Candles in the window, shadows painting the ceiling,
Just gazing at the fire glow, and feeling that gingerbread feeling.
Precious moments, special people,
Happy faces, I can see;
Somewhere in my memory, Christmas joys all around me,
Living in my memory,
All of the music, all of the magic,
All of the family home here with me.
Memories of my childhood when I was five, six or seven,
I would wake when dawn would,
Living in Christmas day heaven.
Precious moments, and special people,
Happy faces I can see;
Somewhere in my memory, all these dreams live within me,
Deep within my memory,
All of the music, all of the magic,
All of the family home here with me.
Christmas tree, my Christmas tree lit up like a star,
When I see my Christmas tree can loved ones be far?
Christmas tree, I'm certain wherever I roam,
The glow from your branches will light my way home.
It's Christmas, it's Christmas, and I'm going home.
Tommy Oliver sat in the first interview room in the police station, annoyed and more than a little worried. The Christmas decorations that brightened up the place were no distraction from the situation he had found himself in. He had done nothing wrong, and yet his father had insisted on dragging him down to the police station to be interviewed like a common criminal. Across the table from him, Lieutenant Eric Ashley filled a cup with water from a jug and pushed it across the surface to Tommy.
Tommy accepted the water grudgingly, taking a small sip. Ashley nodded, then spoke again.
"You aren't in trouble, Tommy. None of you kids are. We just need to find out exactly what happened at the Christmas party last night."
"I feel like I'm in trouble," Tommy growled. "Dad had no right to bring me down here."
"It was his responsibility, Tommy. You can't expect to be treated any differently just because the Police Chief is your father. I wouldn't give any special treatment to my son, if he'd done something wrong."
The Ranger's eyes flashed with anger. "You just said I wasn't in trouble."
"And you aren't. Look, the sooner you answer my questions, the sooner you can go home. Surely you want your friend to be found safe?"
Tommy sighed, then. "Yeah, I guess."
"All right. Now, explain carefully everything that happened."
"Kat had gone to the bathroom, and I was waiting for her by the refreshment table. Jason came up to me, and he said he'd just had a big fight with Emily. He looked pretty upset about it, but then he said she'd gone off and left him, and he asked if I could give him a ride home."
"What did you tell him?"
Tommy shrugged. "I said no. I wanted to take Kat up to the Lookout. No way would she have gone for it with Jason in the car. He understood, it was no big deal."
"Did you go up to the Lookout with Kat?"
Tommy looked away, annoyed. "No. When she realised I was headed there, she told me to take her home. Look, what has this got to do with anything?"
"I just have to look at all the alternatives," Ashley reassured him. "I know this isn't pleasant, but we want to find Jason as soon as possible. You and your friends were the last ones to see him at that party last night. Tell me, did you see Jason again after he asked you for a ride?"
For a long moment, Tommy was silent. Then, he nodded slowly. "Yeah, once. I was dancing with Kat, and I saw him walking around the room, towards the door. He had his jacket on, so I guess he found someone to take him home."
"You assumed he did."
"Well, what else was I to think?" Tommy snapped. Ashley shook his head.
"Nothing. It was reasonable. So that was the last time you saw him?"
"Yes. I said it was."
"All right. One last thing, can you remember what Jason was wearing last night?"
Tommy nodded. "Yeah, he was wearing a pair of black slacks, and a white shirt and a black jacket. The jacket was pretty expensive, I know he saved up for it for four months."
"Okay, that will be all for now. Thankyou, Tommy. You can go."
The teen stood up, still frowning.
"It's about time."
Ashley watched the young man stalk out of the room, but it was a long while before he left the interview room to go and make his report.
No one had thought that anything could possibly go wrong. There had been no fights, no drunkenness, and no party crashers. But then, just before seven that morning, Michael had received a call from Donavon Scott, saying that Jason had never made it home.
Michael sighed softly. Drunkenness and loutish behaviour he could handle, but no one had expected the problem of a missing teenager. Had it been anyone other than Jason, Michael would not have bothered with giving it so much attention so soon. But Jason was not one to do a disappearing act and worry the hell out of his parents. He was a responsible young man, who would not have deliberately done anything to frighten his mother and father.
A knock on the door caught his attention, and he smiled tiredly as Eric Ashley walked in.
"How did it go, then?"
Ashley came over and sat down, passing a sheaf of papers to Michael.
"We've interviewed all his friends who were at the party, including your son, and his girlfriend. That totals to Emily, Tommy, Adam Park, Rocky De Santos, Tanya Sloan and Katherine Hillard. Tommy and Adam might find themselves in a bit of hot water with their girlfriends. Jason apparently asked them both for a ride home, and they both refused. Neither of the girls knew about it, and from what I've heard, they're pretty upset now that they know."
"So am I," Michael growled. "If Tommy knew that Jason had been stranded by Emily, he should have done something to make sure Jason would get home safely. I'd expect the same from Jason, if the situation were reversed."
Ashley nodded, then went on.
"Tommy says he saw Jason heading for the front door a little while after refusing him a ride, and that's the last time any of them saw him. We have to assume he decided to walk. Mike, I don't understand why he didn't just call his father?"
Michael sighed. "Donavon wasn't happy with him going to the party in the first place. Something about going to see some relatives in San Diego today, and Donavon didn't want him half-asleep all day. Usually Jason does what he's told, but this time he apparently dug his heels in, and said he was going no matter what. Donavon told him to find his own transportation, so Jason arranged for Emily to pick him up, instead of it being the other way around."
"So when Emily left him stranded," Ashley murmured, "he didn't have the confidence to call his parents and ask them to come and get him."
Michael nodded. "Right. Last night, Donavon would have been angry. This morning, he's wishing Jason had called, regardless. So what did Emily have to say?"
"Not a lot. The fight they had was over the fact that Emily made plans to go out with the other Cheerleaders next Saturday, on Christmas Eve, even though Jason had booked a table for them at a restaurant about two months ago.
Sort of a pre-Christmas dinner with her, I guess. Anyway, she says he called her thoughtless and selfish, and she got in a few choice words of her own. Then she just drove off and left him behind. All we've been able to establish is that Jason most likely left the party at around 1:30 this morning, to walk home."
"It's a damned long walk to his place from where the party was," Michael muttered. "And that storm last night was vicious." Michael looked up at Ashley. "Get a map and trace out the shortest route between Kelly Ryan's house and Jason's. Then, take a squad car and check every inch of that route.
I don't want to ignore the possibility that he may have been injured in the storm."
Ashley nodded. "Will do."
"Oh, and Eric, take some extra men with you to start a door knock.
Maybe someone was kept up by the storm, and saw Jason."
Ashley nodded again. "I'm on my way."
Michael watched him go, then stood up to go and find his son.
"You should have told him yes!" Kat snapped, glowering at Tommy. The Red Ranger scowled, tired and grumpy.
"Damn it, Kat, how many times do I have to say that Jase understood?"
"Yeah, understood that you were too busy planning on how to seduce me to bother giving a friend a ride home. You pig, Tommy! If you'd just put aside your ego for the twenty minutes it would have taken to drive him home, he wouldn't be missing now! And right before Christmas, too! Damn it, how could you be so selfish?"
"Hey," Tommy growled, "I'm not the only one who said no to him. So did Adam and Rocky...."
"And they're just as big a pigs as you. I don't suppose it occurred to you that I would have been more favourable to you if you'd been the friend to Jason that you claim you are. But no, you were just thinking about yourself!"
"I was thinking about you," Tommy protested. Kat glared at him.
"Oh, that makes it okay, then. Get a life, Tommy! I'm going home, and don't bother calling me."
Tommy watched her go, open-mouthed and speechless. A moment later, his father joined him.
"Did you see that?" Tommy asked finally, incredulously. "Did you hear what she said?"
"I heard, and don't look to me for sympathy. You won't get it."
Tommy turned a startled look on his father. "What?"
"Jason would not have done to you what you, Adam and Rocky did to him last night," Michael told his son in a stern tone. "You boys left him stranded, the same as Emily. He would not have turned you down for a ride home, and you know it. I'm very disappointed in you, Tommy."
"Why is everyone treating me like this is my fault?" Tommy exploded.
"Because it isn't! I can't help it if Jason was too dumb to call home and ask his parents to come get him. Damn it, it's not my fault!"
Michael stared coolly at his son for a long moment before speaking again.
Tommy stared after his father's retreating figure in anger and distress, then shook his head in helpless frustration and hurried after him.
Angel Grove Lake, 12:30 p.m.
"This sucks," Rocky grumbled, as he, Tommy and Adam met by the lake.
"Jase goes missing, and we get the blame."
"Tanya's furious," Adam muttered gloomily. "She won't even talk to me now. I tried phoning her, and her mother asked me not to call again."
"Same with Kat," Tommy confessed. "She really had a piece of me in the precinct. Now, not only does everyone think I'm a creep for letting my best friend down, they all think I can't make it with a girl. Shit, I'm gonna kill Jase when he shows up."
"You don't think Divatox had anything to do with it?" Adam asked, a touch of concern in his voice. "Or maybe Zedd and Rita? You know those two are still around somewhere."
"They wouldn't be bothered with him," Tommy said, dismissing the thought. "And if Divatox wanted a hostage, she'd be more likely to try for one of us. She's already tried Jason, and got her plan messed up. I really don't think she'd try anything with him again."
"But Zedd and Rita would," Rocky pointed out. "Whether it helps their case or not. Jase really got up their noses when he was the Red Ranger. You admitted that yourself."
Tommy was silent for a long moment before conceding. "Maybe you're right. Look, we'll go find Justin and ask if he can use the computers to locate Jason. Jason's profile should still be in the computer memory."
The other two nodded, and hurried off to find the youngest member of the current Ranger team.
Angel Grove Shelter
Justin listened intently to what Tommy, Adam and Rocky had to say before shrugging helplessly.
"I can ask Dimitria, but she's pretty stiff-necked over stuff like this. You guys know that. She never lets us utilize the computers for anything that isn't Ranger related."
"But it might be," Adam argued. "There's every chance that it might be Zedd and Rita, or Divatox who has Jason. Not even Dimitria can ignore that possibility."
Justin frowned a little. "I suppose so. All right, I'll go and ask her now. I'll meet you guys in the Youth Centre at 2 o'clock. Okay?"
Tommy nodded. "Okay, and thanks, Justin."
The young boy smiled in return. "No problem. Just keep your fingers crossed and hope that I can find him on the computers."
