"Remind me not to let my dad send you out on any surveillance assignments, because you're not very good at it."
Jesse Travis winced, even though his lover's weary smile took some of the sting out of his words. Sighing, he told himself that Steve was still grieving and didn't mean the words to be as harsh as they first sounded. "There's not exactly a lot of cover," the younger man gestured to the empty beach around them, "and it's not like I can park my car across the street and watch you from afar."
Steve was sitting on a miniature wave-created sand dune and watched with disinterest as Jesse walked the last few feet towards him. As the younger man settled down next to him, the detective once again turned his face out towards the water.
It was too bad, Jesse Travis thought as he yet again observed his lover's body language excluding him, that the phrase "to hurt for someone" wasn't more literal. Watching Steve the past couple of weeks as he mourned his sister's death had been painful. How Jesse hurt for his lover - but how he also wished he could do more than simply empathize with the grieving man. To actually assume Steve's pain, to literally hurt for him instead of being forced to sit back and observe while Steve hurt, that would be an ability that Jesse would give almost anything to possess.
Unfortunately, wishing didn't make it any more possible and comfort was the best he could do. Or, more to the point, comfort was something he would be capable of doing if only Steve would let him.
"It's not like you have to," Steve said, unknowingly reinforcing the doctor's thoughts, "Watch me, that is. I've been living on this beach most of my life. I think I can handle a walk all by myself." The policeman totally ignored the fact that he wasn't even standing, let alone walking, at the moment.
Jesse sighed again. He'd been trying to give Steve his space and let the man grieve the way he needed to but he wasn't sure that it was working. Steve was pushing everyone away. Friends like Amanda; his father; and, most personally distressing, his lover. Jesse.
The younger man had watched as Steve had made a quick getaway from the house when Amanda had shown up, bringing offerings of food with her. When she'd first arrived, it had seemed that it would be a dinner like so many others they'd shared in the past. For the first time in days, in fact, Mark had actually seemed interested in eating until Steve had bolted, claiming he needed to take a walk along the beach. At that, the small light had faded from Mark's eyes, taking with it Jesse's patience.
Most people might have fallen for Steve's stoic act, but Jesse knew better. The grief was tamped down and tightly controlled, but it was there. Waiting to come out and Jesse was determined that it was high time that it did. It wasn't healthy for Steve to bottle up so much pain. As a doctor, Jesse knew that if an infection were to heal, that it had to be lanced so that the wound was clean. It was a painful process and not pretty to behold, but necessary nonetheless. The young man had little personal experience with grief, but he had a feeling it wasn't so different than his medical metaphor.
He sat next to the older man, trying to figure out what tactic to take. It was one thing to determine that Steve needed to express his feelings, whether he wanted to or not, but it was quite another to actually begin the task. The couple sat in complete silence. Jesse gathered his courage once or twice, but lost it when he looked up at Steve's face. The deep lines at the other man's eyes were evidence of the depths of his sorrow. When it came down to it, Jesse just couldn't bring himself to add to that pain. Sighing yet again, he gave up on his grand plan and simply laid his head on Steve's shoulder.
The older man didn't acknowledge the gesture, although the warmth of Jesse pressed close was more welcome that his dead heart was willing to admit. After a few minutes, though, he couldn't help noticing that his shirt was getting wet. Interested in spite of himself, the detective took a closer look at his environment. It wasn't raining, however, and the waves were in no way close enough to spray the men where they sat. In confusion, he looked at his companion, to see if he'd observed the phenomenon.
As it turned out, questioning Jesse was unnecessary - one look at the other man and Steve had his answer. Jesse was crying, the tears silently running down his face.
"Oh, God, Jess, I'm sorry," Steve said, thinking back to the way he'd greeted his lover. "You know I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I'm always glad to see you, it's just I'm not myself lately."
Jesse smiled sadly, making no attempt to brush away the tears. "I know that, Steve. Don't worry about it."
"Then why are you crying?" If Jesse wasn't hurt by what Steve said, the detective couldn't figure out his lover's sorrow.
"Because you can't." Was Jesse's quiet reply. "And you need to, Steve. You need to cry."
Steve reverently lifted his hands to Jesse's face, awed by his mate's compassion. His fingers gently traced the tears' path while he composed himself enough to speak. "Jess, I'm okay," he said, in attempt to reassure his lover but Jesse didn't let him finish.
"No, you're not, Steve. You're not okay at all."
The two men stared at each other. Uncharacteristically, Jesse was unwilling to back down and it was Steve who broke the impasse. "Okay, I'm not okay," the bigger man admitted reluctantly. "But I'm holding myself together."
"At what price?" Jesse asked quietly. "You don't eat, you don't sleep, and you sure as heck won't talk to anybody. I heard Mark tell Amanda that you'd actually tried to go back to work."
"My captain wouldn't let me," Steve said bitterly, still stung by his superior officer's betrayal.
"Good for her," Jesse shot back, "she's a smart woman."
"Jesse, I need to work," Steve all but launched himself to his feet. "I thought you of all people would understand that." The big man stalked fiercely down the beach but Jesse wouldn't let him run away again. Following like a puppy, the young blond dogged his lover's heels.
"What I understand," Jesse said grimly, "Is that Mark's already buried one child, he doesn't need to bury another."
Steve wasn't so far gone that he didn't immediately understand what the doctor was getting at. "Jesse, I would never ."
"Not on purpose," the other man relented enough to say, "but if your focus is off, then something bad's bound to happen."
The detective came to a stop. "I need to work, Jess," he repeated. "I need to put some bad guys away, to feel like I'm making a difference."
Jesse snorted. "Like you haven't already put hundreds of criminals away during your career? Believe me, Steve, you've made a difference and then some."
