Disclaimer: I still don't own the Power Rangers, more's the pity since they'd have ever so much more fun with me. But, the mighty Saban is still the official, legal owner of the PR world, and I'm just borrowing it without permission for a good cause. I won't get paid for doing this.
Notes and Timeline: The timeline is before, during,
and after all eras.
This story is being written as a birthday present for Dagmar Buse, may
enjoy it in good health for years to come. Happy Birthday, friend! June
Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean,
who is neither tarnished nor afraid... He is the hero, he is everything.
He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man.
He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct,
by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it.
He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.
~ Raymond Chandler ~
"Who's next?" the being in white asked.
"Jason Scott," his helper replied.
"Is he deserving?" The question was required by ritual.
"They say he's a hero. But, the tape should tell the tale. Observe ...."
"Missy! Missy! Oh, come back! Give her back!" The young voice was filled with dismay as its piercing tones carried through the open area of Angel Grove Park.
Six-year-old Jason Scott looked up from where he sat in the shade of a large shrub, putting together a plastic fort, complete with fifty soldiers and seventeen horses. He didn't know who was yelling, or exactly why she was yelling, but he knew something was wrong. Looking around he saw his parents were sitting on the bench near the path, too far away to hear the girl's cries. He stood for a moment, undecided what to do, torn between going to find the source of the cries or enlisting his parents' help.
He heard the girl cry out again, and that decided him. He hurried off in the direction of her voice as quickly as his short legs would take him. He found a little girl, maybe four years old, standing at the foot of one of the large trees dotted throughout the park. She was looking up into the branches with tears streaming down her face. Far off in the distance he could hear the cruel laughter of older boys.
"What's wrong? Are you hurt? Should I get my mommy?" he asked, unable to see what had the girl so upset.
The girl looked up at him and pointed up into the tree. "Missy!" she sobbed out.
Jason craned his neck and looked up, finally spotting what had the girl so upset. Caught in the fork of two branches was a doll in a colorful dress, hanging head down and looking oddly pathetic.
"Get Missy down," the child wailed disconsolately.
Jason eyed the tree critically. It was old, and its sturdy branches were long and hung close to the ground. He couldn't see any way to get up the trunk, but perhaps he could climb on one of the limbs and work his way up. A sob from the smaller child decided him; he grabbed the branch and started up.
It was hard at first; the branch bowed under his weight, but then he reached the stronger part, and was able to make faster progress toward the trunk. Once there he found he could grab branches above his head and haul himself up by sheer strength. It was very hard for the small boy, but he was determined to try. He had finally reached the doll when he heard his mother and father calling for him. He dropped the doll to the little girl, and started to climb down hastily. The boy knew he was going to be in trouble; he wasn't supposed to climb trees alone, nor was he supposed to wander off without his parents' knowledge.
It was probably inevitable that in his haste and worry, he got careless, and his chubby fingers lost their grip on a branch. With a short cry of surprise he fell out of the tree, flat on his back, startling a scream from the little girl who'd stayed to watch him. It was her cry that alerted his parents, and seeing their son's body thrashing on the ground brought them on the run.
"Jason!" Marjorie Scott knelt by the small body, reaching out with careful hands to check for spinal injuries or broken bones before she did anything else. As a nurse, she understood the dangerous injuries the child could have suffered falling out of a tree like he had. She felt a flush of grateful relief when she found no sign of serious injury. However, it was very plain Jason had had the wind knocked out of him; he was making a horrid gurgling, gasping sound, his eyes wide and terrified.
Marjorie carefully lifted him into her arms, rubbing his back gently. "It's okay, sweetie, it's okay, breathe, you can do it, breathe, come on, baby," she crooned as Jack hovered over them. Jason's chest finally unlocked and he was able to draw in a long, deep breath of much-needed air, which he released in a wavering cry of mingled fear and pain.
Marjorie straightened up, still holding Jason close as he began to sob in reaction to his fright. Jack reached out and took his son from his wife, transferring him with an ease born of practice. He made soft comforting sounds as his wife continued to rub Jason's back soothingly, working in tandem with her husband to calm their child.
The little girl had stayed there, watching with curious, tear-filled eyes, oblivious to her own mother's calls until the worried woman got much closer. Then, finally hearing her parents' calls, she turned and, bursting into tears herself, ran into the comforting arms of her mother.
"What happened?" the young woman asked the Scotts, holding her daughter snugly in her arms.
"Jason fell out of the tree, though why he was climbing it in the first place is a mystery to me, he certainly knows better," Marjorie explained.
"Missy," the little girl said, showing Marjorie her doll.
"Missy? What does Missy have to do with this?" her mother asked gently.
"Missy in tree," the child said, pointing upward.
"How did Missy get in the tree?"
"Boys," the girl replied, with a look that seemed to indicate that should have been self-evident.
"Boys threw Missy up in the tree?" the woman asked, growing angry when her daughter nodded.