"We will," Tommy murmured. "We'll see you later in the Youth Centre, then."
Justin nodded and watched them go before activating his communicator, and teleporting out.
Youth Centre, 2 p.m.
Justin arrived in the Youth Centre promptly, and quickly found the other male members of the Ranger team sitting around a table in the corner. He went over, grim-faced.
"You don't have good news," Adam said gloomily as he took in Justin's expression. "Do you?"
Justin sighed, and sat down. "No, not really. Dimitria let me use the computers to search for Jason. She didn't even wait for me to make up any excuses. She just said that as Jason had been a Ranger for so long, helping him now was only paying back the debt, or something like that. But Divatox doesn't have him, and neither does Zedd and Rita. The computer wasn't able to get a proper fix on him. You know it works on brain waves, that sort of thing.
Jason must be unconscious, or pretty heavily drugged. It couldn't get a lock on him at all. All I could determine was that he isn't anywhere within the direct vicinity of Angel Grove."
"Shit..." Tommy whispered.
"That's about right," Justin said quietly.
"What could have happened to him?" Adam asked of no one in particular.
"I don't know," Tommy said softly, "but I bet when we do find out, the answer isn't gonna be pleasant."
The Hillard Residence
Neither Kat nor Tanya were in a talkative mood. After being taken into the local police station and being told a good friend was missing, and to then be questioned over his disappearance..... It hadn't exactly left them with hearty appetites, either.
"I can't believe Adam was cruel enough to turn Jason down," Tanya muttered dismally. "I can see Rocky just thinking about his date, but Adam?"
"And Tommy," Kat added. "I can't believe it, either. If they'd just said yes, then Jason wouldn't be missing now. I am so angry at him...."
"Jason is a little bit to blame as well," Tanya conceded. "He should have called home. Even if it did make his parents angry to get woken up at 1:30 in the morning, it would have been better than to risk something happening."
"And that storm last night," Kat murmured. "Who's to say he didn't get struck by lightning, or something?" She shook her head. "I just hope he's okay, Tanya."
Tanya nodded miserably. "So do I. I can't believe something like this could happen right before Christmas. What's gonna happen if the police don't find him, Kat?"
"I don't know," Kat said softly. "All I know is that it's going to be a terrible Christmas if they don't."
Baltic Drive, 2:04 p.m.
Lieutenant Ashley drove slowly along the edge of the road, lights flashing to keep impatient drivers off his back. They'd combed the set route three times, and found nothing, and now he was following it once more with diminishing hope.
By midday, the news had gotten out that a local teenager was missing, and the police were doing all they could to use it to their full advantage. A description of Jason had been put out over the television and radio, along with what was believed to be his last known movements. So far, no one had called with information, but Ashley hoped they would very soon.
Donavon and Sarah Scott, Jason's mother and father, were both being taken care of by Michael Oliver's wife, and the local church pastor. The couple had been nearly hysterical with fear for their son's life when they'd been brought into the station. Jason had never done anything like this before, Donavon had insisted, and he knew something had to have happened to him.
Ashley was inclined to agree. As Michael had said at one point, Jason was one of the most responsible teenagers in the town. He would not have deliberately done anything that would have panicked his parents.
So lost in thought was he, that he very nearly missed it. Ashley braked quickly, put on the hand brake and got out. It was in a crumpled heap, half buried by leaves, on the corner of Baltic Drive and Marlin Way. Ashley strode over and carefully picked it up by a corner of the material, stared at it for a long moment, then carried it back to the car.
"This is car 12, come in Kerry."
"What have you got, Eric?" a female voice answered.
"Get a hold of Michael, Kerry. Tell him I've found Jason Scott's jacket."
Police Headquarters, 2:27 p.m.
"It's his jacket all right," Michael said grimly as he examined the 'J. Scott' embroidered inside the collar. "Aside from the fact that I don't know of any other J. Scotts in this town, I recognise his mother's embroidering." He frowned a little as he looked it over. "It's pretty dirty from being in the storm but I think it's safe to say that he wouldn't have dumped this jacket himself. Not without a good reason."
Ashley nodded. "Tommy said in his interview that it took Jason four months to save up for it."
"What's this?" Michael murmured as his fingers came into contact with a a fine, white, powdery residue.
"Sugar?" someone suggested. "Maybe he had a hot drink at some point."
"Whatever this is," Michael said, "it isn't sugar." He handed it to an officer standing nearby. "Get this to forensics. I want to know exactly what has been spilled on this jacket."
The officer went to carry out his orders, and barely avoided being barreled over by an officer just coming in.
Michael looked around quickly. "What is it, Alex?"
Alex Crighton halted by the table, taking a moment to get his breath back before speaking.
"We've had two calls, sir. One from a man living in Baltic Drive. He was woken up by the storm last night, at around one thirty.. He said he looked out to check that no trees had come down, and he saw someone matching Jason's description walking down the street through the rain. He was going to bring him in, but a black 4WD pulled up beside him. It seems like the driver was offering the boy a lift, and at first he refused. But then there was apparently a bit of forked lightning, and he got into the car. It drove off and the man didn't think about it again until he saw the report about Jason on the news."
Michael looked grim. "All right. Jason decides to walk home through the rain, rather than call home and risk an argument. Someone pulls up beside him on the road, and he eventually accepts the lift. Can't altogether blame him, either. He must have been half drowned by the time he got to Baltic Drive.
What about the other call, then?"
"It's from a guy who was working at an all-night service station last night. About quarter to two, a black 4WD pulled into the pumps. He couldn't see clearly, but he said there was definitely someone in the passenger seat.
The driver got out and filled the tank, then came in and ordered two cups of hot chocolate. The attendant got the drinks, and had to turn away to put the sale through the register. He says that he has a mirror set up, though, so he can still keep an eye on the customers at the counter, in case someone pulls a knife, or a gun. He says he watched the guy pull the lid off one cup, empty some sort of white powder into it and put the lid back on."
Michael's jaw was locked. "Some sort of sedative, or narcotic." He looked around at Ashley. "As soon as you hear from forensics, let me know.
That should confirm whether it was Jason in that 4WD."
"What are you going to do?" Ashley asked as Michael headed for the door. The Police Chief sighed heavily.
"I'm going to do my job. I'm going to talk to the parents."
Oliver Residence, 4:00 p.m.
Tommy was in the kitchen, pouring himself a coke, when he heard his father's voice in the family room just beyond the swinging door. He paused, then walked around and up to the door, listening intently to what was being said.
"We've had a couple of calls," Michael explained to Donavon and Sarah in the family room. "One of the callers sighted Jason at around 1:30 this morning walking along Baltic Drive in the rain. He claims a 4WD pulled up beside him, and that Jason got in. The second caller sighted a 4WD that we believe the be the same car pulling into a gas station. This man didn't see Jason specifically, but he is positive that someone was in the passenger seat.
The driver bought two hot chocolates and the attendant saw him pour something into one of the cups. Now, we've found the jacket that Jason was wearing last night, and it has residue from the hot chocolate on it. Our forensics people have examined it, and the white powder we found on his jacket is a mixture of Phenobarbital and sodium pentothal."
"That's a general sedative," Sarah whispered, confused and frightened.
"Yes, we're aware of that. What we found on the jacket was a large amount in itself, so whatever Jason drank with the hot chocolate would have been more than enough to knock him out within a matter of minutes."
Donavon stared at Michael, pale-faced. "My son has been abducted.
That's what you're saying."
Michael nodded again. "Yes. I'm afraid so. All the evidence points to abduction."
In the kitchen, Tommy fell against the wall, shocked and suddenly frightened. Jason had been kidnapped....?
"Why the hell didn't he just call home?" Donavon burst out, tears flooding his eyes. "I might not have been happy about it, but why would he be stupid enough to get into a stranger's car?"
"He probably thought he could more than easily take care of himself if there was trouble," Michael said quietly. "He would never have expected to be drugged. We're going to get him back, I promise. But I need to tell you something, and it's not going to be pleasant."
"What is it?" Donavon asked softly.
"Our forensics people also found traces of another drug in what was spilt on Jason's jacket. This particular drug On its own, in small doses, it's used as a sedative. In large, frequent doses, and mixed with other drugs, it can cause long-term amnesia. Now, we will get Jason back, but if the man responsible continues to give this particular drug to him...."
"Jason might not know us when we get him back," Sarah whispered, distraught. "Oh god, Don...."
"I'm afraid it's something that has to be considered as possible," Michael told them. "We just have to pray, and do everything we can, so that we'll get him back soon enough that any damage done will be reversible."
In the kitchen, Tommy fell back from the door, numb with shock. Jason, kidnapped and brainwashed? It sounded more like one of Divatox or Zedd's plans than anything a human would concoct. Almost shaking with increasing fear, Tommy moved right away from the door and, pressing the button on his communicator, teleported out.
If Dimitria was surprised by Tommy's appearance in the Power Chamber, she didn't show it. Instead, she spoke in her usual, querying tone."What are you doing here now, Tommy? Should you not be at home?"
"Yeah," Tommy admitted, "but this is more important. Alpha, call the others. Get them here now."
Grumbling incoherently under his breath, Alpha shuffled off to do as he'd been told. Minutes later, all four other Power Rangers teleported in.
"All right, what now?" Kat growled. "This had better be important."
Tommy found he was unable to look her or Tanya directly in the eye as he told them what he knew.
"Jason's folks are at my place. My parents are with them at the moment.
I heard Dad talking to them about Jason."
"Do they know anything more?" Justin asked in concern. Tommy nodded.
Even then, he could feel the tears starting to build up in his eyes, threatening to overflow. He went on, barely able to keep his voice from cracking.
"Someone saw Jason walking along Baltic Drive this morning, at around 1:30. A car pulled up beside him, and he got in. A service station attendant saw what the police think was the same car pulling into his gas station. The driver filled the tank and bought two hot chocolates. The attendant watched the guy put something into one of the cups. The police found the jacket that Jason was wearing last night, and it had some residue on it from some drugs.
It.... It looks like Jason's been abducted. The driver must have drugged him and knocked him out."
"Oh god," Tanya whispered in shock and dismay. Justin, looking particularly pale in the artificial light of the Power Chamber, spoke with grim understanding.
"That's why I couldn't locate him from here. He was sedated."
"That isn't all," Tommy said, drawing their attention. As he finally looked up, they all saw the redness in his dark eyes, and the tear-streaks down his cheeks, caused by the tears that he had not been able to hold back.
