by Naomi Tilley

Jason had not been in the Youth Centre for more than ten minutes when familiar sounds reached his ears. The sounds of a fight....

"They're at it again," he heard Ernie say to someone, and watched as most of the students hurried to the windows to get a glimpse of the battle.

Jason sighed to himself and looked away from all the windows. After a moment, his gaze fell on his bare wrist. Billy had not bothered to make a new communicator for him. He wondered whether that was intuition, or whether Zordon had told him not to bother.

He heard cheers from the students watching the fight, and shut his eyes, fighting back tears. Regardless of what his friends said, he suspected his days of being a Power Ranger were long over. Rocky was not merely a sub in for him, no matter what they wanted to believe. He was a permanent replacement, and Jason was simply waiting for Zordon to confirm it.

"Hey, Jason." Jason looked around to see Claire walking over and sitting down next to him. He tried to smile, but couldn't manage it. She reached over and grasped his hand in her own.

"What's wrong, Jason? Why aren't you watching the fight along with everyone else?"

Jason blinked hard, but it only caused more tears to fall. "I didn't want to watch."

Claire frowned a little, a thought suddenly occurring to her. "Where are your friends? I thought you were spending lunch with them...."

"They had some stuff to do," Jason whispered, his throat tightening painfully on him. "Didn't... didn't need me slowing them down."

Claire felt her heart twist painfully. "Oh Jason...." She touched one finger lightly to his cheek, and lifted away a single tears. "It's so hard to be strong when everything's working against you."

Jason shook his head. "It wasn't their fault. They... they had to...."

He trailed off as the television on the counter suddenly went to a news flash, and clips of the fight between the zords and the new monster went to air. For several seconds, the picture focused on the Red Dragon Thunderzord, and Jason felt his heart virtually break.

Claire watched as what was left of Jason's stoic expression crumbled, and he slumped over, totally defeated. "Jason...?"

Jason didn't answer immediately, but rather looked away as the tears came in a flood. "I want to go home," he whispered, his shoulders shaking with silent sobs.

Claire hesitated, then stood up. "Hang on. I'll ask Ernie to give your dad a call."

She hurried up to the counter, and called to Ernie, who was watching the broadcast with intense interest.

"Ernie!" He looked back, and smiled. "What can I do for you, Claire?"

Claire glanced back to where Jason sat. "Could you give Jason's dad a call? I think he's had just about all he can take today."

Ernie's smile fell away like a rock. "Right away."

Claire smiled gratefully and hurried back to Jason.

* * *

Donavon Scott arrived at the Youth Centre nearly twenty minutes later, and quickly made his way over to where Jason sat with Claire.

"Jason? Are you all right...?" Jason didn't answer. He simply stared at the tabletop, silent tears running down his cheeks. Donavon nodded. "Okay. I'm taking you home, son."

He glanced questioningly at Claire, and she briefly introduced herself to him. "I'm Claire Roberts."

Donavon smiled a little as he gently brought Jason to his feet. Jason had mentioned a Claire. "Thank you, Claire. I appreciate you getting Ernie to call me."

She shrugged. "It's okay." She reached out and caught Jason's hand in her own for a moment. "Hang in there, Jason. Okay?'

Jason responded with a quick glance, but that was all.

* * *

"Still mad at me?" Donavon asked quietly as the headed home. Jason didn't answer. He merely continued to cry silent tears. "Talk to me, Jason. Please...." Jason, however, closed his eyes and effectively shut his father out.

* * *

Upon arriving home, Jason went straight into his room and shut the door. Sarah started after him, but Donavon held her back.

"Give him some space, Sarah. Whatever's wrong, he needs to work it out himself."

Sarah hesitated, then consented, reluctantly leaving her son to himself.

* * *

Jason lay face down on his bed, sobbing helplessly. It was hard enough trying to accept the fact that he probably would not be a Power Ranger again, but seeing his old zord on the TV, piloted by someone else, had simply been too much. He buried his face as far into his pillow as he could, almost wishing he could suffocate himself.... or do something to end the torture....

Finally, as his sobs faded, he rolled off his bed and headed for the adjoining bathroom, intending to splash some cold water on his face. He was halfway there when his world vanished in a flash of white light.

* * *

Jason fell heavily to his knees in the Command Centre, caught unawares by the unexpected teleportation. He took a moment to regain his wits, and then looked up at Zordon. "I wish you'd give me more warning when you're going to do that."

"I'm sorry, Jason," Zordon replied in an unusually quiet voice. "You no longer have a communicator, and I had no way of contacting you."

Jason sighed a little and got slowly to his feet. Before he had a chance to say anything, Alpha shuffled forward uncertainly. "It's good to see you again, Jason."

Jason offered the little robot a weak smile. "Same here, Alpha. It's been a while, hasn't it?"

"Yes," Zordon said, "it has. How are you feeling, Jason?"

Jason shrugged. "I'm okay."

Zordon regarded the teen piercingly. "Honestly."

Jason averted his eyes from the ancient master. "Pretty bad. I haven't been getting much sleep lately. Bad nightmares, stuff like that."

"I understand."

_do you....?_ Jason thought bitterly. _i don't think so..._

Zordon went on quietly. "You still have unresolved conflicts. Tommy told me your question."

"So?" Jason asked nervously. "What did I do wrong?"

"What makes you believe you did something wrong?"

Jason could have screamed in frustration. "You sound like my father, and Dr. Carter. Can't you just tell what I did wrong to lose the protection...?"

Zordon finally understood. "Nothing you did was the cause of this, Jason. You must believe that. Your communicator was destroyed, and I took a chance in trying to teleport you here through the power coin. It failed."

"But if I'd still had the protection," Jason argued, "it would have worked. I must have done something wrong. What did I do?"

"Stop trying to blame yourself," Zordon told him firmly. "It was not your fault. It was fate, and that is one force I have no power over." Jason looked unconvinced, but said no more. There was a brief, uncomfortable silence, and then Zordon spoke again. "What else is bothering you?"

The teenager drew in a deep breath, and forced himself to speak before he lost all his courage. "Tommy said you've got Rocky filling in for me."

"That is correct."

"But he isn't just a temporary fill in, is he? He's a permanent replacement."

Zordon was silent. Jason took a step forward. "Tell me the truth, Zordon. Please... I don't want to look forward to rejoining the team if it's never going to happen."

"Your intuition is correct," Zordon replied in an even softer voice. "I am afraid that you are no longer able to serve as a ranger. I was intending to wait until you were stronger in both body and mind before I told you...."

Jason looked away, tears filling his eyes. "I understand."

"I'm sorry, Jason."

"Send me home. Please."

Zordon nodded grimly to Alpha, and Jason was teleported out of the Command Centre.

* * *

Jason landed in the middle of the floor of his bedroom with a soft thud. He stood there for several seconds before walking slowly back to his bed, lying down and shutting his eyes. The tears came in a flood a moment later, and after a long while, he finally cried himself to sleep.

* * *

Donavon looked into Jason's room that evening to discover that his son was fast asleep. He hesitated, on the verge of waking him up for dinner. He changed his mind, though, and carefully shut the door, deciding to let him sleep.

* * *

"Where is he?" Sarah asked as she set the table.

"Asleep," Donavon told her. "You'd better put something aside for him, but I doubt he'll be awake before morning."

Sarah sighed heavily. "He was so upset this morning. Maybe we shouldn't have forced him to go to school."

Donavon shook his head. "No. Letting him stay home would have been a mistake. We have to be his strength, Sarah. Even if that means forcing him to go to school. I won't stand back and let him lock himself away. If he does, he'll never get better."

"I know," Sarah murmured. "It just hurts so much to see him hurting, and not being able to do anything about it.... Donavon, I can't stand to see my baby hurting...."

Donavon took her in his arms and held her tightly. "Neither can I, Sarah. I wish I could have just five minutes alone in a room with Rick Daniels... It wouldn't help Jason, though. We just have to keep reminding him that he hasn't been deserted, that he's not alone. That's all we can do."

Sarah didn't answer. She simply turned around and cried into her husband's shoulder.

* * *

Donavon went into Jason's room late the next morning to find the teen curled up in a ball in the corner of the room, sobbing softly. Concerned, he hurried over and crouched beside him. "Jason, what's wrong?"

"Nightmares...." Jason whimpered, his voice cracking. "Bad... nightmares...."

"Why didn't you come to our room?" Donavon asked, carefully putting one arm around his son's shoulders. "Jason...?"

Jason shook his head. "Couldn't.... Couldn't move. They promised.... They said they were gonna... gonna hold me up.... But I'm... they...." He broke into a fresh flood of tears, unable to say anymore.

Donavon started up. "C'mon, Jason. Come into the family room, and we'll talk." Jason, however, didn't move. Donavon tried everything, including bribery, threats and blackmail, but nothing he said or did could move Jason from the corner. Finally, frustrated, he stood up and left the room.

* * *

Alex Carter was waiting with Sarah when Donavon came into the family room.

"Where's Jason?" Sarah asked, feeling a hint of concern. A heavy sigh escaped her husband, and he shook his head.

"He's back in the corner. I can't get him to move."

Carter moved forward. "Frozen up again?"

"No, I don't think so. I think he's just too upset to move. You're welcome to try, if you want."

Carter nodded. "Yes, I think I will."

