Jason Scott headed slowly home from school, feeling tired and generally
miserable. It had been a long, hard day, and he wanted nothing more than
to have dinner and go to bed early. He knew it was not a privilege he would
During lunch time that day, an older student had picked a fight with him. Bruce Davis, a senior whose father was a retired judge, had laid into him heavily, not giving him a chance to defend himself. Jason withheld a groan as he looked down at the detention slip in his pocket. Despite not having thrown a single punch himself, he had been the one to get detention. The teachers simply refused to do anything to Davis, for fear of rankling the judge....
Jason halted as he came within sight of his house. Maybe, just maybe, the school had not contacted his parents, and he would be able skirt around things with his father. Maybe... His hopes faded as he got to the lawn to find his younger brother, Max, waiting for him. The younger boy had an evil grin plastered over his face.
"I told Dad you got detention for fighting," he said bluntly, and clearly enjoyed the anxiety he saw in his brother's face.
"Why can't you keep your mouth shut for once?" Jason demanded, struggling against a sudden flood of tears. Max smirked at him.
"I like seeing you in trouble." Then, giggling wildly, he ran back inside. Jason shut his eyes for a long moment, then regained his composure and went inside.
* * *
Alan Scott was waiting for him when he came inside, and he looked anything but happy. "Detention for fighting?"
Jason wordlessly handed him the detention slip, feeling nauseous under the piercing gazes of his younger brother and older sister. Alan nodded.
"Okay. Out to the shed. Ill be there in a minute. We have some serious talking to do."
Jason went, pale and upset. Across the room, Melissa Scott looked unhappy.
"Alan, is it really necessary? Can't you at least give him a chance to tell his side?"
Alan glared at her. "Stay out of this, Melissa. I'll deal with the boy in my own way."
He then turned and disappeared down the hall. Once he'd gone, Max snickered loudly. "Jason's in trouble again," he hissed.
Amy looked equally gleeful. "Serve him right, getting detention like that. Dad must be awfully disappointed in him."
Melissa spoke up, on the verge of tears. "Both of you, shut up!" she snapped, startling both her children. "Max, you've done more than enough already, so you can just shut up right now! You too, Amy. I've had enough of you both harassing Jason."
Amy looked confused. "But Mum...."
"But nothing!" Melissa growled. "I don't want either of you saying another word against Jason, or I'll ground you both! That is a promise!"
She then hurried from the room before the floodgates could burst, leaving her son and daughter in stunned and angry silence.
* * *
Jason came back into the house nearly an hour later, stiff and sore from the beating he'd just suffered. He was barely able to stand up straight, and he felt as though he was about to throw up.
He looked around, and was relieved to see his mother standing there, waiting for him. "Mum..."
"In here, sweetheart. C'mon."
Jason allowed himself to be guided to his bed, then waited patiently as his mother undressed him and looked at his wounds.
"My poor baby..." she whispered, looking at the fresh welts.
Jason shut his eyes, but it did not stop the tears from overflowing. "I didn't have a chance to throw a punch," he said in a trembling voice. "I... I didn't even start it. It was Bruce Davis...."
Melissa felt her heart twist up painfully. "That horrible bully again? It's time someone let Judge Davis know what a terrible boy Bruce is. Don't worry, honey. Ill take care of you now. Just lie down, and let me look after you."
Jason lay down slowly, barely able to see for the tears in his eyes. "I don't feel well."
"I don't blame you. Don't worry, sweetheart. If you're no better by tomorrow, I'll call the school and tell them you aren't coming."
Jason didn't seem appeased by the promise, but said no more, letting his mother take care of him.
* * *
Alan Scott looked up at his wife coolly as she came into the kitchen the next morning. "Where were you all night?"
"With Jason," she answered boldly. "He's sick, Alan. Too sick to go to school today."
Alan clutched his coffee mug in a tight grip. "What did I tell you about giving sympathy to the boy? He doesn't deserve it."
Melissa glared at him. "Forget sympathy, Alan. Didn't you hear me? I said Jason is sick."
"I heard you. I don't want him missing any school. You can just get him up and make sure he's ready to go. I don't want him in detention for being late as well as for fighting."
Melissa withheld a sigh. She knew it was pointless arguing with her husband, and it irked her badly to see Amy and Max smirking into their cereal. Why they hated Jason was beyond her, but she knew why her husband seemed to hate him so much. She sighed heavily and went to get Jason out of bed.
* * *
Jason stayed steady on his feet long enough to make it into the bathroom at school, and then into the nearest toilet where he threw up. He stayed there for five minutes at least; he wasn't sure just how long it was. His mother had been deeply apologetic about making him attend school, but he wasn't upset at her. He knew she was afraid of Alan Scott as well.
Tears filled Jason's eyes as he stumbled over to the basin and splashed cool water over his face. The worst part had been the taunting jeers of Amy and Max. It was beyond his understanding why those two hated him; he could not remember doing anything to deserve it.
He groaned softly, clutching his stomach and doubling up over the basin. He was going to be sick again....
"Well, well, look at what we have here, boys." Jason felt his heart sink as he recognised Bruce Davis voice. Davis was the last thing he needed...
Bruce Davis grinned cruelly and slowly advanced on Jason's hunched- over figure. "It's the fall guy! Nice going yesterday, Jase, taking the detention rap for me. Thanks a lot, buddy."
Laughter rippled through Bruce's gang. Jason didn't move. If Davis saw him crying like a baby, then he would be in line for another beating. That was something he was sure he could not handle.
Davis frowned when he didn't get a reaction from the other teen. "Hey, Scott, look at me when I'm talking to you!"
Still Jason didn't move, and Davis got impatient and reached out, thumping Jason on the shoulder. He hit a particularly tender spot, and Jason howled in pain, going down on his knees. Davis was startled, to say the least.
"What the...? C'mon, Scott, it wasn't that hard...." He trailed off in shock as Jason slid all the way to the floor, turning around enough for him to see his face. "Oh shit...."
Jason gave a choked sob, and buried his face in his arms as much as he could, not wanting to have to face Davis' wrath. In the space of an instant, though, Bruce Davis' cruel streak vanished, and he dropped down on one knee next to the battered teen. "What the hell happened to you?" he demanded to know. "Someone else beat you up after me?"
Jason shook his head, unable to answer. Bruce looked back at his friends. "Clear out of here, all of you. And make sure no one else comes in."
The gang did so quickly, following their leader's orders. Bruce then turned back to Jason and spoke in a remarkably quiet voice. "Okay, Jason. What happened? Spill it. You look like you got hit by a truck."
Jason looked up at Bruce finally. "You... You won't believe me."
"You won't care. No one else does... but my mum...."
Bruce's face creased with concern. "C'mon, Jason. Tell me what happened. Maybe I can help."
A long moment past, and then Jason spoke in a trembling voice. "It was my dad. He... He did it. He beat me for getting detention."
Shock filled Bruce's face. "Oh... Oh Jesus... I'm sorry...."
Jason shut his eyes, turning his face away at the same time. "He used the whip this time. He was really angry."
The shock on Bruces face turned to horror. "Whip...? This time...? This has happened before?"
Jason didn't answer; the pain on his face answered for him. Bruce shut his eyes as well, gathering his thoughts. He had deliberately started a fight with Jason yesterday, and had gotten in all of the punches. Jason had not even had the chance to defend himself, but because of his father, only Jason had gotten detention. At the time, he'd thought it was a huge joke... until now. A younger teenager had been brutally beaten by his father because of a cruel and stupid act....
Bruce carefully laid one hand on Jason's shoulder. "Okay, c'mon. I'm taking you to sickbay. Can you get up?"
"I have to get to class," Jason whispered, and there was stark terror in his eyes. "I can't get into trouble again...."
"You won't," Bruce said firmly. "I'll make sure of it. I'll see that the detention bit gets dropped as well. This is my fault that you got hurt like this, and I'm going to do something about it. Now c'mon."
Jason finally allowed himself to be pulled up by Bruce, and guided from the bathroom. Outside, the rest of the group spared their leader an odd look. Bruce looked around at each of them. "Plan's changed. We're helping out Jason here. Understand?" They all nodded wordlessly. Bruce motioned to one bigger boy. "Get over here, Jake. Help us out. We're taking Jason to sickbay."
No protest was made as Jake carefully slung Jason's arm over his broad shoulder. "Nice and slow," Bruce murmured. "That's it..." They reached sickbay a short time later, and Jason was soon in the care of the school nurse. Bruce then went to Victor Caplan, the school principal, who had been passing sickbay when the boys arrived with Jason.
"Sir," Bruce said quietly, seriously, "I have to talk to you."
"In my office?" Caplan inquired.
Bruce hesitated, then shook his head. "No. Here is fine. Listen, none of what happened yesterday was Jason's fault. I lied about it. It was me that started the fight. Jason never even got a single punch in. He shouldn't have to go to detention, sir, I should."
Caplan blinked, startled. "What's brought on this change of heart, Mr Davis?"
Bruce hesitated, then spoke quietly. "Sir, Jason said it was his father that beat him up yesterday. Because he'd gotten detention."
Caplan felt his heart skip a beat. "Are you positive about that, Mr Davis? That is a very serious accusation."
"I know, sir, and I'm positive. He said his father beat him. He said he used the whip this time. That's what he said."
Caplan moaned softly, then spoke. "Mr Davis, would you be willing to repeat all of that to the police?"
"Yes. I would."
Caplan nodded and was about to speak when the nurse came out, looking anxious. "Excuse me, Mr Caplan? I think you'd better call an ambulance. We have one very, very sick young man in there. He's very badly hurt, too."
Caplan looked back at Bruce. "You'd better come with me, Mr Davis."
Bruce nodded and went without protest.
* * *
Amy was sitting with her friends at lunch time when they were interrupted by another younger girl, whom they occasionally allowed to hang out with their group. "Amy, have you heard?" Carla Daniels asked breathlessly.
Amy tried to look suitably detached. "Have I heard what, Carla?"
"Your brother!" Carla burst out. "He was taken to hospital this morning!"
Amy instantly forgot all her decorum. "Max? Is he okay? What happened?"
Carla frowned. "Not Max. Jason! It was Jason!"
The detached look returned, mixed with disdain. "Oh." The other girls spared their friend a wondering look. They all considered Jason Scott to be one of the more attractive boys in the school, and they could not understand Amy's dislike of her brother.
"So," Amy sighed, "what's happened?"
Carla hesitated, then spoke carefully, suddenly uneasy. "Apparently he collapsed in the bathroom this morning, and Bruce Davis found him. He took Jason to sickbay, and they had to call an ambulance, he was so sick."
Amy continued to look disdainful. "And that's supposed to concern me?"
Claire Ruxton glared at her friend. "Amy, don't you give a damn about Jason at all? What's the matter with you? If he was my brother, I'd be panicking all over the place until I knew he was okay!"
Amy looked calmly at her. "Then I'll trade you brothers."
Carla's expression darkened considerably. "Well, if that doesn't concern you, then maybe this will. I talked to David Barry just earlier. Mr Caplan called the police in because Jason had been beaten up really badly."
"By who?" Amy asked, frowning. "Bruce Davis? That's old news, the fight happened yesterday."
"No," Carla said softly. "Shut up and listen. Bruce finally got Jason to tell him who'd beaten him up, and he said it was his dad."
Amy visibly froze, then her face went black with rage. "He's lying again! Jason's a liar! Don't you see? My dad wouldn't hurt a fly"
"You're blind," Carla snapped. "I saw Jason before the ambulance officers put him in the ambulance. He looked like he'd been set on by about five big guys. If Jason said his dad beat him, then I believe him. Your dad's a child-beater, Amy."
Amy got up, tears filling her eyes. "That's a lie! Jason's lying! I hate him, and I wish he was dead!" She turned and fled before anyone had a chance to say anything else.
* * *
The police moved fast, and Melissa was at the hospital within a couple of hours of clearing herself with the police. She was immediately taken to her son's bedside, and was soon in tears with guilt. "Jason, I'm sorry," she sobbed.
Jason threw his arms around his mother, burying his face in her shoulder. "It's not your fault," he whispered. "I know you were scared of him, too."
"That was no excuse," she said fiercely. "No excuse at all. I should have done something. Now, look at you... My poor baby...."
"I'll be okay," Jason reassured her. "I'm just not too great right now. I'm kind of glad that I don't have to pretend anymore, though."
"You don't," Melissa told him. "I promise. He'll never have the chance to hurt you again, Jason. Never again...."
Jason hugged her again, even more tightly, knowing she was telling the truth.
* * *
"Where's daddy?" Amy demanded when she and Max were directed to the hospital after school. "What lies has Jason told the police about him?"
Melissa spared her daughter a grim look. "No lies, Amy. Just the truth. Your father has been beating Jason, and he had the courage to tell someone about it."
"No," Amy spat angrily, "that's not true. I don't believe it. Daddy wouldn't hurt anyone, even a creep like Jason. He's lying. I know he is. Now Daddy's in jail... I wish Jason was dead!"
Melissa reacted abruptly, slapping her daughter hard across the face. "Shut up, Amy," she snapped, anger in her eyes. "Just stop it! These walls aren't soundproof, and I don't want Jason to hear you say that. It is not a lie. Every time your father took him out to the shed, it wasn't to talk to him, it was to beat him! I never tried to stop it because I was just as afraid of that bastard as Jason was. Now, he's in jail and I'm going to do everything I damnwell can to make certain he stays in there! I don't ever want Jason to have to see him again."
"What about us?" Amy sobbed, pulling her stricken little brother close. "Daddy never hurt us! We don't want to lose him...."
"I'm sorry, Amy," Melissa said softly. "I really am, but I will not back down again. I won't sacrifice Jason so the two of you can stay with your father. But if you still don't believe me, go home. Go out into the backyard and go into the shed. Have a look in there and see what you find."
"But we're not allowed to go into the shed" Amy protested. "Daddy said we were never to go in there...."
She trailed off, and Melissa spared her daughter a grim look. "Think about that, Amy, before you judge Jason." She then turned and headed back down the corridor to Jason's room.
* * *
An hour later, Amy and Max ventured towards the shed, steeling themselves to go in. "Amy?" Max whispered fearfully.
Amy looked grim. "We have to, Max. It's the only way to prove that Jason is lying."
"But what if he isn't lying?" Max asked, tears in his eyes. "What if it's true?"
Amy shook her head, and reached for the door handle. "C'mon."
* * *
It was dark in the shed, and for a long moment they could see nothing at all. Then, their eyes began to adjust to the darkness, and they began to make things out. A long, wooden bench in the centre of the floor, and hanging around the place were a number of objects. Belts, whips, canes Also, things that Amy could not even identify.
She wandered forward in a daze, and looked down at the bench in shock. The bench was almost covered with dry, red paint. Only it wasn't paint. Amy brought one hand up to covered her mouth as she stared down at what she knew was her brother's blood.
"It's true," Max whispered, and even Amy could no longer deny it. "Jason wasn't lying," he said, his voice starting to crack. "Dad has been beating him...."
Amy gave a muffled sob, a whole barrel-full of emotions assailing her.
Angel Grove Memorial Hospital....
"Jason, are you awake?"
Jason looked around to see his sister standing there, pale and shaken. He sat up a little to meet her. "Amy? What's wrong?"
Amy moved up to the bedside, tears in her eyes. "Max and I saw inside the shed. Oh, god... Jason, I'm sorry...."
Jason reached out and caught her hand up in his own. "You didn't know. Don't be upset."
She rubbed away the tears, but more fell. "You must hate me... for the horrible way I treated you...."
Jason leaned over, ignoring the pain through his chest and gut, and hugged her as tightly as he could. "No, I don't. I don't hate Dad, either. I just don't understand why he hates me. I wish I knew...."
"I can tell you why," Melissa said from the open doorway. She walked in, closing the door behind her. "Amy, sit down. You're old enough to hear this, now."
Amy sat down on the edge of the bed, holding Jason's hand in her own. Melissa also sat down on the edge of the bed, and spoke softly. "Jason, Alan turned on you because he couldn't bring himself to take his anger out on me. I'm afraid that, ultimately, it's my fault that he's treated you like this. Jason, sweetheart, Alan is not your father."
Jason froze, his face draining of colour. "What...?" Amy's grip on his hand tightened. "Mum, what are you talking about?"
Melissa looked ashamed. "After you were born, Amy, your father went away a lot. I was lonely, and I'm afraid I was unfaithful. I had an affair with a man who was living in Angel Grove at the time."
Amy gaped at her mother. "You... were with another man?"
Melissa looked ashamed. "Yes. I was sorry for it when Alan came home and discovered it, but it was too late. I soon found I was pregnant, again. With you, Jason."
Jason slumped back against the pillows, stunned by the revelation. His father was not his father at all....
Melissa went on quietly. "Alan threatened to leave me, but I begged him not to. He eventually agreed to stay, for the sake of his daughter. When you were born, Jason, he accepted you as his own son, but only to a point. Then, when Max was born, that was when he started to become violent towards you."
Amy started to understand. "He had a son of his own, so he didn't want Jason anymore...."
"Yes," Melissa admitted. "That's basically it."
Jason lay still and silent, his face expressionless but for the tears in his eyes. "He never wanted me."
Melissa watched her son with grief. "I'm sorry, Jason. I wish I'd told you a long time ago. It might have saved you some of the agony you've gone through."
Jason looked away. "Could I be alone, please?" Melissa nodded and, standing up, started to usher Amy from the room, but the girl held back.
"Jason, I'm sure everything will be all right. And... I'm sorry." She was then herded out by her mother before she could say anymore.
* * *
Melissa saw Alan in jail at her own request, and for a moment, as she stared at him through the protective glass, she wondered how she would survive without him. Then, the thought was gone, replaced by the image of her oldest son.
"Come to bail me out?" he asked dryly.
Melissa didn't flinch. "No. You can stay in there and rot, for all I care."
Alan glowered at her. "That's wonderful. After all those years that I've provided for you and the kids...."
"What about Jason?" Melissa demanded. "All you ever gave him was a new meaning to the word fear!"
Alan's hands curled into fists. "What has that little bastard been saying about me?"
"Everything that I could encourage him to say. You don't have a hold over us anymore, Alan. I told Jason and Amy the truth. Jason knows you're not his father."
Alan thumped his fists against the table. "I'm the closest thing the bastard kid has to a father!"
"You were never a father to him," Melissa snarled furiously. "I'm never going to let you near him again, you understand me? Never!"
Without waiting for him to reply, she got up and stormed from the room.
* * *
Melissa looked down at Jason anxiously. "Yes? What is it, sweetheart?"
"Who is he?"
"Who is who?" she asked nervously, although she already knew what he meant.
"My... my real father. Who is he? Is he still alive?"
"Oh, yes. He's still alive. Honey, are you sure you want to know...?"
