by Naomi Tilley

Nine Weeks Later....
Sarah Scott walked briskly into Jason's room on Monday morning, and went straight over and opened the curtains to let in the morning sunlight. She then went to her son's bedside and, very gently, touched his shoulder.

"Wake up, sweetheart. It's time to get up." After a moment, Jason stirred and opened his eyes. Sarah looked down anxiously for some sign that Jason might have finally come out of the waking coma he'd been in for the past nine weeks, but there was no change. It was the same, empty, frightening stare....

She withheld the despair that ate away inside her and gently brought Jason up and helped him to get out of bed.

"C'mon, honey. You can have breakfast, and then we'll get you ready for school."

* * *

In the kitchen, Donavon sat at the table along with Jenny, her husband Bruce, and their two college aged children, Luke and Jaime. Jenny had stayed with them, and had soon been joined by her own family, all of whom had committed themselves to trying to bring Jason out of the waking trance he was in.

"You slept better last night," Bruce commented to Jason as Sarah guided him to the nearest chair. As they had come to expect, Jason didn't respond, but rather stared ahead into space. Bruce, however, didn't give up. He walked around the table, clapping the teen lightly on the shoulder. "No nightmares at all."

Donavon smiled a little. "I think we all slept better last night." Sarah frowned at her husband, half playfully, half not. The painful truth was that the only time Jason made any sound was when he woke up screaming from the horrific nightmares that had been plaguing him several times a night. More often than not, they would go in to find him curled up in a tight ball in one corner of his room, whimpering helplessly and rocking back and forth a little.

It sometimes took over an hour to coax Jason out of the corner when that happened, but then, as he calmed down, the emotionless expression would take over once again, and he'd be back in the zombie like state.

Again, Sarah withheld a sigh as she placed a bowl of cereal in front of her son. She immediately became aware of the sudden silence that fell in the kitchen as everyone ceased what they were doing and watched as Jason slowly but surely reached down, grasped the spoon and began to eat.

It had been something they'd discovered the hard way while Jason had still been in hospital. During one visiting session, a nurse had come in and tried to get Jason to eat something. He had refused to let her feed him, and Jenny had offered to try. The nurse, seeing no harm in it, had handed over the bowl and spoon.

Jenny went on to try and try Jason to eat, and when he had still paid no heed, she had lost her temper and issued a light threat to her nephew. Jason's reaction had been immediate, and violent. He had cried out loudly, the only sound he'd consciously made for a long while, and lashed out blindly. The bowl had gone flying clear across the room, and Jenny had narrowly avoided getting a black eye.

Jason had gone into an hysterical fit, then, and it had taken five orderlies to hold him down while the chief nurse sedated him. No one tried to hand feed him again, and Jason eventually began to feed himself. It turned out to be virtually the only thing he would do for himself.

Jason finished the cereal, and Luke stepped in, then. "C'mon, cuz. Let's get you ready for school."

Luke led Jason from the room to get him dressed. Everyone watched them go, and then Donavon shook his head.

"I honestly don't know what we'd do without you all."

Jenny smiled faintly. "Just trying to help, in any way we can."

Sarah reached over and gave her sister in law a warm hug. "Well, we appreciate it, and I'm sure Jason does too,"

Jaime looked in the direction of Jason's room, then, sadness flickering across her face. "You think he'll ever wake up?"

"I don't know," Donavon replied softly. "I hope so, Jaime."

* * *

Tommy was waiting at the school gate as had been prearranged the night before. Ignoring the curious stares that were coming from many of his fellow students, he went to meet his best friend.

"Hey, Jase," Tommy said quietly as he helped Jason get out of the car. "Ready for school?"

There was a moment of silence, and then Donavon spoke from where he stood on the other side of the car. "Tommy, are you sure you can manage? It isn't going to be easy...."

Tommy nodded. "We'll manage. We'll see you in the Youth Centre after school. C'mon, Jase."

Donavon watched until Tommy and Jason had disappeared into the school building before getting back in the car and making himself drive away.

* * *

Zack was waiting at the lockers when Tommy approached with Jason. "Hey, Jase, you made it!" Zack said enthusiastically as they made to the lockers.

Tommy smiled faintly. "Barely. If we don't hurry, we're gonna be late for class."

Zack nodded. "I know. I figured it'd be slow going, so I got Jason's books out for him."

Tommy started to ask why, but stopped himself short. Any normal routine might possibly jolt Jason back to reality; it was important to do everything as they had always done it. He left Jason to stand by himself for half a minute while he collected his own books, and then turned back to his friends. "Okay. Let's go."

* * *

The entire class watched, either openly or secretly, as Tommy brought Jason in and sat him down as close to the back as he could manage. Tommy could feel his own face heating up under the stares of the other teenagers, and he was glad that Jason registered none of it. It was a humiliation he did not think his friend could have coped with.

Miss Appleby waited patiently until they were seated, and then started the class. She pointedly avoided mentioning Jason's return to school, and the class proceeded as normal as possible.

* * *

The class was nearly over, and the students were reading silently, when Miss Appleby happened to glance up and see that Jason was writing something on the notebook in front of him. A slight frown crossed her face. From what she'd been told, and from what she'd already seen that morning, Jason was virtually in a waking coma. He was totally unresponsive, and could do very little for himself.

Surely, she thought, he wouldn't.... couldn't have been faking it.... Curiosity overcoming her, she got up and walked down to where Jason was sitting. She came even with him and looked down at what he'd been writing.... and saw that he hadn't been writing at all. Rather, he was drawing a picture. Slowly, painfully, but surely. She was barely able to stop herself from gasping in shock, and she leaned over to get a better look at what he was doing.

It was a remarkably, almost disturbingly good picture. Especially since she knew for a fact that prior to all this trouble, Jason had been on the verge of failing art. He'd had as much skill for drawing as she had for martial arts. But this.....

He seemed to be finished, and she reached down and picked up the notebook to get a better look. He'd drawn a figure on the paper, a figure lying on its side in a small, bare room. The figure was bound hand and foot, and gagged, and was apparently unconscious.

She knew the significance instantly. Jason had drawn himself, as a prisoner of the two men who had abducted him. Feeling a twinge of apprehension, she put the notebook back in front of Jason and went back to her own desk. As if the spell had been broken, though, Jason didn't move again for the rest of the class.

* * *

Tommy, in a hurry to get himself and Jason to their next class on time, picked up Jason's books, including the notebook, in one big pile. He never saw the drawing, and was in too much of a rush to catch the anxious look Miss Appleby was throwing in his direction.

It went on like that until lunch time, when the six friends gathered and finally relaxed at a picnic table in the school grounds. Then, and only then, did they discover the picture. "What's this...?" Zack pulled out the notebook and put it down in the middle of the table where they could all see it.

Kimberly frowned a little at Tommy. He was best artist in the group, and she assumed he had drawn it. That's horrible, Tommy!"

Tommy shook his head defensively. "I didn't draw it! Miss Appleby came over to look at something that Jason was doing during class this morning, but I didn't take much notice. I thought he was just scribbling..."

"This is very good," Billy commented quietly. "Much better than Jason could ever do before."

Tommy picked up the notebook, feeling the blood suddenly drain from his face. "He's drawn himself...."

Zack peered at the drawing over Tommy's shoulder. "Maybe you should take it to show Mrs. Grainger in art class next."

Tommy nodded. "I will, but I don't think she'll believe me when I tell her Jason drew it."

* * *

The bell finally rang out, summoning the students back to class. Tommy got to art with Jason, Trini and Billy, and they all sat together, protectively around Jason. Once the class had got going, and the students fell into their work, Tommy took the page out of Jason's notebook and ventured up to the teacher's desk. "Excuse me, Mrs. Grainger?"

Emily Grainger looked up and smiled. "Yes, Tommy?"

"Uh.... I was wondering if you could take a look at something...?"

"Of course."

Tommy handed her the drawing, trying to keep his hands from trembling. Mrs. Grainger looked it over carefully for a long moment, then looked back up at him with a smile that was not quite so broad. "It's very good, Tommy. You've got all the dimensions right. In fact, I'd have to say that this is one of the best pictures you've done. I'm not sure I like the subject matter, though."

Tommy looked distinctly uncomfortable. "I didn't draw it, Mrs. Grainger. Jason drew it."

The teacher stared so hard at Tommy that he was starting to wish he hadn't shown it to her. "Tommy, I hardly think that...."

"It's true, Mrs. Grainger," Tommy insisted. "Jason did it in one of our classes this morning. Miss Appleby saw him."

Mrs. Grainger stood up, then. She could tell by the look on Tommy's face that he was telling the truth. She doubted he would lie where it concerned Jason, anyway. Taking a clean sheet of paper and a freshly sharpened pencil from her desk drawer, she crossed the room to where Jason sat, still and silent.

Without saying a word, she carefully set the sheet of paper in front of him and placed the pencil in his right hand with equal care. She then deposited both hand and pencil gently on the paper, stepped back and waited.

Barely a minute passed, and nothing happened. She was about to take the pencil back when Jason blinked once, his gaze seemed to focus on the paper, and his hand began to move slowly but surely across the paper.

Mrs. Grainger looked on expressionlessly. At first it looked simply like a child's scribbles, but then the picture began to take shape, and she soon realized what was being drawn. "Good God...."

Tommy glanced at Mrs. Grainger, then back to Jason, and the picture he was drawing. He was still trying to figure out what it was.

Jason eventually finished, and Mrs. Grainger gently took the paper away from the teen. She knew what it was, though she could hardly believe Jason had drawn it. The picture had not been drawn as though through the eyes of another person. It had been drawn as though seen through Jason's own eyes.

She picked out the door of the room he must have been kept in, legs stretching out in the foreground of the picture.... She drew in a slow breath. One leg, the left, had been clearly drawn to depict at least two definite breaks.

Jason either couldn't or wouldn't speak, but he was communicating through the drawings. Communicating what he had suffered.... "Tommy," she said softly, "please stay after class. I want to talk to you."

Tommy nodded silent compliance as he sank back into his seat.

