Title: The Bad Man
Author: Kodiak Bear
Category: Gen, Character introspection, not a deathfic
Status: Complete
Word count: 6,300 +
Summary: Sometimes John wondered what he was becoming. A killer, without a soul left to tell him what he was doing was wrong. You were supposed to know – to know the difference between bad and good, but Sheppard couldn't lately.
AN: Just a short piece inspired by the song Behind Blue Eyes by Limp Bizkit. If you're unfamiliar with the lyrics, it's worth the time to google it and read through the song.

The Bad Man

"You won't," the man breathed, facing down the gun with false assurance.

John held the pistol steady, stepped forward into the light. "I will." He pulled the trigger, watched the body crumple to the ground. Another foot forward and John nudged the torso with a black boot, and stared inscrutably at the hole in the man's forehead. His chin lifted as he inhaled deeply. God and country, the only two things left to him that mattered, and one of those two wasn't reachable. A dark shadow waved at the end of the alley and John knew time was up. Stealing a final look at the poor bastard, he whispered a small belated consolation, "You never had a chance." As a light from behind lit up the scene, he ran towards the other end of the alley, blocking out the shouts. They wouldn't get him, not even close. The majority of the residents in the Pegasus galaxy existed at a level one step above impotent. The only enemy they expected was the Wraith. They were wrong.


Sheppard waited for the ambassador to finish with the necessities. Regardless of how far you traveled, and how many different cultures a person met, one thing that remained constant was the need for protocol. Bow here, wave there, kiss that cheek, slap the other – he'd seen a few more than he'd wanted. Ambassador Harth was on a short list of accomplished politicians, because John couldn't read him.

One thing he'd learned to do quickly was read a situation. Were the natives lying, hiding something, or fanatics, Wraith worshippers out to make a quick last pardon by giving up something bigger and better then they were. Trial and error, and John knew he'd had a steep learning curve, his mistakes paving the slope with blood and regret.

Sheppard was a military officer, and yet, it'd taken an intergalactic trip to teach him what it was like to kill. And not from up high, with the cold impersonal touch of a thumb against a fire switch. Shooting Sumner had just been the start, and sometimes John wondered what he was becoming. A killer, without a soul left to tell him what he was doing was wrong. You were supposed to know – to know the difference between bad and good, but Sheppard couldn't lately. The line had blurred and now he couldn't make it out in the scoured landmarks inside his mind. Maybe there was no right and wrong – maybe humanity had made it up in their desperate claim for civilization. Tried to civilize the uncivilizable. Man was never good at peace.

"And now we have new hope, brought from the Circle of the Ancestors. Let us show you what Eonadas has to offer the refugees of the City of the Ancestors." The Ambassador beamed at Sheppard, spreading it around to include McKay, Ronon and Teyla.

If Harth was lying, he was doing a damn good job of it, because John couldn't sense anything under the layers of politeness and warm welcome to indicate his team was in danger. In the early days of their exploring, he'd made more mistakes in assessing motives and situations. Lately, he hadn't made many. "You mean a tour," John said levelly. He looked over at Rodney and added, "Doctor McKay is interested in your science division."

"Such as it is," McKay muttered under his breath, loud enough that it carried to Sheppard but he supposed not far enough for the Ambassador to hear.

Teyla stepped forward, nodding gently at McKay's position slightly behind and to the left of John. "I will stay with him, Colonel. You and Ronon can deal with the other…issues." Her eyes were somber, stance ready but relaxed. John knew why she was offering, and it seemed that not even the unflappable Athosian walked away from their last mission without scars.

John stared at Rodney, the man mostly oblivious to the scrutiny as he searched for something in his vest pocket. The Ambassador waited, himself staring curiously at Sheppard and Teyla, and John figured he'd lingered too long, and gave away something in the exchange. "No, I need you here, with me." John turned and told Ronon, "You go with McKay." Sheppard never had been great at playing the politics, and that's where Teyla's strength on his team became important. Her fighting skills were just a bonus.

"Are we ready, then?" Harth asked. He seemed unsure of what had happened, smart enough to know some things below the surface had been exchanged, but without the personal experience to know what they were.

Adjusting his sunglasses against the glare, John nodded. "Show us your city, Ambassador."

