TARGET

By: Annie

EMAIL: Annie

 

"You know, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were trying to seduce me," Jesse said, as he forked a portion of his delicious food into his mouth.

"What? You don’t think I’d be a good seducer?" Steve asked, with a mock pout.

"Steve, babe, you’re a fantastic seducer. But you never have to do much to seduce me," Jesse replied. "I’m easy when it comes to you, big guy, you know that." He indicated the luscious food and the champagne spread before them on the restaurant table. "So what’s this really all about?"

Steve’s face flushed and he picked up his wineglass and took a sip before he answered. "What if I said I just wanted to spend some quality time with the person I love the most?"

"We could have done that at home," Jesse said, quirking his lips in a lascivious grin. "Not that I’m complaining, mind you. This is nice."

Steve huffed out a sigh then smiled at his lover. "I wanted tonight to be special, that’s all. It’s been a year since we started seeing each other and I wanted to ask you something important."

Jesse smiled back at him. "So ask away, Steve. When have I ever said no to you?"

"Well, there was that time I asked you not to check out that patient that you thought was a hired killer posing as a patient-"

"Hey, he *was* a hired killer posing as a patient," Jesse reminded the detective.

"Yeah, okay," Steve conceded. "Anyway." He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small velvet covered box. Standing up, he leaned forward across the table, apparently oblivious to the other patrons, and placed a sweet kiss on Jesse’s mouth as he put the box in his hand. "I was just wondering if you’d wear this, so you’ll always know how much I love you."

Jesse opened the small box and took out the silver chain and pendant from inside it. He turned the pendant over and read the inscription –

Jesse

I love you

Steve

and looked up at his lover, tears burning his eyes. "I didn’t get you anything," he whispered.

"Yes, you did," Steve said, grabbing hold of his hand. "You gave yourself to me a year ago. I can never ask for a more special gift than that, Jess."

Jesse smiled gently at the man who had become his reason for being over the past year. "How about we go home and really celebrate?" he suggested as he dropped the chain over his head, feeling the coolness of the silver against his skin.

Steve stood and dropped some money on the table to cover the check and the tip. "You’re preaching to the choir, sweetheart," he replied. "Let’s go."

~oOo~

It was cold and drizzling with rain outside and Steve held Jesse close to his side as they made their way across the parking lot toward the car. They were within a foot of it when Jesse stumbled against him.

"Jess? What’s wrong? You feel sick?" Steve asked as he pulled them both to a halt, looking down at Jesse in concern.

Jesse’s hand went to cover his shoulder and he looked up at Steve in shock as he pulled it away and glanced dazedly at the blood that covered it.  "I think I’ve been shot,"  he said as he slumped to the ground.

Steve grabbed for him and followed him down, one hand cradling Jesse’s head and lowering it to rest on the concrete gently. He pulled Jesse’s coat open and saw a small wound high in his shoulder. Blood was pouring steadily from it and Steve swore as he pulled off his sweater and balled it up, wadding it against the wound in an effort to stop the bleeding.

Looking around, he went almost automatically into cop mode and reached for his cell phone and dialed for an ambulance and requested police assistance. Then he put the phone on the ground and drew his gun. He looked searchingly around the parking lot, but it was dim despite the lights scattered around and he couldn’t see anyone in the vicinity.

Jesse moaned in pain and Steve snapped back from his professional persona and bent toward his lover protectively.

"I know it hurts. You’ll be okay, Jess. Just stay still. Help’s on the way."

He pressed down more firmly on the now blood-soaked material in his hands, wincing as Jesse tried to writhe away from him, his hands fruitlessly trying to push Steve’s away from his chest.

"Stop it," Jesse said, his voice sounding weak and filled with pain. "You’re hurting me."

"I know, I know," Steve murmured, using his other hand to hold Jesse still even as his heart ached at the added pain he knew he had to be causing him. "I need to stop the bleeding, Jess. Hey!" He shook Jesse’s uninjured shoulder very gently and waited till Jesse focused on his face. "You’re the doc, right? You know I have to do this, honey. Just stay with me."

Jesse nodded weakly, his eyes wide with pain and fear.

Steve could hear the sirens approaching them now. "Help’s here, Jess. You’re going to be okay." He looked up to see an ambulance and two police cars pull into the parking lot, lights flashing and sirens wailing. He bent forward quickly and brushed a caress over Jesse’s dry mouth. "I love you, Jess. You just hang on for me."

