MURDER BY PROXY part three


Another week passed. Jesse remained at the beach house, but he was growing uneasy with what he perceived as his continued interference in the lives of his friends. It was time they got their lives back, he reasoned. Besides, he seemed to be perfectly safe now. No-one had tried anything since the PCP attack. Maybe whoever was after him had decided to forget it. Or perhaps it had just been a case of mistaken identity. Certainly there seemed to be no good reason for him to continue imposing on the Sloans and he was determined to return to his apartment - and his own life.
And he totally ignored the little voice within which was calling him a fool.

So it was that he moved back to his own place. The apartment had been cleaned up and repainted - courtesy of his friends, of course. Broken items had either been fixed or replaced, the locks updated, courtesy of Steve and the obscene messages of hate on the walls covered with new paint. Mark, Steve and Amanda had been shocked and appalled by the words which had been daubed on every conceivable surface. The hatred and venom contained within them made their skin crawl. Jesse seemed more blasé about it. But his friends could see beneath the veneer he was trying to project. The words had shaken him to the core and his bravado was just that - bravado.
But despite their misgivings and their attempts to dissuade him otherwise, the young doctor returned to his own home and they were forced to re-think their strategy of looking out for him.

It had been another exhausting - and long - shift. Jesse was utterly wiped out. Entering his apartment was still somewhat of a nerve-wracking experience and he breathed a sigh of relief when he did so to find everything was perfectly normal. Locking the door behind him, he entered the room, discarding jacket, tie and boots as he went, and stumbled over to the answering machine, which was blinking away merrily.
"Hey, Jesse," came the bright voice as soon as he switched it on. "It's Susan. I just got back. Why don't you take me for dinner at our favourite restaurant in the hills? I'll meet you there at 6:00."
Jesse smiled. Susan had been at her parents for the last few weeks - she had taken compassionate leave after the death of her grandmother, to whom she had been very close. He had missed her more than he had thought possible and was delighted to have her back again. Six o'clock. That would give him enough time to catch up on some sleep and then get ready. The restaurant to which she had referred was one of 'their' places. It was romantic, served good wine and had a fantastic menu.
Humming merrily to himself, the young doctor went into the bathroom to have a shower before retiring to bed, his mind on the forthcoming evening and the pleasure of Susan's company.
And it never occurred to him that her voice had sounded stilted and a little strange.

Seven hours later he was on the mountain highway leading up to the out of the way restaurant. The evening was perfect. Dusk was beginning to set in, and the bright pinks and oranges of the slowly setting sun were the perfect accompaniment to his upbeat mood. Music played softly on his car stereo and he hummed along with the familiar tunes.
At first he didn't notice the other vehicle on the road. Then the headlights almost blinded him. Swearing softly, he tooted his horn as a warning for the other driver to dip his lights. Nothing happened. Obviously the guy was an idiot - and very rude.
The vehicle closed in on him. He frowned. Something was wrong. Then it drew in closer, making to overtake him and he started to relax. The next thing he knew he was fighting to keep his car on the road as the other vehicle - which turned out to be a large SUV - rammed into the side of his Mustang.
"Shit!" he swore, fighting with the wheel as he swerved violently.
The SUV rammed him again, this time jamming itself into the side of his car. Tyres screeched in protest. Terrified, the young doctor fought with the wheel again, trying to pull past the other vehicle and out of danger - to no avail. The other driver seemed determined to push him off the road.
Jesse didn't dare glance to his right. He knew what he would see. The hills rose up on the left hand side, obscuring the night sky and the slowly emerging moon. On the other side was a steep drop down - a drop the other driver seemed to be resolutely pushing him toward.
Jesse put his foot down. He started to pull away from the SUV. Breathing a sigh of relief as his car accelerated away from danger he didn't see the truck literally parked across the road in front of him until it was too late. He wrenched the wheel to the left to avoid a collision, jammed his foot on the brakes and heard the protesting screeching of his tyres as the car swerved out of control.
There was just enough time for him to utter a startled yelp as his car plunged over the side of the hill and plummeted downwards.