"He got down," she explained, pointing to Jason, who was by then hiccupping softly on his father's shoulder.
"Jason climbed up in the tree to get your doll down?" Jack asked with a slight smile. "Well, at least that explains why he ignored our rule," he added to his wife.
The young woman reached out to touch Jason gently on the shoulder. "Thank you. Emily is very attached to Missy, it was very nice of you to get her back."
"You're welcome," he replied, just as he'd been taught.
The woman gave the Scotts an apologetic smile and headed back the way she'd come, still cuddling her blonde daughter close.
Jack shifted Jason in his arms so he could see his son's face. "Jason, look at me."
Solemn, deep brown eyes met his father's stern gaze.
"You know we don't allow you to climb the trees unless we're right there, don't you?" He waited for his son's answering nod before continuing. "And I guess now you know WHY we have that rule, don't you?" The boy nodded again as his father continued in a gentler tone of voice. "Okay, I think the scare you just got is more than punishment enough. We aren't going to catch you climbing trees unsupervised in the future, are we?"
"No, Dad," he said seriously.
Jack smiled warmly at his son, pushing back the thick dark hair and kissing the boy's forehead. "Okay, Sport. And, Jason, that was a very nice thing you did for that little girl. You may have broken our rules, but at least you did it for a good cause. That doesn't make it right to break rules, mind you," he said, realizing that trying to explain the gray area between right and wrong was not really possible when dealing with a six-year-old.
Marjorie, who'd kept her hand on Jason's back while Jack was speaking, now leaned forward to give their child another kiss and hug.
"You've got a kind heart, Sweetie," she murmured softly, once again feeling a tug of sorrow that they couldn't have another child. What an awesome older brother Jason would have made!
The young family headed back toward home, Jack still carrying Jason in his strong arms, Marjorie's arm wrapped about his waist.
"So he saved a doll? That makes him a hero?" the assistant asked incredulously.
"He exhibited a hero's heart at a very young age," his boss explained. "Continue watching."
The junior high cafeteria was a noisy, bustling place; the clamor of youthful voices purposely raised to be heard over the clatter of silverware. For the most part the din was a joyful one, laughter predominant amongst the assorted sounds, but there were pockets of silence wherein a handful of unhappy souls were isolated from the others.
Jason entered the large room carrying is bag lunch, scanning for his friends, and returning greetings from other students. He didn't see two of the school bullies sneaking up behind another student until the loud clatter of a lunch tray hitting the floor caught his attention.
He saw Farcus Bulkmeyer and Eugene Skullovich stroll off laughing as a smallish boy with black-rimmed glasses knelt down to pick up his scattered lunch. No one went to the boy's aid, but instead a smattering of laughter and scattered applause could be heard. Jason could see the other boy's face was flushed bright red as he tried to clean up the mess, and in his haste the kid managed to drop a textbook into the small puddle of spilt soup.
Jason wordlessly went to assist the other student, kneeling down and picking up the soiled book. "Here, let me give you a hand," he said calmly, purposely ignoring the other boy's obvious embarrassment.
They'd managed to get most of the mess back on the tray when a cafeteria worker, alerted by the commotion, showed up with a mop to finish the job. Dumping the remnants of his lunch in the trash, the thin boy turned to Jason with a hesitant expression.
"Thank you," he said softly, glancing quickly into Jason's eyes before fixing his gaze on his feet.
"That's okay. Bulk and Skull are stupid bullies," Jason observed.
"They do seem to be moderately annoyed with me at the moment," the light-haired boy agreed.
"What reason would they have to be angry at you?" Jason asked with a curious look.
"Farcus ... um ... Bulk? He wanted to copy my answers for the quiz in history. I said no."
"Oops. That'd do it," Jason noted. "Takes some nerve to say no to Bulk."
"It's not right to cheat," the other boy shrugged.
"You're new here, right? I'm Jason Scott."
"Yes, we just recently relocated to here. I'm William Cranston."
"Well, Billy, welcome to Angel Grove," Jason grinned.
The other boy looked surprised at the nickname, but rather pleased as well. "Thanks."
"How about I save us a seat while you go get some more lunch?"
"Uh, I only had funds sufficient for one meal," Billy commented, obviously uncomfortable.
Jason shrugged as if it weren't important and glanced at the book he still held in his hand. "You're in beginning calculus already? Wow. Guess that means you've taken a lot of algebra, right?"
"Yes, I've completed all the required algebra courses."
"Cool. You open to doing some tutoring? I'm in algebra, and frankly, I don't get it. You think you could tutor me for a while after school this week? We have a big test coming up," Jason queried.
"Sure," Billy agreed shyly.
"Great, come on, I see Zack, you'll like him," Jason said, steering his new friend over to a corner table. "I have an extra sandwich if you don't mind tuna ..."