He stepped back as the paramedics crowded him out. A hand grabbed his arm and he turned around to find Tanis standing behind him, looking shocked.

"Steve? Are you okay? What happened?"

Steve pulled his arm free of her grasp, wanting only to keep his attention on Jesse. He answered her curtly as he watched the medics place a pressure bandage over the wound in Jesse’s shoulder, an oxygen mask on his face and an IV in his arm. "Jesse got shot. And before you ask, no, I didn’t see or hear anything. One minute we were walking out of the restaurant to the car, the next minute he was falling and when I checked him out he was… there was… a bullet wound in his shoulder." Steve shuddered. "The shooter must have used a silencer because neither of us heard a thing."

"We’re ready to transport. Do you want to ride with us, Detective?"

Steve nodded at the paramedic. He recognized the man. He’d seen him around the hospital when he’d called into to see Jesse or his dad.

"Thanks, Tony. I’m right behind you." He turned quickly to Tanis. "I know I should probably stay at the scene but I need to be with Jess." He could only hope she understood.

"Go," Tanis said, pulling him in for a quick hug. "I’ll take care of things here. Call me as soon as you have any news, though, you got that?"

Steve nodded as he took off behind the gurney.

He climbed up into the ambulance and sat down on the small jumpseat near the head of the stretcher. He was close enough to Jesse to touch him but out of the paramedic’s way.

He focused his attention on his lover’s pale face. Jesse’s eyes were closed now and Steve looked up worriedly at Tony Martinez.

"He passed out just as we got him in here, Steve," Martinez said as he continued to monitor Jesse’s condition. He gave Steve a look filled with sympathy. "I think he’s going to be okay. He’s lost a lot of blood and the bullet will need to come out but his vitals are steady. His BP’s a little low but that’s to be expected considering how much blood he lost. We’ve got him stabilized and they’ll get him straight into surgery at Community."

"Thanks," Steve husked out, barely able to speak past the lump in his throat that felt like it was choking him. "Is it okay if I…?" he reached a hand toward Jesse’s head.

Tony nodded. "Sure, Steve."

Steve swiped a hand across his suddenly burning eyes then leaned forward and placed a shaking hand on Jesse’s forehead. "Hang in there, Jess," he whispered, uncaring of the close proximity of the medic, wanting only to reassure his lover of his presence. "I’m right here."

~oOo~

Steve jumped, his contemplation of the floor tiles of the ER waiting room broken by the descent of a warm hand upon his shoulder. He looked up. "Dad? Jesse, is he-"

"They've taken him to the OR, Steve," Mark said, sinking wearily down into the seat next to his son. He gaze took in Steve's bloodstained hands and the dejected slump of his shoulders. "He lost a lot of blood but he'll make it, son. Jesse's tough, you know that."

Steve nodded. "I know. I just… When I saw all that blood. Dad, I don't understand how I let it happen-"

"Whoa! You just stop right there, son. You feeling guilty isn't going to change what's happened and there's no way you could have known it was going to."

Mark reached into his coat pocket and pulled something out. Reaching out, he opened Steve's hand and dropped the silver pendant and chain into it.

Steve fingered it, turning it over to read the inscription he'd had etched there only days before. Now, the letters were tinged with red, with Jesse's blood and he closed his fist around it, feeling the edges bite into his palm. He looked up into his father's kind eyes as Mark placed a hand over his own.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Mark asked, no recrimination in his voice, just simple curiosity.

"About Jess and me?" Steve shrugged. "I would have eventually, I think. I wasn't sure how you'd take it. After what happened with Carol-"

"That was completely different, Steve. He was wrong for her and I didn't trust him as far as I could throw him and as it turned out I was right." Mark rubbed Steve's shoulder encouragingly. "Did you really think I'd mind that much?"

"I guess so. I don't know. Jesse thought you'd guessed." He smiled wanly across at Mark.

"Maybe I did suspect…" Mark mused, then shook his head. "No, I didn't. If I had, I'd like to think I would have come straight out and told you both I was happy for you."

Steve's eyes widened. "You are? I mean, I've never been into guys before, until Jesse."

"Jesse's bisexual though. He told me that when I hired him. Asked if it would make a difference to him getting the job. I said no, of course. He's a brilliant young doctor and I've grown to love him like a son so I guess now, he really is one, in a sense."

Steve leaned across and pulled his father into a hug. "Thank you," he whispered before letting go.