* * *

"Jason?" Carter walked over and crouched down in front of the teen, looking him over carefully. "Didn't get much sleep again last night?"

Jason looked sideways at Carter, half blinded by his tears. "No."

"Want to talk about it?"


Carter nodded. He was used to blunt answers from Jason by now. "It might help. You never know. What were the nightmares about?"

"Leave me alone."

"I don't think that's such a good idea, Jason. Do you?" Jason looked away and buried his face in his arms. Carter hesitated, fighting a paternal instinct to put a hand on Jason's shoulder. He had learnt through experience that it wasnot a wise thing to do.

"I just want to help you, Jason. How about we start by getting you out of this corner?"

"I can't move."

"I think you can. Why don't you try? I'll help."

"I don't want your help."

Carter withheld a sigh. Of all his patients, Jason certainly had the greatest streak of stubbornness. "Well, how about you help me, then? Help me by helping yourself. Is that reasonable?"

"I want Claire," Jason suddenly said in a muffled voice, startling Carter.


"Get Claire. Please...."

After a long moment, Carter got to his feet. "All right, Jason. I'll get Claire."

* * *

"No luck?" Donavon asked wearily.

Carter looked thoughtful. "Not entirely. He asked for someone called Claire. Do you have any idea who he's talking about?"

Sarah shook her head, but Donavon hesitated. The name was familiar.... "It was a Claire that was with Jason yesterday in the Youth Centre. She had Ernie call me to go and get Jason. She introduced herself as Claire Roberts...."

"Well, I'd say that's who Jason meant," Carter said. "Can we get in contact with her?"

Donavon nodded. "Should be able to. I'll give the school's principal a call."

* * *

Victor Caplan hung up his office phone, feeling a rush of concern. That had been Donavon Scott. Jason had had some sort of breakdown, had curled up in the corner of his room, and was refusing to move. Apparently he'd asked for Claire Roberts....

Getting up, he grabbed his coat and hurried from the office. "Jane," he told his secretary on his way out the door, "I'm going off the grounds for a little while. I don't know how long I'll be gone. If there are any queries or phone calls.... Hell, you know what to do."

He was gone before she had a chance to get a word out.

* * *

The upper sophomore math class looked up in surprise as a somewhat breathless Mr Caplan strode into the room. "Excuse me, Miss Appleby. I'm afraid I need to borrow one of your students. Claire, could you come with me, please? Bring your books with you."

Claire went in concerned silence, hoping that she was neither in trouble, nor being demoted back to the lower math class. Her fears were allayed as soon as they were away from the class room.

"I just received a call from Jason Scott's father," Mr Caplan told her in a low voice. "Jason's had a breakdown, and now he's asking for you."

Claire was startled, and concerned. "Is that where we're going now?"

"Yes. You can put your books in your locker, and we'll head out straight away."

Claire literally threw her books in her locker, and hurried out to the car park with the principal. Ten minutes later, they pulled into the driveway of a large, red brick house and were greeted by a man that Claire recognised as Jason's father.

"Thanks for coming so quickly," Donavon said as he led them inside. "Claire? This way...."

He took her through a room and down a hallway to Jason's room. Claire took one look at the teen, and felt her heart break. Forgetting that Donavon was even there, she went straight to Jason's side and dropped to her knees beside him, putting her arms around him in protective embrace.

Jason looked up, saw Claire, and gave a muffled sob of relief. She reached up and, very gently, kissed him on the cheek. "It's okay, Jason. I'm here. I'm not going anywhere."

Donavon hesitated for a moment, then backed out of the room, shutting the door and leaving the two alone.

* * *

"Don't give up now," Claire whispered, hugging him tightly. "Hang in there, Jason. It's just depression. You'll get past it."

"They left me...." Jason said in a muffled voice. "They all left me...."

Claire had no idea what he was talking about, but it didn't concern her greatly. "I haven't left you. I'm right here."

"But he promised...." Jason choked out, lifting his head a little. "He promised we'd be protected... But I wasn't.... and he said I never did anything wrong... but they couldn't rescue me...."

By then, Claire was thoroughly confused. "Who couldn't rescue you?" Jason shook his head, too distressed to answer. Claire sighed a little and gently drew him to her, until he was cradled in her arms. "It's going to be okay," she murmured, rocking him lightly in her arms. "You're going to be okay. Trust me, Jason. You'll pull through this one. Just stay with me now."

Jason shuddered and slumped helplessly against Claire. "Please don't let me go...." he whispered.

"I won't," she promised. "You can trust me."

* * *

Donavon and Sarah Scott waited in the family room with Victor Caplan and Alex Carter, waiting for Claire to come out and say that she couldn't get Jason to move. It didn't happen.

"I don't understand," Donavon said softly, shaking his head in confusion. "Jason only met Claire about a week ago. Why would he ask for her, over his other friends?"

Carter looked over to the principal. "You wouldn't know, I suppose, Mr. Caplan?"

Mr. Caplan hesitated, then spoke quietly. "I think I do know, but it isn't my place to say. Claire may tell you, but that's her decision, and I have to ask you not to force her to tell you."

Silence fell for the next several minutes, and Donavon was about to go and see what was happening when Claire came nervously into the room.

"Did you have any luck?" Sarah asked. Claire gave a quick nod. "He's in bed, asleep. I don't think he'll have anymore nightmares for a while."

Mr. Caplan stood up. "I think that perhaps we'd better get back to school, then."

"Please," Claire said quickly, "if it's okay, sir, I'd like to stay here. I mean, when Jason wakes up...."

Mr. Caplan looked across at the Scotts, and Donavon nodded wearily. "It's fine with us."

"All right," Mr Caplan said. "I'll see you on Monday, then, Claire. Mr. and Mrs. Scott. Dr. Carter."

Once the principal had gone, Carter took his chance, and turned his questions on Claire.

Jason must trust you very much, Claire."

Claire looked uncomfortable. "I... I guess so..." Carter watched her thoughtfully.

"Well, out of all his friends that he could have asked for, he asked for you. And he's known you for what? A week or two?"

Claire went red, and Sarah Scott immediately stepped in. "Excuse us, Dr Carter. Come with me, Claire. We can have a talk, woman to woman."

The teen followed Sarah gratefully into the kitchen. "I'm sorry," Sarah said as she motioned for Claire to sit down. "That man isn't the subtlest in the world."

Claire squirmed a little on the stool. "It's okay. I guess you're wondering why Jason asked for me."

A smile crossed Sarah's face. "Yes, we are. You don't have to explain anything, though. What matters is helping Jason. I'm afraid we made a mistake in forcing him to go to school yesterday."

"No, Mrs. Scott," Claire said quickly. "That wasn't a mistake. You did the right thing. Jason was ready to cave, and if you'd let him stay home, you wouldn't have been able to get him to go back. He had to go yesterday, no matter how hard it was. There'll be more days like that, too, where you'll have to force him to go. Don't let him buckle, no matter how much it hurts."

By that time, Sarah was watching Claire with open wonder. "Claire, how do you know all that?"

Claire looked away from Sarah's gaze. "Because the same thing happened to me three and a half years ago. I was kidnapped on my way home from school."

Sarah withheld a gasp of shock.

"I was kept hidden for two weeks before I was found," Claire admitted in a trembling voice. "The police found me... found me the day after I was... was...."

She faltered, unable to say anymore. Sarah hesitated, then reached out and put one hand gently on the girl's shoulder. "Thank you for helping Jason, Claire."

Claire smiled, then. "It's okay. I'm glad I can help." She paused, then went on quietly. "I met Jason about a week and a half ago. I'd been waiting for a chance to talk to him. I thought he might appreciate being able to talk to someone who really understood what he was going through."

"I'm sure he does," Sarah told her. Just then, Donavon came into the room, looking exhausted.

"I'm almost starting to regret letting Carter deal with Jason," he remarked. "That man is almost completely cold."

Sarah shook her head. "You wouldn't think that if it was anyone else's son."

Donavon sat down at the table. "Maybe not. I just checked Jason. He's sleeping like a baby. I don't know what you said or did, Claire, but you're welcome to come here any time and put him to bed."
Claire blushed and said nothing. "Did Jason say what was upsetting him so much?" Donavon asked quietly, with just a hint of nervousness.

Claire thought it over, then shrugged. "He was rambling. All I could really make out was that he thinks he's been deserted. I don't know who he thinks would give up on him, but he seemed pretty sure of it. I think it was just a bout of depression. That'll come and go. You just have to try and carry him through it."

Donavon smiled a little. "You weren't a psychiatrist in a previous life, were you?"

Again, Claire blushed. "I understand what Jason's going through, Mr Scott, because I've been through the same thing. I was kidnapped as well. Three and a half years ago."

Donavon's smile dropped from his face like a rock. "Dear God...."

"It's okay," she said quickly. "I'm not a mental case, or anything like that...."

"I wasn't thinking that," Donavon put in. "I'm just amazed that you could find the courage to help Jason."

"I was thinking the same thing," Sarah added. Claire stared down at the floor.

"I nearly went under because I didn't have many people to help me. Not anyone that really understood what I was going through. I didn't want Jason to go through the same thing. It isn't something that anyone can cope with on their own. I needed to be with other people who'd been through similar things, and so does Jason."

"Claire, will your parents be home now?" Donavon asked quietly. Claire nodded.


