The Beginning of Hope by AndromedaMarine

Author's Note: Sequel to "Why I Quit." The CMO is the Carson clone.

Rodney wouldn't look at him. The only one who willingly talked to him was Elizabeth, but even then their conversations didn't go spectacularly well. He needed to get through to his old friend, the brilliant scientist who'd lost a wife and son in the previous siege. Katie and Thomas, as Elizabeth had told him. Every day John would find Rodney in the commissary, but every time he sat across from Rodney, the scientist would pick up his tray and leave. They needed to be able to work out a plan to save Atlantis, even though it looked like it didn't need saving. John was getting old – more work meant more stress, which resulted in more grey hair.

He finally had it when Rodney had refused to answer him during a briefing. John could always keep his cool with the scientist, but only when other people were present. Everyone left; Elizabeth lingered at the doorway; but John said, "Rodney, I'd like a word with you." He said it forcefully, with the voice he'd used on many new military recruits back when he'd been in charge the first time. Elizabeth left, knowing that John had to speak with the scientist alone.

It was a rare occasion when John showed his age. The colonel sighed heavily, and beckoned for Rodney to sit.

"Rodney, I'm assuming Elizabeth told you why I came back."

Rodney didn't answer or look at him.

"God dammit, Rodney, look at me! I know you're mad at me for leaving ten years ago, but ignoring me won't make me go away. I missed everyone from the moment I left – but I couldn't come back – I just couldn't." His voice became low and he could feel tears building up. He wouldn't cry, not in front of Rodney.

For the first time in over a month Rodney looked at him. His blue eyes were filled with anger, but something more, as well. "You're wrong."

"Excuse me?" John asked, not entirely sure where Rodney was taking the first conversation they'd had in over eight years.

"You're wrong. I'm not mad at you."

"Y – you're not?" the colonel asked confusedly.

Rodney shook his head, his eyebrows furrowing as he stared at John intensely. "I hated you. You abandoned us. You left so you wouldn't have to endure the pain of losing the others you loved – but you lost more than the seven Elizabeth told you about. You lost me, and Carson. You lost Katie, and the entire second generation that's now living here. You lost Elizabeth. Oh, no. I wasn't mad at you. When you walked through the Stargate for what seemed like the last time I vowed that I would never abandon my family like you did." Rodney's voice became steadier, and more powerful. Even with his age he knew how to be authoritative. "So excuse me for not wanting to speak to the one guy I thought was my friend – the only one besides Carson who ever looked out for me. You're going to have to do a hell of a lot more than just walk in like you never left if you want me to talk to you again. Atlantis is different, John. Right when you left we felt the effects of this city mourning her loss of you. You didn't leave just an expedition. You left a family that loved you – a city that loved you. I thought of you as my brother. But when you left, I disowned you. I had wanted you to become like an uncle to Tom. Like a brother to Katie as well as me. You're also wrong about your inability to return. Every time I went to Earth on routine vacation I looked you up and I requested that the SGC leave you a message for me. I even went by your apartment a few times, but you never opened your door for me. You came back now – but by my reckoning it's too late for you to make up for all you destroyed."

"Rodney, I..."

The scientist shook his head. "Don't, John. Don't do it. Don't go there. I've spent every day thinking whether or not things would been different had you stayed. Maybe Lorne and Sam wouldn't have died. Maybe the Daedalus would be orbiting instead of the Enterprise. Maybe the Apollo would be doing routine trips to and from Earth instead of the Pegasus. Maybe Jennifer would be here to help Carson. Maybe Radek would still be my second, instead of Seeley. Maybe the Voyager would never have been destroyed, taking Biro and Woolsey with it. Maybe the Dexes would still be here."

"Dexes?"

Rodney nodded, still frowning at the colonel. "Ronon and Teyla. Elizabeth told me what happened between you two back on Earth. You were right about Jim. But Todd's been loyal to Atlantis. You were right about the IOA. You were right about Woolsey, and Gupperton, and maybe about Mitchell. But you were wrong on so much more. When you left it was like when we lost the original Carson. If possible it was worse, because you left by choice. I tried for days to stay strong for Katie. In the end I couldn't. I'd lost my friend and my family, but you refused to acknowledge that. You were wrong when you thought that we were giving you the message that we didn't need you. To hell with that. We didn't just need you – the survival of Atlantis and eventually Earth's survival depended on you."

John couldn't take it anymore. "Then help me, Rodney. Help me find a way to fix things. Help me change the timeline. Help me get Torren back."

Rodney glared at him, a glare reserved for the people he loathed, like Kavanaugh, but there was a hint of sadness in it as well. "I'm willing to listen to you, and even help you only because Liz asked me to. But I will not forgive you. I don't care what you try to say to me – nothing will make up for the agony you put us through. I'll help you, but that does not mean I'm your friend. You're ten years too late for that title."

John nodded, accepting Rodney's response. "Thank you. I know it won't mean anything to you, but I'm sorry."

The scientist didn't even want to ask, but he felt compelled to. "For what?" It took all of Rodney's strength to launch into a tirade of accusations.