They were led to carts pulled by four-wheeled bicycles. Quatricycles, Rodney had corrected him earlier, naming another contraption with a scientific level of imagination that always served to annoy John. They took two people to power with a pedal system, but they worked, and looking around, John figured only the rich could afford them on Eonadas, or maybe they were only used for special occasions, like strangers arriving from the Stargate and saying 'let's be allies so we can stay alive against the Wraith'.

The city itself was…pretty. The streets paved with cobblestone, smoothed from years of traffic, both feet and wheel. Here and there Sheppard spotted new work, patches, and some of the new was more than the old, and he guessed the Wraith came just often enough to screw with the Eonadasian's heads. Mid-morning sun blanketed the city buildings, brick and stone, with roofs made of wooden shingles. Glass windows reflected back the glare and John was happy for his sunglasses. There were a surprisingly large amount of buildings, the streets crowded together, enough room to let them pass if the pedestrians moved to the side.

A fountain in the city center spouted clear water, and John watched as families shared lunch while talking about their day. The people themselves were the human standard, average, some short and fat, some tall and skinny and some short and skinny with a few tall and fat. Restaurants wafted aromas into the air, and John's stomach grumbled. It was peaceful here, calm, even with the normal racket of a city, and he knew it was also doomed.

Time. His eyes surveyed the kids playing with a leather ball in an alley, all of them laughing as it went wide and hit another kid in the stomach. Weeks, months, and it'd all be gone, broken and empty, because cullings were taking whole towns, cities and worlds. Too many mouths to feed, and the Wraith were just stupid enough to forget about long term consequences of eating all you had and leaving nothing left to grow again. Like a horde of angry locusts, swooping down on fields and stripping them bare, before moving on.

"Doctor McKay, may I present the home of our science division," announced Harth.

John shoved away the distracting thoughts, and watched as the drivers pulled levers that braked the carts they rode in. They'd broken into two groups; Teyla, Ronon and another man of the Eonadas government rode in the one behind their group, with John, Harth and Rodney. His eyes slid up the front walk that led to a large building, probably the largest he'd seen so far. "It makes a good target," he observed.

"That's why the science division resides there," Harth pointed with a grin.

On the opposite side of the street, a low building squatted in a barren field, looking disrepaired and abandoned. "Clever," Rodney muttered. "But will it hold, or collapse and kill us all?"

The grin hadn't so much as weakened, in fact, at Rodney's caustic statement, it grew broader. "You misunderstand, Doctor. It's only an entrance; our division of science and government reside underground, in a bunker heavily protected against air or ground attack."

Suspicion grew heavy on John, and he didn't like it. "Why are you showing us?"

"What do we have to lose?"

Sheppard stared at Harth, searching for that one clue to show it for a lie. But the Ambassador didn't blink, or turn away. His lips didn't move, and instead, the blue eyes of the Ambassador stood their ground. "Nothing," sighed John.

Harth acted for the first time like he was handling a time bomb, and the grin slipped. "Colonel Sheppard, I realize our city is nothing compared to where you come from, but we aren't stupid. The stories reach us here, traders bring tales of ghost towns, nothing left but animals and rotting food." As a man emerged from the rickety door, his attention shifted, and the ambassador nodded at the tall, lean man with balding head. "We're going to die, if you can't help us."

"You don't know that," protested John. He didn't want to feel these people's desperation.

Rodney pulled a device from his vest, the one John recognized as the one they always used to detect energy signatures. "Of course he does," Rodney stated. He powered the machine and smiled briefly, asking, "What time are we meeting for the annoying but standard celebration?"

"McKay -"

"It's all right, Colonel." Harth stepped down from the cart, and moved aside to allow Rodney to do the same. "Your Doctor McKay's feeling on the necessary lengths of making agreements is one shared by many even in my government." He held out his hand, gesturing at the man that now joined them. "May I present Limicus, head of our science division.

"This is Doctor McKay, Colonel Sheppard," Harth turned and pointed at Ronon and Teyla climbing out of their cart, "Ronon Dex and Teyla Emmagen. They are the survivors from the City of the Ancestors."

"Actually, Teyla is from Athos, and we're from -"

"From somewhere far away," interrupted John. He shot a warning glare at McKay. "Just like Ronon. It doesn't exist anymore." At least in this galaxy, he finished to himself, because truth could always be twisted to fit the facts, though the anymore implied at some point it had, which was a lie if the Eonadas knew enough to realize it.