Jason wiped away a single tear. "He couldn't possibly be worse that what I've already had."
Melissa had to concede. "His name is Robert. Robert Carter." A moment of silence passed, and then Jason spoke again. "Is that all you're going to tell me?"
"Do you want to know more?"
"All right, then. He's living in Los Angeles. He's a producer and director, actually. For Hollywood."
Jason's jaw dropped. "That Robert Carter? The same guy who produced Raise The Dead?"
She smiled a little. "Yes, that Robert Carter. That's your father, baby. Your real father."
The surprise filtered from Jason's face as he quickly came back to reality. "Does he know? About me, I mean."
"I sent letters and photos, but if he got them, he never acknowledged them. He was young, then, and just starting in the industry. Maybe he was afraid it would hurt his career... I don't know. But I made every effort to let him know he had a son. I kept sending him letters and pictures of you up until you were five or six. Then your.... Then Alan found out and put a stop to it."
Jason looked down at the bedclothes, tears spilling from his eyes. "Maybe he just didn't want anything to do with me, either. Like Dad...."
"I don't know," Melissa said softly. "But whatever else, Jason, you know I love you, very much. I won't leave you alone, I promise."
Jason sighed. "I know. I just wish...."
Jason shook his head and slipped down beneath the covers. "Goodnight, Mum."
She leaned over and kissed him lightly on the cheek. "Goodnight, sweetheart."
* * *
The rangers were all gathered in the Youth Centre when Jason was released from hospital. They had heard the rumours, knew of Alan Scott's arrest, but still weren't sure whether to believe it. Kat was the first to spot the former Gold Ranger as he walked slowly into the Centre, head down and shoulders slumped. "There he is. He looks so sad...."
Tommy got up. "Wait here. I'll go get him."
* * *
Jason looked around slowly as Tommy hurried over. He didn't even try to smile; he knew he couldn't manage it. Tommy joined him and laid a hand very gently on his shoulder.
"Jase, are you gonna come and join us?"
Jason looked wary. "That depends. Are you gonna probe me for answers, or just let it rest?"
Tommy smiled just a little. "We won't ask anything if you don't want to talk about it. I promise. C'mon, buddy...."
Jason finally conceded and followed Tommy over to the table. Though no one spoke, it was obvious they were anxious for answers. Jason finally conceded.
"Can we go somewhere else? I don't want to talk in here."
Tommy was on his feet in an instant. "Sure. Let's go."
* * *
"It's true," Jason told them once they were away from the Youth Centre and sitting beneath a large Oak. "Dad was arrested for assaulting me."
"How come he beat you?" Rocky asked, confused.
Jason shrugged. "The same reason that he beat me every other time. Because he practically hated the sight of me."
"Other times?" Tommy echoed, horrified. "What d'you mean, other times?"
Jason stared miserably at the ground. "Dad has been beating me up like he did the other day ever since I was six or seven years old."
"What?" Kat stared at him in disbelief. "You've fought putties, cogs, and God knows what else, and you let your own father beat you up?"
Tommy shot Kat a warning glare. "Knock it off, Kat. This is different, and you know it."
Jason sighed, and was unable to hide the humiliation he felt. "I know how it sounds. It's just... It's happened for such a long time, that by the time I started to realise that it wasn't right, I couldn't break away. I guess I was a pretty good actor, too, that I managed to hide it from every- one. Trini, Kim, Billy and Zack never knew... At least, I don't think they did. If they did, they never said or did anything. Amy and Max didn't even know about it. Dad always took me out to the shed to beat me. It happened at least once a week, and mostly at night time. I wouldn't get back to my room until after Max and Amy were asleep. Mum and I were too scared to stand up to him, so up until Bruce Davis found me last week, no one had known."
Silence reigned as they all contemplated the torture Jason must have been subjected to. Finally, Tommy spoke. "It's over, now. He won't be able to hurt you again."
"That's true," Jason admitted, "but it isn't over. Guys, Mum told me something in the hospital. She... She said she had an affair after Amy was born and that she became pregnant with me as a result."
"What are you saying?" Tanya asked tentatively.
Jason dared look at them for only a second. "Alan Scott isn't my real father. It's why he hates me so much. Because I'm not his. I'm just a reminder that Mum wasn't always faithful to him. I'm not blood-related to that son-of-a-bitch."
"If he isn't your real father," Adam said slowly, "then who is?"
"Mum told me, but I'm not going to say anything. I don't want to cause any trouble."
"Hang on," Tommy said nervously. "It's no one we know, is it?"
Jason smiled tiredly. "No, it's no one you know directly, but you've all heard of him. That's all I'll say. I don't even know whether I'm going to do anything about it."
"Don't you want to meet him?" Kat asked, and he nodded.
"Yes, I do. I just don't know. Mum said she sent him letters telling him about me, but he never contacted her again. The only thing I can assume is that he didn't want to acknowledge it at all."
"Maybe your father... I mean, maybe Alan Scott intercepted any reply letters," Tommy suggested.
Jason shrugged. "Maybe... Maybe not. I don't know. I'm just so damned confused right now, I don't know whether I'm coming or going. I need to think it out. I'm just saying, because if I do take off, you'll know what's going on."
The others nodded. Then, Rocky spoke again. "It really is good news, Jase. This means you've got a second chance. You don't have to answer to that bastard any more."
Jason looked grim. "And then there's the possibility that my real father will turn out to be an even bigger bastard than the guy I've called dad for the past seventeen years."
Tommy tried to smile; couldn't quite manage it. "Somehow I doubt that, Jase."
Jason sighed softly. "Yeah. So do I."
The Next Morning....
Jason had made up his mind by the next day. He came into the kitchen for breakfast and sat down before speaking in a decisive voice. "I want to go to Los Angeles."
Melissa stopped in mid-stride, then looked back at Jason. "Are you certain about that, Jason? You've thought it through?"
Jason started to nod when Max spoke up indignantly. "If Jason gets to go on a holiday, then so do I!"
"Shut up, Max," Amy hissed. "It's not for a holiday."
Jason ignored his younger brother. "I was up most of the night thinking it over. I'm never going to have any peace if I don't find out for sure."
"I told you...." Melissa started to say, but Jason cut her off.
"I don't doubt you about that. I just want to know his side of it." Melissa nodded. "I understand. He really is a very kind man, Jason. He was when I knew him. Don't judge him until you've met him."
"I won't. I just want the chance to know him. That's all."
"When do you want to go?" she asked.
"As soon as possible. I've got eight weeks before mid-terms, and I want to be past this by then."
"All right. I'll book a seat for you on a bus to LA in a couple of days. Is that all right?"
"Yes. Thanks, Mum."
"It's okay, honey." She paused. "Jason, you know you may come away from this disappointed."
"I know that," Jason confessed. "If I get there, and he doesn't want to have anything to do with me... Well, at least I'll know."
She smiled reassuringly at him, then went to make the booking.
Two days later....
Jason sat on the bus, staring out the window at the passing scenery. It was just about the longest trip he'd been on, barring the trip to Geneva. A small smile flickered across his face as he remembered the trip to the airport. His father... Alan... had been cloaked in a deathly silence all the way there, but it hadn't dampened his enthusiasm.
He had gotten away from Alan for a whole year. A year of peace, and no pain. He'd gotten his self-confidence back, and had started to respect himself again. There was one friend in particular that he'd made at the conference, that had helped him get his life straight again.
Kirk St. John, an English delegate that he'd been roomed with. After a tentative start, they had become great friends, and Jason had eventually confessed to the problems he had with his father.
Kirk had been a good friend. He had given Jason a willingness to trust in himself again, and to love life as he had once done. Now, after returning from the conference, Jason had fallen back on that time with Kirk and had not let his spirit be broken again. That, he reflected, had probably enraged Alan even more....
Now, though, Jason was facing a new challenge. He continued to stare out the window with a sudden feeling of fear. What if his real father was as cruel as Alan? What if he wanted nothing to do with him? What if.... What if... He shut his eyes tightly, wondering all of a sudden whether he was making the biggest mistake of his life.
* * *
He arrived in LA that evening, and caught another bus out to Hollywood, where he checked into a room at the Regent Hotel. His mother had called ahead and booked a room there for him as well. Once settled in his room, he called his mother to let her know he'd arrived safely, then curled up in a huge armchair near the window and looked out at the city lights.
Tomorrow, he would begin the hunt for his father. His real father, who hopefully would turn out to be kinder than Alan Scott. He sighed softly to himself, then, eventually, fell asleep in the chair.
* * *
The next evening rolled around, and Jason found himself trudging back into the hotel, feeling more despondent than he had for a while. Every effort he'd made that day to get to Robert Carter had failed. It was as though the man was being protected by a higher being, and could not be reached by people like Jason.
He was heading towards the elevator when a voice spoke beside him. "I haven't seen a face that long since Nixon got thrown out of office." Jason looked around in vague surprise, and saw an elderly man walking beside him. The man offered Jason a smile. "You look lonely. Pardon my nosiness. You here on your own?"
Jason was instantly wary, alarms ringing in his mind. The man spoke quickly. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. You don't have to worry. I'm no weirdo."
The boy relaxed, seeing he was honest. "It's okay. I just haven't had a real good day."
"On holiday here?"
"Sort of. I... I am alone."
"I thought so. Listen, I was just heading to the restaurant to meet my wife for dinner. How would you like to join us?"
Jason was unsure. He'd been trying to keep his expenses down Then, his mother's words floated back to him as he'd been getting on the bus.
Jason, don't forget to treat yourself while you're away. Don't worry about cost. Just have a good time while you're gone.
He finally conceded. "That'd be great. Thanks." The old man grinned, and led Jason towards the restaurant.
* * *
Dinner had been pleasant, and Jason had found it soothing to his nerves to have someone else to talk to. Now, he retired to his room to try and decide how to tackle the problem of getting to Robert Carter. If Carter had just been an ordinary guy, Jason reflected, he could have gotten a phone number or address without hassle. As it was, none of that was available. Understandable, but annoying as hell.
He'd just about given up when an idea struck him. Robert Carter was just on the verge of starting a new movie. His last one, Raise The Dead, had won three Academy Awards, and big things were expected of him for the next movie.
Jason wandered over to the window. To fill in time, he had gone on a studio tour, and at one point the hostess had mentioned that auditions were being held for parts in the film. He recalled the address she'd given, for interested parties, and wrote it down quickly. He would get to see Robert Carter, even if it meant auditioning for a role in the new film.
Waiting Rooms, United Films Ltd....
Jason looked around him slowly at the hordes of actors hopeful of getting a role in the film. So this was what show business was like, he thought. A wry smile flickered across his face, and he was thankful he had no interest in acting.
He looked around to see a girl sit down beside him. She was pretty, with long brown hair and opaque eyes. Jason blinked, bringing himself quickly back to reality.
The girl eyed him curiously. "Are you here to audition? I guess that's a dumb question, huh? Why else would you be here?"
Jason smiled a little. _Wouldn't you like to know._ "Yeah," he said simply.
She grinned at him. "Lucky you're a guy. Otherwise...." She glanced downwards, and Jason looked as well. He saw it immediately; she wore spiked heels.
"I can think of more humane ways than that to eliminate the competition."
The girl shrugged. "You're a guy. You can just slug em. I'm supposed to be dainty."
"Stabbing someone in the foot is dainty?"
She grinned again. "Give as good as you get. It's a dirty business. So, what part did they give you to audition for?"
She whistled. "One of the two lead parts! Good luck!" Jason glanced at the script in his hands, then at hers. "What about you?"
"I got given the part of Samantha. From what I can figure out, I'd say Samantha is supposed to be Austin's girlfriend."
Jason felt an inexplicable touch of embarrassment, and he looked away, trying to hide it. The girl suddenly changed topics.
"I'm Lou. Lou Harrison. And you are?"
"Jason King," he replied, using the false name he'd put on the audition form.
Lou grabbed his hand in a firm shake. "Nice meeting you, Jason King." She glanced up as her name was called. "Well, that's my cue. Gotta go. Maybe I'll see you round." Jason smiled as little as she waltzed off. "Maybe..." he murmured.
* * *
A short time later, Jason was called into an auditioning room, where he was met by a young, energetic man. "Okay. Jason King? Let's go!"
Jason didn't even have time to ask about Robert Carter. He was put through the audition so fast that it made his head spin. Finally, he finished reading the script he was supposed to read, and looked up to see the man staring at him piercingly.
_I've blown it,_ Jason thought dismally. _I've done something wrong and blown it._
The man finally spoke. "You aren't putting in any effort at all, are you?"
Jason looked down at the floor. "No," he admitted gloomily. "Not really."
He waited to be told to get out, but it didn't happen. "Fantastic...." the man murmured. He walked around the boy slowly. "Absolutely perfect!"
Jason swallowed hard. "Did I do something wrong?"
The man laughed out loud. "Do something wrong? Au contraire! You were brilliant! It's exactly what we've been looking for. Fresh talent! Tell me, have you ever done any acting before?"
"Only a couple of school plays...."
"Good, good. What about an agent? Do you have an agent?"
Jason blinked. "A what?"
The man grinned. "Perfect. Not that we're in to exploitation, of course, but it's nice to work with people who don't have other people breathing down our necks all the time. Leah? Take this young man through to Sound Stage 4. I'm going to call Rob and tell him we've found our Austin."
* * *
"Is this for real?" Jason asked as he followed the young woman.
Leah smiled. "Yes, it's for real. Mr Martin never kids when it comes to auditioning people. As long as Mr Carter approves, you've as good as got the job. I don't think you have anything to worry about. Mr Carter usually goes along with whatever Mr Martin says."
Jason swallowed hard and quickened his pace. Finally... He was finally going to get to meet his father....
* * *
Minutes later, Jason was waiting on the sound stage with Leah and Alec Martin when a voice spoke up from the far end.
"All right, Alec, this had better be good. I was on the phone with my daughter!"
Jason felt a touch of shock. _Daughter?_
Well, an inner voice retorted, what did you expect? He drew in a calming breath. Of course the man would have married. Why not? He shut his eyes for just a moment as his mothers words floated back to him.
He wouldn't judge....
A man finally came into view, a tall, well-built man with light brown hair and, although his expression was harsh, there was a kind light in his eyes. Jason swallowed hard. It was like looking at an older version of himself... Alec laid a firm hand on Jason's shoulder. "This is Jason King. Take a look at him, Rob. I think he's perfect for the part of Austin."
Robert's gaze fell on Jason, and the harsh look became a critical one. "He's the right height. How old are you, Jason?"
"Right age... What about acting experience?"
"None," Alec said quickly. "He's totally natural. Doesn't even have an agent."
Carter raised an eyebrow curiously. "You walked into an audition for an A grade movie without an agent or experience? You've got guts, that's for sure."
Jason didn't move, didn't speak. He could barely believe he was standing face-to-face with his real father. Instincts reigned, though, and he didn't say a word. Finally, Carter indicated the script that Jason still held. "Read from page thirty."
Jason quickly flipped through the right page. He paused, glancing through the monologue quickly before starting. He had read nearly the entire piece before Carter stopped him. "Okay, that'll do."
"What d'you think?" Alec asked.
Carter was silent for several long seconds before a grin broke out across his face. "I'd say that's the shortest period of time that auditions have ever needed to be held for a major character. Welcome to the picture, Jason."
Alec hissed a loud yes!, while Jason was left standing there, dumb-founded. He'd come looking for his father, and had ended up with a lead role in a Hollywood movie
"Leah," Carter said, "take Jason through to the meeting room, so Alec can discuss a contract with him. Then, get him fitted so the clothing department can get to work. Oh, and Alec?"
"If you get an acting coach in for him, I'll wring your neck."
Alec laughed. "No problem, Rob. C'mon, Jason. Let's go."
* * *
An hour later, Jason was completely dumb-struck by everything that had happened. According to the contract that had been drawn up, he would be paid a total of one million dollars in regular installments for his part in the film, plus he would get five percent of all profits, including merchandising. That was not usual salary for someone starring in their first movie, Alec Martin had told him, but Robert Carter was a very generous man, and he had made enough of a fortune on his first movie to allow an extravagant budget on his second.
Then, Jason thought, there were the perks....
Upon learning he was staying in a hotel, Alec had insisted that the production company pick up the bill. Then, he was also entitled to his own trailer, his own personal assistant, his own makeup and clothing assistants... It was mind-boggling, to say the least.
Then came the biggest shock of all. "...and you'll meet Mr Neill tomorrow night..."
"Hang on," Jason cut in finally. "Who?"
Alec looked amused. "Mr Neill. Sam Neill. The actor? He's got the lead character of the man who befriends and eventually takes Austin in."
Jason nearly choked on his soda. "I'm in a movie with Sam Neill?"
Alec chuckled. "I take it you've heard of him?"
"Uh, yeah.... Sorry. It's just, I've never met anyone famous before. I mean, aside from Mr Carter."
"Sure. It's okay, Jason, but don't forget. You're as important to this film now as Mr Neill is. Austin is the major character. The film is about him."
"Yeah," Jason murmured. He wondered, as Alec went on, how he would approach Robert Carter over the issue of fatherhood.
Well, you've certainly got plenty of time for it now, the voice told him.
Jason smiled faintly to himself. That he did...
* * *
For some reason, Jason called Tommy first rather than his mother, and confessed what had happened.
"You're kidding..." Tommy choked out when Jason told him.
"No. I'm serious. It looks like I'm going to be a lot longer away from home. They estimate shooting the film will take ten or so weeks. Maybe longer. I'm going to have to take the mid-terms externally."
"You really want to do this?"
"Yes, I do. I wasn't serious about it at first, but I enjoyed doing the audition. And Tommy, you aren't going to believe this. I'm meeting Sam Neill tomorrow!"
On the other end of the line, Tommy had to sit down quickly, and he nearly sat on his dog in the process. The dog yelped and scrambled out of the way. "Sam Neill? Jase, he's one of my favourite actors since Jurassic Park!"
"I know. Mine, too. He's got the lead role in the movie, Tommy. I'm going to be working right next to him."
"Oh man... You lucky son-of-a-bitch!"
"That's not all. I'm getting paid a million for doing the film, plus I'll get five percent from profits and merchandising. I'll have enough to set both Mum and myself up for life."
"Unbelievable," Tommy groaned. He hesitated, then sighed. "Well, if anyone deserves it, it's you. But what about looking for your dad? Did you give up on that already?"
"No. I've found him, Tommy. I just haven't said anything yet."
"Well, who is it?"
Jason paused for a long moment before speaking. "Promise you won't tell anyone?"
"I promise. Who is it?"
The silence on the other end was palpable. Then, eventually, Tommy spoke. "You're working for your own father?"
"He doesn't know who I am. I'm going by the name Jason King. I said I was from San Diego."
"Why'd you lie, man?"
