I've been writing fan fiction for 7+ years, in an attempt to weed out the beginner mistakes and know what works. In one of my fan fictions, the main character failed to make the right choice. The readers let me know that, while they found the choice fully justified, they still didn't like it. They didn't sympathize with the character's choice.
Reader sympathy is something the protagonist needs. The tale is (generally) about the protagonist, so it makes sense that the reader should want to read about him. You generally want to steer clear of things which decrease reader sympathy for the protagonist.
My question is this: assuming that the protagonist has to make the wrong choice in order for the plot to keep moving forwards, how do I maintain reader sympathy? I've included below a synopsis of the choice in my fan fiction, as an example.
The zombie apocalypse has happened. The main character, Mike, was trapped atop a tall building, waiting for evacuation, as the undead pounded on the doors to the roof. he barely made it out in time. His mother did not. The undead burst onto the roof, and Mike watched as his mother, with some others, fled to another door and descended into the dark building in an effort to escape them. The transport took off with Mike inside, and he never saw his mother again.
Now, two months later, Mike has gotten himself assigned to a mission to retrieve vital machinery from the zombie-infested lands. The crew he is a part of will be flying in a SETEV, a highly intelligent computer-controlled aircraft. Mike has a program which will allow him to hack the computer, and take the SETEV to where his mother was last seen. He intends to rescue her.
Up to this point, there is no evidence that Mike's mother has been killed or is still alive. Mike refuses to give up hope on her, and stubbornly maintains that she must be alive.
Because Mike needs to ensure escape for himself and his mother, his program will hack the SETEV to remain in place and await their return. This will put the rest of the crew in danger from the undead.
Mike now has a choice: go through with his plan to save his mother, or accept that she is dead, and keep his fellow crewmates safe.
He decides to go through with the plan, jeopardizing not only the lives of the crew, but also the mission itself, which is vital to the survivors.
At this point, my readers agreed that what Mike did was human nature, but believed he should have made the other choice. While they still sympathized with him due to other factors, they disliked his decision. What can I do to prevent that?