"Good. Because I think I'd like to meet them."

* * *

Ted and Alice Roberts arrived ten minutes later, and introduction were quickly made. Claire then stepped towards the hallway.

"I might go and sit with Jason, so you can talk about us without reservation." Without waiting for a reply, she disappeared up the hallway into Jason's room.

"You have a remarkable daughter," Donavon said softly.

Ted smiled. "We know. She's held up really well. It hasn't been easy, though. I was proud of her for trying to help Jason."

"We appreciate it," Sarah said. "Jason needs the help, badly."

"Well," Alice said, "we're here to help. Any time you both need to talk to someone. After all, Jason isn't the only one who needs help here. It was hard for us to cope as well. Not as hard as it was for Claire, of course, but hard enough."

"Thank you," Donavon murmured softly, and he meant it.

* * *

Claire listened for a while to the muffled voices of hers and Jason's parents before turning her attention back to Jason. He was fast asleep now, and probably would be for a while. She hoped he would be spared from any nightmares for this one time, at least. He badly needed at least one unbroken rest.

After a long moment, she reached out, found his hand and gently held it in her own. "Everything's going to be okay, Jason. Just hang in there, okay? Don't give up."

She hesitated, then got up from the chair and lay down carefully in the space on the bed next to Jason and rested her head against his shoulder. A long moment later,she shut her eyes, and fell asleep.

* * *

Donavon faltered in the doorway of Jason's room, then smiled and had to fight back a chuckle. Glancing down the hallway, he motioned for Ted Roberts to come and join him.

Ted walked up the hall, looked into the bedroom, and laughed softly. "I'll be damned...."

"Listen," Donavon said quietly, "why don't you let Claire stay here. She can stay overnight, and we can all meet tomorrow in the park. I really don't want to disturb them...."

Ted smiled faintly. "No, neither do I. All right. She can stay. If you have any trouble, though, just call us. There's no way of telling when she'll have nightmares as well."

Donavon chuckled softly to himself. "Oh, I have a feeling there won't be any nightmares tonight. Not if they're together."

Ted's smile broadened a little. "I think you're right."

* * *

Jason slept for most of the day, allowed himself to be dragged up for dinner, and then went straight back to bed. Sarah set up a cot next to Jason's bed, and Claire fell into bed a little while after.

The next day being Saturday, the Scotts and the Roberts met in Angel Grove Park to have a picnic lunch, and talk some more. Jason and Claire moved a short distance away from the adults after they'd eaten, to talk quietly with each other.

"I think last night was the first night I didn't have any nightmares," Jason commented softly.

"That's good," Claire said, "but you still look tired." Jason sighed. "It's not reallly that I'm tired. I just... I just don't know how to keep going. What have I got to look forward to? Nothing...."

"That's not true," Claire argued. "You're setting your goals too high. Things are different now. You've got to realise that. You want to set yourself a goal? How about being able to walk around school by yourself? Being able to walk from school to the Youth Centre on your own. Those are the goals you should be aiming for."

Jason shut his eyes. He'd once been considered one of Angel Grove's best martial artists. Now, the highest he could aim for was being able to walk from school to the Youth Centre alone...?

Claire gave him a quick hug. "I know it sounds pretty pitiful. I used to be one of the top gymnasts at my old school. I don't know if I'll ever be that good again, but at the moment, I'm still achieving things that are difficult for me."

_three and a half years..._ Jason thought, grief stricken. In three and a half years, he'd be an adult, in an adult world, and then where would he be? He didn't have the heart to tell Claire that she wasn't helping, but the thought that a lifetime of karate could be lost.... among other things....

He looked down at his hands through new tears. They'd once felt so strong. Now, he had to struggle most of the time just to keep them from trembling. He hung his head, thoroughly miserable.

"I just want things to be back to the way they were, before it happened. Everything's changed. My whole life is screwed up now, and I don't know where to turn. All my friends have... they've... they have more important things to do...."

Claire put an arm around his shoulders. "No one's deserted you, Jason. Try and believe that."

He didn't answer, though. Rather, he continued to stare bleakly at the ground, tears rolling slowly down his cheeks. After a long moment, Claire got up.

"Wait here, Jason. I'll get us something to drink, and then I'll come back and convince you that you're being ridiculous."

She hurried away to where their parents were talking. Jason didn't even notice her go. His attention had been drawn away by the sounds of the road nearby. It was Angel Grove rush hour, and the cars were going by fast and frequently. How easy, Jason thought dully, to simply step onto the road, in front of one of those cars.... To end it all....

Before he really knew what he was doing, Jason got to his feet and headed for the road.

* * *

Alice smiled up at her daughter as Claire approached. "What would you like, sweetheart?"

"Just a couple of sodas for me and Jason, Mum." Ted smiled a little, and over to where Jason was. Or rather, to where he had been. Ted's smile dropped abruptly from his face, and he stood up quickly.

"Claire, where's Jason?"

Claire looked around sharply, and her face drained of colour. "He was right over there...."

In an instant, Ted guessed where Jason had gone. "The road...." He broke into a run, followed closely by Donavon, and headed for the road, hoping they weren't too late.

* * *

Jason moved slowly but steadily towards the road in a complete daze. _you are no longer able to serve as a power ranger...._ He shuddered. _i'm off the team.... they don't need me anymore... zordon gave the power to rocky, like i'm not worth anything...._

He paused for just an instant. _i'm not worth anything..._ Stricken with grief and despair, Jason stumbled through the trees and across the last bit of nature reserve to the road. He was within an inch of stepping onto the road and in front of a large 4WD, when there was a blur of movement off to his left. A moment later, someone, or something, struck him hard, knocking him clean off his feet and to the cement pavement.

* * *

Ted and Donavon came through the bushes just in time to see a man in his late twenties take a flying leap at Jason and knock him down before he could step onto the road. They hurried forward as both Jason and the young man sat up.

"Oh, jeez, kid, I'm sorry," the man gasped breathlessly. "I just didn't think you were gonna stop, there...."

Jason scowled and looked away, unable to face the man for fear he would see the truth in his eyes. The young man got up, looking guiltily at Ted and Donavon as they pulled Jason to his feet. "I'm real sorry..."

"It's all right," Donavon said quietly. "There was no harm done, and I think you prevented a very nasty accident."

The man blinked in surprise, and then realised with shock that the teen had been intending to walk out onto the road. He took a step away, regarding Jason with a sudden wariness. Jason glanced at him, caught the look, and stormed away through the trees. Donavon thanked the man again, and then he and Ted hurried after the teenager.

* * *

"Why did you try that, Jason?" Ted asked when they caught up to him.

Jason stared at the ground miserably. "I don't know."

Ted glanced at Donavon, then touched the boy's shoulder very lightly. "You badly need help, don't you."

Jason glanced up at Ted, on the verge of being angry, but he saw only genuine concern there, and the anger fell away.

"I'm not worth anything now," he whispered, slowing to a halt. "I'm... I'm nothing...."

"That isn't true," Donavon protested, "and you know it."

"I don't know it," Jason said. "Nobody can prove I'm worth anything." The tears were flowing again, and he choked out the words as his mother, Alice and Claire arrived on the scene. "I'm not of any use to anyone, now... I'm a total wreck... And he told me it wasn't my fault... but he still threw me off the team...."

Jason collapsed into his mother's arms, sobbing uncontrollably, while Claire and the four adults looked at one another in confused silence.

* * *

Donavon called Alex Carter at Kingston as soon as they got home, and the psychiatrist arrived half an hour later. After a brief talk with all of them, he took Jason into Donavon's study to talk with him privately. "Why did you try to kill yourself, Jason?"

Jason stared miserably at the floor. "Why shouldn't I? What have I got to live for? Bad memories, bad dreams.... Nothing."

"You really believe that?'

"Can you give me a reason not to?"

"I'm sure I could think of a few things. The question is, would you believe them?"

"I can't believe in anything anymore."

Carter sat back, wondering what approach to take. There was no doubt that Jason was severely depressed, but he wanted to avoid prescribing anti-depressants, if possible. "You didn't answer my question before. Why did you try to kill yourself?"

Jason shrugged. "I don't know. I hardly even thought about it."

"Excuse me...?"

"I didn't really think about actually killing myself. Not like, 'get up, walk onto the road and in front of a car'. It didn't happen like that. All I know is that one minute I was sitting thinking that I was totally worthless... the next I'm flat on my back on the pavement."

Carter was disturbed. "So you hadn't planned it, or thought seriously about it..."


"It just happened. You don't feel as though you had any control over your actions."

"I... I guess not."

"Jason, how would you feel about coming to spend a little time at Kingston?"

Anger flashed across Jason's face. "No. No way! I'm not going to some psycho hospital."

"It wouldn't be permanent. You could come home each weekend. It would be a bit like boarding school."

Jason stood up abruptly. "Yeah, right," he growled. "You can forget it. I'm not leaving home. Not for any length of time."

Carter nodded, seeing the teen was starting to get extremely agitated. "All right. It was just a suggestion. That's all."

"Fine. Can I go now?"

"All right. We'll talk again later."

Jason spared the doctor a final cold look before storming out of the office. Carter watched him go, then reached over and picked up the phone and dialed a memorized number. It was picked up at the other end after several rings.

