Author's Note: I'd like to thank everyone who's read and commented on this story. Your words of encouragement were the motivation that kept me going. I also need to thank my beta, Bookworm4hire for her help in showing me that the story had potential.
Sometime in the Near Future…
As the bombardment of the city's shields eased off, Sheppard ordered the flight of F302s that were on hot standby to take off. They reached the outer edges of the atmosphere in under a minute and were instantly swarmed by dozens of alien fighters.
"Maverick Flight, this is leader…evasive action…you are weapons free."
"Roger that, Leader." The F302 pilots acknowledged the order and then proceeded to kick their unknown attackers' collective butts. The strange and timely appearance of a battered and beaten Daedalus had helped them initially when it had temporarily disabled the vessel with its Asgard beam.
Its appearance was strange and timely because it was oddly familiar. After a few hair-raising, heart-stopping minutes of combat maneuvers at speeds that should have been impossible to execute, they ran out of alien fighters. The mother ship was still firing its main energy weapon at them, but it was too slow to effectively target the highly maneuverable F302s.
"Okay, boys and girls…let's show E.T. how we do things in our neck of the woods. Lock and load…Time on target at three...two…one…FOX TWO!"
As one, each of the F302s fired a nuclear warhead, and executed a 180-degree turn, putting as much distance between themselves and the expected massive explosion that soon followed. When they were at a safe distance, Sheppard ordered them to stop and hold their positions. They watched as the alien mother ship blew up in a satisfying display of pyrotechnics.
Once the debris and radiation began to dissipate, Sheppard ordered the flight to return to base. "Maverick 2 and 3…you're with me. Let's go check on the Daedalus."
The next few minutes gave Sheppard a weird sense of déjà vu. Only the way he remembered the conversation, he had been the one on the other side asking the questions.
"See…Daedalus, it's kind of strange because our Daedalus is safe back on our home planet," Sheppard drawled. "So, you can imagine our curiosity…"
"It's funny, you know," an oddly familiar voice said over his headset. "But this isn't really our Daedalus either. We just borrowed her for a while…until we can get back to our own reality…"
"Copy, Daedalus…been there, done that, got the t-shirt."
"Yeah…fun times in Pegasus. Just when you think you've seen it all, you find out there's an infinite number of variations where you can get your ass handed to you. Still…you guys really helped us back there. Our shields were close to failing when you fired on the alien vessel. That gave us time to launch our flight. We owe you, big time. We have families down there…"
There was a short, surprised pause. "Did you just 'families,' Colonel?"
"Yes…why?" Sheppard stiffened in suspicion.
"Look…may I ask you very personal question?"
"Your nose cone…do you have 'P.J.' written on it?"
Sheppard felt a chill go down his spine. "P.J." as in Patrick John Sheppard, the name of the little boy in the picture he'd found in the "other" Sheppard's pocket. This "other-other" Sheppard, onboard what was yet another alternate version of the Daedalus, must have found the same picture.
"That's a negative, Daedalus…the name on my nose cone is 'Petey.'" Sheppard smiled fondly. "And, if you're half as smart as you think you are, you'll probably figure it out soon enough, but I'll give you a hint anyway—'P.D.'—Petey."
"'P.D.'? As in Paul David?"
Sheppard snorted. "No…but that's a good guess. Think again, Einstein!"
"…Patrick David?" the other Sheppard asked after a moment.
"See…I knew there was a brain under all that hair."
"I don't understand…why—"
"Because P.J. may not have been born, but he was as real to us as…well, we couldn't give our second child the name we'd intended to give his brother. Does that make sense?"
In the background he heard McKay's voice. "Sheppard, I'm getting a massive energy reading…we're getting ready to shift in five—"
"Yeah…it does make sense. Petey, huh?"
"Look…you know for there to be a 'Petey,' you'll have to win her back?"
"I don't know about that…"
"Hey, buck up and go get the girl! Remember…your love will you lead you home."
"Good luck, buddy…"
The Daedalus was surrounded by a massive bright light as Sheppard's instruments went haywire. The next instant, Sheppard felt an odd sensation as if the very fabric of space around him had shifted somehow. And he supposed that it had. The Daedalus was gone.
"Okay, kids…let's head home."
As they broke through the cloud cover over Atlantis, Sheppard felt at peace. Since the expedition's return to Pegasus, the galaxy had continued to both delight and terrify them in turn. Today, they survived yet another curveball that Pegasus threw at them. Tomorrow, it would be something else.
Tonight, he'd tuck his son in bed and kiss him goodnight, then he'd take his wife in his arms and show her, body and soul, just how much he loved her.
He had indeed come home.