A/N- I wanna thank all the annonymous(go figure) reviewers who flamed the previous part, for without you, this little tale of pain might not have came into exsistence.
"Alright kid, time's up."
The phone was taken out of Jesse's hand and dropped back onto the receiver. Jesse winced as the resounding click seemed to represent his cutoff to the outside world. Despair welled up in the pit of his stomach until he was sure it was noticeable from the outside.
"Come on, let's go."
The guard grabbed Jesse's bicep and propelled him forward. Jesse winced before he could hide it and immediately looked to the polished tile floor, not eager to let anyone notice his weakness. All his anger seemed to have dissipated with the termination of the phone call and now Jesse was all alone in the cold and sterile walls of the prison. He never felt more alone in his life.
There were well-planned, practical jokes, and then there were really stupid things people did because at the moment, it seemed funny. This was definitely one of the latter.
Jesse found out that Steve was the one who had written a 'this-is-a-hold-up' note on the back of Jesse's deposit slip. That, Jesse thought, was clever.
Admittedly, it had even been somewhat funny while Jesse was riding somewhat comfortably in the backseat of a police cruiser with his hands merely cuffed together behind his back. But that had been an hour ago, and a few things had happened to Jesse since then that made him revaluate how funny this scenario really was. For instance, he had been thoroughly searched for weapons or narcotics or whatever else cops searched people for, then he had been fingerprinted and photographed and pushed through a humiliating process that in the end, left him branded as a criminal. Permanently.
Was this part of the prank too? Where was the detective now, and how much further was he going to let Jesse suffer? Surely Steve stuck around long enough to see him be arrested and led away in handcuffs. Why didn't Steve stop them? This could really be screwing with the Jesse's future. What if the head of directors at Community General got wind of this? He'd be out of a job, at the least.
Suddenly Jesse had found himself so far beyond angry, 'enraged' only began to cover what he was feeling boiling in his blood.
The guard ordered for the main cell gate to open and seconds later, the floor-to-ceiling panel of heavy metal bars slid across the floor, allowing them access to another hallway. Jesse was pushed forward and steered down the hall without any verbal guidance. The guard's shoes tapped loudly on the floor as they walked, echoing the loneliness in Jesse's heart. He pulled against the metal handcuffs and sighed when he found that he still had not gained superhuman strength.
Finally, they stopped before a twenty by thirty foot cell and faced the prisoners that already called it their home. Jesse swallowed as he eyed his soon-to-be cellmates. Or maybe they eyed him.
"Hey Quinn, hold up a minute."
Jesse and his captor turned to watch another officer jog down the hall and come to a stop a few feet away. The guard behind Jesse stepped forward.
"What is it Mathews?"
"I just got off the phone with Sloan, he says to go easy on this guy. Something about a prank?" Mathews looked from Quinn to Jesse with a shrug and raised his eyebrows.
Quinn barking laughter cut through the quiet. "Well tell Sloan that if he wants this guy to 'have it easy', then he should come down here and see to it himself, on his own time. I'm going to treat this punk the way I'm getting paid to."
Mathews looked to Jesse with a look that conveyed hope and apologies. Then he turned back to Quinn and nodded curtly. "Sir." He excused himself with a final look at Jesse before retreating down the sterile hall.
The observation that Mathews seemed to be afraid of Quinn worried Jesse almost as much as the future he was about to face.
"Think you're gonna be placed on a pedestal because you happen to pal around with a detective?" Quinn's hot breath was in Jesse's ear. "I got news for you, kid. You're nobody."
A hard shove thrust Jesse across the cell's threshold and the bars clanged shut as he fought for his balance. By the time he turned around, Quinn had an evil grin in place and no small amount of arrogance in his stance.
"Have fun, boy."
Jesse took a step forward as Quinn turned on his heel and left. "Wait!" he called, his voice echoing sharply through the near-silent holding cells. The emptiness that boomeranged back doused his last remaining flame of hope. He was truly alone.
"Somethin' wrong, sweetheart?"
"Did you say you were a friend of Sloan?" A second voice spoke up.
There was a cruel chuckle, then, "Me and Sloan go way back."
The three men behind him grew in confidence, like a chuckling pack of hyenas about to tear into a carcass. Jesse's eyes fell shut against the rough voices behind him and his forehead fell forward, thudding painfully against the cold steel bars. He was the carcass, and he had nowhere to run.
