Jesse Travis had always been a man with trust issues. His experiences with a father who was more deadbeat than present and a mother who was more superstar doctor than Carol Brady probably had more than a little to do with that. It was something he accepted as part of himself, something he didnt bother analyzing too carefully. Instead, he built a cautiously constructed air of nonchalance around himself and concentrated on making himself the best damn doctor he could be. Turned out, he was pretty good at that. And he didnt miss having friends until he came to Community General Hospital and met Mark Sloan, the talented, genial man who became his mentor.
Others at the hospital welcomed Jesse into their social circle as wellAmanda, the pathologist, a sweet, motherly woman who seemed to look on Jesse as a younger brother and fussed and worried over his eating habits and his workload. The nurses seemed to find him attractive and vied for his attention, and Jesse responded to their advances from time to time, not looking for anything permanent. There was too much chance of getting hurt again. But he did find himself letting his guard down more, trusting people, as he had never dared to before. And he was doing quite well at playing Doctor Jesse Travis, friend to many, lover to none until Marks son, Lieutenant Steve Sloan, was brought into the ER one day, suffering from a concussion after a car chase gone wrong.
Steves father was in surgery at the time, so it fell to Jesse as the director of ER services to check Steve out. As soon as hed seen those blue eyes, chiselled features, and buff muscles, Jesse was head over heels in lust. A week later, after being introduced to Steve more formally at a dinner party at Marks house; and spending most of the evening talking to him, Jesse knew it was more than lust. Did he believe in love at first sight? If loves name was Steve Sloan, damn right he did.
So how the hell did he end up sitting in a gay bar on the outskirts of L.A. hoping to get lucky?
Jesse downed his second scotch of the night and glared balefully into the glass as he thought back over the events that had brought him to Studs, a place he normally wouldnt be seen dead in.
He and Steve had gotten along great the first night they had met, and over the next few months, their friendship had grown. Steve had a tendency to treat Jesse as someone who needed to be looked after, but, considering how little looking after Jesse had experienced in his life to date, he really didnt mind that too much. In fact, it had made him feel good. The only thing that would have made him feel better would have been Steve asking him out. It didnt happen though, and Jesse had resigned himself to the fact that Steve was completely, unbendingly straight. He was disappointed, of course, but then hed rationalized that, if he couldnt have Steve Sloan as a lover, at least he could have him as a best friend. And Steve was a damned terrific best friend to have. He would have kept on settling for that relationship, if not for what hed seen when hed barrelled into the doctors locker room earlier that night.
Steve was in there, with his back to the door, and Jesse skidded to a halt when he realized his friend wasnt alone. He was embracing someone. As they pulled away from each other, Jesse was stunned to see that someone was Jack Stewart.
Jack had been ER director before Jesse but had left to set up his own private practice in Colorado. Jesse had heard a lot about Jack from Mark Sloan, whod praised him as an excellent physician and mentioned in passing that Steve and Jack had been close. Well, Mark had been right, Jesse thought morosely as hed backed out of the room as quietly as possible. They were close, as close as Jesse wanted to be to Steve.
He slammed the glass down on the table and signalled the bartender for another. Steve knew Jesse was bisexual. Jesse had never felt a need to hide his sexual proclivities from someone he liked and trusted as much as he did Steve. He guessed the trust hadnt gone both ways. Obviously Steve hadnt felt comfortable enough to share his own sexuality with his best friend.
Jesse looked up, about to call the bartender over. Unused to drinking neat liquor so quickly, he was beginning to feel a pleasant buzz, and he decided that if he could drink enough, he could turn the buzz into something that might anaesthetize his hurt feelings.
"Let me buy you a drink."
Jesse glanced around and up. Standing just behind him was a tall, dark-haired man with muscles to match Steves. "Have we met?" he asked, making it somewhat unsteadily to his feet.
"Im Jason Ford," the man said easily, extending a hand and smiling broadly.
"Jesse Jesse Travis," Jesse replied, shaking the mans hand.
"There, see? Weve met. Now can I buy you that drink?" Jason sat down at the table and motioned Jesse down.
"Um I guess," Jesse responded as he took his seat again. He took a moment to study his new friend while they waited for the bartender to take their order.