"I was going to say 'we're from a different planet'." The look Rodney gave John was one hundred percent pure irritation, or maybe, ninety percent, with the other ten outrage at Sheppard's assumption that Rodney would have been stupid enough to mention Earth, the All-You-Can–Eat Buffet the Wraith wanted more than anything.

Limicus shared a quick bewildered expression with Harth, before gesturing at the gravel path leading into the ramshackle illusion. "Doctor, if you're ready?"

Watching as Rodney walked away, followed by Ronon, John felt the familiar pang of fear he always got when they split up on a mission. It didn't matter how often nothing happened, because the few times that something did, like their last mission, made up for all the other times. They say one harsh word can erase a hundred good, and John supposed the same reasoning applied. One screwed up result could taint the hundred successes.

"Colonel?" Teyla stood near the only remaining cart and waited, knowing where his thoughts had drifted with the insight that she seemed to come by too easily.

"I'm coming," he replied, his eyes still tracing the object of his attention until the door slammed, cutting off John's view of McKay's back. He turned to the cart, climbed in, and sat next to Teyla. Harth gave the order for the driver to take them next to the training barracks. Now it was Sheppard's turn at getting a tour.


By the time night arrived without the expected hush, the party was in full swing. A band played a loud melody by the fountain, lights painting their faces with obscure shadows, and their lead singer sung about loss and anger. The Eonadas instrument was like a guitar, and they'd fashioned their own version of an amplifier. John listened, sipping his drink, and figured the band didn't need the amp, because the anger came through loud and clear. These people didn't want to die, and they felt the coming threat.

"Nice," Rodney said loudly into John's ear.

John nodded, sipping again. McKay's sarcasm was well placed, this time. The people of the city danced, and talked, and they sat off to the side, watching, while Harth, Limicus, Marvan and Ayla watched them, asking questions and carrying the subdued conversation. Ayla was head of the Eonadas commerce, Marvan head of the military division.

The commerce center had been interesting for Teyla, the barracks John's. The soldiers of Eonadas seemed competent, but the weapons were standard gunpowder based with a few energy weapons earned in trade agreements with other people like Ronon's once had been. Probably some scavenged from dead worlds, not that John blamed them – the dead didn't need a pulse rifle. Marvan had known, though, that it wasn't enough. He'd extolled praises on his men and women, demonstrated their ability to shoot moving targets three hundred yards away with special rifles, and showed John how adept they were at evading ground troops in a staged mock battle, and then he'd looked at John and said, "We'll die if the Wraith attack." His eyes had been flat, empty, and he'd turned away.

Sheppard had thought about offering a false platitude, but something in Marvan made him rethink it, and instead he found himself saying, "It's what we do." Because he was a soldier, too, and he knew that dying for others was part of the deal. Maybe he'd never really appreciated it as much till here, not even in Afghanistan, after he'd gotten a taste when his friends had been killed. Here, dying wasn't a taste of the ultimate sacrifice, it was a feast. Gall, Grodin, hell, John had gone up in a Jumper with a nuke on a suicide run to try and buy time for his people. It had stopped being an idea when he crossed the event horizon, and became fact.

Marvan had looked at him, a wry grin sneaking across his face. "I suppose so."

Now Marvan drank deep from his cup, and Harth pointed at a woman performing acrobatic feats not far from the band, enjoying the delight it elicited from Teyla, and a grudging enjoyment from Ronon. The double back flips were executed with precision from years of training, and followed up with a front, before the limber woman dropped into splits, and applause rose from the crowd, momentarily drowning out the singer crying about vengeance being the only thing left.

There was life here, everywhere John looked. People smiled and laughed, and lived. They didn't know when the end was going to come, but they knew it was coming, and yet, they danced, sung, drank and did all those things that everyone took for granted back home. Mothers lifted children to see the band above tall heads, and young couples necked in the shadows on the periphery of the party. John met Ronon's gaze, and he knew the Satedan felt it too. Bitter regret, because all they could offer were more weapons, medicine – and none of it would save them when the Wraith came. There were too many here to offer sanctuary, even if they had time to develop trust in these people to that level. Hell, if events switched and this was Athos, John knew they wouldn't take Teyla's people in now, not after learning all they had since that first day.