"You should go get cleaned up before they bring Jess back down to a room. He'll go all mother hen if he sees you with blood all over you. Probably think it's yours," Mark said. "Use the shower in my office."

Steve nodded and stood up. "Can you call Tanis for me, Dad? I want to know if they picked up anything at the scene. I also want to set up a protection detail for Jesse, till we know who did this. I'll take most of the shift but I'll need a couple of uniforms to relieve me. Another thing. Can you get someone to look through Jesse's patients' files for me? See if there's anyone who might have a reason to do this?"

"Will do, son. You know, they might not have been after Jesse. As a cop you're the more likely target, aren't you? Shouldn't you have protection rather than doing the protecting?"

"Maybe. Even if I am the one the shooter wanted, I'm still going to be the one protecting Jesse," Steve replied fervently. "Dad, thanks for understanding about us," he added.

"You're welcome." Mark smiled. "Go. Jesse should be out of surgery and recovery in an hour at the most."

Part 5

Steve felt as time had slowed to a crawl while he sat beside Jesse's bed and waited for him come around from the anesthetic.

Jesse's face was impossibly white and there was a blood transfusion running through an IV into the crook of his elbow. Steve could see the heavy dressing covering the wound in his shoulder through the thin cotton of the gown they'd put on him. He looked cold and Steve stood and opened the door of the closet and pulled out a blanket, which he draped over Jesse's body.

"He's going to be fine, you know."

Steve glanced around to see his father leaning against the doorjamb, watching him with an affectionate smile on his face.

He nodded. "Yeah. I know. He looked cold. Is it okay that I…" he motioned to the blanket.

"Fine," Mark replied, crossing the room to stand next to Steve. He brushed a hand across Jesse's forehead. "He looks so young lying here like this. I don't think I've ever seen him so still. He's usually a match for the Energizer Bunny."

"Yeah, I'm always telling him he's got to remember I'm an old man and he's gonna wear me out if he doesn't slow down a little." Steve stopped suddenly, a blush shading his face all the way to the tips of his ears. He grinned ruefully as Mark laughed out loud and slapped him gently on the shoulder.

"I haven't seen you blush like that since you were seventeen and found out you'd taken the wrong Miller twin to the prom," Mark said.

"Hey, they were identical," Steve protested. "How was I supposed to know Janie wanted to steal me out from under Jenny's nose."

"She won't want to try stealing you from under my nose," a weak voice cut in.

"Jesse! Hey, babe, how you feeling?" Steve bent and kissed Jesse's forehead, grinning into the blue eyes gazing blearily into his own.

"Like I got shot," Jesse replied. He touched the bandage hesitantly and looked up Mark anxiously. "It's not too bad, is it, Mark. I've got so much work to do and reports for that drug testing I was doing for Biomed-"

Mark placed a hand over Jesse's mouth and stopped the stream of words before they became a torrent. "You lost a great deal of blood, son, so you're going to need a few more pints of that." He indicated the IV in Jesse's hand. "You'll feel pretty weak and sore for a few days but we'll get you back up to speed in no time. In the meantime, you stop thinking about work and concentrate on recovering. I spoke to Jim Healey at Biomed and they're more than happy to wait for your reports."

"Thanks, Mark." Jesse gave his mentor a grateful smile and closed his eyes. "Steve?" His eyes flew open. "God, I can't believe I didn't ask… Are you okay? You didn't get hit too, did you?" He struggled to push himself up in the bed and Steve sat on the edge and lifted him forward so Jesse was supported against his broad chest.

"I'm fine, Jess. You must have zigged when you should have zagged." He kissed Jesse's hair then pushed him back down to rest on the pillows again.

Mark turned his head at the knock on the door. "Tanis! Come on in."

"Hey Jesse, how are you?" Tanis asked, giving Jesse a peck on the cheek.

"I'm fine," Jesse replied. "Did you find out who shot me?"

"Um, not exactly. Steve, maybe we should discuss this outside, let Jesse get some sleep-"

"You can talk about it here," Jesse interrupted. "I want to know what's going on."

Steve nodded at Tanis. "He has a right to know," he said.

"Okay. We found a shell casing at the scene. It had a print on it. Whoever loaded the gun wasn't smart enough to wear gloves, which I found surprising, considering whose print it turned out to be. Steve, it's Joe Maxwell. I checked with the prison authorities and he was released from prison last week."

