AN: Time for a new story! This has some spoilers for "Trinity" in the second season, but not much else to worry about.

DISCLAIMER: The following story is a work of fanfiction, and as such is for fan enjoyment only. All recognizable characters/settings are the property of their respective owners. No copyright infringement is intended, and no profit is made.

Deus Ex Machina

By KerrAvon

1. Setting Out

"Bottom line: do the Deltarrans have something or not?" Elizabeth's no-nonsense question cut through the escalating discussion like a knife. Silence dropped over the table as Zelenka and McKay exchanged awkward glances, Rodney finally glancing away, deferring to Radek to answer the query.

"We're not certain. That is why we would like the chance to look over Dr. Seinlein's data in greater detail."

Dr. Weir's lips thinned in frustration as Zelenka stuttered out his answer, then glanced at the silent Canadian. Under normal circumstances Rodney would have already voiced his opinion and backed it up with half a dozen other possibilities, but he had been increasingly hesitant since the Doranda disaster. Elizabeth found his deference to his co-worker disconcerting. She had expected "The Ego That Wouldn't Die" to bounce back with its usual aplomb, but something was different this time.

Tuning out the Czech as his explanation droned on, her eyes narrowed as she surveyed the opposite side of the table. She had a sneaking suspicion that she knew why McKay's confidence was flagging, and it sat slouched in a chair before her, doodling absently on a notepad.

Sheppard wasn't looking too well himself. Under the extreme circumstances forced upon them by life in the Pegasus Galaxy, the two men had formed an unlikely friendship, which had been solidified by the innumerable life-or-death situations they had subsequently experienced. Unfortunately, such a friendship is based on incredible trust, and Sheppard clearly believed that McKay had betrayed that trust. Weir had expected them to recover with time, but John seemed more exhausted and angry every day, while Rodney was positively shrinking into himself. Something had to be done, and soon.

Zelenka's explanation finally petered out, and he looked up at her expectantly. "All right," she began, hiding the fact that she'd been ignoring his monologue, "I'll give you two weeks. Will that be enough time to come to a decision?"

Radek glanced nervously at McKay, who shrugged nearly imperceptibly. Looking back at the commander, he nodded, "Yes…yes I think so. We should be able to determine if he was onto something by that time, yes, and whether it is worth pursuing."

"Then the two of you gather whatever supplies you need. I'll contact the Deltarran science council and let them know you'll be coming. Dismissed."

She stood, straightening her papers as the rest of the room filed out. Glancing up, she was surprised to see Dr. Beckett standing nervously by the door, obviously waiting for her. "Yes, Carson? Can I help you?" she asked curiously.

"Do ye have a minute? I'd like to talk to ye…privately."

Elizabeth frowned. This sounded serious. "Certainly. Why don't we go to my office?"

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"Look, I don't know how you're gonna make him do it, but John Sheppard is in desperate need of a vacation." Carson Beckett leaned forward towards Weir's desk as he spoke, emphasizing his words. "The man has been through hell, and he's not allowing himself to recuperate. It's gotten worse in the last few weeks; he's not sleeping well, he hardly eats, and he's snapping at everyone. At this rate he'll collapse out of pure exhaustion, and I'm not certain I'll be able to put him back together again." He carded a hand through his already-unruly hair in frustration, then folded them on his knees.

Elizabeth Weir tapped a pencil to her chin. She had hoped that she'd been exaggerating the sunken eyes, the slumped shoulders, the listless demeanor…but clearly if Carson was concerned enough to bring it to her attention, John's health must be suffering. 'It's just such bad timing!' she thought in frustration. With Colonel Caldwell making not-so-surreptitious plays for power on an almost daily basis, the last thing she needed was for her Chief Military Officer to be incapacitated. Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to remain calm; bad timing or no, LTC Sheppard had a problem and it was up to her to make certain it got fixed. Her mind sorted through the possibilities as Beckett sat staring at his folded hands.

"Have you discussed this with Colonel Sheppard?"

Beckett looked up sharply to meet her gaze. "Oh, aye, and was basically told to bugger off. He's not going 'on vacation', 'sick leave', or 'taking time off'; 'I have too many responsibilities' says he." The physician snorted derisively and stood to pace.

Weir picked up a pen from her desk and began playing with it. "Do you think this might have something to do with what happened with the Ancient power source?"

Beckett stopped walking as if shot, then sat heavily into his chair. After a long moment, he met her eyes squarely and nodded. "Aye, that I do. He seemed to love being the Chief Military Officer until McKay blew up that solar system; now it's as if the wind is out of his sails. I'm not sure why, but he's furious, and it's eating him alive." He sighed in frustration. "He refuses to even acknowledge that there's a problem. Says 'everything's fine' and won't see Heightmeyer. Bloody lot of good that stubbornness will do if he collapses on a mission."

Weir stared at the doctor thoughtfully, an idea beginning to form. "Back that up, Carson. What did you just say?"

"That his being a royal git is useless if he keels over."

"No, no, that's not it. I was thinking about sending him on a mission where he'd have no choice but to rest."