John looked at his watch, surprised at how late it was. He'd told Elizabeth they'd check in at twenty-three hundred, a final report, before calling it a night. It was twenty-four thirty, and he had made the report over an hour ago. Yet, here they were, still awake, lost in the depths of meeting responsibilities even when tiredness dragged at him and judging from the lidded faces of his team, he wasn't alone in wanting to call it quits for today. He took another drink, finishing it off, and stood, surprised at the waver in his legs. "Ambassador, we need to cut the night short -"

"I'm sorry, how rude of me." Harth stood also, and John noticed his legs didn't bow or quiver like John's had. "Ayla will escort your team to quarters we've prepared, but Colonel, Marvan would like to speak with you before you turn in, if you please?"

Not entirely sure why he agreed, John nodded. Maybe it was because he liked Marvan, finding something in the Eonadas man a part of himself, or maybe John was just tired and muddled enough with fatigue to figure what the hell. Rodney, Teyla and Ronon fumbled to their feet, sleepiness affecting them as well.

"Colonel, perhaps I should come with you?" Teyla offered.

John raised an eyebrow at Marvan. The man shrugged, giving his okay, but when John turned back to Teyla he couldn't miss the dark circles and slumped shoulders. They were exhausted, and this wouldn't take long anyway, because John felt the rubbery legs persisting and knew he wouldn't last for an extended conversation. "Go to bed, I'll be there soon." He did take one precaution, turning his radio on while his back was to Marvan and staring at Teyla with purpose, keying the transmit button. When they got to their quarters, they would be able to monitor John's conversation and get to him if he needed help.

She nodded briefly, the one short inclination of her head to say without words that she understood, before turning to follow the grumbling form of Rodney and the silent one of Ronon. John watched as the crowd swallowed up their figures, then turned unsteadily to face Marvan. "Let's go," he said. John wasn't sure how long he was going to stay on his feet, and a small part of him wondered at the level of fatigue. It was late but it wasn't that late, and John had pulled a lot of sleepless nights in the past. Tripping on a raised cobblestone, uneven with the one nearby, caused John to forget the one train of thought and focus on keeping himself from falling.

Strong hands grabbed on each arm and his eyes widened in alarm. Marvan strode ahead, pushing in a dark door, and gestured at the men helping John stay upright to walk him in. "What's going on?" he asked. The words were heavy on his tongue and John realized something very wrong was happening.

Marvan waited while John was guided to a chair. A chair with leather restraints and the adrenaline surged when the visual made it into his processing centers causing John to shake off the one, and turn, head butting the other man, who cried out in surprise, letting go of John and stumbling backwards. Sheppard, now free, turned to run for the door. He had to get to his team, get to their weapons that they'd left in the quarters they were assigned – except for his pistol! John had left his pistol in the thigh holster, and now he tugged at it, angry when his fingers responded with thick clumsiness.

The door ahead was tilting sluggishly to the side, and it was a surprise when John realized it wasn't the door tilting, but him, realized it when his side hit the ground, and his hands still failed to draw the weapon. Hazy vision fought to take over, and Sheppard blinked to keep it at bay, only succeeding enough to recognize Marvan's face peer at his own. "Why?" John asked, his voice hoarse and confused.

"I have to," Marvan answered. He looked away and ordered the guards, "Get him on the bed, the drug affected him more than we thought it would."

Unable to get lethargic limbs to obey, John felt himself lifted, and slung on to a bed, where his arms were straightened and shackled, then his ankles. His vision grayed, and he wondered when they'd slipped it to him – the drink? Food? Either way, it didn't matter, because his mind was moving slow, sluggish, straining to send information through a sea of molasses. He wasn't sure if he lost time, but he became aware of persistent questions, and when John heard himself answering without thought or will, he was pretty sure the screaming was only in his mind.

"Was Atlantis really destroyed?" Marvan asked.

"No." He answered automatically. John couldn't see, everything was black. It took another long span of uncertain length of time for him to realize it was because his eyelids were shut. It took an even longer span of time for John to get his body to open his eyes, and focus on Marvan.

"Where did your people come from?"

