shone in the streetlight.
"What about you, boy?" asked the man, who was holding Jesse down on the ground, a gun grinding painfully into the young man's neck. "You a cop, too?'
"No, he's just a friend. He works in a restaurant," Steve jumped in, stifling the predatory growl that almost passed his lips, before the doctor could respond. If these guys wanted money for drugs and found out Jesse was a doctor, they'd be likely to try to work out a way to get drugs from him and right now, Steve just wanted them to take his cash and go. Then he could put out an APB on them, and stupid as they were for not wearing masks and letting Steve see their faces, they'd probably be picked up in no time.
"That true, kid?" the man with the gun asked, pushing the gun more savagely into the young man's neck, causing Jesse to grunt in obvious pain.
"Yeah, I just work in a restaurant."
"You got any money or cards on you, kid?" the man asked, patting his hands down over Jesse's jeans pockets and pulling out his wallet. "50 bucks? That's it?" the man asked disbelievingly.
Jesse managed a quick glance up at Steve that said he didn't really care about losing the money as long as this gorilla would just get that gun out of his neck before he ended up with a permanent groove to remind him of this night. "Yeah, that's all I've got. You don't make much working as a waiter, man." He said the words lightly, Steve praying inwardly that the men would just leave, now they had what they wanted.
For a moment, as Jesse was pulled to his feet he started to believe his prayer had been answered but then
"Where's your car, cop?" the man next to Steve asked.
Steve pointed silently to his car a block away.
"Give my partner the keys. Mike, take the kid with you, and put him inside without drawing any attention. Make sure he stays quiet, okay? Then bring the car back here and pick us up. And kid," he waited till Jesse looked up at him, his eyes wide, "do anything stupid and your friend the cop here gets a knife in his guts, got it?"
Jesse nodded, swallowing hard, and cast a swift look at Steve.
Steve gave a minuscule nod of his head, trying to tell Jesse not to try any heroics. The man named Mike dragged the young man away, the gun now hidden against the doctor's side, and headed for Steve's car.
"Don't even think about it, Sloan," the other perp said menacingly as he felt Steve's muscles tense beneath his hand. "Turn around real slow."
Steve obeyed, feeling the knife still digging in just under the skin of his ribcage. His hands were pulled behind his back and then he was cuffed with his own handcuffs. "How do you know my name?" he asked.
"Saw it on your ID in your wallet. That name's familiar Sloan. Um, don't think you ever arrested me though. Wait a minute, you related to that Doctor Sloan that was caught up in that prison riot last year?"
"He's my father," Steve answered slowly, unsure of what reaction the revelation would bring. If this guy had been one of the main rioters it could mean he and Jess were in real trouble. "Were you there?" he asked cautiously.
"No, not me, man. One of the few times in my life I was free as a bird. My brother was in there then though." Catching Steve's glance up the street to where he could see Mike and Jesse almost at his car, the man shook his head. "Nah, Mike's not my brother. Just someone I hooked up with to help me make a bit of extra money. Jeff's out of jail now. Gonna be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, but at least he's alive. That's what he keeps telling me, anyway. Well, here's our ride now, Sloan. Move slowly over to the car and wait for me to open the door. No tricks. Don't forget your buddy's in that car."
"I haven't forgotten," Steve said quietly as he moved forward, his eyes vainly searching for any sign of Jesse through the windscreen. "What the hell did you do to him?" he growled as the back door was opened and he saw Jesse's unconscious body sprawled across the floor of the car.
"Kept him quiet," Mike said, turning to watch as Steve was pushed into the back seat, followed by the man with the knife.
"Jeez, you didn't have to hit him, Mike. I meant gag him or something," Steve's captor said.
"Didn't have time to look for anything to gag him with, Tom. You said make sure he keeps quiet. He ain't gonna be making any noise for a while now, is he?" Mike said, as he reversed the car out of the parking spot and took off down the street, heading for the outskirts of the city.
Tom nudged Jesse with his foot and Steve breathed out an audible sigh of relief as his friend moaned at the contact. There was a small trickle of blood inching its way down the young man's face but Steve couldn't see exactly where he'd been hit. He was alive, that was the main thing for now and the detective planned on keeping it that way.