* * *

Donavon was waiting at the Youth Centre when Tommy arrived. Concern immediately flooded his face when the teen came in alone. "Where's Jason?"

"He's back at school," Tommy told him. "He's okay. He's with Mrs. Grainger. Can you come with me, Mr. Scott? There's something you have to see."

Donavon followed Tommy, confused but willing. Something in the teen's voice dictated that he go without protest, which he did.

* * *

Mrs. Grainger was standing by Jason in the art room when Tommy came in with Donavon. She smiled a little in their direction. "Hello, Mr. Scott."

"Tommy said you have something to show me...." he said quietly, but trailed off as his gaze fell on Jason. "What's he doing?"

"Drawing," Mrs. Grainger replied. "It seems Jason has a hidden talent that none of us knew about. Not even Jason. I think you should see these, Mr. Scott."

Donavon walked over and took the two drawings from her and, a moment later, felt nausea flood his system. "My God...."

The teacher nodded. "Yes, that's what I thought. Mr. Scott, these pictures are good enough to be entered for competition. I have no intention of doing that, of course, but it's food for thought."

The nausea faded from Donavon's stomach, to be replaced by something else, something hopeful. He fought back the tears that threatened. His son was still there, buried somewhere beneath the hurt, the suffering, the memories.... He was still there, and he was still fighting.

* * *

Donavon arrived home with Jason a short while later. Holding back a sigh, trying to remember the drawings, he went around, opened the door and unlatched his son's seat belt. "C'mon, Jason." He gently took Jason's arm and helped him out of the car. "We're going inside now." They moved slowly, with Donavon guiding Jason into the house. He took him into the family room and sat him down in one of the recliner chairs. "You just watch television for a while, Jason."

He turned and headed through into the kitchen, leaving Jason with Luke and Jaime. Bruce, who had watched them come in, shook his head sadly. "He's almost completely catatonic."

Donavon sat down with a thud and buried his face in his hands. "I know. Oh God, I know it's wrong, but I started thinking that maybe that isn't Jason. Maybe there's nothing of Jason left."

Jenny stepped forward, aware of Sarah's stricken expression. "You don't mean that, Donavon."

Donavon stared dismally at the tabletop. "I hope I don't. It's a damned horrible thing to think, but I can't help it. The only thing he's doing for himself is feeding himself. We have to help him get dressed, walk from one room to another... even to go to the bathroom, for crying out loud! I just can't help thinking that Jason's gone, and there's nothing left." He paused, then pulled the drawings from his jacket and put them on the table. "At least, that's what I was thinking until this afternoon. Take a look at these."

Bruce moved closer and picked up one of the pictures. "Who did these?"


Sarah was startled and confused. "Jason can't draw, Donavon. He was failing art...."

"I know that, but he drew them all the same. Emily Grainger saw him draw two of them. As unbelievable as it sounds, Jason did actually draw these."

"He's still there, then," Bruce said softly.

Donavon nodded. "Right. He's fighting on the inside, and we have to keep fighting for him on the outside. No matter how hard it gets. We have to keep fighting."

* * *

In the family room, Luke and Jaime glanced at one another and smiled a little. A moment later, Jaime got up and went over to where Jason sat, staring vacantly at the television. She sat down carefully on the arm of the chair and put her arms around her cousin's shoulders.

"Do you know what's happening, Jason? Can you see the show?" He didn't respond, as she knew he wouldn't, and she went on to describe the show to him in as much detail as she could manage. Across the room, Luke half watched the television, half watched his sister with Jason, and smiled to himself.

* * *

Luke awoke in the early hours of the morning to strange sounds that were coming from Jason's room. Sounds of distress.... Thinking Jason was having a nightmare, he threw on his robe and hurried into his cousin's room. Jason was sitting at his desk, hunched over a little. He was drawing something, Luke guessed. "Jason...?"

Jason seemed to flinch a little at the sound of Luke's voice, but didn't turn around. Luke ventured forward, finally coming close enough to see what Jason was drawing. What he saw frightened him badly. "Jase...?" He put a hand firmly on Jason's shoulder. Jason reacted instantly, twisting away so fast that the chair crashed over onto its side. He slipped Luke's grasp, and fell into the nearest corner, where he curled up into as tight a ball as he could. Luke stood frozen for several seconds before turning and fleeing the room.

"Dad! Uncle Donavon..."

All four adults emerged at the same time, dazed and confused. "What is it, Luke?" Bruce asked, a hint of annoyance in his voice.

Luke ignored it, and motioned towards Jason's room. "He's flipping out, or something....."

Donavon hurried into Jason's room, and over to where his son crouched in the corner. "Jason...?" Jason gave a whimpering cry and shied away from his father, sheer terror in her eyes. Donavon fell back, feeling the earlier optimism over the drawings fading fast.

Bruce joined him. "C'mon, Jason. We're going to put you to bed." The two men tried to bring Jason to his feet, but the teen struggled and began to cry so pitifully that that they finally let him go. Jason immediately curled up into a tight ball, refusing to be moved.

It was then that Sarah and Jenny moved forward, past the men, to crouch down beside the stricken teenager. "Jason?" Jenny said softly. Jason stared past her, up at the two men with an expression that was beyond the worst terror.

Sarah looked back to them grimly. "The three of you, out. Quickly."

Bruce immediately grabbed Donavon and Luke's arms, and pulled the from the room. Once they were gone, the two women turned their full attention back to Jason.

"No one's going to hurt you, sweetheart," Sarah said gently, patiently. "There's no one here to hurt you. You're safe."

Jason stared almost straight through her, but for the first time in more than two months, the women saw something register in Jason's eyes. Something more than the emptiness that had previously been there. Encouraged, Sarah spoke again softly. "We're going to help you, honey, but you have to let us help."

"That's right, Jason," Jenny added. "Let us help you." For a long moment, it seemed as though Jason was trying to speak, but then the effort simply became too much, and he buried his face in his arms, whimpering helplessly.

* * *

Donavon and Bruce were waiting in the kitchen when Jenny came back in, looking thoroughly exhausted. "He won't move from the corner. He's absolutely terrified.

Donavon glanced down at the picture he'd grabbed from Jason's desk. "I'm not surprised. Look at this."

Jenny covered her mouth in shock. "Oh dear God...." A heavy sigh escaped Donavon. "We can't keep this up. I thoughtthings were starting to getting better when I saw those other pictures, but I was wrong. He isn't getting better. He's just starting to remember things he doesn't want to remember, and it's pushing him further away."

"What are you saying?" Bruce asked in growing concern.

"I'm saying," Donavon said softly, that I don't think we're doing Jason any good by keeping him here. We can't give him the twenty-four hour support that he needs, and it isn't fair to expect his friends to look after him though the day."

"You want to send him away?" Jenny asked, horrified. "Donavon, you can't...."

"I don't want to," Donavon growled, "but we're just fooling ourselves here. Jason is not getting any better. If anything, I'd say he's getting worse."

Sarah came in the kitchen, then, pale and upset. "He just keeps pushing me away. I can't move him."

Donavon regarded his wife unhappily. "We can't do it, Sarah. We can't keep looking after him."

Sarah stared at him in silence for several seconds before sinking into a chair. "Well, what are we supposed to do?"

"There's a very good hospital...." Donavon started to say.

"No!" Sarah cried out. "No, we aren't sending him away to any hospital! I don't care how good it is. Jason's still our son, and I won't allow him to be sent away from home."

Donavon came dangerously close to retorting that Jason wasn't their son at all, but a mere shell of what he had once been, but he stopped himself short. "Sarah, can either of us afford to give up our jobs to look after Jason twenty-four hours of the day? Because that's what we're going to have to do. You know it as well as I do."

Tears filled Sarah's eyes. "He's our son...." she protested.

Donavon stared at her with equal distress. "Do you think I want to send him away? I don't want to anymore than you do, but I don't see that we have a choice! I would rather see him everyday, being cared for properly in as hospital, than have him here and constantly be worried about what might happen."

Sarah looked away in defeat. As much as she hated to admit it, Donavon was right. To keep him home was not only constant pressure on herself, Donavon and Jason's friends, but also unfair to Jason.

Donavon nodded, seeing that she'd consented. "All right," he said softly. "I'll see about making the arrangements tomorrow."

No one said anything else. There was nothing left to say.

* * *

Tommy, Kimberly and Trini were at the front gate when Sarah Scott pulled up with Jason. She got out of the car and spoke quickly as Tommy started forward. "Tommy, no! You'd better stay back a bit."

Confusion etched across Tommy's face, but he stopped. "What's wrong?"

Sarah looked grim as she came around and helped Jason out of the car. "I'm afraid we took a very big leap backwards last night. Jason's panicking every time a male even comes near him. It took his aunt and I all night to coax him out of the corner of his room."

Trini moved forward then, carefully slipping her hand into Jason's. "C'mon, Jase," she said softly. "We'll take you to class."

Kimberly smiled a little in Sarah's direction as Trini led Jason off towards the school. "We'll take care of him, Mrs. Scott."

Sarah nodded, but couldn't help feel a twinge of unease. One, because Jason's friends did not yet know of the plan to send Jason away to a psychiatric hospital, and two, because she'd caught a glimpse of a disturbing look on Tommy's face. She tried to ignore her worries as she got back into the car. She had enough to deal with now, trying to come to terms with the fact that in a matter of days, Jason would no longer be their concern.

* * *

Lunch time rolled slowly around, and the teens gathered at the bench, where they had discovered the drawing only yesterday. The conversation was moderately calm and normal, until Zack grew fed up with Tommy's silence. "Okay, Tommy.What's wrong?"

Tommy regarded Zack dully. "What d'you mean?"

"You haven't spoke at all. What's up?"

Tommy looked past them, to Jason. "He's not there."

The others frowned, confused. "What are you talking about?" Kimberly asked.

Tommy looked away, back to the tabletop. "That isn't Jason. Jason's gone. There's nothing of Jason left."

Zack started up, suddenly angry. "No way! You aren't giving up on Jason. I'm not gonna let you. Dammit, Tommy...."