Danny Jerrold stopped the SUV and clambering out, ran to the side of the hill. The sports car was nowhere in sight. The evidence of its fall was only too apparent, however, and, between them, he and his accomplice, who had been driving the truck which had precipitated Jesse's plunge made sure that all their tracks were covered. Then they stood for a few moments longer on the hilltop, waiting for the much anticipated eruption of flame and debris.
"Come on, damn you!" muttered Danny, tersely.
Nothing. No explosion. No smoke. Just … silence.
"C'mon, man," the truck driver said to him. "That was some fall. No-one could have survived it. Even if his car doesn't explode, the fact that you disabled his airbag will make sure he dies."
"I've gotta make sure," muttered Danny. "I want him gone, Luke. I want him so gone that no-one will even find his body. It will haunt Sloan when his little blue-eyed boy disappears without a trace and no-one ever finds out what happened to him. I gotta know that he's dead - or at least, dying," he added with a cruel smile.
Luke sighed. The man was pig-headed that was for sure. Still … "We can cut a path down there," he said, pointing to what looked like brush and nothing else. "It's not so steep and we can see all you need to see from halfway down. Uh uh," he protested as Danny turned to cast a questioning glare his way. "Ain't no way I'm goin' anywhere near that beauty with her about ready to explode. You wanna die in a ball of flame, you do it on your own!"
"Oh all right," said Danny ungraciously. "Lead the way."

Luke was right. From halfway down they could see the once sleek and beautiful vehicle, now a crushed and twisted mess at the bottom of the slope. Its descent had been stopped by a group of trees and it had fallen over onto the driver's side. The top had been ripped off by the overhanging branches and they could see the diminutive form slumped over the wheel, which had been pushed backward, along with the rest of the dashboard by the sudden impact with the trees. It was too dark to make out if there was any blood but Jesse wasn't moving and no sound could be heard above the chirping of the crickets and the late birdsong, apart from the hiss of steam from the wrecked car's carburetter.
"Satisfied now?" demanded Luke as he made to return up the slope.
Danny's face twisted in a vindictive smile. "Yeah," he said. "Very satisfied. Enjoy your new home, Travis," he added in an aside to the motionless form as he made to follow his companion back up the hill. "Been nice knowing you … not."

Night fell. The birdsong quieted, the crickets came out in force. A soft wind rustled the trees and the branches swayed in a gentle dance as it wafted through them. The moon gleamed pale in the star-laden sky, every so often being obscured by a soft cloud drifting past.
The wreckage gleamed softly in the pallid moonlight. The steam had died away now and silence reigned.
The heat of the day had dissipated to be replaced by the coolness of the night. And something else. Moisture. And an electricity which crackled in the stillness. There was a storm coming.

The rumble of distant thunder awoke Mark Sloan. He lay still in bed for a moment or two, listening to the sounds from beyond his bedroom window. A flash of lightning illuminated the room for a second, casting weird shadows, before disappearing as fast as it had appeared. The thunder sounded a moment later. Before too long the storm was in full force, unleashing its fury over the greater Los Angeles district. Streaks of lightning split the night, accompanied by sonic booms which continued as a rumbling echo long after the initial report. Rain lashed the window panes, a torrential downpour. Rivulets of water turned into veritable streams, running down the glass, obscuring the outside. Mark felt an inexplicable shudder run through him. Heaven help anyone caught outside in this.

The storm continued for some considerable time, before moving on. But it had done its damage.

Dawn arrived as softly as night departed. The land smelt fresh and new and clean. The rain had swept away all the detritus of the previous day and washed the land. It had also saturated the immobile figure in the wrecked vehicle.

