Oh, good grief. Good thing I don't do this for a living. Thanks again to everyone who kept nudging and encouraging.

Guarding the Shepard:

Chapter Fifteen


Our rescue was anti-climatic.

"Balcony, three asses. Confirm. Do not approach."

"Who are you calling an ass, Lassie?"

"What the hell are you talking about, Sheppard?!"

"Stop wiggling, McKay!"

A team of Marines brought enough rope to hogtie King Kong.

"Hold on, sir. We'll have you out of there in a minute."

"They could have just flown a 'jumper over here, you know."

"It's not safe to fly so close to the city, McKay. And stop wiggling!"

"I can't help it! I think I'm allergic to this gunk. My back itches!"

"Well, scratch it later!"

Sergeant Chen threw loops at Lassiter until he caught one.

"I said stop wiggling!"

"It wasn't me! It was your Marine!"

"Just hold on, McKay. Chen will pull us clear."

"I'm trusting my life to a cowboy named Chen?!"

"Cowgirl, sir. Sergeant Precious Chen was raised on a cattle farm in Nevada."

"I'm trusting my life to a cowgirl named Precious Chen?!"

"Shut up, McKay, and lay still!"

Lassiter wrapped the rope around his free arm.

"Ouch! Tell them to stop throwing chunks of rope in my face!"

"They expect you to hold onto one, McKay."

"With my teeth?! What kind of idiotic plan is that? Don't you think I need my teeth for other things, like, oh, eating?"

"I need to stop dangling over open space, McKay, so grab one and hold on! Without squirming around!"

"Well, make up your mind, Sheppard. Either I grab for a rope, or I stay still!"

"Multi-task, McKay!"

Lassiter got a good grip on McKay.

"Personal space, Lackey! Watch where those hands are going! Ack, Sheppard, I'm being groped by a Marine!"

"Lassiter, sir. I'm just making sure Dr. McKay doesn't get separated from me when they start pulling."

"Shut up, McKay. Your manhood is safe. Now hold on!"

The ropes pulled taut, and slowly I felt McKay slide away from me.

"Wait! Wait a minute! I'm hung up on something. McKay, can you see what it is?"

"Looks like part of the railing is caught in your clothes. Can you wiggle yourself free?"

"No wiggling!"

"Don't be a baby!"

A few moments later, after exhaling as far as I could, the Marines gave a couple of good yanks and I scraped over the edge of the balcony, sliding after McKay and Lassiter. The railing plowed a furrow across my back, but I barely noticed. Still hugging Rodney's leg like my personal teddy bear, I was dragged after Lassiter and McKay. One by one we were picked up by Marines and brought through the door to be set in the hallway. I closed my eyes and rested my head against the wall. Blowing out a breath, I enjoyed the brief balance point between the fading terror of hanging over the balcony edge like so much bait, and the escalating insistence of my body to pay attention to its aches and pains.

The corridor was mostly organized chaos. McKay was complaining, something about allergies and a broken back. I heard Lorne's questioning tone, interspersed with Lassiter's quieter voice, and an annoyed paramedic insisting everyone be quiet and sit down. I rubbed a little of the goop from the balcony between my fingers. Slick, smooth, warm from the heat of my hand. A faint smell, nothing I could identify, rose from my clothes. I started to a hand on my shoulder, losing my little Zen island of peace.

"Sorry, Colonel. Dinna mean ta scare ya."

I sighed.

"Colonel? How are ya feelin'? Can ya open yer eyes fer me?"

I sighed again. "I'm fine."

"If yer fine, son, then I should be seein' yer eyes."

"What if my eyes don't want to see you?" All right. So maybe I was getting a little cranky. My back stung, my chest ached from laying on the edge of the balcony, the earache was back in full force, and I was beginning to think that opening my eyes would lead to bad things. Plus, as the adrenaline faded, so did what was left of my energy. I decided it was pretty soft, for a wall. I could hang out here for a while.

