They had taken everything he had ever been from him in a carefully-planned of selfishness- he was only calling himself 'Michael' because he didn't know what else to call himself right now-, and they had the nerve to say that it had been 'for the best'? The only person who had definitively benefited from what they'd done to him had been them; they had clearly never even attempted to ask if he might want to go through with this... experiment...
They had judged him, sentenced him, and thrown away whoever he had been for nothing but their own gain; even if he couldn't remember anything about his life before he became human, what right did they have to assume that it was any better than the life he lived now?
For all their protestations that their actions had been for the benefit of others, they had killed him as thoroughly as if his body had died; the fact that he was still walking didn't change the fact that the person he had been was now gone...
"Trouble reconciling things, huh?" a voice said from behind Michael, apparently coming from his door.
"Actually," Michael began, turning around to address the speaker, "it's all pretty clear... to... me..."
His voice trailed off as he took in the sight of the man before him, dressed in a long black cloak and a silver mask that struck a chord in a part of Michael that he hadn't even been consciously aware of before this moment.
"Phantom..." he whispered, half-heard conversations he'd heard among the humans of Atlantis mingling with dim recollections of something he must have heard or learned about as a Wraith, stirrings in his subconscious mind that he couldn't entirely place leaving him with a deep sense of foreboding at being this close to the man with such a chilling reputation in this galaxy.
"Got it in one," the Phantom replied, nodding slightly at the other man before his eyes notably narrowed underneath his mask. "And, right now, we need to talk."
"About what?" Michael asked. "About how these humans you 'protect' from my kind-"
"That is what we have to talk about," the Phantom said, holding up a hand as he stared resolutely at the other man. "You are not one of 'your kind' now; you are human, and therefore entitled to my protection from the Wraith-"
"Oh, so now you're blackmailing me to stay human?" Michael spat.
"Blackmail?" the Phantom repeated, his expression through his mask as frustratingly unreadable as it ever was.
"You were going to say that you'd kill me if I became a Wraith again, weren't you?" Michael said, looking scathingly at the other man.
"Actually, I was going to point out that, in this case, protecting you just extends to convincing you not to become one again because of what it will do to you," the Phantom said, continuing to glare at Michael even as he neatly attempted to sidestep the question that he had just been asked. "If you become a Wraith again, you will be left with a near-constant hunger that is never going to stop, you will be driven to essentially eat other living creatures solely to sustain your own existence, you will lose virtually any ability to connect to other races-"
"And what makes you think I didn't like being what I was before?" Michael growled, still looking with disdain at his opponent. "You judged me because of what you perceived me as and that was it; you have no-"
"I wasn't involved in the decision to test the retrovirus," the Phantom interrupted, a slight wince on his face as though he regretted what he had just said passing as he continued. "Still, that doesn't change the facts of the situation here; you have a chance to be something more than what you were-"
"When nobody asked me if I wanted to be more than that," Michael spat back at his enemy. "They took everything I was from me because they didn't like it-"
"The expedition stopped you from needing to kill people in order to keep yourself alive and you're complaining about it?" the Phantom asked, his voice rising as he glared in increasing frustration at the other man. "Goddamnit, I'd have killed for a chance like what you had-"
"You would have wanted that chance; I never asked for this," Michael retorted, waving his arm at himself even as he privately noted that last comment for future reference; clearly, he was making more of an impression on his opponent in this little 'debate' of theirs than the other man might wish.
"They only wanted to help you-!" the Phantom continued,
"You have the nerve to even try and imply that this was done out of compassion?" Michael spat. "They did it to me to make their lives better; nobody gave any thought to what my wishes were in this scenario-!"
"You weren't in a state to even consciously recognise that you might need help; you were the equivalent of a man who'd been blind all his life without ever realising that the possibility of seeing was an option-" the Phantom tried to interrupt.
"Oh, now that analogy is ridiculous; I wasn't sick-!" Michael interjected.
"You were sucking what you needed from others in order to sustain yourself because your body couldn't cope on its own; it might produce more drastic physical changes than a normal virus would have, but that sounds like a disease to me," the Phantom countered, looking in barely-restrained exasperation at the man in front of him. "You evolved to a point where you can't even exist independently on your own, and you actually think that's natural?"
"Who are you to say it isn't?" Michael retorted with a harsh glare. "Maybe the Wraith are meant to be the next step of evolution in this galaxy-"
"Don't even try that argument with me, buddy," John practically spat as he glared at the man he was already starting to think of as an opponent despite his best intentions when he came here; he'd tried to constantly remind himself that this man was, in a sense, just as much a victim of the Wraith as everyone they'd ever fed on, but it was hard to do it when he didn't even seem to recognise the opportunity he'd been given. "Anyone who starts arguing that they're 'superior' to anyone else isn't going to win any points with me; your former race were parasites who feed on others because they can't cope on their own-"
"We're simply the top of the food chain around here, Phantom; it's nature," Michael interjected, cold resolution on his face as he stared at the other man. "We're stronger, faster, older-"
"And yet I've been killing Wraith for over a decade; you can't be that superior if training is all that we need to get the edge on you," John countered, trying to focus on creating
"You know what I've accomplished in this galaxy; doesn't the fact that I'm able to do that much damage to your people by myself prove that your argument about being a 'superior' life-form is a load of crap?"
