Disclaimer: You're all gonna flame me for this. Here comes another of my sick little escapades into the alternate world of the Power Rangers. And yes, it's another Jason tragedy. So, I suppose anyone who is sick of it can delete here and now.... Anyway, this story has plenty of angst in it, and there is gonna be some major confrontational stuff in it later on. Um..... all the usual disclaimers, PLUS: Michael and Melanie Oliver are not my creation. I got them from April; who she got them from I'm not sure. Whoever, I acknowledge your creation.... Donavon and Sarah Scott are mine, as you know from 'Kidnapped'...
RATING: I think I'd have to rate this PG, at the very least. This story involves descriptions of physical abuse, and indications of certain other things. Basically, it ain't gonna be pretty. But then, my stories never are.... ;)
Revelations & Reckonings
*Chicago, 14th Precinct
Daniel Matthews sat at his desk, waiting in patient silence. He had sent a younger police officer off nearly half an hour ago to carry out an important task, and was awaiting his return. He was close, so close to busting open an age-old case, and though he didn’t show it, he was almost bursting with excitement.
Just then, the door swung open and a young man ran in. "Here you are, Captain. You were right, it is them."
Matthews took the file back calmly.
"Thankyou, Wilkes. That’s all."
Wilkes nodded and hurried from the room. Once he was gone, Matthews opened up the file to let a small number of enlarged photos fall out. He picked them up and shuffled them together, then began to sort through them. The first three were useless blurs and he threw them in the bin. Then, he came to the fourth, and stopped.
There they were, the couple that had kidnapped his son thirteen years ago. Donavon and Sarah Scott. He scowled to himself. According to the P.I. he had hired, they hadn’t even changed their names, and yet it had taken him that long to find them. Resisting the urge to spit at the picture of the couple, he went on to the next picture… and stiffened.
There was his son, thirteen years older and almost unrecognisable from the scrawny little boy that he had not seen for so long. Jason, once a timid and frightened little boy, seemed to have grown into a strong and sure young man. The influence of the Scotts, no doubt, he reflected. It looked as though he would have to break the boy in all over again…
A smile played over his lips. He supposed he should be grateful. Looking at the picture of the muscular teen, he felt himself becoming aroused. Jason had packed on the muscle, and was a very good-looking boy. He looked forward to putting things back to the way they had been.
Still smiling to himself, he started to make arrangements to get out to Angel Grove, California.
Jason’s head appeared around the corner of the house. "Yeah, Dad?"
"Go and get the hose. And no funny business! I don’t want to get soaked like the last time we washed the car."
Jason grinned and went to do as he’d been asked. From the porch, Sarah Scott watched as her husband, Donavon, finished soaping the family station wagon.
"I’m surprised you actually trusted him to get the hose, after what happened the last time."
Donavon grunted. "If he tries that again, he’ll be grounded for a month."
"I heard that!" Jason hooted as he came back with the running hose. Donavon smirked at the boy.
"I hope so."
"Lucky I don’t have anything planned for a month, huh?"
Donavon’s expression altered seconds before he was hit with a deluge of water. Sarah went into a fit of laughter on the porch, while Donavon ducked around the car to escape the water attack.
"Jason!" he bellowed in fury. Jason deflected the water.
"Aw, c’mon Dad. Washing the car is no fun if you don’t get wet."
Donavon straightened up, glowering with feigned anger. "In case you didn’t notice, I’m the only one here who is wet! I don’t see you hosing yourself down, here!"
Jason shrugged. "You’re the one who told me to get the hose. You should’ve known better."
Donavon hesitated, then sighed. "Well, it could be worse, I suppose. At least I haven’t been soaked by a bucket full of soapy water."
Jason’s smile faded. "Hey, wait a second…"
A devious grin spread over Donavon’s face. "Just wait right there…"
Jason dropped the hose and bolted, exactly the reaction Donavon had been hoping for. Jason came within reach and he heaved up the full bucket and managed to get ninety percent of its contents over Jason’s head. The eighteen year-old came to a halt, spluttering and rubbing his eyes.
"You two look ridiculous!" Sarah laughed.
"That’s not fair!" Jason whined. "Dad used the dirty water! I only used hose water!"
"Well, you’ll just have to have an early shower, then," Sarah retorted, smirking with amusement.
Donavon laughed at the sight of Jason, completely soaked through. "Now, that is definitely better than grounding you."
Just then, two of Jason’s best friends rounded the corner and stopped at the bottom of the driveway.
"Jason…?" Tommy Oliver asked curiously. He and Adam Park exchanged amused grins at the sight of their wet friend.
"Great," Jason moaned dramatically. "Now my esteem is shot to hell. Thanks, Dad."
Tommy started forward. "I thought we were going to go and see the new Jackie Chan movie this
by Naomi Tilley
"We are," Jason replied. "Dad just decided to take revenge. Give me fifteen minutes, okay?"
Donavon edged over and picked up the hose. "Oh, Jason…?"
Jason looked around, and was hit a second later by a volley of water.
"Hey…!" Jason howled in protest. Donavon grinned and turned the hose nozzle, stopping the water flow.
"That was for the last time. Now, go and have a shower."
Jason stomped back into the house, leaving his parents and his friends to laugh.
"Man, your dad is great," Adam said wistfully. "I’ve never seen him get angry."
Jason grunted as they found seats in the theatre. "I have. Trust me, it’s not a pretty sight."
"But still," Adam protested, "your dad is always doing stuff with you. Dad never has time for me and Franklin."
"It’s the profession," Tommy replied. "Cops are always busy with a case. They’re notorious for ignoring their families. You’re lucky, Jase. You really do have a great dad."
Jason smiled as he settled into the seat. "I know. A guy couldn’t ask for a better dad. I wouldn’t trade him for anything."
"How was the movie, anyway?" Donavon asked they sat in the family room that night, watching a movie.
"Good," Jason replied. "I saw a few moves that I wouldn’t mind giving a try. I’m going to meet Adam tomorrow and we’re gonna try and figure them out."
"Don’t forget your history assignment," Sarah warned him and Jason rolled his eyes.
"I won’t. I’ve got two weeks for it."
Sarah shook her head. Jason had a habit of forgetting things like assignments, and was often caught out having to do them at the last minute.
"We’ll start it tomorrow. You aren’t leaving this till the night before it’s due."
"Mum," Jason protested, "I was going out with Emily tomorrow night!"
"Yes, you were. Now, you aren’t."
Jason slumped back down, scowling as he tried to think of a smooth way to break his date with Emily. He knew better than to argue with his own mother…
The phone rang, startling them all a little. As Donavon reached for it, Jason spoke huffily. "If it’s for me, I’ll call ’em back tomorrow."
Donavon ignored him and answered the phone.
"Excuse me," a quiet voice said on the other end of the line, "but would I be speaking to Donavon Scott?"
Donavon blinked. "Yes, that’s me. Who is this?"
"An old… acquaintance. From thirteen years back. The name is Matthews. Daniel Matthews."
Donavon froze, his face turning ashen with shock. Matthews went on quietly.
"Didn’t think you’d ever hear from me again, did you? Well, surprise, Scott. I found you and your family. Or should I say, your wife and my son?"
"What do you want?" Donavon asked in a strained voice.
"That’s a fucking stupid question, isn’t it, Scott? You know damnwell what I want. I want my son back. The boy you snatched from right under my nose thirteen years ago. Remember?"
Donavon suddenly found he couldn’t speak. Matthews spoke again, his voice laced with rage.
"I’m coming for you, Scott. For both you and your wife. And, I’m going to get you. You’ll go to jail for so long that you’ll be half dead by the time you get out…"
Donavon finally gathered his wits and slammed the phone down. Jason and Sarah both looked at him questioningly.
"Dissatisfied customer?" Jason remarked humorously. Donavon stood up.
"Jason, go to your room."
The teen started up in confusion. "Why? The movie isn’t over yet!"
"I don’t care. I need to talk to your mother. Get to your room, now."
Jason frowned. "Dad, why do I have…"
"Go!" Donavon roared, startling the boy badly. Jason stared at his father in shock and hurt, then hurried from the room before he could lose control of his emotions. Sarah looked reproachfully at Donavon.
"Was that outburst really necessary?"
"Sarah, he’s found us."
"What?" she asked, confused.
"Matthews. That was him, Sarah. He’s found us. After thirteen years…"
"Oh my god… What are we going to do?"
Donavon sat back down with a thud. "I don’t know. I really don’t know. He wants Jason, and he’ll send us to jail, if he can."
One hand came up to Sarah’s mouth, and tears sprung to her eyes. "I thought we were safe here…"
"So did I. I should have known better. We’re going to have to leave."
"What about Michael Oliver?" Sarah asked anxiously. "Maybe he can help?"
"Not without being corrupt," Donavon said grimly. "We can’t expect that of him, Sarah. It wouldn’t be fair. We were the ones who broke the law."
"To save Jason!" Sarah burst out. "We had to, to get him away from that psychotic bastard! Jason would probably be dead by now if we hadn’t done what we did!"
"We know that," Donavon said quietly, "but a jury wouldn’t see it like that. There’s no physical evidence anymore that Jason was abused, nothing ever went down on record, and nobody we talked to believed us. We kidnapped Jason, and that’s all a judge or a jury would see."
There was a long moment of silence, and then Sarah spoke softly. "Do you think Jason remembers any of it?"
"I doubt it. It was thirteen years ago… Three years hiding away in Canada… If he does remember anything, it’s only in his nightmares."
Silence fell as they remembered the fateful night and day that they had fled Chicago with a child that was not their own, and of the years that had followed.
They’d packed the night before, clothes, money, had already closed their bank accounts, and had packed everything they could into the family car. Sarah had gone off to school the next day as normal, and he had called his office, saying he had come down ill and would not be back at work for a week. Mid-morning came, and Sarah came home as they’d planned, and she had Jason with her.
The five year-old had been timid, frightened but certain that he didn’t want to go back to his father. Sarah had then told him in a grim voice that she’d found fresh bruising on the child’s frail body. They had gone then, telling no one, and taking only what they’d been able to fit into the car. They’d driven all day and most of the night, stopping only for a few hours in an off-road rest area for some sleep.
Eventually, they’d crossed the Canadian border and had gone on to the house of a close friend of Donavon’s, a recluse who lived far from civilisation. There they had stayed for three years, hidden away from authority and from all other people. There, in the peace of the Canadian wilderness, Jason had slowly come out of the protective shell that he had built around himself and had eventually started calling Donavon and Sarah ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’.
When they’d left Canada to return to the U.S., it had been with caution and fear. By then, Jason had almost forgotten that the Scotts were not his parents, and the first five years of his life were only remembered in his worst nightmares. They’d traveled extensively for nearly five months, stopping only for short times in each town, until they finally decided to settle in the picturesque town of Angel Grove.
Their first year in that town had been a tense one, and they had found it difficult to trust anyone. Nothing adverse had happened, though, and they’d finally settled in properly, hoping they would never need to run again…
"How can we run, Donavon?" Sarah asked tearfully. "We’ve been here for so long! Jason won’t understand…"
"And we don’t have time to explain. If we stay here, we’ll be arrested and Jason will go back to Matthews. Now, I personally don’t care about myself, but I can’t handle the thought of Jason going back to that bastard and having God-knows-what done to him. Can you?"
"No," Sarah whispered miserably. "I can’t."
"Okay. Go and start packing clothes. I’ll have Jason start packing his things. Keep it tight, only what we need the most.
"What about our bank accounts?"
"We’ll take out all the money we can from our ATM accounts on our way out of town. We’ll have to leave the rest. Now, go."
He left her and hurried down the hall to Jason’s room. Jason looked up from his bed as his father walked in.
"Can I come back and watch the rest of the movie now?"
"Forget the movie." Donavon strode to the cupboard and yanked the door open, starting to rummage through the clothes. Jason sat up slowly.
"What are you looking for?"
"This." Donavon straightened up, and threw a large overnight bag at Jason. The boy caught it, then looked back to his father in confusion.
"What’s this for?"
"Start packing. All the clothes you can fit into it, any money you’ve got, and your karate gear, if you can fit it in. Nothing else. There’s no time."
"What, did someone die?" Jason asked nervously. The last time his parents had been this anxious had been… well, he couldn’t remember when they’d last been so anxious.
"Just pack," Donavon snapped. "No more smart ass comments."
Jason gaped as his father stormed from the room. After a moment, he hurried after him.
Donavon turned around so fast that Jason nearly walked into him. "There is no time for fooling around! I don’t have time to answer stupid questions! Now, you either get your clothes packed in the next half hour, or you’ll be leaving here with only the clothes you’re wearing. Understand?"
Jason stared speechlessly at his father before finally gathering his wits and nodding, moving silently back into the bedroom.
Half an hour later, Jason watched in heavy silence as their home faded into the distance, and they headed quickly out of Angel Grove. Finally, he spoke with more than just a touch of anger in his voice.
"Aren’t either of you going to tell me what’s going on?"
His question was met with silence, and he fell back against the seat in frustration.
"Don’t ask questions, Jason," Donavon said finally. "We can’t explain it to you. Not yet. We just have to concentrate on getting away."
"You sound like you’ve committed a crime, or something."
Donavon and Sarah glanced grimly at one another. Little did Jason realise that was exactly what they had done.
"Look, can you at least tell me when we’ll be home again?" Jason asked pleadingly. "I’ve got mid-terms coming up!"
Donavon spoke in a strained voice. "We aren’t going home."
"You heard me. We are not going back to Angel Grove. Not in the foreseeable future."
Jason’s eyes were wide. "Are you guys nuts? You can’t just clear out of town in the middle of the night! What… What about all my friends?"
"Forget your friends," Donavon told him. "Listen to me, Jason. We’ll explain this to you when we’re far enough away, but until then, please keep your mouth shut. We have enough to worry about at the moment without you hassling us."
Jason abruptly closed his mouth, staring in growing confusion and anger at his parents.
Tommy watched from the top of the stairs as his father talked with the Chicago police captain, barely able to believe what he was hearing. Jason… a kidnap victim? From thirteen years ago? He listened carefully, straining to hear everything.
"…No, I am not impressed!" Matthews snarled. "I finally find my son after thirteen years, and now he’s slipped through my fingers again!"
Michael Oliver fought to contain his calm. "Perhaps you said or did something to tip them off."
"I am a police captain, Chief Oliver. You ask that of rookies, not seasoned officers."
Michael drew in a slow, deep breath. Arrogant bastard… "I’ve known Donavon and Sarah Scott for nearly three years. You don’t have to be concerned about Jason’s safety. Neither of them would ever think of harming him."
"Desperate people do desperate things, Chief Oliver," Matthews said. "Haven’t you heard that? Or have you been in this miserable little town for too long?"
"I assure you," Michael growled, "Jason is perfectly safe. You’ll have your son back, Captain. Please, just be patient and let my men do their job."
The two men left the hallway, then, and Tommy slipped back into his room to sort out his thoughts. Jason had been kidnapped thirteen years ago by Donavon and Sarah Scott, and now his real father had come to claim him. Tommy wondered how terrible it must have been for Matthews to lose his son, and he decided then, on the spot, to help.
Pressing the button on his communicator, he teleported out of the house.
They’d finally stopped in a shady little motel somewhere off the main highway, and now Jason sat on one of the twin beds, watching his parents accusingly. The two Scotts were silent for a long while before Donavon finally spoke.
"Now, son, I know you’re confused…"
"Damn straight," Jason growled. Donavon glowered at him.
"Shut up and listen." Jason fell abruptly silent. Donavon nodded. "All right, thankyou. You said we were running away like we’d committed a crime. The truth is… we did. Thirteen long years ago."
Jason looked confused. "Thirteen years ago? That must have been some crime."
Sarah sat down next to him. "You don’t remember, do you, sweetheart?"
Donavon sighed. "Jason, the crime we committed was kidnap. We kidnapped a five year-old child when the Welfare system failed to protect him from his abusive father."
"You kidnapped…" Jason trailed off, paling considerably. "Hang on a second…"
Sarah grasped his hand in her own. "That’s right, baby. It was you that we kidnapped. You were being abused…"
"No!" Jason burst out, standing up fast and moving away from his parents. "No way! That’s impossible! I… I don’t remember…"
"No," Donavon replied quietly, "you don’t. We did a good job of brainwashing you. A little too good, I’m afraid. Jason, sit down."
"I said sit down!"
Jason sat with a thud. Donavon went on quietly.
"It’s not a lie. I only wish it were. Jason, you aren’t our son. We are not your parents. Not by birth, not by legal adoption. Legally, we are kidnappers, and you are a thirteen year-long unsolved mystery. But you have to understand us now. We didn’t do it to harm you in any way. We weren’t a couple so desperate for a child that we were willing to steal one away. We did it for your sake, and you were completely aware of what was happening at the time."
"I don’t remember this," Jason said in a trembling voice. "None of it…"
"We know. It took you so long to forget, it’s unfair of us to expect you to remember again so quickly. Jason, listen, son. You were being abused by your father, and not only physically. It was a serious situation that no one wanted to know about. Your father was a police officer… As far as we know, he still is. He had his entire department to back him up, and all we got for our efforts was continued harassment."
"But… if it’s true…" Jason asked, "…how did you know it was happening?"
"A couple of things. Your m… Sarah… was your teacher when you were five, and I was the counselor at the precinct where your father worked. While I started getting impressions of violent tendencies from your father, Sarah started getting things from you. She eventually got you to trust her enough to let her see all the bruising and scarring on your body."
Sarah felt tears prick her eyes as she recalled the time. "After I saw all of that… you asked me if I’d be your mother. After that…" She shook her head, at a loss.
"We tried to do it legally," Donavon said grimly. "We really did. We just hit dead end after dead end. No one wanted to know. Finally, we knew we had to get out of Chicago to escape the harassment, but we couldn’t go, and leave you behind. We decided to kidnap you, then. It was the only way we could see to get you away from that bastard. You came with us willingly, Jason. We didn’t force you into anything. If you’d said you wanted to stay with your father, we would have left you behind, as hard as it would have been. But you didn’t say that. You asked to come with us. So, we took you."
"I still don’t remember," Jason whispered, tears flooding his eyes. Sarah hugged him tightly.
"We don’t expect you to remember all of it at once, honey. Maybe it’s better for you if you don’t remember it at all. Just… Please, trust us."
Donavon spoke quietly. "We’d never hurt you, Jason. Maybe you aren’t our son legally, but you sure as hell are in every other way. We love you, boy. That’s why we’ve done everything the way we have. It may not be right, but it’s all we can think of to keep you safe."
Jason could not remember, but he did trust Donavon and Sarah. He knew they would never harm him, and he loved them a lot.
"I trust you," he said finally, staring at them tearfully. "I… I just want us to stay together."
Donavon strode forward and threw his arms around Jason in a tight hug. "That’s exactly what we’re trying to do."
Jason began to remember that night. In the early hours of the morning, Donavon and Sarah were woken by the sounds of muffled sobs, coming from Jason’s bed. They turned on the lights and went to his side, to find him caught up in a nightmare. Exchanging grim looks, they tried to wake him up.
Jason awoke with a start, his body lathered with a fine coat of sweat. He stared at Donavon and Sarah for a long moment, confusion and fear in his eyes, then burst into tears. Sarah quickly wrapped him up in her arms, rocking him gently.
"Hush, sweetheart. It’s okay. We’ve got you, baby...."
"I remember some..." Jason said in between the sobs. "He... He was always hitting me... Even when I didn’t do anything wrong... And sometimes he’d come in when I was in bed... and he’d do stuff to me..."
"We know," Donavon murmured, sitting down and putting his arms around Jason from the other side. "We know, Jason. But don’t worry. As long as we have control, you’ll never go back to him."
Jason shut his eyes tightly, feeling safe between the two that he saw as his mother and father.
"....And that’s the story," Tommy said grimly. "Matthews wants Jason back, and I think we should help him."
"Hang on," Rocky interrupted. "Mr and Mrs Scott really care about Jason. They wouldn’t hurt him for anything!"
"Maybe not," Kat replied, "but they still committed a crime. And Mr Matthews has gone for thirteen years without his son. I agree with Tommy. We should find them and bring them back to Angel Grove."
"Wait," Adam growled. "We don’t know the full story. Why’d they take Jason in the first place? There must have been a reason."
"Whatever it is," Tanya muttered, "it’s not good enough. Kidnapping is not acceptable. Not for any reason. I say we bring them back."
Tommy looked around. "Zordon?"
"I am in full agreement, Tommy. Alpha will locate Jason and his parents, and then you can all teleport to them."
Tommy turned back to Adam. "Well?"
Adam hesitated, then caved under his leader’s wilting stare. "Okay. Let’s bring them back."
Jason shivered as he splashed icy cold water over his face. After that first nightmare, he had gotten precious little sleep. The memories had come back gradually, just a scrap here and there. He still remembered very little, but he remembered enough to know he never wanted to lay eyes on his real father. He lowered his gaze for a moment, and that was when he caught a flash of light. A flash of red light….
He spun around quickly, and gasped in shock at the sight of the Red Zeo Ranger.
"Tommy…?" he stammered, confused. "What are you doing here…?"
"We’ve come to take you and the Scotts back to Angel Grove," Tommy replied quietly. "We’re taking you back, to your real father."
Jason paled considerably. "What? No… Tommy, you can’t…"
"Your father wants you back, Jason. It’s our duty to see that the wrong is righted."
Before Jason could protest, Tommy stepped forward and grabbed hold of his arm. Jason tried to pull away, but he was no match for the morphed strength of his best friend.
"Tommy, stop!" Jason choked out, suddenly frightened. "You don’t understand…"
"This is for the best, Jason," Tommy told him. "It’s time to go back."
Before Jason could say anything else, Tommy pressed the button on his belt, and they vanished in a flash of red and white light.
Jason blinked hard as the world reformed in the shape of Angel Grove’s 3rd police precinct, where Michael Oliver’s office was located. Waiting, was Chief Oliver and a number of officers. Nearby, the Pink and Yellow Rangers had rematerialized with Sarah Scott between them, and the Blue Ranger had appeared with Donavon Scott. The Green Ranger, Jason noted in the middle of his panic, seemed to be aloof from the rest of them, taking no part in the action.
Michael Oliver came forward, looking pale. "Donavon, Sarah… I’m sorry."
Donavon looked sick, but resigned to fate. "You have your job to do."
Michael nodded. "I hope you’ll both forgive me. I’m placing you both under arrest for abduction and evasion of justice."
He nodded to the younger officers, who took the two adults and began to lead them away. Jason cried out, then, and wrenched away from Tommy, running over and throwing himself into his father’s arms, holding onto him with a death grip.
"Don’t go," he sobbed, refusing to let go. Donavon hugged the boy tightly.
"Be strong, Jason. And remember, we’ve always loved you… son."
Tommy looked over at Rocky and nodded. The two rangers moved in and forcibly detached Jason from Donavon, letting the police take the man away, out of sight. Jason watched in distress, then tried to pull away again, but the rangers held him tightly. Then, another man came into the boy’s line of sight.
"Hello, Jason. Do you remember me, son?"
Jason froze, his mouth drying up with fear. Matthews nodded to the rangers.
"You can let him go."
They did so and moved back silently. Daniel Matthews reached out and placed his hands on Jason’s shoulders.
"I have been searching for you for so long! Thirteen years! Now, I have my son back…"
"You’re not my father…" Jason whispered hoarsely. Matthews frowned just a little, then forced his burgeoning anger back.
"It’s all right," he said reassuringly. "I know you must be very confused. Don’t worry, Jason. I’ll take care of you. You’ve got nothing to worry about."
Jason was at a loss, too frightened to speak out. Matthews placed an arm around his shoulders and, although it looked like a protective gesture, to Jason it felt possessive.
"Thankyou for bringing my son back," Matthews said to the rangers. "I will always appreciate it."
Tommy nodded. "It was our pleasure, Captain Matthews."
Matthews pulled Jason towards the door. "If you don’t need anything of me or my son, Chief Oliver, I’ll be taking Jason back to the hotel with me. We’re flying back to Chicago tonight."
Jason felt nauseous. Chicago…?
"You’re free to go," Chief Oliver replied. "Jason, I hope you’ll be happy with your father."
Jason scanned the room, and his gaze came to rest briefly on the rangers. In that instant, pure hatred seared through the boy’s heart and soul, a hatred that would possibly never be purged.
I’ll never forgive you for this… he thought, enraged. Then, Matthews ushered him out of the door, and out of their sight.
"What’ll happen to Mum and Dad?" Jason asked in a strained voice. Matthews stared intently at Jason as they sat together in the back of the taxi.
"They’re not your mother and father, Jason. I am your father. You’d better get used to that very quickly. And as to what will happen to them… Probably six to ten years for kidnapping. You don’t have to worry about it, though. You’ll never see them again."
Jason bit down hard on his lower lip, not daring to speak for the fear that his memories were causing him.
"You’ll be going to a very good school in Chicago," Matthews explained as he packed his few clothes into his overnight bag. "It’ll take about a month to get everything into line, but after that there should be no problems."
Jason caught the double meaning in Matthews’ words, and felt renewed fear.
What’s he going to do to me…?
Matthews finished packing, then turned to Jason. Time for a few lessons…
"Who is your father, Jason?"
Jason frowned, confused. What sort of a question was that?
"What d’you mean?"
"Answer me. Who is you father?"
Jason’s jaw clenched, and he spoke stubbornly. "My father is Donavon Scott…"
His words ended in a pained cry as Matthews belted him across the face, knocking him to the floor.
"Wrong answer. Who is your father?"
Jason lay still, not speaking. You can fight him! a voice inside him screamed. Fight the bastard! Don’t let him do this to you…
Jason got to his feet slowly. "My father…" He drew in a sharp breath, then spun around and lashed out with his foot, kicking Matthews squarely in the stomach and causing him to slam back into the cupboard. "Is not you!" he finished, spitting the words out as he tasted blood in his mouth.
Matthews stared at Jason in disbelief. Little bastard…
He got to his feet. "I see you’ve learnt to defend yourself."
Jason glared at Matthews with burning anger. "I’m a black belt in karate."
Matthews nodded, then suddenly delivered a roundhouse kick that almost knocked Jason right out. The teen went down hard, too stunned to move. Matthews came to stand over him.
"So am I. I also know a fair bit of Kung Fu. Plus, I’m a hell of a lot fucking stronger than you are. So, if you ever do anything like that to me again, I’ll take your damned head off. Understand?"
Jason responded with a faint moan, his skull on fire with fresh pain. Matthews nodded.
"Good. Don’t forget it."
*Three months later
"Tommy, do you miss Jason?" Rocky asked as they studied together in the Youth Centre. Tommy nodded.
"Yeah, but I’m sure he’s happy with his real father."
"I mean… you don’t feel bad about it at all?" he asked. Tommy eyed Rocky curiously.
"How do you mean?"
Rocky sighed. "The way it happened… Us going in there like big heroes, and everything… I got the impression that Jason didn’t want to go back."
"He didn’t," Tommy confessed, "but it was for his own sake. Besides, the police would have found them eventually. At least we could take them back without anyone getting hurt."
"I don’t know," Rocky muttered. "They did a pretty good job of avoiding the police for thirteen
years. And we never found out why they took Jase. I mean, what reason…?"
"It’s pretty obvious," Tommy said with a sigh. "Mr and Mrs Scott didn’t have a child, they wanted one… They just set their sights on Jase. They never hurt him in any way, but that’s not the point. Jason belongs with his real father. Everything’s the way it should be."
Rocky reluctantly conceded. "If you say so, man…"
"I do. Stop worrying about it. It’s been three months. I’ll bet Jase is happy enough, now."
Again, Rocky conceded, but he couldn’t quite rid himself of the unease that plagued him.
Jason sat curled up on his bed in his room, looking slowly through his small collection of baseball cards. It was the one pleasure that his father had allowed him to have; the karate had ended with the confrontation in the hotel room three months ago, and all other sports were banned. Why? Jason had dared to ask. Because there was a danger that he’d make friends, came the sharp reply.
Jason leant back against the wall as he came to a halt at his favourite card, an antique Babe Ruth rookie card. It was worth a small fortune, and he had come across it by sheer accident a month ago in a secondhand store. He’d taken a big risk and shown it to his father, but for once, there had been no recriminations. Rather, the old bastard had congratulated him on his good sense, and told him to take good care of it. Indeed, Jason suspected Matthews wasn’t aware of the real value of the card. If he had been, he would surely have confiscated and sold it.
He stared tiredly at the card, and for a moment was able to forget the pain of the last beating. For just a brief moment, his chest, shoulder and stomach no longer hurt, and the throbbing pain in his temple seemed to fade. He shut his eyes, and tried to imagine himself back with Donavon and Sarah, away from everyone and everything that wanted to hurt him…
"Daydreaming again?" a harsh voice asked from the doorway. Jason sat up quickly.
"I finished my homework. It’s on the desk."
Matthews walked over and eyed the open books approvingly. "Good. You’re learning."
He paused as he looked over the work. Math… History… Geometry… He nodded.
"This looks fine. Now, put those cards away and put on something decent. We’re going out to dinner with the chief of police."
Jason quickly put the cards away in a shoe box and slid it under his bed. "Do you want me to wear the jacket you bought me?"
Matthews hesitated, then nodded. "Yes. Wear that. Now, hurry up."
Jason got changed quickly and pulled the expensive jacket on over his white shirt. He hated the jacket, but if it put his father in a good mood, then it was worth it. Glancing once at himself in the mirror, he went out into the lounge room, where his father was waiting.
Matthews nodded. "Okay. Let’s go."
As they left the apartment car park, and Jason got the now familiar lecture on how to behave.
"You know the procedure," Matthews warned him. "Speak only when you’re spoken to. Don’t ever ask any questions. Be polite. The chief has a son. Don’t get too friendly with him."
Jason nodded silently. It was the same thing. He’d gotten the same lecture the night before his first day of school. He’d soon learnt that disobeying in any way meant a heavy beating, and had reluctantly become subservient and docile. It was the only way he could survive, but still he got the beatings. And, when his father was in a particularly foul… or especially good… mood, other things. Things that were totally unspeakable…
They arrived at the restaurant, and Matthews spoke harshly to his son as they entered. "You behave properly tonight, or else. You understand me?"
"Yes, sir," Jason whispered, not daring to look up. Matthews smiled, then.
"We’re finally starting to understand each other. This is good. Maybe afterwards, when we get home, we’ll have a little celebration. What d’you think?"
Jason hung his head, not replying. Matthews chuckled to himself and led the way inside.
Zack Taylor sat uncomfortably in a stiff new pair of jeans, at a restaurant that he would normally not have gone to even if his parents had paid him. Chief Samuel Taylor spared his son an annoyed look.
"Zack, stop fidgeting."
"You heard me."
Zack scowled. "I don’t see why I have to be here. Captain Matthews is an arrogant bastard."
Taylor wanted to reproach his son, but couldn’t. Rather, he silently agreed.
"Matthews is a good officer, Zack. Besides, he’s bringing his own son along tonight. I thought you might be company for him. Look, here he comes n… Oh my god…"
Zack saw his father’s face turn a deep ashen, and looked to see what was wrong. An instant later, he swore vehemently, drawing the attention of a number of people. Matthews, oblivious at that point to any problems, reached the table and offered his superior a smile.
Taylor nodded, struggling to keep his voice even. "Matthews. Sit down, please."
They all sat, and Zack tried frantically to get Jason’s attention, but the teen refused to look up. Finally, though, Taylor spoke.
"This is your son…?"
Matthews looked sideways at the boy. "Jason?"
Jason finally looked up, and froze, his mouth half-open. An instant later, survival instinct kicked in and he spoke meekly.
"Pleased to meet you, sir."
His gaze fell on Zack for just a second, and then he diverted his gaze again quickly. Zack sat back, confused. Jason was acting as though he didn’t know him…
In his own seat, Taylor was feeling sick. Jason was the kidnapped son that Matthews had gone to find? If that was true, and it obviously was, then what had happened to Donavon and Sarah…? He didn’t have to wait long for an answer. After half an hour and a couple of glasses of champagne, Matthews talked freely, and eventually began to boast about how the couple had each gotten six years imprisonment for abduction.
Zack felt like throwing up. He’d known the Scotts for a long time, and knew they’d never done anything that deserved jail. If they had kidnapped Jason, there must have been a reason…
"Of course," Matthews went on, "if it hadn’t been for those Power Rangers, I probably wouldn’t have Jason back now. They went and collected him for me."
Zack looked anxiously at Jason, just in time to see a single tear fall to the tablecloth. Jason was crying…
The night went by almost painfully. Several times, Zack tried to engage Jason in conversation, and each time Jason sidestepped it with short, monosyllabic answers. It was almost as though Jason was too frightened to speak… Whatever the reason, it was nothing like the Jason that Zack had known, and he said as much to his father later that night, when they finally got home.
"I know," Taylor said grimly. "That was not the same boy that Donavon and Sarah raised. That boy was frightened of his own shadow. I think that, first thing tomorrow, I’m going to find out what’s going on. It’s late, Zack. Go to bed. We’ll talk about this tomorrow."
Zack went reluctantly, unable to get that night out of his mind.
*The next day
Trini Kwan was waiting for Zack the next day at the school gate, bursting with excitement. She was so enthusiastic that she didn’t notice Zack was lacking his usual morning brightness.
"Zack, guess what! Kim is coming to school here, now that she’s finished the Pan Global! She’s starting today!"
"That’s great," Zack muttered. Trini’s face fell.
Zack looked at her for a moment. "Trini, I saw Jason last night."
"Jason? Our Jason? Here, in Chicago?"
"Yeah. And apparently he’s been here for three months. He’s at this school."
"Huh? That’s impossible! We would’ve seen him!"
"Not if he didn’t want to be seen. Trini, the guy I saw last night wasn’t the same person that we knew in Angel Grove. It… God, It was scary. He’s totally changed, Trini. He never spoke, except when someone spoke to him… He tried as hard as he could to avoid any eye contact… and he wouldn’t talk to me. Not at all. He acted like he didn’t even know me."
Trini was confused. "That isn’t like Jason…"
"I know. I’m scared, Trini. Scared for Jason. Something real bad is going on, I can feel it."
"But, what’s he doing here? When did the Scotts move?"
Zack sighed. "That’s just it. He isn’t with Mr and Mrs Scott anymore. Apparently they kidnapped Jason when he was five years old. Three months ago, Jason’s real dad showed up in Angel Grove to take him back. Now, the Scotts are doing time for kidnapping, and Jason’s with his real dad."
Trini brushed a strand of hair absently out of her eyes. "Something doesn’t sound right. Donavon and Sarah Scott aren’t the sort of people to just snatch a child. Not unless they thought they had a good reason."
"That’s what Dad said," Zack replied. "He’s looking into it today, seeing what he can find out. I
want to try and find Jase today, and see if he can tell me anything."
"Count me in," Trini said firmly. "I’d like to know what’s going on myself."
The lunch hour arrived, and Zack and Trini began an intense search of the school, joined by Kimberly who had been stunned to learn of Jason’s presence at the school. They had almost given up when Chris, one of Zack’s friends, came up.
"Hey, Zack, heard you’re looking for someone."
Zack nodded. "Yeah, an old friend. Jason Scott. You know him?"
"I don’t know any Jason Scott, but there’s a Jason Matthews, been here about three months. His dad is that psycho captain from the 14th precinct. If you want to know where he is, Grimshaw’s beating him up out back of the gym."
Zack looked at the girls, stricken, and the three of them took off for the gym.
Jason shut his eyes tightly as John Grimshaw beat into him. It wasn’t really that bad, he reflected dimly. Not after three months under his father’s iron fist. Compared to that, Grimshaw actually hit pretty lightly…
Seeing he was not getting much of a reaction, Grimshaw slammed his knee into Jason’s midsection, effectively winding him. He then let go with another volley of punches, this time bringing Jason to the ground. He was about to finish the job when someone suddenly grabbed him and threw him backwards, into the gym wall.
"What the…" Grimshaw snarled. "Taylor, you asshole…"
"You’re the asshole, Grimshaw. Now, get the hell out of here."
"It’s none of your damned business," Grimshaw snarled. Zack stood his ground, directly between the prone Jason and the school bully.
"This is my friend, and I’m making it my business. Now, beat it! Unless you wanna take me on, in a fair fight…"
Grimshaw spat into the dirt and stepped away from the wall. "Fine. Have the wimpy little prick. C’mon, guys, let’s beat it."
They stalked off, leaving Zack and the girls alone with Jason. Immediately, they gathered round him.
"Jason?" Zack asked anxiously as Trini gathered him up tenderly in her arms. "C’mon, Jase…"
Jason opened his eyes.
"Are… Are they gone…?"
"Yeah. Man, you’re a mess…"
Jason licked his dusty lips a little. "Thanks… Zack…"
Zack smiled a little. "So, you do remember me. After last night, I thought you’d forgotten."
Jason sat up slowly. "I… I’m sorry about that. It’s just how he expected me to act."
Trini looked anxious. "Jason, what’s going on?"
Jason hesitated, then spoke softly, telling them about everything, except the abuse. They listened grimly, and then Kimberly spoke tightly.
"The rangers had no right to do that. None at all. If something like this had happened when we were rangers, Zordon would have told us to mind our own business. I can’t believe he let them get away with it!"
Jason looked away, to the ground. "He was so self-righteous about it… Saying the ‘wrong had to be righted’… or some bullshit like that. I won’t forgive him for this. Not ever."
Zack pulled Jason to his feet. "C’mon, we’ll take you to the nurse. See that Grimshaw didn’t do any damage."
Jason shook his head. "No, I can’t. I can’t let the nurse see."
"But you could be hurt!" Trini protested. Jason rubbed his chest gingerly.
"Probably just some bruised ribs. Look, I can’t go to the nurse, and that’s all there is to it. Okay?"
The others reluctantly conceded, and began to walk back to the building.
"Look," Zack said finally, "how about we all go to my place after school?"
"No," Jason murmured, "I can’t. I have to go straight home after school each day."
"Since when?" Zack asked incredulously. Jason tightened his jaw.
"It’s the rule. I can’t break it. I have to go straight home."
"Well, you can be a bit late. We’ll stop at the milk bar, or something…"
Jason shook his head, frustrated. "No! You don’t get it! I can’t be late! He times me, he knows how long it takes. If I’m more than a minute or so late, then he’ll…" Jason faltered, his face paling as he thought of something that was beyond the others’ realm of imagination. "I just can’t be late."
"What is he," Kimberly asked incredulously, "your father or your jailer? What does he do, torture you, or something?"
Tears sprung to Jason’s eyes. "I have to go," he said in a strained voice. "I can’t afford to get detention for being late to class. He’ll kill me…"
Jason ran off towards the building before the others could say a word. They stared at each other in disturbed silence.
"You don’t think…" Trini whispered. Zack shivered.
"Oh, god… I don’t like the way this is shaping up."
"It couldn’t be," Kim said. "Jason would never let anyone get the better of him. Not like that."
"The old Jason wouldn’t have," Zack corrected. "This is a new Jason, totally different to the guy we all knew. I don’t know for sure what’s happened to him over the past few months, but I think we’d better find out, quick."
"What happened to you?" Matthews asked when he laid his eyes on the teen’s bruised face that afternoon. Jason stared at the floor.
"I got beaten up."
Matthews stood up, suddenly angry. "By who?"
"That son of a bitch? One of these days that someone will have to teach that kid a lesson. Are you hurt bad?"
"Some bruised ribs," Jason admitted tentatively. Matthews nodded.
"Okay. Go and take a couple of tablets and lie down for a while."
Jason faltered. He had an assignment that he had to finish…
"I have homework to do," he said finally, terrified of his father’s reaction to him talking back. Matthews stared at Jason for a long moment, taking in the boy’s frightened expression. He had taught him well…
"Don’t worry about it tonight," he told him. "You won’t do a good job when you can’t concentrate. Just go and lie down, and I’ll bring dinner in to you. I’ll write a note for your teachers, so there won’t be any trouble."
Jason withheld a sigh of relief. "Thankyou," he murmured, and went down the narrow hall to his room.
Dinner consisted of a couple of toasted sandwiches, hardly enough to fill his empty stomach. He didn’t complain, though. He had learnt quickly that complaints were very unhealthy. So, he quietly went hungry each day, having a meager breakfast of a single slice of toast in the morning, no lunch, and a small portion of food at dinner time. Indeed, the only times he ever got enough to eat was when he ate at his grandmother’s house.
Jason sighed a little. He thanked God for his grandmother. Though she was his paternal grandmother, she clearly had a less than bountiful amount of affection for her son. In fact, upon meeting her for the first time two and a half months ago, Jason had been terrified of her, expecting her to be as cruel as his father. It hadn’t been true, though. She was a kind old woman who had done everything in her power to relieve Jason of the nightmare of his father’s influence. The occasional times he spent with her were a blessing for him, and he always looked forward to seeing her.
But now… Now things were changing again. Not only was Zack back in his life, but Trini and Kimberly as well. He knew they would not rest until they knew what was going on, and why he had changed so much. He suspected that, unintentionally, they would bring down serious trouble on him. He twisted a little, and winced at the pain in his side. If he’d still been with the Scotts, they would have rushed him off to the emergency room of the hospital as soon as he’d walked in the door. But, no. He had to deal with the pain of the beating on his own, because his father would not take the risk of anything being discovered…
Jason lifted his head a little, hearing the phone ring. His father answered it, and he heard the muffled sound of him talking. Nearly five minutes later, Matthews came into the room, looking thoroughly angry. Jason sat up quickly, anticipating a beating.
"What did you do last night?" Matthews demanded. Jason looked frightened.
"I… I don’t know what…"
"Chief Taylor’s boy! He wants to see you. Chief Taylor told me to bring you around to his home tomorrow, for dinner! Dammit, Jason…"
Jason shied away, his hands coming up to protect his already bruised face. "Please, Dad, no…"
Matthews lifted his fist threateningly. "What did you do?"
"Nothing," Jason sobbed. "I swear it… I didn’t do anything…"
The officer hesitated, and Jason thought he was going to be spared a beating. He lowered his hands a little… and suffered a fist to his skull. Matthews leaned over the boy, furious.
"I warned you. You must have done something, otherwise he wouldn’t want to see you. Time for a new lesson, Jason."
Jason tried to protect himself, but it was pointless, and Matthews went on to beat him
thoroughly, hitting him in the chest and stomach and sides. Nearly five minutes later, Matthews finally ceased his assault and looked down at his teenage son. Jason was clutching his stomach in pain, and his face had turned a sickly shade of grey.
Shaking his head in disgust, Matthews dragged Jason up and pulled him through into the bathroom, maneuvering him over the toilet.
"Go on," he growled, and Jason shuddered, becoming violently ill. Matthews then cleaned the boy up and took him back to his bedroom, depositing him on his bed.
"Get some rest, now," he told him. "You need to be presentable tomorrow night when you go to the Taylors’ for dinner."
Jason barely heard, and was unaware when his father left him alone. He continued to lie still, curled up in a tight ball, for some time before fatigue overcame him and he fell into a restless sleep.
It took some effort the next night to get rid of Matthews, for the captain seemed intent on staying to pass on some silent warning to Jason. Finally, though, Chief Taylor did get rid of him, and Jason was left alone with them.
"Come into the family room," Chief Taylor said quietly, ushering Jason through into the spacious room. "Sit down, and tell us what is going on."
Jason stared intently at the floor. "You already know. Mum… I mean, the Scotts… aren’t my parents. They kidnapped me. Daniel Matthews is my real dad."
"I didn’t mean that," Taylor said quietly. "I meant why you came in here tonight looking like you could hardly stand straight. And why you allowed John Grimshaw to beat you up yesterday in school. And why, in that restaurant, you acted like you were Matthews’ lackey instead of his son. You’ve changed, Jason. Why?"
Jason tightened his grip on the arms of the chair. "Please, don’t make me tell you. There’s nothing you can do."
Taylor moved forward to stand in front of the teen, signaling Zack not to speak. "Jason, I’m the Chief of Police. I have authority over Matthews. If he is hurting you in any way, I have the power to put a stop to it."
Jason looked up, tears flooding his eyes. "Do you have the power to get Mum and Dad out of jail?"
Taylor faltered, and Jason nodded.
"I didn’t think so. Unless you can do that, then don’t bother. I don’t want to end up in a foster home somewhere, and that’s what’ll happen. At least now, I know where I’ll be each night."
Taylor stared at Jason in shock. "Jason, what is he doing to you?"
"Nothing," Jason whispered. "He isn’t doing anything. He’s my father, why would he want to hurt me?"
When Taylor faltered again, Zack came forward.
"Why are you lying, Jason? Who are you trying to protect?"
Jason looked away before the floodgates could be reopened. "You don’t understand. You’ll never understand."
Suddenly, Taylor saw it. A deep, purple-black welt just visible beneath Jason’s light brown hair. It was an ugly thing, and very recent.
"What is this?" Taylor wanted to know. Jason paled considerably, and spoke the first thing that came to mind.
"I… I had an accident…"
Taylor grabbed Jason’s arm and pulled up his shirt sleeve to reveal the start of horrendous bruising, covering Jason’s shoulder. Zack swore in shock and horror. Taylor spared the teen a grim look.
"Which was it? Fell down the stairs, or walked into a door? Or have you come up with a new excuse?"
"I… I’m clumsy…"
"Bullshit!" Zack exploded. "Jase, that’s bullshit!"
"Shut it, Zack," Taylor snapped. "Jason, talk to me. No lies, no excuses. I want the truth. Right now."
