Disclaimer: Our story begins at the end of the
episode "Missing Green". (At least, I hope that's right). Jason
has just rescued his friends from the Dimension of Doom, and is about to
step through the portal himself....
Jason stood back and watched as his friends leapt through the portal
one by one, anxious for them all to get through before the portal closed.
Billy jumped through after the girls, and then Zack....
Jason stepped forward, but before he had a chance to pass through the portal himself, a clawed hand locked onto his ankle and yanked hard. A sharp cry escaped Jason as he lost balance and fell heavily. Then, before he could get up again, another clawed hand grabbed his other ankle and dragged him back, away from the portal.
The moment Goldar had Jason a decent distance away from the portal, he let the boy go, grabbed Zedd's staff and aimed it at the doorway. There was a crackle of light, and the portal closed. "No....." Jason whispered, mortified.
Behind him, Goldar laughed cruelly. "You're my prisoner now, Red Ranger! Trapped here, in the Dimension of Doom forever!"
Jason's head dropped to the floor, and it was all he could do to hold back the tears. Zordon had warned him he may be trapped, but his friends were more important, and he'd gotten them all out. Perhaps, just perhaps, Zordon would have a way of taking back his powers, and transferring them to Tommy. Then, maybe, the Power Rangers could continue on.
Jason swallowed hard, fighting off the nausea that threatened to overtake him. He could only pray that his own fate would be quick, and painless....
"Where's Jason?" Kimberly asked, her voice strained with tension. A painfully long silence filled the Command Centre, and when the red ranger didn't appear, the four teenagers turned back to Zordon anxiously for an explanation. Zordon did not have good news.
"I'm afraid Jason was stopped by Goldar before he could escape. The portal is closed now, and Jason is trapped in the Dimension of Doom."
Panic struck the others, and Zack stepped forward, speaking anxiously. "We have to go back there and get him, Zordon."
Alpha spoke up mournfully. "It's no good, Zack. The portal only only once every few hundred years. You can't go back."
"Wait a minute," Trini whispered, her voice barely audible as she struggled with the mounting horror at the situation. "Zordon, are you telling us that there's no way of rescuing Jason? He trapped there... forver?"
There was a moment of silent hesitation before Zordon replied. "I'm afraid so, Trini. Jason understood the risks when he went in. He knew he would be trapped if he did not escape with the rest of you."
Billy came forward then, with an expression of sheer panic on his face. "Zordon , there has to be something you can do. Can't the computer lock onto Jason's communicator, or his power coin? If we can get his location on the computer...."
"The dimension is sealed," Zordon replied in a remarkably quiet voice. "No power extends so far as to break through the seal. I'm afraid there is only one thing I can do, rangers. That is to take back the powers of the red ranger before Zedd can control Jason, or before the powers can be destroyed completely."
The four teenagers were absolutely stricken. "You're gonna leave Jason to Zedd without any powers?" Zack asked in a tight voice. "You're gonna just... just leave him there?" Zordon could not bring himself to reply. Distressed, Zack growled, "I'm getting outta here."
Before anyone could speak, he teleported out of the Command Centre. A moment later, the others followed suit.
* * *
Goldar was no leass than stunned when there came a flash of red light that momentarily engulfed Jason. Then the light was gone and, while Jason remained, he was no longer in ranger uniform. He was simply in his black pants and red shirt.
Jason was unable to hold back a shudder. Zordon had done it. He'd taken his powers away. He knew for sure that they were gone, because all of a sudden he felt terribly vulnerable.
Goldar eyed Jason angrily. "Well, at least I still have you for Lord Zedd. Even without your powers."
He turned back to what he had been doing, leaving Jason to wonder just what would happen to him.
* * *
"What are we going to do?" Zack asked softly as they walked together through the park.
Billy shook his head helplessly. "I don't know. I've thoroughly exmained every possibility and it would appear that Zordon was right. There's no way to get back into the Dimension of Doom until the portal opens again, and that may not be for another hundred years. At least."
A heavy silence enveloped the group as they tried to deal with the apparent loss of their friend and leader. Then, finally, Kimberly spoke in a strangled voice. "We need Tommy."
The three words said it all and, with no hesitation at all, they headed off towards the carpark.
* * *
Tommy was up at his uncle's cabin, as Kimberly had guessed. He was just returning from the lake when they arrived, and the surprise on his face was obvious.
"We're really sorry to come up here like this," Kimberly apologized in a slightly shaky tone.
Tommy smiled, although he was clearly confused. "It's okay. C'mon in."
* * *
Inside the cabin, Tommy bade them all sit down. Once they had done so, he looked around at each of them, and felt a moment of gloom wash over him. "Jason couldn't come, huh?"
The four teenagers looked at one another, distressed. It was then that Tommy began to realise that something had happened. "What is it?" he asked quietly. Silence reigned for a long moment, and then Billy went on to tell Tommy what had happened. Tommy listened in tense silence until Billy had finished.
"And Zordon said there's no way back into this dimension? That Jason's trapped there?"
Trini nodded unhappily. "Yes, and that's not even the worst part! Zordon took Jason's powers away from him!"
Tommy was outraged. "He what?! He left Jason to Zedd without any powers? No protection...?"
The others all nodded miserably. Tommy stood up abruptly. "Let's go."
"Where're we going?" Zack asked as Tommy ushered them out of the cabin.
"Back to Angel Grove," Tommy told them. "We're going to get Jason back."
* * *
"Do you have an idea?" Kimberly asked softly as they headed back to Angel Grove. Tommy stared intently out the window.
"Not yet, but I'm not going to sit back and do nothing. I'm not leaving Jason to Zedd."
* * *
Jason stood in stoic silence as Zedd walked around him. He had seen the evil ruler in the viewing globe enough times, but this was the first time he'd actually come face-to-face with him. It was a frightening experience.
"How does it feel to be trapped here with no powers, Jason?" Zedd taunted cruelly. "How does it feel to know you've been abandoned by that ancient fool Zordon?"
Jason drew in a slow, calming breath and said nothing. He hadn't been abandoned. Zordon had warned him of the dangers, and he'd taken the risk. He'd been abandoned by no one. He was glad that Zordon had taken his powers. Kind of....
Zedd motioned to Goldar as he spoke. "I wouldn't be so glad to be without my powers, if were you. If you still had them, this wouldn't hurt so much."
Goldar stepped in. then, and slammed his armour-plated fist into Jason's stomach. Jason doubled over in agony, and dropped to his knees. Before he even had a chance to recover, though, the fist came again, this time slamming into the side of his head.
Jason collapsed to the floor, and the last sound he heard before he lost consciousness was Zedd and Goldar's cruel laughter echoing in his ears.
Command Centre: mid-afternoon....
Tommy's arrival in the Command Centre was no cause for celebration, despite Alpha's attempts at an enthusiastic welcome. "Tommy, it's good to see you!"
Tommy spared the little robot a grim smile. "Same here, Alpha."
Zordon, however, wasted no time with false pleasantries. He knew full well the reason for Tommy's visit. "Tommy, I have already told the other rangers that there is nothing we can do to help Jason."
"I can't accept that, Zordon," Tommy replied. "There's got to be some way we can rescue him. He can't be lost!"
"I'm sorry, Tommy."
Tommy looked away from the column of light, tears forming in his eyes before he could stop them. "He's my best friend, Zordon. I can't leave him. I can't...."
"If there was a way," Zordon intoned, then I would tell you. Even if it was dangerous. I understand you are all angry and upset, but you know I would not abandon Jason if there was even just a slim chance that he could be rescued."
"So why'd you take his powers away from him?" Tommy demanded. "Zedd'll be able to do whatever he likes with him now!"
"I could not risk Zedd taking control of Jason with the powers of the red ranger, nor could I risk allowing Zedd to destroy the powers completely."
Tommy stared up at Zordon, unyielding. "Like he destroyed mine?"
"Yes," Zordon admitted after a moment's hesitation.
Tommy felt a rush of anger and nausea scramble his insides. "You mean, Jason is replaceable, but the powers aren't."
"Tommy, you know that isn't fair," Zordon answered. "If there was a chance of rescuing Jason, I would let you take it."
