Things Change – Amaruk Wolfheart

Spoilers: Definite spoilers for "Common Ground" and "Irresponsible."

Warnings and Pairings: I warn you, there will be one curse word and a CHARACTER DEATH! FINALLY! (insert manically huge grin here) No romance, though.

Notes: A what-if fic, obviously. Hit me after watching "Irresponsible" and wouldn't let go. Might be a little rough around the edges – dunno if it's quite what I wanted out of this. (sigh) Ah well. Turned out longer than I expected, too - my longest oneshot ever! I do hope you all enjoy it. :-) (Some lines and scenes have been taken from the show, mostly Kolya's little chats with Sheppard and his team. Some have additionally been slightly altered to fit this little story.)

-Steve the Plush Doll's Spectacularly Amazing Disclaimer- ((holds up sign reading: Rutile has given up on saying disclaimers. If it is not already obvious to you foolish humans, the author owns nothing related to the Stargate: Atlantis universe, except her plushies.)) … ((pauses; scratches out 'plushies')) … ((smirk))


"I don't believe this. Isn't that the worst thing you could imagine?"

Colonel John Sheppard stared through the trees in dismay at the heavily guarded Stargate, ignoring Lucius Lavin's understatement of the year. For a moment, desperation welled up inside him, an emotion that always lurked in the back of his mind when one (or all) of his teammates was in danger, an emotion he normally kept in check and unnoticed by planning and taking action. In that single moment of realizing he had no way to call for reinforcements, however, that despair rose up and swamped Sheppard. He allowed himself one mental wail – 'I need help!' – before clamping down on it again and shoving it to the back of his mind.

He was already starting to mentally run through wild, half-formed schemes of getting to the 'Gate when the one voice he hated most in either galaxy issued from his radio. Sheppard listened with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach to Acastus Koyla's arrogant tones.

"Colonel Sheppard?"

Sheppard quickly gestured to Lucius that he should shut up and stay shut up.

"I'm going to assume you can hear me," Kolya began, sounding far too smugly superior for Sheppard's liking. "I'm also going to assume that if you haven't reached the 'Gate by now, you soon will, so I want to save you some trouble. My men have secured the 'Gate. There's no way you're getting through. Come back and face me, Colonel – or I'll start killing your friends."

Sheppard barely suppressed a flinch, mentally cursing the man with every swear word he knew and some he made up on the spot.

"Which one of them shall we kill first? I'm leaning toward Doctor McKay, myself. Colonel?"

Well that did it. What choice did he have? "Kolya, this is Sheppard. I'm comin' back."

"Don't keep me waiting."

---

Meanwhile, back at the friendly town jail, Acastus Kolya turned off the radio, allowing himself to savor a small taste of the victory he felt sure was impending. His moment of self-indulgence was interrupted by the one voice he quite possibly hated the most in the galaxy.

"That's what this is all about? Killing Sheppard?"

"Absolutely, Doctor McKay," Kolya replied, almost patiently. Admittedly, he sometimes felt he could cut off his own ears when that cocky tone of Sheppard's reached them, but Rodney McKay's voice in particular held a special place on his List of Things I Truly, Deeply Loathe. "But don't feel left out. If I don't get those weapons from Doctor Weir, I fully intend to kill you as well."

---

No sooner had Sheppard finished speaking than the Stargate suddenly activated. He stared at it with barely suppressed hope, ignoring Lucius's abrupt storm of chatter, somehow hoping it was in some possible way a team sent from Atlantis. Kolya's men had their weapons trained intently on the 'Gate. There was a tense pause.

Without warning, a ship burst from the event horizon – a horribly familiar ship – and the 'Gate deactivated. Sheppard swore as the Wraith dart made a quick sweep around the 'Gate, collecting Kolya's men in that horrible blue beam. As much as Sheppard loathed their leader, he couldn't wish that kind of end on them. Unconsciously, a hand brushed his chest where he'd had to endure that suffering not all that long ago. The dart shot away with an ominous whine, and Sheppard wondered suddenly why there was only one. That wasn't typical of Wraith behavior if they were culling a planet… He brushed it off and realized Lucius had passed from his usual overly talkative mode to senseless gibbering.

"And this from the man who claims to have fought Wraith single-handedly and won…" Sheppard growled to himself, adding in louder tones, "Pull yourself together! We have to get to the 'Gate. Kolya's men might've had a chance to alert him and we need to move it – now."