"It started happening straight away," Jason whispered. "The first afternoon, before we left Angel Grove. Back in the hotel, he tried to make me call him ‘dad’, but I wouldn’t, so he hit me across the face. I kicked him, to make him stop… but he’s stronger than me, and he knows more martial arts. He nearly took my head off… I can’t fight him! I tried, but I can’t! I have to do what he tells me, it’s the only way I can survive…"
His voice cracked audibly, and he began to cry, the tension of the last three months finally being partially lifted off his now frail shoulders. Taylor moved quickly, pulling the boy close in a protective hug.
"It’s all right. Everything’s going to be all right, I promise."
*A short time later
Jason ate a large dinner, grateful to be able to eat until he was full, and not just enough to keep him from passing out. Even Zack was stunned by the amount of food Jason put away, but then, he was far thinner than Zack remembered. Indeed, Zack recalled a stocky boy from his memories: Jason was no more stocky now than a gazelle.
After dinner, Zack led Jason upstairs to his bedroom.
"Not bad," Jason commented, and Zack smiled to himself. After having eaten a decent amount, Jason was starting to sound a little like his old self again. "You’ve got plenty of room in this place."
Zack grinned. "The Commissioner takes pretty good care of Dad. We do all right."
Jason looked around the room, feeling a twinge of jealousy. Zack had a stereo unit, a television and VCR, an expensive-looking computer set-up and a games drive to hook up to the television. He thought of his small, bare room, and the one pleasure he had, the baseball cards under his bed.
"Maybe Dad can tell your dad that you’re staying for the night," Zack suggested. Jason paled.
"No… Please, Zack, don’t. You don’t understand. He was angry enough yesterday when your dad told him to bring me around. He’d be furious if I stayed here overnight."
Zack sighed. "Okay, scrap that idea. We’ll just stuff around on the Internet for a while."
Jason swallowed hard. "You have the Internet?"
"’Course. Don’t you?"
Jason looked bitter. "Me? I’m not even allowed to watch the television. That’s for him only. I snuck out of bed one night to watch a movie that I hadn’t seen before, and he caught me…"
"And?" Zack prompted.
"And I was too sick to go to school for the next week."
Zack shook his head, and went over and switched the computer on. "Look, I’ve got an idea. I have Tommy’s email address. How about we let him know where you are?"
The pale, fearful look on Jason’s face faded abruptly to be replaced by one that bore nothing but pure hatred.
"Don’t you want to talk to him?" Zack asked in confusion. "He’s usually online around this time each day…"
"Didn’t you hear me yesterday?" Jason asked in a strained voice. "I can’t forgive him for what he’s done to me. Not now, not ever. I hate him, Zack. He’s totally wrecked my life. Him and his self-righteous ego… I hate him."
Zack was horrified by the vehemence with which Jason was speaking. He really meant it, every word…
"Jase… Listen to yourself, man!"
"I am. I know what I’m saying."
Zack swallowed hard. "I didn’t think you were serious. I thought you were just a bit upset..."
Jason’s hands curled into fists. "A bit upset? Just a bit? How would you feel if you were yanked away from your mum and dad, told they weren’t really your parents, and your real father had suddenly shown up to take you away? You know where my mum and dad are now, don’t you? You heard him bragging the other night about it."
Zack lowered his gaze. Yes, he knew. "State Penitentiary."
"That’s right. Serving six year sentences for kidnapping and evading justice. How would you like it if that happened to you?"
"I know you’re angry," Zack said, "but c’mon.... You can’t blame Tommy for this!"
"Yes, I can. I can blame all of them for it. They had no right to interfere, Zack. None at all. But, no, they had to be all high and mighty and be heroes, didn’t they? Didn’t stop to think that there might have been another side to it. And, I knew they wanted to get rid of me so they could have their little clique again, but I didn’t realise they’d go as far as that." He shook his head, distressed. "Tommy was supposed to be my best friend, Zack, but look at the position he’s put me in! I would never have done this to him. Never."
"I know," Zack murmured. "I understand."
Just then, the door opened and Chief Taylor looked in.
"Jason? He’s come for you."
Jason stood up slowly, and glanced at Zack. "I’ve gotta go."
Zack caught hold of his wrist. "We’ll see you tomorrow, won’t we? At school..."
Jason shrugged. "Maybe. Depends."
Again, Jason shrugged. "Just depends."
With that, he turned and walked out of the room, leaving Zack to stand by himself in silent
"Have a good time?" Matthews asked shortly as the car pulled away from the house. Jason knew, by then, what to say to appease his father.
"No. I’d rather not go back, Dad."
Matthews eyed him curiously. "Why not?"
"I just didn’t like it there."
"Okay, then," Matthews said, sounding less tense. Jason breathed a silent sigh of relief.
Thankyou, God... he thought silently.
"Did you eat anything much?"
Jason swallowed hard. "I didn’t want to.... But they practically stood over me. I didn’t have a choice. I’m sorry..."
"It’s all right. We’ll just go straight home, now. You managed Chief Taylor all right?"
"Yeah. He, uh... He was saying you’re a really good cop, one of the best."
Jason was lying through his teeth, now, but he desperately wanted to put his father in a good mood to avoid another beating. Unfortunately, the flattery was working too well.
"Yeah. He, um, he said you might be in line for a promotion...."
"That’s something... Maybe we should have a little celebration, then..."
Jason paled. That was not what he had been hoping for... Matthews was grinning, pleased with himself.
"Yeah. When we get home... We’ll celebrate. I know, I haven’t gotten it yet, but still... That tough son of a bitch hardly ever offers promotions. Yes.... We’ll celebrate in my bedroom..."
Jason sank down in his seat, his head starting to spin. It was too late now, though, and taking back what he’d said would only result in a severe beating. He shut his eyes, and could only pray that it would be over with quickly.
"Go and get into my bed," Matthews told him as they entered the apartment. "Don’t try and be smart like the last time. You know the drill. I’ll be there in a minute."
Jason went, his shoulders slumped despondently. If it wasn’t constant beatings, then it was this. Humiliating, degrading treatment, the likes of which he had never imagined possible. He entered the bedroom and began to strip off, knowing what wrath stubborn refusal would bring down on him. Now, it would be best to go along with it, and let it happen. If he fought, he would only be beaten senseless, and then Matthews would rape him anyway. Best to just avoid the beating, if possible…
He pulled off the last of his clothing, placed it in a neat pile in the corner of the room. He then went and climbed into the double bed and waited. It was a few minutes before Matthews came into the room. He wasted no time, but strode over and yanked back the covers, revealing his son’s nakedness. The sadistic man nodded, gratified.
"Good. You are learning. Move over."
Jason shifted over, and watched with nausea as Matthews stripped completely, leaving nothing on, and then climbed into the bed next to the teenage boy. Matthews then reached down to fondle Jason, causing the boy to whimper in pain. He grinned cruelly, and squeezed harder, bringing tears to Jason’s eyes.
"You like that, don’t you?"
Jason shuddered, fighting off the urge to be sick. "Y… Yes…"
"You want me to do more, don’t you?"
Matthews sat up, straddling his helpless son. "Do you love me, Jason?"
"I love you, Dad…" Jason whispered hoarsely. He hated this ritual that he was forced to endure at least once every couple of weeks, sometimes more, but he had no choice. Matthews had proven at the very beginning that he was stronger and more physically able than Jason, especially in terms of martial arts. Nor could Jason run. His father was a top police officer, and had more than enough resources to find him.
Jason opened his eyes slowly, his heart beating in his throat. Matthews was kneeling almost directly over his face, his member waiting for attention.
"Show me how you love me, Jason."
Jason forced all emotion to the back of his soul as he performed the vile ritual, making himself go almost completely cold. One thought lingered in his mind, and one emotion remained. Hatred, pure and simple, burned in him, hatred that was directed at Tommy and the other rangers. He let that hatred grow, anger being the only thing that kept his heart and soul alive, and stopped him short of the drop to total insanity.
* The next day
"You think he’ll be here?" Trini asked softly. Zack sighed.
"I don’t know. Damn, I hate this. How could Jase let that bastard hurt him like that?"
Kimberly laid a hand gently on his arm. "He must have his reasons for not fighting back."
"Maybe," Trini murmured, "his father is as much of a fighter as Jason is. You said Jason told you that he knew more about martial arts. If that’s true, then he would have easily been able to beat Jason back. Zack, we have to focus on helping Jason."
"I know, but we can only do that if Jase lets us help. Wait… there he is!"
They looked around to see Jason enter the building, moving slowly, as though he were in pain. The teens exchanged fearful looks, and hurried to meet him.
"Jason?" Trini asked softly, gently taking his arm. Jason regarded his friends with red-rimmed eyes.
"You look awful," Kim said, feeling her throat constrict as she saw the despair in Jason’s eyes. Jason looked away from her.
"I’m okay. No worse than usual."
"What happened last night?" Zack asked. "Did he, like, hit you at all?"
"No. He didn’t hit me. Not that time."
Jason slowed to a halt, glancing around the nearly deserted corridors. A strained smile flickered over his features.
"You know, I don’t know what’s worse anymore. Sometimes, I think I can handle it, because it’s not supposed to hurt. But then, it seems like doing that hurts even worse than the beatings. I don’t know what’s worse. The outside hurt… or the inside hurt."
Zack felt the blood drain from his face. "Jase, what d’you mean, the inside hurt? What’d he do to you?"
Jason pulled away from Kim and Trini. "I have to get to class."
He walked away, up the corridor, leaving the three teens to stare after him in helpless silence.
"If I ever go back to Angel Grove," Kim said vehemently, "I’m gonna hit Tommy so hard…"
Zack groaned. "Not you, too… C’mon, Kim, blaming Tommy and the others isn’t gonna change anything. We’ve gotta redirect, girl!"
Trini absently picked at the blades of grass. "You could argue that it didn’t matter whether the rangers involved themselves, that the police would have found them anyway."
"Exactly," Zack jumped in quickly. Trini looked up.
"But there would have been that much more time to gather possible evidence to stop Matthews from taking Jason. Time for Jason to remember, so he could make his own protest. The rangers never allowed for that. They just waltzed in, like… like… I don’t know what. But they had no right to interfere. I can understand why Jason is so angry at them. Maybe the Scotts would still have gone to jail, but he would not have been put back with Matthews. He wouldn’t be in such an abusive situation right now."
Zack looked defeated. That was logic that he couldn’t argue with.
"Okay," he conceded reluctantly. "So what do we do? We’ve gotta help him, somehow."
"I could talk to my father," Trini said thoughtfully. "He could investigate the whole business. Maybe something went down on record from thirteen years ago. If it did, it might be cause to open a case."
Zack nodded. "I know my dad is looking into it. He hates Matthews, and I know he wants to get Jason away from him. Especially after seeing all the bruising and stuff last night…"
"I think," Kim said quietly, "that we have to pull together and look after Jason while we’re at school. It’s probably the only chance we’ll have to see him. God knows, his old man won’t let us see him at all. He’s having a really tough time, especially with not protecting himself against morons like John Grimshaw."
Trini agreed. "We can at least make things a little more pleasant for him here."
"Okay," Zack said firmly, as he spied Jason on the far side of the grounds, being hassled by some other teens. "I say we put Operation Relief into effect right now. C’mon."
The girls followed Zack quickly across the grass, to where Jason was trying hard to ignore the taunts of some of his peers. Zack didn’t pause, but stormed straight through to place himself squarely in front of Jason.
"Do you guys have a problem?" he asked tightly, eyeing the teens threateningly. The leader, a big boy by the name of Bruce Cohen, glared at Zack.
"No, but you might if you don’t get out of the way."
"Why?" Zack shot back, his gut knotting up with fury. "So you can use Jason for target practise? No way, Cohen."
Cohen sneered. "You know this loser, huh? Not gonna give yourself a good image, protecting washouts likes this."
Zack’s hands clenched into fists. "The only loser is you, for needing your whole gang to corner one person. And for your information, Jason is no loser. He’s got a hell of a lot more guts than you do."
Cohen hesitated, then shrugged. "Whatever." He looked around Zack to the pale-faced boy that he’d back up to the wall. "I’ll catch up with you later, Matthews. After school, maybe…"
Trini stepped in, folding her arms across her chest. "Oh, no you won’t. You either leave him alone, or you can deal with all of us. We’re not scared to fight, Cohen. We will, if you make us."
Cohen blinked, suddenly disconcerted. Taking one weakling of a boy down with his gang backing him up was one thing, but to be challenged by three teenagers, two of whom he knew were just as capable as himself… He decided to back down and, sparing them cold looks, stormed away, with his gang in tow. Zack waited until he’d gone, then turned back to Jason.
"You okay, bro?"
Jason wiped the back of his hand across his eyes, brushing away fresh tears. "Yeah. Thanks."
Kim reached into her pocket and pulled out a clean handkerchief, holding it out to him. Jason took it, his cheeks red with embarrassment, and wiped his eyes.
"Okay," Zack said firmly, "here’s the deal. We’re gonna look after you during school, so no one hassles you. I know that’s the only time we can see you, and I won’t get Dad to make your old man bring you around again. But even if we can’t do anything else, we can at least make sure you don’t have such a hard time here."
Jason looked relieved that Zack finally seemed to understand the position he was in. "Thanks, Zack."
Kim hugged him warmly. "It’ll be all right, Jason. Somehow, everything will work out."
Jason smiled a little at her, but the expression in his eyes suggested anything but hope.
"How was school?" Matthews asked gruffly as Jason walked in.
"Good," Jason replied numbly. Matthews looked around at him.
"No hassles today?"
"What about homework?"
"Biology and Literature."
Matthews frowned. "Literature… Crap. Why do they teach that rubbish?"
Jason remained silent, not daring to say that he enjoyed it. Matthews sighed and shook his head as he got up.
"Go and pack a bag. I have to go on a stakeout, and it could take three or four days. You’re going to stay with your grandmother."
Jason very nearly shouted with joy. That was the best news he’d heard for a while… He kept it to himself, though, acting just the way his father expected.
"Yes, Dad. I’ll be good. I promise."
"You’d better be. I don’t want to have to teach you any lessons when you come home, like I did the last time."
"Yes, sir," Jason said meekly. The last time, his confidence had been bolstered by his grandmother, and he had spoken back to his father once too often. He hadn’t been back at school for two weeks after that. Turning, he went to do as he’d been told, silently eager to get out of the apartment and away from his sadistic father.
Catherine Matthews greeted them sombrely, playing to her son’s expectations as much as Jason was. After soliciting promises of strict curfews and control from his mother, Matthews finally left, leaving the old woman alone with her grandson. She immediately turned and pulled Jason to her in a warm hug.
"Hello, sweetheart," she murmured, holding him close to make up for the earlier, cold greeting. Jason hugged her back, taking rare pleasure in the close contact.
Smiling sadly, she led him through into the warm kitchen, sat the teen down and pulled a tray of chocolate chip fudge cookies out of the oven.
"Here, freshly baked this morning. Help yourself."
Jason picked out a cookie and took a large bite out of it, sighing a little with relief. Catherine looked grim.
"He made you go without lunch again, didn’t he?"
Jason looked miserable. "I never get lunch, Grandma. He always makes me go without."
"Poor baby… Just a moment, and I’ll make you some sandwiches. Then, we’ll decide where to go for dinner tonight."
Minutes later, Jason was filling his empty stomach with sandwiches as his grandmother ran through a list of possible restaurants. Finally, as Jason finished the last sandwich, she spoke with a smile.
"I know. What about Pizza Palace?"
Jason’s face lit up. He hadn’t had pizza since before the night the Scotts had fled Angel Grove with him. Catherine laughed at his eager reaction.
"I take it that’s a yes. All right, that’s where we’ll go."
Jason swallowed the last of the sandwiches. "Thanks, Grandma. You’re the best."
She got up and went around to hug him close. "Anything to make things a bit better for you, honey. Now, I want you to tell me what he’s done." She paused, then, glowering at the bruising just beneath his hair. "I’ll just get some disinfectant. Are there any others?"
Jason responded without hesitation, pulling off his T-shirt and standing up to show her the welts and wounds that covered his back and chest. Catherine’s frown deepened considerably.
"All right. Just let me get some disinfectant and warm water. I’ll take care of these."
A few minutes later, Jason sat on a stool in the kitchen as his grandmother tended to the bruises and lacerations.
"He never lets up at all, does he?" she asked softly. Jason stared at the floor.
"No. He always finds something wrong. If I haven’t done anything wrong, he’ll make it up. The.. The other night, he hit me for not letting the dog out."
Catherine looked up, horrified. "You don’t have a dog!"
She sighed as she swabbed a particularly nasty cut with disinfectant. "Well, you’ll have a few days rest from him, at any rate. There, all done."
Jason pulled his T-shirt back on and stood up. "Thanks, Grandma."
"My pleasure. Are you still hungry?"
Jason looked sheepish, and she smiled sadly at him. "You are. Let me get my purse and keys, and we’ll go for an early dinner. It’s all you can eat tonight, Jason. We won’t leave until you’ve had enough to eat."
Jason couldn’t resist a faint grin as he followed her out of the kitchen.
"In that case, we could be there all night…"
"What are you thinking about?"
Tommy looked sideways at Kat. "A lot of things. Man, I can’t believe it’s been three months since Jase got back with his real dad."
"Nearly four," Kat murmured. "Tommy…"
Kat stared at the far-off sunset as they sat together at the lookout. "I want to ask you something, but I don’t want you to get angry at me."
Tommy came fully back to reality, turning to stare at her. "What is it?"
"I was just wondering… Why were you so quick to get rid of Jason like that?"
Tommy’s expression darkened just a little. "What d’you mean, get rid of him? You make it sound like I wanted him to go."
"I didn’t mean it like that… It’s just, it seems like you didn’t wait to hear the Scotts’ side of things. Or Jason’s side of it… I mean, maybe there was a reason that they took Jason to start with."
"Probably," Tommy conceded. "Probably because they didn’t have a kid of their own, and Jason just happened to be convenient. Kat, I’ve already been over this with Rocky…"
"I know. I just still feel strange about the whole thing. I keep getting the feeling there’s something we didn’t know. And besides, I feel awful that Mr and Mrs Scott went to jail. They were both really nice…"
The Red Ranger stood up. "I liked them too, Kat, but they were doing the wrong thing! They weren’t going to give up without a fight, so we really did them a favour. They might have gotten hurt if it had been the police, instead of us. Look, I’m not saying I felt fantastic about it. That look Jason gave us… I know he was angry, and I don’t blame him. But it was gonna happen. They couldn’t run from the police forever. Jase had to go to school. Maybe they could’ve hidden a little kid, but not a seventeen year-old. It wouldn’t work. We were really protecting them all by doing what we did."
Kat stared at him in the dimming light. "Do you really believe that?"
Tommy clenched his jaw determinedly. "Yes. I do."
"Feeling better now?" Catherine asked her grandson, and Jason nodded, slumping back in the chair with relief.
"Yes. Thanks, Grandma. I wish he let me spend more time with you."
"So do I. Perhaps then, you wouldn’t go hungry so often."
"Then he couldn’t beat me up so often," Jason murmured miserably. Catherine reached across the table to gently squeeze his hand.
"Be strong, sweetheart. It can’t last forever. You’ll be eighteen in another five months, and then you’ll legally be able to walk away from him."
"He’ll never let me walk away," Jason whispered, the tears threatening again. "He’ll kill me first…"
"No. You know you can come to me. He’d have to go through me to get to you, and he’d never dare lift a finger against me. Too much inheritance at stake."
Jason stared at her wordlessly, not asking the question that lingered in his mind. Catherine saw the look in his eyes, and sighed.
"I know, I’m fooling myself as well. He just has too much damned power. You’d think there was no one in this city who could oppose him."
Jason remained silent, Chief Taylor’s words echoing in his mind. Jason, I’m the Chief of Police. I have authority over Matthews…
He pushed the thought to the back of his mind. As much as he hated the position he was in, he was too frightened to try and break away from it. Frightened of what would happen to him if he was taken away… again… As horrible as it was, he at least had the stability of knowing where he would be every day.
"I’ll survive," Jason murmured, eyes cast downwards. "I always do."
That night, Catherine sat with her grandson as he lay in bed, lightly stroking his forehead and cheek in a soothing motion. "Tell me about your friends, back in Angel Grove," she suggested.
Jason stared at her through a thin film of tears. "Friends? I don’t have any friends."
"I know that isn’t true. You’ve mentioned them to me before."
Jason sniffed, and wiped away a single tear. "I thought they were my friends… and then they handed me over to him."
"Your friends were the ones to do that?" Catherine echoed, startled. "I thought you said it was those Power Rangers…"
Jason froze for just a second as old instincts surfaced, but then he pushed them away. He obviously was no longer under the protection of the power, he would never be a ranger again, so why be loyal to his vows? After all, the rangers had been anything but loyal to him…
"I know," he murmured. "That was the truth. Grandma… My friends are the Power Rangers."
Somehow, Catherine was not surprised. She stared at him wonderingly.
"But you aren’t?"
"I was. I was the first Red Ranger… until I went to Geneva for the peace conference with Zack and Trini. Then, when I went home, Tommy came to me and asked if I’d support the Gold Ranger powers for Trey. I said yes… Even though it nearly killed me, I didn’t regret it… until afterwards."
"How do you mean?"
"Just little things," Jason said, sitting up a little. "Like, they’d go out to a movie or something, but forget to invite me. Or at school, when we were supposed to work in groups, I started getting left out. I kept telling myself I was just being stupid. I thought…"
"Not a part of the team anymore?" she asked softly. Jason shook his head miserably.
"No. Then, this all happened, with Mum and Dad… Us taking off late at night… I could hardly believe it when Tommy showed up the next day and took me back to Angel Grove. I knew he didn’t really want me around that much anymore… I mean, he’s got Adam for a best friend, now… but I didn’t think he was that desperate. He didn’t even wait to listen to me!"
"Maybe he thought he was doing the right thing," Catherine said. "After all, by that time, Daniel probably would have had half the law enforcement agencies in the country looking for the three of you. Perhaps your friends thought if they went to get you, then no one would be hurt."
Jason faltered. He hadn’t thought of it like that…
"You think that might be it?" he asked tentatively. Catherine hugged him to her.
"I’m sure of it. Unfortunately, they just didn’t realise the consequences for you."
Jason’s frown returned. "They didn’t even try to hear me out… Or look for information and get the real story… If Billy had been there, he would’ve stopped them…"
Catherine cradled him in her arms. "Sweetheart, there was no information. Nothing ever went down on record. When your father called to let me know that he’d found you, I must have spent the following fortnight looking for any scrap of evidence that would have given me grounds to take you
away from him. There was absolutely nothing. He had too many connections in the right places. I suppose that was why Donavon and Sarah Scott resorted to kidnapping you in the end. Of course, Daniel went insane with anger when he couldn’t find you, but I was so happy that someone had had the courage to take you away from him… Don’t ever forget them, Jason. Even if you do never see them again, don’t let him make you forget."
"I won’t," Jason whispered tearfully. "I never will."
*The following day
Chief Taylor stood in his office, with a small group of seven younger officers, his most trusted men. Once silence fell, he spoke quietly.
"All right, listen up and listen close. We’ve got a problem, and it’s right here in this precinct. You all know that Matthews got his kid back four months ago?"
A murmur went through the group. Taylor nodded.
"Okay. Here’s the bottom line. Matthews is beating his son, and I have my suspicions that that’s not all he’s doing to him. However, for now we focus on the physical abuse. Now, I’ve gotten a confession out of Jason, but if we did anything straight out, he’d deny it all. Proof isn’t the issue here, though. Jason has plenty of the trademark bruises to convince any jury in the country. This is the issue. Donavon and Sarah Scott, whom I’m sure you all know went to jail for kidnapping Jason. What I want you men to do is start digging, as deep as you can. Start looking for any records, any such thing that proves the Scotts made official complaints thirteen years ago that Matthews was abusing Jason. If we can turn up some evidence, it might be enough to get a judge to overturn the jail sentence in an appeals court. That is what we are aiming for."
One man spoke up in a tight voice. "What about Matthews? Are we going to let him go on beating on his kid?"
"Right now there isn’t much of a choice. Jason is nearly eighteen, and people would be inclined to believe an eighteen year-old knows the difference between punishment and abuse. At this point in time, Jason would deny the abuse is happening. We’ll worry about that down the track. Right now I want you to focus on this. And keep it to yourselves, for God’s sake! No one else is to know. You don’t even tell your wives!"
"You got it, boss," another man spoke up. "Give us a couple of weeks, or so, and we’ll get what you need."
Taylor nodded. "I hope so."
*Two days later
I wish I didn’t have to go home," Jason said dismally as he folded up his spare clothes and packed them into his bag. Catherine sighed.
"So do I, sweetheart. Try and be brave, though." She paused, then held out her arms to him. "One last hug, before he gets here?" she asked.
Jason went to her willingly, allowing himself to be wrapped up in her embrace. Catherine hugged him tightly, and kissed him lightly on the forehead. "It won’t last forever, Jason. Nothing bad ever does. Try and keep your chin up until then, okay?"
Jason nodded. "I will."
"Your grandmother said you behaved yourself," Matthews remarked coolly. Jason sat still, trying to remind himself of the many lessons he’d been dealt by his father.
"That’s good to know. No back-chatting this time?"
"Good. We’re doing well, Jason. Really well. You’re finally getting the hang of it, boy."
Jason said nothing, but continued to stare at the dashboard in miserable silence.
The next month passed slowly, and while Chief Taylor and his men searched desperately for any information that would help their cause, Zack, Kimberly and Trini made sure to take care of Jason while they were in the vicinity of the school. As a result, Jason began to enjoy school again, finally able to relax and not fear every day that came. The only dampener was having to go home again each afternoon.
A month after his brief sabbatical with his grandmother, Jason was waiting in front of the school for his father. The weather had turned bitterly cold over the last few weeks, and Matthews had ordered Jason to wait at school to be picked up. He dared not disobey, even though being picked up meant
losing that brief time to himself between the end of school and arriving home.
He was waiting at the front of the school when Trini came up to him, and slipped her arm through his.
"We’ve hardly seen you all day," she chided him lightly. "Where have you been?"
Jason shrugged. "Around. I had papers to research."
"Fair enough," she conceded. "I missed you at lunch time, though. How have you been feeling?"
"No worse than usual," Jason replied. "I’m okay. Things aren’t so bad at school now, though, thanks to you guys."
"However we can help," Trini murmured. She hugged him gently, aware of how frail he had become, and how badly bruised he always was. "I really hate to see you hurting like this, Jason, and not be able to do anything about it."
"You have been helping, though," Jason protested. "Every day…"
"I mean, I wish we could get you away from your father, and back with the Scotts. You belong with them, not with Captain Matthews. It isn’t right."
Tears filled Jason’s eyes and he pulled roughly away from her. "Well, you can’t do anything about it, so just forget it. Okay?"
Trini hung her head. "I’m sorry. I should have kept my mouth shut."
Jason felt bad, and he came back to her. "No, I’m sorry. It just hurts, knowing I won’t see them again. I really miss them, Trini."
"Of course you would. After all, they’re your parents."
Jason stared blankly at her. She shrugged a little.
"Blood doesn’t mean anything in circumstances like this. Your parents are the ones that took care of you, and loved you. Not the man that is always hitting you."
She hesitated, then reached out and took his hand lightly in her own. "I really care about you, Jason. Even before this, I knew I cared about you." She pulled him to her and, before she could think twice, drew his head down to hers for a long, tender kiss. Jason was too startled to respond, nor did she expect him to. Months of training on his father’s part had probably removed any desire for him to show any real emotion.
She kept her lips pressed gently to his for a second longer before moving away. She started to speak, then froze, shock and fear on her face.
"Oh god… Jason, I’m sorry…"
Jason felt his heart almost stop beating. He knew why she’d suddenly panicked. Turning a little, he saw his father standing there, watching them from ten or so metres away. The fear faded to make way for numb resignation to fate.
"I’ll see you in a couple of weeks or so," he murmured, then turned and walked away from her, towards his father.
"That’s a real catch, if ever I saw one," Matthews remarked in a deceptively pleasant voice when Jason reached him. "Is she your girl, then?"
Jason didn’t answer. He didn’t dare. Matthews slung an arm around the boy’s shoulders.
"C’mon, now, Jason. You can tell me."
Jason knew the safest thing to do would be to pass Trini off as one of the many sex-hungry girls in the school, say that he hardly knew her and that she had been trying to hit on him. It would have been the safest avenue, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it.
"She’s my friend," he admitted softly. Matthews spared Jason a curious look.
"Friend? Really… Well, we’d better get home. I’m sure you have plenty of homework to do. Right?"
"Yes, sir," Jason whispered. They reached the car and Jason climbed in, feeling sick to his stomach. If there was one thing worse than knowing what his father was going to do, it was not knowing what he was going to do. The man was being far too congenial about it, and that scared Jason more than anything. He sank down in the seat, and waited in fearful silence.
Trini waited until they’d turned away from her, then bolted back into the school in search of a phone. She had to call Zack, straight away…
Zack had been sick for the past two days, and had not been at school for as long. He was still suffering a slight fever even then, but was hoping he’d be back at school soon. The phone rang downstairs, and it was answered almost immediately by his mother. He was surprised when, a minute later, she came in with the cordless.
"Zack? Do you feel like taking a call? It’s Trini, and she sounds a bit upset."
Zack sat up quickly, reaching out for the phone. "Thanks. Hey, Trini…?"
On the other end, Trini nearly burst into tears. "Zack, I’ve done something terrible! You have to call your father!"
Zack’s eyes widened. Trini had done something wrong…? "Calm down, girl! What’s wrong?"
"I met Jason after school, and we were talking. I… I don’t know why I did it, I just couldn’t help it. But he saw, and I’m sure he’s going to hurt him because of it…"
Zack rubbed his eyes, confused. "Slow down, Trini. I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about!"
"I kissed Jason!" Trini burst out. "In front of the school! His father saw! Now, I’m scared for Jason…"
Understanding dawned in Zack’s mind. "Oh, shit… Are you sure?"
"Yes. Zack, call your dad, please. When Jason left me, he said he’d see me again in a couple of weeks. This is really bad!"
"Okay, I’ll call Dad. Try not to panic, okay? I’ll call him straight away."
"Thankyou," Trini whimpered. Zack went on quickly.
"Call Kim and tell her, then go home and wait. I’ll let you know if I hear anything."
Trini agreed and hung up. Zack did the same, then looked up at his mother.
"Mum, I’ve gotta call Dad. Trini said she was with Jason after school today. She said she kissed him, and that his dad saw. She’s scared he’s going to hurt Jason because of it."
Mrs Taylor had paled a little. "If he hurts Jason for little, insignificant things, then he’ll certainly react badly to that. Let me have the phone, Zack. I’ll tell your father."
Zack handed over the phone willingly, and lay back down to wait for a result.
*Chief Taylor’s office
Taylor hung up the phone, and paused a moment to check his heart rate. Then, he got up and walked over to the door, scanning the room to see who was there.
"Levy! Get in my office, now!"
The detective came quickly, stepping inside the office and closing the door behind him. "Yes, sir?"
"What have you uncovered on the Scott case? Please, tell me you have something."
Levy grinned. "Actually, sir, I do. I was hoping the others would have come up with something before I showed it to you, but if you want to see it now…"
"Damn straight I do," Taylor growled. "Go and get it, now!"
Levy went to do as he’d been told.
The car pulled into the apartment block car park under the building, and Matthews guided the vehicle into his allocated space.
"Jason, can you do me a favour, please? I’m not sure that both of the tail lights on the car are working. Hop out and check it out for me."
Jason got out of the car and went around behind the vehicle, looking down at the tail lights.
"They’re working," Jason called back. He started to look up, just as the car rolled backwards, hitting his thigh and knocking him to the ground. Jason started to cry out in panic when the car ran over his legs, breaking them both cleanly. He screamed, then, in the hope his father would realise he was beneath the car and stop.
He heard the engine sound change, and the car moved forward, running over him again. The weight of the vehicle crushed the bones in his legs with relentless force. Jason’s mouth was open with silent cries, the sound muted in his throat. When the car backed over him a second time, he had to realise it was no mistake.
The engine finally shut off, and a moment later a pair of strong hands grabbed his arms and dragged him out from beneath the car. He began to cry out loud, then, gasping for air as the panic hit, sending his heart rate through the roof.
Matthews looked disgusted as he dragged his son to the disused service elevator. "Stop blubbering. It’s pathetic."
For once, Jason could not heed the order, and he continued to sob uncontrollably.
"Little bastard…" Matthews grunted. "If you were obedient, I wouldn’t have had to do this! Kissing a girl, right in front of me… Damned kid… You’re more trouble than you’re worth, you know that Jason? I should have drowned you when you were born. You hear me? I should have drowned you like a puppy. You want to know something else? I don’t love you, Jason. Not at all. I never did. I only went to so much trouble to find you because it pissed me off that someone got away with taking something that belonged to me. Aside from that, I didn’t give a shit about you. You deserve everything you get, Jason. Every little whipping. And don’t think I’m gonna call an ambulance for you. You can die of the pain, for all I care. Little bastard…"
They reached their apartment, unseen by anyone, and Matthews quickly dragged the injured boy through into his tiny bedroom and threw him roughly onto the bed. He then sat down beside him.
"Now, Jason, what do you say?"
Jason fought to breathe evenly. "I… I hate you…" he whispered, pain giving him the strength of defiance. Matthews’ expression hardened.
"What was that?"
"I hate you!" Jason exploded. "I hate you, I hate you so goddamned much!"
Matthews’ hands curled into fists. "Is that so?" A moment later, Matthews’ iron fists slammed into Jason’s chest and stomach, and struck him across the face in the stomach, continuing the abuse until the teen was nearly unconscious. When he finally ceased the assault, he looked down appraisingly at the mangled mess that was his son’s legs. "All right, then." He stood up slowly. "I have to go to work, and when I come home, I’ll deal with you properly. I hope your friend won’t miss you too much. You won’t be seeing her again."
Smirking coldly to himself, he left the room, leaving Jason to lie in pain on his bed.
Chief Taylor looked up impatiently as Levy ran back into his office, shutting the door behind him.
"This had better be worth the wait, Detective."
"It is, sir. This on its own will be enough to get the Scotts out of jail."
Taylor sat forward. "What is it?"
"A tape, sir. I have an anonymous friend in a certain records department that kept this audio tape when she’d been told by a certain Captain to destroy it. She didn’t like his hitting on her, and decided to keep it to get him off her back. She’s never used it, though, and forgot about it until now."
"Put it on, then," Taylor growled. Levy slipped it into the stereo and switched it on. A moment later, Matthews’ voice filled the room.
"You’re a fool, Scott. You’re totally out of your league."
"Maybe I am," came the angry reply, "but you are abusing your son! I know it, my wife knows, and this whole city is going to know it by the time we’ve finished! You can’t deny it, Matthews…"
"Oh, I’m not trying to, Scott. I’ll admit it. I beat the crap out of that little shit every day. It’s practise for dealing with the real criminals, you see. You want to know what I do to him? First, I smack him around a little. Then, I get his shirt off and start on him with my belt. I use the buckle, it does more damage, and it hurts more. I make sure to leave a few marks that’ll scar, too. Little reminders for him."
"That’s not all you do, you bastard," Donavon Scott spat. Matthews responded with a laugh.
"What’d you do, have your little wife go over him with a magnifying glass? Yeah, I do other stuff to him. You want to know what else I do? Here’s what I do…"
"Turn it off," Taylor growled, sickened. Levy hit the stop button, then looked back to the chief of police.
"I’m getting a warrant, and then we put Plan A into action. Find the boys and send them to my office, then call Carl at the D.A.’s office. Tell him we’ve got the evidence we need to do what we discussed."
"Move it, Levy."
Levy fled the room and Taylor leaned over to grab the phone, hoping silently that they weren’t too late.
For a while, all Jason was aware of was the crippling pain in his legs. Everything else was a hopeless blur, meaning nothing to him. After a while, though, things began to focus, and it registered somewhere in his mind that he had to get help. Still horribly aware of the excruciating pain, Jason slid off his bed and onto the floor. He then dragged himself through on his stomach into the small lounge room, and over to the phone.
Reaching up, he pulled the phone off the little coffee table onto the floor beside him. Fumbling with the hand piece, he brought it to his face with one hand and managed to dial a memorised number with the other. It rang nearly seven times before it was finally answered.
Jason gave a choked sob. "Grandma…"
On the other end of the line, Catherine Matthews felt her blood run cold. Something serious must have happened for Jason to risk phoning her…
"Jason, what’s wrong? What’s happened, honey?"
"The car…" Jason sobbed. "The car… Grandma, please… Come and get me…"
"Jason, tell me what he’s done to you!" Catherine persisted. Jason was crying openly, but somehow managed to force it out.
"He ran me down… The car… He ran me down with the car… Please come and
get me… Before he comes back…"
Catherine felt the familiar, sharp stab of fear through her heart. "Oh lord… Just hang on, Jason. I’ll be there in five minutes."
Jason heard the click of the phone disengaging, and slumped down on the floor, waiting for his grandmother to arrive.
Catherine arrived at the apartment and quickly unlocked it with a spare that she had ‘accidentally’ forgotten to return to her son. She hurried in, and found Jason almost straight away.
"Oh lord… My poor boy…"
Jason looked up in a daze. "Grandma…?"
"Yes, honey. Just hang on. I’m going to call for help."
"Zack’s dad…" Jason whispered. "Call Zack’s dad… Police Chief…"
Catherine was startled. "You mean Chief Taylor?"
Jason shivered. "My friend’s dad…"
Catherine hesitated for just a moment before reaching for the phone to make the call.
The warrant had just come through, and Chief Taylor was just ready to move when his phone rang. Frowning darkly, he picked it up.
"Taylor here… Excuse me? Oh, Mrs Matthews, yes I remember you…" Taylor suddenly turned ashen. "When…? He definitely said that? Oh, Christ… We were just about to make a move and get Jason away from him. …Yes, I’ll send an ambulance and I’ll be there with my men yesterday."
Taylor hung up and looked grimly at his men. "It never fails. There’s been… an accident. Jason Sc… Matthews… has been very badly hurt. Johnson, I want you to stay here, on standby. As soon as we’ve seen what condition Jason is in, I’ll give you the word to arrest Matthews."
Johnson blinked. "In front of everyone? There’ll be a riot…"
"No, there won’t. If anyone has any objections, they can bring it to me personally. Just do as I say. All right?"
"Okay. The rest of you, let’s move."
"Sweet Lord Almighty…" Taylor moaned when they arrived at the apartment. Catherine looked up grimly from where she sat next to her semi-conscious grandson.
"Please, tell me you’ve arrested my son."
"Not yet," Taylor replied in a strained voice, "but we’re about to." He looked down at the injured boy. "Jason? Can you hear me, son…?"
Jason responded with a faint moan, the pain rendering him helpless. Taylor switched on his radio, his jaw tight with anger.
"Come in, Johnson."
"Arrest Matthews. Now."
"What charges, sir?"
Taylor hesitated, looking over at Catherine. She returned his stare with an equally angry one.
"He did it deliberately."
"Attempted murder, Johnson. Arrest him for attempted murder, aggravated assault, grievous bodily harm and anything else you can think of. The bastard ran Jason down and crushed his legs."
There was a long pause as Johnson digested the news. Then: "Okay. I’m on my way now, sir."
Taylor signed off and reattached the radio to his belt. "An ambulance is on its way. Mrs Matthews…?"
"Yes, Chief Taylor?"
"Your son will never be allowed near Jason again. I promise."
Catherine nodded. "Thankyou."
Matthews stared idly at the papers on his desk, wondering how he would deal with his son when he got home. A straight beating was not enough, not this time. He chewed his lip thoughtfully, and smiled to himself as he recalled his son’s screams as the car backed over him. At least he could guarantee the brat didn’t go anywhere....
A shadow fell over his desk, and he looked up to see Lieutenant Johnson standing there, not even trying to hide the anger and disgust in his eyes. Matthews lounged back in his chair, sparing Johnson his best ‘I’m-second-in-command-don’t-look-at-me-like-that’ look.
"Can I help you, Lieutenant?"
"Yes. Please stand up, and place your guns on the desk, then turn around."
Matthews’ face darkened. "What are you talking about?"
Johnson drew in a deep breath, aware of the attention he was getting. "I’m placing you under arrest for attempted murder, assault and battery and grievous bodily harm. You have the right to remain silent. However, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney, you have the right to..."
"I know my rights!" Matthews exploded. "What is this about? You don’t have the authority to do this, Lieutenant..."
"Yes, sir, I do. I’m doing this under the authority of Chief Taylor. He ordered your arrest, sir. Here’s the warrant."
Matthews eyed the piece of paper in disgust. "That doesn’t mean shit. Now, who am I supposed to have tried to kill?"
"Your son, Captain. Chief Taylor is at your apartment now with a squad of men, waiting for an ambulance."
Matthews froze. "He called 911... The little bastard called 911..."
"No, sir. Your mother called Chief Taylor personally. Please turn around, sir..."
Matthews allowed himself to be turned around, too stunned to put up a fight as the handcuffs were slapped onto his wrists. His own mother had betrayed him...
"Johnson, what are you doing?"
Johnson looked around to see a crowd of police officers gathering round. None of them looked happy. He groaned inwardly.
Why’d I get this job?
"I’m doing my job, Jake."
"Arresting a brother?"
Johnson’s jaw tightened. "You call someone who physically abuses his own son a brother? Look, if you guys want to whine about it, whine to Chief Taylor. Not me. I’m doing what I was told to do. And if any of you feel inclined, you can inquire about the Captain’s son at Chicago Hope hospital. Just ask about the kid with the crushed legs. C’mon, sir, let’s go."
None of the officers moved or spoke as Johnson led Matthews away.
*Some hours later
"He’s been arrested," Taylor said as he rejoined Catherine in the waiting room of the hospital. Catherine looked remorseless.
"You just make certain he stays locked up, Chief Taylor. For Jason’s sake."
Taylor nodded as he sat down next to her. "I intend to, Mrs Matthews. Has there been any word on Jason?"
"No. He’s still in surgery. His father made quite a mess of his legs."
"Among other things."
Catherine spared the police chief a grim look. "Yes. Among other things."
"He won’t be allowed near Jason again," Taylor said, as much to himself as to Catherine. "I’ll make sure of it."
Silence reigned for a while, and then Catherine spoke again. "I want to take Jason into my care… but I can’t. I’m too old. He’d only end up taking care of me, and I don’t want that to happen."
Taylor stared at her questioningly. "What do you suggest?"
"I have connections, Chief Taylor. God knows I should have used them before, to stop Daniel from hurting Jason… But I was frightened of my own son. Too late now, of course… I know the Governor, Chief Taylor. I presume you do, as well?"
"Yes, Ma’am. He’s the one who recommended me for my current position."
"Then we both pack a little punch. I, personally, would very much like to see Donavon and Sarah Scott released from jail."
Taylor had to smile, then. "Yes, Ma’am, so would I. I’ve had my men working on that, and they’ve uncovered some evidence that should guarantee their release."
"Good. Then we only have to focus on seeing them reunited with Jason."
Taylor’s smile faded quickly. "That may not be so easy, Mrs Matthews. If they are released, it will probably be on the provision that they don’t go near Jason."
Catherine smiled almost pompously in response. "We’ll see."
Dr Jack MacNeil emerged into the cool waiting room, and paused for just a second to enjoy the breeze that wafted from the air ducts. It was stiflingly hot in the operating theatre, and any little breeze was welcome.
"That’s Mrs Matthews, over there," a nurse told him. "She’s with Police Chief Taylor."
MacNeil nodded wordlessly, then walked across the floor to where an elderly lady sat, accompanied by the Chief of Police.
"Excuse me, Mrs Matthews?"
Catherine stood up. "Is Jason all right? Where is he…?"
MacNeil held up his hands defensively. "He came through the operation. There’s no danger that we’ll lose him. If you could come with me, please?"
Both Catherine and Taylor followed him through to a small lounge, bidding them sit down.
"Jason is your grandson," MacNeil said to Catherine. "Is that right?"
"Yes. He is."
"Well, Mrs Matthews, you have one tough grandson. The damage to his legs isn’t as bad as we first thought. Admittedly, it is very bad, but not crippling. He’ll walk again, and hopefully without any need of support."
Catherine shuddered with relief. "Oh, thank God…"
"It’s going to be a long road," MacNeil went on quietly, "but it’s not impossible. Providing the support is there, he should do just fine."
Catherine looked sharply at Taylor. "You said you had evidence to get them out of jail?"
"Well, what are you waiting for? Put it to use! And let the Governor know from me, that I’ve decided to collect that debt he owes me. Understand?"
Taylor grinned and stood up. "Yes, Ma’am." He nodded to MacNeil, then slipped out of the room. MacNeil eyed Catherine with a wry smile.
"That must be where Jason gets his toughness from."
Catherine laughed softly. "Oh, no, Doctor. I’m afraid it isn’t hereditary. Jason gets his stubbornness and toughness from someone completely different. So… He will be all right?"
"Given time and rest. I can take you to see him now, if you’d like. He’s not really awake yet, but he might know you’re there."
She nodded and stood up. "Please, take me to him."
Jason floated, somewhere between dark and light, painless, weightless, drifting easily through a black nothing. He was dimly aware of voices, but none of them made any sense, so he was content to stay where he was for a while longer. He was surprised when he felt something… or someone… take his hand, and start tugging him gently back towards the light.
No he thought. Not yet… Don’t make me go back yet…
He couldn’t resist, though, and was rapidly pulled back into the light… back into the pain.
Catherine looked anxious as Jason moaned, his young face contorting with pain. Grasping his hand gently in her own, she stroked his forehead and cheek lightly, in the hope of soothing him and easing his distress.