"But I don't get it," Tommy protested. "Billy said you couldn't lock onto Jason to teleport him back, but you can locate the powers to take them back?"
"The powers are seperate to Jason," Zordon explained patiently. "I can take them back because they are not solid matter, and are connected to the power grid which, in turn, is connected to me. Jason is completely seperate; he could only be located through his communicator, and the seal around the Dimension of Doom has rendered it useless. There is no way for Jason to leave the Dimension of Doom, unless Zedd allows him to leave."
Tommy felt his heart sink with despair as he realised the awful truth in Zordon's words. "And there's no way that Zedd'll let Jason go. Right?"
"The odds of that happening are very remote," Zordon replied.
Tommy hung his head, feeling sick and miserable. "I believe you. But if anything does happen... Anything at all... With Jason, I mean...."
"I will contact you and the other rangers immediately," Zordon told him firmly.
Tommy nodded, barely able to bring himself to look at Zordon, or to speak to him. "Thanks."
Dimension of Doom....
The moment that Jason fully regained his senses, he knew what was happening. His hands and feet were strapped to a cold, metal table, and there was some sort of leather brace or mask to keep his head squarely in place and to ensure that he couldn't move. There was a sour taste in his mouth, like he'd been forced to swallow something while unconscious.
He knew what was going on. He'd been forced to swallow some sort of potion or liquid while unconscious, probably to try and turn him to evil.
Jason suffered a moment of panic, but managed to fight it back down. It would do him no good to panic. The best thing he could do was to keep as calm as possible and wait to see what happened.
Jason tried to turn his head at the sound of the grating voice, but couldn't. A moment later, though, Zedd came into sight, peering down at him triumphantly.
Jason tried to speak to tell Zedd where to go, but the brace stopped him from speaking. All he could make was a few muffled sounds of anger, and so he had to settle for as malevolant a glare as he could manage.
Zedd laughed obnoxiously at that.
"Hate is good, Jason. Very good. I want you to hold on to your hate so that it may serve me in time."
Jason moaned silently and shut his eyes. Calm.... got to stay calm.... A moment later, he nearly choked as a foul-tasting liquid was forcibly poured down his throat. Fighting hard not to gag, he tried to spit it out, but Zedd had tightened the strap around his chin, and he could no longer even get his mouth open. The only choice he had was to swallow it, which he did.
As soon as he had done so, the jaw strap was loosened off, and Zedd reappeared above him.
"There, see how easy that was? There's no point in fighting me, Jason. No one is coming to rescue you. You know it as well as I do. You are mine to control."
Laughing coldly, Zedd disappeared from sight, leaving Jason alone to contemplate his fate in despairing silence.
Angel Grove Park....
"Nothing?" Kimberly asked unhappily as Tommy finally rejoined them. He shook his head, feeling worse than he ever had before in his entire life.
"Nothing," he confirmed miserably. "Zordon said there was nothing he could do, and I had to believe him. I don't want to believe that he deliberately leave Jason like that. Not if there was some way to rescue him."
The other rangers nodded gloomily, and they all fell into a despondent silence.
Dimension of Doom....
Jason knew he was in serious trouble when he woke up and found he no longer wanted to fight Zedd. Whatever the potions were that Zedd had steadily been feeding him, they were starting to work.
He shut his eyes tightly. trying to find some way of clearing the fog that was starting to close in around his mind. The only thing he could think of was to recite the names of his friends over and over in his mind, which he did.
Billy, Zack, Tommy, Trini, Kimberly..... It was the only thing which reminded Jason who he was. A terrible feeling of anguish struck him. Who he had been. He wasn't a Power Ranger anymore.
In that moment, Jason wondered if it was really worth fighting Zedd. He knew no one was going to rescue him. Not this time.
A moan escaped him. That was Zedd's potions again. He couldn't give in. If he did, it would mean he had lost all hope. And if he lost all hope, was there any point in even going on living?
He couldn't give in to Zedd. He had to hold out for as long as he possibly could.
Angel Grove Lake....
Don't give up, Jason, Tommy thought silently as he sat near the lake in Angel Grove Park. Wherever you are, don't give up, buddy. We haven't given up on finding a way to rescue you. Don't give up on us. Fight Zedd. Fight him with everything you've got.
"I can't get it out of my mind, either," Kimberly said softly as she sat down beside Tommy on the soft, cool grass. "It isn't fair. Jason always looked after us, and now when he's in serious trouble there isn't a single thing we can do to help him! It just isn't fair!"
Tommy sighed. "I know. I just wish there was something we could do... Anything! He's probably so damn scared, wherever he is...."
Kimberly hugged Tommy miserably. She couldn't say anything to ease his distress; she couldn't even do anything to make things easier on herself.
They were all feeling guilty, of course. If Jason hadn't taken such a dreadful risk, they would have lost their powers, but Jason would still be with them. Which was worse, losing their powers, or losing their friend and leader?
None of them had been able to answer that one. They knew what the politically correct answer was, but the truth of the matter was that they would have all traded their powers if it meant getting Jason back safely.
Tommy and Kimberly sat there for a long time, neither one saying a word.
Dimension of Doom
Zedd watched silently, anxiously as Jason woke up. It was the fourth day of the boy's captivity and three times a day, every day, Zedd had been forcing him to to take the specially brewed potions. Now, on the fourth day, Zedd watched anxiously for a sign that the teenager was under his control.
Jason blinked and opened his eyes properly.... and Zedd caught a flash of red. Moving closer, he looked down at Jason and finally saw what he had been waiting to see. Jason's eyes were red, a sign that the potions had finally overcome him.
"Jason?" Zedd asked, tense with excitement. Jason blinked again and looked across at Zedd. For the briefest moment the reddish glow faltered. Then it passed and was as strong as before.
Zedd laughed aloud. Finally he had one of the Power Rangers brats in his true control. Now he would terrorize the others through Jason, and show them the true meaning of despair.
* * *
Much to Zedd's dismay, the reddish light in Jason's eyes did not last. In its place, however, something else emerged, something completely unexpected, yet welcome to Zedd all the same. In fact, it guaranteed control over Jason better than anything else possibly could have.
"You are going to do everything I order you to," Zedd told Jason when the boy was finally released from the straps which had held him down for the past five days. Jason glared at Zedd defiantly.
"No, I won't. You don't have any control over me, Zedd."
Zedd smirked knowingly at him. "Oh yes, Jason. I do. Because unless you carry out my orders, this is what will happen." Zedd aimed his staff in Jason's general direction, and a moment later, Jason doubled over in agony. He clutched his head in his hands as an unbearable shard of pain ripped through his skull, and a faint sob escaped him as he went down on his knees.
Zedd pulled back the staff and waited patiently as Jason recovered. then, when the teenager looked up at him in dazed shock, he spoke triumphantly.
"The potions didn't give me control of your mind, as I had expected them to. However, they have given me control of your physical well-being. Do as you're ordered, and you'll avoid the kind of pain you just experienced. Defy me, and you'll suffer more than you ever imagined possible. Do you understand?"
Jason stared at Zedd in deep dismay. He still had free will, and yet could not defy Zedd. Not unless he virtually wanted to commit suicide. This was far, far worse a fate than he could ever have imagined.
Not for the first time, and not for the last, Jason felt despair wash over him.
Zedd looked down at Jason expectantly.
"Do you understand?" he repeated quietly. Jason lowered his gaze to the floor. He had no choice.
"Yes," he replied in a dull voice. "I understand."
Angel Grove Park....
The last thing Tommy and the rangers were expecting as they headed through the park on their way to the Youth Centre, was to see Jason, alone and apparently free. They had been heading despondently across the park when Tommy came to an abrupt halt, causing the other rangers to walk into him. When they started to ask what was wrong, Tommy nodded speechlessly in the direction he was looking. They all looked, and were nearly overcome with shock.
"Jason...." Kimberly whispered, stunned. Indeed, it was Jason, standing by a large Oak tree, watching them silently, expressionlessly.
Tommy shook himself back to reality and started forward, a little confused but grateful all the same to see his friend apparently unharmed. "Jason, it is you...!"