Jason had a handsome face crowned by buzz-cut dark hair. He looked open and friendly, and Jesse threw caution to the wind. Steve didnt want him? Okay, fine. No reason he should spend the night alone, wallowing in misery. Hed have a pleasant evening even if it killed him to do so.
"Damned bartender!" Jason said, an edge of impatience marking his tone. He stood up. "Ill go order at the bar and bring the drinks back here."
Jesse nodded his agreement and watched with mild fascination as Jason walked away. The man is definitely built. Hes no Steve Sloan He cut off that train of thought abruptly. He was going to forget about Steve, even if just for tonight, he decided, and he smiled at Jason when he waved to him from the bar. Within a few minutes, they had their drinks and were getting to know each other.
The loud ringing of the phone startled Mark Sloan from a heavy sleep, and he fumbled for the light switch, finally managing to flick it on and grab the phone as he sat up in bed.
"Yeah?" he said blearily, rubbing a hand over his sleep-heavy eyes. "This is Mark Sloan."
"Mark, its Jesse."
"Jesse? Whats up? I thought you were off duty tonight." Mark sighed. There were times when he thought itd be easier just to sedate Jesse to force him to take some time off. The young man was so enthusiastic about his job, he seemed to work almost around the clock.
"I am," Jesse replied. "Mark, Im sorry. I didnt know who else to call "
"Whats wrong, son?" Mark stood up, already pulling on his pants as he held the phone under his chin. Jesse sounded odd, almost as if he was drunk. If he was, itd be a first. Mark had never seen the young doctor drink more than a couple of beers at a time. "Jesse?" he asked into the silence on the other end of the line.
"Im at a motel on Commercial and Lawrence, the Stopover Motel," Jesse replied eventually.
"I know where it is. Jesse, what the hell is going on? Are you hurt?" Mark grabbed his keys and picked up his medical bag with his other hand.
"Not really I dont think so, anyway. I just I woke up here, and I dont remember coming here, and everythings blurred. My mouths really dry, and I feel like Im bruised, but theres no blood anywhere, I dont think" The words came in a rush now, and Mark interrupted quickly, hearing the gradual descent into panic beginning.
"Just sit tight, Jesse. Im on my way. Ill be there in twenty minutes. You sure you dont need an ambulance?"
"No! No ambulance!" There was a deep indrawn breath, then Jesse went on. "Sorry, sorry. Um, the key on the table says Im in room 15. You should be able to find it without going to the desk. I looked outside, and theres a parking space right in front."
"Ill find you," Mark said reassuringly. "Im leaving right now." He began to put the phone down, then stopped as Jesse spoke again.
"I dont seem to have my clothes."
Mark heard the almost-sob that accompanied the words and cursed under his breath. "I see. Well, Ill bring some with me then." He kept his voice matter of fact and continued calmly, "Hang on, son. Ill be there before you know it." He put the phone down in its cradle, grabbed clothing for Jesse and ran for the stairs, his mind racing through all the possibilities that could have placed his surrogate son in such a predicament.
Mark found the motel unit easily enough and pulled into the space in front. Grabbing his medical bag and the jeans, shirt and sweater hed pulled from his own closet, he made his way quickly up to the door of the run-down-looking cabin and knocked. Hearing a muffled voice telling him to enter, he opened the door with his free hand and stepped inside.
He thought his training would prepare him for what hed find, but instead, Mark found himself frozen momentarily in shock just inside the doorway. He shook himself, then turned and closed the door behind him and walked hurriedly over to the bed.
Jesse was curled in a ball, his back up hard against the wall behind the double bed. The blankets were held up to his chin by one shaking hand, and the other hand snaked out beneath the edge of the covers, the phone receiver clutched tightly within its grasp, as if tethering the young man to a lifeline. Jesses eyes were clenched tightly shut, but Mark could see the telltale remnants of tears on his cheeks.
"Hey there," he said quietly, sitting down sideways on the bed, and reaching out a tentative hand to grip a thin shoulder comfortingly. "Jesse? Think you can open your eyes for me so I can check you out?"
The blue eyes opened and looked into his, and Mark noticed the dilated pupils immediately.
"Im sorry," Jesse whispered softly, and Mark patted the shoulder beneath his hand.
He bent down and retrieved his bag, pulling out his stethoscope and penlight. "Lets not worry about apologies now, Jess," he said. "Im going to check you over and see whats what, then you can tell me what happened to you."