"It’s all right, Jason," she murmured softly. "Everything’s going to be all right. Just relax…"
MacNeil watched for a moment before nodding to the nurse, who moved in to inject a dose of morphine into the drip. Jason’s moans soon ceased, and he once more went limp in the bed. Catherine sighed audibly.
"Poor baby… Life has been so cruel to you…"
Tears worked their way out of her eyes before she could stop them, and she brushed them away tiredly, settling back to wait with her grandson.
Governor Abraham Kale was relaxing in the chair in his office when the door opened and Chief Taylor walked in. He smiled at the man in welcome.
"Sam, you came to visit a doddering old fool in his senility. How kind!"
Taylor smiled wearily. If nothing else, the Governor certainly had a good sense of humour...
"Actually, sir, I came to ask a favour."
"Oh? What favour would that be?"
"We’re working to have Donavon and Sarah Scott released from jail, sir."
Kale sat forward slowly. "Scott... Scott.... Oh. The couple that snatched the Matthews boy thirteen years ago. That’s not our jurisdiction, Sam."
"I know, sir, but I’ve been in touch with the D.A. that handled the case in California, and he’s sided with me. We think we can get them out of jail, but we need extra help to put Jason back in their custody."
Kale gaped at the police chief in shock. "Are you out of your mind? They snatched a boy thirteen years ago, and you want to give the boy back to them?"
"Sir, listen to me, please. I came here almost straight from the hospital."
"Yes. Daniel Matthews tried to kill Jason. He ran the boy down with his car, and backed it over
him two or three times. Jason’s legs were crushed by the weight. I’ve had Matthews arrested, and Jason’s in hospital now. His grandmother is with him, and she said she’s willing to take care of him for the time being, but she can’t continue to do that on a permanent basis. Especially if Jason is a long time recovering. Now, I’ve spoken to her, and I’ve spoke to everyone else with influence. You’re the only one left. Please, sir. Let me put Jason back where he belongs, with Donavon and Sarah Scott. After everything Matthews has done to him, I think he deserves that much."
Kale looked grim. "It’s true, then. Matthews was abusing Jason, even back then..."
"Yes, sir. We’ve found proof."
Kale looked to the window, drumming his fingers on the desk. After a moment, Taylor spoke again.
"Sir, do you know Catherine Matthews?"
A smile filtered onto Kale’s face. "Catherine? Oh, yes, I know Catherine. So it’s that Matthews family that we’re talking about, is it?"
"Yes, sir," Taylor replied, silently wondering what the deal was between Jason’s grandmother and the state Governor. "She, uh... She asked me to pass on a message. She told me to say that she’s decided to collect the debt you owe her."
Kale’s eyes widened, and then he began to laugh. "That crafty old devil! All right, Sam. You’ve got my endorsement. Take this to the courts, and I’ll back you all the way. We’ll make sure Jason gets his real parents back."
Taylor smiled with relief. "Thankyou, sir."
*Several days later
Catherine had long since given up trying to cheer Jason up. Even visits from his friends, Zack, Kimberly and Trini, had failed to lift his spirits. She knew what was wrong, of course, but right then she could do little about it.
"Here’s one," she said, locating a crossword puzzle in a little book. "Martial Arts. The ultimate crossword."
Jason stared bleakly at the ceiling. "Not now."
Catherine sighed and put the book down. "Jason, I know you want to be back with the Scotts, but I’m afraid I can’t do anything about it! Please, don’t give up on me, honey."
Jason looked back at her. "I’m sorry. I am... It’s just, I miss them so bad... If Mum was here, she’d sit up on the bed with me, and just hold me... and Dad would, too. I miss that, Grandma. I want them back!"
His voice cracked, and he began to cry. Catherine had to fight to keep control of her own emotions. Standing up, she leaned over and gently put her arms around the fragile boy.
"It’s all right, sweetheart. Go ahead and cry."
Silently, Catherine hated herself for not telling Jason what she and certain others were trying to do, but it would have been so much worse to tell him, only to have their efforts come to nothing. Instead, she just held him, as he had said Sarah used to do, and hope that they didn’t fail.
*California State Penitentiary
Donavon Scott was more than a little surprised to be brought out for an interview with someone and to find it was the D.A. who had convinced the judge to send him and his wife to jail. He regarded the man with a grim look.
"Mr Russell. What a surprise."
Alan Russell nodded. "I guess it is. You probably didn’t expect to see me again..."
"No, not for six years."
"I’ll get straight to the point, Scott. I’ve been contacted by Chicago’s Chief of Police. They’ve uncovered some conclusive evidence that guarantees both yours and your wife’s release from prison."
Donavon stiffened for a moment, then leaned forward slowly. "You’re serious?"
"Yes. There’s also a move afoot to have Jason officially and legally placed in your custody."
Donavon’s hands clenched into fists. "He’s doing it again, isn’t he? That bastard is abusing Jason..."
Russell hesitated, then spoke quietly. "Technically I shouldn’t tell you this, but you’d probably find out anyway. Some things have happened, Scott. Daniel Matthews has been arrested and charged..."
"What with?" Donavon asked in a hoarse whisper.
"Right now, Jason is in Chicago Hope hospital. He... I’m afraid he has been badly hurt. Apparently Matthews ran him down with his car..."
Donavon sat frozen with anger. "Who’s with Jason now?" he asked softly, struggling to maintain a reasonable level of calm.
"His grandmother, Catherine Matthews. Apparently Matthews left Jason alone in their apartment and he managed to drag himself as far as the phone. He called his grandmother, she went to the apartment, and called the chief of police, not 911. Probably just as well. Matthews would have been likely to overhear a 911 call, and most likely would have cancelled it."
"How badly was Jason hurt?"
"I couldn’t say, not for certain. Those details weren’t made known to me."
Donavon looked away, to the tabletop. "This is what Sarah and I were trying to avoid when we took Jason to begin with."
"I understand.... now. We’re all working to have it rectified. With luck, you’ll be out of this place within a month...." He paused, then added softly: "And back with your son."
Donavon looked at him, startled. Russell offered Donavon a faint smile as he stood up.
"It’s the very least I can do. Excuse me..."
Donavon watched him go with a feeling of renewed hope, then turned and allowed himself to be led back to his cell.
*A month later
"No. I don’t want to do it."
Jack MacNeil withheld a groan at Jason’s continued, stubborn refusal to agree to the physiotherapy. The boy had a stubborn streak in him a mile wide, and it was starting to become annoying as hell.
"If you don’t do it, you won’t walk," MacNeil persisted. Jason stared defiantly at him from the wheelchair, and MacNeil threw his hands up in frustration. "Why are you being so stubborn? Do you really want to be in that chair for the rest of your life? Do you?"
Jason looked uncomfortable. "No…"
"Then what is it?"
The teen bit down on his lower lip. "It hurts so bad. I don’t like it hurting."
MacNeil sighed and went over to crouch down in front of Jason. "No one likes pain, Jason. Sometimes, though, we just have to grit our teeth and get on with things, no matter how much it hurts."
"I could handle that," Jason argued. "But… Is it always going to be like this? Will it always hurt like this? Because if it is, I don’t think I can cope with that."
MacNeil sighed softly, starting to understand the boy’s fear. "I wish I could tell you for certain, one way or the other. The truth is, I can’t say for sure. Maybe it will… Maybe it won’t. But you won’t know if you don’t try."
"I’m scared," Jason whispered.
"I understand. Don’t let the fear control you. You’ve come this far. Don’t cave now."
Jason forced back his tears. "Okay," he conceded finally. MacNeil nodded and stood up.
"Good. Let’s see what we can do, then."
"You were very brave," Catherine said quietly as she sat with Jason an hour or so later. "I know how badly all of that must have hurt."
Jason smiled tearfully. "Hey, no pain, no gain. Right?"
"Right," she murmured, stroking his forehead lightly. "You keep up like you did today, Jason, and you’ll be back on your feet in no time. I’m sure of it."
He stared up at the white-washed ceiling. "Wheelchair… Then leg braces and crutches… Then a walking stick… I may not get past the walking stick, Grandma. I heard them talking. They said I might always need a walking stick."
Catherine squeezed his hand reassuringly. "Be brave, sweetheart. Be brave and strong, and I’m sure that one day, you’ll walk on your own again."
Tears filled Jason’s eyes and overflowed down his cheeks. "One day… One day I’ll walk. One day it might stop hurting. One day… Why can’t it be tomorrow? Or next week? Or even next month? Why does it always have to be one day…? I don’t want to do this, Grandma. I don’t want to…"
Catherine felt her heart break in response to her grandson’s physical and emotional pain, but in the end all she could do was wait and hope that they didn’t fail in what they were trying to do.
Chief Taylor strode into his office, feeling elated. He’d just heard back from the appeals court in California. Not only had Donavon and Sarah Scott been released from jail, the judge had, on the recommendation and endorsement of Governor Kale and against all precedents, made provisions for the Scotts to take Jason back, and legally adopt him. The judge and the D.A. had also issued a formal and official apology to the couple for everything they’d gone through.
Now, once all the paperwork was finished, Donavon and Sarah would be on the first plane to Chicago, to be reunited with Jason. Taylor leaned back in his chair, feeling immensely pleased with himself. Things couldn’t have worked out better if they’d tried.
He was about to call the hospital to let Catherine know they’d succeeded, when there was a knock on his door and a group of five detectives walked in. Taylor sat up, instantly on guard. These five in particular, he knew, were loyal to Matthews. No doubt they wanted an explanation....
"Sir..." one detective started to say. Taylor cut him off.
"Let me guess, Davis. You want to know on what grounds I had Matthews arrested."
Davis looked uncomfortable, but determined. "Yes, sir. I mean, he was a brother...."
Taylor looked sceptical. "It’s taken you boys a long time to get yourselves in gear. He was arrested over a month ago."
"We know," Davis said. "We... We just want to know why."
Taylor stifled a groan. "Are you five deaf, or just stupid? You know what that son of a bitch did to his own son!"
"It could have been an accident..." one of them protested weakly. Taylor’s face clouded over with anger.
"When someone runs their car three times over their own child, and doesn’t hear the screaming, then it’s no accident. You either accept that, or... I don’t know. But before you start considering insubordination, think about this. There is a boy in hospital right now who was very nearly crippled for life. As it is, he’s going to be in a wheelchair for at least another three months before he can start walking again, and even then it’ll be with leg braces. And if you still have doubts, take a look at these."
Taylor pulled open his desk drawer and took out a small handful of photos, which he slid across the tabletop. Davis picked up the top one, and turned a light shade of green.
"What is this...?"
"Photographic evidence, gentlemen. That one you’re looking at now is a photo that was taken of Jason’s legs before doctors operated. Not a pretty sight, is it?"
Davis placed the photo carefully back on the desk, not showing it to his colleagues. "I’m sorry, sir. I can’t believe Captain Matthews is capable of doing that."
"Really? Well, then, you’re in a minority," Taylor snapped. "I don’t have time to argue this out now. Get back to work, all of you."
The five men turned and shuffled out of the office, disgruntled. Taylor watched them go in disgust and disbelief before finally refocussing on his original intentions, and making the call to the hospital, to tell Catherine Matthews that Donavon and Sarah Scott were on their way.
"Donavon!" Taylor called out, hurrying to meet the couple as they alighted from the red eye flight from California. "Sarah... Damn, it’s good to see you two again."
Donavon ignored the offered hand and threw his arms around the bigger man in a brotherly hug. "Thankyou, Sam. We’ll never be able to pay you back..."
Sam shook his head. "Don’t expect you to. Getting you both out of prison was enough of a reward for me. C’mon, let’s get you to the hospital."
"How is Jason?" Sarah asked anxiously. "No one seems to be able to tell us anything."
Taylor shook his head, waiting until they were in the waiting car before speaking. "He’s doing all right, for what he’s gone through. A month in hospital hasn’t done much for his esteem, either. Listen, folks, he doesn’t know you’re coming. We kept it a secret from him just in case things didn’t work out. It’s going to be a real surprise for him."
"What about his grandmother?" Sarah asked in concern. "What does she think about this...?"
Taylor smiled wryly. "She was the one who got the Governor on our side. We would have been able to get you both out of jail, but he was the one who had the added kick to reunite you with Jason. Ah.... You don’t know how badly Jason was hurt, do you?"
Donavon and Sarah glanced at one another, and then Donavon shook his head.
"No. We don’t. Tell us the news straight, Sam. We need to know."
"Yes, you do. You know Jason was run down by Matthews, right?"
"What you probably don’t know is that Matthews ran over him three times. He crushed Jason’s legs. The kid was in traction for a month, right up until just last week."
Donavon groaned softly. "Oh god... That bastard! Sam, is he going to...?"
"He’ll walk again," Taylor told them, "but it’s going to be a long time in coming. He’s already had four operations on his legs, and we know he needs at least another two. Possibly more. It’s pretty serious, folks. I think it’s making it worse that Jason doesn’t seem to have much stamina anymore. He’s just about given up trying. It’s why it’s so important that we get you back together with him. I think it might turn him right around to have his mum and dad back."
Donavon and Sarah exchanged glances and grasped each other’s hands tightly, waiting in anxious silence to be reunited with Jason.
"Aren’t you even going to try?" Catherine asked, trying to coax Jason into working with the physiotherapist. Jason stared at her dully.
She sighed in frustration, trying to control her anger so as not to distress him. "Jason, we’ve already been over this! Why are you giving up so easily?"
Jason looked down at his legs without enthusiasm. "I just don’t want to."
The physiotherapist drew Catherine aside.
"There’s not much point doing anything at all with him when he won’t put any effort into it himself. I think it’d be best to take him back to his room and get hold of a shrink to talk with him."
Catherine sighed. "All right," she conceded. "I..."
She looked around as the door opened and Chief Taylor looked in, catching her eye and signalling to her anxiously. A faint smile flickered over her lips, and she glanced back at the physiotherapist.
"Would you excuse me for just one moment? I’ll be right back..."
Sparing a concerned look in Jason’s direction, she hurried from the room.
"Mrs Matthews," Taylor announced as she came out, "I’d like you to meet Donavon and Sarah Scott."
Catherine’s face lit up with a broad smile. "You have no idea how glad I am to meet you. And I am so sorry for everything you’ve been through..."
Sarah took the older woman’s hand in her own. "From what Sam has told us, we have a lot to thank you for. You made it possible for us to get Jason back."
Catherine smiled sadly. "I would have loved to take him in, but it’s just not possible. He belongs with you, and I doubt he would ever recover properly with anyone else."
Donavon looked past her to the door of the gym. "Is he...?"
Catherine nodded. "Yes. Your arrival was good timing. I’m afraid Jason isn’t doing too well emotionally right now." She stepped towards the door, motioning for them to follow. "Come, please..."
Jason was facing away from the door. He sat in miserable silence, slumped over in the wheelchair and unresponsive to all the efforts of the physiotherapist. Catherine said nothing, but stepped to one side, allowing the Scotts past. The couple said and did nothing for long moment, staring at the hunched-over figure of the boy that they loved so much. Then, finally, Donavon moved forward, crossing the floor to stand behind the wheelchair.
Jason was still staring at the floor when he got the inexplicable sensation of being watched. Someone, he sensed, was standing right behind him. It was an intimidating feeling, and he was about to turn around and tell the offending person to take a hike when a hand, strong but gentle, came down on the top of his head. He froze, his heart pounding hard in his chest. Only one person had ever touched him like that, on the top of the head. He would only have allowed one person to do it...
He shut his eyes tightly, not wanting to have the illusion shattered. It couldn’t possibly be who he wanted it to be. That person had been long since removed from his reach....
The hand moved from his head to his shoulder, and he heard footsteps coming around to the front of the wheelchair. A second hand came around to lightly touch his cheek and forehead, smoothing back a rogue lock of hair.
Tears built up in Jason’s closed eyes. Why are you doing this to me? he asked in distress of whoever the person was. Then, the person spoke.
"Open your eyes, Jason."
Jason all but stopped breathing. The voice... That voice... His eyes opened, and he found himself looking into the face of the man who had raised him. Donavon smiled tearfully at the boy.
Jason didn’t move, didn’t speak. He just stared. If he spoke, he would disturb the illusion, cause it to shatter. The image of his father would vanish forever, and he would be alone again. He sat frozen, not daring to move. Donavon closed one hand over Jason’s.
"You’re not dreaming, Jason. I’m really here."
Jason finally spoke, sounding painfully confused. "How could you be here?" he asked in a whisper. "You’re in California, in… in…"
"Not anymore. Your grandmother and Chief Taylor saw to that. This is real, Jason. I’m here, and I’m not going to leave you again."
The tears came in a torrent, and Jason fell forward into Donavon’s arms, clinging tightly to him and refusing to let go. Sarah hurried forward then, unable to wait any longer.
Jason looked up, and more even tears came. "Mum…" he choked out. She dropped down into a crouch, also putting her arms around the boy.
"My baby…. No one’s ever going to take you away from us again. Ever…"
"That," Chief Taylor said quietly, "is a truly beautiful sight."
Catherine smiled sadly. "I’m going to miss that boy."
Taylor looked surprised. "What makes you think they’ll leave?"
"What makes you think they’ll stay?" she retorted. "There’s nothing in this town for Jason except a lot of bad memories. No, as soon as Jason heals up some more, they’ll be gone."
Taylor watched her curiously. "What’s to stop you from going with them?"
Catherine started to retort, but stopped. "Well now, that’s not such an idiotic idea," she murmured. Taylor smiled and, thoroughly satisfied with himself, he slipped silently out of the room, leaving the family to themselves.
"This is a dream," Jason said softly. "It’s a dream I don’t ever want to wake up from."
Sarah smiled as she sat on the bed with Jason, cradling him gently in her arms with his head resting on her shoulder. "It’s a dream that won’t end this time. We promise."
Donavon nodded. "That’s right."
Jason looked up at them anxiously. "Can you promise that? Can you really promise me that?"
"Yes," Donavon told him firmly. "We can promise it. Jason, the judge allowed us to take you back on one condition, that we legally adopt you. That’s exactly what we’re doing. It should be final in a couple of weeks, and then no one will be able to take you away from us. Not for any reason."
"Adopt?" Jason echoed. "For real? You’ll really be my mum and dad?"
"Yes, we will," Sarah murmured. "For always, Jason."
Jason threw his arms around his mother, hugging her as tightly as he could.
It wasn’t until much later, after Jason had fallen asleep, that Donavon was able to slip out to find the doctor, and find out the full situation with the boy’s legs. He soon found the right doctor in his office, shooting baskets at a hoop attached to the wall.
"Excuse me, are you Dr MacNeil?"
MacNeil paused in the middle of shot. "That’s what it says on the door. And you are…?"
"Donavon Scott. Jason Scott’s father."
It was said firmly, with no uncertainty. MacNeil hesitated.
"Well, Matthews, actually," Donavon conceded. He paused, then added determinedly: "Not for long, though."
MacNeil understood, then. "So you’re the one… Come in, please."
Donavon entered the office. "I wanted to find out about his condition. I know the basics, but no one will tell me any more than that."
MacNeil nodded. "He’s got a long road ahead of him. His legs got crushed pretty badly. It’s not hopeless, though. With a lot of luck and effort, in four or five months his legs will have healed enough to get him into a set of leg braces. It might be longer than that, we’ll have to wait and see. After that, we’ll work towards getting him to walk on his own, without the braces. It could happen, but like I said, it’ll be a long road."
"I understand," Donavon murmured. "Tell me… What other injuries are there? His legs aren’t the only thing, are they?"
MacNeil shook his head slowly. "No. Nothing as serious as his legs, though. A few broken ribs… cracked collar bone… Some internal bruising and bleeding… That’s not really my department, but it’s been over a month now. Most of those other injuries have healed. All that’s left are his legs."
"All right. So, when can we take him out of hospital?"
MacNeil stared blankly at him. "Take him out? Mr Scott, Jason won’t be ready to leave hospital for at least another month or so! And then, he’ll need to come back at least twice a week…"
Donavon rubbed the back of his neck. "What about a transfer? Is there any possibility of that?"
When MacNeil continued to stare at him, Donavon sighed and explained.
"I haven’t spoken to Jason about it yet, but I know he won’t want to stay in Chicago. I’m guessing he’ll want to go back to Angel Grove as soon as possible. Angel Grove has a good hospital, and I think Jason would be better off getting away from a place that holds nothing but bad memories for him."
MacNeil had to concede to that. Jason had slowly been losing ground over the past few weeks, despite his initial efforts. Perhaps Donavon Scott was right.
"I’ll look into it for you, all right? Maybe we can organise something."
Donavon sighed with relief. "Thankyou."
Jason woke up from a nightmare to find only his mother in the room with him. His father was nowhere in sight. He sat up in a panic.
"Dad… where’s Dad…?"
"I’m right here," Donavon said, darting back into the room. He hurried over to the bed to hug the boy reassuringly. "I only went to see your doctor. It’s okay."
Jason held on to him for nearly a minute before he was content to lie back down.
"What did he say?"
"I doubt he told me anything more than you yourself know."
Jason accepted that without question. Donavon hesitated, then spoke quietly.
"Jason, we need to talk about something. About where we’re going to live."
The teen lay still for a moment, then spoke nervously. "I want to go home."
"To Angel Grove?" Sarah asked tentatively, and Jason nodded.
"Yes. I don’t want to stay in Chicago. Please, don’t say we have to stay here…"
"Only until you’re fit enough to be transferred to another hospital," Donavon reassured him. "I thought you might want to go back to Angel Grove, though. I’ve already checked on things. The house is waiting for us, we’ve been told the place had been cleaned up after the police went through it. And I’ve got Dr MacNeil to check up on a transfer."
"We can go home, then?" Jason asked, and Donavon nodded.
Jason looked relieved, until a thought struck him. "What about Grandma?"
Donavon and Sarah glanced at each other. They had been hoping Jason would ask about her.
"What about her, Jason?" Sarah asked.
"Is she staying here?" he asked. "I… I want her to come with us…"
"Do you mean that?" Donavon asked, and Jason nodded.
"Yes. She… She looked after me. I don’t want to be without her."
"That’s good to hear," Donavon said with a smile, "because she is coming with us."
Jason’s eyes widened. "Really?"
"Really. We’ve already discussed it. She’ll be staying with us, in our house. The place is big enough, and I know she’d prefer to be close to you."
Tears trickled down Jason’s cheeks. "Thanks, Dad."
"It’s all right, son. We’re happy that she’s coming, as well. We know about everything that she did for you."
Jason wiped away the tears. "He… Matthews… never let me have any lunch. I only ever got to have breakfast and dinner. If I was good. Whenever I stayed with Grandma, she never let me go hungry. She never got angry with me… And she never hit me. Not for any reason."
The adults exchanged glances. They had heard this from Catherine, and had both been angry to see how thin and frail Jason had become. Jason went on softly, more tears filling his eyes.
"And when she hugged me… at least with her I knew nothing else would happen."
Donavon’s hands curled into fists. "Nothing else?"
The teen shut his eyes, too ashamed to admit the rest. Sarah sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed, squeezing his hand gently. She spared her husband a look that begged him not to push the issue. He reluctantly conceded.
"Jason," Donavon said quietly, "you don’t have to be scared anymore. We’re looking after you, now. No one will hurt you again. I promise. We won’t let them. And you’ll never have to see Matthews again."
Jason smiled gratefully at him. "Thanks, Dad."
Chief Taylor arrived at the hospital the next day with Zack, not sure whether to feel elated or sick. It was closer to sick, though Zack was happy enough over the news. They reached Jason’s room, and while Zack went in to talk to his friend, Taylor drew the Scotts out to talk to them.
"Is something wrong, Sam?" Donavon asked. Taylor sighed.
"Honestly? I suppose not. I guess it’s just taking me a while to get used to it. Looks as though you won’t be going back to Angel Grove alone. I was contacted last night by the Governor. I’m being transferred back to Angel Grove."
Donavon blinked, and then spoke in shock. "What? You mean, you’re being demoted?"
"No. Same position. Chief of Police."
"But… Angel Grove already has… Oh no…"
Taylor nodded. "I’m being sent in to replace Michael Oliver. He’s been demoted to Captain. That’s why I’m not going through the roof like Zack has been all morning. I’m glad to be going back to Angel Grove, but not when it’s to replace a friend. I tried arguing for him, but it’s the region’s governor that ordered the demotion."
"It’s over this business with Jason, isn’t?" Sarah asked, and Taylor nodded.
"Yes. There was no backlash over you two, it was clear he had no choice with that. It was the fact that he just handed Jason over to Matthews without double-checking it. It might have slipped by if Jason hadn’t been seriously hurt, but…"
Donavon sighed. "Damn. I feel sorry for Michael. He worked hard to get to the position of Police Chief."
"So do I. Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do. I used up all the favours I had available getting
you two out of jail and getting Jason back to you. All I can do is go back and make sure he and his family don’t suffer any backlash."
Sarah looked past the men to see Zack talking excitedly to Jason in the hospital room.
"Zack is happy enough."
Taylor smiled wryly. "The boy’s been high as a kite all morning. He’s thrilled that we’re going back to Angel Grove."
"Oh, another one, eh?"
They all looked around to see Mr and Mrs Kwan and Trini approaching, along with Kimberly Hart and her father. Mr Kwan spoke quietly, with a faint smile.
"Looks as though it’ll be a regular convoy. We’ve decided to return to Angel Grove as well."
"So are we," Peter Hart said. "I’m not doing business as well here as I’d hoped, so I’m moving back to Angel Grove, and Kim here is coming with me."
Trini took Kim’s hand. "C’mon, let’s go and tell Jason."
The two girls hurried into the room, leaving the adults to talk.
"Hey!" Zack laughed as the girls ran in. "Guess what!"
"You’re going back to Angel Grove," Kim said with a grin. Zack gaped at her.
"How do you know that?"
"We heard your dad tell Mr and Mrs Scott. But that’s not all! We’re going back, too! My dad’s moving his business back to Angel Grove!"
"And my parents decided they preferred Angel Grove to Chicago," Trini gushed. "So we’re moving back as well! We’re all going!"
Jason smiled tiredly. "That’s great. I would’ve missed you guys… but I just couldn’t stay here."
Trini went around and leaned over to hug him. "We know. But now everything’s going to be okay. We’re all together again."
"Not quite," Kim corrected softly. "Billy isn’t here."
Jason sighed. "He’s happy with Cestria on Aquitar. I wish he was back in Angel Grove, but I don’t want to take that happiness away from him. He deserves to be happy."
Zack leaned against the bed. "Well, at least us four are together. We’re gonna stick together now, and not let anything break us up again. No matter what."
They all nodded their silent agreement, determined this time to keep their group whole, as much as possible.
"So how many people back home know just what’s happened?" Donavon asked as he talked alone with Taylor.
"No one," Taylor replied quietly. "Not as far as I know. There’s another point of contention. Michael hasn’t been told what happened to Jason. From what I’ve been informed, all he knows is that he’s been demoted over the business with handing Jason back to Matthews. He hasn’t been told what the mistake was that he made… Hell, as far as I know, he doesn’t even know you and Sarah have been released from jail."
Donavon rubbed the back of his neck, disconcerted. "This isn’t right, Sam. If anything, he should at least have been told what that bastard did to Jason."
"I know. I’m going to see what I can do about it. He should know where he went wrong, if nothing else. Listen… Have you talked to Jason very much about Matthews’ treatment of him?"
"A little. He doesn’t like to talk about it."
"I can imagine. I’m sorry to push it, but I’m still Chief of Police here, and Matthews’ trial is coming up quickly. We can uphold the physical abuse on the medical evidence and testimonies of the doctors that have treated Jason… but there’re other things. I think you know what I mean."
Donavon sighed. "Unfortunately, I do. Damn it… I’ll talk to him, Sam, but I can’t promise you anything."
"Understood. Thanks. I’d better get going."
"And I’d better get back to the room. I know it’s bad news for Michael, but I have to admit that I’m glad you’re coming back as well. I think we’ll be needing the support."
"No one will hassle you folks," Taylor promised quietly. "I guarantee it. I’ll talk to you later, okay?"
Donavon watched him go, then sighed again and headed back to his son’s room.
*The next morning
Catherine arrived early the following morning, with a shoe box held tightly in her hands. Jason sat up quickly when she came in.
"You got it?"
She nodded. "It was under your bed, just as you said. One shoe box, slightly worn?"
Jason took the box from her and opened it up to reveal a small pile of cards. Donavon looked down at them curiously.
Jason nodded as he carefully lifted them out and began to sort through them. "Yeah. It’s the only thing he let me have… aside from my school books." He looked up at the Scotts, pain in his eyes. "He burned my karate gear."
"We’ll get you another set," Sarah promised him. "That’s no problem."
Jason turned his attention back to the cards. "There was one… I found it in a second-hand store about five months ago. I showed it to him, but I don’t think he really knew what it was worth. He probably would have taken it off me, otherwise."
"What is it?" Donavon asked, his curiosity aroused. Jason found the card and held it up carefully to the light.
"This one. An original Babe Ruth rookie card, from when he was still pitching with the Red Sox. Check it out."
Donavon took the card in near trembling fingers. "Good god…" he stammered finally. "This card must be worth a fortune!"
He turned it over, and nearly choked. "Signed… It’s been signed by Babe Ruth…"
Jason smiled faintly. "The guy who sold it to me didn’t even know who Babe Ruth was. I think he felt sorry for me, getting so excited over one card."
Donavon stared hard at his son. "How much did you pay for this?"
"Fifty cents. I was lucky, that was all I had."
Donavon thrust the card back into Jason’s hands. "Here, take it before I fall over."
Catherine shook her head. "Daniel couldn’t possibly have known that card was worth anything. He would have definitely taken it. Look after that card, Jason."
Jason smiled as he slipped it back into the box. "I intend to."
Former Police Chief Michael Oliver sat at the desk in his study, trying to work out the reasoning behind his demotion. As near as he could recall, he’d never made any critical errors. At least, none that had cost any lives. So why…?
Michael looked up, and managed a faint smile as Tommy walked into the room. "Finished your homework for tonight, son?"
"Yeah. Dad, you are gonna protest this, aren’t you?" Tommy asked anxiously. Michael shrugged.
"Maybe. It’d be easier if I knew why, though. They still haven’t told me what I did wrong…"
"You didn’t do anything wrong," Tommy said vehemently. "Somebody else has screwed up, and they’ve probably put the blame on you. Protest it, Dad. You don’t deserve a demotion…"
The phone rang, and Michael spared his son a reassuring smile, then answered the call.
"Hello? …Speaking. …Sam? Hey!"
Who is it? Tommy mouthed the question to his father. Michael covered the mouthpiece and spoke in a quick whisper to his son.
"Sam Taylor, Zack’s father."
Curiosity filled Tommy’s face, and he sank into a chair to wait while his father talked. Michael turned his attention back to the phone.
"Sam, how’s it going…?"
"That depends, Mike," Taylor said on the other end of the phone. "You probably haven’t been told yet, and I hate to be the one to tell you…. but I’m the one who’s being sent in to take your place."
Michael sat back slowly. "Really?"
"I’m afraid so. I tried to argue it out with the powers that be, but I’m afraid I didn’t have enough influence. I’m sorry, Mike."
Michael sighed heavily. "Well, it isn’t your fault. I just wish I knew what the reasons were. They haven’t told me a damned thing…"
"That’s why I’m calling you now," Taylor replied grimly. "Mike, it’s all to do with something that happened about six months ago. To do with a family that we both know."
For a long moment, Michael didn’t know what he was talking about. Then, it hit.
"Donavon and Sarah Scott?"
"That’s ridiculous!" Michael choked out. "Everything was done by the book! There was nothing I could have done for either of them!"
"No, Michael. It isn’t over Donavon and Sarah. It’s over Jason. You handed him back to Daniel Matthews without so much as an interview with the boy. That is the mistake you made."
Michael sat still, breathing slowly to keep himself calm. "I did the right thing, Sam. Jason belonged with his real father. I know it would have been hard for him…"
"You have no idea," Taylor said in a strained voice. "Mike, Matthews started physically abusing Jason the same night that he got him back."
"What…?" Michael whispered hoarsely.
"Physical abuse, Mike. It’s why Donavon and Sarah snatched Jason in the first place. Matthews was abusing Jason, but no one wanted to see it because of his position in the police force. It’s happened again, Mike."
"Oh, Jesus…" Michael moaned. Tommy sat forward, anxiety creasing his features.
"What is it?" he asked tensely. Michael ignored him.
"Where is he now, Sam?"
"In hospital. I had Matthews arrested nearly three months ago, for attempted murder."
Michael felt sick to his stomach. "Oh god…"
"Jason has been in hospital for as long. Matthews ran him down with his car, crushed Jason’s legs. He’ll be lucky if he ever walks again without a cane. This is why you lost your position, Mike. Not because of Sarah and Donavon. Because you handed Jason back to Matthews without so much as a second glance. By the way, Sarah and Donavon are out of jail. The judge granted them custody of Jason on the condition that they legally adopt him. It will be official in two days. Then, when Jason is fit enough, he’ll be transferred back to Angel Grove. He wants to go home, Mike. The Scotts are going back to Angel Grove."
Michael shut his eyes. "That… That’s great. Sam, could you do something for me?"
"Tell him I’m sorry."
Tommy watched in growing concern. What, he wondered, was going on?
A few more words were exchanged, then Michael hung up and stood up slowly. Tears filled his eyes and flowed down his cheeks before he even realised it. Tommy stood up quickly to meet him.
"Dad? What’s wrong? Is everything okay?"
"Go and do your homework," Michael mumbled dazedly as he walked past his son. Tommy looked confused.
"But I already did…."
Michael left the study, headed down the hall and, taking his coat off the rack, he disappeared through the front door, oblivious to his son’s questions. Tommy watched him go from the doorway, then turned and wandered back into the house, confused and upset.
Philip Watters was on his way back to his office when something brought him to a halt outside the room of the Matthews boy. He paused, glancing in. The teen was alone, sitting up in bed and studying what looked like a baseball card. His parents were probably in the cafeteria, Philip assumed. He remained still, wanting to get back to his office, but at the same time feeling an urge to go in to see the boy. Finally, he gave in to the urge and went into the room.
"How are you feeling, Jason?"
Jason looked up, and shrugged a little. "Okay."
Philip hesitated before speaking again. "I’m Philip Watters. I run this hospital…"
"I know," Jason said simply.
"Dr MacNeil is always complaining about you."
The plainness with which Jason spoke caused Philip to laugh almost before he realised it.
"Really? Well, I suppose that’s fair enough…" He took a moment to look at the cards that were spread out over the blankets. "Do you collect baseball cards?"
"Sort of," Jason replied. "I don’t have very many… Only what I could afford to buy."
Philip looked wistful. "My son used to collect baseball cards. He had quite a lot of them. Do you have a favourite?"
It was Jason’s turn to hesitate, then he held out the prize card for Watters to see. The older man’s jaw dropped as he realised the value of the card.
"Is that an original?"
"Uh huh. I sort of got it by accident. Fifty cents in a junk shop."
Philip laughed again. "The things you can find…"
"Have you seen my mum and dad?" Jason finally asked nervously. Philip watched the boy with sudden caution.
"No, but I expect they aren’t far away. Didn’t they tell you where they were going?"
"Yeah…" Jason confessed. "To the cafeteria… But they aren’t back yet."
"I’m sure you have nothing to worry about," Philip told him. "They’ll be back soon."
Jason put the card down, and Philip saw tears in the boy’s eyes.
"This probably sounds stupid…" Jason said softly, "but whenever they go out of the room, I start to feel scared that they won’t come back. I don’t like them going out of the room…"
"I think I understand," Philip said. "They can’t be with you every minute, though."
"I keep thinking this is just a dream," Jason admitted to Philip. "Sometime, I’m gonna wake up and they’ll be gone, and he’ll be back. That won’t happen, will it?"
Philip felt a touch of pain in his soul that one boy could know so much fear.
"No," he reassured Jason quietly. "That won’t happen. Your parents are here to stay."
Jason lay back into the pillows tiredly. "I guess I’ll believe that eventually."
Philip smiled a little. "You will." He paused, glancing around the room, which was bare except for a few flowers, the excessive amount of machines and metal. He couldn’t blame Jason for feeling lonely… "Would you like me to stay until your parents come back?"
Jason looked hopeful. "Is that okay?"
The smile broadened some. "Of course."
He pulled up a chair and sat down to wait with the boy.
Not much changed in Angel Grove. Not much ever did. Little things happened, people came and went, but for the most part things stayed just the same as ever. Which made the demotion of Police Chief Michael Oliver all the more newsworthy.
Tommy sat in a dark corner of the Youth Centre, scowling into his soda. The moment he’d left the school boundaries that afternoon, he’d been set upon by no less than a dozen reporters, all wanting to know if he knew the reason for his father’s demotion, how he felt about it, how his family was coping with it, and how he felt it would affect his social life. Stupid questions that Tommy had desperately wanted to respond to with a few quick karate moves.
He hadn’t, of course, but oh, how he would have liked to…
"The reporters are all gone," Rocky said as he and the others rejoined the Red Ranger. "The world is safe again."
"Slime," Tommy snarled. "All of them! Why can’t they leave us alone? Yesterday it was my mother, today it’s me… Tomorrow they’ll probably be after Alex and Scott. Why can’t they just leave us the hell alone…?"
"How’s your dad taking it?" Kat asked, squeezing Tommy’s hand in a reassuring gesture. Tommy sighed softly.
"He’s okay, I guess. I just don’t understand why he isn’t trying to do something about it. He never did anything wrong in his life! It’s got something to do with that phone call he got from Zack’s dad. Something got mentioned about Mr and Mrs Scott, but that’s all I got. Dad never told me what it was all about."
"He’ll tell you if he thinks you should know," Adam said. Tommy shook his head.
"I just don’t understand any of it. Not at all."
*Chicago Hope, Physio Unit
"Nice and easy, there we go…" MacNeil murmured as he eased Jason’s right leg up, bending it carefully at the knee. Jason bit down on his lower lip, struggling not to respond to the pain. MacNeil glanced surreptitiously at him as he manipulated the mending leg.
"It’s okay to cry, you know. No one’s gonna think worse of you for it."
"Do you know what this is like?" Jason asked in a strained voice.
"Oh yeah," MacNeil muttered. "Hurts like hell. You’ve got more restraint than most of my patients. Usually they’re screaming at me by now. Hell, they’re at least telling me how much they hate me."
"Not your fault," Jason mumbled, a single tear working its way out of his eye. "Just doing your job…"
MacNeil ceased his work. "Did I hear you right? Did you just say that I’m just doing my job?"
Jason hesitated, suddenly fearful he’d said something wrong. "Aren’t you…?"
"Of course I am!" MacNeil said. "But that has to be the first time in history that someone’s seen it like that! Damn, that’s gonna have to go in the book."
Jason had to smile, and MacNeil chuckled.
"Finally got a smile out of you."
"Am I always going to need a cane?" Jason asked abruptly, the smile fading as fast as it had appeared.
MacNeil withheld a groan. "I don’t know," he answered honestly. "Maybe… Maybe not. It depends on how your legs heal. But even if you do… At least you know you’ll walk. That’s more than a lot of people have."
"I’m not feeling sorry for myself, or anything," Jason told him. "Well… Maybe I am, a little… But I just wanted to know. You think I will, don’t you?"
"You’re putting words in my mouth," MacNeil protested. "I can’t tell the future, Jason. All I can say is that even if you do need the cane, then you can’t let that stop you from living. Do you understand me?"
"Yes," Jason conceded. "But… Back in Angel Grove, I was one of the best martial artists there. I never had any problems with anyone because of it. What happens when I go back and I’m in a wheelchair… or the leg braces? They’re all gonna laugh."
"I doubt that," MacNeil said softly. "Not once they know what you’ve been through. Have faith in your friends."
Bitterness filled Jason’s features. "Why?"
MacNeil was taken aback. "Because… Well…" He shook his head. "Okay. Forget that. Listen to me. Nobody will laugh. You might have to put up with some idiots staring at you, but the only ones who laugh are the ones who aren’t worth worrying about. People who care will never laugh. You keep your head up, don’t be the first one to look away, and you’ll be fine."
Jason nodded wordlessly. MacNeil gently lifted Jason’s left leg, aware of the pain written across the boy’s face.
"If you can cope with this," he told Jason, "then you can face the people you used to know. That’s all there is to it. Just don’t hold grudges against anyone. For any reason. That’ll only pull you back. Understand?"
"Yeah," Jason muttered. "I think so."
He understood, but he knew it would be a while before he could let go of his anger.
"It’s been arranged," Donavon said that evening. "Jason, you’ll be transferred to the rehabilitation wing of Angel Grove Memorial in two days. You’ll go from here by air ambulance to Angel Grove airport, and there’ll be an ambulance waiting there to take you to the hospital. Your mother will go with you in the ambulance, and I’ll stay behind here to tie up all the loose ends."
Worry filled Jason’s eyes. "Why do you have to stay?"
"Someone has to be present at the Family Court," Donavon told him with a smile. "Otherwise, the judge would revoke the adoption. It’s only a technicality. I’ll be there with your grandmother in a week."
Jason sighed. "Sorry. I just don’t like being away from you."
"I will call, every night," Donavon promised. "You don’t have to worry. You’ll be home soon… You’re probably anxious to see your friends again… I should call Michael, tell him to let Tommy know that you’ll be back…"
He trailed off, seeing the change in Jason’s expression.
"I don’t want to see them," Jason whispered, and he was unable to keep the hatred out of his voice. "I don’t want to see them at all. Not Tommy… or Rocky… or Kat, Tanya… or Adam. I want them to stay away from me."
Donavon looked over at Sarah and Catherine in confusion. Catherine looked away silently, understanding Jason’s reaction. Sarah moved closer, lightly grasping Jason’s hand.
"Why not? I thought they were your best friends…?"
"My best friends are Zack, Kim, Trini and Billy," Jason told her. "They always have been. Tommy and the others… They were substitutes."
"May we ask what happened?" Donavon wanted to know. Jason looked over to Catherine, who shrugged a little.
"It’s your decision, honey."
"My decision," Jason whispered. His only loyalty would have been to Zordon… but if Zordon had had any compassion at all, he would not have allowed the rangers to do what they did. What the ancient being’s reasoning was, Jason couldn’t fathom. All he knew was that Zordon didn’t stop them from doing something that had nearly cost him his life.
"Screw it," he said to himself. "If you cared as much as you told us you did… You would have stopped them. And when it wasn’t their business or responsibility anyway…"
"Jason?" Sarah asked softly. "Are you all right, sweetheart?"
Jason looked straight at his parents. "If I hadn’t been hurt like this, I probably wouldn’t be telling you this. But then, you guys probably wouldn’t be here now, either. The reason I don’t want to see
Tommy or the others is because they’re the ones responsible for you guys being arrested, and me ending up back with… with him. They’re the ones who took us back to Angel Grove."
"Jason, that was the Power Rangers," Donavon corrected him gently. Jason didn’t flinch.
Donavon and Sarah both froze. Finally, Donavon spoke in a strained voice.
"Are you trying to say what I think you are…?"
Jason didn’t mince words. "Tommy is the Red Ranger. Rocky is the Blue Ranger. Adam is the Green Ranger. Tanya is the Yellow Ranger. Kat is the Pink Ranger. I was the Gold Ranger, until the true owner was able to retake the powers. My dear friends are the Power Rangers."
"Oh boy…" Donavon moaned. Sarah’s grip tightened a little on Jason’s hand.
"What do you mean, you were the Gold Ranger?"
"After I got back from the conference," Jason replied. "Tommy came and found me, and said they needed someone to hold the Gold Powers until the original owner pulled himself together to reclaim them. Billy couldn’t take them on because of some accident that had happened earlier, so Tommy asked me."
"You mean, you knew before?" Donavon asked in disbelief. "You knew who the Power Rangers were…?"
Jason sighed. "Dad, I was the first Red Ranger. You remember when Rita first showed up? It was me, Zack, Trini, Kim and Billy that were chosen to be rangers. You remember how I kept disappearing every time a monster showed up?"
"Oh, I don’t believe this…" Sarah moaned. "How could we have not known?"
Jason shrugged. "Everyone in the town had mental blinkers on. You’d think someone would have connected the colours the rangers wore to the fact that we never changed the colours of our clothing."
"And when you, Zack and Trini went to Geneva…?" Sarah asked.
"Rocky, Adam and Aisha took over from us," Jason replied. "Tommy started out as the Green Ranger. Rita picked on him as soon as he came to town, put him under a spell and set him against us. We broke it, and he stayed on until Zedd came into it and managed to work it so that Tommy couldn’t use the coin anymore. Then Z…" He cut himself off just in time. "Then he became the White Ranger, and took over the team. It’s pretty obvious when you know, I guess."
"It certainly is," Donavon muttered. "And they were supposed to be your friends…"
"That’s what I thought," Jason said. Sarah put her arms around him in a warm hug.
"Now we understand, but you have to try not to stay angry at them, Jason. It will only end up hurting you."
"I know," Jason said tearfully, "but right now I can’t! It’s too much, on top of everything else. I’ll deal with it when I have to… okay?"
Donavon ruffled his son’s hair affectionately. "All right. We won’t worry about it now… but it won’t wait forever, Jason. As long as you understand that."
"I do understand it," Jason murmured. "Right now I just need some space. And it’s not so much forgiving them, and not being angry… It’s the fact that they’ll all probably overload with guilt. I just can’t face them. Not right away. I wanted you both to know why."
"We understand," Donavon said. "We’ll make sure you don’t see them until you’re ready."
*Two days later
After nearly two months in hospital, Jason was understandably eager to be on his way to a less restrictive centre, in the Rehabilitation Wing of Angel Grove’s hospital. He had been in there quite a few times, volunteering with Trini and Kim to help out with some of the kids that went through the centre. He had never imagined he himself would end up there as a patient…
"Just about ready?"