Pain finally awoke him. It seeped through his senseless form, invading his dreamless world. It was searing and biting and it pierced through to his very soul. An involuntary groan left his parched lips as he reluctantly rejoined the world and the molten inferno within greeted him with horrendous, unspeakable agony.

It was a busy day in ER. Mark was pretty certain that if they continued in the ever decreasing circles they seemed to be running he was going to meet himself coming back. They were short-staffed and over-run with casualties. He had already asked the nursing staff to put a call in to their off-duty doctors and he was looking forward to having some pressure taken off. He was also looking forward to seeing Jesse running in, all eager and raring to go. It was a pleasure working with his young friend. He never gave less than 110% in anything he did - although sometimes his enthusiasm could be a little tiring for his friends. But in the trauma arena, his passion and skill were a true asset and one Mark, for one, definitely treasured.
The latest casualty was a young woman. She had been found by a neighbour, doubled up in agony, and had lost consciousness on the way there. Her vitals were dropping and she was unstable and shocky. The paramedics didn't know what it was although they suspected some kind of fever, given that she was perspiring heavily and her temp was flying through the roof.
Mark thanked them for their information then got the shock of his life. Lying on the gurney which they had just wheeled in was Susan.

She was eventually placed in ICU. They had determined the cause of her out of control fever as some kind of bacteria, which had been administered via a needle - they had found the puncture wound in her arm, together with a large bruise on her head. The tests they had run had shown a strain which was kept in Community General's lab. Amanda and Mark had been shocked and alarmed - firstly because they hadn't been aware of Susan's return and secondly because two hours had elapsed since the call to arms for doctors and the only one not to put in an appearance was Jesse.
"I have a bad feeling about this," said Mark gravely as he paced Amanda's lab, waiting for Steve to put in an appearance. He had called him because they needed to report that someone had tried to kill Susan. Now he was beginning to dread the implications of the murder attempt.
"Jesse just wouldn't ignore your call," agreed Amanda, shakily. She ran a hand through her perfectly coiffured hair and watched her older friend as he strode up and down, unable to keep still.
"We've tried his home phone, we've tried his cellphone. He hasn't answered either one," Mark told her. "Maybe we didn't know that Susan was back, but I have a feeling that Jesse did. I can't help but feel that whoever has been out to kill Jesse knew she was back, too, and decided to make her a part of all this. I think she was supposed to die to keep her quiet."
"She still might die," murmured Amanda, grim-faced. Mark glanced at her then continued pacing. It was true that Susan was facing a long haul. She had coded once already and they had barely been able to bring her back on that occasion. They had been forced to try a brand new treatment - one that had only just received its approval. Fortunately it seemed to be working but it would be a long time before she would wake up and they could question her.
And time was a commodity Jesse may be running out of.

Steve arrived like a hurricane. He burst through the doors, his expression dour and determined.
"Well?" Mark questioned as he turned to face his son.
"She arrived back yesterday afternoon, according to her neighbours," Steve reported, tersely. "She had a visitor. No-one could describe him."
"Typical!" exclaimed Amanda, bitterly. "So?"
"I went through her apartment. There were signs of a struggle. She certainly put up a good fight. I checked her last number redial facility. She made one phone call … or, should I say, she was forced to make one phone call."
Mark swallowed - hard. "Jesse."
"Yeah," Steve confirmed in a heavy voice. "Jesse."
"Did you go to Jesse's apartment?" Amanda's eyes were awash with tears. She couldn't bear to think of her young friend being injured - or worse. Yet they all knew that he could very well be …
Steve nodded. "Yeah. Fortunately I had the keys for that brand new security system I had installed there. There was a message on the answerphone. It was Susan. She said she was back and she'd meet him at their favourite restaurant in the hills. At 6:00pm last night."
The three of them exchanged horrified glances. Jesse had obviously been lured into a trap. What they couldn't know is what it consisted of. He could have been ambushed, forced out of his car and shot or he might even have been forced off the road. The fabulous panorama which could be viewed from the mountain highways was by virtue of the sheer drop off one side of the road. He could be lying in a ditch or a ravine somewhere, badly injured, or dying. But, however Jesse was - and none of them even dared consider that he may be beyond their help - he was up in the hills and he had been there since yesterday evening. And there had been a terrible storm last night.
"I'll get the map. And … I'll need my medical bag," declared Mark.
"I'll drive," decided Steve.
"I'm coming with you," said Amanda.

