3-2: The Crimson Army, Part 2
January 15, the peaceful day marked by a certain baby becoming one month old. The “birthday celebrant,” Rose, was a baby born in the middle of the Global Unification War. With her being born into the world, the Crimson Army as a whole became extra hyped up about winning the war, determined more than ever before to create a future for that one baby that represents their hope for the generations to come.
The residents of the Crimson Base had varying ways of celebrating the occasion: Red and Catherine were taking care of Rose; the scientists, accountants, and other non-combatant workers decided to take the day off and dispersed to do their own things; and the majority of the soldiers decided to drink and be merry the entire day, rendering them drunk and quiet by sunset.
It was now 8pm, and two figures – a man and a woman – were exiting the base. They sat beside each other on the grass overlooking a river as the woman rested her head on the man’s shoulder.
“I still don’t think Red will agree to this, Emily,” the man said. It was Adam, the Crimson Army’s lead scientist and Red’s father. “He’s really attached to his mom.”
The woman named Emily frowned. “Oh come on,” she said. “He owes you his life. He’ll agree to this relationship.”
Adam shook his head. “I think you have it reversed. We owe him. For a teenager, he’s done a splendid job as a general, and I don’t think that after having fought two armies, we’d still have so many survivors without him.”
“Well then, here’s an idea.” Emily removed her head from Adam’s shoulder. “Your son’s a grown man now. Need proof? He’s taking on a responsibility that not even most adults would be able to handle. He wouldn’t be all stubborn and go ‘I won’t accept her because she’s not mom!’ or something. We’ve all seen him handle pressure, and he’s pulled through every single time. Surely his father remarrying should pale in comparison, right?”
“Well, yeah, I guess,” Adam said, giving in. “I can only think of two scenarios: 1) He gives his consent and wishes me the best; and 2) He…” A pause. Adam bowed his head and he began sobbing after a while.
Emily put her arm around Adam, a worried expression on her face. “What’s wrong?”
“…there’s no alternate scenario!” Adam blurted out as tears began flowing from his eyes and his sobs grew louder. “I lied. That kid would be fine with it.” He took a deep breath. “You see, after his battle with the Ivory Army, I went to him to apologize for how I pretty much abandoned him after Amy died. I was a jerk, only thinking about my grief without considering how he must have felt losing both his parents. Guess what, he forgave me in a heartbeat. You know what he said? ‘I understand. We were both hurt by that. I don’t know how you felt, but I’m sure you had your own sadness to deal with. In the end, we’re both still alive, so now that we’ve recovered, we can just live out mom’s share or something.’ Can you believe it? He became the bigger man and tried to understand me. Me, the father who should have put his son before his own troubles! I’m sure that if I tell him about you he’d just make that huge grin like he always does and say, ‘Finally, someone who’ll look after the old man!’ That’s the kind of person he’s become!”
“I still don’t get what’s so wrong about that.”
Adam began pulling his hair. “I’m not used to it! I haven’t been with him for so long, and he’s grown to be so selfless, so mature…it’s not the Red that I left when we lost Amy. Somehow, I was clinging onto the possibility that my baby was still there, that my kid would stubbornly force the past onto me no matter how unreasonable it was. But…” He took his hands away from his hair and covered his face. “My cute little Red is gone. He’s now the Crimson General, fighting for an entire country, shouldering burdens whose weight I could not even begin to imagine. For the longest time, I’ve used my position as the lead scientist to try and keep him under control, but the more I see him out there, living his life, leading and inspiring others, the more I come to realize that he’s outside my reach now, and it’s completely my fault for leaving him alone all these years. In my absence, he has turned into a man any father would be proud of. He’ll never depend on me again. He no longer needs me, and it’s just…oh, man.”
Stretching out her free hand, Emily embraced Adam.
“Well, I need you,” she said. “I need you by my side, Adam. I want to marry you.”
“I wanna marry you too.”
Emily smiled. “We still have time. It’s not like we’re gonna get married in the middle of the war. We can tell Red once he has put all of this to an end. Which means…”
With a quick sniff, Adam finished her sentence: “…as the scientists in charge, we need to support him in any way that we can to ensure his survival up until the very end.”
“That’s right,” Emily said. “Your son will win this war for sure, and he will carve a bright future for humanity while the two of us open a new chapter in our lives.”