"I dont remember much " Jesse began as Mark placed the bell of the stethoscope on his chest and listened to his heart.
Mark shushed him. "Later. Let me see what weve got here first."
Jesses pulse rate was a little slow, but it was steady, and there were no disturbing noises from his lungs. His pupils responded sluggishly to the light, and his blood pressure was low. All of which, Mark knew, added to the memory loss, presented a pretty clear picture of some sort of drugging. Hed have to get blood tests to be sure, but Mark hadnt been a doctor as long as he had and not learned anything about drugs. Besides, Steve had mentioned something about a series of date-rape cases he was working on solving, and Mark knew Jesse too well to think hed deliberately take any sort of recreational drug.
He pulled the young man carefully up in the bed and propped him against the pillows. "Jesse, listen to me. I think youve been drugged with something like Rohypnol or some other kind of benzodiazepine." He put up a hand as Jesse started to speak. "We need to get you to the hospital and have blood tests run"
"No way!" Jesse pulled himself from Marks restraining hand and lunged toward the edge of the bed. Obviously forgetting his lack of clothing, he stopped in shock as the blanket fell away and revealed his nakedness. "Oh God," he moaned, gathering the cover around him once more and sinking to sit on the side of the bed. He looked up at his mentor, his eyes wide with anguish. "You think I was raped, dont you?" he murmured, the horror evident in his voice. "I wasnt. Id know if I was "
"Lets wait until we get you examined properly. Jesse, listen, well get Amanda to do the blood-work, and Ill mark the results confidential until Ive had a chance to talk to Steve"
"What?" Jesse was on his feet now, the blanket wrapped protectively around his waist. "You cant tell Steve. I dont want Steve to know "
Mark stood as well and pulled the younger man in for a reassuring hug. Then he pushed him back a little and looked down into his frightened eyes. "Steve is a cop. Hes been working a series of date-rape cases, Jess. This may be connected. You want whoever did this caught, dont you?"
Jesse shook his head stubbornly. "I wasnt raped," he insisted again. "I dont want to report this. If you wont do what I ask, then just leave me the clothes, and Ill find some other way to get home."
"Dont be silly, Jesse," Mark chided. "I am not leaving you here. Youre coming home with me, after we get those tests done. Aah!" he raised a hand in a fatherly warning. "Whether or not you choose to report this to the police, we are getting those blood tests run. Youre a doctor, Jess. You know we need to know what medication were dealing with here. There could be side effects. We need to be prepared for those."
Jesse looked down at the floor and shrugged. He nodded in capitulation. "Okay, the tests, yes. But no police and definitely no Steve!"
Mark wondered a little at the vehemence in those words, but he would take the cooperation where he could get it and try for the rest later. "You need a hand getting dressed?" he asked solicitously.
Jesses cheeks reddened.
"You know, I am a doctor," Mark reminded him with a smile. "You havent got anything I havent seen before."
"Thanks," Jesse whispered, looking up at him at last. "I still feel a little dizzy."
Between them, they got him dressed, then Mark helped him out to the car and drove up to the small office just inside the gates. He went inside prepared to pay the room bill and to ask if the manager had seen whom Jesse had arrived with.
A fat, balding man wandered sleepily from a back room, scratching idly at his chest as Mark rang the bell. "Yeah?" he asked in a surly tone.
"I just picked a friend of mine up from Room 15. Hes out there in my car. I dont suppose you know who paid for that room tonight, do you?" Mark kept his tone casual and friendly.
The man walked around the desk and over to the window, peering at Jesse through the glass. "Wasnt him," he said, turning back to the desk again. "Some tall guy, looked like a Marine or something. You know the type. Buzz-cut and muscles." He turned back to his room again, stopping impatiently as Mark spoke again.
"Do you have a register? Could you check and see what name he signed in under? Please, its very important."
The man sighed heavily and pulled a book out from under the desk. He glanced at the first page. "He paid cash. Signed in as John Doe."
"And you didnt query that?" Mark was stunned.
The manager leaned across the counter and leered at Mark. "Look, mister, this aint the Ritz, you know. Long as they pay their money, I dont care what the hell the queers call themselves, all right? Sides, for all I know, maybe his name really is John Doe." He waited a heartbeat, then slammed his fist down on the counter. "You mind? Its the middle of the night, and Im going back to bed. You can see yourself out."
