Author's Note: Here is a new story, as it stands so far, that isn't actually new. I wrote it months, ago, but it's taken me this long to think up a decent name that wasn't gonna make me nauseous. I'd suggest you don't take it too seriously... But you know what my writing is like. Of course tragedy will be involved. This was originally supposed to be a simple 'love' story. The next thing I know, I'm writing hostage crisis... *sigh* I can't do fluffies.
This story that inspired it was one that April Richards, I think, started, and Ranko continued on. I just took one tiny aspect of their tale, and expanded on it. I'll let the story tell itself.

To Get What You Want
Or: Doing It The Hard Way
Part 1
by Naomi Tilley

Valentine's Day (Night time)
"This is how it should be," Tommy murmured as he and Kimberly lay close together under the clear, starry night. Kim smiled as she snuggled close to Tommy.

"Yeah... This has been a wonderful night."

Tommy smiled as he lightly stroked Kim's hair. "Mmmm... Everyone's gotten just what they wanted. It's almost like Christmas. Zack finally got Angela, Billy got his girl, Trini got Richie, Rocky got Aisha and Adam got Judy. We're all happy."

Kim's smile faded. Tommy didn't seem to realise it, but he had left one of their number out. Jason... She felt a touch of pain as she recalled his confession earlier that day, about his feelings for Trini, and the look of abject misery in his eyes at the belief that he'd lost his chance with her. "Tommy, I don't think all of us are happy."

Tommy looked down at her in surprise. "What d'you mean?"

"It's Jason." She hesitated, then told him what she'd found out.

Tommy listened, then moaned softly.

"Man, I never knew he felt that way. He sure knows how to keep it hidden."

Kim looked upset. "Maybe that, or none of us ever bother to take a closer look. When he told me today... Tommy, I think he's really hurting."

Tommy gazed up at the stars. "I never thought Jase had an interest in any girl, let alone Trini. I... Man, I guess we've all been pretty blind to him."

He paused then hugged Kim closer to him. "Well, there's not much we can do, now. Let's just enjoy the rest of the night, okay? I'll talk to Jase tomorrow."

The Next Day ...
Valentines' Day was over, but the excitement was still there, and everyone arrived at school the next day chattering excitedly about their dates. In the excitement, Tommy and Kim both forgot about Jason, and talked about nothing but their night together along with everyone else. Everyone, it seemed, had a story to tell. Everybody, that was, but one person.

Jason sat on the outer limit of the circle of friends, listening half-heartedly to the stories. Even Zack, who claimed to be the master of disaster where women were concerned, was bubbling over with excitement about his date.

The Red Ranger sighed inwardly. If he hadn't had any interest in any one girl, it would have made no difference to him. As it was, the one girl he honestly liked was out of his reach, maybe for good. A wave of misery filled him. It wasn't fair. No girl had ever taken him seriously before, and the first girl to look at him as more than just a school jock had been snatched away from him.

He was feeling worse by the minute, but any humour he'd had left was crushed when Richie strode up, his arm protectively around Trini's waist. Zack whistled loudly.

"Hey, it's the lovebirds! How's it going, guys?"

Richie grinned, and responded by kissing Trini squarely on the mouth, drawing wolf whistles from the others.

It was too much for Jason to bear. Biting back the pain that clenched his heart, he got up and hurried away, shoulders slumped and head down.

Only Kim saw him go, and she felt her stomach turn over. They had forgotten Jason again Seeing Tommy was completely pre-occupied, she got up and hurried after the boy who had been her best friend for so long.

* * *

Like a wounded animal, Jason went straight to the one place that he felt safest. Once out of sight, he teleported to the Command Centre.

"Jason!" Zordon exclaimed, surprised by the boy's appearance. "Shouldn't you be in school?"

"Yeah," Jason admitted softly. "I... I just needed to get away. Is it okay if I stay here for a while, Zordon? Please?"

Zordon felt a touch of concern. There was definitely something wrong.

"Yes, Jason, of course. Is there anything you need to talk about?"

"No," Jason mumbled. "I just wanted to be alone."

Zordon watched as Jason trudged over to the far side of the Command Centre and slid to miserably to the floor, where he sat in silence, knees drawn up to his chest.

* * *

Kim arrived in the Command Centre not long after Jason. She had seen the red streak of his teleportation light, and decided to leave school to follow him. Upon her arrival in the Command Centre, Alpha pointed soundlessly to Jason. Swallowing hard, Kim went over to him.


Jason lifted his head a little. "Hey."

Kim sat down beside him on the floor. "Saw you leave. You really are taking it hard, aren't you?"

The Red Ranger forced a smile onto his face. "Nah, it's okay. That's the way it goes. Right?"

"Quit the act, Jason. I can see right through you."

The smile faded. "Sorry," he murmured. "I just... I thought I might have a chance with Trini, and then Richie came along and it all went out the window."

"You never know," Kim argued. "Things might not work out between them..."

"And that's why you set them up? Don't play games, Kim. I'm not stupid, as much as everyone believes it."

Kim was stunned. "I don't think you're stupid, Jason! No one does!"

Jason looked away from her. "Yes, they do. Most of the girls in school think I'm just another dumb jock, without any feelings."

Kim could barely believe it. Jason honestly seemed to believe that... Then, all of a sudden, she felt something click.

"Jason, you did have a date last night, didn't you?"

Jason looked bitter. "Oh, sure. A date with the VCR and a bucket of ice cream."

"Didn't you ask anyone out at all?"

The bitterness faded to make way for more hurt than Kim had ever seen in a single pair of eyes. "I tried. I asked Penny Smithton, and Carla Blake. They just laughed at me, so I didn't bother asking anyone else."

Kim felt her own heart nearly break in sympathy with Jason. "Oh, Jase I'm sorry...." A long silence fell and then she spoke tentatively. "Do you mind if I ask a personal question?"

"Why not?" Jason muttered miserably.

"Exactly how many dates have you had? Generally speaking...."

Jason's cheeks flushed red. "None."


"I had my first crush on a girl when I was fifteen," Jason told her. "It took me a week to get up the courage to ask her out. She told me she didn't go out with people like me. At fifteen, I didn't even know what that meant. I tried a few times after that, but every girl I asked out either told me she wasn't interested, or they just laughed in my face. After a while, just gave up trying. It's why I never got around to asking Trini out. I was too scared she'd laugh at me, and it'd wreck our friendship. I was just getting up the nerve to try again when she started going out with Richie. Now...." He trailed off miserably.

Kim sighed and reached across to hug him tightly.

"No wonder you're so unhappy. You know, Jase, you ought to just bite the bullet and tell Trini how you feel. You might be surprised."

Jason stared at the shiny floor, away from Kim. "I don't think I could."

Kim frowned, suddenly annoyed. "Well, that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard! You've fought and beaten the worst kinds of monsters, and now you're gonna let yourself be too chicken to tell someone you care about them? C'mon, Jason, get real!"

A touch of anger flickered across Jason's features. "It's easy for you!" he burst out. "You've got Tommy, and you hardly had to try. You guys liked each other from the moment you saw each other, and that was it. Hardly a day after we broke the spell Rita had Tommy under, you guys got together."

"Well, what about Zack?" Kim pointed out. "Look at how long he's been trying to get Angela to go out with him!"

"Angela didn't already have a boyfriend. If I say or do anything now, it's just gonna cause problems that we don't need. That's another point. I have to think about the team. I can't do anything that would jeopardize our teamwork. It'd be better off for the team if I just keep my mouth shut."

"Better off for the team," Kim murmured, gazing into his eyes, "but not better off for you."

Jason got unsteadily to his feet. "I've gotta learn that what I want isn't important. That's all there is to it. We'd better get back to school before we get into trouble." With that, he teleported out, leaving Kim behind.

"Zordon?" Kim asked plaintively. "What can I do? Jason's tearing himself apart inside. It's not fair!"

"I am afraid I cannot interfere, Kimberly," Zordon replied grimly. "This is up to you kids to sort out."

Kim moaned. "I had a feeling you were gonna say that."

Shaking her head, she teleported out.

* * *

Over the next several days, Kim made a point of badgering Jason until he finally agreed to talk to Trini, if only to get Kim off his back.

"Good," Kim said decisively. "It's about time."

Jason spared her a wearied look. "Maybe I just finally got sick of you bugging me."

Kim looked crestfallen, and Jason sighed.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean that."

"It's okay," Kim reassured him. "You've been so stressed this week that it's not funny. You say you should keep your feelings to yourself for the sake of the team, but maybe that's wrong. I don't think that getting yourself all uptight is the best thing for the team."

Jason stood up. "Look, I said I'd talk to her. Okay? Just get off my back!"

Kim sighed inwardly as she watched him go, then shook her head and went to find Tommy.

* * *

Trini had just finished her workout in the Youth Centre and she turned, expecting to see Richie there. It was Jason, though, watching her with an expression that was totally unreadable. She went over to him, wondering if anything was wrong.

"Hi, Jase. What's up?"

Jason opened his mouth to speak, and for just a second, nothing came out. Then, he got control of his vocal chords and managed to speak.

"Trini, can I talk to you?"

"Sure. What's wrong?"

"Um... Alone?"

Trini was surprised. "Okay. C'mon."

* * *

A minute later, they sat in the park under a large Oak tree.

"What's on your mind?" she asked. Jason stared intently at the ground, his heart pounding in his chest.

"I... Oh, god, this is so hard...."

Trini turned to face him, concern etched onto her pretty features. "Jason? What's wrong?"

Jason finally forced himself to look up at her. "I... I told Kim I'd talk to you... She's been bugging me all week, since I told her..."

"Told her what? Jason, talk to me!"

"Trini, you've always been my best friend. You never treated me like I was stupid...."

Trini was stunned. "What? Who thinks that?"

"No... I just wanted to say.... Damn, I can't do this..."

Trini moved around to kneel in front of the Red Ranger. "What are you trying to tell me, Jason? Just say it. Don't be afraid."

"I... I think I'm in love with you," Jason finally stammered, not daring to look her in the eye. Trini fell back, stunned.

"Oh... Oh, Jason I do love you as a friend, but I'm in love with Richie! I'm sorry...."

Jason felt a painful wrench in his chest, and before he could stop them, the tears built up and overflowed down his cheeks. So that was it. Just friends.

Take the chance.... You might be surprised.... Kim's words echoed meaninglessly in his head. He had not been surprised, only hurt more than he could bear.


Jason got clumsily to his feet. "I have to go. I should have been home ages ago."

"Jason, wait!" Trini called out anxiously, but the Red Ranger didn't stop and he didn't look back.

* * *

Donavon Scott was out the front of his family's home in Bradman Drive when Jason came into sight. He straightened up, a frown creasing his features. Jason was in a hurry, and he looked upset about something

"Is there something wrong, son?" he asked, only to trail off when Jason literally flew past him into the house. Concern growing, he hurried after his only child.

* * *

"Jason? Can I come in?"

There was no reply from within the bedroom, and Donavon took the chance and went in. Jason lay face-down on his bed, his entire body trembling with suppressed sobs. The older Scott went over and sat down on the edge of the bed.

"Do you feel like talking about anything, Jason?"

Jason rolled over and looked up at his father with a face that was streaked with tears. "It's not fair. Why can't things be the way we want them to be?"

Donavon stared at Jason in confusion and concern. "What's happened?"

"I... I talked to Trini, Dad."

Then, Donavon understood. "Oh. And nothing came of it."

"Oh, sure," Jason said bitterly. "She loves me, as a friend."

Donavon sighed. "I'm sorry, Jason. I know how much you love her."

"It's not fair" Jason sobbed, breaking into a fresh flood of tears. After a moment, Donavon reached out and pulled Jason close in a protective embrace.

"Women are the hardest thing in the world to understand, and its ten times worse when one breaks your heart. I wish I could snap my fingers and make you forget, but it's just not that easy."

Jason didn't respond, but rather continued to cry into his fathers shoulder.

* * *

Kim and Tommy were in the Youth Centre when Trini came in, chewing anxiously on her lower lip. They waved her over, and then Kim spoke excitedly. "So, how did it go?"

Trini looked up at Kim, glowering. "You put Jason up to that. Didn't you?"

"He's been sulking all week," Kim protested. "He just needed some encouragement..."

Tommy spared Kim an exasperated look, then turned back to Trini. "Didn't go so well?"

Trini sighed. "I told him I cared about him as a friend, but I was in love with Richie. I... I think I really hurt him!"

"What happened?" Tommy asked in concern.

"He just said he had to go home, and then he ran off. He wouldn't even look at me."

Tommy sighed, and glowered at Kim. "You should've left things alone, Kim. Let Jason work it out on his own. Now...." He stood up. "I'm going to go find him. You girls wait here."

* * *

Donavon was standing on the porch when Tommy came up. He spared the teen a grim smile. "Hello, Tommy."

"Hi, Mr Scott. Is Jason here?"

"He's here. I don't think he feels like talking to anyone right now, though."

"He's pretty upset, huh?"

"You could say that. What do you know about this, Tommy?"

Tommy ventured up the porch steps. "I'm afraid it was Kim. Jason told her how he felt about Trini, and Kim spent the next week bugging him about it, till he went and talked to Trini. I told her she should have just let things be."

Donavon shook his head. "Jason has just never been lucky with girls. I don't know what it is, but they just seem to think he's just another school jock,without feelings."

"Trini doesn't think that," Tommy protested.

Donavon nodded. "I know, Tommy. The thing is, Jason has liked Trini for a long time, even before Kimberly and Zack came to Angel Grove. He's kept it to himself for so long because he was always afraid to let anyone know. Now he's taken the chance, and had his hopes smashed, it's going to be very hard for him to trust anyone again."

Tommy stared down at the wooden steps. "He really got hurt this time, didn't he?"

"Yes, he did. Much more than any time before. He really does love Trini, Tommy. It isn't a teenage crush."

Tommy slumped against the post. "Damn... I should've told Kim to mind her own business."

Donavon shook his head. "No. Jason couldn't keep his feelings hidden forever, although I know he'd certainly try. No, he had to say something sooner or later. It's just unfortunate that nothing came of it. He'll get past it eventually."

"You think I could go talk to him...?"

Donavon hesitated, then motioned to the door. "You can try. Don't be upset if he won't respond, though."

The White Ranger nodded and went inside the house.

* * *


Tommy paused outside Jason's bedroom door, listening carefully. There was no sound from within. He sighed softly and tried again.

"C'mon, Jase, don't be so stubborn. Open up."

Still no answer. Tommy bit down on his lip. Stubborn asshole... he thought. "You've got five seconds to open the door, or I'm leaving."

*Smart, Tommy... He doesn't want to talk, and you threaten him with leaving?*

He sighed heavily, then. "Okay, pal. I'm coming in, whether you like it or not."

He pushed the door hard, and was surprised when it swung open easily. Tommy stepped inside, prepared to confront his best friend... and froze. The room was empty; Jason was gone.

"Jase? C'mon, man, this is no time to play hide and seek..."

He strode over and checked in the adjoining bathroom, but Jason was not there. Then, finally, Tommy noticed the open window. "Aw, hell..." he muttered. "Where's he gone...?"

He turned to head out of the room, and his gaze fell on something that froze his blood. Jasons morpher and communicator, both sitting on the desk. Jason had taken off, and left them behind...

Snatching them up and hiding them in his jacket, Tommy ran from the room.

* * *

The rangers teleported into the Command Centre on a summons from Zordon, and they were confronted by a near-frantic Tommy.

"What's wrong?" Kim asked uneasily. Tommy held up a morpher and communicator for them to see.

"I went to talk to Jason. He's taken off, and he left these behind."

"Oh no..." Trini whispered, stricken. "No..."

"This is very serious, Rangers," Zordon told them in a perpetually grim voice. "Without his morpher or communicator, Jason is open and vulnerable to attack. We must find him before Zedd does."

"Well, where would he go?" Zack asked. "C'mon, guys, think!"

"He'd go somewhere that none of us would think of," Billy said quietly. "If Jason doesn't want to be found, then we won't be able to locate him."

"This is my fault..." Kim moaned, burying her face in her hands.

Trini shook her head. "It's partly my fault as well. Let's not lay blame, though. Let's just find him."

"We'll split up," Tommy said. "I'll call Rocky, Adam and Aisha, and get them to help out."

"You think he might be headed towards Stone Canyon?" Zack asked. Tommy shrugged.

"I don't know, but it can't hurt for them to keep a lookout. C'mon, let's go."

* * *

Jason paused on the road, looking around slowly. He was hungry; his stomach was growling in protest. Checking his pockets, he found approximately four dollars in change. Just enough for a chocolate bar and a bottle of drink... Crossing the road, he walked into the convenience store... and into a nightmare.

A man of indeterminate age spun around as Jason walked in, and lifted up a shotgun which he aimed straight at the hapless boy. "Great," he snarled, "just what we need. Get down, kid. Right now!"