"I don't know. I guess I just wanted a chance to see how we got along before I dropped the bombshell. Maybe, if we get along okay, he won't tell me to get lost so quick when I tell him."
"I guess I can understand that," Tommy conceded. "Don't wait too long, though, okay?"
"I won't. I'll call back in a week or so, let you know how things are going. Tell the others I'm okay, won't you?"
"Sure. Take care of yourself, Jase."
"I will. I'll talk to you later, Tommy."
"Yeah. See you."
Jason hung up, then sighed softly and lifted the receiver to call his mother.
Two weeks later....
Jason slumped over in the chair that had been allocated to him on the set, thoroughly exhausted. They had begun shooting just three days ago, and he was still adjusting to the heavy schedule. At first, the whole thing had seemed exciting, but now it just seemed exhausting.
"Tired out already?"
Jason looked up and smiled faintly as Sam Neill came over and sat down beside him. "Yeah," he admitted sheepishly.
Sam clapped him lightly on the shoulder. "Don't worry. You'll get used to it. Probably about five days before we finish shooting."
Jason chuckled. He had liked Sam from the moment they met, and knew the feeling was mutual. They had spent the next day or so together on the set, working over their scripts and generally getting to know each other.
Carter had been pleased; he had been making numerous remarks about good rapport for the past few days, since they had begun shooting. The only cloud over the film was that no one had been chosen to play the part of Samantha.
Jason sighed softly and looked up at the sky. It was a nice day, and he wondered whether it was just as nice back home in Angel Grove. If it was, his friends would be doing one of two things. Having a picnic, or fighting Prince Gasket and his latest monster....
"What are you thinking about?" Sam asked curiously.
"Everything. I guess I'm a bit homesick. I've only really been away from home once for a long time, and then it took me five weeks to get past the homesickness."
"Don't worry about feeling a bit down," Sam reassured him. "I know it's hard, being away from family. I miss my kids a lot when I'm away on a shoot. It makes you appreciate them, though. You should ask Rob to give you a cell phone, so you can call your parents."
Jason nodded wordlessly, not bothering to say that it was only his mother he wanted contact with. He looked across the set to where Rob was throwing instructions left, right and center. His father, Jason noted silently, was there already.
"Rob!" They looked around as Alec ran onto the set, red-faced. Carter went to join him.
"What is it, Alec?"
"I think we've found someone to play Samantha. She was one of the girls who was auditioned on the first day by Don."
Carter moaned loudly. "Then we could have had a Samantha from the start! Alec, why didn't I get rid of that idiot sooner? Lets go see her, then."
Jason and Sam watched them go, and then Sam made an indistinguishable sound. "Maybe they've finally found someone. What d'you think?"
Jason shrugged. "I hope they have. I heard Mr Carter say yesterday that they were running behind schedule already."
Sam clapped Jason on the shoulder again and stood up. "They won't be needing us for an hour, at least. C'mon, Ill treat you to a soda."
Jason smiled wryly and followed the famous actor off the set.
* * *
Sam had worked with children and teenagers before, but he had never had as good a time as he'd been having with Jason. The boy had never tried to pretend to be anything other than himself, and as a result, he found himself enjoying Jason's company. At the same time, though, Sam sensed a hint of mystery. He had the strong feeling that Jason was hiding something....
"Where exactly in San Diego do you live?"
Jason stiffened a little, caught unawares by the sudden question. "Huh?"
"You said you come from San Diego. Where in San Diego?" Jason froze up entirely; he didn't know anything about San Diego, and could not give an answer. Sam didn't seem surprised.
"You want to tell me where you really come from?"
Jason looked miserable. This was it. Sam would find out the truth, tell Robert, and he would be kicked off the set.
"I won't tell anyone if you don't want me to," Sam reassured him. "Actors are famous for not telling the truth about themselves. I'm just curious."
Jason sighed heavily. "I guess I'm living a lie at the moment, then. I'm from Angel Grove."
Sam raised an eyebrow. "Home of the Power Rangers?"
"And you need to hide that because?"
"My real name is Jason Scott, not Jason King."
"I didn't come here for a holiday, or anything like that. I didn't audition because I wanted to be in the movie. I came here to find my father."
Sam was suitably surprised. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say that was almost straight out of the script."
Jason stared at the tabletop. "The movie is a lot closer to me than anyone knows. I didn't tell Mum what it was about because I knew she'd flip. I was physically abused by my father for most of my life."
"Let me get this straight," Sam said. "You say your father abused you, and now you've come looking for him?"
"No. I mean.... The man who used to beat me is in jail. Mum told me that she had an affair with another man and I was the result of the affair."
"So the man who abused you wasn't your father at all?" Sam asked. For some reason, it never entered his mind to dispute what Jason was saying.
Jason shook his head. "No. My real father is here, in Hollywood."
"So what's the movie? A sideline?"
Jason looked up at Sam again. "Please, promise me you won't say anything. I don't want to screw this up. It's probably the closest I can get to him."
Sam sat forward. "Who is your real father, Jason?"
Jason hesitated, then spoke softly. "Robert Carter. Our director."
* * *
"You have to tell him."
Jason clenched his fists at his sides as he and Sam headed back to the set a short while later. "You promised you wouldn't say anything."
"I promised that, but I didn't promise not to hound you about it."
The teen looked up at the famous actor. "You haven't even asked how I know for sure that he's my father."
"Do I need to? Look, Jason, I've only known you for two weeks, but that's enough. In this business, you don't get a lot of time to get to know people. I can tell you're an honest kid, and that you wouldn't lie about this. If there's a mistake, then it isn't your fault." Sam paused, then went on. "But I don't think there is any mistake. Everyone knows Robert Carter has an illegitimate child."
Jason's jaw dropped. "Huh?"
Sam nodded. "That's right. It's public knowledge. When Rob first came into the industry, and the tabloids were looking for reasons to shoot him down, he came out and told everyone at a major press conference that he had fathered a child before his marriage, but had never seen the child. He never said any more about it, but it was enough to stop the tabloids from hassling him, and it took away the only thing the tabloids could use to bring him down."
Jason barely heard the explanation, so stunned was he. "He does know...." the boy whispered. He then looked at Sam in distress. "But what if he doesn't want anything to do with me?"
"Whether you tell him is up to you, but you'll save yourself a lot of pain if you tell him. Don't worry yourself about the movie. There's no way Rob would fire you. He'd never be able to find anyone as perfect for the role."
Jason smiled weakly. "And now you know why."
Sam slung an arm around Jason's shoulders. "Everything will work itself out eventually. I'm sure of it. Don't worry, Jason."
"I'm trying not to. I really am."
* * *
By the time they returned to the set, a girl had been found and chosen for the part of Samantha. Jason was stunned when, upon meeting her the next day, it turned out to be the same girl he had met on the day he'd auditioned.
"Well, hey," she said enthusiastically when she saw Jason. "Nice to meet you again."
Carter raised an eyebrow. "You two know each other?"
"Sort of," Jason admitted. "We met during the auditions."
Carter nodded. "Good. Then I don't have to worry about introductions. Lou, be in your trailer in half an hour to be fitted."
He then turned and strode off, leaving Lou and Jason alone. "That was quick," Jason remarked.
Lou snorted. "I don't call two weeks quick. That guy who auditioned me was a moron! Never even gave me a chance to do anything." She looked sideways at him. "When did they give you the part of Austin?" Jason looked embarrassed. "After I auditioned."
Lou snorted again. "Typical. Oh well I should be grateful I got the part, huh?" They started walking. "So, Jason, since were gonna be working together, we might as well get to know each other, huh?"
"So what other acting have you done?"
Jason reddened. "Nothing, really," he admitted.
Lou nudged him. "C'mon, you must have done some commercials, stuff like that"
"No. I was in a school play a few years ago, but aside from that, I've never done any acting before."
Lou slowed to a halt. "You're an amateur? Oh god, I'm working with an amateur! Why me?"
Anger flared across Jason's face. "If I'm only an amateur, then why would they have given me the part? You're the one they took two weeks to decide on."
Lou stared at him, open-mouthed, before finally smiling sheepishly. "I'm sorry. I deserved that, didn't I? Look, can we start again? I don't want to be enemies."
Jason conceded. "Sorry I got angry. You're right. I guess I am an amateur."
"Well, you must be damned good," Lou remarked. "Robert Carter would never have picked you, otherwise."
They reached the chairs, and Jason flopped down in his own, motioning for Lou to sit in an unmarked seat. "Have you drawn up a contract already?"
"No, my agents taking care of that. What about you? Did your agent get you a good deal?"
"I don't have an agent. I sorted everything out with Alec myself."
"You don't have an agent? Man, you really are an am... I mean...."
"Don't worry about it," Jason said, stifling a yawn. "I think I got myself a good deal. I'd say a million dollars, plus five percent of profits and merchandising is a good deal."
Lou's jaw dropped. "What!? We were aiming for just two hundred thousand! Oh, I've gotta call my agent...."
"Don't bother," a voice said, and they looked up to see Robert Carter standing there, a wry grin on his face.
Lou reddened considerably. "Mr Carter... I...."
"Your agent will be offered a total of seven hundred thousand. I trust that's adequate?"
She nodded, open-mouthed. "Uh... Yes, sir...."
"Don't call me sir," he growled as he sat down. "It makes me feel old. Call me Rob. You too, Jason. I've had enough of this Mr. Carter business."
Jason nodded wordlessly. A silence fell over the three, and Carter took a moment to study Jason out of the corner of his eye. Sam had gone to him the previous night and told him that Jason had some problems that he was keeping to himself. Although it had not been said what, Sam had hinted strongly that Carter would have to be the one to deal with it.
The director watched the boy now, and realised Sam was right. Every time he went near Jason, Jason grew quiet and said very little. He also tried hard to avoid eye contact. Something was definitely going on with the boy, and Carter decided that he couldn't work like that. He stood up abruptly. "Jason, come with me."
Jason glanced wonderingly at Lou, then followed Carter quickly from the set. Carter led him through to his studio office, and motioned for Jason to sit down. "I think we need to talk."
Jason swallowed hard. "About what?"
"About you. Sam says you have some problems."
Jason's face darkened. "He promised me he wouldn't say anything!"
"He didn't. He's left that to you. Jason, if you have personal problems, then that's your business, but it seems to be affecting our working relationship. That just isn't any good. I would really appreciate it if you'd talk to me. I may be a tyrant, but I can also listen."
Jason was looking everywhere but at Carter, and that was when his gaze fell on the photo. There were two pictures on Carters desk, both framed. One was apparently of Carter's family. His wife, and three children. Two girls and a boy, Jason noted. The other photo was of a baby, though, on its own, lying curled up in a royal blue blanket. "Are they your family?" he asked tentatively.
Carter spared Jason an odd look, then nodded. "Yes." He picked up the family photo. "This is my wife, Anne, and my three kids. This is Danielle, on the left, then Sarah and Tyler."
Jason looked over at the second picture. "Who's that?" He waited, expecting Carter to say it was a nephew, or maybe a godchild.
"That," Carter said softly, sadness in his eyes, "is my other son. I fathered that child before I married Anne, but I'm sorry to say I never had the courage to acknowledge him. I was too scared I'd damage my career. I know now that I was stupid, but I'd say its too late. He'd be seventeen or eighteen now. Even if he does know I'm his father and I doubt that then he probably doesn't want anything to do with me."
Jason could not believe it. _He feels exactly the same way I do! He's just as scared as I am...._
Carter went on quietly. "In any case, I know I left him in good hands. His mother is a very kind, loving woman, and the man she's married to is good, and hard-working. But enough of me. You're very good at changing the subject, you know that?"
Jason swallowed hard. "I... I didn't."
"I didn't change the subject. Mr Carter, my name isn't Jason King."
Carter sat forward slowly. "Excuse me?"
"It's Jason Scott. Jason Lee Scott. My mother's name is Melissa."
Robert Carter froze, as a recorded letter came back to haunt him. This is your son, Robert. His name is Jason Lee Scott....
His own middle name was Lee, so it had been clear why Melissa had given her son that as a middle name. He stared intently at Jason. "When's your birthday?"
"January 18," Jason replied quietly. "I was born just after midnight on January 18."
"Oh god," Carter whispered.
Jason stood up, too agitated to stay still. "I didn't come here to get into any movie. I came here to find my father. I... I won't blame you if you want me to leave...."
Carter was on his feet in an instant. "If you walk out that door, I'll have you dragged back here by the security guards. Firstly, I'm not letting you walk out on my movie. I need you to be Austin. Secondly...." He moved around the desk, and over to Jason. "I'm sorry, I just can't believe it...."
Jason bit down on his lower lip, trying to think what he could do or say that would prove what he was claiming. Then, he remembered. All his life, he had carried a ring on a gold chain around his neck. His mother had told him just recently that the ring had belonged to his real father, and he had left it with her for some unknown reason. It was a man's ring, with an eagle inscribed on the flat top. His heart beating in his throat, Jason pulled the ring out from beneath his shirt.
"Is this familiar?" He removed it from his neck and held it out to Carter. The director took it in trembling fingers. He recognized it, and ownership was proved when he saw his initials carved on the inside of the band. Finally, he looked back up at Jason. "It is you... My boy...." Tears flooded Carter's eyes, and he threw his arms around Jason in a huge bear hug. "Thank God..." he choked out, not trying to hide his tears. "After so many damned years..."
Jason stood stiffly for several seconds before it registered that Carter's reaction was the exact opposite of what he had been anticipating. Shutting his eyes against a sudden flood of tears, he relaxed in the other man's embrace.
Carter held Jason close for nearly a minute before he finally drew back to look the teen over. "I never even noticed the resemblance! Damn it... Why didn't you say anything?"
"I didn't know how you'd react," Jason admitted. "I was scared you'd tell me to get lost."
"I would never do that," Carter said vehemently. "But then, I was scared to go searching for you in case I ended up getting that same reaction. Sounds like we've been scared of each other."
Jason smiled weakly, and there was a relief in his eyes that was impossible to hide. Carter guided Jason to the sofa where they sat down together. "What about your parents? You have told them you're here, haven't you?"
"Mum knows," Jason said quietly. "She paid my way here. But Dad... I mean, Alan... He's in jail."
"For child abuse and assault."
Carter froze. "What?"
Tears filled Jason's eyes before he could stop them. "He beat me all the time. At least once a week. I never knew why he hated me so much, until Mum told me the truth."
"Oh god...." Carter whispered, horrified. "Jason, I'm sorry... Damn it, I should have gotten off my ass and come to get you."
Jason shook his head. "Too late for regret. I'm just glad I found you now."
Carter looked Jason over with tearful joy. "So am I... son."
* * *
That night, Carter took Jason with him back to his home. They were halfway to the house when Carter called ahead on his car phone. It was answered almost immediately by the voice of a young woman. "Hello?"
"Anne, its Rob. I'm on my way home. Should be there in fifteen minutes."
"Good, just in time for dinner."
"Honey, set another place at the table. I'm bringing home a surprise."
"Oh? It had better not be another of your girlfriends."
Jason looked at Carter, startled, but he only winked at the boy. "Now, Annie, you know I wouldn't play around on you."
"Uh huh. Okay, I'll have Sarah set another place. See you in fifteen."
Carter hung up, then glanced at Jason. "You okay?"
"I guess," Jason murmured. "Just nervous. Are you sure this is okay?"
Rob became serious, understanding how painfully nervous Jason had to be. "It's all right, Jason. I'll tell this to you now, so you don't panic. I told my wife, and my kids that I had another child somewhere that I had never seen. Anne knows all about the affair I had with your mother, and she's accepted that as part of my past. She'd also accepted that I had a son that might one day come looking for me. Now, we talked this through before we got married. We both agreed I wouldn't go looking for you, but that if you came looking for me, then we wouldn't turn you away. You don't have any reason to be afraid. You'll be welcomed with open arms, I promise."
Jason looked away out the window. "I wish you had come looking for me," he whispered, thinking of the hell he'd had to endure for so long.
Carter sighed. "I am so sorry about that, Jason. I really am. If I'd known what was going on, I would have come for you in an instant. But Melissa always talked of Alan as a very kind, understanding man. I never imagined that he'd turn on you."
"He didn't, at first," Jason said. "He treated me the same as Amy, to start with. But then Max came along, and he started to get angry at me really easily, more than the other two. Then, he started to take me out behind the shed and use his belt on me. Then, after a while of that, he started to take me into the shed. That was when the beatings started to become regular. Even if I hadn't done anything wrong, he'd make up a reason for it. Like, I'd forgotten to take out the rubbish, when it wasn't even my turn. Really simple, stupid things. And it never got better."
Carter swallowed back a painful lump in his throat and was grateful when they finally reached his home. "Here we are. And don't worry. Remember, you're part of this family, too."
Jason got out slowly, his heart beating in his throat. Then, as they headed up to the front door, it swung open and a boy of just six or so years barreled out and leapt into his father's arms. Jason felt an irrational stab of jealousy. That was something that, while Max had always done, he had never been able to get away with. He had tried it once, hoping for some touch of affection, and had been slammed into the ground for it....
"Daddy, I made you a picture!" the little boy squealed excitedly.
Carter grinned. "You did? I am the luckiest dad in the whole world!" They reached the door and Carter put the child down, sending him inside with a pat on the bottom. He then glanced back. "C'mon, Jason."
Jason drew in a deep breath and stepped inside the house.
* * *
Anne Carter was putting the finishing touches on a roast leg of lamb when her oldest daughter, Danielle, shouted that 'daddy' was home. Smiling a little to herself and wondering what the surprise was, she went to meet him.
The surprise was a teenager of seventeen or eighteen years, a tall, young man with light, brown hair and brown eyes. Carter came forward and hugged her quickly before speaking.
"Honey, this is Jason. He's playing Austin in the movie." She smiled warmly at the boy, noting at the same time how nervous he looked. Carter hesitated, then spoke quietly. "His name is Jason Scott, Anne. Jason Lee Scott. His mother is Melissa."
Anne froze, her jaw dropping. Finally, she regained her vocal chords. "Oh lord... Is this...?"
Carter smiled. "Yes. He is."
Jason, despite Carter's reassurances, expected Anne Carter to become hostile towards him. To his obvious surprise, it didn't happen. She moved forward, pulling him in for a warm hug.
"Oh, Jason, I am so glad to meet you! Finally! We've been waiting for so long, hoping you'd come looking for Rob."
She stepped back, looking him over. "And you're in the movie as well?"
Jason reddened. "I had to audition. It was the only way I could get in to meet Mr. Carter."
Carter groaned. "How many times do I have to say it? Don't call me that! Especially now! Look, I'll get the kids, we'll sit down for dinner, and then we can have a real talk, okay?"
Anne smiled. "Yes, good idea. C'mon, Jason. This way."
