Sheppard was stunned. Blood rushed in his ears as he gaped at General Landry.
"I'm sorry, Sir. What did you say?"
"I said you are being promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and Military Commander of Atlantis. The ceremony is 0900 tomorrow. See the quartermaster about dress blues. Congratulations, Son."
"I…I don't…um, thank you, Sir." Sheppard drew to attention and saluted smartly. Landry gave him a small smile and waved him away.
"Dismissed Major. And don't be late."
Sheppard turned and walked briskly out of Landry's office. He practically ran to the quarters he'd been assigned since arriving on Earth last week. Once inside, he closed and locked the door and leaned against it, trying to control his pounding heart. Lieutenant Colonel. He couldn't believe it. He had been amazed when they hadn't demoted him after Afghanistan, and he'd been assured he would never rise higher than Major. He had accepted his fate. Major was OK with him as long as they let him fly. But now - Lieutenant Colonel, and his own command.
He wondered if his dad would ever know and if he would be proud. Colonel Andrew Sheppard, Retired, had always been John's harshest critic, even when he was a kid. Nothing was ever good enough to please The Colonel. John had eventually stopped trying, turning into the screw-up his dad had accused him of being. He joined the Air Force just to piss him off, well that and because he loved flying. His dad had been a sniper, one of the best in the Marine Corps, and hero of the Cold War. Not to mention the toughest SOB John had ever known. The Colonel had cast a big shadow.
After his heart rate and respiration dropped back to close to normal, John headed to see the quartermaster, trying desperately, and failing, to stop grinning. After finding a uniform close to his size, he headed back to his room to make sure he had everything perfect – shoes shined and pant creases sharp. Along the way he dropped a shoe that then bounced around a corner. As he stopped to get it, he heard voices coming down the corridor. The two men didn't see him as he awkwardly tried to pick up the shoe without dropping the rest of the uniform. Sheppard had recognized them from the meetings he had and started to greet them until he heard his name mentioned. He froze, eavesdropping on the conversation.
"So Landry and Caldwell backed down and promoted Sheppard?"
"Yep. Can you believe it?"
"Weir really stood up for him. I wonder if there isn't more there than meets the eye."
"You think he's banging her?"
"All I know is the guy was flying Hueys in Antarctica last year and now he's the military commander of Atlantis. So unless disobeying orders and killing your CO are the new keys to promotion…."
The two men disappeared down the next hallway. Sheppard stood, staring after them. He should have known.
He walked slowly back to his quarters, hanging the uniform carefully, and sat down on the bed, head in hands. Is that what everyone would think? That he'd slept his way to a promotion?
Rage boiled inside him at the thought. He began stalking around the small room, fighting the urge to hit something. What an insult, not just to him, but to Elizabeth. It just showed that those morons didn't know her at all. He thought about calling them on it but decided that would only add fuel to the fire.
He sat back down, his mind racing as his determination built. He was going to be the best damn Lieutenant Colonel the Air Force had ever seen. No one would be able to question Elizabeth's decision or reasoning if he had anything to say about it. He wouldn't let on that he knew, not to her, not to anybody. He would erase the stench of that black mark if it cost him the last breath in his body.
He lay back on the bed, continuing to replay the conversation in his head. "…killing your CO…." Arrows of pain shot through his heart. Sumner. As he had told Colonel Everett, he relived that moment every night. John closed his eyes as the memory came unbidden to mind.
He watched as the colonel, aged and infirm, squirmed in agony under The Keeper's hand. Sumner glanced at him and nodded. His mind screamed at him not to pull trigger; it broke every code there was. But his heart won out. He wouldn't leave Colonel Sumner suffering under her hand. He took aim, firing….
Sheppard's eyes flew open, and he gasped for breath. He could still hear Sumner's body hitting the ground. Bile rose in the back of his throat, and he sprinted to the bathroom, reaching it just in time to puke his guts out. After the heaves subsided, he washed his face and hands and rinsed out his mouth. He hadn't retched like that since the first month after it had happened.
Sheppard stared at his reflection in the mirror. No matter how many other scenarios he ran, one thing remained the same. Marshall Sumner still died. There just wasn't a way to save him. But knowing that hadn't made it any easier. John had killed before; it was a part of war, but he'd never killed a friendly. He certainly had never looked one of his own in the eye and shot him. Hell, he had never looked any man in the eye and pulled the trigger. Sumner was the first, Kolya the second, and he wasn't even sure Kolya was dead.
John walked back to his bed and sat down, remembering the days after arriving in Pegasus. He hadn't had anyone with whom he could share the burden of Sumner's death, not that he was big on sharing. But he'd always had a buddy he could lean on even if they didn't know all the details. But Mitch, Dex and Holland were dead, and he was alone again. The expedition had been together for months. He was the new guy, an outcast to the military and an unknown to the civilians. He hadn't had a chance to get to know anyone, to learn whom he could trust.