Carson's voice took on a more concerned tone. "Did yeh hit yer head, Colonel?" Hands gently grasped each side of my head around ear level, and fingers started walking along my skull. A slight tug forward set my stomach to roiling, and I batted away the doctor's hands.

"No touching!" I opened my eyes to glare at Beckett, who took the opportunity to shine his damned penlight in my face. If he was half as fast with a gun as he was with that flashlight, the Wraith wouldn't have a chance. I swallowed hard.

"There now. That was nay so bad, 'twas it. Now let me look at th' back of yer head." He reached out and, one hand behind a shoulder and one hand at the base of my skull, pulled me away from the wall.

My stomach responded pretty much the way I thought it might. I closed my eyes again and leaned back, taking a couple of deep breaths. Definitely a good wall.

"Ah. A bit unsettled, are yeh?" He raised his voice. "Bridget, darlin', can you bring the gurnery over here?"

McKay's voice dopplered past above my head. "Hey! Stop! Wait a minute! Sheppard? What's going on there? Beckett, what did you do? I said stop, you imbecilic reject from basket making school! Sheppard?!"

My stomach flipflopped at just the thought of moving. "I don't think that's a good idea, Carson. How about if I just stay here a while?"

"That's a good, lass. Yeh get on his other side, and we'll get him to his feet."

A hand appeared under each armpit and I was pulled up from the floor. Off balance, I reflexively scrabbled to get my feet under me. "No moving, Carson!"

"Now swing him around, gently lass, and sit him down."

"No swinging, Carson!"

But the world whirled and my butt contacted the pallet. Jerking free of the hands, I dropped my head between my knees and anointed the floor with what was left of my breakfast. I was handed a moist towelette, and shakily wiped my face.

"Feet up, Colonel. Head down. Yer doin' fine. Let me get th' strap."

I opened my eyes long enough to glare at the single minded doctor. "No strap! You know I hate the strap!"

The buckle clicked. "Yeh can raise the gurney now, love."

At the first lurch upward I grabbed onto the side railing and said, "No raising gurneys!" Every little jerk as the pallet was raised made my stomach twist. I was down to dry heaves, but my stomach didn't care.

"Quickly now, Bridget. I'll be down to meet yeh at the infirmary as soon as I've had a look at th' young Marine." A pat on my shoulder and the gurney started moving.

I opened my eyes again to see ceiling tiles sliding past far too quickly for comfort. When they started dancing left and right as well, I clenched my eyes shut. "Not so fast!"

The gurney slowed a little, but not enough. "Colonel, if we were going any slower, we'd be moving backwards."

"How about we not move at all?"

"How about you take a couple of nice, deep breaths and let them out slowly. We'll be there before you know it. Make sure your hands are tucked in. I need to get the transporter doors."

"Not the transporter!"

We came out of the transporter, and I curled up on my side as much as I could. I was dizzy, my hands were damp and cold, I could feel the sweat running down the sides of my face, and I was wondering if Beckett would write a paper on the first human to turn his stomach inside out, like a starfish. Even the starch on the pillow case was making me nauseous.

The infirmary doors slid opened, and I added the smell of alcohol wipes and disinfectant to the list of things my guts objected to.

"Straight inta decontamination with ya, Colonel."

I groaned.


Decontamination is not one of the most pleasant things to endure, but going through it twice in such a short period of time was cruel and unusual punishment.

"Perhaps I can get that for you, sir?" offered Lassiter, as I nearly slid off the bench trying to pick up a packet of medicated wipes. He deftly retrieved the large, soft packet from near my feet, and then attempted to steady me while trying not to touch any part of my body. It was as successful as it sounds.

"Oh, for God's sake, Sheppard. You can't even sit up." McKay stomped over, at least as well as he could manage in bare feet, snatched the package of wipes away from Lassiter and pushed the young Marine in the direction of one of the nurses. "Go play doctor with the nice nurse, Lackey, Lastly, Landing…"

"Lassiter," the Marine and I said together.