"Dad told Mr and Mrs Scott something else. He told them the forensics people found another drug residue on Jason's jacket. This one was what they call a hypnotic. If the guy that took Jason keeps giving it to him, it could wipe clean Jason's memory. It could give him permanent amnesia."
Kat gave a choked sob of fear and grief, and Tanya joined her, the two girls hugging each other close. Tommy and Adam both stood back in numb silence, neither one daring to approach their girlfriends. Justin had moved across to the computers.
"I can keep trying to find him through the computers, but it's going to be hard, since he's not a Ranger anymore. Everything automatically diverts when there's a monster attack. I could be right on the verge of finding him, and a monster attack would wipe out everything...."
Silence reigned for nearly a minute in the Power Chamber before Kat suddenly pulled away from Tanya and turned on Tommy and Adam, her eyes blazing with rage.
"You two! This is your fault! Jason asked you both for a ride home and you both told him no! If one of you had stopped thinking of yourselves for long enough to say yes, then Jason would be safe now! I hate you both!"
Sobbing uncontrollably, Kat fumbled for the button on her communicator and teleported out. Adam looked to Tanya, equally as red-eyed as Tommy.
"Go ahead. Say you hate me. I wouldn't blame you. I hate myself."
Tanya approached him slowly, tears rolling down her cheeks.
"I don't hate either of you. I'm just really, really disappointed in you."
She teleported out, and somehow, in the silence that followed, Tanya's words hurt most of all.
Bruce Scott sat up in his study, unable to sleep. He'd had an exceptionally long day, which made the sudden bout of insomnia all the more annoying. Sighing softly to himself, he poured a second glass of Bourbon from the crystal carafe, in the hope that the liquor would perhaps put him to sleep.
As he sat in his chair, he scanned the room, and the many photos that adorned the walls. Photos of his own wife and children, his brother and his family....
His gaze paused on a photo of his nephew, Jason, and his stomach rolled unpleasantly. He still remembered with painful clarity the phone call from Donavon, telling him that Jason had been abducted. At first, he had thought it a joke. Jason was a fourth degree black belt in karate. Who would possibly dare to even try and kidnap such an independent teen? Especially one who was nineteen years old? He had even laughed, and told his brother to try something else.
Then he'd heard a sound over the phone that he hadn't heard in years.
Donavon had begun to cry. Bruce knew then that it was no joke. He dragged his gaze away from the photo, back to his Bourbon. Inquiries to the police of Angel Grove revealed that two witness calls had led nowhere. The man who had abducted Jason had entered a gas station, but the surveillance video had been inoperable, and the attendant had not been able to give a decent description of the man.
That Christmas had been terrible for all of them. The usual family celebrations had been non-existent, and the whole time had been spent blanketed by depression. Even the kind offers of help and support from friends of Donavon and Sarah had not helped. The only thing that could have helped would have been Jason's safe return. It hadn't happened.
Jason had disappeared almost without a trace, and had not been seen again. It was now eleven months later, approaching Christmas again, and everyone had given up hope of finding the teen alive. Even if he was still alive, the drugs that had no doubt been fed to him in volume would have brainwashed him thoroughly.
Needless to say, Donavon and Sarah had been devastated by the loss of their son. Donavon had, in the end, taken indefinite leave from his psychiatric practise, and Sarah had left her job as a nurse in the hospital.
Now, Bruce and his wife knew, they were considering leaving Angel Grove altogether.
It wouldn't help. Bruce was no psychiatrist, but he was sure of that.
Leaving Angel Grove would be like trying to escape all memories of their son, and that was an impossibility.
His train of thought was abruptly and rudely interrupted by a sudden pounding on the front door. Startled out of his reverie, Bruce started up, and then his gaze fell on the clock. It was only just gone two-thirty in the morning. Who would be up so late at night? Expecting trouble, he approached the door cautiously, ready for trouble.
"Who is it?"
Silence met his question, and he was about to tell the offending person to beat it, when a startlingly familiar voice spoke.
"Please, mister, let us in! We need help!"
Bruce froze, his mouth drying up in shock. Jason....? No, it couldn't be.... Regardless of who it was, Bruce recognised panic easily enough, and pulled opened the door.
The teen that he opened the door to was a ghostly likeness of his missing nephew, but Bruce realised with a sinking heart that it wasn't him.
This boy was much thinner than Jason, his hair was jet black, and his skin was white, not deeply tanned as Jason's had been. Bruce stepped aside as the boy stumbled inside, pulling a much younger child behind him.
"Thanks," the older boy said breathlessly. "I didn't think anyone was going to let us in."
Bruce frowned as he looked out into the black street. "You boys didn't hold up a convenience store, did you?"
Silence followed, and Bruce was starting to wonder whether that was just what had happened, when the younger child spoke.
"We ran away from home. If Daddy catches us, he'll punish us and lock us in the attic again!"
The child began to cry out of sheer hysteria, and the older boy crouched down to hug him and comfort him.
"It's okay, Jeremy. I told you I'd look after you. We're gonna be okay."
The boy looked back up at Bruce. "This is the fifth house we tried. No one else would open the door. Thankyou."
Bruce finally shut the front door and turned back to the two boys, opening his mouth to reply, and froze. Here, in the light of the hallway, he saw both boys much more clearly; especially the older boy. His heart began to pound hard in his chest as he stared at the teen. This boy was no look-alike: it _was_ Jason.
The teen, unaware of the fact that he was standing right in front of his own uncle, spoke again.
"I'm Jason Farmer. This is my brother, Jeremy. Like Jeremy said, we ran away from home."
Bruce shook off the shock, and forced himself to act with some semblance of normality. "All right. You boys come into the family room, and you can tell me exactly what's going on."
He led them into the family room, fighting back his own excitement. The last thing he wanted was to do anything that would panic Jason. Once they were sitting down, Jason spoke softly.
"Our dad.... He's been doing stuff to us that he shouldn't do. We know it's wrong, but we were too scared to try and make him stop."
Bruce felt a touch of nausea in his gut. "What has he been doing?"
Momentary silence followed, and then Jason sat forward on the couch and lifted up his shirt to reveal horrendous bruising over the flesh.
"He starves us, too. If we do something wrong, he'll lock us in the attic, sometimes for a whole day."
"With the spiders," Jeremy whimpered. "The spiders bit me."
Bruce slid off his chair and crouched on the floor in front of the two boys. "Would you let me see? I'm a doctor, I can help."
"Show him," Jason urged the child. "Go on, it's okay."
Jeremy pulled his sleeve up to reveal three or four small bite marks on his arm that looked purple and swollen.
"It's the same on his other arm, too," Jason said, and there was clear anger in the boy's voice. Bruce looked at him grimly.
"Do you have bite marks as well, Jason? Let me see."
Jason rolled up his sleeves to reveal similar marks on his own arms.
"It's dark up in the attic," he explained softly. "There's no light at all. We can't see the spiders. If we could, we could kill them before they get to us. But we can't see them because it's so dark."
"All right," Bruce said finally. "I'm going to call the police, and an ambulance. I want you two boys to stay right here, and don't move, all right?"
Jason nodded firmly, and Bruce got up and hurried through to the kitchen, where the phone was. He was just about to dial 911 when his wife came into the kitchen, still half asleep.
"Bruce? What's going on?"
Bruce hesitated, then hung up the phone and, pressing a finger to his lips, he pointed into the family room. Jenny looked, and her eyes went wide a second later.
"Oh my god...."
Bruce pulled her quickly away from the door and spoke in a hushed tone.
"It's definitely Jason, but he didn't recognise me at all. I'm calling the police and an ambulance. Make up some hot cocoa, and take it in to them.
But for God's sake, don't let it show that you know Jason. It could panic him, otherwise."
Jenny nodded. "All right. But, how....?"
"I don't know all the details. They say they ran away from home. Make the drinks, Jenny. I'll call the police."
Jason was cradling the younger child when Jenny came in with two steaming mugs. She offered him a warm smile as she set the tray down on the coffee table.
"Something to warm you up a little." She paused, looking down at Jeremy, who had fallen asleep wrapped up in Jason's arms. "It must have been a long night for you both."
Jason nodded, gratefully accepting the mug she handed him.
"Yeah. We had to wait for hours until Dad was asleep. And we were terrified of waking him up."
"You're both very brave," Jenny praised him. She paused, then spoke softly. "How old is your brother?"
"Jeremy's five," Jason told her. "I'm seventeen."
Jenny swallowed hard. Jason had been thoroughly brainwashed, it seemed.
He had no idea that he was looking at his own aunt, or that he was, in fact, twenty years old now: not seventeen.
"I've called the police," Bruce announced as he walked back into the room. "They're on their way. An ambulance will be here shortly, as well. You don't have to worry, Jason. You're both safe now."
Jason managed a tired smile. "Thankyou," he murmured again. Bruce and Jenny exchanged excited and relieved glances as the teen sipped at the hot drink. Their nephew was safe....
St. Hue's Hospital, Bellingham
Police Commissioner Ian Thacker arrived at St. Hue's Hospital after being contacted by a rather frantic Chief Dave Garner. Apparently, a young man and a small child had turned up on someone's doorstep at two-thirty in the morning, claiming to have escaped from an abusive parents. They were at the hospital now; Thacker himself had come to investigate simply because Garner was a hopeless idiot.
He was met by Lieutenant Harris, a much more mentally able young man, and taken upstairs, down a long corridor and into an observation room where Garner was waiting. There was a large panel of glass separating the room from the ward, and through it Thacker could see the two boys. One looked like an adult, possibly nineteen or so. The other was a child of no more than five or six. He turned his attention to Garner and Harris.
"All right. What's the deal, then?"
Harris spoke when Garner didn't.
"The older boy has been confirmed as Jason Scott, sir. He's the boy that disappeared from Angel Grove eleven months ago."
"Who confirmed it?"
"The doctor in with him at the moment, Bruce Scott. He's Jason's uncle.
It was his doorstep that Jason turned up on."
Thacker nodded his approval. "Good. At least the boy has family to help him through until we can contact his parents."
Harris looked uneasy. "There's a problem with that, sir. Jason didn't go to Dr. Scott's home because he knew his uncle lived there. Apparently he'd knocked on several doors before Dr. Scott let them in."
A touch of worry made its way onto Thacker's forehead. He wasn't sure he liked where this was going.
