AUTHORS NOTE and DISCLAIMER: So I feel kind of ashamed to show my face again here after two years of non-activity, but after a rainy day of thinking about what could have been, I took another shot at this story. I've been thinking about My Trigger and its universe for a long time, of all the ideas and fun I had while writing it. I'm not sure if anybody reads this, or would even want to, but if continuing this story appeals to even a single person, I'm glad. I haven't watched Scrubs in a long time, but I think I'll unearth my ancient DVD's in order to characterize these guys again. While it may take a bit longer to get My Triggerback into gear, I've got quite a lot of plot bunnies for My Red Flag and its little series. In saying that, I really hope you enjoy the second chapter.
It's been a long time coming, to say the least.
Lyrics are adapted from the song Red Flag by The Getaway Plan. I don't own this, or Scrubs.
MY RED FLAG
Have you ever felt, ever felt like this?
It feels almost like holding a wolf by its ears,
It's not finding the door, its finding the resolution.
If you've never felt, never felt like this,
If you knew what you're missing there's so much to miss!
Your face to the floor, the sound of the armies moving.
My own breakdown comes long after I have left him to his sorrow. We are creatures of habit, he and I, so different yet so alike in our grief. The two of us will bend over backwards to help the others through their ordeals, but when the same happens to us we can do nothing but try to escape it. I cannot be held, I cannot be consoled. In my agony I am untamable.
So is he.
His sadness burns, crackling away in the dying sun like a thing alive. It is tangible, heavy, a weight in the air fuelled by something more potent than rage. Rage burns hard and fast, dimming in a scant few minutes, but the emotion that fuels his pain—and, to a lesser extent, my own—burns strong and unrelenting, fierce and out of control. It takes longer than minutes, longer than hours, longer than days, even, to erase it. Some would say that to purge it from your system is tantamount to suicide. It is the very thing that keeps us going.
It is also the very thing that tears us apart.
"Love," I whisper, to the dead air of the place I once called home. There is no response.
The ghosts, it appears, will mourn alongside us tonight.
I'm not given long to overcome my emotions, for far more important than my emotional burial is the physical lockdown that must take place now that an away team has been taken and, presumably, tortured for information.
Percival Cox would die before betraying our location to the enemy. It is not a supposition, but a fact. However, the decision between us is unanimous. If Perry were here, he would tell us to take no risks, and I won't disobey a direct order from my superior. None of us will. If it came down to it, I suppose none of us actually could.
The halls erupt with movement as we prepare for our lockdown. We have fought from the sewers to build our society, fought tooth and nail to gather what little we have left, to stop it from being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of what we didn't have any more. The ferocity of our protection knows no bounds, for we are the only free people in a world devoid of freedom. We are the last stand, the guardians of the weak.
It's time for the last stand to go underground.
The hospital is the first to be cleared, primarily because it takes the longest to move. I receive a weary smile from Chris as he emerges from the surgery, but there is no time to speak. As soon as he steps into the room, he is pulled away by the evacuation staff, disappearing into the fray.
It may have only been for a moment, but seeing him has given me the boost I hadn't known I'd needed. The next few hours are a blur, designating patients and doctors to the many rooms in the bunker, repeating the same instructions again and again and again. Men, women, children and the elderly are all ushered down the halls towards the cold cement chambers that are to be their home for the foreseeable future. The soldiers and all non-essential staff remain to tend to the final few cases, but majority of the patients and all of the doctors are safely tucked away. When the last person leaves—a soldier named Mathias, bringing up the rear of the group—I begin to seal the doors behind me using the keycard looped around my neck.
A hand falls on my shoulder, and I nearly jump out of my skin.
I turn, feeling the anger rise to my throat, only for it to vanish at the sight of him. Our leader... and my friend.
JD smiles apologetically, and it is such a relief to see something other than anguish on his face that my hand drops from the keypad and I throw myself into his arms. The action doesn't require a single moment of conscious thought. He needs me and I need him. We grieve alone, but together we weave the web of support, layer upon layer of cloth until the people closest to us are surrounded and safe from harm.
He holds on tightly, surrendering to the pain for a few, scant moments before regaining himself. I feel it the second that he does, for it is then that he decides to speak. "I knew I'd find you here. Sorry for scaring you."
I smile into the embrace, the last remainder of my own roiling sadness tucked safely away behind the cloak of normalcy. I pull away from him, and it is only when I can see his eyes—wide, bright and so very blue—that I respond. "No place else I'd rather be."
