As far as John could tell from a cursory examination, none of the men appeared to be particularly injured, which left him with the question of what had just taken place; in his experience, men armed with automatic weapons attacking a village like that one didn't just run off without taking some fire beforehand…
"What are we doing here?" Ronon asked, after they had been sitting in position for almost half an hour just watching the soldiers mingling around the camp.
"Waiting for my theory to be confirmed," John said.
"Your 'theory'?" Ronon repeated, looking at John sceptically.
"Ronon, do you honestly think that anyone serious about attacking that village would back off that quickly just because some fat guy hit back at them?" John noted. "We both saw that those guys were armed, so they should have tried to wear the shield down or something like that rather than just scuffle for a few minutes and then leave; this whole situation smells, and I think we can both guess who dealt it."
Ronon looked at him in silent thought for a moment before he nodded in agreement and resumed his original position. With each man's mutual experience at staying hidden, coupled with the advantage that nobody in the camp was actually expecting someone to have followed them, it was easy for John and Ronon to keep watch until Lucius finally walked into the camp, his casual conversation with the men making it clear that John's theory had been correct.
In a grim manner, John was glad to have evidence that he'd been correct about Lucius; the guy might have moved on from drugging people into liking him, but setting up fake threats was far from an improvement. They were slightly too far to hear what Lucius and the mercs were talking about, but from what John could see and hear, it appeared that the men he'd hired were angered at the extent of injuries Lucius had inflicted on them during their mock fight. John thought that things would calm down when Lucius tossed them a bag of money, but judging by the expression on the man's face when he looked at the bag's contents, he evidently wasn't satisfied with the amount that Lucius had chosen to pay him with.
"Trouble?" Ronon muttered, glancing over at John as the lead mercenary argued with Lucius.
"Most likely," John confirmed grimly, eyes fixed on the confrontation taking place before them. "Lucius really needs to realise that the shield doesn't stop him being injured by any determined enemies before he does something stupid…"
"Should we try and make them talk?" Ronon asked.
"No offence intended to those people in the village, but even if they believe we didn't force a confession, are they really likely to believe us over the guy they think has been saving their asses recently?" John pointed out. "I mean, Lucius doesn't strike me as smart or brave enough to come up with this kind of scam from nothing, so he probably did save the village from the first wave of mercenaries, and we don't really have anything that would make these people believe us over him…"
"Except the word of the Phantom," Ronon noted with a pointed stare.
"Which is something I'd rather not resort to for something this… petty," John said, looking awkwardly at Ronon. "The Phantom's meant to be a selfless protector against the Wraith; as much as I think Lucius is a git, I'm not going to compromise that persona just to teach him a lesson."
"So what do we do?" Ronon asked, after looking thoughtfully at John for a moment before nodding in acceptance.
"Judging by the way these guys are looking at him," John said, indicating the small camp glaring after Lucius as he walked back to the village, "I'm thinking that we stick around for a little while until someone decides to do something stupid, then step in and make the fat git see sense once they tip their hand but before things get ugly."
"Sounds like a plan," Ronon agreed.
After returning to the village, John had to wonder if dealing with the villagers' hostility for trying to 'expose' Lucius wouldn't have been worth the risk. When he got down to it, his speculation about what the mercenaries might do if provoked was really nothing more than guesswork, and if these people were stupid enough to believe everything Lucius had to say to them, they almost deserved to get shot…
He knew that he wasn't going to do anything like that, but he was allowed to 'fantasise' about what he might do to this prick after everything he'd done during his last visit to Atlantis. McKay and Teyla hadn't been entirely happy about the plan either, but Teyla was at least willing to acknowledge that the village had to be protected regardless of their feelings towards Lucius, even if McKay was annoyed that they were going to this much effort for the former baker after what he'd done to them.
When he heard the sound of men charging into the village, he was almost grateful for this further evidence that his theory had been correct; at least he wouldn't have to put up with any more of Lucius's stories (Which were starting to become both repetitive and formulaic; the man always seemed to 'forget' something that they had to ask him about).
"What-?" Lucius began, halting his current story as he looked sharply over at one window as the sound of gunfire filled the streets outside.
"Wait a minute…" McKay said, looking at John with a new sense of apprehension as someone started yelling from the street, the villagers in the room heading out amid Lucius's platitudes that he'd be with them soon. "Am I getting paranoid, or was that-?"
