Lt. Colonel John Sheppard blinked open his eyes. He was lying on his back, the coolness of the metal floor seeping through his jacket. He waited a moment, taking an internal inventory of his body, and finding nothing bleeding, broken or otherwise damaged, he carefully rolled to his side, propping his weight on his right hand.
John glanced at his surroundings. He was in a window-less, door-less metal room. It was fairly large, but the absence of color was disorienting. He came to his feet, automatically checking for his weapons. Yeah, they were gone.
"Hello?" His voice should have echoed in the room, but instead, it fell flat, the sound dropping like a stone the moment it left his mouth.
A sexless, lifeless voice intoned the word, and John paced back and forth, running hand through his spiky hair. Choose? Choose what?
"Ummm….My name is Lt. Colonel John Shep…" His attempt at an introduction was interrupted by the same voice, the same command.
As John turned slowly within his cell, the wall on the far side seemed to drain away. He walked over, and cautiously touch the surface; it remained solid to the touch. 'Some kind of weird window,' John thought. He gazed through it and felt his heart stop. In the next room, huddled together, were Rodney McKay and Elizabeth Weir.
As John watched, a light from overhead suddenly enveloped the two, and Rodney's face constricted in terror. John beat his fist against the window, trying to get either McKay's or Elizabeth's attention, but they didn't seem to be able to hear him.
John whirled around, his hands clenched into fists. "Choose what?" he yelled, his green eyes angry.
One will live. One will die. Choose.
John felt his stomach clench at those words. It was a nightmare come true. He was being forced to decide which of his two best friends – the two people he cared about most in this world – would live.
"Look, whoever you are, I can't do that." John started walking the perimeter of the room, looking desperately for something – anything - that would allow him to escape. But the walls were seamless, even at the floor and ceiling. As he strode back to the window, he could see Rodney speaking quickly to Elizabeth. She was shaking her head at his words, her eyes fearful.
Choose. Or both die.
John raised his hands, pressing them against the window.
"Rodney! Elizabeth! Can you hear me?" Nothing. The two remained within the confines of the light, Rodney's hand grasping Elizabeth's.
Choose. Or both die.
"I can't! Don't you understand?" Shaking, he gazed at his friends. How could he choose between them?
Elizabeth. Brilliant and beautiful, she was always there to back him up, no matter what mess he had managed to create. He admired and respected this woman more than he thought possible. Over the last two years, he had learned her likes, her quirks, her moods, her laugh. Her need for a cup of coffee before she spoke to anyone. The way she lifted an eyebrow one way when she was amused, another way when she was annoyed. He knew her boundaries, knew when to push and when to walk away. She was vibrant, alive and, most importantly, his friend.
Rodney. A genius, yes, but so much more. By becoming a member of John's off-world team, John had seen that behind the acerbic wit and incessant complaints was a man who put everyone's interests before his own. Many saw Rodney as a cold-hearted, self-centered scientist, but John knew Rodney better than that. He was selfless, often brave, sometimes funny, and always reliable. Loyalty was Rodney's greatest strength, not his brains. The two men seemed worlds apart at first glance, but Rodney was the friend – the brother - John never had.
Elizabeth had leaned in to Rodney, and John watched as McKay pulled her into an embrace. He felt his heart breaking as the scientist held the expedition leader, doing his best to comfort her. Rage suddenly filled John at the thought of condemning one of these two people to death.
"I choose me," he screamed at the formless voice. "Not Rodney, not Elizabeth. I choose me. Kill me and let them go!"
That is not an option. Choose one; the other dies.
John sank to his knees, his hands braced against the window. Choose one. The other dies. Helplessness and grief welled up within him. How could make this choice?
He needed Elizabeth. He was well aware of his evolving feelings for the beautiful leader. Friendship was becoming something more, and although they avoided any conversation about intimacy, their teasing and flirting often left John breathless. Many times the silences between the two were filled with electricity, heavy with want and need. John would retreat to the gym, focusing his energy on invisible enemies, doing his best to ignore the passion thrumming through his veins. Neither he nor Elizabeth were ready to acknowledge their increasing attraction, but John knew, one day, he would have to tell the woman that he was falling in love with her. And that he wanted more.
Atlantis needed Rodney. John knew that without Rodney McKay, not only would there not be an Atlantis, there wouldn't be a John or an Elizabeth, either. The man had saved everyone so many times that it had become something of a joke. Still, John was well aware that Rodney was the reason they remained in the Pegasus galaxy, discovering new technologies and making alliances. Radek Zelenka may have the knowledge, but even the Czech scientist turned to Dr. McKay when the shit was really hitting the fan. As did everyone else - John included. The man had a gift for pulling rabbits out of battered hats. Yes, Atlantis needed Rodney, even more so than it needed John, or even Elizabeth.
He squeezed his eyes shut, hating the voice and the decision it was forcing upon him. He was more protective of Rodney and Elizabeth than anyone else in the world – in the universe, even. How could he condemn one of them to death? How would he look the survivor in the eye, knowing he had become the executioner of the other?
For there was the relationship between Elizabeth and Rodney to consider. John knew that the three of them – the soldier, the negotiator and the scientist – had formed an unlikely leadership. Atlantis thrived because of the three of them, the balances they had worked hard to achieve, the respect they each had for one another. Yes, John had formed a strong bond with both Rodney and Elizabeth, but the two of them had also become close. John would often find the taciturn physicist sharing a cup of coffee with Elizabeth, the two of them deep in an earnest discussion. There was love there, and admiration. John knew that as well as he knew his own name. Rodney and Elizabeth and John. All three were bound together by necessity, and by choice. To lose one member of their triumvirate would be devastating.
John bowed his head, his mind racing, his heart pounding. He couldn't do this. He couldn't make this decision. But could he let both of them die because he feared his choice was the wrong one? Or because he would carry the guilt of his choice for the rest of his life? Who should live? Who should die? John shuddered; this was going to kill him.
He closed his eyes. Tears made their way slowly down his cheeks. He drew in a deep breath. His heart cold, his body numb, he reopened his green eyes and gazed at his two friends. They were still entwined, Rodney's cheek pressed against Elizabeth's hair, the scientist murmuring to the leader. Her own eyes were glazed with shock, and her hands were clenched in Rodney's jacket, holding him tightly.
In a voice that seemed dead, John softly whispered a name. A moment later, he saw the blood, the pain, the fear.
And one died.
John Sheppard woke with a cry, his lungs desperate for air, his heart pounding in his chest. Sweat streamed from his body, and his bedding was knotted into a ball at the foot of his bed. Outside, stars winked in the night sky.
He sat up, gripping the mattress as he tried to come fully awake. It was only a dream; a nightmare. Nausea rolled through him as he remembered, and he staggered to the window, throwing it open and dragging in huge gulps of the cool night air.
He knew that sleep was not going to return tonight. Memories of the dream lingered on his mind, and he shivered. He had been forced to choose between Rodney and Elizabeth. And he had done it. Once more his stomach rolled, and John fought back the urge to be sick.
He wondered if he would be able to look either Rodney or Elizabeth in the eye when morning finally came.
He wondered if his fear, his need, his love for both of them would ever lead him down to this moment – a moment where a choice had to be made. A moment where an action of his, a decision of his, would lead to one of his friends living, the other dying.
He wondered if, like in the dream, he could actually make that decision.
And, he wondered, would he survive the outcome?
A/N – Okay, so who did John choose to live? And why? All thoughts, opinions and ideas are appreciated.