It's meant to sound sarcastic, but it is said with a certain degree of honesty that surprises us both. The look on JD's weathered face hardens in sorrow, but it is an old pain, not the new agony that seeps into every facet of him, antagonizing the wounds not quite healed, until every breath is labored and burning. I feel the fear clenched around my heart loosen its grip a little. I take a shuddering breath.
"This is home now," JD begins, with purposeful slowness, "but I would be lying if I said there is no place I'd rather be. I think we both would, actually. If not a place, then definitely a time."
I raise an eyebrow. "Not that that isn't obvious!" he adds, sheepishly. I watch the emotions flicker across his face, and the fear slips but a fraction more. This is a good sign, his expressiveness. It means he's sharing. It means he wants to be helped. "I mean, you'd have to be pretty crazy to want to be here. Y'know, if you could choose any place at any time. Not that there's anything wrong with this place, but the world kind of ended, except not really, and things just—really suck." JD heaves a sigh. "That was pretty terrible, wasn't it?"
I choose my words very carefully. "It's nice, actually. You haven't rambled on like that in a while. Still like watching a train wreck in slow motion, of course, but very Classic Bambi."
JD rolls his eyes, but looks excited at the notion. "Classic Bambi? Is that like Vintage Cox?"
I shake my head, unable to help the smile that stretches across my face.
"No, no, no," I tut, enjoying myself for the first time in a long time. From the glint in JD's eyes, he is as well. "Vintage Cox has been around a lot longer than you—and even I—have. I'm afraid the only way you can possibly measure up is time travel, and then you'd have a lot more on your plate than saucy nicknames."
JD grins broadly at me, and it's so much like old times that I feel a tug deep in my heart. The fear crawls back into the gaping hole that the brutal push leaves, and I want nothing more than to go back to the way it was only seconds before. But there's no going back. There never is.
Mirroring my thoughts, he settles on the tiniest of smiles. "I haven't the slightest idea what I'd actually do if I ever found myself back there, except maybe shower a few hundred times." I laugh at this, and the corner of his mouth quirks upwards. The sadness in both of our hearts begins to soften, but doesn't disappear. "I think I would do anything if it meant I could stop... this."
He motions to the room; cracked and rusted, faded and worn; to the empty space in between my body and his, where I know he sees the souls of those who have left us. They are tattooed upon our eyelids—us, the survivors. The word has never felt so little, yet so large. We have survived, against all odds, but it is a cold victory.
"I know," is my reply, because it's true. JD would do anything to stop this, just as I would, as Christopher would, as Perry would. There is nothing we wouldn't do to save this world, and while the thought once frightened me, it now imbues a sense of purpose into my stride. In the face of everything that has been, and the wake of everything yet to come, our strength will be the deciding factor. We are outnumbered and outgunned, but we will not be overcome. The death of our own is a tragedy. Our survival is a madness that descends upon us all, inch by inch, bit by bit. But it is also hope, the one weapon that the Collective have yet to crush, and the one that may save us all.
I look up at the man before me; the man who is taller but does not stand above me, the man who is beaten but not broken, the man who guides us with a gentle hand and even gentler words and who has lost but has not fallen. I look into his eyes and see it, shining brighter than the stars or the explosions that burn white-hot in the city below. It is a small thing, fragile and ever so tentative. But it is there and it is strong.
It's the same desperate, burning hope I see in his eyes that drives me to step into the laboratory after the evacuation is complete. I know I am needed elsewhere in only a handful of minutes, but this visit is important. Just like the undercurrent of fear that I feel—a litany of something's wrong, something's wrong, somethingiswrong—there is an undeniable feeling of rightness, pushing me forward and forcing the demons back. I have to be here, I have to do this, here and now no matter what. I take a step forward, and the weight on my back is halved. Another, and it is as if it was never there at all. Every subsequent step leaves me feeling better and better until the pain is but a passing memory, burnt until it glows and crumbles.
"Aunt Carla, come in!"
I look up to see Jack waving in the threshold of the door adjacent to where I am standing, motioning towards something that is hidden from my view. I follow him in, still consumed by my own troubles. It takes longer than I care to admit to reassert myself with reality, but I do.
When I finally see what it is that Jack is so excited about, I feel my jaw drop.
It's a man. That in itself isn't so remarkable, but the fact that it's a man I recognize is. Amongst many other things that are known about this man, that he died over ten years ago is a very pertinent and somewhat troubling fact. The man in front of me—the man who wears a dead man's face—sleeps soundly. His chest rises and falls, and there is a slight crinkle in his nose when he exhales. He's dressed in nothing but a flimsy hospital nightgown, reminiscent of the ones he wore when he was a patient at Sacred Heart all those years ago, before the heart failure that took his life. I can hardly believe what I'm seeing.