"Kingston Institute, may I help you?"

"Amy, this is Dr. Carter. Put me through to Andy."

"Right away, sir."

A moment later, a new voice answered. "Yes, Dr. Carter?"

"Andy, I need you to check that the place for Jason Scott was kept open."

"Yes, sir. Just one moment." There was a long pause, and then she spoke again. "Yes, sir. It's still open. The place hasn't been filled."

"All right. Make sure it stays that way. We may be bringing Jason Scott in as an involuntary patient within the next month or so. I don't want that place filled, for any reason."

"Yes, doctor. I'll make sure it stays open."

"Thank you."

He hung up, and sat back with a soft thud. He hoped it wouldn't be necessary, of course, to bring Jason to Kingston, but he was at least assured that a place was open, should it become necessary. As much as he hated to admit it, he had a strong feeling that it would be necessary, and quite possibly very soon.

* * *

Sergeant Radley pulled up outside the Scott residence early on Sunday afternoon with a strong sense of foreboding. Instead of getting out, though, he continued to sit in the car, watching the house warily. He had something to discuss with Jason and his parents, and he knew it might not bring a favourable reaction. Still, it had to be done....

Sighing heavily, Radley climbed out of the car and headed up the path to the front door. He knocked once, and it was answered almost straight away by Sarah Scott. _she looks tired_ Radley thought as he forced a smile onto his face. "Hello, Mrs Scott."

She smiled back. "Hello, Sergeant. How can I help you?"

"I have something that I need to discuss with you, Jason and your husband. Can I come in?"

"Of course."

She stepped aside, allowing him in, then ushered him into the kitchen. Donavon and Jason were sitting at the table, and Donavon was going over some science homework with Jason. It was probably the most normal scene since Jason's kidnapping, Radley thought sadly. Both looked up when Sarah showed Radley in, and Donavon offered him an equally tired smile. "Hi, Sergeant. How's life at the precinct?"

Radley returned the smile at the old joke, then looked to the teenager. "How's it going, Jason?"

Jason shrugged. "Could be better. Could be worse."

Neither Donavon nor Sarah said a word about Jason's suicide attempt the previous day. Radley nodded, silently noting the boy's pale features. Something had happened, very recently, and he didn't need to be a genius to figure out what. "Well, I came by because there's something I need to discuss with you. It's about Rick Daniels' trial."

While Jason stiffened very slightly, Donavon spoke with a frown. "Only Rick Daniels? What about his brother, Carl?"

"Carl Daniels pleaded guilty when it first went to court a couple of months ago. It seemed he had no idea how far his brother was intending to take it. >From what the police psychologists determined, if Ben Daniels hadn't gone to the police, Carl would have. He was just that far off turning himself and his brother in. The judge gave him a year's suspended sentence with a pretty hefty fine."

Donavon glanced at Jason, but the teen didn't appear too upset. Jason caught his father's glance, and spoke softly.

"It was Rick Daniels that did it all to me. It's him that I want in jail."

Radley nodded. "I thought as much. That's why I'm here. Rick Daniels pleaded not guilty and the trial starts in a few days. The D.A. wants to do everything possible to make sure we get a guilty verdict, and he sent me to ask if you'd be willing to testify in court."

Jason sat frozen for several long seconds, then spoke even more softly than before. "You want me to get up in front of who knows how many people, and talk about what Rick Daniels did to me?"

Radley fought back the urge to cringe. Donavon reached out to touch his son's shoulder, then thought better of it. He spoke quietly instead. "Jason, this could be what you need. Get it out in the open...."

Jason felt his face heat up, and he dropped his gaze. "Sure. I want to tell the whole damn world what happened."

"It would be a closed session," Radley told him quietly. "No reporters would be allowed in, and only the minimum number of people. I guarantee that."

"But I could still get cornered by reporters outside."

"We'd have police guards on call to keep them back. Plus, there are a few secret exits from the courthouse that we've made sure no reporters know about."

"What about Rick Daniels?" Donavon demanded to know. "Isn't he out on bail?"

"Yes," Radley admitted, "but the judge set the condition that not only is he forbidden to speak to Jason, he isn't allowed within two hundred yards of Jason, outside the courtroom. If he speaks to you, Jason, or comes within that two hundred yard limit, he'll automatically have his bail revoked. He won't be able to come anywhere near you, I promise."

Jason stared continued to stare at the table top. "Can I think about it?"

"Please. I need to know by tomorrow evening, though, so we can get through all the formalities."

He stood up. "You have my office phone number, and my home phone number."

Donavon rose up and showed the sergeant out, coming back a minute later. "Do you think you might be able to do it?" he asked quietly, sitting back down at the table beside his son.

Jason stared down at the tabletop. "I don't know. Maybe...."

"Don't rush your decision," Sarah told him quickly. "Take your time and think it over."

Jason sat there for a moment later, then got to his feet. "I'm going to bed. I'll think it over tomorrow." He went, not waiting for a reply from his mother and father. From the safety of his room, he listened to the low murmurs of his parents' voices. He did not need super hearing to guess what they were talking about. Sighing inwardly, he got into bed without bothering to change out of his clothes, and shut his eyes, willing himself to sleep.

* * *

_never gonna see your dad again, jason...._

_you're going to die in here...._

_must be enjoying this, jason.... you aren't fighting me...._

Jason awoke with a violent start, a fearful cry catching in his throat. He lay there frozen for several seconds, trembling badly and breathing hard before slowly pulling himself together again. Sitting up, he pulled his knees up against his chest and shut his eyes tightly.

_is this what i'm going to have to deal with for the rest of my life? scared to sleep, scared to go outside by myself....? i am so sick of being scared...._

He all but made his decision then, aside from one thing. _i have to talk to tommy..._

Jason lay back down, fighting the powerful urge to go and curl up in the corner. He lay there for several minutes before the fear finally overpowered him. Remembering his father's light admonishment on nights that he'd curled up in the corner, Jason slid out of bed and headed for the door, doing something that he hadn't done since he was a little boy.

He made his way down the hall and into his parents' room, going over to his mother's side of the bed and lightly touching her shoulder. Sarah Scott awoke immediately, and sat up, switching on the bed lamp.

"Jason? What's wrong, sweetheart?"

"Had a nightmare," Jason admitted in a trembling voice as his father woke up as well. "I... I was scared...."

Donavon felt a sense of relief and encouragement that Jason had come to them, rather than going into the corner. He shifted over a little, as did Sarah, making room for their son in the bed. Sarah patted the mattress with her hand. "C'mon, Jason."

He climbed into the bed with his parents, feeling embarrassed but grateful at the same time. Sarah threw the covers over him, and put her arms protectively around him.

"It's all right, sweetheart. You're safe." Jason lay his head on the pillow and shut his eyes, feeling safe in his mother's arms. Within minutes, he was fast asleep.

"Thank God he came in to us," Donavon whispered, sitting up and looking at his son over his wife's form. Sarah nodded a little, continuing to hold Jason in her arms as he slept.

"Maybe he is starting to get a little better." Donavon looked sad as he lay back down. "Or maybe he was just too frightened to stay by himself tonight."

Sarah didn't reply to that. She kissed her son lightly on the cheek, and then shut her eyes and also fell asleep. Donavon, however, stayed awake for a long while.

* * *

Tommy met Jason at the school gate the next day, and immediately noted that some of the colour had come back into Jason's face. "You look a bit better today," Tommy commented.

Jason managed a weak smile. "Well, I had a pretty bad nightmare last night...." He paused, glancing around to make sure no one was listening. "I ended up going into Mum and Dad's room, and getting into bed with them. Didn't wake up again for the rest of the night."

Tommy smiled, pleased. "That's great. Don't be embarrassed about that, Jase. Man, I wish I had the guts to do that some nights. My folks would think I'd lost my mind, though...." He trailed off abruptly, realising what he'd said. If Jason had taken offense, though, it didn't show at all. Rather, there was a look of deep thought on the teen's face.

"Tommy, I need to ask you something."

"Sure, go for it."

"Sergeant Radley came around yesterday evening and asked me if I'd testify at Rick Daniels' trial."

Tommy slowed to a halt, ignoring the second warning bell. "Are you going to do it?"

"I don't know. Maybe. I can't do it alone, though." Tommy nodded. "Okay. C'mon, let's go to the Youth Centre."

"But what about class?"

"Forget class. Right now this is more important. C'mon, Jase. I'll give your folks a call from the Centre, so they don't get worried if the school calls your place."

Jason hesitated, then consented and allowed Tommy to usher him out of the school grounds.

* * *

Ernie was busy washing glasses when Tommy and Jason came in, and he spared them a frown. "Shouldn't you two be in school?"

Tommy nodded. "Yeah, but we need to talk about something. Ernie, can I use the phone and call Jason's folks? Let them know where he is...?"

Ernie nodded, guessing that something had come up, and knowing they weren't simply skipping school. Not if Tommy was calling Donavon and Sarah Scott to tell them where Jason was.

Tommy made the call, then went over to where Jason had sat down. "Okay," Tommy said as he pulled up a chair opposite Jason, "let's talk. When's the trial start?"

"In a couple of days. Sergeant Radley said he wanted to know my decision by tonight."

"But you don't know if you can do it."

"No. Not alone, anyway. It's just the thought of getting up in front of all those people... and then having to tell everyone what went on... and Daniels' lawyer...."

