"Nepenthe's Kiss"

by Grey Lupous

Summary: Ten thousand year old dead plants, Broadway re-enactments, and odes to Risky Business are abound when McKay and Sheppard explore a new section of the city. (response to the sgafic Dead Plant Challenge)

Spoilers: Tiny ones for "Hide and Seek", "Suspicion", and maybe a few in between... but that's probably it. It's supposed to take place real early on.


Author's Notes: A long, long time ago (actually, October 9, 2004 to be exact), Anna (doxymom2001) issued a challenge on the sgafic list (click here for the link if you want the original challenge and perhaps story spoilers). Two years later I have torn out several clumps of my hair and my sanity has been compromised... but the challenge has been answered (in full!) Hah! As an additional note, I'd like to forewarn some readers there may be some... slight out-of-character representations as this fic goes on (trust me, I won't need to elaborate... you'll see for yourself).

Timeline: Takes place sometime after “Suspicion” but before “Poisoning the Well” (not “The Cure” as I originally had typed, as that’s a SG-1 episode, lol, thanks goldenstarfish for pointing that out... *facepalm*)


Thanks To: Two special ladies deserve the thanks this time around, namely Rebecca (the infamous Dr. Dredd) for putting up with my inane questions on how to perform various medical procedures, as well as my loyal beta Gayle, who without the pushing, prodding and occasional "Have you stopped pointing the gun at Carson's head yet?", this fic may have never been finished, much less seen the light of day. Words cannot express how thankful I am for her catching every error she could. I know she lurks, but may there be silent applause for her and all of her hard work.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Interesting."

"Please tell me that's an 'Oh, there's nothing down here so we can return to our normal lives' type of interesting."

"Huh?"

Major John Sheppard, patron saint of irritating scientists, heaved a deep sigh. "Definition of 'interesting', please."

"Holding the interest of or arousing interest." McKay continued to tap in commands on that Star Trek-like reader he always seemed to be carrying around, not even glancing up.

"I meant what's so interesting that has you muttering, smart ass."

"Why didn't you just say so?"

"McKay."

"Testy, testy," McKay tsked the major and returned to his readings as the device gave a soft beep. "Yeah, that's definitely something."

"I'm going to pretend that you actually acknowledge my presence just one more time. What?"

"Hmm?" The scientist actually looked up. "Did you say something?"

"Oh nothing much. Just wondering if you were going to fill me in on your little secret."

"Secret?"

"You're trying to drive me insane, aren't you?"

"Now why would I do a thing like that? Here I am, minding my own business"

"Ynn!" Sheppard waved a hand quickly to cut off the impending rant. "The readings. Explain."

"Oh nothing much. Just an energy spike as we passed that door."

"That door?" John indicated the small innocuous door to their right.

"That door."

"Well what are we waiting for?" He winced as soon as he heard the rhyme.

"Really Major, it's just an energy reading. No need for song and dance."

Sheppard resisted sending a biting comment as McKay led the way back towards the small door. He still had what looked to be at least another hour exploring this floor with the man. He settled instead for his own special version of whining. "Exactly how did I get talked into babysitting you for this again?"

"Beckett's got Ford confined to the infirmary until that rash goes away, Teyla won't be back from the mainland until tonight, and oh, yes, you had 'nothing better to do'. And for the record, I'd like to add I do not need any 'babysitting'."

"Yes, that's why you've got your own special bed set aside for you in the infirmary. For only being here three months, I'd say that's a record."

"I wouldn't talk, seeing as you have your own next to mine."

"McKay."

"What?"

"Open the door."

"Right." After placing his hand on the pad, the door swooshed open in a rather unspectacular fashion. Appropriately, just like Sheppard's afternoon had been.

The room looked more like a large storage closet than an actual room. Piles upon piles of what Sheppard could only best describe as Ancient junk littered the floor, and a long dead-looking vine wrapped around one corner of the room, looking as if it was growing out of the wall itself.

McKay swept his scanner-device-thing around the room in an arc, and John couldn't help but smirk as he remembered Spock doing almost the exact same motion countless times on Star Trek. He nearly completed a circle before he stopped and faced towards one of the less cluttered corners of the room. With a small cry of 'aha!' he deftly maneuvered his way around the discarded pieces of paneling and piles of cracked control crystals littering the floor. With a shrug Sheppard followed his path, wincing as his boot crunched down on something fragile. He looked down to see the shattered remnants of what might have been a power crystal... or an Ancient Christmas tree ornament under his raised foot.

"Whoops," he muttered softly, before tiptoeing the rest of the way to the pile of junk McKay was huddled over. Wait, he corrected himself as he peered over the scientist's shoulder, a table full of junk. "So what have we got?"

"You mean other than another one of Elizabeth's ten thousand year old plants?" McKay growled, trying to pick his way around a withered vine to yet more unclassified rubbish. He only succeeding in getting it entangled around his arm. "Damn it! You'd think that after ten-thousand years it'd lose its spines!"

"Need help?" Sheppard smirked, still perched at Rodney's shoulder.

"No," the good doctor emphasized the word and tried to knock Sheppard away with his shoulder, "and a little personal space if you wouldn't mind?"

"Fine, fine," Sheppard took a step back, hearing another sharp crack as his boot crushed another innocent power crystal.

"You mind not breaking anything before I find out if it's useful?" McKay muttered darkly, before issuing another expletive. "Stupid plant! Get off!"

"It was nothing!" John protested, and then discreetly checked under his boot to see if it in fact was. Nope, just another crystal.

"Just stand still and don't touch anything!" McKay whirled around as he played another round of tug-o-war with the stubborn plant. He completed another turn before finally flinging the trapped arm in Sheppard's direction. "A little help would be nice!"

"But that would be disobeying your orders sir," Sheppard smirked as confusion, then annoyance registered on McKay's face.

"Fine!" Giving the major another dark look, McKay grabbed a firm hold of the vine and gave it a savage tug, finally freeing his arm. He moved to fling it away but as he opened his hand, he found that it was now stuck. "Oh you have got to be kidding me!"

Raising his eyebrows innocently, Sheppard bent down to peer at the tenacious dead vine. "I think you've got a problem."

Was that a snarl he had just earned? John pressed his lips together, the complete picture of innocence. Oh, and that definitely looked like a vein starting to bulge on McKay's forehead. Score one for Sheppard. With a patient smile, Sheppard used his P-90 to pull off the vine, and tossed it harmlessly in the corner.

"Thank you." The vein started to recede as McKay turned back to the pile of junk before him.

"You're welcome!" Sheppard chimed.

McKay muttered darkly as he rummaged around the table, resuming his quest for the source of the energy spike. Frustration mounted on the scientist's face as the mysterious power source continued to evade him, and eventually he moved onto the rest of the room. To keep himself occupied, Sheppard replayed highlights of the battle of McKay versus the Dead Vine in his mind.

"There's nothing in here," McKay grumbled to himself as he stalked towards the door a good ten minutes later. "Except dead plants that refuse to die."

"What about the energy spike?" Sheppard asked as he tip-toed across the room.

"Energy spike?" McKay looked at Sheppard for a moment as if he'd sprouted another head, then shrugged. "Probably the last dying wish of those power crystals you so cruelly slaughtered."

Sheppard furrowed an eyebrow at McKay, but followed him out anyway.

*          *          *          *          *

Dr. Radek Zelenka had seen many unbelievable things in his lifetime, most of them he'd witnessed since he had moved to the Pegasus Galaxy. However the scene in McKay's lab was by far one of the strangest. He cautiously stepped into the doorway, with his laptop still opened on the strange energy readings he had started to pick up in an abandoned section of the city. Those were forgotten as he stared at the head of the science department, crooning Phil Collins softly to an experiment.

"That is song from Tarzan, no?" He asked, not surprised when McKay jumped up as if a Wraith had just walked into the room

"Um, uh," McKay glanced around the room nervously, settling down when he realized Zelenka was alone. "Zelenka... I didn't see you there."

"Obviously. Do you sing Disney always, or am I lucky man?"

"I wasn't singing Disney," Rodney said self-consciously.

 

"You were singing to experiment. This is odd, yes?"

"You know how the botanists sing to their plants?" McKay tried.

"Yes, but you are not botanist. You are crabby. Maybe I call Dr. Beckett," Radek turned to leave as if he was just going to do that.

"No! No! Can't a guy just sing a little song?"

"Yes, normal guy can. You, no."

"What did you want?" McKay finally asked, spotting the laptop that Zelenka was still carrying.

He frowned when McKay didn't correct him about not being normal, or pointing out that Radek himself wasn't "normal" either. He tried to shake the thought away and return to what he came here for.

"I was doing routine check on power levels in city, and suddenly there is large spike here," Zelenka sat the laptop down and pointed to the section he and Sheppard had been exploring earlier that day. "Very strange."

"Yes," McKay said absently. "Very strange..." And then he seemed to shake himself out of his stupor. "I'll have someone check it out. Good job, Radek."

Zelenka gave McKay a surprised look. Was that just a compliment? First singing, then compliments. And... did he just get his name right? Was this the same Rodney McKay he had come with to Atlantis? "Are you feeling all right?"

"Me? Yeah, never better." McKay cocked his head at the Czech. "Why do you ask?"

"No reason," Zelenka shrugged and picked up his laptop. "I will finish my check. It is late, no?"

"Hm? Yes, yes, very late," McKay waved him off as he glanced back at the experiment he had been monitoring.

That was a little more normal, Zelenka decided, and left the physicist. 

*          *          *          *          *

"You're certainly in a good mood this morning." Sheppard watched as McKay continued to fiddle with a very confused Teyla's hair. She had returned from the mainland the night before, and now that she found herself their resident astrophysicist's Barbie doll, she seemed to be reconsidering.

"It's just so shiny and soft!" Rodney exclaimed as Teyla discreetly scooted further away from him, glancing nervously at Sheppard. "Do you use conditioner?"

"Did Beckett slip you some Zoloft?" Sheppard furrowed an eyebrow. "Or have you and Zelenka been trying to start up your distilling experiments again?"

McKay waved a hand of general non-interest at Sheppard as he continued to girl-talk with Teyla. He huffed an annoyed sigh.

"Well, there is a particular root my people grind up into our shampoo," she admitted nervously seeing that McKay wasn't backing down.

"Don't encourage him." Sheppard rolled his eyes before looking back at McKay. "Rodney. Rodney."

The scientist continued going on about hair products.

"McKay!"

In a distinctly Exorcist moment McKay spun his head to look at Sheppard. "Yes?"

"Why don't we move onto another subject?"

"Oh yes!" McKay crowed excitedly. "What about your hair, Major? What's your secret?"

Sheppard massaged his forehead and exchanged an exasperated look with Teyla. "How about we talk about something other than hair?"

McKay wrinkled his forehead in confusion. "Oh... okay."

"Like you," he speared McKay with a look. "What's with the hair, McKay? Can't decide what style in Cosmo to choose?"

"Why?" The scientist felt the top of his head. "Is it getting a little shaggy?"

"For crying out loud! What the hell is your problem?" Sheppard exclaimed.

"Well I never," McKay sniffed disdainfully, and turned to Teyla. "I do believe Major Sheppard woke up on the wrong side of the bed."

"And since when do you talk like that?" He asked crossly.

"Like what?"

"Like Grodin, all proper and no snark. It's scary."

"Really, can't I just be in a good mood?"

"No."

"Major," Teyla tossed him an annoyed look and turned to Rodney. "Dr. McKay, your behavior is just a little unusual this morning. I believe Major Sheppard is just trying to make sure you are feeling well."

"I've never felt better!" He chimed.

"Right," Sheppard rose from the table, leaving his half-eaten tray. "I just remembered I've got something to do."

"Major!" McKay cried, as if a Wraith was sneaking up behind him.

"Yes?" He reminded himself to be patient, oh so patient.

"Are you going to eat that?" McKay indicated the tray.

"Knock yourself out," Sheppard said and retreated out of the mess hall as fast as he could. "Please."

*          *          *          *          *

"Did I give Rodney what now, Major?" Beckett had returned his attention to the specimen he was currently studying under the microscope, until Sheppard had started interrogating him about his pharmacy policies.

"Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil, you know, happy pills?"

Beckett pushed himself away from the microscope and turned to address Sheppard better, and to see if he was actually serious. He furrowed his brow slightly when he saw that he was. "Dr. Heightmeyer prescribes those kinds of medicines..."

"Yes, but the pharmacy is down here right?"

Beckett sighed, "And why do you think I gave Rodney mood elevators, pretending there's not this thing called doctor-patient privilege."

"That would be Heightmeyer, since she prescribes them," Sheppard leaned against the wall. "He was acting very... odd, this morning."

"Odd, how?"

"He was... happy."

"Happy? Now I know that Rodney is a little bit of a sour puss sometimes, Major, but it shouldn't be alarming that he's in a good mood once in a while."

"No no, real McKay happy is discovering some Ancient toaster, or getting shoved off a balcony—"

"Not a doctor recommended recreational activity might I remind you?"

"McKay doesn't get happy about," Sheppard paused, as if it physically hurt him to say it, "hair."

"Hair?" Beckett asked incredulously. "You're interrupting me because Rodney suddenly wants to exchange fashion tips?"

"It was like Queer Eye for the Geek Guy Doc, I mean really, he's not himself," Sheppard insisted.

Beckett couldn't resist a smile at that. "I'd love to help you, Major, but to my knowledge, Rodney is on no medication unless he triggers one of his allergies."

"Maybe you should take a look at him—"

"Major, John, look. I can understand if he's acting strange, but maybe sleep deprivation is just catching up with him."

"Well just make sure you're at the staff meeting today." Sheppard pushed himself away from the wall. "You'll see what I mean."

"Aye, if it'll make you happy and get you out of my hair, I'll keep an eye out for any McKay weirdness."

"Thanks, Doc," Sheppard waved casually over his shoulder as he ambled out of the med lab. "But if you don't want to be late I think you may want to pack up. Meeting is going to start in five minutes; you may want to come with me."

Beckett muttered a curse as he shut off the microscope and rushed to put away his specimen. "Coming... coming..."

*          *          *          *          *

The watery murky depths swirled in a fury like never before, black liquid sloshing against its ceramic prison in angry protest. Rodney blew out a slow breath that was to replace a heavy sigh. He had to be quiet about it though, he'd earned a nasty glare from Bates when he let out the big sigh during his boring diatribe on security details. Seriously, who cared? Giant energy sucking creatures aside, nothing had jumped out and tried to eat them yet.

"It appears that we have an adequate amount of security during normal off-hours, but I think during unexpected gate..."

Was he really still on the gateroom personnel issue? This was going to take forever. He did his best to be discreet, because it seemed every time he looked up Sheppard was staring at him. It wasn't that 'stop fidgeting and pretend to be interested' stare he was used to, no, it was a suspicious kind of stare. Not that that mattered anyway either. For a laid-back pilot, the major sure seemed to get his panties in a wad a lot.

He inched a finger to one of the several bright blue packets he had snatched from the mess before leaving breakfast. The coffee tasted like old grinds this morning, and nothing better to sweeten it up than a little bit of aspartame.

As if he were on a secret mission Rodney tore off the top of the package, watching the rest of the table to see if they noticed. They all seemed focused on Bates, even Sheppard, thank god. Mission accomplished, he poured a small amount of sweetener into the black liquid.

Curiously enough, a small wisp of white powdered smoke drifted up from the cup, hanging in the air for a moment, before it was whisked away by Atlantis's air cycling system.

Cool.

Another glance around the table ensured that no one else had seen him, and he poured the rest of the packet out in his hand. With another soft breath, he sent the tiny white particles flying everywhere. It was like a miniature snow fall to brighten up their meeting.

His eyes fell on the rest of the blue packets, and he looked at the somber faces lining the table. Carson looked as if he wanted to be elsewhere, while Teyla watched her 'arch nemesis' Bates with annoyance. Sheppard seemed to be equally as bored with Bates' ideas to improve on response times to gate alerts. Elizabeth, for all her patience and compassion, was practically falling asleep.

They needed more snow.

Not bothering to be discreet this time he ripped off the top of five packages at once, feeling a thrill run through him. As he poured the contents all of packages into his hand he saw both Bates and Sheppard glance at him. Bates seemed to dismiss it as McKay's usual meeting behavior, while Sheppard looked at him like he had just cut off his own ear.

Yes, the Major definitely needed some snow.

Heaving a deep breath he blew with all his might, sending the tiny sugar particles flying all over Sheppard.

"McKay!" He jumped up, roughly scrubbing at his hair to dislodge the sugar that had landed there. "What the hell is your problem?"

Rodney glanced around the rest of the table to see them looking at him incredulously. "What?"

They all blinked.

"He's been crabby all morning. A little sweetness wouldn't hurt him!"

Sheppard continued his cleansing efforts as he brushed off his shoulders. "What's wrong with you? First it's the hair, and now this!"

McKay had the grace to look genuinely hurt by the comment. "Now Major, I was just trying to be friendly. You know, camaraderie and all that?"

"So you throw sweetener at me?"

"Gentlemen," Elizabeth cleared her throat from the other end of the table, and she clearly was puzzled by the sugar incident, but seemed to dismiss it as another Sheppard-McKay antic. "Can we please get back to the meeting?"

Sheppard glared at McKay as he sat down, brushing at a sleeve.

"And Rodney, please try to refrain from picking on Major Sheppard for the rest of the meeting," she added.

"Picking?" Sheppard grit his teeth. "Picking?"

"I'm sorry Elizabeth," McKay said in the most sugar-sweet voice possible, "I promise I'll stop."