"What are you trying to say, Lieutenant?"
"I'm saying that Jason is suffering amnesia. He doesn't recognise his uncle at all. He didn't even introduce himself as Jason Scott. Apparently he introduced himself as Jason Farmer. And he claims the little boy is his brother, Jeremy."
Thacker looked grim. "But Jason Scott doesn't have a brother, right?"
"Right, sir. We're looking into it now, but we think the little boy might actually be the son of the man that took Jason."
Thacker turned his attention back to the ward, looking through the two- way mirror at the boys. The doctor, Bruce Scott, was currently treating what looked like bite marks on Jason's arms. He was brandishing a long needle, and though Jason looked distinctly unsettled by the sight of it, he put up no struggle.
"What about his parents, then? Has anyone made an effort to contact them?"
"Not yet," Garner said as he finally broke his silence. "I thought it might be wiser to contact the Angel Grove Police Chief first. Since the boy doesn't recognise his uncle, it's unlikely he'll recognise his parents. If we get in contact with the local police chief, it might prove a bit more diplomatic."
Thacker regarded Garner with wry amusement. Every so often the police chief showed that he wasn't quite as foolish as he seemed.
"All right. I'll leave that to you, then, Dave. I suggest you don't wait until morning. We want to get on top of this before the media gets a hold of it. I don't want that boy's parents learning about this on the evening news."
Garner nodded. "Yes, sir. Right away."
He hurried from the room, leaving Thacker alone with Harris. Thacker spoke quietly, seriously to the young lieutenant.
"What do you think, Chris? Any chance that he'll regain his memory?"
Chris Harris sighed a little. "I honestly don't know, sir. It isn't as though he just suffered a bump on the head. From the looks of it, the memory loss has been caused by a pretty toxic combination of drugs. It could be that he may have suffered some minor brain damage as a result. If that's the case, he may never get his memory back."
Thacker echoed Harris' sigh with one of his own as Bruce Scott and the nurse finally left the room. "All right. Let's go talk to them."
Angel Grove --- 5:36 a.m.
Michael Oliver groaned softly to himself as he dragged himself out of bed. He hated early morning starts, but he would not expect anything of his men that he wasn't able, or willing, to do himself. It was an example, if nothing else, that no one was any better than anyone else.
The phone rang, startling him out of his lethargy, and he snatched it off the hook in a frantic effort to avoid waking his wife.
"Chief Oliver?" a familiar voice spoke. "This is Lieutenant Ashley."
Michael withheld another moan, and stood up, rubbing tiredly at his eyes. "You didn't need to give me a wake-up call, Eric. I'm perfectly capable of setting my alarm."
"Sorry, sir, but this is no wake-up call. About ten minutes ago, we received a call from a precinct in Bellingham, Washington state, from a Chief David Garner. You aren't going to believe this, sir, but Jason Scott has been found."
The last sentence washed away any and all traces of sleep from Michael.
"You're joking.... Eric, if this is a joke, I'll draw-and-quarter you!"
"No joke, sir. He turned up on his uncle's doorstep in Bellingham just after two-thirty this morning. Apparently his uncle didn't even recognise him to begin with, he'd changed that much in his physical appearance."
"Lord...." Michael whispered in shock. "I have to call Donavon and Sarah...."
"Actually," Ashley jumped in, "the Bellingham PD have requested that we hold off on contacting his parents. There are some complications, and it may be best if only the police are involved to start with. Sir, can you come in now?"
Michael was already at the closet, fishing out clothes. "I'll be there in ten minutes. Then you can explain to me face-to-face why I shouldn't tell Donavon and Sarah Scott that their son has been found."
He promptly switched off the phone, and turned around to find Melanie sitting up in bed, staring at him wide-eyed.
"Michael? Did I hear you right?"
Michael hesitated, then nodded. "Yes, you did. That was Eric Ashley.
They had a call from the PD in Bellingham, Washington state, saying that Jason has been found."
Tears abruptly filled Melanie's eyes, and one hand came up unconsciously to her mouth.
"After eleven months.... I didn't think we'd ever see him again!"
Michael sat down on the edge of the bed. "Neither did I, to be honest.
I couldn't see how anyone could hide a nineteen year-old boy. To be brutally honest, I was sure Jason was dead."
"Are they sure it's him?" Melanie asked tentatively. "I mean, it isn't someone who just looks like him?"
"Apparently he turned up on his uncle's doorstep. I don't know all the details, Mel. I'm going into the station now. I think it would be a good idea if you don't tell Tommy. Not until I know exactly what's going on."
Melanie nodded. "Of course. You will call?"
"As soon as I know more."
He finished getting dressed and, with a quick goodbye to his wife, hurried from the house.
Police Headquarters --- 5:50 a.m.
Eric Ashley met Michael in the car park under the precinct, and explained all he knew as they hurried into the building.
"Jason turned up on Bruce Scott's doorstep just after two-thirty this morning with a little boy of around five years. He introduced himself as Jason Farmer, not Jason Scott, and didn't recognise his uncle, or his aunt."
Michael glanced sideways at Ashley in concern. "Didn't recognise them at all?"
"No. The doctors at the hospital where the boys were taken suspect severe memory loss, caused by drugs. They're doing toxicology tests on him now, among other things."
Michael cursed softly. "Just like we suspected. What about the bastard that took him?"
"The police got details from Jason and the little boy, and they arrested a man by the name of Bill Farmer less than an hour ago. Chief, according to what Garner told me on the phone, Jason honestly believes this Bill Farmer is his father. He has no memory of the abduction, or of anything before that. From what their psychologist could figure, he only has a clear memory of the last nine months. The reason why we've been requested not to tell Donavon and Sarah just yet is because Jason will have no idea who they are.
They want to figure out strategies before they have to deal with the parents."
That was something that Michael reluctantly conceded. "All right. So what are we expected to do until then?"
"They've requested that you go there, sir," Ashley answered as they reached Michael's office. "Garner suggested that it might help for someone to be there on the scene, who knew Jason reasonably well, but wasn't too emotionally attached. It might also help if you know the full details before we have to notify Donavon and Sarah."
"That's probably true," Michael murmured. "Did this Garner leave a contact number? I'd like to speak with him myself."
"Yes, sir. I left it there, on your desk."
"All right. I'm going to call and see what else I can find out. I want you to call the airport, and book me the first flight out to Bellingham."
Ashley nodded, and hurried from the room.
5 hours later, Bellingham
Michael climbed out of the taxi, directly in front of St. Hue's Hospital, Bellingham. It had been a tense wait, and an equally tense flight, waiting to finally touch down in Washington. With each hour that passed, he became more desperate to know the full details of the case unfolding in front of him.
Eleven months, it had been, since Jason's disappearance. Ten long months... As he had admitted to his wife only hours earlier, he had long since given Jason up for dead. Surely no one, he had thought, could have hidden away a nineteen year-old boy so successfully.
But now, the near-impossible had happened, and Jason had reappeared. As thankful as Michael was, he couldn't help but feel a twinge of fear. As they had suspected, upon learning of the drugs that had supposedly been used to drug Jason that fateful night, Jason's memory was apparently gone, quite possibly beyond recovery. Michael was no forensic scientist, but he knew the effects that long term drug use or abuse could have. He'd seen it happen often enough. All he could do was pray that the effect on Jason was not permanent.
Michael looked up to see an older man striding across the foyer floor to greet him.
"Yes. Chief Garner?"
The man smiled ruefully, and shook his head. "No, my name is Ian Thacker. I'm the Police Commissioner."
Michael shook hands with the man as he voiced his confusion. "But I spoke with Chief Garner on the phone....."
"Yes, but I relieved him of duty. Would you come with me?"
The two began a fast walk from the foyer, down a long hallway towards the elevators.
"I'd like to know exactly what's going on," Michael said as they stepped into the lift. Thacker nodded.
"You'll get all the details you need, don't worry. Probably more than any of us care to know. You're aware of the basics?"
"That Jason is suffering memory loss, you mean? Yes, I know."
"It isn't just memory loss, Chief Oliver. It's complete brainwashing, and drugs are certainly responsible. The man who abducted him, Bill Farmer, he has a doctorate in pharmacology. He knew exactly what he was doing when he drugged Jason. More tests were done a short while ago, and the doctors are waiting on the results now. I'm afraid they're expecting to find that Jason has suffered a slight degree of brain damage as a result of the drugs."
Michael fought back a groan as Thacker led him into small observation room. Thacker motioned to the large two-mirror.
Michael stepped up to the mirror, and looked in. There, in the bed on the right, was a boy he had never expected to see again.
"That's Jason," he said finally. "No doubt about it. He's changed, though."
"So his uncle said," Thacker agreed. "His hair has been dyed black, and I'd be inclined to think he's been starved. Both of those boys have been."
Michael blinked, and his gaze went to the other bed, and the small child in it.
"That's the little boy that Jason was with?"
"Yes. His name is Jeremy. From what we've been able to figure, Jeremy is Farmer's natural son. Not a kidnap victim like Jason. We want to talk to Jeremy away from Jason, as we believe that Jeremy could answer a few questions we have. However, neither one will leave the other."
Michael found himself staring at Jason once more. "So you haven't been able to speak to Jason alone, yet."
"No. Of course, they're both perfectly willing to cooperate. We would never have found Farmer if it hadn't been for the two of them."
Michael suddenly turned back to look at Thacker.
"What happened, exactly? How did they come to be out on the street in the middle of the night?"
"Farmer wasn't the model father," Thacker explained quietly. "He's apparently very abusive, physically speaking. From what we could get out of the boys, they decided between themselves to run away as soon as they got the chance. Apparently they got locked in their rooms at night, but for some reason Farmer didn't lock them in last night. They took the chance, and ran."
Michael was silent for a long moment before speaking quietly as he watched Jason through the glass.
"Do you think I could go in and talk to him?"
Thacker hesitated, then nodded. "All right. I have to ask you not to give any indication that you know Jason personally, though. Those boys have been through enough already. We don't want to cause either of them any more distress. If he does recognise you, then that's great. If not...."
Michael nodded as he turned for the door. "I understand. I'll be careful with what I say."
Jason looked around questioningly at Jeremy.
"What is it?"
"Do you think they're gonna separate us?" Jeremy asked in a trembling voice. Jason sighed, then. That was Jeremy's, and his, greatest fear, that the two of them would be separated. Although Jason was aware of far more than the doctors and police realised, he could not remember any family other than Jeremy and their father. He didn't want to be separated from Jeremy any more than Jeremy wanted to be separated from him.
