The Choice

Chapter 6

Lt. Colonel John Sheppard shivered in the cool breeze. Above him, stars blinked and twinkled in cadence to the lap of the ocean. It still seemed weird to not have a moon shining above on nights like this. But he was getting used to it.

He leaned forward, resting his arms on the metal railing of the balcony. He had left Elizabeth a few minutes ago, after sharing a fairly edible dinner and some light conversation. Neither of them had mentioned this morning, or nightmares, or responsibilities. Instead, they shared funny stories and laughed and ate. John felt like he had actually managed to banish the events of the day from his memory, and had returned to his room, his heart light and his mind at peace.

Still….he was a bit nervous about going to bed. Falling asleep. And dreaming. What if the nightmare came back, with all the horror and guilt and pain? God knows he didn't want to relive it night after night.

Elizabeth had reminded him that if he needed to talk, he was to call her, no matter what time it was. He had agreed, but, now, he wondered if he really would trouble her, wake her in the dead of night, needing her comfort, her compassion, her quiet reassurance that everything was still okay. A part of him was uncomfortable with the idea of revealing his weaknesses and fears to another – especially Elizabeth. He preferred maintaining his image of a strong protector.

But Kate Heightmeyer had been right about one thing – talking did seem to help. There was something about sharing your fears, and realizing that almost everyone else suffered the same as you did, that somehow made it a bit easier to bear. And, he had to admit, if he was going to talk to anyone, it would be either Elizabeth or Rodney.

Thinking about the physicist, John felt a tremor of worry. He would have to figure out a way to get McKay to open up a bit more; it bothered John that Rodney still considered leaving Atlantis. Whether Rodney liked it or not, he was needed here. All three of them were.

John's dream returned to him, and the memory of the decision he had been forced to make. He had watched, his heart breaking, as Rodney McKay had cried out in pain, his anguish a living thing, as Elizabeth had sagged in his arms, blood spilling from her chest. Within moments, she had been dead, and John could see Rodney screaming her name over and over. Finally, the scientist had dropped to his knees, cradling the body of the expedition leader, tears of rage pouring down his face. Rodney had turned to the window, turned to John, loss and confusion and desolation in the scientist's blue eyes.

'Why?" Rodney had asked, although John couldn't hear his voice. He shuddered as he recalled that moment. Now, hours later, and awake, and fully aware that it was all a dream, he still found himself cringing at the accusing look in Rodney's eyes, praying that the scientist couldn't see through the window, and realize that John was responsible for murdering Elizabeth.

Sheppard pulled in a sigh. Elizabeth had known what his decision was – and had approved. Rodney, too – or he would have never insisted that John select Elizabeth. Somehow, in his eyes or by his choice of words, they had figured out who the protector of Atlantis had chosen to live. Even if it was only in a dream.

John closed the door to the balcony, and sat on the edge of his bed. How did that old saying go? Even if you decide not to choose, you still have made a choice. Or something like that. When he made the decision to return to Atlantis, most of it was based on the fact that he would be accompanied by Rodney McKay and Elizabeth Weir. If they hadn't returned, John wasn't sure if he would be here now.

Hence his nightmare; what would he do if either one was lost or killed? And what if he was the one ultimately responsible for their death? Could he move on, accept the guilt, deal with the aftermath? Or had he become so reliant on McKay's last-minute brilliant ideas, or Elizabeth's cool and calm in the midst of chaos, that to lose one of them was to lose an irreplaceable part of himself? John shook his head. He didn't want to know.

John undressed, crawled under his bedcovers and mentally dimmed the lights. He closed his eyes, relaxing, listening to the sounds of Atlantis at night. As sleep started to overcome him, he vowed to keep everyone on Atlantis, but especially Rodney McKay and Elizabeth Weir, safe and healthy. If it came down to it, he would give his own life to make that happen. 'That's my choice,' he thought.

And John Sheppard slept.

The End

A/N – Yeah, yeah, I chose Rodney to live. Like most of you, I really do believe the man is somewhat irreplaceable. Thanks for all the kind feedback and ideas. KKG.