Jason stepped back, away from Tommy, as the teenager approached. "Don't come any closer."
Tommy froze in his tracks, realising from the expression on Jason's face that something was very wrong. Zack came forward, then, moving up to stand beside Tommy. "Jase, you got away from Zedd! How'd you get away, man?"
Jason swallowed hard, wishing desperately that Zedd wasn't making him do this. "I didn't."
A startled, tense silence enveloped the group. "What d'you mean, you didn't?" Tommy asked, feeling worse with every second that passed. "You're here, aren't you?"
Jason lowered his gaze as he spoke, unable to bring himself to look straight at any of them. "I'm here for Zedd."
Trini came forward, then, a horrified expression on her face. "Jason, no! It isn't true."
Jason watched her uneasily as she moved towards him. "It is true," he told her, and then: "Trini, don't!" The warning that Jason shouted was too late, and Trini ran to him before anyone could stop her. It happened so suddenly that no one realised what was going on, until it was too late.
Trini came within arm's length, and Jason reacted according to what Zedd demanded, unable to resist and stop himself. He made a single, sharp movement and struck out viciously at Trini, sending her reeling back into the others.
It was all they could do to keep their balance as Trini crashed into them, and when they recovered, they all stared at Jason in disbelief. Jason stared back, unable to conceal his distress at what he had just done, and, as they turned and fled from him one by one, the tears began to flow.
Only Tommy remained, staring at Jason with open shock and anger. Then, finally, Tommy forced a path through his anger, and saw Jason clearly. The other boy was standing there, tears running uncontrollably down his cheeks. Before Tommy could say or do anything, though, Jason turned abruptly and disappeared over the rise of the hill.
For a long moment, Tommy considered following Jason. Then he changed his mind and hurried after his friends.
* * *
Tommy caught up with them at the Youth Centre. Trini was sitting on a chair, holding an ice pack over her left eye and cheek, shaking as she cried. Kimberly stood off to one side, also crying silently. Zack and Billy stood close by in solemn silence, neither moving nor speaking.
"You okay?" Tommy asked Trini in concern.
When Trini didn't reply, Ernie, who had come over to help, spoke up. "It might swell a little. It's a pretty bad knock. Looks like she walked into a tree!"
The attempt at humour went unnoticed. Tommy reached over and put a hand on Trini's shoulder, but still she said nothing, continuing to cry softly. Ernie hesitated, then left them alone. Once he was gone, Tommy spoke up in an urgent tone. "Did any of you take a good look at Jason?"
Zack looked up at Tommy and spoke bitterly. "What was to see? He took a shot at Trini."
Billy nodded sombrely. "It would appear that Lord Zedd has Jason completely in his control."
Tommy spoke anxiously, desperate for them to listen. "That's just it! I think Jason knew what he was doing!"
Kimberly stared at Tommy, confused and distressed. "You mean he did it on his own?"
Tommy hesitated, realising how it was going to be translated. He went on, choosing his words carefully. "I think Zedd's got control of him, but it's different to when Rita controlled me. I really believed I was evil then, and that I had an allegiance to Rita. She was in total control of my mind. I don't think Zedd's in control of Jason like that! It's something else. Jason didn't want to do what he did back there, but somehow he didn't have a choice."
Tommy trailed off breathlessly, looking around at each of them and hoping they would comprehend what he was saying. Finally Trini spoke in a shaky voice. "Why do you think it's any different?"
"When the rest of you guys ran off," Tommy explained quickly, "I stayed back. I got a good look at Jason. Guys, he was crying! Like, he knew what he was doing, knew it was wrong, but couldn't do anything about it."
There was a stunned silence amongst the friends. If what Tommy was saying was true, then perhaps there was hope for rescuing Jason after all. Tommy took hold of Trini's hand and pulled her to her feet.
"C'mon, let's get to the Command Centre. We have to tell Zordon." They charged out of the Youth Centre, leaving Ernie to wonder just what was going on.
* * *
Zordon listened in tense silence as Tommy rapidly explained his theory, barely pausing for breath. When he was finished, Zordon spoke slowly. "If that is true, then there may be a chance of saving Jason from Lord Zedd. You will need to find out for certain, though. I will not allow any of you to risk yourselves if it becomes clear that there is no chance of a rescue."
"How are we going to find out?" Trini asked softly. Tommy looked over at her grimly.
"we'll have to talk to Jason. See if we can get him to tell us what's happening. If there's even just a slight chance of getting Jason back, I want to take it. There'd be nothing worse than leaving him to Zedd, with him knowing what's he's doing and not being able to fight it. We have to try."
The others all nodded finally in agreement. Despite Jason's hostile actions earlier, they had to take heart and believe, at least remotely, that there was some truth in Tommy's words. Because if there wasn't, and Jason really was lost to Zedd, then what hope was there for the rest of them?
"In any case," Tommy went on vehemently, "Jason's my best friend. There's no way I'm letting Zedd have him without a fight."
The rest of the team exchanged glances. If Tommy could believe and hope, even after losing his powers, then so could the rest of them.
* * *
Jason watched his friends from a distance as they made their way back through the park. He was desperate to go to them, talk to them, make them realise that he hadn't wanted to do what he did earlier. He desperately wanted to ask them for the help he needed so badly to get away from Zedd.
He couldn't do it, though. Zedd was keeping permanent tabs on his every move, and he knew what would happen if he tried to approach them without Zedd's say-so.
He slumped back miserably in the branches of the tree as Tommy, Trini and Zack disappeared over the hill. Kimberly and Billy were nowhere to be seen. They were probably off somewhere, trying to avoid a run-in with him. Well, after what he had done to Trini, he couldn't blame them.
Jason's black mood deteriorated even further when Goldar suddenly appeared at the bottom of the tree, waving his sword around like the prize fool he was. "Come down from there!" the over-sized ape barked sharply.
Jason sighed heavily and jumped down from the branches to land beside Goldar. "What does his Mightiness want now?" he asked in a wearily sarcastic tone.
"Show some respect for your master!" Goldar roared angrily, but Jason was equally quick to retaliate.
"Zedd's got me so I have to do what he says," the teenager snarled angrily, "but that's all he's got from me. I'll die before I show him any respect."
Apparently deciding it was not worth the time or effort to fight it out with Jason, Goldar abruptly switched the topic. "Lord Zedd has a new task for you."
Jason withheld the urge to reply with any further sarcastic retorts. He had been lucky that time, and he knew already from experience that continued attempts would only bring him unwanted suffering.
"Okay. What is it?"
"Write out a note for the Power Rangers," Goldar told him. "Make sure it's delivered immediately."
"What's this note going to say?"
"It will say you need their help to break the control that Lord Zedd has over you. Tell them you will contact them soon. That is all. Do it now, ranger."
A bitter look flashed across Jason's face. "I'm not a ranger anymore. You know that."
Goldar laughed cruelly at Jason's anguish. "Yes, that's right. Well, go then, human. Carry out your orders as you've been told. And here's a reminder for you not to disobey."
Jason cried out sharply and fell to his knees as a searing bolt of pain sliced down through his head. It lasted for a few unbearable seconds, and then it was gone as suddenly as it had come. A shudder passed through Jason as he got unsteadily to his feet.
"Don't worry," he said in a soft, sullen voice. "I'll do it." Turning, Jason stalked off, leaving Goldar to stare after him.
* * *
"Did you see that?" Kimberly whispered in shock. She and Billy were hidden almost dangerously close to where Jason had just been met by Goldar, and they had seen and heard everything. Now, after Goldar had gone, they emerged from their hiding place to talk it over.
"I saw," Billy replied quietly. "Perhaps Tommy was right. Maybe Lord Zedd isn't in control of Jason's mind after all."
"C'mon," Kimberly said anxiously, "we'd better find the others and tell them about this."
Billy nodded, and they hurried off together in search of their friends.
Angel Grove Park; mid-afternoon....
Jason sat under a tree, staring at the blank piece of paper that Goldar had given him. His heart was beating almost painfully hard against his chest, and he didn't even notice the gentle, cool breeze that ruffled his hair slightly.
