Role Model

From the Story Arc: Cold Front

Previous Story in the Arc: Gestalt by Astra Kyne Murdock (Wednesday, December 13, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Rifle Salute by Crimson Tao (Wednesday, December 13, 2006)

(posted Wednesday, December 13, 2006)

John Murdock was not a fan of wakes. But after the horror of the last few hours, the profound need for some sort of outlet for the grief that was not the option of breaking down, and the feeling that maybe, just maybe, he might find some kindred souls in Pocket D, he decided to head to the club and host one, more or less.

Losing his best friend bar Bella herself was awful enough. Having half of his other best friend's soul torn away...that was worse on top of it. Worst of all though...

He'd been coming in and Sera had been just leaving when the news feed started. They'd both been in the rec room watching it all live, and the pitiless remote cameras had picked up every word. Every word. And there it was and no mistake--

"...I was hoping you'd have John Murdock along instead of this cut-rate Russki porcupine. Then all the alumni could be together."

He had known, known, in that instant, what Weaponized was talking about. The next words had only confirmed it.

"What? You thought the Program would just dry up and blow away without you? You shoulda known better than that. Both of you. Buildings, people, they can all be replaced when someone really, really wants something. And someone really, really wanted us. Me and my bros. Or they did."

The Program....the Program...come back to strike him yet again in another completely unexpected spot. Why would it not...just...die?

Why did it have to kill another beloved friend?

Predictably...and he should have known this was going to happen...the Rogue Isles scum showed up almost as soon as his friends did.

Waitron9000 had attached herself to him as soon as he entered the club, so he didn't test the boundaries of DJ Zero's no-fighting policy the way he would have liked to. Instead, after more insults and badgering than anyone sane should have been expected to tolerate, he had taken Clytemnestra into the Arena and beaten her to a bloody pulp. He'd returned to the D, unsatisfied, in a black rage and a bloodied shirt, only to have Garent, of all inexplicable people, challenge him. They'd sparred before but...this was...insane, coming now.

Only having Bella call him back to HQ had prevented something...unfortunate from happening.

It was an hour later, and John was completely drained. In the span of one day, he'd lost a friend, nearly killed someone, and been promoted to Commissar. It was maddening, and tearing him up. He'd collapsed on the seating in the lecture hall, collecting his thoughts. Bella had gone off to take more phone calls and make the final preparations for...well, for Zach's memorial ceremony.

It still killed him to think of Zach as being gone. John was usually prepared when someone close to him was going to die; it would happen in combat, and was expected to an extent. During the War, when his folks had been killed, he knew that it was likely; so many had died during those horrible months. And even during the assault on the CCCP HQ, he knew that not everyone would walk away from retaking it.

But this...Zach had him beaten. He had the bastard, had knocked his last leg out from under him. There had been no preparation, no warning, nothing that could have been done. One moment, Zach was there, and the next he wasn't. John had been keeping a reasonably stable facade up, until he'd gotten into that fight with Clytemnestra. And he's resumed it when he spoke with Bella. But now, alone, he was stewing. A grief and hate that he hadn't felt for a long time welled up inside of him. He wanted to hurt something; it might let some of his own hurt leave him.

So there he sat, arms stretched out on the chair backs, his entire body tensed up like a steel wire. Bella hadn't ordered HQ closed off. Their porter room was just too important to the entire RPC; when all of the renovations at HQ had been completed, the CCCP quickly became the transportation hub for the entire Congress. Plus, many folks felt a need to pay their respects for their fallen friend and comrade in the CCCP, and to make offers of help and support.

When he heard someone walk into the lecture hall, he wasn't terribly surprised. John didn't make any move to acknowledge the presence of the person intruding on his own private moment of grief; he just sat there, eyes staring ahead, drilling a hole into the brick wall in front of him.

Of all the people he did not want to see...Garent wasn't on the top of the list, but he was surely in the top ten. Getting fed up, John finally broke the silence. "So, Garent. 'Ere we are." John took very measured breaths, trying his very best to keep his cool and not lose it again.