Jason had to force himself to respond, and he dropped to the floor, his heart beating twice as fast as normal. A second man, armed with an automatic pistol, came to stand over him. "Smart kid. Stay there, and don't move." He looked back to his companions. "How much longer?"

"A few minutes," someone else that Jason couldn't see called back. "The stupid old man forgot the combo, and I've gotta blow it open."

_Blow it open...?_ Jason thought numbly. What's going on?

"C'mon!" another man screamed. "The cops'll be here any minute! He hit the goddamn alarm!"

The first man that had threatened Jason with the shotgun strode over and prodded him roughly with the barrel. "No worries. We've got ourselves a hostage here, if things don't work out."

"Are you nuts?" the second man hissed. "We don't need to extra baggage!"

"We will if the cops show up. Hurry it up in there!"

"Ah, shut up..." came the snarled reply.

* * *

Trini looked around helplessly. Nobody she talked to had seen Jason, and he had been in none of the private spots that she knew he liked to go to. The others had had no luck, either, and Trini could only assume that Jason had left the city limits.

_Jason, where are you?_ she thought desperately. _We need you!_ Shaking her head, she turned... and walked straight into Richie.

"Hey beautiful," he said, offering her a broad smile.

Trini tried to smile, but couldn't quite manage it. "Hi, Richie. Listen, you haven't seen Jason, have you?"

He shook his head. "Nope. Sorry. Why, what's wrong?"

Trini hesitated, then told Richie everything, including Jasons confession earlier that day. "...and now we don't know where he is," she finished off. "I'm really worried. Can you help us look for him?"

Richie frowned. "Forget it. I've got no time for any guy that puts moves on my girlfriend."

Trini was stunned. "What...? Richie, how can you say that? You and Jason are friends..."

"Not if he made a move on you," Richie snapped. "If he's taken off, then good. He can stay away. If I see him, I'll damnwell have a piece of him."

Trini couldn't believe what she was hearing. All of a sudden, Richie was possessive of her in a way that he had never been before... and she didn't like it one bit. "Well," she snapped, "Jason is my friend, and even if you wont help look for him, I'm still going to. Goodbye."

She turned away, and Richie grabbed her arm. "Hang on, we haven't finished yet."

"Yes," she spat, "we have." Yanking herself out of his grasp, she stalked away from him in fuming anger.

* * *

"Got it!"

Three more men emerged from somewhere that Jason couldn't see, dragging an old man with them. One held a heavy bag in one hand.

"Good," the man with the shotgun growled. "Now, let's clear out..."

He trailed off as the sound of sirens reached their ears, and Shotgun snarled in anger. "The cops! Old bastard..."

"What do we do?" another man asked anxiously. Shotgun motioned to the old man.

"We can't take him, and I don't want him blabbing to the cops. Kill him."

Jason watched in horror and growing terror as the old man was shot dead right in front of him. Shotgun then turned his attention to Jason. "Now, about this one..."

"The cops are coming!" another of the gang yelled. "I can see 'em!"

Shotgun yanked Jason roughly to his feet. "Hostage. Get moving, kid."

* * *

Taking a back road, they were able to avoid being seen by the police, and soon were on the open road, fast moving away from Angel Grove. Shotgun chuckled and prodded Jason, who had been tied up tightly, gagged and blindfolded. "Not bad, huh, kid?"

Jason squirmed and gave a muffled protest that drew laughter from the men. Shotgun laughed gratingly.

"Go ahead, protest all you like. Ain't no one to hear you that's gonna listen. But you listen to me. You do what you're told, and you might live through this. Because if I don't have any worries about killing an old man, then I sure as hell don't have any when it comes to killing a kid. You got that?"

Jason fell still and silent, more frightened than he had been for a long time. Trini... Please God, get me out of this so I can see her again...

He shut his eyes, and wished uselessly that he'd never left home.

Some hours later....
Donavon and Sarah Scott were in their family room along with Tommy and his parents, the Olivers trying hard to comfort the stricken parents.

"He's probably not far away," Melanie said reassuringly. "He's more than likely just gone somewhere to be alone, and sort himself out."

"Yeah," Tommy said anxiously. He looked to Donavon. "You said he was really upset..."

Donavon nodded, trying to convince himself that they were right. "You're probably right. I just can't believe that Jason wouldn't even let us know that he's all right."

Sarah got up unsteadily. "I'm going to make coffee..." Melanie started up as well, but was interrupted when the doorbell rang.

"I'll get it," Sarah mumbled, and disappeared into the hallway. She reappeared less than a minute later with a police officer. Donavon was on his feet in an instant, as was Michael.

"Lieutenant Matthews?" Michael asked in concern. The Lieutenant looked startled.

"Chief Oliver....? Excuse me, sir, I didn't realise you were already here...."

Michael felt a rush of unease. "What's happened?"

"You don't know...? Oh... I'm sorry..."

"What is it?" Donavon asked in a strained voice. Matthews spoke in a quiet, grim voice.

"We've found out what's happened to your son, sir. It seems he was on the road to Stone Canyon and he stopped in at a roadside store that was being held up."

"Oh, God, no..." Sarah whimpered, expecting the worst. Matthews spoke quickly, anticipating her thoughts.

"No, Ma'am, he's all right, as far as we know. We were contacted by the men responsible, and they have Jason with them, as a hostage. We were able to speak to him for a minute, and he is all right. He hasn't been harmed."

Michael came forward. "Men held up a drugstore and took a hostage? Why?"

Matthews hesitated, then confessed the assumed reason. "They killed the clerk, sir. We assume they took Jason because he must have witnessed the murder."

"They'll kill Jason, too..." Donavon whispered, stricken.

Michael shook his head. "No. Not if they got away before the police arrived on the scene. If they only wanted to prevent Jason from identifying them, they would have killed him on the spot. No, they took him for another reason. We have to find out what, and we have to get him back safely."

Tommy had remained silent throughout the exchange, and now he slipped away, into the hall. "Come in, Zordon," he said as loudly as he dared.

"Receiving you clearly, Tommy."

"Zordon, I'm at Jason's home. I just found out, Jase was taken hostage in a store hold-up. Can you call the others? I'll be there as soon as I can."

Zordon replied an affirmative, and Tommy signed off.

A short time later....
"Okay," Zack growled impatiently when Tommy finally arrived. "What's going on?"

"Big trouble," Tommy said hoarsely. "Jase was on the road to Stone Canyon. He stopped in at a roadside store that was being held up. The men doing the robbery killed the clerk and took Jason hostage."

"Oh no..." Trini whispered, tears filling her eyes. In the brief time since her confrontation with Richie, she had reassessed her feelings, and suddenly realised that she did care about Jason a lot more than just as a friend. That hehad stood back for so long and not interfered with her life just to satisfy himself only strengthened what she was starting to feel for him. Now, the fear that she might lose him before they even had a chance together....

"Well get him back," Tommy said vehemently. "Dad said if the men were going to kill him, they would have done it right away, because they got away before the police got there. Also, Lieutenant Matthews said the men contacted them and let them talk to Jase. So, he's okay...."

"For now," Billy pointed out in a strained voice. "Who knows what they'll decide to do? This isn't as if Jason was in one of Zedd or Rita's dimensions. He doesn't have his communicator or his morpher with him."

"Are you saying you can't find him?" Kim demanded.

Billy winced just a little. "No, but..."

"Then lets get to work."

* * *

Jason had no idea where they were heading. All he knew was that it was away from Angel Grove. There had been those few minutes when the van had stopped, and he had been forced to talk to an Angel Grove police officer on the phone, just long enough to say he was okay, and then they'd been on their way again.

He withheld a moan, knowing it was pointless. The best thing he could do was to simply stay still and continue to do as he was told.

"Hey, kid, you awake?"

Jason didn't move, and carefully kept his breathing even to give the impression that he was asleep. Shotgun prodded him lightly, and Jason pretended to stir just a little, but then became still again.

"Okay," Shotgun said gruffly. "He's out. It's safe to talk, but keep your voices down."

"We headed for the cabin?" someone asked.

"Yeah," Shotgun replied. "We'll lay low there for a few days, maybe a week, then get going again."

"What about the kid?"

"Who knows? We might be able to a get a few bucks out of him. His folks might be desperate enough to pay a ransom. Anyway, we stick with our original plan. If we need it, he'll serve as a hostage."

"When are we going to return him?" another voice asked.

Shotgun chuckled. "Return him? You moron, we aren't gonna return him! The little bastard's seen our faces! Soon as we know for sure that we don't need him anymore, I'll put a bullet in his head and dump him where he won't ever be found."

Jason had to struggle not to cry. So they were going to kill him anyway. Use him as a hostage, or for ransom, then kill him.

_Stay calm,_ he ordered himself. _Just keep your cool._

But it was impossible, and the fear continued to grow.

* * *

After what must have been hours, the van finally came to a halt, and Jason was pulled roughly to his feet.

"C'mon, kid," someone growled harshly into his ear. "Out..."

The door of the van slid open, and Jason was greeted with a blast of cold air. He gasped... and realised the gag had been removed.

_I must have fallen asleep,_ he thought as he was pushed roughly out of the van. The blindfold was still firmly in place, though, and he stumbled over an out-jutting tree root. A moment later, a strong pair of hands locked onto his arms.

"This way," the voice said, and he was propelled in a new direction.

>From the crunching beneath his feet, Jason guessed he was walking on a thin layer of snow. Which meant that the cabin he'd heard mention of was somewhere in the mountains.

Jason felt his heart sink. The mountains, providing it was the mountain range near Angel Grove, was still a long, long distance away. He was right out of everybodys reach...

His foot struck something hard and he went down with a crash, landing on what he realised were rough, wooden steps. A moment later, the hands yanked him back up, cursing him angrily.

"Stupid, clumsy brat..."

"I can't see..." Jason said in a voice that trembled from the cold as well as fear. A fist thumped hard against his shoulder pushing him roughly through a door.

"That's the whole idea."

"Put him in the back store room," another voice ordered. "Leave the blindfold on and keep him tied up. Don't want him getting any ideas about escape."

Jason was shoved down a hallway and into a small, bare room, moving so fast that he slipped on the smooth wooden floor and crashed into the opposite wall.

"Stay there, kid," the man snarled. "And leave the blindfold on. You take it off, I'll break your hands. Got it?"

The door slammed shut a moment later, and Jason heard a key turning in the lock. Realising he was trapped, he slumped down against the wall in helpless shock.

_Please God get me out of this..._ he thought silently, tears beginning to trickle down his cheeks beneath the blindfold.

* * *

Tommy sat by his window, staring out of it desolately. Hours of work on Billy and Alpha's behalf had done nothing to locate Jason, and with night falling, the rest of the team had been shunted out by Zordon, leaving Billy and Alpha alone to work. His own father had come home dejected at not being able to find robbers, or Jason, and despite the reassurances that Jason was safe, Tommy knew his father didn't fully believe it. He shut his eyes, and tried to picture Jason in his mind. _Where are you, bro...?_

A rational part of his mind argued that it was Jasons own fault. If he had not gone off the rails over Trini and taken off without his communicator and morpher... Hell if he had not taken off, period, this would not have happened. Now, he was only God-knew-where, being held hostage by men who would possibly snap at the drop of a hat.

Tommy's hands clenched into fists. Part of it was Kim's fault, too. He knew his reasoning was idiotic, but he couldn't help it. His best friend was in trouble, and he couldn't help.

Just then, his door swung open, and he looked around to see his father there.

"We'll get Jason back, Tommy. Somehow..."

Tommy sighed and rose up. "I know, Dad. I'm just mad at Jase. If he wasn't so damn stubborn..."

Michael wandered over and laid a hand gently on his son's shoulder. "There's no way this could have been predicted. It's not Jason's fault. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Tommy grimaced. "That's supposed to be the story of my life. Not Jason..."

"I guess the torch has been passed, then," Michael said. The joke was sour, and Tommy neither smiled, nor laughed.

"That's not funny, Dad."

"I know," Michael murmured. "I'm sorry, son. I know Jason is in a lot of trouble, and I'm doing the best I can. You just have to keep your fingers crossed, and hope for the best. All right?"

Tommy conceded. "Yeah. I guess."

"Okay. Go to bed, now, and try to get some sleep."

He squeezed Tommys shoulder lightly, then left the room. Tommy watched him go before moving back to the window seat to wait out the long night.

* * *

The men, six in all, sat crowded around a small table, eating reheated Chinese food. They had been in the cabin for nearly two hours now, and had finally relaxed when no police had shown up. They were just finishing off the food when one of the men spoke up.

"Anyone feel like finishing off that bit of beef?" he asked. There was a grumbled negative from the others, and he reached out for the plate.

"You've got a bottomless pit for a stomach," Shotgun growled. The man, Rufus, shook his head.

"It's not for me. For the kid."

"What?" Shotgun snarled. "Forget it! We aren't wasting food on him."

Rufus took the plate regardless. "You let him starve to death, and he won't be any use to us at all. I'm going to feed him, and give him a blanket or something before he freezes to death as well."

Shotgun started up, then chuckled and sat back down with a thud. "Fine. Go ahead. Won't make any difference in the long run, anyway. That kid is going to end up dead, no matterwhat you do."

Rufus stared at Shotgun for a long moment before turning and stalking off down the hallway.

* * *

Jason heard the door open, but didn't move. The truth was that he couldn't move, because he was so damned cold. He heard footsteps, and then sensed someone close to him.

_Please, don't hurt me..._ Jason thought helplessly as he lay shivering on the floor. His silent prayer was answered when the unknown person carefully covered him with a thick, warm blanket.

"There, that'll at least keep you from getting hypothermia."

Jason turned his head a little, vaguely confused but grateful all the same. There was a long moment of silence, and then the person spoke again.

"I've got some food here, but if you want it, you're gonna have to let me feed it to you. 'Cause I can't untie you. Understand?"

Jason managed to nod, too cold to speak. Rufus nodded.

"Okay." He carved a piece of meat in half with the fork and then held it out to the teen. "Open your mouth."

Jason did so, and a moment later a piece of meat was placed there. He began to chew slowly, still shivering helplessly. He eventually finished the meat, and then Rufus spoke in concern.

"You're still cold, aren't you?"

Jason again managed a slight nod. Cold was an understatement. He was almost frozen, having been in the room for so long without anything at all to keep him warm.

Rufus stayed still for a long while before gritting his teeth and pulling his thick, fur-lined jacket off. He had another one in his bag, so it wouldn't matter to him, but it did matter to the boy. He took the blanket back, then gently drew Jason forward and slipped the bulky coat over Jason's shoulders, pulled the coat firmly around the boy's body and carefully zipped it up. It meant Jason had even less movement than before, but warmth was more important, right then. He then placed the blanket back over Jason, making sure to cover his legs as well.


Jason nodded. "Yes," he managed to whisper. "Thank you..."

Rufus started to get up, then stopped. A single tear had found its way down, beneath the blindfold, and was trickling down they boys cheek. Rufus sighed softly.

"Look, kid, I know you're scared. Just don't do anything stupid, and you'll be okay. You understand?"

Again, Jason gave a single nod, but he remembered the words of the man with the shotgun, and knew it wasn't true.

Mountain Hideaway
The coat was good. After the kind man had left, Jason had found his body temperature gradually increased to a bearable level. Though his bound wrists were causing him discomfort and pain, he felt better for having the thick fur-lined coat around his body.

Sighing a little, he slumped down, trying to work himself into the most comfortable position that he could manage. It was an impossible task, and all he succeeded in doing was falling over, onto the floor.

The teen moaned softly, miserably to himself. This was most certainly the worst ordeal he'd ever been through, far worse even than the time he'd been trapped in Rita's Dimension of Darkness...

He relaxed a little. Those incidents, terrifying at the time, didn't seem half as bad now. The endless hordes of putties that they'd had to fight... The monsters...

Some of it even seemed funny, and he snickered a little to himself, remembering some of the more ridiculous creatures Rita, and then Zedd, had sent. And ugly.... They had all looked like something out of a Freddy Krueger movie, in need of major plastic surgery.

And Goldar. The smile that had edged onto Jason's face faded away. He could not forget Goldar. Goldar, who had sworn to destroy him.

A moment passed, and then Jason chuckled as the irony of his situation struck him. He had been trying to run away from his problems, and all of a sudden, he was facing a permanent out from his life. Goldar had promised to destroy him, but it looked like the over-grown monkey was going to miss out on his chance.

_Those bastards out there are gonna kill me long before Goldar gets to me..._

He paused, wondering whether he would prefer to die by bullet or sword. A moment later, his senses came back again.

_Idiot!_ he cursed himself. _You aren't gonna die. Don't think like that!_

_But I am..._

Nausea filled Jason's gut as reality struck home. Then, gradually, all remaining humour was drained from his body. Shuddering, he slumped on the hard floor and willed himself to sleep.