As Sheppard scrubbed a hand across his face to wipe off some of the gunk there, he looked over at Beckett, as if to say 'See what I mean?'. Beckett shook his head at Sheppard and turned his attention back to the meeting. Suppressing a groan, he resigned himself to the rest of the meeting, with only being able to glare at McKay.

*          *          *          *          *

Sheppard's plan to throttle McKay was foiled by Grodin dragging him off to look over some malfunction in the control room. So he settled for ambling up to Beckett, who was currently engrossed in a conversation with Elizabeth. As he stepped up, the conversation hushed, making him suspicious for a second that they were talking about him. Their amused grins did nothing to dissuade him from that theory.

"What?" He asked defensively.

"Uh, you have a little something," Weir mimed rubbing her nose.

Sheppard took a quick swipe, his hand coming away with more bits of sugar. With a growl he clenched a fist and turned to glare at McKay, still cheerfully helping Grodin diagnose his problem.

"Now, now Major, temper temper," Beckett chuckled.

He turned back to the doctor, annoyance still simmering under the surface. "Now do you see what I mean?"

"Mean what?" Elizabeth asked curiously, noting Sheppard's twitching brow.

"Major Sheppard seems to think there's something wrong with Rodney," Carson explained oh so helpfully.

"It was just a little sugar," Elizabeth defended, but her eyes were still sparkling with amusement.

"He touched Teyla's hair this morning too!"

"Well that is serious," she smirked and crossed her arms. "Are you sure you're feeling well John?"

"I'm fine!" He snapped, a little too loud. He rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. "I mean it's just not normal. The McKay I know is grouchy, surly, whiny, can't shut up for the life of him—"

"We get the picture," Elizabeth cut him off quickly. "People can change though. Maybe Atlantis has been a good influence on him."

He snorted. "Please."

Elizabeth raised an eyebrow, as if challenging him to do it again.

Sheppard gulped nervously. "I mean yeah, why not?"

"That's the spirit," she smiled and turned to Carson, who had been watching the exchange with amusement. "Carson, I look forward to that report. Sounds fascinating."

"Thank you Elizabeth," he smarmed right back.

Sheppard resisted gagging. God, could they get any more pleasant? He waited until Beckett finished up the chitchat and started back towards the med lab. He kept in even stride next to the doctor, waiting for an opportune moment to speak.

"Major," Carson acknowledged finally, "is there any particular reason we're walking together, or do you just enjoy my company that much?"

"You really don't see anything wrong?"

Beckett heaved a sigh. "Yes, he's acting a wee bit out of character, but there could be a number of reasons, including, once again sleep deprivation. Which if you remember correctly seems to be something else Rodney excels at."

"He's acting like he's on crack and you think he's just not sleeping well?"

"Major, personally I don't see anything to get worked up about just yet. It looks like Rodney's just found a new way to irritate you. You have to admit, you two are worse than a couple of four year olds at times."

"Hey!"

"Tell you what, if it gets worse then we'll do something about it."

"But—"

"If he's just simply in a good mood, why spoil it? Think of it as a blessing."

"Sure," he said, letting Beckett go on his way. He spied another white particle on his uniform and savagely brushed it away. A blessing... right.

*          *          *          *          *

"What did you do this time?"

"Excuse me?" The tone was pleasant, but the beginnings of the trademark McKay scowl were present.

"This device's readings are all over the place. Tell me you did not initialize it." Zelenka stared hard at the unusually pleasant astrophysicist behind his glasses.

"Now why would I do that? We're not done translating the text that came with it. That would just be careless." McKay returned Zelenka's hard stare with his own unblinking version.

"I do not know. It would be rather stupid."

"Then why ask?"

"Because power levels should be minimal, not spiking all over map!"

"And you just assume that I have something to do with it?"

"Miko is only other person in this lab today, and it did not do this earlier. I cannot have started it without gene inoculation."

"You should really look into getting that done."

"Yes well, if I only had the time and—" he slipped off into his own native language, cursing the device and presumably McKay as well as his laptop beeped in defiance.

"Look, just run a diagnostic on all the equipment here and see what's wrong." McKay shrugged and turned back to his computer, humming softly to himself.

"Run a diagnostic? On everything? That will take all day!"

"Better hop to it then."

"No!"

McKay furrowed an eyebrow and turned back to the Czech. "No?"

"No, you have been acting strange all day, humming to yourself, ignoring experiments and—" He spun McKay's laptop around, letting out a triumphant shout, "—and playing Tetris while I do all the work!"

"Hey!" Rodney protested, taking his computer back. "I'm on a break."

"You don't take breaks!" Zelenka pointed out savagely. "I will not run diagnostic when you can't be bothered to send someone to check area on anomalies I pointed out yesterday."

"Well maybe I can't be bothered," Rodney sighed dramatically mid-sentence, "because I can't get any satisfaction from my work."

"What?" Radek asked flatly, not believing his ears.

McKay tapped a few keys and an electric guitar started blasting from the tiny laptop. Rodney grabbed the device from Zelenka and rose from his seat, staring off at the ceiling determinedly. "I can't get no—"

"What are you doing?" Zelenka eyed him warily.

"Satisfaction..." McKay took up vocals with the Rolling Stones.

"This has nothing to do with what we were discussing."

"I can't get no... satisfaction," Rodney took slow steps away from both of them in time to the beat, hands splaying out in what Zelenka knew to be termed "spirit fingers" from American cheerleader movies. "I can't get no satisfaction..."

"You are starting to frighten me."

"Cause I try—" He dramatically fell into one of the tables full of spare control crystals, "and I try" and flittered over to a column, grasping it desperately "and I try" and managed to perform a move from his non-existent days as a female stripper "and I tryyy!"

"Okay, stop now."

"I can't get no!" The astrophysicist started bobbing his head back and forth; presumably to follow in Mick Jagger's footsteps, but more resembled a drunken wedding guest doing the funky chicken. "I can't get no!"

"You make your point," Radek protested louder, but McKay was in the full throes of his Broadway re-enactment of the Rolling Stones at their highest, despite being completely tone deaf and having the dancing abilities of a dying fish.

"'Cause you see I'm on a losing streak, I can't get no! No no no—"

And on it went. Sheppard chose the opportune moment to walk in as Rodney hit the high note almost perfectly, doing a shimmy, and finished with a spin, holding the device out to Zelenka. Rodney's captive audience sat there slack-jawed, and silently took the proffered experiment.

"I will start work right away."

"Thank you." McKay straightened his shirt and ran a hand through his hair.

"Interesting managerial skills McKay," Sheppard drawled from the doorway. Both scientists whipped their heads to stare at him.

McKay, although still winded from his big show stopping number recovered first. "Thank you, Major."

"You're welcome."

"However we don't have anything for your super gene to activate tonight." McKay moved back towards his laptop where he'd been stationed before his Broadway performance. "So you can just keep going on by."

"Nope, this time I'm here for you." Sheppard still didn't move from his perch from the door.

"What for?"

"Beckett's been paging you for over five minutes on the radio."

"What? No, he hasn't!" McKay dismissed Sheppard with a wave of his hand and began absently typing on his laptop.

"Well, maybe you didn't hear him over your rousing rendition of 'Satisfaction'?"

McKay reluctantly spared the Major a glance. "I would have heard if he were calling."

"Actually," Zelenka cleared his throat and tapped his earpiece, "he has."

McKay wrinkled his brow. "Really?"

"You were too busy trying to convince me of your point with Rolling Stones and funky chicken to notice."

"I'm sure I would've heard—"

"You did not!" Zelenka insisted quickly.

"C'mon McKay," Sheppard finally strode forward and grabbed the scientist's arm, starting to drag him out of the lab. "Best not keep the doctor waiting."

"I've got a lot of work, I'm sure it can wait, especially—"

Sheppard shared a quick glance with Zelenka, who was struck somewhere between concern, fear, and horror at the degradation of a rock and roll classic. Or maybe that was just Sheppard. Zelenka probably was just going to give up the ghost and schedule an appointment with Heightmeyer.

"Let Zelenka handle it." Sheppard patted McKay on the shoulder.

"But Johnny Cash was next on my playlist!"

Dear God, can we get there before McKay ruins all of classic rock? Sheppard thought to himself, and had to dig in his heels and tighten his grip as McKay started to tug back towards his laptop-turned-karaoke-machine.

"Just something for the road!" Rodney's hands latched onto the doorframe, forcing John to grasp the scientist around the chest to pry him off.

I better get hazard pay for this! He thought sourly as McKay lost his grip and they both flew into the wall. If they didn't get to the infirmary soon Beckett wasn't going to need to examine Rodney, because John was going to kill him.

*          *          *          *          *

Sheppard cringed as McKay merrily hummed the Rolling Stones, absent-mindedly swinging his feet from his perch at the edge of the examination table.

"What's wrong, Sir?"

Ford's voice gave him a slight start, but he tried not to show it, clearing his throat abruptly. "McKay's acting strange."

"Isn't that normal though?" The young lieutenant shifted on his cot, trying to scratch through the bandages on his arms.

"No, this is McKay weird, meaning it's far from normal."

"Uh, right," Ford sighed as he finally conquered the bandage problem and soothed the itch that had been plaguing him for the past five minutes. At his CO's raised eyebrow he tried to appear less concerned with his own personal comfort and more into his teammate's mental health. "I mean, what happened?"

"I caught him trying to explain wormhole physics to Zelenka with song and dance." Well, Sheppard wasn't exactly sure what that entire display had meant to prove, other than Atlantis' chief scientist had gone out of his mind.

Ford chuckled. "I would have liked to see that."

"No Lieutenant," Sheppard shook his head emphatically, trying to contain the shudder of revulsion, "trust me, you wouldn't."

"I'm sure he's got a lovely singing voice, Major."

Sheppard jumped again. "For crying out loud—will you people knock it off?"

Beckett raised his eyebrows. "And you're sure you're feeling fine Major?"

"It's not me who's acting crazy," John lowered his voice so that McKay wouldn't hear. "Now what have you got?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing?" Sheppard looked back over at McKay, who was now dancing with his fingers as he hummed a little diddy that sounded suspiciously like Queen.

"Other than slightly raised levels of endorphins? Nothing." Carson pinned him with a look. "You're going to need to let this go. There's nothing medically wrong with him."

Sheppard pursed his lips. "So what you're saying is...?"

"If there's anything wrong with him, it's more up Dr. Heightmeyer's alley than mine."

John let out a ragged sigh. "All right, all right... you sure there's nothing? Not even a tiny blip somewhere that would turn on the desire to suddenly break out tap dancing in the middle of the Gateroom?"

Beckett just stared at him.

"Okay! I give up!" Sheppard crossed his arms, almost petulantly. "There's nothing medically wrong with him."

Beckett rolled his eyes, thankful he had finally driven the point home. "Don't feel bad, Major. He's probably just yanking your chain, again."

"I wasn't what prompted the assassination of a classic. That was all Zelenka."

Beckett tapped his chin. "Curious—"

"Carsonnn," McKay sang, "are we done yeeeet?"

Carson heaved in a deep breath, letting it out slowly, before plastering on the biggest smile he could muster. He walked over to Rodney, noting that Sheppard trailed behind almost absently.

"Yes Rodney, all done. I do thank you for your patience, as unexpected as it was."

"Yes well, wouldn't want me running around with a deadly contagion that could spread to the rest of the population, can we?"

Normally, that statement would have been pure Rodney McKay, had it been spoken sarcastically. However it seemed that he had meant every word he said. He hopped down from the table and clapped Beckett on the shoulder. "Keep up the good work, Carson."

Beckett watched with wide eyes as McKay turned and left the infirmary. As soon as the scientist had disappeared through the doors the Scot turned to Sheppard. "You better schedule an appointment with Dr. Heightmeyer. He's definitely not himself."

"You think he's fine when he starts karaokeing to other scientists, but the moment he doesn't insult your medical degree you get concerned?" Sheppard asked plaintively.

"He's not Rodney if he isn't," Beckett shrugged.

"He's not Rodney if he's... never mind!" John threw his hands up in the air. "I'll go talk to Heightmeyer as soon as I'm sure he's not going to start torturing Zelenka again."

"Aye, you do that."

*          *          *          *          *

The next morning found Atlantis's chief scientist nursing an abnormally large cup of coffee as he glared daggers at the read-outs he was getting from his laptop. His eyes drifted from the laptop to the hallway as someone tried to dart by.

"Zaluski!"

Radek halted mid-step, turning to face McKay with trepidation. He had tried to breeze by the physicist's lab on his way to the mess, but apparently he hadn't been fast enough. Nervously he pushed up his glasses. "It's Zelenka."

"Zimbabwe?"
 

"Zel-EEN-KAH."

"I don't care." Rodney massaged his forehead as he spun the read-out on his laptop to face the man in the hall. Unfortunately Radek had not mastered the power of super-sight, so he had to venture into the Den of Insanity to see the text.

"Very nice."

"Why thank you, I spent all night typing it up," McKay ground out, voice dripping with sarcasm. "Did you run the diagnostic like I asked you to?"

"Diagnostic?"

"Is there an echo in here, or is it just the merciless pounding in my head? YES, diagnostic. Don't you remember me asking you to run a full diagnostic on the equipment in here?"

"How could I forget," Radek muttered, trying to banish the image of McKay sliding up and down the column on the far side of his lab.

"What was that?" Rodney growled.

"I mean no, I did not."

"And why not?"


Well, there had been the whole shell shocked thing that Zelenka had been feeling as Sheppard had forcibly dragged the yodeling McKay out of the lab. Or the very intense urge to shower after witnessing what had to be one of the most grotesque displays in human history. Somehow, he didn't think that Rodney would go for either of those, so he went with the easier explanation.

"Dr. Grodin asked me to help him with a problem they were experiencing with consoles in the Gateroom. It took most of the night."

"I thought I fixed that," McKay muttered darkly. "All right, fine. Obviously if anything's going to be done right here I'll have to do it myself."

Zelenka blinked. "You must be feeling better."

"I've never felt worse, except maybe when I took a Wraith stunner to the face. Now why don't you just scurry along and leave me to my misery?"

"Skutečný podivný muž," Radek said to himself as he slinked out of the scientist's lab. It seemed that whatever ailment that had caused him to act like a loon had been exorcised out of his system.

As much as he tried to push the events of the night before out of his mind, he couldn't. Nor could he banish thoughts of Rodney McKay's current mental health. That might have been because not thirty seconds later he quite literally ran into Major Sheppard.

"Whoa, Doc!" Sheppard grabbed a hold of Zelenka before he crashed to the ground. "What's the hurry?"

"They are serving kolaches today. I want to get there before they run out and resort to MREs again."

"Really?"

"Yes," Radek fixed his glasses. "Really."

"Oh, cool," Sheppard rocked back on his heels. After an awkward moment, he went forward. "Hey, how you holding up?"

"I am fine. Just hungry."

"Oh right," John grinned sheepishly. "Listen, you haven't happened to see McKay today, have you?"

"In his lab."

"I should've guessed that. How's he doing?"

"Fine."

"Fine? No, uh," Sheppard mimed one of McKay's dance moves with his hips.

"Never do that again," Zelenka's voice dropped to a dangerous mutter.

"Um, sorry," Sheppard immediately stopped. "Guess once was enough, huh?"

"Once was one time too many." Radek glanced back at Rodney's lab. 

"Lab?" Sheppard confirmed.

"Lab."

"Great... good luck on those kolaches."

"One can only hope."

"Yeah..." John chose that strategic moment to retreat to McKay's lab and check up on his resident geek while Zelenka continued on his way. As he got closer to the lab he tried to stretch his hearing, just in case Rodney decided he needed to start up his own version of Aretha Franklin. However all he heard was the soft hum and whisper of Ancient equipment and Earth-based laptops.

Cautiously Sheppard poked his head around the corner. "Hey..."

McKay's eyes focused from the computer screen to him, and John had to resist taking a step back from the pure annoyance reflected in them.

"What could you possibly want at this hour?"

"Just checking up on you."

"Checking up on me?" McKay echoed peevishly. "Why on Earth, or in this case Atlantis, would you want to do that?"

"Well you know that you haven't been exactly acting like yourself lately."

"Please, Major. I've been fine."

"Um, you don't remember...?"

"Remember what?" He resisted snapping the lid to his laptop closed, and instead focused his glare on Sheppard.

"Yesterday? Anything from yesterday?"

"Let's see, breakfast, impossibly long and boring staff meeting, working in the lab, you dragging me off to the infirmary. Did I miss anything?"

Sheppard blinked. "Nothing really. But uh, don't you remember anything odd from yesterday?"

"Other than you hovering incessantly? No."

"Nothing?"

"NOTHING!" McKay roared, nostrils flaring.

Involuntarily Sheppard found himself taking a step back. "O-kay. Everything is fine here then..."

"Yes! Yes! Everything is sunshine and flowers here! Now will you please leave so I can get some actual work done here?"

"Yeah, sure," Sheppard muttered as he beat a hasty retreat from the lab. As soon as he was in the hallway he tapped his radio. "Beckett?"

"Yes, Major?"

"Just to check, some very strange things happened yesterday, right?"

There was a long pregnant moment of silent. "Yes, there was. Haven't you talked to Dr. Heightmeyer?"

"Not yet, was just checking."

"Well I didn't think you needed to check!"

"Neither did I." Sheppard glanced back at the lab, very confused by the abrupt return to normalcy. "I'm going to talk to her now."

"And Elizabeth?"

"...right. I'll talk to her too."

A long-suffering sigh sounded over the airwaves. "Yes, I think that would be wise."

"Sheppard out."

*          *          *          *          *

"You want to what?"

"Schedule a meeting for Rodney with Dr. Heightmeyer." Sheppard nodded succinctly.

"Yes, I heard," Elizabeth studied, "but... why?"

"There's something... not right with him."