Without waiting for a reply, Sheppard threw himself out of the shelter of the trees and ran for the DHD. He heard Lucius panting behind him…and the whine of a dart. Sheppard swore again, tried to dodge, and was swallowed by blue light…

---

In town, Sheppard's team was hustled unceremoniously into the town square, where Kolya and a group of his soldiers waited. The four of them exchanged looks, knowing that this could very well be it, but maintaining faith in Sheppard. If anyone could get them out of this alive, Sheppard was the one to count on.

If they'd known of their fearless leader's current circumstances, however, they might not have been so optimistic.

---

The next sensation Sheppard felt was that of sprawling on the ground. An indignant 'oof' behind him assured him that Lucius was still with him (for better or worse). Then a Wraith stepped into his line of sight.

Sheppard had his P-90 pointed at its chest almost before it could blink. The Wraith ignored both the weapon and Lucius's half-coherent pleading, fixing Sheppard with a cool yellow stare.

"Where is he?" the Wraith asked. Its voice had an undertone of urgency – and barely restrained fury.

"Where is who?" Sheppard retorted without lowering his weapon.

"I was under the impression that you had little time, Sheppard," the Wraith bit out, sounding exasperated.

"How do you know me?" Sheppard asked warily, adding a brusque "Shut up, Lucius" without taking his eyes off the Wraith. Which, now that he thought about it, actually seemed a little familiar. Suddenly recognition struck him, and Sheppard's eyes widened. "You!"

"Of course," muttered the Wraith, as if were obvious. And it was, now that he looked for it. Yes, he knew this Wraith – the Wraith who had taken his life only to give it back to him.

"I thought we agreed all bets were off!"

"So we did," the Wraith acknowledged, inclining his head. "I will admit my interpretation of the phrase may be inaccurate, but does it not simply mean that nothing is assured?"

Sheppard considered that for a moment. Okay, so maybe 'all bets are off' doesn't literally mean 'we will fight to the death on our next meeting' or anything, but he hadn't expected a continued alliance. Then again, he was also grateful that his life wasn't being sucked out of him – again.

"How did you know where I was?" Sheppard asked warily, decided to worry about this association with a Wraith later. "And why did you come?"

"The Gift of Life established a connection between us," the Wraith explained impatiently. "Slightly unusual circumstances, obviously, but things change… It's a faint connection, admittedly, but your desperate desire for assistance was as clear as if I was standing beside you. The necessary address was…'attached' to that emotion. It is difficult to explain briefly and, as I said, I believe that's something you don't have much of." He paused, then added, "And I came because you needed help. And because he is here."

About to ask who 'he' was again, Sheppard stopped, realization dawning. Of course – what other 'he' could this particular Wraith mean? Kolya. "He's mine," Sheppard growled.

The Wraith stared him down coldly. "I think not, Sheppard."

"He's invaded my home, tortured my people, and tortured me. Now he's threatening to kill my team. This time, he's mine," Sheppard burst out furiously.

"He's imprisoned and tortured me for countless years and killed my kin!" the Wraith snarled back, losing his composure. Lucius whimpered in the background.

Sheppard forced himself to calm down. "Okay. You have a point. There's only one way to settle this fairly."

The Wraith stared at him in dubious silence.

"Rock, paper, scissors."

The Wraith blinked skeptically.

"What?" Sheppard said defensively. "It's a time-honored tradition among my people, used to settle all sorts of serious disputes."

The Wraith heaved a sigh. "Very well."

Sheppard gave him a quick run-down on the basic principles of 'rock, paper, scissors' (though he changed it to 'rock, cloth, knife' for easier understanding), a process which took almost three precious minutes because the Wraith got hung up on cloth beating rock and it took a while to convince him to just go with it already.

"Ready?" Sheppard finally asked, receiving a dissatisfied nod in return. "All right, on three. One…two…three."

The Wraith held out one finger – knife.

Sheppard held out a fist – rock.

The Wraith sneered, stepped back, and grudgingly admitted, "He is yours. But you have only one chance."

"Agreed," said Sheppard reluctantly, deciding not to point out that this 'one chance' stipulation hadn't been part of the original deal.

"Ha-hang on a second," Lucius interrupted. Sheppard started slightly, turning slightly to stare at the man. He'd almost forgotten the sorry excuse for a con artist was still there. "You two are working together?"

"You only just got that?" Sheppard asked sarcastically. The seconds were ticking away and he needed to get to his team now.

"But…it's a Wraith," Lucius insisted in a whisper, flicking a nervous glance at said Wraith as if it couldn't hear him.

"I know!" Sheppard exclaimed, exasperated. "I know he's a Wraith, okay? We know each other, he hates Kolya, he's gonna help us out, and if you have a problem with that you can leave now." A part of Sheppard realized distantly that, of all things, he was actually defending a Wraith. Well, things change, he thought with a mental shrug.