Suddenly the voice was right in his ear. "In fact, Sloan owes me."
"Yeah, it's Steve Sloan. Listen, you've got a Jesse Travis in custody down there, and I need you to take it easy on him. We had this prank going, you know, and I'm just trying to scare him. Just stick him in an interrogation room- alone, and I'll be there in a little while."
Mark glanced at his son as they got in the car. After some pressuring, the doctor had convinced the detective to call the station and give them the 'heads up' about the situation, for Jesse's sake. A situation that Mark feared may have gotten a little too carried away.
The fun and games had started out innocently enough, with Jesse playing out numerous pranks from a book he had gotten as a gift. Mark had agreed to turn a blind eye when Jesse snuck powdered milk into Steve's bed. The gag had been harmless enough and proved to liven things up for a bit, and Mark enjoyed seeing his son, the hardened detective, get riled over something as silly as waking up to smelly bed linens. Steve had sought revenge by coming to the hospital with the intention of setting Jesse up to fail a random drug test, only to have the joke turned on him when Jesse drank a cup full of what Steve though was Jesse's own urine. The liquid had only been apple juice but the score had remained unsettled between the two men.
That is, until this morning.
Caught up in a testosterone driven competition borne of frustration, Steve set up Jesse to take the fall for an attempted bank robbery. The severity of the prank shocked Mark, and now he and his son were on the way to bail out the young doctor and assure him that it was all a set up. If Mark knew Jesse, which he did, the younger doctor would be driving himself towards a panic attack. Jesse was as far from your typical inmate as one person could possibly be, and his persistent sense of humor most likely would not win him favoritism from the policemen.
Steve snapped the cell phone shut as Mark drove towards the police station. "Well, everyone there is aware of what's going on. Nothing will happen to him." Steve glanced at his father. "It's not my fault, you know."
"It's not?" Mark questioned and tried not to sound too unbelieving.
"No dad, it's not. Jess started it. He knew what he was getting into."
"He knew you would send him to jail?"
"He should realize it's a prank! I'm sure someone told him by now that I'm the one who set him up. You should be worried about me, and what he'll do to me when he gets out. Besides, the guys do this kinda stuff all the time. It's all harmless. "
Mark looked doubtfully at his son. "Sounds like you boys have too much time on your hands."
"Well that's not all we do."
Mark chuckled at his son's indignant reply. "Well I'll still feel better once we get Jesse out of there. He's probably scaring himself to death. If he's not to busy cooking up a revenge."
Jesse heard more than felt his skull crack against the steel bars. His vision darkened and his ears rang as pain blossomed in his brain, then he slid to the floor numbly. His lips were parted and a whimper slipped out before he could stop it.
"Yer not such hot shit anymore, huh pretty boy?"
The laughing, deep voice was accompanied by a solid kick to Jesse's belly, driving the air from his lungs.
"That's all he is, Billy!"
The blows ceased for a minute and Jesse tried to replace the oxygen in his body. He lay panting on the cold concrete floor, resting heavily against the bars where he had fallen. A warm, tickling sensation was making it's way down his temple and Jesse knew that he was bleeding. As the ringing in his ears faded, the darkness in his vision evaporated and the harshness of the overhead lights assaulted Jesse's vision once more. His brain was knocking impatiently against his skull, much like an angry neighbor demanding that the music be turned down. Jesse wished he could oblige.
A hand reached for Jesse's throat and he flinched, but instead of grabbing his neck, the man grabbed his shirt collar and dragged Jesse to his feet. "Had enough yet, boy?"
Jesse licked his dry, cracked lips and tried to ignore the taste of blood. It was getting hard to stay awake and he couldn't think of an answer that wouldn't get him in more trouble.
The blurry face of the inmate holding him bent closer and Jesse was shoved back against the bars and held there, pinned helplessly like a small animal. "You ever been in jail before, kid?" Jesse couldn't tell if it was the man's cold voice or the cold steel bars against his back that sent shivers down his spine.
Jesse shook his head and regretted it, for if it weren't for the hand holding him up, would've tilted to the side.
The man laughed and looked over his shoulder with pride. "Well, how do you like it so far?"
The hand fell away and Jesse doubled over, trying to ease the throbbing in his midsection where he had taken many solid kicks. He breathed deeply and stifled a cough, merely shaking his head in an answer. Where were the guards? Where was Steve?