John sighed again, ruffling his greying hair. "For everything. For every little thing I did to you and the rest of Atlantis that I never apologized for. And I'm saying it now, because it's better late than never. I'm sorry. I'm sorry I left you. I'm sorry I hurt you and everyone else. I'm sorry I was a selfish bastard. I'm sorry for everything."

Rodney's features softened. He hadn't expected that, of all things.

He had an inkling of what they could do to restore the timeline. Because everything had gone wrong when Torren was taken.

--

Rodney slapped John's hand away from the laptop. "No, you idiot – it's not that one, it's that one." He pointed to the correct calculation and hunched over, typing furiously. Seeley looked on in fascination, having been the assistant for the project dubbed "Time Machine."

"If I may interrupt," Seeley began, peering at the computer screen, "it seems as though you are getting quite close."

Rodney turned and glared at the young scientist. "Ooh, I hate it when you remind me of where you came from," Rodney hissed, earning a stare from John.

"What?"

The Canadian turned back to the screen and muttered, "The damn kid is from another universe – compliments of Radek's last work, a Quantum Reality Complex. A universe that was spectacularly different from ours, I might add. Damn kid's like Einstein and me put together. It's a good thing he's not old enough to replace me."

John looked at Seeley, who wasn't more than twenty six years old.

"He's right, though. We're not far from finding a suitable solar flare." He coughed.

"Whose work made that possible?" John asked, still sizing Seeley up.

Rodney coughed again, this time wheezing almost uncontrollably. John thumped him on the back, and concernedly searched Rodney's face for an explanation.

"Are you okay?" John asked, also looking at Seeley for an explanation.

Rodney waved his hand in his trademark way. "I'm fine. Just old age. Carson said I'm fine." He cleared his throat. "Seeley and I developed it with a little help from our Ancient friend Morgan le Fay." He smiled. "Jackson's the one who convinced her, though. After she snuffed Adria the rest of the hoity-toity Ancients thought we could use her knowledge to help us fight all our enemies."

John grunted. "Sounds like it helped a lot," he said, taking another look at the Ancient's version of a supercomputer.

Seeley was at the supercomputer's main screen, scrolling through what looked like a database of past and future solar flares. "There," he said suddenly, pointing up to an image of Atlantea's sun that revolved in the holographic display. A distinct solar flare jutted out from the surface of the holo-sun. "This one coincides perfectly with the time we agreed on."

Rodney joined Seeley at the display. "When would you have to go?"

The young scientist looked at the readings again. "Next Tuesday, at six oh nine in the morning."

It had taken them two weeks to find the match they needed. In only five days young Seeley Hawkins would return to an Atlantis that was fifteen years younger, and give the John, Rodney and Elizabeth of the past the information they needed to find Teyla faster and to keep the IOA out of the most important things. In five days history would be changed.

The John, Rodney, and Elizabeth of the present would continue to fight on Atlantis, and never again did John leave his family. They fought until the Wraith finally infiltrated Atlantis, until the Wraith finally made it to Earth. The cough that Rodney'd dubbed as 'nothing' turned out to be a slow onset of repeated exposure to the Hoffan drug, which Carson later cured. As Elizabeth lay, dying in John's arms, she knew her choice to bring him back was the right one. No way could this ending be correct. But as she lay, dying in John's arms, she had a good feeling that Seeley Hawkins had made it to the Atlantis of the past, to the point in time she'd christened 'the beginning of hope' – to the critical time that forked their universe into the wrong timeline. She had a good feeling that she would somehow know that the young man was telling the truth, and that every little detail on the data crystal he held was the truth.

--

"It's Dr. McKay's IDC," Chuck told Elizabeth, who looked at Rodney curiously. "Ma'am?"

"Lower the shield," she said, still looking at Rodney for an explanation. "Let's see who this is. Defense teams – take your positions."

Chuck lowered the shield and stared, without blinking, at the event horizon. A young man, not twenty six years old, stumbled through the gate. He held his hands up, indicating he wasn't a threat, and said, "I would like to speak with Dr. McKay, Dr. Weir, and Colonel Sheppard."

Elizabeth walked forward, flanked by Rodney and John. "Who are you, how did you get Dr. McKay's IDC and what do you want?" she asked sternly, but gently.

The young man smiled. "My name is Dr. Seeley Hawkins. Dr. Rodney McKay gave his IDC to me fifteen years from today, and I've come bearing critical information that the future of Earth depends upon." He held up a data crystal and handed it to Rodney. "If you would be so kind to grant me a private audience with the three of you, I will explain the reason for my arrival fully. But trust me when I say that the longer you wait the longer it will take to rescue Teyla and her child."

"What do you know about Teyla?" John asked, staring at Seeley.

Elizabeth held up her hand, indicating that John should stop talking. "Fine. We will hear what you have to say." She led them up to the conference room and the doors closed, leaving Seeley to tell his full story.

The Elizabeth of the future had been correct.

Seeley had been sent to what became the beginning of hope. The timeline was restored, and both John and Elizabeth realized the importance of companionship.