The number had been too high, there was no question about that. He could still see the blood on his hands. He was still there. He hadn't taken the time, when it happened, to look at all the bodies in the lobby, he was busy just trying to stop Sarge from killing innocent people.
And when that failed, he was back at the beginning, looking for Samantha. That was when he counted them; 200 people, give or take, that didn't know what was happening, mauled or mutated. And in some corner of the facility, there were children among the dead.
He didn't know how much time he had spent looking for Sam, but a bloodied, too-still body was the very opposite of what he hoped to find. He knelt beside her, calling her name and gently shaking her by the shoulder, but nothing changed. He was frozen, unable to move or breathe.
His only movement was because of something all but crashing onto him, throwing him a good few meters away. He wasn't given a chance to recover before a weight pressed him down against the floor, drawing the remaining air out of his lungs. The monsters finally came for him again, and this time, there was nothing he could do about the claw on his throat and the pain it caused him.
John opened his eyes with a sharp gasp.
He was on a bed, in the apartment he was sharing with Sam. Earth. He took a deep breath in, rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. There was some noise in the room, and it took him a moment to register it as his own ringtone.
He sat up, reaching for the phone on the nightstand. He simply silenced it and let it ring. Five in the morning was hardly the time to be calling anyone, especially if the receiver had already made it clear that they didn't want to talk.
The Marine Corps and the UAC would eventually get the message. He wasn't going back.
Walking out of his room, John went straight to the kitchen. He wasn't going to fall asleep again, so he might as well get himself some coffee. The apartment was in complete silence save for invading noise of the few vehicles already out. Nothing he shouldn't already be used to, at this point, but the silence proved to be a bigger annoyance than he would've liked.
It's not that he paid attention to the TV either, but the sound was enough distraction until he could find something to do with himself, usually some hours later. He sat in silence, his attention flickering between the admittedly repetitive news and the view from the window until the soft padding of feet caught his attention.
"You're doing it again," Sam stated, pulling a stool next to him at the kitchen counter. "You need to stop it, it can't possibly be good for you."
"What?" He turned a confused look to her. "What are you talking about?"
"You really space out whenever you have a bad night of sleep." There was a degree of worry in her voice and eyes as she spoke. "I mean," she snatched the cup from his hands, "The coffee is cold, at this point." She poured the liquid into the sink as John rolled his eyes. "How long have you been sitting here?"
"Uhm," he checked his phone for the time. "About half an hour?" He ran his hands over his face. He hadn't paid attention to much other than the number calling him, so he had barely registered the time. "I don't know."
Sam regarded him in silence for a moment before she placed a refilled cup in front of him. "You should do something about this whole thing."
John merely raised an eyebrow at her as a response, taking the new cup of warm coffee in his hands. "Like what?" There wasn't a lot he could do about the situation, of that much he was sure, but he waited for whatever Sam was going to suggest.
"Oh, I don't know," Sam gave an exaggerated shrug, "It's been a month and you don't actually talk to anyone. As far as I know, you haven't even left the apartment yet."
John quietly drank the coffee in lieu of the answer she was waiting for. What the hell did she want him to say? That whenever he did fall asleep, he had the same nightmare where he also lost her on top of everyone else? That he had no idea what to do with himself now? He sighed into the cup. Yeah, he was doing a terrible job of keeping it together, but she shouldn't have to deal with his problems on top of her own.
"I might take you up on those sleeping pills," John said instead, ignoring the flash of concern that resurfaced on Sam's face. "I could use a decent night of sleep, I guess." And maybe forgetting what had happened as well.
Sam watched him for an extra moment before patting him on the shoulder with a rueful smile. "I'll see what I can do."
The worst part, he supposed, of not talking about what had happened was being left alone to his own mind. It never failed to be his worst enemy, but knowing that wouldn't change much.
John settled on going for a run after Sam left for work. He admired how well she'd bounced back up, if anything, and not just regarding Olduvai. He was still trying to figure himself out after everything was said and done. He knew what had changed, in theory; no longer part of the military, not quite a normal human anymore, now living in Nevada…
Still, trying to reason his way through it never helped him. Physical activity was the best he could do in order to distract himself, but it had its limits. Once he got to the park, he sat down on a bench; he wasn't tired from the run, but simply seeing people out and about was a good reminder that the monsters hadn't broken out of the facility and everything on Earth was just as it had been before he left.
Or, well, mostly the same as it had been. Things weren't quite the way he'd rather have them, not when it came to himself, and old habits were hard to change, but it was… Enough.
Until the sound of muffled footsteps caught his attention, that is. John ignored it the best he could. Among the many children and runners around, they could simply pass him by and leave him alone. But the proximity of the steps and how clearly he could hear them behind him gave a very different idea of what was about to happen.
"John?" A man called to his left. John cursed internally, recognizing the voice but still hoping to be mistaken. "Hey, man, it's been ages!"
There he was. The black-haired figure walked in front of him with a smile that John knew to be forced. "Joseph," he nodded his greeting.
The man sat down by his side, carefully watching him while John did what he could to avoid eye contact.
"What are you doing here?" John asked, skipping the small talk. He knew Joseph well enough from his early days as a marine to know he wouldn't show up on accident.
"I'm on leave."
"Here?" John turned to look at him with a clearly doubtful look. "Thought you had family in New York."
"Yeah, well," he shrugged, "Wife's about to give me the boot, didn't seem right to go visit."