"Jason isn't there anymore!" Tommy exploded, rising up to meet Zack at eye level. "There's nothing left to give up on! Take a good look at him. It's just... just a shell. That's all. Jason is gone!"

Billy spoke up then, his voice laced with sudden tension. "Uh, guys...?"

They both turned to glare at Billy, but Billy didn't notice, so busy was he staring at Jason. "I think he heard you...."

They all looked at Jason abruptly. Jason's head had come up a little, and he was staring directly at Tommy. Tears filled his eyes, and spilled over down his cheeks. Tommy stood frozen, his heart beating in his throat. "Jase...?"

Jason blinked once, and his mouth opened just a little, as though he was trying to speak. His forehead creased with effort, and finally.... "Help...."

Tommy was at Jason's side in an instant. "C'mon, Jase, come back to us. Please...."

Jason flinched a little at the touch of Tommy's hand to his shoulder, but he did not pull away.

Kimberly moved around and put an arm gently around his shoulders. "Talk to us, Jase. You can do it. I know you can."

He stared up at them, desperation flooding his features. "Help... please...." It was an extreme effort for Jason to speak. They all seemed so far away to him... across an ocean while he strained to reach them from the island.... "Help me...."

Zack looked back to Tommy as Jason shuddered and slumped over, the flicker of light dying from his eyes. "You still think he's gone, Tommy?"

Tommy shook his head, staring into Jason's now empty gaze. "No. Not now."

Kimberly hugged Jason tightly. "He came back from wherever he is just long enough to ask for help. We've gotta help him."

Billy put one hand lightly on Kim's shoulder. "We will help him. We're going to bring him out of this."

Trini nodded. "No matter how long it takes."

* * *

Donavon arrived at the Youth Centre that afternoon, feeling sick with apprehension. He had made the arrangements only hours ago. In two days' time, Jason would go to the Kingston Institute, where he would stay indefinitely. He withheld a sigh. Now he had to tell Jason's friends, and it was not a task he was looking forward to.

Tommy came over to greet him, a broad grin on his face. "Hey, Mr. Scott. We've got some good news!"

Donavon barely heard. "He shook his head and spoke tiredly. "Not now, Tommy. I have to tell all of you something, and you're not going to like it."

The smile fell abruptly from Tommy's face. "What is it?"

Donavon walked with him to where the group of friends sat, and motioned for Tommy to sit down. "After last night, Sarah and I made a decision. As much as we want to, we can't look after Jason any longer. We don't have the time or the money to give him the full time care that he needs."

Tommy looked disturbed. "What d'you mean? If you can't look after him, then who....?"

Donavon spoke softly, dreading their reactions. "I made some arrangements today, with the Kingston Institute."

Tommy started up. "No...."

"Jason will be going there in a couple of days' time," Donavon finished off. Tommy rose all the way up to meet him head on.

"No! You can't send him away! We can help look after him...."

Donavon shook his head slowly. "No, Tommy. Even if I thought you could, I wouldn't allow it. It isn't your responsibility."

Trini spoke up, her voice trembling with emotion. "Please, Mr. Scott, don't take Jason away from us. He needs to be here, not in some place that he doesn't know."

"I'm sorry, kids," Donavon said quietly. "The arrangements have already been made. You'll still be able to see him regularly. The Kingston Institute isn't a prison."

"It might as well be," Zack growled. "You're still sending him away from his friends and his home."

"He never did anything wrong," Kimberly choked out, tears trickling down her cheeks. "How come you're punishing him?"

Donavon looked way, unable to face them because that was how he felt. As though he was punishing his son for being kidnapped and raped.... He sighed inwardly, went around and gently brought Jason to his feet. "Let's go, Jason."

Throughout the entire exchange, Billy remained silent. _why aren't we telling him that jason spoke to us...?_ He couldn't bring himself to say the words, and merely sat there in helpless silence.

Tommy spoke, his voice cracking a little. "Will he be coming to school tomorrow?"

Donavon hesitated, then nodded. "Yes, I think so."

They watched helplessly as Donavon led Jason out of the Youth Centre. Then, finally, Tommy grabbed his bag and hurried out through the archway, leaving his friends behind to sit in miserable silence.

* * *

"Dad, can I take the car to school?" Tommy asked his father the next morning. "It looks like it's going to rain."

Mr. Oliver nodded. "All right. Just be sure to come straight home afterwards. Your mother needs it to do the shopping."

Tommy nodded. "Okay." He grabbed his jacket and hurried out. There was no need to tell his father that he had no intention of going to school that day.

* * *

Minute later, he pulled up outside Jason's house, just as Donavon was slowly leading Jason to the car. Getting out, he hurried over to them. "I'll take Jason this morning," Tommy told him. "I'll bring him home, too."

Donavon looked a little uneasy. "I'm not sure about that...."

Tommy stared straight at the adult. "If you're going to send Jason away, then at least give us as much time with him now as we can get. Let us have that, at least."

Donavon hesitated a second longer, then nodded. "All right. Take his bag. I'll put him in the car."

Tommy did so, and waited patiently for Jason to get in and be buckled in. "Okay," he murmured softly, "let's go."

* * *

Billy, Zack, Trini and Kimberly were just about to go into class that morning when Mr. Caplan approached them, looking extremely worried.

"Kids, have any of you seen Tommy and Jason this morning?"

Zack shook his head. "No sir, not since yesterday afternoon. Is something wrong?"

Mr. Caplan looked grim. "I hope not. I've just spoken to Tommy and Jason's fathers. Tommy left home by car this morning and apparently picked Jason up a short while later. Neither one of them have been seen here, and Tommy's mother found a note a short while ago, saying Tommy was taking Jason away so he couldn't be sent to Kingston."

The four friends gaped at one another in shock. Tommy had kidnapped Jason...? Mr. Caplan went on quickly. "Do any of you have any idea where Tommy might have taken Jason? It's important, kids. We want to avoid bringing the police in on this, if possible."

They continued to stare at one another, not so sure if they cared to help the adults find Tommy and Jason. After all, the sooner Jason was found, the sooner he would be sent to that institute....

Finally, Billy spoke. "The only place we know of is his uncle's cabin, sir."

Mr. Caplan nodded. "Thank you. Now you had all better get to class."

They waited until the principal was out of earshot, and then Zack elbowed Billy in the side. "What did you tell him that for?"

"Because," Billy replied calmly, "it is the only place we know of, and it's also the one place Tommy wouldn't go to. His parents know how much he likes it up there, and it would be the first place they'd check."

Surprised silence fell as they realized that Billy was right. They genuinely had no idea where Tommy would have taken Jason, unless it was to the Command Centre. "C'mon," Zack said softly. "Let's get to class, and we'll check at lunch time."

* * *

Later at the Command Centre, Alpha had no trouble locating the boys and getting it in the viewing globe. "Where are they?" Trini asked.

"In the woods, on the outskirts of Angel Grove," Zordon replied. "I will not teleport them here. You four must go there. Rangers, you must do all you can to help Jason now. You are his last chance. If he is sent away while in this state, he will never recover."

Zack nodded. "We're gonna do our best, Zordon." There were four flashes of coloured light, and then they were gone.

* * *

Tommy glanced up as the other four rangers made their way into the clearing and sat down slowly around the small fire he'd built. "Hey, guys," he said softly. "Me and Jase were just looking at some photos."

After a long moment's silence, Zack spoke softly. "Everyone's in a panic, Tommy. They think you kidnapped Jason."

Tommy smiled a little. "I guess I did. I left a note, though."

"That's why they're panicking," Billy put in.

Tommy regarded them with sudden suspicion. "I'm not going back until they change their minds about sending Jason away, or Jason snaps out of it."

Kimberly shook her head quickly. "We're not here to try and force you to take Jason back. Zordon sent us to try and help him."

Tommy relaxed. "That's okay, then." As he turned his attention back to the photos, the others gathered round and joined in, looking at the photos and remembering all the good times they'd had together.

* * *

Evening fell. "I don't think we're getting anywhere," Zack said gloomily.

Tommy looked equally unhappily. "I just don't know what to do. There has to be some way to pull him out of this...."

Zack moved around and crouched down in front of Jason. "C'mon, man, snap out of it! Jason, if you don't wake up, they're gonna send you away! Do you want to be sent away to a hospital? Do you...?"

Trini put a hand on Zack's shoulder, then reached out to take the photo album from Jason. "It's getting cold. Maybe we should...." She trailed off, frowning.

"What is it?" Kimberly asked wearily.

Trini stared at Jason with a mixture of confusion and hope. "He won't let go of the album!"

Tommy looked over at Jason sharply. Sure enough, Jason had a tight hold on the album, and wasn't letting go. Then, very slowly and with great effort, Jason began to turn the pages himself. Tommy looked down, and saw a photo of himself and Jason, after they had won the team ninja finals. He reached out and touched his finger to the photo. "Do you remember that, Jase? No one thought we were going to win, because we couldn't stop fighting each other long enough to try and work together."

"I...." They all stared, holding their breath with anticipation as Jason struggled to speak. "I remember...."

Tommy, his heart beating painfully in his chest, quickly found another photo, this time of all six of them, standing by the Rad Bug. "And here...? All of us together, Jase. Best friends...."

Tears began to trickle down Jason's face. "Don't stop...." he whispered faintly. "Please... don't let go...."

Tommy felt his heart start to race. He didn't really understand what Jason meant, but he had no intention of quitting now. He and the others, who had quickly gathered round, began to point out photos, and the relevant instances when the photos had been taken.

Nearly half an hour later, silence fell as they finally ran out of things to talk about. It was dark now, and they were all exhausted. Trini moved around, then, and crouched in front of Jason. "Jason, can you hear me?"

Jason blinked hard, and his gaze finally focused on her. He was shivering uncontrollably, but he was awake.... "I hear...." he whispered.

Trini sobbed in relief and threw her arms around him in a tight hug. "Jason, you're back...."

