Summary: One life can touch many. One death can alter the course of history. The death of Brandon Loksen, Crimson Phoenix Ranger does just that. The sequel toHeart of Crimson. AU for MMPR Season 2 and beyond.
Disclaimer: I do not own, nor do I intend/desire to make any money off the Power Rangers/Super Sentai concepts and characters presented in this story. They are fully the property of their respective owners and are used with loving respect. Furthermore, this story utilizes concepts borrowed/adapted from Chris Claremont's run on X-Men. Certain aspects of the story are also due to my current obsession: Jyuken Sentai Gekiranger.
Chapter 6: From the Ashes
"Brandon?" Jason asked with shock, getting to his feet.
The Crimson Ranger turned to him. The armor was definitely different. The helmet no longer had a mouth-plate like the Thunder armors, but now had a full phoenix-in-flight motif in gold around and under the visor. The chest shield was also gone. Instead the upper portion of the torso and arms were black, tapering to a point just below the pectorals and at the ends of the deltoids. The black section was separated from the crimson by a gold stripe. In the center of the chest was a symbol shaped like the Phoenix amulet. The gloves and boots were much the same, but the gold section lacked the divisions that once made them resemble Tommy's White Ranger armor.
The Phoenix Avenger was the same, and the Crimson Ranger converted back to gun mode as he seemed to study Jason for a moment before saying, "Brandon Loksen is dead. I am Phoenix."
Jason took a step back, barely noticing Cole come up behind him. The Crimson Ranger's voice was cold, hard . . . and Brandon's. Even with the distortion caused by the helmets . . . they tended to make voices sound deeper . . . Jason would know that voice anywhere. He started to move towards the Crimson Ranger, to challenge him . . . hell, to rip off his helmet if he had to . . . when they were all interrupted by the sound of mechanical laughter.
Turning back towards Serpentera they saw Venjix rise to his feet. "Your world is doomed Rangers!" the Machine general declared as he leapt to the gigantic Zord's controls. Jason, Cole, and the Crimson Ranger shielded themselves as the backwash from Serpentera's engines blasted over them.
"Son of a . . . they must have re-plated him in Nuetradium!" the Crimson Ranger cursed. He turned to Jason and Cole, "Get the others, get back to the Megaship! I'll try to draw him away from Earth."
"How?" Jason challenged, "You don't have . . ." but he was cut off as the Crimson Ranger looked to the horizon and commanded, "Celestial Phoenix Zord, take flight!"
Space warped, twisted and then the Celestial Phoenix Zord appeared in a burst of crimson fire. It resembled the Falcon Wildzord, but was more streamlined, three times larger, and colored crimson and gold. Its wings trailed crimson fire as it swooped in low over the lunar surface. The Crimson Ranger leapt to the cockpit and the Zord flew into space, hot on Serpentera's tail.
The Crimson Ranger had succeeded in getting Venjix to chase him and the Megaship caught up with the running battle just past the orbit of Saturn. It was a tense fight that climaxed when the Celestial Phoenix Zord transformed into armor for the Astro Megazord much in the way the Delta Megazord did. With their combined power they were finally able to destroy Serpentera and the last vestiges of the Machine Empire with it. The instant the explosion cleared the Phoenix Zord detached and vanished in a burst of crimson fire.
Throughout the fight Jason had managed to maintain his professional demeanor, but the moment the Megazord had finished converting back into the Megaship Jason cornered Andros in the conference room, Tommy right behind him.
"What the hell Andros?!" Jason bellowed.
The Kerovan took a step back, "I don't understand . . ."
"Brandon! What was he doing here?! How is he alive?! Where did he go?!" the first Red Ranger of Earth demanded, making as if to grab Andros. However, Tommy stopped him.
Spinning his best friend around and staring into his eyes, Tommy said, "Jase, bro, relax. Let me handle it."