Twenty-four hours later
Michael had called the Scotts to his house to tell them what they had found out, mainly because it was private, and away from the press. Now, with Tommy present as well, he spoke quietly to Jason's parents.

"We've been contacted by the men who have Jason. I'd have to say now that their taking him was a mistake on their part. From what we've been able to figure out, they took him to guarantee a safe getaway, if they ran into trouble. Because they managed to avoid that, though, now they're stuck with a hostage that they don't need."

"And?" Donavon pressed.

"And so it seems they've decided to try using him for ransom. They've demanded five million for his return."

"Five million?" Tommy whispered, stricken. He didn't know anyone who could produce that sort of money...

"Chicken feed," Donavon growled. "I'd pay fifty million to get Jason back. How long do we have to get the money?"

"Twelve hours. Donavon, how can you get that sort of money? You don't earn enough..."

Donavon glanced at Tommy warily, then spoke. "Sarah and I have enough money to pay any ransom demand for Jason. I don't care what it costs, Michael. I just want my son back."

Michael was stunned. "You have five million dollars?"

Sarah and Donavon looked at one another, and then Donavon spoke. "We can get it. That's all I'll say."

Michael grimly agreed. "Okay. Let's get going, then."

* * *

How long he'd been in the room, Jason had no idea. He'd lost complete track of time a long while ago. He could have been there for hours or days, but which it was, he didn't know.

The door opened suddenly.

"C'mon, kid, time to move..." The man trailed off, seeing the coat that had been keeping Jason warm. "What the hell is this? Rufus, you moron..."

Jason shuddered as the coat was pulled roughly off him, and he was pushed down a hallway, to where the rest of the men seemed to be. At least, that was what he could tell from the murmur of voices.

"Okay," he heard Shotgun say harshly, "he's right here. Just hang on."

A moment later, Jason heard the man's voice speak gratingly into his ear.

"Okay, kid. You listen to me. Your old man's on the phone. He wants to know you're okay. You're going to be on the phone for just long enough to tell him that you're okay, and to tell him to pay the ransom. Got it?"

Jason was confused. "Ransom?" he stammered.

Shotgun glowered at the boy. "Your folks are gonna fork out five million to get you back, kid. You're gonna tell them to pay it, cause that's the only way you're gonna get out of this alive. Now, talk!"

Jason felt the phone piece being pressed against his face, and he spoke in a trembling voice.

"D... Dad?"

"Jason? Thank God..."

"I... I'm supposed to tell you to to pay what they want or they'll kill me..."

"It's all right, son. I'll pay anything to get you back safe."

"Good," Shotgun hissed. Jason faltered, then, as Shotgun's words in the van floated back to haunt him.

We aren't gonna return him! The little bastard's seen our faces! Soon as we know for sure that we don't need him anymore, I'll put a bullet in his head and dump him where he won't ever be found...

_They're gonna kill me anyway,_ Jason thought fearfully. _Whatever Dad does, they're gonna kill me..._

Anger flooded his body, and he spoke before he fully knew what he was doing.

"Dad, don't pay the money! They're going to kill me anyway..."

Shotgun lifted his pistol and struck Jason hard across the temple, cursing the boy angrily. Jason collapsed to the floor, stunned by the blow. Shotgun then spoke angrily into the phone.

"You get the goddamned money, or you'll never see your boy again."

He cut the connection, then looked down at Jason. "Little bastard... Put him back in the damned room! And no more comforts. Let the brat freeze to death. It'll save me a bullet if he does."

* * *

In the Scott family's living room, everyone looked around at one another, horrified.

"Oh god..." someone finally whispered. Tommy, who had been silent in one corner, shut his eyes and covered his mouth with one hand.

"Well," Donavon said in a strained voice, "I don't know about anyone else, but I'd be inclined to believe Jason over that psychopathic maniac."

Close behind him, Sarah gave a miserable sob. "They're going to kill my baby..." she cried, her shoulders starting to shake uncontrollably.

Melanie reacted quickly and led her from the room.

Michael looked to Donavon. "It's your money... and your son. What do you want to do?"

Donavon was unrelenting. "I'll get the money, but those bastards won't see a cent of it. I'm going to get my boy back, even if I have to do it myself."

Michael nodded his understanding. "We'll tell them you're getting the money as soon as they call back.

Command Centre
"It's up to us," Tommy said in a disturbingly soft voice. "Those men don't have any intention of letting Jason go. Jase said it himself. He told his dad not to pay any money, that they were going to kill him, anyway."

"Oh god..." Trini whispered, tears filling her eyes. Tommy ran his fingers through his long hair.

"Look, Zordon, I know about all the rules and everything, but I think this is a bit more important, now. If we don't break the rules, Jason's going to die."

Zordon was silent for a painfully long time before speaking. "I must agree with you this time, Tommy. Alpha, initiate the Computer's Search Engines. Focus everything on locating Jason. It is imperative that he is found as soon as possible."

"Initiating search now, Zordon," came the tense reply. Silence fell as they waited for the results.

Mountain Hideaway
"Stupid damn kid..." Rufus muttered. "Why'd you have to go do that?"

Jason moaned as Rufus carefully put him up against the wall. "Oh... I've got a headache..."

Rufus glowered. "No kidding. You're lucky the boss didn't kill you then! Stupid... I thought you were gonna do what you were told!?"

Jason's head turned a little. "He said... on the van.... gonna kill me anyway...." He paused, breathless. "I... I heard him..."

"Aw, hell..." Rufus muttered. "Well, you didn't yourself any favours out there, anyway." He sighed and stood up. "The sooner the Boss puts a bullet in you, the better," he growled.

Jason stiffened, feeling a touch of panic. Rufus shook his head.

"Stupid kid..." he muttered, stomping out of the room.

Jason heard the door slam, then the key turn in the lock. Shutting his eyes behind the blindfold, he slumped down and gave a muffled sob of distress, and wondered helplessly if he would ever see his friends and family again. At that thought, a new wave of grief flooded through him.

_Trini... Trini, I love you so much..._

Give it a rest, Scott, a cruel inner voice sneered. She probably doesn't even know you're gone.

Jason felt a twist of pain in his soul as, in the lonely, frightening silence, his personality literally began to split down the middle, his good, kind nature separating from the harsh, battle-worn soldier that had defeated Rita and Zedd so often.

"That's not true," he whispered, stricken.

Isn't it? Think about it, Scott. She's in love with Richie. She told you she was. That's what got you into this mess to begin with.

"Shut up..." Jason whispered hoarsely, starting to feel even more frightened than before. A soft, cruel laughter rippled through the room, and Jason was unaware that he was responsible for it.

You stupid, weak moron. You're pathetic, you know that? Only a pathetic idiot would run away because of a girl. And now you're going nuts. Did you know that?

"No, I'm not," Jason protested desperately.

Oh, you're not, are you? Well, then, there must be someone else in this room, talking to himself

Panic struck Jason as he finally dragged himself back to reality and realised that he had, indeed been talking to himself.

"Cmon," he hissed angrily at himself. "You've gotta stay with it. Don't let yourself go"

But in the continuous, deathly silence of the room, that became steadily harder to do.

* * *

Shotgun was nearly falling asleep when a strange sound reached his ears. It was the sound of singing...

"What the..." he grumbled. "Who the hell is singing? Somebody tell 'em to shut up!"

"I think it's the kid," someone said tentatively. "It's coming from the store room."

Shotgun stood up angrily. "Really? Time to teach that little bastard a lesson."

Snatching up the poker from the fireplace, he stormed off down the hallway, and almost kicked the store room door off it's hinges.

Jason stopped singing abruptly, fear clenching his stomach. He could guess, from the ferocity with which the door had been flung open, that it was Shotgun in the room with him. The door swung shut again, and then a menacing voice spoke, barely inches from his face.

"What's the problem, kid? You trying to keep yourself sane?"

Jason cringed away from the man's stale breath. "Jason..." he whispered finally.


"My name... My name's Jason..."

Shotgun felt an irrational spark of fury, and he struck Jason viciously across the face with his fist.

"You think I give a damn what your name is?"

Jason swallowed hard, and tasted blood in his mouth. He didn't really know if it would do any good, but it was something he remembered from watching Silence Of The Lambs. A good movie, he reflected, but his mother had kittens when she'd realised that he'd seen it. He recalled it being said that making a captor think of his hostage as human made it harder for them to kill the hostage. Maybe he could do the same here.

Shotgun lifted the poker and hit Jason over the shoulder, effectively cracking the bone. "You like that, Jason?"

Jason gave a faint sob of pain. Then again, maybe not....

"Aw, did I break something?" Shotgun taunted. "What a pity. How about here?"

Jason gasped in stunned pain as he was struck hard in the stomach. He had no idea what it was that he was being hit with, but it was hard enough to do a lot of damage. Realising dimly that it would be over quicker if he didn't fight, he slumped back against the wall to take the abuse.

Shotgun chuckled evilly when he saw his young victim submit himself to the assault, and he went on to beat him even harder. Within a matter of minutes, Jason was nearly unconscious, and Shotgun was having the time of his life.

"We'll have to do this again," he sneered at the wounded boy. "Of course, next time I'll probably beat you to death. You ever wondered what dying feels like, Jason? Well, I'll tell you a secret. Anticipation of death is worse than death itself. And I didn't learn that from a Steven Segal movie. It's true, kid. Take a minute and think about it. You're going to die. I'm going to kill you myself, and I'm going to enjoy doing it. Think on that."

Still laughing, he straightened up and, delivering a final kick to the defenseless boy, stalked out of the room, locking the door behind him.

Command Centre, a short while later.
"I've got him!"

All teens, rangers or not, came forward anxiously.

"Where?" Tommy demanded frantically. "Where is he?"

"Look in the viewing globe," Alpha replied. They all went and looked, and were horrified beyond comprehension.

"Oh no..." Rocky whispered.

Trini gave a choked sob of grief and fear. "Jason..."

They could see Jason in the viewing globe, in some sort of small room, blindfolded and with his hands bound behind his back. Worst of all were the countless bruises and gashes that covered his body. He wore only a sleeveless top and his jeans, now dirty and torn, and he was shivering badly from the cold.

"Jase..." Kim whispered. "Zordon, we have to get him back!"

"There are problems, though," Zordon said grimly. "A snow storm has begun over the mountain. The closest you can teleport to the place where Jason is being held, is at the bottom of the mountain."

"And that's just the start" Zack moaned as the alarm rang. "What is it now?"

"Zedd has sent three monsters to attack the city," Zordon told them grimly. "I am afraid defeating the monster must take precedence, rangers. Jason's rescue must wait."

They would have liked to have argued, but they couldn't.

"Okay," Tommy conceded reluctantly, "but we're getting back to this as soon as we've taken these monsters down."

"Very well," Zordon replied, as the teens teleported out. Soon, only Adam and Aisha were left.

"Zordon, couldn't we go?" Aisha asked.

"What do you mean, Aisha?" Zordon asked.

"I mean, couldn't we go and try to rescue Jason? It's pointless for us to hang around here, doing nothing."

"Yeah," Adam said eagerly. "We could at least get up there and get an idea of the situation, for when the others arrive."

"I am sorry, Adam and Aisha," Zordon said grimly. "I cannot allow that. As urgent as the situation is, I cannot justify placing you both in danger."

The two teens exchanged annoyed looks. Typical, they both thought. Aisha decided to change tact.

"Fair enough," she conceded, ignoring the sharp look from Adam. "So, where exactly are they hiding out? It must be right away from civilization."

"It is a cabin approximately five miles up the mountain from the ski lodge," Alpha replied. "It can be reached by diverting from the ski path approximately halfway down the mountain."

"That isn't the only way to reach it, is it?" Adam asked. "I mean, they had to get up there, and I can't imagine them bothering to drag Jason along..."

"There is a road," Zordon replied, "but it has been snowed-in. At the moment, the only way to or from the cabin is via the ski paths."

Adam and Aisha looked knowingly at one another. Time to go...

"Look, if there's nothing more we can do," Aisha said carefully, "we might as well go."

"Could you teleport us to Angel Grove Park?" Adam asked. "We might go to the Youth Centre, or something. You know, wait for news."

"Very well," Zordon replied. "I am sorry I cannot allow you both to go after Jason, but it is too dangerous."

"We understand," Aisha said. Zordon nodded, then activated teleportation and they were both gone in a flash of white light.

* * *

"Sometimes," Aisha said breathlessly as they began to run along the path, "I wonder whether Zordon's as smart as we thought."

"He's smart," Adam replied. "He just doesn't have the human capacity for lying through his teeth. So, he doesn't realise when others do it. C'mon, this way."

"Where are we going?"

"To get someone who'll help us. The rangers are gonna be busy for ages, and we could be up at that cabin by the time they finish up."

"But who?"

"Donavon Scott. Jason's dad."

* * *

Donavon Scott stood outside his home, staring bleakly towards the fight that was taking place in the distance. The Rangerswere at it again. They were busy fighting monsters, while his son was being held for ransom He shut his eyes, recalling Jason's plea not to pay the money.

_The money is nothing,_ he thought miserably. _I just want my boy._

"Mr Scott!"

He looked up to see two teenagers running along the path towards the house. It was Adam Park and Aisha Campbell...

"Hey, kids," he said hoarsely.

"We know about Jason," Adam said firmly. "Tommy told us what's going on."

Donavon nodded wordlessly. Aisha spoke up in a tense whisper.

"Sir, what would you say if I told you we know where Jason is?"

Donavon stiffened. "This is no time for joking around."

"We aren't joking," Adam said. "I can't explain how we know, but we do know. The men who took Jason are holed up in a cabin in the ski mountains. The road has been snowed in, but it can be reached via the ski paths. We know how to get there."

Donavon stared at them in shock. "You're serious, aren't you?"

"Yes, sir," Adam said anxiously. "We can't tell the police, though. They'll go up there with a whole force, and it'll only put Jason in more danger."

"True" Donavon conceded. "All right. You two, wait here. I'll be right back."

He disappeared, only to reappear a minute later with Michael Oliver. The chief of police was looking thoroughly unimpressed.

"What are you two trying to do?" he demanded. Adam and Aisha looked grimly at each other. Don't falter...

"Sir, we aren't lying," Adam said desperately. "We know Jason's there. If we're lying, you can arrest us yourself."

Aisha nodded her agreement. Michael ran his fingers through his hair, caught in a dilemma. The two were serious... or were they?

"All right. Let's say its true. Why didn't the two of you go up there yourselves?"

"Because neither of us has a license," Adam replied simply, "and we're not stupid enough to put Jason at risk by going up there alone. Chief Oliver, please! We aren't kidding about this!"

Michael decided. "Okay. We've got three hours before another call. I'll get my two best men, and then the six of us are going up there."

"Six?" Adam echoed. "Us, too?"

"Yes, you too. You know where this place is, we don't." He motioned to the unmarked van. "Go and get in."

Adam and Aisha ran to the van, praying to God that nothing went wrong.

Mountain Hideaway
"You look like hell."

Jason turned his head a little. That sounded like the one called Rufus...

Rufus walked over and crouched down in front of the boy. "I'm sorry that he beat you up. Did he hurt you bad?"

Jason clenched his jaw shut and turned away, refusing to answer. He had started to trust this man, but that thin trust had been shattered when he had make the remark about killing him. Rufus rolled his eyes, exasperated.

"That's a fine way to treat me. I take care of you, kid, and you act like that? I don't think so."

Fear touched Jason's soul. There was an instability in the man's voice that he had not heard before. And something else that he couldn't quite place...

Rufus reached out and touched Jason's pale cheek. "You're so cold. Well, I can fix that."

Jason sat frozen as Rufus began to touch him in an intimate way that scared the hell out of him. Rufus slowly rubbed warmth back into Jason's cheeks and shoulders, ignoring the boys sobs of pain as he put pressure on the broken shoulder bone. He then rubbed the boy's arms, chest and stomach.

"That's better," Rufus said. "You know, you're not a bad-looking kid?"

The fear began to turn to nausea. He could take the physical abuse, but not what he was anticipating from this man.

Rufus leaned forward, running his fingertips lightly over Jason's face and down his chest and stomach. "Not bad at all..."

A hideous grin filtered onto his face, and he let his hand drop down below Jason's waist.

Jason pulled back as far as he could and, opening his mouth and lungs, screamed in panic. It had the desired effect, and the door was flung open as someone else strode in.

"Rufus? What the hell do you think you're doing? You crazy bastard!"

"What the hell is going on here?" another voice demanded. Jason wasn't sure whether to be relieved or terrified as he recognized Shotgun's harsh voice.

"Boss..." Rufus stammered. "I.... I was just... I mean, the kid..."

"You crazy son of a bitch," Shotgun snarled. "Get the hell out of here. We've got enough problems without you getting horny over this kid! Now, get out, and if you go anywhere near this room again, I'll shoot you myself!"

Rufus straightened up and, sparing a final glance at Jason, stormed from the room. Shotgun waved the other man from the room, then went back and crouched beside Jason.