Earth. It slid forward, tantalizing John, wanting to say it, but letting his heavy eyelids close again, he turned away from Marvan, trying to hide the lie as he slurred, "Atlantis."

His radio, he'd keyed it on, and from the weight on his chest, John knew they'd left his vest in place, could even feel the weight of the pistol still in the holster on his leg. Marvan wasn't good at this, he was doing all the wrong things. "You know, it helps to wear a prisoner down first," he offered helpfully.

"I don't have time for that, Colonel." Marvan grabbed John's chin and turned it until he couldn't look away and ordered, "Open your eyes." When an eternity passed and Sheppard did, his frown greeted John. "You lied. We know you came from somewhere before Atlantis. Earth – where is it, tell me, and I'll let you and your team go. They don't want anything else."

John blinked, and rolled his tongue around 'they', a coldness deep inside fought against the heat of the drug seeping with lulling lassitude in his blood. "What have you done?" he asked, the dread so strong it hurt.

Marvan's nostrils flared. "I did the only thing I could do. I bargained with the enemy to save my people."

"I liked you," admitted John. The drug freed the path from his thoughts to his mouth. "What you're doing is wrong."

"What I'm doing is the only thing I could!" he swore. "An envoy arrived days ago and gave us an ultimatum. Deliver Earth or become another casualty." Marvan stared forcefully, swallowed the bitterness of betrayal. "They want Earth, and are willing to leave this galaxy alone if they get what they want." He shook his head and looked up at the ceiling. "You come from a different place, Colonel, a different life, one free of the knowledge that every day is a miracle, and going to bed knowing tomorrow might be the last. I don't expect you to understand what drives me to do this, but," he brought his eyes back to lock with John's and said, "you will tell me what I want to know."

The time for John's team to break through those doors and free him had come and gone, at least, he was pretty sure it had. And all he had to show for it was a growing realization that something else had gone wrong tonight. That's when an explosion boomed near, and the boards that blanketed the floor rattled. "You weren't going to let us go," he accused.

For the first time, Marvan radiated regret. "I couldn't," he whispered. "You would've returned and warned the others."

The door was thrown open, and Harth poked his head in. "It's done. They were killed in the explosion."

John was sure his heart stopped. Paused, hung between life and death. With a fisted pain, it beat again, and he fought against the urge to cry, scream, unleash fury. The drug wasn't leaving him much in the way of privacy, but John found a way to win over impulse and restrain the awfulness erupting inside. He had to find calm, think this through, find a way to get back to Atlantis and warn them. Even if he didn't give up Earth, he'd given up Atlantis to Marvan, and the two in the room assisting had heard also.

"Has he told you anything?"

Marvan inhaled deeply with regret, sympathy, but something else that John wished he hadn't seen, resolve. The head of military had a job to do, and no matter how distasteful, it was about survival. "Not enough," he answered.

He was going to say more, but someone on the outside pulled at Harth, and he waved them off before sweeping John with a hard look and said, "Get it done," and left.

Forcing his eyes shut, John fought for control. One misstep, that was all it took, and they'd lost everything. Maybe the drug was already wearing off, or maybe the shock of learning about the murder of his friends was a counteragent they hadn't bargained for, John didn't know, but he got his sluggish mind to respond faster, think clearer, and he reopened them to see Marvan watching him closely. "You didn't have to do this," he whispered.

"Yes," he replied, equally quiet. "I did."

Maybe he did. Maybe John would've done the same in Marvan's position. John forced every ounce of believability into his body. He swallowed back the bile and nodded, feeling the hardness of the bed against his skull. "I suppose so. I don't know how to tell you where Earth is," he admitted. "I need a star chart."

"Star chart?"

"Yeah, we had one on our computer, but you blew it up."

Irritation washed over Marvan, desperation, anger, and John felt a moment of triumph as the man got to experience a small dose of what he was feeling. Seeing an opportunity, John pulled against his restrained wrists. "I could draw it."

"I don't trust you."

John chuckled bitterly. "I trusted you."

"You shouldn't have." Marvan gestured at the men to release John. One began to release the restraints while the other kept one of their guns trained on John's head. There was a desk in the corner and once John was helped to his feet, the same guy that released his restraints, also took John's pistol from the holster, before pushing him towards the chair. His legs were still shaky, and while his brain had found a way to process thoughts with clarity through the drug's effects, it hadn't found stable ground with muscular movements.