Jason shuddered. He was back. His friends, even though they didn't realize it, had built a bridge and and pulled him off the island. The island which had at first been refuge, but had rapidly changed into a prison, cutting him off from everyone and everything.... His shivering eased a little as Tommy draped a thick, lined jacket over his shoulder. His best friend then came around and knelt on the ground beside him.

"Are you staying with us this time, Jason?"

Jason hesitated, the words taking a moment to register. He then managed a weak nod. "Staying...."

A trembling sensation passed through Tommy, and he had to fight back the tears. "Thank God...." The other teens gathered close in a tight huddle, and within a few minutes, all of them were crying with relief.

* * *

Deciding not to wait until morning, the teenagers all piled into Tommy's father's car and headed back into town. Jason, although shaky and weak, was definitely awake now and taking in everything around him.

They pulled up outside the Scotts' residence to a flurry of activity. Not only was there a police car in the drive, but so were all their respective parents' cars. "Okay," Tommy said grimly as they all climbed out, "brace yourselves...."

Tommy's father was the first to reach them, and he was furious. "Tommy , I hope you don't feel like going out for the next two months, because that's how long you're going to be grounded for. How could you pull a stunt like this? All of you! For God's sake, we thought you would all have had more sense than this...."

Donavon Scott came through, then, and it was clear that he was terribly shaken. "I don't know what you all thought you were doing, but you haven't changed anything. Jason is still going to Kingston, and he's going tomorrow."

Tommy opened his mouth to protest, but Donavon shook his head and cut him off sharply. "I'm sorry to say this, but I just don't think I can trust you now." He reached past Tommy, putting a gentle hand on his son's shoulder. "C'mon, Jason."

"Dad, don't send me away."

Silence struck the group, covering it like a blanket. Donavon looked back at Jason, shock rocking his system. "Jason...?"

Jason stared at him, his eyes shining with unshed tears. "Please... don't send me away...."

Donavon turned fully to face his son. "You're awake... My boy...."

"They woke me up," Jason whispered, his voice trembling just a little. "Don't be mad...."

Donavon pulled Jason to him in a tight hug, tears flooding his own eyes. "My boy's awake...."

Mr. Oliver looked over at Tommy questioningly. Tommy merely shrugged in reply. The truth was, they weren't sure how they'd brought Jason out of it, but it didn't matter. The point was they'd done it.

Sarah Scott came through the crowd, then, shaken and upset. It was bad enough that she would be losing her son tomorrow, without nearly losing him now....

Jason saw his mother over his father's shoulder, and he pulled back a little. "Mum...."

Sarah froze, staring at Jason in shock and disbelief. Then she realized he was alert, and she moved forward, throwing her arms around him and sobbing with relief.

The five teens exchanged small smiles. They'd done it. They didn't care if their parents did ground them for the next two months. They'd brought Jason back from wherever he'd been trapped, and right then, it was all they cared about.

* * *

Donavon stood in the doorway of Jason's room for a long while, watching his son sleep, before carefully shutting the door and heading down into the family room. "I'll call the Kingston Institute first thing tomorrow morning," he said softly as he sat down next to Sarah, "and cancel everything. Well, everything except the sessions with Alex Carter."

Sarah leant against him, feeling the tears well up in her eyes again for the umpteenth time. "We've got our boy back...."

Donavon looked serious. "It isn't over yet, Sarah. We still have a long way to go. This is just the first step."

Bruce nodded, and spoke from where he sat with Jenny. "There's still going to be a lot of heartache. Jason still has to deal with all that happened to him. It's not going to be easy."

Sarah smiled faintly. "I know. We'll survive, though. Whatever happens now, at least Jason has come back to us. We'll get past this in time."

Donavon returned the smile. "Everything will work itself out eventually," he agreed softly.

* * *

Tommy awoke the next morning to see rain spattering against the window, and he moaned softly to himself. Despite the way things had worked out last night, he had not dared ask his father to reconsider his punishment. His father was not the kind of man to change his mind like that. It was something he'd learnt from experience.

Sighing softly to himself, he quickly got dressed and, pulling his coat on over the rest of his clothes, he grabbed his bag and headed out into the kitchen. His parents were both there, drinking coffee and talking quietly when Tommy came in, grabbing the last piece of toast as he headed for the door. "I'll see you after school."

His father regarded him with a vaguely amused look. "Forgetting something, aren't you?"

Tommy looked surprised. "No... I don't think so...."

Mr. Oliver tossed his car keys to his son. "Punishment still stands, but there's no point in you getting pneumonia." He paused, then added, "I called Donavon Scott this morning. You can pick Jason up on your way to school."

Tommy was confused, but pleased. His father rose up to meet him. "You did a stupid thing yesterday, Tommy. Don't get delusions that it wasn't. As it turned out, though, it prevented what I think we all agree would have been an even bigger mistake. Now Jason's come out of the coma, or whatever he was in, and he can start getting better properly. But so help me, if you ever pull a stunt like that again, you'll be grounded for the rest of your teen years! You hear me?"

Tommy swallowed hard and nodded. "I won't do it again, Dad. I promise. We just wanted to help Jason."

Mr. Oliver nodded. "I understand. Now get going, or you'll be late." The teen hurried from the house.

* * *

As his father had said, Jason was waiting for him when he arrived, and had to run for the car to avoid getting too wet.

"Ready for school?" Tommy asked as he revved the engine, then pulled back into the street.

Jason nodded. "I guess so. I just...."

He trailed off, and Tommy glanced cautiously at him. "What is it?"

Jason looked straight at Tommy, then, and Tommy had to struggle not to cringe at the deep pain and fear that he saw reflected in his friend's eyes. "Promise you'll stay with me today, Tommy? Don't leave me alone...."

Tommy shook his head and spoke vehemently. "I won't leave you alone. Not today, or any other day. I swear it."

Jason looked back out the window. "Tell me something honestly?"


"How long was I... out of it? Mum and Dad wouldn't tell me."

Tommy watched Jason warily out of the corner of his eye, not sure if he should say. "It doesn't matter...."

"I want to know," Jason said in a voice that was just a little bit strained. "Tommy, please...."

Tommy sighed inwardly. "Nearly eleven weeks."

Jason slumped down in the seat, shocked. Nearly three months. He'd been a walking zombie for nearly three months.... "How long have I been back at school?"

"You don't remember any of it?" Tommy asked.

Jason shook his head. "Not really. Just bits here and there. It's all pretty hazy."

"Well, you've been back at school for a bit over a week. Jase.... do you remember anything about drawing some pictures?"

A frown creased Jason's forehead as he tried to remember. Finally he shook his head. "No. You mean I was drawing stuff while I was out of it? What sort of pictures?"

Tommy grimaced. "Better not think about it. I probably shouldn't have brought it up."

Jason glanced wonderingly at his friend, but didn't push the issue. He was far too tired and weak to be bothered. They pulled into the school car park, and Jason glanced at the dashboard clock. "Nothing ever changes. We're still late."

A laugh escaped Tommy. "I'll blame my dad. He insisted on giving me a lecture on responsibility before I left this morning."

* * *

They reached their lockers, and Tommy grabbed what he needed, then looked around to see that Jason was still fumbling with his combination lock. He hesitated, then spoke quietly. "Need a hand with that?"

Jason swallowed hard, then stepped back. "Yeah," he admitted, embarrassed. "My hands are shaking pretty badly."

Tommy quickly opened Jason's locker, pulled out what he needed, then shut it quickly. "Can you manage?"

Jason nodded as he took his books from Tommy. "I'll manage. Thanks."

A faint smile flickered across Tommy's face. "C'mon. Let's get to class."

* * *

It was only as they entered the class, and Miss Appleby and the rest of the group barely spared them a second glance, that Tommy realized that none of them knew Jason had come out of the catatonia. He glanced at Jason, wondering if the teen would dare say anything. He did. "Sorry we're late, Miss Appleby," Jason said as they made their way to a couple of spare seats.

Everyone in the class looked around and stared at Jason in shock and disbelief. Even Miss Appleby took a moment to recover. "That.... That's all right, Jason. Just take a seat. You didn't miss very much." Tommy nodded encouragingly to Jason as they sat down. Jason smiled back, but it was pale image of the real thing.

* * *

"You okay, Jase?" Zack asked in concern as the six friends sat around a picnic bench at lunch time. Jason glanced briefly at Zack, then looked away again.

"Sure," he murmured in a voice that was barely his own. Tommy reached over and put a hand on Jason's arm, and was taken aback when Jason stiffened visibly under his touch. He removed his hand, confused.

Jason looked up at him, then, pale and shaken. "Sorry. I can't help it."

Tommy suddenly remembered what they had been told in the hospital so many weeks ago. _jason was raped...._ He cursed himself angrily. "It's okay, Jase. I understand."

Jason's eyes narrowed for just an instant. There was something in Tommy's tone that suggested he knew certain things.... He couldn't keep up the eye contact, and finally looked away, back to the tabletop. The other teens exchanged glances over Jason's head, and all of them had the same thoughts.

* * *

"Who's the Red Ranger now?" Jason asked softly when he was alone with Tommy later on. Tommy looked a little uncomfortable.

"Zordon called Rocky in to sub for you, Jase. Just till you're back on your feet." Jason looked away, out of the car window, and although he remained silent, Tommy could guess what was going through his mind. "Everything's gonna work out, Jase. You're going to be all right."

Jason shivered, despite the warmth of the car's interior. "Am I? I didn't get much sleep last night, Tommy. Neither did my folks. I kept waking up screaming from nightmares. Couldn't remember much about them, but it was enough to keep me and them awake most of the night. There's still a lot of things I don't remember, things that come back in the nightmares. The worst things that happened.... I can't remember them now, but what's going to happen when I do? Am I going to close up again, like I did before?"

Tommy looked worried. The same thought had crossed his mind as well. "Not if I can help it, Jason. You're back from wherever you went to, and I'm not going to let you go again."

Jason, however, just shook his head and slumped down gloomily in the seat.

* * *

Jason walked into the house to find an unfamiliar man sitting with his parents. His father stood up and quickly introduced the stranger.

"Jason, this is Alex Carter. He's a psychiatrist from the Kingston Institute."