Jason shuddered, and Tommy reached over and gave his shoulder a quick, reassuring squeeze. "Would you do it if I was there?"

Jason looked up at Tommy, pale. "I couldn't ask you to be there... I can't even ask Mum to be there. Not to hear what I'm going to have to say."

Tommy regarded Jason somberly. "Well, you've got a few choices, Jase. You could just forget it, and not bother, and Daniels might get off really lightly.... or he might even get acquitted. Two, you could go ahead, with only your dad, and Dr Carter there. Three, you could testify with all your friends there to back you up. Your call."

Jason looked sick. "I'd appreciate it if you were there, Tommy, but I don't want the others there. I don't want them to hear...."

"But you'll testify if I go?"

Jason looked away, and Tommy nodded, seeing that Jason had consented. "Okay. You get your dad to call Sergeant Radley, and tell him you'll testify. And don't worry, Jase. I'll be right beside you all the way. I promise. You aren't going to be alone."

"I'm just scared of having to see Rick Daniels again," Jason said softly, still staring at the tabletop. "I don't want to see him, but if I testify, I'm going to, whether I like it or not."

"Well, maybe you need to face up to him. Jase, getting up on that stand will be as good as going up to him and saying, "look, creep, I'm still standing. You didn't win."

Jason shut his eyes against the tears. "I'm scared, Tommy. I don't think I can face him."

"Yes, you can," Tommy said firmly. "You can face him, Jase. If you don't, you're going to be scared for the rest of your life. Is that what you want?"

"No. You know I don't...."

"Then prove it! C'mon, Jason, show a bit of the courage you used to have. Remember back to when Rita first attacked, to when she turned me into the Green Ranger. You didn't quit then because you were scared. You faced the danger, and your fear, and beat the problem. You can do it again, Jase. You know you can. Face up to that creep. Laugh at him, if you can. Let him know that he lost big time."

Jason looked away, tears streaming down his cheeks. _but this isn't the same_ he wanted to scream at Tommy. He held back on his anger, though. "Tommy, I'm not the same as I used to be. I don't think I'll ever be the same again...."

Tommy frowned and spoke in a low voice. "Jase, if you keep talking like that, you'll never make it back to being the Red Ranger."

Jason's face turned ashen, and he sat back with a thud. _zordon hasn't told them..... he hasn't told them i'm off the team for good...._

"What's wrong?" Tommy asked.

Jason buried his face in his hands. "I've talked to Zordon, Tommy. I'm off the team. Rocky's a permanent replacement."

It was Tommy's turn to go pale. "What...?"

"He... He said I was no longer fit to be a ranger.... Something along those lines...."

Tommy sat stiffly for several seconds, then spoke in a strained voice. "You can't let this beat you, Jason. Even if that's true...."

"It's not that that bothers me so much," Jason whispered. "Tommy, I nearly went insane in that room. I used every trick in the book to keep my sanity when Rick Daniels was doing everything he could to make me lose it. I kept myself going half the time by thinking that you guys hadn't come for me because Zedd had attacked, and you were all in trouble. I kept myself going through making myself angry."

"Jase, we nearly went insane trying to find you...."

"I know. I'm not angry at any of you. I know you all did your best. That's not it. The point is that when the police finally came for me, and after you guys snapped me back to reality... everyone I've come across has treated me with kid gloves, like I'm a bomb that's gonna explode or something. And those that don't... they treat me with that kind of false sympathy and kindness that you use with someone who you know isn't good for anything."

"That's not true, Jason...."

"Isn't it? Tell me, Tommy, what am I good for now? I'm totally useless. I know it, you know it, everybody in Angel Grove knows it, and that's the bottom line."

Tommy sat there in speechless shock. _c'mon, you idiot_ he thought desperately, _say something. don't just sit there_

A weak smile crossed Jason's face. "See? Even you can't tell me different."

Tommy finally snapped out of the shock and sat forward. "You want to be good for something, Jason? You go to that damned trial and testify. Get up there and say what that creep did to you. Tell the court everything, and don't leave a thing out. You get up there and show Daniels that he didn't win. Make sure he goes to jail, Jason. If you can do that, then you'll be able to do anything you like."

Jason stared down at the tabletop. "I'll testify," he said softly. "Not for anyone else, though. I'll do it for me."

Tommy nodded. "And I'll be there with you, Jase. All the way. I promise."

* * *

Tommy arrived back at the Youth Centre that lunch time after walking Jason home, to find the other rangers crowded around a table. Rocky, Adam and Aisha were there as well, and Tommy remembered with a silent curse that they'd had the day off. Zack spotted him before he could double back, however, and called him over.

Sighing softly to himself, Tommy went over and joined them. "Where's Jason?" Trini asked immediately. "Is he okay?"

Tommy nodded. "Yeah. I just walked him home. I'll be at school this afternoon, and I'll go see Mr Caplan afterwards...."

"Don't worry about it," Billy told him. "Mr Caplan figured it was something to do with Jason. He said to tell you not to worry about explaining anything."

Tommy cringed visibly, as he realised that was exactly what Jason had been talking about earlier. Half the town's population was treating him like an atomic bomb, the other half like he was a useless wreck. _no wonder he's so damn depressed all the time...._

"What's wrong?" Adam asked, watching Tommy closely.

Tommy sighed and spoke. "The trial against Rick Daniels starts in a few days. Jason's decided that he's going to testify."

A heavy silence followed, and then Kimberly spoke nervously. "Is he up to that?"

"He can do it," Zack said firmly. "Tommy, did you tell him we'd all be there for him?"

"Yeah," Tommy answered, "I told him. Listen guys, don't take this the wrong way and get all offended, but he doesn't want any of you there."

There was a stunned silence, and then Trini spoke, surprised and a little hurt. "Why not?"

"It's because of what he's going to have to say. He said he doesn't want any of you to hear it. Don't get upset...."

Billy shook his head. "It's okay. Tommy, let him know it's okay. We understand."

Tommy nodded, relieved. He was about to speak again when he spotted Claire Roberts enter the Youth Centre, looking around with a small frown on her face. He got up slowly, guessing that she was looking for Jason. "'Scuse me for a second...." he murmured, and hurried across the Youth Centre to intercept Claire.

"Who's that?" Aisha asked curiously.

"Claire Roberts," Kimberly replied. "Jason's gotten pretty close to her over the past couple of weeks. We think he's told her more about what happened to him than he's told any of us."

Rocky whistled softly. "That must be pretty damn close." None of the other rangers replied to that; Rocky had no idea how right he was.

* * *


Claire looked around, then smiled a little as Tommy jogged over to her. "Hi, Tommy."

"Looking for Jason?"

"Uh... yeah. D'you know where he is?"

Tommy nodded. "Yeah. I took him home a little while ago. He's okay, don't worry."

Claire tried to smile again, but it didn't quite come off. She was still worried about Jason after his suicide attempt on Saturday, and she couldn't hide it. "You saw him all the way in, didn't you? You didn't leave him at the corner, or anything...?"

Tommy shook his head, starting to frown. "No, of course not. Why, what's wrong?"

Claire hesitated, then decided to take the risk. "Jason'll probably kill me for telling you this, but you probably ought to know. He tried to walk in front of a car on Saturday."

Shock flooded Tommy's face. "He... He tried to kill himself...?"

"Yeah. He was really depressed, didn't think he was good for anything anymore.... Didn't have any faith in himself at all."

A soft sigh escaped Tommy. "He still feels like that. There's something I need to tell you, though. Jason's going to testify against Rick Daniels."

"The guy that kidnapped him?"

"Yeah. The trial starts in a few days. I'm going to be there, but he said he didn't want any of the others there.... I thought that he might get through better if you were there."

Claire bit down on her lower lip. Testifying was something that she had not had the courage to do, and her attacker had gotten off with a painfully light penalty. The prosecutor had remarked later on that it had been a miracle they got a conviction at all. If Jason had the courage to get up in the stand and testify, then surely it meant a better chance at a conviction, and heavy sentence....

"I'll go and see him after school and talk to him. He may or may not want me there...."

"He doesn't want any of the others there," Tommy repeated quietly. "He doesn't want them to hear all the details."

A grim look flickered across Claire's face. "I can imagine." Tommy stared at her, frowning a little more. "Can you....?" Claire looked away quickly. "Can we go somewhere so no one can overhear us?"

Tommy hesitated, then nodded. "Sure. C'mon."

* * *

"What's up?" Tommy asked, feeling strangely uncomfortable. Claire leant back against a tree, staring at the Youth Centre a short distance away.

"Jason probably will want me at the trial, because he knows that I won't treat him like everyone else, when they hear what happened to him."

"How d'you mean?" Tommy asked, confused. Claire looked over at him, white faced.

"Tommy, Jason's been talking to me more than you and your friends because I know what he's going through. I understand more than you'll ever be able to, because I've been through the same thing myself. I've been kidnapped as well, and I've been raped."

Tommy's breath caught in his throat as everything crashed into place. "I...." He faltered, realising he had no idea what to say.

She managed a weak smile. "It's okay. You don't have to get all sympathetic and whatever on me. I'm doing okay. It happened three and a half years ago. The thing is, Jason hasn't told me everything that happened. I know he was raped, but he didn't tell me any of the details."