"Relax!? Tommy, I . . ." Jason stopped when he saw the look of deep concern in Tommy's eyes. He threw up his arms and moved to the far side of the room, pacing like a caged animal.
Tommy now looked at Andros, "Andros, who alerted you to the Machines re-entering the galaxy?"
Andros eyed Jason warily, "The Crimson Ranger."
"Who is he?" Tommy continued.
"I've never encountered him un-morphed. I have no idea what his real identity is, but I have had reason to believe that he had a connection to Earth."
Now Andros looked at Jason with a certain curiosity but continued to speak to Tommy, "Because when he proposed this mission, he specifically ordered that I ask you not to include Jason."
Jason stopped pacing and he and Tommy simultaneously asked, "What?"
Tommy then continued, "You never said anything about not including Jason to me."
"Because someone else asked me, as a personal favor, to ignore that order."
However, before either Jason or Tommy could ask another question, DECA interrupted, "Andros, Pyramidas has dropped out of hyper-rush and is taking up a parallel course. Prince Trey is requesting permission to teleport aboard."
Tommy and Jason exchanged a confused glance as Andros responded, "Have him teleport to this chamber DECA."
An instant later and gold and black teleport flash signaled the arrival of Prince Trey of Triforia. Trey's attention immediately turned to Jason. The two locked eyes, the Gold Ranger and his temporary successor. Jason had never been able to put into words what had happened when he passed the gold powers back to Trey . . . that just for the briefest moment Trey's three aspects and he were one being. It was a bond the two Rangers had never been able to explore, although Jason knew it was responsible for his physical recovery from the gold power's effects. But now, through the look they exchanged, Jason knew and a tear rolled down his cheek.
Tommy looked between the two, and uncertain expression on his face. He asked, "Trey, what's going on? Why are you here?"
Trey only half looked at Tommy, "I'm here to repay a debt and to hopefully help a dear friend, whether he wants me to or not." Turning his attention fully back to Jason, he asked, "Jason, there is only one important question now . . . do you still love him?"
"I never stopped."
"Then come with me."
Jason's mind was reeling, a hundred different questions competing for dominance. However, as Pyramidas jumped to hyper-rush they were all pushed aside when Trey said, "He really did die that day."
"What?" Jason looked at the Gold Ranger in shock.
"That day against Dreaveus. He really did die. Twice, in fact. Once, immediately following the loss of the amulet, and again when he became the Phoenix Avatar."
"But . . . how . . ." Jason wasn't sure how to form the right question.
"The Phoenix is unlike any other power," Trey responded, knowing what Jason needed to hear, to understand. "Despite all the symbols, creatures, or objects we attach to them, the other Colors are ultimately the same. Red is Red whether you tap into it through a Power Coin, a Zeo Crystal, or anything else. But the Crimson power, the power of the Phoenix is different because the Phoenix is both a part of the Power and separate from it. It has a consciousness all its own. However, due to its vast power, it must limit its manifestation in the Universe . . . hence the amulet."
Jason seemed to digest all that for a moment before saying, "But that doesn't explain why Brandon is alive."
"Brandon lives because the Phoenix chose it to be so. When Brandon became the Phoenix Avatar his spirit should had joined the Grid, but the Phoenix prevented that held Brandon's mind and spirit together, taking him to a distant planet where it rebuilt Brandon's body."
"But . . . but that doesn't explain why . . ." Jason trailed off.
"Why he didn't return for you?" Trey asked. Jason nodded in response. Having noted that it was a Terran gesture of agreement, Trey continued, "At first, it wasn't possible."
"Jason you must understand, Brandon is no longer a Ranger like you or I. He is the Phoenix Champion . . . he directly taps into the Morphing Grid, channeling the Power of the Phoenix without aid of a morpher. After his rebirth, it took nearly two years for him to learn how to control his new power. Almost immediately after finishing his training, he was dragged into the war with the UAE, which is how I met and befriended him. After the war, he was busy dealing with its fallout and the rebuilding. By the time he had a moment, four years had passed."