Jason looked around to see MacNeil in the doorway, and he smiled faintly.
MacNeil walked over to the bedside. "You’ll be walking in no time, Jason. I’m sure of it. Just remember what I told you."
"I will. Thanks, Dr MacNeil. For everything."
MacNeil clasped Jason’s hand briefly, then reached into his pocket as the orderlies came into the room.
"Here…" He brought out a slightly worn baseball and handed it to Jason. "To go with that card of yours."
Jason turned the ball over in his hands, and gasped in shock. "Babe Ruth…?"
"Take good care of it," MacNeil told him as he walked alongside the gurney. "And take good care of yourself."
They came to the end of the corridor, where Sarah was waiting. Jason clutched the ball tightly in
his hands, tears just visible in his eyes.
"One day, I’m gonna come back here, and I’ll walk into this hospital and thank you face-to-face."
MacNeil smiled and nodded, watching as Jason was taken out to the air ambulance with his mother, and spoke to himself with just a touch of sadness and resignation.
"I’ll be here."
A short while later, they were on their way, and Jason’s only complaint was that he could not see out of the window.
"My first time in a helicopter, and I can’t see anything!" he grumbled, much to the amusement of the medics on board. Sarah fought back a grin.
"There’s just no pleasing you, is there?"
Jason only grunted in reply and didn’t speak again.
Jason awoke some hours later to a dimly lit room, and soft music playing from somewhere. His eyes opened slowly, and the first thing he focused on was a sky-blue ceiling. A moment later, a familiar face appeared above his own.
Jason looked around dazedly. "Where are we?"
"Angel Grove Memorial," Sarah told him. "We’re home, sweetheart."
He pushed himself up just a little, too tired to make a real effort. "When did we get here?"
"A few hours ago. You slept through it all. Lie down, honey. Don’t exhaust yourself."
Jason swallowed hard. "I can’t believe we’re back in Angel Grove…"
"It’s been a long while, hasn’t it?" Sarah conceded. "Don’t worry, Jason. Everything’s going to be all right."
"He called, but you were fast asleep," she answered gently. "He didn’t want me to wake you up. He’ll call in the morning."
Jason sighed and started to relax when something else struck him. "Where’s my baseball?" he asked anxiously. Sarah smiled reassuringly at him.
"Right beside you, on the cabinet. The nurse wanted to take it to put in a safe, but I wouldn’t let her."
"Thanks," Jason murmured, relieved. Sarah reached out to lightly stroke his forehead and cheek.
"Try and get some more sleep, Jason. We’ve got a long day ahead of us tomorrow."
Jason stared past her, to the window, and the drawn shades. "Angel Grove’s just out there… Home… Mum, I want to see."
"Honey, it’s night time. You wouldn’t see anything."
"Please," Jason begged. "It’s important. Just for a minute…?"
Sarah gave in easily, not caring to be strict with the boy. Walking over to the window, she drew back the curtains to reveal the black Angel Grove night. Jason felt an indescribable touch of relief as he caught glimpses of the city lights through the blackness. That was Angel Grove out there, not Chicago. He would never have to set foot in Chicago again, if he didn’t want to.
"All right?" Sarah asked, and Jason nodded.
Sarah pulled the curtains back across the window, then went back to Jason’s side. "Now you can rest easy. Go to sleep, baby. You’re home, and you’re safe."
A smile found its way onto Jason’s lips.
"Home…" he whispered to himself. "I’m home…"
He fell asleep, still smiling.
Michael Oliver found Tommy sitting on the window seat in his room, staring bleakly out at the cold, dark night. He paused in the doorway, then went over.
"Tommy, you have school tomorrow, son. I think it’s time you went to bed."
"How come?" Tommy asked softly. "How come you never fought it?"
Michael sighed inwardly, biting back fresh pain. "I’d like to explain it to you, but I can’t. All I can say is that I made a bad mistake a while back… and someone nearly got killed because of it. What is it, Tommy? Are kids giving you a hard time over it?"
"No… I just don’t understand. You’re a good cop, why are they doing this to you? Everyone makes a mistake some time…"
"This was serious, Tommy. Look… You aren’t going to understand, but I’ll tell you this much. It’s to do with the Scotts."
Tommy turned to face his father. "I thought so. I heard that phone call with Zack’s dad,
"Son, they’re coming back."
Tommy froze, confused. "What? How? They’re in jail… aren’t they?"
"Not anymore. It went to the High Court in an appeals case that was supported by… by some people in powerful places. They were released, and they’re coming back. And, Tommy… They’re bringing Jason with them."
Confusion was rife on Tommy’s young face. "I… don’t understand…"
"I know. I can’t tell you anymore, Tommy. I don’t know much more myself, and what I do know isn’t my business to tell anyone else. Now, I know you’ll be anxious to tell your friends what I’ve just told you, but make sure it doesn’t go past them, please. Not yet. Just keep it to yourselves." He started back towards the door. "Go to bed, Tommy. Please."
He left the room, leaving Tommy with a thousand unanswered questions.
"Jason’s coming back."
The rangers all froze, gaping at Tommy in shock. Finally, Kat spoke in disbelief.
"Excuse us? Tommy, where did you hear that?"
"From… someone reliable," Tommy answered. "I know it’s confusing…"
"Confusing?" Rocky echoed. "Tommy it’s impossible! What, did his old man get a transfer, or something?"
"No… He’s coming back with the Scotts."
"Now we know you’re having delusions," Tanya said. "Tommy, Mr and Mrs Scott are in jail. They aren’t coming back."
"And even if they did get out of jail," Kat pointed out, "there’s no way they’d be allowed anywhere near Jason."
Tommy shrugged helplessly. "It’s just what I heard. I have to believe it."
Kat was about to argue further when Victor Caplan rounded the corridor and strode up to the teens.
"Tommy, I’ve been looking for you. I thought you might like to know, Zack, Trini and Kimberly are coming back to Angel Grove. They’ll be starting here again in a couple of weeks."
Tommy stood frozen, his heart skipping a beat. "Kimberly… Kimberly’s coming back?"
"Yes," Caplan replied. "I trust you kids will be happy to help them settle back in. After all, they are really just coming home…" He paused, looking as though he wanted to say something else, then stopped. "Excuse me," he mumbled, then turned and hurried around the corner.
"Tommy?" Kat asked tentatively, her heart sinking as she looked at his dumb-struck expression.
"Coming back…" he whispered to himself. "She’s coming home…"
Completely forgetting the presence of his friends, he wandered off the corridor, filled with memories of his first love.
Trini and Kimberly arrived at Zack’s home in Chicago and had to dodge boxes and packers to go through to Zack’s bedroom.
"Man, this is just like my place," Kim said when they finally reached the safety of the bedroom. "There are boxes absolutely everywhere!"
"Same with us," Trini said wryly. "I’d forgotten how much of a hassle moving was. Zack, did you manage to find it?"
Zack nodded eagerly as he pulled a small cardboard box out from his nearly empty wardrobe. "Yeah, it’s in here. I’m glad I kept it, now. Do you think you can get it to work?"
Trini shrugged as Zack handed her his old communicator. "I don’t see why not. As long as Billy still has his communicator, I should be able to contact him… Just pray I don’t blow out the fuses with it."
Zack rolled his eyes in exasperation.
"I really hope this works," Kim said anxiously. "It’d be so good to hear Billy again."
"I bet Tommy and the others never told him what happened," Zack muttered, watching as Trini fiddled with the communicator, a deep frown on her face. "Hell, they probably never told Billy what happened when Jason lost the Gold Ranger powers."
"What do you mean?" Kim asked in concern. Zack sighed a little.
"The deal with the Gold powers were that they weren’t designed for humans. They ended up nearly killing Jason! He even collapsed in the Youth Centre, in front of Ernie and everybody! They only got the powers transferred back to Trey just in time. Now, Jason said Billy was upset that he couldn’t take the powers, and that Tommy called Jason in to take them… I’ll bet Tommy never bothered to let Billy know what had happened, and I bet it’s the same now. Billy probably doesn’t even know Jase was gone from Angel Grove."
"When did Jason tell you about that?" Trini asked, pausing to stare incredulously at the former Black Ranger.
"A couple of weeks before Matthews ran him down," Zack explained quietly. "When we were studying in the library. I asked him, and he told me what happened. Trini…?"
"I know, I’m working on it."
Silence fell as Trini worked to get the long-obsolete communicator working again.
"I never knew how beautiful it could be underwater," Billy said wistfully. "I was always too scared to take any notice…"
Cestria smiled as she hugged him close. "Now you can appreciate the full beauty without fear. I am so happy you decided to stay on Aquitar. I would have missed you greatly, otherwise. I know your friends must miss you, but…"
"They don’t miss me," Billy grumbled. "I haven’t even heard from Tommy or Adam in twelve months."
"I expect they have been busy," Cestria said gently. "Mondo is a difficult enemy to deal with."
"I suppose so," Billy conceded. "I just don’t…"
The two looked around as Cestro reached them, looking unusually anxious.
"What is wrong?" Cestria asked. Cestro spoke quickly.
"We are receiving a transmission from Earth. Please, come. Billy, they are asking for you."
Billy exchanged glances with Cestria, and they hurried after the other ranger.
"Billy is here as you requested," Cestro announced when they arrived back. "Please continue."
The voice was partially interrupted by static, but Billy had no trouble recognising the voice.
"Trini? Is that you…?"
"Yes, it’s me!" came the joyous reply. "It’s so good to hear your voice again!"
"It’s good to hear you, too," Billy stammered. "But how… why…?"
"I’m using Zack’s old communicator," Trini explained. "He’s here too, and so is Kimberly."
"Hi, Billy," Kim’s voice said, followed closely by Zack’s cheerful voice.
"Yo, Billy! What’s up, man?"
Billy had to grin at the sound of their voices. How he had missed those three…
"It’s good to hear from all of you," Billy told them quietly. "I’ve missed you guys."
"We miss you, too," Trini said. "When Jason told us you were on Aquitar, we had to try and get in touch with you."
"Jason…?" Billy echoed in surprise. "Is Jason there, too?"
"No," Trini said, and her voice grew even quieter. "Billy, Jason is back in Angel Grove. We’re in Chicago. We called you… because something’s happened."
"What?" Billy asked, feeling his stomach muscles tighten with sudden tension. There was a low murmur as the three friends discussed something, and then Zack’s voice came over speakers.
"It’s me again, Billy. Listen, we’re gonna tell you something, and Jase would kill us if he knew we were telling you, but we figure you should know. ’Specially since we figured Tommy wouldn’t bother letting you know… You haven’t talked to Tommy lately, have you?"
"Not for twelve months," Billy replied. "What is it, Zack? What’s going on?"
Zack went on to quietly tell the whole story to Billy, from beginning to end, finishing with Jason returning to Angel Grove by air ambulance, and the rest of them gearing up to move back to Angel Grove as well.
In the control room in the Aquitian base, deathly silence reigned. Finally, Billy spoke in a voice that was strained with tension.
"Nobody told me anything. Not a thing."
"We figured that," Zack said. "We’re sorry, we would have gotten in touch with you earlier, but we’ve been busy trying to look after Jase. And then, with him being in hospital… It’s just been a big mess."
Billy glanced over at Cestria, then spoke tentatively. "Do you want me to come back?"
"That’s your call, bro," Zack said. "We’re not asking you to drop everything and come home… We just thought you’d appreciate knowing. That’s all."
"Yes," Billy mumbled. "Thankyou…"
"Listen, Billy," Kim said quickly, "Jason didn’t want you to know, because he didn’t want you feeling like you had to come rushing home. He’ll be okay, Billy. He was hurt pretty bad, but he’ll be all right eventually."
Billy felt sick. And angry. Very angry.
"Can you keep that communicator operational, Trini?"
"Yes, I think so. It’s just the power source…"
"Four nine volt batteries should be enough to keep it functional," Billy said abruptly. "Keep it operational. I’ll be in touch. And… thankyou."
He stepped back as Cestro ended the link with a few words to the Earth teens. Cestria watched him with tears just visible in her eyes.
"You are going back to Earth."
Billy’s jaw was tight. "I don’t know," he said softly. "I want to… But I won’t go yet. I can’t believe Tommy never told me what had happened!"
"Perhaps they wanted to avoid conflict," Cestro suggested quietly. "Such a situation would be… touchy."
"That's an understatement if ever I heard one," Billy snapped. Cestro flinched, and Billy sighed heavily. "I’m sorry, Cestro. You’re right. I’m just upset. Jason is one of my best friends. I’ve known him the longest of any of them."
"We understand," Cestro said. "We would feel the same if it were a friend of ours. If you decide to return to Earth, just say. We will set up a connection for you to teleport to Earth."
Billy nodded. "Thankyou," he murmured, turning and walking slowly out of the room, leaving Cestria and Cestro to watch after him in silent concern.
So happy was Jason to be back in Angel Grove that for the first day, not even the pain of the physiotherapy dampened his spirits. Finally, the physio made a joke about failing miserably at his job and consented to Jason being taken outside as a reward for his efforts. The day was cool but clear, and from the hospital grounds Jason could see clearly across to Angel Grove Park, and beyond that to the city itself.
"I can almost see the Youth Centre," he said excitedly. Sarah smiled wryly.
"Don’t even think about it. You’re restricted to the hospital grounds."
Jason laughed and slumped back in the wheelchair. "I wasn’t going to ask. I’m just really glad to be home again. Even if it is hospital. I didn’t think I’d get to see Angel Grove again."
Sarah leaned over, wrapping her arms protectively around him. "Neither did I. But we’re here, and we won’t have to leave again. Jason smiled, enjoying the close embrace.
"I love you, Mum."
"I love you, too, Jason. Very much."
"You won’t go away again, will you?" he asked hesitantly. Sarah hugged him even more tightly.
"No. We won’t, I promise. And when your father and grandmother get here, then we really will be a family. All four of us. You, your father, me and your grandmother."
Jason glanced down at his legs, and at the metal pins that were holding the bones in place. "I’m gonna walk again, Mum. I’ll walk without a cane. I’m gonna keep trying until I do it."
"I believe you," Sarah said. "I believe you can. You keep talking like that, and you can do anything you want."
Determination filled Jason’s face. "I will walk again normally. Some day… Mum, when do I go back to school?"
"I don’t know," Sarah confessed. "We’ll have to wait and see how you go here."
"I want to go back," Jason said softly. "I don’t want to hide away from everyone."
"You won’t be," Sarah reassured him. "We’ll get you back to school as soon as possible. Just try and be patient, sweetheart. You know this will take a while. I think that right now, we should just aim at getting you home."
Jason sighed softly as he looked around him slowly. "I am home."
*The following day
The rangers met at the Youth Centre after school, only to be surprised when Tanya rose to leave. Adam stood up quickly, a little confused by her departure.
"Where are you going?"
She smiled reassuringly at him. "To the hospital. I signed up a few weeks ago to help out there, remember? I got a call last night from Matt, in the rehab wing. He asked if I could come in today to help out. He said someone was transferred there last night, with really bad leg injuries, and he thought I might be able to help out during the physio sessions."
Tommy sighed audibly. "Kim, Trini and Jase used to do that… Go and help out at the hospital…"
Kat spared Tommy a helpless look, then smiled at Tanya. "That’s a good thing to do. Let us know how you go with it… Maybe we’ll come along next time and help out as well."
Rocky frowned. "No thanks. Good intentions, bad place."
Tanya merely rolled her eyes, bade her friends goodbye, and hurried out of the Youth Centre.
Jason was less enthusiastic that afternoon about the physio than he had been the previous day.
His excitement at being back in Angel Grove had worn off considerably, and suddenly he found
himself feeling the old fear that he had experienced in Chicago.
"Do I really have to do this?" he asked miserably when his physiotherapist, Matt Williams, came to get him. Matt smiled sympathetically at him.
"I know it hurts, Jason, but you know the answer to that question already. You do the work, you’ll walk again. If you don’t, you won’t. It’s as simple as that, kid."
Jason made no further protests as he was lifted carefully into the wheelchair by the orderlies, but Matt took pity on him, and spoke quietly to him as they headed out of the room.
"I’ll tell you this now. I made a phone call last night, and there’s a volunteer coming in to help out during the physio. She’s about your age, I think."
Jason looked up, suddenly curious. "She?"
"Yeah. In fact, you probably know her. After all, she lived here before you… left. Tanya Sloan, her name is."
Jason froze, his heart freezing for a bare second. "Tanya…? Tanya’s coming here?"
Matt felt a touch of concern. "Is there something wrong?"
Jason shut his eyes for a moment, everyone’s words flooding back to him. Don’t hold grudges… Let go of the anger… He swallowed hard. Before leaving Chicago, his grandmother had told him on the quiet to try dealing with the rangers one by one, forgiving them one by one. He supposed now was as good a time as any…
"No," he said softly. "Nothing’s wrong." Yet…
Tanya arrived at the hospital and was quickly directed to the physio wing, where she soon found Matt Williams. He greeted her with a broad smile.
"Hey, Tanya. I’m glad you’re here. I’m afraid our patient isn’t too enthusiastic about things this morning."
Tanya looked suitably concerned. "What exactly are the injuries? You didn’t say much about it last night."
"Two broken legs," Matt explained. "Actually, they were pretty much crushed, but the doctors in Chicago did a good job in the reconstruction. He’ll walk again, but it’ll be a while in coming."
"Can I go in?"
"Sure. I told him you were coming along. Seemed to brighten him up a bit."
Tanya smiled and left Matt in the store room to go to the gym.
Jason heard footsteps approaching the gym door, and realised they were too light to be Matt’s. It had to be Tanya... He clenched his jaw, hoping that even just looking at her didn’t produce any more anger than he already felt. He drew in a deep, calming breath, and waited.
Tanya hesitated at the door, straightening her pullover and her hair before pushing the door open and walking into the gym. She wanted to make a good impression...
She stopped, just a few feet inside the door, her face draining of all colour. Panic flooded her, and for a long moment she considered bolting. But, no. Her inner courage took over, and she ventured further into the gym, towards the familiar figure who waited in the wheelchair.
Jason watched her in tense silence, not trusting himself to speak. Tanya paused halfway across the floor. Tommy’s words came back to her. Jason’s coming back... He’s coming back with the Scotts...
Tanya came to a complete halt, at a loss for what to do or say. She was confused... and suddenly frightened. Her gaze swept over the former Gold Ranger, and she fought back a shudder at the sight of the metal pins in both his legs. How could this possibly be? she wondered. A thousand questions raced through her mind, but she could not find the courage to ask any of them. Then, finally, Jason spoke, his voice cutting sharply into the tense silence.
"Not a pretty sight, is it?"
Tanya felt sick. "No..." she whispered. "Jason… how…?"
A thoughtful look crossed the boy’s face. "You remember the man that you guys were so anxious to reunite me with? My real father? He ran me down with his car."
Tanya turned ashen at Jason’s blunt reply. "Oh my god…"
"That’s one way of putting it," Jason conceded. Tanya finally gathered her courage and covered the rest of the distance to the former ranger.
"I… I don’t know what to say," she stammered. Jason sneered at her; he couldn’t stop himself.
"Well, now, isn’t that a surprise. You were all acting so damn self-righteous… I didn’t realise how anxious you were to get rid of me until then. Wonderful friends you all were. Couldn’t find words to thank you."
Tears filled Tanya’s eyes. "Why are you being so nasty? How could we know this would happen? It was an accident… wasn’t it?"
Jason stared hard at her. "No. It wasn’t."
Jason sat back slowly in the wheelchair. "He ran me down deliberately, because he saw me kissing a girl. He ran the car over me three times, Tanya. Three times! Once might have been accidental, but not three times. I’m lucky I wasn’t crippled for life."
"Why would he do that?" Tanya asked, struggling to suppress the sobs. "He was so happy to get you back!"
"He wanted me back because it pissed him off that someone got away with taking what belonged to him," Jason snapped at her. "I was just a piece of property to him, Tanya. That’s all. He didn’t give a damn about me! And you want to know what else? How about this?"
Not pausing to think it out, Jason lifted his shirt to reveal multiple scars across his chest and stomach. Tanya gasped in shock, distress flooding her face. Jason let his shirt drop.
"He beat me, Tanya. Twice a week, at the very least. Only way he knew of keeping me in line. He hated me, Tanya, and I hated him, and I hope I never see him again!"
He was shouting, but Tanya stood her ground, not allowing herself to cringe back, away from him. When he finally finished his ranting, she still stood there, no longer bothering to wipe away the tears.
Jason stared at her breathlessly before looking away and speaking bitterly.
"Somehow I knew you were going to say that."
"What else am I supposed to say?" Tanya exploded, startling the wheelchair-bound boy. "Maybe we made a mistake, but we didn’t know this would happen! It isn’t like we wanted it to happen! What do you expect me to say or do?"
Jason let his breath out slowly. She was right, of course, and he knew it. He was being unrealistic, expecting something of her that he himself couldn’t even define. Tanya started back towards the door of the gym.
"You obviously don’t want me here. I’ll go."
Tanya stopped, hesitated, then looked back at Jason. "Yes?" she asked coolly.
"Don’t go…" Jason asked, his voice suddenly trembling. Tanya felt her own anger melt. Less than a minute ago, Jason had been hard, cold, very much unlike the warm, friendly boy she had known seven months ago. Now, she saw through the harsh, survivalist exterior to the fear that was there. Jason was scared, moreso than she had ever seen before, in any of her friends.
She paused a moment longer, then went slowly back to him. "Do you want me to stay?"
Jason’s eyes brimmed with tears and he spoke in a suddenly subdued voice. "Please… I can’t do the physio by myself. I’m sorry… It’s a hurt that’s built up for so long, I can’t cope with it. I’m sorry that I’m taking it out on you…"
Tanya crouched down in front of him. "I can understand why you’re angry. I would be too, in your position. I just don’t know what it is that you’re expecting of me."
"Could you stay?" he begged her. "Please… and maybe we can work it from there."
Tanya hesitated, then took a chance and reached out to gently grasp his hand in her own. He looked so miserable and frightened all of a sudden, her heart went out to him in a way that it had never done before, despite Jason’s earlier outburst.
"All right. I’ll stay."
During the following hour, Tanya was treated to an eyeful of the agony Jason had to suffer through in the physio sessions. It took every ounce of cunning she had to keep Jason distracted from the pain, but by the end of the session, the boy was clearly wiped out, both mentally and physically.
"Tanya," Matt said, gently drawing her aside, "I have another patient now. Do you think you could go back to the room with him?"
She nodded tiredly. "Sure."
Leaving Matt to tidy things up, she joined Jason as the orderlies took him back to his room. He wasn’t speaking, not to her, not to the orderlies and not to anyone who greeted him in the corridors. Tanya took advantage of the silence, and took the chance to observe him carefully.
He was unusually pale, she noted, but was that from the physio, or from something else? He was also painfully thin. She remembered Jason as being a lot more… solid than he was now. Now, he was gaunt, and his ribs could be seen through his flesh. It was disturbing that someone as physically and mentally strong as Jason could be reduced to this.
She had never really gotten to know Jason all that well, she reflected. None of them had, bar Tommy and Billy, but they had known him from, and before, the days of the original ranger team. Jason had been almost like a mysterious enigma to the rest of them, coming into the fray when they needed him most. She remembered back to when he had first rejoined the team as the Gold Ranger, watching him spar with Adam in the Youth Centre. Both she and Kat had been awed by Jason’s martial
arts skills. Though they had both heard the stories from Tommy and Billy, it had meant little until they saw Jason in action for the first time.
Jason had not been anyone to mess with. That was the one thing that Billy had often repeated. But now… She watched as the orderlies lifted a now frail boy back into his bed and carefully elevated his mending legs in slings above the bed. Only when they left did she dare speak.
"You don’t seem to like hearing this… but I really am sorry, Jason. For everything."
Jason sighed softly. "I’m not angry at you." He hesitated at the look she gave him, then shrugged. "Okay, so I am angry. I just don’t understand why you guys couldn’t stay out of it! Why did you have to come after us?"
"Do you really think that would have made a difference?" Tanya asked softly. Jason shrugged.
"I don’t know… But I’ll always wonder. I was just starting to remember the way Matthews used to treat me when you guys showed up. If you’d held off for just a little while longer, or even given us the chance to explain our side of it, then maybe things would have turned out differently. I know Mum and Dad might still have ended up going to jail, but I might not be in this hospital bed right now, with pins in both my legs."
Tanya glanced uneasily at the pins again before going on. "Will you walk again?"
"Yeah. It’ll take a while, though. Eventually I’ll be in leg braces, and then hopefully graduate from them to just a cane. Maybe one day I’ll even walk without a cane. Right now, I’m just aiming to get back on my feet."
"That’s good to hear," she murmured. "Oh… How am I going to tell the others?"
"You aren’t," Jason growled. Tanya stared at him, open-mouthed.
"What do you mean…? They have to know!"
Jason pushed himself up a little. "I don’t want them to know, because I don’t want to see any of them just yet. I couldn’t handle that."
"I thought you just said you were trying not to be angry!" Tanya protested.
Jason shook his head. "Give me a chance to heal up, Tanya. It isn’t as easy as you want it to be."
She lowered her gaze. "I know. I’m sorry. Listen, I’d better go…"
Anxiety flooded Jason’s face. "No, please, stay…?"
"Jason…" Tanya protested. "I should have been home by now!"
"Please," Jason begged her. "Mum won’t be coming in for another half hour. I don’t like being alone. Please don’t go…"
She felt something close around her hand, and looked down to see Jason’s hand covering her own, slowly tightening his grip.
He’s really scared… she thought in vague shock. She placed her other hand over Jason’s.
"Okay, Jason. I’ll stay here with you. Just till your mother comes back."
Jason sighed, audibly relieved. "Thankyou."
Tanya had great difficulty sleeping that night. She couldn’t get out of her head all that had happened that afternoon. It had been such a shock to see Jason like that… and the guilt she felt was almost too much to cope with. Over the time, they had all convinced themselves that it had been for the Scotts’ own safety that they had brought them back and handed them over to the police, but now Tanya couldn’t help but wonder how genuine that reasoning was.
Jason’s words ran almost painfully through her mind as she lay restlessly in bed.
_You know what Tommy said to me before he took me back? He said the wrong had to be righted. What sort of self-righteous crap is that? You tell me…_
Of course, she’d had no answer for him. It turned out that the wrong the Scotts had committed was trivial in comparison to the wrongs committed by Jason’s real father. Donavon and Sarah Scott had taken him to protect him… and in reuniting them, the rangers had exposed Jason to a situation that no one should have had to face. Unintentional… but very, very wrong.
Tanya rolled over and, burying her face in her pillow, cried herself to sleep.
*The following day
Tanya looked around, and stifled a groan when she saw Adam, Tommy and Kat approaching.
_God, please don’t let them ask about yesterday…_
"How’d yesterday go?" Kat asked brightly. Tanya shut her eyes for a moment. Like she hadn’t expected that question…
"Fine," she croaked out, hoping she didn’t appear uneasy. Her hopes died quickly.
"Are you okay?" Adam asked, eyeing her in concern.
"Sure," she muttered, turning back to her locker. "I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?"
Tommy, Adam and Kat exchanged glances, and then Tommy put a hand gently on her shoulder.
"Anything you want to talk about?"
Tanya paused. Yes, she desperately wanted to tell them… but Jason had sworn her to secrecy. And then he had threatened acts of violence if any of them, barring herself, came within his sight before he was ready. No, she couldn’t tell them, as badly as she wanted to.
"I’m sorry," she murmured. "It… It’s confidential. Business with the hospital patients, stuff like that. I can’t talk about it.
"Isn’t that only with shrinks and priests?" Adam asked, frowning. Tanya could have hit him.
"It’s hospital policy," she snapped, secretly hating herself for lying to him. "It isn’t my place to discuss the patients with other people, okay?"
Adam stared at her, caught off-guard by her outburst. "S… Sorry…"
She moaned silently, wishing they wouldn’t make it so hard for her. "No, I’m sorry. Yesterday wasn’t as easy… or wonderful… as I was anticipating. It was hard… watching someone go through that sort of pain. He… The patient, I mean… had two badly broken legs, and moving them even slightly caused him a lot of pain. It was difficult to watch that."
Tommy nodded his understanding. "I can imagine. I don’t know how Trini, Kim and Jase coped with it when they were helping out there. So, does this patient have a name, or can’t you tell us that?"
Tanya felt the threat of nausea rising in her gut, and had to force it back. "I… I… have to get to class…"
The rangers watched in surprise as Tanya hurried off up the corridor, so anxious to get away that she left her locker door wide open. Adam pushed it shut, shaking his head in confusion.
"If I didn’t know better, it wasn’t because she couldn’t tell us, it was that she wouldn’t tell us."
"I’m thinking the same," Tommy agreed. "We’ll try talking to her later. We’d better move, though, before we’re late."
The three nodded in agreement, and hurried off to their classes, the thought of Tanya’s evasive behaviour playing on their minds.
Tanya arrived at the hospital that afternoon to soft music playing from a tape recorder that had been set up in Jason’s room. It took her a moment, but she finally recognised the tune as Billy Joel’s Honesty. She ventured into the room, offering Jason a nervous smile.
"That’s a pretty depressing song."
Jason didn’t return the smile. "It’s true."
She went over to the bed. "How do you mean?"
He sighed softly. "I was just thinking. My whole life has practically been a lie. Mum and Dad love me a lot… I know that… But they were never really truthful with me. If they had been, they would have let me remember Matthews. But they made sure I forgot, and then they let me believe they were my real parents."
"They were trying to protect you," Tanya said. Jason nodded.
"I know. I understand that. I do… But in the end, it just hurt more when I found out the truth. I suppose that, in a way, I’m just as angry with them as I am with… with the rangers. They lied to me all through my life. If I’d known from the beginning, I would have been able to make a genuine protest when Matthews showed up to get me."
"Don’t be angry at them," Tanya said softly. "Just be glad it’s over…"
She faltered, knowing instantly that she’d put her foot in it. Jason smiled bitterly.
"Don’t worry. I won’t bite your head off. I know what you mean." He looked over at the tape deck, and softly echoed the words of the song. "Honesty is such a lonely word…. Everyone is so untrue…." He knuckled away the tears. "I am so damn confused, Tanya."
She moved closer to him, and tentatively took his hand in her own. "I know I’m pretty pathetic company… not what you want right now… but I’ll be here for you. I’m seven months late in saying that, but…"
Jason squeezed her hand lightly. "It’s okay. I appreciate it. Thankyou."
Silence reigned for a while, and then Jason spoke again.
"What did you tell the others?"
"Nothing. They don’t know you’re back, yet. But… Jason, they do know you’ll be back at some point. I think Tommy found out from his dad. They’re gonna find out some time."
Jason nodded. "I know. They’ll probably find out when Trini, Kim and Zack come back in a week. Because Tommy will try playing up to Kim, and Kim will most likely deck him."
Tanya winced at the image that produced. "You think they’ll tell them?"
"I know they will. But… I want to see Adam before they come back."
"Why?" Tanya asked nervously, feeling queasy at the thought of her prospective boyfriend being thoroughly chewed out.
"I don’t want a piece of him," Jason said quietly. "I just want to talk to him. Not now… But maybe in a few days’ time. The thing is, when I think back to that morning, I remember seeing Adam
waiting it out in a corner, like he never had a part of what happened."
Tanya nodded as she recalled the fateful morning. "He didn’t," she confirmed softly. "I’m not just saying that… He argued with Tommy from the start, and only gave in because Tommy stared him down. Then, he wouldn’t have a part of it. He was there, but he refused to help. Tommy really gave him an earful afterwards because of it."
Jason sighed. "Adam couldn’t stand up to Tommy. I couldn’t even stand up to Tommy sometimes. Only Kim was ever able to do that, all the time. I can’t blame him for backing down."
"Do you want me to bring him here?" she asked gently. Jason conceded.
"Yeah… but not tomorrow. Friday, maybe… or Saturday. I need some time to think things out before I see him. I don’t want to have a go at him like I did with you."
She smiled a little. "Trying to forgive us one by one?"
"Yes," Jason confirmed. "That’s basically it."
Tanya looked around as the orderlies came in with a wheelchair.
"Ready to go?" one of the men asked. Jason sighed heavily.
"I guess so. Tanya…?"
She replied by squeezing his hand reassuringly. "Right beside you."
Jason nodded. "Let’s go."
"Where’s Tanya?" Adam asked as he joined his friends at their regular table. Kat shook her head in reply.
"Not here. She never came by here after school. I think she went straight to the hospital."
Adam frowned as he sat down. "Something weird is going on. She didn’t want to tell us anything about what she’s doing at the hospital."
"Give her a chance, Adam," Tommy said quietly. "She said it was hard to cope with. She probably just wasn’t ready to talk about it. Besides, don’t forget, it’s somebody else’s pain that she’s watching. It takes a lot of courage to do that."
"Maybe…" Adam murmured. "I just can’t get rid of the feeling that she isn’t telling us everything."
Neither Tommy nor Kat commented on that, for they both had the same feeling.
Tanya emerged from the room just as Sarah rounded the corner. The older woman paused at the sight of the teen, then approached her slowly.
Tanya couldn’t bring herself to smile. Though she had seen Jason’s mother briefly the previous evening, they had only exchanged a cursory greeting. It wasn’t until just now that Jason had revealed he’d told his parents the entire truth. Which meant Sarah Scott knew it was her that had brought her back to Angel Grove…
"Hello, Mrs Scott," she murmured, her gaze fixed carefully on the floor. Sarah came to a halt by the girl.
"We didn’t have the chance to talk yesterday."
Tanya swallowed hard. "I understand…"
"No, that isn’t what I mean. Jason told me that you stayed with him through the full session of physiotherapy. Thankyou."
Tanya sighed heavily. "It was the least I could do."
"Maybe, but it would have been much easier for you to turn around and walk out. It meant a lot to Jason that you didn’t."
Tanya looked up, then. There was no anger in the woman’s voice, which surprised her. She was even more stunned when Sarah offered her a smile.
"I’m not angry, Tanya. There’s no point in me being angry. It would only make it more difficult for Jason to resolve his anger. In any case, the punishment that Donavon and I received was appropriate. We have no right to be angry at anyone. Except, of course, Jason’s real father… Come and sit down, please…"
Tanya did so wordlessly. Sarah went on quietly.
"Jason is having a lot of trouble dealing with his anger. I’m sure you’re aware of that."
"Yes," Tanya murmured softly, nervously. "He wants me to be there with him during the physio sessions, but he’s still pretty cold."
"Please don’t blame him," Sarah pleaded with the younger girl. "With all that’s happened, he just
doesn’t know any other way to react, now. He spent six months with a man whose only way of control was through violence and anger… and now, he has to face up to the possibility that he may always need a cane to walk."
Tanya felt the tears in her eyes, and absently brushed them away. "I don’t blame him for being angry, Mrs Scott. It’s our fault. Jason was right. We had no right to interfere. Not when we didn’t know the whole story. I… I was no better than the others. I was being pretty self-righteous about it, too. Adam was the only one who didn’t agree with it."
Sarah looked thoughtful. "Adam is the Green Ranger, isn’t he?"
"I remember. The Blue Ranger…"
"Yes, Rocky wanted Adam to help him with Donavon."
"And Adam told him to shove it," Tanya said with a faint smile as she recalled the incident. Sarah laughed.
"Not Adam’s usual style, is it?"
"I think he was angry at himself that he couldn’t stand up to Tommy," Tanya said. "Refusing to help was the only way he could protest."
Sarah grasped Tanya’s hand reassuringly. "Everything will work out eventually. It’s hard now for all of us. We just have to be patient."
"I know," Tanya conceded. She paused, looking towards the room where Jason was, then back to Sarah. "Jason has a lot of courage. I know that he’s being driven partly by anger… but there’s a lot of courage there as well. He’ll get through this, Mrs Scott. I know he will."
Sarah rose up slowly. "We know."
"I have to go," Tanya said, starting to edge her way down the corridor.
"Will we see you tomorrow?" Sarah asked, and Tanya nodded.
"Yes. I told Jason I’d come. And, he wants me to bring Adam here in a few days’ time."
"Good," Sarah murmured, more to herself than to Tanya. "He’s doing what Catherine said… All right, Tanya. I’ll see you tomorrow. Goodnight."
"Goodnight," Tanya echoed, and hurried away down the corridor before anything else could be said.
*Aquitar, a few days later
Cestria found Billy sitting by himself, staring up at the starry sky with an unmistakable look of longing in his eyes. She hesitated, torn between leaving him be, and going to him. After a long moment of indecision, she joined him, putting her arms around him in a warm embrace.
"What are you thinking?"
Billy glanced back at her over his shoulder. "You don’t know?" he asked shortly.
"I make it a habit not to interfere in the thoughts of others."
He reddened a little. "Sorry… I don’t mean to snap."
"It’s all right," she reassured him. "I do understand. You have been extremely tense ever since your discussion with the original Earth rangers."
"I don’t know what to do," Billy whispered, tearing his gaze away from the stars to turn and face Cestria. "What do I do? I don’t want to leave here, but Jason… He’s my oldest friend. I hate being so far away, knowing how badly he must be hurting."
"I think the answer is obvious," Cestria replied. "You will not be truly happy until you have resolved your concerns regarding Jason. And if you are unhappy, then so am I."
"You’re telling me to go back," Billy said bluntly. Cestria seemed to frown a little.
"I did not say that. I am merely suggesting the answer to your problem is right in front of you. It is for you to reach that conclusion, not I."
"Do you want me to go?"
"No!" Cestria choked out, distress flooding her face and her thoughts. "I do not want you to go! But it is not my place to hold you here. As you said, Jason is your oldest friend. Friendship means a great deal to us here on Aquitar, just as it does to Earthlings. I am telling you to do what you feel you must do. I will not hold you back, if you decide to leave, and I would like to believe you would do the same if I were in a similar position."
Billy pulled her close in a tight hug. "I love you, Cestria. Thankyou."
She pressed her face into his shoulder, returning the hug with one equally as fierce. "And I love you, Billy. Please promise me you will keep in contact."
"I will, and I’ll come back as soon as I can."
She nodded wordlessly, not voicing a very real fear that he would not be back at all.
*Angel Grove, the following day
Trini smiled contentedly as she looked around her new bedroom. Naturally, her parents had been unable to acquire their old house, but the new one was just as good. In fact, Trini thought, it was a bit better. She had a larger bedroom now, and there was an extra room that her mother had said she could have for whatever she wanted.
Walking over, she leant on the window sill and peered out, admiring the handsome view of Angel Grove Park. She could just see the lake, and pick out the trees beyond which the Youth Centre lay. Yes, she liked the new house very much…
Trini looked around, and grinned broadly as Kim bounded enthusiastically into the room.
"Isn’t it great to be home?" Kim gushed, throwing her arms around Trini in a huge hug. "I am so happy!"
"Same," Trini agreed. "I feel like we’ve come full circle, almost. Oh, Kim, I heard from Billy. He’s decided he’s coming home!"
Kim squealed in excitement. "That is great! We’ll all be together again! Trini, things couldn’t be better…"
Trini’s gaze hardened just a little. "Calm down, Kim. Don’t forget, Jason is still in hospital."
"I know, but he’ll be so happy to see Billy! I know he will."
"Yeah, after he wrings our necks for telling Billy in the first place," Trini said, rolling her eyes. "And don’t forget, we start school again on Monday. Then we’ll have to face up to the rangers."
At that, Kim’s enthusiasm disappeared in a flash.
"Tommy…" she whispered, but there was no hint of affection in her voice as she spoke his name. Trini watched her friend in concern.
"Kim, you’d better control yourself. He’s going to have a hard time understanding why you suddenly seem to hate him."
Kim sank down onto the bed. "I do, and I don’t. My god, I’m so confused… The thing is, I still care about Tommy… I really do! I think I still love him, Trini, but I love Jason a lot, too. Jason was always there for us, and there were times when Tommy wasn’t. When I think of all the times Tommy went off sulking over losing his powers… Or the way he used to go all guilty on us whenever he made a mistake, and we’d have to pick up the pieces for him… God, he was such a baby! Jason made mistakes, but he didn’t sit around sulking about it. He picked himself up and put things right!"
"Tommy still got us through a lot of hard times," Trini said softly, sitting down next to Kim. "Don’t condemn him totally, Kim. And remember, they were all a little responsible for what happened to Jason. It wasn’t only Tommy."
Kim sighed. "No… They weren’t responsible. Not directly. The only one responsible for Jason being in hospital now is the bastard who put him there. What the rangers are responsible for is different, but it’s just as bad. They’re guilty of making a serious judgment without all the facts. And Tommy should have known better!"
Trini lay down, across the bed. "Kim, what are you going to do when you see Tommy?"
"I don’t know," Kim murmured. "Maybe nothing… It depends on whether he comes to me. The difficulty is going to be looking at him without picturing Jason with all those horrible scars… and his legs… Tomorrow’s Sunday, and we’re going to see Jason in the afternoon."
"And it’ll still be fresh in your mind on Monday," Trini said with a sigh. "Try not to think about it. Angel Grove High is a big school… Chances are we won’t even see him for a couple of days."
Kim didn’t reply, but the doubt was all too clear in her eyes.
"So what’s this all about, anyway?" Adam asked as he followed Tanya along the hospital corridor. "You still haven’t told me."
Tanya shook her head wordlessly. The truth was she couldn’t find the right way to tell him, and she knew she had approximately two minutes to do so. They reached the lifts and went into an empty one, and Tanya pressed the button for the third floor.
"Adam… It’s to do with the patient that I’ve been coming in to help out with. He, um… He wants to talk to you."
Adam looked amused. "Oh? How come? Hasn’t become attached to his devoted helper, has he?"
"This isn’t a joke!" she exploded, and Adam shrank back a little.
Tanya continued to glower at him as they emerged from the lift, all the tension she’d been suffering rising to the surface. "You should be. You don’t joke about someone who has two broken legs. It just isn’t funny."
Adam stared at her in amazement. Rarely had he seen her in such a volatile mood… Tanya suddenly came to a halt, and Adam nearly walked into her.
"Here," she murmured, then turned abruptly to face him. "Um… You’re going to get a shock,
Adam. There’s no other way to say it. There’s someone that you know in that hospital room just there… but you haven’t seen him for seven months."
Adam was notably confused. "What…? Who are you talking about?"
She pressed a hand lightly to his shoulder. "Just wait here a second. I’ve got to make sure he’s up to it."
Adam waited in silence as Tanya disappeared into the room. A moment later, he heard the low murmur of voices, and then Tanya emerged, looking extremely relieved.
"He’s asleep. They had to operate early this morning, and he hasn’t recovered from the anaesthetic yet."
"Who?" Adam persisted. "Tanya, who is it?"
Tanya regarded him with dark eyes. "It’s Jason."
Silence fell, and for several seconds, Tanya was frightened that Adam was going to faint. Finally, the boy spoke.
"Jason…? Our Jason…?"
"Yes," Tanya told him softly. "Our Jason. Jason Scott. Gold Ranger Jason. C’mon, Adam."
She took his hand, and led him into the room, where Jason was, indeed, fast asleep.
Sarah Scott sat on the other side of the bed, and she offered the teen a smile as they came in.
Adam had turned ashen by then. "Oh god… How…?"
"It’s a long story," Tanya answered. "The bottom line is… We screwed up, Adam. The whole team. You were right when you said there must have been a reason. There was, and we didn’t wait to find out what."
Adam looked slowly at Sarah Scott, gaining just a little courage.
"Reason?" he echoed tentatively.
"Yes," Sarah told him quietly. "Adam, Jason was being physically and sexually abused by his real father. It’s the reason that Donavon and I took him in the first place. Thirteen years ago, no one wanted to believe that a police officer would abuse his own child. Especially one as highly decorated as Daniel Matthews was. When we tried to bring it to the attention of the authorities, we were verbally abused, and constantly harassed by officers, including Matthews. In the end, we planned to leave Chicago… and Jason asked me if he could come with us. He was only five years old at the time, and we couldn’t stand to leave him behind… so one day I took him out of school on the pretence of taking him to the doctor. We met Donavon, and we left Chicago immediately. We drove straight to Canada, and stayed with an old friend for nearly three years. A short while after that, we came to Angel Grove, and decided to stay."
Adam finally looked down, at Jason’s passive features. For just an instant, he flashed back to nearly twelve months ago in the Power Chamber, when Jason had been growing steadily weaker from the Gold Ranger Powers. Jason had been part of the team, then. They had all rallied around him, ready to do anything to help their team mate. Then, suddenly, Jason had no longer been a part of that. Adam couldn’t quite recall the point at which the change had occurred, but it had not been long after Trey had reclaimed his powers. All of a sudden, Jason was no longer readily included in the group’s activities. If he had been, it was only as an afterthought, and nothing more.
And now… Adam’s gaze was drawn to Jason’s legs, painfully noticeable with the metal pins protruding from the flesh. Tanya spoke softly.
"He’ll probably still be in a wheelchair when he comes back to school."
"How did it happen?" Adam asked, not entirely sure that he wanted to know. Sarah answered.
"Matthews deliberately ran him down. He backed the car over Jason three times, and completely crushed his legs. Jason was lucky not to have been crippled."
"Of course, that can depend on what your version of crippled is," a voice spoke from behind them, and they all looked around to see Donavon Scott standing there. Although he didn’t appear angry, neither was he smiling.
Sarah rose up and went around to him. "When did you get back?"
"Our flight got in just half an hour ago," Donavon replied as he embraced her. "The Taylors left Chicago four days ago, and the Kwans and the Harts are already here."