"Don't," John said, his eyes narrowing as he heard the same voice that McKay was about to name.
He'd forgiven the Wraith that this bastard had used against him for his crimes, but the thought that he was on the same planet as Kolya again was not inspiring thoughts of forgiveness.
Right now, John wasn't sure if he wanted to gut Kolya for nearly killing Elizabeth during that long-ago siege of Atlantis or for what he'd done to him during their last meeting, but either way, the bastard was going down…
"No," a voice suddenly interjected; John only realised when he looked down that Teyla had grabbed him by the wrist and was looking at him in a very firm manner.
"'No'?" John repeated, looking at the Athosian woman incredulously. "Do you know what that bastard-?"
"I am fully aware of what he has done to us in the past, just as I am aware that we are not… prepared to make a stand at this time," Teyla said, looking pointedly at John despite the glance at Lucius showing that she was remembering to keep his identity secret. "If you attempt to go out and confront the Genii, we are all aware that Kolya and his men are prepared and willing to burn down this town out of spite if we deprive them of a direct fight, and we are not equipped for the kind of confrontation you are used to."
"She's right," McKay said, shooting an anxious glance at Lucius for a moment before he focused on John. "I mean, you did great in Atlantis, but we just don't have the home-field advantage here; you don't know where to go like you would there…"
As much as John hated to admit that he couldn't do anything, he had to admit that his team had a point; there were too many innocent people at risk here for them to just go in and start shooting at the enemy, and he didn't have the home field advantage like he had the last time he'd fought them during the invasion…
Glancing over at Lucius, John was only partly surprised to see the other man walking towards the door; Lucius might be an idiot and a coward, but he did have an ego that wouldn't have been helped by that force-field.
"And where are you going?" he asked, walking over to slam an arm over the door before Lucius could walk through it.
"To deal with the attackers, of course," Lucius grinned. "After all, I'm the hero-"
"You're the idiot," John said firmly. "You think that just because you read a few files you know anything about the Genii?"
"I read everything in the files-" Lucius began.
"Firstly, you couldn't have read all of them, and secondly, if you go out there and they can't hurt you, they'll burn down the town around you out of spite," McKay said firmly.
"They're petty like that," John confirmed before Lucius could say anything himself. "If we go out there without a plan, people are going to get hurt."
"Killing all of them isn't a plan?" Ronon asked.
"We will not endanger these townspeople by engaging in a fight in unfamiliar territory," Teyla said firmly. "If we can hide away until they have completed their search and failed to find us, then they will simply move on."
"Call it… strategic concealment?" McKay suggested awkwardly, as John turned to look at him. "I mean, I get that you don't like that plan-"
"I spent two years hiding in what should be my home because I had to," John said, staring at McKay for a moment before he sighed. "But… so long as it's only a short-term option… I can work with that."
"Well, if you need to hide, I do have just the place," Lucius said, walking over to a nearby grandfather clock and adjusting the hands to reveal a secret room behind a hidden door just to the side. "See, I like to entertain-"
"Don't," John said, not wanting to think about what Lucius might have used this room for as he walked into it, the rest of his team behind him before he turned back to Lucius. "Just go out there, tell them we've moved on, and agree to anything if it gets them to leave without hurting anyone; this is not a good time to be a hero, understood?"
"Of course," Lucius smiled, before he closed the door behind them, leaving John to sigh as he glanced over at the others.
"He's going to do something stupid," he said firmly.
"What makes you so sure?" Ronon asked. "He's dumb and arrogant, but he's also a coward-"
"Who hasn't encountered a problem that shield couldn't solve for him since he started using it," John noted, shrugging off his flak jacket to remove a small pouch he'd hidden underneath. "In other words, unless the guy's more competent than we think, he's going to do something arrogant and stupid that will put himself and possibly everyone else in this village in danger, so I believe we're going to need this."
With that said, he unfolded the pouch to reveal that it was the cloak he commonly wore as the Phantom, along with his own Ancient shield device and a flattened piece of metal.
"What's-?" McKay began, before John placed a couple of fingers on the metallic object and it suddenly sprang upwards into the shape of the Phantom's mask. "You made a collapsible version of that thing?"
