"Nepenthe's Kiss"

by Grey Lupous

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

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

"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 thin 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 vine 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 this thing 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."

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

Next Chapter