* * *
Within the next half hour, the children had all met their half-brother, and now the table was overflowing with excitement. Soon, Jason found himself relaxing in the family's company, and starting to really enjoy himself. Meal times at his own house had never been so pleasant. His father had always found something to criticize him over, and had managed to turn the meal into a very unpleasant task.
Then, after the children had left the table to go and do their homework, the remaining three were left to more serious talk.
"What about your parents?" Anne asked softly. "They know you're here?"
"Mum does," Jason replied. "Dad doesn't. I hope he doesn't find out."
"Oh?" Anne was surprised.
Carter spoke softly. "Honey, Jason wasn't... compatible with Alan."
Anne was confused. "What do you mean? You didn't get along?"
"More than that," Jason said softly, eyes downcast. "D... He used to beat me. He was finally arrested for it, though, and thats when Mum told me the truth."
Anne was shocked. "Oh... That's terrible..."
"I'm sorry," Jason murmured. "I shouldn't bother you with this. It's not your problem."
"The hell it isn't," Carter growled. "You're my son, and I'll be damned if I'll ignore something like this."
"Rob's right, honey," Anne told him quickly. "We want you to feel that you're as much a part of this family as the rest of us. If you've got problems, then you can talk to us about them. We want to be able to help."
Jason felt a pain in his heart and soul, and a single tear trickled down his cheek. "No one's ever told me that before. I've always been expected to deal with my problems myself. No one ever wanted to hear me out...."
Carter was on his feet in a second, and at Jason's side a second later. "It isn't like that here. I want you to trust me, Jason. Trust me and talk to me. You're my son, I won't turn my back on you. I swear to God that I won't."
It was too much, and all the pain and heartache that Jason had been keeping inside him for so long finally came spilling out. He began to cry, and Carter gently drew him close in a warm, affectionate embrace.
Hollywood Film Lot....
The news was out by the next afternoon, and Jason was in his trailer enjoying a coke when the door swung open and Lou stormed in.
"You cheated!" she shouted, her face red with anger. Jason stared at her, startled and confused.
"I'll bet you didn't even have to audition!" she snapped. "They probably just sent you straight through, huh? Mr I'm-the-director's-son!"
Jason sighed as understanding dawned. "Knock it off, Lou. That wasn't what happened. Rob didn't even know who I was until yesterday afternoon."
"Oh yeah, sure," Lou growled. "That's really believable."
Jason stood up to meet her head on. "Look, you either calm down or get out. The bottom line is that I only auditioned so I could meet my real father. Getting this part was a fluke. It had nothing to do with the fact that Robert Carter is my father. I don't see what it has to do with you, anyway! You're in the movie, aren't you?"
Lou glared at him. "That's not the point! It sucks that you can just walk in and get what you want, when there are a lot of people who deserve it a hell of a lot more than you do!"
Jason's face flashed with anger and he started to lift a fist to her, barely able to control his anger.
Lou nodded. "Go ahead and try it, King, or whatever the hell your name is. I can hit a lot harder than you'd think."
Jason lowered his fist, silently shaken that he'd come so close to losing control.... just like Alan. He turned away from her, sitting down and staring at the narrow bench, his hands still clenched into fists. "I doubt you could hit harder than a third degree karate black belt, because that's what I am."
Lou did a double-take. She knew enough about karate from her boyfriend to know just how good a third degree was. Jason went on quietly. "You don't understand, Lou. Not any of it. Doing this is important to me, now."
Lou watched him warily. "How do you mean?"
"Well, it's given me a chance to get to know my real father. It means I don't have to acknowledge Alan anymore as being my father."
"That's real loyal," Lou growled. "Blood doesn't always make for good kin, Jason. In your case, just a good bank account...."
Jason looked back at her coldly. "Neither does a belt and whip. Both of which Alan used on me frequently."
Lou's jaw dropped as she realised what he was saying. "Your... your dad beat you?"
"All the time. Care to see the scars?"
Lou stepped away, horrified. "No! I mean... Oh, shit...."
Jason looked away from her. "I got this part on my own merit, Lou. Not because of who my father is. I didn't even think I had any acting ability until I auditioned. I guess I still don't."
She smiled faintly at him. "I hate to admit it, but you most definitely can act. If this movie goes the way everyone expects it to, you might find yourself up for some award nominations."
Jason shook his head dismissively. "I seriously doubt that. Look, I just want to do the movie, and get to know Rob as much as I can before I have to go home."
Lou shoved her hands deep into her pockets. "I'm sorry. I always over- react... I really have a foul temper, don't I?"
Jason smiled a little. "I've seen worse."
Lou winced at the implication, and she ventured forward. "It was that bad, huh? With your dad, I mean."
"He's not my dad, and yeah. It was that bad. Look." He stood up and lifted his shirt for a few seconds so she could see the scars on his chest.
Lou swallowed hard, her face burning with embarrassment at her outburst. "I really am sorry. You must think I am such a bitch."
"No, just hot-headed." He sank back into his chair. "Are you gonna sit down, or what? It's sort of pointless for you to just stand there."
Lou hesitated, then grinned and pulled up a chair.
"Have you heard from Jason?" Kat asked as the rangers met after school in the Youth Centre.
Tommy shook his head. "No, not for the last week. He's okay, though. I talked to his mum. He called her a couple of days ago."
"I can't believe his luck," Tanya moaned. "He goes to LA to find his father, and winds up starring in a movie with a famous actor...."
Rocky grinned evilly. "I can't wait till it comes out. I'm gonna rag Jason so bad, he'll never forget it."
"It'll be weird, that's for sure," Adam muttered. "Actors are people that we never meet. It'll be strange, seeing a movie with one of our friends in it."
"It's not even like he's just an extra," Kat pointed out. "He's got the lead role!"
"Everyone's gonna think he got it because the director is his dad," Tommy murmured, voicing a previously-hidden concern. "I don't think that will bother Jason, though. I think he's just happy to have found his real dad."
"He was pretty uptight about it," Rocky agreed. "It's like everything's worked out perfectly."
Tommy stared grimly at the tabletop. "If only Dad can get Alan Scott sent to jail...."
Angel Grove Courthouse, same day....
Michael Oliver watched in cold silence as Alan Scott walked down the steps of the courthouse, a satisfied smirk on his face. He had been unable to convince the judge to refuse bail, mainly because the object of Alan's hatred was not in the town. Consequently, Alan Scott was free to go anywhere he liked in Angel Grove, barring anywhere near his home and family.
Michael looked around at the sergeant who approached. He spoke in a low voice. "I want a tail put on Scott. Hire a P.I., if you have to. I want his every move watched like a hawk. Also, get on the phone to the Hollywood PD and let them know what's going on. See if they can spare a man to keep an eye on Jason."
The sergeant nodded and hurried off to carry out the orders. Michael then went to pass the bad news on to Melissa.
* * *
Melissa was not happy. Michael had not expected her to be. Indeed, she was thoroughly distraught by the news. "You said he wouldn't be released!" she cried. "You promised, Michael!"
"I know. I'm sorry."
"That isn't good enough! Oh god, he'll go after Jason...."
Michael started forward. "No, he won't. Melissa, Jason will be perfectly safe. The moment Alan sets foot outside Angel Grove, he'll be back in jail. He won't be allowed within a hundred miles of Jason. Not until the court case."
Melissa fixed the Chief of Police with a hard stare. "You had better be right."
Michael said no more, but silently hoped for the same thing.
Hollywood, Movie lot 7, several days later....
They had just finished filming a scene and Jason was going over a section of script with Sam when a young man strode over with a cellular in hand. "Phone call for you, Mr Scott."
Jason took it, frowning a little at being called mister. "Hello? Hi, Amy. Yeah, we're busy...."
Sam stopped, a bottle of water just touching his lips, as Jason suddenly turned ashen.
"When?" Jason demanded, his voice audibly strained. "I thought Chief Oliver wasn't going to let that happen! Oh hell.... Yes, he will! I know he will! No one knows?" Jason's free hand clenched into a fist. "Where's Mum? Okay. Yeah, thanks for telling me. I will, I promise. Okay, bye."
Jason ended the call and handed back the cell phone. Sam eyed him with concern. "Mind if I ask what that was all about?"
"That was my sister.... Alan was released on bail a week ago, and now he's disappeared. No one can find him."
Sam knew the implications. "Not good news."
Jason spotted Robert Carter, supervising the removal of a backdrop from the set, and hurried over to him. "Rob, can I talk to you?"
"Sure. What's up?"
"I just talked to Amy. Alan's disappeared from Angel Grove. They think he might come here after me."
Robert froze, then looked slowly around at Jason. "How long as he been missing?"
"Amy said the last time he was seen was when he met his bail officer yesterday morning."
"Shit. He could be anywhere, then. Okay.... Ian! Get over here!"
A burly man strode over. "Yes, sir?"
Rob laid a hand firmly on Jason's shoulder. "I've got a special task for you, until I hire professionals for the job. I want you to act as bodyguard for my son, here. There's a chance that someone may be stalking him. Can you do that?"
Ian nodded determinedly. "Don't worry. No one will get within a ten yards of him."
"Thank you," Rob said. The director glanced around once, checking that everything was to his satisfaction, then called out loudly: "Okay, that's it for today! I'll see everyone back here tomorrow morning, early!"
Jason started to move away, but Carter stopped him, and put an arm around the boy's shoulders. "Jason, I've had a talk with Anne, and we'd both like it if you'd check out of that hotel you're living in and come stay at the house with us."
Jason looked uncomfortable and embarrassed. "I... I don't want to be any trouble."
Carter snorted in response. "Trouble? You, trouble? God forbid! Look, hotels are fine, but wouldn't you prefer a home-cooked meal once in a while? And don't worry about the kids. They keep asking when their big brother is going to come and live with us."
Jason was startled, and then a curious look flickered across his face. "I am their big brother, aren't I?"
Carter grinned. "You sure are. Now, we'll go to that hotel now, and check you out of it, and then head back to the house. All right?"
Jason hesitated. "Do I have a choice?"
"Put like that? No. You don't. Let's go."
Jason smiled to himself, and followed Carter from the lot.
* * *
Later that evening, Carter finished signing some papers, and headed out of his study and into the family room to find his wife in there by herself, reading a book. "Where's Jason?" he asked.
Anne looked up at him, smiling. "Upstairs, playing Monopoly with the other kids. Rob, I'm so glad he came and found you."
"So am I, Anne."
"Now, if we could just convince him to stay here, with us...."
Rob stared at her blankly for a moment, then shook his head. "No, I don't think we could. We can reassure him that he's got another family here that he can come to at any time, but his home is in Angel Grove."
"Even after what that monster has done to him?" she said in disgust.
Rob sighed and sat down. "Honey, Angel Grove is where his mother is. It's where all his friends are. It's where he goes to school. It's his home, regardless of what happened there. The most we can do is let him know he's welcome to stay here as long as he wants, whenever he wants."
Anne conceded reluctantly. "I suppose you're right. The children love him, you know. They all think it's fantastic to finally have a big brother. And Jason's so good with them...."
As if to confirm her words, one of the girls went into a fit of laughter somewhere upstairs. Carter smiled. "He is, isn't he? He's a good kid, Anne. I'd like to make sure he never has to worry about anything again."
"What are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking it's time I put that fourth trust fund to use. We've already talked this over...."
Anne smiled. "You're going to set it up in Jason's name?"
"Yes. I'm not sure I'll tell him, because he probably wouldn't accept it. But the other three kids have trust funds, and it's what I kept the fourth for."
Anne laughed softly. "I'd love to see his face, when he discovers he has a trust fund that would make an English royal swoon."
"He's eighteen now," Carter mused. "By the time he's twenty-one, with the amount of interest it's been gaining, he'll never have another financial worry in his life. Remind me to call the bank tomorrow, Anne. I want to set this up as soon as possible."
Anne smiled as she turned her attention back to her book. "I certainly will."
Just then, Jason came through the archway, looking slightly exhausted. Carter grinned at him. "They wear you out already?"
Jason grinned back. "I think I wore them out first. They're all in bed."
Carter's jaw dropped. "You're kidding...."
Jason shrugged as he sat down. "They were pretty tired."
The director laughed. "Well, that's a first. Usually it takes a couple of hours to wear them down. Jason, you may have won yourself a permanent position. Excuse me, I'd better go and say goodnight, or they'll be on my case tomorrow."
He left the room, leaving Jason alone with Anne. The teen immediately fell silent, and Anne sympathized with his discomfort. It couldn't be easy, him knowing she was the only one in the house that he wasn't related to in any way. He probably felt as though he were intruding....
"Those kids really love you," she said with a smile, searching for common ground to get a conversation going.
Jason smiled a little in return. "I love them, too. They're great kids."
"What about your brother and sister in Angel Grove?" Anne asked. "Tell me about them."
Jason hesitated, then. "They're okay... Max can be a pain in the butt a lot of the times, though. He, uh.... He liked getting me in trouble."
Anne nodded slowly, understanding the implications. "What about your sister?"
"She's changed some, since Alan got out of the picture. She's a lot nicer than she used to be. I talked to her today, and she actually sounded a bit concerned... I suppose it sounds like I'm being sceptical."
Anne smiled reassuringly at him. "It's all right. We all tend to be like that occasionally. I have two older sisters, and I'm afraid we don't get along very well. Always suspicious of each others intentions. If either one of them ever calls me, I'd suspect they wanted money. If they bothered to ask how I am, I'd know they want money. Sad, but unavoidable."
Jason was staring into the fire. "Up until Amy found out the truth, she was always really cruel to me. It was like she was following Alan's example. He hated me, so she had to as well. It was the same with Max. Max is still a pain, but Amy's changed."
"Probably because Alan isn't around anymore to influence her," Anne said. "And if she could admit she was wrong, then she must be a very strong girl. It takes courage to admit you were wrong."
"I know," Jason murmured. He had curled up in the armchair, and was almost asleep. "I just wish...." He sighed a little as he slipped into a deep sleep.
Anne smiled to herself as she went to get a blanket.
* * *
She looked around to see Rob come back in. "You must work him too hard," she teased.
Carter chuckled softly. "Oh yeah, I'm a real slave labourer."
Anne sighed. "He's such a sweet, gentle boy. Why would anyone want to hurt him?"
Carter's smile faded. "It's a miracle he turned out so well, considering how he's been treated."
"Must be in the blood," Anne said with a smile. She paused, then spoke quietly. "Rob, why don't you call Melissa?"
Rob spared his wife an odd look. "You want me to call her?"
"Why not? She must be worried about Jason, especially knowing that Alan Scott has disappeared. Why don't you talk to her, let her know that Jason is staying with us? I'm sure she'd appreciate knowing he's being looked after."
He conceded. "All right. I'll go and do that now...."
"Use this phone," she urged him. "Go ahead. You don't have anything to hide from me, Rob."
Rob hesitated, then nodded. "Okay."
He picked up the phone and called information, soon getting the right number. He then dialed and waited for it to be answered.
Melissa Scott glanced up from the sink at the sound of the phone ringing, and sighed inwardly. "Amy, honey, could you answer that please?" Amy called back an affirmative and answered it in the family room. A long moment later, she called back to her mother. "Mum, it's for you! It's some man...."
Frowning, Melissa dried her hands and went through into the family room, taking the phone from Amy.
"Melissa?" a strangely familiar voice asked. "This is Rob... Robert Carter."
Melissa froze, her face paling slightly. "Rob?"
A long silence followed, neither one sure what to say. Finally, Rob broke the silence. "I... I'm sorry to bother you so late I thought you might like to hear how Jason is doing."
Melissa quickly found an armchair to collapse into. "You know, then?"
"About Jason? Yes. He... He's a good boy. You must be proud of him."
"I am," Melissa confirmed. She paused, then covered the mouthpiece with her hand. "Max, go and get ready for bed, right now."
Max dared not argue, and hurried from the room. Melissa then turned her attention back to the phone. "How is he?"
"He's doing all right. Melissa he's staying with me and my family.. I insisted he check out of the hotel and come and stay with us."
"You didn't have to do that," Melissa said.
Rob gently cut her off. "Yes, I think we did. We wanted him to stay with us. After all He's my son, as well."
Melissa conceded. "Yes. He is. Tell me, did he tell you straight away?"
Rob chuckled, then. "No. I had to almost drag it out of him. It was quite a shock, I'll admit. I'm afraid I didn't believe him until he showed me the ring. That convinced me."
"He's had that since he was young," Melissa confessed. "I managed to keep its origin secret from Alan."
"That's another thing" Rob said. "Why didn't you contact me? Let me know what that bastard was doing to Jason?"
"I couldn't," she admitted. "After he discovered I was sending you letters and photos of Jason, he put a stop to it, and then vetted every letter I wrote. I was just too frightened to stand up to him."
A long silence followed before Rob replied. "I think I understand. You had two other children to consider by then, didn't you?"
"Yes. It shouldn't have made any difference but I'm afraid it did. I know I made mistakes...."
"But you've rectified them," Rob put in gently. "And I appreciate that you told Jason the truth. Now, I've finally found my long lost son."
A heavy, uncomfortable silence prevailed. Finally, Melissa spoke. "You must be very busy, I won't keep you... But please, take care of Jason for me?"
"I will," Rob promised. "I, ah, I'll have Jason call you in the morning. All right?"
* * *
The two said goodbye, and hung up. Amy was watching her mother intently. "Was that him, Mum? Was that Jason's dad?"
Melissa smiled tearfully at her daughter. "Yes, that was him."
"And he knows?"
"Yes. Jason found his father Thank God..." Amy didn't smile. She hesitated, then spoke softly. "Let's hope that Daddy doesn't find Jason."
One hand came up to cover Melissa's mouth, and she silently prayed for the same thing.
* * *
Jason awoke with a start to find himself in a warm bed, his head resting on a soft pillow. He sat up slowly, gradually remembering where he was. He was in Robert Carter's home in his fathers home. He lay back down with a soft thud, still not fully comprehending that he'd found his real father.
Sunlight shone through into the bedroom, and flooded over the bed, encasing Jason in warmth. He smiled faintly to himself and was about to go back to sleep when he heard the door creak open. "Jason? You awake?"
It was Tyler. Jason rolled over and pushed himself up onto his elbow. "Morning, kid."
Tyler pulled a face as he ran over to the bed. "I'm not a kid."
Jason grinned. "You are to me."
"Mum and Dad aren't up yet," Tyler said mournfully. "They told me to go back to bed, but I can't sleep. Could I get in bed with you?"
Jason was quietly amazed that Tyler had taken to him so quickly, but he kept silent, and made room for the little boy in the bed. Tyler climbed in, settling down beneath the warm blankets. Silence reigned for a while before Tyler spoke. "How come you don't call him Dad?"
Jason glanced down at Tyler in surprise. "You mean Rob?"
"Yeah. How come you don't call him Dad?"