Sarah nodded. "Peter Hart called in yesterday, and he’s coming with Kimberly tomorrow."
Catherine Matthews stepped into the room, and also embraced Sarah.
"How are you doing?"
"We’re fine," Sarah replied with a smile. "Jason was happy just to be back in Angel Grove."
"I’m sure he was," Catherine said. Her gaze fell on the two teenagers, both of whom were looking immensely nervous. "And these are…?"
"Adam and Tanya," Sarah told her. She looked at her husband, and at his dark expression, then added; "It’s all right. Jason’s already talked to Tanya, and he asked to see Adam."
Donavon nodded as he walked around to the other side of the bed. "All right, then."
Adam looked sideways at Tanya. "Did I miss something here?"
Tanya sighed a little. "They know, Adam. Jason told them everything, all about… about the Power Rangers. They know it was us that… you know…"
Adam diverted his gaze to the floor, too embarrassed and ashamed to look any of the adults in the eye. Sarah spared her husband a look that begged for patience, then gave Adam a quick hug.
"It’s all right, Adam. We know you did all you could. You don’t have to be ashamed."
Although Adam didn’t argue, it was clear he didn’t believe it.
Jason couldn’t sleep. He had woken up properly from the anaesthetic just an hour or so ago, only to be told his parents and his grandmother had gone home to the house to get some rest. A nurse had stayed with him for a while, talking to him until he pretended to fall asleep, but now he sat up in bed, flipping aimlessly through a magazine.
He hated being alone like this, but at the same time, he couldn’t bring himself to say anything about it. He hated his fear of being alone almost more than he hated actually being alone. Muttering softly under his breath, he tossed the magazine aside, wondering at the same time how anyone could stay interested in that sort of crap.
If only he could get out and do some exercise, that would, at least, take his mind off being alone. His gaze fell on his legs. It was a useless wish that couldn’t be granted. Also, any excessive movements were just too painful to cope with.
Jason looked towards the window miserably. Occasionally, the pain got so bad that he wished Matthews had backed the car over his spine instead of his legs. Then, he would not have had to deal with the endless pain of two crushed legs.
"Son of bitch..." Jason muttered sulkily.
"You know, I think that’s the first time I’ve heard you utter an expletive of any sort?"
Jason looked around sharply, and his eyes widened in surprise. "Billy?"
Billy grinned and slipped into the room, shutting the door behind him. "You look like crap," the former Blue Ranger said with a smile. Jason couldn’t resist a grin of his own. Billy’s matter-of-fact attitude had always helped make him feel a little better...
"I know. Thanks for not asking."
"Don’t worry. I know what it’s like." Billy paused, eyeing his friend’s legs with grim appraisal. "He did a good job of it, didn’t he?"
Confusion flickered in Jason’s eyes.
"How do you know....?"
"Kim, Trini and Zack contacted me," Billy explained quietly. "They told me everything."
Jason started up, his mouth open in protest, but Billy silenced him with a single look.
"Don’t say it, Jason. You can’t expect them not to have tried to contact me. That would be really stupid. Besides, I think I have a right to know, don’t you?"
Jason sighed, caving. "Yes. I’m sorry... I just didn’t want you to leave Aquitar just for me. You seemed so happy with Cestria."
"I was. I still am. I’ll go back sooner or later. But right now, I’m staying here. We’re friends, Jason. We’ve been friends the longest, ever since you first came to town. You’ve always been there for me, right from the first day that we met. Now it’s my turn to be there for you."
Jason regarded Billy with a warm smile. "Man, it’s good to see you again."
"Same," Billy confirmed. "I think I missed you most of all while I was on Aquitar."
"What about Adam?"
"Adam and I were close... but it’s different with you and me. Especially now." He paused, then abruptly changed the subject. "How long will you be in here? Do you know?"
"They’re planning to take the pins out in a week or so. It’s been like this for nearly ten weeks now, so hopefully…"
Billy nodded. "What about the physiotherapy? That must be hell."
"It is," Jason confirmed wearily. "They’re pretty intense over here… I don’t think I could have managed so far without Tanya."
The surprise on Billy’s face was evident. "Tanya? She’s been here?"
"Yeah. She volunteered to help out here the same as Trini, Kim and I did a few years back. My physiotherapist called her in, thinking I’d do better with someone my own age here. It was rough to start it," Jason admitted. "I sort of blew up at her…"
"I don’t blame you," Billy murmured. Jason grimaced.
"And then she blew up at me. She was going to leave, but I asked her not to go. I think I was more scared of doing the physio by myself than I was angry at her. Anyway, she stayed, and we talked things out. So far, I’ve managed to forgive her and Adam… Hell, there’s nothing to forgive as far as Adam is concerned. He tried to stay right out of it."
"Have you seen Adam?" Billy asked, feeling secretly relieved. Jason shook his head.
"No, not yet. A nurse told me that Tanya brought him in this afternoon, but I was asleep. I haven’t talked to him yet."
Billy sighed and leaned against the bed rail. "I can imagine the look on his face when he came in here. I don’t expect Tanya would have told him all the details."
"He probably nearly had a heart attack," Jason conceded.
"So will Tommy, when he finds out," Billy commented quietly. Jason’s expression hardened considerably.
"I don’t want to see Tommy. Not at all."
Billy didn’t speak for a moment. The vehemence and anger in Jason’s voice and eyes was more than Billy had ever seen before. He finally spoke, changing the topic once more to divert his friend’s anger.
"I spoke to Trini before I teleported back to Earth. She told me about what happened before…" He motioned to Jason’s legs. "Before this. She admitted… rather nervously, by the way… that she kissed you."
Jason reddened slightly as he recalled the moment. "She said she’s always cared for me…"
"That’s true," Billy replied quietly. "She has for a long time."
Jason looked at Billy incredulously, and the young genius responded with a sheepish smile.
"She confessed it to me approximately four years ago. She was always impressed with the way that you took charge. I must admit, so was I. It was a very reassuring thing, to have a leader with your capabilities."
Jason looked away. "Sure. And look at me now…"
Billy smiled. "Yes. Look at you now. You’ve reunited us, when we thought we would never see one another again. Not exactly a pleasant way to do it, but you did do it."
Jason blinked, and felt his eyes misting up. He continued to stare towards the window, suddenly afraid to let Billy see him cry.
"I really hate life right now, Billy. I hate life, and I hate myself. I keep telling myself that I should be happy with the way things have worked out, but I can’t!"
Billy walked slowly around to the other side of the bed, forcing Jason to face him. "You don’t have to be happy. I don’t expect you to be. God knows I’d hate everything and everyone if it was me in your place. Just be thankful for one thing: that it was your legs that he ran over, and not your spine."
Jason nearly choked. Not ten minutes ago, he had been wishing the exact opposite… Billy regarded him somberly.
"I know how much it must hurt, Jase. But at least you’ll walk again. Some people never regain that dignity. Be grateful for it. Be grateful you weren’t killed."
Jason shuddered with suppressed sobs. "If… If I hadn’t been able to get to the phone… to call Grandma… He might have come back before help came. He would have killed me, I know it…"
Billy reached out to lightly grasp Jason’s shoulder. "It didn’t happen like that. Just remember that."
"I know," Jason said softly. "I still have nightmares about it, though. You know... it isn’t just life that I hate right now. I hate myself as well."
Billy leaned forward, against the bed. Now he was starting to feel concerned. Jason had always been one for promoting self-consciousness, and liking oneself. To hear him talking like that was disturbing, to say the least.
"Why do you hate yourself?"
Jason picked at the blankets. "I hate myself because I can’t let go of the anger. Not towards Matthews, or Tommy, or the rest of the rangers. I hate myself because...." He faltered. "For everything, Billy."
Billy watched Jason in quiet distress. Oh, Jase...
"If you can’t keep a bit of love for yourself... then let me." He reached out to gently grasp Jason’s hand. "I love you, Jason. I love you like a brother. I don’t care how you feel right now. I don’t care that you might always need a cane to walk. I love you, and nothing will change that."
"Thanks, Billy," Jason whispered. "Do... Do you think you could stay a while? I hate being by myself..."
Billy smiled faintly in the darkness of the room. "Sure. I’ll stay till the nurses find me and kick me out."
Jason sighed softly. "You always were my best friend..."
Billy blinked, caught by surprise. As far as he had been concerned, Zack and Jason had always been best friends, and then Tommy and Jason... But he had never considered himself anyone’s best friend, except, maybe, Adam. Jason smiled, then.
"You said I was there for you on that first day that we met... You don’t remember what happened that day, do you?"
Billy felt confused, then. "Didn’t you save me from Bulk and Skull...?"
Jason laughed softly. "You’re confusing your memories. I wasn’t so confident about anything when I first got to Angel Grove with Mum and Dad. Left over influence from my real father, I suppose. When I walked into class that first day, I didn’t have a friend in the world, and I was too scared to try and make friends. I was on my own that whole day. No one talked to me, and people kept pointing at me and whispering behind my back. Then, after school I’m waiting to get picked up and this gangly little kid walks up to me and introduces himself as William J. Cranston. Said he’d been watching me all day, and that I looked like I needed a friend. Of course, you used a hell of a lot more words than that, and it took me about ten minutes to figure out what you were trying to say..."
Billy flushed red, and Jason laughed again and went on.
"But once I’d figured you out... I was lonely as hell, Billy. You were there that first day when I needed someone to just be kind to me, and you’ve been there ever since. Like now. You were my best friend back then, and you always have been. I love you too, bro."
Billy swallowed hard as he remembered that first day as Jason had just described it. "I seem to recall the particular day more clearly..." he confessed. "You looked even more lonely than I felt. I have to confess, though, I expected to get pounded..."
"Not by me," Jason murmured. Billy had to smile.
"No," he agreed softly. "Not by you."
Billy stood there in silence for a long moment before pulling up a chair to wait with his friend.
Kim paused in the corridor, looking around nervously at the familiar surroundings.
"It’s been a long time since we set foot in here, guys."
Zack joined her. "I know. It feels weird."
Trini came up to stand on the other side of Kim. "C’mon. Let’s do this."
The other two nodded, and they walked down the corridor towards their new lockers.
Tanya was busy organising books in her locker when she felt Adam stiffen beside her. Looking around, she saw three unfamiliar teens coming down the corridor towards them. Glancing at Adam, she guessed their identities.
"Zack, Kimberly and Trini, right?"
Adam nodded, unable to get a word out. Tanya spared him a grim look, then drew in a deep breath and went to talk to the former rangers.
Zack came to a halt, his gaze falling on Tanya. "Yes?"
Tanya felt sick with nervousness, but forced herself to speak regardless. "You guys are Zack, Trini and Kim, right? I’m Tanya. Tanya Sloan..."
Zack’s expression turned cold. "Is that right?"
"I know you guys must be pretty angry," she said anxiously. "I know about Jason..."
"You understand that," Zack said softly, "and you still have the nerve to talk to us?"
"You don’t get it!" she said desperately. "I’ve seen Jason. I’ve talked to him! I’ve been helping him get through the physiotherapy!"
Zack’s expression softened a little. "Really?"
Zack felt a hand clasp his, and he glanced back to see Kimberly had his hand. She nodded once, but there was no warmth in her eyes. The former Black Ranger looked back at Tanya.
"That’s fine and all, but it doesn’t change what’s happened. You might have seen Jason in hospital, but we saw him in Chicago when he had to cope with what his real father was dishing out to him. If you’re as smart as you look, you should be able to figure out that we don’t want anything to do with any of you right now." His gaze went past Tanya, to where Adam was watching a short distance away. The boy was pale and clearly shaken, but there was resignation in his eyes. Zack knew he understood, and he took a step back. "Just stay away from us. And if you want to help, keep Tommy away from us, too."
Without another word, Zack, Trini and Kim went on their way down the corridor.
Tommy pushed his locker door shut, and turned back to Kat. "C’mon. Let’s move, or Mr Thorne really will put us in detention."
Kat pulled a face. "That’s definitely the last thing we need. Where’s Rocky?"
‘Right here," Rocky answered, puffing as he skidded around the corner. The car wouldn’t start this morning... Took me nearly half an hour to fix it. Just let me get my books..."
Rocky froze, his jaw dropping. Tommy and Kat spared him an odd look.
"Rocky?" Kat asked tentatively. "What’s wrong?"
Rocky didn’t speak, but lifted a finger to point to something beyond his two friends. They turned around...
Kat felt her heart sink as her gaze fell on Kim, standing just a little ways down the corridor, fumbling with a new combination lock. A frown creased her forehead; she was having obvious trouble getting the lock to open. One look at Tommy, and all of Kat’s hopes were shattered in an instant. The boy was openly staring, and the longing in his eyes was far more than he had ever had for Kat.
She felt a hand on her arm, and looked to see Rocky offering her a supportive smile. She tried to return the gesture; couldn’t quite manage it.
She tried to break through his stupor, but he was oblivious to her. Tucking his books under his arm, he went to talk to his first and true love.
Adam and Tanya rounded the corner on their way to class, and Tanya halted, grabbing Adam’s arm to stop him as well.
Adam looked, and groaned softly. Tommy was heading straight for Kimberly... They were too far away to do anything without drawing any attention, and could only watch helplessly as Tommy drew closer to the former Pink Ranger.
Kim cursed softly. She had always had trouble with combination locks, and now was no different. Frustrated, she looked around for Zack or Trini, and was startled to find herself suddenly staring at a broad chest, a red shirt and a dark red jacket, with just a splash of green on the front. Swallowing hard, feeling suddenly light-headed, Kim looked up, into the handsome face of her first boyfriend.
Tommy offered her a smile, tentative yet with the same charm he’d always had. She took an instinctive step back, suddenly not sure how she was supposed to be acting towards him. Tommy’s smile broadened a little; he didn’t seem to notice her unease.
_God, that voice_ She fought back a moan.
"It’s been a long time," he said softly. "I’ve missed you."
Kim shut her eyes for just a second, feeling herself becoming almost entranced. "Tommy... I..."
"It’s okay," Tommy murmured. He reached out, lightly took her hand. "I understand why you wrote that letter. It took me a while, but I understand." He hesitated. "I still love you, you know."
Kim cried inside. Why couldn’t she return the sentiment? Her reasoning was fast becoming blurred.... Tommy lightly touched his fingertips to her cheek.
"I know you didn’t mean to hurt me... And you know I’d never do anything to hurt you."
Kim froze, her heart starting to pound hard, but not with nervous excitement. _You’d never do anything to hurt me... but you hurt Jason... You hurt him badly..._
Kim stepped back again, yanking her hand out of his grasp. "Get away from me," she snarled with sudden, renewed anger. Tommy stared at her in confusion.
"What’s wrong? Kim...?"
"Hypocritical bastard," she spat. "Don’t play up to me, Tommy. It won’t work."
Tommy moved closer again. "Kim, I don’t understand... I love you..."
Tommy’s head rocked back as Kim slapped him hard across the face, leaving a blazing red welt across his cheek.
"Don’t say that," she whispered, tears streaming down her cheeks. "Don’t you dare say that! When you sacrifice someone who was supposed to be your best friend, that isn’t love, that’s..." She faltered, at a loss. Tommy was even more confused.
"What are you talking about? I never sacrificed anyone!"
She tried to slap him again, but he caught her wrist before she could. "Damn it, Kim..."
Kim wrenched herself free of his grasp. "I hate you, Tommy! Just get away from me!"
Tommy was about to protest further when Zack and Trini suddenly appeared, flanking Kim. Neither one was smiling.
"You heard the lady," Zack said softly, echoing Tommy’s words to Bulk and Skull of nearly three years ago. "She said go away."
Hurt filled Tommy’s eyes, and for a bare instant, Kim nearly broke. The soulful look in his dark eyes was as heart-wrenching now as it had ever been, and she could feel herself folding. Then, an image of Jason flashed through her mind, with both his legs broken, and the harshness returned.
"Leave me alone," she said. "I don’t want anything to do with you."
Tommy stood still for several seconds, trying to read her eyes as he had once been able to do. Her expression was angry, but there was something more in her eyes that she was not letting out. It was more than the anger that ruled her right then, and that gave him a touch of hope. He was no fool,
though, and he knew it was not the right time. Giving in, he backed away a few steps, then turned walked away from them, trying hard to ignore the stares from all the other students.
Kat was waiting, and slipped her arm through his. "Don’t worry about it, Tommy. You don’t need her. If she’s too stupid to take you back…"
Tommy reached up to gingerly touch his bruised cheek. "She hit me…"
Rocky shook his head in disbelief. "Boy, those guys sure have changed. You think they’re jealous, or something?"
Tommy slowed to a halt as they reached the end of the corridor, where Adam and Tanya were waiting. Neither one looked shocked by what had just taken place.
"Guys…?" he asked softly. The two younger teens exchanged looks, then went off to their class in silence, leaving their friends to wonder just what the hell was going on.
"Kim?" Trini asked softly as the petite girl slumped against her locker. Kim brought one hand up to cover her mouth as she struggled not to cry.
"Oh god… That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done…"
Trini hugged her quickly as Zack scared away onlookers with a menacing glare.
"It’s okay, Kim."
"I just thought about Jason…" Kim whispered tearfully. "When Tommy was starting to win, I thought about Jason… and that was it. But I feel so awful! We’re letting this tear us apart!"
"We can’t do anything to make peace while we all feel so angry," Zack said quietly. "It wouldn’t do anything. We have to be able to forgive before we can do anything."
"I’ve never been so confused in my life," Trini admitted miserably. "I just don’t know how else to deal with it, other than to stay away from them."
"Tommy may have been our leader for a while," Zack said fiercely, "but Jase was there long before him. My loyalty’s with Jason, not Tommy. Jase was more of a friend and a leader than Tommy ever was. Jason was never selfish, like Tommy! And he never expected anyone else to carry him if he made a mistake. He accepted it, and got on with things. Tommy just went to pieces every time Rita or Zedd targeted him for one of their stupid plots! He always felt so damn sorry for himself… Damn it, Jase never went running off to the mountains to mope after he lost the Gold Ranger powers. He stayed around to help out as much as he could, and Tommy paid him back by betraying him. So until Jase can forgive Tommy, I sure as hell won’t. Now, c’mon. Let’s get to class."
Trini and Kim conceded and, after Kim finally got her locker open with Zack’s help, they headed off to their first class.
The rangers met at the Youth Centre after school as usual, and quickly cornered Adam and Tanya, demanding information.
"We just want to know what’s going on with them!" Rocky said. "Especially Kim. Man, she acted like she hated Tommy’s guts!"
Tommy cringed, and Rocky shrugged.
Tanya shook her head. "It’s not our place to say…"
"So you do know what’s going on," Kat jumped in. Tanya groaned softly.
"Yes, I do, and no! I can’t tell you! So please, just let it rest!"
Tommy looked at the Green Ranger, focusing a hard stare on his second-in-command. "Adam, what’s going on? I want you to tell me right now."
Adam cringed. It was the same tone Tommy had used so many months ago to solicit his consent to bringing Jason and the Scotts back to Angel Grove. Not that his consent had meant that much when it came down to it…
"No," he said softly. "It won’t work this time, Tommy. Tanya’s right. It isn’t our place to say anything. You’ll find out when… when certain people want you to know, but not before."
Tommy’s expression darkened when Kim, Zack and Trini entered the Youth Centre and went to get some drinks. "You mean those certain people? Sure, they really want to enlighten us." He got up. "I’m sick of this, I’m going to work out."
Zack watched out of the corner of his eyes as Tommy went down to the mats and began to warm up with a light kata.
"He is really pissed off with us."
Kim stared moodily into her soda. "So let him be."
"I can’t believe how much things have changed," Trini murmured sadly. "Three years ago, we wouldn’t have let this get in the way of anything."
Zack looked up at her. "Three years ago, we would never have interferred in that sort of thing."
He glanced at his watch. "What time did you say Billy was supposed to meet us?"
"Any minute," Trini answered. "He said he’d try and be here before four o’clock."
"Well, he’d better hurry," Kim grumbled. "Hospital visiting hours are only until five o’clock."
A grin lit up Zack’s face as a familiar figure entered the Youth Centre, wearing blue jeans, white shirt and a black jacket.
"There he is..."
Kat saw him first, and a grin filled her face. "Billy!"
Adam, Tanya and Rocky all looked up in surprise to see their old teammate walk into the Youth Centre, scanning the room slowly.
"When did he get back?" Tanya wanted to know, and the others merely shrugged. Rocky started up.
Billy’s gaze fell on the teens, and his expression visibly hardened. Rocky sat back down, startled by the angry force of Billy’s glare.
"What’s with him...?"
Adam felt his heart sink as Billy turned and headed over to join Zack, Kimberly and Trini on the other side of the Youth Centre. He looked sideways at Tanya, and knew she was thinking the same thing. A line had been drawn between the current and former rangers, invisible and yet clear as the sun, and though not all knew it, Jason was right in the middle...
Tommy rejoined them, his face dark and unreadable.
"Billy’s back," he said simply.
"We noticed," Adam muttered. Tommy remained standing, watching his four former teammates in silence. They had closed ranks around the table, not letting anyone into their circle. It was not a full circle, though, Tommy realised. There was one missing...
"I would have called you all sooner," Billy explained quietly, "but I spent the majority of last night in the hospital with Jason."
"You snuck in?" Zack asked, incredulous. Billy smiled.
"You think you’re the only individual with a sneaky side, Zack?"
Zack smiled. "Didn’t think you had it in you, man."
"I put aside my concerns of being caught," Billy said simply. "Jason needed the company. He is really chronically depressed. He admitted to me last night that he..." Billy faltered, and searched anxiously for a better choice of words. "He is not currently in possession of a great deal of self esteem at this moment."
Zack snickered. "The Billy-speak is slowly coming back."
Trini hit him on the arm. "Will you listen? This is serious."
Billy fought back a grin. He pictured Jason in his mind, and it became a significantly easier task.
"He really has very little regard for himself at the moment," Billy said softly. "He’s angry at himself for being angry at..." Billy motioned back over his shoulder in the general direction of the current rangers. "At them."
Trini nodded. She could understand that. "Jason never did like holding grudges."
"But this is too much for him to just ignore, now," Kim concluded. Zack drummed his fingers on the table.
"Look, instead of wasting time here, let’s go and see him. Okay?"
"Okay," Kim said firmly. "There’s just one thing we have to do."
Reaching into her purse, she pulled out a carefully folded piece of newspaper.
"What’s that?" Trini asked. Kim unfolded it to reveal a front page newspaper from the Chicago Tribune.
Teen Crippled By Cop Father, was the headline, and beneath was a heart-wrenching, colour photo of Jason, just after the first operation on his shattered legs. The story detailed the abuse Jason had suffered, just who was responsible, and the gravity of his leg injuries.
"What are you going to do with that?" Zack asked, starting to feel uneasy. Kim clenched her jaw determinedly.
Turning, she marched over to the bar, and called Ernie over. He came, smiling broadly.
"Hey, Kim. Can I get you anything else?"
"No," she replied, "but you can do us a favour. Put this up where everyone can see it."
"Kim!" Trini cried out, shocked. Kim looked back at Trini.
"I talked to Jason yesterday. He’s the one who gave me the article. He told me what to do with it."
Ernie frowned a little and took the article. A moment later, he turned ashen with shock.
"Oh no... Jason..." He looked up, feeling queasy. "Kim, I can’t put this up in here. Little kids
might see it!"
"Jason wants people to know what happened before he gets out of hospital," Kim explained. "That’s all. So he doesn’t have to deal with too many people wanting to know what happened."
"Jason’s back in Angel Grove?" Ernie asked in shock. "He’s in Angel Grove Memorial?"
"In the rehab wing," Zack confirmed. "We’re going to see him now."
Ernie looked past the teens to where Tommy and the others sat. "Does Tommy know?"
"No," Billy said quietly. "Not yet. Ernie, Jason doesn’t want to see Tommy."
"Why not?" Ernie cried out. "They were best friends!"
The teens exchanged grim looks, and then Zack spoke quickly.
"He’s just not up to it at the moment. He’s not real well, Ernie."
Ernie looked back to the article, and swallowed hard. "I guess he wouldn’t be. Listen, do you kids mind waiting a minute? I’d like to come with you, if that’s okay..."
"Sure," Trini said with a smile. "We know Jason would love to see you."
Angel Grove Memorial....
Jason sat by the window in his hospital room, staring longingly out at the warm Summer day.
"It's not fair," he grumbled finally. "I hate being stuck inside like this!"
Donavon sighed in exasperation. "You know you don't have a choice. The doctor gave specific orders that you don't go outside."
"Well, it sucks," Jason snapped.
Donavon frowned at him. "Mind your language, thankyou very much."
Jason sighed and maneuvered himself away from the window. "When's Mum and Grandma coming back?"
"I don't know. They said they had something to collect. Ready to go back to bed?"
"Get real!" Jason retorted. "I've been flat on my back for most of the last few months. I'm sick of it!"
A conspiratorial grin flickered across Donavon's face. "Does that mean you're ready for the leg braces?"
Jason turned green at that, and Donavon had to laugh. For the past week, the physiotherapist had tried to talk Jason into getting started on the leg braces, but for all Jason's hype about getting back on his feet, he had been too scared to try. That was understandable, of course. After living in a world of pain for so long, Jason was naturally anxious to avoid anything that would cause him any degree of pain.
Jason looked up at his father with red-rimmed eyes. "Don't laugh at me. It's not my fault that I'm scared."
Donavon choked back the laughter, and crouched down in front of his son. "I'm sorry, Jason. I didn't mean to laugh. I understand how you feel, and you know no one is going to force you into using the leg braces until you're ready."
"Is it okay to come in?"
Father and son looked around to see Zack peering in. Donavon glanced at Jason, who nodded.
"Sure," Donavon replied, straightening up. "C'mon in." Zack strode around the corner, followed by Trini, Kim and Billy....
Jason's face lit up at the sight of his old friend. Ernie grinned, a difficult thing to accomplish coming face-to-face with the now-crippled teen that he had known so well.
"Hi, Jason. I hope you don't mind me coming by..."
"No," Jason reassured him. "Man, it's good to see a familiar face." He wheeled himself closer to the bed. "How's the Youth Centre going?"
"Fine," Ernie told him. He hesitated, then, the smile fading from his face. "This is so hard to believe...."
Jason sighed. "I know. Don't worry if you feel a bit freaked out. I think it's normal."
Ernie shook his head. "No... I just can't believe how different you look. It isn't just the wheelchair, either."
Jason slumped back. "Yeah, well, some pretty awful things happened."
After a moment, Ernie looked over to Donavon. "It's good to see you again, too, Mr Scott."
Donavon smiled. "Same, Ernie."
"Did Kim give you the article?" Jason asked quietly, and Ernie looked queasy.
"Yeah, she did. Jason, I don't think I can...."
Jason nodded. "It's okay. I thought later that it was stupid thing to do. Just do me a favour and hold on to it until I get out of here?"
"Sure. When will that be?"
"As soon as he starts using the leg braces," Donavon interrupted firmly.
Jason moaned softly. "I get no peace!"
"I thought you were supposed to start learning to use them a week ago?" Zack asked.
Jason stared intently at the floor. "I was. I guess I'm not half as brave as I wanted to believe."
Trini went over and slipped her arms around his shoulders. "It's okay to be scared, Jason. You know that as well as we do. You were always telling us that..." She glanced briefly at Ernie. "... Before."
"It's the pain," Jason admitted. "I know it's gonna hurt. It hurts like hell just doing the regular physio stuff, and I haven't even tried to stand up yet." He sighed miserably. "Six months of hell, and even when that's over, I still can't get away from the pain."
Silence reigned for a moment; none of them could reply to that. Finally, Ernie spoke tentatively.
"Would you all mind if I had a few minutes alone with Jason?"
Donavon shook his head. "Of course not. C'mon, kids."
They all filed out, leaving Ernie and Jason alone.
"What is it?" Jason asked nervously when Ernie turned back to him.
"I just wanted to remind you of something. You remember years ago, when you were eleven? Just after you'd scored your brown belt."
Jason frowned. "I think so... What about it?"
"There were some older boys in your class that weren't too impressed. You got your brown belt ahead of them, and they were pretty angry about it."
Jason nodded slowly. "Yeah.... Yeah, I remember now. The oldest one, Kirk... He was seventeen... He said that he'd show me that he was better than me. I didn't pay any attention to him... I just forgot about it."
Ernie looked grim. "But Kirk didn't. I remember it really well. You kids had your next class in the Youth Centre, because your school was undergoing renovations. Your teacher assigned you to spar with Kirk."
Jason looked sick as he fully remembered the incident. "Kirk didn't wait until I was ready. He just attacked...."
"And broke your right arm in three places. You were in plaster for ten weeks."
"The doctor told me the break was so bad that I'd have to give up karate," Jason murmured. "That my arm would never be strong enough to take the physical stress."
Ernie nodded. "That's right. You came into the Youth Centre some time after getting out of hospital, in tears, and we had a little talk then. I don't have to remind you, do I?"
Jason swallowed hard. "I didn't let it stop me, then... I shouldn't let it now."
"Right," Ernie confirmed quietly. "This is a bigger challenge, but in a way it's the same. Don't let it stop you. You'll really be letting yourself down badly if you do."
A tired smile flickered across Jason's lips. "You know, you're about the fifth person to give me a pep talk like that?"
Ernie reddened a little. "Sorry...."
"No," Jason said. "It's okay. Really... I think I need the constant heckling."
"Well," Ernie said with a grin, "I can come in on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays...."
Jason burst into laughter, unable to help it. When he finally stopped laughing, he smiled up at Ernie, not even bothering to wipe away the tears. "Thanks, Ernie. You've got no idea how hard it is to get a laugh in this place."
"I think I might," Ernie said, returning the smile. "I'd better get going now, but I'll come by tomorrow, if you want."
"That'd be great," Jason agreed. "Thanks."
The others came back in, then, and stayed until the end of visiting hours, and then some until the duty nurse ordered them out.
"I'm glad Ernie came with us," Zack said softly. "He really cheered Jase up a lot."
"Listen," Trini said quietly, "Jason said that he's going to try standing up tomorrow during physio. I think we really need to be there for him."
"You're right," Billy agreed. "It may be less intimidating for him if he has extra support."
"Tanya might be there," Kim pointed out. "Adam, too. You know Tanya's been coming to help him with the physio."
"That shouldn't stop us," Zack growled. "Jason's been trying to make his peace with them, maybe we should start as well."
Silence reigned amongst the four friends as they stared at one another. Finally, Billy nodded. "It's a good place to begin."
"Okay," Trini murmured. "We'll do it, then. Step by step."
Kim nodded her consent, echoing Trini's words. "Step by step."
Jason slept soundly, stirring only occasionally in his hospital bed. His grandmother sat in a chair in the corner of the room, reading a book by lamp light. A nurse had been in just a few minutes earlier to check on Jason, and had left without waking him, something for which Catherine was grateful. Jason was having enough difficulty getting a decent night's sleep without being woken by the nurses.
Her train of thought ended abruptly, though, when Jason began to twist in the bed, moaning faintly in distress. Before Catherine even had a chance to get up and go to him, though, he jerked violently awake, panicked and distressed. Catherine rose out of the chair, then, and went to his side.
"It's all right, sweetheart," she murmured, squeezing his hand reassuringly. "It was just a nightmare. Relax...."
Jason groaned and collapsed back against the pillows. Catherine hesitated, then spoke again when Jason didn't.
"Can you tell me what it was about?"
Jason grimaced. "It wasn't about him, for once." He sighed. "It... I think it was about tomorrow."
"The physio?" Catherine guessed, and Jason nodded, fear lighting up in his eyes.
"Yeah. The physio."
"You aren't going to back down, are you?" she asked in concern.
Jason shrugged a little. "I don't know. I want to... I know it's being cowardly, but I can't help it!"
She reached out to lightly stroke his forehead. "I know, honey. Your friends will all be there to help you, though, and so will your parents and I."
Jason fell silent, chewing lightly on his lower lip. The physio was not the only thing playing on his mind. "I... I sort of wish Tommy was going to be there."
Catherine blinked, startled. She had never met Tommy herself, but all that she'd heard from Jason in the past months had not been good. "I know you want him to see, Jason, but I don't think...."
"No," Jason whispered. "Not for that. I wish he could be there, because he was always there for me before.... When I needed help, or anything like that... He always helped me when he could. It was only just before what happened with Mum and Dad and... him... It was only then that things really went downhill."
Catherine sat down carefully on the edge of the bed. "You haven't really given a favourable picture of Tommy over the past several months, you know."
Jason sighed heavily. "I know... and I'm still angry. That hasn't changed. But sometimes, in the past, I got help and support from Tommy when I couldn't get it from anyone else. I haven't forgotten all the times he helped me out.... I suppose I sound hypocritical."
"No, honey, you just sound like someone who's very confused."
"I am," Jason confessed softly. "I'm angry at Tommy... But I really miss him, too. Maybe... if I just knew his reasons for doing what he did... Maybe that would help."
Catherine nodded slowly. "It might. But the question is, would you believe his reasoning?"
Jason sighed again, and looked away miserably. "That would depend on what his reasons were."
"Do you think," Catherine asked quietly, "that perhaps it's time to talk to Tommy?"
A long moment of silence followed, and then Jason nodded. "Maybe. Not tomorrow, though. Tomorrow's gonna be a bad day."
Catherine lightly brushed her fingertips over his forehead. "Only if you let it be."
Jason looked back to his legs, feeling the depression start to snap at him again. He had to take his mind off it, somehow. Suddenly, something occurred to Jason, and he looked back to his grandmother, the confusion clear in his eyes. "Grandma, I can only remember him... You know, my real father...."
Catherine watched him in concern. "What do you mean, Jason?"
"Well, I had to have a mother.... What happened to her? Is... Is she dead?"
Catherine shut her eyes, fighting the tears that suddenly threatened. "Oh, sweetheart... I was hoping you'd never think to ask."
Jason swallowed hard, feeling his stomach start to knot up. "What is it?"
She stopped, then, looking into her grandson's stricken expression. She paused, torn over what to tell him, then finally spoke quietly. "Your mother... Your real mother... I'm afraid she's dead, honey. She was killed in a car accident not long after your fourth birthday."
Jason slumped back against the pillows. "Oh."
Silence reigned for a long while, and then he asked the inevitable question.
"What was she like?"
Catherine hesitated a moment before answering. "She was a very gentle lady... Very beautiful. She had a way of laughing, that when she laughed, you had to laugh as well. And her smile.... She could light up a room when she smiled. Just like you."
Jason reddened slightly, and Catherine favoured him with a warm smile before going on quietly. "She really loved you very much, Jason."
"Really?" he asked hopefully.
Catherine smiled reassuringly at him, but couldn't quite bring herself to speak.
"That's nice to know," he murmured. "I wish I could remember her."
Catherine leaned over to kiss him gently on the forehead. "Maybe you will, in your dreams."
Sighing a little, Jason shut his eyes and was soon asleep. Catherine stayed by his side for a few minutes before leaving the room in heavy silence. She came out to find Donavon waiting there.
"Is he asleep?"
She nodded. "He is now. How long have you been out here?"
"Five or so minutes. What you told him.... About his real mother...."
She spared him a pained look. "One part was true."
"That she's dead. She was killed in a car accident after his fourth birthday, but it was a blessing, not a tragedy."
Donavon's forehead creased with a frown, and Catherine explained softly, moving carefully away from the door of the hospital room.
"Alison was an abusive little witch, and that's the nicest way of saying it. She treated Jason worse than Daniel did. She never wanted a child, and only saw the pregnancy through because Daniel was determined to have a son. She hated Jason, never had a single spot of warmth for him in her entire body. I was glad when she died. After that, Jason only had one parent to be frightened of." She sighed and shook her head. "Maybe I should have told Jason the truth, but I just couldn't do it. I'm sorry, Donavon."
"It's all right," he said softly. "Jason's been through enough. We'll keep it between us; he doesn't ever have to know that truth."
He hesitated, then motioned down the corridor. "C'mon, I'll buy you a coffee."
Catherine smiled gratefully, and the two headed off down the corridor.
* * *
In the dark hospital room, tears glistened like jewels as they trickled slowly down Jason's cheeks. Only half asleep, he'd heard every word his grandmother had said, and it pierced him right through his heart. Shutting his eyes tightly, he cried himself to sleep.
The next day....
Tanya was already there when Zack, Kim, Billy and Trini arrived. The four teens faltered in the doorway, looking uncertain, until Jason saw them and waved them in.
"Hey," he said, offering them a weak smile.
Billy approached first, venturing a tentative smile of greeting in Tanya's direction. "Is everything set?"
Jason nodded, and it was clear that he was struggling to stay calm. "Sure. As long as no one shows up with a video camera."
Before anyone had the chance to comment, Tanya let out a sound of frustration. "Damn. Does that mean I have to cancel the interview with Letterman?"
While the others looked shocked, Jason snickered, then laughed. "Funny, Tanya."
She grinned as she crouched beside the wheelchair. "Now, what would you do if I was serious?"
"You don't want to know," Jason threatened lightly.
Zack glanced at the girls, then ventured forward. "Did we miss something here...?"
"Tanya's been coming in to help me during the physio," Jason said pointedly. "I told you, remember...?"
Zack reddened slightly. "Oh..." He forced himself to look straight at the girl. "Look... We're sorry about school the other day... It's just that...."
"Don't explain," Tanya said quietly. "I understand."
"You guys can go bite each others' heads off later if you want to," Jason told them as Matt strode into the room, "but not now."
While Zack, Trini and Kimberly stood back nervously, Billy and Tanya stood on either side of Jason, waiting patiently for Matt to start things off. Matt offered the teens an encouraging smile, then crouched down in front of Jason.
"Okay, we're going to start off with the regular exercises. Just simple stuff to start with. I won't throw you in head-first, okay?"
Jason nodded. He was used to this by now, and the pain of the exercises was not too severe. Matt took a careful hold of Jason's left leg and began to work it slowly up and down, trying to loosen the limb up. Pain registered on Jason's face, and his grip on the arms of the wheelchair got noticeably tighter. Tanya reacted immediately to the pain Jason was suffering.
"Did I tell you about the one with the chicken and the giraffe?"
The look of pain faded to be replaced with a grimace. "Yeah, and if you tell it again, I'm gonna throw you out."
"You and what army?" Tanya teased.
Jason looked around pleadingly. "Billy? Don't let her tell it again. Please!"
Billy had to grin. "Isn't that one of Rocky's old jokes?"
"Yeah," Tanya replied. "It worked last week...."
"Because you waited so long that I would have laughed at anything!" Jason retorted. "If you're gonna tell jokes, at least get some decent ones! Okay?"
A few metres back, Kim, Zack and Trini exchanged grim looks. "C'mon," Trini said quietly to Kim. "We've done this before."
Kim looked sick. "Yeah, but never with a friend...."
Zack reached out and, very gently, took Kim's hand in his own. "C'mon. Jason needs us." They moved forward, gathering around the wheelchair while Matt worked on Jason's legs.
"Hey, Jase," Zack said enthusiastically, "I got Kirk and T.J.'s address finally. You want it?"
Jason's face lit up. "Really? Great! Yeah, write it out for me and leave it in the top drawer in my room. I'll write to them as soon as I can."
"Who are Kirk and T.J.?" Tanya asked, half out of curiosity and half out of wanting to keep Jason distracted. Jason smiled a little. "Kirk was my roommate at the Geneva Conference, and T.J. is his twin brother. We became pretty good friends, but I left the conference so abruptly that I forgot to get their address. I wrote a letter to Zack a while ago, telling him to get their address for me. We were both into karate, and all that, so we got along really well. He said his family were planning to come to the US for a holiday after Kirk and T.J. finished at the conference Man, I hope I didn't miss them."
"I don't think you did," Zack replied. "Kirk said he and T.J. had to finish the year at their boarding school before they could come here. I don't think they have finished, yet."
Jason nodded. "That's good."
Trini spoke, then, confusion in her eyes. "Jason, where are your parents? I thought they would have been here...."
"That was my order," Matt said. "Using the leg braces for the first time is a very hard thing to cope with. It's better if parents aren't here for the first time."
The teen exchanged worried looks. They didn't have to be geniuses to understand what Matt was getting at. Matt stood up and went to collect something. He came back with a pair of shiny metal leg braces in one hand, and a walking frame in the other.
Jason faltered, paling considerably as he stared at the braces. "I...." He looked around, in a sudden, near panic, as though looking for an escape route.
Matt watched the teen calmly. "We talked about it yesterday, Jason. We both agreed it's time to get you back on your feet."
"But..." Jason trailed off, wanting to protest but unable to think of a decent argument. Then, finally, his gaze fell on his legs, and a fear that had haunted his subconscious for weeks suddenly roared to the surface. "What if they get broken again?"
Matt stopped, then. Here was a legitimate fear that had to be confronted and dismissed before they could hope to get Jason into the leg braces. "That won't happen, Jason, and I can give you a dozen reasons why."
"How about just one really good one?" Jason stammered.
Matt looked Jason straight in the eye, not even allowing himself to blink. "Because I won't let it happen."
Silence reigned for nearly a minute as Matt and Jason stared at each other. Finally, Jason broke the contact and looked away. Although he was still frightened, he found he had to believe Matt. If he didn't, he realised dimly, he would never find the courage to walk again. "Okay. I'm ready."
Matt nodded, and crouched down, carefully putting the leg braces on Jason’s legs. "All right, these are going to feel really strange at first, but you'll get used to it." He flicked the last latch, then rocked back a little. "How do they feel?"
"Heavy," Jason muttered.
"Well, unfortunately they need a little bit of weight, or you'd go over like a top. Now, I'm going to put your feet on the floor, very gently."
Jason waited, his heart beating hard in his chest as Matt pushed back the foot rests and carefully placed his feet flat on the wooden floor, then got up and put the walking frame in front of Jason.
"Okay, Jason. This is it, now. I'm going to take your arms, and pull you up on the count of three. Ready?"
Tears filled Jason's eyes, but he didn't shirk. "Ready," he said in a small voice.
Matt nodded, then leaned over to grasp Jason's arms in a strong grip. "Okay. One... Two... Three!"
Matt gave a single, firm pull and suddenly Jason found himself on his feet. For a brief second, there was nothing, but then, a fiery pain raced up Jason's legs, and he gave a choked sob.
"Hold on to the walking frame," Matt told him, and guided Jason's hand to the metal frame. "Support yourself on it. That's what it's there for, don't be afraid to use it."
Jason locked on to the walking frame with a vice-like grip, trying desperately to alleviate some of the pressure from his legs. "It hurts!" he cried out in distress. Matt nodded.
"I know it hurts, but you're doing great, Jason. Just hold on, kid."
"I want to sit down," Jason sobbed.
Matt moved around, placing himself between Jason and the wheelchair. "Jason, I want you to take just two steps. That’s all. Can you do that?"
"No!" Jason screamed.
"C'mon, Jason," Tanya joined in anxiously. "Two steps, one for each leg. Please, you're already standing!"
Trini joined Tanya. "You can do it, Jason. I know you can."
Billy was there, as well. "Two steps are two steps towards walking again, Jason. Just try...."
Jason looked down, struggling to keep his breathing even. The pain was burning through his legs, and even leaning heavily on the walking frame did little to ease it. If it hurt so much to just stand, it terrified him to think of how badly it would hurt to take even just a couple of steps.
Kim came forward, then, motioning the others back. She moved up to stand right in front of the former Gold Ranger. "Jason? Look at me."
He looked up finally, tears trickling down his cheeks. Kim faltered for just a second; seeing Jason in tears was an extremely unnerving thing. She gathered her wits, and spoke in an unusually harsh voice.
"C’mon, Jason, quit being such a damned baby. All you have to do is put one foot in front of the other! How hard is that?"
"Kim...." Trini whispered in horror. Kim ignored her, and had to struggle not to cry at the hurt expression in Jason's eyes.
"Look, you're already on your feet. You're not going to be a quitter are you?"
Tears flooded Jason's eyes, mixed with a flash of anger. "How can you say that?" he choked out.
Kim took a cautious step back. "Well, it's true, isn't it? No wonder Emily broke up with you, if you acted like this with her."
The anger shone through again and Jason unwittingly took a shuffling step towards Kim. She moved back once more, watching anxiously. She hated herself for what she was doing, but it was all she could think of.
"Is this what you're really like, is it, Jason? A sniveling little baby who can't do anything on his own? All that tough guy image was just that, wasn't it? An image. All a big show for the girls who were too stupid to know better."
Jason clenched his jaw tightly, and shuffled forward, anger burning in his eyes at Kim's callous words. Two, three, four, five steps... Each and every step he took was like fire and needles all through his legs, so much so that it nearly engulfed his mind.
Finally, though, as he was struggling to take a sixth step, the pain became too much, and he gave another choked sob. "I... I can't..."
Matt grabbed the wheelchair, and brought it over, helping Jason to sit back down. "It's okay, Jason. You did fantastic!"
Kim hurried back to Jason's side, starting to cry herself. "Jason, I'm sorry! I... I just didn't know how else to get you to move!"
She grasped his hand, and he returned the gesture, too shaken to speak.
Trini leaned over and hugged him tightly. "You did really, really well, Jason. You're going to be walking again in no time."
Matt carefully removed the leg braces, and gently massaged Jason's legs. "I'm sure of that, too. That was a really great effort, and I'm proud of you, Jason."
Jason shuddered, wiping away the tears that rolled down his cheeks. "Can I go back to my room now?"
Matt nodded. "Yes. If you feel like it later on, I'll fight it out with the doctors to let you outside for a while. You deserve it, after that effort." He stood up. "You can go back to your room now, though."
Jason sniffed miserably. "Thank you."