Jesse couldn't move. He had tried and it had hurt too much. It had compounded the torment which was already coursing through his entire body and he had been unable to prevent the scream of agony which had been torn out of his throat.
The sound had echoed in the small ravine. But there had been no-one around to hear it.
It had taken him a long time to take stock of his situation. This was partly due to the fact that he was confused about where he was and why he was here until slowly, memory caught him up on the events of the previous night. Then there was the pain.
It was intense and it burned and it was unrelenting. He attempted a self-diagnosis but concentrating on it only seemed to worsen it and then he had tried to move.
He hadn't attempted that again.
He knew now that he was trapped. That was self-evident.
The car was totalled. That he could see from where he was.
He was lying on his left hand side against the driver's door, which was itself leaning against the trunk of a large tree. He didn't try to identify the tree.
His seatbelt had cut into him and was probably all that had saved him from certain death. The windscreen was shattered. Shards of glass lay scattered around the interior of the wrecked vehicle and over him. He winced as he flexed his right arm. There was a jagged piece of glass stuck in the skin near his elbow. It had stopped bleeding sometimes during the night and, even had his left arm not been lying, useless, below him, crushed between him and the door, he wouldn't have picked it out. It was far too deep. If it had actually penetrated where he thought it had it would be a good idea to leave it where it was until he was rescued.
That was something that had been dominating his thoughts since he had awoken and any degree of clarity had returned.
Susan would know where he was. She had, after all, called him to meet her here. Only, the more time he had to think about it, the more convinced he was beginning to become that the call had been a trap. Oh, it had been Susan, all right. He would know her voice anywhere. But now that he had the time to think - and not do much else - he realised how strained her voice had sounded. He hadn't recognised that at the time - too busy thinking with his heart and another part of his anatomy, he realised, bitterly - but now … And on top of that thought had come another. Maybe she had been forced to make the call. To lure him out here so whoever it was who had tried to kill him before could succeed. Which they hadn't - yet.
And then came the horrifying insight. If that had been the case, then whoever had forced her to make the call couldn't leave her alive to identify them.
Susan could well be dead now.
The prospect had him biting back a sob of anguish.
Oh god - Susan.
He didn't even acknowledge the stray flash of understanding that burst through the back of his mind. If that were the case, then no-one would know where he was. There would be no rescue.
He couldn't breathe properly.
The steering column had been pushed backward by the impact with the tree. It had him pinned to the seat by his sternum. He could feel something moving in his chest every time he breathed and an ominous bubbling sound accompanied it. Broken ribs, probable punctured lung and god alone knew what else.
And he was freezing. Even though the sun was high in the sky now, and blazing down, he was shivering violently. He couldn't seem to get warm. The seat beside him showed the remnants of a rainstorm, with little puddles of water gathering in the creases. Well, that explained it. Of course, it was probably also shock.
He leaned his head back against his seat, closed his eyes and tried very hard not to dwell on the fact that he was going to die like this. In unbearable agony, alone.

"That's the fourth restaurant we've been to. No-one knows Susan and Jesse. It must be somewhere up here!" Amanda's growing frustration was evident from her tone of voice. The three of them had set off on a quest to find the couple's favourite restaurant, armed with map, medical bag and pictures of Jesse and Susan. They had shown the latter to the Maitre D's of several of the local establishments and so far had had no luck. Once they located the restaurant, they needed to backtrack, using the route to Jesse's apartment - the road Jesse would have used to get there.
They had come to the conclusion that whoever had forced Susan to make the call had a reason for luring Jesse up to that particular restaurant. They were going to kill him somewhere en route. The previous attempt on his life had not worked and whoever was trying to kill him was resorting to more blatant tactics. They were obviously becoming desperate. And that was something Amanda, Mark and Steve were all trying very hard not to think about.
Jesse had to be alive somewhere - in pain, maybe, but alive. Because the alternative was just too awful to even consider.