To make matters worse, Sumner's death made him the head of military operations. He had a group of men and women to lead, and he couldn't afford to appear weak, especially since several of them already regarded him suspiciously. So he kept it to himself, buried it deep inside, so deep it could only come out at night in his dreams. And he just kept doing it, not wanting to let anybody down, or let them see his fear and regret, even now.
He knew he could trust them. Elizabeth. Teyla. McKay. Beckett. They would listen to and support him, but he was afraid. Afraid that if he opened that door, everything else would spill out. Once it was out, it couldn't be put back, and he just wasn't ready to risk being that vulnerable again. It had cost too much last time. It was buried, and it would stay buried along with waking the Wraith, closing the shield on the Genii soldiers and now losing Ford.
Sheppard replayed it once again in his mind. Sumner had been dying before he'd made the shot. He just couldn't be saved. John had tried explaining that to Everett during the siege. It took being sucked by a Wraith himself for the colonel to finally understand.
John had sent a video back to the SGC to be delivered to Sumner's family, if he'd had one. Sheppard doubted it, but sometimes people were surprising. He considered having Rodney hack the SGC personnel files but rejected the thought. McKay would demand an explanation, and he wasn't prepared to give it.
Everett…. The colonel had been brought back to the SGC after the Wraith had been tricked into leaving. Sheppard decided to ask him and headed to the infirmary.
The Air Force pilot peeked into the darkened room, a bit appalled at the number of injured there. Of course, some were SGC personnel that had been wounded during their own missions. But a great number were Atlantis expedition members. He'd been in to see Bates when they first arrived. The sergeant had finally regained consciousness but had a long road to recovery. Sheppard doubted he would return to Atlantis any time soon, if at all. Bates had been moved off-base to a long term care and rehab facility two days ago.
A dark-haired woman approached. What was her name?
"Is there something I can help you with, Major?"
"Yeah, Doc, I'm looking for Colonel Everett. Is he still here, or has he been moved?"
"He's still here. You'll find him in the next room. Don't stay too long though. Visiting hours end in fifteen minutes."
Lam. Her name was Lam.
"Great. Thanks, Dr. Lam."
He made his way to the next room and found Dillon Everett attempting to reach a water glass that was just out of his grasp. John stepped up and handed the man the cup.
"I hear they are promoting you."
"Yes, Sir. Just found out a couple of hours ago."
"Congratulations. You earned it."
"You think so, Sir?"
"You didn't strike me as the self-doubting type."
"That's not what I meant, Colonel. I meant do you really think I earned it?"
Everett fixed him with a penetrating stare. "What's this about? Why are you here?"
Sheppard dropped his gaze and shifted uncomfortably. "I wanted to know if Colonel Sumner had any family."
Dillon raised his eyebrows. "And if he did? Are you planning on dropping by to introduce yourself as the man who shot him?"
"No, Sir. I made a video message back before the siege started. I just wondered if there was anyone to give it to."
Everett let Sheppard squirm for a minute. "No, Major, he didn't have a family. Colonel Sumner lived, ate and breathed the Corps. He never had time for anything else. I told you before that I would have done the same thing in your place. I haven't changed my mind. Stop beating yourself up over it. There's nothing you could have done to save Marshall."
Sheppard felt the vise that had been squeezing his heart for the past year lessen just a bit. "Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir." John turned to go.
John halted and pivoted back to face Everett.
"The answer is yes, I really do think you earned it. You handled yourself admirably this past year. You are stepping into big shoes as the official Military Commander of Atlantis. Make sure you fill them honorably."
He drew to attention and saluted for the second time that day. "Yes, Sir."
"Dismissed, Colonel Sheppard."
John spun sharply and marched out the door. Colonel Sheppard. He was Colonel Sheppard now, not his dad. His dad…. He stopped in his tracks in the middle of the hallway. John always thought something about Sumner had seemed familiar but had dismissed the idea. He'd known many hard-nosed military men in his life and had added the colonel to that list. But the way Everett described him 'lived, ate and breathed the Corps' crystallized the connection. Marshall Sumner had reminded him of his dad, tough as nails and as unforgiving, his military service consuming his life. Maybe that's why he had gone out of his way to antagonize the Marine. John wondered if he would have fared any better with Sumner, if he'd lived, than he had with his dad. No, probably not.
John wandered back to his room, lost in thought. He considered going to visit his dad for a brief moment. What was he thinking? That would be a disaster from start to finish. His father had made his feelings perfectly clear after Afghanistan. When he entered his quarters, the first thing that caught his eye was the uniform hanging in the wardrobe. Closing the door, he continued to stare at the dress blues.
Basically, he had two choices. He could live in the past, constantly berating himself for what had happened, all of it: his dad, Afghanistan, Sumner, the Wraith, the Genii, Ford. Or he could accept it and move on. John closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and chose. He would move on. Not that he would stop fighting the Wraith and the Genii or stop looking for Ford. But he would face the future with his head held high.
He found the iron and the shoe shine kit. Time to get prepared for the promotion ceremony tomorrow. Major Sheppard was in the past. He was a Lieutenant Colonel now.
A/N: Written in response to a question by TheNaggingCube on how Sheppard would react to shooting Sumner. Hope you liked it.