Tommy sighed, finally regaining his wits. "Well, if you do come to the trial, you'll find out. I know I'm not looking forward to hearing any of it. I told Jase I'd be there, though, and I will. I want to see him laugh in Rick Daniels' face."

Claire flinched. "Laugh...? Tommy, it'll be all Jason can do if he can bring himself to look straight at the guy from the stand. If he manages that, it'll be an achievement in itself. Don't expect too much of him. It'll only make him fall even harder if things don't work out."

"What d'you mean?"

"I mean that rape cases have one of the worst conviction rates in history. Especially male rape cases. The guy who raped me pleaded insanity. He got a five month stay in a first class psychiatric hospital, all expenses paid, and then he was back out on the streets. It doesn't always work out. There might be a better chance of sending this guy, Rick Daniels, away with Jason testifying, but there's no guarantee. Especially if the jury is mostly male. I'm not saying that other men will automatically acquit a man accused of rape, but they might find it hard to believe that one man could rape a 17 year old boy."

Tommy started to feel distressed. "They have to convict him, though! They couldn't let him off.... That'd kill Jason if that happened...."

"He might get convicted, but then again, he might not. I'm just asking you to be aware. If things go wrong, Jason might be in danger of a complete breakdown. Defense lawyers in rape cases are notorious for making the victims feel like they're the ones who did something wrong. Either way, though, you've gotta be there for him. He needs full support."

Tommy let his breath out in a rush as he understood what Claire was saying. "Okay, I get you. I'll be right with him. Every step of the way. No matter which way this thing goes."

Claire smiled faintly and nodded. "So will I."

Angel Grove District Attorney's Office....
It was a stark building, tall and forbidding. Almost like something out of the old thriller movies, Jason thought, where the murderer chased his victims around inside the building....

The teen felt a painful twinge of uncertainty as he walked through the front doors with his father and Tommy. They were going to speak with the D.A., and to try and be ready for Jason's turn to testify. It was a terrifying experience for Jason, particularly with the thought of getting up and giving all the gruesome details of what had happened to him.

"Are you all right, Jason?" Donavon asked his son in concern. "You can still change your mind about this, you know."

Jason swallowed hard. It would have been nauseatingly easy to simply turn around and walk out again, and refuse to testify. _and then be scared of running into rick daniels again for the rest of your life..._ "I'm okay," he whispered, keeping his voice low for fear it would crack on him. "Let's go."

* * *

They were met near the elevator by Sergeant Radley, then taken up to the District Attorney's office. "He's seeing to this case himself," Radley explained in a low voice as they approached the office. "He said he wants top effort to get a conviction."

Jason looked up at Radley, pale faced. "What for? Public points?"

Radley shook his head. "No, Jason. I can guarantee he isn't doing it for that. Martin Andrews is just about the best man we've ever had as D.A. He really cares about people, not like the last fool that was here. He wants to see Rick Daniels incarcerated just as much as you, and for the same reasons."

Jason looked away, not responding to the reassurances. "Here we are."

They came to a door marked with Martin Andrews' name, and Radley rapped firmly on the wood. "Come in," a voice called out, and Radley opened the door, showing Jason, Tommy and Donavon into the office.

Martin Andrews was a surprisingly indistinctive figure of a man. He was not very tall, and a pair of glasses with thick lenses served to hide what may have been very sharp eyes. The man's plain, blue suit did nothing to make his appearance any more formidable, and Jason couldn't help thinking, with a feeling of mild alarm, that he was making a tremendous mistake.

The D.A. rose up out of his chair and strode around his desk as Radley introduced Jason, his father, and Tommy. "I'm pleased to meet you, Jason," Andrews said quietly, "and I'm very pleased that you decided to testify. You're a very brave young man." Jason didn't respond, merely watching Andrews warily. Andrews motioned to the chairs. "Have a seat, please."

Once they were all seated, Andrews spoke quietly. "As Sergeant Radley would have explained, the trial is just starting. Now, we can get away with submitting Jason's name late to give testimony, but before we deal with all those details, I'd like to hear for myself what happened. If that's all right with you, Jason?"

Jason hesitated, then spoke tensely. "I just want to know something first. Is this going to be a closed hearing? I mean, no reporters...?"

Andrews nodded. "Yes, I can promise you that. No reporters will be allowed into the courtroom. The judge will ban all journalists from entering the room while you're testifying."

"And I'm going to have to describe everything.... aren't I? Everything that happened...."

Andrews nodded once more. "Yes," he said softly. "Do you think you're going to be able to cope?"

"I'll try," Jason murmured, trying not to panic.

"All right. Now, I'd like you to explain to me just what happened. Right from the very first incident."

Jason stared at the carpeted floor. The first parts were easy to talk about. It was the rape that he knew he was likely to gag on. "The first thing happened when I was coming home from school. It was Thursday afternoon... Um, a car pulled up beside me and a guy asked me for directions... to the Youth Centre, I think. I gave them, but then he said he wasn't good at following directions, and asked could I ride with them. I said no, and that's when the second guy got out of the car and tried to grab me. I broke free, and took off. He caught me for a minute and tried to knock me out with chloroform, but I got away again. They chased me in the car, and pulled up in from of me. I didn't see it until the last second, and I fell across the hood. I got away from them again, and squeezed through a space in a fence. I don't remember much after that."



Andrews nodded understandingly. "All right. Now, can you tell me about the next incident?"

Jason sighed inwardly and slowly relayed the details of his kidnapping, describing the mental and emotional torture he'd suffered, as well as the physical abuse. He described Daniels' constant taunts, that he would never see his parents again, and that he would die in the basement room. He described the assaults in a trembling, yet steady voice, first the beating with the belt buckle, and then having his leg broken with the iron bar.

Then, Jason faltered as he came to the rape. "Take your time, Jason," Andrews said softly. "You've got plenty of time."

Jason stared intently at the carpet. _go cold.... just say it, but don't think it. just go cold...._

Very slowly, with frightening intensity, Jason began to describe the sexual abuse and the rape, in details that even Donavon had not heard. He spoke in almost monotone, as though he had completely detached himself from the incident and was another person entirely.

Donavon shut his eyes as he listened to the terrible details. Jason had only given him a very basic outline of what had gone on, he realised, and the whole truth was coming out now. A thought occurred to him, and he looked across to where Tommy was sitting. The teen had gone white faced, and looked as though he was about to faint.

He was staring straight ahead, and not even glancing at Jason. His jaw was locked shut, and a rage burned in his eyes unlike anything Donavon had ever seen before. _he never even thought it would be this bad..._ Donavon thought dimly. _i never thought it could be this bad._ He shuddered involuntarily. _thank god i made sarah stay at home...._

Tommy was aware that Jason's father had been watching him, but still he did not dare to move. He was afraid, mortally afraid, that Jason would see the rage on his face, and think it was directed at him.... _god, how could someone do all that....?_ He shut his eyes tightly, but it was a useless gesture against the tears. _if only i'd walked with him that day.... or made him wait and call his dad.... i could have prevented it all from happening...._ He held his arms tightly across his stomach, wishing he could simply block out Jason's voice. He was going to be sick....

Jason finally stopped talking, to everyone's relief. Tears were streaming down the boy's face, and he dared not look up at any of them. After a long moment, Andrews spoke quietly, placing a gentle hand on Jason's shoulder.

"If you can repeat all of that in court, Jason, I think we can pretty much guarantee a conviction."

Jason barely even heard him speak. Something else rose distinct in his mind, something that he couldn't get past. "I didn't fight him...."

"What?" Radley asked, when no one else spoke.

Jason finally looked up, and the shame in the teen's face was almost more than any of them could bear. "When Daniels did all of that to me... He untied me and everything, but I didn't fight him. You can't tell me a defense lawyer wouldn't jump on that. They... they'll think I wanted it to happen...."

"Did you even try to fight?" Andrews asked quietly.

Jason brushed the back of one hand over his eyes. "I don't know. I don't know anything anymore. Maybe I did.... I think I did.... But I couldn't move! Maybe I was too scared.... I don't know."

He trailed off, hopelessly confused. Andrews looked across to Radley for help, and Radley stepped forward. "Jason, there's a very good reason why you couldn't fight Daniels. We have to present forensic evidence at the trial, and part of the evidence that we have are medical tests that revealed a great deal of muscle relaxant drugs in your system."

"Muscle relaxants...?" Jason echoed, dazed.

Radley nodded. "That's right." He looked to Donavon. "Weren't you and your wife told...?"

"No," Donavon said in a tight voice. "We were not told."

Radley sighed. "Well, a lot of pain might have been avoided if you were told." He crouched down in front of Jason. "Listen to me, Jason. Rick Daniels doped you up with so much muscle relaxant that you couldn't have moved so much as an inch on your own. It wasn't that you didn't fight Daniels; you couldn't have fought him. D'you understand?"

Jason swallowed hard, realisation beginning to dawn. "He... He fed me twice.... The second time I wouldn't take it, so he called his brother down to force me to eat.... He said he didn't care if I did get sick, that I had to eat it...."

"Well," Andrews concluded softly, "I'd say Mr Daniels probably buried the relaxants in the food. You don't have to worry, Jason. The forensic evidence will have already been given by Sergeant Radley by the time you get to the stand. Not fighting Rick Daniels will not be an issue."