The door opened, and an older man walked in. Jason regarded him quizzically.
"Are you a doctor, or a policeman?"
Michael felt surprisingly acute disappointment at the question which brought the realisation that Jason did not recognise him.
"I'm a police officer," he answered. "Do you mind if I talk to you boys for a minute?"
Jason shrugged. "Sure, but we already told everything to the other police."
Michael conceded with a silent nod, then walked over to stand beside Jason's bed. It was gut-wrenching, standing right next to a boy who had been missing for so long, and knowing that boy didn't know him at all.
_How is Tommy going to cope with this?_ he wondered dimly.
"I've talked to Commissioner Thacker," Michael said quietly. "He says you don't remember much of anything. Only the past several months?"
"Something like that," Jason conceded reluctantly. "I try to remember, but it hurts really bad, so I have to stop."
"Have you told that to the doctors?" Michael asked in concern, and Jason nodded.
"Yeah. I told them. The shrink guy that they called in, he ignored me and kept telling me to try and remember. My head started to hurt so badly that I think I passed out. He didn't ask me again."
"Don't do anything that hurts you like that," Michael told him firmly.
"No matter who asks. It's not worth the pain you'll cause yourself."
He hesitated, then stepped back from the bed, knowing there really was nothing he could do or say without causing problems.
"I'll leave you boys alone now, to get some rest."
Neither boy replied, and Michael took his leave and walked out of the room. He was met down the corridor by Thacker.
"Not even a flicker," Thacker said quietly, and Michael sighed.
"No. He didn't recognise me at all. This is going to break his parents' hearts all over again."
"Maybe," Thacker agreed, "but it might also go some way to mending a lot of heartache. By now, they've probably given up on ever seeing their son again."
Michael started to concede, but the words caught in his throat at a quiet voice behind them.
Both men looked around to see Jason standing there. Thacker reacted instantly, walking past Michael and over to the nervous young man.
"What is it, Jason?"
"Can I talk to you?" he asked. "Away from Jeremy."
Michael and Thacker exchanged wondering glances, and then Thacker nodded and ushered Jason into an empty room.
"What's on your mind, then?"
"This is hard," Jason confessed. "I mean, I know what I want to say. I just can't think of how to say it."
"Take your time," Michael told him gently. "Think about it carefully."
Jason hesitated, then spoke. "It's about Dad. What I mean is....
He isn't my dad is he? He made me think that, but it's not true."
Thacker spoke in a forcibly calm voice.
"Where did you get that idea, Jason?"
"Dreams," Jason admitted. "I've been dreaming a lot lately, about people that I can't remember. I didn't tell Dad. He would've been furious...
But I told Jeremy, and he said that maybe they were my real mum and dad. That shook me up pretty bad, but it got me wondering. I want to know something now.
Please don't lie to me.... Was I kidnapped?"
Michael found himself frozen, not knowing what to do, or say. Thacker was equally confounded, unsure whether to give a truthful answer or even whether to answer at all. Finally, Michael broke his paralysis. Jason was twenty years old and, regardless of anything else, he deserved to be told the truth.
"Yes," he said finally, quietly. "You were. Eleven months ago."
Jason faltered, then sat down hard in the nearest chair. "I....
I'm sorry," he whispered.
"It's all right," Thacker reassured him. "We understand it's a pretty awful shock."
"My parents," Jason said finally. "What about my real parents?"
"They'll be contacted very shortly," Thacker replied. "We aren't rushing things, Jason. You and Jeremy both still need treatment. And there's the problem of your memory to deal with."
Jason's shoulders slumped, and tears trickled slowly down his cheeks.
"I can't remember them at all. I heard two nurses talking outside our room, and they said something about brain damage. Is that what's wrong with me? Is that why I can't remember anything?"
"Now, you don't need to worry about that at all," Thacker said quickly.
"Even if there is anything like that, it's only very minimal. But you have to understand that all of this was caused by drugs that Farmer gave you."
Confusion, and a touch of fear, lit up in Jason's eyes. "You mean, those pills that he made me take?"
"What pills were these?" Michael asked, feeling himself tense up slightly. Jason shrugged.
"I don't know what they were. They were capsules, actually. Dad....
I mean, he told me I had to take them four times a day because I was sick. He said if I missed even one I'd get really sick. I tried skipping one, to see if he was telling me the truth, and it made me so sick that I was too scared to miss any more."
Thacker was frowning as Jason related the story to them.
"Farmer would have known how to mix drugs in such a way that it could have induced acute illness to stop taking them," the commissioner murmured.
"Particularly after continued use. Jason, you understand that none of this is your fault, don't you? Everything that's happened, the way you and Jeremy have been treated, none of it is your fault."
Jason smiled, then, though it was a tired, sad smile.
"We know. That's why we ran away."
Michael couldn't resist it, then, and he reached out to ruffle Jason's dyed hair affectionately. In that instant, recognition struck in Jason's eyes as he stared up at the Angel Grove Police Chief. Both Michael and Thacker saw it, and Michael spoke anxiously.
"What is it, Jason?"
"I...." Jason faltered, staring at Michael in confusion. "I think I remember you... I...."
His words ended in a pained cry as severe pain ripped through his skull, and he doubled over in the chair, crying out in distress. Michael was there instantly, hugging the young man gently as he sobbed from the pain.
"It's okay, Jason. Easy, son...."
"It hurts so bad," Jason sobbed in Michael's shoulder.
"I know," Michael murmured. "Just try and relax. It'll go away soon."
Eventually, Jason's sobbed eased and faded, and Michael finally detached himself from the young man.
"C'mon," he said softly. "Let's get you back to bed."
Angel Grove, midday
Lt. Ashley felt a mixture of excitement and trepidation as he pulled up outside the Scott family home in Bradman Drive. He had received a call from Michael Oliver just half an hour ago, filling him in on all the details, and instructing him to go and inform the Scotts that their son had been found.
Ashley grimaced a little as he gathered the faxed notes from the Bellingham hospital, and got out of the car. He was happy to be able to deliver that news, of course. What he dreaded was the reaction to the rest. He reached the door and, gathering his courage, rapped loudly on the wood.
The door was answered by Donavon Scott, and it was all Ashley could do not to shudder openly at the man's appearance. Donavon Scott looked like a member of the living dead. Although reasonably neat in appearance, there was a lack of life in his eyes that was disturbing.
"I'm sorry for bothering you, sir," Ashley said, forcing himself to look the other man in the eye. "I need to speak to you and Mrs Scott, though.
It's important.... It's about Jason."
Donavon's expression altered just slightly, and what little spark there was in his eyes seemed to dim even more at the mention of his lost son's name.
"Jason is dead, Lt. Ashley. Whatever it is, it can't be that important."
Ashley swallowed hard. "Actually, sir, it's very important. Please, don't shut the door."
Donavon hesitated in shutting the door, looking annoyed and upset.
"Well, what is this about?"
"May I come in, sir?" Ashley asked. "I'd rather not discuss this in the doorway."
After a moment, Donavon stepped aside and allowed the lieutenant into the house.
Sarah walked slowly out of the family room, a paperback clutched in two thin, pale hands. She was showing a little more life than her husband, Ashley noted silently, though not by much.
"Lt. Ashley? Is there a problem?"
"No, not exactly," Ashley replied. "Perhaps you should both sit down."
Donavon shook his head. "You said this was about Jason. What is it?
Has his body been found?"
Ashley was momentarily taken aback by the man's coldness, then reminded himself of the grief the Scotts still had to be suffering over the loss of their son. He shook it off, and spoke quietly.
"Jason has been found, and he's very much alive."
The book slipped from Sarah's grasp, and fell unnoticed to the floor.
Ashley looked to Donavon, who was staring back at him in disbelief.
"He showed up on the doorstep of your brother's home in Bellingham, Washington state, at around 2:30 this morning. He's in hospital now, and being looked after by doctors."
"He.... He's not dead?" Donavon asked softly, his voice starting to tremble.
Ashley smiled, then, and shook his head.
"No, Dr Scott. Jason isn't dead. He's alive, and he's safe."
Sarah had no chance to speak before the tears came in a flood, and she collapsed into her husband's arms, sobbing with relief. Donavon hugged her numbly, still trying to get past it in his own mind. Ashley went on quietly, ushering the couple down the hall to their bedroom.
"I'll help you pack some clothes, folks. We're putting you both on the next flight to Bellingham."
Michael Oliver waited impatiently for the taxi to arrive with Donavon and Sarah Scott. Their plane had been delayed, and as a result, he had no doubt they were probably frantic by now. Eric Ashley had contacted him after finally putting the couple on the plane, telling him their reactions. Not surprisingly, they'd been completely stunned. However, while Sarah accepted the news happily, Donavon had appeared less willing to believe that his son was safe.
A faint sigh escaped Michael. He could understand that. He himself hadn't really believed it was Jason until he'd laid eyes on the young man. Even then, he'd had to pinch himself numerous times to make sure it wasn't a dream.
He only hoped that, like himself, the Scotts would really believe it once they saw Jason for themselves.
Ashley had told them the less pleasant details, of course. They knew of Jason's memory loss; they knew Jason probably wouldn't recognise them. That didn't matter so much. What really mattered was that Jason was safe, and that they could start over fresh with him, if that was what was needed.
A cab pulled up outside the hospital, and Donavon and Sarah climbed out. The driver pulled a couple of suitcases out of the trunk, and carried them up the steps for them. Michael drew in a calming breath, and went out to meet them.
Sarah offered him a tired smile. "Hello, Michael."
Donavon, however, wasted no time with pleasantries. "Where is he?"
"On the third floor," Michael answered as they headed inside. "I've seen him and I've talked to him, Don. It is Jason."
"You talked to him?" Sarah asked. "Did he...."
"Remember me? No. Not at first, at any rate. At one point I think he did start to recognise me, but trying to remember caused him so much pain that we told him to stop. Folks.... I don't think he'll remember you."
"We know," Sarah answered when Donavon didn't. "Eric Ashley told us that."
"You see," Michael went on, "this is the thing. We finally got to talk to Jason alone, away from the little boy he's with. Jason knows that he was kidnapped, he knows that Bill Farmer isn't his father."
"How does he know that?" Donavon asked, frowning a little. "If he doesn't remember...."