"Don't make any mistakes, kid. I didn't do that because I'm getting a soft spot for you. Rufus is just totally screwed up in the head. His daddy used to do stuff to him, and I guess the tendency got passed on. For all I care, Rufus could go ahead and full-on rape you. I know he'd like to. He had that look in his eyes. But we don't have time for that crap. As soon as the snow thaws a little, we're gone. Whether you come with us depends on how many cops are crawling around this mountain, and I don't need the hassle of having to move a traumatised kid. On the other hand, if it turns out that we don't need you anymore, then Rufus can do anything he damnwell likes to you, and it'll be the last thing you know before I put a bullet through your head.

"See, we don't really need any money. It'll just be an extra perk if your old man comes up with it. That won't make any difference to you. I'm going to kill you no matter which way this goes."

Chuckling cruelly, he stood up and strode from the room, leaving Jason to his growing terror.

* * *

Adam had taken the lead almost from the start. He had been skiing in the mountains before and knew the main ski path pretty well. Probably better than any of them, and so no one argued when he suddenly turned off the path and led the way into the forest.

He remembered, as they went, that he had seen the cabin before that Jason was supposed be in. Years back, on one of his earlier ski trips with a cousin, they had missed a directional arrow and taken a wrong turn, thanks to a friend who like practical jokes. They had found their way back, but not before spotting a cabin about half a mile out of the way of the ski path. He and his cousin had made up stories about that cabin, but it had soon faded from his memory.

Now, he recalled it again, along with how to get there.

Six skiers finally came to a halt less than a hundred metres from a secluded cabin.

"That's it," Adam said breathlessly, pulling his thick scarf down. "That's where they are."

"You had better be right about this," Michael growled, "or you both are going to end up in jail. We've got half an hour. C'mon, Donavon. Let's check it out."

After checking the area was clear, the two men went on ahead, making their way through the snow to the cabin. Circling the building, they soon came across a window that was smaller than the rest.

"Store room?" Donavon whispered. Michael nodded.

"More than likely. And if I was holding a hostage, I'd probably put him in the store room."

"Give me a boost," Donavon said, and Michael lifted him up to the window.

"Oh god..." Donavon nearly choked.

"What is it?"

"It's Jason. Michael, they were right!"

"How does he look?"

Donavon paused, peering down at his son. "I can't see. He's tied up and it looks like he's blindfolded. I can't see whether he's hurt."

"Can you get the window open?"

"Just a second..."

Gritting his teeth, Donavon pushed hard, and finally managed to force the window open.

"Yes!" he hissed. "Okay, I'm going in."

"Here," Michael growled, "take this." He passed his gun up to Donavon. "Just in case. And don't be afraid to use it, for God's sake."

Donavon grimaced as he tucked the gun into his belt and went in. *No,* he thought, *not for God's sake. For Jasons sake...*

* * *

Jason, heard the window above him being forced open, and he lifted his head, confused and frightened. What was going on? A moment later, there was a soft thud as someone landed on the floor close to him.

"Who... Who's there?" he asked in frightened whisper. Donavon faltered, taking in his son's battered features with a rush of anger.

_Those bastards..._

He forced himself back to reality. "Jason, it's me."

Disbelief flooded Jason's face. "Dad?"

"Yes. Don't worry, you're not hallucinating. Here..."

He gently brought his son forward and used a pen knife that Adam had given him to cut the ropes. "Can you get up? We have to get you out of here."

"I... I think so."

Jason reached up to take off the blindfold, but Donavon stopped him. "No, Jason, leave it on. The glare off the snow will blind you, otherwise. Better to keep it on."

Jason did so without protest, and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet. Donavon paused, then pulled Jason close in a tight hug.

"My boy.... I was so scared I wouldn't see you again..."

Jason hugged him back, just grateful for the contact.

"Will you two hurry it up?" Michael hissed from outside. "We're running out of time!"

Donavon nodded. "Okay. I'm going to boost you up to the window, Jason. It's right above you. Chief Oliver is on the other side, and he'll catch you, okay?"

Jason nodded. He didn't care how it happened, he just wanted out. Donavon drew in a deep breath and boosted his son up to the window, carefully pushing him through.

"Got him!" Michael's voice floated through to him, accompanied by a muffled sob of pain, and then an apology from Michael. Donavon quickly followed, landing on the snow beside Michael and Jason.

"Let's get out of here, before they realise he's missing."

Between them, Michael and Donavon managed to lift Jason up and half-carry/half-guide him through the snow, back to where Adam, Aisha and the two officers waited.

"Jason!" Aisha cried out as loudly as she dared. Jason shuddered and slumped against his father, grateful simply to be out of the clutches of his captors.

"Get the tandem skis out," Donavon ordered Adam. "I'll take Jason with me."

Adam hurriedly did so, and Donavon carefully stepped into the front footholds of the skis. Michael then guided Jason into the back footholds after wrapping the boy up in a thick coat.

"Shouldn't we tie him to you, or something?" Aisha asked nervously.

"No time," Donavon replied grimly. He looked back over his shoulder at Jason. "All right. Hold on tight around my waist, Jason. We're going to get out of here as fast as we can."

Jason wrapped his arms around his fathers waist and held on for dear life, not daring to let go. A moment later, they were off, heading back down the mountain towards the ski lodge.

* * *

Rufus glowered at the door of the store room, angry that he had been stopped in his efforts. He didn't understand why the Boss had stopped him. After all, he just wanted to make the kid feel good...

He glanced back towards the main room. None of them were paying attention, so if he could just slip in... He pulled out a large, dirty piece of material, which he intended to stuff into the boy's mouth. Then, smirking to himself, he slipped silently into the room without being seen.

"Okay, kid. Time to make you feel all better..."

He trailed off, staring in shock at the empty room. "What the?"

Then he saw the open window. Swearing angrily, he charged out of the room. "He's gone! The kids' gone!"

Shotgun started up. "What? How could he be gone? The little bastard's tied up!"

"He's gone!" Rufus shrieked again, more angry that he had missed his chance for a bit of fun than anything. Shotgun stormed down the hall and into the storeroom. Sure enough, the room was empty; Jason was gone.

"Goddamn it!" he swore. "Okay, everyone, get their skis, and get moving. He couldn't have gotten far."

"Why don't we just let him go?" someone asked casually. "He'll probably freeze to death out there, anyway."

"Because, you moron, he's seen all of us. He can identify us in court. And probably isn't a definite. There's always a chance that someone will rescue the brat. I don't know about the rest of you idiots, but I'm not going to take that chance. Now, get moving! And when you find him, kill him."

They went, grumbling angrily to themselves.

* * *

Jason had held on for a while, but he was weakening, and Donavon could feel it.

"C'mon, Jason," he begged, not knowing if the boy could even hear him, "not much farther. Just hang on..."

Jason shuddered a little, but somehow managed to tighten his grip. Donavon felt a touch of relief, and pressed on.

* * *

The Rangers finally arrived back in the Command Centre after what had turned into the biggest battle of the lives.

"Four monsters," Rocky moaned, pulling his helmet off. "I can't believe Zedd sent that many."

"Plus Goldar," Kim muttered. "Oh, I want to go home and sleep for the next week."

Tommy strode over to the computer panel. "Zordon, I want the location of that cabin. We're going after Jason."

Startled silence hit the others. In the heat of the battle, they had completely forgotten about Jason.

"That may not be necessary, Tommy," Zordon replied. "Look in the viewing globe."

They all looked, and were startled to see seven skiers heading fast down the mountain. Two of the skiers were together, on a pair of the newly designed tandem skis.

"Who?" Trini started to ask.

"Adam and Aisha led Jason's father, Chief Oliver and two police officers to the cabin while the rest of you were battling the monsters," Zordon replied. "They rescued Jason, and are on their way back down the mountain now."

"That's Jase" Zack said hoarsely. "On the tandem skis..."

"With his father," Billy finished.

"Are they okay?" Tommy asked. Alpha responded.

"Perhaps, Tommy. We are watching closely. Jason's absence has been discovered, and the men are searching the area surrounding the cabin for Jason right now. They may soon realise that he did not escape on his own."

The rangers continued to watch the viewing globe in tense silence, ready to teleport in if it was needed.

* * *

They were within half a kilometre of the lodge when Jason's strength finally gave out and he collapsed, taking his father with him. The others quickly backtracked to them, and gathered around as Donavon released himself and Jason from the skis.

"He's come as far as he can," Donavon said breathlessly as he gathered Jason up in his arms. "He's totally wiped out."

Michael looked around. "Adam, Aisha, go ahead to the lodge. Find someone and tell them whats going on. See if you can get a snowmobile, and fast. It won't take long for those men to figure out that Jason's gone."

Adam and Aisha took off as fast as they could. Donavon watched them go, then hugged Jason tightly to him.

"Hang on, Jason. It won't be long now."

* * *

Six men altogether, headed down the mountain on skis. They had discovered the three sets of footprints outside the storeroom window and had figured out that Jason had been rescued. Now, for their own sakes, they raced after their hostage, knowing he was the only thing that kept them from escaping cleanly.

Six men broke out of the trees and skidded to a halt a short distance from where Michael, Donavon and the two officers were huddled protectively around Jason, waiting anxiously for Adam and Aisha's return.

Signaling his men to wait, Shotgun moved forward, the balaclava protecting his face from being seen. He lifted his shotgun up, aiming at the group in general.

"I'll make this real simple," he said firmly. "We want the kid. Hand him over, and nobody else gets hurt."

Donavon held Jason tightly. "You aren't getting your claws on my boy."

Shotgun blinked. "Your boy...? Well, well, well. Look, fellas, we got the brat's father, here. Tell me, Dad, how'd you find us?"

Donavon clamped his jaw shut, and Shotgun sneered beneath the balaclava.

"Yeah, your his old man, all right. Same stupid stubbornness. You've got one last chance, old man. Stand up, back away, and you can all live through this."

"What about the money?" Michael protested. Shotgun laughed.

"I don't want the money! I never did! I don't care how much you could pay. That kid can identify us. I'm not going to let him walk away. Now, back off!"

Donavon moved around, so that he had formed a shield over Jason with his own body. "You want my son, you'll have to go through me to get to him."

Shotgun shrugged. "Fine. Suit yourself."

He lifted the gun, released the safety catch, and fired. Donavon shut his eyes tightly, anticipating the pain, but nothing happened. He looked up slowly to see what had happened, and all of a sudden, his vision was blocked by a figure in a near-blinding white suit.

The White Power Ranger looked down at Donavon in concern. "Are you all right, sir?"

Donavon heaved a sigh of relief. "Now, I am."

The White Ranger looked back to Shotgun, who stood there gaping. "Please, put your weapons down. Now."

The six men looked at one another in confusion as Michael Oliver and his two men rose up to stand with the Rangers, making it eight to six. A moment later, all six rangers drew out their laser pistols, ready to fire if need be.

It was more than enough, and one by one, the six men dropped their weapons. As the rangers and the two officers moved in to deal with them, Michael crouched down beside Donavon.

"Is he all right?"

Donavon looked down at Jason, who clung weakly to him. "I think so. Jason? Can you hear me, son?"

Jason finally turned his face towards his father. "Dad?"

"It's over, son. You're safe. Those bastards have been caught."

Jason gave a muffled sob and slumped helplessly against his father. Donavon hugged the boy tightly.

"It's okay," he murmured softly, kissing Jason tenderly on the top of his head. "Everything's okay."

The White Ranger skidded over, and Michael knew what he wanted to know before he even had a chance to speak.

"He'll be all right," Michael reassured the ranger. "We're pretty sure he'll be okay. Thankyou. If you hadn't shown up when you did..."

"We're just glad we did get here in time," White Ranger replied quietly. He paused, wanting to speak to his friend, but knowing he couldn't take the risk. Jason, in his current state and with the blindfold, would probably identify him as Tommy, and not the White Ranger. Finally, he stepped back and spoke to his own father.

"We will deliver these men to jail. The Pink and Yellow Rangers will remain here to see that you all get back to the lodge."

Then, without another word, the three male rangers teleported out with the six men. It was just a minute after that that Adam and Aisha arrived back on the scene, with two snowmobiles. Taking silent note of the rangers, Adam spoke as he got off his snowmobile.

"We notified the authorities. They're waiting for you with an ambulance at the lodge."

Donavon and Michael lifted Jason carefully onto one of the snowmobiles, and Donavon climbed on behind him.

"All right. I'll meet you back there."

"Don't wait for us," Michael told him. "Just get Jason to hospital. We'll meet you back in Angel Grove."

Michael motioned to Adam and Aisha. "You two kids take the other machine. It's not far. We'll get back on the skis."

Adam and Aisha nodded, and followed Donavon and Jason on the other snowmobile. Michael looked back to the Pink and Yellow Rangers.

"Again, thankyou very much."

The Pink Ranger nodded. "It's all right, Chief Oliver. It's our duty." She looked at Yellow. "Let's go."

The two then quickly teleported out.

* * *

Sarah started when the phone rang. She looked anxiously at Melanie and the other officers. Had the men not made it? With trembling hands, she answered the phone.

"H... Hello?"

"Sarah! It's me!"

Sarah gulped back a sob. "Donavon?"

"Honey, we've got him! Jason's okay! We've got him, and we're coming back to Angel Grove now. Get to the hospital. We'll meet you there."

Sarah responded simply, then hung up.

"Well?" Melanie wanted to know.

"They found Jason," Sarah whispered, then burst into tears.

* * *

The Rangers met back in the Command Centre, and cheered excitedly.

"We did it!" Zack hooted.

"Yeah!" Kim laughed. Rocky whistled loudly.


"Hang on, guys," Tommy interrupted. "Don't forget who did the real work, here. We were stuck in a battle for over three hours. If Adam and Aisha hadn't done anything, who knows what might have happened?"

The others had to concede the truth in Tommy's words. Zordon allowed himself a wry smile.

"I refused to allow them to go, and so they went and did it themselves. It was a very valiant effort that thankfully paid off."

The others nodded silently, and then teleported out to go and see their best friend at the hospital.

* * *

The doctor had just finished examining Jason, and now stepped back, a faint smile on his face.

"This is one very lucky young man. His worst injury is his shoulder cap, which has been broken. That'll heal in about six weeks, or so."

"What about his eyes?" Sarah asked, looking in concern at the pale area of flesh around Jason's eyes. The doctor nodded.

"Yes, well, that was even luckier. Because the blindfold was left on during the rescue, no damage was done. Admittedly, he'll need dark glasses for a couple of weeks until his eyes readjust to the light, but there are no concerns there. He really is very lucky."

Donavon's gaze hardened a little. "I'd appreciate it if you found another word, Doctor. I'm sure Jason doesn't feel terribly lucky at the moment."

The doctor reddened just a little. "Of course. I'm sorry. I'll leave you alone with him, then."

They watched him go, and then went to Jason's side.

"Jason?" Sarah asked softly. Jason's eyes fluttered open, and then he cringed.

"Too bright..."

Donavon quickly pulled down the shades. "Better?"

"Yes. Thankyou."

Sarah looked down at her son with tears of relief. "Oh, my baby... I was so frightened."

Jason peered up at her. "I... I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"Running away. I was stupid..."

Donavon rejoined Sarah at the bedside. "Jason, you're not the first boy to lose his head over a girl, and you certainly won't be the last. Nothing that happened was your fault, you just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Jason sighed. "I'm glad you didn't pay them anything."

Donavon ruffled Jason's hair affectionately. "I meant what I said, Jason. I would have paid anything to get you back."

"How?" Jason asked. "You don't make that much. Not to pay five million..."

Donavon smiled. "We'll talk to you later about it. Don't worry now. Just get some rest."

Jason nodded and was just drifting off to sleep when a familiar voice spoke from the doorway.

"Is it okay if we come in?"

Jason lifted his head, and managed to make out the images of a group of several people. He smiled a little.

"Sure," he mumbled, and Donavon signaled the teens into the room.

They filed in, and crowded around the bed. Tommy reached out and gently squeezed Jason's uninjured shoulder. "Hey, bro, how you doing?"

Jason tried to shrug, but couldn't manage it. "Okay," he conceded. "Better than I was, anyway."

"We were so worried!" Kim said, gently closing her hand over Jason's bandaged one. "Oh, Jase..."

Jason smiled faintly. "That's good to know" he mumbled, half-asleep. Kim hesitated, then leaned in and kissed Jason lightly on his bruised cheek. "We missed you, big brother."

The others all managed to get a word in, just as Jason slipped off to sleep. Tommy then stepped away from the bed.

"C'mon, guys, he said quietly. "We'll come back later."

They all filed out, reluctant to leave their friend. Once they were gone, Sarah spoke.

"All right. What's this about losing his head over a girl?"

Donavon smiled. "It's a guy thing, honey."

Sarah glowered at her husband. "Donavon?"

"I'm just watching out for Jason. Some things are best kept between a father and son."