Jason looked away. "Fine. I just want this to be over as soon as possible."

Andrews nodded. "It will be. I promise."

* * *

"You're going to be fine, Jason," Donavon said quietly as he, Jason and Tommy sat in a small cafe that afternoon. Jason didn't reply, but continued to stare miserably at the tabletop.

A moment passed, and then Tommy spoke. "Jase... I spoke to Claire. I told her about you going to court..."

Jason looked up at Tommy slowly. "And?"

"She said she'd be there, if you wanted her to be."

Jason looked away again, torn. He did want her there, for the support... but how could he expect her to listen to the details of his nightmare, and possibly cause her to relive her own...? "She doesn't have to," he muttered, sounding more sullen than he intended.

"I don't think it was a matter of having to be there," Tommy said. "I think she wants to be there. She said it was up to you, though. She won't go if you don't want her to."

Jason bit down on his lower lip, fighting back the tears. "I do want her there..." he admitted finally. "I just don't want to put her through it...."

Tommy hesitated, then sat back a little. "I'll tell her to come."

Donavon waited a moment, then was about to call for the bill when Jason spoke in a trembling voice. "You know, it might not make any difference."

"How do you mean?" Donavon asked, feeling a touch of concern. "I mean if Rick Daniels goes to jail. How much difference is it going to make? It still happened. I'm still going to be too scared to go anywhere by myself. Too much of a coward...."

"You're not a coward, Jason," Tommy growled fiercely. "You've gotten further than a lot of people would have, and you know it."

"Tommy's right, son," Donavon said softly. "It taking you a lot of courage to do what you're doing. If you get through this, I think you'll find you'll be able to start doing more for yourself."

Jason shut his eyes, but it did nothing to stop the tears. "I just feel so damned useless... I'm no good to anybody!"

Tommy looked helplessly at Donavon, who merely stared back, unable to say anything to counter Jason's depression. There was nothing they could say at all. Fighting back a sigh, Tommy slumped down in the chair, hoping that the trial would be over soon, and Jason could start getting his life back together again.

* * *

For a brief while, Claire half imagined that she was on her way to the trial of the man who had kidnapped and raped her, and that it would be her to get up to the stand. But, no. She had lost her chance long ago, and now it was Jason's turn.

She sighed softly as she headed into the court with her father, pushing their way through a small crowd of journalists that were gathering. She supposed Jason was already in the court, probably talking with D.A. somewhere, and she hoped he'd managed to avoid the press. It was the news of the day, of course, for how often did a kidnapping and rape case go to court in Angel Grove? The hottest news around town was usually what monster attacked during the week....

"You okay, honey?" her father asked, and she nodded, not bothering to try and smile.

"I guess so. I think I'm getting sympathy pains, though. Jason must be so damn scared..."

Ted Roberts gave Claire a quick hug. "Everything will be fine, I'm sure of it. Jason's a very brave young man simply for doing this."

Claire cringed. "It's something I was too much of a coward to do."

"That wasn't being a coward," Ted admonished, "and you know it. Don't put yourself down, Claire. You didn't have the support back then that Jason has had, and I'm afraid your mother and I weren't much help."

Claire shrugged a little. "It's okay. I got by. Look, there's Tommy..."

Tommy had seen them come in, and hurried over to meet them. "Hi, Claire," he said softly.

Claire quickly introduced her father, and then they began to walk down the long corridor toward the courtroom.

"Jason's with the D.A. and the prosecutor right now," Tommy told them. "He went through all the interview stuff about a week ago, but they wanted to check some details with him, and just make sure he's okay."

Claire spared Tommy a concerned look. "Is he okay?"

A moment of silence passed, and then Tommy sighed. "Probably not. He's not really happy about doing this, but he won't back down. I just hope he doesn't freeze up when he gets to the stand."

"He won't," Claire murmured, more to herself than to Tommy. "I'm sure he won't. He might even find the courage to look Rick Daniels in the eye."

"Then maybe he can forget about all this and get on with his life," Tommy growled vehemently.

Ted Roberts looked at Claire, startled and a little horrified, but Claire only gave a slight shake of her head. Tommy didn't really understand, nor could they ever expect him to.

They reached the courtroom, and were immediately ushered in to a seat somewhere in the middle. The jury, Claire noted grimly, was almost entirely male. That could be good, or bad, she didn't know. If it had been a girl who had been raped, it could be bad, but who knew...?

Jason came in soon after and sat a short distance away from them, with his father at his side. The D.A. was with them as well, speaking occasionally to Jason in a low voice. The teen was pale, but seemed sure. However, it was clear he was looking everywhere but in the direction of Rick Daniels.

Then, just before the doors were closed, another teen entered the courtroom, flanked by two adults. Tommy looked around discreetly, and felt his stomach do a back flip. Although he had never seen the boy before, he knew it was Ben Daniels, the son of the man who had kidnapped and raped Jason.

Tommy fought back a groan, and hoped to God that Ben was supposed to testify ahead of Jason. His hopes were soon smashed when, after the formalities had been passed, Jason was called to the stand by the prosecutor....

* * *

Jason got up slowly, forcing himself to focus solely on the witness stand. To reach it, he would have to pass by Rick Daniels, and right then he knew could not bear to even glance at him. Also, he did not want to catch the eye of the teenager who had come in last. It was Rick Daniels' son, he was sure. The boy who had told the police where he was. He was grateful to Ben for that, but still could not bring himself to face him, either.

He reached the stand almost without realising it, and move into the witness box to swear on the bible. He did so, and was finally able to sit down again. A good thing, because he wasn't sure he could have remained standing for very long.

"Could you please state your full name for the court?" the prosecutor asked, and Jason replied in a voice that seemed to tremble just slightly.

"Jason Lee Scott."

"All right. We're going to start at the beginning, Jason. I want you to tell the court about the first incident."

Jason shut his eyes for a moment, then spoke as clearly as he was able, describing the first kidnap attempt in as much detail as he could recall. The Prosecutor listened carefully, then spoke once Jason had finished.

"You breathed in a lot of chloroform, didn't you?"

"I guess so," Jason replied nervously.

"Then, how would you be able to remember all of that?" Jason drew in a deep breath. He had been warned that the Prosecutor would ask him questions like that, to take the heat off him when the Defense Lawyer was given the chance to cross examine.

"I've always had pretty good recall ability. It's like I've got a photographic memory. I guess the chloroform didn't affect that."

The Prosecutor nodded. "All right. Now we're going to go to the next incident, to when you were kidnapped. Can you tell the court what happened?"

Again Jason went on to explain what had happened, as near as he could recall, in as much detail as he could. "...Then one of them shoved a rag or something in my face, and I passed out," he finished.

"And when you woke up, where were you?"

"I wasn't sure where I was. I think it was some sort of basement room, or something. It was just a little square room with concrete walls and floor. I guess the door was locked, but I was tied up, and I couldn't do anything about it."

"Do you know how long you were in the room before anyone came?"

"A few hours," Jason answered quietly. "Maybe longer. I don't know how long I was unconscious for."

"And what happened when someone did finally come?" "He... The man... said a few things to me, like how did I like my new home, and to get comfortable, 'cause I was going to be there for a long time. He... He was almost laughing when he said it."

The prosecutor nodded understandingly. "All right, Jason. Tell me, what other sorts of things were said to you while you were in that room?"

Jason felt his stomach tighten as he wondered when he would have to talk about the rape. He clenched his fists in his lap and made himself speak. "He kept saying things like I was never gonna see my mum and dad again, and I was never gonna see daylight again. He said he was gonna make sure I died in that room...."

Jason's voice cracked a little, and tears filled his eyes as he recalled the taunts he had suffered.

The prosecutor waited a moment, then went on quietly. "What else happened to you, Jason? Were you beaten at all? Forced to do anything?"

Jason drew in a slow, deep breath. They were getting closer... Slowly, he went on to describe the humiliation he'd suffered, having to allow Rick Daniels to feed him like a baby, and then being forced to eat the second lot later on. He described his attempts to gain attention by kicking the door, and the result being the beating with the belt buckle, and then having his leg broken. He described everything, but halted when he came to the sexual assault.

The prosecutor hesitated, then realised he would need to gently goad Jason through the next bit. It had been expected, of course, and he was ready for it. "Did anything else happen while you were in that room, Jason? Can you tell me what happened?"

Jason shut his eyes against the tears that were building up. All of a sudden, he didn't think he could go through with it....

When nearly a minute had passed, the Defense Lawyer stood up. "Objection, Your Honour! If the witness can't answer the questions, then he should be dismissed!"

The judge spared the lawyer a cool look of reproach. "Overruled, Mr Johnson. I would have expected you to have more patience than that." He turned to where Jason sat, trying to gather his courage. "Take your time, Jason. There's no hurry."

Jason heard the judge's kind words, and felt a touch of relief and courage fill him. Drawing in another deep breath, he began to speak, haltingly describing in as much detail as he could, what had happened on that last day of his captivity.

* * *

In the body of the courtroom, Tommy shut his eyes as he once again heard the terrible details of the assault and rape, details that he did not care to hear even once, let alone twice over. He spared a glance at Claire, and saw tears rolling down her cheeks as she sympathised with Jason, and what he'd been through.