The hand returned on the nape of Jesse's neck and propelled him forward, into the center of the cell. "No? That's too bad, we like you just fine."
Before Jesse could stand upright, something hard crashed down on the small of his back, dropping him to his hands and knees. Another hard kick to his abdomen fell him completely and Jesse drew his knees up in reflex and self protection. Was this the point where he was groped, or worse?
A new pain flared in his fingers and Jesse realized his hand was being stood on. He rolled into the pain but it did not stop.
"Beg for me, boy," the deep voice above him ground out. "Tell me how pathetic you are."
Jesse was having problems just breathing through the burning pain in his midsection, let alone forming words. However, even if he could, Jesse would never beg. His pride would not allow it.
"No?" the other man questioned, then Jesse felt the bones of his fingers grind together as the man used his heel to bear his full weight.
Another whimper was ripped from Jesse as his muscles contracted in a fruitless effort to escape the agony.
Suddenly the pressure was gone and the man kneeled down beside Jesse. "Still nothing to say?" The man reached out and grabbed Jesse by the throat, forcing the doctor to lie still against the floor and conserve his oxygen. "That's alright, we got all the time in the world... You're gonna pay for what that bastard did to me."
"Uh, Billy, don't you think he's had enough for now? I mean-"
"Shut up," Billy hissed over his shoulder from where he was straddling the doctor. "I know what I'm doing. If you don't want to share the same punishment as blondie here, than I suggest you mind your own business."
Jesse felt warm air against his cheek and he tried to burrow into the floor. He struggled to drag air into his lungs as tiny black spots began to multiply before his eyes. He was going to die here, alone in a jail cell that Steve had sent him to. Tears pooled in the corners of his eyes and Jesse looked around frantically, not even noticing the security camera mounted high in the corner. He struggled to peel the inmates hands off his throat but no amount of effort seemed to help.
Instead, the hands around his throat tightened. "I don't think you've had enough yet. Yer still wigglin'."
Jesse's body began to tingle and his lungs burned. He couldn't breathe. His life really was going to end on the dirty floor of a jail cell, at the hands of some revenge-bent inmates that Steve had convicted some time ago. That thought broke his heart.
"Damnit Billy, let him go!"
Footsteps pounded down the hallway and Jesse found himself being pulled to his feet and slammed against the brick wall of the cell. His tormentor seemed eager to inflict as much damage as possible before the guards arrived. Jesse's vision darkened again and he winced, trying to blink the fogginess away. At last, he realized with detachment, the cavalry was arriving.
"Punks like you make me sick," Billy sneered as his knee connected harshly with Jesse's stomach. His blows grew fiercer with mounting desperation and the next strike landed solidly against Jesse's cheekbone, splitting the skin. "You tell Steve Sloan that he'll have it ten times worse than you when I get out of here!" Billy shouted as his fist connected with Jesse's chin.
At last, the jail door slid open and two guards ran inside. One secured the other two inmates while the other pried Billy backwards and after a brief struggle, had him subdued. His support suddenly gone, Jesse slid to the floor and puddled in a pathetic heap of torn flesh and blood.
"Shit Billy, look what you did!" Mathews exclaimed as he held his prisoners against the wall.
Two more forms jogged down the hall, adding to the commotion. Jesse recognized Steve's voice and he watched numbly as the detective stopped in the doorway, taking in the scene. Mark brushed by his stunned son and dropped to his knees at Jesse's side.
"Jesse, are you alright?" Mark reached out and helped Jesse right himself as Quinn wrestled Billy out of the cell.
Jesse nodded simply because he didn't think he could speak yet. His body throbbed like an exposed nerve and the pain was overwhelming. He couldn't raise his eyelids more than half-mast and even now, a gray haze clouded his vision. If he had more strength, he would be very worried.
"What happened?" Steve questioned and even Jesse flinched at the anger in the detective's voice. "I told you to put him in an interrogation room!"
"Come on Jess, let's get you out of here," Mark said quietly, lifting Jesse's arm and draping it over his shoulders. Together they rose and Jesse could only hold on as Mark steered him into the hallway. Jesse couldn't draw in a full breath, for the resulting pain nearly dropped him to the floor. It would be a miracle if any of his ribs were intact. His head felt swollen and weighed heavily upon his shoulders. He was trapped in his own world of misery.