"Well, that was nice and all, but I don't get what's so heroic about that," the assistant said with a puzzled look.
His boss looked at him with a soft smile. "Jason was always a good math student, he understood algebra perfectly well."
"Oh, so the request to be tutored ..."
"Had nothing to do with HIM needing assistance. Shall we continue?"
Tommy knelt down, shocked by the sight of the Red Ranger having destroyed the Sword of Darkness. As the Sword faded from existence the shadows lifted from the Green Ranger's mind, leaving the teenager all but paralyzed by the memories of his recent actions.
**I ... I betrayed them. I tried to kill them!** He found he couldn't face the five teenagers standing in front of him, and he mentally steeled himself against their expected anger.
But instead he saw a hand reaching out to him, and heard kind words instead of anger. He reached out to that hand, relief slowly washing away the fear. To the lonely teen that hand represented a lifeline, doing more than drawing him from the side of evil. It was offering him a chance to do some good, to be part of something bigger than he'd ever known before. Tommy was awestruck by the trust and caring that gesture represented.
Jason was acting on an instinct he could not deny. There was good in Tommy, great good, he was sure of it. So instead of rejecting the teen who had been doing his best to destroy them, he drew him in, offering a chance for redemption. It was a telling moment, and he wondered if any of the others would object to him doing this. He doubted Kimberly would, he'd seen the way she looked at Tommy. But Zack, Billy, and Trini were more neutral, and he was pleased to see no signs of reluctance on their parts. They all surrounded the dazed former evil Ranger, and admitted him into their protective circle.
"A case of loving thine enemy?" the assistant asked curiously.
"Perhaps. Or just knowing what another needs most. He helped save Tommy Oliver from a dark future," his boss explained.
"What would have happened if he hadn't?"
"It is fortunate we will not have to know. Let us carry on with this review, shall we? I believe he's grown up now ..."
"Daddy! Daddy!" the voice of four-year-old Brandie Scott had the note of desperation only a young child can produce, usually at two in the morning, as it was now.
The bedroom light clicked on and Jason hurried in, his hair sleep-mussed but his eyes alert and fully awake. He found his daughter sitting up in her bed, staring wide-eyed at her closet.
"What's wrong, Sweetie?" he asked, sitting down on the bed and drawing the child into his embrace. "Is it back again?"
"Yes! It's in there," she sobbed, wrapping both her small arms around her father's large bicep.
"What does this monster look like? Did you get a good look at him?" he queried in a serious tone. Emily got a little irritated that Jason treated their daughter's 'monster sightings' so seriously, but he figured it was serious to their child.
"Purple. Wif a blue pointy horn and red eyes. It could see me," she said, her big brown eyes wide with the fearful memory. Despite that, though, she was starting to settle down a little.
"Was it very big? Like Sam, maybe?" Sam was their Golden Retriever.
"Bigger. And teef. Big teef!"
"Wow, that sounds pretty scary. Should I go make sure it's gone?" he offered in that same no-nonsense tone.
"Yes," she replied, looking up at him trustingly, and letting him go reluctantly. Jason crossed the room and turned on the light inside the closet, rummaging around noisily.
"Nope, all clean. Whatever might have been in here is gone now," he announced.
"Did you make the 'monster face' to be sure?" she asked.
"Oops, I forgot," he confessed with a comically sheepish look, getting a giggle from the little girl. "I'll do it now." Screwing his face up into a fierce scowl he turned to the closet and looked inside again. "Monsters, be gone from here!" he intoned in the deepest voice he could manage. The 'monster face' had been conceived of one early morning after finding he couldn't console his then two-year-old child after she awoke screaming about the 'scary monster' in her closet.
"There! All done," he said, sitting back down on the small bed. "Think you can try to sleep now?" he asked as his daughter snuggled up to him.
"Where does the monster come from?" she asked, ignoring his question.
"Well, it's been my experience monsters usually come from an enchanted palace on the moon," he told her. "But, I think any monsters that might find their way to your closet are just lost. They don't mean any harm to you, they're just confused," he said, hoping to reassure her. When she'd first started seeing monsters in her closet the new father had somewhat sheepishly asked Billy to scan for any type of enchanted spell or entity in the area. Billy, a father himself by then, had chuckled at Jason's request, but had obligingly run the scan. It had come up clean, much to Jason's relief.
"Unless ..." he said with a curious look at Brandie.
"Unless what?" she asked, wide-eyed.
"Unless you went to the moon when we weren't watching and brought the monster back with you. Did you?" he questioned, giving her an exaggerated glare.
"Daaaaaddyy!" she countered, giving him a look that said she clearly thought he was pulling her leg.
"Well, did you?" he insisted.
"No, you silly daddy," she said, giggling and pushing at him playfully.
"Well, that's a good thing. We don't even want you crossing the street by yourself yet, so going to the moon without us is strictly forbidden. You just remember that, little girl!"