"Because he dumped Sweet N' Low on you during yesterday's meeting?"

"It's more than that!"

"Touching Teyla's hair?" Elizabeth raised an eyebrow.

"That," Sheppard crossed his arms, "and there was the incident in his lab last night."

"What incident?" She wrinkled her brow, wondering why she was hearing about this just now.

"He was," John's face screwed up into a pained expression, "pole dancing."

Elizabeth blinked, that was all she could do. The mental picture that drew up wouldn't allow her to do anything else.

"He and Dr. Z were arguing last night, and apparently McKay broke out into song and dance like he was part of some Broadway show."

She shook her head. "That can't be right."

"I saw it. Zelenka saw it."

"And then?"

"And then he wanted to sing Johnny Cash."

Weir pinned him with a look.

"I took him to see Beckett," John sighed. "And as far as the doc can tell, there's nothing 'medically' wrong with Rodney."

 "Well I can't exactly think of any medical condition that would make him burst out into a Broadway number."

"It was actually Rolling Stones."

"Focus, John."

"Sorry. But you know the really crazy thing?"

"I'm afraid to ask."

"He was completely normal Dr. Crankypants this morning."

Elizabeth frowned. "What?"

 

"Yeah, yelling, glaring, the whole sour-puss nine yards."

"Then he's not acting strange?"

"Nope. Doesn't even remember doing any of that."

Elizabeth pursed her lips. It could be that Rodney had finally cracked under the all the pressures of Atlantis, even as unlikely as that seemed to her. If what Sheppard was saying was true then it sounded like something definitely up Dr. Heightmeyer's alley.

"All right," she said finally, looking up at Sheppard again. "I'll make the appointment for tomorrow morning. Just keep an eye on him today to see if any of the strange behaviors manifest themselves."

"You got it."

After Sheppard left she allowed herself a moment to rest her head in her hands. She really hoped that Rodney was going to be okay. She wasn't sure Atlantis could afford to lose its brightest mind.

*          *          *          *          *

McKay's eye twitched as once again Sheppard's laptop trilled happily, announcing that the Major had managed to catch his latest suspect. With his coffee mug dangerously low, frustrations exceedingly high, John Sheppard probably didn't realize exactly how close he was to dying at that moment.

"And Ace Time Detective Thumper does it again!" Sheppard whooped and spun around on the stool he'd confiscated to gloat his time sleuthing conquests to McKay. "What do you say McKay? Should Thumper be allowed a coffee break? Will the cup land upright, or will he be denied?"

Rodney's teeth ground together. Coffee was not the thing to mention right now. It was nearing midnight Atlantis time, and the pot in McKay's lab had long run dry, partly due to Sheppard's insistence that he should "drink when 'Thumper' drinks".

McKay was going to murder the person responsible for giving the Major a copy of Where in Time is Carmen SanDiego?. Maybe right now... that was, after he buried Sheppard's body.

"Now c'mon, why aren't you as happy as me? I just got a promotion!"

Rodney closed his eyes, taking several deep breaths. He would not kill John Sheppard. He would not kill John Sheppard. He would not—oh who was he kidding?

"That's it!" Rodney launched himself out of the stool and grabbed the officer by the arm, trying to drag him out. "Out! Out! Out!"

"But I still haven't avenged Inspector Gadget's untimely death at the hands of Gene Yuss, evil dehydrated water salesman."

"You can't die in Carmen SanDiego!" The vein bulged again.

"Yet somehow, I did. It was a sad day for all. Thankfully Gadget's loyal sidekick Thumper—"

"Why won't you leave me alone?" Rodney wailed. "I just want to work in peace. Just five minutes without announcements about evil coffee machines, exploding beakers, or one more 'interesting' fact about Peru's past! Is that too much to ask for?"

John tapped his chin. "I guess not. Although I've learned a fair bit about Japan today."

"If you don't vacate my lab in the next five seconds, I'm going to strangle you."

"You're just mad because we ran out of coffee two hours ago."

"Five. Four! THREE!"

"Y'know, McKay, I think all you need is a little sleep."

"All I need is for you to leave!" Rodney took a menacing step towards Sheppard, looking as if he should be foaming at the mouth.

"Nah, you need sleep. You've got an early day tomorrow." Now that he'd finally lured McKay away from work, he could end the Weir-induced babysitting. If he had to chase Miss SanDiego around time and space much longer...

"What the—? I do not!"

"Sure you do," Sheppard made a move to grab for McKay, but missed as the scientist headed back to his laptop.

"No. I don't." Rodney grabbed the laptop, shutting it with a little more force than necessary, and promptly striding out of the lab. It took John a moment before he grabbed his – just in case McKay was going to try and wait him out in another lab – and joined in the chase.

"So, where are we going?" He asked as he jogged up next to the scientist.

"I don't care where you're headed. I'm going to my room, since it's the only place I can get privacy from you and Ace Time Detective Bambi!"

"Thumper."

"I. Don't. Care!"

"Well just remember that meeting you've got in the morning."

As they reached the door to McKay's quarters the scientist stopped and stared suspiciously at Sheppard. "What meeting?"

"Y'know, the meeting. I'm sure you got a memo about it."

"No. I didn't." What little patience McKay possessed had been used up by the Major's incessant hovering and adventures in bad DOS gaming. "What the hell is wrong with you today?"

"Me? Nothing's wrong with me." Sheppard found the ceiling in front of McKay's room very interesting.

"What the hell are you prattling on about then?"

"Well, just you see, there might be this little meeting you have in the morning... with Dr. Heightmeyer."

"What?"

"Just a tiny one."

"Why do I have a meeting with the resident shrink? And why are you telling me this as you're walking me to my quarters?" McKay's volume rose with each question

"Now, Rodney..."

"You know what?" McKay's eyes narrowed. "I don't even want to know."

"McKay—"

Without a word the scientist savagely palmed the sensor to his door and stormed inside. A few steps in he stopped and swiveled around. "You know, Major, my admittedly limited experience in the matter has taught me that friends don't turn each other in to the resident shrink! They, I don't know, TALK to them!"

Sheppard visibly winced as the door slid shut in front of his face. He probably deserved that. He sighed and scrubbed his free hand across his face. Elizabeth had asked him to stay with McKay, and he wasn't about to assign a guard to his friend. That would've been insult on top of injury. It was bad enough he'd had to ask Weir to send Rodney to the shrink, but the craziness of the day before hadn't exactly left him with much choice. He needed to make sure McKay wasn't going to flip out on their next mission.

It was late though. If he headed off to bed now he could still get a few hours in before he made sure Rodney kept his appointment in the morning. As he trudged down the hallway, he was at least grateful that McKay was somewhat back to normal. He wasn't sure he could handle another song and dance.

*          *          *          *          *

Rodney did his utmost not to chunk the laptop on the bed as he thought the door to slam shut on the Major. To his disappointment it swished shut at the normal speed. God damn automatic door. Lack of a slam only fueled his rage further. A rage that was rather inexplicable when he thought about it. He had woken up this morning with a headache to put all headaches to shame, as if he had been sampling Zelenka's still all night.

With no doors to take his anger out on he gave out a cry of frustration, punching the air. His head still pounded mercilessly, and it didn't matter how much coffee he guzzled or how many Advil he popped, it wouldn't go away. Sheppard hadn't exactly helped by being underfoot all day.

 Never in his life had he wanted so much to put his fist through something. Taking several deep breaths, he tried to tell himself to calm down. There was no logical reason for him to be so damned pissed off at everything.


Other than being forced to go to a psychiatric session for no apparent reason.

No, no, McKay told himself as he sat down on the bed, he couldn't think like that. That would only lead to a rampage across the base, which wouldn't do much for his psych evaluation. Taking another deep, cleansing breath he sat down on the bed, trying to think of something to occupy his mind. Unfortunately he had too much to do. He needed to finish running over the diagnostics that Zelenka had neglected to do the other day, look into the report on the glitches in the control room, in addition to the strange power surges he had detected all day.

He let the laptop boot up, already running through various scenarios in his mind for each situation. It was so much easier now without hearing that stupid VILE henchmen music every fifteen seconds. He'd track down the power surge first and assign a team to that, then move on to the Gateroom, and finally the diagnostic.

Satisfied, he turned his attention back to the computer, which had finally caught up with him. He launched a program that brought up the current power display on Atlantis. Everything seemed normal enough... but Zelenka had complained more than once about that damned power surge... he vaguely recalled him saying something about it the day before, but the memory was a little fuzzy.

That was a little disturbing, but he decided not to pay it any mind. The less ammo for Heightmeyer, the better.

The Czech must've been imagining things. According to the logs, nothing unusual had happened in the last twenty-four hours. Rodney rolled his eyes. "Drama queen."

Right as he started to call up the diagnostics on the control room the laptop beeped softly. Rodney narrowed his eyes as he brought up a visual representation of the power levels on Atlantis. "What the hell?"

To his surprise, there had been a large spike in roughly the same area that he and Major Sheppard had explored two days ago. Chewing his lip he called up the logs again, deciding to take a closer look at them.

It didn't take him long to find a discrepancy in the logs, and the reason why made him feel more than just a little sick in his stomach. Someone had tampered with them to try and erase the evidence of the power spikes, but more disturbing than that was the culprit...

He apparently had been the one who had tampered with the logs.

It didn't make any sense. He had no reason to tamper with the logs, much less the fact that he had absolutely no memory whatsoever of doing so. Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea for him to see Kate in the morning.

"No!" He pushed himself up, licking at his dry lips. He couldn't just give up that easy, there had to be a reasonable explanation for all of this.

He almost reached for his radio, but stopped himself. Major Sheppard hadn't trusted him enough to even voice his concerns over Rodney's sanity, so why the hell did he have to bring the pilot along on his little jaunt into the Atlantian "wilderness"? The area had already been proven safe.

He grabbed his laptop before he could change his mind, and quickly stepped out in the hall. A cursory glance told him the coast was clear, before he was off again.

*          *          *          *          *

During the trip from his room to the part of Atlantis where the power spikes were occurring, Rodney came up with and discarded several theories on the power spikes, as well as his bout of amnesia. Nothing made sense, for either situation. There was nothing out in this section that would account for the spikes he was seeing

Rodney reached the door to the junk room, wishing that he had remembered to pack a water bottle or something. He had cotton-mouth like nobody's business, and his heart was pounding wildly in his chest.

Why had he come here again?

Oh yeah, he was going insane apparently. And everyone knew it but him. He shut his eyes as he muttered something that almost resembled a prayer and quickly pressed the panel on the door. It swooshed open softly, and Rodney waited for the monster-of-the-week to leap out and attack him.

It didn't.

He cracked open an eye to see the same junk-filled room he had visited not two days before. Cautiously he edged in, holding his laptop up as if it were a weapon. So far, so good. Nothing had tried to eat him without his military escort. Maybe he was overreacting just a little.

When he was sure he wasn't going to become the victim of a cheap slasher film, he opened up his laptop to the display of the city's power usage again. The spike had definitely occurred in this room. Unfortunately there was no zoom option, so he was going to have to search the room again for some sort of device that could suck up the amount of energy that would register on Atlantis's sensors.

He slowly began to pick his way through the room. The piles of junk on the floor didn't seem a likely place for anything that would use so much power. Most of the trinkets seemed to be leftover parts and pieces for a variety of the systems in the city.

Once again he found his attention being drawn to the table of junk in the corner. He circled around it, this time being careful of the withered vine wrapping around all the objects that littered the table.

He frowned. Something was odd, out of place... he couldn't exactly pinpoint it, and started to regret not bringing Sheppard. Two heads might have been better than one at this point, especially if his memory had been compromised.

Something slivered across his foot and he had to have wakened half of Atlantis with the shriek that left his throat. He shone his flashlight around his feet, but didn't see anything other than that damnable vine again. It was everywhere. He gave it a savage kick, before turning his attention back to his search for the mystery power sucking device.

He set the laptop down on the only clear spot on the table, focusing his attention to this area of Atlantis. Just looking for the thing didn't seem to be working. It was probably something within the walls of this room itself, although that didn't make much sense to Rodney. The Ancients weren't exactly ones to hide their toys in the walls, instead they just sort of left them scattered about like toddlers.

The dim lights flickered overhead and the laptop registered another power spike. Rodney focused his attention on the display, trying to pinpoint the exact location of the spike.

The lights flickered back on, and as they did a spindly shadow rose from behind him. Swallowing the lump in his throat, he slowly turned around. "Oh hell."

*          *          *          *          *

John raised his hand to buzz the comm on McKay's door, but before he could, it swooshed open, revealing a smiling astrophysicist fussing with what looked like a small potted cactusy-vine. He hummed something suspiciously perky as he eyed the cactus critically. Apparently satisfied, he set it onto a table and turned to address Sheppard.

"Morning, Major!"

John frowned. "McKay?"

"That's my name! Don't wear it out!" Rodney was, dear god, all grins and giggles. "Oh dear, it looks like I've slept in late."

"Rodney..." John tried to form more words than just his friend's name. "Um... you seem to be in a good mood."

"Hakuna Matata I say."

Sheppard blinked. "Come again?"

"It means no worries you know."

"I had an idea..."

"For the rest of your days."

"Um, yeah..."

Without warning, McKay seized Sheppard's hands and started jigging. "It's our problem free—"

"What the hell are you doing?!" John tried to break free, but for a wimpy scientist, Rodney had a surprisingly strong grip.

"Philosophyyyyyyy—"

"Let. GO!" Sheppard finally managed to pry himself loose. "What's the matter with you?!"

Still grinning, McKay started moonwalking away from Sheppard, waving cheerily. "Hakun... mata... hakun... mata..."

"What, what—?"

"Nice talking to you, but I believe I have an appointment with the lovely Dr. Heightmeyer. It's rather rude to keep a lady waiting. Besides, you suck as a dancing partner."

"I suck as a—you're flipping insane!"

"Must go, Major, late late late!" If Rodney had clicked his heels together, John probably wouldn't have been surprised. As it was, he finished his moonwalk with a spin and ambled down the hall, still singing softly to himself.

Sheppard just stared at the retreating form, flabbergasted. What the hell had happened between dropping McKay off and picking him up?

He couldn't explain why, but for the exact same reasons he knew that something had been wrong with his friend the other day, he had the strongest feeling that this wasn't something Heightmeyer could fix.

*          *          *          *          *

"Rodney," Kate greeted her patient as he took a seat across from her, "how are you doing today?"

"Kate, do you mind if I call you Kate?"

"Whatever makes you feel comfortable," she smiled, hoping to put him at ease. The few times she had talked with Dr. McKay he had seemed distant, prickly, and a very private person.

"Well, Kate, I have something I need to get off my chest."

That was... surprising. "All right, Rodney... is it okay if I call you by your first name?"

"Sure! We're friends!"

She jotted down a note, schooling her expression. She had not expected McKay to be so forthcoming... or happy. "Yes, yes we are. What was it you wanted to say?"

"I'm sorry."

"You're sorry?" Heightmeyer frowned. "For what?"

"I was late this morning, and that's unforgivable."

Kate resisted chewing on her lip and instead glanced at the request Dr. Weir had sent her regarding Dr. McKay. Her mind refreshed on what she was trying to do, she answered him. "It's quite all right Doctor—Rodney. You have a lot of responsibilities here. I can understand you getting sidetracked."

"But it caused inconvenience to you—"

This could not be the same Rodney McKay she'd been hearing other expedition members, inside of sessions and out, complaining about. To hear Kavanagh speak, he would be the devil himself, but Kate really didn't put that much stock into Kavanagh's opinion anyway.

"Rodney, would you feel better if I forgave you?" She interrupted, wanting to address the real problem here.

"Yes."

"I forgive your tardiness."

"You are an angel."

"I think we're getting sidetracked from the real reason you're here. Do you know what that is?"

Rodney flashed her with a brilliant smile that could have blinded the visually impaired. "My coworkers think I'm insane."

"That's, uh, putting it very bluntly," Kate admitted. "I don't think that's entirely true though. They are very concerned for your welfare though. They think the stress of being department head on top of all the missions you go on might be taking a severe toll."

"Oh, how sweet!"

She smiled past her annoyance. "We are very much a community here, and whatever affects one of us affects all of us."

"Oh I agree," Rodney crossed his legs, uncrossed them, and then leaned forward. "And let me tell you, I'm ready to do whatever necessary to make sure my effect is only positive."

"That's very good Rodney. I think it's best if we talk through some of the events that might have made your coworkers uncomfortable."

"Sure!"

"Right," she muttered to herself, as she turned to a fresh page in her notebook before facing the smiling at the scientist again. "Would you mind discussing what happened in your lab the other night?"

"There's a lot that happens there, Kate. Is there anything I did that might've made someone uncomfortable?"

"There was... an incident concerning," she glanced back down at her notes, "a disagreement between you and Dr. Zelenka regarding how to go about a diagnostic."

"Oh yes," McKay smiled. "Poor Radek was having trouble with these energy signals."

"He said that you began singing—"

"Oh yeahhh," a grin spread across McKay's face, "we sang our troubles away!"

"According to what I've been told, you were the only one singing."

"Minor details. I'd like to think that all of Atlantis was singing with me in spirit."

"He also described some rather troubling dance moves."

"You want to see?" McKay jumped up.

"Perhaps later," Kate insisted quickly, and couldn't keep herself from checking her watch.

"Kate," Rodney interrupted her thought processes, and when she looked up he was staring her deeply in the eyes. "Has anyone ever told you have the most amazing eyes?" 

She sucked in a quick breath. This was going to take a while.

*          *          *          *          *

John found himself half-pacing in Weir's office as he waited on word from Dr. Heightmeyer that the session had finished. He was able to lean against one corner for a few minutes, before it suddenly became too crowding and he had to wedge himself against another wall. This continued on until Elizabeth pinned him with a stern look.