The knife in his side was suddenly withdrawn and Steve put a hand to where he could still feel the wetness of blood against his shirt.
"Wouldn't want to accidentally stab you, if Mike hits a pot hole or something, would I, Detective?" Tom smiled grimly. "Just stay still and we'll let you and your friend out up the road a ways. Just far enough that by the time you get back to town, we'll be long gone."
"What?" Mike turned to glare over his shoulder. "We can't just let 'em go. They've seen our faces, they even know our names, for cryin' out loud "
"Just drive, Mike. Let me do the thinking, all right? So far, we're wanted for theft of a few hundred bucks and a car, not to mention assault, but I ain't going down for murder, specially for killing a cop. Now keep going and let me think." Tom slumped back in the seat and kept a steady gaze on Steve, who was still looking down at Jesse, trying to see how badly he was hurt. "He'll be okay, Sloan. Probably have one hell of a headache when he wakes up, that's all."
"For your sake, I hope so," Steve said, lifting his eyes and staring straight into the other man's, "because if he dies, I'll find you and take you down myself."
"Yeah, I bet you would," Tom replied with no hint of malice, steadily returning Steve's gaze. "He's that important to you, isn't he?"
Steve turned away and watched the passing scenery through the car window, swallowing down his fear that he'd mess this up, that if he did he'd lose Jesse for good, never get the chance to tell him He clenched his jaw and tried to focus on where they were being taken.
They were on the outskirts of the city now, heading out onto one of the dirt roads that eventually led up into the mountains.
Jesse finally opened his eyes, blinking owlishly around as he tried to make sense of his surroundings. "Wha's goin' on?" he slurred, pushing himself up on one shaky arm.
"Just stay still, Jess. You got hit in the head, probably got a concussion. Put your head back down and stay still, okay?" Steve tried to signal Jesse with his eyes, hoping the young man would do as he was told. For some reason, he felt sure that Tom didn't want to kill them but the guy named Mike seemed to have no such qualms.
Jesse slumped back down, one hand going up to the wound on his head. His eyes were unfocused and half shut and he seemed barely conscious again.
"Okay, Mike, stop just up there, near that stand of trees," Tom said suddenly. He bent in closer to Steve and whispered, "You tell your Dad we're even now, Sloan."
Steve turned and looked at him in surprise as he felt the cuffs around his wrists being unlocked.
He kept his hands behind his back as Tom pulled him from the car and told him to stand with his back to it. Mike climbed out and trained his gun on the detective. Reaching in, Tom hauled Jesse out, dragging the doctor across the dirt and leaving him on the ground under the trees.
Tom came back to the car and ordered Steve to move over to the trees and kneel down. Steve obeyed, taking up position next to a large boulder that would serve as cover should things get out of control. Within seconds he knew that his gut feeling had been right.
Mike and Tom were arguing again about letting them go. Suddenly Mike took a step back and let loose with a roundhouse punch to Tom's jaw. Tom fell back onto the ground, then rolled to his knees, shaking his head as Mike took a few steps forward and aimed his gun at Jesse's back.
Steve was there the minute he heard the safety click off. Reaching out desperately he snagged the back of Jesse's jacket and hauled him back with all his strength, turning and shoving him behind the boulder. He heard the crack of the gun and then felt the impact in his arm. Collapsing in a heap, his injured arm caught under him, he struggled against the pain, twisting his body around in an effort to get to his feet. He could hear Tom yelling at Mike to stop, could see Mike advancing on him, cursing, the gun held out in front of him as he tried to get a steady shot at Steve's writhing body.
Steve used his good arm for leverage and pushed himself to his feet with all the strength he could muster. He turned side on, trying to make himself less of a target and stumbled toward the rock, hoping to make it before Mike got off another round.
Then the gun roared again and Steve was pushed forward with the force of it hitting his shoulder, spinning him to one side. His ribs impacted the boulder and then he was falling into blackness. He heard one more shot before he passed out.