"He told the police commissioner and myself that he'd started having dreams, about people that he couldn't remember. Apparently he told the little boy about it, and Jeremy suggested that maybe they were his real parents. I'd say that started the ball rolling. Jason asked us if he'd been abducted, and we told him yes. He doesn't consciously remember either of you, but there is a chance it might give his memory a bit of a jump start to see you. On the other hand, even if it doesn't, he wants to see you. Maybe, if you can't exactly pick up where things left off, then perhaps you can start again."
He halted outside the observation room, and pushed the door open. "In here, folks."
Donavon and Sarah stepped into the room, and were immediately greeted by Bruce.
"Good to see you both," he murmured as he first hugged Donavon, and then Sarah. "How are you doing?"
"Surviving," Sarah confessed. "Jason....?"
"Through there," Bruce told them, and they turned to look through the two-way mirror into the other room.
"Oh, lord," Sarah whispered. Donavon moved past her, up to the window, staring in shock at the thin, pale image of his lost son. He, like Michael, had come to genuinely believe that Jason was dead. It was true, though. Jason really was alive.
"He.... He looks like a ghost...."
Michael nodded. "I know. But he's alive, Don. You're going to have your son back."
For nearly a full minute, Donavon said nothing. Then, finally, he leaned in against the glass, shutting his eyes tightly. It didn't stop the flow of tears, though, or prevent his shoulders from trembling uncontrollably with emotion.
"He's alive," Donavon whispered. "My boy's alive..."
"When can we talk to him?" Sarah asked softly as she slipped a supportive arm around her husband's shoulders.
"Not just yet," Thacker replied from where he had been standing in the far corner. "Soon, though. Definitely within the next twelve hours."
"I'd take you in there now if I could," Michael told them as he took in their disappointed expressions. "We just don't want to do anything that's going to end up causing Jason more distress. He's confused enough at the moment as it is."
Silence reigned for a long moment, and then Bruce spoke softly.
"There's something else you need to know, and I'm afraid it's not good news."
Donavon looked around at his older brother questioningly. "My son is alive, Bruce. Whatever it is, it can't be that bad."
Bruce sighed. "We got the results back from the CAT scans and other tests we conducted on Jason when he was brought in. He's suffered approximately twenty percent brain damage."
"Shit," Michael whispered. Thacker looked to Bruce, frowning.
"Why didn't you say anything earlier?"
"I wanted to wait for Don and Sarah to get here." The doctor looked back to the couple. "It's unlikely that it will affect him physically. If it does, it will only be small things. Slight tremors in the body, perhaps some dizziness or vertigo. Nothing too severe. However, it's another story mentally speaking. It's a fair certainty now that Jason is not going to get his memory back. We've already discovered that trying causes him a lot of pain. Forcing him to try and remember could mean causing worse damage still. And it's not likely to end there. His short-term memory may be permanently affected as well. He could well forget simple things like where he lives, the names of people, things like that, from one day to the next."
Donavon looked back to the glass partition, to where Jason had gone to sit with Jeremy on the other bed.
"We'll get him through this. We have to. It's as simple as that."
Bruce sighed. "I hope you're right, Don. But it's not going to be easy. Not by a long shot."
Donavon didn't reply, but continued to watch his son through the glass with slowly-increasing hope.
Tommy Oliver arrived at the Youth Centre to meet Kat after his training session at the race track. The two had eventually patched things up, though Tommy suspected Kat had never really forgiven him for deserting Jason that night. He paused as nausea rose in his gut, wishing he hadn't thought of it. He didn't blame Kat for holding that against him. In all honesty, he hadn't forgiven himself for it. If Jason had turned up safely, he would have gotten past it eventually, but Jason had quite literally disappeared without a trace.
The former Ranger moaned softly as he found himself looking at a framed photo of Jason and himself, taken after winning the Team Ninja Tournament.
Jason... Pretty much the best friend he'd ever had... He shut his eyes tightly, remembering the painful day, five months after his disappearance, that Jason had been declared legally dead. That had been the day that the Scotts' last hopes had been shattered and his, too.
More than anything, now, Tommy desperately wanted Jason back, safe and well. He knew it was not likely to ever happen.
He looked around, and managed a faint smile as Kat came up beside him.
She looked past him, to the photos on the wall. "We all miss him, Tommy."
"I know. It makes me so sick to the stomach, knowing that if I'd just said yes, then he would have been here now."
Kat said nothing, as Tommy had expected. She'd never made any attempt to dissuade him from feeling guilty, but he supposed that was fair enough. He deserved to suffer that much, at least. After all, God knew what hell Jason had gone through.... or could still be going through.
"C'mon," Kat said softly. "Let's go get a soda."
He allowed himself to be led away, and over to the bar, where they ordered sodas from Detective Stone.
"I got a call from Kimberly yesterday," Kat told him. "She says the training is going really well."
Tommy nodded. "That's good. How's things with her new boyfriend?"
"Eric? Fine, so she said. She sounded happy enough. But then, she must be pretty stressed out by now. The Championships are coming up soon."
When Tommy didn't answer, Kat sighed and waved a hand in front of his face.
"Tommy, snap out of it. What's wrong?"
The young man stared miserably at the counter. "I had another dream last night, about Jason. It was a lot more clearer than the others that I've had, and it hurt a lot more. I dreamt that he was found safe."
Kat noticeably moved back, away from Tommy. "Tommy, please don't start. Jason was declared dead five months ago."
"And until they come up with a body, I'm going to keep believing that he's alive," Tommy snapped. "Is that okay with you?"
She cringed at the harsh quality of his voice, and Tommy sighed heavily with remorse.
"I'm sorry, Kat. I didn't mean it to sound like that. I just can't believe that Jase is dead. I won't believe it until it's proven that he's dead."
Kat hesitated, then started to speak, only to be cut off by Tommy.
"Yes, I know it's my fault all this happened. You don't have to rub it in, okay?"
She paused, wondering whether to be angry or understanding at his comments. Finally, she chose the latter.
"Okay, so you made a mistake. So did Adam and Rocky. Tommy, maybe it's time you let it go. You can't change the past, and this seems to be affecting our relationship."
Tommy was silent for a long moment before looking sideways at her.
"I'll try to let it go if you will."
Kat blanched visibly. "Tommy..."
"You've held that one mistake against me for eleven months," Tommy growled, cutting her off sharply. "Don't even try to deny that. You've held it against me and let me wallow in my own guilt. You never tried to tell me that you forgave me for it, and everything you've said or done as far as it was concerned has only made me feel more guilty and at fault. So maybe you need to let it go as much as I do."
Anger flashed in Kat's eyes, then. "I'm not the one who screwed up and got my best friend abducted, Tommy...."
"That," Tommy hissed, "is exactly what I'm talking about. You're not willing to forgive me for letting Jason down, are you? I'm starting to think that maybe you cared more for Jase than you ever did for me."
"You bastard," Kat exploded, tears in her eyes. "How can you say that?
I've stuck by you..."
"Taking every opportunity to make me feel bad about what happened to Jase, and trying to make sure I take all the blame."
He stood up abruptly. "I don't need this, Kat. Yeah, I did make a mistake. But over the last eleven months, you've treated me like I deliberately plotted so that Jase would be forced to walk home that night. You've acted like I wanted him to go missing. I'm sick of being treated like a criminal by you, like you're perfect. Shit.... You can just go to hell, Kat. I've had it." He glared at her, barely seeing her tears through his own. "We're through. I'll see you round."
Then, he was gone, walking out of the Youth Centre as fast as he could.
When Tommy came to a halt, he was at the Lookout. He hesitated, then walked slowly over to the edge and sat down with a thud on the soft grass.
He'd come up here a lot of times with Jason, to talk about a lot of different things. It was here that Jason had taken him to first ease his guilt from the destruction he'd caused as the Green Ranger.
Tommy shut his eyes, but it didn't stop the tears. Jason had never held anything against, no matter how bad it had seemed, or how unforgivable.
Jason had stuck it out with him, and Tommy felt strongly that Jason would have forgiven him for that last, terrible mistake. Yes, it hurt. But Kat had no right to continue to put all the blame on him. He was having a hard enough time dealing with the blame that he was putting on himself.
He opened his eyes again, and stared out towards the horizon, the tears rolling steadily down his cheeks. It wasn't long until Christmas, and Tommy wasn't sure if he could cope with another painful Christmas without his best friend. He still had the present that had been intended for Jason last year, wrapped and untouched, sitting in his closet. His father had quietly suggested, after Christmas had come and gone, that he either give the present to another friend or give it to some charity. He'd refused, and had held on to the gift, determined not to let his friend go.
He wasn't sure what it was... Almost as though, if he gave up the gift, then it would be saying that yes, Jason was gone and wasn't coming back. Tommy wiped away the tears from his face. He wasn't ready to do that yet.
"Where are you, Jase? Please, God, help him find his way home. We need him. I need him."
His head dropped, and he cried softly into his hands for a long while.
Donavon sighed heavily to himself as he walked slowly down the hall to the coffee dispenser. The last eleven months had, quite simply, been the worst of his life. First, his only son had vanished almost without a trace. That Christmas had been hell, pure and simple. Donavon had never really known any serious hardships, but for all his knowledge of psychiatry, the disappearance of his son had been something beyond his powers to cope with. He hadn't been able to deal with it, and neither had his wife. Bruce and Jenny had come down to Angel Grove for Christmas, to try and help them as much as possible, but it hadn't done much good. Christmas day had come and gone with painful slowness, a torture of the worst possible kind.
Jason's presents were all still wrapped and piled up neatly in the hall closet. Sarah had refused to do anything with them, and Donavon had found he hadn't the strength to debate it with her. Both of them had hoped desperately that Jason would miraculously appear. That hope had faded slowly as the months had gone by, and when Jason had been declared legally dead, that had just about shattered the both of them. And still, the presents remained on that shelf in the cupboard, waiting for the return of the boy that they had been meant for....
Now, unexpectedly, Jason had reappeared, showing up on his uncle's doorstep in the middle of the night, with a young boy at his side. The catch, though, was that Jason had no idea that his uncle was, actually, his uncle. He hadn't recognised Bruce Scott, or his Aunt Jenny, at all.
Jason was suffering long-term, drug-induced amnesia, brought about by the man who'd abducted him that stormy night in December. He didn't even remember his own true identity. He'd introduced himself to Bruce as Jason Farmer, not Jason Scott. He didn't remember anything of his life before his abduction, and it was starting to look as though he might never remember.
