Rating: PG-13-ish

Disclaimer: Not mine, no matter how much I wish he was...

Summary: Words can hurt, they can be cutting, but they can also comfort. Promptshot, written for The Firm's Prompt Challenge, April.

A/N: A huge thank you to Arithilim for her advice and beta services! She is truly awesome, and everyone should worship her. :D

Word Count: 1030

Status: Complete

John sat on his bunk in the barracks, remembering the battle earlier that day.

He’d known as soon as the man took the bullets to his chest and crashed to the ground that he had been wrong.

He wasn’t ready for this.

He wasn’t fucking ready to kill someone, to see them fall into a puddle of their own blood, and to imagine that even over the yells and the machine gun chatter, he could hear the final, shuddering breath as the man died.

He remembered the pile of mangled flesh and scarlet blood that had once been a human being. The number of bullets had perhaps been overkill, but John had been terrified when he’d realized that the man was aiming at him.

Why couldn’t he have realized that he wasn’t ready long before this? During all of the training, he’d never blinked or taken a step back. He’d never hesitated. He’d worked his arse off to be the best, and all that had done had been to put him in this situation.

During all the training - hell, even before the training started - he’d known that this job would require him to kill. He’d known that, but he hadn’t thought about it. He’d never fully realized that that meant that some poor people were never going to see their families or friends again.

He should have thought about that. Why hadn’t he thought that? Was it because of the over-glamorized view of the army that he had had back then?

It was all so different now. He no longer thought that being a soldier was easy. He’d killed that man, sent pieces of hard, cold steel into his body, and now he had no fucking idea of how to deal with that, of how to deal with himself.

Thank god he hadn’t had to kill anyone else. It was close, but the order to retreat came through just in time, and the target was saved. John was saved.

But the blood, the shredded skin, the -

He was cut off by the pair of slightly scuffed standard-issue boots that suddenly entered his vision. He looked up slowly to see his commanding officer standing in front of him. The man was looking at him with something akin to pity on his tanned face.

“First time, Rider?”

Normally, John would have smirked and made some innuendo laden remark, but now he just took a deep, shuddering breath and nodded. “Yes, sir,” he said quietly.

The older man sighed.

That look was definitely pity, John decided. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that, because no one should pity a monster like him. He’d shot that man, fucking killed him.

“It does get easier,” Roberts said quietly.

“How the fuck could it get easier?” John asked bitterly, refusing to meet the older man’s gaze. “That man is dead because of me, sir. How could that possibly get easier?”

The older man sighed again. After a long pause, he began to talk. “I’ve had this conversation with a fair few soldiers, Rider, and I still don’t know how to answer that question. It does get easier, though. It’s wrong, I know, but it does.”

“What if I don’t want it to be easier?” John demanded shakily, not even caring that a man that he respected and looked up to was seeing him fall apart. “What if I want it to keep hurting?”

There was no answer. John looked up to find that Roberts was studying him. Finally, “I don’t think it could ever stop hurting for you. And - ” he paused again, gathering his thoughts. “It’s a rare thing to find a man who can kill without feeling anything, and I’d rather I never met another of those, because they kill just for the hell of it. They believe that they have the right to choose who lives and who dies. Like playing god.”

“But how do I deal with it?” John said, and winced when it came out a touch more plaintive than he would have preferred.

“The thing to remember is that that man knew that he might die. He went out there knowing that. We all did. You were just doing your job, and he was just doing his job.”

John couldn’t really figure out how to tell the older man that though it was appreciated, the speech wasn’t helping. At all. He opened his mouth and just hoped that whatever came out would be tactful.

Thankfully, Roberts raised a hand and spoke before John had to say anything. “I know, not helping. Just - just remember that we all make our choices, and we have to live and die by them. Remember that - it’ll make sense later. And whatever you do, Rider, don’t give up on emotion. I know that you’re thinking that you’re a monster right now,” Roberts nodded knowledgably; he’d been there, too. “But you’re not. You hate yourself right now. That’s a good thing.”

“Yeah, that’s good, all right,” John snorted bitterly.

“It is - you might not believe it now, but it is good,” Roberts said earnestly. “Never give up, Rider.”

---

John remembered that conversation years later, after he’d made his decision to go deep cover in Scorpia.

He replayed Roberts’ advice in his head every night. He’d managed to never try to erase the pain and overwhelming guilt completely over the years, to hold on to his humanity. But now…  now he was willingly throwing himself into a group of people with little to no regard for human emotions or life.

Every day he spent with the assassins, he had to fight to keep the pain. It would be so easy to just let it go and stop worrying.

But John had always prided himself on being strong-willed, and he knew that becoming like the others might be easier, but it wasn’t right.

Killing without emotion, or killing for pleasure like some of the assassins did, would be wrong. It would be like playing god, or reaper, just like Roberts had said years ago.

John Rider refused to become a monster, even if it cost him his own life.
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