"Sloan, wake up. Come on, cop, I ain't got time for this."
The voice was one he vaguely recognized, Steve realized, but it seemed to be coming from somewhere down the end of a long tunnel and he felt too tired to push himself toward it. Suddenly, he was gasping for breath and forcing his eyes open as a sharp slap stung his cheek. He tried to sit up, only to be pushed back down by the pain in his right side and arm. Groaning, he blinked, trying to make sense of the white blur floating above him. "jess," he managed to whisper past arid lips.
"Your pal's gonna be okay, Sloan, but he's still out cold. Listen to me, okay?"
Steve felt his head grasped firmly and he finally managed to bring his vision into some sort of wavering focus, making out Tom's face above his own. "What?" he asked, confused.
"I took Mike out, see? Knocked his aim off when he shot at you but when you went down he was gonna kill you for sure. He hit you anyway, but Mike was good with a gun. He was aiming at your head, not your shoulder. I had to shoot him. He wouldn't have stopped otherwise." Tom tilted Steve's head to the side.
Squinting, Steve could just make out the crumpled body of the other robber on the ground near the car. "Is he dead?" he asked.
"Yeah. Didn't have no choice. Always knew he was crazy and he'd take me down with him, if I didn't stop him." Tom's voice was flat, emotionless.
"Why?" Steve asked.
"Your Dad. He operated on my brother when Jeff was shot in that riot. Saved his life. Sure, the kid's in a wheelchair but at least he ain't dead and he's straight now. Went back to school," Tom said, unmistakable pride tingeing his voice. "Tried to get me to go straight too, but I ain't ever known anything but this. Listen, Sloan, you're bleeding pretty bad. I need you to hold this pad against your shoulder till help comes, you got that?"
Steve nodded woozily as he felt a cloth pushed into his hand. Tom pushed the detective's hand up onto the bullet wound in his shoulder and pressed it down firmly. Steve groaned, instinctively twisting away from the pain.
"No!" Tom growled. "Keep it there till help comes. There's a call box a bit further on. I'm gonna go call an ambulance for you and your pal here. But you gotta stay awake and keep pressing on that shoulder till they get here, you got it?" There was another stinging slap to his face as Steve felt his eyes starting to drift shut. "Stay awake! You gonna do that, Sloan?"
Steve forced his eyes open again and pushed his hand down hard against his shoulder, biting down on his lower lip with his teeth to keep from crying out from the pain. He could feel a slow trickle of blood dribble over his chin from where his lip split under the pressure. "You coming back?" he gritted out between his teeth.
"What do you think?" Tom said, grinning. "Take care of yourself, cop. Tell your dad I said thanks, for Jeff." He glanced over at Jesse, who was beginning to stir. "You'll be all right."
He stood up and took off at a run.
Steve tried to turn to see if Jesse was okay but he felt as if his body was too heavy and his limbs too weak. He tried to keep his hand pressing down on the wound he could feel pulsing blood over his fingers but his vision was blurring again. Bright lights prickled across his eyes and he knew he was going to pass out again.
Then he was drifting as the world faded to gray around him. He felt his hand slide back to the ground and no matter how hard he tried he couldn't raise it again. He closed his eyes, as dizziness overwhelmed him and then there was someone there, pulling the cloth out of his hand and pushing down hard on his shoulder. He opened his eyes and swore, trying to pull away but someone was holding him down and he was too weak to break free.
"Jeez, Sloan, can't leave you on your own for a minute, can I?" the blur at his side said, a faint laugh accompanying the words. "Can't leave you here to bleed to death. Jeff'd never forgive me. Guess I'm going down this time. But not for murder." The voice became hard.
From the depths he'd fallen into Steve felt himself being shaken gently.
"You hear me, Sloan, don't you quit on me! You hang on till help comes, you got it."
Steve tried to answer but his ears were buzzing and the pain was pushing everything else away, consuming him. He heard a moan and realized it came from him, then suddenly the sky seemed to be rushing towards him, it's blackness engulfing him and then the pain was gone and everything disappeared.