Sarah sighed in exasperation. "Fine."

Donavon chuckled softly, and conceded. "Jason has crush on Trini, except it's more than just a crush. And he's had it for the past few years. He finally got up the courage to tell her, but she said she didn't like him like that. It just about broke his heart, and that's why he took off that afternoon."

Sarah looked upset. "He never said anything to me!"

"That's why I said, some things are better left between father and son..."

* * *

Jason heard the voices of his parents, but could not really make out what was being said. Finally, he gave up trying, and fell into a restless sleep that was haunted by nightmarish images. Shotgun the man called Rufus who had, at first, seemed like a friend but then turned into something else.

You're so cold. I can fix that...

Jason stirred and moaned in faint distress, attracting the attention of his parents.


He signaled Sarah to wait, watching Jason in tense silence.

You're not a bad looking kid...

Jason gave an anguished sob, and began to lash out with his bandaged hands at an invisible foe. Donavon reacted, then, leaning over and grabbing hold of his son as firmly as he dared, speaking loudly as he did so.

"Jason, wake up. C'mon, son, wake up now... Jason!"

Jason snapped awake and, a moment later, burst into a flood of tears. Donavon sat down on the bed and pulled his son close.

"It's all right, Jason. Everything's okay. You're safe, and there's no one who can hurt you. I've got you, Jason. I've got you...."

Jason didn't say a word, but clung desperately to his father, crying helplessly into his shoulder.

Angel Grove Youth Centre
"It's really shaken him, hasn't it?" Billy asked softly as the teens sat together a few days later. Tommy stared dismally at the tabletop.

"Yeah. More than he'll admit. He's so scared, he can't sleep without having nightmares. He's terrified those men will come for him."

Kim blinked back tears. "He's frightened to be alone. I was in there yesterday evening. His folks were in the cafeteria, and I said I had to go. Jase went into a total panic, and begged me to stay with him. I... I've never seen him as frightened as that. I don't think I've ever seen him scared before at all."

"No," Trini whispered. "None of us have. Jason's always been the indestructible one."

"I've seen him scared," Tommy admitted miserably. When they all looked at him, he reluctantly explained. "When I was with Rita. When I trapped Jason in the Dimension of Darkness, and Rita sent me in to kill him. I had him on the floor, and I was about to run him through with the Sword of Darkness... He had that same look that he has now. Total fear. He... He's crumbling, guys."

None of them said a word, but each silently wondered what was going to happen to their friend and leader.

* * *

Michael Oliver had been there for a while, questioning Jason about his ordeal under the supervision of his parents and an appointed Prosecutor. He was nearly through, but sensed Jason was holding something back. For what reason, he didn't know, but he had to find out what it was.

"All right. That's good, Jason. Now, let's backtrack a bit. This man who you say helped you out by giving you food and a blanket. What was his name?"

Jason drew in a slow breath. He really didn't want to go over this again.

"Rufus. I heard someone call him Rufus."

"Rufus," Michael echoed. "He didn't hurt you at all?"

Jason faltered. "He... He never hit me"

"That isn't exactly what I asked."

The teen looked distressed. "What other kind of hurt is there?"

Michael stared down grimly at the teen. He hoped this wasn't leading where he thought it was. "I think you know."

Jason looked away. "I'm tired. I want to sleep."

Michael stood up slowly. There was no point in forcing the issue. He just hoped Jason had the good sense to eventually tell someone.

"All right. We'll leave it there. But if you think of anything else, anything at all, then tell us. All right?"

Jason nodded quickly, still refusing to meet his gaze. Only once they'd gone, did he look up.

"What are you hiding, Jason?" Donavon asked softly. Jason bit down on his lower lip.


"Don't lie. You know you can't lie to me."

Tears filled Jason's eyes. "Please, Dad... Don't make me talk about it..."

"Talk about what? Jason, don't hide it. It won't do you any good."

Jason's temper finally snapped, and he exploded at his parents. "Just shut up and leave me alone!" he screamed, his voice sharp with fear and distress. "Why can't everyone leave me alone?"

Donavon was stunned, but it soon faded to make way for grim understanding. "Well be just outside if you need us, Jason."

Jason started up, watching with distress as his parents left the room, leaving him by himself in the lonely hospital room.

* * *

"Is this a wise idea?" Sarah asked in concern. "Leaving him alone?"

"We won't leave him alone for long," Donavon reassured her. "Just long enough so he can sort some things out for himself."

Sarah nodded and was about to agree when the sounds of distressed sobs reached their ears. Jason was crying...


"Just a few minutes, honey. That's all."

She sighed and leaned back against the wall to wait.

* * *

_Don't leave me alone._ Jason thought in growing terror. _Please..._ He remained alone, though, his parents out of sight and out of earshot.

He looked towards the window, panic rising in his gut. Any minute, one or all of the men would come through the window, to kill him or do something worse...

The panic and terror reached its height, and Jason could no longer stand it. He began to scream for his parents, not even able to see for the tears that flooded his eyes. It was a moment later that a hand firmly grasped his good shoulder, and a familiar, soothing voice spoke into his ear.

"It's all right, sweetheart. We're right here. Don't be frightened."

"Mum..." Jason whispered, sobbing pitifully. Sarah gathered her son up in her arms and began to rock him gently, humming a soft tune that she had not used since Jason had turned seven. It eventually eased the boy's fear, and he finally slipped into a quiet rest.

"That was cruel," she growled, once Jason was asleep. Donavon looked grim.

"I didn't like doing it anymore than you, but we can't pamper him, Sarah."

"Pamper?" she choked out incredulously. "Pamper? For God's sake, our only son was held hostage for four days, led to believe he was going to die, suffered God knows what torture and torment, and you have the gall to tell me not to pamper him? How heartless can you be?"

Donavon, however, merely shook his head in grim silence.

Twenty-four hours later
Donavon stood outside the hospital room in heavy silence, staring bleakly at his hands. He was so lost in thought that he almost didn't notice when Michael Oliver came up, pale and worried.

"Donavon?" Michael faltered. "What's wrong?"

Donavon looked up slowly. "The doctors had to take off the tips of two fingers on Jason's right hand. Combination of having the circulation cut for so long, and frostbite. He said they might have to amputate more... He may even lose one or both of his hands."

Michael groaned softly. And he only had bad news to add...

"I'm sorry."

"So are we. They had to sedate Jason, because he became hysterical."

Michael shook his head, then signalled to the two officers who stood behind him. "All right, you two. You're to stand guard outside the door until you're relieved. You don't even go to eat."

"What's going on?" Donavon asked, his expression darkening. Michael spoke softly.

"There's some serious trouble, Don. Two of the men escaped custody. One of them was the gang leader, the one that Jason called Shotgun. I'm afraid they may come after Jason."

Donavon felt sick to his stomach. "My boy's still in danger."


A moment passed, then Donavon turned and slammed his fist into the wall in anger. "Bastards! Why can't they leave him be?"

"I'm leaving these two here," Michael told Donavon. "They've got orders to let in only immediate family, being you and Sarah, his friends, myself, and hospital staff with a special police arm band. They won't get to him, Donavon. I promise."

Donavon, however, only shook his head and wandered dismally back into the room.

* * *

"What's going on?" Sarah asked as Donavon came back into the room. "Who's out there?"

"Michael," Donavon replied softly. He paused, looking for a moment at the almost unnaturally peaceful expression on his son's face before speaking again.

"Honey, two of the men that took Jason got away from the police."


"Michael's worried that they'll come after Jason. He's set up a police guard outside the door."

Sarah stared at her husband in numb shock. "How could they let them get away?"

"I don't know. What I do know is that I'm not leaving this room from now on unless I absolutely have to." He stared down at Jasons sleeping form.

"Those bastards are not getting my son."

* * *

Erik Peters, a.k.a. Shotgun, watched the hospital silently from the car, running over a dozen different scenarios in his mind of what he could do, and how they could get hold of the boy. Beside him, in the passenger seat, Rufus sat tensely.

"I don't see why we just can't get the hell out of here."

"Because if we kill the brat," Peters snapped harshly, "then the cops won't have enough to take our boys to court. They'll have to let them go. Just shut up, okay? I'm thinking."

Rufus grunted and slid down in the seat, trying not to look suspicious.

* * *

Jason awoke late that night, and for a long moment he couldn't remember where he was, or what he was doing there. Then, it flooded back to him all-too-quickly. He moaned softly to himself and lifted one heavily bandaged hand to cover his eyes.... and remembered the horrible rest. Early that morning, he had gone into surgery for reasons that had not been made known, and had woken up to discover the tips of two fingers on his right hand had been amputated.

He let his hand drop with a soft thud. Amputated... and he could lose more. He was not stupid, and had heard the doctor discussing it with his father when he was just starting to wake up. The full shock of it had hit him as soon as he fully regained consciousness, and he had become so hysterical, that they'd needed to sedate him.

Jason stared down at his right hand, trying to imagine how it would look with two fingers shorter than the others. He didn't like the image that presented itself to his mind. Especially with the threat hanging over his head of losing more bits off his hands...

He heard footsteps, and looked around as nurse walked into the room. She wore a blue armband with the police insignia, Jason noted. He wondered distantly what was going on, it not entering his mind that it was indirectly because of him. The nurse, a woman in her early thirties, smiled warmly when she saw Jason was awake.

"How are you feeling, honey?" she asked, going over to his side. Jason shrugged wordlessly, not trusting himself to speak. The nurse reached out to gently smooth back his mussed-up hair.

"I know life seems pretty harsh right now, but it'll get better. Try not to think about your fingers. Okay?"

Tears welled up in Jasons eyes. "They said I might lose my hands...."

The nurse sat down on the edge of the bed. "The doctors are doing all they can to save your hands, honey. We just have to keep praying and hope for the best."

She brushed her fingertips lightly over his forehead and cheek, then got up to finish her check of the monitors and the IV. She turned to leave, and Jason spoke anxiously.

"Please, don't go...."

The nurse looked back at him. "Sweetheart, I have work to do..."

"Please..." Jason begged. "I don't want to be alone..."

The nurse smiled, then. "You aren't alone." She glanced over to the far corner of the room. Jason followed her gaze, and started a little in shock. Standing silently in the dark corner of the room, was the White Ranger.

The woman slipped out of the room, unnoticed, and once she was gone, Tommy moved forward, into the light.


Jason stared at his best friend in confusion. "What are you doing...? Here, I mean...."

Tommy moved up to the bedside and spoke carefully, aware of the police presence just outside the door.

"We're taking it in turns to stay here. To watch you."

"Why?" Jason pressed. Tommy hesitated, then spoke in a soft whisper.

"Jase, don't panic, okay? I'm only telling you so you know, but you're perfectly safe..."

Jason had never been a fool, and guessed instantly, through Tommy's avoidance, what was wrong.

"They got away from the police, didn't they? Shotgun and the others.... They escaped..."

"Two of them escaped," Tommy confirmed. "But don't panic. You're safe, they'd be stupid to risk coming here after you...."

He trailed off as he met Jason's cold stare.

"And that's why I'm suddenly under the protection of the Power Rangers?" Jason asked. Tommy's shoulders slumped.

"I never could lie to you."

"Because you're so bad at it."

Tommy smiled behind his helmet. "True. So how are you feeling, anyway? Honestly," he added before Jason could speak. The Red Ranger sighed heavily.

"After finding out that? Things couldn't possibly get any worse. And now that I've said that, they probably will. Why me, Tommy? What did I do to deserve this?"

"You didn't do anything," Tommy told him softly. "It's just stupid, dumb luck. I said to Dad, when you were still missing, that I thought I was the one who was supposed to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Dad said he guessed the torch had been passed."

Jason had to smile, although it was a very bitter smile.

"I'd go along with that. I haven't had anything good happen to me since.... Hell, I can't even remember. I guess the last good thing that happened was you coming to town."

Tommy felt a touch of embarrassment. "Thanks..."

"Seriously. Look at everything that's happened lately. And everything always seems to go wrong for me around Valentine's Day."

Tommy looked surprised. "Valentine's Day? Oh.... Kim told me about what happened this time round. That you asked Carla Blake..."

"And Penny Smithton," Jason muttered, red-faced. Tommy shrugged.

"Hey, don't worry about it. It's nothing to be ashamed of. If those girls aren't smart enough to see what a catch you are..."

Jason's cheeks were a fiery red, by then. "Knock it off, Tommy."

Tommy grinned, and wished he could take his helmet off. Zordon would have his hide if he did, though....

"C'mon, bro, cheer up, huh? That nurse was right. Things'll get better, sooner or later. And I bet you'll find someone soon enough who's right for you."

"I've heard that one before," Jason muttered. "Tell me something, what girl would want a guy with no hands?"

Tommy frowned. "What do you mean, no hands?"

Jason held up his right hand. "Don't you know? They amputated the tips of two of my fingers this morning. The doctor told Dad that I might lose one or both of my hands. Now, tell me what girls would want to be seen with a guy like that?"

Tommy was too shocked to bring himself to reply. Jason nodded, taking the silence for agreement.

"Exactly. None. Plus, if I lose even one hand, I'll be off the team. Hell, I probably am already. I'm sure Zordon doesn't want someone on the team who's missing bits and pieces all over the place..."

Tommy stared at Jason in shock and confusion. But through the shock, he heard a pain in his friends voice that he had never noticed before. The pain of anticipated rejection....

_He really believes that..._ Tommy thought in dismay.

"Jase, do you really think you're that unimportant?"

Jason looked away. "I don't know. All I know is that the girl I love doesn't love me, I've got a homicidal maniac who wants me dead, I'm in danger of losing both my hands...." Jason suddenly stopped, his breath catching in his throat. _No,_ he thought, with a feeling of nausea, _I couldn't possibly be that unlucky._

He had to know, though, and asked in a trembling voice.

"Tommy, who was the other one that escaped?"

Tommy hesitated, then spoke cautiously. "I think he was called Rufus. Rufus LaFeit."

Jason slid down in the bed, his already pale face turning ashen. Rufus and Shotgun... The two worst ones....

Jason began to whimper slightly, almost without realising it.

"Jase?" Tommy asked anxiously, leaning towards him. "What is it?"

Jason couldn't bring himself to say, though. He could not make himself to say that the one man who had not beaten on him physically, had been the one to attempt sexual molestation. Tommy stared at his friend in concern. He had overheard his father talking to someone on the phone, mentioning that Jason was withholding something. Something that was possibly important....

"C'mon, Jase, talk to me..." Tommy begged him. Jason shut his eyes and rolled over onto his side, away from the White Ranger. Tommy straightened up, hurt by Jasons refusal to trust him.

"Okay, if that's the way you feel, keep it to yourself. I'm only trying to help."

He stalked back to the corner and resumed his position, arms folded across his chest in a stance that was unconsciously similar to Jason. Standing there, in the dark corner, Tommy never saw the crystal tears that fell from his friend's eyes.

* * *

"How is he?" Billy asked quietly as he teleported in to relieve Tommy. Tommy sighed.

"I really don't know. He's asleep at the moment... Billy, maybe you can get through to him. He's holding back about something, and it's got something to do with one of the men that escaped. The one called Rufus. Maybe he'll talk to you, 'cause he sure as hell won't talk to me."

"What do you think it is that he's withholding?" Billy asked in concern. Tommy shook his head.

"I honestly don't know. Look, I'm going home. Trini will be along to relieve you in five hours."

Billy nodded, and leant back into the corner as Tommy teleported out. Jason looked peaceful enough right then, although Billy understood that was anything but his state of mind while awake. It was perfectly understandable, he reflected. Jason was likely to be testy, sullen and unwilling to talk. After what he'd been through, Tommy should have understood that.

He sighed softly to himself, reflecting how the worst things always seemed to happen to Jason. Even Tommy had not borne the brunt of things the way Jason did.

Jason stirred, and Billy moved forward, anxious to see that he was all right. Kim, during her guard duty, had reported Jason suffering bad nightmares. Whether he remembered them, they didn't know, but that was not the point.

Jason had no nightmares, though. Instead, he woke up slowly, and sat up, rubbing painfully at his eyes. Billy ventured further forward.

"Is everything all right, Jason?"

Jason blinked, then relaxed. "Hi, Billy. Yeah, everything's okay, I guess. At the moment, anyway."

Billy paused at the end of the bed. "How are you feeling?"

Anger flashed across Jason's face, then. "Why is it that everyone keeps asking me how I'm feeling? It ought to be damned obvious! I'm feeling like crap!"

Billy shrank back, and Jason instantly regretted his outburst.

"I'm sorry, Billy. I didn't mean that."

Billy sighed. "Yes, you did. It was justified. I should have known. I'm afraid I simply couldn't think of anything else to say."

Jason was silent for a long moment, staring at his quiet friend. Maybe Billy would understand...

"Billy, can I ask you something?"

"Of course."

"Has anything ever happened to you that you felt ashamed to tell anyone about? Even your own parents....?"