She giggled and began to settle back down on the bed, her young body's need for sleep finally overwhelming her. She yawned hugely and looked up at her father with rapidly glazing eyes.
"Thanks, Daddy," she murmured, already drifting off.
"My pleasure, Sweetheart," he whispered, kissing one pink cheek. He pulled the covers over her and quietly made his way to the door, turning at the doorway to look back at his sleeping child. Love for his child, pure and powerful in its intensity, overwhelmed him.
"Sleep well, Little One," he said softly as he finally turned toward his bedroom and his sleeping wife.
"Cute kid," the assistant commented. "But this is heroic how? By banishing nonexistent monsters?"
"Those monsters were very real to the little girl," his boss noted. "And being a hero comes with fatherhood. As does pain ..."
The darkness was everywhere, within and without; there was no way to avoid it, to escape it. Not that Jason cared much anymore. The darkness was becoming familiar, like a comfortable old friend whose embrace was welcome. He barely remembered that it hadn't always been that way...
The day-to-day life of a fireman consisted of periods of intense excitement interspersed with stretches of tedium and paperwork. Not that Jason had ever minded that. It was oddly reminiscent of his days as a Power Ranger, and he still reveled in the knowledge he was doing good in the world. His marriage to Emily was solid, and their two children, Brandie and Michael, were growing like wildflowers. At age seven Brandie was Emily all over again, while four-year-old Michael was not quite like either parent. Jason sometimes thought the quiet little boy was more like Billy than anyone else, a thought that always brought a smile to him since Billy's older boy was very much like Zack used to be.
The former Rangers were scattered all over the world, with only Jason, Billy and Katherine remaining in Angel Grove. Billy and Kat had gotten married three months after Jason and Emily, and the two couples were very close. The Cranstons' two sons, ages seven and five, were good friends with Brandie and Michael, having been playmates practically since birth.
He supposed it was a cliché, but Jason couldn't help but think that life had been very good to him. Outside of ordinary problems and illnesses, he and his were as happy and healthy as normal people could reasonably expect to be. Speaking of ordinary illnesses, he was still sniffling a bit after a tough bout of flu, which Michael had brought home from nursery school. He'd joked recently with Billy that he was sure Mike was going to grow to be a scientist, given his penchant for collecting things like germs.
Turning back to a stack of reports he needed to review, he was startled when Greg, the Captain, told him he had a phone call.
He picked up the phone to hear a hysterical Emily saying she was at Angel Grove Memorial Hospital with Mike, that their son was having serious problems breathing.
"Jason, please, you have to come, I'm so scared," she sobbed, her usual cool composure completely gone. That, more than anything, made Jason's heart race suddenly. Emily was normally able to cope calmly with any emergency.
"He was gasping ... his lips were blue ... I brought him her myself rather than wait for an ambulance, but ... but he sounded so bad," she tried to explain.
"Emily, calm down, okay? I'll be right there," he assured her, hanging up and hurrying toward the Captain's office.
"I've already got you covered, Jason. Go take care of your family, and let us know if we can do anything for you," the middle-aged man told him quietly.
"Thanks," the former Ranger said as he did an abrupt about-face and all but ran to his car. He arrived at the hospital less than five minutes after Emily's call and found his wife standing in the Emergency Room lobby staring with tear-filled eyes at the entrance to the treatment area. When she saw her husband, she all but threw herself into his arms.
"Thank God you're here," she cried, holding onto him with desperate strength.
"It'll be okay, Babe. Have they said anything yet?" he asked.
"No, and it's been a long time. He couldn't get a breath, it was so awful, Jason. He was gasping, and trying to cry, he was so scared." Her voice was muffled by Jason's broad shoulder, but her grief came through loud and clear.
Before Jason could reply he saw a grim looking doctor approaching, and any comforting words he had on his mind disappeared at the look on the older man's face.
"Mr. and Mrs. Scott? I'm sorry, we did all we could ..." he began, his tone heavy with sorrow, but whatever else he might have said was lost in Emily's painful scream of loss.
"Noooooo!" she wailed, as her legs gave out and she collapsed into her husband's arms. Jason, almost instantly numb, caught her unthinkingly, restraining her when she fought in his arms.
"No, no! You're wrong, he can't be dead. He's only four years old, for God's sake! You stop this, don't even say such things! You bring me my son right now and I'll take him somewhere where they'll treat him correctly. You incompetent oaf!" She attempted to get away from Jason to attack the doctor, but found herself restrained by his strong arms.
Then the doctor was ordering a sedative, asking Jason who he could call, and somewhere in his shocked mind a darkness was brewing which would eventually encompass his life ....
The former Ranger leader had spent the last few weeks going through the motions, taking care of his family, doing his job. Emily had finally found help from a group for bereaved parents, taking solace from others who had suffered the same agony. Katherine Cranston was also providing all the support she could, and after a shaky time of it, Emily was bouncing back, albeit very slowly. Brandie grieved hard for her little brother, but with the wondrous elasticity of youth was already beginning to recover. She still got weepy about Michael, but wasn't obsessing over him, which seemed to be a healthy attitude.