_oh, jase_ he thought with infinite sadness. _please, God, let him get through this..._

He lowered his gaze to the floor and waited anxiously for Jason to finish talking.

* * *

Further down, closer to the front, Ben Daniels listened in mute horror as Jason slowly, painfully went over the worst details of his kidnapping. He could not believe his father had done all of that, could not believe he had consciously, willfully raped another boy. Nausea flooded the teen's stomach, and for a long moment, he thought he was going to throw up.

On either side of him, his aunt and uncle shifted uncomfortably, and finally his uncle spoke to him in a soft whisper. "Ben, are you all right?"

Ben felt his eyes flood with tears. "I can't believe he'd do all that..." he whispered. All of a sudden, he was blinded by tears. "How could he? How could he....?"

His aunt's arm fell across his shoulders, and she hugged him close.

* * *

After what felt like an eternity, Jason finished telling about the rape. The prosecutor asked a few more simple questions, and then came the one that could either make or break both the case and Jason. "Jason, can you identify the man who did all of that to you?"

Jason's heart started to pound. This was something that had somehow been overlooked, and for some reason it hadn't even occurred to him. He was going to have to identify Rick Daniels. He'd have to look at him to do it....

"Jason, can you identify him?" the prosecutor asked a second time. Jason shut his eyes, and spoke in a trembling voice.

"Yes, I can."

"Is he in this court room?"

"Yes, he is."

"And can you please point him out to the jury?" Jason sat frozen, not moving. All of a sudden, the horror of describing the rape seemed insignificant to this....

"Jason, can you point him out?"

There was an urgency in the prosecutor's voice that Jason couldn't ignore, and he realised dimly that if he didn't point out Daniels to the jury, the case would be blown. Forget all the evidence the police had gathered; if he didn't identify Daniels in court, he knew there would be no conviction.

Slowly, he opened his eyes and forced himself to lift one hand. Then, as though caught up in a slow motion nightmare, he turned his head and made himself focus on Rick Daniels.

His hand froze halfway into the air. Rick Daniels sat at the defense desk, smiling at him. In that instant, Jason's courage all but broke and he very nearly lost control of his fear.

_do it!_ a voice yelled at him, inside his mind. _hurry up and do it, and then you'll never have to look at him again..._

"That's him, there," Jason said, his voice cracking with fear. His hand dropped, and he started to turn his face away, but not before he saw Daniels wink at him. He slumped down in the seat a little, his breath coming in short, rapid gasps.

The movement had not gone unnoticed by anyone else, though, and the judge slammed his gavel down hard on the bench.

"Mr Daniels, that is not acceptable in this courtroom! I'm placing you in contempt of court!"

Daniels didn't protest. As far as he was concerned, Jason's panicked reaction was worth the charge.

The prosecutor waited a moment longer, then stepped back. "I have no more questions, Your Honour."

The judge looked across the room. "Would you care to cross examine, Mr Johnson?"

Johnson rose up slowly. "Yes, Your Honour, I would." He approached the witness box slowly, not taking his eyes off Jason, trying to intimidate him. It worked, for Jason shrunk down in his seat even more, as though trying to escape the lawyer.

Johnson allowed himself the hint of a smile, then spoke quietly to the teen. "Jason.... You're a very athletic young man, aren't you? Into martial arts, and all of that?"

Jason felt his stomach rolling as he wondered where it could be leading. "I... guess so...."

"You guess so? Could you be more specific, please? For the court...."

Pain shone in Jason's eyes. "I used to be. I don't do it very much anymore. I'm not up to it."

Johnson nodded thoughtfully. "Perfectly understandable. But you were very heavily into the martial arts before this... unpleasant little episode. Am I right?"


"So you would have been more than capable of defending yourself against any attack, either physical or otherwise?"

Jason faltered, panic suddenly threatening. If this was headed where he thought it was.... "For.... For the most part...."

"For the most part. Interesting...."

"Objection!" the prosecutor called out, standing up. "Where is this leading?"

"Overruled," the judge answered grimly. "Go on, Mr Johnson."

Johnson nodded patiently. "Thank you. Jason, you claim that when my client raped you, he first untied you. Is that correct?"

Jason felt the panic rising. He had been told that wouldn't be an issue.... "Yes," he managed to croak out. "He did."

"And you just lay there? You didn't struggle, didn't fight, didn't do anything! Jason, that would indicate consensual sex...."

"Objection!" the prosecutor roared. "Your Honour, it has already been established in the forensic evidence that Jason was overdosed with muscle relaxants! He was physically incapable of struggling!"

"Sustained," the judge growled.

"I withdraw the statement," Johnson replied, smiling inwardly. It had already had the desired effect, and tears were now rolling down Jason's cheeks. Apparently he had doubts as to his own innocence....

"I have no more questions, Your Honour," Johnson said dismissively.

The judge nodded, and seemed relieved by it. "Very well. You can step down, Jason."

Jason rose up on unsteady legs, and made his way out of the witness box and back into the body of the court room. He didn't stop, though, but rather kept going, pushing his way straight out of the court room. A moment later, Donavon, the D.A., Claire and Ted Roberts and Tommy Oliver all hurried out after him.

* * *

They found Jason sitting on a nearby bench, sobbing helplessly into his hands. Donavon reached him first and put his arms around the boy in a protective embrace. "It's all right, Jason," he murmured. "It's okay. It's over."

"You did extremely well," the D.A. said in a quiet voice. Jason sobbed heavily into his father's shoulder, clinging to him like a child.

"He smiled at me...." he wailed, his voice muffled by Donavon's shirt. A long silence followed, and then Claire dropped down onto the bench on the other side of Jason.


"Rick Daniels...." Jason sobbed. "He smiled at me when I looked at him.... and then he winked at me...."

Another long silence followed, and then Claire put her arms around Jason from the other side. "It'll be okay," she whispered, hugging him as tightly as she could. "Have some faith, Jason...."

Jason didn't reply, but continued to cry into his father's shoulder for a long while."

* * *

That night, Sarah saw her son to bed, and had to struggle to hide her own pain when he begged her not to leave him alone.

"Sweetheart, I'll be just in the family room with your father. Neither of us will leave the house, I swear."

"Don't leave me..." Jason begged her, though, reaching out desperately for her hand. Sarah eventually gave in, unable to resist the tears he was shedding.

"Did Dad tell you everything?" he asked softly as she sat down on the edge of the bed.

"Not all of it," she admitted. "Jason, I think you're very brave to have gone through that. Don't expect anymore of yourself just yet, all right? Let's just take one step at a time."

Jason nodded, happy with that for the time being.

Two weeks later....
Alex Carter turned on the radio late that morning, and flopped down in his armchair, taking a moment to relax in his office at the Kingston Institute. Some good had finally come of the Scott case, he reflected wearily, in that the jury, after eighteen hours of deliberation, had eventually drawn a guilty verdict, on all charges. That, he knew, had been some relief to the parents, but Jason was still awaiting the sentencing to see how worthwhile his efforts had really been.

Carter shut his eyes and leaned back in his chair. He hoped that that Jason wasn't expecting too much; rape cases were notorious for letting the offender off lightly....

".... And this just in.... Judge Turner has just delivered the sentencing in the case of The People vs. Rick Daniels....."

Carter sat up quickly, his breath catching in his throat, and he found himself hoping insanely for a heavy sentence.

"...In a court scene today that almost turned into a riot, convicted kidnapper and rapist Rick Daniels was given a six year suspended sentence, and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine..."

Carter shut his eyes, his heart sinking. A suspended sentence, which meant Daniels would be out on the streets...

"...Judge Turner claimed Daniels had shown remorse for his crimes upon his conviction, and could not legitimately impose a heavier sentence. Conditions are being set for the suspended sentence, one of which being that Daniels will not be allowed within a thousand yards of his victim..."

The story swept over Carter's head. He had seen this happen before, and he knew what Jason's reaction would be. Feeling upset but knowing he could do nothing about it, he picked up the phone and spoke tiredly into the mouthpiece.

"Janine, get a hold of Adrian and Mark, and have them meet me at the car. Then, find Sam and have her fix up the linen and everything in room 238, and make sure the restraints are fixed in properly. We'll be bringing Jason Scott in this afternoon, and he won't be happy about it."

"Yes sir, right away."

"And put me through to Andrew."

A moment later, the line was connected, and a new voice spoke. "Andrew Davis, here..."

"Andrew, it's Alex. I just wanted to let you know that I'm going to get Jason Scott this afternoon."

A long moment of silence passed, and then Davis spoke again. "You heard the news about Daniels, then?"

"Yes. I knew it wouldn't be great, but I'd hoped that he would have at least gotten a jail term."

"So now you're putting the court order in practise?"

"Yes. I don't like to, but I don't see that I have a choice. I know for certain that the boy is unstable, and he has definite suicidal tendencies. I can't leave him where he is, knowing he could do serious harm to himself, or someone else."

"Okay. Just be careful with what you say to the parents. They're not going to like hearing your opinion that their son is a walking time bomb."

"I will," Carter reassured his colleague. "Trust me." Both men hung up, then, and Carter sat back for a moment, staring grimly at the wall. He hated to have to do it, but he believed it had become necessary. Unless Jason could prove to him that afternoon that he could cope with the decision that had been passed down, then he would be coming to stay at Kingston, and quite possibly for a long while.