Panic flooded Jason's face. "You said you wouldn't send me away...."

Carter spoke up reassuringly. "You aren't going anywhere, Jason. We just thought it might help you to talk to someone... detached from this situation."

Discomfort flickered across Jason's face. "I woke up last night, and you want me to talk to a shrink already?"

Donavon glanced apologetically at Carter, then spoke to his son in a quiet, firm voice. "Jason, you've learnt enough about these situations from me to know that the sooner you can talk about it, the sooner you're likely to get better."

Jason walked over and sat down with a thud in an armchair. "That's fine, but the bottom line is that I can't remember that much of what happened. I'm not sure I want to, either. All I know is that I can't stand having anyone touch me, even if it's just a handshake or a tap on the shoulder. In the space of one night I've had at least five major nightmares... and I was too scared today to walk from one classroom to another without having someone with me." Jason shuddered. "I really don't think I want to remember."

Carter nodded slowly. "That's understandable, but it's unlikely the memories are going to stay buried forever, Jason. Sooner or later you're going to have to face this. It would be better for you if you try and face them sooner, rather than later."

Jason looked around slowly at his parents, and at Carter. "Somehow I get the feeling that you all know more of what happened to me than I remember. It's the same with Tommy and the others. Every so often today I caught one of them looking at me like... like... I don't know. I don't want to think about it." He looked back to his father, grief stricken. "All I remember for sure is that the guy who took me kept telling me that I was never going to see you or Mum again, that I was going to... to die in that room. I... I didn't know what to do at first. Then one night I started kicking the door. He... he'd said his son was in the house, and didn't know I was there. I didn't think it'd work, but I did it anyway, mainly to keep myself from losing my mind. He... he came in really mad.... Started to hit me with a belt buckle, or something...."

Jason trailed off, his breath catching in his throat. Donavon was at his side in an instant, gently encouraging him to go on. The teenager continued to speak in a trembling voice. "I... I don't know why I did it... but I started kicking the door again the next morning.... I think it might have been morning. I don't know for sure. He came in with... with an iron bar.... Said some stuff that I don't remember...." He trailed off as his shoulders started to shake with suppressed sobs, and it became a struggle for him to speak. Carter came over and crouched in front of him.

"You're doing really well, Jason. Take your time." Jason looked up at him, tears streaming down his cheeks. "That's.... that's when he broke my leg," he whispered. "He broke it the first time... but he just kept hitting me.... I was screaming, but he kept hitting me...."

Jason broke down completely, collapsing against his father and sobbing helplessly into his shoulder. Donavon braced his son tightly, protectively, while Carter got up. "I think it's about time I headed back to the Institute. I'll be back to talk to Jason again in a couple of days."

Donavon nodded silently, continuing to hold Jason to him as Sarah showed Carter out. She came back half a minute later, walked over and joined the embrace, hugging Jason tightly from the other side.

* * *

Sarah looked into Jason's room that night to find Donavon sitting there by the side of the bed, watching silently as Jason slept. "Are you going to stay here all night?" she asked softly. "Donavon...?"

"I'm staying with Jason tonight," he replied softly. "If tonight is like last night was, I don't want to leave him alone."

Sarah hesitated, then nodded. "Okay. Goodnight." Donavon sat back, sighing softly to himself. After the short session with Alex Carter, Jason had cried into his shoulder for the better part of an hour, and Donavon suspected he remembered more than he had shared. It hurt him badly to see his son, once so self confident and out going, literally torn apart by the deeds of one sadistic man. He dreaded Jason's reaction when he finally remembered all that had happened to him.

* * *

Jason remained peaceful until nearly two 'clock in the morning, when he woke up screaming. Donavon, who had long since fallen asleep in the chair by the bed, was instantly at his son's side.

"It's okay, Jason. I'm right here, son...." Jason was shaking violently, and silent sobs caught in his throat. He shuddered and fell against his father, wanting desperately to feel safe. Then, as his shaking eased, Donavon spoke to him softly. "Can you remember anything?"

The teen stared blankly ahead. Did he remember? Yes... he did.... A rush of nausea hit Jason hard, and he threw himself to the other side of the bed, vomiting over the side. Donavon hurried into the adjoining bathroom and soaked a cloth in warm water, then went back into the bedroom. Jason lay on his side, curled up in a ball and shivering helplessly. His father went around and sat down beside him.

"Use this," he said quietly, and after a moment Jason pushed himself up into a sitting position and took the cloth, wiping it over his face.

"I'm sorry...."

Donavon shook his head. "Don't be. The carpet can be cleaned. Think you can talk about it?"

Jason shut his eyes for a moment as he gathered his wits. Finally he forced himself to look up at his father. "Things... happened...."

"While you were in that room?"

"Yeah.... Dad, I still feel sick...."

"It's okay," Donavon told him gently. "You don't have to talk about it if you're not ready. I don't want to force you into it...."

Tears filled Jason's eyes. "I... I have to tell you. Is.... Is Mum awake?"

Donavon shook his head. "No. Do you want me to get her?"

"No," Jason whispered, panicked. "No, please.... I don't want her to hear...."

Donavon watched his son in concern. "Tell me what happened, Jason. Let it out."

Jason drew in a slow, painful breath. "After he broke my leg, he said he had to take his son to school, but he'd be back to... to deal with me. I don't know how long he was gone. I was so scared, that all I could think of was what he was going to do to me. When he came back, I thought he was going to beat me up, or something.... I was terrified. But he didn't hit me. He shut the door, like he was scared someone would come down and see him.... Then he knelt in front of me... said some stuff...."

"Do you remember what he said?" Donavon asked. Jason looked away, embarrassed.

"Does... does it matter?"

"It might. Try not to leave anything out, Jason."

Jason struggled with the humiliation and the churning of his stomach. "It's... It's embarrassing...."

Donavon nodded. "I know. It won't be any easier to tell the rest to me, Jason. The best you can do for yourself is to tell me everything. Take your time. There's no rush."

"Is that the shrink in you coming out?" Jason asked with nervous humour, trying to distract his father.

Donavon smiled a little at the thinly veiled diversionary tactic. "Don't stall, Jason. You only make it more difficult for yourself."

Jason's nervous smile faded. "He said I was a handsome kid, that he reckoned I would've had a lot of girls chasing me. Then he touched my face, made me look up at him...." Jason had gone tense, Donavon could feel it. "Then he untied the ropes and took my clothes off. Told me to relax, and I wouldn't get hurt."

"He untied you?" Donavon echoed softly.

Jason stared down at the blanket. His hands were locked into fists, and he couldn't unclench them. "I couldn't fight him. I tried, Dad, I swear...."

"I believe you."

"Then he started to... to touch me...."

Donavon listened in heavy silence as Jason, over the next half hour, described the extent of the sexual abuse and the rape. It was the hardest thing Jason had ever done, and Donavon felt a rush of pride and love for his son, that the teen had the courage to speak out and tell of the demoralizing experience. When Jason finally finished, Donavon reached out and pulled Jason to him in a close embrace.

"You're a brave boy, Jason. You didn't have to tell me all of that."

Jason shuddered, and sobbed into his father's shirt. "I... I didn't really remember until now. I didn't want to remember... but you already knew, didn't you?"

Donavon nodded as he hugged Jason tightly. "Yes, I already knew. The doctor at the hospital told your mother and I, and Aunt Jenny. They... they have ways of telling when things like that have happened. We weren't going to force it out of you, though."

"I don't want to tell Mum."

"You don't have to."

Jason fell silent for a long moment, then spoke up in a trembling voice as a thought struck him. "Do... do Tommy and the others know?"

"Yes," Donavon admitted softly, reluctantly. "They know."

Jason shut his eyes against a fresh flood of tears. _they all knew...._ "I'll have to tell them...."

"Not until you're ready," Donavon reassured him. "Jason, you've just taken a massive step. Don't push yourself any harder, or you'll only end up losing ground."

Jason looked up at Donavon through his tears. "Dad, please don't leave me...."

"I won't," Donavon told him vehemently. "I'm going to stay right here. I promise. You go to sleep, and I'll be here when you wake up in the morning."

Jason lay back down. He was trembling badly, and couldn't stop. "I was so scared," he whispered. "I didn't think I was ever going to see you and Mum again. I thought I was going to die in that room."

Donavon reached over and pulled the blanket up to cover his son's body. "You're safe now, Jason. No one's going to hurt you again. I promise. You're safe."

Jason shut his eyes against the hot tears. "Why did it happen, Dad? What did I do to deserve it?"

Donavon felt his heart being wrenched in his chest. "You didn't do anything, Jason. None of what happened was your fault. You have to believe that. It wasn't anything you did."

Jason stared blindly up at the ceiling. He desperately wanted to believe that, but a single doubt rang in his mind, one that he couldn't rid himself of. After a long moment, he shut his eyes and willed himself to sleep, but it was a long time before he did.

* * *

Jason woke up the next morning with a start. It took him a moment to recover his thoughts, and then he remembered all that had happened through the night. He swallowed hard and looked across to the window... and saw his father sitting there, asleep in the chair.

A tired smile flickered across his face. He had kept his promise, and it made Jason feel just that much better to wake up to the reassuring presence of his father. He sat up slowly and climbed out of bed. It almost to move, now, but the pain was not physical so much as emotional. His heart ached so badly, and a deep fear was gradually stripping away what little he had left of his dignity and determination.

He looked up towards the window as a stream of sunlight pierced the clouds and set the room awash in a gentle glow. After a moment he turned his face away, tears in his eyes. Would he ever be able to enjoy something as simple as the warm sun again?

"Jason...?" Jason looked around at the sound of his mother's voice. She walked into the room, glancing at the layer of baking soda that covered the spot where Jason had been sick.

"What happened? Are you all right, sweetheart?"

The teen looked away, ashamed. "I was sick," he said softly. "I had a nightmare, and it made me sick. I'm sorry..."

Sarah hurried over to his side. "It's all right, baby. It's okay. Why didn't you wake me?"

"I didn't want to bother you."