Jesse himself would have agreed had he been conscious. He had slipped into oblivion again a short while earlier. The constant battle against pain had taken its toll on his weakening body and he had succumbed to the blackness as it rushed up to greet him, welcoming its warm soothing nothingness like an old friend.
He had managed to take stock of his condition before he had lost consciousness. Together with the shock, the increasing difficulty in breathing - partly due to the punctured lung and also because his other lung was slowly filling up with fluid - the broken left arm and the incapacitated right, his legs were trapped. They were the only part of him that didn't hurt - if he didn't move. He had almost fallen into hysteria at that discovery. As if everything else wasn't enough, he had almost certainly sustained crush injuries. Oh great. Hypovolemic shock, hyperkalemia and acute renal failure … Why hadn't they just shot him and got it over with quickly? What had he done to someone to warrant this?
As his senses fell away from him, he wondered if he would ever wake up again and a tear slid down his dusty, blood-streaked face as he said a silent goodbye to his friends.

His friends had had their first break. One restaurant, high in the hills, had recognised the picture of Jesse and Susan. "Lovely couple," the Head waiter told them, with a fond smile. "Very much in love."
The threesome exchanged distressed glances. One member of that couple was now fighting for her life in hospital. The other … the other one may very well be dead.
Steve called Tanis. "I want a full scale search up and down this route," he told her. "We've got to find him, Tanis."
His partner had wasted no time. What seemed to be the entire force had been mobilised in no time. At least something was going right.
But time was against them. Jesse didn't have much of it left and he certainly couldn't survive another night in his deteriorating condition. And they had no idea where to look, or how he had been lured here or ambushed or anything. All they had to go on was guesswork.
Steve, Mark and Amanda were very much aware of the passing of time and how precious a commodity it was.
Jesse wasn't. He hadn't awoken again.

The hours passed. The search continued. Late afternoon was giving way to dusk and the searchers were growing desperate. There was no sign of any foul play anywhere. No tyre tracks, no sign of a body, nothing.
It had been determined that Jesse had set out to the restaurant in his car. Of course. He couldn't very well walk. There was very little traffic on this particular road and so finding any witnesses would be difficult. They had a stroke of luck early in the afternoon. A spritely elderly woman, walking her dog, reported that she had seen a very nice sports car driving along the road at about the time Jesse would have been in the vicinity. Further questioning elicited that she and the driver had exchanged waves. He had been a 'cute young man', she reported. "Blond with a nice smile."
Further up the road from the where the old lady had seen Jesse, Steve, Mark and Amanda encountered a young couple who had been jogging the previous night. They had also seen the car. A bigger vehicle had been close on its tail. "It seemed to be dogging the other car," the young man reported, with a slight frown. "It looked kind of strange but I didn't think anything much of it … till now."
The three of them thanked the couple profusely. They were getting close now. They could tell. It was as though they could sense Jesse.
If only they could see him.

Jesse, meanwhile had regained consciousness again. The all-encompassing pain had dragged him from his pleasant cocoon into a biting reality and he had gasped with the indescribable severity of it. Dusk was falling again and he was still trapped and still alive. The sounds of the hillside were making him edgy and nervous and every time he started agony flared somewhere deep within.
"Oh god!"
He was so scared. He was miles away from help, from civilisation and from his friends. And he needed his friends. Wracked with the pain, weak from the hours of endurance, and unable to stand it any more, he broke down and sobbed.