Up ahead, Billy was shoved into a different cell and the bars clanged shut, rendering the inmate harmless once more. A wave of dizziness swept over Jesse like the waves he loved to surf and he felt himself sinking to the floor. "Don't feel so good..." he murmured. He was dimly aware of Mark lowering him to the tile.
Uh-oh. Here comes the sour taste of bile in his throat.
Jesse swallowed desperately as fast as his mouth was watering. A hand on his forehead helped ground him as the world spun faster and faster around him, gaining momentum by the second until nothing was in focus. Jesse felt as if he would collapse, except he was already on the ground. At last, he gave into the pull and slid sideways until his shoulder hit the floor.
"Is he okay?"
"We have to get him to the hospital."
It seemed the world he knew had rejected him, leaving Jesse feeling strangely detached. He forced his eyes open and blinked up at the horribly disfigured forms of Mark and Steve. There was anger and sympathy in Steve's eyes before he turned his attention back to the guards.
"Who did this? Who put him in with these scum bags?"
Mathews cleared his throat and glanced nervously away. "I informed Quinn of your orders, detective. He's the one who put Travis in the cell."
Steve turned sharply and glared at Quinn, who was standing some distance away with a smirk on his face. "What the hell were you thinking? Why didn't you follow orders?" Steve fired off questions as he stalked towards the officer.
"I didn't follow orders?" Quinn shot back with a slight southern drawl. "Funny, I wasn't aware of the memo that made it okay for you hot-shot detectives to abuse your power."
Steve stood silent for a moment and Jesse let his eyes close. This was the last thing he wanted. "Guys," he croaked, "It was just a prank." As much as he hated Steve right now, this was between the two of them, not between Steve and the rest of the force. Jesse would not see Steve lose his job over this.
Jesse felt everyone looking at him and he ducked his head, coughing quietly and sending pain flaring through his midsection. Could things get any worse?
"What the hell is going on here?"
Apparently, they could.
A nicely dressed police captain stomped down the hall and stopped before the haphazard gathering of doctors, cops and inmates. Jesse presumed this guy was the head honcho, and that he was slightly disgruntled at the current situation. Go figure.
"These idiots defied my direct orders and put this man in with the other inmates," Steve said after standing a little straighter.
"You're the one abusing power and wasting my time by having me baby-sit your friend during some stupid prank! I have better things to do!" Quinn shot back.
"Is this true, Sloan?"
"Sir, with all due respect, it would not have been that hard to put-"
"Sloan and Quinn in my office immediately." The captain turned towards Mark and Jesse on the floor outside the cell. "Get this kid to a hospital. Mathews-"
"See to it that some order is restored to this place." With his last order, he turned and walked away. Quinn trailed behind like a sibling eager to persuade his parent that the catastrophe in the kitchen was most definitely not his fault.
Steve glanced at Jesse. "I'm sorry about all this Jess, I know that doesn't even begin to cover it-"
Steve looked from Jesse to Mark and back before turning and hurrying after his superior officer.
"Come on Jess, let's get you off the floor. Think you can stand up?"
"No," Jesse sighed but tried anyway. Mark steadied him as Jesse rested his back against the wall. To his left, Mathews emerged from the jail cell and closed the door behind him. When he saw Jesse, he came closer.
"Hey man, I'm really sorry about all this. This never should have happened. Are you gonna be okay?"
"Yeah, in a few years," Jesse replied with a small smile. The distraction had given him something to concentrate on other than himself and he was able to focus a little better now. The dull throb in his head suddenly flared to life and he flinched away from Mark who had prodded at his wound.
"That's a nasty cut," Mark observed as Jesse batted the hand away.
"No kidding," Jesse snapped. "You should probably poke at it a little more to ensure infection sets in."
The two doctors stared at each other for a moment before Jesse grinned thinly and looked away. "Thanks for coming to bail me out."
"Oh Jesse, about that," Mark started as he began maneuvering the younger man down the hall. "None of it was real you know. Steve set this whole thing up as an evil revenge prank."
"What?" Jesse nearly shrieked. "I just got searched and fingerprinted and beat up for a prank?" He had been angry when he thought Steve merely set this thing up, but to find out the detective had been behind all of it was almost unbearable. Jesse could handle pain when it was for a cause, but to have the crap beat out of him and then to find out it was completely fake... Heck, had they videotaped him for fun, to send in to America's Funniest Beatings?