"I... I don't know," Jason admitted. "I guess it's just that I haven't known him long enough as my father to call him that. You probably don't understand that, huh?"
"I do understand," Tyler said wisely, as only a seven year old could. "It's sort of because of that mean man that used to hurt you, isn't it?"
Jason nearly choked. "How do you know about that?"
"I listened when you were telling Mum and Dad about him," Tyler confessed. "I'm glad you're living with us now, Jason. I always wanted a big brother. I get tired of Danni and Sarah always telling me what to do."
Jason swallowed hard. "I can't stay here all the time, Tyler. My home is in Angel Grove, not here."
"I know," Tyler said, "but you can stay for a little while, can't you?"
Jason smiled a little to himself. "Yeah," he said finally. "I can stay for a while."
The next afternoon....
"So, how's life on the rich side of the tracks, anyway?"
Jason looked around to see Lou standing there. "Do you always have to be so bitchy?" he asked grumpily.
She smirked as she swept into the trailer. "Just stopped by to see if you're ready for the next scene."
"You sound eager," he retorted, and Lou shrugged.
"You get used to it. But you, Mr Amateur, have never had to do this before. You had better be a decent kisser, buddy." Jason reddened before he could stop himself. Lou snickered and darted out of the trailer, barely missing Sam.
The older actor watched the girl go, then went up the steps into Jason's trailer. "She's a handful."
"That's putting it lightly," Jason muttered.
Sam hesitated, then shut the door carefully behind him. "Are you okay?"
Jason stared at his reflection in the mirror. "I don't know. I really don't know."
"I talked to my mother this morning. The police still haven't found Alan. They're pretty sure he's skipped town."
"He won't get near you," Sam reassured him quietly. "Rob wouldn't let that happen."
"God, this movie is so close to my own life," Jason said, burying his face in his hands. "When we do the scenes where Austin is supposed to be abused by his father.... I nearly froze up totally when we did that scene the other day."
"I noticed that," Sam said, taking a seat in the empty chair. "That acting was just a little too good. Rob was about to call it when you pulled yourself out of it. How bad was it, Jason?"
Jason hesitated for a long moment before speaking. "There's a scene we still have to do, where John finds the bruising and the scars on Austin, right?"
"They wont need to worry about the latex stuff to make up the scars."
Sam let his breath out in a rush. "Son of a bitch. Jason, if you do see him anywhere near the studios, or film sites, tell me."
Jason nodded wordlessly, and Sam spoke again after a moment. "What else is bothering you?"
"I don't know if I want to go home," Jason admitted finally, softly. "Even with Alan out of the picture I still have to face up to everything. The whole town probably knows by now.... But here, no one knows. At least, not yet. But I've never felt as accepted as I have with Rob and his family. I almost wish I could stay with them and not go home at all. And this morning Tyler actually said he was glad I was there! Max never said anything like that. Neither did Amy."
"You might find it's different now," Sam said quietly. "They will have had time to come to grips with everything. And you'd probably be better off in Angel Grove anyway. As soon as the tabloids figure everything out, and realise what your history is, they won't leave you alone."
"I know," Jason murmured miserably.
It was Rob. Jason got up and went to the door of his trailer, looking out. "Yeah?"
"Let's go! We've got a scene to do!"
Sam clapped the teen on the shoulder. "Hold that thought. We'll talk later."
Jason nodded and went to get ready.
* * *
The filming progressed well, but Jason was painfully conscious that they were approaching the bit that Lou had been heckling him about. It was only a single kiss, but the truth was he had never kissed a girl before, and he wasn't even totally sure how to go about it. He knew he could have asked Sam, but he'd been too embarrassed, and he sure as hell wasn't going to admit it to Lou. He had only ever had a few girlfriends in his life, and the closest he had come to kissing one had been with Emily. Even then, he had chickened out and stopped at a hug and a kiss on the cheek....
"Oh, for crying out loud!"
Jason snapped back to reality, realised he had missed the cue, and that Rob had halted the shoot.
"What's the problem?" Rob asked, trying not to sound annoyed.
Lou scowled. "He's chicken, is what's wrong. C'mon, Jason, it's only one kiss!" Jason kicked himself in the proverbial, knowing he had brought more attention to himself and his predicament than if he had simply bitten the bullet and done the deed. He was at a complete loss by then, and knew he couldn't simply go on with things. Red with embarrassment, he got up and hurried over to where Sam was waiting.
Rob watched with a frown as Jason spoke to Sam in an inaudible whisper, and a moment later, Sam's eyebrows shot up with surprise. "Really?"
Jason nodded, his face a fiery red. Sam slung an arm amiably around Jason's shoulders. "Rob, give us five minutes, okay? C'mon, Jason." Rob watched them head off towards Sam's trailer, then sighed and shrugged.
"Okay, everyone. Take five."
* * *
In the safety of the trailer, Sam eyed Jason with amusement. "There's nothing to be embarrassed about. I never kissed a girl until I was sixteen."
"I wouldn't have even thought about it," Jason said. "It's just that Lou Well, she was badgering me about it."
"So I heard. Look, there's nothing to it. Really... You could probably manage it by instinct."
Jason stared intently at the floor. "But I mean, the way they do it in the movies...."
"Is mostly faked," Sam interrupted. "The more experience actors get, the less real it becomes. The less real they want it to be. You've probably seen the tabloids. One particular actress threatened to knock out a certain actor's teeth if he kissed her for real. All you have to do is let your lips brush against hers. That's all that's needed."
Jason wished he could have sunk through the floorboards. "I feel so stupid...."
"Don't," Sam told him. "It isn't your problem. You're a good enough actor that I'm sure you can get through this. And if you do screw it up, Rob will just make you do it again until you get it right."
It was meant as a joke, but Jason looked up, mortified. Sam chuckled. "Don't worry about it, Jason. Just pretend Lou is your girlfriend."
Jason looked even more embarrassed. "I don't have a girlfriend. I mean I did, but we broke up...."
Sam sighed and stood up. "Have you ever learnt CPR?"
"Pretend you're doing CPR sitting up. Only not quite as intense. Just shut your eyes and let it happen. It's the best thing you can do."
Jason allowed himself to be ushered to the door, then looked back at the star nervously. "What if I shut my eyes, and I miss her lips totally?" Sam rolled his eyes in exasperation and shoved Jason through the trailer door.
* * *
"Are we ready?" Lou asked with saccharine sweetness. Jason spared her a cool look as he took his place on the wooden park bench. "So, what did you need?" she asked him with a smirk. "Tips on how to kiss a girl?"
"Knock it off, Lou," Rob called. "We've got to finish this scene."
Lou smiled to herself as she settled back on the bench, aware of the shade of red Jason had turned. Rob called action, and instantly, Lou dropped into character. "Why the hell won't you talk to me?"
"'Cause you wouldn't understand."
"You don't understand! You don't understand what it's like, living with him! You're fine, you've got no worries! You don't have any clue about real life!"
Samantha turns to Austin; forces him to look at her. "How am I supposed to understand when you won't even talk to me? All I know is that someone is hurting you, and you won't tell me about it! How do expect me to understand?"
Austin tries to leave; Samantha holds him back. Jason fought the panic. It was coming up.... _C'mon, don't flip.... You'll only make it harder for yourself._
"You've got it easy, Sam. You take life like it's just... just a big sideshow. It's not that easy for me."
_That's not the script,_ Jason realised numbly. He was talking, though, and couldn't stop. It was, he realised, almost an exact duplicate of his words to Kimberly nearly four years back, when she had confronted him in a similar way. He went on, not stopping.
"It isn't like that for me. I can't take it like that. I have to go one day at a time. I can't keep up with you! You've gotta understand that...."
"That isn't in the script," Alec hissed at Rob.
"I know," Rob growled back. "Let him go. I want to see how this turns out."
In the center of the set, Jason was almost lost in the monologue, and his co-star seemed more like Kimberly to him than Lou.
Jason, I don't understand it! Something's eating at you, but you won't trust us enough to let us help! You're hurting, and I hate not being able to help....
"You can't help me. I want you to, but you can't. Some things just have to be allowed to lie. Please.... Just be there when I need you."
Austin kisses Samantha.
Jason reached out and lightly touched his fingertips to Lou's chin and lifted her face just a little. He stared at her, and felt his nervousness and embarrassment fade. Then, slowly and with the gentleness that his friends loved him for, he leaned forward and pressed his lips very lightly to Lou's.
On the edge of the large circle, Rob and Alec both gaped. "Rob?" Alec said in a voice that was almost a whimper.
"Don't say it," Rob warned him. "Don't you dare say a word."
Jason broke the kiss, and pulled back some. The two sat there in silence for a long moment, until Rob's voice broke the stillness.
"Cut! That was perfect!"
Lou blinked, quickly coming back to reality. "God, where'd you learn to kiss like that?"
Jason stood up, stretching his arms out in front of him. "You mean you approve?"
It was Lou's turn to go red. "Well, it was okay," she retorted, trying to recover some of her lost dignity. "For an amateur, I mean.... But what about all that other crap? What the hell was that? You only said about two words from the script!"
"That other crap," Rob said firmly as he strode over, "was some very fine acting. Well done, Jason. I'm impressed."
Jason couldn't bring himself to smile. "It wasn't acting," he admitted softly. "It's something I once said to a friend when she tried to help me."
Shaking his head, he turned and headed off the set. Lou looked nervous. "I didn't mean to upset him, or anything."
"It isn't you," Rob reassured her. Sam nodded as he joined them. "It's like Jason said. Some of this is just very close to his own situation, and he's still trying to cope with it."
"Everyone, take a break," Rob called out. He then went after his son.
* * *
Jason slowed to a halt, and looked back at the famous director. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have walked off like that."
"It's all right. Are you okay?"
Jason leaned back against a brick wall. "I think so. It's like, every scene I do has some part that could have been taken right out of my own life."
"In a way, you're making it like that," Rob said quietly. "I understand how hard it must be for you, but I'm glad of it, too. You're adding a reality to the film that I could never have given it." He trailed off, staring into the boy's tired face before making a decision. "I think we'll call it a day."
"But we were supposed to do two more scenes!" Jason protested as Rob led him back towards the set.
"It won't hurt to leave them until tomorrow," Rob replied. "We've managed to get ahead of schedule, so it won't matter that much." They came back to the set, and Rob called out loudly. "Okay, people, that's it for today! You've all got the rest of the day off!"
A gratified murmur swept over the people, and they turned and shuffled off in different directions. Rob laid a hand lightly on Jason's shoulder. "C'mon. Let's go."
* * *
"Another five weeks," Rob mused as he and Jason sat in a small cafeteria. "Maybe six.... Then we should be done, and it'll be up to the editors. We're doing well."
Jason remained silent. Five or six weeks, and then it was back to Angel Grove Back to reality.
Rob watched him in concern. "Jason, what's wrong? You've been miserable all day."
"I don't know," Jason mumbled. "I guess... It's just that right now, I'm not so sure I want to go home. I miss Mum, but there's other stuff I can do without... Everyone must know by now what was going on...."
Rob sat back slowly. "You're jumping to conclusions. You'll probably get home and find that everything's fine. Give it a chance, Jason."
Jason sighed inwardly and turned his gaze out, looking through the window and across the busy road. His gaze passed fleetingly over a few people standing on the other side of the road and seconds later, his breath froze in his throat.
Rob looked back to his son in time to see the boy go deathly white. He followed Jason's line of sight, and saw a tall, heavily built man standing on the other side of the road.
"Alan...." Jason whispered, panic written all over his face. "It's him... It's Alan...."
Rob looked around sharply at the bodyguard/chauffeur who stood back a few feet and motioned with his hand. The man immediately darted out of the shop and made it across the road but it was too late. Alan was gone, vanished into the crowds.
"He found me," Jason whimpered, tears of fear and panic filling his eyes.
Rob reached across the table to grasp the teen's trembling hand. "He won't get to you, Jason. I'm going to contact the police, and let them know he's here in Hollywood, and they'll all be on the lookout for him. Everything will be fine. I promise. Trust me, Jason."
Jason finally got a grip on his fear, and looked straight at the man who was his father. "Thank you."
* * *
Alan Scott sat in angry silence on the bus, contemplating what to do. The best thing he could do for himself would be to get on the next bus out of the state but he couldn't let it go as easily as that. He couldn't let Jason go like that. As far as he was concerned, the boy had no right to be happy when he himself had been driven from his family. The little bastard was going to pay if it was the last thing he did.
A week later....
Alec arrived at Rob's office to find the director studying numerous pamphlets and catalogues. "You wanted to see me, Rob?"
Rob looked up at Alec. "Yes. We've done as much of the filming here as possible. It's time to move camp."
Alec sat down. "To Hawaii?"
Rob shook his head. "No, I think I've found somewhere better. It won't cost as much, and it's a lot closer to home."
Rob smiled a little. "Angel Grove. Jason's home town."
After some discussion, Rob conceded to let Anne come as well, with Sarah, Danni and Tyler. Jason had just finished packing his bag when Danni looked in. "Jason, can I come in?"
He glanced around, and smiled at her. "Sure."
The fourteen year-old wandered into the bedroom. "Are you glad to go home?"
"A little," Jason confessed. "Part of me wishes I could stay here, too."
"You could," she said eagerly. "You could stay here!" Jason smiled sadly and he sat down on the bed. "I would love to, Danni, but I can't. My home is Angel Grove. I'll come to visit, though."
Danni sat down beside him. "It's really great, having an older brother. I never did like being the oldest."
Jason pulled a face. "It's weird for me, to suddenly be the oldest. I've been so used to being stuck in the middle."
Danni slipped her arm through his and hugged him quickly. "Do you think you'll ever be able to forget about what that creep did to you?"
"I doubt it," Jason said softly. "Maybe one day Ill be able to forgive him, though." He shook his head. "I'll never forget. I've got too many scars to forget."
"Can I see?"
Jason hesitated, then decided she was only curious. Biting back his own hurt, he lifted up his shirt to reveal the multitude of scars covering his body. Tears filled Danni's eyes, and overflowed. "How could anyone do this? It isn't right! Why couldn't anyone stop him from hurting you?"
Jason quickly dropped his shirt and pulled her close in a warm hug. "It's okay. That's all over. He won't ever be able to hurt me again." _Providing they catch him._
Jason shoved the thought brutally from his mind. Sure, he had seen Alan that one afternoon, but it had been the only time. Alan would be a fool to try anything now....
Danni wiped the tears away. "I love you, Jason." She hugged him again, tightly, then got up and hurried from the room.
A day later, Angel Grove....
Jason felt almost guilty, riding in a limousine. He'd suggested Rob simply call a taxi for him at the airport, but that had been unacceptable. A limousine had been called to transport Lou and Sam to their hotel, so it was only fair that Jason ride with Rob and his family in the second limousine. Still, he thought as he looked around the lush interior, it was a luxury he'd never experienced before....
"Can anyone see inside this thing?" he asked nervously as the car rolled past a small group of teens that he knew.
Rob fought back a smirk. "No. You don't have to worry. No one will see you."
Jason reddened a little and sank back into the soft seat. Anne frowned lightly at her husband, then reached across to pat the boy's hand reassuringly. "Don't worry, the novelty wears off quickly enough."
Rob lounged back in the seat. "Now why shouldn't I let my family have the occasional pleasure? What's wrong with that?"
Jason smiled to himself and looked out the window just in time to catch a glimpse of the school.
"Is that where you go to school?" Danni asked curiously.
"Yeah," Jason answered simply. _Not far now._
"Take the next left," Rob ordered the chauffeur abruptly, and both Jason and Anne stared at him incredulously. Rob shrugged and offered his wife a sheepish smile. "Sorry, honey. Some things just aren't forgotten."
Anne had to smile. "That's okay."
"There," Jason said automatically, and the limousine came to a stop out the front of his home.
Rob looked wistful as he stared up at the white-washed home. "Doesn't look much different..."
Jason lifted his shoulder bag up off the floor. "Uh... Thanks for the lift."
Rob chuckled, then. "Oh, no problem. I'll send Alec to pick you up tomorrow morning at six-thirty."
"Don't worry," Jason said as he climbed out of the car. "I can walk. I know the way, and it's not far."
Again, Rob laughed. "I'm not worried about you getting lost. I just want to make sure you get there on time."
Confusion filled Jason's eyes, and Rob shook his head. "Don't worry. Just be ready at six-thirty."
Jason conceded, though he was still confused, and headed up the path to the house.
* * *
Amy Scott was in her room, flipping aimlessly through a magazine when she heard the front door open. "Anyone home?"
Her face lit up, and she hurried from her room. "Jason? You're home!" She threw her arms around her younger brother in a bear hug. "We missed you!"
Jason smiled a little. "Same. Where's Mum?"
Amy grinned as she pulled him into the kitchen. "At work." Jason's jaw dropped. "Mum got a job?"
"Uh huh. Said she wasn't going to sit around on her butt taking hand-outs. She put together a resume and went downtown, and got herself a job as a waitress in a little cafe. She said it's tiring, but she likes doing it. Plus, she said she's got a really good boss. So what about you? Tell me everything, Jase."
Jason shrugged as Amy poured out some Coke. "There's not that much to tell."
"Oh, right," Amy snorted. "For the past four or five weeks you've been making a movie with one of the most famous actors in Hollywood, and you say there's not much to tell? C'mon!"
Jason smiled. "Okay. It's been just about the greatest five weeks of my life, especially since Rob found out who I am. You know I was staying with him?"
"Yeah, Mum said."
He grinned at her. "I've got two little sisters, and another little brother. It's so great, Amy!"
Amy leaned over and hugged him warmly. "I'm glad you're happy. Just don't forget about us, okay?"
"You?" Jason asked. "Not a chance. Now Max, maybe...."
Amy snickered. "He won't admit it, but I think he misses you. Man, it's so weird.... Thinking that you're just my half-brother."
"I'm trying not to think of it like that," Jason said softly. "Because, then I'll start thinking that I don't really belong here, or there."
Amy watched him worriedly. "Did you have trouble with his... I mean, your father's wife?"
"Anne? No. I thought I would, but she was really happy to meet me. Kept trying to reassure me that I was as much a part of their family as any of the kids."
The front door opened again, and a less mature voice called out. "Amy, I'm home!"
Amy grinned. "Max, come and see who's back!"
A moment later, Max's scruffy head appeared around the kitchen archway, and he pulled a face. "Great. He's back. Does that mean I have to share a room again?"
The head vanished again, and Amy shook her head. "Rotten little brat...."
Jason had to smile. "Some things never change." He let his voice rise enough for Max to hear. "One thing's for sure, my new little brother is a nice change. Tyler isn't anywhere near bratty as Max!"
"Drop dead!" came Max's retort from the family room.
Jason laughed softly. "Pleasant, as always...."
Amy leaned over the bench. "So is the movie finished?"