"What?" Mark stepped closer to the two detectives. "Surely Steve should have been notified that he was being paroled-"

"Wait a minute," Jesse said urgently from the bed. "Who the hell is Joe Maxwell?"

Steve sighed and sat back down on the bed. He took Jesse's free hand in his and held it tightly. "Joe Maxwell is a drug dealer with big name connections. Five years ago, I went undercover and managed to get inside his organization. I'd picked up information about a shipment that was going out from a warehouse and the Narcotics squad were going to bust it as soon as I gave the signal. I called them in but Sam Maxwell, Joe's son overheard me and knocked me out. When I came to, the place was surrounded by Narcotics and SWAT and Joe Maxwell had a knife at my throat. He said he'd cut me once for every bullet that was fired from a cop's gun." Steve stopped, running a hand through his hair. Even after five years, he hated remembering that night.

"Well, you're here so I guess you got out okay," Jesse said, sounding relieved.

"Yeah. One of the SWAT guys got a bead on Sam Maxwell and shot him. That got Joe's attention long enough for me to get the jump on him and take him down. When Joe realized his son was dead, he swore he'd kill me if he ever got out of prison. Then, while he was inside, he apparently got religion and said he was going straight. Even wrote me a letter, apologizing for the threats, said he knew it wasn't my fault his son was dead."

"He obviously put on a good enough act to fool the parole board," Tanis noted. "Steve, I want you in a safehouse."

"What? No way!" Steve stood up and faced Tanis with determination etched on his face. "I'm staying here where I can keep an eye on Jesse."

"Maxwell's not after Jesse, son," Mark interjected. "I'm sure Tanis will keep a guard posted here as well, just in case, but-"

Steve shook his head. "Then I'll be just as safe here with Jess, won't I?"

"Yeah, and you could lead Maxwell right to Jesse again," Tanis said in a reasonable tone.

"Steve?" Jesse beckoned his lover over to the bed then raised a hand and pulled him into a brief hug. "Do it, please, Steve. I can't bear the thought of anything happening to you. Do it for me. Just till they find Maxwell. It won't take them long, right, Tanis? I mean, he's on parole so he's got to check in with someone."

"We've already sent teams out to question his parole officer, Jess," Tanis replied. "I'll organize for a guard to be outside Jesse's door round the clock. Steve?" She looked at him inquiringly.

Steve was silent for a long moment as he mulled over her words. "Alright," he said at last. "But you make sure you keep him safe, Tanis."

Mark ushered Tanis from the room. "We'll wait out here for you, son," he said as he shut the door behind them.

Steve sat down next to Jesse and pulled him carefully into his arms.

"Be safe, Steve," Jesse whispered.

Steve swallowed down hard. "You too, sweetheart." he kissed Jesse's mouth with tender passion and then stood and walked to the door.

"I love you," Jesse called to him as he opened the door.

"Love you too," Steve replied. He turned in the doorway and gave Jesse a wide reassuring smile then stood aside to let a nurse through into the room. "It'll be fine, Jess. I'll see you soon."

The nurse smiled at Jesse as she took a hypodermic syringe from the tray she'd place on the bedside cupboard. "I've got some Morphine for you. And Doctor Sloan said to tell you - no arguments. You need the pain relief and you need to rest." She turned to Steve and motioned him out with a nod of her head. "Don't you worry, Detective. I'll take care of Doctor Travis."

"Thanks, Nurse…" Steve peered at her nametag. "Nurse Taylor. Don't let him give you any grief. Bye, Jess."

Then he closed the door and went to say goodbye to Mark.

Steve paced the twenty and three quarter steps across the living room of the safe house and back again for what seemed to be the fiftieth time. He crossed the room again, this time travelling diagonally so that his footsteps brought him to the small table where the phone sat. He picked it up and dialled the number from memory.

"Community General Hospital, Admissions desk. How may I connect your call?" chirped the almost unbearably cheerful voice on the other end.

"Hi, this is Lieutenant Steve Sloan. I want to find out how Dr. Travis is," Steve said firmly.

"Oh, hi, Steve, this is Mary Reynolds. You know, it's only been fifteen minutes since you called last time, but just hold on a second and I'll put you through to the floor."

"Thanks, Mary. Sorry to keep bothering you," Steve replied apologetically. 'Not that I really am sorry,' he thought traitorously. If he had to be kept away from Jesse then he, at least, had the right to be kept updated on his condition.