Mark caught the younger man in a stumble and winced in sympathy as Jesse cried out. "Let me assure you, Steve will be regretting this day for the rest of his life. He thought they would keep you safe. He never meant for you to get hurt."
"I bet." He was so upset, even his skin was crawling with agitation.
"Let me assure you Jesse, this has got to be the most careless thing he has ever done."
"I'll send him a trophy."
Jesse sighed. Now was not a good time to be discussing forgiveness, not while he felt like ground hamburger. "Let's just concentrate on patching me up first, okay? I think my head's about to fall off." He would not take his anger out on Mark.
Mark chuckled and helped Jesse out into the fresh air. At last, he was free.
Jesse tried to breathe deeply but had to settle for what little amount of air his abused lungs could handle.
There was still a lot to talk over.
"Where is he?"
"Steve, he's alright, just wait-"
"Dad, I have to see him. This is all my fault."
Jesse sat up as Steve's voice grew louder in the hall. After spending a few hours in hospital getting radiographs and pain relief injections and bandages applied by young women nurses, Jesse was driven to Mark's beach house and planted on the large couch in front of the TV. He had emerged from his assault a very lucky man. No bones were completely broken, and his concussion was mild enough that Mark deemed him healthy enough to leave the hospital, providing he stayed in the beach house. While his body was numbed with drugs and his brain numbed with meaningless cartoons, Jesse had plenty of time to think over what he was going to say to one Steve Sloan.
Jesse's boiling anger had cooled to a slow simmer now that he wasn't in agony and in a jail cell. He knew the detective never meant for him to get hurt, but the fact remained that he had and now there were relationship rifts to mend. Jesse couldn't help feeling let down, abandoned, and even a little like a wuss. When he was younger, he had always been the littlest kid in his class and Jesse often found himself the target of bullies. He came to rely on his mouth and his quick wits to get him out of trouble. This time, his mouth did not save him, and Jesse hated that fact.
Who was he really mad at? Steve, for having the sense of humor to pull a admittedly pretty funny prank, or himself, for ruining it? Vulnerability was the one fault in himself that he could not stand. It was easy to place the blame on Steve, but really, Jesse knew Steve would never purposefully abuse his power as a law enforcement agent or as a 'big brother'. Maybe they both were to blame.
Jesse reviewed the speech in his mind. After initially telling Steve off and making the detective feel guilty, Jesse would accept the grovel and the apology that were sure to follow. He wanted to make Steve squirm, because he wasn't the one taking prescription pain meds for the next fourteen days.
He forgot every well-thought out word when he took in the look of pain already on Steve's face.
"God Jesse, are you alright?" Steve's words were barely a whisper as he came to a stop beside the couch.
Jesse thought about 'playing it up' but as soon as he opened his mouth to whine a little, he caught sight of Mark shaking his head from the doorway. Deflating a little, Jesse opted for the truth. "Hey, nothing a little morphine can't cure."
Steve sank to the chair and looked devastated. "This never should have happened. I was such an idiot, I can't believe I put you through all that just to get even."
Well crap, there goes the 'make him squirm' tactic.
Jesse reached out. "Hey, I'm gonna be alright. Mark said I could even stay here and eat your food until I feel better." He ended with a small smile he hoped would be returned.
He was not disappointed. Steve grasped his proffered hand firmly and said, "Is that all it takes for you to forgive me?"
"Are you kidding? Do you know how miserable my life would be if we stopped being friends? Like all those times I get pulled over for speed-"
Jesse stopped when he noticed Steve's face harden, then he realized what he had been saying.
"Jesse, is there something you'd like to tell me?"
Jesse quickly looked to the TV, pulling his hand free from the detective's grasp. "Oh man, Aqua Teen Hunger Force! I haven't seen this show in forever!"
Mark chuckled and moved from the doorway. "Well, on that note, I'm going to make something for dinner."
Jesse glanced at Steve and scooted a little further away from the detective. He ducked his head. "So, how was your day?"
"Oh, you know, just hung around. Jesse- what are you telling the uniforms?"
"Do you hear that? I think I hear my cell phone, I'll be right back-"
Steve was holding Jesse down before the doctor knew what was happening.