"Huh? Oh... No, there's still about five or six weeks to go. We're filming the rest here in Angel Grove."
Amy's face lit up. "Sam Neill is in Angel Grove?"
"Yes," Jason said, rolling his eyes. "And no, I am not telling you where he's staying. You aren't gonna go camp out with your friends."
Amy opened her mouth to speak, and Jason cut in. "No, he is not staying at the Sheraton. Don't ask."
Amy sighed. "You can't blame me for trying."
A small smile flickered across Jason's lips. "Don't bug me too much about it, and I'll see what I can do about getting you onto the site. Rob will probably let me bring some friends around at some point, so it shouldn't be too difficult to arrange. Just promise me that if I do manage to arrange it, you won't do something embarrassing like faint if you get to meet Sam."
"On a first name basis, are we?" she teased.
Jason sighed. "You don't work next to someone for five weeks on an equal level and get away with calling them mister for too long. Rob started clouting me over the head every time I called him Mr. Carter."
Amy watched him wonderingly. "Do you think you'll ever be able to call him dad?"
"I don't know," he said quietly. "Maybe... It'll probably happen when I'm not even thinking about it." He looked up at the clock. It read five-fifteen. "When does Mum finish working?"
"Five o'clock, most nights. She'll be home in five or so minutes."
"Good," Jason murmured. He hesitated, then looked at Amy worriedly. "I saw Alan, Amy."
"Yeah. Rob and I were in a cafe, and I just looked up, and he was across the road, just watching me."
"Are you sure it was Daddy?"
"I'm sure. He.... He looked pretty angry." Amy looked away, clenching her jaw. Jason sighed. "I'm sorry. I probably shouldn't have told you."
"No, it's okay," Amy murmured. "It's just hard to deal with, that's all. I thought that if he'd cared about any of us at all, he would have stayed in town and done what he was supposed to do. When he took off, I felt like he'd abandoned us."
Jason got up and went around to his older sister. "I'm pretty sure he still cares a lot about you and Max, and Mum. But it's like what we used to learn at karate class. Anger clouds a person's judgment. He's really angry at me and it's screwing up his judgment."
"But it's not your fault!" Amy said in a strained voice. "You couldn't help it that he wasn't your dad! It's not your fault, it's...."
"No one's fault," Jason interrupted firmly. "Don't blame Mum, Amy. She made a mistake. She couldn't help that. Nobody's perfect."
"I wasn't going to blame Mum," Amy said softly. "I was going to say, it's Dad's fault for not being able to accept you just for who you are."
Jason sighed. "It'll work out eventually. It has to."
Amy couldn't hide her concern. "Things don't always work out happily, Jason."
He smiled weakly at her. "How much worse can it get?" She didn't reply. They both knew the answer without saying.
* * *
"I knew you'd come crawling back," Max sneered at Jason that night as they sat in the family room.
Amy promptly hit him across the back of the head. "Max, will you knock it off? Daddy isn't around anymore, you can quit being such a brat."
Jason smiled calmly. "It's okay, Amy. He's just jealous because he's not my only little brother anymore."
"Sure," Max growled. "What's to be jealous of?"
"Oh, nothing," Jason replied casually. "Just that Tyler's a hell of a lot nicer than you, demon-boy."
"That's enough," Melissa interrupted, her voice taking on a warning tone. "Jason, your brother is not a demon."
Jason snickered. "Sorry. My mistake."
Max stuck his tongue out at Jason, who threw an M & M at the younger boy.
"Watch it, Max," Amy said with a grin. "He'll fight back, now."
"You can't fight back," Max said pompously. "If you do, Daddy will...." The child broke off abruptly, watching Jason almost fearfully.
Jason regarded Max with pain-filled eyes. "What? He'll beat the crap out of me, just like he used to? He's not here to do that now, Max."
"I'm sorry," Max whispered, tears filling his eyes. "I didn't mean that...."
Melissa sighed heavily. "All right, that's enough. I think it's time all three of you went to bed. Jason, don't you have to be up early tomorrow morning?"
Jason stood up. "Yeah. Alec will be coming to get me at six-thirty."
"Then it's time to go to bed. Go on, all of you."
* * *
In their bedroom, Max climbed up onto his bed and watched Jason nervously. "I'm sorry. I really didn't mean that."
"It's okay," Jason murmured. "It was just a slip-up. I understand. Just... Quit acting so damned high and mighty, okay? It's starting to get on my nerves."
"Okay," Max mumbled. "Jason...?"
"Do you really like your new brother more than me?"
Jason stopped, then went over to lean against the double bunks. "I'm trying to not to.... But face it, Max. You aren't doing much in favour of yourself."
"I know," Max conceded. "I can't help it. When Dad was here, it was like he was always mean to you, and I thought I had to be as well so he wouldn't stop loving me. It's hard to stop acting like that."
"I know what you mean," Jason said quietly. "I understand. Just try not to be such a little beast, okay?"
Jason sighed with relief. "Thank you."
Noon, the following day....
Jason sat at the top of the lookout post, an old tower erected a hundred years ago, during the first settlements in Angel Grove. Though it was in the park, it afforded a clear view of the ocean, as well as all the way to Angel Grove High, and some distance beyond. He could see the Youth Centre from there, and anyone who came or went. Tommy had just gone in there not fifteen minutes ago, and Adam and Rocky had soon followed. He wanted to go and see them, but right then, he couldn't....
Lou suddenly appeared beside him, and he started a little. "What are you doing here?"
"Sitting. What does it look like?"
"Don't be a smart ass. You know I'm worried about you."
"I'm just thinking, okay?" he snapped. "I like coming here to think. Is that okay with you?"
Lou stared at him, hurt. "What is wrong with you? You are so different to how you were when I first met you. It's ever since you met that guy... You only talk to him, now, and you've totally closed yourself off to me."
"You worry too much."
"C'mon, Austin. That isn't fair. I've got every reason to be worried. You know your dad has been looking for you...?"
He stiffened. "He asked you? You told him where I was?"
"No.... But he seemed pretty anxious. You should go home. Or at least let him know you're okay."
Jason shut his eyes, letting the thoughts flow across his face in indescribable emotion. They were nearly twenty feet up. It would be so easy to just grab the pylons and push himself off....
Jason blinked and looked down to see Rob staring back up at him, looking clearly unhappy.
"What was wrong with that?" Jason asked, annoyed. "It's the second time we've done it!"
"It's not you kids. It's the damn noise. We'll have to do it again when that's over with."
Jason looked around, and was startled to see the Megazord fighting a monster only a few kilometres away. He hadn't even realised.... Lou saw his surprise, and frowned. "Oh, c'mon. Don't say you never noticed. We were practically yelling at each other!"
Jason shrugged helplessly as they climbed down from the tower. "I guess I'm used to it."
"You're used to it?"
"I live here, remember?"
On the ground, Rob was ordering the filming equipment to be quickly moved right away. "Hurry up!" he yelled. "They're getting closer!"
"Shouldn't we get out of here?" Lou asked nervously.
"Where can we go?" Sam asked, looking around the open park.
Jason started to move away from them. "There's a shelter nearby. We can go there." The group followed Jason to the shelter and to safety.
* * *
"Let me get this straight," Lou said as they watched the fight from nearby. "You live in the middle of this sort of thing? It happens all the time?"
Jason couldn't resist a smile. _If only she knew_ "Yeah. It stops being so interesting after a while."
"How long do these fights last?" Rob wanted to know.
Jason didn't reply for a moment. He watched the fight with critical appraisal, noting how the Megazord was faring as opposed to the beating the rangers were dishing out. Finally he answered. "Give it another five or ten minutes. That looks like one of Mondo's worse monsters."
"You seem to know a lot about this," Sam commented quietly.
Jason shrugged, trying hard to look casual. "When you've lived in the middle of this for so long, you get used to it. Anyone could've told you what I just did."
No one replied, but Sam and Rob exchanged silent, sceptical glances. Jason didn't notice the look that passed between his father and friend, but continued to watch through the shelter opening. Something unusual had just caught his attention.....
Jason stiffened visibly as he spotted Goldar hurrying through the park, something held in his armoured claws with special care. Experience warned Jason that Goldar was up to no good, and he made a snap decision.
"I have to, uh.... go to the bathroom.... 'Scuse me...." Everyone in the shelter stared in surprise as Jason scrambled out and took off across the park.
"Where the hell is he going?" Lou demanded.
Rob sighed and shook his head, giving up on trying to make sense of Jason's actions. "To the bathroom, I suppose...."
* * *
Jason skidded to a halt and threw himself down behind a clump of bushes, then reached up to make a gap through which he could see what was going on. There was Goldar, holding what looked like some sort of crystal in his hands. The ugly ape reached out to place the crystal carefully on a wooden stand then step back to survey his handiwork. An instant later, there was a flash of light, and Zedd and Rita appeared.
"Great," Jason whispered. "Just great... What are they up to?"
"Here we are," Zedd crowed. "I need but infuse the crystal, and it will turn the rangers' nightmares into the most shocking reality!"
Jason drew in a sharp breath. Another nightmare crystal? Zordon would want to know... He started back, only to freeze when he felt something hard and cold pressing into the back of his neck. "Look at this," a female voice purred. "The handsome little Gold Ranger. Oh, sorry. Ex-Gold Ranger."
Jason withheld a moan. Scorpina...
"Get up," Scorpina ordered him softly, and Jason got slowly to his feet, putting up no protest when she forced him through into the clearing. "Look at what I caught," she boasted.
If Zedd could have smiled, he would have. "Wonderful, bait for the other rangers."
Goldar edged forward. "Lord Zedd, let me have him. I'll destroy him!"
"You idiot!" Zedd roared. "Bait is no good if it's dead! You can kill him after we've completed the task we set out to do. Understand?"
Goldar turned away sulkily, and Zedd began to plan with Rita again how they would get the rangers to come. Jason stayed still. He'd be no good to his friends impaled on Scorpina's sword. His gaze turned to the crystal. Up close, he saw the jagged streaks of blood-red light that were passing through it. The first nightmare crystal had been bad, Jason thought, but this one looked a hell of a lot worse....
He reacted fast, on instinct, and launched himself forward, snatching the crystal from its stand as he ran. Behind him, he felt the swipe of a sword, and Zedd yelling angrily Then all sounds were lost as he bolted with his prize.
* * *
The Megazord had just defeated Mondo's monster, and Rob, Sam and Lou were about to leave the shelter, when Lou spotted Jason. "Hey, there he is!"
They all stared in confusion as Jason came charging across the grass and literally threw himself into the shelter from nearly three metres away. He landed with a crash, gasping in pain as he jarred his entire body.
"What are you trying to do?" Rob demanded of his son. "Break your damn neck?"
"Don't talk!" Jason hissed. "Get down! He'll see you!"
"Who?" Sam asked.
Jason pointed frantically. "That!"
They looked around, and threw themselves down a moment later as Goldar came into sight, with Scorpina close behind. "Where did he go?" Goldar snarled, angry that he'd once more lost a chance to settle the score with his old foe.
Scorpina sheathed her own sword. "Probably gone running to the rangers by now. If you hadn't been so damn clumsy and tripped over your own feet...."
"Zip your lip," Goldar snapped. "It wasn't my fault, you were so busy preening yourself!"
Scorpina glowered at him. "Don't get fresh with me, Fur Brain. Who was the one who lost him in the Dimension of Darkness in the first place? He wouldn't have even been here now if you'd done your job instead of playing around like a chimpanzee!"
Goldar tensed with rage. "That was the Green Ranger! I was only doing what Rita told me to do! You could have gotten rid of him with your sting, but you were having too much fun knocking them all over like pins!"
"Oh yeah? Well, who was it who let him get away in the Dimension Doom?" Their voices faded as they disappeared from sight, until their arguing could no long be heard. Then, and only then, did Jason get up to dust himself off.
"What," Rob asked softly, "was that all about?"
Jason tried to look innocent. It was the one thing he couldn't quite manage. "I don't know what they were arguing over. But they were chasing me because of that.... Lou, don't!"
Lou stopped, her hands barely inches away from the crystal. "What?" she demanded.
Pulling off his jacket, Jason wrapped it carefully around the crystal and picked it up. "I have a friend who'll know what to do with this. I'll take it to him. Rob, when will we start filming again?"
"In forty-five minutes, or so. Depends how long it takes to find everyone."
Jason nodded. "That's okay, I'll be back by then."
"You need someone to go with you?" Lou asked eagerly as they left the shelter.
Jason shook his head. "No, it's okay. You can go work on your lines." He grinned teasingly at her. "From the way the last scene went, it sounds like you need the extra time."
Lou bristled at that, but Jason was gone before she could think of a decent comeback.
* * *
He reached a deserted section of the park, and pulled his communicator out of his pocket. "Zordon, do you read me?"
There was a moment of silence, and Jason was fearful it had somehow been broken. Then, finally, Zordon's voice came across loud and clear. "I read you, Jason. What is wrong?"
"I've got something here that you might want to see. I took it from Rita and Zedd."
Zordon replied instantly. "Standby, Jason. We will teleport you to the Power Chamber."
Jason nodded. "Okay." He looked around nervously, until nearly a minute later the park vanished in a flash of white light.
* * *
The rangers were still in the Power Chamber, and gathered eagerly around Jason as he rematerialized in the chamber. "How's the big movie star?" Rocky teased. "Not getting too big to talk to his friends, I hope?"
Jason smirked at the Blue Ranger. "I'm talking to you, aren't I?"
Tommy clapped Jason on the shoulder. "It's great to have you home, bro."
Zordon reluctantly interrupted the reunion, recalling the reason for bringing Jason to the Power Chamber to start with. "Jason, you said you had something for us?"
Jason's smile faded, and he went over and placed the crystal carefully on the analysing table and unwrapped it. "This. I was in a shelter and I saw Goldar going through the park with it. I followed him, and then Zedd and Rita showed up. Zedd said it was a nightmare crystal...."
Billy paled slightly, recalling the time that he, Jason and the others had suffered the effects of the first nightmare crystal. "Another one?"
"Yeah, only I think this one might be stronger. Anyway, I sort of got caught by Scorpina, and when Zedd and Goldar were arguing over what to do with me, I grabbed it and bolted."
"Pretty daring, Jase," Tommy commented, sounding none-too-happy at the risk his friend had taken.
Jason sighed. "Look, I know it was a dumb thing to do, but you weren't around when the first one was used against us. It totally sapped our self-confidence to the point where we were terrified to go outside. I didn't want to see anything like that happen again."
"Jason's right," Billy said softly. He looked around at the rangers with a pained stare. "The first crystal nearly beat us. If this one is worse, then Jason was justified in taking the risk he did."
Alpha shuffled over and picked the crystal up. "I'll get to work analysing this right away."
"I'll help," Billy said. "I'd like to try and determine the cosmetic makeup of the crystal."
"I've gotta get back," Jason said. "I told Rob I'd be back as soon as possible."
Tommy nodded. "We'll come with you."
Jason stopped, throwing Tommy a frown, and the Red Ranger chuckled. "Just to the park. Don't worry, Jase. We wouldn't want to cramp your style."
Rocky snickered. "Speak for yourself."
Kat hit him lightly. "Stop being so mean, Rocky. I'll bet Jason's a great actor."
Jason reddened considerably, and was anxious to go. "Zordon...?"
Zordon could not resist a smile as he spoke. "Teleporting now, Jason." None of them missed the look of relief on Jason's face as he vanished from sight.
"The final readouts should be coming through now," Alpha said as he finished plugging information into the Power Chambers computer.
Billy walked slowly, tiredly over to the printer and waited with half-closed eyes. He was almost asleep standing up when the sound of the printer snapped him back to reality, and he quickly tore off the sheet as soon as it was done.
"What does it say?" Alpha asked, shuffling over.
Billy frowned. "This is odd... The last crystal was activated automatically, but according to this, the current one will only work if it's been touched...."
Zordon looked grim. "We must assume that Jason touched the crystal in the process of stealing it from Zedd and Rita."
"In which case," Billy concluded, "the crystal will work on him!"
"We must summon Jason back here immediately," Zordon stated.
Billy looked worried. "Zordon, that might be difficult. If Jason is still at the film site, it will be almost impossible for him to get away without arousing suspicion. Maybe I should go and try to find him?"
"Very well, Billy. Tell him to contact me as soon as he is able, and I will bring him here. It will be safest for him to sleep here until the crystal is destroyed."
Billy nodded, then activated his communicator and teleported out.
Jason slumped over in his chair in his caravan, exhausted by the work-load he'd had. His left arm, resting on the arm of the chair, finally slid off as he slipped into a deep sleep.
* * *
Rob was just about to call the order for the next shoot, when he spotted an unfamiliar face. A boy of approximately Jason's age was making his way through the cameras and equipment, deep concern and worry etched onto his tanned face.
Frowning to himself, Rob went over to see what the boy was doing there.
* * *
Billy stopped dead, and looked up to find himself staring into the face of the man who he recognised as Robert Carter, the director. "Uh.... Yes... sir?" It was all he could think of to say.
Rob eyed the boy critically. "May I ask how you got onto the Lot? You aren't part of my crew."
"No, sir... I was looking for Jason. Jason Scott...?"
"The reason being?"
"He's my friend, sir. I need to see him. It's important." Rob continued to frown. Billy, in turn, was starting to lose patience. "Please, I'm not lying! Jason is my friend, I've known him since Kindergarten."
Finally, Rob conceded. If the boy was lying, then Jason could easily call for security. "All right. That's his trailer over there. He's in there." Billy nodded his thanks and hurried across the Lot to the trailer. He knocked once on the door, and went in without waiting for a reply.
"Jason...?" Billy froze in the doorway. "Oh, no..." He hurried over to Jason, who was twisting around in his chair, caught up in the throes of a severe nightmare. "Jase, wake up! Please...."
After nearly a minute, Billy finally managed to wake his friend up. Jason came to with a start, a cry of fear just catching in his throat. "B... Billy?"
"Yes. You were having a nightmare."
Jason pushed himself up, and brushed a thin layer of sweat from his eyes. "Man, I haven't had a nightmare like that for a long while."
"It's the nightmare crystal," Billy said grimly. "It's why I came. Jason, there's a problem. I need you to tell me what the nightmare was about."
Jason sat still for a long moment, then turned a pale shade of green. "It... It was about Alan. I dreamt he came back to Angel Grove, and came after me. He was beating me, and he wouldn't stop...."
Billy felt nauseous. "Hell... Jason, we found out that the crystal will work on any human that touches it. You did touch it, didn't you?"
"I had to," Jason protested. "I didn't have time to take off my jacket on the spot!"
"It's okay," Billy tried to reassure him. He hesitated, then sighed. "Actually, it isn't. The problem is, we don't know how the power of the crystal will manifest itself. Did Zedd say anything else about it? Something that might help us to understand how it works?"