Steve was floating somewhere soft and fuzzy where there was no pain. He could hear a familiar voice above him, trying to entice him back to awareness, back to where the pain waited. He tried to block the voice out but it was relentless and it sounded so worried that eventually he stopped trying to hide from it and followed it back to consciousness.
The burning agony in his shoulder pulled him completely awake as soon as he opened his eyes. He groaned, trying to pull away from the pain and then felt a warm hand on his uninjured arm. The hand grounded him somehow, made him feel he was safe and he stopped moving and tried to focus his blurred vision. He concentrated on listening to the concerned voice coming from above him, the same voice that had pulled him back from the fog.
"Easy, son, that's it. Try not to move. I'm going to give you something more for the pain but you need to keep still so you don't wreck Dr. Mason's nice handiwork, okay?"
Steve tried not to move as he felt a hot/cold sensation running through his arm. Suddenly, the pain was no longer as overwhelming as it had been before. He sensed it lurking there, waiting, but finally he let out the breath he hadn't even been aware he was holding and felt it recede to a dull ache.
"Dad?" The word was croaked out and Steve felt a spoon against his mouth. He opened it and sucked greedily at the ice.
"Better?" his father asked, one hand reaching to push a wayward strand of hair from his son's forehead, swallowing hard as he recalled other times he'd done that, times when he'd thought he'd lose his son forever.
Steve nodded, his sight finally clearing and focusing on his father's relieved face. "Dad? Jesse?" he asked, almost dreading the answer.
He had no real memory of what had happened after he'd been shot. The last memories that were at least partly clear were of Jesse unconscious on the ground as Mike aimed his gun at him. Steve recalled being knocked to the ground, with an agonizing pain in his arm, then more pain, this time in his shoulder and an enormous thump in his chest as he landed, hitting something hard and unyielding. The memories after that were vague images that seemed as much dreams as reality.
"Jesse's fine, Steve. He's got a nasty concussion, needed a few stitches but he's okay. Said you saved his life out there," Mark said, patting Steve's hand gently.
"What happened after I passed out?" Steve asked.
Mark settled into the chair at Steve's bedside. "Okay, I'll fill you in, but the minute I think you're in pain or getting tired, you get some rest, got it?" He fixed his son with the look that Steve remembered from his childhood, the one that said, 'don't even waste your breath arguing'.
"When the ambulance and the police got there they found one man dead with a bullet through his head "
"Mike," Steve interrupted. "He's the one who hit Jesse and shot me," he replied in answer to his father's questioning glance.
"Jesse was barely conscious with a gash on his head and you'd been shot twice, once in the upper arm and once in the right shoulder. You've also got a small wound in your side that took a couple of stitches to close. Looked like a knife wound. Plus some bruised ribs. Guess they knocked you around," Mark said, feeling the lump in his throat again as he recited his son's injuries.
"I think I landed on a rock or something when I fell," Steve answered.
"Jesse was behind a boulder when they found him. The man that was with you said you'd run into the path of a bullet to drag him there."
"Tom?" Steve asked. "He was still there?"
"Yes. He was keeping you from bleeding to death from that shoulder wound. He gave himself up when the police arrived, told them he'd killed his partner. Said something about old debts being paid. You know what he meant?" Mark looked closely at his son. Steve looked exhausted. His eyes were glazed from the morphine Mark had given him and he seemed barely able to keep them open. "Well, you can tell me about that later."
Steve could still feel the drug coursing through his veins, keeping the pain at the far reaches of his mind. The room seemed to drift in slow circles around him and his eyes became too heavy to keep open. "Dad? Tom, he stopped his partner from killing me. Because of you, something you did. Need to speak to the judge when he goes to trial " His tongue felt numb and his words seemed to fall leadenly into the air. He felt his father's hand on his forehead.
"We'll take care of it, son. You get some sleep."
"Dad, I need to see Jess," Steve muttered.
"He wants to see you too, Steve. You saved his life. Go to sleep, now."
Steve felt his father's hand take his and he relaxed, letting go at last and allowed sleep to overtake him.
Steve woke slowly as he heard his name called.