"Then why didn't he return to Earth then?" Jason asked with a hint of anger in his voice.
Trey sighed deeply, "Because he's convinced himself you're better off without him."
"What?!" Jason's anger morphed into shock. "Why?"
Trey paused a long moment before continuing, "The Phoenix's chosen warrior always dies in an act of self-sacrifice. While Brandon is the first to be reborn after a second death, he does not believe he will survive a third time. He doesn't want to put you though that again."
There was sadness in Jason's eyes . . . but for the first time in a long time he spoke with the voice of the first Red Ranger of Earth, "Isn't that my choice?"
Trey smiled, "I've been trying to convince him of that for four years . . . I hope you'll do better."
The trip aboard Pyramidas had taken nearly a full day, even at the Zord's maximum velocity which, contrary to Andros' constant announcements, was just about as fast as the Astro Megaship. Add in jaunts through three different wormholes, and Jason only knew he was very, very far from Earth.
As the red light of his teleport pulse faded, Jason got his first look at the planet Brandon had spent two years of his life training on. He was standing on a rocky ocean shore line that seemed to stretch forever in both directions. Moving away from the ocean the ground rose sharply and quickly switched to scrub and grass. Jason climbed, having been told by Trey to head inland once he was on the surface. Cresting the incline Jason looked out on the panorama spread before him; a vast grassy plain filled with low growing, large leafed trees. In the distance was a series of low mountains.
Trey had not been able to give him more specific directions, and so Jason stood debating where to go next when an unexpected voice intruded on his thoughts, "Welcome to Phaedos Jason, Chosen of Zordon."
Jason spun to face the speaker, dropping into a defensive crouch. He was unable to suppress the surprised expression at the sight that greeted him; a woman, easily six foot two, with flame red hair wearing what amounted to a green leather bikini with accents of bronze chain-mail, knee boots, and leaning casually on a ornate but simultaneously vicious-looking staff. For her part, the woman arched an eyebrow and gave Jason an amused grin. "Excellent reflexes," she commented in what Jason recognized as "teacher voice," having himself used it for years at the dojo.
Straightening into a somewhat more relaxed, but still guarded posture, Jason asked, "Who are you?"
"Right to the point, you are every bit the Red he said you were," she laughed lightly. "I am Dulcea, Master Warrior of Phaedos and Guardian of the Great Temple of Power."
"He?" Jason asked, his wariness fading as his excitement and trepidation returned. "He's here?"
Now Dulcea sighed, "Yes. He returns whenever he needs to meditate on his path. However, this time I would call it sulking rather than meditation." Dulcea's expression turned to one of determination, "Now come. This has gone on for far too long." Dulcea turned and began moving towards a nearby outcropping of rock.
Jason followed, but couldn't help asking, "So, what's your part in all of this?"
"The Phoenix charged me to train Brandon. Although, given his original training, I think I spent more time mothering him. His adjustment to being reborn was difficult, and he missed all of you," she now looked Jason in the eyes, "you especially, terribly. However, he has convinced himself you would be better off thinking he was still dead and I, and the few friends he has made in the rest of the galaxy, have grown tired of him allowing himself to suffer."
"So when this whole Machine Empire thing came up, you all decided to use the opportunity?"
"Use it?" Dulcea laughed. "I arranged for the Machines to learn that Serpentera still existed."
Jason stopped dead, "You what?!"
"I had no doubt that Tommy would find a way to handle the situation. After all, Zordon would not have Claimed any of you as his Chosen sons and daughters if you weren't worthy. And Ninjor speaks highly of Tommy." Dulcea's tone suggested she saw the defeat of the Machines as a foregone conclusion.
"You know Ninjor?"
"He is a former student of mine and now guards one of the lesser Temples," Dulcea responded as they resumed walking. They soon reached the outcropping and Jason noted that it looked vaguely like a doorway. Dulcea stepped through the space between the two stones and vanished. Jason paused for a moment before following her.