The daylight waned. Dusk was falling swiftly and the searchers knew that they would have little chance of finding anything in the dark. If they were indeed looking for a body then it could conceivably be anywhere.
Mark, Steve and Amanda walked up the road, each of them peering carefully into the brush for any sign of Jesse, or his car. Further up the road, they met up with a child and her mother. They had been out at approximately the same time the previous day - around the time when Jesse would have been there. No sports car had passed them, although the mother did recall seeing a large truck and a black SUV. That narrowed the search down somewhat. It also gave them the biggest clue as to what had happened and there was a concerted gasp of dread as they realised that if they were right then the chances of Jesse having survived were little to none.
Now they looked with more urgency. There was no sign of any kind of collision or of a car going over the side of the hill.
"If whoever is trying to kill him did manage to get Jess to go over the edge, they're not going to leave any signs," stated Steve, grimly, as he shone a torch into the undergrowth and yielded nothing.
"You think they'll have swept away all the evidence?" whispered Amanda, her face lined with the strain of the past few hours. "Oh Steve, how are we going to find him in all of this, in the dark?"
"We've concentrated the search in this specific area," he replied. "I have 20 officers combing the brush further down for any sign of his car. We'll find him, Amanda. Don't worry."
He wished he was as confident as he sounded. He was only too well aware of the fact that even if they located the vehicle there was no guarantee that Jesse would even be alive. Nor was there any guarantee that it would be in one piece. In fact, he was fully expecting them to find a burnt-out shell and a charred corpse. He felt sick at the thought and didn't share it with his father or Amanda. One look at their faces, however, told him they shared his fear.
Whatever he was going to say to them - if anything - was prevented from being voiced however when a yell from below alerted them. "Lieutenant Sloan! We've found him!"

The emergency services had been primed when the search area had been narrowed. If and when they located Jesse, they didn't want to waste time waiting for an ambulance and heavy lifting equipment to arrive. The vehicles and men were positioned nearby, awaiting word from Steve.
Now he prayed as he led the way toward the sound of his patrol cop's voice.
Let it be the ambulance they needed
Not the coroner's van.

It didn't take long for the three of them to scramble down through the brush and over the treacherous ground to the scene of the accident. Immediately upon their arrival, Mark, ignoring any danger to himself, made his way to the car.
Jesse was slumped in the driver's seat, trapped behind the steering column. His right arm was hanging limply at his side, his left was between his body and the door. He looked dead. His face was ashen, liberally decorated with streaks of blood and grime. Long dark eyelashes feathered his cheeks and he showed no sign of being aware of their presence.
"Oh jesus," Steve swore softly as he joined his father by the passenger door.
Mark glanced into the car. What remained of the windscreen lay scattered all over the inside of the vehicle. He needed to get to Jesse, and the only way he could do that …
"Dad, what the hell…?!" Steve exclaimed in a shocked voice as his father prised open the passenger door and proceeded to sweep the shards out of the way with his bare hands. "Dad!"
"It's okay, Steve," Mark assured him, half-turning to give him a reassuring smile before kneeling on the seat and reaching out an unsteady hand …
There was a pulse. It was faint and too slow, but Jesse was alive. "Steve, get the paramedics in here!" Mark ordered without turning around. "Now!"
As the detective pulled his cellphone from his jacket pocket, Mark made to give his young friend a more thorough examination. He had already noticed the jagged piece of glass embedded in Jesse's right arm and decided to leave that alone for now. The left arm was undoubtedly broken - he could see the impossible angle at which it was lying beneath Jesse's slight body - and there was a long gash on the young man's forehead which had bled profusely at some time. Mark leaned in a little further, and grimaced. He didn't like the sound of Jesse's breathing. He didn't like it at all. It was shallow and rapid and had a distinctly wet sound to it. Until they got him to Community General he couldn't be sure whether it was a punctured lung or the onset of pneumonia from being caught out in last night's rain - or both. Whatever it was it needed to be dealt with - fast.
Jesse's torso was sandwiched between his seat and the steering wheel column and Mark couldn't see his legs. Instead, he felt for them. When he touched the right one it elicited a small moan from the young doctor. But it didn't move. The weight of the engine and all its components had come down on his lower extremities and Mark compressed his lips as he quickly diagnosed possible crush injuries.
Moving back, he surveyed his patient for a long moment, drinking in the sight of the young man he had at one point lost all hope of ever seeing again. 'Be thankful for small mercies'. Jesse was still alive. Despite the horrendous crash, despite the weather conditions. He was still alive and they were going to make sure he stayed that way.
"Mark?" Amanda's tremulous query reminded him there were other people around.
"He's alive, Amanda," he reported. "But we need to be very careful in getting him out of here."
"I've called the emergency services," said Steve, coming to join them, unable to tear his eyes away from the unconscious figure in the car. "They're bringing a Jaws of Life and the ambulance is on its way in. They've found a better route than the one we used."
Mark nodded. "Good," he said. Squinting up at the darkening sky he went on, "We're going to need lights and I need to cover him with something. Amongst other problems he's going to be suffering from exposure. Steve ...?"
"Gotcha, dad," came back the quick response. "I'll go get one of the blankets from the trunk of the car."
Mark glanced once more at the pitiful figure. "Get two," he commanded