Jason, however, was not recovering as his wife and daughter were, though on the surface he seemed to be doing well. He never missed a day of work, he attended to his little girl's activities, driving her to soccer practice and ballet and whatever other extra-curricular activities she had going. He listened to Emily whenever she needed to talk about their son, and had attended the group meetings in the beginning. But the comfort Emily found there eluded him, and after the first few meetings Emily went alone.
Many who knew the young Scott family marveled at how incredibly well Jason had handled the tragedy, how he was a pillar of strength his family could depend on. They didn't know he held his pain inside, nurturing it, almost as if he believed if he let it out it would be the ultimate betrayal of his son. He thought he had everyone convinced he was doing fine, but there was at least one person who knew things were not as they seemed.
One person watched the young man carefully, waiting, biding his time until Jason reached the point where he'd be needed the most. Now as the darkness surrounded the former Red Ranger, it seemed it had come.
Jason looked up, squinting in the dark, wondering who was daring to approach him in his solitude. He wanted to be alone, wanted to drift in the darkness, let it take him away to where he wouldn't have to feel anymore.
"Hey, Jase," Billy said softly, sitting down beside his friend.
"I want to be alone, Bill. I appreciate your concern, but I'm fine. Please, just go away," he requested in a toneless voice.
"Can't do that, Jason. You are not fine, and haven't been since that day at the hospital," the former Blue Ranger replied.
"So what if I haven't? I'm doing okay, taking care of business," Jason insisted.
"Yes, yes you are. But that's all you're doing. You can't go on this way forever, Jase. It just doesn't work that way."
"What makes you so sure about that, huh? What makes you think it can't?" Jason asked with anger evident in his voice.
"You taught me that, remember?" Billy countered calmly.
It had been shortly after Billy had moved back to Angel Grove. Billy had not been happy on Aquitar, and his breakup with Cestria had been acrimonious. He'd barely gotten back to Earth and settled in when his father was hit by a car while walking and died four days later. Billy had spiraled down into a depression that worried his friends tremendously. But no one had been able to break through the emotional walls the young man had erected. Except Jason, who'd kept after his friend until he was able to force Billy to face his grief. It had not been easy for either young man, still both in their teens then, but they'd seen it through.
"This isn't the same, Bill. This is ... different." He couldn't find the words to explain how this wasn't the same as what had happened to Billy years ago, he just knew it was.
"Why? Because it's a child? Because it's you? Jason, it's pain, so much pain I can't even begin to imagine how badly it hurts. But I do know I see you drifting away, and I can't in good conscience let that happen. For years you've let me lean on you when things were bad. Will you allow me to return the favor?" There was a warmth in that soft voice few people ever heard.
"Billy, I can't, I just can't. If I let my control down, I'll be lost. Then what will happen to Emily and Brandie?"
"What will happen to them if you don't? If you self-destruct? Because that's where you're heading, Jase. Your son is dead, but your wife and daughter are not. You owe it to them to take care of yourself, to heal. Do it for them, if not for yourself." Billy's voice was urgent as he desperately tried to break through his friend's mental barricades.
"I don't know if I can do this," Jason whispered, a note of fear in his voice no one had ever heard before.
"You can, you must. I'll be here, as long as you need me to be," came the reassuring voice, and a firm hand on his forearm.
Jason took a shuddering breath, and thought of his son. Remembered his smile, his laugh, the way he wanted to know about everything he saw. His first words, his first steps, him solemnly serving as the ring bearer at Zack's wedding only five months before. Those thoughts were like a bright light in the darkness he carried inside, and, oh God, how they hurt. Tears came then, burning like acid and he let out a cry of agony unlike any sound he'd ever made before. He was aware that Billy had taken him in his arms, and was trying his best to soothe and reassure him, but for a long time all he really was aware of was the pain; the incredible, endless pain of loss.
How long they spent in that dark place, riding the waves of a father's grief, they never knew, but in the end Jason came back. The walls were down, and once again light could shine in his heart and soul. The pain was still there, still intense, but he'd learned he could exist despite the pain. That love could exist inside the pain, and that was enough for now.
Emily never knew exactly what happened to her husband that he suddenly seemed to rejoin the human race, but she was very grateful. Neither Jason nor Billy ever mentioned to anyone, least of all each other, what passed between them that night, but an already strong friendship grew even stronger.
"He had a hard time, didn't he?" the assistant observed.
"Yes, he did, but he overcame them," his boss agreed.
"And that's heroic, right? Overcoming the bad times?"
"Yes, it is. Having the courage to face the pain. And the wisdom to allow someone to help when circumstances become too much for one person to handle alone. A true hero knows when to accept assistance," the boss lectured gently.