A short while later, rehab wing
"Will he be okay?" Zack asked in a whisper as the teens stood just outside the room. After being returned to his bed, Jason had fallen into an unbreakable silence, refusing to acknowledge anyone at all.
Tanya nodded. "Eventually. Give him a few hours. He always gets like this after the physiotherapy. I think shutting everything out like that is his only way of coping. Either that, or he'd
end up taking it out on everyone."
Kim leaned back, against the wall. "I never saw anything like that before. Not even when we worked here three years ago. God, how can Jason handle it?"
"With a lot of courage," Billy said softly, "and a lot of anger." He looked at Trini, Kim and Zack. "I already told you that Jason admitted to me that he hated himself."
"In a few more words than that," Zack agreed, "but, yeah."
"I think that as long as he holds on to that anger, he'll find the strength to get through this."
"That's not a healthy way to do it, Billy," Trini pointed out.
"Maybe not, but right now for Jason, it's the only way. We can't begin to imagine the pain he must constantly be suffering. To simply say to him, 'We know you can do it', and then expect him to be able to do it is extremely insensitive of us. We have to bear with Jason, just for the time being. When he's doing better, then we can try and get him to resolve all of his anger. Not before."
"You should be a shrink," Zack said, half-jokingly.
Billy managed a crooked smile. "I've had plenty of practise in analyzing." He glanced at the clock. "You'll have to excuse me, now. I have to go."
Bidding them goodbye, Billy hurried off down the corridor. Tanya soon followed, and then Trini and Kim left as well.
Zack waited until the girls had disappeared from sight around the corner before wandering back into Jason's room to wait for the Scotts return. He expected to find Jason half-buried under the blankets, and was surprised to find him sitting up, writing slowly on a piece of paper. "What are you doing?" Zack asked, not really expecting an answer. For a long moment, he didn't think he was going to get one, but then Jason spoke.
"Writing a letter."
"Yeah?" Zack edged closer. "To Kirk?"
Jason paused, not taking his eyes off the paper. "To Tommy."
Zack froze. "Tommy?"
The former Gold Ranger began to write again, slowly, methodically, as though thinking about each and every word he wrote. "I need to see him, Zack. I want him to know."
"Are you sure that's a good idea?"
"I don't know. I can't wait any longer, though. I don't want a confrontation in front of a lot of people. That's what would happen if I wait until I go back to school. If I'm gonna go ballistic at him... I want it to be here, where not too many people will see."
"You want me to tell him?"
"No. Just give him this letter. It'll tell him enough to bring him here."
"Whatever you say, bro."
Silence fell, and then Jason spoke again, tears trickling slowly down his cheeks as he wrote. "He said we'd always be friends, Zack. After Trey took the Gold powers back, he told me we'd always be friends. Then, he turned his back on me. I never did that to him!"
"I know," Zack murmured, not knowing what else he could possibly say.
Trembling a little, Jason finally finished writing, and carefully folded the letter in half. "Put this in an envelope," he said in a soft, strained voice. "Give it to Tommy in a couple of days time. Let me know when you give it to him."
Zack took the letter, curious to know what was in it, but not daring to break Jason's trust and read it. "Sure thing, Jase. How.... How are you feeling?"
"Do you really want to know?"
"That bad, huh?"
Jason didn't reply, but slid down in the bed, crying silent tears of pain and grief. Zack leant carefully against the bed. "Now that you've walked a few steps... Do you think you might be able to go home soon?"
Jason shrugged. "Maybe. Matthew said I had to be able to walk at least one length of the gym before I could go home. So he'd be sure I wouldn't spend all my time in a wheelchair. When I do go home, though, I'll still have to come back here every day for physio."
"Every day, huh? Man, that sucks."
"I guess they figured I wouldn't go all out if I did the exercises by myself at home. I can't fight Matthew. I've already tried, and he just waits till I run out of steam."
Zack looked across at the wheelchair that sat in the corner. "You'll still be using that thing a lot, won't you? I mean, to get around school, and stuff like that."
"Not if I can help it," Jason growled. "I'll use it around home, and if we go out anywhere, but I really want to be on my feet when I get back to school. That'll at least leave me with some dignity. Dad doesn't think I'll be able to do it, but I'm going to try."
Zack had to smile. That was the spirit of the old Red Ranger shining through. He hesitated,
thinking about Billy's earlier words, then spoke quietly, carefully. "I believe you can do it, Jase. And I'm with you all the way, no matter what. You know I am."
Jason smiled, then, as well, and he reached out to grasp Zack's hand in his own. "Thanks, Zack. That means a lot to me."
"Any time, bro," Zack murmured.
Angel Grove Youth Centre, two days later
Tommy collected his Coke at the counter from Ernie, and found a table hidden away in a dark corner. The strange behaviour of the old rangers, and Tanya and Adam into the bargain, was starting to take its toll on him. Kim's sudden, apparent hatred of him… The inexplicable coldness of Trini, Zack and Billy.... Billy, especially, who had been such a good friend for so long, and Tanya and Adam's evasive attitude.
Those two knew what was going on with the others, Tommy thought angrily, and they were flatly refusing to tell him. If they didn't come clean soon, he would have to talk to Zordon about them....
He looked up to see Kat standing there, worry etched onto her face. Tommy bit down lightly on the inside of his cheek. The mood he was in right then was anything but good, and he especially did not feel as though he could handle Kat's company.
"What is it, Katherine?"
She blinked in surprise. The last time he'd called her Katherine had been just after her turn from evil, when things had still been very edgy between her and the rest of the team. "I... I just wanted to ask if you wanted to join us. Tommy, what's wrong? I haven't seen you this tense for a long time!"
Tommy glowered into his drink. "I just want some time to myself. Is that too much to ask?"
Kat backed away, hurt by his harsh reply. "We'll be over there if you feel like joining us," she stammered, and hurried away before he could say anything more.
Tommy watched her go out of the corner of his eye. He knew he'd been unnecessarily cold to her, but she should have known better than to approach him when he was in such a foul mood. He finished his soda and was about to go and get another when a shadow fell across the table one more time. He looked up, ready to tell the intruding person to get lost, only to bite back a harsh remark when he saw who it was.
"Hey, Tommy," Zack said quietly.
Tommy stared at his old friend for a while before speaking. "You finally decided to stop being stupid, and talk to me, huh?"
Zack looked disgusted. "Were you always that arrogant, or is it something that developed recently?"
Tommy looked away. "My apologies," he muttered sarcastically. "I'm just getting sick of everyone keeping me in the dark. I don't suppose you could explain why Kim doesn't want anything to do with me?"
"Actually," Zack replied, "I can tell you the reason exactly. It's not my place to tell you, though."
"Funny," Tommy growled. "That's what Adam and Tanya said."
Zack ignored the remark, and pulled an unmarked envelope out of his pocket. "A certain person asked me to give you this."
"What is it?" Tommy asked, regarding the envelope suspiciously.
"You'll have to read it to find out. I don't know what he wrote."
"Just read it, Tommy."
Tommy watched wordlessly as Zack got up and strode away to the other side of the Youth Centre, then turned his attention back to the envelope. Frowning a little to himself, he tore it open, pulled out the single sheet enclosed within, and began to read.
Trust and truth are funny things;
Everyone wants them but no one will give them,
We want others to trust us when we can’t trust ourselves.
Friendship comes forged in trust and truth,
Based on suspicion that no one means what they say.
We hold high standards in trust and truth
For ourselves and each other,
Easily torn down, so hard to regain,
Where do we stand when we lose it?
We want truth, yet we can’t give it, or won’t.
When we do it’s too easy to lose it.
Tommy felt his heart skip a beat. He knew this handwriting. It was handwriting he hadn't seen for nearly ten months.... His heart pounding hard in his chest, Tommy read on in tense silence.
Trust is about being able to turn away from a friend
And knowing they’ll still be there when you look back.
Trust is accepting the offer of friendship and love.
Truth is inherent in trust;
Lies destroy trust, and crush hope and faith.
Honesty is truth is trust is friendship is love.
Love is being there for a friend in need,
No matter how small or big their problem.
Trust and truth are forever entangled.
Break one and you shatter the other,
And sometimes the pieces can never all be recovered.
Yet a spark is all that’s needed to activate or renew.
Trust and truth are funny things.
Tommy shut his eyes for a long moment as the poem finally rang a familiar chord in his confused mind. Nearly three years ago, not long after he'd first come to Angel Grove, he and Jason had decided to work together on a special project for Literature. It had been just after his turn from evil, and he’d still been having trouble accepting the friendship of Jason and the others, and didn’t quite trust them as much as he wanted to.
After a great deal of searching, they had finally come across this poem on the Internet, almost by accident. Jason had been the one to find it, and they had spent the next few hours pouring over it, memorising it not only for class, but also as a sign of what they understood their friendship to be, and how it had come to be.
He had gone back to this poem when Jason had left Angel Grove for Geneva, and then again when he had been taken away by his real father. Only one person knew the significance the poem held for him, and that was Jason.
He looked to the bottom of the sheet, and felt light-headed when he saw the address at the bottom.
Room 23, Carrington Rehabilitation Wing,
Angel Grove Memorial Hospital.
Tommy refolded the paper and slid it back into the envelope. Please God let it be someone's idea of a sick joke
He looked around for Zack, but the former Black Ranger seemed to have gone. Grabbing his coat,
he shoved the envelope into his pocket, and hurried from the Youth Centre.
Zack waited silently in the shadows until Tommy had gone, then lifted his communicator to his
lips and spoke only four words.
"He's on his way."
Then, glancing quickly around, he followed the Red Ranger from the Centre.
Tommy slowed to a halt just near the entrance to the hospital, regarding the place with sudden fear. Surely Jason could not be in there.... That was impossible! his mind screamed at him. He had no other explanation for the poem, though, and he knew he would not be able to rest until he knew for certain, one way or the other.
Gritting his teeth, he hurried up the steps, and into the hospital.
"Are you sure about this?"
Jason nodded silently as he watched Tommy stride up the steps and disappear from sight into the hospital. "I'm sure. It's too late now, anyway."
Trini put a hand lightly on his shoulder. "It's never too late. Just say so, and we'll turn him away."
Jason sighed. "And let myself just go on hating him? That poem applies as much to me as it does to him. Anyway I have to face him some time." He looked around. "Dad?"
Donavon stepped forward. "What is it, son?"
"Could you put me back in bed?"
He nodded and, with disturbingly little effort, lifted Jason out of the wheelchair with extreme care, and placed him back in the bed.
"Do you want them up?" he asked, motioning to the slings.
Jason shook his head. "No. Not just yet." He pulled the blankets up carefully to cover his legs. "You guys had better go. I want to see Tommy alone."
"We won't be far away," Donavon promised him. "If you need us...."
Jason smiled faintly and nodded. "I'll howl." The others all smiled, and headed out of the room. Jason watched them go, then lay back on the soft pillows and waited.
Tommy made his way slowly, nervously, along the corridor of the rehab wing. _Room 23,_ he thought, taking note of each room number that he passed.
Room 16.... 18.... 20.... 22....
He stopped, and looked around. Room 23 was almost directly across from him, the door half open. He remained frozen, knowing he had to go in there, but frightened of what or who he would find. Then, somewhere deep inside his mind, a little voice still insisted that it was simply a joke, and he had nothing to worry about. Clinging to that irrational voice, Tommy went into the room.
Jason heard the footsteps outside the room, first approach, pause, then come closer. The door swung open silently, and Jason looked around to see Tommy come into the room. For just an instant, Jason felt a rush of anger that was nearly uncontrollable. Tommy looked healthier and fitter than Jason remembered; tall, strong and well-muscled. He'd certainly prospered physically over the last ten or so months, Jason noted bitterly.
Tommy had stopped in the doorway, staring at Jason with a look on his face that suggested complete disbelief. Jason returned the Red Ranger's stare, and for a long while, neither boy spoke, caught in a tense stalemate. Finally, Jason felt he'd gained enough emotional control to risk speaking.
"Long time no see."
Tommy winced visibly. There was no hint of pleasure in Jason's voice, no friendliness at all. He glanced down at the letter that he held crushed in his hand. "It was you."
"Who else did you think it was?" Jason asked softly.
Tommy shrugged once. "I... I don't know." He hesitated, then ventured further into the room. "I really don't know what to say," he admitted. "I mean, I didn't...."
"Expect to see me again?" Jason suggested coldly. "Surprise. Of course, you don't have to worry. You're not in danger of losing your titles to me."
Tommy had almost reached the side of the bed. "Jase, I don't understand...."
"No, I know you don't," Jason conceded. "Firstly, don't call me Jase. My friends call me that, and you're not one of them."
Hurt filled Tommy's chocolate brown eyes. "What is going on here? I don't understand any of it!"
A moment passed, and then Jason's icy expression seemed to soften just a little. "It started that morning, Tommy. That morning that you and the other rangers came for me and Mum and Dad in that motel room. That's where it began. That was your first big mistake."
"Mistake?" Tommy echoed. "How can you say that? We were just doing our job...."
"No!" Jason exploded. "No, you were not just doing your job! Your job was to protect Angel Grove from Mondo and his monsters! Not tracking down individuals for the police! It wasn't your job, and don't you dare say it was!"
Tommy fell back a step from the bed, stung by the anger in Jason's outburst. Jason went on before Tommy could recover from the shock.
"Your second mistake was when you refused to listen to me. I tried to tell you, and you just ignored me."
"Tried to tell me what?"
"That Mum and Dad had taken me in the first place for a reason, and it wasn't because they wanted a kid of their own. They'd told me the whole truth the night before, and when I tried to explain it to you, you wouldn't listen to me."
"Okay," Tommy said tensely. "So explain it to me now, then."
"Now?" Jason spat out in disgust. "Why the hell should I explain anything to you now? Everything's done! Geez, Tommy...."
Tommy gritted his teeth in determination, and tried again. "Why did they take you, Jason? Tell
Jason slumped back in the bed, too tired, and in too much pain to put up any real fight. "Because my real father had been physically and sexually abusing me, and because he was a police officer, no one believed them."
Tommy stood frozen. "Abuse?" he echoed softly.
"Yes. And you know something else? He started abusing me again the same day that you handed me over to him."
Tommy didn't move, didn't speak. He stood frozen, his throat constricting painfully. Jason looked back at him, his brown eyes revealing nothing of what he was feeling.
"You didn't stop to think about what your interference would cost me, Tommy. You screwed up my whole fucking life!"
Tommy glanced around, then sank into the nearest chair, too much in shock to remain on his feet. "Jase... I mean, Jason, we didn't mean to...."
"Yeah," Jason interrupted angrily. "You didn't mean to do anything. Sure. That is such bullshit, Tommy! You know what kept me going all those months? Every time that bastard beat the crap out of me? Thinking how much I hated you. That's the only thing that kept me going, Tommy. Hating you for what you did to me."
"But I didn't know!" Tommy exploded, tears filling his dark eyes and making their way down his cheeks. "How did I know any of that would happen? You can't blame me for something that I didn't know anything about!"
Jason's hands curled into fists, snagging up handfuls of bed sheets at the same time. "You would have known if you'd waited long enough to hear me out. But you didn't wait. You just said the wrong had to be righted, then you took me back and let me watch your dad arrest my folks. Then, you handed me over to him! You can't possibly know how much I hated you for that."
Tommy got to his feet finally, nearly blinded by his tears. "You can't put all that on me! You can't hold me responsible! So I made a mistake! I made mistakes before, and you never held them against me. Even after that time I tried to kill you! But everything's okay, now, so why can't you just let it go? You're back with the Scotts, aren't you? Why can't you forget it?"
Jason lay still and silent for a long moment, his silence the only way of controlling his inner anger and hatred. For nearly a minute, he kept silent, and Tommy thought he wouldn't get any answer at all. Then, finally, Jason spoke, staring straight up at the white-washed ceiling. "Aren't you even wondering why I'm in the rehab centre? Has the thought crossed your mind at all?"
Tommy fought to breathe evenly. That was something he wasn't sure he wanted the answer to. "I don't know. I guess the hospital's full."
Jason's jaw tightened. "I never really took any notice before but you can be really, really dumb a lot of the time, Tommy."
The remark stung Tommy, and it showed. Jason went on, taking no obvious pleasure in the insult he'd just delivered.
"They don't put you in the rehab centre just because of a shortage of beds. And since when has Angel Grove Memorial ever been short of beds? No, they put you here when you need to be rehabilitated. Physically rehabilitated. I need physical rehabilitation. Come closer, Tommy. I've got something to show you."
Tommy drew closer, fighting the panic. Jason waited until he was close enough, then yanked back the blankets to reveal his slowly mending legs. Tommy's eyes went wide with shock and horror.
"Oh god..." he moaned, suddenly feeling nauseous.
Jason watched Tommy's reaction carefully. "Like what my dear dad did to me, Tommy? He backed his car over me three times. Didn't even stop when I started screaming. I think he enjoyed it. I've been in hospital for so long now that I can't remember how long it's really been. I've had six operations on my legs. I'll probably need at least one more. I walked for the first time yesterday in months. Do you know what it's like to have to learn to walk all over again, Tommy? It's a hell of a lot harder than earning a black belt in karate. Especially when every step you take makes your legs feel like they're on fire."
"Stop," Tommy moaned, one hand coming up to cover his mouth. "Please...."
Jason fell silent for a moment before going on. "I hate this, Tommy. All of it. I've never been so confused as I am right now. I don't want to hate you... or be angry at you... but I can't stop myself from feeling that way."
Tommy tried to swallow, only to discover his mouth and throat were painfully dry. His gaze fell on the water jug that sat on the dresser. "Could I...?"
Jason looked over at it, then nodded. "Yeah."
Tommy poured a glass of a water, and drank half in one hit. "I don't know what to say, Jason," he said softly. "I really don't. I... I'm sorry...."
"So am I," Jason whispered.
"Adam and Tanya knew about this already, didn't they?"
"Tanya knew. My physiotherapist called her in to help out during the physio sessions. She told Adam, when I said she could. I wouldn't let her tell you."
"Because I wasn't ready to see you. I wasn't really ready today, but I couldn't put it off any longer."
Tommy was silent for a long moment, trying to get his scattered thoughts in order. "We didn't want you to get hurt, Jason. Not physically, or in any other way. We thought we were doing the right thing. What if the police had found you? Mr and Mrs Scott might have been hurt."
"Grandma said you might have looked at it in that light," Jason conceded. "I thought about it, but I couldn't accept it after a while. It just didn't seem right." He turned a hard stare on the Red Ranger. "I want to know why you turned on me, Tommy. Tell me that."
Tommy had turned a pale shade of green by then. "I don't understand."
"I'm not just talking about the business with my real father now," Jason said tightly. "I mean all together. How come you gave me the boot? I never did that to you after you lost the Green powers."
"But I didn't!" Tommy protested helplessly.
Jason hesitated, then shifted his position slightly in the bed. "Put yourself in my shoes, Tommy. It shouldn't be too hard for you. I'd just lost the Gold Ranger powers, and you came along and put on the spiel about always being friends. When I thought back on it, you made it sound like I was leaving the country." Jason paused, grimacing. "Maybe I should have. Anyway, the next day when I saw you at school, you were suddenly too busy to talk to me."
"Hey, don't put that on me," Tommy growled. "There was an attack, we had a job to do."
Jason returned Tommy's protest with a flat stare. "You'd just beaten Mondo face-to-face. Rita and Zedd did a disappearing act. Nothing happened after that for three weeks. What you were too busy doing was making up excuses to avoid me because I wasn't a ranger anymore."
Tommy faltered, reddening slightly as he recalled the day more accurately. Jason nodded and went on, satisfied that Tommy's sketchy memory had been sufficiently jogged. "For the next two months, the only time I saw you and the others was during class or briefly at the Youth Centre. Every time I came near you, you turned tail and ran. I gave up after a while."
"We still did stuff with you!" Tommy argued. "We went to the movies, and stuff like that. Hell, we went to the movies together the day that your real father showed up in Angel Grove! No one bullied us into that, Jason." Tommy hesitated as a thought occurred to him. "Maybe it wasn't us at all. Did you think about that? Maybe you were just feeling jealous because you weren't the centre of attention anymore."
"Jealous?" Jason choked out in disbelief. "You can't be serious!"
Tommy nodded quickly, bolstered by the notion. "Yeah, maybe I am. Maybe... Maybe we avoided you because we thought you'd want to be left alone for a while. Kim got really snappy after she gave up her coin to Kat, maybe we thought you'd be the same."
"I," Jason snapped, "am not Kimberly. I'd already lost the power once, remember? I knew what to expect." He flopped back down in the bed. "This fighting is stupid."
"Yeah," Tommy agreed. "It is. We should stop."
"Because it doesn't matter whether all that was your fault or mine," Jason said softly. "It doesn't change the fact that thanks to your interference, I may never walk again without some form of support."
"It... It's really that serious?" Tommy asked softly.
Jason sighed heavily. "Damn it, Tommy, I spent a month in traction, and I had metal pins in my
legs up until a couple of weeks ago! If I'd been standing just a little bit more behind the car when he backed it over me, I wouldn't have had the chance to walk again at all. He would have killed me, Tommy. He dragged me all the way from the building car park to the service elevator, and left me in my room with two smashed up legs, all because he saw me kissing Trini!"
Tommy blinked in surprise. "You kissed Trini? Way to go!" Jason didn't know whether to be stunned or disgusted.
"What...? Man, you are unbelievable! Aren't you listening to me at all?"
Tommy looked guilty. "Yeah... but c'mon, Jase! You kissed her, bro!"
For a long moment, Jason didn't respond. Then, finally, a grin tugged at the corners of his mouth before he could stop himself. He'd tried to forget about that entire day, but that one incident continued to play over in his mind. Even though nothing more had happened between him and Trini, he still wondered whether anything could....
Tommy got up quickly and went over to lean against the bed railing. "So tell me, how was it?"
Jason shrugged a little. "I don't know. It was Trini that kissed me, actually. I think I was too stunned to do anything except stand there."
"She kissed you, huh?" Tommy mused. "Hey, that's even better! It means she likes you as much as you like her!"
Jason suddenly tensed. "You never told anyone, did you?"
"No," Tommy reassured him quietly. "You know I wouldn't do that to you...." He trailed off
abruptly, realisation of what he was saying hitting him like a baseball bat. The two boys fell into a sudden, heavy silence, regarding each other wordlessly. Finally, Tommy risked speaking, and broke the silence.
"Think you could ever forgive us?"
"I'm working on it," Jason admitted. "It'll take a while, though. I think maybe I can probably tolerate seeing you guys, but don't expect miracles."
"I understand," Tommy conceded. "How are you coping with it all? From the impression I got from Tanya, the physio must be hell and a half."
A tired smile flickered across Jason's lips. "That's a pretty accurate description. One thing... I couldn't have gotten by without Tanya. She's been really great really patient. Especially when I get nasty and bite her head off."
"I think I understand how she's feeling," Tommy murmured. "We really owe you the support, Jason."
"That's right," Jason grumbled. "You do."
Tommy waited for a long moment, trying to reassure himself that Jason had settled down, before asking the next question.
"What happened, Jase? What did he do to you?"
"I told you, didn't I?" Jason growled.
Tommy nodded, eyes downcast. "Yeah.... But how about we try again, now that you're not trying to raise your blood pressure anymore?"
Jason lay back down with a soft thud. The truth was that he had not really confronted the terrors of that day in his own mind, and he was not sure that he could. Tears came before he realised it, and trickled slowly down his cheeks.
"Most of the time, I knew what I was gonna get. I could usually tell by the way he acted every day. Most times, he beat me till I threw up, and then he'd leave me alone for the next couple of days. He didn't even try to hit me so there wouldn't be bruising. He knew I wouldn't let anyone see. But that day...." He stopped, trembling a little at the frightening memories.
Tommy hesitated, then took a chance and reached across to gently squeeze Jason's shoulder in a long past gesture of friendship and brotherhood. "Take your time, bro."
"That day... It was really cold. He told me to wait for him to come and get me from school. Trini came out while I was waiting, and we talked for a bit. Then...."
Jason rubbed at his eyes, but more tears came. "She kissed me, then. He was standing about ten metres behind us when she did it, and he saw everything. I knew he was angry about it, but he didn't let it show. It was weird. He asked me if Trini was my girl, and acted real friendly about it, like it was the best thing in the world. I... I think that scared me the most," he whispered, looking over at Tommy through a steady flow of tears. "That time, I didn't know what he was going to do. We got back to the building, and when he parked the car, he asked me to get out and check the tail lights."
Bitterness flickered in Jason's eyes. "If I'd had any idea what he was going to do, I would have just ran. 'Course, then he probably would have come after me in the car. He just put the car in reverse and backed it straight over the top of me. Then, he put it in forward and drove over me again. Then, he reversed again and drove over me a third time. Three times, Tommy. He ran over me three fucking times! I never did anything wrong, but he still tried to kill me! I didn't do anything! I didn't...."
Jason burst into a flood of tears and Tommy, not knowing what else to do, carefully lowered the
side railing and leaned across to hug his best friend. "I'm sorry, Jase, I am so damn sorry...."
"What did I do?" Jason sobbed into Tommy's shoulder. "Why'd it have to be me?"
Tommy said nothing. There was little he could say, he realised dimly. Once more, without warning, he found himself having to deal with yet another mistake, only this time it was one that had cost his best friend dearly. Confusion and guilt filled his young mind all too quickly. He had been so sure he'd been doing the right thing... Jason had moved back abruptly almost without Tommy realising it. Now, the former Ranger stared at the current Red Ranger with a mixture of anger and determination in his eyes.
"Don't you dare start feeling sorry for yourself. I'm not gonna let you get away with that this time. I'm not letting you go all guilty on me."
"But Jase...." Tommy stammered.
Jason shifted his position slightly, wincing from the pain that accompanied the movement. "We've gone through this before, and I'm not putting up with it anymore. Every time you made a mistake, no matter how small, you went to pieces on us, and we'd have to hold everything together while you got over it. I'm not holding anything together for you now. Hell, I can hardly hold myself together! Don't expect me to pick you up like I used to."
Tommy turned slowly away, fighting to keep his breathing even as he began to realise the truth in Jason's words. He had collapsed emotionally, and all too frequently, when he'd made a mistake, and he had relied on everyone else to get him through it. If he fell apart now, there'd be no one to help him
through. He shut his eyes for a moment, trying to regain his composure, then looked back to Jason. "I won't fall apart on you, Jason. I promise."
Jason nodded, but the look in his eyes suggested he didn't really believe it.
Tommy was grateful to arrive home that evening to find no one else there. He wasn't sure he could have coped with facing anyone straight away. He'd stayed in the sterile hospital room with Jason for nearly an hour after that confrontation, and although it seemed at times as though they'd spoken like old friends, it was painfully obvious that Jason hadn't yet accepted an apology. Tommy let his school bag drop in the vestibule, and headed for the stairs, only to be stopped by his father, who was emerging from his study.
Tommy blinked, startled. "Dad? I thought everyone was out."
"I had the afternoon off. What's wrong? You look like you've seen a ghost."
For a long moment, Tommy didn't answer. He couldn't bring himself to speak. Then, reluctantly, he nodded towards the study.
"Can we talk?"
"Sure," Michael murmured, sensing the distress his son was suffering. He ushered Tommy into the study and sat down next to him. "What's bothering you, then?"
"I got a letter today," Tommy explained in a voice that was starting to tremble from delayed shock. "Zack passed it on to me. It... It was from Jason." Michael stiffened, but Tommy didn't seem to notice, and went on talking. "It was a poem that we'd memorised a few years ago, just after we became friends. Dad, Jase... He...."
"I know," Michael said softly, anticipating Tommy's words.
Tommy looked up at his father through a thin film of tears. "What?"
"Tommy, I know what happened. Zack's father called me when they were still in Chicago. You know that, you were here when I took the call. It's why I left here looking like a damned zombie."
"We... I mean... The Rangers screwed up, then," Tommy whispered. His throat was starting to hurt badly.
"I think we all did," Michael conceded. "But now you understand why I was demoted. There was no issue over arresting the Scotts, but I never even took the time to interview Jason. I didn't stop to wonder why he seemed so frightened. I let that boy be taken back into a situation that no human should ever have to endure."
Silence fell; neither one was sure of what to say. Finally, Tommy broke the silence. "Where's Jason's real dad now?"
"In prison. The case is due to go to trial in two months. I hope to God they give the bastard life for what he did to Jason."
Tommy rubbed at his eyes, but more tears fell, and he finally gave up. "I didn't understand at first. I couldn't understand why Jase couldn't just let it go. I mean, he's back with the Scotts now, and everything is working out for him...."
Michael's jaw tightened visibly. "Tommy, did Jason tell you anything about his injuries?"
The Red Ranger's head hung, then. "Yeah. He said he might always need leg braces to walk. This is so hard to believe! I don't understand how anyone to treat someone like that! Especially their own son! It doesn't make sense!"
"No," Michael agreed. "It doesn't make sense. The bottom line is that there are a lot more people out there than we like to think who do as much, and worse, to their own children. I doubt that Jason's
real father wanted him back because he missed his son. I expect he wanted him back because he didn't like losing something that belonged to him. If I'd taken the time to ask just a few questions of Jason, he might not have been in that hospital room right now."
"He's pretty angry at everyone, Dad."
"With good reason. We can't possibly understand what the last six months have been like for him, Tommy. You've never been in a situation where you were afraid virtually of getting out of bed. I expect that is what it was like for Jason. One step out of line for him probably meant getting a beating." He paused, grimacing. "From what little I've heard, he was beaten even when he didn't do anything wrong." Michael reached over, then, catching hold of Tommy's shoulder and giving a quick, reassuring squeeze. "Give him time, Tommy. He deserves that, if nothing else."
Tommy nodded reluctantly. "I know."
*One month later, Monday morning
The weather had rapidly turned cold in Angel Grove, gathering in momentum for the coming of
winter. Rain fell constantly, day and night, and everything was gradually turning icy in response to the frosty days. Early in the morning, it was difficult to see anything through the iced-up windows. Indeed, it often looked as though snow had fallen during the night, with all the frost that had settled on the grass.
Jason sighed softly to himself as he turned away from the window and wheeled himself across to the cupboard. A cold, icy morning didn't bode well at all. It was his first day back at Angel Grove High, and he'd been desperately hoping to salvage as much of his self-respect as possible, and walk into school with the leg braces and crutches. The frost would make the ground slippery, though, and there was no way his father would let him risk a fall.
The door swung open, and Sarah looked in, then smiled. "I didn't think you'd be up so early. How'd you sleep?"
"Okay," Jason replied. "I only rolled over once, and it didn't keep me awake for very long."
Sarah came all the way into the room. "That's good. Well, I guess it can't hurt for you to be up early. You'll have plenty of time to get ready for school."
Jason faltered, then, unease showing in his eyes. "Mum, about school..."
Sarah paused by the window. She, too, had seen the thick layers of frost on the ground, and knew what was coming.
"Honey, you had an agreement with your father. You know it's too dangerous for you to try walking this morning. One little slip, and you could be right back in hospital again."
Jason's shoulders slumped; he knew better than to argue with her. Sarah came back over to him.
"Do you want me to call your father to help you get dressed?"
For just an instant, Jason felt his face heat up. Even now, out of hospital, he still couldn't even get dressed without help. He shrugged it off, and shook his head.
"No. You can help me. I don't mind."
Sarah nodded and opened up the cupboard. "What do you want to wear?"
Jason frowned as he scanned the cupboard, and he was about to decide when his gaze fell on something that made his heart skip a beat.
"What is that doing in there?"
Sarah glanced at Jason in confusion, then stepped into the cupboard and reached out to touch an expensive denim jacket; the same jacket Jason had worn months ago to the unexpected, fateful dinner with the Taylors.
"This? We brought it with most of your clothes from Chicago. Why?"
Jason had turned ashen by then, and his hands clutched the wheels of his chair so tightly that his knuckles were turning white.
"Get it out of there. Get rid of it!"
Sarah was astounded by her son's reaction. "Jason, what's wrong? It's a perfectly good jacket!"
"I don't want it!" Jason exploded. "Get it out of here!"
Sarah stared speechlessly at him, and was still standing there when Donavon came in.
"What's going on?" he wanted to know. "Sarah?"
"The jacket!" Jason choked out, starting to cry openly. "Get rid of it, please!"
Finally, Sarah reacted and pulled it out of the closet and hurried from the room, anxious to get the offensive item out of Jason's sight. Donavon watched her go, then went over and crouched down in front of Jason.
"All right, calm down. Take a deep breath, Jason. Settle down, son."
Jason shut his eyes tightly, and struggled to regain some semblance of calm. Eventually he did, and forced the hysteria back into submission. Donavon nodded patiently.
"Think you can tell me what that was all about?"
"That jacket," Jason whispered, knuckling away the tears that filled his eyes. "He bought it for me. Made me wear it whenever we had to go out so no one saw the bruises. I don't want it, it reminds me of him!"
"All right," Donavon murmured, grasping Jason's hands and squeezing them reassuringly. "We'll get rid of it." He regarded the boy intently. "Are you okay?"
"I guess so," Jason mumbled. "I'm sorry I guess I flipped out for nothing, huh?"
"Maybe" Donavon conceded. "But this is your first day back at school, so I'd be inclined to put it down to nerves. Look, how about we get you dressed so you can have breakfast, and then we get you to school. Okay?"
Out of everything that Donavon needed to help his son with, dressing in the mornings was the hardest task. Often, Jason would have had a bad night and would wake up with bad pains, making getting dressed into twice the task that it should have been.
That morning was no better than any other, despite Jason having had a better night's sleep than most. The cold chill of the morning seemed to filter through the window and walls themselves, and
aggravate his legs, and each little movement caused sharp pricks of pain.
"Sorry," Donavon murmured automatically as Jason winced in pain with the removal of his pyjama pants.
Humility was also something that both Jason and Donavon had been forced to put aside. As Jason had been six when he escaped with the Scotts, they had never needed to help him get dressed. Now, Donavon not only needed to undress and dress Jason; he also needed to help the boy to bathe. A shower was out of the question; the water pelting down only caused Jason more pain than he could bear. And so Donavon had needed to grow used to lifting him in and out of the water.
On the up side, Donavon had joked in a lighter moment, he'd never been so fit.
The older man slid a loose pair of black pants with an elastic waist over the boy's legs, with Jason lifting himself on his hands just long enough to fit them on properly. They followed that with a dark red T shirt, and a black sweater. Donavon then went back to the cupboard and pulled out a pair of moccasins, to put on Jason's feet.
"Couldn't I at least put on shoes?" Jason asked, eyeing the moccasins unhappily. Donavon shook his head.
"Jason, there's no point. These will at least keep your feet warm. It's damned cold out there!"
"I know," Jason conceded. He hesitated, then decided to try anyway. "But my sneakers are easier to walk in."
Donavon stopped halfway across the floor. "Jason, you aren't walking today."
"You promised," Jason whispered, his expression literally crumbling. Donavon could have screamed. He should have known this would happen.
"I did not promise outright, and you know it. I said if the morning was warm, and there was no frost. We bombed out on both counts, son."
Determination filled Jason's face, then, and he shoved the wheelchair away from him.
"I either go with the leg braces, or I don't go at all."
"Damn it," Donavon growled, his patience starting to wear thin. "Jason, why do you have to be so damned stubborn? You know you can't walk on frosty ground! It's too slippery and too dangerous! Do you want to be back in hospital?"
"No," Jason said uncomfortably, "but I want my dignity, too."
"You'll have that if you go back to school holding your head high," Donavon insisted. "You'll lose it totally if the first thing you do when you go through the gates is take a fall!"
"Dad, please!" Jason begged. Donavon sighed and shook his head.
"I'm sorry, Jason. No. Not today."
Tears of anger filled the boy's eyes, though he didn't protest any further as the moccasins were fitted carefully to his feet.
"Thanks a lot, Dad."
Donavon ignored the heavy sarcasm.
"I'd rather you be angry at me and come home safely, rather than get a call saying they've had to call an ambulance because you fell."
"You got your wish."
Donavon looked up finally at his son's angry expression. "Are you going to stay mad all day? Because it's really going to be a dampener if you are."
Jason held his father's stare for nearly a minute before he finally broke and looked away unhappily.
"No, but can I at least have five minutes?"
It was all Donavon could do not to grin. He stood up slowly. "All right. Come out for breakfast when you're ready. Just don't take too long, okay?"
Donavon, Sarah and Catherine were in the kitchen sharing a pile of pancakes that Sarah had cooked when they heard it. The familiar sound of the leg braces, aided by two metal crutches, reached their ears from down the hallway. All three adults looked around just as Jason came into the kitchen, his jaw locked as he concentrated on each small step he took.
Donavon started up, only to be stopped by Sarah, whose anxious expression pleaded with him to be patient.
"You're doing so well with those," Catherine told him with a warm smile. Jason managed a quick smile as he finally made it to his chair and sat down.
"I haven't fallen once since I came home. Have I?"
It was spoken with strong emphasis; both Donavon and Sarah knew what he was trying to do. Catherine, oblivious to the conflict, squeezed his hand tightly.
"No, you haven't. We're very proud of you, sweetheart."
Donavon sighed, then, and spoke tightly. "Nice try, Jason, but it won't work. You are not walking today, and that's final!"
Jason's face fell, but he knew he had pushed it as far as his father would allow; he didn't dare argue anymore. They watched the teen for nearly a minute, as he poked miserably at his breakfast, and then Sarah prodded her husband hard. The two adults exchanged looks, and then Donavon sighed and spoke again.
"Look, Jason, I know how badly you wanted to walk today, and I'm sorry. You have to understand that it just isn't worth the risk. If you promise not to sulk about it, though, this evening after you finish your physio session with Matt, we'll go to the Pizza Palace for dinner. Sort of a celebration for you being back at school. Okay?"
Jason looked up at his father hopefully. "Can I use the braces then?"
Donavon had been expecting that. "All right," he conceded wearily. "You can use them tonight. But only if you cheer up now. Your teachers are going to be very disappointed if you go to school in a bad mood."
A smile touched the corners of his mouth. "Thanks, Dad."
Donavon nodded. "All right. Just hurry up and finish your breakfast, or you'll be late on your first day back."
As Jason tucked into his breakfast, Sarah caught her husband's attention, and mouthed a single word.
"You think he'll be here on time?" Kim asked worriedly. Zack nodded.
"Yeah. Don't worry about it, Kim. Jase wouldn't risk getting here late."
Trini sighed as she leant against the fence. "Jason has been waiting for this day ever since he got back to Angel Grove. He wants to be back at school so badly."
"It's only for half a day to start with," Zack reminded them. "He has to go to the rehab centre every afternoon, remember? For physio."
"It's a start, though," Trini pointed out. She hesitated, glancing around, then sighed softly. "Wonderful. Look who's coming."
Kim and Zack looked around to see Tommy approaching with Kat. Zack turned to face them. He didn't want an argument, but neither did he really want them around when Jason arrived.
"Did you two want something?" he asked coldly.
"Jason's coming back to school today, isn't he?" Tommy asked.
"Yeah," Zack admitted grudgingly.
Kat spoke tentatively, trying to avoid Kim's glare. "We thought we might be able to help him out a little bit."
"You've already done enough," Kim snapped from behind Zack.
"Take it easy, Kim," Tommy interrupted, then. "Jase is our friend, too."
"Sure," Zack grumbled. "You really proved that, didn't you?"
A van came into sight at the end of the road, and Trini spoke quickly, anxious to prevent a further confrontation.
"They're coming, guys. That's the Scott's van."
Silence fell as the group gathered at the fence, watching as a white van pulled up a short distance away. The driver, Donavon, climbed out and went around to open a side door and release a ramp, down which Jason rolled. Sarah and Catherine followed, making their way carefully down the steep ramp.
Trini, Zack and Kim went to greet Jason, leaving Tommy and Kat at the gate. Jason manoeuvred himself towards them, a grin etched onto his flushed face.
"Look at you, man," Zack laughed. "You're mobile!"
"Yeah," Jason agreed ruefully. "I should have been on my feet, but Dad said there was too much frost."
"Don't start," Donavon warned him as the adults walked over. Jason smiled up at his father.
"Sorry. Just had to get that in."
"Sure. Do you want us to come with you into the school?"
Jason hesitated, then shook his head slowly. "No, I'll be okay. Zack, Kim and Trini will be with me."
"That's for sure," Zack confirmed enthusiastically. "Don't worry, Mr Scott. We'll look after him."
Donavon smiled and ruffled Jason's hair affectionately. "All right. I'll pick you up here at twelve. All right?"
"Okay," Jason agreed. "Don't forget, you promised."
"I won't forget," Donavon reassured him. Sarah and Catherine both said their good-byes, and then Jason was left with his friends.
"Need help with anything?" Zack asked as they turned towards the gate. Jason motioned to the backpack on the back of the wheelchair.
"Just that. I'll have to put my books for each class in that."
"Probably just as well you didn't walk," Trini said grimly as the wheelchair slid just a little on the icy footpath. "You would've been on your butt before you got in the gate, otherwise."
Jason started to smile, but it faded rapidly when he saw Tommy and Kat. Zack caught his expression and spoke softly.
"They just wanted to help. Don't flip."
Jason regarded them solemnly. "Hey."
Tommy moved forward, nodding in silent acknowledgment. He had seen Jason a few times since that first visit in the hospital, and none had been really pleasant meetings. Still, the hostility that Jason had initially displayed had dimmed a lot. As he had told Tommy, he tolerated them, and that was all.
Kat moved up beside Tommy. "Hi, Jase."
Jason's jaw tightened a little. "Jason."
Kat blinked, taken by surprise. She had known the full truth for nearly a month now, and despite warnings from Tommy, Tanya and Adam, she hadn't been prepared for the blunt coldness from the former Gold Ranger. Somehow, somewhere in her mind, she had expected everything to be worked out by the time Jason arrived back at school. She'd expected Jason to have forgiven and forgotten, and it startled and confused her to realise that was not the case.
Tommy ignored Kat, and spoke quietly.
"Glad to see you back."
"Need a hand?"
Jason shrugged. "I might."
The others remained silent during the almost emotionless exchange. Jason and Tommy were working their problems out between themselves in a way that none of them could understand, and so they simply stayed out of it.
Tommy walked around and took a hold of the hand grips at the back and the chair and began to push Jason toward the school building. Jason, to the astonishment of the others, didn't protest. They watched for a long moment in surprise, then followed in silence.
"You must have had a real fight with your dad this morning, huh?" Tommy said as he pushed the wheelchair into the building. Jason glanced back over his shoulder at Tommy curiously.
"How do you mean?"
"Well, I know how bad you wanted to walk."
"Oh... I guess I knew when I woke up that I couldn't walk. It was too icy outside. I tried, though. We compromised in the end. We're going out to dinner tonight, and Dad promised to let me use the leg braces then."
Zack fell in step beside the wheelchair. "Probably 'cause he knew he could keep an eye on you."
Jason had to chuckle at that. "You're probably right. I know he would have been worried even if it hadn't been frosty this morning. He doesn't like the idea very much of me going anywhere out of his reach when I'm using the braces. He's scared I'll fall in a gutter somewhere, I think."
"That's a little possessive, don't you think?" Kat asked foolishly from behind. Jason stiffened somewhat, but before he, Zack or the girls had a chance to say anything, Tommy spoke sharply.
"Kat, shut the hell up! Just because Mr Scott is worried about Jason, doesn't make him possessive."
Kat stared at Tommy, astounded. "But..."
Jason spoke quietly. "You've got no idea what possessive is, Kat. No idea at all."
Just then, Tanya hurried over, and took the liberty of throwing her arms around Jason in a warm
hug. To everyone's surprise, he didn't push her away, but rather hugged her back. Adam was there as well, and offered Jason a tentative smile.
Jason nodded, doing his best to stay amicable. "Hey, Adam."
"Hope you're ready for a backlog of work," Adam said, half-joking. Jason rolled his eyes.
"They'd better not. The school work I did in Chicago was supposed to be accredited to my record. Hey, Tommy, head for Mr Caplan's office. I'm supposed to see him first thing this morning."
"Sure," Tommy replied and directed the chair for the principal's office. Victor Caplan was waiting for them when they arrived and he greeted Jason warmly.
"We're very pleased that you're back, Jason," Caplan said.
"That makes two of us," Jason replied, only half-joking. Caplan seemed to wince slightly at the hidden undertones in the boy's words, but he went on regardless.
"Your locker is the same as before, same combination. Until you can get the right books, just go and see the school librarian, and she'll sort that out for you."
"Thankyou," Jason murmured. A pause followed, and it seemed almost as though Caplan wanted to say something else, but didn't dare in the presence of the other teens. Jason finally broke the lengthy silence.
"What about my schedule, sir?"
Caplan smiled, and appeared relieved. "Of course. Here..."
He plucked a piece of paper of his desk and handed it to Jason. "I think you'll find it's virtually the same as before. The only change we had to make was in the department of Arts. According to the records we got from Chicago, you didn't do any Arts subjects at all."
Jason's jaw tightened just a little. "No."
Caplan went on, silently aware of Jason's sudden agitation. "You need to pass at least one Arts subject, I'm afraid, so we didn't have any choice but to place you in an Arts class. You'll be pleased to know, though, that it isn't the sketching class."
Jason looked down at the schedule, frowning, and then surprise filled his face. "Woodwork?"
Caplan nodded. "That's right. Mr Brogan asked for you when we learned you were coming back."
Jason looked up at Caplan, saw the knowing smile that just touched the older man's mouth, and had to struggle to suppress a grin of his own as he realised just what was going on.
"Thankyou, Mr Caplan."
"You're welcome. And if you have any troubles at all, just let me know." He glance at the clock. "You kids had better get to class. You're going to be late."