Jesse rejoined the world again a few moments later. Agony flared and he bit down the urge to vomit. That was all he needed. He was in enough of a mess as it was, he wasn't about to make it worse.
He became slowly aware of noise. All around him. There was a drone of distant voices and car doors being slammed. He tried to shout for help but his voice seemed to have deserted him. Oh god. Someone was there and they might see him - but he needed to let them know where he was! Why couldn't he find his voice?? He whimpered helplessly, feeling a sob of real anguish rise up in his throat, threatening to choke him. God, help! Please, help!
"It's all right, Jess. Ssshh … it's all right. We're here now. Calm down, you're safe. We've found you. It's all right."
The litany of soft reassurances was delivered in what sounded like Mark's voice. The hand which was stroking his aching head felt like the older doctor's smooth palm. But that was impossible - wasn't it? Maybe he was dreaming. Maybe this was his mind's way of easing him into death. He didn't want to be alone when he died so it had conjured up this image of his friend to help him.
Except the image was awfully solid
And it looked very grubby - and tired.
"M … Mark …" The tortured sound finally made it past his parched lips.
"Hey," his mentor greeted him. A smile illuminated his exhausted features. "We thought we'd lost you."
"I … I thought … you'd lost me … too."
Mark chuckled at Jesse's characteristic show of humour. Then he grew sober. "Jess, where does it hurt?"
Jesse blinked at him. "Um … 'verywhere," he replied. Then, "Ch … chest … chest hurts. Can't … breathe … lung … punctured … "
"Anywhere else?"
That took a moment. He had to re-assess his own condition and that had been hard - and painful enough the first time. "Uh … left arm broke … " he gasped. "Hurts like hell … 'nd legs … think they're crushed. T … tried to move … hurt too much. Didn't do it … again."
"Just as well," pointed out Mark. "Jess, we're going to get you out of there but it's going to take a little time."
The young doctor nodded. He even managed a small smile. "I … I know."
"I want you to tell me if anything hurts more than it is already, okay? And I'm going to be right here, beside you. I'm not going to leave you."
A little sigh emerged. "Th … thanks."