Mark shook his head in frustration and headed back out to the car. Somehow, hed find a way to talk Jesse into speaking to Steve about what had happened.
Climbing into the drivers seat, he glanced across at his patient and found him asleep. His skin felt cool to Marks exploratory hand, and he turned the heater on and directed the vents towards Jesse. Then he pulled the car out of the parking area and onto the street.
Jesse flinched as Amanda jabbed his arm with the needle and withdrew 20ccs of blood for testing.
"Sorry," she murmured as she swabbed the puncture wound and placed a cotton ball and tape over it.
"Thats okay," Jesse muttered, his voice a monotone. He looked over to the door of the cubicle as Mark entered.
"Im gonna go run these tests," Amanda said. She bent forward and embraced Jesse quickly. "Hang in there, Jesse."
Jesse nodded, swallowing convulsively as he watched her leave. He tried to calm himself. He knew what happened next. Youre a doctor, for Gods sake, he shouted inwardly. Youve done this same examination for plenty of ER patients. Just relax already.
But he couldnt, no matter how hard he tried, and by the time it was over, as gentle and impersonal as Mark had tried to be, Jesses eyes were filled with tears.
He swiped at them angrily with the heel of his hand. "Well?" he asked, looking anywhere but at his mentor.
"Jesse, youve got a lot of bruising around your genitals, but you werent penetrated. Theres no sign of semen in your rectum, though Ive taken swabs, just to be sure. Theres no bruising or tearing there either." Mark spoke gently, and he reached out a hand and rubbed it soothingly over Jesses tense shoulder.
Jesse pushed himself up to a sit on the edge of the gurney, wincing a little as his abused scrotum scraped against the sheets. "So, I wasnt raped," he said assuredly, even while his mind cringed at what else could have been done to him short of penetration.
"This is still rape, Jess," Mark replied. "Even without the blood tests, Im positive that you were drugged and abducted, taken to that motel against your will and sexually assaulted. In anyones language, thats rape."
Jesse was shaking his head. "I wasnt raped. How do you know I just didnt have too much to drink and go with someone willingly and let them do this to me?" He looked into Marks eyes pleadingly, his mind unable to decide what would be worseletting Mark think hed go with some stranger and have sex with him like some twenty-buck hooker or that hed been drugged and raped.
"Because I know you, Jess," Mark responded gently.
Jesse dropped his chin to his chest and tried to hold back the tears of anguish. Within moments, Mark's arms were around him, and he found himself being rocked in the older mans arms like a child. "Let it out, Jess," Mark murmured.
So he did. Eventually the sobs receded to gasping, hiccupping breaths, and he felt himself pushed down to rest against the pillows again.
"I wish youd let me call Steve."
"No!" Jesse tried to push himself up again, and found himself restrained by the older doctors wiry strength.
"Okay," he heard Mark agree. "Im gonna get those test results from Amanda and see if its safe to give you something to help you relax and ease some of the pain you must be in right now."
Jesse nodded jerkily as he turned onto his side away from Marks searching gaze. He pulled his knees up around his aching groin and tried to escape into sleep.
There was a hand on his shoulder, and he fought to free himself of it, heaving forward and then back, feeling his head thump satisfyingly into the broad chest behind him. He rolled and arched, making it finally to his knees, feeling the bed shaking under him with the violence of his struggle. He felt himself pulled upright to land on his haunches, but two strong arms now wrapped tightly around his waist, holding him in place. Panic drove his heart wild, and he turned his head and managed to nip at one muscled forearm, hearing a quiet curse as the man released his grip. Then Jesse was flailing to the edge of the bed, fear making him blind and deaf as he scuttled sideways and off the edge. His head hit the floor hard, and he yelped with pain and tried to shake the impinging greyness from his sight.
Arms came around him again, and he began to twist within them. There was a voice at his ear, and then he was being rocked soothingly and rhythmically, and his heart stopped thundering in his ears long enough for him to recognize the gentle tones.
"Jesse, ssh, its only me. Its Steve, Its okay. Easy, easy. Relax, Ive got you. Youre safe."