Write a note asking the rangers for help.....
Although Zedd didn't realise it, he'd just given Jason the chance he so badly needed. Of course, Zedd obviously meant it to be part of a trap, but what was to stop him from turning it around to aid himself? Zedd wouldn't know....
Jason quickly scribbled a message on the paper, making himself fight against the hope that surged through him. Perhaps, just perhaps, it wouldn't be too long now before he was back on the right side of the fence, fighting against Zedd again with his friends.
Shoving the note into the unmarked envelope, Jason got to his feet and hurried off to give it to the one person who he knew would get it to Tommy and the others.
Angel Grove Youth Centre....
Ernie was surprised, but pleased when Jason came in and headed up to the counter. "Hey, Jason," he said pleasantly, but his smile faded when he got a good look at the teenager. "Are you feeling okay, Jason? Don't take this the wrong way, but you don't look too good at all."
Jason managed a faint smile. "I'm okay. I've just had a lot on my mind lately." literally.....
Ernie nodded, still frowning a little. "Sure. What can I get you? Soda? Hamburger...?"
"Nothing like that," Jason answered somewhat breathlessly as he handed the envelope to Ernie. "Just a favour. could you give this to Tommy and the others when you see them?"
Ernie hesitated, then spoke slowly. "Sure I could, but why not tell them whatever you want to tell them face-to-face? Tommy, Zack and Trini are right over there."
Jason froze for a moment, stricken. He dared not go near them, knowing what Zedd would probably do to him if he did. He finally gathered his wits and spoke in a tense voice. "Could you just give it to them? Please, Ernie...?" Jason turned and hurried from the Youth Centre as fast as he could move, not daring to even look in the direction of his friends.
* * *
Across the room, Tommy, Zack and Trini watched in grim silence as Jason entered and left the Youth Centre. Ernie had obviously pointed out to Jason that they were there, and it looked as though Jason had panicked. He had literally bolted from the Centre.
Rising up, Tommy went up to the counter. "Ernie, what did Jason want?"
Ernie looked confused. "He just asked me to give this note to you guys. When I said you were here, I think he panicked. Tommy, is Jason okay?"
Tommy smiled uneasily. "Sure he is. Why?"
Ernie shrugged. "I don't know. He hasn't been hanging out with you kids for over a week now, and between us, he looks like he's getting sick or something."
Tommy nodded as he pulled the note from the envelope. "He's okay." He fell silent as he read the brief message scribbled hastily on the paper.
I don't want to follow Zedd, but I can't fight him. Not alone. He'll kill me. I need your help. Please believe me.
Tommy drew in a sharp breath and darted back to the table just as Billy and Kimberly arrived. "Check this out," Tommy told them, his voice full of anxiety.
Zack took the note and read it just loud enough for each of them to hear it. He then looked up at Tommy, a mixture of doubt and hope on his face.
"You think it's for real?"
"It could be," Billy interrupted, "but we'll have to be very careful." He went on to describe all that he and Kimberly had seen and heard, including the moment of agony that Jason had suffered when Goldar had reminded him of his "obligations."
The others listened grimly, and when Billy finished, Tommy spoke quietly and determinedly. "We'll have to be careful, then."
"Tommy," Trini whispered anxiously, feeling the bruise on her cheek start to throb slightly, "it's a trap. You heard Billy."
"I know," Tommy said. "But what if Jason's trying to use this to get help for real? You heard what Billy said about whatever it was that Goldar did to Jason. What if this is the only way Jason can get to us without Zedd stopping him?"
Trini stared at Tommy tearfully. she wanted to believe in Jason as he did, but it was painfully hard after Jason had attacked her. "What if it's not?"
Tommy squeezed her hand gently, reassuringly. "We'll be careful. We have to see."
"Very good, Jason," Zedd purred at the teenager in the throne room. "You're following orders very well."
Jason didn't reply. He avoided speaking to Zedd as much as humanly possible. It had frequently resulted in Zedd getting angry and using what he was now calling the Control, but Jason didn't care. It was the only show of resistance he could give, and he was using it as much as he could.
It didn't seem to affect Jason this time, though. Instead, Zedd went on to speak in a nauseatingly pleasant voice. "In fact, I think you have earned yourself a few hours of rest. You may go to Earth and have some time to yourself. Oh, and while you're there, you might continue to try and convince the rangers that you're trying to break my hold on you."
Jason stared at Zedd blankly. Zedd turned away, motioning dismissively with his hand. "Go."
* * *
The rangers were a little startled, although not entirely surprised, when Jason suddenly appeared in front of them.
"I need to talk to you," he said softly, and they couldn't help but notice how weak and exhausted he looked.
They exchanged wary looks, and then Tommy nodded. "Okay. There's no one around here. We'll talk now."
A moment passed, and then Jason sat down slowly on the cool grass. "Don't get too close," he warned them, and this time no one did. "Ernie gave you the message?" Jason asked, making a desperate effort to keep his voice reasonably steady.
"We got it," Zack replied quietly, "but Billy and Kimberly saw when Goldar told you to write it."
Jason looked first at Billy, and then at Kimberly. He took in their skeptical expressions, and felt hope start to drain away. "Then you probably don't don't believe me. I don't blame you."
Tommy leant forward anxiously. "Give us a reason to believe you!"
Jason shrugged a little, unable to bring himself to look Tommy in the eye. "I can't, really." He glanced around at them briefly, then his gaze darted away from them again. "Maybe I'd better just go."
He started to get up, and only Tommy speaking out stopped him. "Jason, no! Don't go. We want to help you. Tell us what's going on, please!"
Jason sighed heavily and sat back down again. "Would it really make any difference? Anything I tell you is just going to sound like an excuse."
"Try and tell us," Kimberly told him softly. "We really do want to help."
Jason hesitated for a moment, then went on to speak in a quiet voice, hoping to God that Zedd wasn't listening in. "After I was trapped... in the Dimension of Doom.... Zedd started to feed me some potions. I guess they were supposed to turn me to evil, or something...."
"They didn't work?" Zack ventured.
Jason shrugged a little. "Not the way Zedd expected them to. He didn't get control of my mind, but he got control of my.... I guess, my health. I don't really know what it is that he does. All I know is that when I don't do exactly as he says, he points his staff at me and I get a really bad pain in my head. I guess he could kill me if he kept it up for long enough."
Billy nodded. "And that's what Goldar did to you earlier."
"Right," Jason answered.
"And what about the note?" Tommy asked tensely.
Jason faltered for just a moment before making himself speak. "It's supposed to be part of a trap," he whispered as loudly as he dared. "I don't know anymore about it, but I meant everything that I wrote. I want to get away from Zedd, but I need help. Before it's too late." He looked up at them, struggling with the tears in his eyes. "Please.... I really don't think I can handle this for much longer."
Tommy locked gazes with Jason and gave a single, firm nod. "We'll do whatever we can. I promise."
Jason smiled gratefully at Tommy. Then, getting slowly, painfully to his feet, he left them there.
"Ernie was right," Tommy said softly when Jason had gone. "Jason is getting sick. Did you see him?"
Zack nodded. "Yeah, we saw. He's really pale, and it looked like it hurt him to move."
Tommy stared in the direction that Jason had gone off in. "We have to move fast if we're going to help him." He paused, his gaze falling on the girls.
Trini looked at them guiltily. "I'm sorry. I just can't help thinking... what if this is all part of Zedd's plan? What if he's using Jason to pull us in, and we're falling for it?"
Tommy saw her point of view, and understood her fear. "I know what you're worried about, Trini, but I have to believe that Jason really wants our help. I can't believe he'd willingly turn sides like this."
Trini fell silent, feeling miserable and angry at the same time. Miserable over everything that had happened, and angry at herself for having such a hard time believing in Jason. They'd been friends for so long, and now she was passing him off like... like... she didn't even know....
Tommy put an hand gently on her shoulder. "C'mon. Let's go and figure out how to handle this. Okay?"
* * *
Jason approached his home slowly and cautiously, even though he knew that neither his mother nor his father would be home. He hadn't been intending to come here. He had just been walking almost blindly, and this was where he had ended up.
