Synopsis: A suspected case of child abuse becomes embroiled in political intrigue and Jesse's career winds up at stake.
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters of DM, I do own the ones that I created.
I can't apologise enough for the lengthy delay in posting this chapter. For too many reasons to count, writing has been very low on my list of priorities. I'll try to update more frequently but, sadly, I can't make any promises.
Sincere thanks to everyone who is continuing to support this story.
Steve was feeling marginally better when he headed back towards where Jesse still sat. Amanda's news about the report had been a very small victory – but it was a victory all the same.
"Good news," he said, as he crossed the short distance between them – determined to give his friend something to smile about. "Amanda…"
He trailed off as he realised that Jesse wasn't paying him any attention whatsoever. But it wasn't because he was so lost in the task Steve had been set for him. The notebook lay in his lap and Steve could see that not a single word had been written. The pencil was still being mangled by Jesse's teeth, but that seemed almost an automatic action – again, not brought about by any concentration.
Instead, it looked as though the younger man had lost himself in his thoughts – thoughts that were, judging from the sadness in his eyes, anything other than hopeful.
"Jess, Amanda found your report." Steve strove for some sense of normality – not wanting to startle him too greatly. "Jesse, did you hear me?"
"Huh?" At last, glassy blue eyes swam back into focus but it was clear from Jesse's expression that he hadn't heard a word.
"Are you okay?" Steve frowned with sudden concern – and his concern only deepened when he found tear-filled eyes gazing up at him. "What is it?" he asked, wondering what could have changed in the short time he had been on the phone.
"I, uh… I was thinking about my dad…" Jesse blinked rapidly and momentarily lowered his gaze, seeking to hide his tears. "I'm really worried about him, Steve. Do you think I should call him?"
"I don't think that would be a good idea right now," Steve answered, on a sigh. He didn't want to put obstacles in his friend's way, but he wasn't about to expose him to any danger. "This is the CIA we're talking about here and I'm not sure that any phone line in this country is totally secure – much less one from a motel room."
"But they think he told me to do it," Jesse retorted, his agitation growing. "They think he's involved. I need to warn him."
The young doctor was on his feet even as he said those words, the notebook falling unnoticed to the floor – the pencil dropping from his nerveless grip. Steve recovered quickly and caught hold of his bicep as he passed him by. At the flinch – and the frightened cry –this invoked, he was brutally reminded of just what the CIA had done to his friend that very afternoon. He released his grip and settled instead for laying one hand on his shoulder.
"Jesse," he reminded him, gently. "Dane knows how to take care of himself."
"I know he does, Steve." The younger man didn't sound overly convinced. "But like you said, this is the CIA. I don't know how their hierarchy works, but I'm pretty sure they wouldn't like their agents being accused of election fixing and having to drag them away from whatever assignment they're on in order to question them!"
"Calm down, Jess." Steve's eagle-eyes instantly picked up on the sudden pain that flashed across his friend's features. The agitation had obviously aggravated the bruising to his ribs. Using a gentle hand, he guided the doctor back towards his seat. "Don't you think maybe those guys just used your dad to try and scare you?"
"Well, if they did then they certainly succeeded." Jesse sank miserably back into his chair. "But what if they weren't bluffing, Steve? They said they wouldn't be so 'nice' if they started asking him questions." His hand automatically went to his midriff as he remembered what their definition of 'nice' had been.
"I don't know that there's a whole lot you can do about it right now." When Jesse looked ready to protest at those words, Steve never gave him the chance: "You can't call him – you don't know who might be listening in – and any contact you made with him now would only add fuel to their suspicions."
Jesse visibly sagged as the wisdom of the detective's words finally got through to him. He looked up at his friend – knowing how lost and helpless he must have looked, but completely unable to hide those feelings. "But what am I supposed to do?" he asked.
Sudden empathy flared through Steve. He knew exactly how he would feel if there was even the remotest chance that his dad was in danger. And Dane was always in danger – it was the very nature of his work. He didn't need the added peril of his colleagues not being one hundred percent behind him.