A sob broke free from between Jesses tightly clenched teeth, and he felt himself go limp. Then he was turned so his head rested against Steves shoulder, Steves big hand cupping his head as he cried until there were no tears left.
"You werent supposed to know," he muttered against Steves chest. "Mark promised. You werent supposed to know "
"What wasnt I supposed to know, Jess? What the hell happened to you?" Steves voice was worried now, and Jesse pulled his head back to look up into his face. The blue eyes looked into his, something like fear in their depths.
"Mark didnt call you?"
Steve shook his head. "I came in with a robbery suspect who got cut falling through a window, trying to escape. I saw your file on the desk and asked Amanda why you were here. She wouldnt tell me anything, so I came looking for you. Jess, lets get you back up on the bed. Then you can tell me what happened, all right?"
Jesse allowed himself to be lifted up off the floor and helped onto the bed. He touched the swelling knot on his forehead gingerly. He was going to have one hell of a bruise, he thought ruefully. Just one more to add to the others.
Steve leaned forward, resting his hands either side of Jesses legs and looked him over carefully. He touched Jesses head tenderly, wincing. "Thats gotta hurt," he rumbled. "Want me to get Dad to come check you out? You might have a concussion."
Jesse shook his head, causing his headache to flare to life once more. "I was just stunned, not knocked out. You cant get a concussion if youre not knocked out."
"Youre the doctor," Steve replied, smiling at him. "So, you gonna tell me why youre in here and why you went into hysterics when I touched you?"
"I wasnt hysterical," Jesse said, his face flushing hot with shame as he remembered screaming and fighting to get away from his friend.
"Okay, but you were scared. Come on, Jess, youre my best friend. Talk to me."
"Why dont you go talk to Jack Stewart? You seem to be better friends with him than with me," Jesse said, trying desperately for casual but knowing it came out as snide.
"Jack?" Steve straightened up and frowned down at Jesse, his brows knitted together. "Jacks an old friend. He left today to go back to Colorado. I thought you liked Jack."
"I did I do," Jesse stuttered. "I just I thought maybe you were more than friends, thats all."
"Why would you think Oh man, Jess, did you see us in the locker room? Jack said he heard someone, but when we turned around, there was no one there. It was you, wasnt it?"
Jesse swallowed hard and nodded. "I just wish youd told me. I trusted you enough to tell you that I that Im bi."
Steve shook his head, then leaned forward again, resting his hands back down on the bed. "Jesse," he said quietly. "Does this have anything to do with what happened to you tonight?"
Jesse shook his head, then nodded slowly. "Sort of."
"All right. Lets do it this way. Ill tell you some stuff, then you can tell me some. Okay?" Steve asked, an edge of exasperation apparent in his voice.
"Maybe," Jesse allowed.
"Fine. Ill start. Jack Stewart is a friend" Steve raised a hand as Jesse started to interrupt. "A good friend. We were also lovers once, a long time ago"
Jesse jerked his head up, his eyes boring into Steves. "I knew it," he said tersely. "Thats what I mean, Steve. I told you that stuff about me, and you didnt trust me enough to"
"Will you just shut up for a minute and let me finish?" Steve said firmly. He lifted one hand and rested it on Jesses shoulder as if to hold him in place. "Listen. Then you can talk," he added. "Okay, where was I? Oh right. Jack and I were lovers once. Once, Jess. You understand. I mean, once as in one time." Steve spoke slowly, using his patient, Im-explaining-to-an-idiot tone, a tone Jesse had heard before when hed wanted to help Steve out on a case, and Steve was telling him why it wouldnt happen. "We werent suited for anything but a one-night stand, and then he left and that was the end of it."
"Then why?" Jesse jumped in, wanting it all explained now, partly because he really wanted to know, partly because the longer he kept Steve answering his questions, the longer it would be before he had to answer Steves.
"Jack got some bad news yesterday. His best friend in Colorado was killed in an accident. Thats why he was leaving early and thats why," Jesse felt his shoulder shaken gently, "I was hugging him when you saw us. Jack was pretty upset."
"Im sorry," Jesse said softly, looking down at his feet. "I guess I jumped to the wrong conclusion." He looked back up at Steve. "That still doesnt explain why you never told me you were into guys, though. I mean, you had the perfect opening when I told you."