"No, no, I think I'll stay," Lucius said quickly, interrupting Sheppard's thoughts.

"Do you have a plan, Sheppard?" the Wraith asked casually, studiously ignoring Lucius as he began to walk in the direction of the town with almost a spring in his step. Apparently he was quite looking forward to seeing Kolya dispatched, whether by his own hand or another's.

"Yeah, actually, I think I do," Sheppard muttered thoughtfully, falling into step beside him. "Some support from the townspeople would be cool, so you've gotta stay outta sight or they'll panic. Oh, and Lucius? I'm gonna need to borrow that shield…"

---

In the town the intrepid trio (well, sort of intrepid, anyway) was heading for, Acastus Kolya was on the verge of pacing. Such a display of tension, howver, was not one he allowed himself to indulge in within sight of his men, let alone a group of prisoners. Where was Sheppard? Fed up with waiting, he spoke into the radio.

"Colonel Sheppard?" Kolya paused; there was no response. "You're out of time, Colonel." That said, he turned off the radio and tossed it aside. It had outlived its usefulness, but Sheppard's teammates had not…yet. He drew his pistol and strode toward them. "Doctor McKay," he said, making the name a command. Finally, a moment he'd envisioned since the whining scientist had attempted to oppose him on Atlantis.

Then the Satedan stepped in front of McKay. "Me first," Ronon Dex declared, and Kolya suppressed a sigh. Apparently Sheppard's heroically self-sacrificing nature was shared by the man.

But then the Athosian stepped forward, countering Dex with "No, me." Kolya very nearly rolled his eyes. Sheppard had rubbed off on Teyla Emmagan, it would seem.

Up until this point, Kolya had endured the irritatingly foolish last-ditch heroics with what was almost good humor, but when even the doctor – Beckett, wasn't it? – stepped up to be shot first, he very nearly snapped. With all the attempts at martyrdom, McKay's uncertain "Um…" was almost a welcome relief.

"Well, how positively moving," Kolya said, his patronizing smile screaming the opposite. "I almost wish I could shoot you all at once." He raised the gun, deliberately taking his time to aim, when suddenly he was interrupted by a shout.

"Kolya!"

The man in question turned to see, as he had expected, Colonel John Sheppard standing on the other side of the town square, and he returned his pistol to its holster as Sheppard walked closer.

"I should have killed you when we first met, Colonel," Kolya commented, sounding almost friendly. "It would have saved me a lot of trouble."

"The feeling's mutual," Sheppard assured him, though he almost immediately wished he could take back the words. There was no way he had any desire to have anything in common with that…murderous monster.

"Good bye, Sheppard," Kolya said politely. With that signal, his soldiers opened fire on Sheppard. Kolya gritted his teeth so hard his jaw creaked when the bullets merely bounced off of him, thanks to an all-too-familiar green glow. Sheppard favored him with that smug, cocky smile as his soldiers wasted their ammunition.

"Well, now that you've got that out of your system…" Sheppard said, almost tauntingly, as he unzipped his vest to reveal the personal shield. He laughed at the frustration that flickered through Kolya's eyes before he could hide it, but the laughter died as the shield did – with a flicker of green light before it went dark announcing its death. "Oh, crap!"

Now it was Kolya's turn to be smug as he called to his soldiers to reload. Unfortunately, he was again interrupted by an annoyingly familiar voice.

"Don't bother."

Lucius Lavin swaggered into view, followed by the some of the townspeople.

"You should have left town when you had the chance," Kolya warned him, mentally adding the man to the List of People to Die Today.

But then, as Lucius smiled in an almost Sheppard-esque fashion, more townspeople burst out of their homes and alleys, armed with a variety of weapons from rifles to shovels, and surrounded Kolya's men.

"I'm sure you're thinking the same thing right about now," Lucius replied cockily.

Sheppard, ignoring Lucius and the assembled townspeople, addressed Kolya. "If I gave you the opportunity to surrender, I don't suppose you'd take it?" Kolya's quiet chuckle was all the answer he needed. "I didn't think so."

The two men faced each other, sizing each other up, both with hands hovering over the handles of their weapons. The tense moment lengthened, with hardly a person in the square daring to breathe, when suddenly both opponents pulled their guns and fired.

Kolya was mere seconds faster, but it was enough. The bullet hit Sheppard's gun and ricocheted off, tearing a path across his arm on the way. A combination of recoil, the painful vibrations caused by the bullet, and the pain in his arm caused Sheppard to drop the weapon, but not before it had fired. This bullet, knocked slightly off-course, hit Kolya's shoulder instead of the intended target – his heart. Kolya let out a grunt of pain and staggered slightly, but remained standing.