Sarah glanced over at her sleeping husband, took in his exhausted countenance, and guessed that Jason had shared more of his terrible experience with his father last night. She hugged him warmly.

"It's okay, sweetheart. Do you want to stay home today?"

Jason swallowed hard. It would be so easy to say yes, and stay within the protective confines of his home.... "No," he whispered. "I have to go to school."

Sarah nodded. "All right. Come and have breakfast, and then you can get ready for school."

* * *

Jason reached his locker with Tommy and was relieved when he was able to open the door himself. It had been humiliating yesterday, when he had been unable to even open his combination lock.... A hand came down on Jason's shoulder, and he spun around so fast that he very nearly lost balance.

Mr. Caplan stepped back, equally startled as Jason dropped all of his books. "Jason, I'm terribly sorry. I didn't mean to startle you."

Jason swallowed hard, and for a brief moment looked as though he was going to be sick. "It's okay, sir," he mumbled.

Mr. Caplan crouched down and quickly gathered up the boy's books. "Here. I just wanted to see you about a little bit of catch up work. Whenever you think you're ready...."

The teenager was looking everywhere except directly at the principal. "I... I might see you in a few days...."

Mr. Caplan nodded. "That's fine. There's no hurry. I'll see you around school."

Jason finally looked up as the principal headed back up the corridor. A moment later, Tommy joined him.

"You feeling okay, Jase?"

"Sure," Jason replied numbly. "Let's get to class."

* * *

Lunch time came, and the teens sat on the cool grass together, enjoying the warm sunshine. That was, all except Jason. He sat slightly apart from the others, looking as though he wanted nothing more than to be home. His friends made futile efforts at talking to him, for he gave only single word answers, and either would not or could not bring himself to look at them.

Finally, Kimberly grew a little impatient and concerned, and moved over to where Jason sat. "Jason, come over here and join us. Don't separate yourself like this." Jason looked up at her tentatively. Kim smiled reassuringly at him, then made the mistake of reaching out and touching her hand gently to his face.

In an instant, Jason flashed back to the basement room, to Rick Daniels before he began the horrendous acts of sexual molestation. Seeing not Kimberly, but Rick Daniels, Jason wrenched away with a terrified cry and threw himself to the ground against the trunk of a tree where he hunched over, cowering in sheer panic.

Tommy moved quickly, sliding across the ground to where Jason literally shook with fear. "Jason, snap out of it, bro. C'mon..."

Jason continued to stare at the ground, his eyes glazing over as he became trapped in his memories. Tommy glanced skyward and asked for forgiveness for what he was about to do. He then reached out, took hold of Jason's shoulders and shook him hard. "Jason, wake up!"

Jason snapped out of it, and broke down a moment later, sobbing helplessly as the fear and nausea rolled through his body. Tommy moved closer, pulling Jason to him in a brotherly embrace. "It's okay, buddy. You're safe. No one's gonna hurt you. We're looking after you now."

Jason sobbed into Tommy's shoulder, and spoke as the others slowly gathered around. "I tried to fight him... but I couldn't... I couldn't fight him, Tommy... I couldn't stop him...."

Tommy held Jason tightly, protectively, ignoring the curious stares that were coming from nearby students. "What couldn't you stop him from doing, Jase?"

Jason shut his eyes. He couldn't say it. How could he possibly say it...? "You already know...." he choked out, his voice muffled by Tommy's shirt.

Tommy looked grim as he exchanged glances with the others. He hated himself for doing this, but he believed Jason had to say it, out loud and to all of them. He wanted him to say it, so they could all shoulder some of the pain that Jason was suffering. "We know, Jase, but we want you to say it."

_i can't!_ Jason wanted to scream at Tommy, but he couldn't bring himself to do so. Instead, he tried to pull away, but Tommy refused to let him go.

"Talk to us, Jason. C'mon, pal...."

With a shudder, Jason collapsed in Tommy's arms, overtaken by a fresh flood of tears. "He raped me...." he choked out, and could feel his face burning with utter humiliation and demoralization. "He... he...."

Tommy hugged Jason to him, wanting to guard him from further hurt. "It's okay, Jase. You don't have to say anymore. Not another word."

Jason finally gave in to the full torrent of emotions inside him, and he submitted himself completely to Tommy's protective embrace. A moment later, the other teens gathered around, surrounding Jason in a sheltering circle.

Youth Centre....
Donavon Scott arrived at the Youth Centre that afternoon, and was ambushed by Tommy as he went inside. Jason, he could see, was down on the practise mats with Zack and Billy, working out with one of the punching bags. The look of sheer concentration on Jason's face hid the anguish everyone knew he was suffering.

"What is it, Tommy?" He asked as the teen drew him aside.

"Jason kind of had a fit this afternoon," Tommy told him softly.

Donavon's face creased with concern. "How do you mean?"

"Well, it was at lunch time, and we were trying to get him more involved. Kimberly asked him to join us, but she touched his face and he went into a total panic. I... I kind of had to shake him out of it."

"It's okay," Donavon said. "What else happened?"

"He broke down, then, and started crying.... so I went over and just held him... then he admitted something to us."

Donavon knew instantly what Tommy was going to say. "He said that Rick Daniels raped him?"

Tommy nodded. "Yeah."

"I thought he might," Donavon said quietly. "He woke up screaming last night, after a pretty horrific nightmare. He finally remembered everything that happened to him, and it made him physically sick. He gave me a pretty vivid description of what Daniels did to him. It took a lot of effort to stay calm in front of him. How much did he tell you?"

"Only that Daniels raped him. He was really upset, so I didn't let him say anymore. I didn't think he needed to. I kind of pushed him into saying that much...."

Donavon nodded. "It's all right. He needed to admit it eventually, for his own sake. He needed to admit that it really happened."

A dismal look flickered across Tommy's face. "I know, but I still feel bad. I think he still wants to block it out, and I don't blame him."

Donavon watched in momentary silence as Jason finished working out and collected his towel from the edge of the mat.

"Neither do I, Tommy. Neither do I."

A week later....
Jason sat by himself in the Youth Centre after school, waiting for his friends to arrive. Tommy had walked with him to the Youth Centre, and had seen him safely inside to a table, but had needed to go and take care of business with the others. Now, he sat in silence, waiting for them to get back.

He thought of the incident a week ago at lunch as he waited. It had been a week, but it still dominated his thoughts. None of them had made it to their last classes. He had been so distraught that he had cried into Tommy's shoulder for the duration of the two periods, and the others had stayed as well.

At some point, Mr. Caplan had come looking for them, and had stayed for a little while to try and offer some comfort and support. He'd then told them not to worry about missing class, and had eventually gone back into the building.

Jason shivered. Of course, he had not told them everything, as he had told his father. He could not have brought himself to say any of it, anyway. A heavy sigh escaped him, and he slumped over a little in the seat. If he could have possibly felt any worse than he did right then....

A shadow suddenly fell across the table, and Jason looked up to see a girl that he didn't recognise standing there. The girl smiled tentatively, and spoke with equal nervousness. "Hi, Jason."

Jason stared at her silently, a deeply wary look on his face. She glanced at the empty chair, then back to Jason. "Mind if I sit down?" When Jason didn't respond, the girl drew in a deep breath and sat down anyway. "I'm Claire," she introduced herself with a nervous smile. "Claire Roberts. Um.... You want a soda, or something...?" Still Jason remained silent, merely glancing pointedly at the half full glass in front of him. Claire smiled sheepishly. "I guess not."

"Did you want something?" He didn't intend to sound so cold, but over the past week, one too many of his fellow students had come up and carelessly asked him what it was like to be kidnapped. One student working on the school newspaper had even asked him for an interview. He was half waiting for someone to come up and ask him what it was like to be molested....

Claire gathered her courage and spoke. "Um, yeah.... Someone said you teach karate classes. I was wondering if I could enroll. I've heard it's a good way to boost self esteem. That's not something that I have that much of at the moment. I was, um, hoping you could, maybe, help me out."

Jason stared blankly at Claire, barely able to believe what he was hearing. Didn't she know what had happened to him...? He pulled his thoughts together and spoke softly. "You're talking to the wrong person. You should go and see Tommy Oliver."

Claire's expression altered a little. "No, Jason. You're the one I want to talk to. I... I heard about what happened...." _along with everyone else in the school_ she thought, kicking herself in the proverbial.

Jason's eyes narrowed. "Let me guess. You want to know what it's like to be kidnapped."

Claire returned his harsh stare easily, then. "No. I already know." The anger fell away from Jason's face in an instant, only to be replaced by suspicion. Claire went on softly. "Three and a half years ago, before me and my folks moved here, I was on my way home from school when a man stepped out from behind a tree, grabbed me, forced me into his car and drove off. I was kept in a dirty little room for nearly two weeks before the police finally found me. Does that sound familiar, Jason?"

Jason stared at her in tense silence, trying to decide whether she was lying. He could tell by the look in her eyes, in the way she couldn't quite bring herself to meet his gaze, that she was telling the truth. He let his breath out in a rush, and the suspicion faded away. "You're asking me to teach you karate?"

Claire smiled, this time more broadly. "Yes. Listen, Jason. My folks moved us here almost straight after I was found, so I never had any friends to help me get by each day. You're lucky that you do have that. Nobody in this town knows what happened to me, except a few of the teachers. So, apart from my folks, I'm totally alone."

Jason could feel his stomach churning. Claire had just got how he was feeling in one. Only Tommy seemed to really understand how badly frightened he was, and even then... But all of a sudden, here was someone who genuinely understood. "Three and a half years?" he echoed softly.

"Yes." She offered him a crooked smile. "I still talk to a shrink every so often, too."

Jason stared down at the tabletop, tears filling his eyes. "No one really understands. They try, but they can't possibly know...."

"I know," Claire said. "I've been waiting for a chance to talk to you, Jason. You made the first step by coming back from wherever it was that you'd gone. There's still a long way to go, though. Will you let me help you?"

Jason stared wonderingly at the timid girl. "You want to help me...?"

Claire shrugged a little. "Maybe we can help each other. I don't have any real friends. None that I can talk to, or tell all of this to. You're the first person I've told. I'd like us to be friends, Jason. I think we could help each other."