It was also indicative of his friend's very nature that he should spend his time worrying about somebody else, instead of the predicament that he was in. The simple solution would be to clear Jesse's name, prove him innocent of any wrongdoing and that, in the process, would take away any problems for Dane.
As a solution, it sounded ideal. But Steve knew that real life was rarely – if ever – so easy. It didn't matter that he knew Jesse hadn't leaked the report. It didn't matter that he had complete faith and belief in him. He wasn't going to be sitting on the investigatory panel – and they were the ones they had to convince.
He might not know how to ease Jesse's fears, but he did know how to unearth the truth. And, if he could find some way to distract his friend for long enough, he was confident he'd be able to do exactly that.
Amanda had readily agreed to Steve's request for a favour. Nothing he could have asked would have been too much if it meant she was helping Jesse – and it had seemed such a small thing he'd wanted. Now she realised that she might have underestimated the size of her task.
"Grab a few things from Jesse's place," he had asked her. "He'll need a suit and a clean shirt for tomorrow – and then just a couple of bits to tide him over in a motel for a couple of days."
Yeah, real simple.
The first problem had arisen when she'd turned onto Jesse's street and then found it impossible to park, because of scores of cars and news vans effectively blocking the road. She had been forced to leave her own car half a block away and walk the rest of the distance. Then she had tried to get into the apartment complex itself.
"Excuse me? Ma'am? Are you a resident here?"
As soon as the first voice had called out, a dozen more swiftly followed. Did she know Jesse Travis? Was she a neighbour? A friend? Would she have believed that he was capable of what he was accused of?
Amanda kept her head low as she fished for her keys. Thankfully, Jesse had given her a spare set when he'd been on vacation once. She couldn't imagine that any of the residents would be willing to let her into the building. They must have been feeling even more besieged than she was at that moment.
Once she'd got the main door closed behind her, Amanda leaned back against it and let out a pent up breath. She was silently thankful that Steve had managed to get Jesse away from the complex before he'd had to go through something like that – which, she knew, would have been a thousand times worse for him.
She, herself, had had to forcibly bite her tongue in order not to react angrily to their invasive questions.
If she had leapt to his defence – if she had let slip just how close a friend Jesse was – then it would have made getting away from the apartment virtually impossible. Worse still, some of the more intrepid reporters might have been tempted to follow her.
That, she grimly realised, left her with a whole new problem. How was she supposed to get back out – and past the press pack – whilst laden down with men's clothes, without arousing suspicion?
Amanda looked up at the sound of a man's voice and a smile reached her lips – in spite of the abbreviated use of her name. She had tried to correct Simon Gerrard when she'd first met him, but he had never quite grasped just how much she hated the shortened name. He was, as people kindly put it, a little backwards – but Amanda had found him to have a kind and generous personality and a heart of gold.
He was the son of the apartments' landlady and also doubled up as a caretaker. She had met him on numerous occasions, as he seemed to like Jesse and would go out of his way to do him favours.
"Hello, Si." He wouldn't answer to his full name and refused to use anyone else's. Mark had foxed him when they had first met, before he settled on the compromise of calling him 'doc'.
"Jess ain't home," he informed her. "But there's a man fixin' his door."
Amanda's smile faded as she heard those words. Steve had told her that Jesse's apartment had been broken into, that he'd had some trouble with CIA agents, but he hadn't gone into much detail. He had, he'd told her, temporarily secured the apartment – but it seemed that his stopgap measures hadn't been sufficient for him and he'd taken steps towards a permanent solution.
"Mom's with him," Si continued, mistaking her expression for one of worry. "She'll make sure he don't touch Jess's stuff."
"I'm glad you're here, Si." She paused, choosing her words carefully. Si could take things very literally. "Do you know that things aren't going very well for Jesse right now?"
"Oh, yeah!" Sudden animation lit the young man's features. "Those reporter guys were lookin' for him. I told them he ain't here; my mom told them he ain't here, but they won't quit!"
