Your hands are shaking.
Why are your hands shaking?
There's a gun in your hand, and you try to grip it the way you've seen John do, in the past. He holds it like it belongs there, like his hands were crafted to mould around its black and deadly form. He holds it, and his hands are steady.
Your hands are shaking.
When John holds this gun, he grasps it like it's the hilt of a rapier, held loosely and confidently, ready for the easy, metallic repartée of a good duel. Easy, until a man gets impaled.
When John holds this gun, he's ready to impale. He's ready to thrust quickly, draw a spot of blood from a man's chest, and walk away with nary a scratch or a sweat.
His hands never flounder, his gaze never flickers, his resolve never wavers as he points this gun at a human being's head. He gives the trigger the lightest squeeze, and suddenly everything's sound and light and there's another body.
You asked him if that bothered him, once, before you knew him well enough to know the answer, and he gave you a look, a look that sent a chill through your bones. His smile was tight and unfamiliar as he told you he really, honestly, didn't care, because he'd killed a not-very-nice man. And that's all there was to it.
His gun is pointed at an extremely not-nice man.
So why is it shaking?
The man in question stands at the edge of the roof, and the wind is howling around you atop the multi-storey building. London shimmers behind him in the night.
He's just a silhouette from where you're standing, but you see enough. He's got a small, well-polished handgun that gleams every time he moves, and his smile is repulsive and reeks of dank and dead things. You look down John's gun and try to appear anything other than afraid, or angry, or desperate. He laughs at you, at your hesitance, at the shaking barrel dancing around his face.
Let him go, or I will kill you, you try to say, but the whirling winds swallow your words whole. You try to remember John's face, the face that thrilled and terrified you, when he said the same thing to a man who was perfectly capable of squeezing just a little harder and sucking all the breath out of you forever. You'd been terrified, but even as Holst marched his way around the planetarium and the universe was reflected in John's sweatless skin and you saw murder in his eyes, you knew it would be alright.
Not so now. You can't even muster up a shadow of John's deadly look as you try to threaten an embezzler-turned-assassin on top of his soaring fortress, where he holds a well-oiled gun to John's temple and laughs because you can't save John's life.
You can't save John's life.
The gun almost drops from your sweaty fingers as those five words embed themselves into your mind (like rapiers, you think). John is limp, unconscious, desperately in need of a rescue (like he's done for you so many times) and your hands shake in horror as you find you can't do it, you can't kill this disgusting, horrific, lowest sort of man for the sake of the bravest man you've ever known.
This time, the gun does drop.
You wish John were awake for this, so you could tell him how much you admire him in this moment, how much he's ever meant to you, how much you wish he'd thrown in his lot with someone braver, better, than you. You wish you were the one facing death. You wish you were back in the planetarium, and your vision was disintegrating at the edges, and all you could see was John's stony, uncaring, chilly look that promised blood and bones and decay as the sounds of the God of War filled your ears.
You hadn't realised, until this moment, that it has become a war, and that you're just a civilian with a soldier's gun and a coward's gut.
The man squeezes the silver trigger. You close your eyes.
There's a shot.
There's a grunt, a whack, a thud, and a snap.
Your eyes are open.
John is standing now (never unconscious, never subdued, you realise), outlined in all his blunt and polished edges against the London sky, panting from the sudden exertion, blood upon his fingers (crafted to kill) and a body at his feet. The man's neck is snapped neatly in two, the gun fallen several meters away, and John turns and looks at you with pity and surprise and disappointment in his soldier's eyes.
You stoop to pick up his gun from where it's clattered at your feet, useless in your hands. You stay low several seconds too long to hide from him. Hide your shame.
When you're up again, he's smiling and there's pride there, too.
You don't think you'll ever understand why.