"I realise that we want to establish distinct situations where John Sheppard or the Phantom are needed, but I also realised that it was always possible that one might turn into the other, so I thought it best to be prepared," John explained, as he reached up and tore off the strips of make-up concealing his injuries; he'd worry about reapplying them later. "Considering the numbers we're up against and Kolya's history with me in the mask, I think we can all agree that this is one of those times; this is just metal, since I couldn't incorporate all my additional extras and still make it easily portable, but it should be enough for our current purposes."
"I thought we agreed that going out to confront him directly is a bad decision?" Teyla said in a very pointed manner.
"It's a bad idea for us to go out there," John corrected her, as he rolled down his BDU sleeves. "Your argument about the tactical situation not favouring a standard ground confrontation is accurate, but that's only if we go out as we are and give the Genii new enemies to kill; if the Phantom goes out on his own, Kolya's own pride will demand that he faces me directly after I stopped his attempt to take Atlantis."
"Sounds like a plan," Ronon confirmed, nodding at John in approval as he shrugged on the cloak and checked his clothing; so long as he kept moving and removed the mission patches, nobody should be able to look closely enough to see that he wasn't quite wearing his usual outfit, and he still had his gun in a holster anyway. "What about us?"
"Stay hidden and help me keep things contained," John clarified grimly as he placed the mask on. "These people might not be the sharpest tools in the shed, but they don't deserve to suffer for Lucius's mistakes."
"We are meant to be a team-" Teyla began.
"And we still are," John said, nodding warmly at her as he made sure that his cloak and mask were secure. "Just trust that I know what I'm doing right now…"
As he crawled along the village rooftops, John wasn't sure what was more surreal; doing something like this after almost three years of sneaking around Atlantis, or doing this kind of thing in daylight as opposed to his usual preference for the darkness. His costume was a bit more basic than his usual attire, and he felt somewhat limited without his usual sword, but he had his gun and his training; with the aid of the rest of the team, that would have to be enough.
Besides, as much as he'd enjoyed his training back on Earth, it was good to remind himself that he hadn't lost his touch for fighting solo as well…
Reaching the area where he could hear the Genii soldiers talking, John wasn't surprised to see that Lucius's hair was wet as though he had been dunked in the nearby bucket of water; he knew from experience that the shield couldn't retain its own air supply, even if it would prevent toxic gases getting at the wearer. With Kolya facing Lucius while one of the mercenaries John and Ronon had spotted earlier stood beside him, it wasn't hard for John to work out what must have gone down.
"…already guarding the gate," Kolya was saying as he glared at Lucius. "I'll ask you once more; where are they?"
"I don't know," Lucius protested. "I don't!"
John hated to admit it, but on some level, he had to give Lucius credit for not selling them out straight away. The man was probably smart enough to realise that he was screwed either way, but he could have spared himself the torture if he'd just talked…
"KOLYA!" he called down to the Genii leader, standing up to his full height as Kolya and his men spun to look at him.
"You," Kolya spat, eyes narrowing as he glared at John.
"Me," John replied, smirking as he looked at the man who was rapidly becoming the Phantom's first real human adversary. "I understand you're looking for the Atlantis expedition?"
"I'll take what I can get," Kolya growled, before he raised his gun and aimed it at John. "Fire!"
As the Genii opened fire on John, he couldn't help but smile as his Ancient shield device casually absorbed and deflected all of the bullets being unleashed against it, each blast dissipating against the shield until his opponents had run out of ammunition.
"My turn," John replied, drawing his energy pistol and firing a quick series of blasts at the nearest Genii before he turned and ran along the rooftops, smiling as Kolya yelled for the men to follow him. At that distance, with Genii so close together, his gun didn't have the power to effective stun every one of his adversaries before they could draw another weapon, but by provoking them into going after him, he had a chance to turn this situation against them. Pausing as he ran only long enough to fire off another shot or two at his pursuers to keep them enraged, he kept on leaping from rooftop to rooftop until he finally came to the town's central square, leaping into the air and hitting the ground with a role that worked with the shield to help limit any damage he might have sustained in the impact.