Using it to his benefit, something John was good at doing, he let himself trip harder then he had, falling forward. Marvan was near, and when he went to catch John, he caught a punch in his throat instead, falling back and gasping, hands now clutched around his neck. "I've noticed," John grunted, turning to face the two guards coming at him.

It's funny what happens to the mind when you hear your team murdered, and know they're gone, know that there's only one thing left that mattered, and that was making sure the knowledge of the expedition's continued existence in Atlantis remained a secret. Add in the fact that he couldn't let himself be vulnerable again to the Eonadas, couldn't allow them to continue the interrogation into the location of Earth. John knew everyone broke eventually, it was something drilled into them from the beginning, which is why they were taught to make it as long as they could, seeking an escape the entire time, and if the escape ended in your death, it was more acceptable then betraying your country and fellow soldiers. When you had something to live for, death wasn't welcome, and John knew that if his team was still alive out there, he'd have been more careful, but now the only thing he cared about was killing the few that could pass on the information they'd gained from him.

Instead of trying to dodge the guard, John leaped forward at him, surprising the man. They went down in a loud noise of splintering furniture as a chair became a casualty, and John used the advantage, grabbing one of the legs, sending it hard against the man's head. It whipped to the side from the blow, and the guard slumped, unconscious.

Before John had time to think, before he could get his drugged body to suck it up, and get ready to fight again, the remaining guard was kicking, impacting John's chest, hard. A crunch and he knew a rib gave, not needing the stabbing pain to tell him what his ears already had. John rolled away, sweeping his legs out as he did, and managed to take the guard down.

They both scrambled for the advantage of being the first to their feet, a race John lost. Broken rib, drugged condition – they were a match for his fury. Another kick to his stomach made him retch and roll again, desperately trying to get up, fight back, and win this. In the end, John got lucky. As he curled protectively against the pain, he saw his pistol, knocked to the ground in the fight, and cut off from the guard's line of sight by his body. John continued to cough, and act like the latest kick was disabling, which wasn't far from the truth, as he slid his hand around the cold metal grip, slipping the safety off.

Taking only a second, John pushed one hand against the source of the most pain, and sat, bringing the pistol up with him, firing once, twice and watching as the guard fell to the floor, dead. His breath came in ragged gulps, and John pushed himself against the wall, finding Marvan pointing his own gun at John.

"Get up," the military man ordered.

John chuckled. "Or what? You'll shoot me?" He let his head rest against the solid wood. "Go ahead and do me a favor." He'd just needed the pause, the interlude to prepare for the pain that he'd feel when he stood and faced down the last threat. The band still played in the night, and John figured it was a good bet the shots had been drowned out by the other, louder noise. People only heard what they expected to hear. Ready, he climbed unsteadily to his feet, keeping his gun trained on Marvan. "You can't shoot me, because if you do, you sign your people's death warrant." The sick grin twisted John's face. "You need me alive for information, but the funny thing is, I don't need you alive, in fact, it's the opposite."

"You wouldn't kill me," Marvan protested.

The pistol wavered, the scene blurred, and John gasped, falling back against the wall as dizziness made the room spin and his stomach lurch. Through the tunnel vision and tinniness in his ears, Sheppard heard the door open, and knew Marvan was making a run for it, to get help, because John was right. They couldn't kill him until they had the information about Earth, or the Wraith would kill them, but there wasn't anything holding the same condition true for John.

Forcing off the gray veil of unconsciousness, he pushed himself forward, pausing at the still breathing guard, stunned from the earlier blow. His mouth thinned and John aimed the gun at the man's head, firing before he could think about what the man's wife looked like, or how many kids they had. Then John was running after Marvan. If he could get to the man, and shoot him before he passed on the information about Atlantis, John could make for the gate to warn Elizabeth, and if they intercepted him, John would have the gun and he'd make sure he wasn't recaptured. Whatever drug the Eonadasian's used, it was effective and John knew he wouldn't last through another dose. He'd almost told them where to find Earth, the only thing preventing it had been the explosion and being told his team was dead.