"Fourth floor."

"How's Dr.-" Steve blinked as the phone was pulled from his hand and replaced in the cradle. "What the hell are you doing?" He turned to glare at Tanis who was standing beside him, a determined expression on her face.

"Steve, no more calls out, all right? Every time you make a call, you're increasing the risk of being found." She raised a warning hand as Steve started to object. "Sorry, Steve, this is my security detail and I'm calling the shots. Now park your ass in a chair or on the bed in there and get some rest. You're driving me nuts with all the pacing."

"Sorry," Steve muttered. "I can't sit still for more than a few minutes. And every time I close my eyes I see Jesse on the ground, covered in blood, begging me to stop hurting him while I try to stop him bleeding to death." He scrubbed a hand over his aching eyes and went and sat down on the couch. "Tanis, listen, something's bugging me about this whole thing but I can't put my finger on it. Get me Maxwell's file, will you? At least it'll give me something else to think about besides Jesse. Maybe I'll pick something up we've missed that will lead us to Maxwell."

"Okay," Tanis replied. "Can't hurt to have the best detective in the division working on it, I guess."

She left the room and returned a few moments later with the file. She dropped it onto Steve's lap and gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "I'll just be in the next room if you need anything," she said, smiling at him.

"You can't bring me what I need," Steve replied softly as he opened the file. He looked up at her. "Sorry, Tanis, no offence. I just meant-"

"I know what you meant, Steve." She ruffled her long fingers through his hair and walked over to the door. "We'll get Maxwell soon, Steve, then you and Jess can put this behind you."

Steve nodded his thanks and turned his attention to the papers on his lap.

A half hour later he had only made it quarter way through Maxwell's voluminous file and he was no closer, he didn't think, to recognizing anything that would help them find the shooter.

Exhausted, aching with his need to see and hold his lover, he rested his head back against the sofa cushions and closed his eyes. He thought back to the night the Maxwell bust had gone down, almost feeling again the sharp steely edge of the knife at his throat -

"I won't be any good to you as a hostage if you kill me, Maxwell," Steve ground out, feeling the knife nick his skin.

"Don't you worry, cop. My wife's a nurse. I'll cut you and then she'll patch you up and then I'll cut you again. I'll keep it up till those pig friends of yours give in and back off or until you bleed to death anyway." -

Steve jerked upright in his seat and shot to his feet. He picked up the fallen folder and flipped it open to the photos taken by surveillance operatives at Sam Maxwell's funeral. There was an image of Joe Maxwell accompanied by a sobbing woman, identified by the operatives as his wife, Susanne. Steve felt as if his heart had momentarily stopped, then he was racing for the door to call for Tanis. He was almost at the door to the living room when it flew open and banged against the wall.

"Tanis-"

"Steve, listen. They found Maxwell. He's been dead for over three days. He couldn't have shot Jesse-"

Steve grabbed Tanis by the shoulders and held her in place. "Maxwell's wife was a nurse." He held up the photo he'd found in the files. "I'm positive she was in Jesse's room when I left him."

Tanis spun around, and Steve was right behind her, his mind fixed on only one thing. He saw Tanis pull out her cell phone and registered that she was contacting the hospital. He saw her disconnect the call and then she turned to him over her shoulder as they ran for the car. "Steve, I'm sorry. They just called a code on Jesse. He flatlined."

~oOo~

Steve was out of the car before Tanis had pulled to a complete stop in front of the ER doors. He ran flat out for the stairs, not willing to chance his luck at an elevator being available, and practically flew up the flights of stairs to Jesse's room. Panting for breath, he stormed along the hallway, focused only on reaching his lover His heart beat a tattoo against the skin of his throat as he reached the room and pushed open the door. "Jesse…"

Steve jumped as he felt a firm hand on his shoulder. He turned and looked into his father's warm eyes.

"He gave us quite a scare," Mark said as he ushered Steve over to the chair at Jesse's bedside.

Jesse had an oxygen mask over his face and he looked even paler than the last time Steve had seen him.

Steve turned around as he heard a noise at his back and saw Tanis barreling through the door, two uniformed cops at her back.

"What happened?" she asked.

Steve turned back to the bed and soaked in the sight of Jesse breathing. He placed a gentle hand on his lover's chest and felt the rise and fall of his chest.

Jesse looked as if he was asleep and Mark turned an inquiring gaze on his father. "Is he okay?" he asked.