"No, they won't," she answered slowly, a glimmer of an idea beginning to form. "Si, Jesse won't be coming back for a couple of days. He's staying with his friend for a little while."
"Oh." Si's face fell. "But he is comin' back, right?"
"I'm sure he will, honey," Amanda quickly reassured him. "But the trouble is that he left in a real hurry and he forgot to take any clothes with him." She smiled at the giggle her words invoked – and knew that Jesse would be in for some ribbing from his neighbour when he did return. "So he asked me to get some things for him."
"That's okay. You're his friend. You can go in."
"Actually, Si, I was hoping you'd help me…"
Jesse had tried to do what Steve had asked of him, he really had. But there were too many distractions, too many stray thoughts constantly vying for attention. He still hadn't written a single word on his notepad.
One thought in particular was bothering him more and more – and eventually he gave up on the pretence of trying to concentrate. A moment later, Steve wandered back over from the kitchenette, pocketing his phone as he did so.
"No luck with the Times," he said, his displeasure evident on his face. "They've got the legal boys out trying to counter this lawsuit and aren't talking to anybody. They're shielding the reporter – John Brentwood his name was – from any more controversy."
"Uh huh." Jesse had guessed that would be the case. "I, uh… I've been thinking…"
Steve nodded as he moved closer to his friend. That much was obvious. The paper he held was still blank; the pencil – its end a mangled mess – had fallen, forgotten, to the floor.
"My report, it never got finished; never got sent to the State agency," Jesse explained. "Where does that leave Jordan Hunter?"
"My dad's taken over his care, Jess. I thought you knew that."
"Yeah, I did. That's not what I'm talking about. I mean, my report… It wasn't finished…" He looked up at the detective, eloquence deserting him as he struggled to get his point across. "It should have gone in today and then there'll have been an investigation… But what's gonna happen now? Who's gonna investigate? Who's gonna find out what happened?"
Steve closed his eyes briefly, feeling exasperation sweep over him. He had to physically resist the urge to reach over and shake Jesse; to try and knock some sense into him; to tell him to stop worrying about everybody else for once in his life and concentrate on his own troubles.
But he might as well have tried to tell the sun not to rise in the morning. Such compassion was a part of who Jesse was – and Steve wouldn't want to change it for the world. He only hoped he could come through the next few days with that spirit still intact. He offered his friend a smile.
"If it'll make you feel any better, Jess, then I'll look into it myself."
"Thanks." The softest of smiles touched the young doctor's lips.
"In the meantime, don't you think you should be concentrating on tomorrow?" He wasn't about to let his friend off the hook completely and he looked pointedly at the discarded notebook. "Everything that was in your report and everything that wasn't. We need to figure out who had access to that information."
Jesse's smile turned sheepish as he realised how much of their precious time he had wasted lost in his thoughts. He retrieved the pencil from where it had fallen.
"I was trying, Steve," he said, unable to keep the desperate note out of his voice. "But there is nobody and… The more I think about it, the more scared I get. I've got to go in there tomorrow without a defence, without even anyone to defend me." He glanced away as his friend's eyes softened in sympathy. "I don't stand a chance."
"There's always a chance, Jess." Steve dropped a reassuring hand onto his shoulder. "And whatever happens tomorrow, or in the days that follow, we're not going to stop looking. We'll clear your name, Jesse. I swear."
Jesse couldn't immediately answer. He had every faith in his friends – God knew they had come through for him often enough in the past. But in all honesty, this time he couldn't see anything they could possibly do. As his thoughts had chased themselves around his head he had come to the unwelcome conclusion that, if had been on the outside looking in, then even he would have been convinced of his guilt.
Steve looked down at him, watching the play of emotions cross his expressive features. He wanted to believe the detective, but was obviously having a hard time doing so. Hope never once lit his eyes. He was also very, very scared and was – Steve realised – barely holding things together.
That observation was only reinforced when there was a sudden knock at the door and the younger man practically jumped out of his skin.
"Take it easy, Jess." Steve gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "Just wait there."
But he had to physically stop his own hand from twitching towards his holstered gun.