The betas for this chapter was Temaris and Maeg. Thank you both for your time. Spoiler in passing for Season 1 Ep 2.
Author's Chapter Notes:
This is my very first fic ever. I hope you all like it.
~~~ I don't own any of these characters or anything that MGM might have any claim to what so ever. I just like to play with the boys. ~~~
Chapter One plot edit posted 07-31-2008
John tried to clear his mind, concentrating only on his body. He was breathing in time to the sound of his feet hitting the deck.
He rejoiced in the pull of skin over muscle, the trickle of sweat down the middle of his back.
Every foot fall, every heart beat, every breath in concert as he ran. Running and flying had always been a release for him, a way to place a world of cares on pause. In some ways, he had been running all of his life. He ran from his memories, his responsibilities, all of his personal demons. Today, it just wasn't working for him. Thoughts keep intruding, pushing their way to the front of his mind.
He hadn't asked for this!
Why had he come here? What made him decide to take the offer to join the expedition? McMurdo had been safe, boring but safe. True, you couldn't run further than another galaxy. It was just that things had gotten very complicated so quickly his head was spinning.
He just needed a moment. He needed just one minute to shut it all down so he could find a way to cope. He never asked for or wanted this responsibility. He started to pick up the pace, he body falling out of its rhythm. The natural concert of bone and blood, flesh and breathe becoming ever so slightly ragged as he pushed himself.
No, he hadn't asked for this, but what the hell could he do about it now? Years ago he had decided to avoided any real responsibility. To be responsible for someone else's life was not something he wanted. Now, he was responsible for every life on this new station in this new and very scary galaxy.
Fuck... I mean FUCK! he thought.
How did he go from being a glorified taxi service on the ass end of the planet to being the military commander for the most important expedition? In another freaking galaxy! The imp of the perverse just did not have any sense of moderation.
John picked up the pace, pushing harder. Desperately he tried not to think, not to feel. His muscles were starting to burn now. As he settled into the new pace his breaths came in sharper, gasping a little. He concentrated on the soft burning pain as he pushed his body. His thighs were aching. His lungs were just starting to burn. He pushed a little harder trying to drive all thought and feeling from his mind.
He never wanted this, to be a protector. Though it was not his choice, somehow he was always there in the moment of peril. He was there when they needed someone to protect them, when they needed someone to save them. Only he just wasn't any good at it. He was a complete failure at keeping other people safe.
He was a failure, a fuck up. The only problem was that it was never his life that paid for the mistake. Every time he messed up someone else would pay the price. Someone else's life would pay the forfeit of his incompetence.
He was ten years old when he learned that lesson. Ten years old when the first person gave their life for his mistakes. John sobbed out a stifled yell as he ran. He remembered how she had screamed when the ice broke under his feet and plunged him into the icy chill of the lake. She had told him not to go out on the lake, but he had not listened. He remembered being so scared, so frightened as he cried out for her. The icy water was so cold it hurt. It had felt as if he was being pulled under by claws of ice. Then she was with him, pulling him out only to fall through herself.
God, he could still remember his mom slipping off the edge as she pushed him back onto the safety of the hard ice. She had tried to pull herself back up beside him, and slipped. She tried again to pull herself back up. . then she had slipped under the edge of the ice and disappeared. She had yelled at him to go get his father just before she slipped under. So he had ran. He ran as hard as he could on trembling frozen legs. He ran up from the lake to the house screaming for his father.
But it had been too late. She was gone. John groaned and pushed even harder. Now he was running flat out, like the hounds of hell were at his heels.
That day he lost them both. His mother died under the ice of the lake. Hours later they pulled her body from the freezing water, but it was too late. It was as if the same water that had frozen the body of Mary Sheppard had frozen the soul of her husband as well. He became a cold stranger that day, not having any warmth left in him to comfort a grieving broken boy. John knew his father blamed him for her death.
Life went on and John joined the Air Force at the age of 18. He had applied to and been accepted at the Academy. Partly he hoped that by following in the footsteps of his father he might somehow earn his respect, his love. That he might somehow pay in some small way for the mistake that had cost them both so much. Partly he wanted, ... needed to get away from his father and the poisonous chill that had hardened his heart against his son. Always he had every thing he needed. Never was he abused or mistreated. But never more than what was necessary. Only that which was needed to keep a body intact.
John worked hard at the academy. His love of math made it easy for him to succeed academically. His natural charm and impish nature made him popular with the guys. He dedicated himself to getting top marks in his class. Still his father never seemed proud of him. All he got in return was "Fine, don't mess it up," in his father's cold, distant voice.
At the age of 20 John learned that there are other ways to lose your life than in death. They were driving back from seeing a movie when their car was hit. A bunch of guys from the academy had decided on a night on the town. John knew it wasn't his fault, he really did. The other driver had run the red light and hit the passenger seat dead on. Barry never saw it coming.
Even though he knew it wasn't his fault, not really, John still felt he should have been able to do something, anything to protect his friend. He should have been paying attention instead of talking about the movie, breaking down the special effects, laughing at how over the top the explosions were. If only he had looked. If only he had seen. If only he had been paying attention.