"Bullshit," John huffed out. "You'd be sucking up to her right now if that were the case."
It was Joseph's turn to avoid eye contact. Some minutes passed in silence, as John stared holes into the side of the man's head, and he rubbed his hands, absorbed in thought, not taking his eyes off of the park in front of them.
"What are you doing here?" John repeated his question, much slower than before.
"I think you know, Reaper." Joseph turned back to him with an unreadable expression. John sighed, muttering curses under his breath. "The brass isn't giving up on you."
"The brass can shove it," John hissed. He stood up abruptly, but before he could walk away, Joseph grabbed his wrist.
"Trust me, you only have two options." He let go and stood up himself, looking directly into his eyes. "It's either the Corps or the UAC, John. One of them is gonna get to you."
"Do me a favor, Judge." John's voice was gruff and there was a challenging glint in his eyes as he continued, "Let them both know I'm done being someone's private soldier, will you?"
A beat of silence passed. John turned to leave and since Joseph didn't stop him, he simply said "It was good seeing you" and resumed his run.
John had shut the door with too much strength, making more noise than necessary. He'd spent hours running, but he was still too on edge, thinking about what Joseph had said. It was hard to focus on much for any decent amount of time after that.
He started his afternoon by getting some real food, which normally meant heating up leftovers of however many days ago. He ate in the kitchen, in silence for a change. Or as much silence as he could have, with the footsteps coming in from the corridor and the talking neighbors.
It wasn't quite how he wanted to spend the rest of the day, but he supposed there was no helping it at that point. He hadn't just gained a healing factor, after all. He tuned the noise out the best he could, taking a bottle of some old whiskey that was left in the cupboard and a glass before he settled on the couch.
His attention flickered between the window to his left and the bottle every time he refilled his glass. The burning on his throat faded far too quickly. At any other point of his life, a quarter of the bottle would have him at the very least buzzed, but he felt no difference once he started pacing around the apartment.
So much for that distraction.
He lay down, staring at the ceiling and listening to the steps outside. John knew the building was a busy one, a mix of residential apartments and commercial rooms, but he had never paid any attention to just how many people seemed to come and go on their floor in particular.
The first set of steps was a heavy clicking of shoes that kept going until it faded away, probably at the end of the corridor. The second set, only slightly lighter, stopped abruptly where the sound was loudest, by his front door. Call it paranoia, but those steps were definitely not Samantha's.
He got up after tracking another set of footsteps to his front door, about the same as the other. He paused in front of his room, waiting for confirmation before any rash decisions. It came after a couple of minutes, as someone asked, "Are you sure he's in there?"
John didn't wait to hear the answer. He moved into the bedroom and took out the gun he kept in the nightstand. Joseph's words rang in his head one more time, as he went back into the corridor.
The door clicked, unlocked from the outside, and he waited. John couldn't even say he was surprised to see Joseph walk in, and the man didn't seem surprised to have a gun pointed steadily at him either.
"Reaper," Joseph greeted, raising his hands, "You're alert."
"Or maybe you two are just too loud," John commented, minutely nodding toward the door. Joseph closed it to a small, surprised gasp of the man behind him, still outside. "How the fuck did you find the apartment?"
"Does it matter?" Joseph shrugged. "I told you, they are not letting you go."
"You're not here for the Corps," John commented, and the almost innocent smile that Joseph showed in return was all the answer he needed. "Get the fuck out of here."
"Or what?" He lowered his arms. "You're gonna shoot? Even if you do," Joseph gave one step into the apartment, "Someone else is gonna come." And another step. "You know that, right?"
John kept the gun steady as he said in the same tone, "Yeah. And you do know this counts as breaking in, right?"
Joseph's entire demeanor changed at that moment but he didn't stop walking. "I tried giving you a choice, you didn't take the chance." He stopped right in front of John, his gun pointing directly to his chest. "And you wouldn't even shoot, would you?"
He gave no time for a response, grabbing John by the wrist and twisting it to the side to make him drop the gun. He tried getting a punch in, but John easily stopped him and pulled his arm free, also throwing Joseph off to the side.
Joseph all but leaped at him, tackling John to the floor. He didn't seem to weigh that much as John kicked him away and he hit the wall with a thud.
"See, Reaper," he breathed out a small laugh. "This is what I'm talking about." He stood up using the wall for support as John grabbed his gun off the floor. "Increased strength, heightened senses, healing factor…" John turned his aim to him once more. "You're not even quite human, anymore."
John tensed, his finger curling slightly firmer around the trigger. A new set of steps drew his attention. He turned around fast enough that the oncoming butt of a gun hit his jaw instead of the back of his head.
He pressed the trigger in his sideway stagger. John didn't see where the bullet had hit, but the marine's grunt of pain was quite clear. Joseph was quick to take hold of him again. John ignored the muffled sound of another gun shooting as he struggled to free himself.
With an elbow to his stomach, Joseph finally backed away. And John realized he couldn't move his left leg. He looked down to find a dart on him and a growing numbness quickly spreading from it.
"It's what it is, Reaper," Joseph spoke with a faint smile, "You're a very valuable asset."
John tried stepping away from the two, but his leg failed him and he tumbled, caught before he fell by the marine he had shot. His vision blurred, and he blacked out way too quickly for him to register what happened next beyond a vague sensation that he was being moved.