But Garent's first words surprised even him. "John, everyone in the Congress respects you. Every single person. Don't ever do anything to make yourself unworthy of that."

John shook his head. "I wouldn't be so sure of yer assessment of what everyone thinks of me, Garent." John had butted heads with folks in the Congress before, but there hadn't been any major flare ups for awhile. Still, he got the impression that there were a good many that had impressions of him that were less than flattering. Stubborn, aggressive, even irrational maybe. Respect? Probably not.

Garent sat down at one of the tables that younger CCCP members used for studying or reading books from the in-house library. He leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees. "That's what it looks like to me."

"I'm only human, comrade." John sighed heavily, looking down at the blood on his shirt; none of it was his. "Too human."

"People think of you as more than that. You have to live up to it." John felt another burst of anger. Since when did he have to be held to higher standards? Sera, sure, she held herself to them...

But he, he didn't feel any different right now that he had when...before...before he became...

"Only so much shit I can take from the likes of those in the Isles. Tradin' insults back an' forth, only to have to go home knowin' that they're still out there hurtin' folks tears me up, Garent." Every day, no matter how many of them he busted up, put in jail, or sent packing back to the Isles or whatever warren they came from, more took their place. It was extremely easy to fall prey to only seeing the negativity, the oppressiveness of the situation. "When I see an opportunity to try an' stop 'em, even for a little while, from hurtin' folks...I've gotta take that shot."

"I don't think about it, but that sort of thing isn't an option for you." Great, John thought. Now he's really going to get all Ivory Tower on me about how we're heroes, and we're not supposed to stoop to the same level as those we fight against, and on and on and on... John agreed with those sentiments, with those principles, but it was certainly not what he wanted to hear right now. Not in the least. He just wanted to sit here and internalize all of the anger and pain he had in him, draw it all up within himself. He wanted to take it and use it on someone.

John shook his head, his brow furrowed in consternation. "I can't be perfect all the time. Everyone screws up, an'..." John stopped, his mouth snapping shut. The words sounded hollow, and he couldn't stomach saying them aloud. They sounded like an excuse, and he didn't much believe in excuses.

"I talk about strength a lot. It's the nature of the universe for people with strength to shape it to their will. A lot of villains believe this, but I think there's an exception. People with strength have no right to force their will on people who are helpless. That's the way we do things where I come from." John nodded; seemed like Garent was stating the obvious. John had been raised to always make the best use of his abilities, especially to help others. That power was something to tend to the weak with, not to control them with. That thought had manifested itself in different ---and sometimes severely unheroic--- ways over the years, but he'd done his best to stick to it, to a degree.

"I'd be forced to agree with ya."

"You know that horizontal bar on the pole vault? The one you're supposed to try to go over?"

"Sure." What's he tryin' at now? John's interest was waning in the conversation; he kept on getting the urge to just stand up without another word, find himself someplace where he wouldn't be bothered.

"That's you."

"You've lost me." If John didn't have some doubts about Garent being all together before, he did now.

"You must have noticed the way everyone looks at you at the meetings." To be honest, John hadn't noticed. It wasn't vanity, and he had never expected folks to pay much attention to him. It just turned out that way on occasion, usually when something greater was going on. "All of the heroes look to you, and that's why all the villains want you."

John sat there, thinking this over. Garent had a point...and it was a point that John hadn't been aware of before.

"You're what we're all supposed to be. You fought long and hard and eventually gained a family." For John and Sera, it'd been nearly a twenty year struggle. First, in staying together, then taking in Ratt and Shuma. And in time, finding a way for their own children to live, and lead the lives that they wanted. Twenty long ---and while not always calm or content, happy---years. And there were still trials. But he'd come this far, through unbelievable odds and circumstances. "Even though there's a great risk to them you continue to fight for what you know is right. But you aren't fighting despite them, you're fighting because of them." Again, Garent shocked him. He's...right. John's entire life was devoted to his family and friends, making the world a better place for them to live in. It was what drove him, what fueled his thoughts and actions. The urgent need to do that infused every fiber of his body and soul, it was as much an integral part of what he was as the Kheldian energy that had remade him. "When we fought last, it was a long and difficult fight that you eventually won. If I was standing between you and the safety of your family, would I have lasted one minute?"