Steve sighed. "I know. I guess I should have said something then. But, Jess, Ive never been good at admitting my sexuality to anyone. Youve gotta remember, you and I, were from different eras. And, theres the job I do. Gay cops arent exactly welcome on the force. Not that I think you would have told anyone. I guess Ive just been in the closet so long, Id forgotten it was the nineties, and it wasnt as big a deal anymore. Im sorry." Steve fixed Jesse with a look that was trying hard to be intimidating. "Okay, your turn. Spill."
"I went to this bar, Studs"
"Jesus, Jesse, do you know what sort of place that is?"
Jesse flinched back at the anger in Steves voice, pulling away from the hand on his shoulder. He could feel his heart beginning its frantic thumping again, and he fought down the panic he could feel waiting just beneath the surface.
"Hey, hey, Im sorry." Steve sounded contrite, pulling Jesse forward into a brief embrace. "Go on. I wont shout at you again. I promise. Go on, Jess."
Jesse pulled free of Steves arms. He sat up straighter, his spine rigid, and kept his gaze firmly fixed on the tiled floor. "This guy came up to my table and asked if he could buy me a drink. Id already had a couple, so I was probably feeling a little more trusting that I might normally have been, and he seemed like a nice guy, so I said yes. We had the drink and " Jesse looked up into Steves concerned eyes. "I dont remember anything else. I woke up in a motel with no clothes on. I was sore, and I didnt know if So then I called Mark, and he came and got me. He thinks the guy drugged me with Rohypnol or something and-"
"Oh God, Jesse, you were raped?" Steve sounded horrified, and Jesse spoke up quickly, wanting to reassure him. "No! I wasnt! Mark said there was no sign of of penetration. Im just a little bruised around my you know " He felt his eyes flicking inadvertently down to where the gown covered his bruised manhood.
"Jesse, thats still rape," Steve said, horror still lacing his words. "Ive been working this case. There might be some connection. Would you recognize the guy again? Maybe remember enough to do a sketch with a police artist?"
Jesse shook his head firmly. "I told you. I dont remember anything after he gave me the drink."
"Will you at least try?" Steve asked him beseechingly. "Jess, youre usually the first person who would want to stop this creep. Why not now, after what hes done to you?"
Jesse dropped his chin to his chest, unable to look Steve in the eyes. "I didnt want you to know how I felt, why I went to that place," he whispered brokenly. "I knew you didnt feel that way about me."
Two fingers pushed his chin up, and Steve bent forward and kissed him chastely on the mouth. "Oh Jesse. I never said anything because, even after I knew you were bi, I never figured youd been interested in an old guy like me."
Jesses eyes shone with new tears. "You mean you"
"Jesse, Ive been in love with you from the day I met you, but Im twelve years older than you."
"I dont care about that," Jesse said. "Steve, Ive always loved you, always wanted you. I wish Id known how you felt before. Im just worried I mean, if I had that sort of reaction when you touched me before, maybe I wont be able to "
"Jess, you were asleep when I came in. I startled you, threw you headfirst into a flashback, thats all." Steve sounded sure, and Jesse wanted desperately to believe him.
"But sometimes, after something like this happens, people find they cant make love again, at least not for a long time," he felt compelled to warn.
"Then well start from the very beginning, babe. Well go to counselling, whatever you need. And Ill be there for you every step of the way," Steve replied strongly. He touched Jesses mouth, tracing his thumb lightly around it, then kissed him again, more passionately this time. "Will you talk to the artist for me, look through some mug-shots? I want this guy off the streets, Jess."
"Okay. Ill do it for you," Jesse agreed.
Steve shook his head. "For you, Jess. And for us."
"Jesse, I just got the blood tests back"
Steve pulled away from Jesse and straightened as he heard his fathers voice behind him. Then, almost casually, he bent down again and placed a fleeting kiss next to the bruise on Jesses forehead. "You might want to check Jesses head out, Dad," he suggested evenly. "He fell out of bed."
"What?" Mark walked over and examined Jesses face carefully. "Are you okay, Jess?" he asked.
"Not quite yet," Jesse said quietly. He smiled up at the man he loved, and Steve smiled back, love evident in his eyes. "But I think I will be."
Mark looked over at his son speculatively. "Yes, I think you will be too," he agreed, a satisfied smile lighting his face.