Donavon shut his eyes, fighting the tears. The worst part, even worse than the amnesia, had been learning that Jason was suffering twenty percent brain damage. Bruce had reassured them that it would not affect his physical capabilities, as far as functioning normally went. The karate would probably be a loss, but that was the least of any of their concerns. However, that news confirmed the likelihood that Jason would never regain his memory, and that he would probably have difficulty remembering basic things from one day to the next.
So far, he and Sarah had not been allowed to speak to Jason. They had only arrived that afternoon, but the need to speak to his son, to be able to reach out and actually touch him... It was nigh overwhelming. He understood why they couldn't talk to him yet, of course. Even though Jason knew he had been the victim of a kidnapping, and knew that Farmer was not his true father, the truth of being suddenly confronted with his true parents not only had the potential to jolt Jason's memory, it could also put him deep into shock. That was something none of them were quite willing to risk.
Donavon watched dazedly as the coffee ceased dripping into the paper cup. Seeing Jason again, after believing for so long that he was dead, had been like a bolt of lightning that had caused his eyes to snap wide open. His son, his only son, was alive. The thought was hard to comprehend, but he supposed it would sink in soon enough. Jason was alive He was going to have his son back He hesitated a moment longer, then sighed again and reached out for his cup of coffee.
Jason emerged from his and Jeremy's room with a hospital dressing gown pulled tightly around his body. He was cold, and loathed leaving his warm bed, but at the same time, his legs were going numb from spending so much time on his butt. Jeremy was fast asleep, and that was something Jason was thankful for. The little boy had been having steady nightmares ever since their escape two nights ago. It wasn't going to be easy for either of them, he reflected tiredly, but he knew they'd done the right thing. He stared bleakly at the floor as he shuffled along. Especially if he was going to find the parents he knew he had, but simply could not remember.
Jason glanced into the other wards as he passed by slowly, looking at the sleeping occupants with a touch of envy. They had family to visit them, take care of them, and ease their fears. He and Jeremy had no one. Their father.... or rather, the man that he had learnt to call father, was in jail.
That was as it should be, but the thought still left him frightened and uneasy.
He had promised to look after Jeremy, no matter what, and Jeremy was counting on him for protection. He couldn't let his little brother down; he had no intention of letting him down.
'Just you and me, now,' Jason had told Jeremy as they had walked down the dimly lit street that night after running away. 'I promise I'll take care of you. No one's ever gonna hurt you again. Never...'
But then there were his parents. Jason knew he had parents somewhere, those other policemen had told him so. Although he couldn't remember them consciously, he knew they existed. Jeremy had confirmed that Farmer was not his real father earlier that day, and now Jason thought he could vaguely recall a dark, rainy night the black 4WD that had belonged to Farmer before he traded it in at a dodgy little place in Washington several months ago but that was as far as his memory extended. However, it was enough for him to realise that everything he'd been told about his life by Farmer was a lie.
Jason chewed his lower lip, fighting back tears. He understood that he had been the victim of a kidnapping, even before those policemen had told him the truth. He had been stolen off the streets, away from his family, and taken to live with another who had done nothing but lie to him, and abuse him. He didn't know how long it had been. He only had a reasonably clear memory of the last eight or nine months, moving around the country and finally settling in Washington. It was when Farmer had started to talk about 'taking in another unfortunate', that Jason had started to suspect that not all was kosher.
Then the dreams had started. Half-remembered, bitter-sweet dreams about a family that he just couldn't quite recognise. He'd not dared tell Farmer, but instead had told Jeremy, and the child, wise beyond his years, had quietly suggested that perhaps the family he was seeing in his dreams was his real family. That had shaken Jason to the core. It had not been long after that, after a particularly bad patch of abuse by Farmer, that the two had finally escaped and run away.
He rounded the corner, and stopped. Down the other end of the hall, a man stood at the coffee machine, a steaming cup clasped in his hands. Jason hesitated, about to turn back and go a different way, but something stopped him. He didn't quite know what it was, but he was sure there was something familiar about this man.
He couldn't place him, and trying only gave him the beginnings of a headache. Shaking his head, Jason turned to head back to the room, and walked straight into a nightmare.
Bill Farmer had been let out of jail on strict bail conditions, and had promptly broken those conditions by going to the hospital. Now, he towered over the twenty year-old that he had abducted ten long months ago.
"Jason, you shouldn't have run away," Farmer growled. Jason started to back away, his heart pounding. Farmer was a huge man, almost seven feet of muscle. The teen didn't have a hope, and he knew it. Bill Farmer grabbed the boy before he could run, jerked him violently around and clamped a hand tightly over his mouth to silence him.
"Now," Farmer hissed into the boy's ear, "we're going to get Jeremy, and then we'll leave this place. I've got to punish you boys, you understand that. You shouldn't have run, Jason. No, you shouldn't have done that at all."
Tears filled Jason's eyes as he looked down the hall to where the man was standing, sipping coffee, oblivious to what was going on. Then, unable to get a sound out, Jason did the only thing he could. He forced his mouth open, and bit down on Farmer's hand as hard as he could.
Donavon spun around in shock as someone screamed, and moments later the coffee slipped through his fingers, falling unnoticed to the floor.
"Jason..." he whispered in shock, and started to advance down the hall to where the hulk of a man was holding onto the boy with a possessive grip.
"Let him go," Donavon demanded, his voice taking on a warning edge.
Farmer glowered at the approaching man.
"This is my boy. You stay out of it. I'm taking my sons out of here."
Donavon's temper flared. "That boy is not your son! He's my son, and I'm not going to let you take him away from me again!"
Jason's eyes went wide with shock. Dad? He's my dad? He gasped as Farmer tightened his grip on him.
"Jason is my boy, I'm telling you! He's mine, and I have to punish him!"
An instant later, Farmer's face turned green as Jason finally reacted and slammed his elbow into the bigger man's groin. Farmer's grip on him loosened for a moment, and Donavon grabbed the teen and pulled him beyond the other man's reach.
"Are you okay?" he asked in concern, and Jason nodded.
"Yeah. Are.... Are you....?"
He never had the chance to finish the question, as Farmer recovered from the blow, and staggered forward.
Donavon was not giving him the chance to do anything further and, with a powerful swing that was greatly driven by anger, punched Farmer so hard in the face that he knocked him out cold. Jason stared wide-eyed as Farmer went down with a crash, and didn't get back up.
"Wow," he whispered in awe. Donavon watched the downed man for a moment before turning back to the pyjama-clad boy.
"Jason? Are you all right? He didn't hurt you?"
Jason blinked, then focused on Donavon. "I'm okay. Thankyou." He paused, peering up into Donavon's lined face. "You said I'm your son."
Donavon swallowed hard. He could hear voices getting closer; the police, he supposed, and nurses. He nodded slowly.
"I did say that. It's true, Jason. I know you don't remember, but it's true. I'm your father. Your real father."
Confusion and uncertainty lit up boy's eyes, and he started to look away, only to be brought up short as his gaze fell on the shirt that Donavon was wearing. Somehow, that struck a familiar chord in his mind. If he could only remember....
"What is it?" Donavon asked softly. Jason stared at the shirt, momentarily ignoring Donavon. It was an ordinary cotton shirt, but the colour.... A deep burgundy..... He remembered a porch seat, a distant conversation.....
'You remember that shirt you gave me for my birthday three years ago?
Your mother hates that shirt. Says the colour is all wrong for me.'
'Did she throw it out?'
'She tried. I had a real shouting match with her over it. First time we really fought since you were born. She wasn't going to let it drop, until I told her that I refused to throw out anything you'd given me for a present.
After that, she never hassled me over it again'
Jason drew in a ragged gasp for air, and staggered a little, giving a choked sob as pain ripped through his skull. Donavon caught hold of the teen's arm and guided him to a chair as nurses and the police finally arrived on the scene and hauled up the semi-conscious Farmer and led him down the hall.
"I'll let Commissioner Thacker know about this immediately," one officer told Donavon. Donavon nodded dismissively, then turned his attention back to his son.
"Jason? C'mon, snap out of it...."
Jason blinked hard, then looked to Donavon. There was confusion in his eyes, but also a touch of clarity, and recognition.
"I bought you that shirt, didn't I? For your birthday.... But Mum hated it and wanted to throw it out...."
A hopeful smile lit up Donavon's face. "That's right. But I didn't let her. I didn't care about the colour. I loved this shirt because it was a present from you. You remember?"
"I remember that a little...." Jason spoke tentatively. "Dad? You are my dad, aren't you? I... I remember you... my dad..."
Donavon pulled Jason to him in a fierce hug. "Yes, I'm your dad. My brave, brave boy... I love you, Jason, and I'll never let anything happen to you again, I promise."
Jason shut his eyes, wrapped up in his father's embrace. Yes, he remembered this. It wasn't much, barely a scrap, but it was enough for him to know that he'd found his father, his real father.
Jeremy was awake when Jason was brought back to the ward. The little boy shot out of bed and into Jason's arms, holding him tightly.
"I thought you were in trouble, and I was too scared to come and help," Jeremy sobbed. Jason crouched down, and hugged him close.
"I'm okay, Jeremy. Don't worry. Everything's gonna be fine. Trust me."
Jeremy finally allowed himself to be detached from Jason, and put back to bed, and that was when he noticed Donavon.
"Who are you?"
Donavon started to reply, but Jason beat him to it.
"You remember I told you about the dreams I was having?" he asked, and Jeremy nodded. Jason smiled at him from the other bed. "This is my father, Jeremy. My real father."
Jeremy stared at Donavon for a long moment, and then tears suddenly began to course down the child's face.
"You're going to take Jason away from me now, aren't you?" he cried out. "You'll take him away from me, and I'll never see him again."
Donavon beat Jason to the punch, that time, and he strode over to Jeremy's side as he spoke.
"No, Jeremy, we aren't going to separate you and Jason. We're not going to do that at all. Now, listen to me. The police already know you don't have any other relatives to look after you, but they're double-checking anyway. When they've finished that check, my wife and I will not just be taking Jason home with us. We'll be taking you, too."
Jeremy's tears ceased as abruptly as they'd begun. "Me, too? I'd be your little boy, too?"
Donavon favoured the child with a warm smile. "Yes, you too. That is, if you're willing to live with us."
Jeremy looked across to Jason, his eyes shining. "We can still be brothers!"
Jason returned the smile with a relieved one of his own. "Forever, just like I promised."