"Jesse, cut the 'cute' act. Look at yourself. How many stitches are in your head? You only have one good arm- and what about this?" Steve finished with a gentle poke to Jesse's chest. "Would you be serious for one second?"
Jesse stifled a cry from the touch and shrank away from the detective. "Alright, point made," he growled, shoving the detective away from him. "What do you want from me?"
"Boys..." came the warning from the kitchen.
Steve only spared a moment to glance up. "I wanna hear how you really feel," he pressed in a whisper. "When someone looks the way you do, forgiveness can't come that easily."
"Says who," Jesse retorted and tried to look past Steve towards the TV.
Steve took a deep breath and sat on the other end of the couch, bending forward and resting his elbows on his knees. "Look," he started and ducked down to run a hand through his hair, "those injuries are my fault. I wish this never happened, but it did. And, as much as I hate it, I can't turn back time. I wanna deal with this as it is."
"I'm not mad at you," Jesse sighed. "I'm just mad at the situation... and myself." He couldn't look in Steve's eyes during that admission.
Jesse shrugged. "Because... I..."
"You think that you could have stopped anything that happened today?" Steve asked. Impatience colored his voice. "Jesse, nobody could have stood up to those convicts and emerged with lesser injuries." Steve paused and Jesse remained silent, still looking to the floor, so Steve leaned back and continued. "Look, I'm no psychiatrist, but you're stronger than you give yourself credit for. I'm not saying this as a cop, but as your friend. Hindsight's twenty-twenty, remember? I was a total jackass today. I saw an opportunity to get even and I grabbed it. I didn't think it through. I thought your pride would be all to get wounded. I was wrong." Steve sighed. "Forgive me? I'm really no good at this heart to heart stuff."
Jesse allowed himself to smile and he finally looked into Steve's eyes, reading the honesty and unspoken sincerity there. He knew how hard it was for the naturally-macho detective to discuss emotions and the like with other men, excluding Mark Sloan, but Jesse was never around for those sort of talks anyway. And Steve was right, there was nothing that could be done to change things. Jesse had never been one to hold a grudge, especially against friends. The sooner he just accepted things, the sooner he could get back to normal. He would gladly call a truce if it meant getting one more burden off his heart.
He accepted Steve's handshake warmly. "You're right, you're no good at 'deep' talks."
Steve rolled his eyes. "You're no good at receiving them."
Jesse laughed for the first time in too long as they parted. "I'm still ahead, you know."
"What? No you're not! My prank was awesome, admit it."
"But your prank indirectly inflicted bodily harm, so it's obsolete."
"What? Who made that rule?"
"Everyone knows that rule," Jesse replied as he moved stiffly towards the kitchen. Steve followed.
"That sounds like something you made up to cover your ass," Steve grumbled as he slid onto the nearest barstool.
"Steve," Mark scolded, taking a second to turn away from the pot on the stove.
Jesse grinned at Steve as both men ignored the elder Sloan. "I'd watch your step if I were you," Jesse warned. "Now that I'm going to be living here, I'm going to have access to some pretty valuable… locations."
"Wouldn't I?" The teasing felt good. It felt normal. Jesse smiled.
"Dad, see what you let into the house? Can't we just chain him up in the yard and be done with it?"
"I'm just glad you two are friends," Mark said with sarcasm. "What would this place be like if you hated each other?"
Jesse cringed as a fist connected solidly with his face. The twisted face of his tormentor swirled before him and cruel words filled the air.
"Pathetic momma's boy! You're nothing but dog crap!"
"Tell Sloan I'll be seein' him real soon!"
"Get on your knees and beg, bitch!"
A full-body slam tore Jesse from his nightmare and he lay panting and trembling on the floor of Mark Sloan's guest bedroom. His feet were bound together in a tangle of sweat-soaked bed sheets, forcing him to lie still for a moment. Once he realized where he was, Jesse reached up to the nightstand and grabbed the digital clock.
With a long-suffering sigh, Jesse set the clock down heavily on the floor and struggled to sit on the bed. His head was pounding and his ribs ached so hard his throat tightened. He felt nauseous and exhausted. He felt miserable.
The door creaked open and a sliver of light penetrated the room's inky blackness. "Jess? You okay?"
Jesse sat with his head in his hands and tried to keep his brain inside his skull. "I'm fine," he murmured.
He slowly raised his head to look at Steve. "Just fine."
Maybe, in time, he would be.