"Gee, I just thought heroes rescued people and won wars and stuff like that."
"Ah, well, they do that too. Let us continue and you will see ..."
Seventeen years of being a fireman, and still Jason's heart began to race whenever the alarm went off. He hurried into his gear, taking his place on the engine, ready as always to do whatever was needed.
This particular call was for a car accident, a horrendous crash on the outskirts of Angel Grove. A mid-size car was crushed beneath an overturned tanker, flammable liquid spilling from the damaged tanks. The rig driver and both occupants of the car were still trapped inside their vehicles.
"Start washing that fluid out of the way," the captain shouted as Jason and two others grabbed the Jaws of Life and sprinted to the wreckage.
"What do we have?" Jason asked the highway patrolman who had been first on the scene.
"A man and woman in the car, both alive at this time. The doors are completely jammed. The rig driver is also alive, his legs are trapped under the dash of the truck. We've got a crane coming to try to raise the trailer so we can get at the car, plus another tanker to extract as much of the cargo as possible." He went on to tell them what the truck's cargo was, a flammable liquid that was at least fairly stable.
"Still, we'll have one hell of a mess if an errant spark hits any of it," the man concluded.
"Let's try to get the trucker out first and give the crane some time to get here," Jason suggested.
They worked as quickly as they could, knowing they had to be extremely cautious with the flammable liquid still pouring from the damaged trailer and pooling around. Once the man was freed and getting medical assistance, Jason turned his attention to the car.
"I'm going to crawl under there and see if I can figure some way to get them out," he told the others. He carefully maneuvered himself under the overturned trailer and joined a paramedic who was again checking the condition of the two people trapped inside the car.
"How're they doing?" Jason asked tersely.
"Not too good," the paramedic reported, speaking quietly so as to not upset the victims further. "Both are in shock, and I suspect the man is losing blood quickly. What's the status on the crane?"
"ETA of at least 30 minutes," Jason replied.
"Damn. Look, I need to radio this in to the hospital. Can you stay with them for a while?"
The paramedic made his careful way out, leaving Jason alone under the creaking wreckage. The former Ranger hunkered further down so he could see inside the car, where a middle-aged man and woman were sitting, wondering if .... when ... their world would explode in a fiery inferno. They looked at Jason with terrified, shock filled eyes.
"We're doing everything we can to get you out of here," Jason comforted them, wishing he could do more than just offer vague reassurance. "What're your names?" he asked the woman in the driver's seat.
"I'm Gwen, this is my husband Glen. What's your name?" she asked with a completely straight face. Jason bit the inside of his cheek to keep from chuckling at the incongruous names.
"It's nice to meet you, Jason," she replied in a prim little voice, then considered what she had just said. "Well, it's not really nice .... I'm sure you're nice, mind you ... but ..."
Jason chuckled slightly. "I understand, ma'am." The resilience of the human spirit never ceased to amaze him. That she was concerned to be polite under these circumstances was extraordinary.
"Are you alright, Sir?" he asked Glen, who had yet to say anything, or even look over at his wife and Jason.
"Cold," the man muttered.
Jason considered him seriously. It was actually quite hot under the rig, he was sweating heavily. But he was also wearing his heavy jacket and fire gear, while Glen was wearing a light shirt and pants. Still, the paramedic had mentioned the man might be bleeding badly, and if so he needed to see if there was a way to stop it.
There was very little clearance for him to work with, but he figured if he could slide along the hood near where the roof of the car had created a small crawlspace, he could reach through the shattered window and perhaps find out where the man was bleeding. If he could find the location, maybe he could stop it or control it until they could free him. He had to try; if he didn't do anything, the man would die.
It was even tighter than he expected, but he managed to get into position and reach down to where the man's legs were crammed under the dash. Working mostly by sense of feel, he traced the blood to its source, a deep gash in the man's thigh.
"Sir, I'm going to apply pressure to this wound, try to stop the bleeding. It's going to hurt quite a bit, I'm afraid, but it has to be done," he told Glen as he pressed his fingers tight against the wound. The man gasped but didn't protest.
When the paramedic arrived, Jason quickly filled him in on what he was doing, and why.
"Good job, thanks. That was what I was considering, and the hospital confirmed the first priority would be to stop the bleeding. Will you be okay to stay in that position for a while?"
"As long as needed," Jason assured him.
"Thanks. The crane is almost here, it shouldn't be too much longer," the man assured them.
First arrival however, was the other tanker, which was quickly set up to unload as much of the damaged truck's cargo as possible. Considering how much had already spilled it was a bit late to do much good, but it had to be tried. Just as that finished, the crane was unloaded from the truck used to haul it out and setup began.