Home... It was almost a foreign concept to him now. His home was not his home any longer. His home was now in Zedd's palace. His stomach twisting into a knot, he ventured up the steps and went up to the front door.
The door was locked, of course, but reaching up into the bottom of the hanging potplant, he found the spare key. Not entirely sure of what he was doing, Jason fitted the key into the lock and went inside the house.
* * *
His room was exactly as he had left it, however many days ago. Neat, clean.... The sun shone through the curtains, giving the interior a sense of warmth that Jason had almost forgotten. The sky blue walls were a direct contrast to the cloudy dark that was starting to engulf his mind and soul.
Jason wandered over and sat down on the soft bed. He was surprised that Zedd had allowed him to visit his home like this, but grateful that there'd been no interference.
Looking around, he spotted the model of the Tyrannosaurus that sat on his chest-of-drawers and a tired smile flickered across his face. He had gotten a sudden, inexplicable urge to buy the do-it-yourself model about two months before Rita escaped and Zordon called him and his friends to be Power Rangers. He hadn't known why he wanted it so badly at the time, but later on came to understand.
The smile faded from his face as he reached out and took the model in his hands. Over the past months, when things had gotten tough, he'd come home and stared at this model, and felt his courage come back to him. It had provided his strength through many dangers, but now.....
He stared at the model, feeling nothing but cold edging through his body. The magic he had once felt, the affinity with this terrible, yet regal creature, was gone.
Despair flooded through him as he realised that even if he could break free from Zedd, he could never go back to being a Power Ranger. Tears flowing freely, he lifted the plaster model and threw it as hard as he could.
The Tyrannosaur hit the wall and smashed into a hundred irreparable pieces, and destroyed with it were Jason's last hopes of escape. Turning around, he threw himself face down on his bed, and began to sob uncontrollably.
* * *
Trini froze for an instant, then threw herself behind a tree as Jason emerged from his house. She stood still, hardly daring to breathe and praying that he didn't see her. A long moment passed, and she finally dared to look, and was surprised to see Jason slowly heading away from the house, his head hanging low and shoulders slumped.
Confusion filled her, and she wondered whether the others had been right. Curiosity and a desperate need to know the truth overcame common sense, and she left the safety of the shadows to follow Jason into the park.
* * *
Jason kept going through the park and onto the beach. He had found a disused cave a couple of miles up from the swimming beach, and had taken to resting in there. Of course, he would have much preferred to stay in the comfort of his bedroom, but he knew better than to try. He had been lucky that Zedd had not taken action against him for visiting his home...
He hesitated. Then again, maybe that hadn't been his idea as much as Zedd's. After all, what good had it done him, other than to increase his feeling of hopelessness?
He went on to the cave and slipped inside, tears trickling down his cheeks. He had fought all he could, and now the fight was just about drained out of him. His friends no longer trusted him, not that he could blame them, and generally speaking his situation was looking more hopeless as time passed.
Walking over to the far side, Jason slid to the sandy floor of the cave and tried uselessly to catch his breath. He was getting sick, and he knew it. It was the Control. Every time Zedd used it on him, he got a little bit sicker. Now, he was having difficulty seeing clearly, keeping his balance, and even in breathing.
Moaning softly, he rested his head against the rock wall and shut his eyes. Just a little while to rest, and then he'd go back. Just a little while....
* * *
Trini entered the cave cautiously. She had seen Jason go in here and was sure he hadn't seen her, but she had to be careful that she wasn't walking into a trap.
you idiot she cursed herself. this is what's holding everyone up! that you have the gall to believe jason would really turn on us...
She rounded the corner and froze. There he was, slumped on the floor, fast asleep. She paused, on the verge of bolting, but then reason finally overcame her fear. He was so thin and pale, it was heartbreaking. She stood there for a long moment, watching Jason in silence before gathering her courage and approaching him. "Jason?"
Jason awoke with a start at the sound of her voice, and he started up, thinking it was Goldar, come to get him. After a moment, his eyes focused, and he was stunned to see that it was Trini who crouched in front of him. "Trini...?"
"I saw you come in here," she said softly.
Jason stared at her in distress. "You shouldn't have followed me. Goldar or anyone could show up...."
Trini stared at him intently. "I know, but I have to talk to you. I have to know."
Jason looked away despairingly. "You don't believe me. It's okay. I understand."
"I want to," Trini insisted. "I do! Jason, please, give me a reason to believe you!"
"I told you before, I can't. Not one that would convince you."
A moment of heavy silence passed, and then Trini took a chance and reached out to Jason. She gently brought his face up to look her in the eye, and started a little with shock. There were tears in Jason's eyes, tears that built up and overflowed to run down his cheeks. Trini bit down on her lower lip, fighting back her own tears. She had never seen Jason cry before....
"You just gave me a reason to believe you," she told him softly. Reaching up, she gently brushed her fingertips against his cheek, wiping away some of the tears. She then leant forward and kissed him lightly on the forehead. "Don't give up, Jason. We're still with you." Getting up, she hurried from the cave.
Jason watched her go, a mixture of emotions churning inside him. A moment later, he buried his face in his arms and let the tears come.
Angel Grove Beach....
Trini had been gone less than five minutes when someone else entered the cave, this one less friendly. Withholding a groan, Jason got slowly to his feet as Goldar stomped into the cave.
"Lord Zedd has summoned you to return to the palace, Jason. Come with me."
Jason went without protest, Trini's words still ringing in his mind. we're still with you...
He swallowed hard as Goldar laid a clawed hand on his shoulder. Maybe, just maybe, there was room for hope yet....
* * *
Zedd was waiting impatiently when Jason finally came into the throne room. The boy was gaunt, and moved much slower than usual, Zedd noted. He realised he would have to be careful, or he would destroy the old Red Ranger before he'd dealt with the other rangers.
"I have your final orders for you, Jason," he said firmly. "You will go to the rangers and tell them to meet you at the rockpile tomorrow, at one o'clock. Goldar will be there with a team of putties to trap them."
Jason regarded Zedd warily. So they were nearing the end of the gauntlet..... Knowing the fate of both himself and his friends depended on his deceiving Zedd, he nodded and spoke sullenly. "All right. But what are you going to do to them?" Zedd chuckled cruelly.
"What do you think I'm going to do? I'm going to destroy them!"
Panic filled Jason's face. "But you don't have to touch them! There's only four now. Tommy doesn't have his powers anymore. They can't defeat you with only four...." His words ended in an agonized sob, and he fell to his knees, pain searing through his head.
"You do not question me, boy!" Zedd roared in fury. "You only do as you are ordered to do. I thought you understood that!"
Jason didn't answer. He couldn't even bring himself to look straight at Zedd. The evil lord waited until the moment had passed, then spoke gratingly to the boy. "You will do as you are told. You do understand that, don't you?"
Jason managed a slight nod. "Yes," he whispered, staring at the floor and trying desperately not to be sick.
Zedd nodded, calming down significantly. "Good. I thought for a moment that you'd forgotten. Now go, before I lose my temper."
Jason got painfully to his feet and stumbled away from Zedd, ignoring the chortles of the other creatures.
* * *
Tommy was wandering aimlessly through the park when Jason abruptly appeared, scaring him badly. "Damn it, Jason, don't do that! You scared the crap out of me!"
Jason regarded Tommy with a bloodshot eyes. "Sorry," he said in a toneless voice. He paused, then went on. "Tomorrow, one o'clock, at the rockpile."
Tommy started to ask what it was about when his gaze was inexplicably drawn downwards. Jason held a piece of paper in his hand, just visible to Tommy. It had a simple message scrawled on it.
don't go to the rockpile. it's a trap. meet me at the cave at 12. trini will know where to go
Tommy drew in a careful breath, then nodded. "Okay. The rockpile at one. We'll be there."
Jason nodded, starting to move away. "I'll be waiting." Tommy was about to turn away himself, when he saw it. "Jase, you're bleeding!"
Confusion filled Jason's eyes, and he looked down at his dirty, torn clothes, seeing nothing.
Tommy approached fearfully. "Your ear, man. You're bleeding from your left ear...."