"Whatever. Run along. Look at it as a medically sanctioned chance to feel up a pretty woman."


I got the Rodney Look of Distain. "Like you wouldn't be trying it if you could stand up without leaving your face imprint on any nearby furniture. Give me that!"

He snatched up a towel and nearly knocked me off the bench scrubbing rather vigorously on my hair. "Like I need to go through this again." He raised his voice. "I just did all this crap yesterday!"

"Then yeh should be well acquainted with th' procedure!" yelled back Carson from the other side of the room.

By the time I was considered thoroughly decontaminated, I was well past miserable and on to just-kill-me-now. McKay got the scrub top on me, complaining all the while about how having to bend over was causing irrepairable damage to his broken spine, while Lassiter, bright red and avoiding eye contact, offered me the scrubs bottoms and then put my socks on for me, diffidently saying things like, "as long as I'm already down here, do you think your feet might use some help?" It was all I could do to restrain myself from sticking my foot up his nose and snarling.

Carson wandered over to take another look at my back and declare that while the scratch was long, it wasn't deep enough to require stitches. He tutted a bit over the bruises I was already developing, decided I was dehydrated and should rest a while in the infirmary.

It took both Carson and Rodney to keep me on my feet while the world whirled around nauseatingly, and walk me the short distance to a bed. While my joints and muscles sank gratefully into the mattress, even laying flat out wasn't enough to calm the horrible feeling that everything in the world was moving except me.

Gritting my teeth, I sat up, slowly, and pulled my knees to my chest. One arm wrapped around my shins, my chin on my knees, and the other hand trailing IV tubing and gripping the side of the gurney, and I started to feel like I might survive after all.

Breathing slowly, I got the room to stop bouncing up and down. Risking what little equilibrium I had managed to scrape up, I looked around slowly. Lorne was standing where he could see all of us, one hand resting on his kit belt. Ronon was leaning up against the wall near the door. His body said this is undoubtedly the most boring part of my day but his eyes said I don't like how things are going.

"Major?" I called, and Lorne shifted a few steps closer. "Report."

A shift of one shoulder—you know as much as I do—and a brief grimace. "I've sent a sample of that stuff down to Dr. Kavanaugh. I've, ah, impressed upon him the need to have it analyzed immediately."

From the doorway came a flash of Ronon's teeth. Great. No doubt I'd find another e-mail, or twenty, from Kavanaugh.

"Any progress on our other incidents?"

"Not yet, sir." Lorne's eyes flicked away from me and back again. The movement was so brief it would be hard for someone who didn't know him to spot it.

I narrowed my gaze. "But…" I prompted.

He shifted a bit from one foot to the other and cleared his throat. "But the water faucets are now playing It's a Small World."

I opened my mouth, then shut it again. Really…what do you say to an announcement like that?

"It's a Small World?"

"Yes, sir."

"From Disney."

"That would be the one, sir."

It took a moment to process this. In the silence I could hear McKay arguing, but not what he was arguing about.

"Is water still coming out of the faucets?"

Lorne nodded. "Yes, sir. And the infirmary seems to have been exempted. Every where else, though..." He shrugged again. I'm a Marine, not an entertainment director. "The kitchen staff are not taking it well."

McKay came towards the bed, clutching a small bottle in his hand. "Advil! The sheepherder gave me Advil! For a broken back!" He shook the bottle in my general direction and scowled. "Says there's nothing wrong but some bruising. Says he can't find any disc damage. I don't think he was even listening. He gives woolgathering a whole new meaning!"

"You okay, Rodney?" He sounded okay. Generally the louder he is, the less hurt he is.

"Rest the man says." I got the bottle waved in my face again. "In my own bed, he says. Well, when I can't get up for dinner and my blood sugar drops into the basement and I have to be peeled up off the mattress and brought into whatever passes for the emergency room around here, we'll see who only needed Advil!"