At around the same time, in the Crimson Base’s bar section, Red and Victor were sitting beside each other in front of the counter, with the bartender Joshua serving them. Red, despite being 17 years old, was drinking tequila shots straight, and Victor, the man who forced him into this, was laughing.
“Wahahaha! Good, good!” He slapped the young general’s back. “You look so red, Red!”
“Make that joke while you can,” Red replied, letting out a very brief laugh in return. “Pfft. I can’t take this stuff. I don’t understand why you adults like drinking alcohol.”
“Drunk men make for some very memorable experiences, that’s why!” Victor said. “Hey Josh, gimme some red wine this time.”
“Aye aye, sir.” An opened wine bottle was thrown straight at him. “You can pour on your own, right?”
As Victor nodded, Red made his own order. “Gimme some milk. I’m done with alcohol.”
“Yessiree.” A mug was tossed accurately in front of the Crimson General.
Red did not have to taste it. “This is an entire mug of Bacardi.” He then pushed the mug away, sending it sliding straight into Joshua’s hand, who laughed upon catching it.
The bartender then tossed Red a 1-liter carton of milk, after which he proceeded to chug down on the vodka in the mug that the teenage general sent back to him.
As Red drank the milk directly from the carton, Victor heaved a sigh.
“Catherine likes you, you know.”
“Pfgh!” Red choked and nearly spit out the milk he was drinking. He held his nose for a few moments, fearing the worst-case scenario, before responding. “No, she doesn’t.”
“Are you still going on about that ‘Cath doesn’t like me’ crap? Even though she’s been all over you ever since the Zack incident?”
Red was aware about what Victor referred to as Catherine being all over him. While the young girl was unable to cook – and she did not attempt to try again – she did whatever she could for Red: Staying by his side whenever he was training or being examined by the scientists, doing most of his laundry, preparing refreshments for him, and studying high school things with him in preparation for the end of the war, among other things. Red had simply considered this clinginess as a form of convenience, however, stating that this way, he could protect her directly. Despite this, the other soldiers had entirely different thoughts on the matter.
“She just doesn’t have someone her age around here,” Red tried justifying. “Besides, even back before this war began, the two of us would hang out around school all the time anyways. Believe me; she has no interest in anyone other than Jason.” Believe me; I tried.
Victor heaved a sigh and shook his head. “There’s something you don’t know,” he said. “Thing is, when we were going home after the battle against the Ivory Army, while you were sleeping really soundly, she said she’d do anything for you. While tightly holding your hands. And before that, she even caressed your cheek like a lover.”
There were cookies in front of the two men. Red took one and began gnawing at it very slowly. “Doesn’t matter. She doesn’t really like me. Not with these eyes...”
“Something as stupid as your red eyes wouldn’t matter.”
“No, it’s not the eyes themselves. It’s the fact that these things serve as the symbol of history’s worst murderer.” While it was true that throughout history, certain people were attributed with the deaths of millions because they had led bombings and sieges and such, the thousands of people that Red killed all met their end at his hands personally. This was why he called himself the worst murderer in history, and why he accepted being called a monster by the rest of the world.
“But you love her, right?”
Red did not respond.
After about five seconds of silence, Victor poured more wine into his glass. “I see.” He took a sip. “You love her so much that you’ve stopped thinking about yourself. You had all of this planned out from the start, didn’t you? To become a large-scale murderer, bearing all of the sins necessary to protect her, and then sending her back to that Jason kid after all this was over.” He turned to look at Red, whose face still matched his name. “Just like when you nearly died as a normal high school kid in order to protect her, even going so far as hiding the truth from her.”
“That was when I stopped hoping, and I’m glad I did.”
“Why didn’t you take credit for saving her back then?” Victor asked. “I understand that you didn’t want her to feel guilty had you died, but you never cleared up the story with her when she found out that you were actually alive.”
“Because it was pointless,” Red replied. He held his temples and his face twitched. Perhaps he suffered a minor headache from the alcohol, or maybe he didn’t like remembering that point in his life. “Catherine likes Jason enough to go out of her way and use me in order to get closer to him. To some people, that’d seem ‘evil,’ but in truth it’s an effective way to show determination. Besides, she treasured him so deeply that even when she was unconscious that night, right when I was about to rescue her, she was calling out his name.”