Jason reached up and lightly touched a finger to his ear. He brought it away to reveal that he was, indeed, bleeding. He stood still for a moment, then shook his head, turned and fled from Tommy before anything more could be said.
* * *
Tommy held off from telling his friends about the encounter until 11:30 the next day, when they met in the school cafeteria. He told them everything, but about seeing Jason bleeding from his ear. "Trini," he said softly, "Jason said you'd know where to go."
Trini nodded. "Yes. C'mon, I'll explain on the way."
* * *
"You followed him in there?" Zack echoed in disbelief. "Alone? Trini, are you nuts?"
Trini shrugged as they climbed down the rocks towards the cave. "Maybe. I just had to know for sure. I had to talk to him myself."
"He convinced you, huh?" Tommy asked, and Trini paused for just a moment.
"It wasn't what he said, because he never even tried to give me an excuse. It's just that, when I finally got him to look straight at me, he was crying. I've never seen Jason cry before, and it scared me. I knew he was telling the truth."
Tommy nodded, silently relieved. "Okay, then. Let's go."
* * *
Jason was waiting for them as he had promised, leaning against the cold rock wall when they filed into the cave. "Thank you," he said softly.
Kimberly stared at him, shaken by his appearance. "Jason...."
He nodded, stopping her short. "I know. I don't look so good, do I?"
She looked away from him, fighting back the tears. "No."
Tommy quickly changed the subject. "Jason, do you have any idea about what to do?"
"Do you think you can get me to the Command Centre?" he asked weakly. "Zordon might be able to block me from Zedd. It might be the only way, and I can't think of anything else, except..." He trailed off, not wanting to say it.
"We'll call Zordon," Tommy said firmly.
Before he had a chance to do anything of the sort, though, a harsh voice spoke from the entrance of the cave. "Don't bother, ex-Green Ranger. He can't help you now."
They all spun around to see Goldar standing there, backed up by a huge team of putties. Goldar went on, almost crowing with the near victory. "Congratulations, Jason. Lord Zedd is very pleased with you for aiding in this trap!"
"Jason," Zack cried out, "no!"
Jason stepped forward as though to protest, but halted when Goldar produced Zedd's staff and started to lift it threateningly. A moment passed, and then he looked away, feeling worse than he ever had in his entire life.
Goldar waved the staff in the direction of the rangers. "Everyone out. Now."
* * *
Outside, Goldar had them all line up in front of the rock wall, then bade Jason join him. "Lord Zedd has decided to reward you for your loyalty to him. You will kill the Green Ranger."
Jason froze. Kill Tommy? He couldn't....? He cringed at the sharp twinge of pain in his head. One glance at Goldar, and he knew what would happen if he didn't obey. He took a step forward.... and stopped.
"Jason, do it!" Goldar roared. Jason, however, didn't move. If he didn't as he had been commanded, then he risked death himself. And yet, what did he have to gain by carrying out the terrible task and surviving? How could he possibly live with himself? He might as well be dead, if he did....
And as for his friends, well, after this, they would probably never trust him again anyway, so how could he continue to face them, with them believing he'd betrayed them? Even though he had been innocent in this whole fiasco....
Everyone was startled when Jason suddenly turned back to Goldar and spoke in a quiet but firm voice. "No."
Goldar was infuriated. "What!?"
"I won't do it," Jason said softly. "You can make them believe I betrayed them, but I won't hurt any of them. I don't care what Zedd does to me."
Rage flashed in Goldar's eyes, and he aimed the staff at Jason. A howl of agony split the quiet air and Jason fell to his knees, pressing his hands to the sides of his head.
In the next moment, all hell broke loose. Tommy and the others took advantage of the momentary distraction and lunged forward into the putties, quickly engaging them in battle.
Goldar, distracted a second time, this time away from Jason, brought the staff away and finally focused on Tommy, in the midst of the fight. He forgot Jason, who lay shuddering on the rocky ground. Bringing the staff around, he aimed it at Tommy, who was completely unaware of the sudden danger he was in. Goldar's eyes glowed with the anticipation of ending another long-held grudge. Just one clear shot, that was all he needed....
From where he lay on the ground, Jason saw Goldar aim the staff at Tommy, and felt the panic hit him. Using what little strength he had left, he dragged himself to his feet and staggered into the battle just as the line of fire was cleared to Tommy.
A brilliant blast of light shot from the staff, heading straight for Tommy, but it never reached its intended target. The light engulfed Jason, who had thrown himself in front of Tommy at the last possible moment. There was a blinding flash of light, then it was gone, and Jason lay on the ground, unmoving.
"Jason..." Tommy whispered fearfully as he dropped into a crouch beside his fallen friend. He rolled him over carefully, but could not find any sign of life. A moment later, he looked up at Goldar, rage in his eyes.
Goldar seemed to have no more fight left in him, though. Cursing angrily, he and the remaining putties vanished in a flash of light.
Once they were gone, the other rangers crowded around Jason. "Is he okay?" Zack asked hoarsely, knowing it was likely that he wasn't.
Tommy shook his head. "I don't know. I can't find a pulse."
Billy dropped to his knees and carefully placed the tips of two fingers just beneath Jason's chin. A long moment later, he looked up, relief in his eyes. "I've got a pulse. He's alive, though barely. We need to get him to the Command Centre, right now."
Tommy nodded, and spoke anxiously into his communicator. "Alpha, teleport us to the Command Centre, quickly. We've got Jason."
"Right away, Tommy," came the little robot's metallic voice in reply. A moment later, there were six flashes of light, and then they were gone.
* * *
"Is he gonna be okay?" Zack asked anxiously for the second time.
Alpha spoke up in a perpetually worried voice. "I think so, Zack. We'll just have to wait and see."
Tommy came forward, upset. "Alpha, the last time I saw Jason, he was bleeding from his left ear."
A moment of silence followed, and then Alpha picked up a strange- looking device. "One moment, rangers."
They waited in anxious silence while Alpha held the device carefully over Jason's head. Finally, the little robot spoke quietly. "It will be all right, Tommy. There is no permanent damage. You rescued Jason just in time."
Tommy didn't look appeased, but he said nothing more about it. Trini walked over and, after a moment's pause, reached out and lightly touched Jason's arm. "He didn't betray us," she said softly. "Goldar just said all that to make us think he had."
Tommy sighed heavily as the other s joined them to stand around the table. "He saved my life. Goldar was aiming for me with that blast."
Billy nodded. "It's going to take a lot of work for him to recover from the trauma of this incident."
"How d'you mean?" Zack asked, although he thought he already knew.
"The emotional scars will be great," Billy explained. "It will take a lot of time and caring to help him through it."
"Yeah," Tommy said quietly, "well, that's why we're such a good team. We stick together, no matter what."
Billy hesitated, on the verge of saying something else, then stopped, merely shaking his head in sad silence.
* * *
When Jason finally awoke, he didn't recognise his surroundings immediately, and nearly panicked to feel the steel table beneath him. It was only when Alpha appeared at his side that he realised he was in the Command Centre, safely beyond Zedd's reach.
"Just relax, Jason," Alpha told him. "You'll be all right in a while."
Jason looked around, but no one else was in sight. He was glad; he wasn't sure he could face them.
"The other rangers are at school," Zordon's voice intoned. "They will come here promptly this afternoon."
Jason tried to look around to see the ancient master, but couldn't move that far. He gave up and tried to relax on the slab of metal. "They don't have to bother."
Alpha put a metallic hand on Jason's arm. "Don't say that, Jason. They're worried about you."
Jason felt a moment of bitterness. "Worried that I might go back to Zedd?" He regretted the words as soon as he'd said them. "That wasn't fair, was it?" he said softly.
"No, it wasn't," Zordon replied grimly. "Jason, your friends care about you a lot. They took a great risk in trying to help you escape Zedd. Almost as great as the risk you took when you intercepted that blast for Tommy. Don't dismiss them so soon."
Jason shut his eyes, but was unable to hold back the tears. Grief unlike anything he'd ever felt before struck him hard. When Alpha went to him again, though, he turned his head away, unable to bring himself to look at the little robot.