Under the truck time had crawled almost to a standstill. Jason distracted the couple, and himself, from the situation by asking Gwen questions. He learned they were on their way to Arizona, where their first grandchild had been born just four days before. They were both forty-six, and had been married for twenty-five years as of February. The new grandchild was the first offspring of the eldest of their four children. As the time passed, however, conversation lagged.
Jason's hand and arm were cramping from the effort of maintaining the pressure on Glen's wound, both Glen and Gwen were growing lethargic and weak, from a combination of their considerable injuries and shock. The paramedic, John, was getting stiff from hunkering down by the car for so long. It was with considerable relief that they heard another fireman approach.
"How's it going here?" the newcomer asked. "Jason, are you okay being there?"
"These folks really need to be treated soon," John reported sotto voice.
"I'm fine, Frank," Jason replied.
"Okay, well, we want them out, too. We're ready to lift the tank, so you two need to get out of here," Frank said.
"I've got to stay here," Jason said firmly. "He's lost too much blood as it is. At this point he could bleed to death in minutes. Just be careful and don't drop the damn thing."
"Jason, you know the rules ..."
"And you know there are times the rules need to be broken. I'm staying. Get John out of here, though." Jason was one of the senior crew members now, his orders were usually followed.
He heard Frank lead the protesting John out from there, then there was an odd moment of silence, broken only by Gwen's labored breathing.
"It'll be okay, ma'am," Jason assured her calmly.
"Young man, you are risking your life to save my Glen, the least you could do is call me by my first name," she scolded gently.
"Okay, Gwen. It'll be fine. You'll see. You'll be a few days late seeing the baby, but you will get there."
"Of course I will," she agreed stoutly. Jason could see her hand clutching her husband's on the seat.
They all looked up instinctively as the loud creaking groan of strained metal surrounded them. Jason could feel the damaged tank shift as the crane worked to lift it from the trapped car. For a heart-stopping moment it seemed it wasn't going to work, then the pressure on his back eased and the screeching groan became louder still.
Now they could hear excited shouts, and became aware that the overhead load was shifting to the side as they watched anxiously. The sudden glare of sunlight was glorious to the three of them as the damaged tank was cleared and lowered and a virtual swarm of rescue workers converged on the vehicle.
Jason was gently pushed aside in the haste to remove the two victims, and he gladly let them, pleased that it seemed the couple would be okay.
"Jason, you of all people know the rules about safety," the captain said sternly, albeit kindly.
"I know, Cap. But I couldn't just abandon them. I needed to keep the bleeding stopped, to give him a chance. How could I ever look the lady in the eye again if I'd let her husband die because I was afraid for myself?" he argued.
The captain sighed. "Go get yourself cleaned up, Jason. Before some offers you a cigarette and you go up in smoke."
Jason smiled at the typical gallows-type humor and went to do as told. Later that evening, just before his shift ended, he got a call from the paramedic telling him that Gwen and her husband would both be fine.
"You saved his life, Jason. Near as I can tell from talking to the lady, she thinks you all but walk on water," John informed him, a smile evident in his voice.
"I just couldn't not try, you know how it is. Thanks for letting me know they're okay."
He arrived home to find his wife and daughter anxiously awaiting his arrival.
"Dad, hurry! You have to get cleaned up, the play starts in an hour," Brandie urged him, her eyes shining with excitement. "I thought you'd never get home!"
"You think I'd miss my daughter's performance in her first play? Not gonna happen, Sweetheart. Give me fifteen minutes and I'll be ready to go," he told her, heading up the stairs.
That evening, while he watched his daughter play a farmer's wife on the Angel Grove High School stage, a woman in Arizona he'd never met, and would never meet, gave thanks for the fireman who'd saved her father's life in California.
"Okay, now that one even I get. Yep, he's a hero, alright. But why didn't he tell them what happened?" the assistant wondered.
"Ah, have you never heard of modesty? He honestly believed that he was just 'doing his job.' That he was always just doing his job," the boss said quietly. "Even when he wasn't on duty ..."
The young man was angry, that much was obvious. Why he was angry wasn't. Not that it really mattered, he was angry and taking it out on the girl behind the counter at the convenience store on the outskirts of Angel Grove. He was shouting at her about the price of a bottle of aspirin, slapping his hand down on the counter hard enough to make the crying girl flinch, when Jason walked into the store.
The years had not slowed or dulled him in any way, he still had the bearing and carriage of a much younger man, belying the amount of gray now interspersed with the dark brown hair. He saw what was happening and approached the man carefully, calmly.
"What's the problem here?" he asked in a quiet voice.
"Four dollars!" the man shouted into Jason's startled face. "Four dollars! That's how much they think they can charge for a lousy bottle of aspirin! I'm not going to pay four fucking dollars for aspirin!"
"I can understand that you are upset, but that's no reason to abuse this young lady. It's not her fault," Jason said reasonably.
"It IS her fault! She works here, doesn't she? That makes it her fault! She should pay for ripping honest people off!" the man shouted, suddenly reaching over the counter toward the terrified young woman.