Jason stared at her for a long moment, then managed a faint, nervous smile. "Do you still want karate lessons?"

Claire nodded eagerly. "Yes. I was serious about that. Do you think I could sign up?"

Jason stood up. "Why wait? C'mon, we'll start now."

* * *

A short while later, Tommy, Zack and Billy entered the Youth Centre looking for Jason. "Where is he?" Tommy muttered, looking around anxiously.

Zack nudged him lightly and motioned to the practise mats. "He's over there, with that girl."
Tommy and Billy both looked around sharply, and spotted Jason a short distance away on the practise mats. It seriously looked as though he was teaching basic karate to the girl he was with. Tommy started forward, but Zack caught his arm and held him back.

"Leave him be, Tommy. We'll wait over here for him." Tommy reluctantly conceded, and followed his friends over to sit down at an empty table.

* * *

Forty minutes later, after Trini and Kimberly had arrived, Jason finally came over and joined his friends, bringing the girl with him. "Hey, guys. This is Claire." He went round the table, introducing his five best friends who, in turn, greeted Claire warmly.

"You were looking pretty good out there," Tommy said with a smile.

Jason smiled back tiredly. The session had wiped him out, and they could all see it. "No, I wasn't, but thanks anyway. I'll be back in a minute. I'm walking Claire outside to her dad's car."

Jason led Claire from the Youth Centre, leaving his friends to stare after him in surprise.

* * *

"Will I see you tomorrow?" Jason asked as they ventured outside. Claire hesitated. Being in the other sophomore class, she had a different schedule, and it was likely that they would not meet up. "I have lunch from 12 to 1."

Jason looked gloomy. "I'm from 1 till 2."

Claire nodded. "Okay. We'll meet here after school, then. Thanks, Jason."

Surprise flickered across Jason's face. "What for? I should be thanking you."

"But you didn't have to listen to me." She smiled a little. "I'm just glad we met." She trailed off as they locked gazes for just a second. In that instant, a look of mutual understanding passed between them, that very nearly flared into something else. Claire felt her face grow hot, and she turned and jogged the short distance to her father's car.

Jason waited nervously until she was in the car, before turning and hurrying back into the Youth Centre.

* * *

"Who was that?" Ted Roberts asked curiously as Claire settled into the seat.

She watched as Jason disappeared back inside, then spoke quietly. "Jason Scott."

Ted blinked as he guided the car out of the Youth Centre's parking lot. "You finally caught up with him, huh? How's he coping?"

Claire shrugged. "He seems okay on the outside. We talked a bit. I might see him again tomorrow. I hope I do."

A faint smile flickered across her father's face. "You know you can tell him he's welcome any time at the house."

Claire smiled more broadly, and felt her cheeks grow inexplicably again. "Let's see how he reacts to me, first," she said. "I don't want to push him too hard. I think he's finding it hard enough to get by now."

Ted sighed softly, the smile fading from his face. "Well, sweetheart, from the way you described him, I'd say he's going to need all the help he can get."

Claire fell silent, knowing from personal experience that her father was right.

* * *

Jason headed to class the next morning, struggling to fight off a powerful sensation of nausea. He'd had a particularly bad night, his sleep broken up by horrific nightmares, and he'd been physically sick during the night. He'd gotten very little sleep, and it was because he was only half aware of everything that was happening around him that he'd made it to school. He was a little more alert now, though, and the fear was taking hold again.

He rounded the corner with Tommy and Zack, and was both startled and pleased when he ran into Claire outside his math class. "This must be Miss Appleby's math class, huh?" she asked tentatively.

Jason nodded. "Yeah. Did you get a timetable change?"

"Uh huh. They said my results from the midterms were good enough to put me in the higher class."

Jason pulled a twisted smile as they went inside. "Maybe you can help me, then. If I'm not careful, they'll be dropping me back into the lower class." They sat down next to each other, and then Jason realised something. "This means we'll be having lunch at the same time!"

Claire's face lit up. "That's right!"

Jason sat back, a hint of a real smile on his face. Perhaps he would be able to get through the day after all.

* * *

"Not too many people know about everything that happened," Jason said softly as he sat under a tree with Claire at lunch time.

Claire nodded. "I just know what we heard from the teachers. That you had a broken leg, and jaw, and that you were beaten up pretty badly."

Jason looked at her questioningly. "Only that...?"

She smiled a little. "Well, everyone knows you were a walking zombie for nearly five weeks after leaving the hospital. In case you're wondering, though, everyone's just been minding their own business."

Jason looked away. "Everyone except the ones who have the gall to come up and ask me what it was like."

Claire watched him for a long moment before speaking. "How many people know all the details?"

"So far, only my dad. I mean, aside from the doctors... and the police... But I've only told my dad. It's bad enough that the others know about..."

He trailed off, stumbling over the words. Claire encouraged him gently. "Know about what?"

Jason shook his head, and Claire didn't push him. Instead, she related some of her own ordeal to him. He listened silently, then spoke in a trembling voice. "Did he.... Did he rape you?"

Claire hesitated for just a moment, then gave a quick nod, unable to look straight at him. "Yes. He did. Not at first, though. To start with, he came in and just stared at me. Then, he started to... do things. He started touching me... Then, one day he came in and he raped me. That was the day before the police found me. If they'd been just one day earlier...."

She paused, then, looking over at Jason in sudden concern as realisation struck her. "Is that what happened to you? He... raped you?"

Jason didn't answer. Instead, he looked away, tears overflowing and spilling down his cheeks. Claire felt a rush of understanding and sympathy for the distressed teen. Then, after a moment's hesitation, she reached over and slipped her hand into Jason's.

Jason looked back at her through his tears, a little disconcerted. Claire co uldn't quite bring herself to smile, but she squeezed his hand gently, reassuringly. He sat back against the tree, the silent, mutual understanding giving him courage.

* * *

"Where's Jason?" Tommy asked in concern as he finally joined his friends.

Kimberly smiled. "He's with Claire, just around the corner."

Tommy frowned, and went to see for himself. He came back a moment later, surprised. "He's with Claire...."

Kimberly rolled her eyes. "Duh.... Isn't that what I just said?"

Tommy sat down with a graceless thud between Kimberly and Billy. "I know. I just didn't expect it. Something weird is going on. They're even holding hands."

Zack nearly choked on his Pepsi. "What!?"

"Seriously," Tommy replied. "I couldn't quite hear, but I think he was telling her about what happened to him."

"He only met her yesterday," Trini said, confused.

Tommy smiled grimly. "I know. That's why I'd like to know what's going on."

"We can't force him to talk to us," Billy put in quietly. "We just have to wait until he's ready."

Tommy didn't reply, but simply stared thoughtfully at the grass.

* * *

"Do you still get bad nightmares?" Jason asked softly.

Claire stared up at the sky for a long moment before replying. "Every so often I get bad ones. It isn't as bad as it used to be, though. A year and a half ago I was on dream suppressants, the nightmares were so bad. Half the time I felt like I was in the middle of Freddy Krueger movie."

"I have nightmares every night," Jason said. "Half the time they make me sick. Sometimes I don't want to go to sleep, because I'm scared that I'll dream about it."

"I know. It'll get better with time. Try not to let it beat you."

"I just wish I knew why," he said, sounding stricken. "Why did it happen? What did I do wrong...?"

Claire held his hand tightly. "You didn't do anything wrong. Keep telling yourself that, every minute of the day if you have to. It was just a freak thing. It wasn't your fault, Jason. Don't blame yourself."

Jason swallowed hard and said nothing. The truth was that he could believe that the kidnapping itself was not his fault, nor was the abuse that followed. However, there was something that he couldn't get past. Why hadn't his friends been able to rescue him...? They had told him all they had tried to do, of course, but it didn't settle his doubts. Why had only his morpher and his coin teleported, and not him?

There was only one reason that he could think of. Somehow, somewhere along the line, he had done something wrong, and misused the power. Therefore, when Zordon tried to teleport him, it had been unsuccessful. Maybe what had happened was not his fault directly, but perhaps it had been some sort of punishment for a previous wrongdoing.

Jason shut his eyes against the tears. If only he knew for certain....

* * *

Claire watched Jason out of the corner of her eye as they sat together. Something was eating away at him, something that he either wouldn't or couldn't share with her. She remained silent. It was not her place to force him to tell her anything.

She glanced down at his hand in her own. They were both comfortable like that, and she could sense it was the start of a what would be a close friendship. She sighed inwardly and leant back fully against the tree. Perhaps in time he would be able to share more with her. Until then, she would just be there for him as much as she could.

* * *

Over the next several days, despite his meeting Claire, Jason's resolve began to fail. The nightmares, already severe, seemed to gain in intensity, and it steadily became more difficult for him to get by each day. He became frightened to go to sleep at night, and it took his parents more effort to get him to give in and go to sleep, and the small amount of comfort offered by his friends did less to help him survive.

Eventually, it reached the point where, one night, Jason was unable to sleep at all, so afraid was he of the nightmares that plagued his unconscious mind. His mother came in to him the next morning and, after one look, knew he hadn't slept at all.

"I want to stay home today," Jason whispered when Sarah came in. She walked over and sat down next to him on the bed.

"You didn't sleep last night, did you?"

"No," he admitted, eyes downcast. "Just a few minutes here and there. Please don't make me go to school today. I'm too tired. I can't cope."

Sarah felt a rush of concern. She and Donavon had been waiting for this. Jason had been so steadfast in his determination to get through school each day, and they'd had to stand by and watch as his will started to fail. Now, she was afraid he was simply giving in and quitting altogether. "I'll talk to your father," she said softly and, getting up, hurried from the room.

* * *

Donavon looked up from his coffee as Sarah came back into the room. "Where's Jason?"

"In his room. Donavon, he asked to stay home today. I told him I'd talk to you."

Donavon put down his coffee mug and got to his feet. "How did he look?"

Sarah shook her head. "Not good. He's very tired. I don't think he got any sleep at all last night. I'm worried that he's giving in...."