Alpha eventually left him alone, and he fell asleep, still crying silently to himself.
A week later....
It had been five days since Jason had finally been permitted by Zordon to return home, and since then, the rangers saw almost nothing of him, except for glimpses around school. He avoided them all as much as he possibly could, and they all knew why.
There was nothing they could do about it, of course. They couldn't force him to talk to them, but they would have all felt a lot better if he had at least tried.
It came to a head when the rangers, in their frustration and concern, went to Zordon for help, desperate for advice.
"What can we do?" Zack asked anxiously. "Jason won't even come near us! Every time we get close to him, he just takes off!"
"Jason is still feeling guilty,"Zordon replied. "It may be some time before he is confident enough to talk to any of you."
"But Jason isn't to blame for any of it," Trini protested.
"That is true," Zordon agreed. "We all know it, and Jason may know it as well. If he does, though, he cannot accept it. Lord Zedd left him with free will, relying solely on the pain he could cause Jason to control him. It could be that now Jason is free, he is starting to believe that he should have fought Zedd."
Tommy shook his head, agitated. "No way. If he'd tried that, then Zedd would've killed him. It was survival!"
"You may be able to convince Jason of that in time," Zordon said, "but it will take time. You must be patient, rangers. Jason is feeling more alone now than he did even under Lord Zedd's control. You must do everything you can to reassure him that he is not alone."
"Don't worry, Zordon," Kimberly vowed quietly. "We'll do everything we can to help him. No matter how long it takes. Right, guys?"
A quiet murmur of determination swept across the group. Zordon nodded. "Look after Jason, rangers. The sooner Jason gets past this incident and regains his confidence, the sooner he can resume his position as the Red Ranger."
Tommy nodded and spoke vehemently. "We'll look after him, Zordon. I promise."
* * *
It was a beautiful day in Angel Grove. The sun was warm, and a gentle breeze blew, creating the perfect day. Jason, however, hardly noticed. He sat under a tree in the school grounds, seeing nothing but the ground. Again, he'd managed to avoid his friends, dodging them in the cafeteria and fleeing outside. He paused, then shuddered.
Friends? He doubted it. He didn't deserve to have them as friends. The grief struck him again, and he had to breathe deeply to calm himself down.
He recalled returning home five days ago. It had seemed unreal, walking through the front door and knowing he was home to stay. He remembered his previous trip home, while still in Zedd's control, and honestly believing that he would not see the place again.
His parents had been so relieved that they had both burst into tears on the spot, and had then spent the next couple of hours trying to make him tell them what was going on. He hadn't told them anything, of course, and they had eventually given up.
That was another thing. He hated himself for the panic and worry his parents had gone through, even though he knew that was no more his fault than anything else that had happened.
Jason sighed heavily to himself. His first night back home had been a bad one. Not two hours after going to bed, he had woken up screaming, and had subsequently suffered a recurring nightmare for the rest of the night. His parents had stayed with him all that night, he reflected, tears pricking at his eyes. Even though he refused to tell them anything, obviously hurting them again with his apparent mistrust, they had stayed right by his side, the entire night.
He buried his face in his hands to hide the fresh tears that flowed. There was talk, now, of sending him to a psychiatrist, and his father had actually been on the phone with one just last night. He'd overheard vague remarks about nightmares, a sudden fear of the dark, depression.... All the symptoms that Jason knew shrinks delighted in dealing with.
He didn't really care, though. He knew what was wrong; he just didn't know how to deal with it.
Jason looked up, blinking against the sunlight, to see one of the newer school teachers, Mr. Thompson, standing there. The teacher had a very concerned look on his face. "How are you doing?"
Jason shrugged wordlessly. Thompson hesitated, then motioned to the ground. "Mind if I sit down?"
Again, Jason shrugged, and Thompson sat down rather gracelessly on the grass. "Care to talk about anything?"
Thompson wasn't surprised by the abruptness of Jason's reply. His tenya had started during Jason's mysterious disappearance, and for a while, all he'd heard was talk about the odd situation. That one of the school's top students had had some sort of breakdown and had run away from home, but had been spotted around Angel Grove.
He had suggested to Mr Caplan that there might have been drugs involved, and the principal had actually laughed. And now, Jason was suddenly back, with no explanation of where he'd been or what he'd been doing. He was back, and in a severe state of emotional depression, the likes of which Thompson hadn't seen since his teaching days at a high school in New York.
"It might help," he said finally. "You never know."
Jason's hands slowly clenched into fists. "Can't everyone just leave me alone?"
"I don't think that's a very good idea. Look, why don't you come to my office?"
Jason finally, reluctantly, consented, knowing deep down that he needed to talk to someone before he crossed the thin line of emotional sanity that he was walking along.
* * *
Thompson led Jason into his office and motioned to the spare armchair. "How about I get you some coffee, or something?"
"I don't drink coffee," Jason said. It was a lie: he had taken to drinking large quantities of the stuff over the past few days to stay awake at night and avoid the nightmares.
Thompson nodded slowly. "Fair enough." He sat down behind his desk. "I just want to try and help you out, Jason. That's all. I need you to trust me."
Jason looked away. How could he trust anyone when he felt that no one trusted him...?
"Jason? This isn't going to work if you won't talk to me."
Jason finally looked back up at Thompson. "What are you, some kind of shrink?"
"Actually," Thompson confessed, "I have a PhD in psychology. Does that bother you?"
Jason wrung his hands nervously. "I don't know."
"Look, I don't want to analyse you. I just want to help you out. I know you're having problems, and I'd like to help you get past it. I can only do that, though, if you'll let me."
The teen stared down at the floor. There was something.... "What if you've done something really bad, and you know it wasn't our fault, but you had to do it anyway.... and you ended up hurting your friends?"
"What is it that you've done?" Thompson asked softly. He wondered, suddenly, whether drugs did have something to do with it...
"I... can't say..."
Thompson withheld a sigh. "If you can't say, then I can't help. This is confidential, Jason. Nothing you say will go past that door. I promise."
Jason shut his eyes. There was no way he could talk it out with Thompson without divulging the secret that he had promised to keep. No matter how badly he was hurting, he couldn't say. "I'm sorry," Jason whispered, tears overflowing down his cheeks. "I can't tell you."
Getting up, Jason hurried from the room, leaving Thompson to watch after him in concerned silence.
* * *
So anxious was Jason to get away from Thompson that he didn't look where he was going, and collided with another teenager as he rounded a corner. Both boys went down with a crash, the wind knocked out of them.
"Oh boy...." Brian gasped, shaking is head to clear. "Talk about collision course..."
"Sorry," Jason mumbled, getting quickly to his feet, then helping Brian up. "I didn't look where I was going."
Brian blinked in surprise, then spoke quickly, anxious not to lose Jason's attention. "Hey, s'okay. I wasn't exactly paying attention, either. You headed back outside?"
"Yeah," Jason said softly. "I... I was just talking with Mr Thompson."
Brian pulled a face. "Oh? My condolences." They started walking back towards the exit. "Trust Mr Caplan to hire a shrink as a teacher. Um... You care for some company?"
Jason hesitated, on the verge of refusing, then finally consented. "Yeah. I guess I could do with some company."
"Yeah," Brian said. "I figured you could. Wanna talk?"
Jason hesitated again, then spoke as they reached a quiet spot and sat down. "I'd rather not, if you don't mind. I guess I just need the company."
"Sure," Brian replied amiably. "But, if you need to talk to someone, you know you can talk to me."
Jason smiled gratefully. "Thanks, Brian."
Brian returned the smile. "No problem."
* * *
"Check it out, "Kimberly whispered. They all looked in the direction she was motioning in, and faint smiles crossed all their faces. Not too far away, Jason sat on the grass with Brian, and the two were engrossed in conversation. Jason seemed far more animated than since before the whole mess had started a few weeks ago.
Tommy let out a long breath, realising he'd been holding it. "That's great. He's found someone to talk to. "Maybe it won't be long before he can talk to us."
The others said nothing, but all of them hoped for the same thing.
* * *
Jason walked home through the park that afternoon, feeling much better for having talked to Brian earlier. Despite his request for silence, he had found himself gradually being drawn into conversation.