“Oh right, that. Shit, that must have been painful.”
Red gave a slight chuckle. “I heard it at around the same time I got shot from behind, so I couldn’t savor the emotional pain completely. Anyway, that should convince you that her feelings for Jason were real. There was actually a point in my life when I hoped that I could get her to look at me by being with her and doing the little things that make her happy every single day. But that moment when she unconsciously called out to him...at that moment, that phase finally ended for me.”
“I see. And because you were so convinced that Catherine wouldn’t look at anyone else, you decided to give Jason all the credit and die without having her know the truth.”
“It’s any girl’s dream to be saved by the person she loves,” Red said. “That’s why even when we met again during the war, I kept Jason’s image as Catherine’s brave knight in shining armor alive.”
“You idiot. So you’ve completely closed off in your head the possibility that she might fall in love with you?”
“Anything that happens during the war is pretty much rendered null and void,” Red replied after chugging down a good amount of milk. He still had white remains on top of his lips that he failed to pay heed to because of the alcohol messing with his head. “The general serum is an unfair advantage for me. I get to protect anyone I want, and so I could show off to no end. If Catherine claims that she likes me because of how I’ve protected her, then she can go marry the general serum for all I care. Fact remains that up until the very end, when we were all in even terms, it was Jason’s crushing victory.”
“So you’re saying that, suppose she likes you right now, it’s because of the power you have,” Victor tried to clear up what Red had said. “Basically, had it been any other teenager, then under the same circumstances, she would have fallen in love with that general. And if you suddenly lose your powers tomorrow, then her theoretical feelings would disappear along with it.” He made a thinking gesture, placing his right hand on his chin. “That’s understandable, given your context. Man, this is complicated.”
“See? That’s why I don’t like dwelling on it. I just accept this truth: ‘Catherine doesn’t and never will have legitimate feelings for me. Because of this, I can devote my all in protecting her and if I die she would still have Jason to make her happy.’ My job is simply to get her past this whole war. That’s what I decided when I fought you guys half a year ago, when I said I wanted to create a future where she could smile without fearing for her life.”
“Say, what happened to that Jason kid, anyway?”
“He’s the son of the president, you idiot. He’s safe. But I made sure he didn’t know about me being the Crimson General in case I died and he had to grieve for his best friend’s death all over again. If I survive, my first course of action would be to show myself to him as soon as possible and play games with him just like the good old days.”
“Hmm, I see.” Victor, after taking another sip of wine, suddenly grumbled. “I still don’t like it. You’re acting too heroic. Do you plan on dying without ever being in a relationship or something?”
“I’ve killed too many people,” Red said. “No one would wanna be involved with someone like me.” He paused for a while. “Or more like I don’t wanna drag anyone down with me, not with the path I’ve chosen. Catherine would be happier with Jason; she’s liked him for the past 2 years, after all.”
Just then, Victor heard footsteps that quickly grew weaker.
“Did you hear that?” the division commander asked. “Someone aside from the three of us was here.”
“Hear what?” Red’s eyes were beginning to lose focus.
Damn, he was probably too drunk to notice whoever that was. He then let out a laugh. Haha, I guess the same actually goes for me. “Say Josh, did you hear-”
Victor had been too immersed in the conversation he was having with Red, as well as in drinking, that he did not notice what had been going on with Joshua. The bartender was sprawled on the floor, completely passed out after the drinks he had that he ended with a Bacardi chug.
As this sight began making sense to him, he looked to the side and noticed that the teenager sitting beside him had also fallen asleep.
“Oh man,” he said, scratching his head. “You didn’t even finish your milk, kiddo.”
In a dark corner nearby, a teenage girl clasped her mouth with both hands, her eyes widened.
I can’t believe it…
Making her steps as light as possible, she tiptoed away and, when she felt that she was far enough to avoid detection, ran out with all her might.
Poor Red! she exclaimed in her mind as she ran, her head bowed and her face wincing in pain. Poor, poor Red! I can’t believe how naïve I was, thinking that I could protect him! How can I when I know so little about him? About how kind he is, and the tragedy of his life that I caused!
As she forcefully opened the door to her room, she inadvertently startled her roommates, who all jerked in surprise. Even Rose the sleeping baby woke up and began crying.