Billy drew in a slow, careful breath. "Such as? Can you give me an example?"

Jason slumped down a little. "I... I'm sorry, this is stupid. I shouldn't even bother you about it."

Billy strode around to the side of the bed and, after pushing the door shut, he did what Tommy had not dared to do, and took off his helmet.

"I've had a few things happen to me that I was too embarrassed to talk about. Especially to me parents. When we lived in Seattle... When my mother was still alive... I had a lot of trouble with bullies. Even more than here in Angel Grove. One day, a gang cornered me and..." Billy hesitated, then forced it out. "They stripped me completely, from head to foot, and ran off with all my clothes. I hid in a dumpster for hours until it got dark and I could sneak home. Even then, some people saw me, and there were reports the next day about an unidentified person running around with no clothes. I was so humiliated, I couldn't even bring myself to tell my mother. It was horribly embarrassing."

To Billy, Jason looked almost hopeful. "You've never told anyone about that?"

"No. Thankfully, the gang was made of teenagers who did not attend my school, so no one I knew directly ever found out."

"That's embarrassing," Jason conceded. Billy nodded.

"Excruciatingly so."

Jason stared hard at the blue hospital blankets. "Billy, something else happened... You know, while those men had me. I... I've been too ashamed to tell anyone."

Billy said nothing, letting Jason take his time.

"All the men... they all got in a few punches at some point. Especially the leader. It was like a competition, who could leave the biggest bruises. All of them except one. The one called Rufus..."

Jason faltered, and for a moment, Billy thought he was going to shrink back inside the protective walls of his mind and not go on. He did, though, with great difficulty.

"He seemed nice, at first. He gave me a blanket, and a coat to keep warm... and he gave me food and water so I wouldn't go hungry or thirsty. But after a while, he started getting strange... Worse than the others. At least I knew what to expect from the other men, but after a while, I didn't knew what Rufus was gonna do. Then, he came in and said something about how cold I was, and he started to... to... You know how mothers will rub your hands to get them warm again?"

Billy nodded wordlessly. Jason swallowed hard, barely aware of the tears that trickled slowly down his cheeks.

"Rufus did that to me, but he did all over. Then, he made some comment... said I was good-looking, or something.... and then he started touching me. First my face.... my chest and my stomach... Then..."

Jason's efforts to explain ended in a choked sob. Billy finally reacted, and leaned over to rest his hand gently on Jason's uninjured shoulder.

"I understand, Jason. Can you tell me.... How far did it go?"

"After he touched me... below the waist... I panicked and screamed. The others came, then, and they stopped him. Not because they thought it was wrong... Shotgun said he didn't want the hassle of having to move a traumatised kid. Billy, if Dad hadn't come for me when he did.... Something worse might have happened."

Jason shuddered and began to cry, unable to hold it in any longer. Billy hesitated, then sat down on the edge of the bed and placed his gloved hand lightly over Jason's bandaged right hand, and gently urged him to lie back down, continuing to talk reassuringly to him for some time, until he eventually fell asleep.

Command Centre
Billy landed back in the Command Centre and pulled his helmet off, shuddering violently. The others watched him in concern.

"What is it?" Kim asked softly. Billy regarded his friends with a grim look.

"I found out what it is that Jason's been hiding. One of the men... One of the two that escaped... tried to molest him."

"Shit..." Tommy swore.

Zack looked ill. "No wonder he didn't want to tell anyone."

"You said tried..." Kim asked, and Billy nodded.

"Yeah. Jason said he screamed, and the others stopped it from happening. Not because they were worried about Jason, of course. Jason said they just didn't want to be bothered with moving a traumatised boy. It went far enough, though, that Jason is suffering over it."

"So what do we do?" Zack asked. "We can't keep this to ourselves." He looked to Tommy. "Your dad's gotta know, man."

Tommy ran his fingers through his long hair. "I know... But maybe we should wait, and see if Jason tells him on his own. After all, if he told Billy, he might talk about it to my dad..."

"I seriously doubt that," Kim said. "Tommy, Jason's known Billy for the longest. He wouldn't be so ready and willing to confide something like this to just anyone. If anyone tells your dad, it's going to have to be us."

"More specifically, me," Billy added. "In uniform. I think it would be best at this point in time if Jason is only angry at me."

"What d'you mean?" Zack demanded.

Kim sighed. Even she understood that time... "He means, Jason's gonna know Billy blabbed. It'd be better if we pretend we don't know, so that, one, Tommy's dad doesn't get suspicious, and two, so Jason isn't upset at all of us."

Zack nodded. "Oh. Sure, that sounds cool."

Billy looked miserable. "I feel bad about it. Jason trusted me."

"Did he ask you not to tell anyone?" Tommy asked.

"Well... no."

"Then you are not bound to keep it to yourself. Besides, it can't be kept secret. You'd better go now, Billy. The sooner the better."

Zack yawned. "And I'm going home. I've gotta relieve Trini in five hours, and I want as much sleep as I can get."

Tommy nodded. "I think we should all go home. Zordon...?"

Zordon nodded once. "I will contact you all in the event of any trouble."

The teens didn't bother to reply, but teleported straight out of the Command Centre.

* * *

Billy ended up having to go straight to the Scott home. Jason's parents had been escorted home by Chief Oliver, to get some much needed rest, and he was still there when Billy went looking for him.

_Great,_ Billy thought dismally. _I have to tell his parents as well._

He glanced around, but it was extremely early in the morning, and no one was in sight. He sighed inwardly and, in full uniform, went up to the front door and rang the bell.

_This is so ridiculous... A Power Ranger ringing a doorbell..._

The door opened, and Donavon froze, staring at the Blue Ranger in confused shock. Finally, Billy spoke when it became apparent that Donavon was not going to.

"Hello, Mr Scott. Is Chief Oliver here, sir? I need to see him."

"Uh... Yes... I'm sorry, Would you, uh... like to come in?"

Billy nodded and stepped into the warm hallway, and Donavon shut the door behind them, then led the ranger into the family room, where Sarah and Michael were. He motioned nervously with his hand.

"We, uh... have a visitor..."

Both adults looked equally surprised and confused. Billy spoke quietly.

"I'm here about Jason. While I was guarding him... He told me something that I think you need to know."

Michael stood up quickly. "What is it?"

"About one of the two men that escaped. Jason claimed that the one called Rufus attempted to molest him."

Silence fell. Then, finally, Michael looked over at Donavon. "Can I use your phone?"

"Yes," Donavon replied numbly. Michael disappeared through into the kitchen, and a minute later they heard a low murmuring as Michael spoke to one of his lieutenants.

Sarah finally spoke. "Molested...?"

"Yes, Ma'am. Jason said the other men stopped him, but..."

He trailed off, and Donavon finished it off for him. "But it still happened. Hell... How far did it go? Did he say?"

"He was touched.... below the waist... That's all that happened."

"That's more than enough," Donavon growled. "Damn!"

Michael came back into the room. "I had my suspicions that something like that had happened. Jason was too evasive. I'm going back there now." He looked Donavon and Sarah. "Are you two coming?"

"Yes," Donavon replied. "Just let us get our coats."

Michael turned back to Billy. "Thankyou. I doubt Jason would have told anyone else that, but I needed to know. We're going to step up our efforts to find those two men, now."

Billy nodded. "Excuse me, please. I have to go."

Without waiting for a reply, he teleported out, thankful to be away from the house.

* * *

Jason lay still and silent, acutely aware of Trini's presence in the room, but too scared to acknowledge her. So, he pretended to be asleep, to avoid having to talk to her. It was foolish, and he knew it. It was his cowardice that had gotten him into such a horrible mess in the first place. Jason struggled to stay still, and keep the sobs inside. Cowardice He was a coward. If he hadn't run away to start with, he wouldn't have been taken hostage, and none of this would have happened.


He stiffened a little when she spoke, but continued to lie still. A long moment passed, and then he heard her walk slowly across the floor, her footsteps barely audible on the carpet.

"I know you're awake. Why won't you talk to me?"

He kept his eyes shut, not wanting to risk opening them and finding himself looking up into the mask of the Yellow Ranger.

Trini placed her hands on her hips, frustrated. Billy, Zack and Tommy could all be stubborn at times, but Jason beat them all. When he got it into his head to act a certain way, no one could dissuade him. She stared at his motionless figure in annoyance.

"Why do you have to be so damned stubborn?"

Just then, the door opened and Michael strode in with Donavon and Sarah. They paused momentarily, glancing nervously at the Yellow Ranger. She stepped away from the bed, motioning with her hand.

"He's awake. He's just pretending not to be."

Donavon frowned a little, then went up to the bedside. He saw immediately that the Yellow Ranger was telling the truth. He knew well enough when his son was faking.

"Jason, we have to talk."

Jason groaned silently. He knew that tone of voice. That was his father's professional shrink voice. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes.

"What now?"

"Sit up, son," Donavon told him quietly. "This is serious. We had a visit earlier from the Blue Ranger."

Jason frowned in confusion for a moment, then paled considerably. "That was supposed to be between me and him!" he exploded. Donavon placed a hand squarely on Jason's uninjured shoulder.

"Perhaps, but I think we needed to know. Don't you?"

Michael leaned in. "Jason, is it true?"

Jason stared at him for a long moment, then finally glanced furtively over to where Trini stood in silent vigil.

"Jason, answer me, please," Michael begged.

"Yes," Jason admitted finally, throwing himself back down on the bed. "It's true. Now, will you leave me alone?"

Donavon stared at his son, grief-stricken. "Do you really want to be alone, son?"

Jason responded by rolling over sharply onto his side, away from the adults. Donavon sighed.

"All right. We'll be back after breakfast in the morning."

Sarah reached over and tried to kiss her son, only to be hurt when he twisted away from her. Donavon drew her out of the room, silently urging her not to speak. Michael hesitated a moment longer, sparing a grim look in the direction of the Yellow Ranger, before walking silently out of the room.

Trini watched them go fearfully. Something had happened, something serious. She hesitated, then ventured forward again.

"Jason, is everything all right?"

Jason shut his eyes tightly, but it did nothing to hide the tears. "No," he sobbed in a voice that was muffled by the pillows. "Everything is not all right! Nothing will ever be all right!"

Trini went over and sat down on the edge of the bed. "You can't hide from me, Jason. I think we have to talk."

"Why can't everyone just leave me alone?" Jason asked with half-hearted anger. "Why...?"

"You don't want to be alone," Trini murmured. "Not really." She reached out and touched his shoulder lightly. "Jason, we've been friends for so long. Don't let what happened ruin it."

Jason lay still for a long moment before finally removing his face from the pillows and looking up at her. "You think I'm being selfish?"

Trini felt her heart twist painfully as she looked down at his tear-stained cheeks. "No, just stubborn. If anyone has the right to be a bit selfish, it's you. You've given so much of yourself to the rest of us. Jason, you never waited around the other day to talk things out. You just ran off on me... You've never done that before!"

Jason looked ashamed. "I couldn't help it," he mumbled. "I was too embarrassed..."

"Well, you had no reason to be," Trini told him. "It's a beautiful thing when you fall in love with someone. I'm just sorry that I couldn't return the love." She stroked his cheek lightly. "I do love you, Jason, as a friend and a brother. I know that probably doesn't seem like much to you, and I understand that, but right now it means everything to me. I really appreciate that you never tried to push yourself on to me, like some other guys have. Like Richie did...."

Jason sat up a little. "Richie...? How d'you mean?"

"Oh, nothing... It's just, he sort bugged me day and night till I agreed to go out with him. I only said yes to start with because I thought if I went out once with him, he'd leave me alone. I guess I was feeling a bit jealous of Kim and Tommy, though... I deluded myself into believing that I really liked Richie. I never did, though. Not like that. I just didn't realise it until now."

Jason looked genuinely surprised. "You mean, you've broken up with him?"

"Yes. Dumb, isn't it?"

"I'm sorry."

Trini started to scoff, then stopped, staring at Jason in amazement. "You mean that, don't you?"

"Yeah," Jason murmured. "I didn't want to break you guys up..." _Not really..._

"It wasn't you," Trini said. "I told you, I was just deluding myself. The truth is I don't really want a relationship with anyone at the moment."

Jason looked away. He supposed that was fair enough. At any rate, he wasn't going to encroach on her anymore than he already had. That would have been plain unfair. He felt her hand come down and close gently over his right hand, and looked back at her.

"Don't be scared about your hands," she told him softly. "It won't matter. I'll stand by you. I promise."

Tears flooded Jason's eyes at the simple promise and, acting on impulse, he hugged her close. Trini returned the hug, sighing inwardly with a feeling of deep sadness. She hoped that Jason found someone soon who loved him as much he had the capacity to love others. She had a feeling that only then would he be truly happy.

The next morning
"Well?" Donavon asked impatiently the next morning as he and Sarah waited in Dr Carlisle's office. Carlisle hesitated, then looked back at them, a grim look on his face.

"I'm sorry. It's not good news. It looks like Jason's going to lose his left hand. I think we can save the right, but his left hand is practically dead flesh. I need your permission to go ahead, but the sooner we amputate it, the better. If we wait, it could turn gangrenous."

Donavon turned away, stricken. "This isn't happening... How can you justify doing this to a seventeen year-old boy?"

Carlisle clenched his jaw. "It's either his hand now, or his entire arm later on. It's going to happen either way."

"Donavon?" Sarah whispered. He clutched her hand tightly.

"Let us talk to Jason first. He has a right to know before it happens."

Carlisle conceded. "Fair enough."

* * *

The Scotts came into the room to find the Black Ranger standing not in the corner, but rather by the bedside, chatting to Jason as though he were an old friend. They entered cautiously, still a little nervous around the famed super heroes. Jason, however, seemed much brighter than the previous night, so perhaps they were doing more than simply guarding him

Jason offered his parents a sheepish smile as they came in. "Hi, Mum, Dad. Listen, about last night... I'm sorry I was so angry...."

Sarah went over and sat down next to him, hugging him quickly. "It's all right, sweetheart. We understand."

Jason looked back to the Black Ranger. "Course, the next time a certain Blue Ranger comes in, were gonna have a little chat about confidentiality."

Zack nearly choked behind his mask. He would have to warn Billy, but then again... He grinned to himself. _Nah..._

Donavon spoke up finally, looking straight at the ranger.

"I'm sorry, I don't want to sound rude.... But could you please excuse us for a few minutes? We need to talk to Jason."

Zack moved back from the bed. "Sure. I'll just be outside."

They waited until he'd gone, then shut the door and sat down on either side of Jason. Jason looked uncomfortable. "It's about last night, isn't? About what that guy tried to do to me."

Donavon winced a little. "No, son. Although we will talk about that... But, no. This is.... Jason, its your hands. We've just come from seeing the doctor."

Jason turned ashen, and he looked down at his bandaged hands. "They're fine!" he protested anxiously. "Really..."

Donavon reached over and very gently lifted up Jasons left hand. "Can you feel this, Jason? Can you feel me holding your hand?"

Jason couldn't lie to his parents, he never could. Instead, he remained stubbornly silent. It meant nothing to his father, though, and the older man nodded. "I thought so. Jason, your left hand is virtually dead. They have to take it off."

"No," Jason whimpered in panic. "Dad, no..."

"If they don't do it now, you could lose your entire arm later on. You don't want that, I'm sure."

"I don't want any of it!" Jason screamed, suddenly hysterical. "I just want them to leave me alone! Can't they leave me alone?"

Donavon and Sarah exchanged grim looks. Every time something went wrong, now, Jason started screaming to be left alone, but when he was left alone, he became even more hysterical... Donavon shifted closer to him. "Stop it, Jason. Stop it, right now. You listen to me, boy. This is for your own sake. If the doctors here did nothing, you'd lose more than just a hand. You have to be reasonable about this."

Jason slumped against his father, tears streaking his face. "It's not fair," he sobbed. "Why is this happening to me? What did I do wrong?"

"Nothing," Sarah murmured, leaning over to hug him tightly. "Jason, you didn't do anything wrong. Its just... sometimes fate can be cruel. My poor baby..."

Jason turned inwards, and continued to cry into his father's strong shoulder for a long while.

* * *

Outside the room, Zack stiffened when he heard Jason cry out. It didn't take much for him, or the police officers on duty, to guess what had happened. One of the officers shook his head.

"That poor kid... No one should be put through what he's gone through."

"You think he'll lose both his hands?" the other queried, and his companion shrugged.

"Who knows? Even one is too much. I don't blame him for freaking out."

Zack listened to the conversation in heavy silence. He guessed that was just what the Scotts had needed to tell Jason. That he was going to lose one or both of his hands... He shut his eyes and hung his head, and wished the whole thing was just a nightmare that they would all wake up from soon. It was a wish he knew would not be granted.

* * *

Tommy arrived later that morning with his father, while Rocky was standing guard in the room. Although the others had tried to convince him that it wasn't necessary for him to do a guard shift, he had refused, and come anyway. Now, as he entered the room with his father, he gave a very slight nod in Rocky's direction, and the new Red Ranger replied similarly.