"But Carol still died! What kind of difference is that? I'm a cop and I couldn't even prevent my own sister's murder!"
Jesse didn't flinch in the face of his lover's grief-driven fury. This was what he wanted - for Steve to articulate some of his rage and pain.
"You feel guilty," the younger man stated. This was actually no revelation to him, he'd long come to that conclusion about what his mate was feeling.
"Of course I feel guilty," Steve yelled. "Carol was trying to get to my party! And what was I doing while she was being killed? I was bad-mouthing her, that's what I was doing."
"Steve, you couldn't have known ." There was a world of tenderness in Jesse's gentle tone, but Steve wouldn't listen.
"Tell that to Carol," he snapped. "Tell that to my dad. The last time he hears his daughter's voice and it's her pleading for help. Help that didn't arrive in time. Do you know how long that's going to haunt him?"
Jesse was tempted to answer that he knew exactly how long that phone call would haunt Mark - forever. The precise period of time that it would haunt Steve. Instead, he quietly said, "Don't let them do this."
The calm maturity in his lover's voice sliced through Steve's rage. "What do you mean? Don't let who do what?"
Jesse gingerly approached his mate, carefully placing one hand on Steve's arm as if he were afraid that the big man would fall apart. "The people who murdered Carol. Don't let them kill her all over again."
The young doctor responded automatically to the hurt confusion in Steve's voice. "They ended her life, Steve, but don't let them wipe out her existence. When you think of your sister, don't let the only thing you remember be the way she died or then they will have killed her utterly."
Steve's voice was husky when he asked, "I'm not sure I follow you, babe."
Jesse felt a flare of pleasure at the endearment, the first one that Steve had used since Carol's body had been discovered. He ignored it, though, knowing that making his point was much more important. "You've got your memories of Carol and your dad does too. You've caught the people responsible for her death. I know it's hard but you have to let it go now. Instead of obsessing about bringing the world to justice, try and think of the good things about her. If you only focus on the way she died and neglect to remember the way she lived, well, then the bad guys will have won." Jesse moved away from Steve, suddenly losing confidence in what he was attempting to say. By the blank expression on his lover's face, none of it was sinking in anyway. Still, he had to try one more time. "Because if you don't, not only will they have murdered Carol, but they'll have succeeded in killing a part of you too."
Whether it was because of Jesse's words, the tenderness with which he uttered him, or the dejection in his face at the possibility of Steve letting Carol's death destroy him, something broke free in the older man. Like a dam collapsing, all of the pain he'd been holding back suddenly came flooding out. The detective started yelling epithets at the bastards who killed his sister, railed at the injustice of Carol being robbed of her life just as she was finally happy, and cursed at a seemingly uncaring God who'd let it all happen.
When the fury was finally gone, Steve felt as though he'd run a marathon. Weeping, he fell to his knees, fists pounding over and over on the sand as he let himself feel the emotions he'd been bottling up. Gradually, he became aware that his hands weren't hitting the grainy softness of the beach, but something a little more fleshy. Bleary with tears, he lifted his head, only to realize that Jesse had situated himself between Steve and the sand. Kneeling, the younger man's thighs were what was beneath Steve's hands, taking the impact of the detective's fists.
"My God, Jess, what are you doing?" Steve croaked, immediately ceasing his movement. "Did I hurt you?"
The doctor smiled, glad that the other man's catharsis had finally occurred but relieved that his lover was back with him. "Don't you get it, Steve? When you hurt, I hurt. That's the way it works."
With a curious detachment, Steve looked down at his hands. They were bloody in some areas, probably from the small rocks and debris that any beach contained. That must have been the point where Jesse decided to shield him. "That was going above and beyond your duty, love," he said. "I couldn't live with myself, Jesse, if I thought I hurt you."
The younger man was quick to reassure him. "Don't worry about it, Steve. You'd gotten the worst of it out of your system by that point anyway."
The detective realized he was virtually in the smaller man's lap. Content to stay there, he stretched up for a kiss, which Jesse was more than happy to bestow. When they pulled apart, Steve realized that he had more than one type of hurt to apologize for. "Jess, I am so sorry. I didn't mean to worry you so much. I just I just thought I had to be strong for my dad. I didn't mean to shut you out."
"I understand." As always, his lover forgave easily. "But you need to remember that I'm there for you, okay? There's been so many times you've been there for me, when I've needed support. It goes both ways, all right?"
"You got it," Steve affirmed. "And if I ever forget again, you've got my permission to kick my ass."
"You better believe it," Jesse grinned at his mate's rally but then sobered. "But Mark's not here now, Steve. You don't need to be strong for him right at the moment." He smiled sadly. "And the pacific ocean's salty anyway, it's not gonna notice a few tears."
After his outburst, Steve would have thought his eyes would have run dry, but his lover's tenderness started them to mist over. Reaching up to cup Jesse's face, he said, "You are incredible, you know that?"
The younger man turned his head enough to kiss Steve's palm. "You're pretty incredible yourself," he whispered. Then, eager to get them on a more even emotional keel, he changed the subject. "Hey," he asked, "did you and Carol ever come to the beach together? Maybe do some surfing?"
Steve allowed himself a lop-sided grin. "More like, I was always going after her when she'd snuck out of the house to go to some beach bonfire party." His smile softened. "Carol wasn't exactly the surfing type."
"I just bet all her teenybopper friends had a crush on you too," Jesse teased, glad to see his lover able to move on to some fond memories of his sister.
"Yeah, but she was younger than me. They all had braces and flat chests," Steve said.
"Hey!" Jesse protested with feigned annoyance. "What's wrong with flat chests?"
The sound of their laughter drifted across the empty beach as Jesse continued to coax Steve into recounting happy memories. And if the ocean's salty depths increased by a tear or two, it never said a word to anyone.
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