"Hey, Steve, is it okay if I come in?" Jesse asked hesitantly.
"Yeah," Steve said as he blinked away the remnants of his drug induced sleep. "Come on in, Jesse. I'm glad you're okay. You are, aren't you?" he asked, looking Jesse over carefully.
The young doctor looked pale and tired. Steve could see the black spidering of sutures beneath the dressing across his forehead.
"Sit down before you fall down," Steve said, more gruffly than he intended.
Jesse obeyed, sinking into the chair Mark had vacated only recently. He reached out as if to grasp Steve's hand but instead leaned it on the bedrail. "I just wanted to say thank you. I know you saved my life out there. I don't remember much about it but what I do remember is you trying to stop those guys from hurting me," he said, his voice strained with emotion.
Steve looked at him for a long moment then made a decision. They'd both almost lost their lives because of this. Maybe he was being told it was time to stop hiding his feelings. If either he or Jesse had been killed Finally, he took as deep a breath as he could then grabbed hold of Jesse's hand. "There's something I've been wanting to tell you, Jess," he began. "I need to tell you now because tonight I realized that sometimes we get second chances and this is mine and I don't want to waste it."
Jesse looked as if he was holding his breath, his eyes wide.
"Breathe, Jesse," Steve instructed. "It's nothing too terrible. At least, I hope you don't think it is." He waited till he saw Jesse inhale then blurted it out. "I'minlovewithyou."
"What?" Jesse looked thunderstruck, his face even paler than before, the bandage on his head standing out in stark relief.
"Oh God. I'm sorry," Steve muttered, feeling his face flush hotly. "I thought I hoped Oh, crap, I've screwed it up I'm sorry-"
His apologies were stopped by the simple expedient of Jesse claiming his mouth. When they parted, breathless, Jesse just smiled down at him for a moment. Then he bent forward again and kissed Steve's mouth gently.
"Do you know how long I've been waiting to hear that?" he said softly.
"You mean, you " Steve asked, hoping this wasn't some Morphine induced dream.
"Love you?" Jesse replied. "Yeah, ever since we met, big guy." He kissed Steve's lips again, possessively this time. "Now, hurry up and get better so I can take you home and prove it."
Steve kissed along the line of his lover's jaw and snaked his tongue down the length of his throat as Jesse arched his head back. His fingers traced a circle around a nipple and his lips followed, wetting it and nibbling on it till Jesse moaned in pleasure.
He rubbed around the other with his thumb then pushed himself down his lover's body until he was able to rest between Jesse's legs. The he trailed soft feathery caresses along his lover's thighs and up to the base of his cock.
Jesse jumped as Steve's tongue licked up the length of his penis then back down, whispering a soft caress over his balls. "Don't tease, Steve," he said softly. "I need you."
Steve pushed himself to his knees and took Jesse's cock in his mouth. He suckled on the head then slid his lips down over the shaft, using his tongue to trace and press and lave.
Jesse bucked up beneath him and Steve pressed him down against the bed with one arm across his hips.
When Jesse was thrusting frantically into his mouth. Steve released him, smiling at the groan of disappointment. 'Ssh, I'm still here, sweetheart." He moved up till he was straddling Jesse's hips then reached down and took both their cocks in one large hand.
He began a slowly agonizing stroke up and down then gradually sped up, urged on by Jesse's pushes into his fist and his own overwhelming need for completion. Sweeping his thumb over the head of their cocks on the upstroke, he began to move his hips, matching Jesse thrust for thrust. Finally, the fire began to take over till his movements became fragmented and then Jesse was pulsing his completion over his hand, Steve's seed mingling with it.
Leaning forward, he captured his lover's mouth gently. "I love you," he murmured, as he broke the kiss.
"Love you too," Jesse whispered, pulling him back. "Always."
"Are you okay?" Steve asked hesitantly.
Jesse nodded against his chest. "I feel like I've come home," he replied, his voice filled with love.
"You are home. We both are," Steve said. He moved over to lie behind Jesse and pulled him into his arms, cocooning him in the shelter of his body. "This is home from now on, Jess. Wherever we both are."