The teens turned and filed silently out of the office.
"Woodwork, huh?" Zack asked. "Well, at least you don't have to do a lot to pass that."
"A lot?" Tommy echoed in amusement. "You make something that doesn't make an ounce of sense, call it creative art and still get an 'A' for it."
"Mr Caplan might as well have put you in the pottery class," Trini mused. Kim was the only one who noticed the odd look on Jason's face.
"Jase? What is it?"
Jason merely smiled as he took over control of his wheelchair from Tommy. "Nothing. Nothing at all."
Jim Brogan had been waiting eagerly for the senior wood shop group that took place just before lunch. Today was the day that Jason was supposed to have returned to school, and it was for that reason alone that he was looking forward to it.
Of course, he'd heard enough that day already that he wouldn't be surprised by anything he saw. Jason was in a wheelchair, although no one seemed to know whether that was permanent. He still bore some pretty awful scars, that were apparently visible on his face, hands and neck....
Brogan shook his head. That was probably an exaggeration. He was almost sure of it. Kids... and some adults... were easily prone to spreading over-the- top rumours. He chuckled softly to himself as he cleaned up the last of the grease left on one machine, then turned around just as the door opened, and Jason came in.
Jim couldn't hold back a smile, he was that pleased.
"Jason, welcome back. You don't look half as bad as everyone's saying."
Jason had to grin at that. There was no insult in the remark; simply a light-hearted joke from a man he'd known for a long time.
"Hi, Mr Brogan. Mr Caplan said you asked for me."
"I did," Jim confirmed. "You're early, though."
"I know. I've sort of been getting out of classes early so I make it to the next ones on time. I
figured I might as well finish recess early and get here before everyone else. I was glad I had this one before lunch, though."
Jason shrugged a little. "Well, I'm only here for half a day at a time to start with. I still have to go back to the hospital everyday for physio. So I'd rather have this class on my mind than Physics."
Jim laughed. "Fair enough. So tell me, how are you doing, Jason? Honestly."
A touch of pain flickered in Jason's eyes. "Honestly? Okay, I guess. It hasn't been easy, but I suppose things are getting better. It still hurts like hell, but I can at least use the leg braces for more than five steps at a time, now."
Jim looked thoughtful. "So you are walking, then."
"Yeah. If you can call it that."
Jim patted the boy gently on the shoulder. "If it's standing on two feet, and moving one foot progressively in front of the other, then I'd certainly call it walking. Don't worry yourself on how it looks, Jason."
Jason sighed a little and slumped back in the wheelchair. "I can't help feeling sort of useless. I mean, I was never really good at anything except the karate, and now I'll never be able to do any of that again. I've never been great with school work You know, average marks? I don't know where I'm going
Jim stood up and, motioning for Jason to follow, led the teen to a workbench that was lower than the others.
"This workbench belonged to my own son. I brought it in specifically for you."
Jason was astounded, and he rolled up to the bench slowly, feeling suddenly tight-throated. "You didn't have to..."
"I wanted to. The day that you walk in here, no matter how you do it, there'll be a full-height bench for you. But for now you'll find this one easier to deal with. Now..."
Jim turned away for a moment, and when he turned back he had a sharp carving knife in one hand, and a large block of wood in the other. He set both down in front of Jason.
"See what you can do with these. You have an hour and a half."
Licking his lips a little, Jason picked up the knife and examined it closely. It was razor-sharp, ready for use. The wood was reasonably good; not too soft. Taking up the wood, he took a single shaving off the edge with the knife, testing its sharpness. Then, slowly but with certainty and precision, he began to carve the wood.
"You haven't lost it, that's for sure."
Jason looked up, startled, to find Jim Brogan standing there, watching with a grin on his face. Confused, he looked back down to see the block of wood had been transformed into a small, detailed figure of a squirrel. Jim leaned against the edge of the desk, picking the carving up and turning it over slowly.
"You were hardly even aware of anything else going on around you. The same as it was before. This is talent, Jason. You were practically carving this squirrel with your eyes shut."
"I didn't even remember I could do this," Jason murmured. "I didn't think anyone remembered."
"Well, not too many people knew about it. I wouldn't have known if I hadn't found you that day in the park. What was it you were carving, then? An elephant, I think."
A smile tugged at the corner of Jason's mouth. "That's still on the shelf in my bedroom. Mum and Dad thought I'd bought it somewhere Dad wanted to know how much I'd paid for it when I brought it home."
"If you got into doing these again, I think you could make a bit of money selling them. I know a few people who'd be willing to endorse you, and I have a friend who'd be willing to sell these in his shop."
"That sounds good..." Jason conceded. Jim watched him carefully.
"Well, I'd like to just worry about one thing at a time, if you don't mind."
Jim smiled and handed the carving back to Jason. "Sure. Just remember, that offer stands firm. Okay?"
Jason nodded slowly. "Okay."
Donavon was waiting at the gate at twelve o' clock as he had promised when Jason came out, pushing his wheelchair slowly across the asphalt. He waited until they were both in the van before speaking.
"So, how did you go?"
Jason shrugged. "It was okay."
"Just okay?" Donavon echoed incredulously. "You've been badgering us to let you go back to school for two months, and now it's just okay?"
Jason had to smile, at that. "Sorry, Dad. It was pretty good. Mr Caplan put me in the woodwork class."
Donavon paused in starting the engine. "Really?"
"Well, he said I had to do at least one Arts subject, and I guess he remembered how bad I am at drawing…"
"And how good you are at whittling."
Jason's jaw dropped. "You... you know about that?"
The older man laughed, then, and started the engine. "Yes, I know and so does your mother. Jim Brogan came to see us a few nights after you came home with that elephant. He told us how he'd found you in the park, with just a piece of wood and a knife. We realised then that you must have done all those other wooden animals yourself."
"How come you never told me you knew?"
"We figured you'd tell us if you wanted us to know. So, is that what you did today?"
Jason smiled sheepishly. "Mr Brogan just gave me some wood and a knife and told me to do what I wanted."
Jason reached into his backpack and took out the squirrel. Donavon looked back at it as they waited for a red light to change.
"You haven't lost any of that talent. This is very good, Jason."
Silence fell and then Jason spoke hesitantly. "Dad..."
"Mr Brogan said he had a friend who'd sell my carvings."
"Well, they're certainly good enough to be sold. Is that what you want?"
"I don't know," Jason confessed. "I said I wanted to wait, but when I thought about it, I don't really know. I guess it made me a bit excited that someone might want to buy something I've made."
Donavon pulled into a disabled parking space at the hospital, then turned around in the seat to
look at his son.
"I'd say not to worry about it right now. You have plenty of time. Keep it in mind, though, and don't stop carving. All right?"
Jason smiled and nodded, content with his father's advice.
"Tell me one thing, though," Donavon asked as he went around, opened the side door and released the ramp. "You gave a few of those animals away to your friends, didn't you? For presents..."
Jason nodded. "Yeah. It came in useful when I didn't know what to get them for their birthdays. Why?"
"Did you ever tell them you made the animals yourself?"
"No," Jason confessed. "I didn't say where they came from. Zack asked me one time where I'd bought them, 'cause he wanted a horse for his mum for Christmas."
"I made one for him to give her, but I didn't tell him. I just said it was a secret."
"You really didn't want anyone to know about it, did you?" Donavon asked in amusement. Jason shrugged.
"I don't know why I didn't want to tell anyone. I guess it was just the one thing I could do that no one knew about. I think it was like, if I told anyone then I wouldn't be able to do it anymore. Anyway, I liked having that secret to myself. In a way, I suppose it was something I could turn to when things got tough. You know, especially when I was the Red Ranger."
Realisation dawned on Donavon's face. "I think I understand. Stress relief, right?"
"Sort of," Jason agreed.
"So all those times you disappeared for hours at a time, when there wasn't a monster attack..."
"I went somewhere and carved another animal." Jason smiled ruefully. "I guess it was stress relief."
The smile faded from Donavon's face some. "Perhaps you should start carving again regularly, Jason. It might help ease the pressure."
Jason bit down lightly on his lower lip. "Well, Mr Brogan did let me keep the knife. Maybe I will, Dad."
Donavon nodded. "I think it would be a good idea." He paused, then took hold of the wheelchair's hand grips. "C'mon. Let's go find your mother and grandmother."
*The following day
Tommy arrived at school late the next morning, after sleeping through his alarm. He’d been woken by his mother at a quarter past eight, and had moved at near-bionic speed to get ready on time. He bolted along the corridor and rounded the corner into the locker area, only to be brought to a jaw-shattering halt when he collided head-on with someone else. Dazed, he pushed himself up from where he’d landed on the floor, then froze when he saw who it was that he’d run into.
Trini shook her head, gasping a little. "Ow…"
Grimacing, Tommy quickly got up, and then helped her to her feet. "I’m sorry. That was my fault."
She didn’t answer, but started to crouch down to pick up her books. Tommy beat her to it, scooping them up for her in one large pile.
"Here. I’m really sorry…"
Trini frowned at him then, as she began to recover from the collision.
"It’s okay," she grumbled, not really caring to talk to him. Although she’d been trying to keep the peace between both sides, she was still feeling angry towards the Rangers, and Tommy in particular. She started to move around him, only to have Tommy suddenly block her off.
"Do you have a problem?" she asked snappishly. Tommy stared at her incredulously.
"You, too, huh? I can’t believe you guys are really serious about holding this against us! It isn’t like we deliberately planned for Jase to get hurt. We thought we were doing the best thing for everyone!"
Disgust flashed across her face. "You were Jason’s best friend. He trusted you, and you couldn’t give him and his parents five minutes to explain the situation. You didn’t think, Tommy. And if you’d seen Jason in Chicago, then you wouldn’t be trying to fob the blame off onto someone else."
She side-stepped him and started off up the corridor. Tommy stared after her in anger, then called out to her before he could stop himself.
"Yeah, well, maybe you should take your own advice!"
Trini froze in mid-stride, then looked slowly back at Tommy. "What are you talking about?"
Tommy glared at her. "I’m saying that maybe you’re just as responsible for being Jase being in that wheelchair as we are. Jason told me what happened. He said his father caught you kissing him outside the school. If you knew what was going on, and the situation Jason was in, then maybe you should be shouldering the blame as well, because you had to know that doing something like that would only cause trouble!"
Trini’s breath froze in her throat, and her heart started pounding painfully hard as she began to realise how true Tommy’s words really were. She’d known Jason had been waiting to be picked up that day, but she hadn’t stopped to consider that his father could have shown up at any time. If she hadn’t been so careless… and selfish… then it was entirely possible that Jason would never have been injured so badly. Tears abruptly filled her eyes as the shock of what she believed she’d done hit home. Then, before Tommy had the chance to say anymore, she fled up the corridor, and around the corner.
Instead of going to class, Trini found herself detouring and heading out of the school altogether. Tommy’s words had cut deeper than she cared to admit, even to herself. Biting back fresh tears, she hurried from the school grounds and into the park.
He was right, of course. As much as she hated it, he was right. She had been there with Jason in Chicago. She had known the situation, and the trouble that Jason would be in, had his father caught him even talking to anyone. She’d known what could happen, and yet she had carelessly kissed him, ignoring the potential consequences.
She slowed to a halt near the lake and collapsed to her knees, crying helplessly. Tommy was right. She was just as responsible for Jason being crippled… if not moreso… than the Rangers. They hadn’t known the danger. She had. If anything, her crime was far worse, and more deserving of retribution.
And yet Jason never blamed you for what happened…
The voice came from the depths of her mind. Whether in torment or reassurance, she didn’t know. It was true, regardless. At no point had Jason ever laid blame on her for her part in his crippling. Of course, the subject had never actually come up, but Jason had never shunned her the way he shunned the Rangers.
Confused and becoming increasingly more worried, Trini sat down on the soft grass to try and think things through. Jason had never blamed her, not in the way he blamed the Rangers. And yet, in the end, she was far more responsible for Jason being in the wheelchair than Tommy and the others. If that really was true, she reasoned, then Jason’s anger at the Rangers was very much unfair. Jason, of course, couldn’t be blamed for that… But it seemed to be true all the same.
Tommy seemed to be aware of this, but he was on the other side- the Ranger side- and there was
little chance that Jason… or any of the others… would listen. She, on the other hand, was in the best position to do what they all knew needed to happen sooner or later, and that was to start patching the gaping wounds that existed between Jason and the current Power Rangers.
Trini shut her eyes for a moment. Knowing what had to happen from then on was cold comfort to her. The pain of knowing that she was responsible for Jason being so badly hurt was like a knife straight through her heart, and it was a pain she wasn’t sure she could cope with. She loved Jason. She’d come to that realisation a long time ago, and it was what she had been trying to tell Jason on that fateful day. To have to face the realisation that she’d hurt the person that she loved… Well, that was just too much.
She got unsteadily to her feet, and headed for home. Everyone else would just have to deal with their own problems for a while. She couldn’t bear to face Jason, knowing how much she was accountable for his woes. Crying helplessly, Trini ran for home.
The question came from Zack as he, Kim and Jason changed classes. Kim shook her head.
"I have no idea. We talked before class this morning, but then she never showed up for Literature. Miss Appleby was not impressed."
Jason frowned slightly as Zack passed him his books. "That’s not like Trini. She wouldn’t skip
out on classes unless there was a problem."
"We’ll give her place a call after school," Zack suggested. "Maybe she had to go home for some reason."
Jason started to concede when his gaze went past his two friends to someone who’d just come into sight.
Tommy looked around, vaguely surprised that Jason was talking to him without prompting.
"Have you seen Trini? She never showed up to class this morning."
"And she was definitely here earlier," Kim added quickly. Tommy hesitated, an odd look passing over his face. For just an instant, it seemed as though he was going to say something, but changed his mind at the last moment. Grabbing his books for his next class, he hurried off up the corridor without saying a word.
"Fine," Zack grumbled. "Be that way. Moron…"
"He knows something," Jason murmured, his gaze narrowing with suspicion. "He just didn’t want to tell us. C’mon. Let’s see if we can catch him."
Jason was improving with the wheelchair, and Zack and Kim had to jog to keep up. Tommy, not expecting to be followed, was easily caught and cornered just inside the vacated study room.
"What is this?" Tommy growled angrily. "First you go out of you way to avoid me, and now you’re chasing me around the school?"
"Don’t flatter yourself," Jason snapped. "I’m not ready to kiss and make up. I want to know about Trini. You know something. Tell us!"
Tommy glowered at Jason, more angry at being cornered than anything else. "Hey, don’t blame me if she got an attack of the guilt’s and decided to do a disappearing act."
"What d’you mean?" Zack asked suspiciously.
Tommy’s jaw locked visibly as he forged on. "I mean, maybe she finally realised she was as much responsible for you being in that chair as certain other individuals."
Jason’s grip tightened considerably on the wheels of the chair. "What the hell are you talking about? Trini isn’t at fault for this."
"Oh no? Weren’t you the one who told me how your real father went psycho on you after he caught Trini kissing you in front of your school in Chicago? She gave me a nice lecture about how we never gave you a chance to explain. If she knew all about it in Chicago, then why did she do something as dumb as kissing you when she knew what your dad would do if he saw?"
Jason’s hands slipped off the wheels in open shock.
"No…" he said finally. "It wasn’t her fault…"
"She knew more than we did," Tommy countered. "And maybe we didn’t give you a chance to explain, but we didn’t want you to get hurt. What we’re guilty of is ignorance. Trini is guilty of recklessness, and you know it. Trini practically put you in that chair, Jason. She totally ignored a danger that she fully knew about. So how can you justify being angry at us, and not at her?"
Jason was stunned beyond response. There was a logic in that argument that he simply couldn't ignore. Trini had known, and had acted without thinking. The Rangers, too, had acted without thinking, but they hadn't known. Not in the first place. And yet... He couldn't find it in his heart to be angry at
Trini. Tommy was right, as much as Jason hated to concede to it. He couldn't justify being angry at Tommy and the others, and not at Trini.
"I can understand why you’re upset and angry about it, Jase," Tommy said quietly. "I can accept that. You have a right to be angry, to a point. But do we really deserve unforgiving hatred from you? C’mon, man, that’s not the way we were taught to operate."
"Tommy’s right," Zack conceded reluctantly. "Maybe the six months you were with Matthews were bad, but it was only six months. Did you really let everything the Scotts taught you get washed away in just six months?"
Jason faltered, then, biting so hard on his lower lip that he drew blood.
"I… I just don’t know how to get rid of the hurt!" he burst out finally, tears flooding his eyes. "It hurts so bad, and I don’t know how to stop it!"
Silence fell for a long moment, then Tommy finally spoke softly.
"Maybe you should talk to Trini. She must be pretty stressed out by now. When you do that… I think I have an idea that might help you to get rid of that anger."
Jason looked up at Tommy questioningly. "How?"
"I’ll see you later about it," Tommy said. "Right now, I think we’d better get to class before we all end up in detention."
Zack and Kim looked to Jason, as though waiting to be prompted. Jason finally nodded and manoeuvred the wheelchair around and out of the study room. The other three followed, none saying a
"Tommy what’s going on?" Kat asked when the Rangers had gathered in the Power Chamber at lunch time.
"I think we can help Jason to resolve his anger," Tommy explained. "It might not be totally pleasant… But I think it’ll work."
"What are you thinking?" Adam asked quietly.
"Jason has to go to a Physio session now," Tommy said. "I think we need to pay him a visit there. In uniform."
"Are you nuts?" Rocky choked out. "He’ll explode! It’s hard enough for him to keep his cool around us in normal circumstances. If we show up there in uniform, he’ll totally blow his stack!"
Tommy nodded slowly. "That’s the whole idea, Rocky. I believe the reason why Jason hasn’t really resolved anything is because he’s sort of separated us from the Rangers. Maybe if we give him a chance to get everything out on the Rangers… rather than just us… then it might help him to start healing properly."
Kat looked sceptical. "You’re saying you want us to go to the hospital and just stand there and let Jason have a tantrum? C’mon, Tommy…"
"I’m serious," he persisted. "Look, we owe him this much, if nothing else."
"What if it doesn’t work?" Tanya asked tentatively. Tommy shrugged.
"Then I don’t know what we’ll do. But I think this will work. If nothing else, it’ll set the wheels in motion. C’mon, guys…"
"I believe Tommy may be right," Zordon said quietly from his tube. "We all made a grave misjudgment in our dealing with the situation. I myself am particularly at fault. The misgivings of the former Rangers were justified. At an earlier point in time, I would never have allowed any Rangers to intervene with matters that were not of direct concern to us. However, I allowed the five of you to step into the business with Jason and his parents, and it cost Jason dearly. We owe it to him now to help him in whatever way possible."
"It’s fine for you," Rocky grumbled. "At least Jason can’t deck you."
Zordon shook his head slowly. You may be right, Rocky, but I may suffer retribution of a different kind."
"How do you mean?" Kat asked.
"I am sworn not to interfere in the lives of humans," Zordon explained. "Except, of course, when it involves matters of the Morphing Grid, and so on. When I gave permission for the five of you to intervene on behalf of Jason’s real father, I directly violated that code. Had it been for Jason’s own benefit in the long run, it may have gone unnoticed. But Jason’s suffering has been brought to the attention of certain individuals that I am required to answer to. As a result, I have been summoned before them to answer for my crime."
Shocked silence fell.
"What’ll happen if you’re found guilty, or whatever it is?" Tommy asked, not entirely sure he wanted to know. Zordon looked grim.
"I cannot say. But if that happens, I will no longer be able to remain here to guide you all in your fight against Mondo and the Machine Empire. Of that much I am certain."
"But that isn’t fair!" Kat burst out. "You didn’t know any more than we did, Zordon. Don’t they
"To a point, yes," Zordon answered. "My intentions were good, as were yours. That has been taken into account."
"Has been?" Adam echoed. "You mean, these… people… have already dealt with this?"
"The matter has been raised," Zordon told them. "I am currently awaiting judgment."
The silence that followed that statement was intense. Then, finally, Tommy spoke again.
"Zordon, when did you find out about everything that was happening to Jason?"
Zordon replied after just a moment’s hesitation. "Approximately two months after Jason had been taken back to Chicago by his natural father."
"And you never told us?" Tommy asked incredulously.
"I had already interferred once, at Jason’s expense. They demanded my silence until the matter was resolved."
"But you’re telling us now," Adam put in.
"Yes, because Jason is no longer in that situation. This is a complicated matter, Rangers. You must not concern yourselves with what may happen to me. As Tommy has suggested, you should do all you can to resolve these problems with Jason."
"That might be easy for you to say," Kat argued, "but where would we be without you? We need you, Zordon!"
A smile touched the ancient wizard’s face. "I appreciate the thought, Katherine. Perhaps you may
all have a chance to speak on my behalf. But for now, you must focus on healing the wounds between Jason and yourselves."
Tommy nodded reluctantly. "Zordon’s right, guys. We have to do this."
A murmur of agreement swept through the group. Tommy looked slowly around at his companions, and his gaze came to rest on Rocky.
The Blue Ranger pulled a face. "All or none, right? Not much point of you guys going if I don’t. And I suppose I don’t want Jason angry at me forever."
Tommy smiled with relief. "Okay. Let’s go."
*Rehab clinic, hospital
"Ready for a walk?" Matt asked as he gently massaged Jason’s legs, trying to keep them from locking with tension. Jason nodded half-heartedly.
Matt paused, then rocked back on his heels, looking up at the teen questioningly.
"You aren’t very enthusiastic. Usually you show a little bit more life than this."
Jason looked away gloomily. The confrontation with Tommy earlier that day still haunted him, and it was starting to make him physically sick. Matt looked to Donavon and Sarah, both of whom looked equally perplexed.
"Why don’t you just say what’s bothering you?" Matt encouraged him. "C’mon, Jason. You aren’t going to do yourself any good by clamming up like this. It certainly isn’t going to help your rehab any."
Jason shook his head. "You can’t help. Let’s just do this, okay?"
Matt sighed inwardly and nodded. "Okay. Just let me get the leg braces."
He stood and turned towards the small pile of equipment on the other side of the room, only to be brought to a halt when a flash of coloured light caught there attention.
"What the hell…?" Matt growled, and then his jaw hit the floor when he saw the source of the interruption.
All five Zeo Rangers walked forward a little, and Zeo V spoke.
"Please excuse our interruption, but there is something important that we need to take care of."
Matt nodded, quickly recovering from the shock. "And that would be…? There aren’t any monsters around here. Not since my old boss left."
The Red Ranger glanced at Jason. "We need to talk with Jason. It’s very important. Could you please give us just ten or fifteen minutes alone with him?"
Matt looked from the Rangers to Jason. The teen sat stiffly in the wheelchair, and there was an odd look on his face. His gaze went to the Scotts, and Donavon gave a very slight nod. Matt sighed again.
"All right. Just ten minutes. I’ll be right outside."
He left, and Donavon and Sarah turned to go as well when Tommy spoke up quickly.
"We’d like the both of you to stay. After all… We screwed up your lives as well."
Donavon and Sarah exchanged glances, understanding finally what was going on.
"No," Donavon said quietly, walking over to stand next to Jason. "You didn’t… screw up our
lives, Tommy. Sarah and I would have ended up going to jail regardless of who caught us. We won’t
allow you to take the blame for what we went through."
Tommy hesitated, then looked back to Jason, who had remained silent for the duration.
"But we are responsible for what happened to you, Jason. We accept that."
Still Jason remained silent, staring at the floor, not knowing how to react. Tommy paused, glancing back at his friends, then moved in close and dropped to his knee in front of Jason, making certain he was within arm’s length.
"Jase…? C’mon, bro, look at me. I know you’re angry, but don’t you think it’s time to let it go? You’re hurting yourself now, and you know it."
Finally Jason made himself look up, into the dark visor of the Red Ranger’s helmet. For several seconds, nothing happened. Then, Tommy saw the long-suppressed anger flash in Jason’s eyes.
It was barely audible, and Tommy wasn’t sure he’d even heard right. Slowly, Jason’s hands came up from the wheels of the chair, and curled into tight fists. A single tear worked its way out of his eye and trickled unchecked down the curve of his cheekbone and along his jaw.
"You… You never even listened to me…"
"No, I didn’t," Tommy conceded softly.
"You handed me over to him… I hate you!"
"I know," Tommy murmured, putting up no argument. Jason’s right fist lifted off the arm rest of
the wheelchair and a moment later, slammed into Tommy’s shoulder. It was a powerful punch, even for the condition Jason was in. Had Tommy not been morphed, it would have knocked him over.
Still the Red Ranger put up no protest. Instead, he continued to kneel there, patiently accepting the onslaught. Jason’s fists pummelled into Tommy. The teen quickly flew into a blind rage, just as Tommy had anticipated he would. He was screaming hysterically, and could barely even see what or who he was hitting. Nearby, Sarah tried to move closer in concern, but Donavon held her back. Tommy knew what he was doing.
Eventually, minutes later, the attack eased, and finally stopped altogether. Jason collapsed in Tommy’s arms, crying helplessly and completely exhausted.
"I’m sorry," Tommy whispered, as tears built up in his own eyes. "I’m so sorry, Jase. Please forgive me."
Adam moved forward then, suspecting Jason had already worn himself out but still willing to take any abuse that might have been remaining.
"We’re all sorry, Jason. We know we really screwed up big, and you’ve got every right to hate us. But we want this to end. Hasn’t there been enough hurt?"
Tanya moved in and crouched down next to the wheelchair. "Please, Jason. Forgive us? We made a mistake, but we can’t help being human."
Tommy exchanged a hopeful glance with his friends as he felt Jason’s grip on him tighten just a little.
It was little more than a whisper. Tommy dared not move, but continued to hug Jason tightly to him.
Jason spoke while keeping his eyes tightly shut, and his head resting on Tommy’s broad shoulder.
"I… I don’t hate you," Jason whispered, and this time they all heard. "I’m sorry I couldn’t let it go."
"It’s okay," Tommy murmured, and he could feel the trembling sensation through Jason’s body starting to ease up. "We understand. But you have to let it go now, bro. You can’t start to heal properly until you do. I think you know that."
Jason finally moved, and pulled carefully away from Tommy, sitting back in the wheelchair. He brushed the back of one hand across his eyes and it came away wet with tears.
"You never meant to hurt me. I know that. I’ve always known that. It hurt worst that you never listened to me. It felt the same before all this happened, after Trey took back his powers. I felt like you weren’t listening to me anymore because I wasn’t a Ranger anymore. When you handed me over to… to him, it felt like you were just taking advantage of an opportunity to get me out of the picture."
Tommy nodded seriously, hesitated, then carefully removed his helmet so he could look Jason in the eye.
"I can understand that. I felt similar after I lost the Green Ranger powers. For a while, part of me kept thinking that you deliberately failed to get the green candle so it would be just the five of you again. I knew all along that that was ridiculous, but it was just the way my mind worked in that circumstance. But we weren’t trying to get rid of you anymore than you and Zack, Trini, Billy and Kim were trying to get rid of me back when I was the Green Ranger. You believe that, don’t you?"
Jason nodded slowly. "Yes."
"We all made mistakes," Adam put in quietly. "We’re sorry, Jase. We really are."
Silence fell for nearly a minute. Then, finally, a half-smile touched the corners of Jason’s mouth.
"Well… I suppose I’ve tortured you guys enough…" he managed to joke. A moment later, the smile faded, and he became serious again. "I’m sorry, too. I knew all along that I couldn’t hold onto the anger forever. It wasn’t right. But for a while, it was the only thing that helped me to survive. Especially in Chicago. I guess some of him rubbed off on me a little."
"That wasn’t your fault," Tanya insisted. Jason looked away miserably.
"One thing… It’s been haunting me lately… I was so scared that I’d turn out to be like him. I wanted to get rid of the anger, because I was scared it’d only make me like him."
"It isn’t hereditary, Jason," Rocky said softly. "That’s just an excuse that people use when they bash their kids. You aren’t like him. There’s no way you could be like him."
Jason hesitated, then smiled again. "Well… I guess I had Goldar to take out my frustration on, didn’t I?"
Laughter rippled through the group. Tommy reached up and his hand closed over Jason’s shoulder.
"Think you can forgive us, bro?"
Jason stared into Tommy’s dark eyes for a long moment before closing his own hand over Tommy’s.
"I think I already have."
A short distance away, Donavon and Sarah exchanged relieved smiles as Tommy and Jason hugged one another again, that painful chasm of betrayal finally closed, hopefully for good. The fight wasn’t over, and they knew it, but the hardest step had finally been taken. Whatever happened from now on, everything would somehow be all right. They were sure of it.
*The following day
Zack, Billy and Kim met by the lake in the Park, called there by Billy.
"What’s up, man?" Zack asked once they’d all arrived. Billy spared them a tired smile.
"The war’s over, guys. Jason finally made up with Tommy and the others yesterday afternoon, while Jason was at physio. It might still be a little touchy between them, but he told them they’re forgiven."
Relief flooded the faces of the other teens.
"Thank God," Kim muttered. "I thought this was going to go on forever."
"Jason knew he couldn’t let that happen," Zack said. "What happened, exactly, Billy?"
"I talked to Jason last night, over the phone," Billy explained. "He said that Tommy and the others showed up yesterday in the middle of his physio session. They teleported there in full uniform."
"That showed some guts," Kim said. "Jason must have gone schizo at them."
"He did," Billy confirmed. "Apparently, that was the whole point. Tommy got the idea that if they went to Jason in uniform, it might help him to get rid of most of his anger and hatred. He said he beat into Tommy for nearly five minutes or so before he wore himself out."
"Well, I’m glad," Zack said. "Now I feel like we can make our peace with them as well. This was starting to become a major problem."
"Wait a second," Kim said suddenly. "It’s not all roses just yet. I don’t know about you guys, but I haven’t seen Trini since yesterday morning at school. I tried calling her place last night, and her folks said she’d gone out and hadn’t come back. I think that business about her kissing Jason that day has really hit hard."
"What are we supposed to do about it?" Zack asked. "I don’t like the fact that she’s blaming herself, but there’s not a hell of a lot we can do. She has to sort that out with Jason herself."
"I find it hard to believe that Trini would deliberately avoid Jason," Billy said thoughtfully. "She’s too sensible."
"Unless she’s so torn up that she can’t bring herself to face him. C’mon, you guys both know how she feels about Jason. We’ve all known since after Zordon first made us Rangers."
Zack smiled wryly. "Everyone knew except Jason. Man, he could be blind. I bet it nearly gave him a heart attack when she kissed him."
Billy looked grim. "And if that didn’t, realising his father was behind him probably did."
Zack sighed. "Okay, okay. We’ll head over to Jason’s place, and then see if we can’t track down Trini. All right?"
The other two nodded, satisfied.
It was not the former rangers that found Trini. Tommy and Kat came across her by sheer accident as they were walking through the park together. They’d paused, just within sight of the lake, to talk, when the sound of muffled crying reached their ears.
"Who?" Kat whispered in confusion. Tommy touched a finger to his lips, urging her to be quiet, and disappeared into the bushes to find the source of the crying.
Trini was distressed, but not so distressed that she was oblivious to other sounds. She heard the bushes parting, and was on her feet an instant later, just as Tommy came into the clearing. For several long seconds, neither teen spoke. Both stared at one another wordlessly, and it was not until Trini turned to go that Tommy broke his paralysis and managed to speak.
"Trini, wait. Don’t run off."
She stopped, looking back at him through red-rimmed eyes.
"I don’t need anymore abuse from you. I’ve been abusing myself enough to more than compensate."
"I’m not going to abuse you, Trini. I just want to talk. Kat…?"
There was a light rustling behind Tommy, and Kat appeared a moment later. Tommy glanced back at her, then spoke again to Trini.
"You probably haven’t heard yet, but we sort of made peace with Jason."
Fresh tears filled Trini’s eyes. "Wonderful. Congratulations."
Tommy blinked, taken aback. Rarely had he heard her speak in such a dry, cutting tone. He forged on grimly.
"It wasn’t easy, and I don’t think it’s over, either. But I think we’re past the worst of it. I wanted to say… I’m sorry for what I said to you."
Trini shook her head. "You aren’t sorry. You meant everything you said, and you were right. I’m just as responsible for Jason being in that wheelchair as you are. Probably more."
Tommy conceded. "Maybe, but there are other ways of looking at it. How much longer do you think Jason could have coped with living in that situation? Another twelve months till High School grad, and then what? Matthews wouldn’t have let him go. Jason admitted that. I think that no matter how it came about, something major would still have happened. It just happened sooner rather than later, and as a result, he ended up back with Mr and Mrs Scott. That might not have happened if Matthews hadn’t lost it when he did. I know Zack’s dad was working to get them out of jail, but if all this hadn’t happened when it did, they probably would never have been allowed near Jason again. And if it had gone that way… I have a feeling that Jason might not have been too long in this life. Chances are, he probably would have ended up jumping off a bridge, or eating a bullet. So maybe you did help put him in that chair… indirectly… but he’s alive, he’s here, and he’s got a family that loves him. You also had a hand in that."
Trini stared at Tommy with expressionless eyes.
"I guess that makes some sense…" she conceded softly. Kat nodded, getting in on the act.
"Tommy’s right, Trini. You made a mistake, just like we did. You’re only human. Humans are sort of prone to making mistakes."
Tommy took a slow step towards her. "And besides, we all know how you feel about Jason."
Trini went a deep crimson. "What d’you mean?"
A smile tugged at the corners of Tommy’s mouth. "Don’t play dumb. You had a crush on him almost from when Zordon picked you guys to be Rangers."
"Don’t be ridiculous," Trini grumbled. Tommy raised an eyebrow slightly, and she looked away, even more embarrassed. Tommy smirked triumphantly, but the smirk faded fast when he saw fresh tears rolling down her cheeks. Sighing, he walked over and put a strong but gentle arm around her shoulders.
"If he can forgive us, he can forgive you. One mistake doesn’t qualify you for life-long purgatory. Just for the record, I had no right to say to you all of that yesterday. True or not, I had no right to push the blame onto someone else. In a way, we’re all a little bit at fault. And, the fact that you’re hurting this much over it is proof of how much you care for him. Besides, I know for a fact that he cares about you as much as you care about him."
Trini looked up at Tommy, startled out of her misery.
He nodded. "Yeah. Look, go and talk to him, Trini. You can’t run away from him. You know that."
"I know," she conceded miserably. He gave her a quick, reassuring hug.
"Come with us to see him, Trini. Give yourself a chance."
She was silent for a long moment, contemplating Tommy’s words, before finally giving in to his argument.
Jason was settled on his bed, to start reading a book for Literature, when he spotted them through his window. Tommy and Kat were coming toward the house, and they were ushering Trini between them. Jason drew in a slow breath, as his heart rate seemed to speed up. It looked as though Trini would have run, had Tommy not had a good hold on her. Anxious to see her before she broke Tommy’s grip and bolted, Jason manoeuvred himself back off the bed and into the chair, then hurried out to meet them.
"Hey, guys," Jason greeted them quietly as he rolled out the front door. Tommy smiled a little.
"Brought someone to talk to you, bro."
Jason looked down at Trini, but she refused to meet his gaze. "Thanks, Tommy, but would you mind…?"
Tommy nodded, and let go of Trini, knowing her honour would not allow her to run off now.
"C’mon, Kat. Let’s go. We’ll see you later, Jase."
Jason nodded wordlessly, not taking his eyes off Trini. Once the other two had gone, he spoke quietly.
"Think you could come up here? It’s kind of hard to manoeuvre this thing on grass."
Trini hesitated, then walked up the steps and crossed the porch to sit on one of the wicker seats. Jason rolled over to sit beside her.
"Missed you at school yesterday. Why’d you run off?"
Trini spoke softly, still unable to look Jason in the eye. "I’m sorry. I just couldn’t face you."
"Why? You aren’t responsible, Trini."
"How can you say that after blaming the others for so long?" Trini choked out, finally looking up at him. "They didn’t know. I did! And I did something that I knew would get you into trouble! I wasn’t thinking at all… It’s more my fault than theirs, Jason. You can’t deny that."
Jason shrugged. "Maybe, but I can forgive it. Trini, I knew it was wrong to blame Tommy and the others. I knew that all along. They were just an easy target. I’ve never blamed you. As far as I’m concerned, the only person really responsible is Matthews. That’s the bottom line. I don’t blame you, and I want you to stop blaming yourself."
"I don’t think I can," Trini whispered tearfully. "Jason, I’ve never been so reckless!"
"Yeah, well, just for the record, I’m glad you were."
Trini looked at him, startled. Jason smiled sheepishly.
"If you hadn’t, I wouldn’t have known how you felt. I would have gone for who knows how long thinking I never had a chance."
Red crept across Trini’s cheeks as Tommy’s words floated back to her, that Jason cared as much for her as she did for him.
"I’m sorry, Jason. I made a mistake."
"We all did at some point. Like Tanya said, we’re only human. We can’t help screwing up occasionally. I screwed up letting my anger get the better of me. We could have all been over this a lot quicker if I’d been more willing to forgive."
"You were still in hospital, though," Trini pointed out. "Billy said something the day that you stood up for the first time, something about the anger being the only thing that was giving you the strength to keep fighting. I think he was right."
Jason nodded. "The anger was keeping me going. But if I’d forgiven everyone who was involved from the start, then I would have had enough support that the anger wouldn’t have been necessary to begin with. But we’re getting off track, now. You’re trying to change the subject."
Trini had to smile, though the tears still welled in her eyes. "You say you’ve forgiven me, but it still hurts, knowing I’m partly responsible for this."
"You aren’t, though," Jason argued. "Matthews is responsible. No one else. Not even Tommy and the others. Stop blaming yourself, so we can move on. And I really want to move on from this. Help me, Trini?"
She reached over and grasped his hand. "I love you, Jason."
He smiled faintly. "I love you, too."
Trini hesitated, then leaned over and kissed him lightly on the mouth. This time, instead of sitting there like a cold fish, Jason responded. When they broke apart, both were smiling.
"So, you don’t mind dating a guy in a wheelchair?" he asked with a sly smile. Trini slapped him lightly on the arm.
"Don’t be moronic. You’re going to be out of that chair in no time. And I expect my boyfriend to be able to dance with me."
Jason looked momentarily uncertain, not quite sure how serious she was. He had never been a terribly good dancer even before the incident. Then, Trini grinned and Jason relaxed.
"Smart Alec," he retorted, and Trini laughed.
"I’m sorry. I just never thought that we’d actually get together… You know?"
Jason nodded. "Yeah, I know. Just out of curiosity, how long have you…?"
She smiled shyly. "Since about six months before we became Rangers. You?"
"Beat you," he said wryly. "Since we started Junior High. It’s a long time to wait. But then, you know what they say."
"Tragedy brings people together."
Trini blanched, not sure whether to laugh or be horrified. She saw the twinkle in Jason’s eyes, though, and managed to smile.
"I suppose it’s true. If you hadn’t come to Chicago, we may never have seen each other again."
"Don’t say that," Jason muttered. "I have enough nightmares as it is."
The smile on Trini’s face faded as she started to slide back to reality, and she decided to change the topic again.
"Do you have a lot of nightmares about Matthews?"
"Yeah," Jason confessed. "More than I want to admit. Especially now, knowing the trial is on in Chicago. I’m scared stiff that he’ll be found not guilty, or get let off with a suspended sentence."
"Are you going to go to Chicago to testify?"
Jason looked nervous at that. "I don’t know. The truth is, last night when we got home from the hospital, there was a policeman waiting for us. He had a message from the DA in Chicago. They want me to go and testify."
"Maybe you should," Trini suggested softly. "Maybe it’s what you need to stop the nightmares.
Or, at least help to ease them a little."
"I wish it was as easy as it sounds," Jason muttered. "I’m still scared of Matthews. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and for just a few seconds, I think I’m still with him in Chicago. That scares me so bad when that happens."
"All the more reason for you to face up to him," Trini told him. "I understand you’re scared. The truth is that you might never be totally rid of that fear. That’s not your fault, either. But you can’t let yourself be beaten by it. By him."
"I’ve thought about it," Jason confessed. "I imagine myself going into court… Walking, not sitting in the wheelchair… And being able to stare him down. That’s something I could never do. I could never hold his stare. He’d beat the crap out of me if I even tried, but I couldn’t even if I’d wanted to."
"More than that," Trini said, "do you think about how he must get treated in prison by the other inmates? Not only is he a cop who was probably responsible for putting away some of the men that he’s sharing the cells with, but he’s a child abuser."
Jason nodded, a smile creeping across his face. "I’ve thought about that too. And I can’t bring myself to feel sorry for him, even just a little. It isn’t just for the six months that I was with him. It’s for the first six years of my life, before Mum and Dad rescued me. But what would be the best thing if I did agree to go would be to see the look on his face when he sees me with Mum and Dad. He probably doesn’t know I’m back with them. He probably thinks I’m with Grandma."
Trini watched the expression on his face carefully. "Have you decided, then?"
Jason nodded. "Yeah. I want to testify. I know it won’t be easy, but I want it known just how big a bastard Matthews really is. And I want people to see what he did to me."
Trini reached over and hugged him tightly. "You’re really starting to get back to being your old self again, the strong, brave guy that I knew before."
Jason shut his eyes, hugging Trini back. "Only because I have you and the others to help me. I’d never get anywhere without you. I really love you, Trini."
A sad, but hopeful smile touched the former Yellow Ranger’s lips. "I love you, too."
Five days later,
Jason hesitated at the steps of the hospital, looking up at the tall building with a mixture of unease and déjàvu. In all honesty, he had never expected to lay eyes on this place again, or anywhere in Chicago, for that matter. For a moment, he had to stop and wonder what could possibly have convinced him to come back.
"Are you okay?"
Jason glanced up at Donavon, and then nodded quickly. "Yeah. Just a little nervous, I guess."
"I’d like to be able to let you skip this," Donavon told him, "but we both know that isn’t a good idea. You need the physio."
"I know," Jason conceded reluctantly. "I can’t help being nervous. But at least this isn’t as bad as having to go to court."
A smile touched Donavon’s lips. "True. C’mon, let’s go inside."
A frown crossed Jason’s face as they went through the doors into the large reception area of the hospital.
"I never saw this part."
"Well, don’t forget you came in as an emergency, and left via the helipad," Donavon reminded him.
Jason nodded absently. Something else was on his mind, now.
"Dad, my leg braces…"
"Are you sure?" Donavon asked in concern. Jason nodded.
"Yeah. I want to put them on before I see Dr MacNeil. Please?"
Donavon sighed inwardly and consented. So far, Jason had been reasonably good about the braces. He wore them as much as possible, but had heeded advice to be careful about over-use. That argument on Jason’s first day back at school had been the only one of its sort. Jason had not had another tantrum since.
He straightened up after clipping the braces into place and setting Jason’s feet carefully on the floor. Then, with expert care, he pulled the teen to his feet.
Jason let out his breath in a sharp hiss, his hands locking in a vice-like grip onto the crutches. It always hurt badly at first, but that initial spark of pain faded quickly enough, provided he gave it the chance. Sure enough, the stabbing pain in his legs faded to a bearable level, and he began to shuffle forward, his father following with the wheelchair.
Jack MacNeil and Kate Austin were in the corridor, helping themselves to the mediocre coffee from the vending machine and each trying to outdo the other’s anxieties.
"I am just sick of being in this place," Jack grumbled. "I wish I’d moved somewhere and not told Philip where I’d gone!"
Kate laughed. "He would’ve found you anyway. He’s annoying like that."
"Tell me about it. But this place… It’s draining me, Kate! Day in, day out I’m treating people who never say so much as thankyou, and only care about how much it’s costing them in the end. Just once I’d like to see the end product, if you know what I mean."
Kate, whose attention had been drawn away, down the corridor, nodded slowly in response to Jack’s plea.
"Actually, I think I do. And I think you’re about to get that chance."
Jack looked sideways at her questioningly. "What are you talking about?"
Kate smiled, and nodded down the corridor. "Look."
MacNeil turned, and momentarily froze. For just the briefest instant, he didn’t recognise the young man coming slowly towards him, but then his memory kicked into gear. Briefly, he flashed back to his first sight of the boy- a shocking mess of blood and bones on a hospital trolley, delivered as an emergency to the hospital after being found half-dead. Now…
"Jason?" Jack asked, incredulous. Jason managed a grin despite the obvious pain he was in.
"Hi, Dr MacNeil. Dr Austin. Long time no see, huh?"
Paying Jack’s dumbfounded expression an amused glance, Kate hurried over to greet the boy.
"It is! Look at you, on your feet! You look great!"
"No I don’t, but thanks anyway," Jason snickered. He finally came to a halt, looking at MacNeil with eyes that sparkled. "Well, I’m not exactly an end product, but what d’you think?"
Jack had to laugh, then, feeling the earlier tension rapidly drain away.
"I’d hug you if I didn’t think you’d go over like a top. I didn’t think I’d be seeing you again at all, let alone see you walking."
Jason shrugged lopsidedly. "Same. But I came back for the trial, and I figured I might as well stop in. Besides, after everything that happened, I wanted you to see me walking. ’Cause if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be walking at all."
"Maybe," MacNeil conceded. "Maybe not. You have to give yourself some of the credit there. You’re the one who’s had to put up with the pain."
Jason nodded. "Yeah. I guess."
MacNeil eyed him thoughtfully. "Here for physio?"
"Okay. Let’s go, then."
"…And when I first got back I think that half of me wanted to go and tell everyone I was back, and the other half wanted everyone to just stay away," Jason said as Jack carefully worked the muscles in his legs. "I worked it out eventually, but it took a lot of time. But they understood, just like you said they would."
"Only the idiots don’t," MacNeil told him, "and they’re the ones that aren’t worth worrying about.
Tell me, how long was it before you started with the leg braces?"
