"Nepenthe's Kiss"

by Grey Lupous

Spoilers, summaries, and other author's notes available at the beginning of chapter one.

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"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.

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