So, yeah. Okay.

"I'm getting something to eat before I die in my room. You want anything?"

The very thought of eating was appalling. "No, you go ahead."

I got a jerk of the chin, and he stomped out of the room, muttering. As he sidled past Ronon, not willing to tempt the big man's patience or sense of humor, Lassiter appeared and also headed towards the door.

"Wait a minute, Lassiter," I called. "We have some protocols to discuss."

Lorne looked a bit confused, but brought the young soldier to the end of my bed.

"I realize I'm not big on formality around here, but that's no reason to take advantage of it. During an emergency, I expect everyone to follow communication protocols to the letter. No screwing around. No slang, no pet names, nothing. Do you understand?"

Lassiter stood at attention and nodded. "Yes, sir."

"Good. I'll leave it up to Major Lorne to decide what you'll be doing to help you remember that." God, I was in a bad mood. I probably looked like an idiot, a death grip on the gurney and my knees pulled up to my chest, but if I was going to be miserable, I might as well share it.

Lorne cleared his throat to get my attention. "Sir, I'd appreciate it if you'd remind me what incident Sergeant Lassiter was involved in. So I can make sure the punishment fits. Sir."

I glared at him. He looked back, a neutral look on his face. I'm just a lowly major.

"That would be the 'three asses' incident, Major."

I got a blank look from both of them.

"On the balcony. When Sergeant Lassiter radioed for assistance, he referred to us as 'three asses'." I glared in Lassiter's direction. "Not only was it completely inappropriate to identify the three of us that way, no matter what his personal opinion might be, using terms like that could potentially confuse and delay emergency rescue."

Lorne's head tilted a little to one side. "Ah…I believe there might have been some confusion, sir. Lassiter didn't say 'three asses.' He said 'three s's'."

"That's right," I growled. "Three asses. Sergeant, you're on report. Major, I want your recommendation in my hand by 18 hundred hours."

Lorne cleared his throat. "No asses were mentioned, sir. Lassiter was talking about the letter s." He drew a large S in the air. "Like on the front of Superman. Three s's."

"S's?" What the hell? I was confused, and I don't like being confused. Especially when I'm busy ignoring the bass drum choir pounding in my ear and behind my right eye. "That's only a slight improvement over asses," I begrudged. I waited, but no more information was forthcoming. "And 'three s's' stand for…?" I prompted, growling.

I narrowed my eyes suspiciously as Lorne resettled his kit belt. "It's the designation for that balcony, sir. It's the Three S balcony."

That didn't make any sense. That balcony wasn't on the south side of Atlantis or the third level. I spoke slowly, directly, and with a certain amount of menace at my 2IC. "And for the second time, what do the three s's stand for?"

Lassiter refused to make eye contact, staring at the wall behind me. Lorne gave a little sigh. "It's your balcony, sir. The Sheppard Sleep and Sulk balcony." He winced.

I swear I felt my stomach flutter. Slowly, I raised my chin off my knees. Lorne's gaze remained fixed just over my head. "You know where my favorite balcony is?" Disbelieving at first. "The one where no one can find me when I don't want to be found? The one McKay hasn't been able to convince Atlantis to tell him the location for? And you named it?" A disapproving look from a passing nurse confirmed my voice was getting louder. It became all I could do to keep my temper locked behind my teeth. "Leaving aside the part where you named my balcony, and an unusual name it is, too, I'm more interested right now in how you found it to begin with."

Lorne's shoulders stiffened. "We're Marines, sir."

I closed my eyes and let my chin fall back on my knees. "Dismissed. Make sure someone cleans up that mess." Wasn't anything I could do about it at this point.

Lassiter snapped off a short salute, and Lorne made a sketchier one. Both retreated like they were afraid I was going to change my mind, jump off the bed and chase them down the hall.

"And I don't sulk," I muttered.