The scene instantly shifted. Now Jason was standing at the edge of what looked like the ruins of a temple. Additionally, it was dusk here, while it had been roughly noon before. Looking behind him he saw two stone pillars, set up similarly to the outcropping. He turned back to Dulcea, a questioning look on his face.
"A slightly more direct form of teleportation that what you are accustomed to, but it requires specific portal points. However, it makes travel around the planet efficient. We're now a nearly a quarter of the planet from where you teleported down. This is the Gateway Temple. Beyond here is the Neola Valley, in which are the vast Neola Jungle and the Monolith, site of the Great Temple. He is here."
Jason followed Dulcea deeper into the temple area. They came around a set of pillars and Jason now spotted a figure leaning over the railing overlooking the jungle. He was wearing a black jacket made from what appeared to be leather. Black pants of the same material featured a crimson stripe edged in gold down the side of the right leg. Across the back of the jacket the Phoenix symbol was rendered in gold. Jason began to move forward when the figure spoke without turning, "I'd really like to be left alone Dulcea, I'm not in the mood for another lecture."
"I am not here to lecture you," Dulcea responded. "However, I believe our guest has a few things to address with you."
He spun around and for the first time in eight years amber eyes meet chocolate as Jason looked into the face of Brandon Loksen. They stared at each other for a few moments until Brandon finally asked, "How did you get here?"
Jason was taken aback by the tone in Brandon's voice, accusatory and almost aggressive. But then he remembered what Trey and Dulcea had told him and decided to take a different tack, "Gee, one transformation into a giant bird of pure energy and you completely forget how to flirt."
Jason couldn't help but smirk at the shocked expression on Brandon's face, as that was obviously not the reaction he was expecting. Brandon's eyes shifted to Dulcea, who had stepped back into the shadows and he glared at her. The Master Warrior merely smirked in return and then, in a burst of light, transformed into a snowy white owl and flew off. "Dulcea!" Brandon screamed after her. He looked in the direction that Dulcea had flown for a moment, and then glanced back at Jason, before turning his back and head back to the railing. Hugging himself, Brandon said, "You should go."
"Like hell," Jason responded, closing the distance.
"There's nothing for you here," Brandon continued without looking at Jason. "I told you, Brandon is dead, only Phoenix is left. Any feelings Brandon had for you died with him."
"Bullshit. I spent nearly a day with Trey, I know the truth. In eight years I've never stopped loving you. And I know that you're still Brandon and it's the same for you."
"Trey is wrong."
"Really? Then turn around, look me in the eyes, and tell me you don't love me."
There was a long pause. Finally Brandon turned to Jason and looked him in the eyes, "I . . . I . . . I can't. Oh Power, I do still love you." Tears began to stream down Brandon's cheeks. Jason began to step forward, but Brandon held up a hand to stop him, taking a step back. "But we can't do this. I can't do this to you. Sooner or later I will have to sacrifice myself again, and I'm not coming back next time. You're better off just forgetting me."
"I know that you'll probably die again. I know you don't want to hurt me again. But guess what, I don't care. I just want you back, for however long I can get. A day, a week, it doesn't matter, as long as I get to be with you. And if you do have to die again, I want you to do it with me fighting by your side."
"I . . . I don't . . ." Brandon's expression was torn, his tone uncertain. Jason's patience finally reached its limit and he nearly leapt across the space between himself and Brandon, grabbing his lost love and kissing him fiercely. At first, Brandon seemed about to push Jason away, but then he softened, relaxing and deepening the kiss. Although their first kiss in eight years held just as many tears as their last, these were tears of renewed love, of the restoration of the piece that had been missing from both their hearts.
Finally, even their Ranger-enhanced bodies needed air, and Jason and Brandon gently broke the kiss. As they pulled away from each other Brandon stroked the side of Jason's face and whispered the one word that let Jason know he had truly had him back . . .,