Soon, he had found himself confiding in the other boy, although without disclosing any damning secrets. Brian had listened intelligently, and had responded with quiet but effective remarks. now, he had to admit that he did actually feel a bit better. Perhaps it was nearly time that he faced up to his friends.
He paused for a moment to look up at the clear, blue sky. Perhaps....
* * *
In another part of the park, not too far away from where Jason was at that moment, Tommy and Kimberly walked along together, talking mainly about Jason. "Do you think he'll ever come back to us?" Kim asked quietly.
Tommy sighed softly. "I hope so. It's gonna be hard. I felt guilty enough when I broke away from Rita, but this is ten times worse. I didn't have a choice. I didn't know what I was doing. Jason did. As far as I'm concerned, he was just surviving, but I guess Zordon was right. He probably thinks he should have fought Zedd, no matter what it cost him...."
He trailed off as numerous putties suddenly appeared, led by Goldar. "Aw, man, not now..."
There was no time to think; the puttied came on hard and fast, and they were dragged into the fight before they had a chance to escape.
* * *
A short distance away, Jason hesitated as strange, yet familiar sounds reached his ears. That sounded like Tommy... and Kimberly...?
Jason drew in a sharp breath. It sounded like they were in trouble. Which meant putties, and possibly Goldar as well. The fear held sway for only a second before instinct took over, and he darted off in the direction of the fight.
* * *
Tommy fought his way through the putties, only to be intercepted by Goldar, who knocked him clean off his feet. The huge ape-like monster then moved in to stand over Tommy, sword raised. "Prepare to meet your doom, Tommy," Goldar crowed, and Tommy shut his eyes in anticipation of death.
The expected blow never came. Instead, there was a heavy thud, a loud grunt, and Tommy opened his eyes to find not Goldar, but Jason standing over him. Jason managed a weak smile and held out one hand to Tommy to help him up, half-expecting Tommy to refuse it.
Tommy grabbed the outstretched hand eagerly and allowed Jason to pull him up. "You've got no idea just how glad I am to see you, buddy," he said firmly, clapping him on the shoulder.
Kim joined them. "Yeah," she said enthusiastically. "Really glad."
Jason drew in a deep breath and looked over at Goldar. "Get out of here, Goldar."
Goldar gave a short, grating laugh. "I was waiting for you, Jason. Lord Zedd just asked me to give you a little reminder of something."
Goldar produced Zedd's staff out of nowhere, and raised it into the air. A moment later, Jason cried out in pain and fell to his knees as everything started to go topsy-turvy.
"Alpha!" Kim yelled frantically into her communicator. "Get us out of here, quickly!"
There were three flashes of light, and then they were gone.
* * *
Jason shuddered and collapsed to the floor of the Command Centre, semi-conscious. A moment later, Tommy and Kim were at his side, and Kimberly gently brought him up to cradle him in her arms.
"That was a trap," Tommy growled angrily. "Zedd knew Jason was nearby, and guessed that he'd come. Zordon, I thought you said Jason was free?!"
"He is," Zordon replied grimly. "However, there were obviously residues of the potions left in his body, enough for Zedd to be able to use the control one last time. They are gone now, and it will not affect Jason again."
Tommy was about to say something else when Jason moaned faintly, starting to regain his senses. Tommy crouched down by him, watching as he finally opened his eyes. "You okay, buddy?" he asked in concern.
Jason swallowed hard, then spoke in a hoarse voice. "I... I think so... Just a little dizzy..." He lay there for a long moment before slowly pushing himself up into a sitting position. Another wave of dizziness hit him, but it was not as severe, and it passed quickly. Jason touched his fingertips gingerly to his temple, and cringed at the sharp pain there. "I think I'll be okay. I'll probably have a headache for a few days, though."
"Can you get up?" Tommy asked.
Jason hesitated, then nodded slowly and accepted Tommy's help to get up.
Tommy stared at him unflinchingly. "You just saved my life again."
Jason started to say it was nothing, but something stopped him. All of a sudden, he couldn't say anything at all. It was then that Kimberly came forward and threw her arms around him warmly. "I've missed you, Jason."
Tommy clapped him on the shoulder again. "We all have. Think you might be able to come and talk to us now?"
Jason faltered for a bare moment, then smiled wearily. "I guess I have to, now, don't I."
A broad grin flashed across Tommy's face. "Damn right you do. You can't avoid us forever."
Jason smiled more broadly, then, the first genuine smile he'd given in a long while.
"The last of the potions Zedd gave you are now gone from your body," Zordon told Jason, "but you stepped in to help Tommy and Kimberly even though you knew you could be in danger."
Jason shrugged a little. "I couldn't just keep going. They're...." He faltered, and Tommy smiled.
"We're your friends?"
Jason swallowed hard, feeling the wall that Zedd had built up around him start to crumble. "Yeah."
In the column of light, Zordon smiled and, without a word, initiated the transfer. There was a flash of light that passed from Zordon to Jason, a rush of power and energy, and suddenly Jason was no longer dressed in jeans and a shirt.
Jason looked back down at himself, at the bright red uniform he wore and, in that moment, he felt the last of Zedd's control fall away.
"Welcome back, Red Ranger," Tommy said with a broad grin. he stepped forward and threw his arms around Jason in a brotherly hug. Jason shuddered, feeling a rush of intense emotion go through him. It was over. He was free.
* * *
Zack, Trini and Billy were at the Youth Centre going over an assignment, when Zack happened to glance up. A moment later his face lit up and broke into a broad grin. "Jason!"
Trini and Billy looked around quickly and they, too, smiled when they saw Jason walking in with Tommy and Kimberly.
"Hey, guys," Jason said quietly. He was nervous, but with Zordon having given him back his powers, it was time to shelve the fear and get back on line.
"It's good to see you, Jason," Billy said in a quiet, but firm voice.
Tommy nodded towards the door. "C'mon, guys. Let's go."
Trini, Zack and Billy quickly gathered their things together, and they headed out of the Youth Centre together.
* * *
"...And that's what happened," Tommy concluded, telling the others what had happened just earlier.
"And Zordon gave you your powers back," Zack echoed. "That's great, Jason."
Jason nodded. "Look, I just need to say something here, so I can get back on track,. I'm sorry about everything that happened. I know I should have fought Zedd, but I couldn't."
"Jason," Tommy interrupted firmly, "that's stupid, and you know it. It wasn't a matter of fight Zedd. You had a choice. Either do what Zedd told you, or risk getting hurt or killed. It was really even a choice. It was survival."
"We don't blame you for anything that happened," Trini told him gently. "Not now. We blame Zedd. None of it was your fault."
Jason sighed softly. Zedd had no more power of him, but it still hurt so much...
"Just don't run away from us again," Tommy went on. "Whatever happens, don't do that."
Jason nodded. "I promise I won't. It was just so hard to face up to you." His gaze fell on Trini, and on the fading bruise on her face, and he quickly looked away. He wanted to say that he'd really had no choice in doing that, but he held back, knowing how pathetic it would sound. Trini, however, said it for him.
"You had to react like that, didn't you?"
Jason glanced back at her, then nodded. "Yeah. I know it sounds stupid...."
"No, it doesn't," Trini countered. "Jason, you warned us not to come too close, and I ignored you. It was my fault, too. Probably more."
Jason looked slightly agitated. "But I still did it."
"It's in the past, now," Zack cut in firmly. "It's over. It's good to be able to talk it through, but we can't dwell on it, you know?"
Billy nodded his agreement. "Zack's right. We all have to put it behind us. Jason, look at it this way. Because you were aware of everything that took place, you'll be able to prevent it from happening again. And, if we ever have to go into any of Zedd's dimensions again, we stick together. None of us ever gets left behind again."
The others all agreed vehemently. There was a moment of silence, and then Jason stretched out his right hand, forming it into a fist. Tommy never hesitated. He quickly placed his own hand on top of Jason, and so it went until they all joined in, making the team whole once more.
* * *
That night, Jason was undisturbed by nightmares of any kind, and in the peace of the night, he slept.