John spoke very quietly."...I don't want to think 'bout that." He knew that, should something directly threaten his family, well, as something already had, he wouldn't stop like he normally was able to. He would fight, and keep fighting, until either himself or the threat were completely spent. Thinking on it brought up darker memories for John. Of his years prior to coming to Paragon. "I haven't always been....what I am now, Garent. I'm goin' at this entire gig by ear." Now, maybe more than ever, he felt out of balance. Unprepared for what he had taken on.

"Some would call it foolish the way you challenge every villain and get angry when your family is danger even though you could have kept them out of it." John bristled slightly, but much less than he thought he would. "I used to think that, but I don't anymore. I don't know what you're doing, but something about it is right." Garent shifted his weight, sitting up straight. "Do you remember the mission we did yesterday when Pania was injured?"

John nodded. "She got bushwhacked by one of those damned Bane Spiders, unfortunately." In the middle of the fighting, Pania had rushed forward to take out a small grouping of Arachnos. One of the Bane Spider Commandos in the room had used it as an opportunity to catch her off guard.

"I exploded right there. I don't know what it was. Something snapped in my head and there was unfocused, swirling water attacking everything." John listened intently, waiting for Garent to finish. "I don't know if it was anger, or desperation, or fear, or even concern that triggered it. I just know I don't usually feel any of those too intensely, and that that's not the type of power I usually wield." Garent took a moment to think. He turned his head to look John in the eye. "Everything was easy before I joined the Congress. There were my enemies, my allies, and that was it. Now here I am telling you and Sera all my doubts. I'm to embarrassed to mention the stuff I told her." It seemed like, eventually, everyone came to talk with John and Sera, whether it be about events within and surrounding the Congress or something personal. Both of them wrote it off as their ability to listen, really listen, instead of just waiting for their moment to talk.

"S'alright," John said quietly.

Garent breathed a quick sigh, minor relief being one of the first signs of real emotion he'd shown during the conversation. "Thanks, if someone did this to me I'd tell them to find someone else." They both sat there, mulling over the words that still hung in the air. After a few long moments, Garent finally stood up. "Well I think I'm done. The reason I wanted to fight you was to try and find that trigger so I could become even more powerful. I won't even tell you all the other sick motivations for the things I've done."

John stood up as well, walking over to the table that Garent had been sitting at."You've given me a lot to think 'bout, Garent. I---" John paused for a moment. He very suddenly realized that he wasn't nearly as angry as he had been before. The anger, the hate, the pain were all still there. But he had a handle on them, now. Failing to find anything more appropriate to say, John spoke, extending an open hand. "Thanks."

Garent cocked his head to the side, obviously puzzled. "You're thanking me? I don't get it, but okay." He took John's extended hand, shaking it quickly as he turned to leave.

"We'll get another sparrin' match in, sometime. Right now, though, I've got some..." John sighed, then continued. "Administrative crap to slog through. I hate gettin' promoted." And if that wasn't the truth, he didn't know what was. Especially given the present circumstances.

Garent turned back to face John a last time, a flash of something sweeping across his face."...I know all too well what you mean. I'll get out of here. I need to sleep or something to clear my head."

"Keep in touch. I got the feelin' we're all gonna need each other in the near future."

"Sure thing. Later."

Garent left the HQ, leaving John to himself in the lecture hall, again. Well. I'll be damned. He still had some grieving to do, some way to find a resolution in this mess, but...he had a strong feeling that he'd be able to do so with a much clearer head, now.