Beckett's eyebrows crawled towards his hairline as he considered the possibilities. "Aye, that could work. Teyla is taking Ronon to meet the Athosians on the mainland for a few weeks; perhaps LTC Sheppard could accompany them."

Elizabeth smiled and shook her head. "No, I'm afraid that won't do. Teyla confided to me that she is actually taking Ronon there to help with the harvest; Dex doesn't know it yet, but he has two weeks of very hard work coming. No, I was thinking of sending him to Deltarra with Rodney and Radek."

"But his main problem is with McKaaa…y…" objected Carson, who trailed off as his mind played out the possibilities. "Two weeks in a secluded lighthouse with just those two…"

"He and McKay will either work things out or kill each other," Elizabeth concluded.

Carson grinned, "A win-win situation?" Sobering, he continued, "As I recall from the briefing, they'll be staying at a renovated lighthouse on a remote coast since the scientist originally working on the project was a bit of a misanthrope who shied away from people. There's a small village nearby, but not much else." Carson smiled again and shrugged. "Even if they don't discuss things, Sheppard'll be bored to tears; he'll at least come back well-rested!"

"I'll make the arrangements." Weir smiled back as they both stood, then watched as Carson exited. She could have sworn she heard him mutter "Poor Dr. Zelenka" as the door slid shut behind him.

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"How are preparations coming for your trip to Deltarra?" Weir had asked McKay and Zelenka to report to her office shortly after Beckett left. The two men stood uncomfortably just inside the door to her office.

Rodney was confused and exchanged a glance with Radek; Elizabeth usually didn't want procedural details, she wanted results. Clearing his throat nervously, he replied, "They're loading the equipment onto Jumper Two right now; we take off at 0800 tomorrow. We'll Gate to Deltarra and fly to Dr. Seinlein's lab, where the equipment will be off-loaded, along with supplies for two weeks. By the end of that time, we'll have discovered if the good doctor was onto something or was just getting a free ride from his government before he died." He shrugged expressively. "Then the Marines will return for us, we'll give our assessment to the authorities, and fly back home. Nothing to it."

Weir stood and paced. "You know, Rodney, I've been thinking..." Picking up her paperweight, she studied it unseeingly a moment before setting it down and fixing Rodney with an intense stare. "We have a lot of enemies out there; I don't like the idea of you and Dr. Zelenka being without protection for two weeks on an unfamiliar planet."

McKay briefly assumed his old self-satisfied smirk. "I should think so. We're the brightest minds in the Pegasus Galaxy."

'Deep breath, Elizabeth, deep breath…' Aloud she continued, "Well, the Deltarrans aren't stupid. And with this lab being so remote…"

"You think there might be problem?" Zelenka sat heavily into a chair, worry suddenly blanketing his face.

Elizabeth's expression was simultaneously calming but mirrored the concern. "Probably not, but it doesn't hurt to be safe. I insist that you have some protection." She raised an eyebrow. "I'm assigning LTC Sheppard to accompany you."

"Sheppard? Why the Colonel?" McKay asked in confusion. "He is much too busy…"

"To guard the safety of our two top scientists?" Weir's tone became indignant. "I think not. Besides, I think the Colonel will appreciate a break from his paperwork." Grimacing, she looked at her own cluttered desk and muttered, "I know I would…"

Rodney blinked; this had all happened awfully fast.

Elizabeth continued, ignoring his confusion. "Still, I urge you to remember that he is the Chief Military Officer…if it's a matter of security, his word is law." She stared at the two quite pointedly.

"Of course, Elizabeth," McKay assured her uncomfortably. Zelenka nodded with more enthusiasm.

She stared at them for a minute through narrowed eyes. "All right, then. Have a safe trip." She watched the two men stand, shrug at each other, and depart before she allowed herself to blow out the breath she'd been holding. Well, that handled McKay; now for the hard part…

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"But why do I have to go?" Sheppard was slumped in a chair, having received the assignment with less than aplomb.

Elizabeth would swear that she had heard four-year-olds whine less.

"Because, Colonel Sheppard, you're the most qualified person on this base to keep an eye on them."

Flattery was not an effective a motivator in the combat pilot. Spreading his arms in frustration, he complained, "Look, I'm up to my eyeballs in paperwork, OERs are due in a month, and if I don't have a detailed resupply list for the Daedalus the next time it makes the trip from Earth, I'm going to have over 500 irate soldiers and civilians battering down my door."

"So take the paperwork with you. Just go." Elizabeth leaned towards him in emphasis. "That's an order." She raised an eyebrow, silently challenging him to object.

"Yes, Ma'am." Despite the exhaustion in Sheppard's voice, it still dripped sarcasm as he rose to his feet with none of his usual fluidity and shuffled to the door. Weir hoped that this forced break might get him a little rest, or at least get him back on speaking terms with the Science Chief.

TBC….

PS: Thanks to everyone who nominated my stories for the Stargate Fan Awards this year; I'm flattered! There sure are a lot of good stories in the running - go check them out (the ultimate C2 list...)!