"Major, please. These floors have lasted ten thousand years, but let's not try to wear a trench into them."

Her voice broke him from his circling thoughts. "Huh?"

"You can't stay still for more than a minute."

"Sorry."

"I'm sure that whatever the news is, we'll be able to handle it."

"He tried to do the jitter bug with me!"

"The jitter bug?"

"And he sang Lion King!"

"What?" Elizabeth's brow furrowed.

"Disney Elizabeth, he's singing Disney! That's not Rodney McKay down there! It's some weird kiddy show-tune singing clone or imposter, or some kind of hologram or—"

A knock at the door interrupted his rant, and both occupants of the room looked up to see a hesitant Zelenka, laptop in hand, hanging right outside the door. "Dr. Weir, I hope I am not interrupting."

"Not all Radek, please come in," Elizabeth smiled; glad he had cut John off before she had to. Sheppard was becoming rather obsessed about this thing with McKay. "What can I do for you?"

Zelenka eyed Sheppard nervously, but shuffled forward. "Normally, I would not do something like this, but Dr. McKay has not been himself lately and, well..."

"Go on," she prodded.

Zelenka nervously adjusted his glasses. "This is just something within the science department. I'm sure Major Sheppard would not like to hear such things."

John crossed his arms. "I think I'll manage. What's up?"

Zelenka sighed. "I have informed him of energy spikes I have been picking up in abandoned section of city. Each time, he promises me he will send someone to fix it. But this is third day in a row, and still nothing has been done."

"Energy spikes?" Elizabeth frowned. "What kind?"

"I do not know," Zelenka opened up his laptop to display a map of Atlantis and pointed out the section that had been getting the readings. "All I know is that they have been originating out of here."

Sheppard's brow furrowed and he leaned in closer. "That's the section of the city McKay and I were exploring the other day..." he paused as comprehension dawned on him, "the day before he started acting weird."

His voice dropped off as he exchanged glances with both Weir and Zelenka.

"I started getting readings that night, it was first time I told him about it," Zelenka adjusted his glasses. "He was acting strange then too."

"Strange how?" John leant forward.

"He was singing Tarzan to experiment."

"Hah! See! The Disney connection!"

"What?" The Czech gave Sheppard a confused look.

"It was Lion King this morning."

"It's escalating." Radek nodded succinctly.

"As much as I don't picture Dr. McKay as the next great Disney hero, can we please focus a little bit here gentlemen?"

"Right," Sheppard straightened up. "Seems to me we should check around that room again. There's got to be something there to explain this."

 

"I agree," Zelenka chimed in.

"It's worth checking into," Elizabeth admitted, staring at the laptop screen.

"Well since we're all agreed, why don't Dr. Z and I head down there and see what we can dig up while McKay sees the shrink?"

"What? Me?" Zelenka waved his hands quickly. "No no, I'm sure someone else would be better suited..."

"Nah, you'll be great. C'mon!" John grabbed the engineer's sleeve and started to drag him out of Weir's office.

"I really think this is bad idea, I need to run diagnostics on—"

With his free hand he waved to Elizabeth. "We'll check in with you as soon as we get there, let you know what we find."

"Major—" she said firmly, and both men stopped and looked at her. She rose, laptop in hand, "—I think that it would be best if Dr. Zelenka had this to help him."

"Good idea!"

"Dr. Weir, I really do not think—"

"Radek, please. Aside from Rodney, you're the most qualified person to check this out."

He wilted under her expressive gaze, and accepted the laptop meekly. "I shall do my best."

"Thank you, Doctor."

As Zelenka slinked out, Sheppard flashed her a grin and a thumbs up. "Nice."

"Just go check it out, and please, be careful."


"Will do!" Sheppard waved as he headed after Zelenka, finally confident in something positive he could do to help McKay.

*          *          *          *          *

"Th-this place is definitely creepy." Zelenka muttered, mostly to himself as he nervously shuffled into the room after John.

 "Creepy? Nah. It's just a big junk closet."

"Big mind-altering crack-happy junk closet."

John spared the scientist a look. "C'mon, if there is anything dangerous in here, I'll shoot it."

"What if it is some type of gas?"

"Then I'd be all 'crack-happy', as you put it, just like McKay."

Zelenka muttered something in Czech as Sheppard moved towards the table. A few sharp crackles and pops indicated the demise of yet more tiny crystals, but John didn't care, and Zelenka didn't seem to mind. After a cursory look around the room, he indicated for Sheppard to scan the room with the spare scanner. It was one of those devices that required the use of the gene. And while he could polynomial like nobody's business, most of the readings made no real sense to him.

"What am I looking for on this thing?"

"Something unusual."

"And how am I supposed to know what's unusual if I don't know what it's saying in the first place?"

"Let me see," Zelenka edged in close to Sheppard, peering over the soldier's shoulder to read the screen. His brow furrowed and he grabbed Sheppard's hand, much to John's surprise, and started directing it around the room.

"Nice to see you too."

"Please make short with the childish comments. This is the easiest way to do this."

"What about that ol' laptop?"

"I apologize. Is manly hand holding upsetting your macho image?"

"...just scan," Sheppard muttered and let the scientist direct his arm at will. He heard a few Czech mutterings as he swept the room over a few times.

"Anything?"

"There is something..." And Zelenka had swung his arm in a dramatic arch back to the corner behind the table, "there."

 Sheppard raised an eyebrow. "The table?" Again?

They awkwardly shuffled over to the table, and Radek forced him to scan it in detail.

"Ne, not the table."

"Then—?" And there Zelenka went again swinging his arm around. "Okay, that's just a little irritating."

"There!"

"What?"

Zelenka abruptly dropped the hand and started walking around the table, but stopped as his foot got tangled in something. "Zpropadeně! Must the Ancients leave their dead plants all over the hallways?"

Sheppard ambled over to see that the same dead vine that had attacked McKay a few days before had latched on to the laces in Zelenka's boots. He frowned, once again using his gun to pry the prickly plant away.

"Thank you," Zelenka sighed and moved towards the wall, and resumed to muttering to himself in his native tongue.

John ignored the annoyed mumblings and studied the vine a little more closely. It seemed smaller than it had the other day, and that sparked something in the back of his mind from earlier that morning.

"Major Sheppard?" His radio chirped. It was Weir.

He stood up, plant forgotten. "Here."

"Dr. Heightmeyer has finished her evaluation."

"All right, I'm heading back there right now."

Zelenka sputtered, ending his Czech diatribe and looking at Sheppard as if he had just kicked a puppy. "You are not leaving me here, are you?"

"Sorry, Doc. Need to figure out what's going on with McKay."

"Of course, worry about Dr. McKay." Zelenka sounded like he was only half-joking. "Meanwhile, I will be in creepy crack closet alone."

"What's the deal with the wall?" Sheppard interrupted.

"Energy signals are coming from inside it. I am sure of it." He had already set up his laptop and was now trying to pry the panel off to get a look at the inner workings. John approached from the other side. After a little bit of prying, the panel was free.

"Ach pane bože..."

"What... is that?"

Inside of the panel was a large recess, housing a crude, but still recognizably Ancient device with wires and tiny filaments reaching out into the wall. The center almost resembled a tiny greenhouse, with tinted glass, but instead of focusing the sun's rays, there was a small crystal greatly resembling its dead brethren on the floor, pulsing with light as it continued to draw power.

"I think we found the leak."

Zelenka nodded mutely.

*          *          *          *          *

"You will never believe what Zelenka found," Sheppard announced as he strode into the room, twice his normal speed. He noticed the presence of Kate Heightmeyer, and dialed his enthusiasm back a notch. "Doc."

"Major Sheppard," she returned the succinct greeting.

"What has Dr. Zelenka found?"

John gave Heightmeyer a quick, suspicious glance before continuing on. "Seems the energy drain is related to this... thing... in the wall in that room that McKay and I explored the other day."

Weir raised an eyebrow. "Really? Does he have any idea on what its purpose is?"

"Uh, no, not when I left him... but he's working on it."

"Good," she nodded, glad for some good news, even if she wasn't sure what to make of it. She glanced over at the psychiatrist sitting next to her. "Dr. Heightmeyer has made her diagnosis."

As Sheppard met Heightmeyer's gaze, he knew that it wasn't the good news he was hoping for. Although he really couldn't really say what good news was, since any way he looked at it, a member of his team was cracking up. He breathed in deep, telling himself, that no matter what, he would stick by McKay, despite the scientist's annoying traits.

"I think that Dr. McKay might be suffering from a brief reactive psychosis," Kate said clinically, looking more at Dr. Weir than she was at Sheppard.

He frowned. "'Brief reactive psychosis'? What exactly is that?"

"It's a term used to describe a psychosis that is triggered by extreme stress. Rodney is under an extraordinary amount of pressure, what with his duties as head of the science department, as well as being a member of your team."

That earned a frown from Sheppard, but he held his tongue.

"Most of his treatment would involve preventing him from harming himself or anyone else. Once the stressor is removed, usually the patients recover on their own within a few weeks. However if it doesn't, these might be symptoms of a more serious underlying problem."

John pursed his lips together. While it may explain McKay's recent behavior, the diagnosis really didn't sit well with him. McKay wasn't the type to easily bow under pressure. He seemed to gobble up stress as if it were another source of his precious caffeine, and turn it into something productive.

"If I'm allowed..." Sheppard cleared his throat, looking Heightmeyer directly in the eye. She wasn't going to get away with labeling a member of his team insane without him challenging her. It didn't matter that he initiated it, he knew McKay, and he knew that the diagnosis was wrong. "...what exactly is it that made you come to the conclusion?"

Kate looked distinctly uncomfortable. "Dr. McKay was rather, um... up front and forward with his feelings."

"Meaning?"

"Well, I was never aware that someone so far from its borders could Texas Two-Step so well."

Sheppard nearly choked at that. The most disturbing part was that Sheppard could imagine McKay trying to teach Heightmeyer how to Texas Two-Step, despite his rampant Canadianism. The whole image just made him shudder.

"He was actually quite romantic... even though that is entirely beyond the point."

"What is the point then?" Elizabeth finally spoke up, seeing that John was having a hard time processing the whole two-stepping thing.

"Dr. McKay is going through a lot right now, and we need to take things slow with him. I recommend suspending all gate travel for the time being, and pending a follow-up evaluation, reducing his responsibilities as head of the science department."

It took everything within John not to cry out in indignation at that. There was something definitely off about McKay, that was for sure, but John wasn't about to see his position in Atlantis threatened over it.

"Don't you think that's a bit severe?" Weir speared Heightmeyer with a look.

"I understand that you're concerned about Dr. McKay's welfare, as am I, let me assure you. I take the mental health of every member of this expedition very seriously—"

"I'm not suggesting otherwise, Doctor, but suspending Rodney of his duties would only serve to alienate him further from us—"

Before they could descend into further argument, something finally clicked in Sheppard's mind. "Hey!"

Both women stopped arguing and looked curiously at him. "What if it's not this psychosis thing, stress, or anything psychological?"

"What would it be?" Heightmeyer asked skeptically.

Sheppard raised an eyebrow. "Let's have ol' Beckett take another look at him and tell us."

Elizabeth raised an eyebrow. "And what makes you think a second exam will show anything different?"

He met her gaze evenly. "Gut instinct."

She pursed her lips. There wasn't much to argue with that, unless she wanted to bring logic into it. Truth was, she really didn't, because just as much as John, she wanted another explanation for Rodney's strange behavior. She looked over at Kate, not wanting to undermine the psychiatrist's evaluation. Strangely enough, she saw consent in the other doctor's gaze.

It seemed no one wanted to label Rodney McKay as insane until all avenues had been explored. Feeling a little better, she managed to quirk a small smile for both of her colleagues. "Well... I suppose another physical wouldn't hurt anything..."

At that moment, those were the most beautiful words that John had ever heard.

*          *          *          *          *

"We'll stay, forever this wayyyyy—!"

If there was not a good case for McKay having lost it, Ford would've shot the scientist. That and the physical ability to get his bandaged hands around a gun. Beckett had taped them up after catching the younger man scratching at the rash again, and had threatened to tie the lieutenant's hands down if he didn't stop. However if McKay didn't stop—

"—and my heart will go on and onnnn!"

"Now, Ford, if you go and strangle McKay, Beckett will never let you see the light of day again."

Ford tried to squash down his homicidal tendencies and tossed a look at his superior. He couldn't help the dark mutter though. "What exactly is wrong with him?"

"Hopefully he knows," Sheppard watched as the Scot strode towards the two military men with a perturbed look on his face. "Something tells me we're not going to like this."

"Oh no," Carson glanced over his shoulder at Rodney, and went to the display set up on the wall, calling up several images. "Not at all."

One was a detailed report on McKay's toxicology, and several different scans located around the scientist's midsection, one of which looked suspiciously like an ultrasound. Most of it didn't make any sense to John, except for one of the images, showing a tangled mass of something around the scientist's midsection.

"That's not what I think it is—is it?" He indicated the image.

"No," Carson responded quickly, "that is, if you were thinking it was a tumor." He paused and looked at both Ford and Sheppard. "Where is Elizabeth?"

"She got called away. Kavanagh's crying rape."

A comical look of revulsion passed over Carson's face. "Do I want to know?"

"Something about Simpson 'sexually harassing' him. I didn't ask for details."

Carson shook his head, returning his attention to more important matters. "It definitely is foreign, it almost resembles a vine—" he brought up a closer image, and Sheppard's eyes widened. "—how it got there is completely beyond me, aside from where it came from in the first place."

"I can answer the second one," John muttered, and looked over at McKay, who was demonstrating the proper way to work a DDR mat – minus the mat. "That's the plant from the room."
 

"Pardon me?"

"The room McKay and I were exploring the other day, the day before he started acting like Fruity the Loon. Thing had these prickly spines that sort of latched themselves onto him."

"So what you're telling me is that you neglected to mention that an unknown life form accosted a member of your team—" Beckett's tone was growing darker.

"Hey! It looked dead!" Sheppard interrupted and crossed his arms. "Besides, he didn't swell up like he was allergic or anything. It was actually kind of funny."

"Major—"

The dreaded irritated doctor vein was appearing, meaning that if John didn't act soon, there was a chance that he might end up with something sharp and pointy in his hind side despite there being nothing at all wrong with him. "Okay, I'm sorry," he stressed the last word, hoping to soothe the physician, and put off a sudden need for a physical. "Scout's honor it will never happen again."

That seemed to placate Beckett, some. "Is there anything else you can tell me about this thing?"

"It was growing all over the place, right close to that thing that Dr. Z is looking at in the wall—"

"What thing?"

"I'm really going to have to start sending out memos," John muttered to himself. "There's this thing in the wall, that's causing all of these energy readings." At Beckett's impatient look, he switched topics. "Okay, not important, but you asked. Anyway, device in wall, draining energy, big mystery. Not as important as this vine, obviously."

"Thank you."

"Anyway, this thing was all around the room. Somehow McKay got himself tangled up in it, couldn't get it off, so I helped him."

"You touched it?" Beckett's voice took on a note of concern, and he started eyeing John suspiciously.

"Stop that!" He was sick of everyone looking at him like that, especially after he'd convinced everyone that McKay was the one who was acting crazy. "I didn't touch it! I used my gun to get it off him."

The vein started to emerge again.

"The safety was on—"

Ford smothered a giggle, earning him a glare from both superior officer and doctor. He tried to cover up his mirth by faking a cough, and resumed trying to scratch through his bandages.

Beckett grabbed the offending hand a little forcefully. "One more time Lieutenant and I will strap these down."

Ford looked suitably chastised, and Carson turned back to Sheppard. "Was there anything from that encounter with the plant that would result in this?"

"If I saw a plant burrowing into the body of one of my friends, don't you think I might mention it?" Sheppard fixed Beckett with an annoyed stare. "Look, I think there's still a bit left in the room, which as I think about it, is probably something I should go handle in case it tries to mug Zelenka."

Beckett sighed and nodded. "Aye, that's a good idea. See if you can contain it, bring me back a sample. It would be best if I didn't have to obtain one from Rodney until I'm exactly certain what it's doing there."

"One possible-body-snatching-alien-plant, coming up! Should I pick up anything else while I'm out? Milk? Bread?"

"A better sense of timing with your humor?"

"I'll put that on the list."

*          *          *          *          *

When he had left Zelenka to hear Heightmeyer's diagnosis, he had intended to arrange for a guard to make the scientist feel a little better. In hindsight it was probably a good thing he hadn't gotten around to it. Getting one would have meant including Bates in all of this, and the moment Bates entered the picture, concerns for McKay's welfare would've been pushed to the side as the security officer obsessed over non-existent threats to the city.

Zelenka was a lot like Rodney in many ways, including his work ethic. Once presented with a problem, he wouldn't budge until he had figured it out. The chances of him touching the plant and winding up like McKay were minimal. Bates' non-inclusion also meant he didn't have to bring all of this into the open. McKay's odd behavior hadn't spread around yet, and he really hoped to spare his friend from the discomfort of gossip once they cured him of—whatever it was.

Not that Sheppard was going to let him forget about it, but it was the principle of the thing. He was allowed to make fun of McKay; it was a perk of having to put up with him all the damn time.

John shifted the containment cylinder that Beckett had given him in his thick, rubber-gloved hands. He had tried insisting that John use an environmental suit, not that that was conspicuous or anything.

Zelenka barely glanced up as Sheppard strode into the room, in full-work mode analyzing the device. "What is diagnosis?"

Sheppard crouched to the floor in front of the withered shell of the vine. John frowned taking care not to touch it, but examined it up close. "Undecided."