Sarah arrived at the hospital the next morning, tired and unaware of everything that had gone on through the night. Stepping out of the elevator, however, she, Michael and Bruce were met by an anxious Donavon, who ushered them quickly down the hall to the boys' ward.
"What's going on?" Bruce asked with a slight frown as Donavon reached for the handle. "I thought we'd agreed that we weren't going to rush this through?"
Donavon merely smiled at his brother, and pushed the door open.
Jason and Jeremy were having breakfast, but Jason quickly pushed the table away as another familiar person was led into the room. His heart pounding, Jason started to get out of bed.
Sarah froze, her eyes going wide with shock. "Jason?"
The teen almost fell out of the bed in his rush to get to her. Sarah, realising that he had, indeed, recognised her, covered the distance in an instant, sweeping him up in a huge hug.
"My baby," she sobbed, hugging him tightly.
"What the hell happened between yesterday and today?" Bruce asked in astonishment. Donavon smiled.
"Something jogged his memory a little. He didn't remember very much, just enough to recognise me, and Sarah. He knows we're his parents. He remembers that much."
Michael sighed softly with relief. "Thank God. He's on his way, finally."
That afternoon, Michael arrived back in the observation room after lunch to find Jason and Jeremy sitting in the same bed, with Donavon and Sarah on either side, flipping slowly through a photo album.
"What's going on?" he asked Bruce, who was watching the scene in silence.
"Donavon and Sarah brought photo albums with them," Bruce explained.
"They're trying to see if anything in there will give Jason's a jolt." He shook his head. "Just between us, I doubt it will. It's not as though Jason took a bump on the head. He has brain damage, up to twenty percent!"
"They have to try," Michael said. "If that were my son, I'd be doing exactly the same thing."
Bruce was silent for a long moment before sighing and nodding. "Yes, so would I."
"Is that our house?" Jason asked as the page turned to reveal a few shots of a two-story house, set on a slight incline. Donavon nodded.
"It is. Does any of it seem familiar?"
"No," Jason admitted gloomily. Donavon gave him a quick, reassuring hug.
"It's okay, Jason. We know this might not help. And it's as much to get you reacquainted with Angel Grove before we go home as it is to try and jog your memory."
Jason nodded. "I know that. It's just, I hate not being able to remember anything! My whole life is a total blank! I don't remember our home, my school, my friends Anything like that. Hell, I don't even remember if I have any friends."
Sarah smiled faintly, then, although she could feel her heart breaking at her son's distress.
"Of course you do, sweetheart. You have friends that will probably break the front door down when they know you're safe."
"She's right about that," Donavon said with a chuckle. "Tommy, especially. Look...."
He set one album down, and picked up another, one that had Jason's name inscribed on it in gold lettering.
"We gave you this album when you turned thirteen, and you've been filling it up ever since. You have pictures of all your friends in here."
He opened it up, and the very first photo was of Jason and a gangly- looking, bespectacled boy.
"That's Billy Cranston," Donavon told him. "I think he was your first long-term friend. And here" He turned the page again to reveal a group shot of three teens. "That's Billy with Trini Kwan and Zack Taylor. You went to Geneva with Trini and Zack, Jason."
"I did?" Jason muttered as he stared intently at the photo. "Was it a holiday?"
"No," Sarah replied. "You three were chosen by the city council to represent America at the Peace Conference for eight months."
Jason's eyes widened. "I was at a Peace Conference? In Geneva? When was this?"
"A couple of years ago, now," Donavon answered. He flipped forward a few pages, and found a another group shot, this time with five teens, including Jason. "Now, there's Billy, Trini, Zack, you and Kimberly Heart. Do you recognise any of them, Jason?"
Jason stared at the photo for several seconds before finally shaking his head unhappily.
"No. There's nothing. I don't remember them."
Sarah reached around Jeremy to gently squeeze the older boy's shoulder.
"Don't worry about it too much, sweetheart. Chances are, you'll remember everything when you least expect it."
"I have brain damage, don't I?"
Both Donavon and Sarah froze, looking at their son uncertainly as he asked the abrupt question. Jason looked from Sarah to Donavon in growing distress.
"Please tell me the truth. I heard a couple of nurses talking outside our room. They said something about brain damage. I asked those policemen, but they wouldn't tell me. Is it true?"
Donavon sighed heavily. "Yes. It's true."
Jason's shoulders slumped miserably. "I thought it was."
"Jason, look at me," Donavon instructed, and Jason found himself unable to disobey. The psychiatrist went on quietly, firmly. "Yes, it is true that you suffered some brain damage, but that isn't going to affect you seriously unless you let it. Tell me, can you still think rationally?"
"Well, yeah...." Jason conceded.
"And you can walk and talk without any difficulties, can't you?"
"Yeah," Jason mumbled. Donavon nodded.
"Then I don't think you need to be too concerned about it. Now, the doctors have said that it might affect your short-term memory, so you don't have to be embarrassed if you forget simple things from one day to the next.
That's not your fault, son. Do you understand me?"
Jason nodded timidly. "Yeah. Thanks.... Dad...."
It was said with some hesitation, and Donavon felt a stab of pain in his heart that he somehow managed to hide. After eleven months of complete brain-washing, and calling another man 'father', Jason was naturally going to have difficulties accepting everything, and coping with going back to life in Angel Grove. He reached over, and gently embraced his son.
"It's going to be all right, Jason. You have to believe that. We're going to look after you now, champ." He favoured Jeremy with a warm smile.
"Both of you."
Michael Oliver trudged up the driveway to his home, tired but feeling a relief that he hadn't experienced for a long time. He, along with Bruce and Jenny Scott, had accompanied Donavon, Sarah, Jason and Jeremy back to Angel Grove. On the trip from the airport back to the Scotts' home in Bradman Drive, they'd all pointed out various landmarks in the slim hope that it would jog Jason's memory a little. Nothing had worked, though, and Jason had ended up with a severe headache as a result.
He sighed inwardly as he went inside. He'd called his wife before leaving Bellingham, and had told her everything, including the fact that Jason had been left with a permanent, albeit minor case of brain-damage. The thought sent a shudder through Michael. Although Jason was starting to look like his old self again- courtesy of a tough morning spent washing the black dye from his hair, and a healthy diet whilst in hospital- Michael, Donavon and Sarah knew he would never be the same again.
A grimace touched his lips. If they had thought that Tommy had a sketchy memory, then Jason was about to challenge Tommy for the title. Of course, Michael reflected sadly, Jason at least had a legitimate reason for a faulty memory.
"Dad! You're back!"
Michael looked up, and his gaze focused on his oldest, adopted son, who was coming down the stairs. He managed a smile, though it was a fairly weak effort.
"Hello, Tommy. How did your race go? I'm sorry I couldn't be there."
Tommy smiled as he pushed his long hair back from his face. "It's okay.
It's not your fault you couldn't be there. The race was good, though. I came in third!"
Michael grinned as they went through into the kitchen. "That's great!
Before you know it, you're going to be coming in first."
"I hope so," Tommy agreed. "Then maybe the other drivers will lay off about my hair."
Michael laughed as he poured himself a glass of water. "It's just the regular teasing. Wait until a new driver comes along. They'll forget all about you. Now, where's your mother?"
"She's gone shopping with Adam's mother. Said she'd be back just before six. She said she'd bring back something for dinner. And the twins are at Bradley Shaw's birthday party."
Michael nodded, contemplating that. He had to tell Tommy about Jason sooner or later, and there was no time like the present....
"Tommy, have a seat. I need to talk to you about something."
Tommy hesitated, taken aback by the sudden grimness in his father's voice. "What is it? I haven't done something wrong, have I?"
"No," Michael reassured him. "Not at all. But this is a serious matter that I need to talk to you about. Son.... It's about Jason."
Tommy went the colour of ash in a matter of seconds, and for all the world looked as though he was about to pass out.
"Wh... What about Jason? Did they find a a body?"
"In a manner of speaking," Michael conceded. "Tommy, Jason's been found, and he's alive."
The former Ranger froze, momentarily forgetting to breathe. "He...
"He's alive," Michael repeated gently. "Jason is not dead."
Tears sprung to Tommy's eyes, and he abruptly began to cry, his entire body trembling. Michael reached over and embraced his son as the floodgates opened.
"I know," Michael murmured. "I feel exactly the same way."
"Is he okay?" Tommy asked finally, as the sobs subsided. Michael pulled back, and regarded Tommy seriously.
"Yes, and no. Tommy, you know what the deal was with the drugs."
"Yeah. So it's true? He's forgotten everything?"
Michael nodded. "Yes. He has. He only remembered Donavon and Sarah by fluke. Aside from that, his life up until about nine months ago is a complete blank. Now, listen to me closely. Jason is back in Angel Grove now, but under no circumstances are you to approach him until I give the okay. Do you understand me, Tommy? He is a very confused young man right now, and I don't want you, or anyone else, doing anything that will make that worse for him.
And, after you do get to see him, under no circumstances are you to try and make him remember anything. Jason's condition is a serious one. Because of the drugs he was given, he's suffered approximately twenty percent brain damage.
Now, that's not bad enough to cause him problems with ordinary things like walking and talking, but it's obviously affected things like his memory. It isn't just a case of forgetting. Trying to remember causes him a great deal of pain, so you are not to push the issue. Understand?"
Tommy nodded. The shock had faded, and he was starting to feel a strange euphoria. Perhaps Christmas this year would not be quite so hard to cope with after all....
"Yeah, I understand. Dad, when will I get to see him?"
"I don't know," Michael admitted. "It might be a little while. Just try and be patient, okay? And keep this to yourself, and between your friends. I don't want it getting around before time that Jason is back. There'll be enough media to contend with once I do release it."
Tommy bit down lightly on his lower lip for a long moment before speaking again. "I didn't think I was gonna get to see him again," he admitted softly. "I was starting to think that he was... You know... God, I can't believe he's alive!"
Michael had to smile a little. "I know. It's going to work out, Tommy.
I'm sure of it. It won't be easy, not by a long shot. But it will work out, somehow."
Tommy finally got to his feet. His hands were trembling badly with excitement, and it all he could do to keep himself still and steady.
"I'm gonna call Adam and the others. Okay?"
"Okay, but keep it between yourselves."
The young man nodded excitedly, and bolted from the room to make the calls. Michael watched him go with a wry smile, then got up and headed for his study to make some calls of his own.