"How is he?" Michael asked, walking over to look down at the teen.

"Still sleeping off the anaesthetic," Donavon said with a sigh. "God knows how he'll react when he wakes up."

Tommy peered down at the bandaged stump where Jason's left hand had been only hours before. He knew how he'd react to losing a hand. He could only half-imagine how Jason would behave. He paused, a thought occurring to him.

"Jason's left-handed."

Sarah nodded unhappily. "Yes, he is."

Tommy fell silent, a frown creasing his young face. _Damn those men_ he thought angrily. _They could have just left him on the side of the road when they knew they weren't being chased..._

"Donavon, Sarah, could I talk to you folks outside for a minute? Tommy can stay here..."

The adults left the room, and once they were gone, Rocky moved slowly forward. "That's it, isn't it? It's over now."

Tommy understood what Rocky meant. "Yes. He's finished as a ranger. He knows it, too."

"Even if he gets a prosthetic?"

Tommy sighed heavily. "It wouldn't do any good. He'll probably go through bouts of depression, and we don't need that."

"That's not his fault," Rocky said softly. "I'd get depressed, too, if this happened to me."

Tommy frowned. "It is his own fault! If he hadn't been so damned stupid and taken off like he did..."

Rocky was horrified. "Tommy, how can you say that? Man, so he took off after Trini gave him the shove. Big deal! Considering how many times he's bombed out with girls, I don't blame him. And being in the wrong place at the wrong time doesn't make it his fault. Besides, you aren't one to talk. The others told me how you high-tailed it to the mountains after losing the Green Powers."

Tommy looked stricken. "They told you about that?"

"Yeah. So lay off Jason, okay?"

"That was different," Tommy grumbled.

"Oh yeah? How?"

"It... It just was," Tommy snapped. Just then, the adults came back in. Though none said a word, it was clear Michael had not had good news to tell them. The two men were still on the loose, and Jason was still in danger. Tommy glanced at Rocky as the Red Ranger moved discreetly back into the corner, and though he could not see the other boy's face, he knew the expression was not a pleasant one.

* * *

The first thing Jason became aware of was a dull throbbing in his left hand. For a long moment, nothing registered. Then, as he gradually came back to his senses, he felt his hopes soar. Maybe they hadn't needed to amputate after all....

His eyes fluttered open, and he eventually focused on the concerned expressions of his parents.

"Mum..." he croaked out.

Sarah very gently squeezed his right hand. "Hey, sweetheart. How are you feeling?"

"Crap," he managed to whisper. "My hand....?"

Donavon glanced grimly at Sarah. "It was a clean amputation, son. There were no other problems."

Tears filled Jason's eyes. "It's gone?""

"Yes," Donavon said simply. Jason moaned faintly in distress.

"Easy, son," Donavon told him. "Just try to relax. It won't do you any good to panic."

"But... I'm left-handed...." Jason whispered.

"You were. Now you'll simply have to learn to use your right hand. Be grateful, Jason. It's only one hand. You could have been a lot worse off."

Jason looked across to the window. "I could've been dead...."

"Yes, you could have been," Donavon agreed. "Think about that before you start bemoaning losing just one hand."

"When is this going to be over?" Jason asked miserably. "When....?"

* * *

Rufus looked over the two unconscious orderlies to his boss.

"You really think this'll work?"

"It'll work. All we need is five minutes alone with the little shit, and then it won't be a problem anymore. Now, let's go."

* * *

The parents were gone, the boy was alone except for the Power Ranger that stood on guard. Peters had to struggle to stay calm, but his saving grace was that the ranger did not seem to recognise him or Rufus. Also, the boy was asleep and would not be raising the alarm. Time to put the plan into action...

"Excuse us," Peters said to the Red Ranger. "We need to take care of a few things. Would you mind stepping out for just a few minutes?"

Rocky didn't move. "I'm sorry. I can't do that."

Peters smiled uneasily. "Look, we've gotta strip him off here..."

"I have to stay," Rocky said firmly. "Just ignore me."

Peters nodded to Rufus, who wandered over, moving right up close to the Power Ranger. He held one hand behind his back, holding an automatic gun just out of sight.

"Listen, buddy, we don't want any trouble, we just want some cooperation. Is that too much to ask?"

Rocky started to reply, then stopped when he felt something hard pressing into his gut. He looked down and was confused to see a darker red seeping across the bright red of his uniform. A moment later his legs buckled beneath him and, as he went down, he heard coarse laughter.

"Hey, look at that! They aren't bulletproof!"

"Rufus, shut the fuck up and get over here...."

Rocky's world tipped upside down and faded into nothing.

* * *

"Check it out," Peters chuckled as Rufus joined him. "The doctors amputated. Poor little Jason lost a hand."

Rufus blinked hard. "Shit... What now, boss? You just gonna do him?"

Peters brought out a roll of tape and tore a piece off. "Not just yet. We'll take him out the window, and to the car. By the time anyone realises what's happened, we'll be long gone. I want to enjoy this. I want to cut this kid's throat myself."

He reached down and placed the masking tape over Jason's mouth, causing the boy to wake up. Jason's eyes opened, and his gaze focused on the one man he'd hoped he would never see again. Peters smiled coldly at the teen.

"Hello, Jason."

Jason went into a panic, but the tape over his mouth guaranteed he couldn't get a sound out, and Peters and Rufus quickly taped his wrists together. Rufus sneered at the boy. "Do you know how tough it is to tie someone's hands up when they only have one hand?"

Tears of fear and pain filled Jason's eyes as Peters ripped the IV tube out of his arm, disconnected the other machines, then yanked the boy up, out of the bed. It was then that Jason saw Rocky, lying still and silent on the floor in the corner of the room, blood deeping across the floor from beneath him.

He barely had time to worry about him, though, as he was dragged through the window and pushed roughly across the alleyway to where the criminals' car was waiting.

* * *

Donavon and Sarah came back to find neither of the police guards where they should be, outside the door of Jason's room. The two exchanged worried looks, and when Donavon tried to open the door, he was startled and frightened to discover the door was locked from the inside.

"Donavon?" Sarah asked in fright.

"Stand back," he told her. She did, and he lifted his foot and kicked the door wide open.

"Oh my god..." Sarah whispered as they went in to find the Red Power Ranger unconscious on the floor, and Jason gone. As Donavon went to the open window to see if they were in sight, Sarah went to look at the wounded ranger.

"Donavon, he's been shot!"

Donavon looked back, and strode over. "I'll get a doctor, and then I'm calling Michael."

Sarah looked torn, but her nursing training would not let her leave a wounded person. "I'll stay here, with him," she said finally. "Go on, quickly..."

Donavon ran from the room, leaving his wife alone with the injured ranger.

* * *

Donavon returned less than a minute later with a doctor, and was stunned to see not the Red Ranger, but young Rocky De Santos lying wounded on the floor. He looked in shock at his wife, and the woman spoke firmly, keeping her gaze fixed on the doctor.

"This boy has been shot. The Red Ranger was also injured, but he went after the men that took Jason."

The doctor nodded. "All right. We'll take care of him, Mrs Scott."

Donavon drew his wife to her feet. "Let's go and find Michael," he said grimly.

* * *

Once they were out of the room, Donavon stared incredulously at Sarah. "Rocky De Santos?"

"I took the helmet off to see that he was still breathing," she said helplessly. "I had to! I don't know what happened. I knocked something and this coin fell off him from somewhere..." She held up a small gold coin with the insignia of a Tyrannosaurus on the front. "Suddenly, he wasn't wearing that uniform anymore. I thought it best to keep the secret."

Donavon nodded. "I agree But if Rocky is the Red Ranger, then I'd love to know who the other rangers are."

"Not now," Sarah begged. "Donavon, we have to get Jason back..."

He nodded grimly, and quickened his pace.

Angel Grove Police Precinct
"What!" Michael exploded when he heard the news from one of his sergeants. "Where the hell were the guards? Damn!" He snatched up microphone that was connected to the precinct's loudspeakers.

"Everyone, listen up and listen hard! I want every single officer not working on a priority case to report to station car park immediately. Our two escaped prisoners have just kidnapped Jason Scott from the hospital, and they shot another teenager in the process. This is code one priority! Get your asses outside right now!"

Without waiting for a response from the sergeant, Michael grabbed his gun belt and jacket, and charged out of the office.

* * *

"So what now?"

Peters glanced back at Rufus, who was trying to hold Jason down as the boy struggled frantically. "I know a building. We'll take him there, and then I cut the little bastard's throat. Real slow...."

Rufus licked his lips. "You said I could have five minutes. You said I could!"

"You're one sick puppy, Rufus," Peters said, shaking his head. "The kid isn't even all that good-looking."

"Hey, I just want five minutes," Rufus said innocently. He slapped Jason lightly across the face. "Besides, I ain't interested in this part up here."

Jason stared up at his captors in growing terror. He didn't need to be a genius to know what was going to happen to him. There would be no false negotiations this time; Rufus was going to molest... or even rape him, and then Shotgun would kill him. He ceased his struggles, knowing they would do him no good. Not while he was confined to such a small space. He would have to bide his time, wait for an opportune moment, and then act.

He couldn't be frightened of death, now. Whatever happened from that point on, he had nothing more to lose.

* * *

The rangers arrived at the Command Centre on an urgent summons from Zordon. The two men had made it undetected into the hospital, had shot Rocky and taken Jason.

"Oh god..." Kimberly whispered.

Tommy stepped forward, barely able to contain his rage. "Where's Rocky now?"

"The doctors are operating," Zordon replied grimly. "Thanks to Jason's mother, his identity as a Power Ranger remains secret. It is a serious injury, but I believe he will be all right."

"So that leaves Jason and those to sadistic bastards," Tommy spat. "Where are they, Zordon? I want to put an end to this right now."

"I am afraid I cannot answer your question, Tommy," Zordon said quietly. "We have been unable to triangulate Jason's position."

"But you found him when he was in the mountains!" Trini protested, tears of distress in her eyes. To be in danger of losing Jason a second time was almost more than she could bear....

"After a considerable period of time," Billy corrected bleakly. "For the time it took to locate Jason when he was being held by those men in the mountains, by the time we find him again...."

"What?" Zack pressed, not entirely sure he wanted to hear.

Billy stared intently at the floor. "It will most likely be too late."

"There will be no stalling this time," Zordon said softly. "I am afraid this situation is now beyond our control."

Trini stepped forward, fury burning in her eyes. "I don't believe this! You're giving up on Jason because you think it might take too long? That's the stupidest thing I have ever heard! Billy?"

Billy looked distressed. "I concur, Trini, but it's already been nearly twenty minutes. We can't possibly hope that Jason would still be alive now...."

Trini's golden skin turned ashen. "How can you say that?" she whispered, stricken. "Billy, how could you? Have you forgotten how Jason went searching for us that time when the two of us got lost in the valley? That was only two years ago, Billy. He didn't have to do what he did, but he probably saved our lives by doing it. Don't you care?"

Tears spilled down Billy's cheeks. "What can I do, though?"

"Get on that damned computer," Kim growled, "and find him!"

Billy drew in a calming breath, and went to do just that.

* * *

It was a building scheduled for demolition. An old, crumbling building, with a shaky foundation and trembling walls and roof. Jason barely had time to look around as he was shepherded through, and into a smaller office room, that was barren of furniture, and sporting at least two years' worth of dust. Peters glared at Rufus threateningly.

"You've got ten minutes, my boy. Then, this kid's going to an early grave."

Peters slammed the door shut and disappeared from sight. Rufus watched him go, then turned around and leered at Jason, who lay sprawled helplessly on the floor.

"Did you hear that? Ten minutes." He approached the boy, starting to unbuckle his belt as he came closer. Jason watched, his heart pounding hard in his chest. After all the lessons, all the competitions, every minute of training and effort he had ever put in to his beloved martial arts.... Now it was finally going to be put to a real test. Ultimate self defence, defence of his very life.

Rufus came within reach, and Jason reacted instantly. Twisting a little onto his side, and ignoring the pain that shot through his injured shoulder, he lashed out with his left leg, kicking Rufus as hard as he could in the groin. Rufus went down with a crash, his mouth wide open in a silent scream of pain and shock.

Jason grabbed the precious seconds, and ripped the tape off his mouth, following that by working his left wrist free of the tape. For just a split second, he was grateful of the amputation; it gave him the ability to free himself quickly.

Rufus had staggered to his feet, and was limping towards Jason, one hand covering his crotch. Jason propelled himself upwards, and was on his feet a second later, right fist clenched and ready for a fight.

"Little shit...." Rufus moaned. "Gonna pay...."

"No," Jason whispered, as he circled around the molester. "Not this time. C'mon, come and get me, you bastard."

Rufus charged at Jason, and the boy reacted on instinct and side- stepped right out of the way. Rufus shot past him and crashed into the wall, shattering a pane of glass with his forehead. Jason glanced anxiously at the door, and moved back, to stand up against the wall on the door side. Peters must have surely heard that crash....

His concerns were confirmed a moment later when he heard Peters' voice come from somewhere outside.

"Rufus? Rufus, what the fuck are you doing in there? I told you, I want to kill the little shit!"

Jason clenched his jaw and his fist as he glanced at Rufus' unconscious form. He had put Rufus out of action, but he knew Peters would be harder to take out. He held his breath, waiting for his chance.

The door swung open slowly, but no one came through. Jason stood frozen, not daring to attack someone whose position he could not see. He heard the familiar voice curse softly at the sight of Rufus slumped against the far wall, and heard footsteps move back just a couple of paces.

"Okay, kid. Get your ass out here now, and I promise I'll make it quick."

Jason remained where he was. He could not see Peters, but on the up- side, nor could Peters see him. If he could just wait long enough for Peters to get impatient and step into the room....

Jason glanced around instinctively, and his heart very nearly stopped beating. High up in one corner of the room, was a convex mirror which clearly showed every aspect of the room. Assuming Peters was in the right spot... and Jason was sure he was... then the man could see him clearly.

Adrenaline exploded as Jason threw himself to the floor at the same time that bullets ripped through the thin wall of the office. He threw his arms over his head, a meager protection, and tried not to scream in fear. The bullets came lower, and Jason felt one graze across his shoulders, leaving a burning pain.

Then, as soon as it started, it was over. Jason remained still, hoping he could fool Peters, at least for a short while, that he was badly wounded. If only for a few seconds, it would be all he needed to make his move.

* * *

Peters came into the room slowly, and smirked to himself when he saw Jason was down. The smirk formed a wide grin when he saw the blood across the boy's back.

"Well," he sneered, "I could let you bleed to death... But that's not my style. I like to make sure I finish what I start."

He stepped closer, not quite within reach. Jason held his breath, not daring even to breathe, not wanting to give himself away. This was no game now, not like the games he had played as a child. If he screwed up, there would be no second chance.

Peters drew out a long-bladed knife, and finally stepped up, coming level with Jason's head. "So long, kid."

Jason rolled over, onto his side, cringing at the fiery pain through his right shoulder. Reaching around as fast as he could, he grabbed the back of Peters' ankle with his right hand and, holding tightly, slammed his left arm into Peters' knee cap. Peters went down hard, screaming in pain as his knee cap broke, and Jason took the chance, scrambling to his feet and fleeing the room. Peters watched him go, half-blinded by the pain of his injury. Then, survival instinct took over and he dragged himself up, and went after his young victim.

* * *

_Which way out?_ Jason had no idea. He had been frightened and disoriented when they'd dragged him into the building, and they'd taken so many turns through the disused metal shelving that he'd lost all sense of direction.

An angry howl split the silence, and Jason hurried himself up, fear gnawing at him. Peters was coming for him, and if he didn't find the way out soon....

He shoved the thought away. That was not going to happen.

* * *

"Jason!" Peters roared, fumbling to reload his gun as he limped along. "I'm coming for you! You aren't getting away from me, you little shit!"

Jason paused, to get his breath back. This guy had been watching too many Hollywood movies... He didn't bother wasting precious time and energy by replying, but continued searching desperately for the way out.

* * *

Billy frowned a little, something catching his eye on the computer. "What? Couldn't be...."

"It is!" Alpha squealed excitedly. "It's Jason! He's alive!"

"The viewing globe," Tommy said hoarsely. "Quick! Show us where he is!" A moment past, and then an image formed on the viewing globe, revealing Jason moving at a painfully slow speed through what looked like some sort of factory building. He was frighteningly pale, but at the same time looked determined...

"Can we teleport him here?" Zack asked.

"I am afraid not," Zordon said grimly. "You four must teleport to where Jason is. Alpha?"

"Making the calculations now, Zordon," Alpha replied as he turned towards a second panel. "Ready to teleport..."

Zordon immediately activated the teleportation process... at the same instant that Alpha tripped over a loose cable and fell across the computer panel, scrambling the teleportation coordinates.

