"Nepenthe's Kiss"

by Grey Lupous

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

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

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.


 

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

Next Chapter