Without another word, Donavon strode from the room.

* * *

Jason looked around slowly as his father walked into his room. He had not moved so much as an inch from where his mother had left him. He simply did not have the strength to move. Donavon came around to stand in front of him. One look, and he saw that Jason was losing his will to fight.

"I want to stay home," Jason said, able to look his father in the eye for only a brief second.

Donavon hesitated before speaking. "I'll let you stay home today if you can look me in the eye and tell me that you'll go tomorrow."

Jason shut his eyes. He could neither look his father in the eye, nor make that promise even to convince himself. Donavon nodded.

"All right. Get up, Jason. You're going to get dressed and got to school, and if you want to save yourself from being late, you'll move yourself right now."

Jason looked up at his father then, distressed. "Please, Dad.... I didn't get any sleep last night. I was too scared to sleep...."

"And now you're too scared to go outside," Donavon interrupted. "I'm not going to let you give in, Jason. You're not going to shut yourself away. Now get up."

Tears flooded Jason's eyes. "Can't you understand? I don't want to go...."

"Why not?" Donavon asked, crouching down in front of Jason. "Why don't you want to go to school today? I told you, if you can look me in the eye and tell me that you're just tired, and that you'll go tomorrow, then I'll let you stay home. Otherwise, you're going to get up and get dressed, even if I have to dress you myself."

Jason shuddered a little. "You wouldn't force me..."

"Yes, I would, Jason. Please don't make me fight with you on this. If you don't go to school today, you might not make it back there at all. You know it as well as I do. Don't let me down, son."

The tears flowed freely then, and Jason's voice trembled badly as he spoke. "Why does everything I do have to be for someone else? You tell me not to let you down... Everyone tells me to do it for them. I'm sick of it! I don't want to do it anymore. I don't want to do anything anymore! I just want to stay here, where I can feel safe!"

Donavon straightened up, walked over to a large chest-of-drawers and took out a fresh set of clothes, black pants and a red shirt. "I'm going to get you dressed, Jason. Please don't fight me."

Jason stared at his father with a mixture of grief and anger. "What will you do if I fight you? Will you send me away?"

Donavon regarded Jason coolly. "I worked for six years in a psychiatric hospital before you were born. I know how to dress people that don't want to be dressed. Don't fight me, Jason."

Jason, however, could not help it. Panic overcoming reason at the prospect of having to go outside, he fought his father hard. Donavon was prepared, though, and he forcibly dressed his son in a matter of minutes.

By the time Donavon let Jason go, the teen was crying openly. Donavon watched his son grimly. "Are you going to fight me all the way to the car?"

"I hate you...." Jason whimpered, shying away from his father.

"I know, son. You're going to hate me even more if you don't get up now and walk out to the car."

Jason got up slowly, but instead of walking out the door, he moved back into the farthest corner of the room. "Don't make me go, Dad. Please, don't make me go outside...."

Donavon walked over to stand in front of Jason. "You're going to fight me all the way, aren't you? Jason, I'm giving you one last chance...."

Jason pressed back against the wall, terror building up inside him. The images in front of him blurred and faded, and instead of his father, he saw Rick Daniels... Carl Daniels.... both reaching out for him....

Hands closed firmly on his shoulders and pulled him forcibly towards the bedroom door. Jason shut his eyes, fighting the fast growing panic and struggling against his father as much as he could. It wasn't enough. He was still weak and tired, even after two weeks of awareness, and could not match his father's superior strength. He was dragged, fighting uselessly, out of the house and to the waiting car.

Sarah watched in distress from the sidelines as Donavon pulled Jason from the bedroom and forced him out to the family car. As much as it upset her, she did not interfere. She did not want to see Jason shut himself away anymore than her husband.

Walking out onto the porch, she watched as Donavon put Jason in the car and hurried around to get in behind the wheel. Jason had sunk down in the seat, and was staring down, refusing to look out. Donavon spared his wife a brief look, then pulled out of the driveway and drove off up the street.

* * *

"We're here."

Jason looked up slowly to see that the car had pulled up outside the school gate, but he didn't move. Donavon sighed inwardly before speaking.

"You know I'll take you in there myself if I have to. Don't make it necessary."

Jason finally flung the car door open and got out, his anger at his father overriding his fear of being outside, and by himself.

"Don't bother coming for me this afternoon," he said in a bitter voice. "I'll get a ride with someone."

Donavon returned Jason's angry stare angrily. "It's for your own good, Jason. I can't let you quit now."

"How would you know whether I was quitting?" Jason snarled. "When you dragged me out of the house this morning, all I could think of was Carl Daniels grabbing me and trying to force me into the car. You made me relive all that again, and I hate you for it! I hate you!" He turned and ran through the school gate and into the building, not looking back.

* * *

Everyone looked up, startled, as Jason literally stormed into the classroom, sitting down with a heavy thud in a seat in the back row. He refused to meet anyone's gaze, including Claire's, and merely stared desolately at the tabletop.

Miss Appleby pointedly avoided mentioning Jason's late, rather theatrical entrance, and simply went on with the class. Tommy, in the seat next to Jason, tried to catch his gaze, but Jason refused to look up. All Tommy could see were the tears that spilt onto the other boy's books.

Tommy sat back with a thud. He would simply have to wait until lunch time, and hope that Jason would have calmed down enough to talk to him properly.

* * *

Claire was the first to catch up with Jason. She ambushed him between mid morning classes and, before he had a chance to say or do anything, she pushed him very firmly into the library, and into one of the study rooms.

"Okay. What happened?"

Jason sat down with a thud. "I didn't want to come this morning. Dad made me come...."

Claire pulled up a chair in front of him. "More nightmares?"

"Sort of. I was too scared to go to sleep last night, Claire. I was too frightened of having nightmares. I just wanted to stay home today, but Dad forced me to come...."

Claire was confused. "How could he force you to come to school?" Jason went on to explain how his father had dressed him, and then literally dragged him out to the car. Claire listened in grim silence before speaking softly. "Would you really have been able to come tomorrow?"

"I couldn't even convince myself that I would," Jason admitted, tears overflowing again.

Claire reached out and gently lifted his face so that he was looking at her. "Then you had to come. Don't give up now, Jason. You've gotta keep fighting."

Jason pulled away from her. "Why?" he asked , his voice laced with bitterness. "For you?"

Claire was surprised, but not hurt by the callous remark. She knew, then, what was upsetting him. "Of course not, stupid," she retorted. Jason stared at her in astonishment, and she moved closer, putting her hands firmly on his shoulders. "You have to keep fighting for yourself. Of course everyone's going to be disappointed if you cave, but they don't count. Can you look at me and tell me that you're honestly happy to give up and lock yourself away for the rest of your life? 'Cause it can happen, Jason. Everything you do, you do it for yourself. Every step you take, every single day, it has to be for you, not for anyone else. When some tells you to 'do it for them', or not to let them down, ignore it. If you give up, you'll only really be letting yourself down. That's all you have to think about."

Jason stared at her, nearly blinded by his tears. "I can't keep it up, Claire. It's too hard."

She nodded. "Because you're trying to do it alone. You need more help than you want to admit."

Jason hung his head. He knew she was right. Claire took a chance and, moving closer still, put her arms around him in a warm hug. "Don't give up on yourself, Jason. Don't let the creep who took you win."

Before he really knew what he was doing, Jason put his arms around Claire and buried his face in her shoulder. They stayed in each other's arms for a long while.

* * *

"How're you holding up, Jase?" Tommy asked when Jason joined the group at lunch. Jason shrugged a little.

"Tired. I didn't get much sleep last night."

There was a long pause, and then Zack spoke tentatively. "You looked pretty upset this morning. Is everything okay?"

_no_ Jason wanted to scream at his friends. _no, everything is not okay..._ He looked away, biting back his anger. "Sure."

Tommy hesitated, then reached over and put one hand lightly on Jason's shoulder. Jason flinched a little, but did not pull away. "If you need someone to yell at, Jase, I'm right here."

Jason managed a weak smile. "Thanks, but I'd rather take it out on a punching bag." _so i can get my strength up and fight my dad properly the next time he tries to force me to go to school..._

"Saw you talking with Claire Roberts in the library," Kimberly commented in what she hoped was a casual tone.

Jason stared uncomfortably at the ground. "We, uh... She just wanted to know if I was okay." Kimberly nodded calmly. She wisely kept her mouth shut, not repeating that she had seen the two in each other's arms. Jason glanced up at her, then away again. "Claire understands.... a lot of what happened. She's been... helping me get by."

Zack frowned a little. "Why do I get the feeling you're telling Claire more than you're telling us?"

Discomfort flashed across Jason's face. "She... She understands...."

"And we don't?" Zack asked.

Tommy put a restraining hand on Zack's shoulder. "Take it easy, man. It's okay, Jase. Look, if you can talk to Claire, then go for it. Just don't forget we're all here, okay?"

Before Jason had a chance to reply, though, their communicators began to beep loudly. Exchanging gloomy looks, Tommy spoke into his communicator while the others looked around for prying eyes and ears. "What's up, Zordon?"

"There is an emergency," Zordon said, predictably. "You must all teleport here immediately."

"Okay," Tommy replied. "The other's are coming. I'll just take Jason to the Youth Centre...."

"Don't worry about me, Tommy," Jason said in a disturbingly dull voice. "I'll be okay."

Tommy stared at Jason for a long moment, then spoke quietly to his friends. "You guys go ahead. I'll be there as soon as possible."

The four teens hurried off to find a deserted area to teleport from, leaving Tommy with Jason. "C'mon, buddy. I'll take you to the Youth Centre." Jason went without protest, but as they reached the building, he turned suddenly and spoke in a strained voice. "If you have a chance, can you ask Zordon something for me, Tommy?"

Tommy nodded. "Sure, Jase. What is it?"

Jason hesitated, then forced it out. "Can you ask him what I did wrong?"

Tommy froze. "What d'you mean?"

"Just ask him," Jason whispered. He turned and hurried into the Youth Centre, leaving Tommy to wonder what was going on.