I don't say a word, but my confusion must show on my face because Jack begins speaking in a tone that is meant to be reassuring, and would be, if not for the fact that I am looking at the impossible.
Ben Sullivan's face, flushed and sleep-worn, and the slow, steady sound of him breathing. The softness of his skin when I brush my fingertips down his cheek, the warmth underneath it as I follow the line of his jaw. Real. Frighteningly real. How can this be real?
"He isn't real," Jack is saying. I must have said that last thought out loud. "He isn't human at all."
In a detached part of my mind, I realize that the use of the pronoun belies his words. While the rest of my head remains frozen, rooted to the spot, it is this part that lifts my gaze to Jack's and asks: "He?"
I receive a grim smile, a look far too somber to belong on that face. "I couldn't tell if you were ready to see this yet, but I took my chances. Mom point blank refuses to come in and see him, even though I offered over a dozen times, and while Dad knew about it, he didn't get to see all the progress I had made before—before..."
He trails off and all the surprise, the shock and the disturbance drains out of me in an instant. In its place, I feel tired. Tired, and way too old for this. "Are you okay?" I ask him, placing a steady hand on his shoulder, which trembles softly beneath my palm. He nods, shakily. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Jack shakes his head, then reaffirms his decision with a quick: "No, thank you."
The silence stretches out between us and while it can never be truly awkward between me and a member of my family—be it by blood or by choice—it's certainly on the wrong side of uncomfortable. When it becomes unbearable, I turn to Jack. "What did you mean, when you said he isn't human?"
It's the right call. Jack becomes animated in an instant as he begins to speak. I follow his explanation to a point, where I learn that the man I see, this Ben, is actually an automaton that Jack has been working on for the past few months. He doesn't know how the concept came to be exactly, for it came to him in weeks that felt like days, a blur from one point to the next. Regardless of the gap in time and information, Jack knew enough to continue the research, wherein he discovered that the genetic make-up of his original prototype—an oddly shaped lump that he'd called Boris—was created from nanites. Nanotechnology, used to create the sinister law enforcement that covered every part of the city; that ensured the rapid spread of Juvenile amongst the nation's children. It was suspected for some time that nanites had something to do with the virus itself, the way it targeted and systematically destroyed the people who were infected. The way it had learnt not just to target children, but the population as a whole. The way it demanded obedience from the most powerful men in the world.
"I know how he was made," Jack says, motioning to the computer on the desk beside him, "that's the simple stuff. The part that's a little fuzzy is how I not only managed to make him look like Ben, but act like Ben. I don't know much about my Uncle, except that he was well-loved and a little weird, but when he first woke up he knew. Sat up and asked for Dad, right then and there. Asked how Mom was, and Uncle JD."
"Wait," I begin, slowly, in an attempt to reconcile what I am hearing. An attempt that completely and utterly fails. "You're telling me that he remembers?"
Studying me closely, Jack nods. "It's the strangest thing I've ever seen, and in this day and age, that's saying something. I was hoping you could help me, actually, since you were there when he was alive."
I'm shaken to the core at the very idea, but when I look down at the still figure lying beside me and the torn boy in front of me, I know what I have to do. With his father missing and his mother neck-deep in official affairs, there's nobody to look out for him. JD is in high demand by everybody, and even then he has his own son to worry about. Sam is only a few years younger than Jack, but it makes a world of difference. He, like Jenny, is ushered into classes put together by the rag-tag group of teachers who remained at our side, utterly devastated by the death of their students to Juvenile and out for the blood of their executioners. It feels like we're all out for blood, these days. The only thing that distinguishes the soldiers from the civilians is that one party is actually capable of doing it. The rest think about it, with growing intensity, every passing day.
I should know, for I'm one of them.
"Let's do this," I say, and the smile on my face is almost genuine.
It's like talking to a ghost, except for the part where Ben—for there is no other name that can be given to this person that sits before me with a thousand-watt grin but Ben—is as utterly charming as a machine as he was a man. The only thing that disturbs me is the lack of disturbance I feel when I'm around him.