Jason thought back, then spoke in a subdued voice. "He said something about turning nightmares into reality... I don't remember exactly. Billy, couldn't you just destroy it? Like with the last one?"
Billy sighed softly. "We tried. It appears to be completely impervious to all of our efforts. Nothing so far has succeeded in even scratching it."
Jason moaned softly. "Damn. So we just have to play it out, then. This sucks, Billy!"
"I know," Billy murmured grimly. "It's getting worse. Jason, when you finish here, I suggest you come to the Power Chamber. Call your mother and tell her you're staying at my house. My father will cover for you if she calls him."
"Okay," Jason conceded wearily. "But I'm not sleeping on the scanning table again! That thing is damned hard!"
Billy smiled. "Fair enough. I'll get Alpha to set up a couple of cots."
Jason blinked. "A couple?"
"Well, I'm not leaving you alone when that crystal could end up giving you nightmares all night long. I'll see you back at the Power Chamber, all right?"
Jason stood up quickly. "Billy, wait. Hang around for a bit. We've still got one scene to shoot before we finish up tonight, and you could watch, if you want."
Billy hesitated. "I wouldn't make you nervous?"
"Nah. If I can stand next to Sam Neill for an hour and not panic, then you won't make me nervous. Now Rocky, on the other hand...."
"All right," Billy agreed with a wry smile. "I will, then. It's okay with the director, isn't it? He didn't seem too happy to see me before...."
"Don't worry. Rob's just been worried that other teenagers might come to badger me about what happened with Alan. Once he knows you're my friend, it'll be okay."
"You get along well with him, then?"
"Yeah," Jason said, smiling. "Really well. I like him a lot, Billy. I just wish...."
Jason paused in the door of the trailer. "I wish I could get up the courage to call him Dad."
Billy only nodded his understanding; it was not something he felt he could comment on.
* * *
Rob was waiting patiently when Jason came over with Billy. "Rob, this is Billy Cranston. He's one of my best friends."
Rob's stern expression melted, then, a warm smile spread over his face. "Pleased to meet you, Billy. You've have to excuse my attitude earlier; I just have to be careful with who I let in. Especially where Jason is concerned. I'm sure you understand."
Billy nodded, instantly deciding that he liked Robert Carter very much. "Yes, I understand."
"I invited Billy to stay and watch the last scene," Jason said.
Rob nodded. "That's fine. He can watch from over by my chair."
Jason touched Billy's shoulder lightly. "C'mon, over here."
"He's a good man," Billy commented softly.
Jason nodded. "I know. Now, do me a favour and don't laugh at me afterwards. Okay?"
Billy had to grin. "I won't."
Jason rolled his eyes and headed off to get ready.
An hour and a half later....
Billy watched in silence, frozen to the spot, as Jason and Sam acted out the scene which they had rehearsed three times over before the shoot. It was riveting, even for someone such as Billy who rarely bothered with the movies. What caught Billy the most, though, was that it was a scene that could have been taken almost directly out of Jason's own life. He bit down on a knuckle, fighting the tears that threatened to flow, and continued to watch in tense silence.
* * *
Rob, while quietly issuing orders, signaled Alec over. "Do me a favour, keep an eye on that friend of Jason's. I want to know exactly what his reaction is to this."
"Will do," Alec murmured, and went to do so.
* * *
"Look at me, Austin."
Austin refuses. John tries to force him. "Damn it, will you just look at me?"
Jason shied away, completely in character, acting as he himself would have acted in the exact same situation.
"Don't touch me!"
John backs off
"All right. Okay, I won't touch. You see? I won't hurt you. I just want you to trust me!"
Austin remains frozen in the corner. John tries again. "Austin, please! I want to help you! Why won't you let me help you?" Jason stared past Sam, his gaze vacant and haunted. He opened his mouth to speak his next line.... and froze.
* * *
Rob leant forward a little in his chair when Jason didn't speak. _C'mon_ he thought tensely. _You're doing fine, son Just keep going...._
* * *
Billy felt his stomach turn over and he had to fight a sudden bout of nausea. He had seen this before, just once before, many years ago. Jason had frozen up completely, but then, Billy had not known the reason....
* * *
Jason's breath came in rapid succession. One minute he had been Jason playing Austin; part of the character, and yet detached at the same time. Suddenly, inexplicably, he was wholly Austin, and he couldn't break free. All he could do was play the scene out, and hope that the end of the scene would bring release. "No one ever wanted to help me."
The words came not from the script, but from Jason's heart. Sam remained still for a long moment, not sure what to do, and then he decided to ad lib. "Well, I do."
"My problems are my problems," Jason chanted softly, tears rolling down his cheeks.
"Your problems are my problems," Sam countered, half-aware that the exchange he was caught in the middle of was more than simple acting.
"My life.... My problems..... My pain...." Jason lifted his shirt just a little, enough to reveal one scar that ran nearly half the width of his stomach. The look on his face, in his eyes, was one of agony... and need. "My pain, my scars."
Sam felt his stomach turn over. This was going too far....
* * *
Rob hesitated, then looked over to Billy. The boy had turned away, and was retching into the grass. He made a snap decision. "Cut! Everybody, cut!"
Sam fell back immediately, one hand coming up to his mouth as he struggled to regain his lost composure. The entire crew seemed to turn away, all of them looking weak or nauseous. The only one who didn't move was Jason.
Seeing the boy was still frozen in the corner of the set, Rob, hurried over to try and snap him out of it. "Jason?" He crouched down and reached out to touch Jason's shoulder, but the teen jerked away, crying out in fear. Rob felt sick.
"Jason, it's over. Snap out of it, son!" Desperate, he took Jason's shoulders tightly in his hands and shook the boy hard. It was finally enough, and Jason's glazed stare focused on the director.
"Thank God," Rob murmured. "Are you all right, Jason?"
Jason shuddered visibly. "I.... I think so.... I'm sorry...."
"Don't be. You couldn't help it. C'mon, up you get." Jason allowed Rob to pull him up, and made no protest when the director put an arm firmly around his shoulders in support.
"It's late," Rob said quietly as he guided his shaken son off the set. "I'll call your mother and tell her you're staying with me tonight."
Anxiety crossed Jason's face and he looked around for Billy. The teen came over and spoke carefully. "It's all right, Jason. Don't worry about anything." The words were spoken with careful emphasis, and Jason guessed Billy was planning alternate arrangements to monitor him while he slept. He nodded wordlessly, and let himself be led away to the trailers by his father.
Billy watched Jason go, then turned and hurried off in the opposite direction to find a safe place to teleport.
"What do you think happened?" Rob asked as he and Jason sat on the sofa side by side in the hotel penthouse.
Jason shook his head. He was still shaken by what had happened. "I don't know. I... I just got caught up in it. I couldn't break free!"
He'd started trembling again, and Rob reached over to hug him reassuringly.
"It's all right. Jason, maybe this is starting to become too much for you. I probably should have put a stop to it when you froze up the last time."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, perhaps it's time you finished up with this film. It was great to start with, but now you're just putting too much of yourself into it. You're doing harm to yourself, son. I don't want to push you through it at the risk of your own emotional health."
Jason shook his head. "No! Please, don't pull me off it. I have to finish it, Rob. It's important to me, now. If I don't finish it...." He looked frustrated. "I can't explain it."
"You don't have to. I understand what you're getting at. But what happened this evening... Jason, that was serious. We couldn't even get through to you for a minute! I'm worried about you. I'm worried about just how much this movie is really affecting you."
Jason looked up tearfully at his father. "Please, just give me the chance to see it through. It's like, if I can finish the film, then I can finish what happened with Alan all these years. Do you understand?"
"Yes... I think so." He paused, watching Jason with obvious affection. "I'm proud of you, son. Very proud."
Jason didn't move. All of a sudden, there was something he desperately wanted to do, but years of strict censuring on Alan Scott's part had reduced his courage to a minimum. Rob continued to watch Jason for a long while before shifting across and putting an arm gently around Jason's shoulders, drawing the boy close to him. Jason shut his eyes as Rob gently drew him down to rest on his broad shoulder.
"You're my son now, Jason. Not his. Just remember that, and everything will be fine."
Jason sighed, half-asleep in his father's strong embrace. "Love you... Dad...."
Tears filled Rob's eyes at that. He doubted Jason was fully aware of what he'd just said, but it touched him to the heart.
"I love you, too, son."
Angel Grove Bus Terminal....
Alan Scott looked around slowly, frowning deeply to himself. Somehow, at some point, he had wound up back in Angel Grove. He had no idea how; last he knew he'd still been in Hollywood, holed up in a shady little dive, hiding from the cops. But now, with startling abruptness, he'd ended up back in his home town. He didn't know when he'd gotten there, he didn't know how. But he was there, and he assumed there was a reason.
Remembering he was on the run, he hitched his bag higher up over his shoulder and hurried to get to safety, away from prying eyes.
The next day....
"Feeling better?" Rob asked as Jason emerged from the bedroom that morning.
The boy offered Rob a sheepish smile. "Yeah. I'm sorry about last night. I really don't know what happened."
"I told you, there's no need to explain. I understand. I think we'll take it easy with the shoots today. We're ahead of schedule anyway, so it won't make too much difference." Rob hesitated, then spoke up quietly. "Tell me, Jason, how did you sleep last night?"
Jason froze, a glass of orange juice halfway to his mouth. The glass came back down slowly. "Why do you ask?"
"Because I woke up a couple of times last night, and I thought I could hear you crying out in your sleep."
Jason swallowed hard. The truth was, most of the night had been interrupted constant nightmares. To start with, it had just been images of Alan Scott, but then that had changed, and it had been Goldar that haunted his sleep. Then Tommy, as the evil Green Ranger.... Then all three, merged into one, indescribable nightmare....
"I slept okay," Jason lied. "I'm fine."
Rob nodded, but it was clear he didn't believe him.
* * *
"I think," Rob said as they headed for the movie set that morning, "that we need to talk about something."
Jason looked at him in dismay. "I thought we'd talked about that last night...."
"What? Oh.... No, that's okay. We sorted out that. No, this is a different matter. I got a phone call yesterday afternoon from my bank manager in Hollywood."
Jason's forehead creased with worry, and Rob had to smile. "Now, don't look like that. It's nothing bad, I promise. In fact, it's good, but I wanted to do it in case you said no."
"What is it?" Jason asked tentatively.
"Well, it's like this. Danni, Sarah and Tyler each have a trust fund set up for them. I set them up when Raise The Dead was so successful. That movie made me a very rich man, and I decided then to make sure that no matter what happened, my children would all have financial security. I also set up a fourth trust fund, though, that I kept under my own name. I've had that trust fund transferred to you, Jason."
Jason's jaw dropped. "Me?"
"Yes. It's not accessible until you're twenty-one, and by that time, there'll be enough money there to set you up for life."
For a long while, Jason didn't speak. Then, finally, he managed to croak out a response. "How much?"
"At the moment? Approximately six million. The same as the other kids. When you're old enough, you can use that money for whatever you want... But I trust you'll be wise enough not to waste it."
Jason sat back with a thud. "Six million? Man, that's more money than.... than I don't know!"
Rob shifted seats, to sit next to Jason. "Six million isn't that much, really. It can be lost faster than it's gained. Be smart with the money, son."
Jason sat still, fighting it out inside his own mind how best to respond. Finally, he looked up and spoke before he lost what little courage he'd gained. "Thank you... Dad."
Rob froze. That time it had not been a mistake, or something said in a state of semi-awareness. It had been very deliberate. Coming back to reality, he saw the look of trembling unease in Jason's eyes, and realised how much courage it must have taken the teen to say it. Reaching out, he pulled Jason close in a tight hug.
"You're very welcome," he whispered. "...Son."
Jason had learnt early on that it was not wise to disturb Rob Carter with trivial matters during a shoot, even if they were on a lunch break. He had a question to ask, though, and it couldn't wait. Gathering his courage, he made his way over to where his father was shouting orders all over the place.
Rob froze, and a grin tugged at his lips. Just hearing Jason call him Dad was enough to settle his bad temper. He turned around and spared the teen a strict look, all the while struggling not to laugh.
"What is it, Jason?"
Jason swallowed hard, wondering whether he should have waited until the day was over before he asked. It was too late now, though, and he knew that shirking would only annoy Rob even more. "Um... I was wondering...."
"Yes?" Rob asked impatiently.
Jason forced himself to say it. "I was wondering if I could bring a few of my friends here.... You know, let them check everything out."
"How many is a few?" Rob wanted to know.
Jason hesitated, adding them up in his mind. Billy, Tommy, Rocky, Adam, Kat, Tanya.... Amy.... He supposed he had to bring Max along as well, or the little brat would kick up a fuss....
"Eight?" he asked, half-afraid of the reaction he would get.
Rob hesitated, regarding Jason seriously. He was not so blind that he couldn't see how nervous the boy was. Finally he nodded and spoke in a subdued voice. "That's fine. I was intending to bring Anne and the kids around anyway, so your friends might as well come on the same day. Just be sure to let the security guards know, and give them a list of names. Tell your friends to be at the gate tomorrow at noon, and I'll make sure someone's there to show bring them through."
Relief flooded Jason's face. "Thanks, Dad."
Rob couldn't resist a grin. "Okay. Now get back to your trailer and get changed for the next scene."
Jason grinned and took off for his trailer at high speed, barely dodging a cameraman as he went. Alec shook his head and spoke once the teen was out of earshot.
"You're giving concessions to that kid that you won't give to the rest of us," he retorted, only half-joking.
Rob conceded that with a nod. "I know, but he is my son, Alec."
"I don't want to sound sceptical, Rob... but are you absolutely certain about that? I mean, maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea to have some tests done...."
Rob stopped short, then slowly looked around at Alec. "Are you suggesting it could be a hoax?"
"I'm not saying that," Alec protested under Rob's threatening glare. "I'm just saying that maybe there's been some mix-up...."
"No mix-up, Alec," Rob said in a dangerously soft voice. "I believe Melissa, and I believe Jason. If she was after money, she would have claimed it when I made my fortune with Raise The Dead."
"Not necessarily," Alec pointed out. "Not if Alan Scott was as abusive as we think. Would it hurt, Rob? Would it hurt just to be sure?"
"Yes," Rob snapped, "I believe it would. It would hurt Jason's trust in me. I won't do anything to break that trust. So just drop it, Alec! I don't want to hear anymore. Do you understand me?"
Alec nodded reluctantly. "I understand. I'm sorry, Rob. I'm just trying to look out for you...."
"Thank you, but I'm doing fine looking out for myself," Rob grumbled.
The next day....
"This is gonna be so cool," Rocky said eagerly as they approached the gates. "Hey, maybe if we impress Jason's old man enough, he'll give us parts in the movie!"
Tommy smirked. "Don't bet on it, Rocky. One role as a sidekick doesn't qualify you for an A-grade drama."
Billy slowed to a halt, eyeing the crowd of teenagers with scepticism. "We'll be lucky if we can even get through."
Amy came forward, then, determination on her face. "Just leave that to me." Without waiting for a reply, she strode forward, literally plowing through the mass of teens. "Excuse us, coming through!" she shouted, clearing a path for the rangers like Moses parting the Red Sea. Exchanging amused looks, the rangers quickly followed before the gap closed.
At the gate, the security guards spared the group a stern look. "How many times do we have to tell you kids? Mr Neill is too busy just now to come out."
Amy stuck her chin out indignantly. "For your information, we aren't here to see Sam Neill."
Tommy edged forward, laying a hand lightly on Amy's shoulder. "We're friends of Jason Scott. He told us to be here at twelve."
The guard's expression altered, and he looked down at his clipboard. "Tommy Oliver, Billy Cranston, Amy and Max Scott, Katherine Hillard, Tanya Sloan, Adam Park and Rocky De Santos?"
"That's us," Rocky piped up.
The guard nodded. "Okay, you kids are cleared. "Chris, open the gate!"
The teens couldn't resist grins at the sound of protests behind them as the guard ushered them through.
"Here." The guard handed each one a pass. "Wear those all the time you're here, or you'll be thrown out. And keep quiet for the time being, until we know whether they're filming."
Exchanging grins of anticipation, the teens hurried after the security guard.
* * *
Jason stood still, not moving, and hardly daring to breathe. He was there somewhere, he was sure of it. Lurking somewhere in the shadows, ready to attack at any second....
Jason's head turned a fraction, and then it happened. A small figure came almost from nowhere, launching into the air and tackling Jason, causing them both to crash to the ground.
"Gotcha!" Tyler howled in triumph, grinning down at his older brother.
Jason groaned comically. "Okay, I surrender! Man, Tyler, you're no light weight, you know that?"
Tyler sniggered. "The bigger they are, the harder they fall."
Danni and Sarah approached, eyeing their brothers with amusement. "You know," Danni said, winking at Sarah, "now would be the perfect time to find out if Jason's ticklish."
Jason's eyes widened. "What...? Hang on...."
Shrieking self-styled war cries, both girls launched a brutal attack on Jason, rendering him completely helpless with laughter.
Across the way, Sam shook his head as he stood with Rob and Anne. "Shameful."
Rob had to laugh. "Hey!" he called out to his children. "Stop ganging up on your brother!"
"Make us!" Sarah laughed.
From somewhere beneath the mass of children, Jason's voice floated up, muffled by the multiple bodies. "Dad! Get them off me!"
Rob snorted in response. "You're a black belt in karate. Get them off yourself."
"Very sympathetic, dear," Anne remarked sarcastically.
Rob shrugged. "Hey, I got better things to worry about. If he can't defend himself against the kids...."
Rob looked around to see a security guard standing there. "What is it, Sean?"
"I've got a group of kids here, friends of your son."
Rob fought back a grin as he looked back to where Jason was still trying to fight off his three younger siblings. "Jason, your friends are here. You might want to get cleaned up."
"I would if I could!" Jason retorted, his voice still muffled. "Aw, c'mon guys, get off me!"
"Not till you say it," Danni shot back.
"I'm not Yoda," Jason bellowed, "and this isn't E.T.!"
"You've got to say it!" Sarah joined in. "We don't let you up till you do!"
Across the way, the rangers and Amy and Max came within sight. Rob, still smirking to himself, walked over, deciding to end the wrestling match. "All right," he said gruffly, picking his youngest off the top. "That's enough. You can finish this later. Your brother has guests."
Danni and Sarah both got up reluctantly, pouting as Sam came over and grabbed Jason's hand, pulling the boy to his feet. "Very agile," he remarked dryly.
Jason frowned as he dusted himself off; a useless effort as he was almost smothered in dirt. "Gimme a break." He focused a half-teasing glare on the three kids. "Just you wait. I'll get you when you're least expecting it."
The only response he got was wild laughter as the three younger children tore off across the lot. Rob touched Jason's shoulder lightly and indicated to where his friends were waiting.