Half an hour later Jesse was feeling even more grateful for that reassurance. The emergency services had arrived, rumbling into view from the canyon below. A disused service road had been found to exist just beyond the trees and it was far easier to come up to Jesse than it was to get down to him.
Mark was holding his hand tightly. The pain was beginning to crescendo and between breaths he whimpered constantly. Steve and Amanda stood by, helplessly watching as the heavy machinery was cranked into action and the front of his wrecked car was slowly, meticulously pulled away from him. The first jolt sent a bolt of searing pain slicing through him and his head snapped back as he let out a stifled scream.
"Stop! Stop!" commanded Mark, in alarm. "Jesse … Jess … it's okay, now. Breathe … just … breathe …"
Jesse's eyelids opened fractionally behind the shades he now wore and painfilled blue eyes turned to look at him. "Ea …. Easy for you … to say," he croaked.
Mark smiled warmly at him and cupped the blond head in one large hand. "Is that any way to thank the doctor who put your chest tube in?" he teased him.
The younger doctor's lips quirked up into a tiny smile of acknowledgement, then he was forced to endure another wave of agony as, with Mark's tacit approval, the rescue procedure was resumed.

Mark had inserted the chest tube during their wait for the rescue services. It had been the most unpleasant procedure he had ever had to carry out. No anaesthetic and his patient conscious and semi-upright. Jesse had tolerated it stoically, but he had practically bitten his lip through by the time the whole operation had finished. Mark had then covered him with the blankets which Steve had brought from the car, earning himself a grateful smile from his patient.
IV's had been brought from the ambulance. The potential crush injuries presented a real threat and Mark had ordered an IV line of normal saline with 50 mEq/L of sodium bicarbonate infused at a rate of l.5 liters per hour.
Floodlights had been set up to facilitate the rescue attempt and Jesse's eyes had watered at their unexpected brilliance. Steve, noticing his dilemma, had reached into his shirt pocket and extracted his sunglasses. His father had moved aside momentarily to allow him to place them on his friend's face.
"Thanks," Jesse had managed, flashing a brief smile in Steve's direction.
"You're very welcome, Jess," he had replied. Then, after giving the younger man's hand a quick squeeze, he had crawled back out of the car, allowing his father access once again.
"Better?" the older doctor had asked, as he adjusted the shades slightly on the younger man's nose.
"Yeah … much," came the quiet response.
Then the rescuers had begun their job.

It was a horrendous, time consuming task to get the young man free. They had to stop several times as intense agony speared him. He tried very hard not to show how much pain he was in but it was so very hard, and he was so very tired. Mark's firm grip on his hand was a lifeline. He felt the warmth flowing from the older man into his fingers. The soothing words were a balm to his shredded spirit. The mere presence of his friends beside him gave him new determination. He could feel their fear. It was almost tangible. Not so much from Mark - who was trying to be strong for him - but Steve and Amanda looked like they were in as much pain as he was.
It was all getting too much for him. But he wasn't going to give in now. Only a few more minutes and he would be free.
Of course, then there would be new problems to deal with.
But he refused to think about that until he absolutely had to.

The shriek of tortured metal seemed to be a permanent fixture in the small clearing.
It drowned out the other sounds.
The chirping crickets.
The clamour of voices
The small gasps from the victim.
Then it stopped.
"He's free!" announced one of the rescuers.
"Okay, let's get him out of here!" Mark ordered. He smiled down at his young friend. Jesse's face was tear-streaked - those last few minutes had been sheer torture - but he was smiling bravely. "How about it, Jess?" he asked, gently rubbing the hand he held. "What d'you say to a nice warm bed at Community General?"
"I … I say … that'd be great," came the whispered response.
They placed the backboard behind him, securing him to it, quickly dealt with his broken arm, and Mark checked his legs. He pronounced himself satisfied and with a quick nod to the EMT's, relinquished his hold on Jesse's hand.
The young man made a small sound as he lost the warmth which had sustained him during the last hours, but even as he was hoisted upward, Mark returned, looking down on him with a benevolent smile.
"You're going to be fine, Jess," he said. "It's going to be all right now."
Jesse frowned. Mark's voice was echoing and it seemed to be coming from far away. He was also growing blurry round the edges. The young doctor tried to speak. Couldn't. He seemed to be falling through a tunnel, leaving everyone behind. But even as he tried to protest, the tunnel closed up behind him and he fell into an oblivion that was like a little death.


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