Legs turned a corner at the end of the alley, and John forced his body to move, running fast when he noticed the pattern of the alleys and he guessed that Marvan was heading back towards the celebration. If he went parallel instead of in direct pursuit, he should be able to cut him off before Marvan could make it. He ran hard, every breath tugging against the broken rib and making him swear every foul word John knew. One thing the drug hadn't done was dull pain, just brain function, but he knew now for sure it was wearing off.

He came out from the alley at a dead run, stopping and turning, pointing his gun at the expected target, which pulled up short, the pistol only inches from Marvan's face. "Don't move," John ordered.

Surprisingly, Marvan didn't. John wondered at that, because the man had to know John didn't have a choice. They'd taken that from him when they'd drugged him and extracted one of the two important secrets he carried, and he couldn't let Marvan get away with either one.

"I'll go back with you," Marvan offered. "You don't have to kill me – I'll even help you get home safe."

"And screw your people?" John said, disgusted. "What happens when the Wraith show up wanting their information?"

"I can't save them now."

"No, you can't," admitted John. "But that doesn't give you a free ticket to live." The pistol that had grown heavy in his arm now lifted again. "You had a choice to make, and you made the wrong one."

"You won't," the man breathed, facing down the gun with false assurance.

John held it steady, stepped forward into the light cast from a rear window of a house. "I will."


It wasn't easy to get out of the city without being spotted, but John kept one goal in mind, Elizabeth would send a team to look for them, and that would leave the rescue team vulnerable to the same double cross that had claimed John's team. There was a time where he stumbled and fell, and the lingering effects from the drug kept him down. He'd made it into the trees, and the thought of just stopping, letting himself rest for ten minutes – but he knew it wouldn't be ten, or even twenty, he was afraid if he didn't get up now, he'd stay down until the Eonadas found him first.

John forced his feet to move, thankful they'd left him his vest, not planning any farther ahead then interrogating him for information. His GDO was where it was supposed to be, and the Stargate loomed ahead in the night. He fell again when he reached the DHD, the rubber in his legs returning with a vengeance, and this time, John wasn't sure he could get back up.

"Colonel Sheppard!"

He lifted his head from the base of the DHD, confused. Teyla? But she was – kneeling beside him, staring at him with what John recognized as overt concern. "I thought you were dead," John said. "There was an explosion, and they told me you all died." He peered tiredly around her, and watched as Rodney and Ronon walked into view. John thought back to Harth looking in the doorway and saying they were killed, but –

"Rodney spotted the explosives planted inside the building. We snuck out as soon as we could, but we didn't have time to grab our radios or other -"

"What she's trying to say is we were stuck here without a GDO, no idea where you were, if you were even still alive, and Ronon and Teyla couldn't decide whether to gate to the Alpha site or go tear the city apart looking for you."

Rodney was standing awkwardly by Ronon, and that's when John noticed all of them were without their vests and packs. He pulled the device from his pocket and held it out. "I've got one."

"Yeah," Rodney said, his crooked grin saying it all. "You do."

They all shared a moment of silence. He'd thought they were dead, and they'd thought he was dead. He had felt himself on the brink of losing it all, only to get it all back, and only at the cost of three more lives. John could reason that Marvan had brought it on himself by making a deal with the devil, but in the face of a no-win situation, who could say they wouldn't have done the same?

John's pistol was on the ground next to him, and he lifted it now that Rodney had taken the GDO from him. Teyla dialed, and Ronon helped him stand, not saying anything about the fact that John needed the help. Rodney did it for him. "What'd they do to you?"

Drugged, interrogated, screwed with his mind – nothing he hadn't had done to him before. He didn't hate the Eonadas for all of the above, it was the killing he'd been forced to do. Three more bodies to add to the growing count of lives he'd taken, and though they hadn't pulled the trigger, they'd placed him in a position where he'd had no choice. The real source of his hatred stemmed from the worry it dredged deep in his soul. This killing thing, it was become easier to do. Absolutes died a little more every day, and the list of things he was willing to do in order to survive grew longer. John wanted to think if it were just his life hanging in the balance, these were lines he wouldn't cross, but he's still honest enough with himself to know he might. God knows, he'd crossed a lot of lines all ready.

"Colonel?" prodded Teyla, still waiting for an answer along with Ronon and Rodney.

John lifted his heavy head. "Nothing," he said. "Nothing at all."

The End