As soon as he was back on the ground, John turned around to completely face Kolya and his men as they charged into the square. While Kolya and a few of his men were leading the charge, John noted that a few of the soldiers were clearly lagging behind the rest; Kolya might have talked about how he 'had' to be a fake Phantom if he was working with the expedition over natives of this galaxy, but clearly he hadn't been able to sell everyone on that idea.
"All this for me?" John asked, deciding to go with straightforward confidence and hope for the best; he was used to being in control of a situation, and he'd certainly dealt with these kind of numbers in the past, but unlike then he now had to worry about other people and didn't have the advantage of darkness.
"You deserve every moment of the pain that we shall inflict upon you for your sins," Kolya practically spat as he glared at the man in the mask. "You proclaim yourself to be our hero while acting against us-"
"If you think the Phantom is 'yours', Commander, you're even more demented than I believed you were," John said, staring grimly at his first true human adversary. "In all my life in this role, I have never claimed to be anything other than what I am; I defend the Pegasus Galaxy from those who would threaten it… and your efforts to take the power of Atlantis for your own ends will benefit nobody but the Genii. The expedition might not be from this galaxy, but I have more faith in their ability to use its technology than I have in yours; the fact that you don't agree with my view doesn't make me wrong."
"You-!" Kolya began, reaching to his side to draw his pistol, only for John to draw his energy weapon and shoot before the Genii leader could do more than touch the weapon. The blast not only shattered Kolya's gun, but also virtually disintegrated his hand, leaving him flying on the ground screaming in pain as he clutched at his cauterised stump.
"Ask yourselves this," John said, turning his attention to the Genii soldiers assembled around him as they took a moment to stare at their leader in shock. "Do you really think that you can draw your weapons before I do the same thing to any of you? And can you be sure which one of you I'll target if I do decide to shoot?"
"And can you be sure what we'll do?" a voice called out from the roof behind John. Under other circumstances, John would have cursed McKay's attempts to sound macho, particularly when he had such an obvious tremor in his voice, but under the current circumstances he'd take what he could get if there was any chance to limit the amount of people he'd have to kill to end this.
"Exactly," the masked man said, deciding to follow up on McKay's unrequested addition to the conversation. "You've lost the upper hand, your leader's incapacitated and has literally lost his hand, and if you start a fight, we have the high ground and at least some of you won't live past the next few minutes; if you all surrender, we'll put in a good word for you back with the Genii."
After a few moments, the stand-off concluded when one of the Genii dropped his weapons, with the rest of the team following his example.
"Good call," John said, nodding at them in approval before he walked over to crouch down beside the crippled Genii leader. "I suppose it's too much to hope that this has taught you a lesson or two about trying to tangle with me?"
"I will… find you…" Kolya spat, eyes narrowed as he glared at John despite the pain he must have been feeling from where his hand used to be.
"I'm sure you will," John replied, nodding briefly at his foe's stubbornness before his eyes narrowed. "But just remember; I only spared your life this time because I'm trying to be better than you. Keep pushing me, and the next time we fight, I may target something more vital to keeping you alive than a limb."
Maybe he'd regret not just killing this guy when he had a chance later on, but considering that Kolya was going straight back to the Genii after Atlantis had made the necessary arrangements, he felt that this was the best way to show their still-tentative new allies that they were trying to respect the Genii's right to deal with prisoners in their own way.
As for Lucius…
John smiled at the thought as the rest of the Atlantis team gathered around the disarmed Genii and prepared to lead them to whatever location the village had to offer that might serve as a jail for the next couple of days.
Considering that the guy hadn't just given in and given them up the second Kolya started torturing him, John was going to give Lucius some time to make an impression on the locals without relying on his shield device or similar systems before he tried to make the guy leave.
On the other hand, if he had any reason to believe that the guy was abusing his role as the hero again, he was going to come down on the bastard like a ton of bricks; just because he was trying to be less 'lethal' now that he was an official member of the expedition didn't mean that he had to give everyone a chance.
With that decision made, John turned around and headed back for Lucius's house; if he could change back before any of the villagers had the chance to see his face, he should be able to stop anyone else from learning that the Phantom had been here in the first place. After that, all that was left for him to do was give Lucius one last stern warning before he moved on to get these Genii prisoners back to their people, and this mission should be another success.
AN: So, what do you think of this particular twist regarding Kolya?
Trust me on this; John's decision here is going to have very interesting long-term consequences…