"I think he will be," Mark replied. "Tanis, the woman you're looking for is being held in my office. It might be a good idea if you get down there now and take her into custody. Matt and Leo, our security guards are keeping an eye on her but I'm sure they'll be very glad to hand her over to you." Mark's eyes glittered with something approaching hatred, Steve thought. "I know I want her out of this hospital and away from Jesse as soon as possible."

"All right," Tanis replied, "but I'm going to need a full statement from you about what happened, Mark, as soon as possible."

Mark nodded. "Of course. Just let me check Jesse over again and I'll meet you down there."

"What happened, Dad?" Steve asked. He reached an arm through the siderails on Jesse's bed and took Jesse's limp hand in his own.

Jesse's skin was cool and Steve rubbed his fingers up and down the skin, soaking in the feeling of having Jesse's hand in his again.

"I was on my way down to check on Jesse," Mark said quietly. "I was only a few feet from the door when an alarm sounded. When I opened the door I saw a nurse leaning over him. At first I thought she was trying to give him CPR but as I reached the bed, I saw she had a pillow over his face. I pulled her away and got her down on the floor. By then, the uniformed officer Tanis had placed on guard outside Jesse's room had come to in the bathroom and called for backup to security. He managed to get her handcuffed while we went to work on Jesse." Mark stopped and Steve could see the anguish in his father's eyes. "He wasn't breathing. And we couldn't get him to start. One of the nurses noticed a syringe on the floor and picked it up. I took a gamble that she'd overdosed him with morphine before she smothered him so I gave him some Narcan. Once the Narcan reversed the effects of the overdose, we were able to get him breathing on his own again."

"He's okay, though, right?" Steve asked.

"I think he will be, son," Mark replied, patting Steve's shoulder. "The main problem is that we don't know how long he was without oxygen before I got him breathing again. Hopefully, it wasn't long enough to cause any permanent effects but…"

"What?" Steve stood and faced his father, shock causing his heart to feel as if it would burst from his chest. "Are you saying Jesse could have brain damage?"

"I'm saying it's possible, son." Mark placed a hand on Steve's shoulder and pushed him back into the chair again. "Talk to him. Tell him it's safe to wake up. Give him a reason to want to wake up. I'll be back soon. I'm going to give Tanis that report and see if I can find out why the hell this happened."

"She was Joe Maxwell's wife," Steve said.

Mark nodded. "Later, Steve. Concentrate on Jesse for now. I've arranged for Amanda to come and check Jesse's vitals every fifteen minutes. I thought you'd be more comfortable with having someone we know doing that, after what's happened."

"Thanks."

Steve turned his attention back to Jesses, his mind suddenly blank. He leaned forward and rested his chin on the railing and simply looked at his lover. "Come back, Jess," he whispered as he heard Mark leave the room.

~oOo~

Steve lowered the bed rail and moved his chair close up against the edge of the bed. Then he took Jesse’s still hand in his and gave it a gentle squeeze to let his lover know he wasn’t alone.

"Dad said I should talk to you, sweetheart. That’s funny, right? Me doing the talking while you’re so quiet." Steve bit down on his lip and forced the overwhelming emotion back. "He said I need to give you a reason to come back but you already know the reason, don’t you – for us, Jess."

Steve stopped speaking and gazed intently at Jesse’s face, wondering if the brief flicker of eyelids he’d seen meant a return to consciousness. Finally, he decided it was a simple nervous impulse and went on.

"You know when we first met, I would never have guessed we’d end up the way we have. I mean I liked you right from that first day but you were my buddy, the best friend I’d ever had and I remember even then thinking what an odd couple we made. The when went into partnership at the restaurant, it was just another side of the friendship, you know. Business partners, best friends."

Jesse’s hand moved within Steve’s and Steve held his breath, watching Jesse’s face for a long moment. The movement stopped and Steve began talking again.

"I’ll always remember when I realized that you weren’t just my best friend anymore. We were at the beach and you’d been out catching waves and you nearly drowned. Remember? And I went in and I got you to shore and I thought I was going to have to do mouth to mouth on you and just as I was about to, you threw up all over me." Steve grinned now at the memory. "And I was just so goddamned pleased you were alive enough to puke on me, I almost grabbed you and kissed you right then and there. And that was when I knew that you were more than my best friend; you were the other half of me, my soulmate. I kept quiet about it until I knew I couldn’t go another day without telling you and when I finally got up the guts to do it, you laughed. I thought you were laughing at me but then you walked over to me and you gave me the best kiss I’d ever had in my life and told me you loved me too."