While he is as human as he'll ever be, Ben's construction is nowhere near finished. His ability to recall the life he once had is as miraculous as it is shocking, but there is nothing that indicates whether or not Ben's brain is capable of recollection, at least on a short-term scale. The next time I visit, JD comes with me, and the moment the two of them see one another it's like I'm no longer in the room. Jack glances over at me sympathetically, and we watch as the two of them hit it off like everything else—Ben's death, the end of the world as we knew it—is but a footnote. When Ben asks about Perry, I'm pleased to see the emotion play out on JD's face as he tells him about Perry's capture. After the first and only breakdown I had witnessed, JD had been keeping everything inside, schooled into a mask of ruthless indifference. I know it's only out of necessity, but I've never been good at outweighing the needs of the many to the needs of the few. Right now, JD's mental health is my priority, public image be damned. Just like Jack, JD needs support. Not a caretaker, nor a mother, but a friend.
Ben's reaction the news is damaging, and he begins to go into cardiac arrest. Jack assures the both of us that Ben will be fine—this has happened twice, already, and is more an issue of nanites reconstruction than it is of life-and-death. Still, JD and I are doctors at heart, and it becomes a three-man job to save him. When Ben is settled, sedated and, gladly, not dead, JD turns to Jack, furious.
"Regardless of how temporary the notion might be in this case, we never step back and let someone die!" JD yells the words with all the pent-up frustration of a man who has lost far too much, but continues to care nonetheless. Jack's face falls, and I watch as the anger passes right through him in an instant. JD lays his hands on Jack's shoulders, forcing him to meet his gaze, and he adds: "Not if we can save them, okay?"
Jack nods, his jaw quivering slightly, and he has never looked younger than he does now. JD throws his arms around him, pushing Jack into his chest. "I can't imagine what it's like for you and your sister," JD mumbles, as Jack begins to shake in his arms, "but we will find him, you know we will. I'd sooner die than abandon him. So would Carla, so would Turk, so would Ben."
When he pulls back to stare at Jack, the fire in his eyes is scorching. This, I realise, is the man who pushes us to become greater than we ever have been, the same man responsible for the fix to the Juvenile virus. While it didn't last, that fix saved thousands of lives, and it wasn't the end of his kindness. JD was also the one who distributed that information on every message board, website and video uplink in the country, spreading awareness of the growing threat and earning a place at the top of the Collective's most wanted list for his efforts. This, this is the man who turned around, established a channel that the enemy couldn't touch, and told them how much he didn't care for their threats and their lies, and that we—the rebellion—are stronger than anything they could ever create.
While the other men—JD the doctor, JD the father, the brother, the uncle—are formidable in their own right, none of them could ever hold a candle to the absolute awe that follows JD the leader wherever he goes. It is this awe that is reflected in Jack's eyes, followed swiftly by conviction, because in that moment, Jack knows. He knows that he will see his father again, knows that everything will be alright, knows that no matter what he does and where he goes, he will always be taken care of. Always be loved. For as long as he lives, JD will never let anything happen to him, to any of us. We're too important to him. We are his motivation as much as he is ours.
We are his army, and he is our leader.
I look at him and I know, too, and the final vestiges of that all-consuming feeling begin to fade into oblivion. Something will always be wrong. The warning signs are everywhere, in the people we talk to, the air we breathe. Our very existence is a red flag to somebody, be it to our enemies or to us. To ignore them is foolish, but to live by them, I think, is an even greater mistake. When they begin to rule your life, when you become that awful, gut-wrenching feeling—that is when your enemies have truly won. The people that win are the people that fight and, more often than not, die fighting with the conviction that who they are and what they are doing is right. They are the people that are not afraid to face death for their cause. They are the people who have something worth fighting for, something bright and gleaming and all-consuming.
I look at JD, at Jack, and even at Ben and I know.
This is what I fight for.
So let them come.
AUTHORS NOTE II: Hola amigos! While this is the end of My Red Flag and, as a result, Carla's story, it's not the end of this little series I've concocted. I'm actually considering renaming this story, in order to incorporate the other two-shots I have in mind. I'll see about writing them up first before I do, but the next one in the series is My White Flag, which will be told in Elliot's perspective, following the events of Interlude II in My Trigger, where Perry sacrifices his freedom to see her back safely in the hands of their allies.
I've decided that this will follow the events chronologically. Carla's is the prequel, Elliot's is the middle, and the final part—Turk's, My Black Flag (which means war, not any type of racial discrimination, because it was actually originally going to be in JD's perspective, before I decided that Turk should be getting way more love)—is the end. It'll answer quite a lot of questions that people have had in My Trigger, including what happens to JD.
I don't know about you guys, but I'm excited.