Jason flushed red at that. "Um… A few weeks, I think…"
"Try several," Donavon added from where he’d seated himself in the corner of the room. Jack chuckled.
"Nothing to be ashamed of with that. The important thing is that you got there. And that’s pretty remarkable considering how badly off you were when they brought you in."
Jason watched the doctor questioningly.
"I don’t remember much of that."
"Just as well. You wouldn’t want to."
"Was it that bad?"
MacNeil ceased working and rocked back on his heels to look Jason in the eye. "When I got to emergency after being paged, for the first hour I wasn’t sure if they were even going to need me. You were in a bad way, and that’s putting it lightly. Dr Austin can give you a better idea of how close you really came, but I really don’t think you need to know those sorts of details."
Jason nodded in wordless agreement. MacNeil had already provided him with more than enough information to satisfy his curiosity.
"So you decided to testify, then?" MacNeil asked, changing the topic. Jason nodded again.
"Yeah. I don’t really want to, but I have to… You know?"
"Yeah, I think I do. You’re lucky you have a choice, though. I got subpoenaed, and so did Dr Austin and Dr Catera."
"You’ll be testifying?" Jason asked in surprise. MacNeil smiled ruefully.
"I already have. Two days ago. They wanted details, so I gave them details. The judge had to call a long recess afterwards. I think the jury needed to go and use the bathroom really quickly."
Jason’s expression had darkened a little as he considered his own upcoming testimony. "I bet I get a similar reaction. I don’t intend to leave anything out."
Jack faltered a little, taken aback by Jason’s intensity. He glanced over to Donavon, but the teen’s father was equally baffled, and concerned, by the cryptic comment.
"Yeah, well, just remember that you don’t have anything to be afraid of anymore," MacNeil told him. Jason nodded.
"I know. That’s why I’m testifying, more than anything. I want to show him that I’m not scared of him anymore, and that I’m getting past it. And I want him to see me with Mum and Dad."
MacNeil looked over at Donavon. "I’m tempted to come. There could be a riot."
Donavon smiled faintly, but said nothing.
"You saw him, didn’t you?" Jason asked, and Jack glanced up at him.
"You mean Matthews? Yeah, I saw him. Smug bastard. He’s got himself a top lawyer, although God knows how he could afford it on his cop’s salary."
"Matthews had more things going than the way he treated Jason," Donavon explained. "He’s run a lot of scams over the years. Even if he doesn’t have the money to afford a lawyer like that, he’s probably got enough in his hip pocket to take his pick."
"Whichever it is," MacNeil muttered, "the D.A.’s got his job cut out for him. Matthews is really pulling in the sympathy vote with the jury."
A cold look had settled in Jason’s eyes. "Not for long."
Two days later
"How are you feeling, Jason?"
Jason looked up at the D.A.’s assistant, who was waiting with him and his parents outside the court room. It had been decided to call Jason as a surprise witness, since the trial had already begun when Jason had decided to testify. The D.A. had brought Jason into court via an entrance away from the media, and had instructed the teen to wait outside the courtroom until he was called for.
"I’m okay, I guess," he conceded. "A little nervous, maybe."
"That’s understandable," the man agreed. "Just remember that you’re perfectly safe. Matthews won’t be able to so much as get out of his chair without bringing every guard in the room on top of him. All right?"
Jason nodded wordlessly and fell silent again, going over his testimony in his mind. He’d been warned by the D.A. that the defence attorney would try to push things back on him, make the abuse out to seem less than it was and try to force Jason into admitting that that final incident had just been a terrible accident. He was aware of all that, and he was ready for it, but it wasn’t that which concerned him or made him nervous. It was what he had planned for after his testimony, that he had told no one about but the prosecutor of the case. He only hoped the judge would allow him to do it, because otherwise he could see no end to the nightmares and the torment that had been plaguing him since his
release from Matthews’ clutches.
"Jason? It’s time to go in."
He looked up to see a court officer approaching and, with a slight grimace, allowed himself to be pulled to his feet. Thankfully, his father hadn’t argued against the use of the leg braces. He seemed to understand Jason’s need to walk into court, and had quietly allowed it. Now, Jason made his way through the opening door of the courtroom and down the aisle.
Camera flashes from members of the media who were in the gallery flashed in his face, momentarily blinding him. Then, he blinked back into focus and made his way steadily towards the front of the courtroom, with his parents supporting him on either side.
"You," Matthews snarled at his lawyer as the court officer left the room to get the ‘surprise witness’. "You were supposed to be keeping track of the situation. You told me the little shit wasn’t even in Chicago anymore!"
The lawyer shrugged helplessly. "I don’t have unlimited contacts, Daniel. As far as I knew, your mother took Jason and left Chicago. I don’t know where they went. I guess the CPD managed to catch up with them and convince Jason to testify."
"Yeah, well, you’d better prove that you deserve the money I’m paying you," Matthews hissed. "I want you to trash his testimony. Do you understand me?"
The lawyer didn’t answer- he was looking away to the back of the courtroom.
"Here he comes… Oh, shit…"
Matthews spun around in his chair to get a look at his son, only to freeze, his heart very nearly
"What the fuck…?" he whispered finally, as he stared in disbelief at Donavon and Sarah Scott. "When the fuck did they get out of jail? And who the fuck let them have my boy?"
His lawyer had no answer. Jason had reached the gate and, pointedly avoiding so much as a glance at his natural father, he went through and allowed the officer there to help him into the witness box. The judge waited patiently until he’d settled himself on the wooden seat, and had been sworn in, before nodding to the prosecutor to go ahead.
Sarah deliberately ignored Matthews as she took her seat, but Donavon hesitated for just a brief moment, focusing a cold, hate-filled stare in the direction of the accused man. Then, he slid into the seat beside his wife and stared resolutely ahead. Matthews watched them for another long moment, but his attention was soon brought back to the bench when Jason spoke.
"Jason Lee Scott," he replied, in answer to the prosecutor’s question about his full name. Before the prosecutor had the chance to ask another question, Matthews shouted out angrily from the desk, his fraying temper snapping.
"That’s bullshit, his name is Jason Matthews!"
The judge glared at Matthews threateningly.
"Mr Matthews, I’m only going to tell you once to be quiet! If you have even just one more outburst, I’ll have you removed from this courtroom and placed in contempt of court. Do you understand?"
Matthews sat back, nodding grudgingly. The prosecutor watched him for a moment, then turned to the judge.
"Your Honour, we decided it would be more beneficial for Jason to give his testimony in full without the interruption of questions. After he’s finished, the defence may question him if it wishes."
The judge nodded after a moment’s pause.
"Very well, Counsel. I’ll allow it."
The D.A. smiled, partly with relief, and nodded to the teen.
"Go ahead, Jason. Tell us about the abuse, and start at the beginning."
Jason drew in a slow breath, then began to speak.
"It started the same day that I was handed back to him," he said. "Back to Matthews, I mean. We were in his hotel room, and he came out after packing his suitcase and asked me who my father was. I was still pretty angry about being separated from Mum and Dad, so I said Donavon Scott was my father. He backhanded me across the face, nearly knocked me off my feet. By then I’d started to remember some of the way that Matthews used to treat me, before Mum and Dad rescued me, and I decided I wasn’t going to let him get away with it again. When he came back at me, I used karate and fended him off. Then he kicked me in a head and told me that if I ever tried to fight back again, he’d take my head off.
"After that, he started beating me at least three times a week. Sometimes more. Most of the time there was no reason. He said it was good practise for him for when he had to deal with dangerous criminals. Usually he started with hitting me in the face, and around the head. Then he’d start on me with a belt. He always used the buckle. Said it was important to leave a mark so I wouldn’t forget the lessons. He always called them lessons.
"Most times he beat me badly enough that I’d end up throwing up. Sometimes he ended up knocking me out. And he starved me, too. The only times I didn’t go hungry were when I stayed with my grandmother. It was the same every day. I got one piece of toast for breakfast, nothing for lunch and usually one toasted sandwich for dinner. That was all. He said he wanted to make sure I didn’t get anymore ideas about fighting him.
"I didn’t fight him, pretty much because I knew he’d kill me if I tried. He threatened it enough times. I decided the best way to survive was to become invisible. I don’t know how well I managed it, because I still got the beatings. But after the first month or so, fighting back was no longer an option."
Jason paused in his story, staring down at his feet for a moment before going on.
"I lived like that for six months. I was lucky at school, because I ran into some old friends, and they pretty much took care of me there. But at home…" The teen shook his head. "More times than I could count, I imagined taking his gun and using it on myself, or going and jumping off a bridge, or something. The only thing that kept me from doing any of those things was the thought that one day I’d get away from him, and I’d be able to go back to my real parents. That was the only thing that kept me going."
He faltered, then, struggling against the threat of tears. The D.A. hesitated, then spoke quietly.
"Jason, what happened on the last day?"
Jason’s jaw clenched, and he looked up, pain and anger in his eyes.
"I was waiting for him after school. When the weather got cold, he started coming to pick me up from school. I don’t know why. It’s not like he cared whether I got sick. A friend of mine came to talk to me and… Well, she said a few things and then she kissed me. Matthews saw. He made out like it was a good thing, but I knew he was angry. We got back to the apartment building, and he pulled into
his parking space. The he asked me to get out and check the brake lights, because he thought one of them was out. I did, and that was when the car backed into me. I lost my balance and got knocked off my feet. I couldn’t get out of the way in time, and the car rolled right over my legs. I thought it was mistake, that he hadn’t realised I was still behind the car. I tried to call out… Then he put the car in gear and rolled it forward, over the top of me again. Then he backed it over me again. He ran the car over me three times. Once might have been an accident. Maybe even twice. But not three times.
"He got out then, and dragged me back up to the apartment. I remember exactly what he said to me, then. I don’t think I could ever forget. He said I was more trouble than I was worth, and that he should have drowned me when I was born. He said he never loved me, and that only reason he went to so much trouble to find me was because it pissed him off that someone got away with taking something that belonged to him. He said I deserved every beating I got, and that he wasn’t going to call an ambulance for me, that I could die of the pain for all he cared.
"He put me in my room, and said he had to go to work, but that he’d be back later to deal with me properly. And, he got in a few parting shots before he went. I think he broke several of my ribs as well."
The teen paused again, then went on in a soft, tense voice. "After he left… I don’t know how long it was. I was in pretty bad pain and I couldn’t move for a while. After he left, I managed to pull myself through to where the phone was, and I called my grandmother. I didn’t call 911. He was a cop. He would have found out and cancelled it. My grandmother came, and she called Chief Taylor." Jason hesitated, then looked up at the D.A. "That’s all I remember of that day. I don’t remember anything else."
The D.A. nodded. One glance at the jury showed that the tables had finally turned, and the odds were back on the side of the Prosecution.
"Thankyou, Jason." He looked to the Defence lawyer. "Your witness."
The defence lawyer rose up slowly out of his chair and approached the witness box. He knew his only hope was to get Jason confused, and make him contradict himself. He had a bad feeling, looking at the hard expression in the boy’s eyes, that that was not going to be an easy task.
"Jason… Let’s just look at one issue at a time, shall we? This so-called abuse. Tell me something. Your own opinion. Do parents have the right to discipline their children?"
Jason nodded. "Yes. When they’ve done something wrong."
"And do you agree that people have different ideals of what discipline should entail?"
Again, Jason nodded. "Yes."
"All right, then. Now please tell the court why you feel that your father was abusing you, and not simply disciplining you for doing something that he felt was wrong."
In the body of the court, Donavon and Sarah exchanged worried glances, hoping Jason would not allow himself to be confused by the defence lawyer.
Jason barely hesitated before he answered.
"One evening, Matthews came into my bedroom and told me he had to punish me because I hadn’t let the dog out. He hit me at least fifteen times with the belt buckle, as well as beating me with his fists."
The defence lawyer nodded. "All right, that may seem a little extreme, but you admit that it was punishment for not doing a chore."
Jason’s gaze narrowed considerably, and he spoke in a flat, cold voice.
"We never owned a dog."
The lawyer froze, caught momentarily off-guard. Finally, he shook himself out of it, then went on quickly.
"Well, let’s go on to the accident where you were injured. Would you agree that when a person is in severe pain, their judgement is impaired?"
"That depends," Jason answered. "Some people’s judgement might be impaired. Other people have perfect clarity and recall. I don’t remember much else about that day- like what I did at school- but no matter how hard I try, I can’t forget even the smallest details about what he did to me."
"Jason, Captain Matthews has testified that it was just an accident, that he put the car into gear by accident."
Jason didn’t flinch. "Like I said before. Once might have been an accident. But he ran the car over me three times. I was screaming before the third time. He knew I was under the car and he deliberately ran me over."
The lawyer stepped back, deciding to take a more aggressive stand before his defence was completely blown out of the water.
"You were in pain, Jason. Do you honestly expect us to believe that your father- the man who helped give you life- would try to kill you?"
Still Jason didn’t flinch. "Yes," he said bluntly. "I do, because that’s exactly what he did."
"Jason, Captain Matthews has a strong sense of discipline due to his years as a police officer dealing with hard criminals. You were kidnapped and brought up in a completely different atmosphere.
Is it so unreasonable to think that you might feel you were being treated a bit harshly, when in fact that was simply the way that Captain Matthews lived?"
Jason stared coldly at the lawyer. "I still have plenty of marks and scars from his treatment. Would you like to see?"
"I don’t think that will be necessary," the lawyer said dismissively. "No need to overdramatise things, I think."
Jason sat back a little. "Maybe Matthews was used to living like that, but if that’s true, then he must have spent a lot of time with prostitutes before he got me back."
Startled silence met the statement. Slowly, the defence lawyer looked back at Jason.
"What is that supposed to mean?"
Anger flashed across the teen’s face. "While I was with Matthews, he raped me and sexually assaulted me several times. Is that common practice for a cop? Even a Chicago cop?"
The judge spoke then, tensely.
"Jason, that is not a part of this case. If that truly happened, it should have been included as one of the charges."
"Excuse me, Your Honour," Jason said quietly. "But it is a part of it. It was part of the abuse that I had to live with. Please, I needed to say it."
For several long seconds, the judge said nothing. Then, finally, she nodded.
"All right. I’ll allow the statement to remain, but the jury is instructed to disregard it in their deliberations as there is no physical evidence to prove or disprove it. Does the Defence have anything more to say?"
The lawyer shook his head. "No, Your Honour."
The judge nodded. "Very well. You’re excused, Jason."
"Please, Ma’am," Jason said abruptly. "There’s something else I want to say."
"You’ll have an opportunity to say something more at the end of the trial," the judge replied. The D.A. rose quickly, then.
"Your Honour, Jason’s parents will be taking him back to California tomorrow. They won’t be here for the end of the trial. We’re asking special permission for Jason to say what he wants now."
For a long moment the judge didn’t answer. Finally, though, she conceded.
"All right. We seem to have thrown procedure out the window anyway. Go ahead, Jason."
Jason hesitated for a long moment. He’d been building up to this for a long time, and he wanted to get it right. Finally, gathering his courage, he raised his head and looked directly at Matthews, speaking slowly and with great deliberation.
"You are not my father." The words came out forcefully, even more forcefully than Jason had hoped. He went on, gathering more courage and determination from the anger and defeat that he read in Matthews’ eyes. "You might have brought me into this world, but you are not my father. I will never acknowledge you as my father. You’ve lost. I win. And I swear to God, I will never let myself become like you. Never."
Gritting his teeth, he rose and made his way out of the witness box, edging across the floor, nearly halfway to the gate, when he halted and looked at Matthews again. This time, there was no hesitation and no fear, and he felt a freedom the likes of which he hadn’t experienced since before the whole mess had started so many months ago. He spoke again, and couldn’t resist a triumphant smirk as he did so.
"You don’t mean anything to me. I’m going to go home now, and I’m going to forget you. Forget what you did and forget who you are. You are nothing."
He looked away from Matthews, then, and continued on towards the gate.
Matthews moved so fast, that no one had time to react. As Jason neared the gate, he flew out of his chair and over the top of the table, tackling Jason and bringing the teen to the ground with a violent crash.
"Little bastard!" he screamed, hysterical with rage. "You fucking little shit!"
One hand came up to deliver a blow, only to be jerked viciously back, the wrenching force pulling him off and away from Jason. Seconds later, Matthews was tackled by three court officers while a fourth went to Jason’s aid, along with the Scotts and the D.A.
"Are you all right?" Donavon asked tensely, the fear he felt reflected audibly in his voice. Remarkably, Jason was smiling.
"I’m fine. Thank God for the leg braces. Never thought I’d be grateful for them being so heavy and strong."
While Sarah hugged him in relief, Donavon rose up to face Matthews as the former officer was dragged unceremoniously to his feet. The judge was determined to get in before anyone else, though.
"Mr Matthews!" she roared, bringing an abrupt silence down on the entire court. "I am placing you in contempt of court, and I certainly hope the police will add a fresh charge of assault to the list. Bailiff, get him out of my courtroom! Right now!"
"Wait!" Donavon called, and stepped quickly in front of them as they started to take Matthews towards the side door. The bailiff and the officers halted, not quite sure what Donavon was planning to
do or say. However, none were surprised when Donavon hauled off and slammed his fist directly into Matthews’ jaw with a blow so strong that it nearly sent Matthews over despite the men holding onto him.
"Mr Scott!" the judge interrupted in a less angry, but equally forceful tone. "Do you realise what the penalty is for striking someone in a courtroom?"
Donavon grimaced as he rubbed his knuckles. "Yes, Ma’am, I’m aware of the penalty."
The judge paused, then nodded. "Well, then, it’s just as well for you that I didn’t see anything. Isn’t it?"
Donavon could barely withhold a grin. "Yes, Ma’am."
"All right, then. I suggest you and your wife take your son and go before anything else happens. I would like to get on with this court case!"
Biting back the urge to laugh out loud, Donavon helped Jason to his feet and, with the aid of the fourth court officer, they quickly left the courtroom.
"I can’t believe you decked him!" Jason burst out, once they were outside the courtroom. Donavon smirked, unable to resist it.
"I have been waiting to do that for thirteen years. Damn, that felt good."
Sarah spared her husband a reproachful look. "That’s a fine example you’re setting, Don." She couldn’t fight off a broad smile of her own, though, and finally gave in to her emotions, sweeping both her husband and son up in a huge embrace.
Donavon laughed softly, then, feeling an immense sensation of relief as he realised that the worst was finally over.
"You know," he said as he looked affectionately at his son, "even if Matthews does somehow escape this, there’s no way he will ever be able to get his hands on you again. No judge would ever reverse the adoption proceedings."
"He’s not going to escape this," Jason said firmly. "I know he won’t. And I don’t care. I just want to forget him, and start over fresh."
Donavon looked to Sarah, who nodded her agreement. Smiling, Don ruffled Jason’s hair and hugged him once more.
"I think," he said with quiet relief and determination, "that it’s time to go home."
Angel Grove desert,
The Power Chamber
"Zordon, you are aware of the charge against you?"
Zordon nodded and answered as he watched the five regal-looking figures from his tube.
"Yes, I am aware. Non-power related interference with a human’s life."
The chief among the five stood apart from her companions, speaking in a serious voice.
"The charge against you has been laid and proven. You admit to your own guilt, and for this the punishment is severe. However, we have taken into account the influence which you have had on this planet, and on the youths with which you have had contact, including the victim of this recent incident. It is not without merit, and certainly worth a great deal in your defence. As a result, the council has come to a decision. We will consult Jason, the first Red Earth Ranger and the victim in this matter, in a discreet manner. Your fate now will depend on Jason’s personal feelings towards you. If he has forgiven you, then you will be forgiven. If not, then punishment will be carried out as decreed in the Council Code. You will not alert the other Rangers, either past or present, to our plan. We will not have Jason’s opinion influenced in any way. Is that understood?"
Zordon nodded. "I understand. They will not be told anything. Tell me, how will you approach him without revealing yourselves or your motives?"
"We have our ways," was the simple reply. "Remain on guard. You will know when we have our decision. For now, farewell."
Then, they were gone. A long moment of silence passed, and then Alpha shuffled out from where he’d been hiding.
"Zordon? What are we going to do? Whether or not we stay on Earth now depends solely on whether Jason is still angry at us!"
"There is nothing we can do, Alpha," Zordon answered grimly. "If Jason is still angry, then so be it. I cannot blame him for it. But we cannot do anything to influence him. We must simply have faith that, deep down, he is still the same boy that I chose to lead the first Earth Ranger team. Now, Alpha, we can do nothing but wait."
In a side chamber, unbeknownst to both Alpha and Zordon, Rocky stood frozen, hardly daring to breathe. He understood the importance of the people who had just been in the Power Chamber, and he understood what was going to happen. He had heard everything and, trembling with excitement and nerves, he teleported out of the Chamber to go and find his friends.
"Trini, have you heard from Jason?" Tommy asked as Trini joined the group of friends in the Youth Centre. She smiled and nodded.
"He phoned yesterday afternoon, after he finished in court. They’ll be home tonight."
"That’s good news," Kim said with a sigh.
"What about the trial?" Adam wondered. "Did he say anything about that?"
Trini couldn’t resist a smile. "According to what Jason told me, he literally stood up, faced off with Matthews and told Matthews that he meant nothing to him. Then Matthews lost his temper, jumped out of his seat and threw Jason to the floor."
Tommy started up out of his chair, a mixture of anger and shock on his face. "He what? Is he okay? His legs…"
"He’s fine," Trini reassured him. "At least, he says he is. He told me that the leg braces kept his legs from getting hurt again. Anyway, he sounded fine to me. Tommy, he was laughing about it! Apparently after the court officers got a hold of Matthews, Mr Scott punched him! Right in front of the judge!"
"Oh no," Tanya moaned. "What did the judge do?"
"Apparently the judge ignored it," Trini answered, giggling at the memory of Jason’s retelling of the incident. "But whatever happened, guys, I don’t think I’ve heard Jason sound so… so happy for a long while. He really did sound happy."
Tommy breathed a sigh of relief, then, and sank back into his chair. "That’s good to hear. I know he’s not exactly going to be able to forget any of what happened, but maybe he’ll be able to start over again. I hope he can, anyway. He deserves that much."
"Hang on," Billy commented wryly as his gaze went to the door of the Centre. "Here comes Rocky."
"Looking like he’s about to burst a valve," Kat remarked in amusement. All eyes went to the current Blue Ranger as he shot across the floor and skidded to a halt, barely avoiding slamming into the table.
"Easy, Rocky," Tommy said with a laugh. "What’s up, man?"
Rocky shook his head, struggling to get his breath. In his excitement, he’d teleported to the middle of the park instead of to the Youth Centre, and had covered the entire distance running faster than he ever had before. Accepting the glass of water that Tanya handed to him, he swallowed a couple of mouthfuls, spluttered and coughed a few times, then forced the words out.
"Gotta tell you something," he gasped. "About Zordon. You know, how he said he was going to be punished?"
The teens all exchanged glances, and then Tommy got up quickly.
"C’mon. Let’s go outside and find a shady spot."
A murmur of agreement swept across the group, and they hurried from the Youth Centre together.
"Okay, Rocky," Tommy said quietly as they sat beneath the boughs of a large Oak tree. "Spill it. What do you know?"
"I was in one of the side chambers," Rocky explained. "I’d just come from checking up on my Zord. There were five people there that I’d never seen before, so I ducked into the side chamber so I wouldn’t be seen. I never saw their faces, but they were talking to Zordon. Guys, I think they were from the Council, or whatever it is that Zordon has to answer to. Anyway, one of them was talking, and she said that they’d pretty much found Zordon guilty, but because of the influence he’s had, he deserved a chance…"
"You mean they’re not going to do anything?" Kat asked breathlessly. Rocky grimaced.
"Not quite. Let me finish. They said that whether Zordon is punished or not is gonna depend on Jason."
"Jason?" Adam echoed. "How do you mean?"
"She said that they’re going to approach Jason at some point, and if Jason has forgiven Zordon then they’ll forgive him. If Jason hasn’t forgiven him, then Zordon will have to leave here. Probably for good."
"So what do we do, then?" Tanya wondered.
Rocky frowned. "I think it’s obvious. We have to tell Jason so he can tell these people that he forgives Zordon. Guys, we can’t lose Zordon!"
Tommy was watching Rocky with a suspicious frown, then. "Rocky, what else did these people
"What do you mean?" Rocky asked nervously. Tommy leaned forward a little.
"I mean, did they say anything about not telling us? In case we tried to influence Jason’s decision?"
Rocky shifted a little on the grass. "Well, they might have told Zordon not to tell us… But he didn’t! So it doesn’t count!"
Tommy shook his head. "We can’t tell Jason. We can’t tell him anything."
"But…" Rocky protested. Adam sighed.
"Tommy’s right, Rocky. These people that you saw talking to Zordon, they’d probably know if Jason was prepared for them. They’d know if he’d been influenced in some way, and that might turn out worse for Zordon than if we just let things go."
"So what do we do?" Kat asked softly. "Do we just let Jason condemn Zordon? Because we all know that’s what he’ll do."
"We don’t know that, Kat," Kim protested. "None of us know what he’ll do."
Trini nodded. "If he forgave all of us for making a mistake, then we have to trust that he’s forgiven Zordon as well."
"We can’t interfere," Tommy said softly, definitively. "That’s all there is to it. We just have to hope, and trust that Jason is ready to forgive totally."
Jason sank into his bed, relieved to be home, and know it was permanent. Although standing up to Matthews, like he had done, had been frightening, the accompanying sense of freedom had been awesome. For the first time in nearly a year, he felt as though his life was finally returning to what had been before.
Of course, his legs were still healing slowly, and that was something that he would simply have to be patient about. It would probably be a long time before he could walk without the braces, and then he knew he might always need a cane, but things were definitely better. That was something he could no longer deny.
The door to his room opened and a familiar face peered in.
"Still awake?" Catherine asked, stepping into the room and closing the door behind her. Jason smiled faintly.
"Not for long," he answered, stifling a yawn. Catherine hesitated, then sat down on the edge of the bed. She’d already heard the general details of the court case, along with a gusty recitation from Jason of Donavon’s assault on Matthews. Donavon and Sarah had both been tentative about telling her of that part, until she’d shown only relief that her son had finally gotten a dose of his own medicine. Now, she reached out and affectionately brushed Jason’s hair from his face.
"Well, you need a good rest. Your mother said you didn’t get much rest on the flight home from Chicago."
Jason pulled a face. "There’s never enough leg room. I couldn’t move around much, and I got pretty stiff and sore. And, I’ve got a sore butt from being taken everywhere in the wheelchair."
Catherine laughed softly, then leant over to kiss him on the forehead.
"You’ll feel better tomorrow."
Jason sighed faintly. "I feel better now. I feel like it’s over, finally."
Catherine caught hold of his hand and squeezed it gently before standing up to leave the room. "That’s because it is over, sweetheart. You’re back where you belong, back with the people that love you. It is over, baby."
Jason smiled again. "I know."
Catherine hesitated, then left the room, leaving Jason encased in darkness and silence. He lay awake for a little while, simply appreciating being in his own room, in his own bed, before slipping into a deep sleep.
He was standing at the edge of a wall of rock, looking out across a great expanse of forest that was dimly lit by a pale orange setting sun. Jason started a little, suddenly realising he was not in his room, in his home. For that matter, he was not anywhere that he even recognised. He started to turn, and realised that he was standing unaided, without the leg braces or even the crutches.
Jason stared down at his legs in wonder, seeing them as they had been before he’d been run down- strong, sturdy… painless.
"Is this a dream?" he asked aloud, of no one in particular.
"Yes and no."
He turned sharply to find himself facing a beautiful young woman clad in white and gold. She
offered him a warm, reassuring smile.
"Who are you?"
"You’ve heard of me, Jason. From your friends. My name is Dulcea."
Jason took a second look at his surroundings. "This is Phaedos?"
"You’ve been brought here through your dreams, by another’s control. So, in a way, it is a dream and it isn’t a dream."
"Why am I here?" he asked softly, trying not to let his confusion show.
Dulcea turned away from him, walking over to a small ledge, where she sat down. She motioned for him to join her.
"As I said, you’ve been brought here by another. As for why, that is partially up to you. You may consider this to be a final step to leaving behind the past year of your life and beginning anew. The last stage of healing, if you will."
She paused, as though waiting for another question. Jason stayed silent, though, watching her and waiting. She went on quietly.
"I’m not one to be able to make judgements on the emotions experienced by humans, suffice to say that I realise how deep-set they are. But I am aware that you were angry at the Rangers for a long time for their interference."
Jason looked away from her, then.
"But not now?"
He bit down lightly on his lower lip before answering. "I was more confused than angry. They were the easiest targets. But what happened wasn’t their fault. It took me a long time to understand that, but now that I do, I’m not angry anymore. The only person at fault is the person that hurt me. Tommy and the others… They didn’t understand what was going on, and I probably couldn’t have explained it properly to them even if they had stopped to listen. Even that wasn’t their fault. They were doing what they thought was best. They were trying to protect us from getting hurt. Mum and Dad would have done anything to keep Matthews away from me, including putting up a fight with the police. They probably would have been hurt if it had been the police to come after us. I can understand their intentions now. It wasn’t their fault, they didn’t mean for me to get hurt."
Dulcea regarded Jason with bright, serious eyes. "What about Zordon, Jason? He gave permission for the Rangers to step in. Can you find it in yourself to be so forgiving towards him?"
At that, Jason faltered. He’d come to grips with everything, and with everyone who had been in some way involved, but thoughts of Zordon had barely crossed his mind. Because, he supposed, he had not had to see Zordon since returning to Angel Grove.
"You are still angry at him, aren’t you?" Dulcea asked softly, and Jason thought he could hear a faint tinge of sadness in her voice. He stared at the ground, feeling some of the happiness that he’d regained start to slip away.
"Yeah. I guess I am."
Dulcea continued to watch him, not moving. Although she already had the answer that was needed, she held back, waiting and hoping.
"Do you know why you’re angry at him, Jason? Do you understand that emotion?"
Jason wiped absently at his eyes. "When Zordon first chose me as a Ranger, I was having problems with my dad. I mean, we loved each other, and everything, but he was getting really wrapped up in his psychiatric practice. He hardly ever had time to just sit and talk with me, and when he did, he ended up analysing everything I said. After I became a Ranger, I started going to the Command Centre a lot, and talking with Zordon. I guess I developed a pretty close relationship with him then. He was sort of like a second father… I won’t say a third father. Matthews was never a father to me. But Zordon sort of filled in the blanks that Dad left in those two years. When everything blew up, I couldn’t stop myself thinking that Zordon had betrayed me. I trusted him, and he let me down. In a way, everyone that I trusted let me down. Even Mum and Dad. But none of it was intentional." He looked up at Dulcea, then, and there was a different look in his brown eyes. "I am still a little upset at Zordon, but I don’t hate him for it. Zordon is like Tommy and the others. He made a mistake, but he didn’t intend for me to get hurt. I know that Zordon cares about all of us, like we’re his own kids." A faint smile touched Jason’s lips. "I overheard him telling Alpha that one day. Zordon has always cared about me, and I know he’d never want me to get hurt. What happened was a mistake, and that was all. He thought he was doing the best thing by letting the Rangers step in. It was just a bad mistake. I don’t hate Zordon for it. I forgive him, Dulcea."
A smile lit up Dulcea’s face, and she reached across to gently grasp Jason’s shoulders.
"You never changed at all, Jason. You were a good, kind soul before this incident, and you still are."
"That’s what you wanted me to say, wasn’t it?" Jason asked. "You wanted me to say that I
"Yes, Jason. But I could not prompt you in any way. It had to be your decision alone, unbiased and uninfluenced. But it was not solely for Zordon’s sake that I wanted you to say that. It was for your sake as well. The human soul can never truly flourish unless all grudges can be forgiven. Now, you will find that you will truly be able to begin again, and get on with your life." She stood up, gently drawing him to his feet with her. "It is time for you to return home, young warrior. But I have something for you before you go."
Taking his hand, she opened it and pressed something cool and smooth into his palm, closing his hand around it. She then leaned forward and kissed his forehead gently.
"May the power and your spirit animal continue to protect and guide you, Jason. Perhaps we shall meet again some day. But for now, farewell, young Ranger."
She reached up and brushed her hand down over his face, gently closing his eyes. There was the feel of a soft, cool breeze blowing past him, and then nothing.
Jason awoke with a start to find himself back in his own bed, in his own room in the home in Angel Grove. He lay still for several seconds, trying to recall what had just happened. He’d had a dream, he remembered. A very odd dream…
He shifted a little, only to cringe at the pain it caused him, and a faint groan escaped him. He remembered he’d dreamt that he’d been on Phaedos, talking with Dulcea, and that his legs had been completely healed. That, he reflected dismally, was something that would only happen in a dream. He shifted again, more carefully this time, and reached behind his head to adjust his pillows. It was then that he realised he was clutching something in his hand.
Curious and confused, he opened his hand to find a strange, round, metallic object resting in his palm. Reaching up to turn on his bed lamp, he gave the object a closer examination. It was not unlike the original Power Coins, he realised as he looked it over carefully, except that this was older.
He faltered as he turned it over to look at the other side. Etched clearly into the metal surface, staring back at him with wise, piercing eyes, was the image of a tiger. In an instant, Jason felt something akin to an electrical charge surge through him.
May your spirit animal continue to protect and guide you, Dulcea had told him in his dream… only now he began to realise that perhaps it had not been a dream after all. His heart beating in his throat, Jason reached across for the communicator that Billy had made up for him nearly two weeks ago, and activated it.
Tommy stirred, groaning in protest at the voice that interrupted his sleep. He grumbled incoherently under his breath, and flopped over onto his stomach, burying his face in his pillow.
"Tommy, damn it, wake up!"
Tommy’s head came up from his pillow, his face twisted into an annoyed scowl, while his hair went in every direction. A moment later, the voice, and its origin, registered in his sleep-fogged brain.
"Jason?" he asked, snatching his communicator up from his desk. "That you?"
"Yeah, it’s me. I know it’s late, but I’ve got to talk to you."
"Now? Can’t it wait till morning?"
"No, it can’t! I need to talk now!"
Tommy sighed, and started to disentangle himself from his blanket. "Okay. Meet me at the all-night diner in five minutes."
Silence met Tommy’s words, and the Red Ranger spoke with more than a touch of annoyance.
"What’s wrong now?"
"You stupid moron," Jason snapped, though there was no real malice in his voice. "I can hardly get out of bed without help! Especially in the middle of the night!"
"Oh," Tommy muttered, red-faced as he remembered. "Look, give me a second to put on my robe, and I’ll teleport to your room."
"Thankyou," Jason answered, appeased. Rolling his eyes, Tommy climbed out of bed, tugged on his robe, and teleported out of his room.
Jason was sitting up in bed waiting when Tommy arrived. Unable to help himself, the former Ranger smirked at the sight of his friend’s wild mop of hair.
"I forgot how you looked when you first get out of bed."
Tommy focused a threatening scowl on his friend as he sat down carefully on the edge of the bed. "Watch it. Don’t forget you woke me up. Now, what’s wrong?"
Jason hesitated, then. "I’m not sure that anything’s wrong… I think that maybe I’ve actually set
something right, but I’m not sure. Tell me something, what did Dulcea look like?"
Tommy blinked in surprise. "Dulcea? Man… I haven’t thought about her for a long time. Well, she was beautiful, that’s for sure."
"Thick brown hair down past her shoulders?" Jason inquired. "Really deep brown eyes? Strong accent?"
Tommy stared at Jason in astonishment. "How do you know?"
"I had this really weird dream," Jason explained softly, "but I’m not so sure it was a dream. She was in it. I was on Phaedos, and she was talking to me… About you guys… and about Zordon. She wanted to know what I thought about him now, after everything had happened, whether I was still angry at him for interfering."
For a long moment, Tommy had trouble breathing. He bit down hard on his lower lip as he recalled what Rocky had told them less than twelve hours ago.
"So… What did you say?"
"Well, I sort of admitted that I was still angry at him at first. But then I started looking at how I felt properly, and after a while I realised that Zordon never wanted me to get hurt, that his intentions were the same as yours. And then I told Dulcea that I forgave him."
Jason finally looked up from the blankets to Tommy’s face, and felt a touch of indescribable relief at the brilliant smile on his friend’s face. Tommy laughed as loudly as he dared, and threw his arms around Jason in a tremendous hug.
"You saved Zordon, bro! The Council, or whatever it is, they were going to punish him for interfering, but Rocky overheard them tell Zordon that his fate would be up to you, that if you forgave him, then so would they. So you saved Zordon!"
Jason sighed faintly. "I figured it was something like that, but I’m glad I didn’t know about beforehand. I probably wouldn’t have gone by my true feelings."
"That’s what we figured," Tommy agreed. "Rocky wanted to tell you, but we decided against it. Probably just as well, too."
"Well, after I said I forgave Zordon, Dulcea told me that was what she wanted to hear, but she couldn’t influence me in any way." Jason sighed and settled back a little against his pillows. "I feel better, though, just like Dulcea said I would. I needed to really forgive everyone… Even Mum and Dad for not telling me the truth early on. After all, if they hadn’t let me forget everything, I would have been able to really protest when Matthews came for me."
"It’s over now, bro," Tommy said softly. "Don’t get hung up on it now."
"I won’t," Jason murmured.
"So," Tommy said after a moment’s silence. "What happened at the trial? Trini said you told her that your dad decked Matthews."
A grin lit up Jason’s face as the memory. "Oh yeah, well and truly. I said what I wanted to. I told Matthews that he didn’t mean anything to me, and I was going to forget about him totally. He flipped and tried to attack me. When the court officers got a hold of him, Dad just went up and hit him square in the face. The judge pretended that she didn’t see that, but she put Matthews in contempt of court for attacking me. It was lucky. Dad really doesn’t need anymore jail time."
Tommy smiled faintly at the images Jason’s words presented in his mind. "After everything that’s happened, I don’t think any judge would be game enough to give your dad jail time. The media would rip them to shreds." He paused, stifling a yawn. "And I bet your dad’s been waiting a long time for a shot at Matthews."
"Has he ever," Jason muttered, pulling a face. "He said that when we came out of court on the day. He said he’d been waiting for thirteen years for a chance like that."
Silence fell for a while, and then Tommy spoke softly, eyes cast down.
"I’m sorry, Jase. I’m sorry for everything. Not just this business with Matthews, but everything else, too. I’m sorry if we made you feel like you weren’t part of the group anymore. I never meant for that happen. I don’t know how it happened."
Jason watched Tommy seriously. "I’m sorry too, Tommy. I’m sorry for holding on to my anger for so long. I just…"
"You don’t have to explain."
"Yes, I do. Everything built up so much, and I was so used to keeping in my emotions by then. What with getting hurt like I did, and my legs and everything, I just didn’t know how to deal with my anger anymore. You guys were convenient targets."
"You mean legitimate targets," Tommy corrected ruefully. Jason gave him a warning look.
"Don’t start. I mean you were convenient targets. I was really confused, angry, hurting, and I just couldn’t get around it. If you guys hadn’t come to the hospital that day while I was in physio, I would probably still be angry with you. Dulcea was right, though. We can never really begin to heal properly while we’re holding a grudge of any sort. That included Zordon."
"Lucky for Zordon," Tommy murmured. He paused, then grinned. "Lucky for us, too. I hate to think who they might have sent in Zordon’s place. After all, they couldn’t just leave us to do as we
A faint, amused smile crossed Jason’s lips at that, but he said nothing. Tommy caught the look, and smiled sheepishly.
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Ha, ha."
Jason burst into laughter, then, the likes of which Tommy could not remember hearing from his friend since long before the entire mess had started. He realised dimly in the back of his mind that Jason had not been truly happy from the time that Trey had taken back the Gold Powers, and understood finally how he had inadvertently contributed to that. Leaning across, he threw his arms around Jason in a quick, affectionate hug.
"What was that for?" Jason asked, recovering from his burst of laughter and gently drawing back from the embrace. Tommy shrugged.
"Nothing special. It’s just… I was thinking that we can’t go back and change anything, but maybe we can start over fresh. You know?"
After a moment, Jason nodded. "Yeah, I get you. Thanks, Tommy."
"Anytime, pardner," Tommy drawled, winning himself a smack over the head with one of Jason’s many pillows. The Red Ranger yelped, then laughed.
"Okay," he said decisively, standing up and stepping back from the bed. "I’m getting out of here before your folks walk in and catch me. See you tomorrow?"
Jason smiled, and refrained from reminding Tommy that it was already ‘tomorrow’.
A broad grin broke out across Tommy’s face at that. Jason had not called him ‘bro’ since… Well, not for a long time, anyway.
"Okay. I’m outta here."
"Tommy, just a sec…"
Tommy paused in teleporting, looking at Jason questioningly. Biting lightly on his lower lip, Jason reached under his pillow and produced something small and round. Tommy leaned forward for a closer look, and his eyes widened in surprise at the sight of the object.
"It’s a Power Coin!" he burst out. "Where did you get that?"
"In my dream, Dulcea gave it to me," Jason explained. "When I woke up, I had it in my hand."
"Can I have look?" Tommy asked, and Jason handed it over wordlessly. Tommy turned the coin over slowly in his hands, inspecting it closely. Finally, he looked up at Jason with a smile.
It was Jason’s turn to shrug and smile sheepishly. Tommy laughed softly and handed the coin back to his friend.
"I could go along with that." He paused, then spoke again softly. "Welcome back to the team, bro."
Jason only smiled in return, and Tommy finally activated his communicator, teleporting out in a flash of red light. After a long moment, Jason placed the coin carefully on the dresser next to his bed, and lay back down carefully.
Welcome back to the team…
It hadn’t sounded pretentious, or false. Smiling contentedly to himself, he switched off the bed lamp and, within minutes, was fast asleep.
Jason walked along the path slowly, leaning heavily on one cane for support. Months after learning walk all over again, the youth had finally been able to shed the heavy callipers and had eventually graduated from crutches to a pair of walking sticks, and then to just one cane. Occasionally he had an exceptionally bad day when he needed the wheelchair, but that wasn’t often.
Odds were that he would always need a cane, and he’d accepted that. He was happy just to be able to walk again. He knew deep down how close he had really come to losing that all together.
"Jase, you ready?"
Jason looked around, and couldn’t help but grin as Tommy joined him on the path, long hair blowing wildly in the wind.
"Nice look, Tommy," Jason commented wryly, and Tommy stuck his tongue out in retaliation.
"Stuff you. I didn’t have time to tie my hair back."
"Running late as usual, huh?"
"What about you?" Tommy retorted, unable to conceal a grin. He paused to look his friend over. Both boys wore dark maroon robes for high school graduation, a day they both felt had been long in coming. The robes hung down at ankle length which, while causing mild concern as a potential tripping obstacle to Jason, also hid the scars that ran up and down his legs- scars that would have otherwise been all too visible with the weather being far too hot for long pants.
Tommy looked back to Jason to find his friend smirking at him.
"What?" he asked, uncomfortable at being caught staring. Jason, however, only laughed.
"C’mon, we’d better hurry. Between the two of us, we might make it for the closing speech."
Tommy had to laugh then, as well. "Right, let’s go."
They made it just ahead of time, and found their seats with their friends.
"Thought you guys weren’t gonna make it," Adam murmured as Tommy sat on one side of him and Jason sat on the other side, next to Rocky. Jason smiled and shook his head.
"Couldn’t not make it. Not when I came so close to missing out permanently."
Rocky choked on his gum while Adam grinned, seeing it for the joke it was. Tommy pulled a face, then reached over to punch Jason lightly on the shoulder.
"I still say you ought to let us take a photo of you afterwards and send it to Matthews in prison. I bet it’d really piss him off to see you standing."
"Nah," Rocky said. "We take a photo of him with the Scotts. If you want to piss the guy off, that’s the way to do it."
"You guys are evil," Zack chortled, from where he sat in the row in front, listening to the conversation.
"Not evil," Tommy corrected with a pious look. "Just…"
"Lame," Jason finished, and the small group dissolved into laughter.
"You guys had better knock it off," Tanya told them in a chiding tone. "Mr Caplan won’t let you graduate if you don’t listen to his speech.
"Fat chance," Jason retorted. "I don’t know about the rest of them, but I can still pull the sympathy vote with him."
"I wouldn’t be so sure about that, Mr Scott," a voice said from behind, causing all of them to jump. Victor Caplan focused a hard look on the group, but the sparkle in his eyes gave away his good humour. He clapped Jason once on the shoulder, then headed on up to the front to take his place. The teens exchanged relieved smiles, and settled back into their seats to listen.
After a while, the Principal’s voice faded into the background, as Jason reflected over how… colourful his teen years had become. He remembered going into Middle School, and the Junior High with some reservation, worried that he wouldn’t find any good friends, worried that he wouldn’t quite fit in, worried about everything in general. But there’d been no reason to worry- he’d gone into those years with Billy as his best friend, and had brought Trini, Zack and Kim into the group soon after. They’d already been a close knit team by the time that Zordon summoned them to be Rangers.
Everything that had happened… Everything that was still to come, would benefit him in some way. It hadn’t all been easy, but that in itself was not such a bad thing. He looked down at his legs, covered at the moment by the long graduation robe. Some things he would always have to live with…
His gaze flickered upwards, to Tommy and the rest of his friends. Some things they would all have to live with. Jason looked back to his feet. They’d get by. They always had, and there was no reason why they shouldn’t manage now.
A hand touched his shoulder, and he looked around to see Adam watching him with obvious concern. He answered the unspoken question with a brilliant smile, instantly dissolving any worries
Adam may have had. Adam returned the smile and, once more, they settled back into their seats to enjoy the rest of the ceremony, and the rest of the day.