Barry became a prisoner of his own body that day. Before he had been a vibrant, active man; after the accident he slowly sank into himself. John had visited him at first. He tried to pull him out of the despair which surounded him. He hadn't lost his physical life, but the accident still took his life. Barry would never fly a jet. He would never again bitch up a storm as they ran PT. He would never run again.
Guilt clawed at John's soul. Barry had eventually pulled himself together and got a degree in computer science. He was moderately successful with a career coding computer games. Still, it was not what he had wanted, dreamed about. It had taken him years to struggle his way out of depression and reclaim his life. John mourned the lost years, the loss of Barry's dreams and the loss of a friendship that was never the same.
John knew he couldn't run much further. His side felt as if a dagger was poking him over and over. His lungs burned with every gasping breath he drew.
Afghanistan was worse. How many buddies had he lost there? Even when he gave up his career, disobeying a direct order to go back and save them, still it was not enough. By the time he made it back, they were already gone. His men were dead. He had failed them too.
What did he have to sacrifice? What did he need to give to stop them all from dying?
John was forced to stop. He gasped for air as he leaned over, bracing his hands on his thighs. Dragging in huge choked lungfuls of sharp biting air.
He tried but could not push the image of Sumner from his mind. The horror he felt as he watched the life being sucked out of the man right in front of his eyes. John had done the only thing he could do. Yes, he had saved him, John thought bitterly, saved him with a bullet. John felt his heart pounding as he continued to try to catch his breath, tried to cope, retching as his body heaved in complaint.
"Son, are you all right?" The soft words startled John a bit. The tones were gentle and lilting, but he had been so absorbed in his thoughts he had not noticed the man's approach.
John shook with fatigue as he felt a gentle hand settle on his wrist, fingers firm over his pulse point as another hand supported his shoulder.
"Major, what have ye done to yourself? You should not push yourself so hard. Come walk with me now...yes...slowly now...easy, lad."
Feeling his legs trembling, John listened to the gentle voice in his ear as he followed the man. He leaned on his strength as he was led gently away. He felt a strong arm come to rest under his arms across his back supporting him. The caring touch was comforting.
"There you go now... breathe...just breathe for me. Good. Now breathe again... slower now...deeper. In...and out...in...and out. Good."
John settled on the bench he was led to. The man came to rest beside him as he gasped in air. Feeling his lungs blessedly filling as the pain in them faded. Slowly, his breaths starting to even out.
"Thank...you," John said when he was able to speak. He looked up at his benefactor. Oh my, he thought, as he fell into eyes as blue as the open sky.
"Are you all right now?" the blue eyed man enquired.
"Yes, yes I'm fine," John said.
"Do you want to tell now why you are pushing yourself so hard? Son, running yourself that hard could put you in my infirmary for sure. You need to take it easier next time," his voice softly chided John. "I've been told a time or two that I am a good listener, if you want to share your troubles."
"I. It's nothing. Doc? I assume you are one of the doctors," John asked.
He wondered how he had missed meeting this man. He had a vague recollection of him being there the day he sat in the chair. It was more a remembrance of his voice than the man himself. The soft smooth tones of his speech teased the edge of John's memory. Now certainly he had been distracted both by the chair and McKay. McKay had that sort of wild energy that filled an entire room, driving your eyes to focus on the man. He was certainly loud enough too, John thought with a mental snort. Still, how had he missed eyes so blue and so kind?
"Yes, that is true enough, major. My name is Carson Beckett. It's a pleasure to meet you again," the doctor replied.
John gave him a lazy grin, pushing his disturbing thoughts to the back of his mind as he met those amazing eyes. "John, Major John Sheppard," holding out his had to grasp the one extended to him.
They sat for a several long moments looking out over the water in companionable silence. The soothing sound of the waves lapped against the city making a soft peaceful sound, almost hypnotic. John felt Dr. Beckett's hand on his wrist again. His fingers pressed to John's pulse point for a few moments then releasing his wrist. He liked the calm strength of the doctor's touch and found he missed it when he was released.
"Well then now. I really do need to go settle things in the infirmary. It's a right mess getting everything sorted out," Carson said rising to his feet. "Make sure you drink plenty of water today. I'd like you to come by sometime this afternoon for a quick check, just to be certain you've done yourself no harm. Or if you need someone to talk to...."
"Yeah, all right, Dr. Beckett. I'll see you in a little bit." John watched the man walk away with a smile. With men like that around, I guess the whole thing wasn't a loss after all.
Turning his eyes back to the water John took a deep breath. His thoughts finally settled into a pattern. He really didn't have a choice. These people were depending on him to keep them safe. I guess the time for running is over, he thought. There was nowhere else left to run to.
John swore to himself right then and there that no one else would die for his mistakes. He would protect this city, these people, and the kind blue-eyed doctor with his very life. He would put his heart, his soul, and his body between them and danger. No one would die; no one would be hurt, even if he had to take their place.