For a moment, Michael just stared at him, a contemplative expression on his face that left John feeling uncomfortably like he might have just given away more than he should have done, before he broke the silence.
"You're not that different from me, are you?" the former Wraith said at last, a slight smile spreading across his lips as he spoke.
"What?" the Phantom asked, momentarily shaken before he glared at Michael. "Don't even think about that; I have never killed anyone who wasn't willing or able to kill me-"
"Oh, I'm not saying there haven't been occasions where you've let people live," Michael retorted, a slight smile on his face as he studied the other man. "And yet... you didn't become this because you wanted to, did you?"
"Don't go playing psychoanalyst with me, Michael; you don't know a thing about me-!" John growled.
"Oh, I know enough, Phantom," Michael retorted, a grim smirk as he studied the other man. "I know enough to know that you wouldn't choose a life like this- hiding in the shadows, striking and vanishing, never staying in one place long enough to get to know anyone as more than contacts- unless you had to..."
John tried to resist the temptation to reply- showing any kind of weakness to a Wraith went against everything he believed in-, but he was unable to completely suppress the shock and fear he felt as the man before him so precisely described how he felt about the life he had lived since that fateful day so many years ago, the life that necessity and duty had forced upon him to protect the city that had meant so much to the woman who had given his life meaning...
"Something forced you to become this..." Michael continued, contemplatively studying the man before him. "Just like they forced me to become what I am now-"
"It's not the same," John spat, forcing down the rage he felt at this man's ability to almost automatically work out how he felt about his own past. "What happened to me was an accident that I had no choice but to adapt to; what happened to you is something that you could accept-"
"They made me something for their own convenience," Michael retorted, his hand waving at the window of his room that indicated the city. "I owe them nothing."
"You owe them your humanity-!" John protested; the idea that this man was being so blasť about having been given something that John would have practically given his eyes to have back again was really pushing him to his mental limits-
"I'm not interested in 'humanity'," Michael practically spat, a slight smirk spreading across his face as he looked at John. "I'm a Wraith, Phantom; humanity is what we feed on, not what we are."
For a moment, John could only stare at the man before him, his fingers clenching and unclenching as he fought down the urge to simply punch the man before him, forcing himself to recognise that anything he did in the way of physical attacks wouldn't help his case at this time, until he spoke once more.
"You don't have to do this..." he said at last, hoping that sheer desperation would help him where his attempted arguments hadn't. "You have a choice now; you don't have to be a Wraith..."
"But I am a Wraith, Phantom," Michael countered, a grim smirk on his face as he looked at the man in the mask. "Why should I be what others made of me?"
John could only stare back in frustration at the man in front of him, fighting to resist the urge to automatically try and continue the argument even as he found himself unable to think of another angle he could use to convince the man before him...
"You don't have to be a monster," he said at last, hoping that he'd managed to keep his voice steadier in reality than it had sounded in his own head.
"I've always been one, Phantom," Michael countered with a grim smile. "You can't change that."
And there it was.
Almost without knowing it- John had his suspicions that his previous 'arguments' might have given away his feelings on the topic, but he wouldn't like to swear to it-, Michael had isolated the main reason John had tried so hard to convince him.
Michael had been given a chance to become a man rather than a monster, and he'd refused it; it was almost as though he'd spent so long as a Wraith that he didn't even want to be anything else...
"Fine," he said at last, stepping back from Michael even as his gaze remained fixed on the former- and most likely future- Wraith in front of him, his expression the same neutral stare that had long stopped anyone recognising what he was thinking even when he was growing up all those long years ago. "But keep this in mind; if I meet you as a Wraith..."
"You'll kill me," Michael stated simply, before a sly smirk spread across his face. "Unless, of course, I kill you first..."
John didn't bother to respond to that; unlike everything else he'd experienced in this particular 'debate', straightforward death threats from his enemies were nothing unusual.
Turning towards the window of Michael's room, he opened the window and leapt out, his cloak spreading to slow the rate of his fall as he vanished from view into the depths of the city.
He wasn't too worried about the possibility of Michael seeing where he landed- the other man had too many things to think about right now to bother with seeing where a man he had no interest in talking to was going-, but even without that concern, two very prominent issues were currently occupying John's thoughts.
How long he would have to wait until the time came when he would need to fulfil the 'promise' he'd just made... and the implications of Michael's attitude towards his transformation on his own personal future.
If Michael had been so totally unwilling to even try and take the chance at humanity that the retrovirus experiment had given him, after living for so long as a Wraith...
Had he just rejected the idea out of disgust at being used as a guinea-pig without his consent- something that, in all fairness, John could somewhat understand; he'd just hoped that Michael would have seen the benefits of his new state more than the negatives-, or was it motivated by something... deeper than memory?
Had Michael been right when he said that you couldn't change once you became a monster?