Jason's reaction was instinctive and immediate. He grabbed the much younger man, pulling him away from his intended victim, who screamed loudly. He intended to get the man out of the store, where maybe he could calm him enough to get him to leave so he could call the police.
It was a good plan, but he never got to put it into action. He hadn't noticed the bulge under the man's shirt; if he had he might have reacted differently. Or perhaps not. In the end it was a moot point as the man pulled a gun from his waistband inside his shirt.
No heart - no matter how big, no matter how brave, no matter how noble - can survive with a bullet in it.
Jason Scott was dead before the ambulance arrived.
"He died protecting that woman," the assistant noted.
"Yes. She's a single mother, her son is barely two years old. His actions saved her, preserved a small boy's whole world. Not a bad way for a life to end, I suppose," the boss mused.
"So, he WAS a hero?"
"Absolutely. And he will be made very welcome here. He's more than earned it," the boss declared.
"He'll be missed down there, though."
"Yes, indeed ..."
He was still graceful, despite the passing of several decades. Zack Taylor had never lost the grace that was such an integral part of him, nor the basic good humor that had charmed so many. But on that day the good cheer was hidden under a pall of grief and loss.
"Didn't matter how long it was between visits, it was always like we'd spent no time apart," he said, looking down at the stone that marked the final resting place of one of the best friends he'd ever known. The black clothing, that for one memorable year in his youth had been the mainstay of his wardrobe, was appropriate for the occasion.
In the beginning, there had been the five of them. For whatever reason, together they formed a special team, a special relationship, and it was this Zordon had needed so many years before. So it was appropriate that the original five were together again one last time.
Beside Zack stood Kimberly, again in her once trademark pink. Given her age, she had chosen a very delicate, subtle pink, a demure dress that helped camouflage her now more than ample figure. The once caramel-colored hair was completely gray, but as stylishly cut as ever. Despite the weight, despite the gray hair, she was Kimberly still; fiery, passionate and kind.
Trini appeared even smaller next to Kimberly, frail even. But despite appearances, she was doing much better than she had been six months before. Diagnosed with cancer a year prior, she was so far winning the fight, though the disease had won a few battles. But, in spite of continuous health woes, her eyes shone with the same serene glow they always had and her ebony hair was offset by her pale yellow outfit.
If they had been asked to choose who amongst them they had expected to die first, they would have all chosen Billy, who stood next to Trini, the tremors from Parkinson's Disease very obvious. That was just the most visible health problem he had, what people noticed when seeing him. It was the cancer that riddled his stomach and kidneys that would eventually end his life. Yet, belying the ailments destroying his body, the former Blue Ranger's eyes were still youthful; full of life and curiosity, despite his almost overwhelming sorrow.
"Jason was one of a kind, that's for sure," Kimberly agreed quietly. "I'm going to miss him so much."
"Me, too," Trini agreed. "That's my only regret about moving to Chicago. I didn't get to see my friends nearly enough," she added, looking around at them all, her gaze especially resting on the frail-looking man dressed in blue beside her.
"He knew you were all just a phone call away, you were close in his heart," Billy commented.
"Billy, when did you learn to wax poetic?" Kimberly teased him gently.
The soft-spoken man chuckled at her amazed expression. "Guess I grew up at some point. Probably about the time my third grandchild was born."
"Guess we all did," Zack agreed. A silence fell amongst them as they stood contemplating the stone and the man they had all called friend.
"I wonder just how many lives he saved?" Kimberly wondered at last. "Besides all ours."
"Probably far more than we can even imagine," Trini answered. "Remember when we all got captured, and Rita tried to destroy our powers using the candles?"
A chorus of affirmative sounds and nodding heads greeted that comment. Soon they were all contributing their memories of the man whom they had all loved, whose powerful body had housed a gentle soul. Who had dedicated his life to the service of others, at the eventual cost of that life.
The shadows grew longer as the day faded to dusk; they talked themselves out and once again stood silent and contemplative.
"Good bye, Jason," Billy said at last, his voice solemn in the stillness. "I loved you, my friend." He smiled faintly through his tears as Trini laid a comforting hand on his arm.
"You were the best, man. I'm gonna miss you," Zack added, unashamed of the moisture leaking from his eyes.
"I loved you, Jason, I hope you knew that," Trini whispered, wiping the tears from her cheeks with a trembling hand.
"'Bye, Jase. Wherever you are, I hope you're happy. You deserve it." Kimberly took a shuddering breath, then turned and began to walk back slowly toward the cemetery entrance. The others silently joined her, none of them able to see the once-again young man standing near where they'd been.
"I love you guys, too. I look forward to seeing you again someday." Then he turned away, fading gradually from view, leaving the now empty cemetery behind, and the very new headstone shining oddly in the waning light.
JASON LEE SCOTT
HUSBAND FATHER FRIEND HERO