“What’s wrong, Catherine?” Sharon asked while Anabelle tried putting Rose back to sleep.
Catherine was gasping for air after having run in such a hurry. “I…I’m not up for the task.”
“Victor asked me…” Catherine was still panting. “…he asked me…to take care of Red. I…I don’t think…I can do it. I know too little about him.” She walked forward, closed the door, and ran to her desk, opening a drawer and taking out a letter from it. “I’ve known him for more than 2 years, and yet I know nothing about him. I planned on rejecting such a sweet guy because I had no idea.”
Soon, Rose was able to fall asleep. Heaving a sigh of relief, Anabelle approached Catherine and led her to sit in her bed as the women formed a circle, with Anabelle sitting right beside her, and Sharon and Wilma sitting on the floor.
“What’s that in your hand, dear?” Anabelle asked.
“Red gave me this on June 28, the day he supposedly died.” Catherine opened the envelope to reveal a piece of paper that seemed to have nothing written on it. “I thought it was so sudden and too simplistic, but now it’s all starting to make sense to me.”
As she unfolded the piece of paper, it showed a single sentence written right at the middle:
“I love you.”
The three women’s eyes all widened.
“That’s…it?” Sharon asked.
“That’s actually like him, though,” Anabelle interjected. “Few words, all actions. This is the kid who silently rushes to the front lines in battle, who takes fighting the world for a single girl as something that’s a matter of fact, who goes through all the trouble of knowing every single person he killed without breaking down in front of any of us.”
“At that time, I was in love with someone else, and Red was my main confidant,” Catherine continued. “For him to confess like that, I became really confused, but now I think I understand what the letter really meant.”
Sharon’s eyes widened in realization. “He wants you to be happy at his own expense…is that it?”
Catherine nodded. “He’s risked his life so many times for me. He had no intention of making me fall for him in the first place; he simply wanted me to know his feelings, and that was it. When he gave me this letter, I was thinking about how to reject him, but it turns out I didn’t even have to.” She folded the letter once more and placed it back in the envelope. “Say, I overheard: Red became the Crimson General because his life was in danger after saving me from the drunkards that attacked me back in June 28. Do any of you know the entire story?”
“All of us know,” Anabelle replied. “That’s how we came to know who you were, and why we knew about his best friend Jason. It was a heartbreaking story.”
“Can you please tell me everything that happened? And keep this a secret from Red; I know he’s hiding the truth from me to protect me, but I want to know more about him, so please.”
“Very well.” After looking at the two other women and nodding, Anabelle began her narration of what she could remember about the events of the night of June 28, with the other two women pitching in additional details. Red charging in on his own, Catherine muttering Jason’s name, Red getting shot, how he carried her to safety with a gun wound, up to the promise he forced Jason to make in order to keep this all a secret from her.
At the end of the narration, Catherine’s chest began feeling heavy. She covered her face as tears began falling from her eyes.
“That…idiot…!” she said in-between loud sniffs. “What girl wouldn’t be moved by that?! Why does he have to be such a tragic hero?! This is the worst…!”
“You know what’s worse?” Wilma asked. But instead of waiting for an answer, she continued, “It’s that Red doesn’t blame you one bit. Even when you getting kidnapped made him risk his life and got him injured more than ever, he defended you by saying that you were just too kind to leave your home even when it was in shambles, that you loved your parents so much that you just had to keep a memento of them. And then he bashed himself again for being unable to get to the city in time to save your parents.” She heaved a long sigh. “That kid is bonkers for you, Catherine. I take it you realize that by now?”
Catherine nodded. “And I want to do all that I can to respond to his feelings. I need to know more about him. What else happened to him between becoming a general and seeing me again?”
At this, the women all fell silent, avoiding Catherine’s gaze. That is, until Sharon decided to utter a certain name:
The other women gave a start, and Catherine tilted her head.
“Who’s Vanessa?” the young girl asked.
After heaving a sigh, Anabelle decided to answer. “She’s a bio-soldier that had a thing for Red. The kid was completely oblivious about it up until the very end, though.”
“She was 10 years older than him, so it was pretty much impossible anyways,” Sharon butted in. “I don’t get why we have to avoid this story.”
“You’re right, you’re right. Okay, Catherine. We’ll tell you about Vanessa, the female bio-soldier. Brace yourself because this is gonna take a while.”