Before Sheppard could determine whether his gun would still fire correctly, before he could even pick it up, Koyla's gun was pointed at him again. Sheppard knew that if the man was able to fire off another shot – which, considering Shepard's position, he probably would – it would be pretty bad for the state of Sheppard's health. Luckily, Kolya took two seconds too long to give Sheppard a gloating smirk.

Then a Wraith jumped off the roof of the building behind him, landing with catlike grace and barely even a muffled 'thud.'

Kolya turned at the quiet sound and his eyes widened in total, paralyzing surprise. The townspeople gasped or shrieked, and most leapt backwards. Even Kolya's soldiers couldn't help but inch away. Only Sheppard and his teammates remained where they were.

The Wraith wrapped his hands around Kolya's throat. He waited only long enough for horrified recognition to dawn in his former captor's eyes, muttered scornfully "You are not worthy enough to feed upon," and with a dull, sickening crack broke the man's neck.

Kolya's body crumpled.

No one moved.

The Wraith stepped over the body and walked calmly to stand near Sheppard. "Your injury is not life-threatening?"

"What, this?" Sheppard gestured at his arm, sluggishly bleeding from the gash left by the bullet. "Nah. The doc'll fix this up in no time."

"Good," said the Wraith with a satisfied nod. Both of them paused, glanced back at the body of Acastus Kolya. It was both a relief and somehow strange to see their long-time enemy finally dead.

"You had your chance," the Wraith reminded him after a moment. Before that day, Sheppard would have classified his tome as arrogant. Now he heard it for what it was – almost teasing.

"Yeah, I know." Sheppard paused again, thinking for a moment about what might've happened if the Wraith hadn't been crouched on that roof like a gargoyle, watching and waiting… "Thanks, I guess. You know, for, uh, coming here. And not killing me or anything."

The Wraith made a huffing sound that Sheppard interpreted as 'don't mention it.' "We are, in some strange way, brothers, Sheppard. You need only ask for my assistance to receive it."

"Even against other Wraith?" Sheppard couldn't help asking.

The Wraith's expression turned somber (though how Sheppard could suddenly pick out nuances to a Wraith's expression was beyond him). "I can make you no promises," he finally answered quietly.

"All bets are off, huh?" Sheppard asked wryly, knowing that was the best he'd get, and the Wraith agreed with a small smirk.

Another pause ensued, this one slightly more awkward than contemplative. At their last parting, both had stood more as wary neutral parties, neither friends nor enemies. Now, both were unsure of just where they stood.

"Well," Sheppard finally said, forcing a cheerful tone. "Till next time." He held out his hand. The Wraith hesitated a moment before reaching out and grasping his forearm. Sheppard mentally shrugged, thinking, Must be some Wraith thing.

"Yes. Until next time."

The Wraith inclined his head, released his grip on Sheppard, and stalked confidently out of the square as if he did it every day.

"Hang on!" Sheppard yelled suddenly, just before the Wraith disappeared from sight. "What's your name?"

His only answer was a chuckle, and then the Wraith was gone.

There was, as Sheppard took a moment to be thankful nobody had freaked out and tried to attack the Wraith, a brief period of stunned (in the case of Kolya's men, the townspeople, and Sheppard's team), reflective (in the case of Sheppard), dead (in the case of Acastus Kolya) silence.

"What the hell was that?!" Rodney McKay finally burst out, shattering the stunned, reflective, dead silence.

Teyla, Ronon, and Beckett had equally astounded – and in Ronon's case, not a little angry – expressions. Sheppard sighed, knowing they felt shocked and confused at the very least.

"I'll explain later," he settled for saying, "as soon as we've taken care of this…mess."

His teammates – his friends – reluctantly agreed. Sheppard knew he'd endure quiet sympathy from Carson while his arm was fixed up. Rodney would probably catch him while he was still trapped by Carson and shout at him for a good twenty minutes, until he was absolutely certain that Sheppard knew exactly how stupid he was, and then drop the subject in favor of their usual banter. Teyla would meet him somewhere later, maybe in the mess, and listen to him with the silent will to understand. And Ronon… Well, the Satedan would probably give himself a day to cool off before listening to Sheppard. But they'd be all right. He and his friends always were, in the end.

Sheppard's thoughts were interrupted by Lucius loudly asking if anyone was interested in hearing how he'd beaten the Wraith into submission and planned the whole thing from Sheppard's entrance to Kolya's death. The Atlantis team exchanged eye rolls.

Some things never change.