Steve bent forward and kissed Jesse’s temple then sat back and waited for a response, anything that would let him know Jesse was still there inside this quiet, somnolent body. "Come on, Jess, I love you, babe. I need you. I don’t want to be without you. Don’t leave me alone."

He rubbed his burning eyes then stood and sat on the edge of the bed. Leaning forward, he lifted the oxygen mask and brushed a caress along Jesse’s mouth, then feeling weary to the depths of his soul, he lay down next to his lover, turning them both till he could pull Jesse back against his chest and hold him in his arms. He dropped a kiss on Jesse’s head and ran his fingers through his hair then he rested his chin on Jesse’s shoulder and closed his eyes and let sleep overtake him.

~oOo~

"Move, Steve."

Steve rolled away from his lover, flopping over onto his back. He blinked tiredly up at the white ceiling above and reached a hand over to pick up the alarm clock to check the time.

The sound of shattering glass had him upright in seconds. Glancing about, his surroundings brought clarity to his thoughts and he pushed himself off the bed and stood next to it, his eyes fixed on Jesse.

"Hey, Jesse, you with me? Come on, babe, I know you can hear me. Open your eyes for me, honey." He bent toward his lover and cupped Jesse’s cheek gently.

Jesse’s eyes opened and closed slowly a few times before finally focusing on Steve’s face. "Hey," he said in a husky whisper, reaching one shaky hand up to push away the oxygen mask.

Steve stilled his hand. "No, you don’t. You leave that on till Dad tells you otherwise." He kissed Jesse’s forehead then picked up the call bell and pushed the button. "Jess?" he asked anxiously as Jesse’s eyes closed again.

"’m tired, Steve," Jesse muttered. "Sorry. Can we talk later?"

"Sure thing, babe. Whenever you want."

Steve turned from the bed as he heard the door behind him open. "Jesse’s awake," he told his father, unable to keep the smile from his face. "He woke up and told me to move just like he does at home."

Mark crossed to the bed and pushed the oxygen mask down from Jesse’s face, leaving it resting on his chest. "Jesse, can you open your eyes for me?"

"I’m really tired, Mark," Jesse said, as he reluctantly opened his eyes.

"I know, son, and you can go back to sleep soon. I just need to check you out first," Mark replied, giving Steve a smile across his patient’s head.

"Okay," Jesse murmured. He looked up at Steve and smiled tiredly at him. "I’ve missed you," he whispered.

Steve winked at his father then bent down and claimed Jesse’s mouth in a tender, passionate kiss. "I’ve been with you all along, Jess. Just like you’ve been with me."

~oOo~

"I still don't understand why she killed Joe if it was you she blamed for her son's death," Jesse said.

They were sitting on the beach, watching the sun go down on what had been a perfect day.

Steve tucked the blanket more closely around Jesse's shoulders and pulled him into his side, keeping an arm wrapped protectively around him. Jesse had been out of the hospital for a few days but he was still weak and prone to feeling cold. "She didn't just blame me," he explained. "She blamed Joe for dragging Sam into the drug business. So she killed Joe then planted his fingerprint on the bullet she shot you with. She'd been working at Community General for months, using an assumed name and forged records, waiting for the right time to target you. She saw how close we were and decided that the best way to hurt me would be to take away someone I loved, just like she thought I'd done to her."

"I can't help feeling sorry for her," Jesse said quietly.

"I can. I'm sorry she lost her son but he was an adult and the drugs he and his father were selling had the potential to kill hundreds of people. And I can't forgive her for almost taking you away from me," Steve said, his voice steely.

"Hey," Jesse gave Steve's arm a reassuring pat. "It's over. I'm still here."

"Yeah, I know. Oh, I almost forgot." Steve grinned and kissed Jesse's cheek. "Close your eyes." He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the pendant and chain he'd given to Jesse the night of the shooting. He'd had it cleaned and now he dropped it over Jesse's head, punctuating the action with a kiss to each of Jesse's closed eyelids.

"Open your eyes, Jess," Steve said softly. "Will you wear this for me?"

Jesse picked up the pendant and turned it in his hands, reading the inscription again. He looked up at Steve, love evident in his eyes.

"Always, Steve."

The End

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