"Nepenthe's Kiss"

by Grey Lupous

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

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"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.

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