"Great," Jason moaned. "They probably saw everything. I'll never live it down."
Rob chuckled. "Act in front of the camera, Jason. Not away from it." Shaking his head, Jason went to meet his friends.
* * *
"Real smooth, Jase," Tommy commented in amusement. "Is that a new style of fighting, letting your face get rubbed in the dirt?"
"Shut up," Jason grumbled.
"Is this it?" Kat asked, looking around curiously.
Jason shook his head. "No. There're the sound stages, and the indoor sets. This is just one that we've been using today. C'mon back to my trailer. I want to get cleaned up. Those three got me good."
"Who were they?" Jason looked around to see Amy had appeared at his side, and there was a hint of worry in her eyes that she couldn't conceal.
"That was Danni, Sarah and Tyler," he confirmed quietly. "My.... My other brother and sisters."
"They sure seemed to like you, bro," Tommy observed.
Jason shrugged noncommittally, and Amy slipped her arm through his. "It's okay, Jason. We understand. Well, I do, at least."
Jason gave in, though he was still reluctant to say very much. "We get along really well. They're great kids."
They came to Jason's trailer, and Tommy spoke quickly, anxious to ease the sudden uneasiness between Jason and his sister. "This is yours?"
"During the movie," Jason said. "It's really good, having somewhere to hide out from Lou."
"Lou?" Tanya echoed, and Jason nodded.
"Yeah. 'Scuse me for a second. I think I'll get changed." Jason disappeared into the trailer, leaving his friends to wait out- side. They'd been there hardly a minute when a teenage girl walked up, eyeing the group critically.
"You lot have got to be friends of Jason," she said, more to herself than to them.
Tommy allowed himself a hint of a smile. "You must be Lou."
She raised an eyebrow at the tall boy. "Oh, so he's mentioned me, has he?" Her gaze went to Tanya, Kat and Amy. "So, which of you is his girl friend?"
The three girls looked at one another in surprise, and then Kat spoke. "None of us. We're just friends."
"And I'm his sister," Amy added firmly.
Lou looked sceptical. "He invites all of you down here, but not his girlfriend?"
"For your information...." Kat burst out, only to be restrained by Tommy's hand coming down on her shoulder.
The Red Ranger spared his girlfriend a warning look, then spoke quietly. "Jason is actually... ah...."
"Busy with his friends," a sharp voice interrupted, and they looked around to see Jason emerge from the trailer, his expression considerably darker than before.
Lou offered him a sugary smile. "Just keeping your friends entertained while you fix your hair, hon."
"Give it a rest, Lou," Jason snapped. "You know enough about my home life. Think you could possibly stay out of my love life?"
Lou shrugged. "Hey, can't blame a girl for trying. Anyway, you never know. Maybe I figured that since you're such a great kisser, I thought I might give you a go myself."
Without waiting for a response, she turned and hot-footed it off to her own trailer. The others all stared incredulously at Jason, who had turned beet-red. "It was in a scene!" Jason grumbled defensively. "I didn't have a choice."
Rocky hooted loudly. "Way to go, Jase!"
"Aw, shut up," Jason muttered.
Tommy chuckled. "Okay, Rocky, ease up. So what now, Jase?"
Jason looked around slowly. "Well, I guess I could show you around the different sets...." He trailed off, suddenly realising they were one short in number. "Amy, I thought you brought Max with you?"
"I did...." Amy faltered, looking around to realise the younger boy was nowhere in sight. "Oh man, where'd he go?"
Jason's jaw tightened as Max's voice came floating back through his memory.
_Do you really like your new brother more than me?_
"I think I know. Wait here, I'd better go get him."
* * *
Tyler was helping himself to a can of Coke when a hand tapped hard on his shoulder. He turned and was surprised to find himself face-to-face with a boy nearly twice as old as himself. "Who are you?" he asked bluntly.
Max stood with his fists clenched at his sides. "I'm Max. I'm Jason's brother. You're Tyler, aren't you?"
The little boy nodded, oblivious to Max's growing animosity. "Yeah. I.... I'm Jason's brother, too," he said with a friendly smile.
Max glared at the younger boy. "No, you aren't. Jason's my brother, not yours."
Tyler looked around for his sisters, unsure how to deal with the unfamiliar situation. Neither girl was in sight, though, and he reluctantly looked back at Max. "Yes, he is. Jason's dad is my dad," he said tentatively.
"He was my brother first!" Max exploded. "You can't have him! I won't let you!"
Tyler shot backwards, slamming into the wall in a panic. Max followed, and was on top of the six year-old before Tyler could escape.
"He's my brother!" Max screamed hysterically, tears flooding down his cheeks. "He's not your brother, he's mine! He doesn't like you best, he likes me best! You can't have my brother!"
Rob and Anne heard their youngest sons shrieks of terror and entered the canteen at the same time as Jason. Jason was faster, and shot across the concrete, physically lifting Max off the younger boy.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" he yelled at his younger brother while Tyler promptly scrambled to his feet and hid behind his parents.
"It's not fair!" Max wailed, nearly blinded by the tears in his eyes. "They stole you. You don't like me anymore, now you've got another brother. You hate me, just like Dad hates you!"
Jason froze, staring at Max with both shock and understanding. "Is that what you think? You think that I'm gonna just forget about you because I've got another little brother? Is that it?"
"You said so," Max sobbed. "You called me a demon-boy, and everything!"
Jason moaned softly. "Hell..." He looked around at Rob and Anne. "Would you guys mind?"
Rob nodded his consent and, picking up Tyler, they left Jason alone with Max.
"Okay," Jason said quietly. "Now listen to me, Max. Just because I have a new brother doesn't mean you're not my brother anymore, or that I'm going to forget about you. I love you just as much as Tyler. You've gotta understand that!"
"How can you?" Max asked, sniffing helplessly. "You've got a whole different family, now."
"But I still have you and Mum and Amy. That hasn't changed. Angel Grove is still my home, Max. I'm not leaving. You're stuck with me for a while yet."
"I don't understand," Max whispered. "How can you like me and and him the same? How come you can't choose?"
"Because I don't want to choose," Jason insisted. "I don't have to choose between you, Max."
"What about what happened with Dad?"
"That's over," Jason said softly. "It's not gonna happen again."
Still Max seemed unconvinced. "But what about...."
Jason promptly clamped a hand over Max's mouth. "Stop. Nothing's changed, Max, except maybe to get a little better. You're still my brother, as much as Tyler. You can share me with Tyler, you know."
Max looked miserable. "It's just really weird. You've got another brother and two sisters that Amy and I aren't related to."
"You're telling me," Jason grumbled. "What happens if I'm ever supposed to do my family tree for school? I'll need two to cover both sides!"
Max had to smile at that. "I'm sorry," he said softly. "I guess I was being dumb."
Jason squeezed Max's shoulder affectionately. "It's okay, but you should apologize to Tyler. Not me. After all, he's the one you tackled."
Max stared at the ground. "I guess so. Jason?"
"How come we never fooled around like you were doing before with.... with Tyler and your sisters?"
Jason hesitated before answering. "Because your dad didn't like me joining in with that sort of stuff. Don't you remember? The last time we tried wrestling, he took me out to the shed for a...." He faltered, eyeing Max's ashen features. "For a really long talk," he finished off quietly.
Max looked away. He was no fool, and understood what Jason meant. "I'm sorry."
"Go on," Jason murmured, ushering Max outside.
Rob and Anne were outside, with Tyler cowering between them. Jason urged
Max forward, having ordered him to apologize.
"Do I have to?" Max grumbled, looking everywhere but at Tyler.
Jason spared Max a warning look. "Yes, you do."
Max finally forced himself to look straight at Tyler. "I'm sorry," he muttered half-heartedly.
Tyler glanced up at his parents, then back to Max when they nodded. "It's okay. Would you like to play with me?"
Max looked back to Jason anxiously, but Jason's expression was anything but sympathetic. "Max would love to, Tyler," he said, firmly pushing the younger boy forward.
Tyler's face lit up at the thought of having a playmate. "Great! C'mon, Max."
Glowering at Jason, Max followed Tyler off around the corner of the building. Rob watched them go, then turned back to Jason, smiling wryly. "You didn't have to do that."
Jason shrugged. "Don't worry about it. Max'll probably thank me for it later. He wouldn't enjoy tagging around after the rest of us. Speaking of which...."
"Go on," Rob told him. "I won't need you for a scene for a couple of hours yet. There's plenty of time to show your friends around. Whether you let them stay to watch the scene is up to you."
"After last time?" Jason muttered. "And with Rocky here? No way."
Rob laughed and clapped Jason on the shoulder. "Go on, get back to your friends, before Lou corners them again."
Grinning, Jason hurried off to find his friends.
A couple of hours later....
"That was awesome," Rocky said enthusiastically as Jason led them to the west gate. "Man, you are so damned lucky!"
Jason smiled a little. "I know. Things couldn't be better."
Tommy was the only one who saw the double meaning in Jason's expression, and he spoke words that only Jason heard. "But they can always get worse."
Jason flinched a little at that, and Tommy instinctively hung back, waiting until the others were down the street and out of earshot. "What is it?" he asked softly.
Jason spared him a look of deep worry. "Tommy, has the nightmare crystal been destroyed?"
"No," Tommy confessed. "Alpha's still trying to figure it out."
"Well, tell him to stop," Jason growled, "and just destroy the damned thing. I had the worst night last night."
"Billy said you were restless. He was monitoring you from the Power Chamber."
"Restless is not the word I would have chosen. Tommy, I'm lucky I didn't wake up screaming. It would have been really awkward, explaining to Dad why I'm having nightmares about space monkeys in gold armour."
Tommy sighed softly. "We want to destroy it, but Zordon's worried. He said the same as you heard from Zedd. This crystal is different to the last one. It's a lot more powerful."
"All the more reason to get rid of it," Jason argued. "The side effects ended when we destroyed the last one. I don't see why it would be any different this time around. Tommy, please...."
"I'll talk to Zordon," Tommy conceded quietly. "We'll see what he thinks. Be patient, bro."
Jason leant back against the gate. "I'm sick of being patient. I want this to be over."
"I understand. I'll see what I can do about it. Jase, do you still have your communicator?"
"Yeah, but it's hidden with my stuff in my trailer. I'd have a lot of explaining to do if Dad saw it."
A smile broke out across Tommy's face. "You're calling him Dad now, huh?"
Jason smiled sheepishly. "Yeah. It was weird at first, but I think I'm used to it, now. I try not to think about it, because part of me still thinks of Alan as being my dad. I'm trying really hard to get over that."
Tommy thumped Jason lightly on the shoulder. "I've gotta go. Mum'll have a hissy fit if I'm late."
"I'll see you later, then?" Jason asked, and Tommy nodded.
"Yeah. I'll let you know what Zordon says."
"Great. Thanks, Tommy."
Tommy merely smiled and hurried off down the street. Jason watched him go in silence, then headed back into the Lot.
Tommy walked around the crystal, eyeing it warily through the glass casing. It continued to glow blood red, its light not abating at all, despite the length of time it had been in the Power Chamber.
"What do you think?" Rocky asked.
Tommy finally stepped away and shrugged. "I don't know. I want to smash the damned thing, but who knows what will happen then? Zordon, have you found out anything at all that about it?"
"Nothing substantial, Tommy," Zordon admitted reluctantly. "I believe it is time to dispose of it."
"You're saying we should destroy it?" Kat asked worriedly.
"The effects of the crystal are causing Jason great distress, are they not?" the ancient wizard asked.
Billy nodded. "Yes. He barely got a straight hour's sleep last night."
"He practically begged me to destroy it this afternoon," Tommy confessed. "I think he's really freaked out by it."
"If it's upsetting him that much," Tanya suggested, "then there's every chance that he could be causing his own nightmares. That could be the only real power the crystal has. The power of suggestion is great, and Jason would be very susceptible, considering his circumstances."
"You may be right, Tanya," Zordon answered. "That may be all there is to it. However, we must assume there is more."
Tommy moved up to the glass casing. "Zordon, do I have your 'Okay' to destroy it?"
"Yes, Tommy. Do so immediately."
Tightening his jaw, Tommy lifted off the glass casing and placed it aside. Then, in a motion almost identical to Jason when he had destroyed the first crystal, Tommy let go with a roundhouse kick that shattered the crystal into a thousand pieces.
"All right...." Rocky started to say enthusiastically, only to falter as a strange sound began to fill the Power Chamber.
"What the...." Kat whispered, suddenly nervous. A sound akin to thunder rolled through the Power Chamber, sending vibrations through the entire structure, and above the heads of the rangers, a darkness gathered, laced with streaks of blood red light.
"Why do I get the feeling we just made a really big mistake?" Adam asked of no one in particular.
Unnatural thunder and lightning cracked through the Power Chamber, forcing the rangers to duck for cover, and watch from relative safety as the darkness gathered into an indefinable form in the center of the Power Chamber. Soft, almost inaudible laughter swept through the place, sending chills down the rangers' spines. A terrible rush of wind flew through the Chamber, roaring in all their ears, and then it was gone.
"What the hell was that?" Rocky gasped as he emerged from his hiding place behind a consul.
Zordon spoke, his voice laced with undeniable fear. "That was the power of the crystal, being released. I am afraid we have made a grave miscalculation."
Tommy came forward slowly, his long hair blown in all directions by the fierce wind. "Hang on, Zordon. Are you saying that the power of the crystal is free? It can do whatever it wants?"
"Not exactly," Zordon corrected. "The power will only be able to affect anyone who has had contact with the crystal. Namely, Jason. I fear he will be the target of any attack."
"You mean, it could just attack him outright?" Tanya asked in concern.
"Not exactly," Zordon explained. "It will most likely take on the guise of his deepest fears to carry out the attack."
Tommy's hands curled into fists. "Billy, can you keep a constant surveillance on Jason from here?"
"Yes," Billy replied. "I should be able to."
"Okay, then. There's not much else we can do. We'll just have to wait it out until that... that thing makes its move."
"Great plan," Rocky muttered. "What if it gets to Jase before we can help him?"
Tommy's dark eyes narrowed considerably, and he leveled a warning glare at Rocky. "That won't happen. We won't let it."
Rocky swallowed hard. He knew enough not to push Tommy over the issue, especially where Jason was concerned.
Tommy took a step back, looking at each member of his team. "I suggest we all go home, but keep your communicators close at hand. We may need to move fast."
A murmur of agreement swept through the group, and they teleported out one by one, until only Billy and Tommy were left.
"Aren't you going home?" Billy asked, eyeing Tommy sceptically.
Tommy nodded. "I will. Billy, I want you to try something."
"I want you to try and find Alan Scott."
Billy blinked in surprise, and Zordon spoke in protest. "That is not our jurisdiction, Tommy. It is not Ranger business."
"It is when it involves one of our own," Tommy argued. "Zordon, you said that power would take on the form of Jason's deepest fears. The most logical one is Alan Scott. That bastard terrorized Jason for most of his life, even more than Goldar ever did. I think we should try to find him, for Jason's sake."
Zordon contemplated that, and had to concede. "You may be right, Tommy. Alpha, begin the search."
"Right away, Zordon," Alpha replied, and shuffled off to do the task.
Tommy turned back to Billy. "Have you got Jase, yet?"
"Uh huh. Right there. He's in his trailer, with someone else."
"Can you get a visual? I just want to be sure he's okay."
Billy had to smile as he activated the viewing globe. "There he is."
Tommy moved closer, and a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. Jason was with Rob Carter, and the two were engrossed in conversation. Even as Tommy and Billy watched, Rob leaned forward and threw his arms around Jason in a huge bear hug. Jason responded, hugging his father back.
"Man, that's good to see," Tommy murmured.
Billy nodded. "I know. Jason never said anything, but we know he missed the physical contact in his relationship with Alan."
Tommy turned away from the viewing globe as it faded to black. "Is that why I always saw Trini and Kim giving Jason hugs?"
"Yes," Billy confirmed. "Of course, we never knew the reason for Mr Scott's detachment from Jason. Now we do."
Tommy sighed softly. "I'm glad he found his real dad," he murmured as he teleported out.
Billy silently agreed as he went back to work.
* * *
Alan Scott heard thunder rolling in the distant, and noted in his sub- conscious how appropriate that seemed. Frowning to himself, he walked around the shed, looking for something... anything that he could use. All of his tools had been removed, and the entire shed looked as though it had been thoroughly cleaned out. His workbench, on which he had dished out so many punishments, had been scrubbed clean and repainted a sickeningly cheerful green. It was a stark contrast to the dried blood that had previously covered it.
He had dared go to the house after several hours of watching it from a distance, and only when he knew no one was there. He had seen Jason leave early that morning, followed by his own son and daughter, and then his wife. Alan cursed softly, kicking aimlessly at the bench. There was nothing useful in the shed. He was starting to wonder whether he shouldn't simply give up and and clear right out of town....
The wind howled outside, and thunder cracked, much closer than before. All the sunlight that had shone through the window of the shed suddenly, inexplicably faded, making way for a disturbing darkness that seemed to have a life of its own. Alan looked around, not sure whether to be afraid of the strange happening. He shut his eyes for an instant, and in that instant, the darkness converged on him, engulfing him completely.
All doubts and confusion hed had were erased in a matter of seconds, and a single, evil thought that had been playing on his mind for a long while rose, unrestrained, to the surface. Smiling to himself, Alan left the shed and went into the house to start making plans.
* * *
Jason was late home that evening, having stayed at the Lot to sort out some dubbing problems in the sound studios with Sam and Lou. He was tired, and eager to have dinner and go to bed, so he wouldn't be overly tired the next day.
"You look wasted," Amy remarked as he wandered into the kitchen.
Jason pulled a face at her. "Thanks a lot."
She smiled as she set the table. "Grumpy, too. Go and wash up, dinner's nearly ready."
Jason shouldered his bag and went through to his and Max's bedroom. He tossed the bag down carelessly on the floor and went into the adjoining bathroom, quickly washing his hands. It was as he came back into the bedroom that he saw it.
Panic hit Jason hard, followed by a rush of nausea that he only barely managed to fight back down. "Mum!" he screamed, moving right back against the wall. "Mum!"
Melissa Scott ran into the bedroom, alerted to trouble by her son's panicked shouts. "What's wrong? Jason, you're white as a sheet!"
Jason pointed, unable to get another sound out. Melissa looked, and felt a similar rush of panic and fear. Buried to the hilt in the very center of Jason's pillow was a knife. There was no note, nothing else at all; just the knife. Melissa acted fast, and shepherded Jason out of the room, pulling the door shut quickly.
"Amy! Call Chief Oliver, now!"
Amy's head appeared round the door. "What's wrong?"
Melissa glanced to the family room, where Max was watching TV, undisturbed by the shouting. She then looked back to her daughter and spoke in a grim voice.
"Your father's been in the house."