"Oh no!" Alpha wailed. It was too late. The rangers vanished in a flash of light, bound for an unknown destination.

Silence reigned for several longs, painful seconds, and then Zordon spoke in a voice that almost trembled.

"May the power protect Jason."

For once, Alpha stayed silent. For once, he had nothing to say.

* * *

Peters, despite his injury, was getting closer. He was running purely on rage, where Jason had used up his reserve energy back in the office. He was hurting everywhere, and was having a lot of trouble breathing properly. He stopped again, for the third time, to even out his breathing, and tried desperately to ease the spinning sensation in his head.

Peters came literally out of nowhere, hatred and fury etched onto his face. Jason had less than a second to react, and he spun out of the way, barely missing being clouted by the handle of Peters' gun.

"Come here..." Peters snarled, diving at Jason, and just missing him once more. Jason glanced behind him, and saw they were emerging into a large, open area. Perfect, Jason thought dimly, for fighting conditions....

Not daring to turn his back on Peters for a second, he scooted backwards, into the open and away from the dangerous shelving. Peters approached slowly, cocking the gun in his hand.

"You think you're gonna fight me, Jason? Is that it? You're no match for a gun, boy."

Jason shut his eyes for just a second, to focus himself. Do or die...

He shot forward, towards Peters and leapt into the air, his foot connecting with Peters' right wrist. In order to save his wrist from being broken, Peters let go of the gun, and it flew through the air, disappearing from sight into the shadows.

"Bastard of a kid..." Peters swore as he rubbed his wrist. "You want a fight? You've got one."

He pulled out his knife, and opened the blade, waving it threateningly in the air. "Come and get some of this, then. C'mon...."

Jason did not. The kick had worked once; he was not foolish enough to try the same thing again. Peters glared at him.

"What, you more scared of a knife than you are of a gun? C'mon, Jason, don't be a coward. Come and get me."

Jason still made no move to attack. He would not attack, and dishonour his training. Snarling angrily, and finally losing his patience, Peters launched himself at Jason. It was what the boy had been waiting for, and, as the knife came down, he threw his left arm up and blocked the attack, while slamming his right fist into Peters' midsection, winding him.

Gasping for air, Peters abandoned the knife and reached out, grabbing a fistful of Jason's shirt. Jason slammed his left arm down over Peters' arm, holding him, then drove his right forearm into Peters' nose, effectively breaking it. Then, before Peters could recover, Jason grabbed the side of the man's neck and, with considerable force, kicked his left leg as hard as he could, bringing the man to the floor with a crash.

Jason stood back, careful to move around behind Peters' head and out of reach.

"You got me once... But nobody gets the edge over me twice."

Shaking his head in disgust, he turned and started to walk away. Peters looked away for a moment, then saw it. His gun, lying just beyond reach across the floor. Heart beating hard, Peters rolled across and snatched it up, then dragged himself to his feet. He lifted the gun, and released the safety catch...

* * *

Jason heard the click of the safety being released on the gun, and it registered instantly what was going on. He didn't stop to think, knew he didn't have the time. Reacting purely on instinct refined by years of discipline and training, Jason launched himself into the air, in a much-practised ninety degree roundhouse kick. As he turned, he saw the gun, aiming right at his skull. He saw straight down the black barrel of the weapon, saw his own death waiting there to claim him.

Then, his foot connected with Peters' skull. There was a dull cracking sound that would later haunt Jason in his nightmares, and Peters' head rocked violently to one side. The gun fired, and the bullet skimmed past Jason, missing him by less than an inch. A moment later, the gun fell harmlessly to the concrete ground, and Peters went down beside it.

Jason landed, shocks of pain going unnoticed through his feet. For several long seconds he stood frozen, not entirely sure what had just happened. Then, gradually, he looked down and his blurred gaze focused on Peters, lying still and silent, blood trickling out of his mouth and his ear. The man's eyes were wide open, and glazed over in a dead stare.

The teen stumbled backwards, feeling nauseous as realisation struck him that Peters was dead. The man who had promised to kill him, had been killed himself.

_I killed him_ Jason thought numbly. _I killed him, and now I'll go to jail._

Dimly, he realised that right then, he didn't care. All that he knew was that he was safe, finally. Only Rufus remained, and Rufus was in the office, his head virtually split open. He wouldn't be going anywhere fast, that was certain.

Exhaustion hit, and Jason sat down on the concrete floor, suddenly too tired be bothered looking for the way out. Tired, sick and overcome with relief, Jason buried his face in his arms, and waited for help to come.

Angel Grove Memorial Hospital
Jason rested peacefully, all his injuries seen to, and dosed up on enough drugs to knock him out for at least twenty-four hours. The Scotts stayed by his side, refusing to leave despite suggestions that they go home to rest. Rocky had also been placed in the same room as Jason. The doctors had predicted a full recovery from the gunshot wound, although he would be in hospital for at least the following week.

At first, Mrs De Santos had been nearly hysterical, and it had taken a great deal of effort to settle her down. Not that they could blame her, of course. Getting shot was nothing like falling and breaking an arm....

Things had settled down now, though, and all adults were waiting in quiet, patient silence for their sons to recover.

The rescue had been a massive effort on the part of the Angel Grove police. Needless to say they had been somewhat humiliated to finally locate Jason, only to discover he had dealt with his two kidnappers already. The boy had been notably distraught, yet somber and quiet.

Upon being found by the police, his first questions were about Rocky. He knew Peters was dead; he had asked in a trembling voice if he would be arrested because of it.

Now, Michael leaned in the doorway of the hospital room, watching in silence. After everything that had happened, it was almost hard to believe that the drama was finally over. The cause of Peters' death had been recorded by the coroner as an act of self defence, his neck having been broken cleanly, and no other serious injuries had been sustained. Though the case was still required to go to the D.A., Michael had no doubt that it would proceed no further. Considering what Jason had already been through, it would be unnecessarily cruel to take it further.

He straightened up as Donavon joined him, and the two men stepped outside. "Thank God it's over," Donavon whispered.

Michael nodded. "Amen to that."

Donavon looked unsettled, though. "Listen... About that man's death... You aren't going to...?"

"No," Michael replied softly. "No charges will be laid by the police. We still have to wait for what the D.A. has to say about it, but I doubt he'll want to take it any further, either. Jason was acting in self defense. We all know he would have been the dead one, if he hadn't done something about it. The fact that those bastards shot Rocky De Santos was proof that Jason was in real danger of his life. He had every right to do what he did."

Donavon sighed. "Now, I just have to convince Jason of that."

Michael nodded. "He'll be all right. Jason's a strong boy. He'll pull through this."

"I hope you're right," Donavon murmured.

A day later...
"This would almost be cool," Rocky said thoughtfully, "if it didn't hurt so much."

Jason spared him a wondering look. "You mean being shot?"

"Yeah. It's really great! All I have to do is moan a bit when one of those nurses comes in, and they're all over me! I've never had so much attention before...."

Jason rolled his eyes. "Enjoy it while you can. Pretty soon you'll go back to being just the plain old Red Ranger, fighting against the forces of evil for the sake of your planet..."

Rocky sat up slowly. "Hang on, man I thought we'd agreed I was only a temp. You'll be out of here the same time as me, and you'll probably be more up to a fight."

Jason looked down to where his left hand used to be. "Oh, sure. How the hell do I fight putties with only one hand? Goldar would have a field day with me!"

"I don't know about that. You did a damned good job protecting yourself against those bastards that took you. You managed then with only one hand, didn't you?"

"Yeah," Jason conceded reluctantly. "I guess, but..."

"But what?"

"Zordon won't want me on the team like this. He'll just say that I'd hold everyone else back."

"If that's what he thinks, then the whole thing's a crock," Rocky snapped. "Being a ranger is more than just being physically intact. You've already proved you can defend yourself with only one hand, without any powers. I'd like to see you go kick some putty ass with the powers. I mean, look at what you did to Peters...."

Jason paled slightly and sank down in the bed. He'd been trying to forget that, and Rocky had not done him any favours by reminding him.

Rocky kicked himself in the proverbial. "Aw, man, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."

"I never meant to kill him," Jason whispered, tears filling his eyes as the memory of Peters' death came back to him. "It wasn't supposed to happen like that!"

Rocky tried once more to offer some comfort, but Jason turned away, refusing to listen.

The Hart Residence
"Okay," Kimberly said, throwing herself gracelessly onto her bed next to Trini. "What's on your mind, girl?"

Trini looked uncomfortable and nervous, two emotions that Kim could not recall seeing before in her friend. "After Jason was rescued the first time, I talked to him and I told him that I didn't really want a relationship of any sort with anyone. I told him I'd broken up with Richie..." Trini sighed. "He was so sweet about it. Any other guy probably would have asked straight out for a date but Jason said he was sorry and that he hadn't wanted us to break up. I'd sort of reassured myself that everything was okay. Then, we got called to the Power Chamber and Zordon told us they'd kidnapped Jason from the hospital. Kim, I was so scared..." Trini whispered, tears overflowing down her cheeks. "When Billy virtually said we might as well not bother, that they were going to kill Jason... I haven't felt that scared since Jason was trapped by Rita that time in the Dimension of Darkness."

Kimberly nodded seriously. "I know what you mean. We were in the Command Centre, not knowing where he was, or what was happening to him... I was scared, too. Trini, what are you trying to say?"

Trini wrung her hands nervously. "I don't know. Ever since Jason told me how he felt I've been telling myself that I didn't feel the same way. Even after breaking up with Richie, I told myself that I didn't love him. Not like that. Now, I'm not so sure. Kim, you love Tommy, don't you?"

Kim felt suddenly helpless. "Well, I guess so. It's hard to define, Trini. I know I care about Tommy a lot. I guess... The only way you're going to know is if you take a chance."

"I'm scared," Trini confessed. "Kim, I don't want to wreck our friendship. What if it doesn't work out?"

"It's your decision," Kim told her quietly. "You either do, or you don't. I can't tell you what to do."

Trini pulled a face. "You were happy enough to have a hand in getting me together with Richie."

"And look at how that turned out!" Kim said with a laugh. "You and Jason are two of my best friends. I've already stuck my nose in your love lives once, and it's gotten Jason into trouble. I'm not gonna do it again. Whatever you do, you're on your own."

Trini sighed heavily. "I'm on my own...."

Angel Grove Memorial Hospital
Trini ventured into the room to find Jason asleep and Rocky watching the television. He looked over and grinned when he saw her.

"Hey, Trini. Come to visit a sick teammate?"

Trini smile wryly at him. "Sort of. I came to see Jason."

All jokes died on Rocky's tongue, and he sat back a little. "I think I upset him earlier. We were arguing over who was gonna continue on as the Red Ranger, and I said Jase had shown he was still capable of a good fight with the way he'd taken care of those two goons. He got upset when I mentioned the one that got killed."

Trini came all the way into the room. "I'm not surprised. Jason was taught to always avoid hurting people if he could, and absolutely never aim to kill. It must be really torturing him that he killed that man."

"He didn't have a choice!" Rocky objected. "If he didn't, then he would have been dead!"

"We can look at it like that," Trini said softly, "but Jason was the only one there. Only he knows whether he could have avoided killing him or not."

Rocky grunted. "I still think he did the right thing. And now, no one else will ever be hurt by that guy."

Trini didn't bother arguing anymore. Rocky seemed to have been taught a different way than she and Jason had been. Turning away, she went over to Jason's side, and took a moment to look down at his face. He was peaceful right then, but that peace would no longer be there once he woke up. She shut her eyes for a moment, fighting the grief. Nearly five years ago, they had attended a martial arts exhibition, and had taken some time out to listen to an elderly man who had been teaching martial arts for many years.

Once you used the martial arts to kill, he had said in a grave voice, it was a very difficult thing to go back. To take the life of another was the epitome of what martial arts should never be used for....

Trini felt tears in her eyes as she started to understand the anguish Jason had to be suffering. She opened her eyes, and started a little when she realised he was awake, and watching her.

"Hey," she said nervously.

Jason managed a weak smile, but it was only a shadow of the real thing. "Hey yourself. What's wrong?"

Trini shook her head, quickly wiping her eyes. "Nothing. I just had some dust in my eyes."

"Sure," Jason retorted sceptically.

Trini hesitated, then glanced back at Rocky. "Um... Would you mind if we had a little privacy?"

Rocky shrugged. "I don't mind, but I'm not exactly mobile."

"Just pull the curtain," Jason suggested.

Trini pulled the curtain all the way around the bed. "It's not soundproof," Trini said with a grimace.

"No," Jason conceded, "but no one can see through it."

"How do you know?"

Jason smirked. "What, you think I'd let Rocky watch me getting a sponge bath from the nurses?"

Trini giggled at the thought. "I guess not."

"So what's up?" Jason asked in a quieter voice.

Trini picked nervously at the blanket. "I've been thinking a lot. We nearly lost you twice. The first time was scary enough, but the second time.... I don't know what we would have done if we'd lost you."

Jason watched her wordlessly, waiting patiently to see where she was going with it. Trini faltered for just a moment, frightened that things would suddenly be reversed; that she would say she was ready for a relationship and that Jason would reject her.

Sensing her conflict, Jason reached across and grasped her hand with his own. "Take your time."

Trini squeezed his hand lightly. "I said before that I didn't want a relationship with anyone...."

"It's okay," Jason reassured her. "I understand."

"No," Trini protested. "You don't. Jason, I, um... I might have changed my mind..."

Jason stared at her wordlessly, and she couldn't help but notice a faint spark of light in his eyes. Was it hope? She gained courage, and went on.

"I don't know if it'd work but I'm willing to try. I'm not saying this because I feel sorry for you, or anything. I mean, I do, but that's not it. That second time, when we got called to the Command Centre, when Zordon told us what had happened, and then when the teleportation got screwed up.... I wanted to just sit down and cry, because I thought that was it. I thought I wasn't ever going to see you again... Just thinking that made me sick to my stomach. I can't explain it, Jason. How I feel right now is beyond what I can describe."

She trailed off, and finally dared to look up at him. Tears were trickling down his cheeks, and he held her hand firmly, pushing himself up a little at the same time. "Maybe it's love.... Maybe it isn't... But if you're willing to try, then I am, too. I love you, Trini. I won't ever hurt you, I promise."

Trini leaned forward and threw her arms around him in a close embrace. "I really care about you a lot, Jase. I hope that eventually I'll be able to say I love you as well."

Jason drew back from her a little, staring at her with a loving gaze. He wanted to kiss her badly, but dared not take the chance for fear of upsetting her.

She saw the longing in his eyes, though, and smiled. "It's okay. Go ahead."

Jason hesitated, though, and he flushed red with embarrassment.

Trini's forehead creased with worry. "What is it?"

Jason glanced past her, to the curtain, beyond which Rocky lay. Trini understood his concern, and glance out to see just what the current Red Ranger was doing.

"He's listening to headphones," she told him a moment later.

Jason looked relieved. "Good."

"All right. What's wrong, then?"

Jason looked painfully nervous. "I don't know how to."

"How to what? Kiss?"

Jason shook his head quickly, his cheeks burning with humiliation. "No. I've never had a girlfriend before I've never kissed a girl before. I don't know how to do it."

Trini would have laughed, but for it being Jason. Instead, she sat on the edge of the bed, and lightly stroked his cheek. "It's easy. Just relax. Shut your eyes."

She waited until he'd shut his eyes, then reached up and gently brushed her thumbs against his lips, drawing open his mouth just a little. Then, she leaned forward and pressed her lips lightly to his. Jason stiffened for just a bare instant, then felt something akin to an electric shock rocket through him. He relaxed and allowed his mouth to open a little more, feeling excitement as her tongue slipped through to lightly caress his. He responded finally, taking his cue from Trini and doing the same.

Trini drew back, her eyes shining. "For someone who's never done this before, you're pretty good at it."

Jason smiled sheepishly, his cheeks red with embarrassment. Trini hesitated, then lay down carefully beside him, resting her head on his shoulder.

"Everything will be all right, Jason." She lightly stroke his left wrist, down to the bandaged stump. "Even this. Don't be ashamed about losing a hand. You still have your dignity and honour."

The embarrassment faded to make way for pain. "Honour?" he echoed bitterly. "I lost my honour when I killed him."

"No, I don't think so," Trini argued softly. "It was self defense, Jason. That's the bottom line of what karate is about. Those men were going to kill you, and I know you wouldn't have put up a fight like that unless you were in real danger."

Jason stared up at the white-washed ceiling. "It's not as simple as that, Trini."

"I know, but it's a start. And you have to start somewhere. I'll help you. Everyone will. Just let us, okay?"

Jason looked around, at her delicate face right next to his, her long black hair gently brushing against his cheek. He finally had what he wanted, but what he'd had to go through to get it... He leaned over and kissed her lightly on the mouth. "I'll try. I promise."

Trini smiled, and settled down next to him on the bed in contented silence.

To be continued... (Maybe)