"I decide crazy."

Sheppard thinned his lips. This tiny piece of vine was all that was left of the thing that had basically dominated the table during his first visit to this wonderful room? He quickly picked it up and deposited into the container cylinder, before walking around the rest of the room. The last of the discarded crystals died an ignoble death, but he could find no other remnants of the vine. Satisfied he'd gotten it all, he looked at the scientist, still muttering to himself as he fiddled with the machine inside the wall. He didn't seem to be acting out of character, or under the influence of some mind-altering plant.

Didn't hurt to ask though.

 "How you feeling, Doc?"

"Very frustrated. I have managed to disconnect most of these cables, but there still is one in the back that gives me trouble. There is also problem with electric shock, because I cannot seem to turn the device off. Perhaps it is gene initiated, I don't know..." He looked up in the middle of his rant, and frowned at the container and gloved hands. "What is going on?"

"Just looking out for your safety."

"By picking up dead plant? I feel so grateful. Would you mind throwing out garbage in my lab too? It looked at me funny this morning."

"I think you've been hanging out with McKay too long," John smiled, and then mentally kicked himself. "The real McKay I mean."

"Right," Zelenka shook his head. "Well, continue looking after my safety, I continue to work on this."

"Hey Dr. Z, if you start feeling—" as Zelenka stared at him, Sheppard tried to think of the right term, "—happier, or whistling while you work, best call Beckett."

"I do not know how to whistle."

"Guess we have nothing to worry about then, huh?" Sheppard crooked a half-smile, and then was off, containment cylinder in hand, leaving Zelenka frowning in concern.

"Worry about what? Major Sheppard?"

The door to the room swished shut. Radek sighed, muttering to himself in Czech as he returned to the device in the wall.

*          *          *          *          *

Since the sample of the very dead vine was safely contained, John had elected to remove the gloves because, well, they looked silly especially without the rest of the suit. He looked at the withered, dead thing again, even tapped on the glass separating him and it. Like any good household plant, it ignored him completely.

Dead. Very, very dead.

He turned another hallway and entered the transporter, hand reaching for the one closest to the infirmary.

And stopped.

Before he had spotted John that morning, McKay had been fussing with something: something much livelier than the vine in his little case.

He felt like slapping himself for not thinking of it earlier. Instead he smacked the section that would take him back to McKay's quarters. He carried the containment cylinder with him as he took long strides down the hall. As he passed by other expedition members, he couldn't help but notice their stares. He shrugged it off because as the closer he got to McKay's quarters, the more wary he became.

He couldn't describe what it was, but something felt... off. As he reached the door to McKay's quarters he paused, seeing if he could hear anything. It was silly. He was chasing after a plant, not a wild beast. Plants didn't make noises. Shaking his head, he palmed the sensor to the door.

As it opened, he was treated to a blast of warm, moist air. What the heck? Did McKay forget to pay the electric bill? He walked into the steamy, humid room, looking around. He could hear the faint sound of Atlantis's version of a shower coming from McKay's bathroom, which explained the moisture, and the environmental settings felt like the temperature had been turned up to almost a hundred degrees.

"Okayyy." He glanced around, little alarms still going off in his head.

The distinct feeling of something slithering over his boot made him jump back in alarm, and Sheppard did his utmost not to yelp. He looked down to see a vine, much smaller and thinner than the one he had encountered in the storage closet. He took another step back as he traced the vine back to its source: a small planter's pot that had shattered, as the core of the vine had grown in bulk, before snaking across the floor. It had to be at least three feet in length now.

The vine moved again, this time looking as if it were trying to grab him. He dodged out of the way as it followed, thinking the door shut. There was no unearthly squeal or cry as a piece of the vine was severed in the door's closing. The piece of twitched on the floor, as if it were still trying to creep towards him.

Around him he could feel other people stopping to stare, and he glanced at them briefly. "Probably best to steer clear of this room for a while, huh?"

They all nodded quickly and continued on their way. John turned his attention back to the plant, pulling out the absurdly thick rubber gloves. "All right you, come to Papa."

As he picked up the small piece of vine, he could have sworn the ends of it were reaching for him. Quickly he placed it in the container with its dead brethren, and then tapped his radio.

"Sheppard to Beckett."

"Aye, Beckett here."

"I've got your sample, and let me tell you, it's an interesting story."

*          *          *          *          *

Sheppard strode into the infirmary, but did not immediately search out Beckett because of the chattering in his ear.

"Yes, that's what I said. Turn the environmental controls down in McKay's room. Oh, and see if you can shut off the water there. That should be easy, right?"

"I wouldn't say easy, Major, but it's doable." Grodin’s voice sounded a little perplexed. "Do you mind my asking why?"

"We need to freeze out a hostile life form."

"Life form?" That was Elizabeth. Grodin must have patched her in to their secure channel.  Apparently the conversation was much more interesting than Kavanagh's "sexual harassment" case.

"Plant to be more exact." Sheppard raised an eyebrow at Beckett as he exited his office, looking at John curiously. He handed the containment cylinder over without flourish. "Best be careful, Doc. I can't be sure, but I want to say it can detect body heat or something."

"Pardon?"

"I'm pretty sure it was coming after me when I stepped into McKay's sauna."

"Rodney's what?"

"Trippy over there," he indicated McKay, who was gesturing wildly to a cot-bound Ford, "apparently fiddled with the environmental controls in his room. It was like walking into a jungle. I've got twenty bucks it has to do with that thing."

Beckett eyed the vine pieces in the container. "Everything around here does seem to revolve around it. I need to study these to know exactly what 'it' is."

"I'm gonna have to suggest you hurry Doc."

Carson looked at Sheppard with mild alarm. "And why is that?"

"I saw Rodney fiddling with a small little plant this morning. What came after me just now was several feet in length. Whatever that thing is, it can't be good."

Beckett nodded. "I'm going to call Dr. Parrish from the botany department in."

"Because who knows plants better than a botanist?"

"Exactly. Excuse me Major, we need to start working on this now."

"Major Sheppard?" It was Weir again. "What is this about a hostile... plant?"

"Duty calls," Sheppard muttered to Beckett, and he turned away with his containment cylinder, while John tapped the radio. "Well it's part of the reason McKay's so out whack. Also it tried to grab me when I went into his quarters."

"Grab you? And how is Dr. McKay?"

"I got Beckett a live sample. He and Dr. Parrish are working on it now. We should know exactly what's up with this thing soon." He glanced back at his two teammates. Ford had apparently crossed Beckett one too many times on the no-scratching edict, and true to his word, Carson had strapped the Marine's arms down. Unfortunately that also meant he was subject to McKay's unnaturally happy mood.

"And you?"

"I'm fine," he replied quickly, focusing back to the situation at hand. "And this thing is still a plant right? Unless it came from a frozen wasteland, it's not going to like the cold."

"Why don't we just send in a containment team?"

"Too risky, especially since we don't know how it gets a hold of people. The last thing we need is the military contingent singing 'New York, New York'."

"Good point. Peter, do as Major Sheppard says. We don't want this thing to come into contact with the rest of the population."

As the conversation on the line descended into more scientific orders, John let out a sigh and let himself drop into one of the seats that Beckett laid out in the designated "Waiting Area". He'd been running back and forth across the city all day. He needed a good break.

He leaned back into the chair and closed his eyes, letting his mind unwind. So far he'd managed to do a lot of damage control as far as McKay and any rumors getting out of control. They were literally an island, a very isolated community, so scuttlebutt got around very quickly. He opened an eye, realizing he hadn't heard from one of his all-time favorite people on this matter.

He tapped back into the secure channel. "Hey, Elizabeth."

"Yes Major?"

"Where's Bates?"

"Did you not hear? Kavanagh has accused him of military misconduct."

Sheppard smiled as he imagined the look on Bates' face as Kavanagh launched into a diatribe on power hungry military egos. "I didn't think it was necessary to bring him into this at this point. Do you?"

"Not until it definitely becomes a matter of security." Sheppard nodded, closing his eyes again. "I'm going to wait on word from Beckett here."

"We'll handle things on our end here. Just keep us updated."

"You got it."

*          *          *          *          *

"Dr. Parrish, would you mind handing me those forceps?" Beckett reached a hand out as he stared at the dead mouse in front of him.

"This is absolutely amazing." The botanist said breathlessly as he studied the sample of the vine under the microscope. "Its cell structure reminds me of the Semaphore plant. I wonder if it's capable of rapid plant movement like it..."

"Yes, it is very interesting—" Beckett waved his hand, the requested forceps still not appearing.

"Some of the structures in here resemble an animal more than a plant," Parrish continued on obliviously. "There's almost a complete absence of chlorophyll, and it's managed to perform mitosis at least twice since we took the sample."

Carson looked up from his mousy corpse to stare as Parrish gushed on about the strange specimen in front of them. "Fascinating, I know. However I'm more concerned about what it's going to do to my patient out there if it stays inside of him much longer."

Parrish managed to pull himself away from the microscope. "I'm sorry Dr. Beckett... you're right."

He handed over the almost-forgotten forceps to Beckett, who took them graciously and started to perform an autopsy on his small specimen.

"Major Sheppard was correct in thinking that this particular species of plant needs heat to grow. Just from the heat from the light on the microscope it's already been able to start growing again here." Parrish didn't seem to notice that all of the color had drained from his colleague's face. "It probably comes from a jungle environment, where it's used to warm and humid climates—"

"Oh dear."

"That's not unusual though," he looked at Beckett curiously, "no need for alarm."

Beckett shook his head and let Parrish view his findings on the mouse. Parrish paled several shades. "That's not good at all."

*          *          *          *          *

Sheppard watched as Beckett emerged from his lab, looking particularly distressed.

"I'm not liking this look on you, Doc," he said warily.

"I'm not liking having it, Major," Carson shook his head as he pulled the officer into an isolated cubicle, where he drew up the images they'd taken before. "This is more serious than we originally thought."

Dr. Parrish peeked around the corner, and upon finding Beckett, visibly relaxed. "I've notified the nurses. They're prepping the OR right now."

"OR?" Sheppard frowned. "What's going on?"

"When you said the plant seemed to respond to your body heat, you were about half right." Beckett started slowly.

"I was?"

"It seems that when this particular species reaches the end of its growth cycle," Parrish expanded on the explanation, "it does what every other living species does: tries to propagate the species."

"And this has what to do with Rodney?"

Beckett and Parrish glanced at each other, but Carson decided to continue. "It appears that the seedlings need a certain environment in order to grow. Warm, moist—both of which are qualities of the human body."

Sheppard blinked. "You're telling me... that McKay's been knocked up by a plant?"

"Well I wouldn't say it exactly like that," Carson protested.

"Ironic then that you took ultrasounds of his stomach."

"That's standard medical procedure when dealing with the—"

"Hell-o!" Sheppard nearly jumped out of his skin at the jovial greeting, as well as the arm that was slung around his shoulders. "My ears are burning! So what are you all saying about me?"

Sheppard glanced at McKay, grimacing slightly. "Rodney, you mind?"

"Of course not!" The astrophysicist grinned. "We're buddies!"

"See that Doc? He's positively glowing," John muttered darkly.

"Hello Rodney," Carson greeted the epitome of patience. "How are you feeling?"

"Like I'm on top of the world!"

"Well that's good, we were just discussing—"

"Your delicate condition," John interrupted, watching McKay's face for a reaction.

He was disappointed as it didn't do anything to upset the über happy smile plastered on McKay's face. "Condition? I'm fine!"

"Rodney, I'm afraid that's not entirely true," Beckett gave Sheppard a warning glare. The officer harrumphed and crossed his arms as McKay continued to hang off of him like an orangutan. "Needless to say your behavior the past few days has been erratic—what are you doing?"

McKay had seized Beckett's stethoscope and had it pressed up against his chest. "Did you know you can hear everything with these?"

"Yes, that's sort of the point, now if you'd please—" Rodney moved it from his chest to Sheppard's head. Beckett sighed. "What are you doing now?"

"Listening for coherent thoughts."

"Give me that!" John snatched it away and forcefully handed it back to Beckett, who hid it behind his back. "I've got a question."

"Ooh, story time!" McKay peeked over Sheppard's shoulder, much to the pilot's great annoyance.

"Is Junior responsible for the fact that I'm about to strangle him?"

Carson and Parrish exchanged a glance, and the botanist spoke up. "We think so."

"Think?" Sheppard smacked away McKay's hand as he started ruffling the major's unruly hair. He gave the physicist an evil glare. "One more time McKay, one more time!"

Beckett smiled placatingly at the scientist. "Rodney, maybe it would be best if we stepped into my office to discuss this further."

"Nah, here's fine!" He bounced, and looked around. "So what's the big news?"

Carson shook his head sadly as he brought up the ultrasounds from earlier. "It seems somehow... you managed to acquire a little—" he paused trying to come up with an adequate word, but Sheppard beat him to it.

"Bun in the oven."

"Major!"

"Tell him to keep a five-foot radius and I'll stop."

"Bloody children—"

"So that," McKay tapped the image, "is in me?"

"Yes, I'm afraid so," Carson sighed.

"Fascinating," McKay studied the image.

"Yes. Congratulations, Rodney... it's a plant." John twirled his index finger in a circle, indicating for Carson to speed things along. They still hadn't gotten to the part why they were prepping OR.

"What the Major means to say is that it's using your body as a host environment as it grows."

"Really?" The voice had dropped from the hyper tone to a more subdued one.

"I know it's an alarming thought, but not to worry, we're going to get it out of you."

"Why?"

Carson pursed his lips together. "The human body wasn't meant to be used in such a way."

John frowned, seeing that Beckett was holding something back. He remained silent, and studied McKay, whose good mood seemed to deflate with the news. That was a little closer to normal—although they were still missing the frantic shouting.

"Oh," Rodney said softly. "What will happen to it?"

"Once it's extracted, Dr. Parrish will take it to his department for further study."

"I see..."

"You okay, McKay?" Sheppard nudged the scientist in the ribs, hoping to goad him back into talking.

"Yeah, it's just—a lot to take in."

John nodded mutely. McKay didn't look at him, or anyone else for that matter, in the eye. He just continued to stare at the ultrasounds.

"If you don't mind, I'd like to be alone."

Carson bit his lip, but nodded. "All right Rodney. We'll come get you when we're ready to begin."

Beckett led the other two men away, all the while keeping a concerned eye on McKay. John followed, trying to split his attention between Rodney and Carson. Parrish followed both men, a mix of confusion and worry on his face.

When they were far enough from McKay, Sheppard stopped, pinning Beckett with a look. "All right, Doc, I know you didn't say something back there. What's got you so concerned?"

Carson's eyes hadn't left Rodney, who was still staring at the images on the Atlantian screen. Finally he tore his gaze away and met Sheppard's. "We cut a sample of the plant, to see what it would do to live tissue."

"Live tissue?" John's stomach turned at the thought.

"One of my mice," a touch of sadness entered the Scot's eyes, making John wonder if perhaps Beckett had developed more than a passing fondness for the animals. "It entered through an open orifice—"

The terminology made Sheppard wince slightly, but he tried to school his expression.

"—and proceeded to settle in a fairly open area of the body, much like Rodney's."

He was almost afraid to ask. "And then what?"

"It proceeded to grow," Carson said clinically, but John could see in his eyes how deeply disturbed he was. "It grew so much that it ran out of room within the host body, and had to start winding around the internal organs of the test subject."

"Winding?"

"It's a plant," Dr. Parrish said softly, "it only does what it needs to do to survive. When they run out of room, they have to start preserving space..."

"It," Carson swallowed, his gaze finding McKay again, "it wound so tightly around the mouse's internal organs it strangled them."

Sheppard blanched, swiveling his head to stare at Rodney. He didn't deserve that, no matter how annoying or condescending he could be... no one deserved that. He forced his gaze away from his teammate, his friend, and back to Beckett. "Do whatever you have to."

"Aye," Carson visibly struggled to hold onto his professionalism. "I intend to."

John nodded. "All right, I'll update Elizabeth; let you focus on what you need to do to get that damn thing out of him."

"Thank you, Major," Carson managed a smile. "And I know that you like to be with your team when one of them is injured... but this is a delicate operation."

"Meaning what?" He raised an eyebrow.

"You've been running around the city all day. I know, I practically ordered half of it myself," as Sheppard opened his mouth to protest, Beckett forged on, "I really would prefer not to have to worry about your state of health in addition to Rodney's."
 

John smiled thinly, recognizing the doctor's tactic. "You don't want me here?"

"We're going to be literally operating around Rodney's internal organs. I can't afford any distractions."

John breathed in deeply, and then exhaled slowly. "I guess I could use a little nap."

"Thank you, John."

"You'll let me know the moment he's out of surgery?"

"I promise you and Elizabeth will be the first ones to know."

"Okay," John scrubbed a hand across his face. He was tired. It just almost felt like he was abandoning McKay in a way. "Does it violate any Doctor-Patient privilege if I pass this onto Ford?"

Carson shook his head softly. The four of them may have made a strange combination, but there was no denying the strong bond that Sheppard's team shared. They were all there for each other, no matter what. "I think it would be a good idea. But if I see you touch those straps—"

"And risk being tied down myself? No way," John offered a placating smile. "Teyla returned to the mainland after the staff meeting. Hopefully she left her radio on."

Carson nodded. The Athosians were still in the process of rebuilding their society, and Teyla had to split her time between both Atlantis and her people probably more than either side wanted. "She might beat you if you didn't pass along the message."

"You're telling me," Sheppard laughed softly, but it was forced. He didn't look Beckett in the eye, but instead stared at the ceiling. "Take care of him, okay Doc?"

"Aye, Major, I will. Now off with you."

He lingered for a moment, and with a great burst of movement, John finally forced himself into motion. He passed by McKay without a single glance, but instead approached the partitioned area where Ford was currently still recovering from the rash he'd received on the mainland.

Carson watched him for a moment, before he too forced himself into action. From their calculations, they didn't have much time to dawdle before the vine's growth started to run out of room within McKay's body.

*          *          *          *          *

Barely taking time to strip out of his uniform and toss off his shoes once he'd reached his room, John Sheppard collapsed into his bed in a semi-conscience heap. It wasn't until he lay down on his cushy, wonderfully comfortable Atlantian bed that he realized that Beckett was pretty accurate on how much he had run around over the course of the day.

The lights automatically dimmed for him with a thought as he started to drift off. One of the perks of having one of the strongest ATA genes around was that most of the city responded to his thoughts and wants automatically. He was probably one of the few humans in the city who knew exactly how much control and comfort the Atlantians had over their environment.

He had almost drifted off into a light slumber when he heard a sound. The lights automatically brightened a few notches as his awareness perked up. He listened intently several moments, but heard nothing. Finally convincing himself that he had imagined it, he let the lights dim back down.

His thoughts started to drift into a dream, when he heard it again: the soft rustling of cloth on a hard surface.

His eyes snapped open, lights brightening automatically. He sat up, scanning the room for intruders, but there was no one there. Just him, the Johnny Cash poster, and his dirty clothes.

The sound came again, a soft "fruff". He shook his head, rubbing his eyes again. Still alone. That was it, he was going insane. Somehow he had gotten it from McKay by proxy. He ran a hand through his hair as he let out a sigh. If he couldn't sleep, there was no point in hanging out here when he could wait for more immediate news on McKay's condition in the infirmary.

He swung a leg over the side of the bed as whatever it was made itself known again.

"All right John, you're really losing it," he muttered to himself as he set a foot on the floor, searching for where he'd discarded his pants, and then frowned. They were several feet from where he'd discarded them along with his jacket.

Then he watched as his pants crept towards him a little more.

"Definitely losing it."

The pants inched closer.

"Stop that."

And closer.

"Bad pants!"

And closer still.

It was a dream, obviously. Despite the fact that he was in a different galaxy, with life-sucking aliens, some things had remained normal: like the fact that his pants could not move on their own accord. Slowly he reached over to his nightstand. His hand brushed against his nine millimeter, briefly resting on it. The grip felt reassuring, the barrel cool to the touch. Below his gun was his half-read copy of War and Peace. He opted for the book, bringing it up to bear.

"Damn realistic dream," John muttered, watching the pants intently as they continued their progress towards him.

When they were in range he lobbed the book at them, sending the pants sliding across the room. He spied a flash of green emerge from beneath the dark cloth and immediately pulled his legs back onto the bed, practically diving for his gun. Some part of the plant must've stuck to his pant leg when he'd encountered the vine in McKay's room.

Now unhindered by the troublesome cloth, the vine very quickly slithered across the floor, straight for the body of heat in front of it.

"Oh hell no, I'm not playing Mommy!" He aimed, and fired off a single round at the vine. It split in half, stilling for a moment. John grinned, letting the gun drop to his side. "John Sheppard, one; Audrey, zero."

The two halves launched forward in a sudden burst of speed.

"Oh hell!"

He backed up to the other side of the bed, eyes scanning around for where he'd left his radio. It lay on the floor next to his jacket. He inwardly cursed his laziness, not that he would've predicted being attacked by his own pants... and he didn't think he was going to share that part with anyone.

The tip of one the vine pieces inched over the top of the bed. He couldn't see where the other one was.

"I am so investing in a can of Weed-B-Gone when all of this is over."

*          *          *          *          *

McKay was still in the small alcove of the infirmary when one of the nurses came by to check on him. He waved her off politely, which earned him a strange look. They were used to the old McKay, the one who preferred to berate and belittle everyone around him. That had changed over the past few days, he had changed.

He hadn't known the cause for the sudden shift in his own personality, something that would have alarmed the old Rodney. The new Rodney, however, had found the strength to not constantly question his feelings, and instead acted upon them. That these new feelings and impulses really weren't those of any sane person didn't bother him in the least. Rodney McKay had finally learned how to be free, and now he knew why.

It was all due to the life that he carried inside of him. His hand had kept drifting down to his stomach. There was no bulge, no feeling of discomfort either. Had he not seen the images for himself he would still be none the wiser.

It was strange, he had heard how people had changed when they had children, how the world looked different. The life inside him wasn't his child, he knew that, but still... it felt just as precious. It saddened him that he would have to be parted with it so soon after learning of its existence. However, Carson had said his body wouldn't be able to provide a good environment for it. Like any good caretaker, he only wanted what was best for his charge. Dr. Parrish was a brilliant botanist, and cared for every plant within the greenhouse the botany department had set up, so Rodney had no worries that it wouldn't be well taken care of.

He forced himself away from the images. It wasn't doing anyone any good for him to be moping around. He could at least get ready so they wouldn't have to waste any time with changing into scrubs or inserting IVs. He started to search out the nurse that he had shooed off.

He passed by the small partitioned area where Ford was reluctantly resting. He had tried to cheer the lieutenant up earlier, but for some reason he had kept staring at McKay like he had grown an extra head. Obviously he had no sense of rhythm or appreciation for the fine art of dance. Ford appeared to have drifted off to sleep, or at least he was pretending to.

He continued on, looking around the infirmary for anyone. It seemed most of the staff was busy preparing for the surgery. The sounds of a muted conversation drifted closer to Beckett's office, and he walked in that direction hoping to find someone. As he got closer, the conversation became more audible.

"What's wrong?" That was Carson, his Scottish brogue tinged with impatience and concern.

"I've run a few more simulations," and that was Parrish. "I thought it might be pertinent in case something came up during the surgery."

"And?" The question was quick, abrupt, completely unlike Carson Beckett. McKay frowned. Why was he acting like that?

"Any way I look at it, there's no way to safely remove the seedling from Dr. McKay."

A lead ball formed in Rodney's stomach at hearing those words. Footsteps sounded, and he quickly ducked behind a partition, trying to quiet his breathing. A nurse passed by with a tray of surgical instruments, all of which looked horrific and terrifying. The conversation continued, and he had to strain his ears as their voices hushed.

"It's unfortunate we can't study it further, but under the circumstances it's probably for the best," Carson said softly.

Rodney swallowed dryly, not believing his ears. Carson was the gentlest, most caring person he knew. There was no way he could be this cruel.

"I understand. I'll continue to study the specimen, but I thought it be best to let you know. There's no need to take extra care with the seedling itself when extracting it."

"Aye, thank you Dr. Parrish. It's one less thing to worry about. I better check up on the preparations. We're almost ready to begin."

The conversation seemed to have ended, but Rodney didn't need to hear anymore. Carson had lied to him. This surgery wasn't to help his ward, but to kill it. He swallowed past the lump in his throat. He couldn't let them do that.

He wouldn't let them.

*          *          *          *          *

John chunked his pillow as the second piece of vine tried to sneak up on him from behind. This was insane. Not only was he being chased by a plant – he was being chased in his underwear by a plant that could strategize. He leapt off the bed, landing in an ungraceful heap. Quickly he rolled back to his feet, but just as he reached for the radio on the floor, one of the vines darted out at him.

"Damn it, no means no!"

He leapt back, took aim, and fired off another round from his gun, splitting that piece again. He didn't wait this time, and leapt over the stunned plant. From the floor he heard the radio flare to life.

"Major Sheppard, we're hearing reports of gunfire in your area. Please report back." It was Weir.

"Sorry, busy!" He shouted at it as he shimmied away from the three pieces trying to back him against the corner. The innocuous-looking evil seed spawns of horror closed in quickly. "Oh screw it!"

He emptied the rest of the clip into the remaining pieces, stunning them long enough to skirt around them and pick up his radio. He tossed away the useless gun as he slid out the door into the hallway, entirely too reminiscent of Tom Cruise in Risky Business. The vine spawn was right behind him. He sprinted down the hall as the vines gave pursuit.

"This is Sheppard!" He practically shouted into the radio as he struggled to keep his precious lead on the vinelings chasing him. "I need you to get everyone in this section of the city to lock themselves in their room!"

"John, what's going on? Was that gunfire?"

"Yes it was, and not to sound impatient, but I don't have time to argue!" He glanced back to see one of the pieces slithering up entirely too close. "Get me backup, fully clothed, thick boots, with as much weed killer or anti-freeze that you can find, and I mean right now!"

"Weed killer?"

"Elizabeth!" His tone was nearing hysteria. "Unless you want two laid up department heads, just get it done!"

"Sir, this is Bates."

"Sergeant, please tell me you've got some good news for me."

"I've 'acquired' something from Dr. Kavanagh's lab to help. I can be there in less than two minutes if you meet me half-way."

"Don't be offended if I beat you there," he puffed into the radio, rounding a corner that led towards the transporter Bates would likely be coming from. He glanced back, and sure enough, the tattered remains of the man-eating vine were still following strong as ever.

Just went to prove some days it didn't pay to get out of bed.

*          *          *          *          *

Sergeant Stackhouse limped into the infirmary. The sounds of quiet chaos drifted from the operating theatre as the night staff rushed about trying to get everything prepared for emergency surgery. He limped a little further in, a little confused at the lack of a medical presence in the infirmary.

The nature of his injury was rather embarrassing, and he had already had to wrangle Markham to get him to the infirmary and put up with the asinine jokes about his lack of balance. Markham would have helped him further except there seemed to be some sort of incident that Major Sheppard was asking backup for. Besides, what sort of Marine would he be if he couldn't limp a few feet into the infirmary?

There was no nurse waiting for him however. While he appreciated the lack of an audience to hear his tale of woe, he would rather someone look at his ankle as it was throbbing rather steadily and he was sure it was at least sprained.

This was the last time he helped Dr. Corrigan transport any more artifacts.

"Hello?" he called out, half expecting an echo. He continued to gimp along, peering into the various curtained off sections. He spied Lieutenant Ford resting in one cot; apparently still laid up from that nasty rash he'd gotten helping the Athosians in clearing out some land.

A tingle of uncertainty raced up his spine, the sensation he usually got when he was about to be ambushed. He narrowed his eyes and swung his gaze around the infirmary. He shook off the feeling and continued on, peering into the next curtained-cubicle.

Something hard and flat crashed over his head and before he could react, someone grabbed his head, slamming it into their knee. He only got a glimpse of the khaki issued science uniforms before he blacked out.

*          *          *          *          *

Ford had initially just closed his eyes to feign sleep in case McKay came back for another round of Charades, but at some point had actually drifted off. However, the sound of crashing metal brought the Marine awake instantly. He tugged against the restraints as he tried to peer around the curtain blocking off his view of most of the infirmary.

He could hear someone dragging something heavy in the partitioned area next to him, and peered through the material to see if he could see anything. The most he could make out in the lighting was a vague human shape, dragged something—no, someone—

"What's going on there?" He demanded, groping with his hands to find the nurse call button. The stupid straps on his wrists didn't help matters any.

The figure next to him seemed to be roused into a hurry. He finally managed to get a hand around the device and mashed the button to alert the staff. Rapid footfalls approached, and the muttered curses announced the arrival of Beckett.

"What's wrong, Aiden?" Beckett hadn't changed into his scrubs yet but from the lack of lab coat and jacket, he had been getting ready to. He fixed the lieutenant with an appraising gaze. "You didn't call me here just to take those off because I already told you—"

"No, listen Doc, I just heard a crash, and I think we've got a hostile—"

Beckett shook his head. "Clever. However I'm not going to loosen those straps until I'm sure you're not going to irritate that rash anymore. But I'll check on it, just to humor you."

"Doc, I think you need to call security—"

Carson ignored him as he poked his head into the next cubicle. There he saw an unconscious Stackhouse, laid out on the floor. He slowly raised his eyes to see the sergeant's gun pointed between his eyes. Beckett tried to swallow past the lump in his throat and focused past the weapon to the owner.

"Rodney?"

A mad gleam had entered the scientist's eyes, one that was completely unnatural on the man standing in front of Carson. Obviously he had miscalculated the affect the parasite had on his friend: gravely miscalculated it seemed.

"McKay?" Ford echoed. "What's going on, Doc?"

"Back up," Rodney ordered harshly, and faced with his current options, Carson could only comply.

As soon as they were both free of the curtained area, McKay made a move to step around Carson but he caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of his eye as one of the nurses came out, presumably to find Beckett. In a split second he had an arm wrapped around the doctor's neck, muzzle pressed against his temple.

"We're going on a little walk," McKay said low, "and I don't want any of them joining us."

Heart hammering in his chest, Carson nodded weakly and held up a hand to halt the nurse's progress. She stopped immediately.

"No one follows us, you hear me!" McKay shouted to her. She nodded mutely. "If I run into any military on the way out, and I mean any, you're going to have to look for a new boss!"

"Rodney—" Carson protested feebly, but was cut off as McKay tightened the hold around his throat.

"Let him go, McKay!" Ford shouted as he struggled in vain against the straps holding him down. "You're acting crazy!"

McKay barely spared him a glance as he manhandled Beckett out of the infirmary. The door swooshed shut after them, leaving the infirmary in shocked silence for a few seconds, before the sounds of a patient struggling on his cot continued. "Someone get these things off me!"

*          *          *          *          *

John pumped his legs and arms as he entered the final stretch to the transporter, at the very least if Bates hadn't shown up, he could rematerialize in another section of the city, rearm and redress, and then come back to deal with the problem himself. The point proved moot as Bates appeared, armed with a fire extinguisher. He could only hope it would put a halt to his mommy-minded friends.

Putting the rest of his effort into his run, Sheppard practically slid into a home run past Bates. He came to a stop, completely out of breath, and turned back to watch Bates in action, doubled over and panting. As soon as Sheppard was out of the way, the security officer fired the fire extinguisher he was carrying at his pursuers.

The moment the cold carbon dioxide touched the plants they froze up, forward momentum carrying them just a bit closer until they finally slid to a stop, perfect frozen statues. Bates eyed them warily several moments before turning to his commander.

"Threat neutralized—" apparently he took in Sheppard's lack of attire, and raised an eyebrow, "sir."

"Thank you, Sergeant," he replied, so grateful he decided to ignore the slight jab. "Now we just need to contain them in something, just in case that didn't do it."

"Exactly what are they?" Bates said, stealing another glance at his underwear-clad commander before turning his attention back to the plants.

"I think Parrish is trying to answer that more exactly, but apparently it's something leftover from when the Ancients lived here. Nasty little buggers too. Seems they like to crawl in your stomach."

Bates looked at the plants skeptically. "Crawl?"

"I don't normally run from vegetables, Sergeant," he bit back, his gracious mood forgotten.

"Of course, sir," Bates agreed, not at all sounding sincere as he took another curious glance at the major's boxers.

Sheppard purposefully ignored the look and continued on. "Sergeant, pack these guys up and take them to Dr. Parrish in the lab. Just be careful you don't touch them or expose any skin to them."

"Yes sir."

"I'm going to go—find some pants..."

"Good idea, sir."

Sheppard furrowed an eyebrow. "Make sure to sweep McKay's room just to be certain the one there is dead. We're going to need to find every last plant in this city and isolate them from the population."

Bates had stripped out of his jacket and was starting to gather the frozen plant remains into it when both their radios crackled.

"This is Lieutenant Ford, is Dr. Weir or Major Sheppard there?"

John frowned, grabbing the radio he'd left near Bates. "Sheppard here. What's up Ford? I thought Beckett had tied you down to rest."

"He did, before Dr. McKay forced him from the infirmary at gunpoint."

Bates looked up sharply as Sheppard's stomach dropped. "McKay did what?"

"He snapped. Knocked out Stackhouse, took his gun, grabbed Beckett, and ran."

There was no logical, or illogical, reason for that matter that he could think of for McKay to do that. Obviously he had underestimated the damn plants more than he thought. He could see that cold mask sliding over Bates' face, the same one he had when he accused Teyla of spying for the Wraith.

All of this had spiraled out of control. He could feel his fist clenching on its own accord. If Rodney had Beckett at gunpoint that meant that he was now a security risk, instead of a singing loon. He had to get to him before anyone else. Thinking quickly he turned to Bates.

"Sergeant, I need your weapons."

Bates stared at him blankly. "Sir, I need to organize a party, we have to find Dr. McKay—"

"I'll find him. What you need to do is follow my orders and make sure there's none of those things left in the city. We'll split our forces in half, those helping you, and the others searching for McKay."

"Sir—"

"If there are any more of those things wandering around, they have the potential to infect the rest of the population, and we'll have a bunch of crazy, gun-toting scientists and soldiers forming conga lines in the gate room."

Bates stared back blankly, not able to find an appropriate response for that.

"Now Sergeant," he frowned, arm outstretched, "hand over your weapons."

There was a tense moment, but finally Bates relented, handing over his nine mil and P-90. His next words caught John off guard though. "Good luck, sir."

He nodded tersely. "You too; may want to keep that fire extinguisher handy in case Audrey here decides to get rowdy."

With that kernel of possibly unnecessary advice he left Bates, striding towards the transporter, already on the radio organizing a search team for the missing scientist and doctor.

*          *          *          *          *

To say that Carson Beckett was a little scared was putting it mildly: he was terrified out of his mind. From the moment he stared down the barrel of a gun in his own infirmary, things had started spiraling out of control. Right now the gun was firmly wedged into his side as McKay guided him along one of the back hallways of Atlantis.

He had no idea if help was coming: he'd left his radio in his office to attend the page that had brought about this unfortunate circumstance. Rodney was taking no chances though, and was leading them through the less frequented hallways of the city, to where Carson didn't know, and wasn't sure he wanted to.

McKay hadn't said much after he made his grand escape from the infirmary, mostly just terse sentences here and there, which in itself was very uncharacteristic of the overly verbose scientist. Not that he would admit it aloud or in cases of dire peril, he considered Rodney to be one of his very good friends. Along with John Sheppard and Elizabeth Weir, he was probably one of the few people who really understood McKay.

The man with a gun at his side wasn't his friend. No, the man he knew was buried deep behind the mad gleam, probably crying desperately for someone to let him out. He should've anticipated something like this, or at least had someone keep an eye on the scientist as they made their hurried preparations for the surgery to remove the plant.

It was fairly obvious now that it had a much larger hold on the scientist's actions than originally believed. However, he couldn't just let himself be hauled off to who knows where. In a city the size of Manhattan, with an unstable patient, chances weren't good that help would find him in time.

"Rodney," he started off quietly, hoping to appeal to some saner part of McKay. "I know that you're in there somewhere."

Rodney's eyes darted around, looking for evidence of soldiers or security of some sort. In this area of the city though, unless someone from the infirmary had already made some sort of call, they would be alone.

"I know you're feeling a little frightened, perhaps confused, but if we could talk it out—"

McKay stopped suddenly, forcefully pulling Beckett to a halt as well, the gun jabbing painfully in Carson's side. The hostage grimaced. That was going to form a bruise in the morning, assuming he lived to see it.

"You shouldn't talk," McKay hissed, tone dangerously low. "I wouldn't want to have to kill you—yet."

"Rodney—"

The gun dug further into his side, and he had to bite down a yelp. Message received though; he shut up.

"I thought you were my friend, Carson; I thought I could trust you."

Beckett wanted to assure him that was true, tell him he wasn't wrong. However the mad look in McKay's eye, compounded with the gun barrel dug deeply in the doctor's side convinced Carson it was probably best to just stay quiet.

"You lied to me though!" McKay's voice rose higher as his agitation grew.

Taking a chance, Carson calmly shushed him. "They might hear you, Rodney. I know you don't want to be caught."

McKay eyed him critically, before letting voice drop back down. "Good thinking, Doctor. We don't want to attract the attention of any soldiers."

Carson nodded quickly.

"Because if we do, I'll probably have to shoot you."

Carson gulped; so much for rationalization. Without another word Rodney started walking again, shoving Beckett along like a prize bull to market. As they worked their way further away from the city's center, he realized that he didn't want help to come, but not for his own sake. If McKay didn't snap out of this soon, he was likely going to get himself shot.

*          *          *          *          *

It never had occurred to John Sheppard that he needed a third hand, until he was trying to carry two guns, a radio, and be on the lookout for his demented geek all at the same time. With search teams scouring every nook and cranny in the city for Beckett and McKay, and Bates leading security on swoops through every room the plant had been known to be in, almost every military personnel was on call.

He could have taken the time to return to his room, burn his pants, and dress before rejoining the search. While his duty as military commander dictated for him to set up the two security teams, his duty as Rodney's friend told him he needed to be the one to find the scientist.

He trusted the soldiers under his command, but when it came to McKay, not many people had much patience, and that included Ford. From the sound of Ford's description, McKay had snapped, and John had a sick feeling that the scientist might make one of the search teams choose between him and Beckett.

If Sheppard had his way, there wouldn't be any need for a choice. The only way to ensure that was for him to find Rodney first, and talk some sense into that arrogant swelled head of his.

"This is Markham. We've just finished checking all of the labs, there's no sign of Doctors McKay or Beckett."

"Keep fanning out, Sergeant, he's got to be here somewhere," Sheppard responded into the radio. "And remember, as much as he annoys everyone, let's try to bring him in alive."

Many teams were equipped with the stunners they had, but they had only a limited amount that they had collected off of the Wraith. It hadn't been that long since they captured Steve—who was still safely tucked away in his little cell—he'd triple-checked that as soon as the thought had occurred to him. There was a double guard posted at the brig, just in case McKay headed in that direction.

More reports came in over the radio, clearing out the center of the city. As the party fanned out further, a growing sense of unease took over him. If the thing inside McKay was dictating his actions, then there'd be one place they hadn't looked yet.

*          *          *          *          *

 

As an engineer, it was easy for Zelenka to become so absorbed in analyzing the wealth of technology that Atlantis had to offer. The machine he was currently dissecting from the wall was no exception. It fascinated him. It had all of the advanced circuitry and functionality that he had come to expect from the Ancients, but the design was so crude he could have sworn it was some cheap imitation merely emulating the previous occupants of Atlantis.

So it took him completely off guard when Carson Beckett came stumbling into the room, trying to calm someone down.

"Just put the gun down—"

If the appearance of the expedition's CMO didn't grab his attention, the mention of gunplay certainly did. "Dr. Beckett, what is—?"

He didn't have time to finish asking, as the person Radek thought least likely to go on a rampage across the base stormed into the room, gun arm ramrod straight and pointed at Beckett.  He watched with no small amount of nervousness as the gun swung over to him.

"Dr. McKay... nice to see you?"

"What are you doing here?" Rodney demanded.

"Me? I do nothing of importance—"

"You're disassembling the machine!"

"Ah yes, I am doing that." Radek stared at the gun, his usually active mind going blank. "Do you not like that?"

McKay muttered something unintelligible under his breath, and Radek tossed a look at an equally frightened Beckett, who shook his head slightly at the Czech, although what that meant was lost on him. He was an engineer, not a master of body language. Nor was he someone who was supposed to have a gun in his face. That's why they had brought the military along in the first place.

"It can't stay here, they won't let it," McKay continued to mutter to himself, and Radek decided his earlier assessment of the scientist's mental health was absolutely dead on. Without a doubt on heaven, Earth, Atlantis, or any place in between Rodney McKay had lost all his marbles.

"You!" McKay broke from his ramblings and pointed the gun at Zelenka again, making Radek jump slightly.

"Me?" He looked around, desperately hoping there was someone who had materialized beside him. To his great disappointment, he was the only one that McKay could have possibly been pointing at.

"Yes, yes, you! Start putting it back together!"

Radek blinked at McKay, then at the machine, which lay in several pieces before him. "This?"

"Radek," Carson warned softly, "just do what he says."

"All right," Zelenka slowly picked up one of his tools, watching McKay for any snap reaction, but the scientist just watched him closely. He muttered something about working conditions and oppressive regimes in Czech as he started to work.

McKay frowned at the foreign string of words, but didn't shoot Radek for speaking out of turn. He turned his attention to Beckett, who had begun inching towards the door. "Hey!"

Carson froze, peeking timidly back at Rodney. "Oh, still there, are we?"

"Do you want to be shot?"

"No, that's not exactly what I had planned for the day," Carson admitted.

McKay jerked his head for the doctor to join him and with a defeated sigh Carson placed himself back in harm's way. Radek watched out of the corner of his eye as he busied himself with looking like he was starting to reassemble the machine.  He quickly broke eye contact when McKay swung his gaze back over, focusing instead only on the device. As he reconnected wires hurriedly, he could feel an intense gaze bore into his back. He tried to ignore it, before McKay cleared his throat loudly.

"What are you doing?"

"Reassembling device, what does it look like?"

"A monkey trying to build a bomb!"

Thankfully, since he was faced towards the wall, Zelenka didn't have to hide his wince. Fruitier than an orchard, but McKay still seemed to be sharp as a tack. He tried to hide away his fear, sending his mind to his happy place, which included many blonde buxom cheerleaders. As he turned to look at McKay, he could see his fellow scientist's intense gaze focused on him, but the aim on his gun pointed squarely at Beckett.

"Don't think you can pull a fast one on me, Zlinky." Radek decided it best to let that one go, and continued to stare impassively at the raving lunatic in front of him. "You try anything and the doctor here gets it."

"If you are so dissatisfied with my work, why not do it yourself? You can just put gun away and berate us to death instead."

Beckett's eyes widened and he quickly shook his head. "Now I know he didn't mean that, Rodney—"

"It sounds like he wants to try me," McKay almost sounded thoughtful.

"Take it back! Take it back!" Carson whispered harshly as he felt the gun barrel press into his temple.

Zelenka licked his dry lips, glancing between Carson's pleading look, and McKay's cold façade. Finally he dropped his gaze, hand hovering over a data pad. "I apologize. I merely am operating under long hours. Please do not shoot Dr. Beckett. He will need to prescribe sleep aids."

Carson's eyes bulged. That was an apology?

"Just don't try anything," McKay muttered, and the pressure against Carson's temple eased. The Scot almost let himself breathe a sigh of relief, until he saw a shadow creeping along the open doorway. He sucked in a quick breath and closed his eyes. This really wasn't his night.
 

*          *          *          *          *

When McKay's unnaturally calm and threatening voice drifted out into the deserted hallway, John knew he had pinpointed the right location. He listened for a minute, trying to decide what to do. He couldn't risk calling for backup out loud. In a deserted part of the city such as this any voices would carry, as evidenced by McKay. Even possessed by an alien plant the man couldn't shut up.

He lightly patted himself down, once again cursing the fact that, yes, he was running around in Atlantis in only his underwear. He'd have to wing it then. He turned down the volume of his radio, just in case, before wrapping the radio's strap around the talk button. That would have to do. He could handle McKay for a few minutes as they tracked down his signal.

Silence suddenly descended and Sheppard felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise. Slowly he slipped closer to the doorway, straining his ears for a hint of what was going on. He'd been as quiet as possible, but that still didn't mean McKay hadn't heard his footsteps, or seen a flicker of his shadow...

He held his breath as he noticed the dim lighting in the hallway toss his elongated shadow across the doorframe. He waited, ears straining to hear anything. The only audible noise was what sounded like someone tinkering with something. Probably Zelenka if he had heard the conversation right.

Carefully he set the radio down right outside the doorway. He was sure they'd hear everything and track it easily enough to his location. Next, he removed the P-90. He liked the feel of that weapon more, but right now he needed a single clean shot. The thought almost made him sick to his stomach, but did his best to shove the feeling to the side. He needed to be concerned about Beckett and Zelenka's safety.

Taking in a deep breath, he made a mental note to strangle McKay for all of this later. With that final assurance to himself, he swung out into the doorway, gun drawn. His training took over, as he immediately identified the locations of everyone in the room. Zelenka was in the corner, fiddling with something electronic. McKay was almost dead-center to the doorway, with an iron-clad grip on Beckett.

He watched as McKay's gaze swung over to him, he could see the gun retake its place up against the doctor's temple. Beckett closed his eyes, looking like he was barely managing control of his panic.

"What are you doing here? I said no military!"

"Rodney," John started soothingly, trying to find a non-vital area to aim at, "I know you're not exactly thinking straight, so it's probably a good idea to put the gun down..."

"I'll shoot him!" McKay jerked Beckett closer, and Sheppard automatically tightened his grip on the pistol.

"You don't want to do that."

"Seeing as how he was going to cut me open and so callously murder my plant – yes I am. I don't have tocophobia like the rest of you!"

"McKay!"

"I mean it!"

The muzzle dug further into Beckett's temple, causing the doctor to visibly wince.

Sheppard felt his stomach clench as he realized he really was going to have to go through with it. He was going to have to shoot a member of his team, one of his friends. With the way he was positioned and holding his gun, he'd have to go for a kill shot to stop the gun from going off.

"Don't make me do this, Rodney."

All of the sudden he was brought back to eleventh grade English class, hearing his teacher talk about the significance of George shooting Lenny. He mentally shook the image away. He was not living in a Steinbeck novel, and McKay wasn't Lenny. If only he could talk to the real McKay, not Mommy Rodney—

McKay's finger tightened around the trigger an inch further. As John tightened his grip in response, he could see McKay "listening for coherent thoughts" with Beckett's stethoscope and Rodney ruffling John's hair just to get a rise out of him. That's when it struck him that he had been talking to McKay the whole time.

"Wait!"

The finger paused, and McKay watched warily as Sheppard slowly dropped his aim.

"What are you doing?" Zelenka asked nervously.

"Now don't shoot anyone, I'm just going to put this on the floor," John said as he carefully set down the gun. Beckett had opened his eyes and was watching Sheppard with confusion.

McKay watched him suspiciously. "I don't get it."

"Well, I can't let you shoot Beckett, and if I shot you, I'd get blood all over the walls." John raised up his arms in the universal sign of surrender. "You know how bad it stains. Impossible to get out."

"How kind," McKay said drolly.

"That's me, Mr. Sunshine."

McKay snorted derisively. "Sunshine?"

John grinned. "Yep, and rainbows."

Zelenka had stopped tinkering and was staring at the exchange with his jaw agape. Beckett was eyeing Sheppard curiously. He gave the doctor a quick wink.

"Since when has anyone with a gun been all sunshine and rainbows?" McKay shot back, missing the silent exchange.

"Well it is hard to pull off one of those show-stopping numbers you're so fond of when you're trying to juggle a gun."

"Perhaps it is good he has gun then," Zelenka put in.

McKay's eyebrow twitched at that.

"Now, Doc," Sheppard interrupted, "that's not fair."

"Thank you, Major," McKay sniffed.

"The tone deafness makes up for his lack of dancing skills." John smirked.

The other eyebrow twitched. "You do realize I have a gun here?"

"Yes, Rodney, it's the reason Keith Richards isn't rolling in his grave right now."

"He's not dead!"

"You sure? I'm pretty sure your version of 'Satisfaction' may have finished him off."

McKay dropped the gun arm, throwing his other up in the air in frustration. "That's just ridiculous! Karaoke bars would've killed off anyone with an ounce of musical talent the first night some idiot put a microphone to his mouth!"

"They did not funky chicken." Zelenka shook his head gravely.

Beckett cautiously edged away from McKay as he entered rant mode. "It was not the funky chicken!"

"You're right, Rodney." With Beckett out of danger, John started inching towards McKay. "That would be an insult to chickens everywhere."

"Thank you—hey!"

Sheppard stilled immediately as McKay glared at him. Even though he maintained the façade of a man deep into a snark fest, he caught himself holding his breath. Good thing this wasn't a round of poker. Forcing the flutter in his stomach to die down, he just raised an eyebrow at McKay in challenge.

"You're one to talk! Trying to explain the meaning of life with football analogies!"

"Football is life, everything else is just details."

"Please, you got that off of a t-shirt!"

By now Beckett had managed to get completely behind McKay. He had been watching the exchange with trepidation up to this point, but seemed to sense an opening. He bent down to scoop up a larger piece of discarded equipment. Sheppard saw the movement but tried not to give away Beckett's plan, although he was silently pleading for the doctor not do anything stupid. He was almost there—

"The world's greatest philosophers these days make witty slogans for clothing." John grinned as McKay took the bait, completely oblivious to the large Ancient Toaster Oven Beckett was heaving up from the floor.

"Yeah, I bet your philosophic hero came up with 'I'm With Stu—"

McKay was interrupted by a large crash as Beckett lost his grip on the Ancient whatever, and it smashed into the floor. Instantly the real Rodney vanished and the gun snapped back up on Beckett.

"Screw subtle," John muttered, launching himself at McKay. "Move it, Doc!"

Carson quickly scrambled away as McKay and Sheppard went down in a tumble. The gun went off with a deafening boom, the sound amplified by the small space. Beckett looked over to see a hole in the wall where he had just been, and felt his knees go weak. He turned his attention back to the two men on the ground who were scrambling for control of one gun.

"Damn it, McKay! Why don't you try not being stubborn just once and give me the damn gun!" Sheppard growled as he tried to pull the gun out of the astrophysicist's hands.

"If you would butt out for one time—!" Rodney spat back, lashing out with a leg at Sheppard.

The pilot grunted as McKay's boot collided with his bare shin. This was the last time he tried to take on any opponent in his underwear. He grit his teeth past the pain and twisted, trying to get a better grip on the gun to no avail.

"I should've just shot you when I had the chance," Sheppard muttered foully, giving up on grabbing the gun and just latched onto McKay's wrists.

"Back at you!" The scientist snarled in return as he tried to twist the aim of the muzzle over to Sheppard.

Visibly straining himself, Sheppard used his grip to bang McKay's hands into the junk littered floor, succeeding in knocking his grip loose. Rodney surged forward trying to get a hold of the weapon again. Sheppard twisted again, shifting his center of gravity so that he had more leverage, and yanked the scientist back with all his might.

"Any help would be nice!" John shouted at the two bystanders, barely dodging an elbow that was meant for his face. "All right, that's it!"

He brought his knee up into Rodney's stomach, causing the scientist's eyes to water in pain. Sheppard used the moment to get to his knees, catching McKay in a choke hold and hauling him up as well.

"Now just calm down!" He growled into McKay's ear.

"Bastard," McKay muttered, chest heaving deeply with the exertion of the fight.

"I didn't hear that," Sheppard tightened the grip, hoping to break through the haze that was clouding Rodney's mind. He could feel McKay's fingers digging into his arm, trying to break away.

"I said," McKay paused, breathed deeply, "bad move."

John frowned at that, but didn't have time to answer as McKay slammed his head into Sheppard's face. The impact loosened his hold, giving Rodney enough time to drive his elbow into John's jaw, the force sending him sprawling on the floor.

He could see stars swimming in and out of his vision, but pushed himself back up just in time to come face to face with the wrong end of McKay's gun. He stared into the barrel, marveling at the turn of events.

"How'd you do that?"

"Ford taught me." With his free hand, McKay wiped a hand across his face, smearing sweat across his jacket sleeve. "Contrary to popular belief I do pay attention during those damnable sparring sessions."

"I'll have to talk to him about that," John breathed.

"Too bad you'll never get the chance." There was no remorse in McKay's eyes as his finger reached for the trigger.

Instead of the cold click of the trigger being cocked, a loud clang rang out. McKay's eyes rolled back as he sank to the floor bonelessly, revealing Beckett holding a dented piece of scrap metal.

"That's enough of that nonsense," the Scot said, discarding the metal without a thought as he bent down to examine his patient.

John shook his head, eyeing Carson warily. "I guess thanks are in order."

"Aye, but first let's make sure he doesn't wake up anywhere near a weapon."

"Good idea," Zelenka said as he tentatively approached from his corner.

Sheppard shuffled forward on all fours, peering down at the unconscious McKay. "He going to be all right?"

"Once we get that bloody plant out of him. Bugger has been allowed to play too long." Beckett rocked back to sit on his haunches and scrubbed a hand across his face. "I hope I didn't hit him too hard."

"He had it coming." John pushed himself to his feet and headed back to the entrance of the room to grab his radio. As he stepped he could feel pieces of shattered crystals poke and spear his feet. He really hated those things.

Sheppard quickly grabbed the radio and unwrapped the strap from the talk button as he ambled back into the room, being careful to step around the various objects and shards on the floor.

"Major Sheppard," Zelenka adjusted his glasses as he peered at the soldier, "I must ask you question."

He paused in turning up the volume as he looked at Zelenka. "Yeah?"

"What kind of crazy are you to put your gun away around deranged individual?"

Sheppard just grinned, and Beckett looked at him curiously. "Exactly how did you know that was going to work? He could've just shot you."

"He's McKay, despite being knocked up." John shrugged. "It goes against his very nature to let me have the last word in."

Carson cracked a small smile at that, while Zelenka shook his head and muttered to himself in his native language. With a relieved chuckle, Sheppard turned the volume on the radio back up and updated Weir and Bates on the situation. When he was finished he handed the radio over to Beckett, who ordered a medical team and a gurney, complete with straps, to their little remote room.

With the main action over Sheppard sidled down next to McKay to wait for the cavalry. He gave the unconscious scientist a sidelong glance as he idly picked out crystal shards from his feet.

"I promise you, I'm not going to let you live this down."

"Do not think you have monopoly on blackmail," Zelenka piped up as he returned to the device to finish disassembling it.

"Yeah, yeah, I'll let you guys have a few pot shots too," John flicked one of the tiny splinters away, wincing as he spotted a tiny fleck of red. He covered it up with a finger, hoping Beckett hadn't noticed. He had no desire to be carted across half of Atlantis in a wheelchair. Someone cleared their throat, and he looked up to see the Scot grinning at him.

"By the way, Major," Carson tried to hide a smile behind his hand, "where are your pants?"

John groaned miserably and glared at the slumbering scientist. "Never living this down!"

*          *          *          *          *

The first thing that came around was a distinct fuzzy feeling, like everything from his head to his insides were wrapped in cotton. It was comforting, so much so that he almost let himself slide back into the feeling. He almost did too, except there came this incoherent mumbling that drew him back to the edge of awareness. It was the unexpected poke breaking through the warm fuzzy shield that brought him awake.

"Yep, that's it, no more sleeping. Time to be a big boy and face the music."

Rodney frowned, eyes still shut, trying to pinpoint the voice as the words didn't make much sense either.

"C'mon, McKay, I've been watching you sleep all day. It's boring in here!"

That petulant whining could only come from one person. He managed to open his eyes a little to see Sheppard leaning forward, finger edging dangerously close to his ear. He hadn't had to endure a Wet Willie since high school, and he didn't intend to now. Breaking through the cotton-like haze that he had now concluded was due to pain killers, he tried to grab the hand, but it jerked back, as if it were tied down.

With physical restraint off the table, that left him with one option.

"Don't even think about it."

He meant for it to come out intimidating and haughty, but instead it came out scratchy and hoarse. However it gained the desired effect and the finger halted its progress.

"Oh good, you're awake." Sheppard grinned.

"I can't move my hands," Rodney muttered hoarsely, licking his dry lips. "Why am I here?"

"One thing at a time," Sheppard promised, leaning back in his chair. "He's awake!"

"Good," came the Scottish brogue. Carson walked into the curtained cubicle with a chart in hand. "How are you feeling, Rodney?"

"Thirsty. Confused. Irritated."

"Aye, that's good." The Scot nodded as he jotted down some notes.

"Good? What kind of sheep-herding excuse for a medical practitioner—"

"Ah ah," Sheppard cut him off, shaking a finger. "You have to be real nice to Beckett."

Anger flashed in McKay's eyes and he lifted his lip into a snarl. "Why on Earth—"

"Good enough for you, Doc?" Sheppard tossed a measured look at the doctor.

"Aye," Carson set down the clipboard and reached for the straps, "the tests show it's all out of his system. By his cheery demeanor, seems like he's back to normal."

Rodney glared at both of his friends as the straps holding him down were undone. As soon as his hands were free he rubbed his wrists, watching Sheppard and Beckett with no small amount of suspicion. "What are you two yammering about?"

"Some water, Rodney?" Carson ignored him, propping the bed up. Sheppard magically produced a small cup of water with a flourish.

Rodney bristled at being dismissed, but his throat was dry. After a moment's hesitation he accepted the glass, but didn't hide his irritation. He drank greedily, ignoring Beckett's warnings to take it slow. Two could play at this game. He gulped a bit too much, and wound up sputtering.

Carson rolled his eyes, and took the glass away. He raised an eyebrow at Rodney, his expression one of mild irritation, while Sheppard just sat back in his little chair, grinning stupidly. As McKay got his coughing under control he flopped back into bed, glaring petulantly at both of them.

"Fine, sorry," he muttered.

"An apology?" Sheppard shook his head gravely. "You sure he's still not high, Doc?"

"High?" Rodney squeaked. "I do not get high!"

That just caused Sheppard to grin wider, which was an annoyance in itself. "Never mind, looks like it was just one of those occasional slip ups he makes."

Carson couldn't help but smile at that. He picked up his clipboard again, trying to resume a modicum of professionalism. "So Rodney, are you feeling any pain?"

Rodney could feel his eye twitch, which made Sheppard snicker a little. He turned the full force of his fury on the soldier, sick of being ignored. "What's up, Chuckles?"

"Sorry." Sheppard sounded anything but contrite, but did try to cover up his grin. "Maybe we ought to fill him in, Doc. Looks like he's about to have a stroke."

Carson lightly thwacked the officer on the head. "What did I say about bad jokes, Major?"

"Hardee har har, you both should do stand up," McKay interrupted testily, "but do you hecklers have a point in being here, other than annoying me?"

"I apologize, Rodney, but you have to understand after the past few days, we're just relieved for a little normalcy here," Carson said as he checked the various machines that came with the territory of waking up in the infirmary.

"Hello, in the dark here!"

"Well, that's to be expected," Carson replied calmly, jotting down a few notes on the chart before gazing calmly at McKay. "What would you like to know?"

"I don't know... how about, um, everything? Starting with why I'm waking up in the infirmary!" He snapped.

"You got anything for the crankiness, Doc?" Sheppard asked, leaning back into the chair.

Beckett ignored him and focused on McKay. "Rodney, it's a long story, and I'm afraid I can't explain much if you don't calm yourself down. I understand that you're feeling out of sorts, but try and control yourself, hmm?"

Rodney glowered at Beckett, but settled back into his pillows, crossing his arms. "Fine, I'm calm."

Carson looked skeptical, but forged on. "Do you remember when you and Major Sheppard were exploring the city the other day?"

"Yes," he responded, being mindful to keep his annoyance down to a minimum.

"Well, you found a plant there—"

"I'm in here because of a ten thousand year old dead plant?" Rodney asked incredulously. "How?"

"Not dead," Sheppard corrected, "just almost."

McKay frowned. "You lost me."

"Remember playing tug-of-war with the spindly thing?" Sheppard asked.

"Unfortunately."

"We found a reference in the Ancient database on it." Carson took up the explanation. "Apparently they called it Nepenthias, not to be confused with the genus on Earth—"

"Do I look like a botanist?" Rodney snapped. He received warning glares from both Sheppard and Carson and backed down, albeit reluctantly.

"Each spine on the plant contains a strong psychoactive agent that the Ancients called 'Nepenthe', similar to the legendary drug of the Greeks. Probably another case of the Ancients passing things on after returning to the Milky Way."

Rodney wanted so badly to make a comment, but the tempering look the Major had fixed on him was keeping him in check... for the moment. He motioned for Carson to continue.

The doctor raised an eyebrow at the show of patience. "When you grabbed it the spines injected the drug into your body. Since you did not inject it directly into your blood stream, it took a while for it to take effect."

"Effect? What kind of effect?"

Sheppard and Carson exchanged glances but the doctor continued, not quite looking at Rodney.

"The drug triggers a response in your brain to create more and more serotonin, leading to a general feel of euphoria, loosens your inhibitions, and improves your general sense of well-being. Generally the effect is minimal, but since you pricked yourself with so many spines, you had a more severe reaction..."

"Severe?" Rodney noticed that both of them weren't looking him in the eye. "What does that mean?"

"Nothing bad. While similar to MDMA—"

"Ecstasy?" Rodney's voice climbed a pitch higher.

Carson ignored the interruption, continuing on, "Similar, as in the same effects and acts in a similar manner. However it is much slower acting, and does not put quite as much a strain on your system."

That seemed to appease Rodney, and he settled down. That was until Carson started up again. "Thankfully though, it does not cause any cell breakdown or brain damage."

"Brain damage?" McKay squeaked.

"Doesn't cause any," Carson stressed, annoyance creeping into his tone at the constant interruptions. "However, it just used up most of your body's reserves of serotonin, triggering a crash that resulted in the general irritable mood you're feeling right now."

"Think of it like a hangover without all the drinking and puking," Sheppard drawled lazily. "Lucky you."

McKay frowned, fuzzy memories resurfacing. "I remember feeling like this before. I went back to the storage room. I was attacked by this—" He frowned, trying to identify his attacker. The memory refused to budge. "Is that why I'm here? Did you catch the thing?"

Carson pursed his lips. "In a way."

He eyed the doctor suspiciously. "Why are you acting so dodgy?"

"As Major Sheppard said, the plant wasn't quite dead. It had managed to survive so long unattended because it was kept in an incubator in the wall."

Rodney's eyes widened. "The power readings!"

"Be quiet, Rodney, and let the man tell his story." Sheppard flicked McKay's ear, earning an annoyed glare.

"The incubator had been sustaining the plant since Atlantis's abandonment by tapping into the ZPM's power. When the city rose, the incubator shut off, and the plant was without a proper environment, and started to die."

"Apparently we reactivated the incubator by turning power back on in the area when we were exploring," Sheppard added.

Beckett nodded his thanks, taking the explanation back up. "When you returned to the room alone it found what it needed to germinate and start its life cycle again."

"Which almost serves you right for doing something so stupid," Sheppard added with a touch of annoyance.

"Wait," Rodney looked at Carson, eyebrows knitting together in concern, "are you trying to tell me..."

McKay trailed off, but Sheppard was glad to finish the thought. "Yep! You became a mommy to an invasive, personality-altering alien plant."

"Please tell me you got it out, that's why I'm here. Right?" Rodney looked sick while Sheppard beamed happily.

At the edge of panic in his voice Carson patted McKay's shoulder. "Yes, that is why you're here. We managed to extract it before it could..." He caught himself and stopped.

"Could what?" The panic climbed an octave higher.

"Do any permanent damage," Carson finished quickly, looking a little unsettled himself.

An awkward silence descended upon the cubicle, and Sheppard looked between his two friends, trying to figure out a way to rescue the situation. "You've got visitors, too."

He leaned back further in the chair, tipping it to an almost precarious position as he pulled the curtain back. Rodney blinked as he caught a flash of Sheppard's bandaged feet. He frowned, but before he could vocalize anything, Zelenka poked his head in. The Czech's wild hair looked even more untidy than usual, as if he had been dealing with much more than he was used to.

"Is it safe?" He asked cautiously.

"Yeah, come on and join the party, Dr. Z," Sheppard waved him in.

The engineer shuffled in nervously, eyeing McKay in the bed warily. "How are you feeling?"

"A little violated now," Rodney answered honestly. Something about Zelenka and a machine teased at his mind, but the memory drifted away the more he tried to concentrate on it. "I can almost remember something... but then it dances away."

Zelenka shuddered in revulsion at the mention of dancing. "Overdose of Nepenthe can cause memory blackout. You had more than simple overdose when Baby took up residence."

Rodney frowned. "How do you know that?"

"Dr. Z was the one who managed to find a reference to your plant daddy in the Ancient database," Sheppard put in.

"Which was extraordinarily helpful in extracting the bugger," Carson added.

"Really?" McKay was intrigued. "What did it say?"

"Reference said that use of the drug was frowned upon in Ancient society, but when plant's mode of reproduction was discovered it was banned. Many plant-impregnated Ancients would not be helpful in fighting off Wraith."

"Obviously," McKay muttered, and then frowned. "Wait, if they were banned, what was that one doing there? And why would it have an incubator."

"Well, much like modern teenagers and young people," Zelenka cleared his throat; "Ancient youth did not like to listen to their elders. Plant was very popular in Ancient youth subculture. So much, that when ban was implemented on plant and drug, they smuggled it back in, setting up areas to control its growth and distribution."

McKay's eyes widened. "No..."

"Yes!" Sheppard crowed excitedly. "We stumbled into the equivalent of an Ancient college pot farm, and you sampled the goodies!"

"You're enjoying this far too much," McKay grumbled miserably.

"Hard not to," Sheppard shrugged.

"Just tell me I didn't do anything I'd regret," McKay hid his face behind his hands. When his request was met with silence he peeked through his fingers. Carson was studying the ceiling with a keen interest, Zelenka had looked away in disgust, while Sheppard was grinning like an idiot. "Oh no. What was it? No wait! Don't tell me!"

"No need to tell," Sheppard was like the cat that ate the canary. "I managed to find a security feed from your lab."

"Burn it!" Zelenka said venomously. "That is too horrible to watch, even for blackmail purposes!"

Rodney groaned, misery coursing through him. "This is so unfair!"

"Sorry, Rodney," Beckett tried to sound consoling, but there was a trace of amusement in tone. "If it makes you feel better, most of Atlantis doesn't even know about the incident in the lab."

"Unfortunately everyone knows about your kidnapping spree," Sheppard put in helpfully.

Carson sent him a scolding glare, but it didn't dissuade the major any from his amusement.

"Kidnapping?" Rodney squeaked. "Who did I kidnap?"

"That would be me. You were a touch out of sorts when you learned we had to remove the plant."

"And Stackhouse said he won't press any charges for the concussion you gave him."

Rodney's eyes widened.

"Ford decided to put those DDR lessons you gave him to some use at the next party Atlantis throws."

A strangled cry escaped the scientist.

"The nurses really enjoyed your rendition of 'Baby Got Back'." Sheppard was grinning wickedly.

"Stop," Rodney whimpered. "I don't think I want to know any more."

"But don't worry, your secret desire to be on Broadway is safe with us," he leaned back, looking immensely satisfied with himself.

"Are you done?" Beckett asked.

"For now."

A light knock on one of the rods holding up the curtains gained their attention, and everyone looked to see Teyla and Ford hanging back cautiously.

"I assume all the noise means Dr. McKay is now awake?" Teyla asked quietly.

"Exactly how many people do you have back there?" Rodney tossed Sheppard a look as Teyla and Ford joined them. Ford's skin was still slightly irritated from the rash, but the lieutenant was bandage free and up on his feet.

"Dr. Weir sends her regards. She will be down as soon as she finishes handling a small dispute."

"Kavanagh again?" Sheppard asked, amused.

"Apparently he's demanding the return of his stolen fire extinguisher, and a formal apology from Sergeant Bates for," she looked at Ford for confirmation, "military misconduct?"

The young soldier nodded with a grin. "If we didn't have Steve in the brig I think Dr. Weir would throw him in there just to shut him up."

"Charming," Rodney commented sourly, knowing he was going to be barraged with a thousand complaints from Kavanagh once he was released. He removed his hands from his face as he peered at Teyla and Ford. "So are you here to torture me too?"

"Torture?" Teyla asked, raising a disapproving eyebrow at Sheppard. "We are merely here to see how you are feeling and to wish you well."

"Nice to know someone cares," he smiled at her, before glaring daggers at Sheppard.

"Yes," she said, spearing the major with a look, "it would be highly inappropriate to harass you during your recovery."

"He's exaggerating!" Sheppard insisted, the eyebrow rose higher, and suddenly the prospect of torturing McKay became far less fun. "I've stopped."

Teyla nodded at him, sending him a look that promised many beatings the next time they sparred. Sheppard grimaced, giving McKay a sour look that translated into 'Look what you did'.

Rodney raised an eyebrow in return; motioning to the Major's bandaged feet. Sheppard flushed and quickly hid them under the chair and tried to busy himself with looking more interested in the various machines surrounding Rodney.

Rodney shrugged as he stifled a yawn, he'd find out about it later. Despite the company of his team and friends, he could feel sleep pulling at him. He closed his eyes and resettled himself into his pillows. Right as sleep approached another memory resurfaced. Brow wrinkling in confusion, he opened both of his eyes.

Pushing himself up, he addressed all the people gathered around him. "I have to ask something, though."

Teyla raised an eyebrow, Ford looked at him curiously, Sheppard glared petulantly, Zelenka's face was filled with trepidation, while Carson just paused in his chart scribbling.

"Why do I have this horrible image in my mind of Major Sheppard wrestling me in his underwear?"

All eyes turned to Sheppard. He cleared his throat